Sailor Moon could feel the dullness attack every sense, it climbed into her ears and nose, suffocating her. She could feel her arms grow heavy and her legs fail. She could feel her heart beat slower and slower, until, nearly bursting with the effort to continue it seemed to stop....
"No, please!" she screamed.
And the sensation stopped. When Sailor Moon opened her eyes, she was standing in a large stone hall, the vaulted ceilings disappearing high above her. Her footfalls echoed heavily on the flagstones. She checked to see that all her limbs worked, and a quick pinch assured her that she was able to feel pain.
Relieved and annoyed, she looked around, and could see several of the other Senshi struggling to determine where they were. Sailor Moon could not see everyone, however, and she panicked.
"Everyone!" The other Senshi looked up, and seeing their Princess in difficulty, immediately centered on her.
Sailor Moon looked around, a little desperately, but she did not see Sailor Saturn or Sailor Pluto. "Where are Pluto and Saturn?" she asked, to no one in particular.
"Here." Pluto's soft voice carried in the stone hall. She stood next to Sailor Saturn, one arm holding the girl up. Saturn leaned heavily on her Glaive, her head down.
"Saturn!" Sailor Moon leapt forward. Sailor Saturn looked up weakly. Sailor Moon blanched. Her eyes looked so dull, and her face...Sailor Moon sucked in a breath as she realized that Saturn had been tremendously weakened. No longer a teenager at all, Sailor Saturn now looked older than the oldest of them.
"Saturn!" Sailor Moon cried out into the vaulted ceilings. "What are you doing to Sailor Saturn?"
"I am taking back what is mine..." a soft, musical voice made them all turn.
At the end of the hall, a figure rose smoothly from a carved throne. The amber stone had disguised the figure, but as she stepped forward her hair shone in the light from a thousand candles. Her dress flamed with the same burnished glow, as she stepped lithely and silently across the floor.
Sailor Moon watched Eternity closely, as she approached. She did not look evil, but then neither had so many of their enemies. Beryl had looked evil, true, but Neherenia, no, she hadn't looked evil, just desperate. Nor had Galaxia, or Diamaund. So few of them had been evil - just sad, deluded, manipulated. Sailor Moon searched Eternity's face for signs of the same symptoms - loneliness, isolation, longing.
"Don't." Sailor Saturn spoke sharply. "Don't look into her eyes."
Sailor Moon turned, "Why not?"
"She's not human, not even humanoid. This is just a form she's taken please."
Sailor Moon looked again at Eternity, who now confronted her head on, looking every inch the queen. Sailor Moon smiled softly at the posturing. She had seen it before; it was no longer threatening. She could barely remember the days when she had been frightened of her enemies. It was a very long time ago, now.
Eternity reached out and took Sailor Moon's face gently in one hand. "You are very beautiful, Moon Princess." And she looked directly into Sailor Moon's eyes.
"No!" Three Senshi leapt forward but it was too late, Sailor Moon's eyes had been caught. They could see her struggle, but Eternity kept a firm grip. Then slowly, Sailor Moon's wings began to unfurl and extend, wrapping the two women together in an embrace. As the Senshi watched, Sailor Moon lifted one hand, and tenderly touched the hand that grasped her chin. For a long moment there was complete silence, then Eternity thrust herself away from Sailor Moon, breaking the embrace as abruptly as if she had been shocked.
Sailor Moon turned, eyes shining with emotion, to Sailor Saturn, then back to Eternity.
"Won't you please let Saturn go?" she asked mildly.
Eternity turned her back on the Senshi and made a low noise in her throat. "Yes. Yes, I will. I have anticipated this moment for a long time." She whirled on Sailor Moon. "I thought to draw this out, make you suffer for this outrage, but," her voice became dull and bitter. "there would be no point. I cannot defeat you. And you," she laughed. "you dare not destroy me."
Sailor Uranus, who had been watching Sailor Saturn, now completely bowed over, launched herself at Eternity, screaming, "I dare! World .!"
She was pulled up short as Sailor Moon stepped in front of Eternity. "Damn!" Uranus muttered, angry at herself for losing control. "Tch." And her anger subsided as quickly as it began. She knew she could trust Sailor Moon, but it was hard, too hard, to watch Hotaru suffer like this. The girl was sinking slowly to her knees, and Sailor Uranus rushed to her side to cradle her.
"She's right." Sailor Mercury commented unexpectedly. "Eternity as we see her is simply a created form. She is really the black hole in the center of the galaxy. As such, she is a vital part of nature. We really *can't* destroy her without upsetting the delicate balance of energy in the galaxy."
"Sailor Mercury - always so factual." Eternity spoke towards the girl, who stared bravely into Eternity's face. Sailor Mercury blanched at the vision of the black hole in all its raw power, but she did not look away. Eternity bit back a curse and turned away.
Sailor Uranus laughed darkly. "Losing your touch, aren't you?"
"I'll take back my power - and more. Sailor Moon " she spun around to face her, "you wanted Sailor Saturn back - then take her! I'll give you exactly what I was given. Here's your precious Sailor Saturn!" She waved her hand towards Saturn's unconscious form and Saturn jerked once, then fell back into Sailor Uranus' arms. Sailor Pluto leaned over Saturn and felt for a pulse at her wrist then neck. She did not look up at the others, just let her head drop and her shoulders slump. Uranus gritted her teeth, but said nothing.
"There. There is your Sailor Saturn - exactly as I found her." Eternity stretched her arms and turned her back on them. "She is not dead, only nearly so. Just as I found her millennia ago." Eternity began to walk away, heading for her throne at the end of the hall.
"Stop!" Sailor Moon's voice commanded. "You have no right to walk away from this Eternity. You gave Sailor Saturn energy, but have forced her to pay for it over and over. And now you attempt to crush the hearts of her family. I will not forgive you for that."
Immediately Sailor Venus, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars and Sailor Jupiter lined up to either side of Sailor Moon. They all voiced their agreement. Sailor Neptune, who had joined Sailor Pluto and Sailor Uranus, now spoke up.
"Don't attack her! That is exactly what she wants, remember?"
Sailor Moon nodded grimly. "I remember. And we're going to give her exactly what she wants."
"What?!" The Inner Senshi all looked at Sailor Moon with surprise written clearly on their features..
"Everyone trust me, please?" Sailor Moon asked. With no hesitation, they all squared their shoulders and nodded, trusting in their Princess completely.
"Sailor Moon?" The words were spoken so softly that no one recognized the voice at first. It took a moment for everyone to turn to Sailor Uranus, who still knelt, holding Saturn's limp form in her arms. Sailor Neptune put her hand to her mouth and tried to stifle the tears that entreaty brought to her eyes. Pluto didn't even look up, but kept her eyes fixed on Saturn's face.
"Eternity." Sailor Moon's voice was splendid, neither condemning nor cold, but noble and powerful. "I feel very sorry for you. You were wrong when you said you loved her. Love does not do this. This," and she placed just a slight emphasis on the word, "is what love looks like." Sailor Moon looked around her, and meeting everyone's eyes, moved to surround the three Senshi and Sailor Saturn. When they came close, Sailor Uranus laid Sailor Saturn carefully on the ground and stepped back to join the circle.
The Senshi all lowered their heads. Tiaras disappeared from eight brows, replaced by planetary symbols. Power began to build around each Senshi, energy flowed from them and built into a palpable mass. Eternity stared, open-mouthed. When the power reached into the very corners of the hall, each Senshi lifted their arms, then, as one, focused them onto Sailor Saturn's body. Light, color and warmth all flowed from their hands into the inert body, animating it. For an infinite moment, everything around them disappeared, dissolved by the immense power they had built and Eternity's true nature was revealed at last.
The sky roiled with energy in all frequencies. No light or sound would escape the mass destruction all around them. Nothing could escape. Time itself was rent and space was deformed in this place. Eternity was utter chaos, the potential energy of millions of stars all warped and wrenched until nothing of their true nature was left.
The power from the Senshi continued to flow into Sailor Saturn, until she too began to glow. In a miasma of violet light, her form altered, growing both stronger, and vibrant. The violet light spread, including the encircling Senshi in its aura, until the very air around them crackled with its power. Then just as abruptly as the power had built, it stopped, drawing itself back into each of the Sailor Senshi with a finality that made Eternity gasp with longing.
"Love is infinite, Eternity. You can never give it away, since it returns itself many times over." Sailor Moon faced the entity, whose form was shimmering, as she lost her hold over herself.
"Give me your power, Sailor Moon!" Eternity's voice rang out. "I desire that energy."
Sailor Moon held out her hands to face Eternity. "Everyone?" They all nodded and turned to face their nemesis. Eternity smiled as the energy built up around them once again.
"You fools! Don't you understand my true nature? I absorb energy. This is what I am!" Eternity laughed gesturing at the chaos that surrounded them. "Give me your energy and you will never escape!" She laughed gleefully. "I long for such power!"
"Then you shall have it." Sailor Saturn rose from the ground. Eternity shrank back from the familiar form. The air around the newly resurrected Senshi sizzled with electricity.
"You're alive... well. I can take your energy again, Saturn. I drew you to me once, twice. You won't escape this time either "
The power that was building charged the very atoms around them. In Sailor Moon's hands appeared her Eternal Tiale, and she leveled it at Eternity, who stood facing her, a feral grin on her face.
"NOW!" Sailor Moon cried out and nine pairs of hands grasped the Tiale. The energy that poured from them was the purest of white light and it blasted into Eternity as she stood there laughing.
For a full ten seconds the power poured out from the Senshi, and the chaos around them slowed, stopped and left them in a timeless no-space, just the Senshi and Eternity connected by a cord of light.
The shaft of energy cut out, as the Senshi lowered their hands. Their faces were flushed and sweating and they leaned on one another for support..
"Ahahahahahahhhhhhh!!!" Eternity stood, still laughing, as strong as she had been at the onset of the assault. "You complete fools!" She stood for one moment gloating, then without a sound, collapsed to the ground.
Sailor Moon stood, not even fatigued, as Sailor Mercury used her visor and computer to scan Eternity. She turned with a confused look to Sailor Moon. "She seems unchanged, but "
"But what?" Sailor Jupiter wasn't about to trust the supposedly inert form.
"We didn't kill her, surely?" Venus popped her head around Jupiter's tall form, keeping her distance from their foe.
"No " Sailor Mercury, but she didn't finish.
"Wake up, Eternity." Sailor Moon called out. Eternity's eyes blinked and she sat up, dazed.
"What what happened?" she looked around, then her eyes narrowed and she spoke exultantly. "I did it! I absorbed all the energy you gave me!" She stood up and looked at her hands. "You fools, there's nothing you can do to me now!" she turned triumphantly to face Sailor Moon. The Senshi all looked with askance at their leader, worry, fatigue and tension clearly showing on their faces.
"Yes, there is," Sailor Moon said quietly and she turned away from Eternity.
"What?" Eternity mocked her. "What can you do to me?"
Sailor Moon hung her head sadly. "We can take it all away."
"What?!?" Eternity's voice echoed around her. Sailor Moon lifted her head and turned to face Eternity, blue eyes locked with amber ones.
"We have removed all of your energy, Eternity. And we have replaced it with ours. Without us, you will die. You were right, we couldn't destroy you - it would cause imbalance in the galaxy. But you were too powerful for your own good. I've taken away all the power you've absorbed over the millennia. And given you power that comes from us. This way you will continue to function - you can absorb light and energy as is your function, but from now on, any energy you do not need will come to us."
"You have " Eternity faltered.
"Yes. I've done to you what you did to Saturn all those years ago. In repayment for the debt I owe to her. She gave her life to save us and has suffered for it. And you were part of that. You had to be stopped. Your life is now tied with our own and you are beholden to us," The Senshi noticed a subtle changed in the timbre of her voice and with a shock they realized that Sailor Moon had meant the Royal "Us."
Sailor Moon turned and the Tiale disappeared from her hand. She looked at her Senshi and said simply. "And now, I want to go home to Mamo-chan." Her voice broke. Sailor Saturn ran over and embraced Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon hugged the girl back and smiled at Pluto over the girl's shoulder. Uranus and Neptune leaned on each other, exhausted by relief and sorrow.
"Sailor Mercury, can you get us home?" Sailor Moon turned to her friend.
"It would be my pleasure!" Mercury lifted her computer and punched a few keys. "Let's go."
One last time the Senshi stood in a circle, and clasped hands. Once again time and space opened up and the Senshi rose into the air. Softly, as if in a dream, they disappeared, leaving Eternity alone in a world of her own making.
If anyone had cared to notice, later that week there was, seemingly, a large family picnicking at Ichinohashi Park. Several adults, a few teens and one child had appropriated the choicest patch of ground overlooking the lake.
Two boats, both filled with screaming girls, appeared to be reenacting naval battles from history out on the water, while two of the adults watched from the land, laughing. On the lake, well away from the battling row boats, two of the women were enjoying a quiet moment alone in a boat of their own.
There was a terrific squeal and then, racing, the other two boats bore down upon the lone rowboat, their occupants clearly set on ramming the innocents. At the last minute, the blonde-haired woman who piloted the "attackee" slipped her vessel neatly between the two attackers, causing them to both overturn and dump their contents into the water.
On land, one of the adults laughed so hard he began to choke, as his intended bride splashed noisily and ineffectually in the water, eventually crying for help , that she was drowning. When she noticed her friends were standing in the shallow water looking at her rather oddly, she tentatively put her feet down and finding the surface firm, stood up sheepishly.
Usagi stalked out of the water, wringing her hair dry and muttering to herself. Mamoru stopped laughing long enough to grab up a blanket and wrap it around her, but she must have seen the smirk. Usagi grabbed the blanket ungratefully and sulked. Six bedraggled forms watched with various levels of amusement and annoyance as Haruka and Michiru, unscathed, docked their boat deftly and headed for their picnic.
Chibi-Usa turned to Hotaru, who was coughing up a little water she had swallowed as the boat had gone over.
"Are you okay Hotaru-chan?" Chibi-Usa asked, concern flashing in her eyes.
Hotaru looked up, at Mamoru coaxing Usagi out of her sulk with food, at Rei, Makoto, Minako and Ami laughing at each other's appearances, at Haruka and Michiru setting out lunch and at Setsuna, still laughing. She looked down at Chibi-Usa and, regardless of their soaked clothing gave her a big hug.
"Yes, Chibi-Usa-chan... I'm fine."
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