As much as he disliked the girl, he couldn’t deny that she was probably the prettiest in the school. And she was even prettier in the courtyard, because she always wore something pink or purple that matched the cherry blossom trees growing along the school’s surrounding gate. Today it was his favorite pink long sleeve v-neck and blue denim short skirt. She sat alone in her usual spot, eating in her usual manner with the usual brooding face he’d noticed she always wore when she was by herself, as though she were too good to have meaningful thoughts in the company of others. He knew she wasn’t as dumb as she looked, or as everyone said she was. He’d told her, too, but she never seemed to appreciate that.
He was almost ashamed to admit she was the first girl he’d fantasized about, and not just because her body could make even an older man antsy. Her face was wily and perhaps somewhat unkind, but her smile was the broadest and the most charming anyone could imagine, and her laugh never tried to hide how much it loved to exercise. And of course everybody loves blondes, and this one was very blonde like her hair was a golden ray of sun, and it ran down as far as her buttocks and swayed in the breeze like a silk scarf. His first fantasy (of the many he eventually had) saw that beautiful hair draped around him like a curtain, and her cruel blue-green eyes bored down into his from above as she straddled him, and her snowy white skin glistened like pearls in the moonlight.
But he daren’t think of that now in her presence. That wouldn’t have been proper at all, even though he couldn’t help but lust over her for just a few moments every time he saw her, regardless of how much he resented her apathy. It was sometimes more difficult to bear than the disdain she'd practiced on him before he’d started talking to her friend, the sweet girl from Brooklyn, whom he regarded with a purer feeling for the boundless kindness she had always shown him. He never thought of her in any kind of racy light. It wasn’t fitting.
He sat at her table and began to unpack his lunch sack, making sure to sit across from her and to her right. He’d learned the hard way that sitting directly across from her made her uncomfortable, and next to her was a no-no.
“Hey, Melvin,” she said in a listless tone. She didn’t even look up. She’d seen his strange old man walk so many times she recognized it out of the corner of her eye. That and he always sat in the same position from her. Across and to her right.
“Hello, Serena,” Melvin said. His pronunciation and enunciation were so awkwardly meticulous some of his classmates had initially thought English was his second language. A few still thought he was autistic.
“How are things?” he said after a pause.
“Fine, I guess. The curry’s actually good today. They musta hired new lunch ladies.”
“How did you do on the History exam? Mine was on the Dark Ages. I do a lot of reading on that period. It’s one of my favorite-”
“Yeah, I know. I had the same test.”
Serena revealed what may have been the source of her unpleasant demeanor; the test in question, with a nice red C in the upper-right corner. She eyed it like a photograph of her own execution being carried out.
“Can’t say I did so well, though,” she said with a sigh. “Wish that stupid teacher didn’t put me to sleep with every word he says.”
“C isn’t so bad. It’s a passing grade. A is better, of course.”
The sweet-hearted girl from Brooklyn appeared with a light breeze and was welcomed with a procession of chirping birds in the nearby trees. Serena began to wish whatever tree they were in would get raided by a slew of hungry strays. This fantasy made her strangely alert.
Last hour was too far away.
“Gawd, PE was a bitch, but I made it!” Molly sang as she sat next to Serena. “Ms. Hall had her period today or something. Can’t wait to get outta here so I can hit the ball around the court for a few hours.”
“Hello, Molly!” Melvin said.
“Hi, Melvin! How’d you do in History?”
“I did very well, actually. It was on the Dark Ages. I do a lot of reading on that period. It’s one of my favorite-”
“Oh, that reminds me I got this book on chess! It’s really cool! I never played it!”
“You’ve never played chess? The all time greatest strategy game ever conceived?”
“No. It looks neat!”
“I can teach you sometime. I consider myself an advanced player. I promise I’ll go easy on you.”
Now she really wanted school to end.
Listening to other people’s conversations often made Serena wish people in general would just cease to exist. As the two carried on, the dullness of the topic and the grating irritation brought on by their combined speech habits made her give up on willing humanity in general to go away, instead focusing on the healthier idea of willing her head to explode. The C on her exam started listing off other creative methods of suicide when this one started looking far-fetched.
“Somebody kill me,” she groaned. “Anybody. Anyhow. I don’t care.”
“You’d probably do better if you worked on focusing your attention in class,” said Molly, gesturing to the shameful test score. “I’ve seen those doodles in your History notebook. You got enough to start your own comic.”
Serena’s mind was already wandering somewhere else, not picking up a word of what her friend said. She’d just spotted a black trench coat in the courtyard, as hard to spot as one might imagine in a sea of emerald grass and pink trees, gliding across the field and resting at a deserted table. The Goth munched thoughtfully on a sandwich, her own mind lost in the pages of a Harry Potter book.
“People my age who read those books are always antisocial,” she said more to herself than anyone in particular. “It’s like they can’t grow up or something. They’re all insecure little children.”
“See?” Molly squealed. “You weren’t even listening to me!”
“When am I ever?”
“I was listening, Molly,” Melvin said as robotically as ever. “And I agree. Serena daydreams far too often.”
“You’ll never make it to graduation if you keep that up,” Molly added.
Serena pictured her mother shaking her finger.
“I don’t see you landing Honor Roll status,” she said.
“But that’s ‘cos I’m stupid,” Molly said. “You’re the brains o' this outfit.”
“You’re not stupid, Molly,” Melvin said.
“Sure, I am! One hundred proof! But it’s sweet of you to say otherwise.”
“Maybe it’s ‘cos of those shoddy schools you had back in New Yawk,” Serena said with the first bit of good spirit she’d shown that afternoon. She liked mocking her friend’s accent.
“My school did suck in New Yawk,” she said, then when her eyes briefly swelled again, “Did I tell you about that principal that was having sex with the faculty and some of the parents?”
“Yes,” Serena said. “Twice.”
“It gets better every time, though.”
“What’s this about fraternizing with the faculty?” Melvin said after taking the time to swallow a mouthful of sandwich.
“There was this pimp principal at my school back home,” Molly prattled, and Serena could actually see a hand revving her up like a chainsaw as her story roared to life. “Well, he wasn’t a pimp pimp, but...”
Serena tuned out again, now that everyone’s attention was diverted enough that she could politely ignore them. She thought she felt a little strange when she imagined the brigade of felines devouring the little birdies in the trees previously, and now she knew why. A very familiar black cat slinked back and forth across the Goth’s legs, its tail whipping in the air playfully--its eyes fixed on Serena like before.
She got the chills and diverted her gaze, since it was obvious the cat refused to do so.
“That’s creepy,” she muttered. “Must be a gift from her coven.”
“That girl’s not a witch,” Melvin said, having noticed the cat as well. “As far as I can tell.”
The implication that Melvin spoke to human beings outside of Molly and herself startled Serena, and she broadcasted this on her face just then.
“You know her?” she said, watching the Goth as she stroked the kitty and fed it a piece of tuna.
“We’re sort of acquainted,” Melvin said. “Her name’s Amy. I played chess against her in last year’s tournament.”
“Can she talk?”
Melvin answered this with a chuckle.
“If you accidentally stumble into the right subject,” he said.
“How you gonna break the news to your folks about the exam?” Molly blurted out, looking at the doomed paper on the table. “They were expecting an A, weren’t they?”
Serena’s mood slumped again.
“I’m not gonna go home ‘til late tonight, I don’t think,” she said. “The new Sailor V movie’s out this week, isn’t it?”
“Rock! Wanna go with me? Ooh! Or to the Dreamland theme park? I hear that place is the shit!”
“I can’t. I have practice today right after school. My instructor’ll go nuts if I don’t show up on time, and my mom’s paying out the ass for her.”
“Gawd, fine, go swing your little racquet. Leave me alone to rot with my C.”
“Thanks! I think I will!”
Serena wasn’t used to being in town alone, especially as late as 6 p.m. This late in the spring, the sky was still bright, so it wasn’t quite as scary as it might have been in January when the dark liked to come out early. Being alone also made her feel like a self-reliant adult, even if she really wasn't, so she’d spent her free time after school browsing the local shopping centers, enjoying an espresso, and, of course, going to the movies to veg out for an hour and a half.
The movie was shorter than the previous ones in the series, but it didn’t demand anything more than her attention and a minimal amount of thinking; just what she needed to loosen and unravel the stress slowly cutting off her ability to breathe. She liked the girl who played Sailor V and was always happy when she’d return to the role every time a new film came out, even if the other recurring characters were frequently whored out to different actors.
Now she was wandering the streets again, paying no mind to the human traffic littering the sidewalks, the city breeze that tasted vaguely of neon lights and rice dumplings, the hum of a Vespa as it sped past her and honked at a girl on the sidewalk a few feet ahead of her. The city had nothing left for her but the grim reality of the blood red marking on her test. Nowhere left to go but home. And lord knows where from there.
“Maybe if I throw myself in front of a truck it’ll be less painful than going home right now. Dreamland’ll be no fun by myself...”
One member of the human traffic was trailing her. A strange awareness alerted her of this, the origin of which she wasn’t really sure. She knew she’d felt it before, and on that occasion, just as she’d begun to suspect that someone was following her, there was a loud, horrible growl and a jolt at her hips and she squealed like a mouse. And Darien Shields was laughing so hard tears were streaming down his face, and he barely had the breath to declare he’d never heard a funnier noise come from a human being, or any other mammal.
The presence was still there as she approached the boutique Ashley and Rachel had insisted she never shop at unless she wanted to be treated like some fifteenth century peasant with no sense of fashion.
“I know it’s you, Darien,” she said, not bothering to look back. “It wasn’t funny the first time. Knock it off.”
Her stalker said nothing. She could just see Darien’s face sniggering like a five-year-old. Her temper was rising quickly, and she decided that she’d be taken more seriously if he looked her in the eye. Her eyes were like her natural defensive mechanism that warded off predators. They conveyed her rage like a bullhorn.
She whirled around suddenly, hoping to startle him.
“Did you hear me? I said-!”
A tall woman who probably served in the Marine Corps for more than four years stood behind her with a crew cut that could rupture the hull of an aircraft carrier. Her face was expressionless, but her eyes gleamed with a level of malice she couldn’t fathom, so soulless and empty that the woman could have been a mannequin. She stood so close Serena could smell her breath.
Darien was nowhere to be found.
Though it seemed to Serena that she’d been standing still for several days, the woman hadn’t stopped and was in the process of veering the poor girl into the cramped alleyway between the boutique and the jewelry store, and she was anything but gentle about it. Serena was so startled she didn’t even think to scream or fight back.
The woman barely made it into the alleyway when everything became something like a lucid dream. A flicker of light. The assailant’s eyes bulging, her form splitting into two from the right shoulder to the left hip. A chain linked thread of what appeared to be sunlight, both in hue and intensity, flickering between the two parts of the butch woman. Flying backwards away from the scene before her attacker hit the ground. A dainty shop bell ringing. She had somehow reeled into the boutique. Then she was in a room the size of a closet, with a curtain on one side and a mirror on the other. A dressing booth. She wasn’t alone. She was sitting. Her head was spinning. Someone was kneeling in front of her. A girl. Her face inches away from hers. A huge pair of blue eyes staring into hers, calm and calculating, but still quivering with urgency.
Her head was spinning. She couldn’t stand. She tried to talk but had no idea what she was trying to say. A voice shushed her. The girl sharing the dressing room. Her head was spinning.
“Relax, Love,” the voice said. “I just saved your life.”
A fair voice. It talked funny. English maybe. Or Belgian. Couldn’t tell. Talked like Oliver at school. He was South African.
The girl peeked out the curtain for a second.
“They’ve had agents searching for you all over the planet.”
“What?” Serena may have said. She may have just emitted some confused noise.
The girl had blonde hair, too. Lots of it. She was staring back in her face again. She wished she wouldn’t do that. She was disoriented enough.
“Don’t remember anything, eh?” the voice said. Had to be South African. “No visions or dreams? Nothing?”
“Alright, we’re doing this the hard way, then...”
A hand gently touched Serena’s forehead.
For what seemed like hours she was dunked and swirled headfirst in a freezing pool of water. Her brain, her body, her eyes all swam and spiraled in ether independently. Her mind’s eye was assaulted with a slideshow of hundreds upon hundreds of images and feelings and ideas, each rolling by so fast that she failed to comprehend any of them. She felt like throwing up.
It ended as abruptly as it started, like nothing had happened at all. She must’ve dozed off for a moment or two.
The girl slipped something warm and round into her hands. It felt like a really heavy compact. Her head was still spinning.
“Here, take this and hide it,” the funny voice spoke up again. “Keep it safe from them. You’re going to go home and get some sleep now. You’ve had a long, exhausting day and you’re very tired. Go directly home. Nod if you understand.”
Serena nodded once impulsively.
Her head kept wobbling like a drunk and she still couldn’t figure out how to stand up. She felt a sob build up in her chest that didn’t quite make it to the surface. She’d never been so scared in her life, and she felt physically and mentally drained and wanted to go home more than anything.
“Who are you?” she said.
“It’ll be clear to you soon enough,” the voice said. The face looming in front of hers smiled a broad, peculiar smile.
Serena shifted on her comforter. A light breeze crept in the window by her bed and licked her face as if trying to wake her. Her neck was sore like she’d slept in the worst imaginable position for the last hour. She was still groggy and a little rattled from-
She sat up part way. She was on her bed, in her own room. Her house was quiet except for the television in the living room downstairs.
She flopped on her back and sighed, still tired despite whatever nap she’d awoken from. It’d be a miracle getting back to sleep with the memory of that awful dream floating around in her head. Except she couldn’t remember what had made the dream so horrible. It was always the same with any nightmare: you're left completely shaken, but once you actually try to think about it you can’t remember a single detail. All you know is that it scared the pants off you.
Mrs. Babbit stood in the doorway. Serena had no idea how long she’d been there, since she always just existed wherever and whenever she wanted at any given time.
“Wow, normally you’re not in bed until midnight,” she said. “It’s only ten.”
Her voice was strangely gentle. Almost apologetic. The way she always spoke after a nasty argument.
“When’d I get home?” Serena said.
Mrs. Babbit sat on the edge of Serena’s bed and looked down meekly at her fidgeting hands. Now she knew something was up.
“You know how many times we’ve told you to keep hitting the books and pay attention in class,” her mother cooed.
Oh God, Serena thought. She’s seen the test. She’s gonna start crying, isn’t she?
“You spend all your time goofing off or talking during lectures, or hanging around at the movies or that Alfred boy at the arcade-”
“His name’s Andrew, Mom.”
“Oh. Andrew. Anyway, my point is, we love you, Sweetie, and we’d never yell at you if we didn’t care about what was going on in your life.”
She ran a hand through her daughter’s hair.
“I’m sorry if we were a little harsh today. You weren’t really out that late at all.”
“I don’t...” Serena trailed off, forgetting for a moment how to form proper sentences. “I mean... That... What? You yelled at me today?”
“You...don’t remember?” Mrs. Babbit said, then continued to stroke her hair like she were a cat. “Oh, poor little thing. You must be pooped. I didn’t know you had such a rough day.”
“Yeah. I missed the bus and ran all over town.”
Sammy the Twerp strolled by Serena’s door, and poked his head in just long enough to contribute.
“Keep that up and you’ll lose that hundred pounds in no time!”
He swiftly returned to his room before Serena could get a bead on him with her clock again.
“Now, Serena. Leave off that.”
Mrs. Babbit planted a kiss on her daughter’s forehead and returned to whatever she was doing downstairs.
“Get some rest tonight. You can sleep in tomorrow.”
“TGIF. I’ll do that. G’night, Mom.”
Serena limited her bedtime preparation to changing into her pajamas and releasing her hair from its twin dinner rolls. Too tired to bother with washing her face, brushing her teeth, or turning out her bedroom light, she dragged herself to the foot of her bed and let herself crash atop the mattress without bothering to draw back the covers.
A voice, accompanied by a quiet rustling. Both sounds came from under her bed.
Serena sat up again. It wasn’t her imagination. A lot of things happened that day that she wasn't so sure about, but she was sure of this. Ever so slowly she leaned over the edge of her bed and searched the carpet, but found nothing that could have yelped. Still intent on finding the source, she leaned down further until she was looking upside-down into the shadows underneath her bed frame.
A bright pair of feline eyes stared right back, startling her into slipping and falling headfirst onto the carpet.
The black stray crawled out from under the bed and leapt up onto the comforter, where it circled three times and sat, staring at the clumsy girl on the floor who by now had taken a similar position. She stared back at the cat expecting it to leap back out the window it had presumably used to let itself in, and noting for the first time that the spotless black creature wasn’t so spotless after all; it wore a white mark on its head like a tiara, shaped vaguely like a crescent. It made the animal look all the more bewitched.
“Hey, Cheshire Puss,” Serena said. “What’re you doing in my room?”
The cat just stared at her. It was quite beautiful for a stray, particularly because of its haunting blue eyes.
“Are we trying to sweet talk our way into my house?” Serena said with a smile, scratching its chin.
“Please, don’t patronize me,” the cat said. “I can’t stand that abhorring baby talk. I’m an adult, you know.”
Serena’s face turned sheet white. She sat as frozen as a photograph, gaping at her uninvited guest and wondering if she was in yet another dream and only dreamt of having the previous dream. The very thought was confusing, nevermind the talking cat.
“What, am I really the strangest thing you’ve seen all day?” the creature said when it realized its host wasn’t going to speak anytime soon. It had a distinctly feminine voice and a somewhat pompous dialect, as if she were European.
“H...” Serena tried to say. “How can you-?”
“How can I talk?” the cat said. “Rather well, I’d like to think. You’ve been calling me Cheshire Puss all this time and it surprises you now that I can?”
Serena just sat and stared. It seemed this would go on all night. The cat sighed and muttered to herself.
“Right. Sharp girl.”
“Am, too!” Serena said indignantly. “Who-I mean, what the hell are you, anyway?”
“I’m sure ‘who’ will do,” the cat said. “My name is Luna. I was one of the viziers of Queen Serenity of the Sylvan Kingdom during the Silver Millennium on the moon. I’ve come as your personal guardian.”
Serena blinked twice. To the cat's relief. For a second, she'd thought the girl had died.
“Okayyy...” Serena said, scrutinizing the cat and the rest of her room just in case this was some kind of joke. “And are you a good witch or a bad witch?”
“This isn’t a joke, Serena. Though I realize how difficult a thing that is for a cat to say to a human.”
“How do you know my-?”
“I’ve been watching you for some time now,” Luna said, waving her paw to dismiss the girl’s obvious question. “Haven’t really enjoyed the show, I must say. Having monitored you now for the last year, I’ve observed the ineptitude in your schooling efforts, that you’re irresponsible, and that you don’t take anything seriously.”
“What about my sardonic wit?” Serena said with a smile. This was a dream, all right. Had to be. Even better, the kind she enjoyed where she actually had conscious control of herself.
The cat’s eyes narrowed. She never shifted from her proper upright sitting position, like she had gone to some kind of elite school of feline etiquette.
“Case in point,” she said. “You really haven’t changed a lot in the smart aleck field. I seem to remember that distinctly. But these other traits will change with a little luck. And a lot of work...”
“What, have we met personally?” Serena said. The dream would start to wrap up in the next minute or so, she was sure. “Like, when you were a kitten, or-?”
Another exasperated sigh from the cat. She sounded stressed. She waved her paw like before as she spoke.
“Look, I can already tell this is going to be difficult, so please try to bear with me. You met a girl today while you were in town. Do you remember her?”
The first dream flickered in Serena’s mind. Once again she saw the huge blue eyes staring into hers and thought of the weird dialect she couldn’t place.
“Yeah, sorta,” Serena said, scratching her head. “She yanked me into a dressing room. Said something about agents and visions or whatever. And then she touched me and...did something to my head. I was pretty confused so I didn’t really get a good-“
Again with the paw. “No matter. She gave you something, didn’t she?”
“...Yeah, she did...”
Serena found her briefcase leaning against her desk and rummaged around inside it until she found the object in question. It was an extravagant piece of jewelry roughly the size of a compact, made of what appeared to be ivory with a strange gold crest on one side encrusted with small pearls and a single purple gem at its center no bigger than a dime.
Serena was in awe of its beauty. She stood at her vanity mirror and admired how it looked positioned over her heart, hoping she would still have it when she woke up.
“Is it real gold?” she asked the cat. “I don’t want it to leave a green mark on my skin. I used to get that from my old jewels-“
“Ugh, spare me this, please,” Luna said. “Just sit down and open it. Push that lever on the edge.”
Serena found a tiny lever on the left side of the object and brushed it with her thumb, jumping a little when it popped open suddenly to reveal an encased amalgamation of crystal and glass gears and prongs which roared to life and began to sing a solemn melody. The brooch was a music box, too! And Serena would have been more astounded by this, and probably as girly as ever, if she weren’t already occupied with the sad tune now waltzing slowly through the cool night air.
It sounded like a swan with a broken wing. A ragged doll lying, forgotten, in a box of trash. An orphaned child weeping silently to herself by a pond, with no one to keep her company but her reflection. One musical fresco after another, each one choking Serena a little more than the last as if it carried the grief of a thousand burdens in its notes just for her.
“Do you remember that melody?” the cat said softly. She knew the answer before she asked.
“No,” Serena said. “I mean...”
“The images Mina unlocked inside your head should be clearer now. Close your eyes and delve into your memory. Let the song take you back untold millennia...”
Serena did as she was told.
The moment she closed her eyes, she saw it: A white metropolis more wondrous than anything the ancient Greeks or Romans could ever have built. Towers of marble erected over every precinct to watch over the farthest reaches of the fantastic kingdom. Glimmering pearl springs of the purest water lacing the endless streets and groves and fields as if the landscape were crafted by a godly seamstress. Flowers shining brilliantly in hues she couldn’t name, covering the land as far as she could see just outside the city’s grandiose crystal gates. In the eternal twilight sky, the most brilliant stars in the galaxy gathered ‘round just to revel in the magnificence of a time modern man had never known.
And Luna began her tale.
Long ago there was a time referred to as the Silver Millennium, the age of the Three Kingdoms of Gaea, the Sylvan, and the Black Moon. Queen Serenity, the benevolent and just ruler of the Sylvan Kingdom, was the key political figure of this era, receiving nothing but love and praise from her friends and followers. She was powerful with the forces of light and the guardian of the Imperium Silver Crystal, a majestic gem that served as the driving force of the Sylvan Kingdom, and had a spiritual link with all living things.
“Is there sex in this story?” Serena said, giving the cat a sly look. “Sounds like a fairy tale, so there must at least be a kiss or two, right?”
“Quiet,” Luna said.
Towards the end of the Silver Millennium, a war had begun as the people of Gaea grew jealous of the extravagant lives of the Sylvan. Prince Endymion of Gaea was terribly in love with Queen Serenity’s daughter, however, and could not lead his people against her. He therefore decided to betray the men of Gaea and lead the Sylvan against them in the hope of winning his beloved princess’s heart. Endymion was a kind soul and cared not for his people’s reasons for attacking the fairest of the Three Kingdoms.
“There is kissing, isn’t there!”
Luna went on, ignoring her.
During the chaos that this war created, the Black Moon Kingdom saw its opportunity to conquer the Silver Millennium while its people were busy squabbling. The House of Metallia, who had recently taken over as its influential royal power, signed a peace treaty with the Sylvan Kingdom years before, evidently in the hopes that Queen Serenity would let her guard down. The Black Moon forces were called upon to assist in the battles against the people of Gaea, but the Sylvan were betrayed at the very last moment and everyone perished.
Serena didn’t like the story much. Surely there was a happier end to things. She listened on, now somewhat intrigued by the feline scop.
Queen Serenity could hardly handle the trauma of seeing her world destroyed and her daughter maimed. As the Black Moon forces cleaned up what was left of the people of Gaea, Serenity utilized the power of the Imperium Silver Crystal to ensure her subjects would live happily in a new future kingdom. She annihilated the House of Metallia and their army, and banished their kingdom to the abyss. Then she gathered the life force of all the fallen people of Gaea and the ruined Sylvan Kingdom (including Artemis and I, added the cat) into the Silver Crystal. The crystal shattered into countless shards and scattered all over Gaea, the Earth, where life was renewed.
Serena found if she closed her eyes as the cat spoke, she could see glimpses of terrifying armies in bloodstained armors of exquisite make, black fighting against white just like on a chessboard. The white soldiers, she was surprised to find, were led by young women in enchanted lightweight armor, who appeared to wield ungodly powers against their enemies. Then she saw the fallen towers of the Sylvan Kingdom and burning cities of Gaea. She watched as the black army screamed in unison and crumbled to ash amidst the toppling city of Metallia, crushing its sinister inhabitants by the armful as the stars in the red sky looked away from the bloodshed.
She then watched as a stunning sphere of glass became countless grains, littering the starless sky like constellations, each one falling gently to the surface of the earth in a beautiful storm of cosmic rain. It was as though she were standing in the middle of it all, surrounded by endless space and hails of crystalline droplets carrying the souls of humanity to their future resting place.
“Wow,” she said, forgetting that she was, in fact, sitting on her own bedroom floor at that moment. “That’s really cool. I can see it now in my head and it’s...I can't describe it...”
She opened her eyes again. The cat had not moved from her place on Serena’s bed, but her expression was now one of sorrow.
“What’d she do in the ruins of the Moon Kingdom after that?” Serena said. “The Queen, I mean.”
“She passed away,” Luna said. “Her ordeal was too great to endure, and her heart simply broke. Her spirit is probably still looming over her fallen world, watching her children prosper on Earth.”
Serena closed her eyes once more. She could feel the presence of the queen, sobbing over her ruined palace, over a slab of marble stained with blood. Someone had died there. Her daughter, perhaps.
She reflected again on the female gladiators leading the white army into the fray with their battle cries and obvious divine favor. She seemed drawn to the idea for some reason. Other than how cool it was in general.
She looked at the cat. Its haunting eyes were studying her, reading her thoughts.
“Why are you telling me this?” Serena said. “Why do I...Why do I remember it when I’ve never seen it?”
She again saw the heroic amazons, their mystic war garments shimmering with unearthly light as they marched to the battlefield and ultimately their deaths.
“Queen Serenity had a team of special warriors at her disposal with the sole purpose of protecting the royal family and the Imperium Silver Crystal, called the Silver Millennium Soldiers. Each was blessed with total divine authority over a specific universal element which, together, made them nothing short of gods among mortals:
“Venus, Patron of the Heart, the Mind, and the Soul.
“Mercury and Neptune, Muses of the Frozen Gale and the Pristine Tide.
“Mars, Oracle of the Dancing Flame.
“Jupiter and Uranus, the Vindictive Hands of the Heavens.
“Saturn, Guardian of Time.
“Pluto, Messenger of Death and Rebirth.”
With each title the cat listed off, Serena was introduced to a frightening new awareness: She felt every part of her being as a unity of physical and spiritual elements. Every particle of moisture in the air called out to her, and every little bit of shimmering infrared heat they contained pawed at her skin. She could see and feel the breeze pouring through her window as if it were a hurricane, see and feel every particle of light energy converting from one form to the next, jumping between objects that didn’t absorb them like fleas. She sensed the current, past, and anticipated condition of her entire immediate surroundings. She felt the warm embrace of youth nurturing her soul, and the frigid gaze of mortality lapping at it.
“Their leader,” the cat said with finality, “wielded the element of the Silver Millennium itself; the element of Pure Light, a difficult force to control, but capable of vanquishing any foe no matter how powerful. The element that ties all the others together. The very fabric of existence.”
“And, what, you’re looking for the crystal so she can wield it again?” Serena said.
The cat’s gaze began to make her very uncomfortable. The dramatic pause didn’t help things, either.
“Serena, you are who I’ve been looking for. You are the reincarnation of the theater commander of the Silver Millennium Soldiers. You are Sailor Moon!”
Serena closed the locket with a soft snap of the clasp locking into place. The dismal melody was gone in an instant. She was confused, aggravated, and somewhat nauseous.
“You’re joking,” she said. “Right? This is all some kind of joke, right? I mean, a warrior? Me? Christ, I’m not a soldier! I’m not even in college yet!”
“I know this is a bit hard to grasp,” the cat said.
“It’s impossible to grasp!” the girl squealed. “Whaddaya mean ‘a bit hard’?”
"Believe me,” Luna continued, “I wanted you to discover this at a more leisurely pace, but we do not have the time to do so. Now hide that locket. You need it to transform into Sailor Moon.”
“Transform? What do I get, a big robot?”
“Just put it somewhere safe and get some sleep. I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. If things are as bad as I suspect, you’re going to have a busy weekend.”
The cat finally, and thankfully, leapt out the window, leaving the poor girl sitting on her bedroom floor completely at a loss for words, thoughts, or much of anything at all.
The music box grew cold in her hands. She still didn’t know if she was dreaming or not.
“Is this basket case really her?”
“Yes. She looks no different than she did back in the day. It’s her all right.”
“I don’t remember her being this intolerable. Can’t you be her guardian instead of me?”
“You want me to do all the work? I’ve already got my hands full as it is with the Eccentric. She caught wind of another arrival, speaking of. They’ve doubled in number. The stationary ones are established pretty close to one another.”
“Possibly. The bodies have been piling up for months, and it's getting worse. You better get her prepared but quick.”
“Well, it won’t be a picnic…”
Serena slowly opened her eyes, awoken by the sounds of a chirping family of birds in a nearby tree. It was roughly eleven in the morning.
She looked around her room and found she was alone. She checked cautiously under her bed, and was relieved to find no eyes looking back at her. Just to be absolutely certain, she peeked out her bedroom window at the front gate. No bad luck cat was perched upon it.
She closed her eyes. No visions. Not a one.
She plopped back down into her pillows with a yawn and a contented smile.
“I’ve been getting real creative lately,” she said to herself. “Oughta write that one down...”
She yawned again as if to punctuate her plans to sleep the rest of the morning away and let her mattress absorb her like water into a sponge. No reason to make plans for the day now. She’d call Molly whenever she felt like waking up.
Something was under her pillow. Something smooth and palm-sized, maybe plastic. It was cold.
Serena slowly pulled her hand out from the depths of her pillow. The music box brooch given to her by the strange girl the day before glistened in the morning sunlight, its one violet gemstone boring into her heart like the unforgiving eye of a cruel and petty god. Its lid flipped up, and the dismal song once again danced through the air, joined seconds later by the shrill scream of its owner.