You can guess the crossover. Ranma won't wear a fuku, and also no tuxedo. He won't be some re-incarnation. He is just... Ranma. I want to avoid numerous stuff that became the norm in these crossovers but that actually is pretty stupid. I also will make it clear that while Ranma and the Senshi learn new techniques, I won't sink to the insane levels of the canon, where it became an absurd arms race in the later parts of both series. It's a common weakness in anime series that the power level increases to ridiculous levels. (In my opinion, DBZ is the worst offender in that regard in the anime world) I will try to stay on Earth and try to give everything a bit more realistic feeling (as much as it as it is possible) but don't worry... hilarity will still ensure!
Needless to say that I will slaughter the canon of both series, but I guess you expected this. Also I don't have any rights to both series, but I guess you know that, too.
Man, this was a huge pain. This arc became way longer than I ever planned it to be. What originally only was planned as two chapters became four. I've grown quite sick of it as well, since it not only halted the main story, but also was really difficult to write. More about that in the notes at the end.
I do have a page for the story at TV Tropes, the link is found in my bio. Please help to contribute to it if you feel like it.
As always, I try to answer all reviews and I'm always happy for reviews.
Note that specific notes are at the end of the chapter, to avoid spoilers.
Chapter 32: The Mirror of Dreams, Part III - The End of the Nightmare
"Strange surroundings for a nightmare, although by now it should be clear that something innocent can turn nasty in no time at all," Ranma commented while looking around.
Indeed, their surroundings at first didn't look nightmarish at all. Instead it looked like they were standing in the middle of a political fundraiser. The big hall was decorated with party banners and the big portrait of a man Ranma managed to identify as Rei's father - after all it was pretty hard to forget Rei telling him to get lost. Around them, people in evening clothes sat at dinner tables. Nothing threatening - until you notice that the faces of all the people were totally generic, as if Rei had just copy and pasted this crowd in order to save herself going too much into detail. It did give the crowd a very strange feel.
Also, the crowd, unlike in previous nightmares, did notice them almost right away. "Unwashed riffraff..." "Just look at how slutty that girl dresses..." "We should call the orderlies..." "Yes, let them remove this garbage!"
It was clear to Ranma that this would turn ugly right away. "Any ideas?"
"Let's plow through?" Minako suggested, not liking how the crowd looked more sinister by the second.
They didn't waste any time and tried to get out of there as quick as possible, throwing aside whoever of the crowd stood in their way, since these people were not real anyway. Whenever things did get too crowded, they jumped onto a table and then to the next one. The crowd became aggressive really fast, clearly caring little about keeping to the script of the dream and instead trying to stop them right away. Their faces twisted with anger, the crowd threw knives, forks and plates at them.
Things only got more complicated when men in black suits stormed in, their guns drawn. "There they are!" "Fire!" -Blamm- -Blablammbamm-
"This turned ugly really fast!" Minako gasped, not liking at all how the air was getting saturated with bullets. While she was bullet-proof, she didn't want to test it. She was thankful she was not looking behind, since she was sure all the bullets were causing a veritable bloodbath.
Ranma for his part knew for sure he was not bullet-proof and any injury in this place would feel quite real to him. "She must be getting better at this shit if she's sending these gorillas against us right away," he cursed, knowing why he held a healthy respect for guns.
Finally, they managed to reach one of the exits. Jumping through the open doors, they quickly slammed it shut and Ranma jammed a fire axe between the handles to make sure it would stay shut a little longer. They then noticed they'd reached a staircase. There were no words needed. Since this was Rei's dream, it meant she, for some reason unknown to them, would be found near her father. In the same logic, since they had not seen her downstairs, she still had to be upstairs.
Running up the stairs, they heard the groaning of the door and it would break at any second. "I've got an idea! Help me!" Ranma called, then held out his hand. He hoped this would also work in a dream.
I know I will save my friends! There's no doubt about this. I know that because I can do it! "YAH!" A blue sphere shot out of his palm and smashed into the stairs below them. Mianko understood and blasted the same section, causing the stairs below their level to collapse.
"Good idea. That should keep them busy," Minako said, before they continued to run up the stairs.
Surprisingly, many of the doors just led into a white void, showing that this was already the end of the dream. It seemed that dreaming up the huge hall with all the people had used up most of Rei's capacity for dreaming, thus making the scope rather limited. One door however did lead them to an upper level overlooking the big hall, a railing separating it from the hall. Down in the hall, it was pandemoneum and it looked very unhealthy to again go down there - although they knew they had to, in order to reach to portal.
However, they also noticed the two security men guarding door. They certainly noticed them, drawing their guns!
"Shit, not again!" Ranma cursed, having no desire for more bullets.
Thankfully, since it was only two of them, things were not as bleak. Before they could fire, Ranma had slammed his feet into the face of the first guard, smashing his head against them wall. Minako used her chain to catch the other guard's arm, yanking hard. The guard was thrown across the room, falling over the railing into the hall below.
"Well, that was surprisingly easy," Minako commented while trying to ignore the blood on the wall where the head of the first guard had hit hard. "We should be really glad Rei has such a... normal dream."
"Yeah, no supernatural shit and strange environment. Just good old fisticuffs," Ranma had to agree, although he got the feeling that there was a nasty surprise waiting for them. "That's actually what makes me weary."
"You mean the ugly end is yet to come?" Minako asked, then noticed the look Ranma was giving her. "Of course. After all, this nightmare will hardly fight fair."
Not wanting to waste any further time, they kicked open the door and, surprisingly, saw Rei right away. She was sitting in a chair, wearing an expensive-looking evening gown. However, her eyes looked strangely empty and the with way she was staring forward without focusing on anything it was obvious something was very wrong with her. Waving a hand in front of her face, they got no reaction.
"Rei...?" The girl still didn't react. "What's wrong with her?" Minako wondered.
Suddenly the door slammed back shut. "Oh, I can tell you two what's wrong."
Whirling around, both of them were on their guard instantly. Ranma right away recognized the man standing there as a nightmare of Rei's old man. He didn't look any different from the real man, and that put them on their guard. The way he was looking at them it was clear he was absolutely sure about being in the stronger position, even though he looked like an ordinary man.
"What have you done to her?" Ranma knew anymore would be a waste of words.
"Right to the point... good!" It seemed the fake Takashi Hino enjoyed the attention. "It's actually quite easy. Rei here still holds the fear that her father could control her life. Of course it's irrational, but after years of playing the 'good girl' for his career whenever he needed to, she can not help it. Now her fear has become reality and she is reduced to whatever he wants her to be."
"Not for much longer," Minako said, her hand rising.
The fake Takashi laughed. "Stupid intruders. I'm a representation of the deep fear in her subconsciousness and not bound by normal rules. In here, I dictate the rules."
All of a sudden the room ... shifted ... around them, bending and twisting in a way that went against all laws of physics. The paint peeled off the walls, the furniture shifted into... things, and even the floor seemed to become soft. The fake Takashi laughed while Rei still sat in her chair, not reacting to what was happening around her.
"I thought she can't change the dream on us?!" Ranma gasped while trying to not fall down.
Minako couldn't believe it, either. "Rei must be imagining him as especially powerful in her nightmare that he can do this on his own!"
"Well guessed!" Fake-Takashi laughed. "Thanks to all the buried fear of him, despite how much she's trying to deny it, I'm all the more powerful! Her fear of him being powerful in turn makes me powerful!"
"Oh sh...!" Ranma cursed when suddenly the twisted furniture came to life, attacking them.
Fake-Takashi laughed while watching his enemies defending themselves against this onslaught. "Too bad both of you are protected, otherwise I could just make you explode into bloody bits or turn you into toads."
Things did take a turn for the worse after that. While before the nightmare had been very mundane, it now turned into some kind of bizarre horror. Both of them cursed Rei's imagination and that her unrelsoved daddy-issues were still very much a factor, despite her claims to the contrary. Furniture turned into aggressive beasts with sharp teeth, books into flying monsters and even their very surroundings turned hostile. In all the chaos, Rei still sat on her chair, staring forward.
It became apparent really fast that fighting was pretty useless. Whenever they destroyed one of the monsters, it simply got rebuilt after some moments, making this the same situation as in Minako's nightmare, only worse, and Mainko's attempt to replicate her stunt from her own nightmare failed completely. However, they also couldn't attack the root cause, since the fake Takashi was hiding himself behind an energy shield. This clearly was a taste of what Nehellenia was capable, would they manage to confront her.
"What do we do now?" Minako gasped while barely avoiding getting her chest torn open by a claw strike.
Ranma hated to admit it, but against something like this he was helpless. "The jerk is darwing power from Rei's fear."
While Minako was not a genius, she did realize something. "I've got an idea! Cover me!"
"Good time for one."
Minako felt she was totally crazy to do this while running towards her enemies instead of away. Ranma kept them from her as good as possible while she weaved through them, though she still got her share of injuries. If not for the seriousness of the situation, it would have looked comical how she jumped onto the heads of some monsters, using them as jump-off points. Finally managing to get through to Rei, she knew that time really was of essence now.
"Sorry, Rei, no time to be gentle!" Hoping that Rei would forgive her, Minako slapped her hard.
"OW!" Rei yelped while she fell from her chair, the sudden pain having broken her trance. Grimacing in pain, she looked up, only to see the nightmare she was in the middle of. "What in all names?!"
"Rei, stop messing around and sit still like the good girl you are," the fake Takashi told her, although he clearly realized that the situation was not to his favor.
"Don't listen to him Rei!" Ranma called. "I know your old man is a complete bastard, but do you really think he's some sort of lord of the abyss?"
"Eh... no?" Shaking her head to think straight, Rei took a second look. "This... this..." Clearly, her temper was heating up at this violation, fire surrounding her. It burned away her clothes, replacing them with the uniform of Sailor Mars. Bright flames leashed out, causing the monsters to scream and try to run away. Those that were not fast enough were incinerated instantly. Her friends however were unharmed by the fire.
"You dare to violate my dreams?! You're not my father - reveal yourself!" Rei hissed, looking ready to literally breathe fire.
"If you wish..." The fake Takashi sudden was swelling up until he did burst apart in a bloody display, revealing something that looked like a demon with sickly gray skin, huge wings, long claws and sharp teeth. He gave Rei a slasher smile. "I bet you're now ready to piss yourself in fear."
To his surprise, Rei didn't stop being angry. "Are you joking!? You preyed on my innermost fears, that scared me. But this? We're fighting stuff like you regularly and by now this doesn't shock me that much anymore!"
For being a nasty-looking demon, the thing suddenly looked quite startled when his barier fizzled out. Only now it dawned to him that with Rei as angry as she was right now, there was nothing he could draw from, meaning that he now was pretty much screwed, regardless what he'd do next.
"Oh shit!" he gasped.
"Exactly! YAAAHHHHHHHHRR!" Rei screamed in anger, a massive wave of fire blasting from her whole body. The demon got no chance and was incinerated instantly. Indeed, their whole surroundings started to catch fire, the hidden exit door being blown open.
This makes me glad Akane is unable to use fire. Imagine her with the ability to create fire when she still got her temper problem, Ranma thought.
Mianko gaped at this display. "Woah, Rei! I know you told us about your temper problem, but that's a little over the top!"
Now that the deed was done, Rei did look a little sheepish. "I'm working on it and normally don't blow my top any longer. It just is that I felt so violated..."
"Save that for later!" Ranma called. "In case you didn't notice, the whole dream is starting to catch fire! We should better get out of here NOW!"
"Oh!" Rei gasped, only now realizing how potent her anger had been.
Minako rolled her eyes while they started running through the burning building to the exit. "Admit it, you are a little pyromaniac..." She stopped when looking down to the lower level, where the exit portal was located. "We have to go through that?!"
The ballroom had turned into a burning inferno, all the people now in flames, running around screaming. The sheer heat from the fire and the smoke were starting to make things difficult for them. Ranma and Minako sincerely doubted they could withstand this inferno for even a few seconds.
"Hold onto me... Man, I hope I'm as flameproof in a dream as I am in real life!" Rei gasped.
As soon as Ranma and Minako held onto her, all three of them jumped over the railing, hoping Rei's power of being fireproof worked in a dream as it did in reality. Otherwise, things would get quite ugly.
...inside Haruka's nightmare...
In a flash of light, two people jumped out of the portal that led into Haruka's dream. Landing on their feet, they looked around and Makoto couldn't help but to whistle when noticing their surroundings. "Now, this is dark."
While the streets of Toyko were recognizable, it was a dark and twisted reflection of reality. The colors were greatly desaturated, everything being bathed in twilight with the shadows much bigger than they could realistically be. Even the buildings themselves looked a bit menacing, although this could be an optical illusion caused by the shadows. Interestingly, despite that, the sky was pitch-black, but dreams didn't have to be logical. All in all, it did look like a really unpleasant place.
"I wonder how bad she must feel to imagine her surroundings looking like this," Mu-Tsu commented, trying to make sense of it. "If it does show her current mood, it must be really bad."
"The streets are strangely empty as well. It's like the city got depopulated," Makoto added.
Looking around, Mu-Tsu had to agree. "Yes, and the surroundings look really strange and kind of creepy. That makes me wonder what this all could be about."
"Problem is, where can we find her? Just imagining having to search through this place is a nightmare in itself. That would take us hours," Makoto said, hoping they would get some kind of clue where to find Haruka.
"That's a big pr..." Mu-Tsu stopped in mid-sentence. "Wait! You hear that?"
At first Makoto didn't hear anything. But listening further, she could barely understand a mixture of voices coming from the distance. "Guess there is our clue."
Following the voices, they soon managed to understand what was said. It did sound like some kind of mob shouting very hurtful things about Haruka. They had been unable to know what to expect, since they were not as close to Haruka as they were to their friends, so it came as a surprise that something like this would be the woman's nightmare. After all, she did give them the impression of being fairly confident and secure of herself. However, hearing some of the insults, they got the impression that there was more to it.
Finally reaching an open plaza, they stopped when seeing what was going on.
There was a huge mob, so much they had guessed right, and they were correct in that they would find Haruka by following the voices. However, they had not expected the state Haruka was in. Her hands and feet were chained to a tree and she was wearing torn rags that barely covered her modesty. She also looked completely devastated and flinched every time a new insult was hurled at her.
"What the...?" Makoto was trying to find words for it.
Two people, a man and a woman, separated from the crowd.
"You have brought nothing but shame over the family. That you are willing to destroy our line just to follow your perverted desires is proof enough of this. Women are not meant for other women!" the woman accused them.
"Yes, we should have corrected this in time. Seeing how you started to act more like a boy than a girl was a warning sign. You want to be something you aren't!" the man added.
"It's unnatural! We should have known that a girl that does show the sign of gaijin heritage could only be trouble!" the woman hissed, before slapping Haruka, who took it while tears ran down her face.
"I thought she said she doesn't care about them anymore and has come to terms with that?" Mu-Tsu said when watching the shaming continue.
Makoto knew what Haruka had told them, but it seemed there really was more to it. "I guess she was not as sure as she wanted to be. I think she hasn't told even Michiru about these inner fears."
"I can't believe I became this depraved." They saw a fake Michiru walk out of the crowd. However, unlike the real Michiru, this one radiated coldness. "To even imagine... Well, guess what? I was cured of my perversion."
"This is so wrong. I think we have heard enough," Makoto decided, her mace charging up.
Mu-Tsu readied two swords. "Yes, but be alert. This looks way too easy. This mob could be more dangerous than we think and I would prefer to avoid a direct confrontation."
Makoto took another look. "Can't disagree after what we already experienced."
Going the long way around, they finally managed to reach to opposite side of the plaza. Of course they knew that getting Haruka to safety was the most important objective. They also knew that they would be noticed - after all it would be impossible to miss them - but as long as they could run up to Haruka without having to first fight their way through the huge crowd, it woud be enough.
They made a run for Haruka and the crowd at first didn't seem to even notice them. However, as soon as they were close to her, the mob seemed to freeze for a few seconds, then suddenly erupted into hate-filled shouts. Clearly, the nightmare had already re-programmed them and it was about to get ugly. There were little words wasted. Shattering the chains, they grabbed Haruka and then made a run for it under a rain of projectiles that ranged from garbage to bricks.
"Let's lose them!" Mu-Tsu called and they made a run for the exit, knowing very well the nightmares of the mob could hardly follow them at that speed.
"Haruka?" Makoto asked. However, Haruka seemed out of it, clearly unable to recognize her and reacting slowly to her surroundings. "I hope we can snap her out of it. I don't dare to leave with her in this condition."
"Let's reach the exit first. Then we are in a better pos..." Mu-Tsu stopped when seeing what was ahead. "You've got to be kidding me!"
While they did manage to shake off the mob, they were already expected at the exit portal. It was the nightmare of Michiru, only she now was Sailor Neptune - they'd had no idea that Michiru could look this evil. She gave them a look like a predator about to rip apart its prey.
"Oh no, it won't be that easy," she said, her voice devoid of any emotion, then noticed how Haruka now looked distressed. "It also seems my proximity is not appreciated."
Makoto and Mu-Tsu were at a loss how to go against this nightmare, since it was entirely possible that she did have all of Michiru's abilities as well. "What have you done to Haruka?!" Makoto finally demanded, allowing Mu-Tsu to hold Haruka on his own.
"Me? Nothing much. I'm just the focal point of her fears of rejection. You would be surprised that there was no need to enthrall her - she simply is so much in despair that she accepts this as real." She then made her trident appear. "Of course you know I can't allow you to leave."
Around her, a water column erupted, while huge waterspouts shot out of the manholes, flooding the streets in mere seconds. "Shit! I can't use my lightning, or I'll toast all of us!" Makoto cursed, powering down her mace.
"Don't bother. Thanks to Haruka here, I have all the strength of the real Neptune and much more. She really believes I'm her, despite the nightmare of her rejecting her. Of course this is irrelevant when you drown like rats and give Haruka here the nightmare of drowning," the Fake told them, still showing no emotion.
"Hold Haruka!" Mu-Tsu called and shoved Haruka into Makoto's arms, before pulling something out of his robes. "That should do it!"
Makoto thanked all goodness that Mu-Tsu could imagine holding an inflatable dingy in his pockets. Jumping into it and pulling Hruka along, they watched in horror how the streets of Tokyo turned into a raging sea. "So much for not changing the rules on us. Haruka must have a really huge opinion of Michiru's powers," Makoto gasped.
"Violence won't get us anywhere!" Mu-Tsu called while the wind picked up, making it difficult to understand him and throwing around the boat. "Haruka needs to pull the plug on her!"
I really didn't expect THIS when leaving the village! he added to himself while trying to hold on.
Makoto held Haruka by the shoulders. "Haruka, please listen! Your devotion to Michiru in honor, but please stop this!" No reaction, only panicked looks. "Please, I know you are scared and suffered form this nightmare, but without you we can't survive!"
"Oh, don't bother," the fake Michiru said, standing atop the raging waters without problem. "As great as her fear of rejection is, her despair is even bigger. She can't admit to herself she even has these fears."
Makoto gave Haruka an interested look. "Haruka... Are you afraid? Please be honest."
At first Haruka said nothing, then a quiet "Yes" escaped her.
"Are you afraid because deep inside you are insecure and don't want anyone to see?" she asked with a gentle voice, seeing a different approach was needed. Haruka gave her a sacred look, then a silent nod. "I do understand you, but maybe you should have a little more faith in Michiru. Do you honestly think she would say these things to you?"
Haruka blinked. These gently spoken words did penetrate through her shell - proof that some kind and understanding words could achieve a lot. What she before had been unable to admit to herself suddenly was carefully explained to her by someone else, while at the same time asking the important question. The logic of the nightmare started to unravel, making her ask herself the hard questions and slowly becoming aware that this was not real at all.
Haruka looked to the fake Michiru, her eyes widening in realization. "You... are not..."
"Too late!" -sploooosh- Their dingy was overcome by a wave and they had to try hard not to be pulled under. Haruka however vanished beneath the surface. "What a pity, that was too easy. Now you are going to... hm?"
The fake Michiru noticed the water beneath her starting to boil, before all of a sudden a tornado erupted from beneath the surface, catching her in the resulting waterspout. Standing in the middle of the howling winds was Haruka, now Sailor Uranus. She was quaking, tears running down her face while she looked up to the fake in anger.
"Do you have any idea how horrible it is?! To suffer such complete rejection?! To be told you are alone?!" she screamed.
There was no answer, but Haruka hadn't expected one. The hurt was deep. She still felt like crying at any time, but right now her anger gave her strength. For all the toughness she projected outward, she was as vulnerable as anyone else. The nightmare had hurt her at her most vulnerable point and Haruka needed an outlet for all the pent-up emotions.
The Fake was trying to retort, but the winds were ripping the air out of her lungs, leaving her mute.
"You are not her! She would have never told me such hurtful things..." Haruka then raised the Space Sword. "Get... out...!"
The Space Sword flared up and the howling winds became ten times stronger. The fake Michiru couldn't scream when the winds started to rip her apart. Robbed of her powers by Haruka openly rejecting her, the waterspout acted like a huge blender, with predictable results. The waterspout became red in color, before exploding and sending the red water far away. The waters, now robbed of the force controlling them, drained away, leaving behind a coughing and soaked-through Mu-Tsu and Makoto.
"Urgh, I don't think I'll go to the beach for some time... Everything still together?" Mu-Tsu asked while trying to stand up.
"More or less... Although I feel like I did swallow an ocean," Makoto admitted, accepting his help to get back onto her feet. She noticed Haruka standing still, looking outright miserable. "Haruka?"
"Please... Let us leave..."
This whispered answer was proof enough that she needed some tender care from the real Michiru in order to start the healing from this nightmare. It was another reminder that while their friends did manage to free themselves from their nightmares, there would be scars that only heal slowly. Makoto herself knew this all too well, the literal hell she'd gone through still heavy on her mind.
It only made them more determined to hurt down Nehellenia for doing this to their friends.
...inside Michiru's nightmare...
Flaring up, the portal deposited Xian-Pu and Hotaru in the middle of Michiru's nightmare. Taking battle stances to deflect any kind of direct attack, they froze when looking at their surroundings.
"What the...? No, I don't even want to know," Xian-Pu said when seeing where they had landed.
Whatever the place was they had landed in, it didn't resemble anything that could be found in real life. The portal stood in the middle of a huge, empty plain, the sky above them overcast and gray. There was nothing else to be seen and their words echoed through the emptiness. It was downright surreal to look at and made them wonder if Michiru was lacking the needed imagination to come up with a more sophisticated dream. On the other hand, the emptiness could mean something.
Hotaru was confused by this. "Eh, where is Ms. Michiru?" she wondered, looking around. "There's no place she could be hidden."
Xian-Pu knew that the rules of a dream made her skill as a tracker pretty useless, and the current confusing situation only underlined it. "To be honest, I have no idea myself..." Scratching her head, she looked around. "It's almost like a puzzle we are meant to solve."
Hotaru let out a quiet sigh of relief. At least they were spared another battle. Deciding that it couldn't hurt to try, she called as loud as she could "HELLO?"
"Hello ... llo ... lo ... lo" Apart from the echo, there was no reaction.
Hotaru was a bit stumped. "Honestly, I have no idea what to do."
Putting away her weapon, Xian-Pu tried to see if there was something inside the obvious they were missing. Checking the ground, she noted that it was some kind of wet mud - not deep enough for their feet to sink in - like it was usually found near rivers and lakes. Looking into the sky, she realized that it looked like it was about to rain.
#Water! Of course! Water is after all what gives Neptune her power,# she finally realized. Taking out her mace again, she on a hunch started to draw Neptune's trident in the mud.
"What are you doing there?" Hotaru wondered.
"I think I now know why we can't see Michiru. She's hiding from us for some reason, don't ask me why, but maybe we make her show herself," Xian-Pu explained. Finally being done with drawing the trident, she waited. At first, nothing happened.
"Maybe we need to call her?" Hotaru suggested. "MICHIRU? Are you here?"
Suddenly, there was a reaction!
A loud rumble shook the whole dream while the clouds started to circle above the symbol of Neptune. Hotaru and Xian-Pu had to step away when the symbol lit up and all clouds and mud were sucked into it. More, it seemed like the entire dream was getting sucked into it! Bright light blinded them and when they could see again, they found themselves in a very different environment.
Around them was a desolate wasteland, the bare rock covered in whitish-gray dust. They stood in the middle of the ruins of a great city, the buildings looking like they had been destroyed by force. The sky above them was pitch-black and to their surprise they could see Earth. Only then did they realize they were on the Moon, but to their surprise, they could breathe without problem. The only things still present from before were the exit portal and the symbol of Neptune, now drawn in the regolith of the Moon and still glowing.
"I won't ask how we can breathe in this place." Xian-Pu knew by now that dreams didn't have to be logical, and if you wanted an atmosphere on the Moon, it was easy to get one. "She must be around here... somewhere. I wonder why this of all places?"
Hotaru looked around, awed that this did look a lot like what she'd seen in her books about the moon landings and her memories of the Silver Millennium. "Maybe this place is symbolic?"
Having no answer to the question, they searched through the ruins.
During the search, they couldn't help but to feel they were being observed. However, as much as they tried to, they were unable to find anyone. That only served to make them more nervous, their prior experience with nightmares telling them this was a bad sign right there. Finally coming along the ruins of another house, they stopped ans gasped in shock at what they were seeing.
The house had one of its walls ripped away, revealing a bathroom. There, in the bath tub, laid Michiru, undressed as if she was taking a bath. Only, there was blood leaking out of her wrists! Hotaru was shocked and wanted to look away, but couldn't.
"Oh no!" Xian-Pu gasped. Running to Michiru, she stopped in horror at seeing in what Michiru was bathing - not water. "No, Hotaru, stay there! I don't want you to see this!"
No wonder she wanted to spare Hotaru the sight. The whole tub was filled with Michiru's own blood. Considering the sheer amount, she normally should have died long ago. However, since this was a dream, she still was alive. It probably was because of the fact that you wake up when you die in your dream - after all the dream would then run into a paradox - but since Michiru was unable to wake up, she was trapped in this constant cycle of suffering.
Michiru herself had her eyes closed and was unresponsive, although clearly being alive. Worried, Xian-Pu lifted the naked woman out of the blood and carefully lowered her to the floor. Only then did she notice the photo sitting beside the tub. It was a photo of Haruka, only that the glass was shattered and there was a black ribbon attached to the frame. Xian-Pu gulped when starting to realize what the nightmare was about.
"Haruka ... Why? ... Alone ..." Michiru's whispers were barely audible.
For her to whisper like that, she had to be aware. Xian-Pu carefully shook her by the shoulders. "Hey? Hey? Don't slip away, we need you awake."
Michiru did open her eyes, greeting Xian-Pu with a look of pure devastation. "She's gone... Already cold... My happiness died with her." It was pretty clear Michiru was trapped in a downward spiral.
#I'm a warrior... I have no idea how to deal with something like this!# Xian-Pu thought , having no idea what to do about this. #At least I should get her out of here. Maybe seeing Haruka alive does help.#
Hoisting up Michiru, she made her way back to Hotaru, grimacing at the blood trail Michiru was creating from her self-imagined wounds. Hotaru gaped at this bloody display, as well as the fact that Michiru had clearly bathed in blood, before trying not to look too closely while they made their way to the portal. They were both distracted enough they at first didn't notice the moon dust starting to move like being blown by winds.
When the winds started to pick up however, they did notice.
"Oh no, it won't be this easy." The voice seemed to come from all around them, while the dust swirled over the black sky, forming something looking like the face of the Grim Reaper. "It is too late..."
Despite feeling ready to wet herself in terror - after all she was 12 years old - Hotaru tried to be brave. "You...! You are the nightmare! You did this to her!"
The nightmare laughed. "As much as I want to take credit, I just gave her the impulse and showed her the right things. Everything else... is all her. Of course amplified by me to extremes."
"You really want to make us believe that Michiru would try to kill herself?" Xian-Pu snarled, not believing a single word of it. She'd met the woman numerous time during training and she'd always struck her as no one who would even consider suicide.
"Oh, of course she wouldn't. However, her sheer despair manifested itself in it. The feeling of complete hopelessness manifested itself in her bleeding to death again, and again. An interesting result of the amplification." The nightmare then gave them a dark look, although it was hard to tell with no eyes and a face made of dust. "Of course since I can not allow you to take her away, your fate is sealed as well."
Suddenly, all the moon dust around them floated up, before starting a horrible storm that would have ground them down like sandpaper if not for Hotaru slamming the Silence Glaive blade up into the ground, a dark energy dome being projected from it and protecting them. However, it was clear that Hotaru didn't really know what she was doing and ran on instinct.
"I can't hold this up for long! I have no idea what I'm doing!" Hotaru screamed, as the loudly howling winds made it difficult for them to understand each other.
"Please don't sit around like this! We need your help or the nightmare kills us all!" Xian-Pu pleaded with Michiru, who was watching the whole thing with a detached look.
"That would be really nice. I can finally be with her."
Xian-Pu's eyes widened when hearing this. "I hope I'm not hearing right! You wish for all of us to die, only to be happy yourself!?"
"I've lost her..." Then, for the first time, a ghost of a smile appeared on Michiru's lips. "She will understand..."
"No, she won't!" Xian-Pu snarled, holding Michiru by the shoulders and giving her a hard look. "She is a warrior! She would never understand someone being so egoistical to destroy others' happiness in their own selfishness!"
She hated doing this, but right now only harsh words would get through. "Do you honestly think she would accept someone who allowed something this horrible to happen?! Do you really think she would forgive you?!"
Michiru's eyes widened while two forces clashed within her; the nightmare's despair and what she knew was the truth. "N- no, she wouldn't..."
"Act like the warrior you are and make Haruka proud of you. Be strong and valiant, that's what she would want." Her words did have impact as she saw Michiru's wrists stop bleeding and the young woman shook herself, as if trying to shake off the nightmare. "Wake up, Sailor Neptune."
"AHHH!" Michiru gasped loudly, then she jumped up, looking around in confusion. "What is this? Where are we? ... And why am I naked?" she wondered.
"MICHIRU!" Hotaru screamed, her strength starting to fail her. "HELP US!"
"Too little... too late," the nightmare gloated.
Michiru was still in pain deep in her heart, but something else within her started to rise. She was not sure what was real and what not, but she knew one thing: she would not let down those that needed her help. Water shot up from nowhere, obscuring her. The water started to swell and the area of clam inside Hotaru's field was getting filled out. Xian-Pu and Hotaru both were scared that they could drown, but to their surprise they could breathe the water as if it was air.
Hotaru's field failed, but instead of ripping them apart, the dust storm encountered the water and the nightmare was befuddled. "What is this?!" it gasped when the dust simply clumped together in the water, being stopped dead. In fact, the dust seemed to get sucked up by the water. "NO! You can't do that!"
Instead of the dust, the water started to spin, expanding quickly and sucking up the dust around it. The nightmare gasped when it was getting sucked into this maelstrom as well. "Impossible! You can't do this to me!"
With the nightmare fully absorbed, the water exploded into steam, leaving behind no trace of the nightmare. Michru as Sailor Neptune stood silently, leaning on her trident. She looked very tired.
Getting up, Xian-Pu and Hotaru were surprised there was no water for them to cough out, then they carefully approached Michiru, noticing how she was taking deep breaths. "Michiru? Are you... all right?" Hotaru asked carefully.
Michiru opened her eyes, which showed her emotional exhaustion. "I will be... but first I need to get out of here."
...back in the nexus...
"I'll be honest. I almost wet myself when you suddenly jumped off the roof," Naru confessed while carefully checking if she had recreated her Sailor Ceres uniform faithfully, despite it looking perfect.
Usagi gave her a questioning look. "You know, we normally encounter much scarier stuff."
Naru looked a bit embarrassed. "It was the surprise. Don't forget I was not on my best when you did that," she reminded her friend.
Usagi understood that too well. Naru had had another good cry on her shoulder after they'd returned to the nexus. Everyone else was also carrying a burden from their personal nightmare, even though they were trying to downplay it for the moment. She had again sought some closeness with Mamoru, both of them of course needing a bit more reassurance until this was all over. She knew Makoto was pouring on the affection for Mu-Tsu to compensate for what she'd went through. Rei tried to overplay it with anger, but it was clear the experience had rattled her. Only Minako was truly just angry, feeling violated.
It was pretty obvious that once this was over, they would need some time to come to terms with what had happened.
They'd returned, only to see that Ranma, Minako and Rei had beat them by a few moments. Judging by how all three of them were covered in soot before willing it away, it seemed that they'd encountered some serious opposition in Rei's nightmare. Exchanging news, they had to admit that things were getting more nasty with each nightmare.
The portal to Haruka's dream flared up at that moment, allowing Mu-Tsu, Makoto and Haruka to exit.
Haruka had to sit down as soon as they were out, looking utterly exhausted. It was pretty obvious that the young woman needed to vent about all she had suffered through, but had no idea how and held everyone at a distance. She clearly also was too proud to cry in front of all of them.
"What happened to her?" Akane asked in worry.
Makoto grimaced. "She has suffered worse emotional abuse than we did, which means something. She could really use Michiru now."
"They are not back yet," Akane said, looking to the portal into Michiru's dreams. "Looking at her, I almost dread what we'll find in Setsuna's nightmare. After all, she's thousands of years old and holds many regrets."
None of them even wanted to imagine what crap Setsuna had to suffer through, even though they would soon find out anyway.
Whatever thoughts they held were interrupted when Xian-Pu and Hotaru returned with Michiru. Michiru didn't look much better than Haruka. As soon as she'd spotted her mate sitting on the ground, she dropped her trident walked the distance and then plopped down next to her. Michiru and Haruka shared some eye contact, before they hugged, finally letting go of the tears.
Deciding that the two of them needed this to finally heal, everyone held their respectful distance while listening to what had happened to them. Needless to say that the tales they were carrying were not exactly filling them with confidence.
"This is sick..." Ranma finally said after all explanations were done. "It's getting worse. Imagine that monster being let lose onto the world."
"Horrible thought," Minako agreed, watching Haruka and Michiru gently reassuring each other. "I'm already dreading what we'll face in Setsuna's nightmare. Looking from the outside is already bad enough."
Mamoru took a look at everyone present. "I think all of us will feel the aftershocks of this. That's not something you simply forget. Nehellenia dragged our worst fears to the surface; we can't deny what we experienced."
Usagi gulped hard, remembering her being brainwashed into the caricature of Neo-Queen Serenity. "I can hardly deny what I was turned into; it was scary."
Naru grimaced. "I think once we are out of here, we'll all need some time to recover, although I have the feeling that part of us will never again be the way it used to. Now I know what Ami has to feel like after what happened to her."
Ranma grimaced at the reminder. Ami's experience with that parasite had affected the girl deeply - not in her behavior, but in that she was now carrying the memory of her utter helplessness while her very being had been taken over. Her being forced to confront the fact that she did have dark feelings like everyone had been hard, although letting out all the pent-up anger at a deserving target had helped somewhat.
While the poor girl did not have bouts of panic or fear over this, she was a bit less carefree than she used to be. As Ami put it, she was reminded that life could be short, so she was holding on what she held dear and took things a bit more serious.
I know she's still the Ami I love, but this monster took something precious from her, Ranma thought, feeling a bit bitter for Ami's loss.
Minutes went by, until finally, Haruka and Michiru let go of each other. Both of them looked pretty spent, but it seemed that being re-united had given them new strangth. Clearly, confessing to each other the nightmares they had went through had given them an understanding of each others' fears. They didn't say a word, but it was clear they wanted to finish it.
Wordlessly, all of them approached the portal to Setsuna's nightmare - the final nightmare to conquer.
Linking hands, they all touched the surface of the sphere at the same time and were sucked into the chaos that was Setsuna's nightmare.
"AAAAHHHHHHHH!" all of them screamed as soon as they had fallen out of the portal.
Falling out was meant literally, since the portal was suspended in the middle of a vortex of swirling colors. There seemed no structure to the nightmare while they fell deeper into the chaos, holding onto each others' hands like their lives depended on it. They knew, letting go now would mean getting lost in this chaos forever. They'd done well to save this one for last, as the nature of Setsuna's duties made this nightmare almost totally incomprehensible to them.
Finally, they left the raging vortex and fell into a black void, their feet touching unseen ground.
"Gods, that was like a drug trip," Akane groaned, holding her hand over her mouth. The first time ever she felt the need to barf.
Rei looked ready to hurl as well, resting her hands on her knees while taking some deep breaths. "If that's what Setsuna is working with on a daily basis, I really don't envy her for her job."
They then looked around. The void wasn't as back as it had appeared at first. Mist started to emerge, casting everything into an eerie atmosphere. However, that was not the only thing to emerge. Ghostly images started to fly through the mist, accompanied by whispers of voices. A huge image of a chaotic network of threads stretched on the sky above them, while before their very eyes, scenes started to appear.
"What is this?!" Hotaru gasped.
It was not like watching something that's projected onto the mist. It was like they were really standing inside these scenes, though everything still held a translucent appearance. The scenes were everywhere, some moving in a brisk place, vanishing as quickly as they had appeared. To everyone's surprise, it did show the Senshi... but different than they were right now.
"That's us?" Usagi wondered, "We're all looking so much younger." She then recoiled when seeing them in action. "That's supposed to be us?" she now gasped when seeing their alternate selves bumbling through battles.
"Remember what Setsuna told us. All of us were altered when she escaped from her prison," Michiru reminded her.
"I wonder... oh gods!" Makoto gasped, then pointed at what had shocked her.
It was horrible. They saw Ami, Makoto, Monako, Rei, Mamoru and Usagi... all dead in a cold, icy plain. All of them looked like they had gone through hell. Then a purple light swallowed them, and the nightmarish vision vanished. Instead, the visions around them all became faster and faster, bombarding them with a storm of sounds and images that blended together, until suddenly, only one vision was left.
The vision that was left was perhaps the most disturbing one.
All the Senshi, having become adults a long time ago, were gathered around the thrones of Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion. The absence of Ranma, Naru and all the other friends they'd made was glaring. Interestingly, Hotaru and Setsuna were also absent, at least meaning Setsuna had watched this through other means. Everyone looked defeated and depressed, not even trying to get better.
"Who's that?" Usagi wondered, pointing at a pink-haired teenage girl in a Senshi uniform standing between the royal pair.
"Honestly, take a closer look," Minako told Usagi. "The family resemblance is quite big."
Usagi took a closer look, then gasped and looked to Mamoru. Both of them decided not to speak of this. Their embarrassment however was cut short when they witnessed everyone in the vision coming to the conclusion that they'd screwed up royally and soon there would be nothing left. Serenity held the Silver Crystal, whispering that she'd make it short and painless. However, they got no chance to do so when Hotaru walked in.
The young woman looked horrible, like the hole world was resting on her shoulders, yet she held herself with grim determination. "No... I'll put us out of our misery." She then pointed down the Silence Glaive; black light erupted from it and brought the Silence over Earth.
Not only the vision was shattered, a mealstrom of dark energy shattered their entire surroundings, forcing them to once again hold onto each other so they wouldn't get lost in the chaos. They all gasped when suddenly they were surrounded by a crushing feeling of GUILT! Mixed into it were HOPELESSNESS and DEVASTATION!
"All my fault... I've seen them die again and again... What was I thinking?!"
"Setsuna?!" Rei gasped, her eyes widening. "Where is she? It feels like she is all around us!" she screamed against the forces raging around them.
"This is hell... My punishment is neverending... And I deserve all of it."
"I think she IS all around us!" Mamoru yelled, finally realizing what all this meant. "She did merge with the nightmare itself in some way. Right now we are literally inside her!"
"Alone... I'm all alone."
"Now would be a good time for an idea!" Xian-Pu screamed, feeling like her brain was slowly being pulled towards her feet.
"Would be easier if she could pull herself back together!" Naru complained, wondering how to actually contact Setsuna when she was like this.
Hotaru, still possessing her childish imagination, decided it couldn't hurt to try the most simple approach. "SETSUNA!" she yelled as loud as she could - which was surprisingly loud for a girl of her size.
The storm around them calmed down significantly. "Hotaru...? I wronged you so much. I could have spared you all the pain..."
"But you did!" Hotaru called. "You helped to spare me from the pain. Please remember!"
"Not enough... Not nearly enough..." Setsuna's voice howled in anguish. "It's not only you I disappointed..."
"No!" Usagi shouted. "You helped us all! You worked so hard to help us avoid all the bad things that happened to us before!"
"Yes, without you, Bunny and me would never have gotten a chance to appreciate each other for who we are, instead just re-hashing what our previous lives dictate," Mamoru called.
"We would have become cold and distrusting, if not for you helping us in the transition of awakening our powers," Michiru pleaded, giving Haruka a long and thoughtful look.
Naru gave Usagi a long look, before looking into the chaos that was Setsuna's mind. "Without your escape and work to repair things, I would have never awakened my powers and gotten left behind."
"Without you, I would have never had the chance to meet someone that feels close to my heart." Makoto gave Mu-Tsu a knowing look that held many promises. "I would still be pining for my old sempai in a hopeless longing."
Minako grimaced when remembering some of the things from the old timeline. "If not for you guiding me on my way, I wouldn't have met my friends until much later, never really growing as close to them as I am now. I would have acted like a flake to hide all my insecurities."
"I was always so angry..." Rei admitted, "Angry at the world. Without your influence, my friends were never able to help me overcome my anger. You helped them on their way and in return they helped me to overcome my anger and become someone better."
"Without you, I would still be trying to either kill or bed Ranma. Both does give me a sick feeling. It's not who I am and I can only imagine how badly this would have ended," Xian-Pu admitted.
That left Ranma and Akane, two people that originally had nothing to do with the cause of the Senshi. Akane went first. "If not for your escape, I would be trapped in a loveless engagement with Ranma. Both of us would have been miserable and under all the pressure never bothered to learn we are both decent people. We would have made each others' lives hell..."
"What Akane said. If not for your changes, I would have never reconnected with Mom, never found friends and not met Ami. I would have been trapped in a personal hell and Ami would have stayed lonely..."
"I... I..." It seemed so many votes of confidence were causing the nightmare aspect to start lose power over her.
"Please, Setsuna. Please let us help you..." Hotaru said softly.
The chaotic energies around them started to whirl and they saw a black floor appear at their feet. Landing safely, they watched in awe how the chaotic energies literally seemed to get sucked up until their surroundings were pitch-black - though they had no problem to see each other. However, what they saw some distance away was way more weird.
There actually were two Setsunas. One was wearing the uniform of Pluto and was looking in scorn at the other Setsuna, who was naked and laid on the floor, struggling to get up. They needed no imagination when seeing how furious the standing Setsuna looked, to know that this was the Nightmare, angry at being separated from its victim. However, that it took the form of Setsuna herself was concerning.
The Nightmare looked up. "Well, you certainly have reason to be proud. You gave her enough strength to allow her to separate from me."
"So what?! Do you now try to keep us from helping Setsuna?!" Ranma snapped, by now really pissed at these damn nightmares.
"No. I know you'll try to destroy me anyway. However..." Suddenly the Nightmare seized Setsuna by the throat and forced her to get up. "Actually killing her I can do. When her dream world dies with her mind being destroyed, you die with it."
"You're bluffing! You can't die in your own dream! Either you wake up, or you don't die!" Michiru shouted, having painful first-hand experience.
"Oh, while this is true, dear Setsuna here was mixed with me for such a long time, that I DO have the power to do so." The Nightmare then turned her attention to Setsuna. "Any last words before I crush your pathetic mind?"
Setsuna looked horrible, like she'd went through hell, yet her eyes were hard. "Yes..." she croaked. "You have something... in your eyes."
The Nightmare wondered for a moment what Sentsuna meant, when suddenly she got two fingers slammed into her eyes! Howling, she let go of Setsuna, only only to get a foot slammed into her stomach. Setsuna looked absolutely furious, her current nudity and unbound hair making her look especially feral.
"Do you have any idea how this felt?!" she screamed, her fist hitting the Nightmare's gut.
"All this! All the pain!" She started to cry while she continued to beat up the nightmare. "I know what happened! I accepted my guilt and tried to become better! I was coming to terms with it!"
"Urgh!" the Nightmare cried when a fist slammed into her face, causing blood to fly.
"You ripped open the healing wound! I can't forgive you for this!" Setsuna spat into the Nightmare's face. "It took all of them to remind me how much good I've done to redeem myself. You won't take this away from me!"
"Arrrgh!" the Nightmare screamed, finally managing to throw off the untransformed and weakened Setsuna.
The others didn't waste a moment to drag her to safety. Facing the Nightmare, they were in no mood for any shit she could try and they all attacked her all at the same moment. While the Nightmare did have considerable power at her disposal due to having been merged with Setsuna for a considerable time, this sudden and massive attack was total overkill.
In a matter of seconds, the only thing that remained was a smoking ash pile.
"Setsuna! Are you...?" Usagi tried to ask.
If anything, Setsuna was only now starting to get back to normal. "I... still feel horrible. This is something you don't forget... But the nightmare made one serious miscalculation. After thousands of years of despair, I can recover quite fast from this, even though I of course do feel the pain in my heart."
"This... this is sad you can recover only because you've already experienced so much pain," Minako said, feeling compassion for the woman when again being reminded of her long suffering.
"Not that we aren't happy, and I'm sure you are not ashamed of how you look, but could please put something on?" Ranma called, having his back turned to her. Mu-Tsu and Mamoru did the same.
While it was true that Setsuna was not feeling shame about her body, she of course was embarrassed by her own nudity, which she hadn't even noticed until now in her mental turmoil. "Oh. Well, no. This won't do." Waving her hand, the uniform of Sailor Pluto formed and the time staff appeared in her hand. "Now, what exactly is going on?"
Some short explanations later, Setsuna looked annoyed. "I must have been blind to not see that it had to be her. What was I thinking?"
"To be fair, we were all not at our best, considering how little sleep we got," Haruka reminded her.
Setsuna knew this was true. Her lack of good sleep had certainly affected her judgement. After all, despite all her powers, she was human. "True... Well, I can beat myself up for it later. Right now confronting Nehellenia is more important."
"Well, there's a small problem with that," Makoto commented, waving her hand at the darkness. "We have no exit portal."
No one said anything, realizing they had no idea how to get out of Setsuna's dream, and Ranma rolled his eyes. "Now that's great. We're sitting in the middle of a black nothingness and don't have an exit available. It's things like this that make me wish Ami could be here. She probably would have solved this problem in mere seconds."
"Can't you, you know, simply wish for the exit? After all, it's your dream," Akane asked Setsuna.
She tried, but nothing happened. "I think there's more to it than just that."
"Did this Helios give you any kind of hint what we should do?" Naru asked, hoping this wouldn't be the end of the line, as this would be pretty a pretty stupid way to die.
"Hm..." Mu-Tsu looked thoughtful. "He only mentioned that in order to confront Nehellenia, we have to free all of you..."
"Wait a moment. Could this mean that only all of us together can breach her defenses?" Mamoru suggested.
"It certainly can't hurt to try. Hold each others' hands and concentrate on leaving this place," Setsuna agreed, having no idea what else they could do.
All of them were silent while they stood in a circle, hands joined. At first, nothing happened. Then however, light started to piece the darkness. They did not let go of each other while the light grew, even when it started to swallow them. They somehow knew, as long as they held onto each other, nothing would happen to them.
...beyond the nexus...
When the light receded, everyone looked around. The place they had appeared in looked a bit bizarre. While some parts of it did resemble the nexus, the walkways were overgrown with thorny hedges, a boiling lava lake sent up its heat from beneath them and ... something ... was moving in the distance around a bright light. There also was no kind of visible exit, meaning there was no way but to advance.
However, they had no time to ponder all this when Nehellenia's face appeared in the starry sky above them. "Despite feeling nothing but disgust for you, I'm impressed. You've conquered all your nightmares and managed to breach this place."
"Cut the crap! You're still hiding! What are you afraid of!?" Haruka screamed, all the stress making her lash out, despite it being a bad idea.
Nehellenia laughed. "I'm afraid of nothing. Indeed, I'm actually waiting for all of you."
Setsuna looked up to her, her face not betraying that she didn't like where this was going. "What is your game now? You know exactly what we want."
If anything, Nehellenia looked even more amused. "Of course I know you want to destroy me - a foolish idea as you will see. I actually do give you a fighting chance to reach me at the bright light at the distance. Should you manage to reach me, you'll have the honor of being killed by me in person." That said, Nehellenia's face vanished.
"She might be arrogant, but this arrogance might be her undoing," Setsuna said after some moments. "She could have thrown impossible odds at us in this place, but decided not to."
"Even though that's good for us, I think that's kind of stupid on her part," Michiru added, unable to actually understand the logic behind that move.
Ranma snorted, knowing all too well what this was about. "She wants wank on how she'll crush us and her sheer superiority. I've faught jerks like that for years. She's the same, just with way too much power."
"Let's waste no more time," Mu-Tsu decided. "Just remember, in here, if we die, we are dead for real."
Pulling a flamethrower out of his sleeves - everyone was glad he didn't have one of those in real life, he started to torch the hedges on the way to their goal. They at first had expected the hedges to attack them, but they surprisingly didn't, which put everyone on the edge. After all, there had to be some kind of stumbling block on their way.
"That's too easy," Ranma said, always on the lookout for potential trouble.
"Yes, there's nothing stopping us..." Xian-Pu then frowned at looked at the now much closer light. "I could be wrong, but whatever was flying around the light is now moving in on us."
As it turned out, she was not wrong! Quickly approaching them was a swarm of ... things ... that looked like a monstrous version of Pac-Man with wings. Their round bodies were overgown with dark fur and featureless, apart from the big mouth armed with many sharp teeth. While Nehellenia did have an overblown ego, she did understand how to create nightmarish creatures.
"Crap!" Mu-Tsu shouted, aiming the flame stream to the skys to kill as many of the monsters as possible.
Those that did get caught in the stream went up in flames, screeching like nails on a chalkboard while falling before getting swallowed by the lava below. However, many more of the monsters attacked, snapping at the group, drooling at the prospect of a good meal consisting of the freshest meat possible. These things looked ready to bite off limbs, so Ranma and Akane felt it would be stupid to attack unarmed.
Ranma imagined the sword he was normally carrying with his limited hidden weapons technique and used that to attack, hoping that the sword lessons his mother was giving him now would pay off. Akane for her part looked in puzzlement and annoyance at the weapon her imagination had created, but then ignored the strangeness and attacked right away.
While these little monsters were clearly not very bright, they more than made up for it by being highly aggressive. Despite their valiant efforts, it was like fighting against a monstrous swarm of bees. Even worse, they didn't dare to use destructive magic, since this could very well collapse the fragile-looking walkway, dropping them straight into the boiling lava below.
Sharp teeth tore wounds and ripped clothes. Regardless how many of these things they were smashing to paste or sliced up, those that remained attacked like possessed. In the middle of the group meanwhile, Hotaru was close to a panic. Due to having no actual fighting skill and her imagination failing, she could do nothing other than wait it out.
Her despair however reached the breaking point and her eyes lit up while the symbol of Saturn glowed on her forehead. "Enough!"
Black light blasted from the Silence Glaive. It did not harm the group, but the monsters were all encased by it, before being dumped into the lava below. Their angry screeches were cut off once being submerged in the boiling lava. Panting, Hotaru tried not to keel over from exhaustion from this display of instinctual magic. She barely noticed being helped back onto her feet.
"How did you do that?" Naru asked, impressed enough at this display to ignore her pain for the moment.
Hotaru shook her head to clear it. "To be honest... I have no idea."
While taking a breath, Ranma looked at what weapon Akane held in her hand. He rolled his eyes when seeing it was a big mallet. "Seriously? You imagined yourself using that?"
Akane for her part also looked kind of annoyed, before dismissing the embarrassing weapon. "No idea how this happened. I just wanted something to smash these things, so hold back on any smart comments."
Now that the danger was over, they wanted to heal themselves, but nothing happened. After a few moments of confusion, Setsuna got a good guess what's going on. "It seems since we are in Nehellenia's sphere of influence, she restricted what we can do. Healing ourselves is clearly not possible."
"Ooohhhhhh..." Usagi groaned, trying not to put too much weight onto her injured leg.
Of course their following continued track to their goal was slower due to injury - at least they were making progress when coming much closer to their goal. However, something new seemed amiss when the air became hotter and the lava was starting to boil, sending up hot gasses. Regardless what this was about, they didn't like it at all.
"I'm getting a very bad feeling," Rei hissed, her spiritual and fire-related senses telling her that things were about to get ugly.
Looking behind them, they saw what this loud groan was about. Some of the lava had come to life, forming something remotely looking like a humanoid shape from the waist up. However, the concerning thing was, that this monster was over twenty meters tall. It looked around, spotting them in the distance, and then started advance, smashing or melting the walkways in its path.
"You've got to be kidding me," Naru groaned, then looked to Rei.
"Don't look at me! I can control fire, not boiling lava," Rei defended herself.
Michiru held tighter onto her trident. "Let me try something. That should not endanger the ground under our feet."
Concentrating hard and pulling on every single bit of imagination she could muster - which was quite a bit considering she was an artist - Michiru managed to conjure a huge water stream that shot into the distance and hit the lava-thing head-on. The thing howled in protest when the cold waters cooled down the lava it was made of. Steam rose and obscured sight for a few moments. When the steam cleared up, the thing was solid rock.
"Wow, way to go, Michiru!" Haruka told her girlfriend, helping her when she was threatening to fall down after using this much strength.
"What would we do without you?" Makoto said, only to stop when she saw the monster starting to re-melt. "Oh, come on! This is so not fair!"
"Let's better hurry to get out of here!" Mamoru urged them. "I for my part have no desire to end up getting cooked."
Thankfully for them, the overgrowth had practically disappeared by now, allowing them to make haste - at least as fast as they could, being as injured as they were. The sounds behind them already told the story that the monster was about to revive and give chase again. They certainly didn't want to test the theory, running as fast as they could when hearing the roar of the monster.
"Oh-uh, Michiru! Looks like you've made it mad!" Usagi gasped while they ran for their lives.
They didn't dare to look back, just hearing the monster smashing apart the walkways was answer enough what was going on. No way they could fight this thing without getting cooked in the lava, but thankfully the light was already very close, emerging from a crater in a central island where all walkways led to. Clearly the monster had something against that, hurling globs of lava to hit them. Thank all goodness that Nehellenia did a rushjob with this thing, as its aim was atrocious.
As soon as they had reached the island, Setsuna turned towards the monster. "Good, now that we do have more ground under our feet..."
She knew, normally this would leave her very drained, but knowing this was all a dream did allow her to imagine herself having a lot more stamina than normal. Holding her staff in front of her, she imagined herself casting the biggest Dead Scream she ever did - resulting in a blast powerful enough that it blinded everyone for a second. The lava monster looked like an idiot at the approaching magical projectile - which was its last error.
The impact not only blasted it apart, no, the various pieces also were vaporized, leaving behind nothing from which it could reform from.
However, there was no time to catch their breath when the island promptly started sinking. Losing no time, they ran up to the edge of the carter, spotting an exit portal in the middle. They ran like their lives depended on it - which they did, considering they were about to get cooked from the sheer heat the lava was radiating.
They barely managed to reach the exit when the lava managed to reach the edge, starting to pour into the crater.
They felt movement, and...
"Welcome... You actually did manage to reach me; color me impressed. You have no idea how much it satisfies me that you allow me to kill all of you personally."
It took them a few moments before they realized that the travel to the destination had been instantaneous. The place they were now in looked like the inside of a palace - clearly Nehellenia did not want to live in squalor - which to their surprise was floating in the middle of a dark void, energies clashing in the distance. Astonishingly, there were no outer walls of any kind.
Nehellenia stood just there, clearly unafraid of them. "I see you are impressed. Well, this is just a small part of my power and I demand a certain degree of luxury."
"You seem unafraid of us, despite the fact we are here to destroy you," Setsuna observed, feeling there was something wrong.
Hearing this, Nehellenia laughed, as if hearing a good joke. "Well, you can try if you want. I won't stop you at all."
That was all what Rei needed to be told, firing a flame stream at Nehellenia. However, to her great astonishment, it simply went through her as if she wasn't there at all, not even touching her. Makoto also tried with a lightning strike, but the electricity also went through Nehellenia and even through anything else, as if it wasn't actually there. Nehellenia meanwhile hadn't moved at all, simply smirking at these attempts to harm her.
Thinking that maybe magical attacks didn't work in this place, Ranma tried to attack her directly. To his great frustration however, it was like she wasn't there at all. Indeed, just to test it out, he stuck his hand into her and it didn't bother her. She was like a ghost, although this also went for all other objects, as he could simply walk through them.
"What kind of bullshit is this?!" Ranma finally growled, hating it when the enemy decided to stack the deck unfairly to their advantage.
"OK, what the hell is this?!" Naru hissed, not believing what she was seeing.
"You still don't get it, do you?" Nehellenia mocked them. "This is a physical place I created and then shifted into this realm. Everything here, myself included, is very real while you are just present as your dream-selves. Dreams can hardly influence real things."
"At least we now know that this in return means you can't hurt us in this place as well. After all, as a real being you can't hurt our dream-selves," Haruka gloated, feeling their enemy had been stupid.
"Oh, really?" Nehellenia squeezed her fist and her dream mirror started to glow. All of a sudden Haruka was gasping for air, feeling like she was suffocating!
"Haruka! Haruka, no!" Michiru gasped when seeing her mate starting to turn blue. Nehellenia released her hold before any further damage was done, leaving Haruka gasping for air.
"Fool, how did you think I gained control over your nightmares in the first place? I separated my dark dream mirror from my body. It is my instrument through which I'm the master of this place. Oh, and of course you can't destroy that as well, as you can't touch it. Nothing can save you; not even Helios' protection works in this place, so it was stupid of you to come here."
"Why all this gloating, if you can kill us right away? Is this all a game to you?" Akane hissed, not understanding ow someone could think like that.
Nehellenia gave her a cold smile. "Of course it is; revenge is all about satisfaction. Just squeezing the life out of you would hardly be satisfying. Instead, I'll watch you struggle futilely for a while, before I'll kill you one after the other. Be honored that I will use creative ways. See, now it's me who is laughing."
"Why?" Usagi squeaked, now really being afraid.
"Why?" Nehellenia spat these words. "You should know best, Princess. Your worthless mother locked me up in a prison where I was constantly lied to. I was humiliated, while you got everything you wanted!"
"But I'm not even Serenity! She's been dead for thousands of years!" Usagi tried to reason with her.
If anything, Nehellenia seemed to find this amusing. "Of course I know, but this doesn't make a difference to me. I'll get my revenge anyway one way or another and don't care. Only this time I'll make sure there's nothing left to be reborn."
Usagi was shocked by these words and realized something crucial. She... she is insane! Totally insane! There's no reasoning with her.
Nehellenia then turned around to pour herself some wine. "Enjoy the moments you have left; for I will enjoy what comes next." That said, she didn't pay them any mind while they stuck their heads together, whispering to decide what they should do now.
"This is ridiculous! She knows very well we have enough firepower to blast her to pieces, so she's stacked the deck totally one-sided to her favor," Ranma steamed, clearly angry.
"Well, ridiculous or not, we need to find a solution to this problem, or things do look bleak. There has to be some kind of weakness we can exploit. Let's recap what we do know," Mamoru said, not liking where this all was going right now.
Setsuna took a look at the dream mirror. "Thanks to her gloating, we do know the mirror is the source of her powers. I know that if it gets destroyed, it'll kill her outright."
"Yes, but the problem is, that the mirror is just as invulnerable as she is; it's real while we are dreams. That brings us back to square one," Makoto summed up the problem.
Mu-Tsu's eyes narrowed, while his tactical mind was working. "That means one thing: we have to trick her into destroying the mirror herself."
"Eh, I don't think she'll be that stupid," Hotaru reminded everyone.
"Hm..." Minako gave the mirror and Nehellenia another look. "Is there anything you know about Nehellenia we could use to our advantage?"
The five dream-walkers thought hard about anything that could help them. Trying to remember anything unusual, Akane thought back to the information Helios had given them on her. "Wait, didn't Helios tell us that she's twisting reality to look young and beautiful?"
"Yes, he did. But how does that help? After all, we can't touch her," Xian-Pu asked, not seeing the importance.
Mu-Tsu however did get the connection. "Wait! So her illusion is like a waking dream... And in this place..."
Finally seeing where this was going, they all started to whisper in order to come up with a plan how to exploit this weakness to its fullest, hoping it would work. Nehellenia watched them from afar, not being overly concerned with whatever they were doing. It was merely annoying to her that they no longer seemed to be afraid, but she'd teach them the error of their ways.
"Hey, Nehellenia, you really think you are the most beautiful there is?" Mamoru called.
Nehellenia snorted. "Of course I do know, that's fact!" She walked to her dream mirror, enjoying her reflection. "There was never any doubt about that."
That was exactly what they had wanted her to do. Joining hands, they concentrated every ounce of their imagination on one single thing: to cancel Nehellenia's physical self-delusion, which they hoped was like a dream and thus they could influence. Interesting, that they were about to weaponize the truth. All of them concentrated on this single goal.
"ARE YOU SURE?" they all called and bright light blinded Nehellenia for a moment.
"Which impertinence, I should..." she stopped when noticing in shock that her voice sounded... sounded like that of an old woman! "What sorcery is this?!"
"Nothing but the truth..." Setsuna said, enjoying the end result.
Looking back to her mirror, Nehellenia froze in shock.
Her reflection was... Fear gripped her when she saw what she now looked like. Gone were her youth and beauty. Instead, she now was an old hag; her hair limp and as white as snow, her skin gray and heavily wrinkled and her teeth looking rotten. To her, it was a nightmare that went against everything her entire life was geared toward. Her eyes widened in total terror at what she really looked like, unable to accept the truth that was looking back at her.
To her, a nightmare had become reality.
"NOOOOOOO!" -skliiiirrr- In her terror, she unthinkingly smashed her fist through her dream mirror, shattering it to pieces! She realized too late what she'd just done. "Oh no...! No... NO!"
Nehellenia staggered back, like an invisible fist had hit her. In terror she watched her skin start to wrinkle even more than it already did. "What is happening to me?!" She turned to face the Senshi, her face frozen in a mask of terror, while she was aging years in the span of seconds.
"WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?! AAAa-a-aa-aggghhh-h-hh-hhhh..." They shielded Hotaru from the horrible sight. Nehellenia's aging didn't stop at her death, her body rotting away at an incredible rate before her remains finally collapsed, her bleached bones sticking out of the pile of dust she had become.
Setsuna looked at what remained of the once proud Nehellenia. "Poor, deluded fool..."
In the dark void, light that looked like the sun at dawn pieced trough the darkness, bathing everything in bright light. The light felt very good to them and washed away all of the exhaustion this long adventure had caused them. The light grew brighter with each second and they lost themselves in it, even welcomed it after these hardships.
It simply felt too good to ignore.
...back in the real world...
"Urgh!" all five dream-walkers gasped when being returned to their bodies.
Hotaru stumbled but managed not to fall, despite the sudden strength loss compared to her dream-self. Some things simply were too good to be true. Opening their eyes, they were greeted with expecting looks as well as relief that all five of them had awoken without any problem.
However, it was Helios who spared them from lengthy explanations and came right to the point. "Nehellenia, the Queen of the Dead Moon, is no more..." The symbols on the foreheads of the sleepers faded away and they began to stir a bit, yet did not wake up. "Please let them sleep - this now is good sleep. They are very tired and do need this. Maybe you should think of it as an extended sleepover."
The tension, which had been suffocating up to this point, fled the room. Everyone relaxed visibly, now that the danger was over and their loved ones were no longer in any kind of danger. The sleepers now truly looked to be at peace, a few of them actually smiling in their sleep, clearly enjoying good dreams. Not wanting to disturb them, most left for the outside, leaving the Tsukinos, Mrs. Osaka, Mu-Tsu and Grandpa Hino with taking care of the sleepers.
"What, no hugs of relief that we got out of there alive?" Ranma wondered, giving Ami and her mother an interesting look.
"Oh, Ranma, only you..." Ami sighed in relief, giving Ranma her well-deserved hug while Nodoka gave her a look of pride. Her being affectionate with Ranma, despite her current gender, was always heart-warming.
Ami however was not done, despite Ranma's closeness making her feel warm through their bond. "Do not think this is enough. I need more of you; much more. Tonight in your room..." she whispered into Ranma's ear.
"Is that safe and are your parents OK with that?" Ranma whispered back, knowing exactly what Ami meant.
"I'm safe for two more days and my parents told me we both have the right to do that as often as we want after all we've gone though. They just want us to prevent any 'accidents'. Oh, and Ranma..."
Ranma noticed Ami blushing a tiny bit. "Yes?"
"After you've proven to me you're a man among men, I want some female intimacy." Ami's small blush and smile were answer enough that despite what they'd already done, this was still new for her.
Ranma knew both of them, despite already having done the deed girl-on-girl, needed a bit more time to think of it as something normal. Not that they were repulsed by the idea, quite in the contrary, but they were still a bit inexperienced. After being inimate with both of his forms, Ami had decided it was all about balance and that he'd be more happy if both of his genders would get attention from her.
Interestingly, Ranma couldn't help but to agree. It seemed to satisfy a need deep inside him and also reassured him that a girl loved him even when he was a girl as well.
Nodoka had watched the by-play with a smile, before turning to Hotaru and giving her a stern look. "Young lady, what was the idea of intentionally getting yourself into danger? Especially in such a reckless way?"
"Eh..." Hotaru knew she should have expected this, yet she got no idea how to reply. "I... felt it was... the right thing to do. Couldn't... stand the idea of doing nothing."
Nodoka sighed, looking to Ranma for a moment. "Son, how does it come that all of your friends feel the need to make a difference by endangering themselves?" She then returned her attention to Hotaru. "Your willingness to help in honor, and I'm sure you were a great help, it still was a very reckless thing to do. You do understand I have to remind you not to be this impulsive again?"
"Eh, yes..." Hotaru's imagination went wild when imagining how Nodoka could punish her. However, she did not expect a sharp smack onto her butt and she yelped. "YIKES!"
"Just a little reminder; please be more careful in the future. I really don't want to give you an actual spanking." She knew she got her point across when Hotaru agreed instantly. The girl clearly understood that this was tough love and didn't complain.
"Interesting... I got rid of Bunbo, yet my life is actually more interesting than it was when I still got strong precognitive powers," Ryo observed, then looked at how Ranma and Ami interacted. "In a way I envy them and what they have."
Akane knew what he meant and gave him an interesting look. "Would you... Would you mind if I hug you?"
"Eh, no? Woah!" Ryo gasped when Akane pulled him into a hug. "Careful! You're way stronger than you look."
"Ooops... Sorry, I sometimes really don't know my own strength,"Akane apologized, hugging him with less force. For her, being able to hug a boy like this and actually enjoy the closeness was much progress after her past experiences with the other gender.
Perhaps it was because she didn't feel threatened by him that she was able to do so.
Helios had watched these interactions with amusement, before bringing himself to attention. "As happy as you all deserve to be, now that this crisis is over, there is something really important I have to share with you before I leave."
"Now, I hate to ask for this, but this close call with disaster convinced me there's no other choice. Things will only get more difficult from now on and you need every advantage you can get. It was not by chance that Nehellenia woke up - someone did help along. To be able to face these danger, you do need for Momoru to reclaim the Golden Crystal. It's..." Helios stopped when Ami interrupted him.
"Actually, we already know of the crystal," Ami told him, then gave a quick summaization of how they got the book from Ranma's great-grandfather and what was written in it.
"Amazing..." Helios honestly had not expected them to have such a head-start. "This makes it way easier, since you no longer need to puzzle together the riddle. What you don't know is, that the great mana tree grows in Elysion, the altar with the crystal resting between its roots. However, you do have to solve the riddles in the book in order to enter Elysion."
"Why don't you simply tell us where it is, instead of making us jump through these hoops?" Ranma asked, though she already expected an explanation why there wouldn't be an easy way.
Helios sighed. "I wish it were that easy. I would love to tell you right away, but I actually don't know myself where Elysion is located. I never physically left the place - was actually born there - and magic powers prevent me from learning about its location in other ways - security measures, you understand. I fear you are on your own in that regard."
"This sounds like it's going to be quite the adventure. Certainly not what I expected when leaving the village to live in Japan. I thought I would be sidelined all the time," Xian-Pu said, actually anticipating more action to make life more interesting.
"Don't be too eager, great-granddaughter," Khu-Lon chastised her. "Only an idiot would crave for needless battles." She gave Ranma a side-glace she understood too well and answered with a wince. "We should be more concerned for the moment with finding an excuse for the school."
Xian-Pu, who still was in the school uniform she'd put on at the morning, knew there was something she'd forgotten. #"Oh dear... I can already hear the teasing."#
I need to read the book carefully after getting it back from Setsuna, Ami thought, knowing that this would be an intellectual job before the actual quest would even start. Well, I start reading it tomorrow. Being with Ranma comes first and Setsuna won't be awake until then anyway.
...in the Dark Kingdom...
The dark star hovering above Metallia's soul container lost its sparkle and shattered into tiny pieces, which got absorbed by the container into Metallia's dark essence. Whatever power was left after Nehellenia's death got absorbed into her own essence, again making her a bit stronger.
"Nehellenia, Queen of the Dead Moon, is no more," Metallia said coldly.
Kneeling before her master, having been called earlier when Metallia had told her their enemies were on the move, Beryl couldn't help but to snort. "She only was the queen of fools. She had been back then and she was now; her swift defeat being ample proof of that."
"Undoubtedly, yet she has fulfilled her usefulness. Our position is secured and the guardian of dreams has interfered, revealing the need for the Golden Crystal to our enemies," Metallia concluded.
"Helios is weak. He can't even physically leave his so-called domain right now. Still, he started to get our enemies onto the right track. They will do the dirty work for us and we snatch away the results of their search when the opportunity arises." Beryl found it quite ironical that their enemies would lead them to the Golden Crystal.
"Still, take no chances. Victory draws closer, my chains are weakening with each day. Soon the time will come when the sun is darkened. Risking our victory out of carelessness is not tolerated," Metallia reminded Beryl.
"I understand, my Master."
to be continued...
"Enter the Dragon-Descendant"
Here the notes.
As I said above, this whole arc became way bigger than anticipated. I simply miscalculated how much space nine individual nighmares would require. In the end I became sick of this arc, especially since the nightmares were very hard to write, especially Setsuna's, which made me despair for almost a week. On the positive side, this arc did give me time to look into every single of the Senshi; a luxury I don't get often.
Still, I wanted this arc to be over with and thus this chapter is oversized so that I can finally move on. The next one will be a breather chapter, before the Golden-Crystal-arc starts, which is the real meat. You can judge by the chapter name what the problem will be. However, despite being a breather, what happens will have consequences down the road.
Now, orginally I wanted the characters to compare the flying monsters to Langoliers (apart from the wings and the normal instead of chainsaw-like teeth they do look like Langoliers), but then realized the film was released in late 1995, almost a year away from where the story is time-wise, and would have arrived in Japan even later. Thus the comparison to an evil version of Pac-Man.
Michiru's nightmare was perhaps the darkest of all, it was dark enough that I had to have the nightmare spell out that Michiru of course wouldn't commit suicide. This was all the nightmare driving things to an extreme.
I goofed up a while ago that I thought Haruka's powers are base on earth, while they are actually based on wind. Thankfully, I never mentioned that in-story (if I did, please tell me, where). So to make up for it, I did have her create the tornado. She actually will be able to do this for real after some years of practice with her magic.
The way Nehellenia dies actually is again based on a movie. Can you guess, which one?