Redemption - The Past

Redemption Part 2– The Past
By Aurora Eos Rose

Author’s Notes

Part 1 – Disclaimers and Legal

I do not own, nor claim to own, although I do wish to own, Sailor Moon in any incarnation. They belong to a bunch of people with way too much money. I do not wish to make any money off this, well I wish but since I don’t own the rights…well, that can be a long story. Anyway, the rights belong to whoever the heck owns them including Kodansha, Naoko Takeuchi, DIC, Cloverway, Teoi, et. al.

This story is has some fantasy elements, but is not based on any previous story or movie. This came out of my own slightly sick mind.

Part 2 – Story

This is rated R, like a Fatal Attraction R, a very big R for restricted for a reason. This story is not intended for young audiences, it’s not something I’d want a ten year old reading. This story deals with themes of rape, revenge, incest, murder, war, and can be very bloody and graphic at times. If you like sappy, happy stories don’t continue. This is not, however, happy hentai porn hour, any sex is “offscreen” or for story purposes only. You’ve been warned, no letters about content please. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

This is the second part of a four part series, each in a different time period. This portion is set in the Silver Millennium, and deals with the consequences of a woman trying to change fate. This puts sailor moon characters, the Inner Senshi and Shitennou (scouts and generals) into a fantasy/sailor moon setting. There are a few guest appearances by other sailor moon manga and anime characters, although the characters are mostly based off the manga. Pairings are traditional Senshi/Shitennou. Anime pairing fans may want to run away.

This is a rewrite of the original; I had some plot and story issues to work out. There are name changes and major plot changes, although the overall theme and many scenes remain the same. Enjoy!

Part 3 – Names Chart

Name Character Planet
TheseusKunzite Sun
Helen Ami Mercury
Ariadne MinakoVenus
Penelope OriginalEarth
Serenity Usagi Moon
Medea ReiMars
Odysseus Original Vulcan
Dido Makoto Jupiter
Endymion MamoruSaturn
Paris Zoisite Uranus
Jason Jadeite Neptune
Aeneas Nephrite Pluto

Part 4 – Posting

This story is only to be posted at http://shitennou.com, http://elizabethmariesmith.com and http://fanfiction.net. I’ve had problems with other sites not taking down old and/or outdated stories, so please no requests to post the story elsewhere.

7/14/2003

Chapter 01 – The Past
By Aurora Eos Rose
The Invasion

The sun was shining through the huge, leaded glass windows. The brilliant beams reflected off the marble floors and coruscated into tiny rainbows through the crystal pillars. Daytime had always turned the throne room to a playground of color, where dust motes danced in the breeze. She could remember as a child trying to catch a feather as it wafted between the pillars, the memory was hazy and faded from time. This room was the center of the palace, the center of the Silver Millennium Kingdom, the center of her world. The world that would soon come to an end. The cavernous ceilings were gilded in silver, the walls and floors gleamed with a fresh polishing, and the windows sparkled. A shimmering clean throne room, the last will and testament of soon to be dead palace slaves. She stood at the end of a row of tall crystal columns that marched in straight lines from the great silver doors to the Silver Throne, flanking a sweep of rich white velvety carpet like sentinels. Usually the hall was flooded with royalty. She could almost see satins and silks sweeping in colors over the floor, she could hear laughter echoing, and the heated whispers of courtiers. The smell of flowers mingled with sweat seeped like a memory from the crystal pillars. But there was nothing left now but the sunlight shifting prismatic kisses over the cold stone. She shivered.

Sera mentally berated herself, now wasn’t the time for remembrance or idle thoughts. War did not leave time for gentleness or beauty. She pulled herself upright, all five feet, and straightened her spine until she thought it would snap. She stared straight ahead pretending not to notice the unbearable silence. She glanced at the tall blonde standing to her right. The beautiful young woman wasn't really that tall, but compared to her own slight frame; another eight inches seemed enormous. The girl stood motionless, eyes alert, sword held steadily in front of her. Sera had always been in awe of Aria's unwavering courage. Her long lemon-blonde hair was braided tightly, a sensible idea for a warrior. Sera glanced down at the silver-white braid resting against her own shoulder, following it to the battered sword wobbling in sweaty palms. She knew she didn't have Aria's determination.

The silence stretched on as though it were a rubber band, spread thin and desperate to snap back to shape. Sera hated the war: all it brought was a great darkness. A darkness that crept into the soul, freezing everything it touched to a block of ice. Something cold rubbed against her arm and she jumped a bit, startled. Helen had been stretching her sword shoulder. Sera forced a smile at the slightly taller girl, but Helen did not smile in return. Eyes the color of lapis lazuli gazed back, worried eyes, heavy with regret and fear. Helen tucked a strand of blue-black hair behind one ear and bit her bottom lip. Sera could see the girl’s brain churning; it was evident in the taunt body, the slightly unfocused eyes. It was Helen who had uttered the words of truth as they’d retreated to the throne room. The war was being lost today, no matter how the army clucked over their maps and charts. The palace was evacuated, the city nearly empty, and the majority of the population of the moon was tucked away in caves and shelters. At least those with enough money to enter the shelters.

A loud cough echoed through the room. The six girls jumped in reflex. Sera’s sword clattered to the floor. Medea instantly launched into a tirade. Her black hair seemed to glow like flames where the sunlight brightened strands of red, her violet eyes flashed in annoyance and anger, and a great deal of nervousness. Sera didn’t hear the words; she simply bent over and picked up her weapon. She just wanted a warm bath and a soft bed; she wanted to crawl away into a corner and forget she'd ever heard of the Prince of Darkness. She didn't think she could handle much more of the silence, the waiting. She rubbed one damp hand against the white skirt of her short guard's uniform. The cotton soaked up the liquid quickly. Sera used her now dry hand to flip her single braid over one shoulder.

Dido had started pacing. The smooth, even strides carried her back and forth between the two rows of pillars in three broad steps. A long red braid tipped with curls danced behind in rhythm. Her emerald eyes were not worried, or nervous or even determined. They were impatient. She stopped to crack her knuckles occasionally. Sera was beginning to grow dizzy. Aria finally lifted a hand. She silently pointed back at the place where Dido’s footsteps had started, and the tall Amazon fell back into place without a murmur of protest. Sera sighed loudly.

The last two figures in the throne room remained silent through the entire period, neither moving, nor hardly breathing. Penny stood directly to the left of the throne, dark brown hair tamed in a braid, one sapphire eye and one chocolate brown eye, a mismatched pair that always seemed to cause a shiver, staring at nothing. Her jaw was taunt, her expression grim. She looked as if she were about to witness a hanging. Her hands moved reflexively over her sword, stroking it with both revulsion and admiration. Sera met her eyes for a moment. The two stared at each other and the room slipped away. Sera jerked her head, unable to meet the emptiness and absence of hope in Penny’s gaze.

Queen Selenity, supreme ruler of the moon kingdom, had been silent since the first attacks on the palace had begun earlier in the day. Her plans for repelling the invaders, her strong leadership, her unfailing determination, they had dwindled to nothingness as the fighting grew nearer to home. Her eyes were empty, like gray metal. Her vibrant face was drawn and white; her hands that usually fluttered with every word lay listless on the arms of the throne. They occasional stroked a line of glowing gemstones set into the scrollwork. Even the silver moon-shaped pendant resting against her brow seemed to have lost its luster. Everyone knew that outside the shield that Selenity and the Sailor Senshi held over the palace, the moon was dying.

~~**~~

The stars were beautiful today. He mentally catalogued them, watching their orbits and revolutions with sight beyond sight. They twinkled in the darkness, his link to knowledge, his hope for the future, but right now they only wanted to speak of the past. He lowered his gaze, ignoring the large window for the moment. The landing door was cool under his gloved hand, the metal material lost heat quickly in space. He felt the artificial gravity winding down in preparation for the weaker pull of the moon. The transport shifted slightly as it changed from an orbital position to ready for landing. He listened briefly for a change in the sound of the engines, and was rewarded with a faint murmur as they slowed to landing speed. The transport rolled, and he marveled again at how the zero gravity environment outside hid the ship’s motion from his inner ear. The window now faced the main lunar dome. There were eight atmospheric domes on the moon, each covering a major city and a large amount of open land. But this one was so enormous, it even covered a sea. He blinked for a moment, the sunlight flashed off the clear surface, blinding him. He’d never been this close to the exterior of a planetary dome. Then the glare was gone, replaced with a vista of endless fields of green. They were over the royal forest, thick, wild woods that butted against the edge of the dome. He swore softly under his breath.

He had always hated trees. They made him feel enclosed by life, entrapped, snared by vine and leaf and everything green. He wanted the crisp clearness of a barrier dome to marvel at the stars, the smooth coolness of metal under his skin. Not the sound of twigs snapping under his feet and the occasional scurrying of animals. He watched the royal woods undulate with a sinking feeling in his stomach. And he was going to get his new cape dirty. The ship skimmed the surface of the atmospheric dome, following the curve towards the cold lunar rock. Finally a gentle bump signaled that the transport had landed. He pushed off from the landing door, took a deep breath, and turned towards the troops lined up, ready to exit onto the hostile world. He watched their faces, young men far from home, fighting for a purpose they didn’t really understand. He resisted the twinge of fear, the battering of conscience that these young lives were being used to fight his war. But he pushed the thoughts away. Justice was more important than any single life. Now he needed to be a leader for them, a commander. A chuckle escaped him at the thought of Theseus and his “be a rock” speech at the end of every tactics session. But the levity was short lived. A solid, continuous thumping sound signaled the tunnel connections being put in place. He took a deep breath and opened the landing door.

This had been a poor choice for a landing site. But it was impossible to get closer to the city. Everything remotely usable for landing inside the dome had been blown to bits by resistance groups and every entry point for ships was at the apex of the dome, not at the edges. The Terrans had owned the sky for months now, securing the dome over the great city of Tranquillitatis. The people of the moon were reckless now, not caring whether they destroyed themselves along with the invaders, so security for dome entry was extremely tight. But without a decent landing site inside the dome, they’d been forced to land on the hard lunar surface, on one of the few patches of gray dust not covered by atmospheric barriers. There was a very large service entry to the dome on the edge of the royal woods. It had been used eons ago when the domes were constructed to ship in men and materials, and was the only entrance large enough to allow an entire army passage. Then it would be a mile hike to the city, in unfamiliar woods. He stalked through the paper thin clear passages towards the open dome, the army behind him in thin, stretched lines. And he scowled at the trees.

The army formed into six separate entities, each would take a different path through the woods and fields surrounding the capital. They’d hopefully reach the palace at approximately the same time, although in war nothing could be counted on but the man at one’s back. The march began without incident, moving through the eerie stillness of the woods. But he knew the steady progress couldn’t last forever. They met the first pocket of resistance barely a minute into the forest. They were ill equipped, ill trained resistance, and slaughtered without mercy. The last group of resistance fighters that had been allowed to surrender had blown up an entire transport, so mercy was no longer an option. They proceeded at a steady rate until the first clap of lightning fell.

The men panicked. They’d heard the stories, been prepared for the possibility, but actually coming under fire from a legendary warrior, especially when the warrior used gigantic bolts of lightning that fell from perfectly clear skies, was enough to make the bravest soldier run for cover. They dug into the forest floor, eyes alert, and skin crawling with the leftover electricity hanging in the air. He briefly conferred with his commanders, and they all had nearly been roasted alive. He had seen through her strategy immediately. She didn’t care about the soldiers, she wanted him. He felt a tingling on the back of his neck and headed out away from the company after barking a few final orders. She followed. He growled low in his throat. So she wanted his blood? She’d have to do more than throw a few thunderbolts his way. He circled around behind her current position and wondered how she managed to climb the smooth barked trees so easily.

He got his answer in a moment. He stumbled and she jumped to the ground from a low branch. He regained his footing quickly and raced after her, but she evaded, preferring to lead him on a chase. Then she leapt onto a low branch and jumped from tree to tree. He watched her move from branch to branch with respect for her courage. One false step would mean plummeting to her death from the treetops. She was fast, he’d give her that. She stopped for a moment, glaring at him. He could read the accusation in her eyes, he was a trespasser. He snorted; for generations there had been one payment for entering the royal woods where none but senshi dared tread, death. Children had been murdered in cold blood for accidentally entering the forest fringe. But he wasn’t a starving peasant or a lost child. He would fight back. The hallowed legend of the royal forest would cease today. He stared at her, eyes hard and face determined. Her lips moved, but no sound came out. He thought he caught the traces of a blasphemy. She moved again, disappearing into the verdant green.

His feet crunched against every stick and twig. A ripple of chattering animals announced his presence to the unseen eyes of the forest. Only a flash of pink and green in the trees above let him know he was even headed in the right direction. She was angry. He could feel the emotion echoed in the trees, in the grass, in the creatures of the forest. They screamed at his invasion of their pristine home. But he wouldn’t be slaughtered like a helpless child. Like the corpses left to rot in the woods because no one could even enter to clear away the bodies. He turned again, this time moving away, towards the city, confident she would follow. And as he led her out of the woods, he knew his men were advancing. She had already failed to stop the army, and she would fail to stop him.

He tripped over a gnarled tree root, falling to one knee. He cursed as he recovered and stood again. He valiantly tried to brush the leaves and debris from his rust colored velvet cloak, but the dirt clung stubbornly. He ranted for a moment at the stars, asking why they chose to tell him of the dirty clothing possibility after he had dressed and boarded the ship. He continued through the forest, ignoring the smell of wet dirt, the sickly sweet fragrance seeping from the trees. He cursed the fates for the thousandth time for making him run around in the place he hated most. He swore to himself that today was the last day he would enter this forest, any forest if he could manage. A bolt landed just a few feet away, only his quick reflexes saved his skin. He rolled into a small stand of bushes. A hand fell against a pile of bones. Suddenly an image flashed through his mind, the last memories of the child he now touched. He saw the Sailor Senshi hurl a bolt, felt the power sizzle on his skin. The child’s soul screamed in his mind, imprinting the horror and anger of a stolen life. He wrenched his hand away, breaking the link to the past. He stood again, swearing loudly, anger fueling him. How many children had she murdered for no reason? Today he stalked her in the trees like she had once stalked trespassers, but by nightfall she would be dead at his feet. No more would Sailor Jupiter live to harm another child.

He grinned when he saw the first flash of stone; she was running out of trees. Ahead the edge of the city was visible, white and gray stone peeking through the green canopy. He stopped and waited in a small clearing, preferring to make his stand where he had room. She didn’t disappoint. There were no words, no bantering. She simply dropped from the trees like a banshee, screaming a war cry, legs and arms flailing. He was ready for her, his staff poised. They battled metal against fist, past trees and bushes, through brambles. Neither faltered, neither gave ground. Her emerald eyes flashed, her green hair swirled around her shoulders like a cloud of leaves. He moved in unison with her body, dodging her blows, using his cape as both shield and distraction. She was tired, attacking purely from willpower, all temper and no planning.

His blows continued to strike home, on her back, her leg, her head. The jagged edges of his metal staff ripped long furrows in her skin. She broke his nose, and tore at his skin with her fingernails. Soon they were both covered in blood. The sun set slowly, its rays turning a gold red. The forest seemed to quiet, as if mourning. She faltered now, dripping blood from dozens of wounds. And still she did not speak, would not quit. She landed a blow to his head and he stumbled backwards, dazed. A kick sent him flying back into the ground cover at the edge of the clearing. He brushed against another corpse, half covered in a yew bush. Like before, the memories of the once dead child raced through his mind, overtaking his body. In the vision he could see the child’s mother staring from the entrance of the woods, anger and hatred and sorrow in her scream of denial. The woman’s eyes begged for revenge. He jerked himself from the vision, his hands shaking from the power in the voice of the innocent. The child inside his head still screamed a death knell. Another vision filled his head, a vision of another child, racing through a thick wood, desperate to escape the lightning wielding woman chasing him. His own memories blended with the two children he’d touched and roared into an inferno of rage. He was helpless against the anger inside, because of this woman, this senshi; innocent lives were reduced to ashes. He sprang to his feet, whirling around to meet her kick with his staff. The blow knocked her to her knees and his staff met the back of her head in the same motion. She crumpled to the ground in a heap, and he knew she was dead. Still he continued to bash at her body with the staff, all the anger of years exploding. And then the weapon dropped from his limp fingers. He fell to his knees, covered his face in his hands, and wept. Finally he flung the mangled body over his shoulder, covering it with his cape, and headed toward the palace.

~~**~~

Sera wanted to sit on the floor. Her legs were tired, her arms sore, and she was bored. She watched the other girls’ taunt, empty faces. Then Dido’s flushed a brilliant red, her expression angry and helpless. She turned toward Selenity. Sera could see the dread in Dido’s eyes, the pain echoed in her suddenly limp body.

"I knew she would be the first, she was always too eager for a fight.” Selenity’s voice was quiet, sad, melancholy in a way that made the listener want to weep in reaction. Dido didn’t weep. Her eyes turned hard, her expression angry.

“Why?" The word was not really a question. It was a plea, a cry in the darkness. The queen merely shut her eyes and stroked an errant finger over the rapidly darkening emerald embedded in the arm of her chair. Penny moved, dropping a heavy, but comforting hand on Dido’s tense shoulder. And they waited.

~~**~~

The air was thick, sweltering hot, but hard to breathe from lack of oxygen. The fires burned, absorbing anything flammable and eating the dwindling air supply under the moon’s fragile habitat domes. He stepped over a low wall; the stone had shattered from the heat of the fires. He had expected resistance here, expected the populace to fight back. This was the moon’s last stand against the invader. The last chance to save their corrupt kingdom. He whirled swiftly, only his quick reflexes saving him. His assailant’s knife slid into the flesh of his shoulder. Another half second later and his heart would have ceased to beat. His sword moved swiftly, smoothly, the motion one of reflex. He could hear his training echo in his head. Act or die was what one did in war. He decapitated the child, sending the head rolling. He stopped for a moment, the blood dripping from his weapon and soaking into the gray cloth covering his arm. He bent over, breathing heavily, still in shock from his near miss. The staring eyes of the dead girl mocked him. He stood, swearing loudly. Even children were sent into battle here, taught to hate the dreaded Terrans, taught to value a valiant death over the loss of their Silver Millennium.

He moved on, his anger and frustration growing. Old men and women and children seemed to crawl from every rock, every wall, every burning building, throwing themselves at the trained Terran army with any weapon available. And they died. The ground was littered with corpses. The fires ate at the flesh, sending ash and sickly sweet fumes into the air. It was a furnace, an inferno of death and destruction. A nearby wall crumbled, the heat destroying the stone’s mortar. He jumped at the sound and wrapped his cloak closer to try to block the cinders. And he kept moving.

He had no idea what had become of the bulk of his battalion. The landing had been smooth, along with entering the dome. The march through the woods had been rather uneventful, a few bands of ragged resistance. He knew that Aeneas’ group had met one of the senshi, the green one. The company had arrived on time to start the attack on the city, but there was still no word of Aeneas’ fate. He growled under his breath. The sailor bitch would meet her end here today, if not from Aeneas, then from the Dark Prince.

The attack on the city had started on schedule and at first there had been no resistance. Then the other three sailor senshi had appeared, whipping the citizens into a frenzied mob. The battle had quickly degenerated into a ragged, bloody mess. They were not fighting the lunar army, they were fighting the people. A people who would not listen to reason, who would not surrender, who would do nothing but kill and be killed. Two of the senshi had disappeared in the ensuing chaos. But the people continued to attack, and die. And they burned.

He knew who the fires would be blamed on, just as he knew the story of the child he had just killed would also be attributed to his ruthlessness instead of his attempt to save his own skin. But he and his men had not set the blazes. They were the result of a woman, a woman with crimson eyes and hair. A woman in a short skirt and high heels. A woman who valued a single person over the lives of millions. She was always a step ahead of him, just out of reach. Flitting beyond range of sword or bow. Taunting him. But her blasts of fire rained down on the buildings. He knew her face, had dreamed about her for years. They were nightmares, the kind that left him screaming in terror. But today that would end. Today Sailor Mars would die.

He knew she was running out of room to run. The fires she had so gleefully set had circled around her, trapping her with her own weapon. For all her love of the element, she wasn’t completely fireproof. And she was tiring. They’d been fighting since midday, when the attack on the city began. She had targeted him almost immediately, so he’d sent his company into battle and drew the bitch away from the army. He lifted his head and smiled bitterly. The glittering shield surrounding the palace was in sight. The fires had run up against the barrier, but could go no further. He advanced quickly and was amazed to see that inside the shield the grass was still green, while outside fire scorched the earth black. And he told himself once again that no person should ever hold that much power. As Paris was fond of quoting, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This was the power that had corrupted. The power to stop fire, to stop famine and disease and war, even the power to cheat death, but all at a cost. He stopped in the cobbled street. Fires blazed on either side of him, consuming the remaining buildings. He could hear another wall collapse and knew his way was blocked. In front of him stretched the great barrier, keeping him from advancing. And standing alone in the middle of the road, where it disappeared into the barrier, was a woman.

“Do you crave death, servant of the dark one?” Her voice was husky, as though the smoke from the fires had singed her vocal cords. She was breathing heavily, her eyes bloodshot, her forehead covered in sweat. But her eyes were bright with the light of battle. He drew his sword, still covered in the child’s blood.

“I guess I do. It’s kind of like candy, you see. You sample it once and you can never get enough. Death is a sweet thing when given to others if you’ve tasted it yourself. I have you to thank for my craving.” He smiled nastily and saluted sharply. She hissed. The blast of flame was so unexpected he almost didn’t dodge in time. He shed his cloak as he rolled to the side and leapt to his feet. But he noticed the fireball wasn’t as bright or as large as before, she was losing energy.

“Are you only good for fireworks? I seem to remember you bragging about your skills in the martial arts. Have you grown lazy in your old age?” Her hands clenched as her face turned white. He could almost imagine steam pouring out of her ears.

“You will die, Son of Water, just as you should have all those years ago.” Her attack was swift and accurate. He found himself embroiled in battle quickly, dodging kicks from deadly sharp heels, avoiding fists that seemed to be everywhere. Then she swiped the sword from his hand, sending it rolling into the nearby building. He scrambled backwards swiftly. She advanced, pressing him back toward the fire. She tried to maneuver him back into the building with a powerful drive, her heel aimed straight for his windpipe. His hand was already there, grasping her ankle. They stopped for a moment. She was breathing heavily, her face flushed, and her arms heavy with fatigue. He wasn’t even sweating. At that moment he smiled.

“You could simply surrender now. I might let you die quickly.” She spat at his face and attempted to pull her leg back. His grip tightened, and his smile turned to a scowl. “Temper, temper. You should keep calm in battle.” He twisted, smiling at the crack as the bone gave way and the taunt flash of pain on her face. He released her and took a step back, the wide smile still on his face. Her lips twisted into a grimace as the ankle touched the ground. “Ready to give up yet, Sailor Pyro?” He sneered the words.

She attacked again, despite the broken ankle, using flashes of fire to keep him off guard. But he was still not tired, still full of energy, and he had the full weight of revenge to sustain him. They moved like dancers, back and forth. He continued to draw her into locked positions, he’d hold her immobile for a few moments, enjoying her anger, and then he’d break another bone. Still she refused to bend, to surrender. They moved across the cobbled street to where his discarded cape lay.

He flipped backwards and landed on the garment, throwing the cape over her face and grabbing his spear from its hiding place underneath in a single motion. She struggled free quickly, but it was too late. He had enough time. The spear pierced her just under her violet bow, slipping between her ribs into her aorta. He twisted and withdrew quickly, watching the look of utter surprise on her face as the fire dim from her eyes. She slumped over, her head resting on his shoulder. He reflexively wrapped his arms around her limp body. Blood spurted from her chest, covering his hands and torso. He didn’t know how long he stayed that way, holding her dead weight, his spear rolling in the dust where he’d let it fall. But there had been a moment as she died when he’d felt an emotion he’d thought he’d forgotten…regret.

~~**~~

Medea collapsed on the floor. Sera rushed to her side, babbling words of terror and concern. She didn’t know what she said, only that a great black wall of emotion seemed to be coming from her friend. Medea lifted her pale face, her pupils tiny in shock.

“She’s dead.” There was a cold silence as five faces looked frantically toward the queen. Selenity gave no sign that she’d heard. She stared straight ahead, eyes unfocused and glazed, and her brow beaded with sweat. No one but Penny noticed the way her hands gripped the armrest or the tremor in her bottom lip. The brilliant ruby set in the arm of the throne winked once brightly, and then turned black. And still they waited.

~~**~~

The palace grounds were enormous; he had never been close enough to truly realize the beauty and size of the place. It was twice the size of the Dark Prince’s palaces, Dione on Saturn and Atlantis on the Earth. A soaring crystal spire, the prayer tower, rose high above the amalgam of white marble, gray stone, and silver metal. The shimmering energy barrier originated from the point of the tower, curving down to the ground in a gentle arc and pulsating with energy. The entire area seemed to be laughing at the futile attempts of the Terran army to breach the sanctuary of Queen Selenity. Paris marveled at the sheer amount of power that was being poured into protecting a hunk of stone.

The Silver Palace, Serenitatis, had been built upon and added to for generations. Now it sprawled in an enormous complex of towers, buildings, and gardens. There was even a small landing field on the grounds. The early Terran strike teams had reported that the barrier used to come to a halt just outside the ten foot stone wall that completely surrounded the palace. The death of the first senshi had caused the barrier to shrink, pulling back from the wall and the thirty foot expanse of green directly inside. Paris had witnessed the barrier shrinking the second time, at the death of the second senshi. The army had just breached the wall, tearing an enormous gouge where the entrance gates once stood. The barrier rippled and convulsed, and pulled back further, exposing the landing area, the exterior buildings, and a good portion of the gardens. The inner gardens were still well protected, however, and the palace was impossible to reach. At least while the last two senshi lived.

The Terran army had congregated inside the wall, ripping stone to shreds where it was deemed necessary, at least the part of the army not charged with peacekeeping in the city and countryside. There were also huge numbers of slaves being shipped in to repair the once great city, especially the large spaceport just outside the city limits. Their work and the work of the peacekeepers would go on for weeks, months, maybe even years if the people refused to bow to the new government. The Dark Prince claimed the Lunarian’s resolve would vanish when the Queen was destroyed. Paris knelt down, staring at the blades of grass that were singed where the barrier met the ground. He rubbed his fingers against the dirt, careful not to touch the energy shield. He knew that simply destroying the queen wouldn’t be enough to overcome thousands of years of loyalty. The only way to secure the moon would be through the princess. And he silently wondered if the Dark Prince could stand the sacrifice. Paris stood and rolled his arms backward for a moment, his shoulders were sore from earlier fighting. It was now the beginning of sunset, the sky a gold red above the burning city.

Paris glanced at the vast expanse of fountain and garden that led to the enormous silver palace gates. That would be the path the invaders would have to take to reach the throne room. Paris grunted. He had to get the shield down while it was still light. He examined the barrier with a keen eye and a frighteningly intricate set of logic principles. He cataloged the strength, the tensile nature of the outer edge, the energy quotient all within moments. He turned and made a short series of hand gestures to the small group of highly trained soldiers waiting to deliver his messages. They signaled back and then slowly moved through the fires towards the bulk of the army where the Dark Prince waited. Paris watched them go, his eyes narrowing.

“Well, I gave them your instructions and my findings. Any luck?” He turned, focusing on the tall form standing just to his right. Odysseus shrugged.

“This is a composite magical barrier. There were two senshi supporting it from the outside, two are on the inside, and the queen is the base power. With two of the senshi dead the power has greatly decreased, but we still cannot force our way through.” He turned back to the barrier, his eyes focusing on the gently shifting colors. He reached out; one long finger stroked the surface of the barrier. The energy reacted to his touch, swelling and separating into strands of color. Paris took a deep breath. Odysseus was amazing with things of a magical nature, but then the Alfar had used magic to survive for thousands of years, hiding from the agents of the Queen. Odysseus glanced sideways at Paris.

“Don’t look at me like that, Paris. I am not here to destroy you, or your precious prince. I owe him my life, and the lives of my people. As long as you are in his service, you have my loyalty.” Paris flushed, ashamed that his thoughts could be read so easily. The tall man smiled slowly. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are actually quite astonishing for your age, young one. You forget for a moment what I am.” There was a long silence. Paris turned back to the shield barrier again. He knew that Odysseus had waited for this day his entire lifetime, more than one mortal lifetime, for it was whispered the Alfar were immortal. His people had waited much longer, almost ten thousand years, for their revenge.

“How old are you, really?” Paris was surprised that his voice didn’t squeak at the question. A soft laugh echoed through the still air.

“I am merely a thousand years old; I was born at the beginning of the current witch’s reign. And here I stand, an army behind me, ready to level the Silver Palace. The time will come very soon when the last of the Destroyer’s bloodline will be wiped from the universe.” Paris shivered at the deadly tone. He watched the tall man’s work with the strands of power forming the barrier. Tiernan was the name he was called by his people, but he had taken the name Odysseus in the common language, saying he was a traveler. The Dark Prince had stopped Queen Selenity from wiping out the last patches of the Alfar race, the ones hiding away in the asteroid ring between Jupiter and Mars. That act had earned him the allegiance of the Alfar. The story that Odysseus had told the Dark Prince had brought a legend to life. It was said when the Silver Millennium had been formed, a witch named Selene had destroyed the planet Vulcan, turning it into an ever shifting ring of asteroids. She had been afraid of the Alfar, afraid of their power, their strangeness, their immortality, and most of all, their Senshi. Paris had read the story in books, but hadn’t believed it until the day they’d destroyed the queen’s flagship on the asteroid Ceres. Odysseus tucked a long strand of dark hair behind one pointed ear, for a moment reveling in showing his heritage. His cold, pale amber eyes flashed with excitement. The strands of energy in the barrier finally crystallized into colored ropes of blue, yellow, and white. They parted, forming a small hole. He smiled.

“Come, Paris. We need to take out at least one more of the senshi supporting the barrier. I’ll leave the Venusian to the prince and Theseus, they’re better with a sword. We will take out the one with brains.” Paris nodded and ducked through the opening. Odysseus followed and let the breach collapse behind them.

They moved swiftly over the smooth grass toward the relative cover of the main garden. Trees, bushes, and miles of flowers sprung in a five pointed star from the enormous fountain in the center. The sky was growing darker, and tendrils of mist floated from the fountain. Paris ground to a halt beside a stone bench. He felt her in the air, the cold tendrils of ice and fog he knew so well danced over his skin. Odysseus laid a hand on Paris’ shoulder.

“You feel her, don’t you? I can sense her presence through you. Focus on her face for a moment.” Paris closed his eyes and felt the memories surfacing, the screams of a frightened child, the mist, the cold. A pair of blue eyes entered his vision. He opened his mouth to scream, but the hand fell from his shoulder. “I’m sorry, my friend. I forget that it is worse when the memories are your own. But I know where she is.”

Odysseus started at a run through the gardens, towards an alcove surrounded by thick hedges. Paris followed closely, his eyes and senses alert. The palace grounds seemed unnaturally peaceful after the war and suffering they had witnessed just outside the barrier. Inside the flowers still bloomed, butterflies hovered, the fountain trickled in the background. The thick smells of roses and lilacs carpeted the air in a heavy perfume. Everything was deserted.

Paris felt it coming. He screamed a warning, knocked over a stone bench, and jumped behind it just in time. Odysseus rolled behind a hedge. A wave of freezing water hit the spot where they’d been standing, turning instantly into a spear of ice. Then the air filled with a thick fog, impossible to see through. Paris felt a presence in his mind and allowed himself to open his thoughts.

<< Very good, young one, you learn well. She is not as strong as the others physically, but her tactics are second to none. Be wary.>>

<< We need to gain some altitude; I believe she attacked from the balcony.>>

The two closed their mind connection temporarily and moved. Odysseus headed for a large oak. He jumped from branch to branch with the lithe grace of his people. He quickly reached the level of the balcony and leapt to the stone. But no one was there. However, there was a large mirror present, enough for deflecting rays of ice or water. He chuckled under his breath, impressed with the senshi.

Paris felt her on the ground now. She was targeting the balcony, and he knew that even Odysseus couldn’t avoid the attack. He did the only logical thing to do, set himself up as bait. He walked out into the open, arms raised, yelling her name. There was stunned silence for a moment.

<<Move now, while I have her attention.> >

<<You’re a fool to place yourself in such danger.>>

<<I’m trusting you to save my skin. Just remember if you fail I’ll haunt you forever.>>

A knife slithered up to his neck, a slender arm pinned his arms behind his back. Paris forced himself to relax. He wiggled a bit, and was gratified to feel her struggling to keep his arms pinned. Her cold breath hissed in his ear.

“Two against one, little prince? Couldn’t one of you handle me? You may think you’ve won already, now that we are scattered weak, but you have much to learn, Son of Wind. As long as she lives we are strong.” The knife moved against his throat, her arm tensed. He shoved down a moment of panic and closed his eyes. Suddenly she dropped him and moved backwards, swearing through her teeth. There was a long, slender slash along her arm. She was unarmed now, at least for the moment.

Paris didn’t waste the opportunity; he quickly drew his saber and advanced on the senshi. She threw a ball of ice his way. He dodged, and recovered in time to see Odysseus and Sailor Mercury locked in a vicious fight over a narrow, curved knife. Paris moved toward the other side of the pair. Mercury forced the much taller man backward, until his back was against the fountain. Paris rushed them. Odysseus had read the situation correctly, and moved at the last moment. Paris wrapped his hands around the woman’s throat and shoved her backwards into the fountain. Her blue eyes clouded in surprise, her long blue hair matted around her shoulders and wrapped around her throat, wet and tangled. He pushed her under the water, his hands unyielding around her throat. She struggled viciously, fighting for air. Her hands clawed at his clothing, his face. He felt a sharp jab as she drove the knife into his thigh. He screamed and they rolled in the shallow water, arms and legs in a tight, deadly embrace. Finally he had to let go.

She jumped from the fountain only to meet Odysseus once more; they circled each other like wildcats, their knives slashing like claws. Odysseus faltered and fell to his knees, she plunged the knife into his heart. Paris felt the world stopping for a moment, as his mentor and friend collapsed in a rapidly growing pool of blood. She was breathing heavily now, distracted, her eyes focused on the body, on the exposed, pointed ear and the blue blood on her hands.

“An Alfar…but that’s impossible…” Her voice died off, and she turned. But she was too late; the distraction gave Paris the opening he needed. He reached her from behind, wrapping one arm around her waist and holding the sword against her throat. He held her against his body; her head tilted backwards, neck exposed.

“Did you ever think, little bitch, that one day that helpless, tiny boy would be here to take his revenge?” Her eyes didn’t waver, but there was a flash in them, as though he had struck near an open wound.

“I will always serve my queen, in life, and in death. To the end of eternity I belong to Selenity, as I swore the day I took up the powers of Mercury. I am a Sailor Senshi, it is my duty.” He gripped her tighter and felt a thick sense of revulsion wash over him in waves.

“Then die, water nymph, die for the one who can command duty and respect, but never love or friendship.” He drew the sword across her throat from jugular to jugular and watched the blood gush over his hands. There was a moment when he longed to clamp his hand over the wound and sooth her terrified gaze. And then her eyes turned blank. And he ignored the aching in his heart, the one that screamed for those who chose duty over love.

He let her body drop and moved to the still form lying by the fountain. He turned the body over and slowly withdrew the knife. And he cried over the still form in his hands.

“You always cry at the wrong moments, boy.” Paris was so startled he nearly dropped Odysseus in the dirt. The man coughed loudly and sat up slowly. “Yes, the legends are true. The Alfar are nearly immortal. You have to remove our head to kill us.” Paris merely gaped in astonishment at the rapidly disappearing wounds. Odysseus grinned slowly, stood, and moved to the fountain. “However, I have to get rid of all this blood the old fashioned way.” And the fountain of Mercury ran blue.

~~**~~

Helen swayed, her eyes closed, and she let out a low moan. She didn’t sink to the ground like Medea, but merely kept her head lowered. Medea still sat on the floor, face pale and drawn. Sera’s eyes were filled with tears. She knew what was causing her friend’s pain, but was powerless to do anything. If Selenity couldn’t save them, nothing could. The sapphire on the throne clouded and then darkened to black and the sun’s rays began to dip lower, casting red-gold streaks across the floor, like bloody trails.

~~**~~

The barrier shield bucked and convulsed, and drew inward at a rapid pace. The army surged forward with the shield, covering the newly exposed ground in moments. The Dark Prince led the charge, his eyes grim, his jaw set tensely. They were only ten feet from the palace gates when the barrier shuddered and stopped its retreat. They could see the gates shimmering red in the sunset. And before the gates, sword drawn, stood a single woman. Her hair was long and golden, her eyes were a rich amber shade. She wore the uniform of a Sailor Senshi in shades of the same yellow colors. And in her hand was an enormous silver sword. Her face was fascinating, beautiful, what men dream of at night. Everyone present could see why she was called the goddess of love.

“I cannot let you pass, Prince of Death. Go back to where you came from; this will not be your day to win.” She started down the steps slowly. The Dark Prince growled low in his throat. He drew something from the sling at his back. Sailor Venus halted for a moment, her eyes fixed on the Silence Glaive with a mixture of respect, anger, and sorrow. Then she continued. “So she is dead then and the others as well. But I will not die so easily. Come, evil one, and meet my blade.” The army moved backwards, away from the deadly confrontation.

The Dark Prince took the weapon in his hand; the glaive seemed to suck the light from the air around it. He lowered it to the barrier. The glaive drew the energy, creating an opening. The Prince stepped through. The barrier closed behind him with an audible hiss. Sailor Venus moved toward the small expanse of grass at the base of the great staircase. The two stood, barely four feet from each other, and stared. It was a contest of wills, and neither seemed to want to break eye contact. The soldiers pressed against the barrier, eager for a good view of the fight. And at the head of mass of bodies stood the Theseus, fists clenched, teeth grinding together. He was helpless as the man he’d sworn his life to fought against the most powerful warrior in the galaxy. Helplessness was not a feeling with which he was familiar, and he didn’t like it.

He watched the two combatants, helpless to protect his prince, helpless against the magic of the Queen. He felt the combination of worry and anger bubbling inside. Finally the two moved. Sailor Venus and the Dark Prince circled each other slowly, their weapons meeting occasionally. Theseus knew they were sizing each other, searching for weaknesses. The Prince was the first to attack. His weapon gave him the advantage of longer reach, but Venus was more skilled, faster, and extremely agile. She ducked under his glaive; only his quick reflexes kept him from being skewered on her sword. She tripped him, sending him sprawling in the dirt. Then in a gesture of supreme arrogance, she turned her back on her opponent, instead facing the barrier. Blue eyes met gray in a clash of wills. Theseus felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

“You should never have been allowed to live, little prince.” Theseus bared his teeth and snarled.

“But you failed in your attempt. Come, fight me little bitch.” Venus chuckled softly.

“How little you know. My second attempt might have been unsuccessful due to Saturn, by my first would have succeeded if not for your mother’s tender heart.” There was a silence. Then she dodged, the Dark Prince had regained his feet, and his will to fight. The two continued their deadly dance, but it was obvious that Venus was the more skilled of the warriors. She knocked the glaive away, and it skidded to the edge of the barrier. She laughed and bashed her boot into the Dark Prince’s stomach. The young man groaned and tried to stand, but failed. Venus turned her back again, her attention focused on Theseus.

“How does it feel, protector, to see the one you’re supposed to watch over in danger?” Venus shot a pointed look at Theseus, her eyes hard. She slashed with her sword, striking a shallow gash on her opponent’s leg. The Dark Prince groaned, grasping the injury. Theseus slammed a fist against the shield. Venus backed away. “How does it feel knowing that you cannot fulfill your duty, that no matter what you do you will fail?” Her voice was soft, taunting. She used the sword again, this time thrusting into the Prince’s shoulder. Theseus growled in his throat. She was purposely drawing the fight out, purposely wounding instead of destroying. And the Dark Prince didn’t have the skills to defeat the leader of the senshi.

“I’m the one you want, you little bitch. I’ve always been the one you wanted. Leave him alone.” Theseus forced his voice to stay calm, controlled. He dropped his hands to his sides in fists, but his heart pounded against his chest. He was dripping sweat.

“But you cannot pass the barrier, and he can. And now, he will die, just as he should have years ago.” Venus whirled her sword, preparing for the death blow. Theseus thrust his hands against the barrier, screaming a denial.

The barrier seemed to ripple and shiver. Theseus shoved a hand into the pulsating ribbons of energy. He felt them washing over his skin, rippling like water around a rock. He placed another hand in the barrier. There were two strains of power now, one striving to harm him, the other caressing him like a lover. He forced his way into the shield.

His sword had hardly left the scabbard when Venus attacked. The two moved in a deadly dance, neither one giving or taking ground. But he was fresh, rested, fed. She was tired, and the weight of her friends lay heavily on her heart. Her sword work became sloppy and Theseus found an opening. It was the first and last wound he gave. Venus collapsed into his arms, her hands wrapped around the sword in her chest.

“I told her, that you should have been killed. But she loved your father too much. And I couldn’t go against her wishes, I couldn’t stand to see her unhappy.” The words were soft, her breath a whisper. Theseus lowered her to the ground. The silver sword slipped from her grasp and disappeared in a shimmer of light. “I forgot that you could break through the shield. She could feel you, knew who you were, even though we hid you away. And now, it’s too late, I’ve failed. She cannot keep it alone, not against you.” She shuddered once, and grew still. The barrier shield swept backward again, sweeping over the two figures on the steps as if they were invisible. But the Dark Prince screamed as the barrier passed over his skin. Medics rushed to his side. Theseus was lost in the past, lost in memories and desperate for an explanation of the woman’s cryptic words. He held her for a long while, until a hand on his shoulder broke him from his trance.

“Come, we need your help to break the shield.” Theseus looked up. The Dark Prince had his wounds bound and treated, and there was a strange expression in his eyes. A mixture of pity, sympathy, and jealousy. Theseus stood and removed his cloak. He covered the Senshi’s body and followed the prince.

~~**~~

Aria dropped to one knee, head bend, and a soft cry escaped her lips. The other girls, astonished by the show of weakness from their leader, immediately rushed to her side, but she waved them away and struggled back to her feet. The Queen slumped backward in her chair, eyes vacant, expression lost and alone. Sera felt fear infuse her soul. Now that the Sailor Senshi were destroyed, there was no hope left. The Queen ran a finger over the rapidly darkening topaz on the throne. A loud sound indicated that the palace doors had been shattered. Sera looked outside the window, and saw that the barrier now only covered the heart of the palace, the prayer tower and the throne room. And the army was coming.

~~**~~

Every weapon of the Terran army was assembled in the Inner Palace. Many walls had been knocked down to give access to the great energy cannons. The greatest wizards from all corners of the solar system were assembled, ready to attack the great barrier. It shimmered before the assembled might, silvery and opaque now, covering the inner palace, the throne room, and the prayer spire. It was strange to see a great silver blob where the tower should have shimmered. Night had fallen and the sky was dark. Clouds of smoke blocked most of the stars and the air was unnaturally cold. The Dark Prince stared at the masses behind him and the barrier in front of him. And he gave the command to fire.

~~**~~

The first assault against the remainder of the barrier shield literally shook the walls. A soft rain of dust fell from the ceiling and all six girls fought to stay on their feet. Another attack slammed against the barrier, followed swiftly by an unrelenting hail of magic and sheer firepower. A thin sheen of sweat swiftly covered the queen’s brow. She shut her eyes tightly and clenched her teeth. The air grew thick and warm in the locked throne room while Sera took a step backward, unconsciously drawing nearer to her friends. She swallowed loudly. The pounding sounds grew louder and louder. Sera whispered a prayer to the goddess, begging for the shield to hold. She glanced up at the queen and noticed the blood trickling from where the woman had bitten her own lip through. Her head was bent now, silver hair sweeping the floor. Sera whimpered. Without the strength of the senshi, all was lost.

~~**~~

“Nothing seems to be working, sir. The energy simply bounces back at the troops or is absorbed into the shield.” Theseus nodded to the soldier and waved him away. He moved back to where the Dark Prince stood.

“I don’t know what to, Theseus. We have to get that barrier down. I will not be defeated now, not after coming so far, not by nothing more than the magic of that witch. There has to be a way to bring the shield down.” The Prince hurled the sword he was holding at the wall in a fit of temper. It simply bounced off, almost hitting a soldier. Then the prince screamed for a ceasefire. He looked at Theseus for a long moment, his sapphire eyes glazed, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. The pounding noise stopped. Finally he spoke. “How did you get through the shield? And why weren’t you burned when the barrier retreated? And why did the bitch say that she cannot keep it alone, not against you?” The questions swirled between them. Finally Theseus answered, voice and expression unchanged.

“I don’t know.” Both turned to face the offending barrier. Then the Dark Prince smiled, it was a smirking, sly expression that turned the stomach.

“Why don’t you go try to enter the barrier again? Only this time, when you’re touching it, try to bring it down, not just go through it.”

Theseus did as he was told. He moved forward, thrusting his arms into the shimmering barrier. Beads of sweat appeared on his face. The energy seemed to move around him, through him. Still he stood, arms raised, face impassive. But only for a moment. The energy began to fight against him, no longer parting at his touch. He strained against the power, his eyes growing hard, his face showing the strain.

“Listen to me, witch. Drop the barrier.” His roar shook the stones.

~~**~~

“Tranquility. No!” The Queen screamed the words. The entire palace seemed to ripple beneath their feet as the shield finally came crashing down.

For several long moments the silence stretched again. Queen Selenity lifted her head. Sera was shocked to see tears running down pale cheeks. She’d never seen the queen cry. Suddenly the silence turned to banging, shouting, and blood chilling screams. The invaders had breached the inner palace. Sera longed to drop her heavy sword and slap her hands over her ears. She desperately tried not to think of those dying in a desperate attempt to protect this last bastion of the Silver Millennium Kingdom, tried not to feel their souls crying out in terror at death. An acrid smell floated under the locked throne room doors and stung Sera's nose: She knew the stench was evidence of heavy magical use. Her heart began to race wildly. She felt a bead of sweat race down her forehead and drip off the end of her nose. The five other girls followed her lead, closing the half circle at the base of the silver throne. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, weapons drawn and ready.

The first bang on the heavy silver doors made Sera jump. The sound throbbed like a heartbeat, echoing through the room. Her sword wobbled wildly, almost falling from her grasp again. Her breath caught in her throat. The pounding on the door escalated. The metal seemed to enhance the noise. It was like a pulse, a pulse of darkness that would soon devour. This was the end; the Silver Millennium would fall and darkness would win. She choked back the tears rising in her throat. The only chance now was the Queen. Selenity would put a stop to the shadows that threatened the light. Sera closed her eyes for a moment. She had to be strong.

"They're coming. We charge on my mark." Aria said the words in a low growl. Sera swallowed loudly. The assault on the door became louder. The metal began to glow. Then it sizzled like an overdone steak. Wide red cracks shot through the thick material. Finally the doors gave way, falling to the ground in a hot shower of molten metal. Two pillars nearest the door exploded, sending shards of crystal around the room. A wall collapsed on the far side. The noise was deafening, and the destruction threw up a thick cloud of dust, smoke, and debris. Aria took a charging step forward, sword readied, screaming a war cry.

“Die Terran scum.” The others took off at a dead run, meeting the army now pouring through the opening. Sera was the last to advance, and ended up on the far right side of the doorway, struggling to keep the soldiers from circling around the outside. Thankfully they didn’t seem to be very intelligent. With the night and the dust and smoke from the doors collapsing, it was difficult to see. She let her training take over her body, shutting off the screams and the bloody corpses decorating the floor. Her sword swung freely, and she darted around the crystal pillars, using their reflections to keep the soldiers confused. The bodies seemed to keep coming and Sera felt herself being pushed back. She looked briefly to the area in the center of the carpeted aisle. Aria and Medea stood back to back, a whirlwind of death. The carpet underneath their feet was slick with blood and severed body parts littered the ground. Sera dodged another soldier, barely managing to keep her head attached.

She felt rather then saw Penny beside her now. The two moved in a rhythm, taking on two or three at a time while attempting to use the bodies to block the next wave.

“Duck, fool.” Sera instinctively obeyed the command, and she felt rather than heard the sword sweeping over her head. She spun around to thank Penny, but instead witnessed something awful. Helen and Dido were on the far side of the room. One of the men had lodged a sword deep in Helen’s leg, carving a gash from thigh to ankle. Dido immediately screamed for help, and Penny was halfway across the carnage in moments. Helen’s leg was lifted off the floor and she was draped partway over Dido’s arm. The two limped backward towards the throne. Sera was lost on her own. There were too many soldiers, too many bodies. She could see that Penny was losing ground as well. The sides pulled inward and soon soldiers were spilling into the room. Aria screamed for them to retreat. Sera ran, and in seconds the six were clustered at the base of the throne again. Suddenly there was a loud noise from the back of the room, and then silence. The soldiers retreated. The girls were coughing, wiping away dirt and blood from small cuts. Dido had ripped off the majority of her shirt and was wrapping Helen’s leg. Then a figure emerged from the rubble and smoke, stepping over the bodies, and moving swiftly down the blood soaked velvet carpeting. The shadow held an enormous weapon in its right hand. Then he let the weapon drop, and it clattered noisily against the carved tiles. Sera guessed it was a man from the figure's height and broad chest. He walked forward slowly; arms raised in a strange gesture, not in defeat, just intent on calming the opponent. His face emerged from the cloud of debris. Aria gasped in recognition, her sword wavering for the first time.

"The Prince of Darkness." The words tumbled from Aria's lips like a curse. A low blasphemy came from Dido, and was swiftly echoed by Medea. Sera had been unprepared to see this man personally storming the place. He was the source of the war, the root from which the darkness had spread. The man was dressed all in black, except for his cape, which was lined in a vibrant purple satin. There were stories about him. He was said to be evil incarnate. He was ruthless, exacting, powerful, and without mercy or heart. The stories of the atrocities he had ordered were so horrible that just the tales had given her nightmares for weeks. A shaft of light crossed the man's face. Her mouth almost fell open. The stories never mentioned that he was beautiful. She felt desire rise in her gut, sweeping through her body in a hot rush. He was the man who haunted her dreams, both awake and asleep. Her wishes and fantasies embodied in one person. He was tall, and nicely built with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and muscles she could see bulging through the velvet of his jacket. He had thick black hair, and eyes the color of sapphires. But they were cold, empty, like the gems they copied. He carried himself like a king, arrogant, with a cruel smile. Sera's initial surge of admiration was followed by a sense of foreboding.

Queen Selenity had said little since the moment she had ordered the girls to guard her in the throne room. Now she stood up slowly, her face pale and her silver eyes wide with some strange emotion.

"Selenity." The man tipped his head in a mocking bow. “We meet again.”

"Endymion." The name rippled over the room like wildfire. Medea’s eyes grew wide, Helen’s mouth dropped open, Dido growled, Penny dropped her sword on the floor, her face showing shock and horror. Aria shook her head.

Chapter 02 – The Past
By Aurora Eos Rose
The Escape

The throne room was only a whisper of its former glory. The velvet carpet was soaked almost black with blood, the crystal pillars were broken, chipped, and two were in pieces on the floor. One of the interior rear walls had collapsed, all the windows had shattered, most of the gilt was gone from the ceiling, and the room was packed with Terran soldiers, their weapons drawn. The cold night air, tainted with the stench of smoke, crept inside the giant gaping mouths where once beautiful stained glass had held back the darkness. Pitiful bands of brightness trickled from the remaining artificial lights that still glowed on the ceiling.

Sera wiped a bead of sweat from her brow and gripped her weapon a bit tighter. The seven Lunarians still alive in the palace were clustered in the center of the pack of invaders with only a few feet between. Both groups had swords still held high, eyes wide with fear and anger. The smells of sweat, blood, and death drenched the air and the faint sounds of sporadic battle whispered from outside the palace. But even without the trappings and glitter, the heart of the palace still held an aura of authority and power. It radiated from Selenity, from her skin, her eyes, her hair. It permeated the air, making the lights above seem like dim stars next to her radiance.

The Queen stood in front of the silver throne, shoulders back, head high. Her arms were against her sides and still. The Terrans stayed several feet back from her position on the stairs of the throne, not because they feared the six young girls holding blades, but rather because of the almost visible energy that radiated from the Queen. The girls around her were tired, bloodstained, and sore but their eyes still glittered with hope. Sera stood at the right of the throne and resisted the urge to lean against the cool metal. Helen had struggled to her feet, despite her injury, and was gripping the throne on the left hand side with one white hand. The other hand still held her sword. Aria had planted herself in front of the queen, Medea on Aria’s right side. They stood together as always, a united front. Dido and Penny had taken up positions between the throne and Aria, creating a half-circle around the queen. They faced the Dark Prince with tired eyes and weary hearts. But the neither the Queen’s voice nor her hands shook as she took a step forward, towards Endymion. The girls parted, allowing her through without protest. She moved forward down the carpet until she stood only a few feet away from Endymion. She remained motionless, imperious, even though she had to look up to meet the man's sapphire eyes. Selenity was silent for a moment, her face filled with a strange sadness. She moved her arm in a sweeping gesture.

"What you’ve left standing of my kingdom is before you, I cannot say that it is a pleasure to see you, nor can I bring myself to welcome you. The goddess curse the day your mother gave you life. And I curse myself for not destroying you long ago." Selenity laid her hands serenely at her sides, a mask of calm remaining over her features despite the foul words. Endymion's eyes grew a bit frostier, and his face seemed to be carved from stone. A red flush crept up his neck. Then he closed his eyes for a moment. The flush disappeared. Endymion opened his eyes, and then he smiled. Every one of the seven women standing in the throne room felt a shiver run up their spines from the menace in that smile. He then did something very surprising. He sunk to one knee and graciously took Selenity’s hand. He pressed a kiss against the pale skin and the two met gazes for a long moment.

“I return the greeting, oh great tyrant. May the goddess curse the day she ever deigned to give power to such foul offspring. And may you never sleep another peaceful night while I live.” He stood swiftly, his cape fluttering with the movement, and in the process turned so he had changed positions with the Queen. Then he walked backwards. The girls scurried out of the way, three on each side, and gasped as he plopped down on the throne, one long leg dangling irreverently over the side.

“It’s been a long day, Selenity. I hope you don’t mind if I enjoy my new chair.” His voice was harsh, and mocking. Selenity didn’t move. The girls however, did, changing positions so they once again surrounded the queen. Helen was leaning heavily on her sword for balance. Endymion snapped at a soldier. The man rushed forward and leaned over while the prince whispered in the soldier’s ear. The prince had given orders in the language of earth, the sound harsh and grating on the ears of those unaccustomed to the guttural consonants. Although the girls knew a smattering of the language, only Penny could speak it well, and only Helen could read and write the strange symbols of the earth tongue. The room rustled like leaves on the wind. The troops moved swiftly, leaving only one squadron that quickly took up stations at every exit. The girls watched the astonishing swiftness and precision of the Terran army with a sense of dread. Finally Endymion returned his attention to the Queen.

"I have something to give to you, your majesty, a few of your missing subjects were found by my men. I thought I'd be kind enough to return their bodies." Endymion bowed his head mockingly and motioned with one hand. Selenity turned around slowly. A figure moved into the room. He was dressed in gray, with a royal blue cape. His hair was long, coppery blonde, and extremely curly. It was tied back into a ponytail. Over his shoulder was an object garbed in blue and white. He walked forward, skirting the broken pillar and the circle of girls, and dumped the bloody bundle between the throne and the Queen. Sera swallowed the bile rising in her throat; blood from the body washed across the floor and splashed onto a crystal pillar.

"Sailor Mercury." Selenity’s voice was empty of emotion, and her expression didn't change. The woman on the floor was dressed in a sailor suit. The outfit was ripped and covered in blood, and her head was tilted at an odd angle. A thick slash was carved across her neck, the wound still moist. The man took a step forward, inclined his head, and pulled out a saber, the point stained with blood. The hilt shone for a moment. They all knew that blade. It was the space sword. Helen took an unconscious step forward, her eyes brimming with tears.

"Sailor Uranus’s sword." Her voice rippled through the room like water, like the tears that began to flow down her face. Sera felt her heart drop into her shoes. They hadn't heard from Uranus and the outer planets in weeks. Even in the civil war that had raged for years, the lack of communication was disturbing. If this man held the space sword, Uranus would have to be dead. Helen took another step forward, ignoring Sera's desperate head shaking. Helen's injured leg buckled and she started slipping to the floor. The sword was almost violently sheathed. The man flipped several strands of hair over one shoulder and moved forward swiftly. He grabbed Helen at the waist, supporting her gently. When she’d regained her balance he reached out with one hand and brushed a stray tear from her cheek.

"Such a face should never be stained by tears." Helen’s eyes lifted to meet his, and she was caught in the man's pure beauty. He moved his hand down her cheek and then brushed a thumb over her lips. Helen's focus moved to the bloodstained hand. She jerked backward, her eyes filling with hate. She tried to lift her sword but he batted the weapon away with a violent thrust of his free arm. The man's gentle smile turned to a frown. His eyes darkened, and he gripped her tightly around the waist. Sera finally had enough. She grabbed Helen from behind. The man held tightly resulting in an impromptu tug of war.

"Enough." Endymion's voice held a note of warning. The young man didn’t let go. Instead he yanked Helen forward. Sera lost her grip and fell backwards; Helen fell forward into his arms, too stunned to react. The man swept Helen up against him and into his arms.

"Prince Paris." Endymion waved a hand towards the door and barked an order in the Terran tongue. Paris nodded quietly and strode from the room, a surprised Helen still in his arms. The girls surged forward like a wave, but Selenity lifted her hand and they retreated. Endymion's smile became even more menacing, a feat that had seemed impossible a moment before. He beckoned a second time. Someone emerged from the shadows with a glass of wine, which Endymion took, sipping while watching the display. Selenity continued to stand, her face impassive. A second figure emerged from the shadows.

Endymion kept his gaze locked on Selenity. Her face was deathly pale. The figure moved into the dim light spilling through the crystal pillars. His sunny hair shone brightly, and he walked with a cocky strut, like a rooster who had just finished his evening tour in the henhouse. He pulled the limp form from his shoulder and dropped her, his smile never wavering as the dead body hit the ground, red and black against the white marble. Her body twisted into odd angles, as if every bone was broken. The man ignored Selenity; he just let the body fall and headed toward Endymion.

"Sailor Mars." Selenity’s voice was barely audible. She reached out a hand as if to touch the body, but drew back. Her eyes filled with tears, but none fell. Medea growled low in her throat. Then she lunged forward, her sword dropped in the same motion. The growl grew quickly, erupting into a scream of rage. Aria had anticipated the short-tempered girl's reaction, tackling Medea in mid flight. The two scuffled on the floor for a moment.

"Medea, stop it. Let it go. You knew she was dead." The last sentence was spoken a bit louder than the rest and accompanied with a rap of Medea’s head against the floor. Aria's gentle words couldn't stop her best friend's struggles, but the mocking laughter of the man made Medea freeze. She lifted violet eyes to clash with aquamarine ones. The man's smiled widened at the fire in her gaze.

"Short tempered people are always the first to react and the last to think." His voice was low and mocking. He lowered the bloodied, dirty spear grasped tightly in his hand. The pointed rested lightly against Aria's chest. He laughed at the blonde's startled features. "Get up; let her fight her own battles." The point dug into the creamy white flesh. Aria stood and moved backward. Her eyes were drawn to the mirror tucked in his waistband. Aria's eyes filled with tears. Medea slowly pulled herself upwards. Her gaze flicked to the lifeless lump of flesh lying at Selenity’s feet.

"I always fight my own battles." Her voice was husky with unshed tears and the words shook a bit. The man used the end of his spear to flick the short white skirt of the girl upwards. She gasped and took a step back.

Endymion cleared his throat loudly. The man stepped closer, pinning Medea in place with the intensity of his gaze.

"Until we meet again." He grasped her chin in one bloody hand, and pressed his lips against hers. Medea sunk her teeth into his lip. He growled and gripped the back of her head, forcing her to lean backwards, and deepened the kiss. Finally he let go. Medea dropped to her knees. She spit, a mixture of blood and saliva puddled on the man’s shining boots. The man growled and smacked her across the face, drawing blood where her lip met her teeth. Medea's face was stunned for a moment.

"Blood for blood bitch." He lifted a hand to his bleeding lip and turned his back. She stood slowly, legs quivering. He whipped around a second time, eyes glowing almost black with anger. His lips once again met hers and they both tasted the tang of copper. Endymion cleared his throat once, and then a second time as Jason nearly bent Medea backwards with the force of the kiss. Finally Jason drew back. Medea’s face was shocked, confused. She took several steps back, resuming her place beside Aria, and wiped her mouth in one motion. But their eyes remained locked.

"Jason, leave, now." Endymion's voice was laced with frustration. Jason tilted his head in a mocking half bow.

“Yes, my Prince, as you command.” The sarcasm in his tone made Endymion growl something in Terran. Jason replied in kind and made an obscene gesture at the now fuming Endymion. Then Jason bowed formally, turned and left the room, leaving a shaking Medea behind. There was a long moment of silence. Endymion drummed his fingers on the edge of the chair as if struggling to keep his temper under control. When that failed he stood, drew a sword from the soldier at his side, and hurled it against the door Jason had stepped through. The metal embedded in the wood almost to the hilt. Everyone present took a step back. Then Endymion looked up, and his anger melted into a smile. He beckoned with one hand, and the sound of boots on stone announced third figure entering the hall.

This one wore a long rust-colored cloak that covered him from head to toe. The cape was dusted in dirt and leaves, as though he’d been rolling on a forest floor. He carried in his hand a tall, heavy key-shaped staff, topped with a garnet ball. He stopped suddenly, whirling the cape around and off him and dropping his burden to the floor in a single motion. The cape partially covered the mangled body, but one long leg and a hank of hair fell against the white marble. Sera noticed this man's eyes were sad, regretful. Not mocking, like the first two. Dido took several steps forward as if in a trance. She gingerly reached for the edge of the dark cape.

"The stars have known her fate, as the gates of time welcome her even now." The man's voice was rich, like dark chocolate, but laced with a touch of bitterness. Dido looked up at the towering figure, her emerald eyes filled with questions. Then they hardened. She jerked the cape back.

"Sailor Jupiter." Selenity’s voice cracked a bit. The body was mangled, as though a wild animal had torn in to shreds. Sera turned her face away in horror. Dido felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and twirled around quickly. The motion upset her balance, but strong arms kept her from falling. He had moved so swiftly and silently that she hadn’t even realized he was beside her. He tugged on the end of a wayward curl, his mouth curving into a gentle smile at the way it sprung back into place. Dido’s eyes moved to the staff gripped in his hand. She pushed the man away, fury and anger and grief warring with each other for control of her heart.

"Murderer." Her voice was fire and ice rolled into one. The man’s eyes darkened, but he stepped back.

"Aeneas." Endymion made a motion with his hand, and the man with the staff headed back toward the doorway, leaving the same way that Jason had earlier. He grabbed the sword and yanked it from its resting place, heaving it over his shoulder as he left. It clattered on the stone. The sound echoed through the room like thunder. Penny finally moved. She bent over, took the discarded cape, and threw it back over the body. Dido simply stared into space, eyes blank. The side door opened from the outside, and another young man entered.

He was about as tall as Endymion, and slender, with pale amber eyes and dark, straight hair. But what caught everyone’s attention were his exposed ears. They were pointed at the tip. He hurried forward and engaged in a swift conference with Endymion. No one could hear the words, but the tone was one of anger and hostility. Sera caught the word Destroyer, and something about wiping out the entire bloodline. She leaned in closer, desperate to hear the conversation. Her face had perked up, she was excited and astonished. She stared at the man in fascination, as though she were seeing one of her fairy tales come to life. Finally the man turned. He gazed at Sera for a moment, the look of anger and disgust on his face made her cringe.

“A Vulcan.” Medea said the words as though they were a prayer. “He’s Alfar, a real live one; I thought none survived the great purges.” A very angry glare was sent her way.

“Few did.” He didn’t say anything else, just turned and moved to one of the pillars still standing in the rear of the room. He leaned against it and glared at Queen Selenity. His gaze sent a shiver down Sera’s spine.

Endymion beckoned with his hand and the last person entered the throne room. Sera looked at the sword in her hand, then at the man entering the room. And she knew why Selenity didn't fight back. There was no hope left.

She'd always known, academically, that she had once had an older brother. There were stories about how every firstborn male was sacrificed to the great goddess Artemis at birth, his blood paving the way for peace. But there hadn't been a male firstborn in centuries. Until her brother. She had often imagined what it would have been like to have an older brother, someone to fight with, someone to play with, someone to watch out for her, someone to love. But the reality of seeing her brother, alive, was enough to knock every fanciful notion of having a family from her head. This man wasn’t the boy who protected her in her dreams; this was the demon she saw in her nightmares.

There was no doubt that the man was the prince. This figure was taller even than Aeneas. His hair was very long, and was brilliantly silver-white, the same shade as her own. But his eyes were a silver gray, just like Selenity’s. He moved very gracefully, like a dancer. In his left hand was an enormous sword. Sera swallowed loudly. He was supposed to be dead. Everyone had said he was dead. They had brought a tiny baby into the temple, killed it with a knife through the heart, and gave the corpse to Selenity to hold. The temple of Artemis had said that the goddess would favor the Queen for another thousand years. She had prayed over his grave, left flowers, wept sometimes in sorrow over what might have been…

“Tranquility, you’re alive.” Selenity gasped the words, her face white, and her eyes wide with shock. Sera cringed. Odysseus reacted even more harshly. He turned to Endymion, eyes hard.

"Why didn't you tell me?" There was a moment of silence. Then Endymion stood.

"You didn't need to know." Odysseus hissed between his teeth, grabbed a sword, and ran for Theseus.

The sword was stopped inches from Theseus's heart. Endymion had moved faster than anyone in the room had ever seen. The glaive was locked around the sword. Endymion twisted and Odysseus watched his blade shatter with a sharp crack. Odysseus took a step back.

"You betrayed me." Odysseus screamed his accusation, his eyes wild. Endymion placed the sword at Odysseus's throat.

"I saved your people out of mercy. I've trained you in the art of war, given countless scientists and money towards restoring your home world, and treated you like a brother. Your obsession with ending the bloodline of Selene must stop."

"You don't understand... everyone who holds the blood of Selene is cursed. Her evilness flows through their veins." Endymion snorted. He twirled the glaive and smacked Odysseus across the face with the metal staff. The Alfar staggered backward.

"You are the one who does not understand. You cannot blame generations of descendents for something one woman did almost ten thousand years ago. Do you know who my father is descended from, you foolish child?" There was a long silence. "My father, the king of Terra, like every single member of the royal houses of the solar system, is descended from Selene. We all have her blood in our veins. And if you stupid, vindictive people ever read your own history books, you'd understand that your entire royal house is descended from her as well. I let your obsession pass, thinking that you would eventually see the stupidity and let go, but not anymore." Endymion smacked the man again. The glaive drew a deep groove across the man’s cheek. Odysseus dropped to his knees, his face white.

"If we are descended from her, then why did she try to destroy us?" There was an eerie silence in the room. Finally Selenity spoke.

"Your immortality was bought, with the blood of Selene's youngest, favorite daughter. Selene was so angry at the deception and murder that she vowed your entire race must be eliminated. That is why the eldest male child of the moon line was always sacrificed, because Selene's eldest son had created the Alfar. You were supposed to be eliminated to pay for the sin you carry in your blood." Selenity’s voice had risen during the speech, ending in something resembling a shout. Endymion chuckled.

"And now the first male heir in generations is alive and well. How that must irritate you. Odysseus, you may leave now." The Alfar rose, his eyes glazed. Endymion returned to his seat, picking up his glass in one hand, his leg once more swinging over the edge of the throne. "Where were we? Ah yes, we were discussing your dear departed son. Tranquility, I always thought that a foolish name for a man. He has chosen to be called Theseus, after the ancient hero. He is no longer your son, Selenity. He belongs to me. You relinquished all rights to him when you gave him to Venus to kill. What kind of a mother would declare that he should be killed at birth, simply for his sex? No true goddess would demand the death of an innocent.”

Theseus finally moved from his position in the doorway. The light fell over him, and now the room could see that cradled in a single arm was a body. He laid his bundle on the ground, pressing a gentle kiss on the figure's cheek. Only Penny noticed the flash of anger in Endymion's eyes. Theseus's eyes were full of an unreadable emotion. The body sprawled out next to the other four, yards of lemon yellow hair spreading across the blood and white marble.

"Sailor Venus." Sera felt the name spill from her lips in a lament. Even in death, the Senshi of Venus was hauntingly beautiful. A choked sob came from Aria. The man didn't stop. He stepped over the four bodies littering the throne room floor and headed for Selenity. Aria raced forward, planting herself in front of the queen.

"Stop right there." Aria's voice was cold. The man moved closer. Sera sighed softly and moved quickly to stand just behind Aria.

"Aria." Sera whispered the word urgently. "He's not stopping." Aria gritted her teeth and took a small step forward.

"I said stop." Aria's voice was loud and forceful. The man kept moving until her sword was pressed against his chest.

"Move or I will kill you too." The voice was an octave lower than what Sera had expected. The man was deadly serious. He whirled the sword quickly and expertly, pressing the blade against Aria's throat. The words were issued neither as a threat or a promise, merely a statement of fact.

"I'd like to see you try." Aria's reply was steady and just as calm. Her eyes had narrowed. She moved and suddenly he was without a weapon and her sword was at his throat.

"Impressive, but not good enough. Don't bait me, guardswoman. You don't want to make me angry. Even your beauty cannot save you." Aria lifted her chin stubbornly. Then Theseus moved. Aria’s sword clattered across the stone and she found her back pressed against his body, both of her hands wrapped tightly in a giant fist, a hand gently holding her chin. Fire radiated from her eyes, she’d never lost. She struggled for a moment but his grip only tightened. Her struggles stilled when one hand flexed around her throat. She felt the world go black for a few moments, but his touch lightened. “Now, little girl. One word from Endymion and I’ll snap your neck like a twig.” Endymion leaned back in the chair, laughing at the shocked expressions on the remaining girl’s faces.

“Ah Selenity, just look at the way you make your subjects lay down their lives for you. Would you, I think, do the same for them?” He lifted his hand. Selenity’s voice rang out, echoing off the walls. She sounded almost frantic.

“Wait.” She moved forward and stopped just in front of Theseus. She laid a hand against his cheek, ignoring his flinch at her touch. “Tranquility, I thought you were dead. It lightens my heart to know you live. I never wanted to give you up. But I had to, don’t you see? This little girl has never done anything to harm anyone. Let her go, Tranquility. Please.” Her voice was whisper soft and full of tears. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned into the caress. His hand moved, releasing Aria’s chin. Instead the hand moved to her scalp, winding its way through her hair. He stroked her for a moment, as though she were a pet.

“So pretty, little princess.” He whispered the words in her ear, barely loud enough to have breath. “You were always so pretty, even as a child. Just like your mother. The prince may be blind at times, but I know who you are. Hidden among the commoners of the palace guard, you stand out from the rabble like a rose in weeds.” He inhaled deeply and his hand wandered over her scant clothing. “You even smell like Venus. You are nothing to the witch, don’t you realize that? You’re just a pawn, just a slave…and like your mother you will die for your loyalty.” Then he opened his eyes. They hardened and he jerked his mouth away from her ear. He wrapped his arm around Aria’s throat.

“My name is Theseus, woman. Now, you will surrender, immediately.” Selenity bowed her head and stepped away. Theseus jerked Aria’s head a bit and started to squeeze. She winced at the strain. “Now, my ever devoted mother. Save your helpless subject and not yourself.” Selenity closed her eyes. She had longed to hear that word from her son’s lips, but not in a tone dripping with venom.

“You know I cannot, Tranquility. One life must be sacrificed for the sake of a thousand…” Her words trailed into nothing at the evil expression now clouding Theseus’s silver eyes.

“Or a million lives for one, isn’t that what you mean, bitch?” Theseus snarled the words with such force that Selenity took a step backward. “One crying child for an ancient prophecy? Four dead boys for words on a moldy scroll? Millions dead for your self-centered desire to rule the universe?”

“You know nothing of rule, of the weight of power.”

“And I never will. You stole that birthright from me because of my sex.”

“Enough.” The room came to a halt at Endymion’s roar. Theseus shut his mouth tightly, eyes still narrowed. Selenity looked startled. Endymion stood slowly, his eyes black. "These accusations do nothing. I've waited long enough Selenity. I’ve already dispensed justice to your pitiful Sailor Senshi; or rather I gave them to the victims of their crimes. Now it is your turn to pay. Surrender to me now, unconditionally, completely, and be tried and executed for your crimes, or I will kill every living creature on this hunk of rock. Starting with that little girl." Selenity’s face registered nothing.

“I cannot. I will not.” Selenity fisted her hands tightly. “No matter what the cost, I cannot let the prophecy be fulfilled.”

Endymion growled low in his throat. The room echoed with the sound. “So be it. Kill her.”

There was a soft cracking sound, like the breaking of bone, and Aria fell to the ground in a heap. Sera screamed. She felt like the entire world had condensed into a single droplet of time, a single moment of loss. Aria was gone. A loud smack across her face stopped the sound, but not the weeping in her soul. She blinked rapidly, her tear filled eyes bringing Medea’s tortured gaze into focus.

“Hush, you must be strong.” Medea’s trembling voice belied her harsh words. Sera sank into the slightly taller girl’s embrace and they hung together like two reeds in the wind. Dido’s virulent blasphemies echoed off the broken crystal and marble, her trail of curses cut off by a harsh rebuke from Penelope. But Selenity remained calm.

“It does not matter who you destroy, Endymion. My people will live on.” Endymion gritted his teeth. Then he moved, so fast that even a blink would have stopped one from seeing. He reached forward and grabbed Sera's arm. He stepped backwards, dragging the startled girl. She stumbled forward into his arms. He turned her, so her back was pressed tightly against him, and held the edge of a dagger against her throat, just hard enough so a thin trail of blood trickled down her neck. The other girls lunged forward, screaming denials almost in unison. Even Selenity reacted, reaching out, her eyes wide with horror.

"Perhaps if just one of your little slaves isn’t enough, I’ll kill them all in front of your eyes. One by one, tortured until they scream for mercy." His breath was hot on her ear. Sera felt her body trembling in his grasp but was unable to stop the shivers. Selenity’s eyes were tortured. Endymion pulled Sera closer, pressed a kiss against the curve of her throat. "Make up your mind, Selenity. Perhaps I'll enjoy her before I kill her." He laughed softly, as his hand crept under the edge of Sera's white shirt. His hands danced over her bare skin, grasping a breast in one hand. "I enjoyed listening to my bedmates beg for their lives, while I have my fill." Sera shivered in his arms. Her body reacted to his touch despite her fear. No one noticed Penny whispering something to Dido, the two nodding at each other. Penny took several steps forward. She laid her sword on the ground. Every eye turned to her.

“Endy, you must let her go.” Endymion flinched at the use of the name. His eyes grew hazy, misty, as if his mind suddenly went somewhere far away. Sera felt his grip slacken, but the strange feelings that had assaulted her senses refused to be banished as easily. There was another long silence in the room. “I know you have to remember me Endy. I was the only one you allowed to use that name.” Endymion’s grip relaxed even more. Sera sagged against his body. Penny moved forward a bit more, into the light. “I was just a little girl when I was brought here, but I still remember you. I remember the way I would follow you around, desperate to be just like you. And you would pull on my pigtails and call me names.” Endymion’s eyes softened.

“Penelope. You’re little Penelope? The little sister that followed me around and chopped her hair off to look like me? My mother told me the queen had murdered you.” His voice halted between the words, as though he were dredging up some horrible memory. There was an awkward silence. Penny took another step forward.

“Please, Endy. Don’t hurt her. She isn’t the one you want.” Endymion untangled his arms from Sera and let go. She slumped to the floor in a tangled, limp mass. Penny took another step forward, now only an arm’s length from Endymion. His eyes were haunted now, desperate.

“Why didn’t you come back to me, Penelope? My god, that was so many years ago. If only I’d known where you were, what had happened to you?” He paused, his face grew thoughtful. “If you’ve been alive all this time, you could have sent word at least. Why didn’t you try to escape?” Penny smiled sadly.

“Escape? I was just a little girl, Endy, a scared little girl. I was what, three...four years old maybe? How could I have escaped? I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language. I cried for days and days.” Endymion took a step closer. Sera scuttled out from underneath his feet. Then he took a step forward and embraced Penny.

“I’ve blamed myself for your death for so many years.” His voice was husky and soft. “I wish I could take away all those years you’ve been a prisoner here.”

“I wished that for a long time, until I realized something.” Endymion’s face lifted at the suddenly bitter tone. “I realized that I had wasted my childhood wishing to be a monster and alienated the only people who have ever loved me.” Penny lifted her hand, a dagger gleaming brightly. She moved the weapon downward, as though she would plunge it into his heart, but her hand shook and she turned at the last moment, burying it in Endymion’s stomach. He gasped and staggered backward. He stared at the dagger in shock.

“But...why? I only wanted to rescue you.” Penelope spit in his face.

“Why would you want to deprive me of the only home I’ve ever know, brother? Here I wasn’t the unwanted second heir. Here I was the princess, the heir, the chosen one.” She stepped backwards, still laughing. The room erupted into chaos. Endymion pulled the knife from his gut and sagged to the ground, both arms pressed to the wound. Several members of the army rushed forward to treat the injury. Penelope turned and caught a blade thrown to her by Dido. She turned back in time to counter Prince Theseus’s blade. The two were quickly locked in combat. Medea grabbed the Queen by the arm and raced for the nearest door. Dido yelled a ferocious battle cry and rammed her shoulder into one of the cracked pillars. It collapsed, sending dust and debris flying. The remaining artificial lights gave out and the room was in darkness.

~~**~~

Helen was embarrassed. She’d never been the strongest of the girls, but one leg injury had made her pass out the moment the bastard prince left the throne room. He had been squeezing her rather tightly. And she had lost a lot of blood. But it was still more than embarrassing. She quickly took stock of the dark corridor where she was lying. A medic had been by to bandage her leg at some point, and she could see a circular mark on her arm that meant she’d been given some kind of medication. She was in one of the large hallways, on a pallet beside dozens of injured and dead bodies. She couldn’t make out their faces in the dim light. The air was thick with the smells of antiseptic, old blood, unwashed bodies and urine. Helen sat up slowly, ignoring the pounding in her head, and looking around carefully for signs of Terran warriors. But the only soldiers she saw were injured. Soft moans filled the air. She smiled a bit. They had left her unguarded. She silently, and sarcastically, thanked the Terrans for their medical care and after a final glance to make sure no one was paying attention, she began her escape. She scooted back against the wall and used it as leverage. She managed to make her feet, but she was wobbling. Her head throbbed again and the world swam. She shook her head and started down the hall, stepping over the bodies and trying not to attract attention.

~~**~~

Penelope was in trouble. The darkness hindered Theseus’s sword, but it also hindered her own movements. And she had known from the beginning that she was no match for his sword. Only Aria had the skills the defeat him…but she was dead now. The air was thick with dust and breathing hurt. Penny dodged another blow and moved several steps backward again. She’d been drawing him towards the rear wall, behind the throne, away from the others. But she was tired, her arm was aching. And she was silently cursing herself. She hadn’t been able to kill him, even when given the perfect opportunity. Endymion still lived, because she didn’t have the stomach for murder. She blocked a thrust intended to take her life, but missed the second attack. The sword sunk into her shoulder. She jerked backwards, hissing as the blade pulled out, ignored the pain, and deftly switched hands. And she thanked the goddess for gifting her with the skill to wield a sword left and right handed. Theseus switched his attack pattern far too quickly, after finding his old attacks ineffective against her left hand. Penelope swore as the blade found her leg, carving a shallow gash.

“I’m going to carve you up piece by piece, little bitch, until your blood coats the floor.” She ignored his taunting and tried to ignore the blood spilling down her arm. His threats were easy to shake off, the anger in his eyes, however, was another matter. Penelope resisted the urge to let fear overwhelm her. She wouldn’t let his words affect her, she wouldn’t stop fighting. His sword made contact again, this time taking a chunk out of her side. She staggered, and cursed the lightheadedness that was keeping her from fighting as she should. Theseus struck her again, this time across the back, with the flat of the blade. Penny felt a surge of humiliation as she fell to her knees, her weapon clattering on the cold marble. He hadn’t even tried to hurt her that time. She lowered her head, waiting for the blow that would end her life. She had failed, but at least the others had a chance of escape.

“Now, little girl, you die.” Penny felt a rush of wind as the sword descended. Then it stopped. Penny lifted her head slowly. Endymion was blocking the blade with his glaive, held tightly in his left hand, just inches from her neck. His eyes glittered in the dim light. His stomach was wrapped tightly and Paris stood at his side, green eyes shooting sparks.

“Enough, Theseus.” There was a brief pause. Theseus slowly lowered his sword.

“She deserves death.” Endymion chuckled and handed his weapon to Paris. He knelt down and used a single hand to lift Penny’s chin. Sapphire met mismatched brown and blue in a clash of wills.

“I should have killed you when I had the chance.” She spit toward his face, but he merely leaned a bit to one side. The spittle landed on the marble. He faced her again; the grip on her chin grew tighter.

“Then why didn’t you, little brat?” Penny winced at the name, remembering times long ago when the term had been an endearment and not a curse. “You had the chance. I saw you aim for my heart. Why didn’t you end it?” His voice was little more than a whisper.

“Unlike you, bastard, I don’t have a taste for murder.” Endymion frowned and drew his eyebrows together tightly.

“You don’t have to drag my parentage into this, sister. You had a chance and you failed.” He stood slowly. “She lives today. I have other plans for her.” Penny cringed at the words. She tried to push herself to her feet, but instead fell flat on her face. “Take her.”

Penny felt herself slipping into darkness as harsh hands grabbed her and yanked her to her feet. She was dragged from the room but didn’t even have the strength to fight.
Finally gave in to the blackness creeping through her mind.

~~**~~

Dido opened her eyes very slowly. To say her head hurt would be an understatement. At first she couldn’t see anything but blackness. Then she realized there wasn’t anything to see but blackness. The plan had worked. She stood slowly. The crystal pillar was in shambles around her. Medea and Selenity were gone. She could hear swords clashing in the distance, but the area directly around her seemed to be empty. She moved forward like a blind man.

The breeze caught her attention. It dragged the dust and dirt out of the air. Dido followed the gusts of wind to the large windows that had once held glass centuries old. She smiled grimly and picked her way through the broken shards and over the ledge into the gardens. There would be another time for battle. A single patch of light pierced the gloom. Dido’s sharp eyes searched the dim path created by the light. She saw a glimpse of a limp Penny being dragged from the room. Dido smiled. Her next battle would come soon. She cracked her knuckles in anticipation and moved through the garden at a swift pace, determined to cut off Penelope’s guard.

~~**~~

Medea and Sera hadn’t wasted any time. The moment the lights went out they were moving. The Queen found herself hustled to the back of the room like cattle and shoved through a door hidden behind a tapestry. But Medea didn’t follow; she pushed Sera into the dark opening and let the door slam. Sera wanted desperately to pound on the door in protest, but Selenity pulled the small girl away.

“Come, darling. I don’t have much time. We must reach the prayer chamber before they do. I do think Medea can take care of herself.” Sera wanted to crumble on the floor, but she listened to the Queen and followed docilely through the twisted secret tunnels of the Moon Palace, the shock of Aria’s death still eating at her soul. She felt like she was in a haze, unable to grasp what was happening. So she simply put one foot in front of the other and tried not to think of what Medea and the others were facing.

~~**~~

“I ordered you to kill her.” The tone was quiet, tight with anger.

“You have my loyalty, Endymion, but not my soul. I incapacitated her, they believed her dead. It served both my purposes and furthered your kingdom, my prince. I do not question your judgment, do not question my motives.” The second voice was deep, calm, soothing.

“You questioned my judgment the moment you disobeyed me. I ordered you to kill her, dammit.” The first voice began to rise in pitch and tone, the modulating baritone rising to a tenor.

“There were factors you were not aware of, my prince. She is not one to be killed like chattel.” There was a gentle touch, a soft stroking of hands. “She is not simply a stupid guard. She was just hiding among the peasants. This is the crown princess of Venus, the girl titled goddess of love at her birth. We will need her to gain her planet’s support. The population there holds strong loyalty to its blood leadership.” There was a moment of stunned silence.

“How do you who she is?” The voice wasn’t suspicious now, only resigned, and a bit puzzled. A deep laugh echoed in the room, rocking her from head to toe.

“Ah my prince, sometimes you let yourself be blinded to what is in front of you. No other person alive could have disarmed me. Only the child of Venus was ever so skilled. Her hair, her eyes, her scent. I would know her in the dark, in the rain. She hasn’t changed, even after all these years.” Another soft touch swept over her brow.

“Why isn’t she awake yet?” There was a moment of silence followed by a sheepish whisper.

“I might have pushed a bit hard on her arteries. I needed to get her out fast. That and the shock of her arm breaking. But I needed the sound.” Another silence.

“I’m sorry, Theseus. As always you were right, thinking with your head and not your heart. I leave her in your hands. Meet me in the prayer chamber. We must claim the sword.” The first voice left with a heavy stomping of feet. A gentle breath tickled her cheek.

“I’m not so sure I was using my head and not my heart.” A touch of lips against her skin sent Aria’s eyes open in shock. The face of her captor loomed, filling her vision with gunmetal gray and the brush of soft silver. He smiled and stroked a hand over her cheek. The gentle expression and tender motion seemed at odds with the harsh lines of his face. “So you are awake, sweetheart. Come, we need to set your arm.” Aria just blinked.

Her arm hurt, her head hurt, and her heart hurt. She felt like a foam blanket had been shoved into her skull. She wanted to break down and cry, but her mind kept the emotions locked inside. She’d failed miserably, and now she was lying on the cold marble with a broken arm and blood seeping into her white uniform. She tried to pull the scattered strands of intelligent thought together but failed. Instead all she could concentrate on was the throbbing in her arm and the pounding in her skull. She winced as her captor pulled her to her feet. She staggered, lightheaded from the movement.

“Slow down, angel.” Warm arms circled her, holding her against firm flesh. For a moment she sunk into the embrace, grateful for a haven from the pain. She felt as though she belonged, locked within a wall of strength. A hand brushed over her hair slowly, steadily, the calluses occasionally catching the delicate gossamer strands. Then Aria remembered who she was, and who was holding her. She jerked back suddenly, this time no arm came to stop her swaying. Instead of a gentle smile, a pair of mocking eyes and a lifted brow met her gaze.

“I see you’ve recovered your wits. A pity, you’re much nicer when you feel the need to placate me. So how much of our little conversation did you hear, oh fearless warrior?” The tone had turned from warm to slightly mocking. Aria frowned. A nagging sensation of familiarity poked at the back of her mind, but she brushed the feeling off in favor of action. She took several steps backward, trying to find a place to stand where she didn’t have to crane her neck to speak.

“Not enough. What do you want with me, Tranquility?” Suddenly the space she’d just gained disappeared with several long strides. She was hauled up by her shoulders until she was at his eye level. He shook her like a naughty dog. Her arm screamed in pain.

“Never, I repeat, never call me that name.” His voice was taunt. “I am Prince Theseus, but to you I will be known as master. Perhaps I should make you practice the word for a while; I think you’ll do poorly with it at first.” Aria blinked rapidly, astonished by the emotional roller coaster she’d just witnessed. She lifted her chin.

“I will call you what I wish. The worst you can do is kill me, Tranquility.” He smiled, slowly, the kind of smile that would have made any woman’s knees weak. It made Aria’s stomach ache.

“Oh, there are things much worse than death, angel. And if you call me that once more I’ll introduce you to them here on this bloody floor.” His mouth pressed against her lips brutally, forcing her mouth open. His tongue swept inside. Aria felt her body trembling as his arms crushed her body against his chest. Something solid pressed between her legs and Aria fought down a rising panic. But her body longed to respond to the passion in the kiss, the desire in the form pressed against her. And the fire in her blood, the legacy of her ancestors reared to life, making her temperature rise and her thoughts fuzz like an out of focus monitor. Finally he released her, and she slumped against his chest again. He stroked her hair as though she were a kitten, a plaything to be placated with a tender touch. His voice was a bit husky.

“Do not push me, angel. I like pretty things, and always take care of my toys, but my temper is not a pleasant sight. So don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Aria left her head resting against his chest, too shaken to move. She’d been terrified, and angry, and yet she’d still felt the rush of lust when his mouth touched hers. She tried to pull away but the motion made her gasp in pain. Theseus sighed loudly.

“All right, angel. Enough is enough.” He swept her into his arms effortlessly. “Let’s do something with that arm.” And he left the room with Aria’s head on his shoulder, and her mind whirling with plans for escape.

~~**~~

Medea had just broken another Terran sword. She swore loudly, tossed the offending weapon, and scampered up the remains of the wall. She’d managed to shatter five of the useless pieces of iron, and was currently pining for her twin sai, made of Martian steel, almost unbreakable and deadly sharp. But her weapons were lying on her bed at the other end of the palace. A palace now almost in ruins and crawling with disgusting Terrans, and their second rate weapons. She swore under her breath as her booted heel slipped on the rubble. Medea grumbled under her breath. This was not the most intelligent way to make her escape, but it was better than trying to press through the wall of soldiers blocking the doors. And there had to be some kind of opening at the top of the shattered wall. She just had one chasing her now, a really stupid one at that. She’d knocked him to the point of unconsciousness twice now, but he kept getting up for more punishment. She jumped down the far side of the rubble and was gratified to see a fairly empty, and intact, corridor. She raced for the doorway that led to the south side of the palace. Her pursuer followed, a slender earthling with no sense, but a will to fight.

She heard a strange scraping sound, and turned enough to see the Terran sliding down the hall, on his face. She found herself giggling. War or not, this soldier didn’t deserve death. Maybe a lesson on how to handle a blade, and run without falling… Medea laughed as she headed through the wide white portal and onto the grass, heading for her sanctuary, the Temple of Vesta.

~~**~~

Jason was bored. He leaned against a portion of wall that was still intact, staring at the dark lawn and flipping the mirror over in his hands. The cool metal tingled against his skin, like the tiny pricks from a thistle. His mind was still buried in thoughts of a black hair wench with eyes like the sunset. His body had followed his mind, leaving him more than uncomfortable. He hadn’t returned to the throne room. Endymion had been in a foul mood, and Jason was fairly certain that avoiding the Dark Prince’s temper would be good for his health. In fact, he’d probably stay low until the dawn, when the sunlight soothed Endymion’s fear of the dark, and the darkness within.

He ran his hand absently over the dull face of the mirror. It was dark now, had been black and lifeless since its previous owner had breathed her last. Jason thrust the sounds of her screams from his mind, walling them back inside the dark corner where they festered. The silver on the back and handle caught what bits of light seeped from the ruined palace, throwing tiny beams over the now wet grass. The dew had fallen. Jason turned the mirror once more, whispering to it as he had so many times, begging it for a glimpse of what used to bubble from within, but the dark glass didn’t change. Jason swore and threw the mirror against the wall, ignoring the way it clattered at his feet. He slumped to the ground, weary of war and the scars it had left on him.

The sound caught his attention, the rumble like waves crashing on a distant shore. Then there was the distant whisper of a violin. He had heard the siren’s song many times as a child. The love radiating from the music swept over him in a flood. He reached out for the discarded mirror with a shaking hand. The glass was alight now, brilliant in color. She was there, standing on a beach, the waves crashing at her feet. He could smell the salt, taste it in the air. Her hair blew in the breeze, the curls fluttering like the wings of a thousand tiny sandpipers. She smiled sadly at him, her eyes ageless and quiet. The scene faded slowly, darkening to night. A figure crept across a backdrop of wet grass. The white of her clothing shone even in the darkness. She turned her head slowly and the mirror moved in closer. Violet eyes gazed at him, the expression one of hope. A beam of light shot from the mirror, flying over the palace lawn at a lightning pace and igniting a stand of firs now twisted and dead. The fire illuminated the sky. And he could see her just beyond the flames. Jason smiled.

~~**~~

There was no hesitation. Medea had rolled away from the grasping flames in time to save her hair from a roasting, but lost the ribbon taming the strands to the power of the fire. The breeze parted the slippery tresses and turned them into a flock of glistening ravens. The man from the throne room, Jason, the one with eyes like the sea and hair like the sun, was racing toward her. And he was armed. Medea silently prayed to every god or goddess she could remember, turned on her heel, and ran.

He had longer legs and a head start. She dived to the right in time to keep her arm attached; however, her shoulder was not as fortunate. The sword carved a shallow gash across the top. Not very painful, but annoying. And blood loss would slow her down. The white material of her top parted, exposing her shoulder and the top of one breast. But she had more important things to worry about, like a man intent on making her into sushi. The sword fell again twice, each time barely scraping her skin. She turned to face him, her skirt in shred, her top hanging by a thread at one shoulder. He was silent, his eyes dark in the night. And the silence scared her more than anything.

“What do you want from me?” She screamed the words, letting the emotion spill into the night. For a moment her plea was met only with silence. Then he cleared his throat.

“Take off your boots.” He stopped suddenly and let the sword hang at his side. Medea skidded to a halt as well and just stared at him. He hadn’t asked, he’d commanded, like a general.

“What the hell for, you arrogant asshole?” She put her hands on her hips and her voice quivered in anger. The corner of Jason’s mouth lifted in a smirk and he stalked around her. Medea turned with him.

“I don’t think I can cut them off without removing half of your leg. And while the blood is a turn on, I’d like you awake, not passed out from fluid loss.” Medea’s mouth fell open. Jason smiled. “What, no nasty comeback? You’re unarmed, I’m holding the weapon. You’re injured and I haven’t been touched. There’s no question over who will win this little battle.” He stepped forward and Medea took a reflexive step back. The heat at her back made her twist. He had managed to maneuver her against the miracle bonfire.

“I think you’re a lunatic.” Medea spat the words but stopped her retreat. Jason’s smile faded.

“I’ve been accused of that, but my lunacy is keeping you alive right now, little girl. You might do well to feed my obsession instead of calling me names.” The sword struck again. Medea felt the flimsy fabric falling from her chest and quickly clutched it against her body.

“So do you intend to slice every bit of clothing off my body?” Jason grinned.

“Not if you’re a good girl and take it off.” There was a long moment of silence. Medea stared over his shoulder, where the door leading to the holy circle gleamed. The temples of the great city were virtually untouched. They meant sanctuary, life. She bit her lower lip. And frowned over the way Jason stared at her mouth. She closed her eyes and swallowed loudly. She didn’t have a choice. Distraction, she only had one way to give him a distraction, without losing more blood. She lowered her arms, letting the fabric drop. His intake of breath was enough to make her smile. She opened her eyes slowly. Her voice dropped to a husky tone.

“All right, but I think you want me to be a bad girl, not a good one.” Now it was Jason who was swallowing, his body suddenly alive with need. She radiated sensuality, from the soft, low voice to the half closed eyes. He took several steps forward, his eyes drawn to her full breasts.

“The boots.” He managed to croak the words, his attention well and truly diverted. Medea leaned over slowly and peeled the white leather down one long leg. She stepped out slowly, watching his gaze follow the curve of her calf. “The other.” She almost giggled; the look on his face was so comical. She peeled the other boot off slowly, a heady sense of power filling her mind. “Now the dress.” There was a long pause.

“All right, but you’ll need to come over here and help me.” Jason slowly sheathed his sword and took a few steps forward. She turned around slowly and lifted her mane of hair. “I need you to untie it in the back there.” Jason lifted a hand and laid it against her shoulder, tracing the trickle of blood over her skin and down her back. She shuddered under his touch. Medea tilted her head backward and the two locked eyes for several long moments.

Medea felt like she was drowning. His eyes were full of lust, as though he would eat her alive. She tried to resist the echoing emotion pooling in her belly, the feeling that had her admiring the curve of his lips and the broad shoulder her head was resting against. He leaned forward and their lips brushed, a butterfly kiss, soft and tenuous. His hand continued its slow dance down her back to the tie at her waist. A simple twist and the white fabric was falling, pooling at her feet.

A gentle caress at the side of her face made her shudder. It was too tender for hands capable of murder and terror, too gentle for the emotions welling in his eyes. His hands reached around her waist, pulling her back against his body in a tight embrace. His eyes darkened and Medea felt trapped. The lust suddenly turn to terror. And the terror led to action. A swift kick from behind that took a leg out from under him, followed by a knee to the groin hit just the right spot, and suddenly her captor was rolling in pain on the ground. She smashed a pointed foot into his unprotected back, and another in his gut, almost swearing at the pain but feeling immense satisfaction in knowing she’d at least bruised his kidney.

“You fucking pervert.” She bent over and drew his sword. He tried to roll away but a slender foot clamped down on his throat. He struggled for air, but couldn’t budge her. She lifted the sword high and prepared to ram it though his skull. But then she saw his face, the shock, the hurt and the betrayal there. Her hands faltered and she let the weapon drop. She removed her foot and he gasped for air. Medea dropped the weapon and ran for the gates, unsure of how long her attack would keep him down, but unable to kill him. She turned back one last time, as she slipped through the doors. Their eyes met in the darkness. He sat up slowly, his breathing still labored.

“You should have killed me. I’m not a good enemy to make. I would have given you anything for a smile. Now I will find you, hunt you down like the bitch you are. And next time I’ll chain you to the wall while you scream for a little tenderness.” Medea felt shame well inside her, and terror, but she lifted her chin, unwilling and unable to show him weakness.

“Unlike you Terrans, I don’t kill for sport. Besides, you’ll never catch me again, you arrogant bastard, and even if you do, I’d die before I let you touch me.” Jason smiled slowly, the pain of his injuries forgotten in a moment of anger.

“The next time we meet, I’ll make you beg. And then I’ll slice you open and watch you bleed.” Medea shivered and slipped inside the door, unable to face the anger and hurt in his eyes. She’d just made a deadly enemy, but she wasn’t sure why her heart wept silent tears of regret.

~~**~~

Helen apologized profusely to the unconscious body. She hadn’t meant to smack the woman over the head so hard. But a Terran doctor’s uniform was too great an asset to pass up. Helen had noticed the girl quite a while earlier, moving slowly through the rows of dead and injured, her competent hands giving aid where she could. Helen admired the courage and dignity displayed. It had to be very hard, on a strange planet, probably the only female Terran within hundreds of miles, probably only a handful actually in the army. But she was strong, and capable. And Helen almost cried when the girl had crumpled at her feet.

She continued to apologize to the girl as she stripped the clothing and changed in the dark side corridor, her eyes checking to make sure her victim stayed unconscious, and her mind wondering if the chunk of marble she’d used had been too heavy. Helen didn’t want to leave any permanent damage. She checked the girl’s pulse one last time before tying her hands securely and covering her in a blanket.

“I’m sorry, I really am. But I need your ship more than you do right now. Some day I’ll make it up to you.” Helen sighed, straightened the nondescript gray jumpsuit, and walked swiftly toward the main corridor. She kept up and internal monologue with herself about it being all in the confidence she displayed, and that any slipup would make the Terrans suspicious. But the one thing that almost gave her away was the name.

“Dr. Lucia? Please Dr. Lucia. Can you take a look at this one?” She ignored the first plea for help, but the second sparked her brain and she forced her body to turn. The soldier speaking to her was young, and Helen found herself once again wondering at a culture that sent children to war. “He was barely clipped with the sword, on the inside of his leg, but he it just keeps bleeding. Please Dr. Lucia.” Helen felt tears misting in her eyes as the young man led her to the side of an almost identical soldier. She knelt beside the victim, torn between aiding the enemy, and letting a boy die.

“Do you know him?” Helen checked the boy methodically, as she’d been trained, her fingers moving automatically.

“He’s my older brother.” Helen sighed a bit. She’d found the problem.

“I’m afraid I can’t do anything for him here.” She almost choked on the words. She swallowed. “He’s had a major artery severed. I can’t stop the bleeding without surgery or…” She halted suddenly. The Terrans had no knowledge of Mercurian’s skill with healing magic. And she dared not show herself. The boy’s eyes filled with tears.

“Please, there has to be something you can do. He’s all I have left. Do you need something, if we take him somewhere else could you help him?” Helen closed her eyes and shook her head slowly.

“He needs to have surgery immediately, and there’s no way to do that right now. Even if I had a ship…” The boy popped up to his feet.

“Wait, wait. I’m a pilot. I have a small transport shuttle. We can leave right now.” Helen felt the anguish of a choice flow through her. She could use the boy, use his ship, escape. But his brother. She swallowed hard.

“You’d be executed for that, for disobeying orders.” The boy dropped his eyes.

“I already disobeyed orders when I came here. But the rest of my family is dead now, murdered by Lunarian terrorists six months ago. I don’t care if they kill me, if it’s my life for his. Will you help me?” Helen felt waves of relief and anger flow over her. This was her chance. She could save them both, but at the cost of their identity as Terrans.

“Load him onto that stretcher. We need to move fast.”

~~**~~

Penny was completely limp between four tall guards, one on each arm and one directly in front and behind. There were four escorts as well, in sets of two, walking side by side four paces in front and six behind. Eight guards in all. Dido wanted to rush in and rip them limb from limb, but she’d already avoided four patrols, and eight armed men was nearing her limit. So she waited impatiently, her mind struggling to find a plan. She wasn’t used to having to think, usually Helen or Aria was there to lay out strategy. But Penny’s life was at stake. Dido couldn’t afford to mess up this battle.

She trailed the men silently, not even rustling the grass. They’d moved from the interior corridors into the vast gardens, the fastest way across the palace was through the gardens. But it definitely wasn’t the most open or the safest. Dido had taken an opportunity to coat her white garments and her skin in mud. The camouflage effect worked well, rendering her invisible to the idiot Terrans. She stalked them like a panther, waiting for her moment to strike, a strip of her skirt wound into a tight rope in her hands. And then they walked into a darkened path, bushes on each side, trees above. Dido had her ambush.

The first two, the two in back, were astonishingly easy. They’d separated, one lagging behind. She’d used the improvised rope as a garrote on the first, dragging his body swiftly in to the bushes. The second had come to investigate and found his partner, at least in death. She’d jumped up into the trees, moving swiftly to the front of the pack. Her appearance was spectacular. She dropped sideways from the tree branch onto the two marching in front. Her legs wrapped around one neck, snapping it neatly, even as her hands snapped the other man’s neck. She finished the fall gracefully, landing on all fours. She stood slowly, enjoying the fear in her prey’s eyes.

She would have liked to have taunted them, made them beg. Or scream war cries as she bashed their bones to dust. But they never got a chance to scream. She threw herself into the one in front. She used her knife in the side of his neck, severing the jugular. Her fists and feet cracked against groin and nose, the second and third men dropped their burden. She flung the knife and it buried to the hilt in the fourth man’s forehead. Then she returned to the two still alive, finally letting the thrill of battle fill her as tackled one and smashed his skull against the pavement. Blood coated her fists and the brick walkway beneath her feet. The last man grabbed her hair; she neatly flipped him over her shoulder and made use of the makeshift rope one last time. And then they were dead. She stood for several moments, letting her body and mind cool in the darkness. Penny lay on the ground, still unconscious. Dido knelt slowly. The joy of fighting had been shriveled at the lack of movement from the dark haired girl. Dido suddenly wished that Helen were there to help.

“We have to get moving Penny. Come on, wake up.” Dido smacked the girl’s cheeks lightly. Penny didn’t respond. Dido groaned, hefted the body, and flipped it over one shoulder. “Damn, you’re heavy too. You owe me for this one, Penny.” Then she was off through the darkness, towards the palace landing area which was crawling with Terran ships.

Chapter 03 – The Past
By Aurora Eos Rose
The Silver Crystal

Odysseus staggered through the castle corridors on marginally steady legs, but with no sense of balance. He was disoriented from the smack across his face, although the groove Endymion had cut was almost healed. Only the tacky blood now drying on his fingers was any indication he’d even been wounded. It was the curse of almost immortality, and the blessing as well. He was never afraid to leap into battle, because his wounds would be healed before the end of the fight. Unless someone chopped off his head or pulled out his heart, or did some other damage that would kill him before he could recover. Immolation was the preferred method of execution for the Silver Millennium Kingdom. For a moment he could see an image of people running in horror as ships swept down from space, spraying fire down on the capitol, his family running in terror.

He shook his head to clear the disturbing memories. Those thoughts only made his mind cloud with anger and his heart weep. He leaned against a wall, his eyes staring up the partially broken ceiling. The marble was chipped behind his back. He mentally calculated the cost it would take to repair the palace and grimaced. But even the math couldn’t block out the memories that were trying to surface.

The empire had discovered their hidden fortress on Ceres three years ago to the day. They had fallen out of the sky, burning everything in sight. White ships throwing flames on the ground with precision. The second fleet of ships had seemed like the death knell, their black hulls a shocking contrast to the brilliant white of the Queen’s executioners. But the black ships were not reinforcements, Endymion and his army had arrived. The invaders had been repelled, the Vulcan people given a chance at a new future. And the Price of Darkness had saved his life. Odysseus closed his eyes, his hands tightening into white-knuckled fists. He needed to find a way to reconcile his childhood beliefs with what he’d discovered in his travels about the other planets, about the royal families, but that would take time. And the need for revenge tended to burn reason from his actions. He had done it again today, lost his temper, lost his control.

Still, he would repay Endymion for the embarrassment he’d felt in that throne room. Not death, but at least one biting comment in sight of the commanders. The whole army would be gossiping about his disgrace soon. He was fairly young by his people’s standards; many still considered him a child. They’d ridiculed him for following the old ways, for giving Endymion the honor of a blood bond. The gossip would reach them, and undo the progress he’d made in gaining their respect. He clenched his fists, feeling his bond burning. He’d never realized that Selene’s spawn had spread so far, never paid attention to history enough to care. Now owed his life to one of to a child of the devil, to a descendent he was honor bound to protect, and revenge driven to kill. Somehow he’d never seen any of those with Selene’s blood as anything but monsters, never seen them as real.

He pushed away from the wall and went looking for some water. The blood was almost dry now and felt like paste on his skin. His mind drifted back to his dilemma. The descendents of Selene were storybook characters, devils to blame for the loss of his people, his planet, his culture. They were the ghosts in the darkness waiting to steal souls away, the creatures used to frighten children at night. But without knowing it he’d met the children of Selene, befriended them, toiled beside them at war, wenched and drank after every battle. And it made him doubt a lifetime of stories, made him doubt a lifetime of revenge and hate. But without that drive for vengeance, what was he?

He slumped against a cracked basin filled with water and used a torn piece of his tunic to wash the blood away, and he tried to sort out loyalties and debt, and where he fit in this new order.

~~**~~

She was being followed. Medea ran through the ruined streets of the city at top speed, heedless of her lack of clothing or acrid smoke in the air. She had known he would follow. She’d seen it in his eyes as she slipped out of the palace gates into the wildness of the streets. And the streets were dangerous. Fire, rubble, buildings collapsing, soldiers roaming the ruins, thieves looting the remaining treasures of a once great capital. All the aftermath of war visited on the shining city she had come to love. But he was gaining on her. She had to reach her sanctuary quickly.

The Temple of Vesta rose from the rubble, squat and gray like the hearth it was built to represent. Smoldering piles of burnt out buildings gave off thin plumes of smoke and ash. Medea felt tears sting her eyes, both from the noxious haze hovering over the city and from memories of what had been destroyed. There had once been temples, bright shimmering temples, reaching for the brilliant night sky. Now there was nothing but smoking debris and a giant crater where the temple of Diana had soared to the heavens. The Terrans had razed the temples of Venus, Apollo, and Hera. Only Vesta’s sanctuary and the temples of Ceres and Neptune still stood. The only gods and goddesses the heathen Terrans saw fit to worship. Medea felt a hot wind brush over her skin as she raced through the pitted, half-destroyed street. She could feel the ash coating her hair, her skin, and even her lungs as it fell from the thick clouds obscuring the sky. But she couldn’t stop running. She knew the bastard prince was still following her; she could feel his eyes on her skin like burning coals. She didn’t dare look back, he might be only a few steps, and a glance might cost her a chance of escape. Every inch of her body pressed forward. Her lungs burned, her legs were tight with exhaustion, and her heart screamed with the pain of the Queen’s failure, her mother’s failure, and her own failure.

She could see the temple stairs now, and marvel at the circle of pristine ground around Vesta’s sanctuary. The stones were unblemished, not even a mark on the smooth, gray walls. Whatever the Terran soldiers were, they were trained to be very precise in their destruction. She pushed herself forward. Footsteps echoed on the ground behind her. The last few feet seemed to stretch like miles. Her heart pounded, her head spun. She knew the stairs in front of her would be slippery with the dry, powdery ash. She could see the coating, knew it was there. But still she tripped. She dropped heavily to the stone, halfway up the stairway. The edge of a step buried itself in her abdomen. For a moment she was still, the wind knocked from her body. Then something grabbed her ankle. She jerked wildly, kicking at the large hand grasping her leg. She vaguely took in the angry eyes, the blonde hair.

“Let go of me, you bastard.” Jason growled and his grip tightened. Medea was desperate now, her actions wild. She kicked and flailed her legs, her hands grasping wildly for a firm grip on the stairs above. Finally she landed a solid kick to his jaw. She scrambled up the stairs. Dust flew, obscuring the air. And then she was through the door. Jason skidded to a halt at the threshold. She stood in the atrium, just out of arms reach. They stared at each other for a long moment.

“Come here.” His voice was tight and breathless. He was covered in ash, dust and dirt. But his voice was angry and still commanding even in defeat. Medea shook her head and took several steps backward. Jason smiled, his eyes radiating sensual heat. “Come on sweetheart, if you come along quietly I won’t hurt you.” Medea took a step backward and shook her head. Jason scowled. “Don’t make me come get you.” She stopped suddenly at the small, cold hand pressed against her bare arm. She glanced down at the child who had appeared at her side. The girl was very still, unnaturally still, with long black hair and sightless, white-filmed eyes. She couldn’t have been more then eight years. Her skin was pasty white, as though she’d never seen the sun. Medea resisted the urge to jerk away. The child was obviously an oracle. She spoke in a strange voice, as through speaking through a long corridor, but in a husky, adult tone.

“You cannot enter, son of water. This place is barred to any seed bearing man. If you wish to keep your potency, I suggest you do not violate the sanctuary of the one who protects the hearth.” Jason’s eyes narrowed, but he did not dispute the child’s words. He knew the rules of the temple of Vesta; every Terran was raised to worship the protector of fire, virginity, and hearth. There was a long moment of silence. Jason tapped one foot impatiently, his mind obviously racing for a way around the laws of the goddess. Then he sighed.

“Very well then, cursed one. I will not enter. However, you know as well as I that your power only protects the walls where you reside. And if you die, then she is mine to take. And I will be back. If she leaves, she is mine to take. And no god or goddess will stop me.” He locked eyes with Medea and grinned. “You might have spent your days in my bed, but you’ve chosen your own prison cell. I’ll be back for you when you tire of your confinement, but the moment you set foot outside…you’re mind.” Jason turned on his heel and moved down the stairs slowly. Dust stirred around his feet. Medea stood until she could no longer see his figure in the smoke, dust, and darkness. Then she collapsed in a heap. The little girl turned her sightless eyes back on Medea’s quivering, naked form.

“For you, princess, it is not time to rest yet. One hurdle you have passed, but many more remain until your final rest comes. I am called Cassandra. Come with me.” Medea took the cold offered hand and slowly stood. And she followed the child.

~~**~~

“Quit looking so guilty and nervous. It makes us seem suspicious. Don’t act as if anything is wrong; just pretend we’re doing our jobs.” Helen said the words in a quiet, conversational voice as she and the boy moved the stretcher through the halls. She struggled to keep her end of the stretcher balanced, and watched the patient’s white face with a sense of dread. She knew he wouldn’t make the edge of the city in his current condition.

“How can I act like nothing’s wrong? He’s going to die if we don’t do something now.” The boy was angry, desperate, and he didn’t trust her. Helen resisted the urge to snap back. She knew he was worried, and nervous. But it was more than his life that could be at stake.

“If we get caught, you’ll face execution, and your brother will most certainly die. This plan depends on acting as though we are simply doing our jobs. You can do this, just relax and do exactly what I tell you. How far is it to your ship?” The boy took a deep breath.

“We had to land outside the dome to get here. I don’t think we can walk the whole way.” Helen swore under her breath. She was certain the young man on the stretcher wouldn’t last much farther than the main gate of the palace. She’d have to heal him in the open and hope the boy didn’t ditch her and make a run for it. Or kill her before the anger left his system. Helen squared her shoulders.

“I doubt there will be any transport vehicles. We’ll have to walk the whole way. But I don’t think we can do it and carry him.” They moved through the throng of slaves, soldiers, and medical personnel now swarming over the half rubble entrance to the palace. “We need to find a private area, maybe a not completely burned corner of the city.” The boy nodded and they moved into the ruins.

It only took half a block to find a suitable location. Helen laid the stretcher down and made sure they were well out of sight. She talked the boy into keeping watch, ensuring that he wouldn’t interfere. She hadn’t done any healing magic in a long time, and it would take all her concentration. She knelt beside the young man and closed her eyes tightly. She reached inside, into the cool spirit that flowed through every person with the gift of Mercury, with the healing touch. She ran her hands over the injured leg slowly, letting the power channel through her hands into the torn skin and tissue. She could feel the cells responding to her persuasion, knitting together at a rapid pace. His body rippled gently under her hands, under the caress of her spirit. The young man’s entire body responded well, welcoming the soft touch and gentle power.

“What the hell are you doing?” Helen felt herself ripped away from the body; she felt a piece of her soul, held only by a thin line, being pulled deeper inside the injured soldier. She tried to force herself not to jerk away, but gentle disengage from the boy. But the interruption had been too dramatic. She swore loudly. Now they had to get to Mercury quickly, to break the bond between the two, or they’d both die. Still cursing under her breath she quickly looked over the patient, at the moment too angry to deal with the young soldier now holding a gun to her head. She hadn’t done all she would have liked, but the patient would live, and he could walk now, albeit slowly. “Get away from him, you witch.” She found herself flung back against the wall.

“I was healing him, you moron. And I might have finished the job properly if you hadn’t interrupted me.” She said the words slowly, a bit lightheaded, and a throbbing began where her skull had contacted the rough stone wall. She sat up slowly. The boy advanced on her, weapon drawn.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you, one of those Lunarian bastards, like the ones that killed my parents.” He ended the words on a shout, his eyes wild. “And now you’ve killed my brother.” Helen sighed loudly. She’d been prepared for this reaction, but confronting an enraged, overemotional child was something she didn’t have the time to deal with at the moment. They had to keep moving.

“I’m not dead yet.” The boy turned with eyes wide. His brother was sitting up. The young man had color in his face now and his eyes were sparkling. The sword clattered to the ground, forgotten. And then the two were holding each other. Helen stood up slowly and brushed the dirt off her uniform. A pair of warm brown eyes looked up at her. “Thank you.” Helen smiled a bit, rather glad that at least one of the idiot Terrans didn’t hate her on sight.

“You’re welcome. But don’t thank me just yet.” She ran a hand through her hair and frowned at the ash that flaked off the dark locks. “I didn’t finish the healing properly because I was rather rudely interrupted. We need to get you to Mercury, and quickly, or the side effects of an unfinished soul healing will destroy both you and me. Come on, before we’re spotted.” Helen turned and began to march swiftly back towards the landing field. The older boy picked up the discarded weapon and jogged until he was beside her.

“You’re really from Mercury, aren’t you? My mother used to tell legends about people with the skill to heal from a touch. I’m sorry; my brother’s a little overemotional. He’s only thirteen though.” Helen sighed. The boy was even younger than she’d thought, only a child.

“It’s all right. Are you any good at flying a ship?” The man blushed. Then Helen noticed the younger boy, his face a mixture of chagrin and anger, following closely behind. He spoke quietly.

“I can fly the ship, I can fly anything.” He cleared his throat softly. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to interrupt you or anything. I thought you might try to hurt him and…he’s all I have left.” Helen shook her head softly.

“We don’t have time for this right now, but some day I’ll make you understand that being Lunarian or Mercurian is not what makes a person evil, but rather their actions. I think you two should walk in front of me, like an escort. Let’s get to that ship.” The two complied, this time without the guilt and nervousness that might have gotten them all caught earlier, and started the long march to the waiting ships.

~~**~~

Aria hated feeling helpless, and she hated being carried, and most of all she hated the pounding in her arm. It felt like a hammer was being swung against bone. Then again his hands were more powerful than most hammers. She shivered a bit; imagining what muscle like that could do to the rest of her if breaking an arm had been so effortless. She kept her eyes closed, unwilling to look up into the cold gray eyes of her captor. So instead she kept her head where it was, cradled against the massive, rather hard chest. The steady thump underneath her ear was like a lullaby. Soon she had drifted into the strange state between wakefulness and sleeping.

She almost didn’t realize they’d arrived. She was lowered rapidly and placed on a soft mattress. The movement made her stomach lurch and she realized just how rotten she felt. She opened her eyes slowly. Light filtered into the room, the brightness made her eyes burn. She let out a low groan and slammed her eyes shut again. The urge to throw up had returned with a vengeance.

"Awake finally?" The voice came from her right side, and sounded very, very close. Aria opened her eyes again. Theseus loomed over her. Long white hair fell over one of his shoulders, and his eyes were a deep gray. For some reason the scene was strangely familiar, as though she’d seen those eyes once, long ago. Aria gasped. He was on the bed with her. He moved closer, his body pressed against her side. Aria immediately tried to pull away, but a large hand moved to her waist, keeping her in place. The motion pulled at her arm. She closed her eyes and bit hard on her bottom lip to keep from crying out. The pain subsided after a moment and she stopped, but her lip was now bleeding.

"You shouldn't try to move yet. Paris will be here shortly to set that break." A gentle hand brushed over her lip, wiping the blood away. “I’m sorry about all this.” His voice was gentle and apologetic, but there was a trace of anger under the words. Aria grimaced and tried to pull away from him again. He immediately restrained her. He chuckled and Aria felt the shaking of his chest against her side.

"Please, just leave me alone."

"Be quiet. Movement and speech will only make it hurt more. And you'll never be left alone again, not even for a moment." Aria opened her eyes slowly. He was still leaning over her, his eyes serious. "We can't afford to have you escape.” Aria attempted to shift her body again, but the pounding in her arm intensified. Theseus ran a hand down her cheek. “Be still, I told you not to sit up, angel.” Aria flinched at the endearment, and his touch. She was too tired to think straight. She just wanted to close her eyes and sleep forever.

"I think you can leave. I'm capable of lying here alone." Theseus chuckled again.

"But why would you want to?" Aria's breath caught at the husky tremor in the man's tone.

"What did you do to him?" The new voice was higher pitched, and came from the doorway. "I've never seen him laugh except when torturing us during training." Paris entered the room and sat on the other side of the bed, next to her arm. “Roll her over a bit so I can set this arm properly.” Aria scowled.

"I can do that on my…" Theseus flipped Aria on her side. She swallowed hard, her stomach rebelling at the motion. She was now face to face with him. Her sky blue eyes were hazy with pain. Theseus propped his head up on one arm and stared down at her, one hand absently resting on her hip. He smelled like leather and soap. Aria wanted to lay her head against his chest and go to sleep. She mentally slapped herself for the traitorous thought. Paris picked that time to start poking and prodding at Aria's arm. She lurched forward, her face pressed against a very solid chest. She grabbed onto Theseus’ shirt with her good hand, not caring that she was so close to him.

"That hurts, knock it off." Aria struggled to keep the tears out of her voice. She plastered herself against Theseus in an effort to move away from her new torturer. Paris made several small noises and continued prodding the arm gently.

“You’ll have to hold her down for this, it won’t be pleasant.” Aria suddenly found her body covered by Theseus, every inch but her arm pinned to the bed. “Sorry sweetheart.” Paris yanked the bones expertly, his fingers gently aligning the ends properly. Aria screamed. Then she passed out.

Theseus pried her hand off his shirt and pushed her back on the bed. He was surprised to see her face wet with tears. Paris worked quickly, splinting the arm and applying a quick drying treatment to keep it in place. Even unconscious the girl whimpered when he had to move her injury. He ignored Theseus’ glare that accompanied every sound, but filed the information away in his mind. Then he stood slowly.

“It was a nice clean break, no splinters and considering her heritage, she’ll heal very quickly. The pain should start to subside shortly. Don’t let her use that arm or lay on it for a week or two. I’d recommend six weeks with a normal Terran, but royal Venusians, in fact all royals tend to have unusual healing abilities.” Paris turned started out the door, Theseus grabbed the smaller man's arm.

"She'll be all right, won't she?" Paris grinned at Theseus’ worried expression. First the girl had him laughing, and now he was worrying. Maybe Theseus did have a heart after all. And that mean he had a weakness. The girl shifted and groaned at the movement. Theseus glanced at the bed, his eyes filled with guilt.

"She's in pain. Isn't there anything I can do?" His voice was thick with worry. Paris tilted his head.

"You're never that worried about me." There was almost a touch of jealousy in the tone. Theseus merely raised an eyebrow. Aria cried loudly from the bed, she had tried to turn over onto her arm. Theseus looked over his shoulder with a terrified expression. Paris felt his heart sink at the concern on Theseus’ face. This was more than a weakness, this was obsession. "Why do you care so much?" The question was almost in a whining tone. Theseus turned back, his face a picture of astonishment and puzzlement.

"I don't know." Paris left the room leaving a bewildered Theseus behind.

Aria was dancing in field of flowers. Then the flowers caught on fire and the flames licked at her arm. A large hand cupped her right cheek.

" Aria." She opened her eyes slowly. Theseus’ face was inches from hers. She felt disconnected, as if she were still a dream.

"How can someone so evil be so beautiful?" Aria traced a hand over his jaw line. She felt strange, as if her brain was floating away from the rest of her body. "How am I supposed to hate you if you're nice to me? But I suppose you're the one who hurt me in the first place." Her eyes fluttered shut again. Theseus grabbed her by one shoulder and shook her. "Don't do that, dammit. That hurts." Her voice sparked with anger. "I never obey orders, I give them." She glared up at her tormentor. "I'm the leader you know. Always have been. Just like my mother. You killed her. Just like that. Whoosh, dead. And now I'm all alone." Aria's voice shook with emotion. She wiped the tears away with one hand and scooted away from Theseus. "Just let me sleep." Aria closed her eyes again, her heart aching. They'd never get her free. They'd all slave under the Dark Prince forever. There would be no stopping these men.

They didn't have morals; they didn't have reservations about killing people they were attached to. Aria knew the stories. The tales of brutal murders, dismemberments, rapes. The Princes of Earth were bedtime stories used to scare children to sleep. But then Earth had stopped its rampage of the rest of the galaxy and headed for the Silver Kingdom. And now there was nothing left. Theseus was rumored to be like ice, stone. Totally lacking in mercy and emotion. Only Endymion was more feared. Aria felt her heart crash into her stomach.

She remembered those eyes. She had only been a child, maybe four or five. Her betrothal, the one her mother had arranged, against the queen’s wishes, actually without the queen’s knowledge. Her mother had called him the Prince of Sol, even though the stories said the child had been killed as an infant. But her mother had whispered something about a birthright lost to her, and how Aria could bring it all back without bloodshed. Aria pressed her eyes shut tightly. She had been nothing more than a little girl, clinging to the giant boy's hand. He had smiled at her; kissed her on the cheek, called her a little angel even when she’d pulled his hair. That moment was something Aria had treasured in her heart for years. But later that prince had disappeared, stolen away by a demon named Metallia. And the darkness began. And suddenly she knew why she still thought of him as a boy she’d called Quill, after failed attempts at pronouncing the entire name.

He was being so kind now, like he had been long ago. But underneath she knew there was nothing there but a black heart and an empty soul. The goodness had been sucked out by a witch who had once been the scourge of planets. She'd heard other tales about Prince Theseus as well. Endymion’s right hand, the sword hand. Stories of his harem of pretty woman and young men. They joked that he didn't have a heart. Some even whispered that he lacked a soul, having traded it for his handsome features. Aria told her head all these things, but something in her heart was attracted to the man still leaning over her. She kept eyes pressed shut. She was repeating all the reasons she should hate him. But Aria had a soft heart, and she knew it. It was probably her Venusian heritage, a legacy of love and passion, of letting the heart rule instead of the head. She kept seeing the way he had cradled her mother's body, the kiss he'd pressed on the dead woman's cheek. Aria forced herself to think of her mother coated in blood. She felt panic rising inside. Something about him seemed to be reaching out to her, and Aria was powerless to stop it.

“Come, we have things to do yet." Theseus slipped a hand behind her shoulders and levered her upright. Aria felt her heart thump loudly. She'd been lonely for far too long. She had her friends, but they didn't fill the hole inside her heart, inside her soul. Theseus pulled her to the edge of the bed. Then he pulled her to her feet. Aria reacted violently to his closeness. She forced herself to think of the dead senshi, of Selene, of her duty. And the anger came.

"Quit being so nice to me, dammit. I'm not pretty pet you can win with nice words. And stop ordering me around, bastard." Aria let her entire body go limp and flopped back on the bed.

"I'll drag you around by your hair if I have to. Stand up." His voice went cold and his eyes turned dark. He grabbed her healthy arm and yanked her off the bed. Aria tumbled to the ground, a pile of tangled lemon hair and dirty white uniform.

"Leave me alone." Theseus sighed loudly.

"Up Aria, now. You can either stand up and walk there on your own or I can drag you there." Aria opened her eyes wide. She scrambled to her feet. Theseus slipped an arm around her back. "Come on angel."

~~**~~

Blood always felt strange against her skin. Warm, thick, sticky like the molasses she drizzled over her breakfast in the morning. It coated, clung, and then dried into a flakey crust that smelled vaguely like metal. Dido never seemed to get used to the substance, no matter how many times the liquid managed to contact her body. It didn’t matter whose blood she touched, her own, a friend’s, or an enemy’s. She always felt soiled afterward, standing for hours in the shower to remove the feeling. But tonight she didn’t have that luxury.

The blood currently dripping over one shoulder and down her left arm was leaving a glistening path. The scorched grass seemed to shrink from the shining droplets spilling onto the ground, like red water from a human watering can. But Dido was more concerned over the source of the blood. Penelope was still frighteningly limp. Her arms were cold against Dido’s sweat covered back, and the smaller girl’s breathing almost nonexistent. Dido resisted the urge to stop and bind the wounds; pursuers would be more deadly than any loss of blood.

Dido felt her lungs closing tightly against the cooling night air, resisting the pounding demands of her heart. The muscles in her arms and back screamed with fatigue. Her grip on Penelope was tenuous at best; the smaller girl was now slick with old sweat and sticky, half-dried blood. Dido kept placing one foot in front of the other, forcing her body onward. Better dead and free than alive in enemy hands. She repeated the mantra to herself in a cadence matching the pounding of her feet.

Finally the unnatural stillness of the night gave way to noise. Dido moved towards the light and sound, dropping behind a pile of crates and letting her burden slip to the ground. Now there was cold concrete beneath her feet, light from hastily erected searchlights spun over the landing field in front of her. Piles of boxes and crates dotted the area as far as the eye could see. The tarmac was already crawling with Terran soldiers, although mainly the rear echelon types. Soldiers in tall boots and grey uniforms with computer devices in hand, counting and sorting and ordering around men in brown pants, leather sandals, and blinking explosives wrapped around their necks. Dido cringed. The slave control mechanisms were effective, but cruel. Crates and crates of supplies were being offloaded at phenomenal speeds by the army of blank faced humans.

~~**~~

Penelope was cold. Her arms and legs felt heavy, like giant sacks of stone were tied to her limbs. Her head felt like someone had shoved an entire bottle of liquor down her throat. She could vaguely feel motion, a jerky movement up and down, like being on a horse, and warm skin under her belly. She drifted through periods of torpor and reality, fighting unconsciousness, but forced to submit. Then the movement stopped and she drifted into the darkness again. A voice reached through the black, yanking her back to noise and cold.

“Are you awake yet, Brat?” Large hands were shaking her gently, but even the slight movement made her head throb. Penny forced her eyes open slowly. Noise pounded at her ears and she tried to cover them with her hands. The motion made her cringe.

“I’m awake, although I wish I wasn’t.” Her voice sounded strange to her ears, tired and soft as though muffled by an old coat. She watched as Dido scuttled on hands and feet and peered around the corner of the pile of supplies. The tall girl looked rather like a crab crouched on the ground. Penny stifled a laugh. Dido wouldn’t appreciate the humor. Penny wiped a hand across her face slowly and frowned at the layer of dried blood that clung to her palm. She stared at it for a long moment and ruthlessly quashed the small voice in the back of her head still laughing over Dido’s strange method of moving across the concrete.

“There’s a transport a few yards away. They’re almost done unloading it. I see three guards.” Penny strained to hear the whispered words. Her head was starting to spin again. And when did Dido have two ponytails? Penny shook her head hard, trying to clear the film forming over her consciousness. Dido turned around, mouth set in a harsh frown. “I can’t sneak you out of here with all this commotion.” There was a long moment of silence. Penny closed her eyes.

“You have to leave me then.” Dido started to sputter but a raised hand and cleared throat stopped the protest. “You know it, I know it. At least the guards don’t have me. And I don’t have the energy for any more escape attempts.” Penny felt a cough rising in her throat and turned her head, grimacing at the blood that came up. Dido’s face remained unmoving.

“I refuse to leave you here. I didn’t kill those guards just to fling you back into their lap. Now come on.” One strong arm went under Penny again, and she grimaced as Dido half carried, half dragged her toward the empty transport.

~~**~~

Odysseus had returned to work. He’d walked around the palace in a daze for a while, and ruminated on the new world that had suddenly appeared under his feet, but soon he was desperate for something to occupy his mind. So he found the surviving generals, a few stray captains, and organized the incoming supply brigades, sent details out for body clean up, started a system for medical triage, and had someone digging up decent quarters in the palace. All in about an hour. He propped his feet up on the small wooden desk and stared at the screen in his hand. This was his job, where he had found his gift. Endymion had joking called him “quartermaster to the galaxy”, and sometimes Odysseus felt he was only happy when he running the day to day business of an empire.

Endymion was their prince. He would do any task if needed, never too proud to put his back into a task. He was inspiring even in the worst situations and unafraid of any danger or struggle. But Endymion was never one for worrying about how many slaves would be needed to rebuild a ruined world. Theseus was their leader. Awe-inspiring, dedicated, and completely ruthless. He was also, surprisingly, gifted with patience and had a good hand at teaching fighting and tactical skills. He ran the army with an iron fist. Jason was the spy and diplomat, without conscience or malice. But with a great deal of loyalty and bravery. Even though Odysseus sometimes though the man was just too stupid to see danger. And Paris, brilliant, egotistical, scatterbrained Paris who often forgot to eat dinner, much less order it. He was the planner, schemer, the one who knew every law and every loophole. Sometimes his logical side gave way to a creative creature, but usually when that happened bad things quickly followed. And Aeneas. The quietest of the princes, he was the spiritual base of the team, philosopher and preacher rolled into a man with a long fuse and a dangerous temper.

Odysseus smiled at the picture now displayed on his screen. The six of them had been swimming under the falls, and the court photographer had caught them just as they snuck back into the palace. Shirts off, hair wet, laughing smiles. Just after their defeat of Metallia, before the moon kingdom had begun its threats. He sighed and set the picture down.

There was no window in front of his desk, but the wall had been blown away, leaving a clear view to the landing pad where his army of stewards and slaves were beginning the task of cleaning up and restoring the shattered city. And he could just see two figures lurking on the edge of the grass. He knew it was one of the girls from the throne room. Maybe it was the way the two moved, or their size, or maybe some kind of mystical connection that Aeneas often brayed about; Odysseus didn’t care. His blood fired. This time, he would be the one with the advantage, and Endymion would be begging for his prisoners. He stepped over the wall and headed for the shadows.

~~**~~

A black boot hit the edge of a ruined wall with a dull thunk. A chunk of stone fell to the ground and skittered along the gray, broken road. The boot hit the wall again, harder this time, and more stone flew. Then the boot began a rhythmic pounding, accompanied by multiple epithets in various languages, ranging from the tame to some that were probably physically impossible, but colorful nonetheless. Finally the boot had demolished a small section of the wall and took up kicking the pieces down the street.

He’d ruined his new boots. The thought was rather random, but brought his mind back into focus out of the haze of rage it had been occupying. After all, he ruined a pair of boots on every other invasion, but never from kicking down a wall. Jason came to the realization that he was pouting. He knew it was undignified, and that knocking down walls and kicking stones was something a child would do when a toy was taken away, but it was better than the alternative. There had been too much death today, too much blood on his hands. He could see the eyes of the child he’d beheaded, they haunted him. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed loudly, abandoning his little fit for a slow and steady march back to the palace.

The city was a wasteland. There weren’t even survivors crawling through the rubble. This had been worse than the other invasions, those had merely been sound defeats, and this was a massacre. If he looked close enough, he could see bodies in among the stones, or at least parts of bodies. He pushed the gruesome images of the day out of his head. At least this was the last planet to conquer. For almost two years now he’d known nothing but war. He was tired, sore, and ready to crawl into the nearest bed and sleep. But Endymion would undoubtedly have more work for him, and there probably wasn’t an intact bed anywhere in the palace. And there was no black haired witch to drag onto a blanket.

Her eyes were the most wonderful shade of violet. Jason smirked, the smile more grimace than grin. He’d never lost well, and right now he knew that the bitch had beaten him soundly. A low barrier of rubble and bodies loomed out of the cracked road, blocking further passage. He stopped for a moment and glanced upward at the dome, marveling at the twinkling brightness of the stars and the glimmering blue sphere of the earth. He closed his eyes and let the light breeze that swirled in the city brush over his senses. The ash and soot from dying fires made him choke, gag, and wheeze. He wanted to go home.

He closed his eyes and pushed the wayward thought from his mind. He wasn’t even sure where home was anymore. He opened them again and started around the obstruction. His feet led him slowly back to the palace even as his mind continued to wander, he wasn’t paying too much attention when his boots moved from the rubble of the street to the scorched grass on the palace grounds, and was totally unaware of the fact that he was heading directly for the massive undertaking on the only intact landing field in the city.

The bright lights on his face snapped him out of his reverie. The two dark figures moving towards an empty cargo ship on the outskirts of the field shattered the melancholy mood and set his heart racing. Here was prey, and he was always ready for a new hunt. He recognized the taller girl as one who had been in the throne room. Endymion just might find him a decent bed, and a nice bedmate, if he brought her in tonight. For some reason he thought once again of the gorgeous woman now hiding behind temple walls, but he shook his head to dispel the image and stalked his newly appointed victim.

~~**~~

Dido heard him coming. She knew he was a male by the cadence of his steps, the sound of large boots echoing against tarmac. His footsteps were loud, but slightly muffled, like a child’s whisper that could be heard across the room. If he meant to catch her by surprise, he was in for a bashing. Did he think she was some ordinary stupid female? Dido smirked and walked a little faster, even though Penny could hardly match the pace. She needed to get Penny closer to the transport before their pursuer made his move.

“Come on, lard butt, we’re almost there.” She whispered the words to her almost unconscious burden, the affection, and worry, thick in her voice. Penny, reacting more to the tone than the words, took a shaking breath and tried to move faster, but Dido knew they had almost run out of time. There was a whisper of motion to the left and Dido had to move now or lose her chance. She whipped her arms around Penny, whispered a mournful apology, and threw the smaller girl, like a caber, towards the open mouth of the cargo hold. She couldn’t stop to see where the smaller girl landed, if she’d met the hard tarmac or made the small, open crate where Dido had been aiming. There was no time. She turned in a smooth motion to meet her attacker head on with a roundhouse kick to the face.

He wasn’t expecting an assault. The kick caught him on the cheek, his head whipped sideways and he staggered backward. Astonishment was written in every line of his face, every breath he took, the clumsy way he drew his sword. She pressed her advantage, moving with the smooth, even kicks and strikes taught by her marital arts master. He seemed befuddled by the attack, unsure of how to counter an unarmed opponent who moved in strange, dance-like ways. She didn’t use a sword, just battered metal wristbands to block his blows. He was tired, winded. She pressed the advantage, driving him back from the entrance of the ship. Her blood sang in her veins again as her body moved in harmony with his lunging thrusts.

“You stink, little boy. I could hear you coming a mile away.” His face turned red and he pressed forward with a renewed assault, hacking and lunging like a madman. She hadn’t been able to resist the taunt, and when he swung overly wide and left himself open, she couldn’t resist shoving her fist into his cocky face and breaking the too perfect nose. He staggered backwards, dropping his sword and howling in pain. She changed stances, bounced on her toes, moving the battle from one of agility and smart kicks to one of brute strength. She jabbed a left into his stomach, satisfaction grew from the harsh grunt. He threw a wild punch, his fist incorrect, and his balance off. Dido was almost disgusted now. This was too easy. But she’d wanted to pound one of the bastard princes to a bloody pulp since the moment she’d seen them. So she poured her aggression into beating this stripling boy until he screamed for mercy.

A smart tap on the side had several ribs cracking, and repeated blows to the stomach made him gasp for breath. He could barely keep his hands up to defend himself, and she was certain if he wasn’t so lightheaded from the kick and broken nose that he would have turned and ran like a coward. A series of blows to the head had him slowly sinking to the ground. He flopped on his back, rather like a fish. For a moment Dido simply stared at her captor, then her anger overcame her mercy and she moved forward, one large foot pressing against his already bruised windpipe. She felt a certain sense of irony that he had already been strangled once tonight by someone. Only this time it would kill him.

“Stop right there.” Dido kept her foot in place and turned to face the new voice. All the blood drained from her head, pooling in her gut. Another one of the bastard princes stood beside the crate she’d been aiming for earlier, a limp, but conscious Penny dangling in his grasp.

~~**~~

She’d landed in a crate of condoms. Why the Terrans were shipping huge boxes of condoms to the moon was a question for another day, as was the question of why the box had been left, top open, near the empty cargo vessel. For a moment, Penny had thought she’d drown in the clinging slippery plastic, but she’d been grateful for the soft landing when Dido had decided to thrown her like a ball. And as usual Dido’s aim was perfect. She struggled for a bit, and then realized she couldn’t get any purchase to get out of the crate. So she lay still for several moments and hoped no one came to put the lid back on. Penelope gave into the urge and laughed. After all, it wasn’t every day a person had their home destroyed, stabbed their own brother, was beat up by a devil, and then was thrown into a box of condoms while trying to escape. Soon she was gasping for breath as the shrill laughter turned to hoarse sobs. She hurt.

Later she would curse herself for the moment of self-pity, and for disobeying the cardinal rule of keeping quiet in enemy territory. A long, surprisingly strong pair of arms came over the top of the crate, grabbed her under her armpits, and hauled her out of the temporary prison. It hurt so much she couldn’t even scream. Instead she bit her lip until a coppery tang in her mouth advised her that she’d gone through the skin. The crate was sitting in a patch from one of the landing platforms lights. The sudden change made Penny slam her eyes shut tightly, another disadvantage. The hands changed position, one wrapping around her waist, the other clamping across her chest like a vise. Penelope couldn’t feel her limbs. In fact, she couldn’t feel much of anything except for the warm arms keeping her upright and the solid body at her back. She forced her eyes opening, blinking and ignoring tears from the light. Her head tilted back for a moment and the world spun a bit before coming back into focus.

His name was Odysseus. She remembered that, and the fact that he was an Alfar. Up close the differences were a bit more pronounced, the slender, pointed ears, the pale skin, and a half washed dried streak of blue blood across his face. But when she met his eyes, she couldn’t seem to tear her gaze away. He wore an impassive expression, difficult to read, but his eyes shone with every emotion his face hid. She watched him slip from surprise, to admiration, to anger and finally to determination in a matter of moments.

~~**~~

Her eyes were two different colors. On was a rich brown, the color of the chocolate that Paris loved. The other was sapphire. The same color as her brother’s eyes. Odysseus felt the hands of fate twisting as he stared at the bloodied, bruised girl he held. She looked much like her brother, the resemblance startling enough to make anyone glance twice. Her hair was lighter though, a deep ash brown rather then a true black. Right now it straggled around her face where strands had escaped from her single, thick plait. He felt a purely sexual pull, despite the red, human blood dried on her face, arms, and scalp. But he didn’t have time to survey his newest prisoner. There was still one more to capture.

He swore when he saw Jason on the ground, his face turning blue under the Amazon’s foot. Of course, Jason would be stupid enough to take her on with brute strength alone. Never mind that she was as tall as he was, never mind that she was more muscled than the current gladiator favorite in Uranus’s arena, stupid Jason still thought he could take her on. Odysseus called out to the woman. She looked up at him, concern and anger radiating from her face. Odysseus almost swore again.

“Let her go.” The woman’s voice was a low contralto, and if she wasn’t so large, Odysseus might find her sexy, dripping with sweat and blood. However, she was overly tall for his taste; she would look him in the eye if she were any closer.

“Why should I?” Odysseus tried not to grimace as the woman smiled and ground her ankle into Jason’s windpipe.

“Let her go or I give him a new hole to breathe through.” Odysseus lifted one hand and wrapped the long fingers around his captive’s throat. The girl trembled but didn’t seem capable of fighting him off.

“Let him go or I rip her throat out.” The woman growled. They were at a stand off now. And the woman knew it. He tightened his hold and the girl in his arms choked, her arms lifting and trying to pry away his hands. The woman let up her hold on Jason and he gasped and choked on the tarmac.

“All right, all right. Even exchange. Put her on the ground. Then we’ll circle around.” The woman motioned him with her hands, and Odysseus removed his hand and nodded. Jason still lay gasping, totally useless now. Odysseus lowered his burden slowly, careful not to jar her too much. She still winced in pain from the movement, and he fought the urge to simply walk into the palace and leave Jason to die.

The transport at his back roared to life. The rear cargo hold began to close, dust and debris kicked up from the force of the engines. The woman ran towards him, eyes bright. He stayed where he was, half leaning over the creature on the ground. She hit him at full speed, but he used the momentum to catapult her over his shoulder. It had been a reckless, wild attack. Foolish when he was still so close to the girl on the ground. The eyes below him opened and words spilled from the girl’s lips, a strange babbling language that seemed vaguely familiar, and yet he didn’t comprehend. He watched the Amazon and the smaller girl stare at each other for a long moment, and then the taller one swung into the barely open cargo hold. He watched as his lips tightening in anger; the doors finished their motion with a hollow clang. The main engines came online and the world turned too bright to see.

There was a long moment of blindness as the ship finally lifted off the ground and rose quickly upward toward the dome opening. Odysseus arched over the girl below him, sheltering her body with his own. He could feel bits of dust and debris embedding in his back; the heat from the engines melted the plastic crate lid behind him. It seemed unnaturally quiet for a few moments, even though the bustling tarmac continued to host the army of invaders and their noise filled the air. One of the bodies on the ground stirred to life.

“You let her escape.” Jason choked the words, rasping for breath as he slowly sat up.

“Only to save your sorry ass, idiot.” Odysseus hissed the words and stood slowly, the now unconscious girl in his arms. “And I did manage to capture at least one of them.” Jason snorted and hauled himself upright. Blood dripped from his face and there were quite a few visible bruises on his body. Odysseus shook his head, turned and headed back to the palace, careful not to jar the girl he held. “Find out where that ship was headed, one of the officers should know. I’ll take her back to Endymion.” Odysseus suddenly stopped, turned and stared straight into Jason’s flushed face. “I suggest you get the information soon, so Endymion only beats the shit out of you instead of castrating you.” Jason didn’t argue, instead he swallowed loudly and limped across the tarmac toward the nearest officer. Odysseus stalked back toward the ruined palace.

~~**~~

The central area of the palace was relatively untouched, unlike the shattered hallways surrounding the throne room. Marble corridors and never-ending whiteness gave way to smooth crystal that seemed to reflect every spare photon of light. It was bright here, unlike the dark areas that were now swarming with the enemy. There were no rooms off these halls, just endless twisting passages with only one safe path inward. Queen Selenity moved quickly and without hesitation. Sera knew that the women took long graceful strides and yet it seemed that she barely touched the floor. The queen’s white dress flowed around her feet like water running over a sheet of glass. Sera tripped over her own feet for, well, she’d long ago lost count of the times she stumbled on the very slick crystal floor. Her head was spinning from the number of turns they’d taken, and she didn’t think she’d ever find her way back out of the bright, twisting maze.

She always felt so useless next to the queen’s gentle perfection, like a gangly foal next to a shining unicorn. Like they weren’t even the same species. She glanced down at her ripped, filthy uniform and the now bent sword dangling forgotten in one hand. Selenity stopped suddenly, and Sera, not watching where she was going and unable to keep her balance on the slick floor, skidded into the queen’s back and collapsed on her butt with a soft thud. Sera couldn’t stop the tears this time. They flowed silently down her face and she felt a sharp sense of pain when the queen didn’t seem to react.

Selenity stood in front of a solid crystal door; at least Sera assumed it was a door. The queen placed her hand in the center of the portal, where a mass of crystal spokes radiated out from a flower shaped etching. Sera sat on the floor, staring for a long moment as she slowly wiped away her tears. Then the spokes began to change color, each one a different hue. Sera felt her jaw drop, unable to stop the sharp gasp of awe. The color raced outward along the spokes and at an ever increasing speed, and then washed into the walls in bright streaks that grew, changing the corridors from a brilliant, see through crystal to rainbows of color. And then the door slowly slid down into the floor with a hissing sound. Selenity turned slowly, her eyes softening at Sera’s surprised, awestruck expression, and leaned over offering a hand. Sera took it silently and allowed the queen to help her stand upright. And the two walked through the door, hand in hand.

Sera had never been inside the prayer spire. Helen had once told a story about how the solar system was supposedly colonized centuries before, and the tower was supposed to be the top of the giant spaceship which carried the travelers to their destination. The other girls had laughed at the notion, but Helen had sworn it was the truth. She realized that she was entering a place that had only seen the faces of queens for millennia. It was a rather humbling moment. The door closed behind them with a soft hiss. Sera turned sharply, only at that moment realizing that she’d left her sword behind.

The queen dropped Sera’s hand and looked around the room slowly, as though gazing upon a loved one’s face for the last time. Then she approached the center of the room, looking neither left nor right, and stopped on a raised dais imprinted with the symbol of the waxing moon. She stopped then, turned to face Sera, and beckoned with a single hand. The younger girl ran across the room, conscious of the queen’s impatience. Then they were surrounded in light and rising upward at a very swift pace. Sera took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

They stopped smoothly, the light fading from brilliant to nothingness instantly. The sudden lack of light had Sera’s eyes snapping open again. She glanced down at her feet, noticing that they were standing on a perfectly solid dais much like the one in the room below. And how did they travel through a solid floor? She puzzled over that thought as the queen stepped off the platform and moved slowly, ponderously, as though carrying a great weight. Sera took the time to glance at her surroundings. The room they now occupied was small, and round, with a pointed ceiling. Sera realized with an unusual flash of insight that they’d traveled to the top of the tower. She turned to face the queen, who had moved toward a metal table against one wall. And sitting in the center of the table, on a pink cushion, was a pulsating, glimmering, silver tinged hunk of crystal.

“I know this doesn’t look like much, child, but this is the most powerful source of energy in the galaxy.” The queen lifted the item gently, and it pulsed to life in her grasp, opening like a crystal rose, petals furling open gently. Sera’s mouth fell open in delight and astonishment. There was a moment of silence as Selenity stroked the petals gently and the crystal seemed to quiver in her hand, like a cat arching against a hand petting it. But the queen’s eyes dimmed, her touch drew away, and the crystal slowly closed, its brilliance fading to a gentle glow. The queen slowly turned the crystal offered in her outstretched hands. Sera took several hasty steps backward, her lips mouthing a denial.

“You have to take it child. It is your birthright.” Selenity’s voice quavered on the words, as though she were holding back tears. “It has been my anchor, my responsibility, and my guide, long enough. And even when I didn’t listen…,” the words trailed into nothingness. Sera felt the pull, as though the rock were alive and calling her name. She took one slow step forward, then another, and stretched out one finger. She stroked the edge of the crystal. It was warm, like human skin, but smooth.

“It’s beautiful.” Sera longed to say more, but was too overcome by emotion. The object in the queen’s hands seemed to call out in joy at her touch, to vibrate with energy and life and oddly enough, Sera could sense love pouring from the crystal. The queen smiled sadly.

“There are some who say it is alive.” Selenity transferred the crystal to one hand and grasped Sera’s hand in the other. She gently laid the crystal in the palm, ignoring the younger girl’s struggles. Then she let go and Sera lifted both hands to cup the crystal. There were several moments of silence.

“You hold the ginzuishou, the silver crystal. It isn’t a legend, my child. The crystal has lain here dormant for centuries. I come to use its powers when needed. But now you must take it away from here.” The queen bent down, clasping Sera’s face between long, elegant fingers. Blue eyes stared into silver. “You must protect it, do not let the evil one have it’s power.” Sera’s eyes filled with tears.

“But what about you? Why can’t you protect it?” Her voice shook and she stepped towards the queen, trying to give the crystal back. The queen stretched out a finger, stroking the surface as Sera had earlier. But instead of leaping at her touch the crystal cooled, as though shrinking away. Selenity’s eyes turned liquid, and a drop gathered in the corner of her eye, but she took a deep break, blinked, and directed her gaze to the ground.

“I cannot, my child. You see? The crystal has made its choice already. It will not return to me even if I wanted it to.” The queen turned away and lifted a golden chain from beside the cushion. “Here my child, you’ll need this.” The crystal reacted to her voice and a loop appeared at the apex of the triangular shape. Sera watched in awe as Selenity attached the chain to the loop and draped it over Sera’s head. “We must go now. The enemy will have found the lower chamber if we do not hurry. Remember, no matter what happens, I’ll always love you.” Selenity kissed Sera on the forehead, and then the two returned to the light beam they had ridden earlier.

~~**~~

Ariadne had never been in this part of the palace. The queen came here often, and even some of the Sailor Senshi from time to time, but no one else had ever been allowed in the twisting crystal corridors. She had a burning curiosity, a desire to drink in the twists and turns and study the brilliant colors flowing through the walls, but currently her arm felt like it was being pulled out of socket and she had all her attention focused on freeing it. Theseus held it just above the elbow with one hand, fingers overlapping. She felt his calluses rubbing against her skin with every step. She pulled against the hold, every step forward only taken out of necessity as her arm and body were yanked down the passages.

Theseus was in the lead, Paris, Endymion, and a small contingent of soldiers close behind. He moved as though in a dream, his eyes slightly fogged and his breathing harsh. He didn’t even seem to notice her attempts to escape, and he certainly didn’t notice the fact that his grip was turning her arm into a giant bruise. She twisted around, trying to kick him again, but like before his stride made her take two or three steps for every one he took. It made her feel as if she were running. She’d been attempting to escape since the moment he latched onto her arm and started pulling her towards the prayer spire. In addition, he didn’t even seem to notice her struggles. She mentally screamed at anyone who had ever told her that physical strength wasn’t the ultimate power. Brains or not she couldn’t break from his grasp. He was just too damn strong. He stopped suddenly and the momentum sent her crashing into him. He didn’t move, and she didn’t fall. His strength kept her upright, but her arm felt like it was as broken as the useless one hanging on her other side.

Theseus laid a hand against the door, in the center where the colors seemed to emanate. Aria tried once again to jerk from his grasp but he merely ignored her. She prayed to the goddess for several quiet moments, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be able to enter the moon’s last sanctuary, but the door ceded to his silent command and slid open slowly. She dropped her head and tried not to cry. Several long breaths and nibbling on her lip kept her tears in check. Endymion pushed by Theseus and was the first into the room. Paris followed, mumbling under his breath about DNA encoding and security measures based on blood type. The soldiers followed, a few taking up perimeter positions in the hallway. She took a deep breath, and Theseus finally seemed to come out of his trance. He shook his head as if to clear it and stepped through in the door. He pulled her harshly; she dragged her feet on the slick crystal.

Endymion marched across the circular room with purposeful, angry strides. Paris took position near the open doorway, blocking any escape, and Theseus followed in Enymion’s wake. Soldiers followed, silently setting up position around the edge of the room. Aria continued to fight every step, but her boots slipped and slid across the crystal floor. She would have fallen several times but the iron grip on her good arm kept her upright. She couldn’t even complain, she was too out of breath.

Then the three stood before an altar-like structure. A great silver sword stood upright in the metal, a third of its length embedded. A great opal shimmered in the hilt, and delicate scrollwork embellished the entire length of the glistening blade. Aria stopped fighting for a moment, her heart at her feet. The moon sword, the holy sword, they were going to try to take the sword. No one could stand against that blade, only the eldest child of the royal bloodline could wield it. It was horrendously powerful, second only to the mystical silver crystal. She couldn’t breathe.

“Theseus, let go of the girl and come claim your birthright.” Theseus let go abruptly and she staggered back a step. The dark prince sounded like a pompous asshole, but she was grateful for the release of her arm. She longed to rub the injured skin with her other hand, but the broken arm still hung useless at her side. She mentally thanked whatever god or goddesses had taken away the pain though. It no longer screamed in anger but only throbbed gently. Theseus stepped on the platform and laid both hands on the hilt of the blade. There was silence, even though Aria’s heard was full of pleas to the goddess.

A soft humming sound sent all eyes turning toward the dais in the center of the room. A bright flash of light appeared, shooting down from the ceiling like the beam of a laser. The light faded, and standing on the platform were the Queen, with Sera hovering behind. Laughter filled the air, the kind that usually accompanied a villain’s triumph in a play.

The Queen’s eyes were wide with horror; Sera’s simply round with shock. The entire room listened to the quickly dwindling laughter but no one seemed to be able to move or react. Finally, Endymion’s voice slid across the room like an oil slick. The triumph and pleasure in the sound made Aria shiver.

“So good of you to join us, your Majesty. And now witness the claiming of the most powerful weapon on this moon.” Theseus growled and yanked the sword upward with both hands.

And nothing happened.

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