Honor and Doubt

Part 1

© 1999 by Mizuchiko

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In the baths of the Royal Earth Palace, Eldest Guardian Kunzite lay blissfully back in the steaming water and closed his eyes. Another hard day of training those students of theirs... there were too many of them, no matter how prepared Prince Endymion wanted to be. It just wasn't feasible. Kunzite had always believed in quality rather than quantity. Why were there only three guardians for the prince instead of a squadron? Because they were the three best the earth had to offer. But would Endymion hear of it? No, of course not. The idea of training as many new warriors as possible in case of an Eclipse rebellion had festered in his royal head and he refused to let it out.

A page entered with a thick blue towel. Kunzite sighed, stood up, and allowed the page to rub him down. Appearing behind them in a burst of petals, Zoisite landed gracefully from his mid-air position. He was dressed as a nobleman, in grey vest and trousers with billowy white sleeves and tall boots with upturned toes, but he wore the pale blue sash across his lean chest that signified his student status. The color meant that he was one of Kunzite's pupils. Zoisite had a young and charming air about him, but his slight and twisted smile lent a devilish glint to his green eyes.

"My respects, my Lord!" he said blithely. Kunzite turned to look over his shoulder at his student, his face brightening.

"Oh, Zoisite... I had thought you were still asleep."

"I've already been for a short gallop to the outpost on the northern border and back, my Lord. There's a divine nip in the air. Smells like rebellion." Zoisite cracked his knuckles, his eyes sparkling with impish delight at the thought of conflict.

"You are far too eager to engage the Eclipsians. We've no proof they've been collaborating with Metallia and the Negaverse," Kunzite cautioned his enthusiastic young pupil. The mischief fading a little from his countenance, Zoisite motioned the page out with a patient smile and proceeded to rub the Guardian down himself.

"Throw a log on the fire and get out. I shall dress Guardian Kunzite myself," he said. The page bowed and exited.

"Nobody rubs me down the way you do. Zoisite, what would I do without you? You're my pupil, training to be a Guardian yourself, why do you play at being my valet? If I asked Nephrite or Jadeite to do this, they'd start a civil war! We would never hear the end of it from them."

With a slight smile, Zoisite wrapped the towel around the Guardian and helped him out of the bath. "They are rather stiff about what they think is appropriate, aren't they?" They both chuckled at the image of the other two Guardians helping Kunzite with his bath. "Just because it isn't in the job description doesn't mean one shouldn't do it. I am your pupil, but I was your page first, that's all. Training with you or helping you to dress is part of the same thing to me. I like helping you."

"My little rat!" Kunzite said, patting Zoisite affectionately on the top of his coppery head as he helped him dress. Zoisite blushed. "At the beginning when I told them I was taking you into my service, do you know what they all said? They said you'd seize the chance to knife me in the back one day."

"Did you believe them, my Lord?" Zoisite asked slyly.

"I was a little concerned about that affinity for combat of yours. But you looked so well brought-up, and you still managed to have a laugh in spite of the seriousness of the situation, whish is a rare thing in this day and age. And once I'd figured out how to turn your violent nature around to my benefit, there was no questioning my decision to train you."

"I'm certainly glad of that, my Lord. I don't know what I would have done had you not taken me under your wing." Zoisite helped the Guardian don his white cape and adjust the jeweled epaulets at his broad shoulders. The young student stepped back and admired his masterpiece.

"Well? Are you done primping me yet? I have work to do, books to read-" Kunzite began as he started for the door, but Zoisite stepped jauntily in front of him and pointed a slim finger in the Guardian's face.

"-War Councils to attend?" His mischievous smile broadened as Kunzite's face fell.

"I never have time to review my spellbooks anymore. It's because of those Eclipsians and that damn Beryl," he grumbled, turning with a swirl of his cape to leave through the other door.

"And don't forget to blame our dear prince," Zoisite added, "it was his idea to hold this silly Council, after all."

"You shouldn't speak of your prince that way, my little rat, no matter how truthful it is," Kunzite corrected his pupil before vanishing in a flash of pink energy. Zoisite chuckled to himself and followed the annoyed Eldest Guardian to the Council Chamber.

* * *

The council was already assembled by the time Kunzite and Zoisite arrived. Kunzite took his place at Prince Endymion's right hand with Zoisite standing behind him. Guardians Nephrite and Jadeite scowled at them and glanced at their pocketwatches. Endymion, who had been playing tic-tac-toe with himself on a parchment, roused himself to attention and cleared his throat.

"Gentlemen-" he began, but a growl from the opposite end of the table made him correct himself, "-my apologies, Lady Beryl. Ladies and gentlemen, the council is open. I have summoned you here today to deal with this insubordination by the organization known as the Eclipsians, led by Lady Beryl, here. We really must come to an understanding about who rules this kingdom, the proletariat organizations-" Beryl tried to speak, but this time Endymion cut her off, "-just a moment, Lady Beryl. The Eclipsians, or me."

"Your Majesty," Kunzite interrupted with a polite cough. Endymion nodded his approval and Kunzite stood. "Before we quarrel, let us take the good news first. My Liege should be happy to hear that we have at least one student who is ready for duty. I have decided fill the position of the fourth Guardian with my loyal servant and pupil, Zoisite."

"My Lord... !" Zoisite cried out in surprise, the color draining from his already pale face.

"What's the matter, Zoisite? Have you gone through all the training and suddenly developed a taste of fear?" the Guardian asked his student, one eyebrow arched roguishly. When Zoisite couldn't manage a response, Endymion stood.

"Very well, Guardian Kunzite, if you believe that this young... imp," Zoisite scowled at the word the prince used to describe him, "... has completed the necessary training successfully, I will see to it that he is outfitted properly for the job." Turning to Zoisite, who still had not spoken, he said, "Guardian Zoisite, you should thank your elder and better. He has just done you a great service."

This last statement brought Zoisite back to his senses. He knelt in front of Kunzite and bowed his head, speaking gravely, "My Lord, this is a token of your confidence of which I fear I may not be worthy. I am very young, frivolous perhaps-"

"I'm young too," said Endymion, "and Kunzite is no longer 'your Lord,' I am. But we shall work out the details later. Now, to work." They all were seated again, this time with Zoisite to Kunzite's left. Kunzite threw the new Guardian a warning look as Zoisite muttered something under his breath about the tediousness of princes. He silenced and turned his attention to the opposite end of the table. It was Lady Beryl's turn to speak. She rose, a cool smile on her lips.

"May I crave permission to salute, with Your Majesty's approval, the young and talented Guardian? With such an affinity for battle, Your Highness should indeed be safe." Zoisite's eyes widened a little with surprise. Kunzite's brow furrowed over his platinum eyes as he felt a cold anger rise within him. He didn't trust Beryl any more than he liked the conniving vixen. "My best wishes, little Guardian. But on to business. The little group that I represent has a few... misgivings... with the present course of action that the Earth Kingdom is taking against Metallia and the Negaverse."

"Such as... ?" Endymion asked blandly, leaning back in his chair. Beryl seemed to be unaffected by the prince's obvious disinterest.

"We do not believe that an accord -a truce, at least- would be a hindrance to the Earth. Metallia is a powerful ruler, you cannot deny that. To anger her would be both foolish and to fight her would be even more so."

"All wars are foolish, Lady Beryl," Kunzite pointed out. Beryl turned her icy glare to the Eldest Guardian as he continued, "and as for Metallia being a powerful ruler, we don't deny that. But so is Queen Serenity of the Moon, and our relations with her, though evolved now into friendship and betrothal, were once based upon a military alliance. Metallia and Serenity are sworn enemies, Lady Beryl. And as we cannot jeopardize our union with the Moon Kingdom, we have no choice but to fight her."

"Well put, Guardian," Endymion said. There was silence around the table for a moment. All eyes were on Beryl, who was fairly seething with anger.

"If I may draw my Lady Beryl's attention to one small point?" came the carefully insidious voice of the newly-appointed Guardian Zoisite. Beryl seemed to calm a bit as she nodded slightly to the young man in the blue sash. He stood up and coughed respectfully. "Why is it so in your interest for an agreement to be made between the Earth Kingdom and Metallia? You wouldn't be arguing so vehemently against war if there weren't something at stake for you."

Beryl appeared to become angered even further by this remark, to the point of the other three Guardians leaning slightly forward in their chairs, ready to defend their prince. But just as the tension seemed about to peak, Beryl let a slow, wicked smile play across her lips. She laughed a low, chilling laugh.

"Very good, young Guardian," she said through her laughter, "you are an astute politician as well as an effective fighter. Yes, I do have something at stake. You've probably been taught by these patriots that the kingdom comes before all else. 'In all save the honor of the realm,' that sort of thing. Well, where I come from, we don't have time to worry about the realm. We have to worry about life. Our lives. And that is why I don't want a war, because I know should some idiot over-zealous prince make the mistake of angering Metallia, she will destroy everything in her path. Everything!" The last word thundered out of her, shattering her apparent composure. Prince Endymion and the other Guardians had stood, and were fairly shaking with rage.

"This council is over," said Endymion in a barely-controlled hiss, "I will have an escourt take you to the palace gates. Now get out." He turned on his heel and stalked out of the council chamber, followed by the Guardians Nephrite and Jadeite. Zoisite, who had alone remained unperturbed, simply stood there, glaring at Beryl. His hand was on his sword and he fairly glowed with the fury that sparked in his narrowed green eyes. Kunzite placed a hand on the young Guardian's shoulder.

"Come, my little rat. The battle is over... for now." After a moment, Zoisite relaxed and allowed Kunzite to lead him from the room, but not before throwing final challenging glare in Beryl's direction.

* * *

The prismatic glow that emanated from the indiscernible creature on the throne hurt Beryl's eyes as she entered the black chamber. She knelt, one hand in a fist across her chest in an oath of allegiance, before looking up to address Queen Metallia.

"Most High Queen Metallia," she said, her voice echoing around the room, "I am just returned from a War Council with Prince Endymion and his guardians. It appears that there is no hope for a bloodless seizure of power on Earth."

"Pity," came the caustic hiss from the throne, "though it matters not. I am pleased with your work, Beryl. The Earth forces may suspect our alliance, but they have no proof. Until they do, their foolish righteousness will not allow them to be outright hostile to you."

"Fools," Beryl chuckled, "they all suffer from a handicap of honor, my Queen. Especially those Guardians. They are the stiffest of them all. Except for the newest one, Zoisite, I believe. His is a strange, elusive nature."

"Yes," Metallia agreed from her dark perch, "Do not imagine he is the undersized Guardian that outward appearances might suggest. I have had time to observe him, to get a feel for his real power." There was a pause and the clicking noise of claws being tapped on the arm of the throne before Metallia went on, "Send out a few youma spies to keep an eye on him. We must be very circumspect. It is our task to see into the hearts of men and determine whether or not they will serve our purposes. And I am not sure that this one will always be our enemy. Go now, Beryl, before we become too suspect."

"As you wish, my Queen. Before too much longer, the Earth will be ours." With a flash of dark glitter, Lady Beryl vanished.

Goto Part 2

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