My stepmother Besu, Nereid, Sarah, and the other magic angels had teleported to somewhere else. I wasn't that surprised by their teleporting, because, after all, I knew that's how they'd gotten to the Air Force base near Jacksonville, but I didn't know they all had magic until then. When I was able to speak again, I asked where we were, and Kimi said, "This is our hotel."
Wait a minute. Kimi was still . . . I asked lamely, "You are twins?"
"Not exactly," the second Kimi said. "I'm Ishtar. We have different moms."
"This is Leon," said the first, actual Kimi. "You know, Nereid's boyf--owww!"
"Oh, Neri-chan's boyfriend," said Ishtar. Nereid couldn't reach her in time, with Kimi and Sarah holding her back with four hands. Then she said, more seriously, "I would have come along too, but I have three baby brothers to help my mom look after. Of course, Sarah and Kimi have two baby sisters but I guess they thought it was okay to let their mom handle them all by herself all day and half the night. I mean, she's only in a wheelchair."
I immediately knew that Ishtar was very good at making people feel bad.
Sarah said, "We didn't think we would be gone this long. And we wouldn't have if--"
Besu interrupted. "We sorry. But I am Asatara of Princess and Kimi-sama. How you say it bad for her to come for us?"
Sarah said something in Japanese, and Besu and Sere responded at about the same time, and Dad joined in. It was all very fast. Meantime, I had time to think that it was very odd that Besu, who seemed to treat everyone as an equal, had used "sama" with Kimi's name. I knew very, very little Japanese but I did know that "sama" added to someone's name is like saying "Lady" or "Sir" or maybe even "Lord;" it means you hold that person in extreme respect. Now, using this on thirteen-years-old Kimi was something that eight-years (almost nine-years)-old me could see was very odd. And the way Besu said "Princess" was also odd; it was like . . . like she was serious, and that wasn't the Besu I knew at all. "Princess?" I asked no one in particular.
Little Lily piped up. "Sarah is the First Princess of the Moon, and we are her Asatara."
"What do you mean, her Asatara? I didn't know you were related to Aunt Besu."
"I'm not. The Asatara are the Royal Guard of the Princesses of the Moon. We are the Asatara. Well, I mean me and Auntie Besu and her sisters, and maybe Mimi. Kimi is the Second Princess of the Moon, and Nereid is the First Princess of Neptune."
I nodded, thinking I understood her. It was some make-believe game. Except . . .
Except that Besu had been following Lily and added her own input. "Hai, Royal Guard of Moon Princess. Like Planet Senshi for the Moon Queen, or Lords of Light for the Kakyuu-sama, Kinmoku Queen."
"The Moon Queen?" Could my stepmother be serious! "Who's the Moon Queen supposed to be?"
"Queen Usagi," said Besu patiently. "Queen Usagi daughter Moon Princess. First Princess Sarah, Second Princess Kimi, Third Princess Ikuko-chan, Fourth Princess Juli-chan."
"She means my mom," said Sarah. "But my mom isn't gonna be anything except maybe the mayor of our town someday."
Sere said something I didn't not understand. It wasn't in English--and it wasn't in Japanese, either; it sounded very different.
Sarah said firmly, "Okasan--Mom doesn't want that. And me, I'm 100% American. Gonna be a Marine like my father, and his father, and his father."
Besu said just as firmly, "Usagi Queen and you First Moon."
"I think maybe we should go downstairs now," said Ishtar diplomatically.
Our room was on the top floor, so we didn't have to go far. Before we were inside our own room, I saw Sarah's and Kimi's mom for the first time, the woman my stepmother insisted was the Queen of the Moon.
Whatever that was.
Ishtar's mom was pushing her wheelchair. I could guess why Kimi and Ishtar looked so much alike; their moms looked a lot a like. I asked them if they were sisters. Sarah and Kimi's mom, the one in the wheelchair, smiled and said, "Many people think that." Her accent was thick, but her English was good.
Right after that, my father told me to go with Besu, into our room. He stayed outside, with Sarah's mom and Kimi's mom. I did as I was told, though I did wonder exactly what Dad was talking with them about. I heard them talking outside the door for quite a long time. Finally he came back inside. In a few minutes, he was asleep.
I wasn't. Hippolyta also refused to sleep, so Besu stayed up. Besu noticed I wasn't sleeping, and she asked, "Hot chocolate help, maybe?"
"Maybe," I said. She popped out-teleported. She was back in a few seconds with a packet of mix. I asked her, "Where did you get that?"
"From Makoto-san's room. She always have some." She heated a paper cup of water in our little microwave.
"Makoto-san," I repeated. "You mean the lady who breaks down doors?"
"Makoto-san very strong," said Besu. "Also very good cook. Princess cook good, but not cook good like Makoto-san."
Besu mixed up the chocolate for me, and sat down with me, with Hippy, trying to get her to sleep. I sipped some of the chocolate, and then said to her, "Princess. You mean Sarah?"
"What does that mean?" I asked. "Princess of the Moon? And her mom being Queen of the Moon?"
Besu was drinking green tea. She took a big sip, and fooled with Hippy for awhile. I didn't think she was going to answer me, but after what seemed a long wait, she did.
"I here because of First Princess of Moon. All here, Seresere, Junjun, Parapara. All. We-" She stopped talking, and then said some very strange words, and made some very strange gestures. Then she said,
"Do you understand me better now, Leon?"
"Yes-How are you doing this?"
"Magic," said Besu. "Naru-san taught me this. It will work for a little while. My English is not good, and you speak no Japanese, and not the Moon Tongue, the Old Tongue. And there is no one left at all but my sisters and I who still speak any of the language of the Amazons."
"We were of the people who the Greeks called 'Amazons.' We had many enemies, always with more men than us, so our women fought too, when they could."
"I know a little about Amazons," I said. "But they were supposed to have lived a long, long time ago."
"A very long time ago, Leon. Japan had not even begun when we lived."
"You mean, in another life?" Dad was a Buddhist, so I did know about reincarnation.
"It could be," said Besu, "But I do not remember enough. This I do remember: Our tribe lived apart from the rest of our people, among tribes of other peoples. When my sisters and I were just big enough to draw a warrior's bow, our tribe was defeated. We were betrayed by another tribe who were supposed to be an ally. All the older men and women, all the small children and babies, the people who could do no work, they were all killed. The others who did not die fighting were sold to a people with ships. Greeks, Phoenicians, maybe Minoans Ami-san has told us they might have been, but all we knew of them is that they had ships. All except me and my sisters. The king of the tribe who betrayed us, he wanted us for himself."
Besu took a long sip. "The king was foolish to do that. When we found a way, we killed him, and some of his sons as well. We took the best horses he had had-all horses stolen from our tribe-and ran away before the others knew their king was dead."
"We escaped for a time. We searched for our tribe. But they were gone, forever. The living ones, they had been taken away by the ships to lands across the sea we knew nothing of. What children they might have, they would grow up among strangers, speaking the strangers' languages, learning the strangers' ways. They would not be Amazons."
"When we were sure of this, we turned back and killed more of the enemy king's sons. But not the smartest one, the one who had surely worked out the deal with the men with ships. We had done his work for him, killing brothers who could challenge him for his father's place. When we had killed all his brothers, he trapped us. We were surrounded on a mountain. Our horses were dead, and there was no water." "We prayed to our Goddess of the Moon and of War to grant us a last boon: That we die in battle, but only after we killed the last son of the king who murdered our tribe."
"And then what happened?" I said after a long wait. "Did you die? Did you kill him?"
She did not answer that, exactly. "We were awakened, looking to serve the Princess of the Moon. But a false queen found us. Neherenia turned us to her side. We think she destroyed many of our memories to keep us on her side, but not all. When Neherenia made us fight the Moon Princess and the Queen, some memories came back. So we turned on Neherenia, and she was defeated."
Besu went on. "After that, we were supposed to sleep until we were needed again. I am told our future selves fought alongside the First Princess against Galaxia, who had conquered and even destroyed many worlds."
"Future selves?" I asked. "The Princess who fought Neherenia was from the future," said Besu.
"Okay, but . . . when is this fight supposed to happen?"
"It has already happened," said Besu. "At least here on your Earth, the
Senshi fought Galaxia before you were born, Leon."
"Was it a big fight?"
"Galaxia almost destroyed Earth."
"That sounds like a war," I said. "But there was no big war like that."
"There was. And there was not." Besu smiled enigmatically. "Leon-san, the magic of the Moon family is so powerful it can change time. Only we senshi who fought and a very few special people can remember the wars that happened, and did not happen."
"Five wars," said Besu. "Or perhaps six or seven. It depends on whether you call something a big fight or a war. But five were surely big enough to be wars. We only remember one, the one with Neherenia and the Dead Moon. It was our future selves in the one after that."
"Thatís a lot of stuff for everyone to forget," I said. "Sarah can travel through time?"
"The Princess from the future could," said Besu.
"But thatís Sarah, isnít it? I mean, when she gets older."
Besu said, "I am not sure. The Princess from the future was different from Sarah-sama," she said, looking down at Hippy. She didnít say anything for maybe a minute, and then she said, "The Princess from the future that we knew, she died. She was killed fighting an enemy on another world. Sarah has the same soul, but she is not all the same. The future the princess came from before, it cannot be exactly the same."
"But you guysóyou and your sistersóyou all think that Sarahís Mom will be the Queen of the Moon, and Sarah will be a princess?"
"Whether they want to be or not, that is what they are already," said Besu. "Queen Kakyuu believes as I do. And if it was not so, we would not exist, my sisters and I. I am sure we exist only to serve the Queen and the Princesses of the Moon." She looked down again at Hippy. "But I understand better now why Usagi-sama does not want to become Queen. There are many reasons, but most of all, she does not want Sarah to return again to die as she did. I would give my life to save Hippolyta without a thought. Usagi-sama is a mother before a queen."
I asked Besu about Sarahís final fight, but she either did not know or would not tell me. She was convinced Sarahís mother would become a queen; I knew that was settled, but I asked her how this could happen. "I think the world will make her their queen, perhaps after the next war."
"Mars and Neptune say it will probably come in ten to twenty years."
"You mean, astrology?"
"No. Sailor Mars and Sailor Venus, Rei-san and Michiru-san. They have great power to see into the future. But even for them, the future is very hard to see. Ryo-san, Makoto-sanís husband, also had considerable power, but he is gone now."
"He left his wife?"
"He died, Leon-san. He was killed at the White House with the others. Most of the Planet Senshi are widows, Leon-san. I feel so lucky to have your father now." She wiped her eyes as she rose. "I will get more chocolate for you."
When she was back and more chocolate and more green tea was ready, I asked her a question I had saved up for a long time. "Would you have really dropped my mom into that pot?"
"No," said Besu. After a while she admitted, "Probably not." She sighed, and went on to explain in a very parent-type way, maybe even moreso than Dad in his dead-serious phases, "I am not trying to take you away from your mother or your grandparents. Your mother has a foolish mouth, but she is not like Tammy and Philipís mother. It was wrong of her to keep you from your father, but I must forgive her if your father does. I could even be her friend someday, if she will let me be."
I nodded, and thinking, had one of my better thoughts. "You heard us talking about them, didnít you?"
"I do not have ears like Nereid. No one does. But I am not deaf."
I mulled that over. "My momís all right, I guess, if . . . you know about her gambling?"
"Your father told me a little about it. Is it bad?"
"Sometimes." I didnít say anything more about it. "What I mean, is, I think Mom needs me, and I want to be there for her. But I donít like her boyfriend, I never have. I was thinking of coming to live with you guys to get away from him. But do you think thatís all right?"
"You want your mother to leave Good Old Fred? That what your father call him."
The magic had worn off. "Yes, but I donít know. I mean, Mom really loves him, or thinks she loves him, anyway."
"But you not want live with Fred-san."
"No," I said. "I donít know, Iíve always thought he was kind of off. ĎOffí like in food that is maybe spoiled but you arenít quite sure."
"You not sure," she said.
Besu said after a bit longer, "You think you protect mother from Fred-san?"
"Maybe from hurting her. I mean . . . I mean I should be with her. She needs me worse than Dad."
"She think she need, maybe," said Besu, "But your father need too. And you need father."
"Not all the time," I explained. "If I come to live with you, Mom will think it's because I don't want her to be with her boyfriend."
"That right. You don't want mother be with Fred-san."
"But if I live with you and Dad, she might leave him, and then it will be my fault."
Besu smiled, and reached out to touch my hand. "You good son. You love your mother very much. But that not mean you belong with her. Besu want what best for you."
I protested. "I'm old enough to decide. I'd like to live with Dad and you better. But my mom needs me. And besides, Dad should be asking me this. I know you're my stepmom now. But Dad should be asking me, not just you."
"You maybe love your mother too much think right," said Besu. "Your father maybe same."
"What do you mean?"
"Your father always love your mother. I always know that."
"You don't mind?"
"Of course I mind! Second wife not like hear about first wife all time. But your father not be good man Besu love he not still love your mother." She took a big sip of tea. "Besu think that why your father not ask you live with us yet."
Then Besu took a new tack. "What Fred-san like? Why you think he 'off?'"
"Didn't Dad tell you anything about him?"
"Your father not like talk about Fred-san. I know he very rich."
"Well, he makes a lot of money. He's not, you know, super-rich."
"What he do make money?"
"He's a lobbyist?"
"People pay him to try to get the government to do things, or not do things."
"Oh, I see. Bribe government man, just like all time Japan."
"He's not supposed to do that," I said. "Anyway, he makes a lot of money, and always wants to make more."
"That what bother you?"
I thought about it. "Well, no, not really. If he's a crook, that's his job. But I just don't like being around him."
Besu took a couple of sips before she asked her next question. "He ever touch you you no like?"
"No," I said. "He didn't pay much attention to me at all until he heard about Nereid's mom and Sarah's mom. I bet he thinks he can use me to make money now. But . . . why would you think that? Dad never asked me anything like that. Fred was with my mom before you guys got together, you know."
"Besu know," she said. "What you think your father do he find out Fred do bad thing with you?"
That was easy to think of, but hard to speak. "Dad would kill him."
"So maybe father not let himself think that. But Besu ask. Fred-san have children?"
"Yes," I said. "Two girls. He's been married twice."
Besu asked carefully, "You ever meet girl?"
"One of them. She's a grownup now. Just for a few minutes, though."
Besu took that in and didn't say anything for awhile. I asked her, "Why do you think Fred could be one of those guys?"
"Besu think maybe you think."
"Princess say you have some power. Your father have some. You have power, that make Princess think maybe you right that Good Old Fred-san 'off.'"
I thought that one over. "I could be wrong, too. I mean, just because I don't like the guy, that doesn't mean he's a--one of those." Besu didn't say anything, so in a little while I added something else: "What are you going to do? Have Sarah read his mind?"
"Princess or Moon Queen, maybe. Some other, maybe."
"What if you find out he is--well, he's what you think?"
"I don't think any regular policeman is going to believe you guys," I said. "And if they did arrest him, his lawyer would tell everyone your secrets."
"Maybe Queen tell President," said Besu, taking a sip. "She don't turn Good Old Fred-san to dust first." Another sip. "Queen of Moon have temper like all time say Besu have temper. Queen better hiding temper."
I wasn't wildly concerned about Good Old Fred's welfare, but I said, "Could you make sure my mom doesn't get mixed up in this?"
I suspected, correctly, that Good Old Fred was going to get his brain picked through no matter what.
Then there was a tap a the door, and I went to check. Parapara's voice asked to come in. I opened the door, and Parapara, and Sere, and Junjun came in. I said "Shhh!" and pointed to my sleeping dad, but Parapara said brightly, "Seresere put spell on him. He not wake up."
This brought some sharp words between Parapara and Sere. I didn't understand what they were saying, of course, but like most spats between my Amazon Aunts, it was over quickly.
Hippy was fully awake again. I asked, "If you can put Dad to sleep with magic, why not do it to Hippy?"
Again Parapara answered immediately: "Hipi-chan already have very strong magic. Spell work one time, two time, maybe three time, no more. We save spell until need bad."
They got Hippy to sleep another way: They sang songs. They could all sing pretty well, and Sere could play a sort of four-stringed harp. I thought their pretty songs were lullabies, until Sere began translating one of them. It was an Amazon ballad, full of battle and gruesome deaths.
They somehow had fetched two other relics from their Amazon past besides the four-stringed lyre: A warbow I couldn't draw more than three inches, and a misshapen bowl. The only thing that looked special about it was that it had a lining of electrum, a mix of gold and silver. But otherwise it was a plain, yellowed bowl, without even a flat bottom so you could set it down. Sere filled it with green tea and offered me a drink from it first, and then they all drank from it. It wasn't until after I asked about why the bowl was shaped so oddly. Sere answered, "It is made from the skull of one of our tribe's enemies."
I kept down my tea. Throwing up would have been impolite.