Pluto was rudely awakened by a pounding on the door. Endymion was already awake; heâ€™d lain awake all night complaining of a headache. He let in a frantic servant, whose hair and dress were in disarray.
"Oh, please, Highnesses," she babbled, "you must come to Queen Terraâ€™s room. Somethingâ€™s terribly wrong. The Queenâ€™s very sick."
"But she was just fine last night," Pluto protested, pulling on
a robe. "When did this happen?"
"I donâ€™t know," the maid whimpered, wringing her hands. "I just went in to see if she wanted anything, and she was like that â€“ oh, please hurry!"
Pluto threw on a robe, and the maid hurried them to Terraâ€™s suite, babbling frantically. Pluto tuned her out, shoving Terraâ€™s door open. Then she stood stock-still.
Terra was propped up on her pillows, face white as death. Her lips were pinched with pain, and the green of her eyes was faded. Her coal-black hair only accentuated her pallor, and Pluto noticed with shock that the roots of her hair had turned white. Terra tried to summon a smile at the sight of them, but could only make the corners of her lips twitch.
"Mother..." Endymion breathed, moving to the bedside. He picked up Terraâ€™s limp hand, holding it as if it would break. "Oh, Mother, what happened?"
Terra closed her eyes. "The Earth â€“ itâ€™s sick," she said hoarsely. "Canâ€™t you feel it?"
"I thought it was just a headache," Endymion said, horror dawning in his eyes. "Sweet gods, Mother, what is happening to our Earth?"
"Evil spell," Terra breathed. "Endymion â€“ go to the Moon. Queen Serenity â€“ has the crystal... you must plead for her help..."
"Iâ€™ll go tonight," Endymion promised.
"Pluto -" Terra whispered, groping feebly with her other hand.
Pluto took it. "Iâ€™m here, Terra," she said gently.
"Take the petitioners," Terra rasped. "Rule Earth in Endymionâ€™s absence â€“ Iâ€™m in no shape to carry out my duties." She managed a wan smile. "Go, children. Go with my love." Her eyelids drooped, and her breathing slowed to an even rhythm.
"Let her sleep," Endymion whispered. "What could possibly be wrong with our Earth, to be hurting her this way? Letâ€™s pray that this crystal of Queen Serenityâ€™s has the power to heal it..."
Pluto kissed him comfortingly. "Weâ€™ll do all we can to help. Come, letâ€™s be gone. The sooner we get our tasks done, the sooner Terra will be well."
Early morning on the Earth was late evening at Queen Serenityâ€™s palace, but Endymion was admitted without challenge. Once inside the holy grounds of the Moon Palace, his throbbing headache abruptly subsided. He sighed with surprised relief, rubbing his temples. Quickly, he made his way to the Throne Room. He made himself ignore the young Princess Serenity, focusing instead on her mother. "Queen Serenity," he smiled, bowing. "It is an honor to be able to see you. You look lovely, as always."
"Prince Endymion," Queen Serenity smiled in welcome. "You also seem well. What can we do for you?"
"I came to ask for your help, your Majesty," Endymion said without preamble. "My mother is gravely ill. Something is sickening the Earth, and it is killing her."
Serenityâ€™s winged brows drew together in quick concern. "What does our dear sister wish of us?"
"My mother mentioned a crystal," Endymion shrugged. "Does this have something to do with your magic, Queen Serenity?"
Queen Serenity nodded with obvious reluctance. "The Silver Crystal is the focus of my power, the force of good incarnate in the jewel of the Moon Family. If your mother felt that its use was necessary, your problems must be grave indeed." She became pensive.
"It may not be enough that I go. All the senshi will go with me â€“ and my daughter as well. We will leave in the morning."
"Not now?" Endymion asked hopefully.
"No," the Queen said regretfully. "We cannot. I must spend a night gathering my power, and investigate this disturbance. But I promise you, Endymion, that we will leave directly as the sun rises on our fair horizon. May I offer you a room for the night? We are having a small dance tonight, and you can stay until morning."
"Thank you," Endymion replied, sinking to one knee. "I appreciate your help, Queen Serenity. Thank you very much, and I hope that you will be able to heal our Earth."
"That is my hope as well," she smiled. "Serenity, dear, why donâ€™t you show Endymion to his rooms?"
Princess Serenity stepped forward, smiling. Unwillingly, Endymion met her gaze.
And the love he thought heâ€™d buried â€“ the forbidden love, that of a married man to a woman not his wife â€“ rose up and caught him by the heart.
The peasant had obviously taken care to clean himself up before he came to the Throne Room. His clothes were freshly pressed, and his hair was slicked back neatly. However, his eyes told a different story.
His eyes were tired; they spoke of so many battles fought and lost that heâ€™d given up hope of ever winning. Underneath the crisp, precise clothing, his shoulders were slumped with defeat, and he held himself upright with an act of will. His posture managed to convey despair and an infinite weariness.
"Sit down," Pluto urged with quick sympathy. "You donâ€™t have to stand to speak."
He shook his head, and planted his feet firmly on the carpet. "Thank you, Highness, but Iâ€™d as soon finish quickly."
"Go on, then," Pluto sat back.
"My name is Claude," he began quietly. "I am a farmer in the northern provinces of the American continent. I have owned my own farm for three years, and have been married for the last two. Three months ago, my wife and I had a baby girl, and we called her Lucy.
"I woke yesterday morning at daybreak, as usual. My wife Jeannie had gotten up before me, to draw water; sheâ€™d taken Lucy out with her. She hadnâ€™t come back, so I went out to look for her. At our well, a black pillar had sprung up... huge... ugly..." Claude
stopped to scrub at his face.
"I am not a superstitious man, Highness," he told her earnestly. "I donâ€™t hold with them as believe in devils, nor ghosts... but this thing! The minute I set eyes on it, I felt a chill down my back. This was evil, I knew without knowing anything else about it. And then, when I went closer... my wife ... was sitting in the shadow of the pillar..." He shuddered.
"Go on," Pluto urged softly.
"My Jeannie â€“ Jeannie was choking the life out of our little girl." His eyes showed dull horror. "Jeannie was a sweet woman, Highness, she loved our baby like the world itself! I started forward to stop her, and she looked up at me. Her eyes were mad, Highness, as if sheâ€™d been possessed, and she screamed at me like a demon. Then she broke Lucyâ€™s neck, threw her down on the ground, and came at me with her fingers curled like claws, screaming all the time. Iâ€™m not a brave man, Highness. I ran."
He closed his eyes. "I ran to the neighboring farm, Jeannie behind me shrieking sounds that were not words, in a mad voice that was not her own. When I reached Robertâ€™s house, he took his gun out and shot my Jeannie dead."
Pluto felt her hands clenching spasmodically on the armrests of her chair. "Do you want him punished?" she asked quietly.
His eyes opened in surprise. "Oh, no, Highness. â€™Twas the same with any who went into the shadow of those pillars. Robert had one on his farm; he showed me what it could do. We drove a few animals into the shadows, and they became mad, killing creatures. What came out of those shadows that morning was no longer my Jeannie, and there was
nothing to do but to shoot her, quick and painless. It took me most of a day to accept that, but Robert helped me." His expression was dull with remembered despair. "Robert had shot his own son that morning, you see."
"And youâ€™ve never seen these pillars before?" Pluto asked, trying to delve straight to the heart of this sad story.
"Never before," Claude agreed. "Not since yesterday morn â€“ but theyâ€™re getting bigger and taller, their shadows longer, and more and more are wandering into their shadows and coming out killing folk, screaming like demons. â€™Tis bad out there, Highness. We need royal magic to stop it."
Pluto looked down the line at the other petitioners, noting the same dull weariness in each of them, despite the fact that each came from a different part of the Earth. "Itâ€™s the same across the Earth, isnâ€™t it," she surmised. "These black pillars of evil â€“ they are a sickness inside the Earth."
They all nodded, and Plutoâ€™s heart sank at the sheer magnitude of the problem. "Fear not," she urged them. "Prince Endymion is even now at the Moon, pleading for the help of Queen Serenity and her court. With the magic of the Moon, we can surely defeat this evil."
Hope dawned in their tired faces, and Pluto forced herself to smile encouragingly. "Go back to your peoples," she told them. "Take care of them as best you can, and make sure you stay well away from those pillars. Weâ€™ll take care of the situation as soon as possible. Are there any other problems? If you all have the same story, then you may go. I give you my word that we will do all we can to help."
The line of petitioners bowed to her, then turned and filed out the door. Not one remained.
Pluto sighed and turned to Endymionâ€™s four generals. "What do you suggest?" she asked them.
Kunzite snorted. "I think that this is just a bunch of superstitious peasants having a bit of a lark," he shrugged. "Donâ€™t pay too much attention to them, Pluto."
Pluto stared. "Excuse me? Didnâ€™t you see the truth in his eyes, in his face? Do you mean to tell me that you think these men were lying?"
Jadeite rolled his eyes. "Come on, Pluto, give us a break. Evil black pillars, whose very shadow makes people rabid? Since when have you heard of anything so ridiculous?"
"But â€“" Pluto protested. "Queen Terraâ€™s illness â€“ and so many people talking of these black pillars. It canâ€™t be coincidence!"
"Stories created by simple-minded peasants," Nephrite scoffed. "Just as simple-minded as the untrained Princess who plays the part of a Queen."
Pluto jerked backwards, hurt. She found herself unable to speak.
"Youâ€™re just gullible, Pluto," said a new and unwelcome voice. Beryl stepped out from behind a pillar. "Face it. These peasants come to you with some trumped-up story, and you accept it completely. Have you no brains?"
Pluto bit back an angry retort, and forced her voice to calm. "If you havenâ€™t noticed," she said quietly, "I am the Princess here. I will make the decisions."
"Even when theyâ€™re wrong," Zoicite murmured. Pluto shot him a quick wounded look, wondering what sheâ€™d done to alienate Endymionâ€™s generals.
"If Endymion were here," Jadeite insisted, "heâ€™d see the lies behind these stories."
"Endymion is busy," Pluto said shortly. "We need him to secure the assistance of the Moon Family."
"And that of the Moon Princess," Beryl smiled slyly. "Wonâ€™t it be lovely to see her again? I understand that there was some fascination betwen her and Endymion... is that still going on?"
"That was some years ago." Pluto hid her clenched fist in a fold of her black dress.
"But the long years make no difference to true love." Berylâ€™s voice was like harsh velvet. "Is this not so, Princess Pluto? Do you mean to tell me that you have no doubts as to your husbandâ€™s actions around the beautiful Moon Princess?"
"Endymion is an honorable man," Pluto retorted, stung.
"But don't you want to know what they're doing?" Beryl asked silkily. Pluto turned away.
They were, in fact, dancing.
Endymion held Serenity gently in his arms as they moved together in the graceful steps of the age-old waltz. She cuddled contentedly against him, her head resting comfortably on his chest. Endymion stared down at the top of her head, filled with love - and with guilt.
"If only I'd met you sooner," he whispered.
"Hmm?" She tilted her head to look up at him through her long lashes.
"Never mind," he murmured, carefully gathering her closer. Serenity was fragile, he mused, and easily hurt. The slightest frown could mist those blue eyes over with tears. Pluto was the opposite - stronger, assured, and entirely certain of her self-worth. Pluto, he realized suddenly, did not depend on him as much as Serenity did...
Why was love so complicated?
He loved Pluto, truly he did. She was a good Queen, a reliable, sensible girl, and very much like himself in her attitudes and beliefs. In all practical respects, she was his ideal partner.
But the warm closeness that he felt for Pluto was as nothing compared to the mind-consuming, soul-warming blaze of love that he felt for the blonde princess in his arms.
Pluto was his equal, in everything that mattered.
But Serenity was his mate.
He didn't deserve either of them.
He'd married the wrong one. He'd do anything to be able to have Serenity...
He would not break his word. Pluto didn't deserve it. She was a good person, a close friend...
...but he did not truly love her. Not the way he loved Serenity.
Was it worth it, to live a life pretending to love another, while his true love would gladly have him?
He'd promised! Until death parted him from Pluto, he would be all but chained to her side... he'd never be free...
Never be free to love Serenity...
He clenched his teeth and buried his face in her scented hair, resolving to treasure this moment while he could.
Sensitive to his emotions, she said nothing, and merely held him close. Her breath was soft and warm against his neck.
Much later, he bade Serenity good night and went to his suite. He flung himself fully clothed onto the bed, and stared up at the ceiling. He lay still in the darkness, and tried to fool himself into thinking that it would be all right. That his life would be a fairy tale, where all would end happily ever after. That he could love one woman without hurting another.
Caught between love and duty. The oldest choice in the world, and one heâ€™d never thought heâ€™d have to make.
Despair curled cold fingers in his gut, and he closed his eyes against the pain. Still fighting with himself, he fell into an uneasy sleep.
He awakened gradually to the feel of gentle fingers on his brow, brushing back his sweat-soaked hair. He sighed, only half-awake, and smiled sleepily into the gentle caress.
The long fingers on his forehead trailed down to cup his cheek, stroke his chin, dance over his lips. He kissed them idly, and they grew bolder, moving down his chest to tug at his clothing, releasing the buttons on his jacket, sliding over his tuxedo.
Tuxedo? He never went to sleep fully dressed. He opened his eyes, then jerked back from the girl perched on his bed. "Serenity! What are you doing here?"
"I thought -" she broke off. She bit her lip, hesitating briefly. "I love you, Endymion," she said quietly. "I wanted to be with you."
"This is wrong, Serenity." He inched away from her, fighting the impulse to take her in his arms.
She met his gaze with her clear blue eyes. "How can love be wrong? I love you, Endymion, and you love me. Weâ€™ve always loved each other. How can it be wrong for us to be together?"
He closed his eyes against the honesty in her pure eyes, against the rightness of her words. "Iâ€™m married." All the reason in the world.
"You donâ€™t love her as much as you love me," Serenity insisted, each of her words sinking like knives into his soul. "I know, Endymion. I see it in your eyes, and I feel it in your heart. How can love between us be wrong? A marriage without true love â€“ now
that, Endymion, is wrong."
The absolute truth of her words echoed in his heart, but he shook his head. "I canâ€™t, Serenity. I gave my word."
He opened his eyes, and met her gaze once more. He willed her to see the truth of his words, that he could not break this promise, no matter how he wanted to. She saw, and the hopeful light in her bright blue eyes darkened with hurt and despair. Tears glittered from the corners of her eyes, and she turned to go.
Something broke inside Endymion as she rose from the bed, and he reached out and caught her arm. She turned back to face him, hope flaring in her eyes. He couldnâ€™t deny that hope, couldnâ€™t deny the matching longing deep in his heart. He drew her closer to him, and then with a silent moan of despair, he pulled her into his embrace.
Pluto entered the throne room to find Beryl perched on the middle of the triple thrones, dispensing justice to the first petitioner of the afternoon. Pluto took a deep breath, and then another, counting to twenty in slow, measured beats. When sheâ€™d
regained her calm, she called out. "Excuse me," she said, pitching her voice to carry across the room. "If you donâ€™t mind, Iâ€™ll take over from here."
The petitioner gave her a grateful look. "Princess Pluto!"
"Pay no attention to her," Beryl told him loftily. "She has no authority here."
"You presume too much," Pluto told the red-haired woman.
"Do I?" Beryl asked archly, rising so that they faced each other on the dais. They were nearly of a height, and their eyes met squarely. "And what authority have you now, to challenge me so? You're not of this planet, Princess Pluto. With your husband absent, you have no ties to Earth." Her face changed, became spiteful. "He should have been mine," she spat. "Mine! You foreigner witch! You came and stole him from me... but he's never loved you anyway, you know."
Quicker than thought, almost as in reflex, Pluto's hand lashed out and slapped Beryl across the face. The force of the blow spun the redheaded princess halfway around, and she staggered before regaining her balance.
"Apologize," Pluto said, her voice deadly and calm. "Apologize, and get out. Get out of Court. I never want to see your face here again."
"Why, then you won't," Beryl answered silkily, holding out her hands. "But what about his face? Don't you want to see the face of your ever-so-loving husband?" Smoke gathered between Beryl's outstretched hands and coalesced into a gleaming sphere. Within, an image formed.
A twist of black smoke resolved itself into Endymion's night-dark hair, strands of it falling over his face. His hands were visible, and his long fingers wound gently through a fall of straight, fine blond hair. Endymion's expression was tender, and his blue eyes
were soft as he tilted his head down to meet hers in a gentle, yet passionate kiss...
"Lies!" The cry tore harshly from Pluto's throat. She struck out with the Time Staff, shattering Beryl's globe into a thousand glittering shards. Beryl recoiled as her spell was broken. "Take your lies and go," Pluto snarled.
"Then I'll go," Beryl answered. "But mark my words, Pluto, it's the truth I show you. If you doubt me, then you are weak. And with that weakness, I will defeat you, and take my place at Endymion's side." Her triumphant laughter echoed behind her as she swept from the room.
Pluto stood rigid, hands fisted at her sides. "Never," she whispered to herself. "Endymion would never do that to me. He loves me."
Around her, the nobles of Earth's Court recovered, and began to murmur amongst themselves. The petitioner slowly backed away.
They burned Queen Terra that night. Terra had wasted away with horrifying speed, her flesh all but melting from her bones. "Itâ€™s the Earth," she had whispered to Pluto as she fought against her death. "The Earth is being killed, and itâ€™s killing me. Oh, my poor Endymion... Take care of him, Pluto. Promise me!"
"I swear it," Pluto had promised, tears in her eyes as sheâ€™d gripped the older womanâ€™s hand. "Heâ€™ll be safe with me."
Terraâ€™s funeral was well-attended. Endymion had brought Queen Serenity of the Moon and the planet senshi that evening, and had arrived in time for Terra to whisper a benediction to him before she died. Now Pluto looked across the funeral pyre at the face of her beloved.
His expression was stone-still. She hadnâ€™t had a chance to speak with him since heâ€™d gotten back, and he seemed to be avoiding her. She attributed his silence to the shock of losing his mother, but she planned to talk to him sometime soon. She wanted to tell him about the strange behaviour of his generals.
Queen Serenity stood with her daughter on Plutoâ€™s right, at Terraâ€™s head. Tears glistened on the Queen's cheeks. Sheâ€™d tried everything in her power to heal the Earth Queen, but nothing had worked. The damage was too extensive. In the morning, Queen Serenity â€“ with the aiding power of the planet senshi â€“ would attempt to heal the Earth of its malign influence.
And not only the inner senshi, either. Queen Serenity, after having seen the extent of the evil on Earth, had called in the near-legendary outer senshi. Proud Uranus stood tall, face lit by flickering flames; Neptune was beside her, in the shadow. Young
Saturn regarded Terraâ€™s burning body with distant regret in her deep gray eyes.
The bonfire blazed brightly as Queen Terra left her beloved Earth. Sparks flew high up into the night sky, as if Terraâ€™s departing spirit would join the stars.
On to Part 3