Disclaimers:Takeuchi Naoko, Bandai Visual, Kodansha etc., etc. And all the troubadours who ever bothered to screw with King Arthur and his court. Authors notes to follow the story.
I strongly recommend watching the new live-action Sailormoon , known affectionately as Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (PGSM.) And when you too have, once again, fallen in love with the Senshi, you can join us at the Yuricon Mailing List and intone with our prayer circle - "Please gods, let us get to the Outers..."
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The Senshi's Challenge
The third Courtly Tale of Crystal Tokyo
Back again? Have you no lessons to learn? No chores to do?
Oh, so you want another story, you say. Another tale of derring-do and brave warriors, I suppose. Of course thats what you want. And I also suppose that you desire this to be a story about the bravest of all warriors - the Senshi of Crystal Tokyo. Yes, yes, I have another tale or two in my rattlebag. I have many a tale, as you well know. So, settle down and behave yourselves and I will tell you about a dark time, a bright time, a time neither here nor there, a time neither now nor then. This is a story that takes place in the brilliant, shining past of our brilliant, shining city.
You know, of course, that our magnificent Queen and her Senshi built this city with their strength and their wisdom and their magic, standing alongside the citizens who wanted something glorious to call their own. And I know you know of the dark time our beautiful city suffered, when the Black Moon attacked and nearly destroyed it.
Well this story happened not too long after this terrible time, as Queen and King and Princess and all the Senshi labored to bring back life and hope to a darkened city.
It was New Years Eve - normally a festive time here in Crystal Tokyo, but in the year I speak of all those who lived here were downcast. What had been a city of light had been brought close to becoming darkened forever. Although life had returned, still, so much death and destruction remained. The Queen had been long sequestered in her palace - rumors spoke of her terrible burden of responsibility; not being able to save her city, she could not, then, bear to look upon the ruins.
But this was not true. In fact, the Queen had, herself, come close to death. Only the great loyalty and love of her Senshi, and the bond between mother and daughter had made her survival possible. The Queen was horribly ill that winter, so much so that those closest to her feared for her life. And of those who knew, only a very, very few, knew why.
The Queens power, it is said, comes from a gem so pure, so powerful, that it alone can withstand the forces of evil that assailed Crystal Tokyo. The gem was called the Magic Silver Crystal, but that name is hardly a reflection of its true magnificence.
We know now, of course, that the Crystal is the embodiment of our great Queens love but at the time, it was known only as a source of great energy. I wont tell you of the tragedy that caused it to be lost, you all know that story well but I will tell you this, although the Crystal had been returned, its loss had pushed our Queen almost past the point of healing.
And so, it was a dark and dreary day in a newly reborn Crystal Tokyo, when a terrible new threat reared its head and almost, almost, destroyed the great Senshi themselves.
The Queen sat in her bed, looking positively translucent, her pale face wan and drawn. Her Senshi attended her; each sitting or pacing the room, as befitted their temperament. Good news was rare in those days, as Crystal Tokyo struggled to survive the winter. Rumors were spreading throughout the city that the Queen's weakness was the cause of the city's ills...and rumor was followed by malcontent, and its cousin dissatisfaction.
But inside the Palace, there was more to worry about than just the people of the city, or illness of the Queen.
There is nothing we can do? The question was asked by Venus. It was her role, in that time, to bring hope and joy merely by being among the people. She often could be seen at hospitals and schools, building walls and moving heavy loads, shoulder-to-shoulder with the citizens. Of all the Senshi, she has always been the best loved by the children of our city.
Nothing, Mars replied, her voice, as it was so often in those days, solemn. It was her great spiritual energy that protected and warded the city in this time of want. It was she who first knew of the threat - sensing it with her powers, as she nightly sat in meditation.
Jupiter paced, saying nothing. If there was need for might, she would have been the first to step forward, but she knew that there was nothing she could do at the moment.
The data confirms it, Mercury agreed. There is an enormous build-up of energy at the outer edge of the solar system. The energy signature is similar to ours, but unlike it as well. We simply dont have the resources to fight it at this time.
The Queen nodded unhappily. It is not your duty to fight it it is mine. She struggled to leave her bed, but Mars held her firmly in place. Please, she requested of her Senshi, the land and the Queen are one. I must be on my feet to face this, or Crystal Tokyo will not survive.
The Senshi leapt to assist her, but the Queen brushed them off. Smiling patiently, she spoke firmly, You cannot assist me, nor should you. This is my burden to bear." And with a few short words that did not encourage her Senshi, she dismissed them.
Reluctantly, they left the Queen, but did not disperse. Together they made their way to a small room where they could take counsel with one another.
We cant let her face this alone, Jupiter stated without hesitation what they were all thinking.
But what can we do? Venus asked. She has forbidden us to interfere.
In fact, soft-spoken Mercury had the slightest smile on her face, she forbade us to assist her. She did not address whether we might wish to act on our own. There was silence in the room as the Senshi pondered the implications, and slowly, smiles returned to their faces as they realized just how they could assist their Queen and still obey her commands. As one, the four Senshi left the room, firm resolve etched into their already tired faces.
Jupiter stood in the window, hands clenched upon the sill. Despite this castle being her true home, she never felt more lonely and out of place than when she stood in these cold halls. Although there were many details that screamed for her attention, Jupiter found herself staring out into space, her eyes searching for that which she knew she would not be able to see.
Servants bathed her, and set food before her, but the noble Senshi sat, listless, in her castle, waiting for the threat that would confront them - her soonest of all.
Time passed slowly in that place, as Jovian days and months moved in their ponderous ballet. Jupiter roused herself daily to listen to the reports of those who served her, and to rule on disputes, but always her eyes would be far away, and her heart on a small, beautiful, blue planet, with bright skies and an even brighter Queen. Everyday she remained apart from her liege, Jupiter, strongest of all the Senshi, grew angrier. Bereft of the warmth of her true home, she turned a cold eye to the people who inhabited her cold castle. And every day that she passed in exile, her hatred for the threat that brought her there grew, until it consumed her thoughts, waking and asleep.
"Have you heard anything at all?" Mercury's face was drawn with worry. "I can't get through, I can't get a signal..."
"No!" Venus voice was distraught. "Nothing at all. Not from the Palace, either."
Mars appeared on the screen, her face composed, but grey and exhausted. "She's regaining strength, but slowly. She knows what we're trying to do, you know."
"How does...you didn't tell her, did you?" Fear and anger warred upon the Senshi of Love's face.
"Don't be a fool, Venus!" Mars snapped. "Of course I didn't. Who reads the hearts of others better than She?"
"That is true," Mercury agreed quickly. Something changed in her expression. "I'm going," she said firmly. "I'm going to Jupiter's castle I don't know what's happened, but bad news is better than none, in this case."
"I'll go with you." Venus said.
"No," Mars interjected. "Join me, if you need to do something." Her grim mouth tightened further. "If Jupiter is lost..."
Venus and Mercury nodded, then one by one, their faces disappeared from the screen.
New rumors came from the Palace the Senshi had returned to their home planets to see to long unattended business, but the Queen was not left alone. A new Senshi had arrived, one from far away, one that did not wish to be known to the people. A mysterious Senshi, whose powers were immense, and incomprehensible.
She had arrived in the dark night, appearing the morning after the last of the Queen's Senshi had left. Cloaked, they said, in disguise, so no one would recognize her. People of the city began to cast worried glances at their neighbors, wondering if they, too, might be Senshi, or something worse.
The Queen, however, was not at all unhappy to see her new companion. Many years had passed since they had last spoken face to face.
"Pluto," Serenity's face relaxed as the cloak was pulled aside, and the Senshi rose from her knees.
"My Queen," Pluto's voice was unchanged in all those long years. "I would say 'You look well,' but it would be a lie."
"I know it," Serenity agreed. "Come sit with me and tell me what you know of this threat that faces us. And any word you may have of..."
Pluto gestured abruptly. "There are many things of which we need to speak," she agreed. "But here is not the place...or the time."
Mercury arrived at Io in the middle of what was obviously a crisis. Many times Mercury had seen a similar scene people rushing about in panic, sounds of crushing and falling, screams of fear. Ignoring protocol, indeed, ignoring everything but her great friendship with Jupiter, she rushed into the center of the maelstrom, following where her heart told her that Senshi of Strength needed her.
The room had once been grand, with soaring walls and expert carvings upon the walls. Mercury also knew well that it had been loathed by the Senshi of Jupiter, who longed for a small space, filled with warmth and friendship. If only she survived, Mercury thought as she searched the ruins for her friend, perhaps Jupiter could now redecorate to her liking.
The sensors in her visor confirmed that a heart still beat underneath the caved-in walls. Using what might she had, Mercury managed to make a small hole in the large pile in the center of the floor.
"Jupiter!" Mercury cried out over and over, hoping beyond hope for some answer. When a groan answered her, followed by a croaking voice, tears sprang to Mercury's eyes.
"Ami, is that you?" Jupiter coughed slightly and groaned again. "Stand back...I have to get out of here."
Quickly Mercury backed off, taking cover behind what was once a great table, now upended on the edge of the chasm that had been carved into the middle of the hall.
With another cough and a great noise, the rubble in the center of the room lifted itself and flew asunder, stone and wood shrapnel striking the remains of the walls with sharp reports. Mercury stayed where she crouched until the noise died away, then leapt over the newly scattered debris to catch Jupiter as she fell to her knees.
"Go back, Mercury," the tall Senshi gasped. "Go tell her it was..."
But the words were lost in a roar of noise which grew louder and more fierce with every second. Mercury whirled to face the onslaught, but was too late. By the time she thought to fight back, the battle was already over and two Senshi lay unconscious on the floor amidst the wreckage of the great hall.
Venus arrived on Mars to find the Senshi of that planet alone, except for her attendants Phobos and Deimos. The three sat in near darkness, illuminated only by a flickering flame.
"They've been defeated," Mars said, rising to her feet smoothly and gesturing for Phobos and Deimos to leave. "These arrived at the same time." Mars brushed her long black hair back and handed over two disks. Venus looked at one but briefly, and the other for a much longer time.
"Down, but alive." Venus said with a long release of breath.
"There were no injuries," Mars confirmed. "Not one person was even scratched."
"And this?" Venus held up the second disk with a wave. "What shall we do about it?"
Mars shrugged. "I've already accepted, although we don't have a chance against them."
Venus looked down once again at the challenge. "In the name of the Moon Kingdom of the Past and of the Future, we challenge you," she read out loud. "But who are "we"?" she mused.
Mars shook her head. "Would it matter if I told you?"
Venus looked at her fellow Senshi sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Mars lips grew tight, "Jupiter is defeated, Mercury is defeated - we have no chance alone. Will the names of our Enemies matter much?"
Venus stared, uncomprehending, then her face turned pale. "Oh my god," she whispered. "Is it someone we've fought before?"
Nodding, the Senshi of Fire turned away, hiding an ironic smile from her companion. "Minako...I think She was right. This is Her battle all we can do is delay them and give Her one day more to gain some strength."
The Senshi of Love put a gentle hand on Mars' shoulder. "I know you're right, but I have to believe we can make a difference."
Mars hesitated, then nodded. "You're right. Come on let's get ready."
And then there was nothing but a flickering flame and the darkness.
Pluto's face was serious as she watched the Queen struggle to her feet, her chest rising and falling too quickly.
"You've been a great help to me, Pluto." Serenity's voice was weaker than she would have liked to admit. "But I have to do this on my own."
The Senshi of Time nodded, her face bleak. "That is why I am here, My Queen."
The Queen laughed a little. "'My Queen,'" she mimicked gently. "Once upon a time, you called me Usagi-chan and teased me for being clumsy."
The older woman's face eased into a small smile. "Once upon a time, you were not the Queen of Crystal Tokyo."
"True." She looked up with delight as her husband entered the room and extended a hand. Serenity took the hand and, leaning heavily upon it, headed towards the door. "But you know," she continued, "I don't feel different in my heart. I am still the same person, in here." And her free hand laid itself gently upon her chest.
"You are," Pluto acknowledged, "And you are not." But when the Queen pressed her for more information, the Senshi would say nothing more on the subject.
"We have come to issue a challenge," the first spoke with ominous voice. "If you be Senshi of Crystal Tokyo and not afraid, then stand forth and fight."
Mars and Venus stood shoulder to shoulder. "We are here to answer the challenge, stranger. But it is rude to issue a challenge without a name. Who are you and why do you seek to harm us?"
The stranger laughed shortly. At this distance it could not even be seen whether the opponent was male or female. Both Venus and Mars strained to see past the glamour that kept them from the truth.
"Let that be your prize upon victory, then," the Enemy said.
"So be it," Venus said, her eyes narrowing. "But why? Why do you do this thing?"
There was a very long pause before the Enemy spoke again. "Because we want...need...to know, who is the strongest."
The Queen received the message as she sat upon her throne, but Pluto could see that she already knew. "Mercury," Serenity whispered as she read the note, "Mars, Jupiter, Venus..." When the first tears fell from the Queen's eyes, it was all Pluto could do to stay where she was, her face blank and her heart firmly resolved. "This enemy is formidable, indeed."
"Please tell them..." Serenity stood, one hand clenched by her side. "No, I will go tell the Enemy myself, that I accept the challenge."
The day was bitterly cold, the landscape outside the city bleak in the dead of winter. A gathering of people stood, shivering, in the wan sunlight. Three upon one side faced two upon the other, while four lay unconscious upon the ground.
"We didn't hurt them," the Enemy spoke shortly. "We simply removed them - they stood between us and our true opponent. This is between you and ourselves."
"Why?" Serenity asked. "What do you seek to prove by doing this?"
A small smile crossed the Enemy's face, "Because we must," came the answer, "Because you are not strong enough - not yet, and maybe not ever."
The Queen thought about this for a long moment, then nodded. It was, after all, her job to protect her city, and if she could not do it, then she was truly not worthy. "That is fair," she responded. With few words, the rules of the fight were agreed upon, and the parties faced off.
Serenity was still weak, but her skills were greater than the last time she had fought this Enemy. Her motions were slow, her defenses clumsy, but still, time after time, she escaped traps that were set and avoided attacks, although narrowly. But the Queen had never been a great fighter and she was, at last, held in place firmly, while the Enemy advanced upon her.
Closing her eyes, Serenity let her arms go limp. Energy gathered in front of her chest, the glow growing more strongly with every second. Her opponents drew away as the light grew, but Serenity's eyes flew open as her enemy began to laugh.
"Very nice," the voice came from behind her. "Is this what you expected to use?"
Serenity whirled on the second person, finding herself looking up into cold eyes. "I'm afraid," her opponent said, "you will be disappointed."
And with those words, the Senshi, for that is what her enemy was, held up her hand...and Serenity fell to her knees.
"How did you...?" Serenity gasped, her hand now clenched upon her breast as if her heart was being wrenched from her, still beating. "The Magic Silver Crystal!"
The laugh that fell upon her ears was painfully familiar. "You seem to have trouble holding on to it, Your Majesty."
Serenity looked up at their faces, then over to her husband, who stood paralyzed with anger and shock. But it was the last face she saw that caused her the most pain. "Pluto? It was you?"
The Senshi of Time met her eyes with obvious effort. "Because I serve you, too, in my own way -it was my fate, this time, to take it from you."
Serenity lifted herself to her feet, staring at Pluto wide-eyed as comprehension dawned. She whirled to face her opponents, her implacable Enemy, even as her Senshi began to groan and struggle to consciousness behind them.
"Fate?" Serenity asked and took a step forward. "Can it be...?"
And with that, both enemies lifted their hands in attack, while Pluto silently watched the scenario, so long destined.
The attacks rolled and thundered, combining into a huge, sparkling sphere of energy that traveled directly towards Serenity. The Queen turned so that the great, grinding sphere would hit her full in the front. Not a glimmer of light surrounded her no energy built, no light shone from her - no power would save her as she gazed, not at her fate which came crashing towards her, but at those who attacked.
And, as the sphere engulfed her, her form disappearing into the energy, the Queen's lips moved, although no words could be heard over the noise of rushing water and rending earth.
The impact was deafening and blinding - all those who watched were forced to cover their eyes and turn away from the heat and light. King Endymion was the first to recover, his mask protection enough for him to step forward, but he found himself held back by a hand which gripped his wrist tightly. He glared at Pluto in anger, but she shook her head, holding him firmly where he stood.
The energy dissipated, and the observers could see a great swath of earth had been ripped up from the ground, but at the end of the fissure stood the Queen, her hands across her chest, and silver tears falling from her eyes.
"You've come back," she said, as her hands stretched out towards the two who stood before her. "You've come back!"
The Magic Silver Crystal began to glow, as if it were a nova in the night sky; the light expanded, burning brighter and brighter until it could no longer be held. Released, it floated into the air, then dissipated into the ether, lending its energy to a sun that now grew warm and shed its light upon the faces of those who watched.
The Queen, bathed in that glorious light, turned her shining face upon the two intruders, and smiling, sent beams of pure energy towards them, which sent them stumbling backwards, crying out in surprise and defeat. As they fell to their knees, heads bowed in defeat, tears came to their eyes and they prostrated themselves in front of the great Queen of Crystal Tokyo. After a moment, the light which held them in place faded, and the two rose to their feet, each holding one hand clenched against her breast in salute. In unison they bowed.
The four Senshi, once again conscious, struggled to their knees, their faces wreathed in wonder, for the glamour which had hid their opponents had lifted and they could now see their faces clearly.
"Uranus? Neptune?" Jupiter was the first to manage to speak. Her voice was torn between joy at meeting her comrades once again and rage at the manner in which they had returned. "What did you mean by this?"
Uranus laughed and held out a hand to the second-strongest Senshi. "We thought you might be getting a little proud - here in your beautiful city with no one to challenge you." With only the slightest effort, Uranus assisted Jupiter to a standing position and steadied her.
Neptune brushed dry grass from Mars' back, as the Senshi of Fire regained her feet. "We thought to remind you that hubris is not something a Senshi should cultivate." She smiled at the dark look Mars shot her. "You knew who we were, didn't you, Rei? Why did you fight us?"
Mars huffed and pulled away from Neptune's assistance. "Because I wanted to defeat you - or, at least to delay you."
Neptune hid her smile behind a hand, as she and her partner, the redoubtable Uranus, Senshi of the Wind, stood and faced their Queen. Pluto released the King's arm and stepped over to take her place with them and as one, the three Senshi of the Outer Solar System knelt and renewed their fealty to their liege.
For her part, our great Queen Serenity still stood, with her hands outstretched, and bid them rise and come to her. With great ceremony and tears that flowed freely upon all the faces there, she welcomed Uranus and Neptune back, while the four Senshi of the Inner Solar System looked on. For a long moment, the scene remained a great Queen welcoming long-lost servants into her fold, but before long it was a woman, embracing beloved friends who had been much missed, back home.
The feast that night was great, as you can imagine. For there were many things to celebrate in that time: The Queen of Crystal Tokyo had regained her strength almost miraculously; and the full compliment of Senshi were gathered together for the first time in more years than anyone living could remember. And, above all things, the winter was lifting its cold hand from the land and spring was surely just around the corner - a spring that would see all things healed and renewed.
And so Crystal Tokyo celebrated with wine and food, and song and dance late into the night.
In the late hours, when the revelry had faded and it was not the great soldiers of the realm, but 11 close friends who sat together and talked, there was one last thing to be said, and Jupiter - always forthright - said it.
Looking sternly at Uranus, then at graceful Neptune, who sat side by side laughing at some jest, Jupiter stood before them and pointed a finger. "This was the second time, Haruka, that you deceived me in a fight. Although the older offense be a millennia ago, I do not free you from it. One more time you will fight me - and this time I *will* win."
Lips twitching, Uranus stood and gave an ironic bow. "At your pleasure."
So it was, that if one could see into the Palace, into the Queen's chambers that night, one would see the most undignified of gatherings, as the Senshi, the Princess, and perhaps even the King and Queen themselves, took sides and watched Jupiter arm wrestle Uranus into submission.
"You win," Uranus conceded amid the combined laughter of all of the Senshi of Crystal Tokyo.
So, now you have heard the story of how the last of the Senshi returned to our fair city, and how our Queen regained her hope and her strength by it. Those among you who are quick of wits may also have gleaned a little of the nature of her power and the Crystal that symbolizes it.
But now I have work to do - and so do you. Go do your chores and your homework and maybe, when we all have a free moment some time later, I'll tell you another tale of the great nobles of Crystal Tokyo.
This story is a mixture of two versions of the appearance of Agravain and Gaheris at court...a sort of eclectic mix of two completely disparate stories, one pre-Lancelot, one post-.
In the first, older, version, Agravaine and Gaheris are the twin brothers of Gawain, who come to court disguised and challenge all the knights. They manage to defeat all of them, including Gawain (then champion of the King.) When Gawain was forced to concede, they remove their disguises and a happy reunion among brothers occurs. (For the trivia-minded, the fourth brother in that family is Gareth. His story, "Beaumains, or the Knight of the Kitchen" is parodied in my Courtly Tale of Crystal Tokyo, Kuroko, Senshi of the Kitchen.)
The second appearance of Agravaine and Gaheris is much more sinister. After Gawain accuses Lancelot of sleeping with Guinevere, Agravaine challenges Arthur to a duel to decide the issue. Unbeknownst to an increasingly feeble Arthur, Morgan Le Fay has stolen the scabbard of Excalibur - which protects him from harm - and replaced it with a fake. During the duel, Arthur is wounded, but he cannot hurt Agravaine. Only the arrival of Lancelot allows Arthur to discover the subterfuge and survive. And that is basically the beginning of the end for Camelot.
I kind of merged these, with an eye towards the former more than the later, because I didn't feel like writing something totally depressing. :-)
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