A The Shadow / Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon crossover story
by Elsa Bibat
A story set in "A Dance Set to the Music of Time" sequence
Disclaimer: The Shadow was created by Walter Gibson; its characters are copyrighted by Conde Nast Publications. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC. This is used without permission.
This disclaimer also applies to several intellectual properties referred to in the text. Please be guided accordingly.
I ran through the forest.
No sound marked my passing, but the sigh of the wind and occasional rustling of leaves. I glided from tree to tree, hiding in the shadows of the late afternoon sun, my zigzag path erratic yet silent.
The locals have always feared the forests around this place. I have no fear of them, for I have wandered these wild parts of Averoigne for over a decade, ever since I was a little girl. To tell you the truth, I have a strange feeling that the forest is afraid of me.
Animals hesitate when I come near them. Birds quiet as I approach. The brush seems to give way easily when I move through.
It must be in the blood.
Mother and Father move like me. Always silent. Quick and to the point, with an efficiency of movement that is a mix of grace and speed with a hint of deadly purpose. My grandfathers, even more so.
Grandpa Richard moves like a spider, slow and considering one second, to lightning-fast the next. He's pretty spry for a man of his age. Though one-handed, he could wield a rifle with the same skill as a man with two. His mind is also sharp, a fact proven by his skill in chess and other games of strategy. His games are like the weaving of a web; slow preparation made from the very opening move and ending with an explosive end game that would often demolish an opponent in six or seven moves. Only Gramps could beat him with any regularity.
Gramps is the name I use to call my other grandfather, for I know the name he uses isn't his real one. He is a living shadow. He makes no sound when he moves. Your eyes always seem to miss him, your gaze always trying to slip away from him. He tries to act slow, pretends to make human noises like setting his spoon and fork down with a tinkle or using heavy steps so that people may hear him move. But sometimes he forgets and people are startled when they suddenly hear his voice from the darkened corner of a room or behind them. He is the only one in the family who can still surprise me. Everyone else I can feel approach, but never Gramps. He is the one who taught me everything I know in the arts of stealth and stalking. He's also been teaching me some arts that no normal person can do.
My dark clothes help me blend with the afternoon's deepening shadows. Dusk approaches and soon I have to go home. But, first I have to visit my secret place.
After a few minutes of silent running, I encountered my first landmark: a Roman statue of a woman with an enigmatic face. Time had weathered the figure, but it was still whole, set on a pedestal in a forgotten clearing of a long-dead empire. I had deciphered the inscription at the base, and it said something about the woman being a priestess of Hades. A Mona Lisa smile, over hundreds of years too early, was visible on the aristocratic face. She seemed vaguely familiar when I first saw her, but I never could place where I’d seen that countenance before.
I checked my traps and confirmed that no one had entered the clearing. I moved on, following the statue's gaze.
The next landmark was a gnarled tree, out of place in the verdant forest that surrounded it. It was clearly dead, branches bereft of leaves reaching upwards as if in supplication, or for cursing the heavens. Someone had been here from a long ago time for an inscription was cut deep into its side. The initials "H.V." were clear and distinct on one side. Of all my landmarks, this one chilled me the most for some unknown reason. I hurriedly checked the traps and left. No one had passed. The ground gave way to rock and trees lessened as I approached my final landmark.
The final landmark was a curious rock structure. Obviously man-made, it was a stone monolith with several runes etched into its base. It was one of several such structures near my sanctum, monuments I have seen only in the land of Dreams. This particular one was located in one of the more easy to reach paths, thus the reason for the traps. I glide over the series of tripwires, not even slowing. The pattern for the wires was from an old Chinese manuscript. It is not humanly possible to move through them without prior knowledge of their existence. Approach too fast and you blunder into them, too slow and you will trip at least one. It was undisturbed.
Moments later, I am in the sanctum, my secret place. The sense of comfort that drew over me is like a blanket. A dimly lit cave chamber, it was dry and comfortable with several of the comforts of home. I had begun work on this little hideaway when I was eight, spending countless hours in clearing and tinkering with the place. Solar cells set on top of nearby trees charge the cave batteries and supply it with twenty-four hour light, just enough for my purposes. If I wanted focused light, I could use the blue-lights that consumed a negligible amount of electricity. A simple cot, a shelf of books, a simple writing cabinet with a chair, and a pantry rounded out the central chamber. Packed to the side were a small makeup table and a considerable wardrobe. An adjoining chamber was a simple laboratory. Another chamber was a small gym, where I practiced the martial arts taught to me by my father and the gymnastics of my mother.
This will be the last time I see it for a few years. I will be leaving Averoigne for New York in a few days, my college studies finally beginning. I smiled thinly in the soft light as I ran my hands over the books on the shelf. A complete twenty-volume set of the first edition of Sherlock Holmes' "The Art of Scientific Detection" stood by Grant and Robeson's definitive three-book collection of historical examinations on the vigilante phenomenon, "The Mystery Men". A set of John Clayton's memoirs and a biography of La Maupin were set on the second shelf supporting Admiral Heinlein's history of the OSS, along with a set of Asimov's "Silver Millennium" and "Foundation" novels. Edogawa Ranpo's “Kogoro Akechi” stood cheek by jowl with Dr. Watson's “Complete Holmes” and an autobiography of Mary Russell. Oscar Grandier's memoirs of the French Court before the Revolution held high honors with Baroness Orczy's transcripts of “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, alongside the San Guo Ce, which was flanked by the Saiyuki and the Suikoden novels. I had already cheap copies of all my books packed back home, but still, the original first editions were always so much more enjoyable.
Then I moved on to the desk of my writing cabinet where lay my little knick-knacks and souvenirs. A monocle from a gentleman thief — the gentleman thief — an associate of my grandfathers. I had obtained it as a prize from Gramps for solving a little problem when we visited Paris. I picked up a brightly colored feather and remembered my little African vacation. A miniature Leiden jar was a token from my adventure in Germany, and I smiled as an arc of electricity reached for my fingers. An elongated canine tooth was all I had to remind me of my adventures in the Parisian sewer system. The phurba I had managed to obtain from the Louvre's secret annex. I shake my head as I remember how I put to use the fake ID for the Bibliotheque Nationale. I then looked to the prize of my collection, something I picked up when I went on vacation with my parents to London last year. It was a prize from the Great Detective's secret hoard, which I had managed to bump into in the midst of my little adventure, a picture of The Woman. As I gaze into the eyes of this remarkable woman, I fancy that her face seems to be a bit familiar. I sat down in my usual chair to gaze at the picture, I tilted my head to better regard The Woman's profile in the dim light.
That was when I noticed the package.
Laid on the cot, tied with twine, it was the size of a good-sized box and was hidden under the cot. Scanning the room, I berated myself for a fool. Nostalgia and emotion should never get in the way of habit and routine. Grandpa Richard had drilled that into my head too many times, especially when he trained me in the use of guns. Still, no one had tripped the pathways and I could see no other disturbance. I focus my eyes to peer into the gym chamber, but even my excellent — almost supernatural — vision could not see anything.
I pulled out my pocketknife and approached the package. Setting my ear to the top, I could hear nothing. I carefully cut the string and started to slowly unravel the box, taking all the usual precautions. I smiled at my actions, musing at the thought that my family's trademark paranoia was still in full force.
What was inside took my breath away.
The first object was obviously a hat. A black hat.
A black slouch hat.
I took it up in my hands and raised it up reverently. It looked as I expected it to look like. After turning it around a few times and a few moments of contemplation, I came to a decision.
I put it on.
It fit perfectly. I smiled, and I knew who put this package in my sanctum. I knew I should be offended at the invasion of my privacy, but I put aside my anger for later as my hands reached for more of the contents of the box.
The next items were a peculiar black garb and a pair of gloves. The garment was part Inverness coat, part opera cloak, part trench coat with a high collar. I put on the gloves and dramatically twirled around as I slipped into the cloak.
It seemed to be alive, as if it were a living creature of shadow. It felt like the garment was putting me on than the other way around. I had thought it was too big when I first saw it, but it was an exact fit. My bare arms felt the cloth and it felt like the clothes were caressing my skin. I shivered a little, feeling something doing a tap-dance on my spine. It felt wrong at first but after a few moments that sense of wrongness was replaced by a certain rightness. The cloak was recognizing its mistress, the thought flashed through my head. I shook it away and continued what I was doing. This was just a garment, not a pet.
I buttoned it up and turned the collar up. The slouch hat's brim was already down. I could feel all the little things that should be in the inner pockets; tools of the trade. I was grinning and I started to feel the peculiar feeling coming up my throat. I suppressed it. Now was not time for that yet. There was still something left in the box.
It was a brace of pistols, and a ring that seemed to change color even in the weak light. I left the shining jewel for a while and took up the weapons. Six pistols in all, holstered and gleaming black light. Two more than that I was expecting. The harness itself was a complex affair, intended for the entire torso and upper thighs. It was surprisingly light as I strapped it on. I could feel that it was made of the same material as the cloak, and gave me the same moment of recognition. I tightened the bracing straps across my thighs and inspected myself.
I pulled out one of the guns and inspected it. It looked like a Colt Model 1911A1, the same type of gun that was often attributed to the person who wore the costume I was wearing. .45 caliber vengeance that packed a punch. But this wasn't an M1911A1. There were slight differences. First, it was lighter; light enough to be a Glock Model 21. It was also perfectly balanced in my hand, and I could see the slight modifications to lessen recoil that weren't part of the 1911A1 design. A highly modified gun, which looked like an M1911A1. I slipped the magazine out and checked the chamber. No bullets. I was betting this was the same in the others. No worry. Bullets were no problem. I slipped the gun back into its holster and grinned as I looked at the last remaining item in the box.
It was a girasol. I knew that it was like the ring worn by my father and my grandfather. Blue shifted to red to amethyst, the fires of the earth burning within the jewel, as I lifted it up in the dim light.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
The voice was melodic, musical even, in accentless and perfect French.
I turned to look at the intruder.
"Well…? Put it on, already."
In the dim light, I could see a shapely woman dressed in a sharp business suit. Long dark hair reaching well past the waist. The shadows obscured her face, but I could see high cheekbones and aristocratic nose. There was something familiar about her, but in the darkness that she was sheltered in, I couldn't my finger on it.
Then I noticed the eyes.
I could see them, burning in the dark.
"Who are you?"
"Reaching for the guns and looking for escape seems to be the instinct for your family whenever someone enters their sanctum. You do know those aren't loaded?"
I frowned as I forcibly lowered my hands from the guns and focused on the woman. It seemed that I had made a wrong assumption on who brought these gifts to the sanctum.
"Again, who are you?" My voice had become a dull whisper and I could feel the familiar sensation building up in my throat.
"I would think you'd recognize an old family friend."
Then she took a step forward into the light.
The face was classical in its beauty. High cheekbones and an aristocratic nose with lips that would make a man's mouth water. The heart-shaped face was framed by a mane of dark hair. The burning glare that was so noticeable in the dark was now subdued, but there was no mistaking even in the dim light the garnet hue of her eyes.
I knew that face.
"It seems that you haven't aged a day, Ms. Margo Lane."
The lips quirked into a smile. "Your grandfather has been careless, I see."
"Hardly. Grant and Robeson," I gestured to the bookshelf, "had their suspicions, but I confirmed it a few years ago when I figured out who Grandfather was, Ms. Lane. Subtle clues, you know. Plus the fact that Grandmother still continually refers to you. There's a picture of you in Grandfather's study, too. Though your hair was a lot more… under control."
She arched an eyebrow in response. "Impressive for a child in her teens. Reminds me of another one of your relatives. By the way, the name is now 'Setsuna Mei'ou'. Margo Lane has been dead for well-nigh forty years."
"Yes. The incident with Shiwan Khan, I believe, Mei'ou-san?"
She nodded with a smile.
"I'm guessing my Grandfather's like you, isn't he?"
I had noticed the way that Gramps seemed to ignore the effects of age and the fact that he was bleaching his hair was quite obvious from the cloying scent that always surrounded him nowadays. The fact that one of his contemporaries and supposed lover seems to have not aged a day since the middle of the century gives me a missing puzzle piece.
"More than anyone knows." It was said with a teasing tone and an enigmatic smile.
There was a moment of silence as we regarded each other, the sable-clad teenager and the beautiful woman who never grew old. I looked to the girasol in my hand. It seemed to be even more mercurial in its changes, shifting colors like some kaleidoscope in the dim light. I returned my gaze to the woman before me. I was once again struck by her face. Then enlightenment hit me like a runaway train.
"Mei'ou-san, you wouldn't happen to have been an acquaintance of a certain detective, a hundred or so years back?"
Her smile was maddening to say the least.
"And you wouldn't happen to have been in this particular part of France when it was Gaul and under Roman rule?"
"The likeness is quite flattering, don't you think?"
"How old are you and grandfather?" I asked, narrowing my eyes in thought.
Silence once again reigned in my sanctum.
"Talking with you is as irritatingly difficult as pulling my own teeth out or talking to Grandfather."
"We share similar traits," mused my guest. "You do notice that your family isn't big on small talk either, ne?"
I shook my head and smiled. "So the big question now is… Why?"
"There are many reasons. But they would be all mine. Your reason is much more important."
I looked at her steadily for a minute or so. Her smile was both sad and happy. I shifted my gaze to the girasol. I wanted it bad. But I knew the consequences and I was afraid.
Fear has always been a companion of my family, for the past two generations. Fear of many things: fear for one's self, fear for one's loved ones, along with a dozen other fears. I have this theory that the reason people are so afraid of my family is because we radiate our "fears" too much. The fear warred with the wildness of my blood. It was a terrifying yet exciting prospect to be able to carry on the family tradition. To fight the good fight, to live a life of adventure and derring-do. Killing people would, of course, be part and parcel of it. But I didn't exactly have a normal childhood and I know that I wouldn't hesitate to kill a person if that person were to become a threat. Robeson's comment that most "mystery men" of the early twentieth century must have been borderline psychopaths to be so successful came back to me for an odd reason and I restrained a chuckle. The decision was made then and there.
I smiled thinly as I slipped the ring on. Fear is all well and good, but sometimes you have to ignore it and go with the call of the blood.
A laugh came bubbling up my throat and I didn't stop it this time. The Sanctum echoed with my mirth and my visitor just smiled. I could hear it. That mad cackling laughter I've heard so many times in my dreams and I reveled in the power that it gave me.
As the laugh crescendoed, I lost myself in that rush of self. I was indestructible. I was undeniable. I was Natasha Cranston-Wentworth, inheritor of my family's legacy. I was the—
Gramps' quiet voice snapped me out of my frenzied state. My throat felt raw as I gazed at him. His eyes had that lambent glow of coal embers just waiting to blaze once again. A long thin face like a mask with combed-back white hair complimented his eyes.
"Hello, old friend." Mei'ou drawled from where she was standing.
"You could have at least dropped by at the main house before going here, Margo."
"The name is now Setsuna Mei'ou, Lamont… Kent… or whichever of the several dozen names you maintain that you prefer. And I did drop by. Myra just promised not to say anything about it."
Gramps just arched an eyebrow and looked at me. "That time of the century again?"
"The Princess has been reborn, you know. And she will be weak in the beginning of her power."
"And what does my granddaughter have to do with it?"
"She has it in her blood. The contagion has been passed on for three generations, and it has not even weakened. I know you know this or you wouldn't have trained her."
"She is not ready."
"She is ready enough. She will not have to face any of our errant brothers and sisters. Just the scum that you and I have faced for centuries."
Gramps frowned and it was a terrible sight. The mask-like countenance was drawn like a skull and his eyes were burning. Mei'ou just smiled. Then Gramps sighed and his face lost the power that was manifesting beneath.
"It seems my retirement is going to be cut short."
"As if you ever really retired."
Gramps smiled. "So you've heard."
"Occasional sightings. Plus those movies with that Keaton fellow as you. Incredibly laughable."
"Don't remind me."
Mei'ou chuckled. "Anyway, I should be leaving now. I still have others to visit."
Gramps smiled as Mei'ou stepped back into the shadows and disappeared. Turning to look at me, his eyes narrowed.
"Young lady, if you expect to eat dinner wearing that, you have another think coming."
Taking my hand, he raised it to see the girasol. He kissed it and I heard him whisper a word to it. What happened next was rather surprising.
The dark clothes given to me rippled with an audible sound. Another ripple and they had disappeared. Even the guns were gone. My surprise was evident on my face as Gramps smiled.
"Did you seriously believe Grant's theories on how I managed the costume? Trick briefcase, indeed! There are many thing left over from olden times; you should know that, my little Dreamer."
I was silent. I had heard of ancient tales told by the storytellers in Hlanith. But such things were rarities, even in the Dream. Gramp’s long experience helped him read my face.
"Explanations are for later. We have your farewell dinner to attend, Natasha. Come."
He turned and I joined him as we left my Sanctum. I would probably be getting another one when I arrived at New York. Both my grandfathers had extensive networks that were undoubtedly still there.
We moved in companionable silence after leaving the cave. The deepening dusk was no worry. We would arrive at the house in time.
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"
I stopped and turned to see a sardonic smile and burning eyes. I grinned back. I could feel the laughter bubbling up in my throat.
"We know, Grandfather. We know."
Gramps could only laugh. I joined him and the forests were filled with the laughter of shadows.
Author's notes: This is a bit of an attempt at world-building for one of my current fanfic-in-the-works. It should also be noted that this is writing practice, and I definitely know that some of those tenses are wrong. But since I prefer playing by ear, I try to ignore them. Please try to see what's what and notify me. Another note, this is in the same continuity as the several earlier vignettes and my short fic "Catnap" which means Natasha is the young lady that Luna met on the way to Ulthar. There are also several characters and concepts hidden in the story, points for anyone getting all the references in the story. ^_^
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