Hearts of Sword
by Moon Momma

Part One -- Sleepers Awake

* * * * * * * *

-- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet XLII

* * * * * * * *

"Molly! Hey, Molls. Moll-a-reeeno! Wake up!"

Serena's voice. Serena was dead too? How unfair. Serena had everything to live for.

"Come on, Molly. Wake up!"

Slowly, Molly opened her eyes. Her whole body ached, and she felt terribly sick. First she saw Serena, her smiling face streaked and splotchy from crying. Then she saw the other four girls, Serena's friends, the Sailor Scouts. They had also been crying. Over her? Why should they?

Her eyes focused a little better, to take in the apparatus of a hospital room -- bed rails, cabinets, monitors and other equipment, IV tower.

"Oh, Molly, darling." The dear, familiar voice was on her other side. Molly turned her head slowly and saw her mother's red, tear-streaked face.

"Mama, I'm sorry."

* * * * * * * *

Mrs. Osaka's phone rang over and over. She picked it up. "Mmmm?" she mumbled sleepily.

"Mrs. Osaka, this is Raye Hino. I'm a friend of Molly's. I've really got to talk to her. It's very urgent."

"Raye, it's one-thirty. Can't you call back in the morning?"

"No. It's extremely urgent. Mrs. Osaka, I can... see things, like being psychic? And I'm really worried about Molly. Please go get her." The girl sounded like she was about to cry.

"All right." Mrs. Osaka sighed. She would tell this distraught girl that Molly was safe asleep in bed, then go back to bed herself.... She opened the door to Molly's room and screamed, "Molly! No!" She spoke quickly into the phone. "Raye, you've got to hang up. I have to call an ambulance." She switched her phone off and on again, and dialed the emergency number. "I need an ambulance. My daughter's tried to kill herself."

* * * * * * * *

"If Raye hadn't called and insisted I go get you, I wouldn't have found you in time," Mrs. Osaka said. "Raye, I'll always be so grateful to you."

The pain in her throat and chest was from the stomach pump, Molly realized. She raised her hands and looked at her heavily bandaged wrists. "You saved my life," she said to Raye.

The black-haired girl leaned forward to touch Molly's face. "I was so scared by what I saw in the fire."

"So now," Molly said, "you can tell me how to go on living without him."

"Without who?" Mina, the blonde who was slightly less ditzy than Serena, asked. "Melvin?"

"No, you doofus," Raye said. "That other one, from before we met you. Nephrite. We told you about him."

Serena stroked Molly's wavy red hair away from her face. "Molly, he's been dead for two and a half years."

"Is there a statute of limitations on how long you're allowed to love someone who isn't with you?" Molly felt sorry for saying this as soon as she saw the look on Serena's face. But Serena was reunited with her long-lost love. Even if he was a jerk to her sometimes, it was obvious that Darien really cared about her. Molly would never know what it would be like to have Nephrite's love and affection in her life, except for the few minutes before he died. She would never even know what it would be like to kiss him. She had thought her tears were all gone, but her eyes stung now. "I'm sorry, Mama, you guys. You just wanted me to be happy, and I failed. I'm sorry."

* * * * * * * *

She had tried, she really had. With the well-meant words echoing in her mind -- "He wouldn't want you to be sad forever, life goes on, your friends are here for you, he isn't really gone if he's in your heart" -- she had tried to get on with her life after watching the man she loved die a slow, painful death in her arms. For reasons she couldn't quite understand, she had dated Melvin for nearly a year, until he dumped her for the cute new president of the Young Entomologists' Club. That was ok, Melvin was sweet, he really was, and he deserved a girlfriend who wasn't alternately grossed out and bored stiff by him. It wasn't being dumped by the school nerdmeister that hurt, it was what he had said. "Molly, I feel like you're just not there. You're not even thinking about me. It doesn't matter to you if I'm around or not. At least with Winnie, I feel like we're both on the same planet."

There were other guys, but after a month or so each of them said the same thing. She wasn't paying enough attention to them, she was holding back. She had nearly even lost her best friend. One day, several months after Nephrite's death, Serena had been visiting Molly. The girls were alone in the apartment while Mrs. Osaka was working in the jewelry store. "Molly," Serena said, "I need to tell you something. I wasn't sure if I should, but you've got a right to know." Then, in front of Molly's disbelieving eyes, Serena transformed into Sailor Moon, then back into Serena. "I was there that night, Molly. You can talk to me."

Molly began to cry. "Why couldn't you have come sooner? You could have saved him, if you'd come sooner."

"What?" Serena said. "Molly, I'm sorry. I did my best --"

But Molly became angry. "You wanted him to die! That's why you came too late, because you wanted him to die. You were always saying how bad he was, you didn't want me to be with him, so you made sure he died. You as good as killed him to keep us apart!"

"Molly, no! That's not true!"

"Get out!" Molly screamed. "I never want to see you again!"

Serena had left then, in tears. Molly, shaking with angry sobs, watched her go. Mustn't cry, she thought. Mustn't upset people. Mustn't be sad. She cleared her mind of all thoughts and feelings and managed to still her grief. At least for this time.

It had taken months to mend the breach. Dear Serena, always so willing to forgive, hadn't held a grudge; it had taken Molly that long to be able to accept Serena's forgiveness and face her again. Still, an awkwardness had remained between her and Serena, who had become so wrapped up in this new group of friends -- Amy, Raye, Lita, Mina, Darien. Molly felt like she just didn't belong with them, especially after she found out about their identities as the Sailor Scouts and Tuxedo Mask.

She couldn't even talk to her mother about what had happened. She knew her mother would never believe it. Eventually, Mrs. Osaka, discouraged by Molly's unwillingness to open up about what was making her so sad, gave up trying to draw her out. Molly began to feel like she would never be loved by anyone again. There was something flawed in her that kept people away. She threw herself into her schoolwork. She became a model student, never late, always prepared, perfect marks on her homework and her extra-credit assignments. True, there were certain subjects that Molly had to force herself to study, and she had even had to drop her astronomy class after one week. She had managed, though, pushing through her classes, her days, her life without thinking or feeling anything, until yesterday's home ec. class.

It was cooking class this term, and they were beginning a unit on desserts. The teacher, a stern, old-fashioned woman, said, "Class, open your cookbooks to page 174. Miss Osaka, please read the recipe out loud."

Molly flipped her book open and began reading. "Chocolate Mousse Par --" Her throat suddenly seized shut. She glanced at Serena, who looked back at her with a stricken expression. She tried again. "Choc --" Tears blurred her eyes, and her throat began to ache.

"Miss Osaka, have you suddenly become stupid?" the teacher demanded. "I made a simple request, and I expect you to carry it out. Read the recipe!"

Serena waved her hand in the air. "I'll read it, Miss Yashiro!"

"Be quiet, Miss Tsukino. I asked Miss Osaka to read. Well?"

"I need to be excused, please." Molly stood and started to hurry from the room. Miss Yashiro moved to block her path, but Serena stood and bumped against the teacher, knocking her aside. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Miss Yashiro," Serena said.

"Have you already got detention today? Well, you'll get another hour for that, Miss Tsukino!" Molly heard this behind her as she ran from the room. She hurried through the hallways and down the stairs, brushing aside the teachers and monitors, even the principal, who yelled at her that she should be in class and it was against the rules to leave school in the middle of the day.

Out on the street, Molly ran without paying attention to where she was going. She just wanted to run. When she came to a light that was against her, she turned the corner; when the light was with her she kept going straight. The tears blurring her sight kept her from seeing her surroundings. Eventually, the stitch in her side and her aching lungs forced her to stop. She stood with her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath, and finally noticed where she was -- across the street from their park. She ran across to the entrance, the squealing of car brakes a distant sound behind her. Not too far from the gate was their tree. Molly stumbled to it, pressed her face to the rough bark, and stretched her arms as far around the trunk as she could. Then she cried, as she hadn't cried since the week or so after Nephrite's death. She let go of the tree and fell to her knees, bent over herself, sobbing and wailing with every ounce of strength and emotion she had. She was completely unaware of the passersby who stared at her, or the policeman who came and prodded at her, then decided she wasn't really doing anyone any harm.

Molly had no idea how long she'd been crying before the sobs began to die down. She stretched out a little, curled on her side, close to the tree, her head pillowed on her arms. Her shaky sobs became shorter and farther apart, until she fell asleep.

It was dark when she awoke. A policeman was crouched next to her. "You should go home, Miss. It isn't safe for a young lady to be alone in the park at night. Would you like me to call someone to help you home?"

Molly sat up and rubbed her eyes. She felt completely empty inside. "No, thank you. I'll be all right." She stood and walked out of the park, again without paying attention to where she was going, except that it was in the general direction of home.

She had been targeted to die in that park. Nephrite had given his life to save her, but in many important ways she had died. She wasn't Molly any more; she was no longer capable of loving or being loved, or of being happy. That part of Molly had been murdered by those horrible Negaverse creatures, and now it was time to finish the job.

She went into another park, nearer home, where they had been together. Here, she had seen first-hand his evil, here she had saved his life and he had protected her. Molly walked away from the lights a little, and looked up at the stars. Maybe, sometime in eternity, she would find him among them.

At home, she watched TV without noticing what was on until her mother had been sound asleep for a while. On her mother's bedside table she found the bottle of sleeping pills her mother used when stress from running the store was keeping her awake. She took a half-full bottle of vodka and a sharp paring knife from the kitchen.

She arranged these things on her pretty antique-white desk in her room, and looked them over. "Forgive me, Mama. Forgive me, Nephrite," she whispered, then opened the bottle of pills. There were a dozen or so; they went down easily with the nearly-flavorless vodka. The pills and vodka distanced her from the pain as she pulled the knife across her wrists, three or four times each. Everything started to go dark; in the distance the phone rang....

* * * * * * * *

"I failed." Molly turned her head sideways and let her tears run onto the flat hospital pillow.

"No, Molly," her mother said. "I failed you. I'm so sorry. I should have let you know you could tell me anything, even if you were afraid I wouldn't believe you."

"Wait a minute," Raye interrupted. "Let's get something clear here. None of us made Molly do this. It was a choice she made." She looked at Molly, righteous anger flaming in her eyes. "Didn't you stop to think about what a stupid, selfish thing this was to do? Didn't you care about hurting your mother and your friends? I would never, ever put my Grandpa through the hell your mother has been through tonight."

Lita, arms folded across her chest, added, "If I was lucky enough to have a mother or father, I would never do anything to hurt them, no matter how miserable I was feeling."

Molly could barely speak through the sobs that tightened her throat. "I'm sorry. I'm broken.... I don't know how to love any more."

"Raye, Lita, she doesn't need this right now," Mina said. "She's been hurt in ways none of us can imagine."

"That's right," Amy said. "Right now, all we need to say is we're glad Raye saved her."

Serena was still stroking Molly's hair. "Molly, you've been my best friend for so long, I'd be lost if you weren't here."

* * * * * * * *

Molly stayed in the hospital for a week, until her wrists were well on their way to healing and the doctors and social workers were convinced she wasn't going to make another suicide attempt any time soon. Once home, she didn't do anything but sit by the window where Nephrite had come to her that last night and look out at the city. She took to wearing long-sleeved sweaters to conceal first the bandages, then the scars, on her wrists. She refused to let herself think or feel anything, for fear of breaking her promise to her mother and the doctors that she wouldn't try to kill herself again. She was even afraid to move.

One night, after a few weeks, Raye called and asked her to come over to the Hikawa Shrine the next evening. Molly's mother drove her, then went to do some shopping while Raye and Molly talked.

Raye was sitting in front of her sacred fire. Molly hesitated at the entrance to the room, impressed by the sight of Raye in her priestess clothing. She pulled the sleeves of her sweater as far down over her hands as they would go. "Come on in," Raye said, without looking away from the fire. Molly walked in and knelt behind Raye. She kept her head bowed; the fire was intimidating.

"I'm sorry about lecturing you, that night in the hospital. It's a bad habit of mine, lecturing people when it's the last thing they need," Raye said. "How's your mother?"

"She's all right," Molly said in a flat, quiet voice. "She still doesn't like to leave me alone."

After a long silence, broken only by the soft hiss of the fire, Raye spoke again. "You had a point, you know. I saved your life when you couldn't bear to live any more, so it's kind of up to me to help you live it. I had an idea, if you're interested."

"Okay," Molly said, just to be polite. She didn't know if she was interested or not.

"What you need is to be someplace where you don't even have to pretend to live a normal life until you're ready. The fire showed me a shrine, really more of a retreat or even a monastery, in the mountains a few hours away from here. My Grandpa know the priest who runs it. He's already written and asked if it would be ok if you went there for a while. They said it would be. You could work, study, meditate, be alone or with other people when you feel like it, cry, sleep, whatever. What do you think?"

Something inside Molly came alive at the idea. To not have to pretend anymore... "Oh, yes, Raye, I want to go. Thank you." She stiffened in surprise, then relaxed when Raye leaned over and hugged her. "You'll be ok, Molly. Really, you will. I see it in the fire."

* * * * * * * *

Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in hell:
Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n.

John Milton, Paradise Lost

* * * * * * * *

It was another boring night in the life of Jarvis Jeevers, aka Mazz Destrukshun, world-famous heavy-metal-thrash-punk-gothic-whatever idol. An arena packed with groveling, screaming fans; chicks throwing their underwear at him; he'd eaten his usual live snake (bleeping animal-rights bleeps could go bleep themselves; however, this one hadn't tasted as good as they usually did); the exploding drum set bit, complete with flying rubber body parts and gallons of fake blood, had been timed perfectly; and now the show was over. He'd take his pick of a dozen or so groupies from the masses milling around outside the dressing room, and head out for a night of booze, drugs, and excessive, mindless sex. It was always the same, and it was getting sooo boring. There had to be something new and interesting out there. Maybe if he tried blowing up the real drummer? Now therewas a thought....

He piled into the limo with his chosen groupies and a handful of other hangers-on. The limo drove through the bustling, brightly-lit streets of whatever the hell city he was in -- Tokyo, London, Sydney, Dallas, what difference did it make. He seemed to recall being told to say "Tokyo" during the "Hello wherever, it's bitchin' to be here!" bit, but couldn't remember if that was here or somewhere else or if he'd even actually said it. It was the same every place he played.

Then, something different happened. The limo turned onto a darkened side street. The groupies all passed out, which they usually didn't do until closer to sunrise. The driver, eyes glowing red, turned around to face Mazz. He touched the glass of the window separating the driver's seat from the rest of the car, and it melted away. The driver's face took on a demonic form, purple skin, sharp little teeth, long narrow eyes. The creature spoke in a metallic, vaguely female, hiss. "Mazz Destrukshun, or should I say, Jarvis Jeevers?"

"Erp," was all the rock star could say. His real name was a closely-guarded secret. Beneath the smeared white greasepaint and black lightning bolts and lipstick, his face really had gone white.

"You're looking for something new, aren't you, Jarvis? Some new excitement. You've been thinking, surely there must be something out there for a man of your vast talents and, shall I say, appetite for life?"


"Well, Jarvis, I'm offering you the greatest thrill of all. I'm offering you the chance to conquer the universe and rule it for me. What do you say to that?"

Man, this was weird. He didn't think he'd done that many drugs yet.

"This is not a hallucination, Jarvis. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, take-it-or-leave-it offer. Of course, if you choose to leave it, you'll have to die. What do you say? Great King of the Universe? Imagine the possibilities."

Mazz imagined. He was actually a man of very little imagination, but some fantasies were a specialty of his. "I'll do it."

"Excellent." The limo stopped at the entrance to a dark alley, and the door closest to the alley opened by itself. Mazz got out of the car, and the demonic driver followed. "You've given me you word, Jarvis, now we'll make it binding." The creature grabbed his hand and bit deeply into the wrist.

In the faint, sickly glow given off by the creature, Mazz stared down at his wrist. Cool, he thought. I'm going to bleed to death right here. That would definitely be something new.

The pool of blood on the ground at his feet spread, but Mazz didn't die. After a long time the color of the flow changed. Oh, wow, he thought. I've got green blood. Bitchin'. Then he lost consciousness. As the world went black around him, he heard the demon hiss, "You are mine now, Jasper."

* * * * * * * *

Mazz Destrukshun, now also called Jasper, new ruler of what was left of the Dark Kingdom, woke up alone in an apartment he didn't recognize. Not that it was a bad place to wake up in; he could see it was the next step up in the series of increasingly luxurious apartments he'd systematically trashed and abandoned. But why was he alone? Where were the groupies? And what was the deal with that crazy dream, where the limo driver had turned into a monster and made his blood turn green?

"Jasper." It was the harsh, hissing voice from his dream. "Listen carefully. I cannot spare the energy to tell you things more than once. You must make your headquarters in this city -- it is where our greatest enemies are. Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts must be destroyed. You must gather enough energy to seize the emblems of power from Sailor Moon and free me. I have given you the relics of my three loyal Generals -- they were flawed servants, but they are all we have right now. You must summon them to you. I have given you the power, and you will know what to do. Serve me well, Jasper, and the rewards will be beyond anything you've ever imagined."

Cool. It wasn't a dream -- he could rule the Universe! For sure that wouldn't get boring. On the floor next to him, Jasper found three small objects: a short, knotted lock of yellow hair; a dried, pale pink flower; and a flat, silvery, vaguely hand-shaped object set with a large dark blue stone. Mazz picked up this last item. The instant he touched it, a powerful sense came to him of the item's owner, along with a name. With a power of concentration that he had never before known, especially given his excesses of the last few years, Mazz fixed his mind on this aura. Then he spoke in a voice that was both his and the hissing creature's. "My servant Malachite, I command you to come forth! Return from death to life and serve your King!"

There was a pulling sensation so strong Mazz had to fight to brace himself against it. A shimmering light appeared on the floor at Mazz's feet, then resolved into the form of a man. The man gasped, stirred, and sat up. He was tall, lean, broad-shouldered, with long, straight, silvery hair and eyes that gleamed an unearthly silver-blue. He wore a grey military-style uniform, with the top few buttons of the jacket undone. A cape was fastened to one shoulder with the twin of the metal object Mazz was holding. "Who are you?" the man asked in a deep, cold voice.

"I am King Jasper, Metallia's new Chosen upon the Earth." Where had that come from? Oh, well, it sounded good. "You must be Malachite."

"I am, my King. I am grateful to you for bringing me back." The silvery eyes fell upon the dried flower, and a completely unexpected tone entered Malachite's voice. "Zoisite! Can you bring her back, too?"

Mazz, now formally declared to be Jasper, bent over and picked up the pale pink blossom. "I could." He grinned. "Or I could just smash this little flower into dust."

"My Lord! No!" Malachite, who appeared to be considerably taller, broader, and stronger than Jasper, actually flung himself to the ground at the new King's feet. "I beg you, don't destroy it! Please bring Zoisite back! I swear to you she will be a better servant to you than she was to Beryl. I will teach her better, so she won't make the same mistakes. King Jasper, please, I beg you!"

Jasper grinned again. Groveling. This was getting better. He'd had people beg for things before, groupies wanting another lay or more coke, but never this desperately and never on matters of life and death. Power was such a rush. "Well, Malachite, as they say, good help is hard to find. I have to take what I can get." He focused on the aura surrounding the flower and called, "My servant Zoisite, I command you to come forth! Return from death to life, and serve your King!"

There was the pulling sensation again, the shimmering light, then a woman appeared on the floor. She had long, tawny hair tied back in a ponytail, and wore a gray uniform like Malachite's. "Zoisite!" the male General cried. He dove towards the woman, enveloping her in his arms and sobbing her name over and over. The woman's eyes opened. "Malachite," she said wonderingly, then flung her arms around him. The two became lost in a long, deep, desperate kiss.

Jasper sneered, made a highly obscene suggestion to the two lovers, and turned his attention to the lock of blond hair. He wondered if he'd get lucky and this would turn out to be another chick. The aura flamed in his mind; no such luck. "My servant Jadeite, I command you to come forth! Awake from Eternal Sleep, and serve your King!"

There was a shattering at the very edge of Jasper's consciousness. A black oval appeared on the floor at Jasper's feet, then shrank to reveal another gray-uniformed man. This one was not as tall or broad as Malachite, with a delicate face and short, thick blond hair. He was already awake; he sat up and said in a dazed voice, "I'm free. I'm finally free!" He looked around him. "Zoisite, Malachite! Where are we? And who are you?" He turned his gaze to Jasper.

"I am King Jasper. Beryl failed in her mission, so I have been chosen to continue the war. And this time we'll win!"

Jadeite looked at the other two Generals. "We lost? To those stupid Sailor Scouts? I can't believe it!"

"We lost big," Malachite answered bitterly. "We grew fewer in number -- first losing you, then Nephrite, then Zoisite, and finally they killed me. When I died there were five of them! They grew stronger, while we grew weaker and more desperate."

"But now that you're all here," Jasper said, "we can figure out how to win big."

"All of us?" Jadeite asked. "But where's Nephrite?"

"Nephrite!" Zoisite spat out the name. "That traitor! He died a miserable death, and may he rest in misery forever."

"Nephrite a traitor? He was the last to pledge to Beryl, but he was as fanatic as any of us."

"It was that Molly girl. He fell in love with her, the fool, and turned against us to protect her. I finally killed him -- I had to, he deserved it -- but it cost me three of my best youma."

"Molly." Jadeite's eyes narrowed in concentration. "Molly. Cute little redhead, mother owns a jewelry store, friend of Sailor Moon's, has a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

"Yes." Zoisite's voice was dark with hatred. "That Molly, the little wretch."

"You're kidding me," Jadeite said. "Nephrite and Molly? No way." He was silent a moment. "You say you killed him, Zoisite?"

"I had Grape do her shooting thorn thing. Slow, painful, and miserable. He died in his sweet little tramp's arms. After those damn Sailor Scouts wasted my youma. It makes me just sick thinking about it."

"Ancient history, dudes." Jasper had an idea, one that stunned him with its genius, its brilliance, its sheer bodaciousness. "Here's what we'll do. Sailor Moon's got the stuff we're supposed to get, right? So why even worry about the others? Let's just go after Sailor Moon." He grinned, waiting for his minions to fall over at the brilliance of his strategy.

"Um. We'll have to think about it," Malachite said. Zoisite and Jadeite nodded agreement.

* * * * * * * *

"Can you believe this guy?" Zoisite asked. The three Generals sat in the kitchen of the apartment. Their new leader was passed out in the living room. "Where in hell did... She... dig him up?" None of them had ever liked to refer to Metallia by name.

"He's supposed to be a replacement for Beryl?" Jadeite added.

"Maybe She likes him because he's so stupid. He'll just go out and do what he's told. He won't start having ideas like Beryl did. Not good ones, anyway," Zoisite said. "I mean, really, thinking we can just fight Sailor Moon and not the others? And we're supposed to fall over in amazement at his genius?"

"There may actually be something to that, though," Malachite said thoughtfully. "The Sailor Scouts got stronger while we got weaker. We need to reverse that process. We should take out as many as we can, preferably by driving them away from Sailor Moon, or, even better, turning them against her. If we killed them all, that would put her on her guard. Then, when Moon's alone, we can defeat her and get the Imperium Silver Crystal and whatever else she has."

"We need energy, though," Jadeite said. "I don't think I could move a grain of sand right now. Which means we're going to have to go through the whole process of collecting energy again."

"Not a problem, dudes." The three looked, startled, at the kitchen doorway to find Jasper standing there. Each of them swallowed nervously, wondering how much of their criticism he had heard. He might be an idiot, but the smile on his black-and-white painted face and the glint in his gray eyes were ice-cold. "I can get us all the energy we need."

"How?" Malachite asked, in a tone of voice that was almost, but not quite, challenging.

"I'm a musician, man. A big star. Every concert I do, I've got thousands of fans screaming at me, they love me so much. I've got chicks throwing their underwear at me and wetting themselves whenever I look at them. Tons of energy. And it's all mine." He grinned, showing terrible teeth. "If you guys are really good, I'll let you have some of it." Jasper turned back to the living room, presumably to resume his nap.

"Musician?" Zoisite mouthed at the other two Generals. Malachite rested an elbow on the table and used that hand to rub the spot between his pale eyebrows. "I don't even want to know," he muttered.

"How grateful do I have to be that he got me out of that crystal?" Jadeite added.

* * * * * * * *

Holding you, I held everything,
For a moment wasn't I a king?
But if I'd only known how the king would fall,
Hey, who's to say, you know, I might have changed it all.

"The Dance"

* * * * * * * *

Hell was not a place but a state of mind. What could have been but would never be contrasted sharply with what had been. He looked to the stars, his old friends; they showed him, with agonizing clarity, how the choices he had made, one after another, had led to this terrible, tragic, stupid waste.

He had been so arrogant, so sure of his own wisdom, so greedy for the Imperium Silver Crystal, that he had completely ignored what the Black Crystal was telling him about his destiny. He had presumed to think that he knew what the stars would choose to tell him, without bothering to really heed their message. Idiot, he berated himself, if you hadn't been so cocky, so arrogant, so blinded by your desire to win the Silver Crystal, it would have been obvious why the Black Crystal kept reacting to her. It had nothing to do with the Silver Crystal. You would have understood before it was too late.

All the atoms of his body were scattered across millions of cubic miles of space, but his spirit was intact and could see and hear. Most of the time there was darkness, except for the stars, and silence, except for his own thoughts, but sometimes sounds and visions came to him. He could never tell whether they lasted seconds or eons, but while they lasted they seemed utterly real.

The sobbing of a young girl who was suddenly, far too soon, learning a woman's grief... This was the sound he heard most often, usually at the beginning and end of a vision: that weeping, sounding small and choked because the grief was too great for her small body to handle; the agonized scream, "Nooo!" directed to the uncaring sky.

...He saw the back of a young woman sitting on a blanket on a sunny hillside, while half a dozen red-haired children crawled, tumbled, and ran in the grass around her. The soft fabric of her blue dress draped gracefully over her shapely hips and legs, her wavy red hair was caught up behind her head with a big blue bow. She turned her face to smile and speak to one of the children, and he caught a glimpse of her profile....

"....Molly!" his soul cried....

"Molly," his voice said in the vision, as he approached her on the hillside. She turned to look at him, her face glowing with love, and the children crawled, toddled, and ran to cluster around his legs. He scooped up the smallest one and lifted her onto his shoulders....

Had not been. Would never be. The vision of the sunny hillside disappeared, leaving darkness and the sound of her crying, which faded after a while.

He tried to remember her smile, during the dark times between visions, but could only remember her tears as she pressed his bloodied hand to her face while he lay dying. Her confusion as she watched him try to kill those who fought to defend love and justice. Her fear as she was caught in the power struggles between him and his rival in the evil kingdom. He looked to the stars for answers, and found only condemnation.

The sound of her crying, then another vision....

She lay in his arms, her fair skin delicately flushed from lovemaking...

"....Molly," his soul groaned....

"Molly," he whispered to her in the vision. She looked up at him with a knowing, gentle smile, and pulled him down to her....

Had not been. Would never be. Her sobbing gradually faded away, leaving him in silence again.

Visions of what had not been and what could never be. He watched himself grow old with a woman who would never be his wife, watched children grow up who would never be born, watched himself find joy in a world that was lost to him, and tried to remember what he had been offered in place of these.

Her crying, then a vision....

....She watched proudly as a young man was elevated to serve as one of the four Generals of a Royal House. The young man came to stand beside him in the line of Generals, and he also smiled proudly at his son, identical to him except for the brighter red of his hair, the greenish tint of his blue eyes. Mischief danced in the young man's eyes, but he knew that his son would be an honorable man and a true General to his King....

Had not been. Would never be, because he had not been honorable and true.

* * * * * * * *


Huh? He was surprised by the first real voice he had heard since his death. He had almost forgotten his name. But it wasn't his name....

Nephrite, you want to go back, don't you. It was a gentle, colorless voice. You want another chance to keep the oaths and promises you broke so long ago. You want to become again the man you once were, and to have the life you could have had if you had remained true.

Old oaths and promises... He remembered the oaths he had sworn in his education as a mage and his training as a warrior, to use what he was learning in the cause of good. The code of honor he had followed as one of the greatest Kharandha'i warriors the Earth had ever known. His oaths of fealty to Arrendel, King Endymion, and to his son Prince Darien, who had not lived to be crowned and take the formal title Endymion. The promise he had made to Darien to protect his future bride, Princess Serena, who did not live to see her wedding day. And another promise...

* * * * * * * *

Nighttime on the Moon, the palace gardens bathed in bright, bluish Earthlight. Nephre'im was on chaperone duty that night, following Darien and Serena around to make sure nothing improper happened. The little red-haired handmaid -- Queen Serenity's favorite, almost as dear to her as her own daughter -- had been given the same task. Nephrite couldn't remember how he and the pretty maid -- Maira, her name was -- had become friends, but on this night, he remembered, he had been so glad to see her in the gardens, spying on the Prince and Princess just as he was. Her company was far more interesting than watching Darien and Serena try to dive down each others' throats.

The two chaperones sat on a bench that was semi-discreetly hidden behind the gracefully drooping branches of a tree. "How long has this one been going on?" Nephre'im asked, indicating the royal couple, locked in a deep kiss.

The girl laughed, a light, musical sound. "I lost count at two hundred and fifty."

"Any moment now, they're going to turn blue and fall off that bench. In my opinion, the sooner this wedding happens, the better."

"I think we're going to be out here a while, General Nephre'im."

"I think you're right." He slid down a little on the bench, crossed his legs, and stretched his arms along the back of the bench. His right arm just brushed the girl's shoulders. He looked at her; she was wearing one of those low-necked, high-waisted, short-sleeved dresses that were the fashion now, that managed to look both innocent and maddeningly seductive, especially on -- ahem -- a figure like hers. The dress was blue (she almost always wore blue to match her eyes), of some nearly-sheer linen material embroidered all over with tiny white flowers. Her hair was a long flame of red that rippled down her back past her hips; tonight, as usual, it was tied at the base of her neck and at her waist with big blue bows.

His superior, General Mallory, knew how he really felt about the girl, and had warned him several times. "A match between you and her would be wildly inappropriate. She's a servant, even if she is Queen Serenity's little pet, and you are one of the four Imperial Generals of the Realm of Earth. A dalliance, a brief affair, would be far less objectionable, except that we don't want to risk offending Her Majesty. Watch yourself, Nephre'im."

Well, Nephre'im thought, sitting next to Maira in the Earthlight, it was Mallory and Zoyan who needed to watch themselves. If their own little affair was ever brought to the attention of King Arrendel's Council, it would mean disgrace, dishonor, possibly even death. Nephre'im had no intention of informing on them; good military leaders were hard to find and were especially indispensable during this time of threat from the mysterious and sinister Beryl and Metallia. But Mallory's hypocrisy annoyed him.

"How long till they come up for air, do you think, General Nephre'im?" Maira asked.

He looked up at the sky, pretending to be deep in thought. "The stars say at least till a count of sixty."

"They do not! Shall we wager on it?"

"Of course." Nephre'im never liked to pass up a bet, especially an unusual one.

"What should the forfeit be?"

"Let's decide after we see who wins. More interesting that way."

They began counting out loud together, quietly so as not to disturb the kissing couple and taint the wager. They reached sixty-three before Darien and Serena finally pulled apart, caught their breath, and embarked on another kiss.

"Hah! I win. The stars know everything." Nephre'im smiled wickedly at Maira.

"If you say so, General. What do I owe you?"

As his answer, he took her chin in his hand, tilted her face up to his, and kissed her. He had never kissed her before, but tonight, in the gardens, in the Earthlight, inspired by Darien and Serena's virtuoso performance, it seemed the only possible thing to do. Maira's arms immediately went around his neck; it seemed she agreed.

This was a kiss worthy of a wager itself. Nephre'im lost himself in the girl's softness and warmth, until a deep, stern voice spoke behind them. "General Nephre'im."

He looked sideways through his hair without breaking the kiss, and confirmed that it was indeed General Mallory standing there behind the bench.

"General Nephre'im, you are in dereliction of your duties. I expect this improper behavior to stop immediately."

Nephre'im reluctantly pulled away from Maira, who straightened her dress and folded her hands primly in her lap. "Get lost, Mal. I've got the situation under control."

"I don't think so. I'll be filing a report on this incident with King Arrendel."

"Of course you will. We all know you've never gotten carried away in a garden with a beautiful woman." It was childish and petty, but Nephre'im considered it important to occasionally remind Mallory that he was not infallible.

The tall, silver-haired General frowned, then spoke coldly. "We will discuss this matter tomorrow, in my quarters." He walked away. Nephre'im waited until he was out of earshot, then muttered, "Hypocritical twit."

Maira giggled into her hands. "What was that all about?"

"Well," Nephre'im said, looking around to make sure they wouldn't be overheard, "I don't think anyone else knows this, and I would never tell because of the damage it would do to their careers and reputations, but General Mallory is -- ah -- intimately involved with General Zoyan."

"But they're both --"

"Men," Nephre'im completed the sentence. "Which, among many other things, violates military protocol. Mal trained Zoy, outranks him by three levels, and was responsible for his promotion to the Imperial Generals. At the very least, they would both be busted down about thirty levels if the King ever found out." He grinned a little at the thought of Mal and Zoy peeling turnips in the mess tents. Wouldn't hurt them to get their hands dirty with a little honest work for once. Especially Zoyan.

"Oh, my," Maira said. "But how would two men --" She blushed.

"It's nothing that a well-bred young lady like you need concern herself with."

"Oh. Well, I promise I won't tell anyone."

"Good. So, Miss Maira, what would have been my forfeit if you had won the bet?"

She looked at him sideways through her bangs, looking demure and wicked at the same time, and smiled. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

He laughed, the big, full laugh that other people could never help laughing along with. The Prince and Princess heard him and sat up, blushing and straightening their clothing. "I'm sorry, Nephre'im. I didn't realize you were there," Darien said.

"You two go on with what you were doing. Don't mind us." Nephre'im relaxed back on the bench and put his arm around Maira's shoulders again. In return, she snuggled up a little closer to him. "The sooner those two are married, the better," he said.

Maira studied her fingernails for a moment. "Queen Serenity is going to send me to Earth with Serena after the wedding. I guess so Serena won't be too homesick." She looked at the General with huge blue-green eyes. "What's Earth like?"

Nephre'im considered. "It's very different from the Moon. The Moon is pretty much the same all over, but the Earth has such great variety. It's big and wild and beautiful. I hope you're looking forward to seeing it."

"Actually, I -- I'm kind of afraid. I've never even lived away from the Palace before. And aren't there wars on Earth?"

"Sometimes." He decided to gloss over the truth a bit, soothe the girl's anxiety. "Not so much since King Arrendel's grandfather united the Earth's four largest Kingdoms under his crown. So you don't need to worry about that."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course." He became very solemn, which was rare for him; what he was about to say carried great weight, as did any oath made by a General. "Maira, I promise you that as long as I have breath in my body you need never be afraid of anything." He kissed her again, very tenderly, to seal the promise.

"I know I'll always be safe with you, General Nephre'im," she murmured.

* * * * * * * *

Do you remember how you kept that oath, Nephrite, and repaid that trust?

He remembered now, though he didn't want to....

* * * * * * * *

It was through Mallory and Zoyan that Beryl gained her foothold among the four Generals. She promised them that in her service they could be open about their affair without fear of the consequences, though she kept that promise in a way they hadn't anticipated. Jederin and Nephre'im were much more resistant, but Beryl launched a full assault on them, finding their vulnerable places, their weaknesses, their most secret desires that they would never have dreamed of admitting to anyone, even themselves. She seduced them, mind, heart, soul, and body, until first Jederin and, finally, Nephre'im stood before her of their own free will and gave themselves into her service.

The Earth fell to the Negaverse, and the assault on the Moon Kingdom began. The Moon's defenses quickly fell, and the final battle flooded over the Palace. The Generals were ordered to kill every living thing they found, male and female, young and old, weak and strong. They and their troops followed this order.

Nephrite raised his bloodied sword above his next victim, a young woman who had slipped in a pool of blood while trying to hurry some children to safety. She looked up at him through the flame-colored hair that had fallen across her face, and screamed, "Nephre'im, no!" He hesitated, the sight of her pulling at something in his soul he had thought was gone....

The hesitation ended. He brought the sword down. Her scream ended abruptly as the sword met resistance. He pressed down further, then raised the sword, shiny with fresh blood. He looked at his handwork for a moment, then turned away to his next victim.

* * * * * * * *

Noooooo! his soul screamed.

Nephrite, the voice said, because of the circumstances of your death and the strength of your desire to change, you are to be granted a great and rare privilege. You will be allowed to return to mortal human life, with the normal life expectancy of a thirty-year-old mortal male. You will have the chance to right a small number of the wrongs you committed, and to make your visions of what could have been come true. You will have all the same powers you had before; the important thing is what you do with them. There is a price to pay for this privilege, though. The girl was reborn, as were the Prince and Princess and the Senshi, without any memory of her previous life. Unlike the others, she has not yet regained these memories. You will have to face her with the truth of what you did to her, that day on the Moon. It will be her judgement of you that will determine whether you are damned or redeemed. Now, prepare yourself, if you wish to return.

Another chance at life... A normal life, a mundane life, filled with the quiet joys and satisfactions of living with the woman he loved, bringing up their children, doing work he enjoyed. His soul yearned towards this; he hardly dared think it could be possible. He would pay any price; the price didn't concern him. But how...?

Recall how you were. Summon your body back to its final form. I will help as I can, but I do not know your body as you do. Concentrate, now.

He concentrated. Head, face, features, long hair, broad shoulders, strong arms, lean body, long legs. The gold studs in his earlobes. Old battle scars, old training scars. The thorns formed in his shoulders, and with them came the agonizing pain he had suffered dying.

I think we can get rid of those, the voice said. The thorns dissolved, leaving large scars.

Heart, lungs, muscles. He flexed his fingers. It felt good to be able to move again.

I've got your insides all put back together. That takes a fair amount of technical knowledge. You need clothes, and then I think you're ready.

The clothes he had died in began to form around him, but immediately dissolved again. He watched as his body began to follow suit. Summoning all his concentration, he willed the particles to hold together, but they refused. No! He couldn't lose this chance! What's wrong? he pled with the voice to tell him.

Something is missing. Quickly, try to figure out what it is!

He took stock, and couldn't see what was wrong. Limb by limb, head to toe, he tried to remember what he had forgotten. Then he realized that it was his right arm that he was having the hardest time holding together. That was it -- the cut on his right arm that Molly had bandaged with strips of cloth torn from her pajamas. There should be a scar there. He concentrated again, visualizing the scar. His arm coalesced into solid form, and the rest of his body followed. His clothes formed around him -- gray uniform trousers, black boots, tattered and bloodstained undershirt. Can't we do better than this?

We have to work with what's available. There, now you're ready. Think of a place you can visualize clearly -- you know how to telelport. Remember all the things I've told you, Nephrite. I wish you well.

He thought of a place that loomed large and clear in his memory. For a long time he felt like he was aimlessly drifting through space, then he began moving faster and faster. There was a blur of bright light, he was falling, then he landed on his feet next to his and Molly's tree. His legs were weak, and he fell hard onto his hands and tailbone. The impact reassured him that, yes, he was alive again. It felt good.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 2

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury