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Blown to Stardust, I Would Still.

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Gruier’s family receives a royal notice announcing that Her Royal Majesty, Queen Usagi Serenity The Third would be visiting them during her tour of the outer colonies.

Her father doesn’t stop smiling for a week and her mother begins ordering flower arrangements and new uniforms for the staff.

Gruier is told she will begin additional studying in order to prepare for the Queen’s visit.

*

Her studies are hard but she’s determined. Her mother and father had told her and Grunhilde fables about the ancient city of Crystal Tokyo and of the legendary warriors who defended it. She was enchanted by the stories and wanted to learn all the truths behind them.

She studies the engravings of her great grandmother in her youth and the portraits of her with her warriors, the Sailor Quartet and later, with her partner Queen Houtru of Saturn.

Even in these flat, motionless images the Queen exuded a kind of regality and grace that Gruier had never seen. Usagi Serenity II was the longest living member of the Serenity family as well as the only living member of the White Moon Kingdom.

Gruier is quizzed on all the mighty battles that the Queen had fought in, including the second coming of the Black Moon Kingdom and the Battle of the Divided Spirits in which the sinister Black Lady nearly killed the Queen's partner.

Some stories were frightening: after hearing of the murder of the Queen’s daughter, Usagi Serenity III, Gruier didn’t sleep for three days until she collapsed from exhaustion.

*

Tales Gruier did enjoy were usually about the Queen and her elite warriors, who were once villains but now protected the universe. Unlike Gruier’s family, whose positions as royalty were purely bureaucratic, The White Moon Kingdom’s royal family were heralded as mighty warriors with mystical powers. Legends of the Queens alter ego Sailor Moon and her Sailor Quartet were told throughout the galaxy.

Because Grunhilde was too young to study, Gruier felt quietly superior; in the weeks before the Queen’s visit she walked around the palace with her head held slightly higher and her shoulders back and square.

Her knowledge of her family's ancient history made her feel like she was part of something larger, more mystical than she had previously imagined.

Grunhilde glares daggers at her while she makes conversation about her studies with her parents over dinner. They are particularly pleased with the amount of information Gruier is retaining and praise her. If it weren’t for her new found maturity, Gruier would make faces right back at Grunhilde, but she is striving to emulate the Queen’s grace.

She couldn’t imagine the Queen pulling faces at her sister across the table.

*

At night, she dreams of fighting along side the warriors she’d studied. She sees herself as a seasoned warrior capable of redeeming the lost souls of her enemies with a single tear drop.

A particularly peaceful dream comes to her often, of white-silver wings holding her while she was bathed in warm light and when she awakes she feels as though she too is blessed with the strength of the White Moon.

*

When the Queen's visit finally came, Gruier is does not expect to see what she does.

As she awaits the Queen’s arrive, her heart flutters in her chest with excitement. Finally she will see the real woman, in the flesh, instead of the static portraits she had studied.

Music plays and the head butler announces the Queen’s arrival.

Queen Usagi Serenity II was a short woman, a few inches behind Gruier’s mother, though her back is straight – gravity and age could not break years of royal upbringing. Her hair is long, tied in two almond shaped buns on either side of her head. Its colour is a washed shade of pink; the lighting in the hall makes the sparse strands of silver sparkle.

She had not seen any recent images of the Queen and had become accustomed to her young, smiling face.

The face before Gruier now was wrinkled and worn, especially around the corners of her eyes and mouth. Gruier’s heart sank as images of her fighting alongside the Queen slipped from her imagination as she was confronted with the reality of her idol’s appearance.

The Queen greets Gruier's mother and father but does not acknowledge Gruier yet. The sense of superiority that had inflated her confidence suddenly evaporated and a flood of anxiety washed over her.

What could she say to this woman? What could she say to the oldest living member of the Serenity family? This woman who had harnessed the powers of space and time itself in order to save the residents of Crystal Tokyo and the human race. This woman who had paved the way to interplanetary colonization and cultivation.

There was nothing that Gruier, who was but a child, could say to this woman that would be of any importance.

Gruier feels so small and insignificant. When the Queen had been Gruier's age, she had travelled back in time to be trained by the most elite warriors in history and joined with them to save the future certain destruction. Gruier's biggest accomplishment to date was being able to dress herself without the assistance of a maid.

Panic spreads through Gruier's body and she felt sweat beading on her brow.

“Now what do we have here...” Comes a surprising clear voice. Gruier had expected a rasp or stutter, but the Queer’s voice is like a bell chime : loud and lyrical.

Gruier looks up and is taken aback by the brightest of the Queen's eyes. The engravings she had studied had not been able to capture the scarlet.

Gruier falters, in awe for a moment before her upbringing kicks in and she curtsies.

“The 7th Imperial Princess of Serenity Planet Commonwealth, young Princess Gruier Serenity, Your Majesty,” Grier murmurs in a regal tone with her eyes lowered
.
The Queen's scoff makes her raise her face again.

“My child,” the Queen says, patting Gruier's hair with a gloved hand, “There is no need to be so formal. We are family. Come with me.” The Queen offers her hand.

Panic swells within Gruier. Is she being tested? What is the protocol?

But before Gruier has time to consider her course of action, the Queen takes her arm and begins speaking.

“You look just like my mother, you know,” The Queen begins, “Like she did when she was young. Though your hair is lighter. Her’s was always so brassy.”

The Queen is smirking, and Gruier suspects there is supposed to be a joke in her comment but she can't find it.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Gruier agrees as the Queen leads her towards the staircase.

The Queen's assistant, a young man with pale blue hair and a small yellow horn protruding from his forehead comes to the Queen’s side as she approaches the first step as if to her assist her but she waves him away.

“I am not so old that I cannot task a flight of stairs, Helios. Be a dear and send word to the palace and let them know I've arrived safely. Gruier is going to give me a tour of her home.”

Helios nods, silently, and bows away.

Though the Queen insisted she didn't need the help of her assistant, Gruier can feel her leaning heavily on her as they climbed the stairs.

*

Gruier considers how long the Queen had been alive. It had been over a hundred years since the destruction of Earth and the disbursement of the human race but the Queen had already aged well into her 80s by that time.

Her tutor had explained to her that the Queen’s true age was unknown, since she was not only a time traveler but she had been alive during the period of Protective Rest during which the entitle planet of Earth was kept in suspended animation for over a hundred years in order to protect it from an encroaching evil.

The Queen squeezes Gruier’s arm, drawing Gruier away from her silent calculations and estimates

“I just hate having him hover,” The Queen says to Gruier quietly, “I love him dearly, but he is such a worrywart.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Don’t be so formal, Gruier-chan,” The Queen laughs, “We’re family, and perhaps we could be friends too. Call me what my friends call me: Chibiusa.”

It wasn’t a name Gruier had ever heard mentioned in her lectures.

“Yes, your--” The Queen’s eyes flash at her, sharp with skepticism. “Chibiusa-san.”

They reach the landing and proceeded down a hallway lined with portraits. Many of them are of Gruier’s close relatives but some are of members of the White Moon family. They pause at a portrait of Gruier’s great, great grandmother: Neo Queen Serenity, Usagi Serenity the First.

Chibiusa sighs and smiles, “You know, she was nothing like this.”

Gruier’s curiosity trumps her nervousness and she blurts, “What was she like?”

There was very little records of Neo Queen Serenity survived the destruction of Earth and Gruier had learned very little about her in her studies. Her major achievements, the formation of the Sailor Senshi, her defence of Earth as the home of the new Moon Kingdom and her endless self sacrifice, were known to even the smallest children in the Commonwealth but no one really knew what she was like.

Gruier has always had the impression that Neo Queen Serenity maintained the qualities of the woman in the portrait: graceful, beautiful and ethereal.

“She was clumsy, oafish really,” Chibiusa replies, “Lazy, gluttonous, rude, foolish. She was incapable of foresight and not to mention loud! Oh the shrieks that woman could make!”

Gruier stares, gobsmacked. She had never, ever in her short life heard someone speak about another member of the royal family that way.

Chibiusa looks at her expression and bursts out with bubbling laughter, mirth forming in the wrinkled corners of her eyes.

“Oh Gruier-chan, your face, I swear on the Imperial Silver Crystal whatever kind of treason I just commited was worth it just for the look on your precious face.”

Chibiusa tugs Gruier’s arm. “Come, let’s walk and I will tell you stories of my mother and her impudence.”

*

And so they do. They walk the endless corridors of Gruier’s family’s palace but they pay no attention to the scenery. Instead, Gruier remains focused on the Queen’s words and the Queen gleefully shares the tales of her childhood.

Chibiusa recounts stories of her mother as she knew her in the very distant past: as a love-struck and flighty teenager with a fondness for chocolate parfaits and silly comics.

“Before I travelled into the past, I think I perceived my mother the same way most people do: as some kind of untouchable goddess. It was like she was made of light”

The Queen shakes her head, “But it’s hard to maintain that perception once you’ve wrestled that same woman for a donut or seen her cry over a failing grade on a math test.”

*

“We hated one another in the beginning,” Chibiusa admits, “I just wanted to go home and she wanted me to disappear. We were cruel to one another. But over time...”

Chibiusa describes how she bonded with the first warrior who took up the mantle of “Sailor Moon” and her Sailor Senshi only to eventually become one of them.

“Nothing is stranger than having someone call me Sailor Moon,” Chibiusa sighs, “Every time, I feel like a child again -- playing dress up in mother’s clothes.”

“Did that ever change?” Gruier asks, her shyness having worn off slowly the more time she spent with Chibiusa. The Queen had this calm, friendly nature that made the ball of nerves in Gruier’s stomach loosen and dissipate.

“No, not really,” Chibiusa sighs, “Even after she died...”

The Queen smiles sadly, “But my step-father convinced me that the universe still needed Sailor Moon.”

“Step-father? There was never any record that indicated that Queen Neo Serenity was divorced...”

“Oh goodness no, not on paper, but it happened. Shortly after I returned to the future permanently, my parents decided they had been living within the expectations of fate for long enough. They still loved one another, of course, but their lives were going in two different directions. They remained a couple for the public eye of course.”

“Who was your step-father?”

“A former warrior from Kinmoku, he took refugee status on Earth with the rest of his planet shortly after the defeat of Sailor Galaxia. They were passionately in love,” Chibiusa laughs, “He was as thick headed as she was.”

*

“There isn’t much to tell really...” Gruier insists. Nothing about her life seemed to be conversation worthy.

“Surely there must be something? A love interest? I met Hotaru around your age,” The Queen winked but Gruier just blushed and shook her head.

“What about friends?”

Friends...

Gruier didn’t have any friends. She was friendly with the help and her tutors, but she wouldn’t call them friends. She had her sister, but Grunhilde was too young to do much more than play childish games that made Gruier feel embarrassed.

The Queen must have seen the crestfallen look on Gruier’s face and understood because the next thing she says is, “I didn’t have any friends when I was living in the palace either.”

They stopped walking and Gruier looked up.

Chibiusa turned to face Gruier. “I had my mother’s friends, the court, but I was alone. No one my age to play with or share childish secrets with. I was lonely. That’s how the Black Lady was born, out of my loneliness.”

The Queen cupped Gruier’s cheek with her soft, worn hand.

“But one day, you’ll make a friend. It will be magical. Friendship is the purest kind of love your small heart can feel and it will take you everywhere you never dreamed of going. Friendship will save you.”

Chibiusa brushes away the wetness that streaks Gruier’s face; she didn’t even know she had been crying.

“I promise you,” She presses her lips to Gruier’s forehead and takes her hand, their fingers locking together.

“Come, let’s see if I can’t make you a parfait in the kitchen!”

*

“Gruier-chan!” Chibiusa shouts from across the ballroom. People, fellow royalties and government officials, turned to stare as the elderly Queen hurried across the floor while pulling a large burly man by the hand.

Gruier can’t help but laugh even though she’s embarrassed. She’s become accustomed to Chibiusa’s outlandish behavior but less accustomed to the bewildered stares and glares of disdain hurled in her directly.

“Gruier-chan, Gruier-chan! I have someone I want you to meet!” Chibiusa says ask she approaches.

“Gonzaemon-san, this is my great granddaughter Gruier! Gruier-chan, Gonzaemon is a pirate! Can you believe it?!” Chibiusa laughs and hugs the man’s arm; people around them gasp and shake their heads.

Gruier smiles at the man. He’s huge, at least two feet taller than Chibiusa, with arms and legs like tree trunks. His beard is thick and bright red and he smiles at Gruier will crooked teeth.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Gonzaemon-san.” She curtsies daintily.

Gonzaemon erupts with deafening laughter that silences the ballroom. Neither Chibiusa nor Gonzaemon notice.

“You’re right, Chibiusa-chan, she’s adorable. I love it!”

Chibiusa grabs Griuer’s arm. “Come on Gruier-chan, Gonzaemon-san said he would show us his ship! He’s a captain you know!”

People are staring and whispering, but Gruier is too busy listening to Gonzaemon’s description of his ship and looking at Chibiusa’s enchanted smile to care.

*

Chibiusa and Gruier invite Gonzaemon to take a trip with them around the colonies. Chibiusa wants to see all the seedy places pirate life can take you in this neck of the universe and insists that Gonzaemon be their guide.

Gonzaemon is kind, thoughtful and wise. He tells Gruier that he has a daughter out there somewhere that should be about her age.

When they part, he gives Gruier his extra Captain’s Ring and she kisses him on the check.

She can see him blushing as she waves goodbye from port.

*

Gruier has been studying the Ghost Ship for several months when Helios comes to her door in the middle of the night.

She jumps from her seat with a start at his abrupt knock.

When she sees him at the door, she begins to smile and say a greeting when his grave look stops her.

He doesn’t speak but instead offers her something wrapped in soft pink cloth. She takes it, her chest beginning to tighten. It’s a small, circular, golden brooch with a pink heart in the center. It glitters in the low light of Gruier’s desk lamp.
When Gruier goes to look at Helios, to ask what this means, he’s gone and she knows.

*

In the morning, Gruier’s expression is hard and cold. Grunhilde is trying to comfort their sobbing mother.

“Do you want to make the trip?” Her father asks her, reaching for Gruier’s hand, “For the.... funeral?”

Gruier jerks her hand away and excuses herself from the breakfast table. As she exits the hall she hears her father suggest that maybe they send Gruier on a cruise. It might help her take her mind off of the Queen’s death. They were awfully close, you know...

*

Gonzaemon’s ring is too big for her finger but she slips it on an off her hand in her ballgown pocket.

“Valued guests! We regret to inform you that ship is being attacked! By the pirate ship Bentenmaru! Please remain calm and enjoy the show!”

*

Gruier shivers in the unheated loading bay of the Bentenmaru. Her ball gown provides very little heat and her nerves are less than steady.

She glares up at the communications unit on the wall, the camera covered with her own handkerchief. Where is Gonzaemon...

“I am the captain of this ship,” comes a bright, feminine voice through the speaker, “Who are you?”

Rage boils in Gruier’s stomach; who is this woman and why is she on Gonzaemon’s ship! She demanded to speak to the Captain!

She pauses to repress the anger and answers cooly, “You’re lying. The Captain of the Bentenmaru is a man. I know that much. Get me Captain Kato.”

There is silence of the other end of the line. They hadn’t expected her to know who she would be speaking to. They had underestimated her. She would find Gonzaemon and watch him fire whichever insolent crew member she was speaking to and then-

“The Bentenmaru’s former Captain passed away... I’m the Captain now.”

Gruier can hear herself protesting and refuting everything the voice says, but she’s gone numb. She’s not shivering anymore, but there is a coldness in her chest that makes it hard to breath. He’s gone... Gruier is alone, truly alone and she wants to badly to just fall to her knees and weep right here in this bleak little room in the middle of space. She wants to cry until she can’t anymore.

“I’m Marika Kato. His daughter,” says the voice on the other side of the speaker and Gruier snaps away from her grief.

*

When Marika calls Gruier her friend for the first time, it’s all Gruier can manage to keep from falling over. The word hits her like a wave.

But when the shock subsides she feels lighter and she can’t keep from smiling.

*

Gruier sits next to Grunhilde, cradling her newborn brother in her arms. He is the last member of the Serenity family.

Grunhilde murmurs something about how unusual it is for men to be born from the Golden Ship’s Womb and begins explaining what little history of the womb is known to Marika, who hovers near them in order to peak at the baby’s sleeping face.

“It was built by Queen Serenity the first during Silver Millennium in order to produce heirs. Most products of the Womb are female because they are primarily cloned from the Queen’s genetic information. Neo Queen Serenity was the first born from the Womb towards the end of the Silver Millennium and there wasn’t a second birth under after the second Crystal Milennium when Queen Serenity the third and her female partner chose to conceive...”

Gruier ignores the feeling of Grunhilde’s eyes on her at the mention of Chibiusa. Instead, she strokes the round, warm cheek of her brother’s face.

His little eyes finally open and Gruier is met with two scarlet orbs staring at her. The baby smiles and tears begin to well in Gruier’s eyes.

“He’s beautiful,” Comes Marika’s voice, followed by her hand on Gruier’s shoulder, “He looks just like you.”

Gruier half laughs, half sobs and looks up at Marika. Tears are freely flowing down her cheeks. She puts her hand over Marika’s.

“Thank you.”

*

Gruier and Grunhilde sit together in the monitoring room, watching the other Yacht Club members practice on simulators.

“I don’t know what you see in her,” Grunhilde says, gestering to Marika’s pod. On the screen in front of Gruier, Marika is laughing and chatting loudly while manevuring seamlessly.

“What do you mean,” Gruier doesn’t look up as she adjusts the settings on Marika’s simulation to make it slightly more challenging “She’s an excellent captain.”

“Of a pirate ship!” Grunhilde shoots daggers at her but Gruier continues to smile quietly.

Put out by Gruier’s lack of response, Grunhilde slumps in her seat and mutters, “It’s undignified.”

Gruier thinks about the stories Chibiusa told her about her mother. How loud and obnoxious her mother could be. How clumsay and rude. How greedy and lazy.

Marika wasn’t any of those things, but when she looks at Marika’s smiling face and listened to her boisterous banter she feels the same way Chibiusa looked when telling those stories.

“Come on, let’s go make parfaits for everyone to have when they finish.”