12. In search of the truth
She had heard that things had turned for the worse for Saturn ever since the civil war started, but she had never expected things to be this bad.
Mako watched the starving people lying on the filthy street of Craven, the once beautiful proud capital of Saturn, with a sickening feeling in her stomach. Men and women, young and old; most wore the same kind of look; a look of despair and desolation. It was as if they knew that all hope was gone and this was the reality that they had to accept because no other kind would ever be offered to them. They lived and yet they were not alive. They moved but without any meaning or purpose other than to survive for just another day.
She could not help but wonder, if this was how the capital looked then how much worse was it outside on the countryside? How did the rest of planet fare? How could this be possible? How could a planet at the height of its power become reduced to a society on the brink of destruction in just a few years?
Mako glanced at her surroundings, her vivid green eyes taking in not just tattered clothing and the filth but the decaying buildings, the battered street. Where once majestic cobbled stones paved the street, now lay only empty sockets here and there, signs of the battles that had once raged at this very place. She wondered if it had been really worth it. Was power really worth the price that was paid? What did it matter which side won if the planet they were going to rule was this? It was a place where law and order did not live and only power and strength decided whom would survive. No wonder the amount of refugees to the other planets never subsided. Who would want to live in a place like this? Except for criminals that is, Mako added grimly.
She stopped in front of an establishment, the worn sign above showing three dices. On it was written in Common: Devil's Luck. Briefly she hoped some of that luck might rub off on her. Straightening her back and making sure that the knives she had strapped to her body were within easy reach, Mako took a deep breath and entered the place.
The blast of music and shouts slammed against her like a fist and only by the sheer force of will did she keep herself from staggering back. As she walked through the grimy place, where food and ale littered the floor along with cards and dices and some things that she did not even want to know, her full lips thinned slightly in disgust.
Instead of taking a seat by one of the three empty tables by the wall, Mako purposely headed for the counter on the opposite side of the entrance. She used the time to observe her surroundings, taking in the positions of the windows and the doorways as well as the patrons. The smoky haze filling the place clouded her visions but she was sure she could count at least twenty heads if not twenty three. The table by the corner was shadowed by the great furnace and she could not make out if it was only one or four sitting there. Every one of the men in the inn looked dangerous and Mako knew that while the women seemed harmless, appearance could be deceiving. Mina had taught her that.
"What wil' be?" The man behind the counter asked all the while not stopping from polishing the mug in his large beefy hand. The rag he was using, Mako noticed was darkish brown and most certainly not its original color to start with.
"Mead." Mako told him gruffly.
The man cast one dubious look at her and set the down the mug in his hand with a slam. Hard training kept her from jumping though it was a close call. Instead Mako met his eyes steadily. Seeming satisfied with her reaction, the man grabbed the mug and left to pour her drink. From the corner of her eye, Mako observed the people sitting closest to her. None however fit the description of the men she was looking for.
"Twenty copper." The man barked as she slammed the mug back on the counter. Mead sloshed over, splattering on the surface and on Mako's hair and leather clothing.
Without a word, Mako tossed the coins to him. They disappeared quickly into his fist and in a hidden pocket, no doubt one of many. Twenty copper? Talk about highway robbery. She could buy a round for that back home. What did the man think he was serving? Venusian red?
Mako lifted the mug, took one swallow, grimaced and spit out the content on the floor. She slammed the mug down, hands going for the ugly looking hooked knife strapped against her hip and demanded. "You have a secret wish to see your maker, old man?"
The inn had gone deadly quiet as all eyes focused on the scene at the counter.
The man looked at her carefully, his dark eyes carefully taking in her show control and started chuckling. "Yer alright, kid"
It was as if the room took a deep breath of relief and suddenly the volume increased once more as everyone went about their business. The man took away the mug, wiping his ever present rag on the surface and set down another mug of mead in front of Mako. Mako cast a suspicious look at the thing but seeing the slight smile on the man's face; she grudgingly picked it up and drank. She never could resist a challenge.
It tasted just fine.
"I gather yer new to town." The bartender said.
"Aye. Came straight from Jupiter." She figured there was no need to lie. She had the typical looks of a Jovian.
The man nodded his head as if having his suspicions confirmed. "Is there any need to ask what drew ye here?"
In reply Mako gave him a devilish grin.
He shook his head in resignation. "Ye and the rest of the fools of this system."
"It's a great way of making a name."
"Aye an even faster way of dying." Came the reply.
A chill ran up Mako's spine. Not because she feared death but because the tone of his voice. What kind of a thing were these Tournaments? Still no matter what, she needed to find Bear and if that meant she had to walk through the very fires of Hell to do that, then so be it.
Lifting her chin defiantly she said, "Only the weak will fall. And I'm not one of those."
He shrugged in reply. "Ye had yer warning." His tone said clearly that if she wanted to be foolish enough to kill herself then it was none of his business. She should have felt annoyed but somehow the fact that he was looking out for her, a total stranger, moved her somewhat.
"If this place is so bad, how come you're staying?" She asked mildly and took another swallow. This stuff wasn't so bad considering the place.
"No place else te go. Here I make a living. I rely on myself. Better that than become like those dogs waiting hand and foot for Selenity and her nobles to throw them a scrap of food whenever the mood strikes."
Mako stiffened slightly at the insult, her instinctive protective nature coming to her Queen's defense but a small voice warned her to tread carefully and to remember her agenda.
"True." She forced the tense muscles on her shoulder to relax. "I would rather rely on myself too, which is why I'm here." She took a lazy swipe of the mead.
"Yer that confident?"
She did not answer him but the look she gave spoke volumes.
"So ye want to try yer hand at replacing Mook huh? Word travel fast. Yer the fourteenth person to approach me now." He shook his head, a clear gesture that said he thought she was a fool.
Now they were getting somewhere.
Looking steadily in the eyes, Mako said softly. "No I mean to finish the job he was never able to and that is to win."
"Great words. And what makes ye think ye can manage that? We get a lot of loudmouth here, Mook was one of them and when it was time to deliver the goods he failed… fatally."
"That was his problem and my gain. If you can arrange for me to meet Grim I'll prove that I can do the job right." Mako met his eyes steadily and fought hard not to show the eagerness. She couldn't believe her luck. Maybe the place wasn't so badly named after all.
There was a long moment of silence between them and in the end he broke it by chuckling. "Yer bold. I give ye that. And certainly fresher in yer approach than the others before."
He did not say anything more but looked at her expectantly. Mako knew what he wanted but something told her that it would be the wrong move so instead she crossed her arms over her chest and waited. His eyes followed her movements and for a moment there they lingered there, the fight fitting leather enhancing her generous forms and then he smiled.
"Ye got guts. I like that. Very well. Wait."
He threw down the rag and disappeared through one of the back doorways. Mako fought hard not to show the jubilation she felt. Things were going far smoother than she had anticipated. Of course she knew this was only but the first step. She still needed to convince Grim that she was skilled enough to join his team for the next tournament. Time was of an essence here. She did not know how long she had before Mina dug out where she was and hauled her back at the scuff of her neck. In the sense of digging out information, the woman was scary.
With the reappearance of the bartender, Mako pushed the thought of Mina's wrath, which could outshine both Mako's and Rei's, to the back of her mind. Moving lithely on her feet she followed the man as he led her further inside the inn, down the basement and along narrow dark tunnels that even challenged her good sense of location. In the end she saw the light at the end of the tunnel and soon they reached a small room that was starkly decorated except for the great amount of weapons and armors stacked against one wall.
There were five men in the room ranging from big to small, each wore black headbands. Mako focused her attention on the man that was sitting down. He looked to be about in his early forties. The fire flickered and reflected on the top of his bald head. A pair of long bushy eyebrows hung down at the side of his face. The eyes were small and reminded her of hard marble balls and showed as much in emotions. Despite his not so impressive figure, the man reeked of danger.
No wonder they said the warlords of Saturn were among the most dangerous criminals on this system. And from what she heard Grim was considered as one of the less harmful ones, she wondered how the others were like then, warlords such as Druscilla, Lance and Criton.
"So Bob here tells me you want to join us." Grim said. His marble eyes observed her and as they roamed over her body and the tight fitting clothes he sneered. "In case you haven't noticed little girl, this is a competition about skill, about power, not a beauty contest."
His men snickered from the side.
Obviously women were not considered highly among them. Typical, the moment society moves backwards so does the position of women. Any other day Mako would have taught them a lesson but now was not the time to fight for the Women's Liberation Front.
"I can assure you I did not choose the clothes because of how they look but for their practical use."
"Hardly easy to shed." One of the men sneered from the side.
Mako cast him a glance and the next moment a knife flew from her hand and thudded against the wall. There was a wild oath coming from the man as he staggered back. He was touching his left cheek and when he lifted his palm, there was blood on it. A thin red line stroked his cheek.
"You bitch. You'll pay for that." He snarled and pulled out his scimitar from the scabbard.
"Stay your hand." Grim ordered. "At least for the moment." He added and gave Mako a speculative look. "You have a lot guts, girl. Drawing weapon and attacking my men in my presence. I like that in person but don't get too cocky."
Mako lifted her chin. "I came here to offer my fighting skills. Not to be insulted. I don't tolerate it outside and it does not mean I will start doing it here."
Grim stroked his chin. "What's your name, girl?"
There was a brief silence.
"I heard about you: a ruthless woman who seeks fame and travels around the system finding fitting opponents to challenge. Rumors had it you were captured on Thebe, by the Jovian militia."
Either rumors traveled fast, Mako mused, or these warlords had their eyes and ears in more places than even what the Alliance knew of. Only a few days has passed since Tasha was captured and Mako got the idea to use her as her ticket to worm into the underground world of Saturn and finding Bear. It had taken her quite a while to convince Granson to get along with the idea but knowing him, Mako knew he would do his outmost to keep a lid on Tasha's capture. She filed away this information for future usage.
Waving a negligent hand in the air she said, "No more than a slight inconvenience. My opponent and I were in the middle of a battle when the local militia came. He knew he was not my equal so he made sure he had some backup. Anyways I quickly rectified that mistake."
"Impressive. I hear the Lord Captain captured you. Not many can beat him."
"He was a difficult opponent. If there wouldn't be such a hassle over his death I would much have liked to have had a real match with him. But as it was then I was more interested in escape."
"And now you figured you're lonely wandering days are over and you need to find partners. So you came here to Saturn, the paradise for outlaws, criminals and scum of societies."
"Well I can think of many other ways to describe myself than the ones you used but yes I guess you're right." Mako told him dryly. "So what do you say? My reputation itself should tell you I'm far more skilled than that poor sod Mook, not to mention the lackeys you have here."
"Watch it, bitch. Before I cut that tongue of yours." The warning came from a small man crouched by the wall. He wore a mixture of black and red clothes, his black face nearly hidden in the shadow but there was a rabid look in his eyes that spoke volumes of the nature of his mind.
Mako ignored him instead she looked at that Grim, knowing that it was him that she had to convince.
There was a long moment of silence. The tension lying heavily in the room, like a snake poised to attack. Everyone was waiting, waiting for what Grim would say.
Grim shifted and looked up at her and in his eyes she knew the truth even before he opened his mouth to speak.
The moment he finished his sentence, the room exploded in activities.
Mako already prepared, acted quickly by pivoting and slamming her boot into the first attacker. She dodged a slashing sword, even as she threw the knives hidden inside her clothes as more weapons came sailing her way. She dodged two more attacks but the third one slammed against her stomach sending her sailing against the wall. Pain exploded along the back and she tasted the saltiness of blood in her mouth. Jumping to the side she hit another man on the wrist, a disarming chop that Rei had taught her and the weapon he carried immediately clanged to the floor. Mako jumped down caught hold the weapon, somersaulted and came back on her feet with the sword slashing in a wild arc. The slight reflection of weapons warned her just in time and she managed to parry as the small man who had threatened to cut out her tongue earlier, attacked her with two strange looking knives with three blades. As luck would have it the blade of her sword caught in between his. She used all her strength and pushed the man backwards sending him flying against one of his partners.
Breathing slightly heavily, Mako took a moment to observe the battlefield using the time she had bought. She cursed her bad luck when she realized that she was stuck in the middle of the room with all four men between her and the exit and Grim still sitting behind her.
Each man carried a different weapon but all four wore the same look, the look of a predator as it sensed a prey and was just on the brink of attacking. Dangerous men to begin with, but turned even more deadly with the combination of bloodlust. She wasn't sure she could take them on for long without being powered up as Sailor Jupiter. But she couldn't use that, not without blowing her cover and warning her enemies. So all she could depend on at this moment was her skill and luck. Something told her that if she could only survive for another ten minutes than her problems would be over.
She set her teeth and angled her head in a way that her friends would have recognized as her pose when she was determined to see things through to the end; even if it did turn bloody. She came here for answers and she would not leave without one.
For the next few minutes the battle was fierce. She received more injuries and cut in that short period of time than she had in the entire ten years training under Artemis' tutelage. Never before had she been glad of the strictness and harsh training that she had gotten from her mentors than just then. She needed all the stamina, speed, strength and fighting skill she could muster to just keep herself alive. Her muscles were aching and she could hear the roaring in her head as blood coursed through her body the pace increased due to the fastened heartbeats. Strangely it was exhilarating as well. Because she was pitching her skills against men whom were known for being dangerous and skilful fighters and she was actually managing to hold on her own without being powered up. It gave her a sense of excitement with each attack she managed to parry and a great sense of satisfaction seeing her enemies react from each wound she inflicted.
Then all of a sudden the fight was interrupted by the appearance of something very large as it launched in to the room and right against Mako's opponents. Mako only managed to register the roaring sound of an animal right before she saw three of her opponents fly across the room like dolls, connecting against the wall with a cracking sound. The last enemy remaining was cut down from behind by a tall man that suddenly appeared from the darkened tunnel.
"Come let's go." The stranger told her and before she could react he grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled.
Still reeling from the whole incident, Mako followed without thinking, reacting to the firm command in his voice. She managed to catch the look of the animal, a bull? stomping and reeling in the crowded space, right before she was pulled into the darkness. The sound of the roaring animal and shouts and curses followed them.
Once the surprise had worn off however, Mako started to resume control of her wits. Precaution kicked in and the realization came that she might just have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. She tried to pull out of the man's grasp and was both surprised and annoyed when she realized that she wasn't able to manage that.
"Unhand me." She ordered her "rescuer".
When he didn't comply she planted her feet in. It was not exactly the smartest movement she could have made.
The sudden halt she made had him nearly pulling her arms out of its socket. Her eyes crossed with pain. She stumbled and would have fallen straight into the sewer water if he hadn't reacted quickly and moved. The lightning speed surprised her. One moment she was falling and another she hit against a muscular chest. The impact was not really that great, but she found her breath catching in her throat and the very air around them seemed to sizzle with energy.
Frightened for the first time since her arrival to Saturn, Mako reached out with her free hand, which was still holding the sword and pointed the edge against the man's neck.
"Thank you for your assistance, but you can unhand me now." She told him softly. It was dark in the tunnel and she had could barely make out the other man's features.
"I've heard about a lot of ways a person can thank another for saving her life. But pointing a weapon against the rescuer is the first." The dark timbre of his voice carried across the darkness like velvet. He had an accent but she could not make it out from where, there was however no mistaking the glitter in his eyes that he did not appreciate having a weapon pointed at him.
Well that was just fine with her because she didn't appreciate being manhandled either. And most importantly she disliked having someone interfering in her business.
"I never asked for your help." Mako pointed out levelly. She increased the pressure on her weapon this time enough to draw slight blood.
Even in the dim light, Mako could see his eyes narrow. She felt his hand tighten on hers and then all of a sudden he started chuckling. "You sure are one of a kind, Lita." He let go of her and stepped back.
"Thank you." Mako told him glibly and fought against the impulse of massaging her wrist. "Now if you don't mind why don't…." Her voice trailed off as the name registered in her head and she whipped her head upwards, sending the braid that flowed down her back to whip against her shoulder with enough force to make it sting. "What did you just call me?"
"Well I'm glad at least that it was your real name that you gave me." Her rescuer told her and there was a solemnity in his voice and a meaning in his tone that she could not quite grasp.
"Who are you?" Mako asked warily and backed away from him slowly. Lita wasn't a name she had used often even as she grew up. It was in fact her second nickname and those who knew of it had stopped using it a long time ago. She looked at the man, tall nearly a head taller than her, with broad shoulders and long hair. It had been wavy and dark with reddish tint, she recalled right before he had pulled her out of that room. Yet for the life of her she couldn't recall who he was. It was certainly not Freddy that much she was sure.
The man sighed. "Look its obvious that you're having trouble remembering me and while I would like to fill in the blanks for you, now is not the time." The man told her. He nodded down the tunnel they had just come from. Shouts were coming from there along with splashing sounds that told them, pursuers were coming.
"Why don't you fill me in now and let me decide. How do I know you're not in league with them and trying to lure me into another trap the moment my guard was down." Mako told him with a guarded expression.
The sound of pursuers was growing nearer.
Her "rescuer" blew out his breath in frustration. "Damn you sure have turned into a suspicious person. What happened to the friendly warm hearted girl I got to know?"
"Oh I don't know, it depends on when I was "supposed"," She made a quotation sign with her free hand. "to have known you. Obviously I must have been a kid who didn't know better since you claim I befriended you."
"Obviously." The man snorted. "If I knew she would have turned into a brat like you I would never have bothered to rescue you back there."
"Well for your opinion, I never asked to be rescued. I was handling myself perfectly fine." Mako told him heatedly and took a step closer. She did have in mind enough to lower the sword in her hand so that the point was facing down. She rather felt like knocking him with her fist than skewering him. What an arrogant assuming bastard!
"Yeah getting yourself killed by your own recklessness."
"I wasn't being reckless. I had the situation perfectly under control."
He snickered. "Yes I could see that being sliced up an all." He gave her arm a pointed look.
Mako looked down and realized that she was bleeding steadily from a cut on her left upper arm. With the knowledge of the wound came also the pain and she grimaced slightly.
"You're going to have to have that taken cared of."
She was about to tell him to mind his own business when the sound of someone calling out orders caught her ears. Both of them tensed up at the same time.
"Well they sure are persistent." He murmured.
Mako growled under her breath and prepared to pull her sword out of the sheath when he halted her.
"I have something better in mind." He told her.
Mako watched him with cryptic eyes but decided to see what he had up his sleeve. The determination in his eyes told her it might get interesting.
Her eyebrows nearly vanished into her hairline when he clasped his hands together and starting murmuring under his breath. The guy was praying? At a time like this? She felt like kicking him.
The sound of pursuers came nearer and grumbling under her breath in annoyance at men in general, Mako prepared to shift into battle position when she felt the tingling in her body that told her magic was being used. Whipping her head towards the source, she let out an audible gasp of surprise as she saw the tall man suddenly starting to glow in the darkness. There was a globe of red light coming from his clasped hands and the light seemed to spread throughout out his body giving off a reddish aura.
"What – " Her words were cut off when suddenly a red light shot out from his clasped hands and hit the water. The surface started to bubble like it was boiling. Smoke rose and something or she should say some things were starting to rise. Mako stared in fascination when two girls started to emerge from the surface. Both blonde and tiny with flowing long hair, they looked like each other's mirror except that one had green-blue eyes and the other had blue-green eyes. They didn't wear a stitch on their body either except for the tiaras with the large agate stone in the center.
"Gemini, I have some problems coming up. Would you please take care of them?" Mako's rescuer asked.
"No problem, love. Sis and I will deal with them, won't we?" The one to the right with blue-green eyes winked.
"Anything for you, Nephrite." The sister in question tossed a golden mane over one shoulder and cast a smoldering look at their summoner.
Nephrite cleared his throat. It was too dark to determine but Mako could nearly swear that he was blushing.
"Try not to let your sense of a practical joke get carried away and be careful, okay? These are criminals of the worst kind. You've got about ten minutes." Nephrite warned them before taking hold of Mako's hand and pulling her off.
After one futile tug and an annoyed glance at the tall man, Mako looked back at the two strange women and caught them waving at her with a combination of cheerfulness and glee. She wasn't even surprised when she realized that a building headache was starting to appear in her right temple. The day kept getting stranger and stranger. All that she needed now was Mina appearing suddenly and hauling her sorry ass back to Moon.
"Where are we going?" Mako asked and quickened her steps so she was running alongside him instead of behind him.
Nephrite was silent for a long moment. It was almost as if he was debating over something and he couldn't decide.
"I'm taking you to see my friends. Seeming as our goals are the same, I think we can be of help to each other." He told her.
Mako frowned as she wondered who these friends were. The man's reluctant feelings did nothing to assure her. Add to the fact that she was getting a strange tingling feeling at the back of her head when he mentioned his friends, it was enough to make any girl wary. She knew him, that much she was sure now. Yet she still couldn't remember when or where she had met him.
Still, she decided, there wasn't much to it now. The only door in to the Death Tournaments and reaching Bear had just been slammed in her face. Maybe Nephrite and his friends might just be what she needed. The possibility that this might be a trap didn't get past her either. If this was a trap she was willing to chance it. She already knew when she decided to go after Bear that she might have to face Death himself. All she could hope while keeping her eyes open and senses alert, that maybe this was Celes' way of blessing her on her quest for justice.
He had known they might not be happy about it and he was right too. The five people gathered in the semi large antechamber at the Black Rose Inn, were studying each other with mistrust on their faces, well in Lita's and Zoisite's cases glaring would be more fitting descriptions. Those two had not hit it off from the very beginning Zoisite had intercepted them on their way upstairs to meet the prince and had tried to lay his hands on her to stop her from entering. Seeing his friend nearly have his fingers broken had made Nephrite realize just how lucky he had been earlier. Despite having seen her in action earlier against the thugs, her movements had still surprised her. Before Usagi, Haruka and Michiru, he hadn't even known women could be such good fighters and in Lita's case he would even wager that she could rival Haruka who was clearly the best of the three.
"Well I'm still waiting for your answer." Endymion replied with quiet authority from his seat. He was the only one of the five sitting down.
Lita folded her arms across her chest in a gesture that told Nephrite it was a pure sign of rebellion but he still could not help the way his eyes lingered there. Catching himself, he quickly slid his eyes away and mentally berated himself. This was neither the time nor the place for fantasies, they were here on business but he was acting like Jade and Zoi.
From the other side of the room, he caught Kunzite's disapproving look. The man's face didn't alter but he still managed to give off an air of clear disapproval that had Nephrite squirming inside. He quickly focused on the situation at hand and the contest of will that was taking place between his liege and the woman he had rescued.
"My reasons are my own. All you need to know is that I want to enter the Tournament, which is why I'm here."
"And you think we can help you?" Endymion asked with an arched look.
"That was the impression your man over there gave me." She indicated with a nod towards Nephrite. He didn't know why but hearing her refer him as his man instead of his name sent a sliver of anger through him.
"Then I'm sorry to have to inform you that you were mistaken. We are nowhere near getting closer to the Tournaments than you are, miss." Endymion informed her.
Her full lips compressed in a line that clearly spoke of her disappointment. "In that case, there's no need for me to waste more time here. Good day."
Without a word she whirled on her heels and strode for the exit. Usagi who was standing close to the door moved as if to stop her but one look from the taller woman had her scurrying back and hiding in her usual place in the shadow.
The exchange was brief but had Nephrite frowning nonetheless. There was something there, something about those two that kept nagging at him. But now was not the time to delve further into it turning to the man in command he said, "Dare, she could be of help to us." He used the name Endymion had adopted for this recon mission.
In response Endymion looked at him silently, his dark blue eyes piercing and sharp. When he spoke however his tone was neutral. "Unless she starts being more informative to us I'm not about to trust her with anything."
"Lita's not going to betray us."
The conviction in his voice had the prince's dark brows arching in surprise and amusement. "Oh and what makes you so sure about that? Did the stars reveal it to you or are you going by some other instincts?"
Nephrite felt himself flush with anger a the implied tone but he kept his tongue.
The dark haired Terran prince let out a weary sigh. "Forgive me that was uncalled for. The fruitless result of our work here is taking its toll on me but I should not have taken out my frustration on you."
Not trusting himself to speak, Nephrite nodded his head in acceptance of the apology. They might be friends but in many situations Endymion's position as his prince and future liege made it only possible for Nephrite to act like anything other than as his subject. It was not through any faults of the younger man's because as a nobleman, Endymion was in fact the person who flaunted his title the least, even Kunzite sometimes did it albeit unconsciously. Nevertheless whatever Endymion's attitude, Nephrite was brought up to know his place. From the moment the king had saved him from being drowned in the river Eldan as a babe, his fate had been sealed.
Realizing that his thoughts were wandering towards his childhood, Nephrite focused on something else. His dark eyes rested upon the trio who were hunched over the table discussing in soft tones. Joining them there he could see that they were studying a crude map of the city. It was the only map Zoisite had managed to scour from the extensive Royal Library of the city. Information about the places outside of Earth's boundaries were limited to say the least. The map being fifty years old was in fact the newest they could find, but alas the information on it was outdated, especially after the civil war. That had been the first obstacle they had encountered.
The next had been the wall of silence. Despite being a city in chaos, there was surprisingly a lot of well established order of power here; and not from the local militia as one would have expected but from elsewhere: a mysterious group of people called the Warlords of Saturn. They were a group of men and women who had seized the opportunity the chaos had given and carved themselves a path to the top. To reach Bear they would have to go through these warlords first and it was proving to be harder as each day passed. The warlords ruled through fear, tyranny and ruthlessness and any questions concerning them or their people were usually met by silence. And while they kept of digging for information, their situation became more and more precarious. Nephrite didn't even want to think what would happen if the warlords found out the heir to the Terran throne was here. He and his friends might be strong but even they would not be able cut through an entire army made of ruthless killers and mercenaries.
It would have been much better if they had stuck to the first plan which was letting him, Jadeite and Zoisite do the recon mission. Even with camouflage, Endymion and especially Kunzite had a way of attracting attention, attention that they could have done well without. He was just grateful Haruka and Michiru hadn't come along, though they had protested loudly enough. Soldiers or not this place was not suited for women. It was too bad Usagi couldn't have stayed behind but strangely enough the prince had insisted she be present. The lot of them hadn't been able to protest too loudly without revealing Usagi's secret.
At the thought about the girl, Nephrite looked around the room and frowned. Where did she go? He hadn't noticed when she left.
"Mako." The voice that called out in a loud whisper was not unfamiliar and despite her best effort to ignore it she found it held her like a noose.
"Your secret is safe." She told her follower without turning around. Her voice sounded hollow even to her ears but it was nothing compared to the pain in her chest. The pain that she had felt from the very moment she came face to face with her childhood friend after so many years of separation.
There was a brief silence and then hand came and touched her tentatively on the arm. "I know." Usagi told her softly. "I… I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to apologize to me for. You are free to do whatever you want. After all I'm hardly in any position to tell you otherwise."
There was a hiss as Usagi drew in her breath sharply. "That is not true!"
Mako turned on her heels and faced her childhood friend. She didn't bother to hide the anger in her eyes. "Isn't it? Your actions for the past couple of years and today, certainly say otherwise. Friends don't do that to friends."
Usagi swallowed visible her blue eyes pooling with tears. Mako felt the familiar stirring of protectiveness come surfacing inside her at the sight but she ruthlessly stomped it down. She knew better than to offer comfort, especially since it was unwelcome. "I didn't have a choice. I can't risk having them find out the truth about my identity."
"So to ensure your own happiness, you decided to deny the existence of your friends?"
There was a long moment of silence and just when Mako was about to leave, Usagi spoke again and she was surprised at the maturity in her friends eyes.
"I'm not asking nor do I believe that you will forget your anger to me that easily but I am telling you the truth when I say that no matter what, I never stopped caring about you or the others nor have I forgotten about you. You four were my first true friends. In my heart you will always be the sisters I never had. And… I'm sorry for letting you down, Mako."
Through the burning haze of anger, Mako felt the first stab of pain in the chest area. Unlike the stinging pain she had received earlier during her fight with Grim's men, this was a bitter sweet feeling that formed a lump in her throat. The lump and the pain grew stronger the further she looked at blonde girl dressed like a boy. A girl whom she has once called her closest friend and whom today had acted and pretended that as if she didn't know her. Unable to endure the feelings anymore, Mako turned and walked away.
She was immensely relieved when Usagi did not follow and also slightly disappointed. If she was to be honest with herself she did not know what she would have done if the other woman had decided to follow her. Would she have hugged her and sought the comfort and compassion that the friend she remembered always was so generous with? Or would she have punched her instead and inflicted some of the pain that she had given Mako? She didn't know and she was not ready yet to find that out. She had enough on her mind at the moment.
With her mind and emotions still in turmoil, Mako never had the chance prepare for the attack. One moment she was rounding a corner and the next shadows came alive. She managed to dodge the first two attacks and then everything went black and she felt herself falling.
Usagi watched Mako disappear and sighing with regret she turned and headed back to the inn. She would have liked to follow her friend but she had been gone long enough as it was. Any longer and the others might send out the search party for her.
This trip to Saturn had certainly brought on more surprises than she had anticipated. The situation on the planet itself and the horrible conditions the people were living in had come as a shock to her. While she had not paid much attention at class, she still remembered that Luna had told her Saturn had been one of the most advanced societies on the solar system, their culture nearly rivaling Venus. Guilt had gnawed at her like an infested wound especially considering the citizens less than warm thoughts of Moon and its part in the Civil war and their situation now. Usagi felt like she should have done something, though she didn't know what. Was her mother even aware of how bad the situation was? Surely she would not just sit by and do nothing if she saw this? There were so many questions she wanted to ask and all led back to the ending of self-imposed exile for the answer. The resolution did not sit very well with her. Not only because she knew she would miss being close to Endymion and the presence of her new friends but because she feared the reactions of her old friends.
Mako's reaction shouldn't have come as a surprise to her but it still did. Maybe it was because she didn't expect it. Of her four friends, Mako had always been the most supportive and nurturing, something like an older sister that she could turn to when she had problems with. Usagi had always figured Mako would be the one who would support her decision the most.
The question was if Mako felt like this then what about the others? Recalling Rei's fiery temper and Usagi couldn't help to wince. Mako might have the lightning temper but it was nothing like Rei's when hers erupted. She would not spare Usagi especially when it came to hurting the feelings of one of their other friends. Rei's fierce loyalty could be a double edged weapon sometimes.
"Hey squirt. What's with the face?" A familiar voice asked.
Looking up Usagi watched Zoisite come emerging out of the inn.
"Nothing. Must be something I ate." Usagi told him with a weak smile.
He nodded his head in understanding. "Yeah good hygiene isn't exactly something one is likely to find here."
"Where are you heading off to?" Usagi asked, changing the subject.
Zoisite shrugged. "Hunting information what else? Jade just got back so I'm relieving him. Besides I don't want to be in the same room with him and Calvin." Calvin was the name Kunzite used while they stayed here.
Usagi looked up towards the windows on the second floor even though she wasn't able to see anything. "You think Calvin will ever forget about the incident and let Jade off the hook?" She asked with worry tinting her voice.
Zoisite put his hands into the pockets of his pants. "Don't know, doesn't matter though since Jade is most unlikely to forget or forgive himself."
It was true, ever since that attack at the Anniversary party, Jadeite had changed. While he still acted carefree off duty, there was certain coldness in him, a calculated look that he wore when in battle that he didn't have before. It was as if he was a completely different person and it scared Usagi. She wanted the old Jade back, the fun loving prankster and charmer that she first befriended on Earth.
"Go get some sleep, you look wrecked." Zoisite told her and tussled her hair. She gave him a glare. "Stop doing that I'm not a kid anymore."
In reply Zoisite snorted. "Forget it, you're youngest. You'll always be the kid. Trust me I'm an expert."
"No wonder you welcomed me so easily to the group then." Usagi muttered under her breath.
"What was that?"
"N… nothing. I'll just head on upstairs. See you later." Without another word, Usagi quickly rushed in to the inn. She did not hear the chuckling sound the young general made behind her before he headed off to do his business.
From the deep shadows of one of the alleyways, a pair of dark eyes watched the smaller one of the pair run in to one of the more respectable establishments of Saturn even as the other one headed down the street away from where she was hidden. She did not pay much attention to him.
Time passed but the observer held herself still and soon the same slight form was silhouetted against one of the windows along with a taller and larger form. Her eyes flickered towards the other window where the shoulder of another large frame was easily distinguished and a small smile danced across the woman's stony features.
Satisfied with the result of her work, the woman held herself still for another few moments. Truth to tell dressed in tight-fitting black clothes and with hair as dark as midnight, hiding in an alleyway that was as dark as the deepest pitch of the night and of whom no sane person would enter unless he or she was looking for trouble, the woman was quite safe from detection; at least as safe as anyone can be in a dangerous place like Saturn. Yet the woman did not dare to take any chances. Despite her recent rise in position, there were enough fools lurking around that would be more than happy to cut her throat for the clothes she wore to bother finding out her identity first. Hunger, cold and poverty did that to a person. And the Saturnian's have been living long enough in this hell not to give a damn about much aside from surviving a day at a time.
Finally when the woman was sure enough time had passed, she moved slowly backwards and sunk deeper in to the alleyway. She moved swiftly and with a deadly silent grace, her lithe body moving fluidly as she climbed the walls and jumped between roofs, strode (one never walked slowly on the streets of Saturn, not unless one wanted trouble to come to haunt you) along the filthy streets and ran underneath the pungent labyrinth sewers.
As she moved across the city, she also dispatched a half a dozen stalkers following her steps. Two were only fools thinking a mere slip of a girl was an easy target to rob; she let them sleep off their headache in the gutter. The other four had more evil intention and their blood was still mingling with the green/brown water of sewer water where she left them. She doubted there would be much left of them to identify once their bodies were found. Even as she left, beggars were fighting and pulling at the corpses' clothes and soon she knew the dogs, rats and crows would take care of the rest.
The killing did not bother her. It was either them or her and she was a survivor after all. She knew her opponents would have not shown her any more mercy than she did. Actually the items in her pocket just proved that.
She reached her destination and was forced to go through the same kind of tedious procedure like any other visitor. Her lips turned into a grim small line as she walked down the narrow hallway towards the heart of the place where her boss was waiting. She fully knew that the procedure was not necessary and had most probably been an insistence on Lynx part. The man saw her as a threat to his position and would do anything to undermine her in the eyes of others.
Never mind that, she would deal with him afterwards.
The long hallway, which acted both as a headquarter and messhall for those following Criton, was quite empty, not that Criton had a lot of men in his employment compared to the other warlords to begin with.
Criton was sitting by the table near the hearth which was lit at the moment. Wood cost a fortune on Saturn but it was a cost Criton was willing to pay since he liked it warm. As it was now, the place felt like the inside of a furnace, more than a few of the men were wearing large patches of soaked sweat on their clothes. None though complained, on Saturn the voice of your leader was the voice of God, and one did not complain because the outcome was far too horrible.
"Ah, Raven. You're back. Found anything interesting?" Criton greeted, his sharp dark eyes taking in the bloodstains on her clothes.
"Trouble would be more like it." Lynx observed from the corner, casting a disdainful look at her before he resumed polishing his weapons.
"Nothing I couldn't handle." Raven replied glibly and fished out the marks she had in her pocket and threw them on the table in front of Criton. One mark rolled down to the floor, landing not far from Lynx's boot. The glaive imprinted on top of the brass was quite visible. The mark used to be worth something, at least before the Civil War today they were worthless and only members of a certain gang carried these.
"Druscilla seems a bit too interested in our business." Raven pointed out.
"Provided that the men you killed really were sent from her." Criton mused.
Raven shrugged. "They were not being very cooperative in giving out information."
"A dead body can hardly speak." Lynx said with a dry voice.
"Not necessarily." Raven could not help to shoot back if only to rile the man. Her reply had the effect she wanted, the lean faced man turned dark.
It was a known among the gang that Lynx hated necromancy, the dark art that had somehow sprung up from the dead in recent years. Not that anybody knew who practiced it but desecrated corpses with the ritual carving had been sighted here and there before the animals took care of them. No human would touch those bodies fearing the curse.
Criton only smiled. Unlike many people he did not believe in the dark arts and was well aware that Raven only said it to annoy his second-in-command. The silent war between those two amused him a great deal.
"So what have you got for me then?"
Raven's dark eyes lit satisfaction. "Something that I'm sure would validate an audience with the Chief himself."
One of Criton's brow arched up and from the corner of her eyes, Raven could even see that Lynx had stopped his polishing as his whole attention was caught. Knowing that she had caught both of theirs undivided attention, Raven told them all she saw in brief words.
"You are sure about this?" Criton asked, fingering his chin absently as he pierced her with his dark eyes. The force of the look was enough to give her shivers but she was careful of not letting it show.
She could see from the slight smile dancing on his lips that he was satisfied but she was not sure whether it was due to her simple answer or the calm look in her eyes when she replied him. He was by far one of the most dangerous men she had ever met. It was sometimes a fine line between giving a good impression and appearing too dangerous in his eyes. Raven did not know what it was that she had done now but she was more than a bit relieved when she heard him say, "Lynx, find Rat and ask him if he can arrange for us to meet Bear tonight. Tell him there will be three of us."
Raven could not hold back the thrill she felt. Finally she was getting somewhere.
Despite the darkness, the chill and the danger, Zoisite walked through the streets like he had all the time in the world. It was because he found so many things interesting, everything that he laid eyes on. Saturn fascinated him like one of his inventions. The whole history behind the fall of a once powerful planet was like a puzzle of how the dark side of humans worked.
Greed, jealousy and revenge, strong human emotions, combined they not only destroyed a family but brought the downfall on of the third most powerful nation in this galaxy.
Ces'Nedr an old family name and one that has been connected to the rulers of the Saturn throne for the past six hundred years. It was by far the longest any family had ever held the rulership of a planet in this solar system, even Mars known for their ancient traditions and long history could only claim the same ruling family for half a millenium. And all that history and proud heritage ended because of one man: Torunor Ces'Nedr.
Unlike his precedessors, Toruror was only interested in one thing; his own pleasure. As long as they were fulfilled whether his subjects were prosperous or suffered did not matter to him. The selfishness and the combined ruthlessness did nothing to appeal him to his subjects; neither the poor nor the rich. The later might have been a bit surprising if it weren't for the fact that he had cuckolded so many of his subjects' wives and mistresses. If there was one thing women could not stand was the fact of being discarded by another woman and if there was one thing men could not stand was having his woman stolen from him and made the laughing stock of the court. And so the scheming started and plans were made.
The famine, Zoisite mused, was just the perfect opportunity needed for the different fractions to make their move. By the time the armies of the Alliance, led by King Ares of Mars and King Tristan of Uranus arrived on Saturn, Torunor, as well as his son, the Crown Prince and his family had already been killed and a full fledged Civil War was breaking out between two fractions who claimed equal rights to the throne: Zelthar, Torunor's nephew and Rezun Torunor's cousin. It wouldn't really surprise Zoisite if it later came out that either or both had been involved in the massacre of the Crown Prince and his family. With so much inbreeding, all sorts of illnesses could be found there, even illness of the mind.
Zoisite shook his head sadly. With rulers such as Ces'Nedrs it was no wonder all kind of filth gathered here and prospered. The whole planet itself was like the fabled Sodd Gomorra, the city of sin itself.
And now they were not only here, they were trying to nestle themselves into its very core, the Death Tournaments.
Zoisite shook his head, chuckling mentally. He wondered if they had not all gone mad.
All of a sudden his moves changed from gentle amusement to serious alertness. He sensed the danger and acted accordingly. His hand immediately darted to the sword resting against his lean hip even as he mentally prepared to summon up crystals if he had to. He kept walking as if nothing had happened but his eyes quickly scanned his surroundings.
The place was not anywhere near different from all the others he had passed the past few days. At least it didn't appear to be outwardly. The only thing was that there was a strange eeriness in the entire place. A coldness that made a grave seemed warm.
The hair at the back of his neck rose when he realized the danger was coming from everywhere as he stared and met the eyes of street inhabitants. Black eyes completely without whiteness, stared lifelessly at him everywhere he looked. Men, women and children all stared back at him with those dead looks.
Pretending to blend in was out of the question now. By the looks of things his cover seemed to have been blown already.
Quickly calculating the odds, Zoisite decided it would be wiser to just run and deal with the consequences later rather than to stay and find out what was to come.
As if sensing his change of mood, the zombie like humans started to move, those closest attacking him with whatever they had, be it weapon, sticks, stones or just hands. They were really no match for him, most of them weren't even knowledgeable in the arts of fighting. Something in the way they moved and acted told him that they were dead but he still felt a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach when he had no choice but to use his sword against a kid no older than eight. The fact that it was either the child with a foot long butcher knife in his hand or him did nothing to comfort him.
The good thing was he was small and quick on his feet, the only one he had met who could match him in speed was Jadeite. He was nearing the end of the street and what looked like his escape when suddenly a voice started chanting. While he could not understand anything, Zoisite could actually feel his blood run cold as he heard the strange words being uttered in that cold, guttural language.
He swore when he realized that it wasn't just his blood that was running cold, his limbs were actually slowing down. Even as his mind screamed at them to move it was as if his body wasn't able to comply. He could feel himself backing away in his mind, slowly retreating until he felt like he was watching himself in a third person's point of view.
The pavement, the cobbled street where stones were missing came nearer and nearer as his body slipped and he began to fall. The pain as he hit the hard surface was dully noted. Having being tackled to the ground plenty of times during training he knew the pain should be sharper, but somehow because he was sensing things distantly the pain seemed to have become shielded from him as well.
The world shifted and he was rolled over. He stared up at the group of people with dead eyes gazing at him and he felt dread crawling up his body like a spider. The voice continued to chant in the background.
From the corner of his eyes, he saw darkness edge closer, slowly covering him like a blanket of spiderweb. He didn't feel anything when the former pedestrians started to tie him up. He couldn't feel anything anymore.
AN: Well here's update for those of you who are still following this story. I'm really sorry it took me so long to get this out but I haven't been feeling very inspired lately especially with this story. I still like it though and I would still like to continue writing it but unfortunately it won't be one of my priorities.
For those of you wondering about Mako's out of character behavior especially with Usagi more will be explained in the next chapter.
As always my special thanks to two great writers charliechaplin2 and K.Wyse whom without their help I would never have been able to finish this chapter at all. And a special thank you to Mandy who also helped by hounding me to update. =) And last but certainly not least to you, for taking the time reading my story.