A Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon / Ranma ½ crossover story
by Jeffrey Vasquez
Disclaimer:All characters and settings are used here without permission. Ranma ½ was created by Takahashi Rumiko, and is licensed to Shogakukan Inc., Kitty, Fuji TV, and Viz Communications Inc. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon was created by Takeuchi Naoko, and is licensed to Koudansha, TV Asahi, Toei Douga, and DIC Entertainment, L.P. All original characters belong to me. Please drop me a line if you want to use them.
Foreword: I apologize once again for the wait and thank all of my faithful readers for their patience and longsuffering. This year has been a long-drawn-out series of tragedies for my family, with a number of deaths and life changing illnesses hitting us. In all of this, I have tried to find solace in my writing, but it has been hard. It is my hope that this chapter, and the other stories I've been writing will be well received. As it stands, I would like to dedicate the rest of this year's writing to my Uncle Bobby and my father-in-law Norman, men who were the very definition of "a man amongst men". Their lives were rich and their influence on me singular. I miss them greatly.
God bless you, dear friends. May the next adventure hold as much wonder for you as this one did. Save a spot for those us who are still stuck wandering aimlessly in this mortal labyrinth.
The Palace of Seven Clouded Heavens,
Ahbrim Ur entered the new scientific wing of his palace, looking over the progress of his minions as they pressed forward in their various assignments. The summons to his new "media room" had been urgent, but Ur wanted to remind the newest arrivals that he was always watching them. It was obvious that these new batches of scholars were still recovering from their experiences with the Rakshasa, but the original group was helping them to acclimate by pushing them into the tasks that Ur had pressed on them. Most were cataloguing the recovery of Atlantean and Murian artifacts.
The initial recovery efforts had been very fruitful, and had gone a long way to aid in the powering and production of Ur's projects. The only drawback to Ur's schedule was the time-consuming steep learning curve involved in educating his new servants. His preliminary timetable was ahead of schedule, but there was no telling how long that would last. Still, with the awakening of Esos he was certain that it would be a while before he ran into too much trouble.
Above all the other progressive gains Ur had achieved, Esos was by far his greatest achievement. Her awakening had made it possible to build a bridge between the past and present, and Ur made it a priority to find the other lost children of Atlantis as soon as possible. He'd been blessed in that two more of the scholars had shown signs that they had Atlantean blood running through their veins. While not as prominent as Esos, the blood was there, and Ur had wasted no time in affecting their awakening. It would take time for them to recover enough to move forward, but Ur was confident that they would be contributing their talents soon enough. And if Esos were any indication of how valuable that contribution would be… Well, Ur already had a plan in the works to find more of his Atlantean children.
Esos was nothing short of a prodigy with the Atlantean and Murian technologies, intuitively picking up the basics of the artifacts the moment Ur set them before her. He had high hopes for the rest of her training. She was certain to make a formidable arcanist when he was done with her. She was already a dedicated student, consuming and absorbing everything that Ur introduced to her like a sponge. He was certainly surprised at what she had already accomplished in the last few hours since awakening from her experience with her lord. She had already become a forceful leader among her colleagues, fully embracing her heritage in order to achieve Ur's desires. She capitalized on their fears and using those weaknesses to push them to work tirelessly.
He was very impressed indeed. After breaking them into groups, she began tutoring them in the basics of the ancient equipment and expounding their foundation, insomuch that they were already making progress in combining the ancient technologies with the rather unwieldy science of the present day. It was too soon to see any real strides, but Ur had prioritized their efforts and Esos was ensuring that everyone remained on track.
Her first breakthrough had been to introduce Ur to the vulgarity of television, in response to his desires for a faster way to learn about the contemporary world. It had taken a few simple raids and a little time before the scientists were able to set up their own battery of satellite dishes. They had finished but an hour ago, and Ur's first glimpse at the wonder that was television had been a rather confounding program called "Bay Watch". While it had been visually pleasing, its educational value was sorely lacking — outside of the fleshy bits, he didn't understand the appeal, and as such dismissed it as pointless drivel. His second attempt produced a rather violent reaction in both the Lord of the Hunt and the Rakshasa attending him, costing the media room an entire wall of television screens and ultimately driving one Rakshasa so mad that Ur was forced to put an end to the poor beast before it rampaged. If there were no other evidence that just how far the societies of Earth had fallen, the Teletubbies alone would have condemned the world in Ur's eyes.
All in all, television did not impress Ur in the least. It was a decadent, oft times senseless time-waster, but there were moments when he would uncover gold amidst all the dross. Moments like now. He turned to the shadowy alcove of his new "media room" and called out to the entity he knew to be waiting within. "Kali, attend."
The shadows rippled like water, allowing the black-skinned, panther-headed Rakshasi to pass into the room. She knelt, silently waiting for Ur's command. He could feel the disgust and hatred roiling from her body, but paid it no mind. Most of the Rakshasa felt this way towards him. So long as they served his needs, he would tolerate their insubordination. When he had obtained the appropriate power, though, he would repay their contempt a hundredfold.
"You will report to Indra and deliver the image of this young man." He pointed to one of the large television screens where the young man in question was battling Marut.
Kali looked up, and her eyes widened in shock. Ur followed her gaze and found his own eyes widening in surprise. The young man whose value, up until that moment, had been nothing more than a passing interest for the Lord of the Hunt, suddenly became a priceless treasure. The mark of Serenity graced the child's brow. Coupled with the fact that Ur could have been the boy's twin had they shared the same age, there was little doubt as to the identity of this young man. "My son."
He quickly spun on Kali and seized the Rakshasi by the throat. Power, unlike anything Kali had obviously felt or experienced before, was laid bare to her. Terror was the predominant emotion wafting off the panther-headed Rakshasi, as it was now plainly obvious to the demoness why Ur had been named the Lord of the Hunt.
"Go. Find him and guard him against all who would harm him. Indra is to continue his study of the Senshi, but he is not to take action against them without my express orders. Any who lift a hand against the boy or the Senshi will look on Yama's fate with longing."
When Ur released her, Kali wasted no time in melting into the shadows and disappearing from Ur's presence. Alone and awash in confusing emotions, the Lord of the Hunt looked on as the young man battled Marut. Pride filled him as blow after vicious blow pounded Marut. The Senshi were largely ignored as Ur basked in the strange, all but forgotten emotion of happiness. Tears filled his eyes at the sight of his progeny given flesh, and his voice was little more than a whisper as he reached out to touch the television screen. "She gave me a son… an heir."
"…we go live to Tamafune Dazai, reporting for Channel 20 News at the heart of the disturbance live from Tokyo Tower. Are you there, Dazai-san?"
"…Can you hear me, Asuhara-san?"
Nodoka set aside her sewing at the urgency in the reporter's voice and turned up the volume. The young woman holding the microphone looked terrified but determined as she tried to remain focused on the task of bringing her viewers up to date. The sounds of destruction and screaming voices, backed by an occasional bought of static, threatened to drown out the young woman's report.
"We hear you, Dazai-san." Nodoka watched the middle-aged anchorman, and wondered how he could remain so composed in light of the terrified screams of children come through the feed. "Are you okay? What can you tell us about the situation?"
"We're fine at the moment. The elevators are still working and members of the staff are directing an orderly evacuation through the emergency exits as we speak. It's slow going, but the children are making it to safety."
"What inspired the evacuation?" The anchorman's female counterpart, a young attractive woman, exuded a calm demeanor that Nodoka did not share.
"A little less than five minutes ago, a strange… creature appeared within the main observation deck of Tokyo Tower and began attacking the students here."
Nodoka gasped as the cameraman panned to the right, giving the viewers their first glimpse of the creature in question. It was a grotesque sight that made Nodoka's stomach clench in revulsion. The sight of her son viciously tearing into the demon made her blood run cold.
"At first it seemed to be a publicity stunt, but that idea was immediately denounced as the creature began its attack. The young man you see fighting the creature was thought to be its first victim."
The camera followed the vicious battle unfolding as best it could, but the speeds at which the pair were moving was difficult to track. Nodoka was able to see that one of the bloodstained windows of the tower had been shattered.
"Thought to be?" the anchorwoman asked.
"Unbelievably, against all odds, this young warrior survived being knocked through one of the northern windows and was able miraculously return in time to save his classmate."
The camera drifted away from the battle briefly to show a glimpse of a very concerned Ami Mizuno. There was a roar of pain, and the images on the screen shook. The camera quickly adjusted itself to show the monster imbedded in one of the Tower's main supports. The picture moved back to center on Ranma, standing in a loose ready position and looking focused and deadly, surrounded by an angry red corona of ghostly light. Ami-chan drew close to his side, looking just as determined and curiously unafraid.
Nodoka had never felt more proud or more terrified in all her life.
Ranma said something to Ami, and she shook her head defiantly. Ranma was obviously upset by her refusal, and the pair exchanged some quick, heated words that were unidentifiable as the creature recovered. Ranma's aura slipped from red to green rapidly, and without warning he shoved Ami-chan into the waiting arms of the crowd. She heard Ami-chan desperately calling her son's name above the clamor of the crowd.
Maybe Yuriko was right. Maybe there was something there after all.
Guilt set in immediately at the stray thought. Her son was facing off against a demon, and all she could think of was his love life? She was getting as bad as her husband. Nodoka snorted in disgust and shook her head at that image. She watched as the creature began to circle wide, attempting to get to the crowd, only to have Ranma boldly step between the monster and its prey. The camera caught a glimpse of something behind the demon, and immediately zoomed in to focus on it. A young woman in strange armor stood in front of a pair of blonde girls, one of which was very familiar to Nodoka.
Usagi-chan had made a definite impression on Nodoka the night of that rather disastrous dinner.
"Dazai-san, what are we looking at now?" The anchorman had to speak loudly over the sounds of heated battle that had just erupted from Ranma and the demon resuming their conflict.
"It appears to be a… I can't believe I'm saying this… a magical girl. She looks to be…."
There was a pause in the reporter's dialogue, and then the camera swiveled rapidly to focus on Ami-chan again. The air about the girl seemed to be growing colder and there, glowing on her forehead, was the astrological symbol of Mercury. The sound of ice cracking resounded throughout the observation deck, and Ami-chan's uniform shattered in a bright explosion of light and frigid wisps of cloudy vapor. Nodoka's breath caught in her throat at the sight of her best friend's daughter. Clad in an icy chainmail bodice and a heavily plated skirt of metal, with a frozen crown adorning her head. The overall feel of the outfit was decidedly Egyptian, and for some reason seemed very right on Ami-chan's head.
Nodoka wondered how the poor girl's mother was going to react upon seeing this. The telephone chose that moment to ring and Nodoka scrambled to get it as the battle was renewed. With one eye on the television and one on the telephone, she absently picked up the receiver.
"Hello." Her voice was surprisingly calm in spite of watching Ranma relocate his shoulder after taking a rather vicious punch to the torso. She wondered how he'd learned to do that… and just how many times he'd had to do it to make the action look so casual. The battle moved on, and she idly noted that Yuriko was screaming into her ear about "Sailor Senshi" something or another. Nodoka simply nodded her head and grunted, watching her son use some extremely forbidden-looking techniques on the creature, only to watch as they began to heal almost immediately. Her only consolation was the fact that the creature looked far more damaged than her son did.
The battle moved on and Yuriko continued to rant in the background about Ranma saving her baby so that she could ground her for life. The statement seemed so incongruous to the life-and-death struggle playing out on the screen before her. She thought to tell her friend to shut up, but grimaced instead as the beast slammed its fist into her baby's arm. The crack was audible even above the continued screaming. Tears streamed down her cheeks at the pain her manly son refused to give voice to. It was a testament to his skill and will that he fought on, sweeping the beast's legs and then retreating.
The look on Ranma's face was desperate, and Nodoka could tell that her son was planning on pulling off some highly dangerous technique just by the set of his jaw and the way that he was securing his arm. Tears began falling from her eyes unhindered. The look in his eyes was resigned and she could tell that he didn't expect to live through this.
"Damn you, Genma!" she hissed. "Damn you for stealing my son away from me! And damn you too, Nodoka…" Her voice was filled with self-loathing and contempt. "…for that stupid contract and letting the bastard get away with so much for so long!"
The rubble began to shift and Nodoka's throat clenched tightly. Fear settled into her stomach like a lead weight, causing her legs to give out beneath her. The demon rose from the debris, and for a moment Nodoka's heart leapt with hope. It had fallen on a shattered display case and glass had been driven through its chest and throat. It labored to its feet shakily, and then the screen switched to the anchorman.
"NO! Bring him back! Bring back my baby!" She pounded on the top of the television, desperately sobbing, ignoring the excuses spouted by the newscaster as he went on about the graphic nature of the battle being unfit for the general public. She growled at the man on the screen and vowed to introduce him to her bokken at the first possible opportunity.
Yuriko was in the background swearing at her own television screen and offering Nodoka a word or two of support when it seemed appropriate. It was then that the two distraught mothers realized something; the picture may have been gone, but the audio was not. No matter how hard they wished otherwise.
Laughter, the likes of which dredged up ill will and nightmares, echoed through the room. The simple sound of it made Nodoka want to vomit. There was a loud squelching sound and the sound of shattering glass. Nodoka could easily see the monster tearing the glass shards from its body and tossing them aside.
"Well done, little man." The thing's voice was worse than its laughter. "But sadly, our playtime must come to an end."
"Why does every bad guy under the sun have to be a cheesy bastard?" Ranma growled in return. There was a great cheer on Yuriko's end of the telephone that made Nodoka smile. Her motherly pride was almost undone by the beast's renewed laughter.
"Soon your bravado will give way to terror, Son of Adam." Nodoka swallowed hard, trying desperately to ignore the growing lump in her stomach. "Let us see what fears lurk in your heart, shall we?"
She heard her son's terrified screams and she doubled over into a tight ball, clutching herself in desperation and denial. All she wanted to do was die… to somehow take her son's place and suffer the torment he was facing for him. She wondered what tortures the demon was inflicting on her child. What horrors was he facing? Was it physical? Was the beast maiming her son? The lack of images was driving her mind to the brink.
She didn't know when or how the honor blade made its way into her hand, bared and ready for bloodletting, nor did she hear Yuriko's frantic voice calling out to her through the receiver. She did however hear the demon's roar of pain and the scrambled questions of the anchorwoman trying to find out what was going on. The reporter at the scene tried to give a play-by-play account of the action, but it was obvious that events were out pacing her. Then Nodoka heard a very feline hiss and she was filled with a sick sense of dread.
She'd never seen the true fury of the Neko-ken unleashed, but she had heard enough to recognize the technique for what it was. The reporter's frantic description only served to solidify the thought.
"The young man's stance is entirely bestial, lacking any sign of humanity whatsoever. It looks as if he's buried himself into a Zen state of oneness with an animalistic style of martial arts. He's even growling like a wild alleycat! Listen!"
The reporter went silent and sure enough, Ranma was growling and hissing like a cat.
"Wait! Something's appearing on his forehead! It's a glowing symbol of some kind… a golden crescent!"
She had never heard about the golden crescent appearing in any of the stories about the Neko-ken, which was intriguing in and of itself. A part of her wanted to run to her child's side, while another part feared to leave the television. It was as if she was already by his side, and if she left she was afraid she would lose him. So she sat and listened intently, biding her time. She knelt again, with mixed feelings on the events playing out on the television.
In one sense she felt more relieved than she had been a moment before — the Neko-ken was supposed to be an invincible technique, so long as no one had a ball of string or a can of tuna to distract Ranma with. On the other hand, she was feeling years of pent-up guilt weighing down on her. Yuriko had been right in her chastisements. What kind of parent allowed her child to be placed in such terrible circumstances? What kind of person denied a child the love of a mother? Nodoka's torment was interrupted by the voice of the reporter.
"The power coming off the boy is incredible! He's glowing with a white light that is literally driving back the shadows! I've never felt anything like it! It's… it's like a physical manifestation of hope! The magical girls are closing in as well. Sweet mother of mercy! I've never in my life felt or witnessed anything like this! The Egyptian girl is literally freezing the air around her, while the other girl has lightning… real lightning arcing off her body! The monster seems nervous and is retreating a bit. Oh! No! It's smiling! Something black is forming in its hands!"
The booming sound of thunder rolled out of the speakers. Nodoka dropped the phone in her lap and clutched the cloth of her kimono over her heart. Was that it? Was that the end?
The Japanese were well acquainted with kamikaze. Death in the face of impossible odds, especially if you took your enemy with you, was a highly honored tactic. To have it tainted by a demon was reprehensible.
"Dazai-san! Dazai-san, are you still there?"
Nodoka's hand clenched the hilt of her sword, hoping that the reporter had survived. She needed to know for certain whether or not her son was still alive. There was another boom and then a crackling of flames. A demonic roar of defiance echoed throughout her living room. Hope flooded Nodoka's heart. Even so, it still struggled with the fear that, though one of the magical girls had survived, there was no guarantee that her son had.
"We're still here. The evacuation is almost complete and the monster is under heavy assault by our defenders. The Egyptian girl has launched some icy missiles at the creature and the young man is following her attack closely. Oh… oh God, I think I'm going to puke."
Nodoka smiled in relief. He was alive!
"Dazai-san, what can you tell us?"
"The young man just about severed the thing's leg. There's so much blood everywhere. It's black like oil and wherever it falls, it's eating through the flooring! I don't understand how the young man can stand being covered in it!"
Nodoka numbly picked up the phone again and, unable to feel much of anything beyond a general sense of fear, she began dialing Yuriko's cell phone. She knew she was going into shock and she felt a distant need to be close to someone… to feel the comfort of somebody's lies as they told her that everything was going to be all right.
"…what seem to be magical weapons have appeared in the hands of the girls. They're setting themselves to attack again…" The reporter's words were getting more and more distant as Nodoka listened to the phone trying to connect her to Yuriko.
"Dazai-san!" The news anchors seemed to be losing their cool. Nodoka could totally empathize. The drama on the television melted into background noise as the phone line made its connection. Ranma's mother was relieved to note that she could hear heavy breathing on the other end rather than an answering service.
"I'm on my way to Tokyo Tower, Nodoka. Where are you?" Nodoka grimaced at the sound of cursing in the background, and tried not to listen to the sounds of battle coming from the TV.
"I'm at home… I don't want to leave him. If something happened and I wasn't here… I don't think I could live with myself."
"Do you have a working Walkman or a radio of some kind?"
"Well, yes." Nodoka's mind was so distracted that she couldn't connect the dots.
"The battle's being broadcast on every major radio and television station, Nodoka. Get off your butt and meet me at the Tower!"
Nodoka nodded into the phone absently as she moved into the kitchen to get her Walkman. She checked the batteries and then grabbed her purse.
"Did you see Ami-chan?" It was a lame question. Of course she had seen Ami-chan! A blistering string of epitaphs spun through the receiver causing Nodoka to pull the phone a distance from her ear. By the time Yuriko's colorful tirade had eased, Nodoka was ready to walk out the door. It was a thirty-minute walk to the Tower from her house. Perhaps she should call a taxi?
"…naked on national television! I wanted her to #$!@#% lighten up, but this! This is just plain ridiculous! Not to mention the fact that she's been playing superhero behind my back! I swear to God, if she doesn't get herself killed by that thing, I'm going to skin her alive!" Nodoka wasn't exactly sure what her dear friend was ranting about, but it seemed best to divert her attention to something else.
"Where do you want to meet?"
"I'm coming in from the south and you're coming in from the west. Try to meet up with me somewhere in the middle. I'm going to try and get as close to the Tower as I possibly can."
"Zojoji Temple. East entrance?"
"The bowling center is closer, meet there as soon as you can. I should be there in about ten minutes."
"Okay then," Nodoka said.
The line went dead with Yuriko's mumbled promises of dire punishments echoing in Nodoka's ear, but Ranma's distraught mother was too captivated by the events playing out on the television to notice. The picture had returned, showing one of the magical girls hovering near a rather odd pair of blonde girls, one of whom was very familiar to Nodoka. Why Usagi would be arguing with her friend rather than running to safety made little sense, and subsequently bothered Nodoka greatly.
"Ayate! What are you doing? Get the camera back on the action."
"Sorry boss, but my gut's telling me that this is just too good to pass up." Dazai-san seemed fairly irritated at the sudden mutiny of her cameraman, but she didn't press the issue. It was fairly evident that the viewers needed a break. And what a break it was.
"VENUS CRYSTAL POWER, MAKE UP!"
The camera followed the new magical girl into battle for a moment, and then panned back to poor, pale Usagi. She looked so devastated and uncertain. Nodoka's heart went out to the girl. When the new magical girl appeared…. Well, you couldn't exactly call the leggy, tanned-skinned figure a girl. "Woman" was the only appropriate term to use for the newcomer. Regardless, it was obvious to Nodoka that this beautiful, green-haired woman was pointedly familiar with Usagi, which only made things worse for the young blonde. If the children survived this, there was no doubt that the media were going to hound them to death.
Nodoka sat on the edge of her couch, unable to leave just yet, and uncertain as to the reasoning behind her curiosity. Perhaps it was because she knew this girl. Maybe she was dreading going to the tower for fear of what she would find. Whichever the case, Nodoka cursed her weakness and remained glued to the events unfolding on the television screen.
The pale, lost expression slowly disappeared from Usagi's face the longer the tanned woman talked to her — if anything, the blonde girl was starting to look more and more regal with each passing moment. The pair seemed unruffled by the occasional explosions that rocked the observation deck and sent debris flying their way. The conversation continued until the green-haired woman pointed to the camera. Usagi glanced in the direction of the camera, and then everything shook as another explosion jostled the tower. By the time the cameraman had finally steadied himself, he was in time to catch Usagi sighing deeply. She looked to someone off screen and smiled regretfully.
In spite of her son's predicament, Nodoka found her heart reaching out to the young woman. The look in her eyes was one of resignation and self-sacrifice, far too mature for one her age. A shower of multicolored lights danced in front of the camera, resolving themselves into more shapely, feminine bodies that immediately formed a defensive ring around Usagi. Each was dressed in a similar, if not completely inappropriate uniform, although it did a great job of showing off their legs. Had she been the mother of one of these girls, she would definitely have some words for them.
Usagi began giving the others orders, directing them without hesitation or fear. She pulled something from off her chest and the tower fell silent as her hand began to glow. She looked directly at the camera with tears in her eyes. "Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad."
The light coming from her was blinding, but not in a bad way. If anything, Nodoka felt comforted by it. When it receded, Usagi was no more. In her place was a beautiful warrior, ready to fight. Nodoka couldn't help but cheer at the turn of events. With so many to fight, she knew that her Ranma would come out of this alive.
That thought was all but destroyed when she caught sight of her baby in the clutches of the demon. To his credit, Ranma fought on, refusing to give in even though he was pinned to the floor by the creature. It smiled at the Egyptian girl as it shifted its grip to Ranma's throat. A cold chill over came Nodoka as she watched.
"His death for your eternal suffering, Mercury. A fair trade in the end." The thing's voice was a wet, gurgling mess that still rang clear in spite of all the residual background noise. The magical girl called Mercury screamed and sent a lance of ice tearing through the monster's midsection in a shower of gore and black blood. Its mad laughter was wet and made Nodoka's throat fill with bile as he teetered on the edge of the abyss.
And then it tilted itself backwards, upsetting its precarious balance. Nodoka screamed and clutched the television, desperately reaching out to her scrambling son as he fell from the tower with the monster. She idly noted through her tears that Mercury had jumped after him. How long she knelt there, leaning against the television for support, she didn't know.
"No. Not my baby." Her body felt weak and empty, as if someone had reached inside of her and ripped out the only thing supporting her flesh. "Give me back my baby."
A part of her heart cried out fiercely for vengeance, but the rest of her was awash in a tsunami of disbelief and denial. Genma had taken her baby for ten long years and then, after finally being reunited with him, the Tendos had stolen his heart from her. Now that he had finally returned to her life, of his own free will, the demon had taken her baby! She screamed to the heavens for their black sense of justice. Had she not atoned for her mistakes? Hadn't she suffered enough?
Apparently not. She screamed and freed her blade from its scabbard. One swift, perfectly executed stroke cleaved the television in half, showering her in sparks and debris. She didn't care. How could any physical discomfort compare to the pain she was feeling in her soul?
There were few patrons in the pub this early in the day, but Soun and Genma rarely went to Hachi's for the company. The pub was affordable (translation: cheap) and had a certain amount of nostalgia associated to its hallowed halls. It was in this very establishment where the idea for joining the two branches of the Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu had been born.
The pub had a long history where Soun and Genma were concerned, and it was where they felt most comfortable thinking things through — that is, if you could really consider what the Dynamic Duo did as "thinking". Old Man Hachi had become very wealthy off of Soun Tendo's money over the years, and he didn't really mind having a panda for a customer. In fact, if asked he would admit that it really helped business a great deal. Most people would drink and drink until the panda went away. Thus the Tendo and Saotome patriarchs were treated as preferred customers, insofar as they had cash on hand. Hachi had learned early on that extending credit to Genma Saotome was about as profitable as dumping his liquor down the toilet.
Ever since Akane's death, the pair had been coming to Hachi's more frequently, looking for hope in a bottle. Plan after plan had been hashed out, conceived and discarded, and in the end tabled until their next "strategy session". Yet, in the end, they were no closer to joining the schools than they had been prior to that last fateful trip to China.
Their attempts at uncovering Ranma's whereabouts from Kasumi had been a bust, and Nabiki had threatened to "fry Genma's fat panda butt" until it matched his head if he didn't back off. The thought of losing any fur at all left Genma wary of crossing the young woman, especially considering the new skills the girl had acquired. It wasn't that the Saotome patriarch was afraid of the girl; not in the least. Prudence was the better part of valor, and considering how short Nabiki's temper was… Well, why tempt fate?
So it was that both fathers were once again drowning their sorrows and looking for a way to wheedle the information out of Soun's daughters. They had been there a paltry four hours, knocking around ideas while they knocked back a few cold ones, when something miraculous caught Soun Tendo's eye. For good or ill, it seemed that fate had decided to smile down on them as Hachi's small television broadcast the breaking news. Soun pointed to the images of Ranma fighting a demon at Tokyo Tower, and the pair evacuated their seats post-haste. For Genma, it was akin to hearing that there was an "all you can eat and drink" buffet at a sushi bar. For Soun, it was a life preserver amidst a sea of darkness.
They made it as far as the door, before finding their righteous paths blocked by the impressive gatekeeper, Toshi, Hachi's no-neck grandson who acted as the pub's bouncer. It took Soun a full ten minutes to sort out the bill to Hachi's satisfaction, but then the questing fathers were once again on the path to their dreams. Ranma would be theirs!
He fell, tearing and clawing at his opponent. The unnatural stench of the polluted spirit surrounded him as he tore the Tainted One's throat away victoriously. Blood splattered against his body, burning him as it had done throughout their struggle, but he ignored it and continued to rend and tear, trying to sever the thing's head from its body. The Death Bringer would find the final sleep with him, and his once/future She would be safe. His foe roared in agony as the final swipe of the Cat's claws bored a large hole in its chest.
Bathed in the black blood of his enemy, with the wind shrieking past his ears, the Cat yowled exultantly. The ground was approaching, but it held no concern for him. His task was done and it was time to heal.
There were constants for Ranma Saotome regardless of form or mindset. He was the best there was, and he never lost. Never. He caught a glimpse of something from the corner of his eye and looked up, only to heave an extremely put-upon sigh. Stupid She.
The wind screamed past her ears as she streamlined her body against the burning air. Her eyes were watering with the velocity that she was traveling, but her mind, for once in her life, refused to catalogue the math involved. Only one thing mattered at this moment was the young man clawing his way to freedom beneath her.
Ami tried to ignore the black expanse of asphalt that was growing larger with every passing second. Instead, she remained focused on Ranma as he valiantly tore into his opponent yet again. She could feel the spoiled, acidic blood splattering her face as she passed through a cloud of the liquid. Her magic could handle it, but she doubted she could survive an impact with the ground at this velocity.
She was closer now though, less than maybe seven feet. If she could just get to him, she might be able to break his fall. Tears streamed out of her eyes as the street came closer and closer. Certain death loomed before her, but all she could think of was Ranma. She had to reach Ranma.
The boy tilted back his head and screamed his victory to the sky. Two feet from his shirt! She was so close! But the ground! It was so close now… so close. Oh God… oh God! She didn't want to die!
There was a dark blur and a sudden arrest to her fall. One moment she was falling and the next she was rocketing up and to the side. The rush of the wind was incredible, leaving her feeling dizzy and disoriented. The clinical part of her mind noted that had she not been in her Senshi guise, her neck and spine would have probably snapped in three different places by the abrupt change in direction. She was confused at the detached sight of Marut hitting the pavement. A cloud of debris and gore shot upward, nearly coming level with Mercury's eyes. The odd sensation of heat she felt at her back was equally confusing.
She seemed to hang for a moment in the air, before gravity began to reassert itself. She looked up and noted with more than a little amazement that a fiery angel was carrying her away from Ranma. She struggled against the angelic man's iron grip and called out to the falling warrior beneath her. Her armor was pinching her something fierce, stealing some of her breath away and making it difficult to get any volume to her words.
Wait a minute… since when did she wear armor?
Ranma Neko waited for the appropriate moment to use his opponent's body as a springboard and launch himself up and away from the ground to bleed his momentum. He felt the Tainted One's impact more than he saw it. His main concern was no longer for his enemy — it was for his She. He had to ensure that his mate didn't get herself into any more trouble. He wasn't sure why she was acting like a cub, but he certainly didn't care either.
He shot upwards like a bullet, aiming to catch her by the scruff of the neck and carry her to safety. The winds brought an unwelcome scent to his nose that he hadn't smelled in a long while. It was the scent of another enemy… one that had killed his last She. Ranma growled and hissed as he caught a glimpse of the Fire Wing, but sadly it was too late to defend his She from the enemy's claws. The Fire Wing snatched his mate out of the air just before Ranma could reach her, leaving him to sail wide of his goal. Anger filled Ranma Neko as he alighted on a thin pole overlooking the ground where the Tainted One's body fell. He watched as the Fiery One banked lazily, with more of his flock on the way to joining his enemy. They were farther off but steadily gaining ground.
The Fire Wing circled and dipped, looking for a good updraft to carry them higher. Ranma bided his time carefully, waiting until the stupid Fire Wing was over a good landing site for his mate and yet still in range of his claws before striking. It was with a deep-throated growl and a swift motion of his paw that was little more than a blur that Ranma Neko struck, but it had the desired effect. The attack hit with incredible precision and power, causing the Fiery One to screech in agony. Bright blossoms of blood spewed forth from the Fire Wing's head and neck, causing Ranma's mate to drop from its claws.
Ranma leapt from his perch, making three incredibly swift and humanly impossible jumps in order to snatch his mate out of the air. One eye, however, never left the wounded form of the Fiery One. Even now, Ranma Neko could see his opponent's wounds healing. He snorted as he deposited his mate safely on the ground. There would be enough time to deal with the Fire Wing once Ranma Neko's She was safe.
Saffron's wings blazed, pushing him to the upper heights of his top speed. He was traveling at well beyond the speed of sound, having left his followers well behind him. He could see the falling bodies and easily recognized Isis for who she was. Upon focusing his vision on the other combatants, the Lord of the Phoenix wasn't surprised to see the desiccated, mottled mass of the Rakshasa plummeting to the earth. What was a surprise was seeing Ranma Saotome mixed up in the fight.
It was obvious that Isis was trying to save the boy, and for that single moment Saffron felt a great conundrum. It was obvious that Isis wanted to help Saotome, but there was no way to do so, given the speeds at which they were falling. Saffron felt the desire to help his one time enemy as well, in the hopes of someway atoning for his sin, but he had a covenant to keep with Mercury. Her life took precedence over anyone else. With his decision made, the Lord of the Phoenix swooped down and plucked Isis from the jaws of death. After having her rescued her successfully, he looked back to see that Ranma had somehow arrested his own fall and come to settle on a lightpost. Satisfied that all was well, Saffron began looking for a place to settle, never realizing that he was under attack.
Saffron screamed in agony as Ranma's assault hit home. Isis fell from his arms, but was retrieved by the Saotome boy in an amazing display of strength and coordination. The Lord of Phoenix Mountain hissed in pain as he tried to staunch the bleeding in his neck. The magic and ki charged attack would be a devil to heal, and to say that the Lord of the Phoenix was shocked would have been a terrible understatement. He wasn't surprised that Ranma had attacked him — in truth, he would have been astonished if the young martial artist hadn't. No, Saffron was more concerned that Ranma had somehow learned to combine the two energy forms into a highly cohesive attack.
Saffron banked, wobbly and fighting for control as he clutched his neck and head. He watched Ranma use a small building as a springboard in order to alight on top of a large vehicle. If Saotome was truly a chi wizard with the requisite skill necessary to pull off this attack, then their last encounter should have been much more. Had the boy been holding back? No. It hadn't seemed like it. Saffron pondered the mystery as he landed well away from the area that Ranma had settled and watched his old adversary's curious behavior from a safe distance.
The boy, after settling Isis to the ground began pacing protectively before the Senshi of Mercury on all fours like an enraged tigress protecting her cub. There was a large crowd of curious onlookers, medical and security personnel, and military forces ringing the cordoned area immediately surrounding the Tower. Their fear and unrest supercharged the air, leaving the Lord of the Phoenix feeling uneasy. This was a powder keg just waiting for a spark, and he knew it.
Saffron calmed his mind and settled himself to kneel where he had landed, focusing on healing his wounds rather than concerning himself with his surroundings as Kiima and her companions landed behind him. Kiima moved forward to stand beside her Lord, but Saffron held up his hand, silently commanding her to hold her position. "Do not, whatever you do, demonstrate that you are a threat."
With one look at the situation, Kiima nodded her head and passed the word on to her fellows. Saffron opened his eyes and studied the wounded boy across from him. It was obvious that he was severely wounded, but many of those wounds were already closing before Saffron's eyes. The Phoenix King had known that Ranma was formidable, but he was certain that the boy hadn't been this good when they'd faced each other. It was yet another mystery to ponder, among a steadily growing number. The one that posed the most concern for Saffron was the current mental condition of the young man protecting his living goddess. From the looks of things, Ranma had lost his mind and it wouldn't take much to provoke him. The crowd didn't need too many excuses either.
Saffron pondered the young warrior's strange, yet familiar, stance for a very long time. As the memories fell into place, and Saffron finally noted the burning crescent moon on Ranma's forehead, the Phoenix Lord's face paled. Not only was he dealing with a Neko-ken wielder, but he was also dealing with one of Queen Sahadriel's direct descendants. It was little wonder that the young warrior had overpowered Saffron! Who could stand against the power of a Lunarian of royal blood? Even without the Ginzuishou, Serenity had been a dreadful opponent to those that had insisted on crossing swords with her.
The Phoenix King's thoughts were interrupted as a number of forms materialized in a large circle between his position and where Ranma paced back and forth. The remaining Senshi glowed with power as they teleported in with the remaining people from the observation deck. To Saffron's surprise, they had added a new member to their number, someone, to his mind, that was very reminiscent of the young princess Serenity.
He stood slowly, intent on greeting them, only to find that Ranma had somehow appeared between him and the blonde Senshi with ponytails. He reared up and swiped, leaving four shallow, but still burning cuts across Saffron's chest. Kiima leapt to her feet, sword drawn. Ranma's eyes tracked her and Saffron could hear the boy's inhuman growling from where he had fallen to one knee.
Saffron's roar caused the gathered crowd around him to fall silent. Kiima dropped her sword and held up her hands, and began backing away slowly. Ranma watched the Lord of the Phoenix closely as Saffron bowed low and mimicked Kiima's retreat. The boy hissed once before turning to the ponytailed girl. She seemed petrified with fear until Ranma butted his head against her leg and began to purr. He nudged her repeatedly until she finally fell back to Isis, at which point Ranma settled himself on his haunches and began cleaning himself as any wounded cat would.
If it had been in any other circumstance, Saffron would have laughed. Sadly, there was very little about this situation that felt humorous. Once he was within range, Kiima began fussing over him. He bore her ministrations for a time, but he pushed her aside when Senshi Pluto stepped from the crowd and began walking towards him. He waited until she stopped before slowly walking forward himself to meet her. He noted that Ranma had stopped cleaning his wounds and eyed his every step tensely. Once he was before her, he knelt, one hand over his heart, head bowed. He heard Kiima and a number of his subjects gasp and murmur at his display, but he ignored them in favor of honoring the woman before him.
"Rise Saffron, Sovereign Lord of the Horus." Her voice was just as he remembered it; sensuous and filled with hidden mystery. "Rise and be counted."
Saffron did as he was told, wincing a bit as his still regenerating wounds burned with pain. He withstood her stare stoically, allowing her to see into his past and future as she had done on numerous occasions in the ancient past. After a few very long moments, her eyes softened and she offered him her hand. "Well met, old friend."
"Well met, Pluto, Avatar of the Threy, Senshi of Time." He bowed to her again and then looked over to Isis and raised his voice so that she would hear. "We felt the cold fires of Mercury burning, and have come to their call. How may we serve our goddess?"
Pluto looked over at the rather disheveled form of her teammate pointedly. The Senshi of Mercury was at a loss for words, blushing at the sudden scrutiny she was besieged by. She shrugged her shoulders and absently smoothed Ranma's matted hair back. He purred and nudged her thigh with his cheek, causing Mercury to blush even more. Pluto decided to save her friend before she spontaneously combusted. "The Rakshasa have begun to stir, Lord Saffron. Will you stand with us?"
"Forever and always, Lady Pluto," Saffron declared. He looked at the smoking crater where the Rakshasa's body lay, and after a moment he bowed his head to hide his deep shame. "The Horus know well that the demons are afoot, Lady Pluto. We have already felt their touch."
Pluto looked shocked for a moment, but her stoic mask slipped back into place. Saffron did not notice at all.
"Tell us, please."
The Lord of Phoenix Mountain raised his head at the dulcet tones of the new voice. He looked up in time to see the new Senshi steeping forward, in spite of Ranma's attempts to block her path.
"Forgive me, Noble One, but I do not remember you."
The young woman looked ready to open her mouth, but Pluto beat her to the punch. The Time Key materialized in her hand and she rapped it three times on the concrete, causing the surrounding area to echo loudly. Her voice was louder still, sounding clearly above the murmuring crowd.
"LOOK YE NOW, CITIZENS OF THE EARTH, AND SEE! NEO-SERENITY, FIRST DAUGHTER OF SERENITY, EMPRESS OF THE MOON, HEART AND SOUL OF THE CRYSTAL MILLENNIUM! THE QUEEN IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!"
Saffron felt pole-axed and immediately fell to his knees and pressed his forehead to the ground at the new Senshi's feet. He stretched his wings out to their fullest, much as his own supplicants did for him, leaving them open and vulnerable to attack as a symbol of his reverence. He saw Pluto kneel beside him and chanced a glance out of the corner of his eyes to see that the rest of the Senshi had followed suit. He could hear the crowd around them murmuring excitedly, and heard the unfamiliar click of photographers snapping pictures. He dared not look up for fear of offending the queen of his gods.
Usagi watched the winged man's face pale noticeably, and felt herself following his lead. Her knees felt weak, and everywhere she looked there were people whispering and pointing. The flash of cameras flared around her and in the background she could hear the running commentary of reporters continuing their blow-by-blow account of events as they unfolded. Somewhere above her head, she could hear helicopters flying around; most likely pointing even more cameras down on her and her friends.
Man, she hoped that her hair looked okay. She looked heavenward and closed her eyes. If nothing else, please at least give her that!
Her friends knelt reverently, as did the other bird people behind Saffron. Even some of the people she and the Senshi had rescued from the Tower had fallen to their knees. She felt so lost and alone. One moment she was a simple schoolgirl, worrying about what her mother was going to say about her last math test, the next she's suddenly the queen of the Moon. When everything was said and done, Usagi vowed to skin Setsuna alive. Future be damned, the woman was going to suffer!
Usagi sighed and felt a bump at her thigh. She looked down to see that the only one in the immediate area that had not bowed was Ranma. He just looked up at her expectantly. She noted with some wonder as a familiar golden symbol, one that matched her own sigil, shone forth brightly on his brow. She stared long and hard into his eyes until she felt a sharp tug over her heart. She looked down in shock as a bright silver glow pulsed from the center of her chest in time with her heart. She covered the spot, desperately hoping that no one would see or take notice.
Sadly, everyone and their dog were watching her at this moment, so it was readily apparent that her efforts were less than futile. Flashing rhythmically, the arcane crystal teleported those of her court that had not yet arrived. Luna and Artemis arrived in their human guises, and Endymion appeared immediately to her right, handsome as ever in his armor. He looked flushed and out of breath, as if he had been running. She favored him with a loving smile as he bowed to her, kneeling alongside her advisors. As this happened, she could feel the familiar buildup of energies within her, and a cascade of power passed over and through her, leaving Princess Serenity to stand where Sailor Moon had once been.
The power of the Ginzuishou bathed her hands in a cloud of white light, and she was forced to steady herself as Ranma butted against her thigh again. As she reached down to balance herself, she pressed down on top of his head and the glow from her hands seemed to flow into the young man. She felt the crystal pulse again and watched in awe as the madness fled from Ranma's face. He looked so cute as his bewildered eyes tried to assess everything. He looked to her and she saw surprising flash of recognition blossom in his countenance. His tattered clothes disappeared in a flash of blue light, leaving him dressed in a familiar black and silver uniform. She tried to place it, but all she could feel was the oddest sense of frustration when she looked down at him. Sadness overwhelmed her to see him fall to his knees amongst all the others.
Alone again, Usagi… no, Neo-Serenity, looked out over the sea of faces gawking at her. She felt like an island amidst an ocean of people, until Pluto stood up and grabbed Ranma's elbow and forced him to stand beside Neo-Serenity. She wanted to laugh at his urgent attempts to shake the Senshi of Time off, but the atmosphere was just too austere to do more than smile. Ranma slapped Pluto's hands until she finally let go, and as he started to kneel again Pluto rapped the Time Key on the ground again making him jump. Three resonant booms washed over the area as the Ginzuishou's light flared again. The light was so bright that even Neo-Serenity had to avert her eyes.
When everything cleared, Ranma stood looking down at himself in panic. Where before he wore a black and silver uniform, he now was adorned in a suit of highly polished platinum with an elegant sword belted at his hip. Runes and arcane symbols danced across its surface and a stunning cape of navy silk caught the wind. He looked to Neo-Serenity in horror, hoping beyond hope that this was a terrible joke. Her only comfort to him was another sheepish smile and a small shrug of her shoulders. Pluto's ringing voice called out clear, drawing their attention back to her.
"LOOK YE NOW, CITIZENS OF THE EARTH, AND SEE! ARAMAS, FIRST BORN OF SERENITY! LAST TRUE SON OF ATLANTIS, EMPEROR OF THE EARTH AND THE MOON, GUARDIAN OF LIFE, DEFENDER OF THE CRYSTAL MILLENNIUM! THE KING IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE KING!"
The Ginzuishou flared again, brighter than ever before, supplanting the shock and amazement of Pluto's announcement with a sense of wondrous peace and an incalculable love. Neo-Serenity felt a pull at the center of her chest as the Ginzuishou left her body to float freely before her.
It hovered between Ranma and Neo-Serenity for a time, pulsing brightly until the light of the Silver Crystal finally coalesced into a very familiar figure. A mother, long dead but not forgotten, stood before her children with a warm smile. Her translucent form opened her arms to them and Neo-Serenity was the first to respond.
It was amazing how real the apparition felt. One could even smell the all but forgotten scent of attedi oil that filled Neo-Serenity's mind with so many memories of life lived ten thousand years ago. Mother and daughter stood, locked in that embrace for a long drawn out moment, drawing strength from one another until, at last, Neo-Serenity felt a soft butterfly kiss on her forehead. With reluctance the embrace lessened and then the warmth of her mother's arms faded completely.
"You're never alone, daughter." The words were felt more than heard, and suddenly she remembered! She remembered it all! The good and the bad. The love of her mother, the life she had lived as the daughter of the Argent Queen, the laughter they shared late at night behind closed doors, and most importantly, her mother's undying love for her daughter and her kingdom. The long-forgotten memories came back with an undeniable clarity, and Neo-Serenity wept with joy as the ghost of her mother and queen turned her attention to the young man at her side.
Ranma felt overwhelmed. Memories of Aramas surged forward, flooding his mind like the storm surge of a typhoon. He was awash in confusion and denial as everything tried to seize his attention at once. He looked to Princess Serenity for direction, but only found her caught up in her own joy. The spirit of the deceased Queen smiled and held out her hands to him. There was no denying her though. His heart knew her, even if his mind chose not to.
"Mother," he said in a quiet voice filled with hidden emotion as he knelt before her. He had never been good at expressing himself, least of all to her. Out the violent storm of his chaotic memories, he remembered that plainly — that, and the fact that his presence had always brought her pain and regret.
"Pain and regret…." her voice echoed softly in his ears. "Yes, I have known those, Aramas. But know this above all else — my choices were the cause for these feelings, not you." She lovingly cupped his chin in her palm. "Never you."
A pair of warm arms lifted him from where he knelt, and a sudden blanket of love the likes of which he had never known enveloped him. Beneath it all, there was a hidden shame and an immense sense of guilt. "My son. Oh, my beloved son!"
Ranma looked down into the ghostly woman's crying eyes and saw, for the first time in his life, absolute acceptance and unconditional love. He felt his heart ache as the memories of this woman started to settle in the forefront of his mind. He had admired her strength, honored her courage, and loved her deeply. He remembered the quiet moments they had shared, the motherly affection she had showered him with when they were away from the eyes of her court. She had become for him the mother his heart called for, and now he understood why. She was the mother he had never known, yet always longed for.
"Can you forgive me?"
Ranma wrapped his arms around her and held her close, letting his actions speak for him when his voice failed. It felt as though he had waited countless centuries for this dream to be realized. He dug deep for the words he knew he'd always wanted to say, but never had the courage to even whisper when it really mattered.
"I love you, mother." What else could he say to her? He didn't want to accept this whole Aramas deal, but at the same time he couldn't ignore the longing he felt, especially to this magnificent woman. There would be no more regret in this life. A man could say such things to those that mattered, and still be a man. The only question in Ranma's bewildered mind was which man should he be — Aramas or Ranma? At the moment it really didn't matter, but he knew that once this time with the ghost of his past life's mother was done the question would not be denied so easily.
Serenity cried out in joy and clung to her son for as long as possible, but in the end the power allowing her to interact on this plane failed and she disappeared in a shimmer of light that returned to the pulsing Ginzuishou. Ranma clung to her warmth for as long as possible before he lifted his head to look at his newfound sister. He ignored the tear tracks on his face and grasped Neo-Serenity's hand, reveling in the feeling of having family again.
The public surrounding the area watched on in undisguised interest as the event continued to unfold. It was a fairytale come to life. They would have remained entranced by the spectacle had a silent wind not kicked up around the heirs of the Silver Millennium. The crowd cried out in alarm as the radiance of the pair began to grow, bathing the area beneath the Tower and everyone that happened to be in it, in a bright comforting glow. The Senshi, and those directly connected to them, were swept off of their feet to float in a sparkling cloud of magic that continued to climb steadily into the air. The crowd of survivors from the observation deck bolted, only to find their terrified voices swallowed up by a deafening, magical silence that reached outward from the heirs to envelop the immediate area surrounding Tokyo Tower.
The group floated some fifty to sixty feet off the ground before Neo-Serenity stretched her arms above her head, and focused the power of the crystal until the sky darkened above the Tower. The heirs of the Moon Kingdom became the only light in the area — two tiny stars against the backdrop of the dark blue sky.
One by one the Senshi began responding to the call of the crystal's power. And still, the group continued to slowly climb into the air. As they passed the ruined observation deck, each of their planet's totems shone on their foreheads, beginning with Mercury and ending with Pluto. Their bodies began to glow, becoming veritable a rainbow of colors that complimented the nimbus of light surrounding Ranma and Neo-Serenity. The group continued to rise until they finally came to a stop one thousand feet above Tokyo Tower. The Senshi slowly began orbiting the royal pair, exuding more and more light as their bodies picked up speed.
Ranma was barely aware of his surroundings as he looked to his new sister. He noted that Neo-Serenity's eyes blazed white, mirroring the crystal's glow. The power of the Ginzuishou throbbed and grew, its aura steadily swelling from the size of a softball to the size of a large weather balloon in a matter of seconds. A pair of majestic, snow-white wings burst from her back, showering hundreds of perfect feathers into the winds that were common at this height. The woman looked every bit the queen her mother had been, and more. The miasma of menace that had filled the air only a little while before slowly changed into something lighter, something much more awe-inspiring.
Ranma felt the power of the Ginzuishou reach out to him and had the distinct impression that he was swaddled in tendrils of pure love. His body swiveled in mid-air, turning slowly until he was face to face with his sister. He unconsciously closed his eyes as he felt the surge of energy course through him. There was a sudden tug at his back and then the pressure he'd felt building inside him found release. His eyes opened, and ignited with the same white light that flowed from the Moon Princess. His soul reached through the Silver Crystal and touched her. They slowly began to mingle, fusing into one entity that reached out to touch and invite those orbiting them to join their union. One by one, without hesitation, the Court of Neo-Serenity responded, opening and offering themselves to their king and queen.
They lived each other's lives. Reliving a million memories and more, memories that were full to bursting with happiness and pain, joy and agony. They shared it all… as a family. No more secrets. No more pain. Just one eternal moment of unity.
Ranma Saotome, once known as Aramas the Drumheller, slowly opened his mouth. Those that could see past the intense light saw Neo-Serenity, and all those gathered about the royal siblings, mimic him. "I remember."
The echoes of their voices intertwined and seemed to resonate in the hearts of every man and woman throughout Tokyo. A column of light punched through the atmosphere from the glowing sphere that the Ginzuishou had become, rocketing towards the moon that was little more than a sliver in the sky above. There was a responding flash when the column touched the moon, and then, as if by some unspoken signal, the rest of the Senshi joined their power to the beam.
The Silence Glaive appeared in Saturn's hands, even as the other tokens of power came to their owners call. The pillar of light broadened and divided itself into a mighty, scintillating rainbow. The column of energy hit the moon again, driving away the Earths shadow and illuminating the satellite for all of Europe and Asia to see. And then the rainbow, in the blink of an eye, splintered. All but two of the beams went shooting deeper into space. Lights flashed brightly in the sky as the celestial bodies of the solar system responded to the revival of their children. The heirs of a long-dead kingdom cried out in one tremendous voice, shaking the earth in the process, causing the winds to howl, seas to rage, and animals world wide to fall silent.
All the windows within a ten block radius shattered at the sound, driving people to their knees. The planets shot back their homage, sending wave after wave of power into their avatars. The advent of a solar system, honoring the first-born son of Serenity, Queen of the Moon Kingdom, washed over the Earth. A king and queen had awakened, and all of nature stilled to witness their rebirth.
Nodoka Saotome clutched her heart as a stabbing pain shot through her chest. The sword she had been clinging to fell from numb fingertips, to clatter on the floor at her feet. There was a sudden sense of loss, and Nodoka felt as if her world had just been ripped from her. Her son was lost to her. She knew it now for certain.
She wept, unable to deny what her heart was telling her, and in a moment of brutal clarity she realized that she had no one to blame but herself. Her prideful choices had nearly destroyed her baby boy, as well as the beautiful little girl that had so yearned to be her daughter. The insight stole her strength, leaving her incapable of picking up the sword she had carried so faithfully over the years. It was just as well, for had she the power, the blade would have been the end of her life.
Time passed. How much she neither knew nor cared. When the knock came on her door, she couldn't bring herself to muster the strength to answer it. When the men in black suits came in, identifying themselves as representatives of the government, she didn't fight them at all. They gathered her along with her things and escorted her to a black limousine not far from her house. As the car drove away, she chanced a look at the Saotome home. A feeling of despair settled deeper into her heart at the thought that this was probably the last time she would ever see her house.
Herb and Xian Pu clung to each other as they were driven to their knees by some unseen power. In their mind's eyes they saw a face that was very familiar to them both and wondered what it meant. Had they been more aware of their surroundings, they would have seen another figure with fox-like features mimicking them not far away.
Nearby, in a very busy home owned by the remnants of a fallen nation, Khu Lon sat bolt up right in her bed and cried out in rapturous joy.
"HOPE! He has ascended! The Prince has come!" She clutched her chest and smiled, tears flowing freely down her face at the memory of touching the life of this wonderfully pure soul.
"The Son of the Moon, the Heir of Atlantis is come!" She breathed a great sigh and fell back to pillows, never to wake again. Her affairs were in order, and the line of succession assured. Even so, over three hundred years of life did not prepare her for the death that she'd been avoiding for so very long.
As spirit left her body, Khu Lon's only regret was not being able to say goodbye to her great-granddaughter in person. A letter was no way to tell someone that you were proud of them. All thoughts of the mortal world fled her as a white light enveloped her. And so it was that Khu Lon passed into the afterlife, to be received by her beloved ancestors.
The Palace of Seven Clouded Heavens,
Ahbrim Ur watched the events unfolding within the shadowy confines of the media room. He was almost overwhelmed by a mixture of pride and disgust. Pride for his beautiful son, and disgust at the love he still felt for the ghostly woman that even now embraced his child. He felt the Ginzuishou's power building the moment Serenity's daughter appeared on the television screens. Marut's attack on the Senshi had not been unforeseen, neither was it truly a bad thing. A confrontation was inevitable, and the more information they had on Serenity's Witches, the better.
This however… this development was something else entirely. Ur wasted no time in teleporting from the media room, appearing on the summit of the tallest mountain in the region to wait for the advent of this celestial event to come.
He didn't wait long. The power of the Ginzuishou rocketed to the heavens. The earth seemed to tremble and groan in rapture, the winds cried out joyously in the mountain passes, and the Dragon Lines sung.
They spoke with one voice to those special few that could hear, millions of voices unified in purpose to honor a son that had been hidden away from evil long ago. The voice chilled his blood, broke his soul, and caused his anger to boil fiercely. How many years had he lost with his child? What wonders had he missed out on because of a woman's pride? He could not know, and that above all else was the worst punishment his dead wife had ever lain upon him.
"SERENITY!" He roared in denial of his wife's final sin against him. The noise brought five Rakshasa loping up the mountainside, in the hopes to build their stature by defending this human that the clans had supported. They died, writhing in agony the instant they came close to the Lord of the Hunt. Ur's body ignited in an aura of black flames, the likes of which this world hadn't seen in millennia. A third of the mountainside was leveled before Ur seized control again. Those Rakshasa not wounded or dead from the destruction wrought gained a new respect for the human that lead them in this hunt among humanity.
The winds and earth paid little heed to Ur's voice, as powerful as it was. The man who had once ruled them had fallen far in their eyes. He could command them still, but they would never willingly serve him as they once had. The elements prayed in their celebrations that the son would follow more in his mother's footsteps.
The thought played across their collective minds, like a water sprite dancing across the surface of a placid lake. Images, dark and foreboding, rose to the surface, consuming peace. Hidden walls crumbled, fears and dark secrets emerged from the depths of their collective soul.
Sailor Pluto seemed to glow with a crimson light, and then a doorway to the past opened.
The Imperial Palace,
Serenity screamed out in agony as another harsh contraction washed over her. Huge droplets of sweat beaded on her flushed brow. After thirty-six hours of labor, she was almost done. And though she loved her child more than life itself, she was going to be very happy to have her figure back. She was very tired of looking like she had a watermelon stuck in her stomach.
A very human Luna stood where Serenity's husband should have been, holding her hand, adding her strength to her Queen's. But that was old news. Ahbrim had made it clear long ago where his allegiances lay.
The young midwife, Lasa, smiled brightly. "One more push, Majesty!" she coached. "The baby is almost out!"
Serenity inhaled sharply and then bore down, pushing for all that she was worth. The low growl that rumbled from her throat grew steadily, turning into a cry of triumph as the pressure released. The acute pain ended, turning into a dull throbbing that ebbed into numbness as exhaustion seeped into her bones.
A strong, healthy wail went up throughout the room, followed by a mighty cry throughout the palace. It was as if all the stars of heaven cried out at the child's coming. Lasa looked up at her queen with tears in her eyes. Her voice was choked with intense emotion as she severed the cord binding mother and child as one. Luna looked on the baby boy with her own tears, as she wrapped the new prince in a warm blanket and proceeded to clean him.
Serenity waited impatiently for Luna to bring her the jewel of her life. Her firstborn. Luna worked quickly, and soon the Queen of the Moon Kingdom was looking into the beautiful pink face of her child.
"Mother," she whispered with great emotion. "I give you your son."
Serenity couldn't take her eyes from the Moon Kingdom's new heir, memorizing every little wrinkle and all the lines on his tiny fingers. She was mesmerized. Could this fussy little stranger be the same being that not moments before had been a part of her?
"He's so beautiful!" Tears of joy ran freely down her cheeks, but she refused to look away from her son.
"By what name shall he be known?" Sailor Pluto stood not far off, resolute but not immune to the scene before her. A broad smile and annoyingly wet eyes plagued her normally serious demeanor.
Serenity looked up at Setsuna, one of her dearest friends, and beamed. "Aramas. Son of Hope."
A mist clouded the vision of a proud mother's joyous face, enveloping the scene. Another pair of voices surfaced.
Sailors Uranus and Neptune glowed softly, limned with a majestic orange light that boarded on bronze with the occasional splash of sea-green dancing across the surface of the light.
The Imperial Palace,
"How could you let him live?" the newly-appointed Uranus cried out at her queen. Raw pain cut the air like a knife. "He stole from me the only family that I had left!"
"Uranus!" Luna cried out against the agonized youth. "Hold your tongue!" She would have lit into the young Senshi, had Serenity not cut her off with a slight motion of her hand.
The Moon Queen wore a black dress that signified her mourning, and her eyes still bore the mark of hot, angry tears. She clenched her newborn son to her chest fearfully, as if he too might soon be lost to her. But Uranus' grief, though different, was no less potent. Serenity knew this and was sympathetic. Still, she had to turn the young woman from the path of vengeance, or she too would fall to the darkness.
"You seek justice?" Serenity asked in a voice that was all but devoid of life. "You seek retribution against Ur for his crime against you?"
Sailor Uranus sent a challenging look her queen's way. "I don't just seek it! I demand it!" she spat.
Serenity nodded once, and then slowly stood. Uranus marveled at her beauty and grace, something that she knew she would never have. And as the Matriarch of the Twelve Kingdoms stood, Uranus knew that she had gone too far. Even so, the rash girl refused to back down.
"Then I grant it."
Uranus cried out with joy, and spun on her heel. The Valley of Silence was one quick teleport away, and so too was Ur's ultimate demise. Serenity though, had other plans for the young woman.
"HALT!" One word. That's all it ever took for Serenity to be obeyed, and with reason. The anger that laced her voice was enough to split stone, and it made Uranus freeze in midstep. "Where do you think you are going?"
Uranus spun on her heel in frustration. "Where else? To kill the bastard that murdered my mother!" Serenity smiled darkly. It was the single most terrifying thing that Uranus had experienced.
"What gave you the impression that I sanctioned that?"
The smile didn't fade, causing Uranus to work hard to respond. "But... but you said...."
"I said that you would be granted your request for retribution. I said nothing about offering Ur release from his imprisonment." Serenity descended the steps that led up to her throne, coming to stand before the tall, powerful frame of Uranus. Her eyes narrowed angrily and bore down on the Senshi. She had to show the girl the pointlessness of vengeance, and the poison that it created. If she did not, she feared that Uranus would be lost to her.
"Ur shall remain where he is for all eternity." Her voice was smooth and controlled. "He will live, conscious of his existence, aware of his plight, and unable to free himself. He will pay for his crimes until Terra crumbles into dust. Do I make myself clear?"
Uranus swallowed hard, and nodded. Yet, through her fear she still felt slighted. Ur might suffer throughout eternity, but it did nothing to heal the void in her heart. "And what of justice?"
Serenity raised an eyebrow at the question. "What of it, Uranus? Do you not see that his suffering will be eternal?"
"His suffering cannot bring my mother back!" the blonde woman spat angrily.
Serenity sighed and moved over to a small bassinet, where she laid the sleeping Aramas. With all the considerable dignity that she could muster, she returned to face one of her chosen champions. The girl had lost her center, the foundation of her world.
"Well? Where is the retribution that you promised?" Uranus demanded.
Serenity smiled sadly and shook her head. "What do you seek, Ilsbeth? A life for a life? There is a balance that must be maintained. For all the power of the Ginzuishou, I cannot craft for you another. The very thought is obscene."
The girl's angry, tortured countenance was a pitiful sight to behold. She, in her inexperience, wanted something to make her mother's passing meaningful. "Very well, you desire a just recompense, so be it. Justice demands that you take the life of another to replace the one that was taken from you." She paused, taking a deep breath. "I offer myself."
"Serenity!" Luna cried out in anger and shock.
"Know your place, chancellor!" the queen raged at her advisor. "I am dispensing justice."
"But, my Queen!" Luna protested.
"Luna!" The rebuke was swift and sure, and Luna was cowed. And the queen returned to her champion.
Uranus smiled and shook her head.
"Why do you smile Senshi? Is there something amusing about this situation?"
Uranus again swallowed at the deadly serious tone in her Matriarch's voice. "No, Majesty," she said, bowing. "It's just... well...."
Serenity rolled her eyes. "Spit it out, girl, and be done with it."
"I've sworn an oath." Uranus cleared her throat and recited in a strong voice the tie that bound her to Serenity.
"'Beneath the Stars of Heaven and by my True Name;
She smiled weakly, before shrugging. "I'd have to kill myself before I could kill you Majesty, and somehow I don't think that this would turn out well."
"Then I release you from your bond. Take my life for that of your mother's." It was cruel to put Uranus in such a position, but the girl needed to understand the heavy mantle that she now wore. She would have to understand the difference between retribution and true justice.
"I will not do that your majesty."
Serenity nodded darkly at the young woman, as if she had already seen this.
"What will it take to appease your sense of justice?"
A sense of rage built in the young warrior's face, and it took only a moment for her to deliver her demand. "Ur's blood!"
Serenity looked upon the bloodthirsty Senshi with a tired acceptance. "So be it, then. Kill Ur's heir, and let there be an end to this."
"WHAT!" Luna screamed. "NO!" With a great heave, the chancellor launched herself from the dais, changing in mid-leap from her human guise to a hybrid form of her natural feline state and her human mask. Long wicked claws stood grew from her hands, and her black eyes narrowed to deadly slits. A feral hiss emitted from her throat as she placed herself between her prince and two madwomen.
"Stand aside, Luna," Serenity said stoically. "Let justice reign. Uranus desires recompense for the life of a family member. Let her have it."
"You're joking, right?" Uranus asked, but the deadly serious look in the Queen's eyes chilled the Sword Princess to her bones.
Luna had the audacity to growl at her Queen. "Over my dead body."
Serenity shook her head, and motioned with her hand. The Ginzuishou flared once, and Luna found herself encased in a block of crystal. She clawed at the prison until her fingers bled, and even then she refused to give in, hammering on the barrier until her hands matched her claws. Tears of anger and frustration cascaded down her furred cheeks.
Uranus looked at her ruler as if she had grown another head.
"Well? Here is your chance. Dispense your justice," Serenity urged with open contempt.
"You're serious." The girl was stunned.
"Of course I'm serious! Call forth your sword, and spill his perverted blood. You wanted this, girl. Take your vengeance and be done with it!"
Uranus made no move to comply.
"DO IT!" The command was bellowed with such force that Aramas awoke in a crying fit.
The squeals of the child, mingled with her own anger and frustration, pushed the Sword Princess into action. She summoned her soul's blade to her, and flew at the wailing baby's cradle. Within an instant she stood over Aramas, with her sword raised above her head. At the sight of Uranus, the Prince ceased crying and stared at her with large, innocent eyes. He reached out for her and smiled hesitantly, looking for comfort.
All of Uranus' resolve crumbled beneath the onslaught of the child's charm, and she fell to her knees weeping over him. Her sword winked out of existence the moment her knees touched the floor.
Serenity released Luna with a wave of her hand, healing her injuries in the same moment. The advisor looked between her queen and the Senshi with mistrust. Serenity ignored her closest friend for the time being, choosing instead to comfort the afflicted young woman draped over her son.
"Why didn't you take your justice?" she asked Uranus.
The short-haired girl wept for some time before answering. "Because he was innocent."
"I am glad that you can see the difference," the queen said. "Ur has been punished. Stop punishing yourself." She rested her hands on Uranus' shoulders, and tried ineffectually to massage the girl's pain away. "There was nothing that you could have done for Anne, save die with her. She died for something that she believed in. She was the most noble of souls, and I loved her as dearly as I would a sister."
Serenity walked around the bassinet, so that she could look Uranus in the eyes. "As much as I would wish otherwise, there will come a time when you, too, are called to fight for something you believe in, Ilsbeth. Something that you love enough to die for." The words hung like a dark prophecy between the two women, bringing with it an uncomfortable silence. "I pray that those you leave behind will find the strength to make the most of your sacrifice."
Aramas took the opportunity of Uranus' distraction to grab a handful of her short hair and yank. The mannish Senshi grinned and winced.
The scene faded. Mists closed over the memory. And another pair of voices rose from the depths.
Luna and Artemis glowed white and gold in turn, shifting shape as they did so. Their now human faces smiled warmly, glowing just as much as the crescents on their foreheads did.
Luna ran through the corridors of the Palace. Decorum, for once, had been thrown to the wind. The urgency of her message forced her to assume her hybrid shape, to gain the extra speed and agility needed to get the message to her queen without any embarrassing incidents with the nobles of the court.
She flew down the Mardrinus' Hall and up the wide flight of stairs that lead to the throne room. Lady Diameties made the mistake of stopping to talk to the fat Lord Gorin, and Luna was forced to hurdle them both. Diameties fell flat on her anorexic butt with a screech, while Gorin soiled himself in his surprise. There were times that Luna hated having heightened senses. She had no time to waste on helping "the Bloat" and "the Stick" to their feet. Thankfully. She would never hear the end of this, but that was an acceptable fate if she could save the life of her prince.
Two guards were stupid enough to bar her path as she barreled up to the great doors of the throne room. The delay was no more than a blink of her eyes, before their stupidity was punished. It took both men eight weeks to recover from their wounds, and they accorded Luna the greatest respect whenever their paths crossed after that.
As Luna recovered and raced to the dais of her queen, she noticed that Setsuna stood at Serenity's side. The Senshi of Time whispered something in the queen's ear, at which Serenity nodded.
"Clear the Hall!" Sailor Pluto cried, rapping the Time Staff three times on the dais. The ringing it made held an echo of power in it that sent noble and page alike scurrying for cover.
The Hall was clear long before Luna had made it halfway up the dais. Luna smiled. Had it been Saturn instead of Pluto, the cat from Mau knew that they would have reacted even faster.
Serenity nodded again when the hall was seemingly clear. "Call them, Pluto."
Setsuna nodded once and bowed before sending out the call to the other Senshi. Luna slowed her pace when she had all but reached the summit of dais.
The Queen's eyes rested heavily on Luna. "She has sent them, hasn't she?"
Luna hung her head. "There is no proof that she is orchestrating the endeavor, Majesty," the chancellor said darkly. "At least not any longer."
"Can we revive your witness?" Serenity asked hopefully.
Luna shook her head sadly. "Onyx left very little to revive, my Queen. We have no evidence to take to Endymion and the Council of Twelve Kingdoms."
Serenity slammed her fist on the marble arm of her throne with such force as to send cracks spiderwebbing across its surface.
"The WHORE!" she cried out as she stood. "THAT SLUTTY DEN-WITCH! She stole my husband, she sank Atlantis with her greed, and now she seeks to steal MY SON!"
Pluto could count the number of times on two hands that Serenity had ever been truly angry, and still have fingers to spare. But in all the times that she had seen the woman incensed, she had never known her to exhibit such hatred. Serenity whirled on her two aides, her white dress billowing wildly to match the fervor in her eyes.
"She will not have him!" The deadly tone in her voice was enough to send shivers down the spines of other women. Pluto finally understood the saying about the lioness and her cub. "I will go to war before that slimy gutter-tramp lays one finger on Aramas!"
The words still echoed loudly throughout the Hall when the other Senshi began to appear in great pillars of colorful light. Serenity waited until they had all arrived. Elders Mars, Venus, and Jupiter arrived together, followed closely by the elder Senshi Mercury and Neptune. Serenity silently waved her hand, indicating that they search the room.
Mercury's visor ferreted out twenty listening devices and two spies that were dealt with quickly and efficiently. When nothing else was found, Serenity nodded again to Pluto, who tapped her communicator twice, calling out for Uranus and the young Neptune to join the group.
The two young Senshi appeared with Aramas cradled in Neptune's arms, fast asleep. As far as her son was concerned, Serenity trusted few. But Uranus and Neptune had all but adopted the boy as their own. Uranus was as attached to Aramas as Luna, and guarded him just as fiercely. And the elegant Neptune was the only other person, aside from the Queen herself, who could put the young toddler to sleep. It was a fact that grated on Luna's nerves no end.
Serenity reviewed her champions critically and then motioned them together. It was no secret that Onyx of Lemuria coveted Ahbrim Ur's heir, nor was it a secret that Serenity lost no love for the woman. What was a secret was the fact that the Moon Queen had known the other woman's every step up until her mole had been ferreted out.
The plan to assault the palace was a well-known fact as well, at least to Serenity. And so provisions had been made, a plan set in motion, and old favors called in. With Onyx's attack imminent, it was time to put all of this mother's preparation into motion.
She would not lose her son to the gutter-slut. And this plan ensured it. The Ginzuishou glowed and the Senshi teleported. Luna was left to console the weeping Serenity, as she sent her one and only son away. War would descend on them all, destroying the fragile alliances that she had struggled so hard to build. All over the legacy of one loathsome man.
Three long years had passed since Ur had been shut away, and here she stood, still plagued by his evils. Would she never be free of him? The void in her heart testified that he would always hold sway over her. For now, all that she could do was weep tears of mourning for the second time. Her son was lost to her, cradled in the arms of another, in order to be safe from the clutching grasp of evil. How would love prevail, when she was forced to give away her Hope?
Pluto stood before a very bedraggled and seemingly human Artemis. She gently placed the child in the Mau's willowy arms, letting the weight of her immortal eyes say what words alone could not. Young Neptune wept openly, as did some of the Elder Senshi.
From this moment onward, Aramas, Prince of the Moon Kingdom, was dead. A fabrication would ensue, and a lie published to cover the myriad of half-truths that they themselves would be forced to speak. He would die in the raid that Onyx planned, and war would inevitably follow — just as the evil queen yearned for.
Unfortunately, Artemis would have no idea whose child he raised, either. The poor beggar hadn't been seen in the palace since he had left Luna at the altar. But the Senshi were not allowed to judge men by their faults. He had made an error, a painful one that had almost cost him his life. And while his self-inflicted exile aided their cause, Pluto could see that it was killing him inside.
"Guard this one as if he were your own, Artemis," she said solemnly. "Train him up to defend himself and his queen. On your life, make him the best the Moon Kingdom has to offer, for he will be needed in the future. Another will come to aid you in your task. Be watchful."
It was all that needed to be said. Artemis looked down at the child in his arms for a long time before nodding his head in determination. Setsuna watched as life entered the wastelands that were the Mau's eyes. He had reason to live again, a purpose, and hopefully a chance at redemption. She prayed that he didn't squander it.
Tokyo Tower Bowling Center,
Yuriko Mizuno was pissed. Even amidst all the chaos and excitement, people could see and respect a rampaging mother when they saw one. Those that dared look her in the eye whispered prayers for the poor child that was on the receiving end of this woman's wrath. She stomped her way through the first and second security cordons, making her way up to the third blockade with little trouble. She would have made it past that barricade as well, had it not been for the diligent police officer that was intent on doing his job rather than watching the events unfolding around him.
"Hey! This area is off limits, miss. You can't come through here."
Yuriko ignored him in favor to getting to her daughter as fast as possible. The police officer had other plans for her, though. He grabbed her arm with the intent to stop her, and was thoroughly shocked when the lithe doctor didn't stop. She continued to drag the young officer past the fourth barricade, scooping up a megaphone as she went. She acquired more police officers, who insisted on attempting to drag her back to the barricade. They inevitably began making progress, but not before Yuriko Mizuno had her say. Lifting the megaphone to her mouth she directed her angry voice heavenward.
"AMI MIZUO! THIS IS YOUR MOTHER SPEAKING!" The police officers paused a moment to cover their ears. "YOU ARE SO-O-O GROUNDED!"
No one had ever seen a crowd of this size face-fault before, but it would definitely be a favorite piece of footage for the news media in the days ahead.
"DO YOU HEAR ME? GROUNDED! FOREVER!"
Unaware of the world around them, Ami and the other Senshi sang. Their voices formed a magnificent chorus that swelled in the heart. A companionable love underlined an immense oceanic passion that could barely be contained.
The floating island-fortress of Avalon,
"He returns." Pluto whispered unknowingly to the gathered Senshi.
Young Venus looked at Pluto quizzically. "Who is returning, Lady Pluto?"
Pluto looked up at the gathered soldiers, and smiled grimly. "A ghost." Her joy faded to a sense of urgency. "One that might remain a ghost for true. Come, Saturn, a life hangs in the balance!"
The Imperial Palace,
The pounding of distressed boots echoed up and down the pristine corridors of the Moon Palace. Servants melted into the shadows in order to avoid being trampled by the anxious, war-weary group. Isis shadowed the floating block of ice that she had encased the young mercenary in, pushing men and women out of her path as she made her way to the throne room. I can't lose you yet, you mule headed fool. I've only just found you!
The long black shaft that pierced his side yet remained, surrounded by a swirl of frozen blood. Her visor carefully monitored his life signs, telling her to hurry. Small clots of nobility blocked one corridor, gawking at the young Senshi of Mercury and her four battle-weary escorts. Fresh blood still stained their faces and coursed from minor wounds all along their bodies.
The young peacocks and hens created a human wall of inquisitiveness that impeded the troupe's progress. "Get the hell out of my way, you vultures!" Mercury screamed at them, her eyes flaring with a blue light that dropped the hall's temperature thirty degrees instantly.
The young nobles knew when retreat was considered the better part of valor, and dealing with a bloody, bruised Senshi, albeit a young one, was not something that anyone looked forward to.
"There was no need...." One of the soldiers started to say. His once long white mane had been chopped haphazardly to become a bloody, matted gray mess. He looked old and tired, with a wicked cut running down the length of his shivering right arm.
"Shut up, Artemis." Isis' breath came out in a puffed cloud, and her tone seemed to make the room's temperature drop even more.
The other men knew their places and continued to usher their fallen comrade to the presence of their queen, as they had been commanded. Isis refused to remove her eyes from the handsome man's face in the icy coffin at her side.
The queen's personal suite,
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, HE'S BACK?!" Serenity couldn't believe her ears.
Luna cringed against the Queen's onslaught, and quickly tried to explain the situation. "He was wounded in a border skirmish...." Luna winced even as the words escaped her lips. That was the last thing that you tell a mother about her estranged son.
Serenity's eyes grew heavy with concern, a concern that pushed her from her chambers at break-neck speed, with her skirts hiked high around her knees.
Serenity's Throne Room,
Pluto waited patiently. Time was a stream that carried the universe in its currents. There was no use worrying about when events would happen. She knew that they just would.
Two doors on opposite ends of the vast room seemed to blow open simultaneously. From one end marched a grim procession, while from the other came a worried mother that should have known better.
Guards rushed to impede young Mercury, but the icy way their breath froze before their faces warned them off. Or it may have actually been the sharp, cold stare that she pinned each man with that halted their advance. They opened the doors and let her pass unhindered into the presence of Queen Serenity and her champions. They had learned their lesson well under the tutelage of Chancellor Luna. They still followed the entourage into the Throne Room, just in case.
As the Junior Senshi of Ice stormed into the hall, Pluto raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in young Mercury. Where a bookish, reserved girl had left the Shining Court, a focused, commanding young woman returned. She closed her eyes and looked into the score of possible futures. It was as her future self had hinted, but she still had to play her part. The future was a fickle thing at best and had to be handled carefully.
"Have a care, Majesty," Her rich voice called out the warning to the running queen, causing her to slow her pace. Anyone stupid enough to ignore Sailor Pluto was doomed to folly. "You stand at a crossroads. Tread carefully."
Serenity looked at Pluto with an expectant glare, waiting for more information that she knew wouldn't come. But there was always hope for a first time. The Senshi of Time simply stared back with cool indifference. Serenity shook her head, and resigned herself to a sight that she knew was going to tear her apart. A peace seemed to settle over her as she assumed the mantle of ruler again.
"Young Mercury…." Her voice rang clearly throughout the Hall, betraying more than a little worry. Sometimes she really hated the acoustics in this place. "You have returned to us early, and bearing the mark of war upon you." The soldiers immediately bent their knees to their queen.
She took in each soldier critically, gaging their wounds and their faces, committing all to memory before returning her gaze to the young woman. At the sight of Artemis, her eyes widened a bit, but not as much as Luna's did when recognition finally set in. He had matured, it seemed. War tended to do that to a person.
Isis didn't respond right away, engrossed in the readout on her visor. His pulse was dropping more! She frantically began dissolving the ice, hoping to warm his body and get aid for his wound.
"Young Mercury?" Serenity had to remain calm, but the haunted look on the girl's face was rending her apart inside. When she still received no response, she turned her attention to Elder Mercury. The woman nodded and took over control of the situation.
"ISIS!" she called out in her sternest voice. It was a tactic that she hadn't had to use since the girl was five, but it was the only thing that she knew would get through to her. True to form, young Mercury jumped and turned to her mother quickly.
"The queen has spoken to you, Senshi! What do you have to report?"
Isis grew wide-eyed and curtsied before her liege.
"Softly, Hathomet. There is no need to scold your daughter so," the queen said, drawing near the melting block of ice. "It is clear that there is a life hanging in the balance."
The young Senshi of Mercury could hold the tears back no longer and crumbled beneath the stress of her first real conflict, and the harsh reality that she might lose her first true love.
"Majesty, please! Is there nothing that you can do to save him?" she pleaded.
Serenity needed no more permission to act. She motioned to Elder Mars to remove the remaining ice from around the young man and moved out of the way so that Saturn could work as well. It was difficult to remove herself from her son's side, but appearances needed to be maintained.
She drew Isis to her, wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulder as she escorted her away from the crowd.
"Tell me what happened," she said softly. "Why was a diplomatic embassy attacked? Were they bandits, or something more?"
Isis looked into her queen's angelic face, anger and hatred welling from deep within her. The change in moods took Serenity aback. Isis was the gentlest soul that she knew, next to her own daughter. To merit this level of emotion, the news would be grim indeed.
"Lemuria has advanced on Khartur, your majesty, and the holy city has fallen to Onyx." Serenity's eyes narrowed to tiny slits as well at the news. "We walked into a trap."
Artemis made himself known then, by angrily breaking the shaft that had moments before been imbedded in the young man's side. The act drew everyone's attention to the Mau, and from him to the now alert young man sitting and staring about the room. A mop of dark hair topped his roguishly handsome features.
So much like his father, Queen Serenity thought bleakly. She wanted nothing more than to cradle the young man in her arms, but couldn't justify the risk.
He looked around him at the surroundings, and smirked. "So, pop," he said flippantly. "Did we win?"
Luna growled at the broken speech patterns. She had spent twelve years teaching him how to speak properly, and in just under three Artemis had destroyed all that she had done. "Artemis...." she hissed dangerously.
Artemis looked up at Luna and shrugged. Aramas turned his gaze from his foster father at the sound of Luna's voice. The boy's eyes lit up in recognition and he was about to speak again, when Artemis took the opportunity to sucker punch the young warrior in the back of his head, knocking him out cold.
There was a collective gasp throughout the room from those that knew who the Mau had just hit. Eyes slowly found a very calm Serenity clutching her dress until her knuckles had turned white, while trying to reign in her temper. She knew that he was right in doing so. Luna's wasn't the only wagging tongue that threatened to break. She was on the verge of giving the boy away herself in spite of knowing that there were still spies among her court and her guard. And the moment Onyx found out about Aramas still being alive, chaos would erupt among the Twelve Kingdoms, all because of who the boy was.
The Mau looked up at everyone with a puzzled look on his face, but directed his comments to Luna. "What? He needs to rest, doesn't he?"
No one in the History of the Silver Millennium had ever witnessed Queen Serenity face-fault before. For Artemis, it had to be one of the funniest things he had ever seen. That was, until he found his way into a dungeon cell for the night. He was let out in time to see his foster son inducted into the Crescent Guard, even as he himself was given his renewed commission as an advisor to Serenity's throne.
The reactions of the nation were wide and varied. Some, like the exuberant tabloid reporter Hamiachi Suzuja, were joyous at finally being vindicated that the Urban Myth of the Sailor Senshi had been proven at last. Others, such as the JSDF and other government agencies were concerned about the announcement that the green-haired woman with the staff had made. The news media was quick to seek out the local authorities on the Senshi — i.e. Senshi-Otaku — in order to get as much information as possible. Facts weren't necessarily a high priority at this point, and as such one could imagine the sheer volume of strange stories that were circulating.
However, none of the reactions could have matched those that arose from the various parents of the Inner Senshi. Those poor souls had witnessed the scandalous transformations of their daughters on national television and had no idea how to cope with the reality of their baby girls being vigilante superheroines.
Like the esteemed Yuriko Mizuno, Minako Aino's father was incensed that his "little princess" was in fact Sailor Venus, the so-called "Senshi of Love". He had watched all of two minutes of a rather slanderous report about why Venus was known as the Senshi of Love (nudge-nudge, wink-wink, you-know-what-I-mean), before calling his lawyer. After getting off the phone with the respectable Mr. Aino, said lawyer danced a jig at the number of lawsuits his firm was going to be heading on behalf of Sailor Venus. And if they played their cards right, perhaps they could convince the other Senshi that the firm was best suited to represent all of their needs.
On the other hand, Minako's mother was sitting on the opposite side of the fence of her husband. She, having always been a fan of Sailor V since their days in London, thought the whole idea of her baby girl fighting for truth, justice, and the right to dress in those adorable little skirts was simply keen! While her husband was talking to the family lawyer and grumbling about perverts looking up his daughter's skirt, Minako's mother was on her cellular bragging to all her friends.
In the Tsukino home, things were proceeding much as they were in the Aino home, the main difference being that Usagi's mother, Ikuko, was not bragging to her friends that her daughter was the infamous Sailor Moon. What little pride that was able to filter through all the shock and awe of her Usagi-chan being the "Empress of the Moon" was simply overwhelmed by the sudden realization that there was a reason why her baby girl was doing so poorly at school. Pieces fell into place while her husband, Kenji, paced back and forth yelling into the phone about getting a restraining order against that stalking pedophile that had dogged his daughter for years.
It all made so much sense. She had been worried about her daughter's excessive fatigue, but after finally seeing the reason behind that fatigue, Ikuko wanted to be sick. How many times had her child faced death and danger? How many times had her little girl been forced to make adult decisions, when she should have been worrying about an upcoming English test? Ikuko's eyes drifted to Shingo, measuring and weighing him as if she was seeing her baby boy for the first time.
Shingo, for his part, looked up from the television and stared at his mother strangely. "What?"
"Are you a superhero too?" Ikuko asked in a whisper.
Ikuko sighed in relief and went to get an aspirin. Shingo just crossed his arms and pouted. At least there was some sanity left to the world. She returned to the living room and settled into a chair in front of the television. Shingo's eyes lit up as he watched his sister floating in the skies over the Tokyo Tower.
"Can I be a superhero too?"
"NO!" both parents screamed.
"Awww, come on! Usagi gets to be one! Why can't I be one too?"
Ikuko and Kenji ignored the question in favor of returning their attention to their various tasks — Kenji to seeing about protecting what was left of his daughter's chastity and reputation, and Ikuko to coming to terms that her daughter is now a myth made fact. Shingo returned to pouting.
"I bet I could be a better superhero that meatball head. I mean, if she can do it, how hard can it be?" He snorted and grabbed a cookie from the plate on the coffee table. "And you can bet that I wouldn't flash my boobs at everyone whenever I transformed, either!"
"SHINGO!" The young man cringed.
"What?! It's true!" Shingo protested. "It's gross that all my friends had to see my sister naked! I'm never going to live it down!"
As similar and different as things were between the two homes, one thing was certain. Life for Minako and Usagi had just become a whole lot more complicated. When the men in black suits arrived at the Aino and Tsukino doors, the level of complexity multiplied a hundredfold.
Upon receiving the bills for damages incurred during the Senshi battles, both fathers responded predictably.
The National Diet of Japan,
The Prime Minister just happened to be at the Diet on this day of days, thus when the call came down that there was an emergency meeting of the Powers That Be, he was in a position to attend without any trouble. When the Emperor joined the conference via video satellite uplink from his hotel in Europe… Well, it was apparent that the crap had hit the fan and everyone in positions of power were taking the situation seriously. As well they should.
Not too many governments would have reacted kindly to the idea of a foreign government declaring itself on national soil. No one really had any idea who this "Neo-Serenity" person was, nor did they recognize this "Aramas" character either. Resources were put into play immediately after the announcement of the emergency meeting, and by the time the politicians had gotten past all the traditional posturing, a great deal of information had been dredged up by the National Public Safety Commission and the National Police Agency. Soon after the arrival of the information, faces were put together with names and a brief outline of the major players' lives were laid out for those in attendance.
The Emperor and Prime Minister were astounded at the sheer volume of documentation on the Sailor Senshi, but were downright aghast at the file concerning one "Ranma Saotome". When certain facts and details had come to light concerning Genma Saotome's actions towards his son, the Emperor himself put forth a motion to declare Ranma a national treasure under the obvious umbrella of martial arts, and suggested that the young man be removed from the Saotome registry in order to ensure his protection from child abuse and exploitation. The NPA named Genma Public Enemy Number One, on the spot, and with the aid of the Ministry of Justice, a warrant for his arrest was broadcast to every neighborhood precinct and law enforcement agency in the country.
The M.E.S.S.C (Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture) seconded the Emperor's motion and suggested that the boy's genealogy be done post-haste. If they could somehow connect Ranma to the throne in some significant way, then it would be easy to spin this whole "Emperor of the Earth" thing off as a symbolic cultural declaration. The whole "Son of Atlantis" thing was, for obvious reasons, left untouched and forgotten.
The Tsukino girl was a bit trickier to deal with. The M.E.S.S.C. couldn't really find a reason to name her a national treasure. She was cute, but her grades sucked and she didn't really practice any traditional hobbies to push the motion forward. They included her on the family history search, but in the event that she didn't turn up on the radar, so-to-speak, the Emperor suggested that she be named Ranma's official fiancée in order to discount the "Empress of the Moon" statement.
The rest of the Senshi were easily embraced and, in the cases of Ami Mizuno, Michiru Kaiou, and Rei Hino, their names were also put forth to the M.E.S.S.C. for consideration as national treasures as well. Happily, the Hino girl had ties to the government in the form of her father, which would make things a bit easier when tying the Senshi to the coattails of the Defense Agency. Minako Aino, Makoto Kino, Hotaru Tomoe, and Haruka Tenou were largely ignored by the M.E.S.S.C. for much the same reasons as the Tsukino girl. Although both the Tenou and Aino girls were talented athletes and earmarked for positions on the Olympic volleyball and track teams, should the girls become resistant to the idea of being associated with the government of Japan.
The only Senshi that did not have a dossier was this Sailor Pluto, who had been the one to instigate this whole political mess in the first place. Commentary from both the N.P.A. and the N.P.S.C. made it very clear that no one had ever been able to get any information on the woman. Period. This, of course, worried the various ministers and annoyed the Defense Agency no end. A heated argument erupted between the Defense Agency, the National Public Safety Commission, and the National Police Agency over sloppy work standards and incompetence. The argument escalated to blows between the N.P.S.C. and the Defense representatives, at which the meeting was summarily recessed until tempers could cool.
When the meeting resumed, a number of statements were drafted and sent out to the UN and other allied government agencies concerning the "official" position of the Japanese government concerning the "Tower Incident". It was being investigated and the findings would be presented to the world at large at the earliest possible convenience. The various news agencies would receive a different draft of the statement, wherein a local media giant would be commended for their creativity and fined a small fee for hosting a promotional event without the proper permits. Even so, the "War of the Worlds" spin was weak when one considers the amount of witnesses to the event, but at the moment it was all the bigwigs could come up with on such short notice. It was obvious from the primary reactions of many world governments (damn you CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News!) that the movie angle wasn't going to hold water for too long — especially if the Senshi and the Saotome boy couldn't be controlled. Soon many of those world governments would begin looking at Japan's foreign policy a bit more critically. After all, King of the Earth and Empress of the Moon are some hefty ambitions, even if it is just a movie plot.
Steps were being taken to get as much leverage on these very special children as they could, but even so, there were no guarantees. According to the N.P.S.C., Saotome's mother and the parents of the Aino and Tsukino girls had already been picked up and escorted to the site of the "Event". If that couldn't "contain" the main players, then it was evident that more drastic steps would have to be taken. Emperor Akihito was appalled at the idea of violence against children, even despite everything that these so-called "children" had been able to do.
By the time evening began to fall over Tokyo, the Powers-That-Be lucked out. The Tsukino girl was indeed a distant cousin, seven times removed from the throne. That wasn't quite good enough for what they had planned, but it would work in the girl's favor at least. Akihito suggested that his eldest son, Naruhito, adopt the Saotome boy and name him his provincial heir. It was by far the highest honor ever given a civilian, but in light of the boy's actions at the Tower, there was little doubt that the public would get behind the idea fairly quickly. They could then arrange an omiai with the Tsukino girl and that would settle the whole issue of royal declarations rather nicely. Until the immediate problem of the Senshi could be resolved, the "youma" issue was tabled for further study and more discussion on another day. The meeting was adjourned and the weighty wheels of bureaucracy began turning.
Had they waited just a little while longer before releasing their statements to the press, they might have not looked quite so foolish. However, some of their plan was going to remain intact… at least for a while.
Serenity and Endymion blended their voices harmoniously. For each sound a star was born to light the darkness, and the strength of their love warmed all present.
The Imperial Palace,
Prince Endymion waited patiently beneath the Princess' balcony in the Clovellan Garden, named for a stalwart family that had died defending the queen when she was younger. Tall attedi hedges blocked the rest of the courtyard from prying eyes, and stardrops bloomed fragrantly throughout the small, well-tended garden.
The night air was cool against his face, but not unpleasantly so. He had wanted to do this for quite some time, but had never had the nerve. Had it not been for a reliable tip from Aramas, the Prince of Terra would never have known of the Princess' crush.
"Serenity!" he whispered nervously, as loudly as he dared without drawing the attention of the night watch. The balcony remained dark.
"Serenity!" He tried a little louder, with no more success than before. He thought for sure that she would have at least waited up for him. Particularly after the letter that Aramas had forced him to write, with the help of the Inner Senshi of course.
"She fell asleep twenty minutes ago."
Endymion started at the sound of Aramas' voice above him. The branch of the apple tree that supported the guardsman didn't seem big enough. Nevertheless, Aramas lounged on the limb as if it were a couch or a bed.
"Once her head hits the pillow, nothing short of Pluto's Dead Scream can wake her..." He smiled cattily, and continued. "...Unless you know the secret, of course."
Endymion knew that he was walking into some sort of mischief, but for the life of himself, couldn't stop the question from coming. "What secret?"
Aramas winked playfully, and then stood up casually. "Watch." He took a deep breath, and to Endymion's utter dismay yelled at the top of his lungs.
"APPLE TARTS! CHOCOLATE CREAM PASTRIES! RASPBERRY ICE! STRAWBERRY PIE! CHOCOLATE CHIP DIAMONDS!"
A contented moan sounded from the room above, as he paused for a breath.
He looked down into Endymion's frantic gaze, with a carefree glint in his eyes. The Prince of Earth cast his eyes about looking for the Night Watch, which any moment would storm the garden and carry them away. Aramas snorted dryly before yelling again.
"SERENITY! YOU'RE LATE!"
There was a screech, and then a cry, followed by a loud "thump!" from up above. A few very choice, very colorful epitaphs drifted down to Endymion's ears, letting him know that this was not the first time that Aramas had woken the Princess in the middle of the night.
A deftly thrown shoe arced out the window with incredible accuracy, to topple Serenity's impish guard. One would think that after almost two years of service, the two would develop some sort of friendly… or at least cordial relationship. But the heat in Serenity's eyes at that moment was evidence enough for anyone to see that she loathed her bodyguard.
"ARAMAS! You cow-kissing sonofa—" Serenity's voice trailed off as she saw Endymion standing beneath the balcony.
The two stared at each other for a long time, neither moving nor saying a word. It was even hard to breathe, for fear of breaking the magic of the moment. Aramas slipped away silently, far enough to give the two a semblance of privacy, but close enough to protect his charge if the need arose.
Nabiki had never in her life seen her elder sister in a rage. A temper tantrum? Yes. Angry? Sure. But to see Kasumi's temper boiling mad? It was an experience that Nabiki hoped to never, ever see again. Nothing had been broken, but the threat was there. Nothing had been thrown, but with the way the air was supercharged with emotion, nothing had to be. It was a relief to Nabiki and the other guests that the Tendo matriarch insisted they go and avenge Ranma's death. Had they waited just a bit longer, they would have seen that Ranma was anything but deceased, but who in their right mind would want to risk staying in a house with a really, really angry Kasumi?
To be sure, Nabiki was considering going back and weathering her sister's anger, if for no other reason than to escape the cold accusation directed her way by Yoshitsune. Handsome or not, good kisser or not, the man was really starting to get on her already worn nerves. After the first five minutes of their run, Nabiki stopped them and lit into Yoshitsune, explaining in very small but clear sentences that until she saw a body, Ranma Saotome was alive.
Yoshitsune looked ready to defend himself, but rather than acknowledging him at all, Nabiki chose to start running again. The Kenku saw their Huntress returned to them in that moment, and gladly followed her, leaving a bewildered Yoshitsune to catch up. Nabiki ignored everything in favor of focusing on the task at hand. She had too much planning to do if they were going to fight. She was tired of being affected by events; it was time to start taking control of things again.
The main problem she faced at the moment was that her memory was still Swiss cheese. It was a pretty big obstacle to overcome, which only made her feel more uncomfortable. This, of course, made her even more irritable and shortened the fuse on her temper greatly. She knew she had come into contact with these "Rakshasa" before, but beyond a general sense of foreboding, she had no hard knowledge to make use of. She wanted to ask one of the others for more information, but one look at Yoshitsune changed her mind. The idiot was certain to explode if she so much as opened her mouth. Rather than chance the inevitable delay that such a full-scale eruption would no doubt cause, she decided to run. Once she was on-site, she would make her assessments and proceed from there.
So the group ran on in silence, focusing their energies on moving in and out of shadows, dancing over thin power lines, and hitching a ride or two on a train passing their way. Nabiki finally understood the appeal in being able to run the rooftops. There was a sense of freedom to it that one didn't get by walking the sidewalks with everyone else. It was a shift in perspective that brought the world to life. It didn't make her better than everyone else to look down on them from above. It just made her different — different in a good way.
They had almost made it to Azabu-Juuban, in record time too, when the Advent occurred. They heard Pluto's voice ringing clearly through the air, announcing the heirs apparent, and Nabiki faltered slightly on hearing the names. Upon learning that Ranma was alive, she shot a smug, if not completely contemptuous, look Yoshi-kun's way. She could feel the irritation and agitation roll off him in waves at being proved wrong… again. She threw him a mental raspberry, earning herself a dark glare for her troubles. The group started their run again, and after only a few steps they were driven to their knees as the Earth itself paid homage to its new king, and through him, the new Queen of the Moon.
Nabiki had never felt anything quite like it in her life. She had always felt small next to Ranma. It was one of the reasons she used him as a moneymaker when he'd first arrived. It was like tempting fate. Here was this guy that could have crushed her at any moment he wanted, and yet he didn't. She insisted on pushing the bounds of his patience, not to see if she could get away with it, but rather to validate her own existence. She was only alive when she was courting the danger of crossing the line. Like any high-stakes game, it was always a gamble.
It wasn't until Akane had died that Nabiki had finally come to see the stakes for what they truly were. She saw the man behind the boy's eyes. No, that wasn't true. She saw the individual human being, where she had only seen a challenge before. Even then, she had always felt humbled by Ranma Saotome. For all his deep wounds, he never gave up. For all the betrayal he experienced, he never stopped seeing the best in people. He was something more than she could ever hope to be, and that was when she truly had fallen in love with the fool. That love was too small for him, though. She could see it then, and in light of what she was experiencing now that truth was hammered home all over again with interest.
When the power subsided, and the group was able to move again, they continued to make their way to the Tokyo Tower with all due haste. By the time they arrived, Nabiki was beside herself.
::Leave it to Ranma to draw a crowd.:: The thought drew more than a few chuckles from the Kenku, but Yoshitsune's glare only intensified.
::Why must you mock him so?:: the human warrior challenged.
Something deep in Nabiki's soul wanted to seize the fool by the neck and toss him over the side of the building for contesting her authority. She was the Huntress, and thus the leader of Mother's children. The more rational side of her was more than a little taken aback by the sentiments. Still, there was a balance to be had in the chaos of her conflicting emotions. After all, Nabiki refused to back down from a challenge anymore than Ranma did. She smiled that infuriating "I-know-something-you-don't-know" smile and simply moved forward. Why bother acknowledging the question of her authority, when her silence established her inherent superiority?
Yoshitsune fumed and tried his best to ignore Nabiki. She was particularly happy to note that he failed miserably.
As Nabiki surveyed the crowd, she noticed a number of JSDF or SWAT personnel poking around the remains of the Rakshasa's impact crater. The demon was little more than a puddle of acidic black poo by now, but that didn't mean it was harmless.
::Suzume, Tsuru, and Hato-chan. Get those idiots away from the demon-goo and make sure it's dead. The last thing we need is for it to some how regenerate itself or something.:: Nabiki wasn't even a hundred percent sure that the monster could do that, but the members of her team nodded their head at her telepathic command and then shot off to follow through.
They did their work quickly and efficiently, empathically calming the high-strung, gun-toting men from afar before splitting up. Suzume and Hato-chan jammed the news cameras, and when that was finished, Tsuru set about obliterating what was left of the Rakshasa. Once they were well out of sight, Hato-chan released the magic interfering with the cameras and settled herself beside Nabiki with a satisfied smirk on her face.
The Huntress smiled at her new friend and then looked up at the magical event playing out over her head. She tried to pick Ranma out of the blinding cloud of radiance, with no luck. It was like looking at the sun, only not quite so bright. She looked away and tried to think about what her next move would be. She couldn't fly… yet, at least. That essentially meant that she would have to hold onto Ranma's package from Mother until he decided to come down.
::Great.:: she growled. ::Taka. Tsubame-chan. See if you can round us up some eats. This may take awhile.::
After handing Tsubame some cash, Nabiki settled down on the edge of the roof they were on to wait. She closed her eyes and let her senses drift. Everything became heightened. She could hear the conversation of a few office ladies in the room beneath her feet, chatting away about the spectacle happening just outside their window. One was of the mind that it was a publicity stunt, while the other felt it was another terrorist attack. Nabiki shook her head and let herself fall farther into her reverie.
She could taste the bitter tang of the polluted air, and it made her sick. She could feel the minute curvature of the patterning dancing its way across the surface of the marble brick she was seated on. She could even feel the pulsing of the Earth's heart here, and instinctively knew that this was a planetary artery, or at the very least a hub for all that energy that gave the world life.
She followed the lines, tracing their power in and around the area, wondering at their complexity and their depth. It was while following this line that she felt… something else. It was powerful, yes, but it didn't feel like it belonged here. It was something of a sense of déjà vu, wherein she'd felt the power signature before, but now couldn't recognize it for what it was. Rather than waste her time trying to force the memories to come, Nabiki focused the rest of her attention on the smells of ramen and other snacks drawing near.
::You wouldn't believe it, Huntress!:: Tsubame-chan gushed. ::There's this woman down there yelling up at the Senshi! She claims to be one of their mothers, and has made it clear that whichever one her daughter is, will be grounded for life!::
Nabiki giggled as she grabbed a bag of Pocky. Washi snorted and shook his head as he scooped up a cup of ramen.
::Humans are so weird!::
::HEY!:: Yoshitsune was less than pleased with the statement.
::I rest my case.:: The chubby little Kenku grinned impishly at the human warrior as he slurped his ramen. Nabiki couldn't exactly keep herself from feeling some indignation at the comment, but kept her opinions to herself. After all, Washi was right. Humans were weird.
As the bickering increased, Nabiki did her best to tune them all out by focusing her attention on the weird foreign energy she felt nearby. She hated mysteries, and this sensation was starting to really annoy her.
::Split up. I feel something weird out there, and I want to know what it is before it jumps out and bites us. Report back to me as soon as you have something.::
The Kenku nodded and vanished, leaving Yoshitsune alone with her. She could feel the weight of his eyes on her and it only made her more frustrated. She spun on him angrily. ::What are you looking at?::
The handsome man stared at her appraisingly, as if seeing her for the first time. Nabiki felt a growl building in her throat.
::I'm sorry for questioning your judgment and authority, Huntress.:: He bowed low to her. ::It won't happen again.::
The statement shook her for an instant, before she spun away to scan the area below the Tower. Something was there, but due to all the bodies in her way, she couldn't see it. She felt Yoshitsune walking away, and a sense of panic gripped her heart. She didn't want to be alone… not with everything spiraling out of control as it was.
::Stay.:: He paused, looking at her from over his shoulder. ::Please stay.::
The man nodded and sat down, propping his back against the small ledge surrounding the building's roof. An uncomfortable silence settled between the pair, but neither seemed capable of breaking the impasse.
::It's too much, isn't it?:: A feeling of comfort washed over Nabiki at Yoshitsune's words.
Before Akane's death, she would never have admitted to having such a weakness. She would have plowed through with cold calculating efficiency until she got a handle on things. But now, with everything coming apart at the seams… what was the use in hiding from the truth?
::I can't say that I understand what you're going through completely, but I can appreciate the struggle to avoid being drowned by it all.::
::How so?:: Nabiki couldn't keep the curiosity at bay as she settled herself next to the man.
::I was born into Minamoto clan in the year 1159 of the current calendar.::
::Whoa! You're telling me that you are Yoshitsune Minamoto? The Yoshitsune Minamoto?::
::Yes. Now please do not interrupt.::
The man sighed and scratched his head, as if trying to remember what he had been saying.
::I grew up during a time of constant struggle, fighting to protect my people from those that would destroy them, and avenge myself against the Taira clan for the murder of my father. I had scarcely escaped my imprisonment when I chanced upon a mountain road. I traveled for the better part of the day until I came up a crossroads where I met a chubby little monk. I sat with him for a long while, and in order to pass the time together, I took to practicing my art. He saw that I was seeking to perfect my skills and myself and, upon learning the reason behind my tireless work, he invited me to follow him.::
Yoshitsune's eyes took on a faraway look as he stepped back into the past.
::I was led to the Kenku, an offshoot of the Tengu tribes, who found me worthy to train under them. They gave me the skills I needed to protect my people, and in turn I passed those skills on to others. Once I was certain that those I cared for would not fall to the warlords of the day, I returned to the Kenku for further training.::
::But I thought you committed suicide when your allies betrayed you.:: Nabiki said.
::History is a fickle thing, Tendo-san. Yes, I was defeated. Yes, I was betrayed, and yes, my family died. But after my 'death', I woke in a familiar grove on the slopes of Mount Kurama. The Kenku saved me and convinced me that there were greater battles to fight. So, I consented to stay among them and continued to learn their arts. At first I thirsted for vengeance against those that had wronged me, but soon I was too caught up in the wonders they were teaching me to bother with my enemies. Five hundred years passed in the blink of an eye, and by the time I realized it, the world and people I had known were gone. I wandered the world for a long time after that, and eventually stumbled upon Mother's Grove.:: He snorted and shook his head.
::I don't think that "stumbled" is the correct word. It's probably better to say that I was led to Mother's Grove.::
Yoshitsune shrugged. ::At the time, I couldn't tell you. It might sound boastful, but looking back on things now, I would have to say that I had a part to play in the events that shaped this world. Mother showed me the past and told me of the future. From that day forward I pledged myself to Aramas Drumheller, and have been waiting for his return.::
::So, he's like… What? Your Shogun?::
::You could say that.:: He smiled.
::So why follow me, then? Why bow to my authority?::
::Because you are the Huntress, the Champion of the Earth, avatar of the Fey.:: When Nabiki cocked her head in confusion, he sighed. ::You are tied to Aramas, and therefore I am honor-bound to serve you.::
::How am I tied to Ranma? Are you talking about that stupid engagement?::
Yoshitsune bowed his head, and before he could close himself off completely Nabiki felt a sense of sadness and longing flash through his thoughts.
::No. Although that pact is indeed a worthy reason.:: He looked at her seriously for a moment before continuing. ::I expected your memories to fill in these gaps.::
::Sorry, but right now you could probably drive a train through some of the gaps in my head.::
The man's face was troubled for a moment before softening. ::In time I'm sure that everything will even itself out. Perhaps talking a bit more about your greater role and events of the past will help.:: He paused and tapped his chin. ::The Kenku told me of the Great Covenant, a pact between the Elder Races and the children of the Earth. You are a representative of that Covenant.::
Nabiki looked on with undisguised interest, unwilling to speak or interrupt.
::As it was told to me, the Elder Races grew tired of their lives. They had reached a plateau of sorts and could not progress any further as they were. There were no more wars to fight, no more secrets to uncover, and no more places to explore. They called upon the Dam Turiel, the First Ones, and asked them for aid. In response to that call, a race with limitless potential was created from the ashes of the Cosmos. The Dam Turiel named the new race "humanity" — which was their word for progress, or something closely related to the concept. Mother couldn't explain it to me any better than that.::
Nabiki nodded and urged him to continue.
::Some of the Elder Races locked away their memories, in favor of experiencing the world side by side with humanity. These were the Horus of Mercury, the Ley people of Venus, the Ul'Huld of Mars, and the Earth's children, the Fey.
::The rest of the Elder Races thought this decision foolish and simply decided to watch from afar. But the temptation to get involved in the affairs of men was too great, and soon the Elder Races were warring with each other for direct control over humanity. That was when the Dam Turiel laid down the Covenant. They came in with a vengeance, putting the Elder Races in their place. In the eons that followed, the Covenant was drafted and artifacts were set in place to keep the peace.::
::What did the Covenant say, exactly?:: Nabiki felt a twinge in her memory at the mention of the pledge, but nothing specific.
::Each of the Elder Races was permitted one champion, who would represent their interests among humanity. These people were called avatars, and were tasked to teach the children of man to harness their potential. These avatars would also espouse the tenants of the Elder Race they represented, and act as guardians of humanity against exploitation. In order to ensure that the balance of power was maintained, the Dam Turiel watched over the Covenant for a long time. It wasn't until the birth of the Gold Millennium that they felt their attention was needed elsewhere.::
::What happened after they left?:: Nabiki questioned.
::All was well for a long time, until the more chaotic of the Elder Races began abusing their power. Their avatars sought to subjugate humanity, and wars once again broke out among the Elder Races. It was during this time that the first of Queen Serenity's ancestors rose up and fought. She was the daughter of a Dam Turiel father and a human mother, and with the aid of her companions she sought out the Ginzuishou to become the avatar of the Dam Turiel. She brought peace to the Earth, and banished the darkest of the Elder Races from interacting with humanity with the aid of the other kingdoms. But for all the newly formed Council of Twelve Kingdoms had accomplished, she felt that it wouldn't last forever. She passed the Ginzuishou on to her eldest child at her death, a daughter she named Serenity, and charged her to be the new avatar of the Dam Turiel.
::Serenity lived for many years on the Earth, serving humanity in concert with the other avatars. But soon, the Earth grew too crowded to sustain life; and so Serenity and the other avatars led their followers to the stars to colonize their own worlds and live according to their own designs.::
::The Silver Millennium, right?:: Nabiki looked up at Ranma thoughtfully.
::The beginning of it, at least. In those days, everyone was very long-lived. Serenity herself was nearly five thousand years old when the Moon Kingdom fell.::
::So where do I fit in?:: Nabiki's long ears twitched nervously.
::Ahbrim Ur was the avatar of the Fey before you, and served well until the destruction of Atlantis. After his fall from favor, the Earth chose another.::
::But why can't I remember any of this? I mean, if I'm supposed to be this great avatar, then why is my memory feel like a fishnet?::
Yoshitsune just shrugged. ::Who knows? Perhaps the Fey don't want the Huntress to champion them. Perhaps they want Nabiki Tendo.::
Nabiki looked at him through narrowed eyes. ::That makes no sense! Why in the world would they want the Ice Queen of Furinkan?::
Yoshitsune grinned. ::Ask Mother the next time you visit. Maybe she can shed some light on that question for you.::
::I'll do that.:: Nabiki growled. She would have said more, but Hato-chan returned agitated and out of breath. They were on their feet in an instant.
::Trouble?:: Yoshitsune didn't bother looking at the young Kenku girl. His eyes were already scanning the rooftops.
Hato-chan nodded her head and brushed her hand against her beakish nose, trying to calm her breathing enough to speak. Luckily telepathy didn't require breathing to get the message across.
::One set of unknowns and one set of really big nasties.:: She pointed down into the crowd where Nabiki had felt the strange power, and then off to the north.
::Rakshasa?:: Yoshitsune loosened his sword and rolled his neck.
::Yes. A sizable group, but they seem content to just watch the show.::
::Where you seen?:: Nabiki felt the panic already settling into a nice ball in the pit of her stomach.
::No. But they could feel us. One ugly bugger was looking straight at Tsuru's position, but the leader wouldn't let him leave. He got pretty violent on the ugly one to make sure everyone stayed put.::
::And the other group?:: Nabiki looked down into the milling crowd anxiously.
::A small group of Horus, led by one of their royalty.:: Hato-chan looked skyward. ::Makes sense really, what with Mercury coming out of the woodwork and all. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other races didn't show up to say 'hi' to their Senshi before the day's done.::
::Who or what are the Horus?:: Nabiki asked evenly. She really hated not knowing things like this. ::Weren't they one of the Elder Races that decided to seal their memories away?::
::Yes.:: Yoshitsune said. ::There weren't very many of them, but since they were effectively immortal, their numbers didn't matter all that much. They inspired the myths of the Phoenix throughout Egypt and Asia.::
Nabiki spun on Yoshitsune, her eyes narrowed and a very, very cold rage building behind them. ::What did you say?::
::They inspired legends about the immortal Phoenix.:: The male warrior and his female companion took an involuntary step back as Nabiki's gaze hardened even more.
::What else do you know about them?::
::The majority of the race was lost long before the end of the Moon Kingdom, and no one really knows what happened to them.:: Hato-chan paused in her explanation long enough to look at Yoshitsune worriedly. ::Those few that survived established a colony here on Earth, in what have become Egypt and the Middle East. During the last war of the Silver Millennium, they were driven into hiding.::
::I thought you said they were immortal?::
::They are, but when they are killed, some have been known to revert to an infant state. The Rakshasa capitalized on this and took these weaker Horus and… changed them. Those that did not revert to infancy voluntarily destroyed themselves rather than be tortured by the Rakshasa the rest of their lives. They were the main reason the demons were defeated here on the Earth. It's also why you have so many major deserts like the Sahara and the Gobi.::
::So we have a number of Horus sitting in the crowd down there?:: Hato-chan nodded. ::Describe their leader for me. Does he have a name?::
::Saffron… I think. Washi would know. He had more contact with them than I did.::
As Hato-chan spoke, Nabiki felt the cold anger she had been feeling grow in leaps and bounds. Tears coursed down her cheeks at the thought of her sister's killer sitting just below her. The only thing keeping her in check was the knowledge that there were too many innocents between her and her target. If she acted now, in the heat of the moment, then people would die. She pounded her fist onto the hard granite of the building's ledge, crumbling a large section of it to powder.
::I will have this Saffron's head.:: Her mental voice was crisp and hard like ice.
Yoshitsune placed his hand on her shoulder. ::Nabiki?::
She shrugged out of his grasp and whirled on him, baring her teeth in a feral display of barely contained fury. ::He killed my baby sister! He stole her life, and put Ranma through a living hell!::
She spun away again, focusing her full attention on the crowd where she felt the Horus' power coming from. The animalistic growl she'd been keeping in check, finally found voice. ::That monster and all who follow him are my enemies. The rest of you can do as you will, but me… I plan on seeing how long the bastard can live without his head!::
Beneath Nabiki's perch, Soun and Genma skirted the crowd looking for a way past the many barricades and security checkpoints. They didn't notice or care about the bright star of magic floating above their heads, or the announcement about some silly foreign rulers. Their attention was highly focused on one thing and one thing only: get in, get Ranma, and get out.
They tried to ignore the cold shivers they got whenever they made eye contact with the men in black suits and sunglasses. Genma had suggested that they do their best to avoid those men altogether, but it seemed that wherever the skulking pair went, they frequently ran across the imposing men. It was unnerving to say the least, which made their progress slow and tedious.
By the time they made it past all of the checkpoints, both men were sweating bullets. This was by far the most difficult raid they had ever been on, and had the dreaded master been watching, he might have actually complimented them on their stunning performance. Thankfully Happosai was no where to be found, although the little old perv might have been an ideal if unwelcome distraction right at that moment.
Soun and Genma slapped each other for even thinking something so perverse. From then on out, they kept looking over their shoulders, half expecting the bastard to appear out of thin air. If Genma had been paying more attention, he might have avoided an equally painful fate. Sadly, he bumped into some crazy woman shouting into a megaphone. When he looked up to murmur his apology, all he saw were a pair of very scary eyes staring back at him.
He tried to escape, but in his haste he tripped over Soun. Both scrambled for cover on hands and knees, but found their way blocked at every point by the forbidding men in black suits. When had they been surrounded? The disciples of Happosai hugged each other and screamed — a reaction that only intensified when the crazy woman with the megaphone caught up to him.
"GENMA SAOTOME! PREPARE TO DIE!"
The brutal beating lasted a very long time, and outclassed anything the men had ever received under the torturous reign of the master. Soun was driven into the sweet embrace of unconsciousness early on, leaving Genma to withstand the full brunt of the woman's wrath. The Saotome patriarch cursed his manly stamina and endurance up until and after the point he heard the woman scream "VOLCANO KICK!"
He took the kick between the goal posts, which made his eyes cross and water. He looked up at the impassive forms of the black-suited men, and wondered why they were allowing this unjust beating to occur. He couldn't make out more than a few of the woman's inarticulate ranting — something about cats, a girl, his son, and Nodoka. All in all, this entire affair reminded him of his childhood and growing up under the tender mercies of his beloved (shiver) sisters. Genma shied away from those memories, preferring the agony he was currently experiencing to the agonies of the past. Oh, yes. He would avoid the past at all costs.
The unbearable pain continued up until the woman cried out in a final bout of rage, executing the worst attack yet. He had no idea what the "Mizuno Stomp" was, or what part of his body it hit, but the pain it caused sent him spiraling into the wonderful darkness of oblivion. Beyond that, Genma felt nothing and was thankful for it.
Ranma floated in the sweet stillness of a black void. Literally thousands of images surged through his confused mind. Visions of a life long past, and the fresher scars of nightmares from this life that had yet to fade. But above all, one moment of pain stood out above all the rest.
The Plain of Del Aran,
A violent wind howled with the force of a hurricane, threatening to flay the skin from his bones. The smell of smoke assaulted his nose, searing his lungs.
The Plain of Del Aran was laden with the bodies of the dead. The Sea of Clouds was an angry crimson for as far as the eye could see, from the amount of blood that was leaking into its once clear waters.
Beryl had surprised them.
No. That wasn't true. She had caught them with their pants down around their ankles. The attack was executed flawlessly as Endymion's traitorous bastards struck hard and fast, all but killing the royal family in the initial assault.
The Crescent Guard pushed the enemy back, keeping them at bay until the Senshi could teleport back to the palace, but all pretense of returning home died for the Guard when the fourth and fifth waves of troops had landed on the beach. A part of Aramas hoped that Isis had taken him seriously when he told her to kill Endymion the first chance she got. If his men were compromised, then chances were that he had been too. Another part of Princess Serenity's Guardsman prayed that his lover hadn't listened, so that Aramas could tear the Earth Prince to shreds.
Aramas needed to somehow survive this nightmare, just so he could see the look on Endymion's bloody face when the coward received his dues. This, of course, was easier said than done, even for someone of Aramas' caliber.
Three days of tireless battle had nearly depleted his reserves, and yet as the enemy pushed the survivors within sight of the capital, a bloodlust had settled over him. The ferocity of his attacks rallied his comrades, and put the fear of God into the feeble hearts of Beryl's troops. The rout lasted for all of an hour, but it was more than enough time for some of the Senshi to return to the field and bolster the defender's flagging ranks and morale.
Ilsbeth and Tethys unleashed the fury of Uranus and Neptune, and Shemue brought a small host of dragons to bear. The Sons and Daughters of Jupiter called down a storm of fire and magic that rent the Dark Host viciously; chief among them was Shevat of the Nine Seas, Avatar of the Dreaming Lands, riding out of the shadow of Terra on the back of her lover, Ximadnea, laying waste to an entire legion of Rakshasa as she passed.
But it was not enough. Anyone could see that plainly. For every enemy to fall, three more took its place. Yet he still fought on. He felt someone familiar guarding his back as wave after wave of dark shadows assaulted him from the front. Each assailant fell by the wayside, generating a mountain of bodies to either side of him.
He had been fighting for days now, she for only hours. He had no idea how he continued to lift his arms, let alone bring a killing blow to bear. All that he knew was that the palace was behind him, and that they were progressing unerringly inward, toward the woman that he had sworn blood oath to protect.
Someone else would have to be her shield now. Narya, probably. A tired smirk grew on his lips at the thought of the Princess of Mars. If anyone would see that Endymion was dealt with, it was the fiery-tempered Narya. She had always been there for Serenity when Aramas could not be. Another wave rose up against him, and another wave was destroyed before they could close on him. In spite of that, he could still feel his death approaching.
Fatigue weighed too heavily on all the defenders, and he knew that they couldn't keep the battle going indefinitely. His partner was already beginning to slow in her attacks; he could hear her grunt every time one of her enemies landed a glancing blow.
Their foes seemed endless. He had lost count after his one-thousandth opponent fell, two days ago. His beloved had killed as many, if not more, in the short time she had been fighting with him. And yet they still came. He stopped thinking as a hideous tentacled monster bombarded his defenses from every possible angle. Two blinding thrusts with his blade dispatched the monster, and he quickly looked for the next opponent.
The enemy simply stood its ground, encircling the pair of defenders. Blast! When had they cut them off from the rest of the retreating forces? This was bad. The demonic, grinning maws mocked what little hope left in his heart, and had he been another man, Aramas would have simply laid down and died there. At the very least he would have been at peace.
His eyes burned for the need to sleep, and the temptation to give up was there. Aramas squared his shoulders and shook off the exhaustion. He had Isis to worry about, and wasn't about to let her come to harm. They would have to cut a path through to the palace if they wanted to get out of this alive. He had to get her out of this. She had to live.
He turned to his lover, to apprise her of their plight and his plan. The sight that greeted him would haunt him to his grave, a grave that was fast approaching, it seemed.
She stood with her back to him. Four gargantuan black arrows protruded from her legs and upper arms. Blood flowed freely from the wounds, and her head carried a nasty purple bruise above the right temple. Gods of Heaven and Earth! How was she still standing? He had never heard her cry out once.
He wanted to cry out as she broke off the shaft of each arrow. There were similar wounds in other places, and he was aghast at how many times she'd been hit while protecting his back. The look in her eyes made his heart swell with pride. She would sell her life dearly for her love, the man that she had desperately wanted to be her husband.
::I should have married her.:: The thought floated across his consciousness like a ghost, filling his heart with guilt. He had loved her more passionately than he had ever loved anyone before, and in this one little declaration he had failed her. They were supposed to have more time, damn it all! He needed more time!
She spared him a smile. It was to be her last gift to him.
The enemy took the opening, firing a volley of arrows at them. Ranma screamed his warning and flung himself toward his love, but he was too late. A shield of ice came up, deflecting the shower of death, but five magically charged arrows pierced the frozen wall and punctured her chest, knocking her to the ground with a grunt. She was alive, but still refused to cry out, notwithstanding the pain that twisted her features into such a horrible mask.
::Good girl! Don't give them the satisfaction!:: Tears welled in his eyes at the sight of her agony. He could feel his heart break at her bravery as he blindly knocked arrow after arrow from the air before him. She began to cough blood as he knelt at her side, his sword flashing out, unconsciously killing anything that drew too near. He sobbed as she smiled up at him; her white teeth were stained crimson. His heart shattered and he shook his head, denying the inevitable. He gathered her into his arms, holding her against the coming Silence. His chest and throat constricted, as if someone had wrapped his torso and throat in bands of steel, making it hard for him to breath. He couldn't even force sound out of his mouth for lack of breath.
"…Live… for… meeehhhhh…."
As her last breath drifted from her lungs, he clutched her body close one last time. He kissed her, savoring the sweetness of her lips, doing his best to ignore the coppery taste of her blood. And then she was gone. A great sob wracked his body again, destroying him where all other assaults could not harm him. Grief welled up within him, scouring his soul. His forehead burned, and the elements echoed his screams. The power found him then, and it was unlike anything he had ever experienced in his life. He clung to it, just as he clung to the body of his one true love. Release came when he could no longer hold the energies back, and then the world went white as he screamed her name.
Ranma woke up to a crowd of worried people. His head throbbed, and everywhere he looked there were familiar faces that he was sure he'd never seen before. Everything was blurry and chaotic, and he gripped his head forlornly against the pain. The last few hours felt like a dream to him, a terrible, frightening dream. He closed his eyes against the glare of the setting sun, trying to get a handle on things.
He knew he'd gone cat, but this time around he was clearly remembering what had occurred during his submersion into the Neko-ken. As events and memories started to fall into place, his eyes shot open again searching but not finding the young woman he'd been protecting. "AMI-CHAN!"
He felt a pair of soft hands began stroking his shoulder and cheek, immediately soothing his dread. He looked behind him and blushed when he realized that he had been lying in Ami's lap all along. Her mother was beside Ami, looking at her daughter with an expression that alternated between extreme concern and barely checked disapproval. Ranma ignored the woman, in favor of inspecting Ami for injuries. The young genius blushed crimson under his scrutiny. "Are you okay?"
She nodded and smiled demurely.
"Good." He stretched his neck trying to work out the stiffness. "I take it I won."
To his relief, she nodded again.
"You always win, Saotome." Ranma's eyes bulged at the sound of Nabiki's voice, and immediately began hunting for her in the sea of faces. She was nowhere to be found. Something flew out of the air at him from the right, and he immediately knocked it to the ground at his feet. It landed with a dull, heavy thud, causing a small cloud of dust to billow up and make him sneeze. He looked at the blue cotton shirt for a long moment before picking it up. Something metallic clanked inside the bundle, prompting Ranma to unwrap the shirt.
He could only stare in awe at the heavy golden bracers that were revealed. Even to his very limited understanding of monetary worth, the bracers were beyond priceless. They were etched with odd markings that made him feel a deep sense of satisfaction and pride. It was the same feeling he got when he won a particularly tough battle, or mastered a challenging new technique. These were his, and he knew that he had earned them through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. The familiar face of a regal woman flashed in his memory, and everything came rushing back to him: Aramas, Isis, Princess Serenity, the Silver Millennium… everything.
Ranma felt overwhelmed again, and immediately began hunting for something that wasn't connected to the insanity of the distant past. He needed something from the life of Ranma Saotome, to reaffirm his identity. He needed to see Nabiki's familiar face. Yet, no matter how hard he searched the crowd for his dear friend, he only saw expressions of awe on the familiar faces of the strangers before him.
"Mother sends you her best, Drumheller. Now, I'm going home for a nice long soak. Call me when you get a minute, eh Ranma? We need to talk." He tried pushing through the crowd as her voice drifted further and further away, but by the time he'd cleared it, Nabiki was gone.
The weight of the day came crashing down on him, leaving the poor fellow dazed and confused until a comforting arm slipped around his waist, giving him the much needed support he was seeking. He looked down into Ami's beautiful eyes and found something deep and abiding looking back at him. It was a love he remembered from a life lived ten thousand years in the past.
"Are you going to be okay, Ranma?"
Ranma. He could have kissed this beautiful young woman for her kindness then and there, in front of her mother and the crowd of curious bystanders. In spite of everything they experienced today, and in spite of the insanity the future promised to bring, she called him Ranma. Not Aramas, not Drumheller, not your Majesty… just Ranma. He lightly touched her cheek and nodded to appease the worry. It was obvious that she was fighting a losing battle with the blush of embarrassment on her cheeks. To Ranma's eyes, it only made her more beautiful.
"Ranma?" Her voice was quiet, a whisper meant just for him. He could hear the unspoken question, and Ami seemed to struggle with the need to know where she stood in his eyes. Would he love her as Aramas loved Isis, or was the past truly dead and gone? He didn't know and tried to silently ask her to wait for a better time. She looked disappointed for a moment, but smiled, nodded, and patted his arm softly.
Ranma sighed with obvious relief, but still felt like a first class jerk for disappointing her. He massaged his throbbing temples and closed his eyes against the growing migraine that was already building behind his eyes.
Ranma looked up tiredly to see a tall man in a sharply pressed black suit and sunglasses towering over him. The man's threat level was negligible to one of Ranma's caliber, but in his current condition, the young martial artist knew the guy would wipe the floor with him. Two more guys came up on either side of the man, causing Ami to grip Ranma's arm tightly. He slipped his hand over her to let her know that everything would be okay before answering the man.
"Who wants ta know?"
"Special Operative Sosuke Amagara. Office of Domestic Defense, National Public Safety Commission."
The man bowed and then flashed a badge, complete with picture identification and everything. Ranma couldn't get a good look at the credentials, but the practiced ease that the man employed in the gesture just screamed "Government Spook" to the young martial artist. He'd run into one or two like this one on his trip with Genma, and they'd always made the old man nervous. Seeing them here wasn't a good sign in Ranma's book. His eyes narrowed as even more guys arrived on the scene. "Yeah. I'm Ranma Saotome. What do you want?"
The man stepped back and motioned a shorter, nerdy looking gentleman forward. The man's eyes kept darting from Ranma to the crater where the Rakshasa had landed and back again. Sighing, the young Saotome crossed his arms over his chest, but made no other move to upset the nervous man. A small business card seemed to materialize in the smaller man's shaking hand, which Ranma took and immediately passed to Ami without once glancing at it. Ami gasped and bowed deeply, not letting go of his arm once. Ranma went with the motion, sketching his own hasty bow, which seemed to put the man at ease.
"Is Tsukino-san present as well?" Usagi squeaked from somewhere behind Ranma and to his left, but the young martial artist chose to keep his eyes on the men in black suits rather than look back. "Good. Good. This works out well. Please come forward, Tsukino-san."
As Usagi moved forward, so too did the Outer Senshi. Sailor Pluto stepped in front of the young queen, shielding Usagi from the government men. Had Ranma not shot her a dark look, she would have stepped in front of him as well.
"Oh, dear. Um, I…"
The little man's eyes tracked up from Pluto's shoes, taking in her full, and in that moment, very imposing figure. It was clear that the closest the government representative had ever been to a woman of Sailor Pluto's… stature, was through a magazine, a sordid fantasy, or less than moral video. Trembling fingers handed Pluto another business card, which caused one meticulously sculpted eyebrow to rise slightly. She glanced at the card, seemingly unfazed by its contents before passing it back to Usagi. The young woman took one look at the card and quietly "eeped" before handing it over to Neptune, trying all the while to look as regal and nonplussed as the Senshi of Time. Most would later say that she did a superb job, considering the day she'd had.
The card silently made the rounds, with varying degrees of surprise and discomfort, as Pluto stared down at the sweating official with her piercing crimson eyes. Ranma envied the stately woman's cool and collected presence in light of the growing government presence. Everywhere he looked the young martial artist saw another suit, or someone in tactical military gear, staring intently their way. It made Ranma's skin crawl.
"What can we do for you, Umasho-san?" Sailor Pluto asked evenly.
The man reached into his coat, causing Neptune, Uranus, and Ranma to immediately fall into defensive postures. Pluto stepped back, shielding her queen, and causing all the other Senshi excluding Ami to crowd around Usagi. This caused every visible black suit to slip their hands into their jackets to grab the firearms that were most assuredly strapped there. Umasho-san disappeared behind a wall of black, and could be heard whimpering.
Tension in the area spiked, and the sound of weapons being readied brought Saturn to the center of the huddled Senshi. Ami's mother tried to say something, but no sound came out. For her part, Ami found herself completely covered by Ranma's body, and no matter how hard she tried to move around him, he seemed to anticipate her. It was the proverbial "Mexican Standoff" until Usagi quietly and calmly demonstrated that even without the white gown, she was royalty.
No other words seemed necessary. The Senshi relaxed, causing the tactical teams to relax. Most of the black suits relaxed, with the exception of the man facing off against Ranma. The two were made of stone, neither moving at all. Ami went to pull Ranma away, but Usagi beat her to the punch. The blonde girl simply laid her hand on his forearm, and Ranma's posture immediately relaxed. Special Operative Sosuke Amagara trembled a bit as his hand left his jacket, causing Ranma to smirk inwardly.
"I apologize for the misunderstanding, Umasho-san." Usagi bowed from her place beside Ranma as the little man poked his head out from behind the slowly dispersing wall of bodies. He held two, rather large and ornate, envelopes in his shaking hands; and his eyes were filled with fear. Usagi, seeing this, slowly took his hands in her own and drew his gaze to her smiling face.
"Please, continue." Her soft voice melted the remaining tension from the air completely. Umasho-san visibly took hold of himself and reclaimed his professionalism.
"Ahem. Saotome-san, Tsukino-san, I have been instructed by his Imperial Majesty, the Emperor, to extend an invitation to you and your families to dine at the palace tomorrow evening." He passed the envelopes into Ranma's and Usagi's hands and waited for their response.
"Please tell his Majesty that I would be honored to share his table." Usagi bowed smoothly, much to the astonishment of her Senshi, particularly Mars. All eyes then turned to Ranma expectantly.
The silence grew very heavy and long, before Ranma scratched the back of his neck. Ami tugged on his sleeve urgently, causing him to bend to hear what she had to say.
"What?" he whispered.
"Say 'yes', silly." She couldn't hide her smile.
"Um… Yes?" Ami nudged him with her hip. "I mean… uh, um… what she said." Ranma hooked his thumb towards Usagi and smiled sheepishly.
Ami wasn't the only one that giggled as Umasho-san frowned slightly. He bowed deeply to Usagi and Ranma, and then backed away five steps before turning away and walking towards the barricades. Ranma watched him carefully pull out a white handkerchief and dab the sweat from his forehead. Every once in a while, he would steal a glance at Sailor Pluto, who seemed oblivious to his attention.
Ranma handed his white envelope to Ami and ran his fingers through his grimy hair. Man! What he wouldn't do for a bath! He started to turn back to the Senshi, when he noted that Special Operative Amagara and the suit brigade had yet to disperse.
"There somethin' else you need?" He knew it came out rudely, but darn it! He was tired, filthy, and had a headache. Why couldn't these jokers leave him the hell alone? Ranma's question drew the attention of the rest of the group back to the situation at hand.
"We have some questions about today's events that need to be answered."
"Dude! Can't this wait until tomorrow?" Ranma grumbled. He plucked at what was left of his school uniform and then rubbed his temples.
"I'm afraid not, Saotome-san. There is also a matter of one Genma Saotome that we would like your help in clearing up."
"Aw, damn it, pops!" Ranma kicked a loose piece of asphalt.
"I didn't do anything!"
Ranma looked back at the unfamiliar voice, and saw a well-known white-haired man. The dark haired woman next to him punched the man in the arm hard enough to stagger him. "Not you, Artemis!"
Ranma ignored the rest of the byplay in favor of focusing on Special Operative Amagara again. "So. What did the fat tub of lard do this time?"
"I am afraid that I am not at liberty to discuss that matter with you here, Saotome-san. My superiors have arranged to take your statements at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices. If you and your friends will accompany us, have transportation standing by to escort you to Shinjuku."
"And if we choose to decline your offer?" Pluto asked.
"I am afraid that this is not to be construed as an offer open for negotiation, Pluto-san. It would be in the best interests of all parties concerned to cooperate fully. The parents of Tsukino-san and Aino-san, as well as Saotome-san's mother and Hino-san's grandfather have been collected to join you in your 'debriefing', per the legal statutes governing the questioning of minors."
This sparked an explosion of chatter among the Senshi. Venus was shocked that her parents now knew, Mars was shocked that the government knew she was a Sailor Senshi, and Usagi looked downcast at the thought of her parents being dragged into this whole mess. The only person not talking was Ranma, and it was noted that the temperature around him had dropped several degrees at the mention of his mother joining him for "debriefing" or whatever they wanted to call it.
Special Operative Sosuke Amagara suddenly realized that he had just crossed a line he shouldn't have, and silently cursed his superiors for being stupid enough to try and strong-arm people that could shred steel without even touching it. The magical girls were one thing. After all it was difficult to take someone that fought in a skimpy skirt seriously. This guy though….
Sosuke shivered involuntarily at the cold flat look in Ranma's eyes.
No one saw Ranma move. One moment he was standing still, then in the next he had lifted Amagara-san completely off the ground and was holding the man's gun. The clip was released and the chambered bullet was ejected before any of Amagara's associates could draw their weapons. By the time Ami and Usagi got involved, Ranma had put the fear of God in the man by slightly bending the barrel of the gun against his hip.
The girls tugged on Ranma's arm with little luck, and their calming voices did very little to soothe the young man's anger. He simply stared at Amagara long and hard. More guns were cocked and a number of photographers took the opportunity to snap a multitude of pictures. Ranma didn't bother to lower his voice when he spoke to the man. The message was directed to every government official gathered in the crowd, or watching the events play out on television.
"You threaten my family or the families of my friends again, I swear you'll live to regret it. Are we clear?"
Amagara nodded once but Ranma continued to hold the man aloft, making certain that he understood how serious the young martial artist was. The impasse would have gone on longer, had Ami not stepped forward and diffused some of Ranma's anger.
"It will be okay Ranma. You'll see." She slowly rubbed his back in a way that Isis had done, to comfort Aramas in times of stress. "Let's just go and answer their questions, then we'll go have dinner with the Emperor tomorrow. All right?"
Ranma's eyes narrowed at Amagara dangerously, and then he tossed the man into the waiting arms of the rest of the gathered suits. Without waiting for anyone else, Ranma stomped off a ways in order to regain some of his lost control. Ami followed him, gently draping her arm over his shoulders when Ranma squatted just beyond the hearing range of the Senshi and the suits.
"You're welcome, Ranma-kun." She ran her hand in circles along his upper back and shoulders, helping ease the tension away.
"I didn't mean to do that."
"I mean, anyone with any sense could hear the bastard's hanging threat. But that doesn't give me the right to beat the crap outta the guy!"
Ranma felt Ami's hand stop completely, only to be replaced by her arms enveloping his upper torso.
"Listen to me." Her voice was calm, yet insistent. "You did nothing wrong. You reacted to the threat, yes. You demonstrated your serious willingness to protect your mother and our families. No one can fault you for defending those that you love from unjust men."
Ranma looked into her beautiful, smiling face and sighed. "I guess you're right."
Ami giggled. "Of course I'm right, silly. I'm the number one juku student in the nation! Why wouldn't I be right?"
Ranma stared at her for a moment and then laughed. Ami joined him after a moment and then, in a surprising display of public affection, kissed him on the cheek. Ranma's laughter died as he placed a hand over her kiss. "What was that for?" he asked reverently.
Ami blushed beet-red. "For protecting my mom."
"What about for protecting you?" Ranma couldn't stop the words from slipping out and cringed, waiting for the hammer to fall. All he felt were Ami's fingers trailing down the side of his cheek. She leaned in close enough that he could feel the warmth of her breath against his ear lobe. "Ask me again when there aren't so many cameras around."
Ranma watched Ami's retreating figure return to her mother's side, and blushed crimson. She seemed to have an added sway to her hips that made it seem like she was gliding over the ground, rather than walking. If the situation weren't so serious, Ranma would have allowed himself to pass out. As it was, Ami had to lead him to the waiting limousines by the arm.
Saffron and his companions watched their goddess leave with the landlings. After they were gone, the Lord of the Horus expected to have armed guards threatening his party. But, to his surprise, no one challenged their presence in the slightest. Rather than remaining at the site, Saffron directed Kiima and Masara to follow Isis, while he cleansed the Rakshasa's taint from the area.
Once his task was complete, Saffron and the remaining refugees of Phoenix Mountain flew away into the embers of the evening sky. The Phoenix King had much to ponder this day, and for several days to come.
The Ruins of the Imperial Palace,
The moon orbiting the third planet was the first place that the Dam Turiel visited upon coming to the Sol system. Orima Tene, "The Beginning Place", was the sacred ground upon which the Dam Turiel first stepped and became the heart of their activities within this arm of the galaxy. The Silver Millennium built itself up around the temple that the Dam Turiel erected, and for years Serenity's kingdom prospered.
When Beryl assaulted the Lunarian Empire, Orima Tene was left untouched for fear of drawing the unwanted attention of the First Ones before Metallia and the other Dark Races had established themselves. Thus the temple stood, weathering the ages, cloaked from human eye until the return of Serenity's children. When the Advent occurred on Terra, the Ginzuishou called out to the remnants of the Silver Millennium, and alerting the sole inhabitant of Orima Tene to their wakening.
The figure felt the moon's spirit shake off ten thousand years of lethargy. The ground shook, sleeping magics reactivated, and a splendid crystal palace rose from the bowls of the celestial body. For the first time in ten millennia, air flowed freely across the face of the moon as the environmental matrixes held deep in the palace's belly flooded the area surrounding Orima Tene with a breathable atmosphere. Other buildings rose in answer to the Ginzuishou's power, across what had once been the political hub of the solar system. Libraries, academies, and factories — all the critical elements to a society's survival had been preserved through Serenity's foresight.
And still the lone figure within the temple watched in silence, showing no emotion whatsoever at the rebirth of a long-dead civilization.
It wasn't until the figure saw people emerging from the palace that a small smile blossomed on his face. Some were disoriented and needed aid from others. Many pointed heavenward, in awe of the strange stars that greeted them, or shocked to see the continental drift on their nearest planetary neighbor. Others looked at the desolate area surrounding the resurrected buildings with great sadness and determination. The Oracle of Orima Tene was certain that the Lunarians would thrive again. They had never been the type to simply roll over under the strain of tragedy. They would work their hardest to rebuild all that they had lost.
He sighed and set about preparing the temple to receive guests. They would eventually come, to pay their respects and seek his guidance. He had monitored their progress while bound beneath the moon's surface, and knew that they had not been completely idle. But only he had information on the true state of affairs, so they would seek him out for no other reason than to understand the present status of their monarch.
That excited him more than anything else that happened in recent memory. The technological miracle that had brought the Terrans to the moon not too long ago notwithstanding, this was the most exhilarating thing to happen since the Terrans developed the telescope. He had hoped the "astronauts" would stop by for tea, but they simply came and went in a rather rude display of ignorance. At least this time the Oracle was certain to have visitors. He'd waited so long for someone to share tea and cakes with.
Usagi endured the fussing of her parents as the large limousine drove through the streets of Juuban. The noise of the crowds had been deafening on their way to the cars, leaving Usagi feeling small and vulnerable. Mamoru held her close on one side, while she and Ami were sandwiched close together by Ranma on the other. Even now, she could feel the press of the frenzied horde, vying for her attention. She could hear the voices of the people screaming at her, begging her to help them, or calling her vile names. More than once Mamoru had smacked groping hands away from their path and Ranma had gone so far as to roughly push one persistent man back into the arms of the throng. The experience had been beyond scary. It had terrified her.
Her mind drifted back to the expressions she saw in her classmates' eyes, as she and the rest of the Senshi were lead past them. The sense of betrayal in Naru-chan's eyes wounded her, but no more than the fear and uncertainty she saw on the faces of the rest. The only person, who seemed truly excited for her was Umino. That, at least, had brought a smile to her lips as they reached the cars. When they had arrived, she had been both surprised and excited.
There were very few stretch limousines of this size in Japan. Well, she really didn't know if there were a lot for sure, it was just that she'd never seen one before today. The fact that the Senshi had been allotted three of the long black cars was not lost on Usagi. Someone must want to impress them, or at least impress upon them the seriousness of their situation. Usagi, in her limited view of the way the world worked, was impressed.
They managed to fit Setsuna, Usagi, her family, Ranma and his mother, and Ami-chan and her mom in the first car. She desperately missed Mamo-chan's silent strength and the warmth of his body, but she also knew that she didn't need to add any fuel to fires burning behind her parent's disapproving stares. He had nodded in understanding and joined everyone else in the second car, while the third was reserved for the men in black suits.
Pluto had insisted on silence for the first few minutes of the drive, motioning to the open window that separated the driver from his passengers. Everyone involved nodded in understanding, something that Usagi was grateful for even if the parents looked rather cross and upset. They wanted answers, and any delay in getting them wasn't sitting well. The Senshi of Time largely ignored the other adults in the car in favor of something more pressing. She mumbled something under breath and waved her hand, causing a wave of force to stretch out from her fingers and physically settle into everyone. Usagi's mother had squeaked loudly, but to Usagi's surprise the driver didn't seem to hear.
Usagi boggled. She wasn't sure what surprised her more, the fact that Pluto had cast the spell — or the fact that she was being up front about something. It almost made the woman's actions today somewhat bearable. Almost. Usagi was still a bit grumpy about the whole "Empress of the Moon" bit. Ikuko Tsukino opened her mouth to ask the first of a flood of questions, but Setsuna held up her hand.
"I will answer all of your questions in due time, Tsukino-san. But first, please give me a moment to organize some necessary precautions."
Usagi's mother closed her mouth with a frown and crossed her arms, but did as the woman asked.
"Ami-chan. I need to see the other Senshi in order to cast this spell. Can you video conference me with their communicators?"
Ami nodded and pulled out the Mercury computer, much to her mother's intense curiosity. After a moment of typing, a small holographic display appeared before her showing all the Senshi in the second car. Setsuna nodded and motioned for everyone to be silent before proceeding. Once the secondary spell was in place, Setsuna sighed.
"We haven't much time, so allow me to explain some things. First, I am the only Senshi that the government does not have a detailed file on — and in the interest of maintaining a free agent, I would ask that everyone refer to me by my title at all times. Anonymity will allow me to move freely, and do things that could not be done otherwise."
"What kinds of things?" Usagi asked.
"What ever you require of me, my Queen. But if the government knows my civilian identity, then my usefulness to you becomes severely limited."
"I would suggest that everyone just assume your own titles from here on out; at least until we are out of the spot light, and those we love are no longer in danger."
"Which will be like never!" Rei grumbled darkly. Pluto ignored the comment and moved on.
"Secondly, the government's files on the Senshi are not complete. They know some of our abilities, but not all. This will work to our favor should things turn sour."
"Turn sour?" Sailor Uranus scoffed. "How much more sour do you expect things to get, Pluto?"
"Prepare for the worst." Ranma yawned. "Everything else is a happy surprise."
Pluto grinned impishly. "My thoughts exactly."
"So what can we expect?" Ami asked. "They're obviously concerned about us, otherwise they wouldn't be going to all this trouble."
"Mercury is right. By heralding the Advent of Neo-Serenity and Aramas, we have threatened the sovereignty of pretty much every government on the planet."
Usagi frowned. "Yes, Pluto. Could you please explain why you did that?"
Usagi got her second shock of the day as Sailor Pluto hung her head in shame.
"Time waits for no man… or woman, your Majesty. I know that better than most. Some things cannot be avoided. Some responsibilities cannot be shirked." Usagi squirmed under the crimson-eyed woman's gaze. "Your identity was revealed to the world, Aramas was returned to us, and the Rakshasa are moving against the rest of the world. If the Earth is to be saved, then it was time for a unifying force to emerge."
"So, if we're supposed to be this 'unifying force'," Rei countered, "then why is it we're threatening the sovereignty of every nation on the face of the planet?"
"In order to make a cake, a few eggs must be broken," Makoto murmured absently. This caused everyone to gasp and shift nervously.
"Jupiter is correct." Pluto sighed. "Much of the good we will accomplish will not come to fruition until after a great deal of suffering has been inflicted on the rest of the Earth."
"That's just sick!" Everyone's attention was drawn to Minako's father.
"Do you have a different outlook, Aino-san?" Pluto asked evenly.
"I can't believe what I'm hearing! You're just going to sit back and let those… those monsters hurt and kill innocent people, when you could use all of these powers to help?"
Pluto just raised her eyebrow at the image of the man. Usagi chose to remain silent, and was rewarded as Minako picked up the discussion.
"Of course not, Daddy. But who is going to allow us to do our job? I mean, most of the governments are just going to see a bunch of high school students."
"But that is exactly what you are!" Kenji Tsukino said. "A bunch of little girls playing a very deadly game."
Usagi wanted to cry. It was obvious that her father was struggling with the idea that his little girl was involved in something so serious, but she had hoped he would have been more supportive. The Senshi were surprised when Ranma spoke out in their defense.
"Dude. Until you know what you're talkin' about, shut the hell up."
"Why don't you mind your own business, punk!"
"If you hadn't noticed, Old Man, this is my business."
Pluto coughed into her hand, hoping to nip the growing conflict in the bud before it spiraled out of control. "Gentlemen, please. We don't have much time left and the only way that we are to make any progress is through unity."
"Fine, Pluto. But I'm not going to sit back and let this idiot badmouth you guys. Not after all the blood you've spilt and sacrifices you made to save his sorry can. I mean, if everything I saw today was true, then you guys have died, what— three or four times already?"
Usagi fidgeted under her parents' scrutiny, as did the other girls. It was a truly uncomfortable moment for everyone, but Ranma wasn't finished yet.
"You're not little girls. You're warriors, plain and simple. If he didn't see that today, then the next time one of those uglies shows up, he can go out and fight it himself. Let's see how far being an adult takes him."
Ranma, having said his piece, closed his eyes again and laid his head back. Kenji, for his part, looked ashamed for his little outburst. Everyone felt the cars starting to slow, and looked worriedly at Pluto.
"We're out of time. They will obviously try to separate us, hoping that by dividing us they'll be able to control us easier. Take your time. Answer any questions put to you honestly and fully. However, I must remind you to avoid speaking about me at all. If you must, refer to me as Sailor Pluto."
"I called my lawyer on the way to the Tower. He's been following us ever since," Mr. Aino said. Pluto nodded.
"That is good. Please introduce me to the gentleman when we get out, Aino-san. If they intend to intimidate the parents through legal channels, we will allow the law to work on our behalf."
"What if they try to stick us with the bills for the damage done at the Tower?"
Ami's mother, silent up until that point looked at her daughter worriedly.
"What if they attempt to arrest you? I don't know what laws there are concerning magical girls fighting demons, but I do know that you would at least be considered vigilantes. I could probably scrounge enough bail for A… er, Sailor Mercury?"
Ami nodded and smiled.
"But there's no way I could collect enough to fix even a little of the damage at the tower."
Pluto smiled confidently. "I can handle any financial troubles that arise. As far as arresting us… since Aramas…."
"Ranma," the young man in question growled.
"Since Ranma and Serenity have a dinner appointment with the Emperor tomorrow, I highly doubt that we will run into that problem. If it does come into play, rest assured that we have other options available to us."
"What options?" Ikuko demanded. Pluto shook her head as the car stopped.
"Later. I'm releasing my spells." She waved her hand and an unseen weight disappeared from Usagi's shoulders.
A moment or two passed before one of the men in black suits opened the door for the passengers. As Usagi exited the limo, two impressive towers of glass and steel confronted her. The imposing buildings seemed so large and forbidding in the fading light of day. The weight of her predicament hit home in that moment, and her insides turned to jelly. She felt a strong hand resting on her shoulder, drawing her gaze upwards. She expected it to be Mamoru, but wasn't too terribly surprised to see Ranma smiling confidently down at her.
In spite of how terribly large her world had grown, she was comforted by the knowledge that she wasn't alone. She had a new big brother to protect her from the darkness… even if that big brother had been something of a jerk in her last life.
Somewhere between Mercury and Venus
Mercury's power lanced through the void, shooting unerringly towards the planet whose name she shared. The energy bent and shaped the space around it, much like the ripples on a pond, mixing with the residual forces left over from a tragic accident that had left the planet Mercury devoid of all life. This small shift along the cosmic flows was enough to make a small tear in the fabric of time and space. It wasn't much; barely enough to even register on the visual scale. But, when combined with the forces pushing against it from the other side of the tear, it was enough to allow a vessel long thought destroyed to escape its ten thousand year imprisonment.
"Status report." The woman's voice was curt and no-nonsense. The automated alarms still sounded throughout the ship, alerting the crew of the Arbiter that all was not well. A smartly dressed woman saluted her superior and presented the facts in a crisp, professional manner. The Arbiter was a no-nonsense ship, run by the "Ice Queen of Mercury" herself.
"Fold was successful, Lady Mercury. Internal damage is widespread, but manageable. Maxim Drives seven, twelve, and thirty-six have imploded."
"Reports are still coming in. Crewmen within the range of the imploding engines are all gone, but safety measures contained the damage and loss of life."
"I want a full list of names of the deceased and a complete diagnostic of the engine failure, Commander Shie."
"Yes, Lady Mercury."
Hathomet sighed and melted back in her chair. The Arbiter had run into yet another setback, and again it had cost her the lives of many brave and talented souls. She growled and slammed her fist against the arm of her deck chair. The whole situation was intolerable! Half her life had been spent building this ship, and she still couldn't get it to work the way she knew it should. Her thoughts were interrupted by the shocked gasp of her helmswoman. She felt a headache building.
"Helm report!" The young woman in question jumped and quickly stood at attention.
"My Lady! Astrogation reports that current star charts do not match our last known position!"
Hathomet's eyes twitched, but her body made no other sign of emotion in spite of the panic that was welling in the pit of her stomach. The sound of the claxons made it all but impossible to think straight. "Turn those damn alarms off! Helm, level three scan of this system. Look for an inhabitable world. If we have jumped off course, I want to know what options we have open to us. Commander! Full status report and contingency plans in place within the hour."
The bridge crew immediately set to work with well-oiled precision. In less than fifteen minutes, a junior grade helmsman appeared before her with a report in hand. Hathomet's eyes slowly widened in shock as she read the data pad, unnerving the young man before her greatly.
"You are certain of these readings?"
"MA'AM! YES, MA'AM!"
Hathomet slumped in her deck chair weakly, and re-read the report. "Bridge is on lockdown, Helmsman Ghur. I will be making the announcement when it is time to address the rest of the crew. Understood?"
"MA'AM! YES, MA'AM!"
"Good. Pass the word among the bridge crew." Her hand palmed her forehead as her first officer appeared at her side. She handed him the data pad and covered her face with her hands.
"Sedna's Girdle! How?"
"We always knew it was a possibility, Tamlin." Hathomet met the man's gaze calmly, discounting the emotions that were welling in her heart.
"But ten thousand years…?" His whispered voice held more than a little dread. Hathomet ignored him in favor of gaining more insight.
"Commander Shie, do you have anything to report?"
"Yes, milady. Crew compliment has suffered one hundred, seventy-nine casualties, and med bays are reporting over five hundred wounded. Reports are still coming in from across the ship."
"Direct off-duty personnel and reservists to the med-bays. What about the damage to the ship?"
"Minimal damage to propulsion, outside of the reported damage to the Maxim Drives. There are no hull breaches, although decks forty to forty-three are reporting instability and frame warping amidships."
Hathomet cursed. "Damn gravity distortions! Lock down all Maxim Drives. We will be using the secondary and tertiary engines until further notice. I want repair crews working on the damage to those decks as soon as possible."
Commander Shie nodded and turned back to her duties. As far as Second Officers went, Shie was top-notch. The Jovian officer had graduated top of her class and was a tactical genius. Hathomet could see the makings of a Senshi in her, and if they could have gotten this damn ship up and running well enough to duplicate it, the elder Senshi of Mercury had intended to recommend that she receive her own command. Unfortunately, that was no longer an option it seemed.
"My… my Lady?"
Hathomet looked over to the communications bay and noted that the young man had a strange, almost giddy expression on his face. The Lunarian was no older than Hathomet's youngest daughter, but was every bit a linguistics prodigy and had an incredible knack for codebreaking. She was still working on building up his confidence, though. The boy was terrified of her, and not without good reason.
"Yes, Mr. Bashan?"
"I'm picking up communication streams from the system's third planet."
"Good." Hathomet nodded and opened her mouth to set a course for the planet in question, but Bashan cut her off.
"That's not all, milady." When he was certain he had her attention, he continued. "I'm also picking up Venusian, Martian, Lunarian, and Jovian distress beacons."
"Come again, Mr. Bashan?" She couldn't have heard that right.
"Truly, Lady Mercury. The codes are being relayed on royal channels."
"I can confirm that," Commander Shie announced. "We're a bit out of date, but transponder codes match our archived data."
Hathomet looked thoughtful. "Are these codes on automated systems?"
"Checking." Bashan worked diligently and his eyes widened in surprise. "All are automated save one milady. We are being hailed on a priority one channel. The cipher is Lunarian!"
"Is it a secure transmission, Mr. Bashan?"
"Let's hear it."
"…ima Tene to Millennial vessel Arbiter. Please confirm your security clearance. I repeat: this is the Lunarian colony Orima Tene to Millennial vessel Arbiter. Please confirm your security clearance."
"Mr. Bashan, send this response: 'Atte Diu Pervigilis', authorization: Hathomet, Queen of Khan-Khast, Elder Senshi of Mercury."
Hathomet waited patiently for the communication to go through. Moments passed in tense silence before Orima Tene responded.
"Serenity be praised! It is good to hear your voice again, Lady Mercury! We thought you and the crew of the Arbiter lost."
"With whom do I speak?" Her voice was crisp to hide the tears swelling in her eyes.
"Cadmus Zeus, milady. Acting Regent of Orima Tene."
Hathomet shot a concerned glance to her First Officer, Tamlin. "Acting Regent?"
There was a long silence. "It is a long tale, Lady Mercury."
"One I am anxious to hear, Regent Zeus. We are making best possible speed to Orima Tene. You may expect us in approximately…" She looked to Commander Shie, who flashed two fingers. "In approximately two days."
"We will prepare accordingly." The relief and excitement in the man's voice was palpable, and it made the entire bridge crew break out in smiling faces and cheers.
"Very well. Arbiter out."
Orders were relayed, repairs were begun, and the mighty Arbiter's engines roared to life. In two days, the elder Senshi of Mercury looked forward to getting answers to the multitude of questions that were already brimming in her mind.
The Palace of Seven Clouded Heavens,
Night fell over the former Musk stronghold, but it's shadows brought no peace to Ahbrim Ur. His emotions still boiled over Serenity's treachery as he sat in the darkness of his chambers. She had birthed a son, and in her pettiness had denied him the singular hope of knowing that the child even existed. Worse still, the Lemurian whore Onyx must have known of the boy, but she too had kept it from him during her visits to his prison. Had he known of this child, what might he have done differently? How might things have changed for him?
It was during this dark brooding that Esos came to him, walking in from the balcony entrance and dressed in a filmy gown that was backlit by the moon's silver light. It was a pleasant distraction that derailed his angst for a moment. She may not have been Serenity or Onyx, but it was plainly apparent that Esos was a woman.
"What news do you bring, Esos?"
"Good news, my Lord." She bowed low, obviously feeling his eyes lingering on her. He motioned for her to continue. "The first prototype will be finished by the week's end."
"That is good news indeed. And the shield?"
"As things stand, it will be done prior to the completion of the prototype."
Ur nodded and stood from his chair. His fingers caressed her cheek and trailed down her neck, causing her to shiver.
"You have surpassed my greatest expectations, Esos. Now our only problem to solve is where to strike first."
Ur waved his hand and a transparent globe appeared to his right. The globe began to refine itself into a geopolitical map of the Earth, based on the information he had gathered. There were blank spots here and there, but all of the major players were represented. Four bright green lights sprang to life across the globe, each signifying a different city of importance: Washington, Rome, New York, and Beijing.
"For your loyalty and dedication, dear Esos, I give you the honor of drawing first blood."
Esos bowed deeply to Ur, hiding her sudden nervousness. The former Chinese scientist stretched forth a trembling finger and hesitantly touched one of the green lights, turning it a bloody crimson. The Lord of the Hunt nodded and smiled, dispelling the illusion and cupping the young woman's chin.
"So be it." He kissed her, relishing the feel of her velvet lips against his. He finally parted from her, breathless and aroused. "Let the Hunt begin."
To be continued.
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