Obsidian stood in the center of the Zodiac-decorated carpet, staring into the cold, lifeless depths of the soulstone he held. Closing his deep-brown eyes and centering himself, he mentally reached into the lusterless crystal. Slowly, carefully, he sought the pattern of the stone's spirit frozen inside. There, deep within the crystal lattice, Obsidian found what he sought--the crystallized pattern that represented the sum total of the personality and experiences of the Gemlord to whom the stone belonged. A little at a time, he sent his energy into the soulstone, thawing out each element he found, freeing it from its crystal prison. As more of the pattern emerged, energized by the outside source of power, the dark lord gradually increased the amount he sent into the stone. Then, suddenly, he felt something new--a flicker of life as the energized pattern spontaneously sparked into its own.

The dark-cloaked lord quickly opened his eyes and set the soulstone down on the carpet beneath his booted feet. Retreating to his chair to the right of the Mirror, he gave the Symbol of Cosmos under his protection a quiet command, "Mirror Power Magnify."

The black-glassed Mirror began to glow with its eerie blackish-green light. As the dark radiance shone on the crystal in the center of the Hall, Obsidian watched, his entire posture thoughtful and wary, as the stone slowly came to life. Already he was having second thoughts, but it was now too late. The deed was done.

Little by little, in small degrees, the grayness faded away. The chipped facets smoothed out, their lines becoming sharp once more, and the dullness disappeared as light began to shine within the crystal. As the glow within became steadily brighter, the aura around the Mirror began to fade. It was completely gone by the time the soulstone's violet-tinged pink-colored light shone throughout the Hall, taking on a human-like shape. Then that too faded away, leaving behind the tall figure of a man.

Still too weak to stand on his own, the resurrected Gemlord collapsed to the floor as soon as his rose-colored aura disappeared. Catching himself, his pastel-colored violet-pink cloak splayed around his lithe form, he supported his upper body with his hands as he tried to regain his bearings. Where am I? I feel as if I've just awakened from a long, dismal dream. A memory momentarily flashed through his mind, one of searing agony as a killing strike of his own power blasted through his protective shield and buried itself into his chest. And after that, nothing, he thought. At least until now.

"Give me just one good reason why I shouldn't blast you back into oblivion permanently."

At the sound of the familiar but completely unexpected voice, the reborn Gemlord looked up in shock, shaking his long, straight, silver-blond hair out of his eyes. Seeing a dark-haired, dark-eyed man sitting on a vaguely throne-like chair next to a huge mirror made of black glass that was unusually reflective, the silver-haired Gemlord narrowed his pale-lavender eyes in wariness as everything suddenly came flooding back. From his youthful days on Lithos all the way up to his final battle with the Senshi, he could now recall his entire sordid history. Realizing that he was in the Hall of the Mirror within the Obsidian Tower and that it was the Lord of that Tower who had spoken, the Gemlord defiantly met the dark lord's challenging stare. "You need me, Obsidian," his low voice replied. "Otherwise, why waste what energy you have bringing me back in the first place?"

Gritting his teeth in anger and frustration, Obsidian continued to glare at the other man as the silver-haired Gemlord slowly rose to his feet. "Out of all of us on Lithos, I expected the most from you, Kunzite. Other than the Tower Guard, you were the first one to come into being. From the beginning I considered you a trusted friend and advisor, especially as your counsel increased in wisdom over the years.

"Treachery I expected from Beryl; my only mistake was a naive belief that she would somehow change, hence her exile instead of execution. Zoisite's involvement certainly wasn't a shock; it's too bad his--or her--destined duties were discovered when that one was still quite temperamental and immature. Even Jadeite wasn't a huge surprise, for he was always a calculating, restless soul. On the other hand, you and Nephrite were another matter entirely."

With cat-like grace, Obsidian stood and walked over to the other Gemlord. Stopping just in front of Kunzite, the dark lord's deep-brown eyes stared straight into the other's pale-lavender ones. "I see that you remain as astute as ever. Yes, I need you. I need your experience and advice. I'll even eventually need your three conspirators as well. But let me get one thing straight between us right now. I'd rather the Universe be swallowed by Chaos before I tolerate more treason from you."

Kunzite continued to glare back, a scornful expression on his handsome face despite his weak condition, until the Lord of Lithos's last sentence. Seeing within Obsidian's eyes a black coldness he'd never noticed before, the rebel Gemlord knew with certainty that the dark lord wasn't lying. Gazing down at the symbol of Leo on the carpet below, his silver head slightly bowed in submission, he quietly asked, "What do you wish of me, my Lord?"

But even as he stepped back into the familiar role of being a highly-ranked underling, Kunzite heard a shadowy, whispered voice deep within himself: With Beryl gone, all power can be yours. Although startled--and perhaps a touch frightened as well--the tall Gemlord kept his composure. Only a slight clenching of his right hand betrayed his sudden unease as he continued to patiently await Obsidian's next words.

The dark-brown-haired man didn't immediately respond. Instead, he strode over to the table strewn with the remains of the population of Lithos. "If there's one thing I've learned from our last encounter, it's this: know your enemy well. Against you and that Chaotic horde you lead, none of us had much of a chance. I suppose the centuries of preparing for the defense of Lithos helped the four of you immensely in your attack. With the Senshi abandoning us, we were overrun."

Kunzite silently walked over to the table as well, standing on the opposite side from the dark lord. For a moment he thought about telling Obsidian about the shield he'd used to keep Lithos incommunicado, then thought better of it. Instead, he glanced down at the lifeless stones below. His pale-lavender eyes immediately picked out one particular crystal, one that was a rather unremarkable dark bluish-gray. It was a familiar one, since it had been in his care ever since its owner's death.

A flash from the past: Down in the earth, within a large underground cavern, lit by various glowing patches on the cool, damp rock, Kunzite storms off, obviously angry and bewildered. He doesn't get far before he's joined by another figure.

The newcomer is a boyishly-handsome male Zoisite, his nearly waist-length, loose, wavy hair flying as he almost runs to catch up. "Kunzite! Wait! Please . . ." the golden-blond Commander pleads.

"Why?" the silver-haired Gemlord snarls back. However, he does stop and turns to face the younger man, his cloak swirling around his tall form. "Have all of you gone insane? What about our duties? Our responsibility to our Lord as a Guardian of the Cosmos?" Kunzite then shakes his head in disappointment, his expression one of cold rage. "You, of all people, speaking treachery? I thought I'd taught you better than that." He raises his hand and points back down the way the two of them had come. "Go back and join the others, Zoisite. If this is what all of you are set on doing, then I want nothing more to do with it--or you."

During Kunzite's speech, the expression on Zoisite's youthful face changes from one of panicked confusion to sly satisfaction. He reaches out and grabs the older man's outstretched hand in his own, then drops to his knees before the tall Commander's booted feet. As a deep, violet-blue aura shimmers around the younger Gemlord's slender form--long, loose hair falling forward and obscuring Zoisite's face--the Western Commander kisses Kunzite's hand.

At first outraged, the silver-haired Gemlord begins to pull his captured hand away--then stops, an oddly-dazed look in his pale-lavender eyes. Slowly, he stares down at the kneeling figure below.

The young, mercurial Commander then gazes up at Kunzite, shaking long, golden-blond locks out of her now clearly feminine features. Still holding onto the other's hand, she says, in a voice somewhat higher-pitched than it was moments ago, "Please, Kunzite. We need you. I need you. You're the unit's leader and my mentor. Without you, anything we plan will be doomed to fail." A sensuously seductive smile graces the Gemlord's now-feminine lips. "I'll do anything you want, be anything you want, if only you'll stay with us--with me."

For a long moment, the pair continue to stare at one another. Then, finally, the dazed look in the silver-haired Commander's eyes clears up. With a slow, cold smile, Kunzite tugs on Zoisite's slender, feminine hand and helps her stand. "For you, Zoe, I'll stay," he says, his deep voice low. He then pulls the thin Gemlord into his embrace, giving her a blatantly passionate kiss.

Still gazing down at what was left of Zoisite, Kunzite silently said, And from that moment on, we were closer than ever--beyond teacher and student, beyond even true friendship. He closed his eyes then, pushing aside the images that filled his mind, unwilling to go down that dismal path again.

Meanwhile, Obsidian carefully watched the resurrected traitor. Noticing where he was staring and catching the other's fleetingly desolate expression, the dark-brown-haired Gemlord shook his head in contempt. "You, of all people, should've known better. Fire and water usually leads to mutual annihilation."

Kunzite's only response was to look up and give the Lord of Lithos an icy stare.

Obsidian glared back. "Yes, I've seen it all. From Lithos's destruction 'till now, the Orrery showed me everything. Jadeite's ill luck, Nephrite's foolishness, Zoisite's ambition and your resentment, as well as Beryl's defeat. As I said, I'm going to need the four of you. Do as I command, and Zoisite'll be the next one I bring back as soon as I'm able.

"However, should any of you get any brilliant ideas and decide to turn on me again, keep this in mind." So saying, the dark lord reached under his gold-lined cloak.

When Obsidian withdrew his hand, the silver-haired Commander could see that the other Gemlord held something clenched in a fist. As he watched, the dark-haired lord stretched his arm over the table and opened his hand. Fragments of stone colored deep reddish-gray fell to the table-top below, coming to rest among the collection of soulstones. With an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, Kunzite picked up a triangular piece that had fallen next to Zoisite's crystal.

While the tall Gemlord carefully inspected the stone shard, Obsidian spoke again, his rich baritone voice harsh. "That is all that remains of your so-called Queen. Cross me again, and I'll see that you join her in oblivion. No plan of mine, nor the balance of the Cosmos, is more important than that."

Kunzite narrowed his pale-lavender eyes. So, he actually found the guts to destroy one of us after all, despite his concern to maintain balance. With an almost cavalier gesture, he tossed the fragment of Beryl's soulstone over his shoulder. Glancing back down at the other shards on the table, the lavender-pink-cloaked Commander realized that that particular thought didn't sit well with him at all. "If I may, my Lord," Kunzite quietly began, still looking down. "Two questions: You've mentioned a plan--what do you have in mind? Secondly, if you're going to need the four of us, where's Nephrite?"

"Second question first," Obsidian replied with a sigh. "I don't know. His crystal didn't answer my Call. In fact, I've got the feeling that he somehow found a way to resist the summons."

Kunzite looked over at the dark-clothed lord, a silver eyebrow raised in surprise. "A dead Gemlord didn't answer your Call?"

"Apparently so. At the time, I thought I'd felt some resistance, but I wasn't sure and dismissed it as some sort of anomaly, perhaps brought on by my long coma. That's one reason why I brought you back. Other than Jadeite, you knew him the best."

"But Jadeite knew him much better than I ever did."

Obsidian gave the other Gemlord a cold smile. "However, Jadeite never fought against Sailors Jupiter and Venus, nor was he around during the last days of Nephrite's life. He'd managed to make Beryl rather upset at him before then. Which leads me back to your first question; I mean to reconstruct the Philosopher's Stone."

That statement left Kunzite speechless. An expression of complete astonishment on his handsome face, the silver-haired Commander just stared at Obsidian.

"With the Philosopher's Stone, I can track down the Zodiac Crystals from their respective Senshi. Combine those thirteen stones with the power of the Mirror, and I'll be able to undo what I've done.

"And that brings me to the reason why I chose to resurrect you over any of my loyal followers. You've battled all of the Inner Senshi. Tell me everything you know about them, their powers, their defenses and their attacks," the Lord of Lithos commanded.

With the ring of a bell, the stillness of the schoolyard was shattered. Startled birds took to the sky as the double-door leading out of the building flew open with a crash, a pack of laughing kids rushing out to enjoy their lunches in the sunshine. Among those hurrying out, lunch bags in hand, were Serena and Molly.

"Honestly, Serena, I'm really sorry," the red-headed teen said as the ponytailed blond looked around for a place to sit. "I just don't know what happened. I meant to meet you there, but I was so tired, I went home and took a nap instead. You're not sore, are you?"

Thinking back on the fact that she'd ended up being able to eat two ice cream cones instead of just one, the slender blond replied, "Naw, not really. It's just that you had me a bit worried, that's all. Hey, here's a good spot."

As Serena sat down on a low concrete barrier surrounding a beautiful bush near the center of the yard and began pulling food out of her bag, the red-head sat down next to her. "I'm glad. Besides, I had a dream yesterday afternoon that I wouldn't wanted to have missed."

"Oh, really? What about?" Serena asked, taking a bite out of her sandwich.

"Maxfield Stanton."

Blue eyes suddenly wide in shock, the blond teen nearly choked on her food. "What? But that was months ago. I thought you were all over that."

Molly shrugged. "I am, but that doesn't mean that I have to stop thinking about him."

An uneasy silence settled over the girls, one that wasn't broken until a new voice spoke up. "Hey, mind if we join you?"

Looking up, the pair of teens saw another two girls standing there, lunches in hand. The one on the left was a thin girl of average height with intelligent, sapphire-blue eyes and straight, bluish-looking hair cropped short, while the one on the right was a tall, almost muscular teen with forest-green eyes and thick, medium-brown hair pulled up into a ponytail high on her head. Unlike the other girls in the schoolyard--whose sailor-like school uniforms were red, white and blue--the second teen's outfit was white and tan.

"Hi there, Amy," Serena said, a bright smile on her pretty face as she replied to the blue-haired girl's question. "Sure, go right ahead." Looking directly up at the tall brunette, she added, "What kind of goodies did you make today, Lita?"

"Gee, I don't know. All kinds of stuff. I was kinda hungry this morning," the tan-uniformed teenager answered, sitting down on the concrete next to Molly. As Lita began to open her luch bag, Amy sat down next to Serena on the concrete as well, her pleated skirt covering the corner.

Leaning over to look past Molly, Serena carefully watched as the taller girl brought out muffins, sandwiches with homemade bread, canapes of various sorts speared on toothpicks and home-baked cookies.

While Amy rolled her sapphire-blue eyes heavenward and Molly leaned back into the bush, a bit miffed as she tried to eat her lunch without getting in Serena's way, the slender blond sighed, "Everything looks so good, Lita. Think I could try some?"

Glancing over at the other girl, the brunette opened her mouth to reply--then stopped when another voice interrupted.

"Hi girls! How's everything this fine day?"

As one, the four teens looked at the source of the voice. Before them stood a short teen-aged boy with shaggy brown hair and thick glasses, his appearance fairly screaming nerd.

With a growl of frustration at being interrupted, the ponytailed blond said, "Melvin!"

Undaunted, the brown-haired boy continued, "Have you heard the buzz? A new ninth-grader transferred to our school from overseas today."

"Overseas? Really?" Molly asked, intrigued.

Taking the red-head's interest as encouragement, Melvin whipped out a small memo pad whose color matched that of his dark-blue uniform. As the four girls watched, a bit fascinated by the speed of his page-turning, the bespectacled teen-ager flipped through the pad. Scratching his shaggy-haired head, he said, "Ah, here we go. His name's Nathan Sanford and he has dark brownish-auburn hair and green eyes. I haven't been able to find out yet just where he's from, but he's apparently here to look after an uncle's property while the uncle's out of the country. And get this--apparently both his uncle and his family are filthy rich."

"Oh, come on," Serena sighed. "If he's that rich, then why's he here? He oughtta be going to some fancy, private academy instead of a public junior high."

"Well, you could go ask him yourself," Melvin responded, a bit ticked. "There he is."

As one, the four girls turned and looked off to their left in the direction the teen-aged boy was pointing. There, standing in the schoolyard with a slightly bewildered expression on his handsome face, was one of the cutest boys they'd ever seen. As the girls watched--and a gentle breeze ruffled his shoulder-length, dark reddish-brown hair--the new teen scanned the yard with a thoughtful look in his eyes. Then, with an almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders, he strode off toward the fence, his movements betraying an underlying athletic grace.

"What a hunk!" Serena breathed, her voice low so that it wouldn't carry.

"Sure is," Molly chimed in.

"I agree. He is rather good-looking," Amy added.

Melvin just frowned in slight annoyance.

Lita, however, kept staring off in the direction the new student had disappeared, a far-off look in her forest-green eyes. "Oh, wow!" she finally said, her voice full of awe. "He's so dreamy. He looks just like my old boyfriend."

"Not again!" the slender blond said, slapping a hand to her forehead in disbelief. "This'll be the third crush in two months, Lita. Get a grip!"

The brunette teen didn't respond. Instead, she stood up and walked out into the yard a few paces, still staring at where the new boy had gone, her lunch momentarily forgotten. As the expression on her pretty face changed from one of bedazzlement to a thoughtful frown, she continued gazing off into the distance. Then, determination suddenly in her eyes, the tall girl walked back to where her lunch was lying around and began packing it back up into her bag.

"What in the world are you doing?" Serena asked, startled.

"Doesn't look like he brought anything, and I've got more than enough here," Lita replied.

"But I thought--"

"Sorry," the ponytailed brunette apologized, cutting the slender blond's complaint short. "It's not like you'll have to go without. After all, you did remember your own for once." With that, Lita finished putting her food away. Saying a cheerful, "See ya!" she was gone, bounding off toward the fence.

The new teen-ager was sitting on a large rock that decorated the ground near a large, glossy green bush. With one leg stretched out to the ground and the other foot resting up against the side of the rock, he had his hands wrapped around his upraised knee. Lita noticed that he wasn't doing anything other than stare straight up into the sky high above the schoolyard fence.

With both hands clutching her lunch bag and a fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach, the athletic girl stood there a moment, the breeze rippling her waist-length ponytail and knee-length tan skirt. Finally overcoming her hesitation, she cleared her throat in the hopes of getting his attention.

Startled, the reddish-brown-haired teen nearly fell off the rock. With cat-like reflexes, he caught himself, then glared over at where the voice had come from.

For just a second, Lita hesitated again, surprised by the nasty, venomous look he'd given her. But his expression quickly changed to one of mild curiosity, and Lita flashed him a big smile in return. "I'm sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."

"That's all right," he replied, his mellow tenor low. "My fault. I'm not used to people getting near me without me noticing their approach."

"May I join you?"

He gestured toward the grassy ground at the foot of the rock. "As you wish."

Taking the invitation, the tall girl sat down on the grass, carefully arranging her pleated skirt to cover her crossed legs. She then began unpacking her lunch yet again. Glancing up, she saw that the teen-aged boy was staring back up into the sky. "Uh, excuse me," she said, trying to get his attention back.

This time, he just looked down at her.

Gazing up into his dreamy eyes, the color of which was a nearly translucent emerald-green, Lita just sighed. However, when it became obvious that he was getting bored with waiting for her to say something, she quickly added, "I couldn't help noticing that you didn't seem to have a lunch. If you'd like, I'll share mine. I've got plenty here."

For a moment, he just watched as the brunette teen pulled item after item out of her bag. Then, with a vaguely embarrassed smile, he replied, "I think I'll take you up on your generous offer. You're right, I did forget to bring something to eat. Seems to be a detail I overlooked this morning." As he got up from his stone perch and sat down cross-legged in front of the tall brunette and her food, he continued, "Guess it's gonna take me a bit to get used to my new situation."

"You mean like coming over here from overseas, looking after your uncle's place and fitting into a new school?" Lita then picked up a chocolate-chip muffin and held it out to him.

"So, you know all that already?" he asked, taking the offered sweet.

"Uh, huh," Lita answered, peeling the wrapper off a muffin for herself. "Like I was told when I first transferred here myself, word gets around fast in this place. So where're you from?"

"Europe." With that, he bit into the muffin. Quickly polishing it off, he said, "That was rather good."

"Thanks. Have some more. Go ahead and help yourself," the tall brunette suggested, gesturing toward her spread-out lunch with a sweep of her hand. "I made it myself."

He reached forward and picked up a couple of toothpick-speared canapes. "Really? Then you've got quite a talent there."

Lita's only response was to shyly duck her head, her cheeks blushing from the complement.

Together, they ate the rest of the tall girl's lunch in silence, each one politely making sure that the food was equally divided. When they were finished, as Lita gathered up the garbage, the auburn-haired teen smiled. "Thanks a lot . . . uh . . ." He paused, waiting for her to supply her name.

"Lita," she informed, grabbing her lunch bag.

"Lita, huh? Pretty name. I'm Nathan."

"So I've heard."

He gave her a sly, knowing smile. "Ah, yes. The grapevine." Shaking his head, he continued, "Anyway, thank you, Lita. I appreciate it--and so does my stomach."

The ponytailed teen giggled. "Now promise me you won't forget your food tomorrow, okay?"

For a fleeting moment, his handsome face took on a cold, serious look. "I don't know. I'm afraid I haven't been good at keeping promises." But then he smiled again, a genuinely warm one. "However, I'll do my best to remember."

"Good enough for me," Lita replied. Standing up and smoothing out her tan skirt, she said, "Come on, Nathan."

"Whatever for?"

It was Lita's turn to frown. A bit put off by the chilling undercurrent in his mellow tenor, she growled, "Well, you don't have to if you don't want. I just thought I'd introduce you to my friends. But if you think you'll get adjusted to a new school better without knowing anyone, I guess that's your business." She started to turn on her heel and go, but paused when the auburn-haired boy raised a hand as if to touch her shoulder.

"Wait, Lita. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you, it's just that I've got a lot on my mind. I've been quite the loner for a long time, and I tend to view the world with a suspicious eye," Nathan said, his attitude one of apology.

"Is that why you're here?"

Astonished, the athletic boy blurted, "What do you mean by that?"

Lita blinked her large, forest-green eyes in surprise. "I meant, is that why you're here in a public junior high instead of a private academy? The buzz said that your family's well-off."

"Oh," Nathan replied, seemingly relieved. "Yeah, you could say that. I've done most of my studies either completely on my own or with a tutor. My uncle thought that it'd be a good idea if I went to a public school and see how ordinary kids live as well as learn how to get along with others."

"You've never gone to school before?" the ponytailed brunette asked, astounded.

"Actually, no, I haven't. Like I said, I've been tutored and I've done extensive research on my own. And I've managed to pass most of the tests thrown my way. However, I'm here now. I'd be honored to meet your friends. I could probably use a few myself," he responded, a mysterious smile gracing his handsome face.

"Well, then, come on," she encouraged, turning around and striding off toward the bush where she'd first sat down. However, when she arrived there, she was mildly surprised to see that the group of teens had been joined by another girl. "Hi, Callie!" she called out, walking up to the short brunette. "Didn't see ya earlier. Where've you been?"

The small, agile, brown-haired teenager replied, staring up at the green-eyed girl, "I decided to eat lunch with Arena today. She looked like she could use some company. I'm not sure she's having an easy time getting used to a new school." Glancing beyond Lita to the auburn-haired guy standing somewhat behind the tall teenager, Callie added, "Who's this?"

Lita stepped aside, giving the other girl a good view. As tall and athletic as Lita, the newcomer had wavy, dark-reddish-brown hair that just brushed the tops of his shoulders and almost translucent emerald-green eyes. Although he appeared nice enough, there was something about him that struck a chord of wariness in Callie. But I'm positive I've never seen him before . . . Have I?

"Callie, meet Nathan. He just transferred here from Europe," the tan-uniformed teen said by way of introduction. "Nathan, this is Callie. She's been here for only a few weeks herself."

"Hi there," the shorter brunette replied, feeling a little shy.

The teen-aged boy curtly nodded in response. "Pleased to meet you."

Lita then gestured over at the prim girl with close-cropped, blue-hued hair sitting on the concrete barrier. "This is Amy, one of my best friends."

The studious girl looked up and smiled. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Nathan."

"You're Amy Anderson, aren't you? The girl genius I've heard about?"

Now it was the blue-haired girl's turn to become suddenly shy. "Yes, that would be me," she acknowledged.

Nathan smiled back. "Perhaps we'll find the time sometime to discuss astrophysics and debate the merits of the new information about the Universe we've found out through the use of the Hubble telescope."

As everyone blinked in surprise at his comment, Lita went on with the introductions. Pointing at the slender blond with the twin, knee-length ponytails topped with spherical buns, she said, "This is another of my best friends, Serena."

The girl just introduced didn't say anything. Instead, she just stood there, transfixed, gazing at the handsome boy. Whatta hunkmeister!

"So this is Serena," Nathan replied, giving the blond teen a cold smile that suddenly made Amy suspicious. "I finally get an introduction to the person I've heard so much about."

"Huh? You've heard about me?" Serena asked, startled.

"Sure have. The grapevine, you know. You're pretty popular in certain circles," Nathan responded.

"Wow! Imagine that! Me, popular!"

While Lita quickly went on before the ponytailed blond could really get started, Amy continued to frown in thought, looking at Nathan in a whole new light. "This is Molly, one of Serena's close friends," the tall brunette hastily said, gesturing at the red-head sitting on the concrete next to the slender blond.

The auburn-haired teen-ager stepped forward then, making his way through the small crowd. Stopping in front of an astonished Molly, he dropped to one blue-clad knee in order to be eye-level with her. "It's always a pleasure meeting such sweet loveliness," he said, his low tenor smooth.

During the entire round of introductions, Melvin's neutral expression had slowly turned into one of annoyance as it became obvious just how charming the new ninth-grader could be. But when Nathan took Molly's hand in his and raised it to his lips for a quick, respectful kiss--making the redhead giggle nervously and look away in embarrassment--the shaggy-haired boy got fed up. "Hey!" he blurted.

The auburn-haired teen looked up, an eyebrow raised in a questioning gesture. Rising to his feet once more, he asked, "And you are?"

"Oh, that's Melvin," Molly replied before the glasses-wearing boy could speak on his own behalf, having recovered from her astonishment.

Fixing the slender red-haired girl with his emerald-green eyes, Nathan inquired, his voice low, "Someone of importance to you?"

Taken by surprise, Molly's first reaction was to immediately reject any feelings toward the nerdy-appearing boy. But she'd also glanced over at Melvin at the same moment, and the hurt look on his face made her pause. Swallowing hard, she looked back up into the transfer student's fascinating eyes. "Yeah," she admitted to both of them. "He's been a really good friend to me."

As all of the girls--save Lita, whose thunderous expression looked like she'd gladly throw lightning bolts at the auburn-haired teen--looked on in shock at the whole exchange, Nathan executed a bow that was as much a gesture of mockery toward the shorter boy as it was one of polite elegance. "I'm honored to meet such a good friend of Molly's," he said, the icy tone in his voice making the words a lie. "Perhaps I'll be as good a friend also some day." Straightening up, he glanced down at the watch on his right wrist. "Time to go," he remarked.

The entire group of teen-agers stared at him, most of them at a loss for words, as he started to walk away. But he'd only taken a couple of steps before he stopped and looked back over his left shoulder at the other boy. "You know, Molly once knew my uncle," he informed. "You may have heard of him as well. He's Maxfield Stanton." With that, he was gone, heading off toward the building.

As Serena and Molly looked at one another in astonishment and Amy continued to thoughtfully frown, Callie just stood there and kept staring at where he'd been, still not sure she'd witnessed what she had. Melvin stood there as well, feeling like a complete fool.

Lita, however, was another story. With her hands on her hips and her entire attitude one of anger, she spat, "What an arrogant--" Her last word was drowned out by the ringing of the school bell, signaling the end of the lunch period.

The room was an odd shape, triangular in construction with the hypotenuse formed from the graceful curve of the Tower's outer wall. On this level of the black building, there were only four rooms, each one taking up a full quarter of the circular area and accessed by a central hall that ran from the northeast to the southwest. This particular chamber, when its window still existed, looked out upon the area due south of the Tower.

The door in the center of the left-hand wall opened and a tall figure stepped through. As he shut the door behind himself, he glanced around the chamber's contents. Pleasantly surprised to find everything pretty much the way he'd left it over a millenium ago, Kunzite found the familiar surroundings of his former life somehow comforting. With a weary sigh, his face almost as pale as his hair from exhaustion, he began fumbling with the pair of silver brooches--each one sporting a large, faceted, violet-pink gemstone--that held his pastel cloak in place. Removing them, he walked over to the desk just to the left of the entryway and set the three items on the top. He then reached up and pulled off the silver circlet, rubbing the spot with his other hand where the large, oval-faceted kunzite had been resting against the middle of his forehead. Setting the circlet down on top of his bunched-up cloak, he thought, I don't ever recall being this tired before in my life, nor ever having this bad of a headache. However, I don't recall having been resurrected before either, so I guess there's a first time for everything.

With a wry smile on his handsome face, the silver-haired Gemlord strode over to the bed against the right-hand wall and sat down on it. Thinking back on his conversation with Obsidian--or rather, interrogation--Kunzite slowly shook his head. I don't recall him being quite that persistant. I swear I went over every detail I knew about the Inner Senshi's powers at least ten times, including the powers that are still blocked by my and the others' efforts.

The strangest thing is that there's something not quite right about him. I can't put my finger on it, but he's not exactly the same Obsidian I remember.

With a sigh, Kunzite laid down. Lacing his fingers together and resting his head on his hands, he closed his pale-lavender eyes. As he began to slip into the medatative state that was the Gemlord equivalent of sleeping, he continued his thoughts. I may be wrong, though. From what I could tell, Obsidian's been comatose from the time of our invasion until just recently. He speaks about it as if it had happened just yesterday, while it's ancient history to me. It could be an after-effect of the coma or it could just be that he hasn't had time to deal with the consequences of what transpired.

As for me, I'm actually beginning to feel like myself for the first time in a very long time.

That thought was interrupted by a dark chuckle from deep within Kunzite's mind. You're mine, Gemlord. You always will be.

Not this time, the silver-haired man shot back. I know you for what you truly are now. Amazing how being dead tends to clear one's mind.

The dark laughter sounded again. You chose to follow me of your own free will. In return for being my servant, I gave you what you most desired.

You gave me nothing but lies and obsessions, using me as a channel for your power. You invaded my soul and twisted what you found there to suit your own needs, fooling me into believing that what I felt came from within myself and not from you. But I can sense the difference now, and I won't fall into the same trap again.

True, the dark voice continued. With your death and my defeat, my hold on you has become tenuous. But it's only a matter of time. You need me and soon you'll submit to my will again.

Never, Kunzite vowed. I am the Commander of the Southern Quarter, the Warrior of Elemental Fire. My duty is to serve the Guardian of the Gateways and to keep trash like you from invading the Cosmos.

That caused the dark voice to explode with laughter once more. This from the man who once told the moon brat "Never say never"? Wait and see, Gemlord. No matter what you and the others do, I shall have you all under my control again, including Nephrite.

What about him? Kunzite asked, startled by the dark voice's mention of the one missing Gemlord.

Nothing but silence answered his question. The dark voice was gone for the moment.

Try all you want, the silver-haired Commander fumed, addressing the stillness within. I won't follow you this time. I know how you operate and I know what really happened to us in that cavern on Earth long ago. This time, I'm on my guard. But even as he said it, he knew he was convincing no one with his defiant thoughts--not even himself.

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