Chapter Twenty-Two

Shinjiro sighed and took a moment to savour the view from the top of the building. Long ago, Earth had been little more than the backwater of the Lunar Empire, a planet of savages living in a state of squalor more amusing than offensive. How quickly things changed. Now, Earth was the only planet in the solar system to harbour life, and the Moon and the rest of the planets were little more than barren lumps of rock spinning through space. It was almost enough to make him laugh.

"It's not like you to brood. Don't tell me you're upset about what happened on the train."

He turned and flashed Sayuri a smile. As usual, the expression only served to aggravate her and he was forced to duck a half-hearted punch that nevertheless packed enough force to pulverise steel. Honestly, she never had been one for doing things halfway.

"So, are you going to tell me what's worrying you, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?" Her lips curled. "Or have you started to get attached to this place." She gestured at the city spread out below them. "Don't forget that no matter how much time you've spent here, you're not one of them and you never will be."

He chuckled and sat down on the edge of the building. At night with the city lights all around him and the buildings rising tall and shadowed into the dark it was almost like being home. "What happened on the train was unpleasant for our colleague, but it was also necessary. Unfortunately, something else has come up." He paused. "It seems that I can no longer sense Hotaru Tomoe."

"What?" Sayuri grabbed him by the back of his shirt and hauled him onto his feet. "What do you mean you can't sense her anymore?"

He shrugged her hands off. "Exactly what I said. I can no longer sense her." He smiled at the glare she shot him. "Now, there are three reasons that might explain why I can no longer sense her. One possibility is that she's no longer alive. Now, given who is inside her, I really don't think that's terribly likely." He chuckled. "She and Saturn might not get along, but I have no doubt that Saturn would take over if they were in any real danger – our friend on the train is proof of that. The second possibility is that Saturn has fully awakened and is hiding from us. That's not very likely either. If Saturn were fully awakened we would either be dead or running for our lives. That leaves only one other possibility." He smirked. "And that is that she's no longer on this planet."

Sayuri gave him a sceptical look. "Not on this planet? Right. Then where is she?"

Sometimes, he really wondered just how Sayuri had managed to obtain her position. Their Queen tended to favour cunning and guile, but then again, there were some things that only raw power could accomplish and Sayuri had plenty of that. Of course, her overly straightforward nature was also the reason that he was in charge and not her.

"Think about it," he said. "Hotaru has been losing control as Saturn awakens, and our attacks haven't helped either. If she wants to regain control of herself and learn who we are, the only way she can do that is to delve into her own memories and confront Saturn. There's really nothing else that could work."

"You still haven't told me where they are," she growled. "Stop wasting my time and get to the point."

He shrugged. "The quickest way for Hotaru to regain her memories is to use the Gates of Time, which would also explain why I can no longer sense her."

"The Gates of Time, huh?" Sayuri's eyes narrowed. "That still doesn't explain why you're brooding. The more of her original memories she regains, the more likely Saturn is to fully awaken and that's what we need, or have you forgotten the purpose of our mission?"

"Of course not," he replied. "But you're thinking too simply. Regaining her memories will take a while, even if they use the Gates of Time. And don't forget, Hotaru isn't Saturn. The two of them don't hate the same people. If Hotaru regains Saturn's memories but retains control, then it will be far harder to get her to do what we want. Saturn always was much more... proactive." He frowned faintly. "Still, there are steps we can take. Unlike Saturn, Hotaru still has people that she cares about. If we use them, we might find things even easier than with Saturn."

Sayuri's brows furrowed. "What are you thinking?"

He turned back to look over the city. "It's almost time for the evening peak hour for commuters." A smile crossed his lips. "Gather the others. I want all of you to go make some noise. There are some people that I want to speak to, but first we need to get their attention. It's about time we showed ourselves."

X X X

Haruka glanced at the television but she wasn't really paying much attention to it at all. Normally, an evening of sport would have been just the thing to pull her out of her bad mood. She would have gotten some snacks out and spent the entire evening screaming at the television much to Michiru's horrified consternation, Setsuna's quiet amusement, and Hotaru's obvious delight. Right now though, Michiru was upstairs working on some music in a bid to keep busy and Setsuna and Hotaru… well… they were gone, at least for the time being.

Just thinking of the Setsuna and Hotaru made her want to punch something. Or, she thought with a scowl, she could always just punch Setsuna. The other woman had done her usual thing, hiding things and acting like she had to solve everything herself until things had just gotten completely out of hand. Damn it, why hadn't Setsuna come clean about all of this Saturn related stuff earlier?

Sure, the four of them might not be related by blood, but they were family, right? She laughed softly. Yeah, they were family, all right, the weirdest most dysfunctional family in the world. Even so, watching everything come apart so quickly made her so angry and sad at the same time that she wasn't sure what to do.

She sighed. Really, she was starting to think like Setsuna. She was supposed to be the lively one, not the one who sat around and moped all day. Still, what else could she do? A quick glance at the clock on the wall made her wince. She should probably go upstairs and ask Michiru if she wanted to go out for dinner. Sitting around like this wasn't helping one bit, and she had the feeling that neither of them was in the mood to cook. As she stood up and stretched, the channel she was watching cut away from the race she'd been vaguely paying attention to in favour of some breaking news.

"As you can see from this live footage, the attacks that occurred only moments ago at train stations across the city have caused enormous damage. No group has yet stepped forward to claim responsibility, but…"

Haruka sank back into her chair with wide eyes as the news anchor continued. A montage of images appeared, and she barely heard the words that went with them as bile burned at the back of her throat. She knew the places they were showing, the places that were now little more than smoking, burnt out rubble. Hell, Hotaru caught the train from one of those stations all the time. She swallowed thickly. What the hell was going on? She was so intent on what she was seeing that the sudden angry beeping of her communicator was almost enough to make her jump.

"Are you watching television right now?" Minako asked, her voice shaking as it came over the communicator. "Are you seeing this?"

Haruka nodded dumbly before she realised that Minako couldn't see the gesture. Clearing her throat, she spoke. "I'm watching, all right." She fell silent as another image appeared on the television. It was a shot of one of the alleged perpetrators. He was dressed entirely in dark clothing with a broad cloak of purple so dark that it was almost black draped across his shoulders. Holding the cloak together was a clasp in the shape of a raven, the metal gleaming in the flames that raged throughout the almost obliterated train station.

"Haruka!" Minako shouted over the communicator. "Are you listening? I asked you if you know anything about the people who did this."

Haruka bit her lip so hard it bled. "I think so." She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "Setsuna told us about them. We don't know exactly who they are, but apparently they're dressed like the Saturnian Royal Guard." Minako gasped, and Haruka pressed on. "Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but one of them attacked Hotaru when she was on the train last night."

"Hotaru was attacked?" Minako asked. "Why didn't you tell us this? Damn it, none of this makes sense." She sighed. "Look, where's Setsuna now? She needs to tell us everything – they're killing people, Haruka, this isn't something we can ignore."

"Setsuna isn't here." Haruka clenched her fists. "And neither is Hotaru. They're at the Gates of Time now trying to help Hotaru regain her memories. They… they won't be able to come back until they're done."

"Damn." There was the sound of flesh hitting wood and if Haruka had to guess, Minako had probably just slammed her hand on her desk. "We can't wait that long, Haruka. I and the others are going to transform and head to the train stations in the west to try and stop the attacks going on there. Can you and Michiru take the train stations in the east?"

Haruka nodded. "We can do that." She stood. "I'm going to get Michiru and head out. Keep in touch."

Haruka took one last look at the television and burned the image of all the carnage into her mind. She'd been in a bad mood for a while now and these people – the same people who'd gone after Hotaru – had finally revealed themselves. It was time for some payback and she'd be sure to give them some for Hotaru as well.

"Michiru!" she shouted as she climbed the stairs. "Come on, we need to transform. There have been attacks throughout the city!"

A few minutes later, the two of them were bounding across the rooftops toward the east side of the city. Along the way Haruka was careful to keep in contact with Minako over her communicator. By the sounds of things, the situation was only getting worse.

"Uranus," Venus said. "Are you two in position yet? We're getting reports of fire spreading from the train stations."

Uranus growled. "Not yet, give us another five minutes, Venus." Up ahead, she could see the glow of fire, the deep orange glare overpowering the usual white glow of streetlights and other signage. Below them, traffic had backed up on the roads as people tried to get as far away from the danger as they could.

"All right, just hurry, okay?" Venus paused. "Mars and I are almost in position. Jupiter and Mercury should be in position in a few minutes as well, and Moon and Tuxedo Kamen are on their way."

Uranus scowled at her communicator. "You guys split up? Are you sure that's wise?" Based on what she'd learned from Hotaru and Setsuna, their enemies were extremely formidable. Sure, Hotaru had beaten the hell out of one of them, but she'd had Saturn's help with that, and even then she hadn't emerged unscathed. "Don't take them lightly, Venus, these guys are dangerous."

"I know that," Venus replied. "But we haven't got a choice. There are too many attacks going on. If we don't split up, there's no way we'll be able to handle all of them." She made a disgusted sound. "I really wish Pluto and Saturn were here, because we could certainly use the extra firepower."

Uranus nodded grimly. They certainly could. "There's no point thinking about that, we'll have to make do with what we've got." At her side, Neptune paused and Uranus looked ahead. The train station was at the end of the next street. "We're in position, Venus. I'll contact you once we've handled things here."

Uranus and Neptune sprinted across the final set of roofs and stopped just shy of the train station. On the street below them, frightened commuters fled toward the line of emergency vehicles that had formed a barricade across the street. There were police, firemen, and ambulance officers, but not one of them had made a move toward the train station. Looking at the roof of the train station, Uranus could see why.

"Well, it certainly took you long enough." The woman standing on the roof of the train station had long, mahogany hair and in the erratic glow of the fire, her blue eyes shone eerily. She wore the distinctive cloak of the Saturnian Royal Guard and draped over one shoulder was a scythe every bit as tall as she was. The scythe gleamed darkly in the firelight, its edge glowing a faint purple. "I was beginning to think that none of you would show."

Uranus narrowed her eyes as Neptune edged away from her. If the woman attacked, it would be better if they split up. At least that way, one of them would be able to get an attack in while the woman was occupied with the other. "Who are you and why are you here?"

The woman grinned. "You know what, I'll just come right out and tell you. After all, he did say it would be okay." She swung the scythe and Uranus' eyes widened at how easily she moved the massive weapon around. "My name is Sayuri and I am a member of the Saturnian Royal Guard. As for why I'm here." She shrugged. "It's actually very simple. I'm going to make you wish you were dead."

Uranus slipped into a fighting stance. "I'd like to see you try."

Sayuri's grin widened. "Very well then. Let's not waste any more time." She took a step forward. "I hope you're ready."

And then she vanished.

Haruka felt the air shift behind her and ducked just in time to see the scythe whip through the air where her head had been. Fast, she thought, really fast. And before she could even think of launching a counterattack, Sayuri lashed out with one foot. The kick caught Uranus in the stomach and hurled her off the roof of the building and into a row of vending machines. Glass went flying and the tortured shriek of mangled plastic and metal filled the air as Uranus smashed through the vending machines and slid along the ground.

"Uranus!" Neptune cried and Uranus looked up to see the aqua haired woman launch herself at Sayuri. The darkly clad woman twisted away from Neptune's blows and the scythe streaked toward Neptune's chest.

"Look out!" Uranus shouted. "Don't get close to her!"

Neptune leapt away just in time and the air around her shimmered as she gathered her power. Droplets of moisture formed in front of her and she thrust both hands forward. "Deep Submerge!"

The trickle of water in front of Neptune became a flood and a torrent of water rocketed from her toward Sayuri. The other woman brought her scythe up to ward off the attack and the tide of water split and smashed into the roof on either side of her. All along the street, the streetlights flickered and then died as the gushing water obliterated the rooftop and then toppled the powerlines in its path.

"Watch out!" Uranus said as Sayuri closed in on Neptune again, the dim purple glow on the edge of her scythe intensifying with each moment.

Neptune's eyes widened and Uranus saw that she'd been taken completely off guard by how little her attack had actually accomplished. Forcing her battered body into a sprint, Uranus jumped and tackled Neptune out of the way as Sayuri brought her scythe around in a broad arc.

A coruscating wave of violet energy rippled from the edge of the scythe and crashed into the building behind them. It cleaved right through it and as the building began to collapse, an eerie silence filled the air, muffling the sound of shattering wood and concrete as Uranus dragged Neptune clear. Sparks flew from some of the downed powerlines and the two of them took to the rooftops again, Sayuri only a few feet behind them.

"Is that all you have?" Sayuri growled. "All my life I've heard legends about how strong the senshi were, of how it was their power and the fear that it inspired that allowed the Empress to rule the solar system." She swung her scythe again and Uranus and Neptune leapt apart, the space between them filled with purple energy. "And now that I finally get to face two of you, I find out that you're nothing more than children playing at fighting." Sayuri tightened her grip on her scythe. "No wonder our Queen thinks so little of this age."

Queen? Uranus sprinted along the rooftops, dodging another blast. Who was this Queen that Sayuri was speaking of? Filing the thought away for another time, she came to a stop on top of a large building and summoned the Space Sword. The weapon appeared just in time for her to block Sayuri's scythe. The sheer force of the blow drove her to her knees and she felt every muscle in her arms strain to hold the larger weapon at bay.

Panting, Uranus twisted her blade free and backed away as Sayuri pressed her attack. The scythe was a blur of motion, attacks coming from seemingly every direction as Sayuri battered Uranus from one side of the roof to the other. Frantically, Uranus looked around for Neptune. The other woman was on one of the buildings nearby looking for an opening to try another attack. Uranus grit her teeth. If Neptune needed an opening, she would get one.

Uranus gathered her strength and parried Sayuri's next attack. As the other woman hastened to bring her scythe back into position, Uranus surged forward, her sword flashing in the dim light as she attacked with all the speed she could muster. But somehow Sayuri held her ground. Rather than try and block every attack, the other woman seemed content to mostly dodge. Clearly, Sayuri understood the implications of using a larger weapon. Much more worrying, however, was how little damage Sayuri's weapon had taken. The Space Sword wasn't as sharp as the Silence Glaive, but it was far, far sharper than any normal sword could ever be. Yet despite the number of time their weapons had met, there wasn't so much as a scratch on Sayuri's scythe. Glancing around, Uranus nodded to herself. She'd managed to drive Sayuri out into the open.

"Deep Submerge!"

Another blast of water streaked toward them and Uranus jumped clear. Rather than the broad river of water that Neptune had used the first time, this blast was much narrowed, perhaps only a few inches wide. Smaller, thinner, and much faster, the beam of water sliced right through the concrete roof and came out through one of the walls of the building. Realising that simply slicing the water probably wouldn't work, Sayuri retreated, hopping onto the next building as Neptune continued to attack.

"Not bad," Sayuri said as a jet of water shot past her and right through a billboard. "But still, not nearly good enough." Another jet of water headed her way and she launched a wave of purple energy at it. The two attacks met and Neptune was forced to dodge as the plume of purple radiance smashed into the roof where she was standing. "I wonder if your friends across the city are doing any better."

X X X

Jupiter cursed as Mercury toppled back, blood spewing from the wound on her chest. The blue haired woman hit the ground with a wet thump and twitched weakly before the man who'd knocked her down casually bent over to pick her up by the throat.

"Shinjiro said that we should make some noise." There was no emotion in his dark eyes. "He also said that it would be acceptable to kill you, although we shouldn't make it a priority." He flicked his wrist and Mercury flew into the wall of a nearby store. She hit it with enough force to crack the bricks and then slid slowly to the ground, leaving a long trail of red in her wake.

Jupiter looked from Mercury to the man in front of her. If Uranus was right then these people might well be members of the Saturnian Royal Guard. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but clearly Saturn wasn't the only one from her planet who knew a thing or two about fighting. As soon as she and Mercury had shown up, he'd come after them like some kind of monster. He'd been so fast that she'd barely been able to react in time to avoid being cut in half. As for Mercury, the other woman had been even less fortunate.

"Just hang in there, Mercury," Jupiter said. "Just hang on. I'm going to come and get you, okay?"

The man tilted his head to one side. "You're going to get her?" His voice was calm and he didn't seem the least bit bothered that most of the street around them was either on fire or in pieces. "And how exactly will you manage that?"

She bit her lip. As much as she hated to admit it, he had a point. He was fast, really, really fast, and he was strong too. He also had a sword, and she knew from the wound in her side that he definitely knew how to use it. But if she didn't get to Mercury soon and get her some help, then the other woman was going to bleed out, even with their senshi powers to help her. As it was, Mercury's eyes were already starting to glaze and she could barely find the strength to sit up.

"Just watch me," Jupiter growled. "I'll show you what a senshi is capable of."

Jupiter took a deep breath. She'd only have one chance at this. Behind the man, an explosion rocked the train station, most likely a gas line or something. At least all of the commuters had managed to get away and police had blocked the ends of the street to prevent anyone else wandering into the battle.

Over the years, she'd gotten careless. She'd gotten so used to fighting youma, to opponents who charged straight at her screaming and trying to claw her throat out. It had been a long, long time since she'd fought someone as well trained as the man in front of her, since she'd fought a soldier.

"Your friend hasn't got much time," he murmured. "You'd best make your move soon."

Reaching deep inside herself for her power, Jupiter extended one arm out to the side. This wasn't something she'd done a lot, and really, with the amount of blood she'd already lost, she wasn't sure that it was a wise idea, but she didn't have much of a choice. Electricity gathered in the palm of her hand, the air around them filling with the scent of ozone, as the current grew and spread along her arm. It didn't matter how strong he was or what powers he had, if she hit him with this much electricity, there was no way that he'd be able to just shrug it off.

For a long moment the two of them simply stared at one another, the crackle of flames and the screech of sirens all around them. And then an explosion rocked the night and Jupiter lunged forward, pouring every bit of speed she had into the strike as she closed the gap between them in the blink of an eye.

Her arm swept toward him and for a moment she thought that she would actually hit him. Yet, just as her blow was about to land, he twisted away, the attack tearing a long gash in his cloak as he let her momentum carry her past him. Her eyes widened. Her back was completely exposed and she saw his blade flash through the air toward her.

Then he slipped.

Stunned, Jupiter stumbled too, and she watched in disbelief as he lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. What had just happened? And then she saw Mercury, a wry smile on her lips as her arm dropped to the ground. Somehow, the other woman had found the strength to freeze the ground that the man was standing on. It wasn't much, but at the speed they'd been moving at, the lack of friction had been enough to throw off balance. Seizing her chance, Jupiter hurled the electricity she'd gathered straight at him.

His sword swung up to block the attack, and the lightning exploded. The force of the blast hurled him through the wall of a burnt out store and into the rubble behind it. Not waiting to see if he was dead or alive, Jupiter lifted Mercury into her arms and made for the rooftops.

"Nice work," Jupiter whispered. "Now, just hold on for a second."

In her arms, Mercury nodded weakly and then went limp, utterly exhausted from the battle. Damn it, Jupiter thought. She needed to get Mercury to Moon quickly.

X X X

Mars grimaced as one of the huge rock-like giants that she and Venus were fighting landed a glancing blow on her side. The blow knocked her off her feet and she rolled out of the way as an enormous foot smashed into the pavement. Getting to her feet, she fired a bolt of searing flame into the giant's face and it gave a groan before falling back and breaking apart. Not far from her, Venus used a glowing chain to yank the head off another giant and the two shared an uneasy look.

The reports from the others had begun to come in, and by the sounds of things, they were losing quite badly. Uranus and Neptune were fighting for their lives and according to Jupiter Mercury needed urgent medical attention. Thankfully Moon and Tuxedo Kamen hadn't encountered any of the Saturnian Royal Guard, but they'd had their hands full fighting a small army of youma, just like Mars and Venus.

"There's no end to them," Venus spat as she jumped over one granite fist and smashed her own fist right through the giant's head. "Where are they all coming from? Can you sense anything?"

"Give me a second," Mars said. Even if the giants hadn't managed to hurt them so far, they'd reduced pretty much everything around them to rubble, and if they kept on coming, then eventually they'd wear her and Venus down. With a frown, she stretched her senses out. There had to be someone nearby summoning them, there had to be. An instant later, her eyes widened. There was someone nearby, but for some reason they felt a lot like Saturn.

"There's someone here," Mars said. "We have to find them or –"

A polite cough interrupted her as a fairly non-descript young man dressed in the cloak of the Saturnian Royal Guard appeared. Sighing wearily, he sat down on the edge of one of the nearby rooftops. He gestured vaguely at the dozen or so rock giants circling Mars and Venus.

"They're not really good for much," he murmured, speaking just loud enough to be heard. "Sure, they're big, but they're clumsy and they're not particularly bright." He paused. "Although, you don't have to worry about them plotting against you and they'll do whatever you say, so overall, they do make reasonable lackeys." He gestured again and the youma vanished, sinking into the shadows that covered the street. "Still, for people like yourselves, they won't be enough." He stood and stretched. "I hope you don't mind if I take their place."

Mars tensed. For all of his polite talk, he was powerful. She glanced at Venus, the message in her eyes clear: they needed to take him down no matter what.

"That's quite a look you've got in your eyes, Mars," he said. "It suits you well." He smiled thinly. "I hope you're ready."

"For what?" she glared up at him.

He sighed. "For this."

Out of the corner of her eye, Mars saw something shoot toward her. She jerked back and then rolled, her instincts screaming at her that she needed to keep moving. Behind her, she heard the pavement screech as something tore through it. Several dull thumps followed her, and she lashed out with a wave of fire.

In the light of her attack, she finally saw what had just happened. Somehow, the shadows around her had solidified, turning from vague amorphous patches of darkness into solid, almost metallic strips of blackness.

"You're quick on your feet," the young man said as the shadows stirred again. "I'll admit my power isn't exactly flashy, but it does have it uses."

The shadows surged forward again and Mars ducked, one shadow tearing her uniform at the shoulder as another cut into her thigh. She cried out and stumbled before a beam of white-hot light cleaved through the shadows that would have gutted her. She turned. Venus was standing there, one arm still extended, her eyes moving quickly from shadow to shadow.

"Get up, Mars," Venus whispered. "There's more of them coming."

More of the shadows rushed toward them and Mars found herself back to back with Venus, the two of them firing attack after attack into the mass of inky darkness around them. Abruptly one of the shadows broke away from the rest, wrapping its long length around a car and hurling it at them. They broke apart, the car exploding as it crashed to the ground, and for a split-second the shadows recoiled from the light of the explosion.

"Flame Sniper!" Mars roared, seizing the chance to launch an attack at the young man. The arrow streaked through the air and the young man winced before a slew of shadows peeled off from the building he was sitting on and flung themselves at the arrow. The flaming projectile came apart in a cloud of fire, but when it cleared the young man was still there, albeit with little bits of ash in his hair.

"We need to get rid of the shadows," Venus murmured as she fell into position behind Mars. "Otherwise he can just keep attacking us and defending himself at the same time." She paused. "I've got an idea, but you're going to have to cover me."

Mars nodded grimly. If he could control shadows, they really did need to do something. With all the fires burning everywhere there were literally hundreds of different shadows for him to use. It was like a bad horror move, the kind that Moon hated but couldn't stop herself from watching.

"Just don't take too long, Venus."

Once again, the shadows closed in one them and Mars spun, a tide of flame rippling outward. That took care of the initial attack, but more shadows came, attacking from all sides and from above and below. She fired off bolt after bolt of flame, twisting and turning as she worked frantically to keep up. Behind her, Venus continued to gather her power, the shadows' assault beginning to weaken as the light around the Senshi of Love grew brighter and brighter.

"Mars," Venus growled. "Close your eyes!"

The light around Venus exploded outward and even with her eyes closed, Mars felt her eyes water at the sheer brightness of it. It seemed to go on forever and when it finally stopped and Mars could open her eyes again, she saw the shadows in the area were once again nebulous and fragile. Up on the roof, the young man rubbed his eyes and gave them a thoughtful look.

"Interesting." He gestured and the shadows moved only weakly toward them. "You managed to weaken the shadows. But you do realise, that won't last for long. Do you really think you can kill me before the effect wears off." He glanced past Mars at Venus who was panting heavily. "And do you really think she can do that again?"

Venus glared up at him. "Watch me."

"That's the spirit," he said before a giant explosion lit the night. It was the colour of the sky just after dusk, a deep, vibrant purple. The explosion rose for a few more moments and then billowed outward. The young man grimaced. "Honestly, I told her not to kill them. It will make things difficult if she has." He sighed. "I'm afraid I'll be leaving now. We'll finish this later."

"Wait!" Venus shouted. But he was gone. "Mars contact the others."

Mars nodded. "What do I say?"

"Warn them. Whoever these people are they want us alive, and that means they need us for something." Venus dragged in a deep breath. "Can you reach them?"

Mars turned back to Venus and frowned. "I can't reach Neptune or Uranus."

X X X

Neptune tried to stand only to find that she couldn't move. After a few more attempts, she finally managed to drag herself off the ground only to collapse back onto the pavement as jagged bolts of pain tore up her left side. She glanced down and almost threw up. Just a glance was enough to tell her that her left arm and left leg were broken. Still, given how big the explosion had been, she was lucky to be alive.

Biting her lip to stifle another cry, she looked around for Sayuri. The other woman was a monster. She and Uranus had hit her with everything they had, but she'd just smiled and kept on coming like it was nothing. Most worryingly of all were how similar her powers were to Saturn's. It was like someone had tried to create their own Sailor Saturn.

She coughed and winced at the fresh pain that caused. Where was Uranus? The other woman had been on the other side of Sayuri when she'd used that last attack. After a few frantic moments of looking around, Neptune finally spotted her. Uranus lay on the opposite side of the street, half-imbedded in a wall with the Space Sword still clutched in her hands.

"Good grief, you two are pathetic." Sayuri appeared beside Uranus and Neptune could only cry out in horror as she pulled the other senshi out of the wall and tossed her along the ground. The Space Sword clattered out of Uranus' hands and the blonde groaned as Sayuri lifted her scythe. "Maybe I should just end it now."

The scythe swung – only to stop dead less than an inch from Uranus' throat.

Neptune felt a stab of relief until she realised that it wasn't the other senshi. No, holding the scythe in place were several tendrils of shadow, and beside Sayuri looking distinctly aggravated was a young man dressed like a Saturnian Royal Guard.

"What did you do that for, Shinjiro?" Sayuri growled.

The young man scowled and looked down at Uranus. The blonde tried to reach for the Space Sword but a shadow lanced out, driving right through the flesh of her palm and pinning her hand to the ground. "Have you forgotten my orders? These two are not to be killed." He glanced at Neptune. "Good, at least that one is still fully conscious." He walked over toward Neptune, another shadow pinning Uranus' other hand to the ground as he crossed the gap between them. "Good evening."

"Go to hell!" Neptune spat. She wasn't normally one to swear, but after what he'd just done to Uranus, she wasn't in the mood for being polite.

He sighed theatrically. "Well, I can't say I blame you for being angry, but there is something I want from you."

"I won't do anything for you!" Neptune tried to summon her power but froze as several shadows coiled around her injured arm and leg. They squeezed just hard enough to send her tumbling to the ground in agony. When the pain cleared, the young man gave her a calm look.

"Are you quite finished?" Shinjiro asked. "What I need from you is for you to contact Pluto." He smiled. "Yes, I know that you can contact her, so don't bother denying it." He glanced at Uranus. "You do that for me and Uranus gets to live. You don't and I'll let Sayuri take her apart – slowly." He gave Neptune a wink. "And trust me, you really don't want me to let Sayuri have her way when it comes to torture. She is really messed up."

Neptune grit her teeth and met Uranus' eyes. Even barely conscious, the message in the blonde woman's eyes was clear. Don't do anything for them. "No."

"Okay." Shinjiro looked at Sayuri. "Cut her. Not too deep though, just painful."

Sayuri's scythe swept forward and Uranus' back arched off the ground as the weapon cut a deep gash across her stomach. A strangled cry left her lips before the weapon struck again, this time across one thigh. Blood spurted from the wounds and Uranus sank back onto the ground, biting her lip to try to keep from crying out. However that attempt failed miserably as Sayuri ground the blunt end of her scythe into the wound she'd just opened up on Uranus' stomach.

"See, we can keep this up all night," Shinjiro said. "And if we have to, I can heal her so that we can keep going for even longer." His gaze hardened and his voice lost the almost joking tone it had held up until then. "Now, contact Pluto, or we'll see just how much pain Uranus there can stand."

Neptune felt a tear trickle down her cheek. She couldn't stand by and watch Uranus go through more of this. She couldn't. Silently and glaring viciously at Shinjiro she activated her communicator. "Pluto… it's me."

Pluto's voice came over the communicator clearly. "Neptune… what's wrong?"

"Hello, Pluto," Shinjiro said, taking the communicator from Neptune. "It's nice to finally talk to you."

"Who are you?" Pluto asked. "Where's Neptune?"

"Neptune is currently occupied and so are the others for that matter." He paused. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that Saturn is with you." Silence. "I'll take it from your silence that I'm right. Here's what's going to happen, Pluto. You're going to help Saturn get all her memories back and once you do, you're going to give her a message from me." He gestured and Uranus vanished, swallowed up by a sea of shadows. "Tell her that it's time to finish what she started in Requiem City." He paused. "She'll know what that means. We'll be waiting with Neptune and Uranus." He handed the communicator back to Neptune. "Care to say goodbye?"

"Goodbye?" Neptune murmured. "What did you do to Uranus? What did you do?"

Shinjiro sighed. "I sent her on a little trip, one you'll be joining in a moment." He turned to Sayuri. "Tell the others to withdraw, we've done what we came to do." He looked back at Neptune. "You might want to close your eyes for this, it's a bit of a bumpy ride."

And before Neptune could even think of anything else to say, the shadows surged to life around her and the whole world went dark.

X X X

Author's Notes

As always, I neither own Sailor Moon, nor am I making any money off this.

Okay, so I'm not dead and neither is this story. I won't make say anything about the long gap between chapters other than that I was working on my other stories. I do, however, hope to get back to work on this one, because I've had ideas percolating for a while now that I'd like to get down on paper.

So, in this chapter we see a return to the present day timeline (as opposed to Requiem's Timeline or Pluto's earlier timeline). One of the problems with having three separate timelines going on at once, is it's actually been quite a while since we've been in the present. It's also about time that Shinjiro and the others behind the attacks in the present day timeline finally made their move. They're after Saturn for a reason and they've waited long enough.

For those of you wondering why the present day senshi don't stack up to their predecessors in term of combat ability, well, the reason is actually pretty simple. In Requiem's timeline and Pluto's earlier timeline, the senshi are trained from birth as warriors. In comparison, the modern senshi haven't received anywhere near that level of training. Indeed, if it wasn't already obvious, by the time the Lunar Empire fell (when Queen Beryl destroyed the Moon), it was a far less militant place than earlier in its history.

As for why the changes in the Lunar Empire occurred, we're getting to that. As you might have guessed, all three timelines are connected, and now it's just a matter of putting all the pieces together.

As always, I appreciate your feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.