By: Amber Evans Potter
Chapter 14: Song of the Soul
Summary: Life on Earth is normal, despite the numerous battles the Senshi have fought. A new discovery on the moon, however, just might shatter that peace. Was the Moon Kingdom meant to be found?
Disclaimer: I don't own Sailor Moon. All rights reserved to Naoko Takeuchi and everyone else who owns the rights to Sailor Moon – people who do not include me. Oh, how I lament the tragedy!
Author's Note: Post Galaxia; the girls are in high school, Mamoru is in college. This story takes place before Crystal Tokyo while everyone is still human. Thank you all for 200 reviews! This has been a wonderful journey. After this, we have only one more chapter left. There will be a sequel to the story coming up called Silver Millennium. I hope to see you all there. Please enjoy this chapter!
Chibi Usa exhaled softly and smiled at the monitor. Saturn had only just teleported with Bran and his two friends, setting Chibi Usa's mind at ease. Ever since she'd come to fully understand the Plan, she'd felt a gnawing dread for what she knew would happen to Bran. She wasn't cold enough to say that she wished Bran's friends were dead but she didn't know them at all and Chixota had caused such a spectacular first impression that she wouldn't have minded too much if they were purified in the light of the Silver Crystal. But Bran… despite acting all tough and essentially outing himself as someone who she couldn't trust, he'd looked increasingly worried the more that Mercury had spoken. Chibi Usa knew that Bran hadn't understood the entire plan but he had figured out that Chibi Usa had somehow become the cornerstone of the whole thing.
"You don't have to do this," he'd said, taking her aside and whispering into her ear. "The Senshi can handle this without you. It isn't right for them to pressure you into helping them."
"They can't do this without me," Chibi Usa whispered back, a little stunned that he even cared. "The plan won't work without me and we're running out of options. A lot of innocent people are in danger right now and it's our job to protect them."
"But you're not a Senshi," Bran said, his voice rising to a louder whisper so that it stung her ear. She winced and glared at him.
"Yes I am," she said firmly. He'd grown quiet after that and communicated through grunts and glares. He hadn't even said anything when Uranus threatened to kill him just so they could execute the plan without Chibi Usa worrying about him. Even though Hotaru could have exterminated them the second they were out of her sight, Bran still didn't speak, just looked weary but resigned. Whatever he was thinking, it was too private to bring up surrounded by so many people and really, Chibi Usa had just met him. It was strange to think that so little time had transpired since she first laid eyes on him in the Time tunnel but really, they'd only known each other for about five hours. It seemed like so much longer…
And wasn't it just last night that she'd been in Crystal Tokyo all dressed up and glamorous with the girls? And Helios…
Her face drained of color as Uranus and Neptune made the last minute adjustments to the plan now that Saturn was no longer there. What was it that Helios had said, something about meeting her grandparents? And searching for him… was she supposed to do that now? Did this mean that Helios knew what was going to happen to her now? Had he already lived whatever was in store for her? A headache developed between her eyebrows and Chibi Usa had to stop thinking about it. Time travel was so hard to understand.
The thing was, she had met her grandparents. Kenji and Ikuko Tsukino were no longer alive in Crystal Tokyo but she'd certainly met them in the past, and she'd met Shingo of course. Mamoru's parents had died when he was younger so that was certainly out of the question. Had Helios meant them?
It didn't really matter in the end; she couldn't focus on the intricacies and complexities of time travel right then. At the moment, what she really needed to concentrate on was the Silver Crystal and somehow getting it to cooperate the way that Mercury thought it could. Sailor Moon hadn't even hesitated in trying out the plan, despite never having used the Silver Crystal like this before. She'd simply taken it as a possibility and let the crystal do as it pleased. Chibi Usa wished she could feel as comfortable and confident letting the crystal figure it all out for her. She'd never been much of a planner but letting the crystal have free range with her energy felt a little reckless. Then again, she'd always had a lot of trouble handling the power of the crystal. When it really came down to a life or death situation, Chibi Usa could generally pull through and get the crystal to use its energy the way she wanted it to but she hadn't yet figured out how to make it do that consistently. Hopefully today would be different.
She took a deep breath and moved into the center of the room where Uranus and Neptune had set up a small perimeter for her. She twisted her fingers under the collar of her shirt and searched for the Silver Crystal when the tall woman – there was something so familiar about her but Chibi Usa just couldn't put her finger on what it was – came closer and knelt in front of her. She was tall enough that even this movement still allowed her to tower overhead.
Up close, Chibi Usa realized with a sudden sharp pang why the woman looked so familiar. Although Neo Queen Serenity was a great deal shorter, her face softer and kinder, her power much thicker, and her joy more apparent, there was no denying the resemblance between Chibi Usa's mother and this strange being. Up until that point, Chibi Usa had been too preoccupied by Bran's presence to really notice her. Looking at her now, she felt a little ridiculous that she hadn't noticed it before.
"My name is Night," the woman said in a soft, careful voice. When Chibi Usa flinched, she fluttered her hands towards her and then dropped them into her lap, peering at her curiously. "The Senshi say that you have the Silver Crystal."
"Um," Chibi Usa said, gawking at her. Her previous thought about Helios came sailing back into her head. It served only to confuse her. Grandparents? Surely… he couldn't have meant… "Who are you?"
"I am the Queen of the Moon Kingdom, Silver Millennium," Night said, frowning. "You should know that, if you have the crystal." She paused and chose her words carefully. "I had no idea that you would remember. I thought that with the spell, you would be living a normal human life. I am sorry that you had to come here. If I could, I would never force you to go through any of this."
"What are you talking about?" Chibi Usa said, struggling to keep up with the conversation. The strange woman, Night, stopped talking and stared at her curiously.
"You… are Serenity… aren't you?" the woman said, her brows knitting in confusion. Somewhere in the background, an alarm had gone off and three men in charred uniforms rushed out to investigate it. Uranus had set up the last of the diagrams on the screen to finish the plan. The lights flickered overhead.
"I think you have me confused with my mother," Chibi Usa said at last. "I'm not from here. I'm from the future."
"Sailor Pluto would never be so foolish as to allow it," Night said without hesitation. "She knows the rules of time travel. Not even she with all her otherworldly power would be stupid enough to tamper with the course of time. She knows better than to let-,"
"I know," Chibi Usa interrupted, her face heating up. Sailor Pluto wasn't there to defend herself but Chibi Usa would be damned if anyone spoke poorly of her friend when she wasn't there. "It wasn't supposed to happen. The palace was attacked and I was too young to understand the consequences of my actions. I'm from a thousand years in the future. Neo Queen Serenity is my mother."
"That is impossible," Night said, wringing her hands in her lap. Chibi Usa stared into her face, trying to force her to believe what she was saying. "You don't look like her at all."
"I have a lot of my dad in me," Chibi Usa said, curling her lip back. When Night just stared at her, Chibi Usa backpedaled like mad. "That is, er, my dad had a lot to do with it, because obviously if you can't see my mother in me, then who else would you be looking at? Because see, that's how these things work! You know, half and half, one part your mother, the other part your father, and-,"
"What is your father's name?" Night interrupted.
"Oh you know I can't tell you that!" Chibi Usa said, truly starting to panic now as she backed away, hands up in a defensive position. "Being from the future and all, I couldn't really reveal secrets like who my parents are or what's going to happen. Actually, I shouldn't have mentioned anything about it!" Such as who my mother is. I can't believe I have such a huge mouth, Chibi Usa thought as she tried to wriggle out of the conversation. To her surprise (and dismay), Gaea had come up behind her and was thus far failing miserably in her attempt to pretend she wasn't listening.
"Is she bothering you?" Gaea asked, running a hand through her disheveled hair. She glared at Night and edged around so that she stood menacingly behind Chibi Usa. Gaea placed what she probably thought was a soothing hand on Chibi Usa's shoulder. "I can ask one of the guards to make her leave you alone. The Senshi aren't here to indulge her."
"She isn't bothering me," Chibi Usa mumbled. "It's not that."
"She claims to be from the future," Night said, a note of steel in her voice. "She claims to be my Serenity's daughter." Chibi Usa peeked up at Gaea. Her face had completely transformed. Instead of the weak smile or even a stunned expression, all she saw was bottomless rage. Her shoulders were raised, like the hackles on a dog, and she'd bared her teeth.
"Is that so?" she said coldly. "Well, perhaps she only said that so you would leave her alone. Anyone would lie if they saw you coming towards them with your mind already made up about something."
"Haven't you been listening to the Senshi at all?" Night said, arching an incredulous eyebrow. She gestured to the computer screen, which flashed blue every now and then and Mercury did some sort of complicated calculation. "They're using the Mercury Planet Computer to channel a massive amount of energy into a coherent order. They need a power source strong enough to produce that kind of energy."
"What does that have anything to do with you?" Gaea said, drawing a protective arm around Chibi Usa's shoulders. Her fingers felt like claws as they tugged her sharply against Gaea's chest.
"The only power source that would require such resources would be the Silver Crystal," Night said, her hand automatically reaching up to rest over her heart. "The Senshi keep saying "the Crystal this" and "the Crystal that." The only explanation is the use of the Silver Crystal. And Chibi Usa is included in the plan so either she is a Senshi herself, which is impossible since every planet has already been accounted for, or she has some connection to the Silver Crystal."
"Um," Chibi Usa squeaked, curling her fingers around her neck automatically. She backed away and hesitated when they blocked her way, eyes intent. Gaea reached out to grab her and then quickly withdrew her hand, fists shaking. Night's reaction was very different. Whatever she saw on Chibi Usa's face, it drained the tension from her body so that she slouched a little, not looking quite so tall and imposing anymore. Almost as if she were resigned to whatever Chibi Usa would say now, either to lie about it all or to finally confess the truth.
"Chibi Usa, we're ready," Neptune said, cutting through the tension and jerking them all back to reality. When Chibi Usa looked over at them, she realized that everything was indeed ready. The soldiers and scientists who had remained in the control room formed a loose semi-circle around Neptune and Uranus as they glowed in front of the computer screen. Neptune's mirror gleamed silver and lovely, reflecting an intense light back into the room that had no source but itself. Uranus beckoned Chibi Usa with her sword, glaring at Night and Gaea behind her.
Chibi Usa dashed towards them and exhaled softly as she moved to stand between them. One of the video clips on the screen was already glowing brilliantly from Sailor Moon's Silver Crystal. Chibi Usa hesitated and glanced nervously back at Gaea and Night. This would just confirm her stupid confession about the future and make everything more complicated. What if she'd said something that would lead to the destruction of the future? What if she'd irreversibly demolished her own existence?
Well, she'd just have to get to it when those unforeseen problems came up. For now, the others were counting on her to stay in control and use the Crystal to help Sailor Moon.
"I'm ready," Chibi Usa said, even as her heart pounded faster in her chest and her palms became sweaty. Thankfully, she wouldn't be nervous like this for long. She unclipped the pendant on her necklace and closed her eyes as the Silver Crystal pulsed in her hand. In another moment, a pale white light surrounded her body as she focused on aligning her inner self to the power beating in her hand. In the next moment, she felt a foreign wind blow gently across her hair. The braid came undone and the familiar odangos formed on her head, her clothes slipping away as her Lunarian dress flowed loosely over her body. She clasped her hands to her chest in the form of a prayer and wished for a quick, desperate moment that she wouldn't screw this up.
"Begin," Mercury's distant, distracted voice came over the intercom and Chibi Usa's body jerked sharply forward. The Silver Crystal yanked and her energy came flooding out like a lightening rod, exploding from her hands and ricocheting around the room like a wild fire hose.
The sudden surge of fire through her veins was painful and overpowering, blocking out every sound, sight, and feeling as every thought focused on that single point of energy pulsing between her hands. She wanted to scream but couldn't remember how to breath. She wanted to cry but couldn't feel her eyes. She wanted to die but couldn't remember if she was alive.
After a few moments or hours or years of this agonizing torture, the energy became a touch more bearable. When Chibi Usa lifted her tear-stained face up to the gentle presence before her, she smiled through the pain. Mama was there too, suffering as she was suffering, with her gentle fingers wrapped around hers and bearing that impossible burden on her own shoulders. Chibi Usa sighed and focused on her mother's hands, on the warmth in her steady gaze, in the soothing breeze as her mother's breath brushed her face.
A distant presence in the back of her mind glowed warmly in time with her heartbeat. Papa was there too, his hand gently pressing the small of her back, his smile against her hair as he gave her his power. Chibi Usa finally closed her eyes and rode on the power as it flowed from her, letting herself be lost in it.
Hercules and Mara sat huddled by their computer screen, the lights dim over the other technicians and only the quiet hum of the air filtration system reminding them of where they were. Hercules was doubled over his knees, a mug of warm alcohol cradled in his hands as he stared at a spot on the wall. Mara kept glancing at him from the corner of her eyes, her hand automatically going out to rub his shoulder every few seconds. The computer screens cast a shadow across their faces, blurring the lines of age so that they could have been younger or older.
"Do you think it's really her?" Mara whispered. She'd asked this question a few hours before and had received no answer. Her mother had turned off the hologram soon after she'd realized there was nothing they could do about this situation. Hercules had gone quiet and refused to move from his spot, even when the other technicians by their respect terminals had disappeared from the room, one by one. Hercules surprised her by sitting up straight and glaring at her.
"It can't be her," he said calmly. Mara winced and looked at her hands, tugging helplessly at her fingernails. When she looked up again, Hercules had turned his head and stared at his computer screen.
"But what if it-," she began again.
"You forget that I was there," Hercules interrupted. "I saw them. I saw her. They're all dead."
"But what if the imposter isn't really an imposter?" Mara said, tugging on his hand to get his attention. He refused to look at her. "What if she really is the Queen of the Silver Millennium? It does look like her. What if she is who she claims she is and all of them, every single one, was really reborn just like she-,"
"STOP IT!" he yelled, surging to his feet. Mara sat back and closed her eyes, her heart hammering in her chest. Hercules remained poised above her, panting hard enough to make the others in the room whisper to each other. He sat abruptly and exhaled in a sharp breath. Mara opened her eyes and watched him put his head in his hands. "Please… just stop. It's not her. I know it isn't her."
"But… what if it is?" Mara whispered.
Hercules raised his head, his brown hair sticking to his fingers as his eyes beseeched her… for what, she couldn't begin to say. He opened his mouth to respond but before he could, the computer screens began to blink sharply. Their heads jerked to the screen, watching as each of the video feeds that had shown nothing but blinding white for the past half hour suddenly vanished and the symbol of Mercury appeared on each screen. In the next moment, the hologram hub at the center of the room exploded. The screens bowed inward and exploded, showering the room in reinforced metal fiber. Mara screamed and covered her head just as Hercules threw himself on her, covering her as they dropped to the ground.
The floor rumbled beneath them and made a terrible cracking noise, followed by the high-pitched sonic boom of overloaded energy as the lights went out. In the next moment, the floor began to glow intensely.
"Hold on," Hercules commanded, his eyes roving around the room wildly. "Hold on! Don't panic!"
"Hercules," Mara gasped as the sign of Mercury came to life on her forehead. "Your head… the sign…" he turned to her, his bright eyes glowing the same color as the sign of Jupiter on his head. That's when they both felt it. The pull of energy from within the planet, the surge of power that they hadn't felt in over a thousand years.
"It's her!" Mara screamed, half elated and half terrified. "It's really her! She's alive!"
"It can't be," Hercules whispered as the world dropped out from under them.
Venus was exceptionally hot that year, Silvia reflected as she stood beside a pool of clear blue water in her bathing dress. The overhead dome showed a particularly violent storm with angry lightening and sheeted rain, dripping acid down through the cracks to fall gently on her hair, making her skin sparkle as she grinned. The vapors were always so good for her pours. It was truly lovely to live on this planet, to live in this eternal body, to be so gorgeous for the rest of her life.
She slipped into the water and rested the back of her head on the ledge, turning her face up to the spray of acid as it touched her lips. So… what to do today? There was no pressing business she could think of immediately. She could visit Arianna. Wasn't she learning a new skill? Something about carpentry… poor dear, she must have been going out of her mind. She only ever picked up a new hobby when she was too bored to attend one of the operas, or dances, or attend parties. Well, that beau she'd been interested in fifty years ago had died recently, hadn't he? Perhaps that was part of the reason. If so, then visiting with her wouldn't be any fun at all.
She'd already done ten months of shopping in the recently opened stores she'd ordered built. The styles had been cute but nothing truly dramatic. After a thousand years, it all looked the same. And anyway, she had everything in her closet now and would have to wait another decade or so to restock and come up with something a little more exciting this time. Maybe she would decree that they had to use only the color mauve. She liked mauve.
Perhaps she could visit her brother's memorial instead. It had been a few weeks since she had seen it last. She would need fresh flowers for that trip. Perhaps she could send for some from Mars, those sweet little bulbous ones that he'd liked so much. She hadn't gotten him those for a while. But there was the issue of sending her regards to the Martian princes if she did that so maybe not right then.
So, nothing. There was really nothing to do.
Silvia exhaled through her mouth, letting the acid tingle on her tongue as she tilted her head back. She could sleep, of course. She could dream about doing something interesting. Perhaps taking a visit to Mars wouldn't be so bad. These niceties were always best gotten rid of as soon as possible. Besides, she hadn't seen Sid and Hephaestus in a few decades. Maybe she would make it a whole trip and visit Mara and Hercules in Mercury while she was out and about. Maybe Arianna would enjoy it too. Sometimes, spending time around those who did not age either was the best remedy for a heavy heart. No more of this carpentry nonsense for Arianna, it was unbecoming to a princess of Venus.
Suddenly refreshed with her decision, Silvia rose from the pool and glided towards the sliding door, already planning how best to make their trip as extended and fruitful as possible. Perhaps they could all hop over to Jupiter and do some shopping there. Surely they had something new and exciting to keep her attention while she was there.
She made it through the threshold of her sister Lillian's room when the planet began to rumble. She thought nothing of it as she flitted to the sofa against her sister's bed and rested her head on Arianna's lap, enjoying the feel of soft silk under her cheek.
"Get off me," Arianna growled, flipping through her latest love novel. It already had ripped out pages from scenes she found boring. The rest of the story probably didn't have much hope of survival if her frantic skimming meant anything.
"I think we should go on holiday," Silvia said, twisting a strand of Arianna's long golden hair between her fingers.
"Do you feel that?" Lillian said, her fingers stilling on the piano. She stayed perfectly still, her long blonde hair tied back and hidden in a braid. It made her face look pinched and anxious, like she always was. Silvia rolled her eyes.
"The planet has been shaky for hours," Silvia said, waving her hand. "I already sent the stabilizers a strongly worded letter about this. It offset the pool temperatures and disturbed my morning swim."
"That isn't something we should ignore," Lillian said, turning to face them, her face twisted in worry.
"Worry, worry, worry, that's all you do," Arianna sighed and tossed some ripped out pages on the floor. "It isn't good for your skin, Lily flower."
"I still think we should investigate the disturbance and make sure it isn't something we should be concerned with," Lillian said, drawing her chin back against her chest like a submissive horse. Like Venus used to… Silvia surged to her feet, angry in spite of herself.
"Give it a rest, Lily," she hissed. "Not everything has to be a crisis for you to agonize over." Arianna sat back with the book in her lap, trying to hide a smile. "We're going on holiday. I've decided. I'm tired of all this sameness. I think a change in scenery would be good for us, especially for you Lily flower. Your hair is looking rather limp these days."
Lillian turned her face away, one hand absently reaching up to stroke her braid. Arianna opened her mouth, probably to make another comment about Lillian's poor appearance, when the entire room shook like a snow globe.
"What! What!" Arianna squawked, diving for the communicator on the side of the door. The room shook again and she missed, landing in a heap outside with her dress over her head to reveal lacy blue panties and a bruise forming on her upper thigh. Lillian grabbed onto the walls and made it to the communicator.
"This is Princess Lillian! What's going on?" she yelled just as the room stopped shaking. Silvia slowly removed her hands from around her ears, cautiously waiting for something else to happen. The faint trickle of water and the whir of exposed machines in the wall were the only sounds they heard. Arianna carefully crawled back into the room, her bangs sticking up and to the right of her face.
"This is Princess Lillian," she said again, more slowly this time. "We just felt a disturbance in our rooms. What is going on?"
"We don't know, Your Majesty," came the quick, desperate reply of some technician Silvia couldn't recall hearing before. "There was a power influx a few minutes ago and an indecipherable coded message from Mercury and then… the Queen should come in as soon as possible. I think the computers are broken."
"Which ones?" Lillian asked, dusting some glass off her gown as she searched for her shoes in the messy room.
"All of them."
"Do we have any idea what happened?" Silvia muttered, flanked on both sides by Lillian and Arianna. They had taken the time to clean themselves up before descending on Magellan Castle in a flurry of light and sound. The castle overlooking the planet could barely conceal the way Venus was glowing brilliantly, sending out shockwaves of energy at an alarming and ever increasing rate. The palace on Venus where the three sisters lived had taken an alarming amount of damage in the three hours since they had left. The servants had sent word that most of the priceless artifacts had been evacuated just before the roof collapsed and most of the palace sank beneath the surface of the planet. Just like that, her home was gone.
Silvia trembled with rage and a touch of fear as she watched the monitors flicker and pulse with energy as the technicians struggled to communicate with the other planets. They mostly originated from Mercury, from immigrant parents who knew that their second-class children stood a much better chance surviving in Venus's relatively lax academic world than in Mercury's cut-throat environment. Their lack of skill was showing now as they struggled with the encrypted codes from their mother planet.
"I think I've got it," one of them chirped. Silvia took a step towards the screen and sighed a little in relief as it flickered and a familiar face appeared on the screen.
"Prince Hephaestus," Silvia said, smiling thinly. "How are you?" The face that stared back at them was eerily familiar. Prince Hephaestus hadn't changed at all since they'd seen him last. Raven black hair swept carelessly over his forehead and cropped short in the back, armor padding on his shoulders and chest, and the traditional red arrows on his back. He was probably holding his bow in his hand just out of the screen's view. Prince Mulciber paced just behind him, his slightly longer dark hair trailing after him as he turned sharply on his heel, back and forth, back and forth.
"I've been better," Hephaestus said gruffly, his massive arms crossed over his chest as he leveled a steady, piercing stare at her. Silvia tried not to remember that look from ages ago. Even now, so far from his physical presence, she was still scared of him. "You wouldn't happen to know why the computers have all gone crazy would you? I just got word from Jupiter that they're having similar problems with any piece of machinery somehow connected to Mercury."
"Is it possible that Mercury has staged an attack of some kind?" Lillian spoke up, knitting her fingers together. "Everything seems to be somehow connected to Mercury."
"But why now?" Hephaestus mused, relaxing his harsh stance and running his fingers through his hair. "And why are our birthmarks manifested?" He pointed to his forehead where the symbol of Mars glowed between his eyebrows. "This doesn't make sense."
"None of this makes sense," Arianna piped up. "Maybe it would make more sense if we could decipher the coded message Mercury sent us just before the shockwave. We haven't been able to yet."
"Arianna," Silvia growled under her breath. Arianna shot her a venomous glare and turned up her chin a little.
"Did you receive any message from Mercury?" Arianna asked, swatting away Silvia's hands. Lillian's hands fluttered towards them, probably wanting to stop their fighting, but she drew back and wrapped her arms around her elbows and stared nervously at Hephaestus.
"No," Hephaestus said. "It's Hercules there? He'd have sent us a message if something was going on."
"Maybe he didn't have time," Lillian said. "We've been trying to reach Mercury ever since the quakes started but there hasn't been any response except for the encrypted message. Princess Mara hasn't sent any messages either."
"Just what is going on," Mulciber muttered, coming up behind his older brother. Silvia reflected that he had a handsome face, much too handsome for a Martian, but Mulciber had always been that way. If only he didn't have a personality like a bucking horse, full of temper and wildness. "If the Mercurians think that they can run a simulation or some stupid program through our planets' computers, we'll have a thing or two to run by them when we find out what's going on."
"I couldn't agree more," Silvia said, forcing a smile. "We shall be much closer to discovering the truth once the message has been decoded."
They stood around silently (pacing in Mulciber's case) for a good ten minutes until a screen fluttered to life between them. "I got it," an unseen voice croaked somewhere in the room. Silvia fought down a triumphant grin, surging closer to see as the screen flickered once and then Mara's familiar heart-shaped face appeared on the screen, the symbol of Mercury burning on her forehead.
"Took long enough," Hercules' unmistakable gruff voice came from directly behind Mara as his shaggy head popped into view. "Your computers suck."
"Shut up," Arianna hissed, her shoulders tensing as they always did around Hercules. They glared at each other and it was clear in moments that some sort of useless argument was about to start that would pinwheel them all far away from the point of this whole communication.
"What in the name of Venus are you doing?" Silvia said quickly, half shoving Arianna behind her. "I don't know what you think you have the right to do but whatever it is, cease at once. You've caused unspeakable trauma to my planet and I will not stand for it."
"We'd love to stop it but we're not in charge anymore," Hercules said, swinging his chair from side to side as Mara rolled her eyes. "We're contacting you to warn you that your planets are going to start feeling more than a few tremors. Mercury's on complete lockdown. The lights have gone out all over the planet and some sectors have been closed for emergency repairs."
"You're not running a war simulation?" Hephaestus said, the scar on his eyebrow wriggling in disbelief.
"Ha! If only," Hercules said, tugging on his earlobe. "That would have been awesome. No, we just got hacked."
"That's funny," Arianna said with a sneer. "Mercury's top hackers got hacked."
"It would be funny if our planet wasn't falling apart at the seams," Mara said dryly. "Ours is just the start. Your planets will start feeling the pressure soon. It might extend as far as Jupiter from our meager calculations."
"Jupiter?" Silvia whispered. "What the hell is happening?"
"Apparently, Earth is having some sort of crisis," Hercules said, a note of bitterness mixing in with the sarcastic lilt of his words. "They've got youma coming out of the seams and attacking their people. They appear to be supremely ill equipped to handle so much negative energy so they've come up with a plan to seal them into quadrants and systematically purify all of them. In order to do it, they need our computers." A stunned silence followed his speech.
"I thought Earth didn't know about youma," Arianna said at least, her eyes round and blue in her lovely face.
"How do you even know that?" Silvia said, frowning.
"They've been in our system for hours now," Hercules said. "I've just been watching their calculations feed into the computer and I pieced it together. They're using a tracking program blended with a containment force field. There's also a purifying command for each of the quadrants they've designated. I'd say they're about 45 percent complete at this point."
"Which means they have a power source strong enough to cover the entire planet Earth?" Hephaestus said incredulously. That was the real crux of the matter. Hacking the Mercury main computers? Impossible – but once you wrapped your head around it, not such a crazy notion. Running those computers hard enough that all the planets connected to it went through various stages of intense revolt? Also pretty bad. A power source so enormous that it required the use of the Mercury computers working at full capacity while said power source coated the entire planet Earth? Silvia's mind went numb for a moment.
"What can possibly produce that much energy?" she whispered.
"Only one object I've ever come across," Hephaestus said breathlessly. "The Silver Crystal."
"It's impossible," Arianna said quickly. "Don't be ridiculous. That stupid stone was destroyed. All of us know that."
"The Senshi are the ones who hacked the computers," Hercules said. It was as if he had turned up the dial on the radio. Everyone started yelling at once, all manner of insults and exclamations of disbelief.
"I saw them!" Hercules yelled above the din, effectively butting everyone else out of the conversation. "I saw Mercury, I saw her hack the system, I spoke to her, and she did it. We've seen them, all of them. They're on Earth. They're using the computers to purify the youma." Silence pressed in on them, making the words sting in their ears. "Get over it. Take it. Whatever you need to do to accept this fact, do it now because we have to figure out what we're going to do about it."
"What are we supposed to do about it? We only have your word that the Senshi have returned," Arianna sneered.
"Doesn't matter what you think. Those of us who actually matter have to do something," his gaze drifted briefly to Silvia and then Hephaestus. "They've wormed their way into our system and are currently tearing Mercury apart. According to my calculations, Venus hasn't faired any better and it's only a matter of time before Mars and Jupiter bear the brunt of it. They aren't even halfway done! Can we afford not to respond?" Hercules said, leaning back in his chair.
"What are our options?" Hephaestus asked, face solemn and dark.
"As Arianna so uselessly suggested, we could do nothing. And have absolutely no idea what the Senshi are up to and if or when they will use the Mercury Computers for another project," Hercules said, rolling his eyes. "Or we could go to Earth and find out what's going on."
"We can't go right now," Mulciber pointed out. "If they're using this massive amount of energy like you say they are, then the entire planet must be sequestered off."
"That's true," Hercules allowed. "The only power source that they could possibly be using is the Silver Crystal. That isn't something any of us can fight against. So, since we have some time to kill as it were, I suggest we figure out a strategy on how to approach Earth. We haven't exactly kept in touch with the planet."
"Who would want to?" Arianna sneered. "It's such a low-powered, miserable little waste of a planet with no sense of fashion whatsoever."
"Yes, definitely, talk like that when we get to Earth. I'm sure they'll really appreciate it there," Hercules said.
"Come on, that's enough," Hephaestus said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "God, you would think after a thousand years you two would find a way to get along."
"No such luck," Lillian said, offering him a shallow smile. Hephaestus grinned at her tiredly but then Arianna shoved Lillian off the platform.
"Oops," she hissed.
"Really helpful," Hercules said.
"What can we do in terms of strategy?" Silvia interrupted before a fistfight could break out between her younger sisters. If that happened, Lily flower would probably beat the ever-loving snot out of Arianna and Silvia would, yet again, have to soothe her wailing sister's wounded pride. They had so many more important things to worry about.
"I don't think we should all go at once," Hercules said, resting his cheek against his knuckles as he swung from side to side in his chair. "I think we should go to Earth in pairs, or small groups. Obviously the Senshi are busy with whatever threat they're currently dealing with, right? And that threat will not necessarily disappear once they finish doing whatever it is they're doing. They won't want to leave their posts en masse just to speak with us. They may not even remember us."
"It has been over a thousand years," Mara pointed out, speaking for the first time in a long while. Her eyes were bloodshot and hooded in dark circles, making her face seem paler than Silvia remembered it. Mara was always so levelheaded; it was good to know she was part of this conversation.
"So what you're suggesting is that we go to Earth in pairs so that we can speak with the Senshi individual without threatening their mission," Hephaestus summarized, rubbing his fingers over his lips. "And as a sign of goodwill to the rulers of Earth. It is impolite to storm into another person's planet without a proper invitation."
"We'll go first," Silvia said quickly. Everyone looked at her and she smiled, already seeing in their eyes that they meant to protest. "Who better to send then Earth's neighbor? Venus will be a sympathetic planet for the Earth people to trust."
"Mars is Earth's neighbor as well," Mulciber said, arching an eyebrow.
"Yes, but we of Venus are a great deal prettier than you Martians," Silvia cooed. Hercules and Mara started laughing.
"I don't know," Mulciber deadpanned, "I think I'm very pretty. Don't you think so, Hephaestus?"
"Shut up," Hephaestus said, fighting back a grin. "Fine, you can go first. But I want to remain in constant communication while you're there. We don't even know if the Senshi will talk to us once we get there."
"We have to make them listen," Hercules said, his voice losing the last traces of humor. "It might not… be the ones we remember. They might be… other girls; the next Senshi who were simply reborn with the power. It's unlikely that they're our… family. So don't get your hopes up." It was clear to everyone present that Hercules was speaking more to himself than to the others. Silvia felt an unfamiliar prickle of pity for the most brilliant son of Jupiter, surrounded by computers and cold machinery when he should have brimmed with life. It was pretty pathetic, really.
"Should we inform Jupiter of our plans?" Lillian said, shooting Arianna a venomous look when her sister raised her arm to push her again. "They probably want to know what's going on."
"I'll represent my family," Hercules said. "After all, I was the only one who ever cared about my sister."
"After Silvia then we'll go," Mulciber piped up. "I should be able to sense if there is a disguise among the Senshi."
"Will Queen Frida wish to come along?" Silvia said, perking up a bit. She was rather fond of the Martian Queen.
"My niece will be far too busy with planetary matters to involve herself with this," Hephaestus said a bit aggressively. "We'll keep her informed as we make our move. No doubt she'd love to go if Mars is really there."
"Then I guess that leaves you and me last," Mara said, glancing back at Hercules. "We can work with their technicians and see if we can't bring them into the network. That way, we'll have a better way of keeping an eye on them while also making it harder for them to lock us out of our own system."
"Sounds good to me," Hercules said, stretching his arms lazily over his head and offering them a grin. "We'll have another meeting when they're closer to finishing their mission. I'm sure we'll all be eager to see what happens next."
Chibi Usa felt as if every bone in her body was about to crack like a piece of glass dropped on the floor. She felt like her skin had grown tight and pinched, trying to hold something too large for it to conceal. She felt as if her voice had floated out of her throat and now bounced around in her head like an echo.
Nothing existed outside of her body. All she could feel was herself – her fingers arching into claws and relaxing, arching and relaxing; the soft brush of wind against her bare toes, the way her gown chaffed her armpits and constricted her breath – and nothing else existed. Well, nothing except the towering presence of Mama looming in the back of her mind, gently coaxing their crystals to synchronize and feed the gaping chasm of the Mercury Computer.
The Mercury Computer was a cold, fast-paced endlessness with numbers and letters flashing by so quickly that it felt as if Chibi Usa were in a tunnel of blue light. When she'd started, she could sense Sailor Mercury controlling the movement of her energy and could even sense Papa somewhere near Mama. Mama had been larger than life, a torrent of energy spiraling through her core and dragging everything – her fear, her joy, her soul – out through the crystal and laid bare for the world to see. Now, after an eternity of this raw exposure, Chibi Usa couldn't feel much more than exhaustion.
I don't know how much longer I can do this, her voice resounded in her head, bouncing off the walls and slithering back down her throat. It hurt to think.
Just a little longer, Mama's voice soothed along the jagged edges of her mind. Cool fingers wrapped around her aching hands, lifting her up and holding the energy for her. Chibi Usa felt a resounding relief for this small mercy. Later, she would feel terrible guilt. Mama was feeling everything she was feeling and more, shouldering far more of this task than she was. To take on more just because it hurt… what a selfish act.
WE'RE ALMOST THERE, came Mercury's message. Chibi Usa balked at the pressure of her words, cutting into her thoughts and concentration. She struggled to hold onto the crystal as it bucked in her hands. WE'RE AT 82 PERCENT RIGHT NOW. THIS IS ACTUALLY WORKING!
Time seemed to slow down after this declaration and even Mama's comforting presence faded. Chibi Usa withdrew into her mind, drifting past memories like soap bubbles on the surface of water. She glided over that water, peering disinterestedly on her past as it slipped by her in lazy currents. She forgot what she was doing. She forgot where she was. All she saw were her memories as the life poured out of her.
Child, come back, a soft voice drifted over her, soothing the jagged sensations around her mind. She ignored the voice, her hand resting momentarily on her first memory of meeting Helios. He dipped and threw back his head, the golden horn flashing in the light of the moon. She felt the familiar rush as he ducked under her and took to the skies, flying with her on his back. The rush of wind, the sweet smell of sugar in the air, a soft kiss in the darkness of her dreams.
She's withdrawing into herself. I must help her, the voice whispered very far away.
Don't go near her! Someone said. A male voice. Mamo-chan? Was that… but he was right here, petting her hair and feeding her medicine. She had a fever. She wasn't feeling well. She'd had a fight with Usagi again. The Senshi said that she was going to need all her concentration. You can't go sticking yourself into the situation when they're nearly done.
You do not understand me, Sol. She is fading out, she is losing herself. I must help her, the voice was stronger now, cutting into the memories. Chibi Usa tried to lift her hands to her ears, to block out the sound, but she couldn't feel her hands anymore.
WAIT! Don't touch her!
The world twisted inside out and fell out from under her. Chibi Usa came back to herself with a sudden screech as the floor concaved beneath her. She screamed but no sound came out. She stumbled and tripped, her muscles working all at once as she twisted around like a fish out of water, turning her aching head up to see the crystal.
It was obvious right away that Night had taken on more than she could handle. The crystal visibly bucked in her hands, violently slamming into her palms and then vibrating as the energy turned from brilliant white to a muggy brown and then to dripping red, pooling on the ground in thick globs.
With a lurch, the crystal shattered and vanished. The lights instantly went out and the energy in the room went out with them. Only the soft light of the computer monitors winked at them as the screens scrambled and went blank with white snow. Chibi Usa felt Usagi scream somewhere far away.
"N-No!" Chibi Usa managed through her raw throat. She stumbled to her feet, using the computer consol to prop herself up. Uranus and Neptune sagged onto the floor, their eyes thrown open blindly as they convulsed. They were still connected to the crystal, Chibi Usa realized with mounting horror. Usagi was still-! She was still-!
"NO!" Chibi Usa screamed. "Sailor Moon stop! Stop using the crystal, it'll kill you!" She yelled. Even as she grew desperate, she could feel it. The sudden weightlessness as her hands faded for a second. Oh god. Oh no. She felt it. Like that one time, that one other time when she'd started to wink out of existence. She was going to… she was about to…
"NO!" she yelled, twisting back around to face the room. Night had crumpled on the ground, her hands outstretched as if she could still feel the crystal, her eyes wide. Her dress had tangled in her long legs and revealed surprising scars all along Night's legs. It was a strange sight compared to the effortless perfection of her arms and shoulders. Sol and Gaea stood tensely behind her, arms raised as if they could somehow stop what had just happened.
"What have I done?" Night whispered, her hands slowly lowering. "No… I didn't mean to… I thought I could…"
"Mercury!" Chibi Usa yelled, diving for the monitor. A small video feed enlarged on the screen to show her Sailor Mercury. The control room in the Arcade looked as if a small tornado had gone through it. Naru and Motoki were hugging each other in the corner, their hair whipping around their faces. Mercury still sat in her chair across from the computer, her mouth open in a silent scream and her eyes squeezed tightly shut. "Sailor Mercury!" It took her a long moment and she struggled to lean forward, but she finally opened her eyes. "Sailor Mercury, tell Sailor Moon to stop using the crystal!"
"I can't," she gasped. "The feed broke hours ago. It couldn't take – the power – I… I can't warn her," she doubled over and grabbed her stomach, the power around her body coalescing around her head in angry waves.
"We have to," Chibi Usa whispered, struggling. She stared at the screen, her eyes dancing from Venus, to Mars, to Jupiter… think, think, think! She slammed her fist on the keyboard, pain shooting up her arm. Suddenly, it came to her.
"The crystal…" Chibi Usa whispered. It was so perfect… if it worked. If it worked!
She ran back to the center of the room and yanked the pendant from her throat. The Time key skittered and slid off the chain and landed by Gaea's foot. Chibi Usa didn't care. She lifted the Golden Crystal and screamed the first words that came to her mind.
"Golden Crystal! Please, lend me your strength! Papa! Help me!"
Tuxedo Mask felt it the second Sailor Moon lost control. She'd been pulsing with energy for hours now, feeding the Mercury Computer as the force fields had gone up all over the world. The whole time, Sailor Mercury's steady reports had come in through his earpiece and assured him of the quarantine as they'd systematically purified each sector. The threat had been larger then even they had speculated, covering nearly the entire planet in youma. He'd thought Sailor Moon would be okay. It had been difficult at first but she grew in strength the longer she used the crystal, an almost serene look replacing the pained expression she'd worn when she first started.
She'd even talked to Chibi Usa as if she could see her. That had been a comfort, to know that Sailor Moon wasn't alone in this struggle and that at least someone else could shoulder the burden. But then something had gone horribly wrong. Sailor Moon had tightened up all at once, her body arching back and then the energy ballooned around her in clumps, like condensation. She'd screamed and thrashed for a moment but then steadied herself, thrusting her arms up and forced even more energy out. He'd been thrown back by the force of it.
Sailor Moon's eyes were open now and she grunted and cried out every few moments, as if it was all too much for her. But she was stubborn. She wasn't going to stop. If only Mercury hadn't said anything, Tuxedo Mask groaned, dancing around her in anxious circles as he tried to help, tried to do anything. If only she had made it clear Sailor Moon could stop!
That's when he heard it, as loud as an airhorn directly in his mind. Golden Crystal! Please, lend me your strength! Papa! Help me!
All at once he remembered. The crystal! It wasn't as strong as the Silver Crystal and he barely knew how to use it, but if Chibi Usa was helping… and if they could at least partially alleviate the burden that Sailor Moon was even now struggling to hold up all by herself… He didn't waste another moment, searching within himself for the crystal's presence.
It came to his hand in a moment, glowing with warmth and reassurance. He instantly felt his panic and fear ebb away and he concentrated on the light of that feeling. Chibi Usa's hand reached out and gripped his, hard. She pulled him to where Sailor Moon was locked away, fighting with her energy.
He reached out and the three pulled close together. He brushed his lips over Sailor Moon's head, feeling the tension slowly drain from her brow. The energy surrounding her body was a little too painful, a little too intense, but he held on anyway. He let Chibi Usa guide their strength, rerouting it back into the Mercury Computer and flooding it with their combined energy. Sailor Moon rested her head against his shoulder, a small smile twitching at the corners of her lips.
They remained poised like that forever, Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon supporting each other as Chibi Usa directed the energy away from them, standing powerful and brilliant in their mind's eye. Sailor Moon slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him, her face glowing brilliantly.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I love you too," he whispered back, resting his forehead against hers.
THAT'S IT! WE'VE DONE IT! STOP STOP STOP! Sailor Mercury screamed somewhere far away. Chibi Usa yanked her energy back abruptly but still managed to hold them all up, waiting for Sailor Moon to slowly come back to herself, the energy fading slowly until she was back in her own skin. Her gown faded back into her Senshi uniform and then back to her civilian clothing. She dropped to her knees with Tuxedo Mask, her head gently landing against his shoulder again. She breathed in and then slowly out, the air tickling his neck as she stayed there.
"I think I need to take a nap now," Sailor Moon whispered.
"Okay," Tuxedo Mask whispered back, running his fingers down her neck, over her shoulder, and coming to rest on her upper arm. She smiled against his neck and slumped into his arms, unconscious. Tuxedo Mask sighed softly and wrapped both arms around her, sitting back on his shins. Somewhere in the far recesses of his mind, he felt Chibi Usa collapse.
"Just let us go," Chixota growled, shifting from foot to foot as Saturn fiddled with the Pluto computer. She hadn't bothered to answer his threats in the past few hours, her entire concentration on the computer. It was enough to drive Bran completely up the wall.
Castle Charon was cold and completely silent, something that Bran had only experienced once before, when he'd been thrown into the Galaxy Prison centuries ago. He could still feel the oppressive stillness, the stench of rot and decay where nothing lived anymore, the very edge of sound, and it frankly freaked him out. Saturn didn't seem to care, typing away on the keyboard as if she had nothing better to do. Bran paced by the door, swatting Jukai away when the boy tried to soothe him.
"We should go back," Bran grunted. "I don't think we should have left Usa alone. Your Senshi may be strong but there were a lot of youma. We could have helped."
"I think you underestimate Chibi Usa's power," Saturn said in her flat voice, devoid of inflection or emotion. Still, Bran got the distinct impression that she was annoyed. "In a matter of moments, she would have vaporized the three of you without even intending to. It was better to get you out."
"But then why out here to your farthest planet? Don't you think we should have stuck around, at least somewhere closer in case we could help? What if they needed you?" Bran said, coming up behind her to peer at the screen. He couldn't understand the language and he doubted Sailor Saturn was about to explain what she was doing.
"I wasn't sure how far their energy would reach," Saturn said a bit distractedly. "Uranus would have never allowed you anywhere near her planet and Neptune's planet is made up entirely of oceans. Saturn would have destroyed you with its natural defenses." She paused to glance back at him. "I doubt you would have enjoyed that. Anyway, the Mercury Computer would have amplified their force. It could theoretically extend as far as Jupiter, perhaps a little farther. I couldn't risk making Chibi Usa sad."
"Crazy," Chixota grumbled. "All for some stupid brat, you'd risk your life to get us out of there."
"That 'crazy brat' is my future Queen and sovereign," Saturn said, turning an icy glare in his direction. "She is stronger and more compassionate than you will ever know. For now, she feels the need to show pity on you pathetic little ants and I would rather suffer your idiocy for a few more hours if it will bring her some relief from that terrible guilt she feels for your twisted lives. But mark my words. The second you screw up, the second you step one hair out of line, I will be there and I will happily slice that pretty little head from your shoulders. Do we understand each other?"
Chixota stared at her, keeping perfectly still. Saturn continued to glare at him for another moment before she turned back to the computer screen.
"We have to get out of here," Jukai whispered by Bran's ear. "She's going to kill us."
Bran hesitated. Chixota was looking at him with much the same expression, his eyes guarded. He'd already lost patience with the entire situation, if the way he kept his shoulders tense was any indication. He wanted to leave, wanted to get away while there was only one distracted Senshi in the room. Hell, she'd probably welcome their escape as an excuse not to deal with them anymore. And yet… he didn't know why, but he couldn't shake Chibi Usa's worried face from his memory. She'd been so earnest about their safety, so concerned for their lives, as if they hadn't just met a few hours ago. As if they were maybe, possibly even… friends.
How ridiculous. Bran looked away, setting his jaw. Fine, they would leave. They could find a way back to the future somehow, if not in this galaxy then certainly in another. They could hitch a ride somewhere else, maybe back home, and find a way from there, maybe some youma who had abilities molding time. Perhaps there was a back door to the Time tunnel? He was fairly certain he remembered the way home. It would all work out somehow, he just had to believe it was possible. Bran turned back to Jukai, to give him some quiet instructions on how they would make their next move, when the computer started blinking.
Saturn's fingers froze and she stared at the message. "Impossible," she mumbled. When multiple windows popped up simultaneously and blinked in unison, she sucked in a sharp breath. In the next moment, she'd turned back to them and shoved them out of the room using her scythe to catch Jukai before he could float to the ceiling. They rushed back to the transport room where they'd first appeared and assembled on the energy circle now pulsing with light. Saturn lifted her scythe and surrounded them in a protective orb, forcing them up into the sky and quickly into the stretch of darkness that seemed endless. Bran put his hands on the force field and watched as Pluto disappeared rapidly behind them. In the next moment, he saw it.
A wave of light rushed towards them, faster than light should travel, faster than anything he'd ever seen. Saturn twisted the force field around so she could face the coming light. "SILENCE WALL!" she screamed just as the light hit them. Bran jerked his hands away from the field with a yelp as it burned. His hands ached and took an extra few seconds to heal. With his heart hammering in his chest, Bran looked up into the blinding light surrounding them and knew that he should be dead. He should have been purified in that split second before Saturn threw up her shield.
Saturn's scythe trembled with the force she was holding back but she didn't make a sound of complaint as she held the wave, deflected it out around them. Jukai wrapped his arms around Bran's back and buried his head into the nape of his neck. The poor boy trembled and whimpered. Bran could do little more than stroke his hair absently, his eyes glued to the beautiful - horrible - sight surrounding them like the solar winds.
And all of a sudden, Bran felt a chill pass through him. This was Usa's power. This was what she'd been trying to protect him from. Now he was stuck. He couldn't possibly leave. What the hell would she do to him if he didn't stay?