By Jason C. Ulloa
Outside Hikawa Jinja - Near Section 222 Border, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 8:49 P.M.
It was a miracle that they had made it this far without running into a single Youma, but he wasn't about to relax his guard just because the Hikawa Jinja was within view. Glancing around, he ducked into the remains of one of the buildings dotting the outside border of the jinja and waited, catching his breath while waiting for the others to catch up with him.
A tall, slightly muscular, young man was the first to reach the building, followed closely by three others - a younger man and a pair of twin girls. Like himself, the large fellow wasn't breathing heavily, unlike the other three. The big guy probably held back in order to keep an eye on those three with him, while he, himself, took point. It wasn't an arrangement agreed upon out loud; it just worked out that way as they fled.
As he watched him, the tall, brown-haired man glanced at him once, their eyes meeting for a brief second - despite his friend's shaggy, unkempt hair nearly covering them. He nodded once before poking his head out of the doorway. He was cautious enough to refrain from exposing his head any more than he needed to see outside while avoiding the jagged, razor edges of the broken glass that used to be the entry door. Of course, the guy could just knock aside the offending glass, but that would make unnecessary noise.
Without moving his head, he raised his left hand and spread his thumb and forefinger apart by a couple centimeters. The others weren't too far behind. Thank goodness.
Leaving his large friend to keep watch, he stepped over to the trio recovering their breath and tapped the younger black-haired man - what was he, seventeen? Eighteen? - on the shoulder. The dark-haired young man glanced back at him and nodded, his breathing under control, before sweeping his concerned gaze back to the twin brunettes in front of him. The twins' breathing was still somewhat labored, although they were better off than they had been when they all but stumbled into the building, looking like they were moments away from a heart attack.
He was about to turn back to the entrance, but paused as a curious detail caught his eye in the faint moonlight as they leaned against the wall on opposite sides of a broken window. The twins were identical as far as physical features went. However, the ponytails they wore their hair in, while similar in length, were tied on different sides of their heads. Well, at least there was some way of telling them apart if they decided to wear similar clothing, much like now. Then again, it wasn't like there was much choice in clothing back at the Palace - they all wore the same gray rags.
The sound of pounding footsteps brought his thoughts back to the matter at hand. His muscled friend backed away from the door as three more people ducked inside, each in different states of fatigue. The two young boys - about fourteen or fifteen, he'd wager - were the least tired. The brown-haired one with the glasses removed them in order to wipe the sweat from his brow, while the other, black-haired boy simply leaned against the wall and exhaled deeply. The young woman's breathing, on the other hand, came in stifled gulps as she fought to get herself under control.
"Looks like we're all clear," the big fellow reported as he relaxed his guard a bit. He still kept watch outside, but part of his attention was now on the people in the room as he waited for everyone to catch their breath.
"Thank the kami," the dark-haired young man sighed as he sat down against the wall underneath the window, between the twins. Both girls sat down as well and leaned their heads on his shoulders, the pair looking somewhat like mirrored bookends. "It was pretty close for a while back there, wasn't it?"
"I'll say," the bespectacled boy agreed, running a hand through his short, brown hair as he leaned against the wall next to the other boy. "Still, I never thought that I'd see Youma fighting each other. I mean, aren't they all on the same side?"
He shook his head. "Think about it, kid. There're three other Generals out there. Obviously, one of 'em's trying to muscle in on Jadeite's turf."
"Whatever," the young woman, another brunette, remarked, her breathing now under control. "Anything that keeps them from killing us is fine by me. I hope they wipe each other out."
"Hah! One can only hope," he snorted before sweeping his gaze over the group. "We're almost there, everyone. Ready to rush this last part?"
She heaved a heavy, tired sigh as the others stood up. "Let's get this over with. Once we get there, I'm going to sleep for a week."
He couldn't help but grin. "Sounds like a plan, although I have someone I need to see, first."
War Room - Former Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 8:50 P.M.
It felt good to be back in the Palace. Even though she had only spent two days at the Hikawa Jinja, it felt much, much longer than that.
Titus sighed in contentment as she sat in Jadeite's throne, letting her fingers trace up and down the throne's armrests. He would be so pleased with her once he learned that she had repelled Zoisite's invasion attempt. Even better, after receiving all the reports from the Mages, she had managed to drive them off with only a negligible number of casualties!
'Jadeite-sama,' she sent after closing her eyes, 'I have a report for you.'
There was a brief period of silence before a reply came back. 'Report, Titus.'
'Youma armies sent by Zoisite invaded a few hours ago. They split into two forces and made simultaneous raids on the Palace and the Hikawa Jinja. I took most of the garrison and intercepted the army advancing on the Palace, destroying them while maintaining minimal losses.
'As for the other army, I've opted to let the Sailor Senshi handle them. I figure if Zoisite's forces win, they will have gotten rid of the Sailor Senshi for us, and I can just sweep in and take out whatever is left. On the other hand, if the Senshi win, then they will have handled Zoisite's Youma for us, leaving them so exhausted that they could fall if we attack right now.'
There was a long pause. 'Estimate of garrison strength?'
She expected the question. 'Forces currently estimated to be at 91%, Jadeite-sama,' she reported, the sides of her face lifting in what would be a smile if she had a mouth.
There was another long pause. Titus shifted as she waited for his reply, her smile fading. Wasn't he going to thank her for a job well done?
'Place the Palace on Level 3 alert. Orders are to challenge unidentified Youma. Any Youma belonging to Zoisite, Kunzite, or who refuse to identify themselves are to be struck down on the spot. Youma belonging to Nephrite are to state their destination and purpose, and to be escorted at all times until they depart the area.
'I will be busy relaying my orders to each of my bases. I will trust you to handle things there until my return, Titus.'
'Yes, Jadeite-sama!' she nodded, her smile returning. 'Everything will be taken care of, I assure you!'
'Very well. Keep up the good work.' With that, she felt the contact break.
"Thank you, Jadeite-sama," she purred to herself as she let out a contented sigh. Things were going so well! At this rate, maybe Jadeite would let her move back into the Palace again! Being in charge of an important region of his domain was satisfying on some level, but it didn't really compare to being under the same roof as him. Not to mention that she really missed her old bedside duties. With that prissy-looking bitch gone, she was sure that he would look at her again. Her toes curled in delight as she recalled some of the more memorable nights of the past.
"Hmmm...," she sighed again as she stretched out her body. "All in good time."
Outer Grounds - Near Section 321/Section 323 Border, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 8:58 P.M.
"It's up ahead!" Venus shouted over her shoulder as she veered to the left toward a large, makeshift tent with several lights flooding the area around it. They must have brought out every heavy battery in the jinja in order to power that. It was going to take forever for all of those to be recharged afterward.
Mars turned her head toward the indicated direction. The tent seemed to be made of a thick, heavy-looking material, probably waterproof, she supposed. It looked sturdy enough to withstand some really bad weather. Thank the kami that the weather wasn't bad today; fighting Youma in normal weather was hard enough.
"It's about time," she grumbled as the picked up her pace slightly, urging Venus to do the same by prodding her with the opposite end of the stretcher. Venus picked up on the hint and sped up as well.
The dark-haired Senshi turned her gaze down toward Ryoku. It was hard to tell if he was still breathing or not, even with them trying to keep the stretcher as still as possible while they half-jogged/half-ran. The severed claw sticking out of his stomach kept drawing her eyes, even though she didn't want to look at it. Around the claw, his light gray uniform was stained black, growing ever larger as time slipped away. Mars clenched her teeth together and ripped her eyes away from it, focusing instead on the field hospital up ahead.
A group of Medical personnel sprinted toward them as they approached, one of them carrying a large green bag with a red cross on the side.
"Tamagawa-sensei!" Venus shouted, recognizing the lead doctor as he and a cluster of doctors and nurses slowed long enough to let the Senshi reach them. "Hurry! Ryoku-sama is suffering major hemorrhaging - Grade 2... no, 3! Both interior iliac arteries and veins have been severed! The right common iliac artery and vein has been cut and several minor blood vessels surrounding them have also been cut or likely severed! Possibility of gastrointestinal perforation!"
Tamagawa nearly stumbled upon hearing Venus rattle off one clinical term after another, but quickly recovered before the blonde Senshi could notice. However, Mars did notice, but considering the emergency, she could hardly blame her short-haired friend for the slip. Hopefully, none of the other Medical personnel with them would think too much about it.
A nurse sprinted ahead and helped another emerging nurse hold open the flaps that served as the door to the tent. The two Senshi slowed down enough to let Tamagawa get ahead of them and lead them to where he wanted them to bring Ryoku. The inside of the tent was already filled to capacity as doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to stabilize their patients to the point where they could be carried back to Medical proper. Rows of cots with bandaged defenders lined both sides of the tent with another in the center, leaving just enough room for personnel to navigate without running into each other. Even so, several nurses had to make way as they pressed down the aisle.
Near the other end of the tent from where they had entered, a team of stretcher-bearers had just lifted a stabilized patient and were on their way out. A pair of nurses-in-training pulled aside the tent flaps, allowing them to depart.
Mars came to a halt near an empty cot in the center aisle near the end, allowing the doctors and nurses accompanying them to position themselves in such a manner so that they could move Ryoku to the cot while disturbing him as little as possible. A pair of nurses-in-training hastily prepped the area around the cot while another stripped the old sheet from it and set a new one in its place.
The doctors and nurses lifted Ryoku from the stretcher and moved him to the cot while Tamagawa started barking directions, her gaze fell upon two people sitting on the ground underneath one of the smaller, heavy battery-powered lights that lined the edge of the roof.
Jupiter and Saturn were seated near the corner, out of the way, yet near the tent's exit, so that they could leave whenever they felt rested enough to continue to fight. Both Senshi were awake, yet clearly exhausted. Jupiter was leaning her head against the wall, staring up at the ceiling, while Saturn watched the Medical personnel run back and forth, the fingers of her left hand occasionally brushing against the glaive resting against the corner of the tent.
Mars was about to point the other two Senshi out to Venus, but as she opened her mouth, Venus' head snapped toward them. Apparently, she had just noticed them herself. Venus dropped her end of the stretcher and spun around, giving her an urgent, cautioning look. Mars was about to ask Venus what the hell she thought she was doing when it occurred to her that if Jupiter were to see Ryoku in this condition, Sailor Senshi or not, she would completely lose it. Considering the staggering losses Jupiter had to face when she had woken from her coma not too long ago, she doubted her friend would be able to maintain control of herself.
Not that she had any room to speak, at any rate.
Venus stepped out of the way of the Medical personnel working around Ryoku and gestured cautiously for her to come closer. "We have to get Jupiter out of here before breaking the news to her," she explained in a voice low enough for Mars to hear without being overheard by anyone else. Of course, with the din of all these doctors and nurses scrambling here and there, Mars doubted that anyone would be sparing any time to listening in on their conversation.
"I'll do it," Mars said, her mouth a tight grimace. "You take care of getting Saturn to Ryo-kun." This was not going to be pleasant. At least Jupiter was too weak to overpower her, should she get it into her head to try to force her way to her brother's side. Maybe she could convince her to seek vengeance upon the remaining Youma.
Her grimace slipped into a scowl. Yes, vengeance was just what was needed right now. She knew that VERY well.
Venus gave her a slow nod and turned to go to see Saturn. Mars fell into step right behind her, her eyes fixed on Jupiter.
They hadn't taken three steps before Saturn's restless gaze happened to fall on them. The youngest Senshi's eyes widened in surprise for a second. "Venus! Mars!" she called out as she stood up, causing Jupiter to look at her before swinging her gaze in their direction. "What are you doing here? Is the battle over already?"
"How's everyone else doing?" Jupiter asked right behind Saturn.
"Well...," Venus began after a slight hesitation, "...this isn't the best place to talk about that. Mars?"
"Can you get up?" Mars inquired.
Jupiter frowned and gave them a small look of suspicion before attempting to stand. "I think I can stand, but not without some help."
"All right," she said as she reached out a hand and helped Jupiter to her feet. "Come with me for a minute. I've got something to tell you."
Worry started to cloud the taller girl's face as Mars lead her out of the tent. She could hear Venus speaking with Saturn as the flap closed.
"What happened?" Jupiter demanded, spinning around to glare at her and almost stumbling. Mars reached out to help steady her and keep her from falling. "Did something happen to the others?" Jupiter's expression grew fearful. "Did something happen to Ryo-chan?"
Mars decided not to mince words. Jupiter was her friend and she deserved the honest truth. "As far as we know, the others are fine," she said. "As for Ryo-kun... he was badly injured not too long ago." Her hands remained on Jupiter's shoulders in case the taller Senshi tried to move suddenly and lose balance again.
Color drained from Jupiter's face. "How-?" Her voice caught in her throat, preventing her from finishing the sentence.
"How bad?" she guessed. Jupiter nodded. "He was stabbed by a Claw Hunter in the stomach. Ami-chan said that he's suffering some really bad internal bleeding. We've brought him here, but we don't know if he's going to make it.
"Right now, Venus is explaining what happened to Saturn. We're hoping that she's rested enough so that she can use her healing power to stabilize Ryo-kun to the point where he can survive the rest of the way to Medical."
Her explanation finished, Mars watched Jupiter's expression, ready in case the ponytailed girl decided to rush back into the tent. Instead of breaking down like she thought she would, Jupiter's expression slowly began to harden as tears formed in the corners of her eyes.
"...idiot...," she whispered as a tear rolled down her left cheek.
Mars blinked. "Huh?" That wasn't exactly what she expected her to say.
"Ryo-chan, you idiot!" she shouted at the tent, causing Mars to jump a bit at the suddenness of it. "You better not die! You said you would always be there for me! Don't you dare go back on your word!"
Jupiter turned to look at her. "Is the battle still going on?"
She nodded. "It was still going on when we left."
The ponytailed Senshi nodded as well. "Good. I really need to kill some Youma right now."
Mars gave her a concerned look. "Are you sure you're up to it? You can barely stand on your own right now."
"There's nothing I can do for him right now," she replied, shaking her head. "But I still feel like I have to do something." Her hands tightened into fists at her sides. "A little bit of vengeance is just what I need right now."
She should tell her no. She should tell her to stay put, to rest until the battle was over. Throwing herself into battle when she was this weak was foolish at best. But the need for vengeance was something Mars knew was hard to resist. Especially when she shared it.
"You better keep up with me, then," Mars said as she turned back toward the battlefield. "I won't have you holding me back."
"Don't worry about that," Jupiter shot back. "Besides, if I don't push myself, I'll never get stronger." Her gaze fell to the ground before her, her green eyes hardening further. "Yes...," she muttered under her breath, "I need to get stronger."
Mars said nothing as she took off at a run with Jupiter following not too far behind her.
Field Hospital - Near Section 321/Section 323 Border, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 9:07 P.M.
Saturn fidgeted as she watched the Medical personnel hurry back and forth, torn between wanting to help them and conserving her strength in order to return to the fight. Both were very important jobs and, while healing the people would save many lives, both Pluto and Oda had told her that the sooner the battle ended, the sooner they would stop getting more people that needed healing. While she could see that ending the battle would be for the best in the long run, she still deeply felt the need to use her powers now, especially seeing all these wounded and dying people in front of her. Now and again, she would let her fingers brush against her Silence Glaive to remind her of what she had to do.
As she let her eyes wander around the room, she froze for a moment, eyes widening, when she saw two of her fellow Sailor Senshi walking toward them. "Venus! Mars!" she called out as she stood up. "What are you doing here? Is the battle over already?"
Saturn started to feel some anxiety when Venus hesitated, but seeing the grim look on the dark-haired Senshi as she turned to regard Jupiter made it worse.
Mars helped the ponytailed Senshi to her feet and led her to the exit while Venus remained behind. "What's going on?" Saturn asked, turning to Venus.
The blonde Senshi broke her gaze away from watching the others and closed her eyes while letting out a heavy sigh. "I have some really bad news," she said, opening her eyes as the tent flap closed behind her. "Ryoku-sama was injured badly not too long ago. He's suffering from major internal bleeding. Mars and I brought him here as quickly as we could, but there's a strong chance that he might not make it."
Saturn gasped, her eyes widening fearfully as she scanned the tent, looking for Ryoku. Failing to spot him, she turned to stare at her Silence Glaive, her mind reeling. She had a duty to continue the fight, to defend her home from the ongoing invasion. However, Ryoku was dying. After her father was killed by Youma, he and Setsuna had taken her in and became her family. She had already lost her entire biological family. She couldn't stand it if she lost any of her new family as well.
No. She wouldn't allow it.
"Where is he?" she demanded as she grabbed her glaive.
"Over here," she said as she led the younger Senshi to where the doctors were struggling to keep the young Blade alive.
One of the doctors noticed the two Senshi approaching and moved to intercept them. "I'm sorry, but we can't have you getting in the way. This young man is in critical condition and it's taking everything we have to keep him alive."
Saturn looked past the doctor and over to where Ryoku lay unconscious. It was hard to see him with all the other doctors crowding around him, but what she did see made her go into a near panic. Blood. Lots and lots of blood. On a small, wheeled tray beside his cot, there was a gnarled claw, also covered in blood and glistening in the light. It was almost like seeing her father's blood-covered body all over again.
Beside her, Venus took hold of her free hand and squeezed tightly, offering comfort and support. Saturn rallied back, fighting the urge to panic. Ryoku wasn't dead yet. There was still a chance. She had to believe in that.
"Listen," Venus interrupted before the doctor could say anything else, "Saturn, here, can help save him. Her power can heal him."
The doctor's eyes widened as she spun to the younger Senshi. "You have healing powers? Why didn't you say anything before?"
"She's not very strong and her powers take a lot out of her," Venus explained as Saturn shied away from the doctor's almost accusing stare. "She had already spent most of her energy fighting, so we sent her here to recover."
The doctor considered that for a moment. "So, the fighting is over now? We've fought them back?"
"Yes, we did," Venus replied before Saturn could answer. The younger Senshi gave Venus a surprised look, which the older Senshi returned with a look telling her not to say anything.
"Thank goodness," the doctor sighed in relief and turned to Saturn. "Anyway, if you want to help save him, please come with me." Saturn nodded and followed her while Venus stayed behind.
"Do your best!" she called out. Saturn nodded at her over her shoulder.
Outer Grounds - Near Section 321/Section 323 Border, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 9:13 P.M.
As Sailor Moon ran with Mercury and Pluto not far behind her, the Sailor Senshi leader's mind wandered toward the enigma of the symbol on Ryoku's sword and communicator. It wasn't a symbol she recognized from the Silver Millennium; however, there were parts of it that were distinctly Silver Millennium-related. The crescent moon on its side - the symbol of Serenity, and the Royal Family - was also used for the Royal Guard, except their symbol was a crescent moon on its back, a single sword through the center, pointing upward. The crossed swords, she remembered, was Jovan's crest as the prince of Jupiter, but his crest only had a pair of crossed swords behind a single bolt of lightning on a green field. The crossed circle, on the other hand, she could not figure out at all. If it came from the Silver Millennium, she had never seen it before.
The Senshi leader's musings were cut short as she spotted two other Senshi running toward them.
"It's Mars and Jupiter," Pluto said as the three of them slowed to a halt and waited for the two others to reach them.
"What's going on?" Mars inquired, frowning in confusing as she and Jupiter came to a stop. "I thought that-"
"The battle's over," Mercury informed her, her quiet voice just loud enough to be heard by the other Senshi. "What about Ryoku-san? Is he still alive?"
Jupiter stared at Mercury in shock. "Ami-chan? You can speak now?" Mercury nodded.
Mars lowered her head. "He's alive, or at least he was when we left. Venus took Saturn to heal him, but I don't know if they were successful or not."
Sailor Moon nodded, her expression grim. "We'd better hurry, then."
Field Hospital - Near Section 321/Section 323 Border, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 9:14 P.M.
Saturn tightened her hold on her Silence Glaive as she concentrated, reaching deeper as she summoned all the energy she could bring forth. She poured her power through the Glaive, struggling to maintain control as the Glaive amplified it to a level close to her current limit given her fatigued state. The young Senshi stepped forward as she let the power gather into her hand... and felt her breath catch in her throat as she finally took a good look at Ryoku's condition.
His abdomen was cut open and several metal clamps were sticking out, each one either holding a vein closed or holding the ends of a severed vein while doctors tried to suture them back together. There was less blood than she had seen before, but he was still bleeding badly.
Saturn clenched her teeth and took a deep breath to steady herself, and then placed her left hand on Ryoku's chest. As she and the doctors watched, several of Ryoku's minor wounds closed themselves and faded away. Some of his smaller veins closed themselves as well, the sutures that were holding them together loosening now that they were no longer holding the vein together. One of the doctors that had been operating on him quickly removed the clamps and sutures that were no longer needed.
"Nurse, we're going to need another blood transfusion," the doctor said as she closed up the IV that had been feeding Ryoku enough blood to keep him from bleeding completely out, and removed the depleted bag. "Do we have any O-negative blood remaining?"
The nurse in question reached down underneath the tray holding most of their medical equipment and produced a small plastic bag containing the blood in question. "This is the last of our stock of O-negative," she told her as the doctor took the bag from her.
The doctor frowned as she hooked the bag up to the IV. If they couldn't completely stop his bleeding, then that would be it. Not unless they could produce a donor that had O-negative blood within the next thirty minutes, and she knew that the likelihood of that happening was so slim, it might as well be nonexistent.
'Not yet!' Saturn urged herself as she felt herself growing tired. 'I'm not done yet!'
As her right hand tightened on her Glaive, she heard the tent flap leading outside being flung open as a small group of people hurried inside. "Saturn, how are you holding up?" she heard Sailor Moon's voice ask a short distance behind her. She could hear some of the nurses trying to keep the others away from the operating area.
"I... I don't know... how much longer I can... keep this up," Saturn strained as she fought to keep herself from collapsing.
"Hang on, Saturn!" Jupiter pleaded desperately. "Please! Don't let Ryo-chan die!"
Saturn winced as she redoubled her efforts, drawing deep within herself to bring out every last bit of her power. "I won't," she swore, her voice strained to the limit. 'Mother, Father... give me strength! Help me save Ryo-niichan!'
Searching within herself, she stumbled upon a faint, yet powerful strength. Desperate, she latched on and drew from it as hard as she could, using the energy to maintain her healing power.
"H-Hey, wha-?" she heard Sailor Moon's voice gasp behind her. "Saturn, what are you doing?"
"What's wrong?" Sailor Pluto demanded, her voice anxious. "Sailor Moon, what happened?"
"Saturn, you're drawing energy from your own life force!" Sailor Moon warned. "It's too dangerous! You've got to stop!"
"If I stop, Ryo-niichan won't survive," the younger Senshi replied, the strain in her voice becoming heavier with each passing moment. "I won't let that happen!"
"Dammit," Sailor Moon growled as her eyes darted back and forth between Saturn and Ryoku and the other Senshi, her mind racing for a solution.
Without a word, Pluto pushed past Sailor Moon and reached out to grab Saturn's shoulder. "Wait-" Sailor Moon started to say as she tried to stop her, but Pluto shrugged her off as her right hand clasped Saturn's shoulder.
"No!" Saturn said, shaking her head. "Please don't stop me!"
Pluto closed her eyes and shook her head. "I understand that you want to save Ryoku-san, but he wouldn't want you to risk your life to do it," she said, her voice heavy with worry. "If you need more strength, take mine."
Saturn was about to ask what Pluto was talking about when she sensed a source of power flare into being behind her, where Pluto was standing. It felt very similar to the power she was currently drawing from, but it was unmistakeably distinct. There was a slight pull coming from it, as if inviting her to draw from it. She turned away from Ryoku to glance over her shoulder at the elder Senshi, who nodded her encouragement.
Sailor Moon sighed in relief as Saturn started to draw energy from Pluto, while the other Senshi watched, confused. "What did you do, Pluto?" Venus asked as Mars and Jupiter quickly discussed something in a whisper. "How did you... do whatever it is you did?" Venus' gaze trailed over to where Pluto's hand rested on Saturn's shoulder. She moved to stand beside Pluto and placed her left hand on Saturn's right shoulder, mirroring the older Senshi. "Like this? Saturn, can you see if you can borrow my strength as well?"
"There's more than just physical contact involved," Pluto said, glancing at Venus. "The best way that I can describe it would be like gathering up your strength and offering it to one that needs it." She paused and gave Venus an apologetic look. "I'm sorry if that sounds very vague, but it's not something that's easily expressed in words."
Saturn looked over her other shoulder at Venus, watching as she considered Pluto's words. A moment passed before Saturn sensed yet another source of power flare up where Venus was standing. Just like with Pluto's power, it felt similar to her own power, yet different. And just like before, there was a slight pull coming from it, inviting her to draw from it.
"I think you did it," the younger Senshi said as she reached out and drew strength from Venus as well. The heavy strain she felt earlier lessened as Pluto's and Venus' strength kept her from collapsing. With their borrowed strength, Saturn felt that she had enough energy to bring Ryoku out of mortal danger.
After several minutes had passed, Saturn turned to the lead doctor, who nodded. "The danger has passed now," the doctor told her as Saturn removed her hand from Ryoku's chest. "Thank you for your assistance. We'll take it from here."
Saturn nodded as she felt the strength leave her legs. Her knees buckled, almost dropping her to the floor before Pluto and Venus caught her.
"We've done all we can do here," Pluto said as she took the exhausted young girl from Venus and started to lead her out of the tent. The other Senshi started to leave as well, except for Mercury, who stayed to watch the nurses prep a stretcher to take Ryoku to Medical. The formerly mute Senshi still held Ryoku's sword in her right hand, the tip of the blade just barely clearing the ground.
As the two Senshi left the tent, Sailor Moon regarded the pair with a concerned, yet pleased expression. "You did great back there, Saturn," she said, smiling down at the young girl. "You really came through for us."
Saturn gave her a weary smile. "Thank you, Serenity," she said, yawning as she fought to keep her eyes open. "I'm just glad that Ryo-niichan's going to live."
Pluto bent down and picked up the younger Senshi. "You're too exhausted to walk on your own," she said with a shake of her head before turning to Sailor Moon. "We're heading back to the Orphan's Quarters. If you need us for anything, that's where we'll be."
Sailor Moon nodded. "Got it. And thanks for your help today, Pluto."
The elder Senshi nodded as she left carrying a slumbering Saturn in her arms.
Lower Grounds - Near Sendai Hill, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 9:17 P.M.
"I'm sure something must've happened! Why else would the place look deserted?"
He gave the young brunette a calm look. "There's no need to get excited yet. If something has happened, I'm sure everyone's at the jinja. We'll definitely find someone there."
Ever since they had reached the edge of what he was sure was the border of the jinja, they had stuck to main roads, steadily making their way toward Sendai Hill and the center of Hikawa Jinja. The presence of so many working lights after running long distances with nothing but moonlight and scattered, still-operating traveler lamps, had been reassuring.
He stopped, turning toward his shaggy-haired friend. Everyone else stopped talking amongst themselves and drew closer.
"Hear that?" the larger man elaborated as he nodded down what looked like a side road.
The bespectacled boy adjusted his glasses. "Are those... gunshots?" he wondered, sharing a worried look with the other boy his age.
"You don't think...?" the black-haired boy started to say before trailing off.
Youma. That would explain why there wasn't anyone around.
"You mean, that huge Youma battle we saw out there isn't the only battle going on?" the brunette said, her eyes widening in realization. "But, what about the barrier? Why is there fighting in the jinja?"
"Calm down!" he snapped, shooting the woman a sharp glare. "Panicking won't do us any good right now!"
"So, what do we do?" the older teenage boy inquired. Behind him, the twins were holding hands and looking at each other anxiously. "Should we continue on the main roads?"
"If we're lucky, we might meet up with some Blades who can escort us the rest of the way," the large fellow added as he continued to stare down the side road.
"If we don't run into the Youma first," he sighed. "But then, if there's fighting in the jinja, there could be Youma anywhere."
"Since we might run into Youma no matter where we go, we might as well follow the gunshots," the black-haired boy said and turned toward the side road the large fellow was staring at. The two exchanged nods as they both started heading down the road. The bespectacled boy followed a moment later.
"Hey, wait a minute!" the brunette shouted as she ran after them. "Don't just go off on your own like that!"
With a shake of his head, he turned to regard the other black-haired teenager. The boy in question was murmuring something to the twins in a low voice; probably trying to reassure them or something. When he finished speaking, the boy returned his gaze with a shrug as if to say 'what can you do?'
"Come on, you three," he said as he turned to jog after everyone else. "Don't fall behind."
"Got it," the boy nodded as he and the twins fell in behind him.
Lower Grounds - Sendai Hill, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 9:24 P.M.
Michiru let herself plop down on the stone steps leading up to the jinja, the sword in her hand clanging against the stairs as her arm went limp. Beside her, Haruka sighed in relief as the last of the flying Youma finally fell to the ground, silent. Around them, several defenders scanned the skies for any signs of reinforcements, while others let out weary breaths as they lowered their weapons.
There had only been a handful left, but they were the fastest and most agile ones remaining. Taking them down had definitely not been easy and way too much ammunition had been wasted on missed shots. Melee weapons had better success, but in the process, they took some heavy damage.
"Good job, everyone," the female Blade said as she looked over her troops. "Keep your eyes open; we don't know if the battle's over yet."
To Michiru, it seemed that there were many with serious wounds and exhausted looks that remained on their feet by adrenaline and sheer will. Even Haruka looked rather battered, but Michiru knew that Haruka had endured worse than that. Seeing everyone's condition made her wonder what kind of state she was in. She probably looked like a mess. She certainly felt like one.
Another stretcher team came rushing down the stairs after having brought in yet another wounded defender. They had been arriving sporadically for the past hour or so; some arriving in clusters and and others arriving by themselves. As time went by, she started to recognize some of the teams after seeing them several times.
Now that there was a lull in the action and her mind wasn't singularly focused on keeping Haruka and herself alive, she realized that there were a couple of teams that she hadn't seen in while. On the heels of this thought came a second, more grave realization. Her head bowed as her gaze fell to the sword in her right hand.
Casualties of war. Her hand tightened around the blade's hilt as she thought of the possibility that Haruka might eventually become one as well.
"Some of you go up ahead and keep an eye out," Haruka ordered as she gestured after the departing stretcher team. "I want two of you to follow after that team until they reach the border of the Inner Grounds. Once they're past, keep watch for any arriving teams and escort them back." Half of the group jogged up the main road that the stretcher team had departed down and spread out defensively. Two of the advance group continued to follow after the team until both were out of sight.
"The rest of you, spread out and take defensive positions. We can't afford to let our guards down yet."
The remaining defenders nodded and advanced forward, weapons held ready as they put some distance between them and the steps to the Hikawa Jinja Proper.
Haruka looked back at her with an expression on her face that suggested that she was considering telling her to return to the jinja. She returned her stare with a fierce glare, warning her not to try. Haruka seemed to take the hint as she turned back to her study of the main road in front of her, sighing heavily to herself.
A few minutes of silence passed as Michiru remained sitting on the stone stairway while Haruka paced, her gaze never resting on one spot for more than a minute. Knowing her, the female Blade was feeling restless. Haruka never did like waiting for things to happen.
"Ten'ou-sama!" a defender suddenly called out as another one further out darted down one of the side roads between buildings and out of sight. "There are people approaching!"
Haruka spun toward the defender in question as Michiru pushed herself to her feet. "Are they being chased?"
There was a tense pause. "No. There aren't any Youma in sight."
Michiru let herself breathe again. That was a relief. She was still very weary and not really prepared to fight again so soon after that last battle.
Haruka slung her rifle over her shoulder and asked, "How many are there?"
"Looks like eight people. Three adults, five children."
Just as the defender finished speaking, the eight people in question stepped out into view accompanied by the defender that had ran out to escort them. The first was a tall, muscular, blonde-haired man that was glancing back toward his companions and saying something to them. It seemed as though that man might be the leader of the group judging from the way the others seemed to follow his lead. Next to him was a similarly muscular young man, whose brown, shaggy, unkempt hair went down to his shoulders and looked like it might even cover his eyes.
Close behind the two men, a pair of teenage boys that looked to be around fifteen years of age or so, stared with great interest at the defenders now surrounding them. The brown-haired one had a gawky appearance, complete with glasses and disheveled hair, while the black-haired boy had a more easy-going and composed look to him. Walking with them was an older brunette woman, probably around the same age as the blonde man. The brunette stared down the main road toward the jinja with a look of immense relief, her eyes nearly tearing up as she beheld the entryway to the Hikawa Jinja Proper.
Last came another teenage boy and a pair of identical twin girls, all around her own age. The dark-haired boy had a smile on his face as he turned around and said something to the girls behind him, his right hand combing through his neat, shoulder-length, black hair as his left hand gestured toward the jinja. The twins stared impassively toward the jinja, their ponytails bobbing slightly from the movement before they returned their gaze to him. The brunette with her ponytail tied on the left side of her head spoke, while the one with the ponytail on the right side merely watched the boy, saying nothing. The boy gave the first twin a quick response, causing both to relax slightly.
As Michiru pondered curiously over that exchange, Haruka started to approach the arrivals, snapping her out of her thoughts as she jogged to catch up to her.
"Hey there!" Haruka waved as she came to a stop after fifteen meters or so, letting the group come the rest of the way. "Are you all okay? Do any of you need medical attention or anything?"
The blonde man waved back. "We're fine; just exhausted. We've been running for quite a long time since we escaped the Palace and we'd really just like to rest for a while."
Haruka nodded. "That's understandable. You've been through a lot to get here." She turned to Michiru and nodded toward the new arrivals. "Michiru, could you please take them up to Medical for me? I need everyone else down here in case Youma show up."
Michiru frowned in annoyance and wanted to tell her to ask someone else, but she held her tongue. Haruka had a point; she did need all of her defenders should any Youma appear. She could always argue that the barrier was up and that she didn't need to send her to escort the new arrivals, but she knew that was just a childish complaint. Besides, the barrier was very weak, even before the earlier assault by the flying Youma. Furthermore, she wasn't a defender; she was a noncombatant who had selfishly jumped into the midst of a battle just because she didn't want to leave Haruka's side.
"All right," she finally replied as she gave Haruka back her sword, "but I'm coming back after I'm done." So she was selfish and childish. As long as Haruka was all right, she didn't care about anything else.
Haruka let out a resigned sigh. "Fine," she muttered peevishly. "Do whatever you want."
"Hey," the bespectacled boy interrupted as he pointed to Haruka, "isn't that a Shishu uniform you're wearing? I thought only men could become Blades."
"Not anymore," Haruka shot back.
"So, there are female Blades now?" the younger black-haired boy asked while looking her over curiously as if finding some kind of amazing discovery.
"Well... there are only two that I know of, including myself," she admitted before giving the boy a sharp look. The boy held up his hands in a warding gesture as he gave her an apologetic look. "Kino Makoto is a Sixth Class Blade while I'm just a Recruit Blade. For the time being," she added quickly. "Anyway, you'd better get going. There still might be Youma out there and we need to keep alert."
The blonde man nodded. "Thanks... um..."
"Ten'ou. Ten'ou Haruka."
He nodded again, then froze, eyes widening as his head jerked up to give her a surprised look. "Ten'ou-san?" he said, smiling as he seemed to recognize her for the first time. "I almost didn't recognize you wearing that uniform. It's me, Daimyouji."
This time, it was Haruka's turn to be surprised. "Daimyouji-san?" She shook her head sharply, as if to clear it. "I must be more tired than I thought. Sorry if I didn't recognize you at first.
"Sorry if I seem a little rude, but I really don't have time to talk," she added before the man could say anything else. "Michiru will show you where Medical is."
"Thanks, Ten'ou-san. Um, I mean, Ten'ou-sama. You have our gratitude."
Michiru turned to the blonde man. "If you would have everyone follow me, I will take you to Medical," she said before turning and climbing up the stairs. Behind her, the man called out to his traveling companions, telling them that she would leading them to where they needed to go.
"Um... Michiru-san?" the man said halfway up the steps. "Sorry if calling you that is too forward, but I didn't get your family name."
"It's Kaiou, but I don't really mind either way," she replied over her shoulder. "What is it, Daimyouji-san?"
"I was wondering if you happen to know a girl named Kagurazaki Sanae? She should've arrived here a couple of days ago."
Michiru paused mid-step. That name sounded familiar. A couple of days ago would've been when she had escaped from the Imperial Palace with Haruka and the others. Haruka had mentioned some people she had recognized from the fields.
"Red hair?" she asked as the name and face clicked in her mind. "Used to be a glassblower apprentice?" The blonde man nodded. "She arrived here safely with the rest of us. I'm sure you'll find her somewhere on the jinja grounds."
Daimyouji nodded, obviously relieved at the news. "Thanks, Kaiou-san. You have no idea how relieved that news makes me feel."
Once Michiru reached the top of the steps, she stopped and waited for the rest of the group to climb up. The stairs weren't too long, but tired as they all were, it took longer than normal to climb them all. She felt a little winded from the climb and took the opportunity to rest for a bit as she waited. Daimyouji scanned the area, looking for someone - Sanae, she assumed.
"It's not far," Michiru told everyone as the last person crested the top of the stone steps. "Just follow me, please."
The rest of the group followed without complaint, mostly because they seemed to exhausted to voice any. It was just as well, since she, herself, was too exhausted to care.
The grounds of Hikawa Jinja Proper were crowded with people huddled together and talking amongst themselves in anxious, worried tones. Now and again, someone would glance over to the entrance for a moment before turning back to their companions, lips tightened in a fearful grimace.
While the main entrance grounds were crowded with people awaiting news of the battle, the grounds leading to Medical had significantly less people. This was mostly because an area needed to be clear for stretcher teams to bring in wounded combatants, as well as for people who needed to transit from one building to another quickly.
Michiru jerked her head toward the source of the voice, spotting a lanky, sixteen year-old girl with her dark-violet hair bound in a ponytail, sprinting across the grounds until she came to a stop in front of Atsuko. "E.R. rooms 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 are cleared and ready to receive new patients," the girl reported. "The infirmary reports that they are currently at 88% capacity. Approximately 63% of these patients can be moved to their living quarters once the battle is over."
Atsuko nodded. "And what about our supply stock?"
"Takaya-sensei reports that we are running low on almost everything," the girl stated with a grimace. "Especially our blood supply. All we have left is A-positive and B-positive blood, a few bags of O-positive blood, and a single bag of O-negative blood. Even with the volunteer donors we're drawing from, if this battle doesn't end soon, we won't be able to keep up with the demand."
Atsuko cursed under her breath. "Thank you, Emi-san. Keep me pos-" The doctor cut off as she noticed Michiru approaching her with the new arrivals in tow. She studied the group for a moment before asking, "Are any of you injured or experiencing serious pain or discomfort?"
"Not unless you count being dead tired from running for your life for a long time," the brunette woman remarked.
"Other than that, we're not injured or anything," Daimyouji added quickly.
Atsuko's furrowed in thought for a moment. "Emi-san," she said, turning to the girl in question.
"Yes, Mizuno-hakase!" the girl acknowledged, all but snapping to attention.
"Take down their names and bring them to a waiting room that's not being used right now. Once things calm down a bit, have Morinaga-sensei start their physical examination process."
"Understood," Emi said as she reached into her pocket and brought out a small notepad and pencil. "If you would please give me your names?"
"Daimyouji Kazuki," the blonde man said. "Do you need me to tell you how to write it?"
"That's not necessary, thank you," Emi replied without looking up from the notepad as she wrote. "Next, please."
"Kumada Yuuichirou," the shaggy-haired man stated.
The brunette woman went next. "Sakurada Haruna."
"Me?" the boy with glasses said when Emi's gaze rested on him. "Uh... I'm Umino Gurio."
The black-haired boy smiled at Emi when her gaze reached him. "My name's Fukushima Arata. And you're Emi-chan, right?"
"My name is Mori Junpei," the older boy interrupted, causing Arata to glare at him. Emi blinked at she glanced from Arata to Junpei and back, shrugged, and went back to writing down Junpei's name. Junpei gave the younger boy an apologetic shrug as he smiled in amusement. Behind him, one of the twins reached out and grasped his shirt, giving it a light tug. The boy glanced back at the girl's flat expression and sighed. "All right, all right," he grumbled. "I'll stop playing around."
Emi finished writing and turned to regard the twins. "And you two?"
"They're Futami Ukyou and Sakyou," Junpei answered for them. "Ironically, this one, here," he continued, jerking his back toward the girl still holding onto his shirt, "is named Ukyou, and the one there with her ponytail tied to her right is Sakyou." He jerked his head to the other girl, who was half-hiding behind him and her sister.
"Um...," Emi began hesitantly.
"They're just painfully shy," Junpei explained, offering another apologetic shrug.
Emi blinked again and went back to writing down the twins' names. "All right," she said once she was finished, "if you would all come with me, please?"
Daimyouji turned to Michiru. "Thanks again, Kaiou-san. Oh, and if you happen to see Sanae anywhere, could you please let her know that I'm here and that I'll meet up with her soon?"
"If I see her, I'll be sure to pass that message along."
"Thank you, again," he said and followed after the rest of his group.
Michiru turned to leave, but stopped when she heard someone shouting as they ran up the steps to the jinja proper.
"-hakase! Mizuno-hakase!" A defender she recognized from Haruka's group leaped over the top step and half-stumbled in his haste to reach Atsuko. "Mizuno-hakase! The battle's over! The defenders are returning!"
Michiru felt her knees give way as she sank to the ground, all the weariness she had been staving off hitting her all at once in tandem with the immense relief she felt from the news.
Once again, they had survived. But still, this was only a temporary relief until the next time the Dark Kingdom decides to attack them. What would she do the next time that happened? Despite the fact that she had grabbed Haruka's sword and tried to fight with it, her efforts were meager at best. She wasn't a fighter like Haruka; fighting alongside her had only proved that she would likely be a hindrance if she tried to do it again, especially away from the Lower Grounds and the protection of the barrier (as flimsy as it was right now).
However, she could not deny how natural it felt to fight by Haruka's side. Not only that, but she was sure Haruka felt the same way, initial complaints aside. It felt like she belonged there.
Even so, she still wasn't a fighter. Michiru shook her head; there was no use trying to reason this out right now. She'd just be going in circles all night.
Pushing herself off her knees and standing up again, Michiru made her way back down the steps to the Lower Grounds. She would worry about this later.
Lower Grounds - Near Sendai Hill, Hikawa Jinja, Tokyo, Japan.
August 9, 1992. 9:38 P.M.
The walk back to the jinja was held mostly in silence. Sailor Venus' gaze shifted back and forth between Mars and Jupiter before it returned the ground in front of her. Up ahead, Sailor Moon occasionally glanced back at the three of them, her expression deeply concerned.
Venus couldn't help but feel for Mars and Jupiter. They both had lost so much in so little time; Mars' grandfather had suffered irreparable damage to his health, while Jupiter had only learned of her family's near-annihilation just yesterday. The last thing they needed was the death of another loved one so soon after that. She wanted to say something to them, to let them know that she understood how they felt, but she couldn't bring herself to say anything. Besides, her family was still alive. Anything she said would just sound empty, even if she meant well.
"We're close enough," Venus said, deciding to change the subject. "We should try to change back before anyone sees us."
Sailor Moon stopped and looked around. "Over there," she said, pointing toward the Orphan's Quarters. "Setsuna-sensei and Hotaru-chan should be the only ones there right now."
Venus felt her heart tighten as she gazed at the building in the distance. His home. He wouldn't be coming back for a while, if he... No. She wouldn't think those thoughts. Saturn did what she could. The rest would be up to the surgeons at Medical. She had to have faith in them. She had to have faith in him.
"It's just as well," Jupiter sighed, following everyone as they headed toward the Orphan's Quarters. "I don't think I'd be able to move once I change back."
"But what about when someone goes to check on you?" Mars asked. "How will you be able to explain your not being there?"
"Meh," the ponytailed Senshi shrugged dismissively. "I'm too exhausted to care right now. I'm sure Ami-chan will think of something. She could even tell them that she brought me back."
"Without anyone noticing?"
Jupiter shrugged again. "We'll worry about it if someone cares enough to bring it up. Everyone's too concerned over the barrier and the Youma invasion to worry about some weak girl who can barely walk on her own without assistance."
Mars frowned, but let the matter drop. Venus looked to Jupiter with some concern. The Senshi of thunder sounded really bitter, like she just stopped caring about everything. Even though she had made some valid points, Mars' concern was well-founded. They had to keep their civilian identities secret; being careless about it would eventually lead to someone finding them out. Now wasn't the time to say anything, though. As it was, Jupiter wasn't likely in a mood to listen to anything or anyone right now.
Upon reaching the Orphan's Quarters, Sailor Moon held up a hand, halting them. "Wait. Let me check to make sure there isn't anyone else there. The last thing we need is for people to cause a scene upon seeing all of us gathered together like this." Without waiting for a reply, she stepped forward and opened the door while slowly poking her head inside. Seeing no one, she stepped all the way inside and looked around, listening carefully for any signs of people, before closing the door behind her.
While the Senshi leader scouted the inside of the living quarters, Venus kept casting her gaze around her, keeping an eye out for anyone who could be watching them. That Elite Youma could still be out there, even though she hadn't seen her at all during the earlier battle. That worried her greatly. She knew that there was a chance that that Youma could be hiding on the jinja grounds. Was she watching them now?
"Everyone!" Luna shouted as she ran up to them. "You've made it back!" The cat stopped as she looked from Senshi to Senshi. "Where's Pluto and Saturn?"
"They came back ahead of us," Venus explained. "Saturn was completely exhausted and Pluto carried her back.
"Where's Artemis?" the blonde Senshi inquired, noticing that the white cat was nowhere to be seen. "Wasn't he with you?"
"It's hard for him to move with his injuries. The Orphan's Quarter's children are looking after him. Also, Naru-san is keeping an eye on them so they don't make his injuries any worse."
"That's good to hear," Sailor Moon said after opening the door again. "Anyway, it looks like Setsuna-sensei and Hotaru-chan are the only ones here, so we should be all right. Hotaru-chan's sleeping in her room and Setsuna-sensei's waiting for us in her room."
"Waiting for us?" Jupiter repeating, raising an eyebrow as everyone entered the building. "What for?"
"There's something I need to discuss with all of you," she said and turned to Mars. "Mars, could you please go get Artemis? We'll need him here, too."
"He was slowly making his way down the steps when I went on ahead," Luna told Mars as she changed back to civilian form. "He should be near the bottom by now, if not already on the ground and heading this way."
"Got it," Rei said and left.
After the miko departed, the remaining Senshi - save for Jupiter - shed their transformations as Serenity led Minako, Jupiter and Luna to Setsuna's room. "Setsuna-sensei, it's me, again," she said as she knocked on the door.
"Enter," came the reply from the other side.
The group entered the room, one by one, and took a seat on the couch. Minako sat in the middle with Jupiter to her left and Serenity to her right. Setsuna sat at her desk, her transformation wand resting in one corner and a freshly brewed cup of tea sitting next to her hand. Luna padded over and hopped onto Setsuna's bed, where she could easily be at eye level with everyone.
"Setsuna-sensei," Minako began as she fought back a yawn, "would it be possible for me to have a cup of tea as well? I think I could use one right about now."
"Same here," Jupiter seconded as she leaned against the back of the couch, her head drooping back so that she was staring up at the ceiling. "I feel like a could sleep for a week and still feel tired."
The nurse gave the girls a soft smile. "Certainly," she said, rising from her desk. "The other cups are in my office. I'll be right back." With that, she left the room, returning with four cups and a large teapot. "I hope that you don't mind that I brought one for you as well, Serenity."
"No, that's quite all right," Serenity said, shaking her head. "I wouldn't mind some tea, myself."
Setsuna set the cups down on her desk and filled three before setting the pot down.
"Thanks," Minako said once Setsuna handed her a cup, and blew on it a couple of times while the nurse served the others. Thanks were repeated as Setsuna went back to her desk.
"So," Setsuna began once she sat back down, "what is it that you need to tell us? I take it that it must be important, since we're all here instead of getting some much needed rest."
Serenity took a long sip before turning her gaze to her. "It has to do with the final two Sailor Senshi."
"You found them?" Luna exclaimed, her eyes wide. "Are you sure?"
"I believe so, Luna," the blonde Senshi leader confirmed. "I even fought by their side not too long ago."
Minako was about to ask when that happened, but before she could say anything, someone knocked on the door. "Setsuna-sensei, it's Rei. I've got Artemis with me."
Setsuna picked up the teapot and started filling the remaining cup. "Enter."
The door opened, admitting the dark-haired miko. Artemis was cradled in her right arm as she stepped inside, using her free arm to close the door behind her.
"That was fast," Jupiter remarked as Rei handed the white cat over to her. "Did you run or something?"
"Hardly," Rei snorted, glancing around the room before deciding to take a seat on the bed beside Luna. Setsuna wordlessy offered her the cup of tea, which she accepted with a nod of her head. "He had already made it down the stairs and was on his way here before I came across him.
"Anyway, the Blades and defenders have returned," she continued. "Everyone's making a big fuss now that the barrier's back up again. You'd think they didn't know that it's only covering Sendai Hill by the way they're acting."
"Well, they did just narrowly avoid getting overrun-" Artemis began.
"We're ALWAYS just narrowly avoiding getting overrun!" Rei snapped. "We've only got a small handful of Blades, so we're always relying on the barrier to protect us! But ever since the barrier collapsed, we've been racing against time just to get it back up. We've been lucky that the Dark Kingdom waited until now to take advantage of our weakness." She scowled as she let her gaze drop to the floor, the heat from her outburst draining out of her as her hands folded around the cup in her hands.
"Rei-chan...," Minako said, concern for her friend growing.
"It just seems like there's no end," she murmured. "All those defenders - dead. We also lost people when the barrier collapsed. We almost lost Grandpa... and Ryo-kun." She raised her head, staring into Serenity's eyes. "Are we even enough, Serenity? We've killed so many Youma, but the Dark Kingdom will keep on making more!"
"Calm yourself, Rei-san!" Serenity said, raising her voice. "You can't let things like this break your resolve! We are Sailor Senshi! Our mission is to defend humanity from the Dark Kingdom! We cannot forget this!"
"I certainly won't forget," Jupiter said, her voice cold as ice and hard as steel. "Those bastards took almost everything from me. I don't give a damn how many there are. Even if I have to fight all by myself, I will never stop fighting until either they're all dead... or I am."
Rei stared at Jupiter for a few moments before closing her eyes and letting out a deep breath. "You're right. It doesn't matter how hopeless it seems. If we don't fight, everyone will eventually die."
"Right," Serenity nodded, giving the miko a warm smile. "Anyway, our fight should be a little easier now that I've found out who our last two remaining Senshi are."
Artemis jerked his head toward Serenity, his eyes wide. "You found Uranus and Neptune?"
"I have. In fact, I fought alongside them not that long ago, after I chased those flying Youma that made it over here.
"Uriah - that is, Sailor Uranus - is a female Blade named Ten'ou Haruka, and Nessa - that is, Sailor Neptune - is named Michiru. I don't know Michiru-san's family name, but she and Haruka are very close. I'm betting they probably live in the same living quarters."
Minako blinked, her eyes widening slighty in realization. "I know those two," she said, setting her cup down on the floor. It was empty now anyway. "They both live in my living quarters. So, they were the ones we were looking for all this time?"
Serenity turned from Artemis to her, considering what she said. "If you know them, Minako-san, then perhaps you should come with me when I talk with them. It might help matters if they had someone familiar help convince them."
"Or, in Ten'ou-san's case, we could just have Mamoru-san order her to do it," Jupiter remarked jokingly. "But what are the odds? The first two female Blades in Shishu are also both Sailor Senshi."
"Oh!" Minako gasped as the mention of the Shishu leader's name reminded her of an earlier conversation. "I just remembered something that Mamoru-san and Ryoku-sama were talking about earlier!"
"What's that?" Serenity asked.
"It was about the fact that there weren't any Mage Youma around during that battle." She paused, looking from one person to another. "Didn't any of you notice that, too?"
"Now that you mention it...," Jupiter began, trailing off as she considered the possibilities.
"What did Mamoru-san and Ryoku-san say?" Setsuna asked.
"They thought that because of the fact that there wasn't any Mages out there, along with the fact that there were also flying Youma - which we've never seen before until now - it meant that it wasn't Jadeite attacking us, but another General instead."
"What?" Rei exclaimed, nearly jumping to her feet.
"Another General?" Setsuna repeated, frowning down into her teacup.
"Do they know who?" Artemis inquired.
Minako shook her head. "They have as much of an idea as we do. Ryoku-sama mentioned that if they're right about this attack being led by another General, then either one of two things will happen. Either the two Generals will team up to finish us off, or this other General is trying to take over this area from Jadeite."
"So, either way, we're gonna be attacked by two Generals from now on?" Jupiter growled, slamming a fist into the couch's armrest. "This is bullshit! It was bad enough fending off ONE General!"
"Makoto-san, please," Setsuna chided after finishing her tea and setting down her cup. "Watch your tongue."
"Mako-chan's right, though," Rei added. "Even with two more Sailor Senshi, there's no way we can fend off two Generals at the same time!"
"There's a chance that we might not have to worry about that," Minako interjected. "It's possible that if Jadeite's territory is being invaded, he might try to fight the other General off."
"I see!" Luna said, rising to her feet. "If the two Generals fight each other, that means that not only would there be less Youma trying to invade us, their numbers would go down as well!"
"One can only hope," Rei remarked. "Still we don't know which possibility it is. As far as we know for certain, we might just be screwed."
"Well, no matter which outcome occurs, we are still Sailor Senshi," Serenity said as she stood up. "That part has not changed.
"Anyway, it is getting late. We're all exhausted, so we should try to get as much rest as possible. Who knows what's going to happen now that we have another General to worry about. Once Ten'ou-san and Michiru-san have joined us, there's something that I'll need to discuss with you all."
"What's that?" Rei inquired.
"Like I said, I'd rather wait until we are all together before discussing it," she replied as she set her cup down on Setsuna's desk. "Right now, I'd like to rest. Not to mention that I should be giving Usagi back control over her body..." She trailed off as a frown slowly curved the corners of her mouth.
"Is something wrong?" Luna asked as she hopped of the bed and padded over to her.
"Are you feeling all right?" Setsuna asked as she rose from her seat and moved next to Serenity, peering closely at her face as she started examining her.
"No... that can't be right," Serenity murmured to herself, shaking her head. "I must've been mistaken."
"Serenity?" Minako said as she stood up as well. "What happened?"
Slowly, Serenity turned to look at her, a look of shocked apprehension dawning on her face. "I... I can't sense her."
"Can't sense who?" Jupiter asked, growing concerned at Serenity's behavior.
Serenity closed her eyes for a moment, her eyebrows furrowing in deep concentration. After a minute, she shook her head and opened her eyes, staring down at the floor in front of her. Minako was certain that she saw fear evidently displayed in those crystal blue eyes of hers.
"Usagi...," she murmured, her voice nearly inaudible. "I can't sense her presense within me." She raised her head to look at her again, her expression clearly scared. "It's like... she's no longer there at all."
Author's Note: Sorry for taking forever and a half to get this finished. I have way too much stuff to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all in. I could forgo sleep, but that still wouldn't be enough. And I'd probably be really tired, too. Yeah. So, here's a nice little twist of a cliffhanger for you. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: All original materials belong to their respective owners. Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi and a bunch of big companies. No copyright infringement is intended.
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