Hands Fall Together
Part One: The Consequences of Being Late
by Kihin Ranno
No more about the chasm needed to be said. An opening within a sea of rock should have been nothing more than dark. Perhaps one might have been able to throw in the description of it being dank, dreary, dripping, or a few other 'd' words, but dark should have sufficed. One should not have been able to go on to speak about the hordes of people, if they were in fact human beings. One should not have had to mention the dim light that poured forth from an orb that floated at the front of the room. One should not have had to discuss the pale, blond man kneeling before the orb, the throne carved out of the rock, and the demon goddess that sat upon it.
But all those were there, in the bowels of the Dark Kingdom.
"Jadeite," said the woman who sat confidently on the throne in a voice that was both chilling and enticing. She was dangerous in her own right, but she had a certain amount of allure. It was like the moth drawn to the flame.
Jadeite knew this all too well, but he did not desire his queen. He would do her bidding and do his job, but no more. Because while he did not lust for the dark empress before him, he was desperate for the power she could give him. And he would do anything to get it.
Jadeite got to his feet, standing straight and tall, raising his eyes to meet hers. Snake-like eyes met his own. They were now cold and empty, although they had once been full of life and promise. She was the only one left who recalled this...
"Yes, my queen?" Jadeite said with practiced reverence. "What is it you summoned me for?"
"I would like to know..." she said slowly, deliberately. It was as if she was making sure that he understood every word that came from her mouth to ensure that there was no room for a mistake or misunderstanding. Her insurance should anything go awry. "Are we any closer to finding the crystal? Or are we at the same place we were when we started?"
Jadeite inclined his head in a sort of half bow. It was a sure sign that he had nothing to report except bad news. "My queen, I am afraid that there has been no trace of the gem we seek. But... because you have been sending me and the others out looking for the crystal, none of us have been focused on collecting energy.
We are running low. You know that we need energy in order to seek out the crystal and for the resurrection."
"Yes..." She said, dragging out the 's' so that it sounded far too much like a snake for Jadeite's comfort. He fought back the urge to shudder as she continued.
"We have considered the problem. What do you suggest we do, Jadeite?"
Jadeite blinked a little, not being used to make such a decision before. Perhaps once long ago, he would have been able to react quickly. But then he was only a shadow of what he once was. He stuttered a little at first, before regaining control of himself. "Well, your majesty, I've already tried to send out a few members of our army to gather energy. However, they can only go out at night.
They have not been very successful."
The queen's eyes narrowed and her cool, calculating manner disappeared. The orb that floated between her bony hands flashed red as she shouted in a rage. "I did not ask you what had not worked, Jadeite! I would like to know what you think we should do to solve the problem!"
Jadeite flinched as her voice echoed throughout the chasm. The onlookers howled and shrieked in agony as they felt her wrath, cowering in fear. Several fled in terror. Jadeite kept his back straight, refusing to show the queen any fear.
Nevertheless, she did not fail to notice that he had grown paler within the last few moments. It filled her with some form of satisfaction.
Once he felt the atmosphere grow less tense, Jadeite inclined his head again and said, "Forgive me... What I meant was, I believe that one of the four should discontinue his search for the crystal and concentrate on gathering energy for the good of the kingdom."
The queen sat back on her dark throne, her eyes losing the anger that had been there only moments before. She seemed to consider the idea for a moment. "And who do you suggest would be best suited for the job?"
Jadeite, having long ago trained himself for this type of question, immediately responded without so much as a second thought. "Whoever you believe is best will be suited for the task, your highness."
"Good answer," she said with a laugh that contained no mirth. "And for that, you shall be the one to go after the energy. Come back to me tomorrow with your plan.
"As you wish, Queen Beryl."
The early morning light began to trickle into the darkened room, slowly illuminating it. The form underneath the covers was curled up into a little ball with their hand hanging over the side of the bed. They probably weren't even aware of it, but when the alarm clock had gone off, they had ripped the plug from the wall in a successful attempt to silence the awful beeping that threatened to awaken them.
Eventually, the sunlight managed to make its way to the head of the bed. The brightness forced the sleeper's lazy blue eyes to open...
And Chiba Mamoru woke up with a start.
He quickly looked over at his alarm clock to see what time it was. He soon realized that considering it was not plugged in, he would learn nothing. Mamoru threw off the covers and staggered into the kitchen as quickly as he could...
And saw that he was late.
"Damn it!" Mamoru swore as he spun around and ran back to his bedroom, all hints of sleep eradicated from his mind. He cursed again when he stubbed his toe on his entertainment center. He hopped uncomfortably into his bed room and began mutter to himself.
"I can't believe this... Of all the days to oversleep!" Mamoru moaned as he threw the doors of the closet open and pulled out his usual black turtleneck and khakis.
He decided he would just have to forego his morning shower and hope that no one stood downwind of him.
"I knew I shouldn't have studied so late for this Physiology test..." Mamoru scolded himself as he struggled to get the turtleneck over his head. "But is it MY fault that the professor was out for two weeks so that idiotic excuse for a teacher had to take over? She's the one who absolutely no idea as to what she was doing! It's her fault that she can't properly explain the Lymphatic system!"
Mamoru wasn't usually this critical or mean spirited, but at this hour of the morning, he simply couldn't help it. Nor was he usually this ill-prepared for an exam, but he just had not been able to concentrate for the past two weeks.
He couldn't shake the feeling that something was about to happen.
But right now, the only future Mamoru was concerned about was his career as a doctor. If he didn't pass... Well in Mamoru's case, ace all of his science classes, he was unsure if he'd be able to get into a good Medical school. Then all of his dreams would be dashed because of one simple yet very important test.
"I hate my life." Mamoru said as he cinched his belt just a little too tightly.
Mamoru ran a hand threw his dark hair, hoping that would be enough to at least make himself look presentable. He had already realized that he would by no means be looking like his normal, completely put together self. But Mamoru had decided to just grit his teeth and bear it. After all, he had suffered worse ordeals in his lifetime.
But he wouldn't think about that.
Mamoru quickly dashed into the bathroom and washed his face and brushed his teeth at lighting speed. He also knew he was going to have to forego his normal coffee and bagel breakfast if he was going to even have a prayer of making it to class on time. He also found himself having to ignore the noticeable amount of stubble on his face. Each thing he was having to give up was becoming harder and harder to deal with.
He quickly ran out to the living room and grabbed all of the books he thought he would need that day. Then he stepped into his shoes, not bothering to lace them up, deciding he would deal with that later. He grabbed his green jacket from the coat rack and transferred some of his papers to his teeth so he could get one of his arms through the sleeves. Then he somehow managed to open and close the door,
nearly upsetting the vase of red roses that was in his small foyer.
Mamoru skipped the elevator, not wanting to wait for it and started down the stairs. Unfortunately, he lived towards the top of his apartment complex. It was going to be a very long run indeed. On the way down he managed to reorganize all of his papers, completely put on his jacket, and even tie his shoes.
Amazing what a person can do when they put their mind to it.
Mamoru raced out the door of the complex. He checked his watch and very nearly let out a jubilant cry when he realized that he would make it if he took his motorcycle and sped just an itty bitty bit. School was only a few kilometers from his apartment. Surely he would be able to make it in time. Mamoru's face broke into a bright smile as he thought, 'Perhaps this won't be such a bad day after all...'
Of course, now something terrible had to happen to him.
Mamoru didn't hear it just yet, as he was far too engrossed in his triumphant realization. Just a few feet behind him, and gaining fast, was a young, blonde girl. She was also late, though far more pessimistic than Mamoru... and screaming at the top of her lungs...
"Oh my God! I can't believe how late I am today! Oh, I don't understand why mother listens when I tell her I'm awake!"
Mamoru still didn't hear her, but he was getting that feeling again... that feeling that something awful was about to happen.
And just then, the girl barreled into him at full force, knocking him flat on his face. All of Mamoru's papers went flying as did one of his shoes. His keys flew out of his hands and flew off to a currently unknown location... Though he had a sinking suspicion.
He could have spit bullets.
The girl barely noticed him. Normally, she would have stopped and apologized profusely. Now all she did was call back, "I'm really sorry, but I'm just so late!"
Mamoru growled as he peeled his face off of the hard pavement, glaring after her.
He was quite tempted to take after her and beat her into a true, honest apology,
but of course he didn't have time...
For once, Tsukino Usagi was not the only one late for class.
Now that she was well over twenty feet away from the man she had just knocked down, Usagi began to entertain the notion of turning around. She had barely given him a backwards glance after running him over, and she couldn't help but feel guilty about it. After all, it wasn't his fault that she had been too busy screaming her head off about her mother making her late that she didn't see him walking there. The very least she could do was help him out, right?
"Oh, but I can't be late again..." Usagi said to herself, "Ms. Haruna said she would give me detention for a month if I didn't show up on time today. And Motoki said that he was going to get some new video games in soon! I can't miss out on those!"
It should be noted that Usagi had very odd priorities in life.
Usagi was torn. She knew it was selfish to keep on running like this when that other guy was probably still crawling around on the sidewalk trying to find his shoe. On the other hand, she knew that she was going to get her test back today.
Considering she had not studied at all, slept through class, and forgotten to turn the test over to notice the back page... Well, she had a feeling it wasn't going to be good. She would rather be yelled at just because of her test than because of her test and being late.
Usagi stopped running just a few blocks away from the school, and turned around to look back and see if that guy was all right. Of course, Usagi was too far away to see if he was on his feet or not. Even if she was any closer to the scene of the crime, so to speak, there was a throng of people rushing to get to work that were obstructing her view.
Usagi bit her lip worriedly and said, "That poor guy... I really should go back and help him."
The blonde considered it for another moment or two, but then she heard a cat meowing loudly and it broke her concentration. It had sounded like it was in pain or something, and she had always had a bit of a soft spot for cats. If it was hurt she wanted to help it.
Had Mamoru been there, he probably would have commented that he wished this concern extended to human beings.
Usagi tried to find the source of the cry, but all she saw was a group of little boys. It was probably trivial, like most of the conversations Shingo had with his friends. But from the looks on their faces one would have thought they were talking about the cure for cancer.
Usagi sighed and threw her hand up in the air. "What am I standing around for? I keep acting like I crippled that guy for life or something! I'm sure he is more than capable of picking up a few papers and walking again. I on the other hand need to get to school in--"
Her speech was cut off by the sound of the school bells ringing in the distance.
All of the blood drained from her face as she looked down at her watch to make sure she wasn't hearing things. She shrieked when she realized that she was in fact sane and those were the bells that began the new school day. She gripped her briefcase and took off running again and became nothing but a blonde blur,
screaming, "Oh no! Now I really am going to have detention for a month! Oh, stop ringing you stupid bell!"
One of the little boys looked after her, blinking in confusion. At first he had thought that the teenager was talking to them, but as it turned out she had been talking to herself the entire time. He shook his head in disbelief, hoping that only girls were capable of acting crazy. He hastily turned back to his comrades and said the same thing they all said just about every day of their short lives.
"Girls are so weird."
His red headed companion nodded in agreement. His movements were jerky and overstated, as if he was trying to compensate for a lack of conviction. However,
he voiced his agreement no matter what his true feelings were, as small children are apt to do. "You said it."
The blond one snorted, not enjoying all of the attention the other boy was getting. Just a few minutes ago, he had been the center of conversation, but now he was losing control of that. In order to regain their interest he said, "You think that's bad? You should see my sister. She's always yelling at me about something."
"Like what?" The second boy asked curiously.
"Usually nothing." The blond replied matter-of-factly, "And I swear, at the beginning of every month, it's like she turns into a monster or something. If I breathe too loud, she starts hitting me with one of her stuffed animals."
"How come?" asked the first, dark haired one.
The blond shrugged casually. "I don't know. Mom says I'll understand it when I'm older, but I don't think I'll ever understand girls. It's like they're a totally different species or something..."
He looked back down at the ground and pointed to the shaking black ball of fur that they were huddled around. "What do we do with this cat?"
"I don't know. You're the one who caught it." The red head said with an exaggerated shrug, obviously trying to imitate the blond. He then turned to the first boy and said, "What do you think we should do with her?"
He seemed to ponder this question for a moment, stroking his chin as though he had a beard. He did not fully understand why he was doing it, but it was something he'd seen his father do just before he came up with some brilliant idea. Then he attempted to snap his fingers, but failed in doing so. He didn't bother to try it again, but he did give his left hand a very contemptuous look of disapproval.
"Let's see how loud it screams when we pull its tail!" He exclaimed at long last,
feeling his appendage had learned it's lesson.
"Yeah!" The other two chorused elatedly, since they could not think of anything more useful to do with a cat.
The cat's amber eyes went wide with fear as she let out another helpless yowl,
desperately scratching at the two band-aids on her forehead...
Mamoru was livid.
Not only had that brat not had the decency to stop and help him up, but she had caused him to drop the keys to his motorcycle, car, and apartment down into the wretched Tokyo sewer system. Thankfully he had spare sets in his apartment. He would get the super to let him in later that day, but there was no way that he could go back and do it now. Thus, Mamoru was going to have to walk, and he already knew that it was going to be impossible to reach the university on time on foot.
If he ever saw that kid he again, he was almost positive that he would kill her.
Since Mamoru knew he would not make it, he was walking just a little slower. He would more than likely pick up speed once he had all of the papers reorganized in his hands, but for now he was taking his time...
And beginning to plot how he was going to kill that girl.
"I could stab her, but that's just a little messy for my tastes... That rules out bludgeoning too. I don't want to have to deal with that much blood until my residency. I don't have access to a gun, and I'd rather not get involved in the Yakuza right now. That rules out shooting... I believe that leaves me with strangulation or poisoning... Ah decisions, decisions..."
Normally, Mamoru was also not this homicidal. The things bad days do to people.
Just then, Mamoru passed by a group of young boys, gathered around something.
Mamoru was suspicious by nature, and he didn't like the sound of their conversation. Maybe he was just being paranoid, but he decided to stop and listen in anyway.
"What do we do with this cat?"
"I don't know. You're the one who caught it. What do you think we should do with her?"
"Let's see how loud it screams when we pull its tail!"
Mamoru sighed in exasperation as he heard the cat let out a mournful yowl. On a typical day he might not have done this, but he really did not want to come by later that day and find the cat lying dead in the street. He jogged over to the boys shouting, "Hey! You kids leave that cat alone!"
The three boys spun around in horror, and then promptly took off running.
"I knew we never should have caught that cat!"
"You're the one who wanted to do something with her!"
"You shut up!"
"Forget it! Hurry up before he finds out who our parents are!"
Mamoru blinked at the last comment, staring after their small backs. He would never understand what gave children the impression that adults all knew each other, and therefore would be able to discern the identities of their parents. It was even more baffling that they thought of him as an adult.
Mamoru shifted his gaze back down to the cat, who was covering her head as though she were expecting to be hit at any moment. The man couldn't help but chuckle at the comical display, which caused the black cat to open one of her brown eyes.
She looked around frantically for the young boys, and promptly relaxed when she saw they were gone.
The odd thing was Mamoru could have sworn he heard the cat sigh in relief.
He decided to ignore it, and bent down beside the cat, putting his papers back into the briefcase where they belonged. He picked her up gently and said, "You should really go home to your family. I won't always be around to save you from the clutches of evil nine year olds."
The cat looked away from him, sticking her whiskers into the air. He thought that she meant to say, "I had the situation well in hand. I am perfectly capable of handling myself, thank you very much."
He chuckled, feeling a little bit better now that he had done his good deed for the day. Mamoru scratched her lightly behind the ears and said, "Either way you shouldn't be out wandering alone..." Then he saw the two band-aids on her forehead and said, "See, you're already hurt."
The cat blinked a few times as if just realizing something. Then she began meowing pathetically, scratching at her forehead anxiously. Mamoru was under the distinct impression that if the cat could talk, she would have been screaming,
"Get these damn things off me!"
Mamoru shook his head and said, "All right, all right. Take it easy. If you'd just sit still, I'd be able to take them off."
The cat immediately stopped moving in mid-swipe, allowing Mamoru the necessary room to get to her forehead. He reached forward and gently grasped the edge of the top band-aid. He slowly pulled down, hoping that he wasn't causing the cat any discomfort. Then he began to see something gold peeking out from underneath the bandages. He furrowed his brow and continued pulling until the bandages were free from the cat's forehead.
Mamoru blinked in surprise and nearly dropped the cat. He stared closely her forehead and said, "What in hell..."
Just then, the cat let out a joyous meow and leapt up. She used Mamoru's head as a launching pad, causing him to drop the bandages from his hands. He cried out and spun around, looking ready to yell at the cat as though she could understand.
But when he did, she was sitting on top of the wall, looking entirely innocent of having committed any crime.
Mamoru sighed and said, "That's it. I'm out of here." He bent down and picked up his briefcase, saying, "I've had enough of being beaten up by women for one day."
Then he turned and walked away.
The little cat with the crescent moon was still watching, intrigued.
A few hours later, Chiba Mamoru truly wanted to bang his head against a brick wall until he would happily fall into unconsciousness.
His day may have started out bad enough, but it had somehow managed to get worse with each passing moment. Not only had he been late for class, but he had gotten a very long lecture from his newly returned professor. Apparently, he was astounded that a young man with his potential would be late for a test. He was very disappointed in Mamoru, and he certainly hoped that he would make it up by a perfect test score.
A few minutes later, a boy who was always late walked in. He hadn't even earned a reprimanding glare from the professor.
Again, Mamoru wished that murder was legal in some cases.
Mamoru had taken his test, and had been the first to finish. As it turned out, he had somehow managed to retain all of the information over the past two weeks. He strode up to the teacher's desk confidently and handed his professor the test with an air of arrogance that most people would have choked on. Mamoru went back to his desk and began to collect his things, as one could leave the room after they had finished their test.
He had almost been out of the room when the teacher announced that he had gotten every question on the diagrams wrong...
And that they were worth half of the test.
Mamoru had promptly left the classroom, wondering how he could have possibly forgotten to look the diagrams over... And take the test without even realizing that he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
He decided that it was the result of skipping his morning coffee.
Thus, Mamoru quickly swung by a little coffee shop conveniently located near the campus and drank as much caffeine as possible. He needed to wake up and try to make this day seem less harrowing. When he had finished his coffee, burning the roof of his mouth several times in the process of drinking it, he had gone to his British Literature class, fully prepared to turn in his brilliant paper and receive the 'A' he knew he deserved after researching the Bronte sisters for well over a month. He had opened his briefcase, and looked around for the disc that contained the neatly typed, twenty page monstrosity...
Only to discover it wasn't there.
Now Mamoru was dragging himself down the streets of Tokyo, swearing like a sailor and giving dirty looks to any blonde teenage girl that walked by. After all, she was the one who had started it all. Despite the disaster with his alarm clock,
everything would have been perfectly all right had it not been for her. He would have made it to class on time, he wouldn't have been upset while he was taking his test, and he wouldn't have lost his paper in the street. It was all her fault.
"Poison." Mamoru growled to himself. "A poison that will ensure that she dies slowly and painfully. One that cannot be detected and has no antidote. Hell, I think I'll go to the lab right now and whip one up just for her."
It had been a very long day.
At that exact moment, he heard a very familiar voice behind him, and it seemed that all of the trespasses against him would be avenged.
"Oh Naru, my mom's going to kill me when she sees this test!"
Mamoru stopped in his tracks at the sound of the young, whiny voice. His heart stopped. He broke out into a sweat. His eyes now held a murderous glare that caused a small child to run away from him, screaming.
"Oh, there is a God..." Mamoru hissed to himself. "And he is vengeful."
"Oh Naru, my mom's going to kill me when she sees this test!" Usagi moaned,
holding up the piece of paper in front of her face, the huge red thirty staring at her in the face as it were alive. She groaned and said, "She said if I flunked another test she'd kick me out of the house!"
Her red-headed companion waved her hand dismissively and said, "Oh Usagi, you know she doesn't really mean it. She was just exaggerating again! Don't you remember that time she said she'd throw the television out the window if she ever caught you staying up late to watch it again?"
"And the time she said she'd burn all your manga if she ever caught you reading it when you said you studying for a test?"
"She did say that..."
"And the time she said she'd throw you out of the car on your last family vacation after you hit your brother?"
"And the time--"
"Okay!" Usagi shouted loudly. "I get the point! I don't need you reminding me of all of my shortcomings."
Naru smiled nervously and said, "Sorry Usagi. You know I didn't mean it..."
Suddenly, her face brightened. She put her hand on Usagi's shoulder and said,
"Hey! I have just the thing that will cheer you up! My mom is having a huge jewelry sale today to get rid of some of the old merchandise! Diamonds aren't really in this season, so we have a bunch that she wants to get rid of. I mean, I know you can't buy anything, but--"
Usagi stopped in her tracks so suddenly she may as well have run into a wall.
Then her crystal blue eyes took on a rather unnatural, frightening gleam. Naru could have sworn that she spotted the tiniest trace of drool trailing out from the corner of Usagi's mouth. The red-head was beginning to wonder if maybe this had been a bad thing to mention.
"Err... Yes... Usagi, are you feeling all right?"
Then, out of the blue, Usagi snapped out of her stupor, leaping upwards with an exuberant squeal. She continued bouncing up and down before squeaking, "Diamonds!
I love diamonds! I wonder what I would have to do to convince Daddy to buy me one..."
Naru gave her best friend a sobering look, which of course Usagi didn't notice in her joyous reverie. Naru didn't have to say a word. All it took to get Usagi's attention was to snatch the test out of her hand and shove it forcefully in her face. The blonde immediately stopped imitating her name sake and was silent for a moment.
After that she let out a growl that would have been more suited to someone named Okami as it was definitely reminiscent of a wolf.
Naru gulped and backed away, no longer needing to hold the failing grade before Usagi. She had taken it from Naru and was now proceeding to crumple it into the most emotionally packed ball possible. "Stupid, ridiculous piece of... Hmph!"
With that, Usagi tossed the test over her shoulder... And was rather surprised when she heard an indignant squawk from behind her. She blinked, turning around to apologize to whomever she had unintentionally hit...
"Oh!" Usagi cried, flushing slightly. She bowed several times in succession and deeply. She was quite sure she was going to have back problems for the rest of her life because of it. "I am really very sorry about that! I didn't mean to hit you!"
Mamoru glared at her darkly as he inspected the paper. He was already well aware of the mark that she had received on her test, but he pretended to be unaware of what awaited him. He didn't pay her incessant apologies any mind. She had obviously failed to recognize him. Perhaps if she had and apologized for running him over this morning as well, he would have forgiven her... Though that was unlikely. The damage was done. There was no going back. And he was quite sure that after all of this, he was entitled to a little revenge.
"A thirty? Wow, I didn't think anyone was that ignorant."
And that revenge would be sweet.
Usagi instantly stopped in mid-bow (and in a rather uncomfortable place). She choked on the air and hovered there for just a moment. Then she straightened up faster than the average human's eye could catch. She was now at her full height of 4'11'' and yelling, "What did you say?"
Mamoru raised an eyebrow coolly, trying not to smirk. "And hard of hearing?
Usagi snarled and ripped the test from his hands, crumpling it once more and making sure that it ended up in the proper trash receptacle. She glanced back at Mamoru, embittered by his comments and added, "Come Naru. There are certain people on this earth not worth our time."
"I should say not," Mamoru said snippily, smirking this time to make sure that his meaning was very clear. "Odango Atama."
Mamoru couldn't help but smile at that. He liked that name. He commended himself on thinking of it.
"What?" Usagi shouted irately. "What do you mean by that?"
"Your hair," Mamoru quipped. "It looks like you have two buns on the sides of your head."
Usagi narrowed her eyes darkly. She made a move to roll up one of her sleeves,
just for the effect, until she remembered that her uniform top had short sleeves.
It was seasonably warm after all. She wasn't entirely sure how else she could look intimidating. She forgot about the effort altogether and continued. "And what does that have to do with anything?"
"Well, I figure if you have buns outside of your head, you must have dough inside," Mamoru rationalized, rather enjoying the outraged look on the blonde's face... As well as the snicker that came from her companion. He shrugged,
feigning innocence. "The test score would make a lot more sense that way."
Usagi stood there for a long moment, sputtering and gesturing heatedly. She looked as if she might pursue the matter, but something made her decide against it. Mamoru suspected that it had something to do with the jewelry sale her friend had been talking about earlier. She added another 'hmph' before spinning on her heel and dragging Naru away. All the while, her nose was in the air in a rather haughty manner. She made a very big show of ignoring Mamoru's presence.
Mamoru chuckled to himself, pulling his sunglasses out of his jacket pocket.
Granted, he had wanted to exact just a little more revenge on the blonde, but he supposed it was not to be. Now he felt that the score was settled, the playing field level, and quite secure in the fact that he would never have to deal with annoying blondes ever again.
He slipped on his sunglasses, feeling quite smug indeed. Mamoru nodded and then prepared to continue on the trek back to his apartment. He was done with classes for the day, but he still had to get the super to let him into his humble abode.
He was going to need his keys sometime soon. He stepped to the side to be about his way... When he accidentally bumped into someone... He turned to see who it was and barely managed to contain a howl of righteous indignation.
It was a teenage blonde.
Mamoru was still very sure that there was a God. He simply was not fond of him.
Still, this girl had not done anything… yet... She was not even wearing the same uniform as the rabbit. He was fairly sure that she was not in anyway associated with Odango Atama. That meant that he did not have to worry about being publicly admonished for being a nasty, obnoxious pervert or some such. With that in mind,
Mamoru spoke to her with very little hesitation. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see you there."
Mamoru was a little taken aback the blonde stared at him with light blue eyes,
looking more than a little surprised... and like she recognized him. Mamoru swept his eyes over her, noting that her hair was about the same length as Odango Atama's and that she looked quite athletic. But what was most striking was the gaudy red bow she was wearing.
He felt like he had seen her somewhere, but he couldn't place it.
"Pardon me," Mamoru began, feeling unsure of himself. "But have we met?"
It was then that she smiled at him. He couldn't suppress the shiver that overcame him. Her smile seemed too brilliant to be real, yet he knew it was genuine. It reached her eyes, but they were not bright enough to match the rest of her expression. In spite of her youth, she looked older than she should have – as if she had seen too much. It disturbed him for many reasons that he could not articulate... But mostly because he had even realized that about her.
"Perhaps," she voiced with a cool shrug. "But I highly doubt it."
Mamoru narrowed his eyes. He was not convinced. "Are you sure of that?"
"Quite," she said, still smiling. Then that gleeful look seemed to fade into something much more serious though her grin remained. "However, may I offer you one piece of advice?"
Mamoru was a little put off. He wasn't sure how to respond to that. It wasn't every day that random strangers, not to mention very young ones, offered him advice out of nowhere. Then again, this certainly was not a typical day.
Thankfully, he did not have time to answer her query.
"Watch out for cats."
With that, she winked at him and then continued on her merry way with a slight spring in her step, effectively ending the conversation.
Mamoru stared after her for a good five minutes, even after she had turned the corner. He wasn't sure what it was about her, but she had given him the shivers.
And not in a good way. There had been something very... dangerous about her. He didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit.
"Why are teenagers so weird?"
But then he'd always been a little paranoid.
He was then on his way, muttering to himself irritably about stupid, cryptic blondes, and he was sure he had never been that weird as a teenager. Had one who knew that Mamoru was a little paranoid been watching, they would have been quite perplexed. One would have that that Mamoru would have actually listened to the strange girl, but he didn't even notice the black cat that was hot on his heels.
Meanwhile, Queen Beryl was growing restless.
No sooner had Beryl spoken the word than he appeared before her, already bowing.
His blonde hair was mussed and there were dark circles under his eyes. He had been up late taking care of her orders. She smiled, both amused and relieved by his obvious discomfort.
Jadeite did as he was told, standing just as tall and proud as ever in spite of the fatigue. Queen Beryl was impressed, but she did not show it in her features or impart it onto him. It was a fleeting feeling. She would have forgotten it had even occurred within the hour no doubt. "I trust that you have already come up with a plan to gather energy for our rise?"
"Yes, Queen Beryl," Jadeite responded automatically, bowing his head slightly as protocol dictated. Then he raised his eyes again, looking the woman directly in the eyes. "I have decided that the best way to collect energy is to give a number of humans some kind of energy stealing device. It will activate at the same time,
giving the Dark Kingdom a great amount of energy at once. This will be more efficient than just taking it from one person."
Beryl nodded, though he could sense that her patience was wearing thin. "Go on."
Jadeite hastened to say, "Yes. I sent a scout to Tokyo earlier today, and she happened upon a jewelry shop advertising a sale. She came back to me with the report, and I told her to take the woman hostage and assume her form. We will make the humans' precious stones even less valuable, attracting more of them.
Then, at a certain time tonight, I will activate them and gather energy for the Dark Kingdom."
Beryl narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "Are you certain that this place did not contain the Ginzuishou?"
"It was one of the first places we checked," Jadeite said honestly. "But I checked again to be certain. There was no sign of the crystal."
Beryl frowned, annoyed, but overall impressed with his efforts and satisfied with the plan. After a few tense seconds on Jadeite's part, she nodded, signifying her approval. "That will do, Jadeite. I agree. That should acquire us a great deal of energy."
Jadeite's posture relaxed ever so slightly.
"But I have one question."
He straightened once more, wincing with the effort. He really was not good at pulling all nighters. "Yes, your highness?"
Beryl paused, considering her question for a moment, before saying, "How certain are you that your plan will succeed?"
Jadeite smiled smugly. This was one thing he was sure of.
"I am one hundred percent positive that this mission will be a success, Queen Beryl. Nothing could possibly go wrong."
From the shadows, three other men had varying reactions of disbelief and disappointment... Even disgust at the other man's arrogance. But the youngest among them summed up all of their feelings in one very simple and rather clichéd statement.
"Famous last words."
Usagi stared, transfixed at the array of jewelry before her, completely oblivious to the rest of the crowd fighting to get to the display case behind her. As far as Usagi was concerned, the cursing and yelling of desperate women trying to get their hands on some cheap, quality jewelry was actually a solo violin playing "Meditation from Thais." Usagi had been in the Osa-P Jewelry Shop on more than one occasion... But never had Usagi seen such a glittering field in the display case. It was filled with precious, clear gems that any woman in her right mind would adore. It was baffling to think that this sale was going on because Mrs.
Osaka had been unable to sell most of her diamond encrusted merchandise. Then again, if one could afford to buy jewelry like this, one had to keep up with the trends. If diamonds were out, they were out. That was that, and it was that much better for her and the other middle class schleps that filled the store.
But Usagi wasn't thinking about that. As a matter of fact, she wasn't thinking much of anything. The glint off of the gems laid out before her was hypnotic.
There was no room for thought in her mind that was too full of rings and necklaces and bracelets and watches and other such accessories. The one that that did manage to make its way into her thoughts was this:
If this was not what heaven looked like, all crystalline and shimmering, Usagi did not want to go there... And if everything wasn't marked down by eighty percent,
Usagi really didn't want to go there.
"So pretty..." Usagi mused. "Yet so inexpensive."
While Usagi and the other customers, both regular patrons and walk ins, were staring at the merchandise and drooling over the prices, Naru was appalled. She had known that her mother was going to have a big sale. However, Naru had not expected her mother to say that everything in the store was literally eighty percent off. Her mother was of sound mind and body. She was also a top notch businesswoman. This sale was just lunacy.
Naru was currently trying to make her way through the throng of people in search of her mother, but she was having quite a bit of trouble. Unfortunately, most of the women in the world who wanted diamonds in the first place were stubborn, old,
fat women. And being rather skinny herself, Naru was constantly getting locked between them. Not to mention, she had no idea where her mother was in all of this commotion...
"Diamonds, diamonds, diamonds! All eighty percent off! One day only!"
Naru growled at the familiar voice coming over the megaphone. The reaction was not only because the reminder of the outrageous sale, but at the direction it was coming from... It was as far away from Naru's position as humanly possible.
"Typical..." Naru grumbled as she yanked her arm out from the old lady sandwich.
"Yes ladies!" Naru's mother shouted into the megaphone, which was really overkill in Naru's opinion. "You too can own some of the finest diamonds in the Juuban District! All because of our big, spectacular sale going on today only! All merchandise is eighty percent off!"
This and other variations of the phrase went on for another excruciating five minutes as Naru clawed her way to the front of the store. The red head took a very large gulp of air the minute she hit the street. Then she gave her mother a very dark look, which Mrs. Osaka didn't notice because she was too busy having a conversation with another woman about the sale... While speaking into the megaphone.
"Is everything really that inexpensive?" the woman asked, looking at the store with a mixed expression of skepticism and greed.
"Yes, you too can own a diamond necklace for eighty percent off its original price! And--"
"Oh, give me that!" Naru cried in exasperation, yanking the megaphone out of her mother's hands. She couldn't help but roll her eyes while the other woman dashed into the store. She shook her head and turned back to the older woman who was staring at her with a blank expression on her face. "Mother, what do you think you're doing?"
Naru's mother continued staring at her blankly for a few more seconds. Naru couldn't quite figure out why, but it made her feel ill at ease. It was almost like Mrs. Osaka didn't recognize her own daughter... However, as quickly as the fear had set in, it fled as she blinked and a wide grin spread across her face.
"Naru! I didn't realize how late it was! How was school?"
The girl raised an eyebrow at her mother's obvious attempt to change the subject.
She would have expected better from an adult, but then maybe she had expected too much. "It doesn't matter right now. I want to know what's going on. You've never had a sale like this before!"
Mrs. Osaka stared at her again for a moment, like she was trying to figure out how to respond. Naru was quite tempted to tell the woman that she wasn't asking her a question about Quantum Physics, but she held her tongue. Eventually, her mother shrugged, saying, "I know my dear, but I just woke up this morning and decided that it was time I did... And look at all the business we're getting!"
"Look at all the profit we're losing!" Naru snapped.
Her mother's face darkened instantly as she snatched the megaphone back from Naru,
taking her off guard. She backed away on instinct, drawing her hand back as if it had been scorched. "Mom?"
"Don't you take that tone with me young lady," Mrs. Osaka scolded. "Now, where was I?"
Naru eyed her mother suspiciously, more than a little shocked at her peculiar behavior. Mrs. Osaka had been acting a bit strange as she had gotten older, but that was to be expected. This on the other hand had come out of nowhere.
The fear from earlier intensified.
"I'm going to go talk to Usagi," Naru mumbled, preparing to turn and leave.
However, three seconds after Naru had said that, Mrs. Osaka gasped and said, "Oh,
Usagi's here? Your friend from school?"
Naru furrowed her brow and said, "Yes... You know, she's been my friend since kindergarten..."
"Oh, I must go see her!" And with that, Mrs. Osaka leapt into the steadily growing crowd of women in the store, leaving her daughter alone.
It didn't take very long for Mrs. Osaka to find Usagi. No sooner had she stepped into the store did she hear a high-pitched squeal, uncharacteristic of the other women in the shop. On the hand, it was very typical of a hypersensitive teenager Naturally, Mrs. Osaka followed the noise up to the front counter, somehow moving through the sea of people without getting stuck once. When she found the girl,
Usagi's face was pressed up against the glass, her eyes amazingly wide.
"Did you find something you like, Usagi?" the woman asked smoothly.
Usagi blinked and straightened at the sudden address. Then she saw who it was and smiled cheerfully, bowing out of respect. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Osaka."
"Good afternoon," Mrs. Osaka said in return, before repeating, "Did you find something?"
Usagi blushed slightly, not really knowing how to reply. After all, she couldn't the bauble she had recently fallen in love with even with the discount.
Mentioning it to the store owner, who just happened to be her best friend's mother, didn't seem ethically right.
"Tell me! You must have found something," Naru's mother pressed.
Usagi seemed to consider it for a few more seconds before giving the woman a perky nod and bouncing back over to the display case, pointing to a particular piece.
The older woman leaned in and took a look... and was impressed with the girl's choice.
The ring was definitely exquisite. It was fashioned from brilliantly polished fourteen karat white gold. The band itself was simple enough, but then the metal transformed at the top. The gold had been manipulated to form a rose in full bloom. It was extremely detailed, complete with indentations in the metal to represent the veins in the petals. And while that was amazing in and of itself,
the enormously eye-catching aspect about the ring was the exquisite, perfect white pearl in the rose's center, surrounded by diamonds almost too tiny to see. Yet it added just the right amount of drama to make the ring a little more than just another piece of jewelry.
"That is a magnificent ring..." Mrs. Osaka said, impressed with its craftsmanship.
"Do you want it?"
"You have no idea," Usagi said, her voice coming out in what sounded very close to a whine.
Mrs. Osaka blinked at the tone. "What's the matter? If you want it, why don't you--"
"Because I have no money!" Usagi wailed tragically, falling forward on the glass,
dirtying it even more than she had managed to before. "I spent the last of my allowance at the arcade, and there is no way that papa would agree to buy me this after he sees my test. Well, I did actually throw it out, but he'll still know!
Because Mama always knows just by looking at me – I swear you mothers are psychic or something – and she'll tell him and then I'll never ever get a pretty ring or a necklace or anything ever again!"
What happened next could only be described as the most painful experience most of the women in the vicinity of Osa-P Jewelry Shop would ever have to endure. For at that moment, Usagi chose to let loose an excruciatingly high pitched shriek that was more than capable of shattering the glass display cases. As the wails continued, every single woman in that store covered her ears, cringing at the racket. Even the oldest in the crowd who normally couldn't hear sounds quite that high pitched winced and turned off their hearing aids. After a few more moments of the nails-on-chalkboard-esque screech, several women dropped their merchandise and fled.
Mrs. Osaka covered her own ears, seeming to be in much more pain than the other women, possibly due to proximity. She knew she couldn't let this go on much longer. She grabbed Usagi by the shoulders and shouted, "What if I gave you the ring for free?!"
Usagi immediately stopped crying. She blinked. She stared. She blinked again.
Then she squealed, which caused a few residual winces.
The store owner quickly fished the ring from the display case in order to prevent anymore high-pitched shouts. Usagi was once again leaping up and down in a way that was comparable to a rabbit, but thankfully she only squealed once more.
Perhaps her throat hurt nearly as much as their ears did.
A few moments later, Mrs. Osaka was holding out the ring in front of her, glad to have stopped her crying. "There you are Usagi. Consider it your birthday present for the next five years."
"Oh!" Usagi gasped, carefully taking the ring from the older woman's hands as many people treated a newborn baby, afraid it might break. She stared at it,
absolutely mesmerized by the wondrous accessory that was now not only in her hands but in her possession. It was unthinkable. It was impossible. And yet, there it was. And here it was, happening to her. With that in mind, there was really only one thing she could do.
Throw her arms around Mrs. Osaka and thank her profusely...
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,
thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you..."
Naru stormed up to the pair, gaping in utter disbelief at the display. She had been wondering if something was wrong with her mother just moments before... Now she was sure of it. Her mother had gone off the deep end. And no, it wasn't just the menopause. "What do you think you're doing? You can't just give away merchandise!"
Usagi pouted, her shoulders slumping as she turned to face her friend. "But Naru..."
"And how could you accept it?" Naru continued, scandalized. "Honestly, Usagi sometimes you are so immature! That ring costs money. You can't just take it like that!"
Usagi sighed pitifully and whined, "But Naru... I've had such a horrible day! I mean, I got a bad grade on my test and then that guy made fun of me. He gave me that horrible nickname!"
Naru narrowed her eyes and said, "It doesn't give you the right to accept such a gift!"
Mrs. Osaka intervened, holding up her hands in a futile attempt to placate her daughter. "Now Naru, there's no need to get upset with Usagi... I gave her the ring."
"I'm not saying that was right either," Naru said sternly. "Mother, first you hold this crazy sale, and now you're giving it away for free?! What are you thinking?
Unfortunately for Naru, her mother, and Usagi, a hush had just happened to fall over the patrons in the store at the exact same moment that Naru said the word 'free.' Thus, every woman in the store heard that word, uttered only in dreams for most. They looked in the direction of where it was said like a cat searching for its prey. It was easy enough to recognize Mrs. Osaka as the owner of the store... It was really only logical that they considered it an official announcement in spite of the lack of a megaphone.
"Did she say free?"
"Everything's for free?"
"I don't have to pay for this stuff?"
"Let me through!"
"Give me that!"
"I want it all!"
And with that everyone in the tiny shop suddenly swarmed forward towards the front. If it had been compact before, it was even more so now. All of the women struggled to get through to see if they had in fact heard correctly or something along those lines. A few seconds later, Usagi crawled out between someone's legs,
ring and schoolbooks in hand. She glanced back for a moment to see how the Osakas were doing in the mass of customers, but she could no longer pick out their trademark red hair. She sighed, a little depressed at Naru's reaction...
Then she saw the ring and decided that Naru would forgive her eventually... Usagi slipped it on her finger, giggled again and skipped happily out of the store.
That left Mrs. Osaka to contend with the hysterical customers, trying to assure them that they had heard wrong, shouting into the megaphone that she had retrieved from her daughter.
"I'm sorry, ladies, but the merchandise is not for free. However, keep in mind that Osa-P Jewelry Shop is offering you the lowest prices on the highest quality jewelry in town! Come and get it now! We're closing in a few hours!"
Naru just stared at the woman in disbelief... This was not the shrewd business woman that she knew. This was not the mother she knew.
It was black. And the black thing was everywhere, encroaching on his consciousness. It moved like a living, breathing thing. It was chaotic, parts of it twisting and looping around while others moved in sharp, jagged lines and others still in a straight line. It was one thing made up of many parts. It had been far away at first, just on the edge of his vision. But it had intruded slowly like a panther attacking him, ready to devour. It had not overtaken him.
Not yet. But he knew that was what it wanted. And that terrified him more than anything else in the world because he knew it, but he didn't know how he knew it.
It was a familiar fear and for a minute it he could of sworn he saw the silhouette of a girl with a big red bow and mysterious smile with eyes that had seen too much. Then it became that of a witch out of his nightmares, hair standing straight on end towards the heavens like fire, an accusing finger pointing at the gods and cursing them for their transgressions. Then it was another girl whose features were blurred and unclear, but he knew her from more than one lifetime.
He thought maybe the black thing was making him see things until he saw the tiniest point of impossibly vivid light piercing through its heart. No, not its heart. That was wrong. This thing didn't have a heart. It didn't have a consciousness. It just was. And whatever it was it was evil. He didn't like to use that word because it was something that should only be used in bad anime for little kids, but there wasn't any other word to say what the black thing was. It was evil.
But the light wasn't evil. The light was good. It was pure. It was powerful.
And dare he say it, it was magical. And it was growing exponentially, radiating more and more as it sliced the black thing in half from the center out. And then the black that had filled his vision turned to white. It was too bright,
impossible for him to look at. He wanted to close his eyes, but he couldn't and he didn't know why. He had to keep looking at it and that was when he figured out that the light was not white but silver. He could just barely tell the difference, but it was just another one of those things that he knew in the bottom of his heart.
This time it wasn't scary. He felt warm. Comforted. Loved. Yes, he felt loved.
And he felt like he knew why but he couldn't form the thoughts fast enough. It slipped away like sand before he could grasp it.
Then in the white, no silver, he saw a girl. He knew it was a girl and she was in white. He saw shimmering gold coming off of her forehead and trailing down to the ground if there was any ground for her to stand on. He could see her eyes though.
They were as clear as crystal. At first he noticed that they were the most beautiful shade of blue he had ever seen and he thought that he would have liked nothing better than to stare at them from now into infinity.
But he saw how sad they were. Desperate. Anguished. In pain. Horribly lonely.
He didn't want to look into those eyes that seemed pleading and accusing anymore.
He wanted to look away but he couldn't move. He wasn't sure how to.
He heard a voice and even though her lips weren't moving, he knew that it was her voice. It was incredibly loud, reverberating off of the walls of his consciousness and making his own heart vibrate within his chest. She was asking him for something. She wanted him to do something. Find something? But even though she was loud he couldn't hear her. He couldn't figure out what it was she was trying to say. He tried to scream to tell her that he didn't understand but his voice failed him.
She turned away from him, disappointed. Betrayed. He had betrayed her. Not just now but before. He had done something horribly wrong before. He had failed her before. But he didn't know when before was. He kept trying to yell, but she didn't hear him. Then the blackness raged back into view as the car plummeted off the cliff and into oblivion.
His voice finally worked as his eyes flew open.
"Princess!" Mamoru shouted at top of voice, his throat raw and dry even though he knew he had not said one word while he slept. He hadn't said a word in the dream. That killed him inside for reasons he couldn't discern.
Mamoru sat there for a few minutes, his back ramrod straight. He was soaked to the bone with his own sweat. He could barely catch his breath. For a minute he thought maybe he was dying or having an asthma attack. Then he realized that his heart was pounding like an African war drum in his chest. Somehow that was a morbid comfort to him. He was freezing, shivering with the cold in spite of the warm weather and the blankets on top of him. His eyes were wide and burning,
water leaking from them. It wasn't so much that he was upset, but he hadn't even dared to blink in the five minutes that he had been awake.
He finally did shut his eyes for a minute and that stung even more than before.
He rubbed the aching organs, taking deeper breaths to try and soothe his own irrational fear. At long last, he could breathe again.
"That dream again..." Mamoru whispered hoarsely.
Yes, it had been that dream again... That dream with the white princess. She had never identified herself as such. But he had started having the dreams when he was a very little boy; six as a matter of fact. Any small child would automatically label a beautiful (or at least presumed to be beautiful since he had never actually seen her face) dream girl a princess. He had the dreams for several years earlier in his life and it had always been the same. The background changed from time to time... Sometimes she was standing in front of what looked eerily like the Taj Mahal but it seemed a lot grander than even that. Sometimes she stood in a sea of fog and he could barely even make out her trademark gold hair. And sometimes she was standing on a lake, walking on the water or hovering just above it, staring at a crescent moon that was too close to her to be real.
But other than that, nothing else changed. She always looked at him with those same despairing eyes. She always asked him for help. He never heard her.
The dreams had greatly upset him as a child. He had the same dream night after night for nearly three years before he finally told one of his few friends in the orphanage about it. He really should have known better than to impart this detail of his life onto that particular friend as he had never been able to keep a secret even if his life depended on it. He had promptly informed one of the caretakers,
not forgetting to mention how much it distressed Mamoru. She had promptly used what little resources they had to find a good but relatively inexpensive child psychologist. It took another year and a half, but he had stopped having the dreams.
Now they had come back, and he didn't know why.
But the most unsettling part of this was that the dream had been different. The black thing that had terrified him so much he had bitten his tongue in his sleep had not been there before.
But that was wrong. It had been there in the last year he had seen the dream. It hovered just on the edges of the vision, just like it had today. But it had never moved. It was stationary. It was practically... It had been dead. For whatever reason now it had tried to overtake him and his princess... And he didn't know why that was either.
After all of these years, why was he having that dream again? He couldn't say that he had forgotten it. He remembered his princess after all this time. She certainly wasn't at the forefront of his mind at every waking or slumbering moment. She just happened to be a part of his childhood that he reflected on every now and again. It was one of the few things from his younger years that he let himself think about. But in spite of the memories, the dream had not returned.
"Why?" Mamoru whispered again. "Why now after all this time?"
Then he heard somebody clear their throat.
He blinked, looking around frantically. He didn't live with anyone. No one but the super had a key, and it wasn't like he was going to randomly come into his apartment. The only other possible explanation was a burglar. But what burglar announced their presence?
"Over here," said a distinctly female voice with a long suffering sigh.
Mamoru's eyes flitted over to the window where he saw the sun almost halfway hidden by the horizon. The light filtered in more intensely than it did in the morning thanks to the direction his apartment faced. He flinched slightly at the direct light... Then he noticed a silhouette sitting in the window. He couldn't tell much about her, save that whoever she was had a habit of flicking her tail back and forth.
Mamoru blinked. Several times in succession.
The shadow bounded forward with a scoff and bounded onto his bed. She didn't shake the bed much since she wasn't all that heavy to begin with. His eyes followed her and he watched in shock as she padded towards him on four furry little paws and stared up at him with an impatient, tawny gaze. Her whiskers twitched several times. He got the impression that if she could balance well enough, she would have been tapping one of her hindquarters and folded her arms across her chest.
This cat was very annoyed with him.
Mamoru eyed the cat apprehensively, tilting his head slightly. He was running into way too many familiar people... Well, things lately. "You're that cat from earlier..." he muttered absently. "What are you doing here?" He snorted suddenly and added, "What's wrong with me? Talking to cats... What are you going to do?
"That would be the polite thing to do now, wouldn't it?" she asked.
She sighed in exasperation and sat down roughly. "This is going to take longer than I anticipated. Look--"
"You can't talk."
Now it was her turn to blink. If the cat had possessed eyebrows, she would arched one at that particular moment. "Really? Funny because my mouth is moving and words are coming out of it. Is that not the general definition of talking?"
"No," Mamoru said, shaking his head. "I mean you can't talk. It is physiologically impossible for a cat to talk. At least like a human being. I don't know about your own language, but you can't speak Japanese. I know. I'm going to be a doctor."
Mamoru belatedly realized that it was very strange for him to be lecturing a talking cat on how she couldn't speak, but he rationalized that he was going through one of two things. He was either still dreaming, which was entirely possible, or he was crazy. He supposed that was possible as well, but if that was the case this was quite possibly to fastest psychotic break in recent history.
In any event, if the feline had been perturbed before, she was even more so now.
She frowned rather effectively and kept right on talking. He didn't know why. He had just told her that she couldn't physically accomplish the task. It was foolish to keep fighting that unquestionable fact in his opinion.
"Chiba Mamoru, I am talking to you, physical impossibility or not. And get used to it because I don't often remain silent." She paused and muttered something under her breath. He wasn't sure if he had heard right, but he could have sworn she said (not that he was admitting she could talk of course) that there was a certain white cat who suffered from the same problem to a greater degree.
"What was that?"
"Never mind," the cast said hurriedly. "Anyway, just... consider me an anomaly.
Truth be told, I suppose I am one anyway."
"But I'm telling you, it's impossible--"
"Mamoru," she said sternly. "Put away the scientist in you for a moment and just listen. I can't say that this is going to make sense exactly, but... You'll understand when I'm done."
Mamoru was still quite convinced that he was right and he had to be dreaming and/or hallucinating. Maybe he was overworked or something. But if that was the case, then there was really no harm in allowing the cat to defy the laws of nature for a little while. He would wake up in a few minutes anyway and not remember a thing. Or he'd have a new imaginary pet. Either way, he was still groggy and willing to go along with this.
"All right," the cat said, perking up slightly. "My name is Luna, and I am one of the last remaining defenders of an ancient era. You're one of them too, Mamoru.
I wouldn't have realized it if you hadn't removed the bandages earlier. I've been searching for months, and you are the first one I found. I don't think it's a coincidence that I found you now. I have a feeling that you're going to be needed very soon...
"But I'm getting ahead of myself. You and I are the only active defenders still around, but there are more that we need to find. I need you to help me find them and to fight against the enemy."
Mamoru stared at her for a moment. He wasn't entirely sure why, but he was actually following this line of discussion. He was equally baffled when he actually said, "But what am I defending?"
"You are protecting the Moon Kingdom, a thousand year old civilization. It is your task to protect it and to find the other defenders: the Sailor Senshi,
guardians of the Silver Millennium. When the warriors convene, then and only then will the true object of the search reveal herself... The Princess of the Moon."
"It's not fair," Usagi stated in such a way that one would have thought she had just answered a math problem correctly. Her words were not up for dispute. And to Tsukino Usagi, being forced to walk all the way to the Osa-P Jewelry Shop to return a ring that had been given to her by the owner was quite possible the most unfair grievance she had ever had to endure.
Usagi had arrived home shortly after leaving Naru and her mother to their own devices. She had been floating on Cloud 9 by the time she got there, thus she didn't immediately notice the look her mother was giving her. As a matter of fact, she had skipped merrily past Ikuko, who was livid as usual. A few moments later, Usagi was ripped from heaven, her balloon was burst, and she was forced to face reality.
Unfortunately, Usagi had not counted on her mother running into Umino, a nerdy boy from her class, at the market. She really should have considering the boy was practically stalking her and he was none too subtle about it. Frankly, he was neither discreet nor especially bright when it came to romance. Umino had somehow gotten the idea that the way to her heart was through her parents. Therefore, he had been sure to make friends with Ikuko and Kenji, "coincidentally" running into them just about every day. To make matters worse, Umino had a very annoying habit of talking. Bothersome that. But when Umino talked, it was a grueling task to either get him to stop talking altogether or to have him avoid sensitive subjects... Such as Usagi's grades. So naturally, every single time there was a big test that Usagi did not do well on, which just happened to be every test she had taken for the past two years, the blonde came home to one very angry mother. Umino would always open a conversation with how high he had scored.
Which led to the inevitable query of how Usagi had done.
Umino was also an incorrigible gossip who insisted on knowing everything there was to know about everyone he knew... including Usagi's grade point average. What's worse was that he saw no problem with telling Usagi's parents her scores.
Today had been no different.
Ikuko had immediately demanded to see the test, shouting something about how it couldn't possibly be true. No daughter of hers could get such a low score. And hadn't she studied for this test the night before? And did she need to get her a tutor? And where was the test? She had to see the test. She had to see the actual piece of paper before she accepted her daughter's grade.
She knew she shouldn't have thrown the test away, but she was hoping that she could get away with it just this once. In retrospect, she should have known better. But anyway Usagi was now faced with the problem of somehow telling her mother that yes, her daughter was a failure and no, she did not wish to be executed for her misdeeds. Sadly, Usagi was unable to articulate a word of that.
She sat there stammering for a good three minutes, wringing her hands and gesturing to try and get her point across.
And then Ikuko saw the ring.
The woman had let out a shriek that rivaled her own daughter's in terms of volume and pitch. She grabbed Usagi's wrist and demanded to know where she had gotten it. And if she had stolen it? And how could she have brought such shame on the family? And if she hadn't stolen the ring, where had she gotten the money for it?
And had she stolen that to buy the ring? And why oh why couldn't she have a daughter that didn't spend all of her spare time letting her down?
Well, Ikuko hadn't exactly said that, but that was the general impression Usagi had gotten. Once the older woman had actually managed to calm down, Usagi explained that Mrs. Osaka had given her the ring. Of course, Ikuko didn't believe her, and it took about fifteen minutes of promising and swearing on her grandmother's grave and her manga collection before Ikuko believed that her daughter had not stolen the ring. Then Usagi was forced to sit through a lecture about how she shouldn't have accepted such an expensive gift.
After what felt like days trapped under Ikuko's chocolate brown glare, Usagi had reluctantly agreed to return the ring in order to avoid certain death and/or extra chores. The blonde had even conceded not to wear the bauble anymore... But only because she didn't want to get any more attached to the jewelry. Usagi left the house and after swinging by the arcade to talk to Motoki, the current love of her life, order a sundae, play a few video games, order another sundae, lose at the crane game, and get another sundae to go before Motoki finally kicked her out,
she was on her way to the Osakas.
Usagi reached in her pocket and fingered the ring for the hundredth time that evening. She let out a long sigh, whimpering quietly. It really wasn't fair.
Mrs. Osaka had given her the ring! She couldn't understand why Naru and her mother had gotten so upset about it. It wasn't like she had robbed the woman or hypnotized her or something like that. She hadn't even wanted to tell her which ring she wanted. Mrs. Osaka had forced the information on her and then practically shoved the ring in her pocket!
Okay, maybe she hadn't done that, but it was close enough. If the woman wanted to give away her merchandise, let her! It wasn't as if the Osakas would be lacking for money. The family was a lot wealthier than they appeared. Frankly,
Usagi didn't understand why Naru didn't flaunt it more often, but then the girl had always been a little stranger than most.
But regardless of their financial situation or the fact that Usagi would become a Reverse Indian Giver, she was returning the precious ring... And it wasn't fair.
Usagi let out another woeful moan as she looked up, her eyes catching a brightly colored poster out of the corner of her eye. She stopped walking, gazing up at it enviously. It was a picture of a girl with long blonde hair in a short skirted sailor suit and a stylish red mask. She had a cocky smile on her lips and a glowing crescent on her forehead. It was none other than the mysterious heroine,
Sailor V. Supposedly she was just a creation for a new anime franchise, but Umino had told her that there was some evidence that she had been active in London over the past year...
"Sailor V..." Usagi sighed wistfully. "She's so cool. Fighting monsters and criminals with magic. Idolized by millions. She's even got her own anime!" She paused. "And I bet she has a lot of rings."
With that, Usagi barely resisted the temptation to bang her head against the wall to distract herself from the pain of injustice and then went along her way.
Five minutes later, Usagi arrived at the darkened jewelry shop. It was after hours, but Usagi knew from experience that the store would still be open while Mrs. Osaka was doing inventory in the back. Naru helped her most nights, and sometimes (when Ikuko had kicked her out of the house) Usagi would come by and pitch in. Usagi pulled the door open, surprised and a little scared at how dark and quiet the showroom was...
She gulped loudly and was very glad that no one was around to see a fourteen year old acting like she was afraid of the dark...
Then she realized that she was alone in the dark and she gulped louder.
"Hello?" Usagi called out quietly, her voice trembling slightly. "Is anyone here?
Mrs. Osaka? Naru? Are you home?" She pulled the ring out of her pocket, giving it one last wistful glance. She muttered something about unfair mothers before calling out again. "I came to return the ring... Mama wouldn't let me keep it.
Hello? Where are you?"
Just then, the grandfather clock struck eight o'clock, chiming to signify the hour... Very loudly. And since the store had been strangely silent up until that point, it took Usagi off guard. She yelped in fright, jumping a few feet in the air. She was so surprised that she dropped the ring.
It rolled away from her... And started glowing along with the rest of the jewelry in the shop.
Elsewhere, a little six year old was dancing around her room gleefully, singing along to the latest pop sensation. She didn't understand half of the lyrics and she was dreadfully off-key, but she neither noticed nor cared. In her mind, her voice was even prettier than the lady on the radio. And she would gladly tell that to anyone who asked. Or anyone who didn't ask to be honest. She jumped on the bed even though she knew full well that she wasn't supposed to. The radio was blasting in spite of her parents' multiple requests for her to turn it down, or better yet off. It was getting close to bed time. But she hadn't listened to them. Or maybe she hadn't been able to hear them. Either way, she was rebelling at an early age. Like her daddy always said, she was six going on sixteen.
The little girl continued flitting about her pink and yellow room, blissfully unaware of the troubles in the world and completely innocent of all crime. Well,
almost all crime. She had technically stolen something, but it wasn't like she wasn't going to give it back. But if her daddy came in and saw her with it,
she was bound to get a spanking.
She scrambled over to her mirror on the other side of the room, admiring the shining jewel pinned to her pink frilly nightgown. It was a dragonfly, and she had always liked bugs in spite of her typical affinity for pink and ballerinas.
She fiddled with the brooch so that it caught the light at different parts on the dragonfly, shimmering more than anything she had ever seen before. The whole thing was covered in diamonds. But for the two big eyes on its head were two big pearls. It was by far the prettiest thing the six year old had ever seen.
Of course, it wasn't hers. She bit her lip guiltily as she remembered sneaking into her grandmother's room earlier and filching it from her jewelry box. Her grandmother had shown her the new brooch the minute she came home from shopping.
It wasn't the only brooch she had, but it was the only dragonfly brooch. And it was definitely the shiniest thing the old woman owned. She had several diamonds in her possession, but nothing like this!
She had asked her grandmother if she could wear it, but the woman had forbidden it, claiming the little girl was bound to break it. She had pitched a fit. She had cried. She had thrown a tantrum or two. She even tossed her teddy bear in a pink tutu at the door to grandmother's room when she had retired for a nap,
ignoring the girl's screams as always. But not before she mentioned to her son-in-law that he should stop spoiling the girl and give her a good spanking.
The girl had calmed down when she heard those familiar words. She had never actually been spanked, but she had heard stories about it from her friends. She didn't want to find out how it felt. But even with that in mind, she had still ventured into her grandmother's room an hour later and stolen the pin. She had been locked up in her room for the past half hour, dancing to the music and admiring the pin.
Her father knocked on the door. "Turn that down! Don't make me come in there!"
The girl gasped, glancing wide-eyed at the door like it was the boogeyman or something. She knew she couldn't risk him coming in and finding her with the pin.
She had promptly scrambled over the radio, calling out, "Yes Daddy!" She reached for the volume control.
"This is WKRP, and it's eight o'clock in Tokyo! You know what that means..."
The pin on the young girl's nightgown flashed.
Actually, she didn't know what that meant, but she never got to find out. Her hand was poised over the volume button when she suddenly felt like she was about to fall asleep. She fell down almost immediately, unable to hold up her own weight. She clutched her stomach, wondering if this was like the stomach flu she had gotten the month before. But her stomach didn't hurt, and she didn't want to throw up. She just felt really tired and everything was getting blurry.
"Daddy..." she croaked out quietly. "I think I'm sick again..."
By the time her father had managed to find the key to her room, his daughter was passed out on the floor. The radio was still blasting pop songs at the top volume. A brown pigtail covered up any evidence of foul play.
A young woman was walking along a shaded path in the park, arm in arm with the most perfect man in the universe as far as she was concerned. Well, he did have a number of faults that had aggravated her on many an occasion, but at the moment,
she could forget about them. After all, how could she be in any way irritated with a man who had just dropped to one knee in the middle of a crowded restaurant and asked for her hand in marriage?
She sighed happily, grasping his arm tightly and snuggling as they continued on their silent walk. She didn't know how long they had been walking like this,
where they were going, or when they would stop. And frankly, she didn't care.
She just wanted to be with this man, now and forever. They didn't need to go anywhere. They didn't need to do anything. They didn't need to say a word. They just had to be together.
She smiled as she felt her boyfriend... her fiancé bend down and kiss her hair tenderly. He had been quite relieved when she had burst into tears in the restaurant, thrown her arms around him, and shouted yes at lest fifty-seven times.
Apparently he had been quite concerned that she was going to say no. She couldn't think of why... They hadn't gotten into a fight in the past few weeks, a record for them. He hadn't done anything stupid as of late. It wasn't that dreaded time of the month. His mother hadn't mentioned how much she didn't like her son's choice romantic partner and tried to fix him up with one of her batty old friend's ugly, fat daughters recently... Well, not that she had heard anyway. So what was there to worry about?
She decided that men were just an enigma that she would never understand.
But then, even if his mother had been sitting right next to her, shrieking like a harpy at how her son deserved better and how she would disown him if he didn't take back the proposal right then and there, even if they hadn't been speaking for two weeks, and even if she had run out of Midol(TM), she would have said yes.
True love conquers all and all that. Till death do them part. Sticking together through thick and thin. Forever and a day, eternity and beyond.
Then again she would have said yes for the ring alone.
Her grey eyes sparkled as she glanced back down at the glittering diamonds now adorning her left ring finger... The ring was strikingly superb. It was a silver band, as her fiancé knew that she thought gold was rather tacky. That would have been enough to maker her appreciate the piece and acknowledge that the man at her side wasn't a thoughtless boob after all. But it was so gorgeous that she could barely take her eyes off of it. In center was a perfectly formed marquise diamond that looked about as big as her thumbnail. On either side of that center gem were two large round diamonds fixed vertically into the ring. And further down on the band were three smaller diamonds on either side in a horizontal row. It had practically blinded her when he had flipped open the ring box with trembling hands. She had been tempted to ask how he had managed to afford it, but she decided against it. It was best not to spoil the romantic mood that he had created.
She sighed happily, gazing up at the full moon above them. She couldn't remember the last time the night had been so clear. She would swear on a stack of Bibles that she could see every star in the Solar System from where they were standing.
The park around them was completely silent. Nobody else was around. It was like they were the only people left on Earth.
She looked up at her fiancé, grinning wickedly. He returned the smirk and slowly bent his head to meet hers. Her eyes fluttered closed as she wrapped her arms around his neck, standing up on tiptoe. She left her eyes open just the tiniest bit to catch one more glimpse of the ring, just to make sure it really was there.
Then she let herself slip into the embrace of darkness and her fiancé, tilting her head just slightly to the right...
Her fianc's watch beeped loudly, letting them know that it was eight o'clock.
The ring on her left hand flashed.
She backed off suddenly, feeling like a sledgehammer had just wished a very unhappy hello to the side of her head. She heard her fiancé apologize for the interruption, but his voice sounded far away... And it was getting softer. Her eyes were still closed. She wanted to open them, but she couldn't. She swayed on her feet, whimpering quietly for her love. She felt her legs start to buckle.
The last thing she felt before she slipped into total, impenetrable darkness was her fianc's strong arms wrapping around her. He called out to her, his voice cracking and ripping the silence of the night apart. He didn't know why or how,
but she was too far away to hear him anymore.
A woman was cooking a late dinner for her family somewhere in the Juuban district.
Her two sons were at Cram School all afternoon, and her husband worked late hours to ensure that they received a good education in the finest schools. Not to mention, she often had a lot to do what with running errands, cleaning, visiting friends, and a plethora of other thing that housewives were wont to do. Hence, it was perfectly natural that she should be cooking a dinner late in the evening.
But there was one thing different about tonight. She had gone shopping that day and happened to pass by a jewelry shop that was having a sale. Normally, she would not have dared to venture in there on her family's tight budget. In spite of the practical, frugal side of her telling her to keep walking, she had stopped in. After all, this wasn't just any sale. Everything was so inexpensive! And her husband had just gotten the tiniest pay raise recently... And she hadn't bought any real jewelry in what felt like forever...
The happy go lucky side of her won out and she ventured in. She had even found a reasonably priced heart-shaped gold locket with one diamond chip in the center.
She had been unable to pass it up. She had wanted a locket for a long time, and to find such a nice one at such a small a price... She had gotten it and immediately gone home to place her wedding picture on one side and her sons'
picture on the other.
She smiled happily at her slowly swelling tummy. She didn't know what she was going to do when their daughter arrived in a few more months.
Still and all, she had shown her husband the purchase immediately... After she shredded the receipt and assured him that the diamond was actually a rhinestone and that the silver was fake. There was no way she was telling him it was real.
Even if it had been cheap, he would have blown a gasket.
She finished adding the appropriate amount of oregano to the marinara sauce and tasted it just to be sure. She smiled happily. It was perfect. She was hardly the best cook in the world. It was always nice when she managed to get something right.
The rest of the meal was already laid out on the dining room table, place settings and all. She only had to do was lug the tub of sauce out there and it was done.
She turned the stove off and wiped her hands on her apron. Then she stuck her head out into the living room and shouted, "Dinner's ready!"
"All right!" cried the older of the two boys.
"I'm starving," agreed his younger look alike.
Their father chuckled and slowly made his way to the table, taking the time to turn off the television set on his way.
The woman made her way back into the kitchen and picked up the pot full of bubbling spaghetti sauce. She was careful to use pot holders and move slowly.
Naturally her husband would get flustered the minute he saw that she was lifting something heavy and take it from her. He was very worried about the baby... It was annoying, but sweet.
The cuckoo came out of the small wooden doors, chirping to let them know it was eight o'clock.
The locket flashed on her throat.
The woman suddenly felt very tired. She didn't know why. She had felt perfectly awake a moment before. But there was no mistaking it. Her eyelids felt like they were being pulled down with weights. She was moving slowly and every step seemed to take monumental effort. She no longer felt like she could hold onto the pot of marinara sauce. And she was getting dizzy...
The pot clattered to floor, red liquid spilling all over the kitchen floor. The woman followed soon after, collapsing to the floor. The sauce spread out from underneath her, like blood pouring from a wound.
Usagi rubbed her eyes as she tried to regain her vision. The bright flash had managed to blind her for a few seconds. She couldn't see much of anything through the spots that had formed in front of her eyes. Usagi wasn't sure if she should be annoyed at the temporary inconvenience or be wary of what had just happened.
She may not have been the brightest girl on the face of the earth, but she did know that jewelry didn't just light up when it felt like it. It didn't light up period.
"What is going on?" Usagi murmured, rubbing the last bit of obstruction from her vision.
She looked around the store to see if anything else weird was happening. But the jewelry had stopped glowing. The clock had gone back to ticking away the seconds until the quarter hour, when it would chime again. And it was still dark and utterly empty.
She gulped for a third time at the memory. Usagi decided that the best thing to do was to go fetch Naru and her mother. They should know that there was something really weird about the jewelry they had not managed to sell that day.
The blonde turned on her heel and ran towards the stairs at the back of the building, leaving the rose ring where it lay on the floor. She would go up to the top level, the penthouse apartment Naru shared with her mother. Usagi had always thought it was a little weird that they lived above their store, but now she was grateful for it.
Usagi jogged past the storeroom when she heard a strange sound... like something hitting the floor. The blonde froze in mid-step, the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. Unidentifiable noises that one heard from behind in a dark,
empty, scary place were never a good sign. She would have rather done her Algebra homework than see one, but Shingo had made her watch enough for her to know that it was a classic sign. Surely this meant that there was some kind of monster/
erial killer/alien in the store, and it was going to kill her. She could keep running and be eaten/slain/abducted just outside the Osakas door and safety. Or she could turn around and put up a fight... sort of.
The obvious choice was to run. She even started to make a mad dash for the stairs when she heard a quiet groan from inside the storeroom. That made Usagi stop again. She knew that voice. She'd known it since kindergarten.
The thought of a friend in danger made Usagi halt her retreat. Running in order to save her own life was one thing. But abandoning a friend... That was something Usagi wasn't sure she would be able to live with. That was assuming she was going to live of course. Regardless, she would not let Naru be eaten/murdered/abducted alone.
Usagi made yet another attempt to roll up her nonexistent sleeves, remembering too late that she still didn't have any. She glared at her arms as if they had committed a mortal offense against her. Then she said a number of unkind things about demons hiding in shadows and glowing jewelry and stalked over to the storeroom door.
The blonde got there and was quite surprised to see light pouring out from under the door. She had been sure that no one was back here. Hadn't they heard her call? Maybe the unnamed villain had been here all this time. Had he prevented them from answering?
There was only one way to find out.
As much as she didn't want to, Usagi took a deep breath and stormed into the room.
The first thing she saw was Naru sprawled out on the floor. She was clutching an expensive looking diamond necklace that she must have been putting back here.
Usagi noticed that Naru looked a lot paler than she normally did and that her breathing was shallow.
"Naru!" Usagi cried out in shock, lunging forward. She immediately tried to take her friend's pulse, but was unable to find it. Of course she was obviously breathing. She had to be alive. But Usagi was panicking. She didn't know what to do.
"Naru!" Usagi repeated, gripping her friend's shoulders and shaking her slightly.
"Can you hear me? Are you all right? Oh no... What happened?"
It was at that point that Usagi happened to glance up, looking to heaven for help in this matter. She furrowed her brow when she saw that the light bulb was in fact not on. However, it was still incredibly bright in the room. As a matter of fact, it was a lot brighter than she ever remembered it being.
A shadow passed across Usagi's face.
Usagi turned absolutely white when she felt the movement behind her. Granted it could have been Mrs. Osaka... But she highly doubted that considering she was tied up next to the door Usagi had come through. That left one very unpleasant prospect.
Her heart was beating impossibly loud.
She had broken out into a cold sweat.
Her muscles weren't moving fast enough as she turned to face whatever was behind her.
Her eyes grew to an impossible size when she saw the monstrosity before her.
She could do nothing else but scream.
Some distance away, Chiba Mamoru had actually spent his evening arguing with a cat. Worse yet, it was yelling right back at him. Ironically, the subject of half of the rather heated discussion was whether or not Luna could actually talk.
Yes, the words were coming out of her mouth in perfectly accented Japanese, but it wasn't possible. He had to be dreaming. Then when she had scratched him to show that he was awake, he had to be hallucinating. That was going to take some more convincing on Luna's part. It wasn't like she could go up to a random stranger on the street and ask if they heard her as well. She didn't even want to consider what that would lead to.
The other half of the conversation wasn't going any better. That half had to do with the cat's odd announcement. A lot of the comments on Mamoru's part still dwelled on the insane, but now he was questioning her sanity. He briefly thought that it was a very well developed hallucination if the projected image was also insane, but he had to dismiss it quickly. He would commend himself on the achievement later.
For now, he had to convince the cat that there was no possible way that he was part of a thousand year old civilization. After all, the moon couldn't sustain life! And if there had been a kingdom, where were the ruins? How come no one else knew about it? How did it fit up there next to the rabbit?
That had gotten Luna somewhat hot under the collar.
He was about to make some kind of comment about this seeming like something out of a poorly written anime, when he was suddenly struck with the worst migraine in his life. It suddenly exploded behind his left eye and his vision clouded over.
Mamoru couldn't help but cry out, clutching his head. He could hear Luna asking if he was all right from somewhere far away, but he wasn't paying attention. All he could hear was the sound of a scream. The voice was familiar, but it wasn't from his dreams or from a fabled past life. It was happening at that very moment.
He could feel it.
Suddenly, he felt something hot like fire surge through him. The pain in his head only intensified. He tried to grip it harder, but he wasn't in control of his hands. He wasn't even sure if he could feel his hands any more. He didn't feel any part of his body, but he somehow knew that he was moving. But he wasn't the one doing it. He couldn't think about that for long though. All he could feel and process was the blazing flames... But then it wasn't fire. It wasn't warm like fire. It was prickly. Intense. Powerful. And dare he think it?
A moment later, the pain was gone. He slowly opened his eyes... Only to see a man clad in tuxedo, domino mask, and top hat staring back at him. He didn't recognize himself at first.
He looked over to Luna with an accusing curl in his lip. He was about to yell at her when he saw that she was as stunned as he was. She hadn't done this... He had done this. Sort of. But why?
The pain came back tenfold. He heard the scream again.
Someone needed his help.
Without a single word to the black cat on his bed, he picked her up, ignoring the yowl of surprise. He knew he didn't have a moment to waste on talking. It was in complete silence that he rushed forward, bursting through his glass window twenty stories above the earth...
Meanwhile, Tsukino Usagi was running for her life.
After she had laid eyes on the... whatever-it-was with brown, wrinkled skin,
yellow eyes and two inch fangs dressed in a purple frock identical to the one the unconscious Mrs. Osaka was wearing, she had thought of nothing else to do.
Following her terrified shriek of course. And now she was continuing her master plan of "run for your life" all throughout the store. She had attempted to escape several times without success. Every time she got near the exit, it was somehow there to block her way. And considering it was about three feet taller than her with nails that went on for miles, she decided not to try and get past it.
"What is going on?!" Usagi cried as she just managed to slip away from the youma's grasp. Yes, she had just been thinking that Sailor V's life was glamorous if she got to fight these things, but that didn't mean that she actually wanted to do it!
She just wanted the ring! She didn't want to run into a demon! They weren't even supposed to exist! Sailor V only fought crime in real life. That was the reality. Monsters weren't real.
Usagi sprang forward when she felt a rush of air go past her head. The monster had taken another swipe at her head. Unfortunately, her attempt to save her skull only served to send her sprawling, scraping her knee on the floor. She clutched it, hissing in pain... Then she looked back up at the monster and realized she was about to feel a lot more than that. She stared up at the demon, blue eyes wide with terror. Her body reacted instinctively as the thing slowly advanced. She crawled backwards, trembling and whimpering. She almost wanted to plead for her life... But she couldn't form the words.
"Why aren't you like the others?" the monster hissed as it continued stalking towards her.
Usagi blinked in surprise, but she never stopped her retreat. She opened her mouth to speak, but the only thing that came out was a few squeaks. She was scared speechless.
"Why aren't you wearing the ring?" the monster said, glancing hungrily at her fingers. Usagi curled up her hands into fists, hiding the appendages. She was getting a feeling that they might be demon delicacy or something. "You loved it.
Why aren't you wearing it?"
Usagi was still in shock that the vampire (if that was what it was) was actually trying to carry on a conversation... And about the ring of all things! She was shocked to discover that the monster had been Naru's mother all along, but she still couldn't express herself intelligently. She didn't seem to be able to move anymore either...
Usagi realized with a sinking heart that she had backed herself into a corner.
The monster above her smiled, a perfect white fang peaking out from her parted lips. She reached down to the cowering teenager with lightning fast reflexes,
grasping her around the throat. Usagi managed to let out one last scream before her airway was effectively cut off. The youma lifted her up effortlessly,
slamming her against the wall. Usagi tried to pry off the demon's vile hands or kick her, but she didn't have the strength.
The youma studied her with interest. "Maybe there's a human who can detect our magic... Jadeite won't be happy about that."
Usagi wasn't listening. She was just trying to survive. Her efforts were weakening as she began to experience tunnel vision.
"Well, even though you managed to evade our device, it was foolish to try and challenge me. You should have known better little girl... It was all rather futile. You're energy is mine anyway!" Her grip on the girl slackened, and for a few microseconds Usagi was grateful to breathe once again, gasping dramatically.
Then she saw the monster hold up her other hand where a ball of white, glowing haze floated. The room suddenly filled with light that Usagi had to turn away from.
She screamed as she felt her lifeforce being ripped away from her.
The monster blinked in surprise. Humans didn't feel pain when their energy was stolen. They just slowly slipped into unconsciousness. This girl's reaction was unnatural...
After a few seconds, the youma realized that her energy supply was equally strange. Most humans would have reached a critical point by this time. But this girl had barely begun to relinquish her full supply. The youma would have liked to dwell on that, but the girl's shrieks were preventing any coherent thought process...
Which was why she couldn't identify the sigil that appeared on her prey's brow.
Just then, the door burst open. The youma snarled, dropping the girl. She wasn't going anywhere, weak enough for the time being. It seemed that there was a new threat to contend with.
"It is both immoral and despicable to attack a defenseless young girl in the dead of night. That in and of itself is detestable. But to hold yet another woman hostage, assume her form, and harm her own daughter? That is inexcusable. You disgust me, and I am afraid I will not allow myself to let you continue to walk this earth as long as you pose a threat to women everywhere. For all of your trespasses committed tonight, you will be punished."
What the hell was he doing?!
First of all, Mamoru could not even begin to believe that something so cheesy and overtly chauvinistic had come out of his mouth. That very speech had been immoral! To subject any human being, or demon for that matter, to that bunch of crap was criminal. Then there was the fact that he was wearing a tuxedo that,
while snazzy, had never been in his closet. He also didn't have a cape, a cane,
or an obnoxious top hat that had managed to stay on his head on the entire trip to the jewelry store that he had never laid eyes on, yet he had known exactly how to get there. Couple that with the screams he had heard in his head, the talking cat on his shoulder, and the fact that he had managed to position himself in front of an open window with moonlight pouring in to form the perfect silhouette without even trying, and Mamoru was completely convinced that he had lost his mind.
Had the youma had eyebrows, she probably would be arching one snidely. If this was the best that Earth had to offer, she doubted Metallia was really necessary.
"Who are you Terran? And why are you interrupting me?"
Mamoru wanted to wonder why the youma was so articulate and her use of the word Terran, but he was too busy wondering about the next two words that came out of his mouth.
He heard the inquisitive look Luna gave him.
"Say that again?" Luna muttered incredulously. "Really, I wish you would have talked to me before you selected a name for yourself... Well, I would have like a discussion about your transformation and flying around Tokyo for the last ten minutes, but I suppose that might have been too much to ask for. But really, this was just your name and I am supposed to be your guardian. You're going to have to be a lot more open with me in the future you know."
If Mamoru... or Tuxedo Kamen had not been so against violence toward animals, he would have slapped her across her whiskers.
The monster's reaction wasn't much better.
"Tuxedo Kamen?" she repeated slowly, as if trying to get used to the strange words while racking her brain for any information. After a few moments, she shook her head and said, "Never heard of you. You can't be that important."
"My importance is not an issue," Tuxedo Kamen said elegantly. "Your demise on the other hand..."
The youma snorted in disbelief. "My demise? Oh no my dear boy... I think you are sorely mistaken. It is your demise that we should be discussing!"
The monster's idea of a discussion apparently took its form in violence. For with her last sentence she leapt upwards, claws outstretched, ready to tear his face away. Tuxedo Kamen literally floated out of her way easily, moving up and over her ghastly, misshapen form without any effort whatsoever. He landed in front of the prone body on the floor, blonde streamers stretching out from her head. He wanted to see if the strange girl was all right and who she was, for shadows had hidden her face from him before. He was sure that the scream he had heard was hers and that he knew it, but he now did not have the time to see her face... But he did manage to see the rise and fall of her chest. She was alive. Right now that was all he had time to see.
For the monster had stopped in midair and was now hovering overhead. She turned around with an annoyed snarl, narrowing her alien eyes. She bore her gleaming fangs and flexed her fingers, each knuckle cracking hideously. "You intend to put up a fight then?"
Tuxedo Kamen nodded sharply. "I cannot allow you to cause any more harm."
She laughed, a sound that turned his bones to ice though he would never have admitted it. It was a sound from nightmares he had witnessed as a child. Demons springing forth from the unknown, growling with violence, tearing at his skin,
ripping him apart... and finding supreme joy in it. Those dreams were almost as terrifying as the ones with his princess... He didn't know why. But nonetheless,
it was taking a lot of willpower to keep him from shaking.
Luna rubbed her head against his cheek. Somehow she knew. And he knew that she wouldn't leave him. Strange, he had never thought cats to be loyal.
The monster stopped in mid-cackle and raced for him again, her hands stretching towards him. He could have sworn he saw her nails double in size in a split second.
"Watch the girl," Tuxedo Kamen hissed as he dodged left. He felt the weight on his right shoulder suddenly disappear. It threw him off balance temporarily...
But for too long. The monster had landed right next to him. She wasted no time in letting out another screech and leaping at him. This time, he didn't have one moment to react to her. She gripped his shoulders, her razor nails digging into his skin, drawing blood. He hissed in pain as he fell back under her supreme weight. His back hit the ground and the wind was temporarily knocked out of him.
She released him, lifting her crooked hands aloft, naturally purple fingernails glinting in the moonlight. It served her just as it had served him, making her appear more menacing with no effort. He marveled at that for one moment...
When he heard Luna's voice call out to him...
And the young girl's scream of horror in his head...
And his princess begging him to help from his dreams... and his past...
And his own grunt of effort as he pulled his cane from nowhere and held it in front of his face. It happened so quickly that the monster hadn't seen it coming.
She cried out in surprise as her hands were blocked by the cane. She growled from deep within her throat and gripped it just as tightly as he was, pushing down on it.
To his disappointment, he found that she was stronger than him. Adrenaline and stubborn pride were the only things that kept the cane from coming down and crushing his larynx under her weight. She gritted her teeth once again and increased her strength, pushing the cane back just a few more inches. Tuxedo Kamen felt perspiration begin to appear on his forehead. He was clenching his own jaw so much that it hurt. His arms were screaming in pain and shaking. He wasn't going to hold on much longer...
It was then that he realized that there was absolutely nothing wrong with his legs.
He bent his legs underneath the monster and then kicked out with all of his might.
She was taken unawares and screamed in surprise as she was propelled off of him,
flying over his head and behind one of the glass counters. Tuxedo Kamen sprang to his feet, brandishing his only weapon like a sword as she was bound to reappear in seconds.
But she didn't.
He stood there, waiting for what felt like hours. His breathing was ragged. He was covered in his own sweat. And he was trembling from the flight or fight response and sheer terror. His midnight blue eyes were large, darting back and forth like mad. He was waiting for her next move. Which had to be leaping out over the counter when he least expected it...
"Tuxedo Kamen! Behind you!"
He gasped as he suddenly felt the presence Luna was warning him about. He spun around so fast he nearly snapped his spine only to be greeted with a fist flying for his jaw. It made painful contact and sent him sprawling back before he even laid eyes on the thing that had done it. He did however manage to get a good look at her when she rushed him again, this time punching him in the stomach. Tuxedo Kamen doubled over, all of the air leaving his lungs once again. Then he was knocked back down to the floor as a roundhouse kick leveled him.
Things were definitely not going his way.
Tuxedo Kamen acted instinctively, rolling away from the demon before he knew she was doing anything. It was a good thing he did or he would have been impaled by ten knife-like nails. He got to his feet quickly, bracing himself for whatever was next.
The monster just stood there, looking quite irritated. "You just don't give up do you?"
"Persistence is a virtue," Tuxedo Kamen responded grandly.
"And a damn annoying one," she remarked snidely.
Apparently she wasn't going to do anything, so it was up to Tuxedo Kamen to lead the charge this time. He ran forward, drawing his fist back. He was ready to pay her back for his throbbing mouth...
But suddenly she wasn't there anymore.
He stopped, not skidding to a halt. He heard Luna's outraged hiss the second he noticed that the youma was no longer standing in front of him. He didn't halt his momentum and whirled around, knowing what he was about to see. Luna was standing in front of the still unconscious teenager, back arched and claws extended. The monster was standing above them, a maniac and blood thirsty smile gracing her lipless mouth. She wasn't paying the cat any attention, her eyes fixed on the unblemished porcelain skin of the girl...
"No!" Tuxedo Kamen shouted in outrage. He felt something form in his hand, which was still drawn back behind him. He didn't know what it was. He could only assume it was a weapon. He thrust his hand forward, letting the mysterious object fly. It soared out before him, a blurred streak of crimson. It stopped when it embedded itself into the monster's right shoulder. It was only then that Tuxedo Kamen saw what it was.
He didn't have time to dwell on the strangeness (and/or lameness) of the attack.
For the monster started shrieking as if she had just been stabbed with a poison sword of flame. She reached back to claw at the projectile with her right arm,
but that proved to be quite difficult since arms couldn't bend that way easily and since it had started crumbling and falling away.
A few moments later, a small pile of dust lay next to the now one-armed youma.
She stared at the place where her appendage should have been in disgusted horror.
Tuxedo Kamen couldn't help but feel ill as the remaining muscles twitched, trying to move the nonexistent arm. He turned away, unable to look.
That was a big mistake.
Her traumatized gasp quickly melted into a wrathful shriek. He didn't see as she dashed towards him, jumping into the air, curling up her legs, and kicking out.
The bottoms of her feet slammed into his chest with such force that it sent him sprawling back into the glass display case. It shattered underneath his weight.
He let his own yelp as he felt tiny glass shards scraping against his skin. He was sure that there weren't any embedded in his skin, so there were no serious injuries... The pricking pain in his back was nothing compared to the fact that it felt like his chest had just caved in.
Tuxedo Kamen looked up at her continuous scream. He saw the monster and was struck with even more profound terror. Her hair seemed wilder, her fangs sharper,
her nails longer, her eyes more menacing, her very being filled with raging,
vengeful fire. Her one fist shook with fury. She screeched with every word.
"What have you done to me?! What did you do?!"
Tuxedo Kamen would have liked to say something witty or tough or elegant or fearful, but he was having trouble breathing at that moment. He was moving his lips, but nothing was coming out. Not that he could think of anything to say in response anyway.
She was even more seething after his lack of response. She let out a half-roar,
half-shriek. It was a mix of lion and banshee. It was like squealing tires,
scraping against a chalkboard, and shattering glass all at once. Her eyes were alight with something even more inhuman than she had been before. She rushed forward, fully prepared to deliver the final, bloody blow. She moved so slowly.
Just like in the movies. He didn't move from the broken glass. That was just like the movies too.
His eyes darted right, searching among the shards and slivers. He found what he was looking for almost instantly. There was one piece of glass that was big enough to be a dagger. It even came to a point, just like a regular knife.
Tuxedo Kamen glanced back up as the monster was a mere three feet away from him.
He reached out with his hand so fast that Luna's eyes barely caught the movement.
He grasped the shard, ignoring how it cut into his palm. Then he swung his arm wide, praying for the first time in years.
He felt relieved when he saw the tip of the glass dig into the monster's skin,
slicing across her throat. Her eyes widened as a scream was stopped in her throat. She hovered in the air, unmoving, her nails centimeters from Tuxedo Kamen's face. He stared at the cut, waiting for blood to pour forth, wondering why things where still in slow motion...
But she never bled. Instead her entire body started falling to pieces just like her arm had earlier. A crack formed in the middle, spreading out quickly.
Everything turned a sickly brown color, even her clothes. Her expression was frozen for three seconds, lines working across her face as she began to break apart. And then she fell apart all together, turning to dust and falling away,
onto Tuxedo Kamen. He sprang to his left, dusting off the monster's remains in dread. Without warning, the doors to the shop flew open and an unseen wind blew what was left of the youma away.
It was over.
He had won.
But he was still petrified.
From a few blocks away, a little girl awoke in her father's arms. She had no idea why she was lying on the floor or what had made her daddy cry. She had never seen him cry before. It scared her even more than the fact that the brooch she had stolen from her grandmother was lying on the floor. She started to cry too when he gathered her in his arms, holding her like a baby, sobbing into her shoulder.
In the park, a young man was sitting on the bench, his fiancée's head in his lap.
He was calling her name, and shaking her, his voice shaking. When he beautiful eyes opened, filled with tears and fearful, unaware of what had happened to her,
he could do nothing by kiss her. They remained like that for some time,
comforting one another in the only way they could think of.
Elsewhere, a family was gathered around their matriarch in a hospital room. An ambulance had been called when an expectant mother had fainted and rushed to the emergency room. The doctors had determined that there was nothing wrong with the baby, but they couldn't explain why the woman had passed out. They also couldn't explain why she woke up, terrified, but otherwise fine.
He jumped in surprise at the voice from his side. He turned, fist clenched... And was surprised when he saw nothing there. Instinctively, he looked down to see worried amber eyes staring up at him from an ebony face.
"Are you all right?" Luna asked gently, laying a paw on his leg.
He nodded, not saying anything. His chest still felt like an elephant was standing on it, his jaw was pounding, his bang sang with pin-like wounds, and he couldn't stop shaking. He was still so scared. Even without the chest wound, he didn't think he could breathe. That thing had nearly... He almost... What if he hadn't... God, he felt so sick.
It was then that he heard a quiet groan come from somewhere else in the darkened store. Tuxedo Kamen looked up sharply, watching as the once prone teenager was starting to move. She slowly pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, golden pigtails hiding her face. She was wearing a school uniform that was unremarkable,
but quite familiar. Her voice was familiar, sweet sounding and childlike. She placed a small hand on the back of her head, rubbing it tenderly. Then she looked up.
Both of their eyes went wide. It was perfectly understandable for Tsukino Usagi's jaw to hit the floor. One, it was a lot closer to it than it usually was. Two,
it wasn't every day when you woke up and saw a mysterious man in a cape standing in front of you. And it made the same amount of sense that Tuxedo Kamen be shocked that he had just saved the girl he had been planning to kill.
Then Usagi remembered herself. She leapt to her feet, looking around frantically.
She curled up her fists as if she could have hoped to defend herself against the ghouls that lurked in the darkness and said, "Where is that thing? Where is it?"
"It's all right," Tuxedo Kamen said soothingly, walking forward slowly. He still had trouble breathing, but he forced himself to speak for her benefit. "You're all right. It's gone."
Usagi turned to him suspiciously. Did she think he was lying? Did she think he was the monster? Did she think he was the enemy? She had to. She had no reason to trust him. She had been unconscious the entire time. It was natural to think that he was the enemy. He should leave before she started screaming for help and things got really complicated.
"You promise?" she said.
Tuxedo Kamen blinked in surprise. The question was so simple and child-like.
And so unlike anything that he had thought her to be thinking. He looked into her crystal eyes and saw right through her. She did believe him. Or that he was a friend anyway. She was all right, but she was still scared... She just had to make sure that it was really gone... She would trust his word. She trusted him.
"I promise," Tuxedo Kamen answered quietly.
Before he could say or do anything else, Usagi ran forward, her eyes suddenly filling with tears. Tuxedo Kamen wasn't sure what possessed him to wrap his arms around the girl that had become his arch nemesis in the past twenty four hours,
but he did it. She returned the embrace, burying her face into his chest... And she sobbed. He was rock steady without any effort as he felt her fragile body tremble in his arms. He didn't know how he managed it, but he managed to appear strong for her. Somehow he knew that doing that was the only way to calm her down again. And he had to make her feel safe.
He wished he knew why.
After a few minutes, he felt her stop shaking, but he didn't let go. He kept holding her, unsure of what to do. He was still just as scared as she was. He wasn't sure if he would be able to make himself move... He wasn't sure if wan--
"I was so scared..." she said quietly, her voice quaking to illustrate the point.
"I... I've never seen anything like that. Not anything that was... that was real.
And... Oh God... That was real wasn't it? That... That was really a monster.
It almost... It almost... Oh my God!"
He hushed her as she started crying again with her epiphany. But as he did, he couldn't help but examine her words. That had been real. It had hurt him. It had nearly killed him. It had laid one of its filthy hands on the innocent girl before him and showed her that her childhood nightmares were real. That was the greatest grievance it could have ever committed. He almost wished that the youma would come back so that he could make it suffer just a little bit more... Almost.
"It's all right," he repeated, though he wasn't sure if he believed it. "You're safe now. It's gone. It can't hurt you."
Usagi hiccupped quietly. She gripped him tightly, and then felt something wet against the palm of her hand. She pulled away slightly, looking at her hand. She gasped, staring at the blood smeared across her fingertips. She looked up at him,
fully realizing what this happened. "You... You're hurt!"
"Not much," he lied.
Usagi shook her head. He wasn't sure if that meant that she didn't believe him or that she couldn't believe what was going on. Maybe both. "You fought that thing didn't you? You... You saved me."
Tuxedo Kamen shrugged. He really didn't know how to respond that.
Without warning, the girl threw her arms around his neck, standing on tiptoes in order to do so. He staggered back slightly under the unexpected weight, but regained his footing quickly. Then he listened to what she was saying... Which proved to be quite a chore as she was talking a mile a minute. "Oh, you got hurt to try and save me and you did and you got rid of that youma and thank you so much and I can't believe you did that and--"
Tuxedo Kamen pried her off gently, shushing her again by placing a finger on her lips. Her child-like eyes went wide and her pure skin stained pink with a blush.
He couldn't help but smile. "You're welcome. And remember... if you ever need me, I'll always be there to protect you."
And with that he scooped up the irritated cat at his feet and leapt back up to the window ledge. Without so much as another word he flew out of it, leaving her.
Usagi stared up after him, hands clasped in front of her chest, eyes distant and sparkling. Her mouth hung open ever so slightly, letting a soft sigh escape her lips. Terrifying experience or not, it had certainly had one good outcome...
Usagi flinched. Oh yeah. The store was trashed. That wasn't a good outcome.
The blonde turned to see Naru and her mother staring out at the ruins of what had been the Osa-P Jewelry Shop. Plants were overturned, pictures lay on the ground,
and then there was the shattered display case. And Usagi was standing right in the middle of it.
She saw a glittering ring at her feet. She bent down to pick it up and held it out in front of her, a sheepish grin on her face.
"Would you believe I came to return this?"
Tuxedo Kamen stepped back into his apartment through the open... broken window.
The black cat who called herself Luna jumped down from his shoulder and on to his bed. She sat down without a word, even though she could talk and wanted to very much at this point. But she knew better. She shouldn't and didn't say anything.
She simply watched as Tuxedo Kamen stood in the middle of his bedroom... Then as the guise fell away from him in a shimmer of gold light. Then she watched as Chiba Mamoru stood in the middle of his bedroom.
He wasn't moving. He was barely blinking. His breathing was ragged. He was sweating buckets. He was incredibly pale, even sickly. He was trembling. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists. His eyes were large and jumping around,
searching every suspicious corner for some untold horror.
In short, Mamoru was scared stiff.
Then without warning, Mamoru ripped his shirt off. Luna continued to watch as he began a desperate attempt to brush off any remaining dust from his body. His movements were hasty and frantic. He was in a frenzy, desperate to remove the remains of what he had done from his person. Of course, Luna knew that there were none left, but he wouldn't have believed her if she said so.
He started hyperventilating, as if he thought that his attempts were futile and he was never going to get rid of it all. If at all possible, he grew paler. Luna was finding it even more difficult to stop her mouth. He rubbed his skin with a ferocity that unsettled her into continued silence. It began to turn red and raw under his ministrations. He was still hyperventilating. He was covered in even more sweat.
Suddenly, he stopped. He wasn't moving or even breathing at that moment. He grew so pale he turned a greenish grey. Then Mamoru choked slightly and covered his mouth. Without a word, he turned and ran for his bathroom.
He vomited violently, emptying his stomach of all that he had eaten that day. And when that was done, he didn't stop retching. In his mind, it was like he was purging himself of all of the horror he had just witnessed. The demon who had decomposed on his own body. The realization that there really were things that went bump in the night. The fact that he had been a breath away from death. The life that would weigh forever on his conscience even if it had been a monster.
The little girl who had lost her innocence that night.
Half an hour later, Mamoru emerged, white as a ghost and spent. He fell on to his bed, not disturbing the feline that still sat there, patient as ever. He lay on his back for a time, staring up at the ceiling. But no matter if his eyes were open or closed, all he could see was the deadly wound across the throat and the look in her eyes just before she died. He continued to focus on his ceiling,
hoping that the images would go away after awhile.
They finally did, and it was only then that he allowed himself to speak. He turned his head towards the waiting cat. He swallowed, flinching at his burning throat and how his chest still ached. He then took a deep breath and said the only thing he could even hope to articulate at that moment.
"What the hell is going on?"AUTHOR'S NOTES
The ring that Mrs. Osaka gives Usagi and the housewife's locket are my own creations. The engagement ring is a creation of Kay Jewelers and the brooch is from They do not belong to me and neither does Sailor Moon.
I would like to add that this is the only chapter in which the plot will be that close to how the original was... Honestly, I didn't see how I could begin a story of Sailor Moon (or Tuxedo Kamen for that matter) without the jewelry store plot.
I tried, but I couldn't do it. The others are very well twisted to where they barely resemble what was in the original, if anything like it even was.
And yes the youma is... rather intelligent. I am under the impression that not every youma is a raving idiot. Most are, but not all. This just happened to be one of the smart ones... Besides, I needed exposition. :P
Coming Soon - Part Two: By Any Other Name