Post by Lady1Venus on Feb 21, 2009 20:45:36 GMT -5
Here is a classic story from way back in 1997. This is my 2nd favorite story of all time.
The story is called Circles by NaruMolly
She wrote a wonder piece dealing with 4 musicans who look and awful like the 4 deceased Generals of the Negaverse. A little time has passed since Queen Beryl's defeat. I haven't read this since I was in college back in '97/98
Summary: Four musicians visiting Serena and Molly's school look disturbingly similar to the defeated Negaverse Generals. A classic Dark Kingdom fic. The site also has a Circles fan art page.
The link no longer works anymore as GeoCities is shutting it's doors forever, but I have, thankfully, found the story on Angelfire and so the story doesn't get lost again, I'm going to post the story as a proper story.
Again I don't own this story it was by NaruMolly
please enjoy it like I have
Last Edit: May 30, 2009 7:42:04 GMT -5 by Lady1Venus
In any case, this fanfic STARTED to be for a close circle of RPers on AOL, based on this idea I had been mulling over for a long time; since I first saw a write-up of Sailor Moon in Anime UK a few years ago. I coupled it with a long-time idea...sort of an amorphous character that had been kicking around; one who was very old, had seen too much, and who was very sad...Bridgette. As it went, it ran away with itself, the characters taking more life. Then I met my becki-chan; my dearest friend, and it soared. This revision is for her, and for all of you who love Sailor Moon, and who have dreams everywhere.
This story STARTED to be a short cycle of stories, but wound up being a novella. I started it when I had only watched the dub, and when I had very little knowledge of the Japanese version, but I knew that I loved the Dark Four. Let's face it; they have more depth than most of the regular characters...and they're ALL kawaii! And, hearing all my anime- nut friends complaining about the DIC-dub, and things, I jokingly suggested that Beryl might have turned Zoisite into a woman and altered all their names just to be cruel. Well, the joke became the premise. YES, Zoisite is a woman in this one, but there is a reason, believe me, and you should read it to find out, At least I HOPE that you will. I have explanations for most of the dub problems...that Beryl is the cruelest ...er... bitch in the multiverses. Heh. She owns DIC? ::Grins:: I use the dub names, for a reason....as in Beryl really smegged up this universe. Unlike the series, everyone retained their memories of the defeat of Beryl...Well, those that were there. Anyways, enjoy this revision!!
Circles--Part One: Visitors by NaruMolly
Molly smiled as Nephlite chuckled and pushed the empty glass away with a wink. "Very well, Molly, I will no longer be lying to you when I say that I like chocolate parfaits."
Molly giggled to herself snuggling to his side, then stopped, looking around the cafe, the laughter dying in her throat. Serena sat in a corner tucked in between Tuxedo Mask and Andrew, three-way sharing a float; Rei and Darien were also in the cafe eating ice cream. Molly looked back at Nephlite. "This--is a dream, isn't it?"
Nephlite smiled gently. "I'm afraid so, Molly." He stood, grimacing, and looking up at the sky which suddenly darkened to night. Molly huddled to his side as the surroundings blurred into the park. A quiet spot under the trees. "You must wake up, Molly; wake up before they come."
Tears trickled from Molly's eyes. "But I don't want to wake up. I-- want to stay here."
"You can't do that, Molly," Nephlite smiled gently, his clothing changing from Maxfield Stanton's pale silk and linen suit to the scratchy gray wool of the Negaverse uniform. "Please, Molly; go now. Run!"
"I--" Molly hesitated, looking fearfully through the trees, trying to spot the creatures...
Nephlite lurched, suddenly, falling to his knees as the thorns once more impaled his shoulder. "Molly--" he gasped, clutching at the wounds, "Molly--leave here! Go! RUN! Don't worry about me!"
..."Molly? Molly are you okay?"
Molly sat bolt upright in her bed, as Serena sat back on her own, staring at her friend in concern and removing the hand she had been reaching to shake the distraught girl. Tears were tracking down Molly's cheeks as her mind was slowly released from the terror and pain of the dream. Luna nuzzled her hand in concern. "I--Serena--I--"
"You--were screaming in your sleep," Serena said softly, scooting off her bed to sit on the edge of the futon, hugging her friend. "Was it a nightmare?"
Molly sighed, rubbing the tears from her eyes half-angrily. "Yeah, I guess. The dreams never start out bad, but they--always--"
"What was it about?"
Molly bowed her head. "I don't guess you would really understand, Serena. I know you were the one who kept telling me that Ne-- Maxfield was a bad person, but I--"
Serena grimaced. "Er--ah--you were dreaming about him? What about, ah, Melvin? I thought that you and he were--"
Molly shook her head, raising her eyes to look at Serena again, one more tear falling down her cheek. "Oh, Serena, it--it's just not the same." Molly bit her lip, turning to stare out the window of Serena's room hugging her knees to her chest. "Melvin's sweet and all, but-- "
Serena glanced at Luna. The cat shrugged helplessly. "Maxfield-- uh--just vanished. He--ah--"
Molly shook her head. "He's dead, Serena. He died because he was trying to help me." Her shoulders slumped. "Didn't I tell you about him?"
"I suppose only Sailor Moon and her friends will really understand," Molly rubbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her pajamas again. "They saw--"
"Molly, I--" Serena looked at Luna. "Molly, I'm--ah--S--"
Molly shook her head. "Never mind. I should just try to--forget it." She looked at the clock. "7 A.M. Guess we should start to get ready for school."
Serena groaned, flopping back down on her pillows. "Oh no. What about another five minutes, huh?"
*** "So, when is your mother due back in town, Molly?" asked Ami as the girls walked towards the Crossroads Junior High, Serena yawning every other step.
"Day after tomorrow," Molly said. "It was really nice of Serena's parents to invite me to stay with them, though."
Ami chucked. "I imagine they would like you to stay there all the time. This is the fourth day in a row that Serena hasn't been late."
Molly laughed lightly. "Yeah. Miss H asked me if Serena was sick or something."
"Ooooo," Serena growled, glaring at Molly.
"Hey guys!" said Lita trotting up to their side, a huge grin on her face, a Polaroid in her hand. "Can I join you? I brought a camera; I'm going to send a picture of Serena being on time to the paper."
"I don't appreciate this, guys," grumbled Serena, kicking at a post in annoyance.
The other three laughed and kept walking towards the school. "Hey, girls! Hey, Meatball-head! On time again?"
"Darien! I thought that you promised never to call me that again," Serena whined, turning to glare at Darien, who was approaching from one side, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his green jacket.
The elder boy laughed, raising his hands. "Okay, Serena, I'm sorry." He glanced at Ami and Lita significantly, then smiled and winked at them all. "Have a nice day."
Serena watched him walk off and sighed. "Ah! He can be so dreamy when he's not being mean!"
"Not my type," Lita said lightly, giggling and aiming the camera at his retreating backside anyways.
"Hey!" Serena dove at Lita, who laughingly dodged.
After a moment, Molly stared at Serena. "I thought you liked Andrew and Tuxedo Mask."
Serena stopped chasing the taller girl, who stuck out her tongue. Giggling in a high pitched voice, and tucked an arm behind her head. "I--yes, but I can look, can't I?"
Ami sighed and shook her head as the three girls continued. Once they reached the school, they stopped, seeing a truck and an expensive looking black sedan parked to one side of the school auditorium.
"What're they for?" asked Molly, peering at the vehicles curiously.
"Neh? Oh," said Ami. "That is probably the group of Americans and Europeans who are here for a month or two as part of the Arts exchange program. They are here to put on concerts and to hold workshops for the local students. Our school gets them for this week." All the girls stopped to look.
"Where'd you find out about that?" asked Serena, bouncing on her toes and trying to peer past Lita.
"The newspaper; there was an article about the Arts program in there yesterday."
"I saw it too," said Lita, tucking her camera into her backpack. "That's the real reason I brought the camera; don't you ever read the paper, Serena?"
"The comics. I mean--why would I want to read the news, anyway? It's so boring."
Ami and Lita sighed in unison, but they all turned their attention back to the strange vehicles as someone came out of the side-door of the auditorium and bent over the trunk of the car. The slender man rummaged for something for a long time, bits of what was probably muttered curses carrying to where they stood. Abruptly, he straightened, his face still away from the group, rubbing at the small of his back as he pulled out a smallish black case and closed the trunk. "I don't know what he looks like in the front," Lita said in a slow, approving voice, her eyes fixed on him, "but the back is certainly nice enough."
The man was tall, wearing a neat pair of black slacks and a full- sleeved red silk shirt. His hair was a yellow-blonde, cut fairly short in the front and long in the back in the style so often popular amongst the Americans. He pulled a black leather coat off the roof of the car, along with a wireless headset, putting them both on, and turning slightly as he did so, giving the four girls a view of his face.
"It's Jedite!" gasped Ami, a hand flying to her chest and stepping back.
"Who's Jedite?" asked Molly, her brow crinkling in confusion, though she felt a tinge of recognition.
"Umm--" said Serena, starting to sweat slightly.
Before she could get any further, another man came around the side of the truck, one slender hand holding his headset in place on his head. "Testing! Spam one, two, three." This man was a bit taller, with platinum hair falling loosely around his shoulders. He wore dark blue pants and a jacket, but wore a gray silk shirt. Malachite.
The man who resembled Jedite broke out in a wide grin, laughing. "Spam?" he spluttered, laughing harder, his voice hinted with some odd mix of accents, leaning over and resting his free hand on his thigh, tittering. His Japanese was very good though.
The Malachite look-alike shrugged fluidly, resettling his headset. "It has all the problem sounds, you know, Jared; those s's and p's."
"All right, Malcolm. Spam spam spam spam spam--"
"Enough with the Spam, already," said a husky female voice as another person rounded the corner of the truck. "You're making me sick."
She was tall for a woman, with an angular face and golden-blonde hair in a single thick braid to her mid-back and bright green eyes. She wore a dark gray pants suit with a high-banded collar; almost like a uniform. And she could have stood in for Zoisite any day--except for the broad smile and the hint of a German accent to her words. "All right, Zoe, all right," said the almost white-haired one with another smile. "Spackle, perhaps?"
"You guys," 'Zoe' said with a laugh. "Come on; Nathan's warming up already. We're not going to start easy this morning."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," said 'Jared,' opening the case he was holding and pulling out the upper joint of an oboe, peering down the barrel of it before pulling out a pencil. "What ARE we starting with so I can get out the right instrument."
'Zoe' shrugged, turning to push up the back door to the truck and pull out a flat, black cloth case, opening it to check on several felt- headed mallets. "I don't know. You'd have to ask Bridgette to be sure. Come on." She closed the back of the truck.
A piercing violin wail rang through the air and a fourth person walked around the truck. His dark auburn hair was back in a tail which fell to a bit below his shoulders over a black sports coat and green silk shirt. Blue eyes gleamed with mirth as he removed the bow from the strings and lowered his hand to tap the bow on the knee of his black slacks. Nephlite. "Well, now. May I join you? Bri's been in there doin' something arcane or other with the sound wiring screamin' in some language or other," he chuckled, his deep voice flavored with an Irish lilt.
Molly clutched at Serena's arm, tears filling her eyes. "Serena, it-- it's--"
"Well, Nathan, I suppose we should actually get in before Bri uses the wires to string us up somewhere," said 'Jared' with a wink. "I imagine she could use a sound check."
"Beats me," said Zoe. "I never COULD get those damn connections just right like she can."
As the three of them started to walk off, Nathan shrugged. "Aye, well, she's been at it considerably longer, hasn't she, then?"
The four girls were silent a moment, then Molly turned a tear- streaked face to the others. "That was--was Nephlite. And the woman-- she--she's the one who killed--"
Serena thumped down onto a nearby bench, her fist in her hair, sending it tumbling from its normal strange style. "This is what happens when you're on time to school."
*** Rei glanced at Ami. "You're kidding, right?"
The short-haired girl shook her head. "I wish I were, Rei, but I'm not." She glanced over to make sure Molly wasn't listening. The red- haired girl was concentrating on a video game with Serena, though, being watched over by Andrew. "But it looks like the Negaverse generals, at least, we revived along with us."
"I am wondering who this 'Bridgette' person is," Luna muttered. "You said you didn't get a good look at her?"
"No," said Lita, shaking her head. "We were too far back in the auditorium from then this morning, and our class doesn't get them to teach us until tomorrow."
"And I couldn't used my computer with Molly sitting right there," said Ami.
"Her back was mostly to us, anyway. All we could see was long red hair, and hear her voice when she sang, of course. She's very good!" said Lita.
"I don't like this. That could be Queen Beryl, singing or not," said Luna. "We need to find out where they are staying, and watch them."
*** "Nathan," murmured a silky woman's voice, "is your shoulder still bothering you as badly as it was earlier today?"
Nathan stopped, in the wood-paneled hallway of the house that he and his friends and their mentor were living in while in Tokyo, and turned to face Bridgette. She and Malcolm straightened from tuning the piano in the "practice" room, brushing old wood-dust from their clothes. "Aye, Bri', and I can't for the life of me think what I've done to the bloody thing."
Bridgette Corwyn brushed the dust from the front of her simple blue dress and wandered over to him, gesturing to a nearby sofa. "Go on and sit there a moment before you go, Nathan; I want to have a look."
The auburn-haired man sat on the edge of the sofa, sighing and unbuttoning the top few buttons of his shirt. Malcolm perched on a nearby chair, his silver eyes trained on his friend in concern. Bridgette tucked a wave of her thickly silvered, fiery hair behind her ear, and sat next to Nathan, carefully pulling back the blue silk collar of the shirt. Her dark blue eyes widened and she gasped. "Bloody hell! Nathan, don't tell me you don't know where THAT came from!"
Nathan turned his head and looked--and his jaw dropped open. "Holy shit!" Malcolm said, jumping out of his chair and stepping closer, peering in shock.
Nathan's right shoulder was a mess of bruises; mottled black and purple, threaded through with unhealthy looking red. "No. No, I don't know WHERE that came from. Hell, Bri', you've been with me most of the time."
"It looks like you've been prodding your arm with a jack hammer," Malcolm said with a wince, placing a slender hand on Nathan's good shoulder.
"It feels like it, too, Mal, I can assure you."
Bridgette shook her head, distress in her eyes. "damn. Well, then, I can put some of my salve on it, but I don't know if it'll help any." She got up and wandered over to the pile of luggage still stacked to one side of the front door, rummaging in an old-looking tapestry cloth bag before returning with a length of gauze bandage and a pottery jar of a spicy smelling salve. "Just try not to get into any fights with a giant woodpecker again, mm?"
Nathan laughed, then sighed contentedly as Bridgette began to gently rub the spicy-smelling, numbing cream into the damaged areas. "I'll try and remember that. Feels great, as usual, though, Bri." He grinned widely at his mentor as she worked. "Can I still go out an' play, Mummy?"
Bridgette laughed and playfully swatted his good shoulder and closed the jar, dropping it back in the bag and wiping her fingers on a rag Malcolm handed her. "Fine! Go then! Leave your white-haired, loony teacher here with her equally loony ward! Go have fun like the other two; GET lost in Tokyo! See if we care!"
Nathan exchanged a wink with Malcolm over Bridgette's head as she started to wrap a bracing bandage around his shoulder. "I only hope I can find someone as interesting as YOU two out there."
"I know you," said Malcolm, shaking a finger at him with an eager grin on his face, placing his arm around Bri's shoulders and winking, "YOU are going to go and find the nearest source of chocolate; you addict."
Nathan gestured dismissively, grinning hugely as Bridgette secured the bandage and tugged his shirt back into place. "Mea culpa."
Bridgette sighed. "That should hold you. If it starts hurting again, find yourself a sling, all right?"
"Thank you, Bri'," he said, stooping to give her a kiss on the cheek. "I'll be back later!" He winked at Malcolm once more while he rebuttoned his shirt. "You two behave now."
Bridgette laughed, but her eyes weren't completely touched by her humor. "Nathan, I'm old enough to--" she sighed, chuckling.
Nathan chuckled once more, then kissed Bridgette on the cheek again, helping her to her feet. "Later, then. Don' do anythin' I wouldn't."
"There's something you wouldn't do?" Malcolm shot back.
Nathan grinned. "That's Zoe and Jared you're thinking of, Mal."
*** Molly sighed deeply, frowning and sitting back in her chair. "Serena, I still don't understand why you're so worried about those musician people that were at our school today," she said, playing with the straw that was in her soda. "It--couldn't be--those people I told you about."
"Molly, I--" Serena glanced over at Rei's head shake, then sighed. "It, um--it's because we--ah--"
"Look!" whispered Ami.
They all turned to see the Nephlite look-alike walking into the cafe, rubbing at his shoulder a little as he scanned the crowd. He walked over to the counter, squinting up at the menu with a frown as if he were puzzling it out, then he stepped forward to the counter and murmured something to the clerk, passing over a handful of yen. The clerk returned with one of the cafe's popular "Death by Chocolate" sundaes, and the tall man's face split into a wide grin. He winked, and leaned forward, saying something else which sent the young girl behind the counter into a blushing round of giggles. He saluted with the bowl, smiled, then turned to scan the cafe for a seat.
It was very busy for a Wednesday night, and there were few empty chairs in the place. Serena felt a claw in her sock and she looked down to see Luna peering up at her. "Now's our chance; offer him that seat by you," the cat muttered. "We need to get a good look at him; ask him things."
Mina looked up from the dark-furred cat, then put on her best smile, standing and waving cheerfully at him. "There's a seat here, if you want."
He walked over with a smile on his face. "My thanks t' you of course, lasses," he said, carefully setting his sundae down. "I'm Nathan Malley; part of the group Wayfarer, here from Ireland to--"
"You were at our school today," said Ami abruptly, smiling.
"Was I then? Well, I suppose I will be seeing you all again, then."
"Not me," said Rei, eyeing him a bit suspiciously. "I go to a different school." She pushed her long hair from her eyes as Nathan turned his jewel-toned eyes to her curiously. "So does Mina."
"Ah. Oh well, then. Maybe I'll be seeing the two of you later, mm?" He sat carefully, wincing as he jarred his left arm a bit hard on the edge of the table.
"My name is Ami, and this is Lita, Rei, Mina, Serena, and Molly."
Nathan looked at them each in turn with a smile, but the smile faded a little as he peered at Molly, a bit of confusion spreading into his warm blue eyes. "Pleasure, of course." He picked up a spoon and took a bite of his sundae and raised an eyebrow. "They weren't joking with the name of this, were they?" he said with a slight laugh, though his eyes strayed back to Molly again.
"Nope," said Serena, glancing at the completely-silent Molly.
Nathan chuckled, but his brow was creased a bit with worry, or perhaps confusion. He took another bite, glancing out of the corner of his eye at Serena, "So, do you all like what you heard of us this morning?"
"Umm--yeah! It's nice," said Lita. "You're very good. How--ah--long have you been playing?"
Nathan paused, a spoonful halfway to his mouth. "Hmmm; that would be close after 14 years now."
They all blinked. "How--did you join such a group?"
Nathan chuckled, some of the tension leaving him, as his face turned into a fond, remembering look. "That's easy enough to tell, I suppose. Bridgette's a very renowned teacher of music and so on, leastwise, in Europe and America, and a good many years back, she began a sort of scholarship fund to seek out young talent. I won one year in Ireland and got to go to her school when I was 8." He took another bite. "Bri and I--we sort of meshed well, I guess. Malcolm--the one on the keyboards this morning, he was an orphan in America when he won a couple of years before me--sort of took to me too, and since Bridgette took over his guardianship...well, there is something to be said for family." He munched thoughtfully a moment, then spoke up again. "Jared, the blonde, he won in oboe a year after I did in America- -and Zoe for voice a year later in Germany. There's other winners and people who pay to go to school there, but the four of us sort of got in special with Bridgette, I suppose. Now we're a regular group; go everywhere together." He set his spoon down a moment to rub at his shoulder.
"No arguing or fighting?" asked Rei.
Nathan gave her an odd look, then shook his head. "Nothing serious, no; we've...well, there's been enough troubles in ALL of our lives, that we don't need to get angry at each other." He grimaced, setting down his spoon to massage his shoulder.
"Does--your arm hurt?" asked Molly softly, suddenly.
He stopped rubbing, his hand just resting on his shoulder, and looked at her a moment before answering. "I--bruised it up a bit. No worry, though." He frowned, then released his shoulder and turned back to the remains of his sundae.
Nathan finished his sundae and cleared his throat into an uncomfortable silence at the table. "I hate to eat and run, ladies, but--I look forward to seeing at least some of you again."
"Uh--sure! No problem! Feel free to come sit with us any time!" blurted Serena.
Nathan looked at her for a moment, frowned then shook his head. "I don't suppose I've seen you before, Miss Serena, have I? I've the queerest feeling..."
Serena laughed in a high-pitched nervous tone. "Me? Oh no! I never go anywhere without a disgu--OW!" She stopped as Luna bit her ankle, glaring down at the cat.
Nathan frowned, his face taught, but he pushed forward a half- smile. "Well, I'm off now." His head cocked to one side, and a fond smile touched his lips, warming the confused eyes. "Though Jared would likely mention that I've been 'off' since I was a wee boy." He looked at them once more, then took his dish back to the counter and left the cafe, his hand back at his shoulder.
*** "I'm telling you, Bri', it's crazy," Nathan said urgently into the cellular phone as he strode down the mostly vacated street. "There they were; the whole bunch of people from those odd dreams I've been having for a couple of months now." He rubbed at his right shoulder with the knuckles of the hand holding the phone. "Especially the one--"
He stopped in his hurried walk abruptly, staring at a turnstile gate into a darkened park with a deep frown on his face. "A--I--I'll call y' back, Bri'. I--found that park, the one where I dreamed..."
He hung up before Bridgette could finish, pushing through the gate and into the park. He looked around in confusion for a moment, not sure of where to go, then he started a slow walk through the trees, looking around. "Everything's so bloody FAMILIAR," he muttered to himself. "I suppose I must have hit my head this morning--maybe it's the airplane food--" he shook his head, stopping abruptly to shove a hand into his hair in a gesture of perplexment, looking around himself. "If I'm not a bloody lunatic, that is; crawling around a bloody park in the middle of the night." He sighed, crossing to a tree and sitting with his back against the trunk as he shoved the phone back into his jacket pocket. He shoved a hand under the lapel of his jacket to rub at his shoulder.
His hand encountered a sticky, warm dampness in the area of the worst pain. Startled, he pulled his hand out and peered at it in the faint glow from the street lights. Blood. "What in--" He carefully eased the jacket off his bad shoulder and stared at the dark stain on his shoulder before gingerly opening his shirt collar.
The bandage Bridgette had wrapped so carefully a couple of hours before was soaked in blood, the pain more intense than ever before, throbbing with his heart beat. Nathan stared, a sweat breaking out on his forehead as the park seemed to grow silent around him. Nervously, he struggled to his feet holding his shoulder in an attempt to stop the blood, which oozed from under the bandage. He took a step back towards the gate, and tripped in a ragged looking crater. He clambered to his knees, hissing in pain from the jolt the fall had given his shoulder, staring at the crater. "Bloody hell; what's a bomb doing going off in a park HERE? Belfast surely, but--" Nathan stopped suddenly, swaying, and feeling intensely dizzy as his head began to pound in time with the pulsing pain in his shoulder. With a groan, he fell to one side of the grassy crater and was still.
*** Bridgette set her phone down, her brow creased with worry, her dark eyes nearly black in concern. Though her hair was thickly silvered, her face was unlined other than the permanent worry line between the graceful brows, only the dark eyes showing any sign of the age her hair claimed. Malcolm frowned from across the candlelit table at her, setting down his napkin and getting up, going over to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Is something wrong, Bri'?" he asked.
She shook her head wonderingly. "I don't rightly know, Mal'," she murmured. "Nathan--sounded odd. He's been having troubles with dreams; like you and Zoe have."
Malcolm frowned. "Like ours? The same--"
"He never says for certain. Just mutters about faces and different places; apparently it's pretty awful." Bridgette bit her lip, then stood, dropping her napkin on the table. "I'm going to go out looking for him; to see if he's all right. Will you stay here in case he--"
Malcolm sighed. "Yes." Bridgette smiled gratefully, brushing his cheek with her lips, then grabbed a heavy wool cloak from a hook by the door and trotted out into the chilly night air. He watched her vanish into the night's shadows and sighed, closing the door behind her. Sighing again, he tugged his silver hair into a tail and began cleaning up the dinner mess from the table, blowing out the candles.
If Nathan's dreams were anything like his, he wouldn't blame Nathan for sounding worried. Images and other faces and places he could understand in dreams, but not so real; never so complete. It was as if a movie of some other person's life was playing itself in his head every night. A person Malcolm desperately didn't want to know. Zoe claimed much the same thing, and she had been increasingly jumpy when she was alone with him lately. Since about three or four weeks before. When she claimed HER dreams had started. Malcolm's had started only a week or two ago--right after he had gotten sick. He set the stack of dishes down and sat back down at the table, staring into the hearth-fire moodily. **Come to think of it, Zoe's dreams started after she was sick, too. And Nathan was sick a while ago; when he started not sleeping that much...**
Grimacing, he stood quickly, snatching up the dishes and stalking down the hall to the kitchen with them.
But what did the dreams mean?
*** "Hey, Serena?"
"Yeah, Molly?" asked Serena distractedly, her mind still mulling over their encounter with Nathan Malley at the cafe.
"Do you--I..." Molly broke off, looking around the cool night a moment. "I think I am going to go for a walk. I--I'll be back later."
"But, Molly--" Serena started, then stopped with a sigh as Molly moved off quickly, her arms wrapped around herself in her coat, pushing past the other girls and vanishing into the night. "I'll tell Mom, I guess."
Ami watched Molly go. "I wonder if one of us should go with her; it is getting late."
"Luna did," Artemis said from a perch on Mina's shoulder. "She'll call if there's any trouble." He turned to Ami. "What'd you find out about the guy?"
"I haven't had a chance to look at what data I gathered yet," Ami said. She sat on a bench and called up her computer, the visor appearing over her eyes. "Let me see; I'll check the internet first to see if there's any information on him and the others; birth records, that sort of thing. And they're pretty popular, so they've probably got pictures and a web site and things." She typed in silence for a moment, then frowned. "That's odd; there seems not to be many pictures of them actually. Wait--here he is. Nathan Malley--hmmm, fairly normal records; doctors, grades, pass ports. I'll try the others." Each of the four younger members of the group checked out as normal with all the records. Malcolm Barnes had a certificate of guardianship transferred to one, "Bridgette Corwyn." Ami shrugged. "As far as the earth records are concerned, the four of them have all had normal--or as close as they can get--lives for however long they've been alive; Nathan's story seems to check out. Let me try the woman who's in charge, though--" Ami typed in a few more things, and frowned. "That's funny. There's only property records in her name; no birth records, doctors, nothing. Let me--" Ami blinked. "The name comes up again a few hundred years ago, too, but this time in America, on a ship's roster that's now in a museum in Boston."
Rei frowned. "Hmm. Sounds like she may be trouble."
"Is there ANY picture of her available?" asked Artemis.
"Just a moment." Ami punched a few more keys. "Here we go; it's pretty recent...some sort of publicity shoot or an album cover or something." A picture appeared in the center of Ami's screen. All the members of the band were perched on rocks around a waterfall, tall evergreens behind them on rolling hills. They all wore medieval European-looking clothes. Bridgette was in the foreground, her hair done up into an elaborate braid that coiled around her head like some sort of crown. Artemis squinted at the picture, then frowned. Ami shrugged. "She looks a little like Queen Beryl, but..."
The white cat pushed closer. "That locket around her neck; can you enhance that part of the picture?"
"Sure." Ami punched a few keys and the area around the locket came forward, then cleared. "Is that good enough?" She asked, turning the computer to where the white cat could see better.
Artemis stared carved silver locket for several minutes without twitching a whisker. Abruptly, he sat heavily, shaking his head. "Impossible."
"What's impossible?" asked Serena, staring uncomprehendingly at the design. A simple circle, quartered with a cross, the hoop twined with ivy and held up by the coils of a long, serpentine, dragon.
*** Molly walked through the park in silence, her thoughts turned inwards. What was going on?? First the dreams about Nephlite's death had been coming more and more frequently, and then they had grown worse. Not only that, she was increasingly uncomfortable with Melvin, once again beginning to cringe at the very sound of his voice. She sighed, reaching into a pocket sewn into the inside of her coat, and pulled out an origami flower she had folded in school a couple of days before. With a sigh, she stepped off the path and entered the glade of trees where Nephlite had died.
She stopped dead in her tracks, hiding behind a tree. Someone was already there, laying on the grass. She watched a moment, waiting for the person to make a move, but the body remained still. Hesitantly, she moved forward to crouch at the still figure's side. She reached out a hand, laying it tentatively on the unmoving man's shoulder, eyes warm in concern, though they darted about nervously. Gingerly, she rolled him over.
Nathan Malley lay there slackly unconscious, and Molly's hand came away wet with blood.
*** Bridgette walked quickly through the night, not looking one way or the other, intent on her goal. Her feet made little sound as she went, but the birds stirred themselves in the trees above her as she went by anyway. She paid their sleepy chirpings no mind, just kept on her way, a single tear etching down her rigid face. "Not again; it's too soon," she murmured once, her voice breaking.
*** "Oh my--" Molly shook Nathan. "Ne--I mean--Mr. ah--Mr. Malley? Are you--what happened? Please wake up!" She gingerly picked his head up off the ground to let it rest in her lap.
Nathan groaned after a moment, then his eyes opened, staring about himself without seeming to see anything. He moved, and murmured in pain, closing his eyes again, his breathing ragged. Molly sat back, uncertain what to do, other than stroke his hair back from his face. She jumped suddenly, when a lilting female voice called out. "Nathan? Nathan!"
Nathan stirred on the ground again, and his eyes flickered open, moving at once to the direction the voice had come from. "Bri'--" he whispered, his face taught in pain.
There was barely a rustle of leaves, but suddenly a cloaked figure moved through the brush into the clearing, stopping to peer at Molly and the wounded man. Molly could have sworn a faint glow surrounded the figure's raised hand for a moment, but the glow, imagined or no, faded as the hand moved to push off the hood. "How long has he been here like this?" asked Bridgette Corwyn urgently, moving into the light.
"I--I don't know. I--just came here--and--I found--" Molly stammered.
Bridgette shook her head, crouching beside Molly, and carefully pulling the blood-soaked cloth away from the shoulder and peering at the ragged wound on the bruised skin beneath with a flinch. "It's all right, lassie."
"Bri'--th--this is--Miss Molly; from the--school we're at--this week," Nathan panted.
"Easy, Nate." Bri stayed him when he would have tried to get up. "Stay still." She glanced up as Molly pressed a clean handkerchief against another patch of blood to one side of his bad arm "I presume you got jumped?" Bridgette said wryly, her tense face easing some. "Never mind." She glanced at Molly. "Could I ask your help getting Nate back home where I can patch up his shoulder? It looks a right bit messy."
Molly blinked uncertainly, but took one look at the so-familiar face and nodded firmly. "What can I do?"
*** Serena paced in her room, muttering to herself. "I tell my mom that Molly wanted to go for a walk, and she yells at me for letting her go alone, not that I had much choice. Great. So not only do I have to save the universe, but I have to tell my friends what they can and can't- -" The phone rang and Serena quickly ran to her door and opened it in time to hear her mom pick it up.
"Hello? Molly? Oh thank goodness! Where are you? Where? How did you get--yes, I WOULD like to speak to Miss Corwyn, thank you. Hello? Miss Corwyn, what is--she--oh. Oh. I see. Yes, that's all right. I-- yes, thank you. I--oh no, we can come get her. I--oh. All right. Thank you, Miss Corwyn."
Serena poked her head down the stairs. "What's going on?"
Serena's mother glanced up. "Oh. Molly's on her way home. She-- found someone hurt in the park, and helped his friend get him home; he was one of those musicians that have been on the news."
Serena paled. "Er...okay." Quickly, she darted into her room and pulled out the Sailor communicator. "Ami! Molly went to the place where those musicians live. One of them got hurt, and stuff; and Molly found him in the park. My mother was just talking with Bridgette Corwyn on the phone!"
Ami blinked. "I see. I'll tell the others. Have you heard from Luna?"
Ami frowned, looking worried, "I hope she is all right." She sighed, eyes darting to one side on the tiny screen. "When she gets in, show her the copy of the picture of that locket. Artemis says it's important. He says he's not sure about it and he wants her opinion."
"What's the big deal about it anyways?"
"I don't know, Serena."
*** The Scouts all sat around on Serena's house's roof, Serena, at least, wearing a blanket wrapped around her over her fuku. They all stared at the two agitated cats, who had been talking in low tense voices, since Luna had returned with Molly a couple hours earlier. "So--what's the big deal about the locket?" asked Rei, irritably.
"Well," said Luna, "there's a bit of a story behind that, you see."
"Tell us, before Molly wakes up and realizes I'm gone," Serena whined, shivering in the cold air.
Luna sighed. "We may want to tell Molly what is going on if what we think is true IS. AND who you all are; she was, after all, targeted a great deal, and may be again."
"What? What's going on?" Lita asked.
Luna sighed. "You know, Lita, you're getting as impatient as Serena." The tall girl stuck her tongue out at the cat, and Luna just sighed, exchanging glances with Artemis. "Listen...Long ago, when the Moon Kingdom was at it's height, this universe was filled with joy."
"We know that part," said Rei impatiently.
Luna glared, then sighed and continued. "There was one person at the Moon Court and the court of Earth that was not happy though." Luna cleared her throat, glancing at Artemis before she continued. "No one was quite sure where she had come from, but it seemed as though she had always been there. It was a woman, with a young face, but hair and eyes that could have been mistaken for belonging to someone who had seen much; too much, perhaps. She was accepted, though, because she was a wonderful singer and a wonderful story teller. When she spoke, the tales came alive for you, the music filled your soul and made you see what the songs were about. She could speak with every creature there was, and understand their replies--and creatures right out of myths followed her. She was well loved and she seemed to care for the people of both kingdoms, but she was known only as Kaela to them all; or the Singer. Strangely, though, all people could remember of her appearance--when she was not in the same room with them-- was the locket she wore at all times; a locket with the symbol from the picture."
Rei shrugged. "So another member of the Court lived. What's the big deal?"
Luna sighed. "I was getting to that. She seemed to finally find some happiness when she met four young men from Prince Darien's court; the four who would become Beryl's generals."
"Wait--four MEN?" asked Lita.
"I cannot explain Zoisite's...er...condition," Luna sighed. "If you will let me finish what I CAN explain?" Glaring at them all, her tail switching, she went on. "They took up positions like brothers or sons to her, and all seemed well. Then, one night, she requested a joint audience with your mother, Serena, and Darien's father. She warned of an impending attack and pleaded for them to prepare. They listened, but did not pay much attention to her words. About a week later, the four men vanished, crossing to the side of an evil force which then began an invasion of Earth, and Kaela vanished. We presumed she was a fore runner of the Negaverse."
"If she was," said Ami, "then why did she try to warn you? And where did she come from? How did she know?"
Artemis shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Circles--part 2: dining with the enemy By NaruMolly
Nathan twitched in his sleep, face twisted in pain, murmuring some sort of half-gibberish under his breath as he slept. Zoe stood over his bed, her face grim as she watched him sleep. His handsome face was gray, and dark shadows marred the spaces beneath his eyes. She had never seen him look so bad; not even in comparison with the odd illness which had kept him bed-ridden for two weeks a few months ago.
Well, once, she had seen him look worse; but that hadn't been him, and it hadn't been her watching him die, crumpled on the ground by the small girl. It hadn't been her laughing and mocking him. But the dreams...
Then again, there was his shoulder. There was really no explanation for the awful wounds there; at least he claimed he could think of none, in the few moments he had been awake earlier that morning. But in the dream...the vines had...
Bridgette had seemed ready to pull her hair out before Malcolm had gotten her to get some rest. She was sprawled in a chair at Nathan's bedside, looking almost as bad as the younger man did. Then again, Bridgette hadn't gotten any sleep for the past three days--and had kept up her usual packed and active schedule without letting up at all. At least ONE thing was staying the same; Zoe had never seen Bridgette sitting still for more than a few hours at a time. The only times Bri HAD stayed in one place, was when some situation prevented her from leaving Zoe or her adoptive sibs to go do one of the hundred other things that she was always burdened with.
Zoe turned back away to stare out the window at Tokyo's skyline, wrapping her arms around herself and resting her forehead on the cold glass. Those dreams were getting worse . . . and Malcolm--sure she cared for him, but not . . . and she may fight with Nathan, but they both knew it wasn't serious.
Shuddering, she moved back to a second chair and sat with a thud. She winced at Bridgette's slumbering form, but even though her almost-mentor was murmuring something liquid under her breath, Bridgette didn't wake. Zoe sat back, shoved her hands into her hair and prepared herself for a long night.
Nathan chuckled and leaned back against the tree in the park as Molly laughed beside him. He hit his head on the hard tree, but was too distracted with the laughter, so he didn't even wince. So THIS was what real laughter was like. **I had forgotten,** Nathan thought as he glanced up at the stars through the branches of the tree above him. It was a good night to see the stars; clear, the lights of Tokyo not muting them as much as usual.
His arm still stung a bit, but the make-shift bandage Molly had made for him from a scrap of cloth torn form her pajama shirt had solved most of the problem. He smiled at Molly, his eyes wandering, as she started to talk again, rambling, really. Something wasn't quite right...
Then his head jerked up, scanning the area around him and the human girl. A flash of movement in the corner of his vision had him jumping up from his sitting position. He grabbed Molly, slinging himself between her and the youma, flinging her out of the way as he tried to roll them out of range.
Too late for him.
He choked, trying not to do more than groan in anguish as the cluster of thorns entered his shoulder, filling his ears with a wet tearing sound, his vision blurring a little as the draining qualities began to set in. The thorns broke off, sparks shooting down their lengths, and he clutched at his shoulder, sagging. He flinched, hearing Molly cry out; why hadn't she RUN?! He babbled something at her...
. . . and a familiar, but cruel laugh ringing through his head, as he raised pain-blurred eyes to see . . .
. . . "Yo! Nathan! Wake up, would you!"
Nathan's eyes snapped open to see Jared leaning over him. Groaning in pain, he flopped back down on the pillows, his good hand flying to clutch at his bad shoulder, his head pounding. "M' throat hurts."
Jared sat back into his chair, rubbing his eyes blearily. "I'm not surprised; I woke you up, 'cause you were screaming bloody murder." Jared patted his friend's good hand gently. "You okay? Need something to drink? To eat?"
Nathan finally calmed, sagging into the pillows. The dreams. Those damn dreams. But they had been just fragments before. Tonight , a long sequence; one long sequence. And it was him. Somehow it was him; him dying, and standing over him . . ."Jared?" he winced as his voice grated a bit. "What--what time is it?"
Jared frowned, a bit of concern leaking into his gentle, pale-blue eyes. "Uh, eleven A.M., Nate."
"The school--" Nathan said suddenly, struggling to sit up, but not getting up very far.
"Woah. Stop that!" Jared easily held him back onto the pillows, being careful of Nathan's bandaged shoulder. "Bri's taken care of it; it's all right. The classes we were supposed to take in today will be over here this weekend. We'll do the same again for tomorrow's classes, if we have to. You just rest, huh?"
Nathan stared at Jared flatly for a moment. **Jared; that name is not right for him, somehow.** "I . . . was . . . rather hopin' to . . . see Molly again. To thank her for--"
"Hey! Space cadet!" Jared waved a hand in front of Nathan's face, the soft blue eyes gentling with concern. "You and Bridgette volunteered my services as a cook tonight, remember?" He frowned, face openly showing his concern now. "If you aren't feeling up to it--"
Nathan quickly shook his head. "No, no. I'll be right enough, you'll see." He turned his head to see Bridgette still asleep in a chair beside his bed, her head resting on the padded arm. Malcolm was draped across the chair next to her, almost bonelessly, one of her hands held to his chest against the ends of his silvery hair. **There's something odd; why do I feel like Zoe should be the one with her hand in Mal's?** Malcolm had never said anything about being interested in the younger girl, after all; not in the twelve years Nathan had known Malcolm. **But the name Malcolm isn't right either; and I've never done any of the things I'm remembering. And Zoe is--there's something odd about her too. And Bridgette. What is wrong with me? I am starting to be as suspicious as Beryl.** He stilled a moment, then let Jared help him sit up and help him across the room to the bathroom. **Who in hell is Beryl?!**
Molly flinched and sighed, glancing back at Serena and the other girls Serena had started hanging out with a few months before. Molly sat on the bottom end of a slide in the children's park, her shoes scuffing patterns in the sand beneath the slide. "I told you; Miss Corwyn and Mr. Malley invited me and a few friends, which is you guys, I guess, over to dinner tonight. I thought you said that you guys wanted to meet them, so I asked if--"
"Why? I mean, YOU are the only one who--" started Rei, glancing at Ami.
"Mr. Malley said it was to make up for running off so quickly last night from the cafe. And Miss Corwyn said it was her pleasure--and that 'the more the merrier.' She smiled, so I don't think she was just saying that."
Ami shook her head. "I don't like this; we barely know anything about them." She turned a significant glance on the other girls over Molly's head. "How do we know--"
"I think that's why they're having us ALL over," said Molly. "They're really nice people; and Jared and Zoe are really funny! Come on, Serena, your mother already okayed it! She didn't want to let me at first, but that's what she and Miss Corwyn were talking about so long at the door last night."
"I--really?" Serena blinked, glancing uncertainly at the others.
"Well, I GUESS we should go," said Rei, slowly. "I mean, if they invited us and things; Grandpa will be glad to see me getting out."
"Not like _I_ have anything better to do tonight," Lita said. "And it'll be nice not to have to eat my own cooking for once."
"Yeah, and besides, won't the other girls be jealous and all? I mean a private dinner with all those cute guys," said Mina with a wink. Ami just rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Mina!" groaned Rei.
Lita laughed. "In any case, people will know where we're going." She cleared her throat and her eyes shifted to the two cats perched beside each other on the wall.
"Besides," Molly said softly, staring at her hands, "I want to know if Mr. Malley is all right. He was hurt pretty badly last night."
"What happened to him, anyway?" Ami asked.
"I . . . don't know, but I found him in . . . he was covered in blood. All over his shoulder."
Serena, Ami, and Rei exchanged glances.
"Wow. Maybe I should be a musician," said Serena, staring up at the large house which the group Wayfarer was using while they were in Japan.
The house had once belonged to a wealthy American, but was built to mimic the traditional Japanese architecture in the neighborhood about it. It was a sprawling two-story home with a garden surrounding the house up within the outer walls, the gardens still pretty even in the middle of winter. A wrought iron gate was set into the wall; an elaborate dragon curled around the bars, looking almost alive. Through the gate, they could see a gravel path winding through the dying plants and the rock gardens and ponds filled with koi. The gate was the sort that was kept locked, but there was a button set into the dry stone of the wall to ring the people in the house.
All six girls were dressed up in their better dresses. They all stopped at the gate, nervously staring. Molly finally set her jaw, and took a step forward to press the button. Before her finger could touch the plastic of the button, a cheerful voice called out from behind them, stopping her. "Hang on, Molly, I'll get it!"
"Ahhh!!" Serena shrieked, jumping at least three feet in the air as she spun to see Jedite's look-alike, keys clutched in one hand, both arms loaded with grocery laden bags, a small parcel balanced precariously on his head. Serena couldn't help herself; she burst out laughing.
"Jared!" Molly beamed at him, grinning and giggling at the sight of him, too.
The cheerful blonde man grinned. "Well, if that's the way it is, then I won't apologize for startling you and your friends." He paused, winking jauntily and chuckling. The parcel balanced on his head shook alarmingly, but he ignored it. "Though that was an impressive jump; think about trying out for the Olympic team?"
Rei laughed. "She can't do it on cue; she'd fall flat on her face if she tried."
"Rei!!!!" Serena wailed.
Jared laughed, shaking his head. "Ack! Oh crap!" The parcel on his head shook and fell--right into Mina's waiting hand. "Thanks, lassie! Umm . . . " he shifted his grip on the bags, shaking the keys on his fingers under the bags. "Er . . . will one of you please unlock the gate for me?" He shook the keys.
"Uh, sure!" Mina handed over the parcel to Molly and took the keys from him. She turned back to the gate and tried the keys until one of them fit into the lock. Mina felt a strange tingle of energy run up her hand and she shivered as she turned the key and pushed open the gate. "Is, the--uh--gate electrified?"
Jared shrugged. "Gives you the willies too, huh?" He shook his head, edging past her and down the gravel path, toting his bags. "I dunno; have to ask the people who leased this place to us, I guess." He grinned. "Come on in, though, Serena there looks hungry, and knowing our luck it's going to rain."
"I do not!" Serena said indignantly, just as her stomach grumbled. She blushed, and they all followed him through the garden to the front door.
"Malcolm!!! DOOR!" Jared bellowed, kicking at the carved wood a bit carelessly. When no one answered, Jared sighed heavily. "Could someone get the door, please?" Mina trotted forward, and pushed on the gilded handle and pushed the door inwards, letting Jared past her to set the bags down on a table just to one side. He backed into a small side room, pushing the rice-paper screen as the other girls filed in. Molly moved to his side to hand him the package he had dropped.
"Wow! Nice place!" Lita exclaimed, gazing around at the warm glow of the wood, and the painted rice-paper screens. Finely woven rugs covered the wooden floor here and there, and the whole place was warm, lit by candles and fires in the hearths. Some of the wooden walls were plastered here and there, the plaster painted brightly in oils depicting amazingly detailed scenes of fantastic places. There was a palette and set of worn-brushes, the paint-smell still in the air.
"Thanks, uh, you know, I've completely forgot my manners." Jared grinned widely and proffered his hand. "I met Molly already, but . . . I'm Jared Sims."
"Nice to meet a bunch of such lovely ladies. But, as Serena told me, you all must be hungry!" Serena blushed and Jared winked. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I've got to finish supper up." He turned his head towards the stairs. "Nathan!" With one last parting grin, Jared grabbed the groceries and trotted off down the hall to one side of the stairs.
Feet appeared on the stairs, followed by the rest of Nathan Malley. The auburn-haired man looked tired, and there was a tightness about his sapphire eyes that hadn't been there before, but his smile was genuine. He wore almost solid dark blue, except for a brooch at his throat with an emerald winking in the center of a complex golden knot-pattern, his right arm hung limply in a black silk sling, and he was wiping faintly-stained hands, carefully on a paint splattered cloth. "Hullo again, ladies. Sorry we weren't able to make it in today, but I seem to have met with an accident last night." He shifted his arm a little in the sling, wincing in pain.
"It's all right," Ami said, blushing.
Nathan frowned at her for a moment, then sighed. Molly licked her lips before asking tentatively. "Are you all right, Mr. Malley?"
"Well enough, Molly. Well enough. Been better, but, well, could be worse, I suppose."
"How?" asked another male voice.
The slender, platinum-haired Malcolm Barnes stepped from the room on the far side from where Jared had ducked, and leaned on the doorframe, one slender hand balancing a steaming mug. He, too, looked tired, and the varied grays he had chosen to wear didn't help him look any less drawn. Nathan looked at him steadily for a moment, his brow wrinkled. "Could be dead," Nathan said finally, a wry not-quite smile twisting his lips.
"That's not funny," snapped Zoe, coming down the stairs behind Nathan, dressed in a rather severely cut violet dress.
"It wasn't intended to be, Zoe," Nathan said softly, a sarcastic grin on his face as he glanced over his shoulder at her. Sighing, he shook his head, glancing at the girls. "And here we are snarling at each other in front of guests. I'm sorry, lasses, but I seem to always wake up in a foul temper."
Zoe's body lost some of the tenseness and she smiled after a moment. "You're always in a foul temper, and you didn't just wake up."
Nathan gestured with his free hand. "Well, now, I AM Irish. We have a reputation to uphold, y'know; I'm perfectly in my rights to be in a pissy mood."
Malcolm shook his head, a faint smile on his handsome face. "So what about the rest of us? We are all Irish citizens now."
"You're not a native," said a strange woman's voice from the same room Malcolm had left. "The temper only breeds true in those born on Irish soil," finished Bridgette, moving gracefully into the entry room. Her hair was drawn over one shoulder in a long braid. She wore a long, flowing, bright-red, silk skirt with a gold-edged hem that brushed the floor as she walked. She raised an arm, decked, tinkling with bracelets to push a few strands of her heavily-silvered, red-gold hair out of her eyes, the full-sleeves of her creamy silk shirt hissing softly. "Though I think Jared's made an exception," she commented idly, glancing down the hall where the young man had vanished.
The five Scouts all stared at the simple silver locket that hung around Bridgette's neck on a green-silk cord, while Molly peered in concern at Nathan. The injured man cleared his throat finally. "Ah, why don't we go sit down. I'll admit to you, I'm not as steady on my feet as I might be."
Bridgette looked at him a moment, then nodded, her strangely dark blue eyes returning to Serena briefly. "A good idea, Nathan; a good idea."
"Oh, ha ha! I could never be a good singer!" Serena laughed as Jared chuckled, leaning over to refill her glass with more soda.
Bridgette leaned back in her chair, thoughtfully making a steeple with her fingers. "Any can be, Serena. I have known people who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket learn to sing beautifully if they put their hearts to it."
"Take me," Zoe said, spreading her hands. "My mother told me I sounded like a sick crow the first time I tried, but I kept at it, and now look at me!" She grinned, winking an emerald eye. "Rich and famous."
"Bri's rich, Zoe, even if you're famous," Nathan teased.
"Well, a girl can't have everything. If she were perfect, who'd date her?"
Everyone giggled, and Nathan winked. "Seriously, though, only reason we're any good is 'cause we work at it. Some people just need more than others."
"Well, that'll be Serena, all right," Rei said wryly.
Malcolm chuckled a bit, then grimaced, his silver eyes twinkling at the pouting girl. "Forgive me, Serena." He didn't sound sorry at all. He frowned, then forced a smile. "Bridgette and the others are right, though; good music is more than a pretty voice hitting the right notes."
"It's a whole other language," Zoe said with a crooked smile, her eyes gleaming a bit.
"THAT sounds a bit corny, Zoe," Jared said, sitting back down into his chair, grinning at her.
Zoe shot Jared a venomous glare, then stopped, looking startled. "Well it, it is, and you cannot deny it."
Jared stared at Zoe with no little startlement, then grimaced, raising his hands in defeat. "Easy; Zoe! I'm not a bloody target for those daggers of yours! I was teasing; jeez, Zoe, switch to decaf, huh?" Zoe flushed and stared at her hands, and Jared patted her knee gently. "Sorry, Zoe; you're right, it . . . music--uh--"
Nathan raised his glass of dark, red wine and stared at the liquid as he swirled it. "Zoe, you should relax more; you're going to have a heart attack by the time you're twenty, or at least more silver hair than Bri and Malcolm combined, if you're not careful."
Zoe drew in a breath to snap a reply, but settled back into her chair, face troubled. "You're right, of course, Nate."
Nathan raised his eyes. "Am I? That's a bloody first. What's wrong, Zoe? I mean, y' usually argue more." His eyes warmed in concern, peering at the young woman.
Zoe shrugged. "I . . . didn't sleep well."
Bridgette sat up in her chair, looking at Zoe intently, her face still. Then she stood, brushing out the folds of her skirt calmly. "How's this? Why don't we go and show you what we mean. About music. We'll have ourselves a wee--ah--jam session, as Jared likes to put it."
The girls exchanged glances. "Sure," said Serena, "but, ah--"
"It will be all right, Serena," Malcolm soothed, managing a smile. "Get enough people together, and anyone can sound good." He stood, setting his napkin down and followed Bridgette out the door towards another room.
Jared shrugged, standing with a stretch and a lazy yawn. "I don't know why everyone's so damned serious all of a sudden. We can make anyone sound good."
Nathan choked on his wine and set the glass down while he coughed, throwing his napkin at the younger man with a laugh. "You loon!"
"Get it from m' brother, Nate." Jared bowed, with a mad grin on his face, then trotted out of the room with a laugh. Nathan stood, rubbing at his shoulder a moment, then carefully offered his good hand to help Molly up. "Really, Jared is the only one of us who ISN'T acting like we're all completely, bloody mad. I apologize."
"I do, too," said Zoe, walking amidst the other girls as they all followed Nathan's retreating form through the house to where piano scales began to ring from the other room. "I'm tired, I think; really, the only one I ever snap at is Nathan and the others, and they know that I am only joking."
"No problem," Ami said with a bright smile, staring around her at the art.
They all followed Zoe into a larger room. Bridgette was moving about, arranging chairs into a circle. Instruments of various sorts occupied virtually every available surface. There were instruments from all over the world, sometimes strange things which had the girls peering at them curiously. "Bagpipes?" asked Mina with a laugh, spotting a misshapen heap on one shelf.
Jared grinned, picking them up, "Guaranteed to wake up the neighbors!"
"Which is precisely why I leased this private house, rather than getting us all an apartment somewhere," Bridgette said with a thin smile as she crossed to pull her pedal harp closer to a chair. "We all have a rather bad habit of having spontaneous musical attacks in the middle of the night."
A loud squawk filled the room making the girls jump in alarm and making Malcolm flinch, his hands pounding onto the piano keys discordantly. "Jared!" he began with a forced laugh, raising his arm to shake his fist in mock-fury at the younger man.
The girls got their heart-rates under control as Jared giggled, putting his oboe together, the reed still hanging in his mouth. "Sorry; had to be done, you know. Can't have a messy reed. Everyone should make loud, obnoxious and slightly obscene noises at every opportunity they can safely get away with."
Nathan shook his head as he steered Molly to a chair, sitting carefully next to her, leaning down and picking up a guitar from beside his chair. "Jared, you never cease to amaze me."
"How's that, Nate?"
"That no one's gotten around to killing you yet."
"I'm too adorable to kill," Jared replied, batting his eyelashes.
"Don't tempt me, demon," Zoe snorted, flopping down in another chair and grabbing up the same flattish drum that the girls had seen her play that morning.
Serena grinned. "Hey! I'll have to get one of those reed things." She giggled loudly as she flopped into another chair near Jared, grinning as he put the reed into the top of his instrument and played a few scales.
Jared grinned broadly at her, perched on the back of his chair, the oboe resting on his knees. "I'll make you one; just promise not to use it in class. I'd hate to be chased halfway across the world by a group of irate teachers." He grinned. "Though I've never been banished; could be fun."
Bridgette sat carefully behind her harp in the chair beside the piano, smiling as the other girls found seats. "Now. The way this works, is everyone has to join in at some point. If any of you play an instrument--" When everyone shook their heads, Bridgette shrugged. "Ah well. That means we'll have to get you singing." She glanced at Malcolm with a raised brow. "All right, Mal; you got to your instrument first. What shall we play?"
"Thank you for a wonderful evening!" Serena beamed, waving at the five musicians, bouncing eagerly on her toes as the girls waved from the base of the stairs leading to the door.
"A pleasure! Please do come again sometime," Bridgette said carefully, nodding.
Serena swallowed. For all that the others reminded her of the generals, and a hundred other bad things associated with them, Bridgette, with her steady calm and piercing gaze, was the most unnerving of the lot. She laughed nervously, tucking her arm behind her head. "Sure, ah, no problem!"
Nathan smiled. "I thank y' for your concern, o' course." He glanced at Molly suddenly, his face turning more gentle and warm. "I'll see you all tomorrow, then, hmm?"
"Yeah." Molly smiled a bit tremulously, blushing furiously.
Waving, the girls all turned to leave, but Zoe's voice stopped them. "Tell Darien 'Hi'."
Serena jumped, blue eyes wide. She glanced at Rei, then grabbed Molly's arm and headed at top speed for home, the girls waving and beating a hasty retreat.
Nathan turned a perplexed face to Zoe as the girls vanished out the gate and onto the street. "Who's Darien?"
Zoe shrugged helplessly, her emerald eyes troubled. "damned if I know, Nate." She quickly turned and walked back into the house.
Bridgette's level gaze followed the retreating singer for a moment, then turned to the clear night sky and the moon, pain tightening the skin around her eyes. "She is just troubled, Nathan; just troubled. It's nothing to worry about."
Darkness stirred. Whispers. A stir of power where there should be none. A flicker of light; life. A thin laugh began at a whisper, then grew in strength as the light began to spread. The light only made the darkness seem thicker.
"Molly! Helloooo! Hey, Molly!" Serena waved her hand at her friend's dream-dazed face.
"Sorry, Serena," Molly said, blushing furiously with an embarrassed laugh. "It's just that . . . Nathan is, I mean, he's just so wonderful, and then he looks like--"
"Molly, it's time that you learned something about Serena," said a firm, purposeful female voice from somewhere near the girl's feet.
Molly jumped, looking for the source of the voice. Her eyes fell on Luna, the blue-gray cat looking up at her from the floor near her feet, a strangely serious and intelligent gaze fixed on the red-haired girl. "Serena, did you just hear--"
"I can talk, Molly, and those people are dangerous," said Luna. Molly merely stared, stunned as the cat's mouth moved in time with the words. "And Serena is--"
"A talking cat?!" Molly gasped, staggering back and falling to sit on the bed with a thump.
"I am not an ordinary cat, Molly. And Serena isn't a normal girl, either." Molly just blinked in shock as the cat jumped up onto the bed beside her. "Tell me, Molly, do you know of Sailor Moon?"
Molly jumped, then nodded. She reached out a tentative hand, touching Luna's head as if she didn't believe the cat was there. "Sure. She's saved me lots of times. And she was there when--" Molly broke off, her face twisting and a few tears spilling from the blue-green eyes.
Luna nodded. "Serena is Sailor Moon; and the other girls you were with tonight are the rest of the Sailor Scouts."
Molly blinked, then laughed. "Oh, come on! Now I KNOW I'm seeing and hearing things. Serena is Sailor Moon? I must be dreaming! Nothing else could be so silly."
Serena growled, pouting and stomping her foot a bit impatiently. "Look, Molly, Luna is TRYING to tell you something important, so just listen, would you?"
Luna shook her head. "You'd better show her, Serena, if we are to get anywhere. You have to admit that it IS rather far-fetched sounding."
Molly giggled distractedly, almost hysterically as Serena glared daggers as the unperturbed cat. "Show me what?"
Serena sighed, then stood up raising her hand to the sky. "MOON PRISM POWER!"
Molly could only watch in shock.
"I dunno, Nate; I mean, I don't know what's going on. All three of you have been acting strange lately. Ever since we got here. I expected to see a sign over the gate at the airport that said, 'Abandon all hope ye who enter here' or something from the way you lot were acting." Jared scratched the side of his head and shrugged as they walked down the side of the street.
Nathan sighed, rubbing wearily at his head with his good hand, flexing the fingers of the arm resting in the sling. "It's dreams for me. Call me mad, Jared, but it's hard to tell what's real or no any longer. I mean--do you know ANYONE named Queen Beryl?"
Jared cocked his head. "Nope," he said without hesitation. Then his face split into a wide grin, "But then I don't go to those kind of bars."
"damnit, Jedite, I'm serious," Nathan snapped. The fiddler stopped, a strange expression on his face. Grimacing, he turned to his friend, licking his lips a little nervously. "Um--what in the world did I just call you?"
Jared stared at him. "Jedite." The younger man's face creased in concern. "Are you feeling all right? I mean really."
"I don't know, Jar'; I just don't know," Nathan said, shaking his head. He looked up out of the corner of his eye at his friend. "What's got me thinkin' I'm even more crazy, is I could swear my soul I met Molly before last night. I get . . . odd feelings from her. And that girl--the one with the balls on her head--"
"Serena," Jared supplied, cheering back up.
"Yes. Serena." Nathan paused, turning slightly to look into a store window at the televisions, watching some sort of animated fight between a panda and a red-haired girl. "Odd girl, that Serena. It's like she's hiding something--something that I'm supposed to know--" Nathan shook his head.
"I think she's kind of cute," Jared said, grinning. "Do you like that Molly person? Is that why? She's pretty cute, as well. Nice girl, too!"
Nathan barked out a laugh. "Oh come now, Jared. I'm twenty and she can't be past sixteen."
Jared shrugged. "So? Look at Malcolm! Hell, do you think HE cares how old Bri' is? He's been pining for her as long as I've known you all."
"That's crazy, Jared." Nathan sighed and rubbed at his shoulder. "Malcolm and Bri are . . . well, it's totally different."
"I don't really think so, but suit yourself." Jared immediately became serious. "Are you all right? You've been looking a bit green, you know?"
Nathan smiled without much humor. "Been worse."
Jared snorted as they started to walk again, keeping concerned eyes on his friend as they moved. "What--been dead without letting any of us know?"
Nathan stopped in his tracks, staring at his friend. "That wasn't funny, Jared."
"Wasn't meant to be, dummy." Jared said sarcastically, looking up. Then the younger man's his eyes widened in surprise. "Hello, Nate. Er . . . did we do something illegal?"
"What?" Nathan started to ask and turned to see two uniformed policemen heading straight for them.
"God, but a nice soak in a hot tub would be welcome," groaned Malcolm, running a hand through his thick hair, shaking the few silver strands that came away on his slender fingers to the ground. He moved to stare out the window of his room and into the dark garden below.
Those dreams were getting worse; It didn't help that at least one girl right out of his worst nightmares had popped in for dinner this evening. Then there was Zoe...
Malcolm winced and turned away from the window, stretching. The dreams were still scattered and confused, but more was coming through each night; more details. Zoe, for instance, was playing a larger and larger part. He could remember the feel of her in his arms, seeing her die. Malcolm shook his head, shivering, and headed for the bathroom with his robe.
"I'm telling you," Nathan said again, his voice layered with weariness as he blinked at the bright lights of the police station. "I don't have the faintest notion who this 'Maxfield Stanton' is." He leaned back in the hard-backed chair with a wince, staring almost pleadingly at Jared. "I'm telling you, I am Nathan Kyle Malley; I was born in Ireland twenty years ago on March 21." The police kept on writing down what he said, never looking up from their note pads. "I have NEVER been to Japan before Sunday afternoon; closest I bloody came was Seoul two years ago."
"We're part of the Arts Exchange thing," Jared piped in. "Call the British Embassy; or better yet, call Bridgette, our mentor." He lowered his voice, muttering under his breath, "Besides, she's always been better at talking our way out of sticky things."
"Who IS Maxfield Stanton, anyway?" Nathan asked after a moment, a bit irritably as he pawed out some aspirin from a pocket and downed it with some of his cooling tea.
One of the policemen, dressed in a nice suit, rather than a uniform, finally spoke up. "Maxfield Stanton is a multi-millionaire who vanished about a month or so ago."
"Woah," Jared said. He grinned at Nathan. "Sure you aren't him?"
Nathan shot him a scathing glare and gestured for the cop to continue. "Anyway, Stanton's got a large amount of property: a car, mansion, and an old cathedral on the West side left over from some Christian missionary attempt, and all that money sitting in a Swiss bank account, and other holdings scattered across the world. Unfortunately, he seems to have vanished off the face of the Earth."
Nathan frowned slightly, rubbing at his forehead with his free hand. "I wasn't disappearing a month ago, I was getting sick." He shook his head, setting aside his empty cup. "And he looks like me, does he?"
The cop glanced at the desk in front of him, then grabbed a manila folder, and passed it to Nathan. The musician opened it, Jared peering curiously over his shoulder--and stared. "Bloody hell. So he does." It could have been him, dressed in a light grayish jacket and a yellow shirt. But there was a cunning, almost cruel, gleam in the eye, and the wavy, flowing hair on the man in the picture reached his mid-back. "No-not me; this is the longest I've ever let m' hair grow." He glanced closer at the picture, and noticed the top of a red-haired head with a bow standing in front of Maxfield. The face of the red-head was turned away, as if she were talking to someone not within the picture, but Nathan suddenly knew exactly who it was. "Who's the girl here, then?"
"Can't say. Sorry."
Nathan shrugged. "I am sorry I can' help you. Unless I had a twin brother I wasn't aware of I--" he felt a wave of dizziness, like he had felt last night before he had collapsed, and he grimaced as Jared shot him a slightly alarmed look. "May . . . I go now? I think I . . . need to get some rest."
The cop frowned. "Certainly, Mr. Malley, and we do apologize." The policeman cocked his head to one side as Jared helped Nathan to stand. "What'd you do to your arm anyway?"
Nathan looked up, an ironic smile on his face. "If you can tell what happened to Maxfield Stanton, perhaps you could tell me what happened to my shoulder." He turned and pulled the oiled, wool 'Piper's' cape over his clothes, easing the heavy cloth onto his shoulder. "Good night, sirs. Come on, Jared."
Malcolm lay back with a sigh, his eyes mostly closed, relaxing a little in the steaming water of the tub. A sharp herbal scent rose from the waters, and Malcolm reached lazily over to a small jar, sprinkling in another handful of pale salt crystals. **One of these days,** he thought, sleepily, **I am going to have to ask Bridgette what she puts in this muscle-relaxing mix.** A faint knock disturbed him and he sighed, pulling one side of the carved wooden shower door closed. "Come in."
Zoe slipped into the steamy room, blinking a bit as she accustomed herself to the humidity. "Sorry. I . . . just wanted to apologize . . . for earlier. I don't know what's been getting into me lately."
Malcolm cracked open an eye, peering at the woman he had called his sister for years. "What for, Zoe? None of us has been exactly ourselves lately; well, apart from Jared, of course. I doubt an earthquake could phase THAT warped sense of humor."
Zoe shrugged. "It's just that--"
"Never mind, Zoe; it's all right."
Malcolm raised his head, eyes snapping open. "What?" he stammered, a cold place filling his chest as he sat upright in the water, staring at her.
Zoe paled, clutching a hand to her cheek. "I--" Turning quickly, she fled the room, leaving Malcolm cursing, and trying to get to the towels.
Jared helped Nathan to sit on a park bench, crouching at his friend's feet, a supportive hand at his friend's side. "Nathan? Did you bring the phone?"
"N-no." Nathan murmured through clenched teeth. "I--will be--fine in--no time. You'll see." He closed his eyes, trying to catch his breath, his good hand rising to wipe sweat from his brow.
"Nathan, you look awful." Jared stood up, nervously looking around. "I've got to call Bridgette. She'll be able to help. Wasn't there a pay phone back--"
"No. No; she . . . means well, but--I--need to--let this--finish. Whatever is happening. It . . . has to finish. Bri's got enough to worry about." Nathan raised a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow again, and stared as it came away with smears of blood on it.
"Like hell!" Jared exclaimed, his voice cracking in worry as he half-threw himself to his friend's feet again. "My GOD! What is HAPPENING to you?" He pulled the cream silk scarf from around the neck of his leather jacket and pressed it to the blood on the side of Nathan's face. "Tell me what I can do, Nate! If I have to, I'll bloody carry you to the nearest hospital!"
"Circles--PART THREE: How the Other Half Lived" by NaruMolly
The Darkness began to spread, reaching out tendrils like oil moving over the surface of water. Then--from the darkness stepped a lone figure, dressed in a tattered gown. The darker patch of night surveyed the damage, scowling; she would rebuild, as always. But she needed energy; that was the one thing always denied to her. Grimly, she turned, and the darkness lifted slightly revealing a sprawling plain, covered with billions of glittering crystals. Slowly, the dark figure stooped and scooped up a fist-sized crystal at random from the ankle deep piles and drifts. "The lives in trapped in these should do nicely." Idly, as though she were merely looking at some interesting piece of art work, she raised the crystal in her hand...and crushed it in her fist...
*** Zoe stared into the mirror that hung on one of the walls of her room, frowning, peering at her reflection in the bright, silver-coated glass, her hands resting on the carved wooden frame to either side of the reflection. Slowly, she leaned back, raising her hands and began to undo her long braid, letting the long golden hair fall freely over her shoulders. The emerald eyes didn't even blink as she continued to stare at her reflection a moment more. Then, with a slow, deliberate movement, she took the cloth covered rubber band that had held the base of the braid she had just worn, and gathered all of her gleaming hair into one long tail, gathered at the nape of her neck.
It was still not quite right.
Frowning, Zoe reached out blindly to the dresser to one side, rummaging without looking in the top drawer, and pulling out a pair of scissors that were wrapped in a partially finished bit of embroidery. She tugged her hair free once more, then brushed the long golden lengths forward over her face, parting them down the center, then brushing forward an even layer into her face once more. With her eyes still fixed on the mirror, she carefully raised her hand and cut the separated strands of her hair, giving herself a set of bangs. She fussed over their placement a moment, then set the scissors back down, smiling at herself in the mirror, emerald eyes gleaming brightly. With a frown, she pulled a curl before each ear, then took a step back to admire her new look.
Zoe blinked, then clapped a hand to her newly shorn hair, her eyes widening in shock. She stared down at the long clippings laying limply on the floor around her feet, then fell to her knees, burying her face in her hands and sobbing brokenly.
*** "Oh THAT'S an original one," grumbled another female voice, while Jared and Nathan both turned towards the voices shock and surprise openly on their faces.
"MARS, I really--"
Jared and Nathan looked at each other in startled confusion; a group of five young girls were fanned out before them, several yards away, all of them dressed in odd sailor outfits. The ridiculous outfits varied in colors, and had impractically short skirts for the chill weather, not to mention the short sleeves, and Jared rather doubted those gloves did much to keep the cold out. "What are you lot supposed to be; some sort of odd Japanese gang?" Jared asked after a moment of stunned silence.
"Can it, NegaCreep," snapped the girl with the red skirt, and the long dark hair. Jared could swear that they all looked familiar.
"Please--ladies, I--don't know who you--think we are, but--" Nathan grimaced in pain, leaning over, swaying, Jared shooting out an automatic hand to help his friend, but not taking his eyes off the girls, his whole body tense.
One of the girls, in blue with short, dark hair, pulled up what looked like a pink one of those digital organizers, a pale blue visor appearing over her eyes as she appeared to tap at the pink thing. "Guys--that one, the one with red hair, is seriously hurt; if he doesn't get some help soon--"
"Great, Mercury, so what do we do now? Help them or fight them?" groused a tall girl in green and pink, her long brown hair in a tail.
"It doesn't change anything, just makes it easier," said the one in red again. "They're NegaTrash, and--"
"What are you TALKING about," Jared asked a bit exasperated, keeping a supportive hand on Nathan's side. Then the warm body leaning against his arm vanished, and he heard a soft thud behind him. Quickly, he turned to see Nathan sprawled, half-off the bench behind him, face pale, a bit of blood dripping onto the pavement from gashes on his face and running off his fingers. Biting his lip, Jared turned his back on the girls to see to his fallen friend.
Sailor Venus frowned, shaking her head as she watched Jared carefully tug Nathan's limp form off the bench and to rest against his shoulder, hands pressing the bloodied scarf to the wound on the unconscious fiddler's brow once again. "I don't know, Mars; I mean-- they certainly don't ACT like they're from the Negaverse. I don't think one of them would care what happened to the other; at least they didn't the last time we fought them, according to you, except for Zoisite and Malachite."
"Um..." said Mars, her face troubled as she stared at the two men.
"I think that is quite enough," said a flat voice, unidentifiable as either male or female. Before any of them could react, a blast of pure force flung them all several feet away, slamming them none too gently into the ground. Rei was the first to recover, scrambling to her feet and spinning to face the direction of the attack--just in time to see a rippling blue wall of energy come crashing into her. "Past time for young girls to be in their beds."
Then, Rei knew nothing more but blackness.
*** Jared looked up as he heard the girls all cry out in unison, curling protectively over his fallen friend, just in time to see Bridgette appear from the dark path through the trees, apparently taking a walk, her hands shoved into the folds of her favorite cloak. There was no sign of any of the girls, and he spared a moment to wonder about them, but quickly shoved thoughts of them away, waving frantically. "Bri! Bri! Nate's hurt!"
Bridgette appeared to jump a bit in surprise, her lovely face, a pale patch in the semi-dark swinging towards him. Then she ran towards Jared, her cloak and hair streaming out behind her in the wake of her passing. She reached Jared's side, quickly kneeling and checking Nathan's eyes and pulse, the pulling out her handkerchief and tying it around a bloody patch on his right arm to stay the bleeding under the fabric without chilling the bleeding man by taking his coat off.
Jared took one more look around the park, looking for the girls, then turned his attention back to his mentor as she directed him to pick Nathan up and follow her home.
*** "Serena! Serena!!!" Someone was shaking her. The voice was familiar, but--
"Go--'way. M' head hurts..." Serena groaned, flopping over and burying her face under the pillow.
"Serena! Wake up!"
"Serena, wake up, or I'll bite you!"
Serena groaned, and started to actually listen a little at that point. The first voice penetrated first. It was Molly's voice, taut with worry. Abruptly, Serena's memory came flooding back. The park; they had been facing the Negaverse generals--those musicians. She sat up quickly, eyes snapping open--and immediately wished she hadn't moved at all.
Her head pounded in time with her racing heartbeat. Groaning, she pressed a hand to her aching head, peering at her worried friend through pain-slitted eyes. Molly sat back on her heels on the foot of Serena's bed, hands fidgeting with the hem of her shirt, her blue- green eyes dark with worry. "Molly? What--how did I get HERE?"
Molly shook her head, looking about, a more than a little frightened. "I don't know. I--stayed here with Luna, like you told me to. There was a flash of light and--you were laying there in your bed, and I couldn't wake you."
"No change there," muttered Luna under her breath.
Serena looked around her room, not really hearing the cat, though Molly managed a weak giggle. The blond girl clutched her forehead, half-moaning, "The communicator. The others--" She groaned again as she moved, her head thumping, making her feel a bit dizzy as she fished the communicator from the night stand-and realized she was in her night clothes again, and not her Sailor fuku. Wincing in pain, she punched in the code. "Ami! Rei! Mina! Lita! Artemis; anyone!"
Rei's face appeared, a hand clutching the side of her head. "What HIT us?"
The picture flickered to Mina who had an ice pack tied to her head with a scarf. "I don't know--but it hurts."
"Did everyone wind up in bed; in your night clothes?" asked Ami, her blue eyes glazed with pain, a bottle of aspirin evident behind her.
"Yeah," said Lita. "And with the mother of all headaches."
"Who WAS that? What happened?" Rei asked, almost frantically, her voice rising in pitch.
All the girls groaned in pain as the voice stabbed at their sore heads. Luna sighed, jumping up to peer down at the communicator. "No one is in any shape to do anything at the moment." She grimaced, pacing. "We'll just have to wait until the morning and see what is going on."
*** Malcolm closed the door to Nathan's room behind him, leaving Jared sitting at the still unconscious man's side. He followed Bridgette's weary shuffle out into the hallway, grimacing and drawing his hand through his silver hair, peering at his mentor in concern. "Will he be all right, Bridgette?"
She looked back at him a moment, her dark eyes seeming to stare right through him, and awash with a hundred emotions, and none of them looked pleasant to experience. She smiled thinly, leaning with a tired sigh on the wall across from the door, crossing her arms over her chest and rubbing at her worry-lined brow. "I certainly hope so, Malcolm, considering I just--" she shook her head and groggily pushed open the door to her room and went in.
Malcolm followed her in, watching her flop into a chair with a muffled thud, the fire crackling cheerfully behind her. Her dark eyes peered into the flames as if seeking answers from the dancing blaze. Hesitantly, Malcolm stepped in as well, and closed the door. "Bri-- WHAT is going on with us all?" He flopped down in a chair by the door with an equally tired thud. "Jared is the only one who ISN'T acting odd, and he looks like he's going to snap from the way the rest of us are acting." He saw Bridgette flinch, her hand reaching up to finger the locket in a familiar gesture of comfort that Malcolm had seen her use all of the time that he had spent with her. "I mean--Nate is--he's--"
"He'll be fine," Bridgette said. "You'll see; in the morning." She rested her head in her hand, elbow propped on the arm of the chair. "Just fine," she repeated, as if trying to convince herself.
"He doesn't LOOK fine. Where are all those injuries coming from?" Malcolm snapped.
Bridgette flinched, and turned to regard him with wounded, deepest blue eyes, her fingers still tracing the patterns on her locket. "The mind is a funny thing; so are humans. Give him time; he--has to find a balance." The last words had the sound of a bitter rote to them, and Malcolm could only stare for a moment.
Bridgette looked at Malcolm, her eyes tired and shook her head gently. Never had her face been so openly weary or sad looking. Malcolm had to stifle the urge to try to reach out a hand and try to wipe the bleak look off her face. "Malcolm--something else is troubling you; aside from Nate, I mean."
He sighed, leaning back, his eyes shifting to stare at the wooden- plank ceiling. "It's partially Zoe--and me. I--keep coming up with these names--faces. The dreams are getting too real, Bri. It's--they're not like my dreams any more, Bri; it's like they're memories--or things I've forgotten somehow, but I--"
Her eyes closed in pain for a moment, then she shook her head, sighing. "Don't try to fight them, Mal'." She stood, going to look out the window, rubbing her arms as if she were cold. He voice lowered as she moved to rest her forehead on the glass, her breath steaming the window before her. "It was bound to happen, I suppose." Shaking her head sadly, she spoke up again, "But it will only be worse if you fight it."
"Fight WHAT?" Malcolm stood, angrily crossing to her and grabbing her shoulder in his slender hand. "Bri--you've never lied to me before, I don't think. You know something; what is HAPPENING to us? You always told me to think; to question things! Well, I'm questioning!"
Bridgette looked at him sadly over her shoulder. "That--that you must find out, Mal'. Your mind is trying to tell you something; I cannot tell it to you, and you wouldn't believe me, anyway." She shrugged her shoulder free of his grip, turning back out the window. She placed her hand on the glass, tracing a circle in the steam her breath had left and then dividing it with the same cross as her medallion. "Do me one favor, Mal'; no matter what happens to us all..."
Malcolm dropped his arm. "What?" he murmured after a moment.
"Remember--remember that I--"
Malcolm stared at her expectantly, but Bridgette said nothing more, merely leaned heavily on the windowsill, her head bowed. "Bridgette--why is it you--never even look at me twice?" he said finally.
Bridgette jumped, then stared at Malcolm, her back pressed to the window, her hair smearing away her sign. "Mal', I--it wouldn't be right. I'm too old, and you're--"
"Do you think I care about that?" Malcolm half-yelled. "damn you! You were the one who always said love cared little for age, or race, or-- " He fought back tears, his fists clenched, his whole body trembling as he fought to keep his emotions under control.
"It's not right, Mal'," she repeated softly. "You were--meant for another." Bridgette stared at her feet, not looking into his angry silver eyes any longer.
"What--Zoe? Part of these dreams?" Malcolm snapped angrily. "Did it ever occur to you that I don't WANT to remember whatever my--my MIND is trying to tell me?" Angrily, he strode out of the room, jerking the door open, then slamming it closed.
Bridgette watched the door for a moment, then turned and stared out of the window at the front gate. "Oh dear, Yen; this isn't going well at all..." She crossed back to the chair and sat heavily, a tear tracing down her cheek. "Just the way she would have wanted..."
*** Zoe slipped into Nathan's room, stepping softly, rubbing sleep from her eyes as she stared down at the fiddler's sleeping form. After a moment, Nathan stirred groggily, his eyes flickering open, staring at the ceiling in seeming confusion, as his hand probed carefully at his shoulder. Zoe was startled to see, when his fingers pushed aside the fabric of his shirt, that the bandages were gone, and the skin was smooth and whole again, as though his blood didn't stain the set of sheets in the trash to one side of the bed. "Nathan?" she queried softly.
His eyes snapped to look at her, face twisting in sleepy confusion. His eyes were glazed with a semi-dazed look, then hardened into something between distrust and hate. "What do you want, Zoisite?" He demanded in a low voice, an almost-sneer on his handsome features.
"Zoisi--" Zoe shook her head a moment, her face twisting through a hundred emotions, and then her face twisted into a sneer, crossing her arms imperiously over her chest and looking down her nose at the prone man. "You weak fool, Nephlite." She snorted, tossing her head. "I thought I had killed you last time, with those thorns. Ah well; I will enjoy it even more the second time."
"You don't even have a fraction of the strength you need," Nathan/Nephlite said with a glower--then paused, hearing an odd flavor to his words. Shaking his head, he pushed himself up, glaring at Zoe evenly as he swung his legs out of bed, not taking his eyes off of his enemy for a single moment.
"You--" Zoe snarled, raising her hands. Abruptly, she shook her head, and her emerald eyes returned to normal, from the gleaming cruel orbs. "Nathan!" she gasped, face white in shock at her words, and the unfamiliar hating look on her friend's familiar face.
"Who--" the auburn-haired man stopped his words; he remembered. Another life; as a musician. Frowning, he stared at Zoe. "Leave me, Zoe. Go." He grimaced, tangling his fingers in the mussed hair at his brow. "Please, Zoe...I...I need to be alone." Her face paled, more, and she backed away from him slowly, edging for the door. "Nate?" she half pleaded.
He grimaced. "Go, Zoe. Please! I--need to be alone a moment. I need to think."
The girl fled the room, her new tail of golden hair nearly getting caught in the door she closed it so quickly behind her. The auburn- haired man stood, staring into the mirror at himself, his blue-eyes troubled. Nathan touched his mended shoulder with wondering fingers. "Amazing. How did THIS happen? I remember--it is like two different lives at once--" he stared, then glanced out the window of his room as a police car drove by. Frowning, he glanced around the room, at the fiddle, resting on the dresser, and sighed. "I must tie up the loose ends first; start again. I have much to do. And THIS time, I will NOT make the same mistakes I did." A swirl of crimson energy formed around him, and he was gone, leaving Jared sleeping peacefully, undisturbed by the whole thing.
*** "They weren't at the school again today," Ami said, as Rei joined the other five girls walking down the street. "Miss Harruda said something about Nathan still being sick."
"I hope--" Molly glanced guiltily at the others, then continued, "I mean I know you say he's still a bad person, but I--he didn't seem bad to me. He--wasn't before--really!"
She stared at her hands and Serena hugged her tightly. Serena's eyes softened a bit. "Oh, Molly, I--"
Molly shook her head, then stopped, peering into the afternoon light. "Look--there's Jared now," she said, pointing towards the river.
They all turned and looked to see the young, blonde man sitting under a tree staring at the river, his face troubled. A silver flask rested by his hand, and he didn't look around at anyone who passed by him, his only movements, other than breathing, were to pick up the flask and take long, careful pulls. His eyes were deeply shadowed, and his face was bleak, the pale-blue eyes reddened from lack of sleep. A brisk wind ruffled his hair and blew his coat open, but he didn't seem to notice the cold. Glancing at the others, Serena walked over to where he sat. "Um--Jared? Hi? You--ah--okay?"
Jared didn't respond for a moment, not seeming to hear, then he slowly turned his head, a forced smile on his face. "Making an idiot of myself, sitting here drinking, aren't I?"
"What's--umm--what's the problem?"
Jared stared at the girls for a moment, then sighed, shrugging and sealing his flask, shoving it into an interior pocket of his leather bomber jacket. "I dunno, totally. It's the others, I guess. They're all acting weird. Nate got worse last night; we got attacked in the park--I think; the attackers vanished, so I could have been imagining it 'cause I was worried for Nate, but..." He shook his head, picking up a leaf and peering at it as if it were something he had never seen before. He sighed deeply, leaning back against the trees, his sight turned inward, though his eyes peered at the river again. "Zoe's creeping around the house either being a total bitch and calling me--Jade or something-- the--the next minute, she's standing there looking like a deer in headlights. Malcolm's gotten damn moody, and he and Zoe keep avoiding each other like the plague." Jared shook his head. "Then Bridgette's gone and become so quiet...I've never seen her like that-- not even when we got caught in Belfast--during that damned riot." Jared ran both his hands through his hair. "And Nathan, when he's awake, keep's muttering about things--saying the weirdest stuff." He stopped, abruptly, and stared at the girls. He laughed suddenly, but it sounded more desperate than anything. "Here I am telling a bunch of junior high girls all my family problems."
"Hey--I've heard of stranger things," said Mina cheerfully.
"Yes! Sometimes it's best to talk to a stranger to get their opinions," Ami added.
Jared sighed. "I suppose you must think I'm completely nuts by now." He stood--and swayed slightly, catching himself on the tree. "Woah. Stuff's a bit stronger than I remember." He shook his head and smiled thinly at them. "Thank you for listening--or whatever. I think I'm going to find some coffee; if I CAN in this country; it's hard enough to find the stuff back home." He paused, an ironic grin on his face, "And if I can walk that damn far." Shoving his hands into his pockets, he slowly and carefully walked off.
"I don't think he knows," Lita said after a moment, once Jared's back had vanished into the crowd on the sidewalk.
*** Nathan looked around, the placed the thick envelope into the mail box at Molly's mother's store and slipped away again. That was one loose end tied up. Glancing up at the bright afternoon sky, he stopped, watching the dot of some high-flying bird flying over head. Two sets of memories clashed, the more recent one telling him the kind of bird; a seagull. **Incredible; but I must find out how this happened. For that-- I will need my crystal; I tied up most of my power in that.** He slipped further into the shadows as a tired-looking red-haired woman approached the front of Molly's place, toting a suitcase.
Quietly, Nathan waited as she took out the mail, glanced through it briefly, then unlocked the store and went in. He glanced around again, then relaxed, thinking. **If I feel odd--and I have only just regained my memories, then the others must also be in the same condition; so Zoe would probably not know where my crystal is.** He frowned. **Jared seems to have no clue to his other self; maybe he's the lucky one.** He sighed, then turned to leave, raising his hands--then stopped. **So who is Bridgette?**
*** Bridgette walked slowly through the park, her hands wrapped in the folds of her cloak, her thoughts turned inwards. Nothing was going right any longer; not that she could have expected the few years of peace that there had been to last much longer. The brief Utopia she had had was gone again, and it was back to the same pain as always.
Zoe shifted back and forth between terrified and cruel; Malcolm was avoiding her and everyone else; Jared had gone out that morning and no one had heard anything from him, though his pocket flask had gone with him. And Nathan--
Darien stopped in his tracks a few feet away, watching Bridgette intently as she walked by, oblivious to his presence and everything else but the path. He stared at her until she was out of sight, trying to figure out what had caught his attention about her, aside from her strange beauty and deep sadness. With a sigh, he shook his head and continued walking home.
*** "Thanks for helping me carry my stuff home, Serena," Molly said, setting her sleeping bag down on the floor next to her suitcase, and glancing around the apartment.
"Sure!" Serena set the suitcase down and grinned at her, blue eyes sparkling. "Besides! Your mom said she had brought back chocolate from Belgium, right?"
Molly laughed. "Oh, Serena! Only you could think of food at a time like this." Giggling, she led the way to the kitchen where her mother was sorting through the mail. Molly ran over and hugged her mother warmly, then looked at a thick, legal-sized envelope her mother was frowning at. "What's that, Momma?"
"It's addressed to you," her mother said, "but it's dated almost two months ago."
Molly took the stuffed envelope, frowning at the neat penmanship on the outside, not recognizing it. There was no return address. "I guess it got lost in the mail," she said and used a knife to slit open the back.
Molly pulled out a bunch of papers, neatly folded and stapled to a larger piece of blue paper. Confused, Molly opened it and peered at the top page. "'I, Maxfield Stanton, being of sound mind--' " the papers dropped from Molly's numb fingers to the floor.
*** ...A large, dark room, with a group of people at his back. Malcolm peered at the red-haired woman seated before him, casting frequent glances at Zoe, who leaned on his side as if she were hurt. The woman on the throne raised her hands and pointed at Zoe, and Malcolm felt fear rising as he started to call out a frantic protest. Then, a blast of energy tore Zoe from his arms, flinging her back several feet...
...Zoe falling limp in his arms, the emerald eyes flickering closed forever. He set her back down on the stone, and turned away before the tears fell...
...Hatred filled him for the five girls before him. The two cats were badly hurt clutched in the lap of their air-head leader. He smiled grimly, raising his hands. The Moon Brat, though, raised her wand-- and his power went wrong somehow. Frantically, he tried to redirect the energy to...
Malcolm sat up in bed, soaked with sweat, even though the room was bitterly cold since he had neglected to light his fire. Groaning, he flopped back on the cushions and stared at the ceiling, tugging the blankets around himself and shivering in reaction.
He had really messed up with Bridgette, and instead of apologizing, he hid from her. Sighing, he got out of the bed, grabbing his thick, terry-cloth robe and shuffled for the bathroom to take a shower. As he walked down the hall, he caught a glimpse of Zoe, peering at him through a crack in her door. He tried to smile at her, but her eyes widened and she shut the door quickly when she realized he saw her. **This is madness.** With a sigh, he pushed into the bathroom and closed the door.
*** Nephlite frowned, looking around the ruined throne room with no little distaste, though part of him looked at the broken surroundings, with an artists eyes, noting the fallen splendor...as eerie as it had been, it had held a cold and terrifying beauty.
Everything was in ruins. Sighing, he sent his thoughts out; seeking. There. Frowning, he moved to a pile of rubble--and bits of more unpleasant things--and sifted through it, before his eyes caught a weak flicker and a gleam. A faint tingle ran through him, refreshing his tired body as he picked up his Star Crystal and looked at it.
**Strange for the Crystal to be just laying about like this in the rubble.** Even if they had eventually found the Imperium Silver Crystal, why would his crystal be laying here in the rubble, with the power it contained? Surely it would have intrigued SOMEONE more than that.
Abruptly, Nephlite stiffened, hearing a strange, grating noise followed by the sound of dust showering onto the floor. Gripping the Crystal firmly, it fitting familiarly into the shape of his hand, he turned to the sound, gathering his slowly recovering energy reserves--and stared.
A large chunk of stone slowly rose from the floor and settled back into place in the air above him, dust raining down as it rose. **Rebuilding! But who--and with what?** Frowning, Nephlite, concentrated. He frowned a little; the stars were fainter here in the Negaverse than he remembered, but still there, at least. "I call upon the power of the stars--" he murmured softly. "Show me what causes this--"
The air in front of him rippled, and he looked intently at the image that formed.
*** Jared closed the front door softly behind himself, then sighed, tossing his keys onto a table, heading for the stairs. He wearily trudged up the stairs, running his hand through his hair and grimacing at the bitter after-taste of the unsweetened coffee. He stopped, suddenly; Zoe stood in the hallway, blocking the path to his door.
She wore a thin frown and her eyes gleamed with a hint of cruelty as she peered at him. **She's at it again,** Jared thought, stopping in the hall to look at her intently, warily putting his back to the wall behind him. **Zoe NEVER looked like that. What's she done to her hair, anyway?**
"You certainly don't act like you used to," she said finally, tossing her head arrogantly.
"I don't?" Jared said incredulously. "Zoe--I'm the only one IN this house who isn't acting crazy lately."
"How amusing!" She giggled, the laugh grating. "You don't remember a thing, do you? Oh well."
"Remember WHAT, Zoe?" Jared asked in exasperation. "I didn't start drinking until this morning so I--" Abruptly, he stumbled forward, eyes widening in surprise. Pain. Intense pain. Like a giant vice closing in from all sides. Jared choked, trying to speak, but pitched forward to the floor, Zoe catching him, her eyes losing the cruel gleam as she gently lowered him to the floor. "Zo--" he choked, trying to breathe.
Jared gasped, but the vice was tightening. Darkness began to fringe his vision as Malcolm skidded out of the bathroom, his hair soaking wet, a robe tied hastily about his waist. "Zoe! What happened?" Malcolm asked urgently, kneeling on the floor and clutching at Jared's wrists.
A flash of light that pierced even the darkness that was taking over caught Jared's fading attention, and he saw Bridgette running up the stairs and flinging herself at his side as well. "I--I d--d--don't know what--what happened. Is--is he--" Zoe stammered, shaken.
Bridgette let out a paint-blistering oath. "Get him into his room. NOW. Then leave us."
Fading, the last thing Jared saw was Malcolm and Zoe moving to pick him up.
*** "He left you EVERYTHING?" Rei asked, as Mina wordlessly passed Molly another tissue for the poor girl to dab at her eyes with. "The house, the car-EVERYTHING?!"
Molly nodded miserably. "The--police say the will is valid. I--it just- -" She broke into helpless sobbing once again, and Serena hugged her friend tightly.
Luna rubbed affectionately at the distraught girl's rib cage. "We must--"
Abruptly, everyone jumped, feeling a chill. There was a swirl of crimson energy, and Nathan Malley stood in the room.
There was something strange about him though; the proud way he held his head--the dark, gleaming crystal clutched in his hand. "Sailor Moon," he said flatly, looking at Serena. "There is great danger. Queen Beryl--"
"Hold it, NegaCreep," Rei snarled. "How in the--"
He turned angry eyes on Rei. "Do not waste time, Rei. The Negaverse is rebuilding itself."
"Aren't--um--YOU part of it?" Serena asked at Molly stared at him. "Umm--Neph--ah--"
"I am not exactly Nephlite any longer," he said evenly. "And I owe the Negaverse nothing." His voice softened and his eyes became a little more gentle as he looked at Molly, huddled in Serena's arms, her face white in shock. "After all, they would brand me traitor, anyway." He leveled his stare. "I give you this one warning, Sailor Moon. For--the care you have shown to Molly." He glanced at the red-haired girl on the bed again, and his face twisted. "Molly-it--it is best you forget about me; keep your young man. It is too dangerous to be near me." Abruptly, he jumped, eyes raised to the ceiling--or beyond it. "Jared--" he whispered. There was another flare of crimson energy, and he was gone."
Molly buried her face in Serena's shoulder, sobbing helplessly while the Scouts could only stare at the place he had stood.
The dark figure stared in confused fury at her hand, watching the dark, oily blood ooze from the numerous tiny wounds. Shards of the shattered crystal dusted her liberally and she felt a rising fury. Who had been in that crystal? Why had it shattered before she could seize the lifeforce trapped within? With a snarl, she threw her arms out wide and the entire plain of crystals imploded at the same time, leaving the plain covered with a thick layer of gleaming dust. Millions of voices cried out, only to be silenced...
*** Nathan appeared in a swirl of crimson energy in his room at the musicians' house, blinking in the fading light of dusk that filtered through the open curtains on his window. Surreptitiously shoving the Star Crystal into a pocket, he pushed the door open and stalked out into the hallway, his eyes scanning the area warily. He paused at the door to Zoe's room, hearing a muffled noise behind the partially open door. Curious, he paused, peeking into the young woman's dim room. Zoe knelt on the floor by her bed, face buried in her hands, weeping bitterly, her newly cropped bangs falling softly around her fingers. Nathan shook his head, wondering, a grimace on his handsome features. From down the stairs came the rippling sounds of the piano; Malcolm. **damn! Mal's either pissed-or worried as all hell. Or both,** Nathan thought finally, listening to the clipped fall of each note.
Sighing, and shaking his head, he moved past the stairs, continuing down the hall. He stopped at Jared's door, uncertain whether or not he should go in. Then something caught his attention. He stopped, frowning at the graceful dragon gilded into the wood. Had that always been there? Nathan couldn't remember. Finally, setting his shoulders with grim determination, Nathan pushed open the door and walked into the room.
Jared lay absolutely still in his bed, not even seeming to breathe. The younger man's gentle face was drawn and deathly pale, an unhealthy shadowing all around his eyes. Already fairly slender, he seemed to have collapsed on himself, looking like a doll in the bed. Bridgette sat with her legs curled under her, the folds of a royal purple silken skirt falling around the chair legs. She glanced up at Nathan from the sketchpad she was idly drawing in as he closed the door and leaned on it. Her face remained calm, though her eyes churned with a hundred emotions, including the faint fire of smothered fury. "Welcome back, Nathan," was all she said as she returned to her drawing, the pencil moving in smooth lines over the page, though Nathan was at a bad angle to see what it was she was sketching.
"Who are you?" he demanded suddenly, his fists tightening into fists at his side, barely feeling his nails cutting furrows into his palms.
Bridgette calmly raised her head to look at him again, then carefully set aside her drawing on the nightstand, without needing to look to do so. "What do you mean, Nathan?" she asked gently, tucking a few stray curls behind her ear with a graceful hand. "I should think you KNOW who I am; you HAVE been with me for twelve years."
Nathan gestured angrily, slashing his hand down to still any further words she had. "Enough! Each person you have taken into this group was--someone else. I know who they are, and I know who they were, but I do not know you."
Bridgette's eyes flashed with a little pain, and she sighed, looking away briefly, but remained calm as she uncurled her legs from beneath her. "Please, Nathan, what--"
"I am not Nathan," he snapped.
"Then who are you?" Bridgette countered, a bit of anger coming to flavor her lyrical voice. "Yes, I will admit I know what is happening to you; I KNOW who you were and what that meant." She raised an eyebrow. "Nephlite is dead, Nathan. It is up to you whether you let him resurrect or whether you can accept all that he was into yourself and realize that you are a different person from that one, if you care to remember that."
"Who ARE you? One of the Negaverse?" Nathan gasped, staring at her incredulously. "How can you possibly know such things--"
Bridgette smiled, but there was no humor to the expression, only bitterness. "Never, Nathan; never was I--of the Negaverse; it's--impossible. For all that I have spent a great deal of time in that dark place, I doubt that any there would bid me welcome, especially now." She rubbed at her forehead, eyes filled with that old sorrow that Nathan was so used to seeing flowing to the surface once again.
"Why did you seek us out? Why did you bring us together?" he demanded. "What ARE you? Why do you insist on speaking in riddles to me?"
"I'm a musician, Nathan, as are you--at least partially. And I don't mean to speak in riddles, it's just that I can't--"
"You are no simple musician." Nathan stormed closer, gesturing to his shoulder. "Explain this! I saw the amount of the blood on the sheets this morning! I should have died! Instead, I am completely healed as though nothing ever happened, and all I have a memory of is you standing over me all night with your hand pressed to my shoulder." He glowered at her darkly, crossing his arms.
"You can't play a fiddle with a shoulder that's been mangled," Bridgette said calmly, an almost plaintive note to her voice, her eyes never leaving his.
"You know too much for a simple musician. You can DO too much!"
Bridgette smiled thinly and bitterly, though a hint of wry humor was in her expression, though it seemed more directed at herself than anything else. "No musician is ever 'simple', Nathan." She shook her head, the waves of her hair gleaming in the lamp and fire-light, the silver in the red-gold waves almost seeming to gleam like the metal. "Sit down, Nathan; if you want even a short and edited version of any sort of explanation, it will take awhile. And this is no subject for a shouting match, especially with Jared--"
Nathan started to snap a reply, but sat on the other chair in the room, glancing at the almost comatose man in the bed before him. "How is he?" he asked softly.
"He'll recover," Bridgette said softly, a gentle hand straying to brush Jared's hair back from the slack face.
Nathan stared a moment longer, watching Bridgette sit wearily, her dark eyes troubled and fixed on the man in the bed before her. Finally, Nathan could take it no longer. "Why? Why did I regain these memories? How did we all come back, and so soon? And why did you--"
Bridgette shrugged, leaning back in her chair, flopping against the back with a tired thud. "Humans are reincarnated all the time, Nathan. And you are--and were, at least partially, human."
"But how?" Nathan asked, almost pleading, restraining himself from throwing himself at her feet and placing his hands in her lap and begging. "As near as I can tell, I--died barely two months ago." He leaned forward in the chair and grabbed her nearest wrist. "How can we be reincarnated while we were still living?!"
Bridgette shrugged gracefully, picking up her sketchbook again and cocking her head as she examined what she had drawn so far. "The answer to that, at least, is fairly simple if you stop to think about it, Nathan. When you crossed to the Negaverse, and fell under Beryl's sway, she 'killed' enough of you so that at least that part could be reborn in the usual cycle of things."
"Then why do we all regain our memories, and why now? Except Jared; he seems not to have gained the slightest bloody clue of anything about Jedite." Nathan turned to stare at the comatose man bundled into the bed beside him, not noticing as his accent started to flavor his words once more as he began to relax.
Bridgette shrugged helplessly, smoothing Jared's hair again, brushing her fingers over his cheek gently. "Because, Nathan, if you'll remember, Jared's other self wasn't dead; just trapped." She frowned a moment, the smothered fire of fury glaring brightly in her eyes before fading to a steady glow again. "That is, he was only trapped until a few moments ago."
"He was freed?"
Bridgette looked evenly at Nathan. "Is Beryl the sort of person you can see freeing a potential energy source like that?" Bridgette snorted, and Nathan had to scowl and shake his head in agreement. "No; you know the answer to that."
"And how do you know? How can you possibly know Beryl, unless you..."
Bridgette settled back after carefully readjusting the blankets tucked around Jared's chin, settling his slack arms to rest on the coverlet. "It is my job to know." She picked up her pencil again, idly moving the pencil over the paper once again.
"But why? Why are we--my shoulder? Where do you answer t', if anywhere? An'--"
Bridgette shrugged, tapping the eraser of her pencil on the paper softly. "The memories returning--your guess is as good as mine; I suspected it would happen, and THAT is why I brought you all together. I wanted to give you all something better to remember than the hatred, since I know Beryl erased the memories of your previous friendship."
"But WHY? Why did you seek us out? Why in hell are you helping us?"
Bridgette shrugged, her eyes becoming troubled again as she turned to look out the window. "Call it nostalgia; a tribute to--things I've lost." She sighed, rubbing at the bridge of her nose wearily, not looking at him.
Nathan stood. "I don't understand, and you aren't telling me anything."
"Nathan--you must make up your own mind who you want to be. Are you going to let the past rule you and become Nephlite once more, or are you going to try to ignore it? Or are you going to find a way to live with both? Malcolm is fighting the return of his memories tooth and nail--and it is breaking him down as surely as anything; I can't help him if he doesn't stop avoiding me." She glanced at the door, a pained expression crossing her beautiful face once more. "Zoe cannot come to grips with the other half she is learning of; she simply can't understand why she feels such hate to people she loves so much in this lifetime. Jared--well, he is going to be the worst of the lot as all his memories just came back in one blast."
"How?" Nathan frowned, pacing, his fingers tangled in his hair in sheer frustration. "Why do the rest of ours come back in fragments? Why did I get the wounds back; the ones that killed me and almost did again?"
Bridgette glanced up at Nathan, finally standing and moving into the path of his pacing and taking his shoulders gently in her hands, stopping him. "I do not know why your death wounds returned, Nathan. Perhaps the death wounds will also return for the others as time passes and more of their old memories are regained; I can't say." She turned away a moment, releasing his shoulders, and her voice lowered, layered with sadness. "As to why Jared's came back all at once--the answer is easy. I just killed his former self."
*** Malcolm's hands flew over the keys of the piano, madly running through piece after piece--then he stopped, laying his head on his arms as he crossed them on the keys, fighting back a sob. His head pounded; he was sick with worry over Jared's sudden collapse; Nathan's disappearance that morning, and Zoe's mutable behavior didn't help him feel any better, either.
He lifted his head off his arms long enough to take a drink from the crystal tumbler resting on the piano, rolling the scotch around in his mouth, as if trying to wash away the bad feelings. And he was angry with Bridgette, he had to admit; angry with her for not seeming to be shaken in the slightest by any of this. He raised his head, raising a shaking hand to rub at his forehead. Where had all the happiness gone? Until they had come here, everything had been wonderful. At least since Bridgette had entered of their lives.
Malcolm shuddered, laying his head back down on his arms. He could remember the stench of the alleys he had been forced to sometimes spend the nights of his childhood in before the shelter had taken him in. But then, another part of him; the part of him that was in those dreams--he could also remember laughing at other children in similar situations. That part of himself would watch them in the view of a crystal, Zoe tucked under his arm as he instructed her, pointing out the suffering.
Angrily, Malcolm pounded his hands on the keys, sitting up and then slamming the cover down over the keyboard. He snatched the glass and downed the rest of it, getting up and shoving the bench roughly back towards the piano, stalking towards the crystal decanter to pour himself some more.
From upstairs, he heard Nathan's voice rise, then fall. **When did he get back?** Shaking his head, Malcolm leaned on the mantle, staring moodily into the dancing flames in the hearth, sipping at his drink, forcing those other whispering thoughts to the back of his mind.
Sighing, he went back to the piano and pulled the bench back out, sitting once more and opening the keyboard carefully. He placed his slender fingers over the keys, then just started playing anything that came into his head. He had no idea how much longer he played, but his fingers were beginning to ache and cramp up, and full night had fallen, the fire having long since died down due to his inattention. He was startled into awareness as the piano bench shifted slightly, and Zoe was suddenly at his side, peering up him strangely, her emerald eyes inviting a hundred things. Malcolm looked down at her for a long moment, then put his arm around her, pulling her closer, resting his chin on the top of her head as he stared into the glowing embers in the fireplace. He started to lean down to brush her cheek with his lips, closing his eyes, some of the tension leaving his shoulders--when Zoe stiffened in his arms. His eyes flared open as Zoe stood hastily--looking at him as if he were some sort of demon. With a choked cry, Zoe fled to the shelter of her room, her door slamming.
Malcolm stared after her a moment confused, and then the confusion began to change to anger. He stood abruptly, the piano bench scraping loudly against the floor and he stormed up the stairs, wrenching open the doors to Jared's room, the fire in him building to almost a rage at the sight of Jared's still form.
Bridgette turned from the window she had been staring out of, her eyes flat and emotionless, as though she had been struggling to push everything away to retain her veneer of calm. "Who ARE you!? Why are you DOING this to us?"
"Malcolm--" she began, then took a couple of steps forward, the coldness flooding out of her eyes to be replaced with concern, and no little anguish. "Malcolm--what do you mean? Please--I--I would never hurt you..."
"You know what is happening to us! You know what is--what happened to Jared! You won't tell us! After--after all this time--all we've all been through together--and you won't TELL us!" He turned away, embarrassed at the tears flowing from his silver eyes, angrily rubbing them away.
He flinched when a gentle, slender hand fell to rest on his shoulder, tenderly brushing the long silver hair back from his neck. "Malcolm, if there were anything to be gained by telling you--I would, but it would only make things worse right now; you--you wouldn't believe me, anyway. When--this has played its course, I swear I will explain as much as I can--to you ALL." Malcolm remained facing away, trembling with all the emotions that were tumbling through his mind. The hands moved to encircle his chest from behind, her head stooping to rest against his hair, though he was nearly as tall as she now. "Mal'--please--if you--can still care for me at all--with what you're going through--Just let it go; don't fight it, PLEASE. I'm not sure I can--if I can help you if you fight this. It's hard enough if you were to just accept it."
Malcolm turned to stare at Bridgette, jerking free of her arms, hurt in his eyes, tears tracking down his cheeks, and he didn't try to hide it. "Bri'--why?"
She looked at him a moment, slowly lowering her arms from where she had been holding him, then merely shook her head and helped him over to her chair, pushing him into it. Malcolm trembled as she just looked at him, her dark eyes filled with pain and compassion, and he let himself break down, sobbing hopelessly. She sat at his feet silently, reaching up and touched the side of his face with a gentle hand, her fingers carefully brushing away the tears. He slid out of the chair and into her arms, sobbing, feeling her hand gently stroke the back of his head as he clung to her, soothing, her voice murmuring comforting things he couldn't really hear. Finally, he had no more tears to shed, and he settled against her shoulder, falling to the first blessedly dreamless sleep he had had in over a week.
*** Nathan/Nephlite sat back against the cherry tree in the orchard below the house and stared at the violin he held in his hands. Why was he sitting out here in the cold like this? He hadn't even thought about his actions; he had merely had left Jared's room and had gone to his own, taking the instrument from where he had left it on his dresser and taken it outside to play. Nathan stared at the old instrument with a mix of love and hate, fingers caressing the familiar smooth wood. He could remember the day Bridgette had given it to him with a startling clarity; a Stradivarius--the best. How Bridgette's face had glowed in pleasure, the ever-present sadness leaving her for a moment, when he had crowed in delight flinging himself at her for a hug, and immediately demanding a 16 birthday jam session.
He caught himself smiling, then held the instrument out at arms length, staring at it. Taking a breath, he raised it to smash it into the cherry tree--but something stopped him. With mixed emotions, he tucked the instrument beneath his chin and lovingly played through an old Irish march--one bleak enough to suit his mood, and one of the first ones he had ever learned to play. As he lovingly played through the tune, he found himself remembering a conversation from years before...
...Gunfire pattered from somewhere nearby, and the four children had crowded closer to Bridgette seeking comfort and protection as she had raised herself a little to peer through the shattered glass and the ruined display of the clothing shop to look into the street. They had taken refuge in the shop once the riot had started, pushed in by Bridgette and shoved to the floor by the front, her spreading her cloak over them to protect them as the front window was shattered with a stray bullet.
"What--do we do now?" Zoe had whispered, her terrified voice thick with the German accent that was still present whenever she spoke English.
Bridgette had settled back, leaning against the ledge behind her, gathering the children comfortably against her chest. She had looked at the children ranging from Malcolm's 13, to Zoe's 9 with gentle eyes, and had smiled tenderly. "Well--we have a moment, why not try a bit of practice; We could sing."
"Music? Now?" Malcolm had asked incredulously, staring at Bridgette with wide silver eyes, his hair falling untidily into his eyes as he had flinched at the loud boom of a bomb.
"What better time?" Bridgette had smiled warmly. "Music has been a war stopper in tales older than THIS war; besides, music is a friend you can tell anything to..."
..."For an evil general, you sure do play good."
Nathan looked up quickly, the violin and bow dropping to his lap, though he didn't release them to defend himself, as he stared at Sailor Moon and the other Scouts. He shook his head ruefully; despite having all the memories of his life as Nephlite back, his reflexes had stayed the same as the ones he had had all his life as Nathan. The Scouts could have killed him and he would have gone into the darkness playing his fiddle. "Nephlite never played the violin. Nathan does," he said softly, turning his eyes to the instrument. Blushing a little, he smiled sheepishly. "Bri's right about that much."
"Umm--aren't you Nephlite?" asked Mars, nervously playing with a Ward paper.
Nathan paused a moment, then shook his head. "Nephlite is dead, Scouts. I--may have--his memories; I may even BE him, but--or I WAS him, but--" he glanced at the instrument in his hands and shook his head with a slight laugh. "'Just a musician' my arse, Bri," he snorted, but he felt a wry smile breaking out on his face and crinkling the corners of his eyes. "You old bat."
"Huh?" asked Jupiter, staring at him as if he had just sprouted a second head.
Nathan stood, stretching, before stooping to stow his violin away in its case with practiced speed. "Never mind, girls. Let's just say that--I'm turning over a new leaf, to speak--either that, or I'm shoving a whole bunch of leaves over the mess I made." He grinned at them and their stunned faces, then glanced up at the house, then back at them. "I can't say the same for the others though. They're still going through hell in there, so why don't we all find a nice place to talk AWAY from here, hmm?"
The Scouts stared as Nathan chuckled and led the way out of the gardens and down the street, heading for the nearest park. Mina was the last one out, and turned to close the gate--and stopped, her brow creasing in confusion.
Hadn't there been a dragon on the gate?
*** Malcolm's eyes flickered open and he stirred sleepily in his bed, yawning hugely. He was in his own room, tucked in with the exact care that spoke volumes of Bridgette's hand. With a half-smile, he snuggled back into the covers, enjoying the warmth, and glanced to his bedside to see--the back of what looked like a small golden-furred cat, curled up in the chair beside his head, though Bri's blazer was folded neatly across the back of his chair. Puzzled, Malcolm started to sit up, wondering where the cat had come from.
The 'cat' awoke', raising its head to look at him.
The head was of an eagle, a cruelly hooked beak shining in the faint light from the fire, feathers a soft, golden color to match the rich fur that covered its body and hind-quarters. Its front feet were taloned scaly like the feet of a hawk or an eagle. Two graceful wings stretched once, before folding neatly to rest on its back. It was a gryphon; a gryphon the size of a house-cat.
The little gryphon yawned, keeping golden eyes focused on him, then fluttered down to the floor, padding towards the door, claws clicking on the wood. As it walked, the little body began to fade; by the time it reached the door, it had completely vanished. While he was still staring at the place where the gryphon had vanished, the door opened, and Bridgette stepped in bearing a tray laden with two steaming mugs. Malcolm raised dazed eyes to her, watching numbly as she crossed the room, and set the tray down. He stared in confusion at the mug she held out to him for a full minute, until her brow creased in concern, and she set the mug back down on the tray, perching on the edge of the bed, her fingers gently smoothing back his hair. "Hot chocolate," she said, softly. "Are you feeling all right?"
Blinking, he stared at her, then nodded as she took up the mug again, helping him to sit up and pressing the hot mug into his hand carefully. "Bri--there--was-a--"
"Aevon," she said, her dark eyes straying to the spot on the floor where Malcolm's silver eyes kept straying, "His name is Aevon." She shook her head, then turned her deadly serious eyes on him as he took a gingerly sip at the mug. "I am going to tell you something, Malcolm; about myself. You can believe it or not as you like, for the moment, but you will soon have to believe it, I fear." Her eyes flashed with a little pain, and she sighed while Malcolm stared at her over the mug, eyes confused. She raised her own mug and sipped before setting the mug down, and turning her eyes to her hands which she folded in her lap. "Malcolm--I'm not human."
"What?!" Malcolm choked, almost sending scalding hot chocolate down the wrong way. She patted his back carefully until he caught his breath again.
"Careful, Mal' and let me finish." She shook her head, a self-mocking smile on her face. "I am not human, and I am well over--well, FAR over ten-thousand years old." She grimaced, shaking her head as if she had just said something that was such an understatement, if was almost a lie. Malcolm just blinked at her, silver eyes wide while Bridgette smiled thinly and took the mug from his hand before his slackening hand spilled the drink all over his lap. "I came from a distant place--called Cynillon." He eyes took on a distant look at she settled back into her chair, her face twisting into the deeply sad look that she always wore in her unguarded moments. "It was a beautiful place; full of magic and creatures that mostly only live in dreams and stories today."
"It was destroyed long ago, and I am one of the few survivors. Aevon is descended from others." Bridgette took up her mug again, but only stared into it. "I can't tell you any more now, Mal or I would. I have told you all that I can for now, until you--accept what is happening to you, and it runs its course." She grimaced bitterly, taking long pull on her mug. "I am actually being unfair to Nathan and the others, speaking to you of this without telling them as well, but I--" She looked over at him, sadly, her fingers straying out to touch his cheek gently. "Malcolm--just--if I seem flat--I don't mean to be; truly." She looked into his eyes for a long moment, then took her mug and stood, heading for the door. She laid a hand on the handle and turned back a moment. "I don't mean to be flat, or cold, it's just--see how cheerful you can stay after--so many years."
Malcolm could only stare after her as she sighed and closed the door behind her. **What has she been through? If she's telling the truth, or even THINKS that she is, then--God, she's even worse off than I am.** Malcolm paused a moment, then stared at a single golden-brown feather laying in the chair Bridgette had vacated. Sitting up, he picked it up and stared at it. **Then again--maybe I am the crazy one.** With a groan, Malcolm flopped back onto the pillows.
*** Nathan jerked upright, away from the tree he had been leaning against and blinked in confusion as Molly walked into the clearing, following the two cats. Frowning, he turned to Sailor Moon. "What is SHE doing here! It is dangerous to--"
"She knows about us," said Jupiter with a shrug. "So--we thought she ought to come along. After all, she gets caught up in the attacks enough, it's only fair."
Molly glanced uncertainly at Nathan, then sat at the base of a different tree, her dark eyes on him as everyone else took up comfortable positions around the clearing. Nathan stared at Molly for a moment more, his expression shifting from worry, to resignation, then sighed. "Very well." He looked up suddenly, his eyes growing hard. "But Molly does NOT get involved in any fighting."
"It's her choice," shrugged Mars, the only one not sitting as she leaned against a tree, her eyes still wary. "Now go on and tell us what in the name of Mars is going on with you people."
Nathan fixed her with a steely glare for one long minute, then shrugged finally. "I can't say completely; I'm not entirely sure m'self, you know." He sighed. "All I c'n tell you is that I've these memories belonging to a 'Nephlite' from the 'Negaverse' stuck in my head now, who was, in some way, a former incarnation of myself."
"From the way you screwed up in that life," Mars muttered, "it's no wonder you came back like you did."
Nathan glared at her a moment, then sighed. "I think that Zoe and Malcolm are also regaining memories; Jared--I don't think he WAS, but--"
"What happened?" asked Mina suddenly, her eyes widening a little.
"To explain that--I have to tell you what I saw when I went to the Negaverse to seek my Crystal." Nathan shook his head, spreading his hands helplessly, his hair flopping untidily into his face. "All Bri' would say--" he stopped, his face drawing into a frown as he absent-mindedly shoved his bangs back, glancing at Mina, "--Jared collapsed earlier tonight."
Mina frowned. "That--why? How?"
Nathan sighed. "The Negaverse is rebuilding itself."
All of the Scouts jumped erect. "WHAT?"
"Oh no! We just finished beating them," whined Sailor Moon, flopping back onto the leaf-littered ground with a thud, several leaves being tossed into the air to float back down lazily--one landing right on her nose.
"Beaten, but not completely destroyed," Nathan said, "Beaten and destroyed are two entirely different things, particularly with someone like Beryl." He sighed, then paused, a curious look crossing his handsome features. "Either that, or there were more humans in the Negaverse than I thought."
"What's THAT got to do with anything?" asked Mercury, confused.
Nathan shook his head, shrugging helplessly. "I-it was just something that--Bridgette said; something about humans returning all the time." He shrugged. "In any case, Beryl--"
"Hey! I killed her!" Sailor Moon protested.
Nathan shook his head. "I am merely telling you what I saw, Serena. I personally don't know if she was actually killed or not, but even if she was, she's back. I saw her on a plain littered with the crystals which held the life forces of those of her minions she had become displeased with and banished to eternal sleep; like what she did to Jedite when he failed her." Nathan shuddered a little. "As painful as my--death was--that--that was far worse." He regained control of his shuddering, and continued. "In any case, she was crushing each crystal and consuming the life force for energy to rebuild." Nathan licked his lips. "I can only assume this is what she was doing when Jared collapsed, since he is, or was, at least partially Jedite."
"But if Beryl is using their life forces," Ami said slowly, "then Jared wouldn't regain any memories, would he?"
"I thought of that," Nathan said grimly. "Likely, Jared would have died, part of his soul being drained and consumed like that. But--Bridgette got to him first."
"Who IS Bridgette, anyway?" asked Serena.
Nathan shrugged helplessly. "I couldn't tell you, Serena. I trust her, though. I'd trust her with my life--and I'd trust her with Molly's; somehow, I can trust her." He blushed, his voice softening with the slight hesitation before Molly's name. "Besides, no matter what she is, or what she claims to be, she's been like a mother to me for a long time; she took me in without question, even when--" He broke off, shaking his head.
"Luna thinks she's--OW!" Serena rubbed her shin and glared at Rei, who drew her leg back from kicking her leader, and raised her dark eyes innocently to the branches above her.
Nathan waited for Serena to continue, then shrugged when all she did was chase Rei around the tree a few times. "That's all I know at the moment, I fear." He shrugged. "Needless to say, though, I at least will fight on your side this time--if it comes to that." He smiled suddenly, a bit of humor sparkling in his eyes. "I may be an evil general reincarnated, but I AM Irish, an' we don't like people killing us, y'know."
Molly spoke up finally. "What--about your shoulder?"
Nathan frowned and touched it. "It--it's better, thank you, Mol." He blinked a moment, then shook his head. "It's bloody well going t' take some thinkin' t' keep up with which memory is which." He made a face and then stuck out his tongue at Lita, who giggled and made a passing comment about 'scatter-brained'. He shrugged at Molly. "I'm fine, though." Molly was quiet for a moment, and the Scouts merely watched. Nathan watched the red-haired girl for a long moment, some silent war going on behind his sapphire eyes. Finally, he stood up, stretching, and then walked over to where Molly sat beneath a tree, and crouched at her side, placing his hands on her knees. "Well, Molly, I dunno if you still like them or no, but how'd you like to go find ourselves that chocolate parfait I promised you? Maybe today after school?" He shook his head, eyes losing most of the deep seriousness, and being replaced by the familiar sparkle. "I fear my chocolate addiction is far too much for me to overcome alone." He stopped suddenly, the grin fading as he watched her uncertainly.
Molly held her breath a moment, then smiled brightly, a warmth spreading to fill her as tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. "Sure, Neph--Nathan."
Nathan smiled in relief, hugging her warmly. "Call me anything but Nephlite, Mol. I'm trying to quit, y'know," he murmured softly.
*** Zoe sat up in bed suddenly, the sleep immediately leaving her. She knew now--those dreams; another life--an awful life. **No--I'm the weak one; an idiot! I'm no better than that idiot, Nephlite.** Frowning, she stood, pulling on a fresh set of clothes; one of the uniform-like suits she had favored even before the dreams had started. Moving to the mirror, she straightened the clothing, a half-smile on her lips, raising a hand to adjust her hair. She turned briefly, then smiled. **Malachite will like this one. He--** She stopped in mid-thought, glancing at the door. **No; he's Malcolm. Malcolm loves--** Zoe frowned. These two people she held the memories for were hard to reconcile. Part of her loved Malcolm desperately--the other half thought of him as a brother. And Nathan; part of her loathed him, while the other cringed at the thought of anything happening to him. **And what,** she thought, **about poor, sweet Jared?** She found herself sneering into the mirror. **Jedite always WAS a weak fool,** she thought glumly to herself. Sighing, she shook her head and turned away from the mirror. Suddenly, a single name entered her head; Darien. A mixture of hate and confusion rose in her. She would find this 'Darien' and make HIM tell her what was going on. Somehow, Zoisite was SURE the former Prince had something to do with this; with this strange life crossing. Besides, even if he didn't, it would still be fun to go and kill him. Laughing to herself, she tossed her head and vanished in a spiral of cherry-blossom petals.
*** "Wow! We get one of the musicians for the day?" asked Melvin, bouncing around. Molly winced and pretended to be absorbed in her English text. "I read about them on the Internet, and them being here is like Albert Einstein visiting my physics class!" Melvin's eyes, behind the masking glasses, were huge with hero-worship. "I can't wait to meet him and get his autograph for my collection!"
Molly glanced at Serena and Ami out of the corner of her eye, then sighed while Lita bit her fist to keep from laughing. "Uh--Melvin, I--" began Molly.
"Did you hear the great news? Since they missed several days, they are staying on an extra week at the end of the tour to repay our school the time we lost. So we get an extra half-week!!" Melvin grinned.
"Melvin, don't you EVER do ANYTHING but go on the stupid Internet?" Lita asked, rolling her eyes.
Melvin laughed. "Sure! I do my homework and I collect bugs and autographs! I've got a terrific collection! Do you want to come over today and see them Molly? How about you, Serena?"
"Uh--no thanks. I--um--"
Miss Harruda walked into the room at than moment, followed closely by Nathan Malley. Nathan's sapphire eyes located the girls, and he noticed Melvin babbling away. "Huh," he said softly, as he walked past them, "Speed Racer."
All the girls in the class sighed in unison as he walked slowly past, his fiddle case in one hand. Nathan's lips quirked up with a hint of a smile, and he turned and winked at Molly and the others before leaning casually against the wall near the chalkboard. "Now class, this is Mr. Nathan Malley--"
"Nathan is enough t' tie the tongue, Miss Harruda" he interrupted with a chuckle. "Let's keep it at that, mm?"
Miss Harruda laughed, then blushed a bit. "Mr.--uh--Nathan has offered to come to our class today as a special treat, since it was because of his illness that our school's turn with his group has been moved back two months."
Nathan chuckled, wryly, easing his violin case down by his feet and crossing his arms over his chest. "Also, I had made a promise to some very good friends of mine--" he winked at Serena, Molly, Ami, and Lita again, drawing stares from the rest of the class, "that I would make a special effort--and then I went and got m'self sick. So--here I am." He bowed jauntily, sweeping his hand before him, and straightening with a wink.
The class stared, the girls all staring openly at Serena, Molly, and the other two. "You knew someone famous, and you didn't tell me?" Melvin gasped.
Miss Harruda blinked. "You--ah--know some of the students?"
Nathan chuckled a bit. "Oh--some. You'd be amazed, Miss Harruda; you really would."
*** Beryl surveyed her gathered forces, and frowned, anger sparking in her scarlet eyes. Not enough; not nearly enough left to work with. If she was going to crush the Scouts, she would need more power and more followers. "Joerdan?" she snapped.
A thin man stepped forward, still battered looking, his uniform covered in tears and stains from the past few weeks of trying to survive. Yet the cold eyes were calm, and he HAD managed to make himself a small lord over a scattered group of her Court in a secluded corner of her realm. "Yes, my Queen?"
"You mentioned that you had a plan to gain some energy, and perhaps more clues as to the location of my enemies," Beryl's voice purred as she settled back in her throne, her eyes narrowing at him.
"Yes, my Queen." Joerdan said, smiling in a self-satisfied way. Beryl would have to break him of that later. "As you know, the Sailor Scouts had alter-identities which remained largely secret. But I do know, from what I have studied of Malachite's and--the others' reports, that I believe I have traced at least some of them to a particular site on Earth; a school." He straightened from his bow finally, the inky black hair falling into his pale face, the ice-blue eyes gleaming in the pale light of the cold fire surrounding Beryl's staff. "As you know, one of the strongest human emotions is fear--and loss. I have arranged for this--school--to be put through such an experience, and gather this energy for you my Queen; and if the Scouts happen to fall as well, why, so much the better."
Beryl smiled thinly. "Good." She frowned then, staring down at the faint lines on her hand, still left from the crystal's unexplained explosion. "Still--caution. There may be--more to this than there seems. I sense--something..."
*** Nathan grinned and removed his bow from the strings, bowing low. "That's one of my favorites, though it was originally not written for the fiddle, but a--" he stopped, frowning. He heard something; something that sent his body tense. He straightened, cocking his head, trying to place what had distracted him; that faint, high-pitched whine. He'd heard it before, and he didn't like it, but which life? Abruptly, his eyes widened and he ran towards Molly. "Everyone! Get down! There's a bomb!"
"What--" began Miss Harruda--and the outside wall of the classroom exploded inwards, just as Nathan crashed into Molly, knocking her behind a desk.
Serena screamed, joining the other students in diving under the desks. A few piece of rubble still hit her hard enough to draw blood, but it was nothing serious. When all was finally quiet, aside from the whimpering of the fellow students, and the occasional clink from falling rubble, she nervously poked her head out from under the desk. Several students lay around, groaning, covered in blood. One or two, who had been closer to the wall, were definitely dead, and Serena had to fight down bile from catching the tiny glance at the mangled bodies that she got before she had to look away.
Miss Harruda lay in a heap by the wall closest to the hall, breathing, but unconscious. Serena could hear sounds of gunfire from within the halls; of students' screams. She started to stand, and to transform--but at that moment, the door burst inward, admitting several men with guns. "No one move," hissed one.
Serena froze, only her eyes flickering towards the others. Lita and Ami stopped in the middle of helping Melvin sit up, and she could just see Molly clinging to Nathan, his arm around her shoulders. The gunmen spread out as a dreadful silence filled the room. Finally, Nathan cleared his throat. "May--we see to our wounded, sirs?" he asked softly.
The man sneered, but gestured. "Feel free; then everyone against the wall. Keep your hands where we can see them."
*** Darien sighed, stuffing his hands into the pocket. He pulled out his keys and unlocked his apartment, yawning hugely. Stooping to pick up the paper, he went in, yawning again. Not even 11 A.M., and he was already tired.
"Well, well, Darien. So you finally come home."
Darien jumped into alertness, pulling a rose from inside his jacket and turning quickly to see--
A woman sitting calmly on the air above his table, slender legs crossed before her. Her long golden hair was drawn back in a tail, curls tumbling down her back and the emerald-green eyes peered at him with no little hate. "You!" Darien hissed.
Zoisite laughed and Darien winced. She seemed to have made her laugh even more grating than before she had died. "Of course, Cape Boy, who did you expect it to be, Queen Serenity?" She laughed again, but Darien noticed a certain amount of uncertainty to the cackle. Zoisite floated to the ground and strode closer. She glared heatedly at him, then she seemed to half slump. Finally, her fists clenching and unclenching, she said one soft word. "Why?"
Darien blinked. "Why--why what?"
"Why did you bring me back?"
"Bring you back? Why in the hell would I want to do that?! I hate your guts!"
Zoisite took a step back suddenly, her face falling. "But if it wasn't you--then how--" She sat heavily on the couch, all the arrogant cruelty flowing out of her to be replaced with much confusion and fright. "How can this be?"
*** "Bridgette!" Malcolm yelled frantically up the stairs, backing away from the television in shock, though he couldn't tear his eyes away.
She came running down the stairs, skirts flying and stopped easily on the slick wooden floor beside him, in front of the television. "What is it, Mal?" she asked, hand closing gently on his arm as she stared at the news anchor.
"The school; those girls' school." Malcolm shook his head. "It's like Beirut; terrorists have taken it over. Look!" He pointed to the screen as the view shifted to the partially ruined school building.
"WHAT?" Smoke rose from it in some places, and a few small bodies still littered the yard. She could make out at least three people on the roof, with some sort of gun, all the guards watching warily. Then she hissed a little, her keen eyes picking out even more guards behind the windows. Malcolm stared at her a little, startled, never having seen her angry before.
Then her eyes caught sight of a banner, which had been hung over the entrance to the school. Bridgette's eyes flared with smothered fury. "I see." She said flatly, a low growl under the musical tones. "Mal--stay with Jared. I--have something I need to do."
She turned sharply on her heel to leave, but Malcolm stopped her. "Bri--this is real. This isn't some story. Please don't--"
"Have a little faith in the storyteller, Mal. I know what to do." She smiled at him, her eyes hard. She started off down the hall away from the stunned man, but then she paused and turned back for a moment. "Incidentally, Zoe should have completed--what she was going through. She may need help accepting it."
Without another word, Bridgette took her cloak off the hook and was out the door.
Malcolm frowned after her a moment, noticing something wrong with the garden; then he realized. **The dragon's gone from the gate--and that odd lizard-bird statue is gone.** He blinked as a small, golden thing flew overhead after his mentor. Malcolm closed the door firmly, clenching his eyes shut. **I did NOT just see that.** With a shudder, he headed up the stairs to take his place at Jared's bedside.
"Circles: PART FIVE: Duels" by NaruMolly firstname.lastname@example.org
He stood to one side of the throne room, watching with a faint smile as Zoisite explained the plan the two of them had so carefully formulated to Queen Beryl. Of course--Zoisite withheld SOME of the details; Malachite had taught her too well for that. A main rule for survival under Beryl's rule was "Never tell everything; let others make their own mistakes by jumping to the wrong conclusions." With half-smile, he stepped to Zoisite's side, bowing to the Queen. He would go with her this time; watch his love work...
...Snow swirled around him, blowing so hard, some of it found its way inside the jacket of his uniform. Some corner of his mind complained of the severe cold, but the chill in his heart where there had once been a glowing spot of warmth chilled him more than the weather ever could. The only part of him that was not turning into ice was the burning hatred, and he clung to it with all the will that he had left. Before him on the snow cowered the two moon cats. Raising his hands, he channeled the fury at them...
...All but Sailor Moon knelt before him, knocked down by the cutting edge of attack he favored. It was her fault Zoisite was dead; that Zoisite had been driven to try to go against Queen Beryl by jealousy. It was Sailor Moon's fault that Beryl had noticed Tuxedo Mask, and had wanted him for herself so much that she didn't tolerate Zoisite trying to kill him. Zoisite had been trying to destroy a rival, as she had been taught to.
Gritting his teeth to keep from crying out, he poured his pain, his all-consuming fury into one last attack. Gathering the energy one last time, he sent the gleaming arc of energy swirling at Sailor Moon, the red glow twice as glaring as he had ever managed. Then, his eyes widened as she raised the wand with the Crystal and the blast was reflected back at him. He stared in morbid fascination, not even trying to move as the blast swung back towards him, the light from it etching itself in an afterimage to his eyes. With a faint sense of--relief he watched it come towards him, the glow etching a perfect circle.
The circle was complete; he would go join her. Pain smashed him into...
...The floor. "OW! damn!" Malcolm pushed him self up, rubbing his nose and glaring at the armless chair he had dozed off in. "Great," he grumbled, "Just what I needed; a broken nose on top of everything else." He pushed himself up, standing and running his hands through his hair with a grimace. He stilled when his fingers reached the ends of his hair. Something was wrong with that movement; but what? **Wait; the other life.** He remembered. **Malachite; my hair was several inches longer then....**
With a shudder, Malcolm picked himself off the floor and then sat heavily in the chair, flopping against the back with a tired thud. Sighing, he bent almost double, head grasped in his hands and his elbows resting on his knees. The memories had come, despite his fighting. Bridgette had been right. Abruptly, he stilled. Who was Bridgette? No more memories had come of who or what she was; or what interest she would have in raising the returned generals. He raised his head, looking at the clock on the beside-table. It was noon, and that meant that Bridgette had been gone almost two hours. He hoped fervently that she was all right; that those children were--the Sailor Scouts! Malcolm grimaced, shoving the hatred back. **NO! They are just children! Sailor Scouts or no--that--PERSON I was deserved everything they did to me!** He shook his head firmly, as if trying to dislodge he memories, then sighed. Shoving a fist into his hair again, he glanced to Jared's still form on the bed and moved over to perch on the bed's side, peering down at him. **Poor Jared; if he just got back memories of what Beryl did to him...**
Suddenly, the younger man stirred slightly, face crinkling. The pale hands resting on the coverlet twitched feebly as Jared muttered something unintelligible.
Shoving all other thoughts away, Malcolm reached out carefully and shook Jared's shoulder. "Jared! Jared, wake up!"
Jared stirred groggily a moment, then his pale-blue eyes flickered open, focusing on Malcolm slowly. The younger man's face twisted into a confused, and very un-Jared-like frown and he glanced at Malcolm's hand, which still resting on his shoulder. "Lord Malachite?" Malcolm jumped, taking his hand away as if he had been burned, his silver eyes widening. "What--did you do to your hair?"
Malcolm stopped, staring incredulously. That voice! That wasn't Jared; that was Jedite! Malcolm blinked a couple of times, then he sat back in his chair and began laughing. He couldn't help it. He laughed until tears formed in his eyes and his breath wheezed through his chest, but he couldn't stop. The stranger with Jared's face frowned, almost glaring at Malcolm. Then, the hardness to his face softened, and the pale-blue eyes widened a little in alarm. "What the--get out of my HEAD!" Jared's eyes moved to Malcolm, who began laughing even harder, actually falling off the edge of the bed to curl on the floor, his arms wrapped around his aching sides as he gasped for breaths between laughs. "Malcolm! Will you quit laughing, damnit!? This isn't funny!"
Malcolm, having succeeded in stifling his laughter somewhat, howled, and fell back down, laughing even more than before.
*** Nathan sighed, sitting carefully on the floor of the gym, glancing around as the rest of the students from Molly's and Serena's class settled nervously around him, huddling closer to him as though he were some sort of guardian. Molly was pressed tightly against his side, resting her head on his side, one of his arms draped comfortingly around her shoulders, trying to ease her shaking. Serena and the other girls were the closest of the other students, clustered around Nathan and looking around with wide eyes and pale faces, obviously picking out missing faces in the crowd in the gym. Those students that were there, were splattered with blood, their clothing torn and dirty. And all with a uniform look of hopeless terror. Miss Harruda sat with a few other teachers, still somewhat in shock, her hand clutching at the make-shift bandage Nathan had made to temporarily set her broken leg.
With a sigh, and a silent curse at himself for being so careless, Nathan glanced about himself, watching the terrorist movements carefully, noting their patterns of motion, and timing them with surreptitious glances at his watch. He counted fifteen of the gunmen in the gym alone. **damn! I wish I dared do something, but I don't think I could protect anyone else before I took them all out.** With a sigh, he settled back, waiting tensely for an opportunity. Instead, he forced himself to watch as the survivors of the initial attack slowly filed in, moving numbly to sit where they were directed, like cattle in a abattoir.
Frowning, Nathan tugged Molly closer to his side, and raised his violin, peering at the smooth wood curiously. His eyes moved over every inch; not a scratch that he didn't already know intimately. Murmuring a little in surprise, he peered closer. He KNEW he had dropped it when he had run to protect Molly. By all rights, it should have been a pile of splinters--if not from the drop, then from the blast. He had picked the fiddle out of a pile of rubble when he had been going around helping patch up the wounded in the classroom. With a sigh, he set the instrument to his side next to the bow, and settled his other arm around Molly, resting his cheek in her hair, his sapphire eyes still watching everything in the room carefully.
"Nathan--" whispered Serena, nervously, touching his elbow slightly. "What'll we do? We can't transform with all these people in here! And they'd start shooting before we finished, anyway!"
"We wait; there is nothing we CAN do at the moment, Serena." Nathan grimaced at her, his eyes showing how much his own words bothered him.
"But--what about--" Serena's eyes shot around the room once more, and shone with anguish.
Lita snorted. "YOU'RE rather calm about this whole thing, Nathan," she muttered to him under her breath.
Nathan turned his eyes to her a moment, startling her with the dark seriousness in the shining pools, and he raised a hand, shrugging a little. "You know what kind of life I lived--last time, Lita. What did you expect; me shitting my trousers and fainting?" He sighed, stroking Molly's hair a little, not raising his head from resting atop hers. "Besides," he added softly. "I was born in Belfast this lifetime; for a while, it was bombs with the porridge, y'know?"
"You there! Keep quiet!" A terrorist came over and struck Nathan a stinging blow on the side of the head with the butt of his gun.
Nathan swayed a little as Molly cried out, clutching at him in fear as stars filled his vision. Quickly, Nathan stomped on the fury and merely glared evenly back at the man who had struck him, carefully pulling Molly closer. The terrorist sneered, and turned his back on the musician.
With a sigh, Nathan settled back, gingerly raising his slender hand to touch the spot where the gun had hit. It hurt like hell, and he'd doubtless had a lovely bruise in a little bit, but the skull didn't seem to be cracked. An hour since the attack, and no word on who was doing this--or why. Molly's hand tentatively brushed the sore spot, and he held back a wince at the pain, trying to smile reassuringly, though his eyes narrowed in speculation. When the leader of this fiasco did show up...
*** Darien frowned, pacing before the long window of his apartment. Zoe sat slumped on the edge of his sofa, watching him carefully and warily, toying idly with the curl hanging before her right ear. "I don't have time for your lies, Zoisite. Sailor Moon is in trouble and--" Darien finally snapped, after glancing at the muted television for a moment, eyes on the ruined school building and the few visible gunmen.
"damn you, Cape-Boy!" Zoe surged to her feet, eyes flaring in anger, her fist clenched at her sides. Then she stopped, sighing and stomping on her anger as she rubbed at her head. "Darien, please--please--this is hard enough. Getting me angry just makes--HER come out. Or--something." She looked at him pleadingly, then flopped back down on the couch a helpless expression on her face. "I just--if YOU didn't bring me back--then who did? Who--and why?" She stared at the images on the television bleakly.
Darien shrugged, then stopped his pacing to regard the woman evenly. "How much of you is Zoisite, anyway?" he asked warily.
Zoe shrugged helplessly. "I--it's not that simple, Darien. I--I wish that I knew enough to tell you. I--remember everything from--that--life, but--I AM Zoe Chanter still--I--think." She bit her lip, staring at her hands. "I'm a musician," she muttered softly, slowly, as if trying to convince herself.
"What about your three friends; those other musicians that you're with? You mentioned that they seemed to be back too. Did you ask them? And what about Malachite; aren't the two of you--"
Zoe flinched. "Malachite--no; he's Malcolm. He--thinks of me as a sister; we're not..." Zoe colored, turning her emerald eyes to the floor and the tops of her soft boots. "I--don't think anyone of us really knows what is going on--though--Nathan might; he was--he was the one who got the--dreams first." She stood suddenly, her eyes widening, staring at the television with shock. "Wait! Nathan was going to the--"
The door to the apartment burst open and Sailor Mars and Sailor Venus ran in, both of them out of breath from running to get there. The two cats clung to their shoulders, tails bushed at least four times the normal sizes, Luna frantically babbling into Mina's ear. "Darien! Did you--" Rei stopped, staring at Zoe, her dark eyes narrowing. The musician held her hand to her slender throat, paling as she stared fearfully at the two Scouts. "What is SHE doing here?"
*** Nathan's head jerked up from resting his chin in Molly's hair, frowning. His head pounded with pain, the bruise on the side of his face smarting, but he ignored those discomforts for a moment. Had he really felt that? A stir in the terrorists near the door leading back into the main part of the school drew his attention. The doors opened, and in came a strange group. There were three more of the normal terrorists, each toting some sort of gun. These three took up positions near the door, their eyes scanning the crowded gym warily. The rest of the strange group...Nathan had to repress a shudder. Four 'people' surrounded a fifth, and Nathan recognized as adonni, some of Beryl's favorite guard creatures.
The adonni were huge; each of the creatures having a body that looked like the ridiculously built men that Nathan had seen in some of Jared's comics before; able to rip a man to shreds as if the flesh were paper. All four wore masks like might be seen in a Kabuki theatre, but hands were black, and scaled on the palms, and furred on the backs, tipped with glistening claws at least an inch long. They all wore unadorned black gi's and each carried a simple enough staff-spear, but Nathan knew the spear heads were dipped in deadly poison. The students shrank back from the unnatural cold the beasts radiated as the quintet moved through the crowd, the stench carrying to Nathan, even as far away as they were.
And the man they were escorting. "damn!" Nathan hissed, his arms tightening around Molly, his blue eyes narrowing in hatred.
"What--do you know him?" whispered Ami, her face pale, her hands clutching at Lita's arm.
"Yes." The group stopped in the center of the gym, and Nathan's whole body trembled with his tension as he stared at them. The four adonni roughly kicked the few students too scared to move out of the way, taking up guard at four corners around the man in their center, then each slammed the end of their staff-spears into the ground. The man in their midst smiled thinly at the room, sneering into the sudden silence.
He was a handsome man, with a mop of inky black curls that looked so tousled, it had to take hours to achieve the effect. His face was young looking, but the icy blue eyes held no warmth whatsoever. He wore a high-collared uniform of dark blue with silver trim, matching silver clasps on each shoulder, a long silver-threaded sash of black around his slender hips. The man looked around the room, sending chills through everyone his eyes touched, forcing them all to look away. Nathan breathed out in a hiss through clenched teeth. "Joerdan."
Joerdan sneered, crossing his arms over his chest. "Well, well. I suppose you sheep are all wondering who we are; why we have attacked a school full of 'innocent' children." Nathan's mouth tightened and the jeweled eyes flared with anger, but he merely kept staring at Joerdan, hatred written on his usually gentle features. Joerdan lowered a hand, pointing accusingly at one of the teachers, the poor woman cowering and covering her face with her hands, fearing the worst. "But not everyone in here is so innocent; not everyone here is what they seem." There was a low murmur through the hall, with all the students looking at one another. Lita, Ami, and Serena paled a little, and Molly pressed herself against Nathan's back fearfully. "I am looking for the Sailor Scouts. If I do not find them, ten of you will die in an hour. Then ten more the next hour." He shrugged. "I really don't care how long it takes."
Nathan pushed Molly away slightly, and stood, unable to contain his fury. "Is tha' your REAL plan, Joerdan, or is this hunt for the Sailor Scouts merely an interestin' diversion?" he demanded, his eyes cold and hard.
Joerdan's eyes shot to Nathan, the narrow, handsome face twisting into a vile frown as most of the gunmen swiveled to aim at the rigid musician. "Who are you? How is that you know me? How DARE you speak to me in such tones!?"
Nathan snorted, pushing Molly protectively behind him, and tossing his bangs from his eyes. "Don't tell me your bloody memory is THAT short, Joerdan."
The man's eyes narrowed--and he stared. Joerdan appeared to struggle within himself for a moment, and the look of shock slowly composed itself back to a cold sneer. The full lips pressed into a thin line, as his ice-blue eyes met Nathan's with an almost audible clash. "Ah! So that fool Zoisite DIDN'T managed to kill you, Traitor."
The room went silent; as far as the two were concerned, it could have been only Nathan and Joerdan in the room. "Wrong on several points, Joerdan. Y'really ought to check your sources, you know. Zoisite never TRIED to kill me; she left the attackin' to her creatures. And they DID succeed."
"You lie! You stand before me, Nephlite!" Joerdan spat back.
Nathan smiled icily. "Not Nephlite; I am Nathan Malley. Nephlite is dead; you can ask Sailor Moon, if you ever find her."
Silence reigned and every eye was locked on the two men as they stared at each other. Not even the gunmen dared to breathe. The adonni remained as still as statues, unperturbed, the staff-spears ready to cleave into any who came too close.
*** Zoe crouched behind the ledge on the roof of the building she, Tuxedo Mask, and the two Sailors were using as a perch to watch the school. She squinted at the banner hanging over the front door, shading her glimmering eyes from the sunlight with a hand. "I can tell the banner is from the Negaverse," she said, shaking her head, "but I don't recognize the personal insignia." She glanced back at the warily watching Scouts. "I HAVE been rather out of touch."
Everyone jumped, spinning towards the smooth voice. A tall, slender figure stepped from within the strangely too-dark shadows by the side of the shed which covered the stairs' entrance on the roof. It was Bridgette; dressed for mayhem. Her long, silvered red-gold hair was bound up in a complex pattern of braids and a few loose curls, her lithe body clothed in a business-like outfit in flowing dark violet silks, rather like some sort of gi. Full legged-trousers were tucked into the tops of low, soft boots, and a full-skirted tunic hung smoothly over her hips. The only ornamentation on the violet silks was some soft black thread embroidery showing knot-work more suited to the Celts, rather than the Eastern-looking outfit. The hilts of two swords showed over her shoulders, near the neck, and a long staff, which Darien belatedly recognized as some sort of bow rested in on hand, a clutch of arrows peeking over one shoulder, closer to her shoulder-blade opposite shoulder from the sword hilt. At her hips rested some sort of wicked-looking throwing blade, like a three-sided boomerang, and on the other side was a simple enough dagger, though the hilts of all the weapons were elaborately decorated.
Bridgette's dark eyes were cold and flat, regarding them as if reading the paper "Where did YOU come from?" asked Sailor Mars, trying to recover from her startlement.
Bridgette crossed her arms over her chest, the bow tucked into a corner of her arm, as her face twisted into a dark frown. "Why should that matter at the moment?" Her unnervingly stern gaze moved to Zoe then, ignoring the two Scouts and Tuxedo Mask. "The insignia belongs to Joerdan, Zoe; I think that you'll remember him."
"I--don't--" Zoe frowned, thinking, sorting through the other memories, her fingers toying with a few locks of her long, golden hair. "Wait--I--know the name, but I--can't quite place it. Was he another one of Beryl's underlings; one of the lesser ones?"
Bridgette shook her head. "No. He was one of Jedite's, actually."
"But Beryl wiped out all of Jedite's followers when she trapped him in the crystal," Zoe protested, her brow crinkling in confusion.
Bridgette spread her hands easily, her blue eyes moving to rest on the school. "Most she did, but he managed to escape Beryl's wrath on his leader. He's very good at--mmm..."
"Ass kissing?" Zoe guessed wryly.
Bridgette's eyes flickered back to the woman while Mina had to stifle a giggle. "In part, yes, but he is also a good strategist, and he is very good at 'court' intrigue. As of now, he is now of a rather high rank--Commander, I think." Bridgette shrugged. "I never cared to spend the time learning the system of ranks in the Da--Negaverse."
Zoe stared, face pale, her green eyes widening considerably. "Who ARE you? How could you possibly--I--thought I knew you."
Bridgette sighed, rubbing at her forehead with a graceful hand, glancing over at the school once more. "The Bridgette Corwyn you know is real enough, Zoe, just as Zoe Chanter is--just as Zoisite was. Yet as Zoisite and Zoe are just one facet of the whole that is you, so it is for me." She shook her head. "Such explanations are best saved for later. Now; this attack is part of a plan to--"
"How do you know?" asked Darien, breaking in, still fighting off the feeling that he had seen those dark eyes and the beautiful face before. And the locket...
Bridgette's eyes moved to peer at him and he couldn't help but take a step backwards under that unwavering gaze. "I have my sources, Darien, and it shouldn't matter now." She shook her head, the wispy curls flying as she nodded at the school building. "Your friends are in danger, Darien, and I think that is what should concern you, rather than my sources." Darien felt himself unaccountably embarrassed at the reprimand. He swallowed heavily and nodded meekly for Bridgette to continue. The soul-piercing stare moved back off him, and he relaxed. "Joerdan and Beryl are gathering energy for a pending attack through the fear and the pain of the survivors. Nominally, they are claiming to be searching for you Scouts, but that is only an excuse and an added bonus, should you decide to show up and surrender."
"Survivors?" Venus paled.
Bridgette's eyes narrowed, regarding the Scout wryly. "Beryl is not playing footsie this time, girl. She has regained what power she has now from the life forces of thousands of people she trapped in crystals." Zoe paled. "As she did with Jedite when he failed her. She has discovered that blood magic is a fine source of power--as are the darker side of emotions that humans can experience." She turned her gaze to Zoe who stood tautly on the balls of her feet, her hands wringing. "You had a question?"
Zoe jumped, then spoke up tentatively. "I--the crystals. Is--that why Jared--"
"Yes; Beryl nearly succeeded in destroying him." Zoe sagged back to sit heavily on the ledge behind her, her hands digging into the concrete of the ledge and drawing a little blood from the force. Bridgette moved with a deadly grace to stand beside her, patting the younger woman's shoulder with absent-minded motion of reassurance. Keeping her hand on Zoe's shoulder, she turned her eyes more carefully on the school below and before them. "Now, as you may have guessed, the reason that they chose that school as their target is because several of Beryl's minions had discovered many of your identities, and traced you there."
Rei paled. "So they're looking for us."
Bridgette shrugged. "I doubt that Beryl cares much whether or not you show; it would be an added bonus, but not completely what she is after. She is looking for life forces, and seeking you Scouts gives her people a feasible reason to start killing people should no one show--or should you show and do something 'threatening.' You see, she needs to bide her time, and if she just went in and started a wholesale slaughter, then the police would not be so cautious, and she would not gain as much." Bridgette paused, pushing a few strands of her hair from her eyes, watching the motions of the gunmen on the school roof, and the swarming human activity below. "The slaughter will come later, when she has more energy at her beck and call."
"I'd give a lot to know how you know this," Tuxedo Mask said dryly.
"Darien," she said evenly, ignoring his obvious desire to ask how she knew his name, "it is the job of any story teller to know both sides of the tale. And of the many things that I have been and that I am still, that is the best way to describe it. I have my ways, and that is all that I am prepared to tell you at this point." She fixed her gaze on him again, and he was forced to look away. "Now unless you want people to die in the time it would take to explain my methods and my motives, I suggest you sit on your arguments and listen."
*** Nathan found his mind wandering slightly while he kept his glare locked on Joerdan's. The room remained silent, tense, students and teachers clutching each other, the gunmen shifting restlessly. Only the adonni remained unflappable as ever.
Molly clutched at Nathan's left hand, her face pressed against his back, her other arm around his waist. He knew that he should turn his total attention to the adversary before him, yet, for some reason, he found himself thinking to a show a couple of years back. Bridgette had been organizing a number of Irish dances with twenty other dancers in it. He remembered sitting on a chair, carefully buckling on his shoes and checking the strap that he had repaired earlier in the day. Bridgette was on the floor before him, talking with the lights and the camera-man, pouring over the sheets of paper she had sketched out the complex patterns the dancers were all to form as they danced. "Why th' patterns, Bri" he had asked.
Bridgette had smiled, her dark eyes warming with affection as she had glanced back over her shoulder at him. "Nathan--this show is for the Heritage Festival. This dance--well--dance was long thought to enhance magical properties. These are all old patterns that were--once thought to hold power." She chuckled at him as he made a face. "I thought it'd be appropriate." Smiling, she winked as Malcolm moved behind her, feet clicking in complex rhythms while he tested the fit of his shoes, then moved to stretch on the bar, tossing his silver hair back over his shoulders. "Just say it is the eccentric musings of an old woman for now. Who knows, Nate-one day, you might find it useful..."
Somehow, Bridgette had known.
Nathan smiled suddenly. Other ambiguous and confusing conversations with Bridgette suddenly made sense. "There is no such thing as a 'simple' musician, Nathan..." or earlier..."Music is its own magic, but even more so when a person puts their whole hearts in it. Don't you laugh now, Nathan; where'd you think the old expression 'music shall tame the savage beast' came from."
Nathan laughed once to himself, and Joerdan's icy eyes flared with hate, taking the laugh as a mock of him. The black-haired man's eyes narrowed suddenly, and a cruel smile turned his lips as he noticed Molly, pressed to Nathan's side for comfort. "Ah yes; I remember Zoisite saying how you had fallen in love with a human. You fool! Your precious pet human will be the first to die here, Traitor."
Nathan's face stilled as the crowd sucked in its collective breath. Then all the emotion flooded out of Nathan's face, other than a stark, cold fury. "I think not, Joerdan. Make one move towards her or anyone else, and YOU will not be alive t' feel another heartbeat," Nathan snarled, most of the accent drowned out in the dark anger.
"If he has one," muttered Lita, under her breath.
Nathan smiled humorlessly, and his muscles tensed almost imperceptible as he heard several of the guns aimed at him being cocked into readiness. Joerdan snorted, holding up a hand to still the terrorists. "You arrogant, fool! Do you actually think you can defeat me?" He sneered. "And what of these pitiful mortals you seem to care so much for? Make one move towards me, and they will start to die; bye ones and twos--or by the mob, I care little which way it is."
Nathan paused, his eyes flickering around the crowded gym, as if calculating, then crossed his arms over his chest with a derisive snort. "If you're so bloody sure o' yourself," he said wryly, "then why hide behind your little human guards? It's easy to strut when you have four adonni, not that they will be much of a problem, either." Nathan laughed shortly, glancing into the nearest gunmen's eyes, ignoring the Uzi aimed at his chest. "Imagine that; big boy like that, scared o' the horrid fiddler." The gunman blinked in confusion while Joerdan trembled in suppressed ire. "Can't think of being able t' defeat me in an open challenge, is that it?"
Joerdan's eyes narrowed, but he made a slashing gesture with his hand and the guns lowered all over the room. "Very well, Traitor," he spat his almost-colorless eyes glowing with anger. "But when you are dead, you're little humans will die anyway, and you'll be helping you Queen once again with your blood."
Nathan smiled thinly. "Some Queen." He tossed his head, when Joerdan snarled. "Very sure of yourself, aren't you, Joerdan. What makes you think I intend to lose?" He smiled thinly. "An' don't dismiss these humans so quickly; after all, who is it crawling about searching for energy enough t' flush the bloody toilets." There was a low, uneasy laugh in the room, even from the gunmen. "You would be amazed the power even a single human holds, Joerdan. We're not so easy to beat, y'know." His smile broadened. "An' this time, I've got 14 years of music and dance to back me up."
Joerdan looked slightly puzzled.
*** "You want us to go in the front?" Mars asked incredulously, staring at Bridgette.
"Yes; sometimes it's best to do the obvious, Rei." She pointed to the front gate of the school. "The people who watch the school down there will expect it, Rei; heroes are expected to show up." Bridgette shrugged a little. "Darien and Zoe can handle the back."
"Where will you be?" asked Venus, glancing nervously at the thronging crowd below.
Bridgette pointed to the main wing of the school building. "There are 6 men on the roof there; along with four on each floor." Mina and Rei paled, and Zoe bit her lip. "I will be taking care of them."
"Alone?" Zoe asked flatly.
"Yes; alone." Bridgette tossed her head. "I won't be hurt." She fixed each of the small raiding party with her gaze. "Just remember to try to kill no one. For every person, whether terrorist, or student, who dies, Beryl will only gain that much more energy."
"Then how are we supposed to fight them? If they're from the Negaverse, we can hardly expect knocking them over the head to work," Rei protested. "Even if we could get close enough with all those guns aimed at us."
Bridgette shook her head. "Except for Joerdan and his four adonni, the others are normal humans that Joerdan was able to recruit." She shrugged. "And that is why I am taking care of the ones who will be more wary." She smiled thinly. "And if you wish bash them over the head with something, sneak up on them."
"Is that what YOU'LL be doing?" asked Venus.
Bridgette chuckled lowly, the sound sending a few chills down the others' spines. "No. I have my own ways." She stiffened suddenly, her eyes shooting down to the gym, where reports had said that the remaining hostages were being held. "damn, Nathan--I didn't think you'd figure that out NOW." She rose to her feet from the crouch, frowning. "Plans have been changed; we go NOW."
*** Nathan tried not to let the uncertainty he felt show on his face, schooling his features as he did when he felt the twinges of stage fright. Certainly, he now understood what a lifetime of music with Bridgette had been leading towards, but would he be able to use it? He knew nothing, from either lifetime about what he was thinking of. All he knew was the star magic that he had used as Nephlite; and that had been as Nephlite. Even using the powers as he had when he had first gotten the last bit of the memories back, the magic had seemed a bit odd. It were as if he were trying to ride a bicycle after years of doing nothing but driving cars and walking; more like as if he had only ever flown before. Then there was his 'new' body, which was by far, unused to the strange strains of magic.
Joerdan gestured and his four adonni moved as one, sweeping out with the butt ends of their staffs, pushing those students too stunned to scamper out of the way back, giving the two combatants enough room for their duel. Nathan nodded, then turned back to Molly and the other three girls, his face softening as they came closer.
Molly stared up at him with fear in her eyes. "Nathan--" she said, then threw her arms around his waist with a short cry.
Nathan managed a chuckle. "Here now," he whispered, stroking the top of her head tenderly, cupping her chin with his other arm before crouching and hugging her firmly. "I'm already uncertain I'm not being a total idiot; a little confidence, please!"
Serena, Ami, and Lita merely stared at him. "But if you lose--" Ami whispered.
"Then I expect you t' get Molly the hell out o' here," Nathan said flatly, losing all traces of humor. "An' I also expect y' three to use this diversion to--do what y' have to." He glanced up, seeing a flicker of movement from the corners of his eyes and noticing the guns being raised to him again. Joerdan looked impatient, standing on his side of the cleared space in the center of the gym with a scowl on his handsome features, looking almost as though he were pouting. The fiddler gently pried Molly away from his waist, and bent to kiss her lightly on the forehead. "'Ere now; remember I promised you that parfait this afternoon, Miss Molly." With a smile, he squeezed her shoulders and turned to stride to his end of the duel space, leaving her to turn and huddle miserably and trembling at Serena's side, her friend's arms wrapped around her. "All right, then, Joerdan, let's get this bloody over with."
*** Gary, one of the terrorists, tore his eyes from watching the activities of the police and other people beyond the barricades, looking for the source of the low cry that he heard behind him. Raising his gun and clicking off the safety, he trotted over and pressed his back to the wall behind him, moving to peer around the corner.
A figure in dark purples straightened, turning towards him with eyes more unnerving than the inhuman, slit-pupils of the four huge creatures that the boss had for a personal guard. The tall woman wore several obvious archaic weapons, but none were drawn; her bow, tucked into the crook of one arm, wasn't even strung. Nowhere about her could he see even a single gun. What held his attention most, though, aside from her stark beauty, was the pile of weapons at her feet--and the dark crystal held in her hand. The weapons and clothes at her feet--looked as though they belonged to one of his fellows, John, maybe.
And arching over the woman's head...
Too late, he saw her hand raise to point at him; saw the brilliant scarlet glow flare from her hand...
*** Sailor Venus pointedly ignored the policeman who trotted after them, yammering about himself being in charge. Sailor Mars, however, turned and snorted at him. "You keep out of this; this is our job," she said. "And it doesn't look like you're in charge of much, if you ask me. Nothing but a bunch of people sitting about and staring at the building."
"Going in there like that," the man started, "could get the hostages killed."
Mars turned her back on him, having to trot to catch up with Venus. "So could waiting around for them to kill them anyway."
*** Darien watched Zoe with no little distrust as she moved before him, slipping with a sort of awkward grace from shadow to shadow behind the building. She paused, glancing up at the roof nervously, to see Bridgette's slender form, leaning over, one hand waving slightly before the other woman vanished out of view once more. Warily, Zoe approached the wall of the gym, frowning up at it, then glanced back at Darien. "I can--get to the hole up there--" she pointed to a hole in the wall, which had crumbled from one corner near the ceiling, "but you--"
"I can go in through that door once you give the signal," Darien said flatly, pointing to the closed double doors a few feet away.
Zoe glanced at the door, her lips compressing to thin lines, then her fingers wove in a strange pattern, and a small clear crystal appeared in her slender fingers. "Here--in case the door is locked. It--I think that it should freeze the lock enough for you to break it."
Darien stared at the crystal for a moment, then took it, feeling the unearthly chill from it even through his gloves. He raised his eyes back to Zoe, one brow shooting up into his hairline. She shrugged with a tentative smile. "Jared always says--if you've got it, flaunt it."
Darien nodded, having to smile back, and then moved to take up his position.
*** Jared sat up in the bed, staring at Malcolm in annoyance as the older man continued to roll on the floor, wheezing in laughter. "What's so damn funny? My head feels like someone's been playing racquetball with it, and you're making like a demented hyena. And to make things worse, I feel like I've got some other person hanging around in my head." His posture shifted again, and Malcolm stilled, sitting up and watching intently. "Indeed. I feel the same way. The last I remember is--" he shuddered slightly, "being trapped in that crystal."
"Jedite," breathed Malcolm. "Oh bloody hell! You're both in there, aren't you? It's not like the rest of us."
Jared's annoyed expression returned, with an added bit of fear and confusion, his hands moving to clutch at Malcolm's arm. "What the hell are you talking about, Mal?"
Malcolm started to speak, but abruptly, he stiffened. He felt...Negaverse magic; nearby--at the school. He stood quickly, biting his lip. "I can't explain at the moment, Jared--Jedite--whoever you are right now. I have to go--"
Jared stood as well, frowning a bit as he swayed. "Wait, Malachite," he said, that un-Jared-like scowl on his face. "I recognized the presence behind that last blast..."
*** Nathan forced himself to bite back the curses he felt like screaming, as he ducked a rippling blast of yellowed-green energy, and returned with a sparkling wave of the star magic. Joerdan had grown in power since he had last seen him--and Nathan knew that he, himself, was not as strong as he could be; half of him unused to magic in anything but the songs and stories that Bridgette had carefully taught him. **God! That's it!**
Nathan rolled out of the way of a blast, then reached a hand towards his violin, resting by Molly and Serena, and well out of the combat ring. The instrument shimmered suddenly, and vanished, reappearing in his hand. Grinning widely, he rolled to his feet and turned a huge smirk on Joerdan. The other man stopped his barrage of attacks, confused by his adversary's sudden mirth. "Joerdan--meet Bach!" Nathan crowed into the ringing silence, as he raised the bow to the strings.
*** Zoe tried not to think about how crazy she was for doing this; floating fully 30 feet in the air under her own 'magical' powers, and getting ready to climb through a hole in a wall into a gym full of hostages and terrorists and monsters from another world. She stomped on her thoughts firmly, thinking of Nathan in danger within, and slipped through the crumbing hole and stopped, staring at the scene below.
In the center of the gym, Nathan played his violin, **Hey--that's that reel, "Firebrand," that Nathan is always saying is such a pain to play--** she blinked as a wave of fire roared, dancing up from before Nathan's dancing feet towards Joerdan. The rushing wave of flames seemed to follow the rippling notes of the song as Nathan danced to one side of the lightning bolt that while Joerdan had to physically duck the fire, his once pristine uniform getting badly scorched on the back. **At least the arrogant bastard is looking a bit worried.** Nathan was grinning like a fiend, but she could tell from the set of his shoulders that he was tired--and scared out of his wits. She hoped that Joerdan didn't notice that.
Licking her lips nervously, Zoe floated amongst the shadows in the rafters, carefully noting positions of each of the terrorists, though they all had their eyes glued on the magical duel, and--the adonni. She shivered, seeing their bulky forms standing statue still amongst the students. Carefully, she perched on the beams that crossed the ceiling, drawing a short crystal blade from inside her jacket and watching the fight below, ready.
She missed seeing three girls pulling a fourth into the shadows of the bleachers.
*** "But--I--" Molly struggled against Lita's grip, trying to get away from the taller girl to go back out to where she could see the fight.
"Just shut up and stay here! Nathan's got enough to worry about without you being in trouble, too!" Lita snapped. "Just sit tight--and see if you can't start getting other people back here and out of sight--or better yet out the damn door over there."
"What are you going to do?" Molly asked, only half paying attention, her eyes glued to the combat through a narrow crack in the folded bleachers.
"They want the Sailor Scouts, they got them," Serena said, glowering, and touching the broach on the front of her uniform.
*** Darien blinked, wincing as a loud roar shook the building he leaned against. **What in the world is going ON in there? That sounded like an explosion--and where in the hell is that violin music coming from?** As it was, there was no way he would be able to hear Zoe's signal like this, and there was a little bit of smoke pouring out the hole Zoe had vanished into minutes before, so there was little chance of seeing her, either. Frowning, he crept to the door and tried it; locked. "Of course," he muttered.
Grimly, he raised the cold crystal, placing the point on the metal near where the latch should be--and stared as thick frost spread all over the door from the spot. With a tentative push, he heard a faint crack, as the area around where he had placed the rapidly melting crystal shattered. The door swung in slightly, and he slipped in, hiding in the shadows to one side, behind a set of bleachers.
*** "Are you certain you should be doing this? You just woke up after--um--well, after whatever almost killed you." Malcolm asked for about the fourth time. He and his younger friend slipped through the crowd around the school, dodging people, their bodies cloaked in invisibility.
"I'M not, but HE is," Jared muttered. "I'll just let HIM do this, thanks, Mal. I don't like messing with guns, you know?"
Malcolm started to speak, but noticed smoke rising from the direction of the gym where the news had said that the hostages were likely being held. "What in hell?"
Jared stared, then that too-serious expression crossed his features again. "My guess," he said, "is a duel."
Malcolm frowned, the cursed and vanished in a column of red and black energy, no longer caring if there were anyone to feel the burst of his magic.
*** Nathan staggered suddenly, the clear notes faltering. Something was wrong. Pain. He choked, trying to play on, but more pain exploded in his side. He turned startled eyes on Joerdan--in time to see the scorched and furious man level the gun at the musician once more, this time aiming for his head.
*** Darien stared, seeing Nathan stagger, and his playing falter. Most of the swirling energies in the combatant's ring vanished as the Negaverse man fired the gun again as the music stopped. The auburn-haired musician's arms lowered to the wounds in his side, the instrument falling from his fingers to strike the floor with a jangling crack, and Joerdan raised the gun again, a cruel smile on his face. Grimly, Darien reached into his coat and pulled out a single red rose.
*** Molly's scream was lost in the sounds of the battle, and the after-ringing of the gunshot. Nathan staggered back, a crimson stain flaring on his shirt and jacket, as his jewel-toned eyes widened. Another flare of red spread over his clothes, a bit higher on his side as another shot rang deafeningly in the suddenly silent gym, and Nathan stopped playing, the instrument falling from his hands to strike the floor.
The three Scouts gasped and ran into the open, and Molly was hot on their heels.
*** Zoe watched in horror, seeing Joerdan pull a simple handgun from within his uniform jacket. She tried to scream a warning to Nathan, but it was too late--even if Nathan could have heard it over the roar of the magical battle.
As Nathan faltered to a stop, a detached corner of Zoe's mind wondered at the brilliant crimson of Nathan's blood as it quickly soaked the side of his shirt and jacket. **It was green; last time it was green.** Grimacing, Zoe tightened the grip on her crystal blade, intent on making Joerdan pay.
To hell with what energy Beryl would gain from it.
*** Nathan fell to one knee--just as Joerdan fired. The bullet sailed through the air where his head had been, actually grazing the ear of one of the terrorists that had been clustered behind him, intent on watching the battle. The sable-haired man frowned, tossing his curls with a sneer. "You're as weak and trusting as these fool humans, Traitor," Joerdan said, pointing the gun at Nathan once more. "Still--that was quite an interesting display of power; I will have to look into this. Humans seem to have SOME good ideas." He laughed, gesturing at the gun in his hand. "This for instance."
Nathan grimaced, blood trickling from one corner of his mouth. "I never cared much for guns," Nathan coughed, a bit more blood oozing from between his lips, and bubbling a little.
A single rose cut through the air and slashed Joerdan's hand just at that moment. The leader's hand spasmed, and the gun fell to the ground, a bullet tearing into the wooden floor. Nathan caught himself on the hand not pressed to his wounded side, and raised his head to see Tuxedo Mask striding across the gym, cane held like a sword before him. Sailor Mars and Sailor Venus entered through the main doors, ready for mayhem. From the back, and through the surging students, came the other three scouts from the back. From another, appearing in a brilliant display of power, came Malcolm, his regal face twisted, gleaming arcs of scarlet power ready to throw in his hands, and at his side, was Jared, though Nathan could never remember seeing the younger man ever look that cold.
Then Molly was at Nathan's side, carefully trying to support him, her small hands joining his in pressing over the wounds as former hostages surged up and leapt at their captors. And Zoe slammed into Joerdan from above, cold fury in her eyes and a crystal blade in her hand.
*** Malcolm snarled, ducking away from the line of fire of one of the terrorists--and returned with a pain of his former-self's favorite, glowing arcs of power. Jedite/Jared watched him for a moment, the power just blazing around his hands, then he snorted, leaving Malcolm to fend for himself for the moment. He strode out into the open, slinging the blast at an adonni who was ready to strike down a brave student who had dared attack it. Both Malcolm and Jared/Jedite stopped, watching Joerdan grapple with Zoe, then started off again, moving to meet the adonni who were headed to help their master.
All around the gym, the students and teachers were downing the terrorists themselves. Miss Harruda actually had already downed one by smashing a shoe into his temple.
Joerdan managed to shove Zoe back, the woman falling heavily to her back on the hard floor, slipping in Nathan's spilled blood.
And Joerdan's eyes fell on the yellow-haired musician. "Jedite!"
"Tell Beryl 'hi' for me," Jedite/Jared snarled and he raised his hands, readying a blast.
Joerdan stared in open shock, then vanished with his four adonni. All over the room, the battle stopped as the last of the terrorists surrendered.
*** Molly frantically tried to stop the blood, as Nathan sagged in her arms, his face paling, and his skin cooling, blood tricking from his mouth. He choked again, wrackingly, more blood oozing from between his lips. "No--no! Not again!" Molly sobbed brokenly. "Please--don't die again!"
"I don't intend on letting him die, girl."
Molly looked up to see Bridgette, crouching swiftly beside her and the dying musician, heedless of the pooling blood. Bridgette carefully set aside a bag of something that clinked, and moved her slender hand to brush gently at Nathan's brow.
His pain-glazed eyes flickered to her as her hands moved to his side, gently displacing Molly's. His pain-taut form slowly relaxed into Molly's arms as a numbing-warmth spreading through him. "Red?" he asked with a weak chuckle, lifting a shaking hand to stare at the thick blood coating it. "I thought I bled green last time."
"Beryl's doing," Bridgette said gently and straightened, standing as the Scouts and the other members of Wayfarer came closer, Sailor Moon hugging Tuxedo Mask. "Explanations must wait. I left some of the wound for the medics to find, since it would be too much to deal with erasing the memories of your coming to the school, and it would give an excuse as to why the hostages had the courage to fight back." She glanced at the milling former-hostages and shook her head a little. "But the memory of your little fight, at least as it was--and of us--" A glimmering blue light lined her body for a moment. "Forget..."
...The student body clustered around the five Scouts and Tuxedo Mask, all crowding to see if the wounded musician was all right as the police attack force finally burst through the doors to find the situation had taken care of itself.
Serena and the other girls looked in confusion, but the other musicians were no where to be seen. The Scouts exchanged glances, then turned to try to help the police calm the former hostages.
Molly smiled as Nathan carefully rested his head in the crook of her arm, his bloody hair smearing her uniform, but she didn't care. A medic ran over, cursing, and cut the clothes away from Nathan's side, pushing Molly's hand, and Nathan closed his eyes, gritting his teeth as the medic prodded the wound. "What d'they think happened, I wonder," Nathan murmured, then smiled up at Molly, and passed out.
Brief pronunciation guide: Bridgette is pronounced in three syllables, not like "Bridge-it". Her name is pronounced "Bridge-Gee-Tah". Her nickname, Bri, is fairly obvious, but it's "Bree" just in case. Zoe is pronounced "Zoe-ee". I dunno if I needed to put this on in here, but you never know, since flat text doesn't allow for the two little dots over the o. Sidhe is pronounced "shee". These are the Irish "faeries", and they'll come up later in the story, I just thought I'd get that out of the way now. ^_^;; Any words that Bri happens to say from her own language, is anyone's guess. I don't have the vocal chords to handle the almost singing of some of the words, and they're a combination of about 5 languages (including Tolkien elven) email@example.com
"Circles: PART SIX: Into the Breach" by NaruMolly
Rei sighed and leaned her broom against the wall of the temple once she realized that she had been sweeping the same three-foot area for the past twenty minutes. She flopped down on the stairs of the temple, watching Phoebes and Demos hop around on the ground before her. **Who IS that Bridgette woman, anyway; or WHAT?** Rei sighed, reaching out a hand to scratch at the neck of the nearer bird. **Without blinking, she single-handedly takes down at least half the terrorists without getting so much as a scratch AND without making a sound. She heals Nathan Malley from the brink of death, and THEN she doesn't even twitch when she rearranges the memories of over two hundred people to exclude any trace of magic, of her or the other members of the group EXCEPT Nathan. And then she takes away the fact that that Joerdan guy seemed to know Nathan.** Rei rubbed at her forehead, grimacing. It hurt just to think about it.
Rei and the others had listened in fascination as the former hostages had told the police what had happened. The parts leading up to the beginning of Nathan's confrontation with Joerdan were all familiar. But as soon as Nathan had first spoken, the tale was completely new, and the Scouts could only listen in shock.
According to the students and teachers, Joerdan had spotted Nathan as some sort of prominent person and started to pick on him--eventually threatening Molly. Angered, Nathan had thrown a challenge back at the man, evidently striking up some warped sense of honor in the leader of the terrorists. They had fought--with FISTS and Nathan had been winning until Joerdan had shot him twice. But the fight had given the Sailor Scouts time to arrive and sneak in--and had distracted the other terrorists enough for the hostages to fight back with reasonable safety. No one knew where Joerdan had escaped to, though.
What was even odder, were Nathan's wounds. Rei KNEW fatal wounds when she saw them, and yet when the paramedics had arrived and carted him off to the hospital with Bridgette, who had, according to the police's memories, been at the barricades outside all day, they had discovered the wounds were nasty, but not too serious. A thumb-sized hole in his right side, and a chipped and bruised collar-bone, coupled with severe blood loss. Certainly debilitating injuries, but not fatal if caught in time.
"I had to do it, you know. Tamper with the memories of all those people. I don't like to, but I had to do it."
Rei jumped to her feet, hand flying for her wand--and saw Bridgette standing calmly at the base of the stairs. The leader of Wayfarer looked nothing like the grim, cold fighter she had that morning. Gone was the gi-like clothing; instead she wore black leggings, a lace-cuffed shirt, and a dark violet jacket. All she looked like, on the surface, was a tired, and worried middle-aged woman.
Unless you looked at her eyes.
"I--how did you know what I--"
"Come now, Rei," Bridgette said, voice gentle, "for one who listens to the Fire for answers to troubling questions, and one who has long held the ability to sense other's thoughts, you certainly seem surprised to meet another with telepathy."
"I--" Rei frowned, rubbing at her arms. "I've never met someone else who could--" She shuddered. For some reason, the thought of someone being able to pick through her memories without too much effort was--
"I could, Rei, but I won't. Despite what you may think or fear of me, I DO have SOME since of morals." She smiled faintly, some hint of humor twinkling in those too-knowing eyes. "Now; I believe I promised an explanation. This may take awhile." She shook her single braid back over her shoulder. "Come to dinner tonight with your friends; I will invite Molly myself on the way home. Bring a change of clothing."
"I don't think my grandfather is going to let me go spend the night at--"
"You won't be spending the night. To the people of this world, you will be gone only a few hours, no matter how long it takes to explain things."
Rei blinked. "How is that--possible?"
Bridgette smiled thinly. "Unless you wish to spend several years in the learning of even the BASICS of temporal laws, I suggest you just accept the fact that I can make a pocket of space run time faster than the surroundings."
Rei blinked, than looked at her ravens for a moment, in confusion. They hadn't moved the entire time Bridgette had been there. They had both straightened, staying statue still, and they watched Bridgette carefully. "I--"
"I will explain things to the lengths that I am permitted, tonight," Bridgette said.
Rei frowned. "Permitted?"
Bridgette raised an eyebrow. "I am bound by rules just as any other person is, Rei." She turned to go, sweeping the folds of her cloak around her against the cold wind, stooping and picking up a dark cloth back of something that clinked like glass or crystal. "Wait--why--did you come to me?"
She shrugged, turning back to the girl. "You were on the way. Eight o'clock. I fear my four are too tired to be ready before then." She smiled with a bit more warmth, then turned her eyes to the birds. "*Dilfy' hylo,*" she said, an odd almost musical hint flavoring the strange words.
Rei stared as the two birds seemed to bow, spreading their wings. When Rei was finally able to tear her eyes away from the ravens as they suddenly went back to their normal movements, Bridgette was gone. Shivering, Rei pulled out her communicator and started to call the others.
Nathan winced, but waved Zoe and Malcolm back to their chairs as he slowly and painfully walked into the room, headed for one of the armchairs. He was enveloped in his enormous blue terry-cloth robe over his favorite gray silk pajamas, looking almost fragile. His hair was loose, some of it falling untidily into his eyes, the rest spread out over this shoulders. His right arm was bound tightly to his side in a sling that had the "just out of the package look." He carefully began to lowering himself into the chair near the fireplace, hissing in pain as he sat, then propping his feet up on a footstool and closing his eyes in pain. "Why am _I_ the one who always gets hurt?" he groaned.
Malcolm smirked. "You're the one who keeps getting in the way."
"At least it seems to be a good way to meet girls," Jared said with a grin as he settled back in his own chair.
"And you always WERE the most softhearted," Zoe said softly.
Nathan chuckled softly, wincing as he moved a bit too much. He stuck his tongue out at Malcolm, then glanced back a Zoe. "You're right, I guess." He sighed, wiping the faint sheen of sweat from his brow with his good hand. "God, but m'head hurts." He rubbed at his forehead, flipping the hair from his eyes--just to have it fall back down. An annoyed expression crossed his handsome features and he blew at his bangs. "I wish I could put m'hair back up, but it only makes my head hurt worse."
"So leave it down," Zoe said. She cocked her head at him, emerald eyes appraising. "Actually, it looks nice down; why don't you let it grow out again? Bet it'd be nice to run your fingers through."
Nathan rolled his eyes. "Great. So then I have the local police convinced I really AM Maxfield Stanton."
"You are," Malcolm said, a faint smile quirking his lips.
Nathan groaned. "No'm not! He's dead! Molly has the bleedin' will to prove it." He glanced in the mirror self-consciously. "Maybe you're right, though, Zoe." He shoved his hair from his eyes again, glancing over at her. "You--always were the first one to worry about looks."
Malcolm shrugged fluidly, speaking up before Zoe could launch her indignant retort. "Well--if there is one thing about our former selves--we all knew what looked good, and we took advantage of that."
"Peacock," Zoe teased. "You're the one who spent hours arranging your hair." She stopped, blushing, then paling, her eyes lowering to her lap. "Sorry, Mal'."
Malcolm paused, then shrugged, shaking his hair back over his shoulders and smiling. "It doesn't matter, Zoe." He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Nathan--I think I might steal one of those huge pain-pills they gave you; I think I've got the same headache YOU have."
Jared straightened in his chair, suddenly, his face setting in a faintly cruel expression that looked completely out of place on the younger musician--but just about right for-- "What did you expect, Lord Malachite?"
"Malcolm; the name is Malcolm, Jar--um--Jedite."
Jared/Jedite shrugged. "Whatever you wish Lord--I mean, Malcolm." He frowned, and Zoe shifted uncomfortably in her chair at the alien manner to her friend. "How much do you remember, really? Any of you should know that pain should be expected. Think! You were much more powerful than I was, Mala--Malcolm. You know that controlling that much power takes much training--and we all jumped these--new bodies into using our full powers without our--" His expression changed again, turning from the cold stare into a more familiar broad grin. "Sorta like getting into a major workout without stretching or even being in shape, right?" The face shifted again to a rather annoyed, weary expression. Jedite/Jared sighed. "I--yes." He rubbed at his forehead with his fingers, sighing deeply. "Is this more of Beryl's punishment? Being trapped in this body with that--" The posture shifted yet again. "Hey! I was here first." Jared sniffed, pouting while the others could only stare. "And don't even THINK about messing with the hair again! This is MY body, and I'll wear my hair how I want it! If you try to cut it again, I--I'll get myself plastered and leave YOU with the hangover." "I think I was better off in the crystal."
Nathan and the others blinked at the one-way conversation, trying to puzzle it out. Finally Nathan shook his head. "Thank you, Jared," he said, rubbing the darkening bruise on the side of his head from where the terrorist had hit him. "I realize I'm lucky; at least this headache will eventually go away."
Jared stuck out his tongue. Zoe shook her head. "It's like watching Robin Williams."
"Robin Williams on a sugar-high," Nathan corrected.
"Who's Robin Williams?"
Malcolm chuckled while Jared grinned broadly--alternating with a glare. "By the way, Nathan--how in the world DID Bri' get you out of the hospital without five-hundred doctors attached to you?"
Nathan smirked. "You'd be amazed wha' the words 'international incident' c'n do when properly used before the right people."
"We're capable of causing an 'International incident?' " Malcolm asked, chuckling.
"Sure. We're prominent citizens of a foreign country." Nathan winked. "An' Bri's stinkin' rich, so--"
Zoe laughed--then grimaced as her normal laughter rose in volume and pitch. She coughed as the others jumped, Nathan shooting her a glare as he held his head. "Sorry--I--will try to keep the laughter down to human hearing range."
Jared jiggled a finger in his ear ruefully, grinning. "Hell, Zoe--where'd THAT come from? You think about going into cartoons with that laugh?" His expression became one of wry annoyance. "I never COULD stand that laugh of yours, Zoic--I mean, Zoe."
The golden-haired woman frowned, a finger idly twining in one of the curls that fell before her ear. "I'm not very fond of it either, you know. I--just did it to be annoying."
"Well," muttered Nathan wryly, "it worked. Drove me and everyone else nuts!"
Zoe shot him a glare. "YOU never exactly went out of your way to be pleasant to me either, Nathan."
"Did you give me a choice?"
Malcolm raised a hand, dropping his head to the other with a slight groan. "Please! I think we got enough in-fighting into our LAST lifetimes to last us for awhile. We've already argued through THIS one on the way back from the hospital. Loudly, I might add." He grimaced, sighing. "We already argued about how much of our former selves we actually ARE. And then we argued about it AGAIN when Jared insisted that we go with him to get the things we needed for dinner tonight."
Jared took over his body again, shrugging. "Hey--I needed to talk about it. I mean--I'm confused--Jedite's confused, so I've got a double dose here. And we get on each others nerves too much to talk about it between the two of us."
"But through THREE stores? And you only got out one question the whole time!"
"I couldn't find the right kind of lettuce."
"Right kind of LETTUCE?"
Zoe rolled her eyes while Nathan wheezed with laughter, occasionally gripping his side in pain. "You need to listen to Jedite," she said. "HE was never this picky."
"Yes, but HE wound up trapped in a crystal," Nathan countered, getting control of his laughter and wiping tears from his eyes.
"You wound up dead."
"So did you."
"I lasted longer."
"GUYS!" Malcolm yelled. "damn! What is WRONG with you people. We have new lives--even YOU Jedite. Beryl is no longer here to control our lives and we are free to make our OWN decisions. Will you quit acting like we hate each other?"
"We were just teasing, Mal', lighten up!" Nathan said after a moment.
"Really. And besides, YOU have just as many memories as Nathan and I do. And just as bad." Zoe lost the teasing gleam in her eyes as she stood, back straight, her green eyes flashing with anger. "What gives YOU such a--"
"I fought these memories--" Malcolm snapped back, standing and glaring back at her, using his greater height to his advantage. "YES, it is difficult to decide which is which anymore! Do you know how difficult this is?" He sighed, rubbing at his forehead as the yelling got to his headache. He winced and grimaced apologetically at Zoe. "I--I'm sorry, Zoe. It IS difficult. Remembering--what we were." He rubbed at his neck uncomfortably while Zoe blushed. "Especially that." He lowered his head, looking up through his lashes at Nathan. "Sorry, Nate."
Zoe turned away, her anger draining, leaving her tired, shoulders slumped. "Yes. Sorry."
"You've gained a bit more shape on top." Zoe turned to stare at the yellow-haired musician who was casually lounging on a sofa. She stared at him for a long moment, her mouth open in shock. Then, with no warning, she balled up a fist and socked him in his smirking mouth. Jared/Jedite fell back, bouncing off the back and falling to the floor, clutching at his jaw even as Zoe yelped and clutched at her hand. "Ow! damn, Zoe! That was JEDITE. Remember there are TWO of us in here!" He worked his jaw a few times. "damn! You been working out?" He groaned, wincing. "My head ALREADY hurt."
Zoe winced, gritting her teeth. "Sorry, Jared. I keep forgetting--you've got HIM in there." She flinched, raising her hand and trying to bend her fingers. "What IS your jaw made of, granite!? I think I broke something."
Nathan sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with his good hand. "What d'you expect, Zoe? He may be younger than most of us, but he's always been the most thickheaded, even BEFORE Jedite popped in." Nathan smirked slightly. "Besides--after nine years of karate, you tuck your fingers like that and DON'T expect them to be broken?"
Zoe grimaced, but looked a bit sheepish. "_I_ know that, Nathan--but--Zoicite--" she shook her head. "Come on Jed--I mean--"
"Why not just call him 'J' until we get this sorted out," Malcolm suggested, stretching.
Jared grinned. "Jedite hates it. That'll do."
Zoe shook her head. "You know--you really ought to try to get along with him."
"Nah-tormenting him gives me something to do when you aren't around." Jared's grin was wide.
Zoe grinned, but she sighed. "Come on--let's go get some ice for my hand and your jaw."
"I need to start on supper anyway. It's almost 5."
"I think I'm going to dance; I'm getting out of shape," Malcolm said, shaking his head. "I'll be in the back room if anyone wants to join me."
"After I get my hand to stop hurting, sure." Zoe glanced at Nathan. "You coming?"
Nathan gestured to his bound arm with a wry smile. "Oh, aye. Dance after bein' shot all the time." He grinned while Zoe blushed.
"Sorry, Nate. I wasn't thinking."
"That's okay, Zoe. No--I think I'll just sit in here an' read somethin', 'til the guests get here."
Malcolm, Zoe, and Jared, arguing with himself, left the room, and Nathan sighed, staring at his image in the mirror once more, shoving a few strands of hair from his eyes again. "Looks like I lied t'you 'bout that parfait again, Molly." He sighed, then reached to the nearby table and picked up the book that lay there. " 'Hamlet.' Great; just what I bloody need." He looked speculatively at the laden bookshelves on the other side of the room, and sighed, flipping the book open.
"Mother! I'm all right, really! Nathan--stopped them from hurting me at all."
Mrs. Baker sighed and let herself be waved off for about the fourth time that hour. "I--heard." She paused, staring at her daughter's faint smile. "Molly--what is between you and that musician person, anyway?"
Molly blushed. "He's--um--"
"But he's so much older than you are."
"Older than you think," Molly muttered to herself.
"I--he's only twenty, Momma."
"That's FIVE years difference!"
"So? Mother--he and I--we--" Molly broke off, trying to explain.
"He's probably just after the fortune that Maxfield person left you."
Molly almost choked. "No! No, Momma, there's no way he'd be after--" She blushed. "Besides--he's got plenty of money already."
The doorbell interrupted whatever she had been going to say. Molly took advantage of the distraction and hopped up off the couch to go answer it. She opened the door--and blinked. "Hello, Miss Corwyn."
Bridgette Corwyn stood in the stairwell, smiling, raising a graceful hand to shove a the braid over her shoulder. "Hello, Molly. Are you feeling all right? Nathan wanted me to ask specifically."
"Who is it? Oh!" Molly's mother stopped, staring at the elder woman in surprise. "You--you're um--"
"Bridgette Corwyn," she held out her hand and shook Mrs. Baker's hand. "I was just checking in with Molly. Nathan was worried for her."
"He was--worried for her?"
Bridgette nodded. "Yes; quite a bit actually, but then Nathan's like that." She paused, brushing a few stray strands of hair behind her ear, eyes scanning the front room of their apartment with the idle curiosity that any person calling for the first time might. "Actually, I was wondering if Molly might like to come to dinner this evening.; all of the other girls--Molly's friends from her school, and the other two--are coming over as well."
"I--after all that went on today? They're going out to dinner? Their parents--"
Bridgette shrugged a little, kicking the cloth bag at her feet with her foot a little, causing it to chime and tickle faintly. "Why not? Our house is probably the safest place in the city at the moment. And it would do Nathan some good to see her."
"I--thought he had been shot. Shouldn't he be at the hospital?"
"He was shot twice, yes; but he prefers to convalesce at home with his friends."
"Would that be all right with you, Mrs. Baker? I swear to you that she will be in good hands."
Mrs. Baker sighed deeply, rubbing at her forehead. "I dunno-I don't want for her to be any trouble or anything..."
"Oh, she's no trouble. Nathan adores her, and Jared does, too. And Zoe's relieved to have someone closer to her age to chat with, and Malcolm really adores people..."
"Well, if you're sure she'll be no problem..."
Molly knew the look in her mother's eyes. With a grin for Bridgette's slight wink, she ran to her room to change clothes.
"I'm not so sure that this is a good idea," said Luna from her perch on Lita's shoulder, eyeing the gate and the musician's house mistrustfully.
"I dunno how ELSE we're going to find anything out," Lita said, shrugging, turning her head to look at the small cat and accidentally bopping her one with her ponytail.
"Besides, Luna," said Ami, hiding a giggle at the cat's perturbed expression as she swatted irritably at Lita's hair, "Nathan's proven to be trustworthy, at least. And Jared seemed all right before whatever happened to him did. You know--whatever Nathan was talking about, anyway."
"Yeah, but what about this afternoon?" Rei asked. "That certainly didn't SEEM like the Jared who had Serena giggling like mad the other night at dinner. It was more like--um--you know who."
"Got me," Lita said. "Maybe it's because he was being shot at. I think I'd act differently with a bunch of guns aimed at me."
"Maybe we should just go in and find out?" suggested Mina, scratching Artemis' ears, her pretty face twisted in a bit of sarcasm. "I mean--after we went through all the trouble to explain to our parents just why we were going out the night of the day a school got attacked."
Serena laughed nervously. "Umm--actually, I didn't tell--um--"
"Serena! Lita!" They all turned to see Molly trotting up, her breath misting the chilly air as she ran up the path to them. Her eyes were flashing with excitement, and her cheeks flushed from exertion. "Wait for me!"
"You got invited, too?" asked Rei, frowning.
"Miss Corwyn invited me. I was worried about Nathan, and she said that he'd probably like to see me and stuff. And she told Momma that this was probably the safest place in the city."
"Hmm," said Luna. "Well--since we're already here, and since Serena will probably be grounded once we DO get back to the house, we might as well go on with this. But keep a close grip on your power wands, and be ready for anything."
"Particularly where that Bridgette is concerned," added Artemis.
They all walked up the steps to the front door. Muffled by the door, from somewhere in the house, came the sound of music; Irish, if they were able to judge from what they had learned. They all glanced at each other, and shrugged. Serena raised her hand and pressed the bell. After a few minutes, she rang the bell again. Finally the door opened slowly, emitting the music louder than before--accented with a curious under pattern of rapid beats under it.
Nathan Malley stood there, leaning heavily on the door, smiling thinly, and looking frail and almost small in a huge blue terry-cloth robe. His face was shadowed, and the bruise from the terrorist's gun darkened one side of his face, and his hair fell loosely about his face and shoulders, straggling into his eyes. "Hi." He grimaced, still keeping a grip on the door, and smiled again, eyes on Molly. "Sorry it took so long t'answer, but Zoe an' Mal are in the back dancing out their frustrations an' Jared's doing something arcane in the kitchen so that we c'n actually eat."
"Where's Bridgette?" asked Rei with a frown, peering past Nathan and into the house, while no one made a move to go in.
Nathan shrugged slightly, wincing in pain, his breath catching a little. "I'm not sure. She had to take care o' some things, she said. She'll be back."
Glancing at each other, they all entered the house, once Nathan limped painfully out of the way. Molly immediately sidled up to stand at Nathan's side, offering him support and giving him a gentle hug around the hips.
"Should you even be up?" Ami asked.
"Probably not," Nathan admitted, "but here I am. I'm not known t'pay attention t' doctors' orders."
Lita giggled, and Molly smiled, helping Nathan along. Everyone went into the library that was near the door, Nathan and Molly heading for a sofa closer to the fire-place. Lita looked Nathan over once then grinned broadly, nudging Mina in the ribs and winking as the cats hopped off to explore the room. "Molly has really good taste, huh?"
"Huh?" Mina looked at Lita blankly, pausing in taking off her coat and hanging it on the hat tree to one side.
Lita winked as Nathan regarded her strangely, stopping halfway in sitting down, the bruise on his face looking darker in the firelight. "Well, I mean, look at him! He was cute enough as it was, but the 'injured' look makes me wanna--"
"You said Malcolm and Zoe were--dancing?" Mina interrupted, smothering giggles while Nathan rolled his eyes and sat carefully, breathing out in relief.
Nathan nodded, pushing his hair from his eyes with his good hand, settling back against the back of the couch, smiling a little once Molly snuggled up to his side. "Aye." He cocked his head at them, smiling a little. "Not like you're thinkin', I'd wager; they don' dance together like that much. Jar' an' Zoe do, an' Malcolm's usually dancin' with Bri, if he can help it." He grinned when Mina and Lita exchanged glances. "Aye, despite the way they were past life. Anyway, if y'ladies wish t' talk t' them, they're in the back room. Can't miss them if y'follow your ears." He settled back again, closing his eyes wearily while Molly held his hand in hers.
Curious, Darien, Rei, Lita, Serena, and the two cats left Molly, Ami, and Mina to keep Nathan company, and headed for the backroom, following the sound of the music. They reached the room, and stopped, crowding in the doorway, watching in fascination.
All of the furniture in the room had been pushed to the wall, and the ornate hand-woven rugs were rolled and leaning in the corners. Zoe was standing before a portable stereo which rested on one of the tables against the wall, several CD cases held in her hand as she appeared to search for the appropriate one. Malcolm was leaning against one wall, a foot propped up on a lacquered cabinet, his body leaning on his leg, stretching. He glanced up at them, smiling and squinting a little. "Ah--is it that late already? I--" his eyes fell on the cats, and he stilled, his foot falling from its rest to thud on the floor with a loud click. He paled, face matching his hair. "I--my god."
Everyone, stared, including Zoe. "What is it?" asked Rei finally, when he had just stared at the two cats for a full minute, the cats backing and hiding behind Serena's legs.
Malcolm shook his head. "I--I'm sorry, but I--just saw the cats and I--remembered--" He rubbed a hand over his face, scuffing his foot a little, the shoe clicking faintly when it moved. "I--almost killed you; all of you." He shuddered, looking pained. "Can you ever forgive that?"
Lita stared for a moment, then shrugged, a wide grin spreading over her face. "Hey--anyone can make a mistake." She winked. "Side's, it wasn't your fault."
Malcolm blinked, staring at her. "But--"
Zoe set the CD case down by the stereo and settled her hands on her hips, giving him a bit of a sour look. Finally she shrugged, rubbing at her bandaged right hand. "Weren't you just telling me earlier," she said, "that we have new lives now? And that we should try to start over?"
Malcolm sighed, but nodded, pulling his sweat-damp hair back into a tail and tying it in place with a leather cord that he pulled from his pocket. "I suppose I deserve having my own words thrown back at me every now and then." He shook his head. "Sorry." He glanced at a clock on the wall. "Two hours early?"
"Had to get out before the parents changed their minds," Serena said with a laugh.
"You were dancing?" Lita asked suddenly.
Malcolm paused, then nodded. "Yes. It's a good way to keep in shape, you know."
Lita grinned, poking Serena in the ribs. "Yeah. I ice skate sometimes."
"I know, remember?" There was an uncomfortable silence, and Malcolm coughed, rubbing the back of his neck. He seemed to shake his foot, and a complex pattern of taps sounded out as this heel and toe struck the floor. "Jared's our ice skater. Really, I'm better at--um-ballroom, but Irish dancing is good for when you're frustrated."
"And ballets no good for being mad, either," said Zoe with a faint smile. "It's too dainty."
"You do--ballet?" Serena asked, an arm tucked behind her head in a nervous gesture.
Zoe nodded. "On occasion, chest and height aside." She started to laugh, then grimaced and smiled apologetically at Malcolm who had started to wince as the pitch rose.
"What's Irish dancing?" asked Rei, leaning against the door-frame.
Malcolm paused. "It is--" he shook his head. "Rather like tapping--but--well--"
Zoe shook her head. "Better show them, Mal."
Malcolm shrugged, moving out into the center of the cleared space in the room while the girls found pieces of furniture to perch on, Rei staying in the doorway. "Found 'Cumberland' yet? It's good enough to show them the basic idea."
Zoe grinned and reached over and pressed play on the stereo. "Mal's almost as good as Nathan is at this, so don't let him fool you," she said.
Malcolm stood still a moment, his arms hanging at his side. The music started--and his feet moved. If they didn't look closely, it just looked like he was walking in place, but the pattern of taps was too complex, and his feet were almost a blur. The music picked up and Malcolm's feet went into more action, stomping and leaping, though his arms and upper body didn't move much. Zoe trotted over and joined him, and the girls just watched them for a moment. Finally, the song ended, and they stopped completely, both of their feet slamming into the floor one last time. "Well--" Malcolm breathed, pushing sweaty tendrils of hair from his eyes as Zoe went to switch off the music, "That's it."
"That's incredible! How do you learn to do that?" Serena asked, beaming brightly and bouncing over to them.
Malcolm shrugged, though he had to smile at the girl's enthusiasm. "Practice. Lot's of it."
"Oh." Serena deflated a little.
"Dieting and exercise," Zoe added.
"Oh." Serena's voice was almost a whisper and she glanced at Luna from the corner of her eye. The dark cat merely raised a meaningful brow.
"Nathan's an exception to the case, though," said Malcolm wryly, patting the distraught girl on the shoulder with a chuckle, "him and his chocolate habit. With the way HE eats, you'd think--"
"Oh! Really." Zoe raised an eyebrow. "And who was it that came back from the Gummi store last time we were in Germany with about forty varieties of gummi things?"
Malcolm shrugged, smiling right back, the silver eyes molten with mischief. "I have no idea. Perhaps the person who helped me EAT them might tell me."
Zoe cleared her throat, trying to look offended, then just giggled. "Well--um." She glanced at the others. "Well--we'd better get cleaned up, or it'll smell odd at supper. Did you find Nathan?"
"He let us in," said Serena, hopping back to lean on Darien's arm. "Him, Molly, Ami, and Mina are in that front room."
Malcolm nodded. "I'm not surprised Jared didn't hear the door. I have no idea what he does in the kitchen exactly, but it certainly makes enough of a mess AND one hell of a lot of noise."
"Kitchen?" Lita perked up. "I'll go see if he needs some help."
"Yeah, sure, Lita," Rei said. "You just think that he reminds you of your old boy--" suddenly she shrieked, jumping about three feet in the air, reaching into her coat pocket to pull out a ward--to see Jared backing away into the wall across the hall, his hands held up defensively.
"Sorry, Miss Rei. Couldn't resist the old 'cold fingers on the neck' thing." He watched her for a moment with a lopsided grin on his face, then licked his lips, the grin slipping when she didn't relax.
"Where'd that bruise come from?" asked Lita, going over and touching his darkened chin and glaring at Rei until she replaced the ward in her pocket.
"Oh. Zoe. I deserved it--or rather--" Jared shrugged. "Suppose I almost got a matching one, eh, Rei? Or was it going to be death by post-it note?" The expression on his face shifted some. "I DO wish you wouldn't give things those ridiculous cute names. There is a great deal more to it than THAT." "Sorry--I'm just trying to understand things, Jed." "Will you not CALL me that? I hated that assignment!" "Will you relax?"
The girls watched the one-sided argument, blinking in confusion. Finally, Serena asked. "What was THAT?"
"Jared--ah--got memories back a bit differently than the rest of us," Malcolm said.
"I'll say," Jared said, the more genial expression taking over again. "I fall flat on my face one night, then--wham. Two people in limited living space. One of us from a past life who was apparently still alive when I was born."
Rei blinked. "You're possessed? By yourself?"
"_I_ don't know," groaned Jared with a shrug.
"What about you--um--Jedite?" asked Darien.
"I never paid attention to such things; that sort of thing wasn't among my abilities." It was still Jared's voice, but the accent was definitely different. "I suppose the only person who might be able to explain what is exactly going on is this 'Bridgette' person." "Ah, leave Bri alone."
Serena shrugged, glancing at Luna. "I guess she can't be this singer person from the Moon after all, if HE doesn't remember her."
"What?" Jedite/Jared stared.
"Well--you four were apparently once part of my court--or something," Darien said. "That's why the Earth wasn't trusted in the last days; because you lot went over."
"_I_ remember nothing of this!" Jedite exclaimed, "All I can remember is-Beryl." He frowned. "Come to think of it, I can't remember anything before I was about 17 or so."
"Neither can I," said Malcolm. "I was on Earth?" He cocked his head to one side curiously.
"That's what Luna said," Serena explained.
The gray-blue cat cleared her throat. "Yes, well--she still does wear that locket. And perhaps they do not have all of their memories back; Beryl, after all, did seem to enjoy playing with people's minds."
"The locket Bridgette wears is the same one that this person apparently wore all those years ago," said Lita with a shrug. "Or so Luna says. Something about that no one could remember her face, but they could remember the locket."
Malcolm frowned, then shrugged. "Well--um--she said she would explain tonight. Now. _I_ am going to get a shower."
"Mind if I join you?" said Zoe.
Malcolm stared a moment. "Zoe--that--wasn't funny," he said finally.
She grimaced. "Sorry." She cleared her throat, fighting back a laugh. "Ah--don't use all the hot water, Peacock."
They watched the two of them head up the stairs. "So--um--does one of you want to help me in the kitchen?" asked Jared suddenly, breaking into the silence.
"Sure," said Lita brightly, a positively predatory look on her face.
Jared nodded towards the hallway. "Well--you'll have to rely on Nathan to entertain the rest of you, I'm afraid. The way I fling about knives tends to unnerve people. Oh--desert's in there by the way. I figured that you guys could start on them before they melted."
"What is it?" Serena asked, perking up at the mention of sugar.
Jared grinned and winked at Serena. "Chocolate parfaits."
Serena jumped, then glanced at Rei and grinned back brightly. "Oh."
Joerdan bowed low to Queen Beryl, nervously checking for escape routes. Beryl glared at him, hers hands, for once, NOT moving over her ball. "Well, Joerdan, I HOPE you have an explanation for yourself. I didn't gather NEARLY the amount of energy you promised me. What happened to those worthless mortals of yours?"
"I--am not certain, my Queen. But, I saw--"
"Did you even find Sailor Moon?"
"Yes, Majesty," Joerdan said carefully. "And her friends--and Tuxedo Mask." He paused. "And--"
"I am not interested to hear of who else made a fool out of you," Beryl snapped.
"Even if it was Nephlite and the others?" Joerdan dared to interject.
Beryl fell dead silent and her eyes narrowed. "Nephlite lives?" She raised her voice, and the other beings gathered just in the shadows fell silent. "Leave us."
Nathan set aside the empty glasses with his good arm while Molly nestled closer. He glanced down at the cards spread out on the table before him, then at the ones held in his right hand--about the only things he could hold with that arm at the moment. "Hmmm. 'Ow many decks are we playin' with, Mal?"
Malcolm paused a moment, mentally calculating and squinting at the stack of card boxes to one side. "Ah--eight."
Nathan whistled softly, shaking his head. "So--those two cancel each other out--so do those four--ah." He dropped a card on the table with a grin. "All right."
Molly glanced over her cards. "Um--I can cancel yours, Nathan," she said, dropping a matching card on the table. "Is that good?"
"As few points as possible, Mol'. That's what Hearts is all about."
The others placed cards and Serena realized, being the last person, that she was going to be stuck taking the hand regardless. "WAH!" she wailed, looking at all the points she was taking in.
Rei grinned as Darien reached out and gathered the cards, setting them to her side. "Well--she could always try to, what was it--'shoot the moon?' Get all the points so that everyone takes them all?"
Malcolm held up a single two of hearts from the stack at his side, a slow, almost evil grin on his face, though the eyes were still playful. "Sorry, Sailor Scum. No can do." He smiled, winking when Rei stuck out her tongue. "Besides--I thought you were supposed to protect the moon, not shoot at it."
Mina giggled. "Guess that's you three's job, huh?"
Malcolm chuckled, then squinted at his cards. Finally, he sighed and reached into a pocket on his shirt and pulled out a pair of glasses, perching them on his nose as he peered at his hand. "GLASSES?" asked Serena with a giggle.
Malcolm colored. "Can't the bad guys be myopic, too?" He cleared his throat as the Scouts stared at him with mixtures of amusement. "So I read under my covers too much when I was younger."
"Ahem." Zoe cleared her throat, though she grinned a bit. She leaned forward. "Go on Serena--play a card."
"So--you enjoy cooking?" Lita asked, raising the cloth off the top of the bowl that held the rising bread dough.
Jared grinned and nodded, wielding a wicked looking knife as he rapidly chopped up vegetables for the salad. "For the most part. Bridgette sometimes cooks; she taught me, actually. And back in Ireland, we have a cooking staff. The others, though--well--they're hopeless." He grinned. "Nathan manages to both burn toast and make it soggy. Zoe could burn water. And Malcolm--well, the last time he tried cooking, he took chicken, noodles, and cheese and came up with this green souffle thing." Lita spluttered in laughter, stirring the soup for him. "So--I cook. Nathan can paint, Zoe writes, and Malcolm is--actually a great dancer, if you can talk him out of sitting around the television with the rest of us. We're all, sadly, cartoon junkies." Jared grinned and winked.
"Cartoons?" Lita laughed.
"Virtually anything animated. Especially the stuff they make over here; anime."
Lita grinned. "Anyway--I guess there must be a rule about only one person in any given group of people being able to cook. My friends are just hopeless." She grinned, opening the oven to check the progress of the lasagna. "Serena eats enough to feed four, and she's failing cooking. Again."
Jared laughed. "That's all right; where I was born, people expect you to eat enough for a small army. So--I always make too much." He cocked his head. "I DO like cooking, though." He grinned mischievously, eyes twinkling. "And so far, it annoys the hell out of Jedite."
Lita paused, closing the oven and leaning over the salad bowl, checking out the contents with some interest. "How DID that happen? I mean--the two of you like that?"
Jared shook his head. "I dunno. Maybe it's because Jedite never really died, until recently. We share a body, but we only know what we tell each other about each other. We're like two separate people." His posture changed slightly, and Lita straightened, instinctively moving a step away, realizing she was faced with the former Negaverse general. "Indeed." He set the knife down on the cutting board after staring at it for a moment. "I do not--recognize you. You must have joined the others after--Beryl trapped me."
Lita cleared her throat, taking up chopping the vegetables from where Jared had left off. "Uh--yeah. I joined--after Nephlite was--um--dead already."
Jedite nodded, then visibly relaxed as Jared took back over, hopping up to perch on the counter and snagging a carrot stick to munch. "Oh--that was Jedite. He says to tell you, 'Hello.' " Jared grinned.
"That must be weird, having two people in there."
Jared paused, then grinned. "I suppose, but it keeps you from being lonely." He shrugged and hopped down, peeking into a pot to see it the soup was done. "Though--I suppose people will think I'm crazy when I run about talking to myself all the time. Not that that stopped me before," he added after a slight pause. Again he straightened, posture stiffening, as he set the pan lid down. "I would say arguing is a better term, Jared."
Lita paused, then shrugged, smiling easily. "Beats being alone. I've been alone a long time." She shrugged when Jared looked concerned, and busied herself by looking around the kitchen. "You know--this is the first time I've ever made Italian."
"Me as well," replied Jedite.
"Bri's never been late before," said Malcolm, stuffing a deck of cards back into their box, and glancing over at the clock on the mantle with a bit of worry, his glasses slipping down his nose a little.
"Maybe--something happened," ventured Serena hesitantly from where she was curled up at Jared's feet.
"Something happened to Bridgette?" said Rei with a short laugh. "Are you kidding?"
"Nothing happened to me; I merely took longer at something than I thought."
Everyone jumped and looked up. Bridgette stood by the entrance to the room, hanging her cloak over the back of a chair, setting a pair of leather gloves on top. Rei glared at her. "Don't keep DOING that!"
"No call to be so jumpy, Rei. No one can harm you in here." She calmly moved forward to sit in the chair with a casual grace that HAD to be practiced.
"No call?!" Rei stood, pointing at the older woman with a slightly shaky hand. "My friends' school gets attacked by the Negaverse and people with guns. YOU seem to know something, but you won't--"
Bridgette shook her head and Rei stopped. "I rather thought that that was the reason you were all here tonight," she said with a raised eyebrow, making a steeple from her fingers to tap her lips. "Forgive my tardiness, but I was merely checking on a few things that I thought were important." She looked pointedly at Rei. "For instance--seeing what the Da--Negaverse thinks about its generals seemingly coming back to life. And I also dropped the terrorists I captured at the police station once I freed them from the crystals."
Jared winced, but said nothing.
Malcolm stared. "How can you do that?" he asked, snatching off his glasses. "How can you possibly get through all of the wards on the Negaverse to go there?"
Bridgette stood, brushing imaginary dust from her clothes. "I told you before, Malcolm; I am not human." She paused, looking at Zoe's bandaged hand and the bruise on Jared's jaw. "Fighting, were you?" The two looked embarrassed. She raised her eyes to the silent room. "Come--things like this shouldn't be discussed on an empty stomach. And it is going to be a long night."
Bridgette stood, setting her napkin down on the table next to her hardly-touched plate, and turned to look out the window. Everyone shoved their empty plates away, peering at the silent woman intently as she just stared out the window into the gardens for a long moment. "Long ago," she began softly, finally, "there was--another world; far from here. It was in the center of a small universe which was home for only this world and those who lived there." She raised a hand to lay her fingers on the cold glass, her eyes sad and distant. "It was a beautiful place," she said after a moment. "More beautiful than you can possibly imagine. Creatures that now only live in the dreams and myths of other people roamed freely through the lands next to the People who ruled there. They all held intelligence; all knew their purpose.
"The people who ruled the world were tall, and considered beautiful by the standards of the people of the other worlds that they visited. And they visited many other worlds. Every world that exists now, has at least one legend based on the visits of these beings."
"Including this one?" asked Ami.
Bridgette turned to regard the people at the table evenly, stepping away from the window and letting the curtains falling back over the window. "Of course." She paused. "Though, of course, people tended to get the wrong idea." She frowned. "Would--you like to see what I really look like?"
"It's not--scary is it?" Serena asked, huddling against Darien's arm, eyes frightened, her hand holding tightly onto Jared's.
Bridgette looked at the girl sadly, a faint smile on her face. "No. I don't think so." She sighed. "I really couldn't tell you, Serena. You humans never seem to react the same way twice." She shook her head. "One of the last times I revealed my true form on Earth was--nearly two-thousand years ago." She shook her head, chuckling softly. "The reaction was--unexpected." Jared coughed lightly, and Bridgette regarded him with a raised eyebrow. "I don't know everything, Jared--nor would I want to. If I knew everything, I would have gone completely mad by now, I think." She turned a level gaze on Malcolm who sat back with a faint frown. "To know everything is to be denied hope."
"A moment." She paused. "Don't be afraid." She lowered her arms to her side and closed her eyes, her face relaxing. A faint blue glimmer outlined her body--then grew in intensity until everyone was forced to shield their eyes. The light dimmed, and everyone blinked, trying to clear spots from their eyes. Finally, one by one, they turned to look at the figure standing at the head of the table.
The being that stood there was still Bridgette somehow; and her arms still hung easily at her sides. But everything had changed. Her clothing had altered into an almost toga-like garment of layered gauzy silks in a soft rainbow of iridescent colors. Bangles of various metals and crystal glimmered in the faint glow emanating from her, shinning on her wrists. Twin swords rested at either hip, the hilts gem encrusted. Her hair flowed in red-gold waves to her waist, the silver threaded through it gleaming like it was the metal itself. Her facial features were still basically the same, but they had sharpened, giving her an inhuman beauty. Her eyes had darkened to a deeper shade of blue and glowed from within, and the ears that poked up through her hair held a delicate point. Her shadow, flickering on the wall behind her in the firelight, was out-lined in a bright blue glow. But that wasn't what drew everyone's eyes. Sprouting from her back and arching over her shoulders was a pair of wings with gleaming feathers that seemed to be made from something like mother-of-pearl. The wings stretched, then folded more serenely, and Bridgette winced, reaching up to rub at the shoulder of one wing. "Hmm. I have such a crick in my left wing."
Melvin yawned and poked at the film he was developing in the tray with the tongs. He glanced over at the clock. 9:30 P.M. It was a good thing that the school had been too trashed for there to be school tomorrow. He hadn't had a chance to start studying yet.
Yawning again, he pulled the film out and set it in the enlarger, leaning against the desk and frowning at the photo he had taken earlier that year of Molly and Serena talking before the bulletin board.
Frowning he stared at Molly for a moment. "I don't get it. Some guy shows up looking like the millionaire Maxfield Stanton, and she starts hanging around him." He shrugged, then turned to look back at the pictures slowly emerging from the enlarger. He had gotten real offers of money for these pictures he had managed to sneak during the attack. "He may have protected her this morning, but he didn't use spicy shrimp."
Melvin blinked, then looked closer at the photo's coming out of the enlarger. The first few were of Nathan Malley playing his fiddle. Then there was one of the hallway, and the frightened students and teachers, Miss Harudda being supported by Nathan and Molly. Then, the gym, the students huddled around. The weird man coming in. Nathan and he facing each other, Molly huddled behind the musician...
...Nathan holding his arms out before him, a gout of light pouring towards the leader of the terrorist. Fire and other energies swirling between the two combatants...
Melvin blinked, then grabbed one of the photos, peering closer. The camera had angled more towards the ceiling, and when he pulled the picture under the magnifier, he could see the younger woman musician hovering near the rafters, a sword in her hand. In another, two of the other younger musicians stood back to back, fighting with flaring energy. Sailor Mercury standing before Serena who held a strange wand, Jupiter in the background. Bridgette Corwyn kneeling before the fallen Nathan, blue glowing hands hovering over his blood-soaked chest.
Blinking, he grabbed the photos' and headed upstairs for his computer--and his scanner.
"You're an ANGEL?" Serena half-screamed.
Bridgette winced slightly, but smiled, shaking her head. "That is one of the legends that sprung up about us, but it falls FAR short of the truth. We're far from the serene, holy beings depicted in those stories." She sighed, the wings shifting, then resettling with a faint rustle and chime. She turned to one side and raised her hands. The air shimmered before each of the others at the table--and a pile of grayish cloth appeared before each of them. "Here. There is a place--that I must show you before I start explaining anything. It--may help you understand."
"What is this stuff?" asked Jared, warily poking the pile of cloth.
The texture startled him. It was heavy feeling, like velvet or flannel, but it felt like the finest silk to his fingers. "Wyvern shed."
"What?!" Malcolm shrank away from the stuff, his glasses slipping down his nose a little once again. "As in the scaly things you see on medieval shields?"
Bridgette sighed. "The same. This is their shed, though. It is a very rare substance, and it cost me a lot to bring it to this world. It will keep you all protected from extremes in temperatures. They will form into your idea of comfortable clothing when--"
"Sounds too good to be true," muttered Zoe.
"Not really, considering all the trouble you must go through to get this." Bridgette sighed. "Please, trust me. Just stand and drape it over your shoulders. The shed is essentially magical in nature to begin with. There is nothing harmful about it." She glanced around and sighed when no one complied. "Please--none of you would even survive a second where we need to go without it."
"Why?" asked Ami, finally taking up the strange material, and letting it fall into one long swath whose end vanished under the table. When she looked closer, she could see faint scales, and a faint iridescent sheen to the whole length.
Bridgette smiled without any humor in it. "Because, Ami, where we are going is within its own universe--and there isn't a sun; and the core of the planet has been cold for thousands of years."
"What--why are we going there, then?"
"It's--what's left of my home," Bridgette said softly. "I need to--show you something there." She frowned, rubbing at her forehead. "Believe me, I have little desire to go there, either. Memories are no easier for me than they would be for you."
Joerdan shook his head. "I don't understand it, my Queen. They were all back."
"Are you certain? I saw Zoisite's body--I felt Nephlite's death energies," Beryl snapped.
Joerdan found himself sweating slightly. "I--Jedite, Majesty--and the other three. I--was fighting Nephlite before the others showed up with the Scouts and Tuxedo Mask."
Beryl frowned. "They were working together? Only Malachite and Zoisite could be trusted to do that. There is something else going on here."
Joerdan release the breath he had been holding. He had been spared.
Nathan grimaced and lowered his arm as the strange material formed itself into a comfortable, loose outfit, even to growing over his shoes like a living snowsuit. He resettled his sling and glanced at the others, all dressed in the strange material in various forms of gi's or workout clothes. He took a few experimental breaths, but the cloth seemed to be lighter once on than it had seemed in the hands. "What--about our hands--and faces? Surely they'll cause troubles," Nathan said.
Bridgette turned back to him, crouching at Molly's feet and adjusting a stray fold of the material, her wings spread out gracefully for balance. "There are gloves--and the magic will extend to protect you head-and I will erect a shield to protect you as well." She straightened, smiling gently at Molly, and turned back to face the others. "My powers--are greatly lessened on my home world--but then, so are the responsibilities."
"Huh?" said Rei, taking a few experimental movements in her new attire.
Bridgette didn't answer. She turned to Jared. "I've brought some special torches. They're in the hall in the canvas sack. We'll need light more reliable than I might be able to provide if the--" She shook her head, her wings shifting in an almost nervous gesture. Jared stared for a moment, then went out into the hallway, silently returning with a lumpy, long sack over his shoulder. She glanced at Nathan as Molly went back to his side. "You may need more mobility, Nathan. I will just have to raise illusions should any doctors come calling." She stretched out a hand in his direction. Nathan jumped and straightened as a familiar numbing warmth spread through his shoulder and side.
Bridgette sighed, then moved to one side of the room, carefully moving a few chairs back out of the way. "Are you ready?"
"As ready as we CAN be," Zoe said sarcastically.
Bridgette sighed, but nodded. "Then stand back. These kinds of gates--" She stopped and shook her head, biting her lip. Nathan put his arm around Molly's shoulders and drew her back with him. Darien and the others also, backed up. Malcolm stared for a moment, then joined them, though his silver eyes were fixed on Bri's movements.
Bridgette raised her hands, her wings spreading out with a faint chiming sound. Her whole form was outlined in multi-colored lights for a moment, then the light began to peel off of her in threads, moving to weave into a perfect oval shape about a foot in front of her. Through all of this, a faint hint of music filled the air. Finally, the view of the wall through the center of the loop was replaced with an oval of pure darkness. The lights lining her faded, and Bridgette lowered her hands, her wings folding back down. "You'd better light those torches, Jared."
Joerdan scowled at the far wall of his chamber, draped in his favorite throne-like chair like a cat. "damn. Why did this have to happen NOW? Beryl was already in a bad mood, and now THIS happens to me, just when I am getting somewhere."
There was a faint crackle of static, and one of his spy-youma appeared in the room, bowing to him. Kunyou was almost entirely composed of electrical energy; it managed to maintain a face, but the body under the clothing was only energy shaped into a roughly human body. Its eyes were lined with crackling energy. "Uh--Lord Joerdan?"
Joerdan turned his eyes to the heavily robed figure. "What do you want, Kunyou? I am not in the mood for your--"
"Forgive me, my lord, but I encountered some information you may find useful on the electronic web that the humans call the Internet. About the attack you--"
Joerdan scowled. "I was there." Kunyou backed up under the weight of that glare. "There is little more that you can tell--"
"Someone altered the humans' memories to where the attack was nothing more than normal human terrorists. And there were pictures of the four traitors and the strange woman."
Joerdan's eyes narrowed. "Memories altered? How?"
"To make sure that no one remembered that the traitors were there, except for Nephlite." A black gloved hand held out a small stack of pictures. Joerdan received a slight shock when he took them.
"Peculiar," Joerdan said, flipping through the pictures. "Where did these pictures come from?" Nephlite playing an instrument before a class. The same classroom, but filled with smoke, part of one wall gone. Nephlite leaning over an adult human woman bandaging her leg. The fear-filled students huddled in the gym; the red-haired doxy and a few other girls clustered close around the traitor. Nephlite standing, facing Joerdan the human girl hiding behind the traitor. Nephlite and Joerdan dueling with magic. Nephlite with the instrument in his hands, the magic flaring powerfully. An angle of the ceiling showing Zoicite perched amongst the rafters with a blade of ice-crystal in her hand. Jedite and Malachite fighting back to back with magic, Tuxedo Mask in the background. Nephlite's doxy standing next to another girl, two of the Scouts in the background. "None of the four traitors had the power to alter _all_ of those memories. Which means they may have combined their forces to--" He stopped, staring at the last picture. **What is _Beryl_ doing--** Then he stopped, looking closer. That strange woman, was not his queen. The strange woman was leaning over Nephlite's crumpled body, her hands glowing blue as she held them over his blood-covered chest.
The youma looked at the picture that held Joerdan's stare. "The information with these pictures, said that the person who took these pictures was a student who snack in a camera. He claims the red-haired woman is the leader of the traitors."
Joerdan stood quickly. "Well done, Kunyou; go back to your duties."
Malcolm peered uncertainly at the oval of blackness that cut the air before Bridgette. "What--is that?"
"It is a portal," Bridgette replied wearily, wings drooped with weariness. When she lifted her head briefly, Malcolm could see the underlying sadness and pain that was always there, raw and on the surface. He had to stop himself from going over and trying to cheer that expression off her ethereally beautiful features. "What you see through there, or don't see, is what is left of my home world."
"Does this thing open in a cave or something?" asked Mina, shuddering and stepping closer to Jared as bitterly cold air poured through the opening, frosting the food on the plates and fogging every smooth surface.
"No," said Bridgette softly, turning to look at them, her glowing eyes lowered, voice misting the air. "There is no sun, no star, no warmth left in that entire universe. It was all--drained." She sighed while the others could only blink at the implications of that, her shoulders and wings drooping a little more. Sighing deeply, Bridgette refolded her wings, and glanced over at Jared. "To light the torches, simply turn the knobs on the side; that controls the brightness, as well." She paused, hesitancy in every muscle. "Don't look directly at the flame if you can help it." She turned back to the portal, laying a hand on the shimmering band of colors that lined its edges. "I--will go across and raise the Shields." With a slight, pained twist to her face, she stepped through, nearly vanishing into the pitch-blackness, but for the faint glow that surrounded her; then, even that vanished as she stepped further away from the opening.
Blinking, Jared set the bag down in one of the chairs and pulled it open. Several poles of a silvery gray dull metal rested in the folds of canvas, one flaring out to form a sort of cup. The interior of the cup was coated with a strange material that looked like oil when you looked at it, yet was dry to the touch and didn't seem to slosh. Malcolm warily picked one up, turning it over in his hands, muscles straining a little at the surprising weight of the things. "What is it made out of?" asked Jared, taking another, stumbling a little at the unexpected weight.
Ami pulled up her computer, peering at the strange torches, then frowned. "I don't know--the material that they're made of does not register in any of my databanks--it seems to be completely composed of several new elements."
Malcolm shrugged a little, his eyes straying to the still black portal through which his mentor had vanished. Sighing, he braced the torch against his arm and found the knob. Pointing it away from everyone and moving to aim it at the fireplace, he turned the knob. There was a faint click, and a white-hot flame shot from the top, flaring out to fill the entire to, and flaring like a welder's torch. Jared winced. "It's like magnesium or something. Ouch!" Grimacing, he rubbed watering eyes and hefted his torch, turning the knob, and watching as it flared to life. He grinned at Malcolm who peered at the portal hesitantly. "Weird; easy to use, though. Even you could, Mal."
Malcolm smiled sourly. "As a club, maybe." With a sigh and a muttered oath, Malcolm gritted his teeth and ducked into the blackness, his torch shining in a small circle around him. The light, though brilliantly bright in the dining room, seemed pitiful in comparison in the blackness beyond, shedding only a bit more light that revealed nothing more than a small patch of icy ground, and what looked to be perfect ice sculptures of grass and wild flowers.
Zoe paused, then bit her lip and ducked through as well, moving to stand close at Malcolm's back as he moved forward to Bridgette's back, the torch outlining them faintly in the darkness. Zoe pressed against Mal's back, looking mistrustfully around in the blackness. Jared glanced at Nathan where he stood with his arm around Molly's shoulders. "Ah well; who want's to live forever?" With a grin, he darted through as well, his torch showing the bowing form of an ice bush, his voice rising in curses, the tones flavored with Jedite's accent as he went across.
Nathan sighed, running his newly healed hand through his hair, and huffing out a breath, looking uncertainly at the portal. "Oh hell; in for a lark, eh? Bri's ne'er offered t' 'urt us ever." He leaned away from Molly a moment and grabbed one of the torches, lighting it. Nathan looked uncertainly at Molly a moment, pausing on the threshold of the portal, holding the younger close against his side. "Molly? Do you want to--"
Rei stepped forward suddenly, eyes flaring with heat, though her face was pale and frightened-looking. "No way are you taking her in there!" she said, eyeing the darkness warily where Jared danced about, blowing on cold-red fingers, as he pulled on his wyvern-shed gloves, Zoe holding his torch as he did so.
Lita snorted and grabbed up one of the torches, blinking a bit at the weight, then lighting it. "We came here for an explanation, right? If she wanted us dead, she could have poisoned us, or turned us into frogs or something by now any way. I mean--seeing what she is, and what we've already seen her do, do you think we could have even a chance?" Lita walked through, moving to stand beside Jared, placing her feet carefully on the frozen grass that shattered into an icy powder as she walked slowly and carefully, the sound of her steps echoing eerily in the silence on the far side.
"She's right, Rei," said Ami with a reluctant sigh, hefting her own torch then staggering through.
Luna was tucked into Serena's coat against her chest, while Artemis was tucked into Mina's, though both cats were also clad in their own 'wyvern' shed attire. "And if she _is_ Kaela from the Moon Kingdom, then it was she who gave our ancestors to the Royal Family for protection; I don't think that she would have done that if she meant us dead."
Serena glanced down at the cat, startled, "I didn't know that--I just thought--well, that you were always there or something." Sighing, she shrugged weakly as Darien grabbed the last two torches, tossing one to Rei, trying not to wince when he almost pulled something.
"Here, Pyro. We might as well do this; otherwise, why did we get dressed up?" Putting his arm around Serena's waist, Darien followed Nathan and Molly into the blackness.
Exchanging glances with Mina, Rei squared her shoulders, lighting the torch and moving to stand abreast with the other girl before the portal. Together, they carefully stepped through into the darkness. A blast of frigid air struck them like a wall, cutting through the clothing no matter what magical properties it was supposed to hold. "I--" Rei said, shivering, huddling closer to Mina, Darien, and Serena. "I th--th--thought y--you said y--you were g--going to raised heat shields, Bridgette," she managed between chattering teeth.
"I did," said the woman's voice from somewhere to one side. "The air in a fifteen foot radius in all directions around us but down is heated to well over 200 degrees Celsius. Go further than that, and you would die of exposure to the cold, wyvern shed or no, in a matter of hours."
"Where--is this?" asked Malcolm, crouching on the slippery ground to regard a perfect ice flower, still a deep, brilliant purple.
"This use to be a beautiful clearing in a forest," Bridgette said. "All you see, is frozen as it was when--" she broke off, anguish flashing across her ethereally beautiful face. "Come. The place we need to go is this way. Be careful of the ground; it is treacherous. And the ice can cut you easily if you don't mind the grass." She pointed in a direction, whatever she was gesturing to lost in the total darkness outside the glow of their torches. "I set up a system of lights here a few thousand years ago, but to be in close enough range to light them, I need to be that way."
Silently, they followed her slowly over the icy ground, staring in shock at the little bit of the frozen landscape the pitiful light from their torches could show. Rei paused a moment, staring at what looked like a dragonfly frozen to an ice leaf. "What _happened_ here?"
"A mistake," said Bridgette, her voice layered with a deep pain.
"This was a _mistake_!?" asked Zoe in shock, staring around herself in horror and huddling closer to Malcolm's back.
Bridgette stopped suddenly, everyone running into her back as she turned her head to regard them all with her glimmering, flat gaze, though agony flickered somewhere in the depths of her eyes. "A simple mistake, Zoe, is the root of any problem. Everything hinges on seeming simple, everyday decisions. Particularly when every day decisions for a people already deal with the fates of whole worlds. As--it was for my People." She shook her head, closing her eyes before turning back around.
Malcolm ached to go to her side, but restrained himself, remaining where he was as the uncomfortable silence grew, other than the muffled protests of cold. They stood in silence for what seemed like an eternity, then Bridgette started leading the way across the twisted landscape once more. Huge shapes loomed up over and around them. "What--are they?" asked Jared, pale eyes staring upwards in awe and a little fear.
"Trees; once." Bridgette led the way to a side, showing them the ice-bark of a huge tree trunk. A smaller tree nearby had exploded in the cold at some earlier point, the shards sticking in everything around it like daggers. "You see?" Bridgette turned and led them back to the 'path' and kept going.
After another short eternity of silence, Bridgette stopped them under the glittering spectacle of icicles hanging from a limb that stretched just over their heads. "Here--I can activate the lights from here. Turn off your torches as soon as the rest of the lights are on."
"Lights?" asked Malcolm, blinking, looking around dubiously and shivering.
"Yes; I managed to set up a system of satellites and lights a while back. I can--turn them on from here--my powers can reach the controls now." Bridgette closed her eyes a moment, face strained, and the area flooded with dim light.
They stood under the perfect ice-sculptures of trees, branches arching far overhead. Ice ferns and other underbrush lined the path. In the tree above, a bird was frozen to the branch, beak still opened as if to sing. From her place at the back of the group, Rei saw a strange lump lying to the side of the path. Leaning closer, she was shocked to see a frozen human. Shuddering, and choking on bile, she pulled back staring at Bridgette.
Wordlessly, the torches were snuffed. "You can leave them here; nothing will bother them." After a brief exchange of glances, everyone gladly put down the heavy torches on the frozen ground with loud, glass-like thuds as they followed Bridgette through the utterly silent frozen world. "There--was a person back there," Rei said faintly, eyes edging over her shoulder towards the frozen lump.
Bridgette winced, sighing deeply and running her hands through her hair wearily, wings dropping a little. "Sorry; I had forgotten that he lay there. He died in the attack; Min got him."
"My guardian," Bridgette said flatly, fingering the locket around her neck idly.
"_You_ need a guardian?" said Nathan incredulously.
Bridgette sighed dropping the medallion to lay cold and glittering on her chest once more. "I was not always--what I am. I was a child, too, Nathan. I had nightmares and troubles just like any human would." She sighed, shaking her head a little.
"Where--are we going?" asked Molly after an uncomfortable silence.
"There is a--place we must go. You must meet the Presence in order to understand what I am and what I do." Bridgette shook her head. "There is a building ahead which is where the Presence appeared to us."
"What is it? God?"
"I am not sure; perhaps. The Presence is--unexplainable, really. A him, a her, an it, a they, or all of that--or any combination, or nothing at all." Bridgette shook her head, wincing at the obvious confusion on the faces of her companions. "You will just have to see."
"Is it--um--scary?" asked Serena huddling closer to Darien, clutching Luna tightly against her, making the little cat squeak until she let go.
Bridgette stopped again, faint humor crossing her features. "Why do you humans always ask questions you don't really want to know the answers to? Would it really help you to know that it scares the willies out of me every time?" She raised an eyebrow, crossing her arms primly over her chest.
"Uh--no," said Serena weakly, pressing back against Darien.
"Terrifying and comforting; but not dangerous. Not to you, anyway. None of you." She sighed. "And I have secured the portal to hold until I personally close it, or until all of you have crossed the threshold once more. If something should something happen to me..."
"Happen to--" Malcolm stared, taking a step towards her.
"I am not saying that something will happen, Malcolm; just--in case the Presence is angered with my bringing more mortals here. The last time--" she shook her head.
Ami turned her gaze from the sky. "The lights seem to be a complex satellite system; if you set this light system up thousands of years ago, how--"
"There _are_ perks to having access to all the worlds, universes, and their parallels." Bridgette sighed, pushing her hair from her eyes carefully. "Not every world develops at the same rate, and not every world has the same staring point. I copied the technology from a different world."
"Oh," Ami said meekly.
"What's tha' then?" asked Nathan, pointing to a vague outline on the horizon, visible through the trees only now that the lights shone from the sky like bizarre stars.
"A castle; or what's left of it. I used to live there, but now it's too cold, even for me." Bridgette fanned her wings a few times, the hotter air >from near the shields wafting to the center carrying with it the peculiar clove-like scent that Bri's wings carried.
"Thanks. It's a bit cold," said Jared, wrapping his arms around himself and looking miserable.
"Trust the Southerner to get cold," Zoe teased, though her voice quavered from the chill as well. Jared managed to muster the energy to stick his tongue out at her.
"It is--warmer and lighter where we are going." Bridgette turned back to face the dimness of the path once more and led the way through the silent landscape.
After a moment, they came to an almost solid wall of ice, rippling in intricate patterns, strange prisms bouncing through it. "It's pretty!" Serena said in delight, watching the rainbows dance on the path before her. Bridgette paused and turned to look at Serena, then managed a small smile. "Aye, I suppose it is, in a way." Sighing, she turned down a smaller path that led along the icy wall. "What was this?" asked Malcolm, trailing a gloved hand over the smooth ripples.
"Fountains alternating with willow trees. It used to be a lovely place to come read--or to come shove friends into the water," Bridgette's eyes were distant, and a longing, wistful smile was on her face as she seemed to see into the past. But when her reaching fingers touched the ice, she flinched and turned away. "This way."
She led them to an opening in the wall of ice, and paused, as they all gathered behind her, stopping in shock. Before them spread the frozen remains of a garden with fountains and lush banks of frozen flowers. Serena and Mina had to stop looking so closely at the ground. Here and there were little creatures frozen where they had been when the warmth had been sucked from this world. And there was a frozen hand coming out of a depression with a twisted lump in it in one of the flowerbeds. At the far end of the gardens, surrounded by a warm and inviting glow, was the most bizarre looking building any of them had ever seen. It was a mad cross of virtually every old building type that had been thought of: Greek, old Oriental, minarets like a Moslem mosque at intervals with medieval or fairy-tale towers. "What in--" began Zoe.
"It was added to as we found styles we liked." Bri actually looked a little sheepish. "It _is_ overdone, but--it seemed to amuse the Presence to see the feats that the mortals had created, so we continued to build onto it, no matter what the whole resembled." She sighed. "Come, you will be in warmth soon."
Bridgette led the way through the ruined gardens, face resolutely forward keeping to the building before them, not looking around. As they approached, they could see that the building was the only thing aside from them that was not covered with ice; the grass and flowers nearer the building were still lush. As they entered the outer fringes of the welcoming light, the air started to warm. There were the normal sounds of insects and birds, though strangely subdued, but almost deafening after the dark silence of the rest of the world.
They stepped between a series of glyph covered columns of lapis and gold, and found themselves standing at the base of some steps leading up to a pair of simply enormous, beaten-gold doors. The doors stretched far above them, carved scenes of half-familiar stories and legends covering every inch. Bridgette placed a gentle hand on the gleaming metal, and the doors swung silently inward. Whatever hodge-podge madness the outside of the building looked like, the inside was a single _huge_ room; a room too big to exist in the confines of the building itself, no matter _how_ big.
Columns were interspersed regularly, vanishing into the soft glow that hovered hundreds of feet up. They followed Bridgette into the room, looking about in awe, gasping and pointing out things to each other with hushed voices. The floor was tiled 10-foot square sections of every stone that they could put a name to and some they couldn't. The walls were covered with elaborate paintings of as-mixed scenes as decorated the doors. Bridgette waited for a moment, letting them stare and point, then spoke, without turning back to them, her voice soft and almost hesitant. "This way."
She led the silent, staring group across the 'center' of the room towards the barely visible far wall that was almost lost in the mists. Lita looked up, trying to discern how far up the ceiling went, then gasped, eyes widening. "Jared! Look!"
One moment, there was the strange glow encompassing everything that was above them, then there was a huge dome over them. The dome was divided into hundreds of panels, each made of some dark blue or black stone with stars patterned out on them. Bridgette glanced up as everyone stopped to stare. "Ah; must be night, I suppose. This is the only way you can tell if it's night or day anymore." When all eyes turned to her in curiosity, she shrugged. "Each panel represents a section of the sky of a different world. During the day, the dome is the daytime skies of each of the worlds that you see the night skies of now. It used to be a curiosity to come relax and gaze at, but now--" she slumped a little and led the way forward again.
Underneath the exact center of the dome, Bridgette paused, holding up her hand for everyone else to keep back, and tilting her head upwards. Above them, a patch of light appeared in the center of the dome, no more than a pin-prick at first, but then slowly falling towards them. As it lowered, an overwhelming sense of something/nothing/everything/good/evil surrounded them. There was a tumble of every emotion they could put a name to, but mostly amusement.
The light stopped, hovering and flickering though a myriad of colors as it hung before Bridgette's eyes. "Kae'ayla--" a voice boomed/whispered, amusement evident, "still breaking rules." The voice was in their heads and ears at the same time. None of them could decide if the voice was male, female, young, old, or even no more than one person or thing. "Why do you bring mortals here again?"
"For--forgive me," Bridgette bowed her head, flinching a little, hands clutching nervously at her skirt, as if she were a child facing an adult. "I felt they deserved an explanation; I had to show them this place, so that they would understand."
There was the sound of a playful clucking of a tongue. "Are these the ones you have caused so much trouble over?"
"Yes." Bridgette's voice quavered a little, and her wings drooped further. "Forgive my presumptions."
"You are aware what your reckless actions with these mortals has caused."
It wasn't a question, but Bridgette nodded, closing her eyes, face shamed. "I am prepared to deal with the damage I have caused to the Balance keeping them alive. But--this is--I had to--"
"Dear Child," the voice soothed, "Daughter, you are lonely and you are hurt; it was only to be expected. You have nothing to be shamed for." The voice was gentle, soothing and tender, caressing them all like a feather. "Go now, Child--take them to a world that is not dead; one that does not pain you so. Take them elsewhere before the Balance is even more unsettled by their presences here; mortals belong where things matter--where their brief lives can make a difference." The Light fluttered closer to Bridgette, brushing along her cheek, seeming to caress, then faded, the voice fading with a soft, "Oh Child."
Bridgette stared at the floor, hands gripping the shimmering material of her skirts, not speaking for a long moment. Malcolm cautiously stepped closer to her and put an arm around her shoulders, making her start. She turned to stare at Malcolm for a moment, then sighed, muscles untensing as she hugged Malcolm back. "Come. Let us--go elsewhere to talk; somewhere with suns, and life." Her voice shook with each word, and her eyes seemed suspiciously wet.
Malcolm touched her shoulder gently, keeping his arm around her shoulders. "What--did you mean keeping us alive?"
Bridgette sighed, shoulders stopping again, wingtips dragging the floor a little. "You four, were each meant to die in your childhoods. I--prevented it." She shook her head sadly at Malcolm's sharp intake of air and pulled free of his embrace, headed for the distant entrance in silence.
After a moment of furtive glances, Malcolm followed, trotting to catch up and walk at Bri's side, hand touching hers in concern. Jared shrugged off the disturbance of meeting the being/thing, and grabbed Lita's hand with a forced grin. "Last one outta here's a youma!"
Beryl's eyes narrowed angrily as Joerdan appeared before her, bowing. "I trust you have a good reason for disturbing me, Joerdan. I am already displeased with you."
Joerdan swallowed and bowed low, nearly bending double. "Yes, My Queen." He hoped his voice wasn't shaking as much as his insides were. He held out the pictures that his youma had brought him. "One of the humans at the school had something called a 'camera' with him. I thought that you would like to see--"
"I know of your failure already, Joerdan, and of the Traitor's return," Beryl began, flipping through the pictures with little interest, "I don't need to see--" She stopped, eyes fixed on the last picture. "No. Not HER! Not now!"
"My Queen?" asked Joerdan, taking a cautious step backwards, stunned to see the Queen pale.
Beryl flung the pictures to the ground at Joerdan's feet, the pictures fanning out from the force of her throw. The picture of the strange woman crouched over the wounded body of Nephlite was on top. Joerdan was struck again with the strong resemblance to Beryl in the woman's beautiful features, though there was nothing of malice in her face. "We will find more opposition to our plans than I thought," Beryl said flatly. Beryl glared at the pictures, then stopped, raising a hand. One of the pictures, one of Molly leaning on Nephlite's shoulder floated to her hand, and she regarded it through narrowed, yellow eyes. "Then again, perhaps there won't be; especially if we strike where she is not."
"Majesty? The girl in that picture is with the Traitors almost constantly now. Who IS that woman?"
"Do not question me, Joerdan," Beryl snapped suddenly. Her face turned into a deadly smile. "Zoicite did that once."
Joerdan swallowed again and bowed. "Yes, Majesty."
Malcolm was nearly blinded when he stepped not into the fire lit dining room, as he had expected, but into a brightly sunlit clearing. His clothing suddenly felt wrong. Once his eyes had stopped watering, he looked down at himself. He was startled to see that the strange silvery gray of the wyvern shed had changed into a rich medieval tunic of black velvets with slashed sleeves showing a fine shirt of cobalt blue silk underneath. Leather breeches and thigh boots of a fine suede, both dyed a matching black completed the new clothes along with a long cloak. The cuffs of the boots were trimmed in silver, as were the hems and cuffs of the tunic. "What in--"
Nathan, dressed similarly, but in dark blues and gold looked around in confusion. "Where in 'ell are we?"
Malcolm looked around, seeing everyone dressed in clothes that he would have placed in a high budget medieval or fantasy film. Bridgette's wings had vanished again, though her ears retained their points. "A safe place. I thought that you might like to see somewhere--another world that wasn't a frozen wasteland. And I have a comfortable place to speak here," she said.
"Where do the wings go when you aren't--um--you know?" Jared blinked.
"I gain about half a foot. As to where they go, I draw them in. It is a natural--ability. It would have to be; my magic cannot affect another of my kind; including myself."
"Illusions are not affecting me, they are affecting the people who see them; or altering the light. The same with clothing changes." Bridgette closed her eyes, tilting her face to the sun and breathing in deeply.
"This place is _beautiful!" Zoe exclaimed, inhaling the sweetly clean air and listening to the music of the birds as she looked around, the blacks and grays of her tunic standing out in the bright sunlit clearing.
Molly smiled as Lita whooped and threw a handful of fallen leaves at Jared, getting the yellow-haired musician to yell a cheerful insult and chase her through the drifts of leaves. Nathan chuckled. "Yer right, Bri; I thin' we needed this." He laughed when Jared slipped on some leaves and went shooting down a small incline yelling playful curses to smack into a bush, sending birds chirping in every direction.
Bri hid a smile behind her hand. "I hope everyone is hungry again; I have a--neighbor who is fond of guests." She paused, biting her lip, considering. "His smile is rather alarming, but don't let the growling fool you; Feolin wouldn't hurt a fly." She stretched, then set off down a narrow, sun-mottled path. "This way."
Jared managed to get himself disentangled from the bush, with Lita's help, shaking like a dog, trying to dislodge twigs and leaves from his hair. Malcolm shrugged at the others and strolled down the path after Bridgette, hand resting easily on the hilt of the sword that had appeared with the rest of his outfit. Nathan chuckled and bowed gallantly, winking a gem-bright eye, and took Molly's arm, leading her down the trail with a light bounce to his steps. Jared grinned as Serena and Darien followed, the two cats close behind, pouncing on the occasional leaf. "Ladies? If I might escort you?" he said, bowing and doffing an imaginary cap at Rei, Mina, and Ami with a flourish.
Rei rolled her eyes and stalked off down the trail after the others, the scarlet velvet skirt of her tunic flaring out behind her. Mina and Lita grinned and each took one of Jared's arms before setting off after Rei's retreating form.
The trees that lined the path were an almost mad mix; there were willow trees next to oaks and birches. Fir-trees and other evergreens towered over the them. Birds' song and the hum of insects filled the perfumed air, along with Jared's cheerful chattering.
Bridgette stopped suddenly, shoving her long braid carefully back over her shoulder and gesturing for them all to be quiet with a delicate hand. Smiling fondly, she pointed into the trees to one side and everyone followed her hand to see what she was showing them.
Five strange creatures nosed gracefully amongst the leaf litter looking for acorns that had fallen from a huge oak tree. They were all snowy white, and slender, with long graceful manes and tails. The general shapes were mostly like horses, but far too willowy slender to be real. Long silver and opal horns sprouted up from their foreheads, gleaming in the sunlight that made it through the canopy. Unicorns. Three fully grown, and two smaller ones. "Oh!" gasped Molly softly, clutching at Nathan's arm in wonder.
The biggest unicorn raised his head, snorting, and regarding the party warily. Bridgette took a step forward, smiling. " *Hylo. Dils'yn, Juli.*"
The unicorn started, then bowed his head respectfully. He turned and nosed the others and slowly, they each began to pace closer to the group. The small herd stopped just along side them, heads raised proudly, tails swishing, even though one was barely as tall as Serena. "What--do they want?" Serena asked, staring at them with shining eyes.
Bridgette smiled, reaching out a hand to touch the slender nose of the largest. "They came to greet my friends. In unicorn customs, you touch faces in greeting," she said, laying her cheek gently on the unicorn's, her face serene. "This is Juli, the leader of this family group. The female is Ora; the younger male is Tybl. The two foals are Fala and Kali. Kali is the youngest."
Wondering, each person followed Bridgette's example and touched cheeks with each of the unicorns. Molly was the last to greet Kali, and the foal whickered and knocked Molly backwards with a playful but, hooves prancing on the forest floor, eyes twinkling with mischief. Nathan laughed. "I think we've been invited to play."
"You have," Bri's smile was warm and easy, one arm draped comfortably around Juli's neck. "Would you like to? Or, I can bring you all back here some other time; when things are not as tense."
Molly hesitated, glancing at Nathan. Finally she sighed wistfully. "I suppose we should come back later. Would--that be all right?"
Bridgette glanced at Rei who was touching Ora's mane with tear streaked eyes. "That would be all right. This world--is peaceful." She closed her eyes for a moment, looking content. "We will return." She touched Rei's shoulder gently, then turned back to the unicorns, speaking once more in the strangely musical language. "*Namarie. Namarie wedi rwan.*" The unicorns nodded each in turn and turned back for their tree. Kali stopped for a moment, then rubbed his horn on a tree nearby, as if it itched. As he did so, a glittering curl of horn peeled off and fell with a little chime to the forest floor, laying amongst the leaves like a lost gem. He pushed it towards Molly with little pushes of his silken nose, a high pitched whinny coming from his throat as he raised his head and gazed into her eyes.
"What is he--" Molly touched his nose gently.
"It is an offer of eternal friendship," Bridgette said with a smile. "If you accept, you will have a friend for life; he will come to you whenever you need him."
Molly stared. "What--do I do?"
"Give him a bit of your hair, or something." Bridgette held out a tiny pair of golden scissors. "The pact need only be sealed by one member of a party. Kali is offering his whole family to all of you." Bridgette's eyes were gentle.
Molly wordlessly snipped a lock of her hair and held it out. Kali took it from her gently with his teeth, then trotted back to his family while Nathan stopped and retrieved the thin curl of horn, handing it to Molly. Rei blinked. "Why--why did they do that?"
"They wanted to, I suppose. They can sense what kind of people you are; that you fight evil. That is their purpose too. So--they offer to help you." Bridgette turned and headed back down the path.
Everyone lingered a moment more, watching the unicorns watch them. Finally, and not without regret, they all trotted to catch up with Bridgette. "Did you know we were going to meet them on the trail?" asked Lita, after a few moments.
"No. And I had no idea that they were going to do that, either," Bridgette said. "I am glad they were and glad they did, though. You all feel better, don't you?"
Rei nodded, wiping the last traces of tears away. "Yeah. They were so beautiful--"
"They exist to amplify good and lessen evil."
"Oh. Umm--are they attracted to--er--"
"Guess not, considering they liked all of us," Zoe mentioned wryly. Then she glared when Nathan elbowed her.
Bridgette chuckled. "Merely legend; people knew that they were attracted to goodness, and for some reason, people have always associated virginity with goodness."
"Oh," Jared said, blushing.
Bridgette paused a moment, as the trees started to thin. "Be careful here--we are nearing a cliff." Everyone slowed, watching their footing as she led them out of the trees and to the edge of a cliff.
Down below them stretched a picture-perfect rural valley. Hedgerows criss-crossed the landscape surrounding fields, turning the countryside into a verdant quilt. Sheep grazed in a few meadows, their soft baa's reaching them even where they stood. A small medieval-looking village was nestled near the center of the valley, a small and graceful-looking castle at its center surrounded by a glittering moat. To the other side of them, a mountain rose majestically to a crystal-clear blue sky. The stones of the mountain were a dusky purple in some places, reddish brown in others. Patches of green showed where plants clung to the slopes and the top was covered with white snow, small clouds rising from the sides. "I wish I'd m'paints," Nathan complained, gazing around.
Bridgette smiled gently. "I'll bring you back here again, all right?" Smiling, she led them towards the mountain rather than towards the valley, as they half expected. She pushed aside the branches of a bush that clung to the side, revealing a narrow trail curving up the side of the mountain. "Where are we going?" asked Mina, confused, glancing back down at the valley.
"I told you; I have a place to speak here. It is this way."
"You and your mysterious neighbor live on a mountain?" asked Jared, grinning widely.
"I told you; my friend is rather alarming to most people."
Bridgette didn't volunteer any more information, so they were forced to follow in silence. After about an hour, most everyone was out of breath from the effort of climbing the steep trail. Bridgette finally pushed aside another bush revealing an even narrower trail that cut steeply up through the rock; rough stairs had been carved into the very stones of the mountain. "Where are we going?" whined Serena, panting and waving a hand in front of her sweat-damp face.
"Up these stairs, then no further than inside," said Bridgette soothingly. She waited until the next person had the branches of the bush and then led them up the stairs. The steep walls on either side towered a couple of feet above her head, blocking the view of the valley below them. Finally, the sweaty group emerged onto a large, flat shelf on the side of the mountain just before the entrance to a huge cave. Everyone stopped and looked at the cave in confusion, panting. "A cave?" asked Zoe. "You live in a cave?
"Who _dares_ to disturb me?"
The loud voice shook them, sending pebbles and dust raining down the cliff-face. Everyone turned in horror towards the cave, Malcolm actually drawing his sword instinctively to see--
--a huge golden scaled dragon, leaning towards them looking _very_ angry.
Row after row of sword-like teeth filled a mouth big enough to swallow a city bus without straining. Hot breath poured onto them as the dark green eyes peered at them. "Hello, Feolin," said Bridgette, wryly, laying a calming hand on Malcolm's sword arm. "Don't you know it's rude to eat guests?"
The dragon blinked, then all the fury faded from his eyes. The head seemed to grin pleasantly, thought the sight was enough to jar the nerves of the rest of the party. "Bridgette! It's been ages! Are these friends of yours?" The dragon beamed cheerfully.
"You know how you've always pestered me to meet people from another world?"
"Here's your chance."
"Oh! Why didn't you warn me, Bridgette?! I'd have made dinner! Ah me! At least I have _something_ in the oven."
Rei turned to Bridgette. "Your--ah--friend with the alarming smile?" She said faintly, pointing to the dragon with a trembling finger.
Melvin hung up the phone with a sigh. All of the girls had gone over to the musicians' home for dinner. "What's wrong with them?" He muttered to himself, pacing through his room. "Can't they see that those people are weird?"
He straightened his glasses, and with a resolute grimace, he grabbed his camera and his jacket and headed out the door.
After carefully following the lumbering dragon through a few hundred feet of rough and dark cave, they had all found themselves in a brightly lit and cheery, enormous room. The huge cavern was furnished rather like a nice country cottage with huge "chairs" shaped to comfortably hold a large dragon. Nice area carpets--some of them being about the size of football fields covered the stone floor. Huge bundles of drying herbs hung from the roof about 100 feet up. The few stalactites left hanging from the ceiling, were wonderfully carved in into columns of rose vines, the some of the carved roses in them four feet across, the thorns like stone swords. Tapestries hung from the walls; tables, cabinets, and shelves were littered with huge books and various dragon-sized curios and nick-nacks covered the surfaces, resting on crocheted doilies and swaths of nice cloth.
Feolin bustled about the room, acting like nothing but a busy homeowner, dusting, and straightening for his guests, clucking and tsking, chatting brightly to himself as he worked. "Just make yourselves at home! I've tried to keep Bridgette's room tidy, but I really have to be so careful, since everything's so little!"
Bridgette's room wound up being in what was to Feolin a small niche in the wall of the cave down by the floor. The space was divided into a series of rooms with beautiful lacquer panels with scenes of mystical creatures on them. Like the rest of the cavern, rich carpets, though in a less daunting size, covered the stone floor. There was fine, if dusty furniture, which Bridgette cleaned with a muttered word.
While everyone explored the places, exclaiming over this and that and looking at the pictures on the screens, Jared let out a giggle. "This is like the Reluctant Dragon meets Better Homes and Gardens," Jared said finally, sitting on a green brocade-covered lounge.
Bridgette's lips quirked into a smile as she settled into a well cushioned chair with a sigh. "Feolin likes the finer things in life." She turned her head to where the golden dragon bustled near a large stove across the cavern. "The villagers still trying to give you sacrifices?" she called out as everyone started pulling chairs close around the "sitting" room.
"Hmm? Oh, yes," said Feolin cheerfully, chuckling and winking. "I send the poor terrified little girls over the mountain, with a bag of gold so they can make their fortunes." He grinned. "No one bothers me on the far side." He reached into a large cupboard and pulled out a wooden box that was tiny in his hand, but which was actually about the size of a small car. "Fire wine?" he asked. "Oh--and perhaps some of my cheese scones?"
"Sounds delightful, Feolin. We'll be here a while; we'll likely need food and drink before I get finished." Bridgette sighed wearily, settling back into her chair, rubbing at her forehead.
"Fire wine?" asked Nathan, glancing at Molly, "D'you think that the--"
"It's not actually wine, Nathan. It's a juice made from the berries that grow in the Valley of the Sun. It doesn't intoxicate you, but I wouldn't be surprised if you have the urge to get up and run around a few times," she said. "The stuff's more invigorating than caffeine, but safer. Feolin has a few friends who are fire birds--like the phoenix, except that they lay eggs--and just--well, associate with fire." She smiled. "And Feolin is an excellent cook."
"A dragon who cooks. What next?" muttered Malcolm.
Bridgette shrugged as Feolin carefully opened the box he held and pulled out seemingly tiny bottles of faintly-glowing red liquid with the tips of his claws. Delicately, he placed the bottles he retrieved on the table in the middle of the group. Bridgette got up and went to a cabinet, coming back with a silver tray holding several silver and crystal goblets. "It depends what you decide, Malcolm." She sat down as Feolin set a cheese covered biscuit-like thing the size of a monster truck tire down on a plate amidst them. "We're supposed to eat all of THAT?" asked Zoe, laughing. "He's worse than Jared!"
"What are you worried about? We have Serena, remember?" said Rei, grinning and watching Bridgette pour the wine and pass it out.
Malcolm smirked a little and took a filled glass from Bridgette. Cautiously, he raised the glass to his nose, sniffing. It smelled like hot cider with some sort of spices in it; indeed, the goblet was faintly warm to his grasping fingers. Tentatively, he took a sip.
Malcolm's eyes rose in pleased surprise. The liquid warmed a path down to his stomach, filling him with warmth and comforting energy. The taste that rolled on his tongue as he drank, started like apples and cinnamon, and ended somewhere between strawberries and grapes. "This is--good!" He grinned some and had another sip.
"I'll warn you; this is the only place to get it," Bridgette said with a smile, settling back down into her own chair with her own goblet while Serena carved a hunk of scone off for herself, inhaling the rich aroma of the fresh-baked bread.
Mina turned from watching Feolin settle himself down into one of the huge chairs with a book the size of a truck balanced in his hands. "So--now what?"
"Now I start explaining, I suppose," said Bridgette with a sigh, swirling the liquid around in her glass as Malcolm reached out and refilled his own. She paused, cocking her head, apparently thinking. "I suppose that I'd better start with my people."
"Remind me to get the recipe for these scones from him," Jared interrupted, grinning cheerfully and saluting with a wedge of the scone. Jedite took over for a moment. "I am sorry. Go on, Bridgette."
Bridgette smiled briefly and nodded. "My people are one of the oldest races--if not the oldest in all the universes--we were--an experiment of Creation, I suppose." She sighed, pushing her hair from her eyes. "There were close to three-thousand of my people living on my world when the--mistake happened. That was the most there ever really was since, for the most part, those who were born were really just older souls reborn into a new form."
"So your people _can_ be killed," said Zoe, "but they get reborn. How--"
"Our bodies were just as fragile as humans' are, Zoe. Flesh is flesh, and there is always the danger of being hurt if you have a physical form," Bridgette explained patiently, still staring into her glass. "We could bleed, but for the most part, only our bodies died. If a friend died, all you had to do was wait, and soon they would be back." Sighing, she took a long pull from her glass. "When a new soul was born, it was a call for great celebration."
"How long did your people live?" asked Ami. "I mean life-spans."
"Until we were killed; but then, we came back. We really didn't have a lifespan, per say, Ami--more of a circle. There were a few times when the souls vanished--we had--great enemies. Those times, when someone suddenly vanished--were disturbing to us all. We all shared a sort of--group consciousness. We could, if we concentrated, track down every last one of our people no matter where in the universes and times they were. We could tell what they were feeling, what they were doing. When one of us 'vanished', it was like a part of you was suddenly taken."
"Must've made things hard to get intimate," said Darien.
"Yes and no, Darien. No relationships usually didn't last very long or get too deep, and it could get uncomfortable being the only person with no one to be with at night, but--occasionally, there would develop a more permanent and closer relationship." He voice trailed off a moment, pained, then continued softly, though still loud enough for everyone to hear. "These two would bind their hearts to the other, making the link they already shared stronger. I--had such a bond with one known as Kyl'so. And we had a son who was born a new soul, named D'ult'ara."
"How on earth did you figure out family if the souls were being reborn all the time?" asked Rei. "I mean, if you had a child and the soul wound up being your mother's--"
"We were a family, Rei; all of us. We cared little for the terms. Only when there was such a close link did it matter. And you--always remembered who started your first lifecycle." She sighed, fingering the locket. "What were your parents like?" Jared prompted gently.
"I never knew my parents--the closest I had was the Presence."
They were all quiet a moment while Bri, sipped at her wine, her eyes distant. Finally, she sighed and drew in a breath to start speaking again. "Now--while we were on Cynillon, we were mostly ordinary people. We were each born with a certain type of magic, and that is all we could use there. While this seems limiting, it was--more relaxing. Power brings heavy responsibilities, and if you needed something that your own abilities would bot grant you, there was always someone else who could do what you needed." She sipped deeply of her wine, Malcolm refilling it for her when she rested the goblet on the arm of the chair. "I was rare in that I had more than one type of power on Cynillon; so I was given a sort of leadership position--as much as we could have one, anyway." She sighed. "And due to that, and due to my already more intimate than normal relationship, it was left to me to deal with the Presence, for the most part."
"Why did you guys come to our world, then?" asked Jared. "I mean if you didn't like the responsibility."
"It was our Duty. The Presence had us watch and maintain the great Balance." She shrugged helplessly. "We were to prevent destruction from UnBalance--to protect and make sure things went for the greater good."
"Wait--Balance? What--t'ween good an' evil?" asked Nathan, brow wrinkled.
"The Balance is a good deal more complex than that, Nathan," Bridgette said. "Good and evil are but two aspects of the whole. There is nothing as simple as only two sides. The Balance is good and evil, law and chaos, light and dark, happiness and sorrow, and few million other things. We had to make sure that the Balance was reasonably even throughout all of the universes."
"Ouch," commented Jared wryly.
Bri smiled a little, though with little humor. "What about you guys? I mean, don't you think you guys would off set the Balance a little? You're pretty powerful," said Mina, shifting in her chair a little.
"We are outside the Balance, Mina--we have absolutely no effect on it by ourselves. It is the normal people--humans, and the other inhabitants of the worlds that make the difference, and to make sure the Balance is kept, we must influence them directly, or manipulate the world around them to influence them indirectly. We must work, through you mortals who are the heart of the Balance. We could occasionally, directly alter the Balance ourselves, but little good ever came of that." She sighed, rubbing her head and winced, eyes filled with pained remembrance. "While on our world, though, we could ignore the call, of the Balance--everywhere else, it hurts deeply, as though someone were thrusting hot blades into you, and worse." She sighed again, sipping at her wine. "Which is why we liked to keep to Cynillon; for some time, we would have the peace of ignorance."
"So--how do you keep the Balance going?" asked Molly.
"Various ways; it depends on what needs correcting." She sipped her wine with a grimace. "I have found myself starting and stopping wars, killing certain people, or helping others to live. I have altered the weather, I have snuffed stars--I have to do whatever it takes."
"That's awful," said Malcolm with a shudder. "How could you just--start a war like that?"
Bridgette looked at him, anguish on her features, eyes pleading for understanding. "We never thought of it like that, Malcolm. We had no idea what you mortals were like; not at first. We never paid any attention, so intent were we on keeping the Balance straight." She sighed. "That is why I wanted you to see the Presence; so that you would--at least partially understand the force that drove us to do this."
Lita shivered. "That was--disturbing to say the least. I--I wasn't sure whether to bow or run."
End of Part 7a (due to limit of how much can go in each post)
Bridgette nodded, and Jedite spoke up again, the accent, expression and posture telling that it wasn't the gentle-eyed musician speaking. "So what happened to upset this? You said 'at first'; I presume that at least some of you started to take notice of mortals."
"Aye--one of us fell in love with a mortal."
There was a long silence. "It was you, wasn't it?" Malcolm guessed softly.
The silence grew uncomfortably, then finally, Serena spoke up hesitantly. "What happened to your world?"
Bridgette started a little, then sagged back in her chair wearily. "A mistake, as I said; one of those times when we tried to alter the Balance directly." Bridgette rubbed at the bridge of her nose. "There came a time when the Balance shifted badly in one universe. We have several options about what to do; we could have released a plague on one world to wipe out 80% of the population through the ways they transferred foods; or there were other things, equally unpleasant. There were hundreds of things we could have done, but one of our number, who was one of us that were beginning to have doubts about our arbitrarily meddling in mortal's lives, discovered that the creation of a new world would fix the problem. Since the person who suggested it was my son, we did just that."
"Created a world just like that?" said Zoe flatly.
"Oh, no, there was more to it than that; a great deal more. Certainly it is easy to conjure rock enough to make a world, but you must make that rock almost live; make it active. Then you must make life grow. You have to build atmospheres, food chains, evolutional cycles--it took all of us to do this--"
"How long?" asked Nathan, "Seven days?"
Bridgette flinched, and Nathan grimaced in apology. "Who can say, Nathan? What is time to an immortal?" She sighed. "We cared little for tracking time; we had no need to, since time runs differently on all the worlds anyway." Bridgette sighed, refilling her glass slowly. "So--we created a world. It was beautiful then; filled with the most beautiful parts that we could recall from the other mortal realms. We put everything we could think of that was beautiful and good. Perhaps things would have been all right, but for one fatal mistake; the mortals were aware of us and of our purpose--and they resented it. There was--one of us who--had--become mortal, and she chose to live on the new world we had created."
"Uh oh," guessed Lita.
"Time went by, and we didn't notice the growing trouble." She looked embarrassed. "We were rather too fond of being ignorant." Sighing, she set aside her glass. "Finally, a few of the humans on the world we had created elected our exiled one as leader and sent her to us, in disguise, to demand that we share what we did with them. This woman was clever, born with her own powers of creation even with her powers having been stripped when she was--"
"What on Earth could you guys possibly exile someone for, with that group conciousness of yours?" Zoe wondered.
"She took delight in blatant destruction, and she hated deeply. Especially her mother and her brother." Bridgette looked deeply pained and sighed. "This one had an incredible imagination, and she knew she could not hope to equal our powers any longer--not that she ever could; she was always fairly weak. She hated that.
"Thinking nothing of it and not knowing who she really was, we agreed to her demands, and began to show her how we did things, even though we knew she would never have the power to duplicate what we showed her. We brought her to our world, showing her everything--telling her about our people. We didn't notice that taking one of the mortals into our world, where the Balance did not touch was--"
"Your world wasn't part of the Balance?"
"No." Bridgette frowned. "Imagine that the Balance is like holding a ball on the tip of your finger. Our world was the point on which the ball rested." She shook her head as Zoe sat back, frowning. "In any case, this changed-mortal began to finalize her plot against us. Knowing that we could not die completely unless the souls were destroyed as well, she used her creative powers to make a group of--Things that completely destroyed what they killed. We knew nothing of this; it was business as usual. Why should we expect attack?
"Then, one day, she released them on us, and the people of the world we had created turned on their makers." Bridgette's head bowed, and Malcolm stretched out a hand to take one of hers, though she didn't seem to notice, her eyes turned inwards. "It happened so quickly, we never knew what was happening. One of us after the other dropped out of our minds after terrible pain; we weren't sure what to make of it. We were all disoriented with the loss; a few of us were off our world on Duty, but most of us were there. I was in the field I took you to, with my son and husband, enjoying a picnic, and suspecting nothing. Then _she_ arrived with her--Things." Her voice was trembling, tears running down her face unchecked. "The--Things--they killed D'ult'ara before Kyl'so and I could even stand. I watched my son get Unmade before me, and I was helpless to stop it! Then--they--they went after Kyl'so. I could do nothing, stunned by the loss. Min, my guardian, was the only thing that kept me from following Kyl'so into nothingness. She was silent a moment, tears tracking down her lovely face as Malcolm stroked the delicate hand he held soothingly. Finally, she spoke, her voice quavering and soft. "To power the Things, the mortal woman drained all the power she could from our stars and from out world, freezing it into the lifeless rock that you saw. My People died around me, and, all at once, something in me snapped, and I felt hate for the first time; the pain I felt was too great.
"I went a deep rage, and went to the world we had created, killing any I could find in my madness. I managed to destroy the Things, but not before they had wounded me mortally, my very soul bleeding away." Her face was taught in remembered pain. "I knew I was hurt in such a way that I would waste away into nothingness in a short time, and I no longer cared, horrified at what I had done, and lost without my people and my family.
"That was when _she_ came in to gloat over me; Beryl."
"_Beryl_?!" gasped Nathan, sitting bolt up right in his chair, eyes huge. "Then the world was--"
"The Negaverse, aye, though it looked nothing like that then, and it was named another thing then--even before she mocked it and turned it to the 'Dark Kingdom' and then, later, the 'Negaverse'. The presence of the Things that she had created fouled and twisted that once beautiful place into what you knew." Bridgette rubbed her forehead again. "Beryl had been badly wounded in our battles too, and she collapsed near me, dying as well. But, as we both lay there, she bitterly wished that I would live on, remembering all that had happened and never be able to enter the peace of dying. In irrational anger, I stripped her of her creative ability with my own faltering power, making her forever rely on the plans and thoughts of others, and told her that if I was to live forever in pain and loneliness, then she would follow me. Both curses took." There was silence.
"I don't know exactly what happened next, but I awoke on the shell of my world, utterly alone. The Presence was no help, so I fled to the mortal realms, hiding and seeking comfort, looking for the few of my people who had escaped. Thousands of years, I spent amongst the mortals, and for the first time I realized more and more how much we had wronged the mortals; how much that the mortals, too, felt things. "But I was helpless to stop doing what I was ordered to do. Beryl's curse, you see; and there was no more ignorance for me to find a temporary balm to. I had to start wars that butchered millions to preserve the Balance, watching in agony and helpless to stop it. I felt regret for near the first time. "Then, one day, Beryl and the shattered remains of her world showed up. She sought to destroy me, but due to the curse, we can no longer face each other directly.
"So--lacking a target in me, she attacked the place that I was, seeking to injure me more by slaughtering my friends. Always, she follows me, attacking where I am or where I was."
"You were on Earth, then?" asked Serena hesitantly as Malcolm put his arms around her gently. Jared crawled out of his chair and put his arms around her waist, hugging and resting on his knees at her side, Zoe and Nate going over to join in the hug, too.".
"I was. Earth is where the most of the remainders of my people had gathered. Yet, there was something wrong with them; perhaps as an effect of my curse, or perhaps due to their having been away from Cynillon so long, they were no longer as strong as they had been. Or perhaps it was their way to hide from the pain.
"They had become semi-mortal; dropping out of my mind as surely as if they had died in the attack. They became the sidhe of Ireland, the alfar of Norway; the became angels; they became the legends, and faded."
"What are the sidhe?" asked Luna, speaking up for the first time.
"Irish faerie folk," said Nathan. "Elves, I'ye will; but no' exactly. Tall, beautiful--" he broke off with a gasp, "--an' prone t' meddlin' wi'mortals."
"Aye," said Bridgette, sighing. "I gathered the faded remnants of my people and built them a safe place; a small parallel world that led to Earth. The humans in the area at the time, associated me with one of their goddesses--"
"Let me guess," said Jared said, grinning. "Bridgette, right? Light and art."
Bridgette nodded. "That is where I got this name from. One of my birth-gifts; the powers I could use on Cynillon was Art magic; turning art into reality." She sighed. "Finally, I couldn't bear being reminded of all that was gone, so I went once more amongst the mortals, trying to lose myself in them. "Many hundreds of years later, I found a position in the court of a relatively small noble. By the time a few thousand years had passed, this noble's family had become Kings and Queens, and I was still their Bard."
"You WERE Kaela!" Artemis gasped, jumping up with a startled trilling meow.
"Yes," Bridgette sighed. "I wove spells so that people did not remember what I looked like so that they wouldn't get upset seeing me staying the same through the centuries. I knew that one day, Beryl would catch up with me and it bothered me. I tried to help prepare them for it, knowing I wouldn't be able to do anything direct. I--was distracted."
"What happened?" asked Luna, intensely interested, hopping up into her lap and pressing her head against Bri's stomach, purring when the hand Malcolm wasn't gripping stroked her ears.
"I met four young mortal men who could remember me even with the masking spells I had. They filled a place that had long been empty in my heart; I once again had a family."
"The four Generals," guessed Rei. "These four."
"Men?" asked Zoe with a raised eyebrow and a gasp. "I was--"
"I'll explain that later," said Bridgette with a sigh. "I spent much time with these four, and for a moment, I could forget a little. "But Beryl came.
"She tried a new tactic this time; instead of just attacking, she spied first. Finding out about these four mortals that I seemed to care so much for, she altered her plans to make sure she captured them, twisting them and using them against me. She knew I could never hurt them." Bridgette grimaced more tears trickling down her raw cheeks. "They resisted her at first, so Beryl, no longer able to do anything of her own, followed the suggestions of her flunkies and accidental hints my four dropped, and twisted each of them in a certain way. "The youngest, she turned from a cheerful trickster into a mirror of herself; relying on the plans of others: Jedite."
Jared/Jedite blinked, flushing and hugged her waist tighter. "The most cheerful of the bunch she changed partially into a female: Zoicite." Zoe paled and sat back in her chair, downing the fire wine in one gulp and yanking at her ponytail. "One of them declared that he would never turn to her while his heart moved red blood through his veins, so Beryl turned it green: Nephlite." Nathan grimaced and pulled Molly in close to his side, arm tightening around Bri's shoulders. "The last, the eldest, was the one of the quietest and most unassuming mortals I knew. She made him the most cunningly cruel: Malachite." Malcolm blushed and hugged her, face uncomfortable.
Bridgette sighed. "I knew Beryl did this to spite me, but I couldn't bring myself to fight against my friends, so I moved and attacked Beryl's rear flank to slow the conquest as much as I could; to give enough time for the extra powers I had begun to install in the crystal in the scepter of the Moon Queen to take effect." She sighed. "You know the rest of what happened in that attack."
Malcolm blinked. "So--we _still_ don't have all the memories back? _I_ certainly don't remember Earth--or you on the Moon Kingdom or anything like that."
"No, you don't." Bridgette sighed. "What Beryl had done to you four had changed you enough so that the protective spells that I had erected around you in vain hopes of saving them kicked in, triggering their reincarnation. But since they still existed in the Negaverse, though trapped, they new incarnations were doomed to die young. So you were split, with two lives. Until about 20 years ago when I could take it no longer, and I intervened to save each of you when you were slotted to die."
Malcolm paled, pressing against Bri's side. "I--remember--before I was taken to the shelter."
Serena blinked. "Shelter?"
"I was born on the streets of Detroit," Malcolm said softly, staring at his hands, voice trembling slightly. "My parents and I had lived in and out of homeless shelters since before I was born. When I was four, a bad winter came up; one shelter had only room enough for one more. My parents left me there and walked off back into the storm; I never saw them again." Serena's eyes filled with tears as he went on. "For the next little while, I wandered around, until one day, I was almost caught in the crossfire of a gang war. But--a woman stopped me from going into the alley by giving me the address of a place that could take me in--" Malcolm stopped, staring. "That was you, Bridgette; I remember now."
She nodded, eyes averted to her lap. "And you Nathan? Do you remember the day you woke up fine, but got sick and had to go to the doctor's? The same day a car bomb exploded near your house, collapsing it?" Nathan closed his eyes and nodded. "And you, Jared; do you remember the way a secret imaginary friend of yours enticed you to crawl out the window of your room and go play in the field the night that your family died of carbon-monoxide poisoning from the road nearby?" Jared pressed his face into her stomach, nodding slightly, sniffling. "And you, Zoe--do you remember the day your parents decided to run to Western Germany? The gunfire? Your parents falling and a strange woman taking bullets as she passed you to the far side of the border? The way no one would believe you?" Zoe stared, face pale, nodding.
Everyone was silent for a long while, no sounds filling the cavern but for the ponderous breathing of Feolin and the crackle of the fire.
Mrs. Baker sighed, turning off the television with a grimace. Still, there was nothing on except for more talk about the attack on the school from earlier in the day. Sighing, she turned to stare at Maxfield Stanton's will, lying on the side table where Molly had left it.
What was happening with her daughter? First she inherits a fortune from a man whom Serena was claiming was a horrible person two-months ago, but whom Molly and Sailor Moon had claimed had died saving her. Then Molly starts to spend a great deal of time with those strange musicians.
There was a knock on the door, and she got up, grumbling and opening the door--
--and blinking at the news crews standing there. "Miss Baker! Is it true that your daughter has inherited the pending fortunes of Maxfield--"
"Is it because of the Stanton fortune that the attack on the school today was--" She slammed the door in their faces.
Groaning, she flopped back down on the sofa, picking up a book she had started reading three weeks ago, yet hadn't gotten beyond the first page. Then a noise made her look up.
Startled, she saw the shadows seem to peel off the wall, a scratchy whispering filling the room. Jumping up, she ran to the kitchen for something to defend herself with--and ran into the chest of a tall, handsome man with cold blue eyes and a mop of luxurious black curls. "Queen Beryl is expecting you," he hissed, sneering as his hand closed on her arm.
"Circles Part Eight : Home Sweet Home" By : NaruMolly
Molly's mother stared about herself with wide eyes, frightened eyes. She was being roughly led along long, dark passageways of what she presumed was stone. The walls were strangely rippled, as if they had oozed there, and solidified. Sparse, dark violet lights didn't do much to spare her feet from stumbling on the uneven floor, and falling, turning her shins and knees into a nest of bruises. Her arms were black and blue as well from the unforgiving grips of the things that hauled her along behind the cold-eyed man. Her captors weren't slacking their pace any, and seemed to take an inordinate amount of glee in her falling every few steps. The last time she had fallen, she had been half-dragged for several feet until she could scramble her feet back under her.
Abruptly, the mad pace slowed and the sneering man turned back to face her, the smile he wore sending shivers down her spine. "You are fortunate, human; you are about to meet Queen Beryl. I suggest you be on your best behavior, if you wish to live longer."
Mrs. Baker swallowed and wisely held her tongue as she was shoved rudely >from behind to enter a huge room after the man. It was difficult to keep herself from staring at the shadowed crowds of other creatures that thronged around the room. It was partially like a nightmare--or like some of the Bosch paintings she had once seen. Creatures right out of horror films on late-night television sneered and poked at here. Abruptly, they were free of the crowd, and she found herself tossed roughly to her knees on the floor before a throne sitting on a dais. Mrs. Baker stared, looking at the enthroned woman incredulously. "Miss Corwyn?"
"Silence!" snarled her captor, cuffing her roughly and sending her sprawling to the ground.
She slowly picked herself up, wincing as bruises pulled, and looked at the cold-eyed woman above her. Her first impression was very wrong; though there was a strong resemblance, there was no way that this woman could be the calm leader of the musicians her daughter had befriended.
The woman would likely have been tall, had she been standing. Red-brown eyes glared at her as the woman's slender, clawed hands drummed idly on a black crystal sphere which stood on a strangely decorated staff before her. "Well, well, Mrs. Baker; so nice of you to join us here." Molly's mother could only stare mutely. The enthroned woman sneered, "I must apologize for bringing you here; I really don't like being this unprofessional, but when you are dealing with Traitors and the Kae'ayla, what else can you expect?"
"Joerdan--take her to--the Black Lake. That should be a good place to hold her." The woman's face spilt into a cruel smile. "You _did_ leave that message for Her at the place of this human's capture, didn't you?"
The dark-haired man who had brought her to this place smiled thinly, bowing low. "Of course, my Queen."
Malcolm sighed as he stepped through the Portal and back into the dining room of their house, tugging at the wyvern shed until it turned back into the soft folds of material. Keeping out of the way of the others coming through the portal, he tossed the cloth over the back of his chair at the table and poured some of the sherry from a decanter on the sideboard into a crystal tumbler, sipping at it carefully. Once his hand stopped shaking, he turned back to watch Bridgette emerge through the portal last, looking once more completely human, dressed once more in the dark-violet suit she had worn to dinner.
Sighing, she raised her hands and spread them in a curious manner, and the portal stretched, then vanished like the image of a television being switched off. She frowned a moment, brow wrinkling as she looked around, rubbing at the back of her neck, but shrugged, sighing as she sat heavily in her chair, resting her elbows on the table, face buried in her hands. Malcolm grimaced and crossed over to her as everyone else worked on getting off the wyvern-shed and sat at her feet, placing his free hand gently on her leg.
Everyone else took their seats and looked around at each other, the uncomfortable silence growing. Finally, Darien cleared his throat a little nervously. "So...how do you...ah start wars and things? Keep this Balance going?"
Bridgette glanced over at him momentarily, then she stood, running a gentle hand over Malcolm's cheek as she turned to peer out the window with an unreadable expression, seeming deeply troubled and distracted. "_I_ don't specifically. As I said, we have to work through humans as much as we can." "The wrong word here, the wrong letter delayed or lost." She frowned, smiling sourly. "We inspire. Think of us as Muses of a sort." Her brow wrinkled as she peered more intently out of the window, one hand raising to lay flat against the glass as she stared out into the darkened gardens.
"Bridgette; Muse of Mayhem," muttered Jared, weakly trying for humor.
Bridgette glanced over at him sharply, staring with wounded darkest-blue eyes, while Zoe winced and swatted Jared's shoulder reproachfully. Finally, she shook her head, "I suppose I am in a way, Jared." The distracted look on her face was suddenly replaced with a grim frown. Straightening, she turned and glared out the window, raising her voice, the words tempered by a dark anger. "*Yen! Hir!*"
The locket lying on her chest abruptly flared with brilliant green light, then faded to normal. Bridgette turned and stalked out the door, skirts and hair flying in her wake as everyone scrambled to their feet and followed her through the house and out into the back gardens. "What's going on?" panted Mina, trotting to keep up with Bridgette's long strides.
"An intruder. Yen is detaining him," Bri said matter-of-factly.
"Yen? As in your guardian, Yen?" Rei asked, remembering the frozen corpse.
"Aye," Bridgette stopped suddenly, hands resting on her hips, eyes narrowed dangerously.
"What is Yen?" asked Rei, voice toned to a whisper, nervously looking around.
"Uh--Rei--I think it's _that_," ventured Ami weakly, pointing a finger in the direction Bridgette was glaring.
Rei turned to see--an Oriental dragon curled around the house. He was a brilliant mix of verdant greens, shimmering elegantly in the moonlight, streamers falling from his jaws. And he had something dangling delicately from his teeth. Mina turned to say something to Bridgette--and stared at the locket.
It was a simple quartered circle; the dragon was gone.
The dragon leaned down and put the limp figure gently on the ground, raising his great head back up to just below the level of the roof. Bridgette wandered over slowly, and looked at the small shivering heap that the dragon had left--and then winced. She quickly crouched at the still figure's side, picking up the head to rest in her lap, slender hand stroking the hair and removing a pair of glasses and setting them to the side. "Bloody hell; just what I need," she muttered, her hands remaining gentle, none-the-less.
Molly moved closer hesitantly, kneeling beside Bridgette as Malcolm knelt by her too. Molly leaned closer, peering at the limp figure, and gasped. "Hey! It's Melvin!"
"Melvin?!" Serena gasped, eyes growing huge as everyone moved closer, staring. "What's _he_ doing here."
The dragon's head lowered to rest on the ground looking strangely embarrassed. "Lurking in the bushes with a camera," the dragon said, the rumbling voice sounding apologetic. "I believe I badly frightened him, Bridgette, but I swear to you, I did him no more harm than causing him some few bruises."
Bridgette chaffed the unconscious boy's wrists, shaking her head a little. "No, Yen; it's all right. I should have looked closer before sending you after him. Beryl has me jumping at shadows again."
Malcolm blinked, picking up the locket and staring at it a moment. "You've--worn a dragon around your neck all these years?"
"He goes where he is needed," Bridgette said as Melvin began to stir a bit.
"He was on the gate," Mina said suddenly. Everyone except Bridgette turned to look at her, and she giggled uncomfortably. "When we first came over to dinner--there was a dragon on the gate."
"Uh--what happened?" he moaned, grimacing and rubbing at his eyes blearily.
"You fainted--" Bridgette said wryly, as the dragon vanished to become an engraving on her locket once more. "--in our bushes."
Bridgette frowned again, raising her head to stare at the glittering stars above. "Something's wrong; there is something _very_ wrong."
Melvin stared at them all as he sat up. "What _are_ you people, some sort of demons? Are you after Molly and Serena like the other ones, 'cause if you are, I'll--"
Nathan snorted. "That's something I've heard before," he said, raising an eyebrow at Serena.
"Look, Melvin, go home," said Rei. "You don't want to get involved. _Believe_ me."
"I already am! I developed my pictures from the school today. I posted them on the Internet!"
Bridgette stilled and turned and looked at him, her eyes picking up a faint glow again as her hand reached out and gently but firmly took a hold of his chin, tilting his head up to look into her glaring eyes. "What pictures?" she said, her voice flat.
"Of the fight; the _real_ fight, with all the magic! The one that was like something outta a Sailor V movie or something." He jerked his chin free of Bridgette's suddenly slack grip and stared, grabbing his glasses and jamming them on his face. "Who _are_ you people? And what do Molly and Serena have to do with you guys--and the Sailor Scouts?!"
Molly glanced back at Serena, then bit her lip. "Melvin--Sailor Moon and I have been friends for awhile. And Nathan is--"
Bridgette eyes flashed again, and she darted a hand out lightning fast, grabbing Melvin's shoulder in a firm grip, peering into his eyes intently. "You posted pictures on the Internet? Of me, using my powers?"
"Yeah," he stammered, unable to look away.
"Oh bloody _hell_!" She released his shoulder, turning back to the house, face taught in worry. "Aevon! Naraew! Go! Check the homes of these girls. Make sure their families are all right!" she called tensely.
"NarAEW," Bridgette corrected, turning her eyes back to Melvin again, obviously worried. "A fire bird, Malcolm."
"Fire bird?" asked Melvin.
"You have just put everyone here in great danger, Melvin. That picture may cause a lot of pain; I did not have my illusions up; she will recognize me." Her voice trailed off in intense pain, eyes closing. Then she turned swiftly, releasing Melvin's shoulder. "Everyone, inside. _Now_."
The little bird alighted on the windowsill, preening nervously at its long, glorious tail feathers. Although the size of a sparrow, the tail feathers trailed behind it nearly a foot in a gleaming red and gold display. It let go of its feathers, hopping about. Peering into the jewelry store warily.
Below it, a sleek cat stalked, keeping to the shadows. The little bird pecked irritably at the steamed glass.
And the cat sprang.
And howled, streaking off down the alleyway nursing a singed paw.
The bird ignored the would-be attacker and fluttered up to the second story, peering into the residence that was above the store. Something wasn't right here. The bird's wings twitched, and with a puff of smoke, it was suddenly inside, perched on the back of a chair and looking around the living room with intent little eyes. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, the bird fluttered through the doorway, checking the hall.
It let out a high pitched screech, and vanished in a small gout of flame.
Jared looked at Nathan and Molly where they were curled up together on the sofa, she in his lap, Nathan's portfolio open on their laps, head close together, his low voice murmuring explanations of his sketches and paintings. Shaking his head, Jared chuckled, sidling up to Zoe with a melodramatic sigh. "Why do I feel like I'm drowning?"
Melvin, his eyes fixed on the pair as well, turned and shot Jared an angry glare. Jared stuck out his tongue, and then let Jedite come to the surface long enough to return the glare fiercely enough that the boy looked away hastily, paling. Zoe shrugged and went over and patted Melvin's shoulder a little. "No need to scare him, Jedite; hell--he's already gotten the fright of his life from _Bridgette_ in a bad mood."
"No, she's more worried than anything, I think," corrected Malcolm, sitting down in a chair, sipping from a full wineglass. "I doubt Bridgette gets angry that easily from what she's told us. And I've never really seen her angry ever."
"Wha' makes y'say tha', Mal?" asked Nathan, lifting his head a little, his hair falling into his eyes. "I mean, she a' much as admitted as t' how she got angry an' did in th' ones attackin' 'er home." He gestured helplessly.
"I don't think that we can blame her for that; _none_ of us can." He pushed silvery hair from his eyes, gesturing with the hand that held his glass of cognac. Sighing, he cocked his head at Nathan. "Seriously, Nate--can you honestly say that you would act any differently if someone came in and started killing us? Killing Molly? Wouldn't you have done what she did? Struck back without thinking?" Nathan paused, then nodded, pulling Molly closer to his side in a warm hug as Malcolm paused to sip at his drink as he glanced sideways at Zoe. "_I_ felt like that last time--when Beryl killed--" he sighed and downed the rest in one gulp, getting up and heading for the decanter again, Zoe flinching and looking at her feet.
Rei blinked, then sighed in frustration. "Great." She flopped over on her cushion, perching her chin on her hands, kicking her legs. "So why are we sitting around here?"
"Bridgette was worried that Melvin's pictures may have gotten us into trouble in some way," Malcolm said, sighing and replacing the stopper of the decanter and leaning against the wall. "She thought that Beryl might attack your families, since you are safe here, so she and a few of her little creatures went to check it out."
"But why is she trying to get at Bri and not us?" asked Mina. "I mean--WE'RE the ones Beryl wants, right? Or you guys at least, since you used to at least partially work for her?"
Jedite came to the fore, moving Jared's body to sit stiffly in a chair, fingering his chin speculatively. "I think Beryl's hatred of Bridgette runs deeper." Everyone turned to look at him, Melvin in no little confusion. "Think for a moment. Beryl's and Bridgette's hatred goes back longer than I can even begin to think. But they can no longer face each other directly, according to what Bridgette says; therefore, strike as close as possible--where it will hurt the most."
Malcolm nodded finally, pursing his lips and sighing. "True, Ja--I mean, Jedite. And she likely couldn't come directly after us again--or the scouts, since Bridgette has likely layered us with more protection than Fort Knox. So--go after the next closest thing."
"Which mean's everyone's families, instead," Lita said flatly. She sighed, "Well, she's a bit late for mine."
Jared took over once more and stood, going over and wrapping the younger girl in a warm hug, sighing, "Still it makes sense. And she would have to go after your families, since the four of us--our families are long since dead."
"Really?" Luna blinked, looking over at Nathan curiously. "I only thought that Jared's, Malcolm's, and Zoe's parents were dead. How did yours--"
Nathan sighed, raking a hand through his hair, eyes pained. Melvin blinked and looked furtively over at the pile of bloodied, discarded bandages laying on the table with his sling. "They were out sailing, and were caught in a storm. I was 11. I didn't go with them, because I was camping with Mal that night." He sighed deeply, rubbing at his forehead.
Molly snuggled closer, slipping gentle arms around him and stroking his back a little. Melvin straightened. "What are you all talking about? Who is Beryl?"
"You stumbled over something, Melvin," Ami said with a sigh, "You'll likely wish you had never even _seen_ a camera before long."
"Huh? I fought nasty things before!"
"And nearly gotten killed every time, if I remember right," Lita said sarcastically. "Melvin--you're a sweet kid, but you're getting in _way_ over your head."
Everyone flinched as a slight explosion echoed up the chimney from the fireplace. The flames curved up strangely, shifting through a myriad of colors, then parted like a petal, revealing a tiny bird nestled in the inferno. Rei jumped up, eyes huge, and the bird fluttered out of the fireplace, hovering in the middle of the room and screeching agitatedly, long streamer-like tail feathers streaming sweet-scented smoke. Malcolm cautiously approached it, then flinched back. "Bloody hell! She's hot!"
Rei stared, then laughed and grinned, moving past Malcolm and standing before the hovering bird, her eyes lock on its. The gleaming eyes fixed on her, then it settled serenely onto her arm, with a graceful little flutter. Bird and girl stared firmly at one another for several minutes, then Rei blinked, wincing and raising her other arm to rub at her nose as if in a little pain. She glanced at the bird again, questioningly, and the little head bobbed an affirmative. "damn! I can get the words, but I have no idea to the meaning. She seems fairly upset and--"
The bird seemed to sigh in frustration, and fluttered up off Rei's arm, leaving two bird-foot-shaped burn marks in the sleeve of her dress. The bird fluttered over and hovered over Molly a moment, chirping agitatedly, then fluttered back to Rei looking her in the eyes. "Something up with Molly?"
There was a soundless explosion of air, that ruffled everyone's hair, and suddenly Bridgette stood there. The bird chirped excitedly and quickly fluttered over to her. Bridgette stared for a long moment while the bird sang excitedly, then Bridgette let out a string of liquid words that could only amount to curses, no matter what the language. "What is it?" asked Nathan in alarm, standing, pulling Molly closer to his side.
"Beryl did the obvious, as usual." Bridgette's eyes flared in fury, spouting off another stream of curses, the little bird perching on her shoulder. "She took Molly's mother."
Molly's hand flew to her mouth in shock. "_What_?"
"We'll get 'er back, Mol'," Nathan said, clutching her close, face pale.
Bridgette sighed. "I must ask for your help; I cannot face Beryl directly, and she knows this as well as I. So she will try to work to do as much harm as she can through the sides."
Lita smashed her fist into her palm, eyes flashing eagerly. "Let's go kick her butt into the next century--again!"
"Not far enough for my taste," snarled Malcolm with a fury that startled even himself, silver eyes cold.
Melvin blinked, then whipped off his glasses and polished them jamming them back on his face and staring. "Huh? You girls can't fight!" He flinched away from Lita's and Rei's suddenly deadly glares. "Well--maybe _those_ two can fight, but--"
Bridgette turned her eyes on him, and the boy squeaked to a sudden silence. "I suggest you keep quiet about things that you do not understand. _You_ have played a large part in causing this, boy. And I had thought better of you; you should know that gender plays no part in determining the worth of people." Melvin blushed, ashamed, nodding. "Besides; these girls are more qualified than could ever imagine to fight Beryl and her forces; even Molly is." Molly lifted her head off of Nathan's chest, staring and blinking at Bridgette in confusion. "Now; we must go to the Negaverse, obviously, to prevent her from hiding in there and sending out nothing but hordes of her youma. I suggest we play up you four's former lives to the fullest; keep up the act of animosity between you and the Scouts. Any of your former followers that you might know of, or even some ambitious ones willing to fight against Beryl if the main blame will be directed elsewhere, we _must_ find and recruit." She sighed deeply, rubbing at her forehead. "We are going to need every little bit of help we can get?"
"Why? We've licked them before!" Serena said cheerfully, picking Luna up and snuggling her with a bright smile.
"Yes, but at the cost of all of your lives, if you'd remember," Bridgette countered, wryly. "And she held no hostages last time, either--that alone increases the danger ten-fold." Serena paled and gulped. "Besides, facing the minions of the Negaverse on their home ground is going to be _very_ different from what you knew. There is no Cord going across the worlds to hide the violence of what actions you will have to take. The deaths will not end in glitters of ash, Serena; there will be blood, there will be screams. War has never been pretty, and it never will be." Serena blanched, pressing her face into Luna's side.
"Jeez--scare the hell outta me to, while you're at it, Bri," Jared said, shivering and sitting on a sofa.
Bridgette flinched, but made no apology, turning to stare out the window.
Malcolm downed the rest of his drink, and tossed the glass moodily into the fireplace, not noticing the way everyone flinched when the glass shattered, and the flames flared from the remained drops of liquor. "I thought I had put that life behind me," he said quietly, closing his eyes tightly and clenching his fists.
Bridgette sighed, moving away from the window and laying a gentle hand on his stiff, hunched back. "I'm sorry, Malcolm; if there were anyway to avoid this, I would do it in a second. If there were some way to--" She sighed, shaking her head and removing her hand from his shoulder, turning and looking at the floor. "All of you must put on your former selves--we need as much surprise as we can get."
Zoe glanced at Nathan uneasily. "But if that's so, I--"
"I will explain as we go, Zoe. You will all need to change your appearances slightly, back to what you looked like when you before your other selves died serving Beryl. The age difference is easy enough to ignore, but Nathan and Malcolm will have to grow their hair out again. Jared--"
"Oh--_damn_!" He glowered and kicked his feet a little, then sighed deeply and nodded. "You win, Jedite; I guess I lose the hair anyway." He sighed and snorted, muttering, Lita leaning over to hug him tightly.
"Don't worry, Jar'; I'm sure we can grow it out again once this is over," Zoe soothed. "I mean, we got Bri on our side, remember?"
Jared paused, then grinned and cheered up a bit. Malcolm, however, frowned. "And what about Melvin? He can hardly go home; I'm sure Beryl is waiting to nab anyone who leaves this place. And what would he do here?"
Bridgette sighed, and glanced speculatively at the boy for a long moment. Finally, she nodded once, pushing her hair from her eyes with a sigh. "He will stay here and guard the Portal." She leveled her gaze on him, but there was a faint hint of humor lurking in her gaze. "But this time, I think he might need something a bit stronger than 'spicy shrimp.' "
Mrs. Baker shivered convulsively, huddled against the bars of the stone cage she had been put in, staring in shock at the dark lake before her, her body wedged in the corner furthest from the oily substance. The liquid in it wasn't water; it was somewhere between oil and black pudding--and it moved itself, not with internal currents, but as though a bored animal twitched restlessly where it lay.
Earlier, she had seen a few of the dark creatures that inhabited this place dragging a screaming figure to the edge of that lake. She shuddered, choking back bile, and trying not to remember, but the images flashed through her head over and over again, no matter how hard she tried to block them. After only a few hours there, she already figured that the nightmares that flashed over her eyelids every time she dared closer her eyes was probably courtesy of this awful place.
Unbidden, the gory scene she had witnessed earlier played itself out again before her eyes, dancing in the dark, rank air before her. Again, she saw the creatures shoving the poor man/creature closer to the shore, the victim screaming in terror and wailing for mercy the whole time. When they had gotten a few yards away from the suddenly broiled edge of the lake, they had thrown the unfortunate down, attaching the ends of hooked poles to the loops set on the side of the shackles the blubbering creature's legs, pushing him ever closer to the shore line. As she had watching in morbid fascination, the liquid had seethed up, almost frothing with an aura of expectant glee rolling from it, and formed into a long tentacle with black, razor-sharp talons rising from it every few inches. They had given the poor victim one last shove towards the waiting tentacle, then dropped their poles--
--and the tentacle had struck--but it didn't kill.
Instead, it pierced the chained figure through the gut, another tentacle stabbing viciously through his leg, and it had hooked him back towards the lake. Ever so slowly, it dragged the screaming, figure towards the edge, his hands clawing vainly at the gravel, leaving trails of dark blood from the wounds and the tearing ends of the fingers. As the figure's foot had touched the edge of the lake, it had--laughed. His screaming cut off into choking burbles as he had been dragged under the surface.
And it didn't end there. The screams started again as the unfortunate had emerged, somehow stuck to the surface, but not sinking in the center of the lake. And then, the lake had--_eaten_ him; slowly, like acid eating at metal. And all the while, that horrible, burbling laughter had rung in the thick air.
Shivering uncontrollably, she looked over at the 'lake' again. It churned and bubbled restlessly about twenty feet away from her, occasional tentacles reaching out and questing towards her. But they fell short. Barely.
At least Molly was safe.
"I don't see why Molly has to go!" began Nathan, shoving his newly lengthened hair over his shoulder a little irritably, his eyes deeply worried, the jacket of his uniform hanging open.
Bridgette sighed, looking up from straightening the collar of Malcolm's jacket and gazed at him, eyes pleading for understanding. "Because--Beryl knows how much she means to you--and therefore to me, Nathan. The moment she is out of my presence, Beryl will know, and she will attack."
"But what about the protections you put on her?"
"I'm withdrawing most of the shields and wards I have out, Nathan, except the ones personally on you that your own life forces maintain. I haven't had a chance to do anything so permanent on Molly or the other girls; so once they leave those that are built into this house, they are in danger."
Sighing, she ran her hand through her hair. "Besides, we are going to need all the power I have, and all that any of you has."
Malcolm leaned casually against the wall, with his arms crossed over his chest, the cloak tossed over one arm. He, at least, seemed to be fitting into the part--if only his eyes hadn't held genuine concern as he regarded her. "What are we supposed to do, then?" he asked, looking around at his friends.
"We are going to need help; even the most powerful beings can be overrun by a mob. I am not worried about myself; I can't die, but--" She shrugged sighing. "I am summoning what help I can to meet us there, calling in as many favors as I can," she glanced at the four musicians, looking tired. "Remember, I need the four of you to try to remember _any_ of the natives or other minions of the Negaverse who might be more loyal to you than to Beryl. Try some of the older ones--some of the ones who were once human."
Zoe blinked. "Once human? I didn't think that there _were_ any of those--" she stopped, emerald eyes growing thoughtful.
Bri spoke gently, turning to look out the window once more. "Beryl's decision to destroy us was not unanimous amongst her people. In actuality, there were several factions, including some neutrals that weren't sure _which_ way to go to ally themselves--until Beryl's Things had begun to warp their world, that is, but by then it was too late. So, they all found themselves warped along with their world, as Beryl tends to warp everything else she touches."
"What about the Negaforce--that thing she was always talking to?" asked Jedite suddenly, taking over from Jared who was grumbling to Mina and Lita about his hair.
"Her name is Metallia; she was a promising human archmage that Beryl managed to corrupt." Bridgette spread her hands, sighing. "She is trapped and bodiless for now; forced to tell Beryl what to do to continue her plans and to feed her the remaining energy of that world. Beryl has always been jealous; and knows that Metallia could possibly overpower her or out-think her at least. But, thanks to the Curse, Beryl is forced to be in a position of leadership, so she must keep her alive somehow." Bridgette sighed deeply. "If Metallia comes into this, I can handle her easily enough."
Jedite blinked at her, then sighed, spreading his hands helplessly. "As for minions and youma who are 'loyal'--Lady, I fear that having the words 'youma' and 'loyal' together in the same sentence is a contradiction in terms, at least where the Negaverse is concerned."
Bridgette shrugged a little, hand reaching up to toy with the medallion in a strangely comfortingly familiar gesture of restlessness. "They only need to have a hate of Beryl that might override their better senses. Either that or more respect for you than Beryl."
"Lady--fear of Beryl and her famous temper can give any creature a large heap of common sense."
Zoe snorted. "Hmm; well--I know a few who'd band together if they weren't the only ones--safety in numbers, you know? And maybe one or two--" she trailed off, thinking, fingering her chin as she perched cross-legged on the edge of the table.
"An' what 'bout Zoe an' I? Are we supposed t' suddenly get along?" asked Nathan wryly, idly running his fingers through Molly's hair.
"Not necessarily, Nathan--there was too much animosity between the two of you while you were under Beryl's sway, for it to have been totally overcome. But none of you were foolish enough to know that it would be badly against your chances for survival to _not_ ally yourselves against Beryl. Obviously," Bridgette said, leaning against the mantle, arms crossed, "the three of you had to shove aside your differences for survival reasons, since Beryl will assume that all of you are traitors, since Jedite is free, and 'Nephrite' is still alive. But, argue all you want; the more the better--keep up the act."
Nathan flinched, then sighed, leaning over and pressing his face into Molly's hair a moment, then straightening again, grimacing. "Just bloody lovely. I 'pologize a'fore 'and, Zoe an' Mal'."
"Me too." Zoe said softly, moving over and hugging Nathan fiercely for a moment. Then she pulled back, grinning suddenly. "Actually, this could be fun."
"Speak for yourself," said Jared darkly, staring into the fire and looking uncomfortable in the uniform, his hand idly playing with the newly shorn ends of his hair.
"And just where do _we_ fit in?" asked Ami, licking her lips nervously.
"Simple; where else would these four turn to, with Beryl against them, but her arch-enemies."
Malcolm sighed. "We have to do this; _I_ don't see any other way." He bit his lip, glancing at Zoe and Bridgette, then sighed. "Of course--it's--not going to be easy."
Bridgette shook her head gently, and stayed Luna's comment with a gentle, raised hand. With a calm expression, she pulled the chain of her locket over her head, crossed the room, and carefully it over Molly's neck, lifting her hair gently out of the way and then smiling faintly. "Take Yen, Molly; he will protect you should things get too bad." She placed her hands on the girl's shoulders, as she looked into her blue-green seriously. "As for other protection--I can give this to you, if you wish: I can awaken the latent powers in you, giving you abilities rather like the Scouts here."
Molly blinked. "Abilities? Like the Scouts?"
Bridgette spread her hands. "Think--all of the planets had a Scout except Earth. The Moon had one--" she shrugged.
"Sailor Earth?" asked Artemis flatly. "But all the Scouts were there in the past! How could you--"
Bridgette shrugged. "I can give her powers outright, of course, but it would disrupt less this way; altering the past a little is no problem. Not to mention that this way, Beryl won't see her sticking out like a sore thumb." Artemis sighed and nodded a little. "Besides, Artemis, I don't mean for her to be the only one defenseless."
"What about the cats?" asked Mina, scooping Artemis up and hugging him tightly to her chest. "I mean, they--"
"They are cats," Bridgette said, a faint hint of humor creeping into her eyes, "and that has it's own power, but I have already supplemented it as I have enhanced each of your powers."
"What do you mean 'supplemented' our powers?" asked Lita, sitting up sharply from her sprawl on the carpet before the fire at Jared's feet.
"Just that, Lita; they are much the same, but they are much stronger, and can be deadly--even Ami's bubbles. Be careful; they are stronger than you may remember. Also, you each have a new power, which will come to you, including the proper use, should the need arise."
"You sure they will?" Lita asked warily, rubbing at the back of her neck.
Everyone blinked blankly at Bridgette for a long moment, but finally Molly nodded, her jaw firming in resolve. "I--sure; what do I have to do?" She fingered the locket on her chest a moment, puzzling over how the chain had shrunk to fit her perfectly. "I have to help save Momma. And--well--I mean--I seem to wind up in these battles anyway--" she cast a half-smile at Melvin, then blushed and grinned at Nathan, who had the grace to blush in return.
Bridgette nodded, hiding a smile behind her hand. "Done, Molly." She laid a hand on Molly's shoulder, almost a caress. Molly felt a strange inner twist, as though her soul was reshaping itself to a newer, larger form. She shivered, closing her eyes, lights dancing on her eyelids, then jumped as she felt a weight suddenly appear in her hand. Startled, her eyes flew open, and she looked down to see one of the transformation pens like the other Scouts used. "I--"
Serena trotted over and hugged her friend tightly, smiling and chatting in low, excited tones with her. Darien watched them a moment, then approached Bridgette cautiously. "Miss Corwyn--if Molly's now Sailor Earth, and each of the Scouts were princesses of their planets--"
"Don't hurt yourself trying to think, now, Cape Boy," Zoe sneered. When everyone turned to stare she grinned broadly and giggled. "Just practicing! How was that?"
Nathan chuckled, throwing his arm around her shoulders with a grin. "Cute, Zoe. I thought 'bout drownin' ye; you've it down perfect."
Zoe giggled again and winked broadly, hugging back and smiling. "Sorry, Darien--uh--you were saying?"
Bridgette shook her head with a faint smile. "You are right, of course, Darien. That little 'gift' makes things complicated in the time schemes. Don't worry about that; it will right itself. And even if it didn't, it would be my problem to fix, as I was the one who caused it."
"Oh--I just thought I might have a sister, or something," Darien hoped his voice didn't sound as bitter as he thought.
"You do, in a way, Darien; just not this lifetime," Bridgette said with a smile.
Molly paused a moment, looking between Bridgette and Darien, the understanding dawned in her eyes, and she smiled and reached out and squeezed Darien's hand. The older boy looked startled, then smiled gratefully, giving her hand a squeeze back.
Jared's features creased into a frown too serious for anyone but Jedite. "Something troubles me, Lady."
"Which is, Jedite?" Bridgette inquired calmly.
"Joerdan is ambitious, and he is no fool; he would have told Beryl of the four of us--"
"Do you think that Beryl would let it be known that four of her most powerful minions have escaped her? She and he will be one of a very select group that knows of your supposed return. I wouldn't worry about opposition on a large scale; at least not at first."
Jedite paused, then nodded sagely. "No. No, I suppose you're right. But if we are to be Traitors anyway, how can we expect to find any--"
"There are not many if _any_ who followed Beryl out of loyalty," Malcolm said dryly, arms crossed over his chest, face black. "_I_ would have--" he bit off his words, startled at the heat in the simple phrase.
Bridgette moved over to him, face shaded in concern, and he put his arms around her waist, hugging her tightly for a moment, face pressed into her shoulder as she sighed and stroked his hair soothingly. Zoe glanced at him, concerned, then sighed, tugging at the bottom of her jacket, straightening it. "Well--we might as well get this over with."
Bridgette nodded, not letting go of Malcolm until he pulled back to stand by Zoe, nodding his readiness. Bridgette raised her hands, twirling one arm and gripping something that slowly faded into view. It was a long staff of some dark wood with intricate runes spiraling up the rod and splaying out to become a dragon's claw, gripping a dark red, fire-opal. She handed the staff over to Melvin. "Should anything other than one of us emerge, simply point the staff at them; it will know what to do."
"Uh--okay," Melvin said warily, taking the seat the Jared vacated as he watched Bridgette turn to the doorway, face set in concentration.
Everyone sighed as one and got up, moving to range themselves behind Bridgette, keeping close. As the glittering Portal slowly wove into existence, Malcolm poked Nathan in the side, attempting a smile. "We get to use _your_ wine reserves for the Victory Party," he said, smiling, silver eyes warm. "You've always had good taste in booze."
Nate blinked at him, then grinned. "Fine," he said wryly, eyes sparkling as he gathered Molly close against his chest, "so long as we meet this mob in _your_ quarters; you and Zoicite always _were_ into the creature comforts."
Jared muttered grumpily, fingering the shorn ends of his hair. "I don't care if we meet in the damned throne room, so long as Zoe doesn't start _laughing_."
Zoe chased him through the doorway, shaking a fist in mock outrage as Bridgette ushered everyone through.
"Nice place you have here," said Rei wryly, glancing around the slimy-looking walls that made up Malachite's and Zoicite's quarters in the Negaverse.
"Stuff it, Mars," said Lita in good-natured annoyance, putting her hands on her hips.
Malcolm sighed inwardly, but on the surface, he assumed a deadly angry glare. "If you do not like it, Sailor Mars, you could step outside; I am certain that the wild creatures that roam these passages would be glad to discuss the neighborhood with you."
Rei blinked, then thought about the churning darkness outside the thin, but almost alive-seeming walls. "Never mind," she said quickly, managing to hide the shake to the words under a snarl. She flopped onto a "chair" and forced away a grimace at the feel of the cold stone against her legs.
Just then, Jared/Jedite came in followed by a cloaked figure and put on a good show of glaring distrustfully at Malachite. "Here is Memnon, as promised, Lord Malachite," he said stiffly, gesturing for the cloaked figure to join the group of milling youma that grouped nervously to one side.
Malachite nodded curtly, "Very well, Jedite." The youma glanced at the glaring silver-haired man and shrank back quickly, melting into the crowd.
Jedite sneered again, looking at the scouts with a look of such distaste that Lita's eyes widened. "Nice company you're keeping, Malachite."
"Shut up, whelp," Malachite snarled.
"They're getting into this, Serena whispered to Luna, hiding a grin.
"Hush!" the cat snapped back, putting her ears flat and hissing at Malachite a little.
Before Jedite left, he turned slightly, and Jared took over long enough to throw a hidden wink at the scouts.
"Why have you gathered us here, Lord Malachite?" asked a tall, female youma dark blue skin and hair that looked was colored like a peacock's tail. "And how did you survive, anyway?"
"My methods are _mine_," Malachite snapped, glaring and crossing his arms again, raising a silver brow and daring her to continue with her questions.
Zoicite, floating cross-legged several feet up, laughed, sending a grin at Jedite when he winced. Nephlite snorted from where he leaned against a wall wearing a dark scowl on his face, shifting a little closer to Molly defensively. "You mean you snuck away, oh Brave Lord Malachite."
Malachite shot him a glare that could have melted steel. "As if _you_ fared any better, Star Gazer!" He snapped, eyes narrowing dangerously. "_You_ had to rely on these--these _children_ to save you!"
"Hey--these 'children' kicked you butts last time _I_ checked," countered Lita, obviously enjoying herself, eyes sparkling.
Before Malachite could snarl out a reply, there was a flare of light, and Bridgette made her entrance, a small crack of thunder silencing the crowd. In her hand, she held a blackened stalk of one of the only plants that grew in the Negaverse, and her expression, if anything, made the worst of the glares being exchanged in the room look like love pats. "Queen Beryl!" gasped one of the youma as the crowd of youma cowered back, dropping into bows.
Bridgette's eyes flared in anger, and she shot out a hand, grabbing the youma who had spoken roughly. "I think _not_," she snapped, glaring into his eyes with her darkest blue stare.
The terrified youma shrank away. "I--I see you are not, Lady. Forgive--"
Bridgette released it, only the scouts seeing the sick look on her face as she set the creature back down almost gently. "Plans have changed."
"Now see here, you--" began Zoicite, landing on the ground with an angry thump of her boots.
"Now _you_ see here! I didn't waste valuable energy dragging you back to this world to hear you argue with me," Bridgette snarled.
If they hadn't forewarned them about her role, the scouts would have been shocked at the cold tones Bridgette used. As it was, Zoe took a couple of steps backwards, thumping into Malcolm's chest, his hand automatically catching her. "What's changed?" asked Nephlite calmly, a faint smile curling his lips as he glanced superiorly at Zoicite.
Bridgette held the stalk of the plant up before her. "We are not going to attack Beryl's forces as we initially planned." Her eyes flared a moment, and the dark, limp stalk suddenly straightened and turned green, a brilliant, dark purple flower unfolding from the stem as the roots reached down, cracking through the stone of the floor.
The room went completely silent as the plant leafed, turning into a lush carpet of the strange purple flowers--a dazzling cross between a lily, a rose, and a glass sculpture. "We are going to restore the Negaverse to what it was _before_ Beryl destroyed it." Her glowing dark eyes leveled on the crowd. "And you are all going to help."
Beryl snarled vile curses under her breath, as she paced angrily back and forth through a small antechamber adjacent to her throne room. "She is _here_; I _know_ that she is here."
Joerdan wisely kept his mouth shut, and eyes lowered, bowed deeply before her in the doorway, trying not to attract her attention. "But _where_ is she exactly? What is she doing?"
A small youma slithered forward, rather visibly nervous. His lower half was the tail of a serpent, though the top looked relatively human, aside from the bluish tinge to the skin.
"M--majesty--the one you told me to watch--the woman--she left a small human boy to guard her home, and wove a magical portal to someplace. I would have followed, but the human boy wields a strange staff with--"
Beryl's red eyes snapped to the youma, flaring with fury, the dim room seeming to get even darker as her attention focused on the unfortunate. "I don't give a damn, and I didn't give you permission to speak to tell me things that I already knew!" Snarling, she sent a rush of black energy at the cowering creature, draining its life force away rapidly to leave nothing but a small pile of shifting black dust.
"Joerdan!" she snarled harshly, not looking away from the dust.
Wincing, the Commander straightened, stepping forward a little before bowing low once more. "Yes, my queen?"
"Take your adonni and go to the outer reaches of the tunnel complex. _Find_ her and report back what she is doing, who she is with, _everything_ down to what she is wearing!" she snapped at him.
Joerdan blanched, but bowed lower. "Yes, Majesty."
Malcolm stared at the flower resting in Bri's slender fingers, as did every other living creature in the crowded quarters. "I--_what_?"
Bridgette tossed her head haughtily. "Restoring the Da--Negaverse to its former glory--to what it was _before_ Beryl's actions turned it into this--shell. A world that doesn't have to steal energy from others; where things grow."
"Is that such a good idea?" asked Rei, crossing her arms over her chest and scowling. "I mean, this _is_ youma we're talking about."
Bridgette raised an eyebrow at her. "You have a better idea?"
"I--" Rei started, matching glares with Zoisite.
Lita trod on her foot. Hard. "Uh--no, Bridgette."
Nephlite straightened from where he was leaning against the wall in a corner near the scouts, one arm resting around Molly's shoulders. "And how do you intend on going about _this_, pray-tell, Lady Bridgette. There is still the problem of lack of energy."
"I did not say that it would be easy," Bridgette said flatly, cold blue eyes scanning the room.
"So what do you want from us?" asked Zoisite, floating down to stand slightly behind Malachite, one of her slender hands on his arm.
"And what do WE have to do with anything?" asked Rei.
Molly surprised the other scouts by speaking up. "My mother," she said, moving to stand beside Nephlite, keeping her eyes on Bridgette. Even more than the others, she seemed to fit into the Sailor uniform; the rusty-brown skirt and the green bows adding a confidence that none of them had ever seen. "Besides, Mars, they need our help." She took Nephlite's hand in hers and he smiled down at her a little sadly.
Malachite snorted. "Why we need these--children to--"
"I have never attempted something on this scale without the aid of at least six of my people, Malachite. We are going to need all the help we can conceivably _get_ if we are to defeat Beryl."
"Go against the Queen?" gasped one of the more ranking minions. He was fairly short, with close cropped, silky raven hair, with wide gray eyes staring at his former superior in disbelief. "What are you THINKING, Lord Malachite!"
Malachite's pale eyes flared slightly and Zoisite pressed closer to his side, green eyes sparkling. "Why ELSE would you have come to meet with four whom Beryl thinks are dead, Commander Cerulean."
The dark-haired man's eyes widened. "But--"
"That is why you are all here, is it not?" asked Jedite stiffly, arm draped over his upraised knee where he sat on a ledge. "That is why _I_ am here; vengeance. To take this place back from she who has ruined it and who has destroyed any honor there once was.
Cerulean's gray eyes widened, then he nodded, bringing his hand over his chest in a salute as he bowed slightly. "Yes, Lord Jedite. I suppose you are right, but I still don't see how--"
"I still can't figure out why you guys were so stupid in the tactics department," said Lita with a faint smirk. "I mean--why keep sending people to the same place--where WE were." Malachite drew in a breath, but Nephlite stopped him.
"Sailor Jupiter is right, Malachite. Think of it; it was Beryl's foolish pride that led us to be where we are now--" he spread his hands.
"You were already lost to us," Zoisite snapped.
Nephlite placed a hand on Molly's shoulder gently. "Perhaps, but then you always DID complain that I thought to much. And I thought of this; Why should we follow a fool?"
Bridgette's eyes glittered, and the faintest of smiles crossed her features as she leaned settled her weight more evenly, relaxed. Sailor Venus spoke up.
"So what do all of us need to do? I mean--none of us--" she pointed at the scouts, "--have any experience in magic of any sort--well--except for Mars. And I'm sure the youma and the others here haven't worked together much. This is sort of like grabbing a bunch of people off the street, handing them instruments and hoping you have an orchestra."
Malachite glared, then scowled and nodded. "No; it is not in the nature of our--people to work together, often."
Zoisite snorted a little. "So that when one idiot fails, only that one idiot gets dragged down."
"Usually," Cerulean added. "My Lord."
"What do you mean?"
"Beryl destroyed any of Lord Jedite's and Lord Nephlite's followers that she could find. Except me, because I still held some use to her, with my connections in the outer regions with the youma. She was doing the same for Lady Zoisite's when--the world collapsed." He glanced at Sailor Moon.
"What did you expect?" asked Jedite. He shook his head, Jared taking over a moment as he ran his fingers through his hair to affix an almost comical scowl on his face before ducking back under. "Beryl hated thinking someone could have loyalties to someone other than her--you and the others were only safe as long as you were because she realized that an invasion needs legions that will respect and obey a lower level of command than her. After the invasion was complete--then she could destroy the front-line fighters herself."
Bridgette snorted. "She was always like that."
"So--why wasn't she ticked off at these two?" Lita pointed at Malachite and Zoisite with a long finger.
"Oh she was," spoke up the peacock-haired youma. "It was well known that only their usual successes and ability to work in unison so well that kept them living."
Malachite shot her a glare, and the youma shrugged. "What do we have to do, Lady?" asked another of the youma, this one with a thatch of hair resembling a broom springing in a white spray from his head, the rest of him looking fairly human, aside from the fangs and pointed ears.
Bridgette tossed her hair over her shoulder with a shake of her head. "Follow directions, as usual, though I see no need for you to fear getting struck down should we fail--at least not from our quarter." The youma paused, then nodded, ducking back into the small crowd.
"Do you really think that we--" Malachite gestured to the four generals with his hand, "--a pack full of girls and their cape-boy protector, and a handful of various minions and cannon fodder are going to be able to do this?"
Bridgette's dark eyes gleamed. "Oh--I think you may find that there is more power in those here than you think, Malachite. But, no. There are already a few more of my allies waiting at the Circle for our arrival. And some allies of yours as well."
Malachite's eyes narrowed. "And which allies might these be?"
Bridgette smiled thinly. "Oh--you'll see." Malachite growled, but nodded.
"What is the 'Circle'?" asked Ami.
"The center of this world."
Ami blinked. "Do you mean like the core?"
Bridgette shook her head. "This world is not as simple as that, Ami. It does not follow the same rule as your world. The Circle is the Center. It is the place which we first created and then worked outwards from."
"The Island," Nephlite said flatly. "The one that Beryl could never go to. The one NONE of us could go to."
Bridgette nodded. "Not the Black Lake?" gasped Cerulean.
She shook her head. "No. The Lake--may cause a few problems; for reasons you needn't worry about at the moment."
"The Island was not common knowledge," Jedite said. "Only we four knew of it--and actually, Beryl only ever told Malachite."
"So how did YOU find out?" asked Luna.
Jedite turned a glare at Luna. "How do you think?"
Nephlite smiled slightly. "Obviously, Malachite TOLD Zoisite. And SURELY you don't think we're all so pure that we never spied on one another." Zoisite started choking suddenly, and Lita smothered a giggle.
Molly bit her lip, but her eyes were merry. The Negaverse minions weren't quite sure what to do. Bridgette, hid her own smile and turned to Cerulean. "You. You seem to have some brain about you. Can you get the rest of you to the Island on the far side of the Kingdom...near the Forest." Cerulean paused, looking to Malachite for his terse nod, then nodded. Bridgette nodded back. "I must discuss a few details with the Generals and the Scouts. Fear not; Beryl cannot touch you there, nor can anyone who follows her."
Cerulean nodded, then turned and barked out orders. Before long, he and the peacock-haired youma had rounded up the others and gotten them out the door. Malachite went over and locked the door behind them--then dissolved into helpless laughter, sliding to the floor, Malcolm obviously back to the fore.
Zoe snickered and flopped down onto the nearest chair, dropping the adoring gaze. "Yeah--Cerulean's like I remember him. Crafty and too honest for this place."
Jedite shrugged. "But good at his work. And someone we might actually be able to trust."
"I wouldn't trust ANY of you further than Serena could throw you three," Nathan said with a broad grin, leaning down to scratch his leg under the cuff of boot.
Serena grinned. "You guys almost had me worried."
Jared took over and grinned broadly. "Nice to know I'm such a good actor."
Lita blew a raspberry at him then cracked her knuckles. "So--what do we need to do?"
Bridgette sighed, flopping into a comfortable looking armchair which appeared behind her. "I haven't a clue."
Mina blinked. "What? But I thought you--"
"I know the basics of what we need to do," Bridgette said, rubbing the bridge of her nose, "but I have no idea how to do it."
"Well--" said Ami softly, "how would you do it if you had a bunch of your People to help you?"
Bridgette paused. "Gather a few of the natives, link together and push out the energy to help the land recall it's previous form." Her hand waved idly.
"Well--we have the natives," Malcolm said, slowly sitting up and wiping the tears from his eyes. "Cerulean, at least--"
"Why are all you guys named after stones, anyway?" asked Rei.
"Those are titles, silly," said Zoe.
Malcolm shrugged. "How do you link up anyway--and what do you do?"
Bridgette pursed her lips. "We tied our energies together into one force so it took less time to do what we needed--the natives gave the energy a local feel and--"
"How'd you do the link?" asked Jared.
"It depended on preference."
Nathan looked up from Molly for a moment. "Bridgette--what about a dance? Didn't you once tell me that dancing was one of the oldest forms of magic? All of--well, the four of us, at least can dance well enough. I'm sure we could work something out for the scouts and Darien. And the youma and the others can do what you tell them, if not with imagination."
Bridgette nodded solemnly. "You have a good notion there, Nathan." She steepled her fingers, eyes narrowed in thought. "Yes...it might work."
"Dance?" squealed Serena. "But I--"
"It'll be all right," Jared said with a wink.
"That doesn't exactly fit in with acting like our old selves," said Nathan wryly.
Bridgette raised an eyebrow. "True--but wouldn't each of your old selves have tried a new thing if it seemed like it might work?"
Jedite nodded slowly. "Yes. But how do we explain our skill at something so new?"
Bridgette shrugged. "My role is rather amorphous. Who's to say I didn't stuff your minds with the right things just now?"
"I assume Beryl's not going to be too happy about this," Zoe said, wryly, a finger twining in a curl before her ear.
"No. Keeping the world like this has made people reliant on her for help and guidance, since she is the only person here who knows what happened to cause this and therefore what needs to be done to compensate."
"So if all of us are involved in this big dance thing," said Lita, "what are we supposed to do to defend ourselves?"
"The Island is fairly safe. Other than that, we'll have to rely on traps, I suppose. The more creative the better. Beryl hates me and will come after me as much as she can herself." Bridgette sighed. "She's fairly predictable, if you know what to look for."
Malcolm shrugged. "Well then, what are we waiting for?"
Joerdan ducked behind a pillar of the strange stone that made up the Negaverse as the doorway to Malachite's and Zoisite's apartments opened up and a strange group exited. He recognized the four Traitors and the Sailor Scouts, though there was a new one tucked comfortably under Nephlite's arm. And he knew Tuxedo Mask, hanging on Sailor Moon's arm--that crazy hairstyle easily seen even in the dim light. Then there was that strange woman in the lead who so upset Beryl. There was a certain air about the woman that made even the adonni shrink away.
The mixed party headed for the nearby Gate. Joerdan crept closer, intent on seeing which setting on the Gate they used--to discover where they were going.
Curiously, he peered at the Scout tucked under Nephlite's arm. He peered intently at her a moment, then was shocked to realize that it was the same girl Nephlite had been so protective of earlier. Squinting closer, he recognized a couple of the other girls from being near Nephlite at the school.
They went through the Gate, and Joerdan could only blink at their destination in confusion.
"Something's been bothering me," said Lita as they walked quietly along the dark passageways.
"What's that, Lita?" asked Jared, the closest.
"Well--when Bridgette made Molly Sailor Earth and all--she said there was a Scout for each of the planets. Where are the rest?"
"They haven't been needed yet, I guess," said Jared with a shrug. "I dunno."
"What're you talking about?" asked Zoe, dropping back from a low voiced conversation with Ami.
"The other Scouts that Bridgette mentioned."
"Oh. Pluto and the rest?" Jared paused and Lita nodded. "Well--Pluto always did keep to herself. The others--well--they all have their problems--"
"Like we don't," said Lita wryly. "And how do you know about them?"
Zoe blinked a little. "I--I suppose I'm getting more memories back, being here..." she made a face.
"Because," said Malcolm, dropping back as well, flipping his cape a bit irritably over one arm when it caught in his legs going backwards, "here we are, assuming our former lives, but severing our former ties to Beryl. So--it sort of helped to sever anything Beryl might have done to us."
"How do you know?"
Malcolm looked sheepish. "I asked Bridgette."
"Shouldn't you be in character?" asked Lita.
"If we're in character," said Malcolm, "then why are you chumming up with Jared, then?"
"Hey--I never fought him." Lita grinned.
Jared shrugged. "She reminds me of my big sister."
Lita paused a moment, looking strangely at the yellow-haired man, then sighed. "So--anything further?"
"Not really," Malcolm said, sighing. "Nathan and Bridgette pretty much figured out how the dance should go, patterns and all, but the magic part Bridgette's got to figure out on her own."
"Why Nathan? I thought you were all dancers."
"We're using one of the older dance styles--to keep it consistent," said Malcolm.
"Nathan's the best at it," added Zoe.
"And that's five less of us who have to learn the dance," said Jared.
"FOUR less," said Malcolm shaking his head. "Bridgette's part is on the side."
Jared blinked. "So who's doing the main part? Nathan?"
Malcolm shook her head. "Nathan and she were discussing that when I dropped back here." Malcolm swept his hair back from his face with a sigh. "They figure it should be someone from here; the person who's going to be the leader here and to continue leading the opposition."
"Huh?" said Lita confused. "Aren't we going to wipe her butt out?"
"Don't forget," said Jedite said, his pace quickening as he took over, "Bridgette claims that Beryl is doomed to return to oppose her always. Therefore, there has to be opposition here from now on."
"So who's it going to be?"
"We're letting the spell decide that," said Nathan, he and Molly moving to walk beside Jedite. "It'll make the spell that much more complex, but it's better than sticking some idiot in a position of power."
"What about protection for us all," asked Rei.
"Still thinking about that one."
Jared took over, stopping and snapping his fingers. "I think I have an idea." He looked over at Zoe and winked. "And you claimed I watched MacGyver too much."
Bridgette stopped the group. "What was that, Jared?"
"I've got a few ideas--but I need to go back to the house to get some things--and I think I'll need Melvin's help on this one."
Bridgette drew in a breath, then sighed. "All right. Be careful." She pointed into the darkness to one side. "I believe there is a Gate there that will have a setting fairly close to the Portal I left."
Jared nodded. "Wait--who's going to guard that Portal now?"
Bridgette sighed. "I'll collapse it; I could probably use the power anyway."
Jared nodded, then trotted off into the darkness.
Joerdan blinked at the strangely companionable behavior of the four Traitors. Certainly he knew the four of them had to be working together, but this looked like a well-meshed team, even closer than the Sailor Scouts. The group stopped as a small knot at the back of the group formed, the tall red-haired woman dropping back to speak with them. Then Jedite said something and followed the woman's slender arm and trotted away from the group into the darkness to one side. Joerdan paused, then gestured to the adonni.
"Follow them and then one of you meet me back here to tell me where they have gone." He handed each of them several small crystals from a pouch at his waist. "These will help you use the Gates."
Without a word, the four adonni continued to shadow the group as Joerdan slipped into the blackness and followed Jedite.
The former generals and the scouts followed Bridgette along the shore of a river of what appeared to be blood. It was actually water, once the liquid was separated from the whole for more than ten minutes. Still, when Serena had found a loose stone and fallen in as they entered this passageway, she had been a horrific sight until the liquid had turned back into normal water.
Malcolm wandered up to where Bridgette led the group, the others in the back listening to Nathan discuss the plans. She glanced over at him, and her eyes warmed in concern. "What is it, Malcolm?"
Malcolm sighed, running his fingers through his silvery hair. "I was wondering something."
Bridgette nodded. "Aye? And what was that?"
Malcolm looked at her sideways. "Can't you read minds?"
Bridgette sighed and reached over, brushing a bit of dust from the shoulders of his cloak. "I can, yes, but that wouldn't be very nice, now would it?" Malcolm peered at her curiously. "You don't think I could STILL enjoy just flinging power around aimlessly do you?"
Malcolm looked at her hurt expression and shook his head. "Sorry." He touched her hand gently and took her arm.
"What did you need to know, Malcolm?"
"My parents." Bridgette stopped a moment, then continued walking. "What were they like? All I can remember is--" he shook his head. "Not much."
Bridgette kept her eyes forward. "Why do you wonder all of a sudden?"
Malcolm sighed. "I don't know. I suppose it's all of this--" he glanced back at Molly. "It's making me wonder what I missed."
Bridgette laid her hand over his where he held her arm. "You father was--a musician as well. He taught piano for awhile. Your mother--she was a teacher. English."
"What--happened? Why were we on the streets?"
Bridgette sighed. "Cut backs. There were both fired when you were about a year old." She sighed. "They managed for awhile, selling things, but eventually that ran out." Malcolm winced and Bridgette sighed and put her arm around his shoulders. "A common enough story, Malcolm, I'm sorry to say."
He rubbed at his forehead. "Why didn't you--do something."
Bridgette sighed. "Malcolm--I would have if I had been able to. But it took me time to find you."
He sighed and leaned close. "I just wish I could have had a normal life; this is--"
Bridgette sighed. "You don't know how many times I have wished for just that, Malcolm. I understand."
They walked in silence a moment. "Why DID you care for us so much, anyway? I mean--I know you started caring for mortals once you spent time amongst them, but why the four of us in particular?"
Bridgette sighed. "Nathan is--he could be my son, Malcolm. Even to the way he smiles."
Malcolm paused. "Why can't he be?"
"Beryl's Things utterly destroyed what they killed, Malcolm. Down to the soul. There wasn't even a body left to mourn over."
Malcolm sighed. "And the rest of us?"
"Zoisite--Zoe and Jared--I don't know. They touched a place--" Bridgette sighed. "It must sound ridiculous for a millennia year old woman to say it was like having a family back."
Malcolm shook his head. "No. Not really." He tossed his cape back again. "So what about me?"
Bridgette looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Kyl'so."
Jared trotted through the blackened landscape. **Care to tell me just what you are thinking of?**
**I'll let you know when we get there, Jedite,** Jared thought back. **You'd have to be a MacGyver junkie from hell to understand part of what I'm thinking of.**
**What is 'MacGyver'?**
**A television show. The main character could build just about anything with paper clips and duct tape. It actually works, if you know what you're doing.**
**Ah--** Jedite was quiet as the Portal came into view. Jared ducked through--and found himself confronted with the red-glowing end of the staff Bridgette had given to him.
"Woah--time out! It's me, Melvin."
Melvin lowered the staff. "What are YOU doing back?"
"Being my usual crazy self. Now come on! I need your help." Jared grabbed the sack from the torches of the sofa and sprinted for the kitchen, Melvin on his heels.
"Nathan! Am I doing this right?"
Nathan sighed and looked back at Sailor Moon. "It's rather hard to learn on the march, Miss Serena," he said with a faint laugh.
"You're doing it fine," said Rei, frowning in concentration as she tried to get her feet to match what Nathan had showed them.
"Nathan's a prize winning dancer," Zoe countered. "I'm only decent, but I'm going to have to take off these boots."
"This is impossible!" wailed Serena.
"QUIET!" snapped Rei.
Lita sighed. "Well--she's right. There's no way in hell we're going to be able to get our feet to do that--and what about the youma? Some of them have more feet than a spider."
Nathan sighed. "This isn't making it any easier, girls."
"Well, sorry, but I'm NOT used to dancing," Rei snapped back.
"Mina and Molly are doing just fine," said Zoe.
Nathan sighed. "Maybe Bridgette can work something out. It's not that I don't mind teaching you lot, but it's hard enough to teach this under calm circumstances."
"Hey--where IS she, anyway?"
"Up front," said Luna, nodding her head as she paced along at Zoe's side.
They all looked and Serena giggled. "That's cute."
Zoe frowned, her face going taught, then she relaxed and shook her head. "Ah well."
Nathan smiled slightly, then called up, "Bridgette--there's a problem."
The tall woman stopped speaking softly to Malcolm and stopped, turning to look back over her shoulder. "Which is?"
"A crash course in Irish folk dancing while running willy-nilly on uneven ground. And none of us in the right shoes," said Nathan. "Molly and Mina are picking it up fairly well, but they aren't going to be nearly good enough in a few minutes."
Bridgette sighed and Malcolm colored and pulled out from under her companionable arm. "I suppose I'll have to--" she shook her head. "All right, everyone. Come here a moment, then."
"I can understand why you're taking SOME of this stuff--it's flammable. But the rest--" Melvin picked up a large bottle of ground red pepper that Jared had set to a side.
"You'd be surprised. Sprinkle that mop liberally with it and keep a good grip on it. Anything comes too close without being okayed, whack it in the face."
Melvin sighed and complied. "This is crazy."
Jared shrugged. "Of course it is! Wouldn't have it any other way!"
"I have got SUCH a headache," muttered Lita.
"What do you expect," Ami said back, rubbing at her forehead. "We just got our heads stuffed."
Malcolm had paused to one side of the passageway, squinting at some engravings on the wall. Glancing around surreptitiously he reached into his jacket and pulled on his glasses and looked closer, frowning.
"What's all that, then?" asked Nathan, digging in a small pouch he had brought with him.
"Warnings," said Malcolm. "Saying that the area ahead is off-limits; usual rubbish."
Nathan nodded, then pulled out a large bottle of aspirin. "Here, ladies."
"Why'd you bring that?" asked Rei. "Not that I'm complaining."
Nathan grinned. "I get migraines. And all this hair's giving me one."
Jared ducked through the Portal, looking around, then waved Melvin through. The portal closed behind them, leaving them in the dim light of the glowing ball of light that Jedite had left hanging at the entrance.
"Yuck," said Melvin. "Nice place."
"Yeah--about as nice as a good case of botulism." Jared picked up one of the heavy sacks and nodded to Melvin. "Come on."
The two of them went as quickly as they could through the twisted landscape. Finally, Melvin had to stop, setting down his sack and breathing heavily.
"Why can't we just use magic to get there?" he panted, sinking to sit by his sack, the pepper-dusted mop laying in his lap with the staff.
"We are trying to avoid as much detection as possible," said Jedite, crossing his arms impatiently over his chest, glaring at the younger boy.
"Besides, teleporting directly to a place in the Negaverse is difficult, unless there is a pathway cleared for you. Or you use one of the Gates."
Jedite snorted. "Simple tactics, kiddo; don't you play chess or something? It's easier to guard a few Gates rather than a whole border." Jared took over for a minute. "You gotta think differently when you're dealing with a bunch of people that use magic regularly."
Jared whirled and let Jedite take over as he turned to face...
"This is ridiculous, Nephlite. There is no way that I am going to--"
Cerulean and the others looked up from where they had gathered on the shoreline of the sea to see the four former generals and their strange allies approaching through the darkness. Malachite seemed to be having some sort of argument with Nephlite, the silver-haired generals hands slashed angrily and his eyes gleamed with power. Nephlite walked towards the back, more with the Sailor Scouts than with his former comrades. His arms were crossed over his chest, and his face showed annoyance.
"Malachite--if you have a better idea, then I do wish you would share it with us. There is more than YOUR neck on the line here."
Malachite snorted and stalked away. Nephlite smiled slightly, his dark blue eyes gleaming with satisfaction. Cerulean looked to the tall red-haired woman who seemed to be in charge, not wanting to choose sides in any conflict between the admittedly powerful former minions. "Lady--have you decided what we are to do?"
"Why aren't you out at the island?" she interrupted, ignoring his question.
"There were no boats, Lady, and there are no Gates that go out to the island. No one has ever been to the Cursed place."
Bridgette rolled her eyes. "Oh bloody hell." She stalked off towards the waterline, stooping to pick up a few pieces of black driftwood and other nameless seashore litter.
Cerulean looked back at the group, and blinked, looking closer. Hesitantly he moved to the nearest of the Scouts, not knowing who else to turn to. It was the tallest of them all with long brown hair drawn up into a pony tail that he finally chose to approach. "Excuse me, but--what happened to Lord Jedite?"
The girl turned to look at him with a slight jump, her eyes widening. "Huh? Oh. Jedite. Right. He--uh--had to go and get some things; part of the plan, I guess. Bridgette sent him." She looked at him closely, a thoughtful look coming into her eyes. There was a loud creaking noise from behind them and they both turned to look. "Cool!" said the girl.
Bridgette was backing away from the shoreline, her hands held above her head, the fingers splayed out. Before her, there was a large three-masted ship, all in a dark wood floating serenely above the shoreline waters. She gestured and the ship moved out and settled into the dark, churning waters when it would be deep enough. Cerulean looked at the Scout in wonder.
"She can do such things and she needs the help of US?"
Lita shrugged while Bridgette picked up another of the pieces of driftwood she had gathered and set it floating before her. "Hey--I'm sure she has her reasons, eh? Besides--why do everything yourself?" she said not taking her eyes off Bridgette.
Cerulean started to speak, but instead turned to watch in wonder as Bridgette wove her hands in a strange pattern, and the small piece of wood began growing and shaping itself into a large row-boat.
Jedite looked startled for a moment, but then recovered and narrowed his eyes at the Commander. "What do you want, Joerdan? I am rather busy."
"Traitor!" Joerdan sneered.
Jedite snorted. "Do you blame me?" Joerdan started to say something, then scowled and stayed silent. "I join with the Sailor Scouts because I MUST. I have no choice."
Joerdan paused. "How did you free yourself from the crystal?"
"_I_ didn't." Jedite crossed his arms over his chest. "Malachite may know the workings of that better than I do."
"And how can you all be back? The others were dead."
Jedite's eyes narrowed even further. "It is enough to know that we are no longer dead, is it not?" Jedite's hands twitched a moment. "Go, Joerdan."
Joerdan sneered. "No, my--LORD. I am--"
Melvin smacked him in the face with the mop.
Jared took over, snatching up his bag and Melvin's. "Quick thinking, kid. Run like hell."
"I hate sailing," muttered Nephlite, unhappily, scowling at the main mast.
"This boat is so NEAT!" said Sailor Moon, running up to the bows to peer into the dark waves.
Malachite snorted and leaned against the mast. "Now if Jar--Jedite would just get back, we can get underway."
"Worried, Malachite?" said Sailor Jupiter with a grin, leaning against the rail of the ship with a broad grin.
Malachite fixed her with a deadly glare and chose not to answer. Zoicite floated down with a snort. "Surely even Sailor MOON can figure out that if that fool Jedite is captured, we are in serious trouble."
Jupiter shrugged. "So--why lounge around the boat? Let's go look for him."
"You? Alone in the Negaverse?" Malachite stared. "You would get lost within minutes without the lights that we conjure. And how would you operate the Gates?"
"I could go with her, My Lord," said Cerulean. "If it is important, that is."
"He is coming," Bridgette said. She pointed a slender arm towards the shoreline. "There he is."
"Who is that with him?" asked the peacock-feather haired youma.
"Looks like another young human, Gallia," said Cerulean.
"It's Melvin," said Jupiter with a shrug. "Ja--Jedite needed an extra set or arms to carry--"
"Lord Jedite is carrying two large sacks and looks tired. The boy carries only a long staff, and another strange staff with some sort of shredded cloth attached to the end," said Cerulean, squinting.
"What?" Lita turned and looked closer.
Bridgette moved up beside them and gestured at the pair on the shoreline. There was a soundless blast of sand-filled air from a space in the middle of the deck, and Jedite and the young human appeared there, both looking worn and out of breath.
"Cast off," Bridgette said to Cerulean, then turned to the yellow-haired general and the young boy. Malachite strolled closer, along with Nephlite and the red-haired Sailor Earth.
"What happened, Jedite?" Bridgette asked, crouching at his side.
"Ran into a bit of trouble," he said, pushing sweat-damp hair from his face.
"What sort of trouble?" asked Malachite, crossing his arms as the ship set off over the waves.
"Oh bloody hell," Nephlite muttered under his breath, rubbing his shoulder ruefully. "Did you kill him?"
Jedite drew in a breath. "He still lives, but--"
"I got him!" Melvin grinned broadly.
Everyone turned and looked at the boy incredulously.
Joerdan clawed at his eyes, rubbing them as they watered. In anguish, he called water and let it fall over his head. "I will KILL them both," he growled, his breath sobbing in his chest.
After what seemed an eternity, Joerdan could finally see again, though blurrily. His eyes still streamed tears and hurt, but he could function. Rubbing once more at his eyes, he snarled and set off to where he had told his adonni to meet him.
One of them was there as he had instructed. "Commander? What--"
"Where are they?" he snarled.
"They took the Blood River to the Sea. There the tall woman made a ship; they all boarded and waited for Jedite and a small human to arrive, then set sail. One of the Scouts mentioned an island."
Joerdan nodded. "Wait on the shore. I will return." He snarled and stalked off into the shadows, rubbing at his watering eyes with his sleeve.
"What in the WORLD is Lord Jedite doing?" asked Cerulean.
Lita turned to look at the yellow-haired general where he was directing a few youma in making various things with the large amount of household equipment. "Beats me."
Mina, Artemis, and a few of the youma were hanging over the rail nearby, in the grips of seasickness. Lita grinned at the pleasant-faced Commander. "So--what did you do around here?"
"I--commanded a group which gathered information for the Court," Cerulean said after a moment.
Malachite moved past them, going up into the bows and leaning on the rail with his arms crossed. Abruptly, he straightened, the dark look leaving his face to be replaced by one of complete surprise. He frowned and leaned over the rail, peering at the churning water below them.
Lita saw a flash of movement from the corner of her eye--the faintest impression of something HUGE and dark and wet. Then she was yelping and falling as the whole ship lurched with a creak of timbers and a loud crash as something huge screeched. A heavy weight fell on top of her, and arms went around her and she was rolled to one side as the fore-mast crashed to the deck, spilling a couple of unfortunate youma to the deck with it. Lita gasped, looking up to realize her rescuer was Cerulean. "What--"
They both turned in shock to see Nephlite sprinting across the deck, dodging lines and fallen sails, stripping of his jacket as he ran, heading for the bows. A few steps behind him was Sailor Earth, carrying one end of a length of rope. The other end was being carried by one of the youma, who was obviously frightened out of her wits. Lita blinked, then felt a cold pit in her stomach. Quickly, she looked to the bows--
--a length of broken rail and a shred of cloak where Malachite had been standing.
Lita scrambled to her feet--and fell again as the ship lurched once more, and a huge beast loomed over the ship. It was a mad cross between a sperm whale and an octopus, huge, with black rubbery flesh and several sucker-covered tentacles and a huge fluke-tail which it used to smash at the ship with. "Crap! Malcolm fell overboard with THAT!" Lita said, scrambling to her feet as Zoicite appeared at the rails, slinging ice-crystals at the thing.
"Who's Malcolm?" asked Cerulean, running after Lita as she sprinted to join the other scouts in helping in the battle.
"He's--never mind." Lita aimed a blast of lightning at the creature, trying to keep it way from the water.
Beside her, confused though he was, Cerulean raised his hands and flaring red-gold energy roiled about his slender fingers before becoming a roiling ball of fire that smashed into the creature's side. The thing roared and smashed the boat once more, sending a bruising wave of water to wash the decks. Lita found herself half-way across the decks before she could claw her way to a stop. To one side, she say Jedite aiming what looked like a make-shift catapult at the thing--and launching a ball of cloth at the thing's eyes.
Whatever was in the cloth, made the beast roar in pain, the tail knocking the boat around a full circle. Abruptly, Bridgette was on the deck, feet as steady as if she were on the ground. She raised her hands and pointed and a lance of green light hit the beast. The beast roared in agony, then crashed back into the waves, washing the deck once more. Then, it was completely silent.
Cerulean quickly went to check how many had been lost. Lita ran to where Molly clutched at the splintered rails, a rope wrapped around her waist. "Malcolm--and Nathan?" Lita asked as Jedite ran up, face pale and bruised.
Molly shook her head, peering into the churning waves. "I...I don't--"
Bridgette showed up. "Jared, Zoe; the farce is dropped. Go help Cerulean fish his people out of the water."
The rope hanging around Molly's waist went taught and a faint voice called up from below. "Hey up there! A little help here!"
Jared started to look, but Bridgette shook her head. "You can help the others. Go NOW. Malcolm was hurt; I'm needed HERE."
Without another word, Jared and Zoe sprinted to help Cerulean and the scouts round all the others up, teleporting people when they could. Bridgette looked to Lita. "Come--let's help get them up." Lita nodded and gathered the rope and began pulling on it. Molly pulled as well while Bridgette leaned over the rail, lines of light lancing from her fingers to wrap around the two bedraggled figures.
"Bridgette! It's back!" screamed Zoe from the rails.
"It's harmless, Zoe. It's a whale, nothing more. I had him fetch those he could find," Bridgette said, keeping her attention on the two figures.
Nathan held Malcolm's limp form up as much as his shaking arms would allow, and Bridgette leaned over the rail to pull the elder man onto the deck while Lita and Molly grabbed Nathan and pulled him up as well. Nathan shivered. "Blo...bloody hell, but--that's cold." He grimaced, lips turning blue. "Malcolm--"
Bridgette had gathered the other musician up to her chest, hands hovering over a bloody gash on the side of his face. "Concussion, water in the lungs..." She shook her head. "Not pretty." She looked up at Nathan, then tossed out an arm, a heavy blanket appearing and then settling over him. "Before you catch pneumonia." Then her eyes were locked on Malcolm's still form, blue light flickering around her hands.
Cerulean came over, eyes wide. "Lord Nephlite, what--"
Nathan sneezed. "The name's Nathan, Cer" he said, shivering under the blanket. "Look--we'll explain later." He sneezed. "We lose anyone?"
"Two. Amazing, considering, Lord Ne--Nathan. And they fell from the rigging when the mast fell."
Zoe moved to the bow point, her face taught with worry, but determined. "The...whale, ah, said that he can pull us to the island. Can someone help me lower the anchor chain a little so he can get a hold of it? Jared's got his hands full with the wounded over there--and the sea sick."
Cerulean blinked at the tired sound of Zoe's voice and the strange accent, the gentle look about the eyes. "Ah--hai, Lady."
Malcolm came back to himself slowly, a heavy warmth flowing through his mind. He couldn't move--someone was apparently holding his shoulders still. Wincing, he opened his eyes.
He was sprawled on the deck of the rolling ship. His boots were gone, as was most of his cape. He was soaking wet, but a heavy length of something like velvet covered most of him. Nathan smiled in relief at him from one side, also dripping wet. The auburn-haired man sneezed, and leaned against Molly's shoulder. "Is he going to be all right, Bri? We already have to adjust the spell for two less people." Nathan's blue eyes crinkled in amusement, losing the worried tension.
Malcolm realized that the person who was holding his shoulders was his mentor. "He'll be all right, Nathan, but he's going to sit still for awhile," Bridgette said, her voice tired, but warm.
Malcolm turned his head. "What happened?"
Nathan sneezed again, pulling a dripping handkerchief from a pocket and staring at it a moment before tossing it away and rubbing at his nose. "You decided to take a swim fully clothed in the middle of a scene from Moby dick."
Bridgette held out a square of linen and Nathan took it and blew his nose. "I--what? All I remember is seeing something in the water--then a flash of light--"
"That was you hitting your head on the rail, Mal'," said Jared, wryly coming over with a green-looking Melvin leaning on his broom. "Nate's the better swimmer, though, so I let HIM go get you. He took a bunch of courses in rescue and all--well, after the accident." Jared smiled apologetically at Nathan who smiled back a little bitterly.
"What WAS that thing, anyway," asked Zoe as she and the rest of the scouts came over, along with the any of their allies that were up to walking at the moment.
"It was a whale once, before Beryl's schemes warped the world into what it is now. I merely returned the whale to what it was. And now he's pulling our boat." Bridgette shoved a wave of her hair from her eyes, one arm still supporting Malcolm's shoulders. "What casualties?"
Jared sighed. "Well--most everyone's recovered from sea sickness--"
"Adrenaline will do that to you," said Zoe easily, sitting cross-legged by Nathan.
Jared grinned. "You'd know, eh, Zoe?" She stuck her tongue out at him and giggled. Jared smiled back, glancing up as Cerulean came up, his face openly wary and confused. "In any case--a few broken bones and a bunch of strained nerves along with numerous cuts, bruises, and scrapes." Jared blew a strand of wet hair from his eyes. "Not too bad, considering."
Bridgette nodded. "Let's take care of the injuries while we're reasonably safe."
"Safe? Here?" Nathan snorted and sneezed.
"Safe as we can be, Nathan. And don't forget Molly's mother. I've sent Aevon to find her and keep her as protect her as much as he can, but he's only one gryphon."
"Begging your pardons, of course," said Cerulean softly, "but would someone please explain what is going on? Who are you people?"
Zoe looked over at him. "We're who we look like we are, Cer'. Just--a bit more."
Nathan spread his hands as Jupiter came over with the jacket he had discarded and handed it to him. "Well--let's just say we're all who we said we were--or rather, we WERE who we said we were." Cerulean blinked. "We died, didn't we?"
"Rather messily in SOME people's cases," Zoe said, looking at her hands.
Nathan looked at her wryly. "Oh--not MY choice, thank you."
Zoe grimaced. "Yes, well."
Malcolm grimaced, rubbing at his forehead again. "In any case, Cerulean, we're, in a roundabout sense, those you knew reincarnated. But--we got the memories back of our former lives because WE were alive while our former selves were."
"How is that possible?"
Bridgette shrugged easily. "It's rather complicated, Cerulean, and I don't care to explain how my protective spells or the human magics work to you at the moment."
"As a matter of fact," said Malcolm, "I seem to have gotten a few MORE memories." He frowned.
"The Moon Kingdom?" asked Jupiter, glancing uncertainly at the others.
"Well--that too," he said, raising a pale hand to run at the side of his head, staring when it came away bloody. "What I really meant was--short little spurts...none of them longer than a few years. And scattered all through the centuries, from what I can tell." Malcolm looked at Bridgette uncertainly.
The tall woman paused a moment, then nodded. "What the other bits of memories were, Malcolm, are the brief lives that you were reincarnated as before this. About one a century." She glanced up. "You others should be getting memories back like that as well, but I believe the trauma of the injuries brought Malcolm's back quicker."
Nathan rubbed his head ruefully, pulling the blanket tigher about himself as Molly cuddled closer. "I got mine back, too. When my life--er--LIVES flashed before my eyes when I almost got hit by the boat." He wrinkled his brow and reached out a hand to touch Molly's forehead. "Sorry, by the way. It was all I could think of to do. Both of us."
Molly blinked at him in confusion. "I--what?"
Bridgette smiled thinly. "Time correcting itself, Sailor Earth. Time is a flexible creature."
"What is THAT supposed to mean?" asked Ami, frowning in confusion.
"I mean that when I made her Sailor Earth, she had to be worked into the past. And she was. Nathan is recalling events from the Silver Millennium; or the end of it."
"Hey! Who gets the memories when they come back to me?" asked Jared.
Cerulean could take it no longer. "What is going ON?"
Jedite took over the yellow-haired man. "Jared and I have a slightly different situation. We are essentially two different people." Jedite shook his damp hair back with a haughty shake of his head. "Actually, that thought intrigues me as well."
Bridgette shrugged fluidly, shifting her hold on Malcolm's shoulders to let him sit up a little more, leaning against her shoulder. "I would think the other lives would go to Jared, Jedite, and the Silver Millennium to you. I could be wrong, of course. The human mind is tricky that way."
Cerulean put a hand to the side of his head, his fingers clutching at his dark hair. "This is--confusing, Lady. You are not human then?"
"Not in the slightest," said Bridgette. She shook her head, only wet where Malcolm rested against her, despite the waves which had washed the ship. "Now--let's get everyone dry and healed before we get to the Island. We still need to get all of you prepared for what has to be done."
Lita patted Cerulean's back gently. "Hey--don't worry; I'm just as lost as you are." She gave him a parting grin and went to join Serena and the other scouts.
Beryl squinted at Joerdan as he approached the throne, rubbing at his eyes. His uniform coat was open at the throat, and his shoulders were dusted with a red powder. His eyes were still streaming with tears and were red. "What happened to you?" she snarled.
Joerdan scowled, but bowed. "Jedite, my Queen. Or rather his human flunky and Jedite's usual trickery."
Beryl frowned. "So what are you doing back here?"
"They are headed to the Cursed area, my Queen. The Island."
Beryl paused, frowning. "What could she want THERE." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Take as many as you need, and go and wait on the shoreline for them to return."
"Lord Neph--I mean, Lord Nathan?"
Nathan looked up from redirecting a youma with four legs in the proper placement of its feet. "I don't have any titles, Cerulean, so you can just call me Nathan. And I don't bite friends, lad."
"You needing something?"
Cerulean blinked then grabbed fist full of his hair just at his temple. "I am confused. Very. I don't understand WHY you all are here--not to mention I can't even begin to think of HOW."
Nathan corrected the youma's footing one last time, then glanced around. "Look--we'll go have a chat, then, all right? Let's go have a sit in the bows, now Bri's fixed the rail." Cerulean bit back a comment, not wanting to seem weak in front of his former overlord. He followed Nathan to a bench which followed the rail. The auburn-haired general stretched his long legs out before him, leaning his head back against the rail and closing his eyes. "What can I help you with, Cerulean?"
"What--is it like?"
Nathan cracked open an eye. "What? Remembering living a bunch of lives?"
The Commander glanced over his shoulder to the stomping youma, minions, and scouts. "I don't know."
Nathan sighed. "For awhile--it was nice. Things were simple. Until Nephlite died. And Nephlite was like a separate person, but--not really. It's hard to explain." He frowned. "As for remembering the lives--it's strange. Try to imagine having around ten other attitudes and ideals floating around in your head. I mean--I have a lives scattered all over the centuries."
Cerulean stared at his hands a moment. "What about--love. I know Lord Malachite and Lady Zoicite were--well. Even if they don't act like it now. And they said that you betrayed Queen Beryl for the love of a human." Nathan paused, then nodded carefully. "What is that like? I've--never had a chance. This--business keeps me apart."
Nathan smiled faintly. "That's like trying to tell a blind man what color is, Cer'." Nathan smiled fondly, shaking his head. "Try to imagine having someone sharing your heart; someone you can trust."
Cerulean sighed and sat. "There has not been many chances for that, my lord."
Nathan ignored the slip. "I know. We're trying to change that a bit."
They sat in silence as the ship continued to pitch towards the mysterious Island.
"You going to be all right, Mal?" asked Jared, looking at him sideways, setting down the glass bottle he was sniffing at carefully.
Malcolm, leaned heavily against the wall of the cabin Bridgette had insisted he go into to rest. Just walking from the berth to the back window of the cabin, barely five feet, had him dizzy and his head throbbing in pain. "I...think so. Just...my head hurting. Bri said there might be...problems for awhile."
Jared frowned, carefully setting aside the bottle and picking up a cardboard tube, container and shaking it to see how much of the bluish crystals it contained. "I thought she healed you."
"She did, but--" Malcolm bit his lip and carefully stagger back to the berth, flopping down and closing his eyes, rubbing at his pain creased brow with a hand. "--she said healing head wounds is especially complicated. There's the brain cells and nerve cells to fix, and I guess that's hard enough, but then she mentioned something about 'human minds' and broke off into that language of hers."
Jared nodded and poured about and inch of the crystals into the bottom of a glass float that had a hole cut into the top before grimacing and letting Jedite take over to put a thin layer of glass just over the crystals. "You going to be able to dance like that? I imagine bouncing about isn't going to do you any good. If you can even stand."
Malcolm sighed. "I have to. It doesn't matter one way or the other if I CAN or not."
Jared grinned, pouring some of the clear liquid into the float on top of the glass before letting Jedite take over again to seal the thing. "Martyring yourself to gain the attentions of a certain red-haired lady?"
Malcolm shot him a look, then sighed. "_I_ don't know anymore. She told me I--" Malcolm broke off and sighed. He looked at the filled float as Jared placed it carefully in a padded holder with a few others. "What the hell are you DOING, anyway?"
Jared grimaced. "Making use of some nice bathroom cleaners to try to indulge in some chemical warfare."
"Chlorine gas," Jared said flatly. Jedite came to the fore and grinned.
Malcolm started to reply, when the whole boat lurched harshly, a hideous groaning creek filling the air as the ship tilted dangerously to one side. Jared dove after the box of filled floats, cursing fluently, but catching them before the box spilled. Malcolm pushed himself up shakily on one arm, laying on the floor where the lurch had tossed him. "What--"
The ship lurched harshly again. Nathan staggered in through the door as the ship tilted dangerously to one side with a groan of tortured timbers. "You two all right?"
"Almost not," said Jared, pulling himself into an upright position as Cerulean and Zoe also came shakily through the doorway. Jared carefully closed the lid on the padded box. "What the hell happened?"
"Storm," said Nathan, half-climbing across the cabin to crouch at Malcolm's side, actually perching on what HAD been the side of the berth. "Controlled storm."
"Bridgette had the whale beach the ship so we wouldn't lose anyone getting them to the shore," said Zoe, grabbing a hold of the door frame to steady herself as she leaned in and gave Jared a hand up into the hallway, after handing Cerulean the box of glass 'bombs'.
"Nice of her to warn us," said Malcolm, wryly, leaning heavily on Nathan's shoulder as they carefully clambered across the cabin towards the door.
Nathan rubbed at the back of his neck. "The storm came up too suddenly."
Malcolm looked at Nathan, hearing the tenseness in his oldest friend's voice. "Are YOU all right, Nate? Your parents and all..."
Nathan nodded shortly, bracing himself to help Malcolm through the door. "No worries, Mal'."
Malcolm leaned heavily against Cerulean's shoulder while Zoe leaned through to help Nathan out of the cabin as well. The silver-haired man looked dubious, but raised a hand to hold his bruised head and let Cerulean help him towards the main deck.
Molly looked ahead to where Malcolm walked unsteadily, close between Bridgette and Zoe who both shot out occasional hands to steady him. "Nathan--is he going to be all right?"
Nathan shot her a look, then turn his eyes straight forward. "He'd better be, or we're not going to be able to do this."
"That's rather cold, don't you think," Molly said after a moment.
"It's true," Nathan said shortly.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked, brow wrinkling, hands clutching at the short red-brown skirt she wore. "You've been angry since we got Malcolm out of the water."
"What do you expect? I'm not going to dance a jig when a friend almost dies."
"You're going to do that, or else Bridgette wasted energy stuffing all of our--"
"This isn't funny, Molly."
She bit her lip. "I know it's not, but I--"
Nathan slashed a hand down, turning his eyes angry shoving irritably at his hair again. "Molly--you loved Nephlite, didn't you?"
Molly blinked. "I--yes. Why--"
"He's dead, Molly. I'm not him." Molly could only blink at the onslaught, eyes widening. "Not only, that, Mol' but I'm years older than you. Surely can't love ME. I--"
Molly stared at him in shock, then felt an unfamiliar surge of anger. "If that's all you think of me--that I love you because of--" she lost her train of thought. "YES, I love Nephlite. I still do, but you say he's dead, and not a big part of you anymore, and I KNOW that." Her voice lowered, her muscles tense. "And don't think for a moment that I GIVE a damn how old you are. I've already yelled that out with Mom."
She blinked back tears, then fled to the back of the group to Gallia, the peacock-haired youma, who seemed startled to have a crying human suddenly seeking comfort from her.
Nathan buried his face in one of his hands. "Oh, bloody bloody hell, you dolt."
Cerulean left Lita's side to come over. "My lord? Is there some sort of problem?"
Nathan winced. "I lost my bloody temper, is all, Cer, and hurt someone who--" he broke off, staring at his hands. "Someone whom at least part of me died to keep safe. Someone who I would STILL--"
Cerulean cocked his head to one side. "Forgive me, my lord, but it seems to me that _I_ am a poor choice of company to receive these words. Surely she would understand."
Nathan looked at the Commander oddly. "You learning more of humans, then are you? You seem to have taken a shine to Sailor Jupiter, there."
Cerulean startled his former lord by coloring. "She is a person who listens well, my Lord. She does not judge. And I have much I have long wished to talk about. As does she." He colored. "Tell me, Lord, why HAS your temper been so short? Lady Zoic--Zoe was always the one who was quick to anger."
Nathan sighed. "I don't like ships. And I especially don't like ships on rough water, an' it's even worse when there's a storm."
"My parents died in a storm, and on a boat," he said.
Cerulean was silent a moment, then nodded, the confusion leaving his eyes. "I see. From this life."
Cerulean paused, then noted the slumped shoulders and changed the subject. "I've noticed a strange lilt to your words, Lord. What causes this accent?"
Nathan's lips quirked into a smirk. "I'm Irish, which could explain my fool temper." Cerulean blinked. "I come from a different country than the scouts do. So do Zoe and Mal and Jared." He shrugged. "We all learned the girls' language. Bri's the only one who can managed it with no accent."
Rei suddenly cried out happily. "It's the unicorns!"
Nathan's head jerked up and he saw Rei and the other Scouts running forward to press their faces against the unicorns' cheeks in greeting. Molly stayed back, though. Cerulean blinked. "Unicorns? HERE? But--"
"Bri's doing," said Nathan with a smile. "He looked back at Molly, his face softening. "They bonded with Molly."
A few of the youma looked a bit uncomfortable in the presence of the pure creatures, but none withdrew as the unicorns moved amongst them. There were more than the original five, numbering almost 30. He felt a tug at his sleeve, and saw the foal who had so been taken with Molly. "What--Kali--" the little foal tugged on the sleeve of Nathan's jacket with surprising strength and pulled him towards Molly, who was being nosed forward gently by Ora. Nathan realized what they were up to. "Molly--I--" he stopped when Kali let go of his sleeve and looked at Molly for a moment. "I'm sorry, lass. If you want to knock m' flat, you're quite welcome to."
She blinked, then smiled tentatively. "No--I think I'll let Zoe do that." She put her arms around his waist.
Nathan smiled, and hugged her back. Jared walked by. "Ugg. Like a pair of puppies. Kick them and they crawl back even more in love. Gah!" he grinned and winked, the broad grin at odds with the gentle look in his eyes.
Bridgette's allies were even more varied than the youma. There were humans, though from other worlds. There was a pair of them that were half-cat, half-human, like something out of the musical Cats (in fact, they seemed to be well aquatinted with the musical, thanks to Bridgette). Feolin had come, mostly for protection's sake, and was curled around the grove of only slightly twisted trees that surrounded the flat stone of the Circle. There was a group of gypsies, though all of them had small horns on their heads, and tails like horses. A handful of them looked like silver-haired Indians, with golden-eyes like birds with huge birds of prey for companions--the birds able to speak and wearing glittering armor made of almost weightless crystal. The most startling, however, was the small group of sidhe.
They were all tall, the shortest of them well over 6 foot tall. Most of them had some shade of blonde hair, except one who's hair was a long, earthy brown. ALL of them has intense eyes, mostly green--but in varied shades. Then there was their leader.
One of the last of Bridgette's former people.
HE was the tallest of the bunch, silver-blond hair reaching almost to his waist and gathered in long braids, with gleaming gem braids and feathers. His luminous eyes were a steel gray, and one arm was made of tooled silver. Nuada made everyone but Bridgette uncomfortable when he looked at them. Bridgette seemed to make HIM uncomfortable.
Malcolm leaned against one of the trees, holding his head, talking with one of the bird-men, who was a Healer by profession. "...just get dizzy every time I get up, is all."
Quicksilver frowned. "That does not sound good. I would not recommend you leave a bed for several days, but--it seems we have no choice."
Malcolm nodded, and winced, holding his head again. "I have to. I'm one of the Centers since I basically know this thing."
"And you are one of the more powerful amongst us all," Quicksilver pointed out gently. "Do not be bashful about the truth." Quicksilver shoved his gleaming hair behind his shoulder. "I can erect some blocks that will prevent the dizziness, and most of the pain, but they will cause some more damage." Quicksilver scowled. "I would not offer if this were not critical."
"What--sort of damage?" asked Malcolm, watching Bridgette speak with Nuada.
Quicksilver sighed. "Perhaps a loss of sight, perhaps a recurring vertigo. I'm not certain. It is always different for each person. It will not kill you, but it will take much to correct it, and we will have little time and less energy to do this after the spell has been danced."
Malcolm looked up once more, looking around at everyone and at the twisted landscape. "Do it."
"That's it. We're dead!"
Jared smothered a smile and crouched down by Serena, who had seemed to discover the only stray pebble in the entire Circle to step on and fall flat on her face. "With all due respect, Lady Moon, I don't think improvisational is quite needed in this one. If you like, we can work on that later though."
Rei snickered as Serena blushed and accepted Jared's hand up. "Great--so what happens if she has a klutz attack in the middle of the spell?"
Nathan wandered up and grinned. "Oh the usual; the power will back lash on the area killing us all." The others stared in shock at him, thought Jared had to bite his fist to keep from bursting out in laughter. Nathan winked. "Kidding. Bridgette claims it's not dangerous what we're doing, just difficult."
Zoe wandered up, finger twining in one of the curls again. "I doubt Bridgette would ask any of us to do something like this if there were any serious danger, knowing her."
Jared paused, and nodded thoughtfully. Lita wandered over with Cerulean. "Well--I THINK the rest of them have gotten it down," said Lita grinning. "Course I couldn't tell you. I'm having enough problems keeping my OWN feet doing the right thing much less try to figure out if someone with four feet is getting it right."
"And the unicorns," said Cerulean softly, glancing back uncertainly at the small foal who was shadowing him with an adoring gaze. The back of Cerulean's coat had a hunk of fabric missing, obviously chewed.
Jared shrugged, putting an easy hand on Serena's shoulder. "Bri claims they're part of the focus. You know--the old purify thing with the horns." He shrugged and grinned at the Commander. "You seem to have made a friend with one."
Cerulean colored. "He ate my coat."
Lita giggled. Jared raised a hand to hide a smile. Zoe laughed outright, though not the infamous high-pitched cackle. Nathan grinned. "Well--Cer--looks like you've found some love after all."
Cerulean looked at him a moment, then smiled, reaching back to tousle the foal's forelock. The small unicorn whickered and pressed his face against Cerulean's side--nibbling at his already torn coat.
"So--" said Mina, crossing her arms. "We've got two circles to start out with, right?"
Nathan nodded, digging in his coat for a bag of M&M's before continuing. "Yes--the four of us and you Scouts in the inner circle, since we, especially the four of us, are centers and not actually in the process of recalling the world like the outer circle is." He tore open the bag and thoughtfully fished out one, peering at it. "Then we all move through the inner and outer loops in the knot pattern. Then the two circles break up forming the bigger one with all of you except the four of us, then we all do a sort of pinwheel, and back to our two original circles, going in opposite directions. The inner circle leaves, and the outer finishes up the rest, ONE of them being singled out to be the leader."
"Simple enough," said Jared. "But can we pull it off?"
Nathan grinned, "Probably not."
"Thanks for the confidence," muttered Rei.
Jared shrugged. "We--look at it this way: we've got over 90% of us that have never done this sort of thing. Bri claims the sidhe have--and those bird-folk, but they're used to different steps."
"Why not let them do their own steps?" asked Darien.
Nathan grinned. "Part of that involves flying. We've had to tie the patterns to the ground for the rest of us."
"Where in the world did you get those things?" asked Serena, staring at Nathan's candy bag.
"Oh--Nathan's always got chocolate on hand, Se--Sailor Moon," said Zoe with a laugh. "Sherlock Holmes thought by playing his violin, so Nathan, having to be different thinks by playing his violin and stopping at the end of every phrase to munch something chocolate."
Nathan grinned broadly and held out that bag. "Anyone wanting a few for luck's sake?"
Jared grinned and winked at Zoe. "Keep the green ones away from Cerulean."
"What?" asked the Commander, confused. He turned to peer at Jared--and stopped, hearing a tear as the foal at his side pulled off a hunk of his coat, chewing happily, with adoring eyes.
Jared giggled. "In joke, Cerulean. Have to be from earth to get it."
Lita cocked her head, trying not to laugh at the unicorn foal and Cerulean's one-third devoured jacket. "I guess you gotta be from Ireland; I don't get it either."
"Good thing," said Zoe. "I think you would flatten him." She winked, her emerald eyes gleaming.
Malcolm came over, hand held to his bruised head. "Bridgette says we're ready to start."
Zoe put her hand on his arm. "Are you going to be all right?"
Malcolm shook her hand off and nodded slightly, turning and heading for the center of the open area. Cerulean tried to follow--but felt a tug at his coat and another tearing noise. He closed his eyes and stripped his coat, leaving it in the possession of the unicorn foal, and leaving him in a loose sleeved shirt of black linen. Lita giggled and walked beside him. "Well--at least since the unicorn likes you, that means you aren't evil."
Cerulean blinked. "I--see." He looked around, seeing the youma getting into their places, amongst the others that Bridgette had brought in. "I--have never seen a more unlikely group of people trying to do something so ridiculous."
Lita grinned at him. "Happens on Earth all the time. We try to do lots of crazy things." She stopped a moment, then leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Good luck."
Before she could walk off, Cerulean caught her hand and pulled her back. He actually was almost the same height as the tall girl and he looked her straight in the eye. "Thank you, Lady Jupiter," he said, and kissed her hand.
"My name's Lita." They stared at each other a moment, then Lita squeezed his hand and moved to take her place in the inner circle.
Jared, trotting to catch up after muttering some last minute instructions to Melvin and Feolin, winked at Cerulean. "Flirt."
Giggling at Cerulean's confused look, he moved to his position in the inner circle, next to Nuada.
Melvin leaned comfortably in the embrace of the tree he had chosen for his look out. Despite the semi-sinister look of the black-barked trees, they actually had a comforting feel to them, and held a sort of warmth. Shoving his glasses up his nose, he turned to peer at the two rings of waiting figures at the center of the strange place he had been brought to. The tall woman named Bridgette, with wings arching gracefully over her head, moved to the very center and drew a small, glittering dagger from her sleeve. She nodded once, and drove the blade into her hand.
Melvin grimaced, but watched as her faintly luminescent blood dribbled down her splayed fingers, then dropped to splash on the smooth stone of the ground.
The world shook.
With the first drop, Melvin felt dizzy as the strange wail of some instrument filled his head. The dancers went into motion.
It was slow at first, singe steps, but the two circles were all ready weaving in complex patterns amongst themselves. Even though the steps were all in perfect unison, the inner circle stood out as better than the outer--except for the sidhe, though they seemed to lack the energy of the inner. And the four musicians stood out even more. A thin pillar of light had appeared at the very center, where Bridgette's blood had fallen, the winged woman herself, now flying across to sit in one of the stone chairs to one side, her intense gaze fixed on the dancers, her impaled hand still dripping blood onto the stones, though she seemed not to notice.
The music in Melvin's head began picking up, and the dancers' feet began to move almost in blurs, the sound of their stomping ringing over the virtually silent island. The circles began to break up, weaving in and out of themselves. The pillar of light began to widen a bit, and each of the dancers seemed to begin to glow, a rainbow of colors, though none were brighter than the four musicians. Melvin blinked, after images of the complex patterns they were dancing in etching themselves on his vision in blinking trails. As he watched, the four musicians moved back into the center, right hands stretching out to meet in a cross in the center, actually in the pillar of light, the Scouts and Darien forming a tight ring around them, forming the sign that was apparently the sign of Wayfarer--or at least Bridgette. The music shifted a little, and the Scouts, Darien, and Nuada broke off, two going to join one arm of the cross. Slowly, the other dancers completed complex patterns of motion and joined an arm.
Then the four arms spun around, reforming the original circles, around the now obviously growing column of light. The music sped up into almost a gallop and the two circles linked hands, moving swiftly in opposite directions. They dropped hands, then the inner circle people all moved outwards as the outer circle closed in, almost touching the pillar. The Scout's circle spun outwards, and then stopped, all peering intently at the others.
Aside from the focus, their part was over.
Malcolm tried not to sway as he spun to a stop and fixed his gaze on the remaining dancers, his hand pressed to his head. He felt dizzy, but then Quicksilver had warned him that it would wear off.
If he remembered correctly, watching the circle of dancers spread back outwards as the pillar of light did, soon the spell would single out the leader.
Cerulean danced out of the circle his feet flying.
Melvin watched the remaining dancers continue to weave and dance around the graceful figure of the black-haired man whom had been introduced as "Serr" or something. The pillar of light was expanding more and more rapidly. He had been told that nothing was dangerous about the spell, but still--he flinched as the pillar suddenly expanded outwards almost explosively as the dancers suddenly came to a halt with the music. The flash of light temporarily blinded him. When he could see again--
He stripped off his glasses and stared about himself incredulously.
Jared gaped. (THIS is the Negaverse?)
The barren clearing was growing lush grass before his eyes, filling with dark purple-glowing flowers. The ring of trees were leafing out, flowers blooming and filling the air with fragrances that Jared could only dream of. And it grew lighter. Raising his head, he saw the perpetual black shell of clouds thinning and pulling away from a tentatively blue sky.
He turned to say something to Malcolm--and rushed to the fallen man's side.
The hair on the back of Joerdan's neck prickled and he peered across the dark expanse of water towards the hidden island, frowning. "What ARE they doing out there?"
"My Lord?" queried the nearest youma.
"Nothing," Joerdan snapped. Then he saw something. A thin beam of light from somewhere out in the darkness. Frowning, he walked down to the shore line, squinting at the beam curiously.
It grew in brightness slowly--and then suddenly Joerdan's eyes widened and he flung himself to the ground as it flared to an even greater intensity as a wall of bright power swept over them all.
He felt no pain. Nothing. But--there was a faint warmth growing on his back. Was something bleeding on him? He pushed himself up on an arm and could only blink.
Sunlight. And a beach with gently grasses springing up towards the entrance to the caverns that had led him here.
Cerulean squinted around the formerly barren clearing in wonder. The youma, most of them having never seen the sun, squinted, some cowering from the warm light. The unicorns, moving from their places on the fringes of the Circle, moved to lazily crop the grass. He felt a tug on the sleeve of his shirt, and looked down to see the unicorn foal pressing her head into his side, presenting the itchy skin around her horn to be scratched, but not damaging his clothing any more. Then he realized.
The spell had chosen HIM leader.
He turned to get thoroughly hugged by Lita, her pony tail bobbing, sweat dampening a few tendrils of hair that had escaped from the tail in the dance. She still wore the blocky shoes that she had been given to dance in, her usual ankle boots tied together by the laces and slung over her shoulder. "Wow! You're the leader."
Cerulean grimaced as a few of the minions and youma came closer, including the peacock-haired Gallia. "I...had no idea..."
"Of course you didn't, Lord," said Gallia shaking back her hair easily. "Lord Nephlite said he didn't know who the spell would choose. And it is a good choice, I think." The other minions and youma present nodded.
Lita reached out and stopped Melvin as he crossed the clearing quickly. "Hey--Snoop. What's wrong?"
Melvin stared at the tall girl a moment, then pointed across the clearing to where the remainder of those present had clustered. "Malcolm went down when the dance was over."
Cerulean exchanged a sharp look with Lita, then trotted in the direction of the crowd. The youma parted respectfully, as did the cluster of the bird-men that were in his path. The silver-haired musician's body was sprawled bonelessly on the velvet grass, but cradled against Bridgette's shoulder, her arms around him, her cheek resting on his head. Cerulean's eyes widened and he gripped Zoe's shoulder where she stood, her face curiously blank to one side. "Is he dead?"
Zoe jumped, then her face flooded with worry. "No. But he's hurt pretty badly. And Bridgette says she can't heal him."
Cerulean started in shock. "What? What is wrong that SHE cannot heal--"
"It's not that I am unable, Cerulean," Bridgette's voice rose, quavering in strain, "I simply do not have the power right now."
Cerulean stared. The strange woman's wings dropped, spread in the grass to her sides, the pearly feathers seeming duller. Her face when she looked at him was drawn tight in pain and weariness, and the hand she had impaled to spill her blood was wrapped in a scrap of the iridescent cloth that she had obviously torn from the hem of one of the flowing skirts. Blood had seeped through the fabric and smeared a bit on Malcolm's jacket where she supported his shoulder. "How is this?"
"Healing a world...is not easy." She closed her eyes, holding Malcolm closer, though the platinum-haired musician didn't stir. Cerulean waited for her to continue, then looked for help from Jared and Nathan who both sat on the glass, looking as helpless as HE felt. "Lords...what..."
"What you see here, is nothing more than the surface of what must take place to revive our world," said Jedite, the more serious expression replacing Jared's helpless and worried one, though the blue eyes were wrinkled in a bit of concern. "It is not as simple as returning the plant life..."
Nathan sighed. "I don't suppose," he said, holding Molly close to his side, the unicorn foal's, Kali, head in his lap. "I don't suppose you know anything about, ah, ecosystems and geography and what not?"
Cerulean looked at him blankly. "I suppose not, then," Nathan said, his free hand twining in the foal's mane, as Cerulean realized HE was doing with his own admirer. "It's not as easy fixing things as sticking a few plants and animals back on a piece of barren rock, you know. You've got to make soil, make systems of rain work again..."
"Not to mention," said Zoe, her face taught, the jacket of her uniform tossed over one shoulder, her emerald eyes fixed on the fallen man, "bloody plate tectonics. If you've got none of that, you're going to run out of land once you start the rains again, thanks to erosion."
"AND there are many life forms here that you ALL take for granted," put in Nuada, his silver arm crossed, the metal fingers drumming idly on his shoulder. "Earth worms, for example. Ants." The sidhe lord shook his hair over his shoulder. "They must be either reintroduced, or turned back from whatever they had been twisted into. And Kae'ayla's life force is committed to doing just that."
"Life--" THAT got everyone's attention.
Nuada raised a silver eyebrow. "Surely you all saw her use Blood Magic. That form of magic is always risky; even when you are relying on the life forces of others as Beryl now does. But it takes Blood Magic to counter Blood Magic."
Jared's lips pursed into a scowl. "This...'Balance' again."
Nuada turned his gaze on Jared. "What else is there when it comes down to it? There are always sides, and sides will always battle."
Jared managed to glare back. Bridgette raised her head. "There is no time for this. You must attack while Beryl's people are confused."
"And OURS aren't?" said Rei.
Bridgette locked her tired, but still unnerving gaze on the raven-haired girl. "Granted. And I suggest you all find something to mark yourselves as your own people. A banner, a sash..."
"How about bloody sunglasses," muttered Nathan. "I'd gotten used to being underground and in darkness. It's bloody bright out here."
"What about Malcolm? And you? You said you can't leave here," Zoe said.Bridgette's eyes took on a dark gleam. "Always thinking of working with magic alone?"
Zoe colored. Bridgette casually drew a gleaming arc of silver and crystal from the sheath at her side. "Use the obvious."
"I will stay as well," said Quicksilver. "My healing is useless on Malcolm for now, and I care little for battles. I can and will defend myself, though." His huge eagle fluttered his wings in a nearby tree, the crystal mail the bird wore tinkling. "And Aewlah will go where I do. He will play sentry."
"Melvin should stay, too," said Jared, coming looking up.
Jared shook his head. "Look, kid, you're no good in a pitched battle, all right? Use those traps we've still got set up. " He looked at Malcolm's still form once more. "They're going to need help here, all right?"
Nuada nodded. "I will go battle; I will be needed, I think. But I will leave a few here to help you, Kae'ayla."
Bridgette looked up at him sharply for a moment, then nodded. "I suggest...you spilt up. There is a Gate on the far side of that hill there." She pointed through the trees to a green, flower-covered hill nearby. "Some of you go there. The others...take the anchor off the boat and let the whales pull you."
"I'll go through the Gate," Nathan muttered, glancing at Malcolm. "I'm not setting foot on another boat for at least a year."
"What are those things that they are wearing?" asked Cerulean, watching Jared and Zoe in the bows of the ships, Jared apparently explaining the use of the glass orbs in the padded cases.
Lita looked and grinned. "Microphone headsets. So they can talk to one another. Bridgette's got one, and so does Nathan. Oh...here."
She held out another. "This was supposed to be for Malcolm, but..."
Cerulean took the headset curiously, looking at how Jared and Zoe wore theirs as the ship lurched into motion on the waves. "...'a THREE hour tour!.' " Jared's cheerful tenor rang through Cerulean's head.
"Jared Sims," came Zoe's reply, a faint bit of static crackling, "sing one more verse of that damn song, and you're swimming."
Cerulean blinked. "I--"
"Hullo, Cer!" said Jared, turning and waving cheerfully from the bows to where Lita and Cerulean stood at the rail before the wheel.
"Hello, Cerulean. Figured the blasted thing out, then?"
Cerulean blinked at Nathan's voice. "Aye, Lord. How do--"
"Technology, not magic," said Zoe, her voice sounding amused. "Beryl won't be able to listen in as easily."
"We're in position here," said Nathan. There was a slight pause. "The girls, are making flower chains. We now look like we're all in a bloody May Day celebration."
"Should make you easy to spot," Jared's voice said.
A raucous noise filled the headset and Cerulean winced. Nathan had apparently blown a raspberry.
"That's very cute, Nathan," said Bridgette's voice.
"Trying to please, Bri."
"How is Lord Malcolm?" asked Cerulean hesitantly.
"The same," Bridgette seemed to sigh. "At least he is no worse."
Jared's voice came over again, but the tones and accent to the words were Jedite's. "And how are YOU faring?"
Bridgette paused a moment. "Trying to remember how to create moss again, Jedite."
There was a bit of laughter over the headsets, and Jared's light tones came over again. "Moss?" he spluttered between laughs.
"If you think that it is that simple, Jared, perhaps YOU would like to do this?"
"Um. I'll pass."
"About the attack..."
"Oh, we're ready with the gas bombs I made," said Jared. "Be sure not to go through the Gate without hearing me clear it, first."
"I've no intention on ruining my singing voice, Jar. No worries."
Cerulean took the headsets off. "I think I can do without."
Joerdan stared as the youma he had sent out as a scout came and bowed at his feet. "Commander--the changes are everywhere. Except...except the Black Lake. Queen Beryl is gathering a large force there."
Joerdan nodded, pale eyes fixing on the horizon over the rolling waves. "Very well. Be prepared for an attack. And tricks. Jedite has picked up cunning from somewhere."
"Yes, Commander." The youma moved off to join the ranks. Joerdan's adonni closed back around him and he returned to staring across the waves, his already sore eyes watering in the glare.
Darien sighed as Serena draped another flower chain over the brim of his hat, but submitted and then let her snuggle under his arm. "Nathan--what's going on?" he asked.
Nathan pushed the mouthpiece back up away from his mouth. "Nothing much. They're still traveling." The auburn-haired man shoved a flower decked pony tail back over his shoulder, where one of the unicorns promptly began to pull the flowers out with velvet lips, before sniffing and then chewing on Nathan's hair. He seemed not to notice. "We wait until Jared sends the signal, then open the Gate and go through fighting."
Nuada nodded. "Simple enough, except for getting to the place that we must. If what the young Commander said is true, there is no direct way to anywhere in here, and we will have to fight our way through at least five such gates." The silver-armed man shook his gleaming, silvery hair back over his shoulder.
Darien sighed, holding Serena closer. "It's the getting there that bothers me. As for Beryl...it will be almost a relief to get there."
Nuada nodded. "That is always the way. No matter how awful the end of something, all look forward to it, for and end is always the beginning of something else."
"That sounds like something in a fortune cookie," muttered Serena with a giggle.
Nuada raised an elegant brow. "Perhaps such silly things should be taken more seriously."
Darien watched the sidhe lord carefully. For all that Lord Nuada was closer to being mortal than Bridgette physically, the Lord's stiff manner and aloof language made him seem even less human. Nuada returned to keeping the waiting (and flower decked) minions in line. "What is it about him?" he asked Nathan who scowled after the sidhe lord.
Nathan turned, wincing when his hair was pulled by the unicorn. "Well, then, for all that HE can die, he's not been about mortals for the past 10,000 years, now has he?"
Darien paused, then nodded. "I guess that's right."
Nathan sighed, "So, Darien...how're you and Serena doing, then? I mean together wise."
Darien shrugged. "Okay, I guess."
Nathan paused. "Does the age gap bother you? I mean, I'm no immortal anymore...at least I don't think I am anymore, but...Molly..."
Serena blinked. "Well--she's not exactly mortal either anymore. She's part of the Moon Court."
"Aye, granted, but--" began Nathan.
Darien frowned, looking down at Serena's head as she stared at him. "I...thought about it, sure. Serena being only fifteen and me being...but...well..."
Serena paused. "But...we've been together so long...in the past and all. And..."
"But you were saying, Serena, that you keep wishing for a normal life, yet you constantly go against that." Nathan spread his hands. "Not that I'm any different. Here I am saying I'm not Nephlite, and what am I?"
"A unicorn chew toy," said Mina with a grin, coming over with Molly.
Nathan sighed and rolled his eyes. Darien paused a moment, then said, "Well, Nathan, I...it's just this; Serena and I are...well...I don't really want anyone else..."
Rei looked at him a moment, then watched Molly peering at Nathan a bit tensely. The musician nodded finally and freed his hair from the unicorn's teeth. "Neither do I, I just hope the bloody authorities can see it that way." He reached out and pulled Molly against his chest, kissing the top of her head gently.
Jared squinted at the horizon, then leaned over the bows, yelling to the whales pulling the ship to stop and hold still. Cerulean, Lita on his arm stumbled forward as the ship lurched to a halt. "What is it?"
"I can just see the shore. We should be in range for the bombs." Jared grimaced, loading a case of the divided floats onto one of the catapults.
"You have done this before?" Cerulean asked.
"Great," said Lita.
"Relax, Jupiter," said Zoe hopping down a rope from the rigging. "He's a master of flinging things across the room with his spoon."
Jared shot her a look, then grimaced, "Wish I could bloody see to aim, though."
"Perhaps one of us may assist you?"
They all turned to look, seeing a few of the bird men coming over, their strange, armored bird companions flying to land on the rails. "We ARE, after all," said one of the huge hawks, "known for our eyesight."
Jared grinned. "Cool."
"I am called Riversong," said the lead bird-man. "My friend there is called T'uri," he pointed to the hawk that had spoken. "Permit me."
Riversong went to the rail, squinting. "There is a large group spread out along the shore line there." He pointed. "There seems not to be a well defined leader that I can see, though."
Jedite took over. "Joerdan would never make himself stand out without direct orders, and even more protection."
Cerulean paused. "Riversong...can you see any adonni?"
"What are they?"
"Large creatures...usually in black with painted masks on."
Riversong and a few of the others all peered at the shore. "Mm...yes. Several."
Jedite frowned. "That means there are several ranking people scattered out there." He scowled again. "What of the numbers?"
Another one, who introduced himself as Fallingleaf, looked closer. "It is difficult to say, with the forms of some of the creatures there, but I would say that we are badly outnumbered...at least five to one."
"Nuts," said Lita.
"Well," said Zoe, "shall we see if youma have lungs?"
"What's going on?" Serena asked, tucked in the curve of Darien's arm while Nathan paced.
"They launched the globes, but the bird-people can't see because of the haze they're causing." Nathan grimaced. "Bloody hell."
Molly watched him a moment, then moved up to his side. "Well...can't someone there make a breeze or something?"
"I--" Nathan broke off, listening to the low hum of someone's voice. "Wait...it's clearing..." The small army all leaned closer, intent on the former general. "damn!"
"Didn't work?" asked Rei.
"No. It worked, but they're bringing more in to replace those who fell." Nathan grimaced. "It's time."
Rei smacked her fist into her palm. "All RIGHT!"
Joerdan glared as the seething gas swirled harmlessly on the far side of the force wall he had erected as his reinforcements poured through. With a snarl, he sent a mental command, and one of his underlings who had managed to survive the initial gas attack called a breeze to clear the beach. He looked at the water...and saw a tall ship of a design he had never seen before cutting rapidly towards them, drawn by some huge water beast. Grimly, Joerdan moved to hide and wait his chance.
"What's wrong?" asked Nuada, frowning as Nathan struggled before the gate, a faint sheen of sweat covering his brow.
"The bloody Gate's not responding!"
"damn!" Darien cursed. "We've GOT to get to them!"
"I know, damnit!" Nathan snarled back. "I'll have to try to blast it open. Everyone behind that side of the hill!"
"Nathan!" Molly moved up to his side.
"Get going, Mol-love. I dinnae want to see that pretty hair of yours any redder." He paused a moment and kissed her cheek. "I'll be all right. I've died enough, thanks."
"WOW!" Cerulean stared as Lita blinked at the swath of distruction her lightning blast had caused. Charred corpses littered the path of the lightning blast. "When Bridgette said she was enhancing our powers, she wasn't kidding."
Cerulean sent a flare of his light-blast at a nearby youma, though the attacking youma were keeping their distance from them for the most part. "What was that that she gave each of you scouts? The thing she said to use as a last resort."
She shrugged, watching as the youma with the strips of cloth tied around some upper portion of their bodies to identify them as theirs, pushing their way up the beach. Riversong and his people fought up one side, their crystal blades swirling gracefully, sometimes flaring with the energy of spells. Their birds dove and tore at enemy eyes and their crystal mail crackled with energy. "I don't know. It looks like a rock to me. She said to hold it and concentrate on it if I needed a boost, but she said it'd probably only work once."
Cerulean nodded, then spoke into the mouthpiece of the headset Jared had convinced him to put on. "Lord Nathan! Where ARE you!?"
Nathan's voice crackled through the ear piece once, mostly smothered with wailing interference from the energies being flung around...just as the Gate flared to life. "Sorry...knew I should have taken that left, bloody turn at Albuquerque."
Zoe ducked the adonni's swipe again, then grimaced. Not so much as a scratch on the damn thing, and she had broken two of her blades trying. And she had slashes on her arms and one over one eye that occasionally dribbled blood into vision. She had known that the adonni were bad news, but she had had no idea how much power that Beryl had instilled in the things when she had warped them into what they were now.
The earth beneath her feet suddenly shook, throwing her to the ground and stunning her. Fortunately, the adonni also went down, similarly stunned as a high voice called over the cacophony near by..."Earth Crystal Crash!"
A fissure ripped open the ground a few yards away, spilling several youma and one adonni that had knocked down one of the human mages Bridgette had brought with her, and who had killed at least one unicorn. Zoe looked at the adonni SHE had been fighting. It was already getting to it's feet. No time to even think about making another blade.
Quickly, Zoe scrambled to her feet and sprinted towards the fissure. She dodged past several battling groups, flinging away her jacket as she ran. She picked up more and more speed, but the adonni were deceptively fast for their size, almost blindingly fast. Grimly, she worked her arms, leaning lower...the fissure was coming up fast...and then...the edge...
...she leapt...pebbles raining from the edge of the cliff as her foot left...
...and she hit near the edge on the far side, nearly 10 feet away. She fell hard, scraping her palms on the rocky ground. She rolled to her feet and turned to see the adonni leap...
...and fall short, clawed hands grabbing the rock at the edge. Zoe blinked, then tossed her head, flecks of blood from the gash on her forehead flaring out to splatter a flower-decked youma who had stopped in his drive towards the next Gate on the way to the Black Lake to stare at Zoe's leap. "Twelve years of ballet," she said, shrugging. Her eyes gleamed as she walked a bit closed to the crumbling edge of the fissure. The adonni growled up at her, daring to free one hand to reach for her leg. Zoe casually moved the leg he was reaching for out of the way...setting it down on the adonni's other hand. "Oops..."
It fell with a hideous shriek. Zoe turned away, tossing her head and grinning at the stunned youma. "Well...what are you waiting for?! Let's go kick Beryl's damn head in!"
Molly winced as the attack tore a huge hole in the ground. Nathan grinned strainedly at her, then flung a powerful blast of power at a nearing group of attacking youma. Then, something struck her HARD on the back, several parallel lines of pain flaring up in fiery agony on her back as she fell. "MOLLY!!!" Nathan screamed.
Yen was suddenly there, fire roiling in a controlled blast over the adonni who had struck Molly. The fire didn't seem to phase it much, but then Yen's jaws closed on it, crunching. Youma fell away from the raging dragon, but Yen took out several anyway while Nathan thumped to his knees at her side, gathering her up against his own already blood smeared and torn jacket. "Ow..." she said faintly.
"damnit, Molly...if _I'm_ not allowed to die, then YOU are definitely not."
"S...sure, Nathan..." she fainted.
A heavy weight crashed into the back of Nathan's head, sending him slumping over her as Yen roared in fury.
But the dragon was too late.
Jedite fell hard, breath driving out of his chest as he held the long gash in his thigh, his carefully gathered power flying away from his grasp. The sneering visage of Andracite...one of the minions in charge of the youma hoards...and one of Jedite's worst enemies... loomed over him with a black crystal blade. "So it ENDS, Jedite...and your life force goes to Beryl where it belongs..."
**Jedite! Let me forward! Now!** Rather than argue, the Negaverse general let the musician come to the fore. Jared quickly raised his hand, careful to keep the same furious look on his face as Jedite had been wearing. **Can you manage a bit of fireworks around my hand?**
**I think so...but I lost most of my power when we fell...it will take a moment for me to get a hold of it again.**
**Ever think of practicing more?** Jared ignored Jedite's mental snarl. **Just do it!**
Jedite sulkily complied and white-blue light swirled around Jared's raised hand. Slowly, Jared squinted one eye, pulling the raised hand closer to his eyes, though the light hurt. Carefully,he pressed the thumb and fore finger close together, centering them around Andracite's head. "What ARE you doing, you incompetent fool?"
Jared grinned madly. "Something I picked up from the mortals. Joerdan DID tell you we had gained in powers, didn't he?" Jared let out a maniacal laugh that the worst B-movies would pay millions for. "Don't worry...it will only hurt for a minute..."
Jared grinned, squinting. "Don't worry...I'm only going to...crush your head!!!"
Andracite's eyes widened as Jedite increased the flare of energies and Jared brought his fingers closer together. Then a silver-metal blade poked through the minion's chest from behind. Blood splurtted from Andracite's mouth as he fell. Nuada calmly leaned over. "Are you all right, Jared? Jedite?"
**What in the name of the Black Lake did you think you were doing?!**
"Improvising, Jedite. Who would expect you...I mean me to lower themselves to bad earthling humor?"
Nuada helped the yellow-haired man up. "Come. We have a few more gates to fight through."
Melvin jumped, hearing a loud cry from the direction of the beach. He ran over to Bridgette where she held Malcolm's still form against her shoulder. "They're here! They just hit the spray traps!"
Bridgette looked up, face pained, then she tugged off a shawl of the strange material and balled it up, gently laying it under Malcolm's head as she set him down gently, Quicksilver's cloak draped over him. "All right..." she stood, drawing her sword, and setting the silver-etched crystal blade point down in the grass. She looked at the small handful of others who had stayed with them. "Get hidden. You too, Melvin. I only want them to see me at first."
"But you are weakened, Lady," said one of the sidhe. "Perhaps..."
"You can die, I can not, no matter WHAT the wounds. Get hidden."
The sidhe paused, but sighed and bowed. "As you will, Lady."
Pain. That is all there was. Pain and blackness. It was even; everywhere. Then, the darkness lessened to a thick gray. And he gained a name. Malcolm. Groaning, his eyes flickered open.
He lay on the ground, body cushioned by the soft, velvety grass, a heavy cloak draped over his body. His head was turned slightly to one side, and his cheek rested on a soft, folded pile of cloth that he suddenly recognized as being from Bridgette.
Bridgette. The Negaverse. The dance.
He turned his head, about the greatest attempt at movement he could make at the moment. The grass raised up around him, blocking out most of his view. Strange, rose-like violet flowers glimmered faintly in the bright sunlight.
And Bridgette stood before him, her slender frame taught with effort, her long hair blowing freely back in a sea-smelling breeze about her wings. A crystal and silver sword held firmly in her hand, her eyes fixed on something Malcolm could not see. Silence. "Bri--" he grimaced as the croak of his voice.
She started, turning to look at him, her sword lowering. "Malcolm- -" her dark, luminous eyes filled with sudden worry. "Malcolm...stay down."
Malcolm tried to move...but could feel only a faint tingle from everywhere but his head, which hurt abominably. "What--"
Fire erupted before her. Malcolm cried out, trying to get up again, but only thrashing a little. Bridgette turned back to where she had been staring, her sword raising once more.
Jared cried out, pitching forward as a line of fire cut across the back of one leg. He hit the ground hard, driving his breath out. **Roll to one side! Quickly!** Jared thrashed a bit, managing to comply to Jedite's frantic mental command...and a taloned claw smashed down where he had been a moment before. **Get up! Or we'll both die!**
Jared rolled to his knees, pain faring from a hundred minor wounds, but none greater than the burning in the back of his calf and the sting from the long cut that went from one ear, across the eye lid and to the corner of his far temple. He put weight on his injured leg...and pitched forward again, crying out in pain. He hit the ground once more, tired. The creature above him roared in triumph and raised a claw to strike.
A black crystal blade plunged into it's unguarded chest.
Zoe swung into Jared's graying vision, her face smeared with blood and other nameless fluids, one arm hanging uselessly at her side. "Come on, Jared," she slipped her good arm under his shoulders. "We've got to keep going. One more Gate..."
"M'leg..." Jared coughed. "Get going yourself."
"Not a chance, two-face, now get up, damnit...this hurts."
**Yes, get up. I'm not going to become the power behind one of Beryl's spells.**
Jared groaned, but when one of the unicorns came over and grabbed the shoulder of his tattered jacket, hauling him up. He leaned heavily on Zoe's good shoulder, wiping blood from his eyes, looking around. Most of the fighting had stopped, their people moving cautiously towards the last Gate, their numbers swollen by deserters. He looked around. "Where...where's Nathan? And Molly?"
Zoe grimaced. "Joerdan got away with them."
Jared cursed, and limped between her and the unicorn. "I'll kill that bastard. I swear."
Zoe snorted, leaning down and grabbing a long scarf from a dead body to make a make-shift sling to hold her broken arm. "Take a number and get in line," she growled.
Nathan stirred groggily, raising his head from where it rested on Molly's chest. "Who are you?"
He turned towards the voice, hand going to clutch at the blood- caked lump on the back of his head. Bars surrounded him, the area dark; a cavern. But the darkness was too thick. "Oh bloody hell." He looked to one side.
The Black Lake.
"shit. Just what I bloody needed."
"Who ARE you?"
He turned again to the voice. "Oh bloody hell; you're Molly's mother."
The terrified-eyed woman blinked. "I...yes. Who..." she squinted. "wait--that musician."
"What's left of me," he grimaced, pulling his hand away from the back of his head to look at the blood. Then he gasped, gathering Molly to his chest. "Molly..." he felt at her jaw frantically.
"Molly?" Mrs. Baker looked closer--and gasped. "What happened to her?! Why is she dressed like that?"
Nathan sagged in relief when he found a pulse, cuddling the unconscious girl close to his chest. "She got her back raked by an adonni, Mrs. Baker, and she's dressed like this because she's Sailor Earth." He looked around the blackness, but they seemed to be alone near the Lake.
Nathan kissed Molly's slack forehead, then moving to rest his head on top of hers, fingers twining in her hair as he held her close. "Mrs. Baker...how did...Molly and I get here? Who brought us?"
"The...same man who brought me here. Tall, dark curly hair..."
Nathan spat out a string of curses. "Joerdan. damn."
She blinked. "How...do you know these...these people?"
Nathan looked at her, shifting his grip on Molly, to hold her closer still, wishing he had a cloak against the thick chill. He sighed, looking to the oily surface of the Lake nearby, watching it writhe. "Do you remember...Maxfield Stanton?"
"He's dead. He left Molly his estate," Mrs. Baker replied. "And what are you doing? After his fortune?"
Nathan snorted. "Even had I need of it, Mrs. Baker, it was mine in the first place."
"What?" Her voice was offended.
"_I_ was Maxfield Stanton, Mrs. Baker. But not anymore. He died, and he gave Molly what little he could to make up for the pain he caused her."
"Reincarnation, I've been told."
"But...he was alive barely two months ago."
Nathan gave her a humorless smile. "Please don't remind me; it's already given me more headaches than you can imagine." Nathan leaned against the bars of the cage, hand holding Molly's head against his shoulder.
They were silent a moment. "What...do we do now?"
Nathan sighed. "My powers are exhausted, Mrs. Baker, even if my head didn't already hurt too much for me to make even a light. And these bars..." he shook his head. "We can only wait. The others are coming. We can only wait." He rested his chin on top of Molly's head, staring into the darkness. "Where in hell is Beryl?"
Malcolm put turned his face into the cloth his head rested on as a Bridgette's sword cleaved through the chest of a youma, splattering the grass and the strange purple flowers with sticky black blood. He could feel more of his body now, but it hurt to even twitch a finger. Around him, a battle raged, unicorns, sidhe, and the bird-man Healer fighting in a ring around where he rested. Even Melvin fought, the carved staff Bridgette had given him clutched in his hands, his glasses long since fallen from his face. And bursts of fire roared over head from Feolin.
But they were slowly being pressed closer and closer together, their ring closing tighter and tighter around Malcolm. Malcolm, closed his eyes, and slowly, painfully, struggled to his knees.
Bridgette looked back over her shoulder. "No! Malcolm! Keep down!" Then she choked, eyes turning back to stare at the minion who's blade was buried deep in her chest. Her blade dropped from her fingers as the fight seemed to stop. Her hand rose slowly to grip the blade, the edges slicing into her hand. The minion took a step backwards, unbelieving, his hands falling from the hilt of his sword. Bridgette pulled the blade slowly from her chest, a trickle of blood falling from one corner of her mouth. She turned the sword in her shaking hands, and lopped the minion's head off...
...and fell to her knees, choking.
Malcolm wasn't sure who screamed, but the fight renewed itself-- with Feolin leaping in and physically attacking. Bridgette raised her head to look at Quicksilver who started for her. "Keep...keep fighting...n..." she crumpled to her side.
Quicksilver started to speak, then turned, once more drawing his sword and going back to fighting with a renewed fury.
Malcolm managed to make it to Bridgette's side. Still breathing, blood frothing at her mouth, but still breathing. He rolled her over, grimacing at the pain it cost him, and gasped. No one could live with those wounds.
Burns covered her whole front, the wound in her chest only more recent than the other horrible wounds she bore. Her eyes flickered open, peering up at him, her mouth twisting into a pained smile. "Why..." he asked.
"I...cannot...die..." she slumped back, breaths rasping in her throat.
Malcolm looked up seeing a tall, serpentine youma break through the defenses...and shoved his own pain back, reaching beyond himself to SOMETHING else, shaping a gleaming arc of power. "Nice thing to know..." he clambered to his feet, swaying unsteadily and faced the youma, his pale eyes filled with fury.
"I don't like this," commented Riversong, looking about, his face grim, Fallingleaf's beaded headband tied around his forearm where the fallen man had put it before he had died.
Jared, leaning heavily on the shoulder of the unicorn stallion Tuli, Zoe nearby in case he should fall. He looked around the silent blackness that was just on the other side of the Gate and Jedite took over. "Aye. The Lake is never silent like this."
"We're still some ways from it, Lord," said Cerulean, wiping sweat and blood from his face as he came back from the front lines. "There is a square mile between us and the Lake...and all of it a make of passages. Perfect for an ambush."
Nuada strode over, his clothing tattered and torn, but still somehow free of blood. "Aye. But an ambush that is known need not be completely problematic."
"And just what do we do if Beryl starts using Nate, Mol, and Mrs. Baker as shields?" Zoe demanded.
Nuada fixed his ice green eyes on her. "You must ask yourself should the good of the few out weigh the good of the many?" Zoe's emerald eyes widened. "I know he cares for you, but would he prefer that perhaps just he die, rather than all of you? All of these people?"
Zoe glared at him a moment, then turned away angrily. Cerulean frowned. "With all due respect, Lord, every person counts towards the health of the whole."
The sidhe man nodded. "You must decide which way the Balance swings. I have left that behind me." He spun and strode back to his position, tattered cloak flaring behind him.
Jared snarled, his hamstrung leg resting lightly on the ground as he glared after him. "For all that his kind has left mucking about in the Balance thing, I think I'd trust Beryl more than him." Lita raised an eyebrow at him, resting her chin on Cerulean's shoulder, her hair falling about her face and caked with blood. "Well...maybe not, HER. But Bridgette's a hell of a lot more..."
"Human?" Cerulean smiled faintly. Serena and Darien, both battered and filthy came over, arms around each other. "Well...nothing to be gained by waiting but lost opportunities."
Nathan sighed, blowing a strand of hair from his eyes as he rested his back against the bars of the cage, Molly cradled in his lap, and Molly's mother huddled against his other side. His head still pounded, completely driving away any thought of magic. He shifted his grip on Molly one more time, something she was wearing was digging a hole in his already cut side. It clanged to the black stone floor of the cage. Her transformation wand.
Sighing, Nathan picked it up and started to tuck it back into the little magical pocket that she kept it in, then paused, peering intently at the top of it at the symbol.
A circle quartered by a cross. Bridgette's sign.
Molly stirred, then winced, her eyes opening. "N...Nathan? M'back hurts."
He kissed her head gently. "That's because your back got shredded pretty badly, Love." She grimaced, and moved a bit. "And my head got a nice lump, too, but don't worry. We seem to have found your mother."
She blinked, turning her head with a grimace to see her mother huddled beside her. "But--how...and why is it so quiet?"
Nathan grimaced. "Well...like I said, I went and let Joerdan bash me over the head right proper and we got rather captured."
Molly blanched. "So we're..."
"Saved us some walking, at least."
"But...where is...the army? Beryl's army?"
Nathan frowned. "In the catacombs, likely. As for Beryl...damned if I know."
"Why not let me go in first?"
Jared jumped as the huge form of Yen formed in the air before him, leaving where he had been wrapped around Mina's arm, almost like a tattoo. "I--uh--"
"My scales are more protection than your frail flesh; any of you. And the Lady told me to protect the girl, and I did not; I let her be taken."
"You prevented them from having a chance to kill both Sailor Earth AND Lord Nephlite, Dragon," Cerulean corrected, joining the group staring at the entrance to the maze of catacombs that led to the Lake. "And I do not think you would fit."
There was flutter, and a wave of heat, and the small form of the firebird perched on Rei's shoulder. It chirped a few times, and Yen nodded. "Naraew is correct; do not think that my full form will hinder me. I can adjust; I AM a dragon."
Yen nodded to Jared. "Besides...there is always...THIS option..." He turned his head to the entrance of the catacombs...and breathed. Fire poured forth, white hot, only a little of it flaring back out of the entrance.
"Oh...yeah." Jared accidentally put weight on his bad leg and nearly fell--finally getting nosed onto the back of the unicorn he leaned on.
Rei grinned at the dragon, hand idly scratching at the fire bird's elaborate crest feathers. Yen's fiery breath cut off. "There." The dragon turned to the leaders. "I will be here should you need me." His huge form flared again, and returned to could about Mina's forearm.
Cerulean blinked, then ordered a few of his followers who had either thick shoes or hooves to scout out the fire-scoured passageways.
Malcolm fell to the ground, completely spent. "Malcolm!" Quicksilver tossed away his sword as Feolin disposed of the last of the attacking force.
Weakly, Malcolm reached out a hand across the bloody grass to touch Bridgette's pain clenched hand. She turned her head, tears on her blood-smeared face. "Malcolm...no...no not again..."
Malcolm managed a smile as the healer crouched at his side, blue- glowing hands hovering over his sweat-soaked silvery hair. "Un...until next time..."
Strange. He had thought it would end in darkness, not light.
"You dropped your wand," Nathan said, handing Molly her wand as he got up, leaning heavily on the bars of the cage when he swayed at the pounding of his head.
"Have you looked at it? I mean, really?"
Molly shook her head. "No. I haven't had a chance to."
"Do it." Nathan peered around in the darkness, trying to find anything to do other than just sit and wait for Beryl to come kill them.
Frowning, Molly looked at the wand, and her eyes widened. "It's the same thing that's on the locket..." she picked the locket up off her chest...then blinked, noticing the missing dragon.
"It's the old symbol for Earth, Molly."
"Then what's it doing on Bridgette's locket?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. I...remember most everything about the Silver Millennium now; she was never without it. And she claimed it had been the symbol of her people."
Molly's mother stirred, then looked up. "What--"
"Shh." Nathan's eyes scanned each of the bars. "I heard a loud noise a moment ago; sounded like fire or something. We--"
"That's precisely what it was, Nephlite."
Beryl stood there, flanked by fully a full score of adonni, a huge army clustered at her back...all on the far side of the cage from the Lake. "You..."
"And while they waste their energy going through the catacombs, I will wait here for them and pick them off as they come through the door. Already one of you traitors is dead; along with HER."
"That...that's...you're lying!" Nathan's hands clenched into fists.
Joerdan stepped forward from just behind Beryl. "Oh no...Malachite is dead on that cursed Island. Our troops are decimated there, but they accomplished that much." He nodded, and Nathan spun in time to see Molly and Mrs. Baker gripped by adonni tightly as the bars melted away.
"You will watch the rest of them die, and then you will," Beryl said with a sneer, "and then your life force will help me destroy this pitiful world once and for all."
Nathan could only submit as two adonni came to grip his arms as well, hauling him and his two former cell mates after Beryl and Joerdan. "Malcolm..."
"Where is the rest of the troops?" growled Cerulean, kicking a youma from the point of his blade. "There aren't NEARLY enough in here."
"Too much to hope for Yen having toasted more of them, I guess," Jared said. "Course I'm not complaining for all the troubles it means; we've lost some..."
Zoe flung the headset away. "damn! No word from Bridgette for hours!"
"And Nathan's set was smashed when he got captured," affirmed Darien grimly.
"We can assume a trap around the entrance into the main cavern, then," Nuada said. "And I doubt that Lady Bridgette is any danger, despite her weakness."
"What about the others? Melvin may be annoying, but I wouldn't want anything to happen to him," said Mina, scratching a bit at her arm where Yen rested.
"They are stronger than you think, I believe. And don't forget, Yen's other-worldly brother was there; no one laughs at a dragon."
"So...what do we do? Just walk into the trap?" asked Lita, smiling as Cerulean placed a hand on her shoulder.
Nuada paused, rubbing his chin. "Why are you asking HIM?" asked Rei. "I thought you didn't trust him."
Nuada turned to look at her sharply, then to Jared and Zoe. Jared grimaced, but Jedite came forward. "I may not trust him personally, but Jared claims that Nuada has long held the reputation of a great warrior; sometimes even held as a god of battles. Who better to turn to for strategy?"
Joerdan shoved Nathan roughly to his knees, Molly and Mrs. Baker both shoved down at his side, Molly swaying dangerously as the rough treatment having reopened the furrows torn in her back. Nathan raised hate-filled eyes to the Commander. "Still making yourself feel better by tossing the weaker and the wounded about?"
Joerdan kicked Nathan hard in the ribs, filling Nathan's ears with a sickening crack, but Beryl backhanded the Commander. "I loose patience with you doing things without my orders, Joerdan. NO ONE will have the pleasure of killing the traitor but ME."
Nathan grimaced, swallowing blood, but looking up fearlessly at Beryl. "Good bloody luck. I have a nice record for showing up again, Beryl, and I don't plan on breaking it."
Beryl sneered. "Oh, I fully intend on you coming back. It will hurt HER more." Beryl sent a small burst of power, knocking Nathan flat again. Molly grimaced and picked his head up into her lap, stroking his face gently, a cold hatred slowly forming in her warm eyes.
The pain in Rei's voice brought tears to Jared's already stinging eyes. She knelt on the floor, Mina beside her with Zoe on the other side, her face pale. Serena sobbed brokenly into Darien's chest, and tears etched their way down his cheeks, his mask having long since been lost.
Rei picked the little unicorn foal's head up off the ground, placing it in her lap while Lita let out a furious blast of lightning and Cerulean a flare of blinding light at the creature who had killed it. "No...no, not Kali."
Cerulean's eyes were suspiciously wet when he turned back from the youma's corpse, though Lita blasted it a couple more times, openly sobbing. "One more thing Beryl shall pay for."
"We...we can't just...leave him..." Mina sobbed.
"We have to..." Serena whispered. "We've left so many..." Jared turned to look at her, then nodded.
"She's right, Miss Rei. WHEN we win this...we'll...we'll take care of him."
Nuada strode back, face impatient, then softening the slightest fraction. "Oh." Reaching up he tugged open the clasp of his cloak, and gently bent, wrapping the little foal up in the silken folds. "There...should we get in too much danger, his body will be sent Underhill where he will be...taken care of. But we must go on. I can get no word from Bridgette which means she has not the power or the time to spare. And your other friends; we must assure the living live."
Rei looked up at him, then nodded, the tears mixing with angry fire. Lita came back over to Cerulean and rested her face in his shoulder while he held her close. The army resumed its slow march forward, warily, with many frequent glances back at the silk-wrapped bundle on the black stone. Cerulean was only glad HIS foal was back on the Island...it was probably safer there.
Quicksilver watched helplessly while Bridgette, recovered from her wounds thanks to a bit of quick healing from him cradled Malcolm's limp form to her chest , tears streaming openly down her face. "Lord Healer..."
He turned, seeing one of the sidhe there, the elf's armor scorched from blows by iron blades. "Quicksilver. There are no lords amongst my people." He sat on the splattered grass, his bird at his side. "What?"
"There are no more in the area, and the sea is clear. We would like to join our Lord Nuada if we may."
Quicksilver grimaced. "Go, then. I...have seen enough warfare for this lifetime." Cerulean's foal, Nhim nosing Bridgette's hair curiously.
The sidhe who had spoken nodded, and turned, leading a few of his fellows off, though some still stayed in their guard positions. Melvin sat to one side, leaning on Feolin's side, new glasses, courtesy of one of the sidhe perched on his nose. "Is...she gonna be all right?"
Quicksilver sighed. "I don't know; perhaps. It is up to her, of course."
Malcolm felt a wetness on his face. (Blood,) he thought. After a moment, he changed the thought. (Tears. Who's crying?) Someone held him. Someone lurked in the back of his mind. (But the light had said...) Feeling was slowly returning to him. The Someone in his mind slowly became less a presence, and then more words. Mumbled at first, but growing clearer as his awareness of his body. **...SLOWLY...**
Malcolm waited, the strange booming/soothing voice guiding him through.
"Your majesty; they are nearing the entrance," said the youma, bowing.
Beryl nodded. "Very good. Come; bring the traitor and the humans."
The three were jerked roughly to their feet, but left pretty much alone once they were stumbling along, assumed to be harmless due to their weakened states. But a cold fire burned in Nathan's heart; an ache for Malcolm. Somehow he knew Joerdan had been telling the truth with that jibe. They were taking his family away from him again. Molly's eyes were cold where she leaned half on her mother, half on Nathan.
"Here is good enough." Beryl sneered. "The first through will have a surprise, I think," she sneered, raising her hands.
Nathan looked down at Molly a moment, nodding to a few boulders. She blinked, then turned only her eyes to look before nodding back, gripping her mother's arm tighter. Nathan raised his head and spoke softly, his voice deceptively sweet. "Oh...Queen Beryl..."
She scowled, dropping her hand and turning towards the musician angrily. "WHAT?"
Nathan's fist connected with her jaw. Stunned, she fell back, and Nathan grabbed Molly and her mother and ran for the semi-shelter of the boulders at top, stumbling speed. He ducked a wave of energy, summoning strength from SOMEWHERE to raise shields around them all. "I've been bloody wanting to do that for centuries."