Disclaimer: I don't own Sailor Moon—never have, never will. I'm just borrowing the characters. All hail the wonderful Naoko Takeuchi for creating this fabulous series.
AN: Hello, everyone! I apologize for the long absence; the past nine months have really been something else. I devoted a lot of time to my book and couldn't think about anything else for a few months. Then I realized that I couldn't proceed with new chapters to this story until I had done some revision. With that and the general craziness of life in my family, this process has taken a while.
Several notes before we continue:
To recap the plot, FLOD is an AR fic that takes place in the Silver Millennium. It's a look at what might have happened if Endymion and Serenity married prior to Beryl's attacks. Mina and Malachite don't like each other at first, but they will eventually realize they can't escape fate. They're meant for each other. FLOD will also have a different ending-it's one of my main reasons for writing this story.
I'm deliberately using a mix of Japanese and English names. I like certain names better than others, and some just seem to fit in more naturally.
For those of you who were reading this before, the rating has now been officially changed to "T" (PG-13) due to a few scenes later on and a great deal of violence at the end. Story-wise, there are some differences. Most noticeably, the early chapters have been heavily revised. I think you'll like the improvements; I didn't realize until recently how corny the beginning of this story is. :laughs: Hopefully I've made this more believable and a better tribute to the saga that is Sailor Moon.
Finally, I want to thank each and every person who has reviewed, read, or emailed me about this story in the past two and a half years. Your encouragement has meant the world to me; getting me through those stretches where my imagination vanished to the unknown regions of time and space and spurring me to not be one of those irritating people who never finish their stories. Thank you so much.
With that said, welcome to the new and improved For Love or Duty. I hope y'all enjoy.
For Love … or Duty
The Gate of Time was a solitary, silent place.
An imposing doorway jutting up from the midst of a vast expanse of rolling mist, the Gate provided access to any point of time. Most people believed it was a myth; a story that had developed through the centuries. Only a select few knew it was real.
The absence of sound and light was complete; there was nothing to guide anyone to the Gate. A person could wander there and never be seen again, lost forever in the mist and darkness. The only way to ensure safe arrival was to possess a Time Key, but since they were very seldom entrusted to anyone, visitors were rare. In fact, no one had come here since the day Queen Selenity appointed a guardian.
Sailor Pluto, the black-clad Senshi of Time, stood motionless at the Gate, holding her Garnet Rod, the tall staff that allowed her to control time. She looked like a living statue—not even a strand of her long green hair was out of place. Her crimson eyes were focused on the mist before her, but all she saw were the threads of time. She watched the strands unfold and weave themselves into what would become history.
Once she had been Princess Setsuna, a woman with a family and a home. Now there was only Sailor Pluto and the looming Gate she was sworn to protect. Her life was outside Time's steady stream; her very existence was already fading from the minds of her people. It was a lonely way of living, a lonely duty, but she bore the burden proudly.
Destiny continued to wind its way under her steady scrutiny. While forbidden to interfere or do anything to alter its course, she was allowed to keep it free of snarls and disruptions. Her job so far had been peaceful; everything proceeded just as it should have.
Exactly five years after being installed as the Guardian of Time, Pluto frowned as something in the time stream caught her eye. Something had slipped past her. She shifted on her feet, her mind immersing itself more deeply into the flow of time to find the aberrance.
Pluto examined the disturbance and her gloved hand tightened on her staff. She could clearly see two paths branching off from what had once been a unified whole. On one side was the path things should have taken—the fate she knew should have befallen the Silver Millennium—but events were now marching down a different path, threads binding together to form a new future, a new history.
A new Destiny.
A new fate for the Silver Millennium.
Before the original timeline faded away—past, present, and future were all relative to the Guardian of the Time Gate—she examined it trying to pinpoint exactly where things jumped track. She'd half-expected a momentous occasion, some grand, life-changing event, but it was such a simple thing. After all, who would have suspected an unimposing thing like a petition to change Destiny?
Yet it had.
The petition was the catalyst. She had only noticed the change because the timeline split clearly afterwards. Pluto marveled at this. How had she missed the petition coming into existence? She traced the change further back, seeing how gradual and subtly things were altered. One by one, she saw certain events play out a little differently than they should have. Certain people made different choices. Some changes weren't entirely unexpected—the timeline shifted a great deal—but the Silver Millennium was going down a route she had never foreseen.
Pluto straightened. She would find out how this had happened. Dipping her Time Staff in a graceful arch, Pluto opened a viewing portal and watched solemnly as a small silhouetted figure slowly appeared in the swirling mist in its depths.
Crimson eyes widened in surprise.
The word echoed out from the Gate, the first sound to be heard here in five years, but it was quickly swallowed up by the mist.
"I didn't expect this."
Sailor Pluto leaned against her staff and watched the scene unfold before her.
Luna, Mauan advisor to the Moon Queen Selenity, crouched hidden under a heavy, ornately carved wooden armchair in the antechamber to the King of Earth's private study. She was motionless, straining her ears to listen, even though she knew quite well no discernable sound would come through that heavy door. Her whiskers twitched as she wrinkled her nose. This wasn't the first time she had visited Earth and she doubted it would be her last. However, there was something different about this particular meeting; some grimly satisfied gleam in the King's eyes when he bade her wait until his meeting was over that warned her things were about to change.
Queen Selenity, head of the Silver Alliance, a coalition that strived to promote peaceful trading, travel, and life in general between the planets in their solar system, had been watching over the Earth ever since the Golden Kingdom shut itself off from the rest of the universe several centuries before. She had extended a hand of friendship to each successor to the Terran throne in turn, only to be met with rejection. The Terrans were a proud people. They had no need of anything outside their world and they saw no point in such an alliance. Still, Selenity continued to discreetly persist.
Luna, her Mauan heritage allowing her to change from a human to a cat at a moment's notice, was appointed to the job of visiting each new successor. So far, the only person over the years who hadn't immediately attempted to kill her or stubbornly refuse to listen and throw her out was King Edmund. He had been curious and over the course of his reign a tentative, cordial correspondence had developed between Earth and the Moon, with Luna acting as the go-between.
For the past few years, it seemed King Edmund had been attempting to broach the subject of opening Earth up to the rest of the universe to his advisors with little success. From what little Luna knew, he had mentioned this only in passing to Selenity, but the Queen had been astute enough to read between the lines. The King was seriously considering the idea.
Luna didn't know what could have prompted such a gradual change of heart. Earth had insisted they were self-sustaining for so long everyone believed them, including themselves. She stared at the door fixedly, wishing she could hear what was being said behind its wooden surface.
King Edmund sat motionless behind his desk, watching his advisors argue amongst themselves. He had proposed a plan to petition the High Council of the Silver Alliance for admittance and it had thrown his advisors into disarray.
"Your Majesty," one of them said for the tenth time, "We don't know for sure there even is life on other planets. This plan to join the so-called "Silver Alliance" is pure balderdash, if you'll permit me to be so bold." The man's toes tapped impatiently on the tapestry-covered floor. "We don't need them," he continued, "We're perfectly self-sustaining."
"Sidon," one of his peers, a balding man with a full silver beard, interjected mildly, "I believe you are missing the point. Just because you have never met a being from another planet does not mean they don't exist. As has been stated a thousand times over the past year, we have record of this Silver Alliance. Earth belonged to it several hundred years ago."
"And we left," the other man sneered in return.
"Your Majesty," another, older man, interrupted before an argument could erupt, "To be quite honest, we still fail to see how this plan could possibly benefit Earth."
"Your Majesty," another man broke in. The King looked at him with veiled relief. Markus was one of his more reasonable, imaginative counselors, who had hitherto been rather silent. "May I explain?"
The King nodded his consent and Markus immediately began to speak. "My King and fellow counselors, we do know that there is life on other planets—at least there was up until a few centuries ago, which can be verified by the Master of the Records. The Silver Alliance does in fact exist and at one point we belonged to it, though the details of our leaving have unfortunately been lost." He looked apologetically at his King.
"From a purely intellectual standpoint, this alliance would allow us to expand our horizons." He made a grand, sweeping gesture with his arm. "They may have ideas, trinkets, gadgets, and ways of doing things that would vastly improve our own lives. We may have things and ideas they don't have." He glanced around the room. "For this reason alone, I believe this could be a very profitable alliance."
Quickly, before anyone could object, he continued, "On a practical note, we are in dire need of outside help. The darkness has grown stronger over the past few years and none of our attempts to ward off these terrible creatures has had any affect whatsoever. Queen Selenity may be able to help us." He held his hands out in a quiet, supplicating manner. "This truly is our last resort."
The King sat motionless, his eyes flicking from advisor to advisor. Several of them looked positively forbidding, a few more looked uncertain, and the rest were nodding in agreement. He glanced at Markus and then at his chief advisor, Zaman. His eyes narrowed shrewdly. "We have discussed this topic a great deal over the past year. What counsel would you give us now?"
The men muttered quietly between themselves for a few moments before Zaman stepped forward and bowed. "Your Majesty, though we still remain unaware of the methods you use to meet with this representative of the Alliance, we agree that the current situation is dire enough to warrant immediate action. To this end," he cast a glance at his comrades, "We suggest a message be sent to the Moon to request a meeting for the discussion of our possible inclusion in this Alliance."
The King nodded gravely. "I concur." He reached for a rolled-up piece of parchment lying to one side of his desk and handed it to Zaman.
Keeping any quizzical expressions to himself, the old man unrolled it and began to read. Moments later, he handed it to the man next to him and eyed his King uneasily. "Sire, you've already drawn up this petition?"
The King fixed him with an imperious stare. "We have. We felt it was necessary."
Gradually, the piece of parchment passed through each of the advisor's hands. When it finally returned to him, the King leaned back in his chair and regarded his counselors somberly. "We have been discussing this matter for a long time. The monarchy has come to the conclusion that it is in Earth's best interests for us to request admittance to the Silver Alliance. What say you?"
There was perfect silence for a few seconds. Then, one by one, the counselors nodded their consent, all except for Sidon.
He stood stiffly. "Your Majesty, should we indeed request admittance to this Silver Alliance, it is my humble opinion that no definite decision on our part should be made until we can be quite sure of whether or not they are honorable."
The King dipped his head in acknowledgment. "Well said. This petition is only a request. We will of course withdraw from any proceedings should we find ourselves at a disadvantage." He glanced around the room again.
When no one spoke, he reached for a pen, dipped it into a pot of black ink, and scrawled his signature across the bottom of the parchment. He rolled it up and affixed the royal seal. "It is done."
There was hushed silence for a few minutes. After a lengthy pause, Zaman ventured to ask, "Your Majesty, once again I must ask how this missive will be delivered to the Moon."
A hint of a smile played around the corners of the King's mouth. "We will ensure it reaches the messenger." He then dismissed his counselors, leaving them to ponder his cryptic words. They filed out of the room one by one and after they had left, the King called softly, "Come in, Luna."
When the King called her name, Luna slipped into the study and eased the door shut with her front paws. The King had adjusted to the fact she was a talking cat remarkably well and she had never seen fit to show him her human form. She looked up, taking in her surroundings before moving closer. The early evening sun streamed through the room in golden shafts; illuminating dust mites, which danced and twinkled languidly in the air. The King sat staring down thoughtfully at a piece of parchment.
Luna crossed the tapestry-covered floor and gracefully leaped up onto his desk. She perched before him, her black tail curled regally around her feet, and inclined her head. "Your Majesty."
The King picked up the parchment and tapped it on the desk. Luna saw that it was already folded and sealed. A good sign. Her whiskers twitched.
He met her gaze. "We have news for you, Luna," he rumbled. "But we haven't time for long explanations at the moment, so we will be blunt. Earth once belonged to your Silver Alliance and we are contemplating renewing that ancient tie."
Luna was perfectly still, her golden eyes unblinking, keeping the rising elation in her chest firmly tamped down. "My Queen will be pleased to hear this, Your Majesty." She dipped her head again and waited for him to elaborate, but the King seemed to be finished.
He held out the parchment to her, his face unusually grave. "Until we meet again."
Luna bowed, her legs bending in an action that would have seemed comical had they been in any other situation, and took the missive gingerly into her mouth. Her mind was already flashing to how she was going to sneak this out of the castle.
A firm knock sounded on the door and the King looked over in that direction, frowning at the interruption. Luna, who was supposed to appear and disappear discreetly, saw her chance and took it. She couldn't risk being apprehended by some dim-witted servant or guard and have the parchment taken from her. The royal seal was too visible.
Her eyes narrowed with determination. The Golden Kingdom had, for some reason, decided they wanted to join the Silver Alliance and they had crafted a petition to let the galaxy know they were interested. The very least she could do was make sure the Alliance actually saw it.
In one graceful movement, she took a flying leap off of the desk over to the window, which the King had left slightly open, despite the early spring chill in the air. She slipped through and crouched on the edge of the windowsill. She was out of sight here and had a moment to consider viable courses of action.
As she had discovered the last time she used this particular method of leaving the King's study, her only possible option was a beautiful oak tree growing a good twenty feet below. Luna made a face. She hated having to jump down there—it was by far her least favorite method of exiting the castle—but it would have to do.
She hurled herself out in the general direction of the leafy branches below and her mouth tightened on the petition, holding back the wild caterwaul threatening to rise as she dropped with sickening speed. She tumbled into the branches and bounced from one to another until she landed on the ground in a dizzy heap.
Luna shook herself and crossed her eyes slightly in an attempt to check on the parchment still firmly grasped in her teeth. She nodded to herself. It seemed only slightly worse for wear. The Queen would be pleased.
The black cat acquired a better grip on it and darted off along the palace wall. Since Selenity never attempted to retrieve her until nightfall, it would be best if she disappeared until it was time to go home. She vanished into the gardens and trotted around until she found a suitable tall tree to settle into for a nice nap.
High up in his study, the King turned back to his desk to find both Luna and the parchment gone. He shook his head, a bemused smile on his face. He still wasn't quite sure how she managed that.
The images in the view portal swirled away into nothing. Pluto continued to lean on her staff, a speculative look on her face. She glanced at the deviations in the time stream and found that Luna had indeed delivered the petition to Queen Serenity, who had in turn presented it to the High Council. The end result was that the grimly pleased Terran King found an ambassadorial invitation to the Moon on his desk two days later.
Pluto considered restoring the timeline to its original existence, but as she probed the extent of the differences between the two times, she saw the problem was more complicated than it first appeared. Everything was so closely entwined that removing the changes would be a massive, well-nigh impossible undertaking. Perhaps it would be best to take a different approach.
After careful scrutiny, the Senshi of Time made the decision to leave things as they were. There would still be great sorrow, she could sense that much, but there would also be great happiness. More happiness, in fact, than she could see in the other timeline.
However the Silver Millennium's destiny had changed, it had been none of her doing and she had found no signs of outside interference. A rare smile flitted across her face. Of course she would change nothing. Clearly, this was fate.
Wasn't she forbidden to meddle?
Pluto stood straighter at her post and watched the new Destiny of the Silver Millennium unfold with avid interest.
:grins cheerfully: Like it?