Chapter 5 - Mamoru in peril? Trouble at the Mysterious Masquerade!
A limousine. He was riding in a limousine, wearing a tuxedo, on the way to a masquerade ball. Mamoru Chiba fidgeted with his cuffs, wondering if anyone would be more out of place than he at that moment. Outside the window the landscape had changed from urban to suburban, both distance between houses and the sheer size of the mansions growing until, at last, farther up the road he saw a spacious estate lit up with a warm, welcoming glow. Out front, limousines and town cars paused for their patrons to exit before driving away; occasionally a valet would take the keys from a guest and drive their car away to be parked. The guests, even from this distance, were well-dressed and obviously well-to-do. "Well," he said, turning to his companions within the car, "We're here."
Moegi, cocking a brow, leaned over to catch a glimpse of their destination, his arms still folded tightly across his chest as he surveyed the place. He looked impressed for a moment, but then shrugged indifferently. Sitting straight in his seat, he asked, "So, what's the plan?"
Hanada smirked and shook his head at Moegi's attempt at disinterest, then leaned forward into the small center aisle to speak conspiratorially, "Plan is to find that Golden Crystal the family is showing and see if Helios gets any vibes off of it. If he does, we see what we can find out about the family. Hopefully it's just a false alarm and their Golden Crystal isn't our Golden Crystal and our Prince hasn't reawakened to find himself in the midst of a war. If it is, well…"
"We keep him safe until we deal with the senshi," Mamoru finished matter-of-factly, leaning back into the seat to stare at the mansion. He was nervous, a little on-edge; while part of him wanted to meet this Prince from another lifetime, the Prince whose life changed the fate of Earth, part of him willed this excursion to be a false alarm. So much had happened already; he'd prefer to deal with this one giant complication rather than a slew of others that the Prince's awakening might bring. Right now, the enemy was concerned only with gathering energy, and that took stealth and planning and he and the other Kings had been dealing with that alright; if the Dark Kingdom – the Moon Kingdom, he reminded himself as his eyes glanced involuntarily to the sky above – realized that the leader of their enemy had been reborn, he guessed subtlety wouldn't be an option anymore. It would be all-out war, and, if things transpired as they did in days of ancient Europe, the object of the attacks would turn to killing the Prince first and then collecting energy. He paused in his musing – if the Prince was reborn and reawakened and the Golden Crystal intact, would that mean that modern-day Earth would have a singular ruler? Would their Prince from the Golden Age take his place as King of Earth? If the crystal were reborn with him, Mamoru supposed the Prince might have the power and perhaps the birthright, but would he want to wade through the hassle of uniting the world? Would he settle for just one nation? … if he did intend to pursue a life of royalty, did he, Mamoru, want to help him? Would he be forced to out of honor and duty either way?
The limousine stopped and the door beside him opened. With a quick reminder from Hanada, Mamoru stepped out of the limousine placing the simple white mask on his face, and their night of investigation began.
Within they were shown through expansive foyers and living rooms and into a grand ballroom with marble floors and impressive chandeliers hanging overhead. Though the masked crowd was numerous and in good humor, Mamoru could still hear the sounds of a small orchestra playing classical waltzes across the room. Large glass doors swung outward into a garden showered in light, trees and furniture kissed with miniature bulbs that lent everything an ethereal feel. Despite his earlier trepidation, Mamoru couldn't help but feel like he had been somewhere like this before; he had somewhere experienced a scene like this, with well-dressed people dancing in ornate rooms to music that flowed like wind and water... It was odd and disorienting, like his mind was trying to overwrite the scene or correct it in some way, trying to make everything match some memory that was just out of reach. The colors? No, the layout? … The people? His vision blurred lines as his head started to ache, fighting what he was seeing. But then someone was at his shoulder, and turning only slightly he addressed, "Zois—" …what was he saying? He shook his head, fighting to clear it from the heavy haze, and corrected himself. "Hanada, what's up?"
Hanada's expression behind the green mask was puzzled, but he handed something over to Mamoru without asking what the mixup had been. "Here; plan's changed a bit." A hand-sized Helios was suddenly on his palm as Hanada continued, "My parents are meeting the family so I'm going with them to see what I can learn. Moegi's stuck – one of his teachers is here and intent upon showing him around."
"Great," Mamoru commented, glancing around to see their blond teammate working hard to mask the look of general discomfort about him as an older gentlemen led him around, loudly introducing him to people. Mamoru smiled – finally, a downside to Moegi's 'success'. "Well," he said, turning back to Hanada, "Message me if you find out anything interesting."
"Same to you," Hanada replied, then retreated into the crowd.
Mamoru's eyes returned to the room, looking around for any pedestal or general viewing area where the family might have the gem on display, trying not to return the stare of people who looked from the unisus 'toy' in his hands to him. "Do I absolutely need to carry you around like this? I look really strange and it's drawing people's attention," he whispered, trying to keep his lips still and gaze steady so they didn't think he was talking to himself, too.
"Well, huh, I don't know. Do you absolutely need to see if that Golden Crystal is the real thing?" Helios snarked back and Mamoru resisted the urge to drop him.
"Do you sense it in here? How close do you need to be to sense it?" Mamoru asked, again in the ventriloquist manner. Spying a stair that led to a balcony overlooking the event, he walked that way, thinking a bird's eye view would better suit his purpose.
"It's usually best if I can see it," Helios commented.
"Can't you just teleport to other parts of the house and scope things out without an escort?" Mamoru asked very quietly, skirting by a larger group of guests.
"Do you think I enjoy being paraded around as one might a child's toy? I can only teleport places I have seen before, so no, I'm afraid I'm stuck with you for the time being."
"What if I just get you out of sight – could you fly off then?"
"Yeah, Little Pegasus, could you fly then?"
Mamoru jumped, grabbing the railing just in time to save him from slipping down the stairs as the cheerful, teasing voice surprised him from behind. He turned on the listener and, when the burst of adrenaline faded, easily recognized the hairstyle and the smile beneath the red jeweled mask. "Dumpling Head," he started, trying to sound casual despite his rapidly beating heart, "What are you doing here?"
She pouted, turning her head up and away and putting her hands on her hips as she quoted his earlier line back to him, "Don't look so excited to see me; people might get the wrong idea." He couldn't help but smile, collecting himself to better interact with her. Her appearance was unexpected, but he was in-touch with himself enough to recognize that his quickened pulse wasn't due solely to her abrupt scare. Blue eyes slid over through her bright red mask to land on him and she softened, the smile returning as she looked back to him. Grinning mischievously she admitted, "My dad felt so bad about the cat business that he got an extra ticket so I could come with him tonight," and motioned to a crowd of people with notepads and cameras off to one side, mingling and waiting for something to happen. Quickly, remembering his duty, he looked around them for a door, hidden or otherwise, that might lead to the room holding the crystal; however, it seemed as though the room had only four exits – the garden, the main entrance, the doors Hanada had disappeared through, and the door at the top of this staircase. "So what's with the Pegasus?" she invited, eyeing Helios curiously.
Thinking quickly, he improvised with the first thought that came to mind. "I thought I'd bring something just in case it was a masquerade like you had imagined." She smiled, looking a little confused still. "You know," he clarified, "Like a costume party." Spying the tiny tiara tucked onto the crown of her head, he raised his brow at it to indicate the feigned similarities in their situation.
She glanced up as if she could see her crown if she tried hard enough, then furrowed her brow at Helios again, "Yeah, but… what is your costume? Mythical beast tamer?"
"I was thinking more like Bellerophon," he improvised, wondering if she had noticed Helio's affronted wing-twitch, or that his red eyes now glared over at her, but it looked like their secret was safe.
"Ballerophon?" she repeated, sounding as though the word had given her trouble. She looked back to Helios with interest, so he offered him to her. She took him and started examining it closely, petting the feathers on Helios's wings delicately before poking the skin on his chest.
"Yeah, great idea there, "Bellerophon", let's submit your guardian to a thorough poking and prodding. It's not like he feels it." Helios was turned completely upside down as Tsukino prodded his hooves, "Or knows where you sleep."
Ignoring Helios's plight, Mamoru explained the reference. "He was a hero-prince of ancient Greece who killed the fire-breathing Chimera after gaining the trust of the white Pegasus," he said, deciding not to go on as she had stopped listening already. He didn't mind. Smiling, she offered Helios to him, but he had a better idea. Handling the unisus gently, he slung him over her shoulder, mimicking the way she had carried a kitten earlier that day. "There," he said, as if admiring his handiwork, "He looks good on you." Much better than on me, in any case.
She smiled, "He? I think it's a she," she stated cheerfully, glancing down at Helios almost fondly.
"Yeah?" he asked with some amusement, sensing Helios's indignation even without words.
She smiled, "Yep; I think I'll call her Luna."
"Luna?" he repeated with a returned smile as the two of them started ascending the stairs together. He wondered if she knew where the name came from, and at the same time enjoyed the antithesis of the name – Helios, the male Sun, was renamed Luna, the female Moon.
"No one hears of this." Helios growled.
And so Helios's new nickname was solidified.
"It means the moon or something," Tsukino explained sheepishly, her fingers brushing against each other in a cute manner. "I just like the sound of it," she was blushing, clearly embarrassed though he didn't know why. They had reached the top of the curved stair; the crowd was thicker near the railing as people watched the party from above, enjoying the music as it filled the room. A caterer brushed past, offering champagne and some sort of cracker; Mamoru took a moment to glance through the slightly ajar doors to see a lit room beyond, wondering if people were usually allowed to explore farther into the house or if it were off-limits. "I'll see you later" Tsukino said suddenly, turning to go down the stairs opposite those they had ascended together. "Thanks for letting me borrow your plushie!" she exclaimed, the familiar tone signaling her intention of running off in a moment.
To stop her, he reached out and took her hand gently, "Care for a dance before you leave?" he offered, not wanting her to go just yet. The world just seemed a little brighter when she was around, and being with someone a little more out of place than he was encouraging. But then… there was something about her that did belong, and it wasn't the princess dress she wore. Who was this girl, this annoying yet adorable middle-schooler that plagued the shopping district with her clumsiness and loud protestations, and yet at times, like earlier that afternoon, seemed so lonely and lost? He wanted – he needed to know more about her, and that moment of confusion in her eyes was enough of an invitation for him. He used his hand on hers to pull her in closer, to spin her around once and settle back into the music, guiding her into a waltz. She was light on her feet in spite of her usual clumsiness – she seemed as bewildered by the fact as he – and in moments she was gliding through the waltz nearly as well as his school's instructor had. "I didn't know you danced," he commented with a smile, leading them away from the crowded balcony.
"I didn't, either," she replied, tripping for the first time. He chuckled, adjusting so she didn't fall completely, and managed to get them back on beat. Less than thirty seconds later she tripped again; he was able to recover them but she laughed and let go, "I'm jinxed now – I keep trying not to trip and it's making me trip even more!"
"I don't mind," he replied, missing her hand in his.
She blushed a little and her eyes slid away from him. Her brows furrowed suddenly in curious fascination, "What do you think is back there?" she asked.
An idea sparking to life, Mamoru turned, hoping his hunch was correct, and found the ajar door right behind them. "Want to find out?"
"What are you doing?!" Helios exclaimed as Tsukino smiled mischievously and straightened, inching her way towards the door and, in the process, drawing more attention to herself in her attempt to be inconspicuous than Mamoru could have imagined. A caterer turned an inquisitive eye on her and Mamoru subtly mimed that Tsukino was sick. The man raised a brow and pointed subtly straight and then to the left; silent directions probably to the bathroom. He nodded in mock appreciation to the man and caught up to the girl just as she squeezed through the door. He opened the door and shut it behind them.
"Did they see us?" she asked, eyes wide with nervous excitement.
"I don't think so," he lied, hiding a smile. After gazing about the room and finding no sign of any golden crystal, he moved to the doorway to an adjacent room and tilted his head, "Shall we?"
Searching through the mansion for the whereabouts of the Golden Crystal with Tsukino was actually fun; it turned a routine search-and-go into somewhat of an adventure. As they peeked and peered into dark rooms she would exclaim or make the odd entertaining remarks – upon finding the library, for example, as his mind nearly shut down taking in the overwhelming volume of written works, Tsukino looked around for a moment, sighed, and turned on her heel muttering "waste of a good room." He was able to ditch Helios once they were several rooms in; Tsukino paused to look at the large tapestries hanging about the room and put the 'stuffed animal' down to mimic the pose of a woman in one of the pieces. Mamoru urged Tsukino on and she forgot about the unisus. As he shut the door behind them, Helios shook his wings and took to the air, forming a second team to search for the crystal.
The term 'mansion' fit the estate perfectly; they must have been roaming the halls for well over half an hour without reaching the other end, or finding other guests. On several occasions they spotted a maid and snuck past; he took Tsukino's hand to lead her through without notice, but in one case they were caught anyway and ended up racing down hallways, up another set of stairs and into a vacant room to escape. As they stood quietly in the dark, trying their hardest to be silent as they caught their breath and listened intently for the maid's footfalls, Mamoru's eyes met Tsukino's and he had the strangest feeling that something like this had happened before. She smiled, still breathing heavily; he smiled back, trying unsuccessfully to shake déjà vu. She started to giggle and he put his fingers to his lips to remind her to be quiet, but that just made her laugh louder. Her hands shot to her mouth to quiet herself just as footsteps reached the top of the stairs and bustled towards their door. Eyes wide, Tsukino held her breath as Mamoru considered their options, and the footsteps continued past them. They waited tensely, but after a minute of silence he considered them safe. He reached for the door just as the lights flicked on. He turned suddenly, expecting to discover that the maid had another entrance into the room, but instead found Tsukino exploring the room curiously.
"I've never seen a bedroom so big!" she commented, spreading her arms wide to spin in a circle around the space. He nodded appreciatively; his entire apartment could fit inside the space with room to spare, and that wasn't including whatever closets or bathrooms hid behind the closed doors spread throughout the room. The bed was large, at least King sized, and covered in plush red velvet, canopied in material that reached the floor; all of the furniture was made of dark wood and bedecked with golden knick-knacks, from mirrors to music boxes and figurines. A fireplace stood in one wall, a balcony extended through glass doors on another; above the mantle was a picture of a family with a familiar-looking young boy. As Mamoru tried to place him, an alarm went off on his watch. He grabbed it, hoping to stifle the electronic beeping, but Tsukino turned inquisitively.
"It's an alarm," he explained apologetically, "I'm supposed to be meeting some friends." She nodded as his mind raced, wondering who had called and why – had Helios found the Golden Crystal? Did Hanada discover something interesting about the visiting family? He glanced back up at the painting and saw her waiting for him, her eyes thoughtful, her gloved hands hanging loosely by her sides, the jewels in her red mask shining like fire in the lamp light. Her dress, long and white and pink, looked no worse for wear, despite their running around and exploring. With the flush in her cheeks and the smile playing at her lips, she really was beautiful. For a moment he considered ignoring the summons and playing hooky with her for the rest of the night, but as the watch beeped again she walked past him, turning off the lights as she passed the switch, and opened the door.
Returning to the ballroom took considerably less time, despite getting turned around once or twice, but once they found the first room Mamoru hesitated, holding his arm out to stop Tsukino from continuing forward as he listened, a chill washing over him. He felt her eyes on him, but he had to concentrate – what was wrong? Then it hit him – it was too quiet. He could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock across the room, where before the orchestra and crowd noise was only mildly muffled by the double doors.
"It's quiet," Tsukino observed, a tense note in her voice that he had never heard before. She was looking at the door intently, her stance straighter, more grounded, and Mamoru realized that even with all the time they had spent together tonight, he was nowhere near understanding who she really was. Her eyes looked over at him and her demeanor changed again, her nose crinkling as a faint blush crept over her cheeks, "Do you think someone's giving a speech?" she asked with distaste, back to her usual self.
He shrugged, but then went with it as his watch sounded for the fifth time since they left the third floor and he went with it. "More than likely; they were going to be presenting something tonight, so this could be the family's introduction. Do you want to go see?" he asked, hoping he was right in assuming she wouldn't.
She shook her head and he felt relieved. There might not be time enough to make up another excuse for her not to go in there. He had a bad feeling. "My dad can fill me in if it's interesting," she replied, edging backwards. She smiled, "I'll see you later, Mamo-chan," and waved before leaving the room. Mamo-chan? He wondered briefly where she had gone, but as his watch sounded again he tried to put all thoughts of the blonde aside. Should he open the communication channel, or look inside the room? In any case, he turned to make sure she had really left and, seeing she had, grabbed his pendant and, just above a whisper, called, "Pyrite Power, Transform."
Cardinal King hesitated only a moment more before making his decision; he needed to see what was going on, then he would answer the call. Stepping forward quietly, he inched open the door, finding it moved easily under his grasp, and peered into the room through his mask. The balcony was piled with bodies that barely breathed. The Moon Kingdom was here. He slipped through the door and fell into a crouch, trying to keep out of sight as he attempted to survey the area. Everything was quiet but for some commotion near the gardens; he crept forward to see if he could find out what was going on. The ballroom floor was a mess of bodies, people slumped over tables and on each other on the dance floor, the orchestra collapsed on their instruments or on the floor beside them. The doors to the garden stood open, though several of the glass panes had been smashed. A muffled swear sounded from outside. He crept carefully down the stairs, watching to keep his feet away from stray fingers as he fought for purchase.
As soon as his feet hit the floor he moved quickly to the garden entrance, but halfway there his watch sounded again, startlingly loud in silence of the ballroom. "You idiot!" someone yelled from outside as a giant shadowy form flew into the room and a white bolt of lightning flashed towards him. He jumped out of the way just in time, but the cloud with sinister green eyes followed his every move as he ducked and dodged his way outside, the lightning hot on his tail.
"Find a tree!" It was Moegi, and Mamoru was quick to take the suggestion. With a leap, he jumped into a tree and worked his way behind the trunk, hoping the advice was sound and tested. Sure enough, the cloud seemed to lay off. He looked around until he spotted South King, his back pressed to the trunk of a neighboring tree and looking remarkably unhappy. "Next time I call you, answer!"
"What is going on?" He returned, ignoring Moegi's tone. He was right – Mamoru should have answered, but they could talk about that later. He looked around for Hanada but didn't see him anywhere. Guilt and fear took him for a moment – had something happened because he wasn't there? "Where's North King?"
He felt better, but that still didn't solve anything. What were they facing? How could he hit a cloud of darkness with a rose or a sword? Would South's fire work on it? Would Helios know? "Where's Helios? Has he found the crowd's energy?"
"Yeah, but he can't take full control of it until this phantom disappears, and our best plan was having you surprise it and hope for the best and that's out of the question now. So any thoughts, fearless leader?"
Moegi was being a jerk but he probably wasn't used to being in any tight situations, Mamoru rationalized, his mind turning to strategy. Things didn't look so good, but maybe the fire would work against the darkness. Regardless, trying nothing wouldn't get them anywhere. "Look, have one of those knives ready, got it?" He shifted his weight and peered around the trunk to find the aberration. Spotting a darkness amongst the tiny lights in the trees across from him, he dropped and dashed out towards it, summoning a rose.
"You think we haven't tried that?!" South King yelled just as the green eyes of the cloud found Mamoru. He should really learn to communicate before acting. A bolt of lightning shot towards him and he dodged just in time, but the cloud moved fast and his exit was cut off. Throwing knives whizzed through the air to land in the trees, travelling through the cloud harmlessly as Mamoru dodged another strike. "I told you it didn't – MAMORU WATCH OUT!"
Mamoru groaned as a tight sensation jumped up his leg and seized his muscles. He fell, but as he fell he twisted to throw the rose up at the dark mass, certain that it wouldn't have any effect but trying nonetheless, for spite if nothing else. He had been stupid in so many ways and now his mistakes might cost them everything. As another bolt struck him his lower half went numb, energy pulled right out of him and absorbed into the cloud, the angry green eyes bearing down on him maliciously. North King rolled out from behind a tree and advanced threateningly on the black mass, his whip raised, but there was nothing he or South could do. "Find Helios and go!" Mamoru yelled through his teeth, his jaw clenched tightly as he stared Hanada down, "Find some way to stop this! Save the Prince!" Hanada hesitated, but Mamoru still held the cloud's attention. He had failed them, but he could at least afford them some time to escape. "Cardinal Rose," he called, energy leaving him faster as the rose materialized in his hand. It was dumb – people were dying all around him, his teammates were down one and facing a threat they didn't know how to defeat, and their Prince could be somewhere around here, his life energy being drained away by this evil presence sent by the Moon Kingdom – but the thought that came to his sluggish mind as he threw the rose was about dumpling head. About her stupid taunting faces and that sweet smile she gave him earlier that night when she said goodbye. It felt like something heavy was sitting on his chest and arms; all he wanted to do was sleep. As his vision blurred and the lights swam before him, he hoped he could see her again.