All was silent in the Great Hall of the Mirror, though the feeling of magic and power that filled the round chamber was almost oppressive. Already the aura of the reviving soulstone was lighting up the whole room, its deep blue glow sending eerie shadows throughout the ebony-walled area. As usual, Obsidian sat on his throne of forest-green-padded black stone, watching the glimmering ultramarine light take on a heart-like rhythm, a disinterested look in his nearly-black, golden-brown eyes.

Pale-lavender eyes narrowed slightly against the azure glare, a cool expression on his handsome face, Kunzite stood in front of Sailor Andromeda's glass prison and gazed at the shining gem in the center of the Zodiac-decorated carpet. I should be happy right now, he mused, a bit frightened by the cold rage he felt deep within himself. After all, this is something that I dreamed of for quite a while. And yet, I almost feel . . . dead inside.

Closing his eyes, a sigh of disgust escaping him, he tried to sort out his thoughts. Bad enough I can still feel the imbalance of the Element of Fire like an irritating wound in my soul, he groused, his ire sparked once more. Opening his eyes and giving his ruler a sidelong glance, he reminded himself, It's only temporary. Balance will be restored when we've achieved our goal. He gave me his word.

Is that truly good enough? jibed the dark voice deep within him, laughing slightly.

It is for me. My Lord is a man of honor.

So were you, once. But that didn't matter in the end.

I still am, Kunzite growled.

A dark chuckle. Are you so sure about that? I can still feel the craving for my power in you yet. Just open yourself up, and anything you wish for will be yours.

Leave me! Once more, the silver-haired Gemlord closed his eyes, bringing the strength of his iron will to bear against the mocking voice and the insistent need that always accompanied the whispered words.

As you wish, Lord Kunzite. Another peal of laughter. After all, a new player is entering the game. And such a lovely piece, indeed.

In the following silence in his mind, the Southern Commander felt a chill in his soul. I can't let her be a weakness any more. She trapped me once; I'll not be a victim again. He could feel the swirling currents of power surrounding him start to take on a familiar feel, felt his heart begin to ache once more. Clamping down on the feelings, shoving them aside, he opened eyes as cold as ice and stared back at the jewel on the floor. I joined the Negaverse for her on the pretext of a lie. She tricked me into throwing away everything--my home, my friends, my duties, my dignity, my honor, myself--for her and the illusion she gave me. I could forgive her for nearly anything, but the loss of honor is hard to swallow.

Behind him, slightly to his left, the blackish-green light of the Mirror faded away as the dark-blue star that was the reviving soulstone elongated and widened, taking on a humanlike shape. Then that flashed away, leaving a lone figure lying supine on the circular carpet.

It was a woman, her slender, supple body dressed in a sleeveless, short-skirted tunic colored violet-blue, knee-high boots of the same color as her white-belted tunic, and a thigh-length cape that was light violet-blue, metallic-gold-lined and fastened at the shoulders with a pair of golden broaches set with oval-shaped, violet-blue stones. High up on her left arm was a golden armband set with a triangle-shaped, violet-blue stone and beneath her long bangs glimmered a golden circlet, an oval-shaped, violet-blue stone in its center, the gem gleaming with the light of an aquamarine triangle deep within it. Surrounding her angelic-looking face, her long-lashed eyes still closed, her golden-blond hair made a silky cloud of copper-highlighted waves, softening her appearance even more.

Kunzite closed his eyes again, the riot of emotions the sight of her evoked almost too much to bear. In sympathy to the symbol of her Element glowing within her circlet's tanzanite, the violet-pink jewel on the silver-haired man's brow shone with a red diamond as the deep-level bond between them as Elemental Warriors reestablished itself.

Cosmos, the flowers. All for me, all because I asked. A tear appeared at the corner of a still-closed eye. It was so beautiful, it took away the pain, and the feel of his arms around me, the sound of his heartbeat in my ear, made it seem like I was in heaven already. The tear fell down the side of her face as she slowly lifted a hand up to wipe it away; her other hand remained clenched at her side. Suddenly aware that she could sense herself once more, feel the tickle of the tear, hear her own heart and breathing, her eyes flew open, revealing twin pools of violet-blue that seemed as dark and as deep as an ocean. Alive? But . . . how? Sitting up quickly, she looked around, searching for the one person so dear to her soul. Reaching out with her mind, telepathically calling out **Kunzite?**, she found his familiar, comforting presence at the same moment she laid eyes on him. A thrill of pure joy lanced through her, shaking off the weariness and dizziness she felt. Getting to her booted feet, she started to run toward him, not paying attention to his lavender-hued clothes.

Seeing her there, so beautiful, so vibrant, the tall Gemlord almost broke his resolve. Then came the frantic touch of her mind, so similar to the frenzied shout she--in her masculine form--had used to catch his attention in the underground prison on Earth so long ago. That scene flashed through his thoughts again, and with it came anger, bitterness, resentment. She had deliberately set him up to betray their ruler and their duties out of pure selfishness. It would be a long time before he could forgive her for that.Abruptly shielding his mind, he held up a hand in a gesture for her to stop.

Feeling the sudden rejection like the slamming of a door in her face, seeing both the ice-cold expression in his pale-lavender eyes and the forbidding tone of his stance, the golden-blond woman froze in place. Confused and hurt by his unexpected coldness, tears sprung to her large, violet-blue eyes as she nervously started to twist the end of her waist-length ponytail around a slender, long-nailed finger. "Cosmos, what's with you, love?" Her voice was a faint, heartbroken whisper. "You promised you'd never forget me."

He relaxed his stance a bit, turned his head away to stare at the floor. "I never did, Zoisite. You were always in my thoughts. Welcome home." Then, without warning, he turned and faded away, his long cloak swirling around him as he teleported out of the Hall.

"Hmm. Not quite what I expected from your homecoming," commented a clear baritone voice.

Blinking back the tears that threatened to spill from her long-lashed eyes, the Gemlord Zoisite looked over at the source of the sound, instantly on the alert. Focusing on the dark-haired, dark-eyed man staring back at her, light glittering off a golden circlet set with a black cabochon stone that rested on his brow, she suddenly grew wide-eyed in shock as everything came flooding back to her. Instantly frightened, all she could do was gasp, "Oh, Cosmos! Lord Obsidian."

He coolly smiled back at the blue-clad woman. "I'm so glad you remember the time before the Negaverse, dear Zoisite. Don't worry. I haven't used my power to bring you back just to execute you again, though I'm sure you're the main reason why the Elemental Guard turned traitor."

Quickly recovering, an icy, sly look crossed the ponytailed Gemlord's angelic face. "Well, then, Lord Obsidian, if that's not the reason why I've been resurrected, then what is? If I may be so bold as to inquire, that is."

Her slightly mocking tone wasn't lost on the Guardian of Space, though he ignored it for the moment. Gracefully standing up, he strode over to the table upon which the remains of the rest of their race sat, gazing down once more at the melancholy sight.

Wondering what he was looking at, Zoisite couldn't help herself. Walking up to the table, she was a bit startled to find hundreds of inch-wide spheres of various shades of dead-gray stone loosely grouped across the table's surface. Realizing that she was staring down at the rest of her native people, all gathered together in one spot, she felt a mild twinge of regret as the magnitude of that fateful day hit her. Then her observant gaze noticed two things: a missing stone and the shattered shards of another. A thrill of pure terror running through her, the golden-blond Gemlord picked up one of the grayish-red pieces.

Obsidian carefully watched as the feminine traitor examined the shard. "Beryl," he simply said. Seeing Zoisite turn about as white as Kunzite's hair, he coldly smiled again. "I know a bit about what went on in the Negaverse after the fall of Lithos and the Silver Millennium. You once stated that you would throw your life away for Kunzite. I hope that sentiment remains."

She stared up at him, her fear now well-hidden beneath a cold, harsh exterior. "What are you driving at?"

Obsidian easily met her frosty gaze, unruffled. "I need your powers and your abilities as the Western Commander of the Elements. I recall just how rebellious you were at times, so I'm hoping that you've matured somewhat over the years. If not, then it's Kunzite who will pay the price."

Zoisite blinked at that, her angelic face turning white again. "What do you mean?" she stammered.

The dark lord picked up another shard of Beryl's soulstone. "I brought you back and will tolerate your presence because I need you. However, I also need a guarantee on your behavior. I will not be crossed again. Therefore, you will either follow my commands and behave yourself, or Kunzite will be punished in your place. Betray me again, and it will be his soulstone lying shattered here, not yours."

What little color that remained in her gorgeous face drained away, and for a moment she hovered on the brink of fainting. The ruler of Lithos was dead serious; her sensitive empathy easily told her that--she could feel his stone-cold resolve. Her beloved Kunzite's fate rested on her behavior. The very thought of her love no longer existing at all terrified her more than anything else she could imagine. "By the Cosmos, you really would," she whispered out loud. Slowly walking around the table to kneel before the tall Guardian, she continued, "You have my word and my pledge, my Lord, to obey you and to faithfully resume my duties as the Commander of the West. Please, just don't harm Kunzite."

Frowning darkly at the bowed head of the kneeling Gemlord, Obsidian growled, "Watch your behavior and you'll have nothing to worry about, now will you? Besides, I hold little faith in the pledge of one who's proven themselves to be a traitor."

Zoisite felt her quick temper rage through her. How dare you? she wanted to scream. When sincerely given, I keep my pledges to the best of my ability. She bit back her venomous words. He had a reason to mistrust her; it would be far better for her and Kunzite both if she bided her time and proved to the Guardian of Space that she could be trusted after all.

Gazing down at her, Obsidian could feel the ebb and flow of her ire. Mentally nodding to himself as he sensed her maintaining her control, he couldn't help but faintly smile. "Assuming, for the moment, that I accept your pledge, Zoisite, I want you to keep this in mind. If you show me that you will function as the Western Commander under my rule by your word alone, I will reinstate your noble status when I'm convinced of your trust and sincerity. However, break your word, and once more I will find a way to guarantee your behavior. Betray me again, and I will destroy the love of your life right in front of your eyes. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, my Lord," she responded. Reaching forward and taking his hand in hers, she kissed the signet ring as a sign of her promise. "I am yours to command."

Satisfied, Obsidian helped her rise to her feet, then coolly smiled at the slender, androgynous-appearing Gemlord. "Go get some rest. The aftereffects of the resurrection will hit you soon, leaving you feeling even more drained." Letting her hand go, he turned from her and walked back to the throne.

Closing her eyes with a relieved sigh, she mentally casted about to get a teleportational lock on Kunzite's location . . . and found nothing. Not even her deep bond to him as another Elemental gave her a clue to focus her power on. Saddened and bewildered by his apparent hostility, she felt tears spring to her eyes once more as she concentrated instead on her assigned quarters here in the Tower. With an agitated swirl of cherry petals, the ponytailed warrior teleported away.

Sitting on the ebony throne once more, Obsidian pondered what he'd just witnessed. Not quite what I expected, but it will have to do. No matter. The project will go on. Now to make the next set of plans . . .

The room was dark at first, the large, rectangular area seemingly filled with the atmosphere of a place unused for a long time. Then the light crystals held by sconces attached to the walls began to slowly come to life as a whirl of tiny pink petals appeared. Keyed in as they were to the room's owner, the radiance from the glowing crystals was bright enough to illuminate the chamber well by the time her slender form solidified within the swirl of cherry petals, revealing the room to be spacious living quarters, with a sitting area at one end of the rectangle and a bedroom set--featuring a large, curtained, four-poster bed--at the other. Decorated in many shades of blue and aqua, the room was normally a place of harmony and peaceful retreat.

However, not this time. Zoisite couldn't hold back the tears any longer. The nothingness that colored her link to Kunzite a pointed reminder of the tall warrior's rejection, the youngest Gemlord threw herself on her bed, sobbing. Her slim body bounced with the impact, and she ended up landing on the sapphire blue carpeted floor on her knees. Ignoring the pain of the jarring landing, she continued to kneel there, upper body lying on the bed, head buried within her crossed arms, her slender body shaking as she cried.

Behind her and a distance off to her left, a second form took shape just in front of the door in the center of one of the long walls. Though he remained cloaked to her powers, he could still sense her, and the profound grief he felt had prompted him to weaken his resolve and at least check on her. After all, he still loved her so much it nearly hurt, and she remained his student and his responsibility. Yet the very sight of her again brought the anger and shame to wash over him. Shaking his head slightly, Kunzite remained standing there, unnoticed, caught between conflicting emotions.

For a long, seemingly timeless moment, things remained that way in the Western Commander's private chambers. Then, finally, Zoisite lifted up her head to stare, red-eyed and unfocused, at the wall. Sniffling, she absently brought a hand up to wipe her eyes, then paused as it dawned on her that her right hand remained clenched in a fist. Not once since she had realized that she was alive again had she opened that hand. Startled by that revelation, she uncurled her fingers, wondering why it seemed so important to not do so before.

A single cherry petal was what met her violet-blue gaze, a tiny, pale pink heart that shimmered with a faint light. With a gasp, more tears welled up in her large eyes as the memories of her final moments as a general of the Dark Kingdom came to mind. There it was, tangible proof that everything hadn't been some twisted dream after all; the millennium in the shadows had been real. "Oh Cosmos . . . Kunzite . . ." Her voice was a whisper made harsh from her crying.

Even from that distance, the sound of his name caught his attention, as did the heartbroken tone. He took a step forward, booted feet silent on the carpeted floor, but the continued murmuring of his beloved Zoisite made him stop there in his tracks. Long cape settling gracefully around his tall form, the silver-haired Gemlord stood there still unnoticed as he listened.

Staring at the petal, eyes locked on that final memento of her former life, the young feminine Western Commander ignored the new tear that rolled down the fair cheek of her angelic face. "How long? How long have I been dead and you without me? Has it really been long enough that you love me no more?" She choked back a sob that threatened to shatter her already shaky composure. "No, I can't believe it's over. Not after everything I did, everything I sacrificed to win it in the first place. Alex, Gar, Spess, Ame, Para, Char . . . Everyone I held dear, every place I remember fondly as 'home', I traded it all."

Slender fingers curled back around that tiny pink symbol. With a typical swing of her emotions, her profound grief shifted to profound determination and rage. "You're mine, now and forever. I tossed it all away to have you. I will not be denied."

Behind her, Kunzite frowned. His own anger sparking anew at Zoisite's possessive declaration, he silently vowed, Love or not, I am no one's property. Disgusted at his now-former lover's behavior, he dropped the psychic shielding that kept her from sensing his presence.

With a soft gasp of horror, suddenly aware of the tall Gemlord warrior, Zoisite whipped her head around to look for him. Mouth agape, her pretty face drained of all color, her violet-blue eyes wide in shock, it was all she could do to just stare.

Coldly, as frosty as his appearance, the Fire Elemental teleported out of Zoisite's chambers without uttering a single sound. As his form faded away in the midst of a shimmer of violet-pink light, he very deliberately shielded himself from her once again.

"Kunzite! No!" Leaping to her feet, she started to run to him, as if she could stop his disappearance by capturing him in an embrace and never letting go. It was futile, she knew, even before she stopped herself to stand where he had been. Feeling the pointed rejection as keenly as if he had physically slapped her across the face, Zoisite sank to her knees, her slim form shaking with the jagged sobs that tore through her.

"I just can't believe it." Serena continued to frown as she made that declaration. "There just has to be a Sailor Mars. It's just not right without there being one."

"Yeah, I agree. There's just gotta be a way to fix this problem," Lita replied.

Amy nodded, her face in a thoughtful expression. "I'll try a few more runs at analyzing what's changed with Raye after school."

The three girls were walking together down a crowded hallway of Crossroads Junior High. As the other kids around them were dashing off to their first class of the day, the trio were also on their way to their various homerooms. Serena and Amy walked side by side, the former holding her bunny-decorated book bag while the latter clutched her required schoolbooks against her chest with an arm. Their tall brunette companion strode along behind them, her height making her easily the best lookout for any possible trouble.

"We really need to solve this," the blond teen insisted, her voice lowered to a tone that only her two friends could hear. "And the sooner the better. It's murder having to be out of bed so early."

Lita sighed. Leave it to Serena to be concerned with the inconvenience. Leaning forward slightly so that her voice only carried to the other two, the athletic girl murmured, "Maybe following this plan will get you into a good habit for once."

"Yes. Getting to school on time would be a very good habit for you to acquire, Serena." Amy had to admit that Lita had a point.

"Amy--" Blue eyes widening in surprise, the blond teenager was about to accuse her friend of picking on her when she realized that they had arrived at Ms. Haruna's room. "Never mind. Here's my homeroom. See ya at lunch." Fixing the taller of the girls with a bright smile, Serena added, "And Lita? Save me one of those chocolate chip muffins, please?" Without waiting for an answer, she disappeared through the doorway into the classroom beyond.

The blue-haired teen smiled, amused, as she and Lita continued down the hallway. "At least she didn't forget her lunch yet again."

Lita laughed. "I suppose I can spare a muffin for her." Turning to a more serious demeanor, the brunette lowered her voice again. "So, any ideas on what to do about Raye?"

"Not really. It's obvious that moving the Flame in the castle disrupted the transmission of power, but without a way to get there and move it back, I don't think there's going to be much we can do." She paused a moment, sidestepping a group of boys hurrying past, while around them the sounds of other teens grabbing their belongings and slamming shut lockers were heard above the murmur of the crowd. "I only hope I can find a way to reroute the power, but that doesn't look too promising."

"I suppose then we'll be hanging around each other as much as possible. Too bad Mina doesn't go to the same school as we do. It would make things easier." Frowning to herself, Lita shook her head, sending her ponytail gently swinging. "I just can't get rid of the feeling that they'll be back."

"Artemis won't be too far away from Mina while she's in school, and you know she'll stay around other people until we get over there. I agree with you; there's safety in numbers. Until we get to the bottom of this, we need to stick together."

The pair of girls walked on for a moment longer, the sounds of others getting ready for the start of the school day fading slightly as the time for the ringing of the first bell approached.

Reaching another classroom, Amy fixed Lita with her sapphire gaze. "Here's my homeroom. Meet you again in the courtyard for lunch?"

The brunette nodded in affirmation. "Yes, of course. They probably won't try anything here in the middle of school, but ya never know."

"All right then. Hurry to class and see you later, Lita." Flashing her friend a bright smile, Amy reached out with a slender hand--her other arm still clutching her textbooks against her chest--and opened the classroom door.

The ponytailed teenager hurried off, not staying around long enough to see the girl genius actually slip into the room. Amy was right; she had to get a move on or she'd still be out in the hall when the starting bell rang. Stepping up her pace, Lita's long legs ate up the distance down the nearly-deserted corridor, her mind intent on beating the clock.

Another success. Nephrite smiled to himself as he turned away and headed toward the doorway, rather proud of himself. Ms. Lambert, the home economics teacher that had caught his attention that one fateful day when she had been so wrapped up in her wedding plans, had been as easy a target as he had expected. After all, he did happen to attend the very same school in which she taught.

"And tell your uncle thanks again, Nathan."

"Oh, I'll be sure to pass along your message," the auburn-haired boy replied, opening up the door, his voice easily carrying over the loud murmur of the kids there as they talked to one another waiting for class to start. Without looking over his shoulder, Nephrite's smile changed to a sly grin. "And he's sure you two will enjoy that second honeymoon. As he said, 'A generous gift for the most beautiful bride I've seen in a long while'. I hear Tahiti's very nice this time of year."

He could practically feel the teacher's blush of pride as he stepped out into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind his athletic body. That went as smooth as silk. He couldn't help but grin at his little victory; his mark of favor now resided upon Ms. Lambert's dress's sleeve where he had managed to touch her when he gave her the tickets for the fortnight-long Pacific cruise--along with hotel reservations and a wad of cash in the plain white envelope.

However, he didn't have long at all to gloat in his private little victory. The next thing he knew, he was smacked hard by a very solid form and sent sprawling across the linoleum floor.

"Why don't you watch where you're going?" It was a rather angry, annoyed shout Nephrite heard as he shook his head, trying to recover from his surprise. "What do you think you're doing, stepping right out of a room in front of me? You should be in class-- oh. . ."

The ponytailed brunette trailed off, finally seeing just who it was she had knocked over. God, he's still so dreamy. . .

Peeking up through his auburn bangs, Nephrite frowned as he realized that he had just been bowled over by Lita. Figures. Of all the people in Crossroads Junior to run into, it would be her. Reining in his own annoyance, he concentrated instead on getting back to his feet. "I could say the same for you."

Just then, the shrill sound of a bell pealed throughout the school. As one, the pair of teens groaned in reaction. They were both late now; class was underway. "Thanks a lot, Lita. If you hadn't splattered me across the floor--"

"If you had been watching the hall before stepping in front of me--"

They both stopped, noticing that they had been speaking simultaneously, then warily looked at one another. Lita's forest-green eyes then shifted from him to the number and name on the door from which he'd emerged. She sucked in a breath, eyes getting wider, then turned her attention back to almost glare at Nathan. That was Ms. Lambert's room. What was he doing there? Maybe Amy's right after all.

His own jade-green eyes narrowing in reaction to the brunette's suddenly suspicious expression, the athletic boy felt the fine auburn hairs on the back of his neck rise. She knows. Great job, Nephrite.

The tall girl crossed her arms over her chest, an impatient scowl settling on her pretty face. When she spoke next, her voice was a harsh whisper. "What are you doing to them this time?"

He backed up a couple of steps, nearly bumping into the row of lockers that lined the hallway there, the light of the fluorescent fixtures making the reddish highlights of his dark brown hair rather noticeable. "I need to get to class." His own voice held quite the no-nonsense tone; he wasn't going to go there. Instead, he pushed off with a sneaker-clad foot and half-walked, half-trotted past the tall girl and her critical, forest-green gaze.

Lita spared his retreating form just a fraction of a glance, long topknot ponytail swaying around her to brush against her shoulders. If you think that this is it, you're sadly mistaken. This is far from over, Nathan, Nephrite, whoever you are. I won't let you hurt them again--not even Molly . . . Her athletic body taking on a determined stance, the tall teen hurried off to her homeroom, hoping that she wouldn't get into too much trouble for being late.

Power coursed through the confines of the circular Hall, making deep brown hair and a coppery-gold ponytail, as well as a long ebony cape and a thigh-length violet-blue one, ripple like banners in the psychic wind. Before the two figures standing there at the foot of the three-stepped dais, the Vortex Mirror glimmered and gleamed, its deep, blackish-green aura reflected by the illumination crystals beneath the dome of the room's ceiling.

"Show me the Soldier of the planet Mercury!" Another flare of black-green light surrounded the ebony-clad form of Lord Obsidian as the light around the Mirror died, the energies gathered by the Lord of Lithos shot like an arrow to slash through Senshi powers and find the sole person on Terra that radiated the psychic signature of the planet of thought and communication.

A slender hand came up to shield large, long-lashed, violet-blue eyes from the gale of magical energy. Zoisite stood behind her people's ruler, gazing into the rippling, watery surface of the obsidian Symbol of Space as a picture began to form upon it.

As the black surface settled, the Western Commander saw the image of what appeared to be a school. Concrete steps rose to a set of double doors that swung open even as she watched. A number of teens--How nice. Terran brats to deal with--stepped out of the building. One figure came into sharp focus, that of a studious-appearing girl with short, straight, blue-tinted hair and intelligent, sapphire-blue eyes. Arms clutching a stack of heavy textbooks, she was talking to another girl whose golden hair was done up in two long ponytails topped by silly-looking round buns. Then the blue-haired teen turned her head--and Zoisite hissed softly in response. The glyph of Mercury shone with an azure light on the studious female's forehead.

With a tone of assured command, Obsidian's mellow baritone filled the circular chamber. "Great Mirror of the Vortex, hold the image of she whom we sought within your heart. Let nothing she does, nowhere she goes, keep you from losing her true form."

Once again, the power of the Symbol locked onto the Senshi's psychic signature; with a sly smile on his handsome face, Obsidian opened his dark, golden-brown eyes and turned to face the slender Gemlord, his long cape swirling gently around his legs.

"Here's your chance, Zoisite," he intoned, his faintly harsh voice emphasizing the lack of any titles added to the Western Commander's name. "Show me just how devoted you are to your pledge. Watch the Mirror until our target gives you an opportunity to ambush her--alone. I wish there to be no witnesses, and no help for her. Strike to subdue; I want her captured and rendered harmless with as little damage as possible."

"Yes, my Lord," the graceful warrior nodded, her long ponytail glimmering softly in the light shed from the illumination crystals.

Fixing her with a cold stare, Obsidian frowned slightly. There was something about the tone of her strident voice that he just didn't like. "Do not go out of your way to hurt her and claim it to be an accident. I assume you have learned your lesson; I will be even less tolerant toward such behavior as Beryl had been. Is that understood?"

Zoisite's beautiful face hardened, quite piqued at the Guardian's insinuation and the reminder of the circumstances of her death. "Yes, my Lord. I will endeavor to subdue the Senshi without harm."

"Good." He stared at her a moment longer, then turned away, long cloak fanning out around him, the metallic gold trim glittering. "Then watch and wait. When you have taken her, let me know." With that, Obsidian was gone, disappearing in a shimmer of blackish-green light.

Turning her attention to the image in the Mirror, Zoisite's violet-blue eyes narrowed beneath long, coppery-gold lashes as the youngest Gemlord fumed. "I'll show you, my Lord, that I can follow orders." Tapping a fingertip against her sensuous lips, she glared at the Earthling upon whose brow the Mercury glyph continued to gleam. Here, Senshi, Senshi, Senshi . . . Just slip away from your little friends and let me do my job.

The final tones of the strident ringing of the bell sounded in the air as the boy known as Nephrite Sanford stepped smartly down the flight of concrete steps to the walkway below. At least there's been no sign of Lita or her Senshi friends all day. He just knew, somehow, that Amy and the tall, ponytailed brunette were aware of who he truly was, and that thought actually frightened him. Would he be allowed to continue on his quest to make it up to those he'd robbed of their chance to truly shine? Or would the Senshi only see him as a threat, never to be trusted again? Can't say that I'd blame them if they don't want to give me a second chance. I'm just damned lucky I have the one I do have.

Tennis-shoe-clad feet touched the sidewalk; he paused a moment and took a long look around, scanning the area for any of the human girls that were Senshi in disguise. There were any number of kids milling about and standing around in little groups talking, but of Amy, Lita and Serena, there was no sign. A sly smile of relief settling on his boyishly handsome face, Nephrite hiked up his expensive duffel bag to rest comfortably on a broad shoulder and headed off down the street.

His next visit would be to Peter Fisher, the award-winning photographer. He'd already done the research he needed at home in the huge mansion on the wooded hill; the Internet was certainly a very useful tool indeed. Of course, he'd never be as adept at ferreting out information over computers as Jadeite had been.

Jadeite. The very thought of the slightly older Gemlord with the well-trimmed, short, curly, light-blond hair and amber-gold eyes made Nephrite stop in his tracks. Glancing up at the azure sky, he couldn't help but wonder what exactly Beryl's spell had done to him. And, for the first time in a hell of a long time, the auburn-haired former Negaverse general thought fondly of the man he'd once called brother.

From a long ago past: Commander Nephrite walks along a glistening white pathway in the well-landscaped grounds of the Moon Palace. Behind him, the elegant, white spires and onion towers of the gleaming palace reach up to the pale blue sky where a crescent Earth can be faintly seen. However, the beauty of the scene is unremarked by the Earth Warrior's notice; having been here a couple of months now, he has become rather used to it.

Up ahead, over on a lush field of grass that borders along the formal rose garden that is the pride and joy of Queen Serenity's gardeners, stand two figures. One is a slightly stocky man dressed in a white uniform almost identical to the one Nephrite wears, short blond hair swiftly identifying him as Commander Jadeite, while next to him stands a woman full of elegant grace, a long, streaming cloak of raven-black hair framing her pretty face and falling to hang as far down her as her knees. Nephrite smiles wryly, seeing that Jadeite's doing as Prince Darien had commanded and keeping Princess Mars close company.

Crossing the remaining distance between himself and the other Gemlord, the green-eyed Commander of the North reaches up with a hand and lightly taps Jadeite in the shoulder with a fist. "All right, what's up? Why did you ask me to come meet you out here?

The slightly shorter man slyly grins and claps a hand on Nephrite's shoulder. "I just learned a game and thought immediately of you. It just seemed like something you'd like."

"Oh really?" The brunette Gemlord raises an eyebrow at that. It was well known that he was fond of sports and often worked out at on the elaborate equipment at the gymnasium to keep his athletic form in top shape. The fact that Princess Jupiter was as much a sports lover as himself had only made Nephrite's assignment to keep the Jovian royalty amused and out of Prince Darien's hair that much easier.

Jadeite, however, is a different story. Far more involved in intellectual pursuits, especially strategy games played on computers, the light-blond-haired Commander of the East exercised his mind quite a bit more than he did his body; however, that didn't mean he was out of shape. Like the others, he was in top condition. It came in handy on their patrols throughout the Cosmos.

"Yes," Princess Mars replies, smiling sweetly at the dark-haired Lithosian as she steps up close to Jadeite and slips a hand in his. "It's called t'niz and it's quite the rage." She then turns and tugs Jadeite along, walking across the well-groomed grass over to a place where a low net is strung across the middle of what looks like two large squares marked out on the grass in white chalk.

Following behind them, Nephrite appears a bit surprised and slightly bemused at both the way his fellow Lithosian is holding hands with the Martian princess and the playing field set up in the verdant lawn. When he reaches the area, he glances over the playing field. "And just how is this 't'niz' played?"

"Quite simply, actually, Neph." Jadeite chuckles, bending over. His white cape flows around him as he picks up a pair of racquets in his one free hand. Straightening up again, he stretches out his arm, offering the other Gemlord the choice of racquet. "We each take a side of the court, with the net between us. Then one of us tosses a ball up into the air and hits it over to the other one. The object, of course, is to score a point by hitting the ball in such a way as the opponent cannot return it to you. But in order to score, the ball has to hit the ground within the marked out square." A wicked grin crosses the Air Warrior's face. "No score for hitting the ball to hell and gone, Neph."

Grabbing one of the offered racquets, the taller of the two men tugs the item from Jadeite's grasp and flashes him a look of mock innocence. "Cosmos, here you are accusing your own younger 'brother' of trying to cheat even before I play the game."

Princess Mars gets a slightly astonished look on her face, large violet eyes looking from one Gemlord to the other. "I didn't know you two were brothers."

"In the technical sense, we are and we are not," the Eastern Commander begins to explain. "You see, we aren't like most species in the Cosmos; we were all created by the Vortex Mirror instead of born of the union of adults of opposing sexes. Thus you could say that we are all brothers and sisters of one another, or you could say that none of us are related.

But we have a need built within us for relationships of various degrees of intimacy, just as you who breed do. So we have fulfilled this need by agreeing to any number of relationships. There are some we consider just friends, some are considered cousins, and still others are considered siblings. Most intimate of all are the ones we consider lovers or spouses."

Stepping away and idly swinging his racquet to get the feel of it, Nephrite smiles to himself as he takes command of one of the squares marked out in brilliant white on grass green, apparently expecting to wait a while as the Air Warrior goes on with his lecture of basic Lithosian culture.

An echo of that long ago smile remained on Nephrite's now-youthful face as he continued walking down the sidewalk, his shadow stretching out over the concrete behind himself.

Behind him, from a recessed doorway along the side of the main building of Crossroads Junior High, a pair of dark emerald eyes stared after his retreating form. I know the cats and the others are going to be angry with me for not sticking with everyone, but I can't let him keep doing whatever it is he's doing. He's already screwed up their lives once. A puzzled scowl settled on Lita's pretty face; as far as she could tell, Nathan hadn't actually done anything harmful to the former victims of General Nephrite's energy-gathering schemes. That still didn't mean that he wasn't up to something. And I can't ask the others to come with me, since Artemis made me promise not to confront him. But damn it, there are innocents involved.

Steeling her resolve, the tall brunette slipped from the doorway and strode after the auburn-haired boy. She would deal with the consequences of her actions later. For now, she just had to see what he was doing.

"Lita? Lita!" Frowning as she looked around, Amy scanned over the now-hushed area around the main entrance into the junior high the three friends attended. "I was certain that we all were supposed to rendezvous here after our last class."

"Maybe she got held after?" Serena suggested, her bright blue eyes filled with slight worry for their ponytailed friend.

"She didn't mention anything like that earlier in the day. But it is a possibility." A thoughtful expression settling on her visage, the blue-haired girl nodded slightly. "Why not go look and see if Ms. Hibari is keeping her after for some reason? Come on, Serena."

The studious girl had only taken a couple of steps back toward the sturdy, metal double doors, clutching her stack of textbooks tight against her chest, when the other girl's voice caused her to pause.

"If we both go, we could miss her and we'll be running back and forth throughout the school all afternoon long." Pouting, the teen with the twin ponytails of golden blond hair topped with round buns folded her arms over her breasts. Her voice shifting to a plaintive whine, Serena continued, "I don't wanna be here all afternoon. There's a Sailor V game in the Crown Arcade with my name on it! And a gorgeous hunk of an attendant to stare at! Amy, I have better things to do than hang out here looking for Lita."

"Serena," Amy began, a slightly chiding tone creeping into her usually soft voice. "What if Kunzite and that other person come back? Any one of us could get into trouble if we don't stick together."

"I know," the blond teenager replied with an exaggerated sigh. "But get real. This is a school. There are teachers all over the place still, as well as the students of the various clubs. If I stay here in case Lita comes to meet us like she's supposed to, I should be just fine. Just as you should be all right if you go into the building to look for Lita in Ms. Hibari's room."

The shorter girl thought it over a moment, then nodded in agreement, "All right. You do have a point, Serena. You wait here and I'll go inside." When the female with the twin ponytails nodded an affirmation of their agreed-upon plan, Amy stepped back over to her friend. "I'll leave my books here with you, and I'll hurry back, hopefully with Lita in tow." She knelt down for a brief moment, a stray breeze ruffling her short, straight hair--as well as making Serena's long ponytails flutter like ribbons of blond silk--and deposited her stack of books on the exposed aggregate concrete at Serena's feet. Straightening up, Amy met the other girl's impatient stare with a sweet smile and a faint laugh. Turning around, the girl genius strode over to the double doors, pulled open one of the metal panels by the sturdy, silver handle and disappeared, slipping into the building.

Once inside the oh-so-familiar halls of Crossroads Junior, Amy swiftly made her way through the building. Here and there she could catch soft noises of murmured conversations in the distance, the bang of a locker shutting or the sound of a desk scooting across the linoleum floor. Even though there were such indicators of people around, the halls themselves seemed unearthly quiet, especially compared to the normal din that filled the corridors between classes. Though she felt silly to be scared--after all, she was in a familiar place and she really wasn't alone--Amy still felt as if her heart jumped into her throat as a loud slam from a locker being closed nearby echoed in the hushed stillness. Just a locker, Amy, the blue-haired genius told herself. See? Nothing to be frightened about at all . . .

Down the hall, behind the slim teen, a swirling pink blizzard suddenly formed--then flickered away, petal by cherry blossom petal. Slipping to the right, dainty feet making barely any sound at all, Zoisite plastered her slender, graceful form against the row of lockers lining the corridor, violet-blue eyes narrowing beneath long lashes. Casting outward with her telempathic power to make a sweep of surrounding lifeforms, the Western Commander of Lithos fixed her target with her cold, glittering gaze. Good . . . There's no one else around. A cruel little smile curled across the Gemlord's pretty face as she raised an elegant hand up in front of herself, thumb and two fingers raised and her ring and little fingers curled down to touch long nails against her palm. How perfect.

Call it some sort of a danger sense, or just the instinct that makes prey aware of a predator nearby, but for whatever reason, a frission of fear shivered through the teenaged girl. Large, sapphire blue eyes getting larger as Amy gave a soft gasp, she swiftly twisted herself to look behind her.

With a thrust of her hand forward and a strident call--"Zoi!"--ringing out through the hall, the Water Warrior let loose with a telekinetic blast of air laced with cherry blossom petals.

Amy staggered back, arms coming up in a subconscious effort to shield her face from the slightly stinging sensation of the pink petals. Her frozen mind focused on only a single thought: Zoisite is alive as well!

Seeing her prey cowering, taken by surprise, the ponytailed warrior pressed home her advantage. A graceful step forward, coppery-gold hair swirling around pretty face and slender shoulders, Zoisite thrust a hand upwards into the air, fingers curling into a fist. Once more her voice cried out a harsh "Zoi!"; this time the flowery telekinetic blast erupted from the floor directly beneath the blue-haired girl.

Face still shielded from the first attack, the beleaguered teen half-expected a follow-up like that. Having braced herself, she grit her teeth and endured the howling, cherry-petal-laced tempest around her, a slim hand slipping into a pocket in her sky-blue dress. Feeling the familiar, comforting presence of her transformation pen, Amy slipped it out of her pocket and raised it up. If Zoisite wanted a fight, so be it. Sailor Mercury certainly wasn't a wimp!

The glitter of fluorescent light off gold from the girl's suddenly raised hand caught Zoisite's attention. "Ah, ah, ah, little one. No fair transforming!" Crouching down, a predatory leer plastered onto her beautiful visage, the slender Gemlord aimed, then leapt powerfully into the air.

"Mercury . . . Oh!"

Landing as light as a cat on her booted feet, Zoisite spun elegantly around, long hair and thigh-length cape fanning out around her. Mocking laughter echoing in the still-deserted hallway, the Water Warrior held up the blue and gold pen. "Looking for this, Sailor Mercury? It's mine now, and you're not going to get it back."

A grim expression settling on her face, Amy sized up the situation. The similarities to the attack on Raye were quite obvious; it was probably a safe bet to assume that the goal here was something much the same. But this was the far more dangerous and unpredictable Zoisite she faced. That alone was enough to make her rather scared. Need to be careful here, Amy. She took a small step backwards. "What do you want, Zoisite?"

"Isn't that obvious?" the blonde woman sneered. "I want you, Sailor Mercury. Now, you can either come along nice and quietly, or we can do this the hard way." A cold smirk curled over sensuous lips. Come on, little Senshi. Just give me an excuse to blast you again. It'll be more fun that way.

The blue-haired genius took another step back from the slender woman confronting her; it was always more comfortable with Zoisite at a bit of a distance. "At least tell me why."

"Because you've got something my Lord wants, and what he wants, he gets. Now, which is it? Nice and peaceful? Or do I have to kick your little Terran ass?" Violet-blue eyes narrowing slightly underneath long lashes, the Gemlord stalked forward slowly, closing the distance between them again.

That only made Amy take another step back, sapphire eyes glued to the other female as she warily watched the otherworldly warrior. If I can just keep her talking, maybe I can hold out long enough for the others to help me, and learn a bit of what's going on besides. "Your lord?"

"Yes. Lord Obsidian, ruler of Lithos-- huh?" A warning flash filled the Water Warrior's consciousness, her telempathy sensing the presence of another person stepping into range of her mental sweep. Damn! And Lord Obsidian said no witnesses or help. No time for finesse. Gritting her teeth, violet-blue eyes suddenly ablaze, Zoisite turned to one of her powers rarely used. Even she had scruples, and the use of something this manipulative left a bad taste in her mouth. Reaching into herself, her body suddenly limned in a pale, ultramarine light, Zoisite grabbed the essence of an emotion, then mentally flung it at the girl.

Fear. Utter and complete terror, horror, panic, fear! It overwhelmed Amy, swirling around her like an irresistible whirlpool of phobia, threatening to pull her in and drown her. Abruptly too frightened to move or to think, her body reacted to the tsunami of emotion in a simple, sanity-saving way--it shut down; sapphire eyes rolling back in their sockets, Amy fainted, her breath released in a soft sigh as her slim form started to crumple to the floor.

It was precisely the reaction Zoisite had hoped for. Slender fingers still clutching the stolen transformation wand, the Gemlord darted forward, catching her prey's limp form before it could collapse onto the shiny, linoleum floor. She knew where she needed to go; locking in that mental picture as she shifted her arms to get a better hold on the Senshi's dead weight, Zoisite telepathed to Lord Obsidian, **I have her. Meet me there at Mariner Castle.**

Footsteps sounded in the hallway, echoing off the lockers. "Amy? Amy? Is everything all right?" Serena frowned, striding down the school's corridors in a swift gait. She could feel that something was wrong, that one of the Senshi was in trouble; many times in the past, such sensations had allowed the other sailor-suited soldiers of love and justice to come to another's aid. Rounding a corner, she suddenly stopped short as her blue eyes focused on a flash of blue hair, a gleam of coppery-gold hair and a far too familiar swirl of little pink petals engulfing both figures. With a shout, "Amy!" Serena burst into a sprint, hand grabbing for her golden compact that held the Imperium Silver Crystal, the words of her transformation sequence already on the tip of her tongue.

Not enough time. The cherry blossom petals faded away, leaving the girl with the twin blond ponytails alone in the junior high school hallway, golden compact in hand. "Oh God, Amy . . ." It was all Serena could say, suddenly feeling very helpless indeed.

The rumble of the Harley's engine was quite the comforting purr, the feel of the sleek, chrome-accented machine solid, real, between the driver's leather-clad thighs. Strong, masculine fingers gripped the handlebars, slipping the clutch expertly back to engage as he leaned gracefully over while rounding a corner. Light glinted off the metallic-red paint of the motorcycle, the metallic-red surface of the helmet and the deep, wine-red hair that trailed out from under the helmet to rest against the driver's leather-covered back as he accelerated the thrumming machine to streak down the ribbon of city street before him.

Ordinarily he'd not have really noticed the campus of the junior high school as he started to drive past it; other things were on his mind, things like keeping up with the silver-blue Toyota he was following on behalf of a client. Already Mr. Yamamoto there had given him the slip twice before, but Mrs. Yamamoto was paying quite a bit to make sure the dear husband wasn't spending money on foolish things like gambling and prostitutes.

The little light blue car zipped through the light; the rider of the motorcycle intently watched both it and the traffic signal from a good three blocks back, violet eyes narrowing slightly as he concentrated on tailing his prey.

What the--?

A sensation crossed the Harley's rider's mind, one that was both achingly familiar and equally distrusted. Mind numbing in shock, unable to believe that what he sensed could be real, he whipped his head to the side--and found himself staring at buildings labeled as being Crossroads Junior High School.

His mark forgotten for the moment, the leather-clad man pulled the machine he was riding over to the side of the road. Unfastening the chinstrap, he grabbed the glittering helmet with both hands and pulled it off his head. A shake of his head sent his thick, wavy mane of gorgeous, wine-red hair cascading down to frame his handsome face and fall to just between his shoulderblades. Violet-colored eyes--alight with intelligence and suspicious wonder both--searched over the school grounds, looking for some sort of visual conformation to the muted sensation he was still getting. Not seeing anything, a frown settled on his lips; casting outwards with an ability no human had, he softly hissed in a startled breath as his telepathy caught a presence that shimmered away like evaporating dew.


His frown deepening, the redhead jammed his helmet back onto his head, securing the chinstrap firmly. Unsure what to think, his emotions a tightly coiled knot in the pit of his stomach, the motorcyclist revved the Harley's engine. The machine took off in a shot, continuing on in its original direction, the rider just not sure what he was going to do. All he knew was that Zoisite was apparently alive again.

A swirl of warm air scattered a few faded petals from someone's garden somewhere, ruffling the dark auburn hair of the teenaged boy as he stood before the windows of a local gallery. Smiling just a bit, his jade-green eyes scanned over the breathtaking photographs put on display within the windows.

They were all of the moon: the crescent moon shining over a nighttime sea, shimmering reflection dancing on the waves--the full moon dramatically pushing through the dark silhouettes of tree branches--the gibbous moon gleaming over the shoulder of a mystic-looking model, the features of her face and body in the shadows from the silvery light shining down behind her--another photo of the full moon, this time a mystical, romantic scene of the silvery orb breaking through the storm clouds of a nighttime sky. That last one was impressive indeed, considering how hard it can be to photograph something in the darkness of night.

He's done spectacularly well ever since he decided to concentrate on the moon, Nephrite thought to himself, the image of Terra's solitary natural satellite staring back at him in the photographs almost accusingly. The Gemlord trapped in the body of an adolescent Terran softly sighed. Would he ever be trusted again by those that had once knew him as the Negaverse general who had planned his attacks by studying the movement of the stars? Discouraged, he had to admit that he'd probably never would be completely trusted again. Not that I blame them. I've given everyone plenty of reasons to hate me.

Down the street, about half a block away, Lita stopped short as Nathan had halted before the storefront of a local art studio and gallery. Stepping up to a telephone pole, the ponytailed brunette did her best to keep herself inconspicuous as she watched the auburn-haired boy. Her tall, athletic body relatively concealed behind the rough, dark wooden pole, she leaned over slightly, hoping to get a better view. What on Earth is he doing?

She didn't have long to wonder on one score. Within moments of her thought, the teenaged boy pushed open the door to the store and disappeared inside. Her curiosity getting the better of her--as it had been doing ever since the end of school--Lita slipped from her hiding place and swiftly traversed the distance between the pole and the front entrance of the gallery. Pulling open the door by the sturdy, brass handle, she stepped into the room beyond.

It was everything anyone ever expects in a gallery, with white-painted walls hung with framed pieces of art--paintings, lithographs and photographs all made up the collection she could see--that were spotlighted by track lighting to show off the picture to best advantage. Little brass labels engraved with the name of the work, the name of the artist and the date of the work's completion glimmered in the lighting next to each beautifully framed piece. Walking over to the nearest picture, her sneaker-clad feet making no sound at all on the plush, burgundy-colored carpet beneath her, Lita scanned the work of art with her emerald-green gaze.

It was a framed photograph featuring the crescent moon shining overhead in an evening sky, the orange, dying-ember light of the sun reflected off the peaceful stillness of a mirrorlike lake. With a start, the brunette girl realized that this photograph was taken at sunset at Fairview Park; the swans floating in the foreground of the picture, the skyline of trees and the city beyond, and the glimpse of roses bordering the picture confirmed the location. Immediately glancing at the brass label affixed to the wall, Lita's eyes grew wide in surprise as she read the words engraved there.

"Fairview Moonscape". Artist: Peter Fisher.

Peter Fisher? Wasn't he the photographer . . . ? Just as her emerald gaze spotted the "sold" sign tacked to the wall just under the brass plaque, Lita could hear the voices of two males talking.

"I'm really very honored that your uncle thinks so highly of my work."

"Of course he does. After all, he's been watching to see how you would do ever since he saved you from falling off that cliff when you were trying to shoot that sunset."

The ponytailed girl bit back her soft gasp. That second voice was Nathan's, and they were coming this way. A swift scan of her surrounding area gave no hope of offering her a haven from being discovered. Taking a step back, she braced herself for trouble as the two that were talking rounded a corner to approach where she was located.

The one Nathan was talking to was a slim young man nearly as tall as he was, with shaggy, curly auburn hair cut short, the sides a lighter, brighter red-brown than the central part or where his hair rested against his neck. Clad in blue dress slacks, a white dress shirt and sporting an aqua-colored tie, the other young man appeared to be the quiet, unassuming type. Reaching up to run a hand through the dark auburn curls at the back of his head, his brown eyes focused on the teen walking next to him, he smiled at Nathan in a mildly embarrassed way. "Yeah, I'm really grateful for that kind act. And I'm just as grateful for his support."

"I came here for something else besides giving you the balance of the price of 'Fairview Moonscape'," Nathan responded. His attention focused on his subject, the teenager had yet to notice Lita standing stiffly before the photograph in question.

Large eyes narrowing in suspicion at Nathan's words, Lita kept her gaze on the small slips of paper being held in the tall boy's hand. Although they appeared to be nothing more than a couple of checks, she just knew that things couldn't be that innocent where a suspected Negaverse general was concerned.

"Oh?" Peter stared at the teenager next to him, surprise evident on the photographer's almost bland face. "What else are you here for then, if it's not just buying the photo for your uncle?"

"Well, as you know, Uncle Maxfield is one of your biggest fans," Nephrite began, smiling at the award-winning photographer as he felt the tingle of his power strengthening, preparing for the transfer. "He asked me to make sure to give you this check as well as the check for the rest of the photo's price. He wants to ensure that you will always be able to create quality works of art, so he's giving you a grant of a million dollars so that you can have the best equipment possible."

The slightly shorter boy stopped dead in his tracks, a priceless expression of shock in his brown eyes. A hand coming up to nervously rake slim fingers through his two-toned, auburn curls, Peter could only blink in astonishment.

A sly grin settled on Nephrite's youthful face. Now's the perfect moment . . . Reaching out to extend to the other boy the pair of checks, the silvery-green blaze of his normally unreachable power filling his awareness, Nephrite deliberately aimed to brush his hand against Peter's shirt's sleeve.

She just knew Nathan was up to something; she could see it in his jade-green eyes. It was just too good to be true, Maxfield Stanton willing to not only buy a photo from Peter but to just give him a million dollars as well. Catching the sly look and watching the athletic boy reach out to touch the photographer, Lita launched herself at the two with a shout. Whatever he was doing to his former victims, this was one victim that would remain free of his tampering.

The sudden, outraged sound startled Nephrite, turning his attention away from setting his symbol--and, consequently, away from giving the other boy the blessing of unusual good luck the former Negaverse general had anticipated--onto Peter's clothing and focusing instead on the rapidly approaching girl. Frozen in pure astonishment, having not noticed the ponytailed brunette's presence at all, the auburn-haired teen couldn't react before Lita's solid form crashed into him.

The stars know everything, and their movement throughout the heavens gives each person a unique and special rhythm that is all their own. This was a truth in Nephrite's world; it was a basic tenant to the powers he possessed as a Gemlord from Lithos. Bowled over by the solid form of the angered girl, the auburn haired teen instinctively reached out to grab at Lita, seeking to keep himself from a hard fall to the floor. The moment his hand touched her, however, the world seemed to explode in a blinding flash of silver-green starlight.

His energy had been directed at a certain person, intending to tie that person into the ebb and flow of the entire Cosmos. Customized for Peter and his unique psychic presence, the power had reacted violently when it had come into contact with someone for whom it wasn't intended. All three teenagers were roughly blown back by the force of the psychic blast.

The curly haired photographer hit the wall hard enough to make the framed photograph of Fairview Park slam against the wood-paneled surface. His breath knocked out of him with a groan, Peter crumpled into a heap of two-toned auburn hair, white shirt and brown dress slacks. Lita fell straight backwards to the gallery's floor, her unmoving body sliding just a bit across the plush carpet from the force of the energy exploding almost literally in her face. Nephrite himself hit the floor hard; the blow from the back of his head hitting the solid surface under the carpet left him momentarily stunned.

Groaning, the teenaged astrologer rolled over onto his stomach, taking stock of his situation. Head, back and shoulders complaining with a dull ache, he guessed that he was otherwise all right. Staggering back up to a standing position, jade-green eyes frantically looking over his immediate surroundings, he felt an overwhelming panic wash over himself. Both Peter and Lita were lying there, unmoving, appearing much like a pair of broken dolls tossed aside by a disinterested owner. Cosmos, Cosmos! I've lost any chance I've had at redeeming myself!

"Hey there! What the hell happened?"

The shout of some nameless, faceless stranger penetrated Nephrite's horrified shock. The panic taking control--Cosmos knew he faced complete extinction now that this disaster had taken place--he bolted, instinct spurring him on to flee the site of his shame. Sneaker-clad feet pounding on the golden-brown carpeting, strong, youthful hands slamming against the glass and brass door at the gallery's entrance, the former Negaverse general shoved the door open and burst through the entryway to sprint down the street beyond.

He ran, mindlessly, silently, long legs eating up the distance along the pavement, green eyes barely focusing on the gray concrete before him as he ran. Even after his now-mortal body began to complain--his heart pounding in his chest, his breath coming in ragged gasps, the low burn of overworked muscles threatening to cramp making his arms and legs ache--he kept running, driven by the horrified knowledge that he had utterly and completely blown his second chance. He didn't stop until, while taking a corner around some unremarkable office building, something very solid indeed forced him to stop. Too panicked to be aware of his surroundings, Nephrite slammed into another person rounding the corner from the other direction.

As Nephrite staggered back from the impact, an arm shot forward, the woman--definitely a woman, from what he could see as he found himself staring at a creamy silk blouse shimmering over emphatically female curves--letting out a soft, startled sound. Tall, her height about six foot even, her chest was right at eye level for the auburn haired boy; she wore a black jacket left open in the slightly cool, late spring weather, and Nephrite's startled gaze remained on her attractively feminine bosom for a moment. Gathering together enough sense of presence to start muttering a hasty apology, he flicked his gaze up to look into her face . . . and froze.

Cosmos, her eyes.

Antique gold in color, as vivid and mysterious as those of a dragon, they stared back at him in slight annoyance, well-set in a strikingly beautiful face. Rich, deep red hair, like darkly gleaming embers, framed her face and cascaded in a fall of long waves to shimmer against shoulders and back. Though she appeared to be in her mid-twenties, quite the young but mature and confident Terran woman, there was something inhuman about her as well--an indefinable something that tugged at his awareness.

And in that one sharp moment, the expression of mild annoyance made a memory come to mind.

From the past: "I told you--hell, the Queen told you--I work with you, not for you. I'm hired help, sir--" the honorific was edged with cool sarcasm-- "and that means that I'm free to pack it up and leave at any moment. So, either you accept it and play it my way, or you get to explain to her High and Mightiness how you managed to cost her a hell of a valuable ally such as myself." The tall, very physically fit and alluring woman stares back at General Nephrite, a defiant, coolly confident look on her beautiful face. Dressed all in a sheath of black leather that hugs her body in the most tantalizing of ways--save for the loose white blouse that covers her upper torso where her leather bodice does not--she calmly stands before the gray uniformed general.

An even more irritated look settles on the auburn haired Negaverse officer's face as he walks over to his desk and drops into the impressive chair. "Fine. You know as well as I that all of us here in the Negaverse need to please the Queen. I concede partnership to you."

A look of smug triumph shines in the woman's antique gold eyes, but only for a moment. She quickly schools her expression into an appropriately detached and emotionless one.

"However . . ." He growls the word at her, attempting to catch her undivided attention. Seeing that he has it--albeit with a raised eyebrow and a faint smirk of amusement at the hint of pique in his tone--his jade-green eyes narrow at her as he steeples his fingers together and taps lightly on his expressive lips with the white fabric of his gloves. "As my partner, I will have higher expectations out of you. You will meet them, or you will be reassigned. I do not give second chances."

"You'll get your Queen's money's worth out of me," the redheaded woman vows, an odd light in her golden eyes. Seems as if his threat to send her elsewhere bothers her.

A cold smile crosses Nephrite's handsome face. "Good. Now, my first expectation out of you is this: As you may know, we generals vie for power and glory among ourselves. The best asset I could use is someone that will make sure that my power and influence never decreases, but only increases."

She moves, her body sleek and graceful beneath the black leather, stopping to position herself between the general and his big, sturdy, hardwood desk. Leaning her firm buttocks against the edge of the wooden piece of furniture behind her, she nods, the dark fire of her hair glimmering. "Just trust me. You'll have no regrets where I'm concerned. As long as I'm in your service, none of the others will be able to snatch away what power you have."

"I like that in a woman," Nephrite replies, gazing up at the enchanting mercenary pressed between his knees and his desk. "Confident, beautiful and deadly. Quite the potent combination."

A sly, almost hungry grin curls across her lips as her golden eyes half-close beneath dark cinnamon colored lashes, glinting in near-challenge."And I like a man who knows what he wants and is strong enough to take it."

But she's dead! They told me she was dead. Face draining of all color, the teenaged boy continued to stare at the stunningly gorgeous woman. He remembered that day, the youma stepping into his office in the heart of the Negaverse, telling him that she had been fatally injured in an ambush. He hadn't believed it then, but as time had gone on and there had been no word, no sign of her, he had finally lost hope.

Those smoky-gold eyes widened as she stared back down into the kid's jade-green eyes. The play of emotions there was absolutely fascinating as her slight annoyance rapidly changed to first startlement, then to recognition, shocked disbelief and a sudden, almost fearful hope.

For another seemingly timeless instant, they remained still, the woman's arm remaining curved around him in a loose embrace as they stared at one another on that streetcorner. Then someone crashed into the tall woman from behind; her body barely shuddering with the impact, she turned to face whomever it was that was so damned careless, her temper clearly sparked. Her arm slipped away from his youthful, athletic body, the deep red hair brushing against his cheek in a silken caress from the momentum of her turning.

The fact that she had barely moved with the force of the collision only confirmed her identity to the already stressed teenager. He realized, belatedly, that she had indeed seemed too solid, even for her obviously physically fit body, when he had crashed into her. Mind still too stunned to think, he impulsively reached out to touch the shimmering waves of deep, dark fire; a single strand curled around his fingers as the rest of the mass settled against her back, almost reluctant to turn him loose now that it had found itself holding him. Unable to face her, not now, not after having destroyed any hope he had had at making this second chance work, he took the opportunity her angered distraction had made to flee her presence. Taking a couple of swift steps back, he spun on a heel and ran once more, plunging headfirst into the sea of humanity surrounding the two of them.

He ran, swift as the wind, for another few, long minutes. When he finally stopped, his body pushed beyond all limits of endurance, he collapsed to the grassy ground next to the sidewalk and lay there, gasping in jagged breaths, mind reeling. Despite his fear and horror at possibly having killed Lita and Peter, he could only focus on a single thing.

Alive. Siolan's alive!

It couldn't be anyone else. He had known her so well; only those of his own race did he know better. He knew, in his very soul, that there could never be another quite like her, that the Cosmos could never duplicate that exact shade of dark red hair, those dragon-gold eyes, her uncanny grace wedded to a physical denseness that made her very solid indeed. As he lay there and struggled to recover from pushing his fragile mortal body so hard, the solitary strand of dark red silk continued to cling to his hand.

The sleek, athletic warrioress known to Nephrite as Siolan wandered down the crowded streets of the city in a daze, stunned almost beyond belief by what she had just witnessed in that chance encounter. Damn it all to hell, the boy had slipped away as she had glared at the immediately apologetic man that had rammed into her. The fact that she was big, mean-looking and appeared irritated enough to pick him up and snap him in two had convinced the expensively-suited businessman to offer a stammered apology and scurry off. Even that short amount of time had been enough to allow the auburn haired boy to fade into nothingness, like a teasing dream.

But how? How in the name of all that's holy could he be alive, seemingly turned into a--a child? I watched him die!

Her mind dwelling on her thoughts, it was the force of sheer habit that guided her steps--slow and faltering as they were--toward her rented apartment. The dragon-gold eyes wide and unfocused, she could see things in her memory as if they had happened only yesterday.

The past, just over a year ago: The park is somber and deathly quiet in the stillness of the night, save for the agonized sobbing of a young teen clutching at a fading body lying on the ground and propped upon her lap as she kneels there. Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury watch in sad sympathy while Molly screams her despair into the night, the battered and bloodied form of the Negaverse general twinkling away in a display of scintillating starlight.

Behind a nearby tree, a shadowy form tears her gaze from the heartrending sight, the keening of the pajama-clad girl only echoing the one that wells up within the observer's soul. Light glimmers off a tear as it falls over the pale cheek of the redheaded female. Defeat etched in every line of her tall, athletic form, Siolan bows her head, the metal claws arching over her fingers from the skeletal gauntlets that adorn her hands sinking deeply into the tree against which she is pressing her backside.

Another past scene, nearly a thousand years back: The sound of bootsteps echoes in the rocky confines of the Negaverse corridor as Siolan's tall, magnificent form stalks along the passageway. Her strides long and swift, an irritated expression on her lovely face, her softly muttered words are meant for herself alone. "Damn it, I'm going to be late to the throne room. Serves that witch Beryl right, summoning me and then neglecting to provide a guide around this place." As she walks down the tunnel, her flaming hair--swept back from her face and secured at the nape of her neck by a leather thong--dances and sways around her shoulders and down her back, echoing the sway of the ends of the golden sash tied around her slender waist, the material brushing against the black leather leggings of her bodysuit. "Let Beryl rant and rave all she wants at my tardiness," she adds under her breath, a smug smile appearing on her face. "She knows how damned valuable I am, and I'm certainly not one of her brainless, gutless little servants to bow and scrape at her feet."

She puts her foot down to transfer her weight for another step just as another figure strides out in front of her from a side passage; abruptly, without warning, her boot slips out from under her. Taken by surprise, Siolan falls forward, only to crash up against the other person, a sharp gasp escaping her with the rather solid collision. Acting on instinct, the gray-uniformed, auburn haired man swiftly raises an arm and catches her, helping her maintain her balance. Looking up, the dragon-gold eyes stare in what appears to be blank amazement at the man, her leather-gloved hands spreading out over his chest.

General Nephrite stares back at her, the usual scowl on his face replaced by an expression of mild surprise, jade-green eyes meeting her gaze. His hand remains on her shoulder, still holding onto her.

Siolan's gaze shifts down to look at her hands resting on the gray fabric of Nephrite's uniform. The amazement on her face swiftly changes to haughty disdain; she slowly, seemingly reluctantly, straightens herself. "Your pardon, sir. Don't know what just happened here. Skidded on some broken stone and lost my balance, I guess." Her fluid, melodic voice has quite the cool tone to it.

The auburn haired general remains silent, his expression becoming a stormy scowl once more. Clearly feeling offended, he glares at her, apparently weighing the consequences of letting her know his displeasure in no uncertain terms. Then he lets loose with an aggravated sigh, shakes his head slightly and storms past her, auburn hair shimmering darkly in the muted light of the passageway.

Siolan turns and watches him go, that look of faintly stunned amazement settling back onto her features.

Still slowly making her way along the streets to her apartment, the redheaded mercenary continued to muse on the past dragged up by her chance encounter. She had made it, at last, to the Throne Room, only to discover there that the man she had literally run into was General Nephrite; perhaps the powers that be had a sense of humor, for her scheduled meeting was to inform her of Queen Beryl's decision to assign Siolan to Nephrite's command. However, the redhead had swiftly made it clear to the drop-dead gorgeous general that she worked with him as an equal partner, not a subordinate, and the two of them had come to a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Nor had it taken them very long at all to give in to the tempestuous attraction they'd felt for one another despite both of them trying to deny it at first. They had first become partners; engaging Siolan in the behind-the-scenes power struggle that went on between Beryl's generals had been a masterstroke on the stargazing general's part, since Siolan herself had no qualms about getting her hands dirty. More than once, there had been physical confrontations between "Nephrite's weapon" and the other renegade Gemlords--confrontations that the mercenary had nearly always had won. Then they had become lovers, if the near-desperate, hungry, grasping dance of dominance and submission they'd had together in bed could qualify them for the title. For five hundred years, they were together in the grim darkness of the Negaverse, each one being the other's source of light, warmth, comfort, life, there in that dread realm. Never once did they use the word "love" to describe what they felt; in Metallia's shadow, love was too often an illusion, yet they had both known in their hearts what it was they had had between them.

Beryl had brought an end to it all. As she staggered to a momentary stop, her glove-encased hand clenching into a tight fist, the woman once known as Siolan turned her thoughts to that time. The dark queen had decided that all were to swear undying loyalty to her and the empress that she served, including Siolan. The mercenary had other thoughts in mind; if anyone could have commanded her true loyalty, it would have been the auburn haired man she'd come to care for more than anything else, not the red-haired witch that ruled by Metallia's will. Siolan had refused to swear her allegiance, and Beryl had tried to kill her.

The energy blast had nearly done its job; injured and hunted, the mercenary had barely made it out of the Negaverse alive. Though there were many probability lines still open to the dread realm watched over by Empress Metallia, Siolan carried with her the secret knowledge of a way to move past the seal the Imperium Silver Crystal had set around other probability lines. Knowing that she would be as safe as can be expected slipping off to one of the existences banned to the Negaverse by Queen Serenity, she had passed through the shimmering silver barrier to the small planet called Earth, or Terra, and had slowly recovered her health.

She had tried a number of times after that to return just long enough to let her lover know that she still lived . . . but it was all for nothing. Beryl had set too many traps for her, knowing just how clever the mercenary could be; more than once, the warrioress had been wounded within an inch of her life and had been forced to retreat to heal her wounds. She still bore a twisted scar that ran along her sternum from a slash that had come very close indeed to killing her.

Then the sealing of the Silver Crystal had shattered. A flame of hope had arisen from the bitter ashes of loss within her soul, only to be brutally snuffed again when she had watched him die at the hands of General Zoisite's youma. Gods, she had wanted so badly to go to him then, to touch him, look into those fascinating, jade-green eyes, kiss him just one last time . . .

But it was simply too late. Forever, too late.

All she could do was stand there and watch the life fade from him, a hysterical little Terran girl kneeling there where she should have been; she, the mercenary and assassin, the near immortal with the ancient blood of dragons in her veins, had silently wept that bleak night for the man she had loved and had lost, permanently . . .

Apparently it was not so permanently at all. Impossible as it might be, that boy, that frightened teenager, that had plowed into her just had to be none other than Nephrite. A shake of her head sent the dark flame silk of her hair to shimmering around her; her sleek form once more started striding down the sidewalk, her body showing her sudden determination and hesitantly expressed joy.

She didn't know just how she knew, or why she was so certain, that the child was Nephrite. What filled her was an impulse, a knowing deep in her soul that made her able to look past even the familiar-seeming auburn hair and green eyes to the spirit within--and there she could see the man that she had loved.

The man that she still loved.

The man that she would always love.

The dragon-gold eyes looked up onto the heart of the setting sun for a moment as she continued her easy, graceful gait. Her voice sounding in that startling, distinctively fluid and melodic cadence it always had, she whispered a vow to herself and to the boy her lover had apparently become. "I'll find you again, Nephrite. And this time, I swear, I'll never let you go . . ."

Footsteps echoed softly in the marble hallway, disturbing the layer of gritty dust that dulled the polish of the white-veined blue stone. The air was still and otherwise silent, though there was a subtle sensation of rippling flow perceivable by the two people that walked along the marble-lined corridor. Dark hair and gold-trimmed ebony cape gently flowing behind him in the wake of his confident,relaxed stride, Obsidian quietly lead the way into the heart of the azure-themed castle.

Behind the Lord of Lithos, a slender, graceful form kept pace with the taller Gemlord, her dainty steps barely heard in the echoes. Struggling along as best she could with the dead weight of the unconscious form of the blue-haired Terran girl in her arms, Zoisite had a rather miffed expression on her pretty face. The damned Senshi was getting heavy.

"Ah, here we are," Obsidian murmured to himself, deep brown eyes focusing on an impressive doorway at the end of the corridor. A smile settling on his face, the dark lord stopped before the closed entry and looked it over.

Silver glittered back at him, sparkling from the surface of the scenes cast in high relief. The theme on this set of double doors was that of the pursuit of knowledge; around the large, central glyph of Mercury, figures were seated at computers, read books, wrote at desks, held lively discussions and listened to lectures.

"Now for Her Highness." With a graceful turn, Obsidian glanced back over his shoulder to flick his ebony gaze at Zoisite and her unmoving burden.

The blond warrior nodded slightly in acknowledgment. Ever since her teleport here to Mariner Castle, she had been keeping her prisoner unconscious through sheer force of will, her telepathic ability interfering with the Terran's normal brain functioning. Relaxing her mental hold, Zoisite seamlessly transferred control of the teenager to the Guardian of Space.

The smile on Obsidian's face grew a bit wider, but certainly not warmer. If anything, it seemed too perfect to be a real smile, one of those plastered on to placate others. His low baritone still a soft murmur in the hushed confines of the marble-chased corridor, the dark lord focused on bringing the Senshi around. "Come, Highness. I have need of you at the moment."

A soft groan sounded from the blue-haired girl; the limp body held against Zoisite's small-breasted torso faintly stirred. Seeing that she was coming around, the Western Commander braced herself and began to lower her burden to the ground.

Where am I? What's happened? Amy slowly opened her sapphire eyes; sensing that she was being lowered despite the muzzy, oddly confused sensations that filled her mind, the girl genius dropped her legs down under herself. As her feet touched solid ground, the apparent arms around her let her go. Standing, bearing her own weight, Amy found herself staring at the dark stranger that had seemingly been ordering Kunzite around. He seems . . . strangely familiar, somehow. Large eyes blinking, a confused look in their azure depths, Amy tried fighting off the unusual sensations, but to no avail. Caught in that dreamlike state, she could only stare, blinking, at the tall, ebony-clad man.

Then she felt slender fingers pressing something into her hand. Glancing down, the intellectually gifted girl saw a well-manicured, feminine hand curl her own fingers around a blue-handled pen sporting a gold cap topped with an azure sphere. Transformation pen, she muzzily thought as a warm tingle flowed through and around her like a wind-kissed, summer rain. Should . . . transform . . .

Closing sapphire eyes, Amy tried to get her distant-seeming body to respond to her mental commands, to raise the pen up into the air and shout her transformational phrase.

All to no avail. The teenager found herself unable to do so--helpless, immobile--as she sensed the stranger's obsidian eyes--Obsidian? Didn't Zoisite mention a "Lord Obsidian"?--boring into her.

"Come now, Highness. Such a simple request, and I promise to return you to your friends afterwards." The voice of the Guardian of Space was a gentle murmur, far more warm and endearing than the almost obviously fake pleasantness plastered onto his face.

Against her will, the azure haired girl felt herself changing as the humid, airy power of her patron planet--now magnified into something more stately, more regal--heeded the dark stranger's gentle call. Caressing her, filling her soul and swirling around her, the power of Mercury caused the teenager's body to glow with an aqua light as she grew taller and more mature. Then the light faded away, leaving the marble-chased hallway wreathed in dim light and shadow once more.

Clad in a shimmering, silvery-blue gown, the dark glitter of sapphires accenting the graceful column of her throat, the shape of her ears and the feathered layers of her short hair, Princess Mercury was a gentle, elegant sight to behold. The light of intelligence that usually shown deep within her large eyes replaced for the moment by the glaze of a trancelike daze, she slowly turned to face the intricately-carved silver doors.

Behind her and slightly to the left, Zoisite watched in silence as the royal woman muzzily looked at first the symbol of Mercury in the center of the double doors then at the blue and gold transformation pen gripped loosely in a hand. Beneath long, spun-gold lashes, the Water Warrior's violet-blue eyes narrowed slightly.

All I really need is a friend. Would you at least be that?

Zoisite frowned, absently raising a hand to her sensuous lips, the voice from the past whispering in her mind. An odd tingle running down her spine as the spark of memory sent ripples through the still waters of her consciousness, the glamorous Gemlord nervously nibbled at a well-manicured fingernail as the ripples resolved into a memory.

From just over a thousand years ago: Dressed in a gauzy, aqua-colored gown that shows her feminine curves to advantage, Princess Mercury stands in a doorway, her back to the grand ballroom and facing out towards the balcony that runs along the exterior of the Moon Palace. Backlit from the illumination of the ballroom, the happy and boisterous sounds of a celebration swirling in the still night air, the princess gazes at a single, solitary, slender form that leans against the white marble railing. Facing away from her, all that can be seen of the other person in the shadows of the lunar night is white cloth and the queue of wavy, copper-gold hair that rests against the other figure's back.

"I thought I might find you out here. Are . . . you all right?" The concern in Princess Mercury's voice easily matches the worry that marrs the sweet expression on her face.

"Yes, Your Highness. I'm as fine as can be expected." The voice that answers her is a soft, sweet, melodic tenor, one that seems well suited for singing.

"Commander Zoisite, please, don't be angry. You're a great person--sweet, kind, talented--but I just don't have either the time or the inclination right now for anything--"

"That's not it, Your Highness," the other person interrupts, pushing up from the railing and slowly turning around. Violet-blue eyes, large and innocent-appearing, glance over the short-haired princess from beneath long lashes, the pretty but noticeably masculine features set in a resigned smile.

Princess Mercury appears slightly confused now, as well as concerned. "But if that's not why you've decided to stand out here, alone in the dark, then what is?"

Zoisite steps forward, reaching down to take one of the woman's hands in his own slender grasp. "I swear to the Cosmos that it has nothing to do with you, Your Highness. I've done nothing but enjoy your company."

The azure-clad woman looks first at where their hands are linked, then up into Zoisite's beautiful, masculine face. "Are you sure, Commander?"

He chuckles, a soft and very amused sound. "Of course I'm sure. I've known all along that you really weren't interested in me like that. It's all right. I understand. Still, we have had some nice times together."

Interlacing her fingers with his, Princess Mercury smiles at him warmly. "Thank you, Zoisite. Because I am so busy with my studies and my duties, however, I do get lonely at times. All I really need is a friend. Would you at least be that?"

The white-uniformed Gemlord smiles enchantingly in return, leaning forward long enough to affectionately kiss the princess on the cheek. "Of course, dear Mercury. I'll always be your friend. I swear it."

Cosmos . . . Zoisite softly hissed in a breath in shock as the memory faded, her large eyes getting wider as she stared at the entranced woman before her. Guilt washing over her, the Western Commander tore her gaze from Princess Mercury to stare at the dark ruler of Lithos.

"That's it, dear princess," Obsidian softly crooned, watching as the regal figure raised the transformation pen and touched the center of the circle of the Mercury symbol on the silver doors with the azure sphere. "Just open the doors to me and then you can go home."

The words came to her, unbidden, instantly known; Princess Mercury's soft voice sounded in the dimly-lit corridor, making the sensation of dormant power start to stir. "By the power and in the name of Mercury, I ask that you open to me, your mistress. Allow me passage to the Blessed Fountain beyond."

At her words, aqua light gleamed within the azure sphere of the transformation pen, forming the glyph of Mercury in its depths and setting in motion a chain reaction. The Mercury symbol on the silver doorway flared to life, illuminating the princess and the pair of Gemlords standing behind her. Then the impressive doors slid apart, revealing the chamber at the heart of Mariner Castle.

Plain, sophisticated in its simplicity, the chamber was completely covered in the same white-veined blue marble of the hallway, its surface polished to an unearthly, nearly-reflective shine. The sound of running water greeted the trio as Obsidian and Zoisite silently followed the azure-haired woman into the room. The very atmosphere was filled with the presence of energy, a shifting, flowing sensation that made even the air within seem to dance and shimmer with a silvery-blue light.

Sapphire eyes continuing to reflect her inner, dream-like state, the part of Princess Mercury that was still Amy remained struggling against the mental control even as her body walked up to the edge of the marble dais in the middle of the room. There she stopped, waiting.

Zoisite's large-eyed gaze locked upon the center of the chamber, her sensual voice purring gently as she unconsciously reveled in the scintillating feel of the power that filled the area. The Fountain was three-tiered and triangular, seemingly molded from the very marble of the dais. Silvery water bubbled up in the middle of the uppermost tier, spilling down to the center level and then down to the large pool at the bottom, making a soft sound that was almost musical. "Stunning," the Water Warrior whispered to herself, her gaze remaining upon the magical fountain in fascination.

"Indeed," Obsidian responded while his black-clad form strode up to stand just behind the short-haired female in the blue-and-silver royal gown. "The Sapphire, please, Commander."

Looking over at the dark lord, Zoisite blinked in surprise, then smiled brightly at Obsidian's acknowledgment of her rank. Pleased that her lord actually referred to her by title, she elegantly nodded, her copper-gold ponytail bobbing with the movement. Stepping up onto the dais and pressing her legs against the side of the triangular pool at the base of the Fountain, Zoisite reached up to the uppermost level.

While her slender fingers slipped into the bubbling liquid, the Western Commander shivered in pure delight; the energy here that swirled through and around her was from the same source as her own, the Element of Water, and she found it comforting, invigorating, wonderful.

Obsidian watched the young Gemlord carefully, intently, happy that yet another part of his overall plan was being accomplished. A smile of delight crossed his very handsome face as he heard Zoisite give a soft purr of triumph, his dark eyes lighting up in satisfaction when the Water Warrior's hand emerged from the Fountain, holding a gleaming, dark blue jewel.

Princess Mercury blinked once, the glassy expression in her eyes clearing slightly. The part of her that was Amy could feel the fog lift a bit; apparently the dark-haired man's attention to her was slipping, concentrating instead on the retrieval of that mysterious gem from the Blessed Fountain.

Her beautiful face lit up in joy at accomplishing her task, Zoisite gracefully twisted her lithe body and held the deep blue stone out to her lord.

"Thank you, Commander," Obsidian replied, his tone of voice indicating that he was very pleased with her work so far. "Now, drain the Fountain."

"What?" In an instant, Zoisite's expression shifted from triumph to pure confusion, then mild horror. To do that would mean unbalancing a large part of her own Element here in this star system, to cause her own sense of balance and order to be disrupted. It would be the equivalent of having a constantly aggravated wound within her own soul.

"You heard me, Commander. Drain the Fountain."

In front of Obsidian, Princess Mercury blinked again, Zoisite's own horror mirrored on the pretty, royal female's face. Doing that would completely disrupt the delicate focus of her patron's power; she had already seen the results in what had happened to Raye. She couldn't allow that to happen; it was her duty as the Senshi of Mercury to protect this place, to preserve the sanctity of the core of her patron's energy.

"My lord, please. Don't make me do this. It'll make my own powers less effective; I won't be able to serve you as well or as efficiently," Zoisite pleaded, violet-blue eyes remaining focused on Obsidian's stone-cold face.

"It's only temporary, Commander. I swear on the shattered remains of Lithos that once I have achieved what I wish, we shall return here and restore the Fountain." The dark lord's words sounded so reasonable, so logical. "This way, the Senshi cannot interfere with our ultimate goal, and Order will be restored afterwards."

The slender, youngest Gemlord gave her lord a skeptical look. Though everything within her wanted to trust the man that had ruled the Gemlords ever since their creation, this didn't seem quite right, didn't seem like something he'd normally do. Still, it's not every day that he's trying to restore a shattered planet and slaughtered people. Perhaps this is the only way . . . Closing her eyes, she held out her hands toward the Fountain, beginning to open her mind and soul to the Element under her command. Her sensual voice barely above a whisper, she sought to allay one last fear. "What if this causes me to fail you, my lord? Will you still punish Lord Kunzite for a shortcoming of mine caused by my own powers being hampered by this?"

Obsidian stepped away from the unmoving princess and up to the other Gemlord. Running a hand along her shoulder, he leaned forward and murmured right next to Zoisite's earring-adorned ear. "I promise I shall not punish you for a failure that happens because your Element is out of balance. I truly am not that unreasonable a ruler, now am I?"

"N . . . no, my lord. You never have been that . . ." She shivered at his touch, finding the courage and conviction to go through with the order. As the tall, black-clad Gemlord took a step back, Zoisite began to concentrate, her slim form starting to glow with an ultramarine light.

As the Fountain began to shake, the shimmering liquid within it dancing, Amy found herself able to move even through the dream-like haze. Hand tightening around the transformation pen, Princess Mercury slowly lifted her hand up, even as she sensed the focus of her power beginning to shift. With Zoisite focused on disrupting the Fountain and Obsidian's attention on seeing that his order was carried out, neither Gemlord noticed the glimmer of the transformation pen as it was held aloft. Though it took every shred of her intellect and will, the blue-gowned woman was able to whisper out the magic words, "Mercury . . . Power . . ."

The Fountain suddenly bubbled into life, radiating aqua light that made the entire chamber seem to come alive with blazing energy. Obsidian growled and held up a hand, shielding his eyes from the unexpected, bright radiance, his senses momentarily overwhelmed by the activation of the powers of the planet Mercury. Crying out, Zoisite dropped to her knees, her concentration shattered under the abrupt assault of the Fountain as it fought back against her tampering.

Ribbons of aqua energy erupted from the transformation pen as the glyph of Mercury spun within the azure globe's depths. Wrapping around the suddenly nude princess, her body silhouetted in the sparkling blue and silver energy as she rotated in a complete circle, they solidified piece by piece into the white and blue sailor-like fuku of the Soldier of Mercury.

Before either Gemlord could react to the sudden threat of Sailor Mercury there in their midsts, the Senshi of Water let loose with her attack, hoping to further confuse her opponents and take advantage of their surprise. "Mercury Bubbles . . . Blast!"

Spinning around in a full circle, Sailor Mercury flung out her gloved hands to either side, causing the sphere of aquamarine radiance to explode into a high-velocity spray of bubbles. Bursting open, the bubbles filled the entire area with a thick fog, the atmosphere plummeting to a temperature just above freezing.

Swearing under her breath, Zoisite stumbled forward, hands reaching out into the blinding mist in order to find the Fountain once again. Despite the little set-back of being essentially robbed of her sight, she was determined not to disappoint her ruler.

Guided both by her innate ability to see targets in the fog of her own creation as well as the sound of the ponytailed woman's strident voice, the blue-skirted Senshi darted forward, sweeping a slim foot out to kick Zoisite's booted feet out from under her. Letting loose with a startled yelp, caught off guard and unable to recover her balance, the young Gemlord hit the marble-covered floor hard. Winded, gasping for breath, Zoisite laid there as Sailor Mercury took up a protective stance before the fog-enshrouded Fountain. "As long as I'm standing, you're not touching the sacred waters of Planet Mercury," she challenged, sapphire eyes focused on the gleaming star of dark green that marked Lord Obsidian's position in the mist.

"Foolish girl. I didn't want it to come to this," the dark lord answered, deep brown gaze peering through the thick, blinding cloud. "However . . . Vortex Mirror! Show me where the Senshi of Mercury stands!" At Obsidian's sharp call, a gleaming symbol appeared, lighting the way like a beacon. The mystic Symbol of Space still locked in on Sailor Mercury, it showed for its master once again the Mercury glyph; following that lead, Obsidian dashed forward.

Sailor Mercury gasped in surprise as the tall, dark figure abruptly loomed out of the fog right in front of her. "Now, step aside and be good, Sailor Mercury. It's not like you can really stop me." The Lord of Lithos then gave the brave but frightened girl a cold smile.

Tilting her head in defiance, even though a frisson of fear ran down her spine, Sailor Mercury replied, "No."

Obsidian's smile faded, followed by a callous shrug. "As you wish." Raising his right hand, he stretched it out to his left, preparing to backhand the azure-haired Senshi away from the Fountain.

Ducking her head, the sailor-suited soldier braced herself for the stinging blow to come, white-gloved hands rising up to shield her face. Just as the Guardian of Space's slap was about to be delivered, a violet-blue and copper-gold blur appeared. "No! Don't!"

Startled, both Sailor Mercury and Lord Obsidian stared, thunderstruck, at Zoisite. Her slender fingers curled around her ruler's upraised wrist, her slim, androgynous body wedged between the two, she gazed straight at the angered face of her lord. As the intellectual Senshi looked on in astonishment, the dark lord growled, "What in the name of the Cosmos are you doing, Commander? You dare defy me?"

"No, my lord, but please! Think! We have the Sapphire you wanted, and all we need to do now is drain the Fountain. Hitting her won't accomplish anything save make her just that much more determined. Surely you have the power to just render her unconscious?"

Obsidian's frown deepened into a scowl. With a growl of frustration, he shook off Zoisite's hold on his arm, then shoved the Water Warrior off to the side. As the ponytailed woman stumbled and fell to her knees, he stared once again at Sailor Mercury, who had resumed her protective pose before the Blessed Fountain. A quick gesture to focus his telepathic power, then a thrust of his hand at the blue-skirted soldier launched a mental assault upon the teenaged warrior. Exerting his will over her nearly indomitable mind, Obsidian sought to drive Sailor Mercury back into the shadowed depths of unconsciousness.

Groaning with the effort, her body curled up defensively in reaction to the hard-fought battle of wills, the azure-haired, sailor-suited warrior gave everything she had into the effort to fight back. The fog from the Bubbles Blast beginning to dissipate, Zoisite lifted her head and gazed at the two--Senshi and Gemlord--locked in the titanic struggle, then slowly rose to her feet and walked toward the Fountain.

Despite her valiant effort, the dark stranger's power proved to be too much. Her consciousness slipping away under Obsidian's relentless command, Sailor Mercury slowly sank to the white-veined marble floor. The last thing she saw before the darkness claimed her was Zoisite once more reaching out toward the triangular focus of the Power of Mercury in order to disrupt its delicate balance.

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