24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma
Nowhere, No Time
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How long had he been trapped in the dark? The Dark Kingdom was destroyed; the walls and ceiling of the cave where he had been banished, trapped in the crystal, had collapsed some immeasurable time ago, and the wavering orange glow that had lit the underground domain of the Dark Kingdom had died at the same time. Beryl was dead, clearly, and Metallia destroyed. The Sailor Senshi must have won. He should have figured they would; he had been too cocky, too arrogant, and had badly underestimated them, and he doubted the other Generals would have taken them any more seriously than he had. After all, the Senshi were nothing but young human girls.
Now that Beryl and Metallia were no more and their hold upon his mind was gone, he saw clearly how wrong the two queens had been, how twisted and corrupt their desires and ambitions. And he saw how wrong he and the other Guardians had been to believe their promises and lend their support to the demon queen and her once-human servant. The damned thing was, now that he could see clearly again, now that he was in his right mind and had his free will back, there was nothing he could do about it, trapped in this crystal that no one could free him from except the one who had made it. And she was dead.
Tears formed in his eyes at the thought of a blue-haired beauty he had once loved, who he had later used and destroyed. Of all the things he regretted - the lies, the exploitation of innocent hopes, the suffering he had caused - he regretted that the most. But there was nothing he could do. He could never redeem himself, or work to repent of his crimes. He couldn't even move; there wasn't even room in the crystal for his tears to fall from his eyes. He was doomed to an eternity of memories and regrets. It was ironic that this punishment called Eternal Sleep was actually a never-ending nightmare of guilt-ridden consciousness.
The voice startled him. It was the first sound he had heard in - how long? months? years? millennia? It was distinct and clear, low but definitely female, and entirely impersonal, and he couldnít imagine where it was coming from or how he was hearing it. Still, he answered eagerly, Yes?
You have had time to consider your mistakes.
More than enough time, he answered. For all the good it does me.
It can do you some good. If you choose, you may have twenty-four hours to make restitution for your many wrongs and gain a second chance at life.
Restitution? Second chance? He could hardly believe it; if it was his imagination, it was a cruel trick indeed for his mind to be playing on him.
Apologies and material reparations to all those you harmed or deceived in your schemes, including full refunds to those who lost money. And you must receive forgiveness from Thetis.
Thetis? But she's dead and damned. Thanks to him.
Do you remember why she joined the Dark Kingdom?
To be with him. He knew that all too well. He had forgotten the feelings they had once shared, or else those feelings had no longer meant anything to him, but she had remembered. It was her love for him that had driven her to join the Dark Kingdom so she could remain at his side. It was her love for him that had inspired her to come up with the cruise ship scheme, and he had used her emotions, her idea, and Thetis herself ruthlessly, ultimately leading to her destruction. But now those long-forgotten emotions swelled painfully in his heart again. It isn't fair that she should be punished, he said bitterly. It was all my fault.
She was deceived, just as you were. Doubly so - by Beryl and by you. Because of that, she is also being given a second chance at life, free from any conditions except that she must devote her life to a certain purpose. She isnít even required to forgive you. But you must gain her forgiveness, and make full amends for the other wrongs you committed. And you must do so without committing any more crimes.
He thought about it. There had been a lot of people involved in his various energy-gathering schemes. Which, he recalled now, had also involved people spending a lot of money on fake jewelry, good luck fortunes, gym memberships, clocks, cruise tickets, not to mention the two jet planes and three city buses he had damaged... The brief sense of hope he had felt abandoned him again. Where am I going to get the money for all those refunds?
You'll have to figure that out yourself. Remember, you cannot gain it through any illegal means, and it must be money which is yours to give.
It wasn't going to be easy, to say the least. But it was better than being trapped here in this crystal forever. What happens if I fail?
Then you will be sent to the damnation which you have earned. But at least you will be freed from the crystal.
He had nothing to lose. Being trapped in the Crystal of Eternal Not-Sleep was its own special kind of damnation; Hell itself couldn't be any worse than this. All right, then. It's a deal, he said.
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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury