Usagi was not having a good day. She hadn't been able to sleep very well, as Chibi-Usa had climbed into bed with her and had twitched and kicked throughout the night. Arriving late, and without her lunch, she had already received detention for the day and things didn't look like they would be improving anytime soon. Usagi looked up apprehensively as Haruna-sensei started writing on the board. 'No, please tell me that doesn't say what I think it does,' she thought to herself. She closed her eyes and made a little wish before looking again, but those awful words--Pop Quiz--were still there. 'I knew I should have stayed in bed.'*****
Trudging home after detention, Usagi noticed Mamoru and Chibi-Usa sitting on a bench in the park. Perking up a bit, she called out a greeting as she walked up to them. "Mamo-chan, Chibi-Usa!" she exclaimed happily, her heart beating a little faster as she came closer. However, when they turned to look at her, Usagi was met with two pairs of glaring eyes and her steps faltered. The small smile that had started to creep up her face fell away at the ice in his
gaze. The stormy blue eyes that had once looked upon her lovingly (at least, she thought they had), now only held irritation and annoyance.
"Usagi, don't call me that. I told you, it's over. Stay away from me," he told her coldly and then got up and started walking away.
Usagi blanched, her already pale face draining of all color. "I, I'm sorry..." she whispered to his retreating back, wondering once again what it was she had done to bring such scorn upon herself. Tears were gathering behind her eyes and she could feel the familiar burn of sobs beginning in the back of her throat. Before she could even whimper, however, Chibi-Usa stood on the bench in front of her and started screaming.
"You drove him away! He's leaving because of you, baka! He hates you and so do I!" Chibi-Usa yelled. She leaped from the bench and ran after Mamoru.
'He...they...hate me?' Usagi thought to herself. Staring after them in shock, she just stood there as she felt something inside her start to wither and die. 'Am I really so bad?' She could hear Chibi-Usa's voice again in her mind, over and over again--"He hates you and so do I!" There was a slight buzzing in her ears and blackness was starting to edge out her vision. She was making her way unsteadily to the bench when her communicator went off. Usagi waited until she had sat down before activating the communicator with shaking hands.
"Usagi, you baka! What took you so long to answer? We need you at the ice rink right away. There's a droid attack." Rei yelled angrily.
"I...I.." Usagi started to respond, but Rei cut her off.
"Just get over here, Odango Amata!" she demanded before cutting the connection.
Usagi stared at the communicator blankly for a minute before finally coming back to herself. She stood up shakily and transformed. Feeling a bit better with the transformation into Sailor Moon, she took off running for the ice rink which was, of course, on the far side of town.
She'd almost reached the edge of the park when she heard a shrill scream coming from somewhere to her right. Veering in that direction, she picked up her speed until she came to a small clearing where a droid was draining the energy from a woman while her children cowered in horror. "Hey, ugly, why don't you pick on someone your own size," she called out. "I am Sailor Moon and in the name of the Moon, I will punish you." The droid had dropped the woman as Sailor Moon started her speech and was looking her way. "Moon Tiara Action!" Sailor Moon yelled, as she released the spinning gold disc.
Unfortunately, the droid teleported before the tiara could reach it. 'Uh oh,' she thought, 'Where did it go?' She scanned the area frantically and was just turning around when she felt the claws dig into her back. She cried out in agony at the burning sensation and threw herself away from the droid. As she lay gasping on the ground with the droid advancing toward her, she saw her tiara coming back to her and, with a desperate motion, directed it toward the droid. As the claws were about to rake her chest, the lethal flash pierced the droid, reducing it to metal shavings. Sailor Moon briefly pressed her eyes closed, taking in deep shuddering breaths, then climbed painfully to her feet. With no more creatures lurking within sight, she continued her dash toward the ice rink.
By the time she reached the battle, she was seeing spots before her eyes and her back felt numb. She stumbled a bit as she entered the fray, but caught herself before she went down. Her eyes widened as she took in the condition of the Senshi. Mercury was crumpled in a heap by a tree, Venus was painfully struggling to her feet after taking a droid blast, Jupiter was clutching her right arm against her chest, and Mars was loosing an attack, though it looked as
though she had suffered a blast or two herself. The droid deftly side-stepped Rei's flames and was about to launch a counter attack when Sailor Moon shouted her attack, "Moon Sceptre Elimination!" The droid froze motionless for a moment, then burst into a cloud of glittery dust. Sailor Moon breathed a sigh of relief, but Mars whirled around and glared at her.
"Where have you been?!" she exclaimed. "We could have used your help here. What kind of leader are you, to leave us to battle this droid by ourselves. We could have been killed!"
"And when you do show up, you have a klutz attack that almost prevents you from destroying the monster before it gets Mars!" Jupiter added, throwing her own glare towards Sailor Moon.
Sailor Moon just stood in disbelief. She started to open her mouth to speak, but Venus didn't give her a chance.
"I don't want to hear any of your excuses. I agree with them. You could have gotten us all killed," she spat angrily.
Sailor Moon turned to Mercury in mute appeal, but Mercury just turned away and refused to look at her. Tears threatened again as her eyes flitted from one angry scout to the next. 'They hate me. They really hate me. And they're right. I'm not a leader, or a warrior, or a princess. They would be better off without me.' Without a word, Usagi released her transformation, ripped the brooch off her blouse and let it fall to the ground. She quickly dropped her communicator and the star locket next to it and then turned and fled.******
The Senshi stared after her in shock. They certainly hadn't expected that. Mars was walking over to the abandoned pile of artifacts when Tuxedo Kamen arrived, looking winded.
"And where have you been?" Jupiter asked him angrily.
"I had to take Chibi-Usa home, then I got to the park just in time to see Sailor Moon kill the droid there, and then I had to run clear across town to get here," he managed, still gasping a bit for breath. He looked around and frowned, "Where is she, anyway?"
The Senshi all stared at him. "Droid in the park?" Venus whispered.
Mars had finally reached the dropped articles and bent down to pick them up. When she saw the blood on the grass next to them, she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. "Oh no," she breathed.
"What is it?" Mercury asked, as she limped up beside her. When she saw the blood, she gasped. She immediately activated her visor and studied the direction in which Usagi had ran. The trail of blood was unmistakable. "Oh my god, what have we done?" she said.
Tuxedo Kamen was growing irritated, as none of the Senshi had answered his question. He stalked over and grabbed Mars' arm. "What? What is the matter with all of you? Where is Usagi?" He looked down at the items she was holding. "Why do you have her things?" he demanded.
The Senshi just stared at him quietly, tears streaming from their eyes. Finally, Venus spoke, "We, we had a fight. We were upset because she
took so long in getting here, and we were getting our butts kicked by that droid..." she trailed off.
"We didn't even give her a chance to explain," Mercury added, choking back a sob.***********
Usagi ran until she reached a hidden place in the park, sheltered from view by thick rosebushes. There, her legs gave out and she collapsed to the ground sobbing. Her back oozed blood, an intense burning sensation emanating from the gaps torn into her flesh by the droid. But, compared to the pain in her heart, these wounds were mere annoyances. "Oh Mother, why did you send me here? It would have been better if you had let me stay dead in the past," she cried.
"Actually, it would have been better if you had never been born," a cold voice came from above her.
Startled, Usagi looked up. Floating above her was a man she did not recognize, somewhat tall with short blond hair. He wore a uniform of some kind, all gold. His eyes, though, are what froze her in place. They were black and implacable and gazed at her with pure hatred. The malice that she read there stole away her breath.
"Who are you?" she asked, her voice trembling.
"What? You don't recognize me? I'm hurt," he said mockingly. "Don't worry, Princess, you'll remember soon enough." From his raised palm, a radiant beam of light formed and then shot at her forehead. When the light struck her, Usagi screamed as the crescent moon blazed to life and she was forcibly transformed into Princess Serenity. "Time to go home, Princess," he said as a gold bubble of energy formed around them both.
In an instant, they were gone.*****
The Senshi came racing after Tuxedo Kamen into the park when he suddenly doubled over, grabbing his head. They heard Usagi's scream seconds later. Mercury tried to help him, while the rest sprinted toward the scream. A sudden flash of gold came from behind the rosebushes, but when the Senshi arrived, there was no one there.
"Where is she?" Mars demanded, of no one in particular. She looked around on the ground, but the only sign of Usagi was some blood on the grass.
"She's gone." Tuxedo Kamen said flatly, as he walked up. His eyes were grim and his face was pale.
"What do you mean 'gone?' Gone where?" Jupiter asked, confusion evident in her green eyes.
"I mean gone. I can't feel her anymore. She's not dead, I know that, but I can't tell where or how she is." He looked around helplessly at the spot that he was sure she had been just moments before.
"He's right, guys." Mercury spoke up while still working on her computer. "I can't find any trace of her."
"She couldn't have just disappeared. Do you think one of the droids got her? She wasn't in very good shape, and she couldn't even transform into Sailor Moon..." Venus burst into tears as she finished.
"I'm not getting any Black Moon energy readings, so I don't think it was a droid. However, there are some extremely high readings of some other kind of energy that I don't recognize mixed with Dark Kingdom energies." Mercury responded.
"Dark Kingdom energies!?" the other Senshi exclaimed in disbelief.
"That's impossible, we defeated the Dark Kingdom," Jupiter stated.
"There are definite traces of Dark Kingdom energies, but they are not as strong as the other, unknown energies. I'm afraid we might have a new enemy and, from the readings I'm getting, a more powerful enemy than we've had before." Mercury said.
"And now this new, more powerful enemy has Sailor Moon," Venus whispered.*****
Serenity whimpered softly as she felt someone nudge her side. She opened her eyes reluctantly, fervently praying that it had all been a nightmare, but the pain in her back and the burning on her forehead told her otherwise. She reached up hesitantly to touch the crescent moon that was still blazing and winced. It had never hurt before, but she had never been transformed by something other than the Ginzuishou before, either.
"Ah, I see the sleeping princess has awakened. Welcomehome, Princess of the Moon," the man in gold bowed mockingly as he spoke.
"Where...?" Serenity began to ask.
"Why the Moon, of course. I told you it was time to go home. Though,you've probably never been to this part of the Moon. We're in a nice deep cave on the dark side of the Moon. You, child of light that you are, always remained on the side facing Earth. Now, however, it is time for you to pay for your crimes against your mother and her kingdom." His expression darkened as he spoke and his tone slid from mocking to menacing.
"Crimes? What crimes?" Serenity asked, confusion and fear warring in her crystal blue eyes.
"The murder of Queen Serenity and the destruction of the Moon Kingdom!" he shouted. "You were the cause of her death! You were the cause of the fall of the Silver Millennium! If not for you, she would still be alive!" Golden light began to glow ominously from his hands.
"But, I didn't kill my mother! The Dark Kingdom destroyed the Moon Kingdom. They were responsible for her death!" Serenity pleaded desperately.
"Lies! All lies! If not for you, the Moon Kingdom and Queen Serenity would still be here. It was your fault! And now, little Moon Princess, you will pay. You will pay for taking my Serenity away from me!" he raged as the golden light around his hands increased in intensity. "So-called 'Child of Light,' you shall spend the remainder of your short life in darkness and alone, a fitting punishment for your crimes."
With his final words, he released the energy that had been building in his hands and it engulfed Serenity. She screamed as the burning energy surrounded her. She shut her eyes, but could still see the blazing light through her eyelids. It felt like she was on fire. Her crescent moon blazed more fiercely, a lance of silver light briefly pierced through the ball of orange-red energy that was consuming her before she fell, gratefully, into the cool, dark embrace of
Mamoru sat bolt up right in bed. His breathing was ragged and the sheets were damp and twisted from his fitful sleep. He rubbed his forehead gingerly, but the pain had already faded. For just an instant, he thought he had felt his princess, and she had been in agony. Running an unsteady hand through his hair, he slowly rose from the bed and headed for the bathroom. As he filled a glass with water, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He looked like hell. His face was pale and his eyes were sunken and dull. Shadows stood out prominently under his eyes, their dark color a stark contrast to the paleness of his skin. He looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. Truth be told, he hadn't. First, the dreams that foretold of Usagi's death if he didn't stay away from her, and now, dreams of her tortured screaming while she was being burned alive. He shuddered at the memory. This latest dream was worse, as he wasn't sure if it was a dream, or actually happening right this minute, while he was powerless to help her. He didn't even know where she was or how to find her. He shook his head to clear it as he made his way to the balcony.
"Usako, my love, where are you?" he whispered to the Moon, which seemed to glare at him in disapproval for his failure to protect its princess.*****
Rei wearily wiped the perspiration from her head. She had been meditating for hours, but the Fire still would not tell her where Usagi was. For just an instant, she had seen an image of the moon being consumed by the sun, but then it was gone. A stab of fear had run through her at the vision, but she had been unable to recapture it.
"Rei, you should rest now. You won't do Usagi any good if you collapse from exhaustion." Ami spoke softly, so as not to awaken the other Senshi, who were curled up in sleeping bags on the other side of the room. The soft glow of the computer screen gave a bluish cast to her skin as she looked at Rei in concern.
"I thought I had something... it was just a flash, and then it was gone." Rei responded, just as quietly.
"What did you see? Maybe it would shed some light on the new enemy." Ami queried.
"It wasn't much. Just an image of the moon burning up in the heat of the sun." Rei looked worriedly at Ami. "I don't think that's a good sign."
Ami shook her head. "No, I don't think so, either. Listen, we should both get some sleep and then try again in the morning. I wrote a program that will keep searching for her and, if it finds her, an alarm will go off. Maybe you're just overtired and your worry is influencing your mind." Ami said, sounding as if she didn't really believe it, herself.******
"Serenity..." a silvery voice whispered.
Princess Serenity looked about her. She couldn't see anyone through the silver mist that seemed to go on forever. "Hello?" she spoke hesitantly.
"Serenity," the voice repeated. "My daughter..."
"Mother?" Serenity searched about her frantically, but she couldn't seem to focus on the source of the voice.
"Listen, daughter, I haven't much time. This place reeks of evil and it keeps me from reaching you. You must follow your heart. Go to Earth." The Queen's voice was beginning to fade.
"Go to Earth? Mother, where are you? What's going on? Where's Endymion?" Serenity pleaded, her voice cracking on the final question. As she thought of him, her heart ached and she knew that there was something that she wasn't remembering... something about Endymion... something horrible.
"Mother..." Serenity cried out as she woke up. The first thing she noticed was that everything was dark. Not just dim, but pitch black. She couldn't see a thing. The next thing she noticed was pain. She sucked in her breath as hot fire ran down her back when she sat up. Whimpering quietly, she drew her knees up to her chest and rocked gently back and forth as the tears came. She could feel the crescent moon on her head blazing, but still there was nothing but blackness. "Endymion, please, I need you," she whispered brokenly. As if in response to her call, Serenity felt a small tug at her heart. "Endymion," she breathed. Her mother's words came back to her--"Follow your heart... go to the Earth..." Slowly climbing to her feet, Serenity swayed a moment as dizziness swept through her. Carefully stepping forward with her hands outstretched in front of her, she followed the tiny pull that called to her from Earth. After stumbling several times, Serenity finally came to a rough wall. She placed one hand upon it gratefully, the coolness of the rock reassuring her somewhat that she wasn't wandering in complete emptiness.
Serenity had no idea how long she had been following the cavern wall. She had succumbed to the weakness of her body many times and fallen into a fitful sleep before awakening and continuing her journey. Every time she thought she could go no further, the familiar tug would come and she would force herself to her feet, her only thought to get to Endymion. It was vitally important that she reach him. When the rock wall finally ended, Serenity was too numb to notice. She had been moving so long in a haze of pain and exhaustion that it took several minutes for her to realize that she had left the cave. Using
all the strength she had left, Serenity teleported to the one place she knew as well as her own bedroom in the palace--Endymion's gardens.
Mamoru moaned softly in his sleep. His princess was calling for him, but he couldn't find her. All around him was an impenetrable fog. He could hear her calling his name and sobbing as he ran blindly through the fog. There was a flash of bright silver light and he heard her whisper "Endymion" just as he woke up. Breathing quickly, Mamoru pushed his bangs out of his eyes and was trying to calm his racing pulse when it hit him. Need, stark and urgent, his link with Usagi was restored and she needed him NOW. Instantly transforming into Tuxedo Kamen, Mamoru leapt from the balcony and headed for the park.*******
"Shouldn't we be doing something? I hate just waiting around." Sailor Uranus complained aloud as she paced in front of a fountain in Tokyo park.
"We can't do anything until the Princess arrives. It won't be long now. We'll have to move quickly when she comes, though. Others will be after her, as well," Sailor Pluto replied calmly.
"The Inners? Do you think they'll even bother?" Sailor Neptune asked.
"Not just the Inners, the enemy and the Prince will try to take her, too." Pluto answered. She straightened abruptly, "She's coming."
A brilliant ray of silver light blazed from the moon down to the rose garden in Tokyo park.
"Ah crud, of course we'd be on the other side of the park," Sailor Uranus exclaimed in disgust as she raced with the other two Outer Senshi toward the rose garden. They had almost reached the roses when a portal opened across the lawn before them.
"I have you this time, Rabbit," Rubeus said as he stepped through the portal and started looking around for the little girl who kept eluding his grasp. He immediately spotted the prone figure and started toward it. Summoning a droid as he walked, he stopped a few feet from where a small figure in white lay crumpled in a heap on the ground. Her once golden hair was now streaked with silver and covered her like a shroud. The elaborate gown of the Moon Kingdom was ripped and stained with blood and dirt.
"That's not the Rabbit..." He walked closer and was stunned at the sight of a dull throbbing light emitting from the crescent moon on her forehead, the only visible sign that the figure still lived.'Could it be? Is this the younger self of the Neo-Queen? If this is truly she, Wiseman will reward me handsomely when I deliver her to him. This is a greater prize than even the Ginzuishou!' By this time, the droid had grown to full size and was awaiting orders. A sizable and nasty looking creature, spiky horns protruded from all over its body alongside eight lengthy arms terminating in keen claws. Rubeus gestured toward the fallen princess. "Bring her."
The droid lumbered forward and was reaching for the girl when Sailor Uranus slammed into it from behind.
"What's this? More Sailor Senshi? No matter, I can deal with you easily enough." With a flick of his wrist, Rubeus unleashed several more of the eight-armed droids that all began to grow rapidly and advance toward the Senshi.
"Uranus, get the Princess out of here. Neptune and I can deal with these creatures," Pluto ordered as she brought her staff around to attack an on-coming droid.
As Uranus headed for the princess, several of the droids moved to head her off, placing themselves between her and the still figure. Not even pausing in her sprint, Uranus shouted out her attack, "World Shaking!" The droids fell before her like bowling pins. Scooping the princess into her arms, Uranus turned in time to see Neptune and Pluto clean up the rest of the droids.
"You haven't seen the last of me!" Rubeus snarled as he teleported away. The Inner Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen ran up just as he disappeared. They moved toward Sailor Uranus when they saw the princess in her arms, but Neptune and Pluto moved to block their way.
"The princess is no longer your responsibility. From this moment on, we will protect her." Pluto spoke softly, with a hint of steel in her voice. Her scarlet eyes flashed with barely repressed anger. She held out her hand, "Give me the Ginzuishou. The princess will need it."
"Now wait just a minute, I don't know who you are, but there's no way we're just handing over Usagi and the Ginzuishou!" Rei protested hotly.
"Sailor Pluto," Venus whispered in awe. "I thought she was a myth. Mars, do as she says."
"What?!" Mars looked at Venus incredulously. "Are you crazy? How do we know they aren't working with the Black Moon family?"
"They are not," Luna stated as she and Artemis reached the Senshi. "They are Senshi, as well, although their duties do not often call for them to attend the princess." She walked slowly up to the Outer Senshi, her eyes tearing as she took in the state of her princess. "Sailor Pluto, Sailor Uranus, Sailor Neptune," she greeted, inclining her head.
"Luna," Pluto acknowledged. "We are relieving the Inner Senshi of duty." She turned again to Sailor Mars. "I will not ask again. You have proven to be incompetent and now, it seems, rebellious as well." Pluto's voice hardened as she finally gave rein to the anger that had been building within her. "How can you consider yourself Senshi and guardians of the princess when you allow this to happen to her?" Pluto gestured at the limp form of Serenity. Blood was dripping down Uranus' arms from the freshly opened wounds in her back and the glow of the crescent moon upon her forehead accentuated the paleness of her skin. "Every moment you delay puts her at risk. Give me the Ginzuishou now or I will take it from you."
Mars was about to refuse when Tuxedo Kamen placed his hand on her arm. "Give her the Ginzuishou. She is correct. We have failed in our duty and Usako is paying the price." Mars looked at him and the pain in his eyes spoke more eloquently than his words. Silently, she reached inside her uniform and removed the Ginzuishou. Mars placed the Ginzuishou into Pluto's open palm, but did not release it.
"Promise you'll take good care of her and tell her..." Mars took a deep breath, blinking back tears. "Tell her we're sorry." At Pluto's
solemn nod, Mars abruptly released the crystal and strode away.
As Pluto was turning away to follow the Outer Senshi, she was halted by Mercury's soft call, "Sailor Pluto! You'll let us know how she is, won't you?" Pluto paused and then turned back. "I will do as my princess wishes," she responded and then continued on her way.
Mercury's shoulders slumped a bit, but she nodded in understanding. "How could we have done this to her, our princess... our friend? We
were supposed to protect her, not drive her into danger," she whispered as tears streamed silently down her face.
Venus hugged her comfortingly, "She'll forgive us. I know she will."
Mercury sniffed a few times and then drew away. "I have my computer programmed for casual scanning when I'm not using it," she explained as she opened up said machine. "I didn't think of doing an intensive scan on Usagi before they left, but this should give us some idea of her condition."
"It's OK, Mercury, none of us were thinking very clearly." Jupiter said.
Everyone was quiet as they waited for Mercury to tell them her findings. She frowned as worked, her fingers tapping quickly over the keyboard.
"Well, don't keep us in suspense!" Mars finally burst out, unable to contain herself any longer.
"Oh, sorry." Mercury cleared her throat. "I don't have many details, as it was just a passive scan, but this is what we have. Her body temperature was approximately 104 degrees Fahrenheit and rising, she's severely dehydrated, and she seemed to be losing energy at a constant rate. We could see that she was bleeding, so I would theorize that the fever is most likely the result of her wounds becoming infected..." Mercury paused in her recitation of the data at the collective gasp from the other Senshi. She glanced up from her screen to see the three other Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen staring at her in horror.
"She's in pretty rough shape, isn't she?" Venus said after a few minutes.
"I'm afraid so. The infection and the dehydration can be treated easily enough in an emergency room, but it's the energy drain that concerns me. Why would she be losing energy now...?" Mercury trailed off as her mind suddenly shifted into high gear. "Oh no."
"What is it?" Tuxedo Kamen asked. He could almost feel the fear coming from the Senshi of Ice.
"She was Princess Serenity," Ami stated. Tuxedo Kamen's eyes widened as he grasped the importance of that simple statement.
"So?" Mars asked, "She's been Princess Serenity before."
"But she didn't have the Ginzuishou this time," he said.
Luna gasped. "That's not good."
"I don't understand," Venus said, her brow furrowed in confusion. "You mean she transformed into Princess Serenity without the Ginzuishou? I didn't think she could do that."
"I don't think she did. I think someone else transformed her and that it's the transformation that is draining her energy," Mercury explained.
"But she has the Ginzuishou now, shouldn't that give her power?" Jupiter asked.
"It might," Mercury admitted, "but the crystal itself drains her, as well. Normally, when she is running low on energy, Usagi detransforms
automatically. Since someone else triggered the transformation, however, Usagi may need to consciously reverse the process." She looked around at her fellow Senshi. "We have to let them know what has happened. They can't take Usagi to the hospital in her current state. That glowing crescent moon is bound to generate questions that we just can't answer."
"I'll go," Tuxedo Kamen stated quietly. "I'm the one person Pluto can't pull rank on. Luna, you and Artemis should go to Usagi's house. Someone needs to keep an eye on Chibi-Usa."*****
"Setsuna, she's really burning up. We have to take her to a hospital," Michiru said, placing her hand against Serenity's cheek.
"And how do you propose we explain this?" Setsuna asked, indicating the blazing crescent moon on Serenity's forehead. "We must deal with this ourselves, at least until she detransforms. She can't remain in this form much longer, she doesn't have the energy to maintain it." Setsuna frowned as she spoke. Something wasn't right. In her current condition, the princess should have detransformed some time ago. "Something's not right here..."
"Of course something's not right! Our princess is bleeding and burning with fever. That's definitely not right. Are you sure I can't teach those Inners a lesson for not protecting her?" Haruka asked angrily, punching her fist into her palm for emphasis.
"Not now, Haruka. The first thing we need to do is lower her temperature. Setsuna, help me get some ice. Haruka, put the princess into the bathtub." Michiru spoke with calm efficiency and ran to the kitchen for the ice. The first rumblings of thunder were heard just as she entered the bathroom.=====
Eight-year-old Serenity was frightened. Papa had awakened her in the middle of the night and said that she had to help her mama. Serenity loved her mama and she wanted to help, so she obediently crawled out of bed and took her papa's hand. There was a storm brewing outside, and she shivered as a cold breeze went through her thin white nightgown. "What does Mama need, Papa?" Serenity asked.
"Why, Serenity, she needs you to die!" he screamed as Serenity suddenly found herself in a dark cave with her father's maniacal laughter echoing around her. Lightning flashed and she saw the twisted mask of her father's face in front of her. The large knife he held reflected in his black eyes and she screamed as he plunged the knife toward her chest.
Haruka just about jumped out of her skin when Serenity suddenly let out a blood-curdling scream. Setsuna and Michiru came racing into the room.
"What is it? What happened?" Michiru asked, looking around wildly.
"I don't know, she just started screaming." Haruka said, shrugging her shoulders.
Serenity whimpered softly, "No, Papa! No!" Her head shook slowly back and forth.
Setsuna's eyes widened. "She's remembering the past."
"The past? You mean the Silver Millennium? Why would she be screaming about her father?" Haruka asked.
Pluto just shook her head as she poured the ice into the tub. She directed her attention to Serenity, who was trembling violently. "Shh, Princess. You're safe now. No one can hurt you now, Serenity. It's OK," she murmured soothingly until the whimpers ceased and Serenity lay still once more.
Sailor Moon shivered from the cold. Her friends were gone and she was facing Beryl alone. But who was that kneeling before the witch? It couldn't be her Mamo-chan, could it? "Mamo-chan?" she queried softly.
"Prince Endymion, kill the little moon brat once and for all!" Beryl's shrill voice cut through the dark cave like a knife to Usagi's heart. She was still standing there in stunned betrayal when he attacked her with his sword, his black eyes blazing with his hatred for her.
"No, Mamo-chan!" Sailor Moon cried out as the sword slashed across her torso.
Serenity was thrashing in the tub again, and Haruka had to grab her to keep her head above the water. Through the thunder, the splashing water, and Serenity's soft sobs, a persistent banging could be heard.
"Now what?" Haruka exclaimed.
Setsuna sighed tiredly in resignation. "Let him in. It's the Prince. He may be the only one who can reach her now. She's slipping away even as we speak." The crescent moon that once blazed upon Serenity's forehead was now flickering and her breathing had become shallow and irregular.
"No," Haruka denied the situation. "We're not going to lose her now."
Princess Serenity looked all around her. The Moon Kingdom was in ruins, her friends were dead on the battlefield, and her prince... her prince was bleeding in her arms. "No, Endymion, don't leave me," she pleaded. She knew he couldn't hear her anymore, that she would never again feel his delicious warmth engulfing her and making her feel safe, loved, and complete. She gently closed his staring eyes before getting resolutely to her feet. "Wait for me, my love. I will be joining you soon," she whispered. A few feet away, she found the crystal sword. Serenity held the blade up to her chest and was about
to thrust it into her heart when she felt it. The warmth was surrounding her, his warmth. "Endymion?" she asked, hardly daring to hope that it could really be him.
"Stay with me, Usako. Do you hear me? Stay with me." Mamoru clutched Serenity to his breast. When he had entered the room, her breathing had faltered and Haruka had been trying unsuccessfully to get her to respond. The whispered question of his name finally permeated the litany he had been chanting since he arrived in the bathroom and he responded to his Princess' voice. "I'm here, love, don't worry, everything's going to be fine."
"Her fever is breaking," Michiru stated, after placing her hand on Serenity's forehead.
Hearing this, Mamoru lifted Serenity out of the cold tub and Setsuna engulfed the shivering girl in a large, fluffy towel.
Serenity blinked up at Endymion in confusion. "I thought you were dead. Beryl and the Dark Kingdom, they killed you and my Senshi..." Serenity's voice trailed off as her body succumbed to the stress it had been put through.
"Michiru, Haruka, get her out of that wet gown and into something warm and dry. I'll make some tea and then we need to talk," Setsuna said, staring into the Prince's eyes, before turning abruptly and striding toward the kitchen.=====
"So, Mercury has theorized that Usako needs to detransform before she is completely drained of energy," Mamoru concluded his explanation of what Mercury's scan of Usagi had revealed.
"Hmm, that explains why she didn't detransform automatically, but doesn't answer another important question. Who could have the ability to force Usagi to become Princess Serenity?" Setsuna pointed out.
Mamoru shook his head. "That, we don't know. It would seem that it must be whoever kidnapped her from the park three days ago. We'll have to wait until Usako wakes up before we know more."
Serenity felt as though she were fighting her way through fields of foggy clouds. Everything felt and sounded muffled and it was dark. Dark like the caves... She opened her eyes and looked around frantically, but it was still completely dark. No light could penetrate the pressing darkness and Serenity could feel her breath quickening with her pulse. She felt around her and was surprised to discover the softness of blankets. She had been expecting the damp
ground. Feeling around a bit more, she determined that she was in a bed. A rumble of thunder caused her to shiver and the image of a familiar face twisted with hatred flashed in her mind. Unbidden, she uttered the word "Papa." Taking comfort in the soft, warm blankets, Serenity covered her head and slipped into slumber once more.
"What is it?" Michiru asked, as Mamoru seemed to withdraw for a few minutes, staring intently at the bedroom in which Serenity rested. He then shook his head and relaxed. Looking back at the Senshi of the Ocean, he shrugged.
"She was awake for a moment, and afraid, but she's gone back to sleep," he finally answered.
"It's the loss of energy. We need to put a stop to it," Setsuna said.
"When they fought Queen Beryl, the Senshi were able to give her their power. Perhaps we could do the same, at least enough to sustain her until she can reverse the transformation. With our help, she may be able to use the Ginzuishou," Mamoru said.
Setsuna nodded in agreement. "It's a good suggestion. We'll try it in the morning. Right now, we're all exhausted and we won't do the Princess any good if we all collapse around her. Mamoru-san, you may stay in one of the guest bedrooms."=====
Serenity was running through the dark, damp caves. From all around her, she could hear the laughter of Queen Beryl and her father mixing together and echoing endlessly in every direction.
"Time to die, little Moon child!" Beryl's voice suddenly came from behind her and Serenity whirled around. Instead of Beryl, however, she was confronted by her father and her fiancee. Their black eyes glittered with hatred as they advanced toward her. Her father held a long dagger before him and she could see a reflection of herself as a child in the blade. When her eyes darted to the sword in Endymion's hand, she saw a reflection of Sailor Moon. She shook her head and started backing up, denying the sight in front of her.
"No, this can't be true. This isn't happening. They would never hurt me," she told herself. She shut her eyes to escape the nightmare in front of her and called for Endymion with all her being, "Endymion!"
Mamoru rubbed his eyes wearily. Rather than the nightmare he'd been having of Usagi dying on their wedding day, he had been reliving his time as a slave to Queen Beryl. He shuddered at the memory and sat up to clear the last vestiges of the dream from his mind. His breathing had just started to slow to a normal rate when the sharp pain came in his head. "Argh!" he groaned as he clutched his head in his hands. Then, he heard her voice in his head, as clear as a bell.
"Endymion!" That single word held so much emotion--love, fear, hope, despair--his princess needed him!
When he entered her room, the Ginzuishou was pulsing in time with the crescent moon on her forehead. The resulting light illuminated the bedroom in a silvery glow that dimmed and brightened at intervals. Serenity was in the throes of a nightmare and her agonized sobbing pulled at his heart. Rushing to the bed, he gathered her into his arms and began murmuring soothingly into her ear. At his touch, she immediately calmed and turned to nestle into his shoulder. He stroked her hair and gently tucked an errant lock behind her ear. Her hair was out of its customary buns and seemed to have a life of its own. As Serenity's breathing calmed, he tried to ease out from under her to return to his own room. The small sound of dismay she made halted his progress and he gave in to his own desire to remain where he was, with her warm body settled against him. The time apart from her had only increased his need to hold her and bask in her light. With a small sigh of defeat, he leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes--more content than he had felt in weeks.=====
There were flowers everywhere and Serenity could see her beloved Endymion, as handsome as ever in a white tuxedo. She looked down at herself and discovered that she was wearing a lacy white wedding dress. The bouquet in her hand was comprised of red roses, her favorite. Blushing with pleasure as she brought the flowers up to her nose, Serenity sniffed delicately and walked toward her husband-to-be. She had almost reached him when dark claws clutched her waist from behind and started dragging her away. As she screamed, she could hear a booming voice, "Stay away from Princess Serenity or she will die! Heed this warning!"
Something about the voice seemed vaguely familiar, but Serenity didn't have time to analyze it further. She could hear the anguished cries of Endymion behind her and anger replaced the fear that had paralyzed her. The crescent moon blazed upon her forehead as she called forth the Ginzuishou.
"How dare you disrupt the happiest day of my life and hurt my love? In the name of the moon, I will punish you! Cosmic Moon Power!" The Ginzuishou blazed to life and the claws binding her disintegrated under the cleansing light. The booming voice was silent and Serenity gently floated down behind Endymion. He was still on his knees crying in anguish when she placed her hand on his shoulder and spoke, "Arise, Prince Endymion, there is no need for sorrow. Together we can vanquish any evil. Our love is the light that pierces the darkness and banishes the shadows that threaten all life."
At her touch, Endymion's tuxedo was replaced with armor. He turned as he stood up and crushed her to him. "I thought I had lost you, my love," he whispered.
"Never. We will always find one another, no matter what happens. Not even death can separate us. Remember this and believe in our love and all will be well," Serenity told him gently. Her cerulean blue eyes gazed into his darker ones with such love and trust that his breath caught in his throat.
"I will never doubt our love again," he said huskily as he brought his lips down to hers in a searing kiss filled with all of the pent up emotions of the past weeks. As they kissed, a soft golden glow enveloped them and a sense of well-being permeated both of them.
Mamoru woke up feeling more rested than he had in years. He started to stretch, but stopped when he felt the warm body lying against him. Looking down, he smiled when he saw his princess peacefully sleeping with her head on his chest. Her skin had lost its pallor and a healthy glow emanated from her crescent moon. He gently traced his finger down her cheek and was rewarded with the fluttering of her eyelashes.
"Good morning, sleepy-head," he said.
Serenity blinked a few times and tried to look about her. "Endymion?" she queried softly, her forehead crinkling in confusion and a slight trace of fear.
"It's Mamoru now, Usako, remember?" he asked.
Serenity frowned. It sounded like Endymion and felt like Endymion, but why would he go by 'Mamoru?'" A memory tickled at the back of her brain and she got a quick flash of herself wearing strange clothes and shouting "Mamo-chan" as she embraced Endymion, dressed equally strangely.
"Mamo-chan?" she said, hesitantly.
"Yes! Usako, you had me worried there for a minute." Mamoru hugged her tightly in relief before he remembered the wounds on her back. "Usako! I'm so sorry, did I hurt you?"
"No, I feel quite well..." Wait, that shouldn't be. Hadn't she been injured? Everything was so confused...
"Endymion," she began, then thinking about how relieved he had sounded about his new name, she quickly amended, "I mean, Mamo-chan. Why is it so dark? Where are we?" Serenity asked.
'Dark?' Mamoru thought, coming back to himself. He had known that Sailor Moon healed quickly, but considering the severity of her injuries, he hadn't expected them to disappear so quickly. Forcing himself to put off thinking about it until later, he felt a shiver of apprehension as he examined her more closely. 'What does she mean dark? The sun is shining in the windows.' He turned her head so he could look into her eyes. They were the same crystal-clear blue, but they didn't focus upon him. He slowly waved a hand in front of her face. Nothing. She didn't track his movements at all. Mamoru sucked in his breath.
Serenity felt the tension in him and immediately became concerned. "What is it? What's wrong? Are you alright?" she asked.
Mamoru forced himself to relax. He had to stay calm in order not to frighten her. "I'm fine, don't worry." He took her hand and squeezed it. "We're in Pluto's home," he answered one of her previous questions.
"Sailor Pluto's? Why are we not at the palace?" As soon as she asked, Serenity knew she didn't want to know the answer. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she already knew why they weren't at the palace. Flashes of a battle, an evil queen, her fallen Senshi, her prince dying in her arms after taking the attack meant for her and, finally, the sword that she had plunged into her breast.
Mamoru sensed the change in her immediately. She had stiffened in his embrace and slight tremors ran down her slender frame. Tears fell unnoticed as she stared into space, unblinking. "Serenity?" he asked, giving her a slight shake. "Serenity, are you alright?"
"Gone," she whispered, "It's all gone. The Silver Millennium, the Moon Kingdom, everything. My Senshi, my people, us, we are all dead..."
"Not anymore. Serenity, we've been reborn. You, me, the Senshi, we're alive. I am Chiba Mamoru and you are Tsukino Usagi. Your mother sent us and your court to the future and Earth. Do you understand? We're alive," Mamoru told her, his voice catching a bit at the look of total devastation on her face. "You need to detransform and become Usagi once more, Serenity. If you don't, the energy drain will kill you."
Serenity buried her face in his chest, the darkness momentarily forgotten as she absorbed his words. Deep down, she knew he spoke the truth, but part of her rebelled against his instructions. For some reason, she felt it would be better to die as Princess Serenity than to become Tsukino Usagi and live. Words rose, unbidden, to her mouth, "It is better if I die. Tsukino Usagi does not deserve to live."
"That's not true!" Mamoru cried. "Usako, the world needs you and Sailor Moon."
"No, everyone wants the Princess. Tsukino Usagi is worthless and unnecessary."
Mamoru closed his eyes at the self-hatred he heard in her voice. It was his fault she felt this way. When he had pushed her away to protect her, she must have decided that he only loved the princess, not her current incarnation. The Senshi certainly hadn't helped matters, either, when they had all turned on her after the last attack of the Black Moon. At that moment, he felt they all deserved one of the worst places in Hell for what they had done to the person
who meant the most to them.
"Serenity, Usako, we need you. Your light, your laughter, your smile... You brighten the world with your joy and love. As Sailor Moon, you've protected the earth from the Dark Kingdom, the evil force that no one else had been able to defeat. Endymion loved Serenity, yes; but I, Mamoru, love Tsukino Usagi, my Usako." Mamoru told her earnestly.
Serenity reached up to feel his face. When she encountered the wet tears that fell silently down his cheeks, she paused. With a feather-light touch, she continued her exploration, not stopping until she had smoothed the hair out of his eyes. Finally, she sighed before speaking again, "If what you say is true, that you truly love 'Usako,' then I must return her to you. There are two problems, however. The first being that I believe I must be blind." she stated
Mamoru let out a soft sigh. She was much calmer about the revelation than he had expected. "You were kidnapped three days ago in the park, and whoever took you did something that seems to have resulted in your being in this form and, evidently, the blindness. We'll need Mercury to scan you with her computer before we know more. We were really hoping you would be able to tell us what happened."
Serenity nodded slowly. "That makes sense. My memory is somewhat confused at the moment, but perhaps as Usagi I will have a clearer recollection. That, however, brings us to the second problem..." Serenity paused, biting her lip, "I am not certain how I am to detransform."
"I think I may be able to help with that. When I first transformed into Tuxedo Kamen, it was an involuntary action, as well. I learned, however, that I could 'will' myself to be Mamoru or Tuxedo Kamen. So, I would think that you could do the same. Here..." Mamoru picked up the Ginzuishou from the nightstand and placed it in her hands. "This might help," Mamoru said.
Grasping the Ginzuishou firmly, Serenity closed her eyes and concentrated on the image of the girl she had seen in her mind who had called for 'Mamo-chan.' The crystal flashed once and Mamoru found himself holding his Usako. The faint outline of a crescent moon remained upon her forehead, but it no longer blazed with light.
"Usako?" he prompted gently.
Usagi's eyes remained closed and her continued silence began to worry him. He gave her a gentle squeeze and tried again, "Usako?" This time she responded.
"Yes, Mamo-chan," she said, but her eyes remained closed.
"Open your eyes, Usako," he requested, as he tilted her face up so he could see her more clearly. She did as he asked and he was mildly disappointed, but not surprised, to find they were still sightless.
"Still dark," she whispered, a single tear slowly trickling down her cheek. "He said I would know only darkness, and he was right."
Mamoru wiped the tear away and turned her in his embrace so that her head rested against his shoulder. "It will be alright, Usako," he said.
She shook her head slightly and tried to fight the sob she could feel building in her chest. "How can it be alright? I'm blind! How can I fight as Sailor Moon?" She finally lost the battle and wept quietly into his shoulder.
Mamoru just held her, stroking her hair comfortingly as his mind raced. He hadn't thought about the implications of her blindness. He had been so consumed with stopping her energy drain and getting his Usako back that he hadn't even considered how being sightless would affect Sailor Moon's ability to fight. After a few minutes, the sobs died down to an occasional hiccough and Usagi just rested quietly against him. Even under the circumstances, Mamoru couldn't help but feel satisfaction at having her in his arms again. Just holding her filled him with the warmth that had been missing from his life for so long.
"It was the dream, wasn't it?" she asked softly, without moving from her position within his arms. "The dream was the reason you broke up with me."
"I'm so sorry, Usako. I had it every night. At first, I shrugged it off as my subconscious showing my worst fears, but when the dream persisted, I became convinced it was a prediction, a warning of what would happen if we stayed together. Every night I had to watch you die as I was helpless to save you. Your screams echoed in my ears," Mamoru shuddered at the memory.
This time, it was Usagi who offered comfort. "Don't worry, Mamo-chan, the dream won't bother you any more. Don't you know that I would rather die than live without you? You are part of me. Without you, I feel incomplete, empty, lost..." she trailed off at the the painful memories of the past weeks.
"I understand, Usako, and I'm sorry. I should have told you about the dream instead of driving you away. I just couldn't bear the thought that you might die because of me..." he explained.
"I forgive you. Just promise me you'll never do such a thing again."
"I promise, Usako," he said and then sealed his promise with a kiss.
The sound of someone clearing her throat brought Mamoru back to the present. He raised his head to see Setsuna standing in the doorway with her arms crossed. "I take it you have resolved your differences with the Princess?" she asked wryly, raising one eyebrow. She noticed that Mamoru flushed a bit with embarrassment, but Usagi simply smiled in contentment.
"Hello, Puu. It's been a long time," Usagi said calmly. "Please come in and help us with my problem."
"What problem is that, Princess? I see you have detransformed and you appear to be feeling much better," Setsuna said as she moved into the room.
"Yes, thank you, Puu. I am feeling much better." Usagi leaned back against Mamoru and he brought his arms about her once more. "However, it seems that the enemy has blinded me."
Setsuna frowned in concern and placed her fingers under Usagi's chin. Looking intently at Usagi's eyes, she slowly turned Usagi's head from
side to side. "You can see nothing at all? No color or light?" she asked.
"No, nothing. Just dark." Usagi answered.
"Hmmm, I didn't really want to involve the Inner Senshi right now, but I think we should have Mercury scan you with her computer. It is much more advanced than any of the medical technology available today," Setsuna said.
Usagi flinched at the mention of the Inner Senshi. With everything that had happened, she had briefly forgotten the harsh words that had passed between her and her Senshi. Pulling away from Setsuna's grasp, Usagi leaned back against Mamoru. "I will do what you think best," she said dully.
Setsuna squeezed her hand. "Usagi, they are truly sorry for the way they treated you. I am angry with them, as well, but there was no denying the regret they felt for their behavior. If you wish, I will only contact Mercury and you can deal with the others later," she said.
Usagi nodded in agreement. "OK, maybe that will work. Perhaps Mercury can find a way to cure the blindness before I need to face the others." 'Otherwise, I will truly be worthless to them,' she added to herself.
Mamoru, who had been listening to the conversation in silence, shifted slightly. "Usako, I believe she is right. The other Senshi feel terrible about what has happened. Actually, I promised them I would let them know how you were doing, so perhaps I should go now and contact them. I can bring Mercury back with me." He glanced at Setsuna for confirmation and she nodded. Mamoru carefully disentangled himself from Usagi's limbs and he felt a small pang of disappointment that she did not protest. He missed her warmth the moment he left the bed and he noticed that Usagi rubbed her arms as if she'd just
experienced a chill.
"You'll be back soon, won't you?" she asked.
"Yes, I will be back soon. Don't worry," he reassured her. Mamoru kissed her lightly on the forehead and then left. As he walked through the living room on his way to the door, he was confronted by Haruka.
"Are you deserting her again already?" she asked, her blue eyes blazing in anger.
"No, I'm not deserting her. I have never deserted her and I never will," he bit out. Only his joy at being reunited with Usako allowed him to keep his own temper under control. "I'm going to bring Sailor Mercury here. We need her and her computer to run a scan on Usagi. Setsuna will explain," he said as he stepped around her and went out the door.=====
"Puu," Usagi began, "What can you tell me about my father? I mean, Princess Serenity's father," she corrected herself.
Setsuna froze for a moment. That was the last thing she had expected Usagi to ask. She drew a deep breath and let it out before answering. "I'll tell you what, why don't you take a hot shower while I fix you some breakfast and then you can tell me what you remember. Then, I'll try to fill in the blanks as best I can, OK? I'll send Michiru in with some fresh clothes."
"Oh!" Usagi exclaimed as a thought struck her. "What about my parents? They must be worried sick!"
Setsuna smiled slightly. "That is not a problem. They believe that you are spending time with your 'Aunt Setsuna,'" she replied.
"You mean the Luna-P ball has convinced them of this in the same way that it convinced them Chibi-Usa was my cousin," Usagi stated.
"That is correct. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go get Michiru to help you with the shower. I would do it myself, but I'm the best cook." Setsuna exited the room to inform Haruka and Michiru of Usagi's much-improved condition and to start breakfast.====
Alone for the first time since discovering her blindness, Usagi slowly made her way to the side of the bed. Swinging her legs over, she tested the floor with her toes. Thick, plush carpeting cushioned her feet and she stood up with a sigh. For a moment, the all-consuming darkness overwhelmed her and she stood paralyzed, but she gave herself a good shake and began to move determinedly forward, using the bed as a guide to the wall. She had just reached the nightstand when Michiru entered the room.
"Usagi-san, you are looking much better!" Michiru exclaimed cheerfully.
"Just Usagi is fine." Usagi said with a wan smile. "I'm still not exactly at my best, but thanks."
"Nonsense, you're doing just fine," Michiru said with forced gaiety. She hated to see her princess struggling so. She felt that she had failed in her duty somehow. "Here, let me guide you to the bathroom so you can start to learn some of the layout of the house. After your shower, Haruka or I can give you a tour of the whole thing." Michiru reached for Usagi's elbow as she spoke.
As Michiru's hand touched her arm, Usagi was suddenly immersed in a sea of emotions not her own. She could hear the waves of the ocean in her ears and smell the salt of the sea in her nostrils. Within the ocean there were feelings that rose and crested--love for the wind and moon, guilt and acceptance, fear of silence... Usagi closed her eyes and rode the storm. When the sea calmed, Usagi could dimly hear someone calling her name.
"Usagi! Usagi, can you hear me? Usagi!" Michiru called frantically. She was frightened that the Princess had frozen at her touch and she seemed to be somewhere else entirely. Michiru was just about to call for help when she felt the rush of power come through the hand that was holding Usagi's elbow. A feeling of well-being and love infused her and she sucked in her breath at the intensity of emotion she felt. She stared at the girl in front of her in amazement and was startled to find the crescent moon glowing upon her forehead once more.
As she stood in almost a trance state, a face took form in Usagi's mind. Delicate features framed by a cloud of sea foam green hair. Eyes of the same color gleamed with intelligence, but were darkened by hidden shadow. "Michiru, Neptune, Senshi of Water," Usagi breathed in a far away voice. As the words were spoken, the face changed into a column of aqua light and Usagi could feel Michiru's confusion and surprise. With those feelings, Usagi also realized that she knew exactly where Michiru stood. She could feel her presence, a warm, soft presence at the moment, as tranquil as the sea on a cloudless day.
Not wanting the moment to end, but knowing that it must, Michiru reluctantly spoke. "We had best proceed with your shower before Haruka and Setsuna wonder what became of us."
At her words, Usagi's whole demeanor suddenly changed. Where a moment before she had seemed very royal and almost ethereal, there now stood a fifteen-year-old girl worried about receiving a scolding. "Oh, we better hurry. Puu hates it when people are late!" she exclaimed.
Michiru grinned. Although she loved her princess dearly, she thought she would come to love the sweet Usagi, as well. Impulsively, she gave the small blonde a quick hug and was amazed at the warmth and love she felt in return.====
Usagi was thoroughly enjoying breakfast. Her hair was back up in the customary odangos and the food was wonderful. "Setsuna, this is delicious. I feel like I haven't eaten for days!" she exclaimed happily. "Oh, I guess I haven't," she said and then giggled in embarrassment that she had forgotten and continued eating. Setsuna had thoughtfully served her only easy-to-eat foods so she wouldn't have to deal with cutting things she couldn't see, and Usagi demolished the meal with her customary gusto. She had just polished off the last of her toast when she turned her head toward the living room. "They're here."
"Who's here?" Haruka asked, just as the doorbell chimed.
"Mamo-chan and Ami," Usagi stated.
Haruka scowled at her as Michiru went to answer the door. "How could you know that Mamoru and Ami were here?"
Usagi shrugged. "I just do."
Haruka opened her mouth to demand more of an explanation, but the gentle touch of Usagi's fingers upon her arm stopped her.
"Haruka, Wind-rider, some things do not require an explanation, they simply are." Usagi's voice had altered slightly to become more regal, older, and wiser.
The beautiful blue crystal eyes stared blindly at her, but Haruka felt that Usagi was seeing her more clearly than anyone had before. She felt a rush of love envelope her and warm her in its embrace.
Usagi sat completely still as Haruka's emotions rushed over her. The image of a tall blonde woman with laughing eyes appeared before her and she could feel the wind gently blowing around her. She could sense the bond between the wind and the water and she smiled. As the wind began to fade, Usagi briefly saw many silvery threads linking her to her Senshi and a thicker cord, mixed with gold, that was her bond with Mamoru. She was startled out of her contemplation of what it all meant when Setsuna called her name.
"Usagi! Haruka! Can you hear me?" Setsuna demanded, concern sharpening her voice beyond normal.
Usagi and Haruka both jumped and Usagi removed her hand from Haruka's arm.
"What?" Haruka asked, as she shook her head to clear it.
Setsuna was about to reply when Michiru walked into the dining room followed by Mamoru and Ami. Haruka scowled at Ami, but after a reproving look from Michiru, managed to school her expression into a less overt look of hostility.
"Haruka, why don't you help me with the dishes while they run some scans on Usagi," Michiru said, trying to separate the still angry Haruka and the downcast Senshi of Ice. Ami had followed meekly behind Mamoru and had not yet raised her eyes from the ground. Her lower lip trembled a bit and she was fighting to retain her control. Guilt, shame, and fear warred within her as she waited for Usagi to denounce her.
Usagi felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. Ami's remorse and negative feelings all battered at her soul and her eyes teared with the strength of them. With a strangled sob, she threw herself at Ami and embraced her. "It's okay, Ami. Please don't feel this way. I forgive you. Please stop this," she said as she held the blue-haired girl tightly, tears falling freely from her eyes. The other girl shuddered and then hugged Usagi back, finally giving into
the emotional storm she had been trying to contain.
"I'm so sorry, Usagi. We all are. When we realized you had been injured, we felt terrible. We tried to come after you, but you just disappeared! If anything had happened to you, it would have been our fault. We're supposed to protect you," Ami managed to get out between sobs.
"Shhh, everything's going to be alright now," Usagi soothed her, stroking her hair. Usagi closed her eyes and held Ami tighter until the other girl's cries had diminished. Feeling a warm hand upon her shoulder, Usagi drew back from Ami, but didn't release her. "Can you take us back to the bedroom, Mamo-chan?" she asked him quietly.
"Of course. Ami, please follow me," Mamoru said as he started down the hall. Ami nodded and proceeded after him, with Usagi still holding one of her hands. By the time they reached the bedroom, Ami had regained her equilibrium.
"I'll leave you two alone, but I'll be in the living room if you need me," Mamoru said as he left, closing the door behind him.
Ami breathed a small sigh of relief; she needed to transform into Sailor Mercury in order to access her computer and she felt uncomfortable doing so in front of Mamoru. A faint blush stained her cheeks at the thought. Raising her transformation pen, she cried out, "Mercury Power!"
Usagi sat quietly during the transformation. She felt the rush of power emanating from Ami and shivered a bit at the cold feeling of ice. She'd seen Ami transform before, but she'd never experienced it in this way--as though she were a part of it. It was similar to her own transformation, but the source of power was different--colder, smoother, bluer...and then it was over. Where before Ami had been a calm, steady blue, Mercury now emitted a stronger, more vibrant hue. Usagi started to reach her hand toward the shimmering blue light that she could see with her mind rather than her eyes.
Mercury noticed Usagi reaching for her. "Usagi, can you see me?" she asked, surprised.
"Not exactly," Usagi answered, dropping her hand.
Mercury paused for a moment as a thought struck her. "You came straight to me in the dining room. I hadn't even said anything. Did you get your sight back?" she asked, her voice rising in excitement.
Usagi dropped her head dejectedly. "No," she whispered.
Mercury frowned in confusion. "Then how do you know where I am?"
Usagi shrugged. "I just know. I can 'feel' you--a bright blue light, smooth and pure as ice."
Mercury blinked in shock. "Feel me? What do you mean?" She activated her visor as she spoke. "I'm going to scan you now, and maybe that will help explain what you're talking about." Mercury studied the readouts as they came. All of Usagi's injuries appeared to have healed completely, except for the damage to her eyes. Her brain patterns had altered considerably, though, and her energy level was still dangerously low. Mercury modified the scan for more detailed
information about the brain activity. Keeping the scan running, she
spoke, "Usagi-chan, can you 'feel' anyone else?"
Usagi reached out, following the threads she had noticed before. Almost immediately, she located the others in the house. "Yes, Mamo-chan is in the living room with Setsuna. Michiru and Haruka are in the kitchen."
Mercury's eyes widened in amazement. The activity in Usagi's brain had ramped upin a part of the brain that scientists theorized telepathy might be located. This was incredible! "Can you find the other Senshi?"
Usagi closed her eyes and reached further. At first, she thought the distance might be too great, but then she could feel them--red, orange, and green clustered together with misery radiating from their auras. Usagi's eyes filled with tears as she felt their pain and cried out, "No!" She could feel herself falling into unconsciousness, but just before she blacked out completely, she felt another, a faint light of violet that touched her gently, and then she knew no more.
Mercury rushed to Usagi's side when she heard her cry out and lowered her gently to the bed when she fainted. There immediately came a pounding on the door.
"Usako! Are you alright?" she could hear Mamoru's voice. Mercury deactivated her visor and opened the door. Mamoru stood in the doorway with the Outer Senshi behind him. He immediately went to Usagi's side while the other three glared at her.
Mercury backed away from the anger she saw and hurriedly started to explain, "She'll be okay. Her energy levels are just too low and she fainted."
Mamoru was gently stroking Usagi's cheek and she began to stir.
"Mamo-chan?" she asked weakly.
"I'm here. What happened?" he asked her as he helped her sit up. "I heard you cry out and then nothing."
Usagi leaned against him and sighed. "They're hurting, Mamo-chan. I need to go to them. It hurts too much." Usagi's lips trembled a bit as tears threatened again.
"Who is hurting?" he asked, although he had a niggling suspicion that he already knew the answer.
"The Inner Senshi," she confirmed.
"Will someone please explain what is going on?" Haruka finally asked in exasperation.
"I have to go to them, Mamo-chan," Usagi insisted, struggling to sit
Mamoru gently eased her back down. "You need to rest, Usako. I'll speak with the others and see if I can bring them to you. Will that do?" he asked in a soothing voice.
Usagi nodded as her eyes fluttered shut. She'd been having a hard time keeping them open, anyway. She felt the warm pressure of Mamoru's lips against her forehead and she smiled in pleasure as a welcoming warmth washed over her as she drifted off.
Mamoru brushed her bangs out of her eyes and reluctantly stood. He looked at the Senshi who were all staring at him. "Out," he said in a tone of voice that would brook no argument. Even Haruka, for once, kept her mouth shut and they all quietly exited the bedroom.
Once they all reached the living room, Haruka rounded on Mercury. "What happened in there? You're here for twenty minutes and Usagi collapses. What did you do to her?" she demanded.
Ami detransformed before answering. "All I did was scan her. You won't believe what I discovered!" Ami told them, her eyes shining in excitement. "First, let me assure you that her wounds are completely healed and the fever has dissipated. My biggest concern at this point are her energy levels. They are still dangerously low and that is the reason she fainted. However, I did learn something interesting when Mamoru entered the room." Ami nodded her head toward the Prince. "It seems that when Usagi comes into contact with him, her energy increases at twice its normal rate. Not only that, but all of us, Mamoru included, all receive significant energy boosts when we are in close proximity to Usagi. This explains why it always seems much easier to defeat a youma or droid when Sailor Moon is present. Not only is her attack stronger than ours, but she also boosts our attacks!"
"Ami, what about her blindness? Will she get her sight back?" Mamoru asked worriedly.
Ami sighed and looked down. She shook her head slowly before looking back up at Mamoru. "I'm sorry, I just don't know. The damage seems to have been caused by some combination of an energy and light attack. It could be temporary or it could be permanent. There's just no way to tell."
Mamoru clenched his fists in frustration. Again he had failed to protect her!
"However," Ami continued, "the loss of her sight seems to have awakened a different part of Usagi's brain--another sense."
This got everyone's attention.
"What do you mean, another 'sense?'" Michiru asked.
"Usagi seems to have a latent psychic ability. Although, now that I think about it, I'm not all that surprised. She has always had a talent for making friends quickly. She always knows when someone is unhappy and has often managed to bring people out of a mood. The loss of her sight just seems to have allowed this gift to grow much, much stronger."
"You mean she can read our minds?" Haruka asked, aghast.
"No, I don't think so. Our thoughts are our own, but she can sense our emotions," Ami corrected.
"And share hers with you," Michiru whispered wonderingly as she thought back to the warm embrace she had shared with Usagi.
"But what does this have to do with the other Senshi?" Mamoru asked. "Can she actually sense them from here?"
Ami nodded. "Yes. It seems to require more concentration with distance, but she could still sense their emotions. Also, she knew where each of you were. Isn't that amazing? When she's more rested, I want to run some more scans to see how far she can reach and how it affects her."
"You're not turning the Princess into a guinea pig!" Haruka protested angrily.
"No, I don't intend to. But I want to be sure that using this talent doesn't harm her in any way."
Mamoru nodded in agreement. "Already, it's causing her distress. It seems that when we suffer, she suffers as well. Speaking of which, it seems that we need to resolve the problems with the other Senshi."
Haruka scowled. "After the way they treated her, they deserve to suffer."
Ami flushed in shame and looked down at the floor. She knew she was included in that remark. Her princess had forgiven her, but she had not quite forgiven herself. And neither, it seemed, had the Outer Senshi.
Mamoru gave Ami a reassuring squeeze on the arm before directing his attentions to the tall blonde. "That is not for you to decide. Usagi wishes to see them, so we will bring them to her." It was a royal command.
Setsuna nodded agreement. "It shall be as Usagi wishes."=====
Princess Serenity was floating in a soft silver light. It was peaceful and quiet and she stretched languidly.
"Daughter," a much-loved voice spoke softly and Serenity looked up to see a figure in white floating next to her.
"Mother!" she exclaimed happily and embraced the other woman.
"I haven't much time, but there are things I must tell you, dear one," Queen Serenity said.
"What is it, Mother? What is wrong?" Princess Serenity asked.
"You will need to be strong, Serenity. The past and the future are conspiring to destroy the present. You must fight the evil, but follow your heart in all things. Do you understand, daughter? You are the only one who can save him. I failed, but you can do it." Queen Serenity began to fade away.
"Save who? Mother! Who am I supposed to save?" Serenity cried out, but there was no answer.
Usagi woke up. It was completely dark and Usagi felt a quick spike of fear before she remembered. 'I'm blind. It's always dark.' She stifled a small sob and turned her face into her pillow to muffle the sounds. It wasn't long before a warm golden glow surrounded her and she felt strong arms lifting her up and placing her against a warm, solid body. The faint scent of roses tickled her nose and she took several deep breaths, ceasing the sobs and just reveling in his nearness. For weeks, she'd dreamt of being in his arms and she was half afraid that she was still dreaming. Her hands found his shirt and she clenched her fingers around the fabric and held on for dear life. At this moment, he was the only real thing in her world, the only light in the oppressive darkness, and she didn't want to lose him again. Gradually, her breathing slowed and she relaxed against him.
Mamoru had felt the fear that had quickly changed to despair and quietly excused himself from the Outer Senshi. They had sent Ami to bring the other Senshi to the mansion. As it was Friday, it had been decided that they would all stay at the mansion for the weekend. He quietly picked her up and settled himself under her slight frame, just holding her until the crying had stopped and she seemed to simply melt against him. After a few minutes of simply enjoying the peaceful feelings, he finally spoke.
"Usako? Do you want to talk about it?" he asked her quietly.
Only silence answered him and he thought she wasn't going to say anything until she sighed softly.
"I'm such a coward," she whispered. "I'm afraid of the darkness, I'm afraid of being alone, and I'm afraid I'm going to let everyone down. I don't want anyone to be hurt because of me. How can I protect you when I can't see the enemy?"
Mamoru rested his chin on her head as he thought about what she'd said. "Do you fear the darkness now?" he finally asked.
"No." Usagi smiled. "There's a brilliant golden glow keeping it at bay."
Mamoru smiled and leaned his head back against the wall. "So, does this mean you don't feel alone any longer, either?"
Usagi's smile widened and Mamoru could feel her happiness tingling up his arms and wrapping around his heart like a soft, warm blanket. "No, I'm not alone now, either," she said.
"Ah, then we only have one more concern to deal with, yes?"
Usagi's smile faltered as she nodded her head mutely.
"Usako, we're supposed to protect you, not the other way around." Mamoru said.
She shook her head vigorously. "No, Mamo-chan. That isn't right. We're supposed to protect each other. You're going to need me in the coming battles. The future and the past are going to try to destroy the present and you'll need me and the Ginzuishou to stop them."
Mamoru was about to ask her what she meant by the 'future and the past' but he was interrupted by a soft rapping on the door. "Come in," he called out.
Michiru poked her head in. "Excuse me, but I just wanted to let you know that dinner will be ready in about ten minutes."
Usagi's head popped up at the word 'dinner' and she immediately began scrambling off the bed. "Come on, Mamo-chan! It's time to eat!" she said happily as she began tugging him off the bed.====
After dinner, Michiru gave Usagi the promised tour of the mansion. This took longer than expected, as Usagi wanted a detailed description of each room as she carefully investigated it by touch.
"Oh Michiru, it all sounds so beautiful. I wish I could see it," Usagi said wistfully as they toured the music room.
"Perhaps you will. The blindness may only be temporary," Michiru said.
Usagi brightened a bit at that. "Really? Oh, I do hope so." Usagi clasped her hands together in delight.
Michiru bit her lip, wondering if she shouldn't be getting Usagi's hopes up, but then shrugged in resignation. She had only told her what Ami had told them. Deciding a change of subject was in order, she led Usagi over to a chair. "Why don't you sit here and I'll play for you. Would you like that?"
"That would be wonderful! Thank you, Michiru!" Usagi said eagerly, leaning forward in anticipation.
Michiru settled the violin under her chin and closed her eyes. She wanted her first performance for her princess to be special, so she simply let the music flow from her heart.
As the hauntingly beautiful music began to play, Usagi closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, allowing the music to carry her with it into another world...
The ballroom was full of bright dresses and elegant tuxedos. A younger Michiru of about eight or nine was playing, and Serenity was hiding behind some drapes to watch the dancing. She was supposed to be in bed, but she loved to watch the people at the fancy balls. Serenity craned her neck around the curtain, searching for her mama and papa. They were always the best dancers, and Serenity loved to watch them waltz. Someday, she thought, she would find a prince who would dance with her the way Papa danced with Mama. Finally, she spotted them in the center of the ballroom. Her mother's silver hair was up in its customary style with small threads of actual silver entwined within it that sparkled when they caught the light. Her white dress was long and full and also accented with silver. Papa's golden hair and uniform complimented her mother perfectly. Silver and gold, each made for the other. Serenity watched them happily until she noticed a dark shadow looming over her. Looking up apprehensively, Serenity was afraid Nanny Luna had discovered she was missing from her bed. Instead of Nanny Luna, however, it was her beloved Puu who looked down at her with an indulgent smile. "Puu!" she exclaimed happily and held her arms up for a hug. Puu quickly bent down and picked up the four-year-old princess.
"Aren't you supposed to be in bed, Princess?" she asked with a knowing grin.
Serenity nodded solemnly, but then grinned with joy and hugged Puu tightly before whispering in her ear, "You won't tell, will you? I like to watch Mama and Papa dance."
"I won't tell, but I think I should take you back to bed before Luna notices you're gone. You don't want Nanny Luna to worry, do you?" Setsuna asked.
"Nooo." Serenity shook her head. She wrapped her arms back around Puu's neck as Setsuna carried her out of the ballroom. Just before they reached the exit, Serenity saw her parents look at her and smile. She waved and then rested her head against Puu's shoulder and was asleep before they reached her bedroom.
Usagi sighed in contentment as the memory began to fade, the same smile on her face as had gracedher younger self's. The music came to an end soon after, the last note lingering tantalizingly in the air. "Thank you, Michiru, that was beautiful," she said. Usagi was suddenly overwhelmed with a myriad of feelings--guilt, shame, sorrow, anger and hope. She reeled at the intensity of the emotions and gripped the arms of the chair tightly.
"Princess! Usagi, are you alright?" Michiru knelt down in front of the chair and took one of Usagi's hands in her own. Her soft, aquamarine eyes were concerned as she noticed the crescent moon flash brightly a few times before fading again into the faint birthmark.
"I'm fine." Usagi finally answered after taking a couple of deep breaths. "I really need to learn how to control this," she muttered to herself. In a louder voice she said, "The Inner Senshi have arrived. I'd like to see them alone, first, if you don't mind. We have a few things to discuss."
"Alright. I'll take you to the parlor and then send them in. I don't think Haruka is going to like it, though." Michiru said.
Usagi smiled at her reassuringly. "Don't worry, I'll speak to Haruka later. This is something I need to handle myself."=====
Usagi sighed and leaned her head back against the chair. Michiru was informing the Senshi of what she wanted and, as expected, Haruka was unhappy. Usagi smiled wryly at the thought of needing protection from her protectors. Haruka always was the most overprotective one of the bunch. She relaxed her control and let the emotions simply wash over her, rather than overwhelm her. She needed to remain calm for the coming audience. That thought gave her a start, as she realized the last few thoughts were uncharacteristic of her. 'Since when did I start using words like audience?' she wondered. The crescent moon on her forehead warmed slightly in response and Usagi realized that she was no longer just Usagi anymore. Serenity's memories and mannerisms were gradually coming back to her and she was integrating them naturally. 'I guess that means I can't pretend to be a ditzy teenager anymore. By the Moon, I feel like I've aged ten years in the past few days.' She sat up straight in her chair as she felt the Inner Senshi approach the room almost hesitantly. She couldn't stay upset with them when she could feel how miserable they were. She hadn't exactly handled things well that night, either, she admitted with a small sigh. She adjusted her skirt and clasped her hands in her lap before calling out to the rainbow cluster of misery that was hovering just outside the door. "You can come in. I don't bite, you know."
The blazing red of the aura that entered the room first could only be Rei. Having her best friend be so uncharacteristically quiet and subdued was too much for Usagi and she jumped to her feet to embrace the other girl. "Oh, Rei, I'm so sorry," she cried as she hugged the other girl tightly.
Rei hugged her back, surprised at the greeting. "I'm sorry, too," she whispered.
As the other girls came in, Usagi hugged each one in turn and then stood quietly as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I've missed you all!"
"Usagi, we've talked about this a lot over the past few days and we just want you to know how sorry we are for the things we said that night." Mina was the first to speak.
"We were way out of line," Makoto interjected.
"We were so worried when you disappeared. Please don't do that again, Usagi," Rei said quietly.
"It's all right. I admit I haven't always been the most responsible of leaders, so I probably deserved it--just not on that particular night," Usagi said, wincing inwardly at the memory of that awful evening.
The Senshi stared at their leader in shock. No wailing? No complaining that they had been mean?
Rei eyed her suspiciously, "Who are you and what have you done with Usagi?" she asked.
Usagi scowled at her and stuck out her tongue which prompted giggles from the other girls.
"Now that's the Usagi we know and love!" Mina exclaimed and they all fell upon her for a group hug that degenerated into a tickling war. After much giggling, squealing, and tumbling around on the floor, they finally just lay there breathing heavily.
Usagi smiled in satisfaction. The dark cloud that had been shadowing their auras was gone and the colors were bright and clear. She closed her eyes and again reached out along all the silver cords. Setsuna was with Mamo-chan, both seemed somewhat concerned, but not seriously so. Michiru and Haruka were relaxing in the living room, and again she felt the presence of another, not in the house, but somewhere not too far away. She thought for a moment. 'Another Senshi? But who?' A face flashed in her mind. A pale young girl with shoulder-length black hair and the sigil of Saturn flared on her forehead. 'Sailor
Usagi was jolted out of her revery when Rei poked her in the side.
"Hey, you're not going to sleep on us are you?" she asked in mock anger.
"Leave her be, Rei, she's still pretty weak," Ami said. She frowned as she noticed that Usagi had paled considerably in the last few minutes. "Usagi, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Usagi said quickly, plastering a smile on her face as she remembered that Saturn was the Senshi of Destruction. She shivered involuntarily.
Makoto looked her over critically. She hadn't missed the shiver. "I think you should get some rest," she said as she stood up and then scooped the smaller girl into her arms.
"Mako-chan! I can walk. I'm blind, not paralyzed," Usagi protested.
The other girls looked at each other solemnly as they walked down the hall. They had all managed to forget about her disability in the joy of having Usagi back. She had known each of them immediately, so it had been easy to overlook.
Usagi huffed in frustration and folded her arms across her chest as Makoto completely ignored her. "Aren't you guys supposed to do what I tell you?" she asked plaintively.
"Only when it's in your best interests for us to do so," Rei replied.
Usagi grumbled quietly for a few seconds and then just smiled and closed her eyes. She was rather tired...
All four of them helped change her into her nightgown and tuck her in. Amazingly, she slept through it all. Rei was the last one to leave and she bent down and gently pulled the blanket up to Usagi's chin. Usagi smiled in her sleep and Rei smiled in return before quietly leaving the room, shutting the door behind her.=====
When Rei reached the living room, she noticed all of the others, including the Outer Senshi and Mamoru, were already present and talking quietly. Haruka scowled at her as she entered, but Rei ignored her. It seemed that Haruka frequently scowled. Michiru placed a hand on Haruka's arm and Haruka appeared to relax a bit.
Setsuna looked up from her conversation with Mamoru when Rei sat down on the loveseat next to Ami.
"Good. We're all here. There are some things we need to discuss," Setsuna stated. This captured everyone's attention and all eyes focused on the green-haired woman. "First off, I believe some introductions are in order. My name is Setsuna Meiu, also known as Sailor Pluto. I am the Guardian of the Time Gate. The scowling blonde over there is Haruka Tenou, Sailor Uranus, the Senshi of the Wind. Her partner, Michiru Keioh, is Sailor Neptune, Senshi of the Sea. We are the Outer Senshi. It is our duty to protect the princess from threats that originate from outside the solar system. However, as the only habitable planet at this time is Earth, we now need to protect her from threats that are already here."
"But it's our job to protect the princess!" Rei protested.
"And such a fine job you've done so far," Haruka growled.
Rei flushed angrily, but for once controlled her fierce temper, for in her heart, she agreed with the other girl's sentiments.
"Haruka, this is not the time," Setsuna admonished the blonde woman.
"No, Setsuna, Haruka is right. We need to get this out in the open now so it doesn't continue to simmer below the surface and then blow up in our faces sometime in the future." Michiru stated.
Ami nodded in agreement. "Since we're going to be working together, we really need to resolve this now. Otherwise, how will we be able to trust each other?"
"Alright. I really didn't want to do this right now, but if you insist, I'll start by telling you that I'm very disappointed in your recent behavior towards the princess. And that includes you, Mamoru-san," Setsuna stated, glaring around her at the Inner Senshi and Mamoru. "Each of you were sworn to protect her, so please explain to me how screaming at her, berating her, and turning your back on her can be considered protecting her?" The image of her princess in a crumpled heap in the park, bleeding and defenseless flashed through Setsuna's mind. "In fact, if she hadn't managed to escape on her own,
she would be dead right now and then the world would be doomed. We are all expendable. She is not. If she dies, this world will die with her," Setsuna finished, her eyes flashing as she surveyed the much subdued group. All of the Inner Senshi had paled at her words, but Mamoru simply looked grimly determined.
Rei was the first to speak up. "It's just that she's always late and she never wants to fight. She has improved in battle, but she just isn't very good at it. We're always having to save her butt and it's extremely frustrating. The rest of us all seem to have retained our fighting instincts, if not our memories, from the Moon Kingdom, so why is she so lacking?"
"She is lacking, as you call it, because she was never trained as a warrior. She doesn't possess any fighting instincts. As the princess, she was trained in diplomacy, not war. You should be amazed at how well she's done with no formal training or experience. She defeated Beryl and Metallia, those that destroyed the Silver Millennium--what else does she need to do to prove herself to you?" Setsuna replied. "Do you know how she died in the Silver Millennium?
It wasn't Beryl, Metallia, or any of the Dark Kingdom forces who killed her. She..."
"Setsuna!" Usagi's harsh voice interrupted the Senshi of Time's tirade. The golden crescent moon was flashing angrily and contrasted greatly with Usagi's too pale face. Even sightless, her blue eyes appeared dark and haunted. "They do not need to know," she continued in a quieter, but still firm voice. The note of command was unmistakable.
Setsuna bowed her head in defeat. She would not cross her princess.
Usagi then addressed the rest of the room. "This bickering is pointless. I have already resolved the issues with the Inner Senshi and Mamo-chan. What happened in the past is over and cannot be changed. What matters now is the present." Usagi worked her way carefully into the room, using the wall as a guide before Mamoru got up and carefully guided her to a seat next to him on the couch. She smiled at him gratefully and allowed herself to relax against him.
"You should be resting, Usagi," Ami chided her gently.
Usagi shook her head. "Who could sleep with all the turmoil going on out here? You guys are giving me a major headache," she rubbed her temples to emphasize her point and sighed softly when Mamoru took over the job. She closed her eyes for a moment and just enjoyed the feeling of his warm hands gently rubbing her temples in slow circular motions. The throbbing that had been paining her started to subside as his warmth and presence cocooned her in a soft golden glow. Had she been a cat, Usagi would have purred with contentment.
"Wait just a minute," Rei said. "What do you mean Beryl didn't kill her?" Rei wasn't willing to let this go. Was there another enemy that they didn't know about? She'd always assumed that Beryl had been responsible for the deaths of the prince and princess.
Usagi's bubble of contentment burst with an almost audible pop and she reluctantly opened her eyes and sat up a bit straighter. She did not, however, move from the comforting embrace of Mamoru. "I really don't understand why you're bringing this up now," she said a little desperately. "It happened over a thousand years ago."
"Is there another enemy? Did the Dark Kingdom have an ally?" Makoto asked.
Usagi could feel tears threatening and quickly dropped her head before slowly shaking it in the negative. "No," she whispered brokenly, "It wasn't another enemy."
"Princess... Usagi, you need to tell them. It's the only way they will understand," Setsuna said gently, her own eyes misting as she regarded the young woman she had been unable to save a millennia ago.
"Usako, you can tell us. We need to know so we can better protect you," Mamoru urged. He needed to know, but a strange sense of foreboding was growing within him, as if her answer would turn his world upside down. 'That's ridiculous,' he thought to himself. 'It happened a thousand years ago, how could it affect us now?' Of course, Beryl and the Dark Kingdom had been from the past, as well, and they had certainly had an effect. 'We all died again,' he thought
They weren't going to let this go. Usagi could feel their determination and her shoulders slumped in defeat. She had hoped that this day would never come. She had never intended them to know, but of course Setsuna had seen her. Sailor Pluto had witnessed the fall of the Moon Kingdom first hand and had had to live with that knowledge. She had not even had the years of not knowing that the rest of them had been granted. Usagi took a deep breath and allowed the memories to rush over her once more. Usually, her memories of that final terrible day only visited her in her nightmares, but now she called them to her...
The sounds of battle were all around her, but Serenity didn't hear them. The world had gone silent the moment Endymion breathed his last breath. She had felt her guardians fall, one by one, until Beryl had attacked her. Her valiant Prince had jumped in front of her, taking the fatal blow Beryl had meant for her. How she wished he hadn't. She could not bear to live without him. She felt as though her soul had been ripped to shreds and she was just a broken shell waiting for her misery to end. Slowly reaching for the crystal sword, Serenity gripped the hilt tightly with both hands. "I'll be with you soon, my love," Serenity whispered. She felt a small tug from the last of the silvery threads that connected her to her Senshi and realized that Sailor Pluto still lived. She closed her eyes as the tears once more began to fall. 'Forgive me, dear Puu. I'm not strong enough without them,' she thought silently. She placed a final kiss against Endymion's lips and then thrust the sword into her heart. She felt a shock of pain and then warm blood flowed down her body, staining her white gown a bright, crimson red. With the last of her strength, she took one of Endymion's lifeless hands in her own and then collapsed beside him. "Wait for me, my love," she whispered with her dying breath.
Tears were running freely down Usagi's cheeks as she sat there silently, her whole body trembling with the remembered grief. The Senshi and Mamoru waited patiently for her to speak, sensing that the memory was very painful for her and not to be rushed.
"I'm so sorry, Puu," she said at last.
"It's alright, Princess. I understood then and I understand now," Setsuna replied.
"Understand what?" Minako finally burst out. She couldn't contain herself any longer.
Usagi sighed again and tightened her grip on Mamoru's hand. She really didn't want them know, but for some reason Setsuna felt it was necessary. Trusting that Setsuna had good reason, and still feeling guilty about leaving her alone all those years ago, Usagi began to speak. "I felt each of you die that day--my guardians and my best friends. With each death, a piece of me died as well, and then..." Usagi had to swallow back a sob and take a few quick breaths. "And then," she continued, "when Endymion took the blow meant for me and... and died in my arms... He took my soul with him. I could not live without my love, my very reason for being..." she paused again, wiping the tears from her eyes. "So, I picked up the crystal sword and I plunged it into my heart." Usagi's last words were little more than a whisper as all but Setsuna stared at her in shocked horror, absorbing what she had said.
Mamoru gripped her tightly, as if he was afraid she might disappear if he relaxed at all.
Usagi finally gave into the sobs that had been building since she had summoned the memory of that fateful day. She buried her head in her hands until Mamoru gently turned her so her face was in his chest as he held her tightly to him. He had never thought about how Serenity had died. He had simply assumed, as the Senshi had, that Beryl had killed her. He only vaguely recalled his own death. Mostly, he remembered his princess crying and begging him not to leave her. He knew that she loved him, but he'd never considered that her feelings were such that she would kill herself rather than live without him. He looked up and noticed Setsuna was looking at him pointedly. As he gazed into her dark crimson eyes, he suddenly understood why she had pressured Usagi into telling them. He had left his princess again and, even though he had not died, he had cut himself off completely. If the separation had continued... he couldn't even bear to follow that chain of thought. Setsuna gave him a slow nod as the understanding dawned in his eyes. He would never again make the mistake that he
could protect her by pushing her away.
Minako crinkled her nose in confusion as she finally came out her her shock. "But why did she apologize to you, Setsuna?" The other Senshi all turned to look at Setsuna expectantly. They had almost forgotten the apology at the beginning of Usagi's explanation.
"Because I did not die that day. I watched her end her life and she feels guilty about leaving me alone," Setsuna replied calmly. "But she shouldn't. I knew, even then, that my, our princess died with Endymion and the rest of you. Even if her body had lived, her soul was already dead. It would have been worse to see her live as a shell of herself."
Usagi, who had finally calmed her crying and had been quietly listening to Setsuna's response, smiled faintly. "Thank you, Puu. You do understand."
Setsuna crossed the room to kneel in front of Usagi and took one of her hands. "I'm only sorry I wasn't with you when you destroyed Beryl and Metallia once and for all." She squeezed Usagi's hand reassuringly before turning her attention to Mamoru. "Why don't you take Usagi back to bed and sit with her awhile. The other Senshi and I still have a few things to discuss."
Mamoru nodded in agreement and carried the gently weeping Usagi from the room.
"She killed herself?" Makoto said in disbelief. "That doesn't seem like Usagi at all."
Minako looked thoughtful. "Actually, it does. Remember, we were all dead, as well. Usagi, even now, is unwilling to lose us. Without her friends and love, she doesn't have anything to live for. We, and especially Mamoru, are the most important things in her life. I think that's how we were all brought back after Usagi defeated Beryl."
"Yeah, and remember how she completely fell apart when Mamoru was taken by the Dark Kingdom? And again when he broke up with her last month?" Makoto interjected.
"We should have been more supportive these past few weeks," Ami stated quietly.
The other Inner Senshi all nodded silently in agreement as Michiru and Haruka simply sat and stared at them in stunned silence.
"What do you mean 'brought back?'" Haruka asked incredulously. The Inner Senshi just looked at her sadly, and Setsuna was the one who answered her question.
"The Princess, Prince, and Inner Senshi all died in the final battle with Beryl. However, with her dying breath, the princess used the Ginzuishou to bring them all back," she explained.
Michiru paled even more at the explanation. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I've had all the shocks my system can handle for one day. I think we should all retire for the night and talk more in the morning." She stood, and Haruka hastily got to her feet, as well. The other Senshi watched as they left the room and then turned their attention to Setsuna.
Setsuna sighed softly. The meeting hadn't exactly gone as she had planned, but at least everything was out in the open now. Well, almost everything, she amended. She noticed the Inner Senshi all watching her expectantly and pulled herself out of her revery. "I'll show you to your rooms," she said, rising gracefully to her feet, and the Senshi dutifully followed her.=====
Mamoru watched Usagi while she slept. He studied her intently, noticing for the first time how much she had changed in the past few weeks. She seemed a bit older now. Her face had lost the little bit of roundness it had had and her skin was paler, almost translucent when her crescent moon was blazing. The golden tresses of sunlight had started to change to silvery moonlight during the time that she had been missing. He gently traced the side of her cheek with his finger before getting up to leave. He had just turned toward the door when he felt a cool hand on his wrist. He looked down to see her brilliant blue eyes open and staring sightlessly at where she knew he was.
"Please, Mamo-chan, don't go," she said softly, gently tugging on his wrist.
He allowed himself to be pulled back onto the bed and carefully settled himself next to her. She seemed so delicate and fragile now, as if she might shatter if he moved wrong.
"I'm not going to break, you know," she said wryly.
He looked at her quickly, "How did you know..." he started.
"You've been acting like I was made of fine china since we discovered I was blind. I'm still Usagi, you know. Still your Usako." She put her fingers up to the pale crescent moon mark that she could still feel, almost like a brand, and grimaced, "Despite some obvious changes."
"It's not just the physical changes, Usako. Even before Setsuna forced you into telling us how you... Serenity... killed herself, you weren't acting quite the same. I'm afraid you've been hurt too much recently--emotionally and physically--so I don't want to accidentally hurt you even more," he explained.
Usagi crawled forward so she could wrap her arms around him. "As long as you are with me, you can't hurt me," she assured him. She nuzzled his shoulder with her head. "I still don't think it was necessary for you guys to know. I'm not sure why Puu insisted upon it." Usagi scowled. "What difference does it make now?"
Mamoru turned and pulled her into his arms, placing a soft kiss on her forehead. "I understand why she did it, and she was right. We, the Inner Senshi and I, needed to know so that we would view our recent actions in the proper perspective. I thought I was protecting you by pushing you away, but instead it turns out I was hurting you worse than any enemy ever could. I won't make that mistake again. Whatever happens, whatever evil threatens us, we'll face it together."
A brilliant smile lit up Usagi's features as she beamed up at him. "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Mamo-chan. I love you so much!" She reached up and pulled his head down for a kiss.
As his lips came in contact with hers, Mamoru felt a stab of desire stronger than he had ever felt before and he deepened the kiss. Usagi felt a flutter in her stomach and a small moan escaped from her as heat rose through her body. Mamoru suddenly broke the kiss, breathing hard. He had always desired his Usako, but tonight the passion was stronger, and she seemed to feel it as well.
Usagi placed her hands on her burning cheeks in an attempt to cool them. Her breathing was also labored, he noticed. "Um, wow,"she breathed. An intense longing to be able to look into his eyes swept through her and she clutched his shoulders tighter. "I wish I could see you," she whispered.
Mamoru closed his eyes at the heartbreak he could hear in her voice. He felt so powerless--his Usako was in distress and there was nothing he could do to make it better. He laid down on the bed and gathered her into his arms. Kissing her gently on the forehead once more, he settled her against his chest. "Rest now, Usako. We'll deal with everything tomorrow."
Usagi snuggled into his arms and closed her eyes. His comforting warmth began to spread through her body and she sighed in contentment, feeling all her muscles relax in the safe, loving cocoon of his arms.
Mamoru held her close as she slept. Her soft, even breaths were warm against his neck. His thoughts turned to the confession she had made earlier in the evening. Serenity had killed herself after his, or rather, Endymion's, death. Each time he visualized the scene, a cold chill would wrap around his heart. He recalled the shattered look in her eyes when he denied his love for her. If she had not been captured, would she have done something similar? He didn't want to think of his Usako taking her life because of his actions. He never would have thought her capable of such a thing. Usako was always so joyful and full of life. 'But not recently,' he reluctantly admitted to himself. Since he had left her, she'd become a mere shadow of her former, bubbly self. Chibi-Usa and the Inner Senshi certainly hadn't been helping any, but he had been the one to kill the light in her eyes. Usagi shivered in her sleep, interrupting his dark thoughts. He stroked her back soothingly and then closed his eyes. She was safely in his arms, and he vowed to be a better protector from now on.=====
"Serenity! Little Bunny, where are you hiding? Your mother will be displeased with the both of us if I don't have you ready for dinner on time. Don't you want to meet the girls?"
Serenity heard her father calling for her from her hiding place under the hedge and she giggled softly. At the mention of the girls, though, she perked up. She'd finally have someone her own age to play with! She crept quietly out of her hiding place and walked on tip toes behind her father. Suddenly, he turned around and grabbed her.
"Ah ha! Got you!" he exclaimed, his bright blue eyes dancing in merriment.
Serenity shrieked in delight as he lifted her high in the air and swung her around. Her childish giggles rang through the air and he deftly placed her on his shoulders for a piggy-back ride. Serenity wrapped her small arms around his neck and cheerily cried out, "I love you, Papa!"
He chuckled softly, "I love you, too, Little Bunny."
Usagi woke up with his laughter still ringing in her ears. She opened her eyes. Darkness. She was never going to get used to that. Mamoru was gone. She felt around the bed to be sure, but his golden warmth was missing. On the plus side, she felt great! Usagi grinned widely as she felt her usual energy. The fatigue that had been plaguing her was gone. Instinctively, she knew it had something to do with the proximity of her prince and Senshi. A soft, silver glow beckoned her and Usagi reached for it. The Ginzuishou was warm to the touch and it flared briefly as she picked it up. The crescent moon on her forehead gave an answering flare, but Usagi didn't notice. She thought back to the dream she had just had. 'Another memory of my father on the Moon Kingdom.' Blue eyes, full of laughter, and then black, filled with hate, flashed in her mind. Shaking her head in confusion, Usagi got out of bed and felt her way to the door. She was just about to step into the hall when Michiru's calming presence washed over her.
"Usagi! You are up! Mamoru said you were, but Rei insisted that you couldn't possibly be out of bed before noon." Michiru exclaimed.
Usagi grinned. "Ha! Shows how much she knows."
"I'll lay your clothes out on the bed and, once you're dressed, you can join us in the dining room for lunch. Makoto kicked Setsuna out of the kitchen and the aromas are already making everyone drool."
"Okay, I'll be out in a bit."=====
Once the table had been cleared and the dishes washed, everyone sat quietly around the dining room table. It was time to discuss the new enemy that had appeared. Setsuna cleared her throat. "Alright, the first thing we need to do is identify the new enemy. Usagi, what can you tell us about the person who abducted you?"
Usagi bit her lip. She had wanted to discuss this with Setsuna privately before divulging her suspicions to all of the Senshi. She didn't really want to mention it in front of Mamoru, either, as it was sure to bring some bad memories back for him.
"Usako?" Mamoru questioned softly, when she didn't respond.
Usagi dropped her head and fiddled with her fingers. The others all exchanged glances, puzzled and concerned over her silence. Finally, she sighed softly and raised her head. "I believe I know who it is," she said quietly.
Everyone sat in stunned silence, staring at her in disbelief at the bombshell she had just dropped. Usagi winced a bit as everyone's emotions sky-rocketed. Not surprisingly, Setsuna was the first to recover.
"Why did you not tell us this before?" she asked with a deceptive calm.
"I didn't know before! But for the last few days, I keep having these dreams, or memories, actually, of the Silver Millennium. That's where he comes from." Usagi tried to explain.
"Where who comes from, Usako?" Mamoru asked quietly. He didn't like the fact the she had been holding out on him, but he could sense that talking about this was distressful for her.
"Princess Serenity's father," Usagi whispered.
Setsuna paled at her words. She had thought that he might be the new enemy, but she had truly wanted to believe that it was someone else. The first time she and Queen Serenity had had to face him it was bad enough. This time, Usagi would need to use the Ginzuishou to destroy him, not merely banish him. Even as she thought this, however, Usagi was continuing with something else entirely in mind.
"It's not what you think! He's not evil. He's been brainwashed by Metallia, just as Mamoru was."
"Usagi, Metallia is dead. She could not have done this," Setsuna reminded her gently.
"No, no, you don't understand. Metallia brainwashed him in the Silver Millennium. That's what I'm trying to explain. Somehow, he has come from that time."
"But, how is that possible?" asked Rei, "Setsuna, didn't you say you were the Guardian of the Time Gate? Wouldn't you know if someone had travelled through time?"
Setsuna hesitated before responding. "There have been disturbances in the time stream lately. Someone has been travelling through time without using the time gate. I thought that the access had only been between now and the future, but it is possible that whoever is doing this could have travelled into the past, as well..." she paused as her mind began working through all the possible ramifications of that thought. "We need to put a stop to these time jumps before they cause lasting harm to the fabric of reality."
"OK, I agree that the time travelling needs to stop, but what about Serenity's father? If he really has been brainwashed, we need to save him," Makoto interjected with a worried glance at Usagi.
"I don't know. If he had been brainwashed, wouldn't Queen Serenity have known it? She could have used the Ginzuishou to heal him," Minako protested.
Usagi shook her head. "I don't think so. My memories are a little fragmented, but I think everything happened too quickly for her to discover what had happened to him. Remember, when Mamoru was taken, we didn't know at first that he had been brainwashed. It was his eyes that finally gave it away."
Usagi felt Mamoru tense as she mentioned the painful incident in the past, but he relaxed again when she gave his hand a firm squeeze.
"His eyes?" Michiru wrinkled her forehead in confusion. "How did his eyes give it away?"
"While under Beryl's control, his eyes were black, not blue. In my memories, when I see my father's eyes, they are a bright blue--except for that final night when he came for me. That night, they were obsidian black and filled with hate--just as Mamoru's were when Beryl ordered him to kill me," Usagi explained.
"I don't understand. What do you mean when he 'came for you?'" Makoto asked.
"Puu, could you tell them? My memories aren't very clear. It's more of a nightmare than a memory..." Usagi pleaded.
"It was a nightmare," Setsuna agreed. "There was a terrible thunderstorm that night and the Queen summoned me from the Time Gate. I had had a strange sense of foreboding all day, but when the Queen summoned me, she was terrified. The Princess and the King were both missing and the Queen was positive that her daughter was in mortal danger. Using the Ginzuishou, she was able to locate her daughter, and I teleported us both there. The King had taken the Princess to the caves on the dark side of the Moon. When we arrived, he was just about to thrust his dagger into her heart. Queen Serenity acted without thinking. She used the Ginzuishou to imprison him in crystal and ordered me to banish him from her realm. He was dead to her and the rest of the kingdom from that moment on. The Princess was severely traumatized by the event. For months, she would wake up screaming for her papa and thunderstorms terrified her. To stop the nightmares, the Queen put a block in the Princess' memory to prevent her from remembering the father who had tried to murder her, and it was forbidden in the court for anyone to mention his name."
Mamoru hugged Usagi close to him as he felt her shiver slightly as Setsuna finished her tale. No wonder she hated thunderstorms. Her own father had tried to kill her during one. 'Just like I did,' he thought bitterly to himself. It was amazing that she trusted men at all, as the two who were supposed to love and protect her had both attempted to destroy her.
"You mean, no one ever tried to find out why he had done it?" Rei asked in disbelief.
"We planned to, but by the time things had calmed down enough for us to think rationally again, he was gone," Setsuna said.
"Gone?" Haruka frowned. "Gone where?"
"I don't know. I went to where I had banished him, but he wasn't there. The Queen was inconsolable. Only the Princess was able to bring her out of her depression. Much of her vitality disappeared with her king."
"Maybe Usagi is correct. If someone brought the King from the past, then that would explain why you couldn't find him. He was in the future--our present," Ami stated.
Michiru nodded slowly. "That makes sense. If he was removed from that time, even the Ginzuishou would be unable to track him. Also, if it is someone from the future who has brought him here, that person may have the technology to cloak themselves from us."
"The question is, how did anyone know where and when he was?" Mamoru interjected.
Setsuna looked startled. "I hadn't thought of that. Queen Serenity and I were the only ones who were there when I banished him."
Usagi had a sudden flash of a cloaked figure in the darkness of the cave glaring malevolently at her from glowing pits within a skull's head. She shivered at the image and clutched Mamoru's arm fearfully. "No, there was something else there, too. Something evil..." she whispered.
Mamoru looked down at her in concern. Her face had paled and she was trembling in his arms. "It's alright, Usako, we're here with you now," he murmured softly into her ear.
His words calmed her and Usagi took a deep breath, determined not to let this phantom from the past unnerve her completely.
"There was another in the cave?" Setsuna said in disbelief. She closed her eyes and tried to recall that terrible night so long ago. The evil emanating from the cave was overwhelming, and Queen Serenity had blanched as they approached. The sounds of her daughter's sobbing had stiffened her resolve, however, and the two of them had entered the cave. She would never forget the look of total devastation on her Queen's face when she saw her husband about to plunge a dagger into their daughter's heart. He had looked up at her cry of distress and something... regret?... had flashed upon his face before he returned his
attention to the Princess. "I do this for you, my love," he had cried even as the knife plunged down. Queen Serenity cried out with the power of the Ginzuishou and he was frozen in place, the knife just pricking the princess' chest. A small droplet of blood seeped through her nightgown as the child whimpered in her father's frozen grip. In her mind's eye, though, Setsuna noticed for the first time that the child's wide blue eyes were focused on something farther back inside the cave, not on her father. Setsuna shook her head to clear the images from her mind and looked up to find the other Senshi watching her anxiously.
"Did you remember something?" Minako asked.
"It is possible that we were not alone in the cave. I, myself, didn't see anything, but the Princess seemed to be staring at something deep within the cave."
Haruka's eyes turned hard. "I think we need to go on the assumption that our enemy knows a lot more about us than we do about him. This is not a good state of affairs."
Everyone nodded in agreement. A soft beeping noise invaded the quiet that had fallen upon the group and everyone looked at Ami, who was scrambling to access her computer.
"There's a droid attack downtown. There's no sign of Chibi-Usa's energy signature, though, so it must be a poison crystal attack rather than an abduction attempt."
"Thank goodness for small favors," Makoto muttered.
"We have to go, but someone needs to stay with Usagi," Mina stated.
"No, you'll need everyone's help since I can't use the sceptre to destroy it," Usagi protested.
"Haruka, Michiru, you two accompany the Inner Senshi. The Prince and I will stay with Usagi," Setsuna instructed.
Haruka looked like she wanted to protest, but a slight head shake from Michiru caused her to nod her head in reluctant agreement. She would rather have made certain herself that the Princess remained safe, but at least now she was guaranteed some action. The fighting would allow her to let off some steam.=====
After the Senshi had left to deal with the droid attack, Usagi chewed on her lip worriedly, "Do you think they'll be alright?" she asked.
"I'm sure they'll be fine. Neptune and Uranus have stronger attacks, so with all of them working together, they should have no problem dealing with whatever the droid throws at them," Setsuna replied smoothly.
"It's the working together part that worries me," Usagi muttered. "There is still a lot of resentment and hostility on both sides. Especially between Rei and Haruka. I hope they can work it out before someone gets hurt," she continued.
Setsuna and Mamoru exchanged worried glances. Bad feelings within the team was one thing that they really didn't need right now.
Usagi sighed in frustration. "I hate just sitting here while they are out fighting. I want to help!" she cried out plaintively.
"Usako, how can you fight what you can't see? If you were there, everyone would be distracted with keeping an eye on you," Mamoru tried to reason with her.
Usagi shook her head in denial. "No, I have to fight this enemy. I'm the only one who can save my father..." she trailed off as her whole body stiffened the blood drained from her face.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Mamoru asked anxiously.
"They're in trouble. We have to help them!" Usagi cried.
Setsuna activated her communicator. "Neptune, what's happening? Do you require assistance?" All three waited in tense silence as the seconds ticked by with no response. Finally, when Usagi was about to insist that they go the site of the battle immediately, Neptune's soft voice came through the communicator, even more subdued than normal.
"The battle is over. We defeated the droid, but the Inner Senshi were captured by Rubeus. It was a trap. Uranus and I are on our way back now. We'll give you the details when we arrive."
"Understood." Setsuna deactivated the device and turned back to face her princess and prince.
"No..." Usagi whispered, shaking her head in denial as tears feel silently from her eyes.
"We'll get them back, Usako." Mamoru reassured her, though his eyes were grim.
"I should have been there. I should have made the two of you go. Maybe the trap could have been avoided if we were at full power," Usagi said brokenly.
Setsuna crossed the room to kneel down and take Usagi's hands in her own. "It is not your fault. If you had been there, you might have been captured, as well, and then we would have lost any advantage we have over this enemy. When Haruka and Michiru return, we'll devise a plan to rescue the Inner Senshi. Please try not to worry too much. I've a feeling we're going to need you at full strength before this is over."
Usagi sniffed a few times as she made a visible effort to get her emotions under control. So much had happened in the past few days,
that she felt as though she might shatter at any moment. But that wouldn't help her friends, so she ruthlessly stamped down on her emotions and managed to give Setsuna a shaky smile. "You're right. I can't fall apart now--they need me. I won't flake out on them now," she stated determinedly.
Setsuna met Mamoru's eyes. Usagi had been handling her blindness fairly well, but with the Inner Senshi captured, they were going to need her to fight. Mamoru nodded slightly to indicate his understanding, but Setsuna had no illusions about his feelings about it. She didn't care for the idea, either.
"They're here," Usagi said quietly, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen.
When the two weary Senshi entered the room, Usagi leapt up and engulfed them in a comforting hug. "I'm so glad you two are okay!" she cried.
At her warm embrace, Haruka immediately felt some of her tension and anger drain away. She had been unsure of their reception since they had allowed the Inner Senshi to be captured. She should have known that her princess would not fault them.
"What happened?" Setsuna asked when Usagi finally allowed the two older girls to draw away from her embrace. They still looked unhappy, but some of the despair had lifted from their expressions.
Michiru guided Usagi back to Mamoru's side on the sofa while Haruka flopped down in a chair with a heavy sigh. "We screwed up. That's what happened. The droids were programmed with counter attacks specific to each of the Inners. If we had realized this sooner, we could have taken them out before they accomplished their mission," Haruka said, slamming her fist down on the arm of the chair in frustration.
"As it was, as soon as one of the Inner Senshi attacked a droid, it turned the attack back on the sender and then immediately teleported away with the stunned Senshi," Michiru added grimly.
"Rubeus kept Michiru and I occupied until it was too late for us to help the Inners. He played us like suckers," Haruka spat out, her anger returning as she ran through the battle again.
"Why did he target the Inner Senshi? What does he mean to accomplish by capturing them?" Setsuna wondered aloud.
Mamoru nodded in agreement. "Yes, usually he tries to kill the Senshi, not capture them."
"He wants the Ginzuishou and Chibi Usa. Sailor Moon has two hours to bring them to the park, or he will start killing the Inner Senshi, one an hour, until she appears," Michiru said flatly, her eyes cast downward.
Usagi sucked in her breath and her hands tightened into fists. She closed her eyes and reached for the Inner Senshi with her new ability. Following the slender threads, she finally came to their source. "They're alive," she whispered as the auras brightened as she neared, "but very far away." She squeezed her eyes shut as she forced herself further out. Cold, fear, anger, all assaulted her as the emotions of the Inner Senshi bombarded her. Usagi concentrated on sending feelings of reassurance and comfort to them and was gratified when their auras brightened at her touch. She continued to send her energy to them until she felt Mamoru calling for her. Regretfully, she slowly withdrew her contact from the Senshi and allowed her consciousness to return to her body.
"Usako! Snap out of it!" Mamoru's voice was starting to crack a bit as he gently shook her, trying to get her out of the strange trance she had fallen into after saying the Senshi were alive. Assuming she was trying to contact them, he hadn't become concerned until the crescent moon had begun blazing on her forehead and her body had started shivering.
Usagi slowly opened her eyes. She was so cold and tired. She smiled in gratitude as Mamoru enfolded her in a blanket and rubbed her arms vigorously in an attempt to warm her up.
"Well, did you learn anything with your little jaunt that nearly scared us to death?" Setsuna asked wryly, her mouth set in a grim line.
Usagi shook her head sadly. "Not much, I'm afraid. Wherever they are, it's cold. They weren't seriously injured, but they were very weak. I think I was able to help them, though." She tried to suppress a yawn, but failed.
"I think you need to rest. You pushed yourself too far and shared your energy, as well," Setsuna stated. She indicated to Mamoru to take Usagi to the bedroom.
"Don't worry. We'll find them. I know how important they are to you, but you won't do them any good if you collapse from exhaustion. Please, Usako, try to rest. The Outers and I will work on freeing the Inner Senshi." Mamoru soothed her as he pulled the blankets up to her chin.
Usagi grabbed his hand as it was smoothing the blanket. "Promise you won't leave without telling me," she begged him, fearing that if she fell asleep, she would awaken to an empty house. "Please, Mamo-chan, promise me."
Mamoru used his free hand to brush her bangs out of her eyes. Although sightless, her eyes were still as clear and beautiful as ever. "I promise I won't leave without letting you know." He dropped a soft kiss against her lips and Usagi sighed with relief and pleasure. Reassured that her prince wouldn't disappear while she was sleeping, Usagi let her eyes drift shut and succumbed to the slumber that had beckoned ever since she had sought contact with her missing Senshi.
After a last, longing look at his resting princess, Mamoru quietly shut the door and went back to join the Outer Senshi.
"How is she?" Michiru asked with quiet concern. The present frailty of her princess frightened her.
Mamoru rubbed the bridge of his nose before answering. "I convinced her to rest, but the stress is taking its toll. I'm not sure she
could handle another crisis right now. We need to find the Senshi or there's no telling what she might do. All of my instincts are screaming at me to hold and protect her, but the best thing I can do for her now is find her friends." He blew out a frustrated breath and retook his seat on the sofa. "Do we have anything to go on at all?" he asked, looking to Haruka and Michiru.
"Usagi gave us the only clues we have--somewhere cold and very far away. Those droids could have teleported anywhere," Haruka said in disgust.
"I almost don't want to mention this, but it may be our only option. If we can't find the Inner Senshi ourselves, I believe the princess could use the Ginzuishou to locate them. That is how the Queen located her and the King that terrible night," Setsuna offered.
Haruka and Mamoru both scowled at her, but Michiru looked thoughtful. "If it wouldn't drain her overly much, that might be the best thing we can do. Right now, Usagi is feeling useless, but if we need her to locate the others, then she will discover that she can still help us."
Setsuna nodded slowly, "I think you may have something, Michiru. Actually, with as little as we have to go on, I believe Usagi is our only hope of locating the Senshi before the deadline. We'll let her rest for awhile, and then we'll tell her our plan."
"What is our plan, exactly?" Haruka asked. "Are we going to take her with us, or is someone going to stay here with her? We can't leave her unprotected."
"You three should go, and I'll stay here with Usagi. If, as she said, they are unharmed and she has strengthened them, the other Senshi should be able to aid in their escape," Mamoru said. The three girls all nodded their agreement and settled back to wait for Usagi to gather her strength.=====
"Serenity, stop staring at the Earth and pay attention! Some day you will need to wield the Ginzuishou. It can do much more than simply channel power. If you focus, you can use it for many other things--healing, teleporting, locating a missing person, moving objects, just to name a few. What would you like to see first?" Queen Serenity looked down at her daughter and sighed. The girl had the most powerful fascination with the planet below.
The young girl blinked and forcefully brought her attention back to her mother. "I am sorry, Mother. What would I like to see first?" The princess thought for a minute before responding, "I want to know where Luna is right now."
"Very well. Now, watch closely. Once I've demonstrated the technique, you can try it. Ready?"
Serenity nodded eagerly. It wasn't often that she was allowed to practice with the powerful crystal, but now that she was maturing, her mother had started training her in the handling of the Ginzuishou.
The Queen held out the Ginzuishou and closed her eyes. "The first thing you must do is visualize the person you are seeking... then, project that image into the Ginzuishou." The Ginzuishou began to pulse with the a soft glow at the Queen's words. "Luna is in the library."
"But, how do you know?" Serenity wrinkled her nose in confusion. "How can you be sure that what the Ginzuishou shows you is true?"
"You must have faith. The Ginzuishou is not sentient. It is merely a tool that allows us to focus or amplify our own powers. You wouldn't lie to yourself, would you?" The Queen moved the Ginzuishou in front of Serenity. "Now, you locate Artemis."
Serenity obediently held out her hand, palm up, and called the Ginzuishou to her. Once it was hovering just above her hand, she thought of Artemis--sleek, white fur, large blue eyes with a hint of mischief in them...'Artemis,' she projected to the Ginzuishou. The Ginzuishou blazed with light. Serenity had a quick impression of the library, then everything went dark.
Luna and Artemis both started with fright when the princess suddenly appeared in front of them and collapsed.
When Serenity awoke, she was in her bed. Her head was aching dully and she groaned softly when she tried to sit up. Immediately, her mother's cool hand touched her forehead and the pain receded. "What happened?" Serenity asked, blinking groggily.
"You used too much power and the feedback zapped you pretty hard. You needed to focus more on what you wanted to happen. You must have blasted the Ginzuishou with the thought of Artemis so hard that you were teleported to him. I must say, you gave him and Luna quite a shock when you appeared out of nowhere and fainted in front of them. All of your Senshi came running in a panic, and I had a difficult time convincing them that you were fine. You'll have to go out and reassure them soon, or I'm afraid they'll break the door down."
Serenity smiled sheepishly. "They're a bit overprotective, aren't they?"
The Queen smiled in return and nodded. "We'll take up your training again tomorrow. Just remember, you need to control the amount of power you send through the Ginzuishou. If you send too much, you risk draining yourself completely."
"Focus and control." Serenity repeated as her mother rose and left the room.
"Usako. Usako, you need to wake up now."
Usagi jumped as she came back to herself. For a moment, she was disoriented by the darkness. She had expected to find the soothing white and silver of her room in the Moon Kingdom. The comforting sound of Mamoru's voice calmed her a bit and then everything came back in a rush. The attack, her blindness, the capture of the Inner Senshi... Usagi sat straight up in bed. What was she doing napping when her friends were in trouble?
"What is it? Have you found them?" she asked anxiously.
"No, that's why I came to wake you. We need you to find them with the Ginzuishou. Setsuna says that it's possible. Do you think you're up to it?" Mamoru asked as he looked at her with concern. She was still much too pale and he didn't care for the dark circles that had formed under her eyes.
Usagi nodded. "Yes, I can do it. Have the Outers come in here." When Mamoru left the room, Usagi concentrated on the dream she had just had, or was it a memory? "You're helping me still, aren't you Mother? Focus and control," she whispered to herself as she reached for the Ginzuishou. When he returned with the Senshi, the Ginzuishou was floating just above Usagi's open palm.
Pluto nodded approvingly as she entered. It seemed that the Princess had remembered some of her training. She and the other Senshi had already transformed and they were ready for action. "Princess, once you have located the Inners, Michiru, Haruka, and I will go after them. The Prince shall remain here with you." When it looked like Usagi was about to argue, Setsuna stepped forward and grasped her free hand. "If we need to worry about you, we will be distracted from rescuing the others. If the two of you are here, we will be able to concentrate on the matter at hand."
Usagi swallowed the protest that had sprung to her lips. Puu was correct, as usual. "Alright, but I will do more than simply locate them. I will send you there, as well. Then you will not need to expend any energy in simply arriving and you'll be at full strength."
"I don't want you to drain yourself, Usako," Mamoru warned.
"I'll be fine. I'll have you to sustain me. The Inners have never teleported without me before, so they'll need all the power they can get." Without waiting for an agreement, Usagi closed her eyes and began to concentrate on her four missing friends. Silently, Mamoru took the hand Setsuna had relinquished and sat on the bed next to Usagi. Immediately, she felt his calm and strength flowing into her. Some of the tension eased from her shoulders and an image of the Senshi solidified in her mind. "They are encased on some sort of crystal crosses. They appear to be unharmed, but they're all unconscious."
"Is anyone guarding them? What can you tell us of their surroundings?" Haruka asked.
Usagi frowned in concentration. "I don't think anyone is around them, but they could be monitoring remotely. The whole place is constructed of crystal," she paused as she tried to make out more details that could help. As she examined the scene in her mind, she noticed certain crystal shards that were coming out of the floor and pulsing with different colors. Usagi felt her heart jump--that was it! "I think the crosses are controlled by the crystals on the other side of the room. Each cross has a crystal that pulses with the same color of light and tempo. I think if you destroy the shards, the Senshi will be released from the crystals."
Setsuna nodded. "All right. We'll aim for the shards first. Do you think you can place us in front of them?"
"I'll try." Usagi gathered herself and visualized the Outer Senshi standing within the image in her mind. The crescent moon blazed to life upon her forehead and the Ginzuishou answered with a brilliant flash. When the light faded, the Outer Senshi were gone and Usagi and the Ginzuishou both collapsed on the bed.
Once he had assured himself that she was merely asleep, Mamoru retrieved the Ginzuishou and replaced it on her bedstand. Pulling the blankets up to her chin, Mamoru placed a soft kiss upon her forehead and then sat on the bed next to her to wait.=====
Setsuna gazed around her quickly. Usagi had given them a very accurate description of the room or cavern in which they found themselves. The Inner Senshi were suspended behind her and the pulsing crystals were just where she had said. A larger crystal glowed softly in a corner to her left, but it was unclear what its purpose might be. "Uranus, take care of these crystals. Neptune and I will try to revive the Senshi."
Uranus nodded in agreement and called out her attack as the other two women hurried across the room. "World Shaking!" The globe of pulsing energy obliterated the two crystal shards in front of her and Mars and Jupiter were released from their crystal bonds. Pluto grunted as Jupiter's weight landed on her, and then eased the girl to the floor. She looked up to see that Neptune had caught Mars similarly and called out to Uranus, "Okay, take out the next two."
Uranus grinned and cracked her knuckles. "With pleasure... World Shaking!"
Once again, with the destruction of the shards, the remaining Senshi were released. Neptune caught the Senshi of Ice and then glared at Uranus. "Next time, I get to destroy things and you have to catch falling Senshi."
"I second that," Pluto huffed as she knelt next to Sailor Venus.
"Well, well, what do we have here? A rescue attempt? I don't think so." Rubeus smirked as he floated into the chamber.
"If you know what's good for you, you'll just let us leave," Uranus snarled.
"That's not a very friendly attitude, now is it? Where, pray tell, is Sailor Moon? I'm fairly certain that my invitation was for her and the Rabbit." Rubeus pouted petulantly before shrugging. "Ah well, now I have more bait." He waved his arm dramatically and the Senshi found themselves pinned to the floor by their own weight.
"Deep Submerge!" Neptune cried out as she used all of her strength to launch her attack.
Rubeus simply raised his hand and a force shield appeared before him. Neptune's attack hit the shield and dissipated. By this time, the Inner Senshi were starting to come around and peer about them uncomprehendingly.
"You know, I don't believe I need all of you. Perhaps if I kill one or two of you, Sailor Moon will take my threat seriously." He raised a hand and a ball of orange-red energy streaked toward the fallen Senshi of Water.
"No!" Uranus cried out in helpless horror as she tried to move her disobedient body. There was no way she could reach Neptune in time. Fury consumed her and she called her attack. "World Shaking!" The resulting explosion was much larger and louder than those that had destroyed the shards, but when the light died down, Rubeus still stood unscathed. Bitter tears burned in Uranus' eyes as she glared at him with undisguised hatred. She looked over to where Neptune had been and collapsed to her knees. Sailor Jupiter was just getting to her feet after pushing Neptune out of harm's way. Weak with relief, Uranus closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"You're stronger than I thought," Rubeus muttered as he fired off another attack at Jupiter.
Mercury, meanwhile, had been scanning the area as the fighting was going on around her. "Pluto, distract him," she whispered as she continued scanning.
"Dead Scream," Pluto whispered and a wave of energy hurtled toward Rubeus.
As his shield pulsed, Mercury nodded in satisfaction. "Jupiter, the crystal!" she yelled as she pointed at the pulsing crystal Pluto had noticed when she arrived.
"No!" Rubeus cried. He started to prepare another attack when Mars and Venus struck at the same time.
"Mars Fire Soul!"
"Venus Love Me Chain!"
With Rubeus distracted, Jupiter rose to her feet and centered herself. "Jupiter Supreme Thunder!" Lightning streaked from the antenna on her tiara and the crystal shattered. The effect was immediate. The force holding them so securely released them and the reclining Senshi surged to their feet.
"It doesn't matter!" Rubeus screamed frantically. "You'll all die with me. The whole ship is self-destructing now!"
"He's right!" Mercury yelled after checking on her computer. "We've got to get out of here!"
"Form a circle! We're teleporting out of here." Pluto had to shout to be heard over the sounds of falling crystals and cracking floors.
The other Senshi hurried to do as she directed, but Mars gave a worried glance around as she clasped hands with Venus and Mercury. "We've never done this without Sailor Moon. Will we have enough energy?"
The other Inner Senshi all turned worried eyes toward Pluto.
"Don't worry, we'll make it. Just concentrate." As she spoke, Pluto closed her eyes and a garnet glow began to emanate from her. The other Senshi followed her lead and, in a rainbow of color, they were gone.
Rubeus looked around wildly. It just wasn't possible. How could they have escaped? More importantly, how was he going to escape? An evil laugh behind him caused him to spin around. "Emerald! We've got to escape now. The ship is going to explode any minute!" he cried excitedly as he stumbled to reach her.
"So sorry, Rubeus. I'm afraid you're stuck here. The Wiseman has no use for failures like you. Bye!" Emerald grinned slyly and then she, too, was gone.
"I'll see you in hell, wi..." Rubeus' proclamation was clipped short as the ship thunderously exploded in an impressive pyrotechnic display.=====
A relieved smile spread across Mamoru's face as he came out of Usagi's room to the sight of all the Senshi filing in. "Glad to see you all made it back in one piece. Usagi will be glad to see you when she wakes up."
"She's asleep!?" Rei asked, disbelief heavy in her voice. "We're battling some crazy weirdo in space and she's taking a nap?"
"You wouldn't be here now if it weren't for her." Haruka started angrily.
"Rei, have you learned nothing from this past week?" Ami stated as she glared at the fiery priestess, the shame of their behavior toward their princess still burning in her mind.
Rei flushed a bright red. "I was just surprised, that's all," she muttered as she looked at the floor. She was just so used to criticizing Usagi that she hadn't thought before opening her mouth.
Ignoring the others, Setsuna approached Mamoru. "Is she alright? She didn't drain herself too much did she?"
Mamoru shook his head. "She's fine, just exhausted. She hasn't moved since she sent you off. She'll probably sleep through the night."
Setsuna smiled. "That's not a bad idea for the rest of us, either."
Mamoru took in their disheveled condition. "I take it you had to fight your way out? Is anyone injured?" he asked as he looked around at the Senshi, attempting to see if anyone needed medical attention.
"No, just a bit bruised," Minako reassured him.
"Thanks to Jupiter," Michiru said with a grateful glance at the brunette.
Makoto blushed at the praise, but shook her head in denial. "I was just the closest. I'm glad I made it in time."
Haruka wrapped her arms over Michiru's shoulders. "We're glad, too."
Ami frowned as she thought back on Setsuna's words. "What happened to Usagi?"
The other Inners all looked up at her question and fixed their gazes on Mamoru.
"Did something happen while we were gone?" Minako asked, anxiety rising in her eyes.
"No, no, she's fine. Really. Using the Ginzuishou to find you and teleport the Outer Senshi there just wore her out," Mamoru hastily explained, raising his hands, as if to ward off an attack.
"She used the Ginzuishou?" Rei breathed, the color draining from her face. "Do you know how dangerous that is? She could die if she uses it. She has died from using it." Rei's voice had risen as she'd been speaking and she took a threatening step toward Mamoru.
"Rei, she knew what she was doing. She's fine," Setsuna said softly, placing a hand on the younger girl's arm.
"But she could have died and we weren't here for her..." Rei protested weakly, fighting back tears.
Setsuna wrapped the priestess in a comforting hug. "She didn't die and she did it for you. All of you. We could not have stopped her if we had wanted to."
Makoto nodded solemnly. "Usagi is fearless when it comes to protecting her friends and loved ones."
Michiru spoke up. "Setsuna is right. We should try to get some rest. Tomorrow, we'll all feel much better and Usagi will be able to fuss over us to her heart's content."=====
"She lives. The cursed daughter who killed your wife and destroyed your kingdom is still alive," the cloaked figure rasped as he glared into his glowing purple orb. "How can you tolerate this? Do you not wish to see her pay? She must die for her sins," he continued in a hypnotic monotone.
The tall blonde man standing before him nodded in agreement. His eyes blazed with rage and his hands clenched and unclenched repeatedly. "The demon child must die," he stated. With a swirl of his golden cape, he was gone.
The cloaked figure cackled with satisfaction and resumed watching the events in his orb. Soon, very soon, the Ginzuishou would be his, and the Earth would be no more.=====
The weekend was spent with the Senshi and Mamoru all getting to know each other and Usagi better. The Outer Senshi were losing their hostility for the Inners. Makoto's actions on Rubeus' ship had gone a long way in thawing the ice. Everyone was impressed with how well Usagi was dealing with her blindness, although some of the changes in her character were a bit disconcerting for those who knew her best. With many of her memories of her life on the Moon returning, Usagi had begun to naturally fall into some of the mannerisms of Princess Serenity. She was quieter and moved with a cautious grace. She was still bubbly and cheerful, but she would sometimes get a pensive look upon her face that worried her friends. On Sunday night, the Inner Senshi and Mamoru departed for their own homes as they all had school the next day. Mamoru was reluctant to leave, but Usagi pushed him gently out the door, explaining that she didn't want to be responsible for his grades slipping. What she didn't tell him was that she had a feeling of unease and wanted everyone as far away from her as possible when the danger came.
Usagi sighed as she pressed her forehead against the door that Mamoru had just exited through. Already, she felt colder and the darkness pressed against her without the comforting presence of Mamoru and the Inner Senshi. She shivered slightly and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She didn't have much time. He was coming for her again soon. She could feel the evil approaching like a giant tidal wave of inky cold. She had to leave so he wouldn't get the
Outers! Listening carefully, Usagi couldn't detect the three women. Tentatively, she did a gentle probe, careful not to be noticed. A small smile escaped her as she found Haruka and Michiru 'occupied.' A faint blush stained her cheeks and she quickly retreated, not wanting to intrude. Her scan moved on, seeking Setsuna. Of all the Senshi, Pluto would be the hardest one to remain hidden from. Usagi was pretty sure she could use the Ginzuishou to hide her whereabouts, but it wasn't a sure thing. Setsuna was in the kitchen, but she seemed a bit agitated. 'Okay, it's now or never,' Usagi thought to herself. She brought out the Ginzuishou and concentrated. She needed a remote location where no one else would be caught in the crossfire...
Setsuna straightened abruptly. "Serenity," she breathed, eyes wide with apprehension. She ran out of the kitchen to the living room, but there was no sign of the Princess. A sense of impending disaster had been growing within her all day, but she had not expected Usagi to simply disappear. Trying to remain calm, she looked in Usagi's room with a slim hope that she had simply gone to bed. After searching the house with no sign of the diminutive princess, Setsuna reluctantly knocked on Michiru and Haruka's door.
Haruka answered the door, raising one inquiring eyebrow. Setsuna rarely disturbed them in the evenings.
"The Princess is gone," Setsuna stated quietly, the panic she felt firmly squashed beneath her iron control.
Haruka merely nodded. She knew things had been going too well for the last couple of days. "We'll be right out," she said and then shut the door.
Michiru looked up apprehensively as the blonde returned. "What's wrong?" she inquired, concerned by the expression on Haruka's face.
"Usagi is missing and Setsuna is spooked. I could see it in her eyes. Even when we were going after the Princess in the park last week, she wasn't this scared. Angry, yes, but not scared. This is bad," Haruka explained as she dressed.
"What? How could Usagi be missing? She's blind, how far could she go?" Michiru protested as she jumped out of bed. Her brow wrinkled as she grabbed a blouse. "Why would she want to leave? She was so happy that we were all together..."
"I don't know. I guess we'll just have to ask her when we find her."
"You don't think someone took her, do you?" Michiru asked.
Haruka shook her head. "No, we would have known. Setsuna would have known, at the very least."
Setsuna looked up from her cup of tea as the other two women entered the dining room. "I've notified the other Senshi and Mamoru. They're on their way." The three sat in silence and waited, each trying to figure out why Usagi had left and where she had gone.=====
The silence was eerie. In her memories, the Moon was full of life--fountains burbled, courtiers laughed and chatted, and music floated on the breeze. Now, the fountains were rubble, the people were dead, and the air was eerily still. Serenity knelt down onto her knees. Her eyes gave her no information, but her mind painted the scene around her vividly. This was where her life had ended with Endymion's last breath. Tears streamed down her cheeks silently as she relived the event that had eternally scarred her soul. She had had to watch him die twice--once here on the moon and then again in Beryl's cave in the Arctic. She was determined that it would not happen again. She would face the enemy alone before anyone else could be hurt. The time with her Prince and Senshi had strengthened her considerably, and she felt more powerful than she ever had before. Now, all she had to do was wait. She knew he was coming. A sudden blast of heat in front of her warned her that the wait was over.
"So, you decided to leave your protectors, did you? Not that they could have stopped me. I would simply have killed them." The voice of her father sounded unnaturally loud in the silence she had become accustomed to.
"I know," Serenity whispered. She raised her head and stared in the direction from which his voice had come. "That's why I came here... Papa."
"Never call me that!" the King of the Moon shouted at her. "I renounce you! A child that would kill her own mother is no daughter of mine!"
Serenity flinched from the pain and hatred that were assaulting her in waves. "No, Papa, that is not what happened. The Ginzuishou drained her life when she fought the Dark Kingdom. You're not yourself. Queen Metallia put some kind of spell on you!" Serenity cried, trying to reach the spark of her father that she knew was still there. She raised the Ginzuishou in front of her and called her power. "Moon Healing Escalation!" Bright silver light streaked toward the blond man, but was deflected by a purple force field that sprung around him. Serenity sucked in her breath as a cold chill ran down her spine. Someone else was here! The slippery, evil presence that she now felt beside her father was familiar somehow... Serenity recoiled in shock as the memory came to her. "You! It was you in the cave that night! You are the reason my father wants me dead," she cried as she remembered the malevolent eyes that had haunted her dreams until her mother blocked the memories so long ago.
"How perceptive of you, not that it makes any difference. Your words will have no effect on him now. Metallia may have sown the seeds of madness in him, but it is I who have nurtured them into an all-consuming hatred for his only child." The figure cackled insanely. "Say good-bye, Princess Serenity, or should I say Neo-Queen Serenity?" Turning to the glowering man next to him, he rasped,"What are you waiting for? Kill her!"
Shaking off the confusion that had gripped him when the girl had started speaking about the Dark Kingdom, King Hyperion gathered his power. "No more lies! Now you will suffer for the blood on your hands... For Serenity!" he screamed as blazing energy streaked toward the stricken girl.
Calming her mind, Serenity visualized a bubble of light surrounding and protecting her. The Ginzuishou and the crescent moon on her forehead pulsed in concert as the force field surrounded her.
"You are stronger than I thought, but how long do you think you can withstand the combined forces of the Sun and the Nemesis planet?" the cloaked figure rasped as purple lightning bolts shot from his hands and joined with the flames licking hungrily at her sphere of power.
Serenity's breath came in quick little gasps as she felt herself weakening under the onslaught. Had she only one opponent, she was sure she could have defeated him. But with two, she was struggling just to keep her shield up. Something about the cloaked one's power drained her quicker than any attack she had ever encountered before. It was as if it simply extinguished her light or poisoned it somehow with darkness. Poison! That was it. This was the creature behind the Black Moon attacks! The black poison crystals must have been created by him. If he could be defeated, the threat of the Black Moon would be gone. Serenity redoubled her efforts, determined to stop the creature that had been poisoning the Earth, but she just didn't have the strength. The dark energy was increasingly engulfing the light. 'I don't think I even have the energy to teleport way,' she thought wearily as she began to hear a loud roaring in her ears. From a long distance away, she thought she heard someone cry out, and then she knew no more.
Sailor Saturn glared at the two who dared to threaten her princess. She had been awakened by an overpowering need to protect the Princess to whom she had pledged her life and loyalty a millenia ago. Once before, she had started to awaken, but a soft silvery-white light had soothed her and sent her back into a state of dormancy. This time, however, the summons had been urgent, and she realized that she had barely arrived in time. She wanted to attack, but if she dropped her Silence Wall, the Princess would be vulnerable.
"Dead Scream," came from behind her and Saturn turned her head to see that the other Senshi had arrived. The others followed with their attacks while the Prince knelt down next to the Princess, who had detransformed back to Usagi.
Faced with the wrath of all the Senshi, and considerably weakened by the battle with Serenity, the Wiseman decided a retreat was in order. Not even bothering to consult with the former Moon King, he teleported them both away. "This isn't over, Serenity!" he snarled as his presence faded out.
"Usako!" Tuxedo Kamen cried out frantically to a non-responding Usagi. Her breathing was shallow and the thready pulse he found was less than
The Inner Senshi crowded around their fallen princess, anxious for her to wake up. Mercury scanned her and let out a sigh of relief. "She's lost a lot of energy, but her levels are already starting to rise. If we can get her to bed and keep her there, she should be fine in a few days."
The Outer Senshi approached Saturn, who had allowed her wall to fall once the enemy had departed. Uranus glared at the new Senshi. "What are you doing here?" she hissed.
Saturn gazed at her calmly. "The Princess was in danger. I was summoned."
Pluto's eyes widened. "You were summoned?" she whispered.
Saturn turned her attention to the Guardian of Time. "Yes," she affirmed. She and the Outer Senshi simply continued to stare at each other until Mars brought them back to the problem at hand.
"You four can have your little stare down later. Right now, we need to get Usagi someplace warm." Mars couldn't believe the Outers were standing there threatening the Senshi who had most likely saved Usagi's life. She shook her head in disbelief. 'Don't they get along with anyone?'
Tuxedo Kamen had wrapped Usagi in his cape and was impatiently waiting for the Senshi to form the circle for the Sailor Teleport around him. Usagi was beginning to shiver, and he didn't like the blue tinge that had appeared on her lips. He studied the new Senshi as she approached. She was young, certainly no older than twelve, and appeared rather frail despite the power he could feel emanating from her. Why were the Outer Senshi so distrustful of her? Her dark eyes fell upon him as she approached.
"Prince," she acknowledged simply and inclined her head.
He nodded in return, his own stormy blue eyes troubled by the new dynamic to the group. Mars and Venus quickly grabbed Saturn's hands when Uranus and Neptune purposely walked by her. Pluto's expression was contemplative as she took the hands of Jupiter and Venus to complete the circle.
Once the exhausted Senshi arrived on Setsuna's lawn, the Inners all headed home to get some much needed rest. Before she left, however, Rei told Mamoru that there would be a meeting after school, and Usagi was going to have to explain just what she was doing--going off to the Moon alone to face the enemy.
Mamoru nodded in understanding and promised to relay the message. Looking down at the unconscious girl in his arms, his lips thinned. He wasn't going to wait that long to find out. Once she woke up, Usagi would have some serious explaining to do. A soft touch to his arm diverted his attention from his wayward princess and he found himself looking into the dark eyes of Sailor Saturn.
"Is she alright? I was afraid I hadn't made it in time when she was so still."
Mamoru smiled reassuringly at the young girl. "She'll be just fine. All she needs is some rest and she'll be as good as new."
A huge smile spread across Saturn's face and she looked as though a tremendous burden had been lifted from her shoulders. "I protected the Princess," she whispered with wonder. Her dark eyes sparkled with joy as she clasped one of Usagi's limp hands with her own. At her touch, Usagi's eyes fluttered open and a soft moan escaped from her.
"Did you get the license number of the truck that hit me?" she whispered, wincing from the throbbing in her head.
Mamoru's arms around her tightened, and he started forward once more, intent on ensconcing her in her bed. "You're lucky to have gotten off with just a headache," he told her grimly.
Usagi winced again, this time from the emotions rolling off her beloved. She had hurt him. "You're angry," she stated quietly.
"I'm much more than angry," he replied, just as quietly.
Saturn had to jog a bit to keep up. The Princess had grasped her hand and seemed to have forgotten to let go. She listened to the Prince and Princess with wonder and anxiety. Were they fighting?
Usagi felt a quick shaft of fear and turned her attention from Mamoru. Where? She finally realized she was holding someone's hand. Saturn! She projected warmth, gratitude, and love towards the young Senshi and was relieved when the girl's fear and anxiety ebbed.
"Sailor Saturn," Usagi said with wonder in her voice. It was hard to believe that the frightened and unsure girl who clung to her hand as if it were a lifeline was the Soldier of Destruction.
Tuxedo Kamen finally reached the bedroom and gently settled Usagi against the pillows before detransforming. As if that were a signal, Sailor Saturn's transformation also faded away and the young girl that remained promptly collapsed. Mamoru caught her before she hit the floor and placed her next to Usagi.
"It's a good thing I have quick reflexes. She just dropped," he remarked as he tucked the young girl in.
"Is she alright?" Usagi asked worriedly as she gently skimmed her fingers across the girl's delicate features.
"Just drained, I think. The both of you are too pale. I have more to say to you, but I can see that it wouldn't do me a bit of good to say it now," Mamoru finished in exasperation as Usagi's eyes closed again and her breathing evened out. Shaking his head in resignation, he left the room.
The three Outer Senshi were deep in a quiet conversation that ended abruptly when they noticed him entering the room. Suppressing the urge to sigh, Mamoru continued calmly into the room.
"Where is Sailor Saturn?" Haruka asked, peering behind him as if she expected the Senshi to appear behind him with her glaive at the ready.
"Sleeping next to Usagi. They both look totally wiped out. I don't think we need to worry about Usagi wandering off again tonight." He glanced at his watch. "Speaking of wandering off, I'm going to head home to catch a couple hours of sleep before class. I'll be back with the other Senshi after school. I wouldn't be surprised if Usagi slept until then."
Setsuna nodded in agreement. "You're probably right. We'll keep her in bed until then whether she wakes up earlier or not."
Once Mamoru had left, Haruka turned to Setsuna. "Is it a good idea to leave Sailor Saturn in such proximity to the Princess? She's dangerous!"
"The Princess is in no danger from Saturn," Setsuna assured her,"the Senshi of Destruction is bound to the Princess just as we are. It is the rest of the world we need to worry about."=====
Serenity found herself in a soft haze. It wasn't dark, but she felt as though she was trapped within a cloud. "Hello! Is anyone here?" she called out softly. "Mother?" There was no reply, but she thought she heard the soft sounds of someone crying. Following the sound, she exited the fog and found herself in a dark cave. She shivered slightly and was tempted to return to the haze until she spotted the source of the sobs. In the farthest corner of the cave, a young girl was huddled, crying. At the sight, all thoughts of leaving were banished from Serenity's mind, and she hurried to reach the child. Slowing her pace as she neared, Serenity slowly knelt down next to the girl. "Hey there, it's all right," she said softly. The girl looked up quickly and, at the sight of the princess, promptly buried her face in her arms.
"No, don't look. I'm a monster!" she wailed as she pressed herself against the cave wall.
"You're not a monster!" Serenity protested. Gently smoothing the girl's glossy black hair, she eased herself next to the girl.
"No, no, you have to leave! She'll hurt you!" The girl cried, even as she leaned closer to Serenity, as if basking in her light and warmth.
Encouraged by the girl's response to her closeness, Serenity drew her into a comforting hug, allowing comfort and love to flow through her in soothing waves. After a few moments, the girl's shivering and crying ceased and she relaxed. Opening wide violet eyes, she gazed at Serenity in wonder.
"You're not afraid of me," she whispered.
Serenity smiled down at her. "No, I'm not."
"But, but I could kill you!"
Serenity shook her head. "You will not." She brushed the girl's bangs from her forehead and her smile widened as the symbol of Saturn appeared at her touch. "You saved me, Sailor Saturn. Do you not remember?"
The girl nodded slowly and a small, shy smile appeared on her pale face. "I'm glad," she whispered.
Serenity laughed softly and hugged her. "I am glad, as well. Now, why don't you tell me what you are doing in this dark cave? This is not a fitting place for the savior of a princess!" she declared.
Hotaru's smile immediately vanished and she turned troubled eyes away from the princess' gaze. "I was hiding from her. If she finds us, she'll hurt you."
Serenity drew her eyebrows together. "Who will hurt me?"
"Mistress Nine," came the girl's enigmatic reply.
"Mistress Nine? Who is she? Is she part of the Dark Kingdom?"
"She is me. At least, a part of me. She is worse than the Dark Kingdom," Hotaru answered quietly, her trembling increasing as she spoke of the demon who dwelt within her.
"Inside of you?" Serenity repeated, confused by this revelation. Closing her eyes, she reached out with her mind, carefully probing Hotaru's aura. The deep violet pulsed vibrantly, but she could sense small mottlings of black, trying to darken the light with its own evil. Gasping in horror at the foul entity that dared invade one of her Senshi, Serenity's eyes snapped open and she stared at the tiny form in front of her.
"See? I'm a monster," Hotaru whispered as she hung her head and tried to slip from the Princess' arms. She was surprised when the arms tightened and she looked up at Serenity in confusion.
"You are not a monster," Serenity repeated firmly. "You are Sailor Saturn, the Senshi of Destruction and a Princess of the Lunar Court. You are noble and loyal and shall not be sullied by this evil spirit!" Serenity's voice had gained strength as she spoke and her crescent moon blazed upon her forehead. She held out her right hand and summoned the Ginzuishou. Hotaru's eyes widened at the sight of the powerful, glowing crystal. "Do you trust me, Hotaru, Senshi of
Saturn?" Serenity asked as a bright, silver light began emanating from her form.
Hotaru nodded slowly. "Yes, Princess."
"I am sorry, but this may be painful. I shall try to shield you as much as possible." Drawing all of her power, Serenity focused her will into the Ginzuishou. 'Sacred crystal of the Silver Millennium, cleanse this warrior of light of the evil spirit within,' she prayed silently and then released the power into the small girl standing bravely before her. "Cosmic Moon Power!"
Brilliant white light blazed from the Ginzuishou and enveloped Hotaru completely. She screamed as the purifying blaze burned away the evil that had been lurking within her.
The sound of someone screaming woke Setsuna and she quickly leapt from her bed and raced to Usagi's room. Michiru and Haruka came running from the other direction and Haruka flung open the door. The three Senshi all froze at the scene before them. The Ginzuishou hovered directly over Usagi and Hotaru, completely encasing them in its light, so bright that the Senshi had to squint in order to make anything out. Shading their eyes, they could barely see Hotaru screaming as Usagi held her protectively.
"What the hell is going on?" Haruka yelled at no one in particular.
"I don't know. I believe the Princess has activated the Ginzuishou in her sleep," Setsuna answered as she peered at the two forms on the bed. "The crescent moon mark is glowing, as well."
"But, she was so weak from the battle. She shouldn't be expending such power now!" Michiru protested.
Setsuna shrugged. "Whether she should or not is irrelevant at this point. She has already done so." As she spoke, Hotaru's screams died down along with the bright light. The Ginzuishou dropped to the bed next to Usagi's head. As if a spell had been broken, the Senshi rushed into the room, anxious to reassure themselves that Usagi was all right. The crescent moon mark had faded and Usagi seemed to be sleeping peacefully with a pleased smile upon her face. Turning their attention to the young girl who had been screaming in agony just minutes before, they were surprised to find that she looked much better than she had earlier. Her cheeks had a healthy glow and her breathing was deep and steady. She, too, was smiling. Shaking their heads in consternation, the three silently agreed to let them sleep and return to bed. In the morning, they would get some answers out of their reckless princess.=====
Serenity dismissed the Ginzuishou and collapsed to her knees in weariness. The cleansing had taken quite a bit out of her, but she felt the drain was well worth the effort. Hotaru's aura now blazed with a vibrant violet fire untainted by any hint of the evil that had marred it before.
"Princess! She's gone. The monster is gone! And I'm whole again, as well!" Hotaru exclaimed in delight as she examined herself. Rolling up her sleeves, she studied the firm, healthy flesh and muscle of her arms. "I'm healed!" she cried in delight as she turned towards the weary princess and wrapped her arms around her in an embrace. "Thank you!"
Serenity returned the embrace. "You are most welcome."
Hotaru woke slowly and stretched. When it didn't cause any pain, she stopped and her eyes snapped open. She couldn't remember a time when she hadn't ached in the morning. She sat up hurriedly and examined herself. 'It wasn't a dream!' she thought in wonder. The darkness that had flitted at the edges of her mind was vanquished and Hotaru giggled in delight. She looked down at the pale, silver-haired girl who was still sleeping peacefully next to her She was startled at how young the princess looked. 'She can't be more than a few years older than I am!' she thought in surprise. At a sound from the doorway, she whirled around, placing herself between the sleeping princess and any danger that might be approaching.
"Saturn," Setsuna said in greeting as she studied the young girl who was giving her such a fierce glare from the bed. The dark-eyed girl looked much better than she had the night before. Her eyes were brighter and color had returned to her cheeks.
Hotaru relaxed as she recognized the green-haired woman in the doorway. "Pluto," she replied. She glanced down behind her to see if the Princess had awakened and was both relieved and disappointed that she hadn't. Relieved because she knew how exhausted Serenity had been, but disappointed because she wasn't sure she wanted to face the other Senshi just yet without the Princess by her side.
Setsuna noticed the apprehension in the other girl and suppressed a small sigh. The chilly reception from the other Outer Senshi had understandably put the youngest Senshi on guard. She would have to have a talk with them later. The Senshi would all need to learn to work together as a team if the threat to the Princess and the Earth was to be dealt with. Moving quietly, she sat down on the bed and reached around Saturn to check Usagi's pulse. She smiled as she felt it, strong and steady beneath her figure. At Saturn's questioning look, she spoke, "She's fine. She'll most likely sleep all day, though. She used a lot of energy last night."
Saturn dropped her gaze again at the last comment. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean for it to happen." She was completely unprepared for the embrace she suddenly found herself in.
"Do not apologize," Setsuna said fiercely as she hugged the younger girl. "Were it not for you, we would have lost her and the world would be doomed. I'm not sure what happened between the two of you after that, but whatever it was, I'm sure it was for the best." Setsuna released the girl and looked into her eyes. "You are a Senshi and the Princess loves you. Do not worry about the others. Usagi will set them straight."
Saturn gave her a tremulous smile and impulsively hugged the woman back. "You're not afraid of me?"
"Of course not! Yes, you are very powerful, but so am I. The Princess wields more power than any of us, yet she does not instill fear, does she?"
Saturn shook her head emphatically and grinned at the older woman. "I cannot imagine anyone being afraid of our Princess. She makes everyone happy!"
Setsuna smiled back at her, nodding her head in agreement. "Indeed she does, at least, most of the time..." her voice trailed off as she thought of the fear they had all felt when Usagi had disappeared.'I'll let Mamoru deal with the Princess when he arrives,' she thought briefly and then turned her attention back to the girl in front of her. "What say we leave Usagi to sleep and you and I find some lunch, hmmm?"=====
Mamoru was the first to arrive, as his last class ended in the early afternoon. He was somewhat surprised to discover that Usagi was still sleeping. Once he had checked in on her, he followed Setsuna to her study for a conference. She had mentioned an incident in the early morning that she needed to discuss with him. 'Incident? I wonder just what she means by that...' he thought to himself. It seemed unlikely that Usagi could have done anything else, as drained as she had been. He suppressed a shudder as he remembered how close he had come to once again losing his love. 'Had Saturn not arrived when she did...' The sound of a throat clearing jarred him from his dark thoughts and he looked up to see Setsuna motioning him to a chair. "Sorry, I was lost in thought there for a moment."
"I understand. I'm sure you have a lot on your mind. We all do." Setsuna sank gracefully into her own chair before continuing. "I don't want to worry you, but the Princess activated the Ginzuishou again after we returned from the Moon."
Mamoru felt all the blood drain from his face before it rushed back with a vengeance. "What?!" he exclaimed, coming to his feet. "How could she do that? She knows how dangerous... She couldn't even stay awake..." he protested as he started heading for the door, determined to wake Usagi and lecture her within an inch of her life.
"Wait! Hear me out. I don't think she did it consciously. In fact, I believe she was asleep at the time." Setsuna's words stopped him before he could leave the room. Setsuna waited until Mamoru had retaken his seat before continuing. "From what I can tell, she used the Ginzuishou to heal Saturn. Michiru, Haruka, and I were all awakened by Saturn's screams. When we reached Usagi's room, the Ginzuishou was floating above Saturn and the Princess, the light almost
blinding. After a few minutes, the light dimmed and the Ginzuishou fell to the bed. We checked them out, but neither girl seemed the worse for it. In fact, Saturn looked much better."
"Have you spoken to Saturn about this?" Mamoru asked.
Setsuna shook her head. "No, she was a bit distraught that the Princess had used the Ginzuishou. I thought it best to wait until Usagi wakes and then discuss it with her. Hotaru is quite young and, I think, emotionally fragile. The other Outer Senshi didn't help her self-confidence last night, but I'm sure Usagi will put everything to rights once she wakes up." She sighed at the last.
Mamoru looked at her sharply. "That's the problem, isn't it? We have no idea when she will wake up, do we?"
"No. However, now that you're here, and once the Inners arrive, she'll regain energy much quicker. Perhaps you could sit with her for awhile..." Setsuna trailed off with a grin as the Earth prince was already out the door.
Mamoru smiled as he looked down at the slumbering Usagi. 'My own sleeping beauty,' he mused. 'Well, sometimes the traditional ways are the best.' Leaning down, he brushed his lips softly across Usagi's pale pink ones. He was rewarded with a soft sigh of pleasure and the fluttering of her eyelids.
"Mamo-chan," Usagi breathed as she struggled to open her eyes.
"Time to wake up, Sleepyhead. You've slept the whole day away," he chided her lightly, even as he noted with concern how pale she still was.
"Really? What time is it?" Usagi asked, astonished that it was so late. It felt like she'd just closed her eyes a few hours ago.
"Nearly supper time. The other girls should be arriving shortly. Do you want to shower before we eat?"
Usagi nodded absently. There was something she was forgetting, something important that had happened..."Hotaru-chan!" she exclaimed suddenly, sitting up hurriedly. She felt around the bed anxiously. "Where is Hotaru-chan? Is she all right?"
Mamoru grabbed one of her searching hands and sat down next to her. "Hotaru is in the living room. She's just fine. In fact, she looks much better than she did last night. Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Usagi sighed in relief. She'd thought that the healing had went well, but the pain the small Senshi had endured still haunted her. Usagi shivered at the memory of the young girl's agonized screams. "She's all right now? You're sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. What has you so worried about her?"
Usagi bit her lip. She wasn't exactly sure herself what had happened to her Senshi, but she decided to try to explain it. "I think she was possessed. There was some sort of evil entity, a demon or something, that had invaded her mind and body. She had been trying to fight it herself, but she was afraid that it was growing stronger as she grew ever weaker." Usagi paused, trying to find the words to describe what she experienced. "There was such hate polluting her spirit. I could not bear to see her light sullied by that darkness. I called on the Ginzuishou to heal... It hurt her, Mamo-chan! Her screams went straight to my heart. I tried to protect her as much as I could, but I still hurt her. Do you think she'll ever forgive me for causing her such pain?" she finished tearfully.
"Shh, Usako, there is nothing to forgive. You healed her. She is much happier and healthier now than she was last night." Mamoru hugged Usagi to him. She seemed so fragile right now, as if the slightest thing could break her body or spirit. "Better?" he whispered into her hair as the sobs quieted.
"Mmmm," she mumbled into his chest as she nodded her head. She couldn't quite contain the yawn that crept upon her. He was so warm, she could bask in his presence forever.
"Usako? Don't go back to sleep! Don't you want to eat supper?" He poked her playfully as she had burrowed his head into his chest.
At the mention of supper, Usagi's head lifted up. "Food?! What are you waiting for, Mamo-chan? I need to wash up so we can eat!" she exclaimed.=====
For once, Usagi's hair was not up in its traditional buns. Instead, Michiru had french-braided the silvery strands in a long plait that fell down her back and brushed against her ankles as she walked. The pale pink dress she wore gave her some color. The longish skirt flowed about her as she walked carefully and gracefully toward the table. Hotaru led her by the hand to ensure she wasn't troubled by any obstacles. The crescent moon upon her forehead no longer blazed, but she was still every inch the princess. Mamoru sucked in his breath at the sight of her. This was no longer the slightly klutzy but loveable Usagi, this girl, no, young woman, was also Serenity.
Once she was seated at the table, Usagi took a deep breath and spoke. "Everyone, before we eat, I have something I need to say to you." She paused briefly, as she waited for everyone to focus their attention upon her. "I realize that you are upset by my actions last night. I wish to apologize for worrying you; however, I cannot say that I am sorry about what I did. You are all very dear to me and I couldn't bear it if you were harmed while protecting me... again. I could feel him coming. Had I remained here, he would have killed, or at least seriously injured, Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna in order to get to me."
"But Usagi, it is our duty to protect you!" Makoto protested.
Usagi smiled sadly. "And it is my duty to protect you."
A chorus of protests came from around the table as the Senshi all started trying to argue with her at once. Finally, Mamoru had had enough. "Alright!" he shouted in order to be heard above the din. "It's obvious that this needs to be discussed in more depth, but I suggest that we wait until after supper. The food is getting cold."
There were a few grumblings from around the table, but Makoto and Setsuna both got up to retrieve the meal from the kitchen. Usagi squeezed Mamoru's hand in gratitude.
"Oh no," he whispered to her. "I'm with them. I just think you should eat before we lecture you. It wouldn't do for you to pass out from hunger in the middle of our discussion. It ruins the impact."
After supper, the Senshi all gathered around Usagi and Mamoru in the living room. They were determined to straighten their princess out about a few things. Mainly, whose job it was to protect whom. It was clearly their job to protect her, no matter how much she protested to the contrary.
"Usagi, please, you must understand how it is with us. We have pledged our lives to your well-being." Rei began.
"No, that's not true. You all swore an oath to Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom. She has been dead for over a thousand years and the Moon Kingdom no longer exists! You upheld your oaths to her and died in her defense--there is no need for you to do so again on my account! I'm just klutzy, harebrained Usagi! You would be better off if I were dead." Usagi's face was flushed as she spoke, but the brightly glowing sigil upon her forehead gave the lie to her words. Princess Serenity was very much alive.
"But, you are our princess. Whatever name you happen to go by, you are still the Princess that we have in our hearts. Without you, we lose our way," Michiru argued.
"We may not always show it, but we love you, Usagi-chan! You are the one thing that keeps us together!" Minako added.
"Please, Princess, do not speak this way. Without your light, the darkness would have overtaken my soul. Never say we would be better off without you. I am certain I would be dead soon had you not healed me," Hotaru said quietly, as she walked over to where Usagi sat and placed her head in the princess' lap.
Usagi touched the other girl's delicate features with her fingers and slumped her shoulders in defeat. It was obvious that they were not going to change their minds. She could feel the resolve within each of them. Mamoru had yet to speak, but she could feel the hurt and anger from him easily enough. She held out her hand to him and was relieved when he accepted it. She truly did regret the hurt that she had caused him, both with her actions and her words. She had thought she had put the feelings of unworthiness behind her when she and the Inners had made up, but there were obviously some unresolved feelings that she needed to deal with. She would speak with Mamoru later and try to make it up to him. He might be able to help her deal with her lingering feelings of hurt, as well. Sighing inwardly, she straightened her spine and spoke again. "All right. Let us just agree to protect one another. We truly do not have time for this right now. If we cannot defeat the enemy soon, I fear it will be too late. At least last night's little excursion was not for naught."
"What do you mean?" Ami asked. She was still a bit surprised at the marked change in Usagi's demeanor. Usagi might claim that Serenity was dead, but all could see that the girl was gaining more and more of the Princess' mannerisms each day.
"The creature that was with my father, he is the one behind the Black Moon attacks. His power is the same as the poison crystals. If we can defeat him, the threat to the Earth will be removed. He's also the one who brought my father here--he was in the cave that night." Usagi spoke calmly, no trace of the mixture of anger and sorrow she was feeling was evident in either her voice or expression. Only Mamoru, who was still holding her hand, could feel the anguish she was suppressing. "If we can separate him from my father, I'm sure we could defeat one of them. Their combined power is just too great. He
mentioned something called Nemesis. I think it's where he gets his power."
Setsuna gave a start as the alarm bells went off in her mind. She knew that name... but from where?
"But, how do you know he was the one in the cave?" Makoto asked, confused.
"I... It's hard to explain. He just felt the same--dark, evil, full of hatred." Usagi shivered as she heard his raspy voice in her memory, promising her death. She frowned as she remembered something else. He had not only called her "Princess Serenity," but he also addressed her as "Neo-Queen Serenity." "I'm not sure if this is important, but he called me Neo-Queen Serenity. What do you suppose he meant by that?"
Setsuna paled as the significance of Nemesis finally came to her. "He's from the future! In the future, those with darkness in their hearts who refused the healing of the Ginzuishou were banished by Neo-Queen Serenity to the planet Nemesis," she explained.
"The future?!" Minako exclaimed. "First we have villains from the past, now from the future? Don't we ever get to fight bad guys that are from this time?"
"Neo-Queen Serenity? That's what he called me. Does this mean that I'm responsible for the Black Moon attacks?" Usagi asked, apprehensively.
"No! The only ones responsible for the attacks are those who are instigating them. You, I mean, the Queen did not wish to use the Ginzuishou upon people who refused its cleansing power, but she could not allow them to stay on Earth, either. I cannot give you any details, but in the future, something happens and, as a result, the majority of the Earth's population is wiped out. The Queen revives as many as she can, but there is a limit to what even the Ginzuishou can do. Given the circumstances, there simply aren't the resources to deal with a criminal element, for lack of a better description."
Everyone simply stared at her in shock. Most of the Earth's population killed? Usagi a Queen? What was going on?
"I would not be telling you any of this, but you need to be prepared for the changes in Earth when we get there. In order to defeat this enemy, we must travel to the future and face him," Setsuna explained. "And, you must remember that the future is constantly changing. What is the future now, may not be the future at a later date."
"Travel to the future? How can we do that?" Rei asked, as she struggled to get over the shock of what she had just heard.
"I will take us. I am the Senshi of Time, after all," Setsuna stated.
"Chibi-Usa," Usagi breathed. "She's from the future, as well, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is. It was too dangerous for her there, so I sent her back to this time. Unfortunately, the Black Moon followed her back." Setsuna sighed in frustration. "I was hoping that it wouldn't come to this, but since you've confirmed that the enemy is from Nemesis, we have no choice."
"Hold on just a minute, before we go charging into the future, we need some sort of plan of attack," Haruka protested.
"If you could distract the Wiseman long enough for me to heal my fa... I mean, Princess Serenity's father, then I believe he would help us in defeating the Black Moon. Wiseman definitely did not want me to attempt the healing, so that may mean he is afraid it will work. I'm certain that if Wiseman had not interfered, I would have been able to break the hold he has over King Hyperion," Usagi stated.
"But, what if he attacks you before you can heal him? He almost killed you the last time!" Makoto protested. The idea of her princess facing such a dangerous adversary alone, especially in her present condition, scared her more than she wanted to admit.
"I did not know who he was the last time. Besides, I was already wounded when he attacked. If I had had the Ginzuishou, it could have deflected the attack or, at the very least, lessened the damage," Usagi said.
"I'll stay with you. At the very least, you should have someone to be your eyes," Mamoru said in a voice that would brook no argument.
Usagi smiled and squeezed his hand before responding, "I would not have it any other way."
"Shouldn't some of us stay with you, as well?" Michiru asked.
"No," Usagi shook her head. "Wiseman is the more dangerous adversary. Also, he may have more allies than we have seen so far."
"I have a suggestion," Mamoru interjected and the Senshi turned their attention to the Prince. "When you engage Wiseman, throw him off balance by sending combined attacks at him. With all of you attacking him in different combinations, he shouldn't have time to take the offensive. Hopefully, that will buy Sailor Moon enough time to heal King Hyperion."
Setsuna nodded slowly as her respect for the Earth prince grew, "That's an excellent idea. If we mix the attacks of the Outer and Inner Senshi, it will keep him occupied for at least a few minutes. You must realize, however, that he will be more powerful in the future because he will have better access to Nemesis."
"More powerful?" Minako looked apprehensively at the other Senshi. They had barely held him off long enough to rescue Usagi the last time they met. How could they hope to withstand him if he grew even stronger?
Haruka threw the Senshi of Love a scornful look. "When do we leave? It's time someone took that Wiseman down a peg or two."
"I will leave that up to Puu. She is the one who will be taking us." Usagi nodded toward the Senshi of Time and everyone followed her gaze expectantly.
Setsuna paused before answering. She looked over Usagi with a critical eye and then slowly examined everyone in the room. Everyone was showing extreme signs of exhaustion, with dark circles under their eyes. Usagi, especially, looked pale and too thin. "We leave on Monday. It would be a good idea if all of you could spend the weekend here so we can build up our energy and do some training. Does that work for everyone?"
All of the Senshi nodded in agreement. Minako glanced at her watch and let out a squeal.
"Oh no! I've got to get home or my parents are going to kill me!" She hurriedly took her leave, stopping to give Usagi a quick hug. "I'll see you tomorrow."
The other Inner Senshi took their leave soon after, each giving Usagi a hug, and Rei parted with the admonishment to Usagi to "Stay out of trouble."
Mamoru stood up to leave, as well, but was stopped by the soft tug on his hand.
"Mamo-chan, please, don't go. Stay," Usagi asked softly.
Looking down at her sweet face infused with hope and apprehension, Mamoru felt his heart turn over. She still wanted and needed him. He would not let her down again.
"Of course, Usako. I'll just run home and pack a few things and then I'll be right back. Is that all right?" he asked.
Usagi nodded as she sighed in relief. She could feel the darkness pressing upon her once more, and his golden light was the only thing that could keep it at bay. Having the Senshi by her side helped, of course, but it wasn't the same. Mamoru banished the shadows as he completed her soul.=====
After Mamoru had gone to collect his things, Haruka and Michiru excused themselves and Setsuna set Hotaru up with a movie in the family room. When she returned, Usagi was still sitting in the same place in the living room, lost in thought.
"So, when are you going to tell them?" she asked, after a few minutes.
Usagi gave a slight start as she came back to herself. "What do you mean?" she asked, turning her face away, but not quite quick enough to hide the slight pink flush that stained it.
Setsuna walked over to where the younger girl was sitting and took her hands. "You don't have to hide from me, Princess. I remember the past, as well. You will need to tell them sometime."
"How? Why?" Usagi turned a tear-streaked face back to the oldest Senshi. "What good could possibly come from them knowing that the Dark Kingdom Generals were actually their loves from the Silver Millennium? They were Endymion's guards and closest friends, and now they are dead because of me! How can I tell them? Any of them?" Usagi choked out, before dissolving into tears.
Setsuna gathered the weeping princess close and murmured soothing sounds into her hair as she rubbed her back in slow, circular motions. "That's why you went alone last night, isn't it? How much do you remember?"
"Just bits and pieces, but more all the time. They were so happy! I feel so guilty that I have Mamoru now while they have no one. Oh Puu, what have I done?" Usagi cried.
"What you had to. When you were fighting the Dark Kingdom, you had no memory of the Generals. It is not your fault. The girls will understand. It will hurt, of course, but they will not blame you. How could they? They were fighting with you. Now, promise me you won't risk yourself unnecessarily again. That would hurt them more than anything else. Princess, promise me." Setsuna held Usagi's shoulders so she could look at her face.
Usagi slowly nodded her head. "I promise, no unnecessary risks." She suddenly gripped the other woman's arms tightly. "Puu, what is wrong with me? Why can I not live up to their expectations? Why am I such a failure in this life? Princess Serenity is this perfect image in their minds--someone who could do no wrong and was grace personified. This is not who I am. It is not even who I was! I cannot live up to someone who never existed."
"Shh, Princess, I know. Of course you weren't perfect. If they had all of their memories, they would realize that you have not changed much at all. Yes, you were a bit more graceful and had impeccable manners, but that is only because you were trained from a young age to behave like a princess. In this life, you have had no such training and, until recently, no memories of your previous studies. I think, if you were to discuss these fears with Mamoru, that he would tell you that he loves you for who you are, not some fantasy princess. Now, why don't you go wash your face before he returns and worries about why you've been crying."
"Alright. Thank you, Puu. You always know just how to make me feel better. I am so grateful that you are here." Usagi gave the green-haired woman a heartfelt hug and then got up to carefully make her way to the bathroom.
Setsuna's crimson eyes were sad as she watched Usagi leave the room. Her princess was usually filled with such joy and happiness; it hurt to see her in so much pain. Everything had happened so quickly--one crisis after another. It was a wonder that the girl could function at all. Setsuna felt a small smile tug at her mouth. Yet, function she did. Usagi, no, Princess Serenity, was much stronger than anyone, including herself, gave her credit for. 'How long will it take for her to admit that she is Serenity? The Senshi can sense it, but they will not contradict her now, not after what has happened between them. I hope Mamoru can convince her that she has value. Even in her former life, she felt inadequate...' Setsuna frowned at the thought. She had not remembered that before. It was no wonder Usagi felt so overwhelmed, she was dealing with two lives' worth of insecurities. 'But in the past, she felt guilty because she did not know how to fight. She was protected, but not a protector. In this life, she is both. If only Endymion had not died while protecting her... things could have turned out so differently.' Setsuna shook herself mentally. Now was not the time for might have beens. She needed to start preparing for what could be.=====
When Mamoru quietly opened the door to Usagi's bedroom, he was surprised to find her still awake. She looked so adorable sitting up in the bed against the pillows with her long, silver hair loose about her shoulders. A smile graced her features as she sensed his approach. "I expected you to be sound asleep," he stated with a grin of his own.
"I was waiting for you," Usagi replied matter-of-factly.
Mamoru raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment. She didn't seem overly upset, just a bit cautious or perhaps anxious. 'I wonder what could have happened now. Maybe she'll finally explain just exactly why she felt the need to sneak out of here alone to face the Black Moon.' Placing his duffel bag on the floor next to the bed, he leaned down to place a chaste kiss upon her cheek. He was surprised and delighted when she turned so that he kissed her full on the mouth, instead. Warmth immediately rushed through him and he broke off the kiss to stare at Usagi in wonder. The crescent moon started to glow faintly once more and a becoming shade of pink was rising up her neck to stain her cheeks. He had always enjoyed their kisses, but now, there was more--it was as if she infused him with her love at the same time. He knew she was capable of sharing her emotions, but this was incredible. Even as he enjoyed the feeling, however, he became aware of a small hint of desperation or apprehension mixed in with the love.
"Please don't leave me again," Usagi whispered.
"I won't," Mamoru promised, embracing her tightly. "Never again." Slowly, he felt her relax in his arms, some of the anxiety seeping out of her.
"I... I've been regaining memories of our past. We were so happy..." Usagi trailed off, taking a deep breath. "Until the war came. Mamoru, there's something I need to tell you. Something that I have remembered," Usagi began, her hands twisting the blankets nervously.
Mamoru looked at her in concern. "It's all right, Usako, just tell me." He sat down beside her on the bed and took one of her hands in his own, caressing it softly.
Usagi took a deep breath and let it slowly. "Do you remember the Generals we fought from the Dark Kingdom? The four directly under Beryl who coordinated the youma attacks?"
Mamoru nodded, feeling a slightprick of pain at the memory. Then, remembering that she could not see him, he answered. "Yes."
"They were more than just Beryl's lackeys. In the Silver Millennium, before that terrible final battle, they were... they were..." Usagi stopped, unable to continue.
"They were my guardians and closest friends," Mamoru finished quietly, his eyes dark with sorrow.
Usagi's sightless eyes widened. "You knew!" she gasped in shock. Her hand tightening around his as she shared his anguish.
"Yes, ever since that last battle with Beryl in the Arctic. They saved me from the Moon sword." Mamoru spoke quietly.
"I am so sorry. I didn't know, not until recently. If I had known... Oh, Mamo-chan, maybe I could have healed them!" Against her will, Usagi felt the tears threatening to spill once more and she swiped at them angrily. "How can you bear to look at me knowing that I caused their destruction? How will the Senshi be able to forgive me?"
"You did not destroy them, Usako. That was Beryl and Metallia's doing," he contradicted her. Then he replayed in his mind the last thing she had said, about the Senshi. "Why would the Senshi need to forgive you?" he asked, perplexed. They were his friends, what did the Senshi have to do with it.
Usagi turned away before answering. "They were lovers... my guardians and yours... just as we were," she whispered.
Mamoru stared at her in stunned amazement. He hadn't remembered that. He only remembered fragments of his previous life and most of it had to do with Serenity. He had felt a sense of loss when the Generals died, but did not have the memories to accompany the feeling. "The Senshi and my Generals?" he repeated. As he said it, however, it felt right somehow. He had known this at one time, and it had pleased him.
Usagi nodded miserably and leaned into him gratefully when he pulled her against him. "We were all so happy. And now, how are they ever going to be happy again? I hate this. They deserve to love and be happy, just as much as I do."
Mamoru hugged her reassuringly. "We will just have to take it one day at a time. They will have to know, eventually, but I don't think this is the time. They have enough on their minds at the moment. We will be going to the future shortly, and that is worrisome enough."
"Very well," she conceded, "I shall wait."=====
"Princess, we need to go now. The Timestream is fairly stable at the moment, but I don't know for how much longer."
Usagi took a deep breath. She was nervous about going into battle blind, but another part of her was relieved. She needed to do something. The constant feeling of being on edge was exhausting. "All right, Puu. I'll meet you outside in just a minute."
Grasping her broach with the Ginzuishou firmly, Usagi raised it above her head and called out her transformation phrase, "Moon Crystal Power!"
The familiar rush of magic gave her some much needed confidence and a boost of energy, as well. Straightening her shoulders, Sailor Moon strode toward the door. Unfortunately, confidence and energy weren't much help for the coffee table that she banged her shin into before falling in a rather ungraceful heap on the floor. 'I knew it couldn't be this easy,' she thought ruefully to herself as she rubbed her sore leg. Doing a quick scan around, she was thankful that no one was around to see her klutz attack. 'If any of the Senshi had seen that spectacular performance, there's no way they'd let me go with them. Pull it together, Usagi. If you concentrate, you can avoid these little mishaps.'
Standing up, Sailor Moon proceeded a bit more cautiously this time. She was still blind, but by moving slowly and using her senses to their fullest, she could navigate through the mansion. Inanimate objects were more difficult for her to detect than living things, however, so if she moved too quickly she was upon them before she realized it. Mamoru and the Senshi were the easiest for her to pick up on, but other living things had a slight aura that she could detect, as well.
"All right, everyone," Pluto instructed,"form a circle and join hands. Do not let loose of the people next to you. I don't want to lose anyone in the time stream, understood?" Pluto looked around at the Senshi who had gathered around her. Once she was satisfied that everyone had done as told, she nodded to herself in satisfaction and raised her Time Staff. She thumped it once on the ground. The garnet orb in the Time Staff glinted once and then the stones in each of the Senshi's tiaras flashed in response. Light from each stone shot out in beams to coalesce in the Time Staff, which then shot a beam of light into the sky. Within moments, a wind began blowing around the Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen, and with another flash of light from the Time Staff, everyone was immediately transported.
Arriving in the familiar corridor of the Hall of Time, Pluto looked around again to reassure herself that everyone had transported successfully. She didn't relish the prospect of having to go hunting for someone lost in the ever present Time Storms. "Everyone all right?" she inquired, her gaze going instinctively to Sailor Moon. Muttered affirmations answered her.
"Good. Now, through that door we will enter the 24th century." She gestured to a large, imposing wood door inlaid with an intricate pattern that seemed to be made out of gold. "Please try not to learn too much and remember that this is only a possible future. The future is always in flux, so the things you see here may or may not come to pass."
Walking forward, Pluto opened the door and gestured for the Senshi to enter. The Inner Senshi went through first, followed by Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen, and the Outer Senshi brought up the rear.
The first thing Usagi noticed as she and Mamoru stepped through the door was how quiet it was, and her brow furrowed as she cocked her head, listening for any sounds that were not made by her group. "Mamo-chan, what does it look like?" she whispered.
"It's beautiful, Usako, but so... empty..."
Usagi nodded in understanding. It felt empty to her, as well. Giving a gentle tug to Mamoru's hand, she moved among the Inner Senshi, who had all paused and were unmoving. Once she'd moved out of the fiery blaze of their auras, she gasped at the beacon that called to her with the silver fire of the Ginzuishou. Pointing, she asked, "What is over there?"
"A castle made of crystal," Venus breathed.
"Welcome to Crystal Tokyo," Pluto said.
"Tokyo?" Jupiter said in surprise. "But, the only thing there is the castle!" She looked about wildly. "There aren't any other structures, or roads, or anything!"
Pluto smiled sadly. "That is correct. Come, we need to reach the castle before the Black Moon attacks again." So saying, she started forward, following some trail that only she could see. The other Senshi fell in line, sure to keep Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen in the middle where they could best be protected.
It was a mostly silent trek, as all but Pluto were stunned by how changed Tokyo appeared--no more was it a thriving metropolis filled with people; now, it was a strangely beautiful, barren stretch of land, marred in places by evidence of the Black Moon's attacks.
They had nearly reached the entrance of the castle when Usagi felt Mamoru stop, and he held her still with a soft squeeze. She was about to ask why they had stopped when a familiar voice spoke.
"Welcome to Crystal Tokyo," the voice echoed the words of Sailor Pluto.
"King Endymion," Pluto greeted the man who had appeared in front of her.
"Sailor Pluto," he returned. He looked at the assembled Senshi and the younger version of himself, but what he thought of them was not evident, as he kept his expression carefully blank. "Please, enter. It is quiet at the moment, but the Black Moon strikes periodically."
The Senshi started moving forward once more, but Usagi stayed in place, frowning slightly. "Mamoru, there's no one there. It sounds like you, but there is no one there," she said quietly.
"You are correct, Sailor Moon. I am a holographic representation of King Endymion. My body was damaged during an attack, so I must rely on the technology of the castle in order to interact with you," King Endymion explained.
"I'm sorry," Usagi said, hating the thought that her Mamo-chan had been hurt, even if it was a future Mamoru.
It was Mamoru, however, who voiced the question that the Senshi had on their minds. "But what of Usagi? The Usagi of your time?" he clarified.
There was a moment of silence, and then King Endymion spoke reluctantly, "I regret to say that Neo-Queen Serenity was also injured during the attack. The Ginzuishou protected her, but she currently lies in a coma within the crystal."
This news was met with soft gasps of dismay from the Senshi, but Usagi only nodded in understanding and continued forward. Had Serenity not been incapacitated, Endymion would now be standing before them in the flesh--as Usagi knew she would never leave her Mamoru in such a state if it were within her power to heal him. "Take us to her," she said.
As they walked through the crystal halls of the castle, Usagi couldn't help but notice yet again how empty it seemed--just like Tokyo itself. Their footsteps echoed loudly in the halls and there weren't any sounds of other people going about their business in the palace. "Where is everyone?" she finally asked.
"Sailor Moon, you can't ask questions like that. We have to be very careful not to change the time line," Pluto warned her.
Usagi bit her lip. She wasn't so sure this time line should be preserved--it was too sad. But she remained silent. Finally, they came to a room that literally blazed with the light of the Ginzuishou, and Usagi walked hesitantly forward with her hand held out in front of her until she actually touched the crystal. It pulsed, comforting and warm, against her hand. She heard soft sounds of shock and grief come from the Senshi, but she ignored them. Mamoru was squeezing her hand tightly, and she knew that he was upset by the sight of the queen encased in crystal. But she knew that her future self was all right. She could feel it in the Ginzuishou. "Don't worry. The Ginzuishou is healing her. She'll awaken soon," Usagi reassured everyone.
An explosion made the castle tremble and the Senshi dropped into fighting positions. "It's the Black Moon," King Endymion said. "With each attack, they get closer to the palace. So far, the shield generated by the power of the Senshi is preventing them from attacking us directly, but with each day that passes, the Senshi become weaker and the shield shrinks a bit more."
Taking a deep breath, Usagi dropped her hand and turned around to face the Senshi. "Then we need to take the battle outside. If the shield falls before the queen awakens and the castle is breached, then all will be lost. Neo-Queen Serenity would never recover from the loss of her Senshi and King," she stated.
No one could argue with that pronouncement, but the knowledge that Sailor Moon needed to fight weighed heavily upon the Senshi and Mamoru.
"Maybe we can handle it without you," Sailor Jupiter offered, but even she didn't sound convinced.
"No, Jupiter. This is my fight. Remember the plan--you keep Wiseman occupied while I deal with my father," Sailor Moon said.
Jupiter scowled, but didn't argue. She knew that Sailor Moon was right, but she hated seeing her friend put herself in such danger--especially now.
Another explosion shook the foundations of the castle and Sailor Moon shivered. At the very edges of her perception, she could feel the cold of poison crystals beginning to contaminate the area close to the castle. "We have to go now," she said.
The hologram of King Endymion flickered and his face was grim. "She's right. The poison is beginning to seep through the castle's defenses. It will weaken the Senshi that much quicker, as well as drain the remaining energy that keeps the technology of the castle running. I'm afraid I'll have to return to my body now in order to conserve energy."
Pluto nodded. "Yes, my king. If all goes well, the war will end this night."
"Good luck," he said, and then the hologram simply vanished.=====
"So, how do we draw them out? We're sitting ducks out here at the moment," Sailor Uranus said.
"I think this will do it," Sailor Moon said, closing her eyes and summoning the Ginzuishou. The bright, silver glow surrounded her and the power of the Ginzuishou pulsed out in palpable waves that enveloped the Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen with their warmth.
"Yeah, that'll probably do it," Jupiter muttered under her breath, even as she scanned the area for enemies.
"Spread out. King Hyperion will most likely be the first to appear, and we don't want Wiseman sneaking up on us," Tuxedo Kamen said.
With Sailor Moon in the center, Tuxedo Kamen remaining closer than the others, the Senshi formed a circle of defense. Even still, when King Hyperion appeared, it was a surprise, as he teleported right next to Sailor Moon.
Unconsciously, when she detected the aura of her father, Sailor Moon transformed once more into the princess she had once been. The crescent moon on her forehead pulsed in concert with the Ginzuishou. "Father," she said in greeting.
"You're no daughter of mine!" King Hyperion growled, bringing his hands up to blast her.
"Papa, try to remember," Princess Serenity pleaded. "We were so happy on the Moon, before Metallia came, before Wiseman twisted your memories. Mother wouldn't want this."
"You dare speak of your mother?" King Hyperion sent a powerful blast of sunfire at Princess Serenity, but the glow of the Ginzuishou deflected it easily.
Taking a deep breath, Serenity called upon the power of the Moon, sending a silent prayer to her mother, as well, "Moon Healing Escalation!" Silver light met golden as the energy of the moon slammed into the next oncoming stream of sunfire that King Hyperion had sent toward Serenity. For a moment, the energies seemed evenly matched, but then slowly, very slowly, the silver began to overtake the gold.
Prince Endymion, his own transformation triggered by that of the princess, watched, clenching his fists in frustration that he couldn't do more. Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a flash of purple and he whirled to face the new threat. "Senshi! Wiseman is here. Don't let him reach the princess!" he shouted.
The jewels within each of the Inner Senshi's tiara began to glow with power as the Senshi concentrated on keeping Wiseman outside their perimeter. As soon as the shield of energy was in place, the Outer Senshi began their attack upon the cloaked figure hovering in the air above them. Battle cries rang out as they followed the plan--"World Shaking!" "Dead Scream!" "Silence Wall!" "Deep Submerge!"
Within the perimeter, however, Princess Serenity's world had narrowed down to one thing--healing the darkness that had overtaken her father's soul. She could feel him weakening, but was afraid she would run out of energy before the poison could be cleansed from him. The warm strength of her beloved, however, surged into her as Prince Endymion placed his hands upon her shoulders, lending her his power, as well.
"You can do it, Serenity. I have faith in you," Endymion whispered into her ear.
The words bolstered her just as much as the energy he had given her, and the silver energy of the Ginzuishou leapt forward to engulf King Hyperion. He screamed in pain as the poison of the Dark Crystal was forced from his body and his mind finally cleared of the lies that he had been fed by Metallia and Wiseman.
Serenity slumped wearily back against Endymion as fatigue caught up with her. Forcing herself to stand straight once again, she moved to approach her father.
"Papa?" she whispered, as she neared the sobbing man.
The bowed man slowly raised his head and, for the first time in centuries, the blue eyes were filled with love and not hate. "My little Serenity... You're all grown up. And you look so much like your mother," he said, smiling sadly.
"Oh, Papa," Serenity said, her eyes filling with tears as she took the final steps forward to embrace her father.
"What have I done, my darling one? How could I attack my only child? It was so dark and cold," he said brokenly, holding her tightly.
"It wasn't your fault. The enemy can poison your mind and your very soul. You're not the only one this has happened to," Serenity assured him. "The important thing is that you are yourself now. You are in control--not Metallia and not Wiseman."
As if in response to her saying the madman's name, there was a sharp crack and then Venus was shouting to her, "Princess! We've lost the shield!"
Serenity became suddenly aware of the sounds of battle around her. The auras of her Senshi were fluctuating wildly as they fought, and the ground trembled with the attacks of both her Senshi and the Black Moon. Pulling back from her father, Serenity turned toward the black hole she could feel sucking at her will and strength--Wiseman.
A hand on her arm gave her pause.
"No, Serenity," King Hyperion stated firmly. "This fight is mine."
"No, sir," Endymion protested. "The fight is all of ours. We all have too much to lose if Wiseman succeeds in his plans." He gave a significant look to King Hyperion, indicating Serenity, and the older man nodded in understanding. The powers of the Earth, Moon, and Sun would work together, as they should have so long ago, and would have had Metallia and Wiseman not managed to gain control of King Hyperion. The two men moved to stand at Serenity's side, keeping the young princess between them. And they were just in time, as a purple bolt of light came straight for them. Reacting instinctively, Endymion and Hyperion formed a glowing golden shield that encompassed the three of them.
Serenity once more called forth the Ginzuishou, but this time, she concentrated on weaving its power with that of Endymion and her father. As the Senshi realized what was happening, they added their own energy to that of the Princess. Feeling the power that surged around and through her and the Ginzuishou, Serenity raised the Ginzuishou high and called out her attack: "Moon Crystal Healing Activation!"
A multicolored beam of pure energy streaked out and encapsulated Wiseman. For just a moment, he was caught, frozen in place, a dark purple aura protecting him, and then the light flared brighter and the purple aura simply collapsed. The glow grew so bright that all were forced to turn away, save Serenity, who remained fixated on where the aura had been until nothing remained of the darkness. Only then did she allow the energy to taper off. With a soft sigh, she sank wearily to the ground, completely spent. The Senshi were similarly drained, and even Endymion was having trouble remaining on his feet.
When a flash of green light streaked out of nowhere headed straight for the princess, only King Hyperion was in a position to do anything about it. Covering his daughter with his own body, he took the attack intended for her. Immediately, the Outer Senshi were on the offensive, and the last member of the Black Moon family, Emerald, was dispatched with a combination of "World Shaking" and "Dead Scream" from Uranus and Pluto.
Endymion gingerly shifted King Hyperion off of Serenity. The older man was still alive, but only barely, his breath coming in soft panting gasps as he fought the pain and the darkness he could feel hovering just at the edges of his vision.
"Papa! Papa!" Serenity cried as she struggled up to kneel at his side. "No, it can't end this way. I only just got you back."
"Shhh, it's all right. It's enough that I am free and that I got to see you one final time as myself. My beautiful Serenity..." He smiled at her warmly, seeing not his daughter, but his wife of so long ago. And then he blinked, for standing behind the princess was Queen Serenity, the only woman he had ever loved. "Serenity," he breathed and then his eyes dimmed as his spirit gently left his body.
"Nooo!" Serenity cried as the bright aura that had been her father suddenly compressed into a small flare of golden light and floated slowly upwards. Sobbing, she collapsed onto his body.
His own eyes brimming with unshed tears, Endymion could only stroke her hair as she cried for the loss of her father once more. A warm breeze caressing his cheek caused him to glance behind him and he gasped in surprise. Standing there, side by side, holding hands and smiling, were the King and Queen of the Moon. They were not corporeal, but their spirits were plainly visible for him to see. "Princess," he whispered softly. "Turn around."
Soft gasps came from the Senshi as they all hastily knelt and bowed their heads. Some things were so ingrained that they did not require full memories of the Moon Kingdom, and paying fealty and respect to the Lunar Monarchy was one of them.
Rubbing her eyes, Serenity sniffed and then did as he requested. "What is it?" she asked, and then her breath caught. Next to the glowing form she recognized as her father's spirit, was another, brighter form. "Mother?" Serenity breathed, hardly daring to hope that it could be true.
"Oh, Serenity, you have accomplished what I could not. You have returned your father to his rightful place at my side and defeated the evil of not only Metallia, but of Wiseman, as well. Now, I, and your father, can truly move on. But first, we have one final gift to impart to you," Queen Serenity said, as she and the King glided forward. Raising their joined hands, they placed them atop Serenity's head and a silver and gold glow surrounded the princess.
Serenity closed her eyes as she felt the love of her parents surround her. It was as if she were a child again, held safe and warm within their arms. Her exhaustion fell away as the power of their love rejuvenated her.
"Keep safe and happy, my darling," Queen Serenity whispered.
"Remember us and our love for you," King Hyperion added.
Then, together, they said, "Farewell." The two souls became pure light once more and streaked up into the sky.
"Good bye," Serenity whispered, but she was smiling even with tears still running down her cheeks. Finally, her parents were together and at peace. Opening her eyes, she blinked in shock, and quickly closed them again. It was so bright!
"Serenity?" Endymion asked, concerned.
Shaking her head, Serenity sighed and opened her eyes again, this time slowly. When she looked up into the worried eyes of Endymion, however, she smiled softly. "Never have I looked upon a more welcome sight," she whispered.
At her words, Endymion's eyes widened, and then he crushed her to him. "You can see again!" he exclaimed. Pulling back, he studied her, feeling a great weight lift from his soul.She met his gaze steadily and he twirled her around in the air as she clutched his shoulders, laughing happily.
What?! The Senshi looked at each other in delight and amazement. Before they could rush their exuberant princess and her prince, however, they were distracted by a bright flash of light from the palace.
Placing Serenity back on her feet, they both turned towards the palace. Before their very eyes, the ugly scars left upon the earth surrounding the palace grounds began to heal; the ground closed up as soft, green grass interspersed with pretty pastel flowers emerged. The palace itself sparkled in the sunlight, and they were forced to shield their eyes as they watched the transformation all around them.
"It's the Ginzuishou," Serenity observed, staring in awe at the physical proof of the crystal's power. So often, she was forced to use it to destroy--youmas, droids, demons--it was much rarer that she could tap into its power for the sole purpose of creating something. The Ginzuishou within her resonated with sympathetic power and she shivered at the feeling. Still staring at the crystal palace, she felt the shift within that heralded her return to her Sailor Moon form. Next to her, Mamoru was once more dressed in the formal attire of Tuxedo Kamen.
Figures were emerging from the castle, coming towards them.
"Neo-Queen Serenity has awakened," Pluto said as she spotted the queen's graceful form next to that of Neo-King Endymion. "And Small Lady is with them."
Narrowing her eyes, Sailor Moon could just make out the familiar pink haired figure bobbing along between the queen and king. Behind the royal family, the Inner Senshi were also approaching and Sailor Moon frowned. Where were the Outer Senshi?
Watching the approaching procession, Sailor Mercury moved up to speak to Sailor Moon. "I'm not sure it's such a good idea for all of us to meet. Who knows what we could be changing by interacting with our future selves," she said. "Time travel is dangerous."
Sailor Moon nodded in understanding, but she really wanted to meet Neo-Queen Serenity. This was the mother of Chibi-Usa, the wife of Endymion, a woman who wielded the Ginzuishou with confidence and poise.
"Sailor Moon," Neo-Queen Serenity greeted her younger self.
Sailor Moon bowed her head and knelt, just as her Senshi were doing, but she was halted by Neo-Queen Serenity's hand on her arm.
"No, you do not bow to me," Neo-Queen Serenity said. "Come, walk with me." She released Chibi-Usa's hand, leaving the young girl with her husband, and began walking a little away from the large group that was watching them both intently.
With a swift glance at Tuxedo Kamen, Sailor Moon followed. "Your Majesty?" she asked quietly, uncertain what the queen wanted to discuss with her.
"Tell me, as you look across Crystal Tokyo, what strikes you most about my kingdom?" Neo-Queen Serenity asked, and then she turned to look into Sailor Moon's eyes.
"I..." Sailor Moon paused, her first impulse was to say the beauty, but that wasn't what had truly touched her about the Tokyo of the future. Hesitantly, she offered her honest feelings--"The emptiness," she said softly. As she looked back into eyes identical to her own, for the first time she noticed that sadness that lurked in their blue depths.
"Yes," Neo-Queen Serenity agreed. "It is empty. And that is why I wished to speak with you. This future, for all its peace and beauty, is also barren. You have the power to change this."
"But... wouldn't that mean that this future would cease to be?" Sailor Moon protested. "What about Chibi-Usa? Crystal Tokyo? What happened to the earth?"
Neo-Queen Serenity closed her eyes. "Sailor Moon, I cannot give you the answers to your questions. You will need to search your heart for the answers. What I can tell you is that the past has already been changed. You are different from the Sailor Moon I remember being, and only time will tell if that difference will prove to be for the detriment or the salvation of the world." Opening her eyes, she smiled. "I believe it shall be the salvation. You know how to travel through time now. Use this knowledge wisely." And without another word, she turned and walked back to her husband and daughter.
Sailor Moon stood motionless and speechless, staring after her in shock, then ran to catch up. Sailor Pluto interposed before she could reach the queen, however. "Sailor Moon, you need to return to your own time now. Two sets of the same individuals must not co-exist within the same time stream. It disrupts the balance."
Sailor Moon didn't voice the protest that sprang to her lips. She could feel what Sailor Pluto was talking about. A wrongness that made her dizzy. She offered her Senshi a shaky smile. "All right. Just give me a minute. I need to say good-bye to someone."
Following Sailor Moon's gaze to the small, pink-haired form staring at them longingly, Pluto nodded and stepped back. "Please be quick."
As Pluto retreated, Chibi-Usa approached Sailor Moon shyly. "Sailor Moon... Usagi..."
"Chibi-Usa." Sailor Moon crouched and opened her arms and Chibi-Usa fell into them, crying.
"I'm sorry I was so mean to you. I didn't know... I mean, I didn't realize who you really were. You're... you're my mama. My mama was Sailor Moon all along," Chibi-Usa cried.
"Shh, it's all right. I didn't know at first, either. I just knew that I had to protect you. But now, your mother is awake and you can be with her again. The Black Moon family is gone," Sailor Moon soothed her.
Chibi-Usa nodded. "Yes, because you defeated them. Daddy always told me that Sailor Moon was invincible, and he was right."
Smiling sadly, Sailor Moon shook her head. "I wouldn't say that, but I'm happy that you were reunited with your family." She pulled back from Chibi-Usa slowly and stood up. "I need to go now, Small Lady, and you should return to your parents."
Sniffling still, Chibi-Usa rubbed her eyes. "I'll never forget you, Sailor Moon. I love you," she said.
"And I love you. You be good, all right? Good bye, Chibi-Usa."
"Good bye," Chibi Usa echoed, and then she turned and ran back to her waiting parents.
Sailor Moon watched, tears falling unheeded from her eyes. She didn't even turn when Tuxedo Kamen came up beside her.
"It's time," he said, raising a hand to gently wipe away her tears.
"I know." With one last glance at the the palace of Crystal Tokyo and its royal family, she resolutely turned to Sailor Pluto. "I'm ready," she stated, her head held high.=====
Usagi looked around her room as though it were the room of a stranger. So much had changed in such a short time. Chibi-Usa was gone, returned to her proper place and time.Usagi's parents had no memory of the "cousin" that had stayed with them for so long. Usagi, herself, had also returned to her proper place and time, but it sure didn't feel like it. Half the time, she kept expecting to awaken back in her bedroom on the moon, with the pale marble floors and subtle glow even in the darkest of nights. She still loved her parents dearly, but it was tempered by the memory of other parents, just as loving, who she had lost much too soon. Sighing softly, she sat down on the bed, hugging the pillow to her chest. Luna jumped up on the bed and curled up next to her, purring softly. Usagi petted her automatically. She didn't like the melancholy that refused to be banished and wondered if she'd ever be the happy, carefree girl she had once been. She was interrupted in her musings by a knock at her door.
"Usagi? You have a visitor," her mother's muffled voice came through the door.
"Just a minute!" Replacing the pillow, Usagi wiped her eyes, took a deep breath, and pasted a determined smile on her face. She stood up and opened the door and was surprised to find Setsuna standing the hall. "Puu... I mean... Setsuna-san," she greeted the woman awkwardly.
"There is no need for formality between us, Usagi-chan. We have been friends too long for that,"Setsuna chided softly.
This time, Usagi's smile was genuine. "Yes, that is true. Please, come in." She stood back to allow the woman entrance into her room. Shutting the door behind her, she looked at Setsuna apprehensively. "Is something wrong? Has something happened to one of the Senshi? Hotaru?" she asked, her voice sharpening with concern.
"No, Princess, all of the Senshi are fine. In fact, they sent me to check up on you," Setsuna stated as she seated herself on the bed.
"Me? But... I'm fine," Usagi protested weakly.
"Are you?" Setsuna studied the younger girl critically. Usagi was pale, and the skin under her eyes was dark, as if she hadn't been getting enough sleep. "The evidence indicates otherwise. According to Makoto, you've barely touched your lunch at school, and Ami and Minako have expressed concern that you've isolated yourself during classes. Rei is worried because you have not stopped by the temple at all since you've returned home. They fear that you are still angry with them about what happened before you were taken by King Hyperion."
"What?! No, why would they think that?" Usagi asked, genuinely astonished. Truthfully, she hadn't thought about that at all. She had been too wrapped up in her own feelings of guilt and sorrow to consider how the Senshi might be perceiving her behavior. She groaned as she flopped down on the bed next to Setsuna. "I've just been... I don't know... confused, I guess. I'm not sure who I am anymore," she admitted.
"You are who you have always been--Usagi, Sailor Moon, Princess Serenity--it doesn't matter, they are all the same person. They are all you," Setsuna said firmly. "Even though you have regained your memories of the Silver Millennium, that doesn't make you any less the Usagi of this time. Don't let the tragedy of the past impact your future."
"But that's just it," Usagi protested. "It's not the past that is bothering me... at least, not completely. It's the future," she whispered. She raised her head to look at Setsuna. "Did you look into her eyes, Puu? They hold such sorrow..."
Setsuna blinked. That wasn't what she had been expecting, but she shouldn't have been surprised. She had, after all, noticed it herself on many occasions, but usually, the Neo-Queen hid her sadness well. But Usagi, of course, would have seen it. Setsuna sighed. "Yes, I know."
"And, I think... I think she hopes I will change her future. And I want to. Is that wrong?" Usagi asked, hope and fear warring in her eyes as she asked the Senshi of Time directly the question that had been tormenting her since their return from Crystal Tokyo.
"I... I cannot tell you that, Princess. That is something that you will need to decide for yourself. I am the Guardian of Time, true, but you are my liege. I'm sorry, but this is something that I cannot help you with. However, there is someone downstairs who is anxious to see you. Perhaps he will be better able to help you," Setsuna said, standing up.
Usagi's eyes brightened. "Mamo-chan is here?" For the first time in days, she felt some of the heaviness in her spirit begin to lift. She should have gone to him before, but she wished to give him time to himself. He had been forced to set everything else aside in order to help her when she had been ill and with the battles against the Black Moon family. Usagi had feared that it would be asking too much to go to him with what, to her, seemed to be a personal problem.
"He's waiting for you outside. Come," Setsuna said, reaching a hand out to Usagi.
Usagi took it immediately, beaming. She should have gone to Mamoru much earlier, she could see that now. Just the thought of seeing him made her heart glad.
At the radical switch in Usagi's demeanor, Setsuna smiled. It had always been so with her princess. The mere mention of the prince's name would bring a smile to her face and a warm glow to her entire being, and Setsuna wouldn't change it for the world.
When they got to the door and Usagi saw Mamoru leaning against his car waiting, she dropped Setsuna's hand and raced to throw herself into his arms. "Mamo-chan!" she cried. As soon as she felt his warm arms surrounding her, it was as if something within her just cracked and her emotions flooded out and she burst into tears.
Mamoru tightened his arms as Usagi's confusion and distress washed over him, but inwardly he was relieved. If she was sharing her emotions with him, then he knew that they could handle whatever crisis came upon them. He had learned that it was when they tried to deal with things separately that everything fell apart. "Usako," he murmured into her hair. "What's wrong?"
Shaking her head, Usagi continued to cry into his shirt, but the sobs were beginning to diminish as Mamoru rubbed her back soothingly. But having him hold her, being there for her, crystallized the decision she had made. Finally raising her head, she smiled at him, her eyes full of love. "I know what we need to do now," she said. "I think I understand what she was getting at now."
Frowning, Mamoru waited. He wasn't sure to whom Usagi was referring, but he had a suspicion. While Sailor Moon and Neo-Queen Serenity had talked away from the group, Neo-King Endymion had spoken to him, as well, in a typically cryptic manner.
"Crystal Tokyo was... will be beautiful, but it's empty, almost soulless. There were no people. I think... I think we need your Guardians to keep that from happening. Whatever caused the catastrophe to the earth that wiped everything out, we'll have a better chance of preventing it if we have the Guardians here, as well. Love is the most powerful force of all, so if we can reunite the Inner Senshi with the Generals of Earth, not only will we be helping our friends, but I believe we will be saving the Earth, as well," Usagi said earnestly.
Occasionally, Usagi could make sudden leaps in logic that simply astonished him, and this was one of those times. Of course, there was no guarantee that she was right, but seeing the conviction glowing in her eyes, he did not doubt her. "All right. Then we'll just have to get them back," he agreed, and was rewarded when Usagi's smile grew even brighter. "Together," he added.
"Together," she echoed.
Staring into each other's eyes for a long moment, they moved as one toward each other and sealed the vow with a kiss.