A Queen's Burden
by Queen Serenity III

         Prince Darien crouched behind a crate.  His knees strained under the weight of his body and his armor.  His ears ignored the sound of his breaths and gave their undivided attention to footsteps and voices.  He had spent the past hour avoiding palace guards and other sentinels in order to board a vessel headed to Earth.  The cargo ship held little room for its own passengers, let alone unanticipated stowaways, but the Moon was too dangerous of a place for him to pick and choose his transportation.  In the eyes of most Lunarians, he was a mere Terran, not to be trusted or even allowed in their presence.  His business in this hostile place was over for the time being, and he had to get back to his war-torn world.  He would do his people no favors by getting captured and he intended to return home as quickly as opportunity allowed.
          After a peak of conversation and movement, the noise reversed its crescendo.  Darien shifted himself enough to peek around the corner of the crate.  The gray cargo ship sat on the platform, its loading door wide open.  Not one person could be seen in the shuttlebay, even though a few minutes ago it had been busy with loaders and captains.  Darien stood up as quickly as his tired muscles would allow, but the distinct pattern of footsteps returned to his ear.  He turned his eyes left and right in a fruitless search for the approaching person.  Seeing no one, he pivoted his body and saw the woman moving toward him, her long, white gown hugging softly against her slender physical form.
          "Queen Serenity," he greeted.  He descended to one knee and bowed his head.
          She replied, "There's no need to kneel before me or for other formalities.  Please stand."
          He took her request as an order and elevated himself to face her eye to eye.  Serenity was a tall woman, equal in height to him, and so he was relieved of the small worry of having to look down on her.  Still, he doubted any height could have made her appear any less regal, and he placed the speculations of his mind aside to ask her a simple question.
          "How did you find me?"
          "I make it a point to know where my daughter is at all times..." Her lips curved up slightly as she continued.  "...and her suitors."
          Darien's face remained stolid.  From even a quick glance he could tell the matter causing Serenity to appear was heavy indeed, and for her to even hint at a note of levity indicated the reason behind her presence was far worse than he could anticipate.
          "I assume you're not here simply to wish me farewell," he stated, a little more harshly than he had intended.
          Instantly, the smile on Serenity's lips faded, and all seriousness showed in her face again.  Even her countenance could not fully reveal the somber cloud over her heart and left the rest of the task to the softness of her voice.
          "I just received this message from Terra Castle." She extended her left hand -- her right hand held the Crescent Moon Wand at her side, ready to use at will -- and inside the palm was a tiny, black box.  She wanted to withdraw not only the hand but her words as well, believing them inadequate for what was to follow.  She pressed a button on top of the cube and the wall served as a projection screen for the scene that followed.
          The moving image that appeared was that of Gaia, queen of the Earth.  Her visage was captured from below and trembled slightly, indicating that she recorded it.  Her long black hair hung loose and uneven with worry, with her equally dark eyes glistening in the fear of the hunted.  There was a familiar quality in those orbs that Serenity felt but could not identify, and a chill burrowed through her flesh to think about it.
          "Anyone..."  Her unsteady voice carried the waves of fear, making her seem more like a stranger than the eloquent queen they both knew.  "Please, if you can, get this message to my son, Prince Darien.  Darien, things are going badly down here.  Your father fought valiantly...but he didn't make it.  It was only by luck I've managed to escape, but I don't have time to explain.  Whatever you do, don't come back to Earth.  They've managed to take over the entire planet."
          "Boss," a raspy voice said, its owner unseen.  "There's someone down here!"
          "Darien," Gaia continued.  A drop of sadness, not regret, rolled down her cheek.  "Remember that we love you."  The image blurred upon the final words before it faded to nothing, and Serenity set the useless cube on a crate.
          "Mother!"  He reached into thin air, the motion giving no solace to the newly torn hole in his heart.
          "I'm sorry."  Serenity took hold of Darien's free hand with her own.  I know how you must feel, she wanted to say, as the memory of the loss of her own mother returned to the forefront of her mind.  But none of her words would be of any comfort to Darien.  He was alone in his grief and alone in the universe.  Separated from his world, the last free Terran had no planet to receive him, no parents to hold him in their embrace.
          "I can't go home."  He jerked his hand away from her and placed it against his face to hide the tears he fought against.  "Mother...Father..."  Uncharacteristic, muffled noises came from Darien's mouth and Serenity knew she was in the privileged presence of grief.  It was a place that by right she had no place to be, even as the mother of his beloved.  Regardless, she had not accomplished her purpose for being here, and she could not hold her words for much longer.
          "This isn't the best time, I know," she said, "but there is something I must ask of you."
          Darien raised his head toward Serenity, his sudden hurt, sadness, shock and pain making him obedient to any request.
          "The army," she explained,  "this Negaverse, it isn't just after Earth."  The phantom of a lost love coated her words.  "It wants to take over the entire universe.  The Moon Kingdom…"  Her lungs took in more air to give her the resolve to continue.  "The Moon Kingdom has not been in a war for centuries, and we don't have many skilled fighters.  I ask that you stay here, on the Moon, and help us fight this evil.  I can understand if you don't want to--"
          "I'll do it," he answered.  His blue eyes shined with an anger that froze her thoughts.
          "Are you certain?" she asked.  His answer came more quickly than she expected, and all her energy for persuasion now went to ensuring that his choice did not come out of ignorance or desperation. "This will be a difficult battle and there are other options.  I can arrange a transport to get you out the solar system of the by the day's end."
          "I'm not going to run."  Darien clenched his fist and buried his fingers into his palm.  His sadness and hurt transformed into ire in the blink of an eye.  "I'm going to fight, to avenge the pain, suffering and death of every person on Earth.  The Negaverse will pay."
          Every aspect about his last sentence -- the tone, the emotion, the pain -- as she remembered uttering the same words before long ago.  She tried to push the memory into the depths, but like a corpse thrown in the river Styx it rose to the surface.  Serenity could not defy it or deny it, and only Darien's voice saved her from the distracting cycle of thoughts.
          "Queen Serenity!"
          The shout stopped her mind from reliving the past.  More immediate affairs filled her thoughts for the moment.
          "I'm sorry," she said.  "I must be more tired than I thought.  I hate to leave but I have other things I must attend to.  Don't worry, the guards have been ordered to treat you as they would treat any invited guest." She walked away from him, but added one last comment over her shoulder.  "It seems you'll be able to make it to the ball, after all."  Serenity continued in her path, not knowing her simple words gave more ease to Darien in that moment than any of her prepared speeches ever could.

*            *            *


          "Your Majesty."
          It was Angelica that had been summoned by Serenity and the servant stood at the door of the queen's bedroom to answer the call.  Serenity sat on the bed that brought forth a multitude of dreams and even more tears.  Angelica's golden hair and blue eyes reminded Serenity of her daughter, but the few slight lines around the servant's eyes betrayed her age.  She stood ready for orders, unable to do anything else in the presence of the puissant queen.
          "Yes, I want you to get Serena for me," Serenity commanded.  "That is all."
          "Yes, my queen."  Angelica left quietly and quickly as usual and Serenity was alone again inside the room.  Her heart, unsteady and unsure, desired to leave this place and her body obeyed by standing up.  She rose too quickly, and her hand knocked over an object on the dresser.  Surprised, she picked up the small wooden frame that contained a sketch of three people in a happier time.  One of the figures was the queen, and on her lap Serena sat as a toddler.  The memory of holding the young child still placed a smile on her face despite the frustration she felt when the picture was drawn.  When her eyes finally made their way to the third figure, a man, she turned her eyes away for a second, then focused again on him.  His playful smile revealed his youthful spirit, and again the river of remembrance swept her along in memory, dragging her to the cataract of despair. 
          "Lunaris..."
         

*            *            *


          Clouds danced playfully around the beautiful blue ball in the sky, a planet of love and hate, life and death, a place known as the crossroads of order and chaos.  The seas of the Earth carried the weight of the planet's suffering in its bosom, and its land endured more than its share of tragedy.  To a pair of eyes that had wizened far more than they had aged since first gazing upon the planet it would always be a place of remembrance, sadness, fear, and desperation.  Those eyes belonged to a woman changed forever, whose youth remained only in frame and not in spirit, while her soul hurt privately, never allowing the sorrow to be seen by others.  Tragedy's cocoon initiated the metamorphosis from beautiful silkworm to silvery moth and the woman, already broken had been reduced to rubble and rebuilt.
          Serenity had grown six inches in one year.
          Her gowns, once frilled full of intricate designs and frills were now simple, slender, and elegant.  Her manner, though never frivolous in the past, took on a more austere, militaristic tone.  Observers speculated that she had finally "recovered" from her mother's death, or that time alone had polished the young woman.  None of them knew that another loss had pushed her further into her regal identity.
          "Your Majesty."
          Serenity dropped her head and turned toward the woman who had spoken, a voice whose proximity contrasted against the slow waltz in the background.  With white hair and a tall, thin frame covered by a white dress the woman resembled Serenity more than her sister had.  Her loose, imperceptibly aging face coupled with her curled unbound hair, though, were signs that for all she had seen in life, the weight of a solar system had never been on her shoulders.  She curtseyed slightly before the queen out of custom.
          "Princess Artemis," Serenity replied.  "What brings you to this balcony?"
          "If I may be so bold, Your Majesty, I had planned to pose the same question."
          "Then ask me, and please do it plainly."  Formalities were unavoidable, but Serenity could not bear hearing them from her only living relative.  Titles put a standard on her she could not reach while severing her from her people, never allowing her to be a subject unto herself.
          "Why do you stare at the Earth nightly?"
          "I have made it clear that is not for discussion!" Serenity cried loudly enough for those inside the palace to hear under normal circumstances.  The music kept even the best eavesdroppers unaware of her outburst, but immediately the queen realized her mistake.
          "What about the increase in security over this past year?  What threat is out there?"
          "I have my reasons."  Part of Serenity wanted to reveal it all.  Already she could feel her thoughts turn to the fateful night.  But the pain of loss muted her, a silence misinterpreted as mistrust by her aunt.
          "I take my leave," Artemis said in resignation.  She bowed then stepped away from the queen, headed for the celebration inside.
          "Artemis, wait!"
          The older woman stopped and turned around.  Serenity and Artemis faced each other again, standing on the precipice of revelation.  But the silent chasm between the two would never be crossed, the queen and the princess kept worlds apart.
          "You and my mother were close," Serenity stated, letting the opportunity slip away.
          "As close as sisters can get."
          "As a queen, will I ever be able to be close to anyone, without hurting them?"
          "Serenity!"  Artemis wanted to connect with her niece with a touch, but instead the women locked their eyes onto each other.  "The queen's burden is a difficult one.  It's a heavy load that I've seen Luna struggle with and helped her deal with.  I know you can bear it because you have a strong spirit, stronger than my own."  She paused then softened her expression.  "Come inside and take your mind off of the weight upon your heart.  The ball is in your honor."
          "Thank you, Artemis.  I'll be inside shortly."
          Serenity turned her head toward Earth again and heard the fading steps of Artemis instead of watching her leave.  After a second she pulled her eyes away from the planet and began her march toward the festivities inside the palace.  The music grew louder and more absorbing.  A false peace fell like snow over her mind.  In turn, the guests took notice of her as she approached the ceremonial throne, passing the line of guards surrounding her seat.  Some of the partygoers stopped dancing to watch her take her seat but most continued in their jovial banter.  They were accustomed to the mid-evening exits and returns of their monarch and let the event slip past their attention.  In mere minutes even the men and women momentarily distracted were engaged in their previous behaviors, the queen and her protectors the lone immobile figures on the floor.
          Streaks of colors swept by the queen, presenting their lively hues on the gowns, tuxedos, costumes, and masks.  The rhythmic sways and steps made the dance floor resemble a breathing, moving garden enlivened not by water and sunlight but by love.  One particular flower caught her notice, a thin person clothed in unusually gaudy material.  Cobalt and golden diamonds patterned his tights and his short blond hair rested underneath a matching blue toque. Small spherical bells hung loosely and rested comfortably at the tips of his shoes.  His face was painted white, seeming to express rather than mask his identity.  As though beckoned by her attention, he swam through the forest of dancers toward her, stopping just short of the invisible boundary strangers were not allowed to cross.  He swiftly lowered himself to one knee, the yellow feather in his hat bouncing slightly from the motion.
          "Your Majesty looks so sad," he declared.  "If it pleases her, then I will lift her spirits with a joke."
          "It does not please me," came the unusually cold reply from Serenity, "but you may proceed."
          "There were two friends, a monkey and a rabbit walking in the woods--"  He was cut off by a wave of the queen's hand, her eyes shimmering with shock and sadness.
          "I do not wish to hear this joke!"
          "Please hear me out."  The harlequin got up walked toward the throne, passing the imaginary line.  In response, the guards stepped forward with unnecessary worry, trying to protect a queen who could easily annihilate them in a heartbeat.  The harlequin proved to be his own undoing, however, as he stepped on his own foot, losing his center of gravity and tumbling onto the marble floor.  The fall was clearly unplanned, but he smiled out of both embarrassment and of show, waiting for the wave of laughter to begin.  Instead he heard a giggle so similar to his own that he thought it had come from his own lips.  He looked up through the shoulders of the guards at the throne to find the queen covering her face in part to stifle her amusement.
          "See," he proclaimed to the crowd.  "The queen laughs."
          "Young man, what is your name?" Serenity asked.
          "Lunaris."  As soon as he spoke his name, she stood and extended her hand.  He leapt to his feet and walked past the glowering guards to take it.
          "Lunaris, you will learn what it is like to dance with a queen."  The pair drew closer to each other, beginning the first of many dances to come.

*            *            *


          Serenity never thought she could have fallen in love with a man so opposite of what she wanted so quickly, but their courtship was short indeed.  Lunaris loosened the remains of the wild girl inside of the queen while she gave structure to the free-spirited man she thought she loved.  Her white dresses of royalty gave way to a wedding gown and soon after her womb housed his greatest present to her, their daughter Serena.  The sketch Serenity stared at now, the independent toddler struggling to escape the loving arms of a mother as the father sat beside them, was a keepsake of the happy times.
          For a second she forgot the trouble that followed their marriage, how his irresponsible lifestyle began to annoy her.  He often left her side to party and shirked even the few duties delegated to a consort.  Of course he never cheated on her as much as he indulged himself; fidelity remained one of his few virtues.  But the fact remained that their marriage crumbled steadily.  She and Lunaris both knew they had wedded too young, too fast, and without the glue of true love to hold them together.  Still, for all the living nightmares she endured, she had never envisioned for the marriage to end the way it did.

*            *            *


          Hard soles beat steadily against the equally adamant floor in tandem with an uneven series of footsteps from behind.  The patter of feet too tiny for this voyage intertwined with the louder clicks that were being chased.  These pairs of footsteps kept up their speed, but the clumsy stride of their pursuer narrowed the gap.
          "Serenity…"
          Lunaris broke out into a run and headed for a large, sleek spacecraft that sparkled under the artificial light.  Several people walked inside and outside the transport, performing a final inspection.  Serenity had stopped beside the entrance of the vehicle, her left hand firmly clasped on the blond girl beside her, while her right hand firmly held onto the Crescent Moon Wand.
          "Not now, Lunaris," Serenity replied, not even turning her face to her husband.  "Not now."  She lifted her head, raising Lunaris' hopes that she would cast away her stoic demeanor.  Instead she turned toward one of the servants outside of the ship.  "Is everything loaded?"
          "Yes, Your Majesty," the subordinate replied.
          "Serenity!" Lunaris shouted over the query and reply.  "Please.  I can be the man you want.  I can make this marriage work!"
          "I said not now," Serenity repeated, turning toward him for emphasis.
          "But--"
          "Her Majesty has spoken!" a gruff, male voice yelled.  Before the shout, Lunaris found himself surrounded by a host of guards, forming a living barrier around their liege.  Their zeal irritated Serenity more than Lunaris behavior, and she gave a sigh of concession.
          "Let him through," the queen ordered.  Immediately the protectors stepped back.
          "I'm begging you, Serenity," Lunaris pleaded.  "I don't want you to walk out on our marriage.  Don't go to Mars, please."
          "Lu," she answered in a softer voice than before, not realizing she had called him by his nickname. "I need some time to sort things out."
          "You can sort them out here, on the Moon, where you belong.  I'm not asking you to stay with me, but at least stay here."
          "You still don't understand.  A civil war is about to break out.  I can't just stand by and let that happen."
          "Then send someone else, a representative, but don't do this to us."  He lowered his gaze to his daughter momentarily before returning it to her mother.  "What about Serena?"
          "Mama?" the girl asked.
          "What about my daughter?" Serenity asked in a defensive tone.
          "She's my daughter too," Lunaris explained, "and I think she should stay here.  She's too young for space travel."
          "She'll be fine with me.  We already discussed this.  There's nothing you can do to change my mind about leaving."
          "I'll go in your place."
          The comment came so unexpectedly that before she could part her lips, his words made their impact, and her jaw slacked slightly.
          "What?" Serenity asked after a second, not believing what she just heard.
          "I said I'll go to Mars."  He watched her face, expecting her be persuaded, but her lax facial muscles grew even more taut.
          "That's your problem.  You're never serious."
          "This is not a joke!"  He pounded on his chest for emphasis.  "I'll go in your place."
          "Why?"
          "We both agree we need some time apart.  And as much as I love you and Serena, I know that right now it might be best if we went our separate ways.  I need to show you that I can handle this, that I can be as serious and effective as any ambassador."
          "You don't know anything about negotiations..."
          "No, but I can find out.  I can have your staff fill me in."
          What if he were serious?  She couldn't let any representative resolve this dispute.  The territorial issue had been too divisive not to require interference from her lunar authority.  It had already been tackled by some of the brightest negotiators who had failed, only the actions of another party could intercept war.  Still, there were other pressing issues on the Moon to worry about and Serenity couldn't be everywhere at once.  Nor did she want to leave the Moon if she could help it.  But Lunaris wasn't the man for the job.  He had the title of consort but even with all the determination he could muster, he'd never be able to pull it off with his skill alone.  With his luck, though, he might have a chance.
          "I must be out of my mind for even considering this," Serenity said.  Lunaris smiled slightly, for he knew he had won her over.  She quietly beckoned for a brunette in a blue uniform to approach her, and whispered in her ear.  Upon receiving the message, the woman spoke to another crewmember, and the news spread exponentially with intermittent noises of disapproval and exasperation.  Several guards and servants exited the craft, their services no longer required.  Lunaris knelt and placed his hand on Serena's shoulders.
          "Serena," he said.  "Daddy and Mommy need some time away from each other."
          "Papa go bye-bye?" the girl asked.
          "Yes, I'm going on a short trip.  Don't worry, I'll be back.  I love you, sweetie."  He wrapped his left arm around her and rubbed his right hand on her head, ruffling her carefully styled hair.  Serena squealed in delight and giggled long after he stood up to deliver his short valediction to the queen.
          "Goodbye, Serenity," he said.
          He entered the transport rather quickly as Serenity picked up Serena and walked away from the craft, joining the spectators.  In minutes the vehicle closed its doors and became a prison of life to cross the deadly space between the stars.  As it ascended, Serenity envisioned Lunaris running away with a young Martian lady, the red planet itself embroiled in war, and her reign left in complete shambles over a lapse in judgement.  All those thoughts were exiled from her mind as the craft bloomed into a flame-soaked flower in the sky in a thunderous, instantaneous metamorphosis.  Gasps and cries were tossed into the air, but the most chilling sound came from the young mouth of her own daughter.
          "Fireworks, mama!" Serena shouted in innocent, ignorant glee.  "Fireworks!"

*            *            *


          Though Serenity did not feel the passion a one lover should feel for another, she shed tears full of grief the same.  Lunaris was the father of her only child.  His death left Serena the same pain that Serenity suffered when she was younger.  Because of the distance between her and Lunaris, his death hurt all the more.  She dragged him into her heart, a place that led inevitably to death, despite the incongruity of his personality with hers.
          The cause of the explosion was never determined, in the same way the cause of Queen Luna's decline remained a mystery.  Part of her did not want the false solace of explanation; part of her begged for it.  In any case, the rumors of sabotage proliferated, though any truth to them remained hidden by the lack of legitimate sources.  Ironically, the two Martian factions united under the shadow of the tragedy, neither side wanting to appear responsible for the death of the consort.  In turn, though minor disputes and skirmishes sprinkled over time within the Moon Kingdom, for the most part life was placid.
          Her reflective thoughts left the room as someone entered it.  Serenity turned and saw Serena, tears falling down her face and onto her frilly white gown.  Serenity slowly put down the sketch and crossed he room in a quick stride.  She wrapped her arms around her daughter in the tight but gentle embrace that only a mother could give.
          "Serena, what's the matter?" Serenity asked.
          "I am not going to the ball," her daughter replied. "I cannot bear to think of dancing at a time like this."
          It would be so easy to tell her daughter about Darien, but the element of elated surprise would have faded away.  Besides, Serena was a princess and though she had mastered the manners and form of that position, she had not truly taken in the harsh lessons she would have to learn in order to be a queen.  Serenity knew them all too well and though she was in no rush to make her daughter suffer, time did not have the same reservations.
          "I know you're concerned about Darien," Serenity said, "but you can't shut yourself in.  He wouldn't want you to.  It's hard to put on a good face, but once you step on the dance floor, you'll be so preoccupied that you won't worry about Darien quite as much.  You might even begin to enjoy yourself."  Serenity smiled before gently pushing her daughter to the doorway. "Now don't keep the guests waiting.  Go out there and have a good time."
          Serena began to move on her own out of the room, then walked down the hall, studied by eyes seen and unseen.  After a minute, Serenity cast a glance at the small sketch on the desk, then swiftly exited the bedroom.

*            *            *


          Torches fueled by magic rather than air stood against the gray stone walls, serving as a guiding light to any unfortunate soul that ventured into the darkness.  Serenity carefully placed one foot in front of the other, descending down the hard stairs at a steady, rhythmic pace.  As each foot struck the rock surface, the impact released a precise click with a thousand echoes to follow it into the shadows.  The auditory ghosts haunted the already tormented queen, but she refused to let them break her determination, mentally dismissing them beyond the reach of her own conscience.
          Eventually, the stairs gave way to smooth ground and Serenity maintained both her steady progression and the beat that accompanied it.  She passed through the narrow hall of stone, not looking at the enclaves to her left.  Most of the cells were empty, but occasionally, a man or woman occupied a chamber.  None of them dared to speak out to the queen.  Any desires to complain, jeer, or plead were swallowed by the voiceless void.  After passing over thirty of these chambers she stopped and turned to face a dark-haired girl dressed in silver.  She started directly ahead, as though the forcefield separating the two were opaque rather than invisible.  Her gaze was as fixed as the two facial marks that defined her -- the crescent moon symbol and a brown birthmark covering the right upper, portion of her face.
          Serenity thought it strange how a child of two of the highest nobility could end up in this nearly deserted prison.  Despite the status of her parents, Mona could not escape the common denominator of ridicule.  Between the stain on her face and her mysterious abilities she was made a pariah.  Many men were eager to help Mona as they were similarly marginalized by the matriarchy of a Kingdom in name only.  In retrospect these factors made their choice to revolt inevitable, though not any less wrong.
          The complexity of the rebels’ feelings mirrored the simplicity of their defeat.  Serenity raised her wand and scattered rays of moonlight targeted the men, but a different fate was served to their leader.  Serenity simply broke the black bow Mona carried instead of attacking her directly, not knowing the mercy she showed Mona led to the girl’s defeat.  Strangely enough, Mona begged Serenity to fight her and attempted to rush the queen.  Instead of the attack she was looking for Mona found herself being carried away by guards, but she had come close enough for Serenity to see the evil that shined within her eyes.
          The revolutionaries were shown no lenience, yet their banishment to Earth seemed to be the opposite of punishment.  Most people of there would grant them the status they desperately sought on the Moon, and they were free to start their lives anew.  Mona, in accordance with the same laws, was taken to the very cell Serenity stood in front of at the moment.
          "I’m not giving up on you," she said, starving the cannibalistic silence. "I know you have a good heart."
          Mona made neither verbal nor physical response.  Serenity expected nothing else.  The heart of the queen wanted to reach out to the girl, but she knew that she could not break Mona out of her trance.  Serenity walked away as though abandoning a doll that was too much trouble to put away.

*            *            *


          Serenity emerged from the dark dungeon and followed the sound of the sweeping waltz into the ballroom.  Her unease abated slightly.  Ceremony helped her slip into her regal frame of mind.  Memories heightened the difference between past and present.  This ballroom was different than the one she had presided over in her youth, for now her throne was on a balcony above the dance floor.  She eased herself on the cold seat.  Her dancing days has passed long ago and she settled for the sight of her daughter trading steps with Darien.  The young man had chosen a white mask with his tuxedo, a fashionable disguise.
          "My brother once said I was a fool for choosing to serve, in his words, 'that royal pain,'" an unmistakable voice said.  "A few years later, he marries the Queen of Mars." It was the voice of Rocco, his red uniform and characteristic braid acting as steadfast reminders of his duty to protect her life.  She knew of his ties to the Martian royal family, but it was the first time he had ever mentioned it to her in speech.  If there were any feelings, pleasant or unpalatable, toward his relatives, he hid them well.  His job required no less.  For him to open up was an awkward attempt to initiate conversation.  Talking was the last thing she wanted to do.
          "I dismissed my guards, including you," she stated.  "I can take care of myself."
          "I'm here as a friend," he replied, "and I can't help but be concerned."
          "I'm fine," she lied.  No sooner than she spoke, she turned away, knowing her bodyguard was giving her a look that saw through the falsehood.  She shook her head as she watched Darien lead Serena to the lower level terrace. "It's all happening again.  When I see Serena, my heart is filled with a love and a joy that surpasses understanding.  She is my life.  I can't lose her."  Serenity felt her eyes moisten but refused to let the tears materialize.  Rocco stepped forward and placed his hand on her shoulder.  For a second, a sense of peace overcame them both.
          It was Angelica who ended the placid moment by approaching Serenity in a sprint.  Instinctively, Rocco moved in a position to protect the queen, but Angelica slowed and subdued her urgency.
          "Your Majesty's presence is requested immediately," Angelica stated, the strain of her run only faintly perceptible in her breath. "Queens Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto are on the video channels demanding an audience."
          Serenity arose quickly and the trio walked away from the balcony.  Their legs led them down the familiar corridors and to a solid, knobless door.  The door slid open upon their arrival, but the three stopped.  Serenity gave a nod to Angelica and Rocco, and entered the room alone.
          The door closed behind her with the same efficiency as it had opened.  Serenity averted her eyes from the details of her surroundings and sat at the silver desk in the center of the room.  Her fingers slipped into a groove as she watched an image appear on the wide, rectangular screen in front of her.  The screen was divided into three square images of the communication rooms and the queens representing their worlds.  All the subscreens displayed identical wooden seats and tables, with the their respective planetary insignia situated above the chairs.  Queen Pluto sat patiently at her desk on the right third of the screen, whereas Queen Uranus paced furiously behind hers in her section on the left.  Queen Neptune did not walk around, seemingly squeezed by the images on both sides of her, but her breaths were heavy and her jaw was tight, an unusual departure from her usually calm demeanor.
          "Serenity, the invading army is closing in from outside the Kepler belt," Queen Neptune stated.
          "There is no choice!" Queen Uranus cried.  "You must order Queen Saturn to activate her seed!"
          Serenity commanded, "Uranus!  Calm down."
          "There isn't any time to calm down!"  Queen Uranus slammed her fist onto the table in front of her.  Serenity could have sworn she saw the wood splinter from the impact.  "The seed of Saturn must be awakened at any cost."
          "Even at the cost of destroying the planet itself?  We all know the consequences if Saturn comes into her full powers."
          "Yes, and the cost of losing Saturn is much less than losing the entire kingdom."  Uranus made a face and paused to cough.  She had literally choked on her own words.  "Anything is better than standing around and waiting to die.  We might have chance if we act now."
          "Uranus is correct," Neptune said.  "This is army too overwhelming for our people to fight as things stand now.  We can attempt to send a message to the Demetrites for assistance, but I do not believe we will be able to reach them in time.  Moreover, we have no idea how they will fare against the enemy if they decide to help."
          "This must be done in order to preserve the future of the Moon Kingdom," Queen Pluto added at last,  "I agree with the queens of Uranus and Neptune that the seed of Saturn is our only hope."
          "I will talk to Queen Saturn at once," Serenity acquiesced, "but as you know, I cannot force her to use the seed of Saturn.  This is her world, her dau--."  Serenity paused to avoid casting a word to the unmentionable.  "Her decision."
          With a wordless agreement the communication link was cut off and the images disappeared.  The screen flickered for a second before another picture appeared on the screen, spreading across the entire rectangle.  In the center was Queen Saturn, dressed in a black gown and sitting at a table similar to those of the other queens.
          "Queen Serenity," Saturn spoke sternly.  "I see the Outer Queens have gotten to you."
          "Please understand--" Serenity began.
          "I've blocked transmissions from the others to avoid any discussion of the matter and I want to hear nothing more of the subject."  Despite her words, she did not immediately terminate the link, either out of hope Serenity would give up the issue or a willingness to respond to the desperate plea.
          "You must listen to me.  The seed of Saturn is needed..."
          "'The seed of Saturn?'  Is that all you think of my daughter?"  An invisible shudder slithered through Serenity's heart.  "Of all the people, I thought you would understand!"
          "I do."
          "Then why don't you unleash your daughter's power?"
          "She has nothing do with this," Serenity answered defensively.
          "It is said the seed of the Moon is more powerful than all the other seeds combined.  You could easily release her inner abilities."
          "Then prove yourself to be the better person.  I may be weak for protecting my daughter, but you don't have to share my faults!"
          "Would you be pressuring me as hard if the other queens knew where the final seed was?"  Saturn's eyes, too hurt to cry, held steady as she stared ahead.  "Every day, I watch helplessly as my child struggles against the power inside her.  It seeks to steal, kill, and destroy everything that makes up her life.  When you have to watch as your daughter is torn between the life she loves and the power that threatens to take away her life, you'll know how I feel!"
          The transmission ended as abruptly as it had begun, and instantly the door to the room opened.  The cats who bore the names of Serenity's mother and aunt had entered, and they ran to the queen's side.
          Serenity cried, "Luna!  Artemis!  What's going on?"
          "Lunar Outpost has just been struck!" Artemis shouted.
          "It's happening," Luna said.  "The Negaverse is here."

*            *            *


          The planet Mercury orbited the gigantic ball of fire known as the sun, the atmosphere of the planet mysteriously shielding its surface from the star's destructive elements.  The solar might could neither melt the layers of ice and snow covering the globe, nor turn vast oceans into steam.  Only near Mariner Castle did the temperature rise, giving birth to a more moderate climate.  In that vicinity trees of both deciduous and coniferous thrived, with lakes and clearings to augment the natural splendor.  In spite of this the castle remained the dominant aspect, presiding over the area as though it were Mercury's protector.
          Inside the castle, a crowd watched in silence as a young couple said their wedding vows.  Queen Mercury observed this sacrament from her throne, her long hair elaborately braided for the occasion.  She laid her golden scepter against her flowing, cerulean gown and analyzed the actions and the woman before her.  The man appeared genuinely happy, his eyes moistening with tears of nervousness and joy.  The woman, while putting on a face of happiness, was clearly not ready for the commitment.  The muscles in her neck strained and her nervous eyes searched the room for any person who would cause a disruption to end the proceedings.  Mercury briefly considered intervening, but reminded herself that even as a queen, in this affair it was not her place to determine whether or not two adults wanted to join in matrimony.  It was their choice to wed and they would have to live with each other as husband and wife.
          At least until they divorce three years from now, Mercury thought.
          A slight movement caught the corner of Queen Mercury's eye and to her surprise, her advisor, Marcus was approaching her from the side.  Completely thrown off guard, Mercury knew that whatever news he had for her must have been both urgent and devastating for him to interrupt a sacrament.
          "Priority One message," he whispered in her ear.
          Mercury stood up and briskly walked, with Marcus following her steps.  Upon the departure of their queen, the ceremony came to a halt.  A few quiet rumors accompanied the murmuring of the guests, but Mercury ignored them.  The sound of the crowd lessened as walked down the hall and into a conference room.  Inside the room, a large screen showed a young soldier standing against a background of melting snow and brown earth.  If it weren't for the officer's uniform, Mercury would have been certain the footage came from Venus or Earth.  Snow simply did not melt on this planet.
          "Queen Mercury," the young man announced, "it's an emergency.  The island of Fria is under attack."
          "Elaborate, cadet," Mercury ordered.
          "It all started about five minutes ago…"
          "Do you know who's behind this?"
          "Not quite…"
          "Is that as yes or no?"  Impatience gave her voice a biting tone that rent the cadet's resolve.
          "I don't know!"  The man began to cry under the pressure, resembling a boy more than a trained officer.  "All I remember hearing them say is 'Glory to the Negaverse.'"
          Mercury's face went pale.
          "Your Majesty?" Marcus asked.
          The queen did not hear the question.  All she could hear were the warnings Serenity had given her and the other queens several years ago.  They had failed to take heed then as they did when Serenity repeated those warnings in the past few weeks.  After all, The Moon Kingdom was supposed to be safe from any attack.  Now, hearing the name from a different source she realized that for all her esteemed intellect, she had committed the greatest folly by adhering to reason instead of listening to Serenity's impassioned pleas.
          She was right, Mercury thought.  Oh Serenity, I wish I had believed you.
          "What are your orders?" Marcus inquired.
          "Mobilize the troops and tell them to head for Fria immediately," Mercury replied, then turned to the cadet.  "Pull yourself together!  Fight as hard as you can until the reinforcements arrive."
          Mercury ended the video link with the press of a button, and by time she turned around, Marcus had departed.  A few seconds later the consort, Hermes, entered the room slowly, his gait indicating that he had heard the entire conversation.  The two quickly embraced each other, each not wanting to see the pain on the other's face while speaking.
          "Our daughter's doomed, isn't she?" Hermes asked.
          "No," the queen corrected. "We're all doomed."

*            *            *


          Winds kicked up a sandstorm on the red deserts of Mars, carrying with it a foreboding chill across the land.  Like the gale, the flame of the planet rose to the air, flickering violently before its imminent death.  War was the legacy of this sphere and even in its demise battles burned across the surface. Martian blood spilled upon the land and turned the dry landscape a deeper shade of crimson.
          A pair of crows circled Phobos Deimos Castle partly out of habit and partly out of loyalty.  Two well-aimed arrows put an end to their orbit and the birds plummeted to the ground, not to rise from the ashen soil.  Inside the palace the light of fire spells stabbed at the darkness with flashes of red.  Shadowy monsters pushed Queen Mars and her strongest magicians to the corner of the grand hall.  Beside the queen sat her consort, Ares, immobile and unresponsive.  Yet death, so distracted by the souls of millions of other fallen Martians, ignored his body.  The Martian queen gave him little thought out of necessity rather than indifference.  She focused on the omnipresent enemies, and even in this state of mind, she failed to see a shadow close in on her back.
          "Mars, look out!"
          Mars caught the warning in time and the shadow that crept behind her met an incendiary demise.  At the same time two more shadows stabbed her in the shoulder and in the thigh. With the streams of blood from the wounds, the queen's energy evaporated and she fell to the ground, her lungs working in futile pain to take in the thinning air.
          Mars wished she could have died then, but destiny would not allow her end to be easy.  Her body rendered useless by the fatal blow could only stare at the destruction of those unfortunate few still alive.  One young woman found herself lifted by the phantoms, only to be thrown forcefully into the ground like a piece of refuse.  The floor dented as though it were made of sand, and the young woman shrieked, a sign that even the force of the impact rendered her a painful rather than immediate end.  In another corner the shadows surrounded an older man.  He sent a wall of fire in their direction, only for the shadows to deflect the flames toward him, burning him alive.  The shadows, though pleased with their work, did not celebrate and quietly departed.
          Death belatedly entered the room, giving peace to the warriors who had fought so valiantly.  One by one they surrendered to their fate, and a new energy stirred within the queen's defeated, hurting body.  She would resist the pull at her body and get up to repay the enemy for all it had done to her and her planet.  Death answered her protests by stealing her soul so quickly that Mars had no idea of her demise until after she expired.

*            *            *


          A small bright dot illuminated the planet from the heavens, donating heat in addition to its gift of light.  No clouds veiled the beauty of the endless sky, which flaunted its azure nudity without shame or regret.  Even the wind adopted a playful mood as it tingled noses and ears with a slight, cool zephyr.  Without question, most humans would call this a wonderful day and pursue a favorite outdoor leisure activity if permitted.
          But this wasn't Earth. This was Jupiter.
          The giant planet known for its storms and hard rains, had its share of sunny days to the delight of the ubiquitous vegetation.  By contrast the humanoid inhabitants of the planet -- the Jovians themselves -- in general found little comfort in the absence of clouds.  One of these creatures was none other than Queen Jupiter herself, perched atop a giant oak.  The leaves and branches surrounding her blended into her brown hair and green gown, giving her a security that the sky did not.
          She glared at the expanse above her relentlessly, not taking her sparkling green eyes away from it for even a second.  Minutes stretched into hours, but steadily she focused on the sky in wait of the inevitable menace.  At last, a dark speck, concrete and undeniable, manifested itself in the previously unmarred blue.  Discerning this, the queen shut her eyes, her spirit forming a prayer to the planet for its aid.  She hoped the planet's protection would extend to all Jovians, including those like her daughter who were away from Jupiter.  Before her maternal worry overtook her, the queen completed her supplication and opened her eyes.  Air rushed into her lungs in preparation of her shout, a sound that would seal the fate of a planet.
          "Attack!"
          A million Jovian warriors took to the sky on the backs of griffins, commencing the most spectacular battle waged on the planet's surface.

*            *            *


          Never had there been a paradise like the planet Venus.  The sphere had a beautifully warm climate with rich, endless plains full of the golden crops of wheat and corn -- more than enough to feed the people of the Moon Kingdom several times over.  Rolling grasslands also dominated the terrain, but Venus was not without its amazing mountains, cataracts, forests, and beaches -- all as equally lovely, if not more so, than its sister worlds.  The vibrancy of life made the planet lovable and the power of love kept the planet livable.  A true cycle of life and love maintained Venus' harmony and no single person could destroy the balance.
          It would take an army to do that.
          Storming across the landscape were a multitude winged grotesque monsters drunk with hate who ravaged the surface, scarring the planet with millions of talons.  Venutians, enraged at the disfiguring of their land took action, fighting the beasts as best they could.  Adding to the swarm of monsters were beings of humanoid appearance wielding knives made of energy.  They threw the blades and slew the golden-haired natives left and right while standing in the heart of their inhuman army protected from harm by their flying minions.  Rarely did a ray of energy or magic penetrate the living barrier and not once did any projectile thrown by those defending their homes and families hit its intended target.  Both monsters and humanoids, long confined to their own dimension now carried out mass destruction upon their newfound freedom.  Across the savannas and seas they left devastation as a memento of their visit.  Heavy, poisonous clouds flooded the sky, only heightening the irreversible damage.  In less than two hours the planet had been mortally wounded, with the bodies of countless dead Venutians lying all over the globe.  At last, the forces ceased in their systematic defacing of the world and converged to their intended target -- the beachside palace of Magellan Castle.
          An aerial assault signaled the beginning of the end for those inside the structure, and yet the few remaining Venutians fought with desperation on their side.  The golden beams of energy that had no effect on the winged beings earlier now caused many of the creatures on the front lines to perish.  A few skilled sorcerers used their magic to strike a few deadly blows to even the humanoids protected by the monsters, but this success was far too little against the horde of invaders and within minutes nearly all the magicians and their comrades were struck down.
          Queen Venus and three male servants were the final Venutians standing, the golden symbol of their planet glowing strongly on their foreheads.  Other than the light they emitted, everything about them indicated that they were losing badly.  The remains of their clothes were stained with the humid smells of sweat and blood, and the fluids hindered their grips on their fighting staffs.  Even the queen herself, the only spellcaster of the group and normally impeccable in her appearance, could not hide the small flaws such as the nail polish and makeup that wore away, or the larger flaws such as unraveled hair burned and torn at the ends.  Their beauty had died long ago, and it would not be long for their lives to follow.
          The trio of young men formed a living wall around their queen, but in a frightening display of speed, the three were sliced open at once.  Closing her eyes to avoid the gore, Venus lifted her scepter as a last resort and channeled all of her energy through it.  Yellow light charged the air with its potent rays, shielding its queen temporarily from any harm by pushing the masses of creatures several feet back.  However, as strong as the desperate blow was, Venus had too little strength left to continue, and her body dropped to its knees.
          Her weary eyes observed the imminent return of the creatures and her chest threw a sigh of helpless frustration.  She had been depleted of her energy, but her uncooperative instinct would not let her resign herself to death.  Her soul evoked a forgotten power, and while Venus tried to gather her will to suppress it, her mind did not have the strength to stop her body's reaction.  The points of a thousand needles welled up in her stomach, then expanded to her limbs and digits.  She could feel her identity slip, her Venutian body calling upon an ancient tie to the Lunarian ancestors who has colonized this world.  The mark on her forehead faded, only to be supplanted by the golden crescent moon.  Emerging from the painful ecstasy, Queen Venus opened her eyes, her mind no longer in control of her own body.  Unlike the Venutians who had died before her, she had been left alive long enough for the vestiges of the Lunarian ancestors to manifest themselves in her.  The private fear of all Venutians and Venutians alone -- reversion to their Lunarian state -- was now realized through the queen herself.
          The monsters acted as though nothing had happened and the front rank closed in, expecting an easy victory.  White discharges of energy from Venus' hands soon ended that dream and the creatures fell as swiftly as the Venutians they had killed.  Though they were replaced even faster than Venus could fight them off, the queen continued her assault, as though victory sided with her rather than with her enemies.  She dispatched one creature after the next, not knowing that with each second, the army slowly but surely advanced on her.  At last, in the middle of slaying a creature that rushed at her, from behind another approached her.  She turned around, hoping to kill it, but it was too close, and a claw slashed through her face and neck, dragging skin and blood in its deadly course.  The golden mark on the queen's forehead faded, her near-lifeless body hitting the floor.
          Venus cast her eyes to the unpleasant green sky and the clouds of black that mingled with it.  Her planet and people destroyed, her heart had only one hope as darkness overcame her.
          Daughter, please be safe.
          With that thought, paradise was lost.

*            *            *


          A desolate planet sat at the boundary of the solar system, the lack of life a natural state for a world too far away to receive much light from the sun.  Pluto lacked the inner liveliness of the other planets in the Moon Kingdom, and this deficiency ensured that even at its prime only a few domed cities glittered like gems on the barren surface.  The assault of the invaders had ended the starry brilliance of these metropolises, leaving cracked hemispheres, broken buildings, and bodies thrown at the whim of fate and circumstance.
          However, life rebelled quietly underneath the planet's surface in corridors of rock.  The mines had been constructed for removing hard colorful riches from the uneven stone, but they served the second purpose as a refuge for those unlucky enough to survive the initial assault.  Princess Pluto leaned on her staff in the midst of the battered and bruised.  She was a woman, now no more royal than those around her.  The survivors comprised of people of various statuses who were equalized by the seemingly random nature they had been chosen to survive.
          Four advisors wearing the same colors as in Pluto's fighting uniform approached the princess.  Their headgear and attire were so battered that they resembled alley cats that had dashed through a gauntlet of dangers in search of a free meal.  She knew their motives were not rooted in altruism; the law of survival mandated that each living creature was on his or her own.  Neither did they care about her regal status; their interest in her was too desperate for any form of respect.  In turn, she ignored them for a figure she spotted out the corner of her eye.  She turned her gaze to a woman of similar stature to her own.
          "Mother!" the princess yelled.
          The queen did not hear her daughter's cry, nor could she see the princess, for the masses blinded and deafened her completely.  A few seconds later, the queen did react, but instead of returning the cry or giving a nod of recognition, she fell to the ground as did those around her.  The causes of the collapse burst through the crowd in a bright blur.  The attackers were a mix of feline and human in appearance, but as efficient as machinery in their business of spilling blood.  The stone walls of the mine provided minimal interference to intruders that rushed through the people, leaving liquid crimson to color fur, flesh, and rock alike.
          Suddenly, several hands grabbed the princess and pulled her past those who were soon to be dead.  She felt herself running along with her captors, not out of choice but confusion.  Time did not slow down.  Rather it sped along faster, throwing her into the swirl of bewilderment.
          "What are you doing?" she asked.
          "Princess," one of the advisors replied, "it is imperative that you begin your watch."
          "But my mother..."
          The responses came in quick succession from voices she could not identify.
          "You cannot dwell on that, I am sorry."
          "We do not know if you are truly immortal or not, but you carry the seed of time."
          "Already our defenses near the Gate of Time have been compromised."
          "We are sorry to do this, princess, but it is the only way."
          Almost as soon as the last words of spoken, Pluto had been shoved, pulled, and prodded to a white, glowing portal waiting for someone to enter. In a second they tossed the princess into the portal, her body rolling along the mist-covered ground.  She picked herself up as quickly as she could and looked around only to see an endless fog in the direction she had come.  The portal had closed.  Her old life as a princess was now dead to her.
          She quickly turned to the other direction to the marble gate she was assigned to protect.  In front of it stood a trio of the feline attackers that had decimated the populace of her former planet.  Amazingly the doors had been flung ajar, waiting for the unworthy trespassers to enter.  Drained of all emotion, Pluto grabbed her staff and calmly spoke the very last words they were to hear.
          "Pluto Deadly Scream."
          Pluto stared at the monsters, yet did not even see the energy collide into them.  Their deaths were as ordained as her presence and already her acceptance of the future began to deaden her senses.  Mist rose and took their limp bodies away, but Pluto did not take notice.  She slowly walked to the double doors and closed them, sealing all access to the Tunnel of Time.  She then stood in front of it, gripping her staff with stolid determination.
          Silence marked the beginning of Sailor Pluto's timeless watch, solitude and sorrow her only companions.

*            *            *


          A tiny, artificial hub of life floated in the void between planets.  Enclosed in a metal shell, it was far away from any external source of air or water, and long separated from any allegiance or sustenance.  Inside it protected a handful of people determined not to show their fear, including a pair of queens and a pair of princesses of planets torn asunder.  All that remained of the worlds of Uranus and Neptune were those inside the spacecraft and the memories they carried.
          It seemed they were also the only survivors in the solar system.  The final transmissions from the other planets were of unimaginable variety.  Some mentioned animals that slaughtered people, others referred to amorphous beings and others still reported humans as the invading force. Those inside the spaceship did not know whether this was due to confusion or an actual difference in the attackers, although the latter was suspected due to their personal experiences.  The creatures that had attacked Uranus were winged monsters with horns and cloven hooves.  Neptune found itself fighting against a mob of amphibious creatures that were a grotesque mixture of fish and man, contrasted against the beautiful mermaids that made up the planet's populace.  It was only luck that the two queens and their daughters escaped.  The princesses held hands, and their gloves dug into each other as a silent vow that death would not separate their bodies.
          A loud thud echoed back and forth, leaving a slight ring in the ears of the passengers as it weakened.  Something had made contact with the spaceship's hull.
          "What was that?" Queen Neptune asked.
          "I want a visual now!" Queen Uranus immediately ordered.
          A servant pressed a button on a panel.  Several different camera angles, each shown in a separate frame on, appeared on the viewscreen.  They all showed an abundance of beings that resembled stingrays, but their lack of arms and legs made them no less dangerous.  One by one they jetted toward the spacecraft, pulling at the metal hull of the ship with their bodies.  The squeal of metal no longer able to maintain its shape rang thought the section, causing the princesses to hold hands even tighter.
          "Oh my..." Princess Neptune said.
          "They're going to tear this ship apart!" Princess Uranus shouted.
          No more words could be spoken, for at that moment, a large hole metal was torn away from above the cabin, exposing the inner warmth to the absolute zero of the surrounding area.  The air began to rush out of the spaceship and into the vacuum.  All of the passengers felt as though they were to explode and the air they released from their lungs did nothing to alleviate the internal pressure of their bodies.  In a snap all the corpses were flung out of the hole, long limp before the cold of space froze them solid.  The clasped hands of the princesses were been torn apart by the instant sleep, death nullifying both pain and promises.

*            *            *


          A sense of calm pervaded the air on Saturn, as though its ring of ice and dust shielded it from all harm.  While all the planet's neighbors contended with the ongoing attack of the Negaverse, Saturn and its people did not let the nearby warfare affect their daily routines.  The comfort of the familiar cloaked the uneasiness of the populace but few gave voice to this truth publicly; most were content to hide behind a lie.
          Queen Saturn, one of those many, sat in front of an enormous, elaborately framed mirror with a brush in hand.  Dressed in a long purple nightgown and wearing no adornments or accessories, nothing in her features indicated her royal heritage at this moment.  She gently held a section of dark hair and caressed the lengthy section with the bristles of her brush.  Her eyes followed her actions, not recognizing the hands that performed them.  Her anxious mind failed to connect the two pairs of body parts, so they both operated independently of her thoughts.  Was she leading her people down a path of destruction by not summoning the military to deal with the imminent threat?  Or would it be better to let the people live their lives as best they could, knowing that aside from a few Dark magicians the people of Saturn had not the stamina for war?  She had made the choice for her people, but her conversation with Queen Serenity reawakened her self-doubt.  Was she denying the planet a fighting chance, or was she accepting the inevitable to spare the people even more pain?
          An answer to that question came in the form of the creak of a door, with light footsteps following immediately.  Small, heavy breaths grew louder and closer as they carried the perfumed scent of a princess.  Queen Saturn turned to her daughter, whose tiny frame was barely enough to contain her life essence.  Her short black hair and weary purple eyes matched the shade of her loose robes perfectly.  Before either mother or daughter could say a word, the princess rushed toward the queen and wrapped her arms around her.  The queen lovingly reciprocated the gesture, savoring the moment for its entire worth.
          "I'm scared, Mom," the princess whispered, burying her face in her mother's stomach.
          "It's okay, dear," replied the queen, patting her daughter on the back.
          As much as the princess wanted to believe her mother, she could feel the shifts in her body, changes that had nothing to do with the onset of puberty.  Her body trembled in the embrace and the princess lifted her head, her eyes now without pupils.  The glowing lowercase h -- the dreaded symbol of her planet -- burned violet on her forehead, the power inside the princess struggling to free itself.  Queen Saturn hugged her daughter even tighter, believing that her protective arms could contain the threat within the child.  The princess's face returned to normal in short order, but young Saturn's fear only increased.
          "What's wrong with me?" Princess Saturn asked, knowing she would never get an answer in this life.
          "Nothing, sweetie," the queen lied.  "Everything will be fine."  Doubt no longer consumed the woman's heart.  Her daughter's head against her body, Queen Saturn was now convinced that she had made the right choice.

*            *            *


          A walkway bisected a garden of flowers that witnessed atrocities beyond imagination.  The beauty of the plants, however, would remain untouched by scores of living eyes.  Even insects who would feast on the dead were nowhere to be found among the bodies floated in midair.  While the corpses were free from the forces of gravity and pain, those same forces pulled at Serenity with all their might.  Her legs ached from running, her right arm ached from carrying the Crescent Moon Wand, and her eyes ached from restraining tears that needed to be shed.  She wanted stand her ground and fight, to stay to help the injured, to do something other than flee.  But she could not do as she wanted.  She would not be allowed to put herself in danger, denied even the freedom to protect those who could not protect themselves.
          Soldiers and guards around her had fallen in battle.  It was better to think of the dead as nameless brave souls even when they included comrades and family.  To attach the dead the individuality they had in life would only throw the dwindling survivors into useless grief.  Now only Rocco ran beside her, blood blending in with the crimson of his uniform.  But death's gluttony dwarfed their resolve.  With every spot they had found the enemy arrived to stop hearts from beating, and the once slim reaper fattened with every soul it took.
          Several yells slashed through the breathless silence.  Despite her weariness, Serenity ran toward the sound, her sore feet renewed with pain upon every stroke against the marble path.  The queen and her bodyguard passed through the walkway and into the dim building that led to it.  Light reflected from the Earth shined through the skylight but only a few torches burned brightly enough to scatter the rest of the darkness.
          "Queen Serenity," a sinister voice addressed from the shadows.  "Just the woman we were looking for."
          The figure stepped into the light slowly, a white helmet crowning the dark red of its humanoid form.  Six more creatures of varying colors and shapes made their entrance in the same manner, two of them carrying a Lunarian apiece.  They had no need to introduce themselves; by now reports of the Seven Shadow Warriors had become as widespread as death itself.  Despite the name of the group they were as distinct as their individual appellations.  Techniclon held the screaming Angelica against her body with her right arm, and carried a large beaker in her left arm.  Serenity had to catch herself before she gasped upon recognizing the second hostage.  Princess Artemis was in the grasp of the feline Bakene.  He had covered her mouth with his claw but she faint squeals of protest accompanied her writhing struggle to free herself.
          "Give up the Crystal," Game Machine Man demanded, "and we'll spare their lives."
          "Help me!" Angelica cried.  "Please!"
          "Oh shut up!" Techniclon shouted.
          Serenity stared at them with an expression as stolid as stone.  Any emotion she showed would be taken as a sign of weakness, so she refused to acknowledge the words of the enemy.  If she had spoken, her opaque ruse would have changed into transparent glass.
          "I guess you don't believe us," Game Machine Man declared.  "Maybe we should make the first move."  Game Machine Man turned to Techniclon. "Release the loudmouth."
          Techniclon kept her grip steady on Angelica.
          "I said release her!" he commanded again.
          "Whatever you say," she answered on the second iteration.  Techniclon casually dropped Angelica onto the ground as though she were a garbage bag.  The servant quickly got up and ran away from the seven.
          "Now it's your turn," Game Machine Man said to Serenity.
          Serenity turned her eyes to the enemies before her. She watched every movement they made, looking for an opening to rescue Princess Artemis.  Veena twitched her wings, eager to fly.  Pox rocked back and forth in his anxiety.  Even Bakene grew careless and in the interim loosened his muscles slightly, giving Serenity the opening she had been hoping for.
          It was what Serenity didn't see that nearly killed her.
          Behind her, the faint rustling of hands pulling on cloth caught Rocco's attention.  He turned around to see the source of the sound and found Angelica, now huddled against the far wall.  Her swift motions betrayed her intent as lifted her dress and retrieved a dagger from a scabbard on her leg.  Her eyes glistened with a determination so fierce that it seemed unnatural.  By the time he realized what she was planning to do, she had already begun the motions to throw her knife.  He had only one option, one option more than the queen did.
          "Serenity..." he called as he stepped behind her.
          Serenity turned around, two seconds too late.  The knife's blade pierced through tissue and bone while its hilt protruded from his chest like a third arm, ejecting the liquid life within.  The blow was even more fatal than the thrower had intended, severing the delicate blood vessel that nourished his Martian heart.  By the time he hit the ground, he was dead.
          Angelica spat an imprecation as she readied a second knife, but Serenity did not need to speak a word for a beam of white energy to rocket toward the spoken curse.  The traitor's body shook violently as it slipped away from consciousness into the arms of eternal death.
          Snap!
          Artemis' life ended with that slight sound.  As soon as the claws of Bakene twisted the neck of his hostage the Crystal began to glow.  Two pairs of thin, transparent wings materialized on the back of Serenity, rendering her two wings shorter than a seraph, but two more than any individual Shadow.  In response, their bodies contorted and darkened until the seven were nothing but black, jagged forms with red eyes.  They began to stretch toward each other, intersecting and melting into a net of darkness.  The strands thickened as the original bodies sacrificed their essence to the amalgamation that burst through the glass ceiling.  Shards pelted the floor but Serenity squeezed the Crescent Moon Wand and she ascended with a protective sphere around her.  Within seconds the queen soared above multicolored blooms and seven adversaries were replaced with a Shadow hundreds of times larger than the seven warriors combined.
          A battle in the lunar sky began at that moment and ended three days later.
          It opened with the trading of magical blows, each of the mystical energies crashing into the other with the flash of an exploding star.  This initial battle of magic passed, fading into a more sophisticated encounter between the regal, airborne angel and the demonic, earthbound Shadow.  The Shadow had the advantage in size and speed, while Serenity fought out of grief and anger.  Emotion and mobility should have given Serenity the advantage, but all of her attacks were ineffective.  Whether she aimed at head, body, or limb, the Invincible Shadow lived up to its namesake and regenerated after every strike.  In turn, it stretched to her aerial position, but she evaded its reach by rising higher.  However, she could never maintain her position for long; the thinner air soon sickened her to the point where she had to descend.
          The cycle of attack and evasion spun longer than a karmic wheel of fortune.  It would have been so simple for Serenity to throw all her concentration into one offensive, to stop dodging and make an attempt to end the battle one way or the other.  But she had to be patient, not trying to waste her energy.  One mistake and all those who had lost their lives protecting her would have died in vain.  Yet time attacked her patience as it did the landscape.  Petals and leaves were strewn and trampled, while the structure below crumbled along with her determination.  Over the dozens of hours and hours it had become harder and harder to focus on mere survival.  Her mind, at last, gave into an idea her body desperately pleaded for.  She flew directly toward the Shadow.  It wrapped its form around her, hoping to smother her.
          That proved to be the Shadow's fatal mistake.
          It pressed against her flesh, its dark heat pinning her frame.  Her heart raced as her nose and mouth, now hotly pressed into her skull, could not take in any more air.  Yet she focused and whispered with the last bit of oxygen remaining in her lungs.
          "Moon Healing Activation..."
          The Shadow felt the energy and instantly withdrew, allowing a fresh breeze pass Serenity's skin.  But its retreat was too late for its own survival.  It had not expected the technique, making its effects all the more profound.  A hole was pierced in the center of the body, with seven cracks protruding from it like seven worm from a bad apple.  The lines grew longer on the shadow's frame until they reached its edge.  A flash of black came before the segregation of the one Shadow into seven, which regained their individual forms and fell to the ground in seven thuds.  Serenity succumbed to the toll of the fight and alighted, unsure if the battle were over.
          The stirring of the enemies indicted that it was not.  Even the exposure to the energy had not weakened their resolve; their loyalty to the Negaverse came from their free will.  But they were emaciated severely by the forced separation and in were no condition to fight.  Pride kept them lurching toward and a part of Serenity was relieved.  She could not exact revenge from an enemy that was unconscious or already dead.
          Game Machine Man was the first to rise to his feet and the first to fall.  Before he could even begin an assault she extended her arm, and an eruption of brilliance came from the Crystal.  The shine and the glow faded, but there was no body where her enemy had stood.  Instead the Crystal glistened with the presence of a soul trapped inside.  Game Machine Man's very soul was imprisoned and the spirit was powerless to avoid watching Serenity deliver the same fate to his fellow Shadow Warriors.
          Bobo the Vulture's end came next.  His boxing gloves had been torn in the fall, so he had no means to attack his enemy.  His wings were undamaged, but he did not fly.  Instead, he charged at Serenity, who gave him a dose of deadly light, snatching his body and spirit in mid-stride.  Air was left in his place as the luminescence rested, and the Crystal glistened with the acquisition of a second soul.
          Bumboo fought with the listlessness of a creature that knew he was doomed.  He lurched toward the queen, the scissors-like hands slowly opening and closing.  Serenity waited, keeping an eye out for the other warriors on the ground.  At last, when he was within striking distance she pushed the wand into his face, causing light to ooze over him like bile and steal him from physical existence altogether.
          Veena clung to the false hope of defeating Serenity, as her life depended on it.  Unlike Bobo she had used her wings to ascend and stay off the ground.  Her vision blurred and she could not mentally hold her drawing feather steady in midair.  Her concentration faded in and out as she directed the feather to make the irregular polygonal outline of a large rock.  Serenity had occupied herself with the fighters on the ground; a boulder from above would be the last thing she worried about.  But by the time the outline of the boulder had been drawn, Veena found herself trapped by a righteous scintillation.
          Techniclon and Pox's demises came within seconds of each other.  They approached Serenity from opposite directions, hoping that the numbers would work in their favor.  Out of desperation Techniclon threw a capsule at Serenity, but the green skinned woman had missed her target and instead hit her comrade.  She stood in shock as the leeches meant for the queen began to nibble on him, but Serenity showed no mercy to her.  She hit the woman's hand with a beam of moonlight that caused Techniclon to drop the flask.  Before the glass shattered she was shot with a new wave of light.  In a literal flash her body was no more and her soul imprisoned in the crystal cage.  Yet before the brightness faded completely, a gale struck Serenity from behind.  It did not knock her over but instead it only reminded her of the presence of the red-faced demon.  She pivoted towards Pox, the dying light more than enough to remove his body from the area.
          Finally the seventh warrior made his last move.  Bakene leapt toward her from behind, but she spun around as he was in mid-air.  The Crystal now shined even stronger than it had before.  Her eyes gleamed nothing but white, letting the cat-man feel the full effect of the Crystal.  Twisted, animal shrieks of pain pleased his attacker, but the light burned the layers of his fur away, seeping into his flesh and deeper into his soul.  At last he could take no more punishment and death eagerly awaited to collect the spirit, but his end would not be so easy.  Instantly he vanished from both this plane and the reaper's grasp.
          She turned the Crystal until it came off the wand and gazed at its fading brilliance.  As the remnant of light disappeared so did the strength of the queen, and exhaustion pushed her to the ground, pressing her into a state between sleep and consciousness.

*            *            *


          A woman -- or rather the empty frame of a woman -- lay prone on the cracked surface of the Moon.  Her white dress had merely a few smudges of dirt on it, hiding the physical and mental damage she suffered.  If only she could have passed away here and now, her open eyes not seeing the ground in front of them.  A fitting irony it would have been, that for all the deaths she felt, heard, and seen in front of her, that she would die alone in her destroyed kingdom.  Breaths stubbornly came forth from her lungs and mouth, not allowing her wish to come true just yet.  She had to live a little longer, an eternity longer than she wanted to.
          Her head had jarred against a piece of rubble in the fall, causing a cut over her right eyebrow.  Yet she had sense of neither the injury nor the blood issuing from it.  It was rooted in a plane she wanted to leave, and to acknowledge it would be to acknowledge all the pain of both her recent and distant losses, the deaths she grieved and couldn't grieve, and the insidiously swift destruction of the world around her.  To give a portion of her thoughts to her despair would result in her mind being absorbed by all she had tried not to feel.  She could not afford the cost of paying her emotions the recognition they deserved -- that would have to come in her next life.
          Her body refused to allow her to ignore the sensations that followed, the rubbing of warm fur against her neck, the passing of a wet tongue on the side of her face not covered with blood.  Although she had no more energy than before, willpower forced her mind to reattach itself to her body, and she swung her eyes to the sources of the stimuli.  The twin orbs failed not to identify the cats Luna and Artemis, as well as the scratches and burns that parted their fur and damaged their skin. Their injuries could not prevent them from trying to stir her, so she forced herself off the ground, not letting their service be for naught.  Her body weighed as heavy as lead when she made even the slightest motion, but slowly she maneuvered herself to a sitting position.  Mentally preparing herself to speak, she inhaled and exhaled a few deep breaths, unsure if the words would come to her as she willed them.
          "Queen Serenity!  Are you all right?"
          Artemis had voiced the question and a part of her wanted to smack him for asking it.  She was not "all right."  She would never be "all right."  But before her mind could count again the deaths of those closest to her heart, she answered him in a weakened version of her usual, peaceful tone.
          "Yes, I'm fine."
          Her answer fooled neither of the cats who stared at Serenity out of concern.  Yet she gave it, regardless.  She could find nothing else to say.
          Luna's voice produced the next sentence -- a statement, a judgement in the guise of a question.  "You used the Crystal, didn't you?"
          Immediately, Serenity delivered a slap to Luna in the realm of the imaginary, but her mouth had the wisdom not to betray her violent thoughts.
          "Yes, Luna."  A piece of the woman's sanity fell into the abyss of madness as the memory of the fight with the Seven Shadow Warriors covered her in darkness.  "I had no choice."
          "We saw the bodies," one of the cats said.  Serenity, still caught in the numbness, could not tell which one.  "I'm sorry."
          "It's okay," the queen lied, more for herself than for them.  The quicker she left the recent past the better.  "How bad is it?"
          No answer immediately came, but the violent fantasies of before now eluded her.  Her royal screen now returned, filtering out the reactionary thoughts and supplanting them with less selfish ones.  Nevertheless, all that she experienced as both a queen and a woman could not have lessened the shock of the words released in Luna's broken cry.
          "It's a massacre!"
          Again, Serenity wished for an escape, knowing all too well at that moment the worst had happened.  But Luna was as obligated to report what happened as Serenity was to listen, and the queen did not fight her duty.
          "Mercury was the first planet we lost communication with.  From the final messages we received it seemed as though the negative energy had a catastrophic reaction with the planet's ecosystem.  It stripped the atmosphere away.  Mars was affected in a similar fashion.  Venus has been covered with poisonous clouds and Jupiter has turned to gas!"  Luna paused for a second, her voice leaving her in protest to the terrible news she had to bring.  She soon regained it and continued. "We can only speculate what's happening in the Outer region, but we can be sure that it's even worse than we've already seen."
          "Casualties?" Serenity asked.
          Artemis spoke the expected answer.  "Mortality rate for such planetary destruction is bound to be 100% for those still on the their surfaces."
          "What about those in transit?  Some of them have to be still alive."
          It was Luna's turn to give Serenity the bad news she knew was coming.  "The large amounts of negative energy have made interplanetary travel a fatal gambit.  Those lucky enough to escape with their lives found their ships being torn apart by swarms of monsters."
          Tears tore their way out of the queen's eyes, prompting Artemis to speak.  "Most of the people in the kingdom were already dead by the time the negative energy took its course, if what's happening here is any indication..."
          Serenity didn't wait for Artemis to finish, digging her nails into the hard ground while asking, "What's happening here?"
          "The Negaverse..." Luna said.  "It's evil!  Their army is slaughtering men in front of the eyes of their wives, children in front of their parents."  Luna continued to list the atrocities of the Negaverse, but she may as well have been mute.  As though spinning coin had finally chosen a side to land, Serenity's mind broke out of the shade of sorrow and the pattern of duty to connect with her heart.  The heart chastised her for wallowing in her own pain.  In repentance, worry, and love she asked the only question a mother could.
          "Where's Serena?"  Serenity twisted her head from side to side in search of her only child.  "Where is she?  Is she okay?  Please tell me she's still alive!"
          "We don't know," Luna answered.  "There's no sign of her or Darien."
          "The princesses?"
          Luna shook her head.  "They were just killed a few minutes ago."
          "No.  Not them.  They were the last..."  Serenity gazed at the destruction around her, her mind as heavy as her body and her heart.  The corpse of Princess Artemis lied nearby and the cats, smelling the death, bemoaned the loss of yet another member of the royal family. Other than their cries and the distant echo of war, silence replaced the Moon's lost song of life.  Even the beautiful lunar sky had grown ill, becoming a mephitic mixture of green, pink, and black.  Only Lunar Palace remained unscathed, drawing Serenity's fluttering eyes to the edifice.
          A dark nebulous creature hovered over the palace, its form melting into the black clouds painted on the sky.  As soon as Serenity's gaze settled on the castle, the creature released a green column of energy that collided with the building.  Pieces of marble took to the air in a whirlwind and the destruction of the castle closely resembled a tornado demolishing a sandcastle.  Serenity lifted herself from the ground, paying no attention to the weariness of her frame while it hindered her every movement.  Upon her accomplishment, the energy column widened, and the palace splintered into a puff of floating fragments.
          "Serena!" she shouted.
          That's when Serenity started to run toward the site.  If she still had the strength, she would have flown, but even her nervous energy had its limits.  Luna and Artemis ran closely behind, struggling to keep their feline forms in pace with the queen, who kept the banshee's burden with cries of her daughter's name.
          It was only when Serenity nearly ran into the white dress hovering above the ground that she stopped running and yelling.
          Her daughter floated in the air.  Dead.  Prince Darien floated beside her.
          A storm of emotions thundered at the core of Serenity.  The wailing wind of sadness, the lightning flashes of regret, and the steady rain of loss could only beat upon a heart long past broken.  Her mind sat at the eye of this hurricane, her thoughts muted in the torrent of feeling.  She didn't know she wailed, that her body and heart manifested the emotion her mind simply could not comprehend.  She didn't know she had called out to a daughter who could not hear her consolation and fell to her knees in desolation.  She would only remember later how she reacted.  Instead, her motions were those of an automaton programmed by fate, and the cries of the cats became as weightless as the bodies in front of her.
          "Serenity, you can't."
          The queen's fingers trembled slightly as she put the Silver Imperium Crystal back into the Wand.
          "Serenity, don't!"
          She lifted the Crescent Moon Wand, her hands regaining their steadiness, and seized a breath, before expelling it in three words.
          "Cosmic Moon Power!"
          The light of her soul shined across the universe for seven seconds.
          Seven seconds for Serenity to seal away the evil army.
          Seven seconds for all the pain in her life to rush up on her.
          One...
          Silver, elderly eyes full of love accompanied the first wave of hurt that transcended both the physical and the mental thresholds.
          Okay, you can deal with this. This isn't the end of the world.
          Two...

          A second wave of pain, much stronger hit her more quickly than she expected.  It was accompanied by the sound of a female voice speaking words of that she did not understand.
          Oh no!  I can't bear it! I don't want this!  Please stop!  Please stop!
          Three...

          A hurt even more deep, and the warmth of a last breath made its way to her heart and shot its way up to the crescent moon on her forehead.
          Oh!  The last stroke!  Kill me now!  I don't want to be a queen anymore!
          Four...

          An explosion of pain stung her chest then diffused through her body, leaving a sore ache.
          It hurts, in a different way but just as badly.  I can handle it, the pain of being...
          Five...

          The smell, the sight, and the stickiness of red life joined the next wave of agony, causing her to loosen her grip on the wand.
          Another pain.  My strength!  All taken away.  Let this be the end.
          Six...

          A piercing, quick snap placed her in darkness.  She responded by holding onto the wand more firmly.
          Yet another?  There's no more left.  I have nothing else to give...except that...don't take her away...she's all I have left!
          Seven...

          A salty tear of the Moon shined like crystal and gave its moisture to the air.  The droplet flooded her, the hurt so inundating that all the functions of her body her stopped and she stood only because she was too weak to let herself fall down.
          The final piercing blow, breaking my spirit and numbing my pain.  Death, I surrender my life to you.  Take me!  Take me!
          The moans and cries of the Negaverse army did not reach Serenity's ear.  Even Beryl's shrieks could not penetrate the bubble of hurt, loneliness, and other internal obstacles attempting to tear Serenity away from her own sacrifice.  Yet the queen's soul pressed forward, no longer out of the will of her mind or the course of her heart.  Love in its absolute form  -- maddening, blinding, poisoning, deafening, all-consuming, undiscriminating, tiring, dividing, clarifying, persisting, uniting, thriving -- the deepest love that could only be attained through the power of an unchained soul is what kept Serenity standing until the light sent away every living denizen of the Negaverse.  Her soul joined with the Crystal and in unison, their complete radiance poured into every corner and shadow that served as sanctuary for the darkness, ushering the living chaos to the land where it originated.
          In that last second, while the brilliance pronounced banishment on the invaders, it washed over the souls of the recently departed and stole them away from death.  In the space between this level of existence to the next the light caught them in its grip, placing them within the protection of the Crystal. A few of those that died had been servants of the enemy, but as death had not abstained from taking their souls, she could show no judgement in giving them another chance.  At last, the seventh second elapsed and the brightness, having chased away the dark clouds, gave into the natural darkness of the night sky.  With the passing of that mark Serenity's body and soul, stripped of nearly all their power, longed for rest.  Her body, the weaker of the two, stumbled toward a fallen pillar and reclined against it, but her soul tempered by the Crystal, fought against the ease of death.  If she stopped now, all her efforts would be in vain.
          Luna and Artemis let out cries of celebration, the ecstasy of a difficult victory overcoming their senses.
          "You did it!" Luna shouted
          "You beat them!" Artemis yelled.
          Serenity ignored their euphoria.  Her body quaked but she unscrewed the Crystal, and she held it in front of her.  It glowed with the radiance of souls revolving around its core in a blur.  The sight was so breathtaking she almost could have died at the moment, and her body went limp.
          "Serenity!" the cats cried.
          The queen jumped as though she had been a watchman caught falling asleep on duty.  The end of her life threatened to swallow her, and she struggled against it.  Her new energy distressed the cats more than her brief slip into the realm of eternal sleep.
          "Your Majesty, please rest," Luna begged.
          "No, I can't," Serenity stated softly.
          "Please, you don't have any strength left."
          "I have to go on!"  Her eyes watered tiredly and she lacked the energy to wipe the tears from her face.  "Luna, Artemis, look around.  Look at what's left of the Moon Kingdom.  If I don't finish, then it's the same as letting the Negaverse win."
          "I thought you beat them," Artemis said.
          "I banished them, but I couldn't destroy them.  More importantly, the souls of Serena and the others hang in the balance."
          "But she perished," Luna whispered sadly.
          "Her body died, but I caught her soul in time."  Serenity opened her palm to reveal the Crystal.  "Now it's here."
          "That's wonderful!  Soon everything will be back to normal."
          "No it won't.  Their souls are here because their bodies were too weak to hold onto them.  I can't just put them back."
          "Then what are you going to do?" Artemis asked.
          "I have to send these souls to a time and a place where they can be reborn.  And there is only one place left."  Serenity rested her head against the pillar and stared at the blue sphere hanging in the sky.
          "You can't do that.  That's where the Negaverse began their invasion!"
          "Earth is a beautiful planet, and unlike this dying Moon and the other planets it has enough life to support the transfer of souls."
          "But can't you send them elsewhere?  Outside the solar system?"  Artemis did not need to receive a spoken reply to the question to know its answer and in turn Serenity gave him none.
          "Terrans are notoriously chaotic," Luna said. " How can you ensure that they'll live peaceful lives there?"
          "I can only hope their lives will be as wonderful as they were here," Serenity admitted. "Earth has to be the place.  It has seen so much, felt so much pain.  It's been here before the Moon Kingdom and will continue to exist long after it."
          "Will there be enough room on the planet to receive all those souls?"
          "Not now, but, there will be."  A sharp jerk pulled at Serenity's entire body, causing her to shiver and groan.
          "Serenity!" the cats cried.
          "I don't have much more time.  I'm telling you these things because you'll need to know them once I'm gone."
          "Without you, we have no future," Artemis asserted.
          "You have a future," Serenity declared. "You're joining them."
          "No," Luna pleaded, "we want to be by your side"
          "I'm not changing my mind." Another sharp pain grabbed her.  It was so strong that she almost lost consciousness, but she fought death's pull again.  "There is a possibility that Negaverse will break out of its prison.  If that is the case you must reawaken the carriers of the seeds, even at the cost of disrupting the tranquil lives of the princesses themselves.  They will be your only defense against the dark forces."
          "Yes," both cats said.
          "There's more.  Serena carries one of the seeds inside her.  I didn't unleash its power, but if it becomes absolutely necessary, then you must stir the sleeping force within."
          "We understand and obey."
          "All of the memories of those sent to the future, including yours will be buried, but they will emerge if the time comes."
          Serenity opened her palm, and the Crystal, full of the strength the queen lacked, rocketed toward the sky with the promise of new life.  As mysteriously as the Crystal rose it stopped, and cast a wave of light across the sky.  An endless stream of sparking souls spilled upward from the Crystal.  The souls took the form of their former bodies without the disfigurement and mangling that accompanied their deaths.  A protective, transparent sphere wrapped around each soul, and the bubbles spread across the sky, swimming through the air toward the big blue world.  The Crescent Moon Wand slipped out of her hand and hit the ground.  Upon impact, Luna and Artemis were encased in chambers, placed in the same deep sleep and the same course as the shining spheres.
          Out of the corner of her eye Serenity caught a gleam of silver in one of the bubbles.  It drifted upward and saw Mona sleeping soundly in the orb.  The young woman had so much potential in her, and if she were free of the force that drove her to evil, a wonderful life awaited her.
          Serenity's eyes to darted a flash of red in a bubble.  Rocco seemed to be almost a stranger in his slumber, so rare the sight of him unconscious in his life.  He had been there for her during the best in the worst times in her life, and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.  Without her, he could live his own life, and perhaps even enjoy it.
          Princess Artemis floated upward, and Serenity's thoughts turned toward the soul inside the clear ball.  They had never closed the distance between each other before her death.  Through this new chance at life would not make up for the wall between aunt and niece, perhaps it could offer the woman a life where she would be appreciated.
          Princess Saturn slept like a baby inside her sphere, no longer feeling the weight of the power inside her.  Ironically, she was dressed in the fighting garb she never used, an indicator of the seed inside her.  Serenity prayed that the young princess would never have to use her power.
          Princesses Uranus and Neptune floated by in tandem, in the sailor-like uniforms they wore upon their deaths.  Tied together in death, they would be together through friendship or through blood.
          Princess Venus curled up inside her bubble, which swayed slightly as it rose.  She had always been as pretty as the goddess that shared the name of her planet, and until this outbreak of war joy's wonderful scent had followed behind her.  Her natural leadership and charisma would serve her well on Earth, a planet of followers teetering on the balance of right and wrong.  If only love could find its way to her heart, then her the passions of her next life would exceed those of her previous one.
          Princess Jupiter flew upward without ceremony.  Her devotion and spirit matched her strong emotions.  These attributes could only help her survive on a planet that had not yet learned to appreciate women with such power.
          Princess Mars passed her like a rocket.  Serenity smiled upon thinking of the undying friendship between Mars and Serena, and how Mars seemed to care most about her daughter of all her friends.  Stripped of their royal responsibilities, not only could she and Serena become closer, but she and the other princesses could also become better friends.
          Princess Mercury's bubble trailed those of the other princesses.  The young woman would now head to a world where great minds were not always welcomed, and pure strength was respected.  Her soul was strong enough to withstand this trial, and Serenity knew that she would find a way to flourish on Earth.
          Darien floated by overhead, retaining his noble air.  The armor reminded her that though his fate may have been intertwined with that of her daughter, it would not necessarily the same; still more fighting lay in store for him.  However, in rebirth he would receive a small solace.  Of all the souls, he was one of the few returning to his home planet.  Please make Serena happy, she thought.
          Serena slept soundly as she rose into the sky.  Unlike the other princesses she slumbered in her gown.  A wave of thoughts crashed into her upon seeing her daughter.  Serenity had done all of this for her, the gift of a second chance she saved for last.  Daughter of all those I loved, I loved you most of all.  Carry on in your life and your love for my sake.
          The cats slept in their containers, but Serenity could not muster any thoughts for them.  She had no unfinished business as far as they were concerned and she was merely too tired to wonder about their new lives.  Only a weak command echoed in her fading mind.  Watch over them.
          At last there were the Seven Shadow Warriors.  Unlike the other enemy souls that had been reaped, Serenity had imprisoned these souls purposefully with the intention of never releasing them.  However, in the process of sharing its life with the dying queen, the Crystal lost much of its strength as well.  If she sent the Crystal to Earth, it would splinter and the seal placed on both the Negaverse and the Shadow Warriors could eventually weaken and break altogether.  The other option gave her no consolation, for she kept it with her, her daughter nor the other souls sent with her would never fully awaken, and their memories of their past lives would be forever lost.  Knowing she had little time left, Serenity stared at the Crystal and communicated her decision.
          The sound of a thousand breaking glasses bounced back and forth through the air, the white light spreading into a beautiful band of seven colors.  At the end of each strip, a piece of the Crystal spun ever slowly toward the earth with the dark soul inside struggling against its confinement.  The rainbow in the sky trailed the stream of sparkling souls, sealing the covenant between Serenity and the divided Crystal.  Serenity let her eyelids fall after taking in the vision, and all her senses faded to nothing.
          At last the burden was lifted.