THE PERSON I LOOK UP TO
Chapter 12: "The Face of Evil"
A Neo-Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
The woman cradled her son of three to her breast and looked up fearfully. Surrounding her was the stuff of nightmares. Flattened huts and flailed crops, broken tools and carts scattered amid broken and bleeding bodies. Some reached up with unseeing eyes for relief from any source that might provide it. Others merely grew cold in death.
Towering above her was the demonic summation of every fear, real or imagined, that had haunted her through her young life. Queen Shinrin, her hands only symbolically covered in the blood of her rival clan, looked down upon her with her steely, unforgiving gaze. She was framed by the rising sun, casting her face in an unearthly shadow, obscuring most of it until she was just a pair of glaring eyes surrounded by a mane of white hair.
Her son whimpered in terror and she clutched him more fiercely to her. Her mind raced, trying to find something that she could do to save them both, and coming up short.
"Do you accept the salvation of the Mother Forest?" Shinrin asked her and her voice sounded like a death knell from heaven. "Do you renounce your evil ways and embrace she who bore you into this life?"
"Y-Yes," the woman sobbed softly, turning away from the terrible sight. "Anything. Just please - - don't hurt my son!"
"The Mother Forest loves all her children," Shinrin said and the woman dared to hope that she might be spared. "Accept her ways into your heart. Now go and sin no more."
Rising up tentatively, her son clutched to her as she rose, the woman snuck a peek at Shinrin to see if she meant it. When she saw Shinrin's placid face, the woman nodded gratefully and scurried off toward the crowd of followers. As she picked her way through the broken bodies of people she'd only yesterday shared a life with, her lower lip began to quiver. Her pace slowed as the shame of her acquiescence began to wash over her.
Then the loud crash of a barn being flattened slapped her across the ears and sent her scurrying for safety.
"Is there anyone else?" Shinrin challenged, looking around the decimated village. "Is there anyone else who still defies the righteous word? Don't hide from me! I am the holy vessel of the Mother Forest and through her eyes I see all! You cannot hide from the truth!"
"And you can't hide from your actions," she heard Queen Serenity say.
Shinrin turned to the voice. She saw Serenity approaching, seeming to glide rather than walk across the grasses of the village outskirts, as if the grass were too profane to touch her shoes. To her right was Sailor Moon, the Moon Scepter at the ready and her pink hair and pink skirt softly rustling in the breeze. To her left was Sailor Eichi. Shinrin's eyes flared with anger at seeing her former friend and senshi. Then they shifted onto Serenity, banishing Eichi from all conscious thought. Behind them was a tall, dark-haired man dressed in unfamiliar grey clothes and a cloak. She didn't recognize him, but she recognized his bearing. It was much like her beloved Danro's.
"Danro!" Shinrin gasped anxiously. "Where's Danro?"
"Sleeping," Serenity replied. "He's all right, Shinrin. Unlike you, I don't kill people who oppose me."
Shinrin's mouth hardened.
"Shinrin, how could you?" Serenity sobbed, sick and betrayed. "How could you take your wondrous power and-and perform such evil?"
"I am but a vessel of the great Mother Forest," Shinrin shot back. "How can one as perfect as she commit evil? These huts and implements were a blasphemy in her eyes! Those who refused to embrace her have paid a terrible price, but they brought their pain upon themselves by rejecting the loving hand of she who created us all!"
"And Shoko?" Serenity asked, pained by the very thought. "You did kill him, didn't you? What did he do to earn the terrible price of holy vengeance?"
"Shoko," Shinrin whispered, her confidence shaken for just a moment. Then she grew angry. "Shoko was hounding your daughter! He made you uncomfortable! You would have left Kinotai before you could show me how to control my holy power! He-He was acting against the wishes of the great Mother Forest! I had to stop him! I had to make you stay until you could fulfill your mission! That is why the Mother Forest brought you here!"
"She's totally nuts," Sailor Moon goggled.
"No," Eichi said sadly. "She's blind - - blinded to reality by the fervor of zealotry. She's blind to the pain and destruction she's brought about because all she can see is her single-minded goal that everyone believe as she does."
"SILENCE, BLASPHEMER!" Shinrin roared angrily.
Shinrin lashed out with her power, directed right at Sailor Eichi. Eichi started to move, but she realized she would be too late to avoid the power of Shinrin's thought. Then at the last moment, Serenity's hand shot out and caught the power. Sailor Moon and Endymion both caught the merest whisper of a grunt. They looked over at Serenity and found her grimacing. It was short-lived.
"I don't blame you, Shinrin," Serenity said as she began to approach. "It's my fault you're this way. I taught you how to use your power, but I neglected to teach you how not to use your power. I forgot to instill in you the humility you would need to temper your desire to remake everything in your own image. I just assumed you already had it. I'm sorry."
"Pity?" fumed Shinrin, her eyes blazing. She let loose a blast of energy that Serenity caught and dissipated. "I am the chosen vessel of a power far greater than you, false friend!"
"No, you're not," Serenity frowned. "You're a woman who was given a gift. It made you different from everyone else. It didn't make you better. It didn't give you the right to run everyone's life, to force them into a set of beliefs that they don't believe in. The power of your crystal gives you the responsibility to protect them, whether they believe as you do or not."
"I do protect them!" hissed Shinrin. "I give them the joy of the Mother Forest's love!"
"Then look at them," Serenity said. "Do they seem happy to you?"
Shinrin glanced over at the assembled members of her clan and the "converts" from the Torgus. Some of the more zealous cheered her on. Most of the people simply stared at her with poorly concealed fear.
"NO!" howled Shinrin, turning all of her power onto Serenity. "This is a trick! A trick to make me doubt! I am a child of the Mother Forest! Her bounty gives me strength and life!"
With some difficulty, Serenity caught the discharge from Shinrin and dissipated it. Endymion moved to aid her. Serenity and Endymion clasped hands, Serenity drawing from Endymion power to strengthen her. Shinrin continued to pour all her energy into her frontal assault on Serenity. Serenity just stood there and took it, like an adult waiting out the petulant tantrum of a child. Finally Shinrin began to weaken until she sank to her knees in exhaustion. Only then did Serenity release Endymion's hand and approach.
"It hurts me to do this, Shinrin," Serenity said, "but you leave me no choice."
A beam of silver light shot out of Serenity's eyes. It struck Shinrin chest high. The woman instantly howled in agony, struggling in vain to escape the beam. Only when Serenity stopped the beam was Shinrin released to crumple to the ground.
"What," gasped Shinrin hysterically. "What did you do? I can't connect with my power any longer! What did you do?"
"Removed your crystal," Serenity said, the weight of her actions crushing her. "You're not worthy of it, Shinrin."
"Traitorous," Shinrin gasped weakly.
"Please do not descend into bitterness and hatred, Shinrin," Serenity warned. "They will be your end. Reflect on what happened and why. Learn humility. Accept your own fallibility. One day I will return. If you have learned humility, learned to cherish all life and not just those who agree with you, I'll return your crystal."
"Go then," Shinrin mumbled, weary and defeated. "I would gladly sacrifice the power of my crystal if it means you never return to Kinotai! Go!"
Serenity sighed. "I'm sorry, Shinrin." She turned to Sailor Eichi. "Endymion and I neutralized Danro's power, too. Please find it in your heart to forgive them. Try to reach them. Try to show them where they went wrong and how they can find the proper path once again."
"If they'll listen," Eichi replied skeptically.
"They will if you're kind enough," Serenity countered with a hopeful smile, "and persistent enough."
A nudge from Endymion alerted Serenity to the crowd. The surviving Torgus were advancing on the now powerless Shinrin - - and they weren't happy. Quickly Serenity stepped in their path and the mob fell back.
"Please," Serenity begged earnestly, though her reputation of humbling Shinrin carried more weight at the moment. "I know you're hurt and angry. But vengeance accomplishes nothing save more pain and tragedy. Shinrin has paid for her crimes. Please let her go in peace. You have wounded to tend to and a town to rebuilt. That should be first in your mind."
Serenity turned and glided off, flanked by Endymion and Sailor Moon. Sailor Eichi and some of the mob stared after her in awe. When they were far enough away from the village, she sagged against Endymion.
"Mom?" Sailor Moon gasped anxiously.
"Just a little tired, honey," Serenity sighed. She nestled up against Endymion as his arm cradled her against him.
"I thought you extended yourself a little more than you thought you were going to," Endymion chuckled. Serenity shot a pouty look at him.
"OK, she was a little, well, more fervent than I thought she'd be," Serenity fussed. "It worked out."
"But Mom," Sailor Moon posed, "how can Shinrin live without her crystal?"
"She can't, not for very long," Serenity related. "That's why I really didn't take it."
Her daughter gaped at her and Serenity fought the urge to giggle.
"I just blocked her connection to her crystal. It's still there. If, someday, she learns to actually love others for who they are and not who she wants them to be and genuinely wants to help them, then I'll restore the connection." Serenity snuggled closer to Endymion. "Although if that does happen, I think the crystal will reconnect with her on its own."
They continued to walk toward the river.
"I don't believe it," Sailor Moon whispered.
"You don't believe what?" Serenity asked.
"You lied to her!"
"Well," flushed the queen, "sometimes you have to, well, do things like that to accomplish a greater good. Please don't be disillusioned."
"No, it's not that," Sailor Moon said. "It's just that, as long as I've known you, you've acted like your nose would grow if you ever told a lie!"
"Usa, don't exaggerate," sighed Serenity.
The pink senshi glanced wickedly at her mother. "In fact, I think it does look a little longer."
Instantly Serenity's hand shot to her nose. It didn't feel any different. Then she noticed Sailor Moon's smirk.
"YOU LITTLE BRAT!" roared Serenity. Sailor Moon dissolved into laughter. Even Endymion began to laugh and Serenity's petulant glare couldn't stop him.
Rei stirred first. Still groggy from sleep, she looked up into the heavens without realizing at first what she was looking for. Then comprehension kicked in. Turning to Hotaru, who was sleeping next to her, Rei nudged the girl awake.
"What is it?" Hotaru asked blankly.
"They're home," Rei smiled.
Within moments of Rei's statement, a beam of light struck the aero-pad, building up to a blinding radiance. When it dissipated, Endymion stood flanked by his two favorite women, Queen Serenity and Sailor Moon. Rei and Hotaru ran up to them.
"Serenity? Are you hurt?" Rei demanded frantically.
"I'm all right," Serenity smiled.
"Usa? Oh, Usa, I was so worried when I heard there was trouble!" Hotaru cried, clutching her friend by the shoulders.
"It got a little hairy. But," and she glanced at her mother tenderly, "we handled it."
"Hairy?" Rei gasped. "What happened?"
"Things didn't go exactly as planned," Serenity alibied.
"What did you do?" demanded the priestess.
"WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I DID SOMETHING?" Serenity howled.
"BECAUSE I'VE KNOWN YOU FOR A THOUSAND YEARS, DITZ!" Rei shot back.
"YOU UNGRATEFUL THING! AND AFTER EVERYTHING I'VE DONE FOR YOU!"
"AND ALL THE GRAY HAIRS YOU'VE GIVEN ME!"
"C'mon, Hotaru," Sailor Moon grinned, reverting back to Princess Usagi, "they're probably going to be 'reconnecting' for a while. How about we grab a shake in the dining hall and I'll tell you all about Kinotai."
"That sounds great," Hotaru smiled back. "I hope somebody's up."
"If nobody's there, I'll make them," Usa shrugged.
"You can do that? I thought they locked up the food at night."
"I'm the princess. I've got free run of this place."
With the angry shouts of Rei and Serenity in the background, the two teenagers headed for the door and quieter surroundings.
Ves-Ves sat at her desk in class, staring at her classroom computer hookup. Her exam grade was attached to a cyber-note from Mizuno-sensei and the girl was hesitant to open it. For one, she didn't want to see the grade, because she knew it would be a bad one. She'd studied and studied, but once the test got underway it was like she'd sprung a leak in the back of her head and everything she'd studied poured out. For another, she knew it was another of Mizuno-sensei's diplomatic notes that basically said that she was an utterly hopeless idiot, but that she shouldn't give up - - if you read between the lines.
"Nobody ever won anything by running away," Ves-Ves muttered to herself and touched the crystal on the computer pad.
Sure enough, she scored a 55. And sure enough, Mizuno-sensei included a note full of five syllable words and diplomatic names and phrases, all of which amounted to how she should keep trying even though she was a hopeless moron. Ves-Ves let out a gust of frustration from her nose.
"Fifty-five, huh?" Usa said, peering over her shoulder. Ves-Ves's anger welled up, but the sympathetic tone to the Princess's voice kept her angry retort in her throat. "Don't give up, huh? You'll do it."
"Yeah, that's what everyone keeps telling me," grumbled Ves-Ves. "So what did you get? Oh that's right, you didn't have to take the test."
"I took a make-up." Ves-Ves looked at her with amazement. "Pop insisted. Just because I'm Princess of this place doesn't mean I get off easy."
"What'd you get?"
"And you didn't even study!" Ves-Ves huffed bitterly. "Man, I wish everybody would stop pussy-footing around and just say I'm an idiot!"
"Ves-Ves," Usa began, "instead of beating yourself up for what you can't do, maybe you should be proud of what you can do. Didn't you ace the zoology test we had last month?"
"Well," Ves-Ves shrugged, "it's animals, you know. Me and animals are kind of tight."
"There's lots of things you can do," Usa persisted, "and lots of things you can't. Don't stop trying, just don't hate yourself for failing." The girl got up, pink hair trails bobbing behind her, and headed for the door.
"Hey, Princess," Ves-Ves said suddenly. Usa stopped and turned to her, and Ves-Ves suddenly felt the need to avert her eyes. "Um," and the girl's jaw clenched, "t-thanks."
Sensing that speaking would only make an awkward situation more so, Usa nodded encouragingly and exited.
"Wow, you got a fifty-five!" gasped Cere-Cere from over Ves-Ves's shoulder. "And you've got the nerve to call Palla-Palla 'stupid'?"
"It beats a zero," smirked Ves-Ves, "and at least I'm not a Priss like you."
"STOP CALLING ME A PRISS!" Cere-Cere roared back.
Usa sat on her bed, her back propped up against the ornate headboard. A laser stylus was in one hand and a memory pad rested on her thighs. She was in baggy crystalline fiber light blue warm up pants and a breathable polymer silver gray sports bra. As her long pink trails of hair brushed her bare upper arms, she concentrated on the emerging picture on the memory pad. The laser light of the stylus activated light sensitive pixels in the memory pad, retaining the image 'drawn' on it. The stylus glided over the pad with more effort than the princess liked, taking many wrong turns that had to be deleted. But a picture was emerging.
Of course she'd never be satisfied with it.
"HOTARU'S HERE!" chimed the environmental control computer. The young waif glanced up at it in mortification as she entered the room. When Usa bi-passed her father's security program to let Hotaru into her room without a security check, she also programmed the exclamation into the normally level voice of the computer.
"Usa," sighed Hotaru. The girl wore a white peasant blouse and conservative black slacks. The princess smirked devilishly at her friend's reaction. "When are you going to change that?"
"I like it," the princess grinned. "I like the way it makes you blush." Hotaru gave her a withering glare, but they both knew there was no malice behind it.
"Are you drawing again?" Hotaru asked. She crossed over to her friend, the embarrassment of the computer's announcement forgotten.
"Yeah," Usa shrugged indifferently. "I got the itch again, you know? It's been a while."
"It has been a while. I'm glad to see you drawing again. I always thought you were really good."
"I'm all right," Usa said. "I'll probably never be as good as - - well, some people."
"I've told you before, Usa. You don't have to be as good as other people as long as it's something you like doing. Maybe you'll never be as good as," and Hotaru hesitated, "well, Michiru-mama," though they both knew who she really meant, "but that doesn't mean you have to be. As long as you like doing it."
"OK, OK, I've heard this sermon before. You're right, already. How many times do I have to say it?"
"A few more," Hotaru smirked. "You don't say it that often."
The princess wrinkled her nose at her friend.
"So how was your date with Yutaka last night?" Usa asked, devilishly changing the subject. Hotaru blushed on cue.
"It was nice," she whispered.
"Did I ask for intimate details from the last time you were with Helios?" Hotaru asked indignantly.
"Yes," Usa replied.
"Did you tell me?"
"Touche," the girl scowled. Usa added a few lines to her drawing. "Ready to commit to the 'L' word yet?"
There was an unusual silence.
"I think so," Hotaru whispered finally. Usa reached out and clasped her friend's hand.
"I'm glad for you," Usa smiled. Then her smile grew wicked. "You two going to name your first child after me?"
"I wouldn't dream of putting the poor thing under that much pressure," Hotaru replied with wicked humor of her own.
The two friends exchanged sly looks. Then they burst into girlish giggles.