bITS 'N CHUNKS
Well shipmates, rather unexpectedly I have a brand new piece of unblemished fiction for you this year!
It's been quite a long time since I've entered the 36th Chamber of fiction publication, as I've bemoaned a few times in the past whilst I try to get my act together. Things are coming along pretty well but there are some things that just never change.
Submitted here for your approval is an anthology submission from last year that ultimately got the axe for length; I don't have any further plans for it as it stands so I'm passing on the savings to you. It's fanfiction so it's a little bit of a cheat in that regard Yes, I have an AO3 account but I'm kind of hiding from that right now. And as a fanfic it automatically warrants a NSFW warning.
Another dream in darkness.
The comforting part about these dreams, lately, was that they didn’t really change. The queen would reach her long, pale arm out and feel around in the dark – nothing. Complete sensory deprivation. She couldn’t tell if she was walking or crawling, or perhaps even floating.
She would hear a voice, just a whisper. A little laugh, a gasp. She imagined tilting her head up to hear but the sound came from everywhere and nowhere at once.
The laughing grew louder until it turned into sobbing. The dulcet notes of a little girl. Where was she? The queen would reach her arm out again until it bumped into something solid. A slight hiccup.
Another white arm, much smaller, would grip hers and tug – pulling herself out of the shadows. Her face emerged. Icy blue eyes set against skin so fair it was almost translucent. The pink, bitten lips of youth. Glossy dark hair with curls that almost breathed with life of their own. The little girl would pull and pull until she was half out. She turned those eyes up to look into the queen’s own.
“Serenity...” she whispered. A sound so fragile and lonely.
“I’ll help you,” the queen muttered, now beginning to pull the little girl forward.
Before she could exert much more effort, an ancient and gnarled hand shot out of the darkness. Its claws gripped the little girl’s hair, her face, her neck. The girl shrieked in terror as she was snatched back into the void.
Her arms swung out wildly in the darkness. Nothing. She has never felt so helpless in her life. Her heart racing and her breath short, it is here that she clutches her head to make the ringing in her ears stop.
For the second week, the fifth dream in a row, Queen Serenity woke up unable to breathe. Her mouth was dry and hot, eyes watering, heart pounding in her chest. She rolled over on her side and clutched her pillow. Her nose was stuffed, that was all. Sometimes the high altitude of the Moon Kingdom did that to her, even after thousands of years. It was the weak atmosphere, that was all. No hands around her throat, choking.
Her grip on the pillow loosened in steps. After a few more minutes, she sat up, arms in her lap. The straps of her satin evening gown fell around her shoulders. She half-heartedly pushed them back up again as she rose. The shock of the cold marble floor did her some good. She had kicked the pink rug that used to lie at the foot of her sumptuous bed over into a corner many months ago. Advice from one of her consultants regarding her bad habit of sleeping late and waking up groggy. Spacing out wasn’t great for diplomatic meetings with extrasolar guests.
Serenity stretched. She knew the purple bags under her eyes would have to be concealed with a little potion today. Today was a milestone for the kingdom: two hundred years of peaceful relations between the Moon and Earth, to be commemorated with a celebration across both worlds. It had been a hard won peace, yet sometimes Serenity herself wasn’t convinced that it was permanent.
The Earth people didn’t inherently distrust magic. They had their own lineage of kings and princes spanning thousands of years to wield the Golden Crystal, secured away inside the holy Golden Kingdom, surrounded by the mystical plains of Elysion. But the Earth produced no specialized guard to join Serenity’s planetary warriors, whose domain extended to the outermost planet of Pluto. Even in its own defense, the Earth felt like an afterthought. Their own warriors seemed weak in comparison while Serenity fended off the evils of the universe. They relied on the Moon, relied on her. And no world in the known universe had produced a soul that shone as brightly as Serenity.
Earth distrusted what they couldn’t control, what they didn’t understand. The power of the Silver Crystal granted Serenity the ability to reverse death and extend life; she could even manipulate time and space. To the people of Earth, this was awe-inspiring but unnatural, even blasphemous. How could the Galaxy Cauldron that births all live put one star above the laws of space and time, above Chaos and the Cosmos? They were so paranoid about corruption thanks to their past history of wars and violence born of such fears, inequities, and finite resources.
And yet, the Moon wasn’t prone to internal strife; such peace and harmony, it was rumored, drew in the wrong attention from beyond the Solar System. The Silver Crystal had long been a target of the worst evils to spring forth from the universe. Or perhaps just lonely souls harrowed and enthralled by the light.
Serenity had successfully defended the Earth from threats with the force of her own power, along with the outer planetary guardians of Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn. But the constant battles and the darkness that Moon seemingly drew made the Earth people turn.
And, deep down inside, maybe it wasn’t anything on a cosmic scale. Warriors from planets outside the Solar System told tale of Serenity’s might and kindness. That was something to be proud of, but increasingly the Earth felt cold to the praise. In the end, maybe it was the distance. Immense power and a long life span had made Serenity distant to the Earth people, inaccessible and emotionally unavailable. A living guardian so remote that she made their marble statues of tribute look more vital. Even her own people found her a bit too benign, a bit too caring.
A mask she didn’t know how to rip off.
Unbeknownst to all but the royal lineage of the Golden Crystal, Serenity took frequent trips to Earth in disguise to learn more. She has heard these things. She has heard the folk tales that the terrestrial people dreamed up about their Lunar neighbors. The romances of Selene and Diana from Rome and Greece. Others were paranoid tales of kidnapping children and embossing the crescent insignia on their heads, selling them into slavery, and other such debauchery. These stories had disturbed Serenity to her core, but she pushed through it. She had to fight propaganda with propaganda. She rolled out trade agreements, diplomat meetings, tours of the kingdom.
There were so many things she had pretended not to see on both sides to achieve peace, to establish relations that were mutually beneficial. It was a relief, those hundreds of years ago, when the rulers of Earth had agreed to a treaty. In the end, it had taken a little political influence from powerful Earth merchants who couldn’t get enough of planetary imports. Now, generations of the Earth knew nothing but peaceful co-existence with the Moon, as Serenity had chosen not to extend the gift of a long life to the planet. Not just yet, but maybe someday when they were ready.
Serenity winced at the cold marble as she strolled to her vast bedroom window. The Earth and Sun hung in the sky at the same points as always, thanks to the Moon’s incredibly slow rotation. She leaned against the windowsill and stared out. That fascinating blue ball. Sometimes on her trips to Earth, she’d heard the Earthlings refer to the planet as “mother”. A mother that sustained its children with water, filtered sunlight, air, and a bounty of food that the people harvested. She would never try to usurp that Mother’s spot, but...
Earth. So close, its destiny inherently tied with the Moon. And here so different. When she was younger, Serenity loved pestering the palace astronomers with questions – how many kilometers travel? How can that be? What does their sky look like? These days, she appreciated that things were just so. Not that she was incurious.
A heavy sigh through the nose. The dream, yet again. It had become a normal part of her waking and sleeping. Some nights, she was slip a little sleeping tonic in and have a blissful dreamless sleep. And then other times, no matter how strong the tincture, that little girl’s laugh would bubble up and erupt through her ears, in her mind. Her psyche felt scarred. If Serenity was honest, she hadn’t slept properly since the dreams had begun.
She hadn’t yet told her palace advisers, either. She was already dreading their interpretations. It didn’t help that Serenity didn’t know what to think, either. She knew what was expected of her going forward. Despite an incredibly long life span, she wouldn’t live forever. She would need an heir. The peace between the two worlds meant that Serenity could slow down and think about more practical matters.
Until as of late, anyway. Having a girl snatched away from her in her dreams over and over was so horrific it was starting to numb her mind. But that little girl wasn’t hers, was she? Childbirth flitted through Serenity’s mind sometimes, but she couldn’t imagine giving birth to…
She shook her head. Maybe it was an Earth girl. A half-remembered myth or folk tale that decided to give her nightmares.
She gazed down at her kingdom. Only a few houses or buildings were lit with those burning the midnight oil, the rest were dark and sweet in their dreaming. So quiet. Her fingers twitched along the edge of the windowsill.
The opalescent jewel in the center of the Moon Kingdom was Serenity’s crystal palace, the first thing the Lunar citizens saw upon waking and the last thing they saw upon sleeping. There was no official religion in the kingdom, but its citizens often swore by their benevolent queen. Sometimes swore upon her when things were bad. Regardless, all reported to the palace grounds that were open to the public for the Peace Treaty celebration.
The palace commons contained a garden that was a well-trimmed labyrinth of imported grasses and flowers, largely symbolic gestures from Earth. Greenery didn’t grow well on the Moon’s surface and Earth botanists were having trouble coming up with anything hardy enough to survive on a satellite with little atmosphere and extreme temperature changes. Cacti, artichoke, and lilies were in high demand on the Moon for their alien properties and attractiveness. Queen Serenity’s gardens consisted of elaborate plants maintained by the palace priests and Serenity’s own magic. Hydrangeas and bizarre orchids sprawled between bushes shaped like the equally strange Earth animals like the giraffe and the bear, and hybrid honeysuckle sweetened the air.
That the Queen had chosen her own dwellings over the wide, overcrowded town square made the day even more special. A throne of crystal had been erected high enough that she could be seen above the fray. She wasn’t expecting the entire kingdom to wedge itself into even her spacious commons, but the merriment was underway and she took great pride in seeing so many faces smiling, laughing, greeting one another. And on the outskirts of the celebration too was joy. There were vendors selling food, drink, imported goods from Earth and beyond, and souvenirs for the day.
Meanwhile, Serenity’s personal adviser hopped into her lap and bristled.
“You should really have at least brought the Moon Stick,” the black cat said.
“My dear Luna, the event is about peace,” Serenity said.
A white cat, lightly bigger than Luna, was at Serenity’s feet with a concerned expression.
“Luna, I can understand the Queen not wanting to invite potential attackers at this time with the Silver Crystal. Besides, it’s quite well guarded.” He turned his face up to look at Serenity. Unlike Luna, the white cat – Artemis – wasn’t a fan of domesticated pet antics like purring or headbutting. He was too proud to sit in Serenity’s lap, even when she invited him. “But my Queen, you’re looking a bit… out of it.”
Serenity blinked and in the same motion stifled a yawn. “Excuse me?”
“Excessive makeup,” Luna said dourly. “It doesn’t suit you.”
Under her creams and potions, Serenity blushed. She worried her rouged lips, thinking of something to say. “I… just haven’t slept well due to the excitement of the day.”
Luna and Artemis exchanged a look, but didn’t say anything further. The festivities had been going on for about three hours now and they were nearing the end of the Decided Lunar day. Everyone was tired.
Serenity’s hand trembled the arm rest of her throne. She clenched her fist a few times then relaxed her fingers. Nerves, surely. Tiredness more probable. But the shaking continued. She peered down. That wasn’t her arm moving of its own freewill, however subconscious.
Luna and Artemis noticed it, too. The bushes in the gardens quivered and there was a rumbling noise much like the thunder of Earth. The celebrations died down into confused muttering. Queen Serenity stood. She may not have had her scepter in hand, but she had no trouble accessing it should danger present itself.
On this day of all days. Serenity’s breath caught in her throat a little and she glanced down at Luna. The “I told you so” would have to wait.
A dark palanquin approached at a reckless pace. Citizens cried out and jumped out of the way of the vehicle pulled along by four humanoid beings of crackling energy.
“Queen Serenity!” Luna cried out over the fray.
Serenity stood, transfixed. Dread welled up in her stomach. That was no Earth vehicle, couldn’t be. She held her hand out. A flash of brilliant light erupted from her fingertips and the palanquin stopped. The energy beings dissipated with a harsh scream, leaving the palanquin floating a few inches above ground unattended. With another flex of her hand, she drew the palanquin closer. Artemis and Luna gasped below her.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” the queen bellowed.
The only noise that came from the palanquin, past its velvet drapes of berry red and deep violet, was a laugh. A laugh that made Serenity’s heart sink. A noise so familiar.
The curtains flew open and a figure wearing a hooded cloak that matched the curtains that shielded her from the harsh sun. When she turned, Serenity caught a glimpse of glossy curls that hit the ground. The figure was a bit taller than Serenity herself. With long, tapered fingers that ended in black talons, she pushed the hood back to reveal a pale, angular face with pale eyes split by feline pupils. Embedded in her forehead was a single black orb. That wasn’t an insignia that Serenity recognized from any planet that she associated with. She flexed her hand and dropped the palanquin. The clank and shatter behind the dark-haired stranger startled her; she hmph’d and with a wave of her hand and a spark of dark energy, the palanquin disappeared.
Serenity said evenly, “Answer me.”
The dark-haired woman’s crimson lips stretched into a ghoulish grin. “You answer me: where is my invitation? Lost to the winds that don’t blow?”
Serenity tried to keep her jaw from dropping open at the insolence. “Who are you?”
The dark woman’s grin melted away into a frown. “My name, Serenity,” she sneered. “Is Nehellenia. I am the rightful heir of the dark center of this wretched ball of dust.”
The ghost of a scepter began to materialize in Serenity’s hands, but it faded before it could fully form. Serenity hesitated. To attack now would put her people in harm’s way. And she felt like this stranger wasn’t here to attack. Something in her eyes suggested a coldness that could be assuaged if she tried. Something in that piercing gaze was a little frightened, as nervous as she was right now. Serenity flicked her fingers and drew the woman closer.
“Then it seems we have much to talk about, Nehellenia. Inside.”
Luna ground her canines inside the grand meeting hall of the palace.
“This is an outrage. There is no kingdom at the center of the Moon.”
They were waiting for Nehellenia’s dinner to arrive as she had expressed a slight pang of hunger from her long journey. Between actually entertaining this mad woman’s claims and now treating her to a meal, Luna wasn’t sure how much more she could take today.
Serenity was perched on the dining table rather than sitting at the throne at the end of the hall. She had to admit she was hungry as well, but she was ignoring it for the foreigner in their midst. Nehellenia was currently ignoring all questioning in favor of marveling at the marble and crystal structure of the palace. There wasn’t too much that Serenity couldn’t manipulate with the power of the Silver Crystal, so her dwelling largely eschewed functionality for design and elegance.
“I’m also cold,” Nehellenia mentioned. She drew her cloak closer.
“Is it your first time topside?” Serenity asked.
Serenity’s smirk threatened to turn into another yawn. “Then you’ll just have to get used to it, my dear.”
Nehellenia’s frown deepened. “You mean to tell me it’s always this cold in the sun?”
“Cold is relative to us.”
Luna, finally giving into frustration, sarcastically remarked, “If you had announced your visit, we could have provided amendments like a blanket and cocoa.” She rolled her eyes. Artemis sighed and put a paw to his forehead. Serenity pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Please ignore Luna for a moment,” she said. “But, her advice is sound Nehellenia. Why have you never introduced yourself before?”
The conversation was interrupted by the palace chef sending in a dinner of lettuce and sweet olives from planet Kinmouku. Nehellenia sat down and carefully placed each leaf of lettuce in her mouth with delicate fingers.
Serenity watched intently. She couldn’t say it out loud in current company, but it was her. The girl from her dreams made flesh. So beautiful and much older now but still youthful. She hadn’t yet answered where she had come from, but Serenity was now wondering if she even could answer. There was additional anxiety from her advisers as well. Their glances at Nehellenia were uneasy, not quite meeting her eyes.
“When you’ve finished eating, my dear, we must get back to discussion.” Serenity wasn’t sure why she was confident that being colloquial would work with Nehellenia, wasn’t even sure why she felt tender. Maybe to ease her own nerves. She tilted her head towards Artemis and Luna. “Perhaps alone will garner us better answers.”
“My queen, is that wise?” Artemis interjected before Luna could step in. Nehellenia glanced over as well.
“I think Nehellenia is all done with her parlour tricks for the night.”
“Indeed,” Nehellenia muttered under her breath.
With no choice but to obey, Artemis and Luna bowed out of the room. Once the grand doors closed, Serenity hopped down from her perch on the table. She paced around Nehellenia where she sat, taking her time in observing. Almost too much time. Nehellenia, in turn, took her time staring right back at Serenity. Calculating, analyzing, sizing her up.
“You leave yourself alone with me?” Nehellenia said with a tone Serenity found playful, but with an edge. “I could kill you where you stand.”
“No, you can’t.”
Nehellenia held her hands palm up. There was a gentle shake through out the palace that grew steadily stronger. A large shard fell from the ceiling, took the shape of an enormous dagger hovering over Serenity’s head. Nehellenia slammed the table in front of her and brought the shard down. Serenity held her arms up and her transparent scepter appeared in her hands. The staff was topped with a large, silver crescent moon. The tip of the marble dagger drilled down against the scepter. Serenity strained, pushed back against the forces at work. Nehellenia, too, exerted great effort in driving the dagger downwards onto the queen. Both caught each other’s glance and grinned.
Serenity called out, “Moon prism, power!”
As her voice echoed throughout the hall, the dagger shattered. Tiny, sparkling fragments rained down. Serenity used her scepter to whisk the fragments back together and up to the ceiling where they belonged. With her free hand, she clenched her fist and pulled—the orb on Nehellenia’s forehead glowed yellow and she fell into a resistant kneel, was dragged skidding along the floor of marble and crystal grout to Serenity’s side.
“You’re as strong as you are beautiful.” Serenity’s competitive grin turned into a smirk. “I’m still alive. I’ve had assassination attempts with more earnest.”
Nehellenia cast her gaze down, a little red seeping into the pallor of her cheeks. “So this is the Silver Crystal’s power...”
Serenity ran her hand along the slope of the crescent atop her staff. “No. This is my power. But you weren’t exactly at full strength yourself just now, were you?”
Nehellenia shook her head. “That’s what I am seeking. Power.”
“You have quite enough power.” Serenity bent over enough to take Nehellenia’s chin in her hands. “But it’s unfocused.”
“Then you see me as an equal?” Nehellenia asked, a little breathless.
“Yes. But that means you have to talk to me as an equal. No more half-truths and lies.”
The hardness in Nehellenia’s gaze slipped and was replaced with wonder. “I’ve… been looking for you. The power of the Silver Crystal. For so long have I searched… I was drawn to it. I always knew where it was, but I could never approach…”
Serenity finally dropped to her knees to face Nehellenia at eye level. She kept a firm grip on Nehellenia’s chin. The feeling of bone and flesh in her hands made her flesh prick with delight and anticipation. “Let’s start again from the beginning: where are you from?”
“The center. That is not a lie.”
Serenity sighed. “But you understand how hard that is to believe, don’t you? As ruler of the Moon Kingdom, I know this wretched ball of dust as you call it inside out.”
The look of wonder and admiration faded and Serenity internally panicked at losing Nehellenia. She tried to recover quickly. “There’s no people down there, and hardly enough room for a kingdom,” she continued. “And I am the sole ruler of the Moon.”
“I suppose you’ll explain to all two thousand of my loving public that they simply don’t exist?” Nehellenia sucked her teeth. “Typical. You’ve ignored us for centuries and because we’re out of sight and out of mind, we simply don’t exist to you.”
Serenity sighed, felt Nehellenia’s jaw clench in her hand. She had lost her for now. She let go of the chin and let her hands drop to Nehellenia’s shoulders. Nehellenia twisted away and stood up.
“So your people former Moon kingdom residents?”
“Of course not.”
“I’m just trying to understand, Nehellenia. We’re not fond of keeping secrets here. If you are who you say, then I would like to extend an invite for you to introduce yourself properly to the kingdom.”
Nehellenia scoffed. “I already did. The fear that they feel now, the uncertainty: that is my introduction.”
A loud banging from the dining hall doors cut them off. Serenity swore, surprised at herself a bit. She wanted, needed more time with the woman that was making her heart race and making her abdomen feel warm. Nehellenia, too, looked vexed. But her hatred was scattered like points of light, not targeted in any direction.
“We’ll speak again in the morning,” Serenity said. “I’m sure you’ve had a long journey and would like some rest.”
“And I’m sure you would as well,” Nehellenia said, giving Serenity another once over. “The beauty of the Moon Kingdom’s queen is diminished by such obvious restlessness.”
Serenity touched the bags under her eyes. They felt a bit swollen. She flexed her other arm and the doors flung open.
“Send a guard to guide Nehellenia to her quarters for the evening. She’ll go quietly. Won’t you?”
Luna obeyed her master’s commands. Nehellenia faintly blushed, but didn’t give the trembling guard that came to fetch her any trouble.
Once the doors of the dining hall closed again, Luna wasted no time scrambling up to the queen’s ear.
“Just how long are we going to entertain this!” Luna wasn’t prone to orders at her queen, but her patience had reached its limit.
“Until I’m satisfied,” Serenity said. “Such impressive power within such a delicate flower.”
Serenity thought she caught a glance at Artemis staring up at her strangely, but her ears were too trained on Luna’s increasingly urgent cries.
“We’ve given her time to prove who she claims to be, but there is—“
“Luna, stop. We’re talking ourselves into a corner.”
Artemis’s feline form fell away in blue light and morphed into human form. He stood before Serenity, white hair reaching his back and clad in a sheer white outfit bearing the insignia of the Moon Kingdom. Luna stubbornly resisted her transformation, but in a flash she was wearing a long yellow gown with crescent adornments, with part of her hair pinned up in orbs similar to her mistress.
“What do you mean?” Serenity asked the now-human Artemis.
“My queen, there’s a prophecy that we’ve heard of since before we came here...”
“When we still lived on Planet Mau,” Luna said, then trailed off. Serenity found her sudden lack of confidence disturbing.
Artemis pressed his hands together. “Maybe it’s more myth than prophecy, but… the Galaxy Cauldron that creates all of us, creates equal amounts of dark and light.”
“Like the doppelgangers of Earth,” Serenity muttered to herself, but the comment went unheard.
Artemis continued, “And to touch the dark side of any planet… to meet that darkness is...”
“Destruction,” Luna finished with a sigh.
“So there is veracity to her claims,” Serenity said, her mouth a thin line. “And you’ve kept this to yourselves until now?”
“M-my queen,” Artemis stammered. “It’s just a folktale that Nehellenia has clearly bought into! I only mention it for context. And if there is anything that Luna and I have never told you, it was only for the safety of the kingdom!”
Serenity had many things on her mind that she could say about that, but for the time being she stood silently. After a moment, she rested her hand under her chin.
“Then we’ve been presented a great opportunity to prevent our own demise.”
This time Luna stammered, “M-my queen?”
“What better way to guide oneself out of one’s own future troubles than to talk the very tool out of it?” She turned to face the open veranda, its view trained to earth. “To guide her on a good path. It may take many years, but if we keep her from becoming a hostile enemy now… perhaps we will save ourselves quite the bit of heartache.”
“Serenity...” Artemis said. “I think you underestimate...” He trailed off, unsure what to say in response. The queen seemed so confident in her healing abilities. Was it the power of the Silver Crystal?
“We’ll reconvene. For now, you’re dismissed.”
The two advisers bowed and took their leave.
Serenity was too exhausted for much else, so tired that when she entered her bed chambers she was thankful that she slept alone so that she could fall face forward on her bed. The day had been too much. She was too tired to conjure up a tincture to pray for a dreamless sleep, fell into the dark of slumber right away.
Another dream in darkness.
She reached her hand out, but felt nothing. Heard nothing, saw nothing. Complete sensory deprivation.
A laugh. Not the impish laugh of childhood, but a throaty chuckle from the darkness.
Nehellenia, Serenity whispered to herself in the darkness.
The girl child appeared to her with a smirk on lips painted too red for her young age. When the gnarled, ancient hand reached out to grab her, she resisted this time. The claw-like fingers pierced the girl’s head. Rivulets of blood ran from her hairline and down her face, dribbling from her chin.
The owner of the hand pulled itself up and out of the shadows. The face was a bruised purple, haggard and weathered with extreme age and malevolence. Even as she resisted, Nehellenia’s head tilted back. The old crone cackled in her ear as she spoke to Serenity.
This is your end.
Serenity bolted upright in her bed. Her mind raced and she tried to remember why she was still in her formal gown until she blushed to remember she had completely fallen asleep in it. Her eyes adjusted to the extreme contrasts in light and dark; the Sun never truly “set” for the Moon due to positioning, but it was possible to tint the daylight for a restful darkness. Squinting, she could make out the outline of a figure in the darkness. Tall, shapely, followed by a dry scratching noise.
The figure was very similar to Luna’s silhouette when she took humanoid form. It wouldn’t be the first time she had sneaked into the queen’s room for comfort. Or to argue further. But upon further inspection, the figure moved with jerking motions unlike the usually graceful Luna or Artemis. There was a heavy, ragged breathing and Serenity saw arms at the chest, a glow in the center.
As it neared the bed, the figure collapsed. Nehellenia’s face was illuminated in the dimmed light. A sheen of perspiration covered her face and her eyes were red. Above her chest, the glowing orb floated. The light around it subsided to reveal a crystal that unfolded into a complex geometric shape. But Serenity frowned; something about the crystal seed was incomplete. It was missing points, as if it had been halved.
“My seed,” Nehellenia rasped. “Do you believe me now?”
Serenity reached down and caressed the damp cheeks. “I always did.”
The coldness in Nehellenia’s gaze dropped again. Her eyes filled with longing as she gazed up at Serenity. “I’ve been gazing upon your beauty from afar for so long, I can hardly believe that you’re real. Serenity. I’ve been searching for completion for so long. I thought I would find it in power, but I think I need you.”
Serenity found her voice caught in her throat. “Nehellenia. You are… my dream.”
Nehellenia blinked up in confusion. “I don’t understand. A dream?”
“My dream. Of hope. I… I need you as well.”
Nehellenia’s smiled, genuinely contented. Serenity suppressed a sigh or a half-choked sob—she didn’t know which—as she leaned down to press her lips against the thick, slightly moist lips below her.
Gods, don’t let me be wrong.
Queen Nehellenia’s integration into Serenity’s day to day hadn’t been easy. The first offense was her mildly antagonistic decision to officially refer to her kingdom as The Dead Moon. (“As opposed to the living Moon?” Luna had asked in another one of her sarcastic fits.)
Then there was her penchant for violence, which was proving to be a far greater challenge to manage.
It had started small. Nehellenia was particular about her food. At any given meeting, she ate nothing more than simple salads. Well-washed. The slightest bit of grain would set her off. A little too much oily dressing would make her surly for the whole day. One month during a meeting, she had flipped her plate over and kicked the chef’s shins in an act that would have been comical if it weren’t so unbecoming. Serenity spent a few moments calming the dark queen down in the kitchen so that discussions could continue.
Things escalated from there, and unfortunately the hapless palace chef wasn’t the only victim. Nehellenia was given to assaulting local vendors, “accidentally” trimming topiary that she wasn’t happy with, and chasing after Luna or Artemis in the halls.
All storms to be calmed by a few hair strokes and gentle caresses and kisses from Serenity. Honestly, it’s the easiest battle she’s ever had. Nehellenia would stop one negative behavior and move on to the next. Serenity was sure that one day she would stem all of Nehellenia’s bad habits. But while most of the royalty that convened for diplomatic sessions silently endured the outbursts, there were some that were unimpressed.
“My dear Queen, I’ve never seen you so flushed and radiant,” the princess and guardian of the planet Coronis remarked one morning out of the blue. Another diplomacy meeting wrapped up for the current Lunar cycle. Princess Nephthys had stayed behind with her two warriors. The trio wore the purple and red regalia of their home planet, although Sailor Coronis’s outfit was more elaborate in her role as leader.
Serenity touched a hand to her cheek. She wasn’t fond of mirrors but could see herself in the palace floors sometimes. “Do you think so, Nephthys?”
“Yes. It’s strange, considering the darkness that blights your kingdom.”
Nephthys made a show of looking down and picking her nails, but Serenity sensed the piercing gaze upon her even beneath hooded lids. The two had been working closely together, as her twin senshi were training with the young princess of Mars. Serenity had bestowed new titles and residences on the moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos. They took the names of the satellites as their own. When they time came and the princess of Mars was older, all three would join in the fight against evil as senshi.
Nephthys was happy with the arrangement. At first, anyway. She had heard her people’s concerns about the planet being unguarded without her two warriors, but while Nephthys was no Serenity, she wasn’t exactly a slouch. But she hadn’t made any secret of her distrust for Nehellenia.
Without looking up she continued, “My queen, I don’t mind telling you that you’ve invited corruption into your kingdom and it’s eating away at all that you have worked for these past centuries. If a ruler is unfit for duty, she should be challenged, no?”
The crescent-topped staff materialized in Serenity’s hands before she could stop herself. The Silver Crystal was always in tune with her heart—rage, melancholy, joy, love. All of it harnessed inside, twinkling over its multifaceted surface. The staff extended, the sharp edges of the crescent grazing Nephthys’s throat. Phobos and Deimos touched the five-point stars on their chests and withdrew the weapons granted to them by their princess: bows and arrows lacquered black.
“We don’t stand a chance against you, Serenity,” Phobos sneered.
“But we will die for the life and honor of our princess!” Deimos cried. “Coronis flame sniper!”
Deimos charged her arrow with flames and aimed for the queen’s midsection. Serenity caught the arrow with her free hand. It turned into blue ash and black feathers in her grip. She blew the ashes that remained in her palm in Deimos’s general direction and smiled.
“That will be a fine skill to teach the young guardian of Mars,” she muttered, rubbing the soot between her hands. “Six hundred years old and she’s already hot-headed like you.”
“It seems Nehellenia’s traits have likewise settled on you,” Nephthys spat as she was attended to by her senshi guard. “They don’t suit you, Queen Serenity.”
The court of Coronis took their leave. The staff vanished from Serenity’s hands. She needed something to lean against; Gods, why was she so exhausted? She didn’t use a fraction of what she was capable of, but somehow she was so drained. The doors of the dining hall opened at Serenity’s hand gesture and she slowly ambled out.
On her way back to her chambers to rest, she passed Nehellenia leaning against a pillar, her body partly in the shadows so that Serenity could not see her face.
“May I suggest a hanging next time? So much more effective.”
Serenity’s foot slid against the slick floor in her hesitation, but she forced herself to keep going, knew she had to because to stop now would mean she was forever caught in another one of Nehellenia’s traps. But maybe it was too late already. Maybe the need to see Nehellenia’s beauty in anger dissolve just for the scarcest moment into a bare spark of tenderness only for her may have allowed these antics to go on too long.
Nehellenia reached out and touched her hand; Serenity jerked back, her eyes lighting up with smoldering rage.
“When did you stop referring to me by title, Nehellenia?”
Nehellenia’s deep red lips settled into a hard line. “When you referred to us as equals. My liege.”
Serenity growled and turned heel to her bed chambers. She slammed the doors and collapsed upon her bed. Grabbed a pillow to scream into it.
No one to blame but herself.
Serenity gazed out her window, not at Earth but at her kingdom. Had it always looked like this? No, once upon a time the city twinkled. Now it seemed dull and dingy, dark even in peak Decided day time. For the past few months she had taken so little care, someone should have warned her!
They did, a dark voice that wasn’t her own whispered in her head. No one to blame but her own impulse. The impulse that led her to aimlessly wandering the empty halls of the kingdom, past pillars that had been cracked and not repaired due to Nehellenia’s constant fits.
Impulse that led her right back to Nehellenia’s door.
The door slid open without invitation or summoning, as if simply by desire. Inside the room the lights shone too brightly. Nehellenia stood regarding herself in a mirror, touching her face up with a wet cloth and following with potions.
“Yes?” Nehellenia asked in that voice that Serenity hated. It sounded so innocent and inviting, something she had a hard time being stern towards.
Serenity stayed silent for a moment, sitting on the bed and fidgeting with the bodice of her dress. Finally when she spoke, her voice was dry.
“Nehellenia… have you ever thought about children?”
Nehellenia fumbled her vial and turned to stare at Serenity strangely. “Children? My people has some of those. Wretched, noisy little things. But they dream such sweet dreams for me to collect.” She shook a vial of pink potion. “Great at keeping the skin moist.”
Serenity inwardly cringed. She didn’t understand Nehellenia’s obsession with beauty and dewy skin. It went far beyond superficial—she was a scientist when it came to dangerous concoctions. Her latest experiment was bathing in the dreams of her kingdom. Serenity had thought it was a poetic metaphor until she saw the vials of collected dream fluid. But as Nehellenia pointed out, Serenity regularly “bathed” in the light of the Silver Crystal to keep her young and fresh. Were they both afraid of something?
“I meant some of your own.”
Nehellenia merely blinked. “Why in the nine realms would I do that to myself?”
Serenity sighed. “For the betterment of everything. To leave a legacy behind. To give your kingdom what you no longer can.”
Nehellenia tilted her head. “I don’t… understand what you’re saying.”
Serenity rolled her shoulders back and held her head up high, feeling more dignified than she has in a while. “I’m saying I’ve decided to have a child.”
The announcement of Serenity’s pregnancy spread across the Moon and the Earth kingdoms like starlight.
She was to be secluded away inside her castle, taken care of by her physicians and priests and the young planetary guardians who were ecstatic to have a princess of their very own soon. Serenity’s new glow was internal, the satisfaction of doing the right thing.
The process was simple: Serenity would choose a list of traits from hair to favorite drink, one of the technicians would compile her desires, and implant the small wish into her uterus. She would be expected to carry for about ten months to impress the Earth people at least, and then would give birth in spectacular fashion.
Serenity cradled her belly. Good thoughts, good thoughts. She had wanted similar hair but blue eyes; a penchant for pink; openness and more warmth than Serenity possessed. (The technicians had glanced at her here and muttered something about such self-loathing desires.)
It hadn’t been long but she was already sporting a lowercase C curve to her body. She had switched over to loose, flowing empire waist dresses to flatter her new silhouette. Her court seemed to be please.
And little by little, with or without intent, Nehellenia had fallen out of her life.
As Serenity expected, Nehellenia was repulsed by the bloat and discomforts of childbirth. Probably couldn’t fathom why anyone would voluntarily go through such a thing. Maybe a few years ago Serenity couldn’t either. But Serenity could imagine sacrificing herself for the better good. Serenity wasn’t planning on dying anytime soon, but her kingdom needed a new light to believe in.
On her forth month, she had her first dream in quite some time.
She was still in her chambers. She sat up and looked for the sparkling glass of water she kept near her bed side. Her limbs felt so heavy like she was moving through water. She swiped for the glass and knocked it over. She swore under her breath, clenched her fist and brought the glass back up to her lips, water and all.
The water floated out of the glass in spheres. Serenity gasped; she hadn’t called for that.
Laughter in her ears, then a growl.
She clapped her hands for the lights. The spheres of water still hovered in the air, but now there was a face in them.
Nehellenia smirked back at her. Her skin had a purple tint to it now, offsetting her lips and hair even more. The black orb implanted in her forehead had grown into a triple crescent moon. She reached her hands out and pulled herself out of a small orb, her body fully materializing next to Serenity’s bed, nude.
“Pregnancy seems to be treating you well,” she hissed.
Serenity called for her staff but it flickered out of existence in her hands. Had her powers dulled with the oncoming birth? No, no, impossible.
“We don’t need that stick here, Serenity. Unless you’re using it to open yourself up.” She cackled in a way Serenity had never heard her do so in reality.
Serenity’s face was hot. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“Oh, you think I didn’t know? Who would be so bold as to touch her royal highness of the Moon?” Nehellenia ran her cold fingers up Serenity’s arm to her shoulders, ending at the base of her neck. Serenity shuddered as the bed dipped and Nehellenia kneeled over her. Nehellenia pressed warm lips to Serenity’s neck and trailed down to the dip of her chest, roving her hands over the belly that was suddenly fuller than Serenity remembered.
“Aren’t you afraid?” Nehellenia asked.
“Yes...” Serenity replied, her voice detached and far away.
“This will tear you apart.”
Nehellenia’s hands had slipped under Serenity’s nightgown and made their home between her legs, poking and prodding at soft, moist labia and skimming around parts that made Serenity twitch and cry out.
“Nehellenia, you can’t—”
“You’ve felt so empty,” Nehellenia pressed on, wrapping her lips around an exposed nipple. “Do you really want this? Has anyone asked what you want?”
“I know what you want.”
Serenity found comfort in Nehellenia’s contradictions; it made more sense than her own alleged selfless desires. She was essentially making a clone of herself that she could only pray would do better, to shirk the duties of her kingdom and save her own face.
To be alone, to escape with her one true love.
She gasped and cried out as Nehellenia moved lower, dropping kisses across her sternum and abdomen and continuing down. No, no. She couldn’t do this. She had already indulged Nehellenia’s antics for so long and that was her problem. This was utter blasphemy. Her wants and needs screamed in protest, but her staff finally materialized in her hands and she held it over her head.
When Nehellenia looked up, her cat-like pupils shrank. She shrieked.
Nehellenia’s form melted away and her screams distorted; the room filled with blue light that dissipated little by little, until nothing remained in Serenity’s lap but an orange lily. A facsimile of something she had found on Earth once, so beautiful and audacious for daring to be purely decorative.
Instead of a sternum, a body. Nehellenia observed her new floral surroundings, shrugged, then grasped Serenity’s finger. She pulled it towards her, planted a kiss on the nail, rubbed her exposed bosom against it.
“At least you’ll keep me near you now.”
“Yes,” Serenity muttered even as she woke up from the dream. She could already sense she was wet, and for a moment she was nervous that her water had broken already. “Yes, maybe that’s always the problem.”
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...