The Silver Millenium began when the Silver Queen and her host arrived in the solar system and settled among the nine planets orbiting the hospitable star, Sol. For more than a thousand years, she ruled her domain with stern compassion, and she was a Goddess to her people. Just as the start of her reign marked the beginning of that age, its end heralded a great darkness where her people became lost in the sands of time. This is the tale of the ones that found each other in a distant future at the end of another age.
My Love's Flame
A Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon Crossover
by Ryan Erik
Chapter Twenty Four
Butterflies fluttered in Sailor V's stomach as she perched on the arch above the gate of the Hikawa Shrine. She scanned the courtyard from her vantage point, but none of the temple's inhabitants were about. The shrine was dark. Aside from a few lamps lighting the temple's pathways, there was only moonlight for her eyes, but it was more than enough.
Coming to this place days before had been grasping at straws in her and Artemis' search for answers. She'd come here after weeks of being back home and turning over every loose stone in their search for answers. Their search for the Princess and the remaining guardians hadn't borne any fruit or unlocked any of her memories since her final confrontation with the Dark Agency. Without her, the best she could do was ward off the darkness.
"The Princess," she whispered under her breath, allowing her mind to drift momentarily away from her current mission. With a glance up to the waning gibbous moon, she recalled the fragmented memories that she had recovered after learning the truth of Danburite, the fallen Venusian soldier whose soul had reincarnated beside hers only to be recruited by the enemy.
"Adonis," she said aloud, as if she could recall someone who had only watched her from afar. "Ace." The name tugged at her heart, but every tear had been spent mourning lost love. "Danburite." The name of the enemy she had slain on the night of her first performance. All of them had been one man, but his fate had always been to die on the blue planet.
"Without you, I might never have remembered my destiny," she said to the twice-dead soldier. "Thank you, Adonis."
She stood up and jumped across the temple grounds. Her hair fluttered in the wind as she sailed through the air, over the shrine, and landed in the dirt patch in the garden without a sound. She took a step forward to leap to the roof, but stopped, and looked around at the garden in the pale moonlight. Seeing it at night reminded her clearly of that moment in time five years ago.
"This is where my parents left me that night," she said, recalling her recovered memory during the fire reading. As if replaying before her, she saw the woman who had greeted her. The priestess had welcomed her like a lost child; in her mind's eye, she looked radiant. The moon had been of the same intensity that night as well, illuminating her beautiful kimono.
"I've seen that face recently," she whispered, recalling moments from the night in the foyer of the very building she revisited.
That was Hino-san's mother, she realized. And the girl on the roof was that woman's daughter.
Her brows furrowed as the pieces came together like a corner section of a jigsaw puzzle. She took a deep breath and nearly laughed upon exhaling.
"I knew her from before," she whispered, shaking her head. How many coincidences like this will occur before I remember my past life?
Sailor V closed her eyes and then tilted her head up towards the moon. She could see its faint silhouette burned into her retina as a spherical shadow.
"The Moon Kingdom," she said aloud, as if somehow speaking the name would make it return. Her mind sorted through the information she knew about it from her limited perspective. Artemis explained before that each domain had a ruler, and that a princess from each would be sent as an offering to protect the ruler and her offspring. I was one that was tasked with protecting Princess Serenity, the only daughter of the eternal ruler, Queen Serenity.
"I think I met her," she whispered, biting her lip in a manner not at all like herself. She tried to picture the woman, but her memory was fleeting. Aside from images of her childhood at the Venusian Palace that orbited around the planet, she couldn't really recall much else. The first lead she'd had in a year had been when the Hino-san's fire had illuminated the forms of five guardians.
Biting your lip just gets lipstick on your teeth, Minako's mother said in the back of her mind. It's undignified for anyone, especially for someone trying to become a pop idol. However, she didn't stop this time, when normally she might have heeded the advice. Something familiar about the action was making it easier to picture her former life's past.
"Stop biting your lip, Princess," a voice said so clearly that she started, and then spun around to look behind her. Nothing. Her spine buzzed with shock as she looked about. It had sounded deeper than anyone but her father's voice, but definitely was not his. Her heart pounded as she recollected her wits.
"Who's there?" she asked aloud, but nothing answered her.
She used her enhanced vision and scanned down the pathway to the front of the shrine. At the far end, she could read the wishes hanging in the leaves of the bamboo trees. She looked up but saw only birds asleep in trees as they swayed in the wind. Festival decorations hung everywhere, and insects moved about, but the night was empty of people aside from herself.
She then spotted a movement from the roof of the dormitory.
"That must be Ranma-kun," she whispered, experimenting with his given name. It didn't feel unnatural for her to say it as though she knew him better than she actually did. She suspected it had to do with fighting side-by-side with him the day before.
Sailor V took a deep breath, and then leapt from the garden up to the perimeter wall. She ran along it with supernatural ease. It never truly felt natural to her how she merely had to think about what she wanted to do and her body would perform feats of strength and dexterity as if she were an Olympian on autopilot.
When she neared the dormitory at the rear of the temple, she slowed. Thick foliage obscured her as she ran through the branches that hung over the wall by the garden. She didn't see Ranma on the front side of the roof as she approached it, so she continued until she ran along next to it. She saw a ladder propped up against the side of the building.
"It's just like..." she whispered, her voice cutting off when she saw the silhouette of the boy with his back against the roof, and his head just visible over the top.
"Ranma-kun," she whispered, her body stilling. The moon was directly above him, raining him in pale light that gave him a heavenly glow.
He didn't hear her as he lied against the tiles of the roof. Her skin began to tingle as she stepped across the rooftop by the ladder.
I didn't miss the jump this time, she thought, reflecting on the memory she had recovered from the fire reading with Hino-san. She crawled up and over the roof tiles and slid down to the boy's left, in the exact same spot she'd occupied in her memory. Her memory was clearer as Sailor V, just as every one of her senses was amplified.
When she closed her eyes, she remembered seeing the moon in nearly the same state, staring at the sky with the two children on the roof. She remembered the boy's face, almost as if it had superimposed itself over Ranma's.
It looks the same, she remarked to herself although in her dream, the boy's eyes were wide open, reflecting moonlight and fireworks. The boy in the present next to her had his eyes closed and breathed slowly and methodically as if asleep.
"Saotome-san?" she asked in little more than a whisper. "Are you awake?"
His hair was damp and stuck out every which way in a serious case of bedhead. He was dressed in a hand-me-down bathrobe that looked older than the boy himself.
Am I late? she wondered, but without a watch, she could only speculate.
A slight shiver rolled over the boy as he pulled his arms over his chest and rubbed his biceps through the robe.
Sailor V watched him with wide eyes, taking in every detail of his moonlight-soaked features. Almost without thinking, Sailor V slipped a glove off her left hand, and then rolled to her side to reach across and idly touch Ranma's hand. The warmth of hers was a sharp contrast with the coolness of his skin. Her body always ran significantly warmer when transformed into Sailor V, but Ranma seemed too cool even to be explained by that.
It wasn't more than a second or two after she began to touch his skin, when his forehead suddenly received her undivided attention. A bright, piercing light caught her eye and she quickly shielded her eyes, releasing his hand at the same moment.
It was gone instantly after she released him.
"What the heck was that?" she wondered aloud, her voice louder than she'd anticipated. Ranma stirred, his eyebrows furrowing. His eyes rolled underneath their lids, but he didn't waken. Instead, he jammed both of his hands under his pits for warmth.
Wait, was it because I touched him? Did that make him glow?
Sailor V reached her hand out and touched his cheek, his only other available bare skin at the moment. Her eyes couldn't have grown wider as she watched his forehead. Within moments of touching him, it began to glow. This time ready for it, the superhero watched in awe as a shape formed on his skin.
It was the sigil of Venus, the mark of one loyal to the house of Venus in the ancient Moon Kingdom.
"No way," she exclaimed, every atom in her body vibrating with energy.
This is what I've been looking for! her brain thought furiously. The connection to the past that I've been sensing was him the whole time!
Her body suddenly filled with energy and her vision blurred. For the second time in her life, she was completely overcome by memories of her past life.
"The Princess is a difficult child."
Sitting with her legs dangling through the railing at the topmost stair of the palace, the eleven-year-old child in question, wearing a yellow, sleeveless slip dress stared wide-eyed at the two men in the foyer. She paid particularly close attention to the stranger, who had entered the palace foyer and was currently speaking with her father. The Prince, her father, was a tall man wearing gold vestments that matched the color of his hair. His back was to the girl as she spied down on the two men discussing her.
"As you say, my Prince," the man said plainly with a slight accent of one an outer planet, or possibly one of the countless moons. She couldn't quite place it, as it wasn't from a place she'd met someone. The girl had only ever spoken with leadership from the Moon, Mercury and Mars when an envoy from the inner solar system arrived to mourn the loss of her mother years before. Otherwise, she'd been excluded from visits of any import.
Princess Venus looked down at the man speaking with her father and carefully examined him. He looked like a soldier, standing in direct contrast to her noble father, who could have been a golden idol. This man wore his dark black hair in a topknot with many loose strands hanging down to his neck. His face was thick with a beard, but it was not long like her family's sage, who trimmed it neatly like a sculptured shrub in the garden. This man's beard was wild and untamed.
He wore a distressed Moon Legion tabard with frayed ends over a chainmail waistcoat and carried naught but a knapsack over one shoulder and held a quarterstaff in his right hand as one would a walking stick. She thought he looked rough like a soldier or a peasant, but the deference that her father showed him told her otherwise.
"She's stubborn, like her mother," her father's voice echoed. "But without the discipline, she runs wild about the palace, as if she were but a stray cat. I'm afraid she will be a proper challenge, even for one as accomplished as yourself."
The man did not respond, his eyes glinting from the light of the crystal outcropping in the center of the room. The girl tensed as the man turned his head ever so slightly in her direction. She was ready to slip up the stairs and break for her chambers, but the man did not seem to notice her as he resumed his acknowledgment of her father.
"I have heard your price, and will pay it regardless of the result. However, if you break through to the girl, and she is a worthy successor, then you will find yourself far richer."
The girl blinked. She was always curious when her inheritance was mentioned. Pulling her legs up, she shifted to rest on her chest, and lied flat against the stair. Although the floor was marble, a red carpet stretched up to the top floor, where it cushioned her tiny body.
The man's voice was soft and not nearly as deep as her father's, whose voice sounded like he swallowed gravel daily. Although the man's next words were spoken with respect, the princess recognized his confidence. "When I have fully trained the Princess, I will take the price and not a silver more. I will not fail, and even if somehow I was unable to train her, I would not accept payment at all. However, I never fail."
We'll see about that, the girl thought to herself as she propped her head up in her right hand. Her loose, blond hair fell across her shoulders, and into her eyes, prompting her to bat at them with her other hand. Her bare elbows dug into the carpet unpleasantly, but she ignored the discomfort.
"Bold sentiment," her father remarked. "I respect your spirit, but my child has broken many men and women who thought themselves capable. Your pedigree awarded you this chance, but do not underestimate her."
Does he slight me, or is this praise? the girl wondered, her heart beating quickly as she watched them quietly.
Without any warning, the gate burst open, causing both men to turn to the intruders. A small detachment of palace guards, recognizable by the crest of their family glowing softly on their foreheads as they came into the light of the crystal hearth. A moment after they entered, a small man in a brown robe followed behind. He wore a mantle over his clothes with the sigil of the crescent moon.
He's a messenger from the Queen, the girl immediately thought, recognizing the specific emblem marking him to be of the ruling family. The girl's heart jumped as she watched the next exchange, and she breathed quicker as she drank in the event.
The men bowed to her father, who nodded.
"Forgive us, Prince Regent," the captain of the guard, a short woman in almost form-obscuring palace guard armor apologized upon coming face to face with her lord. "This one demanded to speak with you immediately. He has the Queen's mark."
The small man held a crystal out to her father, which glowed bright for a moment, and then the crescent moon with the single point star, the Queen's sigil, glowed in the air mysteriously. The girl drew in a hushed breath as she saw it appear, and shortly afterward, disappear.
"Very good," the Prince, her father, said loudly. "Take him to my study. I would speak with him alone."
"Yes, Prince Regent," the captain said with a bow. "You two, head back to your posts. I shall show our guest to the Prince's study."
With the newcomers departing in different directions, her father turned to the other guest, who had not moved through the entire encounter.
"Life is always interesting here, so close to the capitol. We are always called upon by our Queen."
"Has she...?" the man began, but stopped his words as if he caught himself from misspeaking. The way his words were barely audible, he seemed less confident of them than he had when he spoke of his price. "Does the Queen come here often?"
"Not since my lady passed," her father told the man, his eyes following the guard captain and the messenger from the Queen. "If you will excuse me, I am afraid I will have to show you to my daughter later. Queen Serenity's business cannot wait."
The man bowed deeply to her father, who only nodded. The stranger's next words came suddenly to the girl, and she drew in a sharp breath as he spoke. "By your leave, my Prince, I shall likely find her on my own without much effort."
Her father nodded again, walking in the direction of his study. "Be wary of that girl. She may only be eleven years of age, but she is knows every corner of this estate. If she takes to hiding, you will only find her when the dinner bell summons her to the dining room."
"I will remember that, my Prince," the man said as he bowed his head.
When the man turned in her direction and began to walk towards the stairs, she realized it was high time to follow her father's unintentional advice. Hiding until dinner wasn't what she had planned to spend her afternoon doing, but it was quite a bit more preferable to being lectured by an outsider.
Her heart leaped as she turned and crawled up the remaining steps to the top of the balcony, overlooking the entry. She slipped into the hall that led through the palace and broke into a run. Her vision shook as she silently padded across the carpeted halls of the palace's upper floor. She thought quickly as her heart raced, and she turned a corner, heading for a maid's closet between empty guest bedrooms and across from the library.
She barely had time to slip in and close the door when a solitary knock resounded through the thick wood. Nearly screaming in surprise, the princess bit her knuckle of her index finger to keep silent. Her heart continued to race in her chest as she stood motionless in the center of the closet.
A bead of sweat dripped down her forehead as she stood absolutely still, waiting for the door open. She closed her eyes, and the droplet streaked down her right eyelid and gathered around her lashes. Her mouth fell agape as she as quietly as possible breathed in deeply, while rubbing her hand across her face to wipe away the sweat.
The storage room was lit by a small crystal on the ceiling, suspended by a copper chain a few feet above the Princess' head. She looked about the room and among the supplies found a small hand mirror. Quietly reaching over to it, she chanced making a bit of noise and lifted it from its metal shelf.
Holding the small mirror in front of her face, Princess Venus gazed at her reflection, and Minako was able to consciously separate herself from the Princess. The moment of cognitive dissonance unsettled her upon seeing a stranger's face. She felt vaguely aware that this was the first time that she'd seen her past self. The girl had clean, but messy hair, and wore what she'd gone to sleep with the night before. Her face was vaguely recognizable, but more like the face of a sister than her own when she was a child.
Princess Venus pursed her lips and glared at herself in the mirror. She'd run off in the morning long before her maid came to get her for breakfast, and as such her servants had little time to make the girl appear presentable. Venus had sneaked into the kitchen before the morning staff arrived to cook breakfast. A servant sympathetic to her plight worked there, and would slip the child any food she desired.
The woman had been Princess Venus' chambermaid, but had been demoted to kitchen preparation staff after failing to locate the Princess one morning. The thought of it was still burning embers of resentment in the girl's mind. She knew she was at fault for her own behavior, but couldn't respect the fact that her father had demoted the woman without even considering his own culpability as the source of her rebellion.
The princess brushed some dirt off her dress from having been lying on the stairs, before sighing loudly. She pressed her hand to her mouth when she remembered the reason for her current predicament. The wait continued, but for how long, she did not know. The dinner bell had not rung, but it felt like hours inside the small room, without a second knock or a door opening.
Gathering all of her nerve, the girl bravely tiptoed to the door, which she cracked open as slowly as she could. Even as she did, her arm shook with anticipation as she peeked out, revealing no one.
Ever vigilant, the princess slowly nudged the door open enough to peer out, and she saw only empty hall to her right where the door did not obscure her vision. She then slowly-but-surely leaned her shoulder out to peek around the door to the left side of the hall. Both sides were empty.
A victorious smile lifted her cheeks as she pulled out of her hiding spot. The elation was interrupted so fast that she never even had time to revel in it.
"Your family's collection of book is really impressive," came the peasant voice from the library. "I've only ever seen one private collection larger."
The Princess betrayed a panicked squeak as she turned to where the man stood facing a long row of books three times his height. She took a step back, bumping into the closet door, which caused it to slam shut.
"Most would assume the larger one would be the Queen's on Luna at her palace, but it is not so much a private collection, but a royal library. The rulers of the Silver Kingdom are not as erudite as one of their vassals. It is in fact the House of Mercury who have the largest private collection."
Princess Venus might have disregarded her tutors, but learning everything about the Empire was one of her hobbies. She'd spent more time at the library when other children might play in the garden. Without a tutor, she had to be her own. This of course was mostly through her own doing, but in it she found freedom that would never be afforded by a tutor employed by her father. She took her time with the details to best determine how to defeat him.
He spoke softly, but carried himself as if he never had need of strong words. At first glance, she had thought him a rough, common footsoldier, or perhaps a veteran of a war from his dress. His armor was common, and his clothing not adorned, from his chainmail waistcoat, to his bronze-colored, loose pants and a peasant's quarterstaff in his hand.
However, on closer inspection, she saw more depth to him. While his tabard was frayed and well worn, it was also mended and patched with great care. Neither did it bear the ordinary mark of the Moon Legion, a simple crescent moon, but rather the Moon and the Sword, the mark of an elite warrior who would serve with the Senshi, the guardians of the Empire.
"Why do you think that is, my Princess?" the man asked, turning to face her for the first time. Despite standing at the far end of the room and across the hall, the Princess took in every detail. His beard was wild, and his startling blue eyes pierced his black bangs. He looked old to her, though her father was in his thirties, and the golden Prince Regent looked older by a decade.
The eleven-year-old Princess stared the warrior in his eyes, and felt challenged. The words tumbled out before she realized their implausibility. "Because they have so much light?"
A sudden smile warmed the man's face and he chuckled, his light laughter reaching her clearly. "I like that. What smarter thing is there to do than to put such an abundant resource to good use?"
The princess felt as if she should have been insulted, but held her tongue as she couldn't pinpoint anything he had said that could be considered as such. Instead, she relied on her knowledge. "Princess Mercury knows everything. She's read every book in the galaxy."
"While that is likely not far from truth, the knowledge contained in every book does not make up everything."
The girl pondered his words as he approached a table and set the book in his hand down. "Please, sit with me." Unlike her father, the man had requested her presence, rather than commanding her. He placed his knapsack on the table beside the book, and then set his quarterstaff against the table.
Although her curiosity knew few bounds, the overriding sense that he was another in a long line of adults, whom her father had hired to train her to become an ideal heir and champion of the House of Venus devalued anything she imagined that she might learn from him. Rather than acknowledge him further, the girl turned, spinning on her bare heel abruptly, and began to leave.
"Before you flee," the man said suddenly, his voice calm, despite the rude intent of her action. "Princess Venus, please let me introduce myself. At least know the name of the man who may be your only friend for the near future."
Friend, she heard the word repeating in her head and she stopped before exiting the library. Since her mother's death, she had been imprisoned in her own home for safety purposes, and the house arrest would continue until she was old enough to inherit her mother's power according to her father. That meant no friends could be made outside of the small population of the palace.
"I brought you a gift, my Princess," he told her a moment later as she hesitated in the hallway. "It's yours if you join me for a moment."
With her interest piqued, the girl walked to the threshold of the library. She blinked slowly as she stared at the man. He smiled at her and patted the seat of the chair next to him. She placed the palms of her hands against the door frame, and then leaned into it.
"What is it?" she asked as she pressed her cheek up against the cold stone of the door frame.
"It's a conch," he told her, rifling through his knapsack.
"Conch," she whispered, listening to the word on her own lips. "I've never heard of that. What is it?"
"Come and see," he said, his hand resting on something inside his bag. "I promise, you will like it."
"Don't promise things you can't guarantee," the Princess told the man. "What if I don't like it?"
"Then I'll do what you ask of me," he told her. The man looked directly at her then, his eyes piercing, his lips parted. "Ask me to leave, and I will. You have nothing to lose, but have everything to gain."
The girl wet her lips as she considered his offer. A quick glance down the hall later, and she thought, Conch, such a strange word.
She took a few steps into the library and paused. "I'm going to not like it, and tell you to leave."
"Then so shall it be," he said, patting the cushion on the chair again. "But you have to tell me of your dislike only after you have judged the gift."
The girl all but skipped as she rushed to the table. She placed her fingers against its surface, and then dragged them around until she reached the empty chair. Plopping down, the girl unceremoniously sat next to the warrior.
Before she could say another word, the man removed a large object from his bag and placed it in front of her. The best she could describe it was as a large, pearlescent shell with spiny towers. It was white with all manner of colors, shiny in places, and a hard brown in others. Before lifting it, she explored every surface and crevice with her fingers, measuring it with her sense of touch.
As she lifted it, she felt it's lightness. It's hollow like a shell. She looked at the bottom, and found a pink slit the length of the shell. Running a finger down the crevice, she felt its smoothness and her mouth opened, intrigued.
"Place it to your ear," the man whispered to her. She furrowed her brow and looked at him doubtfully. When he saw her expression, his smile widened into a full fledged grin. "Place the gap there to your ear and listen."
"Why, what's that do?" she asked, her curiosity fully piqued.
"Try it, my Princess," the man told her, and then lifted his hand to his ear to encourage her. "Like this."
The Princess lifted the conch shell and pressed it to her ear. It was cool to the touch, and felt good against her cheek. Like a gentle breeze through grass, the sound of rushing air and water sent a chill up her spine. She turned to look the stranger in the eyes with an awed expression.
"Earthlings say that a conch captures the spirit of the ocean in its shell," he told her as the strange but lovely sound of Earth's oceans caressed her ear. "You cannot know the beauty of such a thing from its picture, but this shell will help you feel a piece of it."
He pushed in front of her the book he had pulled from the library's shelves. The large book was open to a page with a picture of an ocean from Earth.
"This ocean covers the entire planet, except for several large continents," he told her, pointing to a picture of the blue planet. "The Earthlings live there. I was there a lifetime ago, when heretics attempted to break away from Silver Kingdom and overthrew the House of Terra. I was a young man then, and when the conflict was settled, and all of Queen Serenity's banners went home, your mother stayed for a time."
"You knew her," the girl whispered with wide eyes. "You fought with her?"
"Aye," the man said with confirmation. "Your mother led the vanguard that rushed in to save the House of Terra from destruction, and I was there, along with the guardians from the other planets, and their banners. I was merely a boy then, but it might have been the moment the inspired me to become the man I am today."
She continued to stare at him in awe, and when he didn't continue his story, she frowned. "Tell me more. Please." Politeness was an afterthought for her, but she didn't mind it if it secured her more knowledge about her elusive mother. The woman had birthed her eleven years before, and she'd barely made an impression on the girl. All she knew of her mother had been the stories her fathers and others told.
"So, is that your decision then, Princess Venus?"
"Huh?" she whispered. "What do you mean?"
"The conch is to your liking? You seem to wish my presence now, more so than my absence."
She blinked again, bewildered by the sudden change of dialogue. As her mind connected the dots, she realized she'd let her guard down when he'd begun telling her about her mother. Looking at her hand, she realized she'd been idly polishing the smooth surface underneath the conch with her fingertips on one hand, holding it up by the spindly end on the other.
Placing the beautiful object on the table, the girl frowned and looked between it and the man. She opened her mouth automatically as if to reject the gift out of hand, and to not allow the man any ground in their first battle.
He's the only person I've ever met who knew Mother from her time in the Queen's service. Everyone always speaks of her charity and selflessness as a young woman, but no one has ever spoken of what she was like before she died.
The value of this man's knowledge outweighed her unwillingness to conform to her father's petty image of what a guardian should be.
"I won't become the perfect Princess that father wants," the girl said plainly, her voice strained. She pushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear, and focused on the man with determination in her glare. "I will not be tamed. I will not become my mother and die on some stupid planet for people I don't even know."
"Then it's in your best interest to let me teach you," the man said confidently, meeting her gaze evenly. He didn't show her disdain as the others would have, but rather seemed respectful.
"Why is that?"
He had blue eyes, beautiful like sapphire stones and dark lashes, pale against light skin. It was rare that the Princess took the time to notice someone new, as few remained in her life for more than a fortnight.
"I am here to teach you to become the master of your own destiny," he told her seriously, blinking only once. In that moment, she couldn't help but be drawn into his soulful eyes. "I'm not here to tame you, or mold you. Whatever your father's motives, mine are much simpler. I have come to train you to use your powers to fight."
The Princess' resolve thawed slightly as she listened to him. "To fight and that's it?"
"I will not lie," the man said, rising from his chair suddenly. "It will take an incredible amount of discipline on your part to master the skills that are required of your station. Becoming a Senshi, a protector of the Queen and her heirs will not be an easy task, and it will take far, far more effort from you than you can yet imagine."
The girl bit her lip as she weighed her options, and glanced down at the conch.
"I will never lie to you or feed you empty platitudes," the dark-haired man promised, turning to look at the stacks behind him. "Nor will I demand anything of you that I would not demand of myself. I will not force you to become anything you do not wish."
"Then how are you going to get paid?" she asked.
"In ten years' time, you will be every bit as strong and powerful as your mother, if not more so. This will not be because I shaped you into a simulacrum. It will because you want it. When you take a host of a thousand soldiers down to the blue planet as a general and a conqueror, it will be because you dedicated your life to the service to the Queen and to your home."
"Why do you think I'd even want that?" she demanded, confused by her conflicting desires. One one hand, this sounded good, and she wanted to be like her mother and fight like her mother, but on the other, it meant submitting to her father's will, something she hated more than anything.
"Because you're the daughter of Alexandretta of Venus."
Mother's true name, she thought, her skin prickling with bumps. "You say it as if you knew her." The implication of knowing meant more than she fully understood. The princess stared at the man, daring him to reveal more than any should.
"Your mother was my master," he told her solemnly, his eyes turbulent. "She trained me so that I could train you."
Every single atom in her body felt as if it were bursting as tears flowed freely down her cheeks. "She taught you, but not me?! Why is it this way?" The girl hit her hand against her breast. "Always I am told how wonderful she was, and how much she did for everyone, but I am the only one who did not know her. I am always the one to hear the story, and not be the one to tell it."
The man bowed his head deeply, arching his back. Although his station might have been below hers, acting as an agent of her father gave him authority over her and such an honor would not have been given out of necessity.
He spoke with deference adults rarely allowed her. "Forgive me, my Princess. I spoke incorrectly. She taught me and many others before she birthed her only daughter, and taught none thereafter."
The princess wiped her eyes as she stared at him, her brows arched in anger. "Why not me, though?"
Although she pushed and pushed, the man did not avoid her question. "I am afraid that her life was cut short before that day could happen. I am terribly sorry that she is not here to-"
"And yet you are," the girl said, unleashing every ounce of spite she could muster. "Her shadow comes to teach me in her place. Why was it not her shadow that fell instead?"
"My blood would have joined hers had I continued in her service beyond my tutelage." Again, the man didn't hide behind anything or make excuses, but merely met her words with the truth. "I would have been honored to die as such."
The sorrow in his voice triggered something deep in her beyond the jealousy she had shown him thus far. This man knew her loss, even if not to the same diameter and magnitude. He looked apologetic for not being dead, but not for her sake, but rather for his own.
"I've lost many a brother and sister to rebellions, plagues and invasions, but none wounds me as much as the loss of the your mother, Alexandretta. Her intelligence and beauty were unrivaled by all but her skill with the blade, and the Empire will mourn her death until the end of time."
She wielded the Holy Blade, the girl reminded herself. Every portrait but ones of her mother in her childhood depicted the woman in armor with the Sword of the Silver Crystal, the most powerful weapon in the entire Moon Kingdom, held only by the most accomplished and powerful guardian.
"They say that the Guardian of Mars will be the first Martian to wield the Sword of the Silver Crystal. They say she is-"
The man chuckled, shaking his head at her. "Forgive me, my Princess, but who is this 'they'? For 'they' couldn't be more wrong."
"No one," the girl said in frustration, her eyes dry after tearing up before. "How do you know this will not be?"
He said the next statement with so much confidence, that even the Princess of Venus believed it had to be true. "Because the next to wield the Holy Blade will be you, my Princess."
Sailor V nearly fell back when the memory from her past life left her, leaving her more drained than she'd felt in a while. Her body still tingled as if she'd been that girl, learning so much about a mother she'd never known. She had only been a few years younger than her current self, and yet she was now so different than she'd been in the past life.
"I was kind of a brat," she said, placing her hand against the boy's cheek again. When nothing happened, she frowned and realized the difference. "The moon." She looked up as the glow around him had vanished under a cloud.
"Minako-chan?" the boy whispered, his voice low.
Sailor V's eyes darted to the boy's, though they still appeared closed. She quickly confirmed her body with a touch to make sure her uniform and disguise magic were still in place.
"Minako-chan," he whispered again, his words turning to steam in the cold air. "Where are you?"
"Dreaming?" she asked, suddenly feeling very protective of the boy. After all of this time, she finally found another soul from the Silver Millenium. Artemis better be proud of me.
"Huh?" Ranma whispered, vocalizing his confusion. His breathing was heavy as he came to, arching his head to face the heroine.
"I thought I wasn't going to be able to talk to you after all," Sailor V told him, her voice barely more than a whisper. The boy's eyes focused on her as he rubbed his head. She placed her hand on his arm. "Are you okay? You fell asleep out here in the cold."
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said softly, tightly closing his eyes for a moment, before rolling them open again and blinking. "My eyes are just really dry."
Catching a whiff of his breath, Sailor V immediately understood. He smelled of alcohol fairly strongly. From her understanding of the boy, drinking alcohol was not something she had ever expected him to be doing on a school night, let alone any other night at his age.
"Sake will dry you out," she told him with a bemused smile. "Best drink a lot of water when you go back inside."
"How'd you know?"
She thought about her grandfather before he passed away, and remembered the wide grin on his face that signified that he'd been drinking all day. After Minako's grandmother had died, the old man had taken to sake like a fish caught and released by a fisherman would take to the sea. His booming laughter and off-color jokes were some of her favorite memories of him, but those only came well after he'd had a few.
"You smell like my grandfather after he retired," she told him truthfully, her mind dancing between the here-and-now and the past. The magic that gave her tremendous power enhanced every ability of hers, including the ability to recall minor details from her past. "Sake has a particular smell on the breath. You smell like you've been drinking all night."
The boy's face grew warm as he pushed his elbows against the roof to lift his back up to enable him to sit up. "Ah, I'm sorry 'bout that."
"I don't mind," Sailor V said, remembering the vision she experienced. She looked at him with Princess Venus' eyes and didn't truly recognize the boy before her. Of course, that man had been a fully developed adult, a soldier, and was a Selenite from a prehistoric, galactic space empire.
"Though you'll need to tell me about it sometime when we're not sitting on the roof at midnight." She regarded him evenly as he looked at her with bright blue eyes. "And when you're not drunk."
"Okay," the boy said, pulling at his robe. "I am sorry, though. I didn't mean to get all sauced up like this before seeing you. I'd never even had more than a sip before."
Sailor V chuckled, waving off his concern. "I'm not saying I'm sad I came at all, but you did have a reason for calling me here, right?"
"Yeah," he said solemnly, and then made a serious face.
"I'm trying to remember," the boy admitted. "My brain is pretty fuzzy."
"Okay, take your time," she whispered, looking back up the sky. The moon looked back as if thousands of life forms still co-existed on the celestial body that now bore no life. "Mind if I ask you a few questions while you're trying to remember?"
"I guess, sure," Ranma replied. In her peripheral vision, she caught a glimpse of him scooting down and hugging his knees. He shivered slightly when she turned to look at him again.
"Do you have any idea who I really am?" she asked seriously.
"So you have a secret identity after all?" the boy said, his voice betraying his eagerness to learn more about her. "You're not an alien, or anything?"
The question took her aback. While in a way she was an alien, she was also born from Earth, so it was difficult to answer correctly. However, it wasn't at all a lie to say what she told him. "I'm human, just like you."
"Well, not just like me," he said. "I can't do half of what you can do."
The part of her that loved the mystique of being a superhero wanted her to stop talking about this, but another part wanted him to know everything so he would remember his past life and perhaps even join her in the search for the heir to the Moon Kingdom.
"No, but we're more alike than not," she said, poking his shoulder.
The boy looked surprised by the touch, and his face warmed again. She could feel his heat grow as she was already so close.
"No, I don't know who you are," he said, shaking his head. "I only saw you that once at the convenience store. Why?"
I'm Minako, she verbalized in her head, wishing she could say it without jeopardizing both of their lives.
"You're not an average Japanese boy, you know," she replied. "You're way, way more than that."
"Whoa, are you going to teach me how to use super powers too?" the boy asked with an astonished voice.
"No," she said emphatically. "It's not something I can teach."
"So it's not a technique to unlock your chi or anything like that?"
Sailor V laughed out loud, but silenced herself quickly. "No, nothing like that."
"So, it's what, genetic super soldier stuff?"
"I was hoping I could figure it out and join you."
Her heart skipped a beat when he said that, and for that moment, both of their wishes aligned. If this were a manga, a falling star would streak across the sky and do just that, but that's not how this world worked.
"So, you would join me if you could?"
"Of course," he said with absolute sincerity. "Wouldn't anyone? You're a legend here, and you are stronger than anyone I know. I'd give anything to be like you."
The moon escaped from the dark clouds in the sky and shone on them as it had when she experienced the vision minutes before. Her heart nearly leapt as she saw the sigil appear on his forehead again.
"Ranma," she whispered his name with no honorifics, possibly taking him aback.
"Your head," the boy whispered to her. "It's glowing with some kind of symbol."
Quickly retrieving her magical compact from her bag in distorted space where her human clothes were stored, Sailor V produced it in front of him and looked into the glass. The disguise magic that protected her identity was so effective that it also affected herself when she looked into mirrors. As she gazed into it, she saw the face of Sailor V, the one that she'd grown used to seeing in newspapers and those times she had caught her own reflection. Although it remained the same each time, it was not her face.
However, seeing that face again made her realize for the first time that the Sailor V disguise was the spitting image of Princess Venus. The spectre of her past life given flesh in the future took her breath away, and she nearly dropped the mirror. Her eyes gazed up further to see that the Moon Sigil that customarily appeared beneath her blond bangs was now replaced with the same that shone on Ranma's forehead.
Minako experienced that same feeling of cognitive dissonance she'd experience during the dream when Princess Venus looked into the mirror, except this time she wasn't in a past life or a dream. She couldn't quite come to terms with the revelation, and didn't really know if she wanted to. Her body sometimes felt like a stranger's when she patrolled or fought in the name of justice as Sailor V, but never has much as it did now.
The girl looked at Ranma, who was staring at her nervously. Unable to fathom everything she'd learned, she cautiously offered it to the boy with her gloved hand. He blinked several times in the moonlight as its intensity seemed to grow, and then took it from her.
"Look at yours," she said, her heart beating as fast as it had when she fought villains from the Dark Agency.
Ranma held the compact to his face and his eyes widened. "What does this mean?"
"It's the sigil of the House of Venus," she said, her brain buzzing just as much as his was.
"I…" the boy started to say, but before he could say anything more, he collapsed. Sailor V quickly swept him up before he toppled over the side of the roof. She lifted the boy into her arms. Despite his size relative to hers, the powers of her transformation left him as light as a child in her arms. He reflexively wrapped his arms around her shoulders.
"Ranma?" she asked, but his eyes were closed and his still-glowing forehead was wet with sweat.
He really is just a child, some part of her from a past life thought. But this time we are children together. As quickly as the foreign thought came, it left, as it would from time to time since her awakening to her past life. Maybe we're both the teacher this time.
"Ranma-kun?" she whispered in his ear. "This time I won't lose you. I don't know what happened in the past that caused us all to be sent here exactly, but I won't let anything bad ever happen to you again."
Leaping down to the ground level, she found an open window leading to a threadbare room. A few pieces of furniture and a bed were all that occupied the boy's room. His uniform was spread out on the floor and his futon was a mess.
She stepped through the window without much effort, maneuvering the boy through it. Even as she tried to gently carry him through the window frame, the top of his head lightly struck the window. She froze for a moment, but he didn't even budge in her arms.
At his bed, she slipped him underneath the covers, and then tucked him. She sighed, feeling terribly reluctant to leave the boy. Her heart beat loudly as she placed her bare hand against his forehead, and then brushed it through his dark bangs. It took everything in her not to kiss him in that moment in his vulnerability.
"Why does the past have so much power over us, Ranma-kun?" she asked him, her voice barely a whisper. "Why does my heart ache for you so?"
As if to answer her, he let out a heavy snore and rolled away from her onto his side. She held back a laugh and then took a step back.
She trapped all of her feelings in her hand and took a step back. She bit her lip again, retaking the bad habit from her past life.
"Goodnight." She closed the window after her exit, and then fled into the night.
As Artemis' mind wandered the memories of the past, he remembered the beautiful, eternally youthful Queen as she gave her last order to watch over the children she had sent into the distant future. Her silver hair framed her perfect opalescent skin illuminated by the white light of the silver crystal worn on a pendant above her breast. Her gown was as light as her skin, such that only the crystal and her silver hair contained any pigment or color.
Artemis cast a gaze to the Queen's solitary living guardian standing by her side. The enigmatic Princess Pluto was in direct contrast to the Sol system's ruler, as she had smokey obsidian skin, wearing a gown as dark as the void. Her hair was lighter and was the color of a dark, opaque emerald. Not only did she contrast the queen in appearance, but also in mood. The silent sentry was unflappable, her stoic form showing no emotion or interest in anything being said or done, while the Queen was anything but at this moment.
On the few occasions he'd seen her, the Queen never betrayed anything but mild amusement or displeasure. After the shock of the sudden loss of her daughter, who should have been safe in her bed in the Moon Palace, the Queen had shown the turbulence of a storm. Although her form betrayed nothing, she hadn't stood still for a single moment since Artemis had arrived at the palace, and her voice held none of its usual calm.
"I have called you here before me to carry out a task of the utmost importance," the ruler of the Sol system said, her eyes looking between her two servants. "These are also the last commands I shall ever give."
Artemis looked over at his companion, Luna, who regarded him soberly with her aqua blue eyes, and he returned that gaze with equal solemnity. The raven-haired beauty had long, wavy hair that reached down to her waist, and shimmered in the light that illuminated the palace. She wore a plain blue robe that bore the Sigil of the Moon, matching his, marking them servants of the Queen.
Neither of her servants nor her guardian said a word, neither the Mau nor the last Princess, as none would ever dare interrupt the Queen. Everyone stood in rapt attention, even the impossibly statue-like Pluto.
The Queen's eyes softened in that moment as she turned her gaze to Earth, which glowed in the sky like a perfect circular multicolored gem. "Luna, Artemis, and Pluto, for the three of you I have the most important quests that shall consume the rest of your lives."
She turned to the three of them, her regarding each with the compassion for which she was most well known. When she was done, she closed her eyes.
"Princess Pluto," she said with deep pain in her voice, "it is of you I ask the most difficult thing."
"I am ready to carry out your will, my Queen," the woman said, the first words that Artemis had ever known her to speak in his lifetime.
"You must go to the Gate of Chronos and open it."
"My Queen?" the dark woman said with surprise, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly agape. "I do not have the power to do this. I am merely the keeper of the gate."
"I shall grant you the last of my power," the shining Queen said, her eyes as blue as the seas of Earth.
"What?!" the guardian demanded, her eyes wider than before. Artemis' body shook with anticipation of a command that would shock her oldest companion.
"I'm sorry, my Queen," Luna interrupted their conversation, her voice timid. "What does this mean? What is the Gate of Chronos?"
"It is not truly a gate," the Queen said sadly. "It is a rift through time, where one can go to see all of time simultaneously. Every moment from the point of the first singularity to the point of entropy at which the last piece of matter grows cold and everything is dead and compressed into one point. It has been sealed since the dawn of the first light. As you might guess, my dear Luna, it is a dangerous thing that must never be used."
"If the gate is ever opened, it cannot be shut," Princess Pluto said, calm again, returning to her normal self. "It is not my place to question your wisdom, my Queen. Forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive, my darling," the Goddess said, placing her arm around the woman. "It is I who must beg your forgiveness."
The woman's eyes widened ever so slightly, but she did not react as she did before as Queen Serenity continued, "First, you must cast the Silver Crystal into the gate. It will find its way to where it must go. Second, you must show these two servants through to a specific point in time, many thousands of years in the future."
"I shall do ask you ask," the woman said, and bowed her head.
"That is not all, for the most tyrannical thing I have ever asked of someone is what I must ask of you now. For once you carry out these two tasks, you must go through yourself and locate the first point in time, at the first light at the earliest moment the Gate of Chronos will allow you to go. Once there, you will remain at the gate to protect it until the last light is extinguished by the void."
Artemis took a step back and gasped, his hand clutched to his mouth. Luna looked as he must have, her face ashen and her eyes wide.
"Luna, Artemis," the woman said, turning to the two Mau. "When you arrive, you must find my daughter and her guardians. You will have to protect them, for once you arrive, the Silver Crystal will not be far behind, and it will awaken the souls of all that perished on Earth and the Moon in this conflict."
"What?" Artemis said in shock. "All of them? As in, thousands of Earthlings, and tens of thousands of Selenites? Even the Youma?"
"Yes, each and every one. However, it will take a hundred years for all of them to be reborn on the blue planet, and most will never awaken to their true selves. However, when the Crystal's power is awakened, so shall be our darkest enemy, Queen Metaria and all of her minions. It will take time, but she will begin corrupting humans as she did the Earthlings before I sealed her in ice."
"But my Queen," Luna whispered, her eyes wide with fear. "How can the two of us possibly defend against her?"
"Her power will be weak until she gains sufficient power to begin searching for the Silver Crystal. It will be in that time that you shall find and awaken my guardians, who with the Princess, have enough power to seal that monster for all eternity."
The Mau nodded, though they barely understood half of what the Queen told them. They shared a look at the magnitude of their task.
"But my Queen," Artemis asked, his voice low. "Why not just revive the Princess now, in this age? Cannot the Silver Crystal perform such a miracle?"
The woman smiled, her eyes distant. "If I brought the Silver Crystal to Earth, Queen Materia would be released now, her power undiminished and mighty. I would not be able to seal her again, and she would consume my power and perhaps all of Sol. The only way I can ensure my daughter lives a full life, filled with love and family the way I intended it for her, is to let her go."
The Queen paused, and the closed her eyes. She sighed, releasing whatever was left of her reservations.
"At the moment the light goes out, we shall be reunited," the Queen said to Pluto, tears streaking down her eyes. Her cheeks rose as she gritted her teeth in sadness, and then she turned to her guardian, and took Pluto's face in her hands gently. "It's a task I can trust to no one else."
Princess Pluto stared at her Queen and nodded. A moment later, the Queen bowed her head forward, and gently kissed Pluto on the lips. Pluto closed her eyes and seemed to glow in that moment, whether for all of eternity or just a solitary second in time. As if it was all she could do, she then took a step back and fell to her knees.
Luna and Artemis sought to rush forward, but stopped when the Queen held up her hand. "Leave me now."
"But..." Luna whispered.
"What will happen to you, my Queen?" Artemis asked.
"Come, we must go," Pluto said ushering them out. Before they went through the gate much later, she answered the question. "The Queen's life was forfeit the moment I opened the gate in her name."
When Artemis awoke from his dream in Minako's bed he gritted his teeth, and looked to see if his ward had returned from her trip to the shrine. Only when he realized the bed was empty and that the window was open, did he realize he was not alone. Luna was sitting on the windowsill, her eyes as wide as they had been in the Silver Millenium before they had travelled to the distant future.
"I found her."
"What?" he asked, suddenly wide awake, his tail standing straight up. "Who?"
Author's Notes: Between looking for a job and visiting family, I've been avoiding writing for a while, so I thought it was time to come out of my hole and get some work done. I wrote this piece in a few evenings recently and have been editing it and adding/revising over the last few weeks to get it out to you before anyone thinks I'm dead. I'm still here, and as long as I am, I will be writing to continue the adventures of Ranma and the Sailor Guardians.
Let me know what you think. I've been experimenting a lot recently with dream sequences / flashbacks of past life events, and am eager to hear how they read to you. Also, plot. Lots of it in this chapter. Can you speculate what's going on and what's coming up? I'm eager to hear what y'all think is going to happen as things begin to ramp up.
I expect to write more quickly depending on how many interviews I have to prepare for in the upcoming weeks. I'm also working on Misery Loves Company, and expect to have a draft for my beta readers next month. I'll let y'all know how that's going soon.
Until next time.