Chapter III: Deceptive Appearances
"What are you talking about Rei?" Ami asked. "Who did you see?"
"My vision," she said shaking and dripping, "I saw that girl in the fire!"
"Which girl Rei?" Makoto asked as she handed Rei a towel to dry her dripping hair.
"The blonde girl that was on my stairs that morning at the temple," She replied.
"You mean 'Sailor Astera'?" Minako asked.
"Yes, I saw her, only it wasn't really exactly her." Rei remembered the vision this time; it was a clear as if it had happened yesterday. Indeed it even felt like a memory being replayed, but a memory that wasn't her own.
"What exactly did you see?" asked Luna, her eyes searching Rei's for some answer she did not have.
"I saw Neo Queen Serenity and King Endymion and it looks like some kind of battle. There was fire and destruction all around them and it was nighttime, I don’t know the place. I could see many warriors fighting and dying on the ground. Many were crying out for help.
"I saw the leader of the enemy army. She sat on a tall black horse and her cascades of black hair swirled around her body and she was crying. I felt her pain, like something breaking inside, and a burning feeling deep within her spirit. Someone was taken from her, or something." Rei paused, overwhelmed with the impact of replaying the vision in her mind.
"But Rei, I thought you said it was the same girl that was at your temple?" Artemis asked carefully.
"It was," She said, her voice craking a little with hesitation.
"But the girl at your temple had blonde hair Rei," Luna said.
"It was the same girl though. Her hair was different but the eyes were the same. They were deep violet and sad; she was crying. I saw a brilliant flash and in silence, from a great distance, I witnessed an entire planet explode. It was amazing!" She stopped again, struck with the recollection.
“Was it Earth?” Ami asked, horrified.
“I don’t really know,” Rei stammered.
"And that's it?" Minako asked.
"Then I woke up." Rei shot a glancing glare at Makoto who handed her a towel.
"What are we going to do?" Makoto said with worry. "What if it was an omen for Earth?"
Suddenly Rei remembered something else. "Oh Luna!" she said, "There was a cat on the horse with her!"
"A cat?" Luna asked with wide eyes.
"Yes, like you and Artemis only he was brown. And he had the cresent moon on a collar around his neck." She said pointing to Artemis’s forehead.
They all gasped.
"A crescent moon?" Artemis asked. "And it was golden?"
"It was gold all right. Her cat was wearing the mark of the Moon Kingdom." She said.
"Does that make any sense?" Minako said, looking to Artemis.
"Let’s go everyone," Luna said, "we have to find Usagi right now."
They all got up and ran out, leaving Yuuichirou to clean the mess. He went back into the room to start the fire again. “Queens and exploding planets,” he muttered, “I’ll never understand Rei...”
Sailor Astera crouched on the balcony outside of Mamoru's apartment a few hours after she had left Usagi's. The sky was dark and she watched him toss and turn trying to get some highly needed sleep. He had been busy and he was worried about Toroku, the friend he had gone to see in Kyoto. The injuries he received had been pretty substantial. The accident occurred at night on slick roads and the driver of the car claimed she did not even see Toroku's motorcycle pull out until it was too late. He had been thrown twenty feet and doctors believed his helmet had saved his life. However he was still struggling with a concussion, two shattered femurs, and broken left arm.
When the EMT's arrived Toroku had been unconscious. He came around a little on the way to the hospital but could not remember who he was or what had happened. Shortly after arriving at the hospital he slipped into a coma. The nurse had found Mamoru's name and phone number on a bloodied scrap of paper in Toroku’s jacket pocket so he was the first to be contacted.
Mamoru left Toroku and returned home after he had been upgraded to fair condition and had come out of the coma. Toroku had been healing at an alarming rate and doctors were surprised that he would be able to leave the hospital in another week or two with the use of a wheelchair. They told Mamoru that Toroku would recover full use of his legs, but a lot of physical therapy would be needed to get him walking again. Mamoru was very thankful.
He left instructions at the hospital to call him when Toroku was being released so that he could come pick him up and take care of him. Toroku lived with his grandmother and she was not physically strong enough to help Toroku in the next few months. As one of his closest friends, Mamoru knew he had to step in.
Something still irked him from the accident though. The woman that had been driving the car disappeared shortly after being questioned by the authorities at the scene. It was later discovered the car she had been driven was stolen earlier that afternoon from a shopping mall. Authorities only had a vague physical description of the woman: around five feet tall with long blonde hair past her shoulders. Not much to go on, but the officer that talked to her says he felt sick and dizzy in her presence and could not concentrate. He had trouble remembering even the name she had given. Upon review, his notepad was covered in sloppy scribbles.
Astera knew all this. It was she that had taken advantage of the opportunity.
“It was a perfect plan,” she thought. “Now all I have to do it find where that kid is. Who knew he’d end up being a friend of Mamoru.” Sailor Astera thought back to when she was a young Princess living on the planet Astera with her father, the ruler of the planet, King Yukio. He was so powerful back then, so loved by his people. He could move things with his mind and make warriors out of dirt with his sorcery. He had been her best friend and her confidant. Through some power she did not understand, they had lived for so many years together on that drifting planet.
Yukio’s words replayed in her mind: "The rebels of Earth were weak my darling Astera.” Her given name echoed through her memory, her true identity as Princess Astera. Her fathers words seemed lost but she recalled them with effort, “The rebels of Earth were defeated and rightfully sent to Nemesis to suffer in darkness. We are not weak, we will triumph. And you, my beautiful daughter, will be the Queen as you so deserve to be,” he said, placing a light touch on the golden crescent moon on her forehead. “Neo Crystal Tokyo and that false Queen will fall under my hands." But he had been terribly mistaken.
Memories of the battle were blurred in her memory. All her father’s stories about the female warriors of Neo Crystal Tokyo were true in her eyes. These princesses were not worthy of their titles and they would lie, cheat, and even kill to stay in power. "They are cruel and vicious," her father had said, "You can not trust them."
They were cruel. They had unmercifully killed her father and destroyed her home in the 30th century. Now she was after the revenge her father had sought. She remembered the night he had come into her room just before the day of the final attack. She sensed the presence of darkness and fear; she assumed it was from Earth and the evil people that lived there.
"Do not cry my child," King Yukio had said, "you are a strong fighter. You can survive." The next day he had sent her and her guardian Demetrius to Nemesis. Two weeks later she received word he was dead and the whole planet of Astera had been obliterated. She waited in horror at what her fate would be alone on this planet full of darkness. She heard rumblings from those that kept guard of her. The tall, dark men with black crescent moons on their forehead spoke of the Death Phantom, and taking back Earth. They undoubtedly saw the young Princess as a threat and she feared them.
Terrible as it was, her father spirit came to her in her dreams every night. Through his power, he taught her in her sleep what he could not continue when he was alive. As she grew older and stronger, he taught her more and more. He showed her through visions what had happened during the final battle on Astera. She saw that he had begged for mercy but the masterful false queen of Crystal Tokyo would not hear him. She violently destroyed all that Astera loved.
"Help me Father," she had said to him one night, "help me kill them all. Help me show them that they can not deny me my rightful thrown."
At her plea, a light appeared pulsing from within her and she gasped, terrified. A sinking feeling overcame her and she cried for her father to stop what he whatever he was doing.
"Do you want revenge?" his powerful voice echoed through her head.
"I want revenge," she had cried as the stinging pain filled her whole body.
"Then give me your trust and give me your soul."
She had felt immense pain like no other pain that she had felt before. The absence of her being seemed to envelope her in a dense darkness shattered by the sudden light that was shining from her spirit as it was pulled from her body. It was blinding, both the pain and the light, and it reached to a climactic point where Astera simply wished to die. Then all went dark.
On Mamoru's porch, Astera remembered all this. She reached into her pocket and once again took out the amethyst she carried, the Adazuishou. It was the last thing he father had given her, the seed of a star - her star - that allowed her to transform into Sailor Astera and fight. He came to her less frequently as the time approached for her to begin her new mission.
Astera had sensed her duty from that time on. She left Nemesis and returned to the Earth of the past. She began her plan to destroy the sailor senshi who would grow up to destroy her life; she came back to kill the woman called Sailor Moon, the future false queen of Crystal Tokyo.
Now what she had to do was awaken her Ministers. These powerful sorcerers would be an invaluable asset in eliminating the powerful guardians that swarmed about her target. To revive them, it seemed, Mamoru would play an important role. Astera watched him with an uneasy feeling as he lie in bed half cover by the thin blue sheet. She could make up the outline of his body and watched the rise and fall of his chest as he rested.
Just then, Mamoru stirred and sat up in his bed. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and caught a chill. It's impossible to sleep this early, he thought.
He decided to get up and forget about getting rest for now; he needed to slow his mind down. Rising, he left the room and moments later Astera heard the gust of the shower. This was her opportunity.
The sliding glass door to the room was locked but this did not pose a problem. Astera pulled a key out of her pocket and slipped it into the keyhole; silly Usagi had bragged about having the key only hours before. As she entered his apartment, the warmth engulfed her and the scent of masculinity was all around her. She tried to remained focused, she needed some information from Mamoru and she hoped to find it in his bedroom.
The unmade bed was a few feet from the door and she ran her eyes over it slowly, searching. She could feel the presence of his powerful spirit that was now only a room away. It was a cozy room and she smiled thinking about how unfortunate it was that such a powerful man was all wrapped up with a false messiah. Astera lifted the pillow from the bed and pressed it to her face, inhaling his scent. She was jolted back into reality with the sound of the shower coming to an abrupt halt.
She jumped up with a start then dove and slid under the bed. Her heart was pounding; getting caught now would prove terribly unfortunate.
Mamoru came out of the bathroom and entered his room again. Beads of water clung to his hair and chest and a light blue towel was snugly wrapped around his waist. He opened the top draw of his dresser and pulled out a new package of razors and then returned to the steam-filled bathroom.
Astera, still shaky, quickly crawled out and stood up. Her eyes fell to his dresser and focused on the various papers on top.
“I must not be so easily distracted,” she thought. She rummaged through the mess as quickly as possible and piled the useless papers together. Then she found what she was looking for, not on the dresser but on the night stand beside the phone. “Toroku Chuki, Kyoto Regional Hospital, Room 210,” she read as she looked at the yellow notepad. She immediately turned to leave, but a framed picture on the dresser top caught her attention. She had not noticed the series of photographs along the dresser when she had surveyed the room earlier. Now, the bright smile of a bubbly blond pulled her eye over.
It was a picture of Mamoru and Usagi holding hands underneath a cherry tree on some sunny summer day. She gingerly picked it up and traced the outline of his face with her finger staring intently into his deep blue eyes. She opened the frame and slid the picture out then put it in her pocket with a playful smile.
As she left his apartment, heading for the train station, she threw the frame on his bedroom floor. The glass plate shattered.
Astera met Demetrius just outside of Mamoru's apartment. "What took so long?" he asked, his brown tail swishing around behind him in aggravation.
She scowled at him, "Oh shut up! I got the room number, that's all that matters." She wondered if her guardian was useful for anything more than holding her back. “That was foolish,” she thought, “I shouldn't have been so sharp. He'd really chew me out for straying like that.”
Demetrius did not go into it anymore. Her smug attitude was something he could deal with as it was a trait he had become accustomed to, but that cold, dark feeling in her eyes often felt like too much for him. The young and happy Princess Astera, when had she become this deceptive? Demetrius shock his head, he knew that time would tell where this road would lead.
Astera took the opportunity of silence to change the subject, "So which way is the fastest way to the train station?"
"Well, I think we can take the road to the gardens then cut through there. It should bring us out right around the station," he replied.
"Sounds good," she said. They proceeded with no further conversation but Astera could not stop toying with the picture in her pocket.
Mamoru came out of his bathroom and walked into the bedroom a little more relaxed then when he had left. The shower had cleared his mind and he looked forward to a peaceful night's sleep. The shattered frame on the floor stopped him mid stride. Curious, he walked over to it and picked up the oak frame and looked at his dresser on the other side of the room. He turned the frame over with a puzzled look and was surprised to find the picture missing.
He did not understand what had happened. He searched the house for any intruders and found none. “That's odd,” he thought as he sat down on the side of the bed with the frame. “How could it have fallen?” He examined the frame more closely. The actual oak was unharmed and he thought it would be easy to find a new piece of glass for it. “But where'd the picture go?” he pondered. “Usako, why did I leave you alone?”
His pattern of thought was broken by the phone ringing. It was the hospital. The nurse apologized for the late phone call by stated she had instructions to notify someone at this number when her patient in 210 would be released. Mamoru was pleased to hear that Toroku Chuki could go home tomorrow. It was after ten so Mamoru tried to go back to bed. His night was restless; many times he found himself roused by a dark feeling.
Usagi sat on the curb looking up at the moon as she listened to Mamoru's footsteps echoing away from her down the cold, concrete sidewalk. She did not take her eyes off the sky for a long time after the last steps faded. Her mind was blank and although something inside her was deeply affected by what had just occurred, she was not outwardly upset.
With little thought to the cold weather, she stood up and began to walk down the street opposite the way Mamoru had gone. She had a sweater on but it did not keep her as warm as she would have been if Mamoru was with her. She began to thoughtlessly skip over the sideway cracks as she walked. No one was out as the night fell and it was peaceful to let her mind unravel. She just kept walking with no goal in mind.
Subconsciously, however, she had a destination. She was heading to where she could really sit and think: the rose gardens. She always went there when she had that falling, depressed feeling. “Only you can do this to me Mamo-chan,” she thought. “Why must you do this? Why are you
the one to make me sad?” She began to really feel the pain of his cold reactions. She did not understand what she had done to make him want to leave that night and she tried to convince herself that it would all pass over soon. After walking aimlessly for about an hour she entered the gates for the gardens and fought back stinging tears until she reached the clearing in the center. There amid the sleeping buds, she sat on the low wall around the marble fountain and let the tears come as they wanted.
Over her quiet sobs almost a half hour later she heard a voice, "It's almost ten, are you sure this is the fastest way to her house?" Usagi recognized the voice, it was Rei. She stood up and wiped her eyes and tried to seem composed.
"Sure I'm sure," Ami replied, "it's the fastest way to cut through the city from any point."
"Yeah but I'm sure she's in bed by now," Minako offered.
Makoto was the first to enter the clearing and see Usagi, "Oh! Hi Usagi! You're out here?"
"Hey guys!" Usagi said trying to sound cheerful, "Where are you all going?"
"Usagi," Luna said wasting no time, "Rei had a vision about the new soldier. We need to take action or we fear the Earth might be in danger."
"I think we should discuss what we can do to stop her from what ever she's trying to do." Minako said.
"Yes, we need a plan," Ami stated. Usagi nodded. She did not quite trust her voice to hold out and her fingers and toes felt numb from the long walk outside. She shifted uncomfortably.
"And we have something new from Rei's vision," Artemis said, "we think this new soldier has a guardian cat and might be related to the old Moon Kingdom in some way."
"Like you two? But how could that be? Wouldn't we remember?" Usagi's voice trailed off in confusion and she was careful of her tone as her nose was still a little stuffy. This was a lot of information and she was sure it was important, but her mind was being pulled in so many directions she could not seem to focus.
"It seems we are missing those memories," Luna replied. "I don't know how, but apparently we may not be the only Guardians from Mau."
Something suddenly dawned on Minako and she interrupted, "Usagi?" she asked, "Why are you out here?"
Usagi was silent for a while trying to think of an excuse other than the real story. As she was about to say something Rei interrupted her.
"Who's over there?" She said harshly looking with narrowed eyes into the shadows near the clearing. "Show yourself lurker!"
The girls all turned on guard as Sakura Katakini stepped slightly out of the shadows and smiled nervously, "Hi, Usagi-chan." She said quickly and in the meekest voice she could manage. Her heart was thumping and her pulse had raced at the sound of their collective conversation. As Katakini Sakura, she was Usagi’s new friend. Would the others sense her other presence?
"Oh! Hi, Sakky-chan!” Usagi said surprised, trying to maintain her cheerful façade, “Guys this is my new friend, Sakura!" The rest of the girls smiled politely and mumbled some hellos. Luna and Rei caught a glance and exchanged the same thought with their eyes; there was some strong negative energy coming from this girl. Rei had sensed it earlier, but now she was sure.
"Well, it's nice to meet you all. I'm sure we can be good frinds sometime." Astera, still trying to maintain her image as Sakura, began to back away towards the shadows and the path leading to the station. "I really have to go home." A thought suddenly occurred to her, “Should I destroy them all now? They're all right here in front of me.” But she rethought the odds and decided it was not really in her favor without the power of her Ministers.
"Why are you in such a hurry? It's kind of late to be wandering around alone. There may be trouble around any corner." Rei spoke in a slightly mocking tone and Usagi caught it. She shot a glance at Rei.
"Sakura is welcome here Rei," Usagi said bitterly then turned back to Sakura, "Are you lost? I know these gardens can be like a maze sometimes!" She was the only one who laughed awkwardly and it died out quickly.
Makoto stepped forward, "Who's with you Sakura?" she asked, peering into the shadows.
"It's uh, just my cat..." she mumbled.
"I didn't know you had a cat!" Usagi said, still oblivious to what the others were feeling. Usagi ran over to her and bent down into the shadow lifting the cat over her shoulder and petting its back. "He’s so soft," she said, feeling a little better, “What’s his name?”
The other girls all saw it at the same time: the golden crescent moon collar against the brown cat’s chest shown brightly in the moonlight, his lavender eyes wide at the sight of Artemis and Luna on the ground below him.
"Usagi!" Rei yelled, "Drop the cat!"
"Why?" she asked as she pulled the cat off her shoulder to look at it. "The cat on the horse!" she screamed as she dropped the cat on the ground and back peddled into Ami.
Demetrius ran to Astera and they turned down the nearest path at full sprint. Makoto began to chase her but Ami stopped her, "Wait," she said, "we don't know anything about her yet! It could be a trap!"
"But she knows who we are!" Makoto argued.
Usagi blankly sat on the ground and closed her eyes feeling fresh tears screaming for release.
Chapter IV: Two Faced Evils