THE COMING ICE AGE,
Chapter 12: "Loyalty And Duty"

By Bill K.

"I knew you'd save me," Usagi whispered. Mamoru hovered over her,
holding her hand and stroking her face tenderly. "You're always saving
me. I'd be dead a hundred times over if you weren't there to save me,"
and she sighed with fatigue, "and if you weren't there, I really
wouldn't want to be saved."

"Ami deserves most of the credit this time," Mamoru said, gazing
into those deep blue eyes that once more held life in them. "She
figured out what was poisoning you. She came up with the anti-toxin
modifications to make it work. I helped a little, but she did most of
the work."

Usagi turned to her right. Ami stood by her bed, along with Rei
and Makoto and Minako - - and Setsuna. She gave them all as much of a
smile as she could muster. It must have been enough, because they all
smiled back.

"Thank you, Ami," whispered Usagi. Then she smiled wanly. "I
told you that you'd get it. You were just trying too hard."

Ami stared at her in amazement. The others, except Mamoru, looked
at Ami in confusion. Then Ami sighed in resignation and sprouted a
smile.

"Just doing my duty," Ami said modestly, "as a doctor and a senshi
- - and as your friend."

"Now you get well," Rei encouraged her. "I want to see your lazy
butt out of this bed as soon as possible. You get me?"

"Yes, ma'am," Usagi grinned.

"You gave us all quite a scare, kid," Minako leaned in and touched
her hand. "If I find any gray hairs, I'm holding you responsible."

"That's OK. You can borrow her bottle of peroxide," Rei jabbed.
Usagi weakly stuck her tongue out.

Makoto bent down and kissed her on the forehead. "I've never been
really good with words, you know. I'm really glad you didn't die."

"I'm glad I didn't let you down," Usagi replied warmly.

"My Princess," Setsuna began, fumbling for a way to keep her
emotions in check. "It gladdens me that you . . ."

The moment she took Usagi's hand, Setsuna froze. Usagi's eyes
seemed to go up into her head. The monitor above her showed her pulse
and heart rate spike wildly. Makoto lunged for Setsuna as Ami and
Mamoru dived for Usagi. Rei caught her head in her hands and grimaced,
clearly in pain. She staggered backwards and fell to the floor, hitting
the wall with a thud. Minako was by her side in a second.

Makoto wrestled Setsuna away. Her contact with Usagi severed,
Setsuna collapsed to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut.
Makoto tried to support her, but couldn't. Usagi's vital signs returned
to normal and her eyes slipped closed, then opened to where they drooped
over her eyes. With Ami and Mamoru looking on with concern, Usagi began
to focus.

"Setsuna," she managed to gasp out. "I felt something - - a
power. It was growing," and she gasped for air, "within her."

"The past," mumbled Setsuna, staring out across the room, but not
at what the room contained. "I see it. I see it all. It's so clear."

"Setsuna?" Makoto said fearfully. "Come on, don't space out on
us!"

"And the future," Setsuna continued, to nobody in particular. "It
changes - - evolves. Like a painting in sand, swirling in the winds."
Her gaze focused on Ami. "When you were ten and your parents divorced,
you cried for days. Yet you also wrote a poem to your father telling
him of your love for him. You never gave it to him, embarrassed and
fearful that he would not like it; yet it sparked your desire to write
poetry. You do it to this day."

Ami went pale. "Nobody knows that. How did you?"

She turned to Rei. "When you were nine, a boy gave you a flower.
You criticized him for destroying life and rebuffed his offer of
friendship - - yet you keep the flower pressed in a book in your room."

Rei didn't respond, save to burn with embarrassment.

"OK, this is officially creepy," whispered Makoto.

"Her powers are evolving," Minako gasped. "Somehow her contact
with Usagi must have triggered it."

"Yes," Ami continued the thought. "Perhaps the crystal is trying
to heal Usagi and Setsuna's contact with the energy triggered an
evolution."

Setsuna rose to her feet. She turned to them all and they
swallowed involuntarily. For this woman was a little more imposing and
a little more unearthly than the Setsuna of moments ago. And there was
a look of world weary sadness in her eyes that suggested their friend
had now witnessed and could recall every single act of rancor and
barbarism humanity had mustered over the years, from intercontinental
genocide to the smallest act of cruelty inflicted from one person to
another. And suddenly they wanted to cry for her, for indeed she had.
And only having witnessed every single act of love and kindness over
history had saved her from plunging into despair and madness.

"I am witness to everything that has happened," Setsuna told them
flatly, "and everything that shall happen, and every contradiction of
what shall happen. Truly I am now the reformation warrior, Sailor
Pluto." She started to leave.

"Wait a minute!" Minako called after her. "You've seen everything
that's ever happened? Then you've seen who poisoned Usagi, right?"

"Yes," Setsuna replied without turning or stopping her stride.

"Well who did it?" demanded Makoto.

Setsuna's reply was the door closing behind her.

"We need to follow her!" Makoto declared, then remembered Usagi.
She turned to the stricken woman. They all turned to her.

"Go ahead," Usagi breathed weakly. "I'll be all right. I've got
Mamo-chan to protect me. Do what you have to do." She took in an
unsteady breath. "Only, please don't let your judgment be clouded by
bitterness and hatred. I wouldn't want you to dishonor yourselves on my
account." She sucked in air again. "And please be considerate of
Setsuna. I'm sensing a great deal of pain in her right now."

Usagi's strength seemed to wash out of her and she closed her eyes
to rest. Makoto and Minako bolted for the door. They piled out into
the hall, Rei and Ami on their heels. However, Setsuna was gone and a
quick search of the floor didn't find her.

Racing down to the lobby, the quartet still found no sign of
Setsuna. They regrouped by the front door.

"So is one of her new powers the ability to disappear?" Makoto
grumbled.

"I don't know where to look first!" Minako said. "We could make a
guess, but if we guess wrong, we won't have time for a second shot at
it!"

"Damn outers!" Makoto fumed. "They just won't work with anybody!"

"I'm assuming you're all fearing what I'm fearing?" Ami asked.
"That Setsuna is going to kill our perpetrator before we can get
information from him or her about what their plans were?"

"Actually," Rei grimaced, "I'm worried about what I felt from her.
Setsuna was hurting - - a lot - - and I don't think it's just from what
she saw. It might be a little more personal."

"Like maybe she saw Janus poison Usagi?" Minako gulped.

"THAT RAT BASTARD!" bellowed Makoto.

"At least it gives us a place to start looking," Ami said. "Come
on."

The girls burst out the door and were stopped by Luna and Artemis,
waiting by the front of the hospital.

"Girls!" Luna gasped. "How is she?"

"Out of danger," Ami replied. "Luna, we think Setsuna's gone
after Janus. It's entirely possible Janus is behind all of this."

"That's not important now," Artemis replied. He felt his collar
vibrating. "Come on! We need to find some concealment! Into the
entrance of that parking garage!"

They followed him into the garage. "What's up, Artemis?" Minako
asked.

In response, Artemis executed a double back flip. His laptop
computer appeared. Artemis opened it and looked over the latest
readout.

"It's worse than I feared!" he gasped.
* * * *
Setsuna stood in the garden, the garden that for so short a time
had been their garden. It was the garden he'd crashed into the first
moment she'd met him. It was the garden he'd commented on as the summer
air wafted the scents of the flowers through the open window and into
the bedroom where he recuperated. It was the garden where he'd grasped
her, pressed her to his wonderfully male frame and whisked her into the
heavens both physically and spiritually. It was now inexorably linked
to him in her mind, so much so that her mere presence in the garden
brought back reminders of him. It was as if every leaf and petal and
stem was coated with his essence and would be forever a remnant of him.

Setsuna turned around, suddenly aware she was not alone. Janus
stood thirteen feet from her, his wings at rest, clothed in nothing save
his loincloth and his sculpted flesh and his unforgettable good looks.
But Setsuna couldn't look at him in the same manner she had before,
couldn't see him as the man she once thought she would gratefully spend
an eternity in bliss with. All that had changed and her heart mourned
the loss.

He looked at her, saying nothing, for he knew she knew. She
looked at him, saying nothing, for she knew he knew she knew. There was
no more need for pretense.

"Pluto Planet Power Make Up," she said, her voice low as if she
feared to wake the dead.

Before his dispirited eyes, Setsuna transformed into Sailor Pluto.
He made no move to stop her. He only looked on with a heavy heart.
Pluto held her staff at the ready but not in a menacing way and engaged
eyes with him.

"Why did you do it?" she asked, unable to fully expunge the hurt
and betrayal from her voice.

"I am a loyal soldier in the service of my king. I have never
denied this, nor made pretense to be anything else," Janus replied
without insult or reproach. "My king has a goal. Sailor Moon was an
obstacle to that goal. It was my duty as a soldier to remove the
obstacle."

"So you ingratiate yourself to her through me."

"That is how it turned out."

"Was it your plan to use me from the start?"

"I had no plan, other than to act as advance scout for my king and
his intentions. I did not lie when I told you I was attacked by Surts.
I was set upon by a party of them as I engaged the talisman to come
here. I fought to fulfill my mission, inflicting three wounds for every
one I took. I barely made it through the dimensional gateway and the
stress of travel combined with the wounds I suffered caused me to crash
in this garden."

Pluto stared at him, unmoved.

"Your act of kindness granted me great fortune. It allowed me to
meet your friend, for upon meeting her I instantly recognized that only
she possessed the power to stop us. Without that stroke of fortune, the
judgment might have been delayed or met with failure from a premature
launch."

"Am I to be grateful?" scowled Pluto.

"No. It is I who should be grateful for my even greater fortune."
Janus looked at her earnestly, his suffering unconcealed. "For I met
you. I am a soldier and I have never known the love of a woman not of
my family. All I have known is battle. You changed this. You gave of
yourself and showed me a sweetness greater than the headiest nectar of
the most important battle won. You returned to me my health and my
strength, and as payment took my heart." He paused, looking for some
small spark of what they once had in her eyes. "Setsuna - - I love
you."

"Given your actions," Pluto replied through a voice hoarse with
emotion, "I find that hard to believe."

"Is it so hard? You loved me, once. Perhaps you still do, below
the hurt. If things were reversed, could you betray Sailor Moon and
what she fought to accomplish for my sake?" Pluto looked away. "I love
you, Setsuna. I will maintain it until my dying breath, whenever that
may be. But I am a soldier, and soldiers are not permitted to hold any
emotion above duty. I pray one day you will understand and forgive me."

"I understand," Pluto whispered, still unable to look at him.
"For I, too, am a soldier, and I, too, have a duty." She raised her
staff above her head, the Garnet Orb pointed at him. "Dead Scream."

A sonic blast shot out, plucking several feathers from his wings
as Janus launched himself into the sky. He rose to thirty feet, then
arced and swooped down upon Sailor Pluto with unanticipated speed. She
moved to dodge, but Janus was faster and his shoulder sent her tumbling
to the ground. As she righted herself, he was already moving to attack
again. He neared her, whipping his wings at her, hoping to force her
back.

"Dead Scream," launched another sonic blast that caught Janus full
force and sent him falling back.

Pluto scrambled to her feet hoping to press her attack, but Janus
was quick to recover. He twisted away in mid-air from another blast and
swooped down again. This time his strong hands locked onto the Time
Staff. He tried to jerk it from her grasp, but Pluto desperately held
on. Carried by his powerful wings, Pluto was whipped off the ground and
dangled fifteen feet in the air, hanging from the Time Staff by her two
hands.

Swinging her legs up, Pluto kicked Janus in his sore hip. Pain
shot through the avian and he grimaced. His grip loosened enough for
Pluto to rip the staff away from him. She twisted as she plummeted to
the ground, impacting hard with the cold hardened earth of the garden.
The impact rattled her and she took a second to gather herself. In that
second, Janus attacked.

Desperately Pluto swung the Time Staff like a baseball bat and
connected, knocking Janus away. He sailed until his wings could spread
and stop him, then twisted in mid-air and attacked again. Again Pluto
swung the staff, but Janus evaded it. Left off-balance, Pluto was an
easy target. Janus locked his hands on the staff, his momentum driving
Pluto to her back and him atop her.

"Is this the part of the plan where you were to execute me?" Pluto
spat bitterly.

"It is not my wish!" Janus pleaded. "We can still be together!
The vizier has magic! You can be changed into one of my kind! Please
accept! The judgment will proceed no matter your choice! You cannot
stop it! But you can survive - - with me! You can elevate yourself
from this lowly flesh and blood existence! You can ascend - - become
something even better than you already are! Please, my Setsuna, we can
still have our life together! We can still be one with each other!"

"I have seen the future you describe," Pluto replied, her eyes wet
and a tragic quality to her tone. "It is not one I wish to be a part
of."

Stung, Janus raised his right fist to strike the killing blow.
For a moment, Pluto detected something in his expression - - regret?
Shoving up on the Time Staff, her twin grip overwhelmed his solitary
one. The staff pushed up on his chest, allowing Pluto to throw him off
of her. She rolled up into a crouch and saw he was once more poised to
lunge at her.

"CHRONOS TYPHOON!" roared Pluto, thrusting out with the Time
Staff.

The resulting shockwave hit Janus squarely and threw him back onto
the ground. He lay there stunned as Sailor Pluto sadly gained her feet
and stood over him. With an aching heart, she watched as Janus began to
age before her eyes.

"What," Janus asked uncomprehendingly as his strength deserted
him, as he felt his bones and flesh began to wither, as years piled upon
his frame with each beat of his heart, "what did you do?"

"My duty," Pluto whispered, a single tear passing down her cheek.

Janus, his body weak and aged, tried to rise. He had no strength.
Feeble with rapidly advancing years, infirm and gasping for each breath,
Janus stared up into the heavens as if he saw the specter of death
descending upon him. His lined, shriveled face turned to her and looked
with sunken, yellowed eyes. Weathered lips pulled back from a toothless
mouth and smiled warmly at her.

"Duty is a harsh and demanding mistress," he gasped, dying. "I
know her well. I cherish the love we had, my wonderful Setsuna. I
rejoice in the warmth and comfort it now gives me. I bask in the happy
memories. I only wish it had lasted longer."

"As do I," Pluto replied, eyes cast down as Janus died. His body
continued to whither and crumbled into dust before her.

Allowing herself only a moment's grief, Sailor Pluto turned toward
the house. She expected to find Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune
waiting there by the back door and she was not disappointed.

"We were ready to help if you needed us," Neptune offered limply.

"I know," Pluto said, her voice crushed with the sadness she felt.

"I hate to do this to you, given what you've just been through,"
Uranus began.

"I know," Pluto said, her demeanor haunted. "I have glimpsed this
future as well. Even as we speak, ice giants of Knorr begin to emerge
through the temporal portal into our world. We must once more put aside
our personal grief and pleasure and repel the invaders, as is our
mission."

Pluto walked toward them, intent on her mission. When she got
within reach, though, Neptune stopped her with a gentle hand on her
forearm.

"Setsuna," Neptune said, struggling to keep her emotions in check,
"I'm so sorry for being right. I didn't want to be."

"I knew you would say that," Pluto replied, the faintest hint of a
grateful smile twitching upon her mouth.

No more words were necessary. The Outer Senshi had a mission to
perform.
* * * *
"I'm getting a tremendous energy surge!" Artemis reported. His
eyes were glued to the console of his laptop. "It's over Juuban Park!
This thing is huge!"

"The temporal nexus!" gasped Ami. "Whatever it is must be coming
through!"

"I've got a smaller surge. The location's right about where
Setsuna's house is."

"That's going to have to wait, Artemis!" Luna barked. "The
situation in Juuban Park has to take priority! Girls, you've got to get
over there now! Assess the situation and try to contain it! With Usagi
out of action, you four are our last line of defense!"

"No prob'," smiled Minako. "We're on the case. Whatever it is,
it's already out-gunned."

"Transform!" Luna commanded. Four henshin sticks came out and in
moments four Sailor Senshi stood in the secluded garage. They raced out
into the light, then stopped in amazement.

Towering over the edges of the treetops, they saw a fifty-meter
tall creature made of ice and snow lumbering in the park like every
childhood fantasy come true. Except this was no model of Tokyo and the
giant was no actor in a Godzilla suit.

"Uh, guys," Sailor Venus said, staring off at the horizon. "We're
going to need a bigger gun."


End of Book One
This story will be continued in Book Two: Judgment Day