Half out of instinct, half because he had determined it was the most logical place to go, Kunzite had teleported to the Dark Kingdom. He was not certain what he had expected to find after three years. Possibly that Beryl was still there, deep in the underground palace that they had commandeered, and still scheming against the Sailor Soldiers—or perhaps that they were dead and no longer a threat. Possibly that she was defeated and the palace had been abandoned. Maybe, even, in some morbid corner of his mind, that the Sailor Soldiers had taken it over and transformed it into something they would find fitting.
He had not really thought it would be completely decimated.
Now he was standing in its ruins, shock and disbelief eclipsing all other emotions. So Beryl had been eliminated. He really should have expected it, when the Sailor Soldiers had been converging on the Dark Kingdom. He had been defeated when he had tried to intercept them. Afterwards, they must have traveled until reaching the palace. And then . . . this had happened. . . .
He took a step forward. There was not even a roof now, of earth or of architecture. The Dark Kingdom was a sunken hole in the ground. Wind and snow swirled around the broken pillars, crumbled ceiling, and demolished walls, all but burying them in this frozen tomb. This was his legacy. This was all that he had to show for the many years of service he had put into the Dark Kingdom.
And yet . . . even if Queen Beryl had still reigned here, would she have wanted him back? Maybe she would have been disgusted that he would show his face, after so many failures. Perhaps she would have condemned him to the same fate as Jadeite, frozen alive for all eternity. Or maybe she would have sent him on to join Zoisite, as he had longed for when he had believed he would die at Sailor Moon's hands.
When he thought about it, why on earth had he stayed after Zoisite's death? It had been Zoisite's rash behavior that had led to his death, but Queen Beryl had been the one to deliver the fatal blow. Instead of being outraged and refusing to serve her any further, Kunzite's loyalty had not wavered. He had blamed Endymion and the Sailor Soldiers for Zoisite's death, and had devoted himself to destroying them. At the time he had not given it a second thought, but why?
He stopped, his hair flying out behind him as the furious wind played and toyed with the whitish locks. It did not make sense. He had never once despised the Queen, had never even considered that she was responsible. But she had been! As he stood here now, it was all so clear in his mind. She had killed Zoisite, leaving him to die in Kunzite's arms with his last request of "being able to die beautifully." If he had been angry with anyone, it should have been her.
A hand flew to his forehead. What was happening to him? It was as if now he was at last beginning to see everything clearly, whereas before he had been kept under an odd state of sedation that he had not even known was there. Had Queen Beryl used her powers to keep him from rebelling against her, or even at least resenting her? When he had regained consciousness in Portman's laboratory, he had not thought of needing to return to Beryl, though his resentment of the Sailor Soldiers had lingered.
Or had it? He had accused that woman of being a spy for the Sailor Soldiers, and he had felt a surge of anger at the thought of them when he had found the calender date, but as he walked among the wreckage of the Dark Kingdom he felt only a numb coldness. Maybe it was only because he had not fully processed it all yet. Maybe he would grow furious after a while and even want to find them and have his revenge. What was even left for him now? He was still alive, but it was a hollow existence.
Something glittered just ahead of him. The snow swirled around whatever it was, having buried it almost completely in the drifts. A frown graced Kunzite's features as he walked ahead to where it was laying.
A face frozen in pain stared back at him. His eyes narrowed. Jadeite! He had stumbled upon the first Shitennou's resting place.
Bending down, he began to brush and then claw at the snow covering the crystal. It must have been protected for some time, the bit of roof overhead crumbling only recently to expose the coffin to the snow. Otherwise, it seemed that after three years it would be completely concealed and buried under countless amounts of the powder.
Jadeite looked the same as he had three years ago. Not that Kunzite would think the boy would have aged in his prison. He was surely dead; no one could survive such a fate. His blank eyes gazed up at nothing, never blinking. It was eerie, considering that once he had been alive and well just as Kunzite was now.
But it was strange, that a sense of melancholia was suddenly washing over Kunzite. He had not had much to do with Jadeite, finding the younger man foolish and unprepared for the task Beryl had given to him. Yet now something else was tugging at his mind, just as it had when he had tried in vain to remember where he had heard that music. Why was he getting an image of him and Jadeite, along with the other two, engaging in a peaceful sparring session? There had not been anything of the kind at the Dark Kingdom. At times he had trained Zoisite, but that was all, and there had not been such a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere as he saw and felt from the nonexistent memory.
Or was it nonexistent?
What had come before the Dark Kingdom? They must have lived before that, or Queen Beryl would not have needed to "take them in." But his mind was still blank.
He looked back to Jadeite's frozen form. He himself was free of such a state, and yet he did not feel that he was enjoying more liberty. There was nothing for either of them now.
Why had he been spared? If he had died, and could have gone on to Zoisite, he would have been at peace. Nephrite would have said that the stars were mocking him. Kunzite would have scoffed at such talk. But who knew; maybe it was not so far-fetched.
He sank down onto a fallen pillar. There was still a bit of shelter from the elements, but not much that would be useful if he continued to remain. Yet he did not know where to go. For now he would stay here, with the other dead.
Usagi could not help but let out a yawn as she slumped back in her seat. The teacher was droning on something about math, but she had tuned it out once she had begun to lose interest. Which had been almost at the beginning, of course. Anything scientific could not hold her interest for very long. She could force herself to figure it out if she really concentrated, but today she did not have any motivation.
She stared over the room. Ami was listening studiously, pencil in hand. Naru was staring off into the distance, but suddenly snapped back to the present and looked to the teacher. Most other students were listening, but one of the boys was goofing off by making doodles on his paper. Unheeding, the teacher kept talking. Now she was writing out today's problems on the board. None of it made sense to Usagi.
I'm so bored! she moaned to herself.
Minako was absent today, too; Makoto had said something about her having a cold and staying home.
Actually, when Usagi thought about it, Minako had come down with quite a few colds and sniffles in the past days. She frowned. It was not like Minako to slack off school. Even Usagi came to school, despite always being late. Sometimes she and Minako would run there together, if they happened to meet while trying to break the speed record. And they both tried to do the work, even if in some classes their minds wandered and they were very close to failing.
Maybe after school she should go over and try to talk to Minako. Yes, that was a good idea. And right now she could think about what she would say instead of trying to sort out the complicated mess of the math problems. This was much more important, after all!
A sudden crash outside the building interrupted the teacher's spiel. She frowned, turning with narrowed eyes. "Who did that?" she demanded, her hands going to her hips.
The students were staring towards the window. "It was out there, Moto-sensei!" exclaimed one girl, pointing at the glass.
Ms. Moto's eyes narrowed further. "Oh, is it?" she said, walking over in determination. "Well, we'll see about that." Another clatter echoed throughout the room as she approached the window, and as she moved to open it, the glass shattered. A cry of pain tore from her lips as she flung her arms up to protect her face. Behind her, some of the girls were screaming as well. Something was coming in through the window, something that most certainly did not belong.
Usagi leaped up from her desk in horror. It looked like something akin to an octopus with sharp teeth. Tentacles were flying in all directions. Two of them curled around the shocked teacher, beginning to squeeze unbearably. She gasped in pain, only able to turn her head to the side to look at the petrified students. "Get out of here!" she ordered, her voice strangled and desperate.
Many of the students wasted no time in running to the door and fleeing into the hall to look for help. But soon other screams came from the corridor. This was not the only monster that had come inside the building.
Usagi swallowed the lump in her throat, scanning the room for some sign of Ami. The other girl was nowhere to be found. Had she run out as well, hoping to transform and then return? She may have been caught by one of the creatures running through the halls. Hopefully Makoto would find her and they would be able to fight the monsters together. Meanwhile, there was this thing in here.
Usagi whirled at the familiar voice. Naru was still in the room, her eyes flashing as she gripped a chair. The octopus monster was perking up, looking with suspicion in her direction.
"You know, I'm sick and tired of things like you coming in and hurting people!" Naru yelled, her eyes flashing as she began to lift the chair off the floor. Usagi was chilled by her tone of voice, which was angry but mostly filled with pain. Usagi had rarely heard Naru speak like that.
In fact, she had not seen as much of Naru outside of school as she would have liked. Mostly she had been spending time with the other Soldiers, and Mamoru, and had not had much time for her old friend. It was something she deeply regretted, and since the final battle with Galaxia had come to an end, she had tried to rectify things. Naru had seemed like her usual cheery self, but now she was different. She was going to fight. Raising the chair half-above her head, she threw it at the monster.
The chair made contact right in its face. The thing roared in response, its grip on Ms. Moto loosening enough that she was able to wiggle free. But then it recovered and realized what was happening. More of its tentacles snaked out, grabbing for Naru as well as the teacher.
"Naru-chan!" Usagi screamed, lunging forward as she tackled her best friend out of the way. They tumbled across the floor, crashing against the wall.
Still a bit dazed, Naru looked up at the other girl. "What is that thing?!" she cried. The agony was all the more apparent in her eyes now that Usagi was up close.
Usagi swallowed hard. "I don't know," she replied, helplessness washing over her. She would never be able to get outside and transform now, but Usagi Tsukino could not beat this creature. Would she have to transform in front of Naru? And the teacher? The Soldiers' identities were supposed to be kept secret. But how could she just let the destruction continue? She herself would be killed if she did nothing. And Naru . . .
"What is it?" Naru said again, her voice growing soft. "There's always something hurting people here. Would it be different somewhere else? Would Nephrite have been okay if we hadn't been in Juuban?"
Usagi's heart twisted. "Naru-chan . . ." So that was it. She was still thinking of Nephrite. Had Usagi been completely blind, to think that everything was perfectly alright once Naru had started to go out with Umino? Naru could usually manage to smile and say that everything was okay, whether she felt like that inside or not. Maybe Naru had come to care for Umino, but she had never been able to forget Nephrite. And something had happened, maybe when the monster had attacked, or maybe something that had been building for a while, that had brought those feelings to a head.
A scream from Ms. Moto brought them to attention. She had struggled to crawl to her desk and then to stand and attack the monster before it could go after the girls. It had turned its attention back to her, wrapping its tentacles around her once more. It would kill her if this continued.
There was no choice.
Usagi bit her lip. "Naru-chan, I have to tell you a secret," she said as she started to stand. "But you can't tell anyone!"
Naru stared at her in disbelief. "A secret . . . ?! Usagi, this isn't the time . . . !"
But she trailed off as Usagi turned to face the monster. "Moon Eternal Makeup!" she cried. Lights and ribbons and wings enveloped her form, replacing her school uniform with a much different kind of sailor suit. Now she bore a shorter skirt trimmed in yellow, red, and blue, pink puffed sleeves, and white angel wings on her back.
"Sailor Moon," Naru whispered, her eyes wide.
Yet she was not as surprised as Usagi might have thought she would be. Naru had suspected this even before the incident with the Black Moon family, and though she had not expressly revealed her suspicions at that time, she had found Usagi and revealed her certainty that Usagi knew the meaning behind the strange events that had befallen the city. But when Usagi had laughed nervously and denied it, Naru had promised to not ask any more questions and instead had only requested that Usagi come back safely to school. Shortly after that, the black crystal had vanished from Tokyo and all had been well again for a while. Usagi had indeed come back safe. And though Naru had kept her promise and had never asked anything more, she had remained sure of Sailor Moon's true identity.
It made sense, too, with how little free time Usagi had had of late. It had been during the brief interludes when no monsters had attacked that they had been able to spend time together again. Whenever strange things started happening, Usagi was suddenly very busy.
"Hold it right there!" Usagi was calling to the monster. It stopped, turning to look at her in annoyance at being interrupted.
"I'm the pretty sailor-suited soldier of love and justice, Sailor Moon!" she exclaimed, striking her trademark pose. "And in the name of the Moon, I will punish you!"
The toothy octopus roared in response, sweeping more of its tentacles at her. She could only yelp as she leaped out of the way, coming to land on one of the few desks that was still upright. Its legs were prompt swept out from under it, sending it and her crashing to the floor. Then the creature was bearing down on her. She had to act quickly.
Regaining her bearings, she gathered her concentration and drew out the Rainbow Moon Chalice. "Starlight Honeymoon . . ."
She was interrupted as she was grabbed up by one leg and dangled upsidedown. A cry of alarm tore from her lips. The rod was beginning to slip from her hand, but she could not let it go. She could break free now if she could call out the attack without being cut off again.
By now Naru was on her feet, staring in horror at the scene. "Sailor Moon!" she cried. Was there something she could do to help? She always hated being attacked by the monsters and never being able to do anything about it, but what she hated even more was when they went after those she cared about. For once she wanted to be able to help them. She never wanted anyone else to die while she could only watch.
"Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss!" Usagi screamed the attack much faster than usual. But it did not seem to matter. The beast shrieked, dropping both Usagi and the unconscious Ms. Moto as it vanished into dust.
Usagi could only stare at the ashes, the sorrow beginning to grow in her heart. Once again the respite had ended. It never could last long. Every time they thought an enemy was vanquished, something new would take its place.
And there were still others in trouble. Ms. Moto would be alright, with some rest. But the screams from the halls were very prominent.
"Naru-chan!" she directed, looking to her friend. "Please look after Moto-sensei."
Naru gave a shaking nod. "Sailor Moon . . ." She looked firmly into the other's eyes. "Come back safe."
Usagi blinked but nodded. "Don't worry!" she smiled, gripping the Rainbow Moon Chalice tightly as she ran to the door.
Naru sighed to herself, looking from the teacher's limp form to the broken window.
"I always do," she said quietly.
Minako was sitting on the edge of her bed, hugging a pillow as she stared at the floor. Her eyes were veiled, but Artemis could imagine the emotions that might be prevalent in them, all of which he hated to see from her. Sadness, fear . . . confusion and anger. . . . She gripped tighter at the pillow.
Artemis had remained quiet for a while, as she had wanted, but now he took a cautious step forward. She had been there for so long, ever since she and her parents had returned home, and she had not said anything beyond a brief explanation of what had happened. He was still trying to process what she had told him. And he was so worried about her, especially when she just kept sitting there like that. . . .
He gazed up at her. "Minako . . ."
She did not respond. Either she was ignoring him or she was lost in her thoughts of the day's chaos.
Minako had felt dizzy off and on in the past days, usually shortly after waking up. She had thought it was a cold at first, or the flu, but when it came and went as it did it seemed different. Then the headaches had begun to come on as well. And before any of that had started, she had felt abnormally tired.
She had tried to hide the dizziness and headaches from her parents, not thinking it was serious and not wanting them to worry. But this morning she had collapsed when getting ready for school. Despite insisting she was fine, she had been hurried to the doctor. And she was still trying to process what she had been told.
Artemis dug his claws into the floor. It was unbearable, to see Minako like this. It made him feel even more helpless. He wanted to help her so badly, and yet he did not know how. "Maybe something will still change," he said. "There's still time . . . !"
"Maybe. . . ."
She set the pillow aside. Artemis stared at her. She was smiling brightly, like the Minako he had always known.
"Anything could happen in six months, after all!" she said. "I'm not going to let this bring me down. And I don't want anyone to worry about me, so don't you do it."
Artemis swallowed. "Minako . . ." Now he was again not sure what to say. Of course she would put on a happy face. And she would struggle to keep it even if her soul was being shredded inside. She would not let anyone see her sadness and fear.
She stood up. "Don't say anything to the others about this, either," she said.
He stared in disbelief. "But . . . Minako, they'd want to know!" he protested.
She shook her head. "Let's wait a while," she said. "Maybe something will change and I'll be okay and they'll never have had to know at all."
Artemis sat down. It was always hard to talk to Minako when she got like this. And this was the only way she knew how to deal with what she had found out today. It was a way to keep herself from going crazy, but it would also keep everyone else at arm's length. She wanted to handle this alone.
And she should not have to.
Kunzite did not know how long he had been sitting near the frozen Jadeite. The sky was not any lighter or darker, and the snow's fury had not lessened. It swirled from the thick clouds, as if determined to hide all proof that the Dark Kingdom had once existed. If it continued in this vein, maybe it would succeed.
A frown crossed his features. It almost sounded like music being carried by the wind, the same music that had filled his senses in Portman's laboratory. How was that possible? Was he hearing things that were not there? Yet, how could he have heard anything when he had awakened, either? He knew he had heard it then, and it was growing clearer now as well.
"Kunzite-sama. . . ."
He was standing in the next instant. A voice he had not heard for those three years was calling to him now. It was not his imagination. And a piece of a forgotten memory was coming back to him.
It was Zoisite playing the piano. He had been very skilled at it during a time long ago, the time before the Dark Kingdom that Kunzite could not remember. But Zoisite had not touched the instrument after they had come to work for Queen Beryl.
What did this mean? Was Kunzite hearing Zoisite from the afterlife? What other explanation could there be? Zoisite could not be alive again. That was impossible. His death had not been the same as when Kunzite had been dying and had apparently teleported away to Portman's location. Zoisite had looked so pale and ill as he had lain there, the last of his life slipping away. . . .
A cracking sound to his side caused him to whirl back and stare. The crystal entrapping Jadeite's body was weakening. The weather was certainly not causing it. Was it . . . the music? That sounded ridiculous, but so was the fact that he was hearing the music at all. Yet . . . Zoisite had sometimes been able to channel his powers through his piano.
The quartz shattered. Pieces flew in every direction, forcing Kunzite to bring up his arms to protect his face. He could hear them raining around him, falling into the snow. Slowly he straightened, turning to look again. Jadeite was laying lifeless amid the snow and broken crystal, which was expected. His head and neck, no longer supported by the prison, turned limply to the side.
But then he blinked as his cheek touched the snow.
He was alive.
That was not expected.