written by Patrick Drazen

using characters created by Naoko Takeuchi and others associated with the manga and anime “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”

Chapter 6: “The Five Senshi Are Together!  The Story of the Moon Kingdom!”

Later that evening, daimyo Kuruda, completely unaware of anything amiss at his stables, discussed matters of security with his wife the Lady Haruko over a game of go.

“Am I wrong to worry?  I’ve increased the guard here at home and when I go away.  But, apart from the attack on Tsukino, we have heard of no others.”

“This is true, my lord.”

Kuruda made his move and leaned back onto his cushions.  “I suppose you have an opinion about this?”

His wife contemplated the board for a minute, made a defensive play he hadn’t foreseen, and said, “Ten thousand things happen in Edo every day, whether we hear of them or not.”

He smiled and scratched his chin as he looked at the board.  “The household budget is well off, but hardly enough to bring in many more samurai.”

“There are many ronin about now, aren’t there, my lord?”

She was talking about leaderless samurai who no longer had masters to employ them.  Some of those masters had died, others had fallen on hard times, and the ronin themselves took varying paths.  Some abandoned the Way of the Sword altogether to become farmers or merchants or even outlaws, while others searched for new masters to serve.

“We do not have an abundance of money to hire the abundance of talent.”

“Then let one of the staff choose which among the ronin can best serve this house.  Morobiki can then determine what we can afford.”

“Who would you choose from among the staff?”

“Tsukino, my lord.  He was injured in your service, but he was a distinguished samurai in the past.  It is good that he graces your staff.”

Kuruda made his move.  “You speak wisely.  I would have chosen him for such a task myself.  I’ll write to him tomorrow asking him to examine any ronin who might wish to serve.”

His wife said nothing, but played a move that won her the game.  Kuruda said only, “You play to win.”

She smiled.  “In some games, all the players win.”

“Do you speak of children’s games?”

For an answer, she picked up the fan she had been using, folded it up and suggestively licked the edge of the fan.  “I’m going to bathe now, and await my lord’s attentions.  Please do not tarry too long.”  She stood in a smooth movement and glided out of the room.

Kuruda chuckled to himself and thanked the gods and fate for matching him with such a woman.  She was not just one of the supreme beauties of Edo’s upper class.  She had inherited her policeman father’s powers of observation; she was sensible enough to administer the household; and the sex…  Kuruda was as much a man as any other, and he did not condemn the men who, disappointed or bored with their wives, turned to mistresses, prostitutes, servants or even children.  He had simply never needed to do so.  His wife was responsive, inventive, energetic, passionate...everything a man could wish in a bed-partner.  He made a few quick notes for Morobiki for tomorrow, then rose to follow his wife.

Tsukino received word the next day that he was to search for samurai to join the Kuruda household.  He arranged for an open competition to be held in two days at the noon hour, in a field beyond the city limits. Usagi arranged to be at the field also, watching from a short distance.  She wanted to be ready just in case one of the competitors tried to attack her father.

The applicants were strong young men, with an occasional older man, a veteran samurai who’d been let go for whatever reason or who was just looking for a new master.  They specialized in various martial arts: swords, daggers, nunchaku and shuriken; all kinds of blades and blunt objects hit their targets with greater or lesser accuracy.  Nobody, however, stood out as special.  There didn’t really seem to be much left for Tsukino to choose from.

Until the final applicant appeared.  He wore a wide straw hat that was visible half a mile away, and had the effect of hiding the applicant’s face entirely.  He resembled a traveler on a religious pilgrimage.  There was one other oddity: the young man had a white cat perched on his shoulder.  When he was about fifty yards from the target the cat jumped down to the ground; immediately the man broke into a run.  While still running, he drew out a longbow, strung it, drew out an arrow, nocked the arrow and let it fly.  It hit the target dead-center, as did the next six arrows, fired at different distances and angles, including once when the archer had jumped into the air, but all at a flat-out run.

The archer finally came to a halt just in front of Tsukino’s dais, threw himself on the ground on his knees with his head practically touching the ground, and the straw hat still hiding his face.  He barked out a sentence in a voice that sounded surprisingly young: “I humbly beg to be allowed to serve the daimyo Kuruda.”

Tsukino looked back and forth between target and archer for a minute, then stood up and walked off the dais without a word.  The archer was being dismissed.  Without a word he rose and started back the way he had come.  The white cat had waited patiently down the road.  When the archer reached it, the cat jumped back up on his shoulder.  They walked away.

“Tell the daimyo that I will send a written recommendation tomorrow.”  Tsukino didn’t say another word; he simply bowed to Morobiki and started for home.

Usagi, however, had something to say about it.  “Father, that archer was awesome!  Are you going to pick him?”

“Archers are useful on the battlements, but not in close quarters.  Having to reach for an arrow each time slows one down.”

“Then why didn’t you say at the beginning that archers weren’t allowed?”

Tsukino had to stop and study his daughter.  “Why are you asking all these questions?”

“Because ... it’s interesting.  I’ve been looking at things from a different point of view lately.”

“You’re looking at things that do not concern you.  There can never be a woman samurai.”  He paused slightly.  “Or a woman archer.”

It took a minute to sink in, but when it did Usagi froze.  That archer was a woman?!  But she was amazing!  Where did she learn all that?  Would Usagi see her again?

The way things are going, she thought, I’ll see her again very soon.

She was right; in fact, they met up later that afternoon.  The four friends had agreed to meet by the docks after the samurai competition.  Usagi found the others waiting for her at a noodle shop and dove into a large bowl herself before saying much of anything to the others.

“How’s your father doing?” Shinnosuke asked.

He was always so concerned when asking about Tsukino; Usagi liked that.  “Well, he’ll never let on, but I think he knows the hand is useless.  Still, he keeps trying to pretend nothing’s really wrong.”

“Can’t he learn to use the sword in his other hand?”

Usagi gave Shinnosuke the kind of look Rei usually gave Usagi.  “I guess you don’t know much about the Way of the Sword.”

“I’ve only heard a little.  I study healing, not killing.”

“That’s the problem!  Bushido isn’t just about killing.  Otherwise anybody who can pick up a blade and hack into an opponent can call himself a samurai.  There’s a lot more to it than that, and one of the rules is that you use your right hand only.”

“What are some of the other rules?” Makoto asked.

“Well,” Usagi hesitated, “there are five virtues a samurai has to practice.  Those are loyalty, bravery, politeness, simplicity and truthfulness.  I really don’t know much more about it.  I know that much from listening to my father teaching my little brother, and they only started a little while ago.”

They were interrupted by music coming from the theater next door.  Within the past month someone had bought the old warehouse next to the noodle shop and had turned it into a theater.  Specifically, it was a puppet theater, for performances of the art of bunraku.

Puppetry had been a respected art in Japan for hundreds of years, and now was rising in popularity, especially among the common people.  The rich and the aristocracy could afford to attend the Noh plays, but those who couldn’t afford it went to see the bunraku.  Usagi, as the daughter of a samurai, could attend Noh performances, but almost always fell asleep in the middle.  She felt the bunraku audiences were getting the better part of the deal.  The action was more lively, the chanting wasn’t in some ancient dialect nobody could understand, and the range of things the puppets were capable of doing was simply amazing.  And all this was accompanied not by an ensemble as in Noh, but by a single shamisen player.

They spent an hour lost in the rhythms of the music and chanting, before the director could be heard dismissing the performers for lunch.  The four young customers raced to the door to see who the performers were.  Out of the neighboring doorway came a quartet of children, boys between ten and fifteen years old.  The last one out of the building was a girl who carried a shamisen.  She glanced at the noodle-shop; as she turned to follow the others, Usagi caught a glimpse of something white—

“Hey!” she yelled, rushing toward this girl, who was walking down the street with a white cat perched on her shoulder.  “That was you, wasn’t it!  You’re the archer from this morning!  That was awesome!!”

“Thank you, but how did you know about that?”  The girl seemed neither upset, nor curious, about being accosted like this on the street.  She just seemed to be a girl with an open and honest face and a generally happy attitude.  Her voice had a Northern accent.

“I was there.  My father was the one looking for samurai.”

“Oh?   Is your father Lord Kuruda?”

“No, but he’s his head samurai.”  Usagi felt that she could get away with embellishing the truth a bit.

“Usagi-chan,” Rei said a bit impatiently, “we still have things to discuss.”

“That’s true; we all do.”

All eyes turned to the white cat, which had just spoken these words.  “The five of you were destined to meet.  Nobody could know the time and place, but this must surely be the right time and place.”

The archer/musician turned to her pet.  “Shiro, you’ve never spoken to anyone else before.  Are you sure?”

“Of course he’s sure.”  Mika had appeared and was standing at Usagi’s feet, looking up at the white cat.  “It’s been a long time, Shiro.”

“Longer than anyone realizes, Mikazuki.”

“All right!  Wait a minute!”  Usagi couldn’t hold her tongue any longer.  “There seems to be some deep dark secret behind all our powers and our working with you.  I just want to know what it is.”

“Of course,” Mika said; “it’s time.”  Thunder rumbled overhead.  “There’s a warehouse at the end of the street.  Nobody will disturb us there.”  They all ran inside and closed the door just as the rain started falling in fat heavy clots.

Mika stared at them all, and the stare seemed like a call for silence.  “This story begins a thousand years ago, in a kingdom on the moon…”

“You’re not going to tell us there really is a rabbit on the moon, are you?”  Usagi especially had reason to ask, since she was named after that same legendary rabbit.

“This is not a legend, but a true story,” Mika went on, “and not about a rabbit but a princess named Serenity.

“No earthly kingdom has lasted as long, or reigned as wisely, as the thousand years of the Moon Kingdom.  Each ruler was better than the last; they were all fair of face, wise in judgment and kind of heart.  And so it was with Queen Serenity and her daughter, Princess Serenity.

“But all things in Heaven or on earth, or even on the moon, cannot last forever.  In this case, the kingdom was not attacked from within but from without."

Shiro took up the story.  “We had received word of other worlds throughout the cosmos falling to a dark power.  In our foolish happiness, we did not think that the moon would ever be a target.  But one day, we heard the advancing troops of Queen Beryl and her Dark Kingdom, and we could no longer ignore what was on our doorstep.”

“What is the Dark Kingdom?” Shinnosuke asked almost breathlessly.

Mikazuki shook her head.  “There is still so much we don’t know about them, because they come from a different part of the cosmos.  Their powers were not like ours; their stature was not like ours. Most important, their heart was not like ours.  Our beliefs were simple: that love is more to be desired than hate, that life is more to be desired than death, that peace is more to be desired than war.

“We tried to fight against the Dark Kingdom, but their forces were too great.  Queen Serenity fought valiantly, as did her daughter and the girl’s beloved, Prince Endymion of the Earth.”

“Wait a minute,” Minako interrupted.  “There was love between the Earth and the Moon?”

“Of course; how else are they able to dance through the heavens?”

“We fought valiantly, but it was a lost cause,” Shiro went on.  “Beryl wanted to destroy every remnant of the Moon Kingdom, and she succeeded.  However, in the final moments before the Dark Kingdom washed over us, some of us were called to the throne room of the palace.  There was the queen, her daughter with her beloved prince, the two of us who were advisors to the throne, and the princess’s senshi.”

“She had her own warriors?” Rei asked.

“They were far more than that,” Mika replied.  “They were her closest friends and confidantes, as well as her bodyguards.

“We knew that there would be no miracle; that the Moon Kingdom would fall.  So the queen…”

“Mika!  Take care what you tell them,” Shiro interrupted.

“The queen used the last of her powers to bind the rest of us all together.  She knew that if the moon could be threatened by the Dark Kingdom, then the Earth could be threatened too.  In those final moments, we knew that, if such a threat were ever to happen, we would all be reborn together, our past lives would be revealed, and we would unite to defeat the Dark Kingdom.”

The listeners sat in amazed silence.  The story was utterly fantastic, and none of them would have believed it if they’d heard it even a month ago.  However, what they had been through this summer had already convinced them that some kind of otherworldly magic was alive in Edo.

Still, the main question on all of their minds was the same: which one had been the Moon Princess?  They weighed the possibilities: Rei had the greatest spiritual power of them all, Shinnosuke was the most educated, Makoto was the strongest and Minako … well, they’d just met her.  But apparently she’d been talking with Shiro for some time before coming to Edo.

Mikazuki interrupted their thoughts by walking up to Usagi, and bowing her head.  “We are united again, Your Majesty.”

All of them, including Usagi, stared at Mikazuki.  Finally Rei blurted out, “Is this a joke?  She’d make a terrible princess!”

“Nevertheless, this is what fate has decreed.”

“That’s right, so don’t get all hot and bothered about it,” Usagi gloated.  “I know I’m not really a princess, although I wouldn’t mind being treated like one…”

“But you will mind it,” Shiro cut in again, “because it will be you and you alone who must defeat Beryl.”

“But, but, aren’t you all supposed to help me?  I mean, if you were my guards and all…”

“I’ll gladly stand by you,” Shinnosuke interrupted, “and defend you with my last breath.  But I also know that you can’t stand against fate.  The day may come when we cannot help you.”

“Anyway, we all have lives to live here and now,” Rei said.

“Face the facts, Usagi-chan,” Mika said sternly.  “Just because you were once the Moon Princess, that doesn’t mean that you have less to do.  You have more.”

She nodded glumly.  “Does anyone here want to be a princess?”