Title: Light in the Dark
Author: Girl Who Writes
Feedback: Always welcome.
Character: Setsuna/Minako (as Inanna), Ensemble.
Word Count: 4,487
Summary: It takes her a long time to notice - remember? - that when Setsuna lets the candles dim, Inanna dims too. She is nothing but a golden outline against the darkness and she wonders what it will take for her to go out.
Notes: It's been a long time between fics, huh? I've started my first novel, got into art school (argh, I'm so nervous!) and a lot of other bits and pieces. I also have a tumblr – lexiewrites – where I post random multi-fandom headcanons and drabbles.
I'm also on AO3 as GirlWhoWrites, and I have two invite codes, if anyone else would like to start a profile there – just leave your email address, first come first served
As for this fic, I started it ages ago, left it and when I came back to it, the ending sort of wrote itself. I like it how it is, so voila! Hopefully, this year, I'll be posting something at least once a month – that's my goal, at least.
Disclaimer: The characters of Sailor Moon belong to Toei, Bandai and Naoko Takeuchi. I make no profit from this fan-based venture.
That is the first thing anyone ever noticed about the place beyond the Gates of Time.
It is not the cold of winter. It was a deeper, heavier cold that went straight into the bone. It was a cold that spoke of time and death, of solitude and nothingness.
It was a place Inanna never saw in life.
Mist swirled at knee height - it looked more like a heavy vapor but when you touched it, but there was no water in it. Just dead air occasionally parting to reveal the ancient, cracked grey stone. A crumbling grey staircase occasionally rose out of the mist, leading to nowhere, and sometimes she thought she could make out the patterns painted on the tiles. An ornate flower, a skull...
Sometimes doors appear. Glossy black ones, with two narrow doors but no handle nor lock. Occasionally there was one, but they usually showed up in groups - the most Inanna ever saw was thirteen. And when she turns around, they are gone again.
How does she explain what she did?
If anyone was still alive, their fury would be the end of her. All her teachers, the ones that taught her the intricacies of her duty, were dead before she took their post and are woven into the fabric of Time and Space now, with no voice to bring their wrath down around her.
She was a good acolyte. She read and watched and listened and studied. She learned the ancient magic along with everything else, because the solemn girl from Pluto could never call those powers to her hand. A Princess and a senshi, yes, but those magicks were lost, and it takes so very much power to drag lost magic up again.
But she was on that battlefield. She had blood splashed across her face, warm blood that felt too hot. She felt bone resist and shatter in a split second, as she brought her staff down again. She saw eyes wide in terror, tears on faces and the high, keening wails of those stuck in long, slow deaths.
And then a cold hand grasped hers. They would go forward in Time (but wasn't that her domain?) and try again - a better life. She would not. She would remain at her post, and would wait and watch.
Selenity used the forbidden power, the power that crossed into the realm of Time and Space, and even on the battlefield, she could hear the roar of the spirits at the Gate, enraged that someone not of the blood was calling their power to her hand.
And then the Moon Queen was dead (long live the Queen), the Princess was dead, the senshi were dead, everything was dead and gone, and there was blood drying on her face and rage and grief and she did what anyone would do.
She reached for the light.
She is just a shade, and most of the time she remembers that. She remembers Luna telling them about shades, when Clem found it mentioned in a book (she remembers little things like that, little threads of thought she grasps at that make her seem a little more whole). Shades, a fragment of a soul that remains behind when the spirit passes on to Elysium.
A fragment. That is what she is. Sometimes she is dreamy, nothing but strings of happy thoughts that talks and talks. Sometimes she forgets she is dead and begs Setsuna to take her back to the Moon because she cannot stand the dark and cold a minute longer, and aren't the others wondering where they are?
And sometimes she is stuck in that moment of death that no soul is supposed to remember. The pain of her death is fresh and still ripping her apart, and she can still see the battlefield, littered with the bodies and stained with the blood... there is blood on her dress and on her face and she screams with rage and pain and horror. Setsuna holds her then and they sit together in the mist, on the floor that feels more like bone than any kind of stone to Inanna.
She reads about it as soon as she returns to her post, the book little more than dust and linen that cannot crumble away, the ink faded and stained. That little piece of light she has taken, she knows is her Inanna. The golden glow is unmistakable. And who else would she reach for?
The book is reluctant to give her answers but she puzzles over them until the mist has settled on her skin, a pattern not unlike icicles forming on the surface of water.
A shade. A tiny piece of someone to remain behind, usually out of anger. But almost always the anger of the shade, not of someone left behind. It was that fury and panic that gave her the power, the thought that she could do her duty if there was something beyond her door, but not if everyone and everything was dead and gone. Not on the slim hope that Selenity managed to capture more than a dozen souls and send them to a specific time and place to live another life in a moment those souls were desperately fighting against the pain and fear their deaths had incited in them.
She wanted something. Someone. A tiny piece of hope, of comfort and faith.
No. She wanted more than that. Inanna was the one that knew her best, that knew her faults and her weaknesses, and never looked at her with anything but joy.
She expects the little light to escape from her grasp and follow the rest of its self to Elysium, to peace until it is called again, as she releases it.
It doesn't, it hovers at eye level and the mist on her skin disappears as its light hits it.
No matter that the shame of what she has done hangs heavy in the air, when the little light stays with her, she feels like, maybe, this isn't the wrong thing after all.
They have a space beyond Time, where the grey bone-stone floors always lead. There is an ancient black chaise that is torn and stained that Setsuna curls up on. Her chair is tall and round, and she curls into it, and tries to remember what fabric feels like on skin. There is a looming stone bookcase that is crammed with books and scrolls, odd little gadgets and tools that never seems to end, it just disappears into the mists that swirl upon their heads.
A shining black stone fireplace sits behind them. Inanna hates it, the rock chipped away in a design of skulls and symbols. It spits a strange grey fire that is not fire but smoke (Inanna knows fire. Ama was fire. When they were fourteen, they went to Agni City and into the dragon caves that were lined with fire. She misses the warmth.) The smoke-fire twists around everything like vines and sometimes, Inanna wonders if that is where the mist is born. It seems too alive to just 'be', and there is something alive about the silvery flames that dull and thin as they move.
Candles hover above them - never more than a dozen, and if Setsuna sleeps, they dull. She is utterly terrified that one day, they will simply go out and Setsuna will never wake and she will be lost in cold and mist forever.
It takes her a long time to notice - remember? - that when Setsuna lets the candles dim, Inanna dims too. She is nothing but a golden outline against the darkness and she wonders what it will take for her to go out.
If Time could be measured in that place, it would have taken weeks and weeks of meditation and reading to work out how to get that little light to remember itself. Setsuna would close her eyes and try her hardest to drag up the oldest of magic from the mist and the stone, and when she opened her eyes again, dust and mist covered her skin and she was so cold she thought perhaps her time had come and she was becoming part of the Gate like those who had come before her.
But the little light stayed.
And then, finally...
She is there and so much of what Setsuna remembers. The golden hair and eyes, the smile and the joy and Inanna flings her arms around her and for a second, Setsuna forgets that shades are never corporeal. The book doesn't say much else on the matter, but that is dismissed by the feeling of Inanna's arms around her and she thinks she starts to cry...
She is icy when she opens her eyes, her head pillowed on her arm and Inanna staring down at her, looking frightened, her arms around herself. She is more translucent now, a golden sheen reflecting off everything about her.
"Are you alright?" Inanna asks in a wobbly voice. "You... you collapsed and you were so still and I couldn't get help... I'm so cold."
She manages a nod before she closes her eyes again, a tear tracing her cheek. Shades are always cold, incapable of feeling any sort of heat or warmth, if they can feel anything at all - not so much as their feet upon a floor or the clothes on their back.
Inanna always hated being cold.
She asks for so many things and hates herself for it. She can see that Setsuna needs her, in how haunted her eyes are now. They touch only rarely, a quick kiss that is more a brush of the lips, a brush of the hand. Any more and she is corporeal again, almost a real girl through Setsuna's desperation and some instinct she has and cannot control, that she must draw the energy into herself to try and make herself whole again. Every attempt leaves Setsuna shaken, if not unconscious and drained.
She asks for light and there are candles, but not enough to light the space. She begs and begs and then there is light and the space recoils against it, the mists hissing and curdling against them both and all Inanna can see is death and the darkness beyond the light.
The light cannot and does not stay.
She complains of the cold and it makes Setsuna so sad that she hates herself even more. She feels as if she has been carved out of ice and no matter what clothing she makes herself wear, the iciness creeps along her limbs.
It takes her far too long to acknowledge this is a warning. The cold is a reminder she should not be here, she is Wrong. The mists whisper that Something is Wrong, the smoke from the fire circles her lazily, like she is its prey and now the cold creeps steadily on.
They spend hours reading. Inanna likes the old diaries of her ancestors that the bookcase provides. She likes the coloured fashion portfolios and the forgotten letters crammed into tiny boxes.
Setsuna reads the oldest of the books and scrolls. When Inanna tries to read them, the characters jump around on the page and then run away to hide in the margins, and Setsuna shrugs and simply tells her that Plutonian is a very hard language to read.
That makes her laugh, and she spends a long time talking to the characters, coaxing them back on the page. The day - or time, since they are nowhere with nothing - that she finally convinces the book to talk back to her, she is giddy and laughing. She and Setsuna lean over the book and read its stories, Setsuna translating the bits she cannot read.
Inanna somehow convinces the book to teach her to write the Plutonian script, and jokes that the girls will never believe her when she explains that a book taught her to write.
They both shrink in on themselves then, remembering that beyond tiny fragments of joy and amusement, that Setsuna is alone and there is nobody else left except an enchanted book that happens to be shy and a little golden light projecting a glimpse of a girl who died on a battlefield an eternity ago.
When Inanna's memories unravel, it is ugly. Setsuna cannot touch her but she must calm the screaming, crying girl down. She must temper Inanna's rages and frustration, but the words refuse to pass her lips.
"I'm sorry Inanna, but you're dead."
"You died a long time ago, Inanna."
"I'm sorry, Inanna."
Right now, it is rage. Incandescent rage, she is a swirl of bright gold, finally living up to the title of 'shade'. She kicks things - the little furniture they have, a table and a footstool - and throws things and screams abuse at everyone and everything - at the Earth Kingdom for the war, for Endymion for touching sweet Serenity, for Serenity for sneaking into that garden, for Serenity throwing herself on that wretched blade, the other senshi for not fighting harder, longer, better...
And then cold golden eyes fall on Setsuna.
"Where were you?" she yells, throwing up her arms. "Sisters in arms, always appearing during the easy moments, but where were you when we needed you?"
"Inanna, I had to be here," Setsuna says gently, repeating what she has said hundreds of times. "If Beryl had crossed the Gate..."
"NO. You should have been with us, Setsuna! You should have died with us! But instead, you hide here, hide behind an ancient 'duty' that allows you to escape! You didn't have to die in the mud!" Inanna is screaming now and more corporeal than she has ever managed on her own before. "We were always told that you were the best of us, tucked away alone up here and we believed it! We believed it when the truth is, you aren't. You're the worst, staying here and watching people die and suffer and not trying to help! Maybe we could have won if you'd be there..."
"Serenity was dead before the battle, Inanna," Setsuna interrupted. "I couldn't have saved Serenity."
Inanna picked up a book and hurled it into the fireplace, the flames and smoke scattering away from the sudden intruder. "NO. Don't you dare make those excuses to me. You think you're so strong, staying here all the time and leaving us to fight, that you have to be strong not to join us but it's just weakness. Weakness and cowardice that made you stay away. You didn't want to die any more than we did, but we went out there and fought and died." Inanna stopped, panting and glaring.
Setsuna stood, retrieving the book from the fireplace, smoothing smoke off its cover. "Are you quite finished?"
"You're a true coward, Setsuna," Inanna said poisonously. "Why else am I here?"
The book sails towards her, and through her, and Inanna is gone with a gasp and swirl of gold light and mist. The book hits the stone floor with a dusty thump and as Setsuna retrieves it, she does not look for a little golden light.
Setsuna returns from beyond the Gate, a deep cut down one cheek and a patchwork of bruises across her body. But as she kneels before the Time Stream, the silvery-blue threads are orderly, neat and singing. It is a low hum, like an organ and a violin together.
The mists curl against her cheek and her body, an icy burn and the wounds are gone. She slips back through the thin doors and to her place beside the bookcase.
The little light has not reappeared since she threw that book at Inanna. The book that talks back to them has asked for her but Setsuna is too tired and ashamed to explain.
I brought the girl I loved back as a shade with me after she died because I couldn't bear to be alone and I didn't make it to the battlefield in time to protect or save her, or even die beside her.
The mists are happier, and so is the smoke. They knew Inanna was out of place, and constantly hummed in the back of her head, a thousand voices complaining together that she was Wrong and Setsuna had to fix it. Now she is gone, they are silent, waiting.
And Setsuna is alone.
She follows the bone-stone path into the darkness, alone.
She is little more than vapor, now, little more than a idea of a girl in a golden dress that follows the path into the darkness and death.
Inanna has no idea where she is going, where the path ends, but she keeps walking.
And then there is light.
It is the real, pure light that Inanna remembers from life and she is warm again. She can feel the light fabric against her body, the cold smoothness of the stone beneath her...
She opens her eyes after a second, and there is a figure. A woman with silver eyes and blue lips, with hair of smoke and mist coiled loosely around her head in a style that she half recognizes.
"My dear girl," the figure murmurs, smiling gently. "You found your way."
"Who are you?" Inanna brushes her hair off her shoulders, relishing the heaviness of long hair once again, that feeling of being anchored to the ground, of her eyelashes brushing her skin as she blinks. The tiniest of thrills, of pleasure.
"Somnia, Inanna. It's time you left this place," Somnia is so pretty, but seems to made entirely out of mist and smoke, even the ruffles and gathers of her dress. She smells like dampness, like moss and the Jovian violets that carpeted Elektra's greenhouse.
"I need to tell Setsuna where I'm going," Inanna says faintly as a doorway of ornate iron appears before her.
"You don't need to do that, Inanna. Setsuna knows," Somnia is so kind, and Inanna hasn't felt so wonderful in so long. This part of the Gates is much prettier, with shining silvery tiles. Even the door is prettier, of iron curled into flowers and leaves.
She looks down at the tiles, at her reflection - her hair glossy, woven with tiny gold and white pearls; her gold tiara perched on her head; her dress is palest gold, the bodice swirling patterns in tiny pearls. Around her throat is the Magellan Topaz - the size of the palm of her hand, it is a golden topaz with a heart of deepest blue, the only jewel of its kind. For so long, it had rested with the crown jewels. Now it was hers.
But a thin gold chain is also wrapped around her throat - much longer than the topaz, it is tucked down the front of her dress and when she draws it out, the sadness she feels is like a physical blow. A smooth scarlet stone, smaller than a coin, with a flaw in the center, like a drop of gold. Worthless, she knows. They are used to trim clothing and for cheap jewelry on Pluto; one with a flaw such as this would have been cast off.
"Inanna," Somnia reaches out and touches her face so kindly that Inanna is reminded of her grandmother, and the necklace falls from her fingers. "It's time to go."
Inanna nods, and the doors swing open. She's on a little stone ledge, pink and yellow flowers peeking through the gaps. A bridge stretches before her, and she can see the gardens, full of flowers. Women in beautiful dresses, and men in brightly coloured coats.
And then she sees.
Two ribbons of long blonde hair.
A scarlet dress.
The sound of laughter.
And she is running, over the bridge and her feet sink into the grass, her skirts flying out behind her.
The sun is so warm against her skin, and she just wants to dance here forever.
They are so happy here. They are almost always together, by the side of the lake. The Princess refuses to budge from the side of the lake, insisting that they are waiting for someone. She just can't remember what. They do not mind. They swim in the clear blue water. They climb trees for ripe fruit. There are endless games for them to play. They make chains of flowers and turn them into crowns.
They find feathers - long, in pale colours of blue and pink and green and white - and spend a long, sunny day picking berries to crush into ink, to write their names on the papery bark of the trees.
But they do not remember their names. The girl in white is the Princess, they agree on that. The girl in blue is the Reader, bringing a book of endless pages with her everywhere. The one in green is the Flower, because they are tumbling from her hair, from her dress, rise from the soil at the twitch of her fingers. She and the one in red have no names, no terms. It doesn't matter, anyway. They each know when they are being addressed, instinctively. The one in red is beautiful, as they all are, and is wise and happy - there is not one thing that they can pinpoint that simply sums her up.
They give up on the names on the bark, but she picks up the white feather and dips it in the berries, the curlicues forming characters, a sentence.
"Oh, what does it say?" the Princess asks, peering over her shoulder.
"I don't know how to read those," the Reader says innocently.
As the five of them watch - are there supposed to be more? The Princess certainly thinks so, but in a happy, anticipating way. She's sure they will arrive soon, she's utterly certain - the characters wriggle and dance, and they squeal with delight.
"It says that its a very hard language to read," she giggles, her own sentence forgotten and lost. They spend the day playing with the words, watching them dance and rearrange themselves into riddles. But when they ask the words if they know their names, the lines fall off the page and they don't come back.
They watch the gardens for a while. There is a girl in a purple dress on the other side of the lake, sleeping amongst flowers of pink and white. Sometimes she sees aquamarine hair out of the corner of her eye - usually, when there is a breeze that sends skirts and hair flying - but she never glimpses the owner.
She wants to swim across the lake, and wake up the sleeping girl and ask her to join them, but the lake seems so much bigger every time she tries, and the Princess doesn't smile when she drifts too far away from them.
"You walked alone, all pale and faded for so long, you wouldn't come and sit with us," the Princess explains "We were so happy when you joined us."
"Was I the one you're waiting for?" she asks.
The Princess shakes her head and opens her mouth, but says nothing. A downward quirk of the lips. "She'll wake up, and … they'll be here soon, and we'll all be together. I can't wait."
She has waited. She has been a guardian. She has been a soldier.
Now she is a grave robber.
She finds herself on the long dead planets of her comrades. She digs through mud and bone, looking for her quarry. She find feral monsters hiding in the shadows, after decades of feasting on rotting flesh, and she kills them with a steady hand and a cold gaze. Their blood feels heavy against her face, but she wears it as she ventures into the shells of the castles.
She liberates things. Magical items, items of such power they should not be left unguarded. Historical items, items that have been passed down since the time of the gods - swords and fans, books and paintings. Precious personal items that will not be ground into the mud like so much else - a worn toy rabbit that had been Serenity's companion during her infancy, a small gold tablet from Amaranthine's private altar.
A cracked hair comb still clinging to several strands of turquoise hair.
She finds it by accident; the tinkling of metal as she steps on, embedded in dirt and plaster. Its golden setting is scratched and dented; the chain is gone and she dips it in a puddle of murky water to scrape the dried blood off it.
The center of the golden jewel is deep blue; a seamless change from gold to blue, droplets of brown-red water shining on its surface.
At first, she hoped she would find something that would call the little light back; maybe a link of a golden chain, or a dented tiara.
And then, maybe draw the old magic up from the depths with talismans from their lives.
And finally, a way to break her own chains, to breathe one last time and be released from duty, obligation and grief.
Now, now she has no grand plans, no final grasps of peace and rest.
She is and always will be, alone. There is no peace with that sentence, but acceptance that has come with a numbness, and a distance. She is a soldier, she is the solder, the last, and every second chained to doors without locks hardens her to her task, her fate.
She takes the jewel with the rest, and continues on.
An amethyst on a chain, covered in blood.
A dented gold and leather cuff that clearly stopped the path of a sword.
A single earring, cut into the shape of a pink flower.
A golden rose pin encrusted in foreign mud.
Her existence is that of a collector, an archivist of despair.
And there are no lights guiding her way.