Chapter 1: Prologue
The wind howled, crying out its fury as it raced across the gray sand of a dead world. Through the Door, Sailor Pluto could see the fallen columns of the Moon Castle, the brilliant white marble now faded to look as dull and lifeless as the rest of that forlorn world. She was born in that castle, the only child of the last Plutonian. How could a city built by gods be destroyed by mere mortals?
"It doesn't matter. It's all transient. At this moment the Moon Kingdom has been destroyed, but in another, different moment, the young Queen Serenity has just been crowned, ushering in its Golden Age. That is the nature of time."
Sailor Pluto didn't bother to acknowledge her father, instead berating herself for letting the past sneak up on her. She could hear the quiet laughter and muffled voices floating through Charon Castle's grand ballroom as all the beautiful courtiers enjoyed their last moments of life together. It was on this night that the great monstrous creature, the Fury, came from the depths of space and destroyed the House of Pluto. Only her mother Ananke will survive and flee to seek refuge in the Moon Castle. There Queen Serenity will use the Silver Crystal to destroy the Fury, but it would be far too late for the Plutonians. With her dying breath her mother will give birth to the future Sailor Pluto, the last princess of an empty planet.
Her father, Chronos, stepped up beside her and looked out the door. Together, father and daughter watched the slaughter of the Earth Prince and the young Princess Serenity by the bloodthirsty Beryl. "She should not have died like that," Sailor Pluto muttered bitterly.
"'Should' has nothing to do with it," Chronos scolded. "It happened and it is happening and it will happen. You cannot change time."
"How do you know?" Sailor Pluto demanded and with the crack of her staff a silent hush fell over the ballroom. Sailor Pluto blushed as her long-dead subjects turned their eyes toward her. She was creating a scene. Well, what did it matter if she embarrassed herself? This was the past. Every single person in this room was dead.
Sailor Pluto watched as her mother gave out a high, fake laugh in an attempt to cover her daughter's bad manners. "Shall we adjourn to the dining hall?" Queen Ananke inquired, her stomach heavy with the unborn princess that was standing in front of them. She led the fawning courtiers away to eat their last meal. Chronos stayed put, however, and merely regarded his daughter with solemn eyes.
"You never even tried to change the future, not once!" Sailor Pluto accused, quieter now than before. "You know so much! You know – you all know – what's going to happen, don't you? In a few hours you're all going to be destroyed! And yet, you do nothing!"
Chronos shook his head. "You think like a Moon girl, not a Plutonian. Of course we know what's going to happen. We've always known. Because it has happened. Time is not some linear progression, where one thing happens and then another and then another. All of time is happening right now at this very moment, all of it. All of the past and all of the present and all of the future is happening simultaneously." Chronos crossed his arms and looked back out through the Door. Sailor Pluto followed his gaze and saw herself, an older version of herself at least, with Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. Their talismans start – starting, started – to react and then…
Sailor Pluto pulled the Door shut swiftly, leaving her alone once more in the mist of a lost dimension. Her father was gone again, dead with the rest of the Plutonians. Sailor Pluto leaned against her staff and sighed. She remembered Princess Serenity; she had met her once a long time ago yesterday when the Princess accidentally stumbled onto the Space-Time Door. She had been nice and kind and Sailor Pluto had been so lonely. She had opened the Door and showed the princess the birth of her own beautiful moon. In the blink of an eye the two of them watched as a large meteor the size of Mars crash into the young Earth, tearing away the fragments that would one day come together to form the Moon.
Sailor Pluto gripped her staff tightly. It wasn't fair. Everything died except for her. She wanted something that would last just as long, something that she could call her own. Was it so wrong for her to have friends?
With a choked back sob, Sailor Pluto flung open the Door. She watched as Queen Serenity took the souls of her daughter and her friends and sent them to Earth to be reborn. There they would be trapped in the cycle of reincarnation until they reached their ascension and remembered their past lives. Only then could they restore the Moon Kingdom to its past glory.
Sailor Pluto wasn't going to wait that long. She was the God of Time and if she so chose she could control it as easily as she could control her breathing. It was the Plutonian way to leave these matters to itself, to passively sit by and let the future slip into the past. Sailor Pluto refused to accept that. If she wanted to she could change the past and the present and the future. Time would be dictated by her will and her will alone. Everything would fall under her command and everyone would be happy and no one would die ever again.
Sailor Pluto stepped through the Space-Time Door…
And felt the grass underneath her boots as she walked alongside the banks of the Wei River in ancient China.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Lady Zhinu peeked out from behind the red curtain of her sedan at all the broad and dirty faces that passed her by. This was the first time she had ever seen Xianyang, the capital of their new empire. It was completely bewildering and astonishing and so many other words that Lady Zhinu did not know, but wished she did. The houses were packed tightly together and new ones were constantly being built. The city grew across the river bank, devouring the land like a swarm of locusts.
The people she saw looked just as poor and unkempt as the villagers from her own farming village. They were everywhere, holding up their wares, crying out to passerby – Live chickens! Melons for four banliang each! – in hopes of a sale. Lady Zhinu continued to scan her new home rapturously, taking in everything that it had to offer. She saw a couple of harried young students worrying over their upcoming exam, a young mother pulling on her wayward child, a line of weeping white-robed Confucian scholars marching toward some unknown destination…
Her eyes then fell upon a beautiful but strange woman. It was obvious to Lady Zhinu that this woman was of nobility; her silk gossamer gown was of the highest quality and of a fashionable black color, the color of water and of Qin. Her long green hair was piled high on top of her head and held in place by black and jade pins. What was she doing out here amongst the lower classes? Why was she not at the palace where she ought to be? The mysterious lady turned to look at her and Lady Zhinu shuddered as their eyes met. Lady Zhinu quickly closed the curtain and leaned back against her seat as the servants carried her sedan towards the palace. She was obviously a young woman, yet when Lady Zhinu looked into her eyes she appeared ancient, like some immortal goddess. The young girl pulled on her red silk robes nervously and did not dare look out the window again.
It was the year 20339 according to the Lunar Calendar, not that it mattered anymore. These poor Earth creatures had forgotten so much. Everything had been destroyed in the war and they had to rebuild from scratch. To these people, the day was marked as the 33rd year of the reign of the First Emperor. Others would later take a different approach, counting backwards from the birth of a man named Jesus. To them it was 213 B.C. It didn't matter to her what the date was called; she knew all the years. Sailor Pluto walked past the doomed Confucian scholars on their way to be buried alive and followed the sedan into the sprawling palace courtyard. She had smiled when she caught sight of Princess Serenity riding past; even in a different body, she recognized her instantly. There were differences between the Moon Princess and this Earth incarnation, of course. She was shorter now and too thin, her eyes a little too small and her ears were undersized. The mark of the Moon was gone from her forehead, but that was to be expected. She was just a mortal now, but once she awoke it will be restored. Despite the changes, it was obvious that she was a daughter of Selene. Her skin and hair were an unearthly white and her face was broad and round like the moon's. She was beautiful. She was the Princess.
Lady Zhinu could feel her heart beating wildly in her chest as she was led through the opulent palace. This was it. She was about to meet the Emperor. Was her hair a mess? Did she spill any tea on her dress? What if her breath smelled like garlic? Lady Zhinu thought she might die of embarrassment if she humiliated herself in front of the Emperor- that is, if he didn't execute her first.
The courtiers led Lady Zhinu into a room and saw the magnificently robed king seated in his chair, surrounded by ministers and advisors. Lady Zhinu immediately fell to her knees and lowered her head to the floor, kowtowing before the Emperor. Every time she lifted her head she snuck glances before lowering it once more in ritual. He was a portly man with a full beard, a long moustache, and upswept eyebrows. Not a handsome man, but not repulsive either. He appeared to be thoroughly average. What a thing to think about the Emperor of China! She hoped the gods didn't strike her down for it.
The Emperor gestured for her to rise and studied her face and figure intently. Lady Zhinu blushed hotly under the scrutiny, knowing full well that the blush would turn her pale skin a brilliant scarlet which just made her blush all the more. "So, the reports are true," the Emperor mused. "You are indeed as beautiful as they say."
Lady Zhinu lowered her head and hoped he did not see her tiny smile.
"She slouches," one of his ministers observes. "No doubt from all that farm work. Her posture needs to be corrected."
"She needs lessons on grace," another claimed. "Did you see the way she walked when she came in here? It was like she was stomping around in a field."
Lady Zhinu bit her lip. She wasn't that bad, was she?
"Where did she come from again?" The Emperor inquired as he looked between the men, searching the faces of his advisors for an answer.
"I came from a small village in Qi," Lady Zhinu immediately spoke up, happy to be useful. "It's so isolated that we didn't even know we had been conquered until last week!" Lady Zhinu laughed at that, but her laughter soon trailed off at the rather shocked expressions of the Emperor and his ministers. Lady Zhinu mentally berated herself. She must have said something stupid. She should make up for it somehow. Should she kowtow some more?
"Unless asked to, please refrain from speaking in such company," the Emperor chastised coldly. Lady Zhinu gulped at the hard expression of her new husband. The Emperor made a gesture to one of his ministers who immediately stepped out of the room. He returned a few seconds later with none other than that mysterious noblewoman Lady Zhinu had seen walking the streets of the city. How did she arrive here so quickly? It didn't seem possible! Lady Zhinu repressed a shiver. There was something not quite right about her. The strange woman kowtowed before the Emperor and looked impossibly elegant while doing so. Even as she bowed before him it seemed as though she should be the Emperor's superior, not his subject. "This is Lady Meng Po," the Emperor stated. "She is to instruct you and make you presentable to the court. Please, escort her to the women's quarters where the other concubines reside."
Lady Meng Po nodded and turned before the Emperor stopped her by calling out. "Oh, and do something with her speech! Her ignorant farm dialect is almost completely incomprehensible!"
Lady Zhinu huffed in annoyance as she followed Lady Meng Po deep into the palace compound.
Lady Zhinu followed Lady Meng Po into her rooms as her knees buckled and strained against her weight. All day Lady Meng Po had her practice walking and bowing and performing strange dances. Lady Meng Po called them "waltzes". Lady Zhinu just thought they were silly. She sincerely hoped the Emperor wouldn't want to dance with her. She wondered if stepping on the Emperor's foot while dancing could be considered an attack on his personage.
Lady Zhinu figured that the silly waltzes were probably just a way to punish her for falling asleep during her lesson on Daoism. Lady Meng Po had been quite mad- or, at least, Lady Zhinu assumed Lady Meng Po had been mad. It was so hard to tell with that woman. She never smiled, or frowned, or laughed and always spoke calmly, quietly, and evenly. The young girl was quite convinced that Lady Meng Po had no emotions. Perhaps she did at one point, Lady Zhinu mused. And this horrible palace with its rules and gossip just sucked all the life right out of her! Lady Zhinu sighed. She missed her home and her father and mother. She missed her village. She was stuck here in the concubine's palace unable to leave. The women had their own rooms and their own courtyard but that was it. That was the extent of their world. They were to remain shut up in this palace until the Emperor summoned them. She should have never agreed to become the Emperor's concubine. But when the Emperor summons you, what else are you to do but obey?
"Please, sit." Lady Meng Po gestured to the table. "I think it is time we cease our lessons for today and just enjoy a little bit company." Lady Zhinu collapsed in a graceless heap across from the older woman. Lady Meng Po arched an eyebrow at that, but said nothing. Instead, she returned her attention to the pouring of tea. Lady Zhinu looked curiously at the tea set before them. It looked… strange. She had never seen cups and a teapot that looked like that before. The white porcelain cups had delicate little handles and small plates underneath them. Painted on the sides was a curious-looking landscape that showed a silvery desert with towering white columns and a bizarre but magnificent palace.
"I wanted to share these with you," Lady Meng Po said over the rim of her own cup. Lady Zhinu saw how she held the handle delicately with her right hand and cradled the little plate with her left and immediately copied her movements, hoping that she did not look too ridiculous. "I am very fond of this set. I had it specially made when I arrived in Xianyang. This is how we drink tea in my country."
"Are you from Korea?" Lady Zhinu asked. She had known that Lady Meng Po was a foreigner, but could never figure out where she had originally come from.
Lady Meng Po shook her head, causing a few stray green strands to fall loose from her intricate bun. She gave Lady Zhinu a very slight, secretive smile. "No, my home is very far away. Now take a sip, don't slurp."
Sailor Pluto smiled again as the Princess did as she commanded, although the girl seemed more interested in the paintings on the cup than drinking the tea. The poor artist must have thought her quite mad when she described the scene she wanted decorated on the porcelain. Lady Zhinu held up the teacup for a better look at the lunar landscape. Her eyes soon became unfocused as she stared and her mouth fell open. Sailor Pluto leaned forward. Was this it? Was the Princess about to awaken? "Are you remembering something?" Sailor Pluto whispered.
"It's like looking inside a dream…" Lady Zhinu murmured. Suddenly her eyes became sharply focused again and the cup slipped from her hand. It crashed on the floor, spilling the tea and sending the broken shards of porcelain across the tiles. "I'm sorry!" Lady Zhinu wailed as she desperately began picking up the pieces. "It was an accident! I didn't mean to break your special cup!"
Sailor Pluto sighed. "It's alright, Lady Zhinu." She was a living goddess; money was no object for her. She could appear at any time and any place; acquiring things like money and teapots were not difficult for a being like her. Lady Zhinu, however, could not be dissuaded from her task. She moved across the floor on her hands and knees, mopping up the tea zealously. Sailor Pluto moved around the table to where Lady Zhinu squatted and grasped her hands tightly, stilling their frantic movements. "It is alright," Sailor Pluto insisted. "The cup means nothing. It is just an object." She gave the girl a small smile, hoping to put her at ease. The expression felt so strange on her face. She wasn't used to interacting with people; she had spent most of her life guarding the Space-Time Door, after all. She was never quite sure what expression was appropriate or what she should say, so she just kept quiet and strived to look elegant and calm and relaxed. She didn't want anyone to know how unsure she was when around other people.
Lady Zhinu looked up at her with watery eyes and smiled back. "Something very bad must have happened to you," the girl said suddenly.
Sailor Pluto blinked confusedly at the strange sentence. "Why do you say that?"
"Because you spend a lot of your time trying to be aloof, like you don't have any feelings, but you really are very sweet. I just thought that something bad must have happened for you to want to hide that."
"I suppose something bad to happen to me, but I'm alright now," Sailor Pluto said with a shrug.
"Of course you are! Because now you've got me as a friend!" Lady Zhinu grinned and Sailor Pluto couldn't help but smile widely back. The smile didn't even feel awkward this time.
Lady Zhinu wandered about the palace listlessly. Lady Meng Po had disappeared somewhere and she was bored. She's probably gone out into the city, Lady Zhinu grumbled in her own mind, jealous of the freedom Lady Meng Po enjoyed. No one told her that she couldn't leave the women's quarters; no one told her that she couldn't do what she wanted because she was a lady. Lady Zhinu suspected that all the courtiers were a little afraid of Lady Meng Po. She could understand that; she had been a little afraid of her in the beginning as well, before she had gotten to know her. Now, she was her only friend in this entire palace. All of the other concubines and ladies just made fun of her manners and speech; they didn't want anything to do with her.
Lady Zhinu stopped and turned to face Lady Bao as she approached her. From far away Lady Bao was a vision of beauty. The graceful way she moved, the long, black shiny hair, the white skin… one would think that they had stumbled upon a goddess. In truth, Lady Bao was beautiful only when she was far away. The moment you got close to her you could see the crooked, yellow teeth and the large nose and the double-chin. "I heard that the Emperor has yet to summon you!" Lady Bao said with fake concern. "I have never heard of such a thing! To acquire a new concubine and yet refuse to take her to bed? My goodness! And you've been here for a month now already and still no word from the Emperor?"
Lady Zhinu ground her teeth but gave Lady Bao her politest smile. "Yes. That's right."
Lady Bao gave her a wicked smile and Lady Zhinu thought it was like looking at a shark. A shark that had been punched in the face one too many times. "How terrible! I do hope the Emperor hasn't changed his mind about you. I think I would commit suicide if the Emperor sent me home in shame."
"Lady Bao, you do not know how happy those words would make many people here feel."
Lady Zhinu looked up to see a tall, beautiful man approach them. He looked elegant in his expensive robes, thick black hair, and large dark eyes. There was an odd fragrance that clung to him and seemed to linger in the air. It smelled like the rich black earth, dark and heady. Lady Zhinu would have been quite smitten, but only one type of man was allowed to enter the women's quarters unsupervised: he was a eunuch.
"Niulang," Lady Bao greeted stiffly. "Still sneaking about, I see. So, what do your little reports say about us this time, hm?"
"They say that the Emperor hasn't spoken to you – much less thought about you – in six years," Niulang quipped. Lady Bao turned scarlet at the words, shooting worried looks between Lady Zhinu and Niulang, before stomping away in embarrassment. Niulang smiled encouragingly at Lady Zhinu. "Don't worry about Lady Bao. She's worried that she'll be the one sent home."
Lady Zhinu watched Lady Bao turn the corner, her hunched shoulders shaking with unseen tears. "How horrible that must be for her."
"Well, she's not a very nice person."
"Still, it must be hard not to be pretty."
Sailor Pluto rounded the corner as she listened to the excited chatter of her new servant, Ai. She had spotted the poor street girl during one of her walks through the city and had recognized her immediately. There was an ethereal glow about her that made her shimmer like gold, a mark of a Venusian. The girl who had once been Sailor Venus in a past life pointed to each new thing she saw, completely forgetting her new station as a servant girl. Sailor Pluto didn't mind; unlike the Princess, she had never met Sailor Venus in life, but she had watched her from the Space-Time Door. She had always seemed so full of life, so exciting and interesting. She was glad that Ai hadn't lost that.
Sailor Pluto stopped dead in the hallway as she saw Lady Zhinu laughing and talking with an eunuch. It appeared that Queen Serenity not only insured the reincarnation of her daughter and royal guards, but also that of the Earth Prince Endymion.
"What is it, Lady Meng Po? Is something wrong?" Ai asked.
Sailor Pluto led the girl away. "If I were to ask you to spy on someone, would you do it?"
A funny, little expression cross her face. It spoke of mischief. Sailor Pluto almost regretted asking her. "Of course," Ai proclaimed. "This sounds so exciting! I can wear a disguise!"
"I do not believe that will be necessary. Do you see that eunuch there? He is not to be trusted," Sailor Pluto explained. "I need you to watch him and report to me whenever you see him with Lady Zhinu."
Ai nodded, determined to please her new mistress. Sailor Pluto threw one last worried glance at the pair. Their love caused the fall of the Moon Kingdom; it was dangerous. She could not allow Princess Serenity to fall again, to be trapped in this endless cycle of reincarnation, all because of the Earth Prince. Sailor Pluto had a duty to her kingdom.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Lady Zhinu groaned in frustration as a large ink stain began to spread across the scroll. With a pout she folded her arms and laid her head down on the table. She was never going to learn how to write! Her characters looked ugly and unwieldy; they were barely even legible.
"Sit up," Lady Meng Po commanded. "And let's start again."
Lady Zhinu sighed and picked up her stylus, her stomach already turning at the thought of doing this all over again. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a small, cool hand gently clasp her own, guiding her into making the correct strokes. "These two characters – zhī and nǚ – make up your name. Together they mean 'weaver girl,'" Lady Meng Po explained softly as she moved Lady Zhinu's hand across the scroll. "It fits you well."
"How so?" Lady Zhinu asked as she turned to look at her tutor. "I don't know how to weave."
"Have you never heard the story of the Princess and the Cowherd?" Lady Meng Po demanded and gave her a secret smile when Lady Zhinu shook her head emphatically, imploring her to go on and tell the story with her large, childlike eyes. "Zhinu was the name of the daughter of the Celestial Queen Mother. She was charged with the task of weaving the sky and bringing light to heaven and earth. She had a secret though: she would often sneak away and visit the earth, hidden amongst the humans with the aid of her magic robe. One day a lowly cowherd stole her magic robe, leaving Zhinu trapped on Earth. However, Zhinu soon fell in love with the cowherd and married him. They lived together for many years until Zhinu rediscovered her magic robe that the cowherd had hidden away. She used to return to heaven only to visit her mother – she had every intention of returning to her beloved husband – but when she arrived the Celestial Queen summoned a river of stars, forever separating the two lovers."
Zhinu frowned up at the older woman, still not understanding. "How does that remind you of me? I've never had a lover. I haven't even been alone with my husband and I've been married for over a month!"
Lady Meng Po opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She seemed at a loss for words and Lady Zhinu could see the beginnings of a blush spreading across her neck. She giggled and was about to comment on it when Ai appeared and bowed low. "The eunuch Niulang has come for you, Lady Zhinu- Hey! I was trying to announce you here!"
Lady Zhinu laughed loudly at Ai's indignant squawk as Niulang strode past her and entered Lady Meng Po's quarters. "What use do you have of my student?" Lady Meng Po asked and Lady Zhinu couldn't help but give a little shiver at her cold and deadly calm voice. It wasn't so much of a question as it was a demand for an explanation.
Niulang bowed low to her and Lady Zhinu couldn't help but think it strange. Why would someone as powerful as Niulang show so much difference to a woman who did not even have a husband? But that was the pull of Lady Meng Po; her power couldn't be seen or measured, it was felt. Lady Zhinu knew that all too well. "My apologies for interrupting your calligraphy," Niulang stated. "But the Emperor felt that Lady Zhinu needed extra guidance and asked me to help instruct her."
"Why was I not informed of this?"
"I believe you just were," Niulang said with a smile. He turned to Lady Zhinu, "Come, we have much work to do today."
Lady Zhinu sighed and shuffled after him. "So, what will you be teaching me?" She whined petulantly as they left Lady Meng Po's quarters.
"Nothing. I just figured we could take a walk in the courtyard." Niulang grinned at Lady Zhinu's confused expression. "I heard Lady Meng Po had been setting you to task all day and figured you could use break. Wouldn't want to strain yourself too hard, Dumpling Head," he teased and pulled at one of the buns Lady Meng Po had carefully arranged and pinned up with a pearl comb.
Lady Zhinu squealed and batted his hands away. Laughing, the two made their way through the palace. Neither of them noticed the lone servant girl trailing after them, her eyes never leaving the pair.
Sailor Pluto frowned deeply as she sipped her tea. She stared at nothing in particular, her thoughts tangled and far away. She had just received word from the Emperor requesting – demanding – Lady Zhinu's presence for supper. Sailor Pluto had tried to dissuade him, saying that the girl was hardly civilized yet, but it appeared he could wait no longer. The idea of Princess Serenity tied to a mortal Earth man, merely a nameless face amongst dozens of concubines, was repulsive to her. She was nothing to the Emperor. She was simply his newest acquisition. Serenity was so much more than a concubine; she should be ruling an empire that spanned the entire solar system!
And yet here she was- a courtesan, a simple country girl who had no idea of who or what she was.
Sailor Pluto had tried to bring back her memories of that beautiful, dead kingdom. The dances, the ceremonies, the stories… nothing seemed to work. There were moments when Lady Zhinu would get this faraway look in her eyes, like she was trying to remember some small scene from a long-forgotten dream. It was only then that Sailor Pluto could see the true woman – Princess Serenity – in her face.
Ai entered and bowed low before her. "Lady Zhinu has just retired to her quarters."
"And what of Niulang? How did they spend their time together?" Sailor Pluto demanded.
Ai hesitated for just a moment. "They seem to be good friends," she explained. "I don't see any reason to worry like you do. Not that I won't continue to watch out for Lady Zhinu! I know how you care for her, it's just… I don't understand, is what I'm saying. What's so wrong with them being friends? After all, it's not like they can be lovers." Ai clasped her hands together as a dreamy expression overtook her. "If Lady Zhinu was going to take a lover it would be with a man who was dangerous and alluring, who would take her in his arms and-"
"It matters not if Niulang is capable of expressing physical love," Sailor Pluto interrupted a bit more harshly than she should have. She took another sip of her tea in hopes of getting her emotions back under control before continuing in her usual calm demeanor. "He is taking her attention and affection away from the Emperor and that would be enough to condemn them both." And she would be damned if she let the Earth Prince destroy her a second time.
Ai nodded and left her mistress to stew over her own thoughts.
Supper was an extravagant affair.
Lady Zhinu felt as though she was lost in the crowd. There were 120 delicacies arranged before the Emperor and the heady smells of mutton, pork, songham and the sweet-tasting, clear wine mixing together went straight to her head. It was like nothing she had ever seen before. Lady Zhinu thought she had experienced what it meant to be royalty during those long months locked away in the women's quarters, but that was nothing compared to this. Before her arrival in Xianyang she had only known the simple peasant fare from her native Qi. How could she possibly fit in with these people? She was going to embarrass herself, she just knew it.
She tried to remember everything that Lady Meng Po had taught her but her mind just kept coming up blank. She tried to emulate that same shy, closed-mouth smile that her tutor had always given her when she had done something that had pleased her. Her hands moved above the porcelain dishes slowly and carefully, as though she were under water, just like Lady Meng Po. She could do this. This was the moment she had been preparing for.
Lady Zhinu commanded her hands to be graceful and ladylike. There was to be no funny business. Unfortunately, her right hand must not have been listening. She knocked over a glass of wine, sending it crashing into a bowl of rice, which caused it to tumble down into the lap of a prince. Lady Zhinu scowled down at her clumsy hands. It was mutiny!
A slave appeared and within seconds it was as though the accident had never happened. Except that Lady Zhinu could still see the smirks plastered across the faces of the noblemen and their wives. What a beautiful woman, they whispered, it is shame she is unsuited for anything more than pig farming.
Lady Zhinu gathered her courage to steal a glance at the Emperor. He looked at her briefly, gave a slight nod of his head, and returned to his conversation with one of his advisors.
Nothing. She couldn't even arouse contempt in the Emperor. This was terrible! How could she earn the Emperor's favor if there was nothing between them but apathy? She wondered what the Emperor liked. Did he like witty women who could make him laugh? She often made people laugh, although they were usually laughing at her and not with her. Did he like graceful, elegant women like Lady Meng Po? Well, she had just proved to everyone that she couldn't even last ten minutes at a banquet without destroying something. What about quiet and submissive women? If there was one body part more mutinous than her hands then it was her mouth. She loved talking and enjoyed a good conversation, even if she never said anything important or profound. It was enough to simply talk and be heard.
She was doomed.
When a servant led her back to the women's quarters after the banquet instead of to the Emperor's chambers, Lady Zhinu knew she had failed his test.
Sailor Pluto looked at her princess who continued to stare listlessly at her tea. Not even the wonderful lunar landscape could draw her out of her shell. She had heard of how the Emperor had sent her away after the banquet instead of taking her to his bed. How could she not when every woman and eunuch in the women's palace was gossiping about it? There were even bets among the wives and mistresses of just how long it would take for the Emperor to send her packing back to her poor country village. Lady Bao had gone one step further and placed a jade comb on Lady Zhinu committing suicide when the Emperor finally dismissed her. No one bet against her.
Sailor Pluto bit back a sigh. She didn't understand what had happened. She knew that unlike Princess Serenity, Lady Zhinu had been raised a poor peasant. She hadn't had access to the same education she had been entitled to on the Moon, but she had assumed that Princess Serenity's natural elegance was innate. Surely if she was the reincarnation of the Moon Princess she would have taken to her lessons with all the ability as heir to the Moon and wowed the court with her queenly grace.
Perhaps this girl before me is the true Princess Serenity, Sailor Pluto mused as she took a sip of her tea. Maybe it had all been an act carefully cultivated since the day she was born. After all, what would a kingdom do with a clumsy, silly princess who laughed too loud and ate too much?
She wished she had really gotten to know the Princess. All she had was that brief, bittersweet meeting where they had sat before the Door and watched the glittery, silver fragments of rock swirl together to create the Moon.
Ai shuffled in and bowed low. "Niulang is here to collect Lady Zhinu for her lessons," she said.
Lady Zhinu bounced up from her seat, barely remembering to thank Lady Meng Po for the tea. She loved her tutor dearly, but at the moment she needed to get as far away as possible. Every time she looked at Lady Meng Po she couldn't help but feel a well of guilt rise up within her; her tutor had tried so hard to make her a lady and she had failed. How disappointed she must be in her. Only Lady Meng Po never said anything, just smiled in that gentle way of hers and patted her hand.
Lady Zhinu raced through the palace and into the courtyard where Niulang was waiting. He paced up and down a secret path amongst the peonies, hidden from prying eyes. He seemed… nervous for some reason. Lady Zhinu couldn't fathom as to why; it wasn't as though he had embarrassed himself in front of the Emperor.
"Niulang," she greeted. The man jumped slightly as he turned to face her, although his expression remained neutral. How odd. "Is everything alright?"
"Yes, why wouldn't it be?" He shifted from foot to foot. Niulang was always cool and collected. He never fidgeted. It was always Lady Zhinu who bounced on her heels and played with her hair, not him.
For a moment neither said anything, the silence awkward and stifling. Finally, Lady Zhinu broke out in a strained smile, "So, you've heard the news then? I must be the laughing stock of the entire palace by now."
Niulang frowned and looked down at his feet. "I heard," he said quietly. "Although I cannot say I'm unhappy about it."
Lady Zhinu stood there blinking for a moment as she processed what he had just said. "You mean you want the Emperor to hate me?" She demanded. "You want me to be banished from the palace?" Unbelievable! She thought he was her friend. She had trusted him, cared for him. More than she should have.
Niulang snapped his head up to look at her. "I don't want you to ever leave," he said. His voice was soft, but it held such an intensity that it made Lady Zhinu shudder. Niulang looked away again. "I'm a fool. A selfish fool."
"What do you mean?"
Niulang gave her a crooked smile. "You would think being a eunuch would make you incapable of falling in love with a woman, but it doesn't. I-I love you… Romantically, passionately… And there's not a damn thing I can do about it." He laughed bitterly then.
Lady Zhinu felt tears spring to her eyes as she reached up to cup his cheek. He had made her so happy, he had driven away the loneliness and fear and depression when the palace became too much. How could she not love him? "Do you really think that would matter to me?" She asked. "If I wasn't already married to the Emperor… don't you understand? I care about you. I love you. The way you are. I don't need anything else but you."
She pulled his head down and kissed him. There was no heat behind it, no sexual desire. Just love and desperation.
Sailor Pluto stood there and watched the couple. All around her she felt the dying cries of the Moon.
Lady Zhinu lay across her bed and waited breathlessly. She was curled up with her back to the door and the blanket pulled up to her chin, like a child waiting for some terrible night-demon to reach out of the darkness with a claw-like hand to take her away. Lady Zhinu buried her face into the pillow, leaving only the top of her head visible. She peeked out of the window to stare up at the bright, full moon. It seemed so large and luminescent, hanging low in the sky like a ripe piece of fruit. She almost reached up and took it until she realized she was being childish and buried her head deeper with a sigh, never taking her eyes off the beautiful celestial scene. Lady Zhinu was utterly hypnotized by the sight. The moon had always had this affect on her. It was almost like it was calling to her with promises of whispered secrets.
Lady Zhinu heard the door creak open agonizingly slow and shivered with anticipation. She could see the glow of a light out of the corner of her eye but did not dare turn around to look, not until it had been extinguished and a soft, hesitant hand gently rolled her over. Lady Zhinu stared up into the dark eyes of Niulang as he slipped beneath the blanket to curl around her. Lady Zhinu leaned in close, pressing her cheek against his chest and breathing in that heady, earthy scent. He is a eunuch, not a woman, Lady Zhinu thought to herself. There was nothing truly womanly about him. She ran her fingertips along his arm, reveling in the way his skin prickled and shivered at the slight touch. He lacked strength; there was very little muscle definition to speak of. His arms looked like her arms. But he was tall, taller than most men even, and his chest was like that of a man. His face was masculine and handsome, with a strong, angular jaw and a sharp nose. Her hand moved along his cheek. It was completely smooth. Lady Zhinu hadn't lied when she said he was the only thing she wanted, but she couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to truly be with him. Lady Zhinu looked up at Niulang, her smile hidden by the darkness, and cupped his face, gently pulling him down into a kiss.
"I was eleven," he whispered softly against her lips. "When my parents sold me as a slave to the Imperial household. We were poor and desperate. It had been so long since the rains had come. We were starving. My sister had been sold to a local administrator to be his wife the year before, but the money didn't last long and still the rains did not come. I wasn't angry, not at first. I would have gladly sacrificed myself if it meant the continued survival of my family. Besides, my parents figured it was better to be a eunuch and alive than a free man and dead. I would be fed and clothed and sheltered. They thought I would be better off. As long as I was alive, they said. My father laid me on top of the bed and gave me so much wine to drink that I fell into a stupor. He took… everything. I have never felt so much pain in my life. It was the only time I ever cried," he confessed. "It didn't use to bother me so much. Then I met you."
"It's okay," she whispered, stroking his cheek. "I'm not going anywhere. It doesn't matter."
Niulang grasped her face, tangling her hair about his fingers, and pressed his lips against hers. He drove into her, pushing her tongue between her teeth, deepening the kiss. Lady Zhinu felt herself grow dizzy at the sudden onslaught of heat and desire. She could feel her skin flush violently as his kisses grew fevered and wild.
Niulang pulled back, breathing heavily as he looked into her eyes. "I might not be able to love you the way a man should love a woman, but that doesn't mean that I can't give you pleasure."
"Eh?" Lady Zhinu blinked confusedly up at him. What did he mean by that?
Niulang gave her a wicked smirk and pushed her onto her back. Lady Zhinu gave out a startled squeal as his kisses moved away from her mouth, trailing a path down across her body. Lady Zhinu stared wide-eyed up at the ceiling as Niulang reached his destination.
Oh! She thought, this is what he meant.
Lady Zhinu moved through the corridors with a bounce in her step. She knew she had a wide grin plastered across her face; the muscles in her cheeks were beginning to ache but she couldn't help herself. Everybody could see how happy she was. It was as plain as day. She could hear the whispers following her as she went.
"She's gone crazy," Lady Mai insisted as she leaned over to speak into Lady Bao's ear. "The Emperor's rejection caused her to snap. It's the only explanation."
Lady Zhinu turned to bow at the pair as she passed, giving them her most charming smile. Lady Mai pulled back in alarm, clearly unsure of what to make of all of this, but Lady Bao simply narrowed her eyes in suspicion and scowled. Lady Zhinu giggled as she flounced away. Let them think what they want. Nothing could ruin her day.
Lady Zhinu entered Lady Meng Po's quarters, not even bothering to give Ai enough time to announce her. The servant huffed in exasperation and pointedly began straightening up her mistress's rooms without looking at the beaming girl. Lady Zhinu smiled at her, knowing that she was watching from the corner of her eye. Ai liked her too much to stay mad at her. Ai continued to arranging the peonies that sat in Lady Meng Po's exquisite jade vase as though she wasn't there, but Lady Zhinu could see she was grinning softly to herself. Lady Zhinu laughed as she approached her mentor only to have it die in her throat. Lady Meng Po was angry. She suddenly realized that she had never seen the woman truly enraged before. She was deadly calm; not a hint of emotion broke through that frightful mask. But it was her eyes that were the worst. They burned like the sun. Lady Zhinu gulped and took a step back. It was almost as though she could see right through her. "What were you thinking?" Lady Meng Po asked.
Lady Zhinu was not a fool. No matter how soft and gentle her voice sounded she knew that Lady Meng Po held within her a dangerous power. She had always felt that there was something more what she showed. Still, it was best to play dumb. "Wha-what do you mean?" She asked. She tried to laugh the question off, but all she could manage was a high-pitched giggle that betrayed her rising hysteria and nervousness.
Lady Meng Po narrowed her eyes and stood up, showing off her full height which was not inconsiderable. "I know Niulang visited your rooms last night."
"How-?" Lady Zhinu choked out. That wasn't possible. No one knew the palace like Niulang. It was his job to spy on the women and ensure that they remained loyal and faithful to the Emperor. Who could spy on the spy?
"Ai has been following you for quite some time. For your protection."
"Ai?" Lady Zhinu turned to confront the servant girl, her eyes blurring with unshed tears. Ai refused to look at her though. Her face burned red and hot as she quickly gathered Lady Meng Po's tea service with a quiet mumble about fetching drinks. She scurried out of the room without looking back.
"Do not be angry with her, she has only done what I have asked her to do," Lady Meng Po stated.
Lady Zhinu whipped her head back around and with a strangle cry asked "Why?"
With a sigh, Lady Meng Po gently lowered herself back into her seat and gestured for Lady Zhinu to sit beside her. Lady Zhinu refused to budge and stood her ground, imploring her tutor with her large blue eyes. "I did not want to hurt you," Lady Meng Po explained. "But you must understand that your relationship with Niulang is dangerous. The Emperor-"
"Doesn't want me!" Lady Zhinu snapped.
Lady Meng Po narrowed her eyes at the interruption but continued on. "The Emperor will not tolerate such a relationship. It does not matter if he wants you or not, he simply cannot allow Niulang to have you. Eunuchs are not permitted to marry anyone, let alone one of the Emperor's courtesans. Don't you understand? It would embarrass him if the people heard that his concubine preferred a eunuch over him. Betraying the Emperor in this way… it is treasonous. More than that, it is against divine law. You are supposed to obey and serve him as a child obeys and serves his parents and a man obeys and serves his gods. It is a crime that you will pay with your life. Both of you."
"Not if we run away," Lady Zhinu whispered. "We could leave. Escape and live in Korea."
"How do you propose you do this? The palace complex is vast and there are many guards. It is impossible."
"Not with your help!" Lady Zhinu insisted. "You… You have so much power. I can feel it. I know – I know – you could do it!" Lady Meng Po pulled back in surprise at this. Did she honestly think Lady Zhinu wouldn't be able to tell? It was obvious that there was something different about her. "Will you help us?" She implored.
For a long time her mentor said nothing, but she didn't have to. Her eyes said everything. Lady Zhinu felt her stomach drop. The one person she thought she could trust had abandoned her. "I am sorry," Lady Meng Po whispered. "But your relationship with Niulang will bring you nothing but pain and terror and death. It was doomed from the start."
Lady Zhinu nodded and bowed. "I thank you for all that you taught me," she said. "And I hope we can meet again someday." Lady Zhinu turned to leave, but stopped at the door. "You know, I thought you really cared about me. That you were my friend," she called out, not bothering to turn and face the other woman. "But now I think you're incapable of true affection. Has anyone ever loved you? Have you ever had any friends before, any family? You've been alone for a long time, haven't you? Always, even." Lady Zhinu finally looked over her shoulder and saw the shocked expression on Lady Meng Po's face. She had guessed right. Lady Meng Po was always so aloof around people, but as Lady Zhinu slowly got to know her she saw her for what she really was: shy and unsure, as though she didn't understand the emotions and thoughts of those around her. "Did you ever think you were just jealous?" she asked and walked out, leaving Lady Meng Po all alone. She had learned something while living at the palace, surrounded by all the intrigue and vicious power struggles that made up the lives of petty courtiers. She had learned to recognize weakness and exploit it. Lady Zhinu hurried away and tried not to let the guilt swallow her whole.
Sailor Pluto stared at the door that Lady Zhinu had disappeared through. Jealous? Why should she be jealous of the love Serenity and Endymion had had for each other? She was Sailor Pluto, God of Time. She had a sacred duty, one that did not allow love. It was important. More important than a husband. More important than children. If the time stream became endangered she knew that she would do anything to set it right. No one person's life was more important than the continued existence of the entire universe. She would sacrifice anyone to protect it, including herself. What was love compared to that? She could admit though, in the comfort of her own mind, that if given the choice she would have liked to experience love herself. Maybe marry, settle into a house and raise children. But that was not possible. She was not a mortal. She was a Plutonian. A Sailor Soldier. She would never wither and die like these Earth people do. Still… it nice to dream.
Ai shifted from foot to foot. Lady Zhinu looked imploringly at her with her large blue eyes, shining with tears. "Please," Lady Zhinu begged. "Help me." Ai knew she would be going against her mistress's orders. She was indebted to Lady Meng Po. She would have died on the streets if she hadn't been taken back to the palace with her as her servant. But she owed Lady Zhinu after the way she had betrayed her trust. She was her friend; it was the least she could do.
Besides, the concubine was in love, and if nothing else would convince her that would.
Ai sighed and nodded. "What do you need me to do?"
Lady Zhinu gave out a soft squeal and pulled the girl close to talk quietly in the empty corridor. Neither of them noticed Lady Bao crouched in the shadows behind a pillar, listening to their every word with bated breath.
Sailor Pluto moved through the palace, her eyes searching the face of everyone she met, wondering where her princess had disappeared to. Her stomach twisted at the thought that she might be deliberately avoiding her. Everything had turned out wrong. This was not what she had envisioned when she first came up with this plan. Sailor Pluto was supposed to guide Lady Zhinu into remembering her past, resurrecting the Moon Princess through meditation and learning. She was meant to see and understand everything: her place in the universe, her duties, and the ultimate tragedy that would befall her if she allowed herself to fall in love with Endymion. She had to make her understand! She would tell her everything. It was not the way she wanted to go; she wanted Lady Zhinu to remember herself, but it was already too late for that. She would tell her about the Moon Kingdom and its destruction, the power that lay inside her. She would reveal who she really was: Sailor Pluto, God of Time and loyal vassal to the Queen. To Princess Serenity.
There! Sailor Pluto let slip a small smile as she spotted the familiar white tresses carefully pinned up with pearls and jade. Her head was down, her hair obscuring her face, but Sailor Pluto would be able to recognize her anywhere. "Lady Zhinu," she greeted coming to stand behind her. The girl froze, like a deer staring into the eyes of a tiger, and refused to turn around. Sailor Pluto felt her heart clench at the sight. She was still angry.
Slowly, very slowly, Lady Zhinu turned to face her mentor and Sailor Pluto took a step back in shock as she stared into the face of her servant, Ai.
"Gulp," Ai whispered.
With more force than she intended, Sailor Pluto took hold of her silk-covered arm and quickly drug her back into her quarters, closing the door quickly behind her. "What is going on?" Sailor Pluto demanded. "Why are you dressed like Lady Zhinu?"
"Well, you see," Ai mumbled, wringing her hands. "It's all a part of the plan. Lady Zhinu and Niulang escaped the palace about an hour ago. They used lye to lighten my hair and dressed me up like this so people would think she was still in the palace. This way they could get a head start before anyone even noticed she was missing."
"But how did she escape?" Sailor Pluto demanded. It was hard to miss someone who looked like Lady Zhinu.
"Niulang used henna to dye her hair black and styled it like a boy's. After putting on one of Niulang's robes, she looked just like a eunuch!" Ai lifted her fist victoriously. "Nothing can stop the power of love!"
Ai looked so pleased with the deception and all Sailor Pluto wanted to do was bury her face in her hands. Ai was the reincarnation of Sailor Venus; she was supposed to protect the princess, not help her elope. This was going to ruin everything.
"Venusians!" Sailor Pluto muttered as she stormed from her quarters, leaving Ai standing there confused. She entered the hallway and stopped dead, staring wide-eyed as Lady Bao floated across the floor, accompanied by two eunuchs. Her expression was one of absolute ecstasy; something had happened. Sailor Pluto's eyes narrowed at the unique comb pinned in Lady Bao's hair. It was a silver crescent moon and made of pearls. Sailor Pluto had given it to Lady Zhinu as a gift; the girl had been delighted by it, even if she been ignorant of its meaning. Now Lady Bao was wearing it in her hair.
"My lady?" Ai asked hesitantly as she came to stand behind her mistress. She felt the servant's warm hand on her arm and only then did Sailor Pluto realize she was shaking. "What's wrong?"
"Run," Sailor Pluto commanded.
Sailor Pluto fisted Ai's silk robe in her hand and pushed her down the hall. Ai stumbled but did not fall, her eyes still locked onto Sailor Pluto's face. She looked bewildered and scared. "The plan has failed. Run before they execute you for helping Lady Zhinu escape," She answered.
With a shocked sob, Ai shook her head in denial before finally turning around and fleeing. Sailor Pluto focused on Lady Bao. She knew Lady Zhinu would have never given her that comb.
"Oh! Lady Meng Po!" Lady Bao called out cheerfully as she approached the quaking Sailor Soldier. "I heard you were looking for Lady Zhinu. If you like, I could take you to her. She's with the Emperor now. Niulang's with her too. Of course, I'm afraid they won't have too much to say," she bemoaned. "The dead are such terrible conversationalists."
Lady Bao patted her arm in mock sympathy. The moment her fingers touched her skin, Sailor Pluto unleashed all the rage that had built up inside her. With a terrible scream she transformed into her true visage: the Guardian of Time, Sailor Pluto.
She could hear the women scream all around her, but she ignored their pitiful cries. She had lost the Princess twice now to the petty jealousies of Earth women. They would find no respite from her. With a violent whisper "Dead Scream" Sailor Pluto destroyed the outer wall of the women's palace, sending the bricks crashing down around them. Dust clung to the air and in their panic, the women fled from her wrath, choking and wheezing. Sailor Pluto stepped over the rubble, her boots clicking against the stone as she surveyed the vast palace complex. The guards seemed conflicted; they did not know whether they should attack or bow before the goddess. They quickly made up their minds, though, and readied their bows. "Garnet Ball!" She screamed out, summoning a violet-colored forcefield surrounded her as arrows flew at her from all sides. The guards pulled back in terror as their arrows clattered to the ground, useless against the protective sphere. Sailor Pluto pressed on, knocking down anything and everything that got in her way.
When she approached the Emperor's courtroom she saw Lady Zhinu and Niulang laid out before her, dressed exquisitely and prepared to enter the spirit world. Beside them the Emperor kneeled prostrate before her, as though this simple gesture could appease a God of Time. Sailor Pluto made her way to Lady Zhinu and touched her cold skin. She had failed.
Sailor Pluto turned her furious eyes onto the Emperor and with an iron-grip she grasped the Emperor's yellow and black robe. He looked up at her with fear in his eyes as Sailor Pluto leaned down to whisper into his ear. "Do you think you are a god?" She asked. "You are not. You are not immortal. You will not live forever. I know what you fear the most. You will die soon and it will be very painful. I will make sure of that."
She stepped away, allowing the Emperor to see where she had brought him. He knelt before the Space-Time Door, the mist curling around his knees, as he stared at his own body, writhing in pain and horror as death overtook him.
Sailor Pluto smiled, setting into motion the Emperor's legendary search for the Elixir of Life. He would spend years looking for a way to stop this terrifying prophecy, only to fulfill it by drinking a poisonous tincture.
It wasn't murder. It had already happened. It was meant to be.
Sailor Pluto rode her horse across the rolling hills, towards the small thatched cottage in the distance. She couldn't help but turn her nose up slightly at the smell as the horse's hooves sank into the mud and manure that littered the small, medieval farm. The air was heavy with a sick smell; it reminded the Sailor Soldier of death.
She pulled on the reins and stopped the horse in front of the small, stone house. She slid down, not caring that the hem from her long gown was dragged across the filth as she made her way to the door. Try and try again, she thought as she took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
She saw Endymion kneeling before the straw mattress, clasping Princess Serenity's small hand between his own. A young woman with dark blue eyes stood up, holding a wooden cup full of wine in her hands. One look was all it took to know that she had come too late. She had misjudged the time. What a simple mistake to make.
Endymion was as dirty as everything else was on this pitiful farm. His hands were caked in dirt, but his face was clean if hollow-looking. She wondered how long it had been since he had had anything to eat besides bread and beer. The woman beside him was wearing the black and white habit of a Benedictine nun. There was a sharp intelligence in her eyes and Sailor Pluto knew she was standing before Princess Serenity's Mercurian guard, Sailor Mercury.
But it was Serenity who made her heart stutter. She laid there on the mattress, her pale blonde hair fanned out around her face like a halo. Her face was white and waxy. There were large, bulbous swellings across her neck and Sailor Pluto could see that the fingers Endymion held so tightly between his own were black with gangrene. She was not long dead; she had missed her only by a few minutes. The Black Death had taken the Princess from her.
The nun gently touched Endymion's shoulders and gathered her things. She must have come to perform the Princess's last rites. It was not something women were typically allowed to do within the Church, which meant either the priest had been too afraid to make the journey or he himself had already perished from the plague. The nun – Sailor Mercury – gave her a slight nod and left.
Sailor Pluto turned to follow her out. There was nothing left for her here. She would try again.
A choked whisper stopped her. "Please. Stay."
Sailor Pluto looked back. This time, she didn't see the Earth Prince, Endymion, the one who had killed her princess. She saw a man grieving for his wife. Sailor Pluto hesitated for a moment before shutting the door. She slowly sat down next to him and watched as he continued to hold Serenity's lifeless hand.
The first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (Shi Qin Huang) was terrified of death and spent a good deal of his life looking for a magic elixir to grant him immortality. One of these so-called elixirs involved ingesting mercury, which he then promptly died of.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Sailor Pluto stood next to Endymion in front of the mass grave that cradled the body of Princess Serenity. A year had passed since Serenity's death and it was now 1351. The epidemic was over and she and Endymion – now called Wilhem – stood on the ashes of those who had fallen. A simple stone marked the site, although Sailor Pluto made sure to etch the name "Ellyn" herself onto its side. Such a simple, unassuming name for a princess.
Wilhem batted away the tears from his face as Sailor Pluto watched him from the corner of her eye. He looked so different from both Endymion and Niulang. His hair and eyes were now a muddy brown instead of the rich black color they had been, his skin was dark from the sun and rough from work and pain. The deep pocks across his cheeks betrayed a bout of smallpox. The man was no more than twenty-three, but the lines on his face made him appear older. It was more than just looks, however; the difference could be seen in personality as well. Endymion and Niulang had both been rather serious but polite, their pawky sense of humor only really came out when in the company of Serenity. Now there was none of that. There was nothing at all. The man awoke in the morning, tended to his lord's fields, ate his meals, and went to bed. The next day he began the cycle once more.
"Let's go home, Sibyll," Wilhem murmured and turned away. Sailor Pluto nodded and followed behind him.
She couldn't say what had possessed her to stay for one day let alone an entire year. She had thought of Endymion as her enemy for so long now; he was something that she had to protect the Princess from. Now all she saw was a lonely, grieving man. She saw herself reflected in those brown eyes.
Sailor Pluto followed him into his little thatched house, her long tattered skirt dragging dirt from the outside across the stone threshold. Wilhem immediately sat down in a chair by the fireplace and began to work once more on carving a new pipe. Sailor Pluto checked the stew and stoked the fire. It was mostly boiled water with turnips, leeks and pork fat. It was all that they had. There were no people to help tend the fields or harvest the crops. The plague had ravaged the English countryside; the whole country felt empty and haunted. With such a poor harvest the villagers could expect nothing but a hard winter. If Baron de Livet did not raise the wages soon then there would no doubt be a revolt. She should not have asked Wilhem to slaughter the pig, they might need it for winter, but he was looking so lean and weak Sailor Pluto thought that a little pork fat might do him well.
She tried not to wonder why she should care.
She should leave. She had a mission. What did matter to her if Wilhem wasted away and died? His soul would simply be reincarnated, the Queen had seen to that. He was unimportant. Yet, Sailor Pluto couldn't bring herself to leave him. She'd grown rather fond of her serious, brooding companion.
She poured Wilhem a bowl of stew and handed it to him. He smiled gratefully at her. "Thank you," he whispered and took a sip.
Sailor Pluto smiled back.
Sailor Pluto ignored the pointed whispers and the downturned eyes as she walked through the village square, her arms laden with a loaf of bread and fresh apples. She had planted her own apple seeds, but she had yet to see even a sprout. She wondered how long it took for apple trees to grow and if there was any way she might be able to speed up the process a little by manipulating time. Sailor Pluto shook her head in chastisement. The villagers were already afraid of her, it would be best if she didn't arouse their suspicions further.
They were convinced she was some sort of fairy that had bewitched Wilhem. Everything she did sent their tongues wagging, from her ability to speak and read Latin and French to her strange dark skin and garnet-colored eyes. Red eyes, like the Devil. "How curious," they whispered to themselves. "That she arrived the moment Wilhem's good wife Ellyn died. And how she was dressed! Like a queen! She must be some sort of fairy, or changeling perhaps. A demon in disguise? And now she lives with Wilhem alone in that little cottage. What could she possibly be doing to him?" It was enough to drive a god mad. At least the nobles at the Emperor's court had the decency to gossip only when she couldn't hear them.
Sailor Pluto stormed into the cottage and dropped the produce on the table. Wilhem looked up at her balefully from where he sat scrubbing off the dirt that was caked onto his feet from working in the garden. "What's wrong, Sibyll?" He asked.
Sailor Pluto just shook her head and moved over to her spindle. She couldn't think about anything right now. She needed to finish spinning her yarn; despite all the horror and loss over the past few years, the villagers still had taxes to pay. Life continued on. There was no way Wilhem could afford to pay them on his own and her yarn would provide much needed income. She watched as the spindle twisted the yarn, spinning around and around and soothing her raging mind. What was she doing here?
Wilhem came to squat on the floor next to her chair. "There were rumors about Ellyn too," Wilhem confessed. "Don't worry too much about what the others say. They're just tired and hurt and bored. They talk about everybody; it helps them take their mind off of their own losses."
Sailor Pluto looked down at the man in surprise. There were some days when she was amazed that he managed to drag himself out of bed in the morning; she hadn't expected him to be so… observant. Wilhem smiled wryly up at her. "Just because I don't talk much, doesn't mean I still don't listen."
"What rumors?" Sailor Pluto asked.
"The rumors about Ellyn. What were they?"
Wilhem shrugged. "The usual sort. That she wasn't her father's daughter, that she was having an affair with Bryce- mind you, if you believe the rumors then every woman in the village is having an affair with Bryce, including you. Nearly all of those rumors are started by Bryce himself, of course." Wilhem smiled again. It warmed Sailor Pluto's heart to see it. It melted away almost as soon as it came, though. He looked out the open door towards the fields with a distant look like he was remembering something from a long time ago. "Ellyn was always right in the middle of it. If there was good gossip to be had then she would be able sniff out like one of the Baron's hunting dogs. She was never bothered by any of the rumors about herself; she thought it all rather funny. Like a game. But then after our marriage the villagers started to whisper that she was barren. We had been married for three years and not single pregnancy. That was the one rumor she could not abide because she always wondered if it might be true." Wilhem's eyes focused back on her. "So, unless you are a fairy who has come to take my soul, I wouldn't worry about it."
Sailor Pluto smirked. "And are you not afraid? I have it on good authority that I am a powerful witch. I could cast a spell on you."
"I imagine that if witches or fairies were real, one of them would have stopped the sickness long before now," He gave her another one of his secret smiles, but he spoke in such a bitter tone that it made Sailor Pluto shudder. "Even God couldn't stop the plague. Nothing is that powerful."
A sharp knocking at the door drove the two friends from their sleep. Wilhem glanced blearily around him from where he lay on the pallet by the fire while Sibyll flew from the bed, reaching out to throw on a kirtle over her chemise. He let Sibyll open the door as he put on his own tunic over his hose and shirt, still blearily scrubbing his face with his sleeve as he attempted to get the sleep from his eyes.
Wilhem turned to see one of the village women – Mary, Thomas's wife, from the looks of it – wailing for help. Sibyll had her hands around her shoulders, whispering to her in that deep, soothing voice that he knew so well.
"What's the matter?" He asked.
"Her husband is sick," she answered quietly as Mary continued to clutch at her kirtle sleeves.
"It's the plague!" Mary cried. "It's come back! Please, please, you have to help me! You know magic, they said you did! You have to help him!"
"Calm yourself," Sibyll commanded softly. "And let us go see."
Wilhem felt his heart clutch painfully at the thought of Sibyll entering the sick room. He knew how dangerous the plague was. If she were to get sick… He had lost Ellyn; he couldn't lose her as well. She had been the only one to be there for him, to comfort him in his time of need. She was his dearest friend. If he lost her…
"Please," Wilhem begged. "Don't."
Sibyll gave him that same mysterious smile that he had seen so often before, the one that said she knew a secret and wasn't telling. "It will be alright," she said and led Mary from the house into the dark night. Wilhelm followed them to where Mary and Thomas's cottage lay but with a silent shake of her head Sibyll kept him from entering. She stepped inside and closed to door in their faces. He felt inadequate leaving Sibyll to face down whatever terrible pestilence that waited for her in that house as he stood next to Mary, he continued to sob out her grief. Sibyll was alone with the man for only a few minutes when she stepped back out with a warm grin spreading across her face. "There is nothing to fear," she assured the woman. "It is not the plague, merely a small fever. He should wake within a few hours. When he does give him plenty to drink."
Mary blinked confusedly at her through her tears. "No, no, he was dying when I left him," Mary insisted. "I've handled those sorts of fevers before, and this was no small sickness. There was vomiting and blood. So much of it!"
"You are mistaken," Sibyll sharply replied. She made it clear that there was to be no more discussion on the matter.
Mary nodded her head reverently. "You did something. You did with magic. Thank you, thank you…"
Sibyll didn't reply, merely gave her sharp, cold nod and walked off. Wilhem fell into step beside her. "What happened in there?" He asked.
"It is as I said," she answered. "A minor fever, nothing more. Mary is a woman prone to hysterics, after the last few years it is no wonder that she imagined the worse."
Wilhem shook his head. "Alright, I won't pry. At least, I think you've made a friend tonight." He saw her jerk slightly in surprise and let out a soft huff of laughter. The noise was startling loud in the quiet night. He couldn't help but wonder at the thought that this was the first time he had laughed since Ellyn's death. Wilhem reached out and took Sibyll's small, dark hand in his. "Come on, let's go home."
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Before its destruction, crime had been almost unheard of in the Moon Kingdom. There was law, of course, and punishment, but no one had ever heard of someone being convicted of a crime in their lifetime. It was as close to a utopia as Sailor Pluto had ever heard of. Punishment had always been about reform, about helping the lost soul, and whatever magic the Queen used to turn criminals away from their paths had apparently worked, for there were none left. Everybody deserved a second chance, unless that criminal was a traitor. Treason was the only crime where the punishment was execution. There were no repeals, no mercy; just death.
Sailor Pluto took Wilhelm's hand and wondered if this was treason.
Serenity was dead, but Wilhem was still here. Would her Princess have wanted him to remain alone, lost and adrift without her? Sailor Pluto didn't think so, but she could not help but think that the Princess would be displeased if she knew that one of her own subjects had become his companion. Sailor Pluto had her mission to restore her Princess, how could she allow herself to remain here with her own Princess's lover?
Every morning she awoke and swore this would be the day she would leave, but then she would see Wilhelm smile at her, gently tease her, and she would crave his affection. She had watched many different lovers play out their lives from the Door. She would watch them love and often wondered what it was like. She wanted to know what it meant to touch someone and feel them and care for them. She had been alone for centuries. Lady Zhinu had known her jealousy, even when Sailor Pluto had not yet been aware of it. How could she? She hadn't even understood what it was that she was missing.
This was why when after another month had passed, another month of Sailor Pluto swearing to leave, she somehow found herself standing in the village square as the peasants ate and drank and sang and danced in celebration of the marriage of Wilhelm and Sibyll.
Sailor Pluto stood awkwardly to the side next to her new husband as she watched the revelers twirl about and clap their hands in time to the lilting melodies of the lutes. Apparently not even their fear of her could dissuade the villagers from throwing a good feast whenever the excuse presented itself. This was the first time since she had arrived that the poor, simple peasants had not crossed themselves at the sight of her. They cheered and clapped and pushed plates of food at her as though she were one of them. It was bewildering and Sailor Pluto was unsure of what she should do. The women all came up to talk to her, to give her advice on how to handle her new husband, and tease her about her wedding night. She desperately wanted to join in on their conversations but this sort of thing had never really happened before. She knew the idle, polite chatter of the Emperor's court; there was nothing to that sort of talk. It was all, "How do you do?" and "I am fine, thank you." There was no deviation. These women were speaking to her as though they were friends and she had never had that. Not since poor Lady Zhinu, and even then Sailor Pluto had kept her at a distance. She had been there to help her achieve enlightenment, to unlock her past. She was her faithful subject, not her friend, even if Lady Zhinu had not known that.
That thought made her heart clench in pain, so Sailor Pluto just gave the women small, closed-lip smiles and quietly agreed with everything they said. She hoped they didn't think her rude or aloof.
Wilhelm gave her a nudge and smirked. Sailor Pluto could only stand there in bafflement as he held out his hand. Sailor Pluto shook her head minutely, but the man could not be dissuaded. Wilhelm could be as quiet and proper as she, but there was a teasing sense of humor in him that he didn't often show others. He could see how nervous and awkward she was, and so he pounced like a housecat with a mouse, and Sailor Pluto found herself spinning across the square, arm-in-arm with Wilhelm. Sailor Pluto threw an arm up to catch the wreath of wheat and apple blossoms the village women had woven into her hair as they danced. She laughed.
Wilhelm was older now. He didn't know exactly how old he was, but Sailor Pluto could observe any moment in time and space; she knew he was born on August 10, 1324 at 12:34 in the afternoon. The constellation Leo hung high in the sky that day, heralding the birth of a king. Wilhelm was exactly thirty-five years old and twenty-one days, but he looked older, so much older. If Sailor Pluto had to guess, she would say he looked to be about fifty. The Emperor's palace was hard and cruel in its own ways, but she had never experienced poverty and drudgery within its confines. She had never seen the effects unbreaking toil could have on a body.
Sailor Pluto would never age. She would never grow old and she would never die. She was immortal. She was a goddess. Every day she thought, This will be the day. This will be the day when Wilhelm will no longer want her. In her dreams, Wilhelm would recoil from her unnatural youth, like so many of the villagers, in fear and awe. He would proclaim her to be a witch, a fairy, but he never did. He continued to love her, just like he always has.
Wilhelm looked up at her then and smiled indulgently, before turning back to James and little Leonore, who sat on the floor half-arguing and half-playing. There were some nights when Sailor Pluto woke from sleep with sweat clinging to her forehead and the half-formed images of Princess Serenity still clouding her mind. She wanted to return to her mission, she regretted abandoning it, but she could never regret her children. She had been terrified during her first pregnancy; she had never had a mother, how could she possibly be one to her children? When she had been a small child she had been watched over by governors and courtiers. They had trained her to fulfill her duties as the Sailor of Time, but they had never loved her or cared for her. Her own mother, Ananke, had died and except for those rare times when the past became blurred with the present, she remained a ghostly, unknowable figure. But then Emeline was born and when Sailor Pluto held her in her arms she knew that this was what she wanted most in the entire universe. Queen Serenity could keep her Door of Space and Time, she had a daughter. She thought she finally understood what love was when she met Wilhelm, but the love she felt for her children surpassed all of that. It transformed her. They made her complete.
Now that she had Emeline and James and Leonore, she was never going to give up this life. It was treasonous, almost blasphemous, but she couldn't be bothered to care. All Sailor Pluto wanted was to be a mother and nothing was going to take that away from her.
Sailor Pluto whispered soothing words into Emeline's dark brown hair as she rocked the girl on her lap. The village boys had teased her. They said her mother was a witch. She pushed one of them down and there had been a fight. When it was over she came running home, crying about all the horrible things they told her.
"They said that you signed Satan's book," Emeline sobbed as she clung to her mother's neck. "They said that you were evil and when you died you wouldn't go to heaven. You were going to Hell and I would never get to see you again."
"They're wrong," Sailor Pluto murmured softly. "I'm not going anywhere. I will never leave you, my darling."
Wilhelm was sixty-three years and one hundred and two days old when he died. Sailor Pluto sat by his bed and held his hand the entire time. She couldn't help but think back to that day years and years ago when she had come across this very same scene. Wilhelm had knelt where she was now kneeling, had held the hand of Ellyn as she had died in this very bed. Sailor Pluto had always known that it wouldn't last, that the time she spent with Wilhelm would only be a drop in the ocean, but still it had come as a surprise.
Their children had left the village years ago to try and find work in London. There was no life for them here where hateful gossip followed them everywhere they went. Emeline and Leonore had married and were starting their own families now, while James had decided to become a sailor. He was in the Mediterranean now, finally coming home to England after years spent in Italy. He wouldn't be coming back here though; it would be going home to his own wife who waited patiently for him in that far-off city. It was just her and Wilhelm now.
"Tell me about the fairies," Wilhelm whispered.
"I thought you said you didn't believe in them," Sailor Pluto pointed out. Wilhelm smiled at her and stroked her cheek, still smooth and youthful.
"Tell me anyway," he said.
Sailor Pluto took a deep breath and closed her eyes, willing memories of lonely days spent watching the beautiful courtiers of the Moon Kingdom go about their lives. "There are many realms that belong to the fairies," she begins. "There is a land made of red sand with a red sky, a land of fire and war. There is a land where everything goes by so quickly. A year there is only eighty-eight days here. All of our great scholars come from there."
"Where did you live?" He asked.
Sailor Pluto smiled sadly down at him. "I lived very far away, in the last realm, a realm of fog and death and silence. There is nothing there, except for a door… and me.
"The greatest realm of all, though, was ruled by a Queen. She was fair and good and beautiful. She was the Queen of Fairies and all who saw her loved her instantly. She had a daughter, named Serenity, who fell in love with a human boy."
Wilhelm frowned. He blinked up at the ceiling as though trying to will away the cloudiness that had long covered the once rich brown of his irises. "I think I heard this story before," he whispers. "They couldn't be together because there was a war of some kind. I can't remember how it ends. Did they marry and live happily ever after?"
"Yes," Sailor Pluto said, reaching up to cover the hand that still cupped her cheek. "They did and to this day they rule the fairy world with justice and kindness, just as Serenity's mother once did."
Wilhelm smiled up at her and let his hand slip. He was dead within the hour.
Sailor Pluto anointed his body and wrapped him in a shroud before sewing him inside a leather sack, as was the custom of the age. The villagers should have helped, there should have been a wake and a proper funeral with mourners, but as the years had passed and Sailor Pluto had shown no signs of aging, the villagers grew too frightened to even approach the house. When Wilhelm was buried there had been only her, the priest, and the same nun who had ministered Ellyn when she had been dying of plague. Sailor Mercury was an abbess now and even at her age her eyes still held that quick and gentle intelligence that she remembered seeing.
There was nothing left for her here. It was time she continued her mission. Still, no matter how hard she tried all she could think of was this time and place. It was the happiest she had ever been. Princess Serenity faded away from her thoughts, leaving her with images of only Wilhelm's face.
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Please note that because of the time period this is set in there are racially offensive terms in this chapter.
Adam Williamson held up the long piece of carved oak towards the dying light as he carefully sanded down the edges. His employer, Hans Kloet, was finishing up the joints. Once Adam completed this last leg they would have twelve dinner chairs- a full set.
It had been hard moving to a new continent, but in the end it would be worth it. He would have land and a house with a wife and children. They would be comfortable and when he died his children would inherit all that he had saved and created so that they would not have to struggle or know poverty. Adam and Hans fitted the legs into place and set them with the others to be delivered in the morning. Hans grinned and wiped the graying strands of hair from his face. "That's it for the day. Want to come with me to the best tavern in New Netherland?"
"New York," Adam corrected with a smile tugging at his lips. It was the same friendly banter they always shared. Hans would insist New York was still a Dutch colony while Adam would remind him that the Dutch hadn't controlled any part of New York for ten years.
"Give it a few years. We'll get it back," Hans assured him. "Of course if all of your English women look like Mrs. Allerton I might enjoy living under English rule." Hans threw him a sideways smirk. "I've seen the way you two look at each other. She's a good catch: widow, established, independently wealthy with a thriving business, and good-looking to boot…"
Adam nodded, carefully avoiding the other man's gaze as they ambled down the street towards the tavern. "Mrs. Allerton is certainly a fine woman."
Mrs. Delphia Allerton was a fine woman with a strong character. She had left England with a husband and enough money to build a farm, but Mr. Allerton had died during the crossing and unable to start a farm on her own she had used to the money to build a tavern, the only one in town since The Black Rose had burnt down two years ago. Of course, this was all second-hand knowledge. Adam had only arrived himself six months ago and Mrs. Allerton had already been established nearly five years before that. He admired her, to say the least.
Adam and Hans entered the The Moonstone and took their regular seats. Almost immediately Mrs. Allerton was by their side with a shy smile she saved special for Adam. Mrs. Allerton was beautiful, if a little odd-looking. Her face looked young, but her eyes seemed so old to him and were of no ordinary color, but a deep red. He found them hypnotizing.
"Would you like some supper?" She inquired. "There's a beef stew on the pot and cold meat pies."
"Yes, please," Adam replied.
She nodded and quietly left, only the soft rustling of her black skirts signaling her departure. Their color was like a warning to Adam, as sure as the brilliant red berries of bitter nightshade. Five years and Mrs. Allerton still wore her mourning dress and veil. Any other woman would have put them away and returned to the world of colors, but not Mrs. Allerton. She must have loved her husband greatly. He doubted she would be receptive to any suitors, but especially those who happened to be poor carpenters who slept in their boss's workshop.
Mary Pope, Mrs. Allerton's indentured servant, appeared then carrying food and drinks in her hand. Adam turned his attention to his stew, half-listening as Frank Driessen read aloud from some pamphlet he had picked up describing the fights that had recently broken out between the Iroquois and the French.
"Animals, the whole lot of them!" Samuel Jenkins insisted loudly from his corner where the tobacco smoke was so thick it blurred his face. "First they attack the English, then they attack the French, then they're back at us again. Have you heard what's been going on in that new Quaker colony? The Iroquois are angry at us English now because that Penn fellow is trading with the Lenape. They say that the Lenape aren't allowed to trade. That they're conquered people and the only Indian folks who should be trading with the whites are Iroquois agents. They've been going on about how we broke the Covenant Chain. As far as I'm concerned animals don't know how to make deals, let alone keep them. There's no reasoning with them! Have you heard what they do to folks they capture?"
"Well, I like anybody who gives the French a good fight, savage or not," one of the Brantley twins stated.
"Say that when they're burning your house down!"
Adam never joined in the debates. He would prefer calm, rational discussions over heated arguments any day. His opinion was his own and he didn't care to go announcing it to the world unlike some of these gentlemen. He was a private fellow, although Hans would just claim he was snobbish. Adam looked up as the fight raged hoping to catch Mrs. Allerton's eye. They often shared a small, private laugh between the two of them. Like him, she was a quiet, modest lady. Mrs. Allerton was nowhere to be seen, however, and Adam returned despondently to his meal.
Sailor Pluto stepped out through the back door and into the cool autumn night, away from the smoke and voices. Princess Serenity was out there, she could feel it. Why did she waste time here in this small town?
It was a stupid question. She knew why.
She needed to get over this. She had mourned long enough. Besides, it wasn't as though Wilhelm was truly dead, not to her. Wilhelm's life remained stuck between time, like in the pages of a book. There was a little bookmark between the years 1324 and 1387 and if she so wanted she could open her little book of time and step back into that rolling English countryside and there he'd be. Like he had never even left.
A Plutonian never dwelt on the past. The past, like the present and the future, were only illusions.
Yet still she found herself here, lost, and Adam looked so much like him. Sailor Pluto shook her head angrily. She was being ridiculous. Adam may be her husband's reincarnation, but that did not make him Wilhelm.
Sailor Pluto nearly jumped out of her skin as the first wisps of smoke reached her nose. Was her stew burning? If it was she would have certainly have heard Mary wailing about it by now. The girl was simpleton who panicked at the first sign of trouble. A burnt dinner was all it would take to send her into tears. So, if it wasn't coming from the tavern where was it? Sailor Pluto squinted through the darkness and finally saw a small column of smoke rising into the sky. No, it wasn't small. Not anymore. It was getting larger by the second. She could see the flames now! The fire had to encompass at least several buildings. How much of the village was already destroyed?
Sailor Pluto raced back inside, calling out fire as she went. The men and women immediately jumped up from their seats and rushed to the door. She saw Samuel Jenkins wrenched open the front door only to let out a terrified scream that quickly turned into a watery gurgle. He fell back against the crowd, clutching his neck where a bullet had torn into the flesh, blood gushing through his fingers. Gunshots could be heard all around them now as the walls of the tavern splintered with the force of the bullets. Sailor Pluto felt a vice-like grip on her arm and looked up to see Adam pulling her back towards the door she just came through. Adam threw open the back door with her still held in his arms and Mary hot on their heels.
Adam fell against her with a grunt of pain as an Iroquois man shoved the butt of his gun into his chest. Sailor Pluto scowled fiercely and held out her arm, about to call upon her staff, when he lifted the rifle up above them and sent it crashing down on top of her head.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
For anyone looking for more information on the Iroquois Confederacy, I recommend Daniel Richter's The Iroquois Experience. I tried to as much research as I could, but I feel like it is a little incomplete. For example, I'm a little unsure of the names. If anyone spots a mistake or would like to shed a little more light, then by all means let me know!
Sailor Pluto clenched her teeth as her face throbbed dully, making it difficult to march quickly enough to keep up with their captors. Adam was behind her, arms tied in front and linked to her own bound hands behind her back. From the way the rope pulled at her wrists she knew that Adam was working at his bonds. He was a fighter; it was in his spirit. Just like Wilhelm.
There was something out there- a call, a signal, a pull. She had felt it before back in town, but then it had only been a whisper. Now it grew stronger and more forceful with every step she took. She knew what it was. She had been following it across the world for millennia. It was Serenity. Wherever their captors were taking them that was where the Princess would be. For one blinding moment, Sailor Pluto felt the urge to run. To summon her staff and take Adam and just run. She quickly smothered those feelings. It was a foolish thought. This wasn't about her. She was the Guardian of Time; she couldn't afford to think like a human. She needed to be calm and collected. Emotionless, a servant of the natural order of things. She had her stolen time with Wilhelm; she could not allow herself to betray her mission again.
She would lead Adam to Serenity and once there she would ensure that the Princess awoke.
Up ahead Sailor Pluto could see the entrance to the Iroquoian village. She had seen so many lives from the Door, from across all times and all places and all galaxies; she knew what was going to happen next.
Sailor Pluto quickly turned her head to look into Adam's wide brown eyes. "Listen to me," she whispered. "We are about to run the gauntlet. Protect your head. It will hurt, but they will not kill you."
Adam looked at her with confusion but before he could ask what she meant he looked up and saw the two long lines of men and women on either side of the entrance, all bearing clubs and hot pokers.
Sailor Pluto could not keep the cry from spilling out of her mouth as the first blow landed squarely between her shoulder blades. The Iroquois screamed abuse at them but Sailor Pluto couldn't hear them over the pain and Adam's own wounded cries rising up from behind her. She pushed forward, trying to move through the pain. If she wanted to get to Serenity she needed to go through this. Adam needed to go through this. She had to hold on to that thought. She had her duty; she couldn't allow herself to forget it as she had before. Her body was merely a vessel. Her thoughts were nothing. Her feelings were nothing.
This body didn't even have a true name. All she was and all she would ever be was Sailor Pluto.
The old women led them through the gauntlet, beating them and jabbing them as they went until they were forced on top of a platform. The women ripped their clothes from their bodies, pulling and tearing until she and Adam stood half-naked on the platform. They shoved at them, yelling at them in a language that Adam didn't understand.
Adam looked wild-eyed, glancing between her and the women. She noticed the way he kept placing himself between them, both to protect her from the blows and to shield her body from the crowd. She didn't bother to inform him that it was merely part of the ritual; their nudity wasn't meant to be titillating. Adam was the product of 17th century English values; he wouldn't understand even if she tried. "What do we do now?" He asked.
"We dance," she replied and led the way, Adam following her every step.
As Sailor Pluto moved to the sound of music she couldn't help but notice the two figures standing a little away from the crowd. Everything about the figure on the left reminded Sailor Pluto of an arrow- straight and narrow. The Iroquois woman held herself with perfect posture: her spine rigid, her shoulders thrown back, and her head held high. It made her seem so much taller than she was. Her nose was long and straight, her chin was pointed, even her black hair did not hold so much as a wave. It lay flat and heavy against her shoulders.
The one on the right was hunched over and stared at some middle distance above the dancers' heads. Her hair was a midnight black and framed her round, fleshy face like a curtain. Her face reminded Sailor Pluto of the moon hung high in a starless night sky. She might have been pretty if the woman hadn't looked so pathetic. Her hair was cut unevenly, dirt smudged her face, and she was wearing ragged, old clothing. This was an Iroquoian woman in mourning.
Sailor Pluto knew the two women instantly: they were Sailor Mars and Princess Serenity.
Sailor Mars gave some signal and before she realized it Sailor Pluto and Adam were being led away. Blankets were thrown over their shoulders as they were pulled into two separate bark-covered longhouses. Adam called out to her, but before she could turn to look he had already disappeared inside. Sailor Mars came in behind her and began rummaging around inside a chest, pulling out articles of clothing as she went.
"These will do," she muttered to herself. Sailor Pluto felt herself flush with embarrassment when she gave a little squeak as the old women suddenly began to pull the rest of her clothes off of her body. Sailor Pluto looked down to see her skin covered in dark purple bruises form where they had hit her with their clubs. They were tender and throbbed fiercely, but she was sure she had no broken bones. The blows were designed to hurt, not to wound. A flurry of rustling overcame her as Sailor Mars shoved new clothing over her head, hiding the bruises. A deerskin dress was pushed onto her followed by leather leggings, a wool skirt, a red sash, and moccasins. Her hair was unpinned and restyled in the Iroquoian fashion.
"You should be grateful, sister," Sailor Mars sneered out that last word – clearly not expecting Sailor Pluto to understand her – before storming out. The old women looked at each other and just sighed, shaking their heads as they led Sailor Pluto out of the longhouse, more gently this time.
Sailor Pluto stepped back into the light at the same time Adam did. She looked at the longhouse that he emerged from and felt her stomach drop. He had been dressed in beautifully decorated clothing- fringed shirt, leggings, and kilt were all beaded and colorful. On top of his head was a feathered hat and across one shoulder a cape. What made her shake was the red and black paint that they had marked his face and arms with.
They were led to where a great feast was being held, the others praising and celebrating along the way. Sailor Pluto tried to ignore the sick feeling that was threatening to overwhelm her as they sat down side by side.
"What is going on?" Adam asked. He looked so bewildered and lost. Sailor Pluto could only imagine what he must be thinking- to be attacked, beaten, and then dressed and fed…
"We were captured to replace their dead," Sailor Pluto explained.
"It's called a mourning war. When one of their members is killed, the Iroquois will go on a raiding party and capture hostages who will then replace their lost family members. Do you see that woman there," Sailor Pluto nodded towards Sailor Mars. "She called me 'sister.' That is what I am now: her sister, to replace the one that died. That ritual we just endured… think of it as a rebirth."
Adam's mouth hung open and she could see his lips forming "how", but then he seemed to rethink the question. Whether he didn't care or was afraid of the answer he didn't say, but at any rate all he did was point to Princess Serenity. "Who did she loose? Who did I replace?" He asked.
Sailor Pluto could only shrug helplessly. "I don't know."
Adam sat there in silence, pondering their predicament. Sailor Pluto didn't have the heart to tell him that only one of them had been chosen. Princess Serenity had decided to reject Adam; she didn't want him. The black and red paint did not signify a new member for the Iroquois, but of a ritual sacrifice. He would be killed horribly and his body consumed. Sailor Pluto would not allow that to happen. There would still be several days of feasting. Adam was safe in the meantime, treated as an honorary Iroquois and a respected warrior. Perhaps she could change Serenity's mind. The Princess loved Endymion; she could not be ambivalent towards him, no matter what incarnation he may be in. There must be something there.
If not then there would be nothing they could do to stop her from unleashing her true power.
Sailor Pluto hauled the basket of beans into the longhouse belonging to Watsistatukwas, the woman once known as Sailor Mars. Watsistatukwas was already there, shucking the beans from their pods. She gestured for her to sit the basket down next to her with an uncaring wave of her hand. Although Watsistatukwas had accepted her as her new sister, the other woman was still consumed with grief and Sailor Pluto's presence seemed to only cause her more pain and bitterness. She was treated with little more than apathy, not even bothering to acknowledge her most of the time.
"These beans are no good!" Watsistatukwas exclaimed as she began to pull out beans with dark brown holes from the basket and tossing them across the longhouse. "You stupid girl! How can you be my sister? My sister was smart, unlike you English women!" She tossed out another bean.
Sailor Pluto stared coldly at Watsistatukwas as she continued to berate her. She was tired of this woman. She was tired of this life. She wanted to take Adam and just leave. Why couldn't she do that again?
"I would just like to say," Sailor Pluto began, speaking to Watsistatukwas in her own language for the very first time. "That I understand Oneida." She watched as the other woman turned a horrible shade of red. Sailor Pluto felt a sense of triumph in the face of her embarrassment and quickly turned on her heel and stalked out of the longhouse.
Sailor Pluto scanned the village in search of Adam. She only had one day left before he was to be executed. She saw him there with a few of the men of the tribe. They were showing him how to throw a hatchet. He seemed so relaxed and at ease. Since the ritual, Adam had slowly begun to relax around the Iroquois. He thought he was safe.
It didn't matter, she was done trying. She had tried to speak with the Princess before, but the girl was listless and depressed. She refused to talk to anybody, preferring to stay within her longhouse and far away from everyone else. Perhaps this particular incarnation of Serenity was a lost cause and that the only way to help Adam was to run away.
She tried not to think about the fact that deep down, running away with him was what her heart had wanted to begin with.
Sailor Pluto made her way towards Adam, ready to summon her staff when she saw Serenity enter her longhouse with a basket of vegetables. Sailor Pluto hesitated. One more time. She would try one more time.
Sailor Pluto ducked inside Serenity's longhouse and spotted her hiding away in a dark corner, running her hand lethargically through her basket of beans. They were the only ones there. "Princess," Sailor Pluto began.
Serenity looked up at her owlishly. "Who?" She asked. "My name is Ohnita."
"Ohnita," Sailor Pluto corrected. "You rejected Adam… Atenyatahslake, I mean." It was the new name they had given Adam, a proper name for an Iroquois warrior.
Ohnita looked at her in confusion as though wondering why they were even having this conversation. To Sailor Pluto, the girl looked like she wanted to curl up and go to sleep and possibly never wake up instead of talking to the strange "English" girl about the man that was about to be killed. "He's not my husband," she finally said before turning to her vegetables.
Sailor Pluto frowned at that. Princess Serenity had been both married and widowed? It was strange to think of Serenity with anyone other than Endymion, but then Endymion had once married her and despite the fact that she wasn't his soul mate she did think he loved her just as much. To lose that… Sailor Pluto could understand. "No," she agreed. "But he is still a good man."
"The English killed my husband. We didn't do anything. They just attacked us."
"It was not Atenyatahslake who did that. Accept him. Call off the sacrifice."
"Why would I do that? It is a great honor."
"I don't want him to die!" Sailor Pluto yelled before quickly covering her mouth with her hand. She had never yelled like that before. Not even in the heat of battle had she lost control of her emotions. She had always managed to channel them – for either ill or good – before.
Ohnita looked up at her in surprise. For the first time she looked alive instead of the empty-eyed doll that she had been. Sailor Pluto took a deep breath before continuing, "Just… sit with him a while. I know you cannot speak with him, but just… be with him. Just for a few hours. I think… I think he might be able to make you happy."
Sailor Pluto stood there for a second, waiting for Ohnita to say something. Anything. But there was nothing so she turned and left and hoped that the girl would do the right thing.
Later that afternoon as she was helping a strangely subdued Watsistatukwas with her chores she looked up and saw Ohnita sitting next to Adam. He was smiling at her and she laughed out loud. Sailor Pluto wondered bitterly at that. It was not like they could carry on a conversation, so what was making them laugh like that?
The next morning the red and black paint was gone and Sailor Pluto knew she had nothing to fear.
Chapter 9: Chapter 8
In case any of you are wondering, the political conflicts described in this chapter did occur in what would become known as the Beaver Wars.
Sailor Pluto dusted the dirt off of her knees, dropping the last few pods of beans she had collected into the basket before Watsistatukwas hefted it up onto her shoulders. The other woman had been acting strangely subdued and aloof since Sailor Pluto had revealed to her that she spoke her language, but every now and then Sailor Pluto would catch Watsistatukwas watching her from the corner of her eye with a look of puzzlement and suspicion on her face.
Sailor Pluto looked up to see Adam's dark hair rising above the crops. "Yes?" She asked. She noticed that Watsistatukwas hadn't moved, but was instead watching her with rapt attention. The Iroquois woman couldn't speak English, so why was she so interested in their conversation? After all this time the mannerisms of Earth mortals still confused her.
Adam looked her over, a worried expression on his face. "How have they been treating you?" He asked, his gaze flickering briefly to Watsistatukwas. The Iroquoian woman arched her brow at that, almost as though she knew what he was saying. But Watsistatukwas didn't need to know English to see the suspicion in his eyes.
"I am alright," Sailor Pluto assured him gently. Then, cautiously, she asked, "How are you and your wife?"
Adam grimaced at the mention of Ohnita. "I haven't been harmed or anything if that is what you mean, but… she isn't my wife."
"To the Iroquois she is."
"We are not Iroquois!" Adam insisted harshly. "We are English!" He sighed at that and looked down at his hands, as though ashamed of his sudden outburst. "Ohnita has been very kind to me and I'm thankful for that, but… I don't know her. When I thought of marriage I had always imagined marrying a woman who was my friend, a companion, someone I could confide in. I didn't think I would be thrust upon some stranger who cannot even speak the same language as me." He looked at Sailor Pluto then, bold and intense. "I thought my future wife would be someone like you."
Sailor Pluto choked slightly before pushing the emotion back down. "You might grow to love her," she protested weakly, looking anywhere but at him.
"And what if I love someone else?"
She snapped her head up at that and found his dark eyes boring into hers, pleading with her. He reminded her so much of Wilhelm. The temptation was too much, if she didn't push him away now she would never let him go.
"Come away with me," he whispered. "We can escape and make our way back to civilization, far away from here."
She tried to make herself speak. I'm not the one you want, she thought. It's her. It has always been her. But the words wouldn't come. She stood there, staring up at him, unsure of what she should do. Her time with Wilhelm had tainted her. She wasn't mortal. She wasn't even truly human. She was the Guardian, which was all that she was meant to be. Family, friends, emotions… these were things that were supposed to be beyond her reach. How could she go back to being alone, the solitary sentry in that in-between realm, if she continued to crave companionship like this? Everything was falling apart. Her calm, soft voice cracked in the middle as she commanded him. "Go back to her," she said.
"I don't love her!"
Adam looked like he was going to argue with her, to try and convince her to leave with him, but then Sailor Pluto found herself being pulled away by Watsistatukwas with her hand around her arm in a vice-like grip. She threw a look over her shoulder at Adam as they left, a clear warning to him to leave Sailor Pluto alone. Even if Watsistatukwas couldn't understand the words, the emotions behind the conversation were clear to her and she would not stand for it. The moment they entered their longhouse Watsistatukwas dropped the basket and rounded on her. "Does he not realize he has a wife?" She demanded. "You can speak Oneida, you know our customs. I thought you had explained this to him. Or is he not the type of man to be satisfied with only one wife?" It was the most Watsistatukwas had said to her all week.
"He doesn't want to be married to a stranger is all," Sailor Pluto protested. She would not allow this mortal to slander Adam.
Watsistatukwas stood even straighter at that if it was possible. She was a beautiful, graceful woman, but there was a steeliness to her, a warning to all that she was not to be crossed. Only a fool would knowingly insult Sailor Mars. "I didn't want you for a sister, either," she coolly informed her. "I had a sister and she was good and sweet and I loved her until the English came and killed her. But I took you in anyway. I admit I was unkind to you in the beginning. It was wrong of me. We are sisters now. You are Iroquois. There is nothing that the English can do now that will make me turn against you." Watsistatukwas turned away quickly at that, as though embarrassed by the sudden rush of emotion. She sat down next to the fire and stirred life back into it. The small, flickering flames lit up the dark face masks that stood guard against the far wall, making the illuminated visages look all the more haunting. "Were you married to him in your former life? When you were an English woman and not my sister?" She asked quietly. "Is that why he cannot let you go?"
Sailor Pluto smiled sadly. "I was married, but not to him."
Watsistatukwas nodded as though she expected this. She stared into the growing fire for a few seconds before looking up. "I have had dreams about you. In them I see strange places… kingdoms made of crystal and a dead, empty world full of mist. There's a lot of power in you, I can sense it. When you're with me I feel like… there's something inside me that's about to be unleashed. Like that feeling you get early in the morning when you're about to wake, but you're still caught in dreams." She looked back into the flames again, deep in thought, and didn't say anything else.
Ohnita turned and looked up at Sailor Pluto with a thin, watery smile on her face. The Princess had combed out her hair, cleaned her face and put on new clothing; her husband had returned to her, she was no longer in mourning, though Sailor Pluto could still see the pain and sadness in her eyes. She knew it would be a long time before that went away. Sailor Pluto gingerly sat next to the small woman who was perched on a log where she could both work on her embroidery and watch her cousins teach Adam how to use a bow. For a few seconds neither woman said anything and the awkwardness between them grew. Sailor Pluto was struck by how uncomfortable it was. Her relationship with Lady Zhinu had been so easy compared to this; they had both been outsiders in the Emperor's court and had clung to each other because of that. But Ohnita was not Zhinu. She was older, a mature woman, and respected in her village. And, if Sailor Pluto was honest, perhaps her own thoughts and feelings for Adam were clouding her emotions, making it difficult to extend her hand in friendship to the other woman. Sailor Pluto took a deep breath and steeled herself. She would not allow her desires to get in the way of her duty. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Ohnita must have taken pity on her because she laughed. "Has Watsistatukwas been treating you well?" She asked in that friendly, easy manner that Sailor Pluto had come to associate with the Princess.
Sailor Pluto nodded quietly, feeling some of that old shyness that she had thought she had lost after years of living as a mortal. "I bet Watsistatukwas is working you hard," Ohnita teased. "She likes to be serious all the time. She thinks it makes her mysterious." Ohnita laughed. "But really she has a wicked sense of humor." Then, offhandedly, she said, "She likes you." This was a surprise to Sailor Pluto. She and Watsistatukwas had come to an understanding, it was true, but she did not think the other woman truly liked her. "Don't let her fool you," Ohnita explained. "She really does like you. She thinks you're interesting. Like a puzzle."
"And what about you and Ada- Atenyatahslake?" Sailor Pluto asked, finally finding her voice.
Ohnita shrugged lightly, but Sailor Pluto could see the small smile on her lips. "He is kind and caring, though I don't think he quite knows what to do with the situation he's been put in. I'm becoming quite fond of him, despite myself." Sailor Pluto felt her heart clench at that. "I just wish we spoke the language."
"It'll come with time. He's learning."
Ohnita suddenly gave her a teasing, sideways glance. "You seemed to have learned it quickly enough."
Sailor Pluto was spared from having to come up with a lie when Adam suddenly hit the target with his arrow. The men around him cheered and clapped his shoulders. Adam laughed and looked back at the girls, clearly showing off for his audience. Sailor Pluto couldn't help but notice how he avoided her gaze.
"You must come with me," Watsistatukwas commanded and before Sailor Pluto could reply she felt herself being pulled by the arm into a large longhouse that she had never been into before. Inside where four women, ranging in age from late thirties to early seventies, and each one regarded her with cool appraisal. Behind them were a row of masks, the same she had seen in Watsistatukwas's home, masks that promised power and healing. These women were all a part of the same secret society, one dedicated to the mysterious spirit, Gagohsa- the False Face.
Watsistatukwas pushed her down to sit in front of the women while she took her own seat next to a gray-haired grandmother who was stooped over and squinting at Sailor Pluto. "This is her?" The old woman croaked. Watsistatukwas nodded enthusiastically before leaning in to whisper something in her ear. Sailor Pluto could feel the hair on the back of her neck raise up; something was going on and she had feeling she wouldn't like it.
More whispering and Sailor Pluto strained to hear, but all she got were quick snatches of meaningless words- "Penn", "Onondaga," and "Lenape." Suddenly the old woman nodded her head and made a shooing motion with her hand. "Go," she commanded. "And take your sister with you."
Watsistatukwas nodded, her eyes bright and excited. Sailor Pluto suspected that if she were a little more like Ohnita she would be jumping up and down right now. Instead, she jerked her head towards the exit in that way that made her seem so sure that Sailor Pluto would simply follow her every command. It made sense; Sailor Mars had always been the sort of woman who expected discipline and obedience. She doubted that anyone had ever said "no" to her before.
Sailor Pluto followed her out towards a pair of horses that stood waiting for them, already outfitted and ready for a journey. "Hurry, we have to leave quickly," Watsistatukwas said as she waved off the young children who were surrounding them, demanding from them answers on where they were going and why. It was something Sailor Pluto wanted to know as well.
"What's going on?" Sailor Pluto asked as she climbed on top of the chestnut mare. It gave a fearful whinny at the unknown rider sitting astride her and Sailor Pluto ran a soothing hand down her neck, clucking at her softly.
"We have to leave now. I'll explain on the way. There's no time." With that Watsistatukwas dug her heels in the horse's side and took off. Sailor Pluto had no wish to leave Adam or Ohnita; her mission was too important for her to get sidetracked again. But Sailor Pluto found herself urging her mare forward, following the trail that Watsistatukwas had left in her wake.
They travelled for miles, stopping to rest only when their horses tired, before arriving in a large Iroquois village just as the sun began to set. "Where are we?" Sailor Pluto asked as she slid off her horse.
"Onondaga," Watsistatukwas explained. She nodded towards a longhouse as she tied her horse to a post and began to make her way towards it, "That is where the Grand Council meets."
"What are we doing here then?" Sailor Pluto demanded as she followed her. "The Grand Council is where the Sachems meet."
Watsistatukwas just smirked as she marched into the longhouse, her head held high and proud as she came to stand before the group of men seated around inside the building, discussing politics. These were the leaders of the Iroquois Confederacy, the chiefs of the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca, the Mohawk, and their own tribe- the Oneida. Sailor Pluto came up behind her a little more warily. She had no idea what was going on or why she was here; not knowing wasn't something that Sailor Pluto was used to. She commanded Time, she was all-seeing. It was unsettling to be thrust into a situation she had no control over. "I have come bearing a message from the Mothers of our Tribe," Watsistatukwas announced. Immediately a hush fell over the Sachems. "We do not agree to this treaty." She spat out the word 'treaty' as though it was disgusting to her. "The English have no right to interfere with our affairs. We conquered the Lenape, just as the English have conquered other white tribes. Do we tell the English what to do with their conquered subjects? No! It is our right to impose whatever law we see fit on them. What would the Huron think if we allowed the Lenape to escape to English lands? Or the Susquehannock? They would rise up. There would be anarchy. The Mothers have vetoed the treaty."
"What is going on?" Sailor Pluto demanded, her usually soft voice rising sharply. She would not allow Sailor Mars to ignore her and dictate her actions any longer.
"The Lenape have fled to some new English colony… Pennsylvania, I think it is called," Watsistatukwas explained. "There the English have provided them with sanctuary. This is intolerable. The Lenape are our subjects, not our equals."
"What does this have to do with me?"
Watsistatukwas looked back at the Sachems and smirked. "These men," she mocked. "Are afraid of declaring war on the English. The French are white same as the English, and they're worried that if we attack one white tribe then the other would be forced to come to their aide. With both the English and French against us, the Algonquin tribes would surely rise up as well and join their French allies. We would be outnumbered, three to one."
"Not even the Iroquois can stand against the French and the English and the Algonquin," one of the men protested. "The war would be over in a matter of weeks and we would lose everything! The Mothers must see reason."
"The Mothers know something that you do not," Watsistatukwas replied. "My sister is no ordinary woman. She is a spirit. Gagohsa has shown me her power in my dreams. With her on our side, there is no war that we cannot win."
Sailor Pluto reeled back in shock at the proclamation. She knew that Watsistatukwas had suspected there was something different about her, like the English peasants and the Chinese courtiers had. But whereas they had pulled away in fear, Watsistatukwas meant to use her like a puppet. Sailor Pluto clenched her hands, yearning to summon her staff. She was not a tool. "This war is your own business," she said quietly. Deadly. "I do not meddle in the affairs of mortals."
Watsistatukwas stood there for a moment, the shock of Sailor Pluto openly admitting she was not human rendering her speechless for a moment. But then that haughty look crossed over her face once more and she folded her arms. "Really? Then why are you here, then? You seem interested enough- at least, in the life of one mortal. I believe Adam was his English name."
Sailor Pluto did summon her staff at that. It was in her hand before she knew it and she pointed it threateningly at Watsistatukwas. "They are more than simply human. I have a duty. A mission."
The Iroquois woman's eyes flickered down at the Garnet Orb before flitting back towards Sailor Pluto's face. "Gagohsa has shown me that as well," she said softly. "You've failed so many times now. Are you doing this because you truly believe this is what you are meant to do? Or are you doing this simply because you want to?"
It was like a slap in the face. Sailor Pluto took a step back as Watsistatukwas's dark eyes bored into hers, taunting her with her own doubts that whispered through her mind late at night. Sailor Pluto turned around and fled, ignoring the cries from the men as she ran, her moccasins silent against the ground.
Sailor Pluto sat on the ground and stared numbly at the climbing smoke. She was a fool. It always ended this way. Always. Why couldn't she stop it? She controlled Time. This should be like child's play to her. But it didn't matter what she did, did it? This was how it was going to end. She should leave. Return to the Space-Time Door where she belonged and never abandon it again. Perhaps it was time to acknowledge that the Silver Millennium was over and never coming back.
Sailor Pluto could hear the thundering of hoofs behind her and the frightened shrieking of the horse as it came to a sudden stop before the raging fire. She turned her head to see Watsistatukwas tumble off, a look of fear and panic across her face as she beheld the monstrous scene before her. The village was in flames. "The English came while we were gone," Sailor Pluto explained gently, though she didn't think Watsistatukwas could hear her. "They wanted revenge for what you did to them. They killed everybody. Adam, Ohnita… they're all gone."
Watsistatukwas didn't even look at her, just screamed out her pain and rage as she took a shaky step towards the burning buildings. Sailor Pluto was on her in a second, wrapping her arms tightly around her back and petting her smooth, dark hair. She whispered soothingly in her ear, like she used to do for Emeline and James and Leonore, letting Watsistatukwas sob against her shoulder.
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
Sailor Pluto felt a wave of dizziness wash over her as she tried to push her way through the crowd of fawning courtiers. All around her she could hear the roar of laughter, the high-pitched giggles of the Queen, the sound of clinking classes and rolling dice. The women's skirts and elaborate hairstyles created a veritable sea of silk and powdered curls. She had to get out of there before she fell in a dead faint. Not exactly the impression she wanted to make on Princess Serenity, wherever she was in this den of madness. Sailor Pluto tried to focus her thoughts, turn them towards that pull that tethered her crystal to her Lady's, the one who commanded her. But it was faint, too faint. It was a mere echo, a shadow to the one she had felt in Zhinu and Ellyn and Ohnita. It was like someone had captured the Moon crystal and placed it somewhere deep underground.
Sailor Pluto felt herself stumble, nearly collapsing onto the marble floor. There was a blackness creeping around the edges of her vision. She couldn't see, couldn't hear. The conversation around her was like a cacophony and the tears from the sharp stinging stench of perfume made the grand ballroom appear hazy around her. Before her knees could give out on her entirely she felt two pairs of strong hands clasp each of her arms. The gentlemen guided her out of the palace and into the sprawling gardens of Versailles. Sailor Pluto took deep gasping lungfuls of the clean night air, wrenching the lace mask from her face as she did so. She had gone to parties in her earlier disguises. There had been dancing with the Iroquois and the English, and in China the Emperor had enjoyed throwing lavish banquets. This should not have bothered her like it did. But there had to be at least a thousand people inside and Sailor Pluto just… panicked.
"Are you alright now?" One of the men asked her, patting her shoulder gently.
Sailor Pluto nodded her head. When she finally looked up at the man who had helped her she laughed. The face that greeted her was wide and boyish and had not yet shed its baby fat and likely never would. Hair powdered white. Large, blue eyes, round like the moon. The Princess was now a prince. No wonder his crystal felt so faint. He wasn't ever meant to have one. Sailor Pluto knew she shouldn't laugh; a male Serenity could not possibly have a Sailor crystal. Only women could become Sailor Soldiers. If the Princess did not have a crystal how could she possibly awaken? Still, Sailor Pluto laughed in a quiet, half-sighing sort of way. Not because it was funny, but what else could she do? She had already been through so much, why not this too?
Serenity pouted in the face of Sailor Pluto's laughter and turned to his companion: a tall, dark-haired, green-eyed, and very male Sailor Jupiter. That just made her laugh all the harder. "What's so funny?" Serenity demanded, thoroughly put out by this unexpected reaction.
Sailor Jupiter grinned in reply and lightly elbowed him in the ribs. "I don't know, I think your face is pretty hilarious." Serenity quickly rounded on him at that comment and Sailor Jupiter lifted his hands in mock surrender, apologizing through his laughter. Sailor Jupiter turned back to Sailor Pluto after Serenity had been placated with flattery and clasped her hand. He bowed elegantly and said, "Let me apologize for my friend. He is far too lazy to even attempt gallantry. My name is Sylvestre Lacroix – a hero of the American revolution, finally home – and this uncouth chevalier is Sir Céleste Saint-Gilles. May I ask for your name?"
Sailor Pluto composed herself, schooling her features into that vague smile she tended to wear around these strange mortals. "You may call me Salome de Volanges," she replied. "Thank you for your help, but I am afraid I must be going." She turned quickly on her heel, her panniers jostling Céleste on her way.
"She's reminds me of the girl I left behind in America," she could hear Sylvestre sigh, followed by Céleste's exclamation of, "You say that about every woman we meet."
Sailor Pluto made her way through the gardens and down the grand stairs to where the carriages were being held. What was she supposed to do now? A thought whispered into her brain, idly wondering if Endymion was a woman now that Serenity was a man. She quickly crushed the thought before it could take seed. She would not fall to her own selfish wants like she had so many times before. She was Sailor Pluto. Desire was beyond her. She would be like Time, unmoving and always moving, unforgivable. She had a duty and she would remove all temptation. She would not speak to Endymion, she would not acknowledge him, she would not impede any relationship that might grow between him and Serenity. She was here to awaken the Princess and usher in the new Silver Millennium. That was her purpose.
Raymonde d'Poitiers waited patiently for her turn to approach the queen. She rocked up onto the balls of her feet, trying to catch a glimpse of Marie Antoinette between the ladies' elaborate coifs, but their extravagant curls were far too high. Life at Versailles was so different compared to the convent. Every moment of every day was filled with archaic rituals: what to wear and how to act and never, ever let your guard down because at Versailles you were always on parade, always performing. There was no privacy here; everyone was always watching each other, whispering dark rumors in their ears. Raymonde longed for the quiet contemplation of the convent. She wanted to be alone with her studies, not reduced to a mere toy to be gawked at and mocked by such shallow, simple people. But she knew her duty; she knew what was at stake.
The Marquise in front of her finished adjusting the queen's dress and Raymonde stepped up with her Majesty's shoes, bending down to slip them onto her feet. She had heard so many things about Marie Antoinette. Vicious, vile rumors about orgies she hosted at her chateau and the enchantments she had cast on her husband, the King. She had seen the pamphlets and crude sketches made by some unhappy peasant being passed around the courtiers in secret while muffling their laughter behind their hands. But standing before the Queen now, helping her dress, she didn't seem like some fiendish monster. Just tired and weary, another middle-aged wife and mother, so much like Raymonde's own dear mama.
The Queen peered into the mirror, making sure everything was in order before emerging from her quarters, her ladies-in-waiting trailing behind her. She moved quickly through the halls of Versailles as though the shadows that dogged her every step were nothing but irritating flies to her. At the sight of her portly, awkward husband Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette turned and curtsied before the women as the ladies mimicked her in response. It was clear that they had been dismissed. Raymonde glanced at where Marie Antoinette stood by the King's side, conversing lightly with her dear friend, the Princess de Lamballe, before turning her gaze onto the other courtiers in the room. She knew her mission. Find a rich noble. Marry him. Her mother, the Viscountess of Vaucouleurs, had made this very clear to her. Her family had once had wealth and respectability, but ever since her father's expulsion from Versailles they had been destitute. When the Queen had granted her mother's request to take Raymonde as a lady-in-waiting, the Viscountess had immediately plucked her from her schooling at the local convent and sent her to Versailles, alone. Be grateful, her mother had stated, that the queen is willing to overlook the unfortunate scandal your father caused.
Raymonde wandered through the marble hallways contemplating how she was supposed to accomplish this. She knew that she had caught the eye of a few gentlemen; her aloof, arrogant demeanor seemed to be something of a challenge for them. But in all honesty she was unsure of how to go about seducing a man. She had spent her formative years in a convent, cloistered with other studious girls and serious nuns. She was terrified of embarrassing herself.
Raymonde felt a shiver run down her back and the hair on her neck stand on end. Something felt off. She turned her head and saw a beautiful, dark-skinned woman standing by a window. She was openly staring at Raymonde with a shocked look on her face, her strange garnet-eyes never even blinking as though she was afraid she would disappear the second her eyes closed. It was incredibly rude of her and not a little disconcerting for Raymonde. Raymonde scowled at the woman, hoping that she would have the decency to look away now that she had been caught. The woman didn't even seem to realize this, her astonishment overwhelming any sense of decorum. Raymonde's frown deepened as she stalked over to the woman; she would not put up with such behavior. "Yes? Is there something you need? Perhaps a pair of binoculars?" Raymonde demanded as she stopped in front of her.
Sailor Pluto pulled back as this female incarnation of Endymion confronted her. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "It's just…" What was she supposed to say? When she discovered that Serenity was male in this period, she had wondered if Endymion would also be female. But this… she had never expected something like this.
Her Sailor crystal was connected to all of the Sailor crystals of the solar system. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Saturn, the Moon… she could feel them all. They were tethered to each other, bound together by the same vow to protect the Silver Millennium. This was how she was able to follow Serenity's path through each incarnation. But Endymion had always been different. There had been no crystal for her to follow, nothing to guide her way except for Queen Serenity's last command. Like the Sailor Soldiers, the Silver Crystal would continue to reincarnate Endymion until he too rediscovered his lost memories. He was touched by the Silver Crystal, and it was through that connection that Sailor Pluto had been able find him over and over again. This time, however, it had been different. Now that Serenity was male, her Sailor crystal was hidden, obscured. She knew that he must still carry it inside his body, but it was too deep down, barely even a whisper of it left. It reminded her of Endymion.
But now Endymion was female and for the first time Sailor Pluto could sense that he… she… had a Sailor crystal all of her own. It didn't make any sense. Endymion was not originally female; it was impossible for him to ever be a Sailor Soldier. She had always wondered though as to why there had been no Sailor Earth. She had seen the distant past, long before Queen Serenity took the throne. Although Earth had never been a part of the Moon Kingdom, they had their own line of female Sailor Soldiers. Until one day when it just stopped. There had been no more Earth females born with a Sailor Crystal. Could it be that for all this time the Sailor Crystal had resided in the Earth prince? Had it been buried so far down that it had remained undetected like Serenity's own Silver Crystal now was? Was it only because of Endymion's new female form that allowed the Earth Crystal to rise up and become powerful once more? With a sudden jolt Sailor Pluto now realized that Endymion had the capability to transform into Sailor Earth.
"Salome! I didn't think I'd ever see you again with the way you ran out of that party," Céleste called out as he came up to stand beside Sailor Pluto. He glanced over the pretty and petite form of Endymion and grinned. "Are you going to introduce me to your friend?" He asked with a scheming look in his eye.
"My name is Raymonde d'Poitiers and she is not my friend," the girl replied sharply. "And any friend of hers is no friend of mine."
Offended, Céleste stepped forward to defend the woman he knew as Salome. "What do you mean by that? I would be honored to call Salome de Volanges a friend!"
Raymonde sneered. "Well, then I suppose you are as intelligent as look. Which is, I mean to say, not very intelligent at all."
It took Céleste a second to work out the insult Raymonde had thrown at her, but by then the girl had already turned sharply on her heel and was stalking away. "Well, you're not very nice!" Céleste yelled after her. "And your hair look stupid!"
Sailor Pluto could only sigh and shake her head as she watched everything fall apart before anything could even begin.
Chapter 11: Chapter 10
Sailor Pluto sipped delicately at the porcelain cup, letting the rich flavor of Ethiopian coffee wash over her tongue. Céleste sat next to her on the red tufted sofa; every so often his head would bob as his eyes fluttered closed, only to wrench themselves open, startled awake by Sailor Pluto's soft nudging. The soft murmurings around them were filled with anxious discussions on the newly written Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
"It's completely ridiculous," one old Vicomte insisted, swinging his arm in a wide arc to emphasize his point and spilling his wine across the floor. "Those hoodlums have no authority and no ability to enforce such a ridiculous piece of so-called legislation. France has always had a monarchy, without it there would be no France. All this worrying is just silly."
"I just don't understand it," a young woman – Sailor Pluto thought she might be the daughter of a Marquis – spoke up. "We've always taken care of the peasants. We're the ones that provide them with work and ensure the stability of the country. What do they think will happen if they get rid of the nobility? The whole country will just fall apart! They need us! It's like they're cutting off their noses just to spite their faces. We've never done them any harm. Why are they doing this to us?"
"Because they're ungrateful wretches, the lot of them! They look at what we did in America and think, 'Oh, why can't we have that?' As if anyone would actually want to be like those barbarians!"
Sailor Pluto leaned in close to Céleste and whispered in his ear, "Try to stay awake a little while longer, will you?"
"But all they do is talk about politics and science and philosophy," he whined. Then he perked up and a devilish expression crossed Céleste's face. "Let's make our escape," he whispered. "We can go horseback riding and take in the sights. There has to be something of interest in this country village."
Sailor Pluto pretended to consider the offer. "Well, that does sound nice… but the Comtesse did promise us cake in an hour."
It worked like magic. Céleste was happy to put up with the nobles' nattering if it meant getting a piece of cake at the end. It didn't matter what body the Princess inhabited – whether her name was Serenity or Zhinu or Céleste – there were some things that never changed. Sailor Pluto, on the hand, didn't care about cake or politics. She had only agreed to visit the Comtesse's country chateau because she had heard that both Céleste and Raymonde had been invited as well. Céleste hadn't wanted to go; he informed her that he would much rather stay in Paris, but Sailor Pluto had convinced him to go with her. She didn't know if she could awaken the Princess while she was stuck in a male body, but by Chronos she would try. Raymonde on the other hand… the possibility that Endymion could transform into a Sailor Soldier was staggering to Sailor Pluto. She needed to find out, but Raymonde had remained cold and dismissive to both her and Céleste. It bothered Sailor Pluto, more than she would admit. Neither Wilhelm nor Adam would take an insult lying down, but they wouldn't turn away a heartfelt apology either. No, there was something else that was going on with Raymonde.
Sailor Pluto turned to where the Comtesse was lounging on a divan, giggling into her drink at some lewd joke one of the guests was telling. "Forgive me for prying," she began. "But I had heard Raymonde d'Poitiers was to join us. She hasn't fallen ill, has she?"
The Comtesse waved off her worries. "No, no, nothing like that! It's just with all that's been going on, she didn't want to leave Versailles and abandon the Queen. Her Majesty has been having a terrible time with all of this, as you know." From the snide tone of her voice, the Comtesse didn't sound very sympathetic to Marie Antoinette's plight at all, but rather maliciously gleeful. Sailor Pluto was aware of the timeline; she knew what would eventually happen to both the Queen and the Comtesse. If only the Comtesse knew that she would lose her own head to Madame Guillotine only a month after the Queen's execution! Maybe then she would find it in her heart to be kinder to Marie Antoinette.
The Revolution was looming over all of them and Sailor Pluto found that she didn't much care for the time constraint it put on her plans. She was use to having all the time in the world, but now she was reduced to only a matter of months before the people would overthrow the monarchy. Was that enough time to awaken Céleste and Raymonde?
The Comtesse continued on, not realizing that Sailor Pluto was no longer listening. "It's a shame really. My son has just returned from holiday in Italy and I was hoping to introduce the two of them."
"He dodged a bullet then, didn't he?" Céleste joked, elbowing Sailor Pluto playfully in the ribs. She smiled wanly at the mean-spirited jest and wondered just how Céleste would react if she told him that they were star-crossed lovers from the ancient past. It might be worth ruining her chances to awaken him just for the look on his face.
It was in the early hours of the morning that a marching drum began to beat in the Parisian marketplaces. Raymonde heard nothing of this; she was miles away, tucked safe and warm in her suite in the grand palace of Versailles. She woke as normal and went about her duties, tending to the Queen, smiling at the eligible noblemen the ladies of the court insisted on introducing to her. She knew she had to pick one and soon; her family was counting on her. She couldn't bear to see them starve because of her own selfishness. But they were all so… boring and stupid. Like the loud and obnoxious Chevalier Céleste Saint-Gilles, the courtiers would rather spend their days eating and drinking and shopping. Raymonde preferred a quieter companion, one who liked books and conversation. She knew what the others thought of her. She could hear them whispering, calling her a pretentious snob behind her back, like she cared what they thought.
Raymonde sighed to herself as she walked about the palace gardens, alone. It didn't bother her. She was often alone. Suddenly, Raymonde caught sight of a brown blur rushing by in the distance and she shielded her eyes against the afternoon sun for a better look. It was a soldier on horseback riding towards Versailles in a flurry. All thoughts of melancholy were pushed from her mind as she watched the man disappear towards the stables. Something was wrong.
Raymonde took off running back towards Versailles, her black curls bouncing with every step she took. She burst through the doors, out of breath and her hair wild. She looked around, taking in the anxious faces of the courtiers. "What's happened? What's going on?" She demanded.
Everyone looked at her nervously, before, finally, one of the ladies hesitantly spoke up. "The messenger was a soldier from the Marquis de Lafayette's garrison. A mob of several thousand peasant women are marching towards Versailles. More and more are joining their ranks, even the soldiers! There is no one to stop them. They're… they're going to kill us!"
"Versailles has its own personal guards," Raymonde insisted. "We should all stay inside for now. Don't worry. They'll take care of the rabble."
That was a lie. Versailles didn't stand a chance. But at least it calmed some of the courtiers, and that was the best she could hope for. Raymond curtsied before them, taking her leave, and made her way swiftly to the Queen's suite, where she would wait until the end if need be. All thoughts of marriages and husbands were pushed from her mind. As far as she was concerned, her first obligation was to her Queen, the woman she waited upon. She supposed she could run, but Raymonde was no coward and if her Queen needed protection then she would do her duty.
It was late at night when the unruly mob finally reached the Assembly. The women had come demanding bread; it was a simple thing, something easily fixed. Raymonde breathed a sigh of relief when a guard came by to inform Marie Antoinette and her ladies that the King was having a private conference with six of the women, elected by the mob as their representatives. The King was known for his awkwardness, but when pressed he could be charming when need be. It had worked; the crisis was averted. He had promised to give them food from the royal stores, with more to come and the leaders had left satisfied.
The same couldn't be said for their followers.
It was six o'clock in the morning when the mob descended on Versailles. Raymonde could hear the screams of the women from where she sat with the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting. Shouts of "Kill the whore!" and "Drag him back to Paris!" could be heard from outside her balcony. These women refused to be pacified with bread; the only thing that would satisfy them was blood. Several of the ladies screamed when the door was flung open to reveal a guard. "Your Majesty, the palace has been compromised," he breathed out. "We need you all to come to the King's bedchamber. We can protect you better from there. Hurry!"
Marie Antoinette jumped up with Raymonde and the other ladies following behind her. The guard led them out into the hallway where they saw the mob of women tearing through the palace. Raymonde watched in horror as one of the women wielded a pike high above of her head. The head of a guard had been thrust down on top of the spear and the woman waved it menacingly. Drops of blood flew off of it with every sway.
The ladies surged against the King's locked door and Marie Antoinette began to pound against the wood. The women finally noticed the Queen; it was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Their hate seemed to intensify as they charged toward the women. Raymonde jumped in front of the Queen, placing herself between her sovereign and the murderous crowd. Marie Antoinette continued her pleading, but her knocks and screams were drowned out by the women. The King couldn't hear her.
Raymonde stood next to the guard and braced herself.
With a yelp the Queen stumbled through the door as the King wrenched it open. Raymonde and the guard spared each other grateful look as they piled inside after the Queen and ladies-in-waiting. The guard quickly set about barricading the door as the Queen and King huddled against each other and clutched at their children. All the while the women howled.
Versailles had been taken.
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
Raymonde sneered at the crude drawing that someone had scribbled on a pamphlet. It was a picture of herself with Queen in some sort of orgiastic black ritual. Another lie for the masses. Raymonde barely even noticed these things any more. She had gone to Versailles in search of a husband, thinking nothing of her duties as a lady-in-waiting at the time. It was simply a means to an end. But the Queen had reminded her so much of her own mother, and after witnessing the attacks that Mare Antoinette was force to endure… her duty to her was no longer an obligation, but an act of honor. She would not abandon her. Raymonde's devotion to her Queen had kept her bound to the other woman, a fact that did not go unnoticed. Pornography about the two of them circulated throughout Paris and France in the form of pamphlets, all of them depicting depraved acts with beasts and children and witchcraft. How could people believe such obvious lies? It was disgusting.
Raymonde threw it on the fire and turned back to her embroidery. Unlike so many of the Queen's friends, Raymonde had stayed with her, even when the people had forced her and the King out of Versailles and into Tuileries Palace in Paris. There was no longer a royal court or out-dated rituals or excessive decadence; here the King and Queen were simply Monsieur and Madame Bourbon.
The soft tunes of a piano filled the parlor and Raymonde tapped her foot in time as she worked her needle through the cloth. Every now and then a sharp note would ring out and the Queen's voice would cluck at her daughter, correcting her fingers and encouraging her to try again. Suddenly there came a sharp knock on the trap door and the music came to a swift stop. Raymonde immediately stood up, tense and ready, wondering at whom it could possibly be. No one was supposed to know about the secret entrance.
Marie Antoinette came striding towards the far wall, holding her finger to her lips to keep Raymonde from speaking. It was almost impossible to tell where the wall stopped and the door began and Raymonde would have never noticed if the Queen hadn't pointed it out to her. Marie Antoinette gently cracked open the door and peered inside. The stiff outline of her shoulders suddenly relaxed and she pulled the door open wide enough for Raymonde to see who it was. The Chevalier, Céleste Saint-Gilles, stood at the threshold. Marie Antoinette quickly ushered him inside, though he still looked nervous. He peeked out the parlor windows and waved his hand at Raymonde, indicating to her that she should close the curtains, before taking a seat on the sofa across from the Queen.
He had changed she had last seen him. Céleste had always been a little chubby, but he had lost weight over the years, leaving him looking wan and stressed. His clothes were common and he no longer powdered his hair, leaving the natural blonde to shine through. Raymonde found that she liked the color.
"Did you deliver my letters?" The Queen demanded. "Is my nephew finally going to send troops in to rescue us?"
Céleste winced and slowly shook his head. "The Emperor is tied up with the war. He begs that you try to find some means of escape-"
Marie Antoinette jumped to her feet at the suggestion. "And live my life in exile?! I am the Queen! I have been chosen by God! No," the Queen shook her head and began to pace up and down the small parlor. "Even if I wanted to it's impossible. There are guards everywhere. They'll catch us, just like they did before. I'll send a letter to my sister, Maria Carolina. She's the Queen of Naples and Sicily, surely she can help."
Raymonde and Céleste stole a glance as the Queen continued to make her plans. They knew it was futile; it was only a matter of time before everything came to an end. Céleste stood up and bowed to the Queen. "Your Majesty, I need to leave before anyone notices that I'm here. If the guards catch me they'll know you've been conspiring against the Republic and then…" He didn't finish. They all knew what would happen then.
Marie Antoinette nodded and waved her hand. "Yes. Go. I'll send for you again when I am ready."
Céleste nodded and bowed once more to both the Queen and Raymonde. She caught his blue eyes as he straightened up and he smiled grimly at her. Once, a long time ago, she wouldn't have thought the Chevalier was capable of such loyalty and courage. He had seemed so childish and foolish. Perhaps there was something more to him after all.
Céleste quickly darted his way through the winding alleys, always remaining alert in case there were any soldiers lurking about. He felt himself slowly relax as he ducked into a small lane that would lead back to the tavern he was staying in. He was far away from the palace now that no guard would be able to arrest him for treason and conspiracy.
The Chevalier yelped and spun around at the sound. One hand clutched his chest and the other his pistol as the figure of a woman slowly stepped out of the shadows. "Salome?" He asked as the beautiful dark-skinned woman he had come to call a friend came to stand in front of him. "What are you doing? I told you to go to England! It's not safe here anymore!"
She held up a hand to quiet him. "Believe me, there is no one on this planet that can harm me." She sounded insulted at the very thought of needing protection from the revolutions. "I don't need your protection, but I am in need of your help. I have been trying to make contact with Raymonde d'Poitiers, but it's been… difficult."
Céleste snorted. Difficult… that was one way of putting it. "Why do you care so much about Raymonde?" The Chevalier demanded. "She doesn't like you one bit, but you've been obsessed with her for as long as I've known you."
Salome gave him a slow, creeping smile. It was like she knew a wonderful secret and couldn't wait to share it. "There is something important that I need to tell her. That I need to tell both of you. Please, will you bring me to her? I wouldn't ask this from you if I thought I could get away with unleashing my full power, but I've already involved myself too deeply in this timeline and this point in history is too important for me to mess up. I don't need another mistake on my conscience."
Céleste frowned in puzzlement at her mutterings of timelines, but nodded all the same. "Come back with me to the tavern and wait for a few days," he commanded.
"No, we need to go tonight. There won't be another chance."
"Why is that?"
"Just… trust me. I need to see her tonight."
"Alright, if you insist."
The smile that Salome gave him was blinding; he had seen her smile, of course, but never like this. Even when smiling, she had never seemed truly happy, but rather sad or secretive. Now she grinned wide and took his arm in hers as they started on their way. "If I'd known you'd have smiled like that I would have agreed to take you to see anyone you wanted, even if it was Robespierre himself." Céleste teased.
Salome laughed. "You had hated Raymonde last time I met you. You wouldn't have taken me to see her even if I had begged. So, what's changed?" It was her turn to tease.
Céleste blushed hotly at the implication. "Nothing!" He replied quickly. "Err, well, I mean nothing like that. I admire her, is all. I am a chevalier, it is my duty to the serve the monarchy even when I'd rather run away. But Raymonde doesn't have any obligations, and yet she refuses to leave the Queen's side even at her own peril. She's the bravest woman I've ever met."
"And pretty too, isn't she?"
Céleste wondered if he should just lie down on the street and wait for the embarrassment to kill him. "Good God, woman!" He spluttered. "There's a revolution going on! We can't think about things like that! Especially not about Raymonde!"
Sailor Pluto looked out anxiously at the guards and militiamen that were patrolling outside of the tavern. If she was ever going to unlock Céleste and Raymonde's memories, it had to be tonight. Tomorrow was August 9 and the deadline for the Legislative Assembly to formally dethrone the King and Queen. The beginning of the end.
"Close those curtains! They'll see you," Céleste commanded and Sailor Pluto pulled back to look at the Chevalier's face. "We'll have to wait for tomorrow night. They're on to me. It's too hot to go right now."
"No! It has to be tonight!" Sailor Pluto hissed.
"Do you have a better idea? Because I can't see any way of getting passed those guards!"
She was Sailor Pluto. If she wanted to she could stop time and then Céleste could simply waltzed to Tuileries. But she had gotten too deep into this timeline already. She had destroyed the palace of the first Emperor of China, drove him insane with the fear of his own death… she had had children with Wilhelm, for Chronos's sake, and who knows what that might eventually lead to. Those actions had been dangerous enough; the fall of the French monarchy, however, could not be meddled with. The Revolution was the base on which the future of European history rested on. Involving herself like this… it was like pulling at an errant thread in a sweater. You don't know where it led until it was already unraveled. Sailor Pluto could look through the door, out into the future, to see what and how something will happen, but she it still wouldn't tell her why. She could watch the simple life of a man missing the bus, having to share a taxi with another woman, only to later fall in love and marry that same woman. Sailor Pluto could point and say that it was only because he had missed the bus that they had fallen in love. It would be true, if he hadn't they would have never met, but she still wouldn't know that the only reason the woman had agreed to go on a date with him was because a friend had canceled their plans. There were too many strings to pull. Sailor Pluto couldn't become too involved in this period as well. She was… unnatural to this planet, to this time. She didn't belong here. She had only meant to awaken Serenity, she was never meant to become involved. She had promised she wouldn't it again. She refused.
But Céleste was a part of the timeline. He wasn't an aberration, unlike her. If Sailor Pluto became too involved, it might lead to a catastrophe- not just for the Earth or for this particular event, but for the whole of time itself. She was already playing a dangerous game trying to keep from looping back into her own timeline, from creating too many paradoxes. But Céleste…
"Listen to me, this is going to sound very strange, but I need you to do everything that I ask," Sailor Pluto commanded, turning to clasp Céleste's hands into her own. "I want you to say the words 'Moon Prism Power, Make-Up', okay?"
"What? Why?" Céleste asked.
"Please?" She could barely feel the faint echo of the Silver Crystal, even though they were touching skin-to-skin. Please let this work.
"Moon Prism Power, Make-Up," Céleste yelled.
There was nothing.
Sailor Pluto sank onto a chair. The only option left was for her to go out there and rescue Raymonde herself. One use of her Dead Scream attack and she would obliterate anything that stood in her way. And then what? The Tuileries Palace would be destroyed, there would be nothing for the militia to invade. What of the King and Queen? Would they then be able to escape and flee to Austria? Would they later mount a civil war and reclaim the French throne?
"You've been asking me to trust you this entire time." Céleste's indignant voice broke through Sailor Pluto's thoughts. She turned to look up at the man who was staring down at her with growing fear and anxiety. "I think it's time you started trusting me. What exactly is going on here?"
"I am an alien from the planet Pluto," she replied dully. "You are the reincarnation of the Moon Princess. Raymonde was your lover."
Céleste stood there for a moment, simply looking at her in confusion. "Wait. I used to be a girl?"
"Yes!" Sailor Pluto jumped up, her frustration mounting. Why couldn't anything happen the way she wanted to for once? "I have been trying to awaken your memories over and over again but you keep dying! And by tomorrow night I'll have failed again! Raymonde will be imprisoned and executed along with the King and Queen and anyone else who supported them!"
As Sailor Pluto screamed these last words a blinding white light filled the room. It flashed, nearly blinding the Sailor Soldier. Sailor Pluto blinked away the dark spots that danced in front of her vision before focusing on the man in front of her. Céleste… had changed. Gone were the simple clothes he had on merely moments ago, he was now garbed all in white. White breeches, white stockings, white jacket, white cape… topping it all was a white top hat and domino mask. He held a single scarlet pimpernel in his hand.
"What happened?" He asked as he twirled the small flower between his fingers.
"You… transformed." Not into a Sailor Soldier, it was true; he didn't have enough power for that. Sailor Pluto had never seen a soldier like him before. "Why?"
"I don't know. You just mentioned Raymonde being imprisoned and I felt… then this happened." He looked so scared and unsure.
"Céleste, you have a power inside of you. This transformation… it will let you run faster, jump farther. I need you to go. Go get Raymonde and bring her here. I'll be waiting."
Céleste left, the cape sweeping behind him as he glided out of the door. Sailor Pluto rushed to the window, peeking out from behind the curtain. She could just barely see the Chevalier's silhouette as he leapt onto the roof of a building, bounding away towards Tuileries.
Sailor Pluto waited and waited. She sat there in that little room until morning. When she saw the sun beginning to rise she finally admitted to herself that they were not going to come back. She hoped that they had been able to escape, to settle down somewhere in England and live out the rest of their lives together. She didn't go looking for them to find out.
Chapter 13: Chapter 12
"I want something different," Helena insisted as she her fingers through her thick blonde hair. "Can you pile it on top like those Gibson Girls? They're so pretty and sophisticated. I want to look just like them for when Edward arrives. Oh, I can't wait! You've never met my brother, have you? You'll love him! Everybody loves him."
Sailor Pluto nodded along as she concentrated on styling the girl's hair, only half-listening to her Princess's incessant prattle. She was too lost in her own memories to pay much attention. She remembered how she used to do this for Lady Zhinu, pulling and twisting the long silky strands into elaborate buns. Zhinu would always whine about how she would pull too hard. Sailor Pluto could never get her to sit still. The soldier shook the cobwebs from her mind and concentrated on the task at hand. Helena's hair was much too thick and curly to be mistaken for Zhinu's and instead of her colorless white Helena's was a dark blonde, almost brown. She was too different to ever be mistaken for her other incarnations, and she most certainly wasn't anything like Céleste, but Helena Knight was just as beautiful as any of them. Her face was round and chubby; at sixteen she had not yet shed her baby fat and her body was caught in-between the plump shape of her childhood and the curvy figure of the woman she would develop into. Rosy-cheeked, clear-eyed, and possessing a sweet demeanor, Helena was the epitome of nineteenth-century English beauty. Sailor Pluto always considered her Princess to be the loveliest no matter what body she came to her in, but this time it was different. Sailor Pluto had never paid much attention to her own looks. No one ever ventured to that dark dimension she resided in and those fools who did, who thought they could use the power of the Space-Time Door, came to a swift end by her hand. What was the point in caring about appearances when no ever saw her and lived?
Her apathy began to lessen when she came to Earth. Earth fashions had seemed downright decadent for a woman who had never worn anything but her Sailor Soldier uniform. She loved the feel of silk and velvet and cotton, the colors and lines and the way it formed around her body, the lace and ribbons and all the glittery accessories that she never had to decorate her drab form. She knew she was attractive, in an abstract sort of way. Zhinu had once assured her that many people in the Emperor's court found her to be pretty, though she had quietly amended that they also thought she looked very intimidating and scary. It had been the same in most other eras Sailor Pluto found herself in. No matter what country or century she was in, she seemed to inspire the same fear and awe in those she encountered. Except for this one.
Sailor Pluto ran the brush through Helena's hair, stealing a glance at her reflection in the mirror in front of her as she did. She examined her dark skin and wondered at how such a trivial thing could cause such feelings of disgust in others. She knew of racism, of course. A few of her neighbors in America had kept African slaves. But it had never directly affected her before. The Chinese considered Zhinu's pale, white skin to be more desirable than her own brown coloring, but then neither was she considered ugly for being too dark. In England she had been shunned, it was true, but more for her supposed magical powers than for any sort of bigotry. The villagers had probably been too afraid that she would turn them into toads if they dared disrespect her in such a way. There were rumors and malicious whispers in America and France about her skin color. They though she had American Indian blood in her, but even then they treated her as a freewoman and a wealthy one at that. For Earth people, money could make any perceived flaw disappear.
When she found Serenity in India in 1907 her only thought had been to find a way to get as close to her as possible. So, she went to the Knights and offered her services as their new ayah under the assumed name Ananta. She became a lady's maid to Helena, a very advantageous position, but one that left her vulnerable. The English looked past her, thinking her to be as simple as a child whose so-called barbaric impulses must reigned in. When they did notice her it was with a leer. They made comments about her, describing her as "exotic" and comparing notes on what they had learned on the sexuality of Indian women. It was disgusting and what was even worse she found herself unsure of how to react. She wanted to unravel their timelines, pluck them from their beds and leave them at the Space-Time Door for centuries until they were driven mad and then - and only then - would she return them, old and weary and insane, to their families who would have never even known that they were gone. She couldn't do this, of course, but she did think about it. Often. How else then could she protect herself? If she complained to Lady Knight then she would surely lose her job and the best way she had of getting close to the Princess. She asked the other servants, but they could only shrug helplessly at her questions. They had been dealing with this for decades, and it seemed that no matter how hard they struggled they could barely gain even an inch. The English had stripped them of their industries, of their wealth, and taken it all for themselves and to survive they must play the perfect servant or they were to perish. She would console them if she could, whisper secrets from the future, but she walked a fine line already.
There were things about Earth that Sailor Pluto loved, things that she could not believe she had ever lived without, but there were also times when the Earth people truly sickened her and she wondered at how Queen Serenity could have wanted her daughter to be reborn here of all places.
"I wonder what Edward looks like now," Helena mused as she admired her reflection. Sailor Pluto had only ever seen a few pictures of the mysterious Edward Knight, all taken before his tenth birthday, but Helena talked about him constantly. They had been the most faithful of playmates before Sir Knight shipped him off to boarding school in England at the age of eleven. That had been eight years ago and now that the prodigal son's return was close at hand the whole house had thrown themselves into such a state. The name on everyone's lips was Edward. His arrival wasn't expected for another week, but one wouldn't think it from the flurry the Knights had thrown themselves into. "I bet he's handsome. Ayah, this is perfect! Oh, but why did you put in those old pearl stick pins? Mother got me some new ones that are inlaid with opals. I think they'll look absolutely wonderful against the white peacock feathers on my mask"
Sailor Pluto adjusted the gold pins in her hair, angling them so that they created a halo-like effect. "These suit you better than the opals. Pearls are round and white; they are symbols of the Moon. Queen Selene IV wore a headdress made of two-thousand pearls."
Helena turned around at that and gave her a knowing look. "Are you going to tell me one of your fairy stories?"
"What makes you think they're just stories?" Sailor Pluto quipped with a secret smile.
Helena snorted. "I know people think I'm silly and childish, but I do know that no one lives on the Moon."
"Oh, of course not. At least, not anymore."
"You're teasing me!" Helena called after her as Sailor Pluto continued with her preparations. She needed Helena to look her best for the masquerade tonight. She could feel Endymion's soul drawing closer and closer; their reunion was close at hand. She's was going to get it right this time. She was going to make sure of it.
Helena curtsied to her partner and then practically bounced off of the dance floor to where Mother was speaking with Lady Grantham. She knew she was making a spectacle of herself, but she couldn't help it. She loved balls and dances and parties; she wished there was a ball every night. Helena eyed a waiter as he walked by with a serving tray full of glasses of wine, practically pouncing on the hapless man and carrying off her prize to where Mother looked on with disapproval.
Helena pushed up her itchy, feathered mask and gulped at the bittersweet liquid for only a few seconds before Mother quickly took the glass from her hands. "For goodness sake!" She snapped. "You sip wine! You do not guzzle it down! It is unattractive for ladies to be drunk in public."
Helena blinked in confusion at that. "So, it is perfectly fine to be drunk in private then?"
"Do not get smart with me, young lady," Mother hissed.
Helena pouted at that. Her mother was forever claiming that she was "talking back" and "being smart." Ha! Her mother was the only one in the world to think that. No one would ever claim that Miss Helena Knight was smart. The tears from her many governesses was a testament to that.
Lady Grantham giggled. "Oh, don't be so hard on her, Edith. This is her first year out in society. It's still all very new to you, isn't it?" She chucked Helena under the chin with one gloved hand.
Helena shot her Mother a very pointed look at that. If Lady Grantham approved then it couldn't be so bad. Her mother looked like she had swallowed a lemon at that, but she said nothing else to her, merely gulped her wine in the same way she had told Helena not to do. "How is your search for a new housekeeper coming along?" Mother finally asked after draining her glass.
Lady Grantham waved her hand in irritation. "Horrible. Why is it so hard to find good help in this country? I can't believe how selfish Mamdi was getting married like that! Didn't she think at all what her leaving would do to me? Honestly, it's not like her new husband can provide her with a better life than the one I gave her. I swear that is the last time I'll hire a native housekeeper. I'll ship one from England if I have to."
"It's rare, but sometimes you can find a good Indian worker," Mother replied. "Helena's new lady's maid is an excellent addition to the staff."
"Some people just have all the luck," Lady Grantham huffed out.
Helena had long grown bored of their conversation and had taken to scanning about the room in search of friends and handsome men whom she might be able to get a dance from. Her eyes landed on a tall, handsome stranger lurking in a corner. The white domino mask obscured his eyes, but he had soft brown hair, a strong chin, and a wry mouth. Helena quickly pushed her feathered mask back over her eyes and quickly made her way towards him, giggling all the while.
"Forgive me, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what your costume is supposed to be," Helena said as she came up to the man.
The poor fellow looked so awkward, but he smiled good-naturedly and pulled out the flower from his buttonhole and held it out to her. "I am the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"That is not a pimpernel. That is a rose."
"Yes, well, it's red and a flower, so close enough. Not everyone can have a dress made of white peacock feathers. I'm afraid I didn't have much time to get a costume ready. I've only just arrived today and like a fool my friend had talked me into coming here instead of going home. I had been hoping to surprise my family, but I'm afraid it's been too long since I last saw them and with all the masks..." He trailed off and shrugged.
"No matter, I'm sure we'll find them alright. In the meantime, however, I still have one or two empty slots on my dance card..." Helena grinned and clasped her hands behind her back, swaying back and forth as she stared up at him.
The poor man looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or roll his eyes. "I suppose that is my hint to ask you to dance? Well, then, Miss Peacock, let's get to the dance floor. They're starting up a waltz."
Helena took the arm he offered and walked with him. "After you, Mr. Pimpernel."
Despite how awkward and out-of-place he had looked hiding in the shadows, Mr. Pimpernel proved to be an exceptional dancer. Helena was by no means graceful and there might have been one or two times she accidentally treaded on his foot, but she liked to think that she made up for it with her enthusiasm and vivacity. Mr. Pimpernel obviously seemed to think so, because after their first dance he asked for another. And another.
Helena snagged a passing waiter and liberated some hors d'oeuvre from him, munching down as she strolled with Mr. Pimpernel through the gardens. Her mother was always telling her that boys liked it when girls ate like a bird, but she couldn't help that dancing made her hungry. Mr. Pimpernel didn't seem to mind. He just looked on with fondness and amusement, but not without a teasing comment to add. "I do believe those are meant to be tasted, not inhaled."
"You're just angry because I got the last one," she replied lightly, knowing that the teasing was all in good fun.
"You're an interesting woman, Miss Peacock." There was definitely a hint of affection in his voice.
Helena smiled brightly up at him. "Just interesting? Not beautiful? Charming? Lovely?"
"Well, I don't want to appear like a cad."
"That's alright. Even if you don't say them, I know you're thinking it." Mr. Pimpernel laughed at that, but Helena plowed on. "In fact, I've thinking the same things about you. You can kiss me if you want."
His laughter stopped so suddenly that Helena was worried he had bitten off his tongue. He looked at her with shock and amazement. "What do you know of kissing?" He asked incredulously.
Helena waved him off. "Oh, I know a great deal. I haven't actually had the pleasure of experiencing it myself, but I've read enough books that I think I can make a decent go of it."
"Is that so?"
"Oh, yes, I-" Helena never got to finish her statement for just then Mr. Pimpernel swooped down and pressed his lips to hers. Her books had always described that first kiss as magical, and it certainly was that, but it was also terrifying. She tried to gasp but her corset restricted her breathing and she was worried that she might pass out. Or throw up on him.
Luckily Mr. Pimpernel pulled back before Helena could ruin her first kiss by vomiting on the gentleman. She opened her eyes - and when had she closed them? - to stare up at the man. Now that they were this close she could see that his eyes were a light brown. "Would it be alright..." He hesitated, unsure. "To call on you? I know this is rather sudden. I-I don't even know your name, but-"
"Yes!" Helena said a little too loudly. "I mean, I would like that very much. I simply must introduce you to Mother and Father. Oh, and next week you'll be able to meet my brother Edward!"
Suddenly Mr. Pimpernel was jerking his head back, far away from her. "You have a brother named Edward? And he's supposed to come here next week?"
"Yes, from England. He's been at boarding school for eight years now."
His face drained of all color and he shakily pulled off his mask to fully reveal his handsome face. He looked a little familiar. He mentioned having family here; had he visited India before? Helena frowned at him, wondering at what could cause such a reaction. "Helena?" He breathed out.
Helena was jumping back like she had bitten by a snake, suddenly all too aware of why this man seemed so familiar to her. She shook her head in revulsion and before he could say anything else she took off running. All she wanted was to get as far away from Edward as possible.
Chapter 14: Chapter 13
When the family returned later that night Sailor Pluto knew what had transpired. A sick feeling rose in the pit of her stomach as she looked at Serenity and Endymion's pale, ashen faces and the way they flinched and avoided each other, the disgust evident on their faces. Their parents remained oblivious. Sir Knight was enthusiastically thumping his son on the back, crowing about the splendid joke he had played by showing up at the ball like he had, while Lady Knight cooed at her darling child that had finally returned to her, pushing Helena off to the side. To think that Prince Endymion would be reincarnated as Serenity's brother Edward... it was painful to think about.
Edward managed to extricate himself from his parents' embrace, claiming weariness from the long trip, and slunk off to his old bedroom. Helena quickly made her own excuses and darted off. The loud slamming of her bedroom door told Sailor Pluto that the girl was in no mood for company, but she faced worse things than a petulant teenager. "Miss Knight?" Sailor Pluto called out gently as she entered.
Helena had thrown herself on top of her bed, wrinkling her dress and sending her delicate pearl stick pins scattering across the pillows and floor. She could hear deep sobbing breaths, barely muffled by the sheets. Thoughts of her own daughters - Emeline and Leonore - rose unbidden in her mind and without even thinking Sailor Pluto found herself kneeling beside the girl and gently stroking her hair, all in hopes of soothing away her pain. "What happened? Did young Mr. Knight have something to do with it?" Sailor Pluto asked.
"I didn't know it was Edward!" Helena cried. "It's not my fault! And anyway, he kissed me!"
Sailor Pluto pulled Helena into a sitting position so that she could sit beside her. The girl threw her arms around the Sailor Soldier's neck and sobbed into her neck. Sailor Pluto pulled her into an embrace, giving her the comfort she needed. "It seems to me that it was all just an accident. A terrible mistake. You did nothing wrong- you're not wrong. I'm sure Edward doesn't blame you. It's alright; everything can go back to the way it was before."
Helena seemed to calm down at that, but she still held on tightly. Finally, hesitantly, she whispered, "But... when I look at him... I still get that funny feeling in my stomach... the one that I felt when I saw him standing there at the ball. How do I make that go away?"
Sailor Pluto sighed. Of all the things they had endured, why did this have to happen to them as well?
"Don't make me go out there! Please!"
Sailor Pluto sighed and patted Helena on the head, nodding in acquiescence as the girl beamed up at her and dove back under her covers. Sailor Pluto looked down on her fondly as she closed the door behind her, making her way down to the breakfast room.
"Where is Helena?" Sir Knight exclaimed when he saw the servant in place of his daughter.
"She is feeling unwell, sayib," Sailor Pluto explained, taking careful note of the way Edward suddenly blanched at his sister's name.
Lady Knight snorted out that. "Hungover, more like. You should have seen the way she was guzzling down her drinks! I swear, I just don't know what I'm going to do with her. Oh, very well, go on and tell cook and you can take her breakfast up to her."
Sailor Pluto nodded as she swept out of the room, giving Edward one last glance behind her shoulder as she went but he continued to stare resolutely down at his breakfast.
Sailor Pluto was making her way back towards Helena's bedroom, her arms laden with a silver tray, when she heard voices coming from the dining room. They seemed oddly familiar, though she couldn't say where she had heard them before. More than that, she felt a tug on her soul, the same one she felt when she was near the Princess, the call of one Sailor Soldier to another. Gently making her way to the door, Sailor Pluto peeked through and saw a man and a woman seated at the table with the Knights.
"If I had known that you were still breakfasting I would have called later," the man said with an easy smile. He was a beautiful with blond hair and blue eyes and a distinctly feminine face. The woman seated beside him was even lovelier, her hair dark and wavy and her eyes were a very striking sea green color.
"Nonsense," Sir Knight stated. "We've all had a late morning, so I believe the fault to be ours. Edward, let me introduce you to Windsor Kingsley, a Company man, and his wife, Maria. Kingsley, this is my boy Edward, just returned from boarding school."
Sailor Pluto knew exactly who they were, but she couldn't accept it. It didn't make any sense. She could tell now that the mysterious gentleman was not, in fact, a man at all, but a woman. The disguise was so complete that the Soldier doubted anyone suspected her true gender; well, everyone aside from her wife, that is. It would be a hard thing to miss in the marriage bed, after all. There was no mistaking them. Seated in her own dining room was Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune.
Sailor Pluto didn't even feel the tray slipping from her numb fingers and crashing onto the floor. She had seen her death, and Neptune's, and Uranus's. She had seen them summon Sailor Saturn and had watched as the Soldier of Destruction obliterated all that was left of the Moon Kingdom, including the Soldiers that had called her. They had been killed after Queen Serenity's own death and the spell she had cast that had sent the souls of her daughter and friends to Earth to be reincarnated. They shouldn't be here. The spell shouldn't have affected them. Their souls should have been destroyed far away in the dark edges of the solar system. If Neptune and Uranus had been reincarnated, then that could only mean that Pluto - that she - had also been reborn. Her own mortal doppelgänger could even be here, in Bombay.
Sailor Pluto came back to herself at the sudden reprimand from Lady Knight. She realized what she had done and fell to her knees, carefully picking up the scattered food and broken porcelain, and all the while the lady continued to berate her for her stupidity.
Sailor Pluto looked up from her cleaning to see Edward's pained and embarrassed expression. He waltzed over to her and began to help, ignoring his mother's exclamations.
"Thank you," she muttered and tried to ignore the way his fingers brushed against hers.
"Let me carry it for you. I wanted to speak with Helena," he said, his face flushing scarlet at the mere thought of confronting his sister.
Sailor Pluto nodded and followed the man up the stairs. He kept shooting her suspicious glances the entire way and opening and closing his mouth like there was something he wanted to say. "Did she..." He finally began, haltingly. "Did she tell you anything... about what happened?"
"Some," Sailor Pluto replied ominously.
Edward flinched at that and nodded. "I didn't realize it was her, I swear. Does... does she hate me?"
"I don't think she could ever hate you."
He looked relieved, even if not quite convinced. When they came in front of Helena's door he apparantly got cold feet for he thrust the tray towards her and mumbled out his apologies before rushing off. Before Sailor Pluto could knock the door swung wildly open and Helena's face popped out, looking all around the hall. "I thought I heard Edward at the door," she explained, hope evident in her voice.
"Yes, he was here. He feels as awful as you about what happened." Sailor Pluto passed the tray to her and stepped inside, noting the wilted look that came over the girl at what was supposed to be a comforting statement.
Sailor Pluto sighed in exasperation. Helena and Edward had been avoiding each other for a month now with no hope of ever reconciling in the near future. When forced into the same room together, they barely said a word to each other, but Sailor Pluto caught the looks they sent when they thought the other wasn't looking. They looked at each other with sorrow and longing and horror. Like all the others, this attempt had been a failure as well. How many centuries must pass before the Princess could awaken? She was beginning to regret ever embarking on this mission; she should have listened to her father and let things happen in their own time.
Edward made sure to speak with the Sailor Soldier almost every day. At first, it was merely to assure himself that his sister did not hate them, that she still thought kindly of him, but it had eventually evolved into a tentative friendship. She was a servant in this timeline and her dark skin proclaimed her to be a native, even if it wasn't true; Edward really had no idea of how to go about being her friend, but he tried. She wanted to push him away, to remind him of their different stations. She could be fired for something like this and then how would she be able to complete her mission? He persisted, however, and Sailor Pluto didn't have it in her heart to turn him away. Dormant feelings that she had tried to quash began to stir once more every time he came to her to talk. It was maddening; she should have better control of herself. She would always be a Soldier first, a woman second.
"You know, you could always ask her yourself if you are afraid she doesn't love you anymore," Sailor Pluto commented, interrupting another one of Edward's long monologues of self-doubt and loathing.
Edward blushed hotly and turned to avoid her gaze. "It's more than that, though," he said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"I find that... I don't really want her to love me like a brother any longer. I mean, she really hasn't been my sister in years. She's almost like a stranger to me, and I can't help but be drawn to her in an unnatural way. A way that no brother should be drawn to his sister." He rubbed his eyes, as though trying to unsee whatever unbidden images rose in his head at thoughts of his sister.
"Endy- Edward," Sailor Pluto corrected. "It's not your fault. Or her's." How could she explain to him that they were reincarnated lovers?
"No," Edward shook his head. "You can't try to justify it. Thank you for trying to make me feel better, but I know what is right and good and proper and what I am feeling right now is none of those things."
"What are you going to do then?
Hesitantly, Edward approached her. "I need to find someone new. Someone who won't remind me of her. I... I've been thinking about this a lot and... you're really a wonderful woman, Ananta. I don't think I've ever met someone as understanding as you. Maybe if I had met you first... I don't know. I know it will cause a scandal, I know I could be disowned, but... I would like it if you married me."
Sailor Pluto reeled back as though she had been slapped. She loved Endymion, it was true, but she had never wanted this. She and Wilhelm had come together through their mutual grief. They had been friends and companions for years before they had ever been husband and wife. She had known that Ellyn had always been first in his heart, but Sailor Pluto had also been aware that she had held her own special place there as well. But what Edward was suggesting... using her as a replacement... as a way to drive thoughts of Helena from his mind and as a wedge between him and his family, an excuse to avoid them... It was infuriating. She was no one's replacement. If Edward had loved her on her own, Sailor Pluto wasn't sure if she would have had the strength to push him away, but he didn't and she wouldn't be insulted like this.
They heard a gasp and a clatter and the two whipped their heads just in time to see snatches of blue silk and blonde curls dart through a door. Helena had heard everything.
Chapter 15: Chapter 14
Warning! This chapter contains slurs.
Helena sobbed behind her locked door. She should have never listened to Ananta. She had lied to her, assuring her that Edward did not hate her, all the while driving a wedge between him and his family. Edward really did despise her, she knew it. Why else would he want to run away from his family just to elope with some servant? Helena was sure he would have forgiven her in time if only Ananta hadn't been there to whisper poison in his ear. She would not allow her brother to fall victim to Ananta's sinister plot. Helena angrily wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up. She had to protect him; it was her duty.
She strode from her room with her head up high and tears still in her eyes. She walked down the long hallway and entered her parents' sitting room. They looked up, newspaper and embroidery frozen in their hands, in shock at her sudden and bold appearance. "Helena, what's wrong?" Her father asked, just as her mother let out a frustrated sigh and demanded, "Well, what is it?"
"There's something I think you should know."
Sailor Pluto leapt out of bed before she even knew what was happening. The young maid who shared her room tumbled out after her at the sound of their lord and master's great booming voice echoing through the entire servants' quarters. The little maid ducked into the hallway, cowering behind the soldier, as Sir Knight ransacked their room. He was grabbing everything that belonged to "Ananta" and shoving them into a suitcase with a furious zealousness. "I want you gone, now! And you won't be getting any recommendation from me, you little whore!"
Sailor Pluto looked at the man in bemusement. She had been called a witch, a demon, and all manner of racist epithets, but that one was a new one. Her right hand clenched, wanting to feel the heavy weight of the Time Staff in her grip. How dare this mortal call her such a thing?
"Father!" Edward burst into the room, his mother on his heels and Helena trailing listlessly behind. "Stop! She didn't do anything! I asked her to marry me!"
Sir Knight stopped and stared at him in horror. His face drained of all color and for a moment Sailor Pluto thought he was going to faint. But just as suddenly he flushed, his skin turning a brilliant scarlet as his anger overcame him. "I will not allow my son to marry some darkie slut," he ground out dangerously.
Edward threw a glance at her, almost questioning, before his face hardened and he looked at his father once. "That's not your decision to make," he replied quietly, but no less forcefully.
"Then you are no son of mine!"
"Then I'm no son of yours," Edward agreed. "If she leaves, then I leave."
"You can't be serious!" Helena protested, her voice shaking with fear.
Edward whipped around to face her, his normally calm face twisted up with rage. "Don't," he hissed. "I know it was you who told, I- Just, don't."
Helena reared back as though she had been slapped. She blinked rapidly as the tears welled up in her eyes and with a choked gasp she fled. None of them spared her a second glance.
Sir Knight looked at his son pleadingly, quietly begging him with his eyes to change his mind. But instead of saying any of this, he threatened him in a wavering voice, "If you leave then I will disown you. You won't get one single red cent from me!"
Edward just stared at his father with a look that spoke of pity and disgust. He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could say anything a loud thud! was heard from somewhere down below, followed by a mangled scream. Sailor Pluto was flying out of the servants' quarters and down the attic stairs, Edward by her elbow and with her every step. When they came to the dining room they stopped in horror at the sight before them. The cook that had found her shrank away from the terrible sight, leaving the two of them to face this on their own. Helena swung gently from the chandelier, a noose haphazardly made from an old sheet, a chair tipped over.
A strange sound passed through Edward's lips. It was a gasping, horrid sound, like a scream being strangled. He reached out to touch Helena's dress just as Sir and Lady Knight entered the room. Sailor Pluto turned and left, ignoring the keening wails of Lady Knight and the desperate clutching of Edward and his father. She was tired. No matter how hard she tried her plans always slipped through her fingers. She commanded time; why couldn't she command this? She was done. It may have taken her longer than it should, but she had finally learned her lesson. She wouldn't meddle any longer. She would return to her dead planet and spend the rest of eternity guarding the Space-Time Door, as was her duty. She would put away her hopes, lock them up and carry on. There was just one last thing she wanted to do.
Lucia Wagner cuddled the cat close to her chest. Those boys had been so horrible to it, teasing it and pulling its tail like that; the poor thing was lucky that she had come upon them when she did. It astounded her just how mean some people could be. Lucia quietly entered her house, cat in tow, and snuck upstairs. Her parents would throw a fit if they found out she had brought home a cat. As soon as she had shut her bedroom door behind her she dumped the little calico kitten onto her bed and began to change out of her Hitler Youth uniform.
She had just taken off her shoes when she noticed a dark shadow pass through her bedroom. Lucia looked up to see a strange woman standing in front of her. With a yelp, she dove behind her bed, the kitten hissing at the bizarre figure standing there so serenely. Lucia carefully peeked over her pillow at the strange dark-skinned woman. She was wearing some sort of sailor uniform and carried a large silver staff in her hand. Her face was as impassive as stone and she stared down at Lucia with garnet eyes that looked far too old for her young face. "Lucia," the woman said and the girl gulped. How did this woman know her name? She ducked back down and hoped that if she just shut her eyes this would all go away. "Lucia, I am not here to hurt you," she said.
Ha! Like she was going to fall for that!
"I have something to tell you."
"What?" Lucia winced when she heard her own voice come trembling out of her mouth. She nearly slapped herself; you don't encourage the crazy woman!
"That you are good and powerful and better than what you are now."
Lucia hesitantly lifted her head at that. "What do you mean?" She asked warily.
"I think you know what I mean. You've heard the rumors, haven't you? The camps, the executions... Is that really something you want to be a part of?"
Lucia spluttered for a moment, trying to come up with something to say. "Those people..." She trailed off, floundering. "They deserved it," she finally said with more conviction. "They're evil and inferior and they want to destroy us."
The woman gave her a sad smile and shook her head. "You've already lost so much, and you don't even know it. The boy you were destined to love is on a train right now, heading towards Auschwitz."
Lucia could only stare at her. How could she say something like that? Who was she anyway? "I could never love a traitor," she bit out, daring the woman to contradict her.
The woman sighed. "I knew it was hopeless, but I wanted tell you, in hopes that maybe your future incarnations will remember it. There is something special inside of you, but you will never find it if you are not brave and kind and loving."
Then she was gone.
Lucia stared at the four girls in front of her. Who would have ever imagined that these teenager girls could ever be resistance fighters? There was Marina, sweet and smart and completely unassuming. An expert code breaker. Edith, dark and beautiful and queenly. Her specialty was explosives and she could make a mean Molotov cocktail. Silvia, a tall and busty brunette. A fighter, a warrior, a big sister. And then there was Zlota, their leader. She smiled at Lucia as she welcomed her into their headquarters. It was a beautiful smile, one that somehow managed to mask the horrors she had seen in Auschwitz. She wanted to ask her if she had seen the boy there, the boy that strange woman had told her was meant to be her true love. But she didn't know what he looked like or what his name was. She had never even met him. She shouldn't feel this strange sense of loss when she thought of the woman's haunting words.
Lucia smiled as she was greeted by this small band of resistance fighters. She would prove to that woman that she was brave and good and special, just like she said.
Chapter 16: Epilogue
In case anyone missed it, I posted two chapters together this time: Chapter 14 and the Epilogue. This is it, the last chapter. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Sailor Pluto stepped into the Void. It was only a mere moment ago that she had left to seek out the Princess in ancient China, and yet lifetimes had passed. She was older and wiser. She understood now.
And so she waited and she waited and she waited.
Time had no meaning in the Void. It was impossible to say how long she stood there, guarding the Space-Time Door. All she knew was that one day - one year, one second, one lifetime - she heard a little voice call out through the mist.
Sailor Pluto saw a little pink-haired girl approach her cautiously. She recognized her immediately and knelt down to greet her. "Hello," she replied with a soft smile. "Who might you be?"
The princess smiled hesitantly back. "My name is Princess Serenity," she said quietly. "My mama is the Queen. Do you know her?"
"Oh, yes," Sailor Pluto said with mock solemnity. "Neo-Queen Serenity is my liege-lady. I am her loyal vassal, Sailor Pluto."
The little princess put her hands on her hips and looked up at her skeptically. "I've never heard of you before. What's your real name?"
Sailor Pluto stared in surprise at the strange question. No one had ever asked her that before. "I have been known by many names: Meng Po... Sibyll... Delphia... Salome... Ananta..."
"But which one is your real name?"
Sailor Pluto smiled sadly. "I'm afraid I don't have one. I am simply Sailor Pluto."
"Well, I can't call you that all the time. I think I'll call you Puu. Is that alright?" The little princess looked at her shyly.
Sailor Pluto nodded her head. "I would like that."
"So, now we're friends, okay?" The princess insisted. She then took a moment to really look around her. "Where am I?" She asked.
"You are in the Void."
"Oh. Do you live here?"
Sailor Pluto laughed. "Yes. I live here."
The princess regarded the mists skeptically, as though not quite believing her. "Where's your house then?"
"I don't have a house."
"Then where do you sleep?"
"I don't sleep."
The little girl huffed and folded her arms. "You're lying. Everybody sleeps."
Sailor Pluto shook her head. "I don't. At least, I don't have to when I'm here. I'm too busy to sleep. My job is to guard the Space-Time Door. If I don't watch it then dinosaurs might fall out of the sky and land in Tokyo."
The girl dropped her arms and gaped at her. "Really?" She squeaked.
Sailor Pluto laughed again and stood up, holding out her hand. "Do you wish to see it?"
With a wide grin the princess clasped on and began to babble incessantly. Sailor Pluto led her to the Door and opened it, revealing the Earth's primeval past. The princess gasped as she watched a herd of triceratops make their way towards a river to drink.
Small Lady licked her ice cream as she held onto Sailor Pluto's hand. The Plutonian smiled indulgently down at her as she led the little girl through the crowd. She reminded her of Emeline and Leonore, and even of Serenity in all her different incarnations in a way. Sailor Pluto could even see a little of her rowdy James in the girl. Sailor Pluto sighed as the thought tugged at her heart. She wanted to make this trip special. Small Lady deserved it. It would be their very last one.
She nodded at the gentlemen who tipped their hats in their direction and gallantly offered the pair a better view. They assumed from her long black skirts and high, modest collar that she was a widow left with a young child. Not once did it ever cross their minds that she might simply like the color.
She didn't bother to correct them, though. She wanted Small Lady to see everything. Small Lady watched rapturously as a handsome man with a thin moustache came onto the stage. His electric generators were already charged and with a dramatic flourish he raised his hands above his head and shot lightening from his fingertips.
Small Lady stood there transfixed with her tongue still halfway out, her ice cream completely forgotten, as she watched Nikola Tesla strut across the stage like a magician.
It was night by the time they began to make their way down the illuminated street. They passed by crowds gawking and pointing at how the hundreds of lamps blocked out the stars in the night sky. Small Lady swung their joined hands through the air as she hummed tunelessly. "Did you enjoy the World's Fair?" Sailor Pluto asked. "You seemed to like Tesla's show."
"I've seen Sailor Jupiter shoot real lightening from her fingers," Small Lady replied with a toss of her pink hair. The girl liked to pretend that she was so very grown up and far too sophisticated for things like magic shows. Sailor Pluto smiled, but didn't say anything. She had seen the expression on her face as they had watched the show. Small Lady couldn't fool her.
Sailor Pluto took her back into the Void and with a wave Small Lady raced through the mist back to where her mother and father were waiting in Crystal Tokyo. She didn't know it, but nothing would be the same ever again. Tomorrow, Crystal Tokyo will be attacked by the terrorist group known as Black Moon. But that was tomorrow.
Today, though, was the day Sailor Pluto was meant to die.
Sailor Pluto threw open the Door and stepped out to meet Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune just after the fall of the Silver Millennium. She had put this off long enough. Together their Talismans summoned Sailor Saturn and with the last remnants of the fallen Moon Kingdom, Sailor Pluto was destroyed.
But she knew she wouldn't stop there.
It was a beautiful spring day when Setsuna Meioh awoke and suddenly knew it was time to seek out Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. She had been waiting for this day her entire life, ever since she had discovered that she possessed the ability to transform into Sailor Pluto. She had always known she was different from other people. She had always felt... older than she ought to be, she supposed. Even her parents had often remarked upon how strange and ancient she seemed. She made people uncomfortable with her silence and her calm, placid expressions. Once, a young Buddhist had asked if she had reached Enlightenment. No, she had replied, she had just seen everything.
She had transformed and journeyed into the Void where she had discovered the Space-Time Door. She threw it open and saw her own life, a life that spanned as long as time itself. She saw her past. She could see everything that had transpired before and after. She saw the birth of Sailor Pluto, her death, and her reincarnation. She saw Emeline and James and Leonore grow old and die. They had children, and their children had children, and so on. She watched her ancient descendants spread across Europe. There was one, Ambrosio Maria Moreno, a Portuguese trader, who sailed to Japan and never left. He stayed and married and had many children. They had children and eventually they gave birth to her, their own ancestor.
Setsuna had laughed at that.
But then she saw her future. She saw the moment when she would meet Haruka and Michiru and Hotaru. All her life she had been different. She found she was unable to make friendships, to truly be close to people. Even her own parents were held at arm's length. She was so lonely.
And then she saw them. Her family. All she had to do was wait.
She stayed with them for a long time. Centuries. She never wanted to leave them, but the moment Neo-Queen Serenity pressed the newborn infant Small Lady into her arms she knew that this time was over.
She returned to the Void and she waited and she waited and she waited.
And then one day she met Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Venus. They pleaded with her, begged her to help them.
And she knew it was the end. Finally, everything was going to stop. She wondered what it would be like when she ceased to exist, even though she knew that it was impossible for her to do so. Even when she was dead, she would still be alive in another, different moment of time.
It was the Plutonian way.
She looked into the faces of Black Lady, Sailor Moon, and... King Endymion. "... I carried out my mission with honor..." Sailor Pluto gasped. "Endymion... your face is so close... Don't look so sad... Your lavender cape... Beautiful violet of sunset... Endymion..."