Irina

The Outer Soldiers Saga

 

Part Four. Betrayal.

 

  Prince of Time was sitting in the big arm-chair in his black shirt with silver embroideries and black trousers. Setsuna was half-sitting half-lying on his lap in the long green dress that he liked so much. >From time to time Prince was wounding the tresses of her long hair around his fingers. He was looking at her for some time then took her hand and playing with it said: “There is something I want to ask you about. Why don’t you and other girls age any more?” Setsuna looked surprised and then burst out laughing. “Would you be pleased to see me an old woman tomorrow’s morning!" But seeing concern in his eyes she became serious, put her hands on her lap and began stroking out the non-existent creases.

“You see, when we were born we grew really fast because our help was necessary. In some way we are like you. You lived for millennia and still look like a thirty year old man. We will stay young, strong and able fighters as long as Universe will demand this and will disappear into the lights of our planets if it would be considered we are not needed any more. You know that our solar system is very-very small, just another amongst billions. We are lucky enough to have a chance to live and survive.”

 “But what about the Princess? Several centuries already passed and she still seems to be the girl of fifteen, and the other girls as well.” Setsuna smiled.

“Princess takes her power from the Silver Crystal. But lately it was giving away too much light to heal us, some for several times. So there is no energy left for her to grow and for the inner soldiers too. One day the Crystal will take the power from her, she just does not know how much light and love is inside her.”

 Chronos was thinking that Serenity and Endymion’s engagement looked like it would last forever. But nobody seemed to be disturbed by it. They were still talking, walking, watching the sunsets, picking the flowers and holding hands. Setsuna read his thoughts as she almost always did, when he was not on his guard, smiled and answered to his unspoken questions: “May be they are not supposed to be married in this Time and Space. May be their future lies in another eternity.”

“Yes,” Prince murmured to himself, “so that they would not be paying for their happiness in this eternity.” Setsuna leaned over to him and tracing the lines of his face with her long finger asked: “Is anything wrong?” Prince looked at her, smiled and took her in his arms: “Nothing, as long as you are with me.” Setsuna moved slightly to look into his eyes. “You were scared when you saw me dying, weren’t you?” Chronos nodded. “You should know yourself.”

 The garnet eyes twinkled: “Of course you were. It would have been a terrible loss for you. If I had been gone who would have been so beautifully embroidering the shirts for you?” With these words she pointed out a silver pattern on his chest. Black eyes traveled up the hand, along the long green sleeve, up the tanned neck to the lips that were slyly smiling. Prince’s voice was mild and teasing: “Setsuna, you are being naughty. And I don’t think I am in the mood of letting you go with it.”

“And what are you going to do?” He was silent. Setsuna felt as he put his arms around her back and knees then stood up and went to the gardens.

 

“Look, Haruka and Michiru!” She indicated two girls standing on the shore of the lake. Chronos kept walking. “There are plenty of other lakes out here. Michiru found four or five.” Setsuna shifted in his arms, garnet eyes went wide: his thought was so clear in her mind.

“You are not going to do this to me?! You wouldn’t dare!”

 Her husband smiled slyly. “Of course, I would. After what you dared to say about me. Just wait for a few seconds. We are almost there.” By that time he reached one of the lakes. “Let us see how long it will take you to dry yourself after the swim you are going to have. Your hair, in particular. How long does it usually take...? Five, six, seven hours?” Setsuna was trying in vain to free herself of his strong embrace. She was tall and not thin though her body was well-proportioned but Prince was always carrying her without any strain and this time was not the exception.

“You know perfectly well that I wet my hair only when it is absolutely necessary! I washed it the day before yesterday! If I had known you would be so mean to me I would have never agreed to marry you!”

 Chronos was standing up to the waist in water: “Really? And I hear this after all the centuries you and me spent together! Then I have another good reason for doing this!” He broke the embrace: Setsuna fell into the water with a loud splash. In a minute she was on her feet: her green dress was wet, her long hair was dark with water. She lifted her hand with some difficulty and put the long heavy black tress away from her face. Her only wish was to drown him the following second but the dress and the hair turned so heavy she could hardly stand on her feet up to the waist in water. “You!!! Look what you have done!”

 Her husband stepped a bit back, crossed his arms on his chest and bent his head to his side: “Mm… You look much better in the wet dress than in the dry one.” But Setsuna was not in the mood of appreciating the comment.

“And may I ask what are you waiting for, standing here with your arms crossed?! For me to catch a cold? The water is not that warm and the wind is blowing. If you haven’t noticed that I have. I am freezing!” But Chronos was just smiling wider and wider. He came closer to Setsuna and put another heavy black tress away from her neck. “Don’t worry, I am going to make you very warm.”

 

                                                                                      *

 

 Michiru was standing on the shore of the lake. A short dress made of very light fabric tracing every line of her beautiful figure clasped at one shoulder leaving another one bare was put on her body, she was barefoot. The thought of swimming was on her mind from the early morning. While she was watching the waves coming up to her feet and going back she felt a hand put on her shoulder. It started playing with a clasp as if doubting whether to unfasten it or not. Michiru knew this hand at once and covered it with her own. Haruka smiled standing behind her.

 They had been together for several centuries already. During this time they learned to respect and accept each other not trying to change anything any more. They learned to leave one another in the face of danger and even death knowing with some inner conviction that when the battle would end they would meet again. And they learned to follow their own path, finally realizing they had only each other on this road they had chosen.

 Michiru felt that Haruka’s hand was strained. The blonde stopped playing with a clasp and asked in a low voice: “Michiru, would you have been more happy with me if I were a man?” Michiru bent down her head looking at the sand at her feet. “Why should I be more happy in that way?” she finally asked without replying.

“Because then you could have a child and a proper family, for example.” Michiru was still examining the way sand was stuck in her toes. Words were slowly coming.

“You know, Haruka, I was thinking about it, thinking really hard. If you were a man and we would have a family and live together. But at some time I realized that this somebody would not be _you_ any more though he would have your appearance, your disposition, your habits. You would change if you would become somebody else. And I cannot love anyone but you. Do you understand what I am trying to say? May be it’s not very clear, but I do my best. Besides, sailor soldiers cannot have children. I asked Setsuna. They are too important and their duty goes first. Only our Princess can have a child, but only one and only if the times are peaceful.”

 She suddenly turned to Haruka with an impish smile on her face. “And are there any other advantages for me of you not being who you are?” The blonde smiled back in the same manner: “If I were somebody else I could have carried you to bed in my arms. You know you are too heavy for me as I am.” Michiru was looking straight into the grey eyes. “I can reach the bed perfectly by myself. I have two legs.” And she bent down her head as if trying to assure Haruka she wasn’t lying.

“We are happy the way we are, aren’t we,” she asked in the affirmative. Haruka was drowning in two oceans filled with love and peace. She smiled and put her hand back at Michiru’s shoulder. She was not doubting any more. Out of nowhere pink rose petals came flying gently touching two faces leaned to one another, circling about two figures standing very close.

 

                                                                                         *                            

 

 The dark powers were coming. Energy was needed, good energy. This little solar system seemed to have enough and later it could move on. Terrible snake-like creature with huge burning eyes was moving towards the solar system it had chosen. It was one of the horrors of Universe created by the chaos eternities ago and it was as immortal as Universe itself. It could never be destroyed, just put to sleep again, brought by something powerful out of it few centuries ago. It could sense the light, white light. Its power was overwhelming. It was good. The creature stopped moving for some time. It could be interesting. It felt danger, it was coming from the purple planet. This shine could actually put it back to darkness it left not so long ago. It should take care of it and put it out of the way. But, on the other hand, the purple planet could become its ally. Yes, it had the energy of destruction within it. This creature of the purple light with a funny weapon in its hands was worthy to become the partner. They would negotiate.

 

                                                                                   *    *    *

 

 Haruka, dressed in her horse-riding suit, was walking through the corridor of the Chronos Palace, holding her gloves and a stick in one of her hands. During the last couple of month she was preparing for the riding competition. It was a rule for her to take part in every sports competition she had the time for. And this one would be one of the biggest competitions of the solar system and it was decided on the Moon Counsel that it would take place on the Jupiter planet because it was the biggest of all the nine planets. And now all of her free time was spent in practicing and training. She even began forgetting the obligations that her relationship with Michiru imposed on her. Obligations that were so pleasant to her. During the whole days she was busy and in the evenings went to sleep the moment her head touched the pillow. At first, her lover was upset but recently wasn’t even mentioning she was missing Haruka’s attention.

 When she was passing one of the rooms through the half-open doors her sensitive ear caught the conversation in low tones. Two voices, male and female, were discussing something mentioning her name. The blonde froze.

“But do you realize her reaction, Michiru?”

“Don’t worry, it would do her good, if she would notice anyway. It is so innocent.”

“I don’t suppose she would share your opinion.”

“Please, Chronos, I thought you agreed. It would be nothing to you and you know yourself that if it would be someone else, Haruka would simply try to teach him a good lesson, get into trouble and you would again be dealing with Queen Serenity.” The male voice was silent. ”And then do you want me to be happy or not?” the gentle voice was pleading.

“It is a blackmail. Of course, I want.”

 Michiru and the Prince.

 Haruka suddenly felt emptiness inside. It was suspicious. She knew he was their good friend and loved each one of them equally. Except for Setsuna, of course. He simply adored his wife and could not imagine his life without her. There was no question about that. And Michiru loved her, well, at least, she hoped for it. She shook her head. Such thoughts as these were humiliating both for her and for her friends.

 

 Haruka passed the doors thinking that Chronos was always taking a good care of them. For the whole solar system they were the outer soldiers and only he could treat them as children and they accepted it. He was solving their problems and taking them out of troubles, saving their lives during the battles and scolding them if they were careless. He even was dealing with their admirers on behalf of their older brother. Of course, nobody except for those at the court dared to show them any attention. Common people mostly had only two feelings towards them: awe and gratitude. But there were young men who thought themselves good enough for the Princesses of the outer planets and they acted accordingly. Setsuna was the only one who escaped any of such treatment, saved by her marriage. Nobody even dared to look at her with anything but respect: the anger of the Prince of Time was frightening if evoked. But Michiru, Hotaru and even her were always surrounded by zealous Princes who seemed to misunderstand their plain refusals.

 At first, she was jealous of her lover but Michiru never gave her any reasons for doubt. She never accepted any presents and the cold gaze of her blue eyes was clearer than any words. And after a while Haruka almost stopped noticing those importunate claimants to her lover’s hand, though if any of them were too impudent, in her point of view, she explained to them their presence was unwelcome, shamelessly using the name of the Prince for this purpose because he was the real host of the Palace. At first, Chronos didn’t know what to do: laugh at this or scold her properly but finally asked to refer to him if anything like that happened - he was more diplomatic.

 

 As for Haruka, she did not think herself pretty and obedient enough for any man. And now she had Michiru. But still there were those who were trying to woo her and even proposed to her.

 She remembered that when such a thing happened for the first time it was so unexpected that she was speechless and lost all her guard. May be the young man took it for a “Yes” and decided to partake of his new rights as her fiancé or her helplessness was written so plainly on her face that he thought it foolish to lose such a chance, but when he pulled her close Haruka’s senses came back to her immediately. Her face stoned, grey eyes became slits, she planted her hands against his chest trying to free herself. But he was stronger and she felt as he shook her with rudeness. May be he thought such a treatment was most appropriate for her - by that time Michiru’s beauty, Hotaru’s mysteriousness and her rebelliousness have become legends. She began panicking. He saw that and grinned an equivocal smile at her. It was most likely that he simply did not realize who she was and that he had no right to behave in such a manner. Suddenly Haruka felt that he froze and on turning her head she saw Chronos standing by her side. When she looked into his black eyes she was scared herself. His face was white with anger: Prince could never bear any of them being insulted. It seemed that someone dared to touch with dirty hands something that was sacred to him. He put his hand on Haruka’s shoulder and pulled her out of the man’s embrace. She suddenly felt she was safe. The Uranus Princess never saw that young man afterwards: in situations similar to these Prince was plainer than all the three of them and even the most vain and bold young men lost all their air and consented to his conditions.

 She was grateful to Chronos for everything he did for her, like they all were. But there was almost nothing they could do for him. Haruka smiled thinking that all their gratitude was presented to him in Setsuna.       

  

 The blonde went right to her room and decided she would ask Michiru about the conversation she’d heard. But after several days she almost forgot about it, being too busy with all the preparations.

 

                                                                                           *

 

 She had won like she almost always did though this time it was hard. She was congratulated by everyone and her room was full of presents and flowers. But still she felt somehow incomplete as if she was deprived of the most important and precious present but what it could be escaped her still busy thoughts. Haruka was slowly eating her supper thinking about the most dangerous rivals she faced: Princesses of Mars and Jupiter appeared before her eyes with their determined gazes. They were wonderful riders. And even though they had lost she had respect for them.

 It is unknown for how long she would be lost in her thoughts but something in the behaviour of everyone else caught her attention. She lifted her head and watched around herself in wonder. They definitely were strange.

 Hotaru was looking archly at her and from time to time was dropping her spoon though never before Haruka noticed her to be that clumsy. Chronos was observing with great interest every piece of food he was placing in his mouth, holding his eyes down as if nothing but the process of eating was worthy of his attention. Setsuna was sitting by her husband’s side and from time to time little smile appeared on her lips. As for Michiru, who was sitting on her right, Haruka could not see what her face looked like because long turquoise curls almost completely hid it. After some time she realized what was wrong: they all were silent. This never was the case during suppers. It was the only meal when all of them gathered together and the day’s events, problems and plans were left to evenings.

 At last, the meal was finished. Everything what happened afterwards reminded Haruka one of her bad dreams.

 

 Instead of leaving the dining room with his wife, as he was always doing, Prince stood up, walked straight to Michiru and slightly bowed to her, putting out his hand in invitation.

“Do you mind a walk with me?” Haruka was slightly bewildered. A walk! It was late evening, what walk he was talking about! Didn’t he have the time during the day? It was good they were friends but there were boundaries to everything. She turned to Michiru expecting polite refusal.

 Michiru smiled one of her sweetest smiles and placed her hand in his. “With pleasure.” Prince looked teasingly at the blonde, bent down his head and with ultimate gallantry pressed his lips against a gentle hand he held in his. Haruka suddenly felt there wasn’t enough air in the room. The scene evoked in her a feeling similar to the one the sinner must be experiencing when he is roasted on the slow fire. What in the world was he doing! Michiru was still smiling, not showing any signs of uneasiness or trying to take away her hand.

 Haruka could not believe her eyes as the Prince’s lips moved up, to Michiru’s wrist. She blushed, then paled, her heart stuck somewhere in her throat, hot waves going up and down inside her. It was for the first time that Michiru was allowing a man to treat her this way: she was very punctilious and Haruka herself was sometimes laughing at her. And as for the Prince, he kissed hands of only two women: his wife and Queen Serenity. And though some representatives of the gentler sex were considering him rude, he never “improved” in his manners. And what have become of all that now? Why was nobody doing anything? What if Michiru would like it? What she would be doing then?

 The blonde turned to look almost in horror at Setsuna and saw a humorous twinkle in her garnet eyes. Hotaru was on the verge of bursting out laughing, even her body was trembling. She dropped the spoon again and bent under the table to hide her crimson face.

 Suddenly a thought flickered through Haruka’s mind, she was beginning to understand what all of that was about: Michiru decided to punish her for her negligence and Prince just could not refuse such a charming creature, like she could never withstand that pleading look in Michiru’s eyes. The blonde grinned, stood from her chair and walked to the two of them with the only intention half-joking, half-serious, – to simply slay them both. But she never succeeded because the moment she was about to open her mouth Hotaru could not control herself any longer and her ringing laughter filled the dining room. In a second Setsuna’s mild laughter joined her.

 Prince smiled to Haruka. “To be frank, I was unwilling to agree to this at first. I was thinking you'd be hurt. But Michiru, then Setsuna and then even Hotaru persuaded me. It seems that the moment you have become beautiful young women I was sentenced to take part in your intrigues.” He let go Michiru’s hand.

“And if not for your jealousy you would probably have looked at this as merely an innocent joke.” Michiru’s gaze was crystal clear as if she had nothing to do with this naughty idea.

“We just could not deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing your face in a situation like this,” Hotaru said, her purple shining eyes looking straight at Haruka.

“But, seriously, Haruka,” Setsuna’s voice was far from merry, “Michiru was so upset that one day I decided to talk to you myself but you were so busy that didn’t notice any of us and the only one you had the time to talk to was your beloved horse. And then Michiru thought that may be the appeal to your jealousy would bring you back to your senses.”

 The fair brows frowned. “Well, I guess, it serves me right. I am sorry, darling.” Haruka slightly bent her head and kissed the turquoise hair. “But I know how to make amendments.” She took Michiru’s hand and led her out of the dining room.

 Chronos looked at Hotaru whose eyes were still full of laughter and winked. Setsuna came to him from behind and put a hand on his shoulder. Prince turned his head and nodded.

 

 

                                                                                      *

 

 Hotaru was left alone. She went to the big sitting room. It was one of their favorite rooms with a lot of big chairs, cushions and a fire-place. If they spent their evenings together it was always here. The girl was picking the cushions lying on the floor, she brought them to the fire and made some kind of a sleeping place. It was very often during the evenings that she was alone. But she never regretted it: she needed the time for herself. Nobody but Chronos knew her to be the soldier of destruction and only with him she could be absolutely open. She was grateful to him he never told anyone about her true nature. Now she had a family: people who loved her and whom she grew to love. And this was making her happy.

 But still she felt sometimes that the girls were taking her for someone she was not. Though many centuries already passed they still treated her as their younger sister, thinking they were so much more mature than her. But her knowledge was frightening even for the Prince of Time. He never regretted he concealed what he thought to be fatal for her happiness but the depth of her experience and wisdom, that was almost his equal, was sometimes scaring him. Only as sailor soldiers they admitted her skills and powers as equal to theirs. Equal. Hotaru smiled - if they knew the truth. She was stronger than the three of them. And her weapon was more potent than the sword or the mirror. She felt warm inside when she thought about her glaive - integral part of her, her best friend. Sometimes it seemed to her they were one creature. She would simply become homeless without her weapon of destruction.

 

 Sometimes she was thinking about love, that love that makes complete any creature who finds it, love she saw around herself but never felt. May be she was cursed, how could someone who was born to destroy be blessed with a feeling of creation. And she knew love to be the most powerful source of creation. And who would dare to love the soldier of destruction?! At first, she was angry, miserable, jealous. It was unfair! But she saw later that life was rarely fair and she just had to appreciate what it presented her with. And in some time she realized that still there was a chance for her to create through love and if Fate would be kind enough it would give her that chance.

 Of course, there were those who said they loved her but she always saw through them: they wanted to use her position as a Princess thinking her a stupid little girl and supposed she would accept their proposals because she was always taciturn, polite and seemed soft to them. And the look on the men’s faces always amused her when she still politely and softly rejected them. She did not realize that when they were looking at her face with dark straight brows, huge purple eyes with long dark lashes filled with tranquility and mystery, delicate nose, thin lips that were always calmly smiling, long dark purple hair put in the complex hair-does that always suited her, lily-white perfect skin which contrast with her hair and eyes only made her more attractive, it never even occurred in their minds that she could be someone else but not the one they took her for. She was of the middle height, thin and looked so deceptively fragile.

 Once a Prince whose pride was seriously wounded by her indifferent attitude decided to try the persuasion of force and grabbed her thin hand at the wrist, when she was leaving. Hotaru remembered that she was not scared for a second, just thought how foolish he was. She slowly turned to him and the silver blade of the glaive flickered in her purple eyes. They found him afterwards lying unconscious several miles from the Moon Palace. He was alive: she had control over her devastating powers and even healed his weak body.

 But there was no one who wanted to love her for what she was. And she knew it would never happen because only two people knew the truth: she and the Prince. Even Queen Serenity was unaware of her secret though definitely suspected something. But Chronos was never confirming her suspicions, avoiding such conversations. Once, when the Queen was most persistent, he was almost on the verge of telling her to mind her own business but contented himself and said that he was ready to bear the responsibility for all the consequences of his actions and added that they agreed in the very beginning for the outer soldiers to be his priority. Serenity yielded and never renewed the conversation: she trusted Prince of Time.

 

 Hotaru’s brows frowned: for several nights already she was hearing the same voice. She felt she knew this voice, something inside was waiting for it, willing to answer. But the other part of her was crying out in danger, was warning her. She stayed in the room, lying near the fire-place for the whole night, watching the tongues of flame incessantly changing shapes and colours. She liked fire, it could be both: destruction and salvation, depending on circumstances, depending on Fate. Just like her. Purple eyes burnt with determination and guile: she knew what she would do. After all, she was born to destroy. Fate would appreciate her little joke. Slow smile curved Hotaru’s lips but because of the moving fire shadows it was impossible to tell was it good or evil.

 

                                                                               *     *     *

 

 Chronos woke up suddenly. He looked at Setsuna who was peacefully sleeping, got up, dressed and went to one of the balconies. Something was wrong. The sky was dark, all the stars disappeared completely. He heard whisper in the darkness, he felt shadows wrapping his body, he heard steps rustling behind him. When he was entering the balcony he distinctly heard the deep voice say: “I accept.” He felt the dark shadows tremble with the evil laughter, slowly melting into nothingness. The light of the stars was shining again.

 Prince saw the figure standing near the balustrade with its hands stretched forward. When it turned he recognized Hotaru. But she looked somehow different. Her eyes were dimly shining in the darkness, her long purple hair was covering her shoulders and back down her waist. Long black dress was outlining a beautiful figure of a woman and she seemed taller. She was glowing with purple light but it somehow seemed dark. She turned to him and smiled. It was smile of a Woman seducing a Man, promising him the pleasures he never knew before. Prince’s breath fastened. He saw Hotaru slowly approaching, he felt something dark growing inside him. He suddenly wanted to take Hotaru in his arms and squeeze her so that she would scream, to kiss her with pain and cruelty, to tear off the dress, to… He was breathing heavily trying to fight this overwhelming desire. The woman was smiling evilly at him as if amused with his attempts. She was now very close to him, so very close. Prince felt gentle hands sliding up his chest, shoulders, wrapping around his neck, he saw the most beautiful face leaning to his. He didn’t want to fight any more; he was waiting for those lips, longing for a kiss. Lips glowing purple smiled in the darkness, little tongue licked them as if preparing to touch something precious. The woman softly laughed and with victorious look in her eyes pressed her mouth to his. Prince felt the dark whirlpool inside him, it was swallowing him more and more. He was about to respond to this wonderful, most wonderful in his life kiss. His lips trembled, hands lifted to take this woman in tight embrace when a lightning came through his head. Setsuna. He gathered all his will and pushed the woman away.

 He felt the dark shadow leave him. When his eyes opened he saw Hotaru in her purple nightgown lying on the floor at his feet. Her face was pale, eyes closed, she was hardly breathing. Prince saw another dark shadow parting from her body, melting into nothingness. He was dizzy, but still took Hotaru in his arms. When he was carrying her to her bed he heard her whisper: “The ones that have shining flowers in their souls cannot be taken by the darkness.” He brought her to her room and stayed there till morning watching her sleep and thinking.

 

 

  When the sun showed he left. He went to the wing they were occupying and led straight to the bedroom. He saw his wife standing in front of the big mirror brushing her long greenish hair. Prince entered and stood himself behind her.

 As he was watching the reflection in the mirror he was thinking about this body dressed in a long white silk robe, body he knew by every inch; hands, that saved him so many times from wounds and even deaths and that were so gentle when touching him; hair, he was wrapping in so many times; eyes, that were filled with love when he was looking in them; lips, that brought him to heaven. He loved everything about her. The way she laughed, the way she got angry, the way she looked when was serious, the way she simply was. He never wanted to hurt her but it had to be done. While all these thoughts were coming through his mind Setsuna stopped combing her hair, put the hairbrush down and turned to him.

“I need to tell you something,” he said trying to look straight into her eyes. “This night I was…” He could not continue. Setsuna was looking oddly at him and smiling a little. “I know.” Prince’s eyes widened. “There is no yours or Hotaru’s fault in what happened. It wasn’t you and wasn’t her. I was afraid you would be destroyed: the power you both faced was overwhelming. Something horrible is coming.” Chronos frowned.

“But how did you know?” She smiled at him as if he was a little boy who was asking the simplest question.

“I woke up because I suddenly felt you were in danger and I knew you needed my help. Didn’t you, dear?” Setsuna came close to him, put her arms around his neck and he felt tension and worries leave him. Now he was safe, though he never thought he would ever need this. Prince looked seriously at his wife. “Thank you.”  

 

                                                                                       *

 

 The snake-like creature was satisfied. They negotiated, the purple Princess accepted the agreement. They would combine their powers and destroy this little Solar system. Darkness and chaos, it was so beautiful. The white light would be theirs, allowing to ruin further. But still this girl was dangerous, why not to destroy her now when she trusts and accepts the darkness. The creature wanted to take the strength of the purple planet but something shiny stopped it. It almost succeeded enveloping her soul in darkness. And this man who came in in the wrong time. His powers were great too. The darkness was creeping into his soul as well. The thing was triumphing. The dark desires were awakening inside them. They were going to commit the greatest mistake of their very existence. Their betrayal would have destroyed them both. It would have been so easy. The purple planet would have become harmless. But something shiny appeared. The creature pulled away, a bit disturbed. It decided to try again but this time the garnet light was glowing protecting the man and the girl. The thing left: it couldn’t allow itself to lose so much power.

 Still the agreement was made and Saturn never rejected it. May be the purple Princess did not understand that it was trying to put her out if the way. The dark thing was coming. They would win.

 

                                                                                        *

 

 They gathered for breakfast but nobody was eating. Finally, the dishes were taken away. Michiru was holding the mirror in her hand. “It shows nothing but complete darkness for several days already.” Prince beckoned his head, his silver orb was shadowed and visions were rare and vague. “Something horrible is coming. I am afraid, we don’t have enough power to fight it, we should ask for help. Princess Serenity and the inner soldiers would gladly do that.” Chronos was trying to sound cheerful. Haruka was standing behind Michiru’s chair. She was not a big fan of asking for help but she sensed that air was filled with danger.

 “No,” everybody turned to Hotaru, “we should do that alone. The inner soldiers are not trained to fight in Space, they would just be in the way. Moreover, they are needed on Venus. You all know that some people there claim to be the heirs to the Moon Throne and have to be dealt with. And as for the Princess, it is her they are coming after. We should do our duty and protect her.” Hotaru’s face was determined and grim. She was silent for some time then glanced at Setsuna and said in a low voice: “It were us who woken it up. That day. Remember? Energy never disappears. There is a Balance in Universe.” They all paled. Prince nodded and slowly said: “Then we would do it alone. We have no right to ask for help.”

 

  The stars were shining less and less brightly. Queen Serenity came. Princess Rei was becoming more and more worried, she was spending almost all the time watching the fire. She was saying something about the horrors of the Universe that would destroy all of them, about shining flowers some have in their souls, about the darkness coming. They assured their Queen that everything was taken care of and that they were ready to fight the new enemy. Hotaru was talking with eagerness that Princess had to be protected, that they should not leave her alone even for a second and should be watching the Silver Crystal because it was in danger. Queen left a bit surprised but calmed.

 

                                                                                      *

 

 The Saturnian Princess was avoiding Prince of Time for several weeks. He was trying to talk to her and find out what happened but Hotaru was slipping away the moment he was entering the room. It seemed she was feeling him coming, and she really did. Setsuna was watching her with growing anxiety. Her manners were changing. She became grim, sometimes even rude. When she was practicing with Haruka one day she almost sliced her in half. Luckily, the blonde was very fast and had wonderful reaction. Hotaru pleaded an apology but Haruka thought she saw laughter at the back of the purple eyes. They were not practicing any more. The girl was spending more and more time by herself, looking at the stars and waiting for something.

 One day when she was sitting like that in the garden she felt Chronos coming but did not leave. He slowly approached and sat beside her. They were silent for some time. At last, Hotaru turned to him and said: “You know, I was always afraid of my destiny finally catching me. I was trying so hard to fight it but not long ago I understood how ridiculous and pointless it was. I finally realized that I don’t want to change my destiny for any other because I want to be and can be nobody but the soldier of destruction. Without being her I wouldn’t be myself. But still, I know, there is a chance for me to create without betraying my destiny. Creation through Destruction and Destruction through Creation. This is the way of everything. You will see it very soon.” Hotaru smiled and Chronos felt she knew something he did not.

“I want to apologize for that night,” Prince finally said. Hotaru blushed and turned away. “I don’t want to pretend I don’t remember anything,” she almost whispered. “But I would have never done that in my normal state, never. I respect you and Setsuna very much, I look at you as my friend and older brother. I am grateful you pushed me away.”

 Chronos was looking at her and suddenly thought that a mind of another person is something beyond understanding of anyone else and sometimes even the person himself. Probably, the dark side that woke up in both of them that night was their deep, unconscious desires, something they did not want to accept because it was too ugly to look at. He realized that this side is sleeping in everyone and the ones who are able to face it with honesty and courage and win are worthy of admiration and great respect. And as he was looking at the girl by his side who seemed so fragile, he was almost frightened by the power of her inner strength because she was fighting her dark side since the moment she was born. That was her payment for the powers granted by the Universe: perpetual battle of good and evil within her. And he thought that may be it was fair that Hotaru was the most potent of all the sailor soldiers because those who are able to defeat themselves are really the strongest.

 And while all these thoughts were coming through his mind he suddenly saw a little girl with short dark purple hair, holding tightly the terrible weapon of destruction in her little hands. Little girl standing in front of a woman in a golden dress and golden bracelets on her wrists. Little girl whose ancient purple eyes were filled with determination, courage and despair. And he heard the voice of Sailor Saturn: “Then I will kill you even if it costs me my life!” She had her own path too.

 Hotaru stood up and Prince stood up as well. “I want to thank you for everything you did for me,” he suddenly heard her calm voice. Hotaru put her hand on his shoulder, slightly bent him down to her and kissed his cheek. The touch of her lips was warm and light but there was something else, something sad that he could not define. “Thank you.”

 

                                                                                        *

 

 The darkness completely covered the solar system. There were no more stars, no more comets, no more meteors. Everything that had light within it seemed to vanish. Only Moon was glowing with white dim shine because of the Silver Crystal. Outer soldiers were on their guard, waiting. Prince was measuring the Palace with big steps. The darkness filled everything: the corners of the rooms, the glasses of wine, the folds of clothes, the air itself. They were eating against their will, were afraid to fall asleep, were expecting something horrible to happen every second. Only Hotaru grew calmer and calmer as if preparing for something. Sometimes smile appeared on her face and she was looking at everyone around her as if trying to remember their faces, their moves, their words. 

 

 One day they finally saw two huge burning spheres appear. They were approaching. Prince and the girls went out to complete darkness of Space. They attacked the creature whose presence seemed to be everywhere but could not harm it. When it was very close to them they heard horrible stentorian voice in their heads. It was so frightening they all froze. Then they saw Sailor Saturn who was glowing with purple light. She was moving to the creature and it was expecting her. She stopped between two burning spheres that were kilometers apart and when she turned to her friends they saw her grin with malice and arrogance at them.

 Sailor Uranus was the first to realize her betrayal. She wanted to attack her with her sword but Hotaru lifted her glaive and fast purple wave swept Uranus off her feet. She was floating in darkness, not moving. Sailor Neptune’s eyes were burning with anger and pain. She put up her hand with the deep aqua mirror in it. At the same time Sailor Pluto was creating a huge garnet sphere in her hands. Chronos was looking at Saturn with strange look in his eyes and was not trying to attack her.

 Hotaru smiled evilly again and they heard her voice echo in the darkness of Space: “The time for destruction has come.” She lifted her glaive and the powerful purple shine extracted from her weapon and her body. Sailor Soldiers froze in amazement: for the first time realization of Saturn’s powers came to them. They understood that she was the strongest of all of them, that they did not have a chance, that they would be destroyed in a second. Setsuna turned to look in shock at her husband who was still staring at Sailor Saturn and doing nothing.

 The purple light was shining more and more brightly, its waves filling the Space. Hotaru was standing in the center of this ocean smiling. Her sailor suit melted. The glaive disappeared from her hands. She was all purple light but at the same time her face and her figure were clearly seen.

 Prince of Time was watching the light grow, he was seeing Hotaru smiling some different smile. In his mind her words appeared burning: ”Still there is a chance for me to create without betraying my destiny. Creation through Destruction and Destruction through Creation. This is the way of everything. You will see it very soon.” Those words were coming to his head again and again. And suddenly he realized _what_ destruction Hotaru meant. “No! Please, Hotaru!” He was never shouting like that in his entire existence. She smiled at him. He saw something shiny in the center of her body. A flower! Its pink light was so overwhelming it was filling the whole solar system.

 The snake-like creature understood it was deceived. This girl had the shining flower of Eternal Love in her soul! The thing felt as it was coming back into the darkness, falling asleep again, flying stars, planets, eternities away.

 The shining flower in the center of Hotaru’s body was still growing, its warm pink light blinding and healing. Finally it exploded in billions of pink droplets that were shaped as tiny flowers. When the rain stopped the stars were shining again, Space was filled with peace and tranquility. Outer soldiers and the Prince were silently floating. They were looking with amazement and grief at the place where Hotaru was standing seconds ago and realization that she just now completely sacrificed herself to save all of them was slowly coming to their minds.

                        

                                                                                 *    *    *

 

 The four of them were sitting together. It was the first time that they lost their fellow soldier and a friend absolutely. There was nothing they could do to bring her back. They could not accept the fact that Hotaru was no more, that they would not see her polite smile any more, would not hear her soft voice, would not have all those things she brought with her. They all were crying not even trying to hide their tears. Salty droplets were rolling down their cheeks almost uncontrollably. 

“Why she never told us what she was about to do?” Michiru whispered holding hands with Haruka for support. The blonde answered in a whisper as well: “Because if she did we would have never allowed her to do that. She knew that only she had enough power to stop it.” Chronos lifted his face that was buried in his hands for quite a long time, he looked older.  

 “There are things I need to explain to you,” he said in a tired voice, “Sailor Saturn was born a soldier of destruction. I never told anyone because I wanted her to be happy and have friends. And as long as she lived she was trying to fight her destiny. But just before her… before she was gone, she told me she realized how she could create without betraying it. Now I understand what she meant. By destroying herself she created a new life for us, gave us another chance. Creation through Destruction. So simple. But I did not understand her then. And once she also said that a person with a shining flower in the soul can never be taken by the darkness. So she never betrayed us in her heart, just in her words.”

 They all were silent. They were ultimately grateful to Hotaru but still the thought of her not being with them any more could not somehow fit in their heads. It was unnatural, not logical, out of any sense. They just wanted to cry with anger and helplessness. Suddenly Setsuna raised her head: “She will come back.” They all turned to her in doubt and hope. “She still exists in this Universe and someday, in centuries, millennia she will come back. I know.”

 “But if she is the soldier of destruction, she may come to destroy,” Haruka said in a trembling voice. Chronos nodded in confirmation. “And may be we will have to be fighting with her?” asked Michiru crying again. Prince smiled sadly: “Let’s just hope it would never happen.” He didn’t want to upset them even more.

 

 Prince of Time was blaming himself for not being able to understand what Hotaru was up to. She told him everything just a few days before. Why he never gave it a deep thought?! And that kiss. He understood now. She was simply saying “Good-bye.” She was always so polite. She could never leave without saying “Good-bye”. She knew they would never see each other again.

 Setsuna was comforting him as well as she could but it is a very difficult task - to assure a person who is sure he is guilty of his innocence. Somehow such people become stubborn and later it looks like they derive some kind of a pleasure from their guilt that was put on them by themselves. One night he saw Hotaru in his dreams. She was looking happily at him and smiling. “I have no regrets for what I have done,” he heard her beautiful voice say. Somehow she all looked and sounded beautiful. “My sacrifice was made completely at my free will and wish. I just wanted to bring all of you happiness.” With these words she flew to him and he felt as if an angel touched his soul.

 

 The Queen, the inner soldiers, the Princess and the Earth Prince were shocked to hear about Hotaru’s death, though it could hardly be called death. They loved her sincerely and their grief was sincere. But time goes on and, as everyone knows, Time is the best Healer. In some centuries they all calmed down. They were remembering her without tears any more, just with smiles and appreciation. They learned to live without her, to fight without her, to laugh and love without her. But still she was always there somehow, supporting them in hard moments and helping them when they were down. They just didn’t know that she was smiling at them through the light of the stars.