Chapter 4 - The Eagle Soars: First Strike

© 1998 by Renee Michelle Markowicz

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Author's Note:

Well, I've been hearing a lot of complaining about how long it's been since I posted something. I'd like to offer a collective apology to you all - I know it's frustrating to have to wait to read the next part of a fanfic. But, I'd also like you to keep in mind that I _am_ a junior in college. This takes up a _lot_ of time because the Pre-Vet curriculum is so difficult (try juggling fanfic writing with Organic Chemistry, Horse Shows, tutoring, and being financial chairperson for a large choral group :P). I'm also writing 3 other fanfics. I can't work on one without neglecting the other three. So, forgive me if I fall far behind on something - it's not done intentionally.

OK, I didn't mean for this to turn into a big whining session, I just wanted to let you all know that I am writing, even if I'm not posting - and if it's been a while since you've seen something new, it's most likely because Real Life got in the way. Thank you all for your patience. ^_^

Briefly, the legal stuff: Sailor Moon and Co. do not belong to me. Robert, Almai, Gregory, and any one else not of Sailor Moon mainstream do belong to me. Don't sue me for using the SM characters - I'm not making money from this, so you won't get much.

Prisms - Chapter 4: The Eagle Soars: First Strike

© 1998 by Renee Michelle Markowicz

"Amy! Wait up!" a voice called.

Amy slowed her walk to allow Lita to catch up. She smiled at the younger woman, remembering her own 20th birthday. "Yes, Lita? I have to get these scans to the Princess."

Lita's long legs caught up to her rather quickly, "Sorry, Amy. I just wanted to see what you were up to for the rest of today." Amy smiled, "Oh, nothing all that important. I need to work the bugs out of a new program I'm trying to write for my computer. Nothing very interesting."

Lita's companion, Jordan, smirked at Amy from his perch on Lita's shoulder. He knew about the planned surprise party, but had sworn not to tell Lita on pain of being tickled to death. He licked his charge's ear, "I told you she was probably busy." Lita looked disappointed.

Amy put a hand on her shoulder, "I'm sorry, Lita. Did you want to practice?"

Lita shook her head. Amy smiled again, "All right. I'll see you at dinner, then." She waved and trotted off to find the Princess. *She has no idea! Oh, this is more fun than I thought!* The actual idea to throw Lita a surprise party had been Mina's, but Amy was the one who had made that idea a reality - it had been so much fun to plan, too! And she imagined that her present would be the best of all, *She will absolutely die when she sees it!* She laughed and ran a little faster, eager to get this over with so she could add the finishing touches to her friend's present.

It was just her luck - the Princess met her halfway to her rooms. In fact, they had a head on collision - each running in the opposite direction. Serena moaned and clutched her head from her spot on the floor as Amy grabbed the wall to keep from falling. "I'm sorry Princess!" she gasped.

Serena looked up at her and sighed, "I think I had that one coming. It's been awhile since I klutzed out last." She stood up and brushed off her dress, "So, you saw the Prince?"

Amy giggled as she pulled out her computer, "Yes, I did. And I'd like to thank you for sending me, instead of Mina, this year - it was most entertaining."

Serena walked over, "OK, Amy, spill. What'd he do this time?"

Amy turned her computer around. Serena started laughing hysterically, "Limp stem!" When she finally calmed down, Amy said, "But you have to give him some credit - that rose is nearly perfect. Just limp." Serena stuck her tongue out, then sighed, "All right. Thanks Amy. Now, on to more pressing business... How goes the party planning?"

Amy laughed, "Absolutely wonderful. And she still has no idea."

Serena smiled, "This is gonna be totally classic! I can't wait to see her face!"

* * *

Lita kicked at the dirt in the path. *I can't believe it! I don't believe that Amy, of all people, forgot that it's my birthday! It isn't fair. This sucks.* None of her family had even sent her a birthday card. When Queen Rhionan had found out that she had gone ahead and become Sailor Jupiter, without her permission, she had forbidden her cousin to ever communicate with her again. She missed her - she had been her only real friend for so long. But what really rankled was that her father hadn't sent her a card. She kicked a stone out of the way.

Jordan rode silently on her shoulder, wishing that he could help. *Oh, I know that she'll love the surprise party, but she looks so miserable right now! This isn't fair.* He jumped down from her shoulder and blocked her path, "All right, kitten. This has gone on long enough. Will you stop moping for one minute and tell me what's wrong?"

Lita stared down at him, then whispered, "Don't tell me you forgot, too..."

Jordan couldn't keep up the ruse any longer, "Forgot what?"

Lita mumbled, "What today is..."

Jordan jumped up into her arms, "It's your 20th birthday. I know that. I assumed that since you didn't say anything, you didn't want to do anything for it." Lita grabbed him into a furious hug, crying into his fur. "You didn't forget!!" When she finished squeezing him, Jordan reached up and started cleaning her face with his tongue. "You shouldn't underestimate your friends, Jupiter. We care about you a great deal." Looking up at his charge's face he said, "Come on, Lita - let's go to the amusement park. Sound good?" She laughed and nodded, "All right! Let's go!"

* * *

Amy was frantic, it was only one hour until she and Lita were supposed to be at the party and the Jovian Senshi was nowhere to be found. She had searched everywhere that she thought Lita might be, finally giving up and returning to the dining hall. If she was lucky, Lita would remember to come and save Amy the trouble of having to search the outer grounds for her.

Lita strolled into the dining hall, contentedly humming the song from the carousel. Jordan and she had had a wonderful time at the amusement park - going on all the rides, eating junk food 'til they burst, *I didn't even know cats liked cotton candy!*, and just generally having a wonderful time. The only thing that would have made her birthday better, would have been if the other Senshi were there to share it with her. She spotted Amy over at their table and waved. Amy looked up and gave an excited little scream, then got up and ran to her. "I've been waiting here forever! Where've you been? You had me worried sick! Come on, we're gonna be late!" She grabbed Lita's arm and dragged her out of the dining hall, not wanting her first attempt at a surprise party to go flat for lack of a guest of honor.

Lita tried to dig her heels in, but the little Senshi of Mercury could be strong when she put her mind to it! Finally she protested, "Amy, where are we going??"

Amy turned back to her, "The Princess called an emergency meeting - no one knew where you were and I've been looking all over for you!"

Lita jerked her arm out of Amy's grasp, "Why didn't you say so? Where is it?"

"The practice grounds."

"Right! Let's book it!" Lita cried as she took off, leaving Amy standing dumbfounded in her dust. "Wait for me!!" Amy yelled, taking off after her.

* * *

Lita reached the practice grounds and peered about the darkened arena. No one was in sight. *Did Amy mean somewhere else? Where is everyone?* Amy soon came puffing up behind her, "Sorry, Lita... I guess I can't... run as fast as you can..." Suddenly, Lita heard a giggle off to her right. The lights came on, and she heard a crowd of people yell, "SURPRISE!!" Amy gave her a big hug, "Happy Birthday, Lita!!" For her part, Lita just stood and stared. Every one surrounded her, pounding her back and hugging her. She turned an accusing eye on Jordan, "You knew!" He gave her a sheepish grin, "Uh... yeah."

Lita turned to examine the crowd, her suspicions growing. Finally, she spotted them. She ran over yelling, "Papa!! Lenore!! You came!!!" When she was about 4 feet away from them, she jumped, throwing herself into her father's arms. He hugged her fiercely, "My little Scamp is turning 20 - how could I miss it?" She kissed his cheek, then buried her face in his shoulder, "Thank you, Papa."

Lenore, unaccustomed to being ignored, cleared her throat, "So what's a Jovian princess got to do to get a little attention around here?"

Lita smiled and enveloped her cousin in a hug, "Thanks for coming - it means a lot to me to have you both here."

Lenore gave her one last squeeze and said, "But you have to see your present! Me and your dad and Sailor Mercury all chipped in to get it for you. You are absolutely going to love it!!" She grabbed Lita's arm and started dragging her out the back door, her father and the rest of the crowd in tow. The remaining Senshi were quick to catch up - they didn't want to miss this either.

Finally the assemblage reached a rather large cloth-covered object. Lita stared up at it quizzically, unsure of what could possibly take up so much room. She hadn't seen it from the front of the building. She felt Jordan pawing at her two sets of wings - her outfit was never without them. She gave him a quick glance then turned to stare up at the present again. *Could it be?...* She felt her excitement growing. She turned to her cousin, eyes alight, "May I?" Lenore bowed her on.

Lita walked over to the cord and yanked, heart almost bursting with hope. The cloth fell away...

Lita let out a little screech as the tears started to fall from her eyes. She yelled, "My Hawk!!!!!! Oh my God!!" She ran to the ship and started running her hands over every inch. "My Hawk, my Hawk, my Hawk!! I don't believe it!" Her eyes took in every detail, every nuance, every difference in shading - it was the Hawk, but improved. She'd had a total refit, stem to stern, with the most advanced equipment of their time. Finally, she climbed the ladder to jump into the pilot's chair. She examined every switch and toggle, turning on the computers and listening to their contented hum. A gentle voice inquired, "Lady Lita," and she heard the respect and reverence in its tone, "Systems are running normally. Is there anything you require?"

She leaned down from the hatch and yelled to Amy, "You added a voice address system??? Those things cost a fortune!"

Amy smiled, "Nothing but the best for my best friend. It's a full artificial intelligence."

Lita shrieked in delight and disappeared back into the ship. Everything had been totally renovated - the Hawk even had a new paint job! Finally convinced that she had rememorized every inch of her ship, Lita bounded down the ladder and gave Amy, Lenore, and her father a huge hug, "Thank You!!" She felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned tear-stained eyes to look at the Princess. Serena smiled, "Did I not promise that you'd fly again, Jupiter?"

Lita threw her arms around the Princess, "I never doubted it for a minute, Princess."

She turned back to the waiting crowd and cleared her throat, "I can't thank you all enough. This all means so much to me. But, I feel that there's something that I should do. The Hawk was a noble ship, fast and eager to please. But now, she's something more - something royal. So, if none of you mind..." She ran back into the practice grounds to grab a wine bottle, then quickly ran back out, "Sorry folks. Anyway, if no one minds, I'd like to rename my ship." Her father smiled at her and nodded. She walked over to the Hawk and kissed it. Then with a mighty blow, she smashed the wine bottle against her ship's hull, "I now dub thee, the Regal Eagle!!" She hoisted the broken bottle over her head, "Let's get this baby in the air!"

Her father grabbed her up in a back-breaking hug, "Way to go, Tiger. Now, you'll soar!" Someone threw her flight suit at her. In her excitement, modesty was temporarily forgotten, and she laughingly stripped down to her underwear to put it on. She carefully pinned hers and her grandfather's wings on the front of the flight suit - noting the green and pink color scheme of the new suit. She hugged her father, cousin, and all the Senshi. She ran up the ladder and hitched herself through the hatch. Before disappearing into the ship, she tossed one last comment over her shoulder, "Go ahead and start the party without me - I'll be back in a couple of hours!" Minutes later, the great engines of the newly-dubbed Eagle let loose a roar, and thrust her into the sky - to Soar.

* * *

Darien stared at Zoisite, unsure of what he'd just heard. "You can't leave! That's not fair! You're gonna miss my birthday!"

Zoisite looked upset, "I'm sorry Darien. I don't have much of a choice."

Darien answered quickly, "Yes you do! Kunzite's going, so you don't need to go!"

Zoisite looked over at Jadeite for assistance, then sent, "*What the heck am I supposed to tell him? I can't exactly tell him that a romantic getaway takes two!*"

Jadeite frowned then turned to Darien, "Darien, Zoisite is the High Priestess' grandson. She specifically asked that he accompany Kunzite - they both have to go. Please don't be sad."

Darien's face pulled into grim lines, "I'm not sad, Jadeite. Just disappointed. I was counting on you all to be there. Excuse me." He stormed off to take his anger out to the practice fields.

Zoisite looked over at Kunzite, anguish in his eyes. Kunzite pulled him close and rubbed his back soothingly. Zoisite whispered, "I feel so rotten. I feel lower than the lowest scum of the Earth!"

Kunzite kissed the top of his head, "Easy. Darien has to learn how to take care of himself - and Nephrite and Jadeite will still be here. You shouldn't feel ashamed for needing a vacation. I mean, it has been five years."

Zoisite sighed and pulled away, "You're right. I know that. I just feel, I don't know. Look, I'm gonna go pack, OK? I'll be down in a little while." He turned and headed up to his own rooms.

Jadeite decided to have a talk with the Prince.

* * *

"You were very unfair to Zoisite today."

Darien didn't even turn to look, "I don't care, Jadeite."

Jadeite walked in and sat down on a bench, "You should. You hurt him deeply with your words."

Darien frowned as he swung his practice blade at the target, "I hurt him? What about him hurting me? I was counting on him to be here!"

Jadeite sighed, "Darien, come here. Sit down." Darien haltingly complied. Jadeite turned to look at him, "How often do you go on vacation? You know, to get away from the Palace and responsibilities."

"Once every five or six months. Why?" Darien looked bewildered.

His Guardian looked across the arena, "Did it ever occur to you that what is a vacation for you, is not so for us?"

Darien frowned, he hadn't expected this angle, "Well, I guess not - since you still have to protect me and everything. I sort of see where you're coming from."

Jadeite smiled, "Good. Then given that, Zoisite hasn't had a vacation since he came here five years ago."

Darien gasped in horror, the shame showing on his face, "Oh great Gaia, I didn't realize!"

Jadeite patted his knee, "Well enough, my Prince. Maybe you should go apologize."

Darien nodded as he quickly shucked his practice gear, "I just hope they didn't leave, yet!" He ran out the door and up the stairs.

When he got up to Zoisite's rooms, he noticed that the door was wide open. He knocked hesitantly from the doorway. A voice caroled out, "Come in!" He walked in slowly, the voice hadn't belonged to his Guardian. When he saw the figure, he slumped, "Sir Gregory."

Gregory straightened, "And what would be all this 'sir' business? Hmm, youngin'? I'm no, 'sir'!"

Darien smiled, "Of course not, Gregory." He allowed his apprehension to show on his face, "Did they leave yet?"

Gregory frowned, "Couple of minutes ago, aye, they did. What's the matter, little one?"

Darien sat down on the couch with a heavy heart, *I can't believe he left before I could apologize. He must hate me!* Gregory sat down with him, "There now, lad. What's the matter? Humor an old man."

Darien spoke slowly, "I was really mean to Zoisite. I wanted to apologize before they left."

Gregory put an arm around Darien's shoulders, "There now, lad. It'll be all right. Zoisite's a very forgivin' person, he is. He just needs a wee bit of rest. He'll come back good as new - never you fear. He'll not mention this ever again."

Darien went away reassured, but still not happy, *If he never brings it up, I can never say I'm sorry...*

* * *

Zoisite pulled his horse a little closer to Kunzite's. Kunzite's horse shied away and snorted. Kunzite gave him a pat, "Easy fella. Calm down." The horse flicked an ear back, then settled. Kunzite turned to Zoisite, "Penny for you thoughts?"

Zoisite played with his horse's mane, "Is that all they're worth these days?"

Kunzite slapped at Zoisite's knee, "All right, $20 then. Happy?"

Zoisite gave him a little smile that told him that he was anything but. Zoisite sighed, "Darien..."

Kunzite nodded, he'd had a feeling that's what it was. "I'm sure that Jadeite will manage to straighten it out for you. Darien's a good kid. I'm sure he's sorry for what he said. If it makes you feel better, we can send him a message as soon as we get to your grandmother's shrine. OK?"

Zoisite nodded, "I suppose so."

Kunzite smiled, "Good." The smile turned wicked, "Last one to the crossroads has to pitch camp tonight!" He kicked his horse into a gallop.

Zoisite squealed, "No fair! I wasn't ready!" He kicked his own horse into a gallop, feeling the pressure already dropping from his shoulders. He laughed in pleasure and tossed his hair, then settled down to race in earnest.

* * *

In spite of his early start, Kunzite was the one who pitched camp that night. Zoisite watched him, the smirk clear on his face, from his spot by the fire. He turned his attention back to the stew, taking out a small packet and tapping some of its contents into the pot. He stirred the mixture, then took a hesitant sip. Nodding in satisfaction, he turned to Kunzite, "Whenever you're done with that tent, the stew's ready." Kunzite growled something under his breath and stomped the last stake into the ground. Finally the tent stood unaided. He smiled and walked over to the campfire, shivering from the cold.

Zoisite ladled out a bowl of stew for him, then himself. Picking up his blanket, he cuddled next to Kunzite, wrapping the blanket around them both. Kunzite slipped an arm around his waist and rested his cheek on Zoisite's crown of copper curls. Zoisite snuggled closer, content to just rest in his lover's arms. After a minute or two, Zoisite noticed, "Your stew's going to get cold." Kunzite smiled, giving him a quick kiss, and began to eat. He looked up at Zoisite in surprise, "This is good!"

Zoisite smirked at him, "You were expecting different?"

Kunzite nodded, "I've been camping with dozens of people, and I have never met a single one who could make a campfire stew actually taste like food!"

Zoisite giggled a little, "And they say I'm naive! Kunzite, haven't you city folk ever heard of spices?"

Kunzite blushed, "Oh yeah. Them."

Zoisite smiled, slipping his arms around Kunzite, "I'm glad you're enjoying it." Kunzite quickly finished his stew, then turned to hug Zoisite even closer to him. Zoisite glanced up at him through mischievous eyes. He tilted his head up and gave Kunzite a quick kiss. Then, laughing eyes still trained on Kunzite, he got up - leaving Kunzite in sole possession of the blanket. He headed into the tent, beckoning for Kunzite to enter. Kunzite was quick to follow. After awhile, they had a very restful evening indeed.

* * *

Kunzite leaned over and kissed the tip of Zoisite's nose - it had rapidly become his favorite way of waking his lover up. It was so adorable to watch as Zoisite wrinkled his nose like a rabbit. He wasn't disappointed - this morning the nose wrinkled, too. Zoisite blinked bleary eyes up at him then mumbled, "Not time to geddup." He flipped onto his back and closed his eyes again. Kunzite smiled, *So, you're gonna be difficult, are you?* He shook Zoisite's shoulder, "Come on, love, it's time to get up. We have to get going if we want to get to the shrine by nightfall."

"Don' care," was the muffled response, "Too tired. You go."

Kunzite smiled wickedly, *Time to get mean...* He reached over and tickled Zoisite just under the rib-cage on his left side. Zoisite squealed and jumped away from him, then proceeded to stand and shiver in the cold morning air. He glared at Kunzite, "That's not nice!"

Kunzite laughed as he, too, got up, "All's fair in love, war, and waking people up - you should know that by now."

Zoisite stuck his tongue out at Kunzite as he started to get dressed, "For that, you get to make your own breakfast." He stomped out of the tent to start up the fire. Kunzite chuckled, *Morning as usual.*

After a short breakfast, they struck camp and headed out. Zoisite was still shooting glares from under half-closed eyelids. Every time Kunzite happened to intercept one, he laughed. Zoisite would promptly stick out his tongue, then turn his head the other way.

Sometime around noon, Zoisite abruptly pulled his horse to a stop. He whispered, "Kunzite! Get back here!" He moved his horse into the bushes on the side of the road. Kunzite frowned, then joined him, "What is it?" Zoisite closed his eyes, "I hear something a little ways back down the road. I'm not sure what it is, but I think we should wait and see."

Kunzite nodded, trusting the younger man's judgment. This was his home territory, after all. After a few minutes of waiting, Zoisite pointed, "There!" It was an extremely ornate coach, drawn by four palomino horses. When Zoisite got a closer look, he groaned. Kunzite turned to him, "What's wrong?"

Zoisite closed his eyes, "That's my father's carriage!" He thought, then quietly figured out the date. He swore, "Damn it! I forgot - the yearly pilgrimage. My father goes to visit his parents once a year and pray at the shrine. Why didn't I remember that? I wouldn't have come." He bent over until his head was touching the pommel of his saddle, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach.

Kunzite rubbed his hand on Zoisite's back, "Easy. It's a good thing you didn't know - this trip wouldn't have been nearly so much fun without you along." Zoisite looked up at him, distraught that Kunzite didn't seem to understand. Kunzite gave his back one last rub, "I do understand, love. But, you're a grown man - you're 27 years old. There's no reason for you to fear your parents. Not anymore." Then he added quietly, "And if they hurt you again, I will personally kill both of them. OK?"

Zoisite looked startled, then a slow smile spread across his features. "OK. Sounds like a deal..."

Meanwhile, the people in the coach had grown rather nervous - they had heard the two horses on the road. The driver slowly pulled the horses to a stop and turned to talk to the two in the coach. "Excuse me, ma'am, sir, but there seems to be a spot 'o' company on the road up ahead. Ye should 'ave one 'o' yer men check it out."

Kunzite and Zoisite decided to save them the trouble. They urged their horses on to the road and hailed the coachman. The driver jumped down, "Lord-General, sir! A pleasure, it is, a real pleasure! What might ye be doin' on a back-country road like this here one?"

Kunzite smiled, "Likely the same as you - my comrade and I are on our way to visit the holy shrine on a matter of some importance. You will therefore forgive us if we ride on ahead of you. We ride under orders of the King."

The coachman nodded, "Aye sir! I'll explain things to the lord and lady. You ride on, now. Good day to ye, sirs!" When the two had disappeared around the bend in the road, the coachman scratched his beard, "There was somethin' familiar about the little 'un. Huh." He went back to explain the hold up to the lord and lady - they got rather teed off when they were put off schedule.

* * *

Kunzite frowned at Zoisite, "Are you sure about this? I should think that they would have said something when they saw you."

Zoisite shook his head, "The family coachman has only seen me a few times my whole life. If you want to get somewhere in this county, and you aren't of the ruling gentry, you ride." He patted his horse on the neck. "And my parents were inside the coach, so they didn't see me." Suddenly he looked up and pointed, "There. That's my grandmother's shrine."

Kunzite squinted, "Shrimpy little thing, isn't it?"

Zoisite laughed, "Just don't say that to my grandmother's face. It may be shrimpy, but it's her home. Besides, she's always saying that all she ever needed to be a priestess is a fireplace and a bunch of herbs." He shrugged, "I guess this is just putting that theory into practice."

Kunzite said, "Well, we'd best not keep the Lady waiting then. After you." He motioned for Zoisite to go on ahead of him. *Well, one good thing this did for me... Got Zoisite out of that snit he was in!* Zoisite turned around and 'hmphed' at him, then kicked his horse into a canter.

When Kunzite finally caught up to him, Zoisite was already handing his horse to one of the stableboys. Kunzite quickly dismounted and handed over his own horse. He grabbed his saddlebags and followed Zoisite into the shrine. "Where are we going?"

Zoisite put a finger to his lips, "Sh! Keep your voice down. This part of the shrine is holy ground. It's disrespectful to speak too loudly." Kunzite nodded to show his understanding. Zoisite continued, "We have to go pay our respects at my family's shrine, then we can go find my grandmother." He led the way to a fire-pit in the center of a small room.

Kunzite frowned, "This is it?" Zoisite had already knelt by the flames and was running through the chant of respect that all of his family were taught from birth. When a natural pause in his chanting occurred, he said, "This is my family's personal shrine. I like it much better than the public one." He grabbed a handful of sweet-smelling herbs and threw them into the fire, bowing his head. He unfolded himself from his kneeling position and rested his head against Kunzite's chest. "Now, we can go find my grandmother."

* * *

The Priestess put her tea cup down onto her saucer with a clang, "They are here."

The man who sat with her raised an eyebrow, "Who are they, my dear?"

Almai patted her husband's knee and smiled, "Our grandson and his significant other."

The old man nodded, "Shall I go greet them?"

Almai shook her head, "No, Robert. Zoisite knows his way around the shrine - he will get here on his own. You and I need to talk."

"About what? Oh wait, let me guess. His father," the way Robert said that last word made it sound like a curse.

Almai frowned, "He is our son, like it or not - and our only son, at that. It isn't his fault that he is as thick-headed as he is." At her husband's incredulous look, she murmured, "But that isn't the point." She looked up at Robert, "Can't we do something about this? Zoisite is just finally learning to stand on his own, he doesn't need to deal with his father, yet." She turned pleading eyes on her lifemate, "Please?"

Robert put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, "Allie, Allie, Allie. You can't fight all their battles for them, you know that."

"They're my grandchildren! I can't help it."

Robert tightened his arm around his wife's shoulders, "I know, love. But it's time they learned to fight without you there to hold their hands. And what about the other 16 children who call you 'Grandma', hmm? You don't help them one hundredth as much as you help the other two."

Almai stood up and crossed her arms over her chest, "They're practically carbon copies of their parents! Krissy and Zoisite were the only two that were worth bothering with, for Gaia's sake! They're the only two with brains - and hearts. I can't help it if I feel more attached to them than the others."

"Spare the rod, spoil the- "

Almai growled at her husband, "If this weren't Holy Ground, I would tell you exactly where you could stick that remark..."

Robert 'ahemed' and waggled his eyebrows at the door, then stood and wrapped his arms around Almai, lightly kissing her cheek. She frowned, then turned her own head to the door. The sight made her smile. She opened her arms wide and embraced her grandson, "Zoisite! So you decided to come along, as well?"

Zoisite smiled, sure that she had known all along that he would come, "Couldn't resist such a tempting offer, Grandmother."

Almai gave him one last squeeze, then turned and held her hand out to Kunzite. Kunzite stared at the hand, unsure of what to do. The High Priestess held her hand slightly tilted, a position halfway between normal forms of etiquette. *Do I shake it, or kiss it? I certainly can't afford to offend her. Oh Gaia, help!* Kunzite looked into the Priestess' eyes. They were a rich brown, like freshly turned earth. He could easily see the fires burning in their depths. Taking a deep breath, Kunzite shook the Priestess' hand.

Almai smiled and bowed her head, "My name is Almai. You may call me 'Grandmother'."

Kunzite breathed an inner sigh of relief. Though from the smile in the Priestess' eyes, she might have reacted the same if he'd kissed her hand... "It is an honor, Grandmother." In his mind, Kunzite could feel Zoisite trying to hold in giggles. He heard a small squeak and turned his head in Zoisite's direction. At the same moment, Almai turned to stare at Robert. They then turned back to each other, with nearly identical frowns on their faces. Robert and Zoisite lost control at the same moment, bursting into laughter.

Almai and Kunzite waited patiently for the two to get themselves under control. Zoisite managed it first, "Sorry, Kunzite. But, you should have seen your faces!" Robert gave one last wheeze, then commented, "As Usagi would say, 'That was classic!'"

Kunzite raised an eyebrow, "Who's Usagi?"

"An old friend of Zoisite's. She used to come by to visit a lot when he was younger. Charming young lady - very vivacious," Robert commented.

Kunzite nodded, "I see. While I am enjoying this chat, I fear that I must bring this conversation around to more serious affairs. The King sent me to find out if you know any more about this 'Beryl'."

Almai frowned, "Such is not a topic for light conversation, General." She turned to Zoisite and said, "I believe your old room is still available. Rest awhile. I must meditate. Excuse me." The Priestess bowed and left.

Robert watched her leave, then slowly added his own thoughts, "Your grandmother is more troubled by this evil than she lets on. She's been like this ever since her trip to the Palace."

Kunzite wrapped an arm around Zoisite, "Then I hope we can ease her mind, good sir. In the meantime, I suggest that we follow the Lady's advice. It's been a long journey."

Robert nodded, "Of course. Please feel free to go wherever you like while you are here. This is a beautiful area, and very safe. Bandits tend to stay far away from our grounds." He smiled and departed.

Zoisite started leading Kunzite in the direction of his old room. Kunzite raised an eyebrow, "So why are the shrine grounds so safe?"

Zoisite laughed, "They didn't use to be. It was all my sister's fault."

Kunzite raised an eyebrow and indicated that Zoisite should continue. Zoisite smiled, "Every child in my family is sent here for their thirteenth year for formal schooling, then sent home to become plow or marriage fodder. One of my younger sisters decided that she wanted to stay here longer. Her name is Krissy - she was the only real friend I had amongst my kin. The other oddball, if you will. Her powers are as strong as mine, they just tend more towards the mystic end of the scale."

"When she got here, she fell in love with the place. She and my grandmother were a perfect match for each other - more like mother and daughter. When she decided she wanted to stay, Grandmother threw her full support behind the request. Father didn't argue very long. One less mouth to feed. Anyway, when Krissy had been here for a year, she decided she'd had enough of the bandits that prayed off the shrine-goers. She challenged each of the bandits to a one on one combat and proceeded to beat every one of them. While they were all nursing their bruised egos, she offered them a choice: Use their skills to work for the shrine, or get the hell off her land. A surprising number stayed on to work here." Zoisite's eyes were fairly glowing with pride.

Kunzite laughed, "Sounds like quite a young lady. I can't wait to meet her."

Zoisite shook his head, "She isn't here. I don't Feel her anywhere. Grandmother had mentioned something about sending her to the University when her training as a priestess was complete. We probably just missed her."

"Well, we'll just have to look her up when we get home," was Kunzite's answer.

Zoisite suddenly stopped walking, "I think this is it..." He put his hand on the wall to their left and closed his eyes. The wall started glowing a curious murky yellow. Then it suddenly turned to a happy blue. A soft chime sounded and a door formed in the wall. Zoisite turned the knob and swung it open. "After you!"

Kunzite stared at him as he walked through the doorway, "What was that?"

"The most convenient way to keep unwanted visitors out of a room. It's keyed to let me, my grandparents, and Krissy in. When I get a moment, I'll key it to you, too."

Kunzite smiled slyly, "And how do you keep them out?"

Zoisite picked up a small emerald from a basket at the side of the door. He pressed it into the outside of the door. He turned to face Kunzite, "We put up a 'Do Not Disturb' sign." He kicked the door shut, then wrapped his arms around his beloved.

* * *

Almai knelt before the main hearth. She had sent everyone out of the room and locked the door. She wanted privacy, yet she couldn't quite bring herself to meditate. *Things are moving too quickly. None of the kingdoms will have time to prepare. And they all seem convinced that this can't happen because it's the Silver Millennium! Gaia-be-damned idiots. At least Kunzite recognizes the danger. That's one small blessing - he'll push until he convinces everyone else. I just hope they don't come around too late.*

Almai bowed her head before the Fire, "Oh, Great Fire, please guide me. I know not what to do."

Smoke began to billow out from the Fire. Almai jumped to her feet and raised an ofuda in defense. The smoke began to settle into a shape. Almai knew that shape well - too well. "Beryl..." She began her chant, then threw the ofuda with the fury of built-up helplessness, "Akiryou Taisan!!"

The ofuda sailed straight through Beryl's grinning visage and fell limply to the floor on the other side. Almai's eyes widened, "What sort of witchery is this?"

Beryl's grin grew wider. She spoke softly, hissing each sibilant, "Foolish old woman. Do you not recognize an illusion when you see one? I figured that since you built us such a lovely little campfire, that now would be the perfect time to chat." She pulled a stick out of her cloak and stuck a marshmallow onto the end. She turned to the Great Fire and held the marshmallow over it. She then turned to the Priestess, her very expression daring Almai to protest.

Almai's eyes narrowed in anger, "You blasphemous witch! I want you out of my shrine! Do you hear me? Now!" Tears had begun to stream down her face.

Beryl popped the marshmallow into her mouth, then caused the stick to disappear. The laughed, "Oh no, Almai. This is far too much fun."

Almai sank to her knees and whispered, "What do you want from me?"

Beryl leaned down, "You know what I want, Almai."

Almai jerked her head up, "Never!" she screamed, "I'll never give my grandchildren to you! Never!!"

Beryl's eyes narrowed, "You're making me angry, Almai, and that's a dangerous thing to do. Give me what I want, and I'll spare you and your husband. Refuse me, and well..." she smiled, "You, of all people, should know what I'm capable of."

Almai forced herself to look into Beryl's eyes. They were cold, betraying no emotion. As the Priestess watched, they hardened even further. She opened her mouth to deny the witch, yet again, but Beryl waved her quiet. "I see the defiance in your eyes, still. Very well, Almai. Have it your way." She raised her staff.

Something slammed into Almai from the right, knocking her out of the way of the blast. She looked up to find Kunzite kneeling next to her. "Stay down," he ordered. He stood, drawing his sword. Beryl was gone. He turned back to Almai and held his hand out to help her up, "Well, she sure left in a hurry. It's a good thing I was wandering around out here. Grandmother?"

Almai's eyes had gone vacant. *Where did she go?* Kunzite looked on worriedly as Almai's face drained of all color. Almai was already reaching out for Zoisite, *He's the only one who can get there fast enough...*

"*Zoisite! Wake up! Beryl's here! Your grandfather!!*" No sooner had she made contact, then she was out the door and running. She could feel her lifemate's fear - and she could also feel that she and Kunzite wouldn't reach him in time. Kunzite had wisely decided to save his questions for later.

The sight that met their eyes upon reaching the kitchen pulled them both up short. Zoisite and Beryl were locked in a magical combat. Zoisite was holding his own - but barely. Robert was backed into the far corner or the room, not moving, for fear he'd distract his grandson. He met Almai's eyes across the room, "*You know, when I told you to let him fight his own battles, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind...*" Robert said, dryly. Then suddenly serious, he sent, "*Can you help him, Allie?*"

"*I don't know Robert. Let me try...*" she broke off the contact and reached for her grandson.

"*Grandmother! I could use some help here!*" came the wearied and scared reply.

Almai, who knew what was at stake should he lose this fight, fought to keep her calm, "*Would it help to know that this isn't really her? Her magic is real enough, but the form itself is an illusion.*"

"*You know, Grandmother, that just might help...*" Zoisite broke off the contact. He sent one last magical blast in Beryl's direction, then pulled himself up so he was floating ten feet off the ground. "*Kunzite?*"

"*I'm with you, love,*" Kunzite replied, trying to hide the numbing fear that filled his mind. He wanted nothing more than to step in front of Zoisite and protect him from that creature. He forced his mind to calm, it wouldn't help his love to know that he was terrified.

"*Good - I sure hope this works.*" Gathering Kunzite into a meld, Zoisite used their combined power to ready another attack. He conjured a seven foot long ice crystal. He nodded at the General and using Kunzite's innate sense of aim, sent the crystal flying at Beryl's head. Beryl laughed, thinking that a physical threat couldn't possibly harm a projection. She wasn't prepared for the illusion disrupting spell set in the center of the ice crystal. The illusion shattered. While Beryl tried to regroup, Zoisite took the energy from the crystal and reformed it into a shield around the shrine. Beryl battered her power against the shield several times, but it held. Screaming in frustration, she pulled away from the shrine to plan her next move.

Zoisite dropped to the ground, then collapsed to his knees, his breath coming in huge gasps. Kunzite ran to his beloved, heart in his throat, and dropped to his side, "Are you OK?"

Zoisite turned bleary eyes towards Kunzite, "Dear? When we're done here, can we take a vacation?"

Kunzite laughed, in relief, as he drew Zoisite into his arms, "You're sure you're OK?"

Zoisite dropped his head to Kunzite's chest and nodded sleepily. He murmured, "If no one minds, I think I'm gonna faint, now. OK?"

Kunzite kissed his forehead, his pride in Zoisite's accomplishment clear in his eyes, "Go ahead. You've earned it." Zoisite was already asleep.

Almai cleared her throat, causing Kunzite to look up at her. She smiled, "If you can carry him," she nodded at Zoisite, "I think we should retire to my library. I will tell you what I know of this witch named Beryl."

When Kunzite lifted his eyes to hers, he shivered. The warm fires in her eyes burned hotter and brighter than before. Looking into them, Kunzite could see anger, stronger than any he'd ever known. The look in her eyes was one that you could expect to see on a she-wolf when something was threatening her pups. Almai smiled, coldly, predatorially, "We'll see if we can't find a way to bring the bitch down."

The End of Chapter 4 - Goto Chapter 5

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