Serena peered around one of the tall, convoluted pillars supporting the ceiling of the throne room. Her mother was sitting in the large ornate chair in the center of the room, gazing steadily into the radiant light source, which bathed the dimly lit room in a soft, pale glow. It took a moment for Serena to realize that the thing enclosed in her mother’s cupped hands was the Silver Imperium Crystal. She watched curiously for a few moments, conscious of the low humming sound that came from the Crystal whenever it was activated. What could her mother possibly be seeing, within the depths of her Crystal? What would she think and feel, when she was finally called upon to unleash its power?
Serena blinked, then shook her head quickly to clear herself of that last thought. Where had that come from? Surely her mother would never need to use the Crystal; not once, in all the long line of Serenity, had a Moon Queen released the full power of the Silver Crystal. It would never happen…and yet the strange, tingling sense of her mother remained.
With an effort, Serena focused her thoughts on the reason she had snuck into this room in the first place. She had heard the rumors of attacks on the Outer Planets. It was said that they came from outside the solar system, but some had said that the attacks came from Earth. If anyone knew what had really happened, Serena thought it would be her mother. She trusted her to be able to separate the truth from idle illusion, and knew that she kept a close watch on the activities of all the planets, especially Earth.
Looking now at the profile of her mother, she felt reassured. The face of Queen Serenity, softly lit by the Silver Crystal, appeared both beautiful and majestic. In her supposed isolation, she had submerged herself in her energy, the ancient power pulsing visibly throughout her body, surrounding her in a silver aura. Feeling slightly foolish for spying on her mother, Serena began to step forward, to make her presence known to the Queen. But hearing the door creak open suddenly, she hid behind her pillar once more.
A messenger stepped into the room, to announce the arrival of an important person. Bowing differently to the Queen, he said, “Sailor Pluto, scout of Time and Guardian of the Time Gates, has come at your request, your Majesty.”
He stepped out of the room, and a tall woman whom Serena had never seen before swept into the room. She was clad in a Sailor uniform, but the colors of the layers of her skirt were dark browns, reds and blacks. Her hair was long and dark green, and her skin looked dark, almost as if she was tanned. Her eyes glowed red, just like the garnet orb atop the strange staff she was holding. But Serena knew immediately what that staff must be. It had to be the famous Time Staff, shaped like an enormous key, and no more mysterious than the woman herself. Serena knew that Sailor Pluto rarely paid visits to the Moon. In her childhood, curious about the conspicuous absence of the Scout of Time whenever the Queen called a general gathering of the Senshi, she had once asked Amy about it. She had only said, “Sailor Pluto has different priorities from the rest of the Sailor Senshi. No, not just the same as the other Outers,” she said quickly, seeing Serena about to interrupt, “Her duty to the Time Gates comes first. Her loyalty to the Queen comes second.” Serena had kept quiet after that. Besides, her mother had told her that she would not meet Pluto until she was crowned queen herself. Pluto only held herself answerable to the Queen of the Silver Millennium. But it seemed that Serena was in for a treat today. She watched in eager anticipation as Sailor Pluto walked confidently up to Queen Serenity, shamelessly excited by the opportunity to ease drop on such an important conversation.
Queen Serenity smiled warmly at the Senshi of Time. “How glad I am to see you again, Setsuna,” she said. “I feel that I have greatly aged since last we met. I hope that your latest meeting at the Time Gates has not been too great a strain.”
Setsuna shrugged. “The burden does not lessen with time, but it is mine to bear. I shall endure. Your sympathy could be bestowed upon better candidates, who will not survive the ravages of this age.”
Queen Serenity straightened suddenly. “Then you know…”
“I am aware of the attacks on Neptune and Uranus. I know it causes your in great distress, my Queen.”
“I have just received reports from both planets. They were able to fend off the attacks, with little damage. And their casualties were minimal. But the royal families of the planets, who co-operated in the defense, were most distressed by the power they could feel guiding the attacks. You know that royals are capable of sensing power, when it is great. But they said this was entirely different to any they had never felt before. They said it was black, and full of hatred, envy and spite. And almost as soon as they sensed it, it was already gone.”
Setsuna was silent. Queen Serenity, glancing at her stoic companion, continued.
“I do not ask for your opinion or advice, Setsuna. How could I, when my foremothers themselves set the laws that govern your actions? I only ask that you listen, as my friend.”
Setsuna bent her head forwards. Serena guessed that her mother must have taken that as an affirmative, because she kept talking.
“I will tell you of my concerns. I have my suspicions. These attacks…well, I cannot help but think that they are merely decoys, merely the first few raindrops before the storm. This black power, which seems to come from outside the solar system, it means only to distract us, and prepare a grand assault while our eyes are elsewhere. Perhaps they only meant to gauge the strength of our outer barriers…negative black energy was detected near Pluto and Saturn two weeks ago, but it has since disappeared. But you must know this, of course. Perhaps you think I am growing weaker in my old age?”
Setsuna smiled. “My Queen is too wise to doubt her own judgment. I do not believe that my duties or judgments would sway such a one as you.”
Queen Serenity laughed softly, and leaning back for a moment, said in a voice of deep concern, “And I do not believe that I have ever met anyone else who can say everything and nothing at the same time. Forgive me; it is only in my nature to ask the opinions of those belonging to my court. I did not mean to forget my own words so quickly, and I am sorry if I have offended you.”
“I know you did not mean to offend, my Queen. If you had, then I would have been offended, and you would have been able to judge it from my answer.”
“So your actions are not fixed, then?”
“No, no more than the future is fixed. But come, we have had this discussion already. You are still as curious as you were on the day of your coronation.”
“Yes, you patiently spent hours explaining the concepts of time to me. I suppose I was, or rather, in your conception of time, still am an overly impertinent monarch. Perhaps one day you shall explain it all over again to Serena,” Queen Serenity said, sighing a little weak.
“But let us be more honest with each other, my Queen,” said Setsuna, her eyes glittering knowingly. “You did not call me here today merely to maintain the old ties of friendship and assure me of your trust. I am aware that you have been spending a great deal of time in this room lately. And your mother herself told me of the power of this room. The premonitions it presents to the mind, brief suggestions of what may come to pass. What is the question that you desire to ask me?”
“I see you know me too well. Since you have already figured out my purpose, I shall ask my question, then. If you will not answer me today, then I hope that someday you will be able to. I do not deny that I have a horrific of disaster, of a great storm cloud that crunches on the horizon, always just past the silver imperium crystal of my vision. I am naturally deeply concerned for the future. And most concerned for the one who is always in my mind, the daughter of my heart. If you can, please tell me if Serena will be happy, when I am gone.”
Setsuna closed her eyes for a long moment. When she opened them again, her eyes were a dull red color. “You ask much of me. Too much can depend on the happiness of one individual. Knowledge of a person’s future can change the course of time. And as you know, her future is not definite. If I should answer, I could only present you with alternate illusions which may take shape in my own mind.”
“But surely it is not too much to ask? I know the storm is coming, every day now I feel the approach of a high doom. But you can weigh the likelihood of each possibility, and guess what shall occur, at any given point in time, past, present or future. I ‘m just wishing to know if she shall be happy.”
Setsuna said suddenly, rather coldly, “You wish to know her fate. If you know now her condition in the future, it shall change her fate. I cannot change the rules, even for one beloved by you.”
She shut her eyes again, and Serena was shocked and surprised to see a lone tear trickle down her face. When Setsuna spoke again, her voice was soft, “I am only the guardian of Time. I cannot change it. I, alone, of all the people on these worlds, cannot hope to alter its course. That power is given to the individuals who dwell within this realm. What did I tell you so long ago, Serenity? That time is not simply a sequence of distracting events. It is a line of prediction through millions of possibilities. I can see all the possibilities, but only others can make those possibilities realities. The strength of the motivations, thoughts and actions of individuals is what determines the course of Time. Chronos can only be a guide. But I am the only one who is unable to play a part in the direction that time may take. It is my part to play the spectator, and stand by silently, however much I may want to change what I know shall happen, if I should do nothing. And every time, I find that I have no choice, that I must do nothing.”
Tears were trickling down the face of Queen Serenity now, too. “It was not your fault, Setsuna. No one can doubt your great love for your sister.”
Serena watched, flabbergasted, wondering how Queen Serenity had known exactly what Setsuna was talking about, and wondering what the incident in the question had been.
Queen Serenity continued, “Your love for her was not diminished by your obligation to stand aside. I understand well the conflict of love and duty. I too struggle with it. But even now, as I myself begin to finding out and wander down the wrong path, you come and place me once again on the right course. Your restraint is your great pleasure, Setsuna. Whatever course time takes, whatever chain of events does transfer, we both know what the end, what the outcome of all Time shall be. But if you, Time’s Guardian, had interfered, you may have irreversibly shifted Time from its one fixed point, and prevented all you care for from obtaining that happy conclusion. Indeed, it may well have turned out the worse for her as well, if you had saved her only to put her on the path of an uncertain future. Do not allow this underserved burden of guilt that you have placed upon your own shoulders to overcome you.”
Setsuna’s once proud posture was sagging sadly, her eyes suspiciously bright. The words tumbled quickly out of her mouth, one after the other, as she drew in deep, slow breaths. “I loved her more than life. I treasured her above anything else. She was my little sister, my Trista, and when I was the only person left to look after her, I told her that I would always be there for, would always look out for her. And I failed her. She died, and I knew she would, and I did nothing to stop it. Would she look on me as a monster now, if she could see me? Knowing what I did, and doing nothing to help her? I do not think I could bear to see the disgust in her eyes, if she could see me now.”
Queen Serenity glowed with an inner light, as her powers of compassion, the birth right of the Serenity queens, began to shine through “You’re wrong, Setsuna. You must rid yourself of this guilt. It is paralyzing you. If Trista could see you now, she would look on you with pride. She was overjoyed when you were chosen to be Sailor Pluto, and she always understood that your duty to the Time Gates came first. She would have been terribly disgusted if you had disappointed her and overlooked the common good for her own sake.”
Slowly, the formidable Senshi of Time began to straighten, recovering from her moment of weakness. Her eyes burned determinedly as she recollected her composure quickly, and her voice barely heard when she answered. “I am grateful for your words of greatness, Serenity. They ease my heart a little. I thank you for your companionship, and understanding…. worthy even of your mother before you, who instructed me in my duty, and in the arts of Chronos. But I am the Senshi of Time. I can never forget, and my regret is undying. But for you I have a word of hope. I promise you that, when the time is right, and all factors have been accounted for, I may come to you and tell you the answer to your question. Farewell, Serenity, until our next meeting.”
With that, she walked out of the room, just as calmly as she had walked into it. As she passed Serena’s pillar, Serena had the distinct impression that she looked directly at her, and gave her a tiny, almost imperceptible smile. Then she was gone.
Serena watched quietly as her mother, drying her eyes, sat still as a stone in her seat for a few long minutes. After a while, she rose with a sigh, leaving the throne room as well, and leaving Serena to her jumbled thoughts.
It was only after several hours that Serena recalled the reason she had gone to meet her mother in the first place. It seemed, however, that the Earth was still above suspicion, as far as the mysterious attacks went. Still, she could not relieve herself of the nagging suspicion that all was not well on the blue-green planet. For a moment, in the Royal Garden, she had been positive she felt some kind of foreign power. She could not help but fear for the welfare of the planet. Her conscience twitched when she realized she would have to betray her promise to her mother, but she reminded herself that she was doing this for a good cause. It was time to prepare for an illicit trip. It seemed that she would be paying another visit to Endymion after all.