Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma 1/2 or Sailor Moon in any way, shape or form. All associated characters, trademarks, etc. are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and Naoko Takeuchi. I'm just telling some stories about them.
Chronological Note: Relative to the timeline of the Ranma 1/2 manga, this story is set several weeks before the start of the Shi Shi Hokodan arc.
The Dark Lords of Nerima
Chapter One: Sniper's Gambit
A thin bead of sweat trickled slowly down the side of Beneda's face. The youma's cheek twitched, but she did not move to brush the offending droplet away. She remained focused, staring down through the skylight into the public library beneath her.
Like most youma, she was female in appearance—though, like most youma, she could hardly be mistaken for a human on anything resembling close inspection. Her skin was a dark shade of green, her eyes a sickly yellow, and her hair (or what passed for it) was made of a hard, gleaming, steel-like substance.
A second bead of sweat joined the first, and finally Beneda reached up and irritably wiped her face with her hand. Damn this heat anyway, she thought. Distracting me, when I need all my focus. I can't afford to screw this up! And with that, she resumed her vigil.
The library below was host to an exceptionally large crowd that day, children and adults both, milling everywhere. And if their milling had a more feverish quality than normal—well, that was only to be expected, considering the modifications that had been made to those books.
Beneda licked her lips, savoring the sensation. As a youma, she could feel the patterns of energy swirling about the place, draining from the humans below even as they ran back and forth snatching books off the shelves. She could sense where the energy was going, too—shunted across the interdimensional barrier to feed her imprisoned mistress.
And the amount of energy being collected was quite impressive. They had gathered enough here to sate even Queen Metallia's ravenous appetites for a quite a while. It had been a successful operation by any standards.
It would be even more successful once they accomplished the mission's true goal, of course.
Beneda looked down through the skylight at the "librarian" running the main desk, snickering quietly at the nervous expression she was wearing. "Serves you right, Miss High-and-Mighty," she muttered gloatingly under her breath.
Because of their master Jadeite's favored tactics, infiltrator youma—those with the ability to assume the forms of humans—were always in the highest demand. That left the other youma—whether those who could possess objects, those who could possess humans, or simple grunts like Beneda—to take whatever scraps they could get in terms of distinguishing themselves in the eyes of their masters.
But not this time. This time, disguise abilities had only made the youma below ideal for the less-than-safe job of bait, while it would be Beneda who took the glory by killing the Sailor Senshi.
A shiver of excitement ran through Beneda at the thought. She pictured how it would go in her mind: the Senshi would come, drawn by this reckless and unsubtle energy-draining operation. They would enter the library, confront the youma in charge of it. And when they moved to "punish" the obvious threat—
With a simple thought, Beneda's right hand transformed into a huge, razor-sharp shuriken, which she aimed through the skylight.
—she would be ready for them.
A small grin crossed her face, as she began to imagine what would happen after that. Slayer of the Senshi! With that kind of glory to her name, surely her lowly station in Beryl's forces would be a thing of the past! The thought of no longer having to bow, scrape and abase herself before every higher ranking youma filled her with a giddy anticipation. Yes, this was her chance—and she was going to make good on it. Finally, fortune was beginning to turn her way!
She continued to daydream, imagining herself rising through the ranks to become Beryl's favorite, co-equal even with the Generals. She had just reached the point where she was about to use her newfound prestige to repay that arrogant youma Thetis for a long-ago humiliation, when her fantasies were interrupted by a sudden disturbance underneath her.
Beneda jerked back to attention, looking intently down through the skylight even as she hunkered low to the ground to conceal her presence as best she could. Something was going on down there, and if it was what she had been waiting for...
The crowd of humans below parted, and then three new figures stepped into view. They were all dressed in sailor fuku, the bright colors of their uniforms identifying them immediately. An electric thrill coursed through Beneda, equal parts excitement and fear. It was them!
Anxiously, she began to chew on her lower lip. The Senshi were directly beneath her—not yet in a position where she had a good angle on them. The middle one, with the long streamers of blonde hair, was talking now, addressing the librarian-youma, apparently giving some kind of speech.
"Come on..." Beneda begged in a whisper. "Move a little farther in. Just a little farther in..."
As if in reply to her plea, the three Senshi began to advance on the librarian youma, who backed quickly away in an attempt to draw her enemies further into the kill zone. Beneda could feel her every heartbeat, thudding in her chest. She had a shot—a clear shot at the Senshi's unprotected backs.
Now that the moment had come, she almost couldn't believe it. The Sailor Senshi—age-old nightmares of so many youma—were right in her sights. Slowly, carefully, she raised her arm, sighting along it as she aimed down through the skylight. She closed one eye, aiming her shuriken at the base of the blonde's neck. The first shot would take her head clean off.
Beneda took a deep breath—
—and saw something that made her blood freeze in her veins. Reflected in the glass of the skylight she was aiming through was the image of a man, tuxedo-clad, swooping down from the sky from behind her.
Reacting with a speed born of fear, she whirled away. An instant later, a blood-red rose cut through the air where she had just been standing. The stem embedded into the skylight, sending cracks spiderwebbing across it.
Beneda swung her arm up, targeting the descending figure. She opened fire, sending the shuriken spinning toward her foe—who knocked it aside with a single blow from the black cane he was holding.
With a growl, Beneda formed additional shuriken on each of her arms. But before she could fire either of them her assailant thrust his cane in her direction. The weapon stretched impossibly in his hands, spearing down from above to strike her square between the eyes. The impact flung her backward, arms flailing.
Directly onto the already-weakened skylight.
Her body crashed through it, falling in a shower of glass shards. She screamed, vertigo clawing at her as she plummeted the two stories to the ground. Then she hit—hard—glass crashing all around her. Pain blossomed through her body; even a youma's toughness had not been able to protect her completely.
But there was no time to dwell on how much it hurt. She knew she was in terrible danger, and she knew she could only count on herself to get out of it. And so, with great effort, she managed to climb to her hands and knees and look across the room.
Straight into the eyes of the assembled Sailor Senshi, staring back at her. For a moment everyone simply stood there, frozen—Beneda out of fear, the Senshi out of surprise at seeing a youma making such an unexpected entrance.
That shock lasted all of a second. Then, as one, everyone reacted. The blonde-haired Senshi reached up and snatched the tiara off her brow. The raven-haired Senshi focused a blazing point of fire at the tip of her fingers.
And Beneda ran like hell.
Her destination was a nearby group of bookshelves that offered some amount of cover. She covered the distance at a dead sprint, moving with a velocity she hadn't known she was capable of. Even as she ran, she could hear the Senshi unleashing their attacks behind her.
"Moon Tiara Action!"
Beneda dove forward in a roll that carried her the final few meters to the relative safety of the shelves. She felt the choking heat of the Fire Soul's near miss wash over her, even as she heard the whirring noise of the Moon Tiara slicing through the air above her.
Twisting herself as she came out of her roll, Beneda ended up on one knee, facing back the way she had come. She returned fire, launching a shuriken from each arm. But the Senshi scattered, and neither blade found their mark, embedding deep in the far wall instead.
There was a roar from the direction of the librarian's desk, and Beneda knew that the other youma had completed her transformation into her minotaur-like battle form. A swell of hope rose up in her chest...
...and then she heard the blonde repeat her cry of "Moon Tiara Action!" followed by a howl of pain from the other youma. The feeling of hope was abruptly obliterated. It was three to one now—and in a fair fight she knew she couldn't even match the youma who had just been so handily destroyed.
But there was no time to ponder the worsening odds; already the Senshi in red was throwing another fireball in her direction. Beneda leaped back out of sight, just as another magical firestorm exploded where she had been standing. The force of the blast blew several of the nearby bookshelves into the air, sending them flipping end over end, scattering their books everywhere and ripping many apart at the bindings. Even as they fell their pages ignited, creating a rain of burning, fluttering paper.
Desperate to get away, Beneda fled deeper into the rows of shelves. She had no idea where she was going or how she could possibly hope to turn the tables. It was a panicked, thoughtless run, the instinctive reaction of a hunted animal. And it ended soon enough, as she ran herself into a corner on the far end of the library.
A small, strangled sob escaped her at the sight of the dead end—emphasis on the dead. Her earlier daydreams about the bright future awaiting her were mocking her now, as she saw how horribly wrong it had all gone. "It's not fair..." she whimpered to herself, as she looked wildly around for some means of escape. "It's just not fair! This was supposed to be my chance!"
She slammed her fist helplessly into the blank wall. Already she could hear the footsteps of the Senshi closing in on her from behind, inexorable in their approach. She whirled, raising both arms and forming shuriken on each.
A moment later, the dark-haired Senshi rounded the corner of one of the shelves. Beneda fired as soon as she saw her, causing her target to quickly fling herself back the way she had come. The shuriken tore a notch out of the shelf at head height, but the Senshi had taken cover and was unscathed by the attack.
Quickly, she readied a replacement blade on that hand that had just fired, while keeping her other hand trained on the edge of the shelf—despite a slight trembling that she could not quite still.
"What's the matter, Senshi?" she called out tauntingly, trying to inject a note of bravado in her voice. "Scared? I almost got you there..."
A snort came from behind the bookshelf in reply. "You weren't even close," the Senshi said. But she was breathing hard, causing Beneda to wonder for a moment to what extent the young girl was putting up a front of fearlessness similar to her own.
"You can't be allowed to succeed..." came a second voice, quieter, but filled with determination. "Libraries are meant to be places of learning, and shouldn't be used for evil purposes!"
A third, more energetic voice followed. "Yeah!" it exclaimed. "And making a cowardly sneak attack like that is completely despicable! In the name of the Moon, we will punish you!"
"Big words, Senshi," the youma shot back. "I'll remember them when I'm cutting you apart."
Of course, she had no illusions about actually being able to accomplish that bluff. Instead her mind was racing, trying to think of some way to escape back to her master. She was trapped in this cul-de-sac, with the only way out blocked by all three Senshi. And worse, even if she—
The train of thought was abruptly cut off by a cry of "Moon Tiara Action!" A moment later the glowing frisbee spun around the corner of the bookshelf, moving in an unnatural arc straight for Beneda's head—as though guided by something more than simple physics.
Instinctively, Beneda ducked away, and the tiara embedded harmlessly into the wall. But the damage had been done. In the time it had taken her to do that, the dark-haired Senshi had dove from cover. She now lay on the ground in a firing position, a fully charged Fire Soul blazing at her fingertips.
For the smallest fraction of an instant, the two of them locked eyes, and Beneda read her death there. There was no time to react, no time to think—except for one last, desperate plan that flashed through the youma's mind.
A huge blast of consuming fire roared toward her. With a defiant scream, Beneda threw herself sideways—slamming her shoulder into the bookshelf beside her. It began to topple over, taking her with it.
And then the Fire Soul hit her. Not a direct hit, but she could not completely escape it. She screamed again—in pain this time—as the searing heat washed over her body.
But she survived it, somehow. And the bookshelf continued to fall, striking the shelf next to it—causing that one to begin to tip as well. And then the next, and the next...
She scrambled across them as they fell, stumbling back out into the main section of the library. She could hear all three Senshi now chasing her. She had only seconds—if that. But she also had a plan. Running for all she was worth, she crossed the room and took a flying leap straight for one of the cowering groups of recently-enthralled humans.
And when she rolled back to her feet, she was holding a young boy in front of her, his neck trapped in the crook of her arm.
The chasing Senshi skidded abruptly to a stop. Grinning, Beneda raised one of her shuriken pressing it against the boy's neck. "Careful, Senshi," she crooned. "Keep your distance. You wouldn't want to startle me, would you?"
Expressions of dismay crossed the faces of the blonde Senshi and the blue-haired Senshi—while the dark-haired Senshi looked furious at Beneda's tactic. But the youma wasn't afraid. There was no way they would dare attack now.
The little boy whimpered in her arms, clearly terrified, but she ignored it. Slowly, carefully, she began to back toward the main doors of the library, always being sure to keep her shield between herself and her enemies. The Senshi followed in lockstep, their expressions anxious, not drawing any nearer, nor any farther away.
The silence was broken only by their footfalls, and Beneda's ragged breathing. She bit back a curse as her vision wavered momentarily, almost blacking out. She had taken too much damage from the Fire Soul—every movement she made was agonizing, and she didn't know how much longer she could stay on her feet.
Finally, one of the Senshi spoke up. "Please, let him go!" the blonde-haired one begged, and Beneda was surprised to see that she practically had tears in her eyes. "He's just a kid!"
The youma barked a laugh at that, continuing to back away all the while. "Not a chance, Senshi. He's my ticket out of here."
"We won't stop you from leaving," protested the blonde earnestly. "We promise! Just let him go!"
"Well, that's a very kind offer," Beneda replied, sneering. "But I'm not nearly that gullible. And stay back!" The last was snarled at the dark-haired Senshi, who had been trying to surreptitiously inch a little closer.
The youma was almost at the library doors now. Suddenly, the blue-haired senshi spoke up. "How do we even know that you'll release the boy once you're free?" she asked.
"You don't," Beneda snapped back, blinking rapidly as her vision wavered again. She focused her will, trying not to show any sign of weakness to her enemies. "But he will die for sure if you try anything stupid."
The youma felt her back hit the door that she had been heading toward, causing a swell of hope to rise up inside her. Maybe, just maybe, she might survive this after all!
She used her shoulder to push the door open, backing through it while keeping her eyes on the Senshi. "Now don't move from that spot," she said, preparing to descend the concrete stairs behind her to the sidewalk. "Because if I see even one sign of you following me, I'll—"
But her words were cut off as a rose shot down from directly above her, impaling her arm with its stem. Frantically she tried to move, but the rose's enchantment had frozen her in place, completely immobile. No, no, no! her thoughts screamed. Not now! I'm so close!
The next moment, the black-clad attacker from before hurtled down from above to land next to her. His cane swung around in a powerful blow, catching her across the face. It snapped her head around, sending her spinning through the air. In the same motion the man snatched the boy from her arms, cradling the child and shielding him with his cape.
And then Beneda hit, falling down the long flight of exterior stairs, each impact against the concrete sending an explosion of pain shooting through her already-damaged body. A pained cry tore itself from her throat, as finally she rolled to a rest at the bottom.
Slowly, shakily, she raised her head to see the masked warrior looking down at her dispassionately. The boy was still held protectively in his arms; now that the danger was past, he was bawling into the older man's shoulder.
Even as she watched, the rest of the Senshi ran up to join the man—and Beneda knew her time was almost up. She could barely move for the pain, but she managed to stagger to her feet regardless. Every last part of her hurt, and the place on her arm where the rose was embedded was filled with sheer, white hot agony.
But the youma knew she had only one chance. Turning, she ran headlong into the nearby street. Car tires screeched and horns blared as vehicles swerved around her, but she ignored them as she charged toward the other side.
At any moment she expected to hear the sounds of pursuit behind her—but it never came. Instead she managed to make it safely across, whereupon she ducked immediately into the nearest side alley she could find and disappeared from sight.
Sailor Moon, pretty sailor-suited soldier of love and justice, looked anxiously at the crying young boy, only to breathe a sigh of relief when she found no injuries. That had been way too close.
"Thank goodness..." she whispered. Then looked up at the black-clad figure, her eyes glowing with adoration. "That was so cool, Tuxedo Kamen!"
The tuxedo-clad fighter accepted the young girl's customary praise with a small smile and a wave of his hand. "Only the foulest of villains would threaten a child in the pursuit of their goals," he declared solemnly. "Let this be an example to you of the kind of evil you are facing, Sailor Moon. Draw determination from this!"
As he spoke, he handed the young boy over to Sailor Moon, who accepted him hesitantly. Then, his speech finished, he leapt up to the library's roof.
"Wait!" called out Sailor Mercury, from her position next to Sailor Moon. "What about that last youma? Shouldn't we do something about her?"
Tuxedo Kamen glanced back over his shoulder, then shook his head. "Don't waste time trying to chase her down," he said. "The police will be here soon, and you should avoid unnecessary run-ins with them. Let her flee back to her master. Jadeite's method of dealing with failures will handle her for you."
He took a quick glance in the direction that the youma had disappeared, then looked back to the Senshi—particularly Mercury, who still looked troubled. "Besides," he assured them, "considering the enchantment that was on that rose and the damage she'd already sustained, she won't last long anyway."
Beneda ran blindly onward, only one coherent thought filling her—to put as much distance between her and the library as she could.
Her path was an unsteady one, weaving drunkenly back and forth down the length of this latest back alley, often crashing into walls. She could barely see straight, barely think, barely do anything except run.
But there was no true escape for her—and she knew it. The wound where the rose had stabbed her had grown steadily more and more agonizing. Jagged cracks were appearing in her arm, spreading out from the red flower imbedded there. She tried once again to wrench it out of her, but she was not strong enough to break the ties of the magic. Its power would tear her apart from the inside out, and in her weakened state there was nothing she could do to prevent that.
And yet she still continued to stumble onward, driven by some primal instinct, some basic fear. She had to get away, had to get away, had to—
She tripped. A piece of rubble in the alley caught her foot wrong, and she crashed headlong to the ground. And there she lay, sprawled out helplessly, unable to rise any more. All she could manage was to curl herself into a ball, whimpering quietly to herself.
It's not fair... was the last thing that crossed her mind, before the raging blackness rose up to claim her thoughts. It wasn't supposed to end like this... This was supposed to be my chance...
A minute or two later her whimpering had died out completely, leaving the alleyway in silence. A silence that was suddenly broken by the sound of trudging footsteps.
For a moment that was all. Then, coming from the opposite end of the alley, a figure appeared—that of a young man. He was dressed in ragged, travel-stained clothes and wore a yellow-and-black bandana tied firmly around his head. On his back rested a large pack, with a red-colored umbrella strapped atop it.
The young man plodded resolutely down the alley, glancing around him from time to time. His face was screwed up in concentration, as though trying to puzzle out some incomprehensible mystery. At one point he made a low mumble under his breath—something that sounded suspiciously like: "Where the hell am I now?"
So preoccupied was he with his own thoughts that he actually stumbled over the youma's prone form. He quickly caught his balance, however, and looked down angrily. "What in the—?"
His words broke off as he got his first glimpse of just what it was that had tripped him. A person. A woman! What was she doing here, lying on the ground like that? Quickly he knelt down, to check her body for injuries.
As he got a closer look, he began to register the more... unique... details of her physiology. What is she? he wondered, perplexed. I've seen a lot of weird stuff, but nothing like her before...
Her strange appearance definitely gave him pause for a moment. But, weird-looking or no, she was a woman, and she seemed to be in some pretty serious trouble. He could hardly call himself a worthy martial artist if he just left her lying there. And going for help was out of the question; he'd certainly never find her again.
No, there was only one thing to do. He began to examine her closer, and quickly found the cracking wound around the rose. It now covered her whole arm and part of her shoulder. Damn... he thought, wincing at the sight. That can't be good.
He gave an experimental pull on the rose, only to find that somehow, it resisted his efforts to remove it. His lip twisted in annoyance. Then, noticing the wound was spreading with each second he wasted, he braced himself and gave the flower a determined yank.
It took him a second or two of straining, but the rose soon pulled free. Strange, he thought. I wouldn't have guessed such a little thing could get as stuck as that...
A low sound, half-moan, half-sigh, shook him out of his contemplation. Looking up, he saw that the unconscious woman's wound had stopped growing for the moment—although she still looked to be in pretty bad shape.
He reached down gently, lifting her prone figure off the ground without apparent effort. I have to find some place where I can set up camp and take a better look at her, he told himself. And with that he began to walk forward again, searching for such a location in the only way someone like him could—trial and error.
Even as he carried her, though, there was a tiny little voice in the back of his mind that warned against that course of action. A nagging little tweak of his danger sense that suggested, quietly but insistently, that this was perhaps not the smartest thing that he had ever done in his sixteen years of life.
But he ignored the misgivings. He couldn't let vague, half-formed worries about this woman decide his course of action, not when she was so obviously in need of help.
And really. Just how much trouble could she possibly cause him anyway?