Author: CnA Productions PM
You know the story of the typical selfinsert? This is not that story.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Chapters: 32 - Words: 1,313,240 - Reviews: 265 - Favs: 92 - Follows: 41 - Updated: 09-03-07 - Published: 07-24-04 - Status: Complete - id: 1978728
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I am the guardian of time. Some call me Sailor Pluto; others, Setsuna Meiou.
Unlike others, I have little to recap, only to foretell.
For the last seven years, every night, I have had a dream.
In this dream, I see a young woman standing beneath a bank of clouds, three
circles of light rotating around her body, the symbols that mark them rendered
illegible by the speed of the rotation.
The woman is clad in skin-tight black pants wrapped about the ankles with cords,
her torso is covered in a turtle-necked skin-tight white shirt and over that she
wears a long black trench-coat which is blown back and flares in an unseen wind.
Her sleeves are rolled up and both arms were reaching out towards the heavens.
On her left arm, five parallel scars glow with eldritch light, on her right arm
a tattoo of some kind snakes up to disappear under her sleeve. A power radiated
from her, a power that even now I can neither place nor understand. A bright
light flares from her forehead, and there is something terribly wrong with her
In her hands, she holds a terrible weapon, and as I watch, she raises it against
a foe beyond conceiving, a foe without a face or a name.
A voice that I recognise as my own tells me this vision is a warning, of events
that must not come to pass. This voice tells me that I have come to the final
moments of the universe. This voice, myself, tells me that I must stop this
future from coming about no matter what I must do or how I must damn myself.
The woman in this prophecy I have come to know as Ukyou Kuonji. And every night,
I have watched her raise the weapon in her hands and destroy the world.
I have fought with my entire soul against this prophecy. At times, I have
despaired of it, and at times I have almost come to accept it. I have tried to
kill Ukyou, to stop her, to influence her, and finally even to help her. All of
it has proven equally fruitless in halting the relentless advance of the
Now Ukyou has come to face the terrible foe. Now the time has come to see an end
to it all. And just as in my dream, it seems I and everyone else in this
universe will be able to do nothing but watch.
C&A Productions Presents
A Work of Blatant Self-Insertion
Chapter 30: In The End
"It never ends.
"I guess I never really thought about it before. But it really never
ends. It just goes on and on. This boundless thing we call 'existence' never
stops. It stretches out into infinity. We all move along it, and not everyone
makes it, but it never ends.
"One moment becomes the next. One challenge gives way to the next
battle. One life ends, and another begins. Each decision leads to the next, and
the next, and the next. There is no final state. We're not travelling towards
anything, because no matter what destination we reach there is always somewhere
else to go from there.
"That's a lot to accept. Most people never have to. But I touched it. I
felt it. I saw the whole thing, stretched out forever in front of me. It's a
heavy thing. It can break you. It can make you despair.
"But it also means one thing you didn't count on.
"It means that even if I lose this battle, it will go on. Even if can't
win, this fight will go on. If I fall, someone will stand up in my place. So
don't think this is the end. One day, you will pay for this. One day, someone
will take you down. And life will go on.
"Because I am sure that while existence is eternal, you are not. So come
on, you self-righteous son of a bitch! Give me everything you got!"
Ukyou woke up with a gasp.
She sat bolt upright in bed, sweat clinging to her skin. She was naked
and cold, and shivered under the thin blanket. It was dark in the room, too dark
to see anything. There was rain outside. She could hear it beating against the
walls and ceiling like a tiny percussion orchestra. She felt drained. Empty.
She looked down, even though she couldn't see anything. Aaron's chi
senses had sharpened to the point where he no longer needed eyes to tell certain
details. It was Akira. She was slowly sitting up, rubbing the back of her eyes
with one hand. Ukyou paused.
"Are you okay, Ukyou?" Akira asked, her voice still heavy with sleep. A
hand reached out and brushed against her arm. Ukyou felt a trill of warmth
spread from the brief contact. "Damn, you're cold."
Akira did something. Aaron could feel the flare of chi as Akira flicked
her hand. A fraction of a second later the light came on. The girl was pulling
herself out from under the covers. She was wearing a pair of brown pyjamas that
was one size too large and was covered in pictures of French pastries. Her eyes
fixed on Ukyou's for a moment and she frowned in that cute little way she had.
"This is what you get for not sleeping with any clothes on," Akira
chided, as she stood up. "I'll go get another blanket."
"No, I..." Ukyou reached out to her. She wasn't certain why. Akira
paused, the fabric of her sleeve caught between two of Ukyou's fingers.
"Well..." The girl paused, and tapped her chin with her free hand as if
considering something very important. "I guess... I might be able to help warm
you up a little. You know, or I could go get a blanket, or some clothes..."
"Akira... how did I..." Ukyou trailed off. She had been about to ask how
she got here. But even as the question formed in her mind, the answer formed
too. They were in a motel just outside of Tokyo. They had stopped here for the
night instead of camping out like usual because of the rain Ukyou had sensed
coming. Ukyou even remembered the lecherous grin the motel manager had tried to
conceal while Ukyou paid for the overnight stay.
"Is something wrong?" Akira asked, her voice suddenly serious. "Danger?"
She knelt down next to Ukyou. She was asking if Ukyou sensed any nearby danger.
Of course, Ukyou didn't. She didn't even sense anything so much as a strong chi
adept within a kilometer.
"No..." Ukyou frowned. "I just... had a bad dream?"
A sympathetic look appeared in Akira's eyes. She slid closer to Ukyou,
pulling her head down onto her shoulder. "Those again, huh?"
"Again..." Ukyou murmured.
"Well, I guess it makes sense, given the timing." Akira ran a hand along
her back. Her touch was intimate, but not arousing. Ukyou relaxed in her
embrace. "You've been under a lot of stress lately."
"Yeah..." Ukyou agreed. Akira shifted and suddenly they were lying under
the covers together. Ukyou was now staring up at the ceiling, while Akira lay
underneath her with her arms cradled around Ukyou's waist. There was something
very comforting and familiar about it. Ukyou knew that Akira had often helped
her get back to sleep like this. Ukyou had always had trouble sleeping. It was a
trait she had inherited mainly from Aaron.
"Nabiki assured us all the paper-work went through." Akira spoke softly
into her ear. "So don't worry. Tomorrow is a good day, Ukyou. You'll see."
"But..." Ukyou wasn't certain what she was objecting to.
"It doesn't matter if its been a year since you last saw her..."
"Two," Ukyou corrected. The word just came to her. It sounded very
correct, but also left her feeling sad and hurt.
"No matter how long it's been, it won't matter." She kissed Ukyou on the
side of the cheek. "Now get back to sleep. We still have a long drive tomorrow."
Ukyou wasn't certain she wanted to, but the gentle warmth of Akira's
presence and the soft cushion of her body eventually lulled her away from the
conscious world. As she was drifting away, a part of her wondered briefly why
she didn't find any of this strange.
She pushed that part of her away, and just let herself have this one
The ride into Tokyo took about four hours. The streets were nearly empty
when they started, but quickly filled as they moved closer and closer to the
rush hour traffic. The rain had left the roads looking clean and dark. The
breaking clouds had pulled away the scent of smog and overcrowding, leaving a
fresh salt tang in the air that reminded Aaron of his youth. They drove in
silence, Ukyou keeping her head against Akira's back and her arms around the
taller girl's waist.
She could hear Akira's heartbeat through the leather of her jacket. It
was a steady, even rhythm that only increased slightly when Ukyou wrapped her
arms around her waist, then went back to its leisurely pace. There was something
indisputably real about the sound of that heartbeat. In the bright light of
morning, with the cool November breeze rushing over her face, the sound of that
heartbeat drove away the lingering traces of bad dreams. The reassuring sound of
Akira's heartbeat made her discomfort from last night slowly drain away.
But it refused to vanish entirely.
She knew how she had gotten here. She remembered most of the trip. They
had started in Halifax when they had heard the news from Nabiki. Normally, Ukyou
would have been on the first flight but Nabiki assured her that it would be a
few months before all the legal paperwork went through. They had time. So they'd
made their way slowly across the continent, camping out and discussing what they
were going to do when they went back to the cottage Ukyou had bought. They would
need to make space, which meant giving up either Ukyou's library or Akira's
From San Francisco they had managed to book passage on a ship willing to
ferry over Akira's bike. Ukyou spent the crossing mainly practising her drawing.
Akira spent it mainly annoying the engineer about the ship's systems. The ship
had made port in Osaka and Ukyou had taken the chance to drive out and visit her
parent's graves. Then it was a few more days drive to Tokyo proper. If
everything worked out according to the timetable Nabiki had given them, they
would arrive one day before Ukyou could see her again.
All the details were there. She could remember them as vividly as usual.
Sure, some things were hazy, and some weren't. It was the nature of memory to be
that way, so Ukyou didn't really question it. However, Ukyou kept thinking there
were more questions she should be asking. The one she kept coming back to and
back to was: is this real?
Of course it was. It was a foolish question to ask. She could hear
Akira's heart. She could feel the air, smell the faint odour of the city. It had
been years since she'd allowed herself to get so philosophical about such
To Aaron, a part of all this would still be a world of make-believe. Oh,
he had long ago learned to accept the reality of the people around him. But the
fact was that his first exposure to Akira, and Nabiki and all the rest was as
characters in stories. They were dreams and fantasies. None of that mattered,
however. This was real. This was now. Every sense he had developed told him so.
And something deeper too. In that part of their mind that existed
between them, they could sense it. They could feel the weight of this world. It
existed. So, why was Ukyou doubting it?
The bike came to a stop. Ukyou looked up.
The Tendo Dojo.
Akira gently unwrapped Ukyou's arms and gave her a smile before walking
inside. Ukyou hesitated a moment, then followed her. The dojo was just as she
remembered it. Over there was the koi pond, and there was the tree where she had
hidden when she looked for...
Ukyou paused. For a moment, she had felt something shift. It wasn't
something she had really perceived. She couldn't even be sure it had happened.
The sensation she got was like she had been watching a movie and someone had
left a single frame as a blank white square. Realistically, the single frame
would flicker past the screen so fast that the eye couldn't even make it out.
But the brain would, subliminally. That was the sensation she had gotten, except
far more profound.
A moment later she felt the presence of Paradox. It was a very little
bit. But she frowned and... and did something. She reached out her hand and
clenched it around thin air. There was a hiss as a thin blade appeared, clasped
in her fingers. Blood flowed down her wrist as the blade cut into her flesh.
Then with a slight effort of will, Ukyou healed the sword. It collapsed into a
mote of light, which slowly drifted away from her open palm before fading from
view in a ray of sunlight.
A surge of joy filled her. An idiot grin spread across her face as
comforting warmth spread through her entire body. It had just felt so right, so
perfect. There was nothing that compared to the feeling she got when she did
that. The knowledge that she had restored something from nothing, and ended an
eternity of pain.
"Ukyou! What happened to your hand?"
Ukyou was brought back to earth by Akira's worried shout. The other girl
ran up to her and grabbed her wounded hand. She frowned down at the thin,
shallow cut, wiping away the blood with a burst of water chi. Kasumi was walking
out behind her and the girl made a soft sound before turning and running back
inside. Probably for the first aid kit, Ukyou thought absently.
"Another Paradox Sword?" Akira asked, her voice soft. Ukyou nodded. The
girl sighed, a long-suffering but accepting sound. "Did you catch it before it
did any damage?"
"Yes," Ukyou replied. "I think..." She paused. "I was thinking about the
first time I came here, looking at that tree over by the koi pond. You know, the
one that overlooks the back porch and..." Ukyou shrugged. "It was nothing."
Akira glanced up at her. "If you say so. Come on, let's get you inside."
Five lines, four in parallel with the fifth slightly shorter and offset
from the others. Ukyou frowned down at the scars on her arm. She lifted her arm
up and looked at it in the glare of the lamp. She reached out with her bandaged
hand and wrapped her fingers around her forearm. It wasn't a perfect fit, but it
was rather obviously a close one. A hand had done this.
But not hers.
Her girlfriend was in the centre of the dojo, practicing a few slow
kata. Normally Ukyou would have been enthralled, but she kept being drawn to
those scars. There was something off about them, and she couldn't figure out
"Yeah?" Akira stopped and rotated to face her.
"When did I get these scars?"
Ukyou held up her forearm... and blinked. Her flesh was completely
unmarred. She stood up slowly. "There were..."
"Ukyou?" Akira took a step forward.
"I have scars. Five scars, on my arm..." Ukyou realised she sounded
borderline hysterical, but found she felt borderline hysterical.
"Ukyou, you don't have any scars." Akira held her hand out placating.
She grabbed Ukyou's wrist and began to stroke the smooth skin. "See. Perfectly
Ukyou jerked her arm away. Akira looked hurt for a moment, then the
expression faded quickly. Ukyou opened her mouth to apologise, then closed it.
She looked down at her arm.
There HAD been scars.
Ukyou closed her eyes. How had she gotten them? It would have hurt. She
imagined the pain, the pain of having someone crush her arm with such force that
it warped the shape of her arm...
Akira grabbed her and shook her a little. "Ukyou!"
"What?" Ukyou opened her eyes.
"You were zoning out there? Was it more Paradox?"
Ukyou mumbled a brief response before she turned her head slightly. Yes,
it could have been Paradox. The scars had been there, and then not. That could
explain it. Somebody could have... have un-willed them, or something. But there
was nothing. Just the world, full of a billion glowing soul lights filtering
back and forth to the Oversoul.
"There's no Paradox," Ukyou replied.
"Good." Akira relaxed and let her go. "Listen, Ukyou. I think maybe you
should find something to do." Akira paused. "Keep yourself occupied. You're
spacing out too much lately." She shrugged and walked over to pick up a towel.
"It probably just stress, but better safe than sorry."
Ukyou blinked slowly. "I..." She realised abruptly she had no idea what
she could do to pass time. When was the last time she'd had a chance to just...
kill time? "What should I do?"
"You could go putter around the kitchen," Akira suggested mildly.
"I'm not making you cookies," Ukyou responded dryly.
"No," Ukyou said sternly. "Besides, Kasumi is busy preparing dinner for
"Ukyou, you can cook using rocks and stream water," Akira pointed out.
"Maybe." Ukyou crossed her arms. "But I'd rather not."
"You could draw," Akira shrugged. "Or write, or..."
"A journal!" Ukyou shouted, happily. She reached out and grabbed Akira's
shoulders. "Do I have a journal?"
"What?" Akira blinked. "Not that I know of..."
"Damn, that would have been too easy, I guess," Ukyou muttered.
"Shouldn't you know that?" Akira asked, her voice edging towards worried
"Right, right, of course..." Ukyou backed a few steps away. "Listen, I
think I'll just take a walk. I want to clear my head before the others show up."
"I can come with..."
"NO... I mean, that won't be necessary." Ukyou held up her hand. "I'm
not going to do anything stupid. I promise."
"Okay, now I know I'm not letting you go anywhere alone," Akira replied
"Ha," Ukyou grunted. "No, seriously. I just... everything's changed so
much, Akira." She stepped back. "I need to just absorb it all. Especially if I'm
going to not make the same mistakes as last time."
"I don't think I should..."
"Sorry, Akira," Ukyou said, and took one more step back, and ghosted
through the wall. Akira gave a startled grunt, but by the time she reacted Ukyou
had already leapt back and over the wall. She choose a direction at random and
vanished into the streets of Nerima. "But, my arm had scars..."
Setsuna tapped a fingernail against the table. It was a bad habit. It
could damage not only her fingernail, but the fine wood of the table. However,
it helped her think. She needed to choose a design, and now. The show was in
three days, and the seamstress would need all that time to put together
everything. Granted, there were people who could sew faster, but none that had
She decided to step away from the table, and leave the sketches behind.
She walked over to the single window that overlooked the rest of Tokyo. It was
a beautiful day. The rain last night had given away to a virtually cloudless
sky, and the moisture in the air gave a refreshing quality to Tokyo's usual
heat. Of course, there was little you could do about the smell.
For a moment Setsuna closed her eyes and imagined a different view
outside that window. Marble pillars and majestic arches gave way to sparkling
fountains and impossibly delicate minarets. But, that was gone now. She opened
her eyes back to the present and looked out across the city for a few more
minutes. Maybe if she looked long enough, inspiration would strike.
"GAH!" Setsuna fell back, clutching her heart. The young woman had
popped down headfirst into her line of sight. She was hanging upside down from
the roof. Setsuna landed with an ungraceful grunt, just barely keeping herself
from doing more than sitting down harshly. "Ukyou?"
The woman twisted, phasing through the ceiling and window lintel in a
flare of purple sparks. She landed in a crouch on the ground in front of her.
Her black hair was tied back in a ponytail and she was wearing a long trenchcoat
over a white blouse and black slacks. She stood up with a frown.
"Sorry about that, Pluto," Ukyou said. She offered her hand. Setsuna
took it and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. She resisted the urge to
rub her behind. "I was just concentrating so much on keeping a low profile, I
"It's okay," Setsuna replied, waving the incident away. "Why did you
come here? Some sort of crisis?"
"I... I don't know."
Setsuna stared at the girl a moment. Ukyou looked confused. She kept
rubbing one hand against her forearm. The hand was covered in bandages, Setsuna
noted with concern. "Your hand..." She reached for it.
Ukyou pulled the hand away. "It's okay. I healed some Paradox earlier
and the sword cut me."
"You say that so casually," Pluto laughed.
"Yeah... I do." Ukyou replied seriously. "You'd think I did it all the
"Ukyou, are you okay?"
"I wish people would stop asking me that," Ukyou muttered.
"I'm your friend, you come to me, obviously upset..."
"No, please, I'm sorry." Ukyou backed towards the window. "I just... I
thought you might be able to help me."
"With this?" Ukyou asked hesitantly. She held up her forearm.
"What about it?"
"It has no scars."
"I can see that."
"But it did."
"No, it didn't."
"Pluto! Damnit, you of all people..." Ukyou trailed off.
"Also, stop being so formal," Setsuna frowned. "I've learned to put
Sailor Pluto aside when I don't need her. I would appreciate the courtesy of
being addressed by my name, rather than my title."
Ukyou stared at her. "I..." Ukyou looked at her bandaged hand. "That
didn't sound wrong at all. It sounded perfectly right."
"Ukyou, I think I should call Akira..."
"NO!" Ukyou was suddenly holding her wrist. Setsuna hadn't even seen her
move. "Please... I don't want her to be caught up in this."
"But you want me to be?" Setsuna said with a frown.
"Because you already are!"
"Already are what?" Setsuna shouted.
"You were there, at the end!" Ukyou moved her grip to Setsuna's
shoulders. "YOU WERE THERE!"
"There for what? You're not making any sense." Setsuna didn't raise her
voice, or let it quaver. But she wanted to run. She was scared. Ukyou was
acting... unhinged. And the idea of am unhinged Ukyou was just about the
scariest thing Setsuna could think of. If she used the Third Circle in this
state, she might just...
No. That didn't bear thinking about.
"Everything's right, Pluto!" Ukyou cried. "It all... it all is so...
okay! So, why do I keep..." She stepped back. "Why don't I have any scars?"
"You want scars?" Setsuna asked softly.
"Is that what you want, Ukyou? Scars?"
"Of course not..."
"So... what about them, then?"
"Because they're my scars!"
"I don't recall you ever getting any scars, Ukyou."
"You were there!" Ukyou accused. "I know you were. I can't see it, but I
know it." She tapped her chest. "Here. I can tell. You were right there, when
I... when I..." She looked down at her hand, which had come to rest over her
"Why don't you sit down. I'll make some tea..."
"I don't want any damn tea!" Ukyou roared. "I want you to remember!"
And Pluto remembered.
She gasped, and stumbled back, grabbing her head. She felt like someone
had just set off a nuclear bomb in her head. But she remembered. She remembered
all of it.
She remembered the prophecy. She remembered the battles against Ukyou,
then in support of her. She remembered the mad green sun and the doomed little
girl and Ukyou's desperate hopeless attempt to save her. She remembered Ukyou
reaching her and...
Ukyou screamed. Pluto looked up. Ukyou had fallen against the wall. Five
swords had appeared and were slashing at her. She was using her undamaged arm to
ward them off. They paused, and then as one they flew in, chopping into her
flesh. Swords of Hate, Pluto realised suddenly.
Ukyou grit her teeth as the blades sawed into her flesh. She reached out
her bandaged hand and touched the blades... and they collapsed, dissolving away
into motes of light that rose up into the ceiling and slowly faded from view.
Ukyou took a few sharp breaths.
There were now five parallel scars on her arm.
Akira knelt by the window. She placed her fingers next to the splatters
of blood on the floor. Her eyes narrowed. This didn't look like the result of a
fight. But it looked violent, nonetheless. So... either Ukyou or Setsuna was
bleeding. Judging from the scattered remains of a first aid kit, somebody had
tried to help someone else out.
Akira sighed and stood up. "Anything, Nabiki?"
Nabiki shook her head. "I'm not a psychometric," she explained. "And I
still can't follow Ukyou."
"What about Setsuna?" Akane asked. Her tone was worried. Akira couldn't
blame her. The only reason they were even here was because of what Nabiki called
'a psychic scream' from Setsuna. Then nothing.
"Still nothing," Nabiki said softly. "You said Ukyou was..."
"Ukyou didn't hurt her," Akira growled out. She shook her head. "There
must be something big going on."
"It is like Ukyou to think she can handle things by herself," Akane said
with a sigh.
"To be fair, she's mainly right." Nabiki shrugged. "What? Don't look at
me like that. Do you seriously think there's anything in the world that can
"Well, either way, they're not here," Akira said, trying to squelch her
worry. "Come on, we haven't exhausted all the possibilities yet."
"A dream," Pluto said.
Ukyou looked up. The three girls were walking out of Pluto's apartment,
not talking much. Then again, they could have been all in psychic contact, but
they certainly didn't look that way. Akira paused by her bike and said something
about splitting up. The other two nodded.
"This all has to be some sort of... mindgame. It's an evil dream," Pluto
continued. "Like the one you had in Elysium, except on a bigger scale."
"Elysium?" Ukyou asked. She knew the term, but she couldn't remember
having ever been there.
"It's..." Pluto looked at her for a moment. Then she shook her head.
"You really don't remember, do you?"
Ukyou stood up. The wind up on the roof was playing havoc with her long
bangs but she didn't mind much. "Sorry. I still don't."
"So... why do I remember, but you don't?"
Ukyou shrugged and looked over the edge again. Akane and Nabiki had
vanished, but Akira was still there. She was sitting on her bike, shading her
eyes as she looked up at the building across the street. Ukyou felt an
irrational impulse to go and tell her what was going on. But at the same time,
she knew that Akira was...
She remembered a sense of emptiness. It was like a lurching inside her.
There had been something there, a precious beautiful connection, and now it was
gone. It had been taken from her. She didn't know how she had lost it, but she
knew it had something to do with Akira. And Akira didn't fill that void. She
wasn't a part of her.
So she stayed away.
"Maybe you don't want to remember?" Pluto asked.
"Pluto... is Akira..." Ukyou's voice dried up, but she kept talking. "In
this other... other timeline, is Akira...?"
Pluto ducked her head. "I... can't say for certain."
"Don't play games, Pluto."
"She was your fetich soul. She absorbed your Paradox for you. While you
were fighting... that connection suddenly stopped, and all the Paradox she had
been holding flooded into you. I only know of one way that can happen."
Suddenly the wind on the roof was much more cold. Akira turned to look
up at their roof. Her eyes fixed on the exact spot where Ukyou was. Ukyou made
her not notice. She couldn't notice. She must not notice her.
Akira frowned in that adorable way of hers, then started up her bike and
roared out of view around a corner. Ukyou let out a deep breath. "Who did this?"
Her voice was colder, more vicious than she would have thought.
"The Nameless, I would imagine." Pluto speculated.
Ukyou felt something. It was dark, and cold and powerful. It was hatred,
and more than that. Suddenly the Silence Glaive appeared in her hands. Her
fingers clenched it, to the point of pain.
"I'll destroy him," Ukyou said, her voice thick.
"I don't think it's that easy," Pluto cautioned.
"I'll find a way."
Pluto looked away. "First, we have to find a way out of this dream. Some
way of breaking its hold on you."
"Where do we start?"
Pluto paused before responding. "At the beginning."
Ukyou stood on a street. It could be any street in Japan. There was a
sign in front of her. She walked up to it and ran her fingers along the metal.
"Nerima Ward..." she said aloud.
There was a flash.
Ukyou was standing in a tree. Her gaze looked down across the yard of
the Tendo Dojo into the living room. The entire family was there. Akane, her
long hair tied with a small bow, and both of her sisters looking young and
healthy. "He's not here..." Ukyou stated aloud.
This time Ukyou was in an alley, buttoning up her shirt. Akane was
standing there, blushing slightly and looking unsure of herself. Ukyou ran a
hand through her bangs. "My name is Ukyou Kuonji," she said with a short bow.
"Sorry for the misunderstanding."
"Akane Tendo," Akane bowed back, dipping only slightly deeper. "It was
my fault. I leapt to conclusions..."
Pluto lifted her staff again, only to have Ukyou place a hand on it. She
gazed intently at the image. The younger Ukyou in the image the timegate had
created seemed to be considering something. Finally she opened her mouth.
"Actually, Akane, you're right. I was following you. And I was doing it
for probably the wrong reasons. You see, there's this boy named Ranma and...
well... I like him very much..."
Ukyou lowered her hand. Pluto frowned and paused the playback. "What is
"Is that what happened?"
"In the real world. Is that what happened? When Akane and I first met?"
"I'm not certain," Pluto admitted. "It was seven years ago. I'm smart,
but my memory isn't eidetic." She looked at the Time Key Staff for a moment.
"I felt..." Ukyou paused. "A... a something. Like deja vu, but exactly
"That narrows it down," Pluto murmured.
"I remember that," Ukyou hissed. "I know how that went. I told Akane
everything, about myself and Ranma and the agreement between our fathers, and
about the one Genma made with her father..." She trailed off. "I remember it
all. Not clearly. It was seven years ago. But... it feels odd. Like I
experienced it before, but completely differently."
"Shall we move on?" Pluto asked.
"Indeed..." Ukyou agreed after a moment.
Pluto shifted forward, stopping only at the pivotal moments. There were
few people who knew how time actually worked. It wasn't a river. It existed more
like a tree. Every time something different could happen, it did in two
different worlds. Everything from the position of an electron, to the explosions
of stars, the reality split off into multiple worlds.
Most of the time, the changes were so minor most people would never
notice. In this case, the different worlds ran... close together, for lack of a
better world. Layer upon layer of worlds were created from the changes in
position of subquantum particles or the minor decisions one made in everyday
life. Such things became primary timelines.
Large decisions branched out their own worlds. The timelines became too
incompatible. In one world, there was a Hitler. In another, there wasn't.
History, thus, happened differently and in such a way that the timelines drifted
further apart. Such branches were common.
So it was easy for Pluto to 'fast forward' through the past. She just
looked for the places where the most major timeline shifts happened, where the
splits between major timelines started. She had done this once before regarding
And the results of this viewing were disturbing her greatly. She knew
what Ukyou's timeline was like. It was unnatural. There had only ever been one
Ukyou. So, if a timeline shifted so much that it became incompatible with
whatever Ukyou was doing, that timeline had simply... vanished. Swallowed up
into nothing. Knowing what she did now of Paradox, Pluto knew what was
Ukyou could not split off into multiple versions of herself, so if a
world tried to split too far away from what she was experiencing, it suddenly
had no Ukyou. Except it needed Ukyou. She was a part of it. Part of its history.
But now it had none. Paradox. Contradiction. Enough for Oblivion to find that
timeline... and destroy it.
Pluto didn't mention this to Ukyou. The girl didn't need to know.
Especially considering that this wasn't happening this time around. Oh, there
was still only one Ukyou. She existed alone, and didn't split off into multiple
selves if the timelines diverged too much. But each time a timeline shifted too
far away instead of vanishing it...
It just kept going. It was impossible, but it was happening. And Pluto
couldn't help but think that Ukyou was the one doing it. Somehow, Ukyou was
keeping entire realities from breaking down. The very thought frightened Pluto
to her core.
"Wait..." Ukyou said, holding up her hand. "Go back one."
Pluto looked over. She had hardly been paying attention to the specific
scenes playing out in front of them. She knew it was all phantoms and illusions,
conjured by the Nameless to... to do something to Ukyou. As requested, she
willed the timegates to flip back to the last major focal point.
"Chris..." Pluto murmured. Ukyou was standing on a roof with what looked
like a police officer. Except the officer had inhumanly dead eyes. He was
shouting at her, his hands curled into fists.
Ukyou looked down for a moment. "Chris, you deserve to know the truth."
She looked up. "And I think I can help you with your problem."
The policeman stopped, his eyes narrowing. "Who are you?"
"Chris, it's me... it's Aaron." Ukyou smiled lopsidedly. "Or, that's
half the truth." She stepped forward. "And if you take my hand, I can make the
Chris' eyes widened. "Aaron..."
Ukyou raised her hand. Around Chris, there was a hissing sound. He
looked around, as the air began to ripple. Holes began to open up. Blades began
to slide out of those holes. "What the hell is going on!"
"Paradox," Ukyou explained. "But don't worry, I can fix it..."
"Go on," Ukyou said softly. "I remember this part."
"I..." Pluto stared at her. "You can heal Paradox?"
"Yes." Ukyou looked at her. "I've always been able to."
"Can you still use the Third Circle?" Pluto asked, trying to keep her
"I..." Ukyou trailed off. "I don't know. Sometimes..." She shook her
head. "Show me more. There must be some crack in this prison. Something that can
break the hold the Nameless has on us. Something... important."
"Right..." Pluto murmured, and turned her attention back to the Gates of
"I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help," Tethys said. Akira waved her
hand dismissively and closed down the connection. She leaned back in the chair
and covered her face with her hands.
Akira peeked between her fingers as Akane walked into the room. Shampoo
was with her this time. The purple-haired Chinese girl seemed bored. Akane, for
her part, had her usual intense look.
"None." Akira sighed. She ran a hand over the crystal ball. "If there's
some kind of crisis Ukyou ran off to deal with, it's nothing the Youma Kingdom
have picked up."
"I was speaking with Purgstall," Akane said. She walked over and sat in
a large chair. "He said there was no political crisis he'd heard of."
"The old man knows what he's talking about," Shampoo agreed. She crossed
her arms and walked to the window. Technically this was Nabiki's apartment, but
everyone tended to make themselves at home. It didn't hurt that Nabiki spent so
much of her time not actually living in her apartment. "Great-grandmother and he
are busy working on the peace accords." She frowned. "Isn't this a terrible time
for Ukyou to vanish? I thought tomorrow was-"
"Yeah," Akira sighed out, cutting her off. "Nabiki's working on finding
some reason to delay if Ukyou doesn't show up in time." She bit her lip.
"Isn't this exactly the reason that she was taken away in the first
place?" Shampoo asked.
Akira wasn't even aware of moving. She just found herself grabbing the
other girl by the collar, holding her against the wall. "It wasn't Ukyou's
fault!" she snapped.
Shampoo stared at her coldly. "Don't get angry with me." She brushed
Akira's hand away. "The fact is, that Ukyou has a lot of enemies. Even being
near her is dangerous. Especially if she keeps looking for crises to solve."
"Shampoo..." Akane warned. "This isn't helping." She turned to Akira.
"Maybe Ukyou is having second thoughts. She hasn't seen her in... two years?
"A long time," Akira said. "She wanted to be sure she could control it.
Not hurt anyone by accident anymore." Akira looked down at her hands. A memory
flashed through her mind, her arms twisting and bending like taffy as she
screamed... then the memory was gone. She didn't even really know when it had
happened, or why. She was fairly certain that whatever had happened, Ukyou had
just... fixed it. She'd made it go away. Only that one image, disconnected from
any sensation or emotion, remained. Akira kept meaning to tell Ukyou about it,
ask her about it. She had never gotten around to it.
"I think Ukyou's just scared of the responsibility," Shampoo insisted.
"Shampoo!" Akane snapped.
"You know I'm right, Akane." Shampoo snorted. "She likes playing the
hero, but she never sticks around to fix things in the long term."
"It isn't like that," Akira snapped. "Ukyou just realises other people
are better at that kind of thing. Nabiki, Cologne, Purgstall..." She trailed
"Then maybe Rose should keep the child?" Shampoo asked softly.
"That's different!" Akira snarled.
"Why do you care so much, it's not like she's even your-"
Shampoo crashed into the wall hard enough to punch a hole through it.
Akira wasn't even aware of leaving. She came to on the sidewalk, when Akane
caught her shoulder. Akira managed not to lash out at her.
"Hey, Shampoo wanted to let you know she's sorry," Akane said.
"Why didn't she come down to say so herself?" Akira snapped.
Akane smiled. "Because I think you broke her shoulder. And she's scared
Akira grunted and crossed her arms. "Whatever. She crossed a line. After
everything Ukyou and I went through..."
"I know how much you care about her, them... both of them," Akane said.
"Listen, Shampoo can be a bit abrasive. I think she's just on edge. The last
time Ukyou vanished like this, it was because of Galaxia..."
"It turned out okay, in the end," Akira replied defensively.
"Yes. It did." Akane nodded. "Then again..." She turned her eyes away.
"What?" Akira felt her anger rising again. She knew she shouldn't push
this. She wasn't going to like what Akane had to say.
"It's just..." Akane paused. "It turned out okay, as far as we
"Well, sometimes I wonder, if it really did turn out okay." Akane sighed
and adjusted the hem of her skirt.
"What are you suggesting?" Akira growled.
"Just... if Ukyou decided to just change all of us... how would we know?
She could just alter the past, or the present, or anything else. You know what
she did." Akane gestured up into the sky. "She just... willed Galaxia away. Her
and all her armies. Across the entire universe, all at once. Ukyou just... fixed
it." Akane snapped her fingers. "Like that."
"And that's a bad thing?" Akira asked incredulously.
"No! Of course not!" Akane paused. "It's just... a lot of power. She
could do a lot with that."
"Well she didn't!" Akira snapped. But Akira remembered that single
image. Nothing but a flash in time. It could just be a nightmare, half
remembered in the morning. The idea that Ukyou would... would edit her, was just
unthinkable. Because if she could, then everything about their relationship
No. That wasn't true. It couldn't be.
"Yeah, you're right..." Akane laughed. She rubbed the back of her neck.
"Sorry, I guess I'm just being a little morbid. This is Ukyou we're talking
about. She wouldn't even let us give her a medal or put her name in the papers."
She chuckled a bit. "If there is anyone humble enough to trust with that kind of
power, it's Ukyou."
"Damn straight," Akira said, nodding. "Now, we just have to figure out
where she went."
"The problem is, that as long as Pluto's missing too, they could be
anywhere... or anywhen."
"Well..." Akira smiled. "I'll just have to trust in fate, then."
The conference room went silent for a few long minutes as Purgstall
finished his speech. He sat down, adjusting the papers in front of him. The
image in the background of Gyro's death, caught in freeze-frame, lent his words
a solemn reality. A grumble of dissent stirred among the crowd, but was quickly
silenced when the elegant elfin-faced man at the head of the table tapped his
finger once. Everyone turned to face him.
"Purgstall, I'm putting you in charge of finding out about these new
threats." He frowned. "This, combined with the problems in America and Italy,
worry me. Perhaps it is not the right time to come out into the open, after
all." He paused. "We can not risk our operations, not at this late stage." He
stood up. "Do what you feel is necessary to prevent any further lose of Chronos
"Yes, my lord..." Purgstall said with a smile, bowing as the man walked
out. The scene faded to white again.
Ukyou nodded. "I remember that fight."
"Against Gyro?" Pluto asked.
"Yeah..." She looked down at her hands. "I was still getting a handle on
my powers. I might have lost it. But in the end, I overpowered him." She
"And by facing him..." Pluto murmured. "You prevented all the horror
that was to follow."
"Horror?" Ukyou asked.
"In the original timeline..." Pluto trailed off. "I won't go into the
bloody details, but let me say this. Chronos did not decide to be peaceful.
Their forces rose up violently across the globe, slaughtering anyone who
resisted and throwing all the metanormals into research labs so they could be
studied or converted..."
Ukyou felt sick. "Why didn't I stop it?" she shouted.
"You... were busy at the time." Pluto shrugged. "You went to England, to
fight the vampires."
"The vampires." Pluto raised one of her eyebrows.
"Never heard of them. Some sort of criminal cartel?"
"You've... never heard of vampires?" Pluto seemed aghast. "Undead
creatures that feed on the blood of the living?"
"Uh... no." Ukyou shrugged. "Seems kinda silly."
Pluto turned back to the timegates, and began to scan through it again.
For some reason, she kept focusing on England and Minako. As she continued to
scan through the young woman's early career as a superhero, she continued to ask
Ukyou questions. "Have you ever heard of Millennium?" Ukyou indicated she
hadn't. "Alucard?" Ukyou hadn't heard of that name either. "Dracula? Nosferatu?
Bram Stoker? None of this is ringing a bell, is it..."
"No," Ukyou said, frowning. "Why, is that something else from the
"Yes..." Pluto allowed the images of Minako to fade out. "Vampires
are... horrific things. They attacked England, and killed nearly everyone there.
From there, they invaded the rest of Europe and spread like a plague across the
"Well..." Ukyou looked down at her hand. "I suppose there is no reason
to miss them."
"Yes..." Pluto said with a sigh. "This world, everything in its history
is so different from the one I know." She looked at Ukyou, her eyes sad. "But
nonetheless, I think that may be the key."
"The key?" Ukyou looked up. They'd been at this for what felt like days.
Pluto told her that in reality, no time at all was passing. Which was good,
because Ukyou still had to be back in Nerima by tomorrow. If she wasn't, then
she would miss... would miss...
"So far, every change I've seen between the real timeline and this one
is something you caused." Pluto held up her staff. "Either because you made a
different choice, or because you had a lot more power. Even the ones that seemed
to be part of someone else's work can be traced back to you by the ripple
effect. America didn't become a military state because it never got into a war
with Chronos which never happened because Purgstall convinced Arkanphel to play
more peacefully with the rest of the world which happened because you defeated
Gyro in single combat."
"That was quite a mouthful," Ukyou said with a chuckle. She lowered her
hand from her forehead. She kept feeling she was forgetting something, but
couldn't focus on it.
"Yes, well, it's the truth." Pluto swung her staff around and the air
around them filled with images. It was Ukyou, in any number of places. In some
of the images, she was fighting. In others, she was laughing, or crying. In a
few of them, she was just sitting by herself. "I was beginning to think the big
difference here was that you gained access to your Third Circle powers so much
earlier." She flicked her staff and the images changed, this time displaying all
of Ukyou's friends. "And that spread out through all your actions and effected
the entire world." She banished the images with another flick of her arm.
"Except that I think there is one difference you didn't cause."
"The vampires?" Ukyou asked.
"Yes." Pluto nodded. "We've been looking for some way of tracing this
back to the Nameless. Some mistake he made when he created this illusion. And
this is it. This is the chink in the armour."
"So... what do we do?" Ukyou asked.
"Maybe Nanami can help us?"
"A woman who was turned into a vampire against her will." Pluto replied.
"You met her briefly. The Nameless used her to try and..." She trailed off.
"Anyway, I think we should go meet with her."
"Right..." Ukyou nodded. "Then let's not waste time. I have to be back
by tomorrow morning."
Pluto looked at her. Her gaze was sad, but quickly vanished behind a
mask of determination.
The explosion sent a tremor through the floor that almost knocked Ranma
off his feet. He stumbled, bracing himself with a grimace. There was another
explosion and one of the walls nearby blew inward, showering them with debris.
Ranma's hands blurred as he caught all the dangerous bits. He sighed as another
blast caused the floor to buckle.
"What is it with you and these exploding bases?"
Chris slowly tottered to his feet, wiping the blood from his mouth with
the back of his hand. "Don't think you can escape this time, Ranma!" he shouted.
"I swear you, like, rig these things to explode beforehand!"
"Nonsense!" Chris shouted, clenching his fists.
"You do!" Ranma pointed at him. "You totally do!"
"I do not!" Chris shouted back, also pointing. "I have no idea what
you're talking about!" A chunk of the ceiling the size of a refrigerator
crashed down between them.
"Oh Chris..." Pink shouted sweetly, sticking her head in from the other
room. "The place is exploding, over."
"I noticed," Chris growled, his eyebrow twitching.
"Well, you may be immortal, but me and Link are not," she said,
vanishing through the archway. "So, we'll be leaving now! Bye-bye, over!"
Chris sighed and rubbed his face with one hand.
"Hey, you're the one who chose to become a supervillain," Ranma offered,
"I am not a supervillain!" Chris shouted, clenching his fist while veins
bulged in his forehead. "Just because all my bases explode every time you beat
me, does not make me a supervillain!"
"What about the evil monologues?" Ranma asked, sidestepping as a Greek
column crashed down where he had been standing.
"They are not monologues," Chris growled. He slipped backwards as a
pillar of fire disintegrated the floor where he had been standing. "I would
think you, of all people, would understand my situation and..."
"Blah, blah, blah, Ukyou shouldn't be god, it should be you, you're
going to steal her power and so on and so forth," Ranma interrupted, waving his
hands. "Listen, this place is getting a little too explodey for me. So, why
don't I just punch you while you scream something cliché and vanish into the
"Damn it, Ranma!" Chris snarled. "I. Am. Not. A. Supervillain!"
"That'll do," Ranma shrugged and punched him in the face. Chris shouted
in pain and flew back, his body vanishing into a hole that was suddenly filled
with a torrent of flame. Ranma frowned. "Well, no one could possibly have
survived that!" he called, and turned to make a break for it.
It was a pretty standard self-destructing villain fortress escape from
that point. Ranma dodged collapsing walls and ceiling, evaded pits of fire and
other explosions and engaged in other feats of superhuman athletics. Eventually
he leapt out of one of the entrance, chased by a tongue of flame and a trail of
smoke as the building finally collapsed entirely behind him.
He almost forgot to smile for the camera.
"Nice shot!" Ran shouted, pulling down her camera.
"What can I say?" Ranma said, posing on one of the chunks of rock that
had been sent flying from Chris' latest fortress.
"Something quotable?" Ran suggested as she took out her notebook.
"Uh... Justice has once again triumphed over... uh..." Ranma scratched
his neck. "Did I already use that one?" Ran nodded. "How about the spirit of
friendship?" Ran nodded. "Okay, I got it." He cleared his throat. "The passion
of youth will always overcome..." He trailed off at her flat look. "Not that
"I'm afraid so," Ran replied apologetically.
"Life is too short to spend it on speeches!" There was a flash as the
setting sun glinted off golden hair. "True heroism is not fickle celebrity but
instead the pure desire to stand up and do what is right, as any citizen with
the will and power could do if he so chose."
"Wow!" Ran shouted. "That's good!" Her pencil scribbled madly.
"Yeah, and I bet she was up all night thinking of it," Ranma said,
sticking his tongue out at her.
Minako stuck her tongue back out at him and leapt down off the rubble.
"It's not my fault I'm a natural at this."
"Natural at hogging my glory!" Ranma accused mock-seriously.
"Oh, don't be that way," Minako laughed. "We're a team. The virtuous,
famous and lovely Sailor V, champion of the common man, and her kid sidekick
Ranma Saotome, the kung fu boy."
"I'll show you kung fu!" Ranma shouted, leaping at her just slowly
enough that she could dodge. She laughed as she led him on a merry chase away
from the collapsed hideout. Out of the corner of his eye Ranma thought he saw
Ran give him a weird look, but the expression quickly vanished behind her
Minako had just reached the edge of the island and was turning around to
face him when her eyes widened. Ranma skidded to a stop and glanced over his
shoulder. Sometimes Chris would throw one last surprise at them after they
stopped his latest scheme. But that wasn't what he saw. Instead he saw a sphere
of purple energy slowly fading from existence. Two young women were inside it.
Ran was behind them, blinking and shielding her eyes from the dust their arrival
had blown up.
Ukyou looked at him and smiled, thinly. Something seemed off about her
smile. It almost looked forced. As for Setsuna, there was something entirely
wrong with her bearing. She seemed more closed up than normal. She looked at
Minako, and blinked.
"Sailor V?" she asked.
"Huh?" Minako replied intelligently.
"I thought you wore armour..." She trailed off. "But of course, you
wouldn't in this timeline."
"Hey, hey!" Ran shouted, appearing in front of them. "What are you two
doing here? I thought tomorrow was the day you finally got the government out of
"Yeah..." Ukyou nodded. There wasn't much enthusiasm in her voice. "I
had to come and find out something."
"Well, if you were worried about Chris, there's no need," Ranma crowed.
"I already destroyed his fortress, again."
"Chris?" Ukyou's frown deepened. "Is he still trying to go Third
"Oh yes," Ran answered, nodding. "I think this time he was trying to tap
the world's ley lines or something like that." She glared at Ranma. "Somebody
didn't let him explain himself before he started the punching."
"It was boring!" Ranma complained.
"Besides, it's just the same old stuff." Minako crossed her arms.
"Hey, you don't think Chris would be stupid enough to try and kidnap..."
Ran trailed off slowly, looking at Ukyou.
Ukyou's eyes flashed. "He and I have already had a talk about getting
her involved in his little experiments." She ran a hand through her bangs. "We
have an... understanding when it comes to my family."
Ranma felt a chill pass down his spine at those words. It was times like
this that he remembered the only reason Chris could keep coming back from the
dead like he did was because Ukyou had felt so bad for him she had just... made
him immortal. But he pushed aside those thoughts.
"So, what are you looking for?" Ran asked.
Ukyou looked at Setsuna. The Senshi of Time looked back at her. "Well,
Minako should have some residue on her."
"Residue?" Minako shrieked. "Ew! Ew! Get it off!" She danced around,
looking for stains on her Senshi uniform.
"Spiritual residue," Ukyou explained.
"That's supposed to make me feel better?" Minako screamed at her.
"Uh... yes?" Ukyou paused. Then her hand snapped up and she grabbed
Minako by the forehead. Ranma shivered. He hadn't even seen her move. Minako
went still. The light of her Senshi symbol glowed between Ukyou's fingers. Ukyou
dropped her hand as the Venus icon faded. "Nothing."
"Like... oblivion nothing, or just... normal nothing?" Setsuna asked.
"Normal nothing," Ukyou explained. "Minako is perfectly normal. The
Third Circle has never touched her."
"Just like Nanami..." Setsuna chewed on her lower lip. "This can't be
right. There has to be some sign, some trace we can follow."
Ukyou shrugged. "You're the one who would know where to look?"
"Ranma, have you ever heard of a man named Alucard?"
Ranma paused. "Uh... no?"
"Too much to hope for," Setsuna sighed. "Well, there's only one other
person I can think of..." Setsuna trailed off.
"Who?" Ukyou asked.
"Also, what is going on here?" Ran leapt between the two. "Inquiring
minds want to know!"
"Please, not now, Ran." Ukyou waved the girl away. "Well, Pluto?"
"I..." Setsuna paused for a long time, obviously struggling with some
decision. "There's no choice then. Ukyou, what do you remember about Hotaru?"
"Thank you, Mr. Peori." Akira said into the phone. "Yes, I'll be certain
to let you know the moment I hear anything."
She sighed and flipped the cell phone closed. It had been a long shot.
Ukyou only rarely went to visit Aaron's family. Despite seven years to get used
to the idea, there was still a lot of social awkwardness between the Peoris and
their son-turned-daughter-turned-god. Still, Akira didn't like to think what
would have happened with Ukyou's psyche if she hadn't had some family to ground
her in the real world, even if it was a half-family.
Akira had barely closed the phone when it began to ring again. She
flipped it openly and almost shouted hello into the mouthpiece.
"Whoa! Akira, watch the ears," Ran called back, her voice distant in
only that way the telephone could make it. "I take it from that reaction you
probably aren't going to be able to help me."
"Ran..." Akira pinched her nose. "Sorry. I'm just... a little on edge."
"I guessed," Ran replied, her voice crackling softly. "Anyway, I was
going to ask you about Ukyou, but I think I might know more than you."
"You've seen her?" Akira asked sharply.
"She just showed up out the blue with Sailor Pluto, did some funky god-
scan on Minako and vanished."
"Vanished?" Akira said, suppressing a curse. "Do you have any idea where
"She mentioned some girl named Hotaru..."
Akira stopped listening. She dropped the phone. Hotaru. Why would Ukyou
reopen that old wound? No, this was not right. They had both sworn to leave the
girl alone. She was living a normal life now. She ran over to her bike, trying
to remember Hotaru's address.
Even as she peeled out with a screech of protesting rubber she barely
heard Ran shouting at her over the dropped phone. Akira made a mental note to
apologise later. But for now, she had to prevent Ukyou from making another
The house was nothing special. It was two stories, with a neat little
front yard, and was located in a cozy little neighbourhood. The setting sun gave
it an air of melancholy. It looked about as harmless as a house could look. Even
the spirit of the place was utterly quaint. There was nothing supernatural or
dangerous about it. Two people lived inside.
Yet Ukyou couldn't take a step forward. Her breath was caught in her
throat. Her heart was pounding faster than it had in months. Her palms were
Her hand touched her forehead. Images seemed to drift unbidden out of
her subconscious. There was a man with a mask, holding a frightened girl. There
was a girl screaming for her father. There was a hallway full of hot air and the
child's scared eyes as she looked-
No, don't go there.
She lowered her hand. The images faded. The last thing she saw was a
cloud of swords, roaring through the air towards her. But when she opened her
eyes, it was just a house.
"Are you okay, Ukyou?" Pluto asked.
"I'm fine..." Ukyou murmured, waving her aside. "Just... fragments."
"Maybe those were your true memories?" Pluto said. "The ones not created
by the Nameless." She frowned. "It appears coming here was a good idea, despite
"I suppose," Ukyou admitted. She sighed. "Let's get this over with,
It was only a short walk to the front door. Ukyou half expected it to
feel longer, but it was actually almost pleasant. The doorbell gave off a cheery
chime. They didn't have to wait long before the door opened.
Ukyou stiffened as a white-haired man peered out. The arcane symbol
etched into the glass plate covering his left eye gleamed sinisterly and his
smile widened unnaturally- Except he had no arcane diagram. He just had two
normal human eyes and his smile was not at all unnatural. It was just a friendly
smile of a man greeting someone at his door. Not exactly genuine, but enough for
"May I help you?"
Ukyou opened her mouth. She saw the man, lying on a field of green
grass, a red stain congealing on his shirt. His blank eye stared up into the
sky, and a girl sat beside him, crying and crying...
"We're here to see Hotaru," Pluto stepped in, knocking Ukyou out of the
phantom memory. The man glanced at her, his eyes travelling up and down her
outfit. For a moment Ukyou thought he was admiring the view, but his eyes
"Oh, really?" He stepped out and closed the door behind him. "I'm afraid
she's not available."
"It's very important that we see her," Pluto insisted.
"That's what you people said the last time." He looked at Ukyou. "I
remember you now. After what you did last time, you can forget being able to see
Hotaru. She's recovered and is living a perfectly normal life now."
"What I did?" Ukyou asked. For the life of her, she couldn't remember
what that was. She knew it was bad. She'd done something without thinking and it
("Because I hate you!" Hotaru roared. Her little hands curled into
fists. "And my one selfish wish before the world dissolves, is to see you die!")
Ukyou braced herself against the wall of the house. Her mind was
spinning. Had that been a memory? It seemed likely. The girl, Hotaru, she had
looked like something from a horror movie. Her skin had been pale, her face
covered in blood, her little teeth a field of fangs. What had happened to her?
Why did Ukyou deserve that much hatred?
Pluto grabbed her shoulder. "Mr. Tomoe, I understand that your history
with the Sailor Senshi has been... delicate. However, there is something we need
to talk with your daughter about. It may very well be the most important thing
in the universe."
"Damnit!" he shouted. "I don't care about your big concerns!" He slashed
his arm in front of them. "All I care about is my daughter. If you freaks want
to drag her back into that world, I won't have it. Now get off my property!"
"Mr. Tomoe..." Pluto trailed off under his glare.
"If you're not gone in five seconds I'm calling the police," he informed
Ukyou frowned. Why was she listening to this? She didn't have to deal
with him. She could just walk through him. She wouldn't even have to hurt him.
Akira even described the process as vaguely pleasant, but that might have been a
biased account. And if Ukyou didn't feel like walking through him she could make
him see reason. She could...
Her perception scaled back, and outward. She could feel the world
unfolding around her. All the millions of little connections that made it up,
were suddenly clear as day. She could see the soul of Suichi Tomoe, his concern
for his daughter and his mistrust of them. It was such a small thing, those tiny
lights. She could just... move them. It would be no more difficult than mod-
chipping a game console, or loading a pair of dice or...
No. She lowered her hand and suddenly all the extra perception just
"Father, there's no need to get upset."
All three of them looked at the door. It had opened soundlessly. The
young girl who stood on the other side couldn't have been more than fourteen.
Her large purple eyes stared at Ukyou. She looked young and healthy, and she
even smiled. Somewhere inside, Ukyou felt her heart slow down.
"Hotaru, please go back inside..."
"No, father." Hotaru shook her head. "I may no longer be a Sailor
Senshi, but I have not forgotten my duty." She looked at Ukyou again. "Please,
come inside. I made some lemonade. We can discuss your crisis over that."
"I... thank you." Ukyou smiled and nodded happily.
Hotaru stepped aside to let them in. Ukyou paused only long enough to
exchange her shoes for guest slippers before walking directly into the living
room. Pluto followed her more warily, but Ukyou sat down without any
reservations. Pluto knelt next to her. Hotaru spoke with her father briefly and
he frowned but walked off into the house.
"You seem happy," Pluto said.
"Yes, I am..." Ukyou said with a sigh. "She's... alright."
"Yes, she is..." Pluto murmured softly.
"Whatever I did, it can't be that bad."
There was a clack as Hotaru set a glass in front of her. Ukyou thanked
her and took a small sip. It was tart. Needed more sugar. She declined to say as
much. Hotaru finished serving Pluto and herself before sitting across from them.
She took a sip of her glass.
"You're such a pitiful creature, Ukyou," Hotaru said, her pleasant tone
not wavering. "A few happy endings and all your righteous indignation drains
Pluto gasped and shot to her feet. Ukyou's hand snapped out, catching
her glass before it could tip over. The girl didn't react. She merely took
another drink of her lemonade and set it on the table. "Please sit down, Pluto.
There's no need to be so rude."
Pluto stiffened and began to reach for her Time Key Staff. Ukyou
gestured for her to stop, then indicated her former position. The green-haired
Senshi paused, indecision obvious on her features for a few moments. Finally she
sat down, very reluctantly.
"You know why I'm here," Ukyou said. It wasn't a question.
"Of course." Hotaru smiled. "He still speaks to me, Ukyou." She closed
her eyes and beamed. "In fact, now I can hear his voice more clearly than ever.
You cleared away all that annoying static."
"The Paradox," Pluto gasped.
Ukyou clenched her temple. She remembered walking forward into a cloud
of swords. The pain blossomed all around her, driving into her arms and legs and
chest. But she kept healing it. The pain of the Paradox was nothing. She just
had to heal it away. Hotaru's face floated before her, her eyes staring and
shocked as Ukyou reached through the swords for her. The swords were vanishing,
becoming light. But more swords took their place, which became more light and
then... and then-
"Congratulations, Ukyou," Hotaru said. "You won."
"Yes." Hotaru gestured to the glass. "Please, drink."
"What did I win?"
"Everything," Hotaru offered.
"I don't understand."
"No. You don't want to understand. You do know what I'm talking about.
If you didn't, you couldn't have gotten here." Hotaru refilled her glass from a
pitcher in the centre of the table. The ice and lemon slices floated in it like
"Where is here?" Pluto asked sharply.
"Heaven." Ukyou blinked. Pluto opened and closed her mouth a few times.
"Nirvana. Yu Shan. Valhalla. Whatever you want to call it." Hotaru shrugged.
"Are we dead?" Pluto asked in a strained voice.
Hotaru laughed. "Oh, dear no. Quite the opposite. It wouldn't be much of
a paradise if everyone was dead." She picked up her glass. "Besides, thanks to
Ukyou, the dead can't walk around bothering people anymore." She took a long
drink, forcing Ukyou to consider what the girl had just said.
She looked down at her hand. She remembered placing it against Hotaru's
forehead. She could almost feel the blood from the girl's constantly oozing
wound. She recalled the desire in her, the overwhelming need to just fix the
girl. She knew it was impossible. There was no way she could save Hotaru. But
still, if only she could undo what had happened to her... make it so that she
didn't feel the pain she had felt...
"No more vampires..." Ukyou whispered. Pluto looked at her. Hotaru
raised an eyebrow. Ukyou felt herself begin to shake. "That was... that was..."
It was all rushing back at once. The confusion and the pain almost
overshadowed the few moments of happiness. But they seemed all the brighter
because of that. And she remembered wanting so badly to fix Hotaru. She
remembered her mind trying to seize upon anything. She remembered needing it.
And the thought that had flashed through her mind just before something had
opened up all around her.
"No more vampires," she repeated. "I did it. I... I removed them. I
wanted them gone, and then they were." Ukyou looked at Pluto, her eyes widening
in fear. "Good god, Pluto. I just... I just unmade them!"
"You destroyed all the vampires?" Pluto said, failing to keep her voice
"No, I didn't destroy them... I erased them!" Ukyou stared at her hands.
"I needed to fix Hotaru, to relieve her of her pain. And the world seemed to
unfold around me and it all seemed so simple. Vampires are just a painful
concept. No good ever came out of them. It was so easy, to just will it away.
To make the entire universe change and remove the very essence of them..." Ukyou
"And so you created this world, Ukyou." Hotaru indicated Ukyou's glass.
"This is your heaven, Ukyou. Maybe it's not perfect. But you would never accept
an utterly perfect world, would you?" Hotaru stood up. "Nothing went really
wrong here, Ukyou. None of your friends were tortured to death. You were never
mentally and physically violated. You never abandoned anybody. The world didn't
explode into violence. The universe is at peace... all because of your wishes."
"It's a lie!" Pluto shouted, leaping to her feet again. This time Ukyou
didn't save her glass in time. The clear yellow liquid pooled on the table.
"This whole world, it's a lie!"
"Is it?" Hotaru replied, smiling. "You and Ukyou are so alike." Hotaru
walked around the table and reached for Ukyou's bandaged arm. Ukyou hesitated,
then allowed the girl to take it. "You both cling to your pain so tightly." She
slowly unwound the bandages as she spoke. "You let your scars define the shape
of your lives." The bandages fell to the floor, revealing the still fresh cuts.
"Why is it so hard to just... let them heal?" White light poured out from
Hotaru's fingers as she kneaded the scars. Gentle, comfortable warmth spread
across Ukyou's arm. She shivered. But when Hotaru pulled back her hand, the
scars were still there. "Still stubborn," Hotaru chided.
"This place is an illusion," Ukyou said, standing up and cradling her
"No, it isn't." Hotaru shook her head. "It's real. As real as your old
world was. The people here, they live and breathe and have souls. They have
memories and histories." She shrugged. "What does it matter that they were spun
out of whole cloth when you woke up this morning?" She gestured to the walls.
"The old world was just over seven years old, no matter what the history books
"I want to go back," Ukyou insisted.
"To what?" Hotaru challenged.
"To my home."
"This can be your home, Ukyou," Hotaru asserted. "All your friends are
here. All of them, including the ones you lost. Akira is here. She's on her way
here, even as we speak."
"Stop it, Hotaru," Ukyou growled, her body shaking. She remembered. She
remembered the feeling of emptiness within her. The sudden lurching certainty
that her connection with Akira was no more. And a moment later, the Paradox
exploding around her in confirmation.
"You could make a life for yourselves here," Hotaru pointed out.
"Everything that was taken from you. You can have it back."
"I want to go home!" Ukyou screamed. There was a flash of silver as she
lashed out, chopping the table in two with the Silence Glaive.
Hotaru paused. She tilted her head, as if listening to some far off
voice. Then she nodded. "Very well. I'll take you there." She turned to Pluto.
"I'll need to borrow your power."
"I... of course..." Pluto said. She stretched out the Time Key Staff.
Hotaru placed one hand on the Garnet Orb. Just as she did there was a bang as
the front door flew open. A figure in black ran in.
"Ukyou!" she shouted.
"Go faster!" Ukyou hissed.
"Ukyou, what are you-"
And then they were gone.
Ukyou kept her eyes closed for the trip. But she could feel it
happening. They moved through time and space. She could feel the very concepts
of the universe bending around her. There was something profound moving behind
Hotaru's hands. Not just the girl. There was a power there.
She recognised it.
Her eyes snapped open as the bubble of nulltime faded around them,
letting back in the feel of the real world. She fixed her gaze on Hotaru. The
girl was smiling. But there was something more there, behind her eyes. It was
larger than her. It was bent and folded into her to the point of bursting. Her
purple eyes returned Ukyou's gaze. Behind those eyes, there was nothing but
"Hotaru... what happened to you?"
"I told you, Ukyou," Hotaru said with a pleased sigh. "I can hear the
Nameless much more clearly now." She reached up and clasped her hands over her
breast. "I can feel him, inside me. He is with me. He is a part of me, as he is
a part of all things."
"This is..." Pluto murmured, distracting Ukyou. She looked around.
This was the Tendo Dojo. The training room was unchanged. The lacquered
wood floors still had that faintly oily scent to them. The walls looked as if
they had been repaired frequently, but with great care. There was a shrine in
the far corner, and tatami mats opposite it.
Ukyou wandered over to the large sliding doors. Her hand reached up and
brushed the screens. She could feel beyond those doors. The part of her that was
Aaron could feel people out in the house proper. They were... afraid and
concerned. They were concerned about her, Ukyou realised.
"We haven't left," Pluto said. She pointed her staff at Hotaru. "You
didn't take us back!"
"Don't!" Ukyou warned. "It won't do any good."
Hotaru smiled. "I did exactly what you asked."
"Don't play word games with us!" Pluto shouted, but she lowered her
staff. "You know what we meant."
"Ukyou, Pluto may not be able to sense it, but you can." Hotaru held out
her hand. "Stop looking at the world with those limited eyes. Stop seeing it as
fields of chi or mana. Stop understanding things as something within them." She
stepped forward. "Let yourself see, from a different point of view."
Ukyou stared down at the girl. Then she changed herself. Her perception
became bigger than reality. Her understanding became larger. The world ceased to
be people and places and things. It became potentials. An infinity of infinities
folded out and out, stretching on forever. Uncountable worlds all existed, all
entwined within the same space. All of it was touching in more ways than there
And yet she didn't lose track of herself. A part of her remained in that
room, staring down at that little girl. Her body was there, a part of who she
was. She realised with mild surprise that this too, was part of the plan. One
being, two souls. Two points of view. Infinity and finite. Within and without.
"Good," Hotaru said. Except it wasn't Hotaru. Or it wasn't all Hotaru.
Her potential self was overshadowed by something far grander. It echoed through
all her destiny lines, across all her beings. It vibrated through her and around
her. "You're finally seeing."
"You aren't Hotaru," Ukyou said.
"I am," the girl said, she giggled. "And I am the Nameless." The
potentials around her shimmered and flexed, the Third Circle equivalent of a
shrug. "That name, that concept, is one you branded my overself with. It serves
a purpose, in its own way.
"But you fail to understand its implications," the Nameless-within-
"Let her go," Ukyou hissed.
"I can not." The girl pouted. "I need her. Without her, I can not speak
"Are you afraid I'll fight you directly?" Ukyou clenched her hands into
fists. She could feel the world around her begin to vibrate in tune with her
will. It was... a surprisingly mundane feeling. She had expected a headrush, or
some sort of intoxicating sense of purpose and power. Instead, she just felt
Hotaru laughed. And Ukyou could tell that it was Hotaru laughing. The
overentity entwined through all her potential selves did not vibrate in tune
with her amusement. "Please, Ukyou. You don't have a chance against the
Nameless." She shook her head. "No, Ukyou. He needs me to speak with you because
without me he has no voice."
"No voice..." Ukyou murmured.
"No voice, no name, no identity..." Hotaru looked away. Ukyou could feel
the attention of the overentity swirling around Hotaru's soultree. Fingers of
intangible presence stretched out across the web of lives that touched Hotaru's,
trailing up and down the timelines of their lives like a violinist tuning an
instrument. "Your great enemy, Ukyou," Hotaru said, "is Nothing."
Ukyou could perceive the phantom presence as it floated along the web,
and as its tendrils touched her own potential she realised it was... like a
morning mist. No, even less. There was no weight to it, no focus. It was
"Don't touch me," Ukyou snarled. Ukyou flared her own presence, and the
Nameless retreated. "You're a ghost."
"A useful term," the Nameless-in-Hotaru said. "I was once like you,
Ukyou. I was once... a mortal. I think. I..." Hotaru's face frowned and she
rubbed her temple. "I can't remember, anymore. My past, my purpose... it's gone.
It faded away long ago." She sighed, and Ukyou felt herself shudder.
She had once managed to erase herself. She had vanished, allowing
herself to be folded up inside the identity of Lotus Infinite. But even then,
she had been able to say she had some sense of self. No matter how much Bison
tried to erase her, she retained some small spark of herself. Even if it was a
twisted parody of a human being, unlike anything she had been before, it had
"I am nothing," the Nameless-in-Hotaru said. Her face twisted into a
scowl. "Once, long ago, I ascended to the Third Circle. And in so doing, I
created a Paradox backlash so large it annihilated everything I was. My entire
universe was gone. Everyone that had existed with me was gone. There was
nothing, Ukyou. NOTHING!" Hotaru roared and curled her hands into claws.
"Nothing but the power. I had escaped the Paradox, but at the cost of
everything. I was... I was nothing."
Hotaru shivered, and then visibly calmed herself. When she spoke, her
tone was more level. "I do not remember how long I spent like that, existing as
mindless, diffuse power. I cannot even remember..." She trailed off. "In time,
I discovered I could touch the timelines of others. Or maybe they could touch
me. When my overself touched the soul of a person who had been removed from the
Oversoul, it picked up some traits of that person. For a moment, I was alive
"And then the Paradox found me," Hotaru hissed out bitterly.
"Paradox never goes away..." Ukyou murmured.
"Precisely!" Hotaru shouted in triumph. "The Paradox that I had created
in my ascension still existed. And it trailed me. It could not be said to hunt
me. Paradox has no mind. It is merely Oblivion, seeking to consume. And because
I could perceive it, it could perceive me." Her voice grew thick. "The life I
touched was consumed by Oblivion, as was the entire world. This happened again
and again. Eventually, by accident and design, I discovered I could touch a
world but lightly."
The overself inside Hotaru stretched out and Ukyou felt it spinning
itself smaller and smaller. Until it was nothing more than a filament. It
flicked across the soultrees, touching here and there. Where it touched, a
ripple spread. Small ripples, echoing off each other.
"I found people like Hotaru," The Nameless-in-Hotaru explained. "Souls
that could survive some exposure to Paradox. These souls I touched more deeply.
I invested a part of myself in them. Or perhaps they defined me. Does it really
"The point is that they became points of reference. Things outside
myself that I could use to define myself..."
The filaments withdrew into Hotaru. "But it was never enough," her voice
was thick. "It was like watching a picture of a perfect family. It was like
someone describing a good meal. It was like an echo of an echo of a lover's
voice." Her hands curled into fists. She squeezed her eyes tight.
"If I touched the world, it would die. It would be torn apart by my very
presence. I was too large for existence." Tears began to leak out from behind
her eyelids. "And if I withdrew... I would just lose it all. Even the memory of
it would vanish. I can't know what I've lost! How many times have I almost
existed? HOW MANY?
"IT'S NOT FAIR!" The Nameless screamed with Hotaru's voice. "All I want
is to touch! All I want is to see! I want to remember, and be remembered. I want
to feel and experience and grow and change and exist!" Her eyes snapped open.
"All the things you take for granted, I can never have."
Hotaru turned and walked to the centre of the room. Her body was calm,
but the thing entwined within her soul was writhing with violent energy. "Even
this body, this soul and identity... this is not real. Hotaru has allowed me to
use her voice, but I know that I can touch her only like this. I am closer to
Hotaru than any other fetich soul I have ever touched, and still it all feels
empty." She looked down at her hands. "These hands are not my hands. This voice
is not my voice. Even these words are the ones that Hotaru chooses to express my
presence. Even the feelings I experience are just a reflection of her. I am
"What do you want with us?" Ukyou asked.
"I want to be you."
Ukyou froze. She could feel the Nameless stirring within Hotaru. Its
tendrils reached for her, in the overspace. She hardened herself, twining the
Ukyou and Aaron together so tightly that even his intangible spirit could not
fit between the cracks.
"Please... Ukyou." The Nameless-in-Hotaru turned to look at her, her
voice sad and haunted. "I've been trying so long to create one like you. You are
the culmination of an endless string of experiments." She stepped forward. "You
achieved the Third Circle, and retained yourself." Her voice slowly grew
stronger, more hopeful. "You didn't just brush against it, and then retreat
away. You weren't torn apart. You conquered the Paradox. You achieved what I
never could, because I lacked the very identity you had."
Hotaru offered her hand. "The two parts of you, that was the key." She
laughed and skipped around Ukyou. The Nameless thing within her soul quivered
excitedly. "So many failures... but you did it! The key was making you BOTH go
Third Circle at the same time. If one of you had made the transition before the
other, the stress would have torn you apart. But you could just... heal the
Paradox. You could free it. You can exist, as two things at once, as God and
Mortal." She fell down and started laughing. "You are a perfect thing!"
She stopped laughing abruptly and her expression turned serious. "I did
all of this, so I could create you." She stood up, her head looking down. "I did
it, so I could become you."
"No..." Ukyou hissed, backing away.
"You don't need to fear me taking over," the Nameless-in-Hotaru said,
snapping her head up. Her expression was earnest. "I am nothing. I could not
overpower your mind if I wanted to. I would just... fuse into you. My power, my
presence, would become a part of you. Whatever identity I had, wouldn't matter.
It would vanish in between Ukyou and Aaron. It would act like the glue." She
held out a hand imploringly. "My power, all of my power, would be a part of
"No..." Aaron groaned.
"You would be God." The thing-and-Hotaru paused. "You could be MORE than
God. You would be everything. You could have everything."
Her eyebrow twitched. "Why? Why reject me?"
"I don't want to be god!" Ukyou roared.
"What choice do you have, Ukyou?" Hotaru asked. "Look beyond this world.
Look at the Oversoul. Look at all the world out there. What do you see?'
Ukyou stretched herself out further... and she didn't find it.
"Your world is gone, Ukyou," the Nameless said. "You changed it, in that
moment when the two of you ascended. I just... stepped in and made it better."
She gestured around. "THIS is your home, Ukyou. This is your world. This is what
you have fought for." The Nameless-in-Hotaru smiled. "Only better."
"I know..." Ukyou looked down. "You changed everything." Her hands
clenched. "I don't care. I won't submit."
"Why not?!" the Nameless-in-Hotaru shrieked.
"You DARE ask that!" Ukyou roared. "You... you tortured me! You
tormented my friends! You created an entire world, just so you could make it
explode! You're a sick, emotionless monster! You killed my friends, just to
provoke me! You teased me with love, just to motivate me!
"I am not your puppet!"
The Nameless went very still. The thing entwined in Hotaru's soul,
folded and bent to fit between the branches of her destiny, flexed. The girl
gasped and collapsed to her knees. Blood oozed from her eyes and the corners of
"Leave her alone!" Ukyou roared.
"Or what?" The Nameless replied, her voice icy. Ukyou paused. She felt
a cold sweat break out on her skin. "What will you do, Ukyou? How will you stop
"I'll..." she trailed off. She had the Third Circle, right? She should
be able to fight the Nameless now. "I'll fight you!"
"You can't harm me, Ukyou," the Nameless-in-Hotaru replied coldly. "I am
Nothing. I have no body to bruise, no mind to shatter, no soul to abuse. I have
no destiny to rewrite, no purpose to be twisted." She stood up, her body moving
jerkily, like a marionette. "You can't fight me, Ukyou.
"I suffer no such limitation."
Ukyou screamed. She fell to her knees. Her overself shrieked as the
Nameless lashed out. It was nothing like any attack she had ever felt. It struck
her everywhere at once. It was in her past, and her future. It was in her body
and mind and soul. It spread through every part of herself. It wasn't just pain.
It was the reality of pain. It was the definition of pain. She was being remade
into living pain.
And just before she snapped like a twig, it stopped.
She knelt, panting on the ground. Hotaru stood over her, looking down at
her with a smile of dreadful joy. "You seem to think you have a choice here,
Ukyou." Hotaru's fingers curled around her chin, lifting it up. She could feel
the Nameless coiling itself tighter and tighter into the girl's destiny. "I did
not go through all this trouble to give you a choice. You will allow me to
"Never..." Ukyou hissed.
"Oh please, don't pretend you have that kind of strength, Ukyou," Hotaru
said with a snort. "I chose you very carefully. I know that, in the end, you'll
Ukyou started, the Nameless and Hotaru smiled. "Oh yes. I was very
careful. I could have chosen anyone. I can create people out of whole cloth. I
can forge entire realities. Did you think you were special? Stronger than other
souls?" She chuckled. "Far from it. You are flawed, terrible human beings. Ukyou
and Aaron, two beings that seem strong and reliable, but that fold in the
critical moment." She released Ukyou's chin, letting her drop back to the
ground. "And you've proven me right again and again. You know that when you
can't win, you'll compromise. You accept me, even if it makes your skin crawl."
Hotaru leaned down and hissed into her ear. "I WILL have my identity."
She straightened and backed up a step. "So... you get to choose, Ukyou," she
said in a tone that suggested the exact opposite.
"Either you allow me to become one with you...
"Or I destroy everything."
"You... wouldn't..." Ukyou gasped.
"Really?" Hotaru-as-Nameless chuckled. "Hotaru wants me to. It's such a
compelling emotion. Even as a pale reflection, it's very strong. I've never felt
a desire this strong in all the memories I scraped together for myself." She
knelt in front of Ukyou. "I would enjoy it. I would enjoy casting this whole
mess into Oblivion."
Her smile was vicious. "After all, I know how it's done now, Ukyou."
Ukyou's blood went cold.
"Even if you refuse," she explained. "I can just do this again.
Different people. Or the same. Doesn't matter to me. I can try it over and over
again. I've done it before, I can do it again." She laughed. "I have forever! I
AM forever!" She stood up, throwing her arms out.
It could do it. It would do it. It had already done it. How many times
had someone been here, in this position? How many other "perfect beings" had the
Nameless created with its twisted experiments? How many times had she herself
been here, in this place, faced with this choice?
It would think nothing of scrubbing the entire experiment. It would
start over again. It knew how to make it work. It just had to keep trying, until
finally someone submitted. How many more worlds would have to suffer? How many
more innocents would it create, just to torment? Not just the fate of herself,
and Hotaru and everything she held dear was at stake here. The fate of
uncountable billions of souls that did not even exist yet was in her hands. If
she did not stop this madness here, it would just go on and on until the
She couldn't fight it. There was nothing to hurt. There was nothing to
struggle against. Slowly, very slowly, she rose to her feet.
"Are you ready?" the Nameless-in-Hotaru asked. Ukyou looked at Hotaru.
The girl smiled. "I know how you feel about me," Hotaru said, and Ukyou could
sense it was her voice now. That there was nothing of the Nameless in these
words. It was letting Hotaru speak for it now, figuratively instead of
literally. "You think that by saving me, you can redeem yourself." She pulled
back her bangs, revealing her forehead. "You lost your child, Ukyou. You had her
taken from you. Bison practically tore the girl from your womb. He twisted and
corrupted it, destroyed it to make room for himself. And even when he was
defeated, you needed to save Rose. You gave up your child.
"And that's why you fixated on me," Hotaru said. "You hadn't even
thought about me until after you knew there was no way to get your little girl
back. Then, suddenly, I became all-important." She sighed. "I am not your child,
Ukyou. I am not your redemption. You tried to help me, in the only way you
could. You failed. I was lost.
"But you thought to yourself, 'If I can save Hotaru, that means I saved
the child. I saved the girl I lost because I was too weak and selfish to defend
it.' That would make it all right." She shook her head. "Like everything else,
it was just another selfish desire."
Hotaru stretched her arms out. "I can never forgive you, Ukyou. But you
don't have to get my forgiveness. This isn't about me. This is about you. Your
choice here can make it all worthwhile, Ukyou. You can either justify all the
suffering, and make it okay. Or you can be stubborn, and have it mean nothing.
And if you choose to fight, you make me right. You prove that you're just a
selfish bitch who can't handle responsibility."
"You're wrong..." Ukyou hissed. She closed her eyes.
"Wrong?" Hotaru sighed. "Ukyou... you think you need to save me. I don't
want to be saved. I want it to end. But if you want redemption... you don't need
a substitute child."
There was a whisper as the screen door of the dojo slid open. Ukyou
stiffened. There was a presence there. It was a small presence. It stepped into
the room. Ukyou didn't look. She couldn't look.
"No..." Ukyou moaned.
"Mama, is that you?" The presence took a few steps closer. Ukyou didn't
look at it. Aaron didn't focus on it. It existed as a shadow at the edge of
their perceptions. "They said... they said it's okay to see you now."
"You bastard..." Ukyou growled, squeezing her eyes shut. That way, she
couldn't look. She couldn't see.
"Mama? I... I was lonely. Mr Tofu is nice, but I... I missed..." The
presence stepped closer. "Mama? What's wrong? Why aren't you saying anything?"
"Damn you..." Ukyou growled at the Nameless. She still didn't look, even
when the Presence touched her. Little hands touched her leg. Warm hands. Real
hands. Child's hands. A girl's hands. She couldn't look. If she looked, she was
lost. She would crumble. She would do anything to not have to unsee this. So she
couldn't see it.
"Mama? Why won't you look at me?" The presence's hands grabbed the side
of her coat, and began to tug at her. The voice began to grow annoyed. "This is
a terrible game, Mama. I don't like this game."
"Your choice, Ukyou," Hotaru and the Nameless said.
"Mama! Please, look at me! Say something! MAMA!"
"I..." Ukyou swallowed her words.
"You can have it all, or you can have nothing, and I win either way."
"Please! Mama, please! JUST LOOK AT ME!"
"DAMN YOU!" Ukyou shrieked, and made it all go away.
Sailor Pluto realised she was out of her element. As Ukyou and Hotaru
confronted each other, she understood that there was another confrontation going
on outside of her ability to perceive. There was something huge behind Hotaru,
something within and around her. Pluto could no more perceive it then she could
see all existence at once. She had the dreadful feeling that whatever was beyond
Hotaru was bigger than the entire universe.
Pluto might have been able to handle that. The problem was what she was
sensing coming from Ukyou. Pluto shuddered as she felt the presence of the girl
expand. It didn't seem to be just one presence. There was a duality to it. Yet
Pluto could not pin it down. Ukyou's presence was growing. Growing faster than
Pluto could conceive. It flooded out from her, and as it did, she changed.
When Pluto had first been revived in this world, Ukyou had appeared as
she once had seven years ago, long before her misadventures had left their marks
on her. Now, as the feeling of Ukyou continued to grow and grow the image of the
girl was shifting. The crude cuts on her arm weathered and deepened into shallow
scars. The colour of her eyes darkened, and the shape of them shifted into lotus
flowers. Her unscarred arm burned with purple light as tattoos etched themselves
into her flesh in a swirl of sparks. The symbol of Neptune flared brightly on
her forehead. Her clothing shifted with the change. Instead of a shirt and pants
she wore a tight white and black bodysuit with cords strapped around the shins.
Her trenchcoat flapped behind her in an unseen wind.
Ukyou did not notice these changes. She rose to her feet after being hit
by some sort of attack, her face twisted in pain. Pluto had not even sensed
whatever it was the Nameless had struck her with, and was glad. She could barely
follow the conversation happening between them. She could hear the words, but
there was something happening beneath and above the level of mere words.
There was a form of communication happening between them that Pluto couldn't
hope to understand.
And Ukyou's presence was still growing.
Pluto closed her eyes. This was just like the final moments of the
confrontation in Elysium. As Ukyou had rushed through the Swords of Hate,
brushing through the Paradox, Pluto had felt something changing then, too. Ukyou
had been curing the Paradox, and that is what Pluto had convinced herself she
It wasn't. She had been witness to Ukyou's ascension to godhood. There
was simply no other way to adequately describe it. Ukyou's soul had achieved a
new state. Her physical body was still present, but a part of her was now larger
than any mere body. Pluto was beginning to think that soon it would grow larger
than the entire universe. She would have all the powers of the Nameless. That
was what Hotaru claimed, and Pluto believed her.
Pluto looked down at her Time Key Staff. She hated this. It was the same
as before. The feeling of uselessness had returned. What could she possibly do
in comparison to such powers? The Nameless had played her like a fiddle. It had
created Destiny, and firmly fixed her place in it. Ukyou was growing into a
being much like it, as it had planned. A being that would not suffer its single
There had to be something Pluto could do. Something she could say. But
while she could hear the words of Ukyou and Hotaru, the meaning of them seemed
to slide around her. She had tried to shout something, to give Ukyou
encouragement, but Ukyou had ignored her. Now Pluto realised that Ukyou was not
ignoring her: she just could not perceive her. Ukyou, Hotaru and the Nameless
had grown beyond Sailor Pluto. To them, she was as significant as a bacterium.
Then Pluto saw the girl enter the room. She realised instantly who it
was. She knew what it was that Ukyou had been waiting for, what memory of this
false/real world had eluded her. She felt her heart sink. There was no way that
Ukyou could resist this. But there was something about the child that refused
to stick in Pluto's memory.
It was like she wasn't all there. As long as Ukyou didn't look at her,
the child didn't seem to be fully real. The girl walked up to Ukyou and began to
demand her attention. Ukyou ignored her. Ukyou clenched her eyes closed and grit
her teeth. Pluto took a step back. She could sense Ukyou's will wavering. Then,
like a damn, it burst.
Sailor Pluto reflexively raised her staff and shielded herself. She
stepped outside the flow of time, and still she was almost destroyed. The
destruction was instantaneous. One moment, there was a Tendo Dojo, then there
wasn't. One moment there was a Tokyo, and an Earth for it to sit upon and a
universe for it to exist within. The next moment, they were all gone.
Pluto gasped and fell to her knees. She held up her staff. She was in a
bubble of empty time, one she had somehow created. They were back in Elysium, or
something very much like it. Except that there was nothing here; no fragments of
fading dreams, no howling swords, no deserts, no soullights... nothing. Just an
empty plain, as far as she could perceive. Pluto realised with a certain
grimness that she was the last living thing in the universe.
Ukyou stood on the featureless plain, her attention turned downward. She
was looking at her hands. Her expression was shocked and horrified. Hotaru was
gone. But even as Pluto thought that the girl's voice echoed out of everywhere.
Above them, stormclouds began to gather. Hotaru was laughing.
"Does it feel better now, Ukyou?" Hotaru asked. "You did it. You really
"I..." Ukyou fell to her knees. "No... I didn't mean..."
"That's what it means to be God, Ukyou," Hotaru lectured. "Your will is
reality. Your desire is law. Your thoughts are truth." She laughed again. "And
so, when the universe became too great and painful for you to endure, you wished
it away..." Ukyou closed her eyes. "...and it left."
"Ukyou..." Pluto gasped. This was it, she realised. This was the moment
of Prophecy. She looked down at her Time Key Staff. She knew she shouldn't have
survived that. There was no way she could have reacted. No... she had been
saved. The Nameless had intervened. It had made her do this, the one thing that
would save her for long enough to witness this.
It had played her again. She was a part of this. In a few seconds, Ukyou
would raise to her feet. She would draw out the Silence Glaive, not out of
necessity, but out of familiarity. She would do it only out of what felt right.
An attack needed a weapon. Then, she would strike at the Nameless... and it
would crush her. She and Ukyou and Hotaru and their memories, all that was left
of everything they had known, would be wiped out.
The End of Time.
Ukyou was standing up. She was clad in skin-tight black pants wrapped
about the ankles with cords, her torso was covered in a turtle-necked skin-tight
white shirt and over that she wore a long black trench-coat which was blown back
and flared in an unseen wind. Her sleeves were rolled up and both arms were
reaching out towards the heavens. On her left arm five parallel scars glowed
with eldritch light, on her right arm a tattoo of some kind snaked up to
disappear under her sleeve. A power radiated from her, a power that Sailor Pluto
could neither place nor understand. Now Sailor Pluto saw the woman's face, and
it was undeniably Ukyou's face, though a bright light flared from her forehead,
and there was something terribly wrong with her eyes.
There was one thing missing.
The clouds overhead swirled and shifted, and a human figure began to
descend from them. It was Hotaru. She was the vessel of the Nameless' final
judgement. She would destroy Ukyou for her impertinence. Her body overflowed
with such twisted power that it made Pluto's blood chill. It was a wrongness.
Paradox, Pluto realised. The Nameless was using Hotaru to store all its Paradox
as it prepared to strike at Ukyou.
Pluto narrowed her eyes. There was still something missing. She should
know this, this had been her entire life for seven years. Every night she had
seen this moment. She grasped the Garnet Orb on the end of her staff with one
She was supposed to send back an image now. She was supposed to send a
warning to herself. She could feel the strength of the Nameless on her, his
great will. It was more profound than she had ever imagined. Filtered through
Hotaru's body, she had not understood it. But she could feel the press of
Destiny upon her. She could send back a message. She HAD to send back an image.
So this could all start again. The Nameless wanted a life, and Ukyou
could provide it with that life. It would do this, again and again and again.
This was the point where it all ended, and all began again. Once the Nameless
crushed this obstinate Ukyou, it would just create another, and if that one
failed they would be back here... again and again until it got it right.
Pluto's mouth opened. She remembered the final moments of Ukyou's
ascension, back before this world had been forged anew. She remembered Ukyou
touched Hotaru and the girl changing. Her pale skin flushed with life. Her
bloody forehead healed. Her ruined clothes were replaced with a well-maintained
outfit. Nanami had gasped as the warmth and colour of her body had returned, as
Ukyou wiped the concept of vampires from the fabric of reality.
And then she remembered Ukyou standing up, cradling the sleeping Hotaru
in one arm. She had looked out, at something only she could see. She had spoken
into that void.
"It never ends.
"I guess, I never really thought about it before. But it really never
ends. It just goes on and on. This boundless thing we call 'existence' never
stops. It stretches out into infinity. We all move along it, and not everyone
makes it, but it never ends
"One moment becomes the next. One challenge gives way to the next
battle. One life ends, and another begins. Each decision leads to the next, and
the next, and the next. There is no final state. We're not traveling towards
anything, because no matter what destination we reach, there is always somewhere
else to go from there.
"That's a lot to accept. Most people never have to. But I touched it. I
felt it. I saw the whole thing, stretched out forever in front of me. It's a
heavy thing. It can break you. It can make you despair.
"But it also means one thing you didn't count on.
"It means that even if I lose this battle, it will go on. Even if I
can't win, this fight will go on. If I fall, someone will stand up in my place.
So don't think this is the end. One day, you will pay for this. One day, someone
will take you down. And life will go on.
"Because I am sure that while existence is eternal, you are not. So come
on, you self-righteous son of a bitch! Give me everything you got!"
At that moment, Pluto's memory stopped. The Nameless had done its worst.
It had tried to break Ukyou's spirit, and failed. Now Ukyou was fighting it
again. It was a hopeless attack, but Pluto realised that Ukyou remembered
those words. Ukyou knew what was going to happen, and still she would fight.
Because it would all start again. Maybe next time, if they failed, the
next Ukyou would succeed? Except...
Except that there was a flaw.
Pluto wanted badly to transmit the message. She wanted to set the events
of the universe in motion all over again. It needed to be done. She knew that.
There was no hope of winning this time. The only hope was that next time, some
version of Ukyou would be able to win. If she could master the Third Circle
to the level that the Nameless had before this confrontation...
They were missing. Three circles of light that orbited Ukyou, each made
up of little bits of data. That was what was missing from this vision. This
wasn't the exact same vision. This wasn't what she had foretold.
This wasn't Destiny.
Ukyou lifted up the Silence Glaive, ready to strike. From the set of her
face, she was aiming for one final clash of raw will. She would lose. But she
wasn't Destined to lose.
Pluto dropped the Time Key Staff. She dashed in front of Ukyou and, with
all her strength, grabbed the Silence Glaive as it began to descend. Ukyou's
eyes widened as the attack of will she had been gathering dissipated. Pluto
hissed. She could feel herself unravelling. The void of this place, its utter
absence of anything, was eating away at her very being. She had foolishly
dropped her only defence. Even now, the Time Key Staff had already faded away.
She didn't have time.
"Ukyou..." Pluto gasped in pain. She couldn't explain it all. She needed
to tell Ukyou what she had guessed, and quickly. "Remember your life, Ukyou!
Remember it all!" Her words were fading away in her own ears. "Remember-"
Sailor Pluto said no more.
Ukyou laid Pluto on the 'ground' of this place. She closed the woman's
eyes. Her chest rose and fell slowly. She was alive, but only just. Ukyou had
protected her from the emptiness, but only just. She could still feel the raw
hatred, the anger of the Nameless battering at them both.
There were two soft taps as Hotaru set down. The air around her was bent
and distorted. It was Paradox. The Nameless wasn't even trying to be subtle
anymore, so the Paradox was everywhere. It had consumed everything. Her... no,
THEIR world was gone. All of their friends. Everything they had cared for.
They still felt the anger. The mindless anger that wanted them to lash
out at the Nameless. They had almost given into it. They had almost lost
"Pick up your weapon." It was Hotaru's voice. It was the Nameless'
"No," Ukyou said, standing up. She left the Silence Glaive on the
ground next to Sailor Pluto. They had come so close to attacking, and Pluto had
reminded them at the last minute what was important.
Life. Life was important. Life was hope.
"I will destroy you!" Hotaru screamed. The world around her exploded,
Paradox causing reality to run like wax. The threads of reality began to
unravel, the ends of them burning away backwards into the past.
Ukyou snapped her hand out and grabbed the edges of the fraying
timelines. She wrapped them around her fingers, and with her other hand she
pulled the frayed ends out, healing them. The effort created more Paradox, but
the other half of her healed that just as fast.
"You can't win by just defending yourself," Hotaru informed her. Ukyou
looked into the girl's eyes. There was a bit more than just Hotaru there now.
She could see the Nameless behind those eyes. It was thick inside her. It was
clinging to her reality, burying itself in her identity. "I'm not going to spare
you, Ukyou." Hotaru brought up her hands. "You had your chance for forgiveness.
You had your chance for salvation. You could have chosen to just put aside your
stupid pride for one moment. You could have been God. You chose this path. You
chose destruction. So live with your choice, Ukyou. Pick up your weapon!"
"I won't," Ukyou said, tightening her grip on the few remaining
timelines. She realised that they had manifested physically. The world around
them was filled with threads of light, sparkling in the darkness. There were so
few of them, and so much darkness.
Hotaru snarled and grabbed a nearby thread. It burst apart into a shower
of black sparks. Ukyou hissed as a potential future vanished, the sparks burning
"I am the Nameless," Hotaru informed her. "I have more power than you
can imagine. Do you think you can resist me? I've been doing this for countless
epochs. You've been doing this for less than a day!" Hotaru struck again, her
fingers shattering timelines wherever they went. Ukyou cried out a little with
each one, feeling parts of herself that might be cease to exist in rapid order.
She couldn't heal them fast enough!
"Pick up your weapon, Ukyou!" Hotaru screamed. "Give me the pleasure of
seeing you die, with the full knowledge that even your best was futile." Hotaru
walked towards her, occasionally destroying a thread as she did. Ukyou gasped
and fell to one knee. "You don't have any choice!"
"There... is always a choice." Ukyou forced the words out. She looked at
Hotaru's eyes. There was less of the Nameless there now. It was cloaking itself
deeper inside Hotaru with each passing moment. Ukyou wondered why-
And the answer hit her immediately. It was creating Paradox. More and
more with each strike. That was how it was destroying the timelines. Ukyou could
heal the timelines, but not quickly enough. More and more Paradox was building.
And Paradox was drawn to beings of the Third Circle.
The Nameless... was a powerful Third Circle being. Perhaps it was THE
most powerful Third Circle being. So, with every strike it made, it had to hide
further and further behind Hotaru's identity. Without her, the Paradox would
tear it apart. It literally had nowhere else to go.
Ukyou had rejected it. The universe had been destroyed in a fit of
pique. Sailor Pluto was barely real, maintained only by Ukyou's will. It only
had one vessel left. If Ukyou could destroy her...
Hotaru punched her. The blow sent Ukyou sprawling. She gasped as she
lost her grip on a number of threads. They spun off into Oblivion, vanishing
into the perpetual emptiness.
"Yes... that's it, Ukyou..." Hotaru sneered. "Look at me with that
intent to kill." She leapt forward, her foot lashing out in a flying kick. Ukyou
kicked to her feet and blocked with her forearms. The blow sent her skidding
across the floor. "Fight me." She ran forward, driving a blow at Ukyou's face.
Ukyou dodged sideways, but Hotaru stepped in and drove her other fist into her
Ukyou coughed and toppled to her knees. "Fight back," Hotaru snarled.
Her next blow sent Ukyou flying. Stars exploded across her vision. "I'm enjoying
this primitive game, Ukyou." Ukyou landed on her back. Hotaru appeared standing
over her. Ukyou clenched her hands tighter around the timelines she was holding.
"Fight me!" Her foot settled on Ukyou's neck. "Can't you at least give me this
Ukyou started to laugh.
Hotaru's eyes widened. Her mouth opened and closed. The pressure from
her foot eased.
"Hotaru..." She spoke to the girl still there, whatever part of her was
still there. "Remember life, Hotaru. Remember your life."
"Remember life?" Hotaru shrieked. Her foot came down, almost crushing
Ukyou's throat. "I remember my life, Ukyou! I remember pain and misery. I was a
tool, a prize to be shuffled from person to person. Even you never really cared
for me. I was just a way of salving your guilty conscience! And when I was
useless to you for that, you threw me away." The pressure on Ukyou's throat
increased. "I hate you, Ukyou. I hate this cursed existence. We are all tools!
We are nothing but pieces on a board. We exist to fulfill our roles and be cut
down when no longer needed.
"The Nameless showed me the truth, when I died." The girl leaned down.
"Your very existence was poison, Ukyou. The Third Circle effect that was
attached to you created Paradox. It burned away every timeline but your own,
dooming trillions of souls. Do you think I'm going to weep that it's gone?"
Hotaru's eyes narrowed. "I saw it, and knew I had to help end it. I had to put
an end to that mockery of a universe, the only way it could be." She lifted up
her foot. "With your death!"
Ukyou caught the descending foot and pushed Hotaru off-balance. She
flipped to her feet and landed clutching her throat. With a thought, the
physical damage was healed. Hotaru steadied herself and snarled.
"Hold onto that memory, Hotaru," Ukyou told her.
"Hold onto it?" Hotaru snarled and launched another assault. Ukyou
parried the blows, trying to keep the threads from touching the girl. "You want
me to remember all that pain and misery? You bitch! Just fight me, so this can
end the way it's supposed to!"
"Hold onto that memory and ask yourself, Hotaru..." A blow crashed past
Ukyou's defences and she staggered backward. She willed the pain away. Willed
the damage away. She had to reach Hotaru. She would have to reach Hotaru now.
There was no way she could keep on fighting.
"Ask yourself, if it's more important to have revenge on me, or to save
the world from that fate?"
Hotaru's fist came to a halt. It quivered in the air, just in front of
Ukyou's face. The girl's eyes were wide. Ukyou could feel the Nameless shifting
inside Hotaru's soul. Ukyou didn't say anything. There was nothing else she
could say. No amount of speechmaking would reach the girl. She had made her
point. Either Hotaru would see it, or she would not.
Ukyou slowly released the threads she was holding. She uncurled her
fingers. She spread her arms to her sides. She smiled.
"No..." Hotaru cried. Her eyes began to shimmer. "NO! FIGHT ME!" Hotaru
stepped forward and punched Ukyou in the chest. The blow lacked any strength.
"It's not supposed to be this way! FIGHT!" Again, Hotaru punched her. Again, it
was barely felt. The girl began to flail at her.
The Nameless surged.
"Why should I listen? Why should I care?" Hotaru shrieked, her body
quivering. "It's all pointless! I am a tool, just like you. We'll both die.
Heroism? That means nothing! It's a word, a pretty word created by society to
encourage people to be stupid for its benefit. Justice? There is no such thing."
A tear ran from her eye. "Love? Even if love exists, it is nothing more than a
fading dream. It can not last. It can not be eternal. Your family will die! Your
friends will abandon you!"
Once again Hotaru stepped in and she brought both fists down on Ukyou's
chest, hard enough to drive Ukyou down a bit. Ukyou gasped. The girl collapsed
against her. "The Nameless can destroy it all. The Nameless can defeat us all.
There is no resisting him. Nothing you can offer me, he can't take away. So what
should I fight him for, Ukyou?" She sobbed. "Name me one thing I can believe
Ukyou wrapped the girl in her arms.
The Nameless roared. Its anger burst across the landscape. Ukyou clung
to Hotaru, holding her as tight as she could. The girl was no longer crying. The
nothingness around them was pulling in, faster and faster. The Nameless was
releasing all its power. They would be annihilated. Nothing Ukyou could do would
stop it. She closed her eyes.
Hotaru sent her flying. Ukyou's eyes widened. The girl stood with one
hand extended. Ukyou landed. She could see Oblivion collapsing in towards
Hotaru. The girl's expression was grim. The threads of her souls were being
"Hotaru!" Ukyou yelled.
"I will never forgive you, Ukyou," Hotaru said, her voice gentle.
The Nameless surged. But Hotaru closed her eyes and... and she held it.
It was inside her. Somehow Hotaru wrapped her soul around it, as if was spinning
millions of threads to envelope it. Hotaru gasped as Oblivion reached her
physical form. Her body was beginning to unweave, from the inside out.
"Hotaru, no!" Ukyou stood up. "You don't have to do this!"
"Someone has to..." Hotaru gasped. She clutched her head. The Nameless
was trying to escape her. It sensed, with whatever primitive survival instinct
it had outside of the personalities it stole, the end coming. But Hotaru clamped
down on it. "It's too far inside me..." Hotaru fell to her knees. "It was too
greedy. It wanted to feel your death, to punish you... it got careless..."
"Hotaru, let it go!" Ukyou stepped forward, but the force of Oblivion
held her back. She thrust her hands into it and began to heal. She restored
reality where there was none. But it was too much for her. She wouldn't reach
Hotaru in time.
"I can't..." Hotaru chuckled. "It will just flee this world." She
shuddered. There were great holes in her. Her entire left arm was missing. Her
stomach was gone. Both legs were in pieces. Her right eye was a gaping pit.
"...like it always has before."
"Let it!" Ukyou shouted. "I can save you!" She pushed her hand forward
as much as she could. White sparks erupted around her outstretched arm as she
healed more and more of the damage the Nameless was causing by its very
presence. Its struggle to escape was producing Paradox faster and faster. "Just,
please, give me your hand!"
"If it doesn't end here," Hotaru explained as her other arm began to
vanish and another hole began to grow in the side of her face. "It will just go
on and on." Hotaru smiled. "You reminded me, that I can't let that happen. No
matter how much I hate you...
And then she was gone.
"HOTARU!" Ukyou screamed.
The Nameless fluttered for a moment. Then, without its host to protect
it, caught without an identity to corrupt in the sea of its own Paradox, it
finally returned to what it had been all along: nothing.
Ukyou let out a wordless howl. She squeezed her eyes shut. They were
burning. Her jaw was clenched so tight it ached. Her heart was crushing itself.
Her lungs shrinking. She couldn't breathe.
Then she opened her eyes.
She looked out at the empty universe. She looked down at her hands.
"No. It doesn't end like this."
She stood up. She closed her eyes again. She took a breath, and let all
the pain seep out of her as she released it. She wasn't certain what she was
doing, but it didn't matter. She was not going to let it end this way. Not after
everything that had been paid. She was going to go home.
It was like a weight lifted from Natalie's shoulders as she climbed off
the train and stepped into late evening London. Of course, it wasn't the same
London that she'd last seen as a girl, before her Da had moved them back to
their little farm outside Saint-Dizier.
It was way too damn clean, for one. Not just the lack of garbage in the
streets and gutters. The London she remembered smelled of a thousand things,
smoky and sweet and wet and disgusting all at once. Now it was... clean. At
least it probably smelled like it to almost anyone else. Hopping past an
alleyway, she distinctly caught a whiff of piss. Even the great and wonderful
Link couldn't quite scrub the smell of generations of hobos and drunk teenagers
out of the stone, it seemed.
Natalie grinned. She didn't have any real reason to dislike the 'new'
London, or the new England in general, or its architect. Hell, in the bad old
days when Umbrella had still been kicking around, it didn't look like anyone
alive would ever be in London again. But damnit, London SMELLED. It was as much
a part of the city as that ridiculous giant clock. Some things just shouldn't be
Oh well. Natalie had no intention of letting that ruin her time off. She
leapt up onto a nearby rooftop, drawing a few interested second glances from
passersby. Well, it might get her in a bit of trouble to be so conspicuous, but
she didn't feel like taking the underground. Besides, this was one view of
London she hadn't gotten as a kid.
It didn't take long to reach Soho. She hopped down into a mass of people
thronging on their way to work, or from a bar, or maybe to their second or third
bar. Only one person noticed her this time, and was probably too drunk to be
surprised, judging by his breath. Gin-and-tonic, Natalie's nose told her. She
responded to his stare with a wink and vanished into the press of people before
he could respond.
It was almost quaint to be stared at again, for her abilities to be a
thing that was wondrous rather than mundane. It reminded her of the first time
she had seen grainy footage on TV of a battle that had taken place at some
airport in Japan. There was a flying man and a woman who seemed to command huge
waves of water, fighting a small group of people who looked like high school
students. She and Da had both stared at the screen as the announcer repeated,
seemingly to convince himself as much as the viewers, that this was real
footage, not special effects. Then they'd cut to the speech the American
president had given earlier that day...
Natalie shook the memory off. This place was making her nostalgic. Or
maybe it was the lack of sleep. Reaching her destination, she swung open the
door under the tacky neon sign. She'd smelled the curry from outside the
restaurant, but she still inhaled gratefully as she opened the door. The recipe
was the same. The exact same. She was sure of it, even if as a child she
couldn't estimate right down to the gram how much cardamom was in the mango
chutney. And since it was the same, then...
"Hasari! What, you are still in business?"
A head poked up over the tandoor in the back, blinking owlishly out in
the dimness of the restaurant. Natalie stepped through the patrons, raising her
voice again. "You cannot trust a German to do anything right, I guess." That got
a few unfriendly-sounding grumbles from the few customers here this late, but
Natalie ignored them.
The man blinked owlishly at her. He'd gained a few pounds, a few more
lines criss-crossing the golden-brown skin of his face, a few more streaks of
grey in his greasy hair. He smelled of sweat and dough and spice. After a
moment, his face broke out in a wide grin. "Nat! Well, I'll be damned!" His face
may have been Indian, but his coarse voice didn't carry a hint of an accent.
"And here I thought they were being tough on immigrants, but looks like they'll
let any stray cat in."
"Ha, I am here on business." Natalie lowered her voice, pitching it so
only Hasari would hear. "Just a few days. I am amazed you have any customers.
Must be the drink in them. The street doesn't stink enough to make your food
smell good anymore, you know."
"I always thought a pint made a good appetiser," Hasari replied amiably.
"Prawn puri for you, Nat?"
"Aaaah, if the undead hordes of Umbrella cannot kill me, what can one
stomachache do?" Natalie leaned up against the wall. "There's papadams with
that, of course."
"Of course." He tossed one still hissing with oil to her; she took a
satisfyingly crunchy bite. "I'd give this on the house to you, but I heard you
got a good job." He looked her up and down critically. "Although you wouldn't
know it to look at you. What do they feed you frogs? Asparagus and spring
"Well, you know, the fat ones got eaten first. Except you. Some things
even a zombie won't stomach, eh?"
He shrugged. "Most of us were evacuated when the plague reached London,
except the nutters who wanted to fight. So, what's it like being a Gendarme? You
shoot fire out of your arse now or something?"
"No," Natalie grinned. "You must think I am Japanese. I suppose that is
what my flat chest and your advancing senility gets me. I jump high, punch hard,
can smell a dead German from three miles away, and use guns to shoot him. It is
a lot of mind-numbing boredom mixed with occasional terror and not enough pay,
which I hear is a lot like soldiers everywhere, but at least the uniform isn't
"How's your Dad?"
"Uneaten, which is more than I can say for a bunch of the neighbours,
unfortunately." Natalie shrugged. "But we can all say that. I'm glad you're all
right. Although I figured you'd be out in the countryside enjoying retirement."
"Ah, I tried, but I got bored sitting around eating that wonder fruit
and drinking out of rivers. I need a hobby for the next time I retire. Or at
least some fit little bird to keep me distracted." He gave Natalie a sly
sidelong glance. "One with a bit of a meat on her bones."
"If you're lucky, maybe that will mean she can cook," Natalie retorted.
"So what's brought a big-shot Gendarme over here, anyway? Spying?"
"Yes, spying, which is why I am here talking with you. Besides, what
would be spying on, a bunch of plants? No, I am bodyguard to the French
"Well, you're doing a jolly good job," Hasari observed dryly.
"Silly Englishman, this is my time off. A bodyguard can hardly do their
job if they are asleep. I can only hope your food will not incapacitate me too
badly for tomorrow."
"Wait, does that mean you're just down from Eden?" At her nod, a wistful
expression came over his face. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
Natalie hesitated a moment before responding. "Yes, it is that." And
just a bit too showy, she didn't add. The seat of England's government was a
city without a single brick. A magnificent, impossibly huge palace was its
centre, a palace of vines and flowers where flittering insects provided light
and chairs would grow obediently out of the walls as you tapped them. Fountains
of crystal-clear water dotted the pristine plant city, the fàn liáng trees and
their sublimely delicious, nutrient-filled fruit growing nearby. The air was
clean and filled with the scent of a million flowers which somehow didn't
irritate even the most sensitive nose.
It WAS beautiful, almost impossibly so. It lightened the spirit just to
be in it, even one as cynical as Natalie's. But it also stood as a stark
reminder of its architect. Standing in Eden, you knew damn well who the real
power was in England, no matter what titles and power the lords and ministers
elected to live there supposedly had.
Natalie shook her head, smirking at her suspicions. There were a hell of
a lot less beneficent overlords than Link, honestly. Her attitude was her
father's fault - his poetry and his organic farming and his ranting about
conspiracies and corporations and the power of the people. She always secretly
suspected her Da had been disappointed to be born just a bit too late for
Marxism to be fashionable, so had settled on democracy instead. "Yeah, it is
definitely something. You don't go often?"
"Too many loiterers, so they passed a law. Can't stay in Eden except on
official business or a tour, and the waiting list for those're months long. I
went when I got my license, though."
A bell rang as the door swung open; Natalie didn't pay any attention,
but Hasari brightened and waved. "My favourite customer! See, Nat, at least one
Frenchwoman isn't too stuck up to eat good British food."
Another Frenchwoman? That was a bit curious. Only former residents of
the United Kingdom were allowed to live in the restored islands so far, to
'avoid placing strain on the infrastructure'. Could have been living here
before, though. Natalie cast a glance back, preparing some sarcastic comment
that died forgotten in her throat.
She knew her.
This woman had saved her and her father's life.
"Ciel!" she exclaimed happily.
The woman halted in the act of pulling out a chair and looked up,
blinking owlishly. She hadn't aged a day in the last eight years, though she was
wearing regular clothes instead of the pseudo-religious uniform Natalie
remembered. She smelled of Indian spices and soap and some sort of incense and
something Natalie couldn't quite put her finger on...
"Do you remember me? We were worried something had happened to you-"
Their eyes met. A small sound escaped involuntarily from Ciel's lips.
Natalie fell silent. There was something wrong, but she had no idea what it is.
"Are you alright?" she asked slowly.
"Who are you?" the other woman breathed.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Natalie said, feeling uncharacteristically clumsy. "My
name is Natalie Clement. Umm, you may not remember, but you saved my Da and me
when Umbrella invaded France eight y-"
"I don't know you," Ciel said. She shook her head emphatically, and her
voice suddenly rose, jagged with something like fear. "Who ARE you?"
Natalie took a step forward. "I-"
Ciel flinched backward. The chair she'd been pulling out fell on its
side, and a hand flew up to her forehead as if she were in pain. "I don't know
you!" Everyone was staring at them now. "You don't know me!"
Natalie just stood there, open-mouthed, trying to decide what to say.
Had something happened... captured by the Germans, maybe? They'd done something
to her mind? But what would she be doing in England, then?
She blinked. In the space of that blink she heard the bell on the door
ring. When her eyes opened, Ciel was gone. "Wait... where did she go?"
"Where'd who go, Nat?" Hasari asked calmly.
"That woman who was just here!"
"Who?" He peered around her. "Someone skipping out on the tab?"
Natalie spun around. Everyone in the restaurant was calmly eating their
dinner. A few were talking quietly amongst themselves. Nobody was looking at
her. But one chair was still incongruously lying on its side.
She ground her teeth. "PUTAIN!"
Ignoring Hasari's concerned voice behind her, Natalie dashed out the
door. What the hell was going on? She weaved around a drunkenly staggering old
man, spinning to check the street, but Ciel was nowhere to be seen. She lifted
her face and scented the air. There!
A moment later she landed on the roof of a nearby building. She caught a
glimpse of a startled white face and then the woman had spun and was gone,
leaping from rooftop to rooftop. At least she was real, after all, no matter
what the hell she had just done back in the restaurant.
Natalie gave chase, leaping from rooftop to rooftop. She quickly
realised she was outmatched at this. The other woman was faster, knew the city
better, knew how to hide better than Natalie knew how to look. It wasn't ten
seconds before she lost sight of Ciel, only a few more before most traces of the
woman vanished from her senses. But as had been the case many times in the past,
her sense of smell saved her. It was the incense. Probably some Vatican scent,
or maybe just a personal favourite. She followed the thread of that unique
scent, and occasionally would catch glimpses of the woman as they weaved through
the city. But she wasn't catching up, and wouldn't unless she could slow Ciel
down somehow. Damn it, if she had her gun, she'd-
She'd what? Take a shot at a woman she owed her life to? Natalie ground
her teeth as she ran and leapt from rooftop to alley and back again. Suddenly
the smell was weakening, too. Natalie noticed a drinking fountain had been
destroyed, cleaved in half like it had been struck with a sword. Water gushed
from the exposed pipe beneath where it had been. Ciel must have figured out how
she was being tracked. Well, she could follow the water-
"Hey, what do you think you're doing? HA!"
A form flew out the twilight, landing almost right next to Natalie. No
matter how distracted she was, though, she was still a veteran of the war
against Umbrella. Her body moved almost before she realised someone was there.
Flipping backwards, she then rolled to her feet, feeling the cool, sturdy trunk
of a tree against her shoulders. She reached for her gun, cursed as she realised
again it was still back in Eden.
"Oh, that was a pretty good move!" the voice laughed. It was male,
adult. She couldn't see the newcomer well in the darkness, but she smelled him.
He was excited - his pores were opening and starting to perspire, his breathing
had sped up, adrenaline was flooding his bloodstream. He ate a lot of rice and
wore silk - probably Asian. "But I don't think you know who you're up against
"Ranma!" Another figure walked out of the darkness. The scant light
glinted off gold. But not real gold - it smelled too clean, not earthy. "What
the hell are you doing? Who is this?"
"I dunno," the first figure said, then said "Ow!" as the second whacked
him on the side of the head.
"Then why are you starting a fight, you dummy?"
"But there was this huge bang-"
Some damn random do-gooders. Natalie rushed past them, but stumbled to a
halt a few steps later. It was too late. The scent trail, already faint, had
already faded. She didn't know what the woman had done, but she was damn near
undetectable when she wanted to be, apparently.
"Hey! Okay, I still wanna know who you are-"
Natalie whirled on him in a fury. "You stupid oaf! You fool! Tete te
pine! You idiot! Connard!"
The man stepped away, taken a bit aback by her swearing. Now closer, she
could recognise him easily even in the dim light. Of course, he was famous. This
didn't mollify her in the slightest. "The great Ranma Saotome, runs around at
night poking his nose in something that is none of his business! Do I look like
a zoalord? Ha? A zombie, a werewolf, a demon, a monster, ha? Well? MANGE MERDE!
If you are so blind and stupid, it is a wonder you can find your dick with both
hands to piss!"
The other woman walked forward, holding her hands up placatingly. Not
surprisingly, now that she had recognised Ranma, it was 'V'. "Hey, calm down,
alright? We're here to help. Why don't you explain what's going on-"
"I-" Natalie began to snarl, then cut herself off. There was no point in
staying angry, especially since punching Ranma Saotome was starting a fight she
wasn't going to win. The woman was gone; maybe they knew something about her,
anyway. "I was chasing someone. She got away when you stopped me, though."
Ranma blinked. "Someone else? Seriously?" He looked around. "Weird, I
didn't notice anyone. Hey Minako, did you see who she was chasing?"
The blonde-haired woman shook her head. "We thought it was just you. I
guess this dummy thought you were the one breaking stuff."
"Yeah, sorry 'bout that." Ranma shrugged. "But weird we didn't notice
her. You sure she was here?"
"She smashed the fountain, did she now?" Natalie replied. "She is very
good at masking her presence."
"Neat," Ranma said. "She a good fighter?"
"Ranma..." Minako began warningly. "We're not here for trouble."
"I was just asking! Y'know, in case she's an evil minion of Link or..."
He stuttered a bit under Minako's gaze. "Umm, you know, just in case." Sweating
a bit, he turned to Natalie. "So, hey, who were you again? I'm Ranma Saotome -
oh yeah, you already knew that." He grinned. "This here's Minako Aino. You a
"Gods no," Natalie muttered. "I am Natalie Clement. I'm a colonel in the
Gendarmerie des Chevaliers."
"Oh hey, a Gendarme," Ranma said with a nod. "So, hunting some kind of
fugitive? You figure this'd be a weird place for one of the Umbrella guys to
hide. I'll give Link this, everyone knows she hates 'em."
"No. The woman I'm chasing is... an old friend, I suppose?" Natalie
shook her head. "And she works for the Vatican. I think."
"What would she be doing here, then?" Minako asked, having walked up
beside Ranma. "And why would she run and break the fountain?"
"To mask her scent, or perhaps just make a distraction. Perhaps she
noticed you," Natalie said. "As for why she is running, I don't know." She
sighed. "I called her my friend, but in fact we have only met once. Eight years
ago, when those goddamn Umbrella monsters attacked France, they ravaged many
defenceless villages and towns in the country.
"My Da and I lived on a small farm near one of those towns. Nobody
knew what happened, merely that the power and phones were both dead. We could
hear..." She paused. After all this time, the memory still caused her to shiver.
"We could hear the screaming, even some kilometers away. We had heard of what
had happened to England, of the American city that had been destroyed, but we
did not know what to do. We barred up the windows and doors and hoped we were
far enough away to be missed." Minako nodded sympathetically at the story, her
eyes clouded with some memory of her own.
"We were only far enough away to be the only targets remaining by the
time they reached us. The zombies, we could hear them banging, banging and
hissing and roaring. And there was something else with them, something far
bigger we saw through a hole after a zombie had punched through the window. My
Da - my father had told me to hide. He would hold them off. Somehow." She smiled
a bit. "He is sentimental. As if it would have helped, once they had my scent.
But it was then that she came.
"We didn't know what was happening at first. We thought it might have
been another monster. But as we heard the noises, all the - mm, how would you
say - I guess growling and splattering and icky sounds. Eventually, it was all
quiet. Da had just about gotten brave enough to peek outside when there was a
knock at the door and a woman's voice asking if we were all right.
"Nobody knew about the Vatican and its forces then, so all we could tell
was that a woman in priest's robes had killed all the monsters. Her clothing was
torn in places, and we were worried because we had heard that any bite or
scratch could infect, but she laughed and said not to worry, they hadn't even
scratched her. And it's true, there was no scratch on her. But she was tired. We
would have offered her dinner, but it had been ruined when Da had thrown the pot
at the zombie who stuck its arm in." She started, suddenly remembering. "It was
curry, too. Just like today..."
Minako blinked. "Curry?"
Natalie waved her hand. "Never mind. Anyway, she promised that no more
monsters were in the area, and she would come back sometime to have dinner with
us as thanks. She then led us away from the house from the back door - the area
was contaminated, you see, all the monsters being sliced up, although she had
moved them out of the way somehow - to where a nearby army division was, who
took us in. Then she left, and before today I did not see her again. We later
figured she must have been with the Vatican, and too busy. We hoped nothing had
happened to her, anyway."
"Huh," Ranma said. "Sounds pretty cool of her. What was her name,
"Ciel. She has blue hair."
Minako looked at Ranma, who shook his head. "We haven't heard of her.
But what would she be doing here? And why would she run from you, then?"
"I don't know," Natalie said. "That is why I was chasing her down. She
also said she didn't know me, screamed it really, as if seeing me hurt her. I do
not know why." An insect buzzed near her, she slapped it away absently.
"I bet it's Link's fault!" Ranma growled. "Sounds evil enough for her.
Brainwashing and crap."
"Link?" Natalie said with arched eyebrows. "The great healer? The
saviour of England? Not your friend, then? Is that why YOU are here?"
"Actually," Minako said, "we're here on a bit of a vacation. I used to
live here, and I haven't been here since a few months after... Umbrella came. We
just wanted to see how things were now." She paused and gave Ranma a hard glare.
"Or so I was TOLD..."
"Eheh." Ranma said, rubbing his head. "Yeah, of course! It wasn't like
we were looking for a fight or nuthin', just relaxing and hanging around.
Definitely not looking for any evil conspiracies."
Minako sighed. "Ranma, not everything is an evil conspiracy."
"Ahh, you don't know Link like I do." Ranma swatted at an insect buzzing
around his ear. "She's a crazy psycho. Worked for Chris and... oh yeah, she
killed everyone in the Dark Kingdom once! Now that was evil!"
"What!?" Natalie said.
"Yeah, when'd that happen?" Minako challenged.
"Well it kinda sort of DIDN'T happen," Ranma said, rubbing his head
again. "But it also did! It just sort of... didn't, after. And everyone came
back to life. She really WANTED to kill everyone in the Dark Kingdom."
"Well, Queen Tethys must have forgiven her for her bad thoughts,"
Natalie said dryly. "Since she was the first to give the new English government
"Well, most people kinda forgot she did it, including Tethys. Or forgot
she didn't do it, I guess. Remembered she didn't do it? Oh crap, this is
confusing," Ranma grumbled. "Wish Ukyou was here to explain it. Anyway,
whatever. Link is evil, trust me. Hey, she damn near tortured my fiancée to
death, and I'm pretty sure that still happened... even if, uh, nothing else
around the same time did."
"Fiancée?" Natalie said, glancing over at Minako. The woman was staring
at Ranma, looking completely baffled. Abruptly, however, she seemed to decide
that even if she didn't have any idea what he was talking about, she had ample
ground to be angry. Her cheeks colouring, she grabbed him by the shoulder with a
grip just a little too tight to be friendly.
"And just who was this? Or is your fiancée something else that happens
not to exist anymore?"
"Oh. Uh... didn't I tell you?" Ranma sweated, waving a hand at another
"No." The grip tightened even more. "But I think you should."
"Aw man, don't look at me like that. It's not what you think. It's just
Nabiki. Our families got us engaged, like, years before I met you. We never took
it seriously, and everyone's forgotten all ab-"
"Quiet!" Natalie snapped. She spun around, cursing. "We are not alone
The other two turned as well. Minako gasped, anger forgotten for a
moment. They were surrounded on all sides by insects. The ones buzzing them were
only a few strays of the hundreds that flitted around them in a rough circle,
gleaming in the streetlamps. How could she possibly have missed them until now?
But even as she cursed herself, she realised the answer - these insects were
eerily silent, and even more, didn't smell.
Or more accurately, they did smell. They smelled of earth and leaves and
straw, of grass and bark and flower. They smelled like nothing that didn't
permeate all of England now.
Instinctively, she found herself back to back with Ranma and Minako,
each of them forming a triangle. "What are they?" she growled.
"They're shàyù. More importantly, they are mine. More importantly, they
are no threat to you, so please relax." The cloud of insects swept away, to
reveal another woman standing near one of the trees across the paved plaza.
Natalie had seen her before, once, at the formal reception for the ambassador.
So had Ranma, apparently. He stepped forward, fist clenched. "Link!"
The ruler of England inclined her head, the pins and fans holding her
long black hair up in intricate weaves clattering slightly. "Ranma. It's been
some time. I admit I'm surprised to find you here."
"Don't give me that! You had those bugs spying on us-"
"These shàyù merely informed me of the destruction of the fountain, as
they would of any other obviously supernatural violence." Link said, glancing at
the still-leaking ruin in disapproval.
"And you show up in person for every bit of vandalism?" Natalie asked
Link pursed her lips slightly. "No. However, upon realising who these
two were, I felt I would renew old acquaintance." She nodded to Minako. "I hope
you're enjoying your stay in England. I feel you should know, however, that
sneaking in was entirely unnecessary. You still carry British citizenship, and
could have acquired a visa. I invite you to do so during your stay."
"Don't give me that!" Ranma said. "What're you doing, Link? Whatever you
do, I'm gonna stop it-"
"What am I doing?" Link repeated. "I think you've seen it. I cleansed
every last remnant of the undead in this land. I have made the soil fertile
again and created plants that end hunger, that ward off disease. I have created
cures for numerous plagues and afflictions and released them freely to the
world. I am currently working with Queen Tethys on engineering a macrobe that
will cleanse the oceans of every shred of harmful pollution." She arched an
eyebrow. "I suppose this is the evil you came to prevent?"
"Nah, I know about that stuff," Ranma said, waving his hand. "I mean
your real plan."
"Perhaps I'm doing it out of the goodness of my heart," Link said. By
now, Natalie was already thinking better of herself for distrusting the woman
and her perfect city. Just like at the reception, she was utterly polite. But
unlike then, when she was formally obsequious, while talking with Ranma her
contempt was perfectly obvious. Natalie was very good at reading people, and
every action, every gesture, every clipped word from her mouth made it clear
that Link considered everyone here to be no more significant or interesting than
her insects. Possibly less, since they were more troublesome.
Ranma appeared to miss it, though. "Bologna. You're up to something."
Minako stepped up beside him. "Look, Ranma, we haven't SEEN anything..."
She hesitated a bit. "I mean, it's not like she's Zoalord Khan or something like
Link shrugged, the insects around her buzzing. "I thought something like
this might happen. One can not escape one's past associations. So, Ranma, let us
"Ha!" Ranma leaped back and into a defensive stance. "C'mon, let's go!
You and me!"
The woman looked down at him, her lip curling derisively. "No. I
"Aww, c'mon, you won't fight me ei- wait, surrender?"
"Yes," Link said. "I surrender. Completely. Absolutely. You win, Ranma."
"Uhh..." Ranma scratched his head. "So, you'll stop being evil?"
Link continued as if he'd not spoken. "Say the word, and I will leave
England within 24 hours. I promise you I will take absolutely nothing except my
own personal possessions. No money, no experiments, not even my plants or
followers here." Ranma grinned, but then Link held up a hand to forestall him.
"However, before you say that word, let me explain something to you. If I leave,
I LEAVE. And I take everything with me. Everything, you understand? This tainted
land will return to exactly what it was before I came here. Barren. Lifeless.
Without industry, without food, without a future."
"No!" Minako gasped. "You can't do that!"
"I have no choice," Link said calmly. "I am part of this island. Every
part of it is infused with me. That is what gives it life. I cannot do it if I
leave, I need the connection to the soil. It strains me to the utmost as it is.
I can repair the damage, eventually. Or perhaps Chronos will take over and do it
- it is not much different than what they did for Japan." She shrugged.
"Besides, how could you ask me to leave my power? Any trace of me left in
England could be part of the sinister plan Ranma seems convinced I must have. So
tell me to leave, if that's what you want." She curled her lip again. "My
approval rating here is ninety-six percent. I will, of course, announce exactly
what happened. Perhaps you can feed all these people with your moral certainty."
"Awww, crap," Ranma grumbled. "I hate all you guys who worked with
Chris. You always do this, making things all complicated."
"Life is complicated, Ranma. So, shall I prepare to leave?"
"Look," Minako said. "No, I get your point. We're just concerned, okay?
And don't think we'll let you get away with it if you're up to some kind of
"Of course you wouldn't. Which is precisely why you should realise I am
not doing anything." Link folded her arms. "This world is vast. I cannot keep
out spies and infiltrators, merely ensure they do not cause much harm. Any
'sinister scheme' I had," she sneered contemptuously, "would undoubtedly be
discovered. And I myself am strained to the limits by what I am doing, even if I
were not vastly outclassed by many powers in might. My position depends on the
goodwill I am fostering throughout the world. It would be... idiotic of me to
jeopardise that. So, I suggest you enjoy your stay, secure in the knowledge I
have no intentions of letting this nation come to harm."
"But... then why did you take over here in the first place?" Minako
"I told you," Link sneered. "Out of the goodness of my heart."
"Great, then," Natalie said just a bit loudly. They all looked at her.
"If you are done with them, I have a question for you."
"You're one of the bodyguards for the French ambassador," Link said,
almost to herself. "A little far from where you're assigned, aren't you?"
"So are you. Can't I travel in your utopia?" Natalie said.
"Of course," Link murmured. "I was just surprised. So what did you
"Ciel," she answered bluntly.
Link didn't give much outward reaction, but her eyes, previously still
sparkling with poorly-hidden pleasure from how she'd dealt with Ranma and
Minako, were abruptly clear and sharp. "And who would this person be?"
"Don't lie," Natalie said. "I know you know exactly who she is." It was
a bluff, but Natalie was also good at that. She also didn't think Link's island
was nearly so open to 'spies and infiltrators' as the woman had claimed.
Link's expression became icy. "I think you forget who you're talking to.
Don't let Ranma's poor example of manners make you think I will let myself be
insulted by any random nobody. Or, for that matter, answer their impertinent
"Listen, Link," Ranma said. "If you know anything, you better tell her
"Or what?" Link coldly interrupted. "You have already played your hand,
Ranma. I don't need you to like me, just leave me alone. Be quiet."
"Played his hand?" Natalie said, and then grinned. "Maybe he has. But I
"I'm not so weak as to be threatened by you," Link informed her.
"Maybe, but I was more thinking of coming back with an invasion force,"
Link blinked. "An... invasion force?" Regaining her composure, she
snapped, "Are you insane? It's only a matter of a few formalities before your
country gives me diplomatic recognition."
Natalie yawned. "Yep, but that'll change pretty fast once I tell them
what you're up to."
"What I'm up to- what are you talking about?"
"How you're planning to take over all of Europe. With, I dunno, giant
plant men or something."
Link clenched her fists. "Stop joking! I am doing no such-"
"Sure you aren't," Natalie cut her off. "But who do you think they will
believe? Me or you? I am a personal friend of President Remy, you know." She
looked Link up and down. "Look at you. You came out of nowhere. This whole
island is soaked with you. You've got insects everywhere spying on everybody.
Everyone knows the government is just your puppet."
"I've never even exercised my veto!" Link snapped. "I have collaborated
with every resolution they've passed! And the shàyù don't even enter or look
"So you say," Natalie said with a yawn. "I don't believe you."
"You're mad!" Link growled. "Starting a war over pique! Tethys and I are
allies, you'll never get across the Channel!"
Natalie laughed in her face. "You think France needs command of the
water to launch our assault?" She snapped her fingers contemptuously. "We are
the leader in military technology in Europe, maybe the world. In a day, we could
land ten divisions, a thousand Gendarmes, and another thousand Prometheans. What
do you have for an air force, Link?" The woman's face turned a deep, angry red,
but before she could speak again, Natalie continued. "Oh yes, your precious
plants. Can't have those. All spies for you. We shall burn them. Every single
one. In three days, there will not be a blade of grass left in England. We will
kick your skinny ass off this island, and see if your little friend Tethys likes
you enough to pick you up."
Link's eyes were bulging. "You... you insane..." she sputtered.
Natalie reached up a finger and poked Link in the chest. The woman
actually staggered back. "Perhaps you have forgotten who you are talking to. I
am not 'some nobody'. I am a Gendarme. I am FRANCE. You understand? I stared
down the throats of the undead and the Nazis reborn, and I sent them screaming
back to hell. Do you think I fear the threats of some skinny, miserable little
wretch who was ready to surrender to one man? You think I am frightened of war
with one puling little dictator? Fuck with me, and I will personally throw you
head-first into the Atlantic. Now, answer my question."
Natalie became conscious of Ranma and Minako staring at her in open-
mouthed horror. She hoped they had the good sense not to interfere, since she
was probably dead if Link thought for one second that she could murder her and
have Ranma let it go. Oh well, those were the risks one ran when one bluffed.
But for Ciel, she would do it. Hell, she might even start a war. Natalie
didn't just owe the woman her life, and her father's life. Ciel had been no
older than Natalie - or so she had looked - but she'd destroyed a legion of
monsters that had invaded her home country and destroyed the only other one
she'd called home. Natalie had volunteered for recruitment the next day, waiting
in line alongside thousands of others. And when the Gendarmerie des Chevaliers
had formed six months later, she trained day and night, pushing herself to the
breaking point, to be able to develop herself to the point where she could be
It was because of that woman that Natalie had been able to help defend
France. Whatever had happened to her, she'd be damned if the likes of Link would
keep her from returning the favour she owed.
Link's throat worked. Finally, she drew herself up with as much frosty
dignity as she could manage. "Fine. I will tell you what I know, for what little
good it will do you. Yes, such a woman is here. She is an agent of Division XIII
of the Vatican, one of their most well-trained and dangerous operatives."
"What is she doing here, then?" Natalie demanded.
"She is an official representative. In a way, a bodyguard like yourself.
She spends much of her time searching for evidence of intrusion."
"Wait a minute," Minako interrupted. "Those guys didn't even send
anybody to England when Umbrella was here." An old bitterness was in her voice.
"Why would they send one to help you?"
Link sniffed. "At the time, this was largely a Protestant nation and
thus outside the Vatican's purview. I, however, am a Catholic."
"You are?" Minako said with obvious surprise.
"My ass she is," Natalie added.
Link spread her hands. "I was baptised and confirmed by an Archbishop in
a somewhat clandestine ceremony six months ago. Whether you believe in the
sincerity of my having seen the Word is not my concern. They do. If you question
my truthfulness, you'll have to take it up with them."
"So where is she?"
The corner of Link's lips twitched, almost as if she were trying to
smile. Her eyes had regained their gleam. "I do not know. Threaten all you like,
but as you no doubt noticed, that woman is exceedingly difficult to keep track
of. I truthfully did not realise that she was even nearby." She shrugged. "If
you wish to meet her, search. I will not stop you. I will tell you that no
matter what problem she may have, it is not of my devising. I did absolutely
nothing to her mind, nor do I know what precisely may have happened to it."
There was something in her voice. She wasn't lying, but she was not
telling something she knew, as well. Natalie looked at her eyes - they were
self-assured and clear again. Link had regained control of herself. She'd call
the bluff if Natalie used it again.
Natalie snorted. "That's it? I guess you don't know very much after
all." Link's face twisted. She regained control of herself after a moment, but
for a split-second more hate had blazed in the woman's eyes than ever had when
Natalie had threatened her. Odd. But not her problem. She turned around.
"Well, I have some prawn puri to finish. I have a job to do, which
includes escort back, so I won't take you up on your offer, Link, but I'll be
coming back sometime."
"Certainly," the icy voice followed her as she left. "I'll look forward
"The problem with your supposed utopia, Mr. El Sayed, is that it leaves
no room for the 'normal' people," Mr. Abbas declared with the finality of a
person who obviously thought he had won the argument in one fell swoop.
Hamadi allowed himself to smile. The studio lights were intensely hot,
but that did not bother him in the slightest. A simple chi technique that
allowed him to survive in parching deserts more than compensated for that. As a
result, he was looking as fresh as when this debate had begun almost forty
minutes ago, while Mr. Abbas was sweating almost indecently.
"You have misunderstood the entire thrust of my argument," Hamadi
responded, his voice full of liquid confidence. As he spoke he allowed the aura
of his body to expand invisibly, cooling the entire studio by one or two
degrees. This would be barely noticeable to mundane human perceptions, but would
still register subconsciously. By controlling the ambient temperature he was
slowly priming the audience to associate him with a refreshing breeze and his
opponent with an oppressive heat. It was a cheap trick, and would be ineffective
against the people watching on TV at home.
"I do not wish to have metahumans rule over the so-called mundanes." He
chuckled at the term, allowing his aura to be permeated with his good humour.
"No, I want to erase the very concept of 'mundane' from the world."
"So you admit your plan is genocidal!" Mr. Abbas shouted, standing up.
"No such thing," Hamadi didn't raise his voice, but a chi technique made
certain his voice carried loudly across the entire studio. "The vision of my
country is to make the mundane nonexistent by elevating everyone." Mr. Abbas
was going to reply, but a brief flare of killing intent, too brief to be sensed
consciously, robbed the other man of all momentum. "The thing you have to
understand is that anyone, each and every man, woman, and child, has within them
the potential to be great. 'Metahumanity' is a term of convenience. But it is
not a function of genetics or environment. Metahumanity is a philosophy of the
self. It is a decision.
"Anyone who wishes to could develop their chi. Anyone who wishes to be
part of the 'ruling elite' you have accused me of creating is free to join that
elite through the fundamental steps of self-discipline and developing their own
After dropping that bombshell, which Hamadi had been waiting the entire
debate for, he leaned back to concede the floor to his opponent. The man was
sweating even heavier now, his eyes darting side to side. Mr. Abbas was a
pompous American prick. He had been sent on this 'goodwill tour' by the
Americans because he was a South African ex-patriot who had fled the Chronos
occupation. Also he was black, and the American political mind didn't seem to be
able to penetrate any deeper than the colour of a man's skin. Certainly he was
no skilled ideologue or orator. Hamadi had almost been looking forward to a
challenge. Perhaps that half-Japanese woman Yamazaki, or maybe even the famous
Instead, he was left with this fool. Hamadi could have demolished him
within five minutes of the debate starting. But he couldn't afford to do that.
His audience would not appreciate a quick and decisive victory. Oh, that might
have played well to the propagandists back home and the plebes watching this all
across Africa, but Hamadi had a far more specific audience in mind.
An audience of one.
"Your words sound suspiciously like those of Chronos," Mr. Abbas said,
licking his lips. "They also promised a utopia, free or war and poverty. They
wished to uplift all humanity. And look where that has gotten us. The damage
"Do NOT defile that tragedy as a cheap talking point!" Hamadi shouted,
leaping to his feet. The entire crowd drew in a breath. Hamadi allowed his front
of false rage to simmer for a few moments, his muscles rippling under his
immaculate silk suit.
There she was. White hair, and a face half-covered in gold. She was
standing near the back, in the shadows. His eyes kept wanting to slip off her,
so he mainly let them. No need to test her resolve to stay anonymous, yet.
"I'm certain everyone here remembers that tragic day well enough, Mr.
Abbas," Hamadi pointed out calmly, allowing the tension to flow out of himself
and the room at the same time. "There are many in my country who remember it
Mr. Abbas' nostrils flared. He was, of course, aware of how the Kingdom
of Egypt had taken in the few scattered survivors from across the what had once
been the Middle East. The fact that Anakaris had offered those unfortunates
sanctuary long before any relief could come from either Chronos or America was a
wound to both those great powers' pride. Best of all, Hamadi had managed to make
his point without having to come right out and claim it. He came out of the
exchange looking like the humble one.
This was no challenge.
"And the difference between the Kingdom of Anakaris and Chronos is self-
evident," he added.
"Really? You both are ruled by creatures that claim divine rights over
the lives of others."
"Your ignorance of my country's political systems is disheartening but
expected." Hamadi sighed softly. "Chronos exists to support the rule of their
artificial god-emperor. They micromanage their subjects, telling them what sorts
of laws and traditions they can respect. They determine your worth based on your
genome alone. Those that have the 'potential' to become zoanoids are pressured,
if not gang pressed, into accepting their 'elevated' positions. And if you lack
the ability to become a hyper- or neo-zoanoid? Well, you can hardly expect to
become anything in their society. Everything is dictated from on high by shadowy
figures who operate without oversight or accountability.
"But we are different. We embrace metahumanity, but as an ideal for all
to achieve in their own way. The fact is that in this day and age the 'mundane
world' exists only at the sufferance of those with the power. Your democracy
exists today only because your S.T.A.R.S. force defends it. If those individuals
should decide to overthrow your government tomorrow, your government will cease
to exist. And that is not even counting beings like Tethys or Arkanphel, who
could wipe out entire nations by themselves.
"In our country, we have only come to the logical conclusion. Since
authority exists only at the choice of those with power, then those with
personal power should be given the authority."
"And where does that leave those of us without your gifts, El Sayed!"
Mr. Abbas growled.
"Exactly where you were before, except with your comfortable illusions
removed." Hamadi shrugged. "Your old society was already run by those with great
gifts. Athletes who could outplay others were rich, celebrities that were
prettier or more charming then their fellows were idolized, the exceptionally
devious and clever ran your political systems and the brilliant and innovative
defined your medicine and technology. The world you are so in support of never
existed, Mr. Abbas. This is just the natural evolution of the system that has
existed for thousands of years. Metahumanity will supplant humanity, whether you
or I wish it or not. The only question is if you will join us, or if you will
cling to your power at the expense of the potential inherent in all beings."
"Easy for you to say, since you are one of the 'chosen ones'. are you
not?" Mr. Abbas accused. Hamadi sighed. This was growing tiresome. He began to
wish that their company would arrive more quickly.
"I am just like you, Mr. Abbas." Hamadi gestured to himself. "Five years
ago, I was nothing. I was a chartered accountant. But then I discovered the
Kingdom of Anakaris, and joined it willingly. It is a beautiful place, Mr.
Abbas, our paradise hidden beneath the desert sands. But I digress...
"I was not frightened by this new world. I embraced it. Did you know
that Anakaris himself was once human? It's true. Five thousand years ago he
began a ritual that granted him great power, power beyond most mortals. Rather
than seeing this as a blasphemy, I saw it as an inspiration. If he could gain
such power, why was I limited to this human existence?
"So I changed my life. I studied ancient magics and martial arts. I
developed my personal power, and as I did so I naturally ascended in Pharaoh
Anakaris' court. At first I was seen as an upstart. I was even punished more
than once for the great sin of questioning my lord.
"I see your skeptical look, but it is true. I admit that Anakaris is a
tough sovereign. He asks little, but he demands those things he asks. Even so,
I was able to convince him, and many others, that our Kingdom could not survive
in isolation. It was, in fact, that great tragedy you made such light of that
"So you can see, that is why I find your accusations of favouritism in
my country offensive and laughable at the same time. In a world where anyone can
learn to leap five stories straight up or punch through concrete with their
fists, why should we cling to the illusion of-"
His final words were cut off by the crash of the studio roof caving in.
Hamadi remembered to look surprised and shocked. He resisted the instinct to
dodge out of the way, allowing a piece of rubble to strike him in the shoulder.
He was driven to the floor of the studio with a grunt.
There were ten figures. Hamadi frowned. There was only supposed to be
six. He also recognized some non-zoanoids amidst the collection. They were all
inhuman, bestial figures, but four of them were drenched in mystical power.
Demons of some sort, he guessed.
A S.T.A.R.S. agent was already acting. He pulled out an impressive-
looking pistol and fired at one of the beasts from the hip. With his other hand
he was shielding Mr. Abbas. The fool was practically gibbering in terror. How
little the Americans must have thought of this continent, if this was the best
they could send.
The bullet blew a small hole in one of the zoanoids, staggering it. The
other nine creatures immediately focused on the S.T.A.R.S. agent. The damn fool
man grinned. Hamadi shuddered and rose to his knees, clutching his injured
shoulder. What kind of people were the Americans creating?
Hamadi's own bodyguards rushed forward, firing their small arms. This
drew the attention of some of the monsters. One paused long enough to lift its
palm, revealing a focusing lens embedded in its flesh like a grotesque eye.
There was a flash of red light and a pair of screams. Regrettable, but those two
had been chosen primarily for their incompetence, so it was no great loss.
The zoanoid turned its weapon towards Hamadi. Its vulpine face broke
apart in a toothy smile. "Goodbye, Magic Kingdom Man," it hissed, the lens
growing red and whining.
Then its arm was gone. It looked down at its stump in shock for a
moment. There was a gold flash and the thing fell apart in five pieces. A young
woman shimmered to a stop in front of Hamadi. She had white hair, and the left
side of her body was covered in elaborate gold tattoos, a fact that her
distastefully revealing outfit made clear.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I am now," Hamadi managed to keep the smugness out of his voice.
"Hide behind something," she told him.
The next thirty seconds was a study of violent efficiency. He had never
before seen something quite so beautiful and so deadly. She moved like an
elemental force, a primal component of creation. Each step, every tiniest motion
was a prelude to a deadly attack. Two more zoanoids died before they even knew
she was attacking. Three of the demons tried to turn their attention to her, but
she faded away from their assault with the grace of a ballerina. Then they could
only stare dumbfounded as their limbs collapsed to the floor, severed by
sword blows they hadn't even seen. A second later, their heads joined the fallen
limbs. The other two zoanoids and the final demon had managed to kill the
S.T.A.R.S. agent in the meantime, but only at the loss of the two Chronos
With a final snarl the white-haired woman vanished, appearing behind the
massive bat-winged beast in a flicker of pseudomotion before driving her sword
up through its back and out the top of its skull. The thing twitched once, then
went still. Mr. Abbas fainted.
"Damn..." she said, looking down at the S.T.A.R.S. agent. "Idiot, why
didn't you get your man out of here..." She sighed.
"A waste," Hamadi agreed. The girl looked at him, her eyes narrowing
slightly. He smiled disarmingly. "Just because he is technically my enemy,
doesn't mean I wish him dead."
"Yeah, I guess." She flicked the blood off her sword. "Good thing I
heard about-" She cut off. Hamadi had actually sensed it before she did. The
demons were reviving. The wounds she had inflicted were reforming in a swirl of
purple smoke. "What the?"
One of the creatures stood up, its fang-filled face giving off an angry
bellow. She stepped back, looking down at her sword uncertainly.
"Allow me," Hamadi said. He pulled back his sleeve, revealing the
elaborate tattoos. "By the true names of Thoth, Horus and Set, I abjure this
creature of the Makai Kingdom." He ran a hand along the tattoo, infusing it with
a small measure of magic. "I evoke the messenger of my will, sacred Scarab!"
There was a swirl of unseen wind and a flash of golden light. With a
bang like a gun going off, four golden scarab beetles appeared floating in mid-
air. Hamadi gestured imperiously and the spirits flew forth to do his bidding.
The three demons still reforming were easily dispatched. The moment the scarabs
touched them they exploded, leaving behind a hieroglyphic. The demons then
shattered into purple mist which sunk into the floor with a sound disturbingly
like a child's shriek of pain.
The active demon, however, was able to dodge the scarab and lash out
with a pulse of purple energy from its mouth. The two magics annihilated each
other in with a thunderous crack. The demon then turned towards Hamadi.
"Ah... perhaps some assistance?" Hamadi asked. The beast unleashed
another blast, only to have the girl step between them. The purple flames
splashed against her skin, scattering like water over her flesh. The tattoos on
her waist were glowing.
"You can do that again?"
"I have the energy," Hamadi confirmed.
The creature did not last long past that.
"So... what were they?" she asked, flicking blood off her sword with an
ease born of long practice.
"Demons," Hamadi informed her. "Lesser infernal creatures from the Makai
Universe. They do not normally have the ability to cross over. Either they
stumbled across a convenient rift, or..."
"Or they were summoned."
"The question is, what is a Chronos strike team doing with demonic
backup..." Hamadi mused. It was quite the puzzle. As far as he knew, the
Zoalords were too dogmatic too risk infernal pacts. Then again, this might work
out well for him in the long run.
"Demons," the girl cursed. "Leave it to Chronos." She turned to him. "My
name is Angel, by the way. Pleased to meet you."
"Hamadi El Sayed, the pleasure is mine," he said, taking her hand with
his good one and kissing it lightly on the knuckles. She flushed, just a little.
Of course, he knew her all along. He knew about her powers. He knew
about the vendetta against Chronos she was carrying on here in Africa, far away
from both her friends in America and Japan. He knew that the information he had
purposefully leaked to Chronos about the secret location of this 'televised
debate' would make its way to her. And most of all, he knew that the tattoos
that covered her body held a Second Circle power mightier than any other on
Earth. But he carefully kept such knowledge from his face.
"I know why Chronos wants me dead," Hamadi said as he rose. "But I had
no idea there were demons involved. I can handle purely First Circle opponents
like zoanoids... but..." He trailed off.
The girl looked at him a long moment. "Maybe I can help you out for a
bit." She frowned. "Just until you can get back to safety," she hedged quickly.
"Of course," he said with a chuckle. "I would welcome the presence of
such a beautiful and competent bodyguard." He turned towards the back of the
stage. "But I think we can say more after we get safely away from here."
"Huh? Oh, right." She followed him. He stayed silent as they walked. Let
her make the first move. Finally, she opened her mouth. "Say, uh... did you
really mean all that stuff you were saying?"
His smile widened.
Yao Shui shifted her spear slightly. She stretched and leaned back,
rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. The Nyuuchezu village was quiet, and
this part of it even more so. Despite its position in the centre of the village,
few came close to the Forbidden Shrine even on the best of days; now, most of
the warriors who would be brave or stupid enough were away on missions. Still,
she had to keep an eye half-open just in case one of the old hags decided to
drop by for a visit.
She had already been bitched out twice this month for being caught
'unready at her post' by one of the old hags. Of course, since then she had
developed a nice little technique that allowed her to sense an approaching chi
aura long before it could get close enough to actually see what she was doing.
She had managed to evade two attempts by the old hags to catch her slacking off
thanks to that.
Really, why were the old hags so worried about this old building? It was
probably some stupid tradition thing, just like those ridiculous marriage laws.
The building was a perfect dome, made out of seamless white stone with only one
entrance. That entrance had never been open in the sixteen years that Yao Shui
had been alive and, if the old hags were to be believed, the sixteen hundred
years before that. Nobody really knew what was in the building, or why they were
supposed to make certain the doors were never opened, but it was tradition.
Somebody from the village always needed to guard the Forbidden Shrine.
Normally, that job went to the worst martial artist in the village.
After all, this was a village filled with warrior women. If anybody was stupid
enough to attack the Shrine, all the guard had to do was make enough noise to
attract attention before she was killed. Yao Shui was the first Joketsuzoku in
living memory to ask for the job.
Well, it was either that or end up going out into the world. Yao Shui
snorted at the thought. She had been forced to listen to enough of her spear-
sisters brag about their adventures in the wider world. They spoke of battles
against rogue demons and zoanoids, zombie hunts and, of course, all the martial
artists. Some of the girls had even come back with new 'husbands'. Frankly, the
idea of marrying a man who beat her up and then had to be drugged and dragged
back to the village made Yao Shui slightly ill.
Nope, just another reason not to go on any 'adventures'.
She was so caught up in her musing that she almost missed the old hag.
The woman landed in front of the door, accompanied by a cloud of dust and a loud
crack. She swept out her robes to dispel the dust, obviously expecting to
impress Yao Shui. Yao Shui was standing at attention, gazing calmly into the
sunset when the cloud cleared.
"Hmmm..." the old woman croaked. "I'll catch you yet, child."
"Ya, ya..." Yao Shui shrugged. "If you say so, Granny."
"Yao Shui, you should not be here," the woman said, sitting down. She
was about half Yao Shui's size, her body hunched over with age. Her green velvet
robe spread around her as she knelt on the hard dirt yard around the Forbidden
"Still my shift," Yao Shui responded sullenly.
"I'm not talking about that, girl," the old hag said with a sigh. "Your
talents are wasted on this position."
"If you say so, Granny." Yao Shui saw the rock coming but forced herself
to hold still so the blow could strike home. She winced and rubbed her forehead.
"You could have blocked that," the old hag accused.
"If you say..." The old woman picked up a much larger stone. "Feh.
Whatever." She waved the old woman down. "Is there something you wanted,
"I want you to stop playing at being a dunce," the old hag said with a
snort. "I believe you are the finest martial artist of your generation."
"If you say so, Granny," Yao Shui drawled. She made an exaggerated show
of ducking to avoid the next rock, letting it hit her in the shoulder. A little
bit of earth chi kept the blow from actually doing any damage. "Hey! Hey!" she
protested. She winced and rubbed her uninjured shoulder, pouting. "Anyway, I
think the winners of the last four tournaments would disagree with you."
"Ah yes, the tournaments..." The old hag smiled. "I bet you think you
are very clever." She held up on hand and slowly peeled out one finger. "The
first year you entered as a rookie at age twelve, two years before anyone
normally does so. You were up against last year's champion, an girl six years
older than you who had mastered both the Bakusaitenketsu and the Amaguriken. And
through some miracle, you managed to knock her out in five minutes." She paused
and grinned. "Of course, it was a complete fluke, since you were so injured by
the fight that you had to be taken out of the tournament before the second round
She peeled out the next finger. "Then, the next year you went up against
that girl the Musk Dynasty had sent to participate as an 'act of good will
between our people'. The girl was descended from the blood of elephants-"
"Rhinoceros," Yao Shui corrected idly.
"Quite so, you're right. But she was a monster, able to punch holes in
concrete walls ten feet thick with one finger and absorb a tank shell in the
chest without noticing." The old woman chuckled. "Somehow you managed to get her
to knock herself unconscious in the first round. Though, tragically, you were
once again injured. Your next opponent took you down without breaking a sweat."
"Yep, I have been pretty lucky," Yao Shui said, shifting uncomfortably.
"Lucky." The old woman snorted. She peeled out another finger. "Then you
went up against Pao Pao, the girl who could shred steel with her hair." The
woman looked at her. "She left the ring bald. Once again, a fluke victory that
you couldn't seem to repeat in the second round."
"Tragic story," Yao Shui growled.
"And just two months ago, we hold another tournament." The old woman
shook her head. "The first open invitation tournament in our history. 'A
celebration of the new global peace,' I believe they called it. We had fighters
from all over the planet come here. You were up against that strange American
girl, the one who could make things explode with her mind."
"Light on fire," Yao Shui corrected. "You see, she could draw heat out
of the air and..." She trailed off, lowering her hands. It had taken Yao Shui
almost two whole days to figure out the secret of that technique. "I still have
the burn scars," she added lamely.
"I'm certain." The old woman laughed. "And that girl's technique just
happened to backfire at the last moment, nearly killing you both." The old
woman's eyebrow raised. "I think they still haven't filled in the crater."
"If you say so, Granny," Yao Shui shrugged. The old woman sighed rather
than hit her for her insolence.
"You think you are very clever, girl," the old hag repeated. "But I
find it very hard to believe that a girl who consistently scored dead last in
every test could just happen to win such a string of fluke victories against
some of the strongest martial artists the village has ever seen."
"The gods must have been trying to make up for all the bad luck they
regularly give me," Yao Shui murmured.
"Why waste your life like this, Yao Shui?" the old woman said with
another sigh. "It takes far more effort to conceal your talent like you have
then to just let it shine! You could already be the rising star of this
Yao Shui shrugged. "I'm not concealing anything, Granny." She smirked.
"If I were, then people would keep expecting me to perform better and better.
More and more people would start looking up to me. More and more people would be
calling me out for challenges. All the village would expect me to stand up for
them against zoanoids and monsters and space aliens." Yao Shui leaned back
against the wall. "So it's a good thing I'm not anything like that."
The old woman cut off as Yao Shui suddenly spun, spear in hand, lashing
out like a serpent. The world blurred and flashed as she struck at the presence
she had just sensed. There was a shrill scream.
Yao Shui halted the blow just before it removed the girl's head from her
shoulders. The girl was staring at her in horror. She couldn't be more than
fourteen, and was... blue. Blue hair, blue eyes, blue outfit that looked like it
belonged either in a circus or a really creepy boy's comic, and even blue balls
tied to her hair by little rods.
"Who are you?" Yao Shui asked.
"Let her go!"
At the shout, Yao Shui realised there were three more girls here. They
all looked to be about her age. They were dressed just as ridiculously as the
one in blue, though they at least tried to vary the colour scheme a little. The
one who had shouted had green hair with some sort of elaborate headdress made
out of rope with green orbs attached to it. The other three were circling around
She looked at the old hag. She was just watching quietly, an
insufferably smug look on her face. Yao Shui groaned. Now how was she supposed
to get out of this without either showing off, or failing to do her duty? This
job was too cushy for her to lose it.
"Feh. Okay..." Yao Shui lowered her spear. "Just, ya know, let me know
next time before you instantly teleport into the air right next to me."
"I will..." the blue-haired one managed to squeak. The other three
"So, you gonna answer my question?"
"Oh... oh right!" The girl brightened abruptly. "I'm PallaPalla! These
are my sisters JunJun..." she indicated the green haired one... "...VesVes..."
she indicated a red haired girl "...and CereCere," she finished, gesturing to
one with pink hair. "We are... the Amazoness Quartet!" the girl shouted,
assuming a dramatic stance. The other three leapt behind her, posing in perfect
"Uh... right..." Yao Shui glanced at the old woman, who was still
sitting there silently. "That's... nice." She shrugged. "Something I can do for
"Yes, we came here to help your village!" the green-haired girl, JunJun,
"Our old hag came from here," VesVes explained.
"And she died, so we decided to come and help out her home since she
helped us out so much!" CereCere finished.
"You must know the old hag," VesVes said, stepping forward. "She was
really, really old! Like, over thirty!"
"She had a rack!" PallaPalla shouted.
"You mean a rake," JunJun said. "She fought with a rake."
"She also had a rack," CereCere jumped in.
"That's true!" VesVes agreed, nodding rapidly. "Uh... and she had black
"No, wait!" JunJun interjected. "She would have had white hair!
Remember, she stopped being a midget one day."
"Oh right!" CereCere agreed. "Personally, I don't know why she spent so
much time as an ugly old midget. It was very disturbing."
"Did she spend all her time here as a midget though?" PallaPalla asked.
"Maybe she spent some time here as a non-midget too."
"Maybe the midget is in the eye of the beholder?" VesVes offered. The
girl all thought about this for a long moment, nodding and frowning studiously
to each other.
"Hey, Granny, you have any idea what they're talking about?" Yao Shui
"Not a clue," the old woman said. She cleared her throat. The - ugh,
Yao Shui couldn't believe she was thinking it - Amazoness Quartet looked at
her. "Excuse me, you said you knew someone from our village. Might I ask her
"Cologne," the green-haired girl said, her voice a little sad. The name
meant nothing to Yao Shui, but the old hag stiffened.
"I see," she murmured. "I have not heard that name in over five years."
"Yeah." The girls all looked sad. "She's... not with us anymore."
"Ah..." the old hag sighed. "I'm sorry to hear that. She was a
"But that's why we've come here!" PallaPalla shouted, gesturing wildly.
"The world should not be without her legacy. So we have determined to help out
this... uh..." She looked at Yao Shui. "What's this place called again?"
Yao Shui blinked. "Nyuuchezu," she explained. "Though we're more
commonly known as the Joketsuzoku Village."
"That's a terrible name," VesVes complained.
"You need something catchy," CereCere said. "You know, something easy to
say for the worldwide market."
"Uh-huh..." Yao Shui grunted.
"I know, I know!" JunJun shouted. "Since we are going to be your young
and beautiful advisors and protectors, you can name the place after us!"
"Ohhh! I like it," PallaPalla agreed. "We'll call it the Amazon
"You can't just rename our village like that!" Yao Shui shouted.
"Sure we can," VesVes said.
"We just did," JunJun agreed.
"And now that we've done our first good deed for you backwater hicks, I
think we need some time off. I'm tired," CereCere picked up without pause.
"But all these houses are ucky," PallaPalla explained.
"This big dome seems nice!" JunJun said, reaching for the door.
"Wait! You can't open that!" Yao Shui shouted. She could have stopped
her. But doing so would have given away how good she was to the elder watching
her like a hawk. Instead, Yao Shui could only watch as the door to the Forbidden
Shrine was opened for the first time in sixteen hundred years... and she saw
what was on the other side.
Damn. There went her quiet uneventful life.
When the door opened, Sailor Sabre assumed it was one of the others come
to taunt her about her imminent demise. She steeled herself for that, but when
no mocking voice accompanied the figure walking up to her, she grimaced in
She would have preferred the taunts.
"Are you all right?" The voice was soft and concerned, of course. He
didn't touch her, but Sabre felt her shoulders tense nonetheless.
"Of course," she replied, her tone cold and even. "You designed me well,
master. I am either well or dead, with little possibility of being in-between."
He hated her calling him that, but didn't acknowledge it. "What
happened? When you arrived, you were-"
She interrupted him casually. What difference did it make if he was
offended at this point anyway? "I located the Sailor, but was intercepted by
"How did she know you were there?"
Sailor Sabre shrugged. "Perhaps I was careless. Perhaps the Juraians
have begun to successfully predict our operations. Perhaps it was merely luck.
Regardless, I was only narrowly able to escape their combined efforts."
Truthfully, she was a little proud of her own cleverness in the matter.
Realising the situation was hopeless and unable to escape, she'd launched a
suicide attack on the Sailor of the planet. Ryoko had taken the bait, slicing
off Sabre's attacking arm and sending it hurtling away, even as the Sailor had
burned a hole through Sabre's torso. Then it had simply been a matter of
teleporting to the sword still clutched in her severed arm's grip and escaping.
An unpleasant gambit, but effective.
However, she doubted it would save her from Galaxia. In the end, a
clever retreat was still a failure. And as several of Sabre's comrades and
Galaxia's Animamate servants had discovered, failure was not something the
supreme Sailor Senshi tolerated.
This time a hand did come to rest on her shoulder. Sabre stiffened, and
it was hastily withdrawn. "Don't worry, Sabre. It wasn't your fault. I'll speak
"You...!" She spun in her chair. Z looked just like he always did. His
rough face was lined with concern. His eyes, both the normal one and the inhuman
purple one, both looked down at her. They were filled with the same concern.
She nearly spat, but controlled herself. "That is unnecessary, master. I
do not wish for you to trouble yourself over me."
He looked hurt, causing yet another rush of contempt. It was hard to
believe now how she'd lusted after this man, after she'd been created. Of
course, he'd seemed so different then.
He was a monster. He was responsible for the death of entire planets,
the slaughter of thousands of Juraians. More than that, he plotted against
Tokimi, and Tsunami, and even Galaxia herself. The sheer audacity of it had
taken her breath away. And, of course, he'd taken the weak and useless person
Sailor Sabre had once been, twisted and broken her soul and made her a
superlative killing machine. She had longed after him from afar, then.
Something had changed him, something in that battle with Princess Ayeka
and her friends on Demood. Or perhaps that had always been the true Z, and those
events had just revealed it. Some time afterwards he had come to her, told her
he knew how she had felt.
How she FELT. That should have been the first sign, hadn't it? But she'd
been too foolish to understand at the time. If she'd refused him, if she'd hurt
him then, maybe he could have become himself again.
But instead, she'd become his lover. For a month. Just a month. It was
enough to ruin him forever. She hadn't quite understood what was wrong, or it
wouldn't even have lasted that long. He had suddenly stopped yelling at her, or
at the others when they were around her. He'd stopped giving her cold,
impersonal orders. He'd started asking her questions - about herself, about what
she wanted 'out of life'. He hadn't been pleased when she'd told him her desire
was to serve him forever and kill his enemies.
Yes, in retrospect, it was so obvious. But it was only when he'd told
her one night, how he'd 'never felt like this around another person' that she
had realised the truth.
Z, the monster, didn't exist anymore. If he ever truly had. Instead,
here was Z, the person, confessing his love to her.
Love! As if she was some sort of human being!
She'd laughed in his face. He'd gotten angry, then, and for a single
glorious moment she'd thought he was going to strike her. But then he'd turned
away, looking sad and hurt.
Just like he did now. Sabre didn't bother hiding the contempt on her
face as she rose. "I assume that Mistress Galaxia is ready to see me?"
Z nodded silently. She swept past him without a second glance, her long
skirt trailing on the ground behind her. It had been torn in the fight, but like
the rest of her body, had repaired itself as she waited on Galaxia's pleasure.
The wait was something new. Once, she would simply have reported
immediately, but for the past two weeks, Galaxia had abruptly insisted on
'appointments' before meeting with her minions. despite the fact that she did
little other than brood on her crystal throne. Nobody knew whether this meant
anything or was merely another of the ultimate Sailor Senshi's increasingly
mercurial whims. But nobody dared to question her order, either.
He had fallen into step behind her. Not that this wasn't expected, but
she still felt her mouth tightening. Ignore him, she chided herself. It would
hardly matter what Z did if she was executed.
She walked down the hallway sheathed in marble, the great golden doors
to Galaxia's throne chamber looming ahead of her. This too was new, and almost
farcical. Galaxia's throne room stretched out in all directions. If it was not
an infinitely vast space, it was close enough to make little difference to the
handful of inhabitants who resided here at the centre of the galaxy. But
abruptly, an entire palace had come into being six months ago, with elaborately
appointed chambers for all of them, and many more besides. The privacy certainly
cut down on the infighting, but was that the reason, or was it just another
whim? Again, answers were not forthcoming from Galaxia.
The doors slid open noiselessly. The room beyond was not diminished in
any way by the structure that had been adjoined to it. It still spread out in
all directions - including behind her - as far as she could perceive, a vast
transparent grid under and above and around which all the glory of the cosmos
could be seen, almost close enough to touch. The stars and planets and gasses of
the Milky Way, however, were drenched a deep blood-red from the vantage point of
the Galaxy Cauldron.
Only two structures existed in this vast chamber, one of which being the
doors Sailor Sabre had stepped through. The other was the throne of Sailor
Galaxia. It was a strangely inelegant thing, a blocky seat hewn out of slabs of
gold and crystal. It was so large that almost any normally-sized being seated in
it would have been dwarfed and diminished.
Almost any being. But not Galaxia.
"Sailor Sabre." As the cold, imperious voice reached her, Sabre
instantly dropped to one knee, bowing her head. "Have you brought me a Star
"No, Mistress Galaxia, I have not." Sabre did not raise her head, but
she could hear the chorus of whispers above her. She sneered. Escaping from
single combat with Ryoko was more than most of them could hope for. Perhaps one
would be fool enough to offer to execute Sabre personally, and provide her with
a last bit of satisfaction.
"I do not tolerate failure, Sailor Sabre. Do you have anything to say
"Yes, I do." Sailor Sabre had prepared for this moment. From the moment
she had fled from Ryoko, she had expected her execution would follow. She had
used the time waiting for her 'appointment' to compose what she thought were
some stirring last words. Mostly, they were a string of invective directed at
It wasn't that Sabre didn't have great respect for Galaxia's power and
ruthlessness. She didn't even take her forthcoming murder that personally -
failure was failure. What she objected to was Galaxia's lack of willingness to
use her power on their enemies.
It had been nearly a year since the phages had died. All of them, all at
once, suddenly reverted to twisted corpses. The same day; indeed, the same
moment, the great black blade of the Sword of Sealing had abruptly been...
cleansed. Even now it shone a pure and unsullied silver. When Sailor Sabre had
rushed back to report the death of her army, she had found Galaxia staring in
wonder at the blade. She had said or reacted to nothing, merely gazing on the
purified blade of her sword, for almost four days.
Then she'd started laughing.
Since then, though the war against Jurai had continued, Galaxia took no
interest in it. She let her subordinates determine their own targets, only
taking enough interest to receive Star Seeds from successful operatives or to
Needless to say, this effort was doomed. With every phage destroyed, the
only 'army' that Galaxia had remaining were her own personally created Sailor
Animamates, and Z's small force of Sailor Killers. Between those killed in
action and those executed for failure, they now barely numbered two dozen. And
Jurai grew in strength and confidence by the day. Of course, there was little
they could do for the numberless worlds stripped of life by Galaxia's campaign,
but it was only a matter of time until Jurai and its allies whittled their
numbers down to nothing.
But how different it would be if Galaxia would step onto the
battlefield! The greatest Sailor Senshi was not just a warrior unparalleled,
but a mighty rallying force. With her, they could break the confidence of
Jurai's allies. Some would even defect in the hope of buying their survival,
bringing their own armies to replace the phages. The fight could be brought to
the Juraian homeworld itself. Sabre had dreamed of that day. Cutting a bloody
swath through their armies, burning their precious trees, smashing their
palaces! It would be the most glorious battle in the galaxy since the Sailor
But instead, the great Galaxia just sat on her throne, disinterested in
the progress of the war she had started, issuing her meaningless and
They all agreed with her, Sailor Sabre knew. They all knew that unless
Galaxia took a stand, they were all doomed. Sailor Archer had even been executed
for grumbling a little too loudly and often. But none of them had the courage to
say it. In the face of death, they begged for their lives instead. Sabre sneered
and stood up to face her executor. At least they'd be forced to remember that
she'd said what none of them would have dared, even Z. Especially Z.
She opened her mouth. "Lady Galaxia..." she began. And that was when the
boy appeared before her eyes.
He was short and slim, dressed in some sort of light brown uniform. His
back was to Sabre; he had light blonde hair and some sort of furry animal-like
ears growing from his head. He held up his hand in greeting, and then stumbled
forward and looked down as the tip of Sabre's sword emerged from his chest.
"We have an intruder," Sabre said calmly as she appeared behind him,
hand gripping the sword she had thrown. With a casual shrug of her shoulders,
she tore the strange boy in two. His hot blood sprayed over her as his top
half flipped away to land face-down in front of Galaxia's dais. His suddenly
orphaned legs and torso wobbled for a moment, then fell over as well.
Dying in a satisfying fashion was all well and good, but seeming to have
presciently risen up to kill an intruder no-one else perceived coming offered
the chance of erasing her previous failure and allowing her to live, a far more
"Do we, now?" Galaxia mused. She seemed neither surprised, nor angry,
nor pleased. "I wonder where?"
Sabre blinked. Then looked down. There was no body there. There was no
blood splattered on her armour and skirt.
"What excitable fräuleins you have!" a cheerful voice called from behind
her. Sabre spun. The intruder looked utterly unharmed. He was standing with both
hands in his pockets, grinning widely enough that she could tell some of his
teeth were pointed. "Is zat how you greet a guest who has come so far to see
Sabre answered the boy by eviscerating him. She twisted her sword as she
ripped it out of his guts, then kicked him over and pinned him to the ground by
plunging the other through his throat. This time she did not take her eyes off
him. She did not look away. She did not blink. And yet, still, one moment his
dead eyes stared at her, and the next moment they were simply not there. Her
sword was plunged through nothing. Her foot that had been planted on his bloody
chest suddenly fell, causing her to stumble.
She caught herself and twisted around, catching sight of him suddenly
being there out of the corner of her eye. This time he was slouched against the
doorway. He yawned insolently, peering at her from the corner of one half-closed
eye. "You should stop vasting your time, Fräu Pigsticker. I am everyvere und
novere. Your pretty weapons vill never harm me."
Sabre stepped towards him. None of the others had come to join her. This
was her fight, and she would win or die. And it wouldn't be long before she
perished regardless of what the boy did. The spectacle of her servant repeatedly
failing to kill the intruder wouldn't amuse Galaxia. She'd annihilate Sailor
Sabre rather than continue to allow such an embarrassing farce to continue. In
fact, this was probably going to be her last chance to attack.
Sabre smiled, bringing her swords up and stalking towards the boy.
Despite knowing any further mistake would be her last, her blood was rushing in
excitement. She'd been created to kill. The prospect of ripping the boy's
insolent smirk away, replacing it with the fear and awe of death, excited her.
What was the correct attack strategy? Her mind filled with
possibilities. Perhaps attacking him with a Second Circle effect would prevent
his teleportation. Or rendering him senseless rather than killing him. Or
perhaps he had a well-hidden weak point somewhere...
Before she could choose, another voice rang out. "Everywhere and
nowhere, is it?" Suddenly, Z stepped out from the door. Sabre remembered he had
been behind her as she walked to the throne room. He stared down coldly at the
boy. "You overestimate yourself. You are here, in the seat of Sailor Galaxia's
power, and nobody leaves this place so easily."
The boy blinked, then suddenly seemed to realise something. The smirk on
his face froze.
Z sneered. "And as for being 'everywhere', to some of us that merely
makes you a far larger target." He raised one arm, and the Light Hawk Wings
flared to life, so bright Sabre reflexively shielded her eyes. When she lowered
her hand, the intruder was sprawled on the ground, covered in bruises. His eyes
"Now talk," Z said. "What brings you here?" He glanced back at Sailor
Sabre, and that was when she knew.
He'd known her next attack would probably be her last. But now nobody
was paying any attention to her anymore. All eyes were on the strange boy.
Z had protected her.
She met his gaze with a look of such loathing that he whitened a little
bit. Z's mouth tightened, and he turned back to look at the intruder.
The boy shook his head to clear it, rising up on one elbow. He looked
around at the grim, staring figures, and then abruptly started laughing. "Ach,
all zis trouble for just a wisit. Very well, I surrender." Hopping to his feet,
he raised his hands. His insolent grin, however, didn't falter. "Fräu Galaxia, I
apologise. I didn't know you'd made a door to knock on. You should put out a
sign so all your guests do not get stabbed."
Sailor Sabre looked up at Galaxia. She had leaned back in her throne,
crossed her legs, and rested her cheek on one hand. "Is that so? Unfortunately
for you, I have little need for guests."
"Of course not!" the boy laughed. "But I zink you are a little curious
about vat someone who wud go to all zis trouble has to say. Otherwise, zis
has all been a vaste of time, and why wud you do zat? Zat wud make you
Sailor Sabre waited eagerly to see the boy eradicated in a flash of
golden light. Instead, the corner of Galaxia's mouth quirked up. "Well, I
certainly would not want to seem... foolish. So speak, boy. What message is so
important that you would forfeit your life to deliver it to me?"
"Ja! Well, I should introduce myself." The boy snapped into an attentive
stance, hands crossed behind his back. "I am Oberstammführer Schrödinger,
representative of ze Umbrella Corporation. Although zat is a formality since I
may be ze only one left. Ze Letztes, you could say." He grinned, then looking
around at the unamused faces, hastily continued, "My late führer - although zis
is the more recent one - was a great fan of your vurk."
"A fan?" Z shouted. "Nonsense! What are you babbling about?"
"Oh, but it is true!" Schrödinger grinned, making an elaborate show of
bowing to Galaxia. "Ze records ve could acquire of your vurk were incomplete,
but oh, such vurk! An instrument of truly sublime war, he once called you. A
force of pure devastation and conquest, truly an avatar of chaos and death! One
of his fondest dreams was that you wud come to Earth and we wud kill or be
killed by you. So few merited that sort of respect! But sadly, it vas not to
"So is that your message?" Galaxia said, abruptly sounding bored. "Of
the respect of your late master? How trifling."
"Oh no, zat was just ze preamble, you see. He is dead - why should I
care vat message he had?" Schrödinger straightened and looked directly into her
eyes. "I come to see you, to ask you vhy you have become such a stinking
The gasp was audible throughout the room, emanating from nearly every
throat. Sabre was too shocked even to do that. Unconsciously, she took a step
further away from the boy.
Galaxia raised an eyebrow, but made no other move. "And what is it that
you mean by that?"
"Is it not obvious?" Schrödinger swept his arm around the room. "Vat
are you doing here? Are you not ze greatest warrior in the galaxy? Are you not
ze victor of ten thousand bloody battles? Yet you retreated from Earth without
even a single blow last year. Then you haf sat here since, letting zis handful
of girls fight a pitiful phony war against ze Juraians. You were so close to
breaking their spirit, und now you huddle here, hiding in a bunker. What, vill
you let yourself grow fat on your throne until they find a way to destroy you?"
Sailor Sabre found herself nodding at the tirade, but caught herself
before anyone noticed. But still, this would be the end of the idiot boy-
Wait, Galaxia was smiling. SMILING?
"Your candour is amusing, boy. But you're wrong. I'm not hiding from the
Juraians. I'm ignoring them. They no longer interest me." She raised one hand
languidly and made a half-shrug. "Someone on your planet promised me a far more
interesting war. I'm awaiting her challenge."
"Vat, just waiting? If not cowardice, that is just lazy, if you'll
excuse my saying so, Fräu Galaxia." Schrödinger snapped his fingers. "How can
you haf a proper war without an army?"
Galaxia still didn't annihilate the arrogant boy, but again she began to
look bored. "The pitiful remnants of this galaxy will barely serve to arm my
foe. I leave it to her to make some use of it."
"Ja, this galaxy is mostly depopulated. So vat?"
Galaxia paused for a long moment. Suddenly, her eyes were sharp and
alert again. "You have something in mind?"
Schrödinger's grin stretched across his face. His sharp teeth flashed.
"I am no expert, but aren't zere billions of galaxies? If ze ruins of zis one
cannot provide a suitable army, then ze answer is obvious: attack another. Und
another, und another. Attack and pillage and loot and destroy and enslave until
you haf an army suitable for zis conflict. Bring back an armada zat will suit
for a war between galaxies. If zis woman promises a war worthy of ze greatest
warrior in the galaxy, vhy should you make it easy for her?"
Galaxia laughed. It was the first time she had done so in a year. She
placed her hand over her face and continued laughing. Sabre stared, as did
everyone else. Launching a war against an entire new galaxy... just the handful
of them? There would be threats they could not even dream of. Those other
galaxies could even have their own equivalent to Galaxia. It was insane.
"You have convinced me, Schrödinger," Galaxia said finally. "After all,
waiting for my foe was growing almost as tedious as battling the Juraians."
Sabre felt a grin spreading across her face. It would be GLORIOUS.
Then Z's hand fell on her shoulder. He was looking down at her solemnly.
He opened his mouth-
"Mistress Galaxia, there is one problem." It took Sabre a moment to
realise the voice was hers.
The slight, mysterious smile danced on Galaxia's lips again. "Oh yes, it
seemed that whatever you were going to say was interrupted earlier, Sailor
Sabre. So, what is this problem?"
Sabre took a step forward, not incidentally removing Z's hand from her
shoulders. Her mind raced. No matter how glorious the battle, decades or even
centuries with Z? Her skin crawled at the thought. But inviting death wasn't her
idea of a preferable alternative. And then the answer came to her. "These
battles will take a very long time. Leaving your foe on Earth unobserved for so
long would be imprudent."
"And you are volunteering yourself to watch her?" Galaxia mused. "How
strange, for someone who loves combat as you do."
Sabre lowered her head. Time to gamble. "I am ashamed at my failure to
retrieve the Star Seed. Therefore I see this mission as a chance to both punish
myself and further strengthen my skills, to become a perfect soldier when you
make your great invasion."
Of course, there was more to it than that. Sabre knew precisely whose
challenge Galaxia was waiting for on Earth. And she knew that that woman
numbered among her servants one Touga Kiryuu, who she had met briefly some years
earlier. He had tricked her, taken advantage of her foolish attraction to Z,
USED her, and then discarded her as callously as garbage.
A smile flitted about her lips. Now that was someone who knew how to
treat a girl.
Perhaps it was even worth considering switching sides. Tethys was a
warrior queen who did not shrink from the front lines. And going into battle
against an army forged from entire conquered galaxies would be a battle that
attracted her even more than any Galaxia could offer her.
Getting to carve through the ranks of her former comrades would merely
be a bonus.
"Your reasoning is sound, Sailor Sabre," Galaxia proclaimed. Sabre bowed
more deeply. "However, I have seemingly already lost one servant to the...
chaotic straits of Earth. So I will assign a native to assist your
acclimatisation. Schrödinger, will you accept this task?"
"I wud be delighted!" he proclaimed, as cheerfully as if he'd had any
choice in the matter.
"You two should get along well together, since you share such similar
ideas," Galaxia added. Her tone was calm, but Sabre's blood froze for a moment.
Similar ideas? Had she seen Sabre nodding along with the boy's audacious rant?
Had she suspected what Sabre was going to tell her?
She smiled tightly as she rose. So, perhaps Galaxia was placing two
servants of unreliable loyalty together. Either of whom would happily betray the
other if they found proof of disloyalty. Well, so be it. She glanced over at
Schrödinger, who grinned at her.
"A pleasure to be vorking with you, Fräu Pigsticker."
Yuzuki Nagashiro loved Tokyo. She had lived here pretty much her whole
life, and knew the ways of the city like the back of her hand. She had memorised
all the subway schedules and all the bus routes, but really she preferred to
walk if it was at all possible. And when she could walk, she chose to run. This
was why she was caught totally off-guard by the white-faced man.
She was running through the twisting city streets, her eyes almost
closed as she laughed and called out greetings to the people she passed. She
leapt over a little old lady cleaning her porch, calling a hello as she hit the
top of her jump. The old lady feebly waved as Yuzuki dashed past, taking the
corner as fast as she could without sending herself sprawling. She waved as she
sprinted past the florist and the bird shop. The clerks waved back, slightly
nonplussed by her enthusiasm.
She grinned, enjoying the feeling of the wind in her long hair. Coach
kept telling her to get it cut, but Yuzuki would sooner paint her face purple
than cut her hair. But it wasn't like the hair got in her way. She was just too
good at the game. Her legs made her the star of the football team. That, and her
ability to turn on a dime. She could find gaps in the opponents' defence and
snap a ball past the goalkeeper before most players even realised that she had
decided to turn. It was why she was never afraid to be sprinting at full speed
through the streets of one of the most crowded cities in the world. She had even
tried kicking a ball along on her sprints, to practice her control.
That hadn't worked out so well, admittedly.
So it came as a complete surprise when Yuzuki flashed around a corner at
top speed and slammed into a wall she knew hadn't been there. Stars exploded
across her vision and she collapsed onto her back, groaning. Gingerly she
reached up and probed her face, glad to feel that her nose was not broken. She
moaned as she sat up. Who had decided to block off this alley?
When her eyes opened fully she got her answer. There was a man in the
alley. He was tall, wearing a brown trenchcoat pulled tight around his thin
frame. His hands were stuffed in his front pockets and he was wearing a fedora
pulled so low over his face that it was impossible to make out anything about
him. His boots were seamless and white, sort of clashing with the rest of the
"Wow, sorry, mister stranger," Yuzuki said, pushing herself to her feat.
She frowned when he said and did nothing. "Hey, I said I'm sorry..." she
repeated. Still he didn't respond. What a jerk, letting a girl slam into him and
not even so much as offering her a hand up. And he was tough too. She could have
sworn she ran into something like a lightpole or a door, not a human being.
Yuzuki made a show of dusting herself off. Her school uniform had a
small tear in the skirt now. She sighed. Knowing her father, he would leap on it
as an excuse to try and claim she was doing something too dangerous again.
"Well, goodbye mister silent stranger," Yuzuki called, stepping back.
The man twisted his head slightly. Something about the way his head
moved made Yuzuki's stomach tighten. She could see a bit under his fedora now.
His face was white, pure and utter white. She couldn't see his eyes. She should
have been able to, from this angle, but she couldn't. Yuzuki quickly backed up a
few steps. The man took a step forward. Those strange boots were the exact same
colour as his face. The exact same.
The first few blocks were hell. She kept glancing over her shoulder. Her
heart was beating in her throat. Sweat trickled down her neck. She never sweated
when she ran. The white-faced man was no longer following her. The next few
blocks she was beginning to calm down. She considered calling for the SecOps,
but as she put more distance between herself and the shortcut alley, the idea
seemed more and more absurd. There was no need to call down a cadre of combat
zoanoids on the neighbourhood just because she had run into a stranger.
By the time she came within sight of her house, Yuzuki was laughing the
encounter off. The man had probably been just as startled by her as she had been
by him. And so what if his face was white? She had seen stranger things. Mr.
Tatsuki down the street occasionally turned into an eight foot tall lizard
with a horn on his head, and her English teacher would lecture the class while
her prehensile braid wrote notes on the whiteboard. She had successfully
convinced herself that nothing important had happened by the time she entered
She announced herself loudly, as always, making certain to slam the door
a little bit. As always, Anthy called out to her from the kitchen. Yuzuki paused
only long enough to change to her house slippers before following the sounds
from the kitchen.
"You're not trying to cook again, are you Anthy?" Yuzuki asked.
Anthy turned to face her slowly. She was smiling, but in the way that
was far too polite. Yuzuki, as always, found herself a little jealous of her
maid's exotic beauty. Anthy had dark skin, purple hair and striking green eyes.
While she preferred to keep her hair up in a modest style, Yuzuki knew that her
hair was actually long enough to fall all the way down to her ankles. She had
discovered this once when she had stumbled in on the woman in the bath.
"You're late," Anthy said, waving a mixing spoon in Yuzuki's general
direction. To Yuzuki's horror, it was covered with... something. "Your father
would not be pleased. He wanted you to come straight home after practice."
"Father didn't even want me to go to practice," Yuzuki said with a
frown. She sat down on one of the stools, depositing her bookbag and gymbag on
the small island that cut the kitchen in half. The portable TV was on opposite
It was showing a still picture of the Sailor Senshi fighting some man.
Yuzuki couldn't make out much, but the man had very dark, almost bronze skin and
wore nothing but a thong. She blushed a little. He was in the middle of blocking
an attack from Sailor Mars with one hand while the other was firing a large
energy sphere at the other two.
"...Miss Hino refused to comment on whether the battle today at Todai
station was related to the string of disappearances that has plagued Japan for
the last three weeks," the reporter was saying, her voice crisp and
businesslike. "When asked whether or not they would be continuing their
investigations, the Senshi spokeswoman said that 'the incidents of the last few
weeks have a great deal of supernatural character that the Security Operations
division is unequipped to handle as well as us'. Interim Prime Minister
Purgstall could not be reached for comment as of this broadcast, but
Anthy flicked off the TV with a twist of her fingers. Yuzuki frowned and
looked up at her. "Why were you late, Miss Nagashiro?"
Yuzuki screwed up her face and considered her answer. She really didn't
like talking to Anthy. It wasn't that the maid wasn't nice. In fact, she was
always unfailingly polite. She was demure and happy and never had a bad word for
anyone. She also did whatever her dad or mom or Yuzuki asked her to without
complaint, in that order.
Which was why Yuzuki didn't like her. Anthy was the perfect Japanese
woman; beautiful, elegant, graceful, submissive and quiet. In short, she was
everything Yuzuki's father had been trying to force Yuzuki to become for the
last six years. Then there was the fact that her father refused to give Yuzuki
an answer when she asked why they even needed a maid.
The Nagashiro family wasn't exactly poor. Father was a dentist and
mother worked as his secretary. Plus, there was the settlement from Chronos for
big brother's... Yuzuki shook off the thought. The point was they made enough
money to afford a house with a modest yard and even enough space for her
father's sports car. But it was just the three of them, and the house wasn't so
large that Yuzuki and her mother couldn't keep it tidy with a weekly clean up.
Which is what they had done until about two months ago when Yuzuki had come home
from work to find Anthy in the living room, dusting the TV and wearing one of
those ridiculous western maid dresses.
Anthy had seemed astonished when Yuzuki had asked what she was doing
there. She was the maid, of course. She had been hired to clean and cook and so
on. Every question was answered quickly, if with a minimum of information. And
when Yuzuki had cornered her dad and demanded an explanation, he had looked at
her like she had grown a second head.
"Why wouldn't Anthy be here, Yuzuki?" he had said, in a confused tone.
"She's the maid."
Yuzuki shook off her thoughts and looked back at Anthy. "Sorry. I
was..." She trailed off, then shrugged. "I was just thinking about how weird you
are." Sugarcoating the truth had never been one of her strong points.
"Well, thank you!" Anthy replied, smiling. "But that doesn't answer the
question. Where were you that you were almost an hour late? It's almost sunset."
"I was at..." Yuzuki considered how to phrase it. "I was at the
memorial." There was no need to specify what memorial. There was really only one
memorial in Tokyo.
"But the ceremonies were yesterday," Anthy said. "They even gave all the
schools the day off to participate. I believe both Mr. Purgstall and Miss Tendo
"Yeah, but I wasn't going for them..." Yuzuki said, waving her hand.
Almost instantly she regretted it. Anthy's eyes narrowed.
"Oh?" Anthy's smile grew more predatory. "Who did you go there for?"
Well, there was no helping it now. Truth before safety! "I was there for
Anthy seemed taken aback. She staggered a step. "R-reichmann Gyro?" she
Yuzuki puffed out her cheek and crossed her arms. "Yes. Reichmann Gyro.
I went to lay a rose on the memorial for him."
"You... you can't be serious!" Anthy snapped, her face flushed with more
emotion than Yuzuki had seen from her in two months. "Reichmann Gyro was a
monster! That memorial is for all the people he killed in his madness."
"So?" Yuzuki grunted.
"Why place a rose for him, of all people?!" Anthy slammed her hands down
on the table. "I think I may have overestimated you Yuzuki, maybe you aren't-"
"If I don't do it... who will?"
The words cut Anthy off in mid-speech. She looked at Yuzuki for a long
time. Uncomfortable under the older woman's gaze, Yuzuki quickly explained
herself. "I know he did bad things. I know he hurt a lot of people. I know what
he did to the Middle East and all that. They tell us at school all the time."
She paused to collect her thought and sighed. "But... he wasn't just a monster.
He was a human being. A human being who just found himself walking a very dark
road. Who knows what he could have done if he had survived the fight? Terrible
things, yes. But he could have also done great good, if he chose to."
"That's impossible," Anthy replied. "His soul was as black and twisted
as they come."
"Nothing's impossible!" Yuzuki shouted, leaping to her feet. The stool
fell to the floor with a clatter. For a moment she remembered the same sound,
and running laughing into the kitchen and seeing- Yuzuki forced away the memory.
"Nobody is too evil to see the light," she continued in a more subdued tone.
"If you die, if you die..."
Big brother's face came to her. He was laughing. He was so tall! Father
was so proud of him. To think, HIS son had been accepted. To think, HER brother
had the stuff to be a Hyper Zoanoid! They threw him a party. That was the last
time she saw him smile.
She didn't see him again until a year later. He came home so quiet. he
never smiled. His eyes were haunted. He kept washing his hands. He would lock
himself in his room and Yuzuki would lie against the wall that connected to two
bedrooms and listen to him sob and beg someone for forgiveness.
And then, the clatter of a chair on the kitchen floor and-
"If you die, you'll never know what good things you could have done."
Yuzuki brushed at her eyes, drying the slight mist there. The ache wasn't as
strong as it used to be. She forced herself to smile and she looked up at Anthy.
She made her voice cheery, which wasn't as hard as it might have been even a
year ago. "So that's why I left a rose for Reichmann Gyro."
Anthy was beaming. Not just smiling politely. She was just standing
there and radiating happiness like Yuzuki had never seen before. She had hardly
ever seen anybody that happy since... well, since everybody in Tokyo found that
they weren't dead anymore. It was actually a little scary.
Thankfully at that moment, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" Yuzuki yelled without thinking. She sprinted to the front
door and pulled it open, calling out a greeting that died on her lips.
It was him. She recognized the trenchcoat. He was just as tall. His hand
was withdrawing from the doorbell. Except it wasn't a hand. It was like a hand,
but it was white as chalk and poorly shaped. It looked more like a child's clay
model of a human hand than an actual one.
Yuzuki backed up a step. The man looked down at her. She could see under
his hat from this angle. He had no face. There was the shape of a face, the
outline of a nose. That was it. There were no eyes. There was no mouth. Just a
shiny white blankness like some sort of horrible animated mannequin. And even
though it lacked eyes, Yuzuki got the impression it was looking at her. It was
staring at her. It was staring into her. Its hand stopped pulling back, and
started moving towards her.
The hand was moving towards her chest. It was opening, unfolding like a
flower blossom. The fingers moved all wrong. There was no muscle action. They
just flowed, like they were floating. The thing reached for her chest.
Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Even as she did, there was
a flash of... of something. Yuzuki could tell something had happened. The man in
the doorway seemed to be holding something. His other arm had reached around and
he was cradling something to him. Except he wasn't. There was nothing there.
"Yuzuki, snap out of it," Anthy's voice came to her. Yuzuki turned
around. Anthy was no longer wearing her maid's uniform. She was clad in some
elaborate dress that fell to her feet. It was red and looked very formal. She
was holding Yuzuki by both arms, looking into her eyes. "He won't be fooled by
the illusion for long."
"I-illusion?" Yuzuki asked.
Anthy frowned. "Of course, you can't see it." She looked back at the
man. Except that it looked less like a man now. The fedora had fallen off,
revealing its featureless and subtly misshapen head. The trenchcoat had come
undone and its body was revealed, all sleek and white with no muscles or veins
at all. It had one arm curled as if holding something, while the other was
digging around in open air. "I fooled it into thinking it has you, but it will
catch on when it realises that crystal shard isn't there."
"Crystal shard?" Yuzuki asked. "What's going on?" She felt control
returning. "What's going on?" she repeated, more forcefully.
Anthy considered her. "Yuzuki, you aren't like normal people."
"Shush, let me finish." Anthy looked back at the thing, and her eyes
narrowed. "Perversely, that thing is so simple and stupid that it is much harder
for me to affect it than it is to affect humans." She shook her head. "So I
don't have much time." She took a deep breath.
"Yuzuki. When Reichmann Gyro attacked the world, a large portion of his
power came from a magical gem called the Ginzuishou, the Silver Imperium
Crystal. This jewel was... a soul, to put it simply. A stolen soul, from a very
"To kill him, that gem had to be shattered, and it was. But souls can
not be destroyed. The shattered crystal fragments, hundreds of them, began to
seek to reunite with each other and with a living soul. Then everyone in Japan
was wished back.
"And the hundreds of fragments of the Silver Imperium Crystal were
reborn into the pure souls of some of the people brought back to life by that
"That is what that thing came for."
Yuzuki blinked. "Wait, you mean...?"
"Yes." Anthy stepped back, releasing Yuzuki. She bowed her head
slightly. "You are one of the people reborn with a shard of the Ginzuishou in
"Oh... neat." Yuzuki smiled. "Does this mean I have superpowers?"
"I..." Anthy paused. "You believe me?"
"Well, come on, they teach me weirder things in history class..." Yuzuki
replied laconically. Anthy chuckled at that.
Then there was a roar. It wasn't exactly a voice. It was too liquid and
alien to be human. Yuzuki spun to face the creature. It had exploded. Its body
was rippling, like water. The coat was shredded as long thin blades and spines
erupted from all over it. It roared again, and its hands became thick claws that
ripped at the doorway. Anthy gasped and fell back.
"I can't disguise us anymore..." she said. "We should have run."
"Can't you hurt it?" Yuzuki asked. The thing seemed to focus on her and
Anthy now. Its shape was settling down. It was humanoid, with a round head and a
hunched posture. Its limbs were thick and its fingers were wickedly curved
claws. "I can run fast, but I think it can run faster."
"I cannot harm it," Anthy informed her. "Not directly."
"Any chance of calling the SecOps?" Yuzuki asked, backing up a step as
the thing stepped into the porch. It had eyes now, inhuman blue eyes, the only
colour on its vaguely human form.
"No." Anthy admitted. She paused. "If you run, I can lure it away..."
"No way!" Yuzuki shouted. "You may be a creepy old maid..." Anthy's
eyebrow twitched. "...but I'm not going to let anybody get hurt protecting me!"
"Then..." Anthy stepped forward and placed her hand against Yuzuki's
breast. "You'll need a way to fight."
Yuzuki flushed. The thing roared and charged towards them. Time seemed
to slow down. She could hear Anthy's voice.
"Rose of the Silver Castle..."
There was no way she had enough time to say that. The thing was sliding
down the hallway at them, moving on all fours like some bizarre spider.
"Let this humble champion..."
Yuzuki felt a shot of liquid hot energy snap through her. She gasped,
her body arching backwards. She felt Anthy's other arm supporting her. She
felt... she felt... fantastic.
"Draw you forth!"
Anthy's hand began to lift from Yuzuki's breast and light began to
gather there. It was silver and pure, shining brightly. The thing seemed to
hurry up, but yet still failed to reach them. Soon there was a globe of
incandescent light floating between Anthy's hand and Yuzuki's heart. With a snap
of her wrist Anthy reached into it, and the handle of a sword appeared in her
The next thing Yuzuki knew she was standing in front of the thing. The
doorway was exploding around her, splinters shooting out in all directions. The
thing was screaming, flying backwards into the street. There was a great gash in
its chest. Yuzuki looked down at her hand in surprise.
The sword was thin, just barely thicker than the fencing foil her friend
Kana kept in her room. It was made of pure silver, and shimmered and refracted
the light around it. The crossguard was shaped like a crescent moon.
"Yuzuki!" Anthy warned.
Yuzuki snapped her attention up. The thing was rushing her again, and
this time there was no dramatic slow down. It came at her faster than she would
have thought possible. There was no cut on its body. It leapt, its form
unfolding like a great kite.
Yuzuki threw herself to the side and, acting on instinct alone, she
slashed out at it. There was a liquid roar and the thing landed just behind her.
Its left arm fell to the ground. Yuzuki landed on her side, tumbling badly as
she tried to hold onto her blade. She came to her feet quickly.
The thing paused, looking at its stump. Then it snapped its remaining
arm at her. It unrolled like a fishing line. She brought up her sword in front
of her, but it wasn't aiming at her. It snagged its severed arm and the extended
limb snapped back like an elastic. The thing pressed the stump up against its
shoulder and it began to merge back together.
"How do I hurt it?" Yuzuki cried out to Anthy.
"It's your sword," Anthy replied unhelpfully.
"Great..." Yuzuki closed her eyes. "Brother, help me," she whispered,
holding the blade up in a final salute.
Then she opened her eyes and charged. The thing met her charge with a
run of its own. She aimed the point at its blue eyes and thrust and yelled at
the top of her lungs.
Just before they met, just before the thing's grotesquely misshapen arms
snapped around and took her head off, the sword blazed with silver light. Yuzuki
could feel it pulsing out all around her. The thing's arms rebounded from the
shield and Yuzuki pushed the blade into its face.
The face pushed inward even before the tip pierced it. It gurgled and
the indentation grew and grew, becoming a tunnel down the length of its body. As
the blade entered the tunnel the thing unravelled, its substance sent spinning
in all directions as the force of the magic tore it apart from the inside out.
Yuzuki ran through it as it was reduced to a fine white mist and came to a halt
just beyond where it had been, panting.
"Well done," Anthy said, stepping down from the house.
"T-thanks..." Yuzuki gasped and continued panting. She put a hand over
her chest. Then she noticed that her shirt was a LOT tighter than it had been
before. She looked down at herself. "Anthy... what happened to my clothes?!" she
Petra glanced at her cards. Two fives down, one ace up. She nodded and
shoved about half her chips forward. "I'm in."
"That's my girl," Erdmann chuckled. He went around the table, getting
bets from the other two. "Oh-ho, everyone's feeling lucky this hand? But I hope
you're ready to lose."
"Fermez la bouche," Marie mock-growled. "Just deal already." The French
woman grinned impudently. "I'm already planning my vacation." Alisher, sitting
to her left, grunted noncommittally.
"So what's the next order of business?" Erdmann asked as he slid off a
burn card from the deck. "Any other wrongs that need righting or rights that
need wronging in the world?"
"France is on the verge of recognising Link's regime in England," Petra
said. "Given that the Vatican is also very friendly with Link, and France, Spain
and Portugal are at least nominally Catholic, it presents the possibility of a
strongly united western European power bloc revolving around France. What are
"Not our problem," Alisher grunted. The scarred ex-mercenary looked
sourly at them. "Chris set up the situation in France. I'm sure He knew what He
Marie shook her head. "Non, non. I do appreciate your thought, but that
is not what Chris would have wanted of us." She glanced over the top of her
glasses at Alisher. "Even if He had a plan, it is not for us to simply follow.
He has left us, His chosen, to bring about the perfect possible future. As all
mankind can and must gain the strength to walk their own path, so too must we
take our own action, not just trust in the world He left to us." She glanced
triumphantly at Petra. "Is that not right?"
Petra smiled thinly. "So it is." Marie was certainly quick to defer to
her authority when a question about Chris came up, provided she knew Petra would
agree with her. "What shall we do, then?"
"That Church is an archaic, rotting edifice," Marie sniffed. "I believe
we would do well to undermine its authority. I have been thinking that we could
begin seeding a new religion, one that encapsulates the virtues that Chris would
instill in the populace. Self-reliance, and so forth..."
"That's a risky proposition," Erdmann stated, his face turning
uncharacteristically serious. "Although many new religions have arisen in these
past years, if we were to make this one be successful, it would get all sorts of
attention that could lead back to us."
"That is not necessarily true," Marie argued. "At the moment, Spain and
Portugal are virtual satellite states. They are all but ignored in world
affairs. I think we could achieve a critical mass before it was noticed by
anyone of importance. And as for tracing back to us, the only ones familiar with
Chris's philosophy are those who already know of us. Thus, the problem is not
really any different than before."
"You gotta have someone on the ground to start a movement," Alisher
said. "Someone mind controls them, and then we're in trouble."
"Who says they will know of us? I think we could implant some memories
in a suitable candidate, perhaps craft some preprepared speeches..."
"Hmmm..." Erdmann mused. "It could work if we made sure they could do
something suitably heroic. Lead by example, yes?"
Petra nodded. "It's an interesting possibility, I suppose. Maria, I'll
put you in charge of drafting a plan, and we'll discuss how to flesh it out once
Maria nodded, with that peculiar mixture of benign smugness she had when
she got her way. "I will. Now will you deal the cards already, Erdmann? I do
intend to sleep tonight, you know."
He laughed. "I didn't want to interrupt your train of thought." The next
round of cards slipped out. Petra got an eight of clubs, nothing at all useful.
Erdmann had a pair of threes showing, and looked cheerful, though that wasn't
unusual no matter what cards he held. Alisher was scowling at his cards, but
that was even less unusual. The man never folded no matter what he held, in any
Maria tossed down her cards with a grand sigh. "So this is your revenge
on me, eh? Well, I'll be busy with this project, so neither I nor anyone in my
department needs a vacation anyway." She stood up and inclined her head, sliding
her glasses back up her nose. "I'll be retiring early, then, to consider this.
The rest of them all bet. Alisher looked up after doing so, still
scowling.. "I still don't like relying on a religion to splinter western Europe.
Too slow, too chancy. They were thick as thieves before 1992, with the
Maastricht Treaty and all that. We should get something else going."
"Any ideas?" Petra asked. It would be something military; Alisher's
origin was central Asia, a hellhole even before it had been flooded with
darkstalkers and stray Umbrella monstrosities. He thought primarily in terms of
violence, though he was very good at such thinking.
He didn't disappoint her expectations. "Zoalord Khan is cooking up a
whole mess of strange stuff in Russia. We should make sure he gets the idea to
test it out in Europe. Will make him look big and tough to all the other
warlords, and Arkanphel doesn't care enough to say boo anymore. Also give us
some intelligence on what he's working with, which can't hurt."
"Won't attacks on the civilian population just encourage Europe to pull
closer together?" Erdmann objected mildly.
"If he attacked 'em all, sure. But if he attacks mostly the border
countries - the Dutch and the Croats, say - it'll be a security crisis. They'll
go beggin' for the French to help them." Alisher flashed one of his rare,
crooked smiles. "That's a no-win situation for the French - if they give help,
they'll be stripping their own defences, Khan can hit a village or two, the
French start resenting the other countries for not pulling their weight. If they
don't, the other countries figure out France can't protect 'em. If they do a big
military buildup to try and protect themselves and the other Europeans, everyone
starts to get worried. Will mess with their trying to colonise what's left of
Germany, too, and of course there's not a hope in hell they'll openly attack
"Good," Petra nodded. "I'll let you handle how to bring this opportunity
to zoalord Khan's mind. So, with that settled, shall we finish this hand, then,
This time she got a third five. All her useful cards were hidden. How
appropriate. She smiled slightly. "Shall we, then?" She laid her cards out.
"Three of a kind."
Alisher got his last card, then turned them all up with a snort. "This
is not real poker anyway. You get seven."
"Hmm," Erdmann mused. "My three threes could certainly not beat your
fives." He grinned. "How fortunate that I also have two tens, therefore." He
turned them up and raked in his chips. "It appears this weekend's vacation goes
to me. Or perhaps that nice little Spanish linguist. She's been working so hard
"I'm certain she'll be grateful," Petra murmured. She was almost
surprised to feel a little flash of jealousy, and then was amused. "Well, I'll
leave the cleanup to you two gentlemen."
She ended up heading to the DC. "I'd like ice water," she said as she
entered the room. The dining common area was in fact one of the most normal-
seeming places in the entire fortress. Soft, almost inaudible music played,
immediately relaxing whomever entered. The walls were slightly curved and a very
muted blue in hue. Of course, you could not forget where you were.
A glass glistening slightly with condensation slipped out of one of the
apertures at on the far wall. It slipped through the air towards her, the water
within not showing the slightest disturbance until her hand closed around the
glass, causing the ice to clink slightly. "Thank you," she murmured, not that
there was anything to hear her.
There was no copied or adjusted Galaxy Police technology involved here.
There was absolutely nothing in the recesses on the walls. After He had returned
from the Dark Kingdom, Chris had simply noted to His followers that they could
now get whatever food or drink they wished by speaking it aloud. Finished plates
could be deposited in the recesses and would disappear just as suddenly as they
had appeared in the first place.
The DC was even more relaxing for most of the denizens of the fortress,
now. After all, it was a tangible sign of Chris's power. It was proof, to most
of them, that He was still with them. Petra smirked bitterly as she sipped her
water. They all knew the essentials of the First and Second Circles. They really
ought to know better.
"Not in bed yet, Petra?"
She gasped in surprise, which caused her to cough as some water entered
the wrong pipe.
Erdmann grinned his wide, lazy grin at her. "It's a good thing you're
supposed to be an apostle and not a prophet, eh? You wouldn't look good." He
held up his hands defensively as she glared at him. "A joke, a joke."
A napkin was provided by the room before she could even gasp out the
request, and she coughed into it before wiping her lips. "We're all followers of
Chris here, Erdmann. Weren't you cleaning up?"
"Well, you left the cleaning to Alisher and I, so I in turn just left it
to him. He grumbled, but he always does that."
"He'll garrotte you in your sleep if you're not careful," Petra
muttered. "So, did you come here for food, or...?"
"Actually," he said, face growing more serious, "I was a little worried
"I couldn't help but notice you didn't have any ideas at the table." He
held up a hand to forestall any objection. "That's not the first time. In fact,
policy-wise you've been very quiet these past few months. It's not like you."
Petra swore inwardly. Of course it was true. She'd lost interest in the
schemes to control the destiny of humanity, to bring about Chris's ideal of the
perfect possible future, a long time ago. She'd thought she'd hidden it better
than that, but the German psychologist knew her well enough to know when her
heart wasn't in something.
Once upon a time, she'd been a spy. Truthfully, much of what she'd
learned at the Idarat al-Mukhabarat was useless, what she'd learned at Chronos
even more so; a lot of redundancy and pointless procedure and paranoid
fantasies. Most of the real lessons of espionage, she'd found, were very simple
ones. But one thing she'd been told she remembered very well. "If you need to
hide information from someone who's suspicious of you, and you will," her
immediate al-Mukhabarat superior - one of her few friends in the organisation -
had once told her, "then be sure to tell them something else they do not know.
They will start thinking about that, and then their attention on you, formerly
focused, becomes divided."
Petra hesitated for just long enough to give the impression of someone
conflicted, then looked Erdmann in the eye and lied. "You're right. There's
something that's been worrying me; I haven't really been able to concentrate on
things while I've been thinking about it."
Erdmann smiled again. "Is it something you can talk about?"
She glanced around. The room was deserted; most people in the fortress
took to bed early. "It's the long term, Erdmann. Everyone is so caught up in
events of the here and now, and that's fine, but... consider. There's not even
fifty of us. Inevitably, some will be lost in the field or by accident. Even
more so, even with the medical technology we have, the time will come when we've
all grown old and feeble. We're only human. The solution isn't easy, either."
She turned and paced a little bit, as she often did when she was agitated. "We
can't risk recruiting new members. No matter how carefully we choose, no matter
how much we watch or how many hoops we must go through, the moment we start
letting anyone else on this fortress, we have created a security leak. Certainly
Link, Angel, and Akane Tendo know we exist, but their words are all suspect and
no amount of searching will reveal us. But every intelligence agency or secret
organisation that exists or has existed in the world has been infiltrated when
they began recruiting. We cannot assume we can be the exception. And should a
spy provide a way to find us to the right enemy, we are finished."
"Hmmm..." Erdmann rolled his tongue in his mouth. "I see. You are
correct, it's not a problem I think too many are focusing on yet. But does it
worry you so much?"
"Of course," Petra replied. "Look at how much damage was done by
traitors even when Chris was with us."
"Well, if as you say no intelligence agency has ever gotten around this
difficulty, then we just need a new resource." He pinched his nose between thumb
and forefinger. "What about a telepath?"
"We don't have one, and recruiting one would be even more risky."
"Ah, ah, ah. We do not have one YET," Erdmann corrected, waggling a
finger. "But it may be that we can encourage the development of one. Many of us
have been working on developing our Second Circle potential. Now, we'd be almost
starting from scratch," he admitted. "Most of the telepaths we know of seem to
have 'inborn power'. But I see no reason to believe that is necessary. Nabiki
Tendo gained hers from that sword of hers, after all."
"You're right," Petra said with honest admiration. She never precisely
forgot the jolly German psychologist was very intelligent, but she still was
sometimes startled to be reminded he was very likely the smartest of all of
them. "I applaud you, Erdmann. And here I had been struggling with the problem
"Ha, but it is hardly solved yet. Just a theory." He grinned. "But I
will begin looking into the matter."
"Please keep me updated, then," Petra said. She placed the half-full
glass of water back in the wall recess; as she withdrew her hand, it vanished.
"This time, however, I really do intend to retire," she said, casually lying
again. "So go get some sleep."
He laid a hand on her shoulder as she turned away. "You should have told
us earlier, Petra. You don't have to bear these kinds of things by yourself."
She smiled slightly, unseen. After all this time, his touch still
brought back lovely memories. She felt sorry for him. "You're wrong, Erdmann. I
appreciate your help, but you know that I was chosen by Chris. It's necessary
for me to maintain my distance."
"That doesn't mean you-"
"Yes, it does," she said calmly, still not turning. "His last message
was for me. The destruction of my family, my friends, my coworkers, my country,
my life, was for me. All of you are loyal, but you still have loyalties. Marie
thinks of things in terms of religion and is very Eurocentric, Alisher in terms
of military force and the political fault lines of central Asia. You think in
terms of people's minds, and you care about the displaced civilians of war. You
are all, no matter how talented and clever, biased. It is up to me to see
clearly." She finally looked back at him, her face now perfectly composed. "I
have no connections. I care for nothing but the survival of the human race. That
is my place here, and that is why I was chosen."
He let her go, looking down. "Of course, I didn't mean to say..." He
Petra walked away without another word. She hoped, for Erdmann's sake,
that his new project wouldn't bear any fruit. If it did, she'd have to take
steps she would deeply regret. No matter what, she couldn't allow any telepath
to have the chance to read her mind.
She did in fact pass by own room. It had once been Chris's study, the
closest chamber to the observation room. Nobody had argued with her
appropriating it, not after she told them the last message Chris had supposedly
left for her. She hadn't wanted it merely for symbolic value, however, but
rather for the fact that there was no longer any surveillance of that room or
the corridor around it.
She didn't worry about anyone following her; the door to the final
corridor would now open only for her. The same went for the door to her room,
and the last door, the one she now stood before.
It slid open. A blast of cold assaulted her. But she had long since
expected that. She stepped into it, through the door, and out into the
observation room. Or what had once been the observation room. The room where
Chris had died.
It was torn open to space now, a great gaping wound in the fortress.
Some fragments of crystal still lay on the floor, held by the artificial
gravity. The atmosphere clung weakly to it; the air was thin and very, very
cold. It was like a mountaintop. But that was bearable, for awhile anyway. Petra
took slow, shallow breaths as she stepped out.
There were no longer any remnants of Chris's bodies. Nearly everything
remaining here had vapourised the first time it had been exposed to the sun's
rays. Petra would be no different if she were there then; not enough protection
remained. But for now, the weakened, torn remnants of Chris' power stood between
her and instant death.
She walked up to the very edge. Petra had never been afraid of heights,
even when she had been very young. She stared down from the edge of the
fortress. Below her, the Earth spread out across her vision as if it were just
beneath her feet, almost close enough to touch or dive into. The Andes were
directly below her, and then the cloud-swirled deep blue of the Pacific spread
out until the curve of the planet took it out of sight.
A giddy, jittering rush spread through her. It took her back to when she
was a child, and had stealthily climbed the gate of the Citadel of Aleppo. She
had climbed Mount Hermon some years after and wondered why, even if it left her
breathless, neither it nor any other height could produce that same exuberant
feeling in her. But she'd learned when she'd first come out here, two days after
Chris had died.
It was the forbidden. Getting caught climbing the citadel would have
gotten her in the most trouble her young life had experienced. Now the stakes
were unimaginably higher.
Of course, the others in the fortress thought that too. They plotted and
schemed to save the Earth. They certainly knew their fates if the world
discovered them. But in the end, what they did was almost meaningless. Control
humanity? A few dozen scientists, engineers and architects in a satellite?
Ridiculous. Without Chris, preposterous. Chronos had infiltrated every
political organisation on Earth and commanded power and technology that dwarfed
everyone else on the planet, and they couldn't keep a firm grip on humanity. How
could a tiny little cabal hope to direct it, save it from itself? It was a
They believed in it, of course. They believed in Chris. They believed in
the story Petra had told them about how He had died and left the task to them.
None of them knew the truth, of course. Petra had destroyed the record of His
last moments, then destroyed the computers it had been captured to, destroyed
the devices that recorded it. She had done so with a calm efficiency that had
surprised even her, and only later realised the truth: she had instantly grasped
that none of the others could ever know what had happened to Chris.
How their god, their saviour, had died whimpering and begging a human
girl for help, His body and soul rotted out and destroyed by Paradox.
But one thing she was truthful about: Chris had left Petra a way to do
it. This technology and people in this fortress meant nothing, in the long run.
Humanity couldn't be changed by something so petty as a few would-be
Machiavellian conspirators manipulating politics behind the scenes. But at the
same time, in dying, Chris had proved Himself correct.
If Chris, if the most powerful being in the universe, could be killed by
a few 'heroes', then who couldn't be? If He wasn't invincible, neither was
Galaxia, or Tsunami, or Arkanphel, or anything else that might be out there.
Humanity didn't have any need for a god to protect it. It just needed to
be prepared, thrown into a conflict that would never end and would breed
strength and will.
Chris had left her the tool she needed for that. This fortress, which
was full of the power of Chris, a power so great that its existence was hidden
from anything. Not any would-be god had the power to see through the veil Chris
had thrown over this. Not even Chaos itself, searching for a thousand years,
could find this fortress. It was protected by the most powerful Second Circle
enchantment in the universe, the legacy of the most powerful god of all. That
much power could do anything. Once.
At first Petra had considered changing the fundamental nature of
humanity, but she'd realised that if humanity could kill Chris, their nature
didn't need changing. All they needed was to have no choice, to fight or perish,
to never be able to sink back into complacency. The Earth was too friendly for
that to happen. So she'd merge it with something else. Like a world of demons
who themselves constantly struggled for survival and dominance. Their detritus
spilled out in Russia and China, but humanity didn't even conceive of how huge
the Makai dimension was, how full of wonders and horrors.
They would find out. And all Petra needed was someone, somewhere in the
universe, who could free all that power Chris had left, turn it into something
more mutable, something that could be directed. Petra couldn't do it. She'd
studied the Second Circle, but she had no innate magic, no power to wrench
Chris's enchantment loose. But she was sure she could direct it once that had
been done for her.
She stared down at the Earth below her feet. The giddy feeling rose up
in her again. Soon. Soon she'd have finished researching for the ritual, and
then she could begin looking in earnest for her patsy. It would take someone
with nearly godlike power themselves, but wasn't that exactly the sort of being
that Chris had chosen them to help humanity overcome?
Chris had known-
"Damn it!" she swore, and immediately regretted it. The deep breath of
thin, icy air chilled her lungs down, and she coughed, drawing in more and more
air that wasn't there. Vertigo struck her, and she retained just enough presence
of mind to fall backwards instead of out into the abyss. She lay where she fell
for a long time, how long she wasn't sure. Abruptly she realised she was crying.
She swore again, softly this time. Through her watery eyes and frosted eyelashes
she could see a dark stain on the floor of the former observatory beside her
head. She managed to weakly smash her fist into it. The slight pain cleared her
head a little, made her blood run faster. She couldn't stay out here much
"Damn you, Chris!" she hissed. "You lied! You aren't a g...g...!"
"You never were a...!"
She couldn't say it. She couldn't force the word past her frozen lips.
She couldn't bring herself to believe it, even now. Not even when she'd seen Him
crying and begging Akane Tendo to save Him. Not even knowing He was dead, that
His soul had been ripped apart and become just more Paradox.
But all the Paradox was gone now. Had He been reborn in this universe
It didn't matter! The fact someone else had done what He couldn't was
just more proof! He would just be a normal person! There was no connection
besides the sharing of a soul. He wasn't a g-
Couldn't even think it.
She watched numbly as another wet tear managed to roll down her cheek.
She twitched and it fell off, solidifying as it fell, cracking as it hit the
dark stain on the floor. The stain that could have been Him. Or could have been
anything at all, now.
"Why couldn't you have picked me?" she whispered at it. "I would have
taken it. I would have taken all of the Paradox." She couldn't speak anymore,
her breath was gone. She'd get frostbite if she stayed out here much longer; her
fingers had grown numb. But she couldn't stop her thoughts, the same ones she'd
had day after day, night after night, for the past year.
Why would He cling to all those people who betrayed Him? Why were His
only thoughts, at the end, about people like Angel and Link and Akane? Why would
He let them destroy Him?
All He had to do was look at her. All He would have had to do was ask.
But in the end, in the face of death, He had forgotten her.
What had she not been able to be for Him?
Petra wrapped her arms around herself and sat up. Her chest felt like it
had frozen from the inside out. She had to get back inside. How long had she
been out here, anyway?
She crawled to the doorway, which opened at her touch. Collapsing
inside, she coughed as the warm, more humid air entered her lungs. Spots she
hadn't even realised had been dancing around her vision started to vanish. She
chided herself. That had been stupid. Of course, going out there was always
But it was the place she felt closest to Him, the place where it was
most tangible how His power, even torn and broken, was all around her.
She laughed weakly. She felt like a stupid little girl in love. Well, it
"Watch me, Chris," she whispered. He had said humanity wouldn't need
gods. But only she was going to prove how right He was.
Feng Xian decided to ride inside the car this time. It kept Tofu from
giving her that look he did when she decided to ride on the hood or skate along
behind the car attached to it by a rope. He was so silly when he got worried
about her. It was one of the things she loved about him.
The car pulled to a stop at an unremarkable-looking outdoor restaurant.
It was about a half-hour's drive outside of town, overlooking the seaside. Palm
trees had been planted so they shaded the dining area, which was full of pretty
little chairs and tables. The food was cooked in a series of outdoor grills, and
a small outbuilding served refreshments and cold treats. Feng was already
looking for potential hazards and dangers, her practiced eyes flitting across
There was a cliff not far away that gave the dining area a fantastic
view of the ocean. Quite a drop if you fell over it. The grills were potential
fire hazards. She supposed a coconut could fall and hit you on the head as well.
There wasn't much else. She sighed and placed her chin in her hands.
"Dear, please don't be like that," Tofu said as he turned the car off.
"Sorry," she said, allowing herself to smile again. This reunion was
pretty important to her husband, so she would try not to ruin it for him. But
the dreams she had been having recently just tended to fire up her imagination.
They were so vivid, so exciting!
They made jumping the Grand Canyon on a pair of rocket-powered skates
seem tame. Feng Xian smiled at the memory of that adventure. She promised
herself she would keep it in mind. This reunion of his promised to be quite
boring, after all. She knew the kind of people Tofu considered friends and aside
from that delightful Genma fellow, they were all so... careful.
As they approached, Feng saw that they had not been the first to arrive.
In fact, from the crowd, she was fairly certain they had arrived fairly late.
Most of the people there seemed to be Japanese; in their mid-twenties, from the
looks of them.
A woman with a bob-cut wearing a flattering skirt-suit was sitting at
one table with a woman with long green hair and dark skin. Something about the
green-haired woman struck Feng Xian as familiar. Across from them was a Japanese
woman with atypically blonde hair talking with a roguish-looking young man
wearing a leather vest and a bandana... oh, it was that amusing Shingo person!
Feng Xian waved. The boy looked up, and his face went white at seeing
her. Yelping, he made his excuse and retreated to the other side of the dining
area. Feng smiled, unoffended. She had that effect on people.
Tofu stopped to say hello to Shingo's friend. Yamazaki something, if
Feng remembered correctly. She was somebody important in the government. Feng
smiled graciously and moved away from them as quickly as possible.
Another blonde-haired Japanese woman was there as well. She was sitting
at a table with a beautiful young Mexican girl. Feng Xian paused only long
enough to determine that the blonde was trying to talk about the latest pop idol
and that the other girl was quite uncomfortable before moving on.
There was something about that young Mexican girl, however. She gave
Feng Xian an ominous feeling. She would have to remember to see if the girl
wanted to kill her or something, but later.
The final duo was a young man wearing a red jacket and a young woman
with a pair of swords belted to her waist. They were involved in some sort of
argument, so Feng Xian paused to eavesdrop.
"...man, you really know how to get in over your head, don't you,
Akane?" the boy was saying from behind his grin.
"Shut up, Ranma," Akane snapped back.
"Not that I've ever seen you NOT in over your head..." Ranma mused.
"Listen, Mr. Wandering Do-Gooder, some of us have to do real work."
"Feh," Ranma waved his hand. "I know I'm not suited for this political
garbage. So I just leave it alone."
"Yeah, well, while you're running around playing, SOMEBODY has to deal
with it." She crossed her arms and snorted. "We all can't just run off, shirking
responsibility and punching people in the face and having it all magically work
out for us."
"Of course not! Not everyone is Ranma Saotome," the boy replied without
a hint of irony.
At this point, everyone's attention was drawn to the road. A motorcycle
was pulling into the parking lot. There were two women on it, the one on the
back perhaps holding the driver a bit more tightly than was absolutely required
"The guest of honour arrives," the green-haired woman announced.
Everyone gave out a cheer as the two women walked towards the dining area. They
both blushed slightly, but the one with the long hair looked especially
chagrined. She was also much weirder than her companion, so Feng Xian's
attention fixed on her instantly.
She wasn't tall, and looked about five or six years younger than her
companion. She had long black hair tied in a ponytail and wore a black
trenchcoat over a white sweater and dark slacks. Her eyes were black, with the
irises shaped like flowers. She had scars on her right arm, and tattoos on her
left. There was something about her that Feng Xian found instantly fascinating.
It was like there was a connection there. The woman paused and looked straight
at Feng Xian. She started when their eyes met, then quickly turned away.
Oh, now that was NEW.
Feng Xian smiled. It appeared she might have been wrong about how boring
today would be after all.
"Ukyou!" Akane yelled happily, jumping up and running to greet her. "You
Ukyou smiled back. "I said I would be here."
"Yeah..." Akane chuckled. "But I haven't seen you since..." She
shrugged. "You're very hard to find."
"She likes her privacy," Ukyou's companion explained in an almost
Suddenly Akane was hugging Ukyou in a sisterly fashion. Ukyou blinked.
"I just wanted to thank you!" Akane said, shooting a look back at Ranma.
"Thank god I didn't end up married to him!"
Ukyou suddenly looked very uncomfortable, and Akane backed away, looking
contrite. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring up..."
"It's okay..." Ukyou shrugged, but still looked uncomfortable. "Just
forget you mentioned it."
She looked out across the crowd and her face slowly lightened. It was
like a weight was being lifted off her shoulders, bit by bit with every familiar
face she recognised. Greetings were called out and soon everyone was smiling.
Ukyou rolled up her sleeves a bit more and promised to kick the chefs off the
grill and help prepare some real food. And with that, the tension of the last
few minutes was lost.
Ukyou's companion made a beeline towards the Mexican girl. The girl
looked up, smiling thinly. Her blonde tablemate also smiled more genuinely.
"Angel," the brunette said, sitting down. She pulled off her leather
jacket and draped it over the back of the chair.
"Hey Akira, it's been a while."
"Over a year," Akira agreed.
"You two want to catch up?" the blonde asked, starting to rise.
"Nah, Minako, you can stay." Akira waved her down. "I was actually
hoping to ask you some questions."
"Oh?" Minako looked puzzled.
"Yeah..." Akira drummed the table with her fingers. "I know you and
Ranma have been doing this 'two people against the world' thing longer than me,
so I was hoping for some advice."
Minako's smile turned wicked. "Advice about fighting evil, or advice
about roadside romance?"
Akira coughed. Angel laughed. "I think I'll avoid this conversation,"
she said, standing up. Akira gave her a pleading look, to which Angel responded
with a stuck-out tongue. The girl stepped away from the table and looked around
for something to do.
Ukyou was bullying her way into the cooking area, with Akane only two
steps behind. Apparently the other girl was inspired to help Ukyou out at the
grill. Tofu was talking to the green-haired woman, and the wealthy-looking girl
with the bobcut was staring at Akane with some form of trepidation. Finally
Angel apparently decided that the only person who looked approachable was Feng
"Hey, you're not very comfortable here either, huh?" Angel said by way
"Oh, not at all," Feng replied, smiling. "I have to admit, I never knew
Tofu had so many interesting friends."
"Tofu?" Angel looked mildly confused.
"My husband," Feng replied, pointing him out.
"Oh, him." Angel shrugged. "To tell the truth, I don't know him real
"That's too bad," Feng murmured. "You look like you've led an
Angel broke out into loud laughter. It took her a few seconds to get
herself under control. "You could say that." She wiped some tears from the
corners of her eyes. "So, you're married to Tofu? You meet him at that academy?
You from S.T.A.R.S.?"
"Oh, heavens no!" Feng Xian replied. "I'd never be in such an
"Ah, too viol-"
"It would be terribly dull," Feng explained.
"Dull?" Angel looked at her oddly. "You that good a martial artist?"
"I tried martial arts for a while, but it got old fast." She sighed.
"Fighting is so boring and predictable."
"Uh... right." Angel backed up a step. "If you say so."
"Now, have you ever tried surfing on top of an avalanche?" Feng asked
"Uh... actually, yes. Once." She scratched the back of her neck. "Though
I didn't have much time to appreciate it."
"Oh." Feng tried to contain her jealousy. "Well, that isn't important."
"Hey, there you are!" Ranma said, approaching. "Angel, I deman-"
"I'm not fighting you, Ranma," Angel interrupted him with the calm of
"Damn it, Angel! You can't leave me hanging like this!" he snapped.
"My record against you is two and oh, Ranma." She smirked. "And it's
going to stay that way."
"You're afraid!" Ranma accused.
"No," Angel chuckled. "I just have nothing to prove."
"You, you think she should fight me, right?" Ranma said, turning to Feng
"Not really." Feng shrugged. "If she's already won twice, what would be
the drama?" Ranma staggered back, his face adopting a comically pained
Feng excused herself and went in search of her husband. She paused as
she approached the table. He and the two women were in deep conversation.
"...believe that anyone would give up that much power," the woman with
the short hair was saying.
"Ukyou said she did, Nabiki," the green-haired woman responded.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean anything," Tofu replied. "I've talked with
her quite a bit in the last year." Ah, so that was the mystery patient Tofu
refused to tell her about. "She sincerely believes that she gave it all up, of
that I'm certain."
"That would tend to support my view," the green-haired woman responded.
"The problem, Pluto, is that it's meaningless." Nabiki sighed. "She
could have just convinced herself she doesn't have the power. She could still
be... well, you know..."
"What Nabiki is saying is that if she is still capable of wielding that
power, we have to watch her closely."
"If she does have that power," Pluto pointed out coolly. "Nothing in
universe is a threat to her."
"You're the only one who remembers everything, Pluto," Nabiki pointed
out. "But I know that some things are different."
"And best forgotten, Nabiki, and best forgotten." Pluto stood up
abruptly and walked away quickly. Nabiki sighed and Tofu gave her a sympathetic
look. Pluto brushed past Feng Xian. Once again Feng was caught by the bizarre
impulse to talk to her, but she let it pass.
Nabiki looked up and started at seeing her. Feng Xian smiled down at
her. She hadn't really been trying that hard to eavesdrop, and had been more
politely waiting for the conversation to reach a low point so she could
interrupt. But from the girl's expression, Feng might well have just committed
"Tofu... is this your wife?"
"Yes." Tofu stood up and put his arm around her. She snuggled into his
grip a little. "Nabiki Tendo, meet Feng Xian."
"Pleased to meet you," Feng replied formulaically.
"And you," Nabiki murmured. She turned her head sideways slightly. "So,
how did you two meet?"
"Well, I'd just nearly killed myself trying to run across the interstate
on the car roofs," Feng Xian explained, smilingly brightly at the memory.
"Thankfully, Tofu was able to put me back together." She brightened. "I have a
great scar..." She started to lift her blouse. Tofu grabbed her hand.
"That's okay, dear," he said.
"Oh, so he helped you out," Nabiki said, her voice now less suspicious.
"Florence Nightingale syndrome." She snickered. "I can just imagine him blushing
like a schoolboy around you during your convalescence-"
"Oh, I was out of there by that afternoon," Feng cut her off. "No, we
didn't start dating until after the Wyoming Forest Fire."
"Forest fire?" Nabiki asked.
"She didn't set it!" Tofu leapt in.
"Silly, of course not." She looked at Nabiki. "But I did take the
opportunity to roast the world's largest marshmallow." She giggled. "I never
would have guessed it would melt quite so quickly! They took three days to cut
Tofu laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. "She's a bit of a
"Huh. Who ever would have imagined he'd go for someone like you over my
"Your sister?" Feng Xian asked innocently. Tofu paled.
Nabiki smiled, an expression even more wicked than Minako's. "Oh, you
and I have a lot to talk about..."
"Oh look! The food is almost done!" Tofu grabbed her elbow and led Feng
Xian away as quickly as he could. "Let us help distribute it!"
"Sister?" Feng asked.
"Nothing, nothing! Just a boring part of my past!" Tofu laughed
nervously. "Hello, Ukyou, we would like to help you with the food."
"Of course," Ukyou said, leaning away from the fire. She had hung up her
coat on a nearby tree. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply from the grill.
"Ah, meat and fire. Truly a divine combination."
That reminded Feng. "Pleased to meet you, I'm Feng Xian," Feng said,
"Ukyou Kuonji," Ukyou responded.
"So... you're God?" Feng mused, rubbing her chin. "I would have thought
you'd be taller."
Ukyou blanched. Then she glared at Tofu. "I never told her!" he
"Don't blame him," Feng said, waving her down. "I just sort of pieced it
together." She leaned in. "Everybody around here treats you like you're about to
bust out an apocalypse on them."
Ukyou looked vaguely ill at that. "I'm not god," she said.
"Oh. Too bad. Now that would have been interesting." Feng rubbed her
chin again. "Were you God, then? Is the position vacant?"
"I was..." Ukyou frowned. "I guess, when you look at it strictly, yes. I
was, for a few moments." She waved that away. "And I made myself not god."
"Why?" Feng asked, fascinated.
"Because I prefer this life," Ukyou replied, looking out at all her
friends. A smile bloomed on her features. "I prefer living for this moment."
"Oh." Feng shrugged. "That's as good as reason as any."
"You'll keep this quiet, right?" Ukyou said in a slightly pleading tone.
"I don't want it generally known."
"My lips are sealed," Feng promised as she picked up a plate of burgers
For the next ten minutes everybody was too busy eating to engage in
conversation. The meal was very good. It was American food, but somehow Ukyou
gave it a very Asian flavour. Feng did notice that everyone conspicuously
avoided the food Akane had cooked. Curious, she decided to see what all the
fuss was about. She took a bit from all the dishes Akane had prepared and wolfed
When she regained consciousness, Tofu was crouched over her, his eyes
wide in fear. He sighed as she blinked the darkness away from the edges of her
vision. "That was perhaps the worst food I have ever eaten," Feng pointed out.
"Yes, I'm very sorry, but Akane is far too busy with the interim
government to take cooking lessons and..."
"Tell her that she's invited over anytime she wants!" Feng sat up
quickly and clasped his hand. "We can have cookover parties!"
Tofu stared at her. Then that smile of his appeared. The smile that
said, 'I think you're crazy and I think I love that about you.' "I'll get you
some water," he said.
She watched him leave and then flowed to her feet. Her brief stint of
unconsciousness had cleared her mind a bit. She looked around the party and
quickly spotted the people she needed to talk to. She walked over to Sailor
Pluto and gently tapped her on the shoulder.
"Yes?" Pluto said, turning away from her talk with the Yamazaki woman.
"Could you get Ukyou and Minako," Feng replied, "And meet me by the
Pluto blinked, then murmured a puzzled assent and went to do so. Feng
wandered in that direction. Akira was walking away from the small outbuilding,
balancing a ten-scoop ice cream cone in each hand. Feng ducked around her and
came to a stop. A few minutes later Pluto arrived, with Ukyou and Minako in her
"This is certainly an eclectic combination," Pluto said as she
approached. "You are Tofu Ono's wife, are you not?"
Feng nodded. "Yes." She looked at them all. "I suppose you're all
wondering why I called you all here today." She grinned. "I've always wanted to
"Is this about that magical aura I sensed on you?" Ukyou asked.
"Yes, I think it is." She took a deep breath. "When I woke up just now,
I knew I had to ask you three about it. I've been seeing it in the mirror for
the last few months. I've no idea what it is, but it keeps showing up. So, maybe
you know." She pointed to her forehead and with a surprisingly easy effort of
will she made the mark appear. It kind of tingled, like being too near a high
The three of them stared.
"Sailor Uranus!" Minako exclaimed. "But... I thought she was dead?"
Ukyou and Pluto exchanged glances, their expressions unreadable.
It could have been anywhere. There was green grass and dark water, soft
sand and a small fire, the reflection of a crescent moon and a breeze that was
cool without being cold. There were two women, sitting together under a hand-
knitted blanket that was just barely big enough for them. The sounds of the
night washed over them. There was no one else for as far as the eye could see,
and that was enough for now.
Akira leaned against her lover, enjoying the feeling of her skin. Ukyou
was relaxed, her eyes alert but her face beginning to show signs of weariness.
Time seemed to slow down, and the moment stretched on forever. But all good
things come to an end.
"Thank you," Akira murmured.
"For what?" Ukyou's voice was tired.
"For coming back."
Ukyou closed her eyes. She smiled, but it was a strained smile. Akira
brushed her cheek with her hand. The stars blinked in the sky, distant and
"If you ever need to tell me, I'm here."
"Tell you what?"
"Anything. Everything." She turned Ukyou's face to hers and their eyes
met. "I'll always be here for you."
Ukyou stared at her for a long time. Akira stared back. The air around
them grew slightly warmer.
"Let's not get caught up in 'always'," Ukyou said. "Let's just enjoy
"Of course." Akira looked away. The water lapped against the shore. Time
passed. For a short moment Akira was afraid. Ukyou might retreat again. She did
that, sometimes. There were things she just didn't seem to share with anyone.
She had always been that way. Perhaps she always would be.
"I'm not certain I can explain it anymore," Ukyou spoke up in the
darkness. "I'm not certain I can do it justice."
"I understand..." Akira murmured but Ukyou continued earnestly.
"A part of me has always been an artist, and I don't want to mess this
up. If I tell you, I want you to understand." She ducked her head. "I want you
to understand. I need you to. Because maybe tomorrow we'll be dead. Because this
world isn't perfect, and we have so much left to do. Because it will go on.
"I want you to understand why I chose this. Why I... why I chose to do
it all again. Why I brought back all the pain and fear and tragedy." Ukyou
stretched her hand out towards the stars. "And why I gave it all up."
"You don't have to explain," Akira assured her, wrapping one arm around
her shoulders. She was trembling.
"Yes, I do." Ukyou turned to her again, and placed her outstretched hand
against Akira's cheek. "Because this is more important to me than all that power
ever could be. Nothing is going to ruin this."
Akira felt her cheeks flush. She leaned in and they kissed. It was brief
and chaste, but it still left her heart racing. Ukyou was also blushing by the
time Akira pulled back. For a long moment, neither of them said anything,
suddenly feeling like shy schoolgirls again.
"So if I'm going to tell you my story, I'll start at the beginning."
Ukyou drew a deep breath. "Aaron was the one who first led us to Nerima. Back
then, we were much more separate than we are now and I still didn't trust him.
The first thing I made him do was lead me to the Tendo Dojo and that's where he
proved that, to him, this was all a story..."
Hello my friend, we meet again
It's been awhile, where should we begin?
Feels like forever
Within my heart are memories
Of perfect love that you gave to me
Oh, I remember
When you are with me, I'm free
I'm careless, I believe
Above all the others we'll fly
This brings tears to my eyes
We've seen our share of ups and downs
Oh how quickly life can turn around
In an instant
It feels so good to reunite
Within yourself and within your mind
Let's find peace there
When you are with me, I'm free
I'm careless, I believe
Above all the others we'll fly
This brings tears to my eyes
I just want to say hello again
I just want to say hello again
Cause when you are with me I'm free
I'm careless, I believe
Above all the others we'll fly
This brings tears to my eyes
Cause when you are with me I am free
I'm careless, I believe
Above all the others we'll fly
This brings tears to my eyes
My sacrifice, My sacrifice
I just want to say hello again
I just want to say hello again
"My Sacrifice", by Creed