******** ******** Six years later..
"Nahahahaha, you can't get me!" I laughed, climbing up a large tree. Endy smirked, "Hahahaha, you can't catch me," I taunted even further-hoping to provoke Endy into chasing me up the tree. Frustrated at his continuous smirk and lack of action, I climbed onto the outer limbs of the tree, making myself an easy target. Endy just leaned against the trunk of the tree and yawned. I scowled and carefully hung myself by my knees from the tree branch. "Look at me! Right here!" I called waving my left arm and brandishing my sword in my right.
"Look over there, Sere," Endy pointed to something near my right knee.
"What?" I whipped my head to the side and got a mouthful of blonde hair. Blast mother for never letting me cut my hair. Sadly, as I swung to the right, I heard a vicious SNAP. "There's nothing ther-AAAAAHHHHHH!" I screamed as the branch supporting my legs snapped in half and I began plummeting to the ground. THUD. Somehow I managed to escape a head on collision with the Earth and landed quite un-lady like on my bottom. Suppressing the hot tears that pricked my eyes, I stared rather blindly at Endy, tendering rubbing my backside.
Endy started laughing as he walked over to me, "Need some help?" He mockingly held out his unarmed hand. Anger boiled within me.
"I'll give YOU some help!" I replied and jumped right into his unsuspecting body. The shock caused us to fall backwards. Clouds of dirt pillowed around us.
"Brat!" Endy yelled and pushed my shoulders, trying to shove me off his chest.
"Jerk!" I managed to say before Endy flipped me over his head and onto my back. Fists came flying at me and I covered my face with my elbows as I tried to roll over.
"Sissy!" Endy breathlessly shot back before I rolled us onto his back. Now it was my turn to pummel the daylights out of him.
"Ow!" I cried as he landed a fist on my right eye. Suddenly large hands clamped upon my shoulders lifting me off Endy, "No! Leggo! Let me at him!" I screamed and with one swift kick out of my good eye, I managed to leave Endy screaming bloody murder as my shoe connected with his nose. And then, Endy wasn't on the ground. I blindly looked around for something to hit. The large hands lifted me higher and I just kept screaming: legs flinging in every direction. The hands switched to securely clasp my arms to my side and started shaking me.
"Hast thou had enough, Serenity?" a familiar voice harshly asked. I shook my head and kept yelling. Abruptly, my world turned upside down as my captor started swinging me side to side.
"Okay! Okay! I'll stop!" I yelled at Lawrence who immediately brought me right side up. I felt woozy and soon my spinning world settled upon my father holding Endy just as Endy's father was holding me. Endy muttered rude words under his breath and I just stuck my tongue out at him- provoking him to lunge out at me.
"Whoa! Whoa! That will be enough for today," Papa laughed heartily as he held Endy back.
"Nahahaha, " I taunted again, "You can't hurt me!"
"Hah! Gimme the chance, Sere, and I will prove that you are just a sissy girl!" Endy laughed.
"Sissy girl! I am no girl and YOU are no knight!" I cried back before Lawrence put his hand over my mouth. Past experience had taught me not to bite it.
"That will be more than enough, Serenity, and that goes for you too, Endymion," Lawrence chastised quietly.
"CHILDREN!" An all too familiar voice came upon us. Endy and I both cringed as we saw Luna, our nanny, rush towards us. Luna looked far too young to be our nanny, yet that woman had proved on many occasions that she was more than capable of not only being our nanny but our mothers' best friend. Luna's slim form made an imposing shadow as she ignored the dirt and mud covering her golden slippers and covering the hem of her simple yellow dress. Luna's dark curly hair had been piled in two buns on top of her head, but was quickly escaping the knots-making it quite clear she had run from wherever she was originally. Her beauty was astonishing and fearsome at the same time. Her lips were in a thin frown and the perfect summer day was quickly hurtling to a chance of thunder storms. I physically cowered as I awaited the boom and the yelling that was waiting for us.
Luna just shook her head and sighed, "I do not know what I am to do with you two! Simply punishing you seem to do no good as you two just make fun of your punishment and are right back to fighting almost immediately," Luna threw her hands up in the air, "I could swear out of my frustration!" She blew her hair out of her face and knelt down to my eye level, "That's a rather nasty eye, Sere," Luna noted in a more pleasant tone and she brushed my dirty hair out of my eyes, "Endy, that nose needs to be looked at," she glanced over at Endy, blood dripping onto his white tunic. Endy glared at me and nodded curtly. I glanced at my father suspiciously-usually such behavior ended in some menial chore.I didn't trust this for a moment.
"Well, Luna, what shall we do with them?" Father asked teasingly. Luna threw up her hands in the air, "Take them to their mothers, I am sure the Ladies would love to see the present state of their darling children," Luna winked at Father and Lawrence.
I could feel my eyes get bigger at the mention of my mother. Normally Luna, Papa, Lawrence, even Artemis handled our punishments. My mother had yet to ever punish me harshly. My legs began to tremble as Lawrence swung me piggy-back over his shoulders.
"Rather squirmy, eh Sere?" Lawrence observed as we began the trek from the Knight Training Grounds. I shook my head.
"Nuh uh" I lied.
"Come now Sere, I highly doubt thy mother will do anything worse than Luna," Lawrence teased.
"I don't know about that," I quietly mumbled as we entered the Royal Gardens. In silence we walked past the Labyrinth and came upon the marble steps that would lead us to the verandah that overlooked the Crescent Mirror, by far my favorite place in the entire Palace. I could hear my mother's melodious laughter before I saw her. My heart fell into my stomach; she obviously hadn't seen Papa and Endy yet. I hid myself behind Lawrence's broad shoulders as he walked to Mother and Lady Gaia.
"Why, Lawrence, this is a surprise!" Mama giggled.
"Yes dear, to what do we owe the honor?" Lady Gaia slowly asked teasingly.
"I think I might have found something that belonged to thee, milady," he pried me off his back and settled me upon my trembling feet, "a bit banged and dirty, but beneath it all, there is a little princess," Lawrence bowed and went to sit by his wife. I stared at my tanned, dirty hands. I felt my mother's shadow loom over me.
"Sere, darling," Mama quietly knelt down to my height. I could see her pastel pink gown swim around her as she crouched, "Honey, will thee not even look upon me?" she sweetly put a cool hand under my chin and lifted my face up. I bit my lip hard, trying my very best not to cry. Through my eyelashes I saw my beautiful mother's smiling face-not one sign of disappointment or disapproval. Sniffing I lunged myself at her, wrapping my arms around her neck. She hugged me back, not even caring about the dirt that would come onto her lovely gown.
"I'm sorry, Mama," I cried into her lavender hair. She shushed me and ran her hands over my back and through my mused hair.
"Fret not darling; I do not plan on invoking any punishment," she pulled me away from her and looked at me from head to toe, "aren't we the pretty picture?" she teased lovingly taking in my dirty waist length blonde hair and tattered pants and shirt. We were such a contrast. Mama laughed again and swooped me up and kissed my cheeks and me all the while. My laughs started as small giggles before erupting into all out hysteria.
"All, I see that a punishment has been dealt out accordingly," my father's hands joined in the tickling.
"Sere, I think you would be happy to know that we-"Mama raised her hand gracefully to indicate all the adults present, "have decided that punishing you and Endy is no longer acceptable,"
My spirits lifted. Finally! No more stupid, dumb chores! No more helping the maids with the laundry, or cleaning, or grooming the horses, or anything! I grinned and looked over at Endy who was holding an ice pack to the bridge of his nose while Lady Gaia fussed over his messy, raven hair. She looked paler than ever as one hand clutched the tan shawl around her shoulders. Endy did not look happy though. I felt like jumping for joy. Endy caught my eye and shook his head in disagreement. I cocked my head, wondering what made him so suspicious.
"Instead," Papa began as he lowered me to the ground, "we have decided that you two have far too much energy and it can be put to better use,"
This was not good.I could tell immediately that I would rather be punished than do whatever it was they had cooked up.
"Do not give us that look, Sere," Mama looked slightly crestfallen.
I stuck my chin out and stood tall, crossing my arms.
"Sere, Endy, tis high time the two of you started focusing your energy towards better means," Lawrence interceded.
"Meaning what, Father?" Endy asked, removing his ice pack from his face.
" .." Another voice added itself to the group. I turned to see Artemis, Lawrence's First in Command. Not too far behind was Luna, I should have known. Artemis stood tall and his white hair hung freely across his shoulders. He was rather handsome; if he wasn't so lovesick about Luna. His crush on her made me question his sanity.
"Training? Whatever for?" I scowled.
"Schooling?" Endymion looked almost eager. I shot a dirty look at him-why would he want to ENCOURAGE them?
"Yes darlings, both of you are far older than most children who have started schooling," Lady Gaia added gently, "Tis not right for future rulers to not be learned,"
"Young Knights and Princesses ought to be both trained and educated in all aspects of life," Artemis added, grinning.
I felt myself shaking my head, "No, you cannot make me do this!" I stamped my foot in protest, "Why do I need to LEARN anything? I am a PRINCESS!" I crossed my arms stubbornly and stuck my nose in the air.
"Princess?" Endy snorted.
"Why you little!" I started to run after him but Artemis picked me up by my flinging arms. A horribly stern face gazed back at me and I settled down. Artemis's punishments usually involved far too much physical exertions. I cringe remembering Luna letting him punish Endy and I by washing all the knights clothing for a week. Talk about a horrible waste of time. Artemis smiled at my lack of resistance and set me down again.
"Tomorrow, nine o'clock sharp," Luna chirped. I threw a forlorn look at Mother who just smiled quietly. I pursed my lips.
"This better be fun." I mumbled quietly and pouted my way into the Palace.
Selenity felt herself sigh unwillingly. Serenity's blonde head bounced off in an angry pout. She wanted to follow her but saw Apollo already on her tail.
"Sele, she will come around to the idea of schooling," a sweet voice interrupted her solitude.
Selenity turned to see Gaia smiling gently, "I know. I just dreadfully hate it when she thinks we are all against her,"
Gaia tittered a simple laugh, "She is hardly six, my dear. At her age, everyone is against her," Gaia turned to nine year old Endymion, "Though I DO believe someone could play a little nicer with the child," she scolded jokingly.
Endymion shrugged, his linen shirt a perfect bloody mess, "She can handle it," was the boy's only answer.
Selenity smiled upon his reply. No, Endy would never do Sere any harm. He made his vow at the young age of three, "Endy, please go change your shirt. Heavens know how the damage done to it will be repaired this time," she shooed the boy away.
Gaia laughed as Endy walked into the Palace. She nodded her dark head at Lawrence who followed him-to check the boy bathed and donned new clothing.
"Sele, I must speak to you," Gaia turned her small form to face Selenity, "I can feel my days being numbered," she rose a hand from her tan shawl and touched a rose on the tea table. The rose blossomed immediately into full bloom, and then, without any outside help, it died. Selenity gasped and picked up the dry petals of the rose.
" must be something we can do," Selenity felt the petals crumble under her touch. Gaia took a deep breath and nodded, "Well, tell me!" Selenity pushed.
Gaia carefully removed a pouch from the inner folds of her rose colored gown. Selenity immediately recognized it as the gift Setsuna had given her all those years ago.
"I am of the Earth; so shall I return to it," Gaia dropped the pouch in Selenity's palm. Selenity opened it to see little rose colored crystals the size of seeds inside it. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," Gaia put her hand on top of Selenity's.
"Gaia," Selenity struggled to hold back tears. She would NOT lose her best friend after all they had done to keep her alive.
"I am not going to be gone, Sele, not for some time," she added as a side note. She was at a loss to explain to her childhood best friend who she really was, "I need to be at peace and be less of a shell of my former self," she carefully tried to explain, squeezing Selenity's hand. Selenity nodded to show her supposed understanding. Her vision became more blurry with each passing second as she realized what Gaia was saying.
"Why now?" Selenity managed to whisper. The eternal question, why. The very existence of that word questioned all happiness.
"So I can be here when it really matters!" Gaia shook with the force behind her statement, "Don't you see that if what Setsuna says is true that all our happiness could very soon be over anyways? I will not see our world, our children, end and everything we have worked so hard to maintain, crumble like this rose,"
Selenity swallowed her tears and nodded, feeling stronger. Gaia was right. These were to be the last few years of happiness before even more, deadlier forces came into power.
Someone gruffly cleared his throat. Selenity shook herself mentally and turned to greet the servant. An elderly gentleman with closely cropped gray hair held out a silver tray out to Selenity.
"A messenger just brought this, Milady," he smiled and bowed. Selenity bowed her head at him and lifted the dark, stiff letter on the tray. With yet another bow, the servant walked away.
Selenity frowned as she read the heavy silver writing on the front of the letter. With a small letter opener the servant had left behind, Selenity carefully cut the seal of the letter. She unfolded the heavy letter and gasped slightly.
" that be?" Gaia asked as she picked up the torn, blood red seal.
"It appears that the late Queen of the Wraith Kingdom, the last of the Seven Shadow kingdoms, passed away several years ago, leaving behind twins," Selenity murmured as she continued reading the letter, "the newly ordained King of the Wraith Kingdom, nee, Lord Pharaoh, has a new bride," Selenity stopped abruptly and allowed the letter to slip between her fingers. Gaia, stunned, picked up the letter and read,
"Her Royal Highness, Princess Nehelenia," Gaia stated and sharply turned to see Selenity's face turn more pale than usual.
Selenity collected herself enough to take the letter back and finish, "The King and Queen respectfully request the presences of the Queen's half- sister and her husband, the great King Apollo, of the Luster Kingdoms, to join them for a family reception. Sincerely Yours, Their Royal Majesties, King Pharaoh and Queen Nehelenia of the Wraith Kingdom," Selenity placed the invitation on the table.
"Sele, what are you going to do?" Gaia asked incredulously, all previous talk of death forgotten.
"She is and I must go," Selenity folded her hands in her lap.
"Let's run it by Lawrence and Apollo first," Gaia ended all discussion. Selenity gazed at her friend. What would she do without this woman in her life?
In Serenity's room..
"Come now child, open this door," Papa patiently called from the opposite side.
"Not until you say that I don't hafta go to school," I called back, my voice muffled from the pillows.
"Sere, we've had this discussion. You are going to be schooled and that is the end of that," Papa pointedly stated.
I sighed and went and unlocked the door. Papa stood there, leaning against the door frame. I gave him an angry look and turning my back, walked back to my bed.
"Not so fast, missy, I think we ought to have a little talk about your behavior earlier today," Papa playfully yanked my ponytail. Turning, I followed him to my tea set. He carefully sat down in one of the doll chairs and motioned for me to join him. I sat down and he poured me a cup of tea.
"I'm sorry," I muttered, accepting the pink and white tea cup from him.
"Serenity, it's not a question of an apology for your behavior. The reason I want to speak to is you to help you understand what your role as a Princess means,"
I scowled and sipped my imaginary tea.
"Being a Princess will not always be fun and games. As you grow up, you will have responsibilities," he paused and saw the confused look upon my face, "People will depend on you to help them as you depend on Mama and me to help you. By sending you to school we want you to get smart enough to run the kingdom by yourself, without Mama and Papa. The school is the first step in being a proper Princess-a real lady," he teased, "and now my dearest, a bath for thee are quite dirty!" He struggled to get up and found himself stuck securely in the doll chair.
I burst out laughing and stood up.
"Sere, it seems I find myself stuck. Be a doll and fetch someone, please?" His golden eyes twinkled in merriment at his predicament. I laughed some more and danced around him making faces, "Oh hohoho, that's the game we want to play? Come here you!" Papa's arms were quite free to pick me up and start tickling and teasing me. We laughed loudly together and it echoed throughout the palace.
On the Verandah.
Selenity heard the laughter of Apollo and Serenity echo all the way out to the gardens. She smiled and momentarily forgot about the invitation from her estranged half-sister.
"Sele, earth to moon!" Gaia teased and brought Selenity's attention back to the real world.
"I was just a beautiful world we do live in," Selenity murmured as she folded up the Wraith invitation.
"Indeed, yes indeed," Gaia murmured just as quietly. The High Ladies of the Palace Court mutually gathered their things and walked into the Palace-leaving all thoughts of death in the Gardens outside.
* * * The Wraith Kingdom
Corks from ancient champagne bottles crisscrossed the air as cheers of "Long Live the King! Long live the Queen!" chanted across the kingdom. Lord Pharaoh, King upon his late wife's death gazed happily upon his chanting kingdom. The Dark Lord nuzzled the skin against his fair Queen's neck.
"My dear, would you like to step away from this?" he whispered into her pointed ears.
The new Queen turned her dark violet eyes to him and smiled, revealing two glistening fangs, "Of course," she hissed.
Pharaoh led his queen into the Castle, leaving the peasants to rejoice over the little celebration their hellish lives.
"My liege, my lady," a servant entered the throne room and fell to one knee, "I have just returned from delivering thy invitation to their Majesties of the Luster Kingdom,"
"Was a reply sent?" Nehelenia interrupted the man as she impatiently twirled strands of her wavy dark hair around her long fingers.
"No my lady, there is no reply," the man cautiously answered. Nehelenia looked up abruptly from her hair play.
"That will do," Pharaoh dismissed the servant lest Nehelenia get her claws into him.
Nehelenia silently shook with anger and turned a deadly face to the king. Her tri- golden upside down crescent birthmarks flared savagely.
"No reply?!" She whispered.
"Now, you cannot expect her to reply immediately," the King absentmindly accepted the glass of brandy from a maid, "You have not always had the most honest intentions towards your sister,"
"Half! Half dear sir and do not forget that!" She bitterly snapped. "She robbed me of my 't even share with her only sibling!"
The King finished the brandy and came up behind his Queen, "Nele, do not fear," he kissed her white shoulders, "If your sister does not willingly give you your birthright, then we have forces plenty to take it for you,"
Nehelenia giggled, despite herself, "Yes.I would love to see perfect Selenity groveling for my mercy,"
"Not only Selenity dearest, but the little brat who stole your way to the crown," Pharaoh whispered into her elf-like ears.
" Princess," she smirked, "I will take care of her too,"
"All in good time darling, all in good time," Pharaoh eased her onto her throne, "Enjoy this view for now, and meet our court," he motioned to two figures that stood silently in the showers.
"Ahhh, the children, come closer," Nehelenia beckoned. Two stoic figures approached her, "Into the light, come now,"
The first was a young boy, broad shouldered already, and stood with the posture of a man who knew he was a king. His white hair was parted in the middle and cut in a bowl shape around his head. He wore a silver suit and bowed.
"Hello, stepmother," he spoke quietly, yet strongly.
"Dearest, my son and heir, Diamond," Pharaoh proudly introduced, "and the young one behind her is our little Princess, Beryl,"
A timid girl stepped out from the shadow of her brother, her elder by two minutes. The girl's long red hair fell in waves down her back and encircling her head was a simple black pearl band. Her eyes stared down at her emerald slippers, which matched the darker emerald of her dress. She knelt in a curtsy and smiled cautiously at Nehelenia.
Nehenlenia's face softened, just enough for Beryl to catch her eye, "Come closer, daughter," she held her arms open and swooped in on the girl, "From now on you are MY little girl, and I will train you to rule like a Queen," she swore as she held the innocent child in her arms. Beryl nodded. For too long had she been ignored in favor of her twin, Diamond, it was finally her turn. At six, the twins were already intelligent beyond their time could prove their true strength.
"Wiseman, please take the children back to their quarters," Pharaoh called. The cloaked figure appeared suddenly and motioned with a bony hand for the children to follow. Prince Diamond bowed and turned swiftly on his heel, following Wiseman out. Beryl did not heed as quickly-she sat one moment in her new mother's lap and waited for a reason to follow Wiseman.
"Beryl, follow your brother," Pharaoh reprimanded, a tad harshly. Beryl suddenly regained her senses and scurried out of the room, head bowed and eyes brimming.
"Your Beryl," Nehelenia began, "I think I want to tutor her myself, darling," she stroked a finger on her obsidian throne, "only a woman can properly teach another woman,"
"If you wish," he answered quickly, very quickly. Nehelenia heard the undertones of his rapid reply but did not acknowledge them to the great pleasure of her king.
"Yes.I do," she smiled seductively as she leaned comfortably into her throne. Finally, after so many years of struggling, her power was starting to come into glory. She threw her head back and smiled, full of power, as the Lord Chancellor crowned the Wraith kingdom's new Queen.
"Everything is going so well," Pharaoh grinned maliciously as he led the cheers for the Queen's appointment.
* * * That Night..
Selenity peered into Serenity's room and smiled as she saw the little girl sleeping peacefully. Under the giant canopy of gauze, she lay upon great fluffy pillows. Her pink comforter was pulled up to her neck and her little hands held tight to Luna, in her cat form. The debate over schooling had been settled and Sere, though not eager to start, had stopped fighting the inevitable. Plus, the promise of a REAL horse and not a pony had pacified her greatly.
Endy required no such bribes. Gaia had already taught him a smattering of reading and writing; he was quite to proud of his knowledge and eager to learn more. What a contrasting pair the Devilish Duo made, Selenity mused. She wasn't quite sure if she approved of the nickname Artemis had granted them. The name was quickly adopted by the Palace staff. Luna, in frustration, once complained that the Devil himself spit the children out of hell. Of course she quickly apologized and asked forgiveness-but the children had been particularly bad and had pushed her patience to its limit. Moving back to present time, Selenity admired the way the few shafts of moonlight enveloped Sere, like an angel. Angel moon goddess or daylight terror, the little girl was special. She whispered a quick prayer and gently closed the door to Serenity's room.
As she crossed the corridor to her and Apollo's wing, Selenity could not help but feel apprehensive. How was she to propose to Apollo that they go pay their congratulations to her estranged sister? Nehelenia's being a bastard, unwanted child, had been bad enough; but the addition of an evil nymph-like creature for a mother and a seduced father did not create a happy mix.
Selenity's gentle face frowned as her eyebrows deepened into heavy thought. Nehelenia had always wanted what she saw as a "fair share" of her inheritance; and she was desperate enough to use almost any means to gain it. Even an early assassination attempt on the night of Serenity's blessing-Selenity could not trust such a sister. To make matters all the more worse, Nehelenia had gone and married the Lord Pharaoh. As Prince Consort to Queen Metallica, the Wraith Kingdom, the last of the Seven Shadow Kingdoms, he had been only been slightly disagreeable. Metallica, after trying unsuccessfully to create an uprising against the Luster kingdom, had settled peacefully into the, well, shadows. She had been young and foolish. The other six kingdoms, which had been more treacherous, were disbanded and gone. Metallica took it as a sign from God that her kingdom had been sparred. Lord Pharaoh seemed to have been greatly displeased with her decision. Selenity did not trust those two, not with one fiber of her being. She had not only a kingdom to think about, but a daughter as well. Selenity pursed her lips as she stood outside of her and Apollo's bedroom suites. Taking a deep breath, she walked in confidently. Her stance was momentarily perturbed as she saw Apollo standing on the balcony, awaiting her, with the black invitation in his hands.
Throwing back her long, lavender hair, she marched right up to him. After all, she could convince him to go to dinner. Make the obligatory appearance that etiquette demanded of them-and perhaps even hope to turn over a new leaf in relations with her sister.
Apollo heard her footsteps and turned to greet her. One look from him informed her that this invitation would not be a personal matter-it would be a decision of the Royal Court.
"Sele," he started, "Lawrence informed me that this letter had come from the Wraith Kingdom. Imagine my surprise when I learned that not only had the Lord Pharaoh married, he had married that damn mixed sister of yours,"
"Half," Selenity quietly muttered as he continued.
"I hope you have every intention of denying our new relations the honor of congratulation," Apollo heatedly stated.
"What would you have me do?" Selenity threw her hands in the air, "I cannot very well ignore this supposed peace offering. Family, no matter how despicable, is family,"
Apollo crumpled the invitation in his fist, "Blood may be thicker than water; but my blood will run into the very waters of this kingdom before I attend a dinner invitation by the VERY WOMAN WHO SENT ASSASSINS TO KILL YOU AND SERENITY!" Apollo boomed.
Selenity stood her ground and faced her tall husband, "The attack was never proven. I do NOT trust them; but that is no excuse for us not to oblige them this one time!" She took a deep breath before continuing, "Please, for my sake, "she pleaded.
Apollo looked deep into those long lashed lilac eyes and found himself nodding in agreement. He could never deny her anything.
"On two conditions," he quickly stipulated, "Lawrence and Gaia not only eat with us, but I disguise Royal Knights as our horsemen and attendants. If they are offering the hand of friendship, I will not have it said that I spat at it,"
Selenity beamed at this tiny victory. In her heart she felt apprehension to the dinner. Apollo gathered her in a tight embrace, "And two, tomorrow we will present it to the Royal Senates and let them make an official decision,"
Selenity nodded in acquiescence, "I love you," she whispered.
"Always and forever," he whispered back before kissing her gently in the twilight of the moon.