Djoric follows her into one of the smaller temples. It’s a single room inside. Dark, raw stone hollowed into a wide open space, with nearly a hundred windows carved out of the walls to allow for optimal penetration of natural light. Its plainness is juxtaposed with a sprawling, brightly painted altar of wood, clay and brass located in its centre. “So you’ve come to Ganymede to escape,” he says, following her as they continue their conversation from outside.
She sits herself on her knees in front of the altar, placing a bouquet of yellow flowers at the feet of a golden and rotund laughing god. “Yes.” A silver bowl dangles from the ceiling by a long, metal chain. She snaps her fingers and the incense nestled within sets itself alight. “But only for a little while.”
Fascinated, he watches the tiny fire die as quickly as it was ignited, leaving a plume of scented smoke to waft in the currents of a mild, humid breeze. She’s done it all without even a glance.
With his ability to pierce into the hidden emotions of others he’d once thought himself and his fellow gifted Shitennou as being too strong, he’d believed humans were not built to wield such magic, that inevitably it would twist from blessing to curse and they would all suffer for it. Now that he knows there are beings in the solar system as powerful as gods themselves, he has fears of a very different kind. “And what is it, exactly, that you’re running away from?”
Her chest rises and falls as she takes in a meditative breath. “If we are going to keep our agreement of anonymity, Terran, I cannot tell you that,” she says before bowing to touch her forehead to the stone floor.
He wonders what force could be so omnipotent as to override this woman’s will, and make her so unhappy that she would leave her home for another planet altogether. “You’re rich, or at least highly ranked.”
“I’ve never said that,” she says as she lifts her head and then lowers it back down.
“You didn’t have to.”
“I am not wearing rich clothes, and as you can see, the disciples who live here survive entirely through their own labour. This,” she says, looking at the idol, “is the most expensive thing in the entire jungle.”
She could be covered in dirt and it wouldn’t disguise the nobility in her. “More valuable than even the shuttle out there?” He kneels as well. “I assume it’s yours. Is Mars so wealthy that every citizen owns a spaceship?”
“No, they do not,” she says, her smile telling him she knows her attempt to cover is feeble at best. “Nor does it belong to me, I’ve borrowed it from a friend.”
“Well, your friend has loaned you a ship that can’t sail, I don’t know what that says about them, but I, at least, am grateful.” He watches her bow a third time - delighting in the way the light from the windows slices across her seemingly black hair, revealing it to be a wine-dark maroon.
“You’re very used to getting what you want, Terran.” She does not need to say anymore about his prodding for information to make her point. “And the one who loaned me the ship is the very best of friends.”
“I apologise,” he says, having genuinely not meant to offend, “my aim wasn’t to manipulate your home’s secrets out of you, I just...” It’s ridiculous of him to want to rescue her from whatever pain she’s in. She hasn’t asked him to, and he couldn’t anyway, even if she had. “Ganymede is a Jovian moon?”
“We’re some distance from Mars, then. It’s a long way to run from whatever it is that’s hurting you.” It’s a bold statement, but she doesn’t seem to mind when he makes those, so long as he keeps within the boundaries of their pact and - as he’s just learnt - he doesn’t insult her friends.
She stands with fluid grace. “Earth is even further away than that.”
He makes to get up, but finds his body is too weak to do so unaided. “There’s a difference. I’m not here on purpose.” He does not resist when she kneels at his side, placing his injured arm carefully over her shoulders and hugging him by the waist.
Her mouth is close enough that he can feel her breath on the shell of his ear. “Someone pushed you into that portal, did they?”
He’s already told her that they’d been experimenting with the ancient tech, that the gate had been stumbled upon entirely by accident and that he was chosen as a test subject. He does not tell her who initially found the portal gate, or that his nocuously curious prince had been pushing its secret development because some mystery dream woman had supposedly led him to it.
He also does not reveal that he was only chosen as the test subject because he volunteered. “Who says they didn’t?” he quips, looking at the statue.
“You’re eagre enough to return home. You don’t sound like someone who was betrayed by his own people.”
“Maybe I just want to go back so I can get my revenge.”
She’s still holding onto his waist with one hand, and his wrist on her shoulder with the other. She’s not fooled by his teasing. “You forget, Terran: you were in a feverish coma for two weeks. Not once in your deluded mutterings did you ever suggest such a thing.”
He hates the idea that he might have inadvertently put Endymion at risk, that his own weakness - nothing but an immature desire to run from his responsibility - has now separated him from the only thing he loves and believes in. “What exactly did I say?”
“Enough, I suppose, that if I knew anything about Earth, I could probably find out who you really are, but we’ve made promises to each other, and I have no intention of breaking faith with you, not unless you betray me first.”
He turns to look at her then. “Fair enough,” he says. “If we cannot reopen the portal gate, will you take me to Mars when you go?”
Her eyes leave his under the guise of her readying to lift him, but he’s not surprised at her evasion. Before he’d stepped through and landed himself in an alien jungle, the legends of his childhood had been mere fiction. Yet from the pieces he’s gathered, it seems the rest of the system is very much aware of Earth’s existence, and she won’t tell him how, nor why they’ve never made contact. He wonders if there was ever going to be such an intention and, more worryingly, what consequence she would face - and him suffer - were he to be taken back to Mars with her.
She must at least be considering the possibility of abandoning him here, weighing what could happen to them on Mars against that of his spending a lifetime trapped on Ganymede with less than twenty other priests and gods he does not know. He doesn't blame her for it. He would be doing the same.
“There’s little point thinking about such things until the mesosphere clears.” They stand up together. “With no electrical power there’s nothing to be done with either the portal or the ship,” she says, signalling the end to this particular conversation. “In the meantime, you could use a bath.”
He grins, thinking it cute when she scrunches her nose. “I won’t say no to that, Martian.”
The capital is a melange of old, new and functional. Djoric thinks it lacks some of the cultural interest and natural beauty of other cities he’s seen here, but it makes up for it by having more vast and important structures than he’s ever known to exist in one place: palaces, temples, government buildings, universities, military bases. This is the epicentre of Martian power, and it makes no attempt to shy away from its own importance.
If she were to be found anywhere it would be here, he’s sure of it. She’d been distressed by the idea of her inevitable return to her homeworld, bearing the pain of it even worse than that of their separation. Now that he sees the capital for himself - as magnificent as it might be - he doesn’t think it suits her at all. She’d loved the wildness of nature on Ganymede, the independence of the people who lived in the temple, demanding no more of her than her contribution for her stay. She’d felt free enough there to drop her guard, to live by her own will, and to fall with him into love.
But this city, more so than any other he’s visited, is rigid, exigent. It owns its people, locking them in with great stone walls, a hot dust in the air drying them out. She would hate to be here, and from how she dreaded her homecoming, he can only conclude that this must be the place she calls home.
“What does the Jadeite of Earth think of Kartikeya?”
Djoric picks up the tea cup from the little table in front of him, taking his time to savour the drink before he answers. “It creates an impression,” he says eventually.
His companion is silver-haired, showing his age. He is violet eyed, which is a common feature, apparently, in Martians from the central region - yet more evidence that this is where his long lost lover must be from.
The man, Dusadi, appears to be a mid-level politician - which is not unexpected given that he’s currently acting as a glorified tour guide and handler. It wouldn’t make sense for someone of higher rank to shepherd a national guest from city to city, even one so rare and suspicious as a Terran. Still, Dusadi’s been decent company: he’s relatively astute, although he’s also very typically Martian - stubborn, keeping all things close to the chest and yet balking at the idea of seemingly being duplicitous in any way. He’s taught Djoric much about the planet, more than she was ever willing to divulge during the time they’d shared together - but that was the pact they’d made, so he doesn’t hold it against her.
“It appears the Jadeite has more in common with Martian culture than we realise.”
That interests him. “How so?”
The older man picks up his tea as well and takes a small sip. “He leaves much unsaid.”
Djoric hums instead of answering and then leans into his chair to take in the view provided by the full length window of their transport vessel. Kartikeya might lie on the coast but whichever direction he looks, he finds himself staring out into a completely different world. To his left, the east, is the edge of the city he’s just entered, its borders are guarded by enormous stone gates, aggressively ornate and colourfully painted. Beyond them is flat rock, dry air and patches of thick, deciduous vegetation.
In front of him, as they head south to the centre of the capital, there are buildings, buildings, buildings, higher than any he’s ever thought possible, and each of them different - evidence of shifting architectural trends as time passed and the city grew - but they all share a feature he’s seen everywhere on Mars: tall, thin spires topping their roofs, sometimes one, sometimes more. “The needles on your buildings,” he says, “we have similar things in some regions on Earth. I wonder if their purposes are the same.”
“If you tell me your story,” Dusadi says, “I shall reveal mine.”
He’s happy to oblige. “Being long and thin they represent the sword, spear and arrow. Weapons which have each killed demons.” He remembers he’d told her that once, to alleviate her guilt for her having accidentally shot him while she’d been hunting. He’d said she’d cleansed his soul, and then she’d shoved him into the bathing pool for his having said something so trite. “People place them on their homes to scare away evil spirits.”
Dusadi nods. “It is interesting that you called them needles because that is what they are. Our old gods were huge, and we are not. We used to put needles on top of our buildings because we didn’t want them to step on us. Now it’s simply a superstitious act. Even though our belief system has long changed, it seems the old ways have managed to preserve themselves in some form.”
Djoric smiles, amused at the explanation, but he prefers his story. Behind him, to the north, is a sparkling horizon, the ever-present palette of sunset in the sea. “I assume that’s saltwater.”
“Then where does the majority of the planet’s drinking supply come from?” Mars is divided into two. The Lowlands, which make up the northern hemisphere, are actually hundreds of inhabited islands dotted amongst a single, massive ocean, known to them as The Great Sea. The southern hemisphere is called the Highlands. It’s all striped deserts and red mountains, flat yellow plains as far as the eye can see, rivers and a few, large, freshwater lakes, but not nearly enough to sustain their population.
“Most of it can be found underground.”
He thinks back to when they visited a mining town. “I was under the impression they were extracting metal in Khud.”
“They are. But that city is near its own lake. Most rely on sub-soil rivers to survive.”
“Is there enough?”
“More than. Water is not a precious commodity here, not like on Venus.”
Djoric already knows what drives their economy. To his distant right, and thus the west, black, ugly masses soar to heights far above the ashen clouds they vomit out. Dividing the two hemispheres, lining the equatorial coast, is a chain of volcanoes that would make Terran ones seem like harmless hills in comparison. They are the main source of Mars’ riches: fertile soil for their surrounding mauve forests and crops; heat and lava to power Martian machinery; ash and smoke to warm the atmosphere.
They’re also the only producers of Black Powder in the entire Silver Millennium.
“We’ll settle you into your accommodation at the palace for the afternoon. I’m sure you would appreciate a little respite, you’ve had a long day and will have an even longer evening.”
Djoric nods, agreeing with the plan - as if he has much of a choice in the matter. “I’m in your capable hands.”
“Excellent,” he says, “I’ll be back to collect you in plenty of time to escort you to the ceremony- Ah,” he points to a large, gated complex as they pass it, “that is the highest ranking university in the region.” The rest of their journey consists of Dusadi duly pointing out noteworthy buildings, and Djoric wondering if she might be found in any of them.
“You are being presented to His Highness, King Vithu the seventh of Mars,” Dusadi whispers into his ear, translating the herald’s announcement. “You may say your lines once His Highness nods his permission.”
Djoric waits for the cue and then greets the king in an attempt of the Martian tongue. It’s a short, simple address, all of it carefully planned and pre-approved by both Terran and local dignitaries. In it he relays his appreciation for their hospitality, he lauds praise on their homeworld, expresses his own ruler’s desires to further relations etcetera, etcetera.
He thinks he delivers it well enough, without butchering the language - he’s been reassured by many during his visit that though his attempts at Martian are basic and broken, what he does manage to speak is said with a native-like accent. They do not know that it was shaped by his hours of having watched her mouth.
The king, however, makes a clear show of being uninterested - which is not unexpected, either. Djoric was warned about his disapproval over the visit. From what is rumoured, he only acquiesced to hosting a Terran upon the direct persuasion of the Moon Queen. His attitude now all but confirms it.
Once satisfied that the barest requirements of ceremony have been successfully observed, Vithu sits himself onto his throne, and proceeds to completely ignore his guest. Dusadi places Djoric in an empty seat with the other dignitaries, just off the side to the king. “This is a great honour. To sit so close to His Highness is a rare privilege.”
Djoric is technically of equal rank to the Martian ruler, but he doubts any from the Silver Millennium see it that way. He offers a polite smile at Dusadi’s tactful attempt to mitigate the king’s dismissal, and he then glances discreetly at his offender, more intent on gathering intelligence than on petty revenge - he’s always preferred to be underestimated.
The king is leaning over the throne on the opposite side, engaging in a conversation that Djoric cannot hear (nor would he be able to translate it if he could), with one of his retinue. But Djoric isn’t interested in what is being said . Vithu might be the blood uncle to the seer of Mars but apparently he possesses absolutely no magical ability. That does not mean there aren’t others close by who have gifts, but he knows how to be careful with his power.
So he creeps, undetected, into the inner feelings of the Martian king.
The ones he senses first are components of a person who is bored: impatient, mildly irritated.
“His Highness is discussing the impending ceremony with its lead director,” Dusadi explains. “This is a much anticipated event. Traditionally, the seer of Kefka performs it once every half decade-”
“The seer of Kefka?” Djoric asks.
“She is the head of our religious sect.”
He frowns. “You’re referring to the main Martian priestess? The one who is also Senshi.” It is not unusual for important people to have many titles. After all, he has at least sixteen.
“Indeed,” Dusadi answers, “it has been some time since she last performed, not since she was taken away to the moon over forty years ago.”
“Your people must be proud of her achievement.”
“She could have achieved far greater things at home. On the Moon she guards a child, she has no voice there for Mars.”
Djoric notes the derision. “Has she not returned home in all the time she’s been a Senshi?”
“Her integrity could never be called into question, the seer of Kefka is a devoted woman. She has certainly come home to complete some of her more significant duties, but she’s never been permitted to stay for a long enough period to rehearse or prepare for the Fire Dance. And on the only occasion that she did, she was in mourning for her mother, the king’s late sister.” Dusadi looks out into the packed arena. “It is usually performed in the smaller colosseum within Kartikeya’s main temple complex.”
“The one within the palace?”
“The very same. It is open to the general populous for this single event, but considering how long it has been since the seer last danced, there will have been an entire generation who have never seen it. We have therefore moved it here, to enable access to as many Martians as we can.”
“There must be…” he scans the crowd quickly, “nearly two hundred thousand people here,” he says, and to further inveigle him, “I have never seen its equal.”
“Yes,” Dusadi, predictably, preens at the praising of Martian prowess, “and more will be in their homes, watching on their screens.”
If the rumours are true, a Senshi’s natural life is incredibly long. From his own experience he grasps better than anyone the impossibility of maintaining the dual role of acting as a leader - let alone to an entire planet’s religious sect - while also being a bodyguard to someone who is practically demi-god. Her time with Serenity is clearly the priority, which means that Mars will be left without one of its core symbolic representatives for decades to come. “Can she not relinquish the title? To allow another to take on the mantle.”
“That would not be appropriate,” Dusadi says. He does not say that it is not possible , and that tells Djoric very much about the relationship Mars has with the Lunarians.
“I should have liked to have met this seer in person.”
“You will still have that chance, but not here. She departs for the Moon very soon. The original intent had been for her to remain with her people for several more months, but these plans have changed.” He is good enough to avoid implying too heavily that the reason for this is Endymion and his Shitennou’s tour of the Silver Millennium. “As soon as her performance is over, she will head directly to Bantan - one of the more isolated northern islands - and complete a brief circuit of the Lowlands before heading up to the Moon directly. She will be there when you arrive. Ah! The music begins.”
The most surprising element of his trip to Mars has been discovering this begrudgement its people bear towards the Moon’s leadership. Having not yet been detected by the king, or anyone else in the vicinity for that matter, Djoric decides to probe deeper: pride, disdain - these emotions seem to consume Vithu. There is love, too, in some measure, but that is not unusual, and it is always a tricky one to pinpoint the source of.
Anger, jealousy. Envy.
These ones are not so hidden and he finds that interesting - what might a king covet? He puts the pieces together. Vithu seems like an ambitious man, and he supposes there is only so much power one can accumulate when one is a vassal king to supposedly the most powerful being in the galaxy.
A rush of irritation interrupts his reading and it grows to the point where Djoric can see it openly on the king’s face. “His questions to the director are going on for some time,” he says to Dusadi, “is something wrong?”
“Oh no, His Highness is eager to see the performance. It has only ever been danced once by his niece, and it was truly a magnificent spectacle - some say the greatest for a thousand generations, but of course that cannot be proved, since there are no records of that famous ceremony of legend.”
“What was it about her version of the dance that made it so impressive?”
“As a seer, she is bestowed with many rare abilities, but her role as a Senshi has also provided her with a singularly unique and very great gift indeed.” Dusadi pauses a beat for effect. “She is able to conjure fire with mere thought alone.”
His words hit Djoric like a hammer to the chest. “Unique?” he asks, doing his best to dampen the desperate hope in his tone. “Are you saying she is the only being on Mars who can make fire?”
“Oh,” Dusadi grins, mistaking Djoric’s shock for skepticism, “we can all make fire - but we need a source, just like everyone else: dry kindling, fuel, a spark. Of course, many Martians can then wield it according to their will, some with more talent than others b-”
“But it must already exist for them to do this,” Djoric interrupts, seeking confirmation. “If there is no fire then they cannot simply ‘will’ it into existence, kindling or no. This is what you are telling me?”
“Precisely,” Dusadi says.
“You’re absolutely certain of this?”
“Of course. The only creature in the entire Silver Millennium who is able to create flame through the power of thought alone is our very own seer,” he says proudly, but Djoric can barely hear him over the thudding of his heart.
An eruption of explosions, of light and cheering, has him looking into the arena.
A veil of smoke hides the seer from his view and it takes every ounce of willpower he has not to run down into the centre of the stadium just to get a closer look.
Heavy drums beat in time with hails of dark rocks suddenly rising up, hundreds of them tossed into the air in rhythmic layers by performers dressed in black, barely visible through the falling soot. The Black Powder bursts - as if spontaneously - into colour, and Djoric is surprised to find that they form bright patterns in mid-air: yellow flowers, shining into existence before disappearing into nothing and being replaced by bigger ones of different hues.
At the centre of the mayhem is a woman, dark haired and ornately dressed. Her movements have cleared her immediate space from the dust, and Djoric is finally free to see her for who she is: the seer of Mars.
Whirling to command and control the surrounding chaos, hitting every rock thrown at her with darts of fire and will, she transforms it all into organised beauty. She is indeed dancing.
He does not know how he made it through dinner. Not well, he thinks, since Dusadi and the other guests were laughing at how obviously awestruck the simple Terran was at such a performance.
He must have smiled, said things which perpetuated their opinions and pleased them overall, because they had no suspicion in them when they escorted him back to his guarded quarters within the palace. But he cannot recall a single thing he said.
Now that he is alone all he can do is pace, a creature whose emotions are too large for even his luxurious enclosure. He doesn’t know what to do with himself now that he’s actually found her.
She recognised him at the end of her performance, barely out of breath, her hair as tightly plated and pinned as it had been when she’d begun. He knows it from the way she stiffened when her gaze shifted from her uncle to him. But then she left without any more of a reaction, and he hasn’t seen her since. Nor will he for the rest of his trip on Mars, Dusadi had told him so before the performance. He sits on the hard bed and then immediately stands back up and begins pacing again, his distrait footsteps muted by a layer of finely woven rugs, the tapestry long faded by sunlight and years of use.
She must already be heading to the northern islands, further and further away from his reach, and from there she’ll travel on to the Moon.
The Moon. The Moon.To think, she’d been so close the whole time. He has to sit down again.
He has no choice but to be patient. They’ll see each other there.
He can wait, he tells himself, he hasn’t seen her in over a decade and so another week should feel like nothing. But he’s lying to himself. During the time they’ve been apart he’s survived because he believed that they would never meet again. They split not even having told each other their names.
His knowing where she is changes everything . A week is nothing, and yet it’s an eternity.
He also doesn’t know if being on the Moon eases or worsens the situation. Endymion will be there, as well as the others, which will certainly make things more difficult for him, but at the same time she won’t be under the same scrutiny that she is here. They would have to be careful, of course they would. They’ll figure something out. They’re smart enough, the both of them, this is too great a gift to not fight for. If she still even loves him, that is...
He can wait a week.
But that doesn’t mean he has to do so in a room stifled with caducity and calidity. This section of the palace has not been updated in what seems like centuries. Typical Martian ethos: age and beauty before practicality. The very air feels stale, cloistered as it has been within the confines of little windows and old walls.
He has to get out of here.
But while he has the freedom to leave his room, he wants privacy and there is a soldier posted at his door. So he uses one of the windows instead - left unsupervised since he is a mere, minor Terran king in a room three storeys high - and climbs silently onto the red-clay roof.
With nothing above him but the open, black sky and an unfamiliar constellation of stars, he finds himself able to fill his lungs to his satisfaction, and after a while his heart begins to calm itself over the drama of the afternoon.
He will see her on the Moon.
He sits up and peers through the darkness.
There is an odd building, different in aesthetic to the rest of the palace. It resides on the western side, a pale, windowless, stone cuboid with no roof, allowing a strange low, glow to emanate out into the heavens. He was thinking about exploring it on another day, but there’s a party of seven people approaching it: four guards and two attendants of a woman in elaborate dress.
There’s something in the way she walks, how she is so surrounded - protected like a king, watched like a courtesan - that makes him wonder if it could be…
Perhaps a more immediate trip to the mysterious, white monolith is now in order.
His decision is made quickly. He has to at least check if it’s her, but the next question is how. He won’t be able to separate her from her entourage so he’ll have to try and meet her publicly. It’s not ideal, but there’s no other choice.
He climbs back into his room and opens his front door. “It’s a good night for a walk,” he announces to the broad back blocking his path, “and I’m still on a different time, it’s hard to sleep.”
The guard turns around to look at him. Brown haired and dressed in a black and green uniform with plated armour, he’s not overly tall, but he possesses a substantial amount of muscle mass. And an overtly intimidating, brown-eyed stare, which he fixes on Djoric for far longer than seems necessary.
Djoric does not need to use his gift to understand the look he’s being given, but since he’s decided that he doesn’t like this particular Martian, he pierces through without permission and reads him. Suspicion, disdain, tiredness.
If he wasn’t sure before, he is now: the guard does not like him, either.
Eventually, the soldier steps out of the doorway and then gestures facetiously for Djoric to lead them.
If he were being honest with himself he would enjoy this silent, sarcastic protest, were it not directed at him, and especially not when it is at such a critical time. “Do you recommend any places of interest within the palace?” he asks, to build his cover.
As expected, he receives no answer.
“Fair enough,” he says, and then seemingly chooses west as a random direction. “They probably don’t pay you enough to be a tour guide as well as a guard.”
He cannot walk too fast (a hard enough task to accomplish when he knows that the longer he takes, the less chance he has of her still being at the white monolith), and he has to force himself to dally, too - at interesting buildings, trees, the sky.
When he can bear the suspense no longer, and when he deems himself close enough, he looks up at his target building. “What is that ?” he asks and makes his way towards it, directly. His guard has to scurry behind him, taken by surprise at the sudden change of pace, but Djoric is already far out of reach and thus buys himself a few seconds.
The four soldiers he saw from the roof are standing at the entrance of the mysterious building. Good , he thinks. It means she’s still in there - if it’s even her at all. They’re chatting together, relaxed, which should make things a little easier for him, too.
As he approaches they don’t notice him immediately but it doesn’t take them long and when they do they split, two to the entrance of the building while the other two advance towards him, arms out and about to tell him to move on. But Djoric takes advantage of their delay and makes it through the open doors faster than they can catch him.
They’re all so shocked by his unexpected speed that they freeze.
And so does he.
The building indeed has no roof, open to the heavens above. He now sees that the source of light is a huge, floating stone replica of what looks like Earth’s moon. It is incandescent, he realises, bright and white enough to illuminate the surrounding area and radiate a soft layer of warmth throughout. He’s never seen anything like it before.
Juxtaposed against it is the dark hair and vivid clothing of the three women standing near it. The one in the centre is the most ornamentally dressed: two pieces it seems, the top is a cross collar, as red as a dragon, its broad lapels bordered with embroidered golden mandalas. Her sleeves appear to be as wide as they are long, though the bareness of her arms is protected by a tight underlayer of red. Her skirt skims the floor and hides her shoes, a simple ruched affair of similar material and colour to the top. Cinching her entire waist is a sash of the same red and gold pattern, and over it all is a long, red silk jacket, printed with the symbol of the Martian royal family in gold and black. Her hair is perfectly braided to form a high crown on her head, from temple to temple, and in each crevice nestles a piece of intricate golden jewellery.
Her face, however, is hidden behind a large black and gold fan, which she holds with a white painted hand.
She could be anyone, and he realises suddenly that he’s been a complete fool - he’s run head first into nothing, purely on instinct and a desperate need to see her again.
His personal guard rushes in from behind, barrelling through the four shocked soldiers to join him inside the white building. It catalyses them all into yelling and grabbing at him to throw him out.
At first Djoric is too distracted by what’s in front of him to resist, but his wits recover soon enough and he stiffens his body, planting himself in place, becoming an immovable mountain.
“Phobos, please ask the soldiers to release the diplomat.”
Her voice. It is her.
This is his lover, his Martian, without doubt.
Whoever Phobos is does not relay the message but they don’t have to since he’s immediately let go.
“Seeress,” his room guard says, voice gruff, “he is a strange foreigner and is therefore untrustworthy.”
Djoric can’t help the look he gives him.
“A visit to the Moon Room is no crime, is it, my companions?” she asks. Djoric assumes she must be talking to the two women accompanying her: twins, clearly Martian, both dressed in simpler outfits - far more practical for movement than their mistress’. They brim with an odd sort of magic that he’s unfamiliar with.
“No,” one of the twins say, taking her cue. “In fact we would wager the strange forei-” she stops and then tilts her head, as if she is having a conversation through glances with her mistress, “the… diplomat ?” she looks for confirmation, and upon apparently receiving it, continues on, “was done a great disservice by not having been offered the opportunity to view the Moon Room earlier.”
“Agreed, please relay our apologies to our guest. Invite him to stay here as long as he likes.”
Djoric panics at that. It sounds like she’s going to leave. “Thank you,” he says, “but can I ask what this is? I’ve never seen a solid sculpture this big, let alone one that floats and glows.”
“It is a copy of the Moon,” one of the sisters announces. “It was a gift from the Lunarian Princess to her great friend, Kamala, Senshi of Mars, Seer of Kefka of the Thousand Eyes. It is imbued with magic from the Silver Crystal itself,” she says proudly. “The Lunarian Princess requires that this statue of the Moon be visited once for each day that our Seeress is on Mars, to remind her of their bond of friendship.”
“Kamala…” he breathes. In all the years he’s known her, missed her, thought about her, he never wondered what her name was. She was his Martian, and that had been enough, but now that he hears her name, knows it, he smiles, a secret revealed, a step closer to her, “it suits you.”
The twins both scoff in unison at his audacity.
“Deimos, ask the Terran for his name as well, otherwise he will be breaking basic rules of decorum.”
He can hear the impatience in her voice, recalls it from very different scenarios. “My name is Djoric, Jadeite Shitennou of the East, Knight of Patience and Harmony.”
He can hear the distaste on her tongue. He wants to kiss it away.
“It does not suit the Terran’s face,” she concludes.
He can’t stop himself from laughing. He’s missed her boldness, her brutal honesty. “Doesn’t it?” he asks. “Blame my mother, then, and the grandfather she named me after.”
“The Seeress has a long journey ahead of her tonight.”
“My apologies,” he says as the guards try to take advantage and close in, “I only wanted to-”
“Phobos,” the Seeress says, halting them again, “we have been remiss. Please inquire after whether the diplomat was at all injured by our soldiers’ rough handling earlier, and if so, alert a physician. I would also request that the soldiers be instructed to treat our guest with a little more dignity than he has been so far.”
“I am fine, thank you. There’s no need to see a healer, I have an old shoulder wound that might ache tomorrow morning as a result, but nothing more.”
At first she does not answer, but the grasp on her fan tightens. “Please ask him how he came by such an injury.”
“It’s not a very interesting story,” he says. He’s teasing her, denying her what she wants and she knows it.
Phobos turns to her mistress, listening to whispered instructions. She whispers back, frowning, before giving in with a mild huff. “The Seeress has asked me to insist upon you to tell us how you came by such an injury.” She pauses as Kamala hisses further instructions from behind her fan. “The Seeress thinks it is likely to be a far more interesting story than the diplomat suggests.”
“I was shot,” Djoric says, unwilling to deny her anything for too long, “by a hunter.”
“A skilled hunter?” the other sister, Deimos, asks.
“One of the most impressive I have ever seen with a bow.”
She puts a hand on her hip. “If this hunter was so good, why did he miss?”
“It was an accident, and we became good friends afterwards,” he says. “I suspect if she’d been aiming for me, I would not be standing before you today. I’d be long dead in an old jungle.”
“It was a woman?” Deimos asks, clearly not trusting him. “No wonder she shot at you.”
Kamala tuts a warning for her companion to curb her acerbity.
Phobos, clearly the more diplomatic of the two, steps in. “Why are you out so late at night?”
“He claimed he could not sleep,” his guard answers for him, “which is suspicious considering he is a weak Terran.”
Djoric splutters. “I’m a… what?”
Kamala cannot catch her laughter in time and it rings out, echoing across the walls and curves of the Moon Room. “Please ask-” she says, trying to reign it in, “please ask the diplomat to forgive my zealous compatriots.”
The sound of her happiness has his heart singing. “If it’s made you smile then all is forgiven, in truth I was a little discombobulated. All night I’ve been looking for a moon in your sky, but I’ve found none, even though there are supposedly two of them. Then I stumbled upon this one and had to see it for myself,” he lies. “I had no idea the building was already occupied. None at all.”
“Mars does have two moons,” Deimos insists, “they are our namesakes.”
Kamala points to the sky, her face still hidden. “Ask the diplomat to look over there at Phobos,” she says from behind her fan, “and at the one over here, which is Deimos. Please explain that they’re too far away to appear as anything more than distant stars, and that with the light of the Moon statue they are even more difficult to see. Help him, please, my companions.”
The twins, through obedience alone, stand next to him and show him. “You’re lucky,” Phobos says, “tonight is one of the few occasions you can see the two in the same sky.”
“Do they not travel in unison?”
“One is too fast for the other. By the time one has made a single orbit, the other has made many.”
“Phobos, please relate the tale of the brother moons to the diplomat.”
With another deliberate and barely-hidden huff, she does as asked. “According to legend, the two moons are guardians of Mars. Once a single being, he was born amidst a heinous battle and, being ripped from his mother’s womb by an enemy, he was split in two. Phobos and Deimos grew to be different but equally powerful warriors, one careful and one quick, and now they float amidst the stars, monitoring the wrongdoings of men from the sky.”
“Phobos, you forget the most important part: though the brothers are nothing alike in personality, they still share a single heart, and thus know each other’s every feeling.”
“Isn’t that a rare gift,” she continues, as if thinking aloud to herself, “to know for certain how another feels.”
“It is.” Djoric takes the hint and releases his power, infiltrating her. At first he finds nothing, just his own heart beating in his ears, and then slowly, he realises that it is not just his. As he concentrates he separates what he feels into his own emotions and hers. She does still love him. She loves him as deeply as he does her, and the ache of both has him grimace. “Forgive me,” he says, clutching at his heart, “it seems the old injury pains me more than I anticipated it would.”
“Deimos, fetch the physician.”
“It’s not necessary. In some ways I enjoy it. It brings me happy memories.”
“Masochist,” Phobos whispers. “You have taken much of our time, Terran, and we have nothing more to offer you.”
He gives in. They already don’t trust him, if he pushes anymore it’ll likely start turning from suspicion to something darker. He’s being selfish by keeping them, especially when this will not be the last time he sees her. “Fair enough. I will meet your Seeress again on the Moon, I look forward to it.”
He can hear the sharp intake of breath from behind the fan.
Both sisters look taken aback. “We will not be there,” Deimos says curtly, “but our Seeress is returning to the Moon in a week. No one informed us that the Terrans would be visiting the Moon as well.”
He forces himself to hide any smugness. “We are visiting. My Prince, as well as my fellow Shitennou. Until then, Seeress.”
The twins are clearly furious but there is little they can do.
“Inform the Terran that I also look forward to meeting him soon,” Kamala says, and then she and her entourage depart, leaving Djoric and his bodyguard behind.
“And here I thought we were friends,” he says.
The Martian rolls his eyes and walks out the door. Djoric follows, feeling as light as a feather. “We have a week together, I’ll win you over yet.”
Djoric has long believed that the opulence of the Elysian Palace lies on the wrong side of gauche. Too bright and complicated, it tires the eyes, confuses the mind and offers no respite to its occupants.
But if the Elysian Palace were five times its current size and ten times as gaudy, it would barely begin to match what Lunarian royalty live in.
He has never seen so much gold and silver gilt in all his life. Every surface is either covered in some reflective material so intricately and excessively decorated that it leaves no space to mirror anything, or it’s unabashedly white. White paint, white plush, white wood, white marble.
Colour comes solely from the people.
A man in a great hat green and a shirt which barely covers his back stands up and accompanies a woman in equally strange garb, but Djoric does not think about Silver Millennium fashion trends for too long, instead making his way to the two-person chaise they had been occupying - the seat having been the true reason for his interest in the couple.
He plants himself firmly in the middle, ensuring there is insufficient room on either side for anyone else to join him, and is thoroughly out of sorts. It’s been nearly two weeks and he hasn’t seen her yet. Her trip to the northern Martian territories was extended - a deliberate move, he thinks, by King Vithu to spite the Lunarians and their desire to impress their Terran guests.
A footman appears instantly with a large tray of offerings. He waves it away politely, the very idea of any more food or beverages making him physically ill. While he’s found that he enjoys most things Lunarian, this particular ball - one of three he’s attended in the last fourteen days - has long since surpassed the realm of the ‘grand’ and had settled uncomfortably in the category of the ‘utterly ridiculous’. He understands better now, why the Martians are not so fond of their Lunarian leaders. As he searches the massive hall, his keen eyes and sharp senses flitting from one giddy Alliance attendee to another, a line from a famous play on Earth leaps into his thoughts:
It is no coincidence that Hoptha, god of excess, is also known as the devourer of souls.
The Moon, it seems, does not share this point of view, in fact they revel in their glut. There is no sense of moderation in any action, no desire for frugality or simplicity - no wonder she was so happy on Ganymede. Special provisions have been made for the Terran delegation, of course, but as he’s been told, time and again since his arrival, most of the celebrations and events are already part of everyday life on the Moon. He wonders how any of them manage to keep their sanity, or stay conscious for that matter. He is quite simply, exhausted by it all.
It is obvious what their hosts seek to achieve by keeping the Prince and his delegation so busy with such triviality. They have had the richness of the Silver Millennium thrust upon them, and yet they have seen none of its power, none of its true source of wealth or prosperity. Any mention of the Silver Crystal - save the offhand comment about the Moon sculpture by Deimos on Mars - is always from the Terran side, and the topic is switched quickly in as much subtle delicacy as possible. None of the delegation have been given a chance to explore their surroundings alone, none are allowed to sift through the library documents, or inquire about scientific research, politics or magic in any great detail, though such trust was hardly to be expected on a Terran’s first visit to the Moon in over seven millennia, so Djoric chooses not to take it personally.
He sits back in the chaise that he’s confiscated and idly analyses the emotions of random people he thinks look interesting - officially for security purposes, if the ethics of his actions are ever questioned, but in reality it’s simply out of shameless curiosity. As he watches the literal hundreds of oddly dressed peacock-guests passing by, he contemplates how many more distractions the Lunarians can throw at them for the remaining two months of their trip. The very idea that they could maintain the breakneck pace of the visit so far has him even more bone-weary than he already is. And she is not here to make it all seem worthwhile.
He’d promised Endymion that he would be enthusiastic and supportive, but with the other three Shitennou present at the ball, as well as Endymion himself, there is more than enough Terran royalty to please the crowd. His absence would not be noticed for a good while, so he decides he’ll turn in for the night, without seeking his prince’s permission.
He stops, however, on catching sight of his Commander.
Paralysed for the tiniest of moments, his heart starts to pound in his chest.
There had been an instant rush of adrenaline, a shooting thrill of excitement, and then just as quickly, it all disappeared. Lust. Djoric stands up immediately and walks in the opposite direction to his Kunzite, before he is caught prying. In no situation would it be wise for the leader of the Shitennou to find out that one of his subordinates had inadvertently broken through an uncrackable wall.
Djoric feels like a child with a forbidden toy in his hands. He’s never been able to actively breach through Tarteros’ immunity to magic, and on the rare occasions that he’s ever managed to glimpse into the hidden, guarded heart of his Commander, it was only been because Tarteros’ own self control had broken down. But here, now, this is something altogether very different. Tarteros has let something slip. What Djoric felt from him was very distinctive. There is no doubting what the Commander wants, and he wants it very, very much indeed. So much so that just for the tiniest of moments, it broke through his impervious shield.
The next step is for Djoric to start looking for the person who could possibly affect Tarteros so much that he would lose all of his self-discipline and restraint, even for such a short period of time. There is one who immediately springs to mind, a creature of surpassing beauty, whose greatest talent is her ability to sway anyone she chooses into doing her bidding. But Lady Venus, revered by her own people as she is, is only one of millions in the Silver Millennium, and as far as Djoric is aware, she is not unique in possessing magical gifts, if her supposed talent is even magical in the first place. But who else could stir such intense sexual desire in a man so rigid and focused? The Commander is no abstinent monk (despite his official title, Tarteros the Chaste, Knight of Purity and Affection) but none of those past encounters have ever caused him to be so unguarded.
“Ah, my Jadeite, usually so social, busy, busy spinning your webs.” All of Djoric’s attention immediately shifts to Endymion, who approaches him with a smile far too broad to have originated from an entirely sober prince. His cheeks are flushed, and his navy eyes are glazed over, though he does manage to walk in a straight line, at least. “What are you doing standing here in the corner like the shy wallflower that I know you are not?”
“I was simply enjoying the view, Sire.” He leans into the embrace that Endymion gives him but pulls away to force the prince to stand on his own, so that he does not seem quite so inebriated to anyone looking.
“Getting ready to escape, more like. Well, you’re out of luck,” he adds before Djoric can protest. “I have just sent Tarteros to bed. He has had almost no sleep since his arrival and I won’t have people thinking that I abuse my protectors.”
“And he agreed?” Whoever this person is, they have the Commander abandoning his duty for the night. This is unheard of.
“He did. I convinced him,” he says, ostentatious, “but on the condition that the rest of you remain until I retire.”
“Even with such a promise,” Endymion says, “I still had to be very stern with him. But I won in the end.”
Djoric shakes his head, finding it sweet how useless Endymion is with controlling his own Shitennou. “You’re very generous, Sire.”
“That sounds like sarcasm, but I’ll ignore it in favour of us getting back to the Princess, she should be on her own by now.”
He narrows his eyes. “What do you mean? What little devious plan have you concocted?”
“Nothing devious,” Endymion says, standing straight at the implication, but swaying lightly, as if he’s blowing in a breeze, “wholly innocent, I assure you.”
“Where are the other Senshi?”
“Well, Mercury’s managed to excuse herself from this event, which, frankly put, is just rude . You’ve apparently done something to mortally offend the Martians during your time there so that one’s still not here, and Serenity is sending Venus to bed as we speak.”
He ignores the jab and focuses on the last part. “Is she now?” He searches the crowd for the Lunarian Princess and her head Senshi.
“Yes, but that’s fine. It is enough that Sailor Jupiter alone keeps watch. She is a very powerful woman… very powerful. She shoots lightning from her fingers.”
“She does indeed,” he says as Endymion leans into him again. “We all saw it.” He gives in trying to keep up appearances and puts his arm around his Prince’s shoulders to support him.
They both notice that Serenity is still talking with her fellow blonde. “She’s as obstinate as Tarteros, isn’t she?”
Venus looks over, as if she’s somehow heard the comment from across the room and taken offence to it. She is striking in her dress: a sheer navy skirt, covered with thin, white crystals sewn on to look like constellations. They creep up her waist and breasts, ending at her collarbone, appearing as if they have been applied directly to her skin. In the light of the ballroom she literally shines. She quirks a lip in disapproval at whatever her Princess is saying before finally granting her an indulgent smile and walking away. As she passes Djoric, she clutches at his arm. “Earth Prince or no, if Endymion acts in any manner towards Serenity which is inappropriate, Aella will ensure he is never able to make such a mistake again.”
Endymion is about to protest, but Djoric answers first. “Jovian Princess or no, if your Aella touches a hair on his head, she will be the one to regret it.”
“Then,” she says with a more relaxed smile, “you’d better ensure that nothing untoward happens, Jadeite.”
Endymion looks between the two of them, his face crestfallen at the idea that they’re not getting along.
“Orders from a lady who has no authority over me, and who has little faith in my honour besides. I should be mortally offended.” He takes the opportunity to read her, and finds to his interest, that his initial assumption is very likely. Lust. She tries to hide it, but it's there. For the Kunzite?
So he is not the only Shitennou involved with a Senshi.
But then he feels something pushing back. It is in the same vein as his own gift, though far more... manipulative. He cuts his eyes up at her, thoroughly intrigued by her ability and her attempt to use it on him. For once the rumours are accurate.
“I do not think you are offended, though,” she says, “not when our young charges are so blatant with their intent.”
“The scandal would be as much ours as it would be yours,” he says, wondering just how powerful she is. “Now, why don’t you take the opportunity you’ve been given, and retire for the evening. I am sure there is much you want to accomplish before the sun rises.”
She raises an eyebrow at that, and he thinks, perhaps, he’s overplayed it. But she leaves, nonetheless, and he doubts that his innuendo will stop her from seeking out Tarteros.
“How alike they are.”
Djoric has almost forgotten that he even was holding Endymion, which says something of her gift. “Sire?”
“Nafretiri and Tarteros.”
He leads them back to the spot where Endymion first found him and then shoves his prince into the chaise. "I would be forced to disagree. I’d say they’re as different inside as they look."
Endymion accepts the shot glass brought by a waiter. “Are they both not stern with their charges? Do they not take things far too seriously?” He downs the shot, and then another, before continuing. “Are they not just a little bit boring and yet loved all the more because of these flaws?” He smiles, hoping to encourage his friend to tease along with him. “Are they not terrifying with their intense love of all things related to duty?”
"If you only see those things then yes, but for those of us who can sink below the surface, there is a vast ocean of difference between the two.”
Endymion rolls his eyes. “From the smugness of your tone, I suspect the onset of an anecdote.”
“Of course. Do you remember the Sonoktarofaes ?”
“The cult who worshipped the demon God?”
“The execution of their leader was one of the Kunzite’s very first kills."
"Was it?” Endymion frowns, clearly thinking hard. “I don’t recall the event."
"My Prince was too young to attend, being a mere two years old at the time."
"And that would have made you..."
"Three thousand, four hundred and thirty seven."
Endymion takes another shot and then coughs as the alcohol burns his throat. "The sum total ages of your reincarnations does not count."
"Then I would have been nineteen."
"When the actual deed took place, I remember that I had to leave because I felt sick. I crawled, because I couldn't walk, into an empty alleyway and I wept. I had seen executions before and I didn’t know the man, so my squeamishness had nothing to do with seeing death. At first I thought that I'd latched onto the fear of the Sonoktarofa who was to be executed, but if that had been the case, the feeling should've disappeared once his head had separated from his body. It was only later that I realised the truth: It was Tarteros. His disgust, his anguish at what he had had to do had been so strong that it broke through his barriers and reached me. And yet, without my power to see into the real heart of others, as I watched him kill the man, I would not have been able to tell that he was even displeased at his task, let alone distraught. He is a duck in water, floating peacefully on top yet paddling frantically underneath.” As is Kamala, he thinks, so full of love and vivaciousness, duty-bound to keep it all hidden. “Venus, however, is an altogether different beast. I can feel almost nothing from her.”
Endymion’s eyes go wide. “Nothing at all?”
“Only very little. She seems unfazed by everything, like a mountain. To move her, you would need an unexpected, powerful force. She sees and plans all the steps ahead. If you used spiteful words against her, she would spot your game before the words could sting her. She expects and prepares for the worst yet hopes for the best, so she is surprised by neither outcome. It is for this reason she appears so calm on her visage. Because she is calm within herself. Our Kunzite swings with the force of a great pendulum, he feels all and he shows none. Venus’ inner composure, however, is a force to be reckoned with. Woe betide the one who breaks it."
“I have known you all for my entire life-”
“Ah yes,” he says, grinning at his drunken prince, “all those long twenty six years of it.”
“And yet there are still things I do not know about you. There are still things, memories, qualities, that I have yet to discover about my own Shitennou.” It seems to make him sad.
“That is likely because you have always looked away from home for tales of interest. Your heart lies within the deep, silky caverns of the fae and between the soft mounds of celestial bo-”
Endymion throws his head back against the chaise. “Urgh, stop. You seek to torture me with such bountiful imagery.”
So much for ‘wholly innocent’. “But perhaps you’re right. Lady Venus and the Kunzite are similar. They are both supremely confident, sure of their duty and purpose for existence.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Yes, and it’s also why you’ve had them both sent to bed. You think your other guardians will be more lenient, more inclined to leave you unchaperoned with your Moon Princess.”
Caught, Endymion looks halfway between devilish and sheepish. “Am I wrong?”
“The head Senshi threatened me just now, and I would like to keep my body in one piece so yes, you are wrong.”
“Nothing will happen, I promise. I could never cause Serenity any pain or unpleasantness.”
“I am sure your very presence is enough to contradict your statement.”
“She likes my presence.” He tries to stand and then looks confused, as if he doesn’t remember how to go about doing it. “You think you are witty, but you are in fact… not witty.”
“Strong words from the future King,” he grins as he watches Endymion struggle. “In any case, I’m not concerned. In your state, I doubt there’s anything you could actually do, even if you’d planned to.”
“Soren and Baleop were the ones who insisted I keep drinking that Mercurian lemon thing. I think I’ve done well considering it’s almost eighty percent.”
“And who told you to have the last three shots? Your inability to take your alcohol is a consistent source of shame and embarrassment for your planet.”
“Oh laugh, then. Savour it while you can, for one day, Djoric, I will be King, and you will no longer be able to mock me so mercilessly.”
“My Prince,” Djoric says, helping him up, “when you become supreme ruler of Earth, you will need my biting wit to keep you in check more than ever.”
“You do not care for my happiness at all.”
“I’m here, aren’t I? Was I not instrumental in creating this pretext of a trip to allow you and your true love to meet legitimately? Is that not enough evidence of my deep love?”
“Djoric the Deceiver, you are known as, I will not fall into your arms as easily as these maidens have with your proclamations of love.” The irony that he says this while relying entirely on his Jadeite’s supportive hold to stand up seems to be lost on him. “Your true reason for wanting to come to the Moon is obvious,” he continues, oblivious, “it’s the free food, strong booze and ample tit…” he trails off as his eyes follow Djoric’s. “Who is she?”
‘She’ is wearing a skin-tight, black blouse, with a pattern of gold flames decorating the cuffs, neckline and seams, the symbol of Mars sewn in jewels in the centre. While its sleeves are long and sheer, the top cuts off under her breasts, leaving her midriff bare. The skirt is made up of a long, single piece of bright red silk, bordered with the same gold fire motif. The material itself is translucent but it is wrapped enough times around her waist, then pleated and tucked at her hips, to reveal nothing of her legs. Her bare, taut stomach is half hidden as the remainder of the silk skirt twists from behind to her front, and is lifted over her left shoulder and falls down her back. Her hair is sleek but unlike the complicated updo on Mars, here it’s simple: parted in the centre and tied in a low, pretty bun. Her lips are painted ruby red, and from her ears dangle golden stars. Her violet eyes are framed with lashes of kohl, and it makes his heart beat so loud he can hear it in his ears. “That’s Seer of Mars,” he says. “She’s here.” When they knew each other on Ganymede she’d been wearing cotton and wool made with rough fingers, her hair plaited by her own hands. On Mars she was dressed like a doll, untouchable. On the Moon... she is exactly how she wants to be seen. This, he realises, half joyful and half in angst, is where she belongs.
“That’s the one whose face they wouldn’t let you see up close?”
Endymion scoffs. “Turns out she’s pretty,” he says, “though it’s hardly surprising.”
Djoric feigns disinterest. “I suppose so.”
“Why are you so sour this evening?”
“I’ve had too much Mercurial lemon wine.” He says it without looking away. He doesn’t want to miss her, not even for a moment.
“It’s a liqueur and I don’t think you’ve had enough-” Endymion stops, belatedly getting the joke. “You’re still not witty.”
He watches as Kamala embraces the Moon princess and the Senshi of Jupiter. “Shall we bring the ladies over here?”
The Prince practically jumps at the idea. “Yes! And fetch Baleop and Soren. Tarteros, too.”
“You’ve relieved him from duty already.”
“Wake him up, it’s a party.”
“I don’t think he’s sleeping,” he quips, but Endymion is too inebriated to understand his meaning. He puts him back in the chair.
Djoric catches Soren’s eye and tilts his head. The Zoisite nods subtly and approaches Serenity, whispering something in her ear. Looking through the crowd she spies Endymion, her face breaking into a wide smile as she rushes towards them with light feet. Her Senshi follow, though at a more graceful pace, accompanied by the two Shitennou.
“Dimi,” she says, practically dropping herself in Endymion’s lap, “you’re drunk.” Admittedly, she is adorable.
But Djoric does not hear the rest of the conversation, nor is he listening to anyone else, because Kamala has come within touching distance, and she’s speaking to him. “Finally, Jadeite, we are able to meet officially.”
He stands, fingers twitching with the temptation to run them over her skin. “Finally,” he repeats, agreeing. “It is a great pleasure to see you, please call me Djoric, even though you don’t like the name.”
Her violet eyes dip as she blushes.
“Of course,” Aella says, joining their conversation, “you visited while Kalama was there.” Her gown suits her long brown curls perfectly, off-white and masterfully draped over her body, it is belted with fine silver chains at her waist, securing the fabric of the dress in a way that allows the loose material to emphasise the curve of her hips. The top is off the shoulder, the material gathered across her chest onto her upper right side where it is attached together with the same pretty silver chains as her belt. In her hair, blushing orchids frame her face and her lips are a pretty, plump pink.
“He requested to go specifically,” Baleop says. “The initial plans were for him to travel to Jupiter, but he asked for Mars instead.”
“Really?” The Jovian princess widens her eyes. “What’s wrong with my home?”
Kamala smiles at her sister’s teasing, and looks to Djoric, waiting for his answer.
“Nothing at all, Lady. It was just that there was something specific on Mars that I wanted to see.”
“Oh,” Aella says, intrigued. “Might you mean our Kamala’s particularly impressive ‘Fire Dance’?”
He smiles at that, sparking Endymion’s curiosity. “What does it look like?” he asks, “Could we see it?”
From there the conversation flows naturally to the experiences of the Shitennou on their tours of the Millennium Planets. Endymion struggles to keep up, mainly because he takes another two shots of a mysterious blue beverage, and ends up lightly dozing on Serenity’s shoulder.
“Not here,” she whispers. Endymion has been taken to bed by the other two Shitennou, while both the Moon Princess and Aella have retired for the evening. As soon as they were out of eyesight, Kamala walked out of the ballroom and Djoric followed shortly after her.
They’re in a narrow hallway leading to a row of balconies but he doesn’t care. The lights are off and there’s no one around, and that’s good enough for him. He leans in hard, pushing his body into hers, his nose pressed into the softness of her neck, inhaling past her perfume to seek the scent that he knows lies underneath. “Where, then?”
She breathes in the will to shove him away and grabs his hand instead. “Come with me.” But as she goes to move he does not follow, instead he finds himself rooted to the spot, staring through the dimness at their fingers, entwined in a grasp, anchoring her to him.
He brushes a thumb, feather light, across the frantic pulse of her wrist, and then, without warning pulls her into a fierce hold. “I’ve missed you,” he says in broken voice, “every day.”
She swallows heavily, hesitating. He can tell what’s wrong, can feel the pangs of her heart piercing through as sharply as it does his own, but he can’t bring himself to leave her long enough to wipe away her tears. So he holds on, and eventually she wraps her arms around his waist, shaking, holding him, too.
They break apart at the sound of distant voices, making their way along a different corridor. “Come,” she says, “we can’t stay here, where anyone can see.”
He grins at her, drunk with affection, and then suddenly he finds himself shoved back into the wall, her mouth pressed against his. He does not hesitate, her lips parting easily, muscle memory taking over as he deepens the kiss, indulging in the sweetness of a familiarity he thought he’d lost forever.
The voices in the other hallway are still there.
She reaches for the hand on her nape and pulls the one from the centre of her back, taking them into her own and naturally creating space between them. “It’s not far,” she says, eyes shining.
“That one was not my fault.” His pulse is racing, but she’s already running away from him, so he follows her, before she disappears in the darkness.
“Tell me truthfully.” They’re sitting together, leaning against a cool wall, her body half draped on his, both of them naked and barely sated. “Was there ever a period you thought of just leaving me there?”
She adjusts her head so that her hair does not rest between her ear and his shoulder. “Yes,” she answers. “I even thought about destroying the portal.”
Now that he knows why Earth has been a forbidden planet for so long, he understands the magnitude of the risk she took in letting him live and go back to his home world. “Why didn’t you?”
“You would have found your way off that moon eventually. Ganymede is not entirely isolated. There would have been only one way to ensure your silence,” she says, “and I had almost killed you once, already. It didn’t make sense for me to spend all that time saving your life, just to kill you again.”
“Maybe you should have let me die the first time. Maybe if I had not returned to Earth, my loss would have scared him into keeping away.”
“I’m not dignifying such drama with an answer.”
He drops his head so that he can look into her eyes. “If I were being dramatic, I would tell you that I’ve been in torment, that you’ve haunted my every still thought these past ten years.”
She pulls away fully to sit up. “Don’t tell me that that is why you taught your Prince how to use it, after you swore to me that you’d keep your knowledge of that technology secret. We had a pact.”
“I didn’t,” he swears, “I lied and I lied, but he still found a way - or rather, I suspect your princess showed him how.”
She turns back to look at him, eyes assessing, mouth tight. Eventually she relaxes and then nods lightly. “That’s what I believe might have happened as well. There was a period where she was disappearing for hours at a time and we could not find her. We eventually caught her with him, but considering she was the one always travelling to Earth, it makes sense that she was the one who first opened the portal, not him.”
“I’m not unhappy about it. Are you?”
She leans in and kisses his jaw. “No.”
“How are we going to do this?” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
“I know I can’t wait another decade to see you again.”
“Can’t? You weren’t so obstinate on Ganymede. What will you do if we have no choice? Will you find some Terran and make her your queen? Or have you done that already?”
“Only a king has a queen.”
He’s avoiding the question, but she’s clearly curious. “Are you not?”
He shakes his head. “Honorary title. And we’re not supposed to marry.”
“Isn’t it bizarre,” she says, “we know so much about each other, and at the same time, we’re practically strangers.”
He thinks about the fact that Endymion said the same thing to him tonight. “What do you want to know?”
She leans back into him, warming his side with her familiar and pleasant weight. “Until I saw you on Mars, I’d had a million things I’d wished I’d asked you before we parted. Now I can’t remember any of them, except for one, so start with the first question I asked.”
“What was it again?” He frowns and grins at the same time, doing his best to avoid answering for as long as possible.
“Has there been anyone else?”
“Not like you.”
She tuts. “That’s not a no.”
“It’s been ten years, and I never thought I’d see you again. But I’m not lying. No one has ever reached here,” he touches his chest, above his heart. “Is there anyone else for you?”
She looks at him like the answer is obvious. “I’m the seer of Kefka.”
“Didn’t stop you before,” he slides his knuckle down her rips, “it isn’t stopping you now.”
“There’s been no other man.” She is being deliberately cryptic, petty, just to tease.
He raises an eyebrow at that, unable not to take the bait.
“There was always another woman, even before you.”
He looks at her, and he understands. “I did not think I could ever be jealous of such a thing,” he raises her hand from his chest and brings it to his mouth, planting a kiss on her palm, “but I am, even though I suppose it’s the same for me.”
She looks up at him. “Tell me about him, your valiant Endymion.”
“Only if you tell me about her.”
“What else is there to say that isn’t already obvious?” She wants to explain, but anything that tries to leave her mouth feels inadequate. “If kindness itself could take shape- if light were a person-” she shakes her head, not liking the cliche of either. “She’s too good to feel real, sometimes. I love her.”
“So does the Prince.”
“Does he,” she asks, “really?”
He nods. “More intensely than he’s ever felt anything in his life.”
“You know this for certain.” She is referring to his gift.
She is satisfied with his answer. “That is good to hear.”
“He’s the best person I’ve ever known.”
She hums, and they fall back into silence, holding one another, listening to their mingled breaths.
After a while, before they’re tempted to start again, she draws away and stands. “We should head back. Sometimes Serenity likes to call us when she can’t sleep, and after tonight, I’m sure she’ll have plenty she’ll want to talk about.”
He reaches up, taking her fingers into his as he remains sitting on the floor. “I would stay locked in this room with you until the end of days if I could.”
She looks at him with sympathy… his pain is equally hers. Burdens shared. They’d never said so on Ganymede, but it was plain enough for the both of them, and now that they know each other’s identities, there are no doubts.
She retrieves the pieces of her outfit. “You’ll have to help me put it on.”
He gets up silently and does what she’s asked, the two of them working in unison. “When do I get to take it off again?” he says, his fingers nimble and sure as they wrap, drape and button her away from his touch.
She turns around and watches as he puts on his shirt, just like they once did. Ten years and it feels like less than a day.
“Tomorrow night,” she says.
“It will have to be very late - the Prince is likely to ignore all sense of propriety and try to see the Princess after the dinner.”
She does not hide her displeasure at the idea, and he smiles. “One of us will be there to chaperone, as I recommend one of you should be as well. But we’ll be free afterwards, in the early hours of the dawn.”
She smiles at him. “There is no dawn on the moon.” He can tell she remembers how he hated that the nights were so long on Ganymede. “I don’t know when exactly I’ll be free, especially if Venus is not the one to accompany the Princess - she’ll want a report of events and expect us all to attend.”
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll wait. Where should we meet?”
“There is a meditation room that only I am permitted to enter. You’ll have a tour of the palace tomorrow, make sure to note it - it’s hard to miss, there’s a great fire in the middle of it. I will tell them that I’ll spend the night there - it’s not unusual for me to do so, they won’t suspect anything.”
“I’ll be there. Come when you can.”
“Terra-” she stops, correcting herself. “Djoric,” she says, “I…” she hesitates again, for an entirely different reason.
He kisses her, hard and long, and when they break apart he touches his forehead with hers. “I’ll see you outside,” he whispers, “and I’ll see you tomorrow and tomorrow night, I’ll see you the next day, and the next, and the day after that. And even after I leave we’ll find a way. We’ll be together.” His lips touch hers again, soft, barely felt, “I promise you, if you will do the same.”
She kisses him again. “I will,” she says, “I swear it.”