Just over a year ago: Standing tall and proud despite his haggard, unkempt appearance--an appearance that blends in with the twisted, grotesque populace of youma within the Negaverse--a redheaded, humanlike male scans carefully around the apparently deserted cavern. His voice barely audible, even to himself, he looks upward, violet eyes focused past the gloom-embraced ceiling of the cave. "Free . . . The seal's been broken . . . I can go home."
His dark hair is matted, so badly untended that the color remains nearly indeterminable, and the rough, gray-colored trousers seem to hug his lower body far tighter than could be considered comfortable. Even so, the body beneath the cobbled-together suit of battered and dented youma armor shows signs of being strong, straight and athletic. His words remain hushed sounds in the darkness: "Vortex Mirror Return."
As a helix of deep red light erupts from the cavern floor to spiral upward and obscure the man's form, an expression of jubilation crosses his face.
In a round chamber of black stone easily recognized as the Hall of the Mirror enshrouded in a thick layer of gray dust, dim light and grave-like silence, the dull surface of the Mirror momentarily regains its formerly unearthly shine, the reflective blackness rippling and dancing like a disturbed pond. The surface then flows outwards, propelled from behind; the youma-armored, dirt-encrusted male steps into the Hall--and freezes, his horror obvious. Violet eyes wide, he gazes around, face suddenly pale under the streaks of grime clinging to his skin, a soft gasp escaping from between slackened lips. Then he shakes his head and slowly turns around to stare at his reflection in the lusterless surface of the Mirror; a grimace of complete disgust settles on his face. Recoiling from the sight of himself after a thousand years in hell, he turns and darts out of the Hall.
He searches the Tower room by room, his steps slowing, his posture taking on one of sorrow and defeat as each chamber is revealed to be as empty, as dusty, as . . . untouched as the Hall of the Mirror had been. Behind his form, the only signs of life are his own bootprints in the dismal shroud of dust that covers everything. His entire aura one of a man who realizes that his trip to hell hasn't ended yet, the redhead returns to the Hall.
His scuffed-up boots making silent steps across the dull-colored Zodiac carpet that covers the floor of the room where the Vortex Mirror resides, he trudges listlessly toward the dais where the Mirror and velvet-padded obsidian stone throne next to it rest. Reaching the short flight of three steps, a dim sparkle in the near-darkness catches his attention. Looking down, he notices, at last, the inch-wide, spherical, faceted gemstone of deepest black sitting on the floor before the Mirror, tiny sparks of darkest green barely visible in the jewel's depths. Groaning in sheer agony, the tall man in the horridly-fitting armor falls to his knees, violet gaze locked on the stone, his expression truly hopeless. "My lord . . . Cosmos, Obsidian . . . Even you? Gods . . . even you . . ."
He swallows audibly, eyes blinking rapidly as he lifts his gaze to stare at the dimmed Mirror, no reflection visible now on its smooth surface. Again, his words are a harsh, barely-heard whisper. "I've failed you, Lord Obsidian. I've failed us all. All that I have left now is my revenge." His expression remaining agonized, he bows his head and closes his eyes.
High up in the topmost floor of the Obsidian Tower, caught in that pocket dimension between all realities, a lone figure stood silently next to the table upon which rested the dull, gray stones of the race of beings that had once inhabited Lithos. Lavender-tinged silver hair glimmered in the light of the illumination crystals as Kunzite looked over the small, dead jewels arranged there in loose groups, the shattered remains of Beryl's stone scattered amongst them like morbid confetti. Nephrite . . . Where could he be? And Tanzanite, of course . . . No one's known what's happened to her in half a billion years. But why can't I shake the feeling that there's someone else missing after all? His frown deepened as he continued to stare at the table. Lord Obsidian and Zoisite should be returning at any moment from retrieving the Sapphire. For her sake, I do hope Zoisite's not done anything foolish . . .
Behind Kunzite, a liquid ripple crossed the eerily reflective surface of the Vortex Mirror as the seven-foot-tall Symbol of Space glimmered with a blackish-green light. The ripple then abruptly shattered as a black-gloved hand broke through, to be swiftly followed by the rest of the incoming person. Clad in motorcycle leathers, the tall, slightly stocky form made a dark shadow there in the brightly lit chamber; framed within a thick, shining mane of wine-red hair, the man's handsome, youthful face took on a look of utter astonishment, violet eyes wide, as he froze in virtually the same spot he had before, when he had first tried coming home over a year ago.
The sensation of someone passing through the Mirror had caught the Fire Warrior's attention. Fully expecting it to be the two that had left earlier on Lord Obsidian's task, Kunzite casually turned his body to greet his lord and his former lover.
"You!" The shriek that rent the hushed atmosphere of the Hall of the Mirror was unexpected, noticeably male, and filled with a tone of white-hot fury. The newcomer's right hand clenched convulsively into a fist as he wound up his black-clad form like a champion pitcher's, the gloved fist starting to shine with an ominous, deep crimson light.
For a seemingly eternal moment, the Southern Commander stood there in shock, pale lavender eyes wide and mouth hanging slack, stunned into inaction seeing someone else there at the Mirror, a someone so obviously enraged.
With a violent burst of motion, the redheaded man uncoiled his athletic form, bringing his right arm around in a swift motion that seemed like a punch directed at empty air, his right hand half-clenched around a blazing sphere of sparkling wine-and-amber light. Punctuating the motion was the newcomer's enraged scream: "Kunzite!"
As the sphere raced through the air of the Hall of the Mirror, a comet-like tail streaking behind it and its brilliant light reflecting off the contents of the circular chamber, the taller man braced himself by taking a step back, hands coming up into a guarding position. Expecting a burst of energy, Kunzite concentrated a moment; a barely-seen sphere of violet-pink light snapped up around his form.
That was a mistake, for the attack was far more than merely energy. As expected, the absorptive shielding sucked up the kinetic energy of the sparkling sphere--but the mass of tiny, sharp-edged granules, like the abrasive surface of sandpaper, was able to pass through the Fire Elemental's ward. Just like that, Kunzite's eyes, nose and mouth received a cruel baptism of stinging, crystalline dust; hundreds of minuscule cuts scored his face.
The tall, silver-haired Gemlord shouted in pain, the sudden agony making his pale shield crumble into nothingness as his hands instinctively went to his face to try to rid himself of the particles that scoured the sensitive tissues of his face. Taken completely by surprise, Kunzite had no hope at all of countering the entirely mundane roundhouse that the younger man followed the blast with.
Having leapt into action right behind his crystal and energy attack, the redhead smirked in satisfaction as his gloved fist made the caped Gemlord's head rock back under the force of his punch. He was able to launch two more hammer-like blows before his silver-haired victim's discipline reasserted itself. Kunzite let a third blow land, even though it was a shock that rattled his teeth and made the crystalline grit in his mouth grind even more against gums, cheeks and tongue, then grabbed the other man's extended arm. Blinded by the effects of the abrasive dust, the Southern Commander used his grip on the other's arm as a reference point to begin striking back; his fist slammed solidly into the other person's sternum. Then Kunzite's feet were violently kicked out from under himself; he tightened his grip, forcing his attacker to fall with him to the Zodiac-carpeted floor.
The struggle between the two males rapidly degenerated into something that resembled a schoolyard scuffle, both combatants grunting and swearing as they landed blows and scrambled for some sort of advantage over their opponent. Reduced to trading punches and futile wrestling, the undignified brawl could have gone on for a tedious length of time.
Up on the dais next to the green-padded, black stone throne, the Mirror once again glimmered to life, the unearthly surface rippling again, distorting into oblivion the reflection of the Hall. The hand that first broke through this time was adorned with a distinctive gold ring topped by a black stone carved with the signet of a compass star; the rest of Lord Obsidian swiftly followed as the dark lord strode out of the gateway of the Mirror and into the circular chamber. Attention immediately caught by the furious tussling near the table upon which his destroyed people lay sleeping in death, the Lord of Lithos was momentarily stunned by the surprising scene. Then he recovered, expression shifting into one of annoyance. Voice booming, thundering through the sacred chamber, Obsidian shouted, "What goes on here?"
The struggling and scrapping men instantly froze into a tableau of startled guilt. As Kunzite panted, eyes still badly effected by the grit obscuring his vision, the redhead looked up at the source of the shout. Seeing who it was standing there, the color completely drained from his handsome face.
The red-haired man had thought he'd never see the Lord of Lithos again. Tall, athletic, his nearly-black hair spilling loosely over his shoulders in soft waves, clad in clothes whose darkness was only relieved by the glitter of gold trim and the lining of his cloak, the familiar, noble figure was alive, vividly so. Appearing to loom over the two still paused in their somewhat juvenile brawling as he stepped down the three stairs to stand next to them, the Guardian of Space frowned at the pair, the light of the illumination crystals glittering off the glossy ebon stone in the center of the golden circlet that adorned his brow.
"Lo--Lord . . . Obsidian?. . . Sir? . . ." stammered the redhead.
Once more the golden-brown eyes swept over the two, the frown still there. The man that had hesitantly addressed him was pinning the Fire Warrior to the Zodiac carpet, face down, holding the Southern Commander's left arm twisted against the lavender cloak. In return, Kunzite had reached up with his free hand, grasping the other man's dark red hair in preparation for either an attempt at a throw or just a simple infliction of pain. As the other man's grip on him slackened, Kunzite considered taking advantage of his opponent's distraction; however, one look at Obsidian through his painfully swollen and watering eyes convinced the pale-haired commander that doing so would be a bad idea.
Remaining silent and glowering, Obsidian's brow furrowed as he stared at the man pinning Kunzite; the deep brown eyes continued to be focused on him while the Fire Warrior turned loose of the fistful of wine-red hair in his one hand and yanked his other arm free. Still stunned, the leather-clad male slid off Kunzite's back; the Southern Commander immediately began to sit up once his attacker's weight was off his tall form. That the man was here indicated that he was a Gemlord, yet Obsidian was sure he had collected them all save for Nephrite and Tanzanite. However, the longer he stared at the man, the more he was convinced that that man was a Gemlord somehow overlooked.
"Lord Obsidian?" Once again the redhead asked, smooth, deep voice holding a tone of inquiry.
That voice . . . A spark of memory came to life, a momentary flash of an image of this same man, much younger and kneeling before him in humble awe. The Guardian of Space's stormy expression softened. "Lord Garnet?"
At the sound of Obsidian's words, Kunzite blinked rapidly a few times, the tear-filled lavender eyes beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy. Peering past the dark Terran clothing and struggle-tousseled mane of his attacker, the Fire Warrior's lips became set in a straight, grim line. Garnet . . . Of course . . .
"I thought you were dead." The younger Gemlord shifted his violet glance to glare at Kunzite. "Both of you." An angry frown creeping across his handsome face, Lord Garnet looked back up at his people's ruler. "My lord, what in Cosmos is this . . . this--"
"Traitor doing here?" Kunzite interrupted sharply, giving the other Lithosian as stoney a look as was possible with puffy, bloodshot eyes. Still affected by the numerous tiny cuts from the facefull of garnet crystals, his swollen nasal passages distorted his deep voice, making him sound like he was growling underwater.
"Exactly so," Garnet confirmed, allowing himself a bit of a smug expression. After all, it wasn't everyday someone got the drop so well on the Southern Commander.
Obsidian replied, his voice tinged with a matter-of-fact tone, "I brought him here. Since Metallia's hold on him is broken, he's being given a chance to restore my faith in him."
Neither one of the other two Gemlords noticed the tiny wince Kunzite gave at the Lord of Lithos's words; it was a flinch swiftly smoothed into oblivion. "The question I have," the Fire Warrior softly said, "is how did you manage to get here, Garnet? You're supposed to be dead."
"So are you. Hasn't slowed you down . . . much." Another smirk as the redhead watched, amused, as the pale-lavender-haired warrior's lip curled in a snarl at Garnet's taunting reference to the slow reaction of his appearance.
Before the conversation could go further, a new figure burst forth from the shimmering, rippled surface of the Mirror. Three pairs of eyes focused on the slender form clad in violet-blue, soft, wavy, copper-gold hair swirling around head and shoulders like a silken cloud. As Zoisite stopped dead in her tracks, large eyes going huge at the sight of an unexpected man there, Garnet's own violet eyes narrowed. So his senses were correct after all. He didn't know whether to be jubilant or disgusted.
"Hey, Zo'! Hi there! How's it going?" the leather-clad Gemlord quipped, his flippant tone contradicted by the lines of icy fury on his face. "So nice to see you. Alive, that is." His countenance shifting to one of contempt, Garnet turned his attention back to the dark lord standing nearby. "Let me guess, my lord. She's another second-chancer."
"Yes," came Obsidian's flat response, even as Zoisite's exquisite face blanched deathly white, the slender fingers of her hand coming up to touch her trembling lips.
"Alive too?" the athletic redhead interrupted, cutting off Zoisite's stammered words. "Apparently so, wouldn't you say? But I gotta be honest; I'm actually doing better than either one of you." He paused, coldly glancing from the shocked Western Commander to Kunzite, who was wiping his eyes with extreme caution. "I never died in the first place."
"But--but you did! I know you did," the ponytailed woman blurted out, strident voice almost a shriek. "We scanned for you--all of us--and you weren't there." She could feel it again, that soul-numbing panic and regret that had burned there far under the surface of the dark power that had become her master. The thought of him being lost had hurt, though at the time Metallia had drowned it out, keeping her from feeling it at all. Now the pain and the shame were back, reflected within the depths of her violet-blue eyes.
"Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated," Garnet paraphrased, low voice deadpan.
"What, you want me to tell secrets? I don't do that, Zo', remember?"With a soft grunt, Garnet rose from the floor. Straightening out his leather jacket, which had gotten somewhat twisted in the struggle, he then reached down to offer Kunzite an assist up.
Glaring up at the redheaded Gemlord, the Southern Commander looked as if he'd sooner bite off Garnet's hand at the wrist than accept his aid. However, under Lord Obsidian's chill and watchful gaze, Kunzite took Garnet's hand and allowed the younger man to help him to his feet.
Recovering from her shock, Zoisite finally took a good look at Kunzite and softly gasped, noticing the swelling and watery eyes that marked his elegant beauty. Abruptly indignant, she rounded on Garnet, demanding, "What did you do to him?" She impulsively took a step forward, determined now to do something to the man that dared attack her love like that, but the sharp glare she got from Kunzite made her stop in her tracks. Glaring sullenly, she watched as the leather-clad Gemlord shrugged in reply, a slightly sheepish expression on his face.
"Lord Garnet, perhaps you'd like to tell me what happened to you?" Obsidian's soft words were delivered in an inhumanly calm tone. There was one thing the Lord of Lithos had figured out, however; apparently Garnet's power to become forgotten by those not continually exposed to his presence affected even himself. After a thousand years, even Obsidian himself had "overlooked" the young Gemlord's existence in his memory, though seeing him here now had brought everything back.
"Of course, sir," the redhead answered immediately, snapping to attention.
In the slight pause that followed, Zoisite bit nervously at her thumbnail, Kunzite feigned indifference and continued to carefully wipe the irritating garnet grit from his eyes, and Obsidian merely raised an eyebrow, waiting.
"I had completed my reconnaissance of the apparent spatial disturbance and was on my way back to the Tower when I stumbled across an advance unit of Beryl's soldiers," Garnet began, his voice filling the room with the quiet, rolling cadence that he had always used in his detailed reports, violet eyes drifting half-shut as his amazing memory summoned up images form the fall of Lithos.
He went on to describe how, reluctant to teleport and run the risk of having his aura or the ripple in the psychic atmosphere thus made alert anyone to the fact that the invading forces had been observed, he had taken on the Negaverse creatures. After a swift but vicious fight, he had ended up destroying the patrol, but he too had been wounded and had suffered a dangerous loss of time. Anguish seeped into his voice as he related how he had struggled to the crest of the last hill overlooking the City, just in time to see the furious battle on the outskirts of the settlement as Lieutenant Emerald was struck down by the traitorous Elemental Guard.
Just as he had made the decision to teleport to the aid of his lord and the Tower Guard as they struggled against Beryl, the Elementals and the Seven Shadows, another assault caught him from behind--one deliberately calculated to bring him down. Already wounded and tired from the earlier combat and never one for an extended fight to begin with, Garnet held his own just barely long enough to see Lieutenants Ruby and Sapphire fall before he was battered into unconsciousness.
His voice grew cold as he told about awakening to the chill sound of Zoisite's feminine laughter, of attempting to move only to find himself securely bound. Wounded in body and spirit, he had listened in bitter silence as the five traitors had gloated over their relatively successful campaigns against both their own race and the Silver Millennium, feeling ill at how gleefully Beryl and her Generals had celebrated the fall of the Moon Kingdom. Garnet had quickly learned that his own capture had been effected simply to gain access to the wealth of information that he was privy to; despite his normally low profile, even among his fellow Gemlords--he was believed to be just your run-of-the-mill intelligence gatherer under the auspices of Lord Hiddenite--his true duties were well known to the Elemental Guard, especially his cherished younger "sibling", Zoisite. Garnet made sure to shoot a darkly furious glance to the youngest Gemlord as he recounted that part of his report.
At least Zoisite had the good graces to flush bright red in embarrassment and look away in shame at Garnet's withering glare.
"The Elementals-turned-Generals did whatever they could to make me talk, but even they had to admit that they couldn't push me past my endurance just then," the redheaded spy continued, pointedly ignoring Zoisite's abashed stance. "I was too exhausted and too wounded to hold up to much at all. So instead, they gave up their efforts and ordered me escorted under armed guard to a cell to await a time when the interrogation could be resumed after I had recovered my strength. However, along the way, I succeeded in slipping my bonds, disposing the guards and faking my own death." To his credit, Garnet didn't shoot the pair of Elemental Commanders an obnoxious smirk.
"Seems as if you had a reserve of energy left untapped that we didn't know about." Reddened eyes narrowed at the younger Gemlord, Kunzite drew himself up to his full height. "Next time, I'll know better."
Obsidian turned his attention to the Fire Warrior, a scowl on his handsome face. "There had better not be a 'next time', understood?"
Kunzite flinched from his lord's angry stare and bowed his head, submissively. "Of course, my Lord."
Her violet-blue eyes still fastened on Garnet, Zoisite demanded," But how did you do it? We talked to one of those guards, yet you just said--"
"I know," the leather-clad man replied, finally smirking. "Bet he looked and sounded a lot like this, didn't he?" Turning away for a moment, Garnet let his posture abruptly shift. Slumping forward from the hips and twisting to the left, he let the arm on that side hang loose, giving it the illusion of jointlessness, and then contorted his right arm upwards in order to place a claw-fingered hand to his chest. He turned back to face the others suddenly, his entire body seemingly grotesquely warped, and essayed several shuffling, sliding steps forward. His voice now modulated into a high-pitched, hissing warble--quite different from his normal tones--he whined, "Beggin' . . . szzzz. . . pardon, yer Majezzty . . ."
Obsidian raised an eyebrow at the performance, rather impressed once again by the young man's talent. Next to him, Kunzite stiffened even more and Zoisite softly gasped as both former Negaverse generals realized that they had seen this before.
Another look into the past: Zoisite stands beside Kunzite, playing with the end of her copper-gold ponytail and restlessly shifts her weight from one foot to the other. from the look on her face, she'd be far happier off doing something else than just standing there in Beryl's throne room. The tall, silver-haired warrior's face hold much the same expression.
On the other side of an invisible aisle in front of the throne, Nephrite casts a brief, contemptuous glance at the fidgeting youngest General. Jadeite stands next to the auburn-haired man, amber eyes flicking from person to person gathered there.
Catching the other's look at her and taking a quick look in the direction of the silent, withdrawn and motionless figure of Queen Beryl sitting upon the twisted throne of dark stone, the ponytailed woman risks slyly and rather rudely poking her tongue out at Nephrite. As Jadeite lifts a white-gloved hand to his face to hide a snicker, Nephrite only smirks at the childish Gemlord. from Kunzite's expression--or rather, sudden lack of one--he's doing his best to ignore the others in the room.
The chilled silence in the room continues on for a few seconds longer before the timid, creeping entrance of a crudely armored figure breaks it. Moving in a slow, awkward, shuffling slide, the figure limps heavily on its left leg. The grating, whining voice is made even more annoying by the slight echoing its partially concealing helm makes. "Beggin' . . . szzzz . . . pardon, yer Majezzty . . . the prizzzner . . ."
In response to the intrusion, Queen Beryl's cold, red-irised eyes open slowly to glare at the twisted figure. "What about the prisoner?"
"Szzzz . . . prizzzner izzz . . . gone."
From the sudden startled expressions on the four Generals' faces as they focus their attention on the youma, something within them still cares, even now, days after the destruction of Lithos and the Silver Millennium. Though the three males remain silent, Zoisite's impulsive shriek rends the air, "What?!"
"Prizzzner . . . fought, tried ezzzzcape," the annoying, hissing voice goes on to say, the creature gesturing slightly with its twisted arm. "Foughtzz good, but too near edge of . . . szzzz . . . pit." The thing laughs, a harsh and choking sound. "Prizzzner fallzz. Skreemzz, all down to . . . szzzz . . . bottom. Then no more skreemzz, heh, heh."
Even though she wears the grey uniform of Metallia's warriors, Zoisite's slender form stiffens as if she's suddenly hurt. Abruptly chewing on the tip of a finger of a white glove, she looks as if she's going to actually cry there before Beryl's throne before she apparently recalls where she is and who she is now.
"Where is the rest of your patrol?" Beryl inquires almost idly, her strident voice echoing in the dark chamber as her claw-like hands caress the crystal ball atop her scepter.
The youma gestures again with its twisted arm. "All gonzz. Prizzzner good fighter, like szzzaid."
As Kunzite and Nephrite exchange glances at one another, Beryl nods, her flame-like hair glimmering in the dim light as she accepts the creature's report.
"Very well. You are dismissed from Our presence."
After an awkward bow, painful merely to watch it, the youma shambles from the chamber. Though the four Generals stare after the creature until it disappears through the twisted archway that was the only apparent way in or out of the throne room, the redheaded queen closes her eyes again, going back to her silent contemplation.
"That was you--" Zoisite breathed, realizing just what had happened all those long years ago.
"Obviously so, Zo'. Had you forgotten everything I'd every taught you? Sometimes the best place to hide is in plain view." Garnet's scholarly tone was completely ruined by the obnoxious grin he was wearing.
It was a grin that Kunzite suddenly felt a blinding need to smack off the younger Gemlord's face. He had long thought that somehow, someway, all the mysterious sabotage and other annoying little occurences could be the work of the slippery and supposedly dead Gemlord, but he'd never had the evidence to conclusively show that Garnet still existed. Then again, what with Siolan giving them all one hell of a pain in the ass until Queen Beryl wisely got rid of the redheaded warrioress, it was hard to tell what was Siolan's work and what was the work of this mysterious and elusive agent. However, the only outward sign of the Fire Warrior's sudden rage was the hand he curled into a loose first.
"I've heard enough for now," Lord Obsidian quietly said, turning his dark gaze to the pale-lavender haired Gemlord. Continuing to stare at Kunzite until the other man unclenched his fist, the Lord of Lithos added, "Commander Zoisite? Be so kind as to show Lord Garnet to his chambers."
"Sir, I know my wa--" the redheaded spy began to protest, only to immediately shift his sentence when Obsidian's stern gaze flicked over to him. "--it'd be great if Commander Zoisite showed me. My memory's seemed to have gotten a bit foggy. Sir."
Surprisingly, the Water Warrior made no protest at the Guardian of Space's command. Her gaze set on the carpeted floor, she walked toward the doorway opposite the Vortex Mirror that lead out of the circular chamber.
Glad to have the dark lord's withering gaze elsewhere other than on himself, Garnet followed after his younger sibling's slender form.
At the doorway out of the Hall of the Mirror, however, Zoisite stopped dead in her tracks to take one last look at Kunzite. The tall, lavender-cloaked Gemlord had gone back to carefully wiping out the remaining garnet grit from his eyes and wasn't even watching the two others leave the sacred chamber. Lifting a hand to bite at her thumbnail, a hurt expression in her eyes, the slender Water Warrior abruptly darted through the door.
Behind her, the big, leather-clad Gemlord nearly ran right over Zoisite before pulling up short, but by the time he actually had stopped, she was moving again. Softly sighing, Garnet rolled his violet eyes upward in mild exasperation and started off once more, following in her wake.
Neither one of them spoke as the Western Commander lead the redheaded spy through the Tower on a route he could have retraced in his sleep. Their footfalls echoed slightly on the obsidian stone steps as they descended the slow spiral that ran along the inner side of the outermost wall of the circular structure. Down past the floor immediately below the Hall, where Garnet knew the four members of the Elemental Guard had their luxurious quarters, down past the next floor, where the fabled Tower Library was housed, the two Lithosians went. Garnet knew that the floor after that, the twelfth one up from the ground floor of the Tower, was where they were heading. Even after he'd received his circlet as a full-fledged, adult member of the Gemlord society, the big redhead had never moved out of his student's studio apartment, simply because it hadn't seemed worth the effort, not without her. Frowning, Garnet tried shoving that thought aside, like he'd always done, then found himself staring at Zoisite's backside as they continued the slow descent to the twelfth floor.
So much like her . . . Perhaps more glamorous, certainly more temperamental, and absolutely male at times. Feeling the old, familiar ache, Garnet closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, trying to get her out of his mind.
Once they were to the large landing from which the entrance to the students' quarters was accessed, however, Zoisite suddenly stopped in mid-stride and gracefully whirled. Expecting an attack--after all, he was well aware of how vicious and sneaky the ponytailed warrior could be after that horrid stint in the Negaverse--Garnet planted his feet and braced himself. That turned out to be a good idea, for Zoisite flung herself against his broad chest, her arms wrapping around his ribs, and hugged him so tightly that he thought he felt something creak. Astonished, Garnet's jaw dropped, then slackened further when he realized that the slender woman was . . . crying. At first only quiet shaking, Zoisite was swiftly building up into a full-fledged sobbing fit.
"Hey now . . . Shhh . . ." he tried to comfort her into stopping, putting his arms around her, just as he had so many times before. "Zo', please, come on. Don't cry . . ." Feeling her shaking against him, he bowed his own head--and realized that his own vision was getting swimmy as he started to identify words in Zoisite's sobs.
"Missed you . . . Missed you so much . . . I'm so sorry. I screwed up badly, got in over my head and I couldn't get out . . ." The youngest Gemlord huddled against Garnet, her hands clutching his black leather jacket tightly as a millennium's worth of brutally repressed emotion was finally allowed to well up and be expressed. How could she ever explain that it was like there was someone else in her own body, reacting and doing things as she stood next to the dark invader and could only watch, helplessly. She hadn't known it was a trap at the beginning, and by the time she had realized it, it was far, far too late.
Garnet's blurry vision cleared suddenly as the cause of it spilled down his cheeks as a glittering tear; his arms tightening around Zoisite as she leaned into him, her words muffled by his chest. All the dark thoughts of exacting painful revenge that he'd nursed over the last millennium simply faded away. After all, this was the Gemlord he'd considered a little sister, dammit, and that relationship was far older than a mere thousand years. "I missed you too, Zo'," he murmured, pressing his cheek gently against the young woman's copper-gold hair.
"I'm no good . . . Everyone must hate me . . . Lithos is gone, they're all gone, I did it . . . Kunzite hates my guts now . . . Obsidian doesn't trust me anymore . . . I let you down . . ." Zoisite continued to sob, working herself up into a fit that bordered on the hysterical. Within her, she could feel the odd, burning sensation of her Element out of focus, the continuing effects of her own actions of disrupting the mystic Fountain in Mariner Castle. She knew she was out of balance herself, but it was too hard to maintain her focus as long as her Element was crippled. Lord Obsidian had promised that it was only temporary; she had to trust him. After all, he was the Guardian of Space, and the Center of the Elemental Binding.
"Zo' hey . . . come on," Garnet almost begged as he held the sobbing woman; seeing his little siblings cry was always something that made him fall all over himself trying to make them happy again. He hugged Zoisite's slender body against his own stocky form, patting her back gently with one big hand while the other lightly stroked her coppery-gold hair. "Shh, listen . . . let's go to my room and you can let it all out, okay? Just say everything that's on your mind, Zo' . . ."
Without waiting for an answer, the redheaded Gemlord picked up the Water Warrior as if she weighed nothing at all, cradling her against his broad chest. Still crying, Zoisite wrapped her slim arms around her big brother's neck and pressed her cheek against him as he carried her the rest of the way to his old quarters. Finding his arms full of crying Gemlord, Garnet prudently turned to his powers and opened up the door through some well-focused telekinesis.
His quarters were exactly the way he had left them, just as immaculately tidy as they had been that last time he was here in the Tower, just over a year ago. At least this time, he didn't have the heartrending sight of everything covered in a millennium of powdery dust from abandonment. With the Guardian of Space awake and active, the Obsidian Tower was back to doing its almost magical thing of maintaining itself from dust and the like. Decorated in shades of deep red and violet-red, Garnet's spacious, studio apartment within the Tower was almost obsessively neat, with everything spotless, organized and flawless. Stepping through the opened doorway, flanked on either side by a bookcase sporting a collection of books perfectly alphabetized by author and a well-ordered worktable, the leather-clad man strode over to his wrinkle-free bed and carefully set Zoisite down on the edge of it; sitting down next to her on the dark red covers, he slipped an arm around her shuddering shoulders. It was a scene played out hundreds of times before: Garnet the protector, watching over and comforting the Gemlords he considered siblings, especially the youngest one of them all, when they were children.
Holding her the best he could, Garnet pulled off his black biker jacket and condescended to just tossing it onto the chair at his bedside. That done, he hugged Zoisite gently against himself, letting her cry all over his shoulder and chest, not minding the damp puddle she was making out of his violet-red T-shirt. He knew, from long experience, that trying to make the emotional Western Commander calm down before he or she was good and ready to become calm again was a completely futile gesture. It was always best to let Zoisite vent completely before doing more than offering quiet, soothing murmurs and comforting cuddles.
However, that was only bringing back that underlying awareness of Zoisite as something far more alluring than just a "little sister"; the longer he held onto her and listened to her cry, the longer her slim form was pressed against him, the more he was made aware of that old, old attraction between them. He'd always wanted to protect her from everything, including himself–and there were times he'd felt like his desires to shift their relationship to something more intimate than what it currently was was a betrayal of that even more ancient desire for his now-lost love.
Of course, the fact that Zoisite and himself were attracted to one another that way, and had been for centuries, was no matter. After all, Lithosian culture reflected the fact that the Gemlords had no biological ties to one another. All their relationships were decided by conscious choice of the parties involved.
Still murmuring softly to the blonde woman, Garnet waited for Zoisite to cry herself out.
Cosmos . . . What the hell am I going to do? Sighing softly to himself, shifting his nude body under the covers enough to glance over at the young woman in his bed, Garnet couldn't help but smile faintly.
Zoisite was asleep, her beautiful features looking adorably angelic at the moment, her shimmering hair unbound and spilling over her, Garnet's chest and the dark red blankets that covered them both. If nothing else, he'd made her happy again, giving her the love and reassurance she'd craved. He took a moment from his troubled thoughts to gently brush a stray lock from her face, then cuddled her closer as she sleepily snuggled against him. It was every bit as good as he'd ever imagined it would be, even if he couldn't shake the fantasy of it being someone else, someone that looked very similar.
His violet gaze returning to focusing on the ceiling of his faintly-illuminated room, Garnet once more wondered what he should do. The story his sister-now-lover–it was a good bet that they'd be repeating this, not that he minded at all; Zoisite was very talented, as it turned out–had sobbed out to him was nearly incredible. Lord Obsidian was systematically striking out at the Senshi that guarded the Sol system, robbing them of their powers at the same time he was hunting for a set of stones that seemed to be the key to restoring both their shattered homeworld of Lithos and the rest of their race. And he was forcing Kunzite and Zoisite to deliberately interfere with the Elements at their command. Not only that, but Lord Obsidian also apparently had one Senshi imprisoned in a crystalline structure there in the Hall itself. Garnet frowned at that. He'd sort of noticed the black stone crystal, but hadn't really had a chance to investigate. That it apparently contained Sailor Andromeda only made him feel slightly queasy.
None of what Zoisite had told him made sense. It just didn't sound like the Lord Obsidian he knew and considered a close friend, yet Garnet realized that it was the truth. No matter how much of a conniving brat the youngest Gemlord could be, Zoisite wouldn't make up something like that, and the disturbing sense of her aura being unbalanced only lent weight to her tale.
It was one hell of a quandary. He was bound by law and loyalty both to obey Lord Obsidian, yet what his ruler was doing was unacceptable and just not like him. Closing his eyes, he absently snuggled in closer to the slender woman sleeping next to himself. He'd come to some sort of decision later. Right now, sleep sounded very enticing. It had been one hell of a day.
Nephrite had been hoping that he'd be able to spend a quiet evening at home. Rattled by both seeing his attempt at making amends to Peter Fisher go horribly wrong as well as literally ramming into someone he'd believed to be dead for so long, he needed the peace and quiet of his familiar, comforting home to relax and try to find a way to salvage his second chance.
That quiet evening just wasn't meant to be.
The auburn-haired teen had been reading the paper, his attention caught up in the various doings of the world trade markets, when the unexpected knock on his mansion's front door had come; still shaken by the day's previous events, he had found immersing himself into the information needed to indulge in his love of money and finances soothing to his frayed nerves. The sound that drifted through the still atmosphere of the dark, seemingly empty mansion was startling for two reasons. The first was that someone had actually gotten the nerve to come up the winding driveway through the admittedly spooky forest that covered the hill upon which the mansion was perched. The second was that in order for him to have heard it, that "knock" must have been actually one hell of a pounding on the sturdy, oak door. Startled, Nephrite pursed his lips together, his astonishment swiftly shifting to mild annoyance. Just what the hell's that all about?
Another round of pounding drifted through the area. Apparently this person wasn't going to just go away. Sighing, the teenager set the paper down on the mahogany endtable next to the comfortable, leather-upholstered couch upon which he was sitting, then rose to his feet. Almost storming out of the library, Nephrite was in quite the confrontational mood by the time he stalked through the house and made it to the front door.
Yet another barrage of the quite insistent sound greeted him as he approached the foyer. For Cosmos's sake, hold your damned horses, he mentally growled, jade-green eyes narrowing in irritation. Grasping the ornate, brass doorknob--not truly a doorknob, but rather a trigger-like latch above a smooth, brass curve that acted as a handle--he depressed the latch with one hand as his other hand slid the security chain from its latched position. Yanking the oaken door open, Nephrite took a deep breath to give the rude caller an earful . . . and froze, his breath escaping in a strangled sound.
Lita . . .
The ponytailed brunette was alive, apparently all in one piece--and angry to boot. "Well, just the person I was hoping to see. Good! That means I can get right down to business." With that announcement, Lita stormed off the covered front porch of the huge house, through the door and proceeded to deck the flabbergasted boy.
Pain erupted, filling the now-mortal Gemlord's awareness. Head rocking back with the force of the blow, the auburn haired teen crumpled to the polished, wooden parquetry floor of the foyer. Before he could even recover from either the astonishment or the punch, Nephrite became muzzily aware of a strong hand grabbing his shirt and literally hauling him back up to his feet. Trying to gather his focus, he really couldn't decide which was worse: the fact that this body seemed to be very vulnerable to physical harm compared to what he was used to, or that he was too stunned to even defend himself.
"Now that I have your attention, Nathan, maybe you'll be willing to explain a few things to me?" the athletic girl said, her voice firm. "Like what the hell's going on? What are you up to? Why are you running around talking to your former victims?"
Your former victims . . . ? Panic started to twine with punch-induced shock. She'd figured it out, just like he'd been afraid she had. Staring at her--and slightly surprised he didn't see two images of her; he still felt that rummy--he held his hands up in a gesture of submission. "Lita, I swear on anything you hold sacred that I wasn't out to harm anyone! If you hadn't've interfered . . ."
Lita's forest-green eyes narrowed in irritation. Determined to remind the slightly taller teen who was in control at the moment, she gave the boy a brisk shake, her hand still clutching a handful of his expensive, ivory-colored dress shirt. "It's still your fault, Nathan. Or should I call you 'Nephrite'? If you hadn't been wandering around–-"
At least his own temper was returning. The anger felt good, since it gave him something to center his focus on. "Call me whatever you want, just let go."
So he didn't deny the identity. Lita made a mental note on that as she looked him over. He was gazing back at her, the stunned expression in his jade-green eyes giving way to an angry, sullen light, his body bent back slightly, the soft shirt's material tight under her formidable grip, his hands lifted in apparent surrender as he warily waited to see what she would do next. That he hadn't started fighting back made her wonder slightly; either he couldn't or he wouldn't, but she was going to be damned careful until she knew which it was for sure. "I still haven't gotten any explanations out of you yet," she pointed out.
"I'd be far more inclined to discuss anything you want if we were carrying on a far more civil conversation."
"I dunno . . . I have a feeling you'd be far more truthful being held hostage like you are at the moment."
"Hardly. I can barely think straight as it is right now. I swear, Lita, I'll answer your questions as truthfully as possible," Nephrite responded, hating the almost begging tone that crept into his low, mellow tenor voice. "Please . . . Just trust me for once . . ."
The athletic brunette almost growled, almost shook him again and shouted in his face that there was no way in hell she was ever going to trust someone that had been--and still could be, for all she knew--a general of the Negaverse, but the pleading look in his gorgeous green eyes made her relent. After all, the teen was still dreamy . . . and there was something about him that made her want to believe that she could trust him again. Again? Where did that come from? Frowning, she pushed aside her bewilderment at that stray thought and focused on her captive once more.
Nephrite had only a quick moment to wonder about the odd flash of confusion he noticed in Lita's forest-green eyes before he found himself drug just a bit closer to her. Their noses almost touching, making it hard indeed to keep his gaze focused on her, he fought down the impulse to just punch her back. After all, he wanted to be at peace with the Senshi, not start another round of enmity, and he did deserve everything he was getting in the first place for being stupid enough to let himself get caught in Metallia's trap.
"I really shouldn't bother trying to actually trust you after what you've done, but I'm going to go against my better judgment and do just that." With that almost imperious declaration, Lita abruptly let go of the other teen's now-rumpled shirt.
"Thank you," the athletic boy replied, his gratitude heartfelt. Focusing on smoothing down his clothing, Nephrite couldn't make himself meet her gaze. "How about going to the parlor, having something to drink and talking things over like two civilized beings?" he suggested, tugging down his shirt. "We'll be more comfortable doing that than standing out here in the foyer glaring at one another."
It's got to be a trick, but he seems so sincere at the moment. Once again, Lita frowned, but this time she reluctantly nodded. "All right. I'll let you play the gracious host, as long as you keep your promise to tell me the truth."
"I will." Stepping back, Nephrite turned and walked over to a door off to his visitor's left. Turning the faceted crystal doorknob on the mahogany door, he pulled it opened and gestured for her to step inside. "I have no intention of going back on my word. Now . . . What would you like to drink? I have a number of choices . . ."
Still glaring at him, still half-afraid that he was somehow leading her into a trap despite the fact that he was so obviously surprised at seeing her there on his doorstep to begin with, Lita sighed at her apparent lack of discipline and strode across the parquetry floor, wondering what she'd like to drink as she grilled her subject on the events of the past few days.
One by one, the soft-soled, black-booted feet made silent steps along the detritus-covered hillside. Heel first, then smoothly rolling forward to the ball of the foot, each step was calculated to bear the person's weight efficiently, to keep the small twigs and other forest-born debris from snapping or otherwise alerting potential witnesses to her presence. Of course, that was assuming that anyone around had only the five normal senses one assumed with Terrans.
She was dressed all in black–an outfit that she usually referred to as her "working gear"–a smooth, lithe shadow that glided from trunk to trunk underneath the canopy of massive evergreens that covered the hill. That her mane of deep red hair slightly ruined the effect didn't bother her in the least. After all, she was here to satisfy her curiosity, not do a job. Thank the Dragons for that. She wasn't sure what she'd do if she had been hired to carry out a job here on the top of this hill, especially since she was almost certain he'd be here.
Nephrite . . . After five centuries of being at his side in one capacity or another, she was sure she knew his habits well enough to know him. Steadfast, stubborn, the auburn-haired Negaverse general had always preferred to be surrounded by comfortable places holding familiar things and possessions. True, she had often badgered him about being so damned predictable; now she was fervently praying that he had kept that little personality quirk over the centuries they've been separated.
Just over a year ago, she had known when this mysterious mansion on the hill had suddenly appeared as if by magic on the outskirts of the city of Tokyo, the curious, heartbreakingly familiar sensation of his power prickling on the edge of her mental awareness. Though she had searched until she had located this place, the gloom of the Negaverse clinging to the shadows and deep shelter under the canopy of evergreen boughs, she hadn't dared to contact him. Given his abrupt assumption of the command over the Negaverse's operations on Terra, that redheaded witch would have been watching him too closely to risk it. Having come far too close to death on a number of occasions already, Siolan hadn't been keen to take the chance. After all, she had been sure there would be time enough to wait for Beryl's watchful eye to turn its attention elsewhere and give Siolan the chance to reunite with her lost lover.
In retrospect, I should have risked it, she mentally growled to herself, continuing to edge carefully up the hill. The danger might have been worth it to be with him again. I might have been able to save him from that brat Zoisite's machinations . . . Another growl, this time a soft, almost feral sound, rumbled from her throat as she shoved the thoughts away. She needed to concentrate now on the task at hand, to get close enough to the big, spooky mansion on the apex of the hill and determine if her former lover truly was there in one form or another.
Finally, after much care and patience on her part–skills learned long ago more or less on the job–she found herself at the edge of the trees. Pressing her black-clad form against the rough bark of a tree trunk, her antique gold eyes scanned over the grounds. Seeing the grand mansion right there, her heart took on a hard rhythm that was slamming so hard against her ribs that she actually thought for just a wild second that there was a chance someone around could actually hear it.
She discovered that she was standing near the southwest corner of the building; the front doors, facing south, were set back from a broad front porch lined with graceful columns that supported a second-floor balcony. She could glimpse French doors opening out onto that balcony, below a large circular window; starlight glinted on that window, dimly revealing that it was actually a gorgeous rose window of stained glass, like something from a cathedral. A wide verandah ran along the western side of the house, with a few doors spaced along it. A detached garage stood at the western edge of the circular terminus of the driveway. Idle curiosity getting the better of her she edged cautiously along the treeline, then glimpsed inside the small building through the crack of a partially opened door.
The Ferrari Testarossa was red--flame red, blood red, cherry red, take your pick. The golden eyed redhead smiled involuntarily, recalling the few times she'd seen Nephrite in his mortal guise behind the wheel of the sexy car. Spying it here, now, was just the sort of confirmation she had been hoping for when she had realized that if the child that had run form her was truly Nephrite, he'd go to ground at someplace he considered comfortably safe and familiar. Her heart beat faster yet as she moved on silent feet, a shadow among shadows, from the garage up to the rail of the verandah. Prowling along it, she crept toward the windows where light streamed out into the darkness; stepping back far enough to avoid the illumination that spilled across the stained wooden planking of the verandah, she moved sideways to peer through the window, her keen gaze easily scanning the room beyond.
It appeared to be some sort of drawing room or parlor, sparsely furnished and arranged so that three or four groups of people could be comfortably seated and carry on conversations. Despite the lack of furnishings, the quality alone kept the room from being Spartan, giving it a refined and elegant atmosphere. The walls were painted above the wainscoting in a pastel blue that matched the rose printed wallpaper underneath, lending a peaceful feeling to the chamber. Antique chairs, love seats and a divan–all made of what looked like light-stained oak and upholstered in rich, deep blue velvet–were set up to take advantage of the room's four corners, creating four sitting areas. Covering the hardwood floor in the center was an Oriental rug loomed in shades of white, off-white and blue.
Despite the richness of the chamber, what caught Siolan's attention was the pair of people in the room. The boy that had slammed into her earlier was here, just as she had hoped and prayed, sitting stiffly on the divan, his entire body language one of guardedness. Positioned dead center on the backless sofa pushed up against the wall, the fluffy, blue velvet pillows to either side ignored, the auburn haired teenager was drinking what looked like a can of diet soda. Odd . . . I never expected something like that would appeal to him . . .
The other person in the room was a tall, athletic-appearing girl, her rich brunette hair pulled up into a topknot ponytail and fastened in place with a holder decorated with two large, plastic green beads. Her entire stance one of almost belligerent control, the pretty teenager was sipping from a clear glass filled with what looked like lemonade, her gaze focused witheringly on the boy. Siolan frowned slightly, not exactly enchanted with the apparently hostile atmosphere. Both youngsters were in profile to the black-clad redhead, giving her the view she needed to watch the expressions on their faces as they continued their conversation.
"So let me get this straight," the brunette girl was responding, after taking a sip of her lemonade, while the redheaded eavesdropper shifted herself into a comfortable position. "I'm supposed to believe that you've been running around the city revisiting the victims of your energy-gathering escapades just so that you can somehow make it up to them? Seems rather incredible to me, Nephrite."
Antique gold eyes stared at the profile of the boy on the divan. Just hearing the other female speak that name made Sonya's heart leap again in her chest. Would he confirm or deny the identity? Would she at least know one way or another if the impossible was somehow true?
"Believe whatever you want, Lita, but it's the truth," the auburn haired teenager sullenly replied, his jade-green gaze focused on his can of soda, the eyes narrowed in annoyance. "I was never out to hurt anyone, not this time." He fell silent, a pause of both embarrassment and anger. "Are you . . . all right? Is Peter?"
"Hmph. You're not going to fool me with that fake show of sympathy, Nephrite," Lita shot back, her voice still reflecting her anger. "I know that, deep down, you really don't care."
"Damn it! Look, if I didn't care, I wouldn't ask in the first place. What? Are you so myopic that you need glasses?" The boy shifted his position, seriously considering jumping up and making the altercation physical after all. "Please, just tell me if you and Peter are all right!"
The tall female frowned, catching the almost desperate sincerity in Nathan's voice. Sighing, deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt, Lita nodded, her ponytail swaying gently with the movement. "Yeah, we're both fine. A bit shaken up, but not really hurt. I think Peter's going to end up with a few bruises out of the deal."
"That's good news," Nephrite responded, feeling a sudden weight lifted from his shoulders. "I was so scared that I'd blown it . . ."
"You said that you were given a second chance, that you're going around trying to atone for what happened. If that's the case, then why the hell were Peter and I almost blown to pieces? Huh? Answer me that, Mr. I'm-A-Reformed-Negaverse-General."
Jade green eyes glared back at the brunette teen. "You interfered, if you really want to know. That energy wasn't meant for you, just Peter, and it was attuned to him. The moment you touched it, it exploded."
"Hold on right there, bub! You also said you were human now. If that's really the case, then you shouldn't be able to do anything at all like what happened," Lita protested.
Still sullen, Nephrite shrugged his shoulders. "I can't, save for one thing. I can call on one ability; I'm able to leave a mark on someone that essentially ties them in, subconsciously, to the very flow of the universe. The end result is that they can sense the flow of time and events at the very core of their soul, and that leads them to subconsciously choose the most favorable course for their circumstances."
Lita glared back. "Mind putting that into terms I can understand?"
"Very simply, then . . ." Ignoring the girl's nasty expression, Nathan took a sip of his soda, then lowered the can. "They will appear to have the most extraordinarily good luck compared to everyone else. Things of a beneficial nature will seem to always be happening to them and they will be accused of always 'lucking out'."
"Okay, whatever you say," the athletic girl responded, her voice still sounding very skeptical. "And I suppose you have no idea at all why General Blondie is running around causing trouble."
"General who?" Nephrite echoed, youthful face taking on a startled look.
"Oh, you know: Tall, silver-haired, pretty slick with a pair of purple energy boomerangs . . ."
Jade green eyes stared at Lita for a long, silent moment. Only one person she could be talking about, but . . .how? "Kunzite? Do you mean Kunzite?"
"Yeah, sure . . . Play stupid with me and see how far you get, Nephrite." Growling softly to herself, Lita strode sharply over to an endtable next to the divan and set her glass down on the surface of the polished wood. Turning to glare at the other teen, she folded her arms over her rather ample chest. "Maybe I should just punch your lights out again on general principle. Yes, I mean Kunzite. Apparently he's just as dead as you are."
Out on the verandah, Sonya narrowed her antique gold eyes and glared at the ponytailed girl. Suppressing the growl that tried to well up in her throat at the thought of anyone punching the boy Nephrite had somehow become, let alone some upstart child with an overblown sense of self-importance as this girl seemed to be, the redheaded eavesdropper shifted her position slightly. The time was to be watchful and patient, not to rush into a situation hastily, no matter the provocation.
"I thought he was dead . . ." Nephrite frowned, confusion and a sense of foreboding washing over him.
"So did I," Lita growled, continuing to drill the other teen with her cold, forest green stare. "And not only that, but he's apparently picked up a new friend as well. Some guy not quite as tall, with dark hair and dressed all in black."
"Yes, Kunzite would be slightly taller," Nephrite mused, leaning against the wallpaper-covered surface behind his athletic body.
Lita immediately narrowed her eyes in suspicion, catching the reaction of the other teenager. "You know who that guy is, don't you?"
Dark hair glimmered with auburn fire from the room's illumination as the boy nodded in reply. "Yes, I do. And that guy is most likely the reason why Kunzite is alive again. I knew that he'd Called all of us back to himself . . ."
The tall brunette frowned in irritation. She didn't like not getting what the former Negaverse general was telling her; apparently a big piece of the puzzle was still missing. "Who is he?" she insisted, frustration tinging her voice with a soft growl.
Nephrite calmly took a drink of his soda, using the action to mask his internal apprehension. Something was up; there was no reason for Lita to even know about Lord Obsidian, even if she were a Senshi, as her knowledge about Nephrite's own former identity had proven. The Lord of Lithos, historically, had little interest in what happened on the third planet of the Gemlords' home star system; Obsidian usually had far more cosmic concerns on his mind. Lowering his hand, fingers still curled around the cold, aluminum can, Nephrite gazed at the annoyed girl. "He's my people's ruler, the one in charge of us all."
Outside, the redheaded eavesdropper perked her ears up. This was something unexpected. She had always assumed that Nephrite was a denizen of the Negaverse, though she had often wondered how there could have been an individual so untwisted and actually pleasant-appearing among the hordes under Beryl's command. That the former general had come from elsewhere actually made more sense, but now Sonya couldn't help but wonder who that ruler and those people were.
"Does this 'ruler' of yours have a name?" Lita shot back, not liking the somewhat evasive answer.
Nephrite looked at his rather unwanted guest and smirked. "Of course he does. It's Obsidian, Lord of Lithos, Guardian of Space."
The ponytailed brunette blinked, frowning. For some reason, that name rang a bell; it meant something, caused some shadowy memory to stir. For a fleeting moment, she could see herself standing up on a dais, resplendent in royal robes of green and silver, emeralds twinkling at ears, throat and within her intricately-styled hair, looking down at a handsome, royal-appearing man dressed all in black and gold as he knelt before Queen Serenity's throne.
Sonya too recognized the name. Putting up a hand and leaning against the wall in shock, feeling suddenly light-headed, she could only think, stunned, By the Great Dragon, the Guardian of Space? But then that would mean that . . .
Just then, the insistent beeping of some sort of pager-like device sounded, breaking through Sonya's mental reverie. Shattering the uneasy silence of the drawing room, Nephrite fixed Lita with his jade green gaze. "Sounds like someone's trying to get a hold of you. There's a phone out in the hallway on a table about three doors down from here."
Relief flooded through the tall girl as she realized that the other teen was assuming that the sound was that of an ordinary beeper. The last thing she wanted the former Negaverse general to know was that she was one of those Senshi his comrade generals fought against. Dreading answering the communicator--she was certain she was going to get an earful for not being with the others--Lita gave Nephrite a cool smile. "Thanks. I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere." Glaring at him for a moment to make sure he understood she meant it, the ponytailed teenager strode over to the door and disappeared through it, pulling it shut after herself.
"I wouldn't dream of it," the auburn haired boy muttered to himself, sullenly leaning back against the wall. Though he was tempted to get the hell out of there while Lita was otherwise occupied, the fact remained that it was his house and his space that had been invaded. If anyone was going to retreat, it would be her. Just as soon as I find a way of getting rid of her without getting beaten up, that is . . .
I wonder what she's doing? Sonya mused to herself. Had she been the one in there interrogating the boy Nephrite apparently was now and was the one so totally in control, no amount of paging would have diverted her attention away from getting the answers she'd wanted. She would have let the damned thing beep, then would have turned it off. Figuring that the page must be something rather important then, the redheaded eavesdropper rose from her crouch and silently padded along the verandah.
Though she had never taken the chance of letting that witch Beryl know that she was very much alive and keeping an eye on the stargazing general, Sonya had come to Nephrite's house on the gloomy, pine-covered hill those few times she'd seen him out driving the Ferrari and had looked over the place. From what she recalled of the layout of the mansion, the kitchen was at the rear of the house, with the verandah running along this side and around the corner to form the back entryway into the kitchen. Slipping around said corner, the black-clad woman knelt down before the door and made a quick assessment of the lock on it. Sliding her hand into the pocket of her pants, Sonya fished out some of her tools of the trade. I'm sure I have the right one for this. Here's hoping you're confident enough in no one coming up here to bother you that you don't have an electronic alarm, Nephrite . . .
Out in the hallway, Lita took one last, long look around before striding over to the phone she saw just where her captive audience at told her it would be. Pulling the communicator from her pocket, she frowned and steeled herself to face the music. After all, she was supposed to have stayed with Amy and Serena. Knowing that she wasn't exactly following directions, she had turned the communicator off as she had trailed behind the suspected ex-Negaverse general, but had decided to be prudent and turn it back on again right before she had pounded on Nathan's front door. Facing the door to the drawing room and keeping a wary eye on it, the ponytailed girl touched the button that would connect her with whichever of the Senshi that were trying to reach her. "Lita here."
"Where have you been?" The voice that growled back at her was Raye's; the fiery priestess's expression was furious indeed over the small circular viewscreen, though Lita did catch the brief look of relief that crossed Raye's face before the priestess opened her mouth. "We've been trying to reach you for quite a while."
"I'm sorry, Raye, but something came up . . ."
"Never mind that. Get to the temple now. We've got problems," Raye's voice cut through any on-the-spot explanation the athletic brunette could try to offer.
"Something's happened, hasn't it?" A deeply guilty, sinking feeling settled in the pit of Lita's stomach. She'd been derelict in following directions and someone else paid for that. Even so, she had been so sure she had been doing the right thing. After all, Nephrite could have been doing something awful to his former victims.
"Just get here," Raye shot back. "We'll tell you all about it."
"Okay. I'm on my way. Sorry, Raye. I was sure I was doing the right thing . . ." Even to herself, her words sounded lame, inadequate.
"One more thing, Lita," the tall brunette heard over the communicator as she started to disconnect and slip it back into her pocket. "Zoisite's back."
Forest-green eyes narrowed at the sound of the supposedly-gone Negaverse general's reappearance. As Lita let that sink in, another pair of eyes narrowed as well. Crouching in the shadows at the end of the hall, her ears tuned for the slightest whisper, Sonya felt a jolt of vindictive anger rush through her. Zoisite was responsible for Nephrite's death. Zoisite's youma and Zoisite's machinations had taken from her the one person that meant the world to herself. That petal-throwing, ponytailed brat had better not cross my path again, the redheaded sneak silently vowed. Or she's going to pay for everything she did to Nephrite. And if she tries hurting him again, she'll wish she'd never been born.
"I'll be careful. I'm on my way. Lita out." Taking a breath, the tall girl put the calculator-like device back into the pocket of her snug-fitting pants, then eyed the drawing room door again. She should just leave right now and let Nephrite stew in there, wondering when she'd be back. Even so, she didn't want to be quite that rude. Swiftly crossing the space once more, she pulled open the door and glared at the boy still sitting on the divan. "Something's come up and I have to go. Believe me, Nephrite. We are not finished with this conversation."
"What's going on?" Whatever the page had been about, it looked like it was some serious business, judging from the expression on the other teen's face. As he looked at her, the light from her rose earrings caught his eye again, and once more the memory of himself handing Princess Jupiter a pair of glittering earrings just like them filled his mind. Feeling oddly lightheaded, Nephrite slowly stood up. "Jupiter?" he softly whispered, not sure whether he hoped she would affirm his sudden suspicion or deny it.
For just a fraction of a second, Lita's shock was evident on her pretty face. Then the tall brunette swiftly recovered, a cold, dark expression on her visage. Without another word, she firmly shut the door, cutting the boy from her field of vision--and cutting him from any accidental discovery that his soft word had shaken her equilibrium. No, don't think about that, Lita. Keep your mind focused on the fact that something's up and Zoisite's out there. Pivoting on a foot, she dashed over the carpet-adorned, hardwood floor and threw open the front door.
Even after the heavy oaken door had shut, Sonya remained in her crouched position, waiting, watching. It didn't take long at all for the youth she now knew was Nephrite to step from the drawing room and glance around. Just as she started to move from her position and let him know how grateful she was to have found him again, her impulsive desire was cut short by the boy's own actions.
"I just know something's wrong," Nephrite muttered to himself, a quick glance confirming his suspicion that Lita had left. Swift strides took him to the main entry; he tugged the door open and looked around into the night-darkened yard. Not seeing her right away, he sighed and stepped out onto the porch, absently pushing the catch to lock the door as he shut it behind himself. Lita was probably already on her way down the tree-lined driveway that wound up the forested hill. Guilt stabbed at him, spurring him onward. If she was, somehow, Princess Jupiter, he owed her. Weak human that he was, he still was obliged to help her out somehow. In a very real sense, Princess Jupiter had been his first victim, and deserved recompense even more than any of the others who had had their energy stolen. Only Molly came close to having an equally deserving debt. Steeling his nerve, he descended the stairway from the porch, then loped after his departing guest.
So close, Sonya growled to herself as the door was symbolically slammed in her face. Fluidly rising from her hunched-over position, she quickly crossed the length of the hallway, then operated the catch. Pulling it open, she carefully peeked through the exposed crack to the area beyond, then softly swore when she realized that Nephrite had already left. Slipping through the doorway, the black-clad redhead tugged the door closed, her keen hearing listening for any audible clue. There . . . the sound of footsteps on the winding, gravel driveway. Zeroing in on the sound, Sonya slipped over to the margin of vegetation lining the circular drive and began stealthily following Nephrite once more. Heart pounding in her chest at the mere thought of a reunion, she was determined to make that come true--but her curiosity in what was going on made her want to wait and see what was happening. After all, it was much better walking into a situation knowing about it than being ignorant.
**Zoisite! Attend me, please. At once.**
Violet-blue eyes flew open as the mental summons cut through her sleeping mind. Instantly awake, the slender Gemlord sat up; her long, loose, copper-gold hair gave her upper torso the only covering at the moment as she turned her gaze to the man lying next to her. A sweet smile crossed her face, remembering just how good he had made her feel. For a short time, it didn't matter that her Element and herself were out of balance, or that she was mistrusted, or that she was someone responsible for a large number of evil actions. For that time, Zoisite was wanted, loved and important. Even if, deep down inside, Garnet had pretended she was someone else.
**I'll be there immediately, my lord,** she responded, carefully slipping from the comfortable bed. Even so, the redheaded man stirred slightly, rolling onto his side. Still, he seemed still very much asleep as Zoisite stood up and gracefully stretched her nude form. A moment of concentration and a shimmer of violet-blue light, and once again her slender body was clothed in a short tunic, knee-high boots and short cape, her silver and tanzanite circlet glimmering from under her silky bangs. Another moment of concentration and she was gone, teleporting from Garnet's room in a swirl of cherry blossom petals.
Violet eyes opened then, watching the last of the Water Warrior's floral confetti mystically fade to nothing. Garnet frowned slightly; something was up, obviously, because it wasn't like Zoisite to just leave. No, she had to have been called away. In light of what she had told him--of Obsidian apparently hunting down and robbing the Senshi of the Sol system of their powers, of gathering together gems apparently guarded within the sacred centers of the Senshis' castles, and of Obsidian willing to smack Sailor Mercury silly--Garnet knew something was wrong. And it was apparently about to get worse . . .
The dark ruler of the Tower was already there before the eerily reflective surface of the Vortex Mirror when Zoisite teleported in. As her shimmering pink petals faded around her, she noted that Kunzite was standing off to the side, his back almost against the table of soulstones. At the Fire Warrior's stony expression, Zoisite could feel the hurtful alienation welling up within herself once more. She just knew; it was going to be a very long time before the proud, silver-haired Gemlord would forgive her.
"Zoisite . . ." Obsidian murmured in acknowledgment of the Water Warrior's appearance. Still standing before the seven-foot tall Symbol of Space, his back to the youngest Gemlord, Obsidian's reflection showed that he was looking at her image in the depths of the Mirror.
The woman addressed saluted. "Yes, my lord?"
"Watch and the next target will appear."
Kunzite frowned slightly, focusing his gaze on the dark-haired man. "So soon, my lord?"
Unseen and unnoticed, his aura tightly cloaked with his ability to be "invisible" to the telepathic senses of his fellow Gemlords, Garnet appeared in the vestibule just outside the majestic Hall of the Mirror. Back plastered up against the black stone wall, he carefully leaned forward and peeked through the archway leading into the circular chamber. There, on the opposite side of the room, he could see Lord Obsidian before the shimmering slab of obsidian that was the Gateway between all places that exist, the bright copper-gold hair and violet-blue clothing of Zoisite's figure standing a respectful distance behind him. Off to the side, almost hidden by the stones of the archway, stood Kunzite; the Fire Warrior seemed to almost be standing guard over that long, low table that had somehow become the morbid focus for something.
Obsidian turned, long gold-trimmed sable cape swirling around his form, and glared at the tall, silver-haired Gemlord. "Are you questioning my authority, Kunzite?"
"No, my lord . . ." Kunzite's slight frown deepened almost imperceptivly. Lowering his head in a gesture of obeisance, he added, "I was surprised, that's all."
In the vestibule, Garnet blinked in startlement. Again, the redheaded spy couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right with the Lord of Lithos. Obsidian didn't usually have such a hair-trigger temper.
"I see." Apparently mollified by the other's answer, Obsidian turned his attention back to the reflective surface of the black glassed Mirror. Bowing his head and concentrating, once more he began to draw on the powers of the Symbol.
Garnet continued to watch from his unseen observation point as the ruler of the Gemlords intoned an ancient command in his rich baritone voice. "Great Mirror of the Vortex, to whom all ways are open and no place unknown, hear my command." At the words, the shimmering surface of the Mirror began to glow with its characteristic deep, blackish-green light, and the swirl of gathering energies began to be felt by Garnet's psychic senses. Neither Zoisite nor Kunzite seemed to think that whatever Obsidian was about to do was anything unusual; though he couldn't see his little sister's face and could only see the Fire Warrior in profile, the young spy could tell from their relaxed stances that this was something expected. Tightening his own cloaking ability-it was, hopefully, a good bet that the other three assumed he was still sleeping-Garnet continued to watch the unfolding events.
At Obsidian's graceful gesture with his hands, the Mirror shone brighter, the rising energies whirling in the circular chamber becoming strong enough to manifest in a breeze that ruffled silken hair and made capes ripple. "Gaze beyond the realms of shadow and illusion. Turn aside false reflections, cut through magic and power. Show me the true image I seek," the Guardian of Space chanted. Garnet frowned at the words, recognizing them as a focus for pitting the strength of the Mirror to show a place that exists against the power of something used to distort reality. With a sudden feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach, the redheaded Gemlord realized that he was watching his ruler-his friend--preparing to ambush another of the Senshi that guarded the Solar system, using the might of the Symbol he guarded to strip away the protective illusion that kept the Senshi from being known by the general population.
The Vortex Mirror took on the glimmering, watery appearance it always did when it was energized enough to span the distances between its location and wherever it was its master wished it to focus on. With Garnet still watching in dread fascination, Obsidian lifted his head and gazed into the liquid depths of the Mirror, calling out the final phrase to send the energies gathered out into the Cosmos to find the object of his search. "Show me the Soldier of the planet Jupiter!"
His body now glowing with the same blackish-green light as the Symbol of Space, Obsidian held his pose as the surface of the Mirror rippled and shimmered, the psychic wind still swirling within the confines of the Hall of the Mirror. Violet eyes narrowing at the breeze blowing into his face, Garnet kept his focus on the glowing rectangle of black glass, breathlessly waiting for the image to appear.
Darkness greeted the sight of the Gemlords watching, a darkness that soon resolved itself into the shadows of a night-shrouded scene. The figure of a lone girl took shape within the depths of the Mirror, a tall brunette of athletic build and determined expression, her topknot ponytail swaying gracefully as she ran along a city sidewalk. Whoever she was, she looked like she was in a hurry. And there, on her forehead, glowed the green glyph of the planet Jupiter.
Violet-blue eyes getting huge, Zoisite gasped in recognition. She knew this girl, remembered how the brunette had gotten a lucky strike in and punched her in the mouth. Well, well . . . Time for a bit of payback then. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. Her sensual lips curling into a sly smile, Zoisite's eyes narrowed as she stared at the girl's image.
The Western Commander's reaction wasn't unnoticed. Turning around, Obsidian looked over the blond woman standing behind himself. "You know her?"
"Let's just say that our paths have crossed before, my lord. Yes, I had an encounter with her when she wasn't Sailor Jupiter," Zoisite replied.
Obsidian gave her a stern look. "Same orders as before, Commander. Understood? She is not to be harmed save what it takes to take her into custody."
Zoisite saluted in acknowledgment. "Of course, my lord. I shall do my best to carry out my orders."
Turning back to gaze at the image of the running girl, Obsidian considered the circumstances for a moment. "Go then, Commander. At the moment, she seems relatively alone." Stepping away from the front of the Mirror, taking up a position next to the vitreous prison of Sailor Andromeda, the Guardian of Space kept his gaze on Zoisite.
"As you wish, my lord." Another respectful salute and she was gone, graceful form almost leaping through the watery gateway of the Mirror to disappear into the depths of the scene being shown.
Still peeking through the gateway, it took most of Garnet's will to force himself to stay there and not say or do anything. It was one thing to hear Zoisite's tearful words of the assaults, but to actually see it happening . . . He could hardly believe it, even seeing it with his own eyes.
Obsidian then looked over to the lavender-caped Gemlord standing by the table littered with the soulstones of their people. "Keep an eye on Zoisite. I recognized the look on her face when she saw the Senshi. She's got a score to settle with that one."
Kunzite nodded. "Yes, she does. I recall Zoisite returning with the first Rainbow Crystal and complaining about some brute of a Terran that socked her in the mouth and made her bleed."
"Ah . . . Yes, that would be the sort of thing Zoisite would expect to avenge," Obsidian acknowledged. "Very well. I leave it up to you to make sure that your charge doesn't forget herself and disrupt my plans with her pettiness." Gesturing toward the Mirror, the dark lord added, "Go, Commander. Let Zoisite handle it herself, but intervene if it looks like she's going to cause problems or lose the quarry."
"As you wish, my lord," Kunzite responded, with a salute. Swiftly covering the distance between the table and the Mirror, the tall Fire Warrior disappeared after his former lover into the depths of the Symbol of Space.