Haruka found herself on her feet and standing at the window before she knew what had awakened her. The moonlit night was quiet, except for the soft hiss of the wind. She scanned the yard, and was aware of a vague sense of unease, but could find nothing specific that looked or felt wrong. Nonetheless, she did not move from her position. She put one hand on the French door, but did not move to open it.
In the moonlight, her hand looked a ghostly, pallid color. She lifted her hand from the window, and held it in front of her. She brought her left hand up and turned them both over, gazing at them in the liquid silver light.
It had been raining - no, teeming - as she had sat in the window ledge of her apartment in Tokyo. The phone had rung and the answering machine had picked up the call. It was Eudial, gloating, threatening even as she offered a deal - a deal that was clearly an invitation to a trap.
Haruka had listened impassively as the inept woman called back and finished her smug message. Michiru had entered towards the end of the message, toweling her hair.
Haruka had looked at her hands, thinking of the deeds they had done, the lives she had hurt, the damage she had caused, the mission she had sworn to fulfill. She hadn't spoken out loud, but Michiru came over to her and touched her.
"I like your hands," she had said, answering the unspoken comment. A thought had flashed into Haruka's head at that moment, a memory of the two of them vowing that they would have no time for love until they had completed their mission.
Haruka's eyes widened as their fingers intertwined. As she gazed into the blue eyes that looked up at her, Haruka had realized the magnitude of their folly, how huge a lie that vow had been. For it had been a lie, and Haruka could see it written clearly in Michiru's face. As if Michiru had hit her with Deep Submerge, Haruka lost her breath and began to drown in the truth that Michiru's eyes now told her.
Michiru loved her, whatever she had said, mission or no mission. And Haruka could no longer deny what she knew to be true. She loved Michiru, more than she could ever express. And they were meant to be together. They both knew it and they both had lied. And now they had run out of time. They had an appointment with Eudial and the Talismans...and their deaths.
The rained had stopped. So had time.
Michiru had stood and Haruka had followed her. Michiru reached up and clasped her hands around Haruka's neck, drew her in and they kissed. It seemed that time would stand still as long as they needed it to. The storms clouds had rolled back and the sun began to fill the apartment with amber light. Michiru had run her hands through hair that now burst into golden flame. Haruka had not broken their embrace, even as they had lowered themselves to the tatami....
Haruka looked up sharply, drawing herself back from the bittersweet memory. Sweet, she thought with a smile, as sweet as Michiru's lips, but the smile faded as she recalled the pain she had felt upon seeing Eudial pull the trigger and blast Michiru's crystal heart out of her body. Haruka had thought that her own heart would burst, but to her dismay it had continued to beat, just as if nothing had happened, as if Michiru was not laying on the floor of the cathedral, lifeless.
Usagi had not understood then, and maybe Haruka hadn't either, not fully, that death with Michiru would have been a blessing; a cessation of the loneliness that threatened to swallow her, and relief from the horrible mission they had sworn to complete.
Haruka breathed deeply, steadying herself and focused her attention on the night outside. She heard, or rather felt, a slight movement from the trees. She knew that it was this that had awakened her, but what *it* was, she could not say. Her hand went once again to the door, and once again, she stayed herself.
Haruka quieted her mind, searching out the wrongness she felt...there! Her gaze fell on a shadow among the trees in the yard. It moved. Not with the branches that swayed gently, but with a unnatural, stealthy motion. She gave the French door a push and began to step outside. In the glass she saw the reflected flash of light from Michiru's mirror, and she was aware, as she stepped onto the balcony of a quiet, strong presence at her back. One step, two, and then she stopped dead in her tracks.
Looking down into the yard, Haruka could clearly see several dark forms, like shadow puppets, all angles and exaggerated shapes, orbiting slowly around a lone figure. Sailor Saturn stood in the ring of darkness, her violet light fighting against a blackness that threatened to eclipse...no, swallow it. With one motion Haruka launched herself over the balcony and transformed as she did so. With a muffled thump, Sailor Uranus landed, rolled and ran for the circle, drawing her Sword, before the figures even had time to turn.
"Space Sword Blaster!" she cried, and cut one shadow-form neatly in half. She spun, blocked behind her as she drew the sword across her back, then pulled down diagonally from behind her right shoulder, slicing through one figure, then thrusting into another. As her sword penetrated the figures, they disappeared, but more came forward to replace them. Sailor Uranus lost sight of Sailor Saturn, except when the Glaive's blade flashed in the moonlight.
"Submarine Reflection!" Sailor Neptune's voice made Sailor Uranus smile grimly at her opponents. Three shadow creatures were obliterated as light shot out of Sailor Neptune's Mirror. Sailor Uranus stepped into the swirl of darkness that surrounded Sailor Saturn. She heard no noise, as she drew her sword across limbs, or thrust into torsos. Where one shadow disappeared another appeared somewhere else. The circle was getting smaller now, her sword's radiance grew a little dimmer. In a moment, she, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Saturn would be back to back, in the center of the engulfing darkness. As the figures drew closer, they seemed to block out the moonlight and even absorb sound. Sailor Uranus felt herself bump up against Sailor Neptune.
Silence. A deep, horrifying non-sound fell around Sailor Uranus' ears. She felt as if she was going blind and deaf all at once. Her hand fell limp and her Talisman disappeared. She opened her mouth to shout, but nothing sound emerged. She felt as if she were wrapped in a shroud. The blackness deepened...
Then slowly, as if from very far away, came a soft sound. The sound of a staff being swung, the sound of a naginata... or a... Sailor Uranus strained to hear it, it was so familiar. Like a beacon, the sound took on a resonance, straining at the non-sound, pushing it back. The rhythm of the spinning staff grew, vibrating with life. Sailor Uranus felt it in her body, as her heart beat stronger with every pass of the staff... the weapon... what was it, it was so familiar... Comprehension came like a burst dam, through the dullness of her mind...the Glaive! A Glaive now spinning with incredible speed and power. Sailor Uranus spun around to see Sailor Saturn standing before her and Sailor Neptune, warding off the shadow shapes, pushing them back with her Glaive.
Sailor Saturn increased the complexity of the pattern, now cutting into one shadow, or another. The humming of the spinning Glaive filled Sailor Uranus with new power and her sword sprang into her hand, shining brightly. She could see the flash of the Mirror on one side and hear the hum of the spinning Glaive on her other. Sailor Uranus closed her eyes and allowed herself to match Sailor Saturn's pattern, until both blades echoed through the quiet night. As if an unspoken signal was given, all three Senshi called out, as one.
"Submarine Reflection!" "Space Sword Blaster!" "Silence Wall!"
Gold, silver and violet light combined, flared, and encompassed the shadow figures. As the light touched them, they burst into a black stream of energy, and disappeared without a sound.
Silence, the normal, busy, night silence, fell around the three women. Sailor Uranus kneeled, catching her breath. She flexed her hands and arms, trying to undo the thickness the shadow creatures had brought upon her. She turned to check Sailor Neptune, who was swaying slightly, but stood. With their brows drawn together, the two women slowly turned, knowing, fearing, what they would see.
Sailor Saturn stood, leaning lightly on her Glaive. She smiled a little sadly at them. She had grown another inch or two and now stood almost as tall as Michiru.
"I think," she said firmly. "it's time to talk to the other Senshi." And her hands fell softly to her side, as she collapsed to her knees.
"Hotaru!" Haruka and Michiru cried out as one, and both caught the girl in their arms, as she swayed. The Glaive disappeared as Hotaru's transformation reversed itself, leaving the girl barefooted, in pajamas now too small for her.
"Hotaru!" Michiru felt for a pulse and sucked in a breath as she found one, slow, but strong. Hotaru's eyes fluttered, but they did not open.
Haruka picked up the girl and walked back towards the house without speaking. Michiru trailed her, carrying her mirror as if it were extremely heavy. Both women looked grimly at the sun that broke past the horizon and shone on their faces. It wasn't the sun they needed now, it was the Moon.
Haruka leaned on the doorframe, hands in her pockets. She looked out over the crowded living room. It always seemed so large, she reflected, until we have a family get-together. She smiled a little at her own joke, and looked over her shoulder at Michiru, who was bringing in a tray from the kitchen.
Haruka reached over and took the tray from Michiru, and gestured for her to sit.
"You're still weak. Please...I'll do this." Haruka let her hands linger over Michiru's.
Bright blue eyes, a little strained, met hers. "Thank you." Michiru squeezed Haruka's hands and gave her the tray. "Are you sure you are all right?" she asked the taller woman. "I saw you lose your Talisman..."
"I'm fine." Haruka said shortly. She didn't want to bring this up yet. The Inner Senshi were so young and this burden was so large...
Michiru's eyes narrowed, as if she was reading Haruka's mind. "Haruka. We need to tell them - everything."
"I know. It's hard to remember that they are grown. And it's hard to not want to take it all on myself."
Michiru smiled softly. "I know. It is hard. But we are stronger together..." a loud burst of laughter drew their attention. Chibi-Usa was relating a story of the antics of the future Senshi, and all the girls were giggling, with the exception of a deeply embarrassed Makoto, and Minako, who if not embarrassed, certainly looked chagrined.
Haruka carried the tray into the room and placed it on the central table. Hands reached out for drinks and in a moment the tray was nearly empty. Haruka pushed the tray into the center of the table and left it, to stand by Michiru. Lightly cradling Michiru's body in the crook of one arm, Haruka allowed herself to relax just a little. Things would be alright, she reminded herself. They were stronger together...
Setsuna called everyone to attention and briskly got down to business. Haruka spent the time watching everyone's faces, gauging their reactions, their responses. Predictably there was an outburst of shock and denial, questions and an outpouring of concern. Haruka noted the calm stillness that came from Mamoru and the equally powerful air of caring and love that Usagi radiated. It was almost as if the essence of their true natures as Prince and Princess had begun to coalesce about these two.
Haruka noted that, when Usagi now spoke, every eye turned towards her and they listened, perhaps more carefully than they once had, to what she had to say. Even Chibi-Usa treated Usagi with a bit more respect. Imperceptible to one who did not know them, Haruka considered with a grin, as she watched Chibi-Usa spear a tidbit off of Usagi's plate and Usagi slap the girl down.
Haruka and Michiru related their accounts of the morning's events. It was difficult, but Haruka told them of losing her Talisman, and the weakness that Sailor Saturn had rescued her from. Michiru supported Haruka, commenting that she too had lost her Talisman for a moment before her power returned.
Eventually the topic turned towards possible action. Haruka listened closely, looking for signs of weakness in the younger women, signs that did not appear. She was gratified by the inner strength in their bearing, and the wisdom in their words.
The door opened and all conversation ceased. All heads swiveled to watch as Hotaru entered the room. Her face was drawn, but she stood straight and tall, and her step was firm. Chibi-Usa launched herself at her friend and hugged her in relief.
"Hotaru-chan? Are you alright?" Chibi-Usa gave the taller girl another hug.
Hotaru looked down at her dearest friend and smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine, Chibi-Usa-chan." She looked around the room and included everyone in it. "I'm fine, really." Haruka watched her for signs of an injury, but Hotaru moved smoothly into the room, seating herself between Usagi and Chibi-Usa. Usagi took one of her hands and gave it a quick squeeze. Hotaru smiled at her, blushing a little at all the attention focused on her.
"Hotaru..." Usagi began, but Haruka stepped forward and stopped her with one hand lightly on her shoulder.
Setsuna nodded at Haruka and turned to the younger women. "We've told you all we know, and what we have conjectured. Now, I'm sorry Hotaru," she turned towards her daughter, her eyes sad and worried, "we have to know what's going on. Do you know anything? Can we do anything to stop this?" Her eyes fixed on Usagi, whose jaw was tightening. "I can only speak for myself, Princess, when I say that I will gladly sacrifice my life, if that's what it would take to save Hotaru."
"No!" Hotaru jumped up from her seat, hands clenched. "No! That's the entire point! You'd ruin everything!" Mamoru reached out a hand, but Hotaru shook him off.
Usagi stood and faced Hotaru. "Hotaru-chan, what do you mean, we'd 'ruin everything?' You have to tell us what's going on." She took one of Hotaru's clenched fists in her hand, her eyes dark with concern.
Hotaru shook her arm violently, but Usagi kept her grip firm. Hotaru's face began to change, to become darker, cruder, and her eyes took on a feral look. She snarled and threw out an arm, aiming at Usagi's face. The slap never landed. Haruka had jumped the couch as soon as she saw Hotaru coil. Her hand intercepted the blow, turning it away from her Princess and trapping the arm. She grabbed Hotaru firmly and shook her, calling her name.
"Hotaru-chan!" Haruka gripped her shoulders and tried to connect with the girl's eyes. "Hotaru, come back!"
She could feel tension build under her hands. Hotaru gave herself a great shake and then looked up at Haruka, surprise registering just before pain. "Oh my God!" she cried and threw her face into her hands.
Haruka shifted her grip and drew the girl into her body, clutching her in a tight, supportive embrace. Hotaru sobbed like the child she truly was, and pressed her face into Haruka's chest. She could hear Hotaru speaking quietly in between sobs.
"Not again, please." Hotaru's voice was weak, defeated.
Haruka sat the girl down and made her drink some tea. Hotaru stared blindly into the cup, tears mingling freely with the dark liquid.
Haruka's voice was soft when she took Hotaru's face in her hands and looked into the large violet eyes that stared up at her. "Hotaru, do you know who, or what it is? Can we stop this? Please, please trust us, we are your family."
Usagi stood by Haruka's side, nodding. "Hotaru-chan, you don't have to bear this alone."
Hotaru heaved a sigh and smiled wanly up at them. "I am sorry for upsetting you all. I feel sometimes," she tried to speak lightly, "that so many different entities have lived inside me that I'm a kind of cosmic hotel." Her voice cracked on the last word, and her eyes dropped. Haruka let go of her face, but kept one hand on the girl. Hotaru reached out for a hand and Haruka clasped it firmly. She might not be able to stop the pain, but she would do anything she had to protect this girl, her fellow Senshi, her daughter.
Haruka watched as Hotaru fought off a new blackness or a memory, she thought, of an old one. The girl looked up a the concerned faces around her and tightened her lips. "I owe you all an apology. Several, I believe." She waved her free hand at the protestations that were spoken. Setsuna-mama," her voice was grim, but she used the name as easily as she always did, "Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama, I owe you especially. I know this has been hard on you. And I'm not entirely sure I can give you good news."
She smiled tightly at Haruka and let go of her hand. Haruka was aware of feeling that something important had been taken away and she clenched the hand that had held Hotaru's. She stepped back and took Michiru's hand as soon as she could, to fill the odd void.
Hotaru held her hands together in her lap and spoke down to the floor. "A long time ago, before many of you had even come into being, Saturn made a promise to someone. She would give up her own life energy to feed the entity, on one condition. That day, Sailor Saturn ceased being a Senshi of destruction, and she,... I, became a Senshi of death and rebirth. When Sailor Saturn uses, when I use my power, my life force is lessened by an equal amount. The entity uses it to survive. When Mistress 9 invaded my body her power contributed and I did not age perceptibly. Now... now the entity," she looked up at Setsuna and spoke hesitantly, "now Eternity wants more. Not only my life force, but yours as well. By not telling you of this ancient promise, I'm so sorry, Haruka-papa, Michiru-mama!" Her voice broke and new tears fell down her face. "I almost killed you!"
Haruka felt Michiru's hand grip her own. Both of them moved forward to comfort the wretched girl. For a long time no one spoke. Haruka could see the tight faces around her, intense with concentration.
Haruka opened her mouth to speak, but Setsuna's soft voice came from the settee.
"Hotaru. I think its time we paid a visit to Eternity, don't you?"
Haruka looked at Usagi, who looked ready to leave immediately, and Mamoru, who nodded at her.
Haruka acknowledged her Prince and spoke evenly. "My job is to protect the Earth. This Eternity is a threat to my planet, to my Prince and Princess and most of all to you, Hotaru-chan. Even if this was long ago, I, we, would owe this to you as Senshi. But its not long ago, is it?" Her voice became gentle.
Michiru, who had remained silent the entire time spoke now. "For Setsuna, Haruka and myself, I know I can say that, Hotaru-chan, we love you like a daughter - and like parents, we will fight to the death to protect you. As Sailor Neptune I can say that we four will not be fighting alone." There was a sharp burst of agreement from the younger Senshi.
Haruka looked around her. She could see the grim determination on their faces and was pleased. She knew that they'd be able to face whatever threat Eternity posed. And she knew that Eternity, whatever it was, would never be the same again, when they had got done with it.
Mamoru's voice was firm when he spoke. He also has a daughter, Haruka thought as she watched him, and he knows exactly how we are feeling.
"What we need, is to understand what Eternity is, and where to find it. Hotaru-chan," he asked the girl. "Are you up to this?"
She looked him in the eye. "Yes. I have to be."
He held her gaze for a moment longer, then smiled softly. "Then let's begin at the beginning."
"Hotaru? Hotaru? Are you alright?"
The words echoed strangely. Hotaru blinked, wondering who asked, this time. So many people, so many places, so many times, always the same question....
"Saturn - are you okay?"
The words bounced around her, almost palpably. She could see a man, with pale hair and glasses, his eyes full of pain, looking into her face. His face metamorphosed into a young, female face, pink eyes large and full of tears. Once again the face shifted. Tan skin framed large red eyes, surrounded by long green hair. It altered again, this time black eyes full of envy and hate burned into her own. Red hair whipped around the face and the figure laughed. Hotaru turned away, only to find herself looking into her own face, also laughing, an unpleasant, cold sound. She could see her own eyes filled with an alien madness, her own body changing, aging, her hair growing Hotaru began to scream, but could not move, or look away. Dark violet eyes sucked her in; she felt as if she would drown, until a warm touch shocked her awake.
Or so she thought. Hotaru looked around and could see nothing. In still blackness she lay, with no idea of where she was. A small violet light burned in front of her and she blinked, not sure she really saw it. The symbol of Saturn burned its way through the blackness and settled on her forehead. Once again she blinked, only to see herself as Sailor Saturn, standing before her.
Sailor Saturn took Hotaru's hands in her own. Hotaru could feel the strength coming from them. She shivered as the warmth entered her body, filling it with energy.
"This is the last time you will ever have to see me." Saturn spoke. Hotaru blinked at tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. "I'm sorry - every time I've come to awaken you, I've brought you pain. But this is the last time." Saturn reached out and touched Hotaru's forehead, where the Saturn symbol blazed brightly. "You will never be not whole again."
Hotaru cried out and fell back, her body shining with a purple light. Saturn began to fade, as Hotaru drew the last of her energy into herself. The light around Hotaru grew stronger, as Saturn disappeared. With a final flash, Saturn emptied herself into Hotaru and became one, at last, with herself.
Hotaru! Please answer me!"
The voice was familiar, but she could not place it. There had been so many people asking that of her whole life. Was she, in fact, all right? She could not have answered even if she had a voice. She did not know if she would ever be all right.
There was a time, long ago, when she had been, she was sure. Her mother had held her close, her father had been there for her. She was convinced that she had been all right then. But then Mother had gone and then Father... Father sold his soul and hers to save her life. Then she had been most definitely not all right. At best she had been weak and isolated. At worst, she was a danger to those around her.
Hotaru-chan? Are you alright?"
Hotaru thought of the faces that had looked at her this afternoon. All loving, caring faces. She could feel her throat tighten with the memory. After all those years of solitude, she was surrounded by more love than she knew how to handle. After years of segregation from her peers and classmates, after a life of emptiness, all that love
Hotaru felt the tears fall down her face, but she could not move to wipe them away. She had no body, apparently, floating in this all-encompassing darkness.
"Saturn, please answer us!"
She knew those voices. Once upon a time they had been comrades, compatriots that had not known her at all. Now they were family. She knew those voices, and took comfort from them, even though she could not answer.
Hotaru let her eyes close. There was no reason to keep them open, nothing to see. She could feel the voices reaching out to her from a great distance and she reached out with her mind, speaking quietly inside her head. "I'm here. I'm fine."
The voices stopped abruptly and Hotaru flinched with the shock of their loss. Her eyes opened reflexively and she found herself in a soft bed, surrounded by curtains swaying softly in the wind.
Under the silken sheets she was naked. Hotaru sat up, clutching the blanket around her and looked around the room. A breeze blew through the room, scented with a flower she could not place. A soft sound repeated regularly was the only noise she could hear. She focused on the sound, turning to her right.
Sitting on a stool was a tall woman, smoothly brushing out long, auburn hair. The sound was that of the brush moving in slow even motions. Even as she watched the woman, Hotaru longed to touch that hair, breath in its scent.
"So, you've come back at last." The woman's voice was musical, entrancing. It took Hotaru a moment to recognize that she had been spoken to.
"It's been a very long time, Saturn. You haven't visited me for centuries. An entire millennium, in fact. Or," the woman turned to face Hotaru, "should I call you Hotaru now?"
Hotaru searched the face for some sign of sarcasm, but she could not find any. Hotaru shrugged with indifference.
"Whatever you like. Shall I still call you Eternity?"
Eternity smiled, but the smile did not reach her eyes. Her eyes were not human, and they burned with an intense need. Hotaru wrenched her eyes away from Eternity's gaze, looking down at her hands.
"Have I become ugly then?" The woman began to braid her hair in an intricate pattern. Silence fell in the room. "You won't look at me?" She stopped moving and waited for Hotaru to lift her eyes.
Violet eyes met amber ones. Eternity began braiding her hair again. Strands moved neatly in between one another, flickering with a red flame in the light.
"Why am I here?" Hotaru asked plainly. Eternity winced and her face grew pale with anger.
"Have you forgotten what you owe me?" Eternity's eyes flashed with rage. "Have you forgotten how I found you floating, nearly lifeless, an empty shell - how I took you in, healed you, loved you and gave you life? Is that worth nothing to you?" Her voice was still soft, but it had grown cold.
Hotaru's expression did not change. "That was, as you say, a long time ago. Haven't I paid you enough since then?" She thought of the price she had been paying for over a millennia to this entity.
"You brought it on yourself. You gave up all your power to Queen Serenity in your noble cause. All you wanted was to redeem yourself, to be more than the Senshi of destruction." Eternity laughed harshly. "What hubris! To think of yourself as a god, a being of infinite power who can grant life "
Hotaru's eyes were hot, but no tears came.
Eternity continued to taunt her. "And when you had emptied yourself of all your pretensions, and chosen death for yourself as the alternative to eternally bringing death to others, where was your Monarch? Dead among the ruins of her own dreams! How noble you both were!"
"I found you drifting, I took you in." Eternity's voice changed, softening. "It is, after all, what I do. But you were so frail, an almost empty body. Only a spark of life was left in you." She finished binding her hair and rose, walking over to the bed. Her gown flowed over the floor, as amber as her eyes. Hotaru did not move when Eternity put one hand to her cheek.
"I loved you then. I nursed you, giving you my energy, something that I had never done before and have never done since. And I brought you new life. And " Eternity's voice faltered, "You loved me." She drew close to Hotaru and laid her lips gently on Hotaru's own.
Even if Hotaru wanted to, she would not have been able to resist the gentle pressure of those lips. And she did not want to. So much of what she was, of her very essence, she owed to this woman. Entity, she corrected herself.
The kiss was long, and sweet. Hotaru found herself floating once again in darkness, but this time she was not alone. Another being wrapped itself around her, absorbed her, filling her with passion.
Eternity pulled away slowly. "Is the price I ask so much that you will not pay me? Isn't it enough that you owe me your life?" Her eyes were embers that burned into Hotaru's mind.
The voices were back, insistent. Hotaru stared into Eternity's eyes. Eternity's face melted into a glowing ball of nothingness, a blackness that dragged at the very existence of light. Energy was crushed, melded and absorbed, time slowed and was distorted in the nexus created by Eternity.
Hotaru shuddered and pushed Eternity away. "You don't love me, you can't. You don't know what love is, your very being is about engulfing and swallowing - you're not human!" Hotaru jumped out of the bed, sheets falling to her ankles. Naked, she stood for a moment, then lifted one arm. "Saturn Planet Power Make Up!" In a moment Sailor Saturn confronted the now enraged Eternity.
Eternity hissed as the Glaive came forward, just touching her neck. Her eyes flashed as she spoke, her voice triumphant. "This toy can't stop me, I am eternal - I am Eternity." She knocked the Glaive away with a sneer. "You owe me Saturn. We had a deal and this, " she waved her hand at Hotaru's form, "this comes with a price." She began to laugh cruelly and Hotaru stepped backwards, into nothingness. She began to fall .
Hotaru lurched forward into waiting arms, sweat pouring off of her. This was the dream she had had the night before, only this time, she remembered everything. Face in her hands, Hotaru cried silently, while gentle hands and voices soothed her.
She remembered, not just her previous life as the daughter of Tomoe Souichi, but as Saturn, guardian of the Outer Solar System, and bringer of destruction. What a horrible burden that had been - to know she would only bring death to those around her.
She remembered her visit to Pluto, how she had brought solace, and replaced visions of death with those of love. It was that single event that had triggered, literally, lifetimes of pain. For when she left Pluto, Saturn had vowed never to bring destruction without renewed life again. Even as she warned Pluto against herself, Saturn had sworn she would redeem herself and bring life to her Solar System.
She had, in a small way. When she found Queen Serenity and the Inner Senshi all dying, all attempting to protect their Princess, Saturn knew that she had found her moment of redemption. With her last bit of life-force, Queen Serenity and Saturn had created enough energy to save the Princess and her court and send them through time. Although she would die herself, Saturn felt that this was worth her own life, and more.
But Saturn hadn't died. Some small spark, the same spark, perhaps, that had preserved Hotaru from being destroyed by Mistress 9, had remained. She had no awareness, no mind, only a barely living body, drifting free in the cosmic winds.
It was there that she had been drawn in by the tides of Eternity. Eternity lived at the center of the galaxy, in the form of a black hole, forever swallowing energy - a cosmic Charybdis that absorbed everything and gave back nothing. Eternity had drawn her in, but had not absorbed her.
Time has no meaning to the dead, nor does it exist in the center of a black hole. She had stayed with Eternity for a long time, first as a patient, then as she healed, as a lover. Eternity gave her everything, even taking on a human form to please her.
But Saturn was haunted by the fate of her home, her Solar System. She asked Eternity to free her...and Eternity had. But there had been a price. A dreadful price...one she had been paying for far too long.
And here she was, at last, with a family and friends and a human life to be lived. A chance for happiness. No, Hotaru told herself, no chance for happiness. Just a cycle of life and death to be reborn over and over, to bring destruction and life and to begin again. She dropped her head to her knees, dragged down by the weight of her hopelessness.
Three figures surrounded Hotaru, holding her close. Above her head, three pairs of eyes met with firm resolve. If they had any say in the matter, Saturn would not die again. Around them, grave faces showed resolute agreement.
The courtyard of Hikawa Shrine was filled with the echoing cries from the crows above. Eleven figures stood in silence, contemplating their plight.
Hotaru watched as Chibi-Usa clenched her fists and readied herself for a final assault. "I have to go - you can't leave me behind. Hotaru-chan is my best friend..." She clasped one of Hotaru's hands tightly and planted her feet solidly beneath her, as if expecting to be dragged off. She looked up at Hotaru, who now stood a good head and shoulders above her. Hotaru wondered again at the unfairness of the universe. 900 years was a long time to be a child, and here I am, aging too fast. How terribly unfair.
No one moved to stop Chibi-Usa, no one moved at all. At last Mamoru stood up and walked forward, holding out one hand.
"Chibi-Usa-chan, we need you to stay here, to stay safe." He took her free hand in his and kneeled down to speak to her.
"It's not fair..." she began, but he interrupted her. "Chibi-Usa-chan, Small Lady, we don't know what will happen right now, but you need to be safe, in case..." he stopped and looked at Usagi, who nodded, "in case we don't come back."
Chibi-Usa looked at him for a moment, and then his meaning struck her. She shrank back from him and clung to Hotaru. "No! I don't care. If you go, I want to go too!" she looked at Hotaru, avoiding Usagi's eyes. Hotaru could see that Usagi was trying hard not to cry.
Usagi stepped next to Mamoru and drew Chibi-Usa's attention. "If you want to be treated as an adult, Chibi-Usa-chan, you have to face up to adult responsibilities."
Hotaru looked down at her friend and smiled. "Chibi-Usa-chan, I'd like for you to wait for me, then I know I'll have a reason to return." Her voice was tight, but her smile was honest and open.
Chibi-Usa looked away, but none of the others would meet her eyes, except Setsuna, who stood at a distance.
"Pu?" she asked, weakly.
Setsuna shook her head. "I agree with the Prince and Princess, Small Lady. Stay here and stay safe."
Chibi-Usa bowed her head in defeat. Hotaru leaned close to her and gave the smaller girl a hug. "Chibi-Usa-chan, I'm serious - be here when I get back, or I'll be very angry."
Chibi-Usa's face darkened. "Then you had better come back, or I'll be even angrier!" She turned away, so no one would see her cry. Hotaru thought of her friend, and of how proud the girl was. She has something I never had, a root, a base, it gives her so much strength and pride.
Time was running short, Hotaru knew. She could feel the pull that Eternity now exerted upon her. Twice in the past week shadow forms had attacked the Senshi and both times were defeated without Sailor Saturn. But the call to return to Eternity was getting stronger. She was pulling at Hotaru, drawing her in, trying to take back the energy she had once given her. Hotaru could feel the drain even as she stood here in the shrine. Eternity was very far away, and still had the ability to pull her back.
"Are we ready to go?" Mamoru's voice was clear and strong. Usagi stood next to him, holding his hand. She hesitated, then spoke. "Mamo-chan...maybe you had better stay behind too..." her voice petered out weakly, not sure of her position. She cleared her throat, avoiding the look of astonishment in Mamoru's face. "This way," she floundered, "this way, I have a reason to come back, too."
Mamoru opened his mouth to argue, but at that moment Ami looked up from her computer. "I've got it! I've figured out a way to anchor us here, and provide a beacon to bring us back, but there's a small problem..." She looked at Makoto and Rei, who stood at her side. "One of us is going to have to stay here and provide a signal for us to latch on to."
Rei opened her mouth and shut it again, clenching her jaw. Ami continued. "I'd say that it should be me, since my powers are the weakest, but I need to be with Sailor Moon and Saturn to guide them. Unless one of you wants to learn the calculations..." Everyone demurred hastily.
"I'll stay." Minako declared with finality. "My powers aren't as strong as Haruka-san's and Michiru-san's or Mako-chan's or Rei-chan's. I can stay here."
"No." Mamoru stepped up and touched Minako lightly on the shoulder. "No - she is your Princess, you have a job to protect her and to lead the Senshi . You go." He turned to Usagi and smiled wanly. "I guess I will be staying behind with Chibi-Usa-chan, after all." Chibi-Usa hugged herself to him, and buried her face in his arm.
Everyone turned away, talking softly in small groups, as Usagi, Chibi-Usa and Mamoru said their farewells. In a few moments, Usagi, with her eyes shining and wet, stepped forward and lifted her arm to the sky. One at a time, each of the Senshi did likewise, until all stood transformed, in a circle.
Mamoru and Chibi-Usa stood back and Sailor Mercury made a few last minute calculations. "I've programmed the computer to lock onto your life signs as a guide. It would probably be a good idea if you waited here for us." Mamoru nodded and lifted one hand in farewell. As each Senshi clasped hands, a wind arose, lifting their hair, a wash of color and light surrounded each woman. Sailor Saturn stood at Sailor Moon's side and looked once around the circle. When her eyes reached Sailor Mercury she paused, meeting Mercury's clear gaze.
"Can you lead us there?" Sailor Mercury asked.
Sailor Saturn nodded. "I have to go anyway. She's calling me." Sailor Saturn felt a pressure in her hand. Sailor Moon had tightened her grip on Saturn's hand.
They all focused their power into a Sailor Teleport and Sailor Saturn felt the unmistakable sensation of Time and Space opening up to let them through. She focused her mind on the tug she was feeling.
In a moment, all the Senshi were gone. Chibi-Usa stood next to Mamoru, both of them refusing to cry, not ready to speak. The wind died down and the birdsong picked up again. For a long while the two figures stood, looking out into the sky and thinking of the people that had just left.
Finally Mamoru looked down at Chibi-Usa. "C'mon. Let's go see if we can help Rei's grandfather with any chores," he said softly. And, without another word, the two figures turned and headed into the Temple.
Hotaru let the lure she felt draw her, not terribly gently, through the hole that opened for them. She could sense other planets and stars slipping away near them, but she did not let herself become distracted. Out there was a being that wanted to take her life away. And she, just as strongly, wanted it back.
The Senshi felt themselves slowing, and finally landing, if landing it could be called. Hotaru looked around. She did not recognize where she was, but this was not surprising. Eternity had created a false world within the black hole during their time together. This place looked more like the nothingness that truly existed. Sailor Mercury hit a few keys on her computer and reported that their space-time bubble remained strong. She glanced at Sailor Pluto for confirmation.
Sailor Pluto nodded. "I'll be able to tell if there is any stress on the field that may affect us. Nonetheless, it would be better if we remained together."
They all agreed. Sailor Mercury looked up from her computer and summoned her visor. She registered the visor's scans and shook her head. "I'm not getting any useful readings right now. It's like we aren't anywhere."
Sailor Saturn nodded. "That's exactly where we are - nowhere. I can feel her, though, pulling at me." She turned around and faced into the blackness. "There - Eternity is there...." She fell silent for a moment.
"Saturn, what do you hear?" Sailor Neptune's voice was soft, reassuring.
"She's there, and she's taunting me, tugging at me." Sailor Saturn said grimly.
Sailor Jupiter clenched her fist. "She's got a lot of nerve doing that. Let's go make her regret her poor manners."
"Right!" Sailor Mars agreed. "She hasn't even sent us a welcoming committee."
Sailor Venus looked around a little nervously. "I feel like we're being watched, though. Can't you feel it?"
"There definitely is a weird feeling in this place, but I can't place it. More like there's *no* feeling here...." Sailor Mars commented
Sailor Neptune agreed, holding up a blank mirror. "My mirror doesn't reveal anything at all."
Sailor Saturn was still staring off into the distance. "She is watching..." Sailors Jupiter and Mars stepped up to Saturn and stood by her side.
"Lead on Saturn - we'll show her what we think of people that attack one of us." Jupiter was actually beginning to look forward to this fight.
Sailor Saturn gripped her Glaive and looked towards Sailor Moon, who had said nothing at all.
Sailor Moon gestured a bit vaguely. "I agree, we are being watched, but what can we do? Let's find Eternity as soon as possible and get out of here."
In rows of three, the Senshi moved forward in the darkness. The nothingness was disconcerting. It was not a blinding darkness, but neither were there landmarks or light sources of any kind. Just a blankness, with no sense of reality at all.
Venus, who walked with Sailors Neptune and Pluto, shrank a bit, as the "wall" closed in on her. She stood still for a moment, to let the two older women pass. The "wall" behind her had no sensation, except hardness, to it. It was neither warm nor cold. It felt like nothing at all. She tried not to cringe as her arm brushed it. Back to the wall, Venus waited one more moment, then stepped away to join her friends. She was unable to move - her legs had been grabbed by the wall, and hands of black nothingness now gripped her arms tightly. Right before her mouth was covered, she managed to shriek out, "The wall..." And the null hand that covered her face absorbed the rest of the yell.
The rest of the Senshi heard Venus' cry and its abrupt cessation and immediately formed a circular formation, with Sailor Moon in the center. Sailor Venus continued to struggle, but inexorably, she was being absorbed into the wall. Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Uranus leapt forward and began to pull her back towards them, but nothing budged the darkness' grip on her. Sailor Uranus lifted her arm to throw World Shaking, but Sailor Moon cried out.
"Don't, Haruka-san! You'll hurt Minako-chan!" Sailor Moon covered her mouth in horror as Sailor Venus' legs completely disappeared into the void of the wall.
"We can't just do nothing!" Jupiter ground her teeth. "Sparkling Wide Pressure!" and she slammed her hand into the wall about 2 feet to Venus's left. Her attack rippled through the nullity that sucked at Sailor Venus, causing it to distort and crack. With a sickening noise, Sailor Venus pulled one leg away from the wall and managed to free her head from the darkness.
"Again " she gasped, and then the void reached out again for her.
Sailor Uranus slammed her hand into the wall on Venus's right. "World Shaking!" Sailor Jupiter again attacked the wall with Supreme Thunder. With a wrench, Sailor Venus pulled herself free from the confines of the wall. It immediately subsided into a featureless blackness.
"I think we have met our welcoming committee." Rei commented dryly.
Sailor Venus assured them that she was fine, but secretly felt as if it was all she could do not to collapse. I swear, she thought, that I will never be comfortable in confined places again
"This is ridiculous," Sailor Mars spoke again. "We could move around forever here and never do anything but walk in circles." She looked at Sailor Mercury, who shrugged.
"I certainly can't get any readings here " Mercury said, shaking her head.
"We need a better plan than this!" Mars continued. "we can't just walk into what is obviously a trap."
Sailor Saturn turned to face her. "You are right. You should stay here.."
"What?!" Sailor Jupiter held a seething Sailor Mars from leaping on Saturn. "I'm not staying here while you all move on!"
Saturn shook her head. "I don't mean you - I mean all of you. I'm the only one really in danger here."
"That's not true, Saturn." Sailor Moon said seriously. "Didn't you say that Eternity wanted all of our energies now? Then we're all in danger, not just you. We all go on."
Sailor Mars turned towards Saturn with a dazed look. "She makes sense. We can't leave you alone anyway. Just lead us on, I guess." Saturn nodded and turned away.
They moved silently into the blankness, not even their footfalls making a noise.
"This is utterly creepy," Sailor Jupiter commented. "We know they're watching - and they can attack at any time. I don't like it."
"I agree." Sailor Uranus was not happy at all. Sailor Saturn wasn't usually this placid. She was too passive by half. "I feel like we are sheep being lead to the slaughter "
"Uranus, that was not the best simile you've ever chosen." Sailor Neptune's voice was mildly scolding. Sailor Uranus grimaced.
"Is it just me, "Sailor Mercury commented, or does it seem hot in here?" She looked to Sailor Pluto, who stood as if listening.
"Immense pressure is being placed on our space-time bubble." Pluto confirmed.
"What exactly does that mean?" Sailor Moon looked less than regal at the moment.
"It means, that if they shatter it, the forces in the black hole will rip us to shreds." Sailor Saturn answered.
"Hunh," Sailor Mars grunted, "And you all think *I'm* grim."
The tension lessened, but the heat didn't. The general air of oppression grew, along with a germ of fear in each Senshi. Which would give out first, the space-time bubble or their nerves?
Their pace had slowed as the feeling of being squeezed grew, until they barely plodded along. Sailor Saturn still led them, but her eyes were cast down and her whole bearing spoke of defeat. Sailor Moon couldn't bear to look at her. She was just about to lose her composure, when the blackness that surrounded them broke apart.
With a explosive noise, the blankness shattered into a thousand shards, each full of unnatural angles. Figures stood in the shards, black and distorted, shadow puppets as seen through warped glass.
The shadow creatures surrounded the Senshi, moving too quickly for a plan of attack to be formed. Sailor Mars found her Flame Bow leaping to her hands and she readied herself, taking aim on one of the creatures. She could see Sailor Venus raise one hand and Sailor Mercury gather her arms together. Together they might just be strong enough. She drew a breath in, centered herself and...
"Don't." Sailor Saturn's voice broke through her concentration. "This is exactly what Eternity wants. She wants to drain us all of our power."
"Are we simply supposed to stand here and be overwhelmed?" Sailor Uranus lowered her hand, but her fist was clenched.
"Yes." Sailor Moon looked terrified, but her voice was strong. "I want to meet Eternity." No one said a word. All of the Senshi turned and faced their leader, closing ranks, and holding hands once more. No words were spoken, no protest raised. Eyes closed, they allowed the awaiting darkness to wash over them, a foul wave of nothingness that consumed them, leaving nothing but the thick, blank void.
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