Notes and Disclaimers: The characters of the Senshi and the idea of Crystal Tokyo are the property of Takeuchi Naoko, Kodansha and Toei, all rights reserved.
The character of the Green Knight is the property of all English-speaking peoples, courtesy of a long-forgotten anonymous author. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is, IMHO, the single finest English-language story ever written. If you have not yet read it hurry and do so. If you have, I hope you will forgive my blatant rip-off of the thing.
If you enjoy this story, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, because I really do want to know.
"World Shaking" Fanfic is a proud supporter of Yuricon, a celebration of shoujoai and yuri in anime and manga. And of the Fanfic Revolution, because fanfic doesn't have to suck.
Sailor Jupiter and the Green Knight
The second of the Courtly Tales of Crystal Tokyo
by Erica Friedman
Another story, you say? About the Senshi and battles with giants and magic? You don't want much, do you?
Well maybe I do have story for you after all. Gather around and mind me now. Because this story takes place in a time that is not of this time and a place that is not of this place, in a land full of wonder and beauty and magic. It takes place in Crystal Tokyo.
You remember the story I told you last time? The story of Kuroko, the kitchen girl who turned out to be the powerful Sailor Saturn and how she rescued the Moon Kingdom? Well, this story takes place the very *next* year.
It was Christmas time once again in Crystal Tokyo. Christmas was always a festive time and a blinding one too, when the sun was bright. The Crystal Palace gleamed in the white winter light, and to make it even more beautiful than ever, banners and garlands hung from every surface, flashing and twinkling by sun and moon.
Once again the great ones of Crystal Tokyo were gathered. All the talent and brains and beauty of the city (by which I mean mostly everyone) were poised to gather together and salute their Great Queen at her solstice feast. And the Queen, as always, was greatly looking forward to her party. It was no secret you see, that the Queen loved an adventure. As she had proclaimed the year before, no food would be set before the guests until a tale had been told, or a quest had been proposed or some enchanted creature had made itself known to the company.
The first year, you may remember, that Neo-Queen Serenity had made this pronouncement the reaction had been one of trepidation but not this year. This year the whole city waited breathlessly for the magic of the season to bring them a great adventure.
So the day came and the city flowed through the gates of the Palace once again, and the greathearts of the court mingled with the people they protected. This year the Queen had commanded all the Senshi be present; her own daughter and Sailor Saturn gracefully welcomed guests into the dining room. Sailors Uranus and Neptune, who were known to keep to themselves, were there; and there was great wonder at them for they were not often seen by the people of Crystal Tokyo. But the crowd swirled strongly around the figures of the Inner Senshi the Queen's own advisors and protectors. They *were* well known and had many friends and loved ones among the guests. Even the mysterious Sailor Pluto came from her place at the Doors of Time, since the Queen herself had insisted.
Soon, but not soon enough, the time came for the guests to take their seats. Once again the Queen with the King and her Senshi at her side, were seated at the high dais and looked out upon the gathered company.
The Queen sat, and all took their seats. She smiled at the room and many smiled back at her. "I bid you all welcome," she began in her soft voice, "to Our Christmas party. As you are well aware, last year We made it Our custom to require a tale or miracle or mystical event, before We will eat." Her smile brightened. "We have been told that this has added to the popularity of this event somewhat."
The company chuckled it was well-known that everyone who could have possibly wangled an invitation that year had done so and indeed, the hall was filled to bursting point with attentive visitors.
"So," the Queen continued. "Does anyone have for Us, a tale? A quest? A challenge?" On the last word, the Queen's voice rang out and almost echoed across the hall. When the sound had faded away there was nothing but a pregnant silence. No one dared breathe, much less move.
The silence lengthened. Not a sound, not as much as a sneeze came from the gathering. And still the silence went on. The Senshi, attentive to the moods of their sovereign, watched the Queen's face, waiting for a sign of her pleasure or displeasure. Later it was said that the Senshi, knowing their Queen so well and knowing her sense of humor, were waiting for, as they say, the other boot to drop.
And drop it did. Into the middle of that silence came a loud booming noise. After the echoes had faded, it came again, then a third time. The Queen nodded to the servants at the doors, and they were swung open. It wasn't until this moment that the company realized that what they had heard was the knocking of a very large fist upon the palace doors.
In a great sigh of released breaths, the guests turned to face the apparition that rode into the dining hall. A giant it was, and all of green, so that clothes and eyes and even its skin glowed emerald. It rode in upon an enormous horse, with mane and tail the same virulent color and great green hooves that clacked loudly upon the floor. The giant held in its huge fist an axe an axe as large as a person as easily as a child might lift a pencil. It was clad from head to toe in green armor. The company stared with wide eyes at this creature. People pressed away from the green giant, leaving room for it to ride into the center of the room, and to turn and face the Queen.
As the creature came to a halt in front of the Court, the horse lowered its head, as if in curtsey. The Queen acknowledged this with a nod and a new smile.
"Welcome Guest, to Our home. I take it you have a tale for Us?"
The giant did not answer. Instead, it lifted itself easily from the saddle and dismounted to stand in front of the Queen. Bowing deeply, the creature reached up and removed the helmet that shielded its head. As the helm was removed, the guests were surprised to note that the giant creature had long green hair that fell almost to the ground. And when it spoke, all listeners were enthralled. The creature, armored, with great weapon indeed, was a woman!
"Great Queen," the giantess' voice boomed across the hall, "I salute you." And she did, sweeping her arm and the great axe she held, across her body with an audible "swoop." "I have come to your court to look upon the renowned Senshi at last with my own eyes."
Standing at her full height, the Giant was able to look the raised Senshi in the eyes. Her smile, when it came, was pearly green.
"And I see that you are, as I have heard, wise and powerful and the Senshi are strong and brave. So I have come to test that strength and bravery I have come with a challenge."
Again the words echoed. This time the tongues of the guests were loosened, and the buzz of whisper and conjecture moved faster than the wind through the crowd.
"A challenge," Neo-Queen Serenity echoed. "I am glad. I was getting quite hungry." There was a noise of choked laughter, but none of the Senshi's faces changed and no one knew from whom it had come.
"I have a simple challenge and one that will not be cause for too much alarm," the giantess said pleasantly. "I have brought with me an axe, as you see," here she held up the object high so that everyone in the room could see it a not difficult task, as it was now almost brushing the ceiling with its eerily glowing patina. "And I challenge one of your Senshi to strike me with it. A single blow, strong and sure enough to remove my head from my shoulders."
Again the crowd was filled with whispered conversation. A beheading? Before dinner?
"That doesn't sound like too difficult a challenge," the Queen commented lightly. "Surely there is some greater task involved?"
"A greater task that removing my head?" the giantess laughed at this. "Yes, there is. For the Senshi that undertakes this challenge will be allowed but one stroke. And one year and day from today, that same Senshi must seek me out and receive in return a single stroke from this same axe."
Now the crowd no longer whispered, but spoke in outright concern. Would anyone be foolish to accept this challenge? It was surely death!
But the Queen did nothing. Without even turning her head, she spoke to her Senshi. "Which one of you will address this challenge?" And in an instant every Senshi was on her feet shouting that she and no other would be the one to accept the offer. The Queen smiled and turned her head from side to side.
"I think that only one of you is meant for this task." The Queen's voice pierced the crowd's clamor and everyone stood silent.
Sailor Mars spoke sharply. "I am the Queen's Champion it falls to me to take up this quest."
Sailor Uranus spoke firmly. "I am the best fighter. I will do this."
The Queen shook her head slowly. "Neither to Mars nor to Uranus, I think, will this challenge go."
Sailor Mercury spoke up. "I believe that this challenge was designed specifically for one of us alone, was it not, Green Knight?"
The giantess nodded somberly as all the Senshi stepped back and took their seats.
Sailor Jupiter still stood, and leaning forward, her hands on the table in front of her she said firmly, "This contest is mine and I accept it."
Once again the Queen smiled and the Senshi smiled too all but Sailor Jupiter, whose face remained serious and thoughtful.
"Let's do this thing, Green Knight, so that you may die your death and I may get my dinner." And at this, she smiled.
Sailor Jupiter left the high dais, and walked proudly to the floor where giant knight and horse waited. Both stood many feet taller than she and she was one of the tallest of the Senshi.
The knight regarded her solemnly. "You swear that you will abide by this agreement and seek me out one year and a day from today?"
"I do," responded Jupiter.
"And you will accept without regard for your own life a single stroke from this axe?"
The giantess nodded and held out the axe. Sailor Jupiter grasped the enormous weapon in both hands. It was plain to all who watched that the Senshi, strong as she was, was hard put to maneuver the immense thing. After a moment or two, Sailor Jupiter got the weight and heft of it, and nodded. "I'm ready."
The knight bent her knee and lowered herself down until Sailor Jupiter could look her in the eye. "You may wish to stand on something," she said mildly.
Jupiter nodded. Looking around, she asked that a table be cleared and it was done. Jumping to the table, she nodded once again. The knight kneeled before her, pushed her hair out of the way and waited.
Sailor Jupiter swung the huge axe in a large arc around her head. The humming of the weapon through the air was audible to everyone in the hall. With a grunt of effort and a single swing that took all of her strength, Sailor Jupiter aimed the axe for the giantess' great, green neck. The axe cut cleanly through and the head rolled to the floor with a thump, followed by the body of the enchanted knight.
People throughout the hall began to scream, but the Queen simply raised her hand. "Watch," she instructed, and the crowd immediately calmed down.
The great body of the giantess shuddered and lifted itself to its hands and knees. Feeling around gently, it found its own head and dusted it off. With a pronounced effort, it placed its own head firmly onto its own shoulders. Removing its hands, it rolled its head around a little before turning to face a pale and visibly shaking Sailor Jupiter.
"Be at ease, brave Senshi I live. That was indeed a mighty blow. I will have a headache I fear, for many days." The giantess stood and plucked her axe lightly from Jupiter's clenched hands. "Remember your promise one year and a day from today I will expect you in the Green Grotto. Come and receive your blow, Senshi of Crystal Tokyo!" And with that, the phantasmic creature swung herself up into the saddle and rode out of the hall before anyone could speak another word.
Sailor Jupiter, still a little wan, rejoined her companions at the head table. The Queen stood and commanded that the dinner be served, but it was doubtful that anyone ate much, with all the talking that was going on.
Spring came to Crystal Tokyo and the cherry trees flowered, much as they do even now. Then spring passed and summer too, and one day as the Queen looked out onto her beautiful city, she noticed that autumn had come. The weather was still warm, but the leaves were beginning to change and winter would not be long off. There was a knock at the door of her chamber and she called out for the person to come in and join her.
Sailor Jupiter stepped in and bowed. The young woman's face was serious, but her green eyes twinkled. "It looks like it's time for me to fulfill my quest," she said lightly.
The Queen agreed. "I wondered when you would set out. I've had some things prepared for you."
The Senshi gathered to say farewell to their companion. Sailor Jupiter was arrayed with the finest armor and weaponry that Crystal Tokyo had, but she shook her head. "You know I won't use any of these things. Why are you giving them to me?"
The Queen grinned in a way that only her closest friends might have remembered from her youth. "You need them it's part of the story." Only Sailor Mercury smiled at this, but she remained silent.
Sailor Jupiter looked contemplatively at the golden star on her new cloak and shield and she shrugged. "I'll come back before spring, I promise." And with a wave, she sped off to find the mysterious Green Knight.
Sailor Jupiter traveled far and wide searching for the magical green giantess and her grotto. Most had never heard of such a thing, but once in a while, she was given directions towards the west. Always towards the west, and so west she traveled, all the way through autumn until long after the weather turned cold and all the leaves had fallen from the trees.
It was a hard journey and a long one. The land became wild and the people unfriendly. Some, when they heard that a Senshi of Crystal Tokyo was among them, hid in their homes and locked the doors. Others lined the streets of their town, watching closely as Sailor Jupiter passed through, but offering no assistance.
One day, as the sun was setting and the cold dark began to gnaw into Sailor Jupiter's bones, she became aware of a small house ahead. Light poured from the windows warmly and there was a sense of something welcome and cozy in that place. She could make out a garden that had been well-tended, a path cleared of weeds and a sense of loneliness began to overwhelm her. She knocked on the door hoping that she might find at least a place to stay for the night, but maybe also a companion someone with whom to share her tale.
The woman who answered the door was old, wrinkled, with a kindly face. She took a long look at the Senshi, then commanded her to come in out of the cold. Jupiter did so with dispatch. The woman welcomed her in, sat her down and before you could say two words, she found herself with warm feet and a full stomach. That the woman did not ask who she was, or where she was going or why, struck Jupiter as odd, but there was no polite way to mention it.
After thanking the old woman, Sailor Jupiter waited until the crone had picked up her knitting and set herself by the fire. "Have you ever heard of the Green Grotto?" she asked, "I have an appointment there and I don't know where to find it."
The old lady stared at her with dark eyes flashing. "I won't ask your business, but I've never heard of anything good happening there."
"So you *have* heard of it?" Jupiter leaned forward eagerly.
"Yes, it's not far off. But there's a guardian there you won't pass her."
"The Green Knight!" Jupiter said, jumping to her feet. "That's who I have business with where is it? Is it far?"
The old lady shooed Jupiter back into her chair. "It's not far, you can make it there in less than a day." She pinned Jupiter with her dark eyes. "But think hard, young lady, before you leave here. Here is warmth and light and food. At the grotto you will find only cold and dark and death."
Sailor Jupiter sat quietly for a moment, then said, "If that is my destiny, then so be it. I gave my word and I'll see this though."
The old lady nodded. "Then sleep here tonight and tomorrow I'll set you on your road."
The Senshi slept deeply that night and woke refreshed and happy. Although the adventure ahead seemed dark, she could not stop smiling, and at last, as she helped the old woman prepare breakfast, burst out into a song.
They ate together, and the old lady watched while Jupiter gathered her few possessions and made ready to go.
"Follow the path that goes towards the forest, towards the west. When you reach a fork in the road, take the left path that will lead you to the Green Grotto," the old lady said. "The way won't be easy, no one goes that way. But," and the lady smiled at Sailor Jupiter, "you're young, strong and, dare I say, dedicated, it probably won't stop you."
Jupiter laughed. "Dedicated? You mean foolish. Well, thank you for everything!" And she took her leave of the old woman.
She was out of sight of the house when she realized that she had forgotten to ask the woman her name; for Jupiter was a kind person, and had determined to send a reward or thanks offering when she returned to Crystal Tokyo. She turned back on her trail and once more came within sight of the cottage. But this time there was no light coming from the windows and the garden looked weedy and over-run. Calling out for the old lady, Jupiter was unable to see any sign of life or that anyone had inhabited this cottage for a very, very long time. In confusion, Jupiter turned away from the abandoned shack and headed into the forest.
The forest was dense and dark. Strange noises followed Jupiter as she walked. Rustling movements on each side told her that she was being watched. But no enemy dared show itself. Jupiter whistled, hummed, then sang loudly to bolster her confidence, but the sound died in the dank air. At last she came to a fork in the road. The noises that had been soft but persistent now grew louder calls and cries filled the air and she covered her ears against them. Keeping her eyes fixed on the road ahead, Jupiter took the left way at a run.
As she passed the signpost, which only pointed the way to the right, the noises all of them ceased.
The only sound she could hear now was her breathing and the sound of her feet moving through the underbrush. The path was hard to see, overgrown as it was, and Sailor Jupiter had to clear the way with her arms. Bushes and trees tore at her face and clothes, and soon she despaired of her way, for she had completely lost the path. No sun broke through the dense forest and she was beginning to tire. As the thought passed through her mind that she would pause at the first clearing she found, the forest seemed to open up into a wide and sunlit glade.
Sailor Jupiter stood amazed. Soft, warm sun poured onto green grass. Trees flowered and animals moved across the sward, as if she had wandered into a place caught in an eternal springtime. At the top of a small rise she spotted a manor house. The sun gleamed on polished timber and she could hear laughter. Slowly, she approached the house, willing that the enchanter be friendly and not set against her.
The first human that greeted the tired Senshi's eyes was an incredible sight. A young woman stood in the grass, laughing and singing as if she had no other task for the day. Sailor Jupiter watched in fascination as the woman twirled and danced in the flower-covered meadow.
The young woman stopped when she saw the Senshi watching her and her face immediately turned red. "I'm sorry!" she cried, running to meet the weary visitor, "I didn't see you there. Welcome to Greenlawn. Please come in and rest yourself."
Sailor Jupiter introduced herself with a formal bow. "I'm here on official business," she said by way of explanation, "I won't be here long."
But the young woman had taken Jupiter's hands in her own and pulled her towards the house. "I don't know what business could have brought you out to my home it's hardly on the beaten track." She laughed joyfully at her own joke. "But you're very welcome! I rarely have visitors at all, much less so distinguished a one."
The young woman led Jupiter into the house, and made her feel at home. "There is a bath, and food, and if you will allow me to be presumptuous, a bed you can sleep in."
Jupiter nodded with thanks. "I'm exceedingly grateful for the bath and the meal, but I have an errand to run, so despite my desire to stay in your beautiful home, I'll have to leave in the morning."
"How awful!" the woman said, "and here I thought I might be have some company for a few days." A look of sudden shame passed over her fair face and she blushed. "In my haste to welcome you, I've forgotten to introduce myself I'm Lii."
"Lii," Sailor Jupiter parroted politely. "And please, call me Makoto."
"Makoto then." And for the first time, Jupiter noticed that her hostess had a slight accent, marking her as a foreigner.
The Senshi had made herself comfortable, bathing and changing into clean clothes provided by Lii. As she joined her hostess, Sailor Jupiter jested that she now understood why Lii had been spinning in place when they had met, the clothes felt so soft.
A meal was served and over it, the two women spoke lightly, of general things, music and dance and clothes and parties, as young women will do (even though, as Senshi of Crystal Tokyo, Jupiter was far older than she appeared.)
When the dishes were cleared and both women were again comfortable, Lii at last admitted that she could wait no longer she *must* know what quest took a Senshi of renown so far away from her home.
"I am looking for the Green Grotto," Jupiter confessed, somewhat wearily. "I have an appointment in four days with the Green Knight that dwells there an appointment I may not miss."
"But that's right down the hill!" Lii cried happily. "You can remain here and keep me company for the days remaining, and on the fourth morning, I shall see you off myself."
With great relief, Sailor Jupiter agreed.
The night passed in pleasant conversation, ending in both women wishing each other pleasant dreams.
The morning dawned brightly, as indeed, Lii commented, it did most days, and the women met again over breakfast. Jupiter was so happy to not have to journey another day that she offered her assistance with the house, or any chore that might present itself. Lii looked thoughtful at this.
"I can't think of anything I need from you, except your company," she said. "And sadly, this morning I have some business away from here. It won't take long, I'll be back before the sun starts towards the west." Her face brightened, "I propose a game! My business can, if you are so inclined, be called hunting. I will give you all that I bring back with me as a gift. While I am away, you have your run of all the grounds and anything that you gain, you shall give to me!"
Jupiter laughed at that. "I can't imagine what I could find of interest in your own home, but I'll agree to the terms."
Lii clapped her hands in delight. "Then it's a deal. I'll return about noon. Please feel free to go where you will."
Lii left soon after, and Sailor Jupiter decided that it would be only fair to go about and hunt for unusual things, as the terms of the game dictated. She wandered the halls of the beautiful manor, visiting every room in turn, picking up books, looking at the art and generally poking around. As the hours passed, Jupiter found herself on the top floor of the home, in what was obviously being used as a storage room. She swung the door closed behind her, but instead of closing, the door slapped into the slightly warped frame with a loud bang.
Jupiter turned with a start, as another voice cried out in surprise. Jupiter found herself staring at a pair of large green eyes that stared back rather wildly. Jupiter apologized quickly, then expressed surprise that there was anyone else at all in the house.
"Oh, well," the woman laughed shyly. "I don't go downstairs much. I stay in my rooms and study, mostly."
Jupiter smiled gently. "You remind me of a friend."
"Really?" The woman gazed at the Senshi in wonder. "A friend of yours?"
"Yes!" Jupiter laughed. "Does it surprise you that I have friends?"
"No!" the woman blushed deeply. "It's just that my sister told me that you are from the Palace in Crystal Tokyo, and since you are so powerful and famous...it is somewhat surprising to hear you speak of friends."
"Yes, I'm Ran, Lii's sister." The woman turned away quickly.
"Can I offer any assistance?" the Senshi asked. "In return for startling you."
Ran gestured to a large pile of books. "You can help me carry these. If you don't mind."
Jupiter jumped forward to lift the burden into her arms. "I don't mind at all." And she smiled into Ran's eyes. Jupiter noticed, as she now stood less than an arm's length from Ran, that the other woman, although short-haired, where Lii had long, was otherwise very similar to her sister. They were of a height and of the same build, and their eyes were the same shade of green as green as the grass in the mead outside. And as the other thanked her, Jupiter heard that their voices too were similar each with that same small accent.
Jupiter carried her burden, following as Ran led the way to a distant wing of the house. Carefully, Ran unlocked a door and opened it, waving the Senshi in. The rooms were pleasant, airy and bright, she noted, just before a dark object came hurtling out of nowhere and knocked Jupiter and the tomes she held to the floor.
Ran scurried forward with an exclamation and kneeled before the groaning Senshi. "I'm sorry! Are you alright? You're not injured are you?"
Jupiter stilled her dizziness and looked up at Ran's concerned face. "I'm fine, but...what was that?"
The other woman blushed yet again. "It was my cat we must have startled it. But your hand," Ran exclaimed, picking up the appendage as she spoke. "It's been cut."
Jupiter sat on the floor and stared at her own hand. "It's only a little wound. Nothing to worry about."
"Let me bandage it for you," Ran insisted. She hurried away, returning with a cloth, with which she preceded to cover the wound. After it was done, she lingered, holding the hand still.
"Thank you," Jupiter said graciously, remembering an episode from her own youth that was not dissimilar.
"There's something missing," Ran insisted, her face now a dark crimson. "This will help you heal faster," and she leaned forward and pressed a long kiss onto the back of Jupiter's hand. The Senshi sat, quite paralyzed with amazement at this act. Ran stood up quickly and began to straighten the books that had spilled across the floor. "You should go," Ran said. "My sister will be returning shortly."
Jupiter stood and tried to assist Ran, but the other woman shooed her away with that shy smile. "Go. But if you should happen to be in the garden tomorrow morning, then look for me - I may be there."
Jupiter left Ran's apartment and returned to the main part of the house, feeling decidedly bewildered. On the one hand the woman seemed so bashful and quiet, but that kiss...she resolved that it was nothing about which to worry, but the memory made her thoughtful.
Ran was correct Lii returned not long after. She was smiling and gay and full of laughter as she rant to meet her guest. "Let's have our meal right away and we shall share our treasures from today's hunt afterwards."
And so they did. It was early afternoon when they at last made ready to share their adventures. Lii brought forth, with great fanfare, a large covered basket. From the basket she drew a fragrant posy, all of spring flowers. This she gave to Jupiter with a flourish.
"This is for you, as we promised." The woman laughed lightly as she handed Jupiter flowers and herbs and wild vegetables of many kinds. Jupiter's face was alight with wonder as Lii produced from her great basket, well out of season, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables. "And because these are your part of today's exchange," Lii smiled, "we shall have them with our dinner! Now, it is your turn what have you for me?"
Jupiter shook her head. "I think I failed in my side I have nothing I received today, except..." and here she paused for a moment, "unless it be this." And she caught up Lii's hand in her own and pressed her lips firmly to the back.
When Jupiter released the other's hand, there was a stark silence, but Lii's laughter filled it a moment later. "I won't ask you where you found this thing, it would ruin the mystery. Now, let us walk in the sunlight and enjoy the air."
And so the day passed into night, the two women growing ever more comfortable with the other's presence. The next morning came, much the same as the one before. Lii once again proclaimed her business would take her away from the house, but that upon her return they would once again exchange what they had won from their labors.
After Lii had left, Jupiter remembered Ran's words and took herself out to the garden. For hours she wandered the paths, lost in thought and in the beauty of the place. It was in the shade of a large tree that that grew beside the stream that she once again found Ran. The woman rose to her feet with a greeting and held out her hands to welcome the Senshi.
"I am glad that you came" Ran said, and leaned forward, placing two soft kisses, one on each of Jupiter's cheeks. She bade Jupiter sit with her and together they sat in comfortable silence, dabbling their feet in the water. Jupiter made a few passes at conversation, but by and large was content merely to be in the other's presence. Indeed, it seemed to her that Ran was as quiet and soothing as Lii was full of energy. Almost as if she had read the Senshi's thoughts, Ran leapt to her feet.
"I must be going," she said, "but my sister will be here shortly and you can give her what I have given you." Her smile was warm, and her green eyes flickered with laughter almost exactly as Lii's did. She took her leave and was gone before Jupiter could say another word.
That evening, Lii brought out her basket once again. "Today I bring you great riches!" she said with joy. The basket gave forth of its bounty apples and pears and best of all, fresh, golden peaches. Jupiter boggled at the fruit, and almost without will of her own insisted that she make a pie for them to share.
"A pie?" Lii clapped her hands, as was her wont. "And so shall it be! But you must turn your treasures over to me."
Jupiter laughed. "I'm afraid you'll find my take today poor indeed." She stood to face Lii, and put her hands on the other woman's shoulders. A kiss she placed on each of Lii's cheeks, which were decidedly pinker when the Senshi moved away from her.
"How very interesting a hunt you must have had..." was Lii's only comment, her voice hushed.
Another evening passed. An observer might have noticed that, from time to time, when the Senshi's eyes were turned away, Lii turned a hard and penetrating look upon her.
The third morning dawned and Lii commented, somewhat reluctantly, that she would not be home before noon once again. Her leave-taking was somewhat subdued and Sailor Jupiter did not fail to notice.
Today she had no plans, but merely wandered where she would, and finding that she longed to breathe the air of the meadow, went outside to stroll on the lawn. The manor was well named, for the knoll was green and bright and the sun was warm on her back. From where she stood, Sailor Jupiter could see for miles, down the hill on one side to the forest from which she had come, and to the other, a dark and ill-boding wood, with impenetrable foliage. Jupiter shuddered at the sight and turned to leave. It was her turn to be startled this time, as she nearly ran into Ran, who stood close behind her.
"It's terrifying, isn't it?" the woman nearly whispered. "But tomorrow you go that way."
Jupiter turned back towards the dark wood and nodded. "I have a promise I must keep."
Ran sighed. "And I will never see you again." Her voice was sad, but something in her seemed determined. She sighed again. "In which case..." with a quick movement, Ran embraced Jupiter strongly, pressing her lips against those of the surprised Senshi. "I wish you would not go," she whispered, and kissed Jupiter more deeply and passionately than the Senshi had ever felt. Her own head became dizzy, her breath shortened and reflexively she felt her arms tighten about the waist of the slight woman. The kiss went on for a long time, before she was released.
Ran stepped back, her face once again flushed, her lips dark and she looked up at the tall Senshi. Her eyes filled with tears. "I can't persuade you can I? To stay here?"
Sadly Jupiter shook her head.
Ran nodded sadly. "Then at least take this," she undid from around her waist a belt, woven green and gold threads. "It has a spell of protection within it. Anyone who wears this shall not be killed, even by the sharpest of blades or strongest of blows." Ran handed over the girdle. "Tell me that you will wear this tomorrow when you face the Green Knight."
Jupiter looked down at the object. Her vow to the Green Knight coursed through her mind. "I cannot," she said, at last. "I swore that I would accept this blow without regard for my life."
Ran took Jupiter's hand and laid the girdle on her palm. "Not for yourself, but for myself do I ask this. I do not wish you to die." Tears welled up in the woman's eyes and Jupiter found her fist closing over the belt.
"I'll wear it," the Senshi said, "where no one might see it. If it protects me, then so be it." And with these words, she felt something akin to relief for the Green Knight might be strong, but she might yet live to see the sun rise in two days.
Ran again embraced her happily. "I will not see you off. I wish you protection and joy, great Senshi." The woman dashed the tears from her eyes and sprang away across the lawn as lightly as her sister danced on that same spot.
Jupiter stood a long time staring off after Ran. At last she stirred, and with a quick glance around to see that she was not watched, she slipped the girdle on beneath her clothes and tied it around her waist. Thus protected, she headed back to the house.
Lii arrived home, this time bearing with her eggs and cheese. Her mien was serious and reserved and Jupiter worried.
"Gracious hostess," the Senshi said, "tell me what troubles you."
At these words Lii put on a smile, though it was obviously false. "I'm troubled by your leaving. Although it's been but three days, I feel as if you have been here forever...and it makes me sad to think that I shall never see you again."
"So hopeful!" Jupiter laughed. "I do not fear the Green Knight, nor should you. I promise that you will see me ere the sunset tomorrow."
Lii looked hard at the Senshi. "You can promise me that?"
Sailor Jupiter nodded. "I vow it."
Lii's face relaxed into a true smile. But when she turned away, Jupiter's hand rested on her waist where the girdle was tied.
Night had fallen. The two women sat together on a soft couch, the silence lengthening between them.
Of a sudden Jupiter sat bolt upright. "I have completely forgotten my end of the bargain!" she cried. "You gave me your days spoils, but I have not given you mine."
"Oh?" Lii asked. "And what did the great hunter receive today?"
Jupiter reached forward and pulled the other woman close. "This," she said and proceed to kiss Lii as she had been kissed that day. As she had to Ran, so Lii wrapped her arms around Jupiter's waist. The kiss went on as long as the kiss from that day, and was as sweet.
When at last they parted, Lii held Jupiter's hands tightly. "Please," she begged. "Stay with me tonight, and tomorrow and the next day. No one need know that you failed to keep your appointment."
Jupiter pulled her hand away. "But I will. And I have given my word something sacred to me." She looked down at her hands. "And the Queen will know don't ask me how I just know she will. How could I ever look her in the face again if I fail in my quest?"
Lii nodded slowly. "Truly, you are brave and strong." She made an effort to pull herself together. "Is that all you received for your days hunting?" she asked coyly.
Jupiter nodded and stood. "Was that not enough?" she smiled and bade her hostess good night. As laid herself down to sleep, her hand rested upon the hidden girdle at her waist.
The morning was cold and dark. Lii girded Jupiter with her armor and repaired cloak. As she had announced, Ran did not appear to see her off. Jupiter waved her hand in farewell and walked away from the house on the hill without a backward glance. But her thoughts were as much behind the Senshi as upon the adventure before her. Her inner eye could see the two women and their somber sadness as they parted with her.
In a few minutes the sun disappeared behind a dark cloud. The forest loomed closely and the wind turned cold. Traces of snow lay on the ground before her and the grass was sere. Jupiter refused to turn around and find that the house was no longer there, so she kept her eyes fixed on the dark wall of trees before her.
All too soon the trees opened up and a path led into the darkness. Jupiter felt fear grow, as the trees pressed thickly about her. As she moved through the morning, the dread grew, until she drew up in front of a large, overgrown gate. A cold wind was blowing and Jupiter began to shiver. She pressed her hand into the gate and slowly, with much noise and complaint, it opened upon a grotto. Jupiter entered this place, her arms crossed against her chest so that they would not shake.
The darkness was absolute. From within the blackness came an eerie sound, a low moan that echoed throughout the grotto. The moan wailed on and on and Jupiter had to clench her fists until her nails cut into her palms so that she would not bolt. The slightest light became visible at one end of the grotto and Jupiter watched in fixed fascination as it grew. Green light poured forth from the figure that strode into the space when, at last, the Green Knight made her appearance.
Jupiter's clenched fists fell to her side as the giant approached. She knew that she was watching her death come for her and Jupiter desired, above all things at that moment, to see her Queen once more and say goodbye.
The giant smiled to see the Senshi there and bowed to her. "So, you have come after all that is good."
"I am here, Green Knight, as I vowed. I pray you make my death swift."
The giantess laughed at the halting words. "So quick to run to your death. Is there nothing that you would not live for, little Senshi?"
Jupiter thought of Ran's body close by her own, and Lii's arms wrapped about her waist. "Yes."
"Then face your death bravely, for those things depend on it."
The Green Knight lifted her axe and made a few passes with it, as Jupiter kneeled. "Be careful, Knight and cut me cleanly I wish to be beautiful in my coffin," the Senshi joked tightly.
"I know my business, I dare say," the knight replied.
Jupiter leaned her head forward, and she closed her eyes. The whirring of the axe stopped, a silence more fearful than the sound of it spinning. She clenched her body waiting for the blow. A grunt sounded from the giantess and Jupiter prayed to her patron planet for the care of her soul...but no blow landed.
The giantess pulled away with a laugh. "Nicely done, Senshi now hold yourself at the ready!" And the great axe was lifted once again.
So close she had come to death once before, this time she could not hold herself steady. As the air parted before the blade to let it through, Sailor Jupiter, one of the bravest of all the brave soldiers of Crystal Tokyo, flinched. She shrank from the sharp metal, pulling her head away at the last moment.
The Knight stepped back, cocking her head at the Jupiter. The Senshi, ashamed of her own fear, could not meet the green eyes that glowed down at her.
"Apparently," Jupiter laughed a little at her own weakness, "I am human after all." She took a deep breath and set herself in place once again. "Have at it, I wont move this time."
Nor did she. For the third time the axe swung and this time the Senshi stood her ground. The blade met flesh, parted it...and stopped. With nary but the barest edge of the steel blooded, the giantess pulled the axe away and stepped back.
"Three strikes, brave Senshi. Once for your deceit, once for your fear and once, last of all, for your promise."
"My deceit?" Jupiter cried, rising to her feet. "How did you...?"
The Green Knight laughed. How else could I know? Only she who gave you a girdle of protection could know that you wore it."
"Ran?" Jupiter stared in wonder. "You are Ran?"
The Green Knight dropped the axe to the ground. She removed her helm and the gauntlets she wore. With each piece that fell away, she lost some of her stature. Her long hair glowed now, not with a horrible green light, but with the sunshine of a bright day. Her green eyes no longer glowed strangely, instead flickered with laughter.
When the last piece of armor was shed, Jupiter stared. For it was not Ran who gazed back at her, eyes alight with amusement, but Lii.
"The first stroke a deceit. You lied to me, Sailor Jupiter of Crystal Tokyo. Only half of what you won yesterday did you share with me. The second stroke, a humbling testament to pride and fear. The third...well, the mark will not ever disappear, although the stroke is shallow and it shall remind you for the rest of your life of your humanity."
Jupiter put her hand to her neck, where the wound already had ceased to bleed. "And so it shall and it will remind me also of the Green Knight who taught me that lesson." She smiled kindly upon Lii. "Now I beg you tell me who you really are, sorceress."
"Me?" Lii spoke lightly. "I come from a country across the sea, my name is Lii Ran."
"Lii Ran," Jupiter repeated. "Now that I fulfilled your challenge I have one for you."
It was spring, and once again the trees and flowers brightened Crystal Tokyo. The Queen had called together the Senshi for a formal meal. Once again, Senshi, Queen and King faced a woman clad all in green. Only this time, she was not alone.
Sailor Jupiter stepped forward to address her sister Senshi. "I have come before you to proclaim that I have fulfilled my quest and my oath." She reached up and fingered the dark scar on her neck. "Mostly." She laughed along with the others. "And also to proclaim before you all, that I have subdued the Green Knight."
Lii stepped to Jupiter's side and took the Senshi's hand.
"And," Jupiter said to a beaming Queen, "to tell you that if you wish to find me in the next few months, you will need to send a message to Greenlawn."
It was said, among those who knew the truth, that Sailor Jupiter lived the rest of her days with the sorceress Lii Ran at her side...but she was never too proud or too powerful to tell the tale of her humbling at the hands of the Green Knight.
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