The Darkest Road
by Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs

Episode Ten: Splinters of a Broken Heart

* * * * * * * *

“It will be fine, your Majesty,” I said, trying to sound reassuring. I doubted that I succeeded – it’s kind of hard to sound convincing when you don’t believe your own words. It seemed Serenity thought so too, even though she was too tactful to remark on it, because she still leaned over her daughter’s sleeping form, worriedly caressing the princess’ face.

To be completely truthful, I would have liked to do that myself, but I couldn’t very well intrude upon their intimacy. Usagi was not my daughter, after all. My daughter was dead. Regardless of how dearly I remembered her, I would never see her again, and no care for any of the Senshi could ever fill that hole. I loved the princess, and I thought I would have loved her even without the influence of the ginzuishou, but she could never replace Diana.

There was someone else who might…well, not have replaced her, exactly, but become just as important to me as she was. My other child, the one I’d lost before it was born. My scandalous love child with Kakeru, who would have been ten years now if it had lived.

No, that was unfair. Diana had been a love child too. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was the day I married Artemis, or so in love.

“But it’s all thrown into such horrible chaos now,” Serenity said tiredly. Her eyes trembled. “The Night Walls practically exploded. Even though they are repaired now, such a lot of darkcreatures have already invaded the planet. It’s ruined, and even if we manage to rebuild it…just think of all the casualties, all the dead…!”

She was dead tired, it was obvious, what with how she sounded like a little girl about to cry, or the way she desperately sought comfort from the ginzuishou, her fingers never leaving the silver gem. Then, she’d used more of the crystal’s energy than I had ever thought she could manage, had weft the Walls back together as best she could. If she was a little weary, or even a little childish or whiny, she could be excused. She had earned it.

And therefore I claimed again that everything was all right. “Half the army of the Moon Kingdom has arrived there by now, along with at least six hundred mages. The other planets are sending reinforcements. And I hear that the Tennou took immediate and quite effective action.”

Oh no, I thought as she jerked away from the arm I had around her shoulder. I’d imagined that everything that saved more of the Venusian people would calm her, but apparently it had been very dumb to mention the Tennou.

I hadn’t thought that it would end up this way – stupidly, I had underestimated them. They had been rather human when I met them on Earth, cranky and rude like any typical teenagers. Even Zoisite’s throwing me through the room hadn’t scared me. Oh, I was insulted all right, but I’d lost my temper too. Before he did, even, which proved that it was stupid for an outsider to try and assimilate oneself to the Earthen ways.

No, the only thing on Earth that had truly frightened me was Kunzite’s handling of my henshin wand. He’d reinforced it with more power than it had had to begin with, just like that. It was apparent that it was easy for him, a meaningless courtesy. And he’d been…dominating, during the entire gathering. Well, I hadn’t exactly expected the prince to order them around.

Finding myself inevitably drawn to Zoisite, and realizing that I had no sort of authority over Nephrite – it had been uncomfortable, but not frightening. And then, when we went from the Warp gate to the town, they had been so obviously astounded, like any young men. Even when they arrived to the first audience, they’d been a fairly humble sight – and then they looked right through the power of the maboroshi no ginzuishou, and scorned the Goddess of the Moon Kingdom.

Although she was no longer perfectly divine, Serenity was still enchanted by its power when she deactivated the silver crystal. She was still a Queen. And they had looked at her in disbelieving…perhaps not so much scorn as pity.

She was a worthy, experienced ruler and wouldn’t show it, but Serenity was very much afraid of them. That, if nothing else, made me fear them as well.

However, presently we had a lot of worse worries. I still didn’t understand exactly what had happened earlier, when our attempt to strengthen the Walls had failed so miserably. Once more, the Tennou had been…unnatural. While everyone else screamed and panicked, they had reacted with calm efficiency. They had saved us. The thought was almost as numbing as the prospect of not being rescued.

Of course, at the time being, I had been in no position to make these observations – as fast as Nephrite began to run, just before the dark energy came, I threw myself over the princess, hoping to at least buy her some time, offer her some meager shelter under the weak shield of my body.

And then Artemis – unasked and unbidden – had formed another layer of protective flesh around both of us. He’d done it so naturally, so instantly, as if it was second nature, a conditioned reflex. It wasn’t completely unexpected that he do something like that, but I wouldn’t have counted on it, either. Now he had, like it wasn’t even a choice for him, and I…just didn’t know what I felt about it.

“Come with me, please,” I asked the queen, replacing my arm around her shoulders. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Leading the Silver Queen to her private chambers, I thought of my husband going to the cursed planet. He’d forced them to bring him with them with as much passion as he had protected us just minutes before – had wanted, needed, to go there to seek the other woman that he loved. Perhaps now he would have to take a final farewell of his Venusian whore. Not that I was any better.

If my child with Kakeru had lived, it would have turned ten this year.

* * * * * * * *

It was a long time since Luna and I had come to the Milky Way, and it had taken a long time to accustom ourselves to this realm. But we had managed to do so, had won friends and influence and sometimes even the feeling of being home. Then, just shy of twenty years ago, I met Arianne. Lovely golden princess of the planet of love. Our not-so-secret affair lasted a little less than three years.

I never knew exactly what political motives were behind her engagement to the prince of Mercury, and I didn’t much care. Arianne had made no protest – it was unclear to me whether that was because those unknown motives were severe, because she had to marry someone before or later and rather liked the man, or for any other unfathomable reason of her own.

Much as it pained me, she could hardly have married me. She was a princess, after all, whereas I was only a commoner, and a married commoner at that. Not to mention that I was probably at least a century her senior.

So she had accepted the Mercurian prince’s hand and told me never to see her again after the wedding. I cried at the marriage ceremony. She didn’t. Perhaps she had no tears left after the night before, when she wept so helplessly and endlessly as we made love. She always did have a lot more strength of character than I – I could never have forbidden her to approach me and meant it. She’d meant it just then, at any rate. During our infrequent run-ins after the wedding, she’d displayed a lot less strength of character. Until she got pregnant, that was. She loved the child more than she loved me or herself, and hence we had not seen each other for more than a decade.

Why could I never fall in love with an immoral tramp instead of such honorable, noble women as Luna and Arianne?

After all, I hardly deserved anything better – even during my most passionate time with Arianne, I had never even broached the subject of divorce with Luna. Of course, since my princess was no sort of magician, Luna and I both would outlive her for centuries, and certainly I could have stayed away from my wife during Arianne’s lifetime. Still, it wasn’t fair to her. She deserved to fall in love with her prince and live happily ever after.

I loved her, though, I’d loved her then and I loved her still. Luna was my world, Arianne the light in it.

She deserved something better than to return my affections. I’m certain that she did her duties as a wife, in the throne hall and the kitchen and the bed, but life with the prince could never have been anything but a pleasant duty at best. She deserved someone better than I, but she had never wanted it. We would never have been an item if she hadn’t kissed me that day in the garden, and I still couldn’t find it in me to lament it. Love is like that, or at least, ours were.

It was the second day after our arrival to Venus that I found her – a fairytale princess whose prince had come too late to rescue her. Or well, her husband the prince’s corpse lay not far from her, half buried in the collapsed palace, but I hadn’t been in time either.

The falling of a number of major buildings and walls had sealed the palace grounds off, making them a wasted island inside the greater town. Since Arianne was with all certainty here, that should have made it rather easy to find her. Unfortunately, it turned out that however small the area was, its demon population was huge. I thought that it had to be at least as much dark energy here as in the rest of the city combined. But perhaps I was only exaggerating – after all, I hadn’t taken the time to explore any other parts of the town.

In any case, it had taken almost thirty hours to cleanse the area sufficiently to make it remotely safe for me to seek it, even with both Tennou Nephrite and a third of the Moon’s army working on it. I’d tried looking for her before they recommended it, of course, but after being saved from the tenth oni by a very agitated Nephrite, I had found myself compelled to seek shelter beneath the shield he’d been kind enough to put up. Between my hysterical worry for Arianne and my horrifying flashbacks from when the Night corrupted my home, it had been a terrible fifteen hours.

Now, finally, I had found her. I wished to every god that I hadn’t.

She was lying on her back in the rubbish, broken and bloody. At first I thought that she was dead. It felt as though I moved in ultra rapid when I ran towards her, the world around me frozen and slowly angling the wrong way. I wasn’t sure whether her name merely exploded in my mind, or if I truly screamed Arianne! for all the world to hear now that it was hopelessly too late.

Crashing painfully to my knees with none of a cat’s feline grace, I gathered her in my arms as gently as I could with hands that were suddenly shaking. I tried to caress a matted lock of hair out of her death-pale face, but my fingers were trembling too wildly, all my body was. I sat there shaking and could hardly see because my eyes were so flooded with tears, warm salt water running down my face and dropping onto hers. Maybe it was that that woke her.

Her eyes were blue, they were sky and sea and so much love.

“Artemis. Am I…so delusional?” Her words were barely audible, a breeze over half-open lips.

“Arianne,” I sobbed, or tried to sob, for something had caught in my throat, and I couldn’t breath. Couldn’t even want to breathe, not when it was such an obvious sign of life in a world where she was dying. “Arianne.”

A smile glimmered weakly in her eyes, or at least I thought so – couldn’t tell for certain because of all the tears that were still falling. I’d always been an easy weeper, much more so than either of the women in my life.

“Take good care of Minako for me, will you?” she said. “I hear it’s tough work, being a Sailorsenshi.”

Her head fell sideways, then, and I probably just imagined that I heard her whisper at last that she loved me.

I don’t know how long I spent sitting there in the ruins of the palace, rocking the dead body of the Lady Arianne, crying and shaking and telling her over and over again that I loved her. I wished I’d said it when she was still alive.

At length I was interrupted by a heavy hand falling on my shoulder. Looking up behind me, I saw Nephrite. His booths were dusty and his tunic had stains of what could only be blood, but for someone who’d been fighting darkcreatures for more than thirty hours solid, he looked remarkably fresh.

“You’re lucky no demons showed up and caught you off guard,” he said, then suddenly exclaimed, “Look out!” He dragged me backwards just as a portion of a wall fell down, crushing the remains of the blonde princes who’d looked so out of place in the ruins.

I stared at it in despair, then apathetically fell down on my side as he released me, resting my face against the dusty ground and crying bitterly, just wishing everything to end.

“Oi,” Nephrite called, bending down to grip my shoulders again and drag me to my feet. “Come on.” When I stood on my own, he took a secure grip of my hand and led me away. I followed him stumblingly, uncaringly. “I would have teleported,” he said, “but with all this confusing energy around it just isn’t worth it.”

I made no reply. When we reached the camp just outside of the previous palace grounds, I spotted a certain dark-haired figure in the distance. It can’t be… But it was. I had no idea how or why, but it was doubtlessly Luna who curled her fingers around my hand when Nephrite finally released it.

“Thank you, Nephrite-san,” she said, and the Tennou nodded and left, presumably returning to whatever demons might still be around.

Neither Luna nor I said anything as she began to walk, leading me in among the tents that I could hardly see for still more tears. I wondered how much more I could cry before my eyes finally dried out. Just inside the door to one of the pavilions, she turned sharply and wrapped her arms around my neck unexpectedly. Hugging her back by instinct, I felt her body stretch against mine as she tiptoed. The kiss was surprisingly fierce.

“Kami-sama,” I breathed as my tears finally stopped.

“I know,” she whispered back. “I know.”

Her lips continued to explore my face as swift hands unclasped my clothes. It was Arianne’s face I saw behind closed lids as my shirt fell away, but though they both by some perverse irony of fate smelled of jasmine, the scent that enveloped me now was Luna’s entirely – familiar, comforting, and in a sense more arousing than the fingers tracing my chest. I wasn’t sure which name I groaned as we fell onto the bed. She didn’t seem to care, but merely pushed the dress over her head. She leaned over me, her hair a soft dark waterfall over my skin.

I placed my hands on her shoulders, but my reactions were slow and groggy. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to mind as she eased my pants away and straddled me. My hands ran down her back, gripping her hips. Evidently the lump in my throat had eased, for I emitted such strangely high-pitched noises as her nails traveled past my ribs and down over my abdomen. They worsened as her mouth opened and closed over my chest, and I was almost certain that my hold on her hips was hard enough to bruise her. It didn’t matter now, nothing mattered now save drowning the knowledge that Arianne is dead, and I reached up to kiss her, but didn’t have time, because her hand was on my thigh now, and I almost yelled as she sank down on me.

I had my head thrown back, was moaning, maybe sobbing. The sighs she let out were achingly familiar, calling to mind a thousand burning nights back before the Walls around our home had broken. They drew me with them, higher and higher, until everything was white and light and I cried out as I came.

I must have fallen asleep after that, because some indeterminable time later I woke up in the unfamiliar bed with Luna curled up around me. It hurt, it hurt like mad, and I was sure I would explode from the pain of Arianne leaving me behind for final. And that was when I just couldn’t keep my sobs quiet any longer, and Luna woke up as well, and kissed me, and made love to me, and let me fall asleep again in her arms.

I woke up like that several times during the night. Every time, the ritual stayed the same – Luna embraced me, and fucked me silly, and I cried like a lost child in her familiar-scented hair. Sometimes, in my mind, that lovemaking started out with Luna, other times with Arianne, but it always ended with my wife.

“For Diana,” she said shortly before dawn as she stroked the back of my head. “For Arianne.”

Hugging her closer, I didn’t really think of either of those two as I replied, “For everything that we have lost.”

* * * * * * * *

I spent the first few hours – perhaps the first few days, as it didn’t take long before I’d completely lost track of time – cleansing the ex-palace. At first I’d had Artemis with me, but as the fool kept running off on his own, the task of keeping him safe turned out to be more bothersome than I had thought. Finally I’d been forced to practically tie him down in one of the shelters.

I didn’t give him a second thought until Luna approached me, asking for him. In all honesty I told her that I had no idea where he was. She did, though, then haughtily declared that unlike some people, she had no desire to get killed by the remaining demons – hence I should collect him for her. There was such desperation in her eyes that between that and my dazed condition, I immediately agreed to bring him. She seemed strangely unsurprised by my unusual humility. So I fetched Artemis for her, left him in her care, and returned to the straining, disgusting and disturbingly exciting business of being a soldier.

Even when I’d steered the devastated cat-man in the right direction, I’d been too preoccupied by fighting the yearnings of my soul to really take notice of him. I had stubbornly refused to take in the full power my spirit craved for, but it took concentration. It was actually both harder and more dangerous to fight myself than the enemy.

I had realized that nothing can make you feel so alive as taking life. It was a disturbing thought.

A disturbing thought to say the least, but then, perhaps I hadn’t realized anything – maybe it was just my fevered, overtaxed mind drawing confused conclusions that weren’t really there to be found. However alive I might feel, it wasn’t necessarily a good feeling. My body hurt from tension, my self was drowning in the magic I applied, and I never wanted to see such sights again as I had here – people whose humanity had been so thoroughly taken from them that they were scarcely recognizable as members of my own species. Some of them physically deformed, others mentally. I had yet to decide whether a lump of human flesh or a destroyed human spirit was the most sickening.

All in all, I felt like shit. Time had stopped. Would I ever get out of here? And when I did, would I still be sane?

Chikuso,” I growled as my senses caught up with the presence of yet another adversary.

The demon might have been an exceptionally strong opponent, had the closure of the rift in the Night Walls not forced it to possess a human. By taking advantage of the poor woman’s body, it could continue to live in our realm, but if it were to use even half of its true power, her body would dissolve and the demon with it. Uncannily like my own situation.

If I hadn’t been alone in this soul-sucking hellhole of blood and darkness for so many sleepless days, I might have hesitated, because it was still a human girl’s body, a human girl’s face.

I attacked, preferring to try and annihilate it before it had the opportunity to harm me. It was already too late for it as it raised its shields – should have, would have been too late for it, had I not been forced to slap up a ward of myself to stop my own blast from connecting with Artemis.

He was half-running down the street, and I had already released the power bolt when I noticed him and realized that it would pass straight through him. If I had been here just a little longer, I might not have hesitated to let it do that either.

The attack still struck him in the side, crashing him into a wall, but he lived. Thank all gods that my hasty ward had been strong enough for that, but curse that shape-shifting idiot to Jigoku for the backlash. This made my headache during Serenity’s failed project seem like a caress.

The cursed demon, completely unhurt, gave a dark howling sound that seemed to crawl over my skin like a living thing. I shrugged it off. I was far too drunk on power to retain any fear of such a minor demon. Still, this could very well prove extremely troublesome.

“What’s it doing? What’s going on?” asked Artemis, who had by now pushed himself up into a sitting position. He tried to regain his footing, fell, then finally stood and hurried over to me as best he could. Not impressively well, that was. He also had this severely pained expression on his face, one hand pressing against the side of his chest where his clothes were burnt away and the flesh ashy and red. Fortunately, the demon took no notice of him.

“I would presume that he’s calling for backup,” I stated calmly, then exploded. “You damn idiot! What the darkness do you imagine you’re doing out here? What the bloody hell is it that you think you can do except get in my way and get us both killed!”

“Chill,” Artemis replied. His voice was concerned, yes, but surprisingly calm during the circumstances and very far from the broken man he’d been when I’d last seen him. “The princess of Venus has gone missing, and so, for the matter, has the princess of Mercury. I’m looking for them.”

“Here? If we haven’t found them by now, it’s only because there’s nothing left to find.” Insensitive, perhaps, but true nonetheless.

“They were visiting a shrine in the vicinity of the palace. If I remember correctly, there is a Warp Gate in it.”

I didn’t have any time to form a reply, had I been interested in giving one, because the entire area stank of evil. I just barely managed to release the shield around us before it imploded. Perhaps I should just have teleported, but there was no telling where we would end up, and there was really no one else here who could take these darkcreatures on.

“Don’t worry about me,” Artemis said, fishing fourth an amulet from within his shirt. “I’ve got the blessing of the Silver Queen and her crystal. It’s not strong enough to fight them, but if they’re busy with you, this’ll keep them off of me.” As it was brought out into the air, the crystal pendant began to glow, weakly at first, then gradually stronger until it blazed like the sun on a bright Martian summer day.

I nodded distractedly, and Artemis hurried away to the dubious protection of a mostly unharmed building. The thick, choking darkness gave way for his amulet – obviously it was me that they were after. An understandable stance, in the circumstances, but not a very sensible one. This was most definitely not the fashion in which I would have wished to end my days.

I reached inwards, into the deepest pits of my soul and through that into the Song of the Harp itself. I drank in power, the magical essence of creation. It was not even an instant before my aura exploded in brightness, crashing over the area around me like a tidal wave and crushing the front-most darkcreatures beneath it. I was dimly aware that I was panting, sweating, when a second blast erupted. Not by my conscious will. Partly, it was a conditioned reflex from my body, which needed to relieve itself from the enormous magical stress – mostly it was the magic itself that surged forward, wishing freedom. It didn’t matter, because the magic’s will was my will now. Destroying a second row of demonic beings, I wondered absently whether I could have stopped drinking in power now even if I’d wanted to.

In moments, that last piece of rational thought disappeared, sinking away with my humanity into the swirling sea of chaotic energy. I was trembling with its power, the cells of my body breaking under the pressure, but I hardly noticed, so far below me was it, this worthless piece of mortal junk. I stood in the city of Verena, filled with enough magic to alter the very Song of the Harp.

I was immortal – God.

No, that wasn’t right. I was Tennou, and that was a lot better than god, because even they have rules to follow, restrictions on the usage of their power – whereas the sole reason for my existence was to create disharmony in the Song, to break rules. I was free.

As though from a great distance, I felt energy explode around me, destroying everything in its path, whether it be light or darkness. It made no matter to me. I was everything, and this was my destiny, to ride among the stars, eternal and ethereal, this was why the Harp had sung my name. I opened my eyes to embrace and so destroy the universe – and stopped short, frozen, at the sight of her.

Petit and perfect, the sun-warm of a green-blue summer ocean.

…the one who can be called to life in exchange for a star… A star. I needed a star. I almost laughed that such a simple thing had vexed me for so long.

“Hoshi,” I said aloud, reaching up,, far up into the endless sky where my mortal shell could not follow. It was clear and cold and perfect, and I continued to rise as if be-spelled by the frozen beauty.

“Yamette!” Her scream echoed in my mind, bringing me to a sudden shocked halt.


“Hai,” she said, and, looking down, I could see her standing on the ground with her arms raised upwards to me. “Hai, hoshi no Nefuraito.”

My heart was suddenly very light. I began a slow, spiraling descent – down to her and down into my human body and human mind. For one brief moment, an eternity of heartbeats, she was in my arms and whispered in my ear, “Ai shiteru.”

One brief moment, before she was gone as suddenly as she had appeared. My body caught up with me again just before it made a simple and absolute collapse from the stress, just in time to let me feel every last jolt of breath-taking pain that erupted in it.

Though it could hardly have been more than a few minutes, it certainly felt like I lay unmoving on the ground for an eternity. Artemis kneeled beside me worriedly. I was more dazed by pain and magical hangover than I’d ever been in the torture chambers beneath the training facilities, and even those experiences weren’t ones that I’d been particularly eager to repeat. It was almost an improvement when I started retching blood, because at least it meant that I was able to move again. Seconds ago I’d flown through the galaxy on the wind of freedom – now I was thankful for the possibility to kneel on the ground and throw up. Trying to laugh almost suffocated me.

I hardly registered Artemis’ hand moving over my neck, but I definitely noticed it when the pain suddenly disappeared. Weak with relief, and at the same time afraid to relax too much for fear that I would start hurting again, I managed to achieve a proper sitting position. Pushing vomit-sprayed hair out of my face, I discovered Artemis’ amulet hanging around my neck.

“How are you?” he asked quietly.

“I’ll live,” I replied, spitting out some last mouthfuls of blood and then touching the crystal pendant lightly. “Seems this trinket really can work miracles.”

That was when I noticed that something was wrong. Really, really wrong. I hadn’t seen it when I brushed away my hair because my tresses were rather dark by themselves, especially when wet – now, staring at the ground, I felt my world lurch. In a very faint voice, I asked, “Why is my blood green?”

“Are you sure it’s blood?” Artemis scooped some of the mess up on his fingertip and examined it scrupulously. Given his position in the Moon court and overall impression, I was surprised that he touched the disgusting stuff.

“Judging by the taste of it, yes,” I hissed, fighting a stray stab of pain that hurled through my chest. Perhaps one of my lungs had gotten punctuated. “In either case, I shouldn’t really have any green substances in me, right?” I felt ready to begin throwing up again, but from fear this time, not pain.

“Well, no,” Artemis readily agreed. “I suppose we should see about taking you to a healer, if you think you can manage? Personally, I think your body had to alter slightly to cope with the superhuman energies, and since it wasn’t completely normal to begin with, you ought to get out of it on top. But that’s just my theory, of course. We’ll see what the healers say. C’mere.” He rose to his feet gracefully, then bent down to help me. Since I couldn’t muster much strength, he practically had to drag me up. Obviously he was stronger than he looked, because he only wobbled a little under my weight. “A pity I can’t teleport here,” he remarked as he arranged one of my arms over his shoulders, slinging one of his own around my waist. I was in even worse condition that he’d been when I came to pick him up and could hardly even limp, although my head got a little clearer as we went. The one good thing with fear is that it breeds adrenaline.

Considering that we had to walk through it, I suppose that in some ways it was extremely fortunate that this area of the town was no longer exactly a wasteland, but more of a perfectly level ground. There were no ruins, no stone, only the flat ground, lying as even as any magically manufactured road. I…I have done that. Not that the buildings themselves upset me – but the most profound flavor of this place was the absolute lifelessness. Every creature that had inhabited it when my magic struck…the dark ones had gone to hell along with the light ones. And with such an attack, I might not simply have killed their bodies, but destroyed their very souls, depriving them forever of rebirth.

“Blessed Selene,” I whispered, shocked, my eyes tearing over. My mind was still struggling with the facts, trying to refuse them entrance into my knowledge, when my companion spoke.

“You were fairly effective,” he said, the words dry but his voice drenched in awe. “You must have disposed of a dozen demons at least, not to mention the youma and oni. Probably more.”

“Along with everyone else that was here.” No, I can’t break down and cry here and now.

Artemis shrugged, and I couldn’t help grimacing as the movement sent another jag of pain through me. He seemed not to notice. “After all, they were only humans,” he said. “Your inferiors in every way. Soldiers. They lived for the single purpose of dying in the right battle.”

If I hadn’t been so shocked, I would doubtlessly have startled to hear such words from a Lunarian councilor’s mouth. “That’s harsh words for their families,” I said.

“A soldier shouldn’t have one.” After a slight pause, he added, “I’m not from some splendid and delusional Moon Kingdom – I am from a galaxy that was raped and murdered by the Eternal Night in the most absolute way possible.” He laughed softly, a childish sound that was rather unnerving in the circumstances. Normally, he couldn’t do anything to me, but if he went mad now…

“I guess none of that really matters any now, though,” he continued. “You see, I’d like to embrace the nice little philosophy that everything will be all right in the end, the one that Serenity-sama personifies, and I try to believe in it, but the Night stole my daughter…and in a way I think it stole me too, the person that I used to be…and I can’t find it in me to even want to forget and forgive. I’m sorry, I’m babbling. “

He laughed airily again, and if I’d been able to, I would have hit him. Or hugged him, I don’t know.

Then something caught his gaze, and he sobered. There were tears in his eyes again. Following his stare, I could see through the glass-like ground we were standing on and down onto what must once have been a woman, but was now only ragged pieces of pale golden hair, blue fabric, and red, raw meat. I would have recognized her anywhere.

“Now that I think back on it,” Artemis said, his voice flooded with the tears that had not yet left his eyes, “it’s really strange how she looked exactly like I remembered her.”

I closed my eyes, keeping them shut as we resumed walking, reminding myself that, in war there are always necessary casualties. You could not have done anything else. I hadn’t even killed her. But those claims of mine weren't entirely true – there might very well have been other options, I just hadn’t been able to use them, not with this little time and this little experience. What’s done is done. Unfortunately, that last thought only made me feel worse.

The world vanished around me for an instant as I momentarily blacked out when a stumble sent new stabs of pain through me – and there it was, a warm presence like that of a slight girl embracing me, whispering that things done for love are always beyond good and evil.

But I didn’t do it for love.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 11

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury