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.
Author's Note: And... here we are. The final installment of "The Dark Lords of Nerima."
Thank you all so much for reading. It's been an honor, a pleasure and a blessing to be able to spin out this story with you, and I'm grateful to all of you who took the time to follow it.
Of course, as I mentioned previously, this is by no means the end of everything overall. Even as this epilogue ties up the last few loose ends of this story, it's also setting up for what's to come. The next section will be posted as a separate fic: a three-chapter interlude titled "The Dark Lords Strike Back"—wherein the battle against the Dark Kingdom shifts into high gear.
And now, without further ado...
Several weeks later, Ranma made his way groggily down the stairs, yawning as he headed toward the Tendo living room. Morning, he reflected, had come entirely too early.
His body was still aching slightly whenever he moved, the aftereffects of the duel he'd had yesterday against Ryouga. It had been a particularly tricky fight—even if he would never admit that fact aloud. The lost boy's tenacity and strength had been problematic enough to deal with before he had gone and found a technique that let him weaponize his feelings of depression as an actual ki attack.
Fortunately, however, Ranma had figured out a counter for the Shi Shi Hokodan and won the battle. Not to mention that he had gotten a new technique of his own in the bargain. Even if his Moko Takabisha hadn't quite stood up to the "perfect" version of Ryouga's technique on its own, the pigtailed fighter still preferred his modification over the original.
And even more than just the victory, Ranma was enjoying what it represented: a return—for the moment—to simpler problems, like a straightforward duel against his most persistent rival. It marked a much-needed respite from battles over the fate of the world in favor of more normal things, like getting attacked by high-velocity projections of someone's life force.
The Dark Kingdom had pulled completely out of Nerima. It had been weeks since anyone had sensed a youma, disguised or otherwise, during the periodic sweeps of the area that the martial artists had taken to performing. And although the Senshi had returned—mostly to eat at Ucchan's or the Nekohanten—the distance between the two wards made that a relatively infrequent occurrence as well. There had been a close call or two, but the secret was still safe on all fronts.
The pigtailed fighter glanced over to see who had called him, and his eyebrows went up a little at the sight of the girl standing there. She was adapting well to human clothing lately, dressed in a white blouse and a long blue skirt, and she had also taken to tying her silver hair back into a ponytail. "Hey Beneda!" he said. "Haven't seen you in a while. What've you been up to?"
The sometime-youma sighed, a bit wearily. "Training," she answered. "Also, training. And in addition, more training. I'm learning a lot... but Doctor Tofu wasn't joking when he said this would be intensive."
Ranma laughed. "I know the feeling," he said. "But don't worry, you get used to it sooner than you'd think. Anyway, what brings you out here so early?"
"I just wanted to catch you before you left for school," Beneda said, reaching into her pocket as she did so. "I saw this in a store yesterday, and I thought you'd find it funny."
She pulled her hand back out, revealing what she had brought: a small, plush Sailor Moon doll. Ranma took it from her with an amused laugh, examining the chibi figure of his former opponent. "Pretty good likeness, actually. Come to think of it, I've been seeing a whole lot more of this Senshi merchandise these days."
Beneda nodded. "I heard that someone somewhere finally got a clear photo of the Senshi not too long ago, and sold it to a bunch of magazines and toy companies. No one knows who did it... but whoever it was, they must have made out like a bandit." As she spoke Ranma's ears caught a faint noise coming from back upstairs—almost like the sound of someone sneezing.
The pigtailed boy opened his mouth to speak more, but he was interrupted by the sudden ringing of the telephone. Since he was the closest person, he walked over to it and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Ranma!" The breathless voice on the other end was Ukyo's. "Did you hear what happened last night? What are we going to do about it?"
"Wait, wait, hold on a sec..." Ranma frowned, trying to make sense out of what his old friend was saying. "Last night? This is the first I've heard of anything out of the ordinary. What happened?"
"Turn on the television! It's all over the news!"
Puzzled, Ranma nevertheless set the receiver down and hurried into the living room. Akane was already there, eating breakfast with P-chan nestled comfortably in her lap. Ranma ignored them, instead flicking on the television set.
"—menacing apparition that appeared in the sky over Minato Ward last night," were the newscaster's first words that Ranma heard. "Here, once again, is the best recording we have of the sensational demands that it delivered."
The screen cut to a grainy view of the Tokyo skyline, the image wobbling slightly as though captured by a handheld video camera. Ranma sucked in a quick hiss of breath. Looming over the city was a huge, semi-transparent image of a very familiar blond man, with a glare on his face.
"I am Jadeite!" the Dark General's image announced. "Listen closely, Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars! Haneda Airport at 1AM tomorrow. Come to runway F. But if you do not..." Jadeite's eyes glowed, and he launched a sphere of fire down from his mouth. In an instant, the entire cityscape was enveloped in flame.
After a few seconds, Jadeite snapped his fingers. "That was just an illusion!" he said, before leaning in closer. "But if you do not show up... I will burn Tokyo to the ground!" And with that, the huge image vanished.
For a moment Ranma simply stood there, staring at the screen as the newscaster resumes his commentary. Then he turned to look at P-chan, who looked back at him, grim expressions on both their faces.
Later that night, Jadeite watched from high atop the airport's control tower, looking down contemptuously at the human policemen patrolling the runway. It was absurd. Did they actually think to intrude on his battle? They were barely even worthy of notice... but even so, he didn't want them blundering about.
"I have no business with you people," he intoned, directing a superior smile at their oblivious forms. "So you can sleep for a while."
With that he raised his arms, sending out wave after wave of his dark magic, blanketing the area. The spell took hold of the unaware officers almost immediately, and they began toppling over where they stood.
No, the real test was yet to come. And he would not risk the slightest interruption to his plan, even if it meant wasting his time brushing aside insects like these. Queen Beryl's fury with him had reached a boiling point with the death of her youma Thetis, and she had made it clear that this was his last chance.
Either he would kill the Senshi for her... or she would bestow a fate worse than death on him.
So he stood there, alone, looking out over the sleeping city as he waited for his enemies, waited for the final battle that would decide everything. The cold night breeze whispered past him, spreading its chill wherever it went.
And carried on that whisper of a breeze, he thought for a moment that he could almost hear the whisper of a voice, a figment of his memory. It was the voice of a small cat, speaking to him in front of a school with a resigned voice that contained just a hint of pity. "And if your strength isn't enough, someday?" the whisper asked him. "If someday your Queen doesn't find you so useful anymore?"
"Who will stand up for you then?"
The Dark General clenched his fist, and angrily shook his head, banishing all such thoughts from his mind. It was prattle, the voice of weakness, and he refused to entertain it even for a moment. He was not going to fail this time. He would stand on his own power, he would triumph, and he would regain Queen Beryl's favor.
He would accept no other outcome.
With a rush of sensation and stomach-twisting vertigo, Tuxedo Kamen's consciousness asserted itself.
The events leading up to it were—as with every time he awoke—a tangled blur to him. Aside from a few scattered, indistinct images, he had no awareness of who he had been before the transformation took hold of him, just as he suspected his other self had no knowledge of his actions as a masked vigilante.
But he had no time to be disoriented. His awakening had come, as it usually did, with the stomach-churning certainty that Sailor Moon was in danger. He didn't know who she was either, nor what her connection was to him that she could affect him in this way. The only thing he did know, with absolute certainty, was that he would not let any harm come to her.
He took stock of his situation, and found that he was on the outskirts of an airport. Sailor Moon's location could not be seen from where he stood, but he knew it all the same, though he did not know exactly how. He moved swiftly and silently through the deserted place, keeping to the shadows to hide his approach, until he arrived at the edge of the main airstrip and surveyed the situation.
The battle did not seem to be going well for the Senshi. They were running for their lives, away from a pair of jetliners that were barreling after them. And the source of the planes' malevolent behavior was not hard to deduce when he caught sight of Jadeite himself, standing high atop the nearby control tower, gloating down at them.
Tuxedo Kamen waited, not wanting to show his hand prematurely, but he quickly realized that time was running out. The Dark General had the Senshi trapped against the ocean that stretched out along the far side of the airfield, with nowhere left to flee as the huge plane hurtled toward them. With nothing for it, the masked man made a mighty leap, shooting up behind Jadeite and throwing down a rose from midair.
The floral projectile slashed past Jadeite's face, causing the general to jerk his head back. His concentration broken, he lost his telekinetic hold on the planes, and the massive machines rolled to a stop. At the same time, Tuxedo Kamen landed atop the control tower as well, steeling himself for battle. "Are you having fun bullying these helpless girls?" he asked.
"You appear again, Tuxedo Kamen," replied Jadeite, turning to face his attacker, an arrogant smile on his face. "I'll send you to hell along with those three!"
"A villain who toys with innocent people," shot back the masked man confidently. "You will not get away with it."
For several long moments they stood there, sizing each other up, while the Senshi called out encouragement from below. Then Jadeite made his move. With a shout of "Die!" he raised his hands and unleashed a torrent of pale lightning at his opponent.
Tuxedo Kamen leapt high into the air, Jadeite's attack licking at his heels as he cleared it. The Dark General leapt into the air as well, flying up to engage the masked man. The two of them spun through the air, whirling around each other, looking for an opening.
Jadeite found it first. He flew forward, plowing straight into Tuxedo Kamen with bone-jarring force. The two men plummeted in a long, elliptical arc, Jadeite driving them downward until they crashed deep into the ice-cold water with a large splash.
The impact knocked some of the air from Tuxedo Kamen's lungs in a stream of bubbles, but he managed to keep most of it in. He lashed out with a kick, aimed at Jadeite's rib cage, but the water surrounding them slowed the attack, and the Dark General took it on his forearm.
With a flick of his wrist, Tuxedo Kamen drew another rose. He couldn't throw it well underwater, so instead he simply swung the tip dagger-like at Jadeite's chest. But the Dark General's hand shot up, catching his opponent's arm at the wrist, locking it in place. Then the blond man raised his other hand, palm outward.
There was a rumbling sound, and then behind Jadeite, cracks began to appear in the underwater part of the airfield's concrete foundation. His telekinesis! Tuxedo Kamen realized. He's—
But he had no chance to complete the thought, as a large chunk of the foundation ripped free and shot straight at him. He tried to twist out of the way, but Jadeite held him tightly in place, and the projectile hammered straight into his chest. The blow crushed the remaining air from his lungs, and he lost his grip on the rose, which floated upward toward the surface.
Before the masked man could even begin to recover his senses, more chunks of concrete were slamming into him from every angle, battering him further down. One hit him right between the shoulder blades, driving him all the way to the bottom.
He had no air left. His consciousness was fading. And still the projectiles struck him, burying him under a pile of rubble, a funeral cairn trapping his body here as he died.
The last thing he saw, before his vision faded to black, was Jadeite levitating back up toward the surface, back up toward Sailor Moon.
Water, thought Ranma darkly, as he watched Jadeite and Tuxedo Kamen go plummeting from their position atop the control tower and into the sea. Of course! A whole freaking airport to fight in, and they just had to take it into the water.
He couldn't think of many worse directions the fight could have gone. Ryouga would be near-useless in such a setting, cutting their available manpower in half. Worse, even for Ranma it would be a much more difficult proposition to interfere surreptitiously, should his help be needed.
Muttering under his breath about how things never went according to plan, he spun away from the window of the small building at the side of the airstrip that he and Ryouga had been peeking out from. "Stay here!" he hissed over his shoulder at the lost boy. "I'll follow those two!"
With that, he darted out the back exit, keeping the building between him and the Senshi as much as he could as he raced in a blur of speed toward the water's edge. Without pausing, he leapt off in a graceful dive, vanishing beneath the surface with barely a ripple. He became a she in the process, but she barely even noticed in light of the more pressing concerns.
Her eyes adjusted quickly to the dark, murky water, just in time to see the distant figure of Jadeite pummeling Tuxedo Kamen with shards of concrete torn from the airstrip's foundation. This is bad! the pigtailed fighter thought. The Dark General had chosen his battle ground frighteningly well. His powers were hard enough to avoid normally; it would be near-suicide to fight him down here, with the additional encumbrance of the water.
My only shot is a sneak attack, Ranma thought. Circle in from behind and hit him, maybe make him breathe in some water. See how he likes it down here then. But before she could put the plan into action Jadeite began to levitate back upward, leaving Tuxedo Kamen's prone form buried under the mound of debris.
Ranma made a quick judgment call. Jadeite could wait. Ryouga was still up there watching over the girls, and he would intervene if things started to get bad. For now, rescuing Tuxedo Kamen was the most pressing need. Accordingly, she swam down to where the masked vigilante was lying, her body cutting through the water like a shark.
She reached the unconscious man in seconds, her hands reaching down and flinging off the debris left and right. As soon as she had cleared enough, she dragged the man free and kicked off the ground back toward the surface, carrying Tuxedo Kamen along with her.
They broke the surface near where Ranma had first dived in, far enough along the water's edge to avoid being seen by the Senshi or blasted by Jadeite. Ranma dragged Tuxedo Kamen out of the water and behind one of the buildings. "Come on..." the pigtailed girl muttered, as she turned the masked man over and began to slap him on the back, wishing she had studied more about how this kind of first aid should actually work. "Come on!"
To her relief, Tuxedo Kamen's body soon convulsed and began to cough up water. Immediately Ranma darted away, slipping back into the building they had been hiding in originally. She did hold the door open a crack, though, peering out to watch as Tuxedo Kamen slowly pulled himself to his feet. The man was looking around in utter befuddlement, obviously trying to figure out how on earth he had gone from being trapped underwater to laying on the surface.
Letting out a soft chuckle, Ranma quietly closed the door and jogged over to where Ryouga was still crouched at the window. "Hey," she said as she approached. "Did you have to help those girls any yet? Take any shots at Jadeite?"
Ryouga shook his head. "Haven't needed to," he replied. "They're kicking his ass. Look."
Ranma looked out the window, and saw that her rival was right. Jadeite was no longer flying, but rather fleeing desperately down the runway. Somehow, the planes that he had been directing toward the Senshi were now being dragged inexorably toward him. The pigtailed fighter let out a low whistle. "How'd they pull that off?"
"I didn't really see most of it, since the Mercury girl had her mist up," replied Ryouga. "But it looks like one of them snuck up behind him in the fog, while the other two distracted him. Slapped some kind of ward or something on his back. It messed him up pretty good, and made all his magic go haywire."
"Well that's a neat trick," said Ranma. Certainly their own battle against Jadeite would have been over much faster if they'd been able to pull off something like that. Either way, though, it looked as though any worries about the threat he posed were about to be rendered moot. Even as Ranma watched, Sailor Moon drew back her tiara and hurled it at the general.
Jadeite managed to fling himself out of the weapon's path, but in his jumbled state he could not regain his balance and he fell to the ground. He pulled himself back up to one knee... but not quickly enough.
As the general raised his head, one of the jetliners caught up with him. He had time for one horrified scream, before he was run down by the enormous machine, his own telekinesis crushing it into him. His body twisted and writhed, and Ranma imagined that she could hear the snapping of bone even at their distance.
The pigtailed girl turned to look at Ryouga. "So much for him..." she said, jerking her thumb back toward the general's crumpled form. "You know, those girls didn't do half bad. Well, okay, the tuxedo guy would've been toast if we hadn't been here... but considering who they were up against I think they did all right for themselves."
She took another glance out across the airstrip... and noted to her mild surprise that Jadeite's body was now gone. That was unsettling. Did Dark Generals do the whole "turn to dust" thing when they died, like their youma did? Or had Jadeite managed to survive after all, and teleport away once again?
Ryouga's voice cut into her ruminations. "You know..." he told her. "At this point, I'm not sure we really need to keep what we did a secret from the Senshi anymore. We could probably just tell them the whole story of what happened."
"Why?" was Ranma's response, turning back to her rival. "What if we tell them, and it turns out they still want to go after Beneda for what she did? Or what if they just plain don't believe us?"
"You don't think they'd listen to our explanation?" asked Ryouga skeptically.
"Ryouga, I can't remember the last time a girl listened to an explanation I tried to give for something," Ranma shot back. "Why risk everything blowing up again? We're set the way things are. I think it's better to just stay in the shadows for now, and wait for our moment—like Cologne said."
"I suppose..." Ryouga said, not sounding entirely convinced. "I'm all for letting sleeping dogs lie, of course... but at the same time, what if they do find out?"
The lost boy leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms as he continued to talk. "Hell, even if we do manage to stay behind the scenes through this whole Dark Kingdom business, they could still stumble onto us by accident later on. And if they find us like that—when we've been hiding from them—it'll look even worse for us, on top of everything else we've already done."
Ranma waved her hand dismissively. "Ah, you worry too much, P-chan," she said. "I mean... seriously. What're the odds of that happening?"
~ end part one ~