Ranma brought down the Silence Glaive, and the whole world went white. There was a terrific roar, and then... nothing. Perfect silence. Death had come for the Earth, and she was not pleased by what she found crawling upon its surface.
In Nerima, Cologne abruptly realized that things had become deathly quiet. No, not deathly quiet. Sound had died. The sounds of the refugees around her had ceased. Shampoo's pacing was noiseless. Cologne opened her mouth to speak, and nothing reached her ears.
In the South Pacific, dread Cthulhu's sanity-shredding warble suddenly failed. Molecules vibrated, the ocean frothed and surged, soundlessly. If the beast had eyes, they would have widened in that moment. It lifted its great, swollen head towards Tokyo, knowing that Doom was at hand.
In the United States, even as nuclear bombs detonated atop infested cities on the Eastern Seaboard, even as Acting President Dennis Hastert authorized yet more nuclear strikes upon the Chaos Spawn, his voice failed. He trailed off and looked into the receiver.
Atop Mugen Gakuen, each of the Senshi stared helplessly towards the figure of Sailor Saturn as the Silence Glaive came down, splitting the very aether with its passing.
All over the world, sound ceased as the Silence settled over the land. Life began to follow sound, screaming into the Abyss, but in that moment, something broke through the Silence.
"MOON ETERNAL POWER...!"
A song amidst the Silence. A power. Bound up with it was all of nature's first golden green, all the joy of the springtime, the promise of renewal, all that was pure, all that was good, all that held compassion for another, and the precious, precious illusion that with this renewal there would be no new winter to come.
The power of Serenity.
The power of Serenity met the power of Saturn, and they warred like dragons across the globe, vast lines of power simultaneously laying waste to and restoring entire continents. North America was obliterated in the blink of an eye. North America was restored to being. Australia re-emerged unscathed from the Tsunamis caused by Antarctica's destruction. Australia was blasted to ash. The world's leylines split open, and sheer, undiluted magical power flooded out across the surface of the world, pollinating the latent DNA of Adam that yet hung in the atmosphere above Antarctica, sending it flooding out into the children yet unborn.
Before the combined might of Saturn and Serenity, even warring as they were, the Great Old Ones could not stand. Dread Cthulhu roared in agony as the power of Serenity burned away his corruption until he glowed like a coal, and then fell apart into ashes. In the skies above the remnants of New York, mighty Cthugha, and Pharaoh 90 in the skies over what was left of Tokyo, both simply ceased before the onslaught of Saturn's might. Deep Ones died by the millions, Moon Beasts by the tens of thousands. Everywhere, they screamed, writhed, gibbered, flopped, cried out to their unholy gods. Everywhere, they died.
Still the power of Saturn warred with Serenity. Still the dark, cold, Silence of the world sought to extinguish the shine of the Silver Moon.
And Usagi screamed, her hair flung back, her eyes open wide, golden crescent moon shining like the dawn. Mamoru at her side, all of her Guardian Senshi just behind her. The Ginzuishou blossomed in her hands. Her eyes widened for a split second, and then she threw everything she could draw from the sacred stone into her effort, crying, "PLEASE! GINZUISHOU!"
The Ginzuishou pulsed once, twice, and then changed. Evolved. In that moment, the Silver Moon Crystal was born.
Reflections of Ruin
by P.H. Wise
A Ranma/Sailor Moon/Cthulhu Mythos Crossover Fukufic
Chapter 19 – The Wheel of Fire
Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma. I don't own Sailor Moon. Please don't sue me. I'm not doing this for profit.
Ranma awoke to an unfamiliar ceiling. His head hurt. Everything hurt, actually. For a moment, he stared up at that unfamiliar ceiling, trying to figure out where he could possibly be. He raised his hand in front of his eyes and opened and closed his hand. Scratch that. Her hand. Female form, then. She sat up. "Akane!" she yelled suddenly, and vertigo threatened to overwhelm her. Strong but gentle hands guided her shoulders back down to the bed, and she heard a familiar voice.
Doctor Tofu's voice.
"Easy, Ranma," the Doctor said, "You've had a rough time."
"Doctor Tofu?" Ranma asked, confused. She couldn't see him. Where was he? She hadn't seen any sign of the man since... she wasn't sure when. The good Doctor's clinic had closed up almost overnight one day, it seemed like. That was all Before, though. Before... everything. "Where am I?" she asked.
Tofu stepped into Ranma's field of vision, leaning down so Ranma could see him without craning her neck. "You don't remember?" Tofu asked, concern writ large upon his face.
Fire. Pain. Silence.
Ranma put a hand to her head. "Ugh..."
Doctor Tofu smiled sympathetically. "It's OK if you can't remember it all right now. It will come back to you. For now, just concentrate on healing."
"This... can't be right," Ranma murmured, struggling once more to sit up. "I saw... I was..." Vertigo rose up over her in waves, and the room began to spin above her. "Where's Akane? AKANE!"
"She isn't here," Tofu said.
Akane. Mistress 9. Pharaoh 90.
"Where am I?"
Tofu shrugged. "You tell me. You brought it down, didn't you? The Silence Glaive? Knowing what it meant. What it would do."
"I..." Ranma said, staring at her own hands. "I brought down the Silence Glaive," she whispered. "I promised Usagi I wouldn't."
"I know," Tofu replied. "But a broken promise is hardly your biggest concern right now. Do you remember?"
As if Tofu's words had opened the floodgates, memories poured into Ranma's mind. Memories of being Sailor Saturn. Of losing Akane. Of finding Akane again. Of grief, of sorrow, of loss, of friends gained and worlds destroyed. Of lives destroyed. Reflections of Ruin. She stared, wide-eyed. "Then aren't you...?"
"Dead?" Tofu asked, eyes twinkling with amusement. "Yes. Doctor Tofu is quite dead."
Ranma flipped up to her feet, flipping her pigtail out behind her head as she did so. Vertigo rose up within her, but this time, she stood her ground, refusing to be on her back before a potential enemy. "Who are you?" she demanded, eyes cold.
"That's a dangerous question," Tofu replied, not at all concerned by Ranma's sudden hostility. "You shouldn't ask unless you really want an answer. Perhaps I'm an angel, sent here to guide you to the afterlife. Perhaps I'm a hallucination - a manifestation of your fevered little brain as it attempts to escape from the reality of its own death."
"... huh?" Ranma asked intelligently, and scratched her head.
Tofu looked embarrassed. "I'm a friend, ok?"
"Uh, gotcha. Why didn't ya say so?"
Tofu shook his head. "Never mind. The important thing is that you remember. That's good. You know that Sailor Saturn was never supposed to survive bringing down the Silence Glaive, don't you?"
Ranma nodded slowly. "...Yeah. But I don't care about that. Is Akane ok? Where is she?"
"She's safe. You won't see her again for a long, long time, but she's safe. Does that comfort you?"
Ranma didn't reply.
"I know you don't understand, but you've done me a big favor, Ranma Saotome. You might not be a lillim, even if you were disguised as one for a time, but I repay my debts, whether they're debts to family or debts to strangers. You have opened an unexpected door. You and that Silver Moon girl. I owe you for that. That's why I caught you. Brought you here. Between the moments. I saved your life."
"... I didn't ask ya to."
"No. But it is done. It will be a long while before you, and the whole human race, comes out of what you and the Silver Moon girl have wrought. You won't see me again. But if all goes well, you might see what humanity can make of itself. If they can see the test for what it is."
Ranma nodded faintly. She hadn't really expected things to be easy. But still, there were questions. "What test? What do ya mean?"
"Look back across your life, Saotome. From start to finish. Everyone you've hurt. Everyone your influence destroyed. Your childhood friend, Ukyou. Shampoo, your would-be Amazon wife. Ryouga Hibiki, cursed by you and then cursed by your lover before meeting a very messy end. Your triumphs and your losses, your joy and your despair. You, as a living embodiment of Ruin, have known more of Man's inhumanity towards Man than most. Look back across your life and tell me: what can change the nature of a man?"
The first answer that came to mind was a sarcastic one, but something in the voice of the thing that wore Tofu's face made Ranma stop, and actually think before she replied. And length she did so. "I dunno. Love, I guess."
Tofu nodded. "Others have answered similarly. We were going to test the survivors in our own way. See if they were ready to move on. Become more than they were. But things have changed, and they changed because you changed them. You and the Silver Moon girl. The eyes of the whole host of Elder Gods are upon the Earth now, waiting to learn the answer to that question."
"What can change the nature of a man?" Ranma asked. She wasn't all that clear on what was meant by that question, but even she could sense the importance that... whoever this was, attached to it.
"Can Serenity change the nature of mankind - for the better?"
Ranma was silent for a long moment. At length, she looked up. "I gotta know. Who are you?" she asked. "I know you ain't Tofu."
Tofu smiled. "Call me Adam."
Tofu vanished. The hospital room vanished.
Two billion people died in the Cataclysm.
And what kind of word is that, dead?
A word of endings, darkness, and terror: a horrible, smothering sort of word, and filled with other horrible words like a corpse over-ripe in its corruption, overflowing the measure, and spilling forth its putrid excess into the terrified mind. A word for we know not what. A word for the descent of the Named into nonentity, and the jury still deliberating over whether any reascent is yet to come. A word for all the piles of rotting leaves warming the gutters of the world.
Two billion souls, wiped from the face of the Earth. Some at the hands of the rising armies of Chaos, some from the tidal waves sent out by the destruction of Antarctica.
That was before Sailor Saturn brought down the Silence Glaive, ushering in the Silence of the World, and bringing death to every creature that walked the surface of Terra.
Or would have.
A sole voice called out in the darkness. A warm female voice, full of hope, and compassion, and light. "Don't worry," it whispered. "I won't let you fall. Nobody needs to be sacrificed. I told you before: if we all get together, we can find another way."
Usagi, in her desperation to save as many as possible, embraced everyone who yet survived: the whole population of the world, each of them touched by the power of Saturn, each of them held in place by her will. The Earth itself trembled and cracked at the seams as Saturn's singular act of entropic destruction sought to bring about on Earth the fate of Nemesis. Usagi's power - the power of Serenity - yet clashed with Saturn's, and the struggle quickly crystallized. Froze.
Winter and Spring were never meant to hold the world concurrently, nor day and night.
It started on the tower of Mugen Gakuen, where Akane wept long, bitter tears as she clutched Ranma's fallen body in her arms. Where Usagi stood with all her court around her, channeling power through the Silver Moon Crystal. The very air crystallized, freezing solid around the titanic struggle between life and death. Freezing solid around them all.
It was the only way.
Long. Slow. Difficult. The only way to ensure the world's survival. The destructive principle released by Sailor Saturn in the act of bringing down the Silence Glaive had to be undone bit by bit, with backwards mutterings of dissevering power. It would take years.
Too long to save the lives of those who had been touched by it before Serenity's intervention, except that they be preserved. Locked in stasis.
The Ice spread from Mugen Gakuen, quickly encompassing the glassed crater that had been the Minato ward, spreading faster and faster as it expanded. Japan froze. The sea of Japan froze. The ice spread into China and across the Pacific in a matter of seconds. It continued to expand until it encompassed the majority of the world.
Silence held the world for nearly a thousand years as the remnant life of the planet Earth lay locked in a frozen slumber. The power of Saturn warred with the power of Serenity for the whole of that span, seeking to snuff out what remained of life on Earth.
Serenity's power, and the power of the Silver Moon Crystal, did not yield. Like a mother nursing an injured child back to health, her power slowly repaired the damage that had been done in that final moment, when, to prevent the whole Earth from falling into a fate worse than death – absorption into the being of Pharaoh 90 – Sailor Saturn had brought down the Silence Glaive and scoured the globe clean. A thousand years of frozen slumber, with Serenity and all her court locked in ice in the remains of the Infinity Academy.
But even the harshest winter ends eventually. Even the darkest night must give way to the dawn.
For the two billion who died in the Cataclysm, dawn came too late.
0 Anno Serenity (AS)
She awoke suddenly out of darkness, and for a moment she did not know who she was. A breeze caressed her face. She was cold. She was wet. The faint warmth of the sun shone upon her face.
She opened her eyes.
The colours of the sunrise nearly struck her blind. All the colours of the world at once. All the life and joy and goodness and beauty in the blink of an eye. Usagi Tsukino blinked back tears. After a few minutes spent adjusting to the light, she rose to her feet.
The remains of Mugen Gakuen lay all about her, the cracked, pitted summoning chamber open to the sky. Her friends yet lay unconscious in shallow pools of water. She looked right, looked left, and simply stopped and stared.
The world around her was... was...
"Could it be...?" Usagi whispered.
"Usako?" Mamoru murmured faintly, stirring back to life. He rose to his feet, water dripping from his clothing.
She turned towards him, and there she stood, silhouetted against the rising sun, her long white hair flowing in the breeze. "Mamo-chan," she whispered. Then she ran to him, crying out, "Mamo-chan! We made it!"
He caught her up in his strong embrace and kissed the crescent moon upon her brow. "Do you know how long...?" he asked.
She shook her head, then gestured towards the land around them. "A long, long time, probably."
He looked down.
Save for the summoning chamber itself, Mugen Gakuen was completely changed. The building was a vast mound of overgrown grass and flowers and moss. An island of green in the midst of what was once Tokyo. Tokyo: vast lakes now covered most of what had been the cityscape, divided by natural breakwaters. In the distance, the surf beat against a tiny strip of sand that marked the former borders of Tokyo the great, Tokyo the fallen. In the opposite direction, a cityscape could yet be made out. Nerima glinted to the northwest. Suginami, Setagaya, to the west. Itabashi and Kita to the north. There was no sign of electricity or transport, but the buildings appeared eerily unchanged. Everything else of the city was simply... gone.
It was then that Usagi noticed the saltwater scent rising up from the lakes. She breathed deep, and she knew in that moment that she had never before tasted air so clean, so pure.
But the price...
Sorrow. Terrible, terrible sorrow arose in her heart in that moment. Choking, crushing, unimaginable sorrow, mingled with faint sparks of the joy of simply being alive, and Usagi Tsukino, goddess, Neo-Queen Serenity, fell into Mamoru's arms and bawled.
Usagi was dimly aware of the other Senshi stirring, rising to their feet. She faintly heard their dismay and their horror at what lay all around them, but to her, in that moment, all that existed was sorrow and Mamoru.
Nabiki Tendo sat against the crumbling wall of the former summoning chamber, staring at her hands. At the ugly little mouths that filled her palms, with their nasty teeth and long tongues. She could feel her flesh crawling. In this case, literally. Grotesque bulges yet traveled the length of her body, as though something were burrowing just beneath her skin, though they were less frequent than they had been when she'd woken up a minute ago.
A faint silvery light shone from somewhere off to her right, from the direction where she knew that Sailor Uranus had fallen, but she paid it little mind.
On first waking, she had been so refreshed and so comfortable that she'd thought she was back at home. She had almost fancied that she could hear the sounds of Kasumi cooking in the kitchen downstairs.
But that was something that would probably never happen again. Kasumi. Her eyes widened.
"Oh God, Kasumi!" she exclaimed. She'd completely forgotten! The last time she'd seem Kasumi, she, Nabiki and Nodoka were running for their lives from those... Things. 'Moonbeasts,' her mind supplied for her. Had Kasumi escaped? Had Nodoka? Had they two at least escaped?
A flash of memory. The image of Nodoka fighting with her katana at the Nekohanten.
The Dark Man.
He had promised... but then, she had no reason to suppose that he would have kept such a promise. She let out a bitter laugh.
At that moment, a shadow fell over her. She looked up.
Sailor Jupiter stood over her, her eyes hard. "Looks like we missed one," the Senshi announced. "I'll handle this." She brought her hands together, index fingers and thumbs extended. "SUPREME THUN...!"
Jupiter blinked, allowing the magical energies to dissipate. She followed the line of the sound with her eyes until her gaze fell upon Akane, sitting up from where she had lain sprawled over Saturn's body. "... Mistress 9," she said harshly, "I'm not sure how either of you survived all that, but if you think I'm going to let an enemy like her, or you, run free, you've got another think coming." She cracked her knuckles challengingly.
Nabiki looked up at the Senshi standing over her. For a moment there, she had been willing to let the girl kill her. For a moment. But if Akane was still alive, then... "Akane?" she asked, her voice hopeful for the first time since her awakening.
"I'm here, oneesan." Akane glared at Jupiter. "Leave her alone. She hasn't done anything to you. She's..." she shook her head. "We're not your enemies. Not anymore."
Jupiter glared darkly at Akane and Nabiki until a gentle hand settled on her shoulder.
She looked up.
Usagi stood behind her, her eyes full of compassion. "It's ok, Mako-chan," she said. "I think Akane is herself again, and..." She looked at Nabiki questioningly.
"Nabiki," Nabiki said. She rose to her feet and bowed politely. "Akane is my sister."
Usagi smiled. "See?" she said.
Jupiter looked troubled, but it was Mars who spoke next, before Jupiter could get a word in.
"They're both still full of dark energy, Usagi. Couldn't you at least purify them?"
Usagi nodded. "We'll have to. You both want to be human again, don't you?"
Nabiki let out a long, slow breath, hope rising up within her breast. "You can do that?" she asked.
But Akane looked troubled. "I... don't know if I know how. I haven't been human for a long time. I thought I was, but..." She looked down at Ranma's still sleeping form, and determination became fixed in her countenance. "I'll do it."
Jupiter and Mars both seemed to relax at that.
Usagi raised her hands, and with a brief glow, the Crescent Moon Wand appeared between them. She seized it and held it up high. "Are you both ready?" she asked.
"That would not be wise, Usagi," Sailor Pluto said, stepping out from behind a length of crumbling wall.
"What?" Usagi asked. "Why not?"
"Look at them closely," Pluto said. "Open your senses. What do you see?"
Usagi seemed puzzled for a moment. She looked closely at both Nabiki and Akane, and then gasped a horrified gasp. "There's nothing beneath the dark power!" she exclaimed.
Nabiki's heart fell, her hope shattering before it had really had a chance to be born. "... and that means?" she asked, her tone a resigned one.
"If I purified you..." Usagi trailed off, and shook her head fiercely. "I won't do it. I won't kill you or Akane." She looked at Pluto. "I don't understand. Why was I able to purify the Ayakashi sisters, and all of those frog things, but not Akane and her sister?"
Nabiki fell back into a sitting position, landing on her tailbone. Hard. She barely felt it.
She was stuck.
At least her skin wasn't writhing anymore, and the mouths only came out when she thought about them. Well, except for the two on her hands. The taste of the palm of her own hand on the tongue of her right hand-mouth made her shudder. And that was without the... feelings. For all her seeming sophistication, Nabiki had never really had much in the way of ... 'experience.' And now she had all of these ... urges. Urges that disgusted her even as they enticed her. Urges that didn't go away.
Presently, she realized that her hands were shaking. Her whole body was shaking. Trembling. It was over. It was over, and she had survived. 'How did I survive this?' she wondered, staring at her palms as she experimentally opened and closed the two mouths.
By then, Pluto had finished her explanation. Usagi turned to both Akane and Nabiki in turn. "I wish there was something I could do," she whispered sadly.
'There is,' Nabiki's mind supplied. 'Come to us. Join with us. Become one with us in body and in mind, and we shall give you such pleasures as you have never...' She squashed that train of thought. That was a bad, bad, bad, bad idea.
It wouldn't go away. 'Damn it,' Nabiki thought, 'Stop picturing her naked. She could squash you like a bug.' She'd never been attracted to another woman before. Had the transformation altered her sexual preferences somehow? ... Nope. A brief glance at Usagi's boyfriend disproved that much at least. The fact that she thought he'd look hot headless, obese, and with mouths in the palms of his hands didn't help matters, though.
"Something wrong?" Usagi asked.
Nabiki gave her an angry, incredulous look.
Usagi sank back into herself, downcast, and Mars bapped her on the side of the head.
"Baka Usagi," Mars said.
Baka Usagi indeed.
"If I purified you..." Usagi trailed off, and shook her head fiercely. "I won't do it. I won't kill you or Akane."
Akane shook her head. She listened as Pluto explained the hows and whys, but it didn't matter. At least Ranma was alive. That was enough.
"Akane?" Ranma asked faintly, stirring at last. Her eyes fluttered open, and she seemed to relax immediately when she saw her lover's nearness. "Hey," she said.
Akane smiled fondly, her eyes shining with unshed tears. "Hey yourself," she said.
"Don't sweat it, Akane," Ranma said, her blue eyes twinkling with mirth. "You're uncute enough that a big black star and scary hair don't actually make it any worse."
There was that old familiar anger again, but it was tempered now with the joy of their reunion. "Dummy," she said. "How long have you been awake?"
Ranma sat up and drew Akane into a fierce embrace. "Couple minutes. You ok?"
Akane sank into Ranma's embrace and smiled. "I am now," she said. And for one shining moment, all was right with the world.
"Ranma!" Usagi exclaimed.
Ranma blinked. Usagi ran to her, raised her hands, slapped her across the face as hard as she could, and then glomped her with a glomp worthy of Shampoo.
"U... Usagi?" Ranma asked, totally nonplussed.
"Don't ever do that again!" Usagi said. "You promised you wouldn't destroy the world, and you did it anyways! But..." she teared up. "I'm relieved. Thank God you're OK, and Akane, too." She shifted her position slightly to include Akane in the hug, and then released both of them, leaving a thoroughly bemused Ranma and Akane in her wake.
Across the way, Haruka Tenoh limped heavily, her newly regrown flesh still tender and raw, leaning against her lover as they followed Sailor Pluto towards the far end of the building. Nabiki briefly wondered how they expected to get down.
It didn't matter.
They'd won. She'd always been good with gambling, and she couldn't deny that her weird, wild gamble had paid off. She'd done everything she'd set out to do. She was alive. Ranma was alive. Akane was alive. They hadn't stopped kissing each other since Usagi had finally left them alone. They kissed hungrily, greedily, as though each one might be the last one they'd ever have.
Nabiki was more than a little bit jealous.
But there they were. Alive and well. Together. Nabiki's bet had been repaid in full. And yet, for the first time in her life she couldn't help but wonder, was it really worth the price?
Herself becoming... something else.
Something she'd have to live with for the rest of her life.
Usagi was moving. She was calling to the other girls. To Haruka, Michiru, and Pluto. They stopped. Turned. In spite of herself, Nabiki couldn't help but listen as the white-haired girl spoke.
"There are a lot of people who are going to need our help," Usagi said, and her tone was a determined one. "I know that we don't feel ready. I know that we're all still in shock over what happened... what we went through. I wish we could all just run away and take a long, long vacation." She got a faraway look in her eyes. "Maybe to that nice hot spring resort we went to earlier this ye..." She blushed, trailed off.
"Dumpling-head," Rei said fondly.
Usagi smiled faintly, then went on, her bearing Queenly, possessed of a dignity beyond the power of words or even clumsiness to dispel. "With all that's happened, with all the suffering, all the death, we can't just sit on the sidelines anymore. We have the power to make a difference, here. We have to help the humans."
Nabiki's eyes narrowed at that. Did Usagi no longer consider herself to be human? That could be... dangerous. She was the only one who appeared to notice. 'What about you, Nabiki?' she wondered. 'You're not human, either. Not anymore.'
"They need hope. We all need hope. If we don't give it to them, who will? If we don't help them who will?"
One by one, each of the Senshi came and knelt at Usagi's feet. First Minako, sword sheathed at her side, then Rei. Then Makoto and Ami. Then Pluto. And finally, Haruka and Michiru.
All save Ranma, who stood now at Akane's side, watching the others, her eyes unreadable.
Usagi looked embarrassed. A few tears escaped her eyes, and her dress fluttered in the breeze. "You don't need to kneel for me, my precious, precious friends."
It was Sailor Pluto who looked up. Sailor Pluto who met Usagi's gaze with her own. Sailor Pluto who replied. Once more, Usagi felt a sense of timelessness. A feeling as though all of history had been moving towards this moment. This end. This goal.
"Yes," Sailor Pluto said. "We do. Neo-Queen Serenity."
As she watched, Nabiki felt a cold chill worming its way into her heart. She could taste the saltwater air in all three of her mouths. The breeze russled her hair, and she folded her wings closely around her body to prevent them from being a problem.
Of the Senshi, only Pluto realized that what they were witnessing here, now, was the birth of Crystal Tokyo. A single tear flowed down her cheek at the sight of all her hopes and dreams drawing towards fulfillment.
The Senshi turned and looked expectantly at Ranma, then: the only one of them to not swear fealty to the Queen.
Ranma exchanged glances with Akane. She was never one to swear fealty to anyone, but she did feel like she owed Usagi for what had happened. She'd broken her word of honour that she wouldn't try to destroy the world, and she'd done it anyways. She needed to do something, at least.
Akane nodded supportively.
Ranma looked at the assembled Senshi. "You all know I ain't good with this sorta thing, so I'll just say this once. Ya did good, Usagi. If you ever need me, I'll be there."
The Senshi all seemed to relax at that, and Usagi smiled: her smile was like the morning of the world.
And Nabiki? Nabiki staggered past Akane, past Ranma, past the unnoticed, unheeded Silence Glaive, all the way to the edge of the building. The sunlight glittered on the rippling lakes where Tokyo had once stood. To the northwest, she could see Nerima.
Nabiki turned away from the edge.
Akane looked up and wiped her eyes, the black star yet emblazoned upon her forehead. Their gazes met, and a look of terrible understanding passed between them.
They both knew that there would be no going back for them. No return to humanity. For Akane, there was no humanity to restore: she was not two beings, but one, and to strip away the dark power within her would be to strip away her very self. The merging was utterly complete. For Nabiki, it was the same, though for different reasons. Bile rose up in the back of her throat as she remembered what Sailor Pluto had told her, then: That if only she had let the monster destroy her like a good little sheep instead of pouring herself into its mind and fighting back, Usagi might have been able to resurrect her. Or at the very least, she would have peace now instead of... this.
The universe had a very twisted sense of humour.
Nabiki wasn't laughing.
Neither was Akane.
Akane looked down. She couldn't meet her sister's gaze. "... I'm sorry, Nabiki," she murmured. "I'm so sorry."
A strange, not wholly unpleasant crawling sensation in the back of her brain came up in the wake of her name being spoken aloud. Nabiki blinked in surprise, and stared at Akane for a long moment, feeling an awful sense of longing. A needfulness. The urge to do... She shuddered faintly and looked away, utterly ashamed. She understood what Akane meant, nonetheless. For all that she was still a monster, she had Ranma, and Ranma loved her, and probably always would. No matter what.
"Not gettin' all depressed again, are ya?" Ranma asked, and held out a hand.
Akane took it.
Nabiki turned away from the couple, not wanting to see their joy just now; not when the joy of others was like salt in her wounds in the face of her despair. She had to swallow three times before she trusted her voice to reply. "I'm sorry, too," she whispered at last, fluttering her wings faintly, and her hand-mouths echoed her with their tiny, maddening voices. "I'm sorry, too."
Reflections of Ruin
Epilogue: The Shape of Things to Come
-500 Anno Serenity (AS)
The great crystalline tower shone in the light of the setting sun, casting brilliant, dazzling patterns of rainbow light onto the frozen ruins all around it. Most of the Earth was dead. Destroyed as the Old Ones rose to challenge the usurper – Pharaoh 90. Destroyed as Saturn brought down her Glaive. Destroyed by the advancing glaciers of this new ice age. Yet here, in this place, the remnants of the final battle could still be glimpsed.
A small group of people was held suspended within the crystal of the tower, and would have been visible, had there been anyone to see them. A kingly man in armour, a sword held in his hand, stood protectively in front of a white-haired teenager, her hair done up in odd, twin ponytails. A golden crescent moon shone on her forehead; she wore a long, white dress, and a gem of some sort was suspended in the ice before her outstretched hands.
Behind them were seven women in senshi fukus, seemingly captured in the ice even as they fought against... something. One of them was on the ground, and horrible burned. Whatever it had been, it was here no longer. And there, lying prone near the very edge of the ice-tower, was another woman in a senshi fuku, with strange petal-like sleeves, a spiked crystal brooch, a wicked looking Glaive lying by her feet. Kneeling over her, tears frozen even as they coursed down her cheeks, a young woman with long, dark hair, a black star on her forehead, in a long, black dress.
The sun set, and the stars shone bright and clear. The haze of pollution around the world had dissipated, but that was all that could be said for the aftermath of this event. The world was dead, or close enough. Most of the animals were gone, even the insects, save those which had been caught up in the ice itself. What plants remained were those well suited to surviving the bitter cold. And humanity? Humanity lay locked in the ice.
In the midst of this, beneath the cold, uncaring stars, and amidst the frozen city, Galaxia descended.
The Golden Queen lighted on a small icy outcropping that had grown out of the icy tower and imperiously surveyed all that lay before her. She saw the Princess and her court, locked within the ice. She saw the ruined planet. She saw too the lingering traces of the battle that had caused all this. Briefly, she considered destroying the tower and tearing out the star seeds of all those contained within.
No. While she was almost completely overcome by the influence of Chaos, she had not descended to that level of barbarism. Not yet. She could wait. She took a moment to study the spell that had created the tower, observing the cataclysmic forces that even now were locked in combat one against the other, destruction warring with creation and achieving only a kind of stasis. She nodded to herself and lifted off into the air.
She would return, soon. In another five hundred years, the battle between the two influences here would be decided, one way or another, and she would have her prize. Until then, Galaxia would wait at the place where stars are born.
Zero Star Sagittarius.
I'd like to thank everyone who's been reading and reviewing this story, strange and dark as it is. Without your encouragement, I don't think I would ever have finished it.
Peace be with you all, and God bless.