Chapter One: Lonely and Forgotten
She was alone and lost, a single solitary soul with a weight of guilt on her conscience that no amount of time or love could heal, a soul with no purpose, no friends, no family, no country, no hope, only her power. The power to kill, the power of hatred, the power of flame. A power she never asked for and hadn’t wanted in a very long time, a power that proved more trouble than it was worth, a power she would gladly give back if only she could. But even her god had forsaken her, told her in no uncertain terms that what she did was unacceptable, unforgivable, that she was not even good enough to deserve death, only the torture of her lonely, forgotten existence.
The red-haired woman pushed the matted hair out of her eyes as the brilliant sun crested the red horizon, the golden color mingling with the dusty red of her new home, reminding her of the brilliant love she would never know again, the wife and children she was not permitted to see—though she had birthed many of them herself—the friends she had forsaken with her selfish act. She thought of Matsurika, now a beautiful woman with ice blue eyes and hair all the colors of flame, happily married to Rikuriko and Asakaze’s firstborn child on Earth, Rikaze. Rikaze’s twin had married her second child, Hibana, who had purple gray eyes that belonged to the red-haired woman and hair a mixture of one mother’s rich gold and the other’s red. The hermit had birthed that child, and most in the court agreed that she had passed on her fiery nature. The third daughter, Koyama, had one mother’s ice blue eyes and hair the raven color her other mother’s had been so many hundreds of years ago and was happily married to Kumiko, daughter of the Aquarian Senshi, three women who lived together as happily as any two other Planet or Star Senshi in the strange customs of their planet. Mika had grey eyes and red gold hair, a common color among her siblings, and had married the fifth daughter of Haruka and Michiru—two beloved Senshi lost for so long—Aya. Chieko, her eyes dark blue to match her calming nature and her birth mother, whose golden hair she also bore, was wife to Yuki, another daughter of the Aquarians. The last daughter, closest to the outcast’s heart, only the second she birthed, was named Chiyoko, and she was identical to her birth mother when she was young and human, with purple-gray eyes and raven hair that shone red in the light. She was married to Setsuko, the youngest daughter of Setsuna and Ailan, identical to the daughter of Hades who had birthed her.
The outcast caught herself before she thought of her children’s other mother, the golden-haired nymph with eyes the color of a summer sky who had won her heart so long ago. She couldn’t stop herself from remembering the day they met, Sailor Venus saving the unfortunate Senshi from Kunzite and Zoisite, standing tall and proud on a building overlooking the construction site, golden hair blowing in the wind. Even back then, fourteen years old, she had been magnificent. Then, the next day, when Usagi vanished, Aino Minako had come to the shrine—her shrine, her home—and officially joined the Senshi, going with them to find Usagi. Years later, Minako returned to that same shrine, breathless, smiling, as the sun broke over Tokyo and two soulmates met, separated for so long, brought back together at last after finally remembering their previous lives. From that day on, they were inseparable, one soul with two bodies, lovers then wives. As the time of Earth drew to a close, they created a family at that shrine, waiting for the day when Crystal Tokyo could finally become a reality.
She clenched her fist, feeling fire build within her, as she remembered just a month ago when those loving blue eyes turned hard in hatred, anger causing the other woman to glow gold, the outcast’s actions disappointing and infuriating Minako. Without giving her wife a chance for apology, she threw her out of the palace, the Queen throwing her off Earth and forbidding her from visiting the Moon. She was a true outcast, banned from Crystal Tokyo, the world she almost destroyed in her stupidity, the people who would hate her until they forgot her completely. And she, immortal, would live forever on the planet of her god, a god who had looked at her and shook his head, vanishing, forsaking her forever. All she had left was her power, the power that destroyed her life.
“I never wanted any of this,” she whispered, hot tears running down her cheeks, tears she was accustomed to, tears she was afraid she would soon run out of. “I never wanted to be a senshi, be immortal, be special, be outcast. I only ever wanted to be a singer . . . a miko, a wife, a mother. Not a princess and a courtier to the Queen. Minako . . . why you? Why can’t you forgive me? So many times before you have . . . but I cannot even forgive myself . . . I understand why the queen threw me out, but how can you hate me so much? Does our life together mean nothing? I love you so much and you act like it all means nothing . . . I was not even permitted to see my daughters one last time . . . my granddaughters and great-granddaughters. My family is forbidden to me, save one life alone.” A watery smile crossed her face, tinged with a bitterness she could not completely expel, as she placed one deadly hand over her flat belly. “She does not know about you, my daughter. She never will. But I cannot raise you, you did nothing to deserve this life. Somehow I have to find a family to love you, hold you, give you the life you deserve. And when they find out that you are a senshi—as all of our daughters have been—maybe then she will guess what happened and take you to the palace to live with your sisters. But never with me, my love. My daughter.”
The woman slowly stood and shuffled back to her tent, the beige peasants robes she wore hugging her body in the stiff Martian breeze. The planet was livable, but deadly and uncaring. It matched its senshi. She slipped into the tent and stretched out on her pallet, eating the bowl of soup she had managed to make from the wild plants growing on the revitalized planet, only eating for her child’s sake. For her own life she did not care and would gladly have died, but for Minako’s child she had to live for just a little longer.
The woman watched the sun climb higher in the sky, knowing better than to tempt the rusty desert during midday, feeling her own power growing with the light. She quelled the fire with some effort, concentrating on the flames of her small hearth-fire, flames that she had used in a shrine long gone to calm her thoughts, a ritual that barely worked anymore. Still, she had to try. Slowly, she felt the flames recede, unable to hear anything but the screams of hundreds of people as they died, the fires consuming them without thought, without caring, without mercy. Men, women, children, babies . . . it did not care. She did not care. She covered her face with her hands and screamed, the sound barely loud enough to drown out the voices. To end the pain . . . Rei screamed until she passed out, her dreams no less comforting. The Senshi of Mars, the Queen of Flame, slept in a lonely tent on an empty planet, far from anyone she knew and everyone she loved.
The God of War rolled his dark eyes, glancing up briefly at the blonde goddess. “I don’t want to talk about it, Aphrodite.”
“You need to. Her pain hurts you, I can tell. We suffer when our Avatars suffer.”
“She deserves to suffer! She killed all those people . . . what she did we can never forgive. She doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”
The blonde sat down beside the dark god, placing a small hand on his shoulder. “We all need forgiveness, Ares. What she did . . . it wasn’t on purpose.”
“Maybe not, but it was her arrogance and selfishness and ignorance that caused it. Once, long ago, before their long sleep, the Senshi listened to us. Now they seem to think that they are better than us, that they are gods and not Avatars. Maybe the others learned from this. Maybe they won’t try what she tried.”
“They’re hurting as much as she is,” Aphrodite whispered. “She’s hurting.”
“I’m sorry about your Avatar, but she knows that what her wife did was wrong. She can never forgive her. None of them can, and none of them should. There’s no way for me to take her power back, now that I’ve given it. I can’t choose a new Avatar until this one dies. If she ever dies.”
Aphrodite shook her head and looked away, staring out across the empty fields. She hoped that the Senshi and the gods would find it in their hearts to forgive the poor woman.
Minako stood on the balcony outside her room, golden skirts swaying in the wind, blue eyes watching the birds circling the crystal palace, tears falling at irregular intervals. She raised her hand and stared at the diamond on her finger, a beloved face flashing in the depths of the stone. She stifled a sob as she lowered her hand, brushing her hair behind her ears as she resumed her contemplation, staring toward the spot in the sky where she could sense her own planet. “Where did you go?” she whispered, her soft voice almost unrecognizable through her tears. As if to mock her tears, her memory brought forth the memory of the last time she saw her beloved Rei, the red-head crying and shaking her head, trying to explain that it was a mistake, and Minako had not listened, sending the other Senshi away in her anger. Then the Queen banished the woman from Earth and the Moon, forbidding the Senshi of Mars from seeing her children before her exile began.
“Rika!” Minako spun around as her oldest daughter jumped into her arms, Matsurika’s wife standing back out of respect for the mother-daughter reunion. “Rika, where have you been?! I haven’t seen you in months!”
“We’ve been busy about three hundred lightyears from here. The Council of the Star Senshi never lacks for something to do, you know. We heard that . . . something happened, and we saw the damage . . . was there an attack?”
Minako turned away, her voice soft. “You could say that.”
“Mother, what happened? And where’s Rei?” None of Minako’s daughters ever called Rei by any less than her given name, and the Senshi of Fire wouldn’t have it any other way. The confusion in Matsurika’s voice cracked Minako’s reserve.
“She—she’s not here anymore,” Minako whispered, shaking, fists clenched. Matsurika wrapped her arms around her mother, tears in her eyes, waiting for the blonde to explain. “A month ago . . . there was an accident . . . Rei . . . oh, Rika! She’s been exiled!”
“Exiled?” The Senshi of Antares pulled back, staring at her birth mother. “Rei? Did she . . . did she do that?” Minako nodded, unable to speak. “Why?”
“I don’t know, Rika. No one knows . . . she . . . just said that it was her fault and that she was sorry . . . all those deaths, Rika. She killed so many people . . . our people! I was so angry and I couldn’t believe she could do something like that . . . I told her that I didn’t want to speak to her, see her . . . ever again! And Serenity . . . exiled her from Earth and the Moon. She never even got a chance to come say goodbye to her daughters. It seemed so fair back then . . . now I look back and it seems so cruel. She loved you all . . . she didn’t mean to, Rika. And now I can’t hear her, can’t find her, can’t feel her . . . I don’t know what I’ve done. I can’t live without her, yet it seems that I must . . . the two of us were supposed to be together forever, soulmates . . . now half of my soul is out there somewhere and I can’t find her. I’ll never see her again.”
A sob sounded from the doorway as Rika and her mother looked up, tears in their eyes, to find Hibana, Koyama, Mika, Chieko, and Chiyoko, Rei’s daughters filling the room and embracing their mother. Their wives stood back, wiping tears from their own eyes, and wondered what happened to make Queen Serenity exile Rei.
Chapter Two: Killer Instinct
She was doing it again. Drumming her fingers. It was a very un-ladylike nervous habit she had developed as a child, as a Human, so many hundreds of years ago, and she never fully got rid of it. He glanced up from the reports he was reading and sighed. “Serenity, my love?” She continued to drum her fingers, blue eyes staring into space, silvery hair flowing regally over the arms of her throne and to the silver-carpeted floor. “Usako?”
“Hm?” She always responded to that name, no matter how lost in thought. “What is it, Mamo-chan?”
“Why are you drumming your fingers? What are you thinking about?”
“Was I?” The queen stared at her hands like she had never seen them before. “I don’t know, Mamo-chan. There’s something very wrong, something off. Maybe all those dead citizens . . . I’ll feel a lot better when this whole thing is nothing more than a painful memory and everything’s back to normal.”
“Nothing will ever be normal again, Serenity. Everything has changed too much. Even the Senshi are more subdued than I have ever seen them. I think they only just realized that there is a limit to their power, a threshold they cannot and should not ever cross. She showed them that.”
“I did what I had to do for the safety of our people,” Serenity murmured. “She’s too dangerous to stay here. She could have destroyed the whole city in her carelessness. I won’t make my people fear one of my Senshi. It’s better that she’s gone.”
“Is it better for Minako?” Endymion raised his hands at his wife’s fierce glare. “I know you had to exile her, Serenity, but she and Minako are soulmates. They’ll never see each other again. Is she okay with that?”
“Endymion, she told her wife never to speak to her again. She doesn’t see the problem with exiling a murderer. I couldn’t kill her, Mamo-chan; she’s always been my friend and we don’t condone such violence in this age of peace. She had to go in order to preserve the frail balance of the Crystal Tokyo we’ve been building and protecting for so long. She’ll understand in time and come to embrace her new life.”
“I hope she can find some sort of happiness out there,” Endymion whispered, leaving the reports in his chair as he stood to welcome the nurse and his pink-haired daughter, named after her mother. Serenity also stood and embraced the child, her blue eyes meeting her husband’s darker ones.“I hope you understand that Chibiusa could easily have been counted among the dead a month ago. She has no power, nothing to protect her. Rei had to leave in order to insure our daughter’s safety as well as for the protection of the kingdom.”
“I know. For Chibiusa’s sake . . .”
Jupiter sat on the highest spire, eyes glued to the horizon, lightning dancing across the palm of her hand. Her wife sat below her on a small ledge, staring at her computer screen without really seeing it. They rarely assumed Senshi form anymore outside of official functions and patrols, but both of them felt the need to don the fuku once more.
“I just don’t understand. How could she do something like that? If I had been here, I’m sure I could have stopped her.”
“She didn’t do it on purpose, Makoto. You know that.”
“I thought I did,” the Senshi of lightning murmured. “We knew each other so well. I never thought one of us would do something like that. I have always attributed reckless acts to Haruka-san and Michiru-san, though they are long gone.”
“I know. I don’t like being short a Senshi when we know that the Black Moon Family will come soon—even though Setsuna-san still avoids exact dates. How can we hope to fight them at partial strength when we barely defeated them altogether in the past? You don’t think we altered the future, do you?”
“If anyone did, it was her, not us. None of us did anything wrong; all we want to do is protect our people and our planet. Once, she wanted the same thing.”
“You don’t think she’ll join the Black Moon Family, do you? She was exiled, the same as the criminals from the Uprising, and she may become a killer, too.”
“First of all, Ami, we have no idea which of the hundreds of people who were exiled in the Uprising will ever become members of the Black Moon Family. Secondly, Rei isn’t that kind of person. She isn’t a killer.”
Makoto’s words froze the pair as both realized her error. “Isn’t she? After what she did, Mako, she’s no longer the woman we grew up with. She’s a killer now, exiled, one of them. One day, we may be fighting her.”
Jupiter shook her head, tears she rarely shed filling her emerald eyes. “I don’t want to have to fight her,” she whispered. “She’s been one of my closest friends for the longest time. Ever since we lost Haruka and Michiru, our group has been falling apart. I’m so tired of this change!”
Ami stood up and embraced her wife, computer vanished, her own eyes suspiciously wet. “I know, koishii, but I’m not sure if there is anything we can do. Since she was exiled, what happens to Rei is up to her. We can’t help her, and we may never see her again. Think how much worse this must be for Minako-chan.”
“Minako?! The woman who exiled her own wife without letting her say good-bye to their children?” Makoto pulled away, the lightning from her hands having moved into her flashing eyes. “I feel no sympathy for her. She deserves no sympathy. How could the self-proclaimed Goddess of Love be so cruel? No, Ami, no matter why Rei did what she did, she deserved to expect her wife to forgive her, whatever the punishment the queen gave her.” Jupiter wiped her tears away, pulling Mercury close. “I would have forgiven you, koibito.”
“And I, you. But you and I are not the same as Rei and Minako. We can’t know why either of them acted as they did. How . . . how did we fall apart so fast? Why didn’t the queen wait, call us to Council, summon her mothers here, before exiling our sister?”
“I don’t know, but maybe we should try to find out. As courtiers, trusted advisors of the Queen, we deserve to know her thoughts.”
“What if she won’t tell us?”
Setsuna appeared on a lonely red plain, the sun slowly setting beneath the horizon, her dark fuku ruffled by the sad wind. She glanced at the tent, waiting as a familiar, though disheveled, red-haired woman slowly emerged, purple eyes filled with a pain she could not voice, could not heal. Rei stared at Setsuna, one hand straying to her belly in a motion all-too-familiar to the daughter of Hades, and Pluto lowered her staff. “I did not come to hurt you,” she whispered. “You are exiled from Earth but we Senshi are not exiled from Mars. Two months ago, while you and your wife were the only Senshi serving on Earth, something happened. The Queen will not give Jupiter or Mercury a straight answer, your wife does not emerge from her rooms, your daughters refuse to return to the Council and two sessions have been delayed, so they called me. I felt the disturbance but thought someone was merely honing her powers. Apparently I was wrong, so I want you to tell me what happened.”
Rei shook her head. “I will not. What happened was my fault, I killed all those people, their screams still echo in my head all day and all night, and Ares has abandoned me. That is all you need to know.”
“Is it? Is it all you want to say? You are not a careless woman, Rei, and you may act rashly in battle but never outside of it. Recently I would have classified you among the most controlled of the Planet and Star Senshi, then this happened. You really should tell me what really happened.”
“I told you already. It is all anyone needs to know.” The woman, dressed in dusty brown, turned to return to her tent, Setsuna’s hand on her arm stopping her. Pluto let her transformation fade, returning to a simple dress that was too plain even for court, and smiled, her garnet eyes straying to Rei’s stomach.
“How did you manage that without her knowing?”
“She . . . it . . . I was practicing, trying to hone my power. The brush of magic was so light, so brief, that she forgot it in her ecstasy. She does not know.”
“Doesn’t she deserve to?”
“It’s not like I can tell her!” Rei’s purple eyes flashed a dangerous red-gold, a color they had adopted to signal her anger. “I am forbidden to speak to her! Even our telepathic bond has been severed! When the child is born, I will make sure she reaches some nice family in Crystal Tokyo, so that her Senshi Power will be discovered early. Minako will know then, but I will already be dead.”
“Senshi do not commit suicide.”
“Senshi do not commit homicide!” Rei countered, eyes glowing. She jerked free of Setsuna’s hand and faced the Senshi, flames snaking up her arms. “I deserve no less than death for what I did, but the Queen is too lenient! She loves too much and punishes too little! I killed hundreds, including women and children, and she does NOTHING! Usagi has become a rabbit again, unable to kill, but this, of all things, should have shown her that she is too gentle!”
“Would you have her kill your child?”
“She does not know. It should not matter. I could have transferred her to Minako and saved her life. Now it is too late and the punishment I deserve would be unfair to the life inside me!”
Setsuna slapped Rei, glaring at the other Senshi, watching as fire flared up in Rei’s hands before slowly vanishing, a red mark appearing on her fair skin. The pregnant woman clenched her fists and turned to reenter the tent, afraid of what she might say. “I find myself surprised that you did not attack me, Mars.”
“I do not go by my Senshi name anymore. I would not attack you. I would not attack any of the Senshi, no matter what you did.”
“Would you attack a defenseless person in cold blood?”
“Then I do not believe you killed those people recklessly, uncaringly, without thinking.”
Rei slowly turned, fear in her eyes. “I did not have a reason, Setsuna. I was just . . . practicing my power and it got out of hand. I killed those people and they had no warning, there was no reason. I deserved to be punished.”
“I still think there is something you are not telling me.” Setsuna returned to her Eternal Sailor Pluto form glancing at the exiled woman one more time before she vanished. “I think there is more to this story than you are willing to admit, even to yourself.”
Rei stared after the vanished Senshi, tears in her eyes. The screams filled her mind again as she fell to her knees, silent tears soaking the Martian landscape. “I’m just a murderer,” she whispered. “Why can’t you see that?”
Chapter Three: Kitsune
“Praying? Are you sure?”
The page nodded, nervous in the presence of his god master. “I am sure. It has been recorded for an hour. Shall I call your carriage so you can see?” Ares nodded and the servant scampered off.
The God of War thundered across the heavens, piercing the mundane barrier as he came to hover over his planet, invisible to mortals, watching as one pregnant woman with matted red hair sat in front of a huge fire, praying, her whispery words reaching the god’s ear. He stepped to the ground behind her, feeling her power waxing and waning with each word, watching her mastery of the flames, suddenly wondering how someone so in control could destroy so much of Crystal Tokyo.
“I was stupid.” Rei turned, purple eyes filled with tears, as the fire slowly died. “I never thought you would come to my prayers.”
“I couldn’t help but notice. You haven’t invoked my name in a very long time.”
“I need your help, Ares.”
The black-haired god snorted and crossed his arms over his chest, all of his rough demeanor cloaking him in the face of his Avatar. She never noticed. “Tell me why I should help you.”
“Not me, my children. Please, Ares, give me the kitsunezuishou.” [AN: “kitsune” is fox and “zuishou” or “suishou” is crystal like “ginzuishou”]
“The kitsume? Why? You do not need its destructive power.” [AN: “kitsu” is short for “kitsune” and “me” is eye, lit: fox-eye; kitsume is another name for the kitsunezuishou]
“It does not only have the power to destroy, Ares. It has other powers. Please, let me have it. I only need it for a moment, and you can watch the entire time to make sure I do not hurt anyone. I know that I do not deserve this chance, but I need just one. Please.”
Ares sighed and extended his hand, watching as a golden-orange stone appeared, flecks of white in its crystalline depths. Its facets formed the shape of a fox, the origin of its name. He silently handed it to the ex-Senshi, and she bowed as she placed it in the last of the flames from her fire. Placing her hands together, she began to pray, channeling her power of flame through the palm-sized stone. The god remembered his earlier conviction that Rei would not have so easily lost control, watching in fascination as her own crystal, the Firedust Crystal, appeared in the coals, its red light joining the orange aura of the other stone. He raised his hands to shield his eyes as the light became unbearably bright.
Rei opened her eyes, surprised to find herself in a grassy field, flowers everywhere, her Firedust Crystal in her hand, dressed in her Sailor fuku as Sailor Star Mars. Before her sat a single fox, an orange vixen with two red eyes and a coat that shimmered gold, a white tip on her tail. “Why am I in my fuku? I never wanted to wear this again.”
In this place we are what we are. None of us choose.
Rei stared at the fox, knowing instinctively that she had spoken. “But I don’t deserve this fuku. I broke the trust that bestowed it upon me.”
The vixen shrugged one shoulder and turned to clean her shining fur. You are a Senshi at heart, in spirit, and in soul. In truth, you are lost. Why else would you call me?
“Not for me, kitsune. For my daughter.” Rei placed a hand on her stomach and sighed. “I want her to know a normal life, the life she cannot have thanks to my stupidity.”
Hmph. No one calls me for another’s sake. They call me for selfish reasons, for money or power or some happiness, but never for others.
“But there is nothing you can give me, kitsune. I had money and power and true happiness with my wife and children, but I messed it up. I chose the fate that led me to exile and loneliness, but I chose it. It is not some fluke that gave me a rotten roll of the dice. I do not want you to undo what I did because of what would happen. For me, I only want to live until my daughter is born and then patrol the Outer Solar System until I die a warrior’s death. That is all I have left. But my daughter deserves Minako’s care, the life at the court, the true training of a Star Senshi. Please, help me for her sake.”
The vixen looked up, standing and walking over to Rei. She blinked twice, taking the Senshi’s measure, before sitting back down and smiling in her foxy way. I have never believed any supplicant before, Hino Rei. But you . . . and you activated me with fire. I have never met anyone powerful enough, controlled enough, to bend that element to her bidding. I will grant your request, but there will be a price. Because you are selfless, the price that you must pay will not be a severe as some. I know what you want; close your eyes, Senshi of Mars.
When Ares opened his eyes, the fire was gone. There was no senshi, no stone, no sign that anyone had inhabited Mars in a long time. All that was left was one empty tent, a month older than it had been when he arrived. The kitsunezuishou was also gone. Cursing, Ares summoned his chariot and returned to Olympus.
He was met by a very flustered Love Goddess. “Where have you been, Ares?! We’ve been worried sick! You suddenly disappeared without warning a mortal month ago. Where did you go?”
“To Mars. Rei was praying to me and I went to see what she wanted. She has so much fine control, Aphrodite; I don’t know how she accidentally destroyed so much of Crystal Tokyo.”
“What did she want?”
Ares felt the wind on his back still, and he turned to find his father and mother standing behind him. The king of the gods raised one eyebrow. “The kitsunezuishou was not supposed to be removed from the Sacred Vaults. It is very dangerous and very powerful, Ares. You know that.”
“I know, but she said it had more power than just destruction. She used her fire to unlock it, though I thought that was impossible, then there was a flash of light and a month had passed. She was gone, the stone was gone, her fire was gone . . . everything. I can’t even hear her right now. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t say that often.”
“We will initiate a search to find the lost senshi,” Hera decided, waving her arm as servants gathered near. “We must find Hino Rei, Sailor Mars, before she does any more damage. Who knows what she might do now?”
“No, she would not tell me. But I think there is a great deal of back story that she will not share with us for some reason.” Setsuna sighed and rubbed her temple, smiling as Ailan covered her hand with her own. “I wish she would tell me.”
“Maybe she won’t tell you,” Makoto murmured, “but she might tell Minako-chan. Or one of their daughters.”
“She is not allowed to see Minako-chan anymore,” Ami reminded her wife. “Usagi—I mean, Serenity—forbade it. Her daughters . . . she cannot see them either.”
“Then she might speak to one of her daughters-in-law. Surely Serenity never thought of that.”
“True. Setsu-chan, could you send Setsuko there? Chiyoko cannot go, but Rei must speak to her youngest daughter’s wife.”
“I will ask her.”
The Senshi of Shaula, physically identical to her godling birth mother, stared across the empty Martian plain, slowly lowering her hand. She had expected to find the exile, three months weathered and worn, perhaps a fire and some grasses, but all she saw was one lonely tent. She searched the structure with her eyes and her powers, but there had not been a Senshi on Mars for at least one month.
She reported such to her wife, holding Chiyoko as the black-haired woman cried. She was closest to Rei, identical to her mother’s human appearance and possessing the same temper and passion for life. “I looked everywhere,” Setsuko whispered. “There was no sign of her. There was nothing saying that she had to remain on Mars forever. Maybe she chose another planet as home.”
“But how can we ever know what happened now? How can I ever see my mother again? Setsuko, I miss her so much! I never thought I needed her once I came into my powers, but I see now that I needed her more than I ever thought possible. We have to find her and we have to convince the queen to un-exile her.”
“All of the Star Senshi are looking as we speak. Ailan-san called an end to all Council meetings until further notice, to the consternation of the Queen, and ordered even the Asteroid Senshi to begin combing the Solar System for a trace of your birth mother. We will find her.”
She opened her golden eyes in a rough bed, a blanket covering her aching form, sunlight filling the room, long red hair shimmering down to the floor in clean, neat waves they had not known for weeks. She stared into the darkness, wondering what was going on, touching her eyes to verify that they were open. “The fox took my vision,” she whispered. “That was the price.”
A creaking announced the arrival of a visitor, and Rei turned, amazed to find that she could see a fuzzy line around a human shape, pale colors dancing across the surface. She could sense the woman’s innate goodness, and she knew for a fact that she was seeing auras, a legendary power of the fox goddess that imbued the kitsume with power. The aura sat in a chair beside the bed and tilted its head. “Are you finally awake, stranger?”
“Stranger? Is my face so different?”
“Different from what? Oh, I see. You are still suffering from the fever. The healer had quite a time with you, Stranger. You almost didn’t make it.”
In the back of her mind, Rei heard the whispered words of the vixen that had so changed her eyes. I have given you the power to see auras, but it is not a blessing. It is not easy to know the thoughts and plots of those around you. Evil comes in many shades. In return you have been granted another form, that of a woman that no one will recognize, except for the very powerful. Avoid the palace and you will be fine. I left your hair red, though, because I happen to like that color. . In her mind, Rei laughed.
“Thank you for saving me. What is your name?”
“Chanoyu Ariko. Do you have a name?”
“I . . . it’s . . . Kanda Eri. I’m from outside Crystal Tokyo.” [AN: Kanda Eri is one of the actresses who portrayed Sailor Mars in SeraMyu, musicals Kaguya Shima to TnMK]
“Ah. Maybe you were caught up in that explosion or whatever. We hear that a lot of people died. The queen personally visited every one of their families.” Rei nodded and swallowed the lump forming in her throat. “I’m glad you survived.”
“It was all thanks to you,” Rei managed, slowly building up a new persona to match her new look. “I . . . I don’t want to stay overly long and burden you, but I think my eyes were damaged and I’m not sure if I can find my way by myself. Likely there is nothing left of my home. Also . . .” She trailed off, wondering if she should really tell a stranger of her condition.
“What? Please, Eri-san, do not think of yourself as a burden. It has been our pleasure to keep you and nurse you this last month. What else do you want to tell me?”
“I . . . I’m pregnant, Ariko-san.”
“I guessed as much. I told the healer to only use the best herbs on you since I thought you might be. When is the baby due?”
“How long has it been since the tragedy?”
“Four months, I believe. Almost to the day.”
“Then I have five months to go. I conceived on the night before the explosion. I knew the instant a life was born inside of me.”
“A psychic,” Ariko whispered. “You’re one of those fortune-tellers. You can see the future before we even begin on the path. Eri-san, you would be of great use to this tiny fishing village on the Bay side of Tokyo. We have had such horrid luck lately, and we think we upset the kami unknowingly. An ancient shrine stands at the edge of town, and we leave offerings, but nothing happens.”
I know what you are thinking, Rei. No, Ares will not be able to distinguish your aura if you pray at the shrine. If he appears before you, my spell may crack, but I think you can pray to the kami and save this village.
“I believe I can help you, Ariko-san. I was a miko in my village, and I will exchange my gift for the kindness you have shown me.”
“A miko? We thought there were none left. Such an ancient art and so neglected. Please, Eri-san, teach our daughters the art of the shrine maiden so that we might protect our village and our many neighbors even after you are gone.”
“Of course I will.”
Chapter Four: To Forgive
She had been sitting by the window for hours, pink-haired daughter asleep in her arms, staring at nothing, alone as she rarely was. Endymion slowly entered the room, his boots ringing on the marble, cape whispering along the smooth surface. He stopped just behind his wife and daughter, reaching out to place a hand on Serenity’s shoulder. “My love? What’s wrong?”
“I’m just thinking, Endymion. Chibiusa came in here to cheer me up and fell asleep. I don’t know what’s the matter with me, Mamo-chan. I’ve never felt so melancholy . . . it’s like a part of me is missing. I have felt a little like this since Haruka-san and Michiru-san vanished, but never this bad. Maybe it’s because Minako-chan hasn’t been out of her room in so long . . . three months, maybe. Ailan and Setsuna have been here for weeks, Mako-chan and Ami-chan have been moping around their wing of the castle since they returned, and there hasn’t been a Council meeting in five months. My kingdom is falling apart, and I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“That’s not all, Usako. That’s not all that’s bothering you.” Endymion reached down and took Chibiusa, carrying the tiny pink-haired bundle toward her bedroom, Serenity following him. After the girl was tucked in for her nap and her flock of ladies-in-waiting was attending on her, Endymion led his wife to their bedroom, closing the silver- and gold-engraved doors and stopping in front of the glass doors that led to their balcony, pulling the silky white drapes closed. Serenity watched him silently, hands clasped sedately in front of her, white dress pooling on the soft carpet.
“What do you want, Endymion?”
“Usako, the problem isn’t Minako, Ailan, Setsuna, Makoto, or Ami. It’s Rei.”
Serenity straightened, blue eyes hard and cold. “What about her?”
Endymion sensed the change in his wife’s mood, and he turned, stormy blue eyes sad. “Usako, you know what I mean. For more than seven hundred years Rei has been your best friend, always by your side, closer than sisters, supporting you through your pregnancy with Chibiusa when you weren’t really sure what to do. She knew. She would never hurt you, she has been Chibiusa’s greatest protector, even more so than the Asteroid Senshi who seem to have adopted the girl as their charge, and I still can’t understand why she did what she did. And, deep down, neither can you.”
“I don’t need to understand, Endymion. She killed hundreds of people without thinking, her heart cold after so many years of fighting. I can not endanger my people by letting her stay. No matter what I want, she cannot stay.”
Endymion crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t believe you. What’s really on your mind, Usako? Please don’t lie to me.”
Serenity sighed and sat on the edge of her bed, folding her hands calmly in her lap as her husband joined her on the white satin sheets. “I just . . . Mamo-chan, you remember how Rei-chan and I were when we all first met. We were always at each other’s throats but she protected me in battle when I wasn’t strong enough or fast enough . . .”
“And you protected her, too. There was one time in particular when you jumped in front of a wounded Mars to protect her from poisoned spikes she could never hope to avoid.”
“I almost died, Mamo-chan, but to this day I would have done no less. Mamo-chan, she is my sister, and I love her so much, but I just sat in judgment over her and watched her cry and listened to her plead and ignored her! I exiled her without a second thought and now part of my soul is gone, my sister is as good as dead—may well be dead—and I don’t know how to make it better! I miss her and I can’t let her come back!” Usagi burst into tears, falling into Mamoru’s arms, letting him sooth her until she ran out of tears.
“I know, Usako. And now your Senshi team is shattered, the group that has survived for so many hundreds of years is falling apart, and even Haruka-san and Michiru-san are no longer here for you to lean on. I wish I could help you, Usako, but until you forgive Rei and rebuild your Senshi team, nothing will help.”
“I can’t let her back . . .”
“Forgive her, Usako, in your heart and in truth. She loves you like a sister and you owe her that much. Once you open your heart again, you can bring Minako out of her shell, Ami and Makoto will return to your side, your mothers will fall in behind them, and the Council of the Star Senshi will resume normal operations. Exiling Rei did nothing but fracture the court, and now you must complete the process and heal the fractures.”
“I can’t, Mamo-chan. I don’t know where to start.”
“Well, I hear that there’s a fortune-teller in Akaneyama who has become very well-known in just a few weeks. People travel from all over our kingdom to hear her speak, to learn her prayers, to receive her blessing. We should try to arrange for all of the Senshi to go to her. She might be able to help.”
“I’ll talk to Minako.”
Chieko and Chiyoko held their staffs in defensive positions, dark blue eyes locked with purple gray, neither moving. Suddenly, they moved, attacking and parrying so fast that their sisters couldn’t keep up. Matsurika tossed a ball across the room to Hibana, four pairs of eyes watching as the youngest Hino-Aino daughters easily avoided the ball, never faltering in their match, so perfectly trained that neither could be hit. Hibana tossed the fist-sized ball to Mika, adding another as Mika passed both to Koyama. Soon, a dozen balls were flying across the room, narrowly missing the pair of combatants, drawing their mother’s attention. Minako slowly stood, taking a pair of short sticks, holding them both behind her back as she approached the group.
A second later, without a warning, a blur of gold motion knocked all of the balls into the cushions of the couch, separating the combatants and forcing them to fight even more fiercely. Chieko fell back first, landing on the carpet at Koyama’s feet, staff falling against the wall on the other side of the room. A flash of black and gold in the center of the room turned into a blur, both women moving so fast that the others were shocked. Moments later, it was all over, Chiyoko sprawled on the floor at her mother’s booted feet, Minako standing with one short staff touching her daughter’s neck and the other held crossed behind her back. She was glowing gold, her eyes fierce twin stars, all of her senshi power flowing around and through her, dress having changed to her fuku.
Minako suddenly relaxed, power fading, tossing her staffs across the room. “Sorry, Mika. I’m alright. Chieko, Chiyoko?”
“We’re fine,” the girls replied, standing. “What got into you?”
“I’m not sure, Chiyoko. I used to fight all the time. Until recently, Rei and I would spar on a regular basis, to keep our skills sharp. I could never beat her. Everything you know, you learned from her, you inherited from her.” Sighing, Sailor Star Venus turned, letting her transformation fade as she headed back to her window.
“Don’t go just yet.” Minako’s daughters squealed in delight as a very familiar purple-haired Senshi entered the room, her emerald-eyes wife just behind her. Rikaze, Asako, Kumiko, Aya, Yuki, and Setsuna followed Hotaru and fire-haired Shioko into the room, everyone pulling back as the youngest of the Planet Senshi faced the leader of the Inner Senshi. “Why are you hiding in here?”
“There’s nothing for me out there.”
“That’s a feeble excuse. You’re afraid of what your fellow senshi will think of you for exiling your wife.”
“That’s not true! I just have no reason to go out there!”
“Minako-chan, you miss Rei. There’s no denying it. You love her with all your heart, she is your soulmate and the mother of your children, and you pushed her away without a second thought the instant she made a mistake. You never let her explain herself!”
“There was no excuse! She almost destroyed all of Crystal Tokyo in her arrogance! There is no forgiveness!” Minako’s fists were clenched by her sides, tears in her eyes, her rage and self-hatred forming a dark golden cloud around her slender form.
“I almost destroyed the whole world! Twice! By choice! And as Mistress Nine I almost destroyed this entire galaxy! Do you hate me?”
“Then why do you hate her? Do you think she did it on purpose?”
“That’s not the point! She killed all those people for nothing! You were trying to save everyone when you almost destroyed everything!”
“How do you know she didn’t have a reason?!”
“What reason could she have had?!”
“The same one we all had! Saving the world! Did you even ask her? Did you give her a chance to explain anything?!”
Minako shook her head, falling to her knees, unable to speak through the sobs. Mika fell down beside her mother and held her, sad eyes turned up to Hotaru. “You didn’t have to be so cruel.”
“In the past I would have agreed with you, Mika, but I don’t know what has happened to the Senshi. I can’t stand by and let Rei’s mistake destroy this kingdom. Minako, you must follow me out of this room and learn to forgive. You want to forgive her, I know you love her, and even if you never see her again you don’t want her to die thinking you hate her.” Hotaru held out her hand.
Minako slowly reached up and took the younger Senshi’s hand, letting Hotaru draw her to her feet. “I don’t want to never see her again,” she whispered.
Jupiter and Mercury sat beside each other at the Senshi table, a chair between them and Minako, another one between them and Hotaru on the other side. Setsuna and Ailan flanked their daughter, the small group staring at each other, waiting for someone to begin. Serenity cleared her throat, catching everyone’s attention.
“I suppose I should start. We all know why we’re here. Eight months ago, one of us did the unthinkable, killed hundreds of our citizens, but we, in our rage, never asked her what really happened. We don’t even know if she’s alive or dead.”
“She’s not dead,” Minako whispered, head hung. “I would know if she was dead.”
“But we cannot find her. She was the one who could see other things, other people. We can’t find her without that power.”
“We won’t give up, just because of that,” Ami whispered. “We will search the entire Solar System logically, and we will find her.”
“Then we will bring her here and ask her what really happened. And maybe we can let her come back. Maybe she had a reason.”
Setsuna smiled and glanced at her wife. Finally the younger Senshi were being sensible.
“She . . . she might not come back, Mako-chan. What if she blames herself so much that she doesn’t feel that she can be a Senshi? What if she truly was at fault?”
Usagi reached across the table and covered Minako’s hand with hers. “Maybe I was wrong, Minako-chan. What have we become? I exiled my best friend, my loyal senshi, and I don’t care what happened. When we find her, I will invite her back.”
Chapter Five: Akaneyama
The red-haired woman looked up, sightless golden eyes focusing on Ariko’s aura floating into the shrine, her love and goodness coloring the room in purples and golds. Eri had possessed the Sight for so many months that she no longer had to ask the kitsune to help her translate what she saw. Wincing from the woman’s light, Eri covered her face.
“Gomen, Eri-san.” Ariko paused, her aura fading to a calmer version of its previous self. “Better?”
“Hai. Arigatou. Why have you come today? I thought your mother was returning to Akaneyama from helping the people in Crystal Tokyo rebuild and you would be busy.”
“My mother wants more than anything to see you. She is sick and the doctors can find no reason for it. She heard of the miko with the fox-sight, and she desperately wants your help. I try not to ask anything of you, Eri-san, since I know that you feel like you owe my family for saving you, but if you can heal my mother . . .”
Eri smiled and stood—no easy feat these days—reaching blindly for Ariko’s hand. “I will see your mother, Ariko-san. You have but to ask.” As she followed the younger woman into the main room of the shrine, a dull grey flame flickering in the corner of her perception, Eri noticed something new in Ariko’s aura. Pausing, she pulled the girl closer, staring at her.
“Eri-san? What is it?”
“I hope your husband has finished that house, Ariko-san, for soon there will be a new member of the Chanoyu family.”
Eri watched the colors dance through Ariko’s aura, closing her eyes as the intense flickering brought on a headache she was all too used to. “A . . . a baby, Eri-san? Are you sure?”
“I am never wrong, Ariko-san. She is but a week old inside you, and she will be strong. As I have been training you these past four, almost five months, you must train her in the way of the kami. She must be the next miko to protect this village of Akaneyama. She must be my successor.”
Ariko seemed to move, Eri guessing that she had moved her hand to rest on her belly, and she suddenly wondered what the woman looked like. She had smooth skin, Eri knew that, and she was gentle and kind. She imagined that the child had eyes as blue as the sea and as clear as the sky. Her hair would be a deep brooding black, highlighted in dark blue, probably short to keep it from interfering with her fishing and chores. But she was beautiful, to be sure. Someone with such a gentle heart could not wear an ugly body.
“Ariko-san, what color are your eyes?”
“Such a sudden question, Eri-san?”
“I have never seen them. What color are your eyes?”
“Blue, Eri-san. They turn aqua sometimes, so my husband and father tell me, mostly when I’m angry or upset. Your eyes change color, too, you know.”
“When you’re happy they become purple. But only for a little while. You are not happy very much, Eri-san.”
“I am doomed to never know true joy again,” Eri whispered. “The fox-sight is not the easiest of gifts to bear. What color is your hair?”
“I was just thinking about it, and I want to know.”
“Dark blue, almost black.”
“Can I feel it?”
Ariko’s aura filled with more orange as her confusion grew, but she took Eri’s hand and placed it on her head. Eri ran her fingers through the short curls, amazed that a woman from a fishing village could take such good care of her hair. “It’s oil from one of the fish we catch commonly,” Ariko whispered, sensing the direction of Eri’s thoughts. “All of the women here use it. We want our hair to be as beautiful and silky as the queen’s and the senshi’s.”
“The senshi,” Eri murmured. “Which one do you like the best? Which Planet Senshi?”
“The Lady Mars, of course.”
“Mars?” Eri stepped back, shocked, the fire burning in the center of the room flaring up, traces of red entering its aura.
“Mochiron. Everyone in this village admires her. When my great-great-great-great-grandfather and his wife formed this village so long ago, they sat under the stars the night after they finally finished their house and stared at the mountains. It was early in the spring, just before the first planting season, and they were fearful that the food they brought from Haiirocha would not last them until the harvest, so they prayed to the kami and to the Senshi high in the palace. And the story says that, as they watched, the planet Mars in its fiery glory shone from the top of the sky, its light falling on a lone figure on the top of this hill, standing where that fire is. She was a senshi, fiery red, her hair streaming in the wind, and she called out to the kami, naming the one that claimed this mountain, and sent a column of fire into the heavens. An instant later, she was gone, but there was a scorch mark on the ground where she had been standing. My ancestors began at that instant to erect a shrine, working for a full week without a break for planting, eating what they had brought, until this shrine was finished. The night they finished it, he lit a fire in the center and prayed to the senshi and the kami of this area, asking for a blessing, praying that his new home would prosper.”
“The next day, he returned to Haiirocha, leaving his wife to tend to fire, and told everyone what he had seen. Many families followed him here, and they found that something had happened to the shrine while he was gone. During the day, it had turned red in the sun, flames of gold running up the side, the symbol of Mars carved above the door. It is not paint, for the red and gold have never faded, and until a few years ago, we brought offerings here and carried our newborns up the hill to be blessed. When the newcomers asked my ancestor the name of the town, he said ‘The only name it needs is Akaneyama, for she turned the mountains crimson with her power. We are the town blessed by the Senshi of Mars. She will always protect us. And, if this village ever finds itself in dire need, all we must do is pray to Lady Mars and she will save us.”
“Why did you stop the offerings?” Eri felt a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes. An entire village had worshipped her for seven generations, and she had never known. She suddenly wished that she could see the shrine, the symbol of her planet. She reached out and silenced the fire, letting the red fade as Ariko answered.
“Our priest died, no children, no nephews to continue in service to the kami. I was ashamed to tell you when you first arrived that none of the children in the village would follow in service to the priest, so the shrine fell into disuse. In the ancient days, young women served with the priests, but none of us knew the ceremonies. It must be fate that you came when you did, Eri-san. A trained miko. You have saved our village.”
“Not yet, Ariko-san. I still have not confronted the dark demon that casts bad luck upon you, called the kami back to her ancient home. The darkness still lingers, waiting. Sometimes I can see its presence, but it will not come out to me. Thank you for telling me about this shrine, but I think you are all fools to worship the woman who destroyed half of Crystal Tokyo.” Could it be that demon? She hoped not.
“Sailor Mars did not mean to destroy anything. We all know that, and we forgive her even if the queen cannot.” Ariko placed a hand on Eri’s arm, the warmth shocking the older woman. “Even without power I can see your pain, Eri. Lady Mars killed your family, separated you from your children and friends, and destroyed your home. You are a wanderer and pregnant, and you blame your current condition on her.”
“Of course I do! I cannot forgive her for what she did! She killed hundreds of people, including children who never had a chance at life, for nothing! She murdered hundreds on purpose, without thought!”
“You do not know that she did not have a reason!” Ariko’s aura was glowing red in fury, an undertone of hurt and pride coloring the girl. “You do not know her motives! Maybe she was trying to save us all! She is the noblest, kindest, most controlled and loving woman on the planet second maybe to the queen! She would never kill without a reason, would never feel no remorse, would never suffer every one of those deaths for the rest of her life! We suffer because we know she is in pain!”
“She deserves to be in pain! She brought it all upon herself! She killed and she was exiled! The queen should have killed her for her crimes!”
“She suffers more than death every day she lives alone! She has been separated from her wife and daughters, her friends from Ancient Earth, the queen she has and would always protect with her very life! That is the greatest punishment, being unable to protect the ones she loves, the queen, the princess!”
And something inside Eri finally snapped. “Maybe she took that protection one step too FAR! Maybe she decided that her way was the only way, the best way, and that choice destroyed half the city! How dare she destroy her home! She hurt the queen more than any youma ever could, and she did it in the name of protection alone! How can that be right?! How can one life outweigh so many hundreds?! There is no excuse! And she left without telling her wife that she was pregnant! That girl will never grow up with her mother, she is destined to live the life of a powerless peasant until the day her heritage is revealed, and her birth mother will be long dead by then! Her arrogance, her stupidity, her blind choice, condemned her daughter and her wife to a life without her! Tell me now that she is a good woman!”
Ariko stared at the sobbing miko, her aura turning pure white in shock. “Kami-sama,” she breathed. “Kami-sama! Kanda Eri . . . you’re her! You’re Hino Rei! You’re Sailor Mars, Lady of the Court!”
“No, I’m not,” Eri whispered, knowing that is was useless as Ariko dropped to her knees.
“Of course you are! You are the miko she was in Ancient Earth, before the Queen rose to the throne. You carry her pain, you know everything that happened, though you originally claimed to remember nothing! You know that she lost her wife and daughters in the exile when we only knew that she had been sent away. We did not know that the separation included her family.”
“I guessed . . .”
“And the child! You knew the instant you conceived! The Senshi always knew, so the stories say. And you’ve said many times that you carry a girl! No one else, not even . . .” and it dawned on her, pouring blue sadness into Ariko’s aura; “ . . . Eri-san, not even the Lady Venus, Aino Minako, knows about the child. Pregnant, you were exiled. You must have found the ancient kitsunezuishou and used it to change your appearance, taking the burden of fox-sight upon yourself just so your daughter could be born near the palace, so she could have a good life, no matter what happened to you.”
“You know the legend of the kitsume?”
“Of course.” Ariko shot to her feet, wrapping her arms around Rei’s waist, tears soaking her miko robes. “Please, Hino-sama, do not kill yourself when your daughter is born! I know that you may never stop blaming yourself, but death is not the answer.”
“Death and life are merely two possible outcomes,” Rei whispered, “neither preferred over the other. After all the pain I’ve caused in this life, I’m hoping that my death will begin to heal this land.” She sniffed, wiping her tears away, as she looked blindly at the ceiling. “But I will miss Minako most of all when I die, alone. She and I are soulmates, destined to be together for all time, and I have ruined it. There are moments when I wish that I had never realized my love for her, but I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her lips, one touch of her hand . . . than an eternity without it. I can never see her again, but I can survive on my memories.”
“Hino-sama, please . . .”
“Ariko-san, I cannot tell you why I did what I did, but know that there really is no excuse. This world is in flux while I am the Avatar of Mars, and the only way that my powers can pass on is if I die. Who knows, maybe this girl will be the next Sailor Mars.” She rubbed her belly lovingly, a rare smile gracing her lips. “You cannot tell anyone, Ariko-san. You must pretend that nothing has changed. I am not deserving of your worship and I am most certainly not deserving of your protection. I am only here until my daughter is born. Please understand.”
“I do, Hino-sama. Eri-san. But your words cannot make us stop loving you and praying for you. Most of the scrolls I bring you to sacrifice to the kami everyday are prayers for you. We want the Lady Mars back on her throne, no matter if she thinks she deserves that or not. When you think about the accident, try to remember that there are people who still follow you, no matter what.” Ariko cleared her throat and smoothed her dress, wiping the last tears off her cheeks and Rei’s. “Now, my mother will be here in just a little bit, so please be ready for her. And I promise to train my daughter to follow in your footsteps and become a great miko.”
Rei nodded and knelt by the fire she could feel but was unable to see as Ariko left the shrine. “How can an entire village worship me, even after what I’ve done?”
“Well, she’s not out here anywhere! She vanished five or six months ago and we still can’t find her! I don’t understand!”
“Calm down, Ares. This fuming isn’t doing you any good.” Aphrodite sighed, glancing at her sisters and brothers among the gods. “Let’s face it—this isn’t doing any of us any good. Eros, Urakaze; why can’t you and the Cupids find her through her soulmate?”
“We tried,” the blue-eyed Leader of the Cupid Alliance sighed. He ran a finger through his hair and glanced over at his grandfather. Eros shrugged and gestured that Urakaze should continue. “I have the entire Alliance on alert, and even the apprentices haven’t slept in days. We cannot keep this vigilance up much longer. We tried to trace Minako’s end of the soulmate bond, but it fizzles out on Earth.”
“Fizzles out?” Athena thought a moment before continuing. “That sounds suspiciously like the power of the kitsunezuishou.”
“If she was still using the kitsume, my sister, Zeus could surely have tracked its power output.”
“Not exactly, Ares. If she was actively using its powers, true, Father would know, but the kitsume does not only have the power to destroy. It has other powers.”
“I know; Rei told me as much. But the kitsune spirit inside would have to willingly give her powers to Rei for my miko to use them at all. It would not give its powers to a corrupt or evil spirit.”
“Then perhaps Rei is not corrupt or evil.”
“Hestia! After killing so many people, you believe that she could be pure! That’s impossible!”
“And yet it is more impossible for a woman who killed recklessly to so easily win the kitsune’s trust,” Athena pointed out. “It is not impossible for it to trust someone who unwittingly or unavoidably killed people. When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains—however improbable—must be the truth.”
“Then we might have been punishing Rei all this time for nothing? For a simple mistake? Athena . . .”
“We may be gods, my brother, but we are not infallible. It would be impossible for all of us to be right all of the time. All along, Aphrodite has seen innocence in the heart of your avatar, and I think that I agree with her. If Rei has the power of the kitsune, the fox-sight, then she is invisible to us. But if the line from Minako peters out on Earth, then she is there, somewhere, and we can find her.”
“I will find her,” Ares whispered. “I want to tell her . . . that I believe her. Urakaze, where does the line break?”
“As near as I can tell, on the Bay side of Crystal Tokyo, one of the fishing villages along the shore.” Urakaze brought a map of the area into existence, highlighting a few villages with a feather on the tip of one wing. “These two, Haiirocha and Akaneyama, are the most likely and the largest.”
“Akaneyama? Ares, didn’t Rei visit that mountain hundreds of years ago? I think some peasants formed a town after they saw her.”
“True, Hestia. If the power of the kitsume was to take her anywhere, it would be to a village whose inhabitants would worship her no matter what she did. I don’t know why she wants to return to Earth so badly, but I will find her and ask her.”
Chapter Six: Mars Flame Sniper
“Your sickness is caused by a dark demon, Chanoyu-san. It resents the leaders of this village because of the power of the kami its enemy, but it has not had a chance to attack for centuries. As the leader of the village, of course you are the one who is targeted.”
“What can I do, Kanda-san?” The woman’s soft green aura was poisoned by evil black, a spiritual poison that no healer could cure. Kanda Eri, the great miko of Akaneyama, certainly sent by Hino Rei, the Lady Mars, was her only hope.
“I will need the help of the entire village for this one. Tonight, when the moon is high in the sky, I will invoke the powers of Mars and the fires that blessed this village to call the demon out and destroy it, hopefully earning the favor of the kami, as well.” In her mind, Eri thought back hundreds of years to a wild dance she remembered on top of a hill not far from the palace, her lover and wife resting nearby. A kami of the fires had joined her that night, both of them leaving their mark on the land. Was that the hill she sat on now? Would that child-like kami remember her and return to the village it once guarded by her request alone?
“It is a full moon tonight, Kanda-san.”
“I did not know. I cannot see such things. If it is a full moon, what is the Queen doing tonight? There is always a party on the night of a full moon when Serenity-sama’s power is the greatest.”
“True, but there have been no parties for the last seven moons. Nine months ago, almost to the day, was the last party, the Silver Moon gala when all of the senshi gathered, coming even from the moon to dance with the queen’s court. They left in the morning, stars shooting across the dawn sky, and that afternoon half of Crystal Tokyo fell. We in the villages think that they have been busy rebuilding and have not had time for parties. My only daughter, youngest child and heir, Ariko, thinks that the royals grieve and will not dance until the Lady Mars is found.”
“Found? They exiled her, Chanoyu-san.”
“True, but Ariko thinks they miss her and want her back. Have you looked toward the palace to read its aura?”
“I cannot tell which direction the palace lies in.”
“Come, Kanda-san, and I will point it out to you.” Chanoyu Mitsuko took Rei’s arm and led the miko into the sunlight, turning her toward one particular patch of darkness. “There is the palace. We can see it except on cloudy days. Do you see it, miko?”
Rei closed her eyes and pulled the kitsune spirit out of hiding, calling on her power. “Can you reach that far, kitsune?”
Perhaps. Let me try.
As Rei watched, a tiny spot of light appeared on the horizon, a white light with rainbows inside it. The fuzzy spot cleared, revealing a lonely gray color taking up most of the white, and Rei watched as it grew bigger, closer, until she could see every one of the Senshi and Star Senshi in the palace, until she could see the aura of her own Minako. She knew instinctively the aura of her lover, her wife for eight hundred years, and she was shocked to find that Minako missed her. Minako was lonely, depressed, blaming herself for her wife’s absence. She was barely hanging on, not too far from the suicide Rei had considered for so long, and the only thing holding her together was the thought that Rei was still alive, that there was a chance they could be reunited. Rei reached out, desperate to see her lover, touch her face, hold her until the pain went away, and she froze as she realized her mistake. Minako turned, her entire being focused on the spirit watching her, a spirit she could not see but instantly identified, and she reached out, trying to pull Rei closer. Sobbing, Rei pulled free, flying back to Akaneyama, her physical body falling on a heap in the grasses that she could not see.
“They are grieving,” Rei whispered, unable to stop the flow of her own tears. “They love her, they miss her, they want her to return. But I could not see . . . I don’t know if they forgive her, Mitsuko-san. I do not know.”
“Of course they do, Eri-san! We forgive her and we know so little of the facts beyond the death count. The royals know her, have known her intimately for untold centuries since Ancient Earth, so of course they forgive her.” Mitsuko helped Eri to her feet and led her back inside, helping her sit by the fire. “I will go and tell the villagers that they must come tonight so you can banish the demon that has haunted us for so long. I am sorry that I asked you to look, Eri-san. I am sorry that I upset you.”
“Don’t be,” Rei whispered. “It was my own fault. I will see you tonight.” Closing her eyes, Eri concentrated on the flickering warmth in front of her, praying for peace, trying to still her emotions. She was only partially successful.
“Rei! REI! Don’t leave me! Come back!” Minako dashed through the corridors of the palace, her confused children behind her, bursting into the throne room. “She was here, Usagi! I could feel her!”
Serenity glanced at the nobles arranged before her throne, waving her hand to dismiss them. “Who was here, Venus?” Her use of Minako’s Senshi name calmed the blonde, reminding her to be formal for the sake of their subjects.
“I felt Mars’s presence in the palace, Serenity. She reached out and almost touched me. I tried to catch her, but I was unprepared and she was too powerful. She must be close.”
“Venus, Mars has been known to astral-project from Earth to Kinmokusei, hundreds of light years away. What makes you think that she is even in this solar system?”
“Because our bond flared into existence for just a brief moment as we touched, and I could tell that it was very short. She is hiding from us right under our noses. She must be in one of the villages on the edge of Crystal Tokyo.”
“Villages,” Serenity murmured. She turned to her husband, knowing that his thoughts mirrored hers. “Endymion, didn’t you mention a fishing village named Akaneyama? You said there was a woman there, a famous fortune-teller, a woman who blesses and teaches prayers. She sounds like a miko.”
“A miko,” Venus breathed, only Matsurika and Koyama by her side preventing her from collapsing. “Mars was a miko. She would not have forgotten her prayers. And to cleanse her soul, she would have found a shrine, a fire, a following. She must be the woman in Akaneyama, the town that sprang up where she took me for our anniversary six hundred years ago. She danced with the winds on one hill in particular, under the light of a red moon, while I watched from the next hill over. I remember that. She never knew, but I returned to that spot fifty or so years later and found a shrine engraved with the symbol of Mars. Akaneyama, the town that worships Mars, would be the safest place in the kingdom for my wife.”
“Then we will go there tonight. And we will not return until Mars is among us again.”
Ares sat on a tall hill overlooking a bustling fishing village, Aphrodite by his side. The Goddess of Love had not trusted him to be alone for a very long time. “I do not feel her presence anywhere.”
“I know. But perhaps tonight, with the full moon high in the sky, you will see her.”
Ares pointed toward the red shrine on top of the hill overlooking Akaneyama, gold flame patterns engraved on its side, the symbol of Mars above the door. “See the shrine? The peasants who formed this town built it after watching Rei dance six hundred years ago. She never knew about it.”
“She would have been shocked and probably tried to dissuade them from worshipping her. She is not the kind to expect praise.”
“True. Hopefully she will show herself tonight so we can confront the kitsune and ask her what she sees that we don’t.”
Eri looked up as villagers entered the large shrine, Ariko and Mitsuko in the lead, every aura hopeful and reverent. Freezing, Eri glanced up as Ariko, her face pale. “You told them? Ariko-san, how could you?”
“I did not tell them, Hino-sama, they knew. From watching your miracles they guessed, from your power as an aura-reader and a miko they guessed, from your kind spirit and you loner nature they guessed, from your power over the flames they guessed. But when they saw my face this morning after I left, they knew that I had seen the Lady Mars. They knew that you are she. And they love you all the more for coming to us, for saving us from the demon. We are here to help you, as Kanda Eri or Hino Rei or Lady Mars. We do not care your name, we only love and follow you. That is enough.”
The other villagers murmured their agreement with Ariko’s words, even the hundreds outside glowing with love and hope. Rei smiled and took Ariko’s hand. “Lead me into the night, then, so we can vanquish this demon once and for all.”
Rei followed Ariko to a small clearing at the base of the hill, watching as the villagers lit a fire they had prepared during the day, feeling the warmth on her face. Stepping forward, she held her hands out to the dancing flames, whispering, chanting, her words from a life she had not lived in hundreds of years. “Rin, pyou, tou, sha, kai, jin, retsu, zai, zen. Rin, pyou, tou, sha, kai, jin, retsu, zai, zen. Rin, pyou, tou, sha, kai, jin, retsu, zai, zen.” As her chant became litany, the villagers began to whisper the words with her, Mitsuko moving forward as she felt the demon writhing inside her. They never noticed the pair of gods sitting on top of the shire, joined by dozens of others as the fire grew brighter, its aura taking on a red tint. They never noticed the queen and her senshi on the edge of the crowd, dressed in dark robes and cloaks, the king behind them with the young princess in his arms.
Rei began to glow, transparent red flames dancing around her as her golden eyes glowed with the fox spirit. Suddenly, the flames around her and the ones in the fire pit exploded toward the heavens, the miko turning blind eyes toward the town’s matriarch. She raised her hand, a charm in her fingers, and her hand landed on Mitsuko’s shoulder as she cried out the words of an attack she had once used as Hino Rei and Sailor Mars to vanquish youma. “AKURYOU TAISAN!!”
Mitsuko screamed as a dark cloud emerged from her collapsed form, taking on the shape of a dark demon, its eyes a sickly yellow-green. “Why have you called me out?”
“Why else, demon? I want you gone from this village!”
“There is no one here strong enough to force me out.”
“I am strong enough.”
The demon laughed. “That I do not believe! Take me on, puny miko!”
Rei raised her hands, feeling the fire surround her, and she threw that power at the dark aura before her, concentrating all her strength to keep it from harming the villagers. She felt her daughter kick inside her, desperate to join the fight. The demon’s black magic reached back, enveloping the miko, and Rei screamed her defiance as she threw it back. “FIRE SOUL!”
Serenity laid a hand on Minako’s cloaked shoulder. “Do not interfere,” she whispered. “Let her fight this on her own. She is a Senshi, and we have the power to vanquish evil.”
“But she’s injured,” Minako whispered. She saw through Rei’s disguise, saw her beloved behind the mask of power, and she was desperate to protect her. “She’s not moving very well. Please, Usagi.”
“This is her fight. Let her be.”
The demon was thrown back by the ferocity of Rei’s attack, the miko glaring up at it with golden eyes, the orange symbol of a fox having appeared on her red cloak. “I will not back down, demon! I will defeat you!”
“Your days are past, small one! Your power is small and your friends long gone. You cannot defeat me alone. You could not before.”
“I stopped you before. I will destroy you now.” Raising her hands, Rei drew a circle in the air around her with flames, gathering her power once more. “Burning Mandala!”
Another standoff. On the hill, beside the gods, a spirit appeared, its red eyes watching the fight. “She was not so powerful when I danced with her,” the kami whispered. “She has grown in power and in wisdom.”
Ares glanced at the child-like female kami beside him. “You mean Mars? I did not know until a few minutes ago that she was the miko residing here. Are you the guardian of this village?”
“I am. Her fight with the demon woke me. I had forgotten about him. Her vigilance saved this village from being destroyed. I think I should help her fight.”
“Don’t. She’s doing just fine by herself. Besides, the kitsune is inside her.”
“I can feel her presence. I hope her power is enough. Alone, Rei was not powerful enough. She almost died the last time she faced this demon. Perhaps this time she will be the winner.”
The villagers had pulled back during the fight, but the demon no longer frightened them. Ariko stepped forward as Rei gathered her strength for one last assault, the woman’s blue eyes a fierce aqua to match her fury. “You will not destroy Akaneyama! This is our home, and we will stand beside the woman who blessed this place and called the kami forth to guard us! I am not afraid of you!”
Mitsuko stood up, glaring at the demon that had infected her soul for months. “I am not afraid of you.”
One-by-one, the villagers stood, glaring at the demon, the strength of their auras joining the fire around Rei. Smiling, she glanced up at the demon with glowing golden eyes, feeling the kitsune inside her prepared to pounce. “One last time, demon.” Crouching on one knee, Rei raised a red bow, pulling her hand back to form a glowing arrow. The kitsune joined its power with the arrow, channeling the strength of the village into Rei’s last attack. “Mars . . . Flame . . . SNIPER!!!”
Chapter Seven: Akane
The demon screamed as the arrow entered its black form, burning it from the inside, the fire in the center of the clearing reaching up to consume the blackness. With one last scream, it vanished, gone from the mortal plane forever.
Rei collapsed, staring at her gloved hands, realizing that she had somehow transformed into Sailor Star Mars during the last attack, wearing her fuku under her red cloak. It was a transformation she had been unable to summon for nine months. She looked up as a small spirit with glowing red eyes landed beside her, the child smiling. “I remember you, Rei. I remember dancing with you so long ago. Thank you for protecting this village.”
“I will gladly hand the guardianship back to you,” Rei whispered, smiling. “These are good people; take care of them.”
“Always.” The kami jumped into the air and rode the smoke of the dying fire to the shrine, vanishing inside.
Rei slowly stood, staring at the shrine, at the god standing there. “Ares? I have a stone to return to you.” She held her hand out, pouring the power of the kitsunezuishou into her palm, watching as the golden-orange fox aura formed a crystal. Slowly, as the last of the kitsume left her, the auras around her faded and the world went dark. She was truly blind. “Thank you for lending her to me. She was a great help.”
“I see that.” Ares took the stone from the senshi. “I also see that you were able to find your transformation again.”
“It was your self-hatred that lost it.”
Rei nodded as she detransformed. “I see. Why did you come, Ares?”
“To bring a message from Olympus. The gods forgive you. We do not blame you for what happened, little Senshi.”
Rei covered her mouth with her hand, tears streaming down her face, relief flowing through her like cool water through a dry riverbed after the first rains of spring. “You . . . kami-sama. You forgive me? After what I did?”
“The kitsune and the kami of this hill forgive you. They do not believe that your actions were evil or malicious. And we believe them. I hope to see you in your senshi fuku again soon.” With that, he vanished, Rei feeling his presence leave the village. She turned blindly, searching for Ariko, her disguise gone, her eyes purple once more.
“I’m here, Rei-san. You’ve completely lost your sight, haven’t you?”
“A small price to pay for what I did and for the safety of your village. Take me back to the shrine, Ariko-san. I will stay a little longer, at least.”
Minako clenched her hands into fists as Rei and two of the villagers headed for the shrine, Serenity’s hand on her arm preventing her from moving. “Please, Usagi, let me follow her. She’s so close . . . don’t make me lose her now.”
“Let her rest, Minako. We can come back tomorrow. We only came to see if it was her. We have our answer, and there is no reason to worry her more now.”
“She’ll leave, Usagi! She’s finished what she came here to do, and now she’ll leave.”
“She’s blind, Minako. She’s not going anywhere.” The conversation ended, Serenity turned and walked away, three unhappy senshi behind her, Setsuna and Ailan hesitating before they also left. The group slowly made its way back to the palace, Minako lagging behind, casting her eyes back toward the hill where she could sense her wife. Her entire being was screaming for her to return, but she could not. She had to follow her queen.
The full moon, covered by clouds all night, suddenly broke free of its blanket, casting its brilliant light upon the Earth. The senshi paused and looked up, smiling at the light. Minako suddenly doubled over in pain, gasping for breath as red-hot agony filled her before slowly fading. “Minako?”
The Senshi of Venus looked up, blue eyes pained, turning toward Akaneyama. “Rei,” she whispered. “She wasn’t hurt at all, Usagi. She was pregnant.”
“Pregnant?!” Only Setsuna was silent, sighing when the younger Senshi turned to face her. “You knew,” Ami whispered, incredulous. “How could you know?”
“When I went to see Rei, I noticed. She did not want you to know until after she had been born, until after Rei was dead. When I went to her, she told me that she wished Serenity had killed her, that she wished the child had been transferred to you, Minako, so that she could die for her crimes. I slapped her to bring her back to her senses, and I was surprised that, even then, as angry as she was, as close to the edge as she was, Rei did not attack me. She did not lose control. She is so powerful and so careful . . . watching her calm herself even after I attacked her convinced me that the explosion was no accident, was not a product of a careless Senshi. Back then, no one would listen to me. Now I suppose you will. Minako, your wife is giving birth. What are you going to do?”
Minako’s blue eyes narrowed as orange light surrounded her, fading to reveal her Sailor fuku. “What do you think? I’m going to do what I should have done nine months ago. I’m going to her, no matter what you say.” With that, Sailor Venus was gone, leaping back toward Akaneyama as fast as she could. Seconds later, Sailors Mercury, Jupiter, Pluto, Saturn, and Moonlight followed, Endymion transforming into the Tuxedo Kamen guise he had not worn in a very long time. Serenity smiled and transformed into Eternal Sailor Moon, taking her daughter as the pair followed, ready for the separation of the Senshi to end once and for all.
“Rei-san!” Rei gasped as another contraction ripped through her, falling blindly onto her bed. Ariko was by her side, calling other women from the village and a midwife. “We’re here; we’ll help you.” Ariko suddenly moved from Rei’s side, her shock evident to the miko. “My Lady,” the woman whispered.
“Leave us,” a painfully familiar voice ordered, love and pain in its gentle tones. Rei shrunk away from the voice as Ariko moved closer, desperate to protect the Senshi of Mars.
“She needs a midwife, Lady. Oh!”
“We’ll manage. You can see her when this is all over.”
“Yes, lady.” Ariko vanished, Rei shrinking away from her wife.
“Why are you here?”
“I felt your pain, Rei. I came as soon as I could. We’ve been looking for you for quite a while. The girls and I have missed you dreadfully.”
“You kicked me out. Why would you miss me?”
“We all missed you, Rei-chan,” a softer voice murmured from the doorway. Rei pushed herself onto her elbows, shocked. “We forgive you, Rei. I forgive you, no matter what happened.”
“I killed your people, Usagi-chan.”
“I do not believe that you did it on purpose. None of us do.”
“Are you all here?”
“Of course we are,” Hotaru whispered.
Minako placed her hand on Rei’s forehead as another contraction hit, wincing at her wife’s pain. “You can feel that? I thought our link was severed.”
“Our link could never be severed, koishii. It was just buried for a time.”
Rei jerked away, blind eyes searching for anything, any light or sign of life in the room. “How can you even stand to touch me, Minako? After what I did . . . how can you stand to be near me? How can you like me at all? I’m a monster.”
“You’re no monster, Rei. Sometimes we fight, but it never matters. Maybe, because of what happened, I don’t like you very much right now, but I do love you. I love only you, my wife, my soulmate. And, at this moment, there is only one thing about you that upsets me. How in the world did you manage to get pregnant without me knowing?”
Rei couldn’t help but smile at the memory. “I was practicing my powers on the night before . . . It happened. I wanted to see how little magic it would take for us to conceive. I didn’t think it would be me, and I didn’t have the heart to wake you after our . . . activities. I was going to tell you the next morning, but I never got a chance.”
“And that’s my fault. I’m sorry I had you exiled, Rei.”
“And I’m sorry that I sent you away without even giving you the benefit of a Council meeting. You deserve better than that. As queen, I should have known better.”
“Nothing was the same without you,” Makoto whispered, her usually sharp, commanding voice calm and gentle. “We can’t function without you, Mars. Rei. Without our friend and fellow Senshi, we are lost.”
“How? I don’t understand. How can you still want me? I destroyed half of your city, and I know that the rebuilding is not yet complete. The scars of my actions may never fully be healed. How can you have it in your hearts to forgive me?”
“Maybe you did kill a lot of people,” Minako whispered, sensing her fellows moving back. “And maybe you are killing yourself with grief. But you are forgetting one thing, koishii. I’m in love with you, and love is blind. I cannot see death, only the life you give me by your very presence. I cannot see the darkness you live in, only the light you bring to my life. I cannot live without you, Rei. Please don’t make me.” She leaned over the laboring woman, her golden hair caressing Rei’s cheek, and pressed her lips to the miko’s.
Rei gasped as the darkness surrounding her shattered, the world exploding into existence around her. She blinked from the light, the color, the people that she had been unable to see for so long. She stared up at Minako’s beloved face as her body contracted again, forcing her daughter closer to the world. “I can see again,” she whispered. “You brought me out of the darkness, Minako.”
“I always will.”
Usagi stepped forward as another contraction shook Rei’s frame, placing a hand on the miko’s belly and taking away her pain. “You chose a good night to give birth,” the queen whispered. “Tonight my power is the greatest.”
“Good, because this girl isn’t waiting much longer.” Clenching her fingers around her wife’s hand, Rei arched her back and rose off the bed as Ami caught her tiny daughter, quickly cleaning the child, an expert midwife after so many Senshi births. The miko pulled herself up, smiling at her child. “Red hair,” she whispered. “We haven’t had one with such dark red hair before.” Ami handed Rei her child, Minako reaching over and caressing the soft cheek, both women gasping as the newborn opened her eyes. “Gold,” Rei breathed. “My eyes were gold when I held the power of the kitsunezuishou.”
“In that case, Rei, I believe she looks like you.”
“I was hoping she would look like you, Minako.”
“Well then, you had better ask the next time you want a daughter, and maybe she will.” Minako glared at her wife for a moment before both women smiled, Venus kissing her wife’s head. “Please don’t leave me again.”
“I don’t deserve to come back.”
“Don’t come for your sake, my love; come for hers. What should we name her?”
“Name her after this town, Minako, where I vanquished that demon at last. Let’s name her Akane.”
“Baby?” Endymion, having waited patiently in the corner during the birth, smiled at his daughter, patting the pink-haired girl on the head.
“Yes, Small Lady. A baby. Rei-san and Minako-san had a baby.”
“Why did you bring her here?” Rei scooted back from the edge of the bed, frightened eyes locked on the tiny princess. “Don’t you know how dangerous that was? She shouldn’t be allowed out of the palace! She could be hurt, or killed!”
“Rei-chan, my daughter is safe. All of us are here.”
“But the demon was here! Don’t you know? He wanted to kill her! That’s why he came to Crystal Tokyo! He wants to kill your daughter! If he had known you were here, watching the fight, if he had known that she was here, away from the protection of the palace, he would have killed her and there would have been nothing that I could have done! Don’t you understand how dangerous that was?”
“When did he try to kill her? I think I would have known.”
Rei looked away. “You didn’t notice.”
“When did he try to kill her?” Serenity’s voice was hard and commanding. “Tell me, Mars. Tell me when that demon got close to my daughter.”
“Nine months ago,” Rei whispered, trying to stop her tears. “Nine months ago I took Chibiusa for a walk through a scenic part of Tokyo. When we stopped beside the river to watch the fish, I felt a dark presence in the people around me. I was so weak, to not have noticed it as we entered the area. The demon had infected a hundred people, was drawing his strength from the citizens around me. I had to protect her, Usagi. She’ll save us all one day, but she has no power of her own. He would have killed her if I had let him continue to draw strength from those humans.” The room had gone deadly silent, only Rei’s voice moving the air. She did not look up into Usagi’s shocked blue eyes, did not see her wife cry because of her pain, did not see the other Senshi swallow and nod, knowing that she had only been left with one choice. “On that day, I was not strong enough. On that day, I could not chase him from a hundred innocent souls. He was too big, too powerful, and I was just one Senshi. And if I had left the other six or so hundred nearby alive, he could have jumped bodies. There was no one else, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I had to fight. I knew that in a battle between me and the demon, I would almost certainly win, but Chibiusa . . . she would have been the only casualty. I made the only choice I could to save your daughter.”
“You killed all those people, those innocent people . . . because of the demon. You had to kill his hosts to save the world.”
“It isn’t a fair balance, Mercury. It isn’t numbers or logic. I had a split second to decide if her life outweighed the lives of seven hundred people. It shouldn’t have! One life should never be more important than so many! If I could have traded my life for theirs, I would have, but that was not one of my options. I never wanted to walk that path . . . but I had to. Nine hundred years ago, Serenity, you chose to sacrifice Earth to Chaos so that you could rebuild it when we emerged from our century-long sleep. I remember being so glad that I did not have to make that decision. I was glad that you, Setsuna, and Ailan bore that burden. But, on that day nine months ago, when faced with the same choice, the same split path, I took the fork that led me to exile. In the end, I sacrificed my happiness for Chibiusa. And, given the same choice, I would do it all again.”
“Rei-chan saved me,” Chibiusa whispered, slipping free of her father’s stunned arms. The little princess jumped onto Rei’s bed and hugged the miko, careful of Akane. “Thank-you, Rei-chan.”
“Why did you not tell us, Rei?”
“Because she could not forgive herself for so many dead, people that you could have cleansed without endangering Small Lady,” Minako whispered, resting her head on top of Rei’s. “She could not forgive herself for not being strong enough.”
“Not strong enough?” Serenity reached out and cupped Rei’s chin, forcing the miko to look at her. “Rei, very few people could have made your choice. Fewer still could have admitted to themselves that they were not strong enough, few could have accepted such a cruel fate for such a hard choice. By making that choice, sacrificing seven hundred for my daughter, destroying lives in the present to preserve the past and the future, I think you are the strongest of us all. I think, in my arrogance, I never imagined that one of my Senshi could carry such a burden so selflessly. I am so proud of you, Rei.”
“I am proud of you,” Jupiter whispered. “I know that I would have tried to fight the demon, and I would have lost. You are a stronger woman than I.”
“For all of my logic and brains, I would never have come to the conclusion you reached. I think you are definitely stronger and wiser than I. Rei, I am proud of you.”
Setsuna bowed, the goddess smiling. “I knew that you had such strength, Rei, though it took you so long to see it. I am proud of you, and I know that my family will be, as well, when I tell them the full story.”
“And the Star Senshi Council will certainly hear of this. They will be as proud of you as I and my daughter, and we will spread tale of your strength, love, courage, and selfless bravery to every corner of this galaxy.” Ailan bowed, moving to her wife’s side.
Endymion stood, falling to one knee as he had often done to Serenity, tossing a single red rose on Rei’s bed. “I cannot thank you enough for saving Chibiusa. She and Serenity are the world to me, and I am proud of you for acting as you did. Truly, you are a great Senshi and an even greater friend.”
Hotaru stepped forward, placing her free hand on Rei’s cheek. “I know the choice you made, Rei, because the path has lain before me too many times to count. Your choice saved the world, and none of us could hope for a better outcome. I’m proud of you.”
Minako was last, resting her cheek on Rei’s. “I do not have the words, my love. I don’t know how to tell you how proud I am. I should have been there for you. Except for the moment when I heard about the accident, I always believed that you must have had some higher reason. But it was that moment of uncertainty when I said I never wanted to see you again. That moment of insanity caused us both so much pain over these last few months. I’m sorry, koishii. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” Rei whispered. “Thank you, min’na. I never thought you would be proud of me. I thought the most that would happen would be that you would let me come back, but you would never trust me again. I think . . . I think I believe you. I think I believe that I made the right choice. Now that the demon is dead, all of those casualties in Crystal Tokyo are avenged.”
“I think we should build a memorial here in Akaneyama, a statue to commemorate the vanquishing of the strongest demon since Ancient Earth. I know that the villagers won’t mind having a statue of you in their town. It should be a statue of you, Rei, as Sailor Mars, in the middle of Flame Sniper with Small Lady by your side. We will dedicate it to the dead from Tokyo, since I know that they would have laid down their lives to protect my daughter if they had the choice. It will be a fitting memorial.”
Rei blushed as Minako helped her to her feet. “Thank you, Serenity, but I do not think the villagers need any help worshipping me. They seem to be doing a fine job.”
“You deserve it,” Minako whispered as the women transformed into their Senshi selves. Rei smiled as she let Sailor Mars claim her once more, wrapping the cloths tighter around Akane so that she would not be cold. “Are you ready to leave, Rei?”
“Yes. Let’s go home.”