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/ \
| Vengeance And A Half |
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Thanks to my pre-readers:
Ben
aevan http://aevan.virtualave.net
Kevin D. Hammel http://www.anime.sobhrach.com/~khammel/
Blood Blade http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Towers/5920
Mike Rever

Visit my website at
dzillman@ozemail.com.au
http://www.ozemail.com.au/~dzillman/fire

What has happened:
The time travel of Prince Diamond and the Inner Senshi at the end of
Sailor Moon R has caused a paradox. Now the Outer Senshi are awake, the
Death Busters are active, and the Dark Moon Family are still trying to
conquer the world. In a desperate bid to stop a Daimon from gaining her
Heart Crystal, the Outer Senshi were responsible for Akane's death. Now
Nabiki, Cologne and Genma are providing support for the growing team
seeking to defeat the demons and the Senshi.

The forces of good - no matter whose perspective you are looking from -
are besieged from all sides. The only thing preventing a complete and
devastating victory for any side is the fact that no two forces can
cooperate.

The Senshi have an ever widening schism between the Inners and Outers,
while Ranma's friends have been shocked to learn that Kodachi has
apparently joined forces with the Dark Moon Family. The same family to
which Black Lady owes her allegiance, unbeknownst to her new friend
Ryoga.

Pluto is unconscious in a coma, Mistress 9's host has been spirited
away from Tomoe Souichi who was helping her manifest, and Ranma's
friends are prevented from any form of direct action due to their
failure to score any significant victories.

All hopes seem lost, for the forces of good and evil alike.

Part 8: A Lukewarm Reception
============================

Groaning in pain, Tenou Haruka lifted her stiff and swollen knee and
placed it onto another cushion. Replacing the ice pack, she lay back
down and turned to face the television again. Although she had been
staring at the TV for the last two hours, she could not say what had
been showing. It was merely on as a distraction, a way to try and avoid
thinking about her recent failure.

It was not working very well at that, since all she could do was think
about how she and Michiru had been pounded in their last battle.

A day ago they had gone up against Black Lady. From what they knew, she
was the right-hand woman in the Dark Moon Family. Although they had not
received anything as clear as a memo on the subject, they had gathered
from previous encounters that Emerald served Diamond, but Black Lady
was more or less on equal footing with him. After the way she had
tossed them around in the battle, Haruka sincerely hoped that Diamond
was not going to be any more powerful than Black Lady, otherwise they
were done for.

There was the obvious answer of course. If she and Sailor Neptune could
plague the Death Busters long enough, they would recover the three
Talismans. This in turn would release their Super Sailor forms, and
Haruka knew from her fragmented and often incomplete memory that those
forms and the attacks that came with them would go a long way to having
them stand on equal footing with Black Lady.

Rolling onto her back and looking at the ceiling, Haruka wondered who
the man was that had interrupted their fight yesterday. She had seen
him before, wandering around and looking completely gormless, but
yesterday he had shown them a new trick, and Neptune had confirmed how
dangerous he could be. Although normally he was not much more than a
pest, when he used the Dark Crystal, he became rather a threat. An
immobile, easy target, but still a threat.

Letting her mind rest, Haruka closed her eyes and tried to bring to
mind an image of the boy they had fought. Lying there, she pictured him
in her mind. He was big - at least as tall as her, possibly more - and
much broader across the shoulder. He had a sort of power-lifter's build
to him, but he moved with the same fluid grace that she herself had,
and that meant he must have a fair amount of fighting skill. Smirking
to herself, Haruka decided she knew how to defeat him. Although he
could obviously use some sort of magic since he managed to throw some
energy blasts at Sailor Neptune even before he got to the statue, he
would be no match for her Sailor form's strength and speed up close.

Despite the pain in her swollen knee, Haruka smiled at the thought of
getting in close and beating the stuffing out of him. To her magically
attuned senses the boy seemed unexceptional. Sailor Uranus was anything
but unexceptional, she went all the way to magnificent. With magically
enhanced speed, power and resistance, she could knock any normal man
into next week without even trying.

Although she enjoyed thinking about getting a good victory, she could
not forget how she felt after the battle. Previously, the only time she
had suffered a really heavy come-down was after injuring or killing a
civilian while Sailor Uranus. Her Senshi powers not only inured her to
physical harm, they also protected her from all the psychological
stresses and strains that went with combat. In battle, Sailor Uranus
was an enemy to fear, no matter who you were. Cold, calculating,
implacable; she could match wits and dedication with anyone on the
planet. After the battle, Tenou Haruka took over, and she was not quite
as mentally fortified.

Her battle the previous day had just been against Black Lady and her
cohort, but the sheer killing hatred that Sailor Uranus kept tight
reign on left Haruka feeling nauseous for hours afterwards. Even worse
was the fear. Fear of dying, fear of failure, fear of letting Neptune
down; all of these things Uranus could keep bottled up in a little jar
deep inside her stomach and not let them out. After Neptune had pulled
her out of a crater and dragged her limp body back home, Uranus had
reverted to her normal form, and the shakes had set in.

Even now, twenty-four hours after the event, Haruka could only just
keep her hand steady. She, a professional race driver, a person who
thrived on adrenaline, was suffering from shell shock as bad as any
trench warfare soldier. Black Lady's terrible magical bombardment had
literally shaken her world. Until then, she had never even seen such
power. Her mind told her that her Queen could do all that and more -
she too should be able to match it in her Eternal form if they ever
found out how to unlock it - but being on the receiving end of the
detonations was an educational experience.

Every time she remembered back to how it looked, she started shaking
again. After taking a direct hit from Sailor Uranus' World Shaking,
Black Lady had stood up again completely unfazed. Acting as though the
dirt on her dress was her only concern, the woman had hovered in the
air and sent black death charging down towards the Senshi. That was the
part that made Haruka shake. When she was Uranus, she had coldly dived
out of the way, saving herself only by luck and the grace of God.
Looking back on it, she could not believe how close she had come to
being killed.

It was the dying part that terrified her. There was still so much to do.
She had school and a career, but these were petty in the greater scheme
of things. There was her love for Michiru, the elegant Sailor Neptune,
which was growing deeper and stronger every day. Where Uranus provided
the strength on the battlefield, Michiru provided it in their private
lives, helping to hold her together when everything seemed too much to
handle.

Just as importantly - though sometimes she could not understand why she
felt this way - Haruka wanted to restore the Moon Kingdom. It might
have been dead and buried, nothing more than dust for millennia, but
she was alive and the legacy of the Kingdom and the peace and love it
represented lived on within her. Even with everything else going on in
her life, that was one of Haruka's fondest wishes. She wanted to go
down on one knee and swear fealty to the Queen, to give her allegiance
to someone wise, strong, just and noble. To her, that mattered. That
was what she fought for; for a brighter future, where people could live
in peace and happiness. Where love and safety could be the rule, rather
than the exception. A place where there would be no need for warriors
like Sailor Neptune or Sailor Uranus.

That was why she hated Sailor Moon and her minions. The supposed
Princess opposed them every step of the way. Where she and Michiru
sought to bring down Black Lady and her ilk, the Inner Senshi seemed to
defend them. Where she and Neptune were willing to go the extra
distance and make the hard decisions to prevent the Death Busters from
gaining the power of the Talismans and the energy in people's Heart
Crystals, again the Inners opposed them.

Some days it felt as though she spent more effort trying to get through
the Inner Senshi to do her job than she actually expended fighting the
real threat. By themselves, the Inner Senshi seemed fairly benign,
without any particular agenda other than presenting a false Princess in
the hopes of ruling the Moon Kingdom. However, if they were in the same
area as the Outers, the two inevitably clashed.

In recent days, prior to fighting Black Lady, things had gone to the
next step in the rivalry between Inner and Outer Senshi. On the way to
another fight the two forces had met. Haruka could not remember how it
started but even without the Death Busters, the Dark Moon Family, or
the semi-powerful vigilantes, the Inners and Outers had clashed. Like
so many other pointless battles, there had been no winners or losers,
only a mutual withdrawal, but it was a progression. Now they did not
need a reason to fight. All they needed was to sight the others, and
the magic began to fly. There was so much bad blood between them both
sides now felt the "innocent until proven guilty" rule could be waived
in favour of expediency.

Haruka was still lying there with her eyes closed, meditating on what
it would take to make such cute girls turn bad when the door opened and
she heard the measured steps of her partner coming through the house.
While Haruka rested and tried some good old-fashioned treatments for
her injuries, Michiru had gone to the local store for some vegetables
to make dinner. Since Haruka still had some meat in the freezer, they
had taken it out to thaw and were planning a special dinner. Not as a
celebration, but more as a consolation.

A heavy "thud" sound beside her head prompted Haruka to open her eyes
and find Michiru's concerned face. "Everything OK at the store?"

"Sure, the store was fine. Take a look at the paper and tell me how
fine things really are."

Carefully, Haruka groped around for the paper that had landed near her
head. When she found it, she began scanning the front page. It did not
take long to find what Michiru was referring to, you would have to be
blind to miss it. According to the newspaper, the mansion belonging to
a wealthy Tokyo family had "vanished" yesterday afternoon.

Reading from the paper, Haruka spoke aloud. "A witness described the
event as a complete mystery. The house and grounds had literally been
there one second, and gone the next. 'It was completely silent', said
the witness. 'Normally in Tokyo you can always hear something, but then
it was just completely quiet. I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't
been admiring their roses at the time.'"

Lowing the paper, Haruka looked up at Michiru's strained face.
"'Completely silent' they said."

Michiru nodded. "Can you think of anyone with an attack like that?"

Looking down at the newspaper again, Haruka admired the aerial before
and after photos. "How many people do you think worked in a place that
size? Twenty? Thirty maybe?"

"Thirty's probably a safe figure. Especially when you consider there
would have been a family living there. If you keep reading the article,
the only one they have listed one person as missing so far. I guess
that means she's a safe bet for DOA. Saturn is not known for leaving
many alive."

Haruka closed her eyes and tried to hold in the stinging tears. It was
not supposed to be this way. This was why they had tried so hard. Tried
to protect the world from Sailor Saturn they only way it could be. Once
again, they had failed, and once again people had paid the price.

Haruka felt Michiru's arm's slide around her as the girl kneeled on the
floor. "Shh. It's OK, Haruka. It's not your fault. We did the best we
could. Just remember that. This is Sailor Saturn's fault, not yours.
You can't protect everyone, no matter how hard you try."

This time it had only been a mansion in the middle of a huge estate.
What happened the next time Sailor Saturn encountered a Droid or Daimon
in the middle of a crowded section of Tokyo? If she used the Silence
Glaive Surprise in a business district like Akasaka during business
hours, the dead would be listed in the hundreds of thousands.

* * *

"All right, Ami. Let's start with the easy ones."

"Right." Looking around the room to make sure she had everyone's
attention, Ami activated the slide projector. She had connected it to
the Mercury computer so that she could do a presentation of what they
knew.

"OK, first of all we have the Dark Moon Family. I'm sure everyone...
err, aside from you and Artemis, Luna. I'm sure everyone remembers what
they are after. When we spoke to King Endymion in the future, he said
that they were disgruntled rebels, and they wanted to overthrow the
Moon Kingdom.

"Unfortunately the Ayakashi Sisters didn't survive in this timeline, so
I haven't been able to check with them about what is going on now. The
best information that we have is they are still trying to do what
Emerald was doing before we all went to the future. That means they are
trying to pull as much dark energy as possible into Tokyo. If they can
succeed in that, they can destroy Crystal Tokyo before it is formed,
and cause the revolution they were hoping for."

Luna and Artemis frowned at the idea that anyone would want to
overthrow the reborn Moon Kingdom, but they held their peace. Around
the room, everyone was silent and attentive, which was a near miracle
considering the fact that Usagi was sitting front and centre in the
group.

Pressing a key on her computer, Ami advanced the picture to Black Lady.
"We all know that Black Lady is really Chibi-Usa, Usagi-chan's daughter
from the future, but she's been corrupted by the Wiseman. He works for
the Black Moon Family, and she seems to be following suit. I'm afraid
that's about all any of us have been able to find out about her, other
than the fact that she is really powerful.

"From what I could tell, Black Lady has all of Chibi-Usa's memories,
they've just been warped somehow so that she hates Sailor Moon and the
rest of us. I honestly don't know how she feels about the Black Moon
Family, but since she is working for them, that might be academic at
the moment."

Next the blue haired girl clicked through a series of slides showing
various members of the Death Busters and the Daimons. "We know they are
called the Death Busters, and we know they are stealing the Heart
Crystals from people, but we have no idea why. Honestly, I don't even
have a clue why, unless it is just a different way for them to collect
energy."

Makoto frowned and clenched a fist. "I bet those Outer Senshi know."

Amid a chorus of agreement, Ami nodded and sighed. "I do to, Mako-chan,
but has anyone been able to talk to them?"

When everyone, even Usagi shook their heads, Ami resignedly pressed the
button again and this time showed Uranus and Neptune. "Just like all of
the other pictures, I recorded this one with my visor. Let's see... I
took this one four days ago, when we... err, ran into them near the
primary school."

Turning to the cats, Usagi tried to see if they knew anything that had
been missed before. "Are you sure you don't know anything about them?
Anything at all?"

Usagi's loyal advisor Luna was the first to respond. "I'm sorry, Usagi-
sama. We honestly don't know anything. Back in the Silver Imperium the
Outer Senshi were some of the strongest supporters of the Moon Kingdom.
And I mean strong in every way. Not only were they powerful, but they
were incredibly loyal. Personally I think it had to do with how far
they were from Earth. When you are that far from help and justice, you
have to be able to rely on being backed up by a fair and just ruler.

"Queen Serenity was exactly that sort of ruler, and the Outers loved
her for it. Everyone did, but since the Outers were not able to attend
court as often as the Inner Senshi, I think they carried the torch of
loyalty even stronger in their hearts. To them, it was an ideal, not
just a way of life. Where we lived with peace, wisdom and justice every
day, they were the ones appointed to carry that burden in the Queen's
place so far from Earth. To them, the Moon Kingdom was everything.
Everything!"

The black cat shook its head sadly. "They loved the Kingdom and the
Queen, and that is why this is so hard for me. After so many months
with the Inner Senshi fighting each other, it is so good to have you
back together. Just as that miracle occurs, we are at odds with the
Outer Senshi. They believe in the same things we do, why can't we all
just get along?"

Artemis put a paw on Luna's back as his friend hung her head in sadness.
"Personally," Artemis began in his rough voice. "Personally I think
it's like religion. Catholics and Protestants are both Christians, but
you never hear about them getting on together. Sometimes all it takes
is a little difference in how you see things, and you become enemies.
Just ask the Irish."

"But we shouldn't be enemies, Artemis!" Usagi whined. "We should be
friends."

"I'm sorry, Usagi-sama. All I'm saying is maybe they don't know you the
way we do. Maybe they don't respect you the way we do. All I can say is
I sincerely hope that the Outer Senshi came through the awakening with
their memories intact and functional. If they can't remember the Moon
Kingdom and they genuinely are our enemies, then heaven help us all.
You girls can testify just how tough they can be."

More than one head nodded at that. Getting roughed up to some degree
was becoming par for the course as a Senshi. The Droids were tougher
these days. They Daimons were outright nasty. Black Lady or the Witches
working for the Death Busters were extremely bad. Where the Senshi had
managed to defeat Emerald and Rubius in the past, and had defeated all
of the Dark Kingdom's minions in their day, so far they had not come
close to dealing a good blow to any of the Witches 5.

Rubbing an arm, Hino Rei nodded to Ami. "Speaking of tough, what do you
have on those others? Heck, I don't even know what they're called!"

By now each of the Senshi had their own hard luck story from dealing
with the rouge element in the equation. Although the fighters had not
been as aggressive recently as they had been when first they met,
everyone had had their own opportunity to become intimately acquainted
with the frightful strength that normal people can possess. They might
not have taken the same beating that Sailor Venus had received that
first fateful time, but there had been more than one girl limping home.

Oddly enough, the only one of the Inner Senshi that did not feel overly
averse to this group of enemies was Sailor Jupiter. Twice now she had
personally clashed with the petite red-head that led so many of the
sallies against the Senshi, and each time the two had fought to an
almost standstill. Although she used magic to boost herself, she could
recognise the immense skill the girl possessed. Even though the redhead
was an agent of evil, Jupiter could not keep her competitive streak
down and the thought of facing her again took her back to the heady
days of Junior High when she had fought the bigger kids and built her
own reputation. For her and the redhead, it was a relationship of mixed
respect and hatred, for no matter what Jupiter felt on a personal basis,
she would not let anyone hurt Usagi the way this girl tried to.

Ami sighed and shook her head. As she spoke, she brought up more
pictures to complement her words. "Again, I'm afraid we know very
little, and the news I do have is mixed good and bad.

"The good news is that they are not as strong as we are. There might be
a couple more of them than we have on our side, but most of them are
not as fast, and none of them have magic that even remotely compares to
ours. Well, all but one have no magic, but I'll get to her later.

"This man calls himself the Blue Thunder Of Tokyo. I've searched the
microfiche files for eight newspapers at the library, but I can't find
anyone using that name. I'm afraid it's a complete dead end. From what
we've seen, he seems to be the leader.

"Tuxedo Kamen suggested that this next man is probably his second in
command." The photo showed Ryoga snarling in anger with a fist raised.
"I took this picture just before he hit me, and I can tell you how
strong he is. I'm afraid I haven't seen anything to back up Tuxedo
Kamen's suggestion. Sorry."

The girls and cats mumbled amongst themselves for a few moments, but
they could not come up with anything that supported his suggestion
either. Rei suggested that Mamoru was just showing a bit of male
chauvinism; while Usagi waved her quiet for picking on her boyfriend,
she did not refuse what the miko said either.

"We don't have a name for any of these other people either, so I'll go
through most of them fairly quickly." Good to her word, Ami gave a
short rundown on the observed capabilities of each of Ranma's friends
other than Sailor Saturn.

"Despite popular opinion, this one is my personal recommendation for
the leader. I... I can't really say why, but she is." The screen showed
a red-haired, pig-tailed girl locked in combat with Sailor Jupiter.
Disturbingly, both combatants had fierce smiles on their faces.

"With the possible exception of the Blue Thunder..." Ami directed an
innocent look at Mamoru sitting at the back of the room when she said
this. "With that _possible_ exception, she is definitely the best
fighter in their team. Up close, I'd say she would probably come close
to beating anyone other than Mako-chan. So be really careful if you
meet her. Some of us... Some of us I would probably lose against the
girl as it is, even with our Senshi powers."

"The only other good news I have is we finally have some information
regarding their motivations." Everyone in the room gave a collective
gasp. Even the cats were surprised and impressed by Ami's assertion.
"More than once, I've heard them call out something about a girl called
'Akane', and they usually mention something about revenge. I'm sure
you've all heard that?"

Continuing, Ami brought up a newspaper clipping, displaying it on the
wall with her computer. "This is an article in the Tokyo Daily, talking
about a Daimon attack a few weeks ago. According to the paper, Tendo
Akane was killed by a pair of girls wearing stylised school uniforms
while she was being attacked by a monster. The article is not very
descriptive, but reading between the lines, and adding in what else we
know, I've been able to extrapolate a likely scenario.

"It is my theory that this Tendo Akane was killed by the Outer Senshi
after one of the Death Buster's Daimons stole her Heart Crystal. It
fits the Outers established Modus Operandi, and the timing coincides
with three significant events. These are: our return from the future,
the awakening of the Outers, and the commencement of the Death Buster's
activities. To all appearances, what we have here is a set of revenge
driven individuals, and that's where the good news ends.

"Interestingly enough - and probably just as good for us - is the fact
that they seem to hate everyone out there. Reading eyewitness accounts
and newspaper reports, these people have been mixing it up with
everyone. Us, the Death Buster, the Dark Moon Family, the Outer Senshi,
even themselves a little if some of the reports are to be believed. I
guess it all comes back to the whole idea of trying to get revenge for
Miss Tendo, even if they are badly overmatched.

"When I was trying to find out more about Miss Tendo, I tried looking
up details on her friends and family, to see if they matched the
profile of anyone we might have been fighting. I haven't had time to go
through everyone in her school, but so far I have checked the class
photo and history of everyone in her year. This is her family... I got
this photo from an award shot at a martial arts competition she won a
year ago, so it is fairly recent.

"The school's yearbook photo did have one person who resembled one of
our enemies. But the boy, Kuonji Ukyo doesn't have a sister. He looked
so similar to the brown haired girl we were fighting, I had to check up
on him, but his family register only lists him.

"As you can see, no one in the Tendo's photo bears any resemblance to
our enemies. I couldn't even see any family resemblance. In the
background search I did, I also found out that Miss Tendo was engaged.
This is a picture of her fiancee, a Saotome Ranma. There's a passing
resemblance to the red-head, but his family records don't pan out
either. I'm afraid he's an only child."

The rest of the Inner Senshi were sitting there with their mouths open.
This was far more than they had ever expected Ami to discover. Usagi -
whose study and research habits had never been good - was completely
awed. She had known Ami the longest and realised they were only just
beginning to scratch the surface of an otherwise hidden talent. They
all knew Ami was brilliant and hard working, but until now there had
never been anything to clearly show them what that meant in practice.
High test scores at school were one thing, but this was in another
league altogether. In the time she had worked on it, Ami had done
enough digging to make an entire newspaper's research team seem
inadequate and understaffed by comparison.

"That is absolutely amazing, Ami-chan! How did you find out so much?
You must have spent every single hour in the library!"

Blushing under the praise, Ami looked away. "Oh, come on, Usagi-chan,
you know that's not true. I still had to study for that maths exam
coming up next week and I needed to stay ahead of class and juku.
Besides, it's really not all that good. Honestly."

When her friends finally stopped telling her what first rate work she
had done, Ami flicked over to the next picture. It was a group shot of
the fighters, with every looking at the photographer aside from the
Chinese boy with his glasses propped up on his head. He was looking off
to the side with a confused expression on his otherwise handsome face.

"Here's the really bad news: they're getting stronger. It's difficult
to say exactly how or why, but the readings I'm getting are always
slightly better than the last time. At first I thought it was just an
error, or the fact that they might not have been doing the best
initially, but now I'm convinced they're getting better.

"Every time I've fought with one of them, I keep trying to track things
like how fast they can move or punch. It also took me a while, but now
I can also measure the power in those energy blasts of theirs. As I
said before, they don't match up with our magic, but they are getting
stronger. Mako-chan, you're the best martial artist in the team, what
do you think?"

The tall girl fingered her pony-tail thoughtfully before she replied,
and she spoke slowly and carefully. "I'm not sure, Ami-chan. I still
say I don't think it is possible to be _that_ good just using martial
arts. I know I'm pretty good, but these people would eat me for
breakfast if I wasn't Sailor Jupiter. Whether they're getting better...
That's just too hard to say. I've only fought her a couple of times, so
it's not as though I have a good comparison. Besides, I think she was
able to remember some of my moves from the previous fight a little."

"Now, guys, I'm afraid I saved the worst for last." Click. This slide
showed an image all of the Senshi were now able to recognise. "Sailor
Saturn... Where do I begin? Well, she's definitely on their side, but I
have no idea why. I actually saw speculation in one newspaper that
suggested the Outers had attacked her, but they were not clear enough
to be sure of that. They could have been talking about us fighting the
Outers.

"The short version is best, I think. She's there, she is awake, she has
her powers, and she is very, very careful about how she uses them."

That got more incredulous looks. Rei waved her hand for attention and
when Ami signalled her that she was not interrupting, the priestess
spoke as though she was trying to be gentle with someone who did not
quite grasp all the facts. "Maybe you missed this one, Ami-chan, but I
read this morning that Sailor Saturn destroyed an entire city block
with her attack. Do you really think that is being careful?"

The genius smiled indulgently, as though for a slow student. "You know,
I thought that very article was interesting myself, Rei-chan,
especially since it seemed so different from what I had observed, so I
did a little more checking. From what I have gleamed from the papers, I
think we can safely assume that this was the first time Saturn has used
her Silence Glaive Surprise. The sort of damage that it can do would be
too hard to miss or cover up, and that has not been in the papers until
yesterday.

"Now yesterday, that was very interesting too. Did you know that of
eighteen major Tokyo newspapers, only one of them listed any
fatalities? Since that paper stated that there were seventy-six dead
and another thirty heavily wounded in part of a government nuclear
experiment gone haywire, I think we should pass on it. Most of them
indicated only a few missing people, with no confirmed deaths. Of
course, with what Luna and Artemis have told us about the attack, I
don't think they will find any bodies, if indeed anyone died.

"You see, I checked the ownership on the home that was destroyed. Only
three people lived there, one of them is listed by his job as on
sabbatical, and one of the others - the son - called in sick for school
today, just like he has every other day for the past week.

"All I've come up with is one missing person. I looked up a picture of
her too, but she wasn't any of the fighters either. This is exactly
what I mean, Rei-chan. Sailor Saturn has been very careful with what
she has done. I'm not sure what happened to Miss Kuno, maybe she's on
holidays or maybe she was actually hurt, but she would be the first
person Saturn has hurt.

"Now think about the number of times we've either fought her or seen
her hiding in the back of a battle while the others fought. Just think
about the times she could have done something to us, but she didn't. I
can think of at least one occasion where she could have fairly safely
used something as powerful as what destroyed the Kuno home and only hit
us. All she's ever used is her Silence Wall.

"I think that says a lot."

Usagi was the first to speak in the following silence, sounding both
nervous and hopeful. "Ami-chan... Do you means she might not really be
bad? She might not be dangerous to us?"

"I... I can't say that. There's no denying Sailor Saturn is dangerous.
She's demonstrated that she can do the Silence Glaive Surprise, so
there is no question of whether she is dangerous. The main question is:
is she our enemy?"

The blonde's face fell. "She must be. She must hate us. We were all so
afraid of her, and I tried to heal her without even asking. She must
think I'm a horrible person now. Besides... If she's hanging around
with those others, she has to think we're the bad guys, even if she is
a Senshi too."

Luna climbed into Usagi's lap and tried to comfort her. "Usagi-sama,
don't be to hard on yourself. You did the best you could, and you tried
to do the best for everyone else as well as you knew how. Now that we
know better... Well, if she's a Senshi and she really is good, then
we'll be able to get her to join up with us in a jiffy!"

"Oh, I hope you're right, Luna, I really do."

Usagi might have intended to continue, but the door burst open and Aino
Minako, part time Senshi of love, Sailor Venus, burst in huffing and
puffing. "Whew! Sorry I'm late, everyone. I ran here straight from
detention. Did I miss anything?"

The assorted Senshi groaned and Artemis covered his head, personally
embarrassed that his charge could be that late and that naive.

"We just finished." Rei said in a dry voice.

"Don't worry, Mina-chan." Ami began in her usual happy tone. "I've got
everything prepared as handouts in case anyone wanted to take them home
and study them. They're much more thorough than what I just said. You
can read them tonight if you like."

"Umm... Thanks, Ami-chan... I think..." Looking around the blonde
finally found Rei amongst her friends and selected a spot next to her
on the floor.

Since the main purpose of the meeting was finished, no one noticed when
Minako sat down next to Rei and began gossiping. Usagi was already
cornering Makoto on the subject of a boy the tall Senshi had seen
earlier. Although he had not quiet looked like Makoto's old boyfriend,
rumour had it that he had warranted a second glance, and Usagi wanted
all of the juicy details. With Ami already going over her notes to see
if she needed to update them so the Senshi could study them at home,
Rei was an easy target.

"So, Rei-chan. Why didn't you hire another hunky guy like Yuuichiro?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"The new girl out the front. The one selling wards. I really think you
should of picked a guy with a nice body. I mean, if you have to work
with him, he should be good looking right?"

Rei scratched her head and looked confused. "I have absolutely no idea
what you are babbling about this time, Mina-chan."

Throwing up her hands in a theatrical display of frustration, Minako
explained the situation to the shrine maiden in slow, small words so
she could understand. "There is a girl out the front of the shrine.
She's wearing a miko's robes. She is selling wards. Are you with me so
far?"

Rei shook her head. "No. We haven't hired anyone."

"Oh..." Minako thought for a moment then gave a sunny smile. "I guess
it doesn't matter then. Just remember, next time you hire someone, make
sure he's a real hunk."

When Minako went to rise and grab some food with her leader, Rei
snatched her arm to prevent her from leaving. "Hang on, you still
haven't told me anything about this person."

"What's there to tell? She's selling wards to keep demons away. They
must be pretty good, since she's offering a money back guarantee."

Rei was impressed. "Wow. Something strong enough to keep away a Droid
or Daimon has to be pretty impressive. Maybe I ought to go and have a
chat to her. I could learn something."

Sighing, Minako dug around inside her skirt pocket before pulling out a
sheet of white paper with strange writing on it. "Well, I was going to
save this for our next fight, but I guess you can have a look at it. I
wanted to surprise you by sealing away the Droid just like you do
sometimes."

Looking at the ward, Rei realised that she could not read a single one
of the inscriptions on it. Whoever had made this obviously learnt from
a significantly different branch of Shinto than she did. Reaching out
gently, Rei took the paper in her hands and studied it. Turning it over
a few times, the scowl on her face got progressively larger and fiercer.

"Minako... How much did she charge you for this?"

"Hmm... Most of my weeks allowance. But it would have been worth it to
see your face when I used it!"

Sadly shaking her head, Rei stood up and patted her friend on the
shoulder. "You've been duped. This is just an ordinary piece of paper.
I'm going to go down there and tell her to get lost. She can't sell
things like this in front of the shrine! It'll be an insult to everyone
who has ever worked here."

"It's a fake?! Rei-chan! Get me my money back! She can't do this!"

Giving a stern nod, Rei stalked out of the room and through the shrine
grounds. Descending the stairs she passed the familiar stone tablet
declaring the Hikawa Jinja and looked left and right along the street.
The woman selling the wards was not hard to spot. She wore bright red
pants like Rei, and the same traditional white top. Where Rei's long
black hair was held back in place with a white tie, the stranger's was
cut short in a bob. Other than that, the two girls were dress
identically.

"Hey! You there! What are you doing selling these in front of my
shrine?"

The woman, since she looked a few years older than Rei, smiled coldly.
"Selling them. Why? Do you want to buy one?"

"No! I don't want to buy them! I want you to stop selling them! They're
complete garbage!"

Seeing Rei was waving one of her wards, Nabiki raised and eyebrow and
was momentarily glad that there were no customers there at the moment.
"I assure you, Miss, that you must have gotten a defective one. I Would
gladly refund your money if you are attacked while carrying it."

"Refund my money?!" Veins started to pop out on Rei's forehead as she
closed with the fake priestess. "It's useless! This thing couldn't stop
a fly let alone a Droid or Daimon. You're nothing but a fake and a
charlatan! What's more, I'm going to tell that to anyone that I see
coming near here."

Narrowing her eyes, Nabiki refused to back down a single centimetre. "I
have just as much right to be here and sell them as anyone else.
There's no law against me doing so; I've checked. If you attempt to say
anything about them, I can get you for slander."

"Humph! I'd like to see you try! This shrine has been here for hundreds
of years, and I can get my grandfather down here in an instant to
testify that they're noting but paper. Try and sell that!"

"You ought to be careful what you are trying to do. The law still
refuses to recognise the existence of spiritual or mediumistic powers.
In a court of law you cannot disprove what I am saying, and I give a
full refund guarantee. Don't try and fight me, girl. You'll lose."

Nabiki smirked. She might not be able to fight like Ranma, but that did
not mean she could not fight at all. Not going to school meant that she
missed her regular gambling rings and extortion rackets. Getting into a
good argument for the first time in weeks was like a cool shower after
trek in the desert.

The priestess-in-training of the Hikawa shrine ran a hand through her
fringe and glared at the stranger. "Don't you have any conscience at
all? People could get hurt if they rely on these things."

"Oh, please, what do you take me for? Of course I don't have a
conscience. I'm a business woman. And I'm in the business of making
money, so if you would please just move along, I would be quiet happy.
Besides, I'll only be here a few more months. The fools who buy this
seem to be much happier when I sell it out the front of a shrine.
Slaves to their culture, I guess."

Rei gaped like a fish out of water. "You don't... You don't even care
if they're fake..."

"I care about the money, and what that can buy me. I care about what I
make off these bits of paper and the gullibility of the people who walk
by here. I care about the fact that this money is the only thing
keeping my family fed and in medical supplies. But do I care if they're
fake? No, not at all."

"Right! If that's the way you want to do it, then I'm going to set up a
business here too! Except I'll be selling the real thing. You won't
stand a chance! I'll run you out of here even if it is the last thing I
do."

That gave Nabiki pause. She did not care what the miko did. Nabiki
could print as many of these as she wanted to in a night, and there was
no minimum price on them, so she had no risk of being undercut. The
main risk she faced was the fact that this over-zealous religious nut
might drop the prices too far and impact her earnings that way. However,
if that did happen, there were plenty of other places in the city that
she could sell her wares without competition. It was more the fact that
the miko felt she could threaten Nabiki that got the saleswoman's
attention.

"Do you really think you can outdo me? Do you think you can produce
more of those things in a single night than I could sell?"

Rei stood her ground. "I will if I need to. Shinto is an important part
of people's lives. If we corrupt that by selling garbage like you have
there, people will lose faith. It is my duty to this shrine to make
sure that people like you are put out of business."

"And just how little do you think you can make these for? My costs run
at something like half a yen per ward, and I can sell them at between
two and three thousand yen. Can you really keep up with me?"

"I... I might not be able to make them that cheaply, but I'll do what I
can. I know Gramps will back me up too. We'll make them, and we'll do
them right."

Gears were turning in Nabiki's head so fast that you could almost hear
her thoughts at work. Any product capable of being sold was adequate. A
good product was even better. For something like this, a good product
just might save lives. More importantly, if someone out there was
protected by a real ward, it might make Ranma's job just that little
bit easier, and bring her sister's revenge one step closer.

"Yesterday I sold almost three hundred wards, and today is looking
better since I've moved out here. Do you honestly think you can keep up
with me?"

Rei stumbled to a halt, the maths trying to work over in her head. Even
if she stayed up all night and had her grandfather help, there was no
way that she could possibly produce that many in a single day, let
alone do it day-in, day-out like this girl was doing.

"N-No... I can't. But I'll still do my best! I'll drive you out of
business any way I can."

Donning a predatory grin, Nabiki made her current wares disappear from
the table. "Why drive me out of business? If you can really produce the
goods, I'll buy them from you."

"What?!"

"You heard me. However many wards you can make, I'll buy. I'll even go
one better and say that I'll only sell the real thing outside your
shrine. You can't get fairer than that."

"But... But... Why?" Rei could not understand that complete about face
from the girl. One minute she was an adversary, the next she had the
audacity to ask Rei to be one of her suppliers.

"Why? I'll tell you why. Up until five minutes ago, I believed all of
this was just guff and feel-good mumbo-jumbo for the tourists and the
gullible. If you can prove you've got the real thing, I'll change my
tune and I'm willing to take a hit to my profits to do it... So, what
do you say? Can you put your money where your mouth is and prove you
can deliver on the goods?"

"I..." Rei closed her mouth with a snap and studied her opponent. The
girl was a cool as a cucumber and plainly she was willing to go either
way. The raven haired priestess could not understand why someone would
sell something they knew was a complete fake, nor could she understand
why that same person would be willing to sacrifice a healthy portion of
their profits when presented with an opportunity to sell the real thing.
In her limited world view, these sorts of actions just did not make
sense.

Suddenly, something occurred to Rei. "Hang on! How am I supposed to
demonstrate that they work? It's not like I can produce a Daimon out of
thin air, you know!"

Clucking a few times, Nabiki shook her head. "Gee, that's too bad.
Looks like I'll have to keep selling these then. I can't just buy any
junk. That would be bad for business."

Rei was going to retaliate by commenting on how unfair that was when a
voice rang out across the street. "Daimon Telephone! Attack that girl!
Seize her Heart Crystal. Hers is filled with the purity of greed. It is
unsullied and perfect for our needs. Take it, so that we can serve our
Mistress!"

Both heads whipped around and Nabiki gulped audibly when she saw the
woman's hand pointing at her. "Err... Now might be a great time to
demonstrate, but I'm going to have to leave. Bye!"

Abandoning her table and fake wards, Nabiki sprinted down the street as
the Daimon followed her bellowing. When the Daimon ran past her, Rei
smirked and hoped that Sailor Moon would get here soon, she would not
be able to hold if off the girl for long. Although Rei had just been
screaming and shouting at her, she was sincere in her beliefs. If Rei
could save the opportunistic girl's life, she would, even if it allowed
the girl to come back and keep wrecking the good name of her shrine.

Deftly reaching into her jacket, Rei selected one of her own wards. She
had started carrying around a few when she became Sailor Mars, since
you never knew when you would encounter one of the spawn of evil that
made her job so hard. It paid to never be undefended. "Rin, pyou, tou,
sha, kai, jin, retsu, sai, zen. Akuryou taisan!"

With her empowering chant finished, Rei threw the ward at the Daimon
where it stuck to its back. Daimons were too strong for a single ward
to defeat, but they were susceptible. Howling in pain from the
spiritual energy that was attached to its back, the Daimon stumbled to
a halt. Its large clawed hands scrabbled at the ward, attempting to
dislodge it. Distracted, the Daimon ceased its chase of the fake miko
long enough for the girl to gain a block or two of distance.

Smiling as she heard the sound of booted feet racing down the stairs
from her home, Rei smiled and waved at the girl who had stopped and
turned to look back. "Is that a good enough demonstration?"

As Sailor Moon began to make her speech and the Daimon finally removed
the ward, Rei could not help but smile. Dimly, through all the noise,
she could hear the girl call out to her. "I'll be back in two days. As
many as you can make!"

When the girl vanished around the corner, Rei let out a deep breath.
She may have stopped the girl from selling her useless wards, but the
need for vigilance was still there, and the world was not going to get
cleaned up without her help. Unobserved, Rei stepped behind the wall at
the entrance to the shrine and raised her Henshin stick.

"MARS STAR POWER, MAKE UP!"

Returning to the street, Sailor Mars was just in time to rescue Sailor
Moon as her leader marginally stumbled out of the way of one of the
Daimon's attacks. "Gee, Sailor Moon! Do I have to do everything around
here?"

"Oh, be quiet Mars, and just help me dust this thing!"

Grinning from ear to ear, Mars brought her hands together to start her
attack. "With pleasure..."

* * *

Sapphire, Diamond's younger brother walked beside the soon-to-be new
ruler of Crystal Tokyo. Unlike Diamond, Emerald or Rubius, Sapphire had
not given himself over to the power offered by the Wiseman. He was in
this rebellion out a sense of loyalty to Diamond, not due to his desire
for power, nor any sort of quest to right past wrongs.

"I'm telling you, Brother, I do not think that the Wiseman is working
in our best interests. He is... I'm not sure what he is doing exactly,
but I do know that it is not necessary to our defeating Queen
Serenity."

"The Wiseman has brought us this far, and his plans have been sound to
date. No, I shall continue to heed his advice until such time as he
attempts to move against us. At that time, I shall show him the true
power of our family."

"As you wish, Brother, but I am concerned."

Passing through the large doors to the meeting hall, Diamond nodded to
the Wiseman and spoke in a low tone to his sibling. "I understand what
you say, and it is noted, but for the time being, he is more a help
than a hindrance. Until such time..."

"Excellent." The Wiseman's voice was cold and cruel in the shadowed
hall. "You have all arrived. I would like to introduce my newest
recruit. Please stand and be recognised by your... allies... Black
Rose."

Ignoring the uniformly intolerant looks she was garnering, Kodachi
stood and walked into the middle of the room. She wore a floor length
dress as black as pitch, as dark as the heart of the Wiseman. On each
side of the tight dress it was slit up to her thighs, exposing her pale
white flesh with every step she took. Although the dress was sleeveless,
the Black Rose wore long, black opera gloves that went all the way to
her biceps. Unlike Black Lady whose dress was in varying shades of dark
red, or Sapphire's clothes that held hi-lights of other colours,
Kodachi's apparel was pure black, without the slightest hint of relief.

"Good evening, commoners. My name is the Black Rose, foremost artisan
in the use of the Dark Crystal of Nemesis. Where you clumsily search in
the dark for ways to use our power, I shine like a light. Now that I am
here, you can rest assured that your meagre efforts to date will
shortly be brought to greater heights as you benefit from the skills
and wisdom that only someone of my standing can possess."

Black Lady, from where she sat in mid-air to the right of Diamond,
looked down and smirked. "Confident, isn't she?"

"Indeed." In a louder voice, Diamond addressed the Wiseman. "I am the
leader here, and I would ask upon whose authority it was that you
brought this woman here?"

"My deepest, most sincere apologies, Prince Diamond. Regrettably, there
was insufficient time to consult with you regarding the matter. The
Black Rose's position was tenuous at best where she lived. I am afraid
that I needed to act first and discuss the matter with you later. I beg
that you consider her talents before you condemn either of us."

Sapphire tensed at Diamond's side, feeling the falseness of the
Wiseman's apology, but his brother restrained him. "Very well then,
Wiseman. Tell us of your new plan, for surely you must have one that
involves this woman."

"Indeed I do, generous Prince. Indeed I do. Although the Black Rose's
power and capacity to use the dark energy that we harness is quiet
limited, she is nonetheless able to do things that we have never been
able to. The Black Rose possesses a fineness of control that exceeds
mine and anyone else's here in all respects. I have seen her craft the
Dark Crystal into a statue of such beauty it would make you weep to
behold. She alone possesses the talents necessary to make Droids
completely independent of the crystal that spawned them. Following her
teachings, we can increase your abilities in battle tenfold.

"Now that she is one of us, the Black Rose will conduct training for
all of you. She will teach you to do what only she can. With her
teaching and my leadership, soon we will bring sufficient dark energy
into this world to ensure that Crystal Tokyo is destroyed before it is
ever created."

"Little man, I think you are delusional."

Everyone turned and faced the Black Rose who continued in a nonchalant
tone of voice. "Do you really think I would teach everything I know to
a set of fools and lack-wits like these? I, the Black Rose, reduced to
a mere teacher of the common class? I think not.

"No, instead I shall do what I have always done, directing my own
brilliance to achieving my ends by any means. I shall not have the time
to spend with these people if I am to conduct my own research. Yes,
that is how it must be. Once I am properly established and I have begun
to rewrite how your crystal can be used, only then will I be ready to
make my mark upon the stage."

"As much as I hate to admit it, I agree with the floozy in black."
Emerald was nothing if not blunt and she saw this as a good opportunity
to gain favour with her prince. "We are the Dark Moon Family, the next
rulers of the Earth. I refuse to believe the someone like Prince
Diamond could learn from this... this street tramp!"

"Street tramp?! Why you!..." Summoning her newly granted energies to
her hand, the Black Rose prepared to blast the impudent Emerald.
Prepared to that was, until she saw how easily the woman summoned an
even greater mass of swirling dark energy. Kodachi might be snide and
look down upon people, but she was far from stupid. Just like in
Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics, she knew that this battle was better
not fought in a conventional arena. Rather than take on the obviously
more powerful Emerald, Kodachi settled for snarling in anger and
silently plotting against the woman. She could not guard herself every
minute of every day.

When Emerald saw the Black Rose cave in to her threat so quickly she
laughed and delicately waved her fan in front of her face. Her laugh
was so similar to Kodachi's it managed to set the new-comer's teeth on
edge even more as the Black Rose convinced herself that Emerald was
stealing yet another of her more noted characteristics.

When the noise subsided, Diamond stepped forwards and gestured around
the room. "While we all appreciate the effort that you have made for us,
Wiseman, I cannot help but think your plans are once again premature. I
am willing to admit that there may be some small measure I might learn
from this woman, but now is not the time. As we speak, Sailor Moon and
her ladies in waiting are running through this city.

"From the first time that I saw her in Crystal Tokyo, I knew that
Sailor Moon was to be the person I would take as my wife. As much as I
have enjoyed playing your games and planting those amusing statues for
you, I am afraid I have been neglecting other things.

"I would be most interested in hearing from you, Black Rose, once you
have settled in and feel that you have a contribution to make. In the
meantime, I shall be seeing to my future kingdom and the woman destined
to be my bride. Come, Sapphire. There is much that I must do."

With that, Prince Diamond, ruler of the Dark Moon Family turned on his
heel and walked out of the room followed by his brother. Simultaneously,
the Black Rose departed from another door, leaving Emerald and Black
Lady awaiting the Wiseman's instructions.

Fuming, the Wiseman's hands manipulated his crystal ball with almost
frenetic activity. "Hnnnn... Closer, we need to draw more dark energy
into this time. We need to draw more of Nemesis' power before I can
open the portal to the future and draw upon the full potential. That
ungrateful wench! I brought her here and gave her power beyond
comprehension, and this is how she repays me?"

"Wiseman." Emerald began. "Please, what is it that you desire? What is
the next step in your plan to conquer the future and place Prince
Diamond upon the throne he deserves. Tell me, please. If my Prince is
too busy to attend to these matters personally, you must allow me. I
_must_ show Diamond that I am the right one to be his Queen, not this
Sailor Moon child. When I deliver to him the victory that you have
promised, surely then he will understand. Wiseman! You must help me
show Diamond the error of his ways."

The Wiseman chuckled, deep, low, slow and sinister. "Of course I shall,
my dear Emerald. I would be delighted to have you help me teach Diamond
his errors. Yes, the more dark energy that you can bring in, the sooner
I will be able to make Prince Diamond see the facts. At that time, I
would be delighted to clear up any issues like his forthcoming marriage
for you, my good, loyal Emerald."

Emerald smiled as she followed the Wiseman from the room. She knew that
Sapphire was spreading rumours about him, but Emerald did not believe
them. Without the Wiseman, they would still be outcasts from Earth.
Without his help and power, they would be incapable of taking on Queen
Serenity's might. While their advances might be delayed by the Senshi
and all of the other nuisances in this time, Emerald was confident that
under the Wiseman's guidance, she would deliver to Diamond everything
he ever wanted.

Still sitting, as silent as ever, Black Lady looked around the room.
Everyone was gone. Once again, the Dark Moon Family had disintegrated
into a group of squabbling children. This was not what a family was
supposed to be. She did not want them fighting amongst themselves.
Black Lady had joined with the Dark Moon Family precisely because they
were a family. When the Wiseman had adopted her, she thought of him as
a wise, caring father figure.

He had come to her at a time when she was suffering from the rejection
of her own family. Everyone she knew or had loved returned that feeling
only with scorn, hatred or indifference. Serenity and Endymion, her
parents from the future, did not care about her. She could remember
time and again how they had laughed at her pain and scorned her
feelings. The Senshi were no better with the way the treated her and
mocked her incessantly.

Worse than how they mocked her was the way they constantly treated her
as a child. In everything she could remember, not once did the Senshi
treat her as the adult she obviously was. They looked down on her and
she could not remember a single instance where they allowed her out on
her own, respecting her rights and abilities as a grown adult. When
Wiseman suggested leaving her miserable and torturous existence, Black
Lady had been all to happy to accept the offer of refuge.

Now that she had lived with the Dark Moon Family for a while, she began
to realise that all was not the happiness and roses that she had been
expecting. Not all of the members of the Family got on with each other,
and days like today, she could feel the family bonds coming apart at
the seams. To her, it was extremely sad. This, her adopted home, the
source of happiness was proving to be only marginally better than where
she had been.

Giving a sigh, Black Lady teleported off to her quarters. She hoped
that Ryoga-san, wherever he was and whatever he was doing, had a better
family than she did. All she wanted was to be loved by somebody.

* * *

Gently stirring her sauce, Nodoka let it simmer over a low heat to
evaporate the water and form a thicker, heavier dressing for the food.
The preparation of nourishment was a pleasure she had missed for so
long. When just preparing for herself, Nodoka did not need to go to
extremes, but now she was cooking for her husband and son and that made
a world of difference.

Dipping the tip of a spoon in her sauce, Nodoka sampled it and smiled
with gratification. That last dash of pepper had been just what it
needed, the sauce was now perfect. In Nodoka's opinion, this was one of
the great duties of any good wife. Not only did it provide sustenance
and enjoyment for her husband, but it was also a source of her own
enjoyment. Sighing in contentment, Nodoka wondered how much better
could life possibly get. Two days ago she had been alone and lonely,
wondering at the fate of her men. Now she was at a friends place
cooking up a feast for her son and his many paramours.

In all likelihood, Ranma's wife would come from one of the young women
he was consorting with at the moment. Oh, it would be such a proud day
when he married. That was really the culmination of her life; the
successful continuation and advancement of her family. When her son was
finally married, she would be able to rest content, able to savour her
declining years by pampering many grandchildren.

She did have to admit that her son had interesting taste in women, and
highly varied too. None of them are like what she was when she was
young. It would be interesting to see which of the girls he took as his
wife and which ones as his mistresses, just to see how his taste
compared to hers.

In a good, properly run Japanese household, the man and his wife had
good clearly defined roles. When people followed those roles,
prosperity and happiness followed. It was only when they deviated that
the home would become unhappy and filled with discord. That was why she
was worried for her son; so many of his ladies were... untraditional,
to put it lightly.

In an ideal world, the man would go forth and do battle, bringing home
the income and benefits for the family. Upon his shoulders would rest
the final authority and honour of the family. In the glorious days of
Japanese history, it was always the man that went into battle and
fought, bringing back all the spoils of war. In these more modern times,
that same man would do battle across a desk, working for the salary
that would support his family, but the principle remained the same.

In many ways, the woman's role had changed even less than the man's.
When he would go out and win the money, she was there to provide a
level head and an intelligent mind to spend it. She ran the household,
prepared the food, raised the children and made the real decisions. A
proper woman, one that would be a good role model was the guardian of
the family honour. Where the husband went out and performed the
honourable and glorious deeds, the wife was behind him, directing him,
and providing him everything he needed to excel so that is focused mind
was not distracted by the day-to-day world.

Take Kasumi, for instance. A lovely girl, simply lovely. She had such
beautiful, high cheekbones, and she would look simply divine in a
kimono. As a cook, Nodoka was willing to concede that Kasumi rivalled
her own talents. As a maintainer of house and home, Kasumi could
achieve near miracles if half the stories she had heard about Ranma and
his friends were correct.

Unfortunately, Kasumi was about as forthright and demanding as a wet
noodle. With a girl like her in charge of the household, Ranma would
surely run amok and do whatever he desired. Even on meeting her for
just a short while, Nodoka loved Kasumi like her own daughter, but she
would not say the girl was an entirely fit wife for her son. She
handled the money well at the markets, but she had no strength, no
direction and no leadership to run a mighty clan. That was what a woman
needed. She needed the strength to drive her man through the
battlefield that was a modern corporate hierarchy.

Nodoka could not help but assess Kasumi as a perfect mistress for her
son. She would be kind and caring for him, and she could provide a
perfect home-away-from-home for him. Her meals and compassionate nature
would keep him coming back, and she was discrete enough to make it a
suitable long term arrangement.

Nabiki-chan was another matter entirely. She was far to modern for
Nodoka's tastes. While she was a dear and had enough backbone to keep
her wayward son on track, Nodoka feared Nabiki had been polluted with
these strange modern ideas of women in the workforce. Nabiki was a girl
Nodoka could count on to keep the Saotome clan in ascendancy, but she
lacked the domestic spirit her sister had. However, if Nabiki was to
marry her son and carry on the leadership of their clan, Nodoka could
not help but fear that it would be her daughter-in-law that was the
bread winner rather than her son. The poor boy had been without a
woman's guidance for long enough. He needed someone that be able to
keep him in line.

Someone like Shampoo. From what little Nodoka had seen since she had
met the girl, she was almost perfect. She could cook up a storm and
knew dozens of recipes. She was strong and forceful, a definite leader.
From what Nodoka had heard, the girls great-grandmother had been
teaching her how to run a family already, and Nodoka could tell by the
look in Shampoo's eyes that she wanted to be in a family way without
any hesitation.

Although Shampoo was lovely, with a perfect complexion and fabulous
features, Nodoka did have one little reservation. She was a foreigner,
and you know what people say about _them_. The Saotome matriarch had
not had a chance to sit down with Shampoo and find out her view on the
role of men and women in society, but she was already nervous. The
Saotome line could be traced back for hundreds of years, all of them
loyal samurai, each and every one of them a Japanese of good breeding.
If her son was to take Shampoo, he might break all of that wonderful
tradition in one fell swoop.

That really only left poor Ukyo. She was nice and sweet, pretty and
well spoken. She obviously had a good head on her shoulders since she
was looking after a business of her own. When Nodoka had questioned her,
the girl had admitted that she had only started it her so that she
could pursue Ranma. That spoke highly of both her dedication and her
commitment.

Ukyo was perfect in every regard but one. She was an outcast. By her
own admission, Ukyo's father had cast her out of the clan for some
undisclosed reason. It was a shame really. She would have been perfect
if not for that, but if her own family did not want her, how could the
Saotome family?

Ladling out the sauce she had been reducing into a bowl for later use,
Nodoka shook her head sadly. Her poor boy had some many lady friends,
but none of them were quite right. What he really needed was someone
like the sister of the Kuno boy. She had been talking to him this
morning and managed to extract a fairly accurate picture of his sister
- slightly modified by sibling rivalry no doubt - but assuredly close
nonetheless.

Kodachi seemed to be everything her son needed. Caring to the point of
being obsessive, an enthusiastic cook who liked experimenting, and a
girl with direction and purpose in life. Gymnastics were good for
maintaining appearance, figure and most importantly, flexibility. It
did not hurt that the family was rich and of good heritage, a fitting
mix with the proud Saotome line.

With a sigh, Nodoka pondered the possibility of getting a wedding
service to introduce Ranma to Kodachi. Surely if her son had met her,
the girl would have been joining him here, but since she was not
present, Nodoka could only assume that her son had not met the girl. It
was something to bear in mind for the future, should things not pan out
properly with the girls she had on hand.

As Nodoka began to dish out the rice for dinner, she wondered what the
best course was. She could let things develop naturally, but that might
let Ranma fall in love with the wrong girl. Better by far, she could
start taking discrete actions on all of them.

A private detective and some discrete inquiries seemed appropriate for
Kuonji Ukyo-san. Perhaps socialisation and Japanese lessons for Shampoo,
not to mention some nice long "mother and daughter" talks.

For the Tendo girls, there was little option. Nabiki sorely needed some
domestication and household learning she could only get through
practice, while Kasumi needed confidence building and leadership.
Nodoka could provide most of the training they needed, and a few select
books would do wonders for the girls' outlook on life. Perhaps she
should also provide them some suitable reading material, just in case
one was selected for wife while the other was taken as mistress. You
could never be too careful.

Completing the final layout of dinner, Nodoka smiled. Cooking was so
relaxing, and you could get so much valuable thinking done at the same
time. Privately, Nodoka thought that was why the women did the cooking
and the men did not. You would not want your husband thinking too much,
he might start to have ideas of his own, and that just would not do.

* * *

It was raining as she knelt in the short grass, but Ranma did not mind.
The rain seemed poignant and appropriate to the situation, a suitable
counterpoint to both her location and her mood. Brushing a few leaves
from the stone, Ranma made sure it was clean and presentable.

"Hey there, Tomboy. Long time no see."

Although the joke fell flat, no one aside from Ranma herself complained.
She would have been surprised if anyone had voiced a complaint, but
these days it would not seem beyond the realms of possibility.

"We're winning, Akane. I know I haven't managed to do for you what I
promised and all, but we are winning. Here, I've got an article for you.
I'll read it out."

Settling herself down on the grass, Ranma pulled out a newspaper
clipping and unfolded it. The rain beat down on the cheap paper,
immediately making the ink start to blur and dissolve. Even through the
article was short, Ranma hurried so that she could read it all to Akane
before the rain rendered it illegible.

"During the last two weeks, Tokyo has seen a significant turn around in
events. Recent demon attacks, while increasing in frequency, have been
decreasing in severity. Compared to a similar period two months ago,
the number of report assaults in a two week period has grown by an
alarming 237% percent. While someone of this can be attributed to a
greater public recognition of the phenomenon, it is the opinion of this
editor that it is due to the recent activities of between one and four
major groups, apparently using demons as their weapons.

"Interestingly, the statistics on injuries and fatalities show a
distinctly different trend. Where you would normally expect both
figures to rise in proportion with the number of attacks, the
casualties resulting from these attacks have actually been on the
decline.

"Approximately one month prior, the peak rate of fatal incidents
occurred. However, since then the number has undergone a steady decline.
No one has even implied that this is due to a change of heart of the
demons plaguing our streets, although there is a growing sentiment that
it may be due in part to a change in the nature of the super heroines
purporting to defend us. Although affected by a substantial case of
split personality where they vacillate between devoted on one side and
deadly on the other, the girls in short skirts have undeniably cleaned
up their act.

"A large number of witnesses have attributed this to a greater level of
public awareness and involvement. In almost seventy percent of recent
battles, eye witness reports have recognised the fact that ordinary
people off the street have become involved, often fighting off the
heroines and the demons at the same time.

"Regardless of how things have changed, there is no question that they
are changing. Despite this, my recommendation is that everyone should
stay inside at night, and try and avoid the inner city area at night if
possible."

Ranma did not read out the editor's name from the bottom of the article,
she assumed Akane would not be interested in that. "What do ya think,
Akane? Are we doing all right? I mean, I know we ain't got any of the
Senshi for you yet, but we're trying. We're keeping people alive too,
Akane. I promised you that, and we're doing the best we can."

Sniffling a few times, Ranma rubbed the rain from where it blurred her
eyes. Real men don't cry, Ranma knew that, so it must be that annoying
rain getting in her eyes. Probably making her come down with a cold too,
since she was having a hard time talking as well.

"I wish you could see us, Akane. We're all working together... You
ain't never seen anything like it. Even Ucchan and Shampoo are getting
along. Ryoga's still a jerk and all, but bacon breath seems to be able
to control himself sometimes. At least he ain't always angry with me. I
guess being able to beat on the Senshi helps him calm down."

With a big sigh, Ranma leaned forwards and rested her head on the
marker stone. Running her hand down the cold, rain-slicked surface,
Ranma was glad she came here alone. Damn being a man among men. Forget
honour and being tough and strong. Akane was going to be his wife! She
was the woman he would have married! He could cry if he wanted to.

Some time later - the storm had not abated, but Ranma felt much better
- she again opened her eyes and looked down at the plain, unforgiving
grey rock. "I wish you were here, Akane. Not just that I want you here,
I mean, that would be enough, but... I know I promised you, but
sometimes I look at the Senshi and think... They're just girls, you
know? They're young and... and sometimes I wonder if they might have a
fiance or something. Someone that's gunna be hurting just like me when
I do this.

"I'm not sayin' I won't do it or nothing, Akane. Don't get angry, OK?
All I'm sayin' is I don't gotta like it. At first... At first all I
could think about was revenge. You were gone, and there was like this
big... I dunno... This big empty pit in the middle of me. Like someone
come along and chopped a big Akane sized hole, right out of the middle
of me. An' all I could think of doing was filling that hole with their
pain and hurt.

"Sometimes... Sometimes I see the Senshi, and all I wanna do is hurt
them. I see 'em holding a Heart Crystal or something and I figure they
killed you. Other times... Other times I see 'em on the street, and I
think about how I would feel if you was a Senshi and if I killed you...
Does that make sense?"

Ranma looked up for a moment, then gave a short chuckle. "Guess it must.
You didn't mallet me or nothing. Don't get me wrong, Akane. I know my
duty. I failed you before, but I ain't gunna fail you now. I'll get you
those Senshi, no matter what it takes."

Sighing, Ranma leaned over and rested on the headstone again. "They say
duty is heavier than a mountain. I never really understood that before.
I do now. I might not wanna kill them, but I will. Because that's
what's right. I won't fail you again, Akane. I promise."

* * *

That evening as she started her patrol with Ukyo and Hotaru, Ranma felt
remarkably relaxed. Going to see Akane had been good. Ranma had been
gone for several hours, and missed out on some important training time,
but she felt more focused now, better in touch with who she was, and
why she was doing this.

Glancing from side to side at her companions, Ranma recognised that she
was not only fighting for Akane, but also for Ukyo and Hotaru. And
every other girl and boy, man and woman out in Tokyo. She was doing it
to keep her friends safe, and that was a duty more noble than anything
one of the Senshi could possibly hope to comprehend.

Revenge was a part of it, Ranma was too honest with himself to deny
that. Unlike what it had been when he began this crusade, revenge was
no longer the only factor. For Ryoga, that might still be the case,
Ranma was not sure. Ryoga thrived on anger, depression and thoughts of
revenge. He had kept himself motivated on those thoughts for almost a
decade as he chased Ranma across Japan and then into China. Anyone else
would have faltered, but Ryoga continued out of sheer bloody mindedness.

That sort of myopic drive worked fine for Ryoga - and even Ukyo had
hunted Ranma and his father for over a decade - but Ranma was a
different person. There was no question that he was willing, able and
determined to avenge his fiancee, but he needed more in his life than
that. All of Ranma's life he had been taught that martial arts was
about defending yourself and protecting the weak. To suddenly change
that over to an unmitigated assault with no recourse did not sit well
with him and he could not maintain the mindset indefinitely.

Instead, Ranma had evolved his objectives into something larger and
more noble, more in keeping with the way he was raised. No longer did
he come out her night after night solely for revenge. Now he came here
to defend, to protect, and to serve Akane's memory the way he should
have served her in life.

"Hey, Ucchan, who do you think we're going to meet tonight?"

"Well, if Nabiki was asking, I would say the Death Busters. That's
where my money would be riding tonight. How about you, Ranchan? Where's
your money sitting?"

Looking from side to side as she continued to jog along with Hotaru
riding on her shoulders, Ranma was fairly indifferent. "Not sure... I'm
thinking Dark Moon Family. Something tells me this is going to be their
night."

"Sailor Senshi!" Came a voice from above them.

Ukyo shrugged. "Could be right, Hotaru-chan. I still think it's going
to be the Death Busters though. Just call it women's intuition, I
guess."

"No, I mean I saw Sailor Senshi. Over there."

Looking where Hotaru pointed, Ranma and Ukyo realised she must have
seen them as they were passing a cross street. Lifting the small
magical girl off her shoulders, Ranma gave the pair of real girls a
determined grin. "Let's not keep them waiting, then! Come on, guys.
We've got lives to save."

Going at a jog so that Hotaru could keep up, Ranma found herself
grinning like an idiot. Of all their enemies, Ranma was finding she
enjoyed fighting the Sailor Senshi the most. Fighting a Daimon or Droid
was good since you could go all out and know that it was just a monster,
but there was something special about fighting a real, human opponent.

She did not fancy the idea of killing them - indeed her mind shied away
from that whenever possible - but fighting people was what she had been
raised to do. Fighting that Sailor in the green skirt, that was what
martial arts was all about. Although Sailor Jupiter was not as skilled
as him, he could tell she far from a novice, and when that skill was
combined with the magic of the Senshi, she became a formidable foe
indeed. She was also a formidable foe that fought in the same manner
that he did: hand-to-hand.

Most of the monsters or Senshi they fought preferred to try and use
their magical attacks on Ranma, since they knew they could not match
the lightning fast redhead in close combat. Jupiter on the other hand,
could match Ranma. Ranma knew she would win in the end, and that would
be the last day Sailor Jupiter lived unless her friends stepped in, but
in the meantime Ranma thrived on the challenge. Jupiter was an enemy
she could respect and Jupiter in turn respected Ranma. That made the
fight all the more interesting, and the prize all the more worth
winning.

Smirking in pleasure, Ranma cracked her knuckles. Perversely, ever
since she had started fighting Sailor Jupiter, Ranma had found it
increasingly difficult to use the Shi Shi Hokodan. A bit of a pain when
fighting Daimons, but up close and personal against the particular
Senshi in question, it did not matter.

Emerging from the cross street, they trio found themselves behind the
Senshi as the five girls stood around looking at a couple of boys lying
on the ground. With a growl, Ukyo unsheathed her spatula and hefted it
into position.

"I'll take the ones on the left, Ranchan. You get the ones on the right.
Hotaru-chan? Do you think you can try and get those boys out of there?"

Without waiting for an answer Ukyo dashed forwards and brained the
Senshi's leader with the flat of her spatula. Caught by surprise,
Sailor Moon did not even utter a sound as she crumpled under the thick
metal plate. As much as Ukyo would have liked to take the extra moments
necessary to finish the job properly, she did not hesitate as swung her
battle spatula to the left, brutally cracking it against the arm of
Sailor Mercury.

The blue haired Senshi screamed in pain, but by then there was more
than enough noise to go around. Even at the speed that Ukyo struck, she
was not up to matching a group of Senshi, and it was only moments
before she found herself on the defensive. With Ranma dodging around
and irritating three of the Senshi on the right to keep them occupied
the pseudo-girl was taking a beating. Most importantly, she allowed
Ukyo to concentrate on Sailor Mercury and try to continue her winning
streak.

Slicing the air with ease that came from long years of gruelling
practice, Ukyo was ripping shreds from the timid Senshi's uniform. She
had not managed to hurt the girl greatly other than her initial strike,
but it was only a matter of time. As long as the Senshi remained purely
on the defensive, incapable or unwilling to effectively engage in hand
to hand, Ukyo was certain to win.

Certain, that was, until Sailor Moon's advisor chose that time to check
on her fallen charge. None of Ranma's friends had seen the cats speak
before, and currently they were too busy to notice as the small white
cat gently patted Sailor Moon's face and tried to wake her up. Luna
knew how difficult it could be to wake the girl before school, but this
was completely different. Moon's friends were in a fight, and Mercury
was in serious danger. Just as important, Sailor Saturn was here,
walking straight through the middle of the fighting girls to carry the
two boys out of danger.

Saturn and her friends may not have seen how the Senshi had defeated a
Daimon and saved the boys, which could explain why they attacked them
if Ami's analysis was right, and Luna had no reason to doubt the genius.
Seeing Saturn act with such unexpected compassion to the fallen boys
was something that stirred Luna's heart, removing any last doubts about
Ami's assertions on her change of personality. In the Silver Millennium
Sailor Saturn would not have cared if the two boys were ground
underfoot by the fighters. In her world view, if the problem was big
enough to warrant her power, she would destroy it. Otherwise, it was
not her problem and she did not care.

Luna had only been trying to wake Sailor Moon for a few moments when a
terrified call of "CAT" echoed across the street. Looking up, Luna was
just in time to see the redhead - who had been staring at her with wide
eyes - get belted in the jaw by Sailor Jupiter and knocked into a
telephone pole.

Landing on her bottom, the girl adopted the most frightened expression
Luna had ever seen short of Sailor Moon's first venture against the
Dark Kingdom. Showing her trademark resilience, the girl got back to
her feet as she rubbed her jaw and shook her head trying to clear it.
While she was obviously focused on the three Senshi she had attacked,
there was no doubt that she kept a keen eye on Luna.

"C-Come and get me, scumbags. Let's see what you're made of."

Jupiter started forwards, eager as always to meet a challenge. After
the tall girl had taken less than a step, Mars held out her arm to bar
her way. Flicking her eyes over to Luna for a moment, Mars spoke in a
voice that was more confident than she felt.

"No. You attacked us. Why don't you come over here?"

Ranma too looked at the cat, swallowed once, then spoke with matching
conviction. "Hey, it don't matter to me, you're going down either way."

Moving carefully to her right Ranma circled around the Senshi, working
to place them between herself and the cat. It irritated her no end that
she could fight three such powerful girls without the slightest
hesitation, but she quivered in fright at the sight of an animal most
people considered harmless. Cursing her father under breath, Ranma
tried to remain focused on the Senshi and ignore the frightened
pounding of her heart.

She had almost succeeded when she heard the horrible cry from the black
cat. Shaking herself from her head to her feet, Ranma grappled with her
inner fears and did not back away. She did cease moving forwards, and
she could see the Senshi were beginning to cotton on that there was
something wrong.

Luna stepped forwards and spoke again. "Miya!" Closer this time, she
could see that way the redhead jumped slightly and her eyes widened.
Luna did not like to pretend to be an ordinary cat, but for this sort
of reaction, she was willing to put aside her pride for a while.

Watching as Luna took one step forward and the redhead took one step
back to match, Sailor Venus shook her pretty head. "I don't believe
this. It's just not possible. Hey, Artemis! Get your furry little body
over here! Time for you to be a hero."

Gritting her teeth, Ranma struggled against running as a second cat
appeared. This one was white, but otherwise identical to the black
monster already harassing her. In a moment of frightened clarity, Ranma
saw that both of the cats had even been tattooed with the crescent moon
motif that the Senshi's leader was so taken with. That insignificant
fact did nothing to help, as the cats continued to advance, backing
Ranma up against a wall.

As their two advisors cornered their otherwise undefeated opponent, the
three Senshi shook their heads in amazement. The girl was a whirlwind
in battle, as tough and determined as any of the Senshi, but she was
running scared from a couple of little cats. Under less serious
circumstances they might have laughed at the sight; for now they had
other things to worry about and decided to take advantage of the
unexpected boon without questioning it.

"You two go get Saturn, make sure she doesn't get away until we have a
chance to talk to her. I'm going to go and teach that other girl not to
mess with Sailor Moon and the Sailor Senshi!" Mars ground other through
gritted teeth, a snarl of anger covering her face. Now that she was not
fighting for her life, her anger at the way they had been attacked from
behind, and her intense resentment of anyone who would knock out Sailor
Moon rose to the surface, making her blood boil like the god of war she
represented.

The brown haired girl was too close to Mercury to allow Mars to safely
use her fire, but there was nothing stopping the forth planet's Senshi
from closing in and attacking the girl from behind, the same way she
had treated Sailor Moon. When Mars was close enough to strike, she
found out the difference between magically boosted speed and the speed
that came through intense training: training provided experience at the
same time.

Mars' white gloved fist sailed in with enough strength behind it to
shatter a concrete wall, more than enough to knock the girl unconscious
if it hit. Since Mercury was taking such a beating at the time, Mars
had assumed she was unobserved, but that was not the case. Moments
before the deadly fist impacted the back of her skull, Ukyo turned and
dropped. She momentarily exposed her back to Mercury, but that Senshi
was too thoroughly on the defensive to take advantage of the window of
opportunity. Most importantly, it allowed Ukyo to interpose the flat of
her battle spatula in the path of Mars' fist, and a centimetre thick
plate of hardened steel is a lot less friendly to punch that a person.

With a sound reminiscent of a blacksmith's anvil being struck to work
cold iron, Mars left a fist sized dent into the steel. Although the
spatula managed to block the blow and Ukyo's arms were able to take the
majority of the force, the rapid defence was unable to match the power
of the strike. With much of the speed abated, Ukyo's spatula was forced
back by the punch, striking Ukyo cleanly in the face and rocking back
on her heels and her eyes momentarily crossed and the world span.

For two long seconds the three combatants stood there, each trying to
adjust to their new world of pain. Mercury was pulling herself together
now that she had a moment's calm and some support. Her clinical brain
was detachedly telling her sore body that there was nothing seriously
wrong with it, and it should be ready to charge into the fray. The body
was not entirely sure of this, sending back countless pain signals, but
it obeyed, and the Senshi in the torn and damaged blue skirt braced
herself into a stance allowing her to move or fire off her ice should
to opportunity present itself. The Senshi did not have the martial
artists' experience, but they were quickly picking up the basics.

Mars was waving her right hand frantically while dancing a little jig
and saying "Ow! Ow! Ow!" Nothing was broken, but after striking the
steel plate, she felt as though all her fingers should be nothing more
than crumbled bone fragments and bruised flesh. Even that pain was
momentary, and as Mercury and Ukyo readied themselves, Mars was
tenderly flexing her fingers, getting ready to try again. This time,
she vowed, she would hit the girl, not the metal.

Shaking the cobwebs out of her head, Ukyo looked down at her damaged
spatula and frowned. For ten years she had kept the same spatula while
she was training for her revenge against Ranma. Since meeting him, she
needed to replace it at least once a month as someone managed to damage
it beyond repair. Since mixing it up with the Senshi, that had
increased to once a week. Given the specialisation of her families
school of Okonomiyaki based martial arts, five foot long battle
spatulas were not easy or cheap to come by. Frowning, Ukyo held her
weapon in a defensive cross-body position and looked at the girl with
long black hair that had just ruined her latest weapon.

"You're going to pay for that! And I'm going to take the coin right out
of your skin."

Mars smiled back in return. "I don't think so, not with two of us here
now. I'm the one that's going to make _you_ pay for what you did to
Sailor Moon."

Energy attacks temporarily forgotten in the desire to beat up the
bigger girl, Mars closed and was soon joined by Mercury. As good as she
was, Ukyo did not stand a chance against two Senshi, and it quickly
began to show.

Off to the other side of the street, Venus and Jupiter were advancing
on Sailor Saturn. The little girl had dragged the two boys the Senshi
had been standing over off to the side of the road, grateful for the
enhanced capabilities of her magical girl form. Hotaru knew that she
was not as strong as Ranma-san, but while she was like this, she was
more than capable of pulling an unresisting young man across the ground
so he could be safe under the awing of a building while he recovered.

While the boys might be safe, Hotaru could not say the same for herself.
Before her eyes, two of the terrible Senshi were advancing on her,
cruel smiles adorning their faces. Hotaru's eyes flashed to either side
frantically, desperately seeking someone who could help her out of this
bind. She had seen the Senshi in action before and knew that as soon as
she tried to fly out of their clutches, they would blast her down with
their magic.

As she took another step backwards and felt cool, hard bricks against
her wings, the youngest Senshi realised that running away was equally
out of the question. She could not run, nor could she fly away. Poor
Ukyo-san was being attacked by two of the horrible girls, and they
looked like they were really starting to hurt her.

Ranma-san... Ranma-san was even in worse shape. They must have cast
some sort of horrible spell on her, that was the only explanation
Hotaru could think of. Poor Ranma-san was half crouched, quivering
against the side of the street, backed up against a different building
completely terrified. Hotaru knew that it must have been one of the
evil Senshi's rotten spells, since Ranma-san was never afraid of
anything. Nothing, particularly not a pair of cute little cats, could
scare Ranma-san. She was sure of that.

If she had been up against the same building as her hero, Hotaru would
have tried to edge her way towards the pig-tailed martial artist in the
hopes of helping her. Unfortunately, she was on the opposite side of
the road, and she did not think the Senshi would let her get past. She
was sure they were going to try and do something nasty to her; they
always had in the past.

She could not run, nor could she get help and that left only one
option: fight. She might have been tempted to erect her Silence Wall,
but that would gain her nothing, all that it would do was let poor
Ukyo-san get beaten to death while she was stuck there. If she was
going to escape and help her friends, she would need to hurt the Senshi,
and there was really only one way she could do that.

Getting a good grip on her Glaive Hotaru the magical girl put on the
fiercest face that she could manage - looking almost as mean as an
angry two week old puppy - and braced herself. "If you don't all go
away and leave my friends alone, I'm going to make you so sorry."

For a moment the two Senshi faltered in their stride, nervousness
showing over their faces. 'So they should be', Hotaru thought. 'I'm the
most powerful magical girl in the whole world. I could blow everything
up if I wanted to. They should be running away they're so frightened of
me.'

The blonde Senshi turned to her taller companion and gave a nervous
smile. "Well... Mercury's never been wrong before. I guess we just have
to give it a try."

"You're right... Err... What do you say to a really angry little girl
that could kill everyone on the planet?" The brown haired Senshi was
more intimidating because of her height, but she did not act any more
confidently than her shorter companion.

"I don't know, but whatever you say, you say it very politely." Venus
flashed her friend a sunny smile then turned back to Hotaru. "Please,
we just want to talk to you for a while."

The black haired girl in the sailor suit looked confused and highly
doubtful. "You want to talk?"

"That's right. I'm not sure what these people have told you, but we're
not really the bad guys. We want to be your friends."

Saturn looked even more nervous. "No you don't, you attacked me. You
all keep trying to hurt me."

"No, no, no." Venus began quickly. She wished Sailor Moon was with them.
The Moon Senshi always knew what to say to make friends with new people,
or to try and placate people who were their enemies. She could feel in
her heart that Sailor Saturn did not want to hurt them, but she plainly
did not trust them either. "That was all a big mistake. Really. We
didn't understand who you were then."

"No?" Hotaru began hesitantly. "How do you know who I am now?"

"See those cats? They're really magical cats. They told us all about
you. They explained how you were really one of the Sailor Senshi, how
you were one of our team. Well, now we want to say we're sorry and make
you one of the Senshi. Wouldn't you like that? You could join us and
fight beside us. We'd take care of you, and you would never have to
worry about anything again. You'd be a part of our team."

Hotaru's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as everything fell into
place. They wanted to take over her mind just like Kaolinite had taken
over her father's mind, and then he wanted to do the same to her. That
was why those cats were hurting Ranma-san. They knew she was so
powerful, and they were probably trying to break her mind right now,
trying to make Ranma-san into one of the evil Sailor Senshi too.

These girls hard refrained from attacking her because they wanted to
try and take her easily and wipe out her mind, not because they wanted
to be her friends. She couldn't trust them. Worse than that, she had to
get free of them before they managed to completely take over Ranma-san.
If he... If he became one of the Sailor Senshi, Hotaru did not know
what she would do...

Only scant seconds had passed between Venus' encouraging words and
Hotaru's realisation of what they meant. To the watching Senshi, a
gamut of emotions ran across the small girl's face, before settling
into one of the strongest expressions of anger they had seen on anyone
since they had watched Sailor Moon fight off Beryl.

"I'll kill you!" Shouted Hotaru followed by a wordless scream of rage.

Propelled by her anger, Hotaru attacked the Senshi in the only way she
could. She could not use any of her magical attacks in the middle of
the city, and since she was facing her friends, they would be doomed
too. That only left her with her Silence Glaive, since she was well
aware for watching Ranma's friends that she did not have the fighting
skill to be able to attack the two girls barehanded.

So surprised by the move, Venus was almost skewered by the point of the
Silence Glaive. Only a last minute skip to the side saved her from
being disembowelled, but she still received a nasty cut on the left
side of her stomach. While the Senshi in the orange skirt stumbled to
the side trying to recover her balance, Hotaru continued her attack,
reaching out again and again, desperately trying to impale the tall
girl.

Sailor Jupiter was more on the ball that Venus had been and she deftly
avoided the strike, parrying the follow-up while she checked on her
team mate. "Venus! Are you OK?"

The girl clutched her side and hissed between clenched teeth as she
took stock. "Y-Yeah... I'm fine. But what did I say?"

"I've got no idea, but if Saturn doesn't stop trying to make be into a
shish kebab, I'm going to take her toys away from her, no matter what
Sailor Moon says about being nice to her." As she spoke, Jupiter
continued to fend off the attacks.

Sailor Saturn's thrusts may have been accelerated by her Senshi power
and they were backed by the strength of her anger and magic, but she
was no match for Sailor Jupiter. Jupiter's years of fighting experience
combined with additional years of growth allowed her to far outmatch
the sickly magical girl. Despite this, Hotaru presented a very real
danger, because the second that Jupiter dropped her guard or became
distracted, it could well become her last.

When Hotaru finally managed to snag one of Jupiter's gloves, leaving a
thin red line of blood visible through the tear, Jupiter lost all
patience. On the next strike, Jupiter side stepped the weapon's
business end and grabbed it close to her body. Hotaru's strength was
nowhere near sufficient as she tugged and tugged on the weapon,
valiantly trying to reclaim it. "Sailor Venus. I'll hold this. You try
and do something about her."

"Right!" Smiling confidently again, Sailor Venus began a slow advance
on the small girl, hands open wide in a placating manner. The whole
while as she slowly walked, Venus spoke softly and gently, trying to
soothe the girl. These efforts only drove Hotaru to more and more
frantic efforts, as she was convinced that the Senshi was closing in to
take her mind away, in almost the exact same manner her father had
acted.

Venus had almost reached her goal when all hell broke lose.

When Luna and Artemis had first come forwards, Ranma had felt as though
her worst nightmares had just come true. Here she was, stuck in the
middle of a battle and her only weakness was about to be exploited.
Trained cats. Who would have believed it? How do you train a cat to
hold someone prisoner like these two were? Ranma shuddered just
thinking of the idea.

All too quickly the cats had backed her up against a wall, boxing her
in. She knew from looking earlier that the building was only a couple
of stories high. It was nothing that she could not jump on a normal day,
but now was hardly normal. Even assuming the trained attack cats would
leave her alone long enough, Ranma did not think she could muster the
concentration needed to make the jump. Currently it was all she could
manage to hold her self erect and keep her knees from giving out.

The white cat took a step forward, a cruel grin plastered all over its
evil feline face. Ranma felt her knees turn to water and she slumped to
the ground. Given the opportunity initially, Ranma may have run
screaming from the scene, but the situations that Ukyo and Hotaru were
in had held her here. As the white cat took another step towards her
crouching form, Ranma felt a terrified gibbering part of her brain
saying how it would be all right to run, all right to flee. Every other
part of Ranma's mind jumped on this thought and killed it in formation
- every part of her aside from the roaring cat that was rattling its
cage in the back of her head, the cat wanted to be free and wreck havoc
on its enemies.

Tears of fear and frustration coursed down her face, and Ranma
subconsciously curled into a foetal ball when a pair of "miya"'s rent
the air. Within her head, the cat tried to free itself. The ferocious
beast had taken up residence when Ranma first learnt the cat-fist so
many years ago. It was the embodiment of the vicious nature he had
learned from the cat's fighting technique, and whenever it came across
other cats, the monster in his head wanted to come out and play or
fight.

That cat was the Neko-Ken. It was the so-called ultimate fighting
technique that gave her immense speed and strength coupled with Ki-
based claws capable of cleaving through steel, wood or water with equal
ease. It was also a totally mindless beast, incapable of rational
thought. It hungered, it played and it fought. The animal in her skull
was not a martial artist, it was a killer, nothing more. To Ranma, a
martial artist whose entire life had been based around attaining
perfect control of her body and environment, the cat in her mind was
itself as much to fear as the cats who drew it to the surface.

When the white cat advanced further until it was almost touching her,
the black cat was almost beside it, Ranma was shaking, only moments
away from surrendering to the peaceful bliss of oblivion. It would be
so easy to give in. So easy to let the cat free, to embrace the Neko-
Ken and end his torment as she had in the past. When she could not
escape his fear, eventually all her will power crumbled as the cat
broke free, making her trained martial artist's body into nothing more
that an oversized cat that lacked fur.

This time... This time she could not do that. If Ranma gave into the
Neko-Ken she would be useless to Ukyo and Hotaru. She knew from Akane
and Cologne's reports in the past that she could expect her cat form to
put the Senshi at serious risk while it fought them. With the power and
speed increase that it provided, she may well even be able to defeat
one or two of them.

Unfortunately the cat was irrational and short-sighted. If the Senshi
backed off or retreated even for a minute, she would relax, licking her
paws and cleaning her wounds. She would be oblivious to any
preparations they made until they overtly moved against her. Even worse,
while Ranma expected that her cat mind would recognise Ukyo and Hotaru
as friends and not hurt them; she had no guarantees that the cat would
follow them home, rather than sitting on the street and providing a
nice, juicy target for enraged magical girls.

No... The cat was too simple minded to fight the Senshi. It did not
understand magic. It did not understand that a group of girls could
stand around halfway down the street and fire off a volley of magic
that it could never possibly avoid or survive. To give into the cat
against the Senshi would probably doom herself, and maybe even her
friends.

Despite her best intentions, Ranma could do nothing while being penned
up by the small furry creatures. All her effort, all her will power was
focused solely upon keeping herself sane, upon the faint hope that
maybe the cats would go away long enough or far enough that she could
recover and go to aid Ukyo and Hotaru.

Dimly, as though seen from a great distance, Ranma was aware of her
friend's worsening plight. Ukyo was now on the ground only twitching as
the Senshi with the long black hair kicked her. Hotaru was against the
wall, her terror obvious even in Ranma's state.

She needed control! She needed to surpass the fear that held her
prisoner. If only she could beat the fear, to lift the curse that had
been upon her ever since her stupid father had taught her that useless
technique. Intellectually, she knew that there was nothing to fear but
fear itself, but that went scant distance to abate the roaring,
slavering beast that rattled the foundations of her mind and threatened
to bring the whole of structured thought crashing to the ground.

Fear; that had been, is, and will be the key. Fear, terror, and the
horror that came with knowing the Neko-ken. Fear was the key. Fear was
the mind killer, the enemy of rational thought.

For a moment, Ranma remembered a Sensei she had seen when she was about
seven. At that time, her father had still been trying to cure her of
her phobia to improve the cat-fist, but nothing had worked. That one
particular Sensei stood out in her mind now. He was a short man, only
around Happosai's height, but with none of his perversions. A slow
moving, diligent and intelligent Sensei, the man had always advocated
much more meditation and soul searching that Genma had permitted.

"Fear..." That was what the teacher had been obsessed with. Under the
small man's world view, fear was the root of all problems. Fear was
what caused all the problems in the world. Her Senshi had feared no one.
The man had respected people's ability and the danger they presented,
but he did not fear them. It was much the same way that a snake handler
respected the snakes, but did not fear them.

"Fear leads to hatred, hatred leads to anger, anger... leads to
violence..."

That was the man's creed. Do not fear someone, because your fear will
lead you to irrational acts, and those acts will eventually hurt you as
much they may hurt your enemies. Fear, hatred, anger. These were all
the emotions that a martial artist should purge from their souls to
maintain a perfect control.

To maintain perfect control...

Even in her tormented state, Ranma's remarkable mind caught that and
tumbled it around. School or lectures never managed to catch and hold
Ranma's attention, but even under the most dire circumstances, her mind
was like a super-computer analysing and dissecting anything to do with
martial arts and taking it to the next level.

The absence of those negative emotions was what led to perfect control.
Akane and Ryoga were perfect examples of that. Distracted by anger,
neither of them could match Ranma's ability in a fight. That was
because Ranma always kept cool and focused. She could maintain that
perfect control.

However there was no denying that Ryoga was a devastating martial
artist. Nor was there any way that Ranma could deny she was currently
worse than useless in her terrified state. That was what maintaining
control was doing to her. It was rendering her incapable of anything.

Perhaps that was what the Sensei had been trying to teach her in a
round about fashion. That was what she needed to grasp. Where fear can
be conquered, keep your head and be unbeatable. When the fear was more
than you could overcome, do not try to fight it. Bend like the reed in
a hurricane, not break like the oak. Embrace the fear. Become one with
it. Learn to live with the fear and make it a part of you.

"Fear leads to hatred..."

Ranma's small form began to shake, small, violent tremors rattling her
narrow shoulders. Under lowered brows, Ranma's eyes smouldered. She
could not stand cats. They were horrible, disgusting creatures. Cats
were the cause of all pain and suffering in the world. They hurt her,
and they were causing her friends to be hurt.

"Hatred leads to anger..."

Ranma's small hands curled into fists, taking small chunks of concrete
with them as the fingers curled through the pavement. Cats were the
enemies of all mankind. She would be doing the world a favour. She
should kill them, hurt them, make them suffer like they had caused
countless others to suffer. She would rip, shred and destroy. She would
kill them all!

"Anger leads to violence..."

Coinciding almost perfectly, Ranma heard Hotaru give a small terrified
scream, the final catalyst in her mantra. With a ferocious yell of
anger that shook windows all down the street, Ranma surged to her feet,
her fists dimly showing a set of Ki claws extending from between each
knuckle. A single strike to the pavement as she surged past sent rock
and cats flying. As much as Ranma's anger dominated her, she embraced
it and directed it. This was not the mindless violence of the cat that
lived in her skull. This was the unbridled anger that Ranma had learned
to keep bottled up every day of his life.

Running past the cats that were the focus of her anger, Ranma charged
the viscous Senshi that was hurting her oldest friend. Arm wide with a
strike that would cleave the girl in two, Ranma had a fierce grin
plastered across her face. Now she understood why Ryoga gave into his
anger so quickly and easily. There was a freedom and power in that
state she had never felt before. Extending her claws to the width of
the girl's back, Ranma narrowed her eyes against the anticipated spray
of blood and gore that would inevitably come.

There was a scream and the faint tugging of her claws slicing through
something, but it was less that she expected. With a snort, Ranma
realised that while her anger had freed her to act, her control and
focus was lacking. It did not matter though. At the last moment, the
quiet, blue haired Senshi had tackled her friend, knocking her out of
the way. Ranma's claws had opened up the girl's shoulder and tricep
deeply and blood was flowing freely, but both of them still lived.

Hesitating for a precious second, Ranma considered closing in a
finishing off the pair of them. Sailor Mercury was clearly in shock,
and from her position on top of the other girl, Ranma knew she could
finish off Mars if she wanted to. With everything covered in the red
haze of anger, Ranma considered it. She wanted to, it was what she was
here for. It was what needed to be done, but it could wait a moment.
For now, Hotaru was in danger, and every second might be vital to
saving her life.

Spinning on her toes, Ranma lunged down the street, fully intent on
eviscerating a pair of girls as they harassed her friend. Unlike Sailor
Mars, these girls had received the precious time they needed to prepare.
When Sailor Venus sent a golden beam of energy at her, Ranma dodged.
That movement had been enough to allow Jupiter in turn to evade her own
wild strike and deliver a kick as she passed.

Ranma avoided the hasty kick and lashed backwards, trying to remove the
leg at the knee. Again Jupiter was too quick to be taken out so easily,
as again Ranma had to modify her attack, this time to defend against a
snaking chain of love hearts coming from the Senshi in orange.

As Ranma switched targets, deciding to go after the weaker girl first,
she dimly noticed Hotaru running behind her, Silence Glaive returned to
wherever the girl placed it between battles. Venus might not have
Sailor Jupiter's years of fighting experience, but she was an
experienced fighter in her own right, having fought the Dark Kingdom
and assorted criminals during her fledgling Sailor V days back in
England. That had given her experience fighting multiple opponents, and
while Ranma was only one person, she moved like she was three people at
once, and was as dangerous as ten men. Ten _big_ men.

Slash after slash arced at Sailor Venus, and it was all she could to
retreat fast enough to retain all her body parts. Several street signs
and a garbage can fell to Ranma's careless attacks, turned into slivers
with no effort or notice. With her attention focused on Venus to the
exclusion of all else, she was making progress like never before. The
girl was quickly covered in nicks and scratches, a testament to the
Senshi's ability to dodge and survive. None were fatal, but the would
soon add up.

Not even the addition of the revitalised Sailors Mars and Jupiter was
enough to stop Ranma. Blows that should have sent her reeling were
shrugged off as adrenaline and anger ran her body past all of its
limits. The crunch of a breaking rib would have been enough to take
almost any fighter in the world out of a battle, but in her fixated
state, Ranma did not even stop to gasp in pain. All she did was return
Mars' present with her own blow. The pretty soldier was marginally too
slow to avoid it, and the side of her fuku was stained red with blood,
causing the girl to step back and clamp a hand to her wound.

Ranma smiled and advanced. She could smell blood. She could smell
victory. Mars would go down now, and all too soon Venus would follow.
Left by herself, Sailor Jupiter would also fall before Ranma in her
modified Neko-Ken state. Sailor Mars was injured and slowed, and Ranma
could smell the girl's defeat and demise in the air. She could also
smell ozone...

On another day, that might have been enough to tip her off, but in her
hyper-excited state the implications went straight past her. Not so the
lighting. Caught full in the back, Ranma was thrown past Sailor Mars,
body convulsing for long, painful seconds as electricity arced and
sparked over her whole body.

When under the grip of the normal Neko-Ken, many things were able to
release Ranma. Primary amongst these was rest, sleep and a feeling of
security, which allowed her deranged mind to settle. Other shocks to
her system such as her physical transformation also worked. While she
had never tried grasping a pair of 33KV power lines to find out if that
would cure her, Jupiter's lightning proved to be a sufficient example.

Lying on the ground, twitching slightly and smoking a lot, Ranma
blinked several times and tried to breath. Even that much was hard. She
hurt all over, and if she ever moved again, it would be too soon.
Released from her fear-embracing version of the Neko-Ken, Ranma's
activities came back on her full force, requiring immediate payment for
the demands she had placed on her merely mortal body. One mistake, and
the Senshi had her. She had hurt them like never before and come closer
to her goals that previous battles, but that one little slip and she
was history. The way she felt now, even the heavily wounded Sailor
Mercury would be able to finish her off.

She was still hardly able to move, and definitely incapable of fighting
when a pair of blue booted feet stopped by her head. 'How poetic', she
thought. 'Think of the devil, and he would come. Same seems to be true
of those blasted Senshi.'

Strong hands - too tiny to possibly have the strength they possessed -
reached under her shoulders and started to lift her. "Come on, Ranma-
san! We have to get out of here!"

Warmth flooded through Ranma's back, spreading out to her limbs as
Hotaru's healing energy infused into her. The treatment was far to
brief to knit bonds or heal mauled flesh, but it did calm the twitching
that infected her. Muscles locked by spasms relaxed as electricity was
forced from her over-driven nerves and control re-exerted itself over
her limbs. Ranma still hurt all over. It hurt to simply move. Failing
to move would hurt even more shortly, so she rose to her feet, leaning
heavily on Hotaru. Hotaru in turn leaned on her Silence Glaive looking
more pale and weak than Ranma could ever remember seeing her.

"I... I put Ukyo-san around the corner. We have to get away! We have to
get away from them. Can you walk? Can you move, Ranma-san?"

Forcing a smile to her lips only made Ranma hurt even more, but she did
it anyway. "I'll do whatever it takes."

Hotaru managed to take a couple of steps before her knees gave way.
Ranma caught her, and the pair moved down the street at barely walking
pace, each supporting the other. As they passed the corner of the
building, Ukyo showed herself to also be standing, another recipient of
Hotaru's healing energies. Placing herself under Ranma's other arm, she
helped the pair escape as much as they helped her.

As they moved, Ranma spared a backwards glace to the Senshi. At the
speed they were going, there was no way that the deadly girls could
have missed them. If they wanted to, the Senshi could have thrown
attack after attack at them, and they would not have stood a chance.
What she saw amazed her so that she stumbled and almost fell again.

Sailor Moon was finally standing again, and she had interposed herself
between the martial artists and the other Senshi. Although Mars and
Mercury were clutching their wounds in pain, Moon's eyes seemed sad for
reasons beyond that. For a long second before the trio rounded a corner
and made their escape, Sailor Moon caught Ranma's eyes and silently
communicated something to him.

"We could have continued." She seemed to say. "We didn't. We could have,
but we let you go. Remember that."

Then Moon turned away from the red-haired girl and concentrated on
Sailor Mercury's wounds. Two major muscles were seriously cut, and the
Senshi concentrated on her own healing magic as the combatants finally
disappeared from each other's view.

* * *

The night was dark, with only a thin sliver of streetlight filtering
through Kasumi's blinds where they did not quite meet properly in the
middle. Hotaru had been put to bed almost as soon as she had come home.
Physically exhausted by her fight against the Senshi and then further
drained by her work healing Ukyo and Ranma, the girl fainted once they
finally entered the Tendo compound and they were safe.

None of the other teams that had gone out that night had suffered the
way that Ranma and his friends had. That was fortunate, since Ukyo and
Ranma required all of Kasumi's attention and available medical supplies.
Even Cologne had been given a late night call at the Nekohanten to come
and assist. The old woman had been only too happy to help her Son-In-
Law, glad for the opportunity to earn his trust and friendship. With
Akane gone, Cologne viewed the whole fiancee game as a long term battle.
The girl who was there for Ranma the longest and whom could offer him
the most would win, and she intended that to be Shampoo.

Cologne's subtle machinations did not impact on the sleeping Hotaru in
the least. Kasumi had carried her upstairs, gave her a quick bath and
put her to bed. The girl deserved a good rest after her heroic efforts,
and Kasumi knew that she would be treating Ranma and Ukyo in the same
way shortly.

As a cloud moved across the night sky, the moon was revealed, and a
pale line of light rested upon Hotaru's features. Her nose gave a faint
twitch, then her eyes sprang open. In a series of jerky movements, the
small girl moved her eyes, looking around the ceiling, trying to
determine where she was.

"This must be Kasumi's room." She thought.

Experimentally, the girl tried to move a hand then a leg, but nothing
responded. Breathing deeply, the eyes closed and the small girl
concentrated. Slowly, with great effort, the head rolled to the side,
spilling dark hair onto the pillow.

When her eyes opened again, the girl could see that she was lying in
Kasumi's bed. Obviously the older girl had decided that Hotaru deserved
a good nights sleep, and since she could not object to the trade,
Kasumi took the futon on the floor while Hotaru slept in the
comfortable bed.

Small lips parted and a few sighs came out, but nothing that resembled
speech. It was still too soon for that. Tomoe Souichi may have lost his
daughter, but she was not defeated. All she might be able to do was
look around, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single
step.

She had honestly expected that without Souichi providing her the energy
she needed, things would never come to fruition. That had proved not to
be the case. All she had been able to do was slowly drain the strength
from the body, bolstering her own strength little by little. The way
her body had been so weak ever since she had known Souichi, she did not
expect to achieve any results in months, possibly years.

Of course, she had not counted on Ranma. Who would have? Who could
possibly believe that a boy as uncouth and uncivilised as he could
cause such improvement in the health of his friend Tomoe Hotaru? Every
day, Hotaru's strength and endurance had grown rapidly. She was a
naturally weak and frail girl, but under the martial artist's direction,
even that could be assuaged to a large degree. It was only by the
constant draining of that life energy that Hotaru was maintained at
anywhere near her normal level.

The little girl closed her eyes and relaxed against the pillow. Opening
her eyes and taking control of the body was a great triumph considering
the circumstances. She did not know how much longer it would take, but
the date where she could take full control of the body while Hotaru
slept was coming closer every day. From controlling an unconscious body
to dominating the girl's spirit was a large jump, but one that would
follow with inevitable swiftness.

With great effort, Mistress 9 made Hotaru's mouth curl into a smile.
Yes... The day was coming when she would take control of this body
permanently. When that day came, she would open the way so that her
Master could come into this world, destroying everything before him.

Soon the world would tremble. Soon all would fall before the power of
Mistress 9 and Master Pharaoh 90. The would bring the Silence, and all
would be destroyed. If she were only slightly more powerful, she would
have laughed in evil joy. The Silence would kill them all with equal
indifference. The Dark Moon Family, Ranma, even Kasumi. No one would be
spared

Protected from everyone who tried to attack her, Mistress 9 wondered
whether she was safer here with Ranma, than she had been living with
Tomoe Souichi. Only time would tell, but she had no doubt of her
ability to bring about the end of the world from where she was.

Relaxing her control, Mistress 9 returned the body to its sleep. There
would be time enough to dominate and destroy later. For now she would
bide her time and continue to grow her power.

---
End of chapter.