Chapter 1: Serena Times Two, Times Two
The clapping and cheering from the massive crowd before me fell silent when I said those two words. I held my head up high, just as Mercury had taught me...but I had also shut my eyes. My dad's gentle hand patting my back gave me the confidence to reopen them...but all of Crystal Tokyo had gathered outside to watch me shaking behind the podium. At the front of the crowd, just behind a line of girls my age gathered in flowery kimonos, Sailor Mercury lifted two big thumbs up in the air and smiled at me. I couldn't let my parents, my friends, and everyone else who believed in me down...I had to speak. This was too important. So, I took a deep breath, and went on with my speech...
"I humbly present myself to you as Crown Princess and heir to the throne of Silver Millennium...but I also present myself as someone who witnessed the horrors unleashed upon our city by the Evil Black Crystal. It is my duty, and my solemn vow, to protect all of you just as my mother, Neo Queen Serenity and the legendary guardian Sailor Moon, protected this planet. She was invincible because she had the love of her friends and the hearts of everyone on Earth with her. She saved our world from darkness many times over. The Silver Crystal's light shines brightly in the Crystal Palace...but through each and every one of you, can we illuminate the darkest corners of our universe and I can fulfill my promise. That this Silver Millennium will be followed by another. Thank you."
My deep sigh of relief that my speech was finally over almost drowned out the thunderous applause from everyone ahead of me. It sure looked like the entire city had come to hear me speak. The girls wearing kimonos threw cherry blossoms past the line of guards dressed in silver armor keeping them at a distance. The blossoms fluttered towards the stage before flying in a different direction because of the gentle breeze outside. My face turned pink again when my dad's gloved hand rubbed my shoulder again. "Beautifully-written, my little Princess. Your mother will be very proud to hear that you spoke so well."
His words made me blush harder. I wish mom had been here to see me, too, though I knew she sent her love. "Thank you, dad...though I wish you and mom would call me "Rini" more often."
With his cape flying in the breeze and a flick of his hand, the people in the crowd turned towards each other and started doing their own things. Sailor Mercury was at the front, beaming at me and mirroring my smile...but my own fell when a noble-dressed man in a tunic whisked her away.
"You handled yourself well. The next one will come to you even more easily. One day, you'll find yourself in front of another crowd this size and realize you aren't even nervous at all." Dad was trying to comfort me, but I hated the idea he already had another big speaking moment lined up for me. "I know what will help in the meantime. Walk with me?"
I eagerly nodded 'yes' and took my dad's hand. Two of my dad's guards, also wearing silver armor with crescent moon decorations on their shoulders, clicked their heels together when dad helped me off the stage.
"King Endymion," one of the guards muttered my dad's name while he lifted his polearm weapon with a sharp knife at the end. The other raised his weapon too and whispered "your majesty" as they let us pass by unescorted. Mom told me their spears were only ceremonial, though they still looked dangerous. I'd seen the palace guards holding scarier weapons before: I saw a couple of them in the streets carrying long rifles with blades under the barrel...a bayonet, as Sailor Mercury called it. But our guards' polearm weapons reminded me of the scythe that Sailor Saturn used...and Sailor Saturn reminded me how much I missed Hotaru. It hadn't seen her in so long, either...
"Shortly after your mother ascended to the throne, she confided in me that she hoped we would not need an army someday. Wiseman and the rebellion dashed our hopes." My dad took me down the same sidewalk, lined with trees and animals, that my parents took me down ever since I was little. "This day brings back painful memories for all of us...your mother especially. But just like you said during your speech...we can't forget what happened. And we can't forget how the first Silver Millennium ended either."
"I've seen a lot more guards on my way to class lately." I wondered if that was my dad's decision, going on what he said. "I was hoping you put them there to give the Sailor Scouts a break."
"No, your mother suggested I post them along your route. She thought they might discourage you from making a habit of showing up late to class," my father teased. I didn't think that was funny. Serena never had to run to class every day in a big billowy white dress!
Dad and I stopped to watch the sun set behind one of the Palace's crystal points. Raye once told me that a blood-red sunset was a bad omen. But..."it all looks so peaceful. As if the Evil Black Crystal had never been here."
"We have that to be grateful for," my dad quietly agreed. He had asked me to refer to it as the "Evil Black Crystal", not just the Dark Crystal, during my speech. Maybe because he didn't want me to go into the things Wiseman did to me...I knew I didn't want to talk about him either. I felt my father squeeze my hand gently. "I thought you would have outgrown holding my hand by now. Aren't you in a hurry to grow up?" But he just started laughing when I abruptly yanked my hand from his grasp.
"I didn't say "stop!" So...why the long face back there?" Dad filled in the blanks himself when I looked away from him without another word. "Do you feel like you didn't deserve the applause because Sailor Mercury helped you a little with your speech? She told me she felt bad she had so little to add. She even told me that your mother is going to be so jealous when she finds out you're a much better writer than her!"
Well, at least calling me a better writer than my mom wasn't much of a compliment...the only worse thing she could have done was compare me to her - or Serena - as a cook. Serena might have been a meatball head meanie who always called me names and stole my candy, but at least she was always herself around me. How many people applauded me back there because they thought my speech was good? Not just because I was the Princess, as if they were supposed to?
"Dad...hanging out with A - with Mercury again was so much fun. But now that the speech is over, I'm scared I'll barely see her anymore," I admitted to him.
"We've been extremely busy as of late, memorializing this occasion," my dad conceded. Except everyone was always busy, long before they said they wanted to remember Death Phantom attacking us. He must have noticed I'd scrunched my face up, because he started rubbing my shoulder. "Your bloodline was gifted with the Silver Crystal for a reason, Rini. Your mother and the Sailor Scouts have made the world a much better place than it used to be."
"It wasn't all bad." I nearly choked on the words that came next. "I miss the smell of Grandma's lemon pie baking in the oven when I came home from school. Grandpa would talk about politics and make us laugh when he nearly put Uncle Sammy to sleep. And most of all...I miss being able to just hang out with my friends."
"I miss those times too. Don't get me wrong." We watched the sun hiding behind the city and slowly give way to the night sky. "You miss your classmates."
"Them too..." I looked down to the immaculate tiles beneath my feet. "I miss trading those old Tween Queen magazines with Mina, watching Raye chase Serena around her Temple after she spoiled the latest comic, Lita competing with Mama Ikuko for best cook, Amy being able to help me with my homework most nights. And of course...I miss hot chocolate with Darien."
Most of all, though...I missed Helios. I realized then my fingers were touching the back of my right hand, where he had kissed me before he left.
"You'll see him again, Rini." I could hear Serena's voice again. And I watched him, as Pegasus, spread his majestic wings open and fly off into the sky. And here I was, left behind, left to wonder when I would see him again. Days went by...then weeks...and 'when' became 'if' I would see him again...
"I know...then we'll share all our dreams." That's what I remember saying. He asked me to believe in him...did he think I gave up because I went home? Or was something keeping him from visiting me? I needed to find out...I needed the Sailor Scouts of the past to help me find him, because everyone here was just too busy. Serena and the others would understand, I knew they would...I needed to know he was alright, wherever he was.
"Rini..." My dad removed the white mask that I never saw him take off in this century. For a moment...just a moment...Darien's spark was there again. "I'm here with you right now. It was Amy who helped you prepare for your speech. Lita, Raye, Serena, Mina - we're all here, Rini."
"I know..." That's what I knew to be true, anyway. They were just grown up now. But..."It still doesn't feel the same. I rarely even get to see Diana anymore since she started training with Plu to be substitute Guardian of Time. I know it sounds weird, but...I want a break from being everybody's Princess. Just for a little while."
"It doesn't sound weird at all. I wish we could go back sometimes, too. But if we shrink from our responsibilities too long, they build up faster than a snowball rolling down a hill." Dad revealed he had been keeping a familiar pink heart-shaped compact for me, tucked away in one of his many pockets.
"My brooch..." I hadn't become Sailor Mini Moon ever since I came back. Most of my training as a Sailor Scout took place in classrooms because the others were so busy with other stuff most of the time.
Dad quietly nodded and let me touch my brooch again. "Your mother and I planned on returning it to you when we knew the time was right for you to become the next Sailor Moon. Do you remember when we gave this to you, why your mother asked you to travel to the twenty-first century?"
"She wanted me to study and train with the Sailor Scouts of the past," I answered. "But mom also wanted me to make friends with as many people as I could in the twenty-first century! What if I haven't found all of those precious friendships yet?"
"You could also run into more dangerous enemies in the past! A few selfish anarchists nearly ruined all civilization!" Dad didn't raise his voice at me often, even when I acted up when I was little.
"So...you won't let me go?" I folded my hands across my front and began to sniffle. I'd give up being Princess to see my friends again any time. My dad stuffed his mask back in his pocket, as if he changed his mind about putting it back on when I started shaking. My eyes were beginning to well up with tears when he lifted my chin up with gentle fingers.
"No, I'm not forbidding you Rini. You may come and go as you wish." My dad returned my brooch, opening my fingers and gently closing them over it. "Just remember...you have loved ones here, too. You have friends who will stand by your side when you become the next Sailor Moon. And one day, as far away as it may seem right now...your mother will pass the Silver Crystal along to you. Before you go, I'm only asking that you talk it over with your mother first, and think about what I said."
I nodded solemnly and looked back the way we came. No one else had come this way. "I haven't seen Venus at all today, either."
"Sailor Venus requested time away from the Palace, so that she could attend to a personal matter," my father answered. "But she didn't forget this was your big day. She asked me to congratulate you in advance, because she knew you would walk it off the lark."
"Huh?" I couldn't help staring at him bug-eyed. Venus never did get the hang of quoting right...
"I...believe she meant to say "knock it out of the park." But it was I who forgot to relay her well wishes earlier." Dad was the one who took my hand this time. "We should head back now. We still have guests to attend to..."
I opened the Door of Space and Time with the slightest creak, but there was no hope of getting by Sailor Pluto unnoticed. She was staring right at me the moment I peeked. I couldn't keep myself from smiling as I approached and the fog around her cleared. Plu fell to one knee and held her long silver Rod in front of her as I came closer.
"Your Highness!" my kitty cat was sitting right beside Plu's foot, bowing her pointy-eared head alongside my other friend.
I shook my head at both of them and started laughing. "How many times have I told you both? You don't need to call me "Your Highness" or bow when it's just me!"
"Difficult habits to break, Small Lady." Plu propped herself back up by leaning ever-so-slightly on her Garnet Rod. "Though sooner of later, calling you by another title will be my latest challenge."
"Nobody in Crystal Tokyo wants to call me "Rini" anymore!" I pouted.
"You will always be "Rini" to us," Plu smiled. No matter what, she always knew just what to say to cheer me up.
"Are you visiting everyone in the past?" Diana squeaked excitedly. "That's the same dress you wore coming back!"
"It's not the EXACT same one! Plu enlarged it for me! And I needed bigger shoes!" I swung one leg forward in mid-air to show one of them off.
"I look forward to designing a new dress for you as soon as I have more free time," Plu sighed happily...though her eyes narrowed when she redirected them towards Diana. She hadn't given ME that look in a very long time. "Diana would be farther along with her training if she would only recite the challenge as instructed, instead of ad-libbing it every single time."
"Ad-libbing?" I asked.
""Those who trespass upon the Door of Space and Time will be eliminated" gets kinda repetitive after a while," Diana explained. "I mean, if we're gonna be here a long time, I thought we could change it up every once in a while. Besides, the phrase is gonna lose its oomph if word gets around we're saying the same thing over and over again!"
"Diana, I have stood here for eons. No intruder has ever returned to complain that I recited the same challenge twice," Plu groaned. "If word gets around, that means you need to do a better job of stopping them."
I heard that Plu objected when mom requested that she take Diana on as apprentice guardian...but Plu had such a lonely life. Mom herself suggested Diana...I didn't see why not. Oh well, time to change the subject back!
"No rush making me a new dress, Plu: I love this one! At least I'm not gonna have to worry about tripping over the same stuffy gown there!" I grabbed the edges of my blue short skirt and twirled around with it. It WAS one of my favorite dresses...though I also wanted to be sure Helios recognized me when he found me. "Besides, I'll be starting junior high! That means new uniform anyway!"
Plu frowned a little bit after I said that. "Do you plan on staying in the past long-term, Rini?"
"I'm not running away! You know I'll be back!" I winked at her and pointed towards the strap of my backpack. I would have brought A LOT more stuff!
"I'm just concerned." Plu did sound like she was a bit worried...but why? The other Sailor Scouts would be there, and dad gave me back my brooch so I could transform. "It has been a while since your last visit. The world you return to may not be the same one you left. Have you talked this over with your parents?"
"Dad said I could!" My footstep echoed through the void of space and time when I stomped hard on my right foot. OK, I didn't talk it out with my mom like he asked me to...but she couldn't possibly miss the note I left her! "He said he just wanted me to think about it, and I made up my mind! I'm going!"
"I was only curious...did you decide before or after he asked you to think about it?" I balled my fists, threw my arms down by my side, and puffed my cheeks at Plu...only to realize I was being immature when she smirked. "I'm only teasing, Small Lady. As if you would let me stop you from going, anyway."
Not that she could talk, but if Serena were here, she would have made fun of me for throwing another tantrum. I opened my fists to throw my arms around Plu's waist instead. "I'll miss you both! I wish I didn't have to keep going back and forth to see everyone."
"I wish I could come with you too." Diana purred while I scratched her between the ears. Poor Luna and Artemis...I know they would ask me about her. "Say hi to everyone for me!"
"We will be right here waiting for you," Plu promised with a smile. Like always.
First, I fastened my brooch back on to my ribbon. Then, I waved goodbye back towards my friends and held the Space-Time Key that Plu loaned me in my hand. Shaped just like her time rod. Going back and forth in time was always a bumpy ride...but it was always worth it to see everyone's faces again...
"OOOOWWWWW!" My trip through the time warp ended just over a treeline...and with a long tumble through leaves and branches. No Serena to cushion my fall this time...but I did land on top of some guy's head also crying 'owww'...
"Sorry mister!" I squealed and jumped to my feet as fast as I could to bug out of there. What if someone had seen me, or the big swirling pink cloud in the sky?! But I saw I'd landed right in front of Serena's house when I reached for my backpack's loose strap. Right on the front lawn, in fact. And I recognized the flop of messy, sandy-brown hair I was sitting on. "Sammy?!"
"Cousin Rini?" No mistake...it WAS his voice groaning, even if it was a bit deeper than I remembered him. I would have pulled myself sooner, but then I saw his MUSCLES and his nicely-tanned bare arms when I rolled off him. My lanky Uncle Sammy was becoming a real heart throb! "What are you doing in our tree?!"
"Uhh...I'm back! I just wanted to surprise you, that's all!" I felt so bad every time I fibbed to Grandma and Grandpa and Sammy. They had always been so nice to me...but that was after I hypnotized them into remembering things that didn't happened. Maybe one day, when we told them we were the Sailor Scouts, I could fess up to them...even if it made them hate me. And Darien would have to run far, far away from Papa Ken.
"Mission accomplished!" Present-day Sammy rubbed his head with one hand while carrying a pair of big scissors, like the one they used for cutting plants, with the other. "Where have you been the last four years? Training with ninjas?"
"Four years..." I repeated the number. I'd better think of an explanation, quick...
"Are you done out there, Sam? What's all the commo - " Unlike Uncle Sammy, Grandma looked just like I remembered her. The same curly blue hair, the same warm smile...though her jaw dropped when she saw me with Sammy.
"MOMMY IKUKO!" I couldn't help myself...I sprinted to the porch and hugged her with all my might. At first, I thought she might have forgotten me when she just stood there...that did happen once before. But she made me feel all fuzzy inside when she returned my hug.
"RINI! What a surprise, I haven't seen you in ages!" I could already smell something yummy in the kitchen behind her! "The last time you were here, your head was only up to my hips! Now it's up to my chest!"
"Sorry I didn't keep in touch. And for showing up unannounced," I lowered my head.
"Oh, don't be sorry, Rini! You're welcome here any time, for as long as you want!" So far, coming back was everything I wanted it would be. No Princess, no Small Lady...I was just good ol' Rini to them. "It is going to take me a while to get your old room ready. Maybe you can spend the night in Serena's room."
"Serena's still not the sharing type, is she?" I kicked my red-and-white shoes off at the door and stuffed my socked feet into a familiar pair of pink fuzzy slippers. I was gonna need a bigger pair of these too...
"Yeah, well...she's not here to complain, is she?" Sammy grinned. Wait, what did he mean she wasn't here?! "Your timing couldn't be any better. Dad was gonna take us to buy a new fridge after work because mom still makes enough food for all of us, plus Serena the Elephant!"
"Wait! You and Papa Ken would never throw Serena out of the house for good, would you?!" I worriedly asked Mama Ikuko.
"Of course not!" Mama Ikuko looked at Sammy like she was confused. "I know your parents get so busy, but I thought they already told you, Rini..."
Right...they knew my real parents as Sammy and Serena's always-busy aunt and uncle. At least not EVERYTHING I told them was a lie...
"You may want to sit down while we break the news." Sammy let me sit in the big comfy blue couch across from him. That WAS the smell of lemon pie baking in the oven...but I had lost my appetite. "Not only did Serena pass high school...she made it into university somehow!"
"Give your sister a break," Mama groaned. "Serena turned herself around and started doing her homework on time, for a change. This was around the same time I heard they might be lowering the standards for university entrance exams, but...oh, I shouldn't have said that. It was only a rumor!"
"See? Even mom couldn't believe it!" But then Sammy started frowning himself. "Amy went away too. She got into German medical school, just like she always dreamed."
"I don't know exactly what changed in Serena," Mama Ikuko continued after she lifted her face from her palm. "Even after Amy left, Serena kept getting decent grades. Then she got it in her head that she wanted to study in America. Your dad and I talked about it, and we thought a change of pace would be good for her."
"And for us!" Sammy cheered. "I never thought I'd live to see her move out of the house! It's so peaceful now!"
"SAMMY!" Mama Ikuko screeched at him.
I saw Papa Ken had left a couple of newspapers on the coffee table. If you ever lose track of which century you're in, look for newspapers...the only place you might see one in Crystal Tokyo is a museum. I took a quick look at the pictures and the headlines...no mention of the Sailor Scouts at all. I thought we were supposed to stick together, through thick and thin...though I guess I was an exception. Plu too. But I never thought SERENA would leave...
"I knew that was what Amy wanted...but I thought Serena would always be here. Darien must be so lonely."
"You know...come to think of it, I haven't seen Luna around lately either," Sammy admitted to me. Luna was just keeping busy with Scout business...I hoped. "I'm not even sure if Serena's with Darien any more, to be honest. She used to gush about him non-stop, then one day...nothing."
"It's just as well," Mama Ikuko sighed. "Serena was talking about marrying him as soon as she finished high school. The timing just wasn't right for her."
OH NO! I had to get them back together, right this second! Sure, this was only the twenty-first century, but they still had those screens for keeping in touch and stuff!
"Rini, where are you going?!" Sammy called out after me when I leaped out of the couch. "If you're going to see Darien, shouldn't you at least call first?"
I nearly tripped on my face when I stopped to look at the clock, thanks to my undersized slippers. "I will! But first I've gotta get the girls back together and plan out "Operation Save Darien and Dimwit's Relationship" for the eighty-seventh time! And I know just where they'll be at this time!"
"The shrine where you and the other girls used to hang out?" Mama Ikuko remembered. You could bet on them always hanging out there after school, even if we had to wait for Meatball Head to get out of detention...maybe Darien would be there too, plus Luna and Artemis. "Maybe Dad can drop you off when he gets home, Rini? I don't want you running back home in the dark by yourself."
"Quit being such a worry-wort, Mom! Rini's a big girl now!" Sammy interrupted. "Besides, it's not like she hasn't gone out on her own before!"
"That's right!" I smiled to reassure Mama Ikuko I'd be fine. I wasn't all grown up YET, but I was getting there. What would Helios think if he saw me now? I wondered if he would look the same if I saw him tonight...
"OK Rini, you win." Mama Ikuko conceded. "Promise you won't stay out too late."
"I will!" I kicked my slippers into the middle of the living room and slipped my shoes back on. "Save a piece of lemon pie for me!"
I couldn't wait to see Raye and the others again...and the looks on their faces when they saw me. If Sammy and Mama Ikuko were surprised how much I'd grown, I knew Raye, Lita and Mina would be too...
To Be Continued