The Darkest Road
Episode Six: Child-Lord II
* * * * * * * *
For being an individualist, I was remarkably social; in equal measures enjoying the fact that the suite I presently inhabited was my own, and that it was situated in the actual palace. We'd gotten a few rooms each in the Complex, and a suit here in the castle had been placed to our common use. I for one much preferred the latter, at least when I opted to life the sort of irresponsible and undignified life that I presently amused myself with.
My so-called real, inner life was lived elsewhere, having much more to do with sparse furnishings and cold light in my rooms in the Complex than with these lavish chambers. Starlight, not sunshine. But I was happy enough about the change for now. It was quite undoubtedly fascinating to observe and absorb the Court, and of course even more so to participate in it. I wasn't delusional enough to think that it would last, these shallow acquaintances and shallower pleasures, but I appreciated the contrast, to added keenness to both this life and the one I would have to return to.
I wasn't sure that I wanted that, even if I didn't doubt for a second that I would have to. What I wanted to go back to, however, was the dreamscape of the Grail, the dreams that belong intimately to my soul, deep below the surface. Naru had disappeared, had been but a memory for eight years, and sometimes I questioned her genuinity, thought that perchance she had been just an ordinary dream, without any connection to the waking world. But I had to find her or forget her, and I couldn't do the second, so I had to try the first. I had sought the un-world of dreams for years - perhaps it was time I started looking in the realm of flesh. Looking for a girl of purest sunshine, a warmer glow than the starlight running though my own veins.
Someone knocked on the door, and about two seconds later a copper-golden head entered the room, moments later followed by the rest of the body.
"Yeah. Did I leave a book here?"
Civil enough, on both parts, even though our tense tones of voice hindered it from being polite. I'd never gotten along with the smallest Tennou, for what reason I wasn't exactly certain. Zoisite, all of him and all he did, were the kind of things that one found either adorable or detestable. I, mostly, was one of the few who kept to the latter alternative. Perhaps, at the bottom of it, because Zoisite had never liked me.
It was irrational, unexplainable, but so were all of his opinions - he loved or hated based entirely on his whims. There were a very select few exceptions to this rule, people such as Jadeite, who were judged by what they actually did rather than by a purely emotional and impulsive first impression. I most certainly did not belong to these exceptions, and neither did Kunzite --none of the people Zoisite really cared about, felt truly strongly about, did.
With the remains of a hangover and my desperate confusion over Naru struggling for dominance in the back of my mind, and with Kunzite nowhere around, I felt distinctively disinclined to even try to be nice.
Or to stop at merely teasing the dear little princess darling, who did not look quite as insulted as he should at that mockery - we sneered at each other for a while, then one of his remarks hit home better than I wanted to admit. It's nothing I'm especially proud of, but well, I grasped his arms, placed him over my knees and proceeded to give him a sound slapping.
Hardly surprising, Zoisite wailed and struggled wildly, his screams coming out as indigent, disbelieving stutters. Since the pain had to be nothing compared to all the training we'd been trough, I was confident that the tears trickling down his cheeks were born of fury and nothing else. Well, I would have been quite beside me, myself, had anyone humiliated me like this. On the other hand, I would hardly have given anybody reason to do such a thing.
"Will Kunzite hear about this?" I asked him. It was worth it, because I didn't think Kunzite would kill me, but if it turned out that it would be advisable for me to hide out for the next few weeks, I'd like to know that in good time. Zoisite had never been any good at lying.
"Most certainly not!" he spat. "Believe it or not, I do have some pride! Now let go of me, you ignorant retard of a filthy pig!"
Clear enough - if he were going to get back at me, he'd do it by his own means. Well, at least that was relieving to hear.
I couldn't completely suppress a smugly satisfied expression from spreading over my face as I let him up at least. To be honest, I wasn't exactly trying, either.
Zoisite stumbled away from me, and with a very foul sneer, he vanished in a flurry of...could it be?...flower petals.
Remaining sitting on the bed, I felt almost ashamed. But I had other things to ponder than a spoiled brat, matters more pleasant and more pressing. Zoisite was a part of my real life, after all, and since that life was built on the fundament of necessity, we would get along when we needed to. Within reason.
That, however, was a life that I attempted to temporarily forget about. I rummaged through the dresser but didn't find anything to my liking, so in the end I simply conjured an outfit to go with the black pants I was already wearing. It could have been more elegant, and truth be told it could also have been a bit better fitting, but it would do.
As I searched the admittedly quite messy room for my footwear, someone knocked politely at the door.
"Yes?" I called, and evidently she took it for an invitation, because the next moment my mother entered the chamber.
"My apologies for disturbing," she said calmly, "but I couldn't help hearing some strange noises, and thought that I should see what they were about."
"It was nothing." I was not about to tell her I had just beaten her youngest son up. "By the way, if anyone's looking for me, you can tell them I'll be back sometime before midnight."
"Yes, Nephrite-tennou," she said with a polite bow and left after requesting and receiving my approval of such an action. I stared after her for a longer time than was natural. Undoubtedly, it felt fairly strange to have that particular woman, my bossy instructor, behave like that towards me - it was peculiar, and not as comfortable as I would have liked it to be. Yet I knew I would not tell her to do otherwise. Icould not tell her to do otherwise.
At length I shook my head, finally finding one of my missing boots. After conjuring the other one up, I left the palace grounds for the streets of Yedo, sacred capital of the Golden Kingdom.
Since I had spent the majority of my life quite isolated, it was no wonder that the compact mass of people and life-energy filling the metropolis was rather overwhelming to me. Although I was no longer unfamiliar with the place, the sheer liveliness of it still surprised me every time I came here. Partly, it disturbed me - mostly, I found it an impossible wonder.
Today, I didn't pay any of it much attention, seeking as I was the essence of Naru, the quintessence of loveliness and sunshine. Regarding the matter objectively, distantly, I could see that she was a cute-to-bland little girl from a dream, capable of nothing and nothing worth. But logic had never really applied to our relationship. I sought her, catching a million fragment resemblances in the glitter of someone's hair, a certain gesture, the curve of a smile. She wasn't there.
I hated myself for even daring to hope - of course she wasn't here, which I should never have let myself forget. She was sleeping in a dream world far out of my reach, and she kept such huge parts of my soul and heart with her, and it was all making me so damn frustrated...!
No. I had better stay rational. This sort of obsession, no matter how involuntary, was utterly pointless and restricting. I wouldn't, would not, suffer it any longer, and then there might be as many sweet dreams and sunny smiles that it wanted. I was going to go on with my life.
"Yeah, right," I muttered, then resolutely fixed my gaze on an acceptably beautiful - all right, make that gorgeous - young woman entering a shop further down the street. When there's no filet mignon available, you have to try the lesser pieces and realize that perhaps they taste even better. It was a thought.
Between my good looks and obvious wealth, it didn't take me all that long to make that thought reality. She was pretty, and I'll never claim that it wasn't a pleasure to lift her skirts, but the intense sweetness found in Naru's mere presence just wouldn't come. It was good, enough so that I would with all certainty do it again, but it couldn't classify as marvelous. Still, it was a definite improvement of the general situation, and so I was in rather a good mood when I made my way to the city's impressive main library. Walking, yes. There were a lot of times at which I used mundane methods instead of magical, simply because I didn't think to do otherwise. The human tendensies that I'd inherited from Mesala, no doubt. I'd have to work with that.
Inside the library, my attention was caught by a silver glimmer among the bookshelves. Seeing Kunzite here was just short of a shock, but it had to be him - that distinctively silver hair was simply too unnatural for anyone with purely human blood.
"Hey, Kunzite," I called. "It's quite a surprise to run into you here."
He shrugged, a long finger keeping track of what page he was on as he closed the book he held. "There were a couple of things I wanted to check. They didn't have the necessary volumes in the palace library and suggested I try this one instead." He gave the few humans in the vicinity a quite scornful glance. "I certainly don't understand why they let those people in, however."
"You really don't take to mortals, do you?"
He gave me a look under raised eyebrows. "Why would I? They are a filthy bunch fit only to obey at best."
That was hard, even coming from him. "I didn't know you found them that dislikable."
"I don't dislike them," Kunzite explained patiently. "It's just that they're far too primitive and shallow beings for there to be anything likeable about them. They are tools, like this book - or rather like the table. A book is an intelligent invention."
"My, are we in a bad mood today?" I knew it irked him when I talked like that. Obviously, his present temper was even worse than I had initially suspected - that little teasing was far too light to deserve such a steely glare from his frosty face.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he claimed.
For some strange reason, I didn't find him overly convincing, and ironically replied, "No, of course you don't. Let's see... Considering the level of skill you have acquired when it comes to freezing people with a glare, mister Ice Lord - by the way, you can stop practicing it on me now - there can't have been any issues with the officials. Kami, I bet even Endymion would haste to do your bidding if you stared at him like this. That leaves... Naturally! You've fallen in love, and she turned you right down."
It was absurd, absolutely and completely ridiculous - Kunzite wasn't the sort of person that did silly things like falling in love, bur for a moment he looked so caught that I almost believed my own mockery true.
"I have no idea whatsoever what the hell you are babbling about, but I would strongly advise you to stop it very much immediately." The silky-soft tone would have been more reassuring if it hadn't been spoken through lips bitten so hardly together that they could barely move.
I don't know what got into me, but suddenly I felt outright suicidal. Otherwise, I would hardly have said, "Come on, Kunzy-chan, you know you can tell me who she is."
He only stared at me for a moment, his eyes about as warm as a glacier - the next moment I was flying through the air, knocked backwards by a beam of pure, wild energy. Several bookshelves crashed to the floor before I was thrown straight through one of the immensely old and equally valuable stained windows.
The street that rose up to meet me was situated some three stores down. "Oh, fucking shit," I cursed. My personal wards had protected me from serious injury, but even so I ached enough for two. Or make that four.
I tried to wave the staring crowd away, but it didn't thin out completely until Kunzite jumped down after me. He landed a great deal more gracefully than I had, standing tall and impressive over me, but since he had actually jumped and not been pushed, I wasn't overly envious.
Obviously uncomfortable, he dragged a hand over his face, then extended it to me. After barely a second's doubt, I accepted it and was pulled to my feet.
"I'm sorry," Kunzite said. "I shouldn't have overreacted."
"I'll be fine."
This was incredible. Unbelievable. Kunzite just plain did not behave this way - it was an open question whether he loved his books or his discipline the most. What in hell could make him throw them both away like worthless trash in such a storm of fury. That last was out of character, too. Kunzite played it calm, even when he felt agitated.
It was only a thought, but...maybe my teasing hadn't been that far from reality after all. And if it was, I was willing to risk as couple of broken bones in order to find out. "So," I said, "who's the girl?"
He didn't so much as look at me, and his tone was both disinterested and absent as he said, "Girl?"
* * * * * * * *
I stood panting beside the throne, leaning heavily on the armrest. I'd turned back into my regular form some minutes ago, not so much because I'd wanted to as because I simply hadn't had the energy to stay Sailoruranus any longer.
I used the hand not supporting me to wipe my sweaty bangs out of my face, pausing for a while to massage my temples. Usually, I would've detested showing weakness like this, but today I thought I could afford it. Well, it wasn't as though I had much choice, really, because even as I gave a cocky grin and fought to straighten my shoulders, these black little spots continued to play around before my eyes. It was fortunate that the Councilors were apparently still too shaky to move. They were practically plastered to the walls, just as every other human being in the room, servants and nobility and soldiers, staring at me in fear, awe, disbelief.
Well. Queen of the Skies was a position which I had never aspired, but obviously I was nowmore Senshi Uranus, and thus perhaps I should try and learn to handle them as fast as possible. I slipped down onto the throne, still gripping the handle of the Space Sword tightly for comfort, ignoring the way it burned me now that I was merely Haruka again. Truth be told, 'slipped down' might be misleading - let's just say it was lucky that I'd decided to sit down anyway, since my legs just about folded beneath me.
After a couple of deep breaths that temporarily cleared my vision, I hid the henshin wand in my pocket. Oh, I didn't think they would be foolish enough to try and steal it, but I was not what they had wanted as their queen, and anyhow, white-bearded men in council cloaks had a disturbing tendency of wanting to protect/restrict people. I was not about to give them the possibility.
At length they struggled forward until they formed a bowing half-circle before me. It would have been a nice symbol, a nice sign of the new order, if they'd kneeled, but I supposed I shouldn't complain over it. Their rheumatism, if nothing else, will excuse it, I thought wryly.
"Ai to segi no sailorfuku bishoujo senshi Sailoruranus! Tenouh Haruka-ojoosama!" Their greeting was a rising tide, a breeze growing into a typhoon.
There was something strange with that. Tide? Why was I suddenly thinking of seas? I was the soldier of endless air. It didn't make sense to see oceans before my mind's eye.
I forgot about all that fairly quickly, though - my head fell backwards a few inches, landing on the high back of the throne. Then I proceeded to prove to the assembled councilors and nobility that even queens and pretty soldiers can snore.
I'd been the weapon master's daughter until this afternoon. It was when I walked through one of the main corridors, cursing the Head of Servants who so persistently tried to put a dress over my head and a broomstick in my hands, that I suddenly heard screaming outside. I had only just turned towards the noise, worry and apprehension but not yet fear in my mind, when the first wild escapees came running through the hallway. One of them smashed straight into me, and the unexpected impact knocked me flying. The boy didn't even slow down.
Cowards, I thought as I struggled to my feet again, just in time to watch the first youma enter the now-empty doorway in the other end of the corridor. Living in the Outer Rim as they did, my fellow humans ought to be used to incidents like this. Well, supposedly brave Uranians fleeing like cowardly moon-borns only confirmed my theories about palace-life being softening.
Right now, though, was not the time to entertain such thoughts, or any thoughts at all. However brave I might aspire to be, I wasn't stupid, and I was not about to turn kamikaze before I had confirmed that there really was no other way. Hence I bolted into the throne room with the disgusting creatures on my heels. There were lots of other people here as well, crouching along the walls, weeping and praying. I wasn't sure whether I pitied or scorned them, but I didn't have time to take much notice of them, or even of the few whom had drawn their weapons.
I had retreated to the throne, and as the youma approached me, I reached desperately behind me for some kind of weapon. It was a clear indication of how desperate I was that I thought I could perhaps use the Space Sword - now that the throne was vacant after Queen Wilsa's death, it hung suspended in the air. It burned those who touched it to death. Well, I was dead anyway, so what did I have to loose? The guards wouldn't be here until the youma had already slaughtered me. I reached for the sword.
A blow from one of the invading monsters took me in the head, and I fell over the throne, crashing down on the floor on the other side of it. Led by instinct and desperation, my fingers had closed around something as I was pushed, but it wasn't the Space Sword - it was the henshin wand.
It is a thought... And then it was more than that, so very much more, because I knew.
I licked my lips, feeling a startled grin play over my lips. And then I yelled, "Uranus Planet Power - make up!"
It was a strange feeling, this to have the wand call the wind itself and the deep, golden power of the planet up around me. They danced around me for what might have been a moment or an eternity - then finally exploded in the very center of my being.
They said no one could actually use the power the first time they transformed.
I was not tempted to try a World Shaking that would ruin the throne hall - an attack that was so little, so brittle, compared to what I knew this Senshi to be capable of. "Talisman," I whispered, and the Space Sword flew into my open hand. It did not burn me. It was right, it was mine, it was I.
"Space Sword Blaster!"
Evidently it had only been a small raid, because the dozen or so youma that I dusted turned out to be alone.
I breathed out a shaky sigh, feeling the wind play through me, a peculiar melody that continued even after the transformation-energy collapsed around me. I would have fallen to the floor, where it not for the arm I flung over the throne.
So much for their ideas about gradual learning. But the thought was quickly forgotten, merely flittering over my mind before vanishing into oblivion - the song was taking over, the disturbing, fascinating notes burrowing themselves deeper and deeper in my heart.
It would have set out to look for their original at once, had I been able to move.
* * * * * * * *
I sighed uncomfortably, wanting desperately to claw at the persistent itch on my nose. I'd been trying for hours to mask the increasing ache caused by sitting unmoving in this godforsaken stone-hard chair, and I didn't think I'd had much success to begin with. There wasn't even a reason for my being here - they'd wanted Kunzite or Nephrite, but been unable to find them. Zoisite and I were substitutes.
Sorry, my mistake - I was substitute, as it had only taken Zoisite minutes to charm his way out of here. I dearly wished that I had had the talent to do the same. I knew enough about the war, I supposed, but very little of the galaxy's politics, and nothing at all about how to behave in such a company as this. To make matters worse, my childishness and lack of knowledge appeared to be achingly transparent, as everyone had ignored me completely from the beginning - with the exception, of course, of the one person whom I would have loved to treat me like air.
I hadn't met my mother since the incident with Mesala-san that changed our lives so dramatically. That was rather strange, but I wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth, as perhaps I ought to have done. I bit my lip, trying very hard to be grim. If there was one thing my mother had ever taught me, it was that, whatever else I might aspire to believe, when it came to her, things could always get worse. And they would now, I could swear it.
Evidently, the war had begun again - the extra energy that the defenses had received from our birth was thinning out rapidly. It was only a matter of months before the darkness would start bursting through again. It didn't actually concern me, as Zoisite and I were still considered to be too young for warfare. I assumed I ought to be relieved over that, but on the other hand, I would gladly face an army, if only it could rescue me from the need to meet those storm-grey eyes.
"They are still young, despite their upbringing. And they are extremely valuable, we don't want to risk anything," someone said.
"No, we most certainly don't," someone else agreed. "We need them sane and wholesome at any cost."
"Then the Moon project might be just what we're looking for," a third one replied. "Serenity's grace is indescribably important, so we'll certainly get diplomatical points for sending them there. The risk is little, but if anything would happen, they can surely handle it."
"You are quite right. It's ideal, especially as I doubt that they would object to seeing the Moon Kingdom."
"Then it's settled."
Just a few minutes earlier, I had been dying to leave, would have rejoiced in happiness when finally allowed to do so. Now, with that winter-colored look fixed on me, I left the room on puppet strings.
She cornered me effortlessly, urging me into a small antechamber. It might have been Kunzite that I saw in the other end of the corridor, but it hardly mattered - both my older comrades were of the opinion that one should overcome one's problems by oneself. I contemplated calling forth my powers, but soon disregarded the thought. It would seem petty, bratty.
"Jadeite," she said, "what is it I hear about disrespectful behavior towards Mesala-san?"
"I don't believe I have treated the lady in question with anything less than proper politeness." It was true - I still called her Mesala-sensei, just like I always had. I didn't know how I should behave around her, nowadays, after she had changed so much. Still, she was a lot easier to handle than my mother, who never clearly announced what she wanted, how I could please her. She wasn't the screaming type, like Mesala had been, and she never fought with me. She'd never needed to. Cold and stern and sharp, like the blade of a sword, one needed hardly touch her to be deeply cut.
No, my mother would certainly never address any child as sama. But it was time she stopped expecting that kind of honorific from me. Though how I should make that clear in a satisfactionary way escaped me.
"No?" she said. "Well, I can't say that it surprises me - you never do anything. You simply react, never taking the most minimal initiative. This lack of leadership, even over yourself, I must admit I consider it your main problem."
It wasn't nice words, but they weren't exactly mortally wounding, either. But then, I'd learned long ago that it wasn't what she said but how she said it - that sad, faintly disgusted look on her face, the chilly scorn in her eyes. She, if anyone, was whom I'd wanted praise from. My mother, the one person I could have expected to love me unconditionally. If what she said was true, she'd done more than a little to make it so.
"I see," I said.
"I hope so," she replied. "Moreover, you must understand that that is not the important thing, but that you do something about it."
"I hear you." It wasn't rude, but merely an establishing of fact.
"Jadeite," she said then, and I looked up, shaken, because her voice had never sounded anything like that before, so tingled with sweetness, sorrow and... something that I would have called sentimentality, had it been anyone but her speaking. "Sometimes you are very like your father."
Before I could frame any sort of reply, her retreating back was so far away that I would have to yell for her to hear me.
My father? I thought, incredulous. I didn't have a father. None of us did, for natural reasons.
And what should I make of her almost soft expression, the hand she'd lifted as though to caress my cheek? It was impossible - far too right to be anything but wrong. It was unnatural for Sosaya-san to do natural things, and sad tenderness was about as far from her characteristics as possible.
The inquiries were still chasing each other through my mind as I made my way to my rooms. I could have teleported, of course, but I've always thought better when I walk. Besides, those new chambers still didn't feel quite like home to me yet.
For that one moment, as she spoke my name and almost touched me, she'd looked...as though she cared for me. No. 'Cared' wasn't nearly strong enough. 'Heart-achingly loved' came closer. That couldn't be it, of course. My mother had never loved me, or if she had, it was an emotion that she had displayed in rather unconventional ways, and that I could do without. All the same, her behavior couldn't be explained away with anything less than me hallucinating, and I was fairly sure that I wasn't that desperate.
My thoughts were interrupted by someone calling my name, and it was only moments before Mamoru came up beside me. Raven strands of hair fell over his forehead and were pushed impatiently out of clear and warm blue eyes. There was a smile, too, a happy genuine smile, one that I felt myself subconsciously return.
"Hello," I said. It sounded rather trite, but I could hardly have said, You have no idea how glad I am to see you.
I invited him in, and we entered my quarters together. I sat down on the bed.
"I hope I'm not imposing," he said as he made himself comfortable in a chair. "Do tell me if I am, but... I've finally managed to convince Mother that I'm big enough to get to know you better. Last time I saw you in private - come to think of it, the only time I saw you in private - was that embarrassing encounter below the Complex." A flushed smile made its merry way across his face, only to be replaced by a more serious expression. "I'm certain that my parents only agreed to this because they think I need to begin practicing now, shall I ever be able to handle you when I'm king, and well, I don't know how it'll be with the others but... Friends?" He reached out his hand, palm up.
I marveled that there was such a warm feeling to be found in that one word. "Friends," I agreed and placed my hand over his.
Later that night I learned that my mother had hanged herself.
* * * * * * * *
However infused in the Silver Millenium Alliance, however much in liege with the Silver Queen and her crystal of purest brightness, Saturn had never been a world of light. Fighting the Darkness to the last breath, yet not of its opposite, my planet was known as the Shadowland. No actions of evil were committed, but the goodness done was grim and grey, and though the planet was several times as large, its inhabitants were fewer than the Moon's. It was a hard people, passionate about their ideals beneath the cloak of serene fatalism.
Not a single youma had set foot on this world for more than five hundred years, not since the making of the Silence Glaive, yet doom was never far away - not for a people led by the Warrior of Ruins, the most powerful of all the Sailorsenshi, and the darkest. Hers was a power won entirely from sacrifice, from how desperately bright the very last light shone when surrounded only by darkness.
Though nobody knew how to make such things anymore, there were a number of magical artifacts in the galaxy, but none other was quite like the Silence Glaive. The relics of the Outer Rim - the Space Sword, the Aqua Mirror and the Garnet Orb - had not been entirely pure; they had held the power of both light and darkness, love and hatred, joy and sadness. People had feared that, and so they had tried to drain them of the darker energies. The result of their succeeding was the Silence Glaive.
I wasn't sure why I thought of such things, but I had learned long ago not to fight my premotions, or similar strange thoughts. Maybe they were simply triggered by the proximity of the Castle of Government, but it hardly mattered.
The aforementioned building was high and thin, blue-black in color and quite forbidding in appearance. The main hall, the Queen's Room, had an air of emptiness - it was years since the last Senshi Saturn had died, and though the Council used the hall for a number of reasons, it felt bereft. But more than anything, I was surprised that I didn't think the Silence Glaive on the wall half so ominous as I had thought I would.
There was no throne for the Queen of Saturn, sovereign of Death and Rebirth, but only a slight elevation of the same dark basalt that made up the rest of the floor. With her wand and the white pearl in her diadem and the sad wisdom in her midnight eyes, Senshi Saturn had never needed more. She ought to be standing, straight and proud, with the Silence Glaive that she alone could lift.
As for now, the podium was inhabited by a bunch of councilors - kind, wrinkled old men and women dressed in cloaks of so dark a purple as to seem black for an untrained eye.
I knelt on the floor, midway through the great grand hall. Though I had just taken the position, the hard stone was already biting into my bare knees. Stealing a glance at Father, I bent my head so as to not be rude by showing my discomfort. The harvest had been ruined, and the wolves had taken more of the sheep than he had expected, so he'd brought me with him here to the capital in hopes of being relived of the taxes until next year. If that was denied us, there wouldn't be enough food to survive on, and I would go back to what I had been before he found me in the woods ten years ago - a lost, nameless child with no one in the world to care for me.
Something moved inside me. It was as though I was being pushed forward, towards the podium, and I could hear this strange, reassuring humming. Well, I can't do anything about it - I have to behave, or they'll never spare us the taxes.
I still had my head bent down, my eyes humbly on the floor, as a shocked intake of breath echoed through the hall.
One moment, I was Tomoe Hotaru, a poor farmer's adopted daughter - the next one, the rulers of the planet were rushing forward to help me to my feet, guiding me forward.
I felt slightly panicked, but calmed as they released me when I struggled. For a second I wanted to run back to my father, to curl up in the safety of his arms, but I couldn't ignore the violet glow around the Silence Glaive and the henshin wand for long. I had never asked for this, had never asked for anything more than a kitty of my own, but there was destiny and duty here, and it was out of my hands, out of them by far.
I knew myself to be glowing as brightly as ever the regalia as I placed both my hands around the wand. It was eager in my grip, pulsing with want to be used. I needn't speak any incarnation to be embraced by its cold energies.
I was ten years old when I became Queen of Saturn, avatar of the star of Destruction and Senshi Sailorsaturn, wielder of the Silence Glaive that was so light in my hand. It was taller than I was, yet I lifted it with so much ease as though it had weighed no more than a feather.
Heavier, a lot heavier, was the diadem resting over my forehead. The Glaive was the ultimate symbol of the Warrior of Ruin, but small as I was, I'd learned long ago that it was much easier to break things than to mend them or take care of them, and the whiteness of the pearl spoke of light and preservation of whatever slender good might still be found in this Shadowland.
To destroy everything rather than let it fall to the Eternal Night, they said, and to do it with that sweetly sad child's smile that only she has mastered of all the many Senshi of this star.
They called me Shinigami-chan.
* * * * * * * *
It was a peculiar couple of days that followed. In a strange way, I'd never felt so good before - you can ignore someone suffering just the average doze of misery, but someone who has recently lost his mother is always tended to and cared for. It was sick.
They were all very sympathetic towards me; I'd never previously had the opportunity to appreciate Nephrite's face at its warmest, or Kunzite's hand on my shoulder. Mamoru was worried and spent a lot of time with me, but he didn't really understand. Zoisite would have done whatever I asked him to, and nothing had ever warmed me so much as the undisguised, voluntary care they all showed me, as though I really meant something to them.
It was days later that I asked, as off-handedly as I could, "You don't happen to know if my mother had some...husband or similar male acquaintance?"
Mamoru gave me an answer the morning after - I supposed he had asked the queen and was a little envious for his easy way to information. Of all the Tennou, I constantly seemed to be the last to know the least. Perhaps it was time I tried to do something about that. But all such trivial matters were soon washed clear out of my head.
"There was a man named Kitansho," Mamoru said. "He was blond, fairly good-looking and pretty smart, but from the lower classes. I hear he raped Sosaya-san the first time they met, yet later she fell in love with him and they married. He died a little more than thirteen years ago, battling the creatures of the Eternal Night."
"Oh," I replied, whispering. "Oh gods."
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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury