“We welcome our sisters from the Moon Kingdom in the name of love and friendship. May your time among the amazons be rich and joyful.”
Queen Hippolyta was equal in beauty to Diana herself, as were the other residents of Themyscira. Despite her longevity, her appearance was that of a woman at the precipice between youth and maturity. Her manner, however, spoke to a quality more refined than a single lifetime could provide; whether it was her poise, diction, or the ease with which she moved through the world, she was every inch the image of royalty.
Usagi drank in the powerful woman’s aura, and combed head to toe for any trace of flaw. Her purple robes, shining lips, and glistening gold bands were of a goddess personified, as were the lush, black ringlets pulled high under her crown. Yet for all her glamor there was a strength to her, tempered with compassion, equal to her daughter. Perhaps she’d more than shaped the princess, but imparted that piece of her also.
On the Queen’s right side stood Diana, all smiles, the very picture of diplomacy. She was brighter than she was before, and while it was no less genuine, Usagi didn’t recognise her as the woman she’d come to know.
Every so often Diana stole glances at her mother, making sure to stay close. Was she waiting her turn to speak to the crowd? But when the floor opened she did not step forward.
The island inhabitants gathered around the courtyard in front of the palace; philosophers, soldiers, merchants, farmers and more. A handful waved at Chibi-Usa, excited to have a child in their midst – the others stood anticipating ceremonial words from the Sailor Guardians.
Usagi reeled. Classroom presentations were scary enough, but this was ridiculous! But, being a princess, she had an obligation to speak.
“Queen Hippolyta,” she began. “Thank you for inviting us into your home. We promise to not break anything!”
She sensed a collective groan, but it was the best she could come up with! Even Usagi winced when she realised what she’d said.
The amazon queen frowned, neither amused nor displeased by the girl. The princess, however, stifled a giggle.
How could this be any worse?
Diana sidled up to Hippolyta’s side. “Come now, mother. Don’t be so morose,” she said. “Sailor Moon is a friend. No need to stand on ceremony.”
“Well.” Hippolyta eased, loosening the barest sliver of a grin. “The Moon Kingdom has been our ally for well over a millenia.” She cast her arms wide. “Come, sisters! Let us celebrate the arrival of these blessed guests! Let us show them the hospitality of the amazons!”
A great cheer erupted across the yard. What manner of hospitality did a warrior people have in mind?
The queen stepped down from the podium, and the crowd started to mingle. Usagi was swamped by curious amazons – Penelopes, Ophelias, Theas and Zoes – when what she really wanted was to rejoin Diana’s side. She smiled and laughed her way through the eager women, and when she emerged saw that Diana was not alone.
Both the queen and princess were locked in a steely exchange, Diana with her arms folded and Hippolyta with her royal nose tilted high. The sight gave Usagi pause. The phrase ‘trouble in paradise’ was never so literal.
“I wonder what they’re talking about,” she muttered aloud.
Rei sidled up to her. “Oh, probably about the best ways to Usagi-proof the island.”
Irritation bristled in Usagi’s shoulders. Only Rei knew how to get under her skin like that.
“What are you saying, exactly?” she asked through gritted teeth.
The other girl smirked like the cat who got the cream. “Come on, Usagi. You’re a total klutz. Don’t deny it! They’re probably worried you’ll break a thousand year old vase or something.”
Of all the nerve! Usagi poked her tongue at Rei as aggressively as a girl could.
Their banter ended with trumpeting from the hills. Usagi barely grasped the situation before citizens scrambled from the streets; not in a panic, but with urgency nonetheless. Each woman knew exactly where she needed to be – except, it seemed, Usagi and her friends.
“W-what’s going on!”
Hippolyta’s voice roared above the crowd. “Amazons! To arms!”
Guards moved into formation by the dozen, surrounding the five girls, and raising their bucklers and swords. Each served as a brick in an impenetrable wall.
Usagi gasped, and found herself gripping to her equally confused friends.
Chibi-Usa buried her face in the needy handfuls of her sister’s skirt. The air was thick with dread, enough to choke on.
“It’ll be alright,” she said, though Usagi couldn’t know that for sure. She hoped against hope.
Wonder Woman leaped into the circle, ever the vision of fortitude. “You girls stay behind me,” she said.
For the briefest of moments, Usagi eased. If anyone could protect them, it was her.
But fear came crashing back when a shriek pierced the sky. Usagi squeezed fingers tight as she and her friends braced for the downcoming foe.
Then she saw it – the terrifying beast shattered from glass, black as pitch with no light reflecting from its scales. It coiled toward the earth with jowls wide, revealing a gauntlet of agony running the length of its gullet.
If Usagi didn’t know any better, she’d swear the creature was bearing on her.
The dragon’s neck lashed at her like a whip. Usagi screamed, as Wonder Woman charged and pried its jaws wide. A second later and she’d have been lunch meat!
Diana resisted the creature’s bite, powering through the agony in her grip. Blood trickled down her arms from the teeth buried in her palms.
Her will, her endurance, did not seem possible to one like Usagi, even after all she’d seen. That was why Wonder Woman was a hero, greater than the rest.
The amazon bellowed. “Bind its neck! Move your way to the tail!”
Warriors stormed either side of the beast in formation. They threw cables over its neck, then snagged the line and pulled it taut. More amazons sprang up from behind, with spikes and hammers to secure the cables.
They moved down the length of the dragon, securing bit by bit, while the furious tail lased at any within reach. Though strikes pierced their flesh, the warriors of Themyscira pressed on, never wavering under the threat of destruction. If they knew fear it did not show.
Usagi gasped. Where her heart was frozen in shock, theirs burned with the drive for victory. I could never be like that, she thought. Though made of flesh and blood the amazon heart was invincible, and her own was so fragile in comparison.
Wonder Woman grit her teeth. Her body trembled, but her mettle did not bend. “We’re almost there!” she cried. “Just a little more!”
With the monster bound, it would be a simple matter to destroy it, but it was not to be.
Cables snapped under the monster’s pull. Amazons flew in every direction, howling against fortune. Many flew back into the barbs of a sweeping tail.
With a grunt, Diana leaped from the snapping jaws, all the worse for wear.
It was a sight Usagi would never get used to; a living legend forced into a defensive position, risking life and limb. They made for incredible stories, but in hearing them there was no doubt who came out victor.
“We have to help!” Usagi cried. She cast her reach to the heavens and called on the power of the moon.
“Moon Crystal Power… Make Up!”
Light enveloped the girl, transforming her from middle schooler to hero in a uniform. Sailor Moon burst into life with hair and hem fluttering in the breeze.
Terror paused, giving way to the rush of survival. The world became small, with Sailor Moon and the beast being its only occupants. She had to protect her friends, new and old, and would do anything to meet the task.
Sailor Moon snatched the Moon Wand, and with all the love in her heart, all the desire to fend off harm, poured her energy into the Legendary Silver Crystal. The staff radiated, warm and pure, bright enough to dispel any shadow, no matter how deep.
The heroine took aim.
“Sailor Moon! No!”
Wonder Woman charged at her, but it was too late.
Her signature move exploded into a million points of light, spiraling with the power of Usagi’s feelings. In the past it had banished phantoms, lifted curses, and drawn wicked hearts toward justice. There was no reason it shouldn’t do the same this time.
The dragon reeled, and in a fit of defiance snatched the particles from the sky. It swallowed them down, deep into its crystalline form.
That should have been the end. History dictated that it dissolve into dust, but it didn’t. Instead the creature bloated, and from its expanding torso sprouted two pairs of limbs with serrated edges running from claw to shoulder.
“I-I don’t understand,” Sailor Moon said. “What’s it doing!”
It crashed with ground-shaking force, and threw its head back. The beast cried with rays of darkness cutting into the sky. If the absence of light ever shone on its own, it would be as it did from the dragon.
Wonder Woman snatched Usagi away. A moment later and blackness would have spewed over her.
Sailor Moon gripped her wand with both hands and shook. “Why… why didn’t that work?” And what else can I do? she didn’t say.
“That creature is a cast-off from the Onyx Prism,” Diana said. “It refracts light into dark, good into evil. The Legendary Silver Crystal only makes it stronger!”
But without the Legendary Silver Crystal, Usagi was just a girl.
She gaped as Wonder Woman flew back into battle, and noted the blood stains on the amazon’s uniform. Those, Usagi realised, were the mark of a real hero – someone who was unafraid to face the fire, who had the strength to endure. Not like her at all.
Tears ran down her cheeks. When did she start crying? This was not the time.
Sailor Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter took her by the arms and dragged her from the battle. Even Chibi-Usa was there to pick up her wand.
Had Usagi dropped it? When did that happen?
Her thoughts were too many to realize, and all of them weighed like boulders.
Diana of Themyscira had sacrificed much in her career.
Once she’d given her eyes to face the gorgon Medusa; once her lasso to the chopping seas to save a sister. She had even given her memories – her past, her origins, all things that made her divine – to protect the innocent.
Yet despite these things being restored, never had she left them with the promise of return. Through it all, she never once bristled in the face of long-lasting consequence.
Life, as combat, is to charge ever forward; into the mouths of beasts, both figurative and literal.
Her fingers twitched, though not out of fear or trepidation. The monster’s teeth had left its mark, likely severed tendons. But her wounds were the least of her thoughts. What pain she endured was a trifle against what was still to come.
The dragon reared its head, ready to strike. Lost in the black sheen of its scales were evil eyes trained on the amazon’s most eager warrior.
Diana dared not look away.
“Sisters,” she said, “lend me your arms!”
On the orders of the princess, two soldiers tossed their xiphos to her. Wonder Woman caught the handles with a faltering grip, but willed herself to hold tight. A plan brewed; one that required all her strength, swiftness and cunning.
The monster bit down, then again. Diana danced between strikes, not daring a parry or feint.
Her blood made the handles slick, more difficult to grasp, but she had no time for such concern. All she needed was one good shot.
She backed between a pair of buildings, into an alley closed by a cliff face. She was trapped, likely doomed.
Soldiers rounded the beast from behind to draw its attention, but they were chastised by the princess.
“I’ve got this,” she said; she hoped.
In her thoughts there circled a prayer: O Olympus, hear your daughter in her time of plight. Hera, please lend to me your courage; Athena, your insight; Artemis, your swiftness; Demeter, your grace.
More than a request it was an exchange; one for which Diana had sacrificed years of her life – training, building, sharpening her skills – until called upon to serve a greater purpose. The gods, though often fickle, did not discount those efforts lightly.
Though its movements were restricted by stone and columns, the lash of the dragon was no less vicious. Its mouth stretched to swallow the warrior whole.
Wonder Woman, in a fit of daring, met the monster halfway, throwing her body into its maw with arms cast wide. In each hand the blade of the xiphos gleamed, thirsty to meet their purpose.
The inside of the dragon was cold and lined with shards. Diana wailed, but did not ease her efforts, and ran her swords through the monster with equal fury. Black glass shattered the deeper she plunged, opening the dragon’s neck from the inside.
Soon the hole was wide enough for the heroine to tumble out. She landed in a crouch, worse for wear, marked with a thousand cuts. They seared in agony, as much as the princess had ever endured, but she was still in one piece.
The same could not be said for the dragon, whose suddenly fragile form collapsed within itself, not with a bang, but with a whimper. The mass of black glass crumbled into dust, so fine that the gentlest of breezes took it.
A bout of cheers erupted from the soldiers, though Diana could hardly hear through the pulsing in her skull. She only knew that her task was done; that was enough to satisfy her.
She collapsed into a rush of healers whose work was just beginning.
Diana wasn’t alone when she woke. She blinked through the haze of the healing purple ray.
But before she could stretch the stiffness out of her mended wounds there were the tears of the young woman doting on her bedside.
Usagi was a mess. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen, her cheeks burning with despair. It was a shock to see a girl so fraught with emotion over wounds an amazon otherwise might claim to walk off. Then she remembered that the outside world was not so blessed with amazon medicine.
She guided Usagi’s head into her lap. Strange that she was the one who was wounded, yet also the one giving comfort.
Diana stroked her back, and encouraged her to sob until she could sob so more.
“What a gift it is,” she mused gently, “to have a friend with feelings so strong.”
All of her friends were there, standing dutifully by; Rei, Mako, Ami and Mina. They nursed Chibi-Usa’s shoulders while the girl fidgeted. The ordeal affected them the same. Linked hearts often shared the blow.
Diana smiled a comforting smile, like an eldest sister. “I’m sorry to have worried you all. But I’m fine, really.”
“We thought you were… you were-” Usagi wailed, choking on the word.
The princess’ nimble hand drew her in an embrace. “I’ve gone toe to toe with the God of War,” she said. “What does a crystal dragon have that he doesn’t?”
Maybe she was right. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that. Usagi looked up and dared with a smile of her own. There was no doubt behind Diana’s eyes that everything would be alright – not that she could see.
There was another by her bedside. Queen Hippolyta, who attended her with an assurance that was not undeserved of her daughter’s ability to survive. Her lips pursed tight. There was another matter to address.
Usagi’s turtled between her shoulders. More talking meant more harsh words, some at her.
Wonder Woman, still wearing her battle torn accoutrements, slid from the bed. “I hope you didn’t chastise our guests too harshly, Mother.”
“I…” Usagi clenched her fists tight. “I messed up!”
“What’s done is done,” the Queen said. “Now you understand the nature of the threat. The Legendary Silver Crystal feeds the Onyx Prism and perverts its power. Light converts to darkness, order into chaos. You are not equipped for this battle, Sailor Moon.”
When she spoke, it wasn’t to Usagi, rather to her daughter, as though she held authority over the Sailor Guardians. And in a way she did. In the world of heroism Diana was more accomplished – ‘sempai’ – a fact that these girls, knowingly or not, respected.
Guilt twisted in Diana’s gut, but she said nothing. It wouldn’t be proper to speak against the queen in mixed company.
Chibi-Usa, however, had no such qualms. “Sailor Moon did nothing wrong!” she said. “This is as much her fight as anyone else’s! Even if she makes mistakes, she should be allowed to fight!”
A hush fell. All eyes turned to the Queen – stern, decisive Hippolyta. It was not unheard of that one of her authority wouldn’t stand to be spoken to in such a way, even by a child. But Hippolyta was anything if not compassionate.
The Queen of the Amazons bent down so that she was eye level with the girl. It was a gesture known among the amazons as ‘loving submission’ – one practiced by royalty as well as citizens.
“Sweet girl,” she said, softening her tone. “I understand this is difficult for you, as it is for all of us. But if we are to defeat Larisa we must do so by casting away our pride, and by placing trust in one another.
“The most difficult thing in the world is to sit by and do nothing, but circumstance makes demands of us that we sometimes can’t ignore. Do you understand?”
Chibi-Usa didn’t want to understand, but she did. Even if it took every ounce of her will, she did.
The girl nodded with eyes fixed shut, lest tears burst from them.
Hippolyta smiled at the girls. Theirs was a mix of emotion, but knew better than to speak. All that needed to be said had been said.
“Diana,” she continued. “Why not show our friends about the island? Let them know that there is more to the amazon way than strife.”
She nodded. “Of course.”
With that said she strolled out of the chamber. None seemed particularly happy, but that was not a Queen’s affair. That was something each would wrestle with on their own.