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.

While I again went over the time I normally give myself for a chapter, this time I at least have the excuse that it is significantly longer than a normal chapter. It simply grew that much. Some passages also were a bitch to write and kept progress slow at times.

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 36: The Golden Crystal

Rain. Nothing unusual at this time of the year. It did create an interesting sound in the room directly under the roof of the Tsukino house, where Akane was staying. Akane, Usagi and Naru however tried to not let it bother them while playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. It was good for their spirits that right now they were simply doing things normal teenage girls did, although Usagi was a bit unhappy for a different reason.

"All right, Usagi. Now tell me, how many main islands does Japan consist of," Naru read from the question card.

"Eh, six?" Usagi asked, unsure because geography was not exactly her strong side.

Naru sighed, then showed Usagi the correct answer. "Your grades are so much better now, but I guess some things will never change..."

Usagi rolled her eyes. "Trivial Pursuit is real fun, but it's a bit annoying I often get the questions I'm not so good at. It's like the random numbers god is against me."

Naru had to admit there was something to it. While Usagi was really good at questions about popular culture and common knowledge, she was struggling when the questions became more academically. The girl was no idiot - far from it - but she certainly wasn't book-smart.

"Hmmm, I really like this. A carefree afternoon; just us girls having some fun. Guess you are also happy to be away from weird stuff for a little while," Akane said, feeling very relaxed while drawing on her straw to drink some cold fruit juice. "I'm still thankful your parents allowed me to stay here. It might not look like much, but to me this room means a lot."

"Really? How do you mean?" Usagi asked, glad to be distracted from her bad game performance.

"Freedom." Akane then saw she needed to explain. "Don't get me wrong, I love my family, but back at home it always felt like everything had already been decided. Kasumi was in charge of the house, Nabiki already knew she would be off to university and I was supposed to keep up the family trade. Now I'm free to follow my own dreams."

"You mean you want to take up the offer Mom and Dad gave you? You know they offered you to stay until high school is over," Usagi asked, knowing her parents really liked Akane.

"I'm really thinking about it. I know my family will be somewhat disappointed, but I think they'll have enough excitement once Kasumi has married. It will always be home to me and I don't plan on becoming a stranger, but I feel like I'm made for more," Akane explained her reasons.

The two other girls had never heard Akane explaining her future plans, thus they were both curious. "So, what more do you think you are made for?" Naru asked her.

"I know martial arts will always be part of my life. It's simply too deep in me and I know I want to get a teaching permission so I can teach at the family dojo. In that, I'm not so different from Ranma. However, unlike him I do have other interests as well. Even though my first school play did no go as anticipated, I really want to become an actress as well," Akane explained to them.

"I remember you telling us about that play. Making you play the part of Romeo hadn't been nice of them. Rather bad for your female self-image," Naru said, imagining how that must have hurt the girl.

Being reminded of that fact, Akane grimaced. "It certainly didn't. I'd already had trouble with my feminine self-respect back then, and that had only made it worse."

And that little slag who got the role of the Juliet went on to become the school darling, Akane thought bitterly, still feeling the injustice.

"Well, I hope your future performances will be better than what you did while under the influence of that Youma. No offense, but it was somewhat embarrassing to watch." Usagi now understood why Akane had fallen under the thrall of the false Mikan all these months ago, if it was her dream to become an actress.

"Please don't remind me..." Falling under the thrall of a Youma and making an ass of herself was one of the low points of her life in Minato ward. "I'm actually much better and have a nice singing voice. I guess being bewitched simply twisted my efforts into , nonetheless I'm already pretty sure on my plans to stay here until high school is over."

"I bet a certain someone figures into these plans as well..." Naru said knowingly, playing at Ryo.

Getting up, Akane looked out of the window, her thoughts drifting. "He's really nice, totally unlike these jerks back at my old school. Sure, he's no martial artist, but he does have other strengths and talents I don't have."

Usagi and Naru looked at each other and got the same thought. Seeing Akane like this actually was really cute. "Oh, sounds like you have it bad..." Usagi commented.

Surprisingly, Akane laughed. "And to believe I developed a serious dislike for boys thanks to this baka Kuno. For some time I even thought I was turning into a lesbian due to it. No offense to Haruka and Michiru, but thankfully I didn't."

"Interesting, isn't it? All three of us got boyfriends, yet it's Ami who went all the way first. Wouldn't have thought her to be the one of us who does the deed first," Naru mused, actualy seeing the irony in that fact.

"Speaking of boyfriends, after interrogating me, how are yours?" Akane asked.

"Well, Umino has finally gotten used to me being Sailor Ceres. He actually is very understanding and told me that while Ceres is what I can do, I'm still Naru Osaka and me having magic powers won't make a difference to him," Naru told them.

"Considering how Umino used to act some years ago, that's huge progress. He has really grown up." Usagi then noticed the girls giving her looks of expectation. "Oh, me and Mamoru REALLY want to take our time. We can't be all like Ranma and Ami, who managed to understand each other so well..."

Akane sat back down. "Well, I think patience will pay off in the end. It does make thinks sweeter."

Downstairs meanwhile, Shingo was bored.

He would certainly not go upstairs; not when his sister got two other girls up there. While he knew Naru and Akane were not mean in any way, like any preteen boy he had an aversion against groups consisting solely of girls. He was damn sure these three were doing some girly stuff up there and he damn sure didn't want to get involved with any of it.

Things are changing too much for my taste... he thought while trying to get an idea what he could do until he would dare to get back to his room.

While he was not the most observant person, even he had notied how the family dynamics had changed recently. That was not just because of his mother's pregnancy. He shuddered at how babies were made, his parents sitting him down and explaining it still made him feel unsettled. Oh, his oncoming sibling was already causing changes, but that was not the main reason.

No, the main reason was centered around his sister Usagi.

He had not noticed at first, but Usagi had went through a significant change. At the start of the year she'd still been the klutzy and lazy sister he'd grown up with. However, then the changes had started to creep in. Now he could barely connect his sister with the Usagi from the beginning of the year. Usagi had gained a huge circle of friends, a boyfriend - Shingo still wondered how that came to pass - had become invested in fitness and now did much better in school. She also was much less prone to emotional outbursts and acted quite a bit more mature.

It made Shingo wonder what had happened. Their parents' behavior to her had changed as well. They now treated her surprisingly respectful and were no longer on her case about her grades, robbing him of his entertainment of Usagi pleading for mercy on her knees in front of their mother for another bad grade.

Due to not really having paid attention, he had trouble to place when exactly these changes had started to creep in. It had to be some time after she'd gotten her cat.

Speaking of cats... Usagi now was also taking care of a friend's cat for a while. Shingo had thought their mother would put her foot down, but to his surprise, she had agreed, as did their father. It made him wonder why they hadn't even put up a fight, considering Usagi had needed several hours to convince their parents she could keep Luna all these months ago.

This is weird. It's like they suddenly have nothing against animals in the house, Shingo thought.

Getting up, Shingo felt he would rather dare going up to his room than getting bored to death. However, he stopped when hearing voices from the kitchen. He knew his mother was being busy in it, but there were two other voices as well.

Usagi is upstairs with her friends and Dad is at work. Who could this be? Shingo wondered, then sneaked next to the kitchen door to listen in.

"...well, this pregnancy business takes a lot out of both of us, don't you agree?" That was his mother.

"No joke. I wonder what's worse; that we are eating like pigs, or the occasional mood changes." That sounded like a woman.

"I think the mood changes are worse, especially since I have to double as your scratching post. That really hurts." That sounded like a man.

"Look, I did apologize, didn't I? I already feel bad enough that I hurt you," the female voice said.

The male voice snorted. "Well, you don't have three visible scratches on your flank. It'll take weeks for my fur to re-grow."

Fur? Totally confused, Shingo dared to peek through the door and froze. He saw his mother talking to two cats! Worse was, he recognized them. One was Usagi's cat, the other one she was taking care of for a friend. Watching them having a normal conversation with his mother, and his mother not finding this odd in the slightest, was too much for him.

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!" Shingo screamed. Everyone in the kitchen stopped dead in their tracks when seeing the boy standing in the door. "NORMAL CATS CAN'T TALK!"

"Oh no..." Ikuko said, having feared it could come to this.

Loud footsteps from the stairs then told her that Shingo's screaming had attracted the attention of the girls. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, Usagi gasped when realizing what had happened. She'd known it would have to happen one day, but not this early.

Some time later, Shingo was still trying to believe what he was being told.

"This can't be happening..." Shingo wanted to deny all of it, but it was somewhat difficult to deny the truth with all of the proof he had been given.

They had sat him down and the started to explain from the beginning what was going on. Despite talking cats he at first had been in denial, until his sister had stepped behind a curtain - 'I'm your sister and you certainly don't want to see me like that' - and then turned into Sailor Moon. It was difficult to deny that one.

Still, the whole story sounded like something out of a movie or manga.

"I know it's really hard to swallow. At least you have the luxury of having all the time you need to get used to it. We certainly didn't," Naru reminded him, thinking of how she had become Sailor Ceres.

"Eh... and you without doubt are my sister?" Shingo still had trouble with the whole reincarnation business.

"Oh, she certainly is!" Ikuko said, reassuring her son. "It is very difficult to fake the pain I went through when giving birth to her."

"Mom..." Usagi hated it when her mother said things like that. "Shingo, just think of the soul like a bottle. The bottle is what you are; that you exist. However, the life you live is what fills the bottle. Serenity got her shot and now it's my turn, only that unlike other people I have to deal with some of Serenity that didn't get emptied out when the bottle got re-used."

"Well, that makes a lot more sense. It's just that you've changed a lot..."

"I'm growing up. I was dragged there kicking and screaming, but I can't deny it any more," Usagi admitted.

"And thank all goodness for that," Ikuko added, relieved her daughter was no longer messing around.

Shingo finally relaxed a bit. "Good, that means you still are the same sister who got the great idea of sticking her hand down the toilet because she lost an earring in it."

"Usagi, that's disgusting!" Akane gasped, hoping it at least had happened before Usagi had used the toilet in question. Naru looked sickened as well, though not being surprised of this revelation, and Ikuko sighed, clearly having expected something like that.

"Considering some of the stupid stuff Serenity did, I wonder if a trait for doing foolish things carried over..." Luna wondered to Artemis when seeing Usagi blush and yelling at Shingo he'd promised not to tell.

Artemis did remember. While Serenity in the end had grown out of it, as a young teenager she had done quite a number of stupid things. The one he remembered most also was the one where the Queen, normally the calmest woman imaginable, had lost her patience. For being stupid enough to almost get seriously harmed in a very idiotic way, the Queen had actually spanked her daughter - in front of the Senshi and their animal advisers and on bare bottom. It seemed to have helped, as Serenity after that humiliation had become better at keeping herself under control.

"Well, she is your charge..." Artemis sighed. "I wish I had your problems, since Minako..."

Luna knew the situation with Minako's parents still was thorny. No need to remind him of it.


...Hikawa Shrine, next day...

"...after a detialled analysis, I can conclude, that our next destination is Meroe in Sudan. The final temple has to be located there, near the ruins of the Nubian city that got built millennia later. Considering the area is settled, it must be buried under the sand," Ami concluded her findings. They had all gathered for the next step in their quest.

Most of them looked confused at this explanation and Hotaru, the youngest of them, finally asked the question. "Uhm, Ami? What is Meroe?"

Looking baffled for a moment, Ami looked to Ranma, who shrugged. Then she remember that most people weren't as intellectual as her. "Meroe was a city at the eastern bank of the river Nile in Africa, located in what today is Sudan. It was built by the Nubian people about 2800 years ago. Of course that was long ago and it was abandoned almost 2000 years ago."

If anything, Hotaru found this highly interesting. "Despite everything, I still have a hard time imagining such a long time. Do you think they built their city because of the old temple?"

Ami looked a bit amused at the girl's imagination. "It's a nice idea, but very unlikely. I think that it was built there is coincidence; no way they could have known of the temple. Nowadays there are many ruins of the city and dozens of small pyramids."

"Well, that's stupid. Finding the temple under all the sand will be quite a chore," Minako griped.

She had insisted she wanted to come along, despite still not looking too hot. However, staying put and doing nothing turned out to be even harder for her. Just doing nothing made her dwell on the rift between her and her parents. Setsuna had said they would need to realize the wrongness of their actions on their own, no one can be forced to become better.

Still, Minako was uneasy with the fact this could drag on for quite some time. Sure, she no longer was a crying wreck, but she also wasn't her normal self. Perhaps she wouldn't be until this was resolved, which was an unsettling idea. Until then she had to go on and she should thank Setsuna for pulling strings that she could go to school despite what happened.

Haruka crossed her arms and looked thoughtful. "I'm more concerned that they already got the drop on us twice. They can clearly somehow detect where we go to and spy on us without being seen. How do they know anyway? It's not like we announce where we go."

From her perch, Deimos looked thoughtful. "That only started to happen when you went on your quest, though not when you visited the Moon. Very strange..."

"I thought a lot about that as well and found a possible answer." Ami looked up from her computer. "My best hypothesis is, that they can somehow detect the energy output from our teleport. It causes a big magical disturbance and somehow, I think, they can track us that way."

Setsuna looked unsettled by the idea. "Compared to my subtle form of teleportation, it's a brute force method... Is there any way to mask it?"

"That's the problem. I actually do have an idea, but it will take time to get results; time we don't have," Ami told her, looking disappointed with herself that she was unable to find a fast solution.

"Dont blame yourself. After all, even you can't do wonders," Ranma reminded her.

Sitting beside his sister, Phobos groaned. "Oh, this is great. So they were onto us the entire time. Makes me wonder what other things they know."

Deimos hated to agree with her brother, but this was too serious. "It seems like it. That makes you wonder how much else they did without us noticing."

"So, let's me get this straight. We've got to shovel tons of sand and we've got no way to stop them from knowing where we are? I don't exactly like the fact we constantly have to been afraid of getting stabbed into the back when we aren't looking," Rei brought the problem to the point.

"Oh, I think it gets worse." That turned the attention to Michiru, who was looking into the Aqua Mirror. "I've had some disturbing dreams and consulted the mirror to make sense of them. It's vague, but now I understand that our enemies know exactly what we are looking for."

There was some silence, everyone trying to come to terms with the idea that this now was a race against time. Rei then closed her eyes for a moment. "I didn't see anything, but then, I was stressed out the past few days and didn't sleep well. No chance of me getting anything."

"I didn't man to insult you," Michiru apologized, realizing she had just nsulted the girl's professional pride.

"No, you couldn't have known," Rei waved it off.

"So, what do we do then?" Minako finally asked. "They know where we go and you better believe they want to snatch the crystal away... Oh, now I understand!"

"Understand what?" Naru asked, wondering what the girl just realized.

Minako felt like slapping herself, but at least she did have the excuse of not being at her best due to her personal problems. "Ever wondered why that jerk Jadeite didn't ever to stop us? He's had every chance for it, but only messed around. No, they want us to do all the work for them and then steal the crystal once we've shown them the way to it."

There was some silence, then room descended into a wild mixture of curses for a minute until Usagi screamed in frustration. "These damn...! Oh, they better believe I will punish them!"

"Bunny, please calm down. Being angry won't help at all with the problem at hand," Mamoru reminded her.

"Sorry, it's just so frustrating that we got tricked. We were played like total idiots," Usagi apologized to him

No one was happy with this, while Setsuna whispered to Hotaru to never repeat some of the curses that had been flung around.

"Wait until you realize that we still have try and get the crystal." Everyone looked to Ranma, wondering what he meant with that. "Well, now that I thought about it. They know we need it. If we stop looking for it, we weaken ourselves. Only thing we can do is trying to be faster then them and get it first."

"Really great situation. We have to help the enemy if we want to get anything done. I hope Helios knows how much we are doing for him," Haruka snorted, crossing her arms in annoyance.

Michiru put her hand on her girlfriend's shoulder. "Haruka, none of us likes this, but there's little we can do and, as loathe as I am to say it, we can't risk doing nothing. We just have to be smarter than them."

"Which means we have to stop them from ambushing us again. We can't stop them from detecting where we go - at least not in such a short time. While I can use my visor together with the computer to scan our surroundings, I don't think that will be enough," Ami explained.

Suddenly, Ranma started pacing. "Hmmm... I wonder..."

"Ranma?" Ami wondered.

"Ami, Youma can't mask life energy, can they?" Ranma asked her, being onto an idea.

Ami wondered what he was on about. "Yes, but that's hardly a problem for them anyway. After all, they have no life energy of their own they need to mask."

Now Ranma gave her a look that this was this point. "Exactly! These jerks have none at all! I don't have to look for life energy; I have to look where there is a suspicious void of it. It'll work, Jadeite, the jerk, always has that Youma with him. It'll be easy for me to realize where she is and that means Jadeite isn't far."

Hearing this very simple solution to the problem, everyone wondered why they hadn't thought of this.

"Thinking about it, if we need to get the crystal fast, we should get it right after getting the final map piece. I don't know what the Dark Kingdom is planning, but you better believe it won't be just Jadeite and his Youma when we reach Elysion," Naru warned them, having a good idea what would await them. "We should do it all in one go."

"Yes, question is, can we do so?" Makoto said, then looked to Ami. "Can you analyze the map while we are still in the field?"

If anything, Ami looked almost affronted. "Of course I can do that. With the help of the Mercuy Computer, it's little problem. And Naru is right, we really have to get the crystal today, otherwise the Dark Kingdom could spring a trap on us if we try at a later date."

Mamoru then gave Usagi a look of apology. "Bunny, I'm sorry I'm asking you about this, but I fear when things come to a head, you have to draw power from the Silver Crystal to help out."

Usagi sighed while pulling out the Moon scepter, looking at the Silver Crystal. "I know, but I can't help but feel like almost wetting myself in fear when using it. Knowing it can kill me if I use it too much in a short time is not helping."

I really don't want to end like Queen Serenity, she added silently.

"Uhm..."

Hearing this and seeing Hotaru raise her hand, everyone fell silent, wondering what kind of insight their youngest member could give them. Hotaru, noticing that she was expected to voice her question, looked a bit sheepish.

"Eh... I heard in geography that it can be really cold in a desert during the night. Will it be as bad as in the Andes?" Hotaru wondered.

It a way it was a let-down that Hotaru was just concerned about the temperature. However, remembering how miserable they had been last time, it was a valid concern. Marching through the bitter coldness of the high mountains had been very uncomfortable. On the other hand, they felt that nothing could top the Andes as an uncomfortable place.

Makoto held the Andes in bad memory. "Well, I think it can't be worse than that..."

o

"Aha, so they have left to get the final part of the puzzle. It looks like today will be very important., after all," Beryl said while watching on the projected map where the Senshi were traveling to. An alarm had warned her of the magical surge and she had at once fired up the spell to see where their enemies would travel to.

She then saw Jadeite and Tethys enter the throne room, them having followed her summons. "Jadeite, you and Tethys are to keep an eye on them. They have traveled to a new location and you should know where to go by now."

"Queen Beryl, does this mean you think they will make a move for the crystal right away? That would be unusual, since they always took their time after another step in their quest," Jadeite asked.

"Me in their place would do so as well. They know we are shadowing them, so they'll want to get their hands on it as fast as possible in an attempt to deny it to us. Therefore we must make sure to be prepared," Beryl explained.

"And if they do make the move to enter Elysion?" Jadeite asked further.

Beryl waved her hand dismissively. "I will take care of it personally. This is not the time to foolishly use small solutions. You watch them, and as soon as they leave, return. Their mode of transportation will reveal the entrance to Elysion to us."

"As you wish." Jadeite walked outside with Tethys, who had managed to keep silent the entire time. She could not do so any longer, however.

"Our queen wants us to again do this? I thought it would cross her mind that the Senshi by now know and will be alert?" she asked, looking like a woman who hadn't slept in too long.

The effects of their recent troubles were undeniable. Jadeite wondered what was wrong with them. Ever since their return from the fiasco in the Andes, both of them had went through a difficult time.

Tethys was strangely tired and also complained about chest pains, like something inside her was starting to rebel against her body. Even infusions of life energy didn't help. Interestingly, she did suffer less complications when staying in her human form. Even though Youma had no need for sleep, her being constantly tired became noticeable and caused others to whisper.

Jadeite for his part was bothered by dreams he didn't understand and sleep that didn't make him feel rested. Something about what the ancient man in the temple had told him had unsettled him so much that he was constantly dwelling on it. Something in him was fighting to disregard these words, yet he could not forget them.

Finally, he gave Tethys a nod. "Perhaps she does, but it isn't our place to question her. We should better leave right away."

Maybe it was only him imagination, but Tethys didn't look happy that she had to go out into the field. Normally she was all to eager for it, but now she only looked tired. It made him wonder what was happening with them.

o

Darkness had settled over the ruins of Meroe in Sudan, with only the stars and Moon above illuminating them in silvery light while being reflected in the waters of the nearby river Nile. While the area would crawl with tourists during the day, at this time of the night everything was as silent as a grave and only distant lights hinted at human settlements. Even when the Senshi teleported in, there was little noise, just a flash of light and little else.

Looking around as soon as they had arrived to make sure they were alone, they were a little disturbed at the silence.

"Oh, what a boring place. Sand, sand and even more sand. Good thing I don't have to live here, it must be really depressing," Saturn commented, finding the emptiness of the desert disturbing. At least the Nile gave her something different to look at.

"Look at it this way: the people who live here would find the city way too loud and chaotic," Pluto reminded Saturn.

"Mercury whipped out her computer and activated her visor. "Remember, while I'm looking for it, I can't scan for unwanted visitors, so be alert." She then looked for traces of magic. "We must go east, away from the Nile. The signal is between the ruins and the burial pyramids."

Following Mercury's lead, they walked east. The temperatures weren't nearly as bad as in the Andes, also because there was no wind.

They had walked for a few minutes when Ranma noticed something. "Keep walking and don't act like anything is wrong, but I just noticed a strange void of life force about a hundred meters away. Must be Jadeite and his Youma spying on us, as expected."

"Let's act like we haven't noticed," Jupiter suggested and they cotinued to 'look out for trouble', while Ranma monitored the hole closely in case of trouble. So far, Jadeite kept his distance, also as they had expected.

Some minutes later, Mercury stopped. "The entrance to the temple is twenty meters ahead, buried under several meters of sand. Looks like we now have to find a way to dig it out."

"Oh, leave that to me. There's something I want to try," Uranus said, stepping forward.

Having trained her powers for some time now after witnessing what she could do in her dream during the Nehellenia crisis, she now had a new trick up her sleeve. Holding her hands out to where Mercury had pointed to, she projected her magic forward. The wind started to pick up, getting stronger and stronger, until a miniature storm was projected from Uranus' hands, blasting away the sand in its path. When she was finally done, the entrance to the temple was free of sand.

"Impressive and interesting way to use your powers. It's not only a weapon, but a utility as well," Sailor Ceres commented.

Stepping up to the now visible axis, they quickly placed the stone discs and adjusted the positions of sun and moon. However, when it came to the positioning of the Worldstone, they suddenly were in a fix. Simply aligning the volcano on it with the world did not work; nothing happened.

"I don't understand. It worked before, since we simply hd to align the facet mentioned with the top." Mercury again spoke aloud what the book said about the combination. "'To approach the third temple a Worldstone was required as well, with the rising sun chasing away the full moon from from above the fiery peak.' What are we doing wrong? "

"Hm..." Pluto took a closer look at the text about the combinations. "Wait a minute. The first two combinations align with each other perfectly, but the third one doesn't. Maybe we were misled by that fact?"

Venus took a closer look at it. "Hmm... I got it! Maybe all the three conditions have to be fulfilled at the same time? That means we have to align the volcano with the rising suns and the full moon, which are already aligned with each other."

Turning the Worldstone, she pushed the axis. The door opened. "Hah, knew it!" Venus then noticed the looks of surprise. "Hey! Just because my grades aren't the best does not mean I'm dumb!" she said, clearly annoyed.

"What about our guests?" Pluto asked while picking up the stone discs.

Ranma nodded to show that they were still being watched. Mercury meanwhile had switched to a different scanning mode. She looked up and said quietly "I can now detect them. Looks like you are right, they don't actually want to stop us."

"Well, let's get this over with. The door's open for another hour before it closes on its own," Endymion reminded them, having read the inscriptions on the door. "Let's hope at least this one won't be as troublesome."

Walking in, they saw the usual decor and walked down the long corridor until they finally reached the chamber that housed the doors to the final part of the map to the entrance to Elysion. Many stone guards stood guard by the walls of the big hall. There was no door visible, just a circle on the floor in front of a big infinity mosaic.

Feeling this was his call, Endymion entered the circle and waited. He didn't have to wait for long.

"Welcome, Prince. You and your companions have gotten very far in your quest. But to pass, one final question has to be answered.," a voice said, while the lights dimmed apart from the circle.

To be honest, by now Endymion was sick of questions, but didn't say so. "Well, then don't let me stop you. What is that final question?"

"The question is easy. May the one of you who symbolizes Infinity step forward and say, why they represent the wholeness of all principles and virtues?"

Endymion paled when hearing this. Oh-Uh! This smells of trouble!

They quickly gathered to discuss what to do. Sailor Moon, knowing this would be her call, was almost white with terror. "Guys, I'm totally sure that I'm not representing Infinity. I... I'm not a perfect girl, and after knowing what happened to me when something tried to make me such, I no longer see that as something I should even try."

"Eh... maybe you can explain that to the voice?" Saturn said and then saw the questioning looks they gave her. "I mean, they must have known that someone being good at EVERYTHING is just impossible. Maybe it's more about trying?"

If anything, Moon blushed. "I don't think I have tried very hard, either. I'm only a girl who wanted a peaceful life, only that fate thought different..."

Endymion took her hand. "I think it's more the thought that counts. Come, if you want I stay at your side the entire time."

Sailor Moon didn't look too brave, but having him help her gave her the needed courage. Together, they stepped into the circle. "Eh... hello? I know I'm certainly not perfect at these things. I... I really try, however, though I'm bound to slip once in a while and at times can be somewhat selfish. After all, I'm human and not some robot. Eh, does this count as well?"

At first the voice was silent. Then... "Unusual. Very unusual. Normally, a display of bravado is to be expected, not such a honest assessment of oneself. However, to see if you speak the truth, I have to know all about you."

Moon gulped hard. "Oh dear..."

"Do not fear. The process is completely painless and all your secrets will not leave confidence. There are also no negative consequences should you fail. After all, we are no barbarians."

Suddenly, Sailor Moon's tiara disappeared, the mark of the crescent moon appearing on her forehead while her eyes started to glow in white light. Judging by her sudden look of shock, something was going on deep inside her. As if sensing her fear, Endymion hugged her, holding her close in the hope to ease her discomfort.

"No, please no! These are my secrets," she sobbed. Whatever the voice did, her whole soul felt like going through an invasive strip-search. She felt naked and humiliated, even her most secret inner desires laid bare. "Please, have mercy..."

The whole process took less than twenty second, though to her it felt like eternity. The nature of the intrusion changed and Moon let out a gasp. No, everyone in the room gasped when they felt what the presence was doing.

Sailor Moon's still glowing eyes were wide when she understood. She could feel all the love and concern her friends were holding for her, how deeply they did care about her and how determined they had been a moment ago to pull her out of the light to stop her torment, giving a damn about the consequences. Looking up to Endymion - Mamoru - she could see he was caring even more than them, his presence like a small sun radiating something deeper than mere friendship.

On top of everything she felt a HUGE apology for how she had suffered from the presence, which moments ago had looked into the even most hidden parts of her mind. Clearly, she was now feeling everyone's love for her to help her come to terms with the humiliation of how effortlessly her whole being had been read like an open book.

"My sincerest apologies for the test being this invasive. Seeing inside you, I saw a girl who is as human as it could be. Yes, you do have flaws, but it is natural to have these and a lack of flaws would be very concerning, if not being downright unnatural. There is lots of goodness in you, even if you sometimes aren't aware of it yourself."

Moon's eyes stopped glowing and her tiara returned. She held close onto Endymion, the whole experience still in her bones. She was not crying, though the slight shiver going through her was proof enough how deeply this had touched her.

"It is true that the state of Infinity is not something a human being can ever actually achieve. No person can be that perfect. The true meaning is to strive to follow and apply the lessons of the virtues in your lives, not to become perfect in all of them. To be a good human being, you first of all need to have a good heart. You admit you have not exactly been the definition of a good girl in the past, yet you admit your faults and strive to become better."

Finally looking up, moved by the kind words, Sailor Moon asked, hiccuping a little, "Does- does that mean I pass?"

If anything, the voice now sounded very gentle. "Yes, you do. You are a good person in your core. You have seen what kind of power you could wield, but instead of seducing you, it repulsed you. The fate of your other self taught you humility and you now want to use your powers for good while respecting your fellow people's choices. Once your are an adult woman and a little more mature, you'll a force of great benevolence."

"Oh, and Prince Endymion," the voice added. "Hold onto her, for she is a precious treasure and your hearts are already entwined."

The voice then fell silent, a floor tile beside the cirle sliding open to reveal the axis. Not wanting to disturb Moon and Endymion while they were having a silent moment, Mercury quickly stacked the discs onto it, then read the fitting passage.

"Final entrance was granted with a waxing moon reflecting in the western sea below," she said and aligned the discs according to what they'd learned. Axis pressed, the Infinity symbol on the floor slid aside to reveal the final part of the map underneath.

Scanning it, Mercury looked up. "I'll put together the map now. Then we should teleport from here, where Jadeite can't watch us - he's still at the entrance, waiting. Every single minute we gain is useful."


...in the Dark Kingdom...

Being called back into the Dark Kingdom could mean only one thing to Jadeite: that the Senshi had outsmarted him, clearly having put the facts together, and teleported from within the temple to their next destination. While he himself was unable to detect teleportation, Queen Beryl certainly could do so. There was no other reason for the recall.

When Jadeite and Tethys arrived, everything had already become quite hectically. While the gathering of Youma for battle was no surprise to him - his queen clearly didn't want to take any chances - he was surprised to see her talking to Techniclone, who was animatedly presenting her a glass sphere filled with something yellow. Whatever it was, Jadeite was sure it had to be something which Techniclone had cooked up.

Beryl only noticed them after some moments. "Jadeite. Normally, I would tell you off for failing to return right away, but time is of essence."

"Yes, Queen Beryl. What is to be done?" Jadeite asked.

"Well, the Senshi have revealed the position of the entrance to Elysion with their move - though faster than I would have liked. I will personally lead an assault as soon as they have foolishly opened the entrance to Elysion. Tethys and you are to follow them give the signal as soon as the path is free. However, there is something additionally..."

"My queen...?" Tethys wondered, suddenly having a bad feeling.

"Techniclone developed something interesting for us." She then looked to the Youma in question to explain.

"I'm especially proud of this accomplishment, as it wasn't easy. The biological agent in this sphere acts like a cancer on magical sources and eats them away. It can even kill the big mana tree and is immune to any kind of magical attack - that will only make it stronger. I have taken to call it Creep and I'm very proud of how my hard work bore fruit," Techniclone explained smugly.

"Well done, Techinclone. Jadeite, Tethys, your original orders are to reach the Golden Crystal and take it, before they can. However, in case that they do so first, this is why you will escort Techniclone as well, so that she can put an end to the threat," Beryl gave her new orders.

Techniclone looked proudly at her creation. "I just need to shatter this on part of the tree and its fate is sealed. Any magic they use to try and remove it only makes it stronger."

Jadeite paled a bit. "Queen Beryl, you are willing to destroy all of Earth's magic?" That came as a shock to Jadeite. He had not imagined Beryl being willing to do that much damage. The chaos and destruction it would cause was unimaginable.

"If we can't use that power, we can't allow our enemies to have it." Her eyes then narrowed. "Remember that it is Queen Metallia you now serve. Her powers will more than compensate the loss that you, Zoisite and Kunzite will suffer."

Jadeite understood the underlying threat all too well. Nonetheless, he felt horrified that Earth could lose its magic. It was said that nothing short of the planet blowing up could destroy the mana tree. To imagine that his queen was willing to use biological warfare against it made him very uneasy. Techniclone's leering grin wasn't helping, either.


...beneath the Earth...

"Where exactly is this place again?" Sailor Ceres asked.

"Somewhere beneath the Himalaya. Trust me, you don't want to go back outside considering that conditions are even worse than in the Andes. Good thing we appeared right at the entrance this time," Mercury answered patiently.

"Since it's out in the open, I wonder why no one found it in 10.000 years. Unlike the others it's not exactly hidden, nor locked," Ceres then added, finding that a bit strange.

"Well, since I registered some kind of magic, I can speculate only people with magic, or touched by it," she added that part when looking to Ranma, "can actually enter. That almost entirely excludes an accidental discovery."

"Well, I don't care about the details, I only know we're descending deeper inside every moment. This cave is huge," Mars added while keeping her spear alit to give them more light. Good thing their weapons interacted with their powers and magical element, in her case fire.

They had traveled from Meroe straight to where the map was leading to, which was in the middle of the Himalaya. Thankfully, this time they were spared from searching, as the cave entrance they had appeared beside had given off magical traces. That was hint enough that they had to enter the cave, which was going down ever since. By now they had to be kilometers beneath the mountains.

Of course the cave was dark. Mars keeping her spear alit already was good illumination. Additionally, electricity dancing over Jupiter's mace also gave good light and Pluto did have the power to make the orb at top of the time staff to glow as well. The surprise however was Sailor Moon, when she saw that the Silver Crystal actually produced light as well. It was a bit funny that this powerful object right now was used as a glorified cave lamp.

The caves were silent apart from the sound of dripping water, with many stalactites and stalagmites being silent witness to this activity. After 10.000 years they had mostly covered up that much of the cave was artificially carved and they only knew this fact thanks to the Mercury Computer's scans. That the cave only had a single path added to the artificial character.

"Any unwanted companions, Ranma?" Uranus asked when noticing him looking around with a frown.

"I honestly don't know. There's way too much magic stuff floating around this cave. It's really affecting my ki-vision. Sorry, but I fear we just have to stay alert," Ranma apologized, a bit annoyed that he now of all times realized what the weakness of the technique was.

Their journey then finally ended in front of a massive gate.

"I guess that's it; the entrance to Elysion. It certainly looks impressive enough," Venus commented, actually being impressed when looking at all the ornaments engraved on the huge gate - at least those that weren't covered by millennia of sediments.

"Now, that's a gate..." Jupiter looked around and noticed a lone axis beside the gate. "There we go, just use the discs and get that thing open."

They did stack the stone discs on it, but when Mercury looked at the fitting text passage, she scratched her head in confusion.. "Thing is, there is no combination listed for the final gate. It only says 'Entrance through the final barrier towards the inner sanctum of the mana tree was only allowed to contrary minds'. Whatever that means. Really strange... Maybe we are just meant to try the last combination we used?"

They tried exactly that, but nothing happened. Mars snorted at the absurd situation. "Now, that's great. We are so close, and now they spring some kind of puzzle on us. Are you sure that got translated properly?"

If anything, Saturn found this rather bizarre. "I feel like we are in a computer game and have to solve a cryptic puzzle. Not exactly how I imagined this adventure to go. Any ideas?"

Mercury read the text passage aloud once more and looked a bit perplexed. "If it's a code, I don't understand it. I'm good at facts and science, but I was never that good at puzzle solving."

"I don't understand one of the words. What does 'contrary' actually mean?" Ranma asked.

"Oh it means 'opposite'... Hmmm..." Pluto commented, the scratched her chin. "Maybe we are supposed to turn all the disks by 180° to face the opposite direction of the normal combination. Let's try that." She did turn the disks to face the opposite direction and tried again.

A deep rumble caused the whole cave to vibrate slightly. It was not bad enough to cause serious damage, but numerous stalactites crashed to the floor from the ceiling. The massive gate groaned, fighting against all the sediments covering it. Then the layer splintered, shattered by the vibrations in the huge metal gate. Slowly the gate started to open, bright light pouring out of the gap.

Due to all the noise they didn't notice a faint sound from further back in the cave.

The gate finally stood completely open with a final groan, revealing a calmly swirling blue wall of energy, the patterns on it constantly changing. The whole cave was bathed in blue light. All of them were awed - with exception of Pluto, who calmly put away the discs, then took a look at what the gate had revealed.

"This is it, the gateway to Elysion. We just have to walk through now." She then stopped. "Wait a moment... listen!"

They did and understood. There were footsteps coming from deeper within the cave - lots of them. Ranma almost instinctively reached for his mask. Despite knowing that Jadeite must have gotten a good look at him, he felt a bit shy without it when being confronted with many enemies. Holding their weapons tight, they waited for their enemies.

They didn't have to wait for long.

Dozens of Youma poured into the lit part of the cave, marching like disciplined soldiers while giving off an air of menace. They then parted to reveal Queen Beryl, who had exchanged her normal dress with black chainmail armor. The crystal ball on her staff glowed angry red.

"Beryl..." Pluto said, holding her staff tighter. She had known it would come down to a confrontation.

"You should feel honored. I decided this is important enough for me to commandeer my troops personally. Congratulations on getting this far, though in the end only we will profit from your effort," Beryl gloated.

Uranus itched to point her sword at her. "Oh, we already know you wanted us to do the work and then get the prize yourself."

"And it worked perfectly. Thank you for showing us the location of not only the Golden Crystal, but also Elysion and the mana tree. Yes, the Dark Kingdom would be really thankful for you giving us this victory, if not for the fact that you are our enemies." Beryl then looked to Endymion, not even bothering to hide her disappointment. "You could have had it all, Endymion, yet you denied me to instead spend your time with that waste of space Serenity."

"Don't call her that! My choice was a no-brainer. Even if you weren't evil, she does have all the warm human qualities that you lack. I wouldn't have even touched you with a ten-feet pole," Endymion hissed standing closer to Sailor Moon to underline his point.

"A pity..." Beryl then eyed the Silver Crystal on the moon scepter. "There will be compensation when I take the Silver Crystal off her corpse."

"No chance!" Ceres shouted, putting herself protectively in front of Moon. "If you think we'll let you harm our friend, you are very much mistaken!"

Beryl only gave them a cold smile in return. "I didn't say you have a choice in the matter. ... TO ATTACK!"

The Youma, having only waited for that command, charged forward, the front row already powering up their magical abilities, but suddenly...

"SILENCE WALL!"

Out of nowhere a wall of dark energy separated the Youma from the Senshi. The Youma growled in anger and attacked the wall in their fury, wanting to bring it down with brute force. The Senshi looked in surprise to Saturn, who was pointing the Silence Glaive - which was now encased in dark energy - towards the Youma. Her stance was rigid and she grimaced. It was impressive how determined the girl looked at the moment.

"Urgh, this is ... really draining!" she gasped. "Better think of something, I can't hold on for long!"

"There's no time to lose... Endymion, you need to find the crystal. It's rightfully yours." In light of the dire situation, Pluto was quick to act. "Mercury, guide him on your way, Ranma, protect them. We try to hold them back once the wall falls. Now hurry!"

Mercury, Ranma and Endymion didn't question her and ran into the portal, vanishing from sight. No one noticed that after them, the portal did again act as if someone had went into transit some moments later. Not when the Silence Wall was starting to crack and Saturn looked ready to vomit at any moment. Jupiter suddenly put her arms around the girl and pulled her to the safety behind their lines - just in time when the wall shattered.

They knew it was not about going into the offensive, they just had to get enough time that Endymion would claim the crystal. While they had fought a huge number of Youma before, they were at a big disadvantage this time. If things went south, they would have to make an orderly retreat through the portal.

Thing was, however, that fighting in that cave was quite restricting. The more destructive magics were out, or both sides would risk a cave-in; a danger no one wanted to risk. So everything considered, this would be pretty much a melee battle.

"How powerful are you now, time witch? You can't use your destructive magic here? These Youma are not afraid of you, either after all the training," Beryl mocked Pluto.

As loathe as I am to say it, she is right, Pluto thought while ramming her staff into a Youma's gut.

o

"OK, this is different," Ranma said, looking around the alien environment.

At first sight it merely was a lush forest, with some tropical plants sprinkled in. That however was, were the normality ended. For one thing they clearly were in some sort of cave, only that the ceiling was so high they barely were able to see it. Despite being underground, everything was bathed in a bluish light, the blue tint only underlining the alien environment. The strangest thing however were the spherical lights, each as big as a tennis ball, that were drifting through the forest.

The entrance portal was behind them and they had clearly arrived at one of the outer walls of the massive cave, the portal being built into the rock itself.

"This must be Elysion," Mercury concluded, fascinated at the alien environment, though they still had to be on Earth. "Where's Helios?"

"No time to wait for him." Jumping up the branches of one of the big trees, Ranma tried to get an idea of their surroundings. Reaching the top, he looked around. "Well, that would be pretty difficult to miss." He then jumped back down. "The big tree at the center is pretty hard to miss. That's where we have to go."

"Yes. I have no idea how long the others can hold back the Dark Kingdom," Endymion agreed and they jogged away to reach their destination.

Apart from the strange lights, the forest was empty; no animals were seen and the silence, while eerie, was not spooky. With little to stop them, they soon reached a clear area near the base of the massive tree.

Even these huge trees in America looked tiny compared to it. Many of the lights danced around it and they felt strangely warm as close as they were to it now. The three of them stood at the shore of a small lake at the base of the tree. At the other side of the lake, at the base of the massive roots of the tree, stood a white altar in the shallow waters, a yellow glow emerging from its top.

"This is it..." Endymion was strangely mesmerized by the sight.

-BOOOOM-

"Shit, that doesn't sound good!" Ranma cursed when hearing the explosion form behind them, from the direction of the portal.

Indeed, the situation had become dire enough that the Senshi had retreated through the portal into Elysion itself.

Beryl and her Youma, despite suffering losses, did not let up. The Senshi were concerned that these Youma were very different from those before. They faught with discipline and loved to gang up on one target. Despite killing numerous Youma, the enemy pressed on. The Senshi in turn were suffering from injury - also a result of having to fight with a massive handicap.

Now that they were in Elysion, both sides let lose destructive magic. It still was an uneven fight. The Youma were not afraid to suffer losses, while the Senshi had to take pains to prevent one of their own getting too badly wounded.

Of course they still took wounds - lots of them actually.

"Urrgh!" Sailor Moon gasped, her glove having turned red from the wound on her belly. "I can't concentrate to use the Silver Crystal..." she then groaned while having fallen back behind the others to stay safe.

"They knew!" Uranus hissed while letting loose a World Shaking that ripped a Youma into pieces. "They ganged up on you to stop you from helping us!"

While the last time they had fought a huge number of Youma was still fresh in their memory, this one was much worse. Despite their training and firepower, they were more and more driven deeper into the forest. Clearly, Beryl had been prepared this time.

"Not only her..." Ceres said, slicing off a Youma's arm with her sickle, before glancing to Pluto. "They knew whom of us to hit first."

While Pluto was a very good fighter, getting ganged up by ten massive Youma in cramped conditions was bad for her as well. Besides having serious scratch wounds like all of them, her right arm was clearly broken and she had to hold her staff with the left, something she clearly wasn't used to. This pretty much neutralized her as the biggest threat.

"This is exactly what I feared. Once I got revealed, our enemies took us dead-serious," Pluto hissed in pain while using her weaker spells to attack. "Just keep Saturn safe!"

Saturn of course was uttermost vulnerable. She still was unhurt and it was clear that even one successful attack could kill her at the moment. The forest around them meanwhile started to take serious damage from stray spells, trees splintering and leaves catching fire while the floating lights fled from all the violence in terror, vanishing deeper into the forest.

"It's like for everyone we kill, three new take its place," Neptune groaned while skewering a Youma with her trident. "We can't win like this!"

"Ceres, this is a forest!" Mars reminded her.

"Wha...? Damn, yes!" Ceres felt stupid, then held onto that feeling she always got when controlling plants. "Plants of the forest, her my plea! The friend of the flora and her friends are in dire need of help!"

All of a sudden the plants around them came to life, growing in ways normally impossible while attacking the invading Youma. The resulting chaos allowed the Senshi to do the one thing they could do and flee deeper into the forest.

"Don't worry, they won't get far," Beryl said, while her troops were busy with fighting against the aggressive flora.

Running for the cover of the trees, the Senshi almost ran someone over.

"Helios!" Pluto did recognize him from the old timeline.

Helios looked taken aback by the sheer level of injury the Senshi had taken. "I heard the battle noise. What is going on?!"

"The Dark Kingdom is invading Elysion! Some of us are trying to reach the crystal while we are holding back the enemy, but we can't hold off the enemy anymore," Pluto told him while they ran deeper into the forest.

"We need to get to the mana tree." He then saw the looks they gave him. "No time to explain! You'll understand once we are there!" He got interrupted when a tree a bit behind them exploded. "They are almost here! Hurry!"

Back at the mana tree, Mercury held a pulsing white sphere between her hands.

"The lake is shallow. I freeze it over, then Endymion can walk to the altar and get the crystal," she cautioned her companions.

That said, she threw the sphere into the swampy waters. From where it impacted, the water of the small lake was instantly turned into solid ice. And by solid it meant frozen to the ground. It was proof of how much she had managed to improve her control over her magic since gaining it.

"You're really good," Ranma acknowledged her progress.

"Thanks. OK, now..." -SPLOSH- "Aaahhhhh!" Mercury was cut off when suddenly a gush of water hit her from behind square into the back like a jackhammer, shredding the back of her uniform. Thrown forward, she landed on the frozen lake, sliding away while trying to regain her senses.

Turning quickly, Ranma and Endymion were confronted with Jadeite, flanked by two Youma. The blue one had clearly been the one to throw the water projectile, while they did recognize the other one as the Youma possessing Motoki's girlfriend.

"Jadeite..." Ranma growled. His dislike for the guy was made worse by his worry about Ami's possible injury.

"Missed us?" Jadeite said, though it was missing the usual arrogance. Drawing his sword, he used it to hold his two enemies at a distance. "Thank you for leading us here. Of course you now can't have the crystal... Tethys, now!"

On command Tethys jumped over her enemies and landed on the frozen lake, trying to make a run for the crystal. Yet, the closer she got, the more tired she felt. Coming to a stop, she looked up, directly at the massive tree in front of her. The tree looked like it was glowing. Mesmerized by the sight, she fell to her knees, her red eyes wide while she felt something stir inside herself.

Jadeite wondered what was wrong with her. "What the...?" -Tschank- -Cling- "Damn!" He let go of his sword barely in time before it was encased in ice, falling to the ground. He saw where that had come from when seeing Mercury, who had gotten back up and despite the pain had drawn her bow. The girl already had the next arrow ready.

"So that's how it is... Techniclone!" Jadeite called.

"Right away!" the Youma said, suddenly spewing biting yellow smoke from her mouth. Endymion and Ranma were forced back, coughing. They hoped there wasn't poison in the smoke.

Jadeite used his chance and made a run for the crystal as well. However, when he was about to run by the still mesmerized Tethys, something compelled him to stop for a short moment and take a look at her. Whatever it was that made him do so, it was his undoing, as suddenly half his legs were encased in ice, causing him to fall beside the unmoving Youma.

"Ouch!" he cursed, then saw Sailor Mercury giving him a dark look while aiming an arrow at him. He knew this was it. "Techniclone, do what you need to do!" He then took a look at what exactly Tethys was staring at. At first, he didn't understand, but then his eyes widened. "This... this is so beautiful!"

-Crac- -Blam- The battle noises in the forest by now had almost reached them. Techniclone knew there was no time to lose. "Goodbye mana tree!" she hissed, before throwing the glass sphere with all her might. It shattered on one of the big roots and the yellow liquid stuck to it, slowly starting to spread.

She wanted to make a run for it, but found the tip of a sword at her throat. "What have you done?!" Endymion shouted, only the fact that Motoki's girlfriend was in there stopping him from thrusting his sword forward.

"Hah, your priceless mana tree will soon be a rotting corpse, my Creep will see to it." She then laughed. "All of Earth's magic will be gone. Yours will be gone as well and your precious Golden Crystal will be reduced to a worthless bauble."

"No!" Mercury, having heard all this, shot an arrow at the infection. The ice encased it... only to sudden get absorbed by the yellow mass, which grew a bit further. "What in all names?!" She cursed that with her bow out, she had no chance to use her computer or visor.

"Ha ha, nice try, but I designed the Creep with that in mind. Attacking it with magic will only make it stronger," Techniclone mocked them.

That actually aroused Ranma's interest. "Magic, eh? Too bad for you..."

He knew there was only little time left before the mass would grow too big. Focusing inwards, Ranma tried to gather all the positive emotion he could gather. There was lots of love of course; for his friends, his family and especially Ami. However, there also was determination that he would not let the Dark Kingdom get away with such a cheap tactic.

"What is this?!" Techniclone gasped when suddenly a glowing sphere grew between Ranma's hands, glowing an intense purple color - a mix of the pink of love and the blue of confidence and determination.

Ranma was straining, as doing this was starting to drain his reserves. He had never before made one this big and destructive, but he knew it now was up to him. Finally, when the sphere was over a meter in diameter, he pointed it at the infestation on the mana tree.

"YYAAAAHHHH!" he screamed, when letting lose, just at the same time when the fighting reached the clearing in front of the mana tree.

Beryl, having just emerged leading her Youma, watched when the purple sphere smashed into the Creep. The Creep shuddered and shrieked, fighting hard against whatever force was attacking it. However, while perfectly capable of absorbing magical energies, the energy in the sphere was something entirely else. Finally, it became too much for it and a purple fireball engulfed it. When the fire died down, it looked like a section of the massive root had been cleanly cut out, the Creep having been vaporized.

"Techniclone, you fool!" Beryl screamed. "Get that crystal! Go over dead bodies!" she then commanded her troops, pointing at the altar.

"Oh no, you won't!" Sailor Uranus screamed, now feeling ready to take on a whole army.

Youma and Senshi clashed once more, but this time something was different. The Senshi felt like they were getting stronger, while the Youma felt weakened. Beryl realized that Helios had let her troops into a trap. The close proximity to the mana tree meant that its natural magic was reacting to so many people being close by. It clearly favored the Senshi, giving them strength, while the Youma, being seen as unnatural and the opposite of life, were weakened.

Techniclone tried to use the chaos to make an exit, but Moon saw it and made a snap decision. "No, you won't get away!" She pointed her scepter at her, the Silver Crystal glowing. "Give her free! HEAL!"

"Ahhhhhrrrrgh!" Techniclone was hit by a blast of purest light. Thrown back, she fell into some bushes and out of sight.

"Everything I have to do on my own..." Beryl growled after witnessing the loss of Techniclone, then wasted no time to use her magic to hover above the battle, before making a beeline for the altar.

She snorted when seeing how Tethys and Jadeite had collapsed, just staring at the tree and actually hugging each other. Zooming to the altar, she was about to reach it, when a chunk of hard ice slammed into her. Falling down, she saw that Mercury was the guilty party.

"Little nuisance, begone!" She slammed her hand onto the ice and suddenly the water under Mercury melted, causing her to fall into the murky waters. "Enough time lost!"

Running to the altar - as much as that was possible on ice - she saw the crystal, glowing brightly. Unlike the Silver Crystal, the Golden Crystal had a diamond shape. Her greedy hand reached out for it... Only for her to suddenly get knocked aside.

She saw who it had been. "Endymion!" However, there was little she could do when Endymion took hold of the crystal.

As soon as he held the crystal in his hands, bright light erupted from it. Beryl was slammed back as if hit by a battering ram, flying all the way over the lake and if not for her Youma catching her, would have slammed into the ground.

However, it didn't stop there.

The light grew even brighter and the whole mana tree seemed to start to glow. Like when the Silver Crystal had been uncovered, the Youma started to howl in pain when this pure light was starting to hurt their dark nature. Only this time it was even worse and some of the weakened Youma were outright disintegrated by the light.

Beryl knew, she had lost. "We have to leave! Now!"

"What about General Jadeite?" one Youma asked.

Beryl took a short look where Jadeite and Tethys were, still hugging. "Leave him to his fate! His failure to secure the crystal is too great."

No one dared to question their queen, especially when it felt like they were slowly being cooked alive. Retreating back to the entrance they realized that all of Elysion was hurting them and they would have to leave it entirely.

Endymion meanwhile felt like he was complete. The warm power flowing through him felt natural and right. The crystal floated from his hand and then embedded itself into the hilt of his sword, like it had always belonged there.

Then he noticed another light approach him, this one silver. It was Sailor Moon, her Silver Crystal glowing. Both of them met in the middle of the frozen lake. As if on instinct, they touched their crystals together and white light blinded everyone for a moment. Then the light disappeared and everything was back to normal, apart from the fact that the mana tree was now having a faint glow surrounding it.

"Woah, what a rush..." he gasped. "What happened?"

"What happened is, that the crystal has accepted you as its master. You now hold great power in your hands and have to use it wisely," Helios explained. "Also, you have given a gift to your friends. Just look."

Taking a look at the girls, Endymion understood what Helios meant. All the wounds had vanished, though their uniforms were still torn to shreds and the blood was still there. Also, everyone looked quite tired, which was little wonder considering they just went through a very destructive and exhausting battle.

Sailor Moon suddenly gasped. "Oh dear, Reika! I blasted her into the bushes back there..."

Jupiter quickly ran over to where Moon was pointing. Searching through them, she pulled out a naked and uninjured Reika. However, the young woman seemed out of it. "She's breathing, but..."

Mercury approached quickly and scanned her. "No worry, it's just the huge shock to her system. She'll be out of it for hours. There's nothing left of the Youma in her. However, I'm more concerned about when she wakes up..."

That sobered them up. Despite their victory, Reika would still suffer from what had been done to her.

Mercury then looked to Ranma. "Are you all right?"

Ranma groaned a little. Despite his wounds being healed, he still felt a little uneasy on his feet. "I'm just spent. Blasting away that stuff was difficult and I had to put all my reserves into it." He then looked to where Jadeite and Tethys were. "What do we do with them?"

Some of the Senshi carefully approached these two. They still didn't react and when getting close enough, they saw that Jadeite had no eyes for them, instead looking at the naked woman - not a Youma - he was holding. That arrogant look they associated with him was gone and he now actually looked very concerned.

"Don't get me wrong, but why isn't he reacting? And who is she supposed to be?" Neptune asked, holding her trident nervously.

"Both of them have seen the truth."

Looking up, they saw Helios approach.

"When Beryl used the dark magic to create the Youma, the energies that turned them into the antithesis of life burnt out all the good human qualities like compassion and love, thus destroying their souls. This Youma however, for some reason, retained a spark of what makes a human being. The goodness of the tree made her discover her heart and when the crystal glowed bright, she was returned to her true self," he explained.

Truth to be told, everyone felt this had to be a one in a million chance.

"Yes, and what about him?" Ceres asked nervously, still uneasy around Jadeite.

Helios looked at Jadeite not with anger, but with compassion. "He has seen the truth. All the lies imposed onto him by dark magic have been stripped away. ... Can't you imagine how he must feel, finally realizing the lie he has lived through and all of his dark deeds?"

They were silent, but deep inside they understood how broken Jadeite now had to be.

o

"Queen Beryl! Great goodness!" Zoisite gasped when seeing their queen return in quite a state together with numerous shell-shocked Youma.

Kunzite and her had been busy with recruiting and checking on the transformations - and to their satisfaction, all of it was coming to fruition. Thus they hadn't been involved with recent events due to their queen taking command directly. Seeing Beryl being almost white with shock was a shocking sight. Something had caused her great terror.

Beryl for her part only now noticed her two remaining Generals, still scared at the prospect at having to tell her master of yet another failure. "I need to talk to the Master. Do not interrupt..." She then left.

"Kunzite, what happened to her?" Zoisite asked her lover, being very concerned for their queen.

Kunzite for his part had an idea. "Everything taken into account, the mission to claim the Golden Crystal was a failure and our queen now has to report it to the Master. Have you noticed that Jadeite and his lap-Youma have not returned?"

Only now did Zoisite actually think about it. "That can only mean something has happened to them; they are most likely dead."

"Yes, at least one positive outcome from this obvious disaster. Now there's no one to threaten our position anymore," Kunzite told her.

Zoisite's eyes widened when hearing this.

Down in the cave of Metallia meanwhile Beryl screamed in pain when dark energy tortured her before finally it stopped. Queen Metallia was indeed very upset over losing the other crystal as well and already had enough power to make her displeasure known.

"Get up, Beryl."

The Master is very disappointed, Beryl thought while getting back onto her feet, all her muscles hurting.

"I am very disappointed. Our enemies have more power than ever. Both, the Silver and the Golden Crystal, are now in their hands. ... This is a very... unfortunate turn of events."

Beryl had no excuse and stayed silent. There was little she could do to put this disaster into a different light. She'd almost gotten the crystal, only to get thwarted at the last moment by Endymion himself. So the failure was hers directly and Metallia knew that.

"No more time for complicated plots. Gather all the strength you can get. ... The time of darkness is approaching. When the sign happens, the sun will start to darken. Darkness will fall over the world."

"A sign?" Beryl dared to ask.

"You will understand when it happens. Now leave."

Beryl didn't dare to question her and left in a hurry.


...some time later...

The events of the day had taken their toll on all of them. Even sustaining their transformations looked like hard work at the moment. Thankfully, now that the Dark Kingdom had been driven away, Elysion was a very safe place and all of them had returned to their plain normal selves in order to recover before they would return home.

While her friends were resting in Helios' temple however, Usagi couldn't stand still. Something compelled her to explore Elysion a bit.

Slowly walking through the beautiful forest, Usagi looked in fascination at the lights that represented other people's dreams, as Helios had explained to them. The place was even more interesting than she had imagined. This was nothing like the ordeal they had went through with Nehellenia. As Helios had explained, the whole thing was highly complicated and the best you could do in this place was to look at the dream, not interact with it.

She was alone right now. Accepting the Golden Crystal had cost Mamoru much strength and he was right now sleeping it off. Hotaru also had spent much of her strength in the battle and the girl was asleep as well. It was a bit amusing to see that in this place, when sleeping, their dreams did hover above them, though everyone was respectful enough of their privacy to not peek into them.

Most of the others were resting at Helios' temple, though not sleeping, for the return home, while Ami was being busy with monitoring Reika. After what happened to the poor woman, Ami didn't want to leave anything to chance. Ranma was keeping watch on Jadeite and Tethys, although they no longer expected any further hostility from these two. Last time she'd seen Setsuna, she was busy with talking to Helios for whatever reason.

Walking to the shore of a crystal-clear pond, Usagi sat down, looking at her reflection in the water.

"You know, brooding isn't your style."

"Ah, what-?" Looking up, Usagi saw that mist above the pond had formed the image of a preteen girl around Hotaru's age. Her most striking feature was her pink hair. "Are you real, or is this place just getting to me?"

The image of the girl didn't look offended. Instead, she actually giggled. "Oh, I'm very real, Mom."

Usagi blinked, then took as closer look. To her surprise, she saw quite a number of similarities to herself. "Wait, you are...?" She found that difficult to accept. "How can you be my daughter? This is downright bizarre."

The girl gave her a knowing look. "Well, for the record, my name's Usagi as well, but everyone calls be Chibi-Usa. I hope Puu - oh, you know her as Setsuna - told you about the fact there had been future shenghians in the timeline that got nuked. You are very much my Mom... well... you will be. Time stuff is always so confusing."

Usagi did remember Setsuna telling them of what happened in the future of the old timeline but she'd been highly reluctant about giving them deeper insights into it, as she'd told them worrying about what could have been was a good way to drive yourself insane. "But... that future is gone! Setsuna told us!"

If anything, Chibi-Usa looked a bit sad. "As if I don't know... You think it's easy for me that all I knew is gone?!" She then tried not to throw a tantrum. "Look, Mom, it's just that I did so much time travel, that when Puu unraveled it all while Diana and me were in the middle of transit, we fell through the cracks and ended up here like this... Don't ask me how I can have memories of a future self who was there when Hotaru decided to end our misery."

If anything, Usagi wanted to avoid a headache. "OK, let's not freak out... Wait, Diana? As in the kitten Luna is carrying to term right now?"

Chibi-Usa sighed. "Ah, now I know for sure where she has gone to. Don't get me wrong, Helios is good company, especially since I know him well, but it's not the same since he doesn't know me. I can't believe he only noticed me recently after all these years. Too bad Diana got back her body first." She noticed Usagi's confusion. "She was here with me and then said one day she has to go and disappeared. As far as I know, when her Mom got pregnant, some time whammy made sure it's her and she returned to her body to be born again."

Now the implications hit Usagi. "You mean, I have to...?"

"Eeeeehhhh! MOM! I don't want any details on the fact how you and Daddy are going to create me." Now Chibi-Usa looked like a typical preteen; not wanting to know of her parents' sexual activities. "Look, I don't want to pressure you, just promise you won't let me wait here for too long. Looking at dreams is nice, but it does get old after a while."

Did my future daughter just tell me that I should try to get knocked up? Usagi thought, finding this beyond weird.

Little did she know that they were being watched from a distance.

"Had you not told me, I wouldn't have believed it. I thought that Small Lady was lost to the time stream forever. Seeing her being safe, even if without a body, takes a big weight off my heart," Setsuna said, barely resisting the urge to talk to the spirit of the young girl right now.

Helios gave her a gentle smile. "It surely was a surprise when I happened to find her here after that crisis with Nehellenia; as if powers hid her from me until the right time. Having someone you could talk to regularly without going to a different plane certainly helped me get more comfortable. Being alone for long times is not healthy."

Talking to some ancient dragon while fixing that hunter contract certainly doesn't count. Mere days don't make up for many millennia, Helios added silently.

Sitting down on a tree stump, Setsuna sighed. "That's a feeling I understand all too well. All these countless years..."

"From what I have been able to see, both of us got hit with the worst combination of immortality and being isolated from our fellow people." Helios then saw Setsuna looking from some of the floating dreams to him. "No, do not think I looked into your dreams. This is all very private stuff and I would never spy into other people's dreams. That would be a gross violation of my oath. No, I did puzzle it all together from other sources."

Setsuna knew trying to hide her pain wouldn't work; Helios clearly had an ability to see how people really felt. "It's just... It might have been a long time for you, but for me, it was WAY longer... Also, you don't have to deal with the guilt of being responsible for everything going to hell... I know they all told me I more than redeemed myself; they all LOVE me so much, but part of me will always remember."

"You know, there is something you forget. They simply can't imagine such a long time span like we can. Maybe talking about it helps?" Helios offered.

Truth to be told, Setsuna understood only another immortal could truly understand some of the things she was going through. "Maybe, but what about not being able to leave? Meeting on some kind spiritual plane simply is not the same."

"Well, that's no longer an issue. The gates to Elysion are now open and I can come and go as I please, and that not just as Pegasus. No dark creature wil dare to enter, now that the mana tree is so bright." Helios again looked at where Usagi and Chibi-Usa were talking. "I still wonder what my future self was thinking..."

"I guess he wasn't thinking and it was the loneliness that got to him," Setsuna observed. She had not held extended conversations with Helios in the old time line and thus didn't know him too well. To her, talking with him was something refreshingly new.

"I guess we will never know." Looking up at the horn on his forehead, he willed it to vanish. "Well, my offer stands. Can I visit you and give you a sympathetic ear?"

Truth to be told, Setsuna in her very long life had never had a man make such an offer and despite her very long life, a tiny hint of a blush crept in. "Visit me...? Oh... yes! Eh, yes, that would be nice." Damn, what did that come from?

Helios didn't mind, as it was a very human reaction and it showed him that despite her very long life, Setsuna was a woman who had been denied something most would see as being normal. Such was the price of her job.

I think she really can use some company that is not female, Helios thought, though he would never voice it.

There was no way for him to deny she was a beautiful woman, who also was strong and smart. He was a man and of course had noticed it. However, he was a gentleman and would treat her with great respect. He would never misuse his offer of friendship to push her into anything. Should anything happen, it would have to be a mutual thing and come on its own.

After how much she had been forced to endure, she did deserve such honesty.


...hours later, Minato Hospital...

"Remember, treat her with care. Right now she is very emotionally fragile after what happened to her," Dr. Mizuno told Motoki while escorting him down the corridor of the hospital to the room where his girlfriend was.

"I already got warned by Mamoru. He said Reika had screamed as if skewered when finally waking up and it took her almost half an hour to calm down enough that they could return her to Tokyo," Motoki replied.

Truth to be told, only great self-restraint and the warning looks from Ami's mother stopped him from running through the corridors to her room. When Mamoru had come to him with the news that they had managed to rescue Reika, he had almost bolted right away to the hospital. Though, the following explanation of the scars that the horrible experience had left on Reika's mind had almost made him try again.

Saeko looked pained. "Well, she's not screaming anymore, that's for sure, but she's cried a lot ever since she arrived here. She does remember everything that monster did after taking over her body, like living a nightmare. You can imagine how she feels after that."

Mamoru had warned him to expect the worst, and this was it. "To be honest, my imagination fails at that."

"To be honest, it is difficult to imagine the horror she has lived through. Even I have my troubles with that." Considering the things she had seen, that meant something. "Right now she needs love and patience. You are here first, her family is expected to arrive sometime tonight."

Motoki did remember Reika's parents. They did love their daughter a lot and the news of what had happened had hit them hard. It reminded him that he was not the only one who had been hurt when Reika got taken over by the monster. Well, he had felt like that for some time, but now he knew he had been egoistical to assume he was the only one who got emotionally hurt.

Finally arriving at the correct door, Saeko opened it and Motoki got the first look at Reika since her forced transformation.

Reika was wearing a hospital gown, sitting on the bed with her legs held close to her body, her arms around them. She looked very tired and lost. Right now she looked nothing like the confident young woman Motoki had learned to love. It stirred two emotions in him: compassion and anger.

Compassion was the prominent one, as he felt Reika would need him now to get through the aftermath of her ordeal. Anger however was also present and directed at those who were responsible for her plight. It was only made worse by the knowledge that he himself couldn't hurt those responsible.

How can someone be so callous about human life? he wondered.

Saeko closed the door for privacy just when Reika looked up. No one should disturb them for the moment.


...

-CRAC- The door splintered under the assault, the intruders storming into the house. He had expected it, had seen enough hints, and stood there calmly while their leader approached him. #"You have nowhere to go, man! Give us the map, now!"# she hissed at him.

#"I don't have it - Ouurgh!"# -clangbongbang- Getting smashed into the shelves by one of her brainless gorillas and then almost getting buried by his own cooking pots had hurt, but he had endured worse in his life.

#"Idiot, don't kill him!"# she hissed at her underling. #"Last chance, where is that map?!"#

Sure, he could stay silent, but he knew they would know the truth soon anyway and didn't feel he should gamble away his life that thoughtlessly. #"Long gone! You won't get your hands on it."#

#"Captain Kiima! The brat is missing; her room is empty!"# the other underling reported.

#"Ah, I see..."# Understanding dawned on her face. #"Very smart of you! Of course you know that only bought yourself some time, do you?"#

#"Aren't you going to kill me now?"# He was not afraid of dying, also a result of all the stuff he'd witnessed in his life.

#"No. We'll leave that to our king once he is at full power. He will find you and then incinerate you. You should feel honored. ... Let's go! We have a brat to hunt down!"#

That said, they left him alone in his hut. He prayed that his daughter would make it.

to be continued...

Next Episode:

"Wicked City"


Notes:

Here the notes.

As I said, this chapter became way longer than anticipated, due to the fact that it needed way more detail than planned at first. Especially the whole scene in Elysion needed to be fleshed out considerably in order to work.

I bet some of you were surprised at the revelation of Infinity. I remember concerned readers writing me that they can't imagine Usagi reaching Infinity. Well, here I reveal that that would be humanly impossible - Usagi's future self shows where that would lead. It's accepting the fact that being that perfect is impossible and still try to follow the guidelines of the virtues that's truly important.

You probably thought I was going to kill off Jadeite and Tethys, so I hope this came as a surprise. However, I did plant the seeds earlier, so an observant reader would have known. However, they wil stay at Elysion for the time being.

Now, I also bet you didn't see the whole Chibi-Usa thing coming. I took mercy on her during the story creation process and took pains to write her as not being annoying.

And so slowly the stage is set for big drama in China.