The Darkest Road
Episode Fifteen: Moth in Flames
“Well,” Mamoru asked, “are you coming with me?”
He had already mounted his black stallion and was trying not to get tangled in his cape as the horse danced around and, from what I could see, generally did its best to shake him off.
“No,” I replied. “I wouldn’t want to leave Zoisite and Nephrite alone together.”
They’d been remarkably peaceful lately, but I didn’t trust whatever truce they’d achieved to hold up if they stared arguing. And what, exactly, do you think that you could do in the likely case that they start fighting, oh great and mighty Jadeite?
Not much, I admitted, but I can’t leave them with the humans.
“Then I’ll see you later,” the prince established. “Wish me luck!”
He nudged the horse forward, and it practically jumped towards the gate. Mamoru gave a yelp and clung to the saddle before he managed to get the horse at least partly back under control.
Kami-sama, I thought worriedly, I should have gone with him.
Then again, I had no desire to watch Mamoru flirt with some girl. I was lonely enough as it was without watching one of my only two friends find something better to do with his time than spending it with me. Especially as Zoisite had been completely insufferable since Kunzite went away, and only seemed to get more agitated as time went on. I shrugged. It was probably just as well that I couldn’t hang around him as much, seeing how I wanted to get further over him. Even if it did leave me more dependent on Mamoru.
Sighing, I rubbed a hand over my face and teleported to the garden where my mother’s ashes had been buried. It was rather a beautiful piece of greenery, really, at least if one was fond of roses. There were tons and tons of them, in every imaginable color. Pale pink ones clung over Isila’s grave, whereas those obscuring my mother’s were red as passionate blood. The rich, royal red of house Chiba’s weapon. That wasn’t why I’d requested that particular color, though, but because…I wasn’t sure.
Maybe to remind that she hadn’t been the cold, empty shell that I, and, I supposed, most others, had seen her as.
“Hello, Mother,” I said quietly, getting down on my knees to check the flowers over her. I couldn’t explain why – rather, I didn’t want to – but I used to come here every now and then. To talk to her a little, or sometimes just to think in solitude. We’d had such a peculiar relationship, and I still couldn’t figure it out.
No, no one had ever understood why I visited the rose garden this way, but much as it hurt to admit, I still wanted someone’s unconditional love, and she was my mother. I resented myself for it, but I’d even kept the picture of my father that I had eventually managed to acquire. It was true, what Mamoru’d said – he did look a lot like me. Older, of course, but the coloring and the build was mostly the same. I shuddered.
I fiddled with the roses, almost wishing that there hadn’t been gardeners, so that at least I’d had something to occupy my hands with.
I’d seen Kunzite here a few times, so at least I wasn’t the only one who frequented this place, but he seemed much more calm and confident about what he was doing here. Not that Kunzite wasn’t more calm and confident than I in any circumstances. I was still certain that this went deeper. He’d never been denied by or afraid of Isila. On the contrary, he’d admitted once when we’d run into each other here, she’d been wary of him.
His smile had been weary and sad when he dropped the bouquet on her grave, but it was still a smile, and a surprisingly tender expression. Just a few moments later, hardly surprisingly, Zoisite had appeared, and beamed at him, and clung to his arm. And Kunzite smiled with genuine happiness as he slung an arm around the younger boy’s shoulders in return.
Indeed. Kunzite had Zoisite, Zoisite had Kunzite, Mamoru had his loving parents, Nephrite…well, to my knowledge he only had himself, but contrary to me he seemed to be content with that.
Smiling bitterly towards the ground that had received her remnants, I rose to my feet and walked out mundanely through the ornate gate. I was supposed to attend an introduction in a few minutes, and wondered now whether I ought to change. Nah, it’s not worth it, I decided, content to merely brush the dust off my pants.
Surprisingly, the perpetually late Nephrite was already there, surrounded by a colorful crowd of nobles, most of which beautiful females who regarded him adoringly. Zoisite, on the other hand, seemed to be absent, which worried me somewhat. Punctuality was the one good trait of Kunzite’s that had rubbed off on him, so if he wasn’t here by now he wasn’t likely to come, and he’d been prone to explode even more violently than usual during the…what was it now? Almost a year, since Kunzite’s departure.
Come to think of it, I would still very much like to know what had caused his sudden disappearance, especially as it was so unexpectedly long. Maybe he really had fallen for Queen Michiru, as the rumors suggested, even though I couldn’t picture him being tender to anyone but Zoisite. And if he is in love with her, I hope he has the sense to keep her from Zoisite, or he’ll be a widower before he knows it.
How am I kidding? As if Kunzite would need anyone’s advice on how to handle Zoisite, least of all mine. I sorely doubted that the little blonde had ever thrown a wastebasket full of bad food at him.
“Minna-san,” I heard, and, turning my attention back where it belonged, realized that Queen Relisiana had not only entered but also taken place in her humble throne/extremely over-decorated chair. Beside her stood a pale, black-haired girl in a kimono. “Let me introduce my niece, Princess Rei of Mars, who will stay here for a short while before resuming her voyage to the Moon.”
As the crowd saluted her, the girl made a token bow, a perfectly mastered movement that made a strand of her gleaming hair fall over her heart-shaped face. She didn’t look like a twelve-to-thirteen-year-old. Oh, the stress their power put on their energy-lines had forced all the Senshi into physical adolescence, but that was not sufficient to explain the mature violet stare that met mine as I belatedly bowed my head.
She was miraculous. A crystalline butterfly of frozen fire.
And I was a really lousy poet, but that’s beside the point.
“Domo, minna-san,” she said. “Yoroshuku onegai shimasu.”
Something in her voice suggested that she spoke the language fluently, with the same causal perfection that her bow had hinted at. I personally found kimono uncomfortable to move around with, could never have done it with an ounce of her arrogant grace. Then, if she was a priestess – which she had to be if she belonged to the Hino family – she was doubtlessly used to such clothing.
The queen waved her hand, indicating that the gathering was over. I remained frozen for an instant, still staring into her, before walking away on dazed feet, my very being penetrated by the knowledge that I loved Hino Rei.
* * * * * * * *
I remained frozen for an instant, still staring into him, before walking away on dazed feet, my very being penetrated by the knowledge that I loved this boy. Blonde, somewhat elfin, shy smile – I’d seen him in the fire enough times to recognize him instantly. Him, and the impossibility he represented. We were each other’s tragedy, because I couldn’t love him and he couldn’t love me, yet we both still did so.
You know when you’ve fallen in love. It doesn’t matter if you’re too young, or if you’ve barely seen the person, or if you don’t have a bloody thing in common and you know that this will never work, never bring anything but heartache and disaster. Nothing mattered. Nothing save him.
“I would like to visit the Shrine,” I told my aunt. “Would you excuse me.”
She looked a little taken aback by my sudden request, but not offended, from what my glance-over revealed. I’d heard a lot about her during my up-growth. She was said to be a fiery, stubborn and highly determined person with a rare talent for magic. She’d given up all that that could have brought her for an unborn child that had turned out to be me – it was natural to wonder how she felt, welcoming me here.
Was it a relief or an insult that I was a better Sailormars than she could ever have become? Dear gods, I didn’t even need the wand to transform, albeit it took more energy that way. I had no need whatsoever of being a Senshi to do fire readings or exorcise evil spirits. She could never have done that. The question irked me – was she jealous or did she admire it or…?
Perhaps, I thought, startled, after another look at her calm face, she doesn’t care much about it because she’s content with her life as it is. I couldn’t even imagine marrying for political reasons, that was the one sacrifice I would not have offered my planet, no matter the cost. Few people would have expected anything else from the solider of fire and passion.
“Of course, Rei-san. I trust you can find your way back to your quarters when you wish to return?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
The palace Shrine was incomparably smaller than the one on my home planet, but the architecture was the same, even though the building was made of stone on Mars and tree here on Earth. To my relief, the place was empty, hidden away behind thick lines of trees. It was seemingly a long time since religion had been important on Earth.
I closed my eyes when I finally felt his presence. Then, having just barely entered the Shrine, I closed my eyes and transformed. I preferred to meet him as Sailormars, for reasons that I chose not to examine too closely. Once, in the beginning, I’d been embarrassed to transform when people looked at me, but routine had quenched the feeling years ago.
When the last sparkles dissipated, leaving me in the red-trimmed fuku, he had entered as well. He had to be at least two years older than I, but with this magically altered body of mine, I could have gone for his senior. He was slender, almost elfin.
“You,” I said quietly.
“Me,” he nodded. “And you.”
Then came the sound of beating wings, the noises that birds make, interrupting anything I might have said. Phobos folded her wings to land on my left shoulder, whereas Deimos apparently preferred to strut around on the floor and pick at my feet.
“Are those the ravens from the shapeshifter galaxy?” Jadeite asked, more, I thought, to have something to say than because he really wondered. I could sympathize with that.
“Yes. Luna-san claims that, at least. She says she hoped they’d be able to regain their human forms eventually, but then something happened.”
“What kind of something?”
“Luna-san thinks that they gave what humanity they had left to me. That that’s why fire readings come so easily to me. That that’s why I’m not really twelve.”
Maybe it was odd, to never have had the true ignorance and inexperience of a child, to be given someone else’s memories when no more than an infant. Undoubtedly, most people would consider it so. I myself lacked the distance necessary to judge.
“How long will you stay?”
“A couple of days.” Then, finally, to the heart of the matter, “I’m on my way to the initiation of the Inner Senshi. I will be bound to the princess, seeing her always as she is when enchanted by the ginzuishou.”
“But we –”
He took a tentative step forward. An unevenness in the floor trapped his foot, tripping him. I pushed forward to steady him, but he fell hard and gracelessly all the same. I did manage to catch him, but he was heavy, and my knees buckled. I landed in a demure sitting position with my legs drawn up underneath me which was made a little less demure by the fact that I had his head in my mostly bare lap. Somehow, he’d twisted around and fallen on his back, blue eyes staring up at me as I leaned over him.
This was impossible. We were each other’s tragedy. And all the same
I cupped his face in my hands, leaning further down and thus obscuring us both in a fall of raven hair – leaned down until my lips pressed against his.
* * * * * * * *
The next few days were like a dream, a single feverishly surreal impression of fire burning in violet eyes, framed by ebony hair and ivory skin.
We must have moved from the Shrine at some point, must have eaten and slept, but it wasn’t real. Nothing was real except Rei, and, through that, I.
That first searching kiss in the house of the gods had ignited a fire that burned my old self to ashes, let me rise from them anew like a phoenix. Because Rei loved me.
We lived in a dream of flames and silk and skin, safe from the rest of the world in our private cocoon of happiness.
Rei disappeared once, for a little while, to participate in some ceremony, but even that didn’t matter. Now that I didn’t care about, didn’t need it any longer, I was one of those special, shining people. I could have plucked the sun from the sky and given it to her, had she but asked. If it was for her, I could do anything.
And then she returned, and the fire resumed its burning. There were wild flames and soft glowing, was a blue light deep in the red flame.
Nothing existed in the universe save Rei and I and the fire.
She was the love of my Silver Millenium life.
* * * * * * * *
I groaned, burying my face more deeply into the junction of Jadeite’s shoulder and neck, trying to make the noise that had forced me from slumber go away. It didn’t. On the contrary, it persisted until I was wide awake and recognized it as knocking. Sighing, I started the process of disentangling myself from Jadeite as gently as I could.
“Rei?” A sweet, sleepy voice and the arm that closed around my waist, pulling me back down against him, indicated that my best efforts at stealth were insufficient.
“Yes,” I answered, kissing his cheek even as I slipped away from his grip. “I have to get up. There’s someone here.”
Muttering something incoherent, he swung his legs over the bedside and proceeded to struggle into a pair of pants.
“I think you’ve got the wrong side out,” I said, finger-combing my tousled hair as best I could.
He gave the item of clothing an exasperated look, then simply waved his hand and was dressed in a pair of newly-conjured trousers. I opened the door, hopefully presentable in the kimono-like robe I’d wrapped around myself.
“Rei-hime,” a vaguely familiar, black-haired boy said. “How wonderful to see you.”
He bowed, and I presumed that the motion made him catch sight of Jadeite, because a startle ran through his body, and his eyes remained fixed at something behind me as he straightened again.
“Mamoru,” my blond companion greeted, stepping up and nodding at the prince over my shoulder. He was fully dressed, his hair smooth and his face lacking any hints of sleepiness. Magic was a fine thing.
“Jadeite. Great seeing you too.” His voice was sincere, betraying no extraordinary curiosity – it struck me that it was probably rather late in the morning, and since both Jadeite and I were up and about, the nature of our meeting could be believed innocent. Would probably be considered as such, since Inner Senshi were supposed to be maidens.
“I’m sorry to barge in on you like this,” Mamoru-san said, “but the binding preparations are completed, and it was thought better that I came to fetch you myself than that we sent a servant.”
“Fine,” I replied. “I’ll be with you shortly.”
I stared at him until he took the hint and stepped aside, thus enabling me to close the door. The moment it shut, I had Jadeite’s arms around me and his mouth fastened over mine. It was a struggle to stop my fingers from catching in his hair long enough to push him away.
“I won’t be long,” I assured him between kisses. “You’ll wait for me here?”
He nodded, giving me a last passionate kiss before finally, reluctantly, releasing me. When he did, sparkles ran up and down my body, transforming my robe into an actual kimono not unlike the one I’d worn yesterday. I completely forgot about that, I thought. Doubtlessly, it would have been slightly embarrassing to turn up in front of the Earthen monarchs in the housecoat. Magic was a fine thing indeed.
I winced inwardly as my cousin teleported us both – I was generally uncomfortable with strangers involving me in their magic.
We emerged in a closed room inhabited by Mamoru-san’s parents and a few others, most of whom shrouded in priestly clothes. It was a simple ceremony, really, an exchange of vows and blood to forge the bonds of siblings between Mamoru-san and me.
My aunt had married King Endymion because of the old grudges between our respective planets – it would be meaningless if the good relations evaporated the moment new monarchs succeeded the old ones, and there was no princess that Mamoru-san could marry. I was the only daughter the King of Mars had ever sired, and whereas he could theoretically marry my younger brother, that would leave both planets without heirs.
So I scratched my palm open until blood welled, stood rigid and passive as my cousin raised my hand to his face and licked the red wetness away. The taste of his blood was salt and bitter but not altogether bad.
It wasn’t a strong bond, just a greater probability of compatibility. As opposed to the binding to Usagi Serenity, it did not affect my sentiments.
I closed my eyes and returned to my chambers, falling once more into Jadeite and our flames. We talked, sometimes, languid conversations in bed while we kept ourselves locked up under the pretence that I meditated to prepare myself for my initiation as Serenity’s guardian. It could be deep, soul-searching talks, was often silly arguments over nothing.
And then the fire rose and consumed us and we consumed it in turn.
I wondered sometimes where Phobos and Deimos had gone, but it slipped from my mind just like everything else. Only Jadeite and I were in the fire, and nothing existed outside of it – until, that was, the morning I would depart for the Moon.
On a subconscious level, we were obviously both aware of it already before fully coming into wakefulness. Never previously had I clung quite so desperately to him, nor him to me. I could feel my nails breaking skin were my fingers clasped around his neck, was certain that his arms around my torso bruised. Still I pressed closer, let us be carried away by the most intense, innermost blue flame, far into the heart of the fire.
I regained my senses to a bird’s bill picking softly at my hand, a feathered wing brushing over my cheek.
For a long time, I tried to keep my mind in forgetfulness, to be aware of nothing but the warmth and comfort of the body entwined with mine, but I couldn’t escape myself.
“Jadeite,” I whispered in the ear of this boy that I knew either nothing or everything about. His eyes blinked open immediately, revealing that he too had been unsuccessful in his attempt to return to sleep.
“This is what you really want?” he asked, forlornly.
“Why can’t we be happy here together?”
“How could I be happy, having betrayed my destiny?”
“There is no such thing as destiny.”
“Even so, could you be happy there?”
“No. But I need not be happy to perform my duties there. I would have to be happy to be of any use to you.”
* * * * * * * *
I scrambled up on my knees, pressing her down into my lap in an echo of that time in the Shrine. Kissed her with all my…being? We’d laughed together, we’d cried together, we’d burned together, and all of it was in that simple touch.
“Even so,” I said, speaking softly with my lips hovering millimeters over hers, “I’m not letting you go.”
“I am Sailormars,” she claimed, her voice calm but her breath panting.
“You are Rei.”
Hot tears fell down her face as she angrily shook her head. “Mars Planet Power – Make Up!”
She struggled into a sitting position, facing me with both hands pressed against my chest, right over my heart. I clasped my arms around her, refusing to let go.
“Fire Soul!” she cried, and the energy burned for a moment against my wards.
She was still crying as she spoke a third incarnation, “Mars Star Power – Make Up!”
Then, “Burning Mandala!”
She had to be drawing of my power to be able to do this. Which, of course, meant that none of it could hurt me, since the power was under my control.
In desperation, “Mars Crystal Power – Make Up!”
She erupted in the flaming light, emerging the essence of herself – a glorious, burning, crystalline…Rei. It was my face that the tears were coursing down. How can I be fighting her? And my shields dropped into nothing – and so the Mars Flame Sniper burned a flaming path through my heart.
I was dead. The old Jadeite, the person that I’d been my entire life, had burned to nothing the instant she kissed me. From the ashes had risen a new Jadeite, the person that I’d been these last few days. Now she’d killed him as well, and I was nothing.
From somewhere very far away, her face swam into focus. Once more she kissed me, and once again I was alive. I just didn’t know which Jadeite I was now, if there was really enough left of me to be alive with after the death of so very many parts of me.
But yes, I lived. Without heart, certainly. My heart was a charred, worthless lump. It was hers, she’d made it. One cannot live without a heart, but one may achieve a condition that is not death.
As this living dead I rose from the bed, mechanically healing the injuries on my chest, conjuring clothing, wiping the effects of sleep away. Still on auto-pilot, I brushed the tears of her face, shrouded her in another kimono once she’d detransformed, reformed the proof of her false virginity. I knew they’d check for it, and it was meaningless to cause trouble over a situation that was no longer in existence.
She cried quietly all the way to the Gate, and I kept brushing the tears away. Fortunately or otherwise, they stopped falling when we entered the space around the Warp. I faded into the shadows, watched her with aching eyes as she bid her farewells to the queen and the prince and all these lots and lots of other people who had no idea who she was. If you don’t have a heart, you don’t cry, but I felt like it then.
* * * * * * * *
I leaned back in the chair languidly, enjoying a late, expensive breakfast. This was at least as good as anything you could get in the palace, though I preferred my own bed before those of even a lavish hotel like this one. I shrugged slightly, opening my book and reading a few lines before pausing to sip tea. It’s good enough that I’ll stay for as long as they want me to.
It appeared that a number of influential people at court had become engaged in some sort of terrorist group, one that wasn’t particularly fond of either the government in general or the Shitennou in particular. The explosion of yesterday evening bothered me little, as all my important possessions were too thoroughly warded to be harmed by any amateur magician, and I was certainly not worried about my own safety.
Actually, I hadn’t even been in the palace when the chaos erupted, and as far as I knew, the same was the case for Zoisite and Jadeite. I’d been of a mind to catch the perpetrators, but palace security had insisted they be allowed to handle it on their own. Apparently they wanted to prove their worth to the queen (they’d said the king, but gaining his approval meant striving for that of his wife).
It didn’t much matter to me one way or the other, so I had followed the recommendation of an acquaintance and checked in at this excellent hotel, where I was quite comfortable. It really wasn’t much different from the palace, especially as I was paying for my stay with conjured jewelry.
Zoisite lived here as well, though fortunately we didn’t see that much of each other.
“Nephrite-sama,” a vaguely familiar voice called, and I waved the page to me.
“What is it?”
“One of the dead was a certain Lady Kalana. She was found in the ruins this morning. The curious thing is, it’s not quite certain whether she was killed by the explosion or not – she might have committed suicide.”
“That’s terrible,” I said noncommittally when he fell silent, “but I’m afraid I fail to see how this concerns me. I cannot recall knowing anyone of that name.”
“Her handmaid said that she had been madly in love with you for a long time. Since she was very beautiful, and since there was gossip about the two of you a while ago, it was thought that you might be interested to know.”
There was a gut-wrenching sensation to still be unable to remember her.
* * * * * * * *
I was a weak person. I always had been. Almost everything frightened me, not least of which my own beauty.
Rumor travels slowly in poor, low-populated areas like my home, but eventually news of it had leaked out. Hoping for anything else had been foolishness, but then I had never been very bright. It was as if the gods had played a prank on me, giving me a beauty so wondrous and perfect that no other good qualities had been granted me. I was dumb and cowardly, insecure and impure. As if one’s outer shell, no matter its shape, can ever make up for that.
But why yes indeed, I was beautiful. It wasn’t narcissism or vanity when I established the fact, because I hated my face and my body. The stars, the moon, the sun – all of it was ugly dust when compared to me. I cannot begin to describe how I dreaded it.
If I’d been as mediocre and unnoticeable outwardly as I was inwardly, I could have passed a boring and bitter but still calm and safe life. Now, with this accursed beauty that had been swept around my dingy soul, people wanted things from me, and I lacked the ability to deny them or ask for anything in return. I accepted what they gave me with the same frightened passivity that I accepted what they took from me.
I’d lived alone with my adoring father the bamboo-cutter for as long as I could remember, and for the same amount of time, people had come and wanted to see me. Father had protected me as best he could from them – if not from his own admiring – but they grew in number, and in wealth and strength as well.
Not long ago a young man who called himself Mamoru had sought me out – a lank boy who shared color of hair and eye with the prince whom I presumed that he’d been named after. Or maybe he was the prince. Gods knew that enough highborn people had subjected themselves to my beauty already.
Countless men had offered me their treasures, several had wanted to marry me and bring me to court. As fortune smiled at me, I had managed to refuse – evidently, there can be something greatly intimidating with overwhelming beauty such as mine. To this point, it had been enough to save me from the fate aI dreaded – to be locked in an unfamiliar position where I didn’t belong and didn’t know how to act and thus could only end up being hated, because I really had nothing else admirable than my face.
If your outside is perfect, then your inside must be imperfect and an utter failure. That’s balance. That’s the way of the world.
All of it changed – ended – the day the darkness came.
I was washing up the plates from lunch when the air shifted, seeming to struggle for an instant before somehow bending into itself until a hole was formed. From the tear in reality stormed the most hideous creatures imaginable – I was frozen, paralyzed, still kneeling with both hands occupied in the wash basin.
Shaking and crying silently, I didn’t even consider the possibility of them doing anything else than raping, maiming and killing me, not necessarily in that order. At first, that seemed to be their doubtless intent, and I screamed in wild despair as a taloned limb caught in my hair.
“Yamerou!” a horse, ugly voice yelled, and suddenly the monster that had grabbed me let go. I lay sobbing on the ground as the speaker uttered some more unintelligible sentences, then found myself seized from behind and pushed towards the hole from which my attackers had emerged.
I was beyond fear, beyond terror and disgust, and thus let them shove me through without resistance.
Considering the passive, meaningless quality of my entire life, it wasn’t really that much of a difference to be possessed by a demon.
* * * * * * * *
Author’s Note: When judging mainly my later brief characterization of Kaguya, please be aware that the only version of the Sailor Moon S movie that I’ve had the pleasure to acquaintance is the English dub as performed by Pioneer Entertainment. As for vol. 9 of the manga, lack of experience with other translations forces me to rely solely on the official one found in the Mixx publication. Staying true to my usual habit, I have based my writing on the anime, considering the manga a mere secondary comment.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 16
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury