Silence reigned in the stillness of the round chamber, though a single figure moved, pacing across the floor. His breathing was quiet-a habit that; breathing was not a necessary component to his continued existence, but rather was used to better blend in with mortal species as well as to power speech. His booted feet muffled by the thick pile of the Zodiac-decorated carpet, Lord Obsidian continued walking in the set pattern subconsciously adopted as he thought over a number of things.

So close . . . That alone was the idea that clawed at him the most, the one that imposed itself on his awareness over everything else. He had every confidence that those he sent would return home successful; the end was truly in sight.

A thousand years . . . Far too much time for Chaos to spread. No guarantee that other safeguards held, that others could keep Chaos from sinking its talons further into the fabric of things. Even restoring what was lost, it may be years yet before things are back to how they once were.

He paused, cape settling gently around him as he turned and glanced at the smooth, black stone wall where one of the windows had once been. He knew what was out there, that blasted and lifeless ground that had once been his prized garden, knew that what passed for a sky was only a quarter-mile above the roof of the Tower. The deep melancholy that seemed to color everything since settling on a course of action clung to him as memories of how Lithos used to be flickered through his mind.

Green forests and emerald fields, the dimmed light from the distant sun giving everything a warm, diffuse illumination by day and the shining points of the stars dappling the night sky, the ever-present silvery ribbon of the Swift River rushing past the western, unwalled edge of the City, the sounds of conversation in all its forms and of languages of all sorts, the occasional incursion of a magic-wielding wild beast dealt with efficiently by the City Guard . . . All this and more is what should have been there beyond the obsidian walls, but no longer was. The City had been a thriving community, a prestigious place where individuals from the self-aware species of the Cosmos were educated in all manners of studies by Gemlords who held lifetimes of experiences. From artists, to scientists, to military cadets, and all other manner of jobs and pursuits, the best and brightest of offworld natives were given the benefit of the combined knowledge of those who had stepped from the Vortex Mirror. For their part, the Gemlords promoted the preservation of the Balance of the Cosmos through both their teaching and their offworld missions. Now it was all ashes, the work of millennia undone . . .

Dark brown eyes as dark as night narrowed, the melancholy giving way to a hot flare of rage. It shall be that way again, he vehemently told himself. Like the legendary phoenix, Lithos and my people shall rise from the ashes . . . He was the Guardian of Space. He would not be so easily beaten by the forces of Chaos. He'd show them all, beginning with the Senshi that had abandoned his people to their fate.

The Senshi . . . Turning to the right, the dark lord gazed at each of the figures held securely to the chairs he'd arranged. It took little effort and energy to keep them under control, both telekinetically--manifesting as invisible chains that wrapped around their forms and fastened them to their seat--and telepathically, his will dominating them, keeping them from regaining consciousness. Even so, it was a drain on his limited energy to keep them under control in such a manner, and he needed that energy for other matters. It was a drain that would be more than made up for by what he could take from them. A cold smile crossed his lips as he thought about the as-yet-untapped power awaiting him there, energy derived from the planets each Senshi represented.

His gaze finally settled on the redheaded warrioress there in the middle of the row of chairs, and that unnerving smile gave way to an expression of frigid rage. Crossing the distance between them, Obsidian came to a stop before the Dragon Senshi, taking in the details of her costume with a long, lingering stare. Starting with her dark green boots, continuing on up her black bodysuit, over the golden pauldrons and ivory-fanged brooches holding the gold cape in place, and finally coming to rest on her circlet-adorned forehead, the Guardian of Space glared at the still-unconscious woman. While the other Senshi were guilty of abandoning his people to their fate, this one had committed a crime far worse; she had dared to attack the Western Commander, had dared to seriously injure his Water Warrior, the youngest of his people, and had dared to do the same to his Fire Warrior as well. To strike out at them was essentially to strike out at himself. No matter who the hell she was, he would not let such actions go without consequences.

But before he dealt with that, he would at least make the nuisance something useful.

A cruel little smile curled up the corners of his mouth as he stalked towards the still-helpless redhead. Standing before her, he gazed down at her unmoving form, an expression of contempt on his face, mind registering the details of her costume.

To the right, next to the black stone throne, the surface of the Vortex Mirror rippled and then flowed around the emerging twin forms that stepped through it. Nearly identical forms, one crowned with flowing violet hair and the other topped by a short mane of golden locks, came to a halt before the Mirror as Ametrine looked over the contents of the round chamber. Spying their ruler standing nearby, both the lord and the lady blinked in surprise at the sight that greeted them. Six chairs lined up near the table covered with the sad remains of the other Gemlords, all but two empty, the others having a still, female form sitting upon them. "My lord?" Lord Ametrine called out, Lady Ametrine looking about the Hall for any sign of the other Lithosians.

"Sailor Andromeda was returned safely to her homeworld, I take it?" the Guardian of Space asked, tearing his gaze away from the captive woman.

"Of course, sir," the male half of the dual Gemlord replied, the feminine part frowning in slight puzzlement. Of the others, there was no trace; not even their auras indicated that they were in attendance elsewhere within the Tower.

"We left her lying on the ground in a forested park on the outskirts of their imperial capital," Lady Ametrine added, both halves reflecting the disappointment in not having the dashing Air Warrior around.

"Good." Obsidian regarded the twin bodies of the Gemlord there for a long moment. Turning his gaze back to the unconscious Senshi, he lightly tapped a fingertip against his lips. "I have something more for you to do, Lord and Lady Ametrine . . ."

"What might that be, my lord?" the violet-haired female queried, her amber eyes scanning over the odd-looking arrangement before the dark-clad ruler. Something about the entire setup bothered Ametrine--why would Obsidian have those females sitting there like that, all of them obviously insensate at the moment--but they didn't have the courage to come right out and ask the Guardian of Space what was going on.

"Travel to Phobos Deimos Castle and restore the Sacred Flame of Mars," Obsidian replied, once more turning his dark brown gaze back to the dual Lithosian.

"Did you say 'restore'?" Ametrine echoed, both halves speaking in sync, startled by the request. From what they knew, the Lord of Lithos had gone to quite a bit of trouble to disrupt those planetary foci in the first place, though he had reassured them--and the other Gemlords--that such disruption was a temporary thing. Perhaps they had reached a point where that particular necessity was no longer needed?

"I did indeed," the dark-clad lord responded, the deep red highlights of his nearly black hair shimmering as he nodded in affirmation. "Following that, I wish you to remain in Phobos Deimos Castle until my call, after which you shall travel to Mariner Castle and restore the Blessed Fountain of Mercury."

Ametrine's hearts leapt in joy at the news. So it truly was a temporary thing, and now the time had come to set things back to how they should be. Truth be told, the young Lithosian had been bothered by the tampering with the planetary foci, and this made them feel better. "Gladly, sir," the lady acknowledged, a brilliant smile crossing her face.

"But sir, don't we need the princesses to get into the chambers?" the lord asked, looking perplexed, recalling the narrative of events given them soon after their resurrection.

Obsidian shook his head in the negative, the golden circlet underneath his dark bangs catching the light of the illumination crystals. "No. With the foci disrupted, the chambers stand unsecured. You shall be able to teleport into them with little effort once I provide you with the mental image to follow."

"I see," Lord Ametrine responded, a smile crossing his youthful face as well, relief alighting his amethystine-hued eyes. "It shall then be our pleasure to do so, my lord."

"Good. Now open your mind so that I may give you the visual you require," the Guardian of Space gently commanded. Sensing the young Gemlord dropping their mental shielding, he proceeded to transfer to them what each of the chambers looked like and where they could be found from his memory. Once that was accomplished, he kept the mental contact open for a moment longer, giving them the knowledge they would need to undo the tampering each focus had suffered at the hands of the Elementals. **Do you think you have it, Ametrine?**

**Yes, my lord,** the single mind housed within twin forms answered, their psychic presence registering on Obsidian's senses as a shimmering star half violet and half golden yellow.

**Very well. You have your orders,** he said, shutting the telepathic link between them. He then gestured toward the Mirror near which the lord and the lady were standing, a movement indicative of dismissal.

Moving as one, their dual forms synchronized perfectly, Ametrine bowed their heads and brought their right arms up, hands clenched in fists, resting them over their hearts in a respectful salute. Then they turned away, stepping back toward the eerily reflective surface of the Symbol of Space. The Mirror shimmered and rippled once more as the young Lithosian departed from the circular chamber.

Good. Obsidian smiled coolly, watching as the seven-foot-tall black stone Symbol regained the reflection of the Hall on its surface. For what he was about to do, he needed the South and the West in balance, and this would also give him access to the energy held by the Senshi of Mars and Mercury. They were partially responsible for the disaster that had overwhelmed Lithos; they would help restore that which had been swept away, whether they liked it or not.

Glancing back down at the Dragon Senshi, Obsidian reached out with a hand and placed it on the crown of her red-haired head. Time to get some use out of this one. Closing his eyes and bowing his head, he reached down into himself to the still center waiting there. Feeling the detached calmness sweep over him, he then extended his awareness into the woman, searching for the fountain of energy that he knew must be within her.

She resisted; even unconscious and under the control of a psychic will not easily countered, the Senshi somehow managed to struggle against the silent invasion. This one felt different, somehow, the power within much less than would be expected. Perhaps something endemic to her species, with its curious mix of mammalian and reptilian characteristics and higher metabolism, or perhaps something related to how the powers of her planetary patron manifested. Either way, the net result was the same: Obsidian couldn't find where exactly her Senshi energy lay in order to tap into it. Not one to pass an opportunity, the Guardian of Space settled on taking what energy he could, focusing on that of her own person

It was the least she could do to repay him and the Western Commander for the crimes she dared commit.

The power reluctantly came to him, tendrils of golden light that clung to her person and twined itself about itself as he pulled it away. Even so, he was the master here, gathering up the golden light into a sphere held within him. Unlike the energy from Sailor Andromeda, this didn't diffuse throughout his form; the glowing ball of power was the best compromise, and it would accomplish what he needed. Yanking from her the last of her power, he opened his eyes, frowning slightly. It figured she didn't give him the pleasure he'd experienced in taking energy from the Andromedian warrior; this one seemed to be one perversely contrary. What does Nephrite see in this one? he thought, his frown deepening while his mind turned to other things revealed from his sojourn into her awareness.

She saw the Northern Commander as her own, her love for him making her feel as if she had some exclusive claim on him. That piece of information was one of the stray things Obsidian discovered as he had poked around, searching for the connection to her planetary powers, information that made him thoroughly irritated. Nephrite belonged to him, along with the others of the Elemental Guard, above and beyond everything else. That the Earth Warrior was missing from the Binding was something that needed to be remedied as soon as possible. For millennia, he had allowed them their independence and relationships, knowing that such were necessary to their well being as individuals, but even then, there was the understanding that he and his mission to the Cosmos came first above all.

Nephrite loved this one. That too was something very evident in what memories he'd touched as he'd scanned her being. Though normally that wouldn't be a problem, Obsidian knew instantly that Sailor Draco would be a distraction to the Earth Warrior. Something had happened, turning Nephrite into a human and tearing him from the ancient web of which he had been a part, and the Guardian of Space needed the Northern Commander to return. They couldn't be whole without him. No, he would never let Draco take Nephrite away from them. It would be like cutting off an arm and handing it to the redheaded warrioress--and just as unthinkable.

The energy he had gleaned from her wouldn't go far. Another irritation, one that rubbed him raw. There she was, obviously clothed in her Senshi form, and yet he could not sense the power within her that he knew she must have. Before he could act further, however, the sensation of a number of approaching auras impinged upon his awareness. The others were returning, all of them, including the emerald presence of the Earth Warrior.

A smile made a corner of his mouth tug up. He had been so focused on gathering together the tools for what he needed that he had all but ignored the gaping hole left within by the absence of the Northern Commander. They could be complete now; he'd be willing to forgive Nephrite anything, including ignoring his Call, so long as the auburn-haired stargazer rejoined the Binding that tied them to one another. Eyes as dark as Space itself looked toward the flat plane of the Mirror as Obsidian awaited their arrival.

A thrill of emotion washed over Nephrite as he emerged back into reality through the familiar gateway of the Vortex Mirror, emotion that was hard to qualify as one or another. Part of him was joyful beyond all expression to be doing this, coming home after such a long exile, an exile more of the soul than of time. Another part was apprehensive, hesitant to face the ruler that meant so much to him and the other Lithosians. What would he say to one guilty of both the ultimate act of betrayal as well as disobeying a Call to return? That he had good reason to ignore the summons did little to quell his nervousness.

Feeling the princess and the teenager still pressed against his athletic form as he became once more aware of the surrounding physical reality, Nephrite swiftly telepathed to them both, **Pretend that you are under my control. Perhaps I can buy us all some time.**

Though he could sense a hesitant acceptance from Amy and an indignant flare of anger from Princess Venus, he smiled as the two females took on vacant stares and slack expressions. Though he may not be able to keep them completely from whatever plans Lord Obsidian may have for them, at least he could give them some sort of a chance, should an opportunity arise. Gently pushing them forward with the bulk of his black-clad body as he stepped forward, Nephrite moved away from the Mirror in order to give room for the others following him.

Nephrite gazed about the Hall, the stillness within it a poignant reminder of the destruction he had helped wrought, while the remaining Gemlords emerged from the shimmering surface of the Mirror one by one. Jade-green eyes noticed the low table; the Northern Commander's face paled slightly at seeing that table covered with the dead gray stones of their race. The reality of what he had helped bring about virtually slapped him in the face, and he wondered if the other three of the Elemental Guard felt much the same way every time they looked upon that morbid sight.

"Welcome home," Obsidian called out to his Gemlords, a smile--for once a warm one--on his face, "especially to you, Commander Nephrite." The smile betrayed his feelings; he was certainly glad to see the auburn-haired man back in the Tower where he belonged, though the sight of the Earth Warrior in his ebony and emerald uniform put him on edge, gave the Guardian of Space a vaguely uneasy feeling. "Do you have the Amber?" he asked, dark eyes sweeping over the forms of the half-dozen Lithosians there upon the three-tired dais.

"I do, sir," Nephrite gently said, slipping a hand into his jacket pocket and pulling the stone from where he had placed it. Holding it up in a white-gloved hand, the deep-golden-hued gem sparkled faintly in the light of the illumination crystals.

"Adamant, bring it here to me."

"A moment, sir," Nephrite faintly protested, closing his hand into a fist around the stone even as the raven-haired Overt Operations Commander stepped up next to him and held out a hand.

"What is it, Nephrite?" Obsidian asked, a slight expression of annoyance settling on his handsome features.

"I was told that this was needed in order to restore Lithos and our people--"

"Yes, that's true," the Guardian of Space snapped. "As is your return to the Binding to which you belong. Surely you cannot fault me for doing what is necessary to achieve this?"

"No, of course not, sir," the Earth Warrior responded, shaking his head. His crimes against the Terrans, of stealing their energy when they had reached their once-in-a-lifetime peak, and his crimes against Princess Jupiter, of deceiving her and robbing her of all but her most basic powers, paled in comparison to what had befallen those who had counted on him to help safeguard the very Cosmos from Chaos itself. Gesturing toward the chairs occupied by insensate females, he frowned, "But must the Senshi be involved?"

"I have no other choice. I merely wish to borrow them long enough to have the power needed to work this ritual," the dark lord answered, reaching out to once more rest a hand atop Sailor Draco's head.

"Surely the Mirror--"

"Cannot gather energy as efficiently as usual here in the Vortex itself!" Obsidian shouted, interrupting the other man. How dare he question what needed to be? "I don't like it, but it is necessary. Chaos has had enough of a head start." How could he not see that he was only doing what must be done? "The Amber, Nephrite!"

That last was delivered in a tone that made the Northern Commander internally wince. Though he was his own man, apparently given the free will that was the gift to the mortal races of the universe, the habits of millennia weighed heavily upon him. Opening his fist, he sighed and dropped the stone into Adamant's waiting hand.

Without a word, the tall, raven-haired warrior gripped the golden gemstone in his hand, starting down the dais toward the ruler of them all. He remained as silent as he stopped before Obsidian, holding out the Amber of Winds to him, sable gaze staying focused on the Lord of Lithos as the other man took the stone from the palm of his outstretched hand.

Nephrite gently pushed the two females forwards again, a signal for them to precede him to the Zodiac-carpeted floor. Both of them still play-acting being under the Gemlord's control and internally quivering in nervousness at the developing situation, neither Princess Venus nor Amy broke character as they seemingly shambled down the three steps. Behind them, he could hear Garnet and the remaining Elementals descend the stairs as well; Kunzite and Jadeite appearing within his field of vision to his left while Zoisite and Garnet appeared to the right, the Earth Warrior and his "guests" ended up flanked by the others.

Obsidian grinned in elation, holding up the richly hued stone, watching the play of golden highlights within its depths as he inspected it. At last, he had the keys needed to forge the link between Energy and Matter, the bridge he and the Elementals required to reform Lithos from its shattered remains and reenergize the remaining soulstones of his people. "Well done," he murmured, words of praise intended for them all.

Now all he needed was to bring the central stone into being. But first, he had one piece of unfinished business to which he must attend. Lowering his hand, he slipped the Amber into a pocket of his dark-colored pants, adding it to the other three he had collected. Stepping to the side, Obsidian raised then raised that hand imperiously, pointing towards the princess and the Terran standing there dazed before the Earth Warrior. Concentrating upon the two females, extending his considerable will, a blackish-green aura surrounded that hand as he wrapped them both in a telekinetic field under his command.

It took all of their will to not start shouting in protest as what felt like a giant, invisible hand grabbed them and started dragging them toward the line of chairs. Swallowing down her fright, Amy closed her sapphire eyes and went with the inexorable force, her steps crossing the carpeting in a jerky stride. Princess Venus kept her eyes open, however, resisting the tug of the dark-haired man's power as best she could while maintaining the ruse of being held docile by Nephrite's mental control. Deep inside, the sunshine-blond royal resented her current treatment.

A pained expression on her lovely face, Zoisite turned her violet-blue gaze from the disturbing sight. Looking at her brother, she lifted a hand to her lips and nibbled nervously on the well-manicured thumbnail. Just from his stance and the look of disbelief and muted outrage on his face, the Water Warrior certainly didn't need her sensitive empathy to know that Garnet was having trouble holding himself in check.

Jadeite folded his arms over his yellow-clad chest, amber eyes betraying no emotion at all as he observed the telepathically-forced march of the young females from the floor near the dais to the pair of empty, waiting chairs. If this was what it took, so be it. His obligation to the powers that be was to uphold Balance, doing so under the direction of the Guardian of Space. That the methods being used were questionable were probably more manifestations of the unusual circumstances, though the apparent obsession their ruler had in fixing the problem did bother the Air Warrior to a degree.

Pale-lavender eyes hooded beneath half-closed lids, his stance relaxed and only the faintest of frowns revealing his inward turmoil, Kunzite silently watched as the blue-haired girl and the golden princess for whom he'd once bore a deep affection were telepathically manhandled into the seats waiting for them. This wasn't right, nor was it honorable. Perhaps it was time to speak up and add his voice to the respectful protestations after all. But even as he thought carefully about what to say to the Guardian, he felt something shift within himself. Startled, he turned his focus inward, searching for what was wrong.

No, not wrong, he suddenly decided, realizing what it was he felt. The dissonance was gone; the constant raw ache within him that was there ever since he had tampered with the Flame of Mars was silenced. Eyes widening in surprise, he looked to Obsidian, puzzled. "My lord?"

"You feel it also, do you not?" the Guardian softly asked, left hand still resting on the head of the unconscious Sailor Draco. "Ametrine has restored the Flame, setting the South back into balance. Now that I have Mercury safely confined, I shall send them on to fix the Fountain."

Zoisite dropped her hand, mouth agape in startlement. Then a bright smile crossed her face, a joyful expression in her eyes. She was right to trust him; he promised he'd restore the focus when it was no longer necessary to keep the Mercurian powers from being reached. "Thank you, sir," she gushed, her happiness quite evident.

"I promised it would be a temporary thing, Commander," Obsidian reminded her, glancing over at the youngest of his people. "And I also need the Quarters in balance to do what is required to restore our poor shattered planet." He turned his dark-brown gaze to the Earth Warrior; too proud to give him a beseeching look, he gestured to the astrologer. "And that means the North as well . . ."

Nephrite raised a white-gloved hand, resting it against his chin in a thoughtful gesture as the Guardian's words hung expectantly in the hushed stillness of the Hall of the Mirror. Was this the ultimate goal of having this second chance? To once more step into his role as the Elemental Warrior of Earth, this time of his own free will? What should I do? he asked himself, pondering the weighty question. Jade-green eyes closing, he searched within.

He could sense them all, and yet the loneliness, the sense of separation he'd felt ever since accepting to return to life, clung to him with a relentlessness that disturbed him. He could once more hear the endless song of the stars, could feel the flow of their energy as they executed their precise dances, and yet he was no longer a part of that but rather only an outside observer. The powers of Healing and Earth were at his command, but he was only a conduit, not the Element made flesh. Like them, he could not be whole outside of the Binding that had defined his existence for millennia.

Even so, Obsidian held captive the love of his life, intending on using her as some sort of battery to power a ritual intended to restore planet and people. Not only that, but he planned the same for the very princess he had once loved and betrayed, one of those many victims he had left in his wake for being foolishly tricked into taking the side of Chaos. He owed them something, some effort to make up to them what he had done--but he also owed the Guardian of Space and the other Gemlords something as well.

In the end, the choice was simple enough. Given who and what he was, there truly could be no other way. If Siolan's love was as real as she claimed, she would understand and perhaps forgive him for putting the entire Cosmos before her. Casting aside his mental shielding, his athletic form becoming outlined by a shimmering aura of silver-green starlight and the symbol of his Element shining within the heart of the jade cabochon of his silver circlet, Nephrite mentally reached out to the other four. **I am the Warrior of Earth, he who stands at the Northern Gate at the place of the midnight sun. I am the Foundation, upon which, together, we are the One . . .**

They were there, meeting him halfway, brilliant stars of amber-yellow, violet-pink, violet-blue and blackish-green. Keeping himself wide open, he surrendered to their presence, willingly accepted the ancient bonds that tied him to them, these pieces of himself. Tilting his head back, his auburn mane sliding down the surface of his ebony cape, Nephrite gently sighed as the loneliness was banished, a feeling of wholeness washing over him. This is where he belonged, as it was always meant to be.

Garnet watched, his uneasiness growing, as the whole of the Elemental Guard began to shimmer, their distinctive auras lining their physical forms. With a sinking feeling, he realized what they were doing. That fool Nephrite had rejoined them. Couldn't he see that there was something not right? With luck, perhaps all that was wrong was whatever imbalance the lack of the Earth Warrior had caused; the redheaded spy was willing to concede that, should that turn out to be the case. Even so, he couldn't help but feel as if Nephrite had just tossed away the one thing with which he truly had to bargain. Lips pressed together in an expression of muted outrage, his violet eyes scanned over Obsidian and the Elementals as their outfits began to change.

As one, the shimmering auras faded away, leaving each one of the Gemlords involved clad in ebony uniforms that matched that of Nephrite. Where his was emerald green, however, the others had other hues, ones that reflected their signature colors. Jadeite's uniform was lined in orange-yellow, Zoisite's in ultramarine, while Kunzite's sported lavender lining and Obsidian's a green so dark it looked nearly black.

Only one thing left to do. The Guardian of Space coldly smiled as he turned his attention back to the Dragon Senshi. Next to him, to his right, he could feel the eyes of the two conscious females upon him. That they never were under Nephrite's control--a bit of information gathered the moment the Earth Warrior became a part of the Binding--mattered little, since he knew they could do nothing with him holding them there. Let them watch; part of him got a perverse glee out of knowing that the ones partially responsible for the fall of his beloved world would see what he had in store for them. From the four gems he had upon his person, he would need to craft a fifth to represent the Center, and to do that, he would need more energy than the pitiful amount he'd been able to glean from Sailor Draco so far. Somewhere in there, she had a connection to her planetary patron.

Looking amongst themselves, the Gemlords arranged around the circular room frowned as their ruler's intent was made known. Pale eyes narrowing slightly, Kunzite felt once again the sharp pang of need as he thought about how it had been to be one drawing into himself the power of others. Though the obsession had faded with time, seeing the one at the very Center of their Binding preparing to do the very same thing made the burning hollowness impinge upon his awareness. Shifting his stance almost imperceptively, he brought his will to bear against the dark desire. So focused on what he was doing, Kunzite almost missed the softly mocking laughter that sounded in the back of his mind.

You are mine, all of you--forever.

A cold chill shivered down the Fire Elemental's spine. Inwardly gasping, the only outward sign of his startlement and abrupt suspicion being the sudden widening of his eyes, Kunzite stared at the Guardian of Space. Metallia's voice sounded so smug, so sure . . . What do you mean? he mentally challenged.

The silver-haired Gemlord received no answer from the dark empress's mocking voice, hearing only another peal of laughter. Nor did he need one as what she meant suddenly became painfully obvious.

Your power is mine, Obsidian inwardly shouted, plunging his awareness brutally into the mind of the unconscious Senshi before him. If he had to tear her to pieces, he would find that link to her patron's energy. I will not be denied! He had every right to do so; she was only one Senshi among thousands, while he and his people were unique. She had forfeited herself the moment she decided to harm the youngest of his people, one of the very pieces of himself dedicated to the preservation of the Cosmos. As she had brutalized the Water Warrior's body, so would he brutalize her. Expression grim and his psychic hold on her unrelenting, the Lord of Lithos proceeded to search for that fountain of energy that must be in there, yanking aside those pieces of her personality that stood in his way with little regard toward preserving the integrity of her mind.

Under his hand, straining against the telekinetic bonds that held her to her chair, the athletic form of Sailor Draco arched upwards in agony, a silent scream contorting her features into a mask of suffering. That same horrendous pain lanced across the awareness of the surrounding Gemlords. Zoisite clutched her head in sympathetic agony, her sensitive empathy drowning in the sensations of a mind being violently shredded, instantly on the verge of being noisily ill. All of the color drained out of Nephrite's face, his mind not quite able to register the truth of what he was sensing, of acknowledging what was happening to the woman he loved. Equally stunned were Jadeite and Adamant, the two staring at the morbid sight in profound disbelief.

"No!" Kunzite shouted, his deep voice tearing through the Hall as the enormity of the truth swept over him. He could sense it, that familiar burning flame of black fire, there in the Center of the very cornerstone of Lithosian society, the ebony conflagration consuming the Guardian from the inside out. Now that he knew it was there, the feel of it was unmistakable. **Metallia has him!** he telepathed to the other Gemlords, giving them the image of what his senses revealed.

"Obsidian!" yelled Garnet at nearly the same moment, his voice full of horror and outrage. Shoving a hand under his leather jacket, he pulled out his trusty Desert Eagle from the leather holster fastened against his upper left chest. Used to his role as a private investigator on Terra, using such weaponry had become second nature to the young redhead; knowing only that somehow the Guardian of Space needed to be stopped, brandishing the impressive handgun was the spy's first thought. From his link to the ill and panicked Zoisite, as well as Kunzite's terse announcement, he knew what they were facing; somehow Metallia had gotten her claws into the one that ruled them all--confirming the nagging suspicion Garnet had had ever since he'd heard from Lord Obsidian what had happened between the Guardian's awakening and the telling of his tale. The matte black finish of the weapon shining dully in the light of the Hall, Garnet thumbed off the safety and pulled the trigger, bracing for the recoil of the fifty-caliber gun. The roar of the rapidly fired rounds tore through the sanctified atmosphere of the circular chamber, the casings of the spent rounds falling haphazardly to litter the carpeted floor. Perhaps, just perhaps, such a drastic measure could sever whatever connection there was between the twisted presence of the dark empress of the Negaverse and their beloved lord.

The first bullet struck home, sending the black-uniformed body of the Guardian of Space staggering back. Black blood stained the carpeting in a spray of ebony drops. The contact broken, Draco's body slumped limply in the chair as a sphere of black radiance flared up around Obsidian, the remaining bullets freezing in place the moment they came into contact with the dark lord's shielding. The lead slugs floated there, impotent, then fell to the black-splattered flooring as the solid barrier of energy disappeared. The dull silver pieces of metal bounced slightly against the carpeting while the wounded Guardian's form whirled to face the source of the shots.

Searing agony burned through him, only fueling his raging anger. It was almost incomprehensible that Garnet--Garnet! The one who owed his exalted position and power to Obsidian's recognition of his potential when others had no cause to believe--would have turned on him as well. The damned puppy hasn't learned a thing from our conversation in my private chambers! Able to only focus on the blinding rage, the deep sense of utter betrayal, the sudden overwhelming need to dominate the situation utterly, the enraged Lord of Lithos pulled together his remaining power, never once noticing that dark tendrils of twisted energy flooded in as well in response to his furious marshaling of power.

Violet eyes widened in shock as it registered that not only were most of his bullets stopped, the one strike Garnet got wasn't even slowing down the oldest Lithosian at all. Hearing the nearly-feral growl that filled the confines of the black-walled chamber and noting the hand violently thrust in his direction, the redheaded spy burst into motion; slamming the emptied Desert Eagle back into his shoulder holster in the same fluid motion that launched him toward the nearest cover the furnishings of the Hall had to offer, Garnet threw nearly all the energy he had available into a violet-red hued force field that snapped into existence around him.

Though only guided by the single upper extremity still obeying the commands of his mind, his right arm dangling useless from the damage caused by the path of the bullet through him, the beam of intense, black energy that erupted from Obsidian's hand registered as a veritable tsunami of destructiveness to the senses of the remaining Gemlords. The pain had only fanned the flames higher; the Elementals could feel their Center burning away under that awful ebony bonfire, the hungry destruction reaching out towards them at an ever-increasing rate. Lancing across the distance, its composition far more of Metallia than of the keeper of the Vortex Mirror, the jet-hued power smashed into the fleeing Gemlord with a force that flung him hard into the curved obsidian wall. A sickening crunching sound accompanied the solid thump; Zoisite choked back a sob as her beloved brother's mental presence suddenly dimmed to nearly nothing at all there in the back of her mind.

Black blood continuing to drip from his ruined shoulder onto the intricate knotwork design there at the edge of the central circle of the Zodiac-decorated carpet, Obsidian watched in pain and satisfaction both as a deep-red stone with violet fire within--all that remained of the traitorous Gemlord that had dared attack him within the very sanctity of the Hall of the Mirror--dropped to rest against where floor and wall joined. Lifting his hand, making an imperious gesture, his mind reached out and took hold of the fallen stone by the power of his will. The darkly glittering soulstone lifted up into the air, held aloft by the dark lord's telekinesis. Never again will you dare to oppose my will, Obsidian mentally hissed, and angry, bitter hatred filling him as he stared at the deep red soulstone rising from the floor. I have had enough of my children not obeying me. I have been too soft a ruler, too indulgent. Never again will I make that particular mistake!

As Zoisite watched the sanguine jewel rise from the floor of the Hall she knew, with every fiber in her slender body, that she could not allow Obsidian to take custody of Garnet's soulstone. **He means to shatter his stone!** she frantically called out to the others, begging for their support. Love and duty overcoming her fear, she leapt forward, was surrounded by a swirl of cherry petals and disappeared, teleporting to close the fifteen-foot gap between herself and the floating gem. A scant instant later the petals burst forth again. Zoisite reappeared and snatched the deep red sphere from the air.

**We've lost the Center!** Jadeite grimly reported, his telepathed voice broadcast to all save Obsidian himself. That the Guardian would so unthinkingly decide to irretrievably eliminate a Gemlord was far and away enough to confirm what their senses were registering.

**We must contain the infection,** Nephrite responded, not daring to look at where the unmoving form of Sailor Draco remained. There was no time to dwell on something like that, no matter the import to himself. Above all else, the Cosmos came first; for Metallia to have control of the Vortex Mirror was something that must be prevented at all costs.

**Adamant! Center!** Kunzite shouted, his tall form already on the move, silver-edged ebony cape flaring out behind him. Ages-old instinct overrode the events of recent times as the ingrained trust the Fire Commander had for his fellow Gemlord washed away any doubt that Adamant would refuse the command. Even as he telepathed the order, trusting the raven-haired warrior to react according to endless drills in the past, he sent along other orders as rapid-fire thought-images alone. They could take advantage of the construction of the Hall itself, but they would need to place themselves accordingly.

Around him, the Air Warrior, Earth Warrior and Water Warrior were also on the move, guided by the wisdom of their field commander. Locating the section of the carpeting depicting Leo the Lion, Kunzite teleported there, reaching into himself to tap the fiery potential of his Element. Long auburn hair and silver-edged ebony cape streaming behind his athletic form, Nephrite sprinted for the northern arc of the room's embrace, seeking the segment of the carpet dedicated to Taurus the Bull, then making the teleportational hop. For Jadeite, it was an easy enough matter to take the few swift steps needed to take up a stance upon the pattern depicting Aquarius the Water-Bearer on the eastern side of the circular carpet. Zoisite, just completing her leap to grab her sibling's soulstone, envisioned the pattern of Scorpio the Scorpion woven into the circular carpet and made the jump, her form disappearing and then reappearing within a swirl of cherry blossom petals.

Guided by the Fire Warrior's images even as he responded to the call to toss his mind and soul open to the Elemental Guard, Adamant pulled his gemstone quarterstaff into existence and retreated to the very middle of the Zodiac carpeting. He needed to remain only long enough to establish contact, after which he could retreat from the area Kunzite wished to confine. There was no room for thoughts of treason or mistrust; these few instants held the fate of Lithos and perhaps the Cosmos in a precarious balance, and there was only one thing to be done: act. Turning the glimmering six-foot-long weapon perpendicular to the floor, the raven-haired Gemlord jabbed the stone staff into the heart of the knotwork pattern.

The woven pattern began to glow, a fiery light that ran along the strands from the center outward, as the latent energy of the very Element of the Center was tapped by the sibling of one attuned to it. A thrill of pure power ran through Adamant's tall form as he and the Elementals began to shift their Binding onto him. He would be the bridge between them; he would be their Center while they struggled to save their lord from the twisted clutches of Metallia. Though unlike Obsidian he could contribute no power to the Binding itself he would be the keystone of its formation, allowing the four Elements to become a thing greater than any single one could be on their own. This was their only hope.

Obsidian spun around to face the west, hand pointing accusingly at the Water Warrior. "Give me that stone! Now!" he demanded, his baritone voice far harsher than had ever been heard before. Within his dark brown eyes glimmered not only an unsettling insanity but also the full power of the Mirror itself, bolstered by the twisted energy of Chaos.

Even as her hand tightened protectively over Garnet's stone, Zoisite felt the sudden shift of her Element, the nagging pain and unsettling sense of imbalance fading away. Out there in the distance, Ametrine must have restored the Blessed Fountain of Mercury. Bowing her head, she reached deep into herself--and found a tranquil strength unlike any other. Her body glimmered violet-blue, the form shifting liquidly underneath the glow, taking on decidedly masculine characteristics. Raising his head and opening his eyes, the angelic youth that was Zoisite's male form quietly met the unbalanced gaze of the Guardian of Space. "No, Obsidian," his melodic tenor replied.

Simultaneously, the other three locked into the restored Binding, their respective Elements coming into balance with the peaceful potence of the West. Pulling his weapon from the carpeting and letting it dissipate into thin air, Adamant teleported from the central circle. Reappearing near the edge of the Hall of the Mirror, taking cover behind some of the furniture decorating the chamber, the raven-haired warrior turned his attention to watching. He would need to be ready in case something happened and the patched Binding failed.

A snarled curse erupted from Obsidian's throat. Recovering almost immediately from his shock at having Zoisite defy him, he threw himself open to the seemingly limitless energy that was there for the taking, channeling the terrible power into a force he knew would cripple even the Elemental Prince of Water. A sickly black aura flared around him as the force beam burst into existence from his out-stretched hand.

Pillars of brightly-hued radiance erupted from the sections of carpeting upon which the four Lithosians were standing, reaching up to the domed ceiling. The sections of the carpeting glowing with a light of the Quarter's signature hue and the corresponding constellations appearing on the ceiling above, the four became quite literally tied to heaven and earth at the four corners of the World. Within the heart of the pillars, the Elementals shifted positions, their hands swiftly moving out to either side; with no time for the formalized ritual, they worked from rote, pulling the shielding into place by will alone. White light sheeted around their insane ruler, a dome of pure energy encasing him even as the dark power raced toward Zoisite. The shielding held tightly despite the staggering blast that slammed against it. Near the curved wall, Adamant recoiled from a wave of pain; joined to them as he was, he could feel the pressure being exerted against the softly glowing shielding as if his body was an extension of the energy field itself.

His presence contained, Obsidian's mental restraints on the Senshi disappeared, unable to remain once their source of power was cut. Sailor Draco's limp body fell to the carpeted floor with a very solid thud; their eyes huge at the fantastic scene unfolding before them in a manner of seconds, Princess Venus and Amy remained sitting stiffly in their chairs, uncertain what to do. Next to them, on the other side of the Dragon Senshi's now-empty seat, the remaining three females began to stir, their minds no longer being suppressed into unconsciousness.

So they had turned on him after all, trapping him like a caged animal. He had given them a chance to right everything they'd destroyed, and they'd thrown it all away. Blinding rage consumed the Guardian of Space; his entire existence was nothing but a swirl of bitterness, hatred, betrayal and an anger that was beyond any description. He was their Center; he was the Mirror, the very thing that had created them from his own essence to further his will within the Cosmos. Very well. His world was already destroyed, his people asleep in death; he would destroy them all and start anew. Power filled him, surrounded him, a seemingly infinite supply. He would tear it all down and build it back up, better then before, without the inherent flaws! A guttural growl filled the Hall as Obsidian gathered together more energy, his body outlined in an ugly, almost misshapen aura.

Power crackled in the very atmosphere as the buildup continued to mount ever higher. Adamant bit back a groan, guessing their lord's next tactic even as the Elementals increased their own energy output to meet the expected attack, reaching deep within as best they could, stranded within the Vortex as they were.

The energy swiftly increasing was palpable to even human senses. Coming around, Serena and Princess Jupiter looked around in utter astonishment, finding themselves in completely alien surroundings. Raye struggled back to consciousness, her psychic senses nearly overloaded by the play of energy surrounding them and the overwhelming sense of complete and total evil that seemed to permeate the round chamber. Violet eyes widening, the Shinto priestess turned her gaze to the source of that presence; something--anything--must be done to stop that evil from spreading.

Die! Obsidian mentally shouted, throwing all his power, his rage, and his despair into a blast that exploded outward from his dark-clad form. He would sweep all this away, and start anew, eradicating this horrid mistake from reality. The twisted energy plowed into the glowing shield with a force that left all the Gemlords reeling save Adamant; the raven-haired Lithosian curled up in agony, teeth clenched against a howl of pain. As the Chaos-born energy struggled and clawed at the sphere containing it, Adamant shuddered, feeling as if his very soul was being shredded at by huge, poisoned talons. The Elementals as well felt the power trying to rip apart the weave of their force field, each one fighting off the burning pain, determined to contain the monster within.

The power climbed ever higher, exceeding even what the four former generals could pull in from their limited access within the Vortex. Adamant continued to struggle against the soul-numbing pain, feeling every strain the shield was taking. Even so, the five were determined to do what they could. The very Cosmos perhaps hung in the balance; defeat now would see them once more plunge into the darkness from which they had escaped.

No, Metallia would never own them again. Afterwards, none of the four could say who first chose to shake off the dark empress's attempts to reclaim them; perhaps it was a mutual thing. Regardless, something shifted as they remembered just who and what they were, what they could accomplish through their will. No, they were not pawns of Chaos, nor would they ever choose to be that again. They knew, with a blinding clarity, that their former subservience was their wish; it was now their desire to be free to be their true selves. They were the Elemental Princes--Air, Earth, Fire and Water Incarnate--and within them they held the boundless power of those building blocks of existence. Tranquility swept through them, a peacefulness born of their discovery. Their movements synchronized, the quartet raised their heads, surrendering to the very essence of who they were.

Their forms blurred slightly, as if their bodies were losing the solidity that bound them to the here and now. With a rush of light and sound, impressive wings of pure energy emerged from their forms, rising upwards, then stretching out to meet tip to tip around the strengthening force field. Pale amber pinions, almost invisible, howled with the sounds of the wind sheltered the East, while wings made of shifting flame that roared with the sound of an inferno illuminated the South. Shifting, ever liquid feathers of shimmering blue, their movement sounding like the rush of ocean waves, stretched out across the West, as dark wings of emerald-sheened ebony pinions filled the North, their sound much like the roar of the shaking earth during a great quake. Struggle against them Chaos might, it no longer had the power to harm and control them simply because they chose to not let it have any influence against them.

The agony faded, giving way to something indescribably wonderful. His breath exhaling in a sigh of both relief and reverent awe, Adamant could only exist, letting that power flow through him. It was so right, so perfect, the ultimate rush; he was untouchable, unable to be harmed any longer by Chaos.

"What are they?" Princess Venus whispered in terrified awe, not believing her eyes.

"I have no idea," Princess Jupiter replied, her voice as equally awestruck. "They're obviously more than Negaverse generals."

"Whatever they are, they need our help," Raye replied. "They can only contain the evil. Something more must be done."

"But what can we do?" Serena asked, tearing her gaze from the overwhelming sight to stare at her friends, fellow Sailors all.

"The power levels are phenomenal," Amy stated, sapphire eyes flicking from one angelic being to another. "Far beyond anything of which we are capable, even as Scouts."

"We need to do something," the raven-haired priestess insisted. "The evil must not be allowed to escape. It could mean the end of everything."

"Any suggestions? Anyone?" the sunshine-blond royal asked, her azure eyes scanning over the almost incomprehensible scene.

Serena looked around, blue eyes huge. On the verge of panicking, her mind seized upon the idea of the Imperium Silver Crystal. Once before, she had faced something monstrously evil, the spirits and wills of her friends at her side. A decision made, the golden Crescent Moon Wand appearing in her hand, the blond teenager reached up to the jewel-adorned locket fastened to the center of her school uniform's red bow. Flicking the brooch open, she extracted from its setting the fascinatingly brilliant, colorless stone, her body beginning to shimmer with a pale moonlit radiance. She grew slightly taller, becoming a bit older and more mature in appearance. Her sailor-like uniform melted away, being replaced by a royal gown of shimmering white silk, a shining crescent moon--horns pointing upwards--beginning to glow upon her forehead. "Join me, my court," Princess Serena gently commanded, placing the glimmering crystal upon its setting within the Crescent Moon Wand, "and assist me in offering aid to those fighting this great evil." She held up the golden wand, azure gaze focused upon the figure within the dome of brilliant light.

Two hands reached up immediately, joining their princess's grasp upon the metallic item. Her emerald eyes determined, Princess Jupiter threw her will into the effort. She remembered the man Nephrite had been, and the boy he had become; he deserved her aid in this. Princess Venus wrapped her hand over that of the Jovian royal. Everyone should be allowed a second chance, even one who had betrayed her as badly as Kunzite had. Deep within, part of her would always admire him, no matter how intense her anger.

Amy grabbed for the Crescent Moon Wand as swiftly as she could, rippling aqua light washing over her, her body transforming into that of Princess Mercury. Her friend Zoisite had tried to help her as best he could; she would do the same in the name of that friendship forged so long ago. Next to her, the raven-haired priestess transformed as well; the stately and regal Princess Mars did this far more to stop the growing evil than to assist Jadeite, but a lingering fondness for the Air Warrior was there from their shared experiences back before the Silver Millennium's fall.

Hearts and minds united, the five princesses sent out a silent call, a heartfelt prayer to the powers that be for love and justice to prevail over the twisted evil held back by the angelic figures of nearly unimaginable power. In response, the brilliant jewel affixed to the wand held high began to gleam with a silvery fire that steadily grew in intensity. In a matter of seconds, it was glowing as brightly as the white-hot aura that surrounded Adamant's unmoving form.

The silvery light shifted, flowing down the shaft of the golden wand. Starting like a gentle argent rain, the radiance rippled down and across the graceful figure of Princess Serena. The illumination swirled around the quintet, the sensation of something vast and eternally bright sweeping over the assembled royals. Tiny rainbows shimmered and danced throughout the Hall of the Mirror, that endless brilliance reflected back from the facets of the star-bright Imperium Silver Crystal. The light then coalesced into a figure that overlapped that of the blond-haired Lunar princess--one that was taller, mature, possessing a delicate beauty that would leave most breathless, her silver hair in that same distinctive style. The ghost-like woman rested her hand over that of Serena, an expression of serene strength and limitless love on her flawless visage, her silver gaze focused on the quintet of ebony-uniformed Gemlords. She then lowered her translucent, delicate hand from the Crescent Moon Wand and glided towards the winged beings holding back the force of destruction. Even as she took that step, she melted away, leaving the court of princesses wondering if they had truly seen her.

All of those born from the Mirror could sense the change; the ebony flames were met by a pure silver fire that flashed through the weaving and burned against the Chaotic pyre. The pressure against the shielding eased, leaving the quartet free to extend their power in other efforts. The howling maelstrom within their prison swirling to a halt, its efforts directed elsewhere by the resistance of that moonlit fire, love guided their souls and wills as they reached out toward their lost Center. Intellect, Passion, Intuition, Foundation--the four Elemental Princes strove to break through the Chaos that wished to claim the one that had brought them into being, seeking to touch the true Guardian of Space. Tendrils of yellow, red, blue and green energy worked their way past those bonds liberated by the shining silver power, each commander appealing to his lord through his unique connection to the Binding.

Nephrite concentrated on lessening the agony their lord felt from the bullet wound, his Healing power deadening nerves and beginning to restore traumatized tissues while his gentle but strong presence begged Obsidian to recall that he was their stability, the rock upon which all of Lithos rested. Jadeite's cool and calculating presence appealed to their lord's sense of reason and logic, reminding him of all the reasons why things were the way they were and how they truly worked in an efficient manner in that way. Love and respect was Zoisite's focus, his soft presence seeking to remind the Guardian how much each and every one of his people looked up to him and loved him as a father, a ruler and a god.

The burning pain faded away; the towering rage suddenly felt like something beyond his awareness, as if it belonged to someone else. Voices came to him, shining stars of green, yellow and blue--voices that sounded lost and pleading. Obsidian paused, puzzled by the sensations that sought to reach him through what remained of the emotional chaos. A bright violet-pink star reached out, its rays washing over him.

Remember . . .

A simple word, but with it came a wealth of images, of a million lifetimes of experiences, good and bad alike. Laughter, sadness, regal honor and blinding rage, watching so many firsts go by and the pride he felt in watching his people--his children--interact with the Cosmos they were there to preserve. He loved and cherished them all . . .

What am I doing? Obsidian abruptly asked himself, mind recalling the overwhelming obsession to destroy these same children.

They disobeyed you. One wounded you--you!--and the others want to stop you from making everything right. You must destroy them for the good of the others! They've been infected with Chaos.

The Guardian turned his focus to the four stars that surrounded him, searching for the twisted presence of Chaos. It was there . . . But not them. They shine as pure and bright as the day they were born . . .

They are tricking you, concealing their contamination . . .

Obsidian ignored the nagging voice, continuing to scan for the source; in the back of his mind, he felt the Earth Warrior's Healing force, easing the pain. How could he have thought to destroy them? They were from his very essence; he could no more be rid of them then be rid of a hand.

They will strike against you again when you least expect it. Destroy them and start over. You will be safer that way . . .

His presence brushed against something, a vile nastiness that made him recoil. Reaching out, he tentatively examined it; then felt a chilling numbness as his entire plans came crashing down. As fragile as glass, everything he'd worked for since his awakening shattered like so many jagged shards.

They were the contamination, the perfect gems he'd struggled so hard to recover. The Amber of Winds, the Ruby of Flames, the Sapphire of Waters and the Emerald of Forests, the keys to his recovery of world and people, were tainted with the wrongness of Chaos. Stunned, he just stood there, the energy he'd been channeling fading to nothingness as the enormity of the revelation hung over him.

All for nothing . . .

**No, not nothing! Look around you!** Kunzite implored, swooping in to claim the opportunity that had presented itself. Obsidian registered as lucid, as himself in that very moment.

**We are free, my lord,** Jadeite added, leaving himself open to the Guardian's inspection should he wish to confirm the statement. **The chains of Chaos no longer bind us.**

**Chaos is not a part of us. It is not a part of you,** Zoisite said. Taking a chance, the Elementals dropped the force field, the fascinating pinions of their powers fading away as they stepped forward as a unit, moving closer to where their ruler stood. **You have the choice, as we did . . . Father.**

Now! Destroy them! They are vulnerable! The internal voice shrieked vehemently, yet all Obsidian could do was look at each one of them, seeing a part of himself reflected in them. At the Water Warrior's final word, a decidedly paternal emotion filled him. No, he could never destroy them. They were his children, and though they may stray, it was not right to condemn them in such a manner.

A hand lightly touched his shoulder above the terrible wound. Nephrite's low voice whispered, "Let me Heal you, my lord."

Nodding slightly, giving the Earth Warrior his permission, Obsidian reached into his pocket with the hand of his still-working arm and pulled out the quartet of glimmering jewels. He could see the Chaos within clearly now, deep shadows within the hearts of the stones. No salvation lay there, only complete annihilation of all that he held dear. How could he have made such a mistake?

That voice . . . As the Northern Commander's soothing power flowed through him, he could see what they saw, the ebony flames attempting to consume the Center. Realization dawned on him, provoking not a cold fury but rather an unshakable sense of self.

The end came not violently, but softly; a single choice straight from the heart and the ebony fire could touch him no more. Opening his hand, he let the gemstones fall to the floor. Metallia had tricked him, manipulating his thoughts and emotions in such a way as to promote making him a tool of that which he struggled against. But he was the Guardian of Space, the Mirror Incarnate. The dark empress could only affect him if he chose to let her do so. Aware of her machinations, he rejected them.

Near the curved wall of the Hall, the barely conscious Adamant smiled in relief. Elegant form slowly crumpling to the floor, the smile lingered on his face as he felt Obsidian once again take his place at the Center of the very cornerstone of their culture. The energies shifted away from him and back to where they belonged, leaving him feeling oddly hollow. Pain nagged at him, his body suddenly aware of the damage channeling that much energy had created; he could already tell that he would not survive this as he closed his ebony eyes. He had never been meant to be a conduit for that much power for even that brief of a time; the energy had literally consumed him from the inside out, though will alone had kept him going, his desire to not fail stronger than his failing body. A good death . . . he thought as consciousness faded away. I have touched Divinity . . . The blackness overtook him then, his form vanishing in an ebony shimmer. All that remained behind was his jet-black soulstone, lying forlornly at the edge of the Zodiac carpeting. Then that lost its luster, turning dead gray.

Watching the normal-seeming former generals step up and embrace their lord in a gesture of joyful camaraderie, the quintet of princesses lowered their arms. Still clutching the wand adorned with the Silver Imperium Crystal, Princess Serena looked to the others next to her. "Is it over?"

"It just may be," Jupiter responded.

"The evil isn't here anymore. I sense it on the retreat, being chased back to its lair," Mars added.

Princess Venus looked away from the five men, her azure eyes focusing on her fellow royals. "Was I imagining things, or did we see . . . ?"

Her voice trailed off as a silvery light appeared next to them, that sense of vastness and power sweeping over them. The warm glow solidified into a tall, willowy form, her curves unmistakably feminine. Tranquil and beautiful, the silver-haired apparition that glimmered there before them was a dearly familiar one.

"Queen Serenity," Mercury said in an awed whisper.

The former ruler of the Silver Millennium smiled, reaching out to touch each one of the princesses on the head with a barely felt tap of her hand. "You have done well, Highnesses. Through your plea, I was able to come here and offer my aid."

"Is the danger over?" Serena asked, nervously looking over to the former generals.

"Yes, it is. Metallia has no power over them now," Serenity replied, her smile bright. "What was wrong has been made right, thanks in part to all of you."

Jupiter kept her gaze on Nephrite for a moment then shifted her emerald glance to look at the still unmoving form of the strange Scout. Stepping back, she knelt down, placing a hand on one of the redhead's shoulders. "Will she be all right?"

"That I cannot say. In his madness, Obsidian damaged her severely," the silver-haired spirit replied, her voice taking on a note of profound sadness. "They will do what they can, but I fear it may not be enough."

The rest of the princesses turned looked to the once-proud woman lying there on the floor like a broken doll, each one of them moved by the tragedy. "I hope she'll be okay," Venus softly said.

Serenity turned, raising an arm. From their position near the Lithosians, the discarded stones disappeared, reappearing in the palm of the spirit's hand. Returning her focus to the royals, she handed to Venus, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars the corresponding gem that had been taken from their castles. "Long ago, the gems were tainted with the Chaos that had leaked into the universe. Their power suddenly unreliable, it became one of our responsibilities to see that they were kept safe. I hereby again charge you with that duty."

"What about Obsidian and his people?" Mars asked, hazarding a glance back over to the group of black-uniformed men.

"The jewels cannot do what he thought they could. He will seek them no more," Serenity replied. "From him, they will remain safe."

The four nodded, agreeing to the resuming of their duty.

Noting their response, the apparition concentrated, her form beginning to glow again with silvery moonlight. "To better help you, I give you this gift. Open yourselves to the flow of your patron, all of you. Feel the energy of your planet fill you. Send back to your focus the stone and draw into you the limitless power that courses through it."

They all did as she asked, the four princesses holding gems wrapping their hands around the glistening jewels as Princess Serenity bowed her head. Their auras flaring softly around them, shimmering light of yellow, blue, red, green and pink, the young women opened themselves to the wondrous power of their planetary patrons. The liquid rush of water, the mighty strength of wood, the golden warmth of beauty, the illuminated heat of fire, the mystic light of the moon, they filled themselves with that energy, felt it permeate every fiber of their being. The five transformed, their royal selves giving way to Senshi uniforms slightly different than before: the bows in back of their outfits had longer tails and golden stars adorned their ribbon chokers. The four gemstones they'd held in their hands disappeared, once more concealed within the innermost chambers of the planetary castles. Coming back to reality, each one of the sailor-suited warriors felt herself stronger, wielding more of her Senshi powers.

Serenity smiled at them, the light fading from her. "You are worthy warriors, one and all." She then turned and began walking toward the quintet of Gemlords a number of feet away.

To the east, the Mirror rippled and shimmered, the surface parting to let through twin forms. Their faces startled, reflecting their frantic--and mostly unsuccessful--attempts to return to the Hall, Ametrine came to a sudden stop there on the dais before the Symbol of Space. Utterly confused by the goings on, the blond man and violet-haired woman just stood there, uncertain how to proceed.

Nephrite continued Healing his lord's wounded shoulder; the auburn-haired man remained immobile as the silvery spirit approached them. Watching her in curiosity, the remaining three Elementals respectfully stepped aside when it became clear that the silver-haired ghost meant to reach Obsidian. The Guardian of Space kept his deep-brown eyes focused on Serenity, his expression a mixture of joy and pain.

She stopped before him, her smile a loving one. Reaching out a translucent hand, she lightly caressed his cheek. "Courage, beloved," she whispered, her voice barely heard.

Obsidian tried to return the gesture, his hand passing through her form instead of stroking her jawline. He started to say something, but she shook her head and pressed a finger to his lips.

"Existence goes on. They need you, as does the Cosmos." Lowering her hand, she stretched upwards, brushing ghostly lips against his. "Remember . . . I am with you, always . . ." Her hushed words, as well as a lingering trace of her sweet perfume, hung there before him as her willowy form faded away.

A profound sadness remained in Obsidian's dark gaze as he looked around the Hall of the Mirror.

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"The Silverlands", "The Obsidian Tower", and "The Rose Garden" all © 1997 - by Dianna Silver. All Rights Reserved