Recessional

Based on “Sailor Moon” created by Naoko Takeuchi.

Recessional

by Angus MacSpon

“The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart…”
—Rudyard Kipling

-1-

And so it was over. Mostly, she felt tired: a great, bone-deep weariness. That was a relief, in a way. She had expected pain.

She lay on a bed of rubble beneath a dark sky. There was a thin, chill wind blowing, stirring the dust around her. In a little while, she knew, the sky would be much darker; and the wind…it would blow, and blow, and then there would be an end to everything.

Above, the heavens were full of stars. They shone brilliantly, brighter than she had ever seen them. Once, not so very long ago, such a night would have been occasion for celebration, for joy and laughter and love beneath the glittering sky. Now, there was nobody left to celebrate; and the brightness of the stars had another, grimmer meaning.

Did I do well? she wondered. A victory, yes, but at such great cost. Might there have been another way?

Oh, my daughter…

The tears dried in her eyes, unshed. She did not have the energy to weep.

Her eyelids closed for a moment. A great silence fell. She seemed to see a vast, shadowy plane beneath a starry sky. Something stirred, far-off: a vague, indistinct shape on the horizon. And then her eyes opened again, and the ruins were all around her once more, and the gentle sighing of the wind. The sky was perceptibly darker.

She breathed a silent laugh. She had not expected to dream. At the very least, she had not expected to awaken.

Behind her, far off, there was a sound of pebbles shifting. Movement amidst the wreckage. Another ghost come to haunt the ruins, she thought with bitter humour. Did I fail, then? Did some of the invaders survive?

It hardly mattered. Soon enough, the ruins would be lifeless.

She heard rocks shifting, the crunching of stone. Footsteps coming toward her. And then a voice, long-remembered, spoke.

“My queen…”

With a great effort she lifted her head. Her eyes swam for a few seconds, then cleared. “You,” she whispered.

“Yes. Oh, my queen…I could not—you knew I could not…”

“Hush. Of course I knew.” She coughed; and for the first time, there was pain. When she could speak again she said, “You did what was necessary.” After a moment she added, “We all did…”

The other sat down in the rubble at the queen’s side. If the broken stone was uncomfortable, the newcomer gave no sign. “I…didn’t know if I’d find you or not.”

“Alive, you mean?” The queen breathed a laugh: all the laughter that was left in her. “Not for much longer, I think. It is all gone. I used it all up.”

“I know.”

“Of course you do. Ahh—” The pain came again, and the world went dark. Dark, and full of knives.

At last, she found she could see again. The other was still at her side. “Still there?” she whispered. “Good. I am glad to have a friend, at the end.”

The other looked down at her, eyes wet with tears. The queen tried to lift a hand to brush them away, but found she could no longer move her arm. “You, crying?” she murmured. “Surely not.”

The other laughed through tears of grief. “I do cry. Sometimes.” And then, stirring: “My queen, I could take you indoors—make you more comfortable…”

“I don’t think you’d find any ‘indoors’ left,” the queen said. “Not for a long way around, at least. There’s little point, anyway. You must have noticed the sky…”

The other nodded silently.

“So dark, now…and see the stars!” She coughed, a long, painful hacking. “The air is escaping. It won’t be long now, before…before the end. No, let me lie. I’ll be…more comfortable…soon enough.” She sighed. “Only hold my hand…”

She felt another hand, warm in her own. It was comforting.

“Did I do well?” she asked suddenly. “You could tell me that, at least. Will it work out?”

The other’s grip tightened slightly on her hand. “My queen—”

“I know, I know. And I never have asked. But now, what harm can it do? Tell me, Pluto. Did I do well?”

-2-

Pluto smiled down at her, her eyes still moist. “As you say, what harm?” She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Well? Well enough, my queen. You did not destroy them, but you locked them away where they could harm no-one. And the others, the children…” She hesitated. “They arrived safely. They were—they will be happy.”

The queen sighed. “There’s more, isn’t there? You’re not telling me everything.”

Pluto was uncomfortable. “My…Queen Serenity…”

The queen turned her head to look up at her companion. It suddenly occurred to her that it was odd that she was able to do so. “Are you doing something to me?”

“I’m giving you a little more energy. Enough to…to take the pain away, for a while.”

Serenity shook her head. “A waste of effort. I’m dying, Pluto. Burnt out. Not even Saturn could help me now.” She fixed Pluto with a stern expression. “Tell me.”

“…You’re right.” Pluto sighed. “Beryl will break free again. In the same time period when the children will be living.”

“Ahhh…” The physical pain was held at bay, for now; but the emotional pain was worse. With a great effort, she managed to sit up. “I feared that. Was it all for nothing, then?”

“No. Oh, no!” Pluto was speaking less reluctantly now. It must be pleasant for her, the queen thought, to be able to talk about what she knew. Of all the senshi, Pluto had perhaps the harshest role; she lived bound in circumscriptions and arcane rules, her life one of perpetual, resolute devotion to a far harder task than ruling a kingdom. The wonder of it was that she was still sane.

“Oh, you would be so proud of them, Serenity,” Pluto went on. “The five Inner Senshi, and your daughter especially. Still only young girls, all of them, but they fight Beryl and her generals, and they win!”

“Win?” the queen said in wonder. “A final victory? I never dared hope for that.”

“A final victory. Your daughter—oh, she is one to be proud of. There is steel in her, though—” Pluto smiled “—one sometimes has to dig to find it.”

“I remember.” The queen smiled wistfully. “Oh, but it’s hard, knowing that I shan’t see her again…never watch her grow up.” She sighed. “Is she happy, then, after Beryl is gone? Does she have a…a mother, in her Earth family? Can she…” She stopped, unable to say the words: Can she love my daughter as I do?

Pluto gazed at her steadily, and Serenity nodded. “You’re right. I’m jealous. But…will she be happy? Tell me that, at least.”

“She…” Pluto searched for words. “She has much to endure. A time of testing. My queen, the Silver Millennium is over, but the cycle moves to re-establish it. This time, on Earth. Your daughter will face trial after trial—but each one will only strengthen her. And in the end, she will rule a Silver Millennium reborn. With her Earth prince by her side.”

“Yes…” Serenity leaned back for a moment, resting her head against a shattered pillar. Her vision swam alarmingly, and she forced herself back upright. It won’t be long now, she thought.

In a way, she found she was looking forward to it. To an end to the weariness and the grief. An end to pain. And, perhaps, a reunion with her consort. She had devoted her life to her realm, and now she had spent it all to secure a future for her daughter—for all her daughters and sons, the people of her kingdom. It was a good ending after all, and all she had to do was relax at last…

It was not enough.

Her eyes opened again. “Pluto?” she said.

“Yes, my queen.” Serenity looked up and caught a strange expression on Pluto’s face: sadness, worry…but was that anticipation, as well?

“Show me,” she ordered. And Pluto nodded, and lifted her staff.

-3-

They stood in a darkened chamber. Serenity reeled at the sudden change, and Pluto caught her before she could fall. “Can you stand?” Pluto asked.

“I…I think so. Not for long. Where are we?”

“Beryl’s throne-hall. Just watch. Don’t say anything. We’re not physically here, so nobody should see us, but Beryl is…well, it’s best not to draw attention to ourselves.”

Slowly, the queen’s eyes were adjusting to the darkness. The more detail she made out, the more she wished they weren’t. She groped for words that could describe the horror of what she was seeing, but could find none. Twisted, warped, somehow organic-looking…it was as if the walls themselves dripped malevolence.

No, she scolded herself. Don’t be melodramatic. She knew what the problem was. She was half-dead with shock and exhaustion; her body, damaged and failing from channelling the huge overload of power she’d levelled against Beryl and her forces. The only thing keeping her going at all was the energy Pluto was feeding her. Small wonder that she was feeling giddy, seeing things that weren’t there…

But there was something there. Something unspeakable. Her mind turned back to her Crystal Palace on the moon: laid waste now, but once it had been a place of light and life, of joy and peace. Anyone who entered it felt at home at once. It was nothing to do with the furnishings, or the architecture, or the people who dwelt there; it was simply that a spirit of contentment, a tranquil genius loci, hung over it. And that feeling, that spirit, was the exact opposite of what she felt now. The spirit of this place was dark, and savage, and hungry.

It centred around the throne, and at last Serenity had to look at the one seated there. She had seen that figure just a few hours ago, standing in the ruins of her palace and proclaiming her triumph over the Moon Kingdom. She wondered how far forward Pluto had brought her. Hundreds of years? Thousands? But Beryl hadn’t changed at all. Tall, slender…from a distance, one might have called her beautiful. From a distance.

“Now,” Pluto whispered.

Serenity stood, with Pluto’s help, and watched what happened. She saw her daughter—O my daughter!—come in. She watched the Earth-prince, his mind dominated by dark powers, try to slay his lover; she watched the prince fall. In the end, she watched her daughter face Beryl. Followed the battle out, onto the ice. Watched her daughter triumph, the ghostly forms of her dead companions by her side. And as the fireball blossomed, as the energies burst outward, she wept.

Out of that conflagration she saw an object fly, spinning end over end: something so familiar, so well-known, that she stretched out a hand to catch it without thinking. It was only when she felt the impact in the palm of her hand, looked down to see what she held, that she realised the impossibility of what had happened.

“You said we’re not physically here,” she said accusingly. She lifted the object—the Empyrian Silver Crystal, set in its crescent-moon wand mounting—and demanded, “How?”

“The Crystal knows its owner,” Pluto replied calmly. “When your daughter dropped it, it found its way home.” For just a moment, Serenity thought she saw a flash of satisfaction on the senshi’s face.

“That’s not what I meant,” the queen snapped. “How could this possibly have—” She stopped as realisation dawned. “You planned this,” she said accusingly.

Pluto hesitated. “I hoped,” she admitted. “Usagi told me how she’d lost the Crystal, and how she got it back—”

“Usagi?”

“Your daughter’s Earth name. It means—well, it’s a name in the language of the land where she was reborn.”

“Ah.” Serenity tried the name a few times. It seemed odd on her lips: the name of a stranger. “This is why you were so willing to bring me forward to see her again,” she realised suddenly.

Pluto nodded silently.

“You used me. I was dying and you still did it.”

Pluto nodded again.

After a long silence, Serenity sighed. “I said it before, didn’t I? ‘You did what was necessary.’ And I suppose I did ask you to do it.”

Only one who had known Pluto as long as Serenity had would have recognised the look of guilt on the senshi’s face. For a moment she looked very vulnerable. “Do you forgive me?” she asked in a small voice.

The queen sighed again. “How can I not?” she said. “You gave me my daughter back, if only for a few moments.”

Pluto smiled, and there were tears in her eyes. There were tears in Serenity’s own. On impulse, she reached out and hugged the senshi. After a surprised instant, Pluto hugged back.

As they separated, a wave of vertigo swept over the queen. She staggered, gasping; Pluto reached out a hand to catch her, but missed. As Serenity hit the floor, the world went black. If there was pain, she never felt it.

And she saw a dark, shadowy plain…and a sky full of stars. No, not a plain, a sea…an endless, calm sea, perfectly flat…and there, on the horizon…what?

When she opened her eyes again, she saw Pluto’s anxious face staring into her own. She felt…strange. Detached. As if a limitless supply of energy lay all about her, ready to be used; but when she tried to reach for that energy, tap it, it seemed to flow away between her fingers, leaving her weaker than ever.

“It’s the Crystal,” she said, without trying to move. “It’s feeding me more energy, trying to heal the damage. But the Crystal is what did the damage in the first place. It’s only making it worse.” Hastening the end.

“I know,” Pluto answered. “We’ll have to hurry.”

The queen raised her eyebrows with an effort. “Oh? Why, do you have more stops planned?”

“Oh, yes,” Pluto said calmly. And she raised her staff.

-4-

They stood on the Moon once more, in the ruins of the palace. But…something was different. Serenity looked around, trying to work out what had changed.

“The sky,” she realised. “It’s black now. And the palace looks…older, somehow. It’s as if—”

“This is the Moon of your daughter’s day,” Pluto said. “The last of the atmosphere leaked away thousands of years ago. The vacuum has preserved the ruins here, mostly, but prolonged heating and cooling is slowly crumbling the stone. There’s a trace of power left that helps maintain things here around the palace. Over most of the Moon, the wreckage is hardly visible any more.” She smiled. “One of the Apollo missions was planned to land here. I had to divert it.”

“One of the what? —Never mind. Why are we here?”

“We’ve moved back in time. It’s a day or so before your daughter fights Beryl. Right now, on Earth, the Inner Senshi are confronting one of Beryl’s generals. In a few minutes, there’ll be a release of energy that will create a momentary point of confluence between your Crystal and the Crystal your daughter holds. The senshi will drawn here. To meet you.”

The queen did not answer immediately. Another wave of blackness passed over her, and she had to fight to stay erect. “Go on,” she managed to say at last.

“Their memories of the past are almost non-existent. If they’re to have the strength to finish the job, they need to know more. Who they are. Where they came from. What happened here. Why.”

“What? Pluto, I…I don’t know if I have the strength to do that.” Don’t make me live through it all over again!

“You have the Crystal now. You should still be able to draw enough energy to manage.”

Serenity looked at Pluto silently. Both of them knew what it would cost her to use the Crystal again, for such a major working. But the senshi did not flinch. The timeline must be preserved, her look seemed to say. Sometimes the price is very high. But the timeline must be preserved.

“Very well,” the queen said softly. “I’ll do it.”

As she spoke, the Crystal in her hands flickered. She felt a strange, cool radiance, spilling over her skin. Then it erupted in a flare of light that blinded her for a few seconds. As her vision returned she thought she saw a strange doubling…moving lights…shadows from another light source, not far away. She heard voices.

“I’ve arranged for an atmosphere over the local area,” Pluto said. “You should go to meet them now.”

Serenity nodded, raised the wand. They think I died, thousands of years ago, she thought. I ought to make a good entrance. Behind her, Pluto vanished from sight.

Closing her eyes, the queen reached out her senses to the Crystal. As she had feared, she could not touch it: her inner gateways were closed, the paths and conduits seared shut by the huge overload of force she had drawn. The power was there, a vast reservoir of energy, but just out of reach.

Only life-energy could breach the gap, she realised; but she had so little left…

The words came back to her again. You did what was necessary…

With ruthless force, she tore the conduits open. The power flowed. It burned: a cold, bright fire throughout her body, horribly painful, much worse than she had expected. She writhed, a moth in a flame, her hands clamped vice-like on the wand, her breath coming in short gasps, her teeth grinding as she fought for control.

…what was necessary…

She went to meet the children.


And afterward, seeing the burst of light as the young ones vanished back to Earth, Pluto stepped out from behind the base of a shattered pillar. The queen stood in the centre of a little clearing in the wreckage. She was motionless. She barely seemed to be breathing.

“Are they gone?” the queen said. Her voice was soft, gentle, soothing, full of warmth. The voice of Queen Serenity of the Silver Millennium.

Suspiciously, Pluto stepped closer. “Yes,” she said.

“Thank you.” The queen’s hands opened, and the wand dropped to the dusty ground. And the illusion vanished.

Pluto caught her breath in spite of herself. What stood before her now was scarcely recognisable. Withered. Twisted. Consumed. The hands that had held the wand were fleshless, almost skeletal. The queen’s limbs were shrunken, pale skin stretched almost transparent over white bone. And her face: skull-like, distorted with pain and suffering. One eye was red with blood. More blood ran from her nose and ears, not dripping but flowing steadily. The whole front of her dress was stained bright red.

She turned her head slowly, unsteadily, obviously looking for Pluto, and just as obviously unable to see her, though the senshi stood in bright sunlight.

“Pluto?” she said. Her voice was a mumble, almost unintelligible.

As Pluto stood staring, for a moment unable to move, the queen took a step forward. All at once her legs seemed to fail, and she tumbled to the ground like a bundle of sticks. She seemed astonished at her failure, and started struggling to rise, her lips moving soundlessly.

The spell broke; Pluto ran forward and gathered the queen up in her arms. She seemed to weigh less than a child.

“Too deep,” Serenity muttered, her head on Pluto’s shoulder, her words slurred and guttural. “Drank too deep at the well…” And then she looked up at Pluto’s face, and seemed to stir in recognition.

“Mama…?”

Pluto snatched up the crescent-moon wand. The garnet staff flashed, and they were gone.

-5-

Serenity was flying.

The pain was gone at last, and she soared joyously through an open sky, soaring and gliding and banking and diving, her arms outstretched to catch the wind, marvelling at the ecstasy of flight.

Free, free at last, no more duty, no more obligations, no more tedious courts and receptions and state banquets and endless endless endless work…

The sun was low on the horizon, and as she dipped and swooped and wheeled with glorious abandon, she saw it set. The western sky was a blaze of red-gold. The stars began to come out. She flew on. Her strength was boundless.

Night fell, and suddenly she knew she had seen this place before. An endless, flat plain spread out below her—but no, it was the sea, calm and smooth, utterly peaceful. The sky was filled with stars, more stars than she had ever seen, diamond-bright. It was more beautiful than anything she had ever seen, and she wept tears of joy as she flew on…

Somewhere, a door slams open. She hears running footsteps, feels herself carried inside. There are voices, raised in surprise.

“Get Hotaru! Quickly!”

“Setsuna-san…?”

“NOW!”

And more running footsteps, but she really does not want to hear this…

The sea below her was clear and perfectly smooth. Mirror-smooth. She flew with stars above and stars below. The last of the afterglow vanished from the western horizon, and she flew on, smoothly, tirelessly. She felt no fear, only a breathless wonder and expectation.

The reflection below her was so perfect, she could not tell where the sky ended and the sea began. She watched, trying to pick out the dividing line, and presently she noticed that the stars reflected below her were not the same as the stars above.

She wondered if she had left the water behind, and was flying through space. But somehow she knew that the sea was still there…but that it reflected nothing at all. Those lights came from beneath the surface.

The sea was full of stars. A starsea.

There are cool fingers on her brow, and she opens her eyes with difficulty. Someone is kneeling over her, looking down in shock and concern. After a moment, she recognises her.

“Hello, Uranus,” she breathes. It is curiously difficult to get the words out. “…Been a long time…”

She sees horrified recognition dawn in the woman’s eyes, and then Uranus bursts into tears.

But the effort is too much, and she cannot stay…

It was full night. There was no wind, no sound at all but for the steady beating of her wings. It was not cold at all; the coolness of the air against her skin was wonderfully exhilarating. She could fly all night, if she wanted. She could fly forever.

But there was something on the horizon. Something that she could not quite make out. A shape, a vast curve up into the sky. Not a cloud, she was certain of that. She wanted to reach it, to make it out properly…

“Hotaru-chan, you must hurry!”

“I can’t, Setsuna-mama! She’s so far gone…and there’s something else…it’s like the Empyrian Silver Crystal’s power, but it’s all through her body, and it’s blocking me.”

“She must not die! Not yet!”

“I can’t save her!”

“Just keep her alive! Just a few hours more! That’s all!”

She beat her wings harder, climbing higher into the air. The shape on the horizon seemed to be growing closer. She could begin to pick out a few more details, here and there. An arc…no, a double arc. Closer now, definitely. Soon she would see it in its entirety.

How high was she? She could no longer tell. The air did not seem thinner, but she thought she could see more stars now. Ahead, the thing on the horizon seemed to have grown, too. It was still maddeningly indistinct, but she could make out more curves…and a circle…

And for the first time, she saw a ripple on the sea below her. The stars below her wavered. There was a faint sound in her ears. Another ripple, and another, and then she saw that the sky was rippling too.

And the whole universe wavered and faded around her, and as the last stars disappeared she cried out, Nooo! Not when I was so close!

-6-

She opened her eyes. There were faces all around her, unfamiliar…and yet, at the same time, she thought she knew them.

“Where—?” she began. Her mouth was dry. She could not continue.

One of the strangers held a glass of water to her lips. She swallowed a few mouthfuls, then found she could drink no more. A name swam into her mind.

“Uranus…”

The stranger jerked. “My queen,” she said respectfully.

“Queen. Is that who I am? I don’t…” The words seemed to dry up in her mind; she faltered to a stop. Then another word came to her. “Serenity.”

“Yes,” said another of the strangers: a tall woman with long green hair. “Serenity. That is who you are. Do you remember?”

“Pluto,” she said, without really knowing why. More nonsense words came to her: “Neptune…Saturn?”

“You know me,” whispered the smallest of the strangers.

She closed her eyes, suddenly weary again. “Know,” she murmured. “No.” She knew nothing. She was only tired. She wanted to sleep. She wanted to fly. She wanted…she wanted…

“Daughter,” she said suddenly, her eyes snapping open. “Where is my daughter?”

Who is your daughter?” asked the tall green-haired one. “Do you know? Do you remember? Do you know who you are?”

“I know who you are,” she snapped back without thinking. “Do you want me to say your name?”

That was a real threat, she knew. But even as she spoke it, the memory faded, drifted away, like…like foam on the sea. She sighed and turned her head away from the tall one’s suddenly-pale face. Her eyes fell on the smallest stranger again.

“Daughter,” she whispered. But that was wrong. Something…something nagged at the back of her mind. Daughter? No, not that. But it was there, on the tip of her tongue. Wait…

“Saturn,” she burst out. “Senshi Saturn!” And with that, at last, the clouds rolled away. “And Neptune…Uranus…Pluto. What happened? Where is this? I thought…Pluto, where have you brought me now?”

Pluto hesitated. “This is your daughter’s time,” she said reluctantly. “I brought you here for healing. You drew too much from the Crystal…”

“Too much?” Serenity frowned. “No, not too much. Barely enough. I did not think I would be able to finish.” She looked down at her hands, troubled by the memory. Had there been blood…? But it was gone now. Her eyes returned once more to the small, frail-looking stranger.

“Saturn,” she murmured. “What crisis was so great that you were reborn, I wonder?”

“We don’t have time for this,” interrupted Pluto. “My queen, you were almost dead. Ho…Saturn here has healed you.” Saturn stirred, but Pluto went on before she could speak. “We need to be on our way.”

Serenity smiled. “Before any of us can say too much, you mean.” She sighed, and made to stand up. For the first time, she became aware of what she was feeling. Or of what she was not feeling.

“I…I’m numb,” she said, startled.

“I’m sorry,” Saturn said miserably. “I couldn’t do it, your majesty. I…I think it was the Empyrean Silver Crystal that, that damaged you like this. Your body’s still full of the power. I can’t get through.”

Serenity nodded slowly. “Yes. I knew what the price would be, for what I did. The Crystal usually kills its holder in the end.” She stared at her hands, rubbing her fingertips together. She felt nothing. “But what—”

Saturn shot a guilty look at Pluto. “Setsuna said I—”

“I’ll explain what needs to be explained,” Pluto said coldly. “You three can go now. And—” Her eyes flashed a warning “—you will not mention any of this to the Inner Senshi. Is that understood?”

They nodded silently and shuffled out, bowing a silent farewell to the queen. Serenity watched them go, bemused. “You’re very harsh with them,” she commented.

“I’m not who they think I am,” Pluto confessed. “I don’t belong in this time any more than you do. I took a horrible risk in bringing you here; the chance of meeting myself—the me that does belong here—was quite high. But I had to come when I knew I’d be able to find Saturn.”

“So even you break the rules,” Serenity said.

Pluto simply looked at her. The message in her eyes was clear. What must be done…

“All right.” The queen tried to stand again. This time she made it; she stood erect, swaying a little. “It feels…very odd,” she commented.

“A unique case,” Pluto told her. “You drained yourself dry, stopping the invasion and sending everyone to Earth. I lent you the energy for a few hours more life so you could help to…patch a few things up, and you went and drained yourself dry again. One might almost think you enjoy it.”

With a shock, Serenity realised that Pluto was trying to make a joke. Another unique case, she thought. At least in my experience. “So what’s the verdict?” she asked aloud.

“A desperation remedy. You were dying after the first time. The second time…well, the reason you can’t feel anything…” Pluto bit her lip. “It’s because you don’t have anything left to feel with. It’s all gone, Serenity. Everything. Burnt away. There’s…there’s only a shell left.”

Serenity looked down at herself. She touched her chest. It seemed solid. “I feel fine,” she said. “Just numb.”

“And you’ll go on feeling fine. For a while. Saturn’s power is almost inconceivable, but it’s not limitless. And the amount of energy she poured into you just to give you that time is going to leave her drained for days. She managed to keep you…animate…for a while. Things like nerve endings had to take second place.”

Serenity shook her head. It was too much to take in. Simply incomprehensible. “I—it’s…hard to accept,” she said at last.

“Don’t try. You’re no worse off than when I found you on the Moon, really. But you can move and speak, and that’s enough.” After a moment Pluto added, “Don’t try to use the Crystal again, though. You’re not…compatible with it any more.”

The queen took a deep breath. It still felt natural. She tried to put it from her mind, and said, “Do you have our next stop planned?”

“Yes,” Pluto said. “Now you have to give the Crystal back.” And her staff glowed.

-7-

They hung in a void. A vast, empty space, it seemed; but it was so utterly featureless that Serenity knew there could have been walls all around her, just out of reach. She might be motionless, or moving at great speed. She could not tell.

“What is this place?” she whispered.

“Limbo,” Pluto said. “Nullity. Nothingness. Ginnungagap. The void outside the universe. Call it what you like.” After a slight pause she added, “We’re here to meet your daughter.”

Here?”

“Usagi is facing her second great trial. Without the Crystal, she’s not doing very well. In a few moments, the creature she’s fighting will open a gateway, and Usagi will be pulled through. She’ll end up here.”

“Will she…be able to see me?”

“You, yes. I’ll be out of sight.” Pluto hesitated, then went on, “It’s best that you don’t tell her how you got here. She hasn’t met me yet, in this life.”

“All right. Then what should I tell—”

“There!”

Serenity looked. Far away, an unguessable distance across the void, there was a spark of light. When she looked back, Pluto was gone.

She sighed. All right, then, she thought. What do I say? What can I tell her? The spark of light grew closer as she watched. Soon she could make out details. It was her daughter, naked, huddled into a fetal ball, and with her…was that…?

The queen laughed silently. Luna! So the cat-guardian had found her. Good. At least that much of her plan had worked, then.

The two came closer. Serenity prepared to met her daughter again.


Pluto appeared once more after the princess and the cat had departed. “One more stop in this time, and we can move on,” she said.

“What else?” the queen asked patiently.

“The sceptre. Usagi will need that, too.”

“But I don’t have—oh. Thank you.” Serenity took the sceptre, holding it carefully. One of the ancient treasures of the Moon Kingdom; it had mostly been kept in a display case in her palace. She had seldom touched it before. “Why couldn’t I have given it to her when she was here just now?”

Pluto shrugged. “Because that’s not the way it happened.” Serenity opened her mouth to argue, and the senshi added, “My queen, do you really want a lecture on causality?”

Serenity sighed, then laughed. “I can’t argue with that.” She looked down, checking her grip on the sceptre. What if I drop it without noticing? It’s heavy, but I can’t feel the weight… To Pluto she went on, “How do I do this one, then?”

“Well…apparently, you fly overhead and drop it to Usagi.”

Serenity eyed her warily. Pluto’s face was impassive, but she had a sneaking suspicion that the senshi was trying not to laugh. “Not very dignified,” she commented at last.

Pluto shrugged. “That’s what Usagi told me you did. And Mercury confirmed it, later.”

Serenity sighed. “The things I do for that girl.”


Unseen, they watched Usagi dispatch the creature she’d been fighting, and free the four trapped Senshi. They watched the sunlight return. They stood in a park, and there seemed to be some kind of celebration going on.

“She does have a certain…style…with the sceptre,” Pluto commented.

Serenity shot her a wry glance. “Making fun of your future queen?”

“Perish the thought.”

The two looked at each other and shared a laugh. It was always good to see Pluto laugh, Serenity thought. The senshi had no peers, and very few that she had ever called friends. That Serenity was one of them, was one of the queen’s proudest accomplishments.

“I like these trees,” she said. “What are the flowers called?”

“Cherry blossoms,” Pluto answered. “Yes, it’s always a lovely time of year when they’re in flower. The whole country celebrates.” She looked at the queen, seemed to hesitate, then visibly made up her mind. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“How…did you know my name?”

The queen blinked. “Oh! I’d forgotten about that.” She thought for a moment. “My mother told me it, a long time ago. I imagine she had it from her mother. I suppose I should pass it on to Se…Usagi.”

Pluto put her hand on Serenity’s arm. “No. Please. Let it die.” They stared at each other for a few seconds, and Pluto repeated softly, “Please.”

“All right.” After a moment Serenity said, “You’re the only one left who attaches any importance to that, you know.”

“I know. But let it die. I have another name here…now. No doubt I’ll have others in the future. Let that one go.”

The queen nodded. They walked through the park in silence for a few minutes. At last Serenity said, “Shouldn’t we be moving on? Where’s next?”

Pluto raised an eyebrow. “Here and there,” she said. And she grasped her staff…

-8-

…And they travelled on, through time and space…

-9-

…Until at last they came to a small room in a high tower. A balcony looked out over a great, glittering metropolis, full of light and life. It was mid-morning, and the cloudless sky was a clear, brilliant blue. The moon was visible near the horizon: a thin, clear crescent.

Pluto lowered her staff. “Last stop,” she said.

Serenity went to the balcony and stood looking out over the city. Pluto came and stood by her. “It’s beautiful,” said the queen.

Pluto nodded. “Welcome to the Crystal Millennium,” she said softly.

Serenity bowed her head. “Thank you. I don’t think I belong here…but thank you.”

They stood in silence for a few minutes. The air was cool and sweet, and very pure.

“It’s almost over, isn’t it?” said Serenity presently. “I…feel tired. I think I’d welcome a rest.”

“Yes,” Pluto said. “Only a few minutes left, I think. There’s just one task left for you, and then you can sleep, my queen.” She pointed. “Through that door. You’ll know what to do.”

The queen turned to go, but was stopped by Pluto’s hand on her arm. The senshi looked at her for a moment. She was smiling. “Serenity…” she said gently. “You have been my queen…and my friend. Remember. There is room in the world for grace.”

Serenity nodded, not trusting herself to answer, and stepped through the door.

There were several people in the room beyond. She did not know most of them, but she recognised Endymion at once. And the woman on the bed was unmistakable. And then she realised what was happening, and began to weep. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Oh, thank you.”

And she stood watching, unnoticed, as the firstborn child of Queen Serenity and King Endymion was born, and at last her heart was light.

When it was over, and the babe lay on its mother’s breast, too newborn yet to suckle, she stepped forward for a moment. She brushed a hand over the wisps of hair on the child’s head. “Granddaughter…” she murmured.

And finally, her daughter. The Queen. She laid her hand on Serenity’s forehead, and whispered, “Goodbye, my dear. I love you.”

And as the Queen of Crystal Tokyo looked up in wonder at the touch, feeling the warmth and love of an unseen presence, and said, “Mother—?”, the Garnet Staff flashed and they were gone.

-10-

They flew together, beneath a midnight sky, over a sea full of stars. The queen looked over at her companion. “This isn’t your place,” she said.

“No,” Pluto agreed. “I’m only here to say good-bye.”

They began to climb. Far ahead, the shape on the horizon seemed to drift closer, becoming ever clearer.

“I am the guardian of the Gate of Time,” Pluto said. “But this…”

Higher, they flew. Higher. And slowly, the focus seemed to shift, and Serenity began to realise what she was seeing.

“…This is the final gate.”

It was an eye.

“The gate that opens only once for each person.”

Slowly, as they flew ever higher, the rest became visible. A face, larger than worlds.

“The Midnight Gate.”

A young face, with wisdom and kindness in its eyes. A gentle smile. And on its forehead, a crescent moon.

“Good-bye,” whispered Pluto, and Serenity flew alone. She sped onward, never glancing back. And the Midnight Gate opened for her, and she was gone.

“And perhaps,” whispered Pluto, “perhaps someday I too will be allowed to pass.”

Her staff flashed, and she too was gone.

End

Author’s Notes:

This story, obviously, is based around events in the anime episodes titled (in the dub) “The Past Returns,” “Day of Destiny” and “Cherry Blossom Time.”

It started out as a mere vignette, and (like, I suspect, many fanfics) grew far beyond my expectations. I intended to write a simple scene in which Serenity lies dying, and Sailor Pluto comes and speaks to her for a few minutes before her death.

Only…it occurred to me that the queen would probably ask about her daughter’s future. And Pluto, knowing that she is dying, might well answer. And if I was going that far, why not have Pluto show her?

By then I found that I’d given myself the chance to explain a number of plot holes in the first two series of SM. For example, the question of Serenity’s ghost (I pass over the manga explanation of a hologram). If it’s been hanging around the Moon since the fall of the Silver Millennium (and why would that be, anyway?), how did she get hold of the Empyrean Silver Crystal after Usagi lost it? And so forth. And I started wondering if maybe it wasn’t a ghost.

A word about this business of Pluto’s real (birth) name. We can be reasonably sure that it isn’t “Meiou Setsuna” (unless Japanese really is a universal language). But why was Pluto so upset at the idea of her true name being revealed? I deliberately didn’t explain, because I wanted to suggest that there’s a lot of history behind the two main characters, and we’ll never know it all. You can probably come up with an explanation yourself, if it really bothers you. I came up with three without difficulty.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. For now.