If the whole Kingdom could be there, they would have found a way to fit themselves into Queen Beryl's throne room. As it was, thousands of youma had come to see the great event that had been much discussed and debated. From the nearly human to the most twisted beast, all had something in common, some for the first time in their lives.
The word in the kingdom was that the great General Jadeite had failed for the last time and he was going to be given the eternal waking sleep upon his return. Many who had been before the ruthless Jadeite before had known his ways and failed to understand how a simple human girl could have bested him time after time. Others who had been the tools of Jadeite's plans before knew different and had insisted that the fool's time had finally come. With the great controversy apparent to everyone, they came in hordes to witness Jadeite's (supposedly) last hour.
When they all arrived in the dark, cavernous lair of the powerful Queen Beryl, a new debate arose with increasing fervor. The time of Jadeite's fate had come and gone and still the rogue general had not brought himself before the Queen. Even more, his successor, General Nephrite had also not yet arrived leaving a much pleased and anxious Zoicite biting at the queen's ear.
"My queen, surely you'll not stand for this insurrection," pleaded Zoicite who was growing increasingly impatient at Beryl's reluctance to punish the as yet successful Nephrite for being a few minutes tardy.
"You will know your place!" yelled Beryl, immediately quieting the crowd. "My decisions to punish my soldiers remain my right alone. I will not stand this presumption on your part that I require advice from you!"
Zoicite immediately wilted and stepped back beside Kunzite, his superior general and teacher, hanging his head. "I'm sorry my queen, I misspoke. It won't happen again."
"It had better not!" returned Beryl with vile. She looked to the assembled crowd and was about to address them when suddenly a black shadow fell beside Zoicite, and Nephrite, apparently a little worse for wear, appeared, already with his head bowed before Beryl. "Nephrite," she quickly yet calmly said. "Why have you taken so long to come at my call?"
"I apologize, my queen," he admitted. "I did not predict that a ceremony I was conducting would take so long. Has Jadeite not arrived yet?"
"The failed general doesn't even appear before his queen," supplied Kunzite. "You would be wise not to follow his lead."
"He showed up at my manor on Earth not long ago," said Nephrite. "He seemed to have met with some success, he should be eager to tell that to you, my queen."
"Some success?" said Beryl incredulously. "What did he do?"
"If I am to believe him," began Nephrite slowly. "And I have reason to do so, then Sailor Moon is dead."
The murmurs through the crowd exploded into energetic conversation all at once. The normal restraint the youma exhibited before Beryl was lost to the sudden unexpected announcement. Also lost in the moment, Beryl ignored their defiance and looked to Nephrite. "If Jadeite refuses to appear before me, you will take over his post and gather energy for Metallia."
Nephrite bowed, "Yes, my queen."
"Zoicite," Beryl continued. "I have for you a special task."
Zoicite smiled. Things were certainly looking up for him.
Twist of Fate
By Adam Leigh
Based on the works of Naoko Takeuchi
Chapter 1: Empty Heart
In the misty realm beyond the physical and ethereal worlds lies a sturdy door through which only one person ever enters. The door is majestic and stands over fifteen feet tall and adorned with wrought iron and twisted gold. The bulk of the door itself is made of a sturdy wood from a tree that had not budded on the Earth in over 10,000 years and even then only once. The door never leads to the same place twice and sometimes even exists in the physical world before him or her who summons it. However, they can't ever enter, for upon the door there is a lock that will open with only one key.
The guardian of that key is a soldier who has never aged in the 10,000 years that have passed since the door was made; a warrior who's great skill has only been paralleled by her ability to sacrifice to protect the door. She had once had 'friends', but they had met their destinies long ago and ever since then she has been alone. She is comforted by nothing but her patience and meditations and, of course, the view.
Through the ages, her choices have been made based on the view through the door. It shows a story that tells the misty saga of the universe from its very creation to its endless end. It is an infinite vision of cause and effect and the threads that extend from the everyday choices of sentient beings. It would take the smartest man alive an eternity to properly understand the meanings of the images. Thankfully, the soldier had a lot of time on her hands.
Recently, however, things had changed. The images were very different, darker, as if the very universe had been turned on its edge and everything had been scrambled around. She had not seen the reason for the change in the images yet, the myriad of causes still had not settled, but the soldier recognized it now, the strange green tendrils of fate twisting their way around every event, it could only be one person.
The soldier stood, banishing the long purple robe she wore and summoning her warrior's outfit. It was a little strange, she had to admit, the uniform of her kin. The tight white bodice, the pleated skirt, the large bows and jeweled accessories, they seemed as if they provided no advantage at all, but the magicks that created them were very clever and subtle. The fabrics were stronger than most metals, and the 'exposed' areas were not as bare as they appeared. She called upon the final piece of her uniform, her Garnet Staff, the great key.
The door resonated subtly as the key was brought into existence. The two artifacts were forged of magicks nearly impossible in the world today, and they were created only to work with one another, but they were fundamental opposites. The energies they were fused with were polar opposites, causing each one to repel the other. The key did not want to fit in the lock. It was a safeguard, conceived of by the creators, to protect the great door from being used by those unauthorized to do so, namely anyone other than the soldier.
Waving the staff she created a vortex out of the misty realm where the door stoically sat and stepped through...
Into a trap. She knew it immediately. Her connection to the key and the door allowed her to see the consequences of her actions, the chain of cause and effect leading directly from the now. As soon as the vortex closed behind her she saw the barriers that would be raised if she tried to leave and the great emptiness in her own fate told her she would be stuck here for quite some time. Raising an eyebrow curiously she waited patiently.
Sixteen minutes later she appeared, slithering out of the darkness she came, dressed to the nines wearing a long black gown covered with diamonds made to resemble constellations seen in the sky from Earth. Her green eyes met with the soldier's bold, yet ancient, reddish eyes and slightly wilted.
"Oh, Puu-chan, you're no fun," she said sighing.
"You are not the one who is to call me that," said the sailor suited warrior fiercely. "I won't be your toy, I know that you have me trapped here. You know I have patience, and I know you could never harm me, so I will wait until it is my time to leave."
"This is why I don't hang around with my peers," said the green eyed woman. "You're all so boring."
"I am far beyond your peer, Calypso," said the soldier. "Your tinkering in the multitude of worlds is a mere inconvenience."
"You have a good game face, Sailor Pluto," she emphasized the last bit with annoyance. "But I know your future sense is dead here, and I had to have done something really important for you to have sought me out directly. So don't think I'm not aware of my effect on your world. Let us see how extensive those effects are without your meddling."
"This is not a game," said Pluto. "You're changing the flow of forces beyond even yours or my power to forcibly correct."
"We are eternal," announced Calypso majestically. "We transcend time and the dimensional barriers, what could possibly be beyond our power?" She turned suddenly and smiled. "We'll continue this at another time." She sank into the darkness and vanished.
Pluto sighed. "Clearly you're unfamiliar with the folly of hubris."
Ami walked down the long angled halls for what must have been the fourth time this week. Again she had brought flowers and again she had felt embarrassed as she almost got to her destination. It was starting to look more like a florist shop than a hospital room. The quick change happened in less than a week of Usagi's admittance for 'unknown hemolytic anemia', and had really stunned Ami that so many people Usagi had run into knew immediately of her condition and came with bouquets. Many of the people were victims of the Dark Kingdom's attacks and only barely knew Usagi, having been much more familiar with her alter-ego Sailor Moon, but still came to pay their respects. Usagi's profound impact on the city was never more obvious to Ami, and neither was the pain of her loss.
Rei wasn't taking things any better. 'She is dead,' she had said several times now, 'That's just her body. Unless you know some way of getting her soul and putting it back inside, it will never be more than that.' Rei had not visited Usagi's hospital room, and she said she never would. It hurt that she would say that, and Ami wondered what Usagi's reaction would have been.
The Dark Kingdom had yet to surface since Jadeite ... since their failure, which was perhaps a godsend. Ami was glad she wouldn't have to fight so soon, but she was more relieved that it wouldn't give Rei the chance to get what Ami knew she wanted right now most of all: Revenge.
Ami shivered as she opened the door to Usagi's room. It was always cold inside but at least the forest of flowers had done much to suppress the sterile smell. Ami had always known the smell and had even gotten used to it from her mother who was a surgeon at this very hospital. But it seemed so much more morbid when she smelled it in Usagi's room. Now even when Ami's mother returned home she felt uncomfortable and quickly retreated to her room.
Stepping into the room Ami noticed Naru's sleeping form at the side of Usagi's bed. The soft beeping sound penetrated the room, making every moment tenser. Ami could see the dried up tears along her cheeks as she leaned over to gently nudge her awake. She stirred then suddenly sat up.
"Ami!" she said suddenly then covered her mouth. After removing her hands she whispered and began wiping her eyes. "I'm sorry, I was just... I just wanted to talk to Usagi." Ami nodded and looked down. "I'm all done now. I'll be on my way." Naru stood and brushed the wrinkles out of her skirt. Bowing to Ami and then to Usagi, she backed out of the room and closed the door. Several times during her exit Ami tried to thing of something appropriate, something positive to say to comfort her, but she felt... disconnected.
After what happened to Usagi it became apparent to Ami how much of her life existed as a conduit through her. Her new friends, the fun times, they were all because of Usagi. Now, without her, and since Rei was becoming increasingly distant, she felt more alone than she ever did. Before she met Usagi, she had never really had close friends, so she never knew what she was missing. Now she was aware, and could feel the hole in her heart that she wasn't sure would ever be filled again.
Nephrite nursed a drink as he sat and stared at the stars floating above him and silently begged them to answer him. He was still connected with them in a way, but it was different, subtly misleading from what it was before. He wasn't sure but it seemed as though something was hiding some of the details from his readings of the stars ever since that night Jadeite killed Sailor Moon.
He threw his tumbler across the hall, spilling the few remaining drops and rolling along the marble floor. Sailor Moon. The very name drudged up feelings of hate and disgust. Not at her, of course, Nephrite had never met the crusader who pummeled Jadeite so many times only to suddenly fall. He was not even angry at Jadeite for keeping secrets and appearing feeble minded when he was really biding his time. He was not even angry at him for accomplishing his task in the eleventh hour only to disappear completely afterwards.
The person those feelings of hate and disgust were directed at was himself. Something had gone dreadfully wrong and Nephrite knew it. Something that had to do with that boy, the one connected to Tuxedo Mask. He could very well be Tuxedo Mask as far as Nephrite knew but it was not as if he was going to ask the stars for guidance about it. They had made their message clear the first time he asked: it was more than he was prepared to know.
But that hadn't meant he couldn't take other measures to find out what he wanted. The sudden rise in temperature marked the entrance of Honoji as he stepped out in front of Nephrite. The stoic general merely stared back as the fire youma bowed in respect.
"It is my honor to come as called, my lord," said Honoji, tilting his head upwards just enough to peer forward. "How may I serve you?" Nephrite caught his fiery eyes and could feel the intense heat coming off of the youma before him. Nephrite himself was in no danger, no youma in Beryl's army could stand before him, but he was impressed all the same. He had summoned the notoriously stealthy Honoji mere minutes ago, however, suggesting he was either very fast, or largely unoccupied. If it was the later, Nephrite had decided that things were going to change.
"There is a human boy," started Nephrite, waving his hand in the air causing his image to appear. "He is connected to an enemy of mine and I want you to find out how. Follow him around, stalk his movements, determine who he interacts with and how, and tell me, every step along the way. Understood?"
The youma's eyes dropped for a moment and he dipped his head slightly lower. "As you wish, my lord." Without a word, flames erupted from beneath the soles of his boots and then flared outwards, encircling the tall, gaunt demon and almost immediately vanished. Nephrite examined the scorch marks on the floor and shook his head. He would have to find a cleaner soon.
A new, more powerful presence suddenly turned the hairs on Nephrite's neck up and he stood and turned to be face-to-face with Kunzite, who, as usual, was frowning seriously. Nephrite wondered if his face was born that way. "Nephrite," said the elder general. "Queen Beryl wishes to see you and would have you be escorted so you don't lose your way like the traitor Jadeite."
"I have nothing to hide coming before Queen Beryl," replied Nephrite. "There is no reason for me to run." Nephrite stood firm and confidently before the General but Kunzite's gaze was unfaltering. "I should wonder, however," he continued. "Why, by the stars, would a powerful soldier such as you be reduced to ferrying others around?"
"The answer is simple," said Kunzite, slightly smiling. The look was menacing. "I have the authority to kill you should you disobey."
Nephrite blinked. Hidden, however, behind that blink was the sudden realization that everything had changed in the Dark Kingdom. He held no illusions about Beryl's opinion of her people, they were the dirt upon which she strode and she had the power to put them there should they ever move out of line. But with that understanding had always been the comfort that he and his compatriot generals, although antagonistic to one another, would always align with their desires to serve their queen.
Jadeite's rebellion had changed all that in a matter of days. The generals, who had stayed where they were for as long as they did because of their power and loyalty to the queen, had become questionable. The leadership of the Dark Kingdom had suddenly reduced not by one, but by four, leaving only the great queen in charge and everyone else to scramble before her throne. Nephrite knew that Kunzite was favored by Beryl more than he, but their diverse duties had never made the matter an issue. Kunzite's simple statement, however, reminded him that he could be slain by the elder and there would be no retaliation.
"You needn't be dramatic," said Nephrite, not missing a beat. He straightened his uniform and, with a sidelong glance at the platinum haired general, vanished.
Mamoru Chiba had often walked the streets at night. He didn't necessarily enjoy it all the time (although there were those nights when the moon was extra big and he felt like a part of his soul was singing to it), but his lengthy night courses at Azabu Tech made it almost a necessity four days out of the week. Thankfully, Motoki often hung around late at Crown 'just in case Mamoru happened to stop by' which turned to be most nights. They would chat while Mamoru tried to play a game or use the UFO Catcher and after an hour or so he would leave and head back home. Unless, of course, he would get that feeling in his stomach and have to suddenly back to do ... whatever it was that he did. It was far from a regular activity, but it brought some order to his life knowing that certain things would happen and he couldn't control it.
Recently though, his schedule had been disrupted. His night classes seemed slightly less interesting than usual and he would often pack up and leave the sessions early, frustrated with his inability to focus on what should be some pretty easy concepts. Even in the case of the full moon last night, he didn't feel the same 'at-ease' feeling he normally did. He wondered, casually, if it had something to do with Usagi.
He hadn't known the girl very well, which made him feel almost guilty now, and had only heard about her condition by running into, what he assumed to be her close friend, Osaka-san in a teary eyed delirium. He'd visited her bed, which made him more uncomfortable than he expected for someone he merely teased every now and then, and had been sending roses ever other day, but he didn't feel satisfied. Something, it felt like, was missing, and it wasn't even tangible. It was like there was something that needed to be done but he didn't know how or when. Whatever it was, though, it happened to be very distracting.
Mamoru dragged himself into the Crown Arcade and noticed Motoki helping a younger boy, probably in his late teens, with one of the games. Probably sharing secrets or battle strategies, Mamoru guessed. Motoki noticed Mamoru and waved, motioning for him to wait a short while. Slipping his hands into his sports jacket pocket, he leaned against the UFO Catcher machine and looked around.
It wasn't very frequently that Mamoru hung out at the arcade for anything other than talking with Motoki and he'd never really appreciated how diverse the crowd was that played there. There were kids, who were probably out past their kerfew, teens, young adults and a few elderly at the pair of pachinko machines in the corner. Mamoru remembered when the machines showed up and Motoki protested their installation, saying that the type of people it would attract were unsavory. Apparently, or at least tonight, it was not the case. The two men playing were being quite mellow.
Mamoru sighed and considered leaving. He'd felt drained for the last week and his lack of focus wasn't helping him stay awake any longer than necessary. He didn't want to waste Motoki's time but he also felt bad leaving when he'd just arrived. Deciding to hold out for a few more minutes, he glanced at the video machines and noticed something he hadn't before.
There was a girl, probably no more than fourteen, with long, beautiful raven hair and sharp features just sitting at the Sailor V game but not playing. It seemed as though she were in a trance, just staring at the screen as it went through its demos. She looked lost, like Mamoru felt, and it was a full minute more that he realized he knew the girl, if indirectly. He stepped up to her slowly and waved his hand.
"Hi, Hino-san," he said as casually as he could. She seemed to stir slightly but not turn or say anything. Frowning, Mamoru put a hand on her shoulder. "Hino-sa---"
He found himself on the other side of the back of arcade machines and lying on his back before he even knew it. His head felt sore and he rubbed his neck experimentally before looking up to see what hit him. He noticed the girl, Rei, standing above him with a stunned and horrified expression. She immediately bent down and started hefting his arm up.
"Oh my... by the Kamis," she said quickly. "I'm so sorry, Mamoru-san! I -- I don't know what I was thinking. I didn't know it was you!" She kept pulling up on his arm which was twisting his shoulder and keeping him from righting himself to stand again. He wondered if she was trying to help him or finish him off. A few moments later she realized what she was doing and quickly released him, allowing gravity to do its thing and causing him to slam to the ground again.
"Gak," she said and stepped back a step as Mamoru stood himself up. She bowed immediately after he was upright. "I humbly apologize for-"
Mamoru raised his hands. "Its okay, Hino-san, I shouldn't have snuck up on you like that." He slowly lowered his arms as if he under guard and began dusting off his coat. Motoki came rushing over then, joining the impromptu crowd of about a half-dozen other people.
"Are you okay, Mamoru?" asked Motoki experimentally. "I have a first aid kit behind the counter."
"I'm really fine," said Mamoru with a smile. "I don't bruise that easily." He noticed something out of the corner of his eye. "You can stop bowing, Hino-san."
Rei looked up and blushed slightly. "I -- uh, of course, I can." She glanced around at the crowd like a deer in headlights. "Excuse me," she said suddenly and grabbed her bag and headed for the door.
Motoki looked at Mamoru's shocked look and patted his friend on the shoulder. "Are you sure you're all right? I should have warned you about Rei, she's been kinda in a slump since Usagi... well, you know."
Mamoru watched Rei leave the Crown. "She's been around a lot recently?" he asked.
"Couple times a day, actually," said Motoki. "Usagi used to play that Sailor V game all the time. I guess it makes her feel closer to her to be here." Motoki raised an eyebrow. "If you're really okay, why do you still have that look on your face?"
"What look?" asked Mamoru, facing Motoki. "I just, feel slightly better for some reason."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure." He rubbed his shoulder where his arm had been twisted. "Have you told her family what she's been doing?" he asked. "I mean, shouldn't they know if she's having trouble."
Motoki shook his head. "Rei doesn't have very much family," he said sullenly. "Her parents are always traveling and she doesn't have any siblings. I think she told me she's been with her grandfather for at least the last seven years. He's a Shinto priest I believe."
"The Hikawa Shrine?" added Mamoru. "By the bus stop?"
"Yeah, that's the one."
Mamoru started walking towards the sliding glass doors. "I hadn't been accidentally injured in a while," he said over his shoulder as he waited for the doors to open then stepped out.
Motoki puzzled for a moment then turned to look towards the boy he was helping earlier. There was someone else with him now, a tall, well dressed man with brown hair and very serious eyes. Motoki figured he was the boy's father or relative and walked back to the counter to begin cleaning up for the night.
Luna paced around Ami's room as the quiet girl studied silently for her classes. Silently, that is, but ineffectually as Luna had learned this morning. The frustrated feline could definitely sympathize. Usagi's condition had fragmented them all and was certainly unexpected. Without the glue that Usagi had provided them, it was difficult, Luna found, to get Rei and Ami to get along. They had both seemed so much more mature than Usagi before, as if they would have been the better choices for leaders, but now all they did was argue. Luna tried to reconcile their vastly different approaches, but it was hard. Not to mention she was distracted by this gut feeling of inevitable doom since the fall of Sailor Moon.
Ami quietly took off her glasses and placed them on her desk, taking care to wipe the lenses once so they remained pristinely clean. She closed the textbooks she was referring to and then pushed them right off her desk and into the wastebasket beside it with a loud thump. Luna jumped, startled and turned to see Ami put her head on the desk.
"Ami-chan," started Luna.
"It's not fair to her," sighed Ami, closing her eyes. "I'm not even sure where she is anymore and here we are trying to get back to our normal lives."
"There's nothing we can do until the Dark Kingdom surfaces again," explained Luna. She leaped up onto the desk and patted Ami on the shoulder with her paw. "Usagi wouldn't want us to be so sad."
"I'm not sure I can just choose to be okay with this," admitted Ami. "I knew we were fighting for peoples lives, it just ... it never occurred to me that we fighting for our own." Luna hung her head as Ami lifted hers. "I mean, naturally we knew we were trying to survive, but, it just never seemed as though it would happen. We should be getting stronger, not weaker." She hesitated. "I don't know if I can do this anymore."
"Ami..." Luna looked up suddenly. She tried to come up with something reassuring to tell Ami. "People will get hurt," was all she could come up with. Despite the mission and the risks of failure, Luna had to accept that she might not want to see Ami go into battle again. She'd lost Usagi, innocent, brave, and cheerful Usagi. She could never face herself again if she lost Ami too.
"I can't do anything on my own," Ami continued. "The brains are useless without the brawns in this case and what can I do? Cover our enemies in fog and hope they fall to their doom?" Luna couldn't argue. "And Rei's been ... she's not ready to be in a team right now."
"There are others," Luna suddenly announced. "Other Senshi, other warriors of the planets. And the princess! You can team up with them."
"Where are they, Luna? Unless Sailor V is really a senshi, I don't see anyone else who can help." Ami sighed. "I can continue my research into finding where the Dark Kingdom is located, and if there is some way to find these other senshi and awaken them, I'll help. But ... I don't know if I can fight anymore."
Luna wanted to inspire her, she knew there was a way, but she couldn't get over the image of Sailor Moon after Jadeite had finished with her. The frail, mindless, empty shell that had been left behind was burning in the back of her mind. Then she imagined Sailor Mercury and Mars like that as well. Luna nodded slowly. "I can't ask you to do more," came the resigned reply.
Outside, in the cloudy sky, the last visible sliver of the moon was obscured by a passing cloud.
The runways were still closed and the police tape remained, but only a pair of guards remained from the massive investigation that took place following the battle on the runway of Haneda Airport. After a weeks worth of investigation, the MPD had apparently been satisfied with their findings and were already moving on. That made it exceptionally easy for Zoicite to teleport in and have a look around.
The police had investigated the area quite thoroughly with their machines and their crawling over every inch of pavement looking for clues, leaving behind little physical evidence of anything other than the fact that the police had been there. Fortunately for Zoicite, he wasn't looking for something physical. Stretching out his arms and spreading his fingers he extended his perception beyond the visual and into the energy realm that ran parallel to the physical. Through his sight he could feel the disturbances of strong energy signs such as the magical fire that melted the airplane and the teleportation signs left as Jadeite erratically moved across the tarmac.
The signs of the battle were clearly apparent to Zoicite, for the energies that had been expended here caused great waves the parallel realm. He could see where Jadeite had used his magic to keep the police away from the airport, as well as the dark energy attacks he used to battle the senshi. He was even slightly surprised to feel the holy energy in the area, doubtlessly from the Senshi Mars' magical wards. Each attack left a unique signature, but none were what Zoicite was looking for.
He was about to give up and try elsewhere when he felt it. A slightly tingling just at the edge of his sensory ability. It was a strong, flowing energy, alive and fluctuating in the neighbor realm like a worm on a hook waiting for a fish. The signature was unusual, he didn't understand what he was feeling but he wanted to know more so he bit. Focusing his attention on the silvery thread he explored deeper, trying to expand his sense of the energy realm to find its source. A trickle of sweat beaded on Zoicite's jaw as he concentrated. He was skilled in his sense, but had not developed it as much as he'd now wished he had.
Extending himself as much as he could he felt the energy and almost immediately recoiled. It was PURE and very cohesive and strong. Something had breached its container here and was carried away with the wind. The wave of energy was diluted here, mixed amongst the other magics that had been used, but it pointed a direction into the city, a path, that would lead to where it had been taken.
Zoicite breathed and collected himself. He didn't like getting sweaty doing work like this, it made him uncomfortable and he'd have to change. Kunzite would be disappointed that it took him so much effort just to peer into the neighbor realm that little bit, but Zoicite knew ways of easing Kunzite's frustrations. The good part was that Zoicite could still see the path in his minds eye and could follow it to its destination. It might lead him to Jadeite, which was want Beryl had wanted, but the energy intrigued him. It was a strong energy, opposite to the Dark Kingdom, but similar to another that Zoicite had been searching for.
Eager to catch his prey, Zoicite consider following the path right away, but he remembered he was still sweaty and thought about something else he might do to get worked up and teleported away with a smirk.
The two guards ran over to where the dark general had been and looked around in a puzzled fashion. Deciding that the instant ramen they had been eating was perhaps a little too old, they returned to their station to dispose of the offending food.
Akira showed up bright and early at Crown Arcade raring to go. His parents had raised a fuss about his arrival, late into the night, but he just blew them off. What did they know, anyhow? He was building skills that would make him a world class video game player, he couldn't be held back by his befuddled parents. Or classes, for that matter, regardless of how much they complained about his cutting class. Nobody understood what he was doing.
Nobody except that man from last night, that is. He said he was a professional trainer for video game competitors and that Akira had caught his interest. He didn't even want to be paid anything for his advice other. He said he knew how the little people around him would try to stop him and how important it was to take what was his. Akira wasn't sure at first if he was ready to go that far but after he gave him that advice about adjusting the straps on his favorite gaming gloves, he felt ready to take on the world. His skill immediately improved too, that evening.
He had to remember to make some mention of the man when he was famous. Or maybe he wouldn't, it didn't really matter in the long run he supposed. Akira had never heard of Masato Sanjouin before, anyway, he must not have gotten recognized by any of his other students either.
As the doors to the Crown Arcade opened he noticed that annoying attendant standing there waiting for him. The blonde haired, apron covered man walked up to Akira and smiled. "Good morning, Akira," he said in his cheery voice that Akira knew now was probably hiding contempt for being better than him at Sailor V.
"'Morning, Motoki," replied Akira, as disinterested as possible, hoping the man would just leave him alone today. "Just coming to practice." He waved his hand and started to move around the attendant.
"Hold on a moment," said Motoki. "I was talking with your parents last night and they're very worried about you. Shouldn't you be at class right now?"
Akira glared at him fiercely and Motoki took a step back. "I'll do what I need to do to become the best. You would do best not to get in my way or you might get hurt." Akira reached out and pushed Motoki back as he walked past and over to the corner where his favorite game was. He slipped on his glove, the one that Sanjouin adjusted, and slotted a 100 yen coin. He was in the groove, he could feel it, and he was going to ride it to the top.
Without intending it, Naru had made the pain in her heart expand to encompass her whole body. For years she had gotten into a strange, but comforting pattern and now that her whole impetus to follow the pattern was gone, she was having trouble keeping herself from falling back into old habits. As she stood before the Tsukino residence, about to step onto the property, she realized that no matter how hard she yelled, Usgai wouldn't be getting up to run with her for school. Her mother wouldn't run after them with Usagi's lunch, and they wouldn't stand outside Haruna-sensei's class together, looking cross but laughing on the inside at their own mistakes.
The knife in Naru's heart twisted in her chest and as she turned and walked on past the house. She knew there were others, people who missed Usagi as much, if not more than she did, but it didn't seem to matter to her. She felt awful projecting her pain as being worse than everyone else's, but she couldn't help it. Usagi had been there for her when she needed her most, to laugh and cry with her, to share her life with her, and remember with fondness. Now, there was nothing but a hole. She hung her head and trudged on, and nearly missed the series of calls of her name.
"Naru-chan!" came the calls from behind her. After the third or forth call, she realized that someone must have been talking to her so she turned and looked back down the street she had been on. A tall dark haired woman wearing a flight-attendant's outfit came running up to her. It was Yumi Ishigawa, one of Naru's mother's friends who lived near to Usagi. Naru tried to smile but felt that she was probably not doing a very good job of it.
"Good morning, Ishigawa-san," said Naru without enthusiasm.
"Naru-chan," said the woman as she reached Naru. "Could you help with Akira, please?"
"Akira?" Yumi had a son named Akira that was around Naru's age. The two used to play together when they were younger, Akira always had an interest in computer games and Naru found them distracting enough. Recently they hadn't seen much of one another, ever since Akira's parents put him into a private school, but Naru would hear about him now and then from her mother. Naru realized that Ishigawa sounded slightly alarmed. "What is it?"
"He's become obsessed with this gaming competition and is spending all his time 'training'," explained Ishigawa. Naru nodded along, that made sense given what she knew of Akira. "Now he's cutting classes to do it and the school threatened to kick him out if he doesn't show up tomorrow. He won't listen to us, could you talk to him? Try to get him to come back to class for a while? You used to be good friends."
"But I've got to get to school," said Naru at first, and then reconsidered. Anything to keep her mind off of her loneliness. "I suppose this is more important. Is he at Crown?"
Ishigawa nodded and then bowed suddenly. "Thank you so much, Naru-chan."
Naru bowed back, nervously.
Rei absently swept up the recently fallen leaves on the temple grounds. The spring was almost over now and soon, it would be summer. The cool breeze would become warm and soon the temple would be bustling with even more activity than now. Rei wished she had more reasons to hide indoors from the world. She hadn't been going to school lately, and her general depression had kept her grandpa from mentioning it, but she knew, eventually, the school would get concerned and she'd be forced to go again. She didn't want to learn anything from them anymore, but she'd go, just to keep Grandpa from getting in trouble.
She tried not to think about it and her thoughts fell to Usagi, as they had been whenever she wasn't preoccupied. She had always treated her as such a crybaby. Even in the short time Rei knew her, it seemed obvious, and it had always been easy to justify her actions to Usagi as ones taken to console a pitiful child, but inside, she knew that she was wrong. Usagi had strength within her that Rei couldn't ever possess, courage and morality that surpassed her more childish instincts and sometimes bearing a more noble soul. Rei could only dream what she might have become one day, had she not fallen to the vipers.
The priestess swept harder. She wished Jadeite would show his face again so she could forcibly remove it, set it aflame and toss it into the stratosphere. Never had Rei realized she had such feelings of hatred buried within her, but in the face of the man who slain perhaps the one mote of light in this dark world, she found she was capable of doing anything.
She picked up the leaves she had piled together and brought them to the trash. There had been many more leaves than last week but much of the trees had already dropped all they had. She didn't expect to have to do this much longer. After disposing of the leaves she walked back to where she had left the broom only to find a tall man in a green blazer using it to brush a few remaining leaves off to the side. Rei was surprised she hadn't heard him come up but still approached him casually.
"Mamoru," she said. He stroked the stone grounds with the broom a couple more times before looking up and holding the broom on his shoulder like a kendo sword.
"Hino-san," he said politely. "I noticed a few leaves blow in and thought I might give you a hand. I didn't mean to intrude on your work."
"I was just finishing, it's okay." She hesitated and an awkward moment passed between them. "I'm sorry," she said after a while. "For yesterday."
Mamoru laughed once. "That's fine, I should be more on my guard anyway." He smiled slightly. "I'm more worried about you."
"Me?" asked Rei. "You don't have to do that. I've just been out of it for a while. I'll be fine."
Mamoru nodded, in a sort of way that made Rei think he wasn't really acknowledging what she was saying. She stumbled a bit when she remembered that Usagi used to do the same thing. Mamoru turned and looked down through the Torii gate and out into the city. "I regret it a little," he finally said.
Rei raised her eyebrows. "Regret?"
"What I said to her," he said over his shoulder. He paused, then added, "She was very clumsy, though."
Rei's lips turned up just a tad. "And pretty sloppy," she added. "Never quite could find anything in her room."
Mamoru turned slightly so he could better see her as she walked up behind him. "Or in her head. I've been beaned enough times with her failing test papers to know that much."
"She would cry whenever things didn't go her way either." Rei stood next to Mamoru and looked out. The sun was high in the sky and the partially bare trees cast shadows like spider webs across the temple grounds creating a nexus of dark lines between the two. "Which would be most of the time, of course."
"But when things did go right, she would glow," Mamoru said, but in an unsure tone.
"Yeah," said Rei, continuing on. "Because she knew people would be happy." The barest beginnings of a smile crept onto her face.
Then she noticed Mamoru again and the smile fled. "But she won't look like that ever again, because of me," she spat and turned and started walking back towards the temple. Mamoru frowned and followed her.
"You're taking this very personally," said Mamoru. "How is it your fault that Usagi ended up in the hospital?" And more importantly, he thought to himself, why do I feel the same way?
"I should have been there," said Rei turning at the temple and walking to the shed beside it. "I was supposed to protect her." Rei shivered at how awful she felt, as if an oily substance was creeping all over her body. She wanted to shed her skin and run away but she knew there was nowhere she could go to escape what was bothering her.
"You couldn't watch her all the time," offered Mamoru. Then suddenly he added, "But that doesn't change how you feel."
Rei stopped at the shed and shook her head. "No." She opened the door and put the broom away. Turning to face Mamoru she tried to smile slightly. "Thank you for your help. Would you like some tea? I usually make some for grandpa and myself after cleaning up."
Naru became more weary the closer she got to the arcade. She wasn't really the type of person to convince someone they've been playing too many video games. It clearly hadn't worked with Usagi, and she didn't even know Akira very much anymore. She didn't want to disappoint Ishigawa-san by not trying, though, so she tried to commit herself to the task.
Caught up in her own thoughts, she didn't even notice the man standing outside the arcade until she had run right into him. She backed up and bowed apologetically.
"I'm very sorry," she said several times before looking up. The man was tall, but young, probably in this mid-twenties, with long flowing brown hair and a deadly serious stare. He was dressed in a pair of light blue slacks and a white shirt buttoned most of the way up. He stared down at Naru.
"I should be apologizing; I should have taken better care of where I was standing." He smiled kindly at her. "Are you all right?"
Naru swooned, feeling her heart racing. "Uh, that's okay, I was kind of dazed there anyway. Um... I'm Naru, Naru Osaka." She blushed deeply, feeling like an idiot just suddenly introducing herself to a stranger on the street. He was so handsome, though.
The man held out his hand. "Masato Sanjoiun. I'm a scout for a local gaming competition." Naru went to shake his hand but instead he brought it to his lips and kissed it. "It's pleasure to meet you, Naru. Heading into the arcade?"
"No... I mean, yes. But not to play, not that I don't like playing, but, I'm meeting someone..." Naru babbled for a few seconds then stopped and tried again. "I'm actually here to find a friend who's been skipping class to play games. He's made his parents very worried."
"Then, by all means, don't let me stop you from your mission." Masato started down the sidewalk back the direction that Naru had come from. "See you later, Naru!"
Naru waved with a goofy grin as he left. "Masato Sanjoiun," she said to herself. After a few more seconds of waving she turned and walked into the arcade.
"Please, Akira!" Naru heard Motoki, the game attendant, plead as soon as she walked in. Broken from her reverie, she looked around the game center and gaped at the despotic sight.
Akira, the little boy she remembered, was much more grown up than she thought he would be, and was currently sitting intently at an arcade machine looking rather scary. A young girl was crying on the floor beside him and Motoki was trying to comfort her while yelling at Akira.
"She had every right to play as you do," Motoki said. He picked up the girl and carried her off to the side. "You need to leave if you're going to be violent like that."
"Heh," laughed Akira with a grin. He continued to stare at his video game without looking up. "Just try and make me leave. I'm in the zone, now. I'm going to be so good that I'll clean up tomorrow's tournament. You'll be begging me for autographs and to visit your crummy arcade just for the popularity. I'll be bigger than 'Crane no Joe!'"
"Joe is wonderfully kind person," yelled the girl between sobs. "You'll never be as cool as him!"
Akira suddenly slammed his fist on the arcade machine, shattering the button that was there. "Who care's about 'cool'? I'm going to be the BEST!" He stood and looked evenly with the girl. "I don't need crying little girls like you to tell me who's better than who."
Naru ran over to Motoki and the little girl. "Akira," she said standing in front of them. "What's wrong? Why are you acting like this? Your mother is very worried about you and she's afraid that you'll get kicked out of school."
"Naru?" said Akira then laughed maniacally. "Big-sister Naru has come for me? I remember when we used to play games when we were younger. You always used to tell me I was so cool for being so good at them. Don't you remember?"
"I do," said Naru, nodding slightly. She got a sinking feeling in her gut that made her nauseous. She knew the feeling well. She always got it just before something awful was about to happen.
"Well look how cool I am now!" he bellowed then laughed again. Naru shivered in response as Akira's laugh changed into a cackle and his body began to convulse. His skin turned a sickly grey as he grew taller and thinner, with long claws growing from his fingertips. His laugh turned into a scream and then a triumphant yell as the transformation completed leaving behind a six foot tall grey skinned monster with purple eyes and radiant green hair. In a final convulsion, the monster suddenly blurred and split into two forms, one which coalesced on the floor and looked like the unconscious body of Akira.
Naru wanted to faint away and hope the creature was gone when she awoke, but then she thought of Usagi. She would have wanted her to be strong, to fight on for her. She grabbed the girl behind her by the arm and began running towards the door. She could never fight that thing, but maybe she could buy time for Sailor Moon.
The chirp was insistent and Ami quickly excused herself from class and opened her portable computer in the bathroom. A collection of readings represented as waves converged and formed a signature her computer had recognized as being similar to the energies recorded during the Senshi's battles with Jadeite. She tagged the pattern and filed for later. Then she pulled out the small calculator that Luna had given her last night. It seemed like a normal, blue colored, four-function calculator, but Luna had said it was a communicator that could contact her or Rei at any time. Ami figured this was as good a time as any to test it.
She pressed a button on the face of the device and Luna's face appeared in the small, circular window in the upper corner of the calculator. "Ami, what is it?" the Luna face said.
"Its Dark Kingdom activity," Ami said, typing into her pocket computer. "I'm trying to reference these coordinates, but it could be Jadeite."
"Good work, Ami!" Luna smiled for the first in a while. "As soon you find out where I'll tell Rei and have her meet you there."
Ami paused and looked down. "Luna..." she started. The churning in her stomach started again. It was a feeling she'd been getting every time she thought about her Senshi business and Usagi. She was glad she was already in a bathroom. "I can't," she finally finished.
"I know you're at school--" replied Luna but Ami didn't let her finish.
"No, Luna. I told you last night, I can't do this anymore. I'm not strong enough." Ami wanted to cry she felt so bad.
"Ami, I can't force you to go, but think about all those people Jadeite could hurt. If we let the Dark Kingdom run free, countless number of people could have their energy drained and even die. Nobody else has the power to stop them but us."
"Please, don't make me do this, Luna," said Ami, wiping her eyes. She glanced at her computer and noticed the address. "Oh no..."
"What is it?"
"It's--the youma, it's at Crown."
She knew it before she even got the message, the feeling of something wrong. Sailor Mars raced across the rooftops of Tokyo, determined. It had not been as long as she had thought. She fully expected Jadeite to revel in his victory, take time off and flaunt his power before... whoever he worked with in the Dark Kingdom, and then come back to finish the job. But he was back, only days later, and she was ready to take him.
She felt guilty, slightly, for having to vanish just after pouring tea for Mamoru and Grandpa, especially Mamoru. He was being really nice to her and it made her feel much less alone than she had in the morning thinking about Usagi. She wanted to go to Ami and talk about it but, even though they had fought so closely together, she just didn't know her like that. Mamoru had a way of talking about Usagi without ever mentioning her, which comforted Rei a great deal. She wondered if he'd come back tomorrow...
Cursing herself, she shook such thoughts from her mind. She needed to focus now and thinking about Mamoru wouldn't help her. The image of Jadeite, holding Sailor Moon, was all she wanted to see. It made her burn inside with a fire stronger than any of her attacks. She could feel the heat within her and she was sure it had a name, a way to summon it in the world, she just needed to figure out what it was.
The cries reached her ears even before she saw the arcade. Sailor Mars jumped down to the streets and saw the small crowd in front of the storefront. As she jumped over the half-dozen people a loud crash drew her attention to the arcade machine that had just crashed through the sliding glass doorway. A large grey-skinned youma with long wicked claws stood inside and slashing threateningly at Motoki, the blonde haired arcade attendant. As the shattered glass settled, she saw Naru carrying a younger girl through the wreckage.
Mars ran over to them. "Are you all right?" she said. Naru looked panicked but she nodded and then put the girl on the ground who quickly ran into the crowd.
"Motoki is inside!" Naru said, looking back into the arcade. "And Akira... I think he's hurt, I'm not sure. He was in the back."
Mars nodded. "Okay, just stand back." She jumped through the broken doorway just in time to see the young attendant get hit by the youma and go flying. "Hey, you ugly, uh... gamer!" Mars announced. "No matter how many times you lose you can't just tear the place up. I'm Sailor Mars, and you're--OOF!"
Mars collapsed as the body of Motoki collided with her after being tossed by the youma. She rolled as best she could to lessen the impact on the unconscious attendant and ended up scraping her arms against the broken glass. Pain lanced across her skin and down her spine causing her hair to stand on end.
"Stupid, Mars," she cursed to herself. "No time for speeches. Naru! Get Motoki out of here!" Interlocking her hands together she jumped through the broken doorway and pointed her hands at the youma. Fire danced along her arms and collected at her fingers.
Uninterested in knowing how this would end, the youma suddenly jumped straight up through the ceiling of the arcade, raining debris across the dozens of machines below. Screams echoed from above followed quickly by the sound of broken glass as the youma left the building from the second floor.
Mars let her fire fade away and she surveyed the damage quickly. The place was a mess, but she couldn't see anyone else inside. Better to keep that youma from hurting anyone else, she thought. Running back outside, she gathered her energy and leapt to the rooftops and saw the youma running, nearly a block away already. "It's running away. That's certainly different," she commented before leaping after it.
The youma was leading her somewhere.
Mars gathered as much and was concerned why one of Jadeite's minions would do such a thing. Before Jadeite confronted them directly, all of the youma they fought had seemed panicked by the Senshi finding them, and always fought to the end where they had been discovered. This arcade-youma seemed to be acting differently, as if it was several degrees smarter than anything she'd fought previously.
The trashcan suddenly flying at her from below broke her train of thought and the second one that hit her in chest effectively took the train completely out of service. She fell three stories to the alley beside the building she had been running on and landed hard on her side, dizzying her with pain.
The arcade-youma was in the alley and was staring at her with a larger dumpster over its head. Mars had no time to think, she simply rose her hands and screamed. Fire exploded from her hands, hotter than she ever remember her flames being, and melted the dumpster in half, startling the youma. She tried to use the opportunity to stand but the leg she fell on felt completely numb.
Not fazed for very long, the arcade-youma dropped one half of the dumpster, littering the alley with assorted trash, and flung the remaining half at Mars. There was no time to react, she could only close her eyes and wait for the impact.
Instead, a sharp noise like the breaking of thick metal sounded out followed by a crash to either side of Mars. She snapped open her eyes and was staring at the back of a tall man dressed completely in white, with a tall top hat and a flowing cape. He was wielding a sword and had apparently cut the flying dumpster in half as the remains lay around her.
"Tuxedo Ma--" started Mars but then noticed the long blonde hair flowing from beneath the hat. The man turned slightly to look at Mars, revealing a black mask covering his eyes, the only non-white article on his body, then turned back to the arcade-youma, brandishing his sword.
"Stand back," he ordered, in a soft voice that Mars didn't recognize. A fire rose in her. She didn't want to be protected, she was a warrior too. When she was about to protest she felt the soreness in her legs and realize that even standing might be too much for her now. She grumbled in anger at her own weakness.
The arcade-youma roared, apparently furious at its attack being foiled, and charged at the White Tuxedo Mask with its claws viciously slashing in the tall blonde's direction. Without ceremony, White Tuxedo Mask stepped forward and parried a slash from the youma, following with a quickly vertical cut across its torso.
Mars blinked at the speed he demonstrated and watched as the youma roared in defeat then dissolved into a black dust before vanishing completely. The White Tuxedo Mask was still in his follow-though pose by the time they were alone in the alley. He quickly straightened himself and slid his sword, which Mars quickly noticed was of European design, into a gilded scabbard at his side. His legs tensed as if he was about to jump then paused and looked back at Mars. She blinked in response.
"I'm sorry," he said with downward eyes then leapt to the rooftops and vanished out of sight.
Mars tried to collect herself and organize all the strange things that had happened today, but gave up when the throbbing of her scraped arms threatened to overwhelm all conscious thought. She willed herself to return to normal and felt the familiar rush energy associated with her transformation.
When she was back in her robes she tried to stand again and yelped in pain. Pulling back the bottom of her outfit she saw the large black-and-blue marks across her legs. There was always collateral damage when she got hurt as Sailor Mars, but she must have misjudged how badly she'd hurt her legs. Crawling to the alley wall she climbed up to stand on her good leg and looked ahead.
She was almost on the opposite side of Juuban from the temple. It would take her over an hour to limp home. She summed up the remainder of her will to fight back the urge to cry.
Nephrite was pleased and displeased at the same time. There was a great balance in the universe, good things always came with bad and energy could not simply disappear on it's own it had to go somewhere. This fundamental equality had been revealed to him through the stars and their vast, ancient knowledge. He knew that the death of Sailor Moon would have consequences, not all of which good. He had expected that some of those consequences would befall him, as the successor to Jadeite's legacy, but he had not expected what had happened today.
His youma had done well, just as he had expected. The energies received from that young boy made it strong as well as clever. Nephrite had not considered the boy's tactical knowledge to be useful but it had encouraged the youma to retreat to find a better location to fight Sailor Mars. The tactic would have succeeded if it hadn't been for that tuxedoed man.
Nephrite knew quite a bit about Tuxedo Mask from watching Jadeite and paying attention to his reports to Queen Beryl. The man, though an ally to the Senshi, rarely fought directly in the battles. Rather, he tended to act in a supportive role, encouraging the Senshi's use of tactics. And while Jadeite had apparently viewed him as a threat to his previous operation, Nephrite did not expect his presence to make a significant difference in the battle.
This new Tuxedo Mask, the one with the white clothes, was different, and hadn't spoken much at all. Instead of acting as support, he took over the battled and very capably ended it. He was a dangerous combination of strength and discretion that Nephrite himself often felt to be the most powerful type of adversary. Whether he was the same as the previous Tuxedo Mask or a new enemy entirely remained to be seen. What was clear to Nephrite is that while Sailor Moon was gone, a potentially more powerful enemy had taken her place.
Nephrite had returned to his manor in Japan after seeing his youma being dispatched to consult the stars on his new revelations. He paused to make himself a drink, and then regretted it entirely.
"Drowning your sorrows?" sneered a particularly annoying voice.
"Leave me alone, Zoicite," replied Nephrite, taking a drink from his glass. "I'm busy."
The thin, effeminate general stepped from the shadows to come up behind Nephrite. He was smiling in a way that repulsed Nephrite and he wondered how Kunzite ever put up with him.
"I heard that your wonderful plan failed," Zoicite continued. "It must be painful to hear that little Jadeite succeeded in such an important undertaking and you can barely gather energy."
"I gathered exactly the amount of energy I had predicted," said Nephrite, staring strongly into Zoicite's eyes. "I don't play games, everything goes according to the stars. I knew exactly how much energy my plan would yield."
"I bet your stars didn't tell you about that fashion-challenged tuxedoed man, though," Zoicite smirked back.
Nephrite's eyes widened instinctively but he quickly tried to restore his air of calm. How had Zoicite known so much? He'd not even reported fully to Beryl, there was no way he could have known that unless he was there. But how? Nephrite had not felt the presence of another General at all.
"Try not to look so panicked," the general continued. "I have a way of... knowing things." He left that statement in the air for several moments, letting Nephrite stew in the implications of it. "I just wanted to let you know that I discovered something interesting yesterday and that you might as well give up because you'll never top this."
"Hmph." Nephrite turned away. Zoicite loved these games and he absolutely loathed them. Everything was always some sort of coercion with Zoicite, a trick to get people to reveal things they hadn't wanted anyone to know. Nephrite refused to play along. "Be gone."
"Aww," pouted Zoicite. "You're not any fun. I guess I won't tell you then." He turned and immediately brightened, skipping playfully away.
He hated himself for admitting it, but there was always a point to Zoicite's games as well, and Nephrite didn't want to be in the dark. "What is it?"
"I thought you didn't want to--"
"I want to know now!"
"Well, if you're going to be rude..."
"ZOICITE!" bellowed Nephrite. Zoicite had made him lose his cool, just like he probably wanted. Nephrite angered more for falling into the game. When Zoicite suddenly rushed up to him and placed his mouth by Nephrite's ear, he almost yelped. "What ARE you--?"
"I found the Silver Crystal."
He giggled and then vanished in a cloud of cherry blossom petals.
Rei looked up the stairs leading to the Hikawa Temple and sighed. Two hours it had taken to get here, and now both her legs felt like lead instead of just the injured one. She tried not to attract attention to herself, make it look like a leisurely stroll across the district, but the look of deep concentration on her face belied that effect. She wished it was over.
She sat down on the steps and took a break. She would probably have to explain her injuries to Grandpa, there was no way she could hide it. She would have to come up with an excuse, something that sounded reasonable, but she couldn't think of anything better than falling down the stairs that she was now going to have to climb. It wouldn't explain her sudden disappearance, though, even if she had to run out to get something she should have told someone.
She sighed again, her thoughts returning to the youma who had gotten the better of her. It didn't seem much different than the other youma she'd defeated, and yet she would have died today if it wasn't for White Tuxedo Mask. How could she have gotten so careless? Was she really this weak without Sailor Moon?
"Rei?" a concerned voice drifted from above. Rei turned on the steps and saw Mamoru descending cautiously. He was frowning and looking down at her. "Are you okay? What happened?"
"Oh, um," she tried to think of what to say and the only thought that was flooding her brain was how relieved she was that she wasn't alone anymore. She looked up at his concerned expression and hoped that maybe her day of misfortune was coming to an end. "I fell," she finally eeked out.
Mamoru looked up the stairs then down at Rei, and then back up again. "Down here?" he said then added, "From the kitchen?"
Rei smiled meekly and realized she didn't have the energy to come up with anything better. Mamoru quickly came down beside her and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Are you hurt," he asked quickly.
Rei nodded slightly, "A little. I'll be okay."
"Can you stand?" He tried to help her to her feet and she winced from the pain down her side. Mamoru noticed and immediately stopped and then bent down to pick her up.
"Hey!" she said in surprise. "I said I'll be okay!"
"Just let me help you," he replied in a surprisingly serious tone. "I don't want you to have to take on anything you can't handle."
"I--" Rei started then stopped herself and leaned into Mamoru's shoulder. "Thank you."
Mamoru didn't hesitated after that and carried up the stairs effortlessly and brought her into the house at the temple. They said nothing to each other, but Rei listened closely to the sound of Mamoru's heart in his chest. Concentrating on it somehow made the pain more tolerable. He was warm, and strong, and, Rei hated to admit, exactly what she wanted right now after her failure.
"Ami," Naru said suddenly and ran over to Usagi's friend. They were in the lobby of the hospital she, Motoki and Akira had been taken to after the incident at the Crown Arcade. Naru, having only been scratched, had been released first and found several people waiting for her in the lobby, including Ami.
"Hello, Naru," said Ami. "I heard what happened at Crown, is everyone okay?"
"Yeah, it was really strange," Naru explained. "Akira just suddenly went crazy and this big monster appeared from him. Motoki tried to protect us from it and got a little hurt, but he's okay. Akira doesn't even remember any of it."
Ami nodded. "I'm glad you're okay, I know you were a very important friend of Usagi's." She smiled weakly, expressing the uneasiness of the conversation topic but trying to be sympathetic. "She... uh, used to tell me how worried she was that you kept getting into these attacks. She would be sad if you got seriously hurt."
"Yeah," Naru said looking down. "Did you hear of any change...?" she trailed off as Ami shook her head slowly. They both stared at the ground for several moments.
Eventually, Ami picked her head up. "Well, as long as everything's okay, I'll be going now." She bowed politely and turned to leave.
"Wait," said Naru. Ami turned back. "I'm sure Usagi wouldn't want us to be so sad because of her. She'll get better eventually, she's way to stubborn not to." Ami smiled slightly at that. "I want to make sure she knows her friends got on all right while she was gone. So, uh, maybe we can hang out sometime at the... well, not the arcade, but after school some time."
Ami blinked and then smiled. "Yes, I'd like that." Naru smiled back and nodded. "Thank you. I really have to go now, though. See you tomorrow at school?"
Naru waved, "See you then!"
Ami turned and left the hospital lobby and then through the gates. Luna was standing on the curb when she reached the street. Ami looked down but didn't meet her eyes. "I guess Rei took care of it," she said finally.
Luna nodded. "I think so. When I got to Crown, the last anyone saw of the youma was when Sailor Mars was chasing it away from the arcade. I hope she's all right as well, I haven't been able to reach her on the communicator."
"I'll stop by the temple tomorrow after school and talk to her about it and... about what we talked about."
"Ami, this is your destiny--"
"No," Ami shook her head. "This is a sentence that took Usagi to... to where she is now. I'll do what I can to help, but I can't go that far." She shivered. "I just can't."
Luna hung her head as Ami turned and walked away. "This wasn't how it was supposed to go at all."
She woke up and it was dark in her room. She hadn't remembered falling asleep but wasn't terribly surprised. She hoped Mamoru wasn't offended, or too confused by what happened. She knew what she said must have sounded strange to him, but he didn't ask any questions. It was kind of him not to drill holes in her flimsy story.
She tried to move and found it much easier than before, making standing a effort that required only a little concentration. Slowly padding her way out of her room she moved into the living room and found Mamoru sitting on a couch watching television with the volume down. She was a little surprised and stood there for several moments until he noticed her.
"Rei," he said. "You should be lying down."
"You're still here," she said, slowly moving over to him.
"Your grandfather asked me to look after you while he went to get some medicines for the bruises on your legs." Mamoru glanced at his watch. "He's a little later getting back than I expected."
Rei smiled slightly. "He's probably gotten distracted by some young girls at the pharmacy, that happens all the time." Mamoru stood when she got close but she waved him down and sat beside him on the sofa. "I'm okay, anyway, just a little banged up."
"He was worried about you. We were about to go looking for you when I saw you on the steps. He'll probably want to know what happened to you."
Rei nodded, absently. On the television was a game show about people doing silly things to themselves. The objective, from what Rei could see, was to get a close as you could to killing yourself and survive. Her stomach turned and she closed her eyes to concentrate on calming it.
"Do you need help?" Mamoru suddenly said. Rei shook her head in response.
"I'll be all right, just a little queasy. It'll pass."
Rei opened her eyes and looked at Mamoru. He was calm, almost stoic, but his eyes had an intensity behind them that seemed strengthened by experience beyond his years. "Not with that, with this." He placed his hand on her chest above her left breast. His hand felt soft over her heart, yet tempered. She felt fragile in his presence, like she could be blown apart by a summer's breeze.
The past few days were like living in a nightmare, and today was the worst. People she knew got hurt today and the monster responsible not only beat her, but seriously injured her. A stranger saved her and said nothing except an apology. She didn't want to admit it to herself but she knew why he apologized; she knew the moment he looked at her. He appeared hurt when he said it, and she knew why. It was because in that moment when he glanced at her, and just that moment, she felt furious at him. Not for treating her like a damsel in distress, not for butting into her business, not even for showing her up in battle.
It was because she wanted that thing to kill her, and he stopped it.
"Usagi," said Rei as tears fell like fountains from her eyes. "Why did she leave me alone?" She trembled and collapsed in Mamoru's lap, sobbing.
Aurora suspected something was dreadfully wrong. Her whole body had that, "I'm not quite sure I'm supposed to be here" feeling and she normally only got that when she visited the mall. She was lying down, and she felt her clothes against her, which was a good thing consider how frequently miscast spells seemed to have unexplained perverted effects. However, they felt heavy, like they were soaked in water, and the air was unusually damp, as if she'd fallen into a bog recently. She tried to think of Bogs in Ohio and decided that it wasn't very likely she was still in Ohio anyway.
Determining that she'd either have to make a movement or consider falling into a coma for a while, Aurora stirred once, experimentally, just to test the waters. Not finding the experience pain inducing, she decided to venture further and open her eyes.
The room she was in was dark, but not completely. Thin shards of light crept from between the window shades striking the extravagant furniture and strange fixtures. The walls were adorn with tribal masks and a stray beam of light illuminated a series of stone urns along a distant shelf. Aurora herself was in an enormous bed against one of the walls which was covered in tablets engraved with runes. Aurora considered how she could have gotten here and then decided she should have gone with the coma option.
A shadowy form moved behind the leather armchair near to the window. It stalked around the edge of the room, strategically avoiding the lines of sunlight, before finally coming up to her and turning on a lamp next to the bed. The dim light brought features to what she found to be a smiling face. He was a tall man with long brown hair and hazel eyes that were looking straight into hers in a very hypnotic way. Aurora immediately felt self conscious and looked away, slightly blushing.
"You're awake," he said, rather obviously. He sat on the edge of the bed and held out a damp cloth. "Here, if you're still feeling warm." He was dressed in a loose fitting dark green shirt and brown slacks and almost seemed to blend into the shadows behind him. Aurora shyly took the cloth and wiped her brow which she only just realized was beaded with sweat. She blushed heavier and nearly passed out from the rush. The man looked concerned.
"You've been out for quite some time," he explained. "And you had a fever for most of it. I would have brought you to a hospital but..." he trailed off and looked uncomfortable for just a moment. "Anyway, you seemed to start recovering so I thought I would make you comfortable. I noticed what you had in your bag so I thought you might like being in my room when you woke up." He stood up and moved to the shelf, grabbing a pitcher and pouring water into a glass. "Here, you're probably pretty try."
Aurora, still a little dazed, took the glass obligingly and drank heavily, only realizing her thirst after she began. The glass was dry a moment later and she tried to keep herself from looking sheepish. "Thank you," she murmured.
"You're welcome," the man said, smiling again then refilling her glass. "My name is Richard Vedas."
"Aurora," she said, drinking again. "Where am I?"
"This is my apartment on 6th avenue," he said at first, then, seeing her puzzled look, added, "In New York."
"Oh my," said the lost magician. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about the multiverse, would you?" She tried the long-shot. She was pretty sure she hadn't gotten to the place she wanted and without the Tome of the Passing Moon, which she had left in the library in Elyria, she wasn't sure she'd be able to cast the return spell.
To Aurora's surprise, Richard's face lit with recognition. "You were hopping dimensions, weren't you?" he asked suspiciously. Aurora nodded fiercely. "But you mixed up your spell." Aurora looked down at her lap and nodded slightly less fiercely, like a cat to a lion.
Richard laughed, which caused Aurora to jump. "I thought you were just some new-age wicca when I found you, smelling of thyme like you were, but you're an actual Magus, aren't you?"
"Actually," she pointed out. "I'm a more of a librarian." Richard looked confused but before he could say anything more she added, "Who is a bit of a witch."
"Well, either way, you're pretty lucky you fell into my lap. I'm probably one of only five people in the city that would have even known what you're talking about." Richard sat down again after putting the water away. "Not that I'm an expert on the matter. If I knew how to leave this dimension, I'm sure I would have done so long ago." His voice turned dark for just a second before scampering back into the light. "So, where are you from?"
"Ohio," she said, placing the glass on the nightstand by the bed. Richard blinked.
"Oh," he sounded disappointed. "Is Ohio a pretty happening place where you come from?"
"Oh, no," Aurora said as if the concept was dreadful. "It's very peaceful and predictable. I like it very much."
"Hrm," considered Richard. "Anyway, I don't really know very much about dimensional hopping, only a few bits a pieces I've picked up over the years. Don't you need a Key Book or something?"
"Yes!" She was getting enthusiastic. Maybe things weren't as bad as they seemed. "In my world, it's called the Book of the Passing Moon."
Richard froze and then stood suddenly. "The Tome of Lunar Fall," he said as he walked stiffly to the shelves again. He picked up a glass and filled it.
"That's probably it," Aurora said, her eyes lighting up. "Given the age of the text there are probably numerous translations of its title. Do you have it?"
"No," he said, taking a long drink from the glass. "I know where it is, though. I'm afraid I can't help you get it."
"But," started Aurora. "I don't know anything about this world... or even New York at all! I'm sorry I've been a burden for you already but--"
"Listen," interrupted Richard. "I'd like to help, I really do. But, I can't go to where it is."
"Why? Where is it?"
Richard walked towards the window with his glass in hand. Aurora could see it was filled with a reddish liquid, perhaps wine or fruit punch as it cast brilliant red reflections on the ceiling. "It's at Covenant Headquarters, in Bryan Gospel's vault." He sipped his drink which was definitely too thick to be wine. "He doesn't like me very much."
"Why... why not?" Aurora got that sense of impending doom one always gets just moments after it's probably too late to do anything about it. She swallowed nervously.
"Because my mother was a vampire," Richard Vedas admitted. He turned towards her and bared his teeth, extended canines and all. "And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Aurora struggled for the breath to scream.
And then she found it. The wail was louder than anything she remembered ever doing before. Louder than a screech, more defined than a scream, she had, in an instant, formulated the perfect wail and was hanging on to it for dear life. The vampire dropped his glass of thick red blood and covered his ears, squeezing his eyes shut, and clenching his teeth.
"Hey, hang on a minute!" he called through the wail, but Aurora kept at it. "Hey! Heeeeeeeey!" Unable to get her attention he did the next best thing. He was immediately next to her with his hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wide with fear and he could feel her trying to scream again though his palm to little success.
Richard looked her right in the eyes and she could feel his will extending forth into her mind, draining her will to fight, her desire to live leaving only the shell and a tasty meal for an eag--
"What the hell did you do that for?" he asked suddenly. "Did you have to go and notify everyone in the building that you were here? 'Cause that's not the way to sneak into the Covenant!"
Aurora calmed down for a moment and Richard removed his hand, cautiously. She looked up at him with wide eyes. "Aren't you going to... you know?" She pointed at her neck. The dark man rolled his eyes.
"Oh, right, that's exactly why I spent the last day and a half helping you recuperate!" he announced sarcastically. "Just so I could take a bite! Get a hold of yourself. I generally don't find blood to be all that satisfying, I'll have you know, and I would like to believe I'm one of the good guys."
"But... but," she pointed at the empty glass and red stain on the rug. Richard turned to look and panicked.
"My Persian rug!" he yelled before quickly running over to the glass with a cloth and trying to blot the red away. He spent several long minutes trying to soak up every last drop before finally sighing and throwing the red rag across the room. "Well that's great, it's not like I can just go back to the eighteenth century, you know."
"Is it, blood?" Aurora timidly asked.
"What? I thought I just got over explaining this to you!"
"Then what is it?" Aurora was getting a little frazzled and felt the fever coming back upon her.
"It's V8!" he cried. "My doctor says I have a vitamin deficiency."
Aurora considered those statements for several long moments before finally turning herself to face Richard and posing her question.
"You go to a doctor?"
Richard sighed, this had been a really long day.
My first Sailor Moon fanfic was about Mamoru (or Darien, really, as I'd only watched the dub back then), and in a way, I feel the most sympathy for him. He's an ass for most of the series, and has earned many people's wraith for his treatment of Usagi (especially during R). But he's a very confused person, not only because of his amnesia, not only because he's really the first character to resurrect his memories of the Silver Millenium, not only because his parents died when he was young, but because, in a way, his soul recognizes his one true love but his mind doesn't. I can't even imagine how that must feel, to know someone so intimately but, ultimately, not at all. So that's why I use him rather judiciously, because I think he's interesting.
Dealing with only Ami and Rei has left open the ability to give much needed screen-time to somewhat underdeveloped characters, and I'm taking advantage of that, especially to really go into the relationship between the Dark Kingdom Generals. Nephrite is blessed in the anime for getting the most depth than any other 1st season villain, Beryl most definitely included (I believe Biles compared her to Rita, the villain of Power Rangers, "After 10,000 years I'm free! Time to conquer... EARTH!"). I'm trying to play a little more with Zoicite here, and eventually Kunzite, although I think he's an ass, and I probably will just exemplify his awful attitude.