When thinking about the Ghost Pokémon that were still haunting the lower levels of Lavender Castle, it seemed like a miracle to Usagi that she was able to find some sleep at all.
She, Rei and Luna were given a chamber on their own, directly next to the one Ash was sharing with Pikachu, Sir Brock and Princess Misty. As it turned out, the three royal offsprings knew each other, as Luna could overhear a friendly conversation between them. They were talking to each other like they were close friends, not only the representatives of three allied castles.
Usagi had asked her friends about their own decisions, but they could tell that she was already determined to help Lord Oak by retrieving whatever they needed to protect their country. Luna was worried if the bracelets Ash had given them would really work as they had been told, but she and Rei were ready to follow Usagi wherever she wanted to go. She was their princess, after all.
When the three of them stepped into the entrance hall of Lavender Castle the following morning, they could see that it was empty. Not a single ghost was nearby.
Ash and Pikachu were waiting for them next to the gate. As they looked past them, they could see how the other humans and Pokémon they had seen the previous night were getting ready for the journey.
"Did they all come because of us?" Usagi asked in awe.
Ash nodded. "Yup, that's correct! Those are all soldiers from my mother's court that volunteered to escort you to Pallet Castle. And they're the best of our warriors."
Pikachu grinned. "If some Rocketeers decide to ambush us on our way, they might be in for a little surprise."
Just then, two other people came down the stairs. Usagi instantly recognized Misty and Brock, both of them armed and prepared for the journey.
Ash frowned. "You two are coming as well?"
Misty shrugged. "It was Lord Oak's wish... not much we could do about it. Don't ask me why he decided that we should come along as well..."
"Seems like Lord Oak wants to make sure that Princess Usagi and her companions arrive at our castle safely," Pikachu said with a wink. "After all, the three of you are the most skilled fighters of us all."
"Aw, don't say that!" Brock grinned while blushing. "You're embarrassing me."
Pikachu shrugged. "Well, it is true..."
Usagi then spoke up: "Please, don't call me 'Princess Usagi', okay? It makes me feel weird..."
"Usagi..." Luna sighed. "You ARE our princess and the last heir to the moon kingdom. It's about time you're getting used to such formalities."
"But she's right," Misty giggled. "I'm not too fond of those titles either... I was born as the daughter of a king and queen, so what of it? I can still treat my friends as friends, right?"
"She has a point," Rei grinned, and they laughed.
Just then, five unicorns with manes and tails of burning fire approached them. Their leader lowered his head and addressed Usagi in a gentle voice: "Please, allow us to be your mounts, princess! We will take you safely to Pallet Castle."
"Um, they're not going to burn us, are they?" Rei asked skeptically.
"Rapidashs can control their flames up to the point where they can let them burn without actually harming anyone," Brock explained.
"We assure you that you won't feel even the slightest burn, Princess of Mars," the Rapidash leader said, while he winked at Rei.
"C'mon, Rei!" Usagi mocked. "Don't they call you the 'Senshi of the Flames'?" She giggled. "Or is that 'Chicken of the Flames?'"
Rei threw her blonde friend a dark glare and quickly approached one of the fiery steeds, who helpfully lowered his front body to help her mount his back.
When it was Usagi's turn to get up, she hesitated. "I've never ridden before..." she admitted.
"Hah!" Rei snorted. "Who's the chicken now?"
Misty chuckled, but winked at the blonde princess, who blushed sheepishly. "Here, I'll show you how it's done."
A few hours later, the group was already riding through the calm woodlands that surrounded Lavender Castle.
The forest wasn't as lush as the one on Lady Joy's island, but still beautiful. Usagi looked at the giant trees that rose above their heads in awe.
But she could also feel something else... like a dark shadow that was lying on this place. She felt as if someone was watching them, and the sun wasn't shining as brightly underneath the leafy canopy.
She suddenly was aware that Ash was riding directly next to her. She didn't even hear him coming.
"You're feeling it too, right?" he asked.
Usagi shrugged, then shook her head. "I just thought I saw something..." she murmured.
"That's not what I meant," the young prince said. "What you saw was just a group of Pokémon that's following us at a distance. I mean the darkness... the cold."
Ash nodded. "Yes. This area is controlled by the Rocketeers. We have to be careful so they don't find us."
Pikachu, who was sitting directly behind his friend, looked sad. "These woods were once such a peaceful place... and now all of the Pokémon and forest animals are scared of the Rocketeers."
Now Usagi realized why everyone was on edge. No wonder, if they were riding through their enemy's territory.
At noon, they stopped on a small clearing. A few soldiers were riding ahead, on Ash's command, to look for possible scouts of the Rocketeers that might be waiting for them. But everyone else dismounted, and they lit a few campfires.
"We'll rest here for a while," Brock explained. "The second half of the journey is going to be difficult, so we're going to need every bit of our strength... and you two look like you could use some rest."
"You can say that again..." Rei groaned. "Nothing against the warmth of the Rapidash, but my behind's all sore..."
"I'm sorry that I don't come with some padding," her Rapidash mused.
"Well, not everyone is a born rider," Misty smirked. She then took a waterskin out of her bag and gave it to Rei. "Here, drink some water!"
"Aaaaah, thank you!" Rei sighed, snatched the waterskin and took a deep gulp.
"Hey, leave some for me," Usagi shouted. She was thirsty as well.
Luna looked around. "What's wrong?" Pikachu asked curiously as he approached her.
"Um, I'm just wondering..." the black cat said. "Aren't the other Pokémon that are supposed to protect us coming as well?"
Misty shook her head. "No, they wouldn't. They are Wartortles... Water Pokémon from my kingdom, you know? And the Rapidashs wouldn't be that comfortable with them around."
"Why not?" Usagi asked curiously.
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it?" Ash asked. "Fire and Water don't mix. Besides, there are some among them that don't really like each other."
Usagi sighed. So, not everything was perfect in this beautiful world after all... even without the Rocketeers.
"And what about you?" Rei suddenly asked Ash.
The boy was taken aback by that sudden question. "What do you mean?"
"You're not too happy that we are here either, are you?" the Shinto priestess asked.
Ash shook his head. "That... that's not true! I have nothing against you."
"Really?" Rei replied doubtfully. "You didn't seem to pleased when you brought us to Lavender Castle."
"That's different," Ash sighed. "It's because... well..."
Pikachu patted his friend's side. "It's okay, Ash!" He looked at Rei seriously. "Not everyone in Kanto agrees with Lord Oaks plan, you know? It's not about you, but many of us disagree with him... and I must say, I am one of them. What he's planning to do is just wrong."
"But why?" Usagi asked in astonishment. "I mean, if it can save your country...?"
Brock and Misty exchanged a look. "He... didn't tell you what he's planning to do, right?" Brock asked.
"Well, he didn't say much," Usagi admitted. "But he said that there is something that could help you. A... weapon, I believe."
"A weapon?" Ash laughed. "Oh yes, I guess you could call it that."
When he saw the confused faces of Usagi and her friends, he sighed. "I guess he really didn't tell you much... fine." He stood up and looked down at Usagi. "Come, I want to show you something."
"What?" Rei asked. "Now?"
"Yes," Ash nodded. "It's important. Everyone, please wait here for us... we're gonna make a small detour. Don't worry, it won't take long."
Usagi wasn't too sure about that, but she realized how important this had to be for Ash.
"Okay, fine," she sighed. "Rei, Luna... you don't mind, do you?"
"Um, that's okay," Rei shrugged. "As long as you're safe..."
"Don't worry!" Ash smiled and put his hand on his sword's handle. "I'll protect her!"
"Usagi, be careful!" Luna said in worry. Usagi nodded and followed Ash as he lead her through the forest.
"Where are we going?" she asked as they reached the edge of the forest. Ash didn't reply immediately, but he looked over the desolate plain that was in front of them. He then pointed at some hills in the distance. "It's over there!"
As they were walking over the dry earth, Usagi realized just how bleak this place looked. Only a few patches of grass were visible, and only a single tree here and there. She shivered. She didn't like this place one bit.
They then reached the hills. "Just on top, and then you'll see," Ash said in a grim voice.
Usagi was more confused then ever, but at the same time, felt slightly uncomfortable, as if whatever Ash was going to show her wouldn't be a nice view.
She was right.
As they reached the top of the hill, Usagi was looking at a scene that might have been in one of her nightmares.
The land was pitch black, and smooth as a polished marble floor. Only a few charred trees were rising out of the monotony, or some rocks that looked as if they were half-melted. And behind the horizon, a red glow of fire was visible, as if the whole world behind there would be aflame.
"Oh my god..." she whispered. "Ash, what... what happened here?"
Ash didn't respond, but gestured over at a pile of rubble, which Usagi could identify as some old, scorched ruins.
"Over there," he said. "And hurry! Being here for too long can be dangerous."
Usagi believed him, so she followed him quickly. The air around them was very warm, but she shivered.
When they reached the ruins, Usagi realized that this had to be a town or village once, as she could see the charred remains of various buildings.
"Look closely at it," Ash said with a strained voice. "I want you to remember this... every single part of it."
"But what...?" Usagi stopped in mid-sentence, as she saw a dark shape in front of one of the ruined walls.
Ash nodded towards it, and she approached the dark shape fearfully. She let out a gasp of terror when she realized what it was.
It was a human. At least the remains of a human. He was leaning against the wall, with raised arms and a look of terror on his face. He was standing there, as black as the charred stone, burned into the glazed rock around him.
"A former resident of this town," Ash said quietly. "The very last one that had left some trace. Looks like he was standing in front of that wall, when the fire came."
"F-fire...?" Usagi stuttered. "What fire?"
"Dragon Fire!" Ash spat. He took her hand. "Come, we have to go back. Being here for a long time can be dangerous."
The two of them ran back, until they reached the edge of the forest. Usagi was breathing heavily. She closed her eyes, but the horrible image was still in her mind.
"Who... who did that?" she finally asked.
"Lavender..." Ash replied. "The people of Lavender..."
"Wha...? Why? Why them?"
"It happened a long, long time ago," Ash sighed. "Thousand years, maybe even two thousand. Back then, Lavender was a powerful kingdom, respected by all the other kingdoms... their warriors were mighty, and their psychics even more. But... they had enemies."
"The... the people of that town?" Usagi asked.
Ash nodded. "No one can remember why they fought, but it was a long and horrible war. And no one could defeat the other one. But then, one day, Lavender seemed to succumb. Desperately, their psychics combined their powers and... they summoned a dragon."
"A... dragon?" Usagi gasped. "You mean that a dragon has...?"
"Destroyed the town, yes," Ash said grimly. "They say his name was... Rayquaza! Within one single night, he destroyed their army and burnt down their land and the town itself. The flames were consuming everything, and the curse he left behind is still killing everything that lives. Farther away, near the coast, the earth is still burning, even today."
Usagi was terrified. A dragon? How could a single dragon do all of this? A single creature, so powerful and evil... could she imagine a being like that?
But then she got reminded of Metallia and Pharaoh 90, and she sobbed.
"Why?" she finally asked. "Why are you showing this to me?"
"Why?" Ash asked. "You're really asking me why?"
He then shouted at her furiously: "Because that's what Lord Oak wants you to do: He wants you to find Rayquaza... and bring him to Kanto!"
Usagi still didn't feel able to say a single word, when they walked through the forest, back to the camp. The view of the Burning Plains was still etched into her mind.
All of a sudden, Ash stopped. "What?" Usagi asked. "What's wrong?"
"Quiet," Ash whispered. "Someone's coming..."
"You don't think it's one of..."
"The Rocketeers? Maybe, maybe not. But I don't want to take any chances."
Suddenly, loud shouts came out of the forest and made them jump in surprise. "The others!" Usagi shouted in fear.
"They're attacking the camp," Ash shouted and drew his blade. "C'mon, let's hurry!"
Usagi did her best to follow the upset prince as he sprinted through the thicket. When he once again stopped, she nearly ran against his backside.
But Ash himself had nearly collided with the raven-haired girl that had appeared in front of him.
"Ash?" Rei asked. "Damn, watch where you're going! We're trying to escape here!"
"From who?" Usagi asked, as she noticed the forms of Misty, Luna and Pikachu behind her friend.
"The Rocketeers!" Misty explained. "They attacked the camp, just after you left. They took us by surprise..."
"And what about Brock? Where is he?" Ash wanted to know.
Misty shrugged. "Dead, captured or escaped. I hope he escaped, but we can't wait to find out. The others have all stayed behind to fight. They wanted to give us a chance."
"What?" Usagi asked in disbelief. "All of them... they just stayed behind? Just how many of those Rocketeers have attacked you?"
"Dozens of them," Pikachu panted. "We wouldn't have made it if it weren't for the others' sacrifice."
"Sacrifice?" Usagi yelped. "You don't want to tell me that they... they are..."
"Dead?" Misty asked. "Of course they are... or some of them, most likely. This is WAR, Usagi. I don't know what ideas you grew up with, but every battle has its victims."
"Hey, give her a break, okay?" Rei defended her friend. "We always had to deal with inhuman monsters, and for your information, we are fighting because we want to avoid making human sacrifices."
"Well, I suppose you didn't fight so many enemies at once, then," Misty shrugged. "In a war, you have to make some sacrifices."
"Enough of this now," Ash interfered. "We have to find a place where we can hide... if there are that many, we won't be able to defeat them all by ourselves."
"Is there really no way we can escape?" Luna asked.
Misty shook her head. "Only over the Burning Plains. And I'd rather die than crossing those accursed plains."
"And if we go back to Lavender Castle?" Rei asked. "You told us that the Rocketeers are afraid from that place."
This time, it was Ash who shook his head. "We're already too far away from there. The Rocketeers would ambush us on our way."
"Well, do you have a better idea?" Rei asked. Ash wanted to reply, when suddenly, another yell came out of the forest. They all spun around to see two of Misty's Wartortle soldiers stumble out of the forest.
And a large number of black-armored riders was following them.
They were all wearing the same black armor, which was adorned by a big, stylized 'R' on their fronts. The neck and shoulder parts of the armors were framed by patches of fur, and in spite of the warm climate, they all wore fur coats. Helmets that almost looked like insectoid masks were covering their faces. They were all armed with swords or spears, and one of them was swinging a massive, spiked mace.
The Pokémon they were riding on resembled giant pigs with sharp tusks and a thick fur that was covering their eyes. The Rocketeers were sitting atop their towering hunchbacks.
Usagi yelped in fright when she saw how some of the riders that were holding short bows were firing their arrows at the escaping Wartortles. Luckily, most of them bounced off their thick shells.
"Defend yourselves!" Ash yelled as he welcomed the Rocketeers with his sword. Pikachu was right at his side, his cheeks sparkling with electricity.
Usagi and Rei immediately raised their transformation items.
"Moon Crisis, Make Up!"
"Mars Crystal Power, Make Up!"
Sailor Moon then realized that only a few of the Rocketeers were riding atop the shaggy swine Pokémon... but that didn't mean that they were any less dangerous in combat. Evading a sword swipe just in time, Usagi realized that close combat wasn't really her specialty.
Luckily, Misty jumped in-between her and the attacking Rocketeer in time, blocking his attack with her own saber. "If you don't have close combat weapons, keep your distance and use your magic!"
She didn't have to tell that twice to Mars.
"BURNING MANDALA!" she shouted. As it turned out, her fire attacks were very effective against the massive boars the Rocketeers were riding on.
While Ash, Misty and the Wartortles engaged their enemies in melee combat, the Senshi and Pikachu kept their distance to fire their magical and elemental attacks.
"FIRE SOUL BIRD!"
"MOON SPIRAL HEART ATTACK!"
Just when Usagi thought they would be able to beat them, she saw an approaching shadow in the corner of her eyes.
Luna, who had been staying out of the battle, yelled: "Sailor Moon, watch out!"
Usagi gasped as she raised her Moon Rod to deflect the Rocketeer's attack. But the warrior was physically stronger than her, so she stumbled backwards, almost falling on her behind.
Seeing an opening, the Rocketeer stormed towards her with a loud battle cry, raising his weapon for the ending blow...
And then he cried out in pain, as his chest was pierced by the bloody tip of a curved saber.
Misty pulled her weapon back, leaving a bloody wound on the Rocketeer's chest. With a groan, the warrior collapsed on the ground.
Ash helped Usagi to stand up. All around them, the battle was over. But at what cost...
Rei was limping visibly, and she clutched her side. Both Wartortles wouldn't be able to stand up from the ground anymore, and Usagi didn't want to start thinking about what might have happened to those who had decided to stay behind and fight.
She stared down at the bloody corpse of the Rocketeer. The helmet had fallen off and she was able to see her opponent's face.
It was a girl. Not much older than herself or Rei, blonde hair was cascading down her shoulders in curly pigtails. Her face was frozen in a grimace of disbelief.
Sailor Moon looked up at Misty. "You... you killed her..."
The princess of Cerulean sighed. "Yes, I did. I had to. She would have killed you if I didn't. I already told you: This is war, and there will be sacrifices."
"But... but they are humans..." Usagi stuttered in disbelief. "They are humans, and you are killing each other..."
"Of course they are humans," Pikachu grumbled. "What did you expect, that they are terrible demons who would suck your life away until you die?"
"Pikachu!" Ash sternly said. The electric Pokémon winced and didn't say anything else.
Misty sheathed her saber and knelt down next to the distressed moon princess. "I know it is hard, Usagi. Killing others is never easy, and if there would be another way, we wouldn't do this. But they leave us no choice."
"But... you don't understand," Usagi said in despair. "They are humans." She sobbed. "I always wanted to protect humans... how can I do that there are humans fighting each other in this war?"
Misty didn't know what to reply, so she decided just to comfort Usagi by giving her a gentle hug.
Some time later, they both stood up from the ground and, together with the others, left.
And they continued their journey through the woods, this time on foot, in a group that was much smaller than the one they had been previously in, always afraid that the Rocketeers might show up again.
Rei and Luna had tried cheering their friend and princess up, but Usagi couldn't help it. She couldn't stop telling herself that she was forced to fight humans, maybe even kill them. And the terror that she had felt when seeing the face of the dead, female Rocketeer was still there.
For about an hour, they were walking through the tall trees, until Misty looked up and stopped abruptly.
"What's wrong?" Ash asked. "Let's keep moving."
Misty raised her arm and gestured forward, into the middle of the green forest. "There's something... something over there..."
Ash looked at her in confusion, and Luna looked at Pikachu inquiringly, who shrugged.
"Misty has some minor psychic abilities," he said. "So I wouldn't know what worries her that much. But if it stops her from fleeing from the Rocketeers, I'm starting to get worried, too."
"C'mon, Misty," Ash said again. "Let's go!"
"I... I can't..." she whispered. "Something... is there."
"Yes, and there's something behind us." Ash sounded really impatient now. "A big amount of somethings, and they've got sharp swords and spears."
But Misty didn't even seem to listen. She was shaking like a leaf. Usagi now was worried as well. Whatever could make Misty feel afraid?
She peered through the trees and listened closely. But she saw nothing but the forest, and heard nothing but the wind that was blowing through its branches.
"We have to go," Ash said. "There will be here soon." And when Misty still didn't move, he took her hand and pulled her after him. Reluctantly, the princess of Cerulean followed.
"What do you think?" Rei whispered to Pikachu. "Will we have to fight?"
"I can't really say," Pikachu sighed. "There are many Pokémon living out in the forest that are wild and hostile towards humans, but... I know of no one that should make Misty react like this."
They followed Ash and Misty, and for a while, nothing happened. But then, they reached a big clearing, that was covered in fog. Usagi could see a wide circle of boulders in the fog, and a lone figure standing in its middle.
She gasped, taken by surprise by the sudden appearance of the figure, and looked at Ash and Misty. Misty let out a startled yelp.
"It can't be!" Ash gasped. "It can't be her..."
"It's true, Ash..." Misty whispered. "It is her... Sabrina!"
Rei frowned when she looked at the slim, dark-haired woman that had appeared in the middle of the fog. She didn't look too impressive in her simple, brown robe. But as she and the other Senshi had learned, appearances can be deceiving, and so she stayed on edge.
"What's going on?" she asked. "Who is that?"
"Sabrina..." Pikachu murmured. "They say she is the most powerful psychic in Kanto..."
The woman Ash called Sabrina slowly approached them. She smiled when she saw Sailor Moon and her friends, but when her gaze fell upon Ash and Misty, she frowned.
She walked up to Misty, and a slender arm came out of the depths of her robe. She slightly touched Misty's cheek, and the red-haired girl winced under her touch.
"You are afraid," Sabrina said in a gentle voice. "You two haven't learned anything since we met the last time. You continue to use force to reach your goals." She shook her head. "You carry weapons into this peaceful forest... and they are covered in blood."
"But we were under attack," Usagi spoke up, and regretted it in the moment when Sabrina looked at her.
But the green-haired woman, who somehow reminded Usagi of Setsuna, just smiled. "I know," she said. "But it's not this battle I mean. It was useless, just like all battles, but in the end, maybe there was something good about it."
"I... don't know what you mean," Usagi replied uncertainly.
"It taught you something," Sabrina said. "You might not know it, but it was very important for you. Maybe important for all of Kanto."
Usagi realized with surprise that the psychic knew what happened during the attack of the Rocketeers.
"I know of everything that happens within these woods," Sabrina said and proved that she was able to read Usagi's thoughts.
"Then... you know that we are hunted?" Rei asked.
Sabrina nodded. "Yes, they will be here soon - but don't worry. No one is going to harm you."
Ash wanted to say something, but Sabrina silenced him by raising her hand. "We'll talk later. Right now, there's something I have to do."
She turned around and took a few steps towards the dark forest, where they came from, and waited.
Just a few moments later, riders appeared in the middle of the forest, right on their trail. A big amount of riders, all of them sitting on top of those shaggy pig Pokémon. Their leader was carrying an impressive blade in his hand.
He let out a short yell, and the riders changed their direction. Puzzled, Usagi watched how they did not attack, but instead surrounded the clearing with their Pokémon, forming a wide half circle around them. For some reason, they and their mounts were looking very nervous.
The leader - Usagi now realized that he wasn't sitting upon a pig Pokémon, but instead on a burly Pokémon with pink skin, big ears and needles sticking out of its body.
He looked down at the green-haired woman disdainfully, but Usagi could see that he as well seemed to feel the power that was resting inside of Sabrina, just like Ash and Misty.
"You are bringing weapons to my forest?" Sabrina spoke up. "Who told you to disturb the peace of this place, Giovanni?"
The cold eyes of the warrior were narrowing. "You know my name, woman?" he asked in a harsh voice.
"Yours and those of all your men," Sabrina nodded. "And I also know why you're here."
"Then get out of my way," Giovanni commanded. "We're not here to fight you. We're after the prince and the princess... and after the Senshi."
Usagi winced when she realized that he was talking about her and Rei.
Sabrina raised her hand in a calm gesture. "Sailor Moon and her friends are my guests," she said. "They are under my protection."
Giovanni laughed. "You speak nonsense, woman! How do you plan on stopping me and all of my men?"
"This is a sacred place," Sabrina said sternly. "No one is going to disturb its peace. Not even you. Go! Take your men and leave in peace."
Giovanni looked at her with furious eyes. He then raised his sword and spurred his mount.
Sabrina looked at the spiny Pokémon with a smile. Nervously, it made a few steps, then stood still so abruptly, that Giovanni nearly fell off its back.
Sabrina giggled as she gently touched the muzzle of the Pokémon. "Your Nidorino is much gentler than you, Giovanni."
Giovanni tried again to spur his Nidorino, but the Pokémon didn't obey. Furiously, he jumped from its back and grabbed his weapon with both hands.
"Then I'm gonna make you leave, you fool!" he shouted. "Your tricks won't work on me!"
He raised his sword to strike down the woman, and Usagi gasped in shock, but then the sword disappeared from his hands, and the Rocketeer stumbled forward in surprise. He barely managed to stay on his feet.
With an angry roar, he pulled a heavy dagger out of his belt and threw it at Sabrina. But the powerful psychic simply made a movement with her hands, and the weapon stopped in mid-air, before falling down to the ground.
"What sorcery is this?" Giovanni snarled. "You witch! You're gonna pay for this!"
Sabrina shook her head. "I'm looking in your heart, Giovanni," she said. "And you are not as evil as you want to make me believe. Why do you want to disturb the peace of this forest so badly?"
The tall Rocketeer warrior glared at with hatred. "I'm not afraid of you, witch!"
"You're not supposed to fear me," Sabrina said. "Rather, fear the hatred deep within your heart."
"Get her!" Giovanni ordered his men. "She may be a witch, but we are enough to take her down!"
The riders replied with angry yells and started moving towards the seemingly helpless woman in front of them.
Sabrina put her hand to her mouth and let out a sharp whistle. And all of a sudden, a pink creature with a round body and pointed ears dropped out of the trees and jumped in front of her.
"Jigglypuff..." Sabrina simply said, and the pink Pokémon nodded.
And then, it started singing:
"Jiiiig, Jiiiiggelyyyy, Jiglyyypuuuu-huuuu-huuuuuff!"
Usagi blinked, as the soothing voice of the Pokémon made her sleepy. Her eyes were slowly closing, but then she awoke as Ash pinched her arm. Sabrina turned around, smiled and made a short gesture with her hand. And suddenly, Usagi didn't feel sleepy anymore. Sabrina must have protected her and the others from the effects of Jigglypuff's enchanting melody.
But not the Rocketeers. In bewilderment, Usagi watched how one after the other dropped out of their saddles and began to snore. Only Giovanni seemed to be protected by the song.
And then, Jigglypuff stopped singing. Giovanni looked around. Not one of his men was awake anymore.
"Leave!" Sabrina said again. "Leave in peace, while you can. And never bring weapons to this place anymore."
Giovanni stared at the psychic. "Who are you, woman?" he murmured, his voice shaking.
Sabrina smiled. "Perhaps a messenger of peace," she said. "Perhaps just someone who came here to impede disaster."
Giovanni threw her one final glare, then he walked back to his Nidorino and got back onto his saddle.
"I'll be back," he shouted. "Don't you think you can escape from me forever! And you'll pay for Domino's death, just you wait!"
He turned his Pokémon around, and reluctantly, Nidorino complied. One after another, his men woke up and remounted their pigs. And finally, they turned around, and left the clearing.
When they were gone, Misty hesitantly approached Sabrina from behind.
"Th-thank you for helping us," she said. "They might have imprisoned or even killed us, if not for your help. May we leave now?"
"So you can continue to spread anger and violence?" Sabrina frowned.
Misty winced under Sabrina's stern gaze, and for the first time Usagi heard a sharp tone in her voice.
She shook her head. "No, you can't leave just yet. You are tired and hurt, and there is one among you whose wounds are worse than she wants to make her friends believe." She looked at Rei, who just looked at the ground. "Also, I have to speak to the princess of the moon."
"Is that how you keep your promise not to interfere with the kingdoms again?" Misty muttered angrily.
Sabrina made a resolute gesture to silence her, and Jigglypuff looked at the red-haired princess angrily.
"I'll do my best to help you, but it won't do you good as long as you continue to rely on violence and anger," she scolded. "And now, follow me!"
And those last words clearly weren't a plea or request, but an order that not even Misty and Ash were able to object.
They followed Sabrina to a big, round hut situated deep within the woods.
While they were walking, Rei continued pressing her right hand against the wound on the side of her body, and she sharply inhaled when she stumbled upon a rock. Usagi and Misty were helping her as best as they could, but they realized that her condition had to be worse than they thought.
Upon reaching the psychic's home, Sabrina clapped into her hands, and the door of the hut opened. Another small, pink creature jumped out that Sabrina introduced as 'Clefairy'.
Sabrina whispered something to Clefairy and Jigglypuff, and the two pink little puffballs nodded, before they hurried back inside. Sabrina then made an inviting gesture towards the entrance.
"Please, come in! Clefairy and Jigglypuff are preparing a resting place for your body, princess of Mars, as well as some herbal bandages. Please follow me, so we can take a look at your wounds."
After they helped Rei lying down on the bed inside one of the hut's little chambers, Sabrina asked Sailor Mars to drop her Senshi magic, so she could inspect her injuries. Rei nodded and returned to her casual attire.
Usagi gasped when Sabrina lifted Rei's shirt and she could see the bloody injury.
Sabrina then turned to her and the others and said: "I'm sorry, but I have to take care of your friend. Please, wait for me in the other room... I will join you later. Misty, if you would stay to help me...?"
"Yes, of course," the red-haired girl instantly replied, went to the elder woman's side, and they went to work.
Ash and Pikachu were following Sabrina's pink helpers into the next room, but Usagi hesitated when she looked at her friend's face, as she was lying down there on the bed, a grimace of pain.
Ash gently touched her shoulder and smiled. "Don't worry, she'll be fine! Sabrina is a skilled healer, and Misty has learned one or two things from her."
Usagi looked at the prince in surprise, then back at Rei and nodded sadly.
Together, they sat down in comfortable chairs in the adjoining room.
"So, Misty and Sabrina know each other?" she asked.
Ash nodded. "Sabrina has known Misty, Brock and me for some time now," he explained. "You might be surprised to hear that Sabrina was once known as a fearsome sorceress who turned anyone who would invade her territory, into an immobile doll."
"Sabrina did that?" Usagi asked in astonishment. She couldn't possibly that this gentle, peace-loving woman could have a dark side.
"She did, but what no one knew was that she once had been under the control of a vengeful Hypno... a psychic Pokémon. He used her as a cover and a puppet, so he could gain control over the entire forest. Luckily, Misty, Brock and I were able to save her from the Hypno's mind control."
"I thought she's one of the most powerful psychics in Kanto?" Usagi wondered.
Ash nodded. "Yes, but she didn't know that Hypno meant her any harm. So he caught her off guard."
"And in thanks, Sabrina offered to train Misty's latent psychic abilities," Pikachu added. "Misty did spend many weeks here, in her home, and learned much about her abilities... and the forest."
"But why was she so upset when we met her?" Usagi asked. "If she's on our side, why did she react like that? She seemed frightened when Sabrina appeared before us..."
Ash sighed. "Well... after Misty completed her training, Sabrina gave her some sort of prophecy..."
Ash looked at her, then shook her head. "I can't tell you... I'm sorry. Misty had asked me to keep it a secret..."
Behind them, Sabrina entered the room. Usagi looked up at her in expectation.
She sighed in relief when the green-haired woman smiled at her. "Your friend is fine now. I bandaged her wounds, and gave her some herbs. She will sleep until tomorrow morning, then her injuries will be healed."
"Thank you," Usagi said while bowing. "Thank you very much!"
Sabrina looked at Ash. "Please, could I speak to the princess in private for a while?"
"Um, sure!" Ash stood up, smiled at Usagi and left the room. Pikachu and Sabrina's helpers followed him.
Sabrina sat down in another chair. "Sailor Moon... you know by now that our world knows much about you, right?"
"Yes," Usagi nodded. "But still, I'm wondering why no one in my world knows about Kanto."
"Oh, there are a few," Sabrina explained. "But they keep it a close secret from others. You know, I believe your friend Luna already told you that Kanto and the Moon Kingdom had once been in contact with each other. Our two worlds got many merits from interacting with each other, and visitors of both worlds were visiting each other quite often."
Usagi listened in awe. "You are very knowledgeable."
Sabrina smiled. "I've been studying. I've always been interested in the ancient Moon Kingdom and the impact it had on our world."
"But what happened to cause our two worlds to drift apart from each other like this?" Usagi wondered.
"Can't you guess?" Sabrina asked. "It was because of a dark menace that threatened the Moon Kingdom... and in the end, caused its destruction."
Usagi looked down at the floor. "Metallia..." she whispered.
Sabrina nodded. "Yes. And so, you and your friends are the last remaining people on Earth that know about the Moon Kingdom. Before Metallia's forces invaded, Queen Serenity made sure to seal away all passageways that lead to Kanto... and they remained closed, until..."
"Until Lord Oak needed help from the moon princess and brought Ash into our world," Usagi sighed. She shook her head. "I... I know what they expect of me, but... I'm not too sure if I can do it."
"You are horrified of what happened earlier this day," Sabrina assumed.
Usagi nodded. "Yes, that blonde Rocketeer girl... Giovanni seemed to be pretty upset about her death..." She wrapped her arms around herself and groaned. "Just like I am..."
"It wouldn't be any better if it had been anyone else who met his demise back then," Sabrina said. "Death is never a nice thing. But I believe you already understood that it is important to make a decision every now and then. Looks like the ghosts of Lavender Castle were right."
"About what?" Usagi asked in confusion.
"That you could be the one. They say that one day, someone will come who will free them from their ghostly existence."
"And I'm supposed to be that person?" Usagi sounded skeptical.
"Well, you might be the one," Sabrina said with a smile. "Even I can't look into the future, you know? But they say it's supposed to be a wanderer between the worlds, and a member of royalty."
"That also applies for Ash," Usagi pointed out.
"That's true," Sabrina nodded. "But you know, Ash didn't quite tell you everything about the ghosts of Lavender... He told you that they have turned into ghosts because of the Rocketeer's attack. But that's only one part of the story. What happened to them was the punishment for what they did in the past."
Usagi understood right away. "Rayquaza..."
"Yes," Sabrina said. "Rayquaza! They were summoning the dragon, but the force they called upon was more powerful than the one that called it. The dragon burned down their enemies, but he didn't leave, and they couldn't contain him anymore. And he almost had been able to destroy all of Kanto."
"But they did beat it, right?" Usagi asked.
"Well, we wouldn't be standing here if they didn't," Sabrina smirked. "But yes, they found a way, but don't ask me how they did it. They managed to subdue it, but for a big price. The dragon's curse hit them. They would never again find peace and were cursed to roam the halls of Lavender Castle forever."
"Eternal life? That doesn't sound like a curse," Usagi said, blinking.
"And yet it was one," Sabrina replied. "Rayquaza cursed them with immortality, but it was an eternity of terror, as they could never leave their castle and were forced to relive their most horrible moments in life again and again. But, there might be a way for them to atone for what they did. They might find eternal peace when they get the chance to help save Kanto from a disastrous threat. Just like you."
Usagi knew what the psychic meant, but she didn't reply. So Sabrina continued:
"Ash showed you the Burning Plains. He told you what happened after the dragon was summoned. But what Lord Oak is going to show you won't be much less horrifying. You don't have the choice between the dragon and peace, Sailor Moon! You have the choice between the fire of the dragon and the fire of the Rocketeers... and that burns just as blazing as that of Rayquaza."
"So... you want to tell me that I should help Lord Oak?" Usagi asked.
"I'm only saying that you have to choose carefully, but the choice is still yours. I'm just here to help you with the decision, not to make it for you."
"And if I make a mistake?" Usagi asked unconfidantly. She didn't like the situation she was in one bit. It wasn't fair... should she really risk the destruction of Kanto, to save it from the Rocketeers?
"Just listen to the voice of your conscience, and you will make the right decision," Sabrina said. Her voice was full of confidence. "I know you can do it. And now, we should get some rest, especially you. You have still a long journey ahead of you, until you reach Pallet Castle." She then looked at her guest inquiringly. "Or have you changed your mind?"
"No, I'm still going to Pallet Castle," Usagi said. "That much I promised to Lord Oak."
Sabrina nodded. "Very well... in that case, I have a present for you." She stood up and walked over to a bureau, where she pulled a shiny item out of a drawer.
Usagi accepted the circular object from the psychic woman. It was a metal ring, shimmering like silver, with various adornments that were looking similar to the decorations on her own weapons... the Moon Tiara, the Moon Rod and the Holy Grail, for instance.
"What's this?" she whispered.
"This is the Moon Chakram," Sabrina explained. "It is one of the artifacts from the ancient Moon Kingdom that stayed behind in Kanto, before Queen Serenity sealed off the pathways between our worlds. I know you are already a capable fighter, especially alongside your friends, and that you don't like to hurt anyone... but please, take it with you. It will be a dangerous journey, and it is more than just a weapon. It will be able to protect you. But remember that this is more than just a fancy piece of metal... misuse the Moon Chakram's powers, and it will turn against you."
Sailor Moon grabbed the Moon Chakram with both her hands and nodded. "Thank you again, Sabrina! I think your advice really helped me. And I will think about you every time I'll use the Chakram."
"That's good to hear," Sabrina smiled. "And now, time for bed! As I said, It's gonna be a long journey for all of you."
For all your information, this story is unfinished and will stay until I've heard at least a couple of more positive comments from more readers. Even if that happens, I will have to contemplate if I further continue this.
Thanks for understanding!