Cardinal King

Chapter 4 - A pact among protectors, The Past Revealed!

It took them a few minutes to explain the situation and their purpose, and by the time the portal began to open far above their heads, they had learned a bit about their new ally. Moegi Yuu, the King of the South, attended a local public high school – he was a second year, like them, was the student council president for his year, and was an accomplished member of the debate club at his school. Mamoru didn't quite know how to take him, at first; Moegi exuded a calm, confident air that smacked of a cunning personality and his first impression upon speaking with him for a bit was that he didn't want to trust the guy as far as he could throw him. Every word seemed to have been chosen for a particular purpose; what purpose, he didn't quite know, but the practice probably came with the territory of being a political position.

But, still, even as Moegi spoke highly and strategically of his accomplishments and asked critical questions about their duties, Mamoru couldn't help but remember the way the King of the South called to the flames he commanded, pleading with them to 'wait'. He wondered which was the true representation of Moegi: the smooth-talking and confident class president, seemingly ruthless and uncaring, or the person who pleaded with flames to spare an enemy's life? He supposed that, with time, he might find out.

Mamoru smiled sardonically at himself, watching as the portal opened wider and let in the dusky light of the Tokyo sunset; how odd it was, to get to know people through life-and-death situations. Already, after just a handful of battles together, he felt he could really trust and rely on Hanada – he had to, with the situations they had survived together and would face before this was all over with. What got him the most about it all was that he was sure that he and Hanada would have never become friends any other way. And now, with Moegi – even if they didn't become close friends, he still would have never made this connection without this odd string of fate that kept them all together. Or the random bunch of rocks that chose them, whichever.

"The buses are moving by themselves…" North King stated curiously. Mamoru followed his gaze to see the linked transports moving slowly forward, up impossibly towards the opening. "Wait," Hanada corrected, looking from the leading bus over to him, "there's a driver in the front seat; do you think it's the girl?"

Mamoru focused his eyes and could barely make out the silvery-blonde hair and white dinner gloves against the darkness of her dress and within the bus, but there was no mistaking the match. "Yeah," he replied, watching the first bus disappear though the portal opening. He turned to look at Helios, floating between himself and Moegi, and asked again, "Are you sure you don't know who she is?" He didn't quite know why it mattered to him so much, but he didn't want to leave her affiliation as an unknown. She had saved his life once, but he wanted to know if he could really trust her or if she were a clever ruse sent out by the enemy to lay false tracks and create a bigger trap for them all in the end.

"I'm pretty sure I don't remember her at all," Helios commented, staring up at the chain of buses curiously as each disappeared.

"I don't know about you guys, but I don't plan on missing that last bus. We can talk about Chiba's little mystery girl once we get out of this alternate dimension, wouldn't you say?" North King's eyes were mocking as he fluidly jumped, cape suddenly appearing as he launched up onto the top of the final bus in line. Mamoru scowled at the implication, but took some small joy from the way Hanada nearly lost his balance upon landing. He motioned to Moegi with a nod of his head as he sprung up afterwards, sticking his landing solidly and giving the long-haired blond a smug shrug of his shoulders. The bus shook suddenly, causing both of them to throw their hands out to keep from falling. North King's ice whip appeared suddenly, the green eyes behind the mask growing hard in surprise as Mamoru tensed, fearing some sort of delayed counter attack, but as a hand appeared clinging to the roof near their feet he nearly laughed in relief.

Helpfully, he crouched and looked over the edge to see South King clinging to the side of the bus, looking dazed and chagrined. He offered a hand and Moegi took it gratefully; Hanada came over and did the same, and with a good tug their third was safely with them. He brushed himself off as he tried to look as nonchalant as possible, as though he hadn't just face-planted into a floating vehicle in an alternate dimension dressed as a caped phantom military man. Mamoru kept quiet to let the new guy have some shred of dignity, but Hanada looked like he was about to say something. Luckily for South King, when they exited through the dimensional tear it was to a scene of mild chaos and Hanada held his tongue. People were stepping out of the buses in a daze, asking questions and looking around – just down the street Mamoru saw a policeman turning the corner and signaled straight away for the three of them to disperse through the nearest alleyway, not wanting to risk jumping to a rooftop with a newbie in a potentially serious situation.

North and South saw what he motioned to and jumped off of the bus immediately, running much faster than any normal person could hope to run. Before he jumped, however, he glanced over the crowd, feeling nervous until he spied a familiar pair of blonde buns milling around near the first of the buses. Relieved, he smirked as the girl scratched her head curiously – Tsukino would be fine. Then he, too, was gone.

Nearly a quarter of a city later, the three of them took a breather on what happened to be his apartment building. They detransformed, reverting to casual clothing and school uniforms as Helios returned to them. "Everything has been set to rights," the Pegasus confirmed, "Many were sent to the hospital for evaluations or an overnight observation period, but a good few were deemed healthy enough to walk away from the scene."

"Did any of them mention us?" Hanada asked pointedly, probably considering writing a story about the incident but needing at least hearsay to begin.

"In fevered tones, yes, but I don't think the police paid them any heed."

"Perfect," he trailed off, his hands pulling a small notebook and pencil out of his back pocket. He flipped to a blank page and started scribbling feverishly; Mamoru expected a story about the occurrence in the morning's paper.

"Helios, was it?" Moegi began, his confidence having returned after the first few high jumps made without faltering. After the final jump – from the neighboring rooftop below Mamoru's apartment building onto this rooftop, he had been practically back to how he'd been when he started talking about all of his accomplishments before. Helios nodded encouragingly, and Moegi continued, "What did you mean before when you said you didn't "remember" her?"

Hanada's furious scribbling stopped mid-scribe; the question caught Mamoru off-guard, as well - he had never actually considered the statement, just let it slide by, like most of what Helios said nowadays. All eyes on him, the winged unicorn landed and grew in size until his eyes were at their level and folded his wings neatly. He regarded them uneasily, and Mamoru felt like he was judging them – but, then, hadn't they already been judged and found worthy? Why else would the stones have chosen them to be the guardians of Earth's citizens and face the threat of the Dark Kingdom? "What did you mean, Helios?" he asked evenly, reinforcing Moegi's question.

Helios seemed to consider for a moment longer, his eyes catching each of theirs in turn, but then he began. "It is true that you are three of the four chosen to protect Earth's citizens from the evils of the Dark Kingdom, but your story did not start here, in this place, and this time." He emphasized the final words, and Mamoru's brows furrowed, waiting for their mentor to continue. "Your stories actually started in a far-away place, a place deep within Earth itself and yet upon its surface, a Royal Kingdom that ruled over Earth in its entirety, Elysion, in a time several millennia long past. It was an era of timid peace, an era soon crowned by the birth of a Prince of Elysion gifted Earth's own gift – the Golden Crystal, a gem with nearly limitless power of growth and healing and light. His birth was the beginning of a new Golden age, an age of expansion, of wealth, of understanding and true peace on our planet. Upon the full recognition of the Crystal's presence, wars ceased, paths of communication opened and four guardians were sent from the major sub-kingdoms to serve as the young prince's companions, confidants, and protectors; we called these four the Heavenly Kings."

"You mean us?" Moegi asked, his expression one of someone trying to believe something he knew to be impossible – a state of mind Mamoru identified with only too well at that moment.

Helios nodded, "You served well, but shy of two decades into the Prince's lifetime, there came an unexpected attack from an unlikely foe, and… I'm not certain of the chain of events, but suddenly Earth was at war with the Moon Kingdom. Their warriors were strong, their senshi stronger, and their Queen, wielding the Silver Crystal, was strongest of them all. After the unexpected death of their Princess during what would be the final battle, a great, enormous power overcame us all. I was put in a stasis and have been up until the senshi awoke in this time and started collecting energy. It is my belief that they gather the energy to awaken their Queen, so that their Queen could finish the war that they started so many years ago and use the power of her Silver Crystal to enslave or end all life here on Earth. It was by sheer luck that I was able to hone in on your distinct energy signals and awaken the three of you. With West King out there somewhere, it gives me hope: our Prince might have been reborn as well, and with his power over the Golden Crystal, the Earth might just stand a chance."

His words echoed Mamoru's mind, the consequences weighing heavily. What if Helios wasn't right? What if their prince hadn't been reborn? What if it was just them, and their rebirth had been a fluke? What would become of Earth and its people then? "… We cannot let them gather any more energy." He stated, his tone ominous even to his own ears. "Just in case. And if it was our duty to protect our Prince, what better way is there than to never let him reawaken and fight this battle?"

"If we defeat the senshi, their Queen would never awaken and the whole point would be moot, right?" Moegi seconded, looking determined, yet pale, possibly remembering his defeat of the previous senshi. The feeling resonated; he would prefer not to end someone's life, even if they were on the side against innocence and the right to live, but if necessary he would do whatever he could to give everyone else a chance at life.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Hanada nodded, his pencil and notepad tucked away as he regarded them.

Mamoru stretched, picked up his bag, and headed home, nodding goodbyes to other members of the team as he left campus, making sure to wave back to Midori, who had been making efforts to make it to practice on time to train for their upcoming matches. The tall guy had heart and drive, that much was certain, and as it happened that goalie talent hadn't just been a fluke – time and time again, he expertly blocked the goal and sent the ball flying quite some distance down the field. At first Mamoru smiled along with everyone else when a teammate joked that Midori had been turned down one too many times and finally decided to get something to brag about before trying to get a girl, but the newfound effort made him think it was a personal challenge Midori was looking for, not an opportunity to show off. … Well, maybe some part of the latter. Some of his returns were a little extravagant. But useful, so to each his own.

The bus ride home was uneventful, if busy; he had nearly made it to his apartment before his watch went off. Pausing in the stairwell, he flipped the hands to 12 noon and kept walking, waiting to hear the other connection pull through before paying too much attention to the gadget; lately it had been going off at regular intervals – he had been trying to get them all together for some sort of practice, while Hanada tossed out some possible information gathered through mostly unreliable sources and Moegi complained about being too busy to do anything that wasn't absolutely urgent. When the static cleared he lifted his wrist to see two faces looking back at him, and immediately Hanada started talking. Mamoru stepped onto his floor and got out his keys as he walked down the hallway.

"Glad to have caught you both," Hanada stated, both a greeting and a soft poke at Moegi and his full schedule. Mamoru didn't have to glance down to know Moegi was scowling; instead he turned his keys in the lock and entered his apartment, stepping out of his shoes to be greeted by a curious Helios, who took up his usual position over his shoulder as a fourth participant in their conversation. "My parents have been invited to another fundraiser-slash-social party and I thought this one might be of interest to us."

Mamoru placed his schoolbag on the table and went into the kitchen, putting a kettle on for hot chocolate. "Yeah? How so?" he asked conversationally, not having any real interest in attending any sort of societal function in this lifetime, even if apparently he had been to a few previously. He didn't like to dwell too much on the idea of having a previous life; Helios had mentioned something about recovering memories someday, but Mamoru would be fine if they were never returned. He was Chiba Mamoru, honor student and soccer player, looking towards a future in the hard sciences, either in medicine or physics; no matter what happened in a previous life, this is who he was; being the leader of the Prince of Earth's guard would have little effect on his life once the current threat was defeated. With any luck, the prince he was to guard would never know of this troubling time and the guy could continue with his new life as (apparently) planned.

"Well, you might not believe it, but the party is at one of the local consulates to host a viewing of an extremely rare and recently discovered crystal owned by a notable family from another country," Hanada replied.

"And?" Moegi prompted impatiently.

"And it happens to be an extremely rare gem the color of molten gold, that's what!"

Helios was instantly at his shoulder again, "You don't think-?"

"I was going to ask you, actually," Hanada replied, with a small hint of smugness, "But if you think we should check it out, I can secure a few more invitations…"

"When is it?"

"Well… tonight, actually." Hanada replied with a hint of apology. Mamoru nearly dropped the mug he was pulling out of a cabinet – there went any plans of getting ahead on classwork.

"TONIGHT?! And you think I could just get away, did you?!" Moegi growled exasperatedly, "And, let me guess, it's a formal attire affair? Not everyone's made of money, Hanada! You can't just expect us to have tuxedos hiding up our sleeves!"

"Hey, I don't either," Hanada shot back, but before he could escalate the situation any further, Mamoru asked,

"Moegi, can you get out tonight?"

The blond glanced away from the communicator screen for a moment, then looked back with a somewhat sullen expression, "I don't have anything scheduled tonight; I'd just have to clear it with my parents. But somehow I don't think "I want to go to a ball!" is going to fly with them."

"Make something up – say you're seeing a math tutor or something. I'll vouch for you," Mamoru suggested. Moegi scowled at the implication but nodded nonetheless. "Hanada, is there any way you could arrange for the proper clothing for Moegi and me?"

Hanada shrugged, "Sure, well, all but one thing, anyway. It's a masquerade – I can get you guys into a pair of tuxedos from our tailor, but you'd be on your own for the masks." Mamoru opened his mouth but Hanada beat him to the punch, "And don't bother asking about using our uniform masks – they fade away with the transformation."

Mamoru sighed at the inconvenience and went back to the table to grab his wallet, then to the doorway for his shoes. "I'll go get masks, then. Who needs one?"

"I've got one," both said as one. Hanada quirked a brow, probably at Moegi's response, then continued, "I'll call ahead to the tailor to get a few tuxes out for altering. Think you could swing by in about an hour? I'll pick the two of you up from there."

He wove through the crowd as best he could, glancing into shops as he passed for any sign of costume work – where does one buy a mask, anyway? The shopping district was filled with people on their way home, which didn't make his task any easier, but, as he spied the blonde girl peering through a storefront window with her hands around her eyes, the timing did make things interesting. He worked his way over to her and joined her at the window, using his hands to cancel the glare to see what she was looking at. It was a pet shop. Right in front, playing in a giant presentation case, was a litter of kittens. He couldn't help the smile on his face – kittens were… Kittens were – well, kittens were kittens and he had a soft spot for the fuzzy, curious, playful little things with their tiny heads and big attitudes. Tearing his eyes away – his apartment complex didn't look fondly on pets – he turned to Tsukino Usagi. "Is the Dumpling Head getting a pet?"

She jolted as if startled, turning to look at him with a surprised look on her face; but that expression quickly turned to something like indifference as she muttered, "Oh, it's you," and turned back to the glass.

"Don't look so excited to see me; people might get the wrong idea," he returned, a little hurt by her brush-off but not really expecting anything more; they were casual acquaintances, brought together through her perpetual clumsiness. He liked her energy, her general cheerfulness peppered with impassioned outbursts at his prods – and right now, looking through the glass so calmly, she seemed very un-Tsukino-like. After a beat, curiosity prodded him to ask, "Who did you think I was? Does everyone call you "Dumpling Head"?"

She glared over at him with a small scowl – that was more like her. "No," she growled, "only you seem to be that cruel."

"Glad to hear it," he replied, with a small shrug, "But if it wasn't another adoring fan of your hairstyle, who did you think I was?"

She considered him suspiciously, an eyebrow arching delicately over her blue eyes before she looked back to the petshop window, not leaning in as before but staring at the mix of interior and her reflection. "My dad," she said in a smaller, gruffer voice, "He sometimes comes home this way and I've been bugging him lately about getting a pet. He told me 'no' several times already because my little brother doesn't like them, but… I don't know," she looked back at him, her expression wistful and a little sad, "I've just always wanted a cat."

Her voice wavered at the last and it was like he couldn't breathe. He didn't like seeing her this way – it was like the world was broken all of the sudden; Tsukino was over-the-top reactions, fire and silliness and not - not this. She wasn't sad. She shouldn't be sad. Her eyes flickered from him nervously and she turned away and lifted her hand to her face, scrubbing momentarily with the sleeve of her school uniform. Turning back to him, a fake smile plastered on her face, she said, "Sorry, it's dumb. I'll see you—"

"Let's go play with them," he suggested, lightly taking her arm and pulling her along into the shop. Even as the bell was still echoing in the doorway, he had a kitten in her hands and a smile was growing on her lips. He wasn't that great with cheering people up – it wasn't exactly a skill he had acquired – but kittens… well, kittens could make anyone smile. As she held the little thing, it mewed and batted at her and she laughed and its head with a finger. He smiled and picked one up himself – a black and white kitten to her gray, and they stood there together for a few minutes, playing with kittens in the petshop window as she exclaimed over their mischievous actions. When she seemed to have fully recovered, all traces of sadness erased, he stretched his kitten out and sat it on her head between her pigtails. She laughed, looking up through her bangs as the paws grabbed at her hair and started cleaning it, and handed him her kitten to pull his off, strands of hair coming with it.

"So, Chiba," she asked, as if suddenly remembering whom she was with, "Do you often come out to play with kittens in petshops?"

The tease reminded him of what he was supposed to be doing. Holding the kitten securely, he twisted his wrist to look at his watch and scowled at the time – he had just under twenty minutes to find a mask and get to Hanada's tailor in time.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

He looked back up to her, considering – who would know this shopping district better than a local girl? "Do you know where I could find a mask?"

Just over twenty five minutes later, Mamoru stepped though the door to the tailor's store with a small smile on his face and a little bag in his hand, a simple white mask within. He had been right – Tsukino knew exactly where to go; it turned out her father, a reporter, had been invited to the 'gala' as well and she had gone with him to get his outfit. She was disappointed to find out Mamoru wasn't going in a full-out costume, but Mamoru wasn't exactly sure her idea of a masquerade and the visiting noble family's idea of a masquerade were the same thing.

"You're late," Hanada greeted him, and Mamoru shook his head unbelievably.

"Where's Moegi?" he asked instead, ignoring the comment as he dropped the bag on a small table in the plush little store.

"Back with Pierre. This is Jacques," Hanada introduced as a short, well-dressed man appeared from behind a luxurious-looking green curtain, "He'll be helping you with tonight's attire."

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