The Darkest Road
by Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs

Episode One: Where Mankind Lives

In the beginning of all, before the birth of time, there was nothing - except me. Or at least that's what I thought at the time being. I do not know for how long I wandered the eternity of Nothingness, but eventually, I found something.

A harp. In all the endless nothing, the harp resided alone, and I found myself drawn to it almost against my will. As I cautiously touched it, it played for me. In those marvelous, indescribable tones, I could clearly hear my destiny.

I had been born from its music for the single purpose of finding it and playing it. It was the Harp of Destiny, and its power was infinite, but it needed someone else to play it, to use that power, and because of that, it had created me. It was all so clear, and so very beautiful.

I played it.

Time was born from the music, and for almost a millenium, I continued to play. Then, finally, I thought our creation was completed. With the power of the Harp of Destiny, I'd played a universe, played stars and planets and creatures. But, I came to realize, the worlds we'd made were dead.

Everything in and about them were finished, the bodies ready to function, but even if they were perhaps alive, it was the lives of animated corpses, of ghosts or machines, because they had no soul. I could not let that continue; the universe was my creation, its inhabitants my children. And so I gave every human a little part of myself as their soul.

That should have completed it. Indeed, for a long while, I thought it had. As time went by, though, I began to suspect that there was still something missing, something not quite right.

The Harp is my Beloved in every sense of the word, my mother, my wife, my sister and my daughter - perhaps that is why it took me so long to realize just what it was that vexed me. It was all explained in her very name. The Harp of Destiny.

No human could be unhappy in the worlds we had made for them; and neither could they be happy. Their every decision, every thought, was ruled by the fate that my Beloved had long since given them. However much I loved her, I thought that wrong. I loved our children enough to want to give them the ultimate gift - the ability to create their own destinies.

And so I played a new melody on the Harp, a melody that sang of choice and freedom and hope. I created the Shitennou, wild beings with the single purpose of being wild, of going against my will so that the humans could do the same.

I consider it the best decision I ever made. Yet, in a sense, it was a mistake. By the birth of the Shitennou, the music of the Harp was no longer sacredly untouchable. My will did no longer rule unopposed.

The Harp itself and its song were bright, as sunshine and heart-fire and moonlight; they were, fundamentally, good things. Now, every light cast a shadow, the brighter the light, the darker the shadow.

Around the universe we'd created, darkness formed, and infinite evil known as the Eternal Night and just as powerful as our light. In order to protect our creation and our beloved children, I established the Night Walls, layer upon layer of spells and light and love to keep the darkness at bay.

Sadly, I realized that it was not enough.

Our children and their world were no longer purely white, but the arrival of the Shitennou had rendered them all a light grey. And only light as absolute as its own darkness could withstand the Eternal Night.

And so I died for them, or as close to that as an immortal can come. I gave them my heart, offered them a crystal of infinite love and light.

I died for them.

* * * * * * * *

At first, I thought it was the craziest suggestion I'd ever heard. Revive the Shitennou? They had got to be kidding. I looked at Luna beside me and waited for her to laugh, but she merely continued to stare straight ahead, serious and apprehensive.

"Do it." I said it without thought, blurted it out as fast as I'd understood that they meant what they'd said.

Luna gave me a cold gaze, then turned to the Earthen ambassador. "If you would be so kind as to let us discuss this in private for a little while. We will be sure to bring the matter up with Queen Serenity-sama."

Don't tell me I actually said that in front of him? Admittedly, I was losing my grip on things, had been doing it for a long time now. It felt like it was so very long ago since any of it mattered to me.

Last night, I'd cried over seeing a blonde girl with blue eyes, after which I'd gotten drunk and ended up in bed with her, and now I was blabbing away in front of the ambassadors. Just another wonderful day in my perfect life.

"Shape up, Artemis," Luna sneered, rage and scorn fighting for the upper hand in her voice. I shrugged noncommittally, and was vaguely surprised when she slapped me hard enough to snap my head to the side and leave a burning mark on my cheek. "If you're so preoccupied by thoughts of your Venusian whore that you can't even handle an amateur ambassador, perhaps it is time you retire from your post as advisor of the queen!"

For a short while, I merely looked at her. I love you. I need you. I can't live without you. I might have said it to her, but then, I loved Arianne too, albeit in a different way. And she was not a whore. Actually, I think that that's why Luna was really so upset, since she'd never cared about my sleeping around before. No, Aino Arianne was a princess of Venus and married to a prince of Mercury, and that was what my troubles originated from.

My life in a nutshell, Diana, I thought. There are three girls that I've loved, and three girls that I've lost.

I'd lost a lot more than that, as well, when the Eternal Night destroyed my home galaxy a century ago. Luna and I had been fortunate, having survived, but the horror of standing face to face with absolute evil had not left either of us unscarred. With a sudden intensity, I wished I were drunk. I'd seen the dead and the living alike drawn into the endless torture of the Night, saw it still whenever I closed my eyes.

From the entire galaxy of shape-shifters, only four had survived. I, Luna, Phobos and Deimos. And perhaps it would have been more merciful for the raven twins not to make it, as they had too little left of their personal energies to ever become anything more than birds.

Luna and I had escaped from the galaxy of shape-shifters and arrived in this one, this Milky Way in the center of the universe, the only part of it whose Night Walls still held. The magical structure, along with the language and the culture and a thousand other things, was different, but we had been well received. In a way, I had been happy here.

Yeah, sure, it's been sweet. Now tell me again why I'm sober.

I rubbed my cheek. A hundred years since we lost you, Diana, and a hundred years since I last told your mother that I love her. I wasn't sure if I still did, wasn't certain that I could muster the energy to care enough about anything to claim that I loved it.

First I'd lost Diana, when she died, burned to ashes in the flames from a demon's mouth, screaming forever in my mind. And then, somewhere along the road, I'd lost Luna too, without really noticing it when it happened. A long time ago, when we first came here, it was I who took care of her, promising her that whatever happened, everything would come out all right in the end. I supposed that the problem was that I'd managed to convince myself that I was telling the truth.

Luna had grown away from me, and we had a complex relationship at best. We'd been through a lot together, and I knew that I would never be able to face life without her, but I hadn't been in love with her for almost a century.

In a way, I suppose that the two of us are still an item because it's all we really have left of you, my darling Diana.

My dead darling Diana.

And then I'd met Arianne and fallen so madly and desperately in love with her. If anyone ever found out, it would be enough of a scandal to destroy the entire alliance treaty of the galaxy. I might have been ready to shrug that off, but she wasn't, and thus I was sitting in my chambers in the Palace of the Moon wondering why I wasn't drunk and feeling very sorry for myself.

"Luna," I said softly, "can we please leave Arianne out of this?"

"Yes," she replied, looking almost remorseful. "I think that's best."

I couldn't help myself, not when she looked so young and sweet and fragile, so much like the girl I had married two hundred years ago and who had given birth to my daughter. I went to her and put my arms around her, hugging her closely and resting my chin on the crown of her head.

"Stop it, Art," she said, pushing at my shoulder. "We ought to discuss the issue of the Shitennou."

"I know. I'm sorry. I just..."

Just bent down and kissed her, as it turned out. I'd always been so damned helpless before a pretty face, and hers was no exception. She didn't even bother to reply, but merely turned into her cat form. Giving the amulet I wore around my neck a quick glance, I chose to do the same. Back home, I hadn't needed anyone else's aide to keep whichever body I liked, but it seemed that that had changed with our journey here. Nowadays, I was dependent on this little trinket from Serenity to stay human for extended periods of time, and its energy was running out.

"Well," I said at length, sitting down on the floor. Looking at Luna, I absently wondered why her eyes turned red-brown when she turned cat. Nobody had ever managed to figure that out, but they always had, and I couldn't remember a time when I hadn't loved seeing them blue again. But that was not what we were supposed to discuss. "I think I made my point before."

"A very reckless point."

True enough, I assumed, but still sighed. "Come on. You know as well as I do that we don't have a choice anymore."

She stared at me defiantly for a while, but this once I knew I was right.

Pluto had been utterly and absolutely vanquished, as taken by the Eternal Night as our home. Jupiter, Venus and Mercury had all but followed suit. Here on the Moon, under the close protection of the ginzuishou, we were as safe as anyone could reasonably hope to be, but every other planet had suffered losses. Practically every moon and asteroid save this one had been abandoned, and it was merely a matter of time before another portion of the Night Walls would weaken and fall. I very much doubted that I was the only one feeling very helpless and very doomed, because no living mage was strong enough to use either the Grail, the kinzuishou or the ginzuishou to its full potential, and those were our only long-term effective weapons. No, the Shitennou, strange as that might seem, were our only hope.

"'It is in the opposition between order and chaos that mankind lives'," I quoted, hoping to comfort her at least a little. Need I say I failed? It seemed that absolutely everything I'd done for the last century had done that.

There were tears in her eyes as she said, "It's different for you. You don't have anything to lose."

"That's not entirely true," I said carefully. "I have you."

That was when she started to cry for real.

* * * * * * * *

I paced the halls in the golden palace restlessly, stopping every now and then to look at one of the paintings that graced the walls, but always moving away again before I could even recognize the motif.

I'd spent hours like that when I was finally interrupted by a loud knock on the doorframe. Turning, I could see a short, dark woman heavy with child. Just like I was. Thought it didn't appear to bother Mesala-san half as much as it disturbed me.

"Isila-san? May I enter?"

I laughed softly. "Everyone's been asking me permission for everything since this began," I said lightly, one of my hands coming to rest on the bulk of my stomach almost subconsciously, "but nobody ever cares about what I answer."

She raised an eyebrow. "You chose to do this yourself. Nobody forced you."

I felt the hand on my abdomen clench as I replied, "It's not as though I could refuse. And it is not as though I can command you. Enter, if it pleases you."

"Isila-san," she said in doing so, her tone calm and collected, businesslike, "if you have found my behavior impolite, I apologize. I'm simply not very skilled in dancing around the truth. I am a battle commander, after all, not a noblewoman."

"And yet they chose you as the mother of the second Tennou." As far as anyone today knew, the Shitennou had been awakened only once since their original forms had been put to sleep by the power of the ginzuishou. That time, the fire of the last dragon had warmed the gems of revival, and they, as well, had been born as dragons. This time, they were wanted as humans, so that they have something to prevent them from blazing wild and dangerous through the sky.

I didn't understand much of the magical theory behind it, but even I had understood that the divinity of their powers and their human bodies would oppose each other, hopefully resulting in rendering them controllable. It hurt to think such things about the child I carried, but fact remained that he was not mine, could never be mine. Kunzite. They'd even decided to name them after the four types of stones that, according to myth, made up the planet of Earth, as if to grind in beyond any doubt that they were called upon for war and nothing else.

"Therefore they chose me as a mother," Mesala replied evenly. "How was it that man said? 'They aren't exactly children, thus they do not exactly need a childhood.' Oh, calm down, Isila-san, I didn't say that I necessarily agree with him. But you have to remember that this is war."

I wanted nothing but to get away from all of it, from this entity of chaos and destruction upon which we forced a human soul. I might have been able to slip away from the palace - or at least I could choose to believe that, since the theory would never be put to test - but how in Amaterasu's name was I supposed to escape from the child inside my own body? After eight and a half month's growth, my stomach was not about to let me forget. And so I merely turned away.

The painting above me was a masterpiece, a splendid tableau displaying Amaterasu-Omikami in all her golden glory. On the frame, a heavily decorated thing in dark wood, was that famous quote of hers; it is in the opposition between order and chaos that mankind lives. I could certainly imagine why they'd put that particular phrase here in my room. Amaterasu Omikami, greatest magician and greatest martyr in the history of Earth, who had completed the Words of Choice with her own foresights and in the end sacrificed her very heart in order to create the Holy Grail - had she ever doubted like I did, ever wanted to run away from it and hide?

"Goodbye, Isila-san."

It was several moments before her footsteps were completely gone, several moments during which I stood frozen, trembling before the image of the goddess. Then, as soon as the sound of her leaving had quieted, I panicked. Running clumsily through the room, I came to a sudden halt in front of the window.

I rested my forehead against the coolness of the glass, breathing heavily. When at length I looked up, out through the window, I wished I hadn't. It was so very grey, so extremely bleak and anticipatory in the winter sunset. My puffy, red-rimmed eyes almost spilled over again as their gaze swept over the heavy, dark clouds and the blowing, concealing mist.

"I wish it would snow." I didn't know why I whispered it aloud, but somehow, the words calmed me, forcing all unsorted emotions down into some dark pit in the back of my mind until only the physical shell remained. After all, that was all I was, a container for the godchild.

Resigned now, I continued my still regarding, could almost sense the waiting in the winter scene. Indeed, the snow would be a relief.

It wouldn't be long now. The hand still resting gingerly on my stomach trembled only once, but even that small motion was enough to make fresh tears spill over my cheeks. I'd cried so much lately that I was surprised I had any tears left.

Hugging myself tightly, I wondered if he could feel it, knew that he wasn't wanted. Oh, gods, what kind of a terrible mother would I be?

A highly rhetorical question, as I knew well and good that it was most unlikely that I would be permitted to be much of a parent at all. They had been gathering at court, after all, the magical scientists, the knowers who would handle the child I was terrified to love.

"Tennou Kunzaito," I voiced his name; continued, moaningly, "Why did they chose me?"

That answer was clear and familiar also, although I didn't want to admit it - I had been chosen because I would obey. I was noble enough to be acceptable at court, but not powerful enough to cause problems in case something went wrong, and I'd never had the strong and forceful personality of Mesala. No, I could hardly forget why I carried this child of man and chaos within me.

"I'm afraid." Gods, was I ever. I hadn't been nearly this frightened since I woke up from nightmares as a little girl, when I still wasn't convinced that there wasn't a goblin waiting for me under the bed after all. I knew of much worse creatures than that, nowadays, but ironically enough, it wasn't them that I feared but the one who might save me from them.

I was Cherian Isila, calm and sweet and just shy of thirty, and I was terrified.

Terrified indeed, because I knew that when the first pangs of pain came, I would feel a tingle of the most utterly forbidden, a pang of love for the child inside of me. And in the barest, shortest moment, I would allow myself not to think, not to be rational, would say within me, I will be a mother. It is my child, my love.

With all those things considered, how could my tears ever dry out over the long years to come?

...It snowed.

* * * * * * * *

It was an empty planet, a place of ruins and leftover memories. At first, I was too numb to feel any pain over what had become of my home planet; then something else caught my attention, and I started.

In the midst of the debris, lying on the floor of the former Grand Hall, was a different shadow. Looking closer, I could see that it was not made of stone, nor consisted of parts of twisted bodies or torn furniture, but of living, breathing human flesh. It was a girl, perhaps ten years of age. A curtain of dark green hair fell over her, in truth covering her far better than the fuku she wore. Her eyes were closed, her body cold. Yet she was clearly marked as living, for all the corpses had turned to dust and faded away.

Close by, held tightly in her hand, was a long, thin, dark object known throughout the universe as the Time Key. Almost-invisible threads of power pulsated from the Garnet Orb on top of it, weaving a cocoon of protection around the flesh of its chosen wielder while her soul was away.

It was my body.

I was shocked, too stunned to have any real reaction. And that was when I heard the voice behind me and whirled. Who would call me "child" here?

There was no clear source fromwhich the word might have originated in the cloudy, ethereal mist surrounding me. Indeed, I myself was nothing more than a soft, green light, a weak pulse of energy. And that was when I suddenly realized where I was.

Inside of the Garnet Orb, in the pocket dimension which accesses the Door of Time. And then the voice must be...

"Chronos-sama," I said, not knowing how I made the sound without mouth, but hearing it clearly in the silence.

"Yes, child. The last remnants of me. It is not much, yet enough to protect you until you know enough to walk again the ground of the living."

"Living? What do you mean? Am I dead?" Fear gripped at me, stronger than I would have thought possible.

"Not exactly. Your world is destroyed, but fortunately, I was able to salvage your soul."

Your world is destroyed. There was nothing I could say, no words to describe what I felt. Fear, anger, hatred, sorrow, grief, loneliness...none of them sufficed.

"Child. Will you hear me?"

I nodded, so empty as to need desperately whatever was offered to fill some of the void that had opened within me.

"Your destiny will be hard, yet you must follow it closely. You were Sailorpluto when the Night fell, and therefore I could place you under my protection. You will have to remain in this form, child, because the henshin wand is gone, and untransformed in this place, you would die. You are the Guardian of Time now, Meioh Setsuna no more."

"But I- "

"Quiet, child. When you are strong enough, when you have learned enough, I will gather the last of my power and create a new wand for you. For now, and for centuries to come, you must remain."

"But you're a damn god! Why can't you let me out now? I can't stay here forever." The tears that had dried on my cheeks were washed away with new ones; the tears over my past being replaced by the ones I cried over my future.

"I am no god, no more so than Amaterasu or Suzamo were. I was merely a mage, though a great one. When the Night first came, it twisted the time-space energy to chaos, and I offered my body and my power to correct it, merging with it and placing it under the order of my mind. You shall stay here until you are ready to do otherwise, else all might be for naught."

"I am human," I cried. "I can't become...what you want." For a wind of that loneliness had swept over me at his words, a first brief touch of endless ages of immobility.

"You can what you must. Though you shall know, child, that you will have a while of freedom before the real waiting begins. And also that has an end. First, however, you shall learn."

"What do you need me for? If you were strong enough to create the Time Key and control the Time-stream... And the Door is right here! Why can't we just go back to before the Night came?"

"Foolish child. Time is an old word, and its meaning has changed over the years. This is not a door between times as you mean it, but between this one and the other worlds, the parallel realities. You may never, ever, enter those. This is the first world, the center and the heart. If we lose to the darkness, then all the worlds are lost.


"No," I screamed, though somehow defeated already. "I am Setsuna."

I realized my mistake when the god I had vainly attempted to defy agreed, began to grasp the true curse of my name as he said, "Indeed. You are alone."

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 2

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury