The barren iceplains of the North Pole actually made the Dark Kingdom
look desirable in comparison. Not that the youma nobility stayed to admire
the view. Soon as they materialized at D point they stepped into the warp
gate and materialized within the great chamber. A few stopped to glance
at the three nearby ice pillars but most hurried through. There was still
an hour before the celebration was to commence when the last of them arrived.
None of them wished to be seen as tardy. The Circle might take that as
a sign of disrespect and no one in his, her or its' right mind wanted that.
The chamber had never sported as many amenities during the long reign of the Overlord's predecessor. Back then you'd just stand there for hours and watch her punish or reward her courtiers. More the former than the latter. That or listen to her interminable ranting about how better times were coming and the world would be hers. Or hear her drone on for hours about the glories they'd see when Metallia resurrected. Many generations of youma had wasted years of their lives standing firm and looking attentive through this sort of thing. Desperately trying not to appear bored as though their lives depended on it. Which they did.
Centuries of repetition hadn't made Beryl an enthralling speaker. You got the feeling she wasn't even listening to herself anymore. Well that was all over with. The end had been abrupt but long overdue. While they all wished they'd been the ones to take command none of those remaining were suicidal enough challenge the Overlord. The most foolish and reckless had been weeded out very quickly.
At any rate now the chamber held dozens of tables crammed with a variety of Kingdom and Earth delicacies. Human servants moved through the throng as unobtrusively as possible, bringing drinks and obeying their masters' orders as silently as they could. None of them wished to remind the youma of their presence any more than necessary. You never knew what might set them off or what they'd take offense at. The youma had been asked not to break the servants but that was more of a request than a law. At worst the offender would have to find a human of comparable appearance from among his slaves as a replacement. The Overlord had some funny ideas about aesthetics though none of the nobles ever commented on it out loud. All the servants here and at the Citadel were either beautiful or handsome (depending on gender) by human standards. This seemed a little odd but if that was what the Overlord wanted who was foolish enough to comment on it?
The central dais was empty except for a small table on which a servant was placing five glasses. The throne was long gone, one of the Overlord's first actions had been to vaporize it immediately after proclaiming it a monument to his predecessor's execrable taste. Half an hour to go, now only the arrival of the Dark Circle remained.
There was a distortion in the air and the first member of the Circle appeared. Lord Magnesite haughtily gazed on those below and self consciously adjusted the seam on his jacket. His attire resembled Nephrite's uniform minus the fancy epaulettes and with a diagonal red slash running from shoulder to waist. The same pseudo general outfit he'd worn before his elevation to real power. He liked to boast he ruled two continents but as one was Antarctica and Australia had been devastated by the climactic shift it sounded far better than the reality. It was well known that he was the lowest ranking of the circle and many waited for his inevitable fall from grace. It might not be the most desirable territory but the status of being one of the rulers of the planet more than made up for it.
Magnesite was the only male member of the Circle to affect the General's habit of wearing ear studs. Still he was far older than the others and had lived his life in the Generals' shadows. He'd dreamed of becoming one of them, a sentiment not shared by the younger four. What they'd done to Jadeite made their feelings on the old regime abundantly clear.
Ten minutes passed before the air rippled again and Lord Pyrite and Lady Azurite materialized. The governors of North and South America were often seen together leading some to say that it was Zoisite and Kunzite all over again. But not very loudly as they were known to dislike the comparison. With Azurite responsible for security it was a bad idea to anger her. Not to mention what she could do to you with her own power. Pyrite wasn't as dangerous on an individual level but his many lethal inventions combined with his absolute control of the cybs made it an equally bad idea to annoy him. No one wants to get labelled experimental material, there were many more pleasant ways to die. Both held the Overlord's favour in a way Magnesite never had and never would.
Azurite was wearing a blue evening dress of human design, the same shade as her hair. She wore minimal jewelry apart from a platinum bracelet inset with amethyst and a pair of ruby earrings which matched her eyes. Pyrite had foregone the black crystal armour he normally wore to offset his lack of physical power. In its' place he wore a dark blue Armani suit. As humanics the pair had no trouble in utilizing human clothing and tailors. Other youma had been forced to train their servants to make allowances for tails, wings and other physical differences. After the takeover the lower ranking youma who'd done the menial work had abandoned it. In the new order humans were the servants, not them. Such work was beneath them.
The pair nodded at Magnesite and he returned the gesture immediately. Some were more equal than others, even in the ruling circle. Especially in the ruling circle. But that was the way it had always been in the Dark Kingdom. There'd never been any pretense that things were otherwise. Pyrite handed the squat green bottle he was carrying to Azurite. She snapped the seal and filled the five glasses before them. The liquor was of Kingdom origin, a potent dark green liquor named "Bloodwine". It had originally been named in honour of Nephrite. Back when that had been a name to envy and fear, long before his idiotic and inglorious end. Magnesite reached for a glass but stopped short at Azurite's glare.
Pyrite sniffed the delicate aroma with appreciation. A fine vintage, bottled for the former ruler and intended for her alone. Beryl had maintained an excellent and very well guarded cellar. A little too well guarded given the attrition rate among her wine stewards. Get distracted at the wrong moment, step on the wrong flagstone and it was impalement, decapitation or falling into a pit full of something horrible.
Seven minutes left. The air behind Azurite and Pyrite took on a green hue and began to pulse. They stepped aside as red threads of light interlaced the green and created a complex web. The web began to spin, slow at first then accelerating into a pinwheel of light. Suddenly the pinwheel exploded into a flare of red then was gone leaving a figure in black in its' place. Princess Titanite enjoyed making an entrance.
The black minidress would have looked better on her with a few more years development but none of her dressers were suicidal enough to question her choice. As she often did she'd overdone the ornamentation. She looked like she'd been caught in an explosion in a jewel store. A very exclusive store considering who'd owned them in the past. She didn't care that she was wearing several fortunes, they were pretty and they'd belonged to important humans in the old days. Signs of conquest, nothing more. She could dump all of them in the garbage without a second thought. All but one, the stone set into her choker. It might not be the ultimate weapon of legend but it was still a useful tool. A pity it hadn't lived up to its reputation, though if it had the Overlord would have kept it for himself. He was nobody's fool but his own.
She raised a hand in greeting. Pyrite returned the gesture while Azurite gave her an indulgent smile. Titanite grinned back, no doubt she'd be given a few more fashion hints before the party was over. Not that she minded taking advice from her honorary older sister. Magnesite gave her a respectful bow and regarded her with frank desire. A liaison with her would go a long way to securing his position. Titanite was about to rebuke him when something occurred to her. She favoured him with a speculative look and hide her amusement. Behind him Azurite raised an eyebrow in query and resolved to find out what Titanite was up to. For now she gave a terse whisper to Lord Magnesite to get over to the other side of the dias.
One minute to go. They took their positions. Pyrite and Azurite to the left of the table, Titanite and Magnesite to the right. The central area was empty for a few moments. Then without sign or fanfare he was there.
Overlord Calcite surveyed the room which had suddenly fallen silent. The black aura which surrounded him seemed to deepen in pitch as he dropped the shields that kept Metallia's power contained. Even those with the most rudimentary psychic abilities felt the force he contained. Dozens of idle thoughts of seizing power were washed away as they were all reminded that he was more god than man. Most knelt without realizing they were doing it. The more religious, who held him to be the avatar of the Abyss prostrated themselves. The humans present cowered in terror, one dying of shock while others lost control of their bladders. The Dark Circle, more used to the effect, but by no means immune bowed low. Then his shields returned and the presence was gone.
Calcite signalled for everyone to rise. The Circle members were first to straighten up. For a change even Titanite looked solemn but he didn't expect that to last. She winked quickly then resumed her respectful expression. He suppressed a chuckle, count on his sister to never take him too seriously. Magnesite had caught her reflection in one of the glasses. He silently considered that if he'd done that he'd be facing divine displeasure right now.
The crowd straightened up and faced the Overlord in silence. Among them the humans who'd embarrassed themselves slipped off unobtrusively to their quarters to clean up, change and return. Being somewhat fastidious Calcite didn't comment on them leaving their stations. A cleanup crew appeared to quietly wipe away any mess and remove the corpse. Calcite made a note to commend the major domo for maintaining top rate service in what was a hardship post. These days the Kingdom was nearly deserted, the Great Chamber had been empty for months. Everyone had emigrated to Earth. Why stick around the empty Kingdom and risk the predatory wildlife when there was a place out there for the weakest youma? No matter how lowly you were the humans were lower still. On a whim he'd maintained the palace shields and turned it into a tourist haven for any youma who wanted to see the folly of the old days. As this was where his reign had begun he'd chosen to hold the celebration here rather than in the Citadel. They seemed to be regaining their senses, another few moments and he'd give his speech. This dazed worship was one reason he kept his power locked down and simply used it as necessary. The unspoken reason was that removing the locks increased the odds he'd lose control of Metallia.
The crowd studied him with awe. By youma standards he wasn't much to look at, he could have passed for human. A human with long green hair that ended just before his shoulder blades and nails of a matching colour but a human none the less. The real differences were inside but unlike them and like the rest of the circle his nature wasn't visible. This had caused a few problems in the early days as many said they'd die rather than have a humanic as supreme leader. While they'd had to serve the Generals at least Beryl had looked properly youmalike. After the first few had got their wish the rest realized he was even more dangerous than the Generals and regarded insults to the Circle as insults to himself. Insurrection had promptly ceased.
He was handsome by human standards, marred only by the old scar that crossed his left cheek. How he'd acquired it and why he'd never removed it was a mystery to everyone outside the circle. It was whispered that Lord Magnesite didn't know or he'd have told the tale by now as a sign of his insider knowledge. The Overlord prepared to speak. He'd had a speech written but had junked most of it. Addressing this crowd as "my friends" would be idiotic. There were precisely three youma he could count on and they were standing beside him. Enough woolgathering, it was time.
"My subjects, we stand here today on the first anniversary of our triumph. We may not use the humans' calendar but as it is their custom to celebrate anniversaries and we have taken everything else from them I decided we might as well take that as well." There was a scattering of chuckles which grew louder as the denser realized that was humour and they weren't showing appreciation for the Overlord's wit. He continued in a more somber tone.
"One year ago the Dark Kingdom stood upon the verge of defeat. Queen Beryl, our late and unlamented ruler, had foolishly squandered much of our resources and many of our most powerful warriors in one debacle after another. The last of the generals had died by a combination of his own hand and utter stupidity. Opening the way for our greatest enemies to come forth and bring destruction upon us!" A few of Beryl and the Generals more ardent remaining followers looked uncomfortable but didn't dare say anything. The most fanatically committed to the old regime were long gone. Adapt or die was the name of the game.
"Fortunately there were those among you who were prepared for this eventuality. The Dark Circle gained the power we needed and ended both the threat of the Senshi and the ruler who'd nearly destroyed us all. I bound our god and with its energies took the Earth from the humans reclaiming our ancestral birthright!" There were cheers mixed with a few uncertain expressions. On the one hand binding Metallia was blasphemy, on the other seizing ultimate power was the clearest expression of youma values. He picked up the central glass and the rest of the circle followed suit.
"Because of this we rule today instead of being a fading memory of the Senshi. So raise a glass in tribute to the Dark Circle. We have brought you victory and as long as you follow us your future is assured!" Defy us and you die remained unspoken. After all everyone knew that. He drained his glass and smiled. An excellent vintage and this little reminder of his power should have quashed any thoughts of rebellion. Not that any of them could topple him but it was a nuisance and wiping out his own race was ultimately counterproductive. Even with the vast reduction in their numbers humanity still outnumbered the youma. It was annoying having to keep running these dominance displays but it was the nature of their kind to continually look for a weakness to exploit. "And now relax and enjoy yourselves." With that he turned back to the Circle and exchanged a few words. They dispersed and began to move through the guests acknowledging the signs of respect and considering various propositions.
Calcite passed a small group of youma vaguely nodding to their sudden bows. A very nervous servant stood beside them holding a tray of goblets filled with a red liquid. He caught the salty aroma and shook his head. How had drinking that becoming chic? They were youma not vampires! Such an idiotic fad, it wasn't as if it was particularly nutritious or had magical benefits. Now human lifeforce was another matter, that had many uses.
As was inevitable (not that he objected) there were no shortage of females looking to depart the party with him. Just being considered by him would boost their status in the eyes of their fellows. If they could achieve a liaison who knew what that could lead to. Perhaps even membership in the Circle once Magnesite was purged. As a result he never lacked for company. Of course he had a castle full of human women who wouldn't dare refuse if the whim took him but fear and helpless rage weren't what he wanted. At least not as a rule though there were exceptions ... He remembered what he'd done that morning and smiled. Funny to think how that would once have repelled him. Well he'd had a lot of odd ideas when he was young. Lucky he'd grown out of them. Having Metallia nesting in his mind didn't hurt.
Around him the youma plotted against one another, exchanged veiled threats, and tried to build alliances. Almost human really. One group stood apart from the others ignoring the contemptuous looks they received while quietly memorizing faces for retribution. The female who lead the group bowed low as he passed. She straightened up giving him a good look at her face. While the left was normal enough for a youma (pointed ears, orange tinted skin and fangs) the right was another story. From forehead to chin it was a smooth surface of white, broken only by the bend around her mouth and the red crystal where her eye should be. Her companion had artificial crystal talons, every member of the group had a prosthetic of some variety. He acknowledged their bows with a salute. After all these were the closest people to loyal troops that he had.
It had been one of his more inspired ideas. Among the terminals that Magnesite had maintained as sword fodder were a group of cripples. Most had lost challenges and been mutilated, others bore serious injuries from the varied hazards of the environment. Both groups had one thing in common, they'd been dismissed as useless and left to die. Lacking alternatives they'd hooked up with Magnesite. They'd probably get thrown away in a wave attack but it was the best offer they were going to get.
Observation of Earth was difficult at that point but some of the images he'd managed to see had given him the idea. Humans restored the appearance and some function to their damaged by the use of artificial limbs. If the magical equivalent was developed ... He'd sprung the idea on Pyrite and they'd had no trouble getting volunteers for the chance to be whole again. After the inevitable experimental losses they'd achieved many successes. Those restored had gloried in their replacement parts and sought vengeance on their tormentors. After it had been demonstrated that Pyrite could shut down the prosthetics at will they had want they wanted. A squad of fanatics who'd do anything they were asked in exchange for remaining whole. None would risk returning to being objects of scorn and jest.
So Pyrite had gained a group who'd do obey him without question. As he was loyal to Calcite that obedience extended to him. The cybs (as they'd become known) had been very useful in the past and remained an elite force. Calcite waved a dismissal to Arimanus, the half faced youma. She'd been ecstatic about regaining her sight and would have been sharing Pyrite's bed if Azurite hadn't got there first. Being smart enough not to challenge her Ari'd set about making herself invaluable and had quickly become leader of cybs. Pyrite was nominating her as Magnesite's replacement when the inevitable occurred.
It was somewhat unfortunate the inevitable was taking so long. He'd been a little hasty in giving his word to Magnesite. Ah well, at the time the carrot and the stick (literally "the zal fruit and the soul whip") had seemed the best way to ensure his cooperation. They'd taken over Magnesite's organization behind the scenes but left him as the frontman. In case things miscarried Magnesite would take the heat while the Circle jumped ship.
Calcite had promised his former boss that if he cooperated and didn't try to oppose them Magnesite had his word that he'd have a share of the power they'd win. The flip side was he'd die unpleasantly if he defied them. This had ensured Magnesite's cooperation and Calcite had kept his oath. His word was his bond. It was the ability to trust each other that bound the four together and had forged the original circle. He'd expected Magnesite to try and stage his own coup shortly after the takeover. But he'd underestimated just how thoroughly he'd cowed the man. Unfortunate as they all disliked Magnesite and had looked forward to his removal. But he'd given his word and he never broke that. If he did how could the others continue to trust him? Deep inside his mind a voice whispered that he didn't need anyone. He ignored it as he knew it wasn't his own.
On a whim he started toward the viewing wall. He'd turned the North wall of the chamber into a giant screen. A screen fixed on a real-time view of a single point outside. Three tapering pillars of ice towered over the frozen plane. Snow silently blew between the towers, there was no audio as there was nothing to hear but the howl of the wind and the crash of ice. The central pillar was taller and thicker than the two flanking it. Near the summit of each a shape was frozen within. The pillars were cleaned and scraped regularly to keep those shapes visible.
Azurite and Pyrite stood before the wall looking back toward the party. They stopped talking at his approach and waved him over. Forgetting formality they bantered as they had in the old days. Seeing them engrossed in conversation the guests decided to steer clear. Out of earshot but close enough to be signalled a servant stood at attention with the bloodwine balanced on a silver tray. She'd been a star once. Now? Just another slave like the rest of her race.
Titanite and Magnesite came over to join the trio and Calcite suppressed a frown. Magnesite seemed to be surprisingly close to his sister and she didn't seem to be discouraging him. What was she up to?
Magnesite was the first to speak. "The circle is rejoined. Let the powers of darkness note that in the name of Abyss though we may be separated we are never sundered."
Calcite sighed. "This is not a formal gathering not a social one so we have no need for ritual."
"If you say so My Lord."
"I do. Well since we are together any business for the whole circle?"
Magnesite indicated the screen. "I was wondering when Sailor Hades would be joining the exhibit?"
"Good question. Pyrite, are you done with the body yet?"
Pyrite looked thoughtful. "Yeeees ..."
"But there's not a lot left to exhibit. I've learned everything I could about Senshi physiology vs human however the remains are somewhat scattered. I still have all the pieces but they aren't exactly together."
"Could you reassemble them?"
"I dismantled her down to the cellular level."
"Ah." Magnesite watched Pyrite with a hidden glee. Surely the Overlord would reprimand him for this. "Did you preserve the face?"
"Yes, as you ordered. The costume's also been dismantled but I had a copy made."
"Fine. Acquire a human corpse of similar build, graft on the face and dye the hair the right shade, dress it in the costume then replicate the injuries. We'll install it in the fifth pillar. Who'll know it isn't the original corpse?"
Pyrite glanced to the screen. "Fifth?"
"Poseidon broke this morning so I gave her the release she'd begged for. She'll be number four."
Azurite chimed in. "Speaking of the Senshi there's a new development. I think it's time to upgrade the hunt team."
Titanite nodded. "Yeah. It's past time we got rid of those clowns. Maybe they were useful once but all they do now is damage our property and cost us subordinates. Besides they keep mucking round in my domain more than anyone else's."
"They have special ties to Asia, or rather to one part of it."
"I know that. It's a real pain in the butt."
Azurite broke in, "We appreciate your stoicism Princess." That got a chuckle from her. "Getting back to them during their recent raid on Chilean Enclave Beta besides killing seven youma they also got 15 guards and the vice administrator."
"Nothing new there. They've wiped out quite a few humans during the past year."
"But those were all humans recruited to the guards. At least their other victims were shooting at them. They had to go out of their way to get the administrator."
Calcite raised an eyebrow. "They?"
Azurite shrugged and conceded the point. "Okay from the damage it was obviously Hermes' doing. No big surprise, we've known for some time she's the more violent of the pair."
"Get any video?"
"They torched the monitors. We're working on a reconstruct."
"Good. When it's done I want global distribution. That should eliminate the pro Senshi sentiment in the enclaves."
"Same way the resistance became the enemy when they turned on them." As the human resistance movements became increasingly desperate they'd become increasingly fanatical. Anyone who'd surrendered to the youma was a traitor and an enemy. Not that there'd been much choice if you wanted to survive the famine. But it was easier to prey on their fellow humans than the youma. After a few atrocities the humans serving the youma had begun to pray that their masters wiped out the resistance before they arrived at their enclaves.
Pyrite looked speculative. "So they've adopted the resistance policy of considering all humans in the enclaves traitors and viable targets."
Magnesite snorted. "What resistance?"
"There's a few left scattered around the world but they aren't going to last much longer."
"In your domain perhaps. Mine is free of insurrection."
Pyrite chuckled softly. "If my domain consisted of ice and desert I'm sure I wouldn't have any problems. Which reminds me, Calcite ...?"
"Yes?" Magnesite seethed at the familiarity. If he used anything but My Lord or Overlord to address Calcite they'd all looked at him as if he was about to step on a deadwalker nest.
Pyrite continued. "I've found another nest of survivalists. This one's in Colorado. Old military base we missed last sweep. I was holding off squashing them in case you wanted to do one of your 'wrath of god' demonstrations. It's been a while."
"That's very thoughtful but unnecessary. Do what you will."
"Thank you. I've got a few prototypes that could use a field test. I'll set the wheels in motion after the party. Speaking of which Canaveral is ready to launch on your order."
"You know what we're looking for."
"When we have positive detection you'll be informed immediately."
"Fine. While we're on the subject of space ... ?"
"Nothing further to report on the ET object. However I'm now almost positive it went superliminal just past the orbit of Heaven." They used the human names for the planets as they'd never needed their own prior to the conquest. In fact most youma still didn't comprehend the idea of anything beyond the Earth. Perhaps if it was possible to see the stars they'd have got the idea.
Magnesite looked puzzled. "Superluminal?"
"Faster than light. Which in real space is supposedly impossible by both the humans theories and ours. But there's no indication of a space warp." He turned to Calcite. "Incidentally there may have been a nascent warp from outside the solar system forming in Tokyo. But when you annihilated the city you destroyed whatever was generating the gateway."
Magnesite ignored this last aside and looked Pyrite in the eye. "So you admit a failure?"
"The lightspeed limit is only a theory Magnesite. Admittedly one I'd have bet on but still only a theory." He smiled. "Still that's what makes this truly exciting. If all our lightspeed theories are wrong we'll just have to revise them. Who knows what we'll uncover in the process."
Calcite shook his head. "Pure research can wait until we're secure. We have no idea if the object was a random flyby, a probe to indicate the presence of life outside this system or a scouting expedition prior to a colonization attempt. In keeping with our ancestral traditions we'll assume the worst and begin developing space based weapons."
Azurite looked unhappy. "That's going to be tricky. As we can't survive off planet and we can't trust humans to man orbital weapons that could be turned against us we're looking at AIs or djinn to run them. We're years away from development of a practical deployable system."
"Then we'll have to hope we've got years. Assuming those whatever it was comes back. Far as we can tell it did one slow orbit around the planet then headed back out of the system."
"Maybe it didn't like what it saw."
Titanite was looking confused by all this. "Heaven ... that's the eighth planet?"
"The seventh. Poseidon's the eighth."
"Close enough. Speaking of whom ...?"
"No I haven't broken her yet. Seems her lover's death revitalized her will to live. She's sworn to last long enough to get her hands around my throat." Titanite had to laugh at the thought of the half-dead Senshi being able to do any damage to her brother.
Pyrite looked a little guilty and cleared his throat. "Her time may be more limited than we thought. From my dissection of Hades I'd say we overestimated their radiation tolerance. The tests may well have inflicted terminal damage to her tissues."
Calcite sighed. "Well I commissioned the tests and you warned me of the risk so I can't complain. I'll just have to speed my efforts. To tell the truth she has been looking fairly sickly lately. The trick's going to be breaking her will without inflicting fatal damage on her weakening body." He smiled. "I always did like a challenge."
Azurite returned the smile but couldn't help think that there'd been a time that she'd been against unnecessary cruelty. Though this was actually necessary cruelty. The torture satiated Metallia's sadism and helped keep it under Calcite's control. At any rate that reminded her ... "We got side tracked from the issue of what to do about Zeus and Hermes. I admit they've been useful in the past ; they appear, the local resistance figures this is their big chance and follows them on a raid, we wipe out the majority of them, the more powerful Senshi break free and strategically withdraw and we mop up the humans. Then they repeat the whole thing in some other country. But they've caught on and work alone these days. Not that there's much of anyone left to follow them."
Titanite spread her hands. "Well it's not like we haven't been trying to kill them all along. Though I have to say that the Seven ... the Six Legendary Great Youma haven't exactly lived up to their PR. As individuals we've all got tougher youma serving us and now they've lost Boxer they can't do their merger trick."
Pyrite spoke next. "Possibly the restoration process was only a partial success?"
Calcite shook his head. "I re-empowered them myself. They're as tough as they were during Silver Millennium. The problem is that we didn't think of the implications of that."
Magnesite looked as puzzled as Titanite but she was the one to say, "I don't think I follow you."
"What we forgot was that back them most of Beryl's troops were humans. Some of them possessed by lesser demons but the vast majority were human. The Seven were tougher than the human soldiers but what they really were was a prototype for the youma. After generations of survival of the fittest we had hundreds of youma available as tough as, or much tougher than, the Seven."
Azurite slapped herself on the forehead. "That's so incredibly obvious. I can't believe I missed that!"
Pyrite shrugged. "I didn't think of it either and I'm supposed to be a genius." She grinned at him. "Yeah but you also bet that the Senshi wouldn't be dumb enough to walk into that 'Moon Princess Ski Contest' without sensing a trap. Immediately after which you wagered they'd have to figure out the ice rink was a setup." Pyrite glared at her but without real malice.
"I underestimated their gullibility. Besides Hermes was, and is, highly intelligent. She should have figured it out!" He sounded defensive.
Calcite chuckled briefly. "There's a difference between pure genius and practicality."
"Which is why you're the Overlord rather than me."
"Quite so. Anyway it's time we enhanced the hunter squad. Azurite, get me the names of a half dozen warriors of proven ability. Methodical and efficient rather than anxious to look good."
"You want it now?"
"Don't be silly, tomorrow will be soon enough. It's not like they can run anywhere we can't find them. Especially after we finish the job Beryl started. For now we enjoy the party and our fawning subordinates." The servant caught his gesture and hurried over to refill his glass and top up the others. Titanite watched her move back to her position and signal another servant to bring a fresh bottle over. Nothing to worry about, this place was full of poison detection spells. Besides the Overlord had quickly developed a reputation for spotting the most subtle assassination plot. The extremely graphic executions had also discouraged the attempts.
"From the amount of gooseflesh I'd say she's rather cold. Perhaps a more substantial outfit was in order." Her brother shrugged.
"I was going to have them dressed as Senshi but that would probably have caused a massacre. Continually replacing servants is wasteful. We don't have unlimited numbers of humans available." Azurite nudged Pyrite.
"Hmmm? Oh, right! Calcite ..."
"It's not official yet but it looks like the ecology is finally stabilizing. The human population decline has stopped and we're maintaining what we have. Our agricultural production is now equal to the human demand and introduction of useful Kingdom wildlife is proceeding smoothly."
"Good news indeed. So what's the bad news?"
"Yes, well ... you know we were predicting the human population would stabilize at 1.5 billion?"
"The estimate was wrong?"
"Final figure's going to be under 1 billion. Maybe closer to 900 million." Pyrite paused for a moment. "There were over 5 billion of them a year ago." There was a moment's silence broken by Calcite. His voice was soft.
"Over 80% of the human race dead by my hand."
Magnesite broke out laughing. "Hah! And Beryl and the generals thought they were tough! They didn't wipe out a tenth as many!" He roared with amusement and slapped Calcite companionably on the back. Then froze and stared at his hand in shock. Titanite, Azurite and Pyrite were all grinning at him as if he was about to step into a hidebehind's embrace. Calcite turned to face him, the Overlord's expression was unreadable.
"Lord Magnesite would you mind withdrawing? We wish to discuss a few personal matter that would be of no interest to you." He could hardly refuse. Despite thinking that his replacement might be the topic of the day. He stuttered the ritual for breaking the Dark Circle, bowed and moved away. The only bright spot was the speculative look the Princess had thrown his way.
Calcite glanced after him. "Think we should get around to telling him we made up all the Dark Circle ceremonies to spook him?"
Azurite shook her head. "No, we'll need them to help keep his replacement cowed. Wrath of the Abyss is a great goad. Don't want him blabbing the truth before he goes. Besides it's fun watching him babble that nonsense."
"Ritual and blind worship of the past. If our predecessors hadn't been caught up in it we'd have had a harder time taking over."
"Exactly. Why throw away a useful tool?"
Pyrite cleared his throat. "Speaking of his replacement ...When he breaks our covenant and not before." Pyrite sighed but nodded his agreement.
Azurite's thoughts turned back to the earlier topic. "Four billion plus ... and that's just the humans. It doesn't even begin to account for the majority of the animal life. It's a good thing you kept the oceans' ecology going. What a mess. Four billion ..."
She fell silent as Calcite spoke. "Us or them. I'd much rather it was them." She nodded and he sighed. "Besides what we've learned since makes me sure we did the right thing.. They couldn't even get on with each other. There's no way they'd have been able to coexist with another sentient species."
Titanite was looked puzzled. "What's the big deal Azurite? I mean, they were only humans."
Azurite shook her head. "We really did a number on you didn't we?"
Now Titanite looked even more confused. "I don't understand."
"Don't worry about it kid." Titanite shrugged and dismissed the matter. Azurite looked back to Calcite and Pyrite. "I have to admit the ecological consequences of our entry to Earth escaped me. Glad you two thought of it."
Pyrite mumbled something about how he'd never have figured it out without Calcite. Calcite waved the matter away. "That's nothing to be ashamed of, like the rest of us you grew up in the Kingdom. You're used to eternal darkness. It was only after my trips to Earth started that I began to consider the consequences of disrupting the night and day cycle."
"Good thing you did. No one else thought of it."
Calcite shook his head. "That's what I really can't understand. It would be natural for us to make that mistake. But Beryl and the Generals were born on Earth. How could they make that mistake?"
Pyrite shrugged. "They were vainglorious idiots." Titanite nodded.
Azurite threw her hands up. "All I can say is they didn't. After the takeover I tore apart the general's quarters looking for lists of their prime supporters and any other documentation we could find. I'm sure I got everything and it's all been analysed. There was nothing to indicate they'd even considered climactic shift."
"You said you found some material when you sacked Beryl's apartments?"
"Not about that but we found some interesting stuff. My crew tore Beryl's quarters apart in our search. We found all her journals and diaries, her grimoires, her enemy lists, her execution agendas, her sexy lingerie collection ..."
Azurite chuckled. "Surprised me too when we found it. It was all recently acquired and of human manufacture." She nodded towards the central ice pillar. "I think she started getting it after she got her hands on Endymion. Far as I can tell she had Kunzite obtain it during his trips to Tokyo." Azurite's voice shifted to a higher pitch, "'Kunzite, while you are in Tokyo destroying the Senshi and stealing the Silver Crystal so I can rule the world pick me up a half dozen of those black lace g strings with the matching bras'". Azurite had always done an excellent Beryl impersonation.
Calcite shook his head, as though this could dispel the mental image of a very underdressed Queen Beryl. He shuddered slightly. "Now that is scary!"
Azurite nodded, "That's why I incinerated it. Made my skin crawl to think of it. I'd say Endymion's was a mercy killing. Anyway nothing to indicate she'd considered the environmental consequences of our conquest."
Calcite smiled. "I guess there were some things she never considered." He remembered the way Beryl had looked up him, unable to rise from the floor. Her expression equal measures pain and confusion. She just couldn't comprehend that it was over. Her ironic last words, "It's not fair!" As if of all people she was deserving of some form of justice.
Pyrite glanced to ensure there was no one in earshot. A little pointless as he'd have sensed anyone close enough to overhear but he was the most cautious of the four. "So phase one is complete."
Calcite's voice was equally quiet. "How long for phase 2?"
"Hard to say. We've opened the well under the Citadel but that's our only success to date. The Tokyo well's been screwed up by the energies thrown around in the devastation. I'd say at least another year before it's useable for more than background radiation. We can't even get sensors operating normally in there."
"Sorry about that but being elevated to near godhood makes you a little reckless."
"Hopefully I'll find that out for myself before long. Anyway we've found about 75% of the others but uncapping them without causing a disaster remains problematic. Especially as we want mana access limited to the inner circle. I'd say anywhere from ten to twenty years."
"Well don't take unnecessary risks but see if you can accelerate things. The sooner we have a power source without its' own mind the better. Azurite, any sign Magnesite has a clue what the experiments at Ayers Rock are for?"
"Far as I can tell he's bought the geothermal tap story."
"Don't underestimate him. While he might have underestimated us he didn't survive all those years in the Dark Kingdom by being a total fool."
"That was mainly due to his power and lack of desirable territory. But I'm keeping a close eye on him. Security is my responsibility and I don't take my responsibilities lightly!"
Titanite spoke up. "How long to phase 3?"
"Impossible to say. I've had to build youma genetic science from scratch. It's a pain there was is so little previous work to build upon."
Azurite snorted. "You mean fortunate. If they'd figured out what certain genes meant then tested newborns ... well we wouldn't be standing here would we?"
"Good point. I bow to your superior wisdom."
"One of us has to be practical. Now you owe me a dance."
"With pleasure." The pair departed leaving the Overlord and his sister. Titanite watched them go.
"Any regrets about losing Azurite to Pyrite?"
"Not at all, they make a good couple. Besides she's a believer in monogamy which doesn't suit me."
"So I've noticed." His voice had sounded odd. She turned around to see her brother's back. He was staring at the screen, his gaze fixed on the lefthand pillar and the figure within. He was getting into one of his moods again. Not today! This was a celebration. Their celebration. She reached over and caressed his scarred cheek. Most people who'd touched the Overlord unbidden would be lucky to only lose an arm. Her fingers went through his aura without resistance and stroked the old mark.
"When are you going to get rid of this?"
"Half past never. We've discussed this before."
"I know, it reminds you not to be careless again. I'd think by now you wouldn't need such a visible reminder."
"Well to tell the truth I've got used to it."
Titanite nodded at the central pillar. "Why'd you freeze them both in the same one?"
"She went to so much trouble to be reunited with Endymion it seemed a shame to divide them again. Perhaps I felt I owed her that much for keeping Beryl distracted. Or perhaps I'm just getting sentimental in my old age." Titanite snorted. Those who'd thought it indicated the Overlord was soft had swiftly learned that was a terminal mistake. Within the pillar the reunited lovers were locked in a final embrace. Once again his gaze twitched towards the leftmost pillar. Titanite rested a hand on his shoulder.
"It still bothers you."
He nodded. "It does. You have no idea how humiliating it was to have to continually lose to her in her Sailor A days. Then Beryl decides to have her killed but throws the job to Magnesite! So he tries to take her out and screw up completely. For once I was glad because it meant that when she reappeared as Sailor Aphrodite I had a chance for revenge. Except I couldn't go after her because Kunzite was running the Earthside missions and I was busy setting our coup up. Still I persevered, sure that Kunzite would fail to destroy the Senshi. Which he did. I knew they'd be coming and I was sure that when they got to the Kingdom we'd be in control and waiting for them."
"So what happens? She gets taken out by the DD Girls and I've lost my chance. I can't even get second hand revenge because the girls are all dead."
Titanite looked thoughtful. "You could take the reincarnate out of stasis, accelerate her aging, awaken her powers then kill her."
"It wouldn't be the same."
"I suppose not. You can't have everything." Her voice solemn she continued, "I guess you'll have to settle for being undisputed King of the Youma, ruler of the human race, master of the Earth and the most powerful being in the world."
Calcite looked at her for a moment. The he broke out laughing. "As ever sister you keep my feet firmly grounded in reality whenever I take myself too seriously." He turned from the frozen features of Minako Aino. "This is a party so let's celebrate. I think it's time to pick some company."
"So do I."
He chuckled, "You've picked up all my worst habits."
"You're the Overlord. You don't have bad habits as there's no one above you to pass judgement!" He laughed again and she joined him. Chuckling the two rejoined the party.
Calcite smiled to himself. Titanite was right. So he hadn't killed his greatest enemy, so what? Everything else had worked out perfectly.
The youma are my vassals, the humans are my slaves. God's in my body. All's right with the world.
End of prologue