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

Hybrid Theory

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

machine shop.

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

normal arm."

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

Koboyuko's feathertouch.

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."

"Help you?"

"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

threaten her?"

"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.

Another flash.

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?"

"Excuse me?"

"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

the opposite."

"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

Ukyou's past.

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

pain stop."

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

voice steady.

"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.

"No luck?"

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

of you."

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 what?"

"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

original timeline?"

"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

self-destructing fortress?"

"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

one, too!"

"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? Setsuna?"

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

your life."

"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 went?"

"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



Ukyou froze.

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


She... remembered...

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

my misgivings."

"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

had... had...

("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."

"I... 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

trailed off.

"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

were numbers.

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-

Hotaru said.

"Let her go," Ukyou hissed.

"I can not." The girl pouted. "I need her. Without her, I can not speak

to you."

"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

been something.

"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

her mouth.

"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

become you."

"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

Nameless won.

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

had seen.

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

did it."

"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...

Third Circle.

Three circles.

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

her hands.

"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

last request?"

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.


Hotaru froze.

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...

"Thank 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

cleaned up.

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

too ugly."

"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

diplomatic recognition."

"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

settle this."

"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

sinister scheme!"

"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,"

she said.

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

within buildings!"

"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

to it."


"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

Valentine woman.

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

inflicted by-"

"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

quite keenly."

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

vindicated me.

"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.

He smiled.

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.

"That hurt."

"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

even started."

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."

"Yao Shui-"

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

Yao Shui.

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

relaxed slightly.

"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,

spoke up.

"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.

"Wait... what?"

"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

remarkable talent."

"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

to Galaxia..."

"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

for yourself?"

"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

her mistress.

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

punish failures.

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

Wars themselves.

But instead, the great Galaxia just sat on her throne, disinterested in

the progress of the war she had started, issuing her meaningless and

contradictory edicts.

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

satisfactory outcome.

"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

were dazed.

"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

seem foolish."

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.

Yuzuki bolted.

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

the house.

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."

"Miss Nagashiro?"

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

gave speeches..."

"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

Mr. Gyro."

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.

She froze.

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

good person.

"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

pure-hearted wish.

"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

your body."

"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

your thoughts?"

"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

was doing."

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

you're satisfied."

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

about you."


"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

for months."

"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

trailed off.

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

fool's quest.

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 weren't...!"

"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

didn't matter.

"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

the scene.

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

for safety.

"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

made it."

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

apologetic tone.

Suddenly Akane was hugging Ukyou in a sisterly fashion. Ukyou blinked.

"Uh... Akane?"

"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

of introduction.

"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

interesting life."

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

familiar repetition.

"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

me out."

"I... see..."

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,

bowing slightly.

"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

and skewers.

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

them down.

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

refreshment stand?"

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

say that."

"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

voltage line.

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..."

The End

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

My sacrifice

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

My sacrifice

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.

"My Sacrifice", by Creed