WARNINGS: Graphic violence, profanity and sex. These are adult people doing adult things. When I write, I don't hold back. You have been warned.

Written by: Mikami

Chapter Nine
The Road to Obscurity

The smooth limestone ground of one of the many Citadel courtyards came closer in the drop ship's descent. The thrusters on either side encompassed the surrounding air, leaving no other sound to penetrate through ears and minds. Although Minako had wanted to speak some more with Makoto and the two Templars, she settled instead for sitting stiff in her seat. A few feet away she could see the back of Yaten and Taiki's heads, settled closest to the pilots. She could tell they were anxious for the ship to hit ground quickly.

Makoto grabbed the arm of her seat the moment she felt the aircraft land. It wasn't a long journey from Laral but her first experience in a flying Earthen vessel left her stomach churning and her head spinning. She reckoned this was the feeling that might have been plaguing Yaten during their exploit in the warp sphere. Glancing over at his now perfect wellbeing at the familiarity of the ship, she let out a scowl. Her hands shook a little when she tried loosening the seatbelt buckle across her chest.

The Templars moved down the aisle toward the back of the ship just as the back entrance of the cargo hold opened wide like a mouth. Makoto and Minako were eager to follow them with their feet missing solid ground.

As they descended the aircraft ramp, they shielded their eyes from the glaring sunlight but were greeted by an oncoming scatter of figures dressed in uniform. Their slate gray jackets and slacks appeared slightly heavy but durable, and were formfitting to accommodate a lightweight array of black body armor around the upper arms, shoulders, torso and thighs. Each personnel was equipped with a G36 rifle and a black visor that obscured their entire head.

The sound of the thrusters slowed while Taiki and Yaten acknowledged the escort of the Citadel Corps—Second Class Templars under Kardeiz Gamma.

"Good to see you made it back, Sir," said one.

Taiki cracked a smile and let his shoulders relax a little.

"No place like home," Yaten replied, his olive eyes straying back to both Moon citizens.

Another Corps officer prompted, "The Chairman has been awaiting your arrival since noon."

"We'll be able to make the apology for our tardiness in person then," Taiki said.

Minako and Makoto followed behind their two escorts but looked from side to side at the guard that took formation around them. It felt odd to be surrounded by those they had once considered enemies and not feel like prisoners. Minako took to staring at one of the officers and he had responded with a simple, respectful nod behind his visor. Princess Jupiter on the other hand kept her gaze firmly ahead, feigning nonchalance instead of acknowledging the notion that it would take time to get used to these people not being hostile.

The courtyard entrance to one of the Citadel's many sides was up an expanse of steps. However, the doorway was so wide and tall, it was the only thing to see thus far. Two more Corps units were situated on either side but between them at the opening was a familiar young face. Makoto immediately recognized him as Seiya's redheaded opponent in the tournament's semi-final.

Marquise met the group as they reached the top of the stairs. The troopers finally dispersed when their foursome paused in stride in order to greet him.

"I was back on Earth only a day before I heard about the sphere sabotage," Marquise said upon approach.

Yaten took his hand in a firm shake and smirked. "You sure it concerned our disappearance and not the weapon research Seiya promised you?"

The seriousness in Marquise's face broke and he chuckled. "I'm sure. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't wholly about promises being honored."

Taiki stepped aside and gestured toward the blonde and brunette. "May I present to you a former participant of Aristaeus' tournament: Marquise of Ward Six."

The chestnut-haired Templar eyed the sudden intrigue in the lanky redhead's gaze.

"Princess Makoto of Jupiter," introduced Yaten, watching Marquise lift her hand in his. "And Princess Minako of Venus."

"Enchanted," the young man replied, receiving a gracious smile from Minako when he took hers afterward.

"You fought well in the tournament," Makoto admitted.

Marquise accepted the compliment and nodded with modesty. "I was lucky to have you notice even though I was bested by such a reckless opponent."

The teasing comment about Seiya was met with a laugh on Yaten's part.

The redhead softly covered Minako's hand with his other before releasing it. "So it was true," he said, growing serious once more. "The Princess was a decoy. I heard it all from Endymion sometime after you were able to make contact from Laral."

Marquise began to move forward through the gaping entryway and the rest picked up his pace.

"Yes, we were able to speak with him when we arrived at the town," Taiki confirmed. "After we told him of Seiya's disappearance and the whereabouts of the real Moon Princess, he sent out an additional search unit without running it by Kardeiz."

"Your return will grant the Prince some ease. I can't say I've seen him this troubled but it's been like this ever since I got here," Marquise explained.

Yaten nodded to suppress a sigh. "I can imagine."

The silver-haired Templar gave Minako and Makoto a backwards glance. They met his attentions briefly before eyeing the new scene ahead of them. Yaten couldn't resist the quirk in his mouth as he could only perceive what their thoughts were regarding the stark contrast between the Moon Palace and Crystal Tokyo's Citadel.

The neutral marble flooring had changed to black the deeper they strode into the cathedral hallways. Where the Moon Palace's walls were decked with paintings, tapestries and gilded carvings, the Citadel's walls were blank and expansive. The only major form of décor made its appearance in ebony columns that sometimes lined those walls with endless alcoves.

Minako stared up at the vaulted ceiling and discovered a plethora of geometric architecture combined with elements of glass. The abode of Crystal Tokyo's controlling power was vastly different from the Moon's but she found a certain elegance to the interior's minimalistic nature.

Halfway down another corridor, their group discerned another pair of officers waiting by a set of double doors. Standing nearby was a figure adorned in a sleek, charcoal suit, who had severity written into his every movement.

Marquise halted his pace when he caught sight of the rigid Prince Endymion.

"All of you have been sorely expected," the redhead said.

"You sure you don't want to stick around for this?" Yaten asked.

Marquise smiled cheekily. "My business is weaponry. I'll be with Godfrey at the primary research facility should you need me."

He gave the Princesses of Jupiter and Venus a slight bow and left their foursome to make the rest of the way to the conference room.

The redheaded youth's exit was quickly picked up by Endymion, whose face lit up to see two of the First Class Templars return. They met him in front of the doors and saw relief and concern weaved in an intricate web on the Prince's face.

"Taiki, Yaten," said Endymion, reaching out to grasp them each by the forearm. "Thank God. We were beginning to wonder if another attack was underway since we anticipated you earlier."

"We left as promptly as we could," Taiki replied, eyeing Makoto and Minako. "It was important that our guests were accommodated properly."

Endymion smiled, despite the stress reflected in his indigo irises. "Of course," he said with regal calm.

Bowing low with a fist across his chest he welcomed the brunette and blonde graciously. "My father and I have been looking forward to your arrival but I must ask your forgiveness for any lack in immediate hospitality. These dire circumstances affect us all with the disappearance of your Moon Princess and we're doing everything in our power to overturn the situation."

Compassion entered Minako's heart as she saw through the guise of Endymion's formality. She said nothing but offered him a smile in return.

Beside her, Makoto chose to take in the man that Usagi was to be given to—the man that Kou Seiya had won her for. The brunette tilted her head slightly to the side, thinking that if Endymion had chosen to participate himself, she probably wouldn't have known the difference between the Prince and the Templar from her seat on the third tier balcony. While Endymion's black locks were shorter and less haphazard, his features held an innate kindness to them.

Yaten, on the other hand, sensed Endymion's stricken state when they arrived at the end of the hallway. Even though tension had been high between the Prince and Seiya before the tournament, it didn't keep Endymion from worrying about the disappearance of the man he had grown up with, regardless of his affairs with Kakyuu.

"We've also established direct communication with Queen Serenity via ComSat Holo," Endymion informed them all. He pushed open the heavy oak doors to the excessively large conference room. "The technology and the link was established with the Moon not long after we failed to acquire the warp sphere."

The two Moon citizens followed Endymion inside with Taiki and Yaten at their heels. Makoto and Minako found the room's brightness was coming from the window that stretched from ceiling to floor on the other side of the room. They could see the endless spires and towers of downtown Crystal Tokyo. In the middle was a circular table of ample width—legs built of the same dark oak as the door but the top made of a metal alloy that both women had never seen before. To their astonishment, a holographic rendition of Queen Serenity was adorned upon it. The slightly transparent figure was seated regally on a chair but facing away from the room's new inhabitants, while in discussion with two men across the table.

Just as Endymion announced their arrival to the Chairman of Crystal Tokyo, Taiki and Yaten stopped dead in their tracks. Kardeiz Gamma had halted his conversation with Queen Serenity and a balding, ash-blonde man fitted with dark plum robes.

"Pellamas is here earlier than expected," said Minako, stunned. She exchanged glances with Makoto but her curiosity was piqued when she saw Yaten's jaw harden at the sight of the ambassador.

"Something's wrong," muttered Yaten lowly. He leaned close to Taiki, intending only for the other Templar to hear but his words had reached Endymion as well. The Prince looked back at them.

"We'll find out soon enough," Taiki replied, equally perturbed at Pellamas' sudden appearance. He quickly gave the Prince a look that promised a later explanation.

"Your Majesty," came the echoes from around the room as they bowed toward Queen Serenity. The Princesses of Venus and Jupiter were relieved to see their Queen but were struck with the concern they felt for her daughter's absence. They shared it with her silently as their Crystal Tokyo counterparts came together.

Kardeiz made his way around the table, being trailed by a diplomatic-looking Pellamas. Yaten was forced to bite his tongue, lest blunt accusations came flying out. When they first walked in, it appeared that Pellamas had already established amiable terms with the Chairman, therefore suddenly twisting the already burgeoning complications.

"You've finally joined us," said Kardeiz formally.

"Chairman," said Taiki and Yaten in unison, trying to camouflage the grit underneath the surface.

"We'll be overlooking introductions in favor of the more pressing matters at hand," he explained immediately.

Minako thought Kardeiz's straightforward manner matched that of his strict-looking appearance. Thinning chestnut hair sat atop a face with piercing pewter eyes and sharp features. His shoulders were broad but his frame wiry under the rich dark fabric of his ankle-length blazer. Kardeiz's lined mouth was set in a grim line as he acknowledged Queen Serenity once more with a nod.

"While Crystal Tokyo is taking every possible action to locate Princess Serenity II, it's imperative that we have a complete recollection of the sabotaged sphere," he prompted.

Makoto stepped forward without hesitation. "Chairman, we were all were astounded at how fast the sphere succumbed and since then have gone through every possibility.

"One would first think to blame the Keepers at the North Gate," added Minako. "But in truth, their power only summons the sphere and sets the destination. It doesn't have anything to do with how it functions internally."

Taiki tried keeping his fist slack as he watched Pellamas nod pensively.

"She's correct," the ambassador informed Kardeiz evenly. "The manipulation of the warp sphere would have to come from an outside source—from somebody whose physical distance is far away from the actual sphere. They had to be nowhere within the vicinity of the North Gate. If they tried to toy with such power while it was being summoned, they could get themselves killed."

The holographic rendition of Queen Serenity pursed her lips before saying, "Indeed. I sent Pellamas to overlook the party's departure and from what he relayed, there was no suspicious activity."

Yaten's mouth opened in silent anger and disbelief. It didn't make sense. He and Taiki were sure they had the ambassador pegged. He viciously recalled their last words with Pellamas before they left the Moon and all the evidence before it, linking him strongly with Metalia. It made it difficult now to designate Pellamas as the manipulator since Queen Serenity had supported his presence at the departure. Yaten refused to accept anyone else as guilty—the ambassador couldn't be in two places at once.

Taiki was aware of his companion's troubled state and he shook his head pointedly, warning him to save their concerns for only Kardeiz and Endymion.

The chestnut-haired Templar didn't realize his subtle communication with Yaten being observed by Princess Jupiter. Makoto had noticed the coldness in both Templars' demeanor at the sight of Pellamas, considering that she remembered the last exchange of animosity between them and the ambassador.

"There was also something else," Minako spoke up, bringing Makoto's attention back to the rest. "The inner workings of the sphere went haywire but any excess power seemed to be drawn to Kou Seiya. I'm sure all of us expected at one point to be hit but strangely he absorbed it all. To keep steady he must have been holding onto the Princess. Shortly after, the sphere was divided and we were sent in opposite directions."

Looking up at Queen Serenity, Taiki found that he couldn't stay quiet. "The fact that Seiya was singled out raises evidence that whoever tampered with the sphere is opposed to Crystal Tokyo's victory. The Metalia Syndicate is an organization that we've had numerous issues with even before the tournament. The matter of jurisdiction is just scratching the surface."

He saw the Queen's eyes widen slightly and found the same expression make its way to both Minako and Makoto. Taiki forgave their ignorance; there wasn't a way that they knew what fully transpired down in the tournament arena. On this subject however, Pellamas remained unreadable.

"Truthfully, the underlying current between all competitors was to keep Metalia from acquiring the contract," Taiki elaborated further. "Their loss had left a bitter taste in their mouths. Yaten and I have reason to believe they were responsible for the attack on us when we landed near Laral."

Yaten eyed Minako momentarily and spoke, "One of the assailants cornered Princess Venus while she was decoy and demanded the Silver Crystal."

"If Metalia is indeed responsible, they couldn't have known about the transfer until protection was established within Crystal Tokyo," said Queen Serenity.

"Unless somebody leaked the information," replied Yaten with an edge to his voice. He stole a glance at Pellamas, who seemed to mimic concern and virtue quite well. The ambassador was refusing to meet the Templar's eyes.

Beside Yaten, Taiki felt they were treading on a fine line between diplomacy and dangerous accusation.

Tension hung thickly in the air but Kardeiz approached it calmly while folding his hands.

"With everything that's happened with Metalia over the last while, it's difficult to overlook their possible connection with the sphere sabotage," the Chairman assured the Moon Queen matter-of-factly. "We'll be arranging another visit to Beryl soon but our first priority is the Princess."

The holographic image did nothing to obscure the haggardness of Queen Serenity's expression. There was something more than depletion and worry marring her stately posture. It was deeper than the now visible lines around her eyes and the shadows underneath.

"It's been two days since the Silver Crystal was embedded inside her," Queen Serenity spoke of Usagi. "She needs to be retrieved in twenty-four hours or there will be consequences to removing the Crystal half. It's already started to consolidate the bond."

"Please don't strain yourself, Your Majesty," Pellamas gestured accommodatingly. "Prince Endymion has already sent out an additional unit."

A look of disgust crossed Taiki's eyes in a rare moment of rickety control over his emotions. The innocence being displayed by the ambassador made his fingers skim over the Glock 18 under his blazer.

"Even if the Princess is still being sought after the attack on the decoy, I can guarantee her safety with Seiya," Kardeiz affirmed confidently. At the mention of Seiya's name, the Queen looked away rather than revealing her appended distress to the Chairman. Her wayward gaze fell on Prince Endymion—the man that her only daughter now belonged to.

Scrutinizing her secretly, Kardeiz added, "You have my promise."

"I'm holding you to your word, Chairman," the Queen replied strongly despite her ashen appearance.

Kardeiz gave a succinct gesture and turned toward the Moon ambassador and two of the Princess' personal guard. "You'll be pleased to know that communication with your Sovereign isn't limited to this boardroom alone, as the feed is linked to your quarters. They've been prepared to make your stay in the Citadel amiable."

"Thank you for your consideration," Pellamas replied, seeing the two Corps officers from outside enter the room.

"Please accept my apologies and allow me to atone for them later," Kardeiz said to both Minako and Makoto.

The blonde and brunette nodded once, noting the polite but firm dismissal. They lingered to receive the same gesture from their Queen and then promptly followed one Corps officer out the door.

"I take that we will be discussing matters of court soon?" said Pellamas.

Kardeiz gave him a thin smile. "Absolutely."

The Moon ambassador bowed to the Queen once more and departed with the second trooper. The holographic image of Queen Serenity flickered once before she addressed her newest allies once more. Then the semi-transparent vision disintegrated and the area above the table was cleared, leaving the two Templars, the Chairman and his son.

"Pellamas knows we don't trust him," said Endymion astutely.

"The lack of trust is mutual," Kardeiz revealed, turning around and striding toward the window.

Endymion regarded Yaten and Taiki as he took a seat on one of the boardroom chairs. "If he does have anything to do with this, he'll be a lot more careful from now on, especially since we've set up quarters for him in the Citadel."

"You need him as close as possible to watch him," concluded Taiki.

The Chairman peered through the expansive window at the vast empire of Crystal Tokyo. Flawless communication was only part of the intuitive engine that governed the military city-state. He had been in contact with his unit of three during the tournament and was cognizant of the activities between the Moon ambassador and Metalia. He knew about Pellamas' attempt to have Seiya disqualified during the semi-final. Like the Templars, Kardeiz understood the delicate situation that could shatter any moment now that the Moon and Crystal Tokyo were also linked politically.

"The perimeter of guards around his quarters have been lessened to allow him some comfort," Kardeiz said. "However, surveillance has been heightened in the interior rooms to give us awareness of any suspicious activity."

"But he'll expect that," Yaten alluded, crossing his arms.

Kardeiz turned to face them with a slight smile. "Perhaps, but it'll give him an incentive to behave himself. Any business outside his quarters will be followed by physical units."

"How is the search really going?" Yaten implored the Prince.

Endymion's dark brows drew together worriedly. "We've set our pace directly opposite of Laral, branching south and southwest. If the Princess and Seiya are being pursued, I know he would stay off the main roads and concentrate on a more obscure path, hence our searches are conducted in the rural areas."

"How far south?" added Taiki.

"The badlands near Anfortas," Endymion replied, glancing at Kardeiz. "There was an area strangely decimated. Cliffside of the gorge. Reports say they found nothing."

Taiki uttered gravely, "We have twenty-four hours. Judging by the way the Queen stressed the effects on the Princess, we'll be following the deadline to the latter."

"I know," declared Endymion. "I'll be accompanying the next search squad."

The Prince clasped his hands together as he bore his tense gaze into the marble flooring. A smirk with a touch of somberness stretched his lips.

"Seiya hates being rescued," he said.

Seiya realized he hadn't slept in hours as the old truck sped down the battered road. Up ahead were one of the many checkpoints scattered along the borders of Crystal Tokyo jurisdiction. Avoiding the main roads meant dodging traffic and being sighted. The Templar had chosen a path, albeit rougher, toward a lesser-known gate deep in the country.

The sky was overcast the entire morning and didn't change as the day dragged on, blanketing the scenery with a dull gray veneer. He couldn't help but rub the exhaustion from his eyes. His tiredness was finally starting to catch up with him.

He could see the border gate with its accompanying booth coming ever closer. As Seiya decided to reduce the truck's speed, his eyes turned beside him to glance at the inert blonde woman. Usagi's form was draped against the side window, completely immobile and had been out an entire night and most of the day. What was disturbing was that she didn't even appear asleep—one needed to examine her closely to make sure she was breathing.

Seiya didn't understand what was wrong. His singular attempts to revive her were useless. His last pit stop involved a small, dingy town in which he asked aid from the local clinic. The doctor, obviously unfamiliar with her present state, concluded it as lamentable exhaustion and she was taking much needed rest. But Seiya thought otherwise. It had to do with the beam that annihilated their last assailant. In all the battles with the Moon Empire that involved magia, Seiya could never remember anything like what he had seen from her.

Reaching across to grab Usagi's hood, Seiya put it over her head quickly just as the truck approached the booth. It was a precaution he took just in case they were still being followed and he was confident the guard would pass them over as any regular folk, therefore concealing their tracks. Seiya stopped the truck and rolled down the squeaking window.

"Your business?" the guard said, pointing his toothpick at Seiya.

"Coming back from holiday," the Templar replied simply. "Just me and the missus."

The guard narrowed his eyes slightly and craned his head downward to see into the window.

"Worn out, ain't she?" he stated.

Seiya smiled, reaching into his overcoat. "You party hard, you've got to pay for it somehow."

Pulling out his multi-pass, he fit it into the panel along the side of the booth. The light around the slot flashed green and the information was relayed to the guard inside.

"Crystal Tokyo," the man mused, wagging his toothpick with his tongue. "Hmph. Can't stand the place. Too many of them bastard Templars."

Seiya expelled a laugh and retrieved his card. "A lot of people say that."

The guard grunted as the gate lifted. "Might as well not waste any time then. Go on, get outta here."

The truck ambled over the threshold and crossed into home territory. Seiya felt a touch of relief and it blossomed in his chest in spite of the weariness beginning to immerse his head. There was nothing but road and grassland ahead of them while the gathering clouds in the distance looked suspiciously like rain.

He predicted a few more hours until they would reach an airlift port. There were many stations distributed along the province, serving as effective vessel transportation between towns and major cities. The resource was utilized mainly by the common public, finding the direct route to the Crystal Tokyo to be faster than by vehicle alone.

A small shift in Usagi's position caught Seiya's attention. It was slow and subtle under her large cloak but she was beginning to stir nonetheless.

Usagi's aching consciousness was dragged out by every bump the truck passed over. It was difficult to tell when she had crossed into the waking realm but the pounding in her head made her want to escape back into the dark abyss. Her lungs weighed heavy inside her chest as she made an effort to gulp in air. Usagi couldn't open her eyes without light and pain searing through them.

A low voice emanated around her but sounded like a hum rather than coherent words. Usagi tried blinking but found that her vision had trouble focusing beyond the messy blur. There was a figure in black seated across her and the blonde squinted weakly in his direction.

It was Seiya. However, the look on his face didn't appear like one of concern.

The truck lurched to the right and Usagi felt her head spin. It only took her a moment to realize they were slowing down.

Seiya pulled over on the side of the road and turned off the engine. He rested both his hands on the wheel but didn't notice the tension from his fingers working its way up his arms and into his shoulders. The sounds of her stirring became more apparent while he remained wordless.

The complete cease in the truck's movement almost threw off Usagi's equilibrium and her attempt to rise from the seat didn't help matters. Placing a trembling hand to her forehead, her other one slid off her hood. A dizzied murmur left her lips as she closed her eyes again.

"You've been out cold almost twenty-four hours," Seiya said. His words quaked inside her head.

"Where am I?" she asked faintly.

"We're in Crystal Tokyo jurisdiction."

Another pregnant pause allowed Usagi to risk her unsteady bearings and she slowly turned her gaze toward him. The Templar's garments were no longer disheveled—overcoat fastened impeccably, harness out of sight and gloves back on.

Against her better judgment, she tried recalling the tumultuous events when she was last conscious but it instantly caused affliction to rake its way down her head and into the core of her chest.

"What happened to you?" There was a note of demand in his question.

"What?" Usagi said, still unable to fully comprehend him.

"In Anfortas," Seiya repeated. "I know you used magia but it's something I've never encountered. Why did you react in such a way?"

Her head started to pound again and the sternness in his tone did nothing but aggravate it. Bits and pieces lay scattered in her mind but flashed brokenly to leave her without any real clues as to what happened.

"I…don't know…" she said hoarsely.

"No. I think you do."

All she knew was that she had been frightened to her wits end with gunfire hailing around her. Then a dark voice had spoken from deep within, equally as frightening but strangely comforting as it alluded to a desire to use offensive magia—a desire she didn't even know she held. Suddenly she wasn't herself, and the separate entity that was sharing her body and let her watch it control her actions.

Fear trickled down Usagi's spine while the thought of going back to the incident ensnared her. Seiya's questions, though simple and straightforward, sounded like an interrogation. She suddenly felt short of breath and her right felt around to find the door handle. The need for escape pressed her.

Before Seiya could get another word in, the blonde leapt from the open door.

"Usagi!" the Templar shouted. "Shit…"

Moving quickly out of the truck, Seiya sped after her hurrying form. He was startled by her abrupt response but found his frustration mounting due to fatigue and the fact that she had omitted telling him about whatever problem she had. They were ambushed by assassins that night and teetered between life and death. He saw what that power did to her and looking back now, Seiya knew the beam probably could have cost them both their lives if it were any larger.

"Usagi!" he called again. His pace quickened when she began to sprint.

Usagi wanted nothing more than to get away. Ever since she landed on Earth she was hopelessly trapped and the cage that her father's contract forced her into was getting tighter with every step toward Crystal Tokyo. The largest shackle of all was the living burden of the Silver Crystal inside her.

Cold air rushed through her head, swirling with her already abundant wooziness. Force jarred her senses when Seiya's iron grip closed around her elbow and spun her around to face him.

"Let go of me!" she said, trying to twist away.

Seiya clamped his other hand on her shoulder as her resistance tested his fraying nerves. "First tell me what the hell is wrong!"

"I said let me go!"

Usagi's voice came out more threatening then she meant to and the same dark voice inside whispered in her ear.

No, she told it desperately and shut it out.

"I'm not letting you go until you tell me something," Seiya said sharply, her threat lessening his civil manner. "You do realize that you not telling me about your little problem could have killed us along with that assassin."

Usagi remained tense between his hands as her eyes widened. Her mouth felt slack but her voice worked against her will. "I…couldn't control it. It's not my fault."

"Then what happened?" The Templar's severe gaze bore down at her, demanding answers she was still unwilling to give.

The truth weighed heavily at the back of Usagi's throat but her inner panic forced her to swallow most of it in the upheaval of haze, pressure and the Silver Crystal's hold. The Templar couldn't possibly understand and there was nothing he could do.

"I can't use offensive magia. I can only heal," she told him.

"Why?" said Seiya firmly.

"Because I told you!" Usagi replied, trying to wrench out of his grip again. "It's too much and I can't handle that exertion of power."

It wasn't a complete lie but it made him loosen his grip somewhat even if he didn't look completely satisfied.

"We were being attacked and you can't blame me for wanting to protect myself…even if it meant using something I shouldn't," she said.

Seiya replied gravely, "Your impulsiveness put us at risk."

"But we're alive aren't we?" the blonde had the audacity to snap. "Don't you dare accuse me of being impulsive especially when you've led us over a cliff, down a mineshaft and through sewers."

"There wasn't a choice. It was either getting turned to slurry at the cliff or possibly falling to a ledge—which happened to work in our favor," the Templar replied dryly. "At the motel, I was taking care of it but you didn't trust me enough and decided to act foolishly on your own."

"I was afraid!" Usagi shouted, her eyes blazing. Frustration exploded in her heaving chest as she glared at Seiya. "It's been nothing but one horrible incident after another! I HATE this place and hate being stuck with you!"

Thunder rumbled overhead to color her angry words. They left her in a rush and she gasped from the exertion of her aching body.

Seiya looked upon the blonde's wretched form, withering from the unsteadiness that was still evident in her movements. His impatience and confusion caused him to interrogate her in her delicate state. Even if she gave him muddled answers, Seiya was forced to draw the line and reign in his militant nature. Usagi had been through a lot because of him and didn't deserve this. She wasn't from Earth and didn't ask to be brought here. She had followed him wherever he led and did her best to keep up. Seiya was also familiar with the notion of fear getting in the way of clear judgement.

A light drizzle began to fall from above to blanket the grasslands in mist.

"I apologize," said Seiya, after a drag of strained silence.

Stunned, Usagi looked up to meet him. The expression on his face softened somewhat but adopted a more stoic manner to push away prior frustrations. He had realized her plight long ago but kept pushing her to get them to safety. Although Seiya's demeanor remained hard, Usagi found that she believed his words—they were something she never expected to hear from someone like him.

When he saw her nod slowly, he said, "We're going to get caught in this downpour if we don't get moving."

"Alright," she agreed quietly.

Usagi fell into step beside Seiya, noticing how his pace wasn't as brisk as it usually was. Whether or not he was being considerate, she felt slightly better that he didn't leave her trailing behind.

They arrived back at the truck just as the heavy pour came down with a vengeance. Seiya started the engine and pulled back onto the road.

Usagi awoke to the sound of heavy raindrops battering against the roof and her side window. The little moonlight peeking through the wet night gloomily entered the truck's interior. She didn't know when they stopped again but it must have been a while ago that she had drifted to sleep. Knowledge of what time it was or their whereabouts was unclear. Usagi risked a peek through the rain-streaked windshield and saw silhouettes of rustling tree branches amongst the lightning and clouds. The grasslands looked to have ended and now they were stationary in a woodland area.

Even though she rubbed a sore crick in her neck, Usagi realized she felt a little more rejuvenated with additional rest. Her head was no longer spinning wildly like earlier and the ache that flooded her skull was dulled down. The worst of her condition seemed to be passed.

The blonde's eyes strayed over to the still form of Seiya on the opposite side. His face was turned away from her, head resting against the window. The Templar's right hand sat motionless on his thigh; one of his pistols lay beside him on the seat, a few inches from his fingers. He appeared to be asleep.

She wondered how long he was driving since Anfortas and if he made any stops to rest himself when she was out the first time. What conclusions had he come to? Her comatose state obviously provoked his suspicion and he had fully intended to get answers. Truthfully, Usagi didn't know what caused him to halt his verbal investigation. Earlier she was too exhausted to mentally question it.

There were many things about Seiya she didn't understand—from his incessantly audacious manner to the lack of detail about himself. Usagi figured she could discern something about him by surveying his conduct. But the display seemed to only scratch the surface; she knew well enough that he had a talent for besting irritable odds, though it was nothing to answer the question of why he could.

Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Usagi realized her body was stiff from being in one position too long and she coveted a chance to stretch her legs after hours of sitting. Adding to her discomfort was the corset she had been wearing since the morning they departed the Moon. The sturdy boning was digging into her ribs, causing her sides to whine and creak with every motion of her torso. Over the years she had gotten accustomed to her chambermaid's handiwork but never had she worn the restricting garment a few days straight.

Usagi sighed heavily, trying with futile efforts to shift the corset by clawing at it through her gown. Her attempt was in vain; she imagined it leaving a permanent outline on the skin of her torso.

Aggravated and a little short of air, Usagi looked around the front seat. She was struck with the desire to be rid of the infernal undergarment as she grabbed the door handle in a rush. But the wet splatter outside greeted her hand and was a cruel reminder that she would be soaked to the bone. Usagi pulled the door closed halfheartedly but the disappointment only served to escalate her restlessness.

Hopelessness was fleeting when the blonde craned her head slowly back in the Templar's direction. She observed his motionless form with hawkish scrutiny, not moving a single muscle even though most of them in her midsection were cramping up. Comfort was evasive if she wasn't willing to take a small risk. Usagi located her eyes to her clenched hands in her lap and then once more at Seiya.

Gradually, her hand made its way to the pin of her cloak. She was sure the rain was loud enough on the roof to disguise her shuffling and the lack of light obscured the surroundings. A sliver of anxiety wormed its way into her stomach but the need for relief consumed it. Usagi knew she had to be quick.

She shifted her body into a straighter sitting position while still watching for any sudden movements from Seiya. After removing her cloak, she set it on the seat between them and slowly turned to face the window so that her back was toward him.

Quietly, Usagi reached behind her and began to unfasten the buttons of her gown. Now and then she continued to dart anxious glances back at the Templar to make sure he was still unaware. The ecru gown fell to her waist as she pushed both blonde locks of hair over her shoulders.

The chambermaid had done her job exquisitely and where the strings were knotted in the middle still held firm. Usagi pinched the knot until her fingertips hurt but finally managed to loosen it after a lot of unconscious lip biting. Her arms began to protest when she began the grueling task of unbinding the laces. Usagi worked them from side to side, traveling up and then down her back until her shoulders started to complain. She expelled a breath she didn't even know she was holding and grit her teeth in concentration.

In her distracted pulling and quiet heaving, Usagi forgot about the Templar behind her and was suddenly oblivious to the cobalt eyes that were very much aware of her.

Seiya had been awake for the last hour as sleep oddly evaded him. Though his body was tired, his unforgiving instincts kept him conscious and alert while he was relaxed as he could be. He first sensed Usagi's waking state when she began shifting on the seat. It wasn't until her motions became more jerking did Seiya bother to turn his head.

The Templar paused, frozen. There was some bewilderment but it died quickly as his attention began accommodating itself to the unanticipated sight. Seiya's gaze roamed the blonde cascade of hair that swept her shoulders with every action and followed one golden path up to the back of her slender neck. With every pull, the laces unfurled to reveal the bare expanse of silken skin. He heard her sigh softly as she continued to yank the laces through the many eyelets.

Her frame was petite but crafted with both a sturdiness and delicacy that one would never think possible. Her shoulders were rounded smoothly—the soft line extended down the graceful slope of her torso and finally led his eyes around the curve of her bare waist while she fully removed the corset. Seiya could see the muscles undulate under her skin as she arched her back, moving to toss the garment on the floor. The act made her shift slightly, bringing into his line of view the gentle swell of her breast.

Seiya turned his head away, inhaling slowly but deeply as his jaw stiffened unconsciously. Rain streaked the window in front of his averted gaze, doing nothing to cool the sudden warmth in his bloodstream. Shutting his eyes only encouraged his fugitive mind to reconstruct every second of what he shouldn't have witnessed.

On the other end of the seat, Usagi finished fastening the buttons of her gown and exhaled fully in the delight of freedom. She suddenly remembered the Templar and shot her attention back in his direction only to discover that he was in the exact same position as before. Relief washed over her as she settled back into the seat.

The thought of more sleep was an idea she didn't feel like indulging at the moment. Usagi looked up at the tattered ceiling of the truck and roamed idly around the interior. However, she found her perusal back on Seiya and narrowed her eyes, until they were distracted by the polished wink of the pistol beside him.

She had never seen it out of its harness before—it was always hidden by his overcoat or in his hand. The pistol appeared larger to her in plain sight; odd curiosity shot up her nerve endings. Usagi noted the short distance between the weapon and his hand, wondering briefly how fast he could grab it if they were under attack again.

Against the warning in her head, Usagi gingerly reached out for the weapon. It felt cold in her grip and was a lot heavier than she thought it would be.

"It's loaded," Seiya's voice shattered the silence.

Warmth flooded to Usagi's cheeks as panic hammered abruptly in her stomach. Seeing him suddenly awake made her glad the lack of light concealed her startled expression.

"I thought you were asleep," she said.

Seiya replied simply, "I'm a light sleeper."

"But…so did you…" she stuttered.

"Did I what?" he asked flatly, feigning ignorance.

Usagi bit her lip. "How long have you been awake for?" she demanded.

"A while."

"How long?" The blonde pressed further.

Seiya sighed and gave her a strange look. "What does it matter?"

"Because…" she trailed off. "Oh never mind. It's nothing."

"I see…" Seiya said with a raise of an eyebrow. He acknowledged the weapon she still held in her hands. "I also see you've taken an interest in that."

He sat forward and Usagi spotted his second pistol in his left hand, revealing that he had been holding onto to it the entire time. Seiya carefully slipped it back into its holster by going through the side slit of his overcoat. Then he reached over to take its twin from Usagi. He could tell she was surprised when he merely released the cartridge and handed the empty weapon back to her.

"It's an M1911," he said, seeing her run her fingertips delicately over the black grips. "Steel-plated and modified to full size to take a double stack, nine by nineteen millimeter cartridge."

Seiya watched the blonde's features carefully while she examined it slowly from every angle.

"There are fourteen shots per round. A higher capacity means no frequent reloads," he continued. "It might be a little thicker and heavier around the grip but it does its job."

He knew the details meant absolutely nothing to her but it didn't seem to matter as she asked, "Have you been shot by one of these?"

The familiar smirk worked its way around Seiya's mouth. "A couple of times, but nowhere fatal."

"Where?" she asked, looking up at him.

"The forearm," he replied, briefly touching a spot on his left arm. "The bullet went right through the two bones so it didn't shatter anything important. The pain isn't piercing. It's more like a burn."

Usagi imagined that such a hit would've left a scar. She stared at his arm a moment before meeting his eyes again. "And if it were fatal?"

"To the chest, there would be brain hemorrhaging."

"I can't think about what that must feel like," said Usagi, putting the pistol down on the seat. He sounded so matter-of-fact in the sense that his own use of the weapon was second nature.

She studied his face, strangely determined to learn at least one thing about him. "What would you be if not a Templar?"

It was an unusual question and one Seiya had never been faced with. With a pensive look he glanced at the rainwater running in rivers down the windshield. To him, it seemed like a while before he was able to give her an answer.

"A mercenary."

Usagi let out a sigh and cocked her head to the side. "Can't you think of any other occupation that doesn't involve ending lives?"

The Templar was amused by the tone of accusation in her voice. Turning back to the blonde, he regarded her with a chuckle.

"There's enough variety in mercenary work that pays well without a body count," he replied frankly. "But I'll admit the highest paying job falls under the category of assassin."

"So those men that are after us…if they were just hired, then it isn't personal. It's just blood money," said Usagi.

Reaching for his pistol, Seiya slid the cartridge back in with an audible click and it disappeared under his overcoat to join the other one.

"I've got reason enough to believe it may be personal and that the errand boys aren't for hire," the Templar replied. "After a rotten history with the Metalia Syndicate, it's not surprising they were a hell of a lot less enthusiastic about Crystal Tokyo's win."

Usagi's mouth parted in shock as the reminder of Minako's appraisal of a man named Gauvain flashed through her mind's eye as well as the image of a lithe, elegant woman with waves of flame hair.

Seiya shook his head. "It doesn't have anything to do with you. They've wanted my head on a pike long before the tournament."

"I can't believe you're telling me this now," said Usagi.

"You never asked."

She expected his accompanying sarcasm but found none on his face. Folding her arms in her lap, she leaned back against the seat. Usagi let her attention follow the tears in the ceiling interior and where they marred the pattern of the fabric. The new information was whirling in her head, providing more questions than answers. Even though Earth had fought the Moon Empire as a collective body in the past, Usagi never stopped to consider that there were perilous internal affairs. One thought led to another and she wondered briefly what would have happened if Metalia won the tournament instead. Would Crystal Tokyo have acted against them in the same manner? Then again, she knew almost nothing about the Metalia Syndicate, although she did find it suspicious that they were a competitive organization without a state.

Pushing her bemused train of thought to the back of her mind, Usagi focused on the dashboard in front of her.

"It's the second time I've been close to an Earthen weapon," she told Seiya. "I've never been near a single battlefield but seeing a pistol the first time probably equaled the fear I would've felt."

"And when was that?" the Templar asked, tilting his head toward her.

A faraway look crossed her darkened sapphire eyes and Seiya noticed the shadow of change on her face as she tried to unearth a memory that was likely buried deep.

"It was a long time ago," Usagi spoke softly. "I was walking the hallways of the palace. It must have been the early hours of the morning but I couldn't sleep. I heard noises in the corridors but I didn't know which way it was coming from. It happened so fast, a part of me didn't even think it was real."

As the blonde became immersed in her recollection, Seiya's body stilled and he began to examine her with greater curiosity.

"He grabbed me. It was so sudden I couldn't breathe," she mused. "All I knew was that he was much stronger than I was and if I didn't do what he asked, my life was forfeit. I saw the pistol but not all of it since he held it against my head. The Lunar guards arrived and he dragged me backwards down a corridor that ended at a window. He escaped shortly after. Search parties were sent over the entire Capital but they never found him. And apparently he wasn't the only one from Earth who was there that night."

Not a single word formed on Seiya's tongue as he sat suddenly rigid. The foreign memory Usagi spoke about was dumbfounding because the odds were outrageously impossible. A stark muteness prevented speech from rising in his throat. It was replaced by the realization that she was referring to the night that involved his first attempt on Aristaeus' life. Seiya remembered that he had just escaped from the hold of Lunar guards but there was always that vague reminiscence of using an unwary palace citizen as a tool for escape. He supposed it had been a young servant girl and at that time, her terror had meant nothing to him.

"If it's any consolation, the operation failed," Seiya said tonelessly, turning away from her.

Usagi glanced at him but couldn't see his expression. "I know. I was told they were almost successful in assassinating the Moon Emperor. For years the rumors were that Crystal Tokyo was responsible for most of the attempts."

"I've heard them," replied the Templar.

He paused while neglecting to elaborate on her story. He didn't want to—there wasn't a valid point to it. Revealing to her that it was him that once held her at gunpoint was utterly useless to their situation. Seiya wasn't looking to breed more contempt especially since they still had a ways to travel.

"Look," said Seiya, changing the subject. "It would be a good idea if you got some more rest. It's a while longer until we reach the port."

"Is that another town?" she queried.

"Not really. It's a station that provides an express route to Crystal Tokyo by airlift. We'll be getting rid of the truck."

"But do you know how much longer until we arrive?"

Seiya finally brought his gaze back to her inquiry. "At the most, two days and one night."

Usagi tried her best to keep the worry from seeping into her façade as she thought back to the Silver Crystal still pulsing in her core. Her three days were up.