Chapter 2: In Search of the Stones – Sailor Mercury

Chapter 2: In Search of the Stones – Sailor Mercury

Chapter 2: In Search of the Stones - Sailor Mercury

“Wow, this is Switzerland’s tallest mountain,” Mercury observes from high atop Mt. Dufourspitze, one of the many mountains located in the Monte Rosa range in the Swiss Alps. The mountain is by no means Europe’s tallest mountain, but it’s pretty close, and Mercury can feel the difference in the air around her. Everything around her is shrouded in a shining glacial white, with the tiniest hints of crystal blue from the cloudless sky.

“It’s pretty high,” she smiles, calculating the distance with her supercomputer. Over four thousand meters, actually.

“Zoisite’s stone of Light is located under all this snow…”

Mercury knows she has to start searching, but before she can even begin to think about where to find clues, or even get down from this massive glacier she’s on, she hears a chorus of demonic noises.

When she turns around, she’s startled to see a group of youma there, swinging
their scythes as they come at her with their intent clear.

“Youma? How…? How can I possibly fight off so many youma?” Not one or two,
but four, five… six!

“I can’t do it all by myself,” Mercury whispers as she takes a hesitant step back. She knows she’s the least offensive of all the soldiers; sure, she has her Shine Aqua Illusion and her Mercury Aqua Mirage that have done some damage before, but not against six youma at once!

The closer the youma get, the more tiny steps Mercury takes backward– until there are no more steps to take, and with the shock of her boot heel meeting air, she stumbles off the glacier and falls below.

Her only comfort as she falls through the bitter cold air is that short of landing on solid rock, she probably won’t die from this– she’s a Sailor Soldier, and that makes her body resistant to things that normal humans would die or get grievously injured from.

But that doesn’t stop the breath from leaving her body in one quick whoosh the moment her body makes impact with a field of snow, and the sparkling glacial world around Mercury quickly fades to black.

She is unaware of the blond gentleman that happens to be walking by precisely at the moment she fell -quite literally- from the sky.

“Huh? What’s a girl doing here?!”

He rushes to her side, astonished that someone could have fallen such a great distance and not broken any bones or died on the spot.

“Oh no! She’s hurt! I have to get her some medical help, quick!” It’s true that this young man can’t see any life-threatening injuries -amazing for someone that fell from the sky- but nonetheless, the girl looks blue in the face and quite unconscious.

Some time later -Mercury is not sure when- she wakes up in an unfamiliar household,
feeling decidedly warmer than she did atop Mt. Dufourspitze.

“Uh… where am I?” she murmurs, mostly out of her own confusion, rather than an expectation of being answered. But to her surprise, she is answered- by the same handsome blond man who rescued her, though Mercury is entirely unaware of this fact.

“You were exhausted. You fell down here, underneath the glacier.”

This she remembers, but being brought to a house –under the glacier!?– she does not.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Hans,” the young man responds easily. “Who are you?”

“My name is Mizuno… er, Sailor Mercury.” She’s still transformed, she realizes, and even if she’s in Switzerland, she knows there are already youma in the area. She can’t discount the possibility of the enemy “changing the destiny” of those that may be close to the stone of Light Zoisite, and if that’s the case, she can’t trust anyone with her true identity.

“Thanks for helping me,” Mercury continues. “Where am I?”

“Kainess village,” Hans responds. “This village lies underneath the glacier.”

“Underneath… the glacier?” Mercury asks hesitantly. She’s never heard of such a thing. It sounds downright impossible, in fact.

“For 200 years, this village has been underneath the glacier. You’re the first person to come here in years,” Hans says, a strange smile quirking at the corners of his lips.

“Please, don’t strain yourself,” he says when he realizes Mercury is struggling to sit up. Constantly thirsty for information, Mercury longs to ask Hans more questions -about the glacier, about the village, and maybe even about the stone of Light Zoisite.

“Really?” Suddenly Mercury realizes she’s done it again- she’s put her own curiosity above what is important, and that’s saving Mamoru-san and finding the stone of Light Zoisite.

“I’m sorry to have caused you any trouble,” Mercury apologizes politely. “I really shouldn’t impose on you anymore.” Hans nods shortly and then leaves the room, giving Mercury pause. She supposes tradition for strange visitors is different in Switzerland, but…

When Mercury finally finds the strength to get up from the bed and pull her boots back on, she finds Hans in an adjoining room, staring at a deathly pale woman with a cloth on her forehead.

Mercury is about to ask what’s wrong with the ailing woman when Hans turns to her. “Are you all right? Please don’t be too unreasonable.”

Mercury is tempted to giggle, if only because she has never really been described as ‘unreasonable’ before. But he doesn’t say anything about the woman or what she is ill with; he just turns back and faces the bed with a mournful expression on his face. Mercury decides that her original instinct to leave -and return to her mission- is what’s best at the moment, as Hans is busy. There is an odd niggling presence in the back of her mind, wanting to stay and ask more questions, but…

‘I can’t.’ Mercury finds the door soon enough, and casts a hesitant glance back at the wide open room where Hans stares at the pale woman in her bed.

“Thank you… Hans.” And with that, she steps out of Hans’ humble home and heads outside.

The moment Mercury’s boot touches the step, she feels a strange warmth pulse in her uniform. She withdraws the stone of Dark Zoisite and is surprised to see it sparkling unnaturally.

“The stone of Dark Zoisite is glimmering… So the stone of Light must be around here somewhere.” She remembers calculating a rough area where the stone was located back when she was atop the glacier, and triangulating the stone’s location to a cave.

“Zoisite’s cave should be somewhere in this village.” Privately, she wonders how the Switzerland of the Silver Millennium would have appealed to Zoisite and how he knew -even after being brainwashed by Beryl, dying, and being “reborn” as a guardian of Prince Endymion- that the stone remained in one place.

Though the village initially seems abandoned, Mercury sees that it is full of houses, an inn, and a small shop. It isn’t long before she runs into a woman that bears a striking resemblance to Ms. Sakurada. The woman is mumbling under her breath, pacing back and forth as if anxious about something.

Mercury is unsure whether to ask this particular woman anything about a nearby cave or the stone of Light Zoisite, up until she hears the woman’s exact words: “I sure hope Hans’ mother is all right. I’m worried about her…”

‘Hans’ mother? Is that who Hans was taking care of in the other room?’ There didn’t seem to be much other explanation. ‘Oh, Hans… I’m sorry.’

Mercury walks through the village, determined not to lose sight of her mission or be put off by any strange people she meets. But of the few people that seem to be walking about the cold village, few seem to want to mention anything about nearby caves or magical stones.

“All my son wants to do is play. I think he should take after Hans a little bit more!” one older blonde woman grouses.

Many of the houses in the village look the same, and before long, Mercury is surprisingly lost- lost and back in Hans’ house. The moment she enters, she hears someone violently coughing, but before she can take a step closer, she hears Hans rush in from another room.

“Mother, are you okay? Please sleep some more!”

“Thank you Hans,” the woman responds softly -just loud enough for Mercury to hear, and realize that the woman sounds much older than she really is, which is quite unfortunate. She coughs again, obviously in pain, but she manages a smile. “You’re always looking after me.”

“Damn… everyday she gets worse and worse,” Hans mutters under his breath, a tinge of hopelessness creeping into his voice. “Mother…”

When Mercury gathers her courage and returns to Hans’ side, for a moment she wonders if he even knows she left. “Mother’s condition isn’t very good,” he says grimly. “Someone must go to Andeng village. I need someone to get the doctor. For mother…”

Hans’ mother coughs violently again, but before long she drifts back to sleep.

“Mother, hang in there!”

“Wait… I wonder…” Mercury rummages through her small blue bag of purchases she picked up from the local store -they hadn’t accepted Japanese yen, but they were more than happy to trade for some of her spare items- and pulls out a crystalline bottle marked “Dr. Schwartz’ Medicine.”

“She really has a high fever. This fever medicine should work…” Mercury fumbles for a moment to remove the seal and uncork the bottle, and then she holds it out to Hans’ mother.

“There we go! ♥ If you would please drink this, it will help lower the fever…” she says softly.

“Wait, what’s this medicine?” Hans asks urgently. “Huh? It’s only some fever medicine…”

She’s not a doctor yet, but Mercury knows her medicinal herbs and ingredients, and those in this medicine don’t seem all that bad.

“We need Dr. Schwartz for this,” Hans says firmly. “No other medicines will work. He has to make a special medicine. It’s the only way.”

Mercury isn’t sure whether to believe Hans or not -but he seems pretty insistent,
and it is his mother. He would probably knows more about her and her illness
than Mercury would, even with a supercomputer and likely more advanced medical
technology.

“But this is Dr. Schwartz’ medicine,” Mercury protests, showing him the bottle. “I bought it in town. It should do the job…”

“It’s hopeless,” Hans says, turning around. “We already tried!”

“…I see,” Mercury says after a moment. She’s unsure how to deal with this kind of situation, and is surprised by the pricking feeling of tears at her lashline. She just wants to help…!

“…forgive me,” Hans whispers a second later. “I really should be thanking you for your kindness.”

‘Well then…” Mercury walks around so she is facing Hans, who seems unable to face his sickly mother, “Would you please tell me where Andeng village is?”

“Andeng village is east of here,” Hans blurts without thinking, and then his eyes widen as he realizes why Mercury has asked. “Are you going to fetch Dr. Schwartz?”

“Yes. I am in your debt,” Mercury smiles back.

Hans is hesitant at first, but Mercury fixes him with such a look that he realizes she will go whether he wants her to or not. “Take care outside the village. There are a lot of monsters. It’s very dangerous.”

“I’ll be fine,” Mercury smiles, taking a step back. “Trust me. ♥”

“…Please, just be careful.” Hans repeats.

Mercury is touched by his concern and nods to let him know she is aware of his worries. But ‘I am a Sailor Soldier!’ and she won’t let any youma -one, two, or ten of them- stop her from helping a friend in need– whether it’s Mamoru-san, whom she’s known for more than a year now, or Hans’ mother, whom she has just met.

After she leaves his house, Mercury only pauses in the village long enough to ask a few more questions of the villagers -she learns that Schwartz is normally found in a cave north of Andeng village, making his medicines, while there are rumors of treasure in a cave even further north. Mercury briefly wonders if the ‘cave of treasure’ is the one with the stone of Light Zoisite… but for right now, she’s got another mission.

It’s not long before she finds herself facing not one, but two youma in a fight– but these are youma her supercomputer recognizes as having been defeated before. Blizzard, one of Beryl’s youma and a particularly fierce snow fighter, and White Cenicienta, an icy version of the daimon that attacked Usagi on Kaolinite’s orders not that long ago.

The creatures attack Mercury before she can think of a strategy, but the moment they back away, cackling evilly and brainlessly, Mercury sends a volley of water right at them in the form of her Mercury Aqua Mirage. The water encompasses both creatures and sends them staggering backward into the glaciers; one more attack and they both disappear.

Mercury continues east, heading right at every turn she can make, and before long, she spots someone wandering around– and once she goes through an icy threshold she finds herself in a different village, not unlike Kainess.

Though Mercury knows she must find Dr. Schwartz and quickly, she is exhausted from the battle. She didn’t expect to fight two youma at once, let alone expend all the energy that she did. She takes a quick breather and leans on some empty barrels edging the side of the town, and when one of them comes toppling down, Mercury is astonished to see a tiny puzzle piece fall out and land on the pristine white snow.

“What’s this…?” There only appears to be a blob of color on it, and Mercury is almost ready to dismiss it as a soggy and discarded child’s toy when she remembers something Usagi told her just before she left– something about the other youma and daimon they fought leaving behind similar pieces. Usagi kept the pieces she found in Tokyo, so Mercury opts to save any that she finds as well, in the hopes that they may be a clue toward finding and defeating their enemy.

“Excuse me,” Mercury prompts the first person she sees walking by, a young man with neat brown hair and a black vest on, “Do you know where I can find Dr. Schwartz?”

“Ah, Dr. Schwartz. He’s a good person. He has a steady hand. I’d like to be a doctor like him someday, but his character…” The man trails off and walks away, shaking his head, leaving Mercury exactly where she started -with no clue as to where Dr. Schwartz is, only that he seems to have a peculiar character.

‘I wonder what sort of person he is?’

Mercury wanders the village, asking more people about Dr. Schwartz and what their village is like, but no one seems to know exactly where Dr. Schwartz is, only what kind of a person he is -unusual, strange, well-versed in medicine, intelligent– and funniest of all the descriptions, “weird,” as vocalized by a young boy with a shock of icy blue hair. That same boy rummages through empty barrels, but, being of a small stature, can’t quite reach inside.

Mercury offers to reach inside for him, and was astonished when she found another puzzle piece sitting at the bottom of the barrel.

“That’s it?” the boy asks in disgust. “How lame. I thouoght maybe it was a magical Ice Shard or something.”

“Then, do you mind if I keep it?” Mercury askes politely.

“Go ahead!” the boy responds easily. “What would I need with a soggy puzzle piece?”

Mercury didn’t know what she needed it for either, but she hopes it will mean something later on.

With the doctor clearly out of town and her only clue leading north, Mercury bids the courteous -if outspoken- people of Andeng goodbye and headed north. They are just as surprised as the Kainess villagers that a lone girl had made her way through what they claimed were hordes of monsters, but Mercury assures them she was just fine on her own.

It isn’t long before the glaciers gave way and a wide open clearing stands before Mercury. There is another path continuing northeast, but here is a northernly cave sitting right in front of her… can it be the cave where Dr. Schwartz makes his medicine, or the cave of treasure that the little boy in Kainess mentioned? What if the stone of Light Zoisite is right here, right now, right at her fingertips…

‘No, I must help Hans and his mother. Even if the stone is in this cave, I must still find Dr. Schwartz!’

Mercury heads into the cave, but it is not wide and open like the area she had entered the cave from; rather, there was a small and narrow passage, just barely lit by the glistening of the icy walls surrounding her. After a time, the path branches off to the north and the east. Remembering that Dr. Schwartz is supposed to be to the north, Mercury opts for this path first. So far, the youma haven’t proved to be as much of a problem -at least, not since her first battle when they caught her off guard- and so she is sure that even if this path isn’t the correct one, she can easily backtrack until she finds the doctor.

The northern path comes to an abrupt halt in a small clearing, but there are two tiny wooden tables set up with a variety of colored flasks on them. Yet there is no one in sight. Mercury is about to head back and take the easterly path when she spots an unusual sparkle -something blue, glimmering in the pearly-white snow.

Two somethings in fact– Mercury picks up a pair of sapphire stud earrings, and stares at them in awe. She is hesitant to keep them, since they may be Dr. Schwartz’ property, but… she pockets them all the same. When she finds the doctor, she will ask them if she can keep them. They seem to resonate with power, and Mercury is unwilling to let anything that might help her in her mission slip out of her fingers.

The easterly path is much longer than the northern one, and branches south, east, and finally north again. At first, Mercury is baffled by the distinct lack of youma in the area, but when a group of three suddenly materialize from around a shadowed corner, she realizes why they have kept in hiding until now.

There is strength in numbers, and Mercury realizes her weakness all too soon facing against two clones of one of the most annoying daimons she’s ever faced -the “lucky star” daimon U-Choten- along with a particularly tough youma that Kunzite once controlled– Shakokai, the shellfish-covered society queen that once possessed Countess Rose.

But now there are no humans possessed by youma, so Mercury has no reason to hold back. Though she is forced to dodge and defend more than in previous battles, she is determined to see her missions -both of them- through.

Once the daimons and youma are defeated, Mercury wastes no time in heading up– and she finds herself in another cave clearing, where an old man with long white hair tied back in a ponytail is, wandering from table to table, inspecting various flasks filled with liquid and compounds assembled on the
table.

“Umm… Excuse me…” The old man wanders around the tables some more, but somehow he doesn’t notice Mercury. She repeats ‘Excuse me’ one more time, and he finally stops and stares at her, but he remains speechless. For a moment, Mercury wonders if the old man is deaf, or perhaps mute.

But no… he wouldn’t be an active doctor if he were, right? How could he possibly help patients?

The man begins to wander around again, as if he’d never heard Mercury, let alone seen her when he looked in her direction.

“HELLO ALREADY!” Mercury shouts in an uncharacteristically angry manner. She doesn’t know why she’s getting so worked up over this -maybe it’s because she wants to repay her debt to Hans, but maybe it’s just because she hates seeing anyone sick. Hans’ mother… or Mamoru-san. And if she doesn’t find the stone of Light Zoisite soon, not only will Mamoru never recover from the Dark Light attack, but the other Sailor Soldiers…

‘Surely they’ll see me as a failure…‘ And Mercury refuses to acknowledge that. She knows she is a great help to the Sailor Soldiers, and a great friend. She won’t disappoint them, not this time!

“Huh?”

“Would you happen to be Dr. Schwartz?” Mercury asks politely, once she’s sure she has the old man’s attention. ‘If he’s not,‘ Mercury thinks grimly, ‘He’s very foolish for being so deep in the caves with youma and daimon lurking about!‘ And a waste of time, too. She remembers Hans’ mother’s face, and how deathly pale it was…

“Mmm, yes I’m Schwartz. You… how did you get in here?” Schwartz asks, peering at Mercury from behind his thick glasses. “There are so many monsters around here.”

Schwartz suddenly wipes some frost from his glasses and peers closer at Mercury, and suddenly his thin lips stretch into a broad, lecherous smile.

“Huh? Heh heh heh heh! ♥” He comes closer to her, and Mercury hesitantly takes a step backward. For each step she takes backward, he takes one forward. “My dear, may I ask how old you are?”

“I’m… er… 15,” Mercury says, taking a wider step backward this time.

“Excellent! I’m going to be 60 this year! ♥” Dr. Schwartz announces randomly. “Hm, when’s your birthday?”

“Wha…? September 10th,” Mercury announces almost automatically. She wants to slap her hand over her mouth for just blurting personal information like this to such a weird man -but at least now she knows what everyone meant by “Dr. Schwartz’ odd personality.’

“So then, my pretty… you’re a Virgo… the virgin, aren’t you?”

Mercury would blush for the blatant innuendo behind Dr. Schwartz’ words, but she focuses on the cold of the area and decides not to give Dr. Schwartz the pleasure of seeing her turn red because of him.

“Ah yes…” Dr. Schwartz is horribly close now, and Mercury begins to feel the onset of an old habit -the need to be as far away from other people as possible. She doesn’t have a phobia, but Dr. Schwartz is quickly invading her personal space. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Mercury remembers Makoto chiding her for not “admitting” to the fact that she’s going out with Urawa-kun, so before she can stop herself, the words are out of her mouth: “Yes, I’m going out with Urawa-ku…” Abruptly, Mercury realizes that the “good doctor” successfully managed to distract her from what she really came to find him for.

“I’m here for something very important.”

“Oh… ohh. I’m sorry,” Schwartz says with a wry laugh. “I tend to go a little crazy over cute girls like yourself.”

‘What the… what a pervert!’ Mercury thinks to herself. If it weren’t for Hans and his mother, she wouldn’t waste a second longer with this person!

“Anyway, what did you want to tell me?”

“It’s about Hans’ mother, from Kainess village,” Mercury explains. “She’s very ill…”

“Oh, I see. So you want me to visit him, right?”

Mercury nods, hoping the doctor will just come with her and get this over with.

“There is one problem, though… there are so many monsters outside of this cave…”

“Well, I can go outside,” Mercury says, knowing she is stating the obvious. She just came from the outside and defeated all the monsters on the way! And besides, the doctor’s behavior would be more than enough motivation for Mercury to speed through her battles and get back to Kainess as soon as possible. “Doctor, you can come with me! We’ll go to Kainess together.”

“Oh… okay,” the doctor agrees, far too easily for Mercury’s tastes. Under his breath, Mercury hears the doctor murmur “I’m going on a date with this cute girl! It’s been such a long time! ♥”

Mercury rolls her eyes but doesn’t say anything. She knows she must stay on the doctor’s good graces if she’s to get him to come all the way back to Kainess with her.

“Oh! There was one more thing…” Mercury fishes out the two Sapphire Earrings. “I found these in another one of your laboratories. I don’t know if you were using them for something…”

“Hm?” The doctor peers at the earrings. “Ah, sapphire. Very beautiful stone. Would suit your eyes quite nicely, yes, yes. Go ahead and keep them.” Dr. Schwartz then turns around and pull something from an old wooden chest he has sitting near the edge of the cave. “Oh yes, and I found this the other day, too. Funny, I didn’t think there would actually be any treasure in these caves. Here!”

Mercury’s heart beats just a little faster for an instant -has the doctor found Zoisite’s stone of Light?- but Dr. Schwartz presses something small into her palm. Mercury looks at the object and realizes it is a Sapphire Ring, one that matches her new earrings perfectly. She feels a strange hum of power from them, but it’s not because there’s any relation to Zoisite.

“Thank you!” Mercury smiles gratefully. She removes one glove and slides the ring on her forefinger -not her ring finger, as Dr. Schwartz hoped- and replaces her glove.

“Oh…” Mercury notices a vaguely foreboding entryway toward the back of Schwartz’
second laboratory. “Where does that lead?”

“Oh, you don’t want to go in there. It’s very dangerous– remember, I was trapped in here!” Mercury laughs thinly, her eyes continually straying to the darkened doorway -up until the point where she and the doctor leave.

They’re barely ten meters away from the laboratory entryway when two U-Choten reappear. Mercury makes a face and tells the doctor to hide behind a glacier wall while she takes care of the monsters. At first, the doctor is thoroughly disbelieving, but after one Mercury Aqua Mirage, he is convinced. Bur rather than stay behind the wall like he should, he hops out and starts to cheer Mercury on, causing a constant distraction and providing a secondary target for the daimons.

“Dr. Schwartz, watch out!” In an instant, Mercury throws herself to the ground and hurls a Shine Aqua Illusion at the underbelly of the daimon launching itself at Dr. Schwartz, and in a burst of pink smoke, the daimon vanishes, not even leaving an egg behind.

Mercury can’t help but be prooud of herself -she feels stronger, faster, and more powerful- but that doesn’t mean she’s going to start looking for fights. Rather, this battle just makes her want to get to Kainess that much sooner!

Kainess never seems quite close enough, but Mercury and Schwartz make it there soon enough. They muddle their way through a crowd of astonished villagers to Hans’ house, and immediately a grateful Hans greets them at the door.

“Thank you, Mercury.” He turns to Dr. Schwartz. “Let’s be off then, Dr. Schwartz. She’s over here.”

Hans leads Mercury and Dr. Schwartz to where his mother his resting, while Dr. Schwartz observes Hans’ mother, puts his hand on her forehead, and examines the unearthly pallor of her face. “Hmm… Hmmm… Mm! Mm! Mm! I know now!” Dr. Schwartz says after a moment. “She needs some Halyomoss urgently!”

“Huh? Is that some kind of pancake?” Hans asks blankly.

“Hm, the Halyomoss is the only cure to this very rare disease,” Dr. Schwartz proclaims authoritatively. “I don’t have any of it on me right now,” he admits gravely, “but do you remember that small cave behind my lab?” he asks Mercury.

Mercury nods.

“Okay, then I’ll go and get some!” Hans says before Mercury can even say a word.

“It’s too dangerous for someone like you, Hans,” Mercury insists. “I’ll go.”

“No. It’s even more dangerous for a girl like you. I’ll go.” Mercury can hardly believe her ears– Hans had no qualms with her leaving the village before to get Dr. Schwartz, why is he suddenly overly concerned now? It’s a bit endearing, but…

“…I see. Well then, let’s go together.” She hopes that this compromise will pacify Hans, and indeed it does.

“We’ll help each other. I won’t be a nuisance.”

“Dr. Schwartz, we’re going to get some Halyomoss.”

“All right Hans,” Dr. Schwartz responds, “I’ll take care of your mother.”

“Okay doctor. I’m your debt. Thank you very much!”

“Let’s go, Mercury!” Hans says, and Mercury can see the urgency in his eyes. She nods once abruptly and they head to the door.

They aren’t far from the village when monsters begin to attack. Mercury is used to it by now; she discovered a pattern in which youma and daimon seem to be appearing, and she’s got the data on all their weaknesses programmed into her supercomputer. With the right positioning and a powerful blast from her Mercury Aqua Mirage, she can defeat them without injury– something Mercury quietly congratulates herself for.

But it doesn’t stop from Hans nearly pushing her out of position and into the path of a youma’s snowy attack. Mercury quickly adjusts and compensates for the altered positioning and hurtles a Shine Aqua Illusion at the youma, blasting it into shards.

She doesn’t say anything to Hans, but from then on, he wisely follows in Mercury’s footsteps and keeps his mouth shut, especially when she’s battling youma.

They eventually reach the northern cave, and Mercury leads the way to the lab.

“It’s the Halyomoss!” Hans exclaims , spotting a thick growth on a distant icy wall. He immediately starts to try and climb the jagged rocks, muttering as he goes. “Just a little farther…”

There is a sudden rumbling that shakes the very ground beneath them, and the mass of ice Hans is perched atop suddenly crumbles into shards, taking the Halyomoss down with it.

“Hans! Are you okay?”

“I’m all right. Hey, where’s the Halyomoss?” Hans looks up, an expression of unadulterated fear on his face. He is terrified that he has lost the one hope for saving his mother.

Mercury looks around and finds the Halyomoss peeking out from under a mass of snow– thankfully still intact.

“Ah… got it! ♥”

Mercury is about to stand up and scan their surroundings– as far as she knows, Switzerland doesn’t have earthquakes, and they’re so far below ground level… what could have caused the rumbling a few moments ago? Suddenly she gets a strange feeling, and she happens to glance at Zoisite’s Stone of Darkness.

It’s glimmering even brighter than before, and suddenly it all makes sense: the plethora of increasingly dangerous youma inside the cave, the sudden rumbling, and now… a new doorway in the ice, right where the Halyomoss had been resting.

“Could that be…?” Mercury doesn’t want to pin her hopes on the likelihood of the Stone of Light being so close, but she can’t shake the feeling.

She takes a quick glance at Hans and then they both venture through the door– and sure enough, in a small icy chamber is an old metal dais on which a bright blue stone.

“It’s Zoisite’s Stone of Light!” Mercury exclaims.

Suddenly there’s another rumbling, and Mercury realizes that the stone sitting before her isn’t causing them. For once in her life, she doesn’t know what’s going on or why it’s happening, and she’s scared.

“Uwaa! What’s happening?!” Mercury wishes she had an answer for Hans, but then the ground shakes and the ice all around them begins to crack and fall.

“It’s an earthquake!” she yells, even though part of her knows better. Could it really be a simple natural coincidence, or is something -or someone- trying to stop her from getting Zoisite’s Stone of Light?

Mercury’s eyes alight on the stone, calculating the time and distance it would require for her to leap for the stone– but then the ground shakes more violently, and the stone falls from its dais and into a hole in the ice.

“Ah! Where did Zoisite’s Stone of Light go?”

The ground shakes again, but Mercury can’t draw her eyes away from the hole. “I wonder where it went… but I should give Hans’ mother the Halyomoss first.”

Mercury knows she has a mission, but if it weren’t for Hans, she wouldn’t even be alive to carry it out. She owes him -and his mother- this much. She silently chides herself for even thinking for an instant that she should ever put her own mission before innocent people.

“Hans! Let’s return to your mother first.”

“Mercury… is that really okay?” Hans seems to realize that the Stone they just saw plummeting into an icy darkness was important to her, but he doesn’t ask why.

“I always help my friends first,” Mercury responds with a smile, but her chest hurts a bit at the remark. Isn’t she saying that Mamoru isn’t a friend, and that his health matters less than that of a woman who Mercury hardly knows, and has just recently met?

“The stone can wait. I have another person’s Destiny to change first.” Mercury remembers something else: the four generals are watching over Mamoru, but Hans’ mother has no such supernatural protection. She is ordinary, unlike Mamoru, Mercury or any of the other Sailor Soldiers.

“But Mercury!”

“Now we’re just arguing stubbornly,” Mercury says with a kind smile. “Let’s get the Halyomoss to your mother.”

Hans seems to have run out of steam for his argument, and he approaches Mercury with a strange expression on his face. “Thank you…” he mumbles with his lips in a frown.

“Well then, let’s go!” Mercury says.

When she and Hans make it back to Kainess Village not that much later, Dr. Schwartz seems astonished when Mercury and Hans return, Halyomoss in hand.

“Oh! You’re back!” he says, as if he had expected otherwise, despite having traveled with Mercury himself.

“Doctor, here’s the Halyomoss,” Hans says, handing the green substance to the doctor, carefully wrapped in a handerchief.

“Oh good, you found it. If you’d been any later, it might’ve been a bit dangerous for your mother,” Dr. Schwartz admits. “Okay, I’ll make the medicine at once.”

Dr. Schwartz walks off into the kitchen area with the Halyomoss, and Mercury is about to follow him to see what he does with the plant when she hears Hans speak.

“Mother… the medicine is coming.”

Mercury shifts uncomfortably from one foot to the other, vaguely remembering the dream fantasy that the youma had given her, back at the school. She dreamed about being a doctor, about saving lives like Hans’ mother. That feeling was still strong– but now it wasn’t just for those whose lives she wanted to protect and save… but for those who were left waiting, agonized, the way Hans had been until just recently.

The fact that Mercury had helped -despite not having been able to figure out the medicine herself- made her feel infinitely better about her decision to help Hans’ mother first.

Mercury takes a second glance at Hans, holding his mother’s hand as he kneels at her bedside, before she turns to leave. She only distantly hears Hans’ mother cough and thank her son.

“Hey, it wasn’t just me that got it for you!” Hans explains, turning around to gesture to Mercury. “Mercury also helped!” But she is already gone by the time Hans gets up to look around.

“Huh? Where did Mercury go?”

Hans still has an astonished expression on his face when Dr. Schwartz returns, a small vial in hand. “The medicine is ready.”

“Here, drink this.” Hans’ mother drinks from the vial slowly and carefully, coughing slightly as the thick liquid makes its way down her throat. But after a moment, there is a visible difference. Her gray pallor begins to recede and color slowly returns to her face, her hacking cough subsiding. A moment later, there is a soft snore, and Hans is astonished.

“Mother!”

“Hey, you can rest easy,” Dr. Schwartz assures the young man. “She’s okay. Take it easy for a while. Soon, she’ll be as good as new.”

“Thank you very much, Dr. Schwartz!” Hans exclaims, momentarily forgetting about Mercury’s sudden disappearance. He doesn’t notice her standing beside the fireplace, hidden from view, but very much aware of Dr. Schwartz’s success.

“I wish, Hans… that I could stay for a while longer. In case of a relapse or something like that.” Mercury doesn’t know if that’s what she truly wants to stay for, but it’s what her mind tells her, and that is what Mercury listens to above all else. Except… her heart clenches when she thinks of Usagi-chan, sitting alone beside Mamoru’s bed, crying her eyes out until she looks like the rabbit that is her namesake.

“Goodbye, Hans.”

“Wait, please wait!” Mercury turns around, astonished to see Hans dashing to catch up to her. She had no idea he’d even spotted her heading toward the door.

“Are you leaving already?” Hans asks, desperation creeping into his tone.

“Yes… I’m sorry, Hans.” Mercury wonders if it’s politeness or something else that’s making her apologize right now.

“Can’t you stay a while before you go…?” Hans asks, and Mercury wonders if he was thinking the same thing she was: perhaps it would be better for Hans’ mother if she stayed. But Mercury hadn’t been any help to her before… why would that change now? Dr. Schwartz clearly knew more about local diseases and medicine than Mercury did…

“I… I can’t,” Mercury fumbles, thinking of Usagi and Mamoru again. “There are things ahead that cannot wait.” And if she does wait, there might not BE an “ahead” to go toward. The very future might be distorted beyond all comprehension…

“Maybe, when it’s all over, you can come back and visit me again?” Hans asks, and Mercury blushes suddenly. Not “Kainess” or even “us,” meaning Hans and his mother, but…

“Come back to this village and see me again someday, won’t you?” Hans repeats, a tentative smile stretching across his lips. His face looks weary, and the smile a little out of place, but it makes Mercury glad to know that because of her -at least a little- Hans CAN smile now.

‘It’s all so sudden…’ Mercury thinks. ‘I can’t…’ She can’t make promises. She doesn’t know what lies ahead.

“I’m… I’m sorry Hans!” Mercury says in a rush, and then dashes out the door, ignorant of Hans’ cries to wait, please wait…

It is for Usagi and Mamoru that Mercury gathers her courage and squelches her sensible thoughts. It is for her heart that she squeezes the Stone of Dark Zoisite and leaves the icy village of Kainess…

In short time, Mercury arrives back at the hole where the stone of Light Zoisite fell. She glances downward, but she can’t make out a thing. It’s completely pitch black.

“It’s hopeless… It’s too steep to climb down.” For a supposedly natural occurrence, the hole the earthquake formed seems strangely smooth-walled and round. Mercury briefly considers the possibility that the Opposito Soldier might have somehow altered the very Destiny of Switzerland, causing the region’s natural features to behave in abornal ways. If that were true, then…

“Well then, there’s still that other cave to the east,” Mercury recalls from her prior travels. Perhaps there will be a way down there.

After a few more battles with icy youma, Mercury makes her way to the Eastern cave. This, she recalls, is the one the little boy in Kainess village mentioned, as being filled with treasure. She doesn’t see any treasure, but she does see a suspiciously man-made staircase leading down, perhaps as far as the hole in the other cave went. Though apprehension fills Mercury’s stomach, she can’t turn back now.

She has come this far, grown this strong… she takes one hesitant step downward and, finding the ice stairs sound, heads down the rest. Her footing is slow and sure, for she has no intention of slipping halfway down and failing her friends. At the base of the stairs is a wide open area, again, with no treasure.

But a path in the northwest might veer south, Mercury figures, where the other cave was. If, perhaps, the two caves connect, she will find the Stone of Light Zoisite!

The path is winding and long, veering north, south, then north again. The cave grows increasingly darker, and youmas are now attacking in pairs or groups of three, a fact that worries Mercury. Though she has been able to hang on this long, she wonders if her Mercury Aqua Mirage will hold up against that many youma… or more. She shudders briefly as she recalls the six youma that nearly attacked her as she arrived in Switzerland.

But she had been scared to handle just one back then, and now she is easily handling youma in pairs. So what if the youma in the caves are a bit stronger? After all she has been through, Mercury thinks she should be more confident in herself. Were she with the other Soldier, they would encourage her to do the same.

Mercury smiles, remembering her friends, and the thought warms her despite the icy atmosphere. It is for them that she continues onward, regardless of temperature, darkness, or threat from youma. She is close now; she knows it. Soon, she will be back with her friends, and everything will be okay.

A short while later, as the ice path begins to verer southward once more, the Stone of Dark Zoisite begins to glimmer.

“Why is the Stone of Dark Zoisite glittering?” Mercury wonders, staring at the stone in her palm. According to her supercomputer, she hasn’t traveled an equivalent distance to the spot where the Stone of Light Zoisite fell. Unless… the caves are having their Destiny changed, and they are altered from when they were the last time Mercury scanned the area!

Mercury heads forward a bit more, cautious and more than a bit scared, but before she can scan anything, a distortion fills the air in front of her.

“So, you’ve finally shown up, Sailor Mercury.” It is one of the Opposito Soldiers! She has cold blue eyes, darker than Mercury’s own, and a layered, angular haircut that hangs just below her chin. Like the other Opposito Soldier Mercury encountered back at Juuban Junior High, she wears a tight, form-fitting black jumpsuit with an odd gold collar and blue decorations.

“Who are you?” Mercury asks.

“You’ll be dead in a while anyway, so there’s no point in me telling you my name,” the girl responds icily. “I’ll kill you, Sailor Mercury!”

Mercury doesn’t have the time to run away before the girl jumps toward her with a wild cry, power sparkling on her gloved fingertips.

Mercury just barely dodges the Opposito Soldier’s attack, hurling a Mercury Aqua Mirage at her. The attack catches the Opposito Soldier on the shoulder, freezing it immediately.

“Hmph. You’re pretty damn tough,” the girl says, clutching her shoulder as she kneels on the icy ground, obviously in pain. Mercury’s first instinct is to help her, but she suppresses it, knowing she came close to death herself. She’s too out of breath to respond to the girl, so Mercury continues to stare.

“Indeed,” the girl rises to her feet, and Mercury takes a wary step backward, praying she has the energy for another attack, should she need it. “Anshar-sama warned me of this.”

‘Anshar-sama…?’ Mercury wonders. Is it the Opposito Soldier’s boss, perhaps? It is an unfamiliar name.

“Anshar-sama? Is that the name of your leader?” Mercury dares to speak her thoughts aloud, if only because she knows she is in the advantageous position.

‘What’ll I do?’ The Opposito Senshi thinks to herself. She is in no position to attack again. ‘Should I respond to her?’ No, she reminds herself– she is only to kill the Sailor Soldiers!

“For the good of our case, I will kill you!”

“Why are you doing this?” Mercury yells, returning to the defensive as the girl struggles to stand straight and steady. “What is your goal?”

“Our goal? Our goal is…”

The Opposito Soldier’s gaze is hazy for a moment, as she recalls the moment she first got involved with this.

Though she knows it is nearly a thousand years in the future from this day and age, the girl –Nabu– recalls the day as if it were yesterday. She walked along a crystal-lined avenue in downtown Crystal Tokyo, Ishtar following closely behind…

“…to take over the power of this world’s Silver Crystal and to exploit it!” Nabu pauses. “Are you okay with that?”

She’s not speaking to Ishtar. It is a question she is asking herself, because she’s not entirely sure. Not yet, anyway.

“Isn’t the Silver Crystal’s power such a wonderful thing? Scientists haven’t been able to understand its power…”

Nabu keeps walking, and near the plaza, she turns and faces Ishtar. “But how could such power, one that science can’t understand… how could it protect the world? I wonder…”

Ishtar gives Nabu a confused look, but Nabu ignores it and keeps walking.

“Hmmm…”

A distorted voice suddenly speaks, and Nabu freezes in her tracks.

“Troubled people…”

“Where did that voice come from?” There is no one in the plaza but her and Ishtar, and Nabu’s wild gaze sees nothing out of the ordinary.

The voice speaks again, undeterred by Nabu’s fear and surprise. “You question the power of the Silver Crystal…”

“The Silver Crystal… Y-Yes.”

“Certainly… It does have such wondrous power. But… such a power could never last for eternity.”

The voice gives words to Nabu’s hidden thoughts– those wondering just when the Silver Crystal’s power will fail completely. In her mind, it has already failed once, having taken her parents away from her during the attack by the Black Moon. Back then, the Silver Crystal protected no one but the Queen herself!

“Alas…” the voice continues. “No one knows when its power will come to an end.”

“Recently, I’ve been thinking the same thing, too…” Nabu admits, ignorant of Ishtar’s concerned gaze as the blonde circles Nabu, wondering whom she is speaking to.

“Yes!” Nabu says, darting around Ishtar and heading toward the center of the plaza. “What you say is true, that miracle could never last forever!”

“I’m gathering together people like you,” the voice tells Nabu. “Nabu… come join us, and we’ll find out how the power of the Silver Crystal works.”

Nabu doesn’t question how the strange voice knows her name, or knows her thoughts.

“Yes…” the voice continues. “And what shall become of that power…”

“Yes. I will go with you and help you achieve your goal,” Nabu says, resolved at last, for the first time in a long while. A beam of dark light emerges from between dark clouds, and Nabu rises up with it, watching only as the world around her shrinks and fades.

Nabu shakes her head and realizes she is still back in the cave with Sailor Mercury who is now staring at her with a piteous expression on her face. Angered, Nabu feels a surge of energy and readies herself to finish what she had started.

“Our goal is… to get the Silver Crystal from you! I’ll keep going till the end!” She launches toward Mercury again, but Mercury successfully dodges. In the time that the Opposito Soldier was staring into space, Mercury scanned her with her supercomputer. She learned the girl’s strengths and weaknesses, and when the Soldier makes a dart for Mercury, she hurls a single Shine Aqua Illusion at her enemy’s shoulder, sending her flying back toward one of the icy cave walls.

The battle is over before it has even begun, and her foe is lying on the ground, deeply wounded. This time, there is no urge to help the fallen, even if she calls herself a Soldier. The cuts and bruises on Mercury’s own arms and legs are a painful reminder of why that is so.

“How did you… you stopped my attack…” the girl groans as she struggles to raise her torso off the ground. Mercury is secretly relieved that the Opposito Soldier is not dead, but she allows herself no more sympathy than that. She can’t afford to be sympathetic when she came so close to dying today, in this bleak and frozen cave.

“I’m so exhausted, fighting for the stones in a small place like this…” the Opposito Soldier mumbles. She glances at a deep blue stone on the ice, just below her palm.

“Letting you have this stone will be no hindrance at all,” the girl chuckles as she slides it toward Mercury’s boot. “But you will be unable to get all the stones in time. Nergal, hang in there…”

Mercury is about to ask about ‘Nergal,’ this new name, but the Opposito Soldier stands and chuckles in a dark, menacing manner. “If she can stop you, then you’ll never be able to heal Tuxedo Mask.”

Suddenly, the Soldier rises off the ice and stares down at Mercury. “Sailor Mercury, this battle is not over yet.”

“W-Wait!”

But the girl does not wait, and vanishes in another distortion of space. “She’s gone…”

“She’s quite a strong enemy.”

Mercury is still staring at the space, half-expecting it to fold back in on itself. But nothing happens, and the cave feels the same as it did before. Except now, there is a glittering stone of Light Zoisite at her feet…

Mercury picks it up and feels a wave of relief pass through her. “I should return to Japan now.”

She leaves the twisting maze of caves and briefly returns to Kainess, if only because there is a pull that prevents her from teleporting away so quickly.

“It’s pointless…” she says, looking at the door of Hans’ house. “I’ll never be able to meet Hans again. If I saw Hans again…” Mercury doesn’t finish the thought right away She stares at the rest of the village, content in the throes of its icy surroundings. She turns back towards Hans’ house and murmurs something soft under her breath.

“I’m sorry… Hans. Wait for me to come back. Important friends are waiting for me. I can’t go back to everyone, but… Someday, we’ll meet again. Farewell…”

This Mercury resolves. This Destiny she will ensure, forging its path herself, with her own two hands. For that reason, she leaves Kainess.

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