“I know my mother’s decree is difficult to accept,” Diana said. Her mother’s decree; nobody else’s.
One by one, she divided members of the Sailor Guardians from the pack, so that she might speak to them without the influence of the others. What she asked had to be measured against individual hearts.
She continued. “But you needn’t sit idly by. Usagi may be confined to Themiscyra, but you aren’t. If you feel your place is in the battle ahead, then I would be honored to stand by you.”
It was a difficult offer for any teenage girl, let alone those with the power of the stars. Fighting alongside Wonder Woman? They may not have shared the amazon’s thirst for honor and glory, but what an adventure! What a story for ages to come!
Yet Usagi’s brave face still lingered. Diana could read it on their thoughts, plain as day. She could also hear the words. “You should go with Wonder Woman. She needs you. Support her like you’d support me!”
The Golden Perfect warmed at her side. It was as sensitive to self-deception as any other.
Mako, Ami, Mina and Rei. Each girl wrestled with choice, and each came to their own conclusion. Perhaps it was of little coincidence that they came to the same one.
“My place is here with Usagi,” they said, if not in those exact words then something similar.
The Golden Perfect was satisfied with their answers.
What brave girls, thought Diana. Though the world is in turmoil, they keep room in their hearts for a friend.
That balance, she knew, was a delicate one, and the right course wasn’t always clear. But one thing was for certain; the Sailor Guardians acted in accordance with their conscience, with perfect love and perfect trust.
Wonder Woman hummed with tender joy. What more could one hope for from the next generation?
“In that case,” Diana said, offering them her hand, “allow me to show you the fruits of paradise!”
It was the first time Ami and Diana were alone together, and unlike her comrades the girl didn’t have much to say. There were the usual pleasantries, thanking the princess for her kindness, but any further sentiment escaped her.
So she devoted her attention to her surroundings – the plants, the architecture, even the animals she never got to see at home, like goats, sheep and horses.
Fortunately for Ami, Diana was more than able to speak for them both. “The others tell me that you’re an avid student,” she said.
Strangers lifted their heads as they passed. Even as Sailor Mercury, Ami was not used to this level of attention. She blushed and waved a meek wave. Her other arm clutched to her chest.
“I try,” she said. “Fortunately I have friends to keep from losing myself completely.”
For the life of her, Diana could not grasp why a person would make themselves so small. There were certainly quiet folk among the amazons, private by nature, but none as painfully shy as Ami.
Could it be, she wondered, the product of surviving in man’s world? A place where vulnerability was more exploited more than nurtured. Experience taught the girl to hide the world inside of her.
She only hoped that time among the amazons would inspire her confidence.
Diana smirked. “Friends are nice,” she said, “but to have a love for knowledge is a wonderful thing. Here, I want to show you something.”
Ami widened her eyes. She looked up, and up, so high that she nearly fell backward! Standing before her was a great stone structure, inside of which were rows upon rows of shelves, filled with scrolls, parchments and books stacked to the ceiling. Between them were a hundred librarians, maybe more, sorting through piles, and scribes copying texts to new pages while consulting others.
“This… this is…”
“The Great Library,” Diana said, “with all the knowledge of the amazons. Stagnate for a thousand years or so, but upon reuniting with man’s world we’re set about recording and translating everything we can get our hands on.”
Ami gasped. What an incredible sight!
“There’s so much of it!”
“Feel free to peruse at your leisure,” said the amazon.
It was evident that the girl was not accustomed to such consideration. Others assumed that discipline and the desire for grades drove her, not learning in its own right. Yet to see the yearning for knowledge sparkling in her eyes, Diana wondered how such a thing was not evident to all.
Perhaps, she mused, that others cannot see what they do not share a desire for. After all, at her age Diana spent just as much time staring out the library window than she did absorbing the contents of scrolls. Though age had tempered her tendency to daydream.
Ami needed no further invitation. She unfurled the very first scroll she could get her hands on. So much information, and in one place! So much once lost to time.
It was more than she ever dreamed.
Mako adjusted the shoulders of her toga, and savored the sensation of daylight on her bare skin. Themyscira truly was paradise, not just for the crisp air and abundant life, but also because, for the first time, she was no longer among the tallest girls in a room.
What a treat!
She followed Diana down a dusty road, away from the pavilions and homes, and through the brush. A chorus of birds accompanied the day. They ventured forth to where she didn’t know, as whenever Mako asked the princess would simply grin.
They came to a clearing and an arrangement of fields that stole the girl’s breath. Orchards and vines; olives, apples, oranges, and so much more – and they were only the first!
Diana snatched Mako’s hand and rushed her along to a row of lattice archways. From them hung clusters of fat, purple grapes, ready to burst. She reached up, plucked a piece, and then reached into her satchel. From there she removed a cloth. Inside it were pieces of cheese and wafers.
“Try it,” she said.
Mako sniffed the cheese. It was rich and sharp. She placed a piece on a wafer, and a grape on top of that, and with the princess’ encouragement bit down on them. Flavor exploded on her tongue.
“It’s so good!” she cried.
Wonder Woman clasped her hands together, barely restraining her glee. “When I was a little girl I wasn’t tall enough to reach,” she said. “So I’d climb the lattice – or try to – but they couldn’t support my weight.”
The memory made for a pleasant distraction. Things were so much simpler then, when her biggest problems involved training, lessons and staying out of trouble. Sometimes she longed for those days, though the privileges of adulthood were more than an even trade.
Girls like Mako, however, already bore the weight of the world on their shoulders, much younger than Diana ever had to. Though she had the gift of friends to enrich her life, the demands of guardianship demanded that they grow before their time.
Diana smiled. Any reprieve from that was precious, even if the girls didn’t didn’t know how much.
“But in the end you reached the grapes, even if it meant making more work for us fieldhands,” said another.
Mako snapped upright. “I’m sorry! We were just looking around! We didn’t mean to-”
The burly woman flashed every tooth in her wide mouth and chuckled. “Don’t be so bashful! Fruit’s there to be enjoyed. That’s why the gods gifted it to us in the first place! Do you have grapes in man’s world?”
Mako nodded, her embarrassment still present. She didn’t want to make the wrong impression, after all. People had made assumptions about her in the past, based on her size alone. To many, her imposing stature was a threat, no matter her intention.
That was not the case among the amazons.
“How do they compare?” asked the farmer, eagerly.
She took a second bite, and melted with the taste. “I’ve never tasted anything like it before. It’s so sweet! How do you do it?”
“Fertile soil and good weather,” the farmer said. “We also have figs ripe for picking. You’re free to sample them.”
Mako looked to her guide, who nodded in approval. The promise of even more to come glimmered in Diana’s eye. Who could say no to such a generous offer?
Of all the Sailor Guardians, it was Rei who was the most at home on Themyscira. “Because there’s no boys to ruin her good time,” Usagi teased, which – while not a welcome comment – was not entirely without merit.
In truth there was more to paradise than the serenity of nature, or the sisterly culture of its inhabitants. To most it passed without notice, but for one with a sixth sense it was very distinct; the touch of divinity, and a land given shape by gods.
It was as close as Rei had ever come to real deities, at least in the classical understanding.
“I’d like to thank you, princess, for your hospitality,” she said. “Your home is remarkable, and though the circumstances are dire, I’m grateful for the opportunity to visit.”
Where with the others Diana had been playful, with Rei she became reserved, for she’d matured more than the others, perhaps before her time. That much was obvious in the way she spoke to her friends – not with any disdain for their adolescence, but the eagerness to leave her own behind.
“Perhaps you’ll have another chance once the current threat is dealt with,” Wonder Woman said.
That should have been a comforting thought, when the strife of Larisa was behind them..
The strings of the Golden Perfect warmed her side with urgency. It was sensitive, after all; and though Diana was its master, neither was she immune to its influence. In fact, it called her to be greater.
She ignored it. Such was sometimes necessary, no matter her feelings.
Rei furrowed her brow. Who knew when their ordeal would be over, or even if? The Legendary Silver Crystal had given them the edge in times past, but with the Onyx Prism in play…
Diana placed a hand on her shoulder, snapping her from anguish. “Don’t mourn a premature loss,” she said. “We will overcome, together.”
Perhaps in spite of herself, Rei believed the amazon, for hers were not the words of a child hoping for the best. She was Wonder Woman; a hero of the modern! If anyone had earned the right to optimism, it was her.
The girl stopped. Diana peered back. Rei’s fingers balled into fists. Of all her friends, Rei’s feelings were second closest to the surface, protected by a pane of fury.
“Is something wrong?” Diana asked, though she knew the answer. Many of the girl’s feelings were her own.
It wasn’t anger that broke the girl’s even temper, but something more visceral.
“She’s the biggest crybaby I know,” Rei said. “She sulks over every obstacle, no matter the size. But when it really counts…”
Diana took the Rei’s hands and ran her thumbs over her knuckles. One look was all she needed to convey her understanding.
Rei stifled a smile.
“A girl should be able to trust her own strength,” she said. “Usagi’s come far in her journey, but I’m afraid after all that’s happened-”
“You don’t have to be afraid,” Diana told her. “Usagi is struggling, but she’ll endure. Trust in her, like she trusts in you.”
It was always strange to Diana that regard for another most flourished far from their presence. Anyone who saw Usagi and Rei together might think them bitter rivals, teasing and taunting. Yet behind her back, Rei was as much a sister to Usagi as any girl could be.
Why couldn’t they be more open? But that was not for her to question.
“Thank you,” Rei said, and meant it.
She squeezed her hand. It was the simplest way to remind her; that was the purpose of friendship.
Wonder Woman guided Rei through the paved street toward another large structure. “At home you’re a shrine maiden. Isn’t that right?”
She gestured toward a statue at the end of the pavilion. “We don’t tend to practice shintoism here, but I hope you’ll appreciate it all the same.”
And appreciate it she did.
Rei’s eyes grew wide and still could not absorb the full breadth of the temple. At the heart of the monument was the statue of a goddess in grand proportions, nursing a spear in one hand and supporting an owl on her other. Her marble likeness peered from under her helmet.
In museums and galleries Rei’d seen sculptures bleached white by time, but never as they were intended. The goddess shone with bright, vivid colors, maintained with the utmost of care by the priestesses. The figure wore crisp white and glaring gold, with black hair draped behind her shoulders.
She gasped the goddess’ name.
Were she to say so out loud, the others might laugh. But Rei could have sworn the statue was alive. There was life in all things, according to shinto doctrine; the elements, plants, stones, even motes of dust. When it came to the goddess, however, there was more.
The idea seemed silly on the surface, but then again, wasn’t Themyscira proof of a world beyond dreaming?
Wonder Woman had started the day with a plan.
She, as ambassador, would tailor the experience of her homeland to their guests according to their interests. Themyscira, after all, was a diverse land with elements catering to the tastes of most women.
For the Sailor Guardians, she determined it would be no different.
Mina, she’d learned, was one of the more ‘high spirited’ members of the group, with dreams of shining under the spotlight. While Diana did not go out of her way to seek the adoration of the public, she certainly understood the appeal; which was why she’d planned to lead the girl toward the amphitheatre.
Which is exactly what she would have done… if Mina hadn’t discovered it first.
Moving between the steps, Diana moved toward the chorus of acapella sirens giving life to song. Between them, twirling on centre-stage, was the blonde-haired star, voice soaring on the platform provided by the amazons.
“Open that window
The time of yours
Is beginning now
Close your eyes
I wanted to have
One last kiss at night
The resonant melody faded from the amphitheatre, and though she was a lone spectator, Diana responded with wild applause.
Mina blushed. Had the princess been there the whole time? Whether she had or not, the girl was grateful, cast aside her humility, and flashed ‘V for victory’ with her fingers.
Who needed a packed house when you had Wonder Woman for an audience?
Perhaps, Diana thought, she needn’t have burdened her heart as much. Seeing the smiles on the girl’s faces was more of comfort than she could say.
In the face of adversity, each and every one found a reason to smile. And not the smiles that mask suffering, either; but the smiles that celebrate the existence of life.
The Golden Perfect itched at her side, bringing a thought to the forefront of her mind. But what of Usagi?
Diana humbled herself. It wouldn’t do to forget the burden placed on others.
The afternoon was growing late when Diana passed the stables. The horses whinnied in the yard, bucking on their hind legs. They too could sense that something was amiss, that discord ran through the undercurrents of paradise. It seemed to follow wherever the princess went.
She found Chibi-Usa on the far side of the fence, climbing the planks to get a better view. Like many girls of a certain age she was fascinated by horses in all their strength, grace, and majesty.
For some that appreciation never waned, and for reasons Diana could more than understand. A bond shared with an animal was often a bond shared for life.
From the moment Diana appeared in her sights, the girl made a point to look away. She made no effort to hide the fact, and was insistent that the amazon knew just how determined she was to ignore her. And if that weren’t clear enough, she punctuated her expression with as menacing a grimace as any little girl could muster.
The girl grunted, and leaned further into the fence.
Diana sighed, and cast her gaze over the yard. The horses broke into a canter, and settled once they’d spent some energy. It was difficult for them to be cooped up in times of distress; that being the resounding sentiment across the island.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Diana mused.
The little girl stiffened. Yes, the horses were beautiful, but that wasn’t what they were there to talk about.
“Is there something you want to ask me?”
Diana paused, and drew a long, even breath. It was a diplomacy technique. Break the rhythm, slow the pace, speak softly but directly.
“Only about your well being,” she said. It was the answer Chibi-Usa expected, but not what she wanted.
“It’s bad enough that you won’t let Sailor Moon fight her own battles,” she wailed, “but then to go around and ask the others, and not ask me? Why! Is it because I’m a kid? I can handle myself, you know! I’m almost as tough as Sailor Moon!”
Despite her honesty, Diana more than grasped why some parents peppered their children with what they called ‘white lies’. When dealing with such volatile tempers, the temptation to fall on an easy answer proved great indeed.
The Golden Perfect reminded her that she could not succumb, even if she wanted to.
“It’s not because you’re a child,” she said. “Though Hera knows a child’s place is not on the battlefield. I’ve seen more than enough child soldiers, some as young as you, forced to take up arms, and every time I weep.”
Perhaps it was for shedding endless tears in the past that Diana appeared cold. There were no more left to fall, for now.
Chibi-Usa was not satisfied. “So that’s why you keep me trapped here? I can help you!”
“It’s not because of that,” Diana said, and it was the truth.
“Because,” she explained, “Usagi will endure, with or without her friends. What she cannot be without is you.”
The words struck like a hammer to the little girl’s chest. She’d become so comfortable that she’d forgotten her place in Sailor Moon’s heart. More than a protege, more than a sister, she was the product of a love still blooming, and a symbol for hope in tomorrow.
Would she really be taking that away if she were to fight Larisa?
Chibi-Usa blinked away tears, and shook her head. “You’re wrong!” she wailed. “Usagi is the strongest person I’ve ever known! She doesn’t need me like that! She was a hero even before we met!”
The little girl threw herself from the fence, and in a fit sprinted away, stopping only to land a final barb. “You used to be cool, Wonder Woman! What happened to you?”
She ran off again, as fast as her little legs could carry.
Diana clutched her arms, processing the number of feelings exploded at her. Chibi-Usa was a child, conflicted, not always understanding of herself; which was why as an adult Diana needed to be understanding on her behalf.
Though one barb continued to linger that Diana could not swallow.
“I’m totally cool,” she muttered, even if she didn’t feel it.
Evening fell over paradise, casting the sky in amber and speckling the ocean waves with light. Despite the idyllic scenery and the taste of salt cleansing the air, there remained a heaviness shouldered by a few.
Usagi climbed the steep path to the palace, dragging that weight with her. She would have loved nothing more than to taste the fruits of their retreat – a part of her screamed for that escape – but how could she while knowing that Larisa was still out there; that Planet X still loomed, and that her own power might yet be the catalyst for destruction?
No amount of friendship could save them this time. She was wholly reliant on the strength of the amazons. It was not the first time she’d felt powerless, but no amount of experience could ease its torment.
Queen Hippolyta waited atop the stairs, and though her skin was without blemish the twilight revealed the truth of her age.
Usagi stopped and bowed her head, like a kid steeped in guilt, waiting for chastising.
“Come, child,” the Queen said. “We’ve much to discuss.”
Though there was no cruelty to her tone, her words held no promise of comfort.