Disclaimer: Sailor Moon characters belong to Naoko Takeuchi, everything else belongs to me.
AN: Thank all of you so much for sticking around throughout this story! I appreciate all of your reviews that kept me writing even when life didn't seem to leave much room for my favorite past time. I'd like to thank each and every reviewer personally because I did read each and every review, but I'm afraid that it would take too much space and this chapter is already almost double all the others in length. So just accept this as a personal thank you to each and every one of you! Until the next story...
Chapter 21: Of Means and Ends
Strangely, having galloped through the fields at a breakneck speed countless times over the years, Serenity had only fallen off a horse once. When she did, though, the air left her lungs and her entire body felt crushed under the weight of the impact. Her head pounded, her eyesight disappeared for some time, and for days to come she could barely move. Having endured years of physical abuse, she was no stranger to pain, but that instance remained in her mind forever. Never had she imagined that giving birth would put her in a similar state of distress.
Serenity's mind kept drifting between reality and dreamless sleep. She tried to avoid the former and hold on to the latter. The herbal potions Michiru gave her helped greatly with that task. The sun was rising over the horizon when sleep no longer provided an escape for Serenity's mind.
She noticed that Michiru was gone, while Endymion slept in a chair by her side. Her lips twitched with an unhappy smile as she hazily remembered his confession of love. Pulling her hand from underneath the cover, Serenity stroked her husband's arm. His eyes opened immediately, his fingers closing over hers.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better," she replied hoarsely.
Endymion moved on to the bed, laying next to his wife. He kissed her gently on the lips and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. "I have to leave."
An understanding clouded her eyes. "Is he…?"
"I'm almost certain of it. He is to be delivered to Princess Katherine."
Endymion kissed her forehead. "I will get him back, I promise."
Serenity only nodded silently in response, despite having many questions on her mind.
"You have to promise me something in return."
She looked up at him, into his midnight blue eyes, and knew she'd do anything he asked. "What is it?"
"While I am gone, no matter what happens, I need you to listen to Jadeite. If he asks you to do something, do it."
Even more questions sprung up in her mind, but she stifled her curious nature and relaxed into the pillows. "So I shall."
"I don't like you going after them on your own," Jadeite said as he watched Endymion pack a bag.
"My safety is the least of our worries," the Duke replied solemnly. "Your job is to take leadership, can I trust you to do that?"
Jadeite's scowl was barely hidden. "What part on your chessboard am I playing now?"
"There is no chessboard anymore, Jadeite." Endymion put a hand on the count's shoulder, their eyes meeting. "You're my brother, Jadeite. Both in arms and within this family. In my absence you are the leader to the people. That's why I need you to round them up, empty the ships of weapons and cargo, and pack as many people on each one as you can."
"What about you?"
"Keep the Black Maiden from sailing for as long as you can, but if the volcano erupts, I want you and every member of my family on that ship."
"What about you?" Jadeite insisted.
"I will find my way out, Jade, I've always had."
"You are in this alone and you are not invincible, Endymion. Or do you not remember the last time they almost rid of you?"
"You're right," the Duke replied with another pat on the shoulder. "I'm not invincible. But I dare the devil to get in my path. They've taken my son and almost killed my wife. Nothing will stop me."
The look in those dark blue eyes, the expression, it wasn't the first time Jadeite had seen them and he knew that nothing he said would change what happened next. The man in front of him was the one who scared enemies into submission.
"We can evacuate towards mainland. I'll order captains to remove weapons and cargo from all ships; we'll board as many as we can. I will take care of them."
"Good." The tight, albeit short, embrace was a surprise to Jadeite and, thus, made everything seem even more eerie. "What about Kunzite?"
Endymion's hand lingered over the doorknob before he firmly set it down. "He pledged his loyalties."
Amina couldn't say that she was surprised to wake up in pain. She was, however, surprised to wake up at all. Last she remembered, she was in a torture chamber, on her knees, coughing her insides out.
She turned her head, her body shifting under the soft covers. She was in bed. The bed she'd been sleeping in at the castle since the war had been announced. Her eyes swept around, finding a lone figure clad in blue satin. Serenity's hair was left cascading down her back, but her posture wasn't relaxed, nor was she weak like the last time Amina saw her. She looked like the proud Duchess of Endymi.
"I just need to know why, Amina," Serenity said without turning. Her eyes were glued to something outside of the window, something Amina couldn't see.
"H-" the words caught in her sore throat and a coughing fit shook the countess' body. "H-how did you know that I'm awake?" she finally managed to ask.
"I could feel your traitorous eyes on me."
Amina turned onto her back, studying the woman who finally turned to face her. "I haven't seen this part of you since you arrived here."
"The same one that allowed me to make the choices I made. The D'Mye part."
Serenity's face distorted for a moment before she took handle of herself and forced a mask on. "The D'Mye women have always been honorable and courageous. You are a disgrace."
"Really? How do you suppose the D'Mye women get what they want? For example, why do you think we have the power no one else has? We carry the title, something that only men do."
"It was a punishment, Amina."
"And you believe that?"
"Our grandmother was a Duchess, Amina, why lose that to become some noblewoman with no lands and only a meaningless title to carry?"
Amina sighed. "The D'Mye women get what they want, Serenity. By any means necessary. Constance wanted to be on par with men, she cared not for status, or lands, or money. She bargained what wasn't important for what she truly wanted. Celine was the one who cared about the dukedom, that's why she married a duke."
"I don't believe you."
She looked at her wrists, bruised and cut. "Why would I lie? I have nothing to lose."
"Then tell me why you did this! What was it that you desired so much that you betrayed your own flesh and blood?" Serenity took a deep breath, her eyes searching Amina's, trying to find something at all of the cousin she used to love, of her childhood friend.
"Do you know what your mother wished for, Serenity? She wished for you to have everything. Your marriage had been arranged, she knew you'd be a duchess and would be settled for life, but until then… until then she had to provide for you. When your father passed, she married that fool because she believed that he was a good businessman. He was a waste, of course, but what was worse is that he threatened that he would hurt you."
"He told your mother that if she didn't obey him, he would beat you senseless. She, of course, had no way of knowing that he had been making good on his promise as she had been doing anything she could to keep him away from you."
"Your mother has been taking care of you your entire life, your father loved you and now the Duke. That's all I wanted, Serenity! All I wanted was to matter to someone as much as you matter to everyone!"
Tears streamed down both of their faces, their screams now echoing down the empty hallways. "You still have your parents and they have always cared for you! I cared for you!"
"My parents have always been too busy establishing their social life and you… You stopped caring when you married."
"That's not true!"
"You're right, it's not." Amina looked away, unable to meet the pained blues, so much like her own. "You stopped caring when you arrived in Capital. From that point on it was all about the Duchess of Endymi and her mystical brother. You cared not of where I was and what I did. No one did, so I took things into my own hands." Though sobs shook her body, her voice returned to normal. "I seduced Kunzite hoping that I'd have at least someone to care for me, but I was mistaken. You had your new friends and your husband. I had a cold bed and seclusion. When I was sent to Capital, Katherine approached me. She finally made me feel like I mattered. She was the only one I mattered to and I was ready to do anything for her."
"She almost got you killed, that's how much you mattered to her!"
"Just another proof that there isn't anyone who cares for me on this God forsaken earth."
Serenity wiped her tears, her hands shaking. "You are a fool, Amina D'Mye. You had it all and you were too blind to see it, so you cut all the ties."
"It doesn't matter, Serenity. You'll never understand."
"You are right, I won't." She turned to leave, but then walked back to Amina's side, trapping her gaze once more. "I'd never steal your child!"
"They took your child, but not your life. Don't make the mistake of believing that that's all Katherine ordered them to do." Amina turned away and pulled the cover up to her chin. "You were supposed to die."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I assume your curiosity is what kept me alive."
"Wrong. Kunzite throwing himself in front of Endymion's spear saved your life. I had nothing to do with it."
Amina listened to the retreating footsteps and the sound of the door closing. Serenity's words echoed in her mind and the tears wouldn't stop. Not until sleep claimed her exhausted mind.
Tending to the gardens was a past time frowned upon, but it was the only one that kept Alessandra D'Mye sane. It took her mind off of unpleasant things while occupying her hands. It did not, however, distract her to the point of being unable to hear footsteps. She turned to find a lone figure standing in the pathway a few steps away.
Endymion pulled Alessandra up from her curtsy. "Lady Alessandra, I need you to listen to me very carefully."
"Of course." She nodded as he let go of her.
"I want you to tell every person you see to dress in comfortable clothing, take only small and light valuables, and head to port. Either the one in Crelian or the one in Capital, no difference."
"I don't understand."
Endymion sighed and gently took the woman by her forearm. He turned her to face the Mountain Peak. In the light of day, the gray cloud forming over the top was clearly visible. "Have you heard the story of Pompeii, Lady Alessandra?"
"It can't be."
"It is. Please do as I say. You will find Serenity at the castle if you hurry."
She nodded her head in understanding and Endymion knew that she would do as he asked, but something kept her in place. He sighed. "Is your husband home?"
"I'd like to have a word, so we will stay behind. Please leave as soon as you can."
She attempted to hide the relief, but failed. With another curtsey she disappeared from his sight. Endymion watched her leave before slowly following.
Lady Raye Hino Shields, the Countess of Eite, watched as people lined up the docks and slowly boarded a ship. Two ships had sailed so far, but the line hadn't gotten any smaller. Men, women, children, all carrying only small valuables and a change of clothes at best, stood and sat around, waiting for their turn to escape.
Two days ago she stood by Jadeite's side as he announced that the Mountain Peak put them all in more danger than the war ever had. There was a general sense of disbelief, until the ground shook, something that has been happening with more frequency, and people scurried to get their loved ones. There was still order, but the Countess knew it would exist only for as long as there was the next ship. And they had only seven of them left.
Those who complained of uncomfort and compared the situation to being packed on a slave ship, were given the option to stay behind. No one chose to do that and the first two ships sailed, each carrying about 350 people. The population of Duchy before the war was over five thousand. There was no chance that they would all survive.
Raye's eyes traveled to the black ship that was anchored ways away. It would leave last, carrying her entire family. She sure hoped that her brother would make it back in time.
"We will try to put more people on the next ship, children take less space and the risk of stifling in the cabins or disease is much smaller than the almost certain death for those who remain here."
She turned to find Jadeite standing in the doorway of their chamber. "Where is Michiru? Perhaps we can use Zefferus' ship to save lives as well."
"I thought of that, but, alas, the princess is gone."
"What do you mean gone?"
"Rats leave sinking ship first. No one has seen her since this morning, so it is safe to assume her to be gone."
Raye sighed, setting her forehead on Jadeite's shoulder. "I was hoping we were wrong about her. About Zefferus."
"Zefferus is a pirate. I would never hope for any humane act from her."
"You are hurt," Raye observed.
Jadeite kissed the top of his wife's head. "No. Just disappointed."
The tunnel was damp, cool and dark, lit only by the torch that Michiru held in her hand. She followed the twists and turns, choosing direction from memory. The bottom of her white dress was soiled with dirt from the wet ground, her left arm ached from the burden she was carrying. For the umpteenth time she stopped and set the weight of the trunk with red lettering against the wall. After a short rest, she continued on her way.
Too much time for her liking later, she saw daylight reaching deep within the tunnel she turned into. Picking up her pace, she walked towards the opening. A distant echo of voices reached her and Michiru put out the fire, stepping inside a hollow opening to her right. She waited until the two men passed her before soundlessly following them behind.
They exited onto what looked like a natural landing within the otherwise hanging cliffs. A ladder made of rope was fastened to the edge, the drop down to the rock-ridden ocean promising death to anyone who wasn't careful enough. Michiru watched as the men carefully lowered the bags they had been carrying down, then followed themselves. She stepped out of the shadow when they were gone and walked over to the figure of the pirate, carelessly sitting on the edge of the cliff.
"So I nurse the ill, abandoned at the castle, and you spend your time robbing Endymion of his precious cargo?"
Zefferus turned her head, an unapologetic smile playing on her lips. "We lost months of earnings, the least Endymion can do is repay us. Ready to go?" She took the trunk carefully from Michiru's hands.
"Hmmm. The nature says I don't have a choice." Michiru ripped the bottom of her dress, exposing her legs to the thighs. A pair of white breeches that ended just above her knees was decorated with straps that held a pistol against each leg. Without a second thought, Michiru sat down on the edge and turned, throwing her body over and finding footing on the ladder. She didn't stop until she reached the small boat that rocked against the cliff. Taking a seat, she greeted the two men and watched as Zefferus climbed down to join them.
The ground shook, but this time the disorder had nothing to do with Endymion's anger. Nature had been taking its toll and he knew he no longer had much time. The Duke had never been to the D'Mye Estate, and thus it took him longer than expected to find what he was looking for. He finally succeeded when he heard low chuckles coming from behind the closed door.
Inside, he found two men sharing a drink and his mouth twisted in semblance of a smile. Fate must have been on his side. "Gentlemen."
Both men turned towards him and a similar expression took residence on their faces. Fear.
Endymion walked over to the table and opened a decanter, pouring himself a glass of brandy. "We don't have much time, so as much as I would like to prolong this moment, our meeting has to be cut short." He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and launched at Marquis Du Bonashire with his rapier, its tip drawing blood from the man's neck before he ever had a chance to aim his own weapon at the Duke. "Now then, pray tell me, what was your plan?"
"What plan?" Du Bonashire whispered, then gargled as Endymion deepened the cut in response.
"No need to play games," Endymion assured.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Sighing, Endymion pulled his rapier, slitting the man's throat. Not giving him so much as a second look, he turned to D'Mye. "Now then, what do you have to tell me?"
The man, paling dramatically, eyed the door, but knew that he'd never make it out on time. Instead, he gulped down the remainder of his drink and set the empty glass down with his shaking fingers. "I can tell you where your son is, just spare me."
"It's a start," Endymion sipped on his own drink slowly.
"Princess Katherine, she has been planning this ever since you were betrothed to Serenity. She has been arranging for others to join in her plan, promising great rewards."
"And what was your reward, Lord D'Mye?"
"You have taken everything from me!" D'Mye said, his voice rising in anger, uninhibited under the influence of brandy. "The Princess promised to give me your title."
Endymion's laughter filled the room. First, he couldn't believe how blind he was to the conspiracy, how dismissive of Katherine when his friends suggested it. Second, he found the entire idea of titles meaningless and ironic under the circumstances. His eyes lingered on the drapes that covered the windows and the golden ropes that held them parted. "Sit down," he ordered.
D'Mye shifted from one foot to the other, eyeing the chair Endymion had pointed to.
"Or would you rather I sliced your throat open as well?"
Without further hesitation, the man sat down and let the Duke tie him down. He imagined his servants would find him soon enough and then he'd be able to alert the Princess. Let someone else know. Do something to come up with another plan. The time in the chair would be used contemplating over the matter. D'Mye had no way of knowing that Endymion was the last person to leave the estate that day.
Mina learned of the volcano from a servant girl, one who helped her fill a bath when she finally awoke the next day. The sight beyond the pane of the window relieved the Countess of any doubt. Dark cloud hang over the Mountain Peak. Unsure of what to do, Amina dressed and went in search of the one who was supposedly responsible for her being alive. She found him in the library, writing.
"Why did you do it?"
Kunzite looked up from the parchment, his back leaning heavily against the chair. His eyes surveyed the woman before him, finding slight bruising over her face the only evidence of torture that he had inflicted upon her. She was dressed in a long-sleeved black dress and a heavy gray shawl. Her long hair was braided, the braids wrapped around her head. She looked so innocent yet so aged.
"Are you in mourning?"
"You are avoiding my question."
"Alright. Tell me, do you regret any of it?"
Amina turned, her eyes sweeping over dozens of books. She dragged a finger over the spines, picking up dust. "Regret… Do you even know what that word means?"
"Huh. Even betrayal and torture hasn't changed you."
Her spine grew rigid as she felt Kunzite stand right behind her, his voice low, his breath tickling her ear. "No, it hasn't. After all, I grew quite used to it over the past year. I have you to thank for it."
A breath escaped Amina's lungs as she was turned around roughly, then pressed against the shelves. Kunzite's eyes were the color and temperature of cold steel, something she had grown quite used to. His hands held her by the upper arms, his body pinned hers with no escape. "God I hate you," he whispered harshly. "And yet I am besotted with you."
Amina was taken by surprise when his mouth pressed against hers, ravishing it, then slowly caressing. The grip over her arms lessened and she found herself wrapping them around Kunzite's neck, her body responding to his advances. Somehow the proximity took the pain away and she drank it, for as long as she could, hoping that it would never end and that if it had to, that they would come to the end together.
The entire day had been gloomy and dark. The darkness came quick, covering surroundings with a thick blanket that made seeing anything impossible. Endymion pulled on the reigns, but the animal underneath him cared not for the command. The shaking of the ground, the rumbling sounds from behind them, they pushed the instinct to the core and Bader galloped full speed down the path only he could see.
By his estimation, Endymion was no more than a couple of hours away from Capital, but he wasn't sure that he would survive the ride. Suddenly, the surroundings were illuminated by a dim glow and he turned, his eyes widening at the sight. Four days ago he had hoped that they had time. Weeks, perhaps. Now it looked like they had days, if not hours left until the hot lava spilled over and found its way to them. Turning back to the road, he let Bader run as fast as the stallion would.
The sound of explosion echoed continuously through the ridges of the mountain, orange glow hanging low in the ashen cloud. The air was heavy with smoke as forest burned miles away from the shore, the fires set ablaze by people rushing out of their homes. Panic reigned over everyone as the last person embarked aboard the only remaining ship, the anchor was raised and the sails were set for departure. Realizing that their last chance at survival was leaving people ran, stomping over those who had fallen. They jumped in the water and climbed the sides of the ship, then fought with those already aboard. Many were thrown over the side and the energy turned from devastation to self-preservation.
It didn't take long for people to realize that the Black Maiden was anchored a few hundred feet away. The ship became their next target, allowing the other ship to leave as the mayhem switched directions. On the parapet walk of the castle, three counts watched the scene with utter dread.
"If we take horses, we can meet up with the ship somewhere else along the shore," Zoicite suggested.
"Delivering a message now would be problematic," Nephrite observed.
"That ship is our only chance of survival," Jadeite concluded grimly.
"So we find a way to let Andrew know," Zoicite confirmed.
"That is not the most problematic part of your plan."
They all turned to find Endymion's first mate standing by the tower. In the crook of his elbow he was holding a number of scrolls, some easily recognizable as maps. Andrew looked sadly at the docks. "Anxiety has made those people murderous and none of us can get in their way."
They all knew it to be the truth, but none of them wanted to admit that their chance of survival may have sailed.
"Let's find everyone else. The least we can do now is stick together as we come up with a plan," Jadeite replied solemnly.
Streets of Capital were full of people. Running around, stuffing their belongings into carriages, summoning horses. Torches lit the streets and Endymion stirred Bader away from the frenzy.
The Palace was no different from the city. Guards and servants scurried around, some loitering, others trying to find friends and loved ones. Endymion tied his horse to the rail of the terrace and walked down a beaten path. The small lake inside the Garden caught his eyes, it was by that lake that he saw Serenity for the first time. She was so innocent back then, so serene. On an impulse, he leaned down and snapped a lily off its stem. The potent smell brought on more memories and the chaos around him seemed to disappear. With renewed determination the Duke continued on his way to the main entrance.
He walked through the halls towards the back of the Palace, the place where public wasn't allowed, but no one around seemed to care. Empty room after empty room, he passed them without paying much attention, until he arrived to the very last set of doors. The rare wood was intricately carved, each panel telling a story in the history of Kalantia. It was another reminder of how much would be lost in a few days. Endymion pushed the doors open.
The King sat in a chair, sipping on a murky brown liquid and staring out of an open window. From it, he could see the port. He turned his head slowly, only mildly interested in who his visitor was. "You should be sailing aboard Black Maiden far away from our shores by now, so I will take this visit as that of your apparition."
Endymion bowed to the older man, his hat sweeping the floor. "Flesh and blood, Your Majesty."
"Fool," the King replied slowly. He then picked up a bottle by its throat and extended it to the Duke.
Endymion smelled the dark liquid and one of his eyebrows quirked. "How does a King get his hands on a pirate's drink?"
"It happens when the King does his duty and reaches peace with the enemies of his country."
Taking a large gulp of the potent liquid, Endymion sat on the floor, his back resting against the frame of the bed. "What now?"
Before the King had a chance to respond the doors opened and a woman floated into the room. Her curly black hair reached down past the knees, her ocean blue eyes and posture so familiar that Endymion was now beyond any doubt aware of what had happened. He got into a bowing position, pondering how life would have turned out, had there not been a cataclysmic natural disaster.
The yellow silk of the woman's dress made a soft sound as she stopped, the fabric almost touching Duke's forehead. "Lord Shields."
He stood up, looking from his King to the widowed Queen of Kailand. The woman's voice was soft, her movements fluid, almost cat-like. She stepped around Endymion and took a seat in an empty chair next to the King. "I pride myself on being able to judge people. Do you know that you are the first person to make me doubt that skill?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I took a liking to you when we last met, I thought you had a lot of promise. Never could I have imagined that you would partake on this rouse. Definitely not to compete against my country for the export of precious metal."
"I'm not sure what information you have been given, Your Majesty-"
"Have you not harbored my daughter inside your castle?"
Endymion's jaw tightened, but he nodded in confirmation. "I did it to protect her from being caught in the middle of a war, I did not do so to have a bargaining chip over the trade agreements. I didn't even know she was the missing Princess then."
"So I did judge you wrong. I thought you were smart."
"I had no way of knowing who she was, nor did I know your country had platinum, until I was told."
"By who? I pirate? You believed one who had been terrorizing the seas from my shores to yours? Have you never suspected a lie?"
"I have nothing to offer you other than an apology, Your Majesty."
The Queen stood, her hand drawing an intricate blade. "Wrong. You can offer me your life. In exchange for the lives of those who died due to your foolishness."
"Luna!" The King stood, the tiredness and indifference that seemed to have succumbed him suddenly gone. His alert eyes set on the woman, his hand gently but firmly holding her wrist. "You have been fooled as much as any of us and he is still but a boy. Let him go." He turned to the solemn Duke, his eyes softening. "We will be leaving for Kailand shortly. You should be taking your family to safety as well."
Endymion bowed his head slowly, his eyes never leaving his King. He knew it was the last time he would ever see the man who had replaced his father. With a pang in his heart, he turned and walked towards the open doors.
"Where is she now?" echoed after him softly.
"If I am any good at judging people, she is long gone."
Andrew, Gabriel, Serenity, Alessandra D'Mye, the three Counts and their wives, along with a child and Celia, Jadeite's mother, sat quietly in the library. So far they figured that the only way to get off the island was to travel to Capital and hope that any of the ships there still remained. However, they knew that the same panic would ensue there, not to mention the two-day trip required to get there in a first place.
"The woods are ablaze, the fire spreads so fast that we may not make it through," Lita observed. She held her son closer to her chest, trying to do her best to not pass the fear to him.
"Yes, water is a much safer option."
The shock washed over everyone in the room as they turned to find Zefferus leaning leisurely against the doorframe of a secret passageway.
"What are you doing here?" Serenity asked.
Zefferus smiled sarcastically. "Well, you see, despite the fact that you threw my princess out of your home over a small misunderstanding, she believes that we need to save you. I, for one, had no intention of still being here, but let's just say that I would do anything to make her happy."
"Oh, stop with the horse shit, Lady Ten'ou, you have a heart and the only family you have left is in this room," Gabriel said loud enough for everyone to hear.
Zefferus snorted quite unladylike. "Old man, I always thought that your big mouth is the only thing that kept you an advisor. Now I know it's true." She grew serious as suddenly as she had appeared. "Now then, we need to get going before we burn alive."
"We're not going anywhere without Endymion," Serenity objected.
"Serenity, we are to meet Endymion in Capital, we are not to wait for his return here," Jadeite intervened. Serenity remembered Endymion's last words and her promise, so she didn't argue.
"This way," Zefferus pointed towards the opening. After exchanging a few looks and realizing that this, indeed, was their best option, everyone slowly lined up to enter through the passageway. "Nope, not you."
Lady Celia looked up at the pirate, her face a stony mask. She knew who the woman was immediately, so much she resembled her mother even in those scandalous clothes. Swallowing her pride, she looked down to the floor. "Please, it wasn't my decision alone to rid you of your father."
Zefferus scowled, but didn't reply, nor did she remove her hand that blocked the way towards the passage.
"Zefferus, please, let her pass. She is the only parent I have left."
She turned her head to Jadeite and a small battle raged inside. With a grimace she let her hand drop, allowing the woman through. "You may wish to get the Duchess back here."
Jadeite turned at Zefferus' words and saw Serenity escaping through the main doors to the library. "Go, I'll get her and we will catch up with you," he whispered to Raye before turning and following the Duchess. He caught her by the arm in the middle of the hallway. "Where are you going?"
"Amina and Kunzite need to know that we're leaving."
"That woman arranged for your child to be stolen, are you out of your mind?" He looked at her incredulously.
"I know what she did, but she is my family and she is coming with us!"
"What she did is unforgivable!"
"And I am not granting her forgiveness! Murdering her is not a solution! If she dies, she takes the pain of her betrayal with her, but if she lives, she will suffer of regret until I am able to forgive her!"
Jadeite let go of the woman, his mouth parted in surprise. "You never stop to amaze me. It is a shame this country is no more, you would have made for a merciless queen one day."
"If there is even a faint chance that you are able to forgive me one day, I will be by your side until that day comes," Amina said softly from the doorway to her bedchamber. Kunzite stood behind her, his hands firmly on her shoulders for support.
"Unless we all hurry, that day may never come," Serenity replied, swallowing a lump in her throat. Without another word they all returned to the library, where impatient Zefferus waved them through the door.
The run-in with Queen Luna made Endymion quite madder, if that was possible. He had gone to the King's quarters to say goodbye to the man he respected and even in a way loved, but instead was lectured on something he felt he had no control over. He had suspected the nature of the game Zefferus was playing the moment he had laid his eyes on Michiru, but a few things didn't come together until he saw the Queen. His murderous intentions now span much further than the princess of his mainland, but she had to be dealt with first.
Unlike the King, she wasn't in her rooms, nor was she anywhere to be found. Growing quite anxious with every passing minute, Endymion searched the Palace high and low in vain. Desperate, he walked through the emptying streets to the last place he could think of. The Cathedral.
The massive columns still supported the cupola, but some of the statutes that used to decorate its perimeter had fallen. The golden angels now lay around the entrance, broken and lost of glory. One of the doors had lost its hinge and hung crookedly in Endymion's way. He squatted and climbed into the opening, afraid to scare the woman inside.
She kneeled in front of an altar with her back to him. A white elaborate veil covered her head, but even so Endymion could tell who she was. She was praying in a low voice, but the Duke knew that no god would save her, not if he had anything to do about it. The sound of a muffled cry distracted him and he turned to the left, where he found a small bundle wrapped in pristinely clean white material. A small arm jerked to the side, the movement unpracticed and desperate.
"He wouldn't feed."
Endymion turned to the Princess to find her looking at him. Her cheeks were stained with tears, her fingers clung to the beads she held.
"I had a wet nurse for him, she was supposed to feed him, but he wouldn't take to her. I tried cow's milk and goat milk, but he would only open his mouth to cry and choke on the food. God hadn't given me a child and even a child I take wishes to die at my hands."
She was mumbling incoherently and Endymion didn't care much for what she was saying. The notion that his son had been hungry for days now alarmed him more than any other threat the child may have faced. He walked over and picked up the bundle, his midnight blue eyes meeting the light blues of his wife. The small face was red from crying, the eyes closing from the effort. Instinctively, Endymion cradled his son against his heart, letting the rhythm soothe him.
He couldn't quite explain it, but once he held the baby, revenge didn't matter as much anymore. He didn't care about Katherine and none of the ways he planned to kill her came to mind. He was disgusted with her, but instead of an evil witch that stole his child, planned to kill him and his wife, and almost succeeded, he saw a pathetic being. He didn't feel sorry for her, nor did he feel that she was worth spilling blood. With just as much success as raising his blade, he could leave her there and let nature take care of her like it would of D'Mye. Holding the now quiet child closer, Endymion took one last look at the Princess. "May you burn in hell."
The Black Widower sailed a safe distance away from the shores in the direction of Capital. From her spot on the quarterdeck, Serenity watched the picturesque shoreside filled with greenery against a mountainous backdrop. At sea, where only the waves occasionally rocked the ship and the shaking of the earth could not be felt, she could imagine it all being a dreadful dream. Only the blackened top of the mountain and the tiny orange streams that flowed down its sides proved that the volcano was waking.
She felt someone leaning against the bulwark next to her and turned to find Raye studying her with a concerned look. "We will meet with him again, you know that, right?"
Serenity shook her head slowly. "We must."
Raye sighed and wrapped her arm around Serenity's waist, bringing the blonde woman into half-embrace. "We will."
They both stood there, letting the wind play with their hair, watching the island that they knew as their only home. Suddenly, large flames broke free from the top, as though the gates of hell opened. The streams of lava that had been barely visible before now turned into rivers quickly flowing down all the way over the edges of the ridges and into the planes below, engulfing everything in flames. One after the other explosions erupted, each followed by a white cloud of smoke, rising high into the skies in the form much alike to a mushroom. Soon, the entire island was covered in black smoke, only more flames occasionally visible through the heavy curtain.
Activity flared up on the ship after the first explosion as Zefferus shouted orders and men and women dressed in scraps of clothing ran around fulfilling them. Serenity didn't know if she had screamed, but her hand was covering her mouth and tears streamed down her cheeks, collecting on top of her hand and then flowing over. With terrified eyes, she turned to Raye, only to find the woman deathly pale and just as scared.
Soon the ship was no longer following the shore, but instead facing away from it, and it took Serenity only a few minutes to figure out what was happening. She ran towards Zefferus, grabbing her shoulder harshly. "You can't turn the ship away, we have to find Endymion!"
"Let go of me!" Zefferus yelled as she battled with the helm, forcing it to turn where she wanted it to, instead of where the gravity called for it to turn.
Oblivious, Serenity kept hitting the captain with her fists, until Jadeite took hold of her from the back, physically removing her from the pirate. "Serenity, we cannot go that way, the waves will tip the ship and we will all die."
"Thank you," Zefferus muttered with a quick look at her brother.
"Come on, let's go to the cabin." Not waiting for a legible response, Jadeite removed Serenity from the deck, kicking and screaming.
Serenity sat on a pillow inside the captain's cabin, holding a mug with both of her hands. The steaming liquid had cooled down a long time ago, but she seemed to be unable to let it go. Her mother kept saying something soothingly into her ear, but Serenity didn't care to understand what she was being told. At first she wanted to jump overboard and swim to shore. She was intent on reaching Capital and finding her husband and child there, but from the windows behind her back she could see nothing but water anymore. A few hours ago the ocean swallowed the fuming land, putting out the fires and creating a white cloud that still hung over where the island used to be.
She grew tired of straining her eyes to see anything, so Serenity simply stared into nothingness as people came in and out of the cabin, trying to show support. She only shook her trance off when an unmistakable sight of a ship caught her peripheral vision. The ship wasn't one of the Royal Fleet, nor was it one of Endymion's. It was made of light-colored wood, with no gun ports and bright yellow flags. Setting her mug on the floor, Serenity made her way out to the main deck where everyone else seemed to have gathered. She sensed the tension before she saw the defensive stance of the pirates or their readily available weapons. For the first time another fear creeped at her heart. She was no longer a Duchess, she was a woman aboard a pirate ship with only a few friends to protect her.
As ships came side by side, Zefferus jumped on top of the bulwark, her hands resting on top of the pistols worn over her hips. She didn't step down when King Artemis appeared from behind the crew of the other ship. She did, however, visibly square her shoulders when a beautiful brunette woman stood next to him. "What do you want?" she asked unceremoniously.
"You have something that belongs to me," Luna said evenly.
"I take no prisoners," Zefferus spat.
"But I do," Luna replied.
Serenity gasped as she saw Endymion brought out by two men, both holding pistols against his back. In his arms he held a bundle. Though she thought she had run out of tears, hot liquid spilled over her eyes and Serenity sobbed, not sure if it was of happiness or despair.
"Let him go," Zefferus gritted out.
"Return my daughter to me," Luna replied evenly.
Zefferus growled in response. "You can have him," she said finally.
"I am no prisoner, mother," Michiru replied before anyone could escalate situation with violence. She approached Zefferus and stood next to her, though her feet were still rooted to the deck.
The two women stared at each other silently, an unspoken battle raging between them. Finally, Luna gave a slight nod of her head and Endymion was released. "Know that if you choose to remain aboard that ship, a price will not only be put on Zefferus' head, but also yours."
"There isn't a price high enough to take me from the side of the one I love, unless it is by death."
Luna didn't reply, just cocked her head with a sad smile. Sensing that the interaction was over, Endymion walked to where Zefferus stood and climbed on top of the bulwark of Kailand's Royal ship. A few feet separated him from the main deck of Black Widower. His eyes met the green ones of the pirate in front of him. "Every time you do something worthy of killing you, you somehow find a way to redeem yourself."
"I have more than nine lives," Zefferus replied cockily.
"Drop my son and I will kill you," Endymion said as he extended the bundle towards the woman. She only raised an eyebrow and leaned over the waters lapping at the side of the ship, accepting the burden. She jumped back down as soon as she had a hold on the child and passed him over to Serenity, who was momentarily at her side. Zefferus then extended her hand to Endymion. "Welcome home, Darien."
He gave her a small smile before turning his full attention to his wife and child. Serenity was looking at the small bundle with eyes full of unconditional love and that sight alone was worth stepping over his pride and making a deal with the Queen of Kailand to get off the island. Even if being a bate was her condition.
"You kept your promise," Serenity whispered taking her eyes off of her son and meeting the blues of her husband.
"I always keep the promises I make to you," he whispered as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Why is that?" she asked, dipping her head back.
"Because I love you," he replied against her lips. Her response was muffled by his mouth as it moved hungrily over hers. The desperation and uncertainty of the past few days slowly left both of them as closeness provided the much needed reassurance.
When they finally parted for air, Raye threw herself against her brother's back, hugging him as she cried into his coat. He freed one of his arms to bring her into the hug, his eyes finding Jadeite. His gratitude did not need to be voiced out loud to be understood by the blonde man.
"We have quite a dilemma on our hands," Andrew announced after more greetings and hugs had been exchanged.
"And what is it?" Endymion asked with a small smile.
"Yet again, we have one ship and two captains."
Endymion looked over at Zefferus, then back at his wife. "I'll let Haruka set the course if she forfeits her rights to the cabin."
A few chuckles lightened up the mood and a few curious faces turned to the captain. "Where to?"
Zefferus pulled a compass out of her pocket and pretended to look for an answer. She finally closed it and smirked. "To the lands where those with prices over their heads hide. I hear there is still much land available in the Americas."
"Hmm, perhaps we can continue were we have left off…" Endymion said as he pulled his wife towards the cabin.
"What, build a fortress, seek precious metals-"
He interrupted Serenity with a kiss. "I was thinking more along the lines of building a family, seeking happiness."
"Promise?" she whispered back.
"Yes. If you promise to love me." Endymion pulled a withering flower from behind the lapel of his coat.
Serenity took the lily, recognizing it for what it was. A nostalgic smile played at her lips as she replied, "Always and forever."