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Soft light with no discernable source bathed the world in a hazy glow, edges blurred and colors muted. The horizon was dominated by the hulking shapes of a distant city, skyscrapers reaching into a pearlescent sky. The buildings were fuzzy gray against a milky sky, a bit sharper in contrast to the empty vastness above them that faded from a shimmering off-white to a deeper... off-white. One wondered if most people could even discern the subtle differences in the shifting tones.
The immediate area featured a small park on a gently rolling hill. The lawn was a swath of almost jewel-toned green, immaculately cut grass, and the shimmering colors of flowers in well-tended beds offered a startling contrast to the sky and distant buildings. A single large shade tree waved and whispered in a gentle breeze that never seemed to cease. The trunk and leaves of the tree were so sapped of color, they were nearly white, though the texture and shape of the leaves were similar to a Japanese maple.
In this bizarre place, Sailors Necessity and Oblivion stood out. Even though her uniform included soft pastels, Necessity's clothing and pale pink hair seemed vibrant in comparison to the desaturated world around them.
A man and a woman passed by then wearing beatific expressions, their clothing and even bodies faded. They seemed as if they were only half present, and Oblivion watched them walk into the distance. She could see hints of the colorless bench they passed by through their legs.
"The souls here feel half-formed," she commented, nose wrinkled. "They look like stereotypical ghosts."
"For some cultures, yes," Necessity agreed, casting her violet eyes toward the sky. "I know that the physical form taken by Astral Plane inhabitants is a construct of perception... even so, the ones here seem far less solid than the ones I see within the Spindle of Necessity."
"It is likely because they are incomplete," an almost inappropriately cheerful voice interjected. The two Guardians of the Astral Planes turned toward the source, standing several paces behind them, under the sprawling Japanese maple.
The woman was no taller than Oblivion, though her anatomy felt off. Her limbs were perhaps a little too long and thin, as was her neck, perhaps even her ears, which were pointed and extended out from her head like a caricature of an elf. Long, wispy hair of blue-gray seemed to float around her, the length to her mid-back, though likely longer if it was obeying the concept of gravity. Her skin was almost pallid, blue-tinged gray. Her expression was foxlike and somehow overly pleased, eyes closed and mouth in a closed smile that was too wide and too curved to feel natural.
She was dressed in a variant sailor guardian uniform. A cream-colored leotard was overlaid with a pale gray top two shades deeper than her skin tone, the hem scalloped in a V. The top was lined with a deep crimson stripe about an inch from the scalloped hem, a thicker red stripe from about halfway up the V on each side going up and disappearing under her collar over her chest. A similar stripe was echoed on the leotard underneath. Scalloped cap sleeves completed the shirt.
The collar was a deeper gray than the shirt with a cream-colored, semi-sheer scarf tucked underneath it, the front corners held by a scarf band of the same material as her collar. A pin shaped like half of a starseed pin sat on the scarf band, the orb whole and peeking out on the side nearest her heart.
A skirt and slip with the same materials of the collar and scarf hugged her hips, the waistband thick and sat straight across her hips.
Gloves the same color as her shirt covered most of her arms, the tops scalloped and angled with the point of the V on the inner part of her arms just above her elbows. Thin ribbons were pulled through and tied on the outsides as if to cinch them to her arms. Stockings of the same design encased her legs. Her shoes were the same gray as her skirt, simple heels that added little more than a couple of inches to her seemingly stretched height.
A white tiara with a milky white gem hugged her forehead. Earrings of simple, crimson-red balls adorned her earlobes.
The most notable thing even with the other bizarre details of the woman was her semi-transparency. Her too-long limbs seemed to fade to translucency near the joints of her wrists and ankles, with no hint of bone or sinew visible; a suggestion of the shape of the tree trunk behind her was visible through the sheet of fine hair flowing behind her.
"Sailor Hiranyaloka," Oblivion greeted the strange presence in her flat, unamused voice. "Their incompleteness is what bothers me."
"Hmmmmm? Why so?" Sailor Hiranyaloka glided toward them, long hair floating about her as she moved. She gestured with a long arm, turning her palm up, taking in the city in the horizon and the scattered humanoid souls milling about in the distance, all washed out in appearance, all semi-transparent in places. "That incompleteness is what makes them all so happy. You can see the relief and happiness in their expressions, their auras. Enlightenment has many such benefits."
Oblivion grimaced, stopping a retort only because Necessity placed a hand on the slender woman's shoulder.
"We have had this argument before, and we know we do not agree with each other," the pink-haired guardian of rebirth responded with a calm smile. "However... we wanted to offer you a chance to spend some time in a place filled with many of those like us. Whose duty it is to ensure the cycle of life and protect it."
Hiranyaloka tilted her head to an angle that would be painful on many humanoids.
"You know damn well you can send a projection outside of here without leaving the whole of yourself behind," Oblivion snapped. "You forget we are the same. Used to be the same." The latter was grumbled as Necessity strengthened her grip on Oblivion shoulder.
"We received invitations to two places." Necessity produced two invitations with a gesture of her hand, summoning them from somewhere far away. A village in an iteration of 30th century Earth, and an archipelago where -"
"I'll just go to both!" Hiranyaloka chirped, her form shifting and splitting. Each of her doubles snatched one of the invites, opened and scanned them, then grinned. Her eyes opened and she regarded her teammates in glee, red pinpoints glowing fiercely in the black voids where her eyes should be. "I don't want to rehash your boring arguments against how I am running my realm, so I'll just go and observe these ones." The doubles spoke in unison.
"I promise you though, I will find misery in the pattern of life and death just as I always have," the one holding an invitation to the 30th century on Earth assured them, waving the invite as she began to glow, gathering energy for a teleport between realms.
"And I look forward to discussing this with you again when I have more absolutely awful stories to share!" the second Hiranyaloka assured them cheerfully, twirling in place with the invitation to the Sunset Archipelago clutched in her too-long fingers before also disappearing.
Both gone, the two Sailor soldiers looked at each other, silent. Both wondering if they were doing the right thing.
At the Sunset Acropolis, Sailor Upsilon, also called Umbra, tapped out a command to the stargate. A few Senshi were scheduled to arrive over the next several days, and she had to make some adjustments to the gate in preparation. As a steady beeping started across the room at a second terminal, Upsilon continued tapping out commands, checking her notes on occasion. The beeping persisted, a red light flickering on a terminal. Still, she continued typing.
It could wait.
When the beeping became faster (and a bit annoying), Umbra finally lifted her gaze from the code on the screen before her. Her processor finally caught up to the commotion. Standing fluidly, her heels clicked as she made her way to the terminal that had been vying for her attention for the last ten minutes.
Sailor Hiranyaloka materialized outside of the gate with a resounding snap. Blinking azure eyes, Sailor Upsilon looked up from the terminal monitoring the stability of the gate, having been lured to it by a curious beeping as it protested the existing of... nearly non-existence inside of the gate.
As Hiranyaloka stepped forward, smiling her fox-mask smile, she turned her head toward Umbra, the movement sharp and birdlike. Her gray hair flowed around her, seeming to defy gravity. Tilting her head, Hiranyaloka greeted her. "Ooh! I don't usually encounter non-fleshy sailor guardians! Helloooo."
Blinking slowly, Umbra raised a hand almost languidly, unconsciously mimicking Sailor Hiranyaloka's cheerful wave.
A deep buzz preceded the arrival of Sailor Laniakea, Cordelia zipping into the room at an alarming speed.
"Umbra, I thought no one arriving to-" She stopped short, her blue-hued dragonfly wings shifting madly. She zipped backward and away from Hiranyaloka, hovering to Umbra's right. "Uh... who... is this?"
"Oh! Sylphs! I didn't realize Sylphs populated this place!" Hiranyaloka cheered giddily, clasping her hands together, long fingers curled in. "Hellooooooooooooo! I am Sailor Hiranyaloka!" She produced the envelope her teammates had given her, clearly addressed to Sailor Necessity and Sailor Oblivion of the Astral Guardians. "My teammates have asked me to come here in their stead!"
Cordelia shot Umbra a sideways glance. The robot just shrugged, brushing her black braid behind her shoulder.
"Sailor Hiranyaloka is registered as a member of that team."
"Hannah won't like it, though...."
Ultimately it took two hours of serious discussions between all three of the administrative Senshi of the Acropolis before they decided what to do. Sailor Hiranyaloka was not permitted to leave the arrival gate, though she seemed oddly content with simply... standing still, waiting.
Once the admin returned with their verdict - though Hannah Schiff was notably absent, having muttered something about not wanting to be near the corrupted senshi if she could help it - Sailor Hiranyaloka was made to seal the bulk of her power, and take a more humanoid (and solid) form. She altered her form, allowing gravity to take more control over how her form interacted with the world. She was no longer see-through, though her skin was still deathly pale; heavy black hair fell below her lower back and was tied off with a hair tie. She "d etransformed", appearing in a simple bell-sleeved tunic with a long hem and scalloped hemline on the sleeves and around her hips in a dove gray with a small crimson bow on the left side of her waist; a pair of simple dark gray leggings; and red crimson flats. Her transformation pin was attached to the bow on her side.
After being given a strict set of guidelines - no eating people's star seeds, no phasing through structures, no unsealing her abilities without approval from the admin, among others - she was shown to the bungalow she would be staying in.
They would watch Sailor Hiranyaloka and ensure she did not harm the other members of the Acropolis.
The walk to the bungalow gave her an opportunity to see the sights. Hiranyaloka tilted her head back to look up at the sky, her ceaseless smile widening. As Sylphs flitted by, some stopping to greet her, others simply nodding as she passed, Hiranyaloka returned their greetings enthusiastically. Those sensitive to aetherial energies seemed uncertain when they looked at her, as if not sure what they were seeing. She simply continued to smile.
She passed by a young human male with blond hair cut in an unusual style, shorn short except for a considerably longer section. She paused to study him, his aura telling her he was undoubtedly a Guardian like herself. He seemed to be waiting, hands in his pockets as he glowered at nothing in particular. He noticed her looking at him and threw what could be described an extremely grumpy face toward her, to which she "stared" and smiled back. His icy eyes narrowed, blonde brows drawn into a glower.
"Can I help you?"
Hiranyaloka shook her head, her smile widening.
"Not at all! I know where I am going and I know where I am. I don't need for anything. Can I help you?"
He stared at her incredulously before opening his mouth to respond, though his focus was stolen by another young human - this one a woman with red hair - calling him from a distance. Shooting her a last annoyed look, the man ambled away.
Unperturbed, Hiranyaloka continued her trek to the bungalows.
As she stepped past the threshold of the bungalow she would be sharing with many others, Sailor Hiranyaloka ran a hand through her now-black hair, amused by her civilian appearance.
As she approached a fellow senshi inside the bungalow, she offered her hand and smiled, the expression the same as always.
"Good day to you! I am Sailor Hiranyloka. Let's be friends!"
The bungalow-dweller, a woman with skin of a deep sienna and dark hair braided in a thick grouping of braids tied at her neck, blinked gold-hued eyes at the shorter Hiranyaloka. Slowly she set her book down onto the coffee table in front of her, her eyes widening as she took in the newcomer’s aura. The way it shifted and writhed like a shadowy beast, flaring with corruption…
“I-I’m sorry, who?” Her hand went to her pendant, the gem set into the center of it glowing ominously. This woman was a Senshi, but her aura was so close to those of her enemies… her mouth went dry as she backed away, the back of her legs hitting the couch.
“Sailor Hiranyaloka,” the smaller senshi replied cheerfully, stepping further into the bungalow. “I believe this is the bungalow I was assigned to, and you will be one of my roommates.” Hiranyaloka tilted her head, movement a little too quick.
“Hir— heera— you got a regular name, hun?” Sabine laughed a bit nervously. She felt like she’d just wound up in a horror movie…
“Oh.” Hiranyaloka’s smile slipped, eyes widening slightly, her fox-mask veneer dropping as she was presented with a question even the admins hadn’t faced her with. “Uh.. it was…” Red pinpricks were suddenly very interested in the ceiling. “I… Lucelly!”
As she decided on a name - any name? - she clasped her hands and the fox mask was back in place, red lips in a too-wide smile. “Please call me Lucelly.”
The system files for the Acropolis, back at the stargate, glitched, replacing the ??? next to her civilian name with Lucelly.
“Pleased to meet you!”
“N-nice to uh…” Sabine’s voice died when she saw the glimmers of red. She didn’t think, her transformation instantly engulfing her. The lantern on her hip popped open. She wasn’t gonna be the first one to die, dammit!
“Listen, Lucelly. I’m here to help you. Whatever this corruption is that you encountered, I can help you purify it.” She held up her hands, her sword still sheathed on her hip.
Lucelly’s eyes were wide open now, the black voids around the red pinpricks of light even more obvious. She stilled, as if unsure how to respond. Her eyes darted to the lantern.
In a few steps, the tiny woman was close to Sabine, pale hand reaching out, black fingernails and digits seeming to lengthen even as Sabine watched….
“Your lantern was open, Friend Sabine!” Lucelly beamed up at the transformed Knight of the Wilds.
The silver lantern popped open again.
Sabine gulped, taking another step away. More validation the strange, even wraith-like woman before her was corrupted and in need of help, if her lantern was refusing to stay closed.
“Please don’t touch that.” The flames glimmering within the glass flickered higher, stray tongues of fire lapping at the mouth of the lantern. Her scars began to pull and ache. “You might get hurt.”
Her heart pounded. Was Lucelly a friend, or a foe? She couldn’t tell.
“Oh - is the latch broken?” Lucelly followed like a puppy and tried to close it again, explaining her presence as it popped open once more.
“I certainly would like your help! You see, my teammates - Sailors Oblivion and Necessity - want me to learn more about other cultures and … alternatives to Eternity.” She smiled blithely up at Chevalière. “I’m not in need of purification. I simply have eaten too much in my days as Guardian of the Illumined Planet, and it takes such a long time to process the residue.”
“Um… sure, let’s go with that.” One of the flames reached up to greedily find purchase on Lucelly’s fingertips. She shook her head and dismissed her transformation, afraid of what might happen if her power continued to flare. Her mind scrambled to find anything she might have learned about an illuminated planet or the word ‘Hiranyaloka’. Nothing immediately comes forward.
“As… long as y’all are sure, Lucelly.” Sabine breathed out slowly. “Sorry. It’s my job to purify corrupted spirits or beings to stop that corruption from spreading into other worlds. Looks like your diet feels kinda feels like that to me.” She managed an apologetic smile, taking yet another step to put more distance between herself and Lucelly.
Lucelly chortled, the sound fairly pleasant, though with a strange undercurrent - a gurgling sound that seemed to trill at the end of her laughter.
“Oh, no no. I call souls that have lived too long, suffered through too many reincarnations,” she explained, one hand resting against her flat stomach almost absently. “I swallow their karmic load to purify their souls, so they may enter Hiranyaloka - the Illumined Planet. Eternity, free from being reborn into an endless cycle of pain and death.”
Her tone was reverent, humble.
“You have nothing to fear from me, Friend Sabine. Though if you have any interest, I will gladly share Eternity with you.” She tilted her head again, dark bangs shifting with the movement. “Someday.”
Lucelly finally stepped back and away, hands clasped in front of her as she continued her close-eyed, tight-lipped smile.
Sabine never thought she’d be so glad to have someone step away from her. Her posture relaxed somewhat.
Wait… she swallowed karma? For those who were reincarnated time and again?
“That sounds like it’d give you a bellyache.” She tried to sound glib, but instead, it just came across as nervous. Her hand went to the scar on her chest. “Thanks for that, but I think I’m good.”
She froze, a realization hitting her. “Wait… were you…?” Was that shadow she’d seen in her dying moments… Lucelly?
Lucelly tilted her head the other way this time, the smile somehow… knowing.
“I haven’t ever offered you Eternity, Sabine Lefèvre.” A single white finger tapped on her lips. “Yet, anyway. And ultimately it is always the soul’s choice if they want to accept freedom from saṃsāra.”
“Then how do you know my name?” The words were out before Sabine could stop herself. Well, she’d received a packet on the other Senshi and admins of the Acropolis, so who said Lucelly hadn’t gotten one too? Not… that she’d read into her other housemates yet. There was no time to, not when she had plenty of packets of grit and grime to analyze and catalogue.
She cleared her throat. “Good to know.” So Hiranyaloka was connected to Nirvana after all. Okay, she could understand that. “Do many accept your offer then?”
The Haitian woman was back on familiar ground now— investigation and analysis. Anything to keep her mind occupied. “And is Hiranyaloka a physical plane then? Not just a— a spiritual realm?”
“Hiranyaloka is one of the realms of the Astral Plane. While some can enter those realms while inside of a physical body, it is a primarily spiritual realm.” Lucelly did so love talking about Hiranyaloka. So few asked, anymore. “My realm - it’s like… imagine a planet sitting inside of the light. It’s a small world, which has been built up over time by the souls that dwell within it.
“Many have accepted Eternity. I can only appear to those directly on the verge of death, or who have crossed into Hiranyaloka for judgment. Those not ready to enter my realm - not ready to reach Enlightenment - eventually make their way to Oblivion to have their past lives erased from their memories,” Lucelly gestured with one finger, as if stirring or spinning something. “Then on to Necessity’s Spindle, and from there - rebirth according to their soul’s original wishes. Not everyone fits into the same pattern, though any can be given Eternity if they choose.”
Sabine paused, considering this information. This wasn’t anything she’d heard of directly, but… “So these… Oblivion and Necessity. They act as the gatekeepers to rebirth? Oblivion as the River Styx, Necessity as the bridge back to life?” She nodded to herself, her arms folding. “Then do you seek out those you think are worth bringing into Eternity, or do their souls call out to you instead?”
Had Lucelly encountered any of her teammates in the past, then? She’d need to ask them when they next met together.
The Guardian of Hiranyaloka ran her fingertips over her half-starseed pin on the bow on her waist.
“Originally, I was called to judge those who came, whose souls were called to me. Their karma laid bare, I took what I needed to for them to move on… or I …” her smile slipped again, voice softer. “I sent them away. Eventually, I started seeking heroic souls, guiding them - trying to help them attain Eternity through deeds.”
Her face darkened perceptibly.
“It was not always successful.”
She brightened again.
“Now I listen. I go to those who despair their fate, those who want to be free, and I offer. Sometimes I am drawn to those suffering horribly, who don’t know better or different - I offer them, too.” She shrugged thin shoulders. “They don’t always want to go. Sometimes they are offended, or other times just not ready.”
Sabine fell silent for a long moment. She couldn’t help but feel chilled; despite Lucelly’s clearly noble intentions, something just felt wrong to her.
“I… see.” She said slowly, gnawing on her lower lip. “I’m sorry your intentions have damaged you so badly. That almost seems unfair.” She closed her eyes. “But… is it not you who also seeks peace, Sailor Hiranyaloka?”
Her voice sounded strange even to her ears, layered with a gravity that didn’t belong to her. Her pendant glowed a soft purple. Oh… one of the Ghedes had decided to hitch a ride on her, hadn’t they? And without asking either.
Lucelly had begun swaying in place, as if holding still was not entirely in her nature, though she stopped at the sound of the shift in Sabine’s voice. She brought a hand to her chest, in the very center. Not her heart, but where her starseed would be.
“It has been a while since I spoke with a member of the Ghedes.” Formal, distant. Face turned away from Sabine as if not wanting to look directly at the person she was addressing through the woman. “I know not what you mean. I don’t understand why she would say I am damaged. And I do find peace - each person I can free from the wheel of fate brings me joy.” Her words felt hollow, an argument repeated too many times to count.
“You’re lying to yourself.” Sabine’s eyes opened, her irises a burning purple in hue now. She strode toward Lucelly, coming to a stop just a breath away from the shorter woman. “Doesn’t it hurt, every time you take in a soul’s negativity?”
Her voice softened, “My father warned you away last time. This time I will give you advice. Consider what you’re doing to other souls, and to yourself. Don’t you want to stop hurting?” She held out a hand, the image of a younger man in a mix of masculine and feminine clothes overlaying itself over her. “We want to help you.”
It was Lucelly’s turn to back away a step, her expression conflicted. Finally, her sublime mask fell back into place. She reached out and took Sabine’s hand. A small pulse of energy flowed from Lucelly into Sabine - and through the spirit riding her.
“I thank you for the offer - but it is impolite to possess someone without their permission.” Lucelly’s voice was softly chiding.
Sabine gasped, her eyes returning to their normal gold as her body bowed. Dimly she heard Nibo shriek while he was thrust back to his own realm. She coughed and struggled to regain her breath, unconsciously holding onto Lucelly’s hand for support.
“Merde!” She rubbed her chest, her hand falling out of the pale woman’s. “Um— thanks—“
“I apologize if it was rude of me to push the spirit out,” Lucelly apologized. “However you seemed not to expect his appearance.” She ran the fingers of one hand over the one she had used to reject Nibo. “Usually I am very fond of and quite happy to speak to those of spiritual plains, but…” she trailed off. “I do not like it when we - they - impose our will on mortals.”
“Eh, kinda comes with the territory.” Sabine flushed, rubbing the back of her head. “And sometimes the Ghedes are a bit… grabby. But it’s thanks to them that I’m alive, so while I’d prefer that they, ya know, ask before taking me for a ride, I can’t exactly stop them. They usually have a really good reason for it.”
She sighed, massaging her chest once more. It still felt cold in Nibo’s absence. “At least he didn’t make me eat peppers this time. I thought I was about to breathe fire after that.”
Huh. She’d actually managed to have a proper conversation with Lucelly without running for the hills. Either she was getting better at this sort of thing, or her ass really was going to be the first dead in this upcoming horror movie.
Lucelly almost pouted.
“You mean I angered his father for no reason? Eternals, I should leave now while I still have a chance,” the smaller woman - quipped? It sure seemed like a quip. “I have to admit... they, at least, don’t spend a lot of energy trying to kill me. I cannot say the same for other such deities.”
… So much for feeling at ease. “To be fair, you did kinda do me a favor?” Sabine wasn’t sure if her smile looked like a true one, or a wince. “Sounds like you’ve made a lot of enemies.”
Well. This was just fantastic. If Baron Samedi came back fully enraged, the Acropolis would become a battleground faster than one could say “bonne chance”. Her allowance was going to go toward offerings to appease him, wasn’t it?
“Wait. Can deities or beings like you truly ‘die’? I thought you’d just change forms and return stronger or something.”
Lucelly seemed to read Sabine’s discomfort.
“I will provide offerings to give to him as recompense, and you can be sure to let him know it was my misunderstanding,” Lucelly waved. “As for if I can die… so far, no. At least, not yet.” She “looked” away, turning her smiling visage toward the far wall. “And we do not always return stronger. Changed, perhaps. Not necessarily stronger. I have met entities who shouldn’t be able to die but were ripped apart - they were never able to ‘be’ the same again.”
She looked down at her hands. So normal in this solid form… so… different from when she was ‘herself’. So close to when she was…. Was?
“I suppose… we can be changed.” She seemed lost in thought. “I suppose I have changed.”
A heartbeat later she was beaming again, stepping away from Sabine and twirling, arms reaching high.
“Either way ~” she put her hands on her hips. “Dear Necessity should be sending me a care package soon - or I suppose a ‘we forgot to tell you to take things with you instead of just teleport away’ package - and I wouldn’t doubt it will include local currency. I can pay you reparations then for possibly angering the Ghedes.”
First she’s acting like a goddess, then she’s acting like a child. So which is she really? Sabine wondered, gnawing on her lower lip again. Could she do anything to help her? Would the Ghedes even let her?
“Ah. Okay, thank you.” Sabine finally gave Lucelly what amounted to a proper smile. “And thank you for sharing with me. I’m sorry for… misjudging you.” But you still creep me the hell out. “Just uh… be careful, I guess. If my instinct was to see you as something to be concerned with, the others might feel the same. But if you want to know more about my culture, I’ll gladly share it with you.”
As long as Sabine didn’t have to look her in the eyes.
She looked at her watch. “Shit I told Baba I’d have that readout for him by now! Sorry, gotta go! Uh, nice meeting you Lucelly!” She rushed back into her room and fired up her computer, promptly losing herself in her work once more.
Lucelly watched her go, the smile faded from her lips.
“Is that why I’m always so alone?”
Lucelly walked to her room, which was decorated, she realized, much more to Zoe - Necessity’s - preferences than to her own. They certainly had not anticipated the switch up.
She went to the bed and laid flat on top of the soft comforter, gazing up at the ceiling.
She had made a friend today. A kind woman, though Lucelly was not so naive as to think Sabine didn’t fear her on some level. Most people did when they saw more of her than she wanted them to see. Still - a new friend.
And perhaps someday, she would show them Eternity.
Teammates: Sailor Oblivion and Sailor Necessity... who haven't come to SA.