(Hi. This story is based on the manga version of Sailor Moon and takes place after the Stars arch. I also don't own any of the characters in this story. Naoko Takeuchi owns them all. I just created the pedestrians.)

Rise of the Death Phantom

Chapter One

In her dream, Usagi was resting upon a bed of satin while Mamoru fed her strawberries that had been dipped in chocolate. He was clad in shining golden armor that came complete with a dark red cape that flew out behind him for what seemed like miles. Usagi, meanwhile, was dressed in a flimsy white dressing gown that rippled with even the faintest breath of wind.

They were outside in a dewy meadow. The sun hung fat and happy overhead, caressing the two lovers with his warming rays. Birds chirped unseen and darted about, a fluttering of wings.

"Mamo-chan, tell me you love me."

He leaned down, bringing his face ever closer to hers. So close that she could smell his aftershave. "I love you," he said.

Bliss! Oh pure rapture!

"And there's something else."

Usagi's giant blue eyes went even larger. She knew what was coming. "Yes?" She asked. "Tell me."

"I want to ask you a question."

Oh, boy. This was it! She knew what was coming. Her heart fluttered in her ribcage like a frightened bird as she looked into her lover's eyes. But she wasn't afraid. Excited? Giddy? Yes. But not afraid.

Mamoru rolled off the bed and went to one knee.

Ohh!!

"Usagi, my dear, sweet love," he began. "Will you-"

BRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGGGG!!

And then the alarm clock on the nightstand screeched to life, announcing the hour with jolting, gut-dropping yelps.

Usagi screamed and jumped three feet into the air. As she did so, her long blonde hair wrapped itself around her neck and began to choke the life out of her. With a startled squeal, she tore the ringlets from her throat, only to have a few stray strands tumble inside her mouth.

Gagging and retching, Usagi spat out her hair, which was wet and stringy with saliva. I really should start wearing a hair-net to bed, she thought. And then she realized where she was – in her room. Alone. It had been a dream. Of course it was a dream, she thought unhappily. Only in dreams is Mamo-chan so sweet and charming. In real life, he'd be making sure I did my homework or fussing over whether or not I ate my vegetables.

She sighed and dropped back down into bed. Maybe if she went back to sleep right away, she could re-enter the dream again.

"Usagi, time to get up!" Her mother called from downstairs.

Usagi placed her pillow squarely over her head and pretended not to have heard.

"Usagi! Come on!"

Oh, Mamo-chan, I'm coming back for you!

"USAGI!"

With a huff and a puff, Usagi threw the pillow off her head. "I'll be there in a minute, okay?"

She listened for a moment, only to hear silence. Good. Now that her mother had been taken care of, she had at least 5 minutes before she realized she wasn't coming down for breakfast. More than enough time to cuddle with fantasy-Mamoru. And within seconds of closing her eyes, she could smell his aftershave again. The birds were singing. Her skin felt warm from the sun's touch.

And there he was again. It was as if she had never gone.

"I have a question for you," he whispered. "Will you m-"

Suddenly, the world went bright with pain as several needle-like pricks sank deep into her right arm. Usagi screamed and awoke once more, cradling her injured arm against her chest. She looked around her room with wary eyes. What had happened? Who had attacked her? An enemy? Who-

Luna popped out from underneath the covers and purred sweetly.

"You," Usagi growled.

"Yes," Luna said. "Do you have any idea what time it is?!"

"Don't care," Usagi responded tartly as she fluffed her pillow back to perfection. "Good night."

"You have to get up!"

"No! I was having the best dream! I think Mamo-chan was about to propose!" She glared at Luna. "And you ruined it!!"

"Come on, Usagi. You're in your last few days of high school. Why not start trying, just to see what it feels like? And besides, your finals are coming up soon! You can't slack off now!"

Usagi groaned and made a show of kicking off the bed covers. "You don't look a thing like Ami so stop trying to be her, okay?"

Luna followed her mistress to the upstairs bathroom. "Well, it's my duty as your guardian and mentor to make sure you continue with your education. After all, it would be terrible if the future queen of Crystal Tokyo turned out to be an illiterate, bad-mannered, dumpling-head with the IQ of an asparagus."

Usagi frowned. "You're much more sarcastic since your resurrection, I've noticed."

Luna smiled.

"But that's just my point," Usagi said as she ran a brush through her hair. "It's my destiny to become Neo Queen Serenity and rule over Crystal Tokyo. So why do I have to go to school and learn about things that I don't care about? It's stupid."

"What are you going to do in the time between now and then, hmm? Spend the next however many years crashed out in front of the TV eating chips and getting fat? You won't even be able to fit unto your Sailor uniform!"

The mood suddenly changed. It went from teasing, good-natured ribbing one minute to … something else the next. Usagi's arms stopped in mid-brush. Her face went slack and her throat bobbed up and down. "You're right," she said. Her voice was low and without any kind of humor at all. "You're right." She turned away from Luna and began to shakily twist her hair into its trademark bun and noodle style. "Run downstairs and save a seat for me at the table, okay?"

A few minutes passed, and when she thought it safe to turn around, Usagi did. Luna was nowhere in sight. That was good. She didn't want her to know. Nobody could know.

With her hair bunified, she left the bathroom and took the stairs down two at a time to the kitchen. The aroma of delicious, good old-fashioned, home cooking hung thick in the air and it was enough to make Usagi forget all her troubles.

"What're we having?" She asked as she swept Luna off her chair.

Ikuko-Mama turned and smiled at her daughter. "Pancakes."

"YAY!"

At the head of the table, Kenji-Papa rustled the newspaper that he'd been reading. "Is your brother up yet?" He asked, not looking away from the business section.

"I dunno."

"Well, could you go wake him up?"

Usagi frowned as a plate of thick pancakes smothered in syrup was placed in front of her. "I will after I eat. I promise."

Kenji-Papa turned down one edge of the paper so he could properly glare at his insubordinate teenager.

"Please!" Usagi whined. "I'm really, really hungry!"

A chair was pulled out on the other side of the table and Ikuko-Mama sat down heavily. "Young lady, you do what your father says!" She let out an exasperated sigh. "What have I done to deserve such a fate? Not one, but two lazy and disobedient children!"

"Okay, okay," Usagi said, getting up from her spot. "I'm going."

She exited the kitchen and went back up the stairs, heading for Shingo's room at the end of the hall. The door was shut, as usual, with a sign taped to it that read, "DO NOT ENTER" in thick, dark characters. Not wanting to enter the lair of her brother, Usagi knocked twice in rapid succession. "Shingo! Breakfast!"

No reply.

Oh, great. She would probably have to go in. She knocked again, but again, there was no answer.

The mouth-watering smell of Ikuko-Mama's pancakes wafted up from downstairs and that was enough to motivate Usagi. She took a deep breath of air, held it in and pushed open the door.

Forget Shadow Galactica and Chaos. Being in Shingo's room was true terror. It was a mess. Clothing was strewn all over the carpet; the writing desk over in the corner was swamped with schoolbooks and magazines. A half-eaten pizza lay molding in the middle of the floor. A glass of coke had been spilled next to it, creating an ugly dark spot in the middle of the room that vaguely resembled a pee stain.

And the smell… Teen boy hormones. It was the only explanation.

Usagi took a tentative step forward and felt something wrap around her ankle. She looked down and had to control a scream. One of Shingo's athletic supporters he wore for gym was trying to mate with her foot. She kicked it off and sent it sailing over on top of the TV.

Somehow, she managed to navigate the minefield and ended up standing over the bed. A sheet-covered lump pointed that Shingo hadn't even woken up yet. Was he going to get it!

"Shingo. Shingo!"

The lump convulsed and Shingo popped out from under the covers, shirtless and with his brown hair sticking up in every direction. "Get out of my room, dumpling-head!" He said, throwing a pillow at his sister.

It missed by a foot. "Breakfast is on the table."

"Wow. I'm surprised you haven't scarfed everything down already."

For crying out loud. Princesses shouldn't have to deal with this.

Usagi shrugged as if she didn't care whether or not he decided to come down. Actually, she didn't. "I promised Mom I'd wake you up. I did. There's nothing more I can do."

"Nah, I'm up. I'm up." Shingo exhaled deeply and jumped out of bed, dressed only in boxers. He smiled at Usagi and burped. And farted. And scratched his belly.

Gross.

It was impetrative that she get out of the cursed room before anything else happened. She turned quickly on her heels and fled. But as she did so, she couldn't help but notice the posters of scantly clad women that dominated her brother's walls. He had changed. But when? When was the moment he had transformed from annoying little brother into downright obnoxious post-pubescent teenager? Had it been a gradual transition? She wished she knew. As she made her way to the hallway, she couldn't help but think that she hardly knew her family at all. She had spent the last several years of her life working hard to protect Earth from peril as Sailor Moon, but in the process, she had drawn further and further away from her family. It was sad, really. But still-

"Move, DUMPLING-HEAD!" Screamed Shingo. He was already dressed for school and came thundering down the hall, making a beeline for Usagi. She tried to sidestep, but couldn't move out of the way in time. There was a terrible collision.

Usagi was thrown to the floor. Her vision was nothing but a mass of swirling stars. She couldn't see anything, but she heard the rapid footsteps of Shingo whiz by her head. "Ya snooze, ya lose!"

Children these days, Usagi thought to herself as she took back to her feet. I think Shingo would benefit greatly from a starlight honeymoon therapy kiss. Yes. That was a great idea.

Except…

No. She wouldn't think about that now. Couldn't.

But what if- a part of her mind whispered stubbornly.

No! She would just take things one day at a time. She'd deal with …whatever else when the time came. If it ever did.

And besides, she thought to herself. Mom made pancakes.

"I can't believe my eyes. Usagi up and about before 8:00?"

Usagi frowned as she joined her three friends on the sidewalk. "Thanks a lot, Mako-chan. Here I am trying to turn over a new leaf and all the thanks I get is sarcasm!"

Makoto threw back her head and laughed heartily. "Well, you know what they say about dogs and their spots."

"Leopards," Ami said. "There is no saying about dogs and spots. It's leopards. Leopards don't change their spots. This is another way of saying-"

Makoto sighed. "Just forget I said anything."

The four schoolgirls turned a street corner and joined the rest of Tokyo's populace as they made their way to Juuban High. It was early morning rush hour and the streets were clogged with cars. Looking inside, drivers could be seen munching on a last-minute breakfast or cursing the barely moving traffic. The sidewalks were no better. The pedestrians were shoulder-to-shoulder as they tried to navigate to their respective businesses or schools. It was a beautiful day, with the sun glistening off the glass Tokyo high-rises, but the honking of horns and the smog-belching cars diminished that beauty greatly.

"So," Minako said, tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulder. "Aren't you excited? We only have a few more days of high school left! Then after that-"

"University!" Ami exclaimed. Her blue eyes glistened with the promise of continued education. "Oh, girls! It'll be so much fun! The late night cram sessions, the pressure, the dog-eat-dog nature of college academics! I can't wait!"

Usagi rolled her eyes. "I'm sure."

It was then that she noticed the black portfolios everyone was carrying. She felt her legs go weak. Her heart began to thud. She had a feeling. "What're those?" She asked, pointing to the large black bags.

Makoto turned. "This?" She asked, holding hers up.

"Yeah. What is it?"

She looked sideways at Ami and Minako before turning her attention back to Usagi. "Our final English project." Makoto paused, noticing the horrified look on Usagi's face. "Oh, no. You didn't forget about it, did you?"

Ami rushed past Makoto and took hold of Usagi's shoulders and shook her. "That project's worth 25 percent of our final grade! How could you forget?! I can't believe you!"

"Ami, cut it out!" Minako screamed as she came to Usagi's aide. She managed to pry Ami's hands off from around the other girl's neck. "I'm sure she didn't forget about it. She probably just forgot it was due today and left it at home. Isn't that right?"

Usagi's lip began to tremble.

"Isn't that right?"

Usagi's eyes began to tear.

The three other girls exchanged glances. The dam was about to break any minute.

It was as if somebody flipped a switch. Usagi's eyes burst out with a torrent of tears and she collapsed upon the sidewalk, wailing uncontrollably.

"Get a hold of yourself!" Cried Makoto as she pulled her friend back to her feet. "People are staring at you!"

"I'm not feeling so good." Usagi put a trembling hand to her stomach. "I think I'm gonna puke." She turned away from the others. "Could you guys do me a favor and tell the teacher I wasn't feeling well and had to stay home?"

"But you had the entire semester to work on it!" Ami cried, continuing her tirade on laziness and the inability to turn assignments in on time.

"There's no way you'd be able to finish it in just one day," Minako chimed in. "It'd be better to just face the music."

The words went in one ear and out the other. That was easy for her to say. Usagi knew she couldn't afford another zero, especially on a project as big as this one. She was on the borderline of failing anyway. Despair settled over her like a dark cloud. How could she have forgotten about it? And it was English! Her worst subject! Why should she have to learn English when she lived in Japan? Whose crazy idea was that, anyway?!

Her stomach heaved.

"I've gotta go home. I'll see you guys tomorrow." Usagi turned and was about to sprint away, when she stopped. Something had happened. She looked about, hoping to see if anybody else had noticed anything. Apparently not. Business-suited men and women continued to pass by, drinking coffee or reading from a newspaper. Maybe it had been her imagination.

But then it happened again. Only this time it was far more pronounced.

The ground beneath Usagi's legs trembled. A car alarm sounded in the distance. The people on the street stopped and looked about. A deep rumbling could be heard billowing from off in the distance. Up overhead, a flock of birds took off from their perch on the edge of a building and flew west, squawking madly.

And then everything was quiet. The car alarm went silent. Not a word was uttered among the people on the sidewalk. The honking of horns ceased.

The calm before a storm. That was what went through Usagi's mind in the split second between peace and bedlam.

And then pandemonium struck. The rumblings grew in intensity and became roars. There was an explosion of some kind off in the distance. But before any sense could be made of it, the ground pitched wildly to the left. Usagi, Ami, Makito, and Minako tumbled to their feet, along with the rest of the pedestrians.

Usagi put her hands out to brace herself for the fall and managed to avoid striking her face on the pavement. But as her hands hit the ground, she could feel the shaking of the earth. It was trembling slightly. But the tremblings were growing more and more frequent.

Suddenly, the entire city seemed to shift quickly to the right. Then to the left again. Something exploded again nearby. Glass shattered. There was a deafening roar as a dilapidated building across the street fell. It collapsed with a shower of dust and debris. Razor-like shards of glass were thrown into the air and rained down upon the helpless pedestrians.

"Earthquake!" Somebody screamed out.

Another series of explosions shook the street. Fireballs shot into the air.

Usagi felt someone grab her wrist and haul her to her feet. She looked and saw Makoto standing (with difficulty) before her. Her curly brown hair had come loose from her ponytail and now hung in her face. Her uniform's skirt was ripped. "You okay?" She asked quickly.

A fresh shudder sent Usagi toppling backwards. She managed to regain her balance at the last second, however. It felt as if they were in some kind of box and somebody was shaking it for all their worth. It was so hard to stand. The people on the street were like marbles, rolling this way and that, not being able to gain a footing.

"We've got to transform and help out," Makoto said. She looked about hurriedly. Then her eyes settled on a nearby alleyway. "This way! Hurry!"

Usagi and the others followed Makoto to the alleyway amid the screams and cried of the Tokyo people, who, only moments before, had been going absentmindedly about their day.

Once sheltered by the darkness and seclusion of the passage, Makoto wasted no time. She raised a hand toward the heavens and cried out, "Jupiter Crystal Power!"

The others followed suit.

"Venus Crystal Power!"

"Mercury Crystal Power!"

"MAKE-UP!!"

Usagi shielded her eyes as the three schoolgirls before her disappeared in a shower of green, yellow, and blue glitter. And when it was over, the three girls were gone and in their places stood three guardian soldiers in their Sailor Star uniforms. Sailor Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury. The transformation had scrubbed away the dirt and grime from their faces. Makoto's hair was back in place and perfectly curled. Their cheeks were rosy with the promise of action. They looked absolutely beautiful.

"Let's go!" Venus cried as she led the charge back outside.

Usagi watched after them as the soldiers ran down the still-rocking street in a flurry of ribbons. She watched as Sailor Mercury used her Aqua Mirage attack to douse a raging fire that had started when a car had ran into another an ruptured its fuel tank. She saw Sailor Venus holding up a bridge threatening collapse with her Love Chains. And there was Sailor Jupiter, using brute strength to lift a toppled tree off a family of four.

Maybe….

The weight of the transformation brooch seemed immense. It had to have weighed a hundred pounds. Usagi's fingers traced the outline of the heart-shaped ornament. She sighed. This was what she had been fearing since the day she had returned from the battle with Chaos. Since the day she had found out.

She stuck her head out the alley again. She couldn't see the others, but she knew they needed her.

She had to…

She licked her lips.

"Silver Moon Crys-"

But before she could finish, the earthquake stopped. Just like that. The sound of buildings toppling and metal crunching ceased. Then the screams and cries of anguish filled the air. It was over. The event, anyway. Now cleanup would commence.

Usagi let out a sigh of relief. Sailor Moon hadn't been needed after all. This time, her mind corrected. True, true. But she wasn't about to think about that now.

That night, Minako sat down in front of her compute, ready to scan the net for any … opportunities. She did this every night. Artemis hounded her for it, saying she was becoming obsessed, but she didn't care. That was how she landed her role on Mega Heartache Homeroom Hearts. It hadn't been a major part – just a reoccurring role as the dastardly teen-queen Mischa Yamamoto, archrival to Suzu Mimata, the girlfriend of the school's football star, who, unbeknownst to all, was secretly dying of an incurable disease.

The horror.

The pay wasn't great. In fact, it was almost nonexistent. But Minako didn't mind. She was getting exposure by appearing on the early-morning soap. And exposure was what it was all about. Hearts had a significant cult following and it was just a matter of time before some of the big-name directors saw potential in little Minako Aino. Potential was another word she heard tossed around a lot in the business. You either had potential or you didn't. And you had to have been born with it. There was no way to acquire potential later in life. Kind of like grace.

"Don't tell me you're at it again."

Minako turned and just in time to see Artemis jump onto the table. "Yes, I'm at it again," she said, not bothering to hide her annoyance. "Now scoot."

Artemis arched his back and curled up into a ball next to the computer. "What is it this time? More sappy soaps? Or some low-budget horror flick?" He meowed. "Or maybe you're just trying to pick up some junior high boys in one of those disgusting love chat rooms?"

Minako shot up from her swivel chair and scooped Artemis up with booth hands. She carried him over to his kitty-bed with arms outstretched like she was handling some kind of toxic waste product. "I'm looking for opportunities. Job opportunities, that is. And if I were you, I wouldn't complain. The more money I make, the more cat treats I'll be able to buy for you." She plopped him down into his bed. "Don't forget who takes care of you around here."

She returned back to the computer. It seemed like nobody was hiring. Pity. Oh, well. She'd try again tomorrow. Tenacity. That was another word she was beginning to appreciate.

But before she hit the sack, she decided to look up the earthquake that had happened earlier in the day. She entered the word "Earthquake" into the searchbar and with a few short keystrokes, entered it into a data query search.

Ami has nothing on me, she smiled to herself.

Ah. More than 5 million hits. The top few seemed to relate to the one that happened today. She clicked on the first link.

Apparently, it had been a great disaster. The damage had been spread out and the eastern half of Tokyo lay in ruins. The section that Minako and the others had been in had been furthest away from the epicenter and therefore the least impacted.

Minako scrolled down. Pictures of ruined houses and roads that had been cracked in two filled the page. It was horrible. One picture showed an elementary school that had been destroyed by the quake. It was nothing more than a pile of smoking rubble. A firefighter stood in front of its remains, holding a crying boy who was bleeding profusely from a gash in his head.

A nine pointer on the Mercalli scale. Hundreds dead. Thousands injured.

Minako exited that page and clicked on another. It was a chat room that was being used for people to talk about the disaster. Most posts were along the lines of "I can't believe it" or "I was at so-and-so when it happened." Each post had a name attached to it and Minako clicked on each one.

Up near the top of the page was a post she had overlooked. There was no name assigned to it, but only a series of X's where the name should have been. She clicked on it.

Three lines were all that the post contained. It read:

Earthquake. Tokyo.

Nine. 468 dead.

Seven days.

-- XXXXX

Minako's brow crinkled. That was odd. And kind of creepy, too. Maybe it was the matter-of-fact wording, or maybe it was seeing the number of dead right in front of her like that. Regardless, it was disturbing.

She was about to click away, when she hesitated. Her eyes moved to the post date. When she saw it, she felt the air rush out of her lungs in one long gust. She put a hand to her mouth to stifle a silent gasp.

It was dated one week ago exactly.

Seven days…

Seven days until the earthquake. Whoever had posted this had known about it beforehand! But how? How was that possible?

Prediction, perhaps?

Minako turned slightly, keeping her eyes glued to the screen. "Artemis, what do you think of this?"

Silence.

"Artemis? Artemis!" She looked behind her and smiled a little to herself.

Artemis was curled into a ball in his little bed, purring softly in his sleep.