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.

This took a bit longer than expected, as I had severe difficulties writing the battle scenes - thus why the outdoor battle is less detailled. Nonetheless, the chapter grew bigger than intended, but I saw little other way in order to convey the needed detail. This chapter will give some answers how things are connected.

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 40: The Shadows of Mt. Phoenix, Part II - Trial by Fire

"So, how does it look?" Pluto asked after the Major had gotten news from a courier.

"Reinforcements are on the way and should arrive shortly after dawn. I know that's cutting it close, but they are already moving ahead at full speed. Sadly, no heavy weapons - these are too slow to arrive in time - and no air support. Top brass didn't deem that last one necessary," the Major explained.

"Of course..." Khu-Lon groaned, knowing that kind of reasoning all too well. "No air support against enemies that can fly."

"That's what I thought as well. Makes me wonder if I even want to rise that high in the ranks," the Major said, making no secret of that he thought it was stupid as well. "Let's just hope they arrive soon enough. Your thoughts?"

"We should take what we get and make the best of it. The only thing important right now is to win the battle and make sure Saffron can't ascend," Herb said, looking thoughtful.

Pluto knew it was better than nothing. "I agree as well. Let's call the others."

Some minutes later, everyone walked in and Ranma suddenly realized that Herb no longer was female. That was the first time he's actually seen a male Herb, though he decided to better not say that Herb still looked quite feminine. No need to antagonize him in such a delicate situation.

"When did that happen?" he asked, knowing Pluto had to be involved in some way.

"While you were away," Pluto said. "Keeping him locked after all the horrible things that happened to his people and him personally would have been like rubbing salt into the wound. I'm not that cruel."

Herb certainly no longer looked like the arrogant brat they'd met the first time. The man looked downright humble now. "For... for all it's worth, I hope you can accept my honest apology for my horrible behavior."

None of them wanted to say anything harsh, considering it would be like kicking a crippled man. Ranma however had something to say, nonetheless. "Well, maybe. However first I want to know if these two gorillas are liable to again make trouble," he said, indicating to Mint and Lime.

"No, no! We will be good!" both of them said right away, giving the Senshi a scared look. They clearly hadn't forgotten their previous encounter.

"As interesting as this might be, let's get to business," Hatake said, having a better understanding of the dynamics after Pluto had told him of their previous encounter with Herb. "The situation is difficult. Saffron wants to ascend as soon as possible; that was common knowledge at the time we left the mountain, and considering he did gain possession of the map, he is most likely to do so as soon as the sun is up."

"This means regardless of the battle that will commence, someone has to infiltrate Mt. Jusendo and stop him from doing so. After all, I doubt someone who can produce fire at will is much impressed by explosives," Khu-Lon added, thinking of the picture Hatake had painted.

Mars gave Hatake a look. "Is it magical or natural fire?"

"From all we know, he doesn't actually conjure the flames. Instead, he somehow has the ability to cause such huge friction, that even the oxygen around him bursts into flames," Hatake told her.

"Good, that means all his fire won't hurt me at all. Count me in," Mars said, seeing how useful her natural immunity to fire would be in the upcoming confrontation.

"Yes, but I doubt you can hurt him as well, as all your attacks are fire-based. Not to speak of the fact he still does have physical attacks with his claws," Mercury reminded her. "However, my powers being to complete opposite of his should be much more effective. Also, I think I'm needed for analysis."

Pluto held up her hand. "This actually was our reasoning as well. Besides the two of you, the pure physical fighters of our group are in it. That means Ranma, Xian-Pu and Mu-Tsu." Pluto then looked to Akane. "You too, Akane."

"Are you really sure about that?" Akane asked.

"The clash near Jusenkyo will be a battle of firepower. You are specialized in melee combat, so the choice was not that difficult," Pluto explained her reasoning to the girl.

"No offense but she looks like an ordinary civilian to me," the Major said, giving Akane a skeptical look.

"Oh, for all..." It was times like these when Akane hated looking so ordinary. Spotting a heavy weapons crate, she used just her hands to easily lift it over her head, before setting it back down. "I'm more than I seem to be, so please don't insult me."

"I'm sorry..." The Major had seen her do something that most of his men couldn't do. Scary. Should someone find out that secret, they can create super soldiers...

"It proves that looks can be deceiving. However, she's human like all of us and a simple bullet can end her life. So you don't have to fear being overrun by an army of supermen." Pluto then looked around. "Now, everyone else, including myself, is needed for the battle ahead, regardless how small our contribution is."

"This will be very different to what we usually do," Moon said, hugging herself. She knew there was no choice, but the thought of how much blood would be spilled was a harsh fact. "In all our time we battled monsters, not an army of fanatics."

"It will be hard on all of us. Still, have faith we'll pull though this," Neptune told Moon, gently squeezing her shoulder.

Herb decided to continue where they'd left off. "I did volunteer Mint and Lime. I vouch personally for them to assist you in every way possible," he said, giving both of them a hard look to remind them to not make him a liar. The message did stick.

"Yes, and I will accompany you as well, together with my best warriors." Hatake then saw the teenagers giving him a look. "You can only enter Mt. Jusendo by flight, so we do have to carry you. Also, we do feel guilty we did nothing against our people falling to fanaticism."

"I guess we won't meet them until things get rolling?" Ranma asked.

"Of course. After what my people did, the mere sight of them would cause the survivors to panic," Hatake added.

It was only little later when everyone involved met at the edge of the forest.

"So, that I get you right. You Phoenix do have really good night vision, yet it still is best to move while it's still dark?" Ranma asked Hatake, seeing the contradiction.

"Actually, it is not as insane as it sounds. Yes, we do have great night vision. However, that also leads to overconfidence. My people are utterly predictable and it will be easy to get around them to reach Mt. Jusendo. It's quite a distance away, so we do need the time to actually reach it," Hatake explained, then inspected his warriors. "The best ones available..."

No one was surprised to see a gender-mixed group. After seeing Kiima, it was to be expected that the Phoenix did not discriminate by gender in who could be a warrior, which was an odd contrast to the sexist notions of the Musk and the Amazons. Mint and Lime clearly had trouble to accept even more female warriors, grimacing at the sight. Obviously, these two were still struggling to accept that what they'd been told all their lives about women not being warrior-material was very wrong.

"Since we do need the darkness as cover..." Mercury activated her visor,showing her a wire-frame representation of her surroundings. "Mars, that means not lighting up any fire. There is no need to help the enemy locate us."

"Yes, yes..." Mars was not exactly happy about that, but knew there was no way around it. "What about Ranma?"

"What about me? I was trained to fight in total darkness. Even with as little light as here is right now, I can move just fine." Ranma understood why Mars was annoyed. "Look, don't get embarrassed because you need someone to guide you."

Mars grunted, annoyed that Ranma had correctly identified the source of her unease. Thankfully, it was Mercury who took her by the arm. It was less embarrassing than Ranma leading her around as if she was a little kid.

"Let's go..." Hatake said, no one noticing the pained look he held for a moment, as if he was expecting something unpleasant to happen in the near future.

Together, they all left into the night.


...at the break of dawn...

Deep inside Mt. Jusendo, Saffron was unconcerned about what was going on outside. Instead, he was completely preoccupied with the ritual. As impatient as he was due to his current age, he knew he could not rush through it, or bad things would happen. He'd gone through it often enough to know that.

The huge statue of a phoenix and a dragon was massive and took up almost half of the cavern inside the top of Mt. Jusendo. Right at the moment the dragon head was pouring cold water down a hole which fed the small stream which in turn fed the pools of sorrow and the water supply of Mt. Phoenix. Some overspill had gathered in small pools near the hole. It was a bit of a mystery where the water actually came from, but no one had ever bothered to investigate.

Saffron watched the morning sun through a hole in the rock wall, being a bit envious that even with all his power, he was just a pale shadow of the massive flame that gave the world light and warmth. Now sunlight was shining directly onto the statue, exactly as it was intended.

He then looked the other way, where a few women wearing little more than short loincloths were done with drawing runes around a big and empty pool at the feet of the phoenix statue, and now stood at attention around the empty pool, unconcerned about their near-nudity. Their wings were rigid and they stood still like statues.

"The other rituals are done, my Lord. The most crucial part is now ahead," the chamberlain told Saffron.

"I know that! I went through it often enough!" Saffron snapped. he then looked to Kiima. "Kiima, I will be very vulnerable until the ritual is complete."

"Me and my guards will protect you with our lives, my lord!" Kiima said, standing stiffly at attention, then looked to the guard detail. She frowned when seeing Komuma and Masala ogling the naked breasts of the women around the pool.

Walking over to them, she slapped both of them hard. "Idiots! You are on duty! You can do that to your heart's content in your leisure time!"

The chamberlain gave Saffron a concerned look. "Maybe we should find a replacement for these two?"

Saffron wasn't exactly eager for trusting these two as well, but there was little choice. "They have to do. The others should hopefully counterbalance them." Saffron then walked to the women around the empty pool and held up the two staffs he was carrying around. "You know what to do."

One woman walked up to him and took hold of one staff. She then opened her wings and quickly flew up and to the top of the dragon statue's head, where she pushed the staff firmly into a hole and turned it in a specific sequence. The flow of water from the dragon's mouth slowed down and then stopped entirely. She then sat down beside the staff, guarding it.

Another woman took the other staff, then flew up to the top of the phoenix statue's head. There also was a hole and the staff fit perfectly. She turned it according to instructions and steaming water began to flow from the phoenix's beak, slowly filling the pool beneath it. Steam rose from the pool, quickly causing the air in the cavern to go misty.

"Finally..." Saffron said, then allowed two women to disrobe him.

Saffron was not exactly proud they saw him nude as a little kid, but it was worth it as soon he would be back at full power and then the burning would begin. To their credit, no one, not even the women, blinked an eye at his nudity while he slowly walked into the pool, the blistering hot water not hurting him at all. In the contrary, the water felt really good to him. No one noticed some darkness swirling in his eyes.

"Yes, finally... Keep watch over me while I ascend," he called, before flames grew around him from the water, enclosing him and forming a burning egg around him.

The fire solidified until the was a real, huge egg in the middle of the pool. Water was evaporating as fast as it could pour in, steam rose and then escaped through a hole in the ceiling from the cavern. No one dared to come close to the pool, as the water in it was boiling. Anyone apart from Saffron would have been cooked alive in it. The runes around the pool glowed hot-yellow and no one dared to touch these, either.

"Now we can only wait," the chamberlain said.

I hope we won't have to wait for too long, or I could start thinking of HIM! Kiima thought, remembering the news she'd gotten after her return. She had not expected heartbreak and him abandoning their king, their people and her.

Kiima took a look at the giant egg to distract herself, knowing her king would be at full power once emerging from it. "How long is this supposed to take?" she asked.

The chamberlain looked at some old papers. "No more than two hours. It would have taken days if not for doing all the extra mileage in the ritual. Why do you think it was imperative you find the map?"

"I see..." Kiima then turned to the guard detail, barking orders to them while the women involved with the ritual sat in a wide circle around the pool, waiting and chanting.

o

The slopes surrounding the valley of Jusenkyo had gotten claimed by hundreds of Phoenix warriors - at a safe distance of course, none of them were foolish enough to get too close to the pools. All of them were armed to the teeth and ready to die for their cause. It certainly was a force to be reckoned with. Right at the moment however they were just sitting there, watching the calm pools in utter silence as if waiting for something to happen.

"What are they doing...?" Herb wondered while watching Jusenkyo through a pair of binoculars from an overgrown hilltop at a safe distance. "They've gathered near the pools and it's like they are waiting for something. I would have expected them to attack with the light of the day."

"Perhaps it is arrogance? I do know the pools empty when Saffron starts his ascension, so they probably are all eager to watch it," Endymion commented.

"I hope we don't have to fight next to the pools. That could be bad." Pluto looked with narrowed eyes at the pools. "Even at this distance I can feel it trying tap into my magic and siphon it. Helios was right however, Jusenkyo is mostly saturated, so the pull is weak and it is not an immediate concern."

Endymion took a look through the binoculars. "They are all armed to the teeth, but I can't see anything heavier than what they can carry on their persons. That's at least something." He then gave the binoculars back to Herb. "Makes me wonder if they had really thought through this whole thing."

"Most likely not. Taking on the world with nothing more than that is foolish to no end. Of course, should Saffron do manage to ascend, they'll have a serious advantage," Pluto added, finding that fanaticism had blinded the Phoenix to reality.

"Wait! They are reacting to something!" Herb looked to the pools. "The pools are emptying. It can only mean Saffron has started his ascension."

"Not good. We can only hope they can take care of him before he's done with it. Let's get back..." On the way back, Endymion gave Herb and Pluto a look. "I could be wrong, but there seem to be no more hard feelings between the two of you."

"It's not like we are going to become friends, but after what happened, it would be incredibly petty of me to still hold a grudge," Pluto said, having discussed that topic with Herb sometime earlier.

Herb looked a bit pained when he agreed. "Basically everything that gave me that abundance of pride was taken from me. I know I'm a king without land and without people. I know those of the Musk that survived are not enough to from anything meaningful, and many of them still are resentful for my role in what they see an oppressive rule."

It was pretty obvious, that things still were somewhat uncomfortable between these two, despite their mutual assurances that there no longer was active antagonism. Uncomfortable silence then settled over them until they reached the edge of the nearest forest, where they were greeted by a small contingent of soldiers in full battle gear.

"We were told to expect you," the lead soldier said, obviously finding it difficult to believe he was told to answer to these people. "We are the advance scouts from part of the reinforcements. Loading of civilians for evacuation to a gathering point has already begun. Mobile command center was established in the forest. All armed forces are advancing through the forest and should be here shortly."

Indeed, the wait was short, as they soon heard the sound of many boots walking through the forest, before soldiers started to appear. It looked like a never-ending flood of soldiers, but they knew it was just preception. By their estimate, it was a few hundred, no more than that. A number of Amazons and Musk warriors appeared as well, but looked rather out of place. Though, the Senshi of course looked even more out of place.

They did recognize the Sergeant who had led them to the refugee camp. He approached them, the Senshi closely behind him. "This is all that could get here in such a short time."

Pluto couldn't help but to arch an eyebrow. "I thought China is proud of its huge military force?"

If anything, the Sergeant looked a little offended at the comment. "Oh, we are, don't doubt that. But also don't forget this is as backwater as it can get and China is a huge nation. More was simply not available in the area on such short notice."

The soldiers went to work right away, trying to use every bit of the terrain to their advantage for the upcoming battle. Rock outcroppings, huge boulders and trees were all used to get an advantage, since everyone knew, standing out in the open or storming at their enemy was an invitation to get killed. The days of open field battles, after all, were long over.

Watching this, Pluto then pulled out her communicator and dialed the code for Sailor Mars. The girl's face appeared on the small screen after a moment. "Yes, Pluto?"

"The battle is about to start. What's your status?" Pluto asked.

"We are almost next to the foot of Mt. Jusendo. Should we wait for a signal that the battle is about to start?" Mars asked.

"Yes, that should create sufficient distraction for you. Be warned that we saw the pools getting drained, which means Saffron has already started his ascension," Pluto explained further, stressing the final point.

"We'll try to hurry. Mars out!" Her face disappeared from the screen.

Of the Senshi, Saturn was especially jumpy, holding the Silence Glaive in a death grip. "I'm feeling like wetting myself at any moment. This is so different from fighting monsters..."

Seeing how terrified the young girl was, Jupiter gave her a hug for reassurance. "I know someone your age shouldn't have to see this. Try to stay back and protect us, all right?"

Saturn had accepted she right now knew no offensive magic - and for someone with her kind of powers, experimenting would be very stupid - thus at least she was spared from being forced to directly participate in the killing. After what she'd witnessed last night however, she knew she wouldn't be the same once this was over. Though, if she were cynical she'd say she'd already lost her innocence long ago when becoming host for a monster.

Good thing she wasn't a cynic.

Some moments later everyone was in position and the signal was given over radio to proceed according to plan. On command, one soldier did load a parachuted flare into a flare gun and fired it off into the morning sky. While this at first looked counter-intuitive, it actually was all according to plan, in order to let the Phoenix come to them.

All of the warriors around Jusenkyo suddenly looked up when they heard a -bang-and then saw a bright red flare slowly drifting back to the ground. There was no command needed, all of them were on the same page. They had to protect their Lord from the intruders. Getting their weapons at ready, they all took off like a huge swarm, covering half the sky due to their size, in order to seek out and destroy their enemies.

The battle of Jusenkyo was on.


...Mt. Jusendo...

"That must be it," Hatake said when watching the red flare and then the huge swarm of Phoenix warriors rising into the distant sky. "We can now only hope they win the battle."

"Let's hope so... You know, not exactly a hospitable place," Ranma remarked while looking around.

They were in a narrow canyon between tall spires, the bare rock walls devoid of any kind of vegetation. It was a stark contrast to the plentiful vegetation near Jusenkyo and somewhat jarring. During his first visit he'd only seen these mountains from a distance; seeing them up close was depressing. Alone the idea that someone could chose to live here was bizarre to Ranma.

"When we were children, we were told horror stories to discourage us from going near this area. Despite its relative closeness, both of us never saw it up close before," Mu-Tsu remarked, this being the very first time he saw this bleak landscape.

"Nobody wanting to come here is the original reason my people settled in this area. Still, time is short at hand," Hatake reminded them.

None of them were too happy they needed help to get a lift to the entrace high above, but there was little other choice; only someone with wings could reach it. After everyone got ferried up, they looked down the corridor behind the entrance. All was silent, no one was in sight. With their weapons drawn, they slowly walked deeper into the mountain, the corridors turning quickly into a small labyrinth.

"You seem to know where we have to go," Mars told Hatake, having observed that he seemed to know the way by memory.

"I do know the way from memory; walked it enough times after all," Hatake said.

"We don't really know much about you. What was your job before you were forced to leave?" Akane asked, finding this curious.

"Believe it or not, I was a priest." Seeing the looks he got from every non-Phoenix, he sighed. "It is quite different from what you associate with the term. In the Phoenix culture, those following the spiritual way also need to be good with the weapon. It would take too long to explain. That's also why I know so much."

"Sounds like you were pretty high up the food chain," Ranma remarked.

Hatake looked a bit pained. "High enough that I guess me leaving made me a worse traitor in their eyes than the others. I don't regret my decision at all, but some of the consequences are severe."

Mercury didn't say anything, but she did notice the sheer pain Hatake had shown for a second. Clearly, there had to be some kind of very personal sacrifice he'd made by leaving the tribe he didn't want to talk about. It was not her place to ask about it, but she still wondered how much Hatake had sacrificed to stand for his beliefs.

"Back in the village, the Phoenix were used to scare children." Xian-Pu stopped for a moment, remembering how they did more than jsut scare her. "Part of me still thinks this is insane."

"You are not alone..." Mu-Tsu said, unable to forget some of the thing he'd been told years ago. Though his worry for Makoto was doing a good job of pushing his own fears aside.

Akane gripped her war hammer tighter. "Both of you are real rays of sunshine..."

"I don't like this..." Lime hissed. "It's too quiet!"

He should not have said that, because suddenly a guard patrol further down the corridor spotted them. "INTRUDERS! You, alarm the Captain! We pin them down!"

"Crap!" Mars gasped, quickly jumping to the front and yanking up her shield.

She did that just in time before a hailstorm of bullets impacted into it. The sheer kinetic energy caused her arm to hurt horribly and forced her to her knees, but she held firm until the guards had emptied their magazines. Without the magic in it, her shield would probably have been ripped apart.

"Now!" Xian-Pu shouted, causing all of them to attack in melee before the enemy could reload.

o

Kiima watched the hot egg sitting in the boiling pool in impatience. After having waited for this moment for years, she felt the remaining time seemed to last much longer than it actually did. Apart from the hiss of the boiling water, deep silence had settled over the vast cavern, not even the idiots Masala and Koruma daring to speak.

In here they were isolated from the outside world, having no idea what was going on outside of these walls. Yet, in a way it also didn't matter to her. Once their immortal lord was back at full power, he would make sure this area would be theirs alone, with everyone else being reduced to slaves - as fitting their place in the food chain.

Of course no more than that. After all, our king can't be everywhere at the same time. Kiima was more worldly than many and knew the world was too big, but expanding their kingdom nicely would be more than enough.

However, the silence and her thoughts were interrupted when a guard ran in.

"Alert! Alert! Intruders have been sighted in the mountain!" the guard called.

Kiima jumped up, raising a hand to silence everyone else. "Give me a more detailed report!"

"Intruders spotted in the lower corridors. Was ordered to alarm you, Captain. The others pressed the attack. Group is mixed; wingless land dwellers and traitors."

Is that HIS doing?! Kiima thought, threatening to get mad. "All guards in the corridors are to press the attack! Koruma, Masala, you go down there and make sure the intruders won't get in here! Kill them if they get that far!"

"Yes, Captain!" all three men said, before running off to fulfill their tasks.

Kiima looked quite angry. If it is really him, then he'll regret ever having come here. I won't let him get away with hurting me...


...the battle of Jusenkyo...

The first moments of the battle already gave a taste of things to come.

The Phoenix warriors, most of them not very knowledgeable about the bigger world, thought that they could do this attack the same as their surprise attacks the previous day. However, the 'surprise'-part also was the crucial difference; a difference they didn't take into account until getting a reminder why attacking like they did in broad daylight was a bad idea.

It occurred to them that attacking from the sky was a bad idea when they were met with concentrated anti-air fire from machine gun nests as soon as they had cleared the final hill. A number of their warriors were shredded to pieces instantly, causing a red rain of stuff better left unmentioned to go down. That was enough to relay the message and they quickly scattered, no longer attacking from just one direction. They also quickly swooped down to ground level, now knowing they were easy targets higher up.

"There they come, get ready!" the squad leaders shouted.

The Phoenix now swooped towards them close to the ground, being met by weapons fire on the way, causing further fatalities. They did fire back as good as they got now, causing the fighting to erupt for real. Bullets flew left and right, screams erupted, blood was spilled and trees splintered in the indiscriminate weapons fire.

"Give us the strength to get through this..." Ceres prayed quietly, knowing there would be lots of death surrounding them very soon.

They knew they had no place in the initial part of the fighting, since the chance of getting shot was too big. While they could get through a few bullets with nothing more than ugly bruises, the risk at a great distance was too high. That also was the reason they didn't use their magic at long range - while they could have gotten a lot of them, they in turn would have ended with several new holes in their bodies.

That of course would change dramatically at low range.

There was one thing about the Phoenix: they were good warriors, but far less effective as soldiers. The difference being, that warriors, if not specifically trained, all fight without a bigger tactic in mind, while soldiers are all about following a tactic. So when the close-range fighting started, the Phoenix had already made a few tactical blunders that would cost them.

"Get ready, it's about to get ugly!" Endymion called, drawing his sword, while energy gathered in his other hand. They'd have to make sure not to get shot, thus why still fighting from cover.

Screaming and screeching, the Phoenix clashed with the soldiers violently. They did so without remembering they would still need people at a distance to aim at easy targets - another blunder due to their inexperience with modern warfare. Still, it was a bloody enough affair. Blood, chunks of flesh and dead bodies quickly started to litter the ground, making it look like a battlefield of World War I.

"NOW!" Endymion called, letting loose the blast from his hand, which easily shattered a warrior's bones.

"May this day not destroy our souls..." Pluto whispered, before letting loose an energy ball from her time staff.

It was a much scaled-down version of her Dead Scream, not nearly as destructive, but also not nearly as taxing on her. It still was more than enough; when it hit a female warrior who had been about to try cut her in two, she was blown apart in a bloody splatter. Against non-monsters, their magic was very deadly, even if vastly scaled down.

Pluto looked grim when blood splattered onto her white uniform. These poor girls need their families and loved ones once this is over... and Minako especially.

"Don't let this deter you!" one warrior called, these displays of magic having caused some unrest in their ranks.

"What?!" he then gasped when suddenly a whip made of water shot forward, brutally slamming some warriors to the ground - including him. He had not seen Sailor Neptune holding her trident while controlling the water she'd gathered earlier. He also didn't see anything else, since a soldier used the chance to ram his bayonet into him several times, ending his life.

The battle of Jusenkyo was now raging mercilessly.


...inside Mt. Jusendo...

"Damn!" Ranma hissed when a blade didn't entirely miss him, tearing into his clothes and causing him a shallow, bleeding cut.

That was his attacker's last error, before his foot crashed hard against her head, which in turn was smashed with an ugly cracking sound against the wall. The blood splotch on the wall was witness he'd shattered her skull, killing her. No one only knowing Ranma superficially would have guessed that he did know dozens of ways to kill just with his hands and feet - after all, his code forbade him from using lethal power unless being in mortal peril.

It still was hard however, and even with magic on their side it took them considerable time to struggle through the corridors. The guards were attacking them without any consideration for their own survival, clearly feeling they were expendable. That made it so hard and frustrating to fight them, not to speak that the amount of death surrounding them had become oppressive.

The need to protect themselves from gunfire had not made it any easier. With not enough room to evade, they had been forced to use improvised shields from anything they could salvage to protect themselves. Even then, one of Hatake's companions had already found his death when being hit by a stray bullet.

These cramped corridors are really hindering me, Ranma cursed silently, then realized something. Wait, stupid me. Now this is perfect!

Three guards were remaining at the end of the corridor, holding them back by forcing them to block the incoming bullets, thus keeping Mars from simply engulfing them in flames. Nor could anyone else do something without risking to get shot. Thus they were pinned down.

They did not notice Ranma suddenly fading from sight.

This still is harder than Pop does make it look like. Makes me again realize there's more to him than he lets on, Ranma thought while jumping onto the rough ceiling of the corridor and starting to wall-crawl it upside-down.

The defending guards were totally surprised when suddenly one of them got run through by a katana from behind, but had little time to think about it, before they got kicked into the corridor, only to be met with a fire stream setting both of them ablaze. Screaming in pain and terror, they ran away.

"This was harder than I thought it to be..." Ranma had to lean on a wall, feeling a bit dizzy.

"Ranma, are you...?" Mercury asked, seeing him like that was concerning.

Ranma held up his hand. "No... Using this technique has side effects on me. No idea how Pop managed to overcome that."

They had entered a bigger cavern and everyone was glad just to be out of the corridors. The ceiling however still wasn't high enough for a Phoenix to fly. Sunlight seeped in through holes in one of the walls, bathing the cavern in an eerie light. A big gate was hewn into the stone at the other end of the cavern and Hatake gave everyone a heads-up.

"We are closing in. That gate is the entrance to the stairs leading to the main chamber. We just have to..." he explained, but then was interrupted.

"You won't do anything of that sort, traitor."

Several guards ran through the gates, their guns aimed at them, followed by two people most of them wished they hadn't met. Koruma and Masala gave them impressed looked, but that didn't negate the fact they were also aiming their weapons at them.

"You've gotten really far; killed all of our guards on the way. However, this is now the end of the line. We'll simply execute you here and now. No way you can block or evade all the bullets," Koruma gloated.

Mars' eyes narrowed "But first you want to gloat, right?" she said, trying to buy some time.

"Why shouldn't we?" Masala said, clearly misreading the situation. "After all, it's us who are holding you at gunpoint."

Ranma saw the look they were giving him. Clearly, these two wanted to settle the score with him for their humiliation. "And now you feel all powerful, don't you?" he asked while noticing Mercury was getting ready.

Koruma laughed humorlessly. "Why shouldn't we? We have you at our mercy and it's not like you have any way out."

"Wrong!"

Icy fog suddenly erupted from Sailor Mercury, blinding everyone. After three seconds of surprise, the Phoenix opened fire in the direction of their foes. Or better, the direction they had been in, since three seconds was enough to scramble. Someone screamed, but right at the moment they had no time to check. Everything was an almost blind chaos.

Mercury had her bow at ready, the arrow glowing with cold energy. While the fog did cover them, it sadly also blinded them as well. She herself couldn't see through it as well. Suddenly there was a sound to her left! She turned and was about to let go of the arrow, when suddenly she was tackled and smashed hard to the floor, causing her to let go of her bow. A clawed hand held both her wrists in a death grip while the other hand was at her throat.

"That trick won't help you..." Koruma said, now actually looking quite frightening and sinister as he was about to rip out her throat.

Oh no! Not good! Unable to use her hands, she panicked and her powers reacted accordingly. Like Mars being able to breathe fire, she suddenly spat out an icy spray from her mouth, hitting Koruma directly into the face.

"Yaaahhrrgh!" Koruma screamed when feeling his eyes getting frozen, his hands going to his face on instinct.

Also acting on instinct, Mercury's hands met in front of her chest and a powerful blast of her magic slammed Koruma off an away from her. The fog was blown away and everyone could see Koruma flying through the cavern while getting frozen solid at the same time. Just when the freezing was complete, he hit the far wall... -Skliiiiiirrrrr- shattered into hundreds of pieces.

Looking around while getting back up, Mercury saw that the battle already was over. However, with a price.

Kneeling at Mint's side, Lime was horrified to see the heavily bleeding wound on his neck; the result of one lucky bullet hitting at the worst place possible. Mint had his eyes closed and was unnaturally motionless. Lime knew what it meant, but had trouble to accept it.

"Mint?... Mint, you... you can't leave me!" Lime pleaded, but it was to no avail, Mint''s lifeless body being the ultimate proof it was too late. "You promised... You promised we would go through everything together..."

"I wouldn't have thought it possible, but I now feel sorry for him," Mu-Tsu said, seeing how Lime was falling apart.

"It's only when you see things like this you realize the world isn't just black and white," Hatake commented, knowing he would feel the sorrow for his own losses later on.

Xian-Pu knelt beside the dying Masala, who was bleeding heavily from a stomach wound. Her warrior training dictated to her to bash in his head or kill him in any other way. However, looking at the dying man, one of those who had tortured her, she felt oddly reluctant to do so. As strange as it sounded, she couldn't find the needed anger to kill him, considering he already was dying.

"I ... don't understand. ... How? Why?" Masala stammered, coughing up blood.

"I don't know," Xian-Pu said honestly.

"I don't feel ... that well ..." Masala went limp and Xian-Pu could see the light leave his eyes.

She had killed in battle, but watching someone up close die from battle wounds - enemy or not - was downright frightening. All her previous actual battles had been against monsters - things not really alive. This whole mess however was something entirely else. It made her realize she downright hated killing. While she would do what she had to do, she would never feel any pride from it, just a disgusted acceptance that it was needed.

All of them were injured in one way or another, sullied with blood and wounds from many times when things had been way too close. However, they were not yet done.

Lime, reluctantly letting go of Mint's body, looked like he'd aged years in mere minutes. "Let's go... He wouldn't have wanted us to give up now."

Silently, they ascended the stairs to the central cavern.

"Strange... no one is trying to intercept us now," Hatake wondered. "This can't be good. Better prepare for the worst." I think I know who is waiting up there. I can only pray I can make her see reason.

Finally reaching the upper end of the stairs, the central cavern was right after an arch. The sight of the massive two-headed statue would have been breathtaking, if not for the fact that they were on a time limit. The huge egg in the boiling pool was impossible to miss, however. In order to stop Saffron from maturing, and perhaps get rid of him, that egg had to be smashed.

Some, however, had something against the idea.

-scrreeeeetchhhhhhhh- Screaming in anger at the intrusion, a flock of next-to-nude Phoenix women descended onto them, indiscriminately attacking them with the claws on their hands and feet like wild animals, while others used that technique to shoot ki-projectiles from their wings. It was not an coordinated attack, it was like an angry swarm simply wanting to maim them. At the same time, some guards stormed out of hiding, weapons drawn.

It came so sudden and unexpected, that they could only try to defend themselves as best as possible.

In the middle of the chaos, Akane was swinging her weapon, when suddenly someone grabbed her and violently threw her through the cavern where she impacted hard into the wall, falling onto the floor stunned. However, she had little time to recover, when someone grabbed her roughly, dragging her to a small nearby overflow pool. Akane tried to resist, only to get backhanded violently, causing blood to erupt from her nose and mouth.

She finally saw the one who attacked her. It was Kiima, and she looked barely rational in her anger, clearly taking massive offense at the intrusion. "Say goodbye..." Kiima hissed, before grabbing Akane by the back of her head and forcing Akane face first into the icy waters of the pool.

No... NO! Akane panicked, holding her breath while trashing around violently to make Kiima let go, but Kiima held an iron grip on her head and hands. Not like this!

There were a few things Akane had never managed to learn, and how to swim was one of them. After almost drowning one time, she had developed a fear of it and had given up on any attempt trying to learn how to swim. Now she was being drowned by Kiima and there was nothing she could do against it. The lack of oxygen was already causing her to weaken and she couldn't stop herself from swallowing lots of water. Soon her body would give in, try to breathe underwater and then that was it.

Suddenly Kiima let go and Akane, who was already seeing dark spots, wasted no time to pull up her head and roll onto her side. Desperately gasping for air and vomiting out the swallowed water and contents of her stomach, she witnessed the confrontation taking place close by.

"You!" Kiima screamed in anger after her gun had been slapped out of her hand, instead making a grab for her sword. "You dare to show your face after what you did to me!?"

"I had to do it! I never intended to hurt you!" Hatake defended himself.

If anything, this made Kiima madder. "Spare me your excuses!" she shouted, while trying to slice him in two.

In a way it looked like a perverse kind of dance, since Kiima and Hatake both seemed capable of knowing the other's next move. That of course also meant that this threatened to become an extended draw until there would be outside interference or a moment of weakness. Of course, for Hatake it would mean getting run through by a sword.

Still shaky on her feet, Akane picked up her war hammer. Hatake had just saved her from getting drowned by Kiima and she felt she now had to help save his skin. No way she could put up a good fight in her current condition, but she still had brutal strength on her side. Taking quick aim, she put all she got into that strike, knowing how tough Phoenix bones were.

-crrrac- "Uuuaaahhh!" Kiima screamed in pain when the hammer strike shattered the bone in her right arm, causing her to drop her sword. "Aaahhhooouuughh-h-h..." That was followed by Hatake slashing his claws over her belly, causing her several bleeding wounds, though it wasn't deep enough to harm her organs. Kiima fell to her knees, holding her belly in pain, then saw her own sword in front of her face.

"Give up. Please don't force me to kill you," Hatake pleaded, looking like he was going through intense inner pain.

"Who says you didn't already manage to do so?" Kiima hissed, trying her hardest not to cry in pain. She did not want not spill tears in front of him, as that would be a low blow to her pride. "Do you have any idea what your treachery did to me?!"

"All right, what is she talking about?"

Kiima finally noticed that it was too silent and her eyes widened when seeing that the battle had been decided - to his disfavor. Some of the guards and ritual maidens remained, having surrendered and now getting their wrists bound together. They gave her a look as if to ask if she was stupid enough to force getting herself killed.

Sure, the enemy got hurt plenty as well; two of the traitors were dead and she could see Hatake's sorrow at the loss. That man from the Musk tribe was clearly dying as well, the two Joketsuzoku warriors surprisingly taking care of him in his final moments, looking horrified. It was the girl who could create fire who was asking her, looking very dangerous as battle-worn and splattered with blood as she was.

"She..." Hatake sighed. "She is my wife. Me following my conscience made her suffer the fallout."

He was met with silent looks of disbelief and Kiima snorted at seeing that. "What?! Of course I do have a life. Imagine me returning, only to get hit into the face with that my husband turned traitor! It's only thanks to Lord Saffron nothing happened to me!"

Hatake sighed. "Believe me, in private life she is very nice... But she is ruthless when it comes to her duty." That remark gave him more strange looks. Apparently, everyone had difficulties to imagine someone who acted like her panties were made out of barbed wire could have a nice side.

"A wonder has to happen for me to forgive you... But all right, I surrender," Kiima spat, giving her husband an angry look when he wasted no time to wrap some metal around her wrists. Then she watched startled when he bandaged her belly wound. "What..?"

"Just because you are beyond angry with me doesn't change the fact I still care for you," Hatake told her and Kiima was silent with confusion.

At the same time, Xian-Pu and Mu-Tsu joined the others, looking disturbed. "Lime is dead... He charged in like a berserker, uncaring about his own survival and just died of blood loss. Maybe seeing his friend die ate up his will to live after all he'd already witnessed," Mu-Tsu told them.

Hearing that, Ranma and Mercury felt strange. Some time ago, they had just thought of Lime as a misogynistic jerk. Now Lime was dead, killed while fighting on their side. It felt confusing to them that now part of them did care. It was always difficult to realize the world was more complex than first thought.

Two of Hatake's remaining companions right then escorted an older winged man to them. "We found him hiding himself," one of them reported. "Too bad for him we'll smash that egg there in some moments."

The chamberlain was surprisingly calm. "I fear for you that it's too late for that."

Right then the huge egg started to crack.

Ranma summed up best how everyone felt. "Oh crap..."


...near the Pools of Sorrow...

"Urrrgh!" That was the only sound a warrior was able to make before Uranus slammed her sword into his chest and then send him away with a hard kick. Blood covered her shoe.

She tried to ignore how bloody her sword was by now. She also tried to ignore that blood had splattered onto her during battle. Despite her tough image, all of this was getting to her, but right now she could not risk having a breakdown. She knew, once back at home, she could fall onto her bed and have a proper cry, with Michiru having her own while they held onto each other. For the moment however, she locked away how she really felt.

The other Senshi didn't fare much different.

It was no wonder, considering Phoenix and soldiers alike were dying around them in bloody battle. They were fighting on, but once back home, would need love and care to recover from this ordeal. While they tried to look stoic, it was pretty obvious they were suffering from battle shock due to the sheer brutality of the confrontation.

Their white seifuku uniforms were by now red with blood - some theirs, most that of their enemies - and they were driven by the determination to get out of this alive. A part in them had died on this battlefield. They had already suffered a lot and thus lost their innocence, but this was the point of no return. They tried to not think about it, survival being more important at the moment.

"Yah!" Ceres cried, her sickle ripping open a warriors chest. The winged woman screamed, before falling over while her insides spilled out. Ceres was working hard not to hurl while jumping to cover.

-screeeeeeeetccchhhhh- Sailor Moon's shrill, vastly amplified voice ripped through the battlefield. She didn't use her sonic powers often, but now she could see how devastating a concentrated sonic attack could be, seeing several warriors fall over dead, bleeding heavily from ears, eyes and nose. It was frightening to imagine she had literally screamed their brains out.

I think I'm going to be sick... she thought in horror, trying to not shut down until after this was over.

The fighting had shifted; the Phoenix warriors having suffered heavy losses finally realized that their position could not be sustained and were starting to fall back towards the pools. They were now on the defense, but it didn't stop the whole thing from being very bloody. The Phoenix, as fanatical as they were, were starting to become desperate. And of course, desperate enemies were the most dangerous ones. They didn't flee, but now didn't care about their own survival anymore, only wanting to kill as many enemies as possible.

Like berserks they threw themselves forward, right into the bullets, the sudden change catching the soldiers on the wrong foot. It was so irrational they had not expected it. It now just being to the Phoenix about getting as many kills as possible and disregarding all losses, the losses were rising again and it looked to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Saturn was terrified by all of it.

They had tried to shield her from the carnage, despite the fact she had already lost her innocence. It was noble to try and spare her the horror, but in the end futile. Saturn felt like wetting herself due to seeing the horrible results of the battle, and only the strength of her former life stopped her young mind from getting damaged.

She knew the battle essentially was decided, but the dying continued around her. The Phoenix were now solely fighting to inflict as much damage as possible and everyone knew it. Saturn wanted to fighting to finally end and then... something snapped in her.

-KRAAA-BOOOM- All the fighting ceased when massive thunder blasted through the battlefield. A dozen Phoenix warriors panicked when suddenly they were encased by a sphere of dark energy, lifted off the ground and held twenty meters above everyone. Everyone froze in fear when seeing the source of the energy - a petite preteen girl. Dark energies erupted from the girl's polearm, swirling around her, while her eyes were ablaze with white light and the symbol of Saturn burned on her forehead. It was a frightening sight and everyone did swear they could hear a beautiful but deadly song being whispered into their ears.

"This is pointless!" Saturn's voice boomed, amplified by her magic. It sounded like the voice of legion. "You are beaten! You are outmanned and outgunned, yet you insist on doing as much damage as possible. Do you even care about all the suffering you are causing?! Are you so eager to throw away your own lives?!"

Silence answered her. She gazed up to the trapped warriors, her eyes narrowing. "You have no idea what kind of forces you are up against..."

Suddenly the sphere started to shrink and everyone knew what was about to happen. It was sickening, hearing their screams of terror until the warriors were all crushed into one, bloody mass. The sphere then disappeared and the compressed pile of horribly mangled bodies fell to the ground in a bloody splat. Despite the bloody battle, this was a totally different league of horror.

Even in light of the bloody battlefield around them, everyone was shocked that a little girl was capable of something like that. The remaining Phoenix warriors however were downright terrified, their sheer horror at the powers set against them even making them abandon their Lord Saffron. Their hearts filled with fear, they threw their weapons to the ground and raised their hands in surrender. Only then did the soldiers finally react; weapons drawn, they quickly surrounded the remaining foes, neutralizing them.

Saturn didn't stay to watch.

She had retreated behind some trees and bushes as soon as the enemy had surrendered. When she was secure of her privacy, the dark energies left her, the Silence Glaive fell to the side and Saturn fell to her knees. Holding her arms over her stomach, she started to cry hard, the tears forming a river. She felt something force its way up and belched; then she had to vomit violently.

She would have fallen into her own vomit, if not for several pairs of hands holding her. Blinking through her tears, she saw Venus, Jupiter and Pluto, who carefully pulled her to her feet and then hugged her in union.

"Someone as young as you should have never been forced to make such a decision..." Pluto said, being reminded why Hotaru's young age was such a problem.

"It... it were memories..." Saturn said while trying to stop shivering. "Old Saturn... she said ... that the needs of the many outweigh ... the needs of the few, or the one. ... I had no idea I would lose control like that."

Jupiter paled a bit at such a statement, but then remembered that the Senshi of Saturn also was about sacrifice - which in this case meant the mental blow Saturn had suffered. "It's cruel that someone as good and kind as you is forced to such lengths..."

While Saturn was comforted, Endymion and Sailor Moon watched from a respectful distance. Both of them felt sorrow that Saturn... Hotaru had forced herself to this. Someone as young as her shouldn't be forced to decide who lives and who dies. Endymion gently held Moon when she leaned against him, now actually crying silent tears.

"This is horrible..." she whispered, crying for all the lives lost, making no difference.

Endymion held her closely. "We should be glad we know it's horrible. Once we feel nothing being wrong with it, then darkness has won."

Silence settled over the bloody battlefield, the battle of Jusenkyo being over.


...back in Mt. Jusendo...

In a flash of light, the egg containing Saffron broke open, instantly evaporating all the water in the pool and steam hung around the area. Everyone could see someone stand up in the steam, big wings unfolding. Then the steam was blown away and everyone got a good look at a mature Saffron at full power - a very naked Saffron, who clearly didn't care about his own nudity.

Saffron for his part felt great. His powers were pulsing through him and before his minds eye, he saw his vision much clearer than before. Flexing his wings, he blew away the steam with them, only to be greeted with a less-than-welcome sight. The dead bodies of the maidens and guards were proof enough the mountain had been penetrated. Land-dwellers only were the final clue to that truth. His eyes narrowed when seeing traitors, especially one man he'd trusted until his treachery.

"Kiima, you disappoint me. You allowed this vermin to reach me during my most vulnerable." Though his voice was calm, the threat was very obvious.

"My Lord, I..." Kiima tried to say.

"Silence, Kiima, I will deal with you later." Saffron then turned his attention to the intruders. "You have come really far, this actually is quite an impressive feat in itself. However, this will now be the end of the path for you."

"Big words from a naked guy. In case you didn't notice, you're all alone," Ranma said, though all his instincts told him this guy was highly dangerous.

"Very impertinent." Saffron's eyes narrowed. "You clearly have no idea what you are dealing with. Perhaps, a little lesson is needed." Without warning, a burning aura appeared around him, radiating intense heat.

Everyone had to step back quickly, only Sailor Mars being completely unaffected by the heat. Worse was, Saffron hadn't even made any kind of move, he had just willed all the heat to appear with a mere thought. Fire started to surround Saffron, making him look like some angry demon. He laughed arrogantly when seeing their reaction.

"This is insane..." Mercury drew her bow and readied a frost arrow.

Saffron laughed. "Well, you can try."

Mercury did exactly that, but the arrow evaporated before it could come close to Saffron. Blinking, Mercury fired a normal arrow next and it did penetrate and strike Saffron, before getting reduced to ashes. However, Saffron didn't seem to care and the wound closed itself in mere seconds.

He gave them a cold smile. "Impressive, you did manage to strike me."

Seeing this wasn't working, Mercury put away her bow and instead concentrated, a sphere of magical coldness growing between her hands. "Hah-Yah!"

Saffron strengthened his heat when seeing the orb of magic coldness shoot towards him. The orb slowed down and then seemed to struggle to continue on its way when being mere centimeters from its target. Saffron did ground his teeth together and whatever ice covered him due to radiated magic was evaporated mere moments later. He won the struggle when the magical energy of the orb was spent and it fizzled out.

Mercury was caught on the wrong foot by this development. "This- this never happened before!"

"As I said, you have no idea what you are dealing with. Now however I'm no longer in the mood for games." The flames exploded out from him. "Time for you to take your leave, one way or another."

"We have to get out of here!" Hatake called, leading Kiima away.

"Hey, what are you...?" Ranma gasped when Mercury suddenly hugged him from behind, then the heat disappeared for him and the room seemed back to normal temperatures, although he could see the flames and the dead bodies being set ablaze by them.

"Ranma, I'm using my frost powers on myself and it protects me! Hugging you as close as this, you share my protection," she explained quickly.

Due to the sheer heat, water was evaporating as fast as it was pouring in, but no steam could build due to it. Everyone else had evacuated the central cavern, leaving only Ranma, Mercury and Mars, due to being protected from the heat. Mars had donned her shield and lance, attacking Saffron directly.

"Your fire can't hurt me, I'm flame incarnate!" Mars yelled, thrusting her lance into Saffron - who clearly hadn't expected a direct attack - repeatedly.

It was all futile however, as his wounds healed just as fast as she could cause them. She finally had to break off her attack when Saffron overcame his shock and attacked her with his claws. "I don't need my fire to punish you for thinking you could injure me!"

"Yah!" -crac- had wasted no time to deal Saffron a lethal strike, snapping his neck like a twig. To his horror however, Saffron's head hung at an odd angle for some moments, before returning to its natural position, the neck already being healed. "You can't be serious!"

"You really think you can kill someone who is truly immortal?" Saffron lectured him, looking utterly smug. "I have live many lifetimes. Regardless what you attack me with, I can recover from it."

"Crap!" Ranma evaded a claw strike, though Saffron did rip away part of his shirt. Another strike from Ranma this time shattered Saffron's ribs, causing the broken bones to spear his insides. It was to no avail, as that damage also healed in seconds.

"Not good!" Mercury yelped, using arms and legs to hold tight onto Ranma's back to allow him freedom of movement, while using her visor to look at Saffron and analyze him. "He's like a reactor, constantly generating energy and turning it into heat!"

"Can we stop the reaction?!" Mars called while pulling up her shield, Saffron's claws bouncing off it.

"I wouldn't know how!" Mercury worried, looking at the scan before her eyes. "His power source is not internal, the power is flowing to him, coming from the outside!"

That means he can outlast us easily! He'll never get tired when constantly being fed energy, Ranma realized, only now truly understanding the deep trouble they were in. "Not good!"

"So you finally understand?" Saffron gave them a look that spoke volumes while something black crept into his golden eyes. "Born from the waters of Mt. Jusendo. How could you have dared to think you could defeat a true immortal?"

"This is a game to him!" Mars hissed, finally understanding. "He can't be injured, he won't get tired and wants to wear us down! We need to find a new strategy fast! ... AH!"

Sailor Mars managed to avoid more damage, but the strike had come too fast and her uniform was slashed over her mid-section, four tears running diagonally over it, blood from her injured belly seeping out of them. Nothing that couldn't be healed, but at the moment it was a possibly fatal handicap. Every injury would slow her down, with all the consequences.

"What does it take to take him out?! There is no thing as true invincibility, everything can be broken down! But how...?" Ranma whispered, giving Mercury a look.

"It makes no sense. I have no idea what his power source could be, only that it won't run out anytime soon. I... Wait a moment!" Mercury gave the source of Jusenkyo's waters a closer look. "It's the water..."

"Eh, what?" Ranma couldn't follow her line of thinking, being busy with not getting cut to ribbons.

"Remember, he said he was born from these waters. It fits, the waters of Jusenkyo, the whole water cycle of this place, gives him his power. He's tapping into all this trapped magic," Mercury explained, finally seeing the whole picture.

Hearing this, Ranma made the connection. "So if we do get him far enough away from any of the water, he'll lose his immortality?"

"Most likely. But to do that we first would need to ventilate this room. Even tough evaporated, the water is still giving him power," Mercury warned. "Also, I doubt he'll be inclined to play along. He probably knows of his weakness."

"Shit..." Ranma cursed.

He knew Mercury couldn't keep this up infinitely. Sooner or later she would get tired and then he would be incinerated instantly. Mars was still distracting Saffron, but it was only a matter of time before he would turn to him as the next target. Looking around, Ranma saw no way of getting Saffron out of the cavern. It wasn't like he could explode the mountain...

Ranma stopped, remembering something.

You can only use it when your life is on the line, when you really mean it. ... You have to be ready to lay down your life for it ... It is a martial artist's duty to protect those who can't protect themselves. ... The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one. ... Using it with external sources for heat and coldness would give it tremendous results.

Ranma understood. He had fought many battles and had accepted he could die in them. But to actively accept what he was doing could kill him... He realized it was no different from what Usagi had went through. She had been prepared one way or another her entire life for the moment when she would reject darkness and stay firm. Now he was at the point where he would have to accept the possible price for doing the right thing.

If I do nothing, we'll be dead for sure. Damn, if there's even a small chance we can survive this, I'll take it! He felt surprisingly calm when he made his decision.

"Rei, spiral! Ami, coldness!" he called, before attacking Saffron again to draw him into the trap.

Hearing him use their real names, both of them knew he was serious. They of course had talked about the possibility of what they were about to do, but not even once had they entertained the idea of actually doing it, feeling it was way too dangerous. This had changed now and they both knew what it could result in - and they accepted the possible price.

Ranma knew how to anger Saffron suitably - after ten years with his father he knew how to anger people - and jump-kicked him into the nuts, causing the winged man to recoil in pain for a short moment. "Catch me, if you can, dickless!"

That was followed by numerous other insults. Saffron actually couldn't care less about the insults, but the sheer disrespect Ranma was showing him was riling up up slowly, meaning he didn't notice Mars running just behind him while chasing Ranma, nor did he notice Mercury radiating so much coldness, that Ranma and Mercury were leaving a blue trail in their wake.

Intense heat and intense cold were mixing into a deadly spiral, only waiting to be ignited.

"Stay still and accept your just punishment!" Saffron had actually taken off and was flying behind Ranma. It was only Ranma's ability to run really fast that allowed him to stay ahead.

Here we go. Let's hope it's not a terrible mistake... "Rei, gate! Ami, hold tight!" Ranma called, jumping into the exact middle of the swirling masses of hot and cold.

Mars knew that was her cue to get out as the fireworks was about to start. With a big jump she left through the gate, rolling down the stairs and grunting in pain while she did so - though thanks to being transformed, there would be no serious harm to her.

"HAAAAAAAAA!"

Then the whole cavern exploded.

The already circling hot and cold currents exploded into a raging cyclone. Everything not bolted down was swept into it, including Saffron, who was shouting in rage while radiating even more fire and thus only fed it even more power. In the middle of it stood Ranma, Mercury holding tight onto him while pushing out as much coldness as possible. He held both fists high while grounding his teeth together, knowing the cyclone needed to crack this mountain open.

The whole mountain was shaking and cracks appeared in the surrounding rock walls, while the water flow from the statue ceased, before it was ripped apart, the pieces battling Saffron or working on the walls like oversized sandpaper, slowly wearing them down. They did not know the mountain side had cracked open, the raging waters now shooting through the narrow canyon towards the pools of Jusenkyo.

However, even that still wasn't enough.

"Give it... as much as you can!" Ranma groaned, grounding his teeth together while he started to bleed from his nose. He knew; too long and it would kill him.

Mercury... Ami felt she was reaching her limit. She could feel Ranma's pain, and he hers. However, both of them were driven by the sole wish to succeed. "Aaaahhhyyaaaaaa!" Mercury screamed, and an massive pulse of cold energy blasted out of her and fed the cyclone the needed energy.

The inhabitants of Mt. Phoenix were struck with fear when seeing the top of Mt. Jusendo explode, sending huge rocks everywhere, many of them striking their mountain and causing heavy damage. A massive sphere of wind blasted off into the sky, leaving behind a decimated mountain. The shocked inhabitants knew that something bad had to have happened during the ascension of their king.

The strong winds had blasted them really high up, but now they were falling.

Mercury still was holding onto Ranma, feeling her life depended on it. Ranma on the other hand had two problems at hand. For one he saw that their trajectory was carrying towards Jusenkyo, and the valley was flooded. It was pretty obvious that that water was very unhealthy. Also, despite getting very much maimed and being far away from the water, Saffron was slowly but steadily regenerating and was falling close to them.

He STILL doesn't have enough!? Ranma felt like fate was trying to spite him.

Seeing the jerk's wings grow back together, Ranma knew what was to do. "Oh no, you won't!" Taking hold of Saffron's wings, he grimaced when the heat was getting through the magical coldness, burning his hands. He endured the pain, and...

-skllorrb- "Ayyyyhhhaa!" Saffron screamed when his wings were ripped out, before a kick from Ranma sent him in the other direction.

Ranma hoped the kickback would be enough, but then saw they would still land in the water. Not that it would make much of a difference, the impact alone would kill them before the magic in the water could. Mercury moved to his front, looking scared. "We won't survive this, do we?" she asked.

"No. Either we die on impact, or, if we survive, are turned into something that can't live." Ranma looked resigned. "I guess that's it..."

"At least we are together..." She did not make any secret of how scared she was. "Woah!" she gasped when suddenly the wind picked up around them.

"What the...?" Ranma wondered when noticing that they were starting to slow down. "There's some kind of air cushion beneath us. We're slowing down."

They could see Saffron, who was not slowed down, shoot to the middle of the flooded valley. He screamed in terror before slamming into the water with a huge splash, vanishing from sight. Sadly, while they were slowing down, they would still land in the water as well. That was, until they spotted something golden and shiny approach them.

"Her chain is not that long!" Mercury said when seeing the chain made of interlinked golden hearts approach them, spotting Venus way down near the shore of the flooded valley.

"Magic," was the only thing Ranma said, before holding onto the chain, causing Venus to pull hard. It changed their trajectory while they slowed down even further. They slammed hard onto the ground at the shore, but apart from feeling like a huge bruise there was no further damage. They had the wind knocked out of them and Venus ran up them, looking panicked.

"Oh no, guys, please tell me you are all right!" Venus panicked.

"Ow..." Ranma groaned while managing to sit up. "I hurt all over, but I'll live... Ami?"

Mercury groaned much louder. "I think I broke my tailbone..." That was embarrassing to her, especially since Endymion would need access to heal it. Looking around, she spotted Uranus leaning against a tree, looking utterly wiped out. "It was you?"

Uranus was trying to get her breathing under control. "You wouldn't believe ... How fast you can learn ... when faced with an emergency. Wind ... is an awesome power."

They were not alone, very soon the others arrived from the battlefield, all of them looking like they had went through hell. Then their remaining allies with wings flew in, Returning Xian-Pu, Mu-Tsu and Akane to them. Herb however noticed that neither Mint or Lime were with them.

"Where are they?" he asked, only to get a sad look from Hatake. "Oh no..." If anything, Herb looked very badly shaken. Clearly, despite him not appreciating their stupidity, he had grown up with them and to learn they were dead...

-slosh- "Huuuuaaarrghhh!" Hearing this terrible howl, everyone looked to the middle of the flooded valley. Saffron had emerged from the waters, trashing around like mad, as if in horrible pain.

"Lord Saffron!" Kiima gasped, then saw in horror what happened next.

Saffron's form twisted in a sickening way into some sort of chimera, only to twist back to his natural form seconds later. Then the process repeated with a different, equally horrifying form, and so on. It looked like a constant struggle between the monstrous forms, and his true form while Saffron continued to howl and scream in terrible pain, the sickening ways his body was twisted and stretched clearly being the reason.

"I've seen lots of horrible stuff today, but this..." Neptune paled when looking at the horrible display. "What is this?"

"I would say, Saffron's healing magic is fighting against Jusenkyo's transformation magic. From the look of it, it's a battle no side can win. A perfect healing magic against a perfect transformation magic..." Khu-Lon explained. Even in her long life, she had never before seen something this sick.

"Not good... Not good at all!" Mercury gasped while looking at her computer. "There's no solution, the magics will clash until things come to a head!"

"Meaning?" Sailor Moon asked, dreading the answer.

Mercury looked at the trashing Saffron, the water around him starting to bubble while fog started to appear. "That means both their magical matrixes will unravel, resulting in both of their destruction in a massive explosion at the magnitude of a nuclear bomb."

Suddenly the day looked like it could take a horrible end.


...some time later...

Everything had descended into a mad scramble, with everyone just wanting to get as far away from Jusenkyo as humanly possible before it would blow up with the power of a nuclear bomb, in turn wiping out everything several kilometers around it.

Thankfully, the evacuation of the civilians on army trucks had already started well before the battle, so they had already been on their way out when things had started to turn sour. Everyone still present after the battle was over had therefore jumped onto any vehicle available to save their lives while the remaining population of Mt. Phoenix had flown away in one big swarm, knowing very well that they could not hope to hide.

Fearing for your lives was a really good motivator to stop all hostilities.

From the back of an army truck, everyone looked in concern to Mercury, who was busy with reading data off her visor while looking at the horizon. "This is unbelievable. The energy buildup is insane and makes me wonder how much magical energy actually got stored in Jusenkyo over all this time."

"How much power are you talking about?" Khu-Lon wondered, actually curious how much energy had been siphoned off the world.

Mercury tried to put it into words. "Think of Earth's magic cycle being a river. The mana tree feeds the river, the river transports the magic to its users and after the users used the energy, it's returned to the tree to get recycled and again get fed into the river. Now, Jusenkyo took most of the river's magic away and kept it for itself, reducing the river to a small stream. Since the magic energy was not used, just stored, this severely disrupted the magic cycle."

"You mean this is why so few people can do magic?" Jupiter asked.

"Yes. There wasn't enough left for most of who should have been capable of doing magic. It must be the sheer power of the mana tree that kept it from being affected." Mercury then frowned. "The explosion will be massive, once that energy is released."

"I don't care for the numbers, as long as we are far enough away," Sailor Uranus reminded Mercury.

"Don't worry about that." Mercury read some numbers off her visor. "According to calculations we have already left the area affected by the detonation. We are at a safe distance now."

"Thank all goodness..." Mars said, finally relaxing a bit.

She had been more nervous than the others due to remembering her grandfather telling her how he'd visited Hioshima shortly after the war and telling her in vivid detail of the destruction he'd seen. She'd had nightmares for some time, remembering his description how one wall had been black, except for a human outline, speculating the unfortunate person had been vaporized by the sheer heat of the explosion. Mercury telling them how powerful this explosion would be had brought back the memory.

"I hope they let us go. After all, I doubt the Chinese government will be pleased to see a bunch of foreign magical heroes in the country," Endymion remarked, then looked at the evacuation convoy. "Still, I'm surprised they offered us a ride."

"I'm not so much concerned about us," Jupiter added, then looked to Mu-Tsu. "It's you three I'm more worried about. After all, you are citizens of China and there surely will be fallout."

Pushing his glasses up his nose, Mu-Tsu couldn't hide there was something to that. "I hope not! It would be horrible to not be able to leave, now that I've finally become free."

"I think the Major put in a good word for all of us. That, and I don't think they want the additional hassle to what they already will have to deal with," Sailor Moon remarked, then looked at the horizon, noting the fog that had risen over where Jusenkyo was and the faint shimmers of light dancing through it. "What do you think will happen, once this blows up?"

Mercury thought about it. "Based on what Helios told us and the amount of energy I'm reading, my best guess is, that the magic will spread all over the world after its release. As far as I can speculate, magic will beome common enough that its existence can no longer be kept secret; nor can anyone deny its existence any longer."

"Somehow I have a feeling it's going to cause many headaches. After all, magic is not a toy." Ranma spoke from experience, getting cursed having soured his outlook on magic for a considerable time before coming to terms with it.

The truck started to slow down and up ahead they spotted something on a hill which clearly was a gathering point. A basic camp had been erected for the refugees and soldiers were milling around. The soldiers gave them very suspicious looks, but one harshly barked order from a superior was enough to make them keep their distance. Clearly, word had spread to leave the foreigners alone.

They did spot the Guide and his family waiting for their arrival and he looked relieved when seeing they still were in one piece.

"Thank all goodness. I feared the worst when I saw the top of Mt. Jusendo explode into pieces," he said, while Pu-Leong just looked happy no one she knew got killed. "Though I think I'm now out of a job."

"Don't be too broken about it. I can't imagine having to tell people they're cursed for the rest of their lives was easy," Uranus told the Guide, imagining it to be a shitty job.

The Guide clearly hadn't thought of that before. "Now that you say it... Way too many tragic stories."

-cccrrrkkk- -ccrrraaack- That sound made everyone stop in their tracks.

In the distance, lightning began to arc from where Jusenkyo was, shooting into the sky like winding snakes, the clashing forces having reached critical mass. For a moment, bright light forced everyone to look away and everything was silent for a few seconds. Then...

-BRRROOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMM-

With the force of a nuclear bomb, all of Jusenkyo vanished in a huge fireball, burning away everything for several kilometers. All of the released dust and dirt was hauled up by the heat, starting to form a mushroom cloud. However, this clearly was no ordinary mushroom cloud, as countless multi-colored lights erupted from it, flowing out of it like a waterfall, while at the base of the cloud bright light erupted.

From the light, a pillar of pure red energy exploded through the middle of the cloud, rising high into the sky, where it then splintered like the branches of a tree. The unleashed energy streams traveled all over the sky in all directions, until finally vanishing behind the horizon.

"Oh, oh no!" Mercury panicked when the numbers on her computer went haywire before the OS shut down and rebooted to prevent damage to the hardware. "This is... Ranma?!"

"Oh no!" Moon cried at the same time, barely managing to stop Endymion from falling over. "What is wrong with you guys?"

Ranma was holding his head, whimpering. "Urgh, for a moment that had felt like someone was driving needles into my head! It's getting better, but that really hurt."

"Good for you..." Endymion said, clearly embarrassed that he needed his girlfriend to stay uptight. "For a moment it felt like I was having a heart attack. I'm better now, but that was really scary. What was that?"

Mercury looked to her computer, saw that it was still rebooting, and felt a bit unsure what to say.

Pluto on the other hand felt that a good guess was close enough. "Must be because you were relatively close to the explosion and both of you are connected to Earth's magic in a way and must have felt its sudden release. Ranma's curse tethers him to the magic field of the planet, and Endymion of course is intimately connected to it."

-Splash- "HEY!" Ranma cried when suddenly she got splashed by a glob of water. "What was the idea?!" she asked Neptune angrily, knowing exactly where that water had come from.

"I just wanted to see if your curse still works, even after the pools are gone. Looks like everything is still in place. Sorry for that," Neptune apologized.

Endymion took a look at the Golden Crystal and saw it was shining brightly. "I hope the crystal doesn't explode. It looks like there lots of power getting forced into it."

"Unlikely. The crystal is an artifact capable of massive devastation. It shouldn't be fazed by this," Pluto reminded Endymion.

Pu-Leong looked at the erupting energies, fascinated by the strange spectacle. "What happened?" she wondered.

"The clashing energies of Jusenkyo's combined transformation magic and Saffron's regeneration powers caused a feedback loop until both destroyed each other, releasing all of the stored magic and destroying the mana trap Jusenkyo was," Mercury explained.

Pu-Leong blinked, then looked to Saturn. "Uh, that's bad, right?"

Saturn, not having understood Mercury either, resorted to what she did know. "Yes, really bad."


...meanwhile, in the Dark Kingdom...

Boring everyday work was something no one was protected from. Even in the Dark Kingdom, many days consisted of nothing but that. Right at the moment, Beryl was discussing deployment plans with Kunzite and Zoisite and the quota needed to keep their energy stores full. After all, building an evil empire did require lots of administrative work as well. She then switched to the Youma recruitment.

"Our numbers are growing according to plan?" Beryl asked.

"Yes, we have stepped up recruitment significantly. We will be ready once the day arrives," Zoisite said confidently.

"Remember that unlike in the first conquest, taking over minds on a big scale is not possible. Thus we do have to rely on our own forces," Beryl reminded them.

Kuzite nodded in acknowledgment. "We factored that in. Indeed..." Kunzite and Zoisite suddenly gasped and held their chests, looking for a few moments like they could fall over, before they caught themselves.

Beryl took note how her Generals suddenly acted. "Kunzite, Zoisite. What is... ah!"

Now Beryl herself felt it. Despite only having used the magic of her Master for a long time now, her connection to Earth's magic was still there. It now felt like an old wound had suddenly started bleeding again, raw magic leaking in from the long-closed connection.

"What is this?" Zoisite gasped, while the first shock ebbed away.

Kunzite, who was more versed in magic lore, tried to make sense of it. "It felt like a shock went through Earth's magic field. Like something has shifted dramatically. I wonder if it is something connected to the mana tree?"

Unlike Zoisite and Kunzite, Beryl still felt discomforted, clearly a result of her damaged connection to the planet's magic. "I need to consult with our great Master. She has to know..."

The eyes of the skull sculpture above the throne lit up, showing that Metallia's essence now was present. "No need to. The time is growing near. The sign has happened - the sign of impending victory."

Beryl's crystal ball cleared and they saw an area in the middle of nowhere. What was important however were the countless multi-colored lights spilling out of a forming mushroom cloud like a waterfall. In the center of it was a painfully bright light and emerging from it was a red stream of purest magical energy. It shot straight into the sky before splintering like the branches of a tree and flying off in all directions.

"What happened? The sheer amount of magic energies released is unbelievable," Beryl said in astonishment.

"One final seed of darkness, from twelve originally, blossomed. It laid dormant until the right moment to unleash destruction. Now 10.000 years of trapped magic are released and the Second Age of Magic has begun."

"Incredible! I can feel magic spreading all over the planet. Really strange..." Zoisite said, unused to the feeling after such a long time.

"It feels like in the old times. Before the first defeat," Kunzite added, feeling severely tempted to tap into the unleashed energies.

"This will change the face of the world." Beryl knew right away that this would be a huge game-changer - but only in the long run. After all, no one could master something which had been denied to most of the populace for 10.000 years in a short time. "With such power currently running wild, we could force many to become our pawns."

"The flow of magic is now unleashed and the day draws close. The day, when the sun turns dark for an hour and Queen Metallia shatters her chains once and for all. And once the darkness lifts again, the Dark Kingdom is going to march in order to rule the world, all its enemies shattered."

Metallia however saw something else, that happened at the same time.

Deep underground, a huge mass of glowing particles descended down a very tall and wide cylindrical cavern, past countless alcoves filled with statues of Youma and many destroyed statues of Youma. At the very bottom, right next to the glowing pool of orange energy stood a statue that was singled out as special. The other eleven alcoves on that lowest level were empty.

The massive statue of Saffron right away began to crumble as soon as the particles started to rain over it on their way into the pool. Then a massive explosion blew it apart and a dark, swirling vortex appeared in the pool.

Metallia felt her chains going very weak and her influence being free to spread its poison. The end was near.

to be continued...

Next Episode:

"Critical Mass"


Notes:

Here the notes.

Now, in case no one noticed it, the last scene of the chapter reflects a scene in an earlier chapter. Both of them are based on the ending of Baldur's Gate (the original).

Now, you can see this chapter has far-reaching consequences. The three tribes are utterly ruined, Jusenkyo is obliterated and the Second Age of Magic has started. We now also see that the Dark Kingdom is about to start the road to their endgame, and next Chapter the Death Busters plan to make their important move. The story is also starting the final stretch. The final confrontation is now not far off.

I know the whole chapter was quite brutal, it probably was especially surprising that some named characters died. After all, this chapter they didn't fight against monsters, but against actual people. I also made no bones about the fact that this was a very ugly experience for them. But Endymion put it best, that realizingand feeling it is horrible stops them from slinding away. Once they simply accept something that horrible, they are lost.

I found Kiima to be flat in canon. That's why I added some background to her. I bet you didn't expect she could be a married woman, do you? And though it's cruel to Akane, I modeled the scene where Kiima tries to drown her after my thoughts on how Kiima creating that spring in canon was an act in untold cruelty.