Redemption - The Past - Chapter 01

A reposting of my favorite work, that I should work on more

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.

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