Roll credits to How Far We've Come – Matchbox 20
The universe was not a toy. It was, In fact, an incredibly fine tuned mechanism, balancing forces both mundane and exotic on a celestial clockwork that ticked inexorably toward the future. Altering it in any way shape or form was ill-advised due to the forces involved, and while those forces were permitted to bend, thumbing one's nose at universal law was generally detrimental to a long term existence. For example, one could, in theory, bring the gears of fate grinding to a halt and stop time cold. It would require an artifact of immense power to bring such ambition to pass, but it could be done.
Setsuna Meiou, otherwise known as Sailor Pluto, had access to just such an artifact. They were known simply as the Time Gates, and granted her access to Time Majorum. With this last great artifact of the Silver Millennium, the Princess of Pluto could move between the past and the future, though this was forbidden since it was painfully easy to create a paradox.
The universe dealt with such careless time travel most harshly, but Pluto was careful. Stopping time was also forbidden, but unlike actual time travel, the repercussions were more personal in nature. While freezing time would not create a reality shattering paradox, it did, by its very nature, stop time.
All of time.
Throughout the entire universe.
Theoretically you could do so as long as you wanted, provided one could keep up with an energy demand of 42,897 solar watts per second and were willing to risk the exponential increase in temporal sheering. Assuming you could surmount those hurdles, there was one final challenge to overcome… Death. You could stop the universe, but once your time ran out, the gears of quantum physics would crush you with merciless efficiency. It was a fact that the Guardian of the Underworld knew all too well, as she had already initiated her own demise twice before in the same manner…
…And now, it was looking like she would need to do so a third time.
"Jikan yo Tomare."
The world around Sailor Pluto suddenly flashed as the power necessary to stop time gathered and released in silence, blasting a wave front of tachyons across the visible light spectrum. When her vision returned, she found the world leeched of color; the battlefield below little more than a single frame from a photo negative. Black smoke plumes that had been the result of pyrotechnics were frozen in time; likewise the raging fires that had spawned them. Innocent civilians were stopped in their panicked fleeing, and even Tuxedo Black's corrupted beam of power had been checked. Setsuna Meiou was now between time.
She had thirty seconds.
The emerald manned guardian floated down from her position on high and landed next to Sailor Moon, who was likewise frozen; caught in that single moment with the rest of the world. ...The rest of the universe, for that matter, Setsuna amended silently as she contemplated her next course of action. Usagi had taken more than a few hits, and the wounds were quite evident. A sizable cut running down her cheek. The white top of her fuku armor breached in several places. More blood. The Moon Princess held herself in a guarded position, braced against Tuxedo Black's next attack which had frozen less than a meter from impact.
Pluto nodded, her course clear. She brought up the Time Key and touched her future queen on the head with the heart tip. The staff found its target and synchronized her temporally, freeing the blond from Setsuna's final technique. The girl suddenly lurched, bracing for an attack that wouldn't come.
Moon blinked from behind her guard, head pivoting wildly. "What? huh?"
"Princess," Pluto stated, gaining her attention. Even as the inevitable question began to burble from Sailor Moon's lips, the Guardian of Time preempted them abruptly. "I have stopped, time. For the moment, we are insulated from reprisal."
The blonde simply nodded, her thoughts running a mile a minute along several divergent paths. Setsuna continued, gently pulling Usagi gently out of the black beam's path. "I cannot afford you to be corrupted by Tuxedo Black before the others arrive. The outcome would be quite disastrous."
"But he's too-"
"No time, Princess," The Senshi of Time shook her head, cutting off any further questioning with a frown. "Yes, he is quite powerful. Nor does it help that he is preying on your weakness for the man he used to be, but Black himself has a substantial weakness." Sailor Moon looked on the verge of tears with the memory, but nodded for her to continue. "He is still the Prince of Earth, ordained by Serenity herself."
"He's..?!" Sailor Moon gasped with the revelation.
Sailor Pluto opened her mouth to say something, but paused as a tremor of power rippled through her being. The universe is getting impatient, she thought, then continued hastily. It wouldn't be long now. "He is, but in his arrogance, has forgotten a crucial fact… You are the successor to that power. You can giveth, but more importantly, you can taketh."
The vibration of power cascading within reverberated once more, reminding the guardian that her fate was nigh. She could see so many questions in her Queen's eyes, questions she would be unable to answer in her last few moments of life. Pluto offered an understanding smile in their place. "The time gate's anchor is failing, your Highness. Prepare yourself. I look forward to meeting you again, someday."
With those final words, the Guardian of Pluto seemed to freeze as her very form was leached of color. The woman's vibrant green mane dulled, then faded into grays before becoming a ghostly transparent. Even as she ceased to existed, Sailor Moon watched the complete opposite happen to the world around her. Buildings and people- previously grey themselves -slowly gained definition and life. Color was returning and time began to resume, ticking by at an excruciating crawl.
Setsuna was all but gone now, her ghostly body little more than a trick of the light. Usagi focused not only on the world around her, but the black beam Pluto had pulled her away from. It too now crept along at a snails pace, but would obviously miss her. She stared back down along its vector and upon the person who had unleashed it, her friend, her lover and now, her enemy. He was clad completely in black, offset only by a pair of red eyes peering out from a smirking mask. The princess turned back to the last remnants of Setsuna Meiou with a sad smile.
"Thank you, Puu."
Sound roared back into the world as the temporal bubble collapsed completely, the black beam of corruption lancing by Sailor Moon. Tuxedo Black gaped. He had missed by several feet. The whining simpleton simply wasn't that fast!
"The sacrifices of loved ones at the hands of traitors is something I cannot abide," Sailor Moon turned back to her opponent, her features set in stone and vengeance dancing in her blue eyes. A pink aura sprang to life, healing any battle damage she had incurred over the last half an hour as if it had all been inconsequential. Tuxedo Black took a trembling step back as white magic gained density around him. A fierce pink sphere of power manifested itself in her hand.
She held it aloft, clearly intent on a retaliatory strike. "In the name of the Moon, you shall be punished!"
A Time Apart
Pain. Excruciating pain. Setsuna Meiou's world was made of pain, as if somebody had taken her body, pulled it inside out and dragged her across a salted layer of molten glass.
For all intents and purposes, suicide by temporal dissolution was supposed to be a relatively pain-free event. You can only hold time at bay for so long before universal law retaliated, disassembling your person in a maelstrom of exotic particles as you try and reenter the time stream. Even at the height of the Silver Millennium, the greatest minds in physics had yet to negate this absolute, though they had found ways around it.
Spiritual energy was one of the few exceptions to the rule of temporal law and though the person stopping time would still be crushed by time itself, their soul, properly anchored to an artifact of power, would remain. Of course, they would still technically die and would reincarnate, but it was possibly to survive the event…
…In a manner of speaking.
Setsuna Meiou had 'survived' two such events already and was working on her third. The previous two had happened exactly as advertised. She powered up. She stopped time. And then, after thirty seconds, she died. A fairly painless way to go, all things considered. The time gates had helped with the rebirth process, but she still lost considerable ground every time it occurred, forcing her future self covered her absence until she matured…
…And confuse the hell out of her once she recovered her memories.
The second time wasn't so bad, though she nearly hadn't arrived in time to save Uranus and Neptune. That had shaken her. She was the Guardian of Time, the Senshi's last resort. She watched their backs. She removed threats before they became threats. Suddenly, it was clear: If events ever went awry while she was still recovering from a previous time stop… From that point on, Sailor Pluto developed a hobby. Some people collected coins. Others cataloged insects. Setsuna Meiou set to learning how to survive a time stop event.
Modifications to the gates were made. Simulations ran. It looked good. The power curve was a bit dicey, but odds were looking fairly good that she would survive the process. In theory, the Princess of Pluto would dial up a time stop, use her thirty seconds and watch her temporal bubble collapse. If everything went as planned, the gate would erect bank of secondary shielding that would hold for the better half of a pico second before folding. That half pico second was all that was needed to shunt her mass back to the buffered safety of the gates and a glass of warm sake.
Reality said her body was being sucked through a twelve dimensional straw, her very mass folded up like some misshapen quantum origami swan before being ripped apart at the subatomic level. Matter streamed wildly across time and space, straining to find its anchor. Her very soul screamed as the Time Gates fought to retain their ties, causing agony beyond meaning. Her life force stretched and twisted through dimensional ether until only one outcome could come to pass…
The planetary bindings snapped.
The Senshi of Pluto experienced one last ethereal spike of white hot pain through her soul before merciful black overtook her.
"She's coming around, Doctor."
The words floated through the haze of Setsuna's consciousness as she fought to open her eyes. The attempt was met by excruciating white light, jerking her left hand to shield her face. Pain flooded her nervous system as she lifted her arm, prompting the woman to quickly abandon the attempt and leave her eyes shut.
"Now, now, I wouldn't advise that at the moment, Miss…?"
It was clearly a question, this time having been voiced by a male. The aforementioned doctor, undoubtedly. "Meiou," She returned, unable to keep the fatigue from her voice. The shuffling of papers and random scribbling met her ears while. "May I ask where I am?"
"Jutendo Hospital," the disembodied voice replied amiable, confirming at least part of her suspicions while another thread of logic dissected the meager details available. Jutendo, ten kilometers south… minor spatial displacement…? "Do you remember what happened?"
"Pain… I remember lots of pain." She replied easily. It was the truth, of course. Just not the whole truth. "Can you turn down the lights?"
"Oh, of course," The voice obliged. A couple footsteps later and the deed was done. "That should do it." Setsuna's red eyes fluttered open, confirming exactly what she was expecting to find… A small, now dimly lit hospital room with herself hooked up to every manner of device. The polite, rhythmic beeping was the one measuring her heart beat. Standard bed, hospital gown… "As for the pain, that does sound about right, given the condition in which you were found."
"And what condition was that?"
The doctor, a gentleman in his late fifties, stroked his goatee thoughtfully before pulling up a stool beside her bed and consulting the bedside clipboard. The uniformed nurse beside him gave her a kind smile before exiting the room with several papers in hand. "First and second degree burns, scrapes, bruising… And, ahem… completely nude. You were found unconscious on a sidewalk."
The emerald haired woman barely nodded, accepting the information quietly. "How long have I been unconscious?"
"Two days," The doctor answered readily. "It's April sixteenth."
Her next question, however, caused him pause. "What year?"
"Er, 1998," He replied carefully before consulting the clipboard once more. "Are you experiencing…gaps in your memory by any chance?"
She smiled weakly at him, playing her part as the perfect patient. "I.. don't think so… It's just very hazy at the moment."
The physician ticked the end of his pencil on his clip board a couple times, lost in thought. After a moment, he came to a silent conclusion. "If you don't mind, I'm going to have the nurse administer some tests…"
Setsuna quirked an eyebrow. "What sort of tests?"
"Well, I'm worried that given the condition you were found in, you may have been a victim of some kind of… abuse," The doctor picked over his words carefully. "Blackouts and loss of detail would be symptomatic of that… As well as any number of other things, of course."
"Of course," She frowned, getting the message quite clearly. No, dear doctor, just a bout of uncontrolled spatial displacement. At least I'm when I'm supposed to be. "I'll cooperate in any way I can."
His smile brightened. "Excellent. My nurse will be back within the hour. Anything you can remember between now and then will be of benefit as well."
"I'll do my best." She reaffirmed and he attached her medical clipboard back to the bed before stepping out of the room. Setsuna waited for another thirty seconds before sliding her legs off the right side of the bed slowly, disconnecting the intravenous tubing first, but leaving the EKG and heart feeds intact. Pain coursed through her body, so she took it slow, standing up carefully. The heart monitor's beeping picked up in pace, but remained otherwise stable.
"Damned if I'm sticking around for a rape kit…" She muttered and held out her hand, willing the time key from folded space. Air popped as it was displaced by the stave's mass, dropping into her hand with a comforting weight. It had been her nearly nonstop companion for the better part of 15,000 years, after all. The Time Key touched her skin and began its routine data dump through her armor's cerebral link, which was all but ignored. After having the staff in her possession for so long, it was quite unnecessary to--
Carrier lost. Switching to local mode.
A singular data flag caught her attention as the report drifted through her conscious. That isn't right. Setsuna took conscious control of the link now and sent a command back to the staff. Reestablish link.
The guardian felt the key attempt the uplink once, then twice. It terminated further attempts with the third. Carrier not found. Setsuna's frown was barely visible in the dim room. The key and the gates were linked together at all times. It should never be in local mode. Ever. Local mode also meant the staff was operating on its own power, or rather, whatever was left after her time stopping shenanigans. The good news appeared to be that she had lived through the event as predicted. The bad news was looking like she would need to reboot the time gates. Dammit, she fumed and queried the key once more. That was going to occupy the better part of a week and she felt like crap.
Part of the report she had neglected flowed back through to her. One hundred percent function… thirty two percent power reserves… Just enough to get me back to the gate…
Her course of action was crystal clear with the new information. Port back to the gates, reboot them and find out how Moon faired against Tuxedo Black. It was two days since the attack and Tokyo was still standing, which implied a favorable outcome. The gates came first. She mentally nudged the staff once more and it gathered the necessary power.
Assembling displacement field…
Jump coordinance established…
Her command was processed in under a second, removing her presence from the room in a pink flash of light.
The heart monitor erupted in a pitched keening as its patient went into seeming cardiac arrest.
Pluto shrugged off the paper thin parchment mistakenly labeled a hospital gown, stepping nude into the black void that housed the Time Gates. Before her stood the construct in all its glory; the last great artifact of the silver millennium. Setsuna exert mental pressure through the time key, willing her fuku armor into existence before proceeding further.
A frown crossed creased her lips as she studied the gates in detail. The massive double doors weren't vibrating with power. There was no activity, standby or otherwise. The artifact was dead. Cold. Completely silent.
Impossible… She mumbled, walking around the gates. Icy dread began to seep in. They're not just in standby awaiting reboot… They're completely powered off!
In fact, she could barely remember the last time they had been turned off. Phase three stress testing maybe, she thought silently, staring in awe. But that was back when the Silver Millenium still existed... Her brain began to conjure all the scenarios and just what kind of forces it would take to knock the gates completely offline. Was the beating they took during time stop recovery that bad? None of the simulations even hinted to…
The Mistress of time chewed on the dilemma for another moment before sighing. "It can't be helped, I suppose."
Sailor Pluto circled back to the left edge of gates, inspecting the heavy framework that housed the doors themselves. She ran a light finger down the left center of the oak column, then perpendicular to the path. She stopped and a small, hand sized panel folded away, revealing a recessed dial lit by dim pink emergency lighting. Setsuna gripped the dial's hand hold and pulled outward sharply, then twisted counterclockwise ninety degrees. The action met with a loud click and the cylinder abruptly sank back into the superstructure until it was flush with the inner frame.
The emerald haired woman stepped back, eyeing the gates patiently. Less than a second later, the entire structure began to pop and hissing as more than a dozen other panels folded away, revealing the internal working of the time gates. Most of the newly revealed accesses housed several breakers or other switches. Some held keypads. The last panel clicked open and Setsuna toured the artifact once more, chewing her lip.
A manual re-fire of the temporal core wasn't exactly tops on my list of things to do, she grumbled, finding her first target; a panel on the left front of the gate's super structure. Within sat a very large throw switched emblazoned with yellow and black stripes. She took a firm handhold. Primary breaker 'A' emergency power… Pluto yanked down hard on the switched, locking it in placed with a heavy click. …open.
Dim pink lighting flickered on within each of the service access points. Emergency re-fire protocol step one complete, Setsuna rolled her eyes. Forty eight more to go.
All told, the Princess of Pluto completed the operation in less than four hours, her hand hovering over the final switch at the three hour and forty seven minute mark. All six stand-by generator were hot and awaiting the re-fire, while temporal shielding hummed invisibly about the structure itself. Even the base logic hub twittered with activity now, awaiting the final safety release that would hand off reactivation control to their processors.
Even though her armor planetary bindings had done a fair job at healing her injuries, she was still sore, and this workout hadn't helped matters. She considered the small finger length switch with distain. If she had to flip another like it anytime within the near future, it would be too soon.
Maybe the recalibration can wait a few days, she mused silently, then flipped the final switch; completing step forty eight. A piercing alarm accompanied the action as the base logic hub took over, sounding a verbal warning.
"Warning, re-fire immanent! Standby."
Setsuna Meiou backed off about ten meters, watching with rapt attention as every service panel she had opened closed of its own accord. After all, the last time she had witnessed this particular event was damn near 15,000 years ago.
"Generators one through six ramping to full power."
"Bringing temporal shielding to maximum strength. "
"Singularity forming, one hundred and sixty four gravities and rising."
"Plotting optimal angular rotation."
A slight smile formed as the Time Gates began to hum with power once more, steadily building in crescendo that she could feel within her bones. Not many people could claim to have watched the gates activate once, let alone twice. the thought also introduced a sliver of sorrow. Of course, anybody that could is long dead anyway…
"Angular rotation, locked."
"Five hundred and twelve gravities and rising."
"Primary safeties released."
"One point five k gravities and rising."
"Secondary safeties released."
"Singularity approaching critical mass."
"Tertiary safeties released."
"Re-fire in five…four… three… two… one…"
The Princess of Pluto was openly grinning now as what amounted to a weapon of mass destruction lit off within the dimensional bowls of the time gates, aiming six high energy tachyon lances into a singularity two thousand times more massive than the Earth. The six precisely aimed beams dissected the artificial black hole with ruthless efficiency, causing it to destabilize in an event that was nothing less than pure annihilation compressed within the space represented by something less than that of a one-yen piece.
Local space inside the gates withered under the assault, tearing at the quantum mechanics that held them together like a chainsaw chewing through tinfoil. Those bonds held for a moment before buckling outright, violently tearing open a hole in time itself. The event expanded quite abruptly before running headlong into the temporal shielding already in place, causing the barriers themselves to bow. The tempest within lashed impatiently at the barrier, causing space-time around the gates to bend. Had anybody else been present in that moment, they would have watched Setsuna's form and the gates blur, drift out of sync with reality for the next few seconds before the Gates themselves stabilized in a soft glow.
"Re-fire successful. Temporal core online, reading nominal output," The Time Gates reported with clinical efficiency. "Recommend reactivation of Primary AI set to execute higher gate functions."
Not too damn bad for being fifteen thousand years out of practice, Pluto decided smugly, flipping a strand of green hair from her face. "Process the AI."
Holographic script began writing itself into existence in a circular track surrounding the Gates, shadowing the myriad of instructions processing within the their faster than light data banks. Compiling the AI from a cold start was an inherently a lengthy process, giving The Mistress of Time more than enough time to contemplate matters further. Much as she wanted to conclude her first Time Stop survival test run a success-- that being measured by her survival -it had knocked that gates off-line. Not just completely off line, but put it out like a light. That alone was worrisome enough, not to mention excruciatingly painful.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say my bindings to Pluto took a hit as well…Setsuna focused on the ache that seemed to resonate in her very bones. The superficial wounds had healed already, meaning her ties to the planet were still intact, but the pain…
No, can't risk that again, she decided. The gates were simply too important to gamble on continuously being re-fired every time she might be required to stop time. Blasting open a temporal hole within the gates put enormous stress on the local time-space curve. That was, in fact, why she hadn't turned them off in nearly 15,000 years. While containment was all but assured, the odds of a breach and resulting destruction were more than enough to cause anybody pause. One botched re-fire and you could write off the entire southern arm of the galaxy.
That wasn't something Setsuna Meiou was looking to have on her resume.
No matter. She'd just have to roll back the changes when the gates came back to something resembling an operational status and take any future time stoppage like the Guardian she was, death and all. At least the normal way is painless, she groused as the Time Gates completed compiling the AI set. But God, I hate going through puberty again.
"Kernel coming online."
"And about damn time," The guardian huffed, watching as the sky around the Time Gates cleared of its meandering script and holographic logs. In their place an apparition stepped forward from the gates themselves, fading into existence like a phantom. It was a small girl with gray blue eyes, her cheerful smile framed by a silver crop of hair tied into a pair odangoes.
The vision turned Setsuna's blood run cold.
"What… What the hell is this…?" She stumbled back a step, staring. Her emotions now ran the gamut of horror, fascination and confusion simultaneously as she took the holographic figure's details in. It was no more than a meter and a half high, clothed in a pink and white fuku with matching white kneed high heeled boots.
The girl bowed politely. "I am the Time Gates AI, version 1.43. How may I be of assistance Guardian Pluto?"
Pluto was completely speechless with the greeting, her cheek twitching. Impossible. I couldn't have messed up that badly… Of course, she knew exactly what she was looking at… An avatar of the late Queen Serenity at age seven imposed upon the gate AI. What she couldn't figure out was why it was active. She had sealed it nearly thirteen thousand years ago simply because it brought back too many painful memories. And now it was active again?
The Senshi composed herself the best she could under the circumstances. "What… what are you doing here?"
The AI smiled and a spike of survivor's guilt pierced Setsuna's heart. "This AI became active at Guardian Pluto's request, logged April 16th , 1998, Oh-thirteen fifty hours."
"I know that," Her face scrunched up in irritation as the construct forced her to clarify the inquiry. "What I do not understand is why you are active after I sealed you nearly thirteen millennia ago."
The AI-girl blinked, cocking her head. Her blue grey eyes began to reflect lines of data as she processed the claim. A second later, she shook her head. "I am sorry, Guardian Pluto. The Time Gates have been in visual assist mode since last power down."
"Which was only two days ago," The Mistress of Time frowned while a distinct feeling of trepidation began to creep along her spine. Perhaps more damage than I originally thought...?
"Negative, Guardian Pluto," The child avatar of Queen Serenity shook her head again, her smile fading slightly. "My internal logs indicate last power down occurred December 15th, 8305 Silver Millennium, twenty forty two hours."
Setsuna was about ready to voice her denial when the date caught her complete and undivided attention. 8305 Silver Millennium… but that's… no… there's no way in hell… Her train of thought snapped back to the present with a renewed sense of urgency. "Who shut you down? Why?"
"You did, Guardian Pluto," The answer turned her gut to solid ice. The AI continued to pull data from its own logs even as Setsuna's unease grew. "A full shutdown was ordered in order to avoid compromising this unit to the infernal forces attacking Sol."
The words were a sledge hammer to Setsuna Meiou, causing her to waver slightly. "Im… Impossible…" The unreality of the entire situation muted most of her debilitating emotions so that she could ask the next question. "What… what is the status of the moon kingdom's assets?"
"One moment," The child returned and closed her eyes. Setsuna all but knew the answer anyway, but she had to find out just how screwed up this thing was. Blue-grey eyes popped open. "I am receiving no IFF from Moon Kingdom or allied forces on any frequency. Commercial and guard bands are silent. No carrier or data links from any planetary kingdoms present. Low band emissions detected emanating from Terra, though these do not correspond with Moon kingdom protocols."
The AI paused, as if weighing the incoming data. "Passive sensor sweeps indicate no traffic of any sort within three AUs, though I am hesitant to use my active arrays given the last tactical update available."
"There's nothing out there to worry about," Pluto mumbled, shaking her head numbly. "Nothing at all."
Still, it's to be expected, she decided soberly. In fact, the only thing out of the ordinary was the AI itself and the fact that it listed the gates as being turned off by her personally 15,000 years ago. That, and she wasn't appreciating the trip down memory lane. It all either pointed to massive data corruption or…
…She didn't want to think about the 'or' just yet.
"Whatever," She frowned. Either way, the gates appeared to be usable and it was time to put them to use. "Open a channel to Ami."
"Reference 'Ami' unknown."
"Of course not," Setsuna sighed at the girl. "You haven't been on for the last 15,000 years, haven't you? Open a channel to Guardian Mercury."
The AI shook its head. "Unable, secure uplink not available. Guardian's last known location was--"
"Earth," Setsuna ground her teeth and spelled it out for the avatar. "Connect to the Mercury data link on Earth. There's only one."
"Affirmative," The AI complied, then frowned. "The remote link you are referencing is either inactive or not present, Guardian Pluto."
The Mistress of Time was at a loss for words. Just how badly damaged is this thing? She sighed. Looks like the hard way… "We'll connect directly to the Mercury computer, then. Use anything in Earth's orbit as a relay if necessary, but I need communications and I need it now."
Of the handful of people privy to the knowledge that the Time Gates even existed, most thought they were based somewhere on Pluto. There were a few holdouts for its sister moon Charon, but both camps agreed that they were probably buried, and buried deep in order to prevent their destruction, or worse yet; capture. These few souls weren't the only ones holding to this belief concerning the Time Gates and their alleged super-secret location.
The enemy felt this way as well, and when the time came to attack Pluto, they did so mercilessly. In fact, it was a sobering piece of trivia that Beryl's demonic forces landed with ten times the strength they had on other planets in the hopes that they could capture the artifact for themselves. It was also a fact that the Moon Kingdom used to their supreme advantage, turning what would otherwise be another planetary invasion into an offensive quagmire for the invaders. The demons searched and the Moon kingdom was there at every turn, bleeding them as they sacked the planet.
By the time Beryl had tired of searching for the gates, her forces had been depleted by nearly fifteen percent in the landing action alone; not including the losses incurred in their battles to maintain orbital supremacy. In the end, she ordered Pluto die by fire, authorizing one of the most comprehensive orbital bombardments of the war in order to ensure that the time gates- wherever they were hidden -were reduced to little more than radioactive dust. It was a trend she would carry on to the other planets as well.
The thrall Beryl- and that handful of knowledgeable people -would have undoubtedly been dismayed to learn that the time gates were neither stationed on Pluto or its sister satellite Charon at all. Instead, they floated within the cloaked void of the double planet's barycenter, secretly hidden from prying eyes through combination of gravimetric distortion and sophisticated cloaking technology. Within that veil was a bubble of atmosphere, artificial gravity and the Gates themselves.
Fifteen thousand years ago, they would have been manned at all times by not only the Senshi of Pluto, but a platoon of elite guards with enough firepower to make a modest sized destroyer question what it was doing there in the first place.
Today, it held only Setsuna Meiou and a bottle of sake.
The emerald haired guardian sat upon black nothingness, leaning against the framework of the gates while considering the bottle in hand. Blood shot red eyes pondered the clear liquid within for a moment before tipping it back one more for another chug. The AI avatar of young Queen Serenity watched the scene with dismay.
"I am sure it would be unnecessary to remind you that partaking of alcoholic beverages within the Time Gate's boundaries is strictly prohibited?"
"Feh," Setsuna snorted, throwing the near empty bottle at and through the avatar, where it tumbled harmless into the void. "You can file a formal complaint with my superior."
The girl frowned. As of this moment, Guardian Pluto had no superior. In fact, she was the superior, given the fact that she was the sole survivor of the fallen Silver Millennium. The Mercury computer had remained active all the way up through the invasion and subsequent bombardment of the moon, receiving data until the very end as channels dropped out one by one, like silent death knells.
And that was when things got decidedly odd, in the AI's opinion.
The demonic fleet encircled the moon, bombarding its fixed defenses mercilessly before landing troops. By the time the first demon set foot on lunar soil, the environment had been irrevocably damaged by radiation and fallout, while spent mushroom clouds drifted across an orange red horizon. But still, the queen fought, facing down the infernal host with the remainder of her Senshi. Her guardians fought, buying their queen enough time to face Beryl before falling themselves.
In the end, Serenity struck the demonic thrall down with a lance of white magic, blasting a hole clean though the Terran Queen's chest with vaporization following shortly thereafter. It was also Serenity's last living act, using all of the Silver Crystal's remaining power and the last of her life force to breach the woman's demonic protections.
"You killed her, Serenity…." The avatar turned back to Pluto, who was now burying her head in her knees, chocking on half sobs. "You killed her and doomed the future…"
And that was the oddity, the Gate observed passively. The Mercury archives clearly showed Guardian Pluto in the defense of her queen. In fact, she was the last to fall in that last, desperate hour to buy Serenity her final lethal act. By all rights, The Guardian of Pluto shouldn't have been sitting before her now, let alone getting properly drunk against her superstructure. Mercury listed her as deceased, killed in action and had the visual records to prove it.
Odd, but largely irrelevant. Upon learning of her deceased status, she had run a complete sensor scan on this Pluto in order to determine her authenticity. Everything was a one hundred percent match. Voice print, DNA, planetary bindings… For all intents and purposes, she was Setsuna Meiou and would retain complete access to her systems as such. Her emotional state, however…
"The threat appears to have passed, Guardian Pluto," It offered, hoping to stabilize her administrator's mood. "I am detecting no--"
"The threat," Setsuna's head snapped up suddenly, glaring at the girl. "Is alive and well."
"Indeed," Pluto bit, rising to her feet in a somewhat unsteady manner. Still, it would take more than a bottle of aged sake to bring her anything close to the vicinity of drunk. She'd work on that later. "Serenity killed the host, not her puppeteer. That goddamn solar parasite is still out there, somewhere."
The AI mulled over this new information. "My last tactical update did not include this data."
"Of course not," Setsuna frowned. "Set up for a quantum variance scan, on me specifically."
"Scanning," The avatar child noted, then cocked her head with a curious expression. "Done. I am noting an electron rotation variance of seven to fifteen degrees outside of established norms."
Setsuna acknowledge the results with a grunt, all but knowing the answer to her next request. "Extrapolate why."
"Your electron variance does not appear to share the same quantum standard for matter native to this dimension," The child frowned. "Lacking a clear precedent, I can only theorize that you are not native to this planular domain."
"Figures," She grumbled in an acerbic tone. "I don't need this shit."
"The odds of matter surviving any give planular crossover, however, are--"
"Astronomically long, I know," Setsuna shook her head. "Alright, listen up. It's time for that tactical update you're requesting." She paused, ensuring she had the AI's complete and undivided attention.
"Mankind in deep shit. We have at least one immensely powerful and incredibly lethal adversary left over from the fall of the Silver Millennium. Its name is Metaria and her very existence will instigate Earth's demise via a global Ice Age. There is no stopping it. Metaria is in turn directed by a forth dimensional entity known as Chaos residing in the Galactic Cauldron."
Setsuna paused, organizing her thoughts briefly before continuing. "We may or may not have to worry about Mistress Nine and Pharaoh Ninety, both of which will attempt to subjugate the Earth as well. Maybe Queen Nehellenia too. With the past and future screwed all to hell, we probably won't have to worry about the Black Moon Clan, at least."
Chibi-Serenity absorbed the information, nodding. "And you were able to deal with these threats?"
"Yes," It was Pluto's turn to frown now. "But where I'm from, Serenity reincarnated her daughter and the other guardians with the last of the Silver Crystal's power, allowing them to engage the enemies of the here and now. Here…" She licked her lips with nervous anticipation. "Here, they never came forward. Here, they're all dead. Truly dead."
Setsuna Meiou walked into the Fuchu branch of The Bank of Tokyo like she owned the place. Lavender high heels clicked as she walked through the lobby and found herself a teller, their sound effectively drawing the attention of any male within earshot while her figure did the rest. While the cut of her business jacket and skirt would be considered modest, they hugged her body in a way that enticed. The package not only failed miserably to hide her curves, but her ample bosom seemed to strain against the white blouse.
Her flowing emerald hair and red eyes were noticed almost as an afterthought.
The woman singled out a free teller and walked up to her, returning the pleasant smile she already was being offered.
"May I help you, Miss?"
"Of course," Setsuna obliged in a tone that belied the sucking emotional hole in her chest. "I am here to finalize a transaction I made yesterday."
"I can assist you with that," The teller smiled, typing into the keyboard. "What sort of transaction was it?"
"An electronic transfer into my new account," She answered easily.
"Meiou, Setsuna. Account number 7210601," She nodded and the teller entered the information. A few seconds later, the account was retrieved. The female behind the counter opened her mouth to say something, but stopped, obviously unsure of what she was reading from the screen. Her customer smiled knowingly. "I assure you the amount is correct."
"Of…of course Meiou-san," The teller recovered from her shock, blinking. "One moment while I request a manager to assist you further."
The Mistress of Time watched as the teller stood up from her desk and crossed the bank floor at a brisk pace, finding a smartly dressed man hovering over a stack of paperwork. The teller bent down and whispered something in his ear and the two conversed for a moment before the man- presumably her manager -typed a few lines into his computer. The look on his face was nearly as priceless as the teller's.
The manager, in turn, stood up and found a door to the back of the workspace, ducking into it quickly while her teller returned all smiles. The woman pulled out a placard labeled 'closed' and set it out on the counter in front of her. "If you'll please follow me, Meiou-san, it will be my pleasure to assist you while my manager drafts the necessary documents."
She followed the teller as the young lady led her to across the lobby and over to a more isolated section of the floor where a set of leather chairs and dark oaken table awaited her. The woman whispered to another and for the next ten minutes, Setsuna Meiou had her own personal servant feeding her fine cheese and crackers with warm sake and pleasant conversation while documents were prepared.
No doubt there is more to it than documentation, the Emerald haired woman chuckled to herself. The branch manager was undoubtedly checking up on the authenticity of the electronic transfer, tracing it all the way back to the Swiss Bank Account under her name. If he was particularly industrious- which he undoubtedly would be given the yen involved -he would call the bank directly for confirmation. They would find an account with a sizable amount of US currency from which the transaction was drawn upon and even digital scans of her signature and the documents used to open the Swiss account. She would then be asked to provide photo IDs and signatures with which to compare before completely satisfying the process. She could, of course, present without difficulty.
Having the most advanced hardware ever developed by man at ones disposal helped as well.
With the Time Gates and Mercury Computer at her disposal, it was child's play to breach any secure network on the planet, create an account, fill it with electronic funds and conjure the digital 'paperwork' to back it up. In fact, the process had been harder before the turn of the century when actual hard currency was required to fund an account, not simply ones and zeros. Not that it was particularly hard to spatially shift the entire contents of a vault to my own personal stash, she chortled internally. 15,000 years of duty taught one a few tricks along the way.
She took another sip of sake and watched as a smiling man in a conservative business suit made his way past the secretary's section. He was an older gentleman and sported a light tan, no doubt acquired by artificial means, while the cut of his suit and gold Rolex all but screamed 'branch manager' to Setsuna as he strolled on over. Her attendant collected the tray of appetizers and vacated the area so that the adults could conduct their business. The graying businessman reached her lounge and bowed deeply. Another businessman appeared beside him just long enough to drop a small stack of paperwork onto the fine table before disappearing back to anominity
"Meiou-san?" The older man smiled, "I am the Fuchu branch manager. I'll be happy to assist you in finalizing your transaction."
It had been a long day, in Setsuna's opinion. She strolled through her new penthouse, inspecting the decorator's work with passing interest. It would still take a full week for Hiroko-san to complete the Mediterranean themed interior, but for now, it was livable. still, it was amazing how much you could get done in one day when money was no object, and her designer had done her best to accommodate. The guardian found her open bottle of sake with six more of its cousins and poured another round into the temporarily empty glass.
Within the last forty eight hours, she had lived, died, lived and found out that everybody she had loved died fifteen millennia ago without reprieve. Before, she was the last survivor in name only and had friends to bear that load with. Today, she had nobody.
Today, she really was the last survivor of the Silver Millennium.
Setsuna tipped the glass back and emptied it of the clear liquid, refilling it once more. Her gut smoldered for a moment before lapsing into pleasant warmth. She had wanted to stay at her old place down in Juuban, but found it rented out to an elderly couple that certainly were not the Outers. Of course, she had more money than God now and could probably buy the entire block out from under them, but didn't have the heart. Besides, she didn't know if she could live in the place anymore.
Haruka… Michiru… Hotaru…
"God, even Small Lady," The emerald princess whispered with the sudden realization. No Usagi. No Mamoru. No Chibi-Usa. It was that simple. She downed the next glass without hesitation. Setsuna sank to the red-brown slate tiling of the kitchen, pulling a bottle with her. A drinking glass would be a hindrance at this point, and she tipped the bottle directly into her mouth.
What the fuck am I going to do now…? She thought bitterly as the liquid fire settled. There were at least two major adversaries looking to either own or destroy the Earth, with a potential third and forth depending on how the cards fell…. And there was nobody to stop them. Sure, she could take them on herself, but her job description ensured she was on the look out for the best path to the long term viability of the future. One woman alone left too much to chance. She was good… fifteen millennia worth of good, but random chance was better. The Senshi provided for that redundancy while she watched their back at the gates. Now they were gone… At least in this world they were.
She tipped the bottle back again, emptying it. Her hand reached back up for the counter as she discarded the spent cylinder, slapping around blindly until her hand came into contact with an unopened container; whereupon it was seized and opened for consumption.
Maybe some of the Senshi came forward anyway… She hoped, even though the analytical portion of her brain had already calculated the odds. Without Serenity's targeted reincarnation spell, the chances of having any one Senshi born within this particular timeframe were so astronomically long that they were barely even worth noting. Even if a reincarnation had occurred- a big if in and of itself -it had an untargeted window of fifteen thousand years to happen, not counting the future. Still, it was a chance. A last, desperate chance.
"Tomorrow…" She mumbled as the alcohol finally began to blur her thoughts. "Tomorrow I'll look for the girls…"
The world faded to merciful black two bottles later.
Eggs, butter, water… Watanuki Kimihiro silently inventoried the various ingredients on the counter before him, absently unrolling the top of a fat bag of flour while the other hand fumbled with the oven dial, rotating it around to the desired temperature. The bespeckled teen grimaced, tightening his apron. Yūko was hungry. Yūko had a sweet tooth. Therefore Watanuki was making a cake.
He scowled openly, giving the mixture of flour and water in the silver bowl he bore a fierce stirring. Crack the eggs, separate the whites. Sugar. More stirring. Something black bounced up upon the countertop from the edge of his vision, causing Watanuki to turn. There, he found a black basket ball sized creature sniffing around his ingredients.
"Hey! Get away!" He wielded the stirring spoon with menace, drawing the Mokona's attention away from the preparation. It eyed his bowl eagerly. Watanuki took a step back, clearly realizing the creature's intentions. "You wouldn't."
One of its long ears twitched and it took a small bounce forward with what could only be interpreted as a mischievous smile. The black haired teen cradled the bowl protectively now. "You won't dare…"
Another bounce forward called his bluff. Watanuki set the bowl behind him and brought the flour caked mixing spoon to bear on the little black blob. A staring match commenced as the teen sighted his opponent down the line of the wooden spoon, where two mischievous eyes stared back. The blue jewel on its forehead shimmered as the Mokona shifted its weight ever so slightly.
"If you think I'm going through all this trouble agai--HEY!" The black marshmallow took that moment to leap in, targeting not the half made cake behind Watanuki, but the very spoon in his hands. Its mouth gapped in a comedic manner before swallowing the spoon- and hand by proximity -whole.
"Eww! Get off! GET OFF!"
Pulling the Mokona's ear seemed to do little to determine it as it sucked on the spoon eagerly. The bespeckled boy released it to it's own devices and pulled his own hand away with a sucking 'splurch!'
Watanuki Kimihiro barely even noticed Yūko's pet eject the spoon completely cleaned of cake batter as his cheek twitched. Slime dripped away from his hand, prompting him to grab a nearby rag and scrub it furiously clean.
A small tongue licked the Mokona's lips clean and it eagerly retargeted the bowl, but paused as the kitchen door clicked open to reveal the pale, lithe woman Watanuki knew all too well. She was, after all, the reason he was slaving away over the oven and cake batter. Lazy red eyes and an impish smile considered him as she leaned through the doorway. The boy's disgust faded into minor irritation upon noticing her and that insufferable amused cat grin of hers.
"I don't suppose you can take this," He motioned over to the Mokona, "thing away so I can--"
"Tea for two."
Watanuki blinked with the interruption, then rolled his eyes. "Sure. Right. After I set the cake—"
"It can wait," Yūko Ichihara waved the objection away. "Our guest is more important."
"Guest?" The teen mimed. He had been so busy in the kitchen that he hadn't even known…
"Tea for two. Green is fine," Yūko simply nodded, then cocked her head thoughtfully. Black strands of long hair cascaded down with the movement. "And some of those Pirouline… She enjoys those too, if I recall."
With that, Yūko was gone from the door, leaving the student alone with his thoughts. Guests seeking out Yūko were usually the harbingers of the strange and unexpected, which said a lot about the types who usually came seeking her… assistance. A slurping sound bought Watanuki's attention back to the present, his jaw dropping as he watched the black sentient marshmallow with ears lick the last of his cake batter clean from the bowl.
It grinned back at him from inside the shiny silver container and the cook's cheek began twitching once more. "That… was uncalled for."
With the cake a loss, he turned to assembling a tea setting, which the Mokona simply contented itself to watch. The teen cast a glare back at it for good measure every once in a while to ensure its good behavior, though the measure appeared to be entirely unnecessary. Two tea cups, their dishes and several Pirouline later, he was ready, adeptly opening the kitchen door with one hand and balancing the steaming silver platter in the other. Once clear of the door he found Yūko lounging on a cushion, chatting pleasantly with… Watanuki nearly stumbled.
It wasn't the woman's striking green hair or her beauty that caused him pause. He recovered, from the break, taking in the details as he stepped up to the pair, setting the tray down on the small table between them. She was definitely a beauty, but then, Yūko wasn't operating on a deficit of looks either. The lavender suit, skirt combination was also striking on the visitor. It looked good on her and was a nice change from Yūko's predominantly gothic fashion statement, but that wasn't what had taken his attention either.
It was the eyes.
Red eyes. Like Yūko's. Nor did it help that she wore nearly the same, enigmatic smile that Yūko seemed to sport daily. The visitor nodded graciously upon receiving his tea, then fingered one of the confections.
"You remembered." She smiled, but left the Pirouline unmolested. Instead, she took the fine china tea glass in hand, blew the steam away gently and sipped.
"You would expect I forget?" Yūko countered easily, prompting the emerald haired woman to shrug.
"It's been a while."
"Indeed," Yūko sipped her own tea. Her enigmatic smile faded slightly. "A little far away from home, aren't we?"
"I could say the same about you, Yūko-chan," Watanuki contented himself to remain in the background and watch the strangeness unfold. The fact that he hadn't been sent out of the room yet was telling enough. He was supposed to see this, unless he missed his guess, but…
"I did warn her," Yūko shook her head, apparently taking the affectionate reference in stride. "And you as well, if I remember correctly."
"You did," The guest conceded. "But then, none of us had much of a choice back in those days."
"True, true," The student watched the green haired woman took a small bite of her Pirouline stick as they sat in companionable silence. What the hell is it with these two? "I could help you get back. For a price, of course."
That stopped any further musings on Watanuki 's part cold. She had just offered to help solve a problem, a problem for which payment would be exacted. He had seen this exact scenario play out too many times to count now, a scenario in which he himself had bought into …Twice, no less.
"I know how much your assistance costs," The woman simply shook her head. "I'll find my own way, thank you."
"Of course," Yūko inclined her head, taking no insult from the dismissal. "Then how may I help you, Sestuna-chan?"
The woman known as Setsuna took another sip of her tea, organizing her thoughts. "I would like to know 'why'?"
"Ah," Watanuki's boss smiled slightly. The familiarity between the two was getting downright eerie. "Why you are here and not there?" Setsuna nodded, then cast a wary glance directly at Watanuki, causing Yūko to smile. "Don't mind him. He's supposed to be here."
"Indeed," She arched a skeptical eyebrow at the boy, but turned back to Yūko. "Hitsuzen, I suppose."
The black haired mistress simply nodded. "The toy we built is a grain of sand between the gears of fate and destiny; tolerated only insofar as to not make a nuisance of itself." She paused, gaining a thoughtful countenance. "Tell me, Setsuna-chan… What did you do to become more than a mere nuisance?"
Setsuna's gaze never wavered. "I cheated death."
"Ah," Yūko stated simply. "That would do it, I guess." the pair sipped at their tea for another minute before she continued. "Hitsuzen does not like to be cheated. There is a price to be paid for everything; a balance to be exacted. I imagine you are lucky to even be here… or perhaps it is not luck at all. Regardless, the imbalance you created there doesn't exist here, since you did not either."
Watanuki 's brain began to contort with all the misplaced referencing.
Setsuna nodded with the observation, understanding perfectly. The Silver Millennium had fallen here, just as it had there. But here, nobody had survived. Nobody was left to counter the forces that were all but assuredly waiting in the shadows, biding their time. And now here she was. Here, a hole was left for her to fill. Hitsuzen, indeed.
Yūko offered her own unspoken sympathies, pulling out a small, folded piece of paper from the breast of her lacey black dress. She slid it across the table to her counterpart, not taking her fingers off of it. The paper looked as if it had been haphazardly torn from a page. "You will read this when it is time, not before."
Only once Setsuna had nodded did she pull her fingers away, allowing the woman to take the folded slip and pocket it within her lavender business jacket without looking at its contents. The emerald haired woman smiled, taking a final sip of tea as if cued by an unspoken agreement. "It was good seeing you again, Yūko-chan."
Setsuna stood up from her pillow without a further word, allowing the twins Moro and Maru to lead her to the door. Watanuki stared as the woman exited the establishment, then stared down at Yūko. Curiosity was all but radiating from his being now.
"Who was that?"
"That," She turned a lazy smile upon her retainer. "was a Chrono Witch."
"Reinitialize bank seven-aught-nine, prepare for insertion." The Princess of Pluto detailed, staring at the Time Gates and its AI ward. The small girl before her brought up a holographic representation of the data set.
"Bank seven-zero-nine reinitialized, data probe ready for slipstream insertion."
Hitsuzen… What a pain in the ass, The Senshi groused. Occam's Razor. The simplest explanation is more than likely the correct one. Either she just happened to survive a one in a billion planular domain cross over and end up here, or… "Execute."
"Opening slipstream window." Externally, nothing changed within the Time Gate's shroud. Internally, however, the child AI had just opened the temporal shielding protecting them ever so slightly. "Contact. Point three. Point five. Point eight. Insertion nominal, mapping space time curve theta-Zee-five-oh-nine-seven-alpha by eight-oh-Omega-Zee-seven-seven."
"Time to completion?"
"Seven hours, thirty five minutes." The avatar of Queen Serenity, age seven, reported dutifully. Setsuna nodded.
…Or she happened to have been shunted through space time to exactly where and when she was needed, a place where she and the other Senshi did not exist. A world that might not otherwise have a chance in hell of surviving if shit hit the fan like it was supposed to. So which side of Occam's Razor did I fall upon? Random chance or Yūko's destiny?
Not that it matters much, Setsuna frowned as data script was conjured in the air above her, constantly updating around the gates. She was here and the same one in a billion odds that kept her alive weren't likely to do so again short of divine intervention or taking Yūko-chan up on her offer. Can't count on divine intervention, and a wish…
…Yeah, the wish would work assuming I were willing to part with my fondest possession and leave the inhabitance of this reality hanging out to dry.
"Damned if I do, damned if I don't." Setsuna snorted sardonically aloud.
The AI turned away from its script monitoring. "What was that, Guardian Pluto?"
Setsuna shook her head. "Nothing. Just commenting on as apt a job description for 'Queen of the Underworld' if there ever was."
The child cocked its head curiously, then emoted recognition. "I see. The mythology of your mantle's namesake."
"Unfortunately," She confirmed, turning back to the hologram. "Speaking of--"
"Call routing through from your apartment, priority flagged," The AI supplied. "Would you like me to relay it through?"
"Do it." Setsuna ordered. The air clicked slightly as copper wire communications were routed through a super luminal tunnel to form a real time communications bridge with her in Pluto's orbit.
The Senshi nodded to the air. "Speaking."
"Ah, this is Mister Soto with Einburg, Yamoto and Greene," The young voice stated, its audio carrying over the tinny features of copper transmission. "We would like to report an update in your case if now is a good time? You asked us to inform you as soon as possible if we had any information."
She cast a quick glance over to the child avatar.
"Twenty one thirty two hours, local." It supplied. Setsuna nodded for the benefit of the disembodied caller as she quickly judged whether she should or should not be too tired to take the call.
"We found a girl matching the description of number two," Soto reported. "The name is different, but she is a dead matching nearly every other aspect. Also, she seems to be surrounded by strange incidence as you advised she might as well as displaying feats of extraordinary strength. The personality is off from what you described for number two, but she's the closest so far."
"Excellent work, Mister Soto," Setsuna complimented with faint smile. Maybe Hitsuzen hadn't screwed her over as badly as she had first thought. "Convey my appreciation to your superiors as well. Should this lead prove useful, I'll be sure wire a bonus into the account."
"Thank you, Meiou-san," The voice took on a slightly excited pitch. And right it should, she thought. She was paying them more than enough money to be very thorough and very enthusiastic in their investigations. "I assume you would like to retain our services for the others?"
"Of course," She agreed. "Please continue searching for the duration of the contract."
"We'll have the requisite file ready for you tomorrow morning then," Sato reported eagerly. "Have a good evening, Meiou-san."
The line clicked.
"Connection terminated." The Serenity avatar reported, only to find her master already deep in thought.
The name is minor, she decided, taking the call point by point. The personality was a bit more troubling, but that didn't make it a complete write off, especially given the fact that that she was physically an exact match and surrounded by strange phenomenon. I'll get the details tomorrow, she decided. Still, it was at least a step in the right direction. Better than anything she had so far. Einburg, Yamoto and Greene, was merely one of ten private investigation firms she was paying exorbitant amounts of money to in order to track down the girls, at least until the time gates were recalibrated. The extraordinary strength could be a sign of unconscious usage of her planetary bindings…
Setsuna Meiou smiled. With any luck, she would be having a chat with Ami Mizuno some time tomorrow.
Reality danced within the confines of an anonymous alleyway just off the main artery of the market district in lower Nerima. The person stepping out of the mirror like distortion was none other than the mistress of time herself. The flat of her pumps touched the dirt and gravel of the back street while the rest of her body cleared the distortion with practiced ease. Today she had dispensed with the business look entirely in favor of a white sleeveless blouse and simple light green slacks to offset her hair. A helical gold bracelet adorned her right hand while a gold choker rested easily at her collar bone.
The portal wavered for a moment longer, then evaporated like a trick of heat and sunlight, leaving her alone to consult the manila folder in her right hand. She opened it up, studying the contents and photograph clipped within. Even I have to admit, the resemblance is uncanny, she decided, fingering the picture. She browsed the profile once more before stepping out onto the main sidewalk. The grades she was producing weren't what she had come to expect from Ami, but then, this was a different plane entirely. If things were exactly the same, she would be surprised.
Setsuna Meiou oriented herself west down the sidewalk as her imbedded link fed her the navigation instructions. She wanted to arrive close, but not too close. Experience could be a harsh mistress at times, and the Guardian of Time had learned a long time ago that you just didn't arrive directly on site and take the unexpected happenings there on the chin.
So she walked, enjoying the warm spring day and the sights of the quaint suburb around her. It was a nice change from the void of the time gates and their incessant recalibrations. Last night's session was only the first of many more to come, a problem exacerbated by the fact that they had not merely suffered an unexpected shutdown, but were now 15,000 years out of calibration.
It was a nice break.
If one of the girls had reincarnated, a second might have as well. While she doubted fate would be kind enough to reincarnate all of them, anything was better than nothing to work with at this point. Ten minutes of silent contemplation and an easy walk brought her to the gates of a dojo. The Mistress of Time read the placard that swayed gently in the breeze.
'Tendo's Martial Arts, School of Indiscriminate Grappling.'
A thin, green eyebrow arched as she read another wooden sign sitting next to the gates themselves.
'To defeat owner in savage combat, use rear door.'
"Indeed," Setsuna murmured to herself before giving the bell hanging from the gate's archway a couple yanks. The bell's pitch echoed through the streets. Not exactly where I would expect to find Ami… Makato, maybe. Possibly even Rei…
Further musings were cut short by the light crunch of gravel, the gate swinging open shortly thereafter to reveal a woman in her early twenties, by Setsuna's estimate. She wore a conservative powered blue dress and a kind smile. Waves of rich brown hair framed the gentle face studying her.
Not the guardian of Mercury.
"May I help you?" The girl asked kindly, prompting Setsuna's own easy smile.
"Yes, I'm here to see Akane Tendo." She pulled the name of her target from memory. She had gone over the file in her hand more than enough times to memorize every last page. In fact, the only reason she still carried it was to make it look as if she was visiting in an official capacity.
The girl before her blinked, as if she had been expecting different to come out of her mouth. "Of course, come right this way. And who may I tell her is visiting?"
"Meiou, Setsuna," The Mistress of Time replied in kind. "I'm with the Tokyo Board of Education."
She was. Any computer would confirm the fact.
"I see," The girl was all smiles now, any trace of doubt evaporating with the explanation. Such a trusting soul. "I'm her sister, Kasumi. Please, right this way, Meiou-san."
The Tendo sister admitted Setsuna, and the pair walked the short space across the courtyard and up to the house, sliding out of their shoes upon entry. The sister paused just inside the hallway, calling up the stairs on the right. "Akane! Somebody is here to see you!" The girl turned back to her Guest. "She'll be right down."
Akane Tendo stepped out of her room, peering over the banister down onto the first floor where Kasumi stood; next to her… The youngest Tendo's cheek twitched ever so slightly. The woman next to her sister was beautiful and there was only one thing beautiful women visiting the Tendo dojo wanted. Her ire translated into her footsteps as she took the stairs heavily, none to pleased with yet another fiancée for Ranma. She held the woman with a stony countenance, frowning as she cleared the last step.
"If you're another fiancée, the pervert isn't home yet."
The emerald haired woman blinked and Kasumi winced, cutting in before her sister could dig herself any deeper. "Akane, this is Meiou-san. She's with the Tokyo Board of Education."
A confused look enveloped the girl's face, mirroring Setsuna's own feelings internally. Such hostility… Fiancee? Pervert? A sinking feeling began to develop in her stomach, but she carried through the doubt with practiced ease. "That is correct. I'm Meiou, Setsuna. You are Tendo, Akane, correct?"
The confusion blinked away as the girl suddenly realized that the name Ranma had yet to be mentioned. This woman wasn't here about Ranma… She's here for me! Akane's face suddenly burst into an eager smile, bowing abruptly. "Oh! I thought you were here for somebody else! What can I do for you, Meiou-san?"
Setsuna frowned internally at the liquidity of the girl's demeanor. Not like Ami at all… She forced a pleasant smile regardless and opened the file she had been carrying for show, as if to consult it for vital information. "The Tokyo Board of Education has compiled a list of students that are eligible for a new theater scholarship. I'd like to ask you a few questions to see if you would be eligible for the program."
Akane Tendo's mouth suddenly formed a silent 'oh', then transformed into an even brighter smile. Seeing the situation was well in hand, Kasumi excused herself as the pair stepped into the living room. Akane offered the woman a seat at the centerpiece table. "I'll answer them the best I can."
The Mistress of Time nodded amiably, pulling out a pen as if to jot notes. "Some of the questions may seem unusual, but I assure you the board of education takes them quite seriously. They mainly revolve around a playwright's… mental flexibility."
"Of course!" Akane nodded eagerly. It made perfect sense.
"Very well, then," Setsuna opened up the folder ever so officially. "Have you ever had an experience where you thought you could be somebody else? Perhaps play a different role than that of your every day life?"
"Well…" Akane chewed over the question a bit, "Sometimes I imagine myself as a princess…" Setsuna cocked her head. Could she be-- "Of course, that's not hard to imagine given how many people have tried to kidnap me."
"Kidnap you?" The Senshi of Pluto was blinking now.
"It didn't used to be so bad until Ranma arrived," Her sunny countenance faded with the derisive tone. "Baka."
Okay then… She moved on to the next question of her mental interview, perplexed. "Have you ever cosplayed? Perhaps as a magical girl?"
"Not really. Most of my acting is with the Furikan Theater Club," The Tendo shrugged, then paused hopefully. "Should I? Do you think it will help my chances?"
"Sure, why not," Setsuna returned absently, moving on. Kasumi stepped in that moment, placing a cup of tea before her and Akane. The emerald haired woman nodded graciously. "Do you ever have strange dreams? Perhaps those of a past life? Heroines? Monsters?"
Akane thought on it a moment. "No, not really."
The guardian took a sip of tea. The outlook for wasn't looking so good for this girl being Ami's reincarnation. She set it down, her smile belying none of her doubts. "It's important for actors and playwrights to have special abilities. What sort do you have that might make you a better scholarship candidate than others I may interview?"
"Oh!" She piped suddenly, eager to gain an edge over the other mythical candidates. "I'm an excellent martial artist, which helps my flexibility, and am very strong." She ticked the points off on her hand as she continued. "I'm a very good cook as well and can sew…"
"Mmmhmmm," Setsuna nodded agreeable, scribbling onto sheet of paper within the manila folder in hand. It was a doodle of a face with sharp teeth for a mouth. "And have you been in any strange situations that forced you to adapt contrary to your normal personality? Improvising is an important skill for any actor, of course."
"Lots of times!" Akane nodded vigorously, her cheer turned sour as her face scrunched up again. "Most of it is due to Ranma, though. I mean, there's no end to the trouble he gets me into! Ooh, he makes me so--" She stopped abrubtly, noticing her interviewer staring at her skeptically. "I mean, yes there are lots of situations like that."
"I see." Setsuna replied neutrally, adding a stickman's body to the face in place of real notes. Well, this is a bust, she decided, closing the folder entirely. Not only was she not Ami, but self deluded concerning her ability; possibly to cover some form of inferiority complex. Heck, I might as well be interviewing this Ranma character given her obsession with him, she sighed, standing up.
Regardless, she smiled for the benefit of the girl. "Thank you for your time, Miss Tendo. That was all the questions I have."
"Oh, it's no problem at all!" She smiled happily. "Do you think my chances are good?"
Setsuna nodded. "I would say you're number one out of all the candidates, but the decision isn't mine to make. I'll file your responses with the Board and they'll make a determination. The process usually takes about six months."
"Thank you very much!" Akane effused, bolstered by her chances of success. Her enthusiasm might not have been so great if she realized there were no other candidates for Setsuna's nonexistent scholarship.
"The pleasure is mine," Setsuna returned graciously. "Much as I would like to stay, I have another interview to take. If you will excuse me?"
Akane was more than happy to comply, leading the woman to the door where she retrieved her flats, sliding them on with considerably less hope than she had taking them off. The door opened and she stepped out into open air. Ah well… Maybe one of the other agencies--
Edged weaponry flashing out of the sun immediately caught the Senshi's eye. She watched as it streaked around a black haired teen who effortlessly evaded the salvo with a simple hop-slide combination. Setsuna tracked the stream of weapons back to their source, a white robed boy with long hair perched atop the property wall. Another round of blades emerged from the wide openings of his sleeves.
"Uhg!" The girl next to her snorted irritably. "Not again!"
"Come on, Mousse! I told you I didn't--!" The focus of the bespecled boy's rage protested, only to be cut off as the wall under his attack promptly exploded in a violent shower of dust and debris. The white robed boy was quickly engulfed and Setsuna watched as a new teen stepped out the cloud.
"IVE SEEN HELL BECAUSE OF YOU, RANMA!"
The boy in question- presumably Ranma, from her standpoint -affected a defeated slump and shook his head. "I don't have time for this!"
"You'll make time!"
That was his only warning as the new boy in the yellow tunic rushed forward, closing the distance at high speed while pulling the bandanna from his head. Even though he flung the clothe disks at off angle trajectories, they arced around, converging on his target even as he closed to hand to hand range.
"I'm sorry you had to see this, Meiou-san," Akane shook her head, barely controlling her own irritation. "If he didn't pick on poor Ryoga so much…"
Ranma rolled clear of the intersecting bandanna scythes and began evading Ryoga's combinations, ducking inside his guard and deflecting whatever he couldn't avoid. The Mistress of Time watched as the pigtailed boy unleashed a punishing blow to the boys gut, who in turn shrugged it off and continued to fight. Meanwhile, Mousse had finally dug himself out of the crater Ryoga's entry had created, flinging edged weaponry indiscriminately at the brawling pair.
"…Or hang all over Shampoo like a pervert," She continued while the fight gained intensity. "I mean, honestly…"
The Guardian of Pluto had mostly tuned the girl out and was now focusing entirely on the fight playing out before her. The boy in the white robe seemed to be employing some sort of ki folding technique from which to pull a seemingly limitless supply of weapons, which in turn implied a decent level of martial arts skill. His accuracy at employing said weapons left much to be desired as he had yet to throw anything that either boy couldn't intercept, even with the coke bottle rims mistakenly called glasses hugging his nose.
The bandanna'd teen seemed to be built like a tank with strength to match, but had yet to land a decisive blow on his opponent. At first glance it looked like the boy in the blue Chinese shirt was in way over his head. Everything he threw at the fanged boy seemed to get shrugged off, as if the attacks were inconsequential. On one hand it told her that the fanged kid was just that tough, because those weren't light weight hits he was taking. On the other hand…
Setsuna Meiou had gone into her post as the Guardian of Pluto with Black class unarmed, unpowered defense rating. Even if she had only spend one day per year out of her considerable lifespan practicing her unarmed combat skills, she would still have over forty one years of experience to draw upon.
Setsuna Meiou definitely practiced more than one day per year.
…On the other, the pigtailed boy was holding back. By a considerable margin, unless she missed her guess. As strong and as durable as the yellow tunic teen may have been, he simply wasn't landing any decisive blows and while the other was delivering them seemingly at will. He's drawing it out, she realized. Why was of almost little to no concern, but it was obvious that the black haired boy was prolonging the fight on purpose. The deeper study caused something about the martial artist to tickle her senses, something…
After fifteen millennia wallowing in magic, the spark was easily recognizable within the boy. In that moment watching the pair fight, she came to a decision. The odds against finding another reincarnation were next to nothing. Mankind had virtually no defense against the waiting darkness. Her Queen was dead, as was the princess, and she had no hope of returning to her native plane. She was mankind's last, best hope for survival.
It was time to begin anew.
Ranma Saotome, Heir to the Anything Goes School of martial was a man of mixed emotions. A combination punch blew by his face, but he was already out of the strike, ducking under it and delivering a kick to Ryoga's midsection. It wasn't enough to put the Lost Boy down by any stretch, but it was encouragement for him to try harder. Sure enough, Ryoga Hibiki redoubled his efforts to hit his opponent. On one hand, Ranma was happy. This was martial arts, his chosen arena of expertise since he could walk. He was in his element. On the other, Ranma was annoyed. Ryoga's problems were his own damn fault and he had given his rival a number of passes concerning them. Likewise, Mousse was a reactionary idiot who couldn't see the forest through the trees regardless of the fact that he now wore his glasses. It wasn't like HE was the one to glomp Shampoo, after all.
As unwelcome as the pair were at the moment, they served one primary, important function for the martial arts heir… Stress relief. Ranma deflected a kick and opened Ryoga's guard again, preparing batter the same rib with round from the Chestnut-- A shadow?
Warning blasted through Ranma's conscious and he instinctively cut out the limiters, switching out the technique with a hard kick to Ryoga's chest in order to gain the necessary momentum to decisively withdraw from the engagement. His foot impact, rebounded and Ranma skidded away even as a blur dropped in from above, striking the ground where he had been with the knife of its fingertips.
Who the hell--!? A girl!?
Time seemed to slow for a moment as red eyes considered him from the crouch she had landed in, while green hair floated down around her face in cascading sheets. Ranma blinked and the moment collapsed. The green whirlwind suddenly spun one hundred and eighty degrees onto Ryoga, who was only beginning to comprehend the threat. Ranma watched in fascination as the girl- no, woman, he mentally amended -dismantled the Lost Boy hit by hit.
The decisive blowe was an open palm to the chest, knocking the wind out of the pig-boy while paving the way for similar uppercut directly to his chin. Ryoga floated in open air for a moment before crashing back to the earth sans consciousness. The end of the Hibiki's fight signaled the beginning of Mousse's as she caught one of the ring weighted kunai he had thrown by its pointed tip, twisted with its momentum and threw it back at the boy hard. The hidden weapons specialist barely had a moment to consider what had just happened when the blunt end of the implement slammed against his forehead.
Mousse sank to the earth an inert mass. Ranma recovered from his crouch, adrenaline pounding through his veins and his body on high alert, yet he couldn't help but to afford the woman the ever so slightest of smiles. Whoever she was, she had decisively set the tone for her actions, and those were less than lethal in nature. That was something he could live with. The woman turned back to him, apparently unconcerned as to whether he would rush her open back, and it was then he got his first good look at the woman.
The thought rushed in before he could mentally scold himself, which happened point five seconds after. So was Shampoo. And Ukyo. And even Akane. And all of them represent his untimely demise, just like the one before him now. She was probably a fiancée and fiancées invariably represent one thing in his life… Pain. Make that two things: Pain and suffering. As beautiful as this red eyed, green haired woman was, she was undoubtedly nothing but trouble.
The woman waited silently for a minute or two, studying him in kind before speaking. "You would be Ranma…?"
It was clearly a question, and he wondered where she knew his name from. She had been standing next to Akane…? "Saotome. Heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts."
The woman nodded, as if it were a given. "Then Saotome-san, if you will honor a request…?"
Ranma cocked his head curiously. "Sure."
Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts warily eyed the green haired beauty standing before him within the confines Tendo courtyard. Fight me? The cordial request echoed in his brain and he couldn't help but to consider the tantalizing possibility. She was good. Damn good. Anybody who could so thoroughly dismantle Ryoga in as little time as she had deserved that consideration. Besides, when was the last time somebody simply asked? Ranma wondered mentally as he gave the request more weight. As opposed to barging in through a wall and demanding a fight to the death?
The pigtailed boy shrugged internally. Intriguing as it was, he had to know before this went any further. "You ain't a fiancée are you?"
The woman simply arched an eyebrow and Akane answered in her stead with a derisive snort. "Baka. She's with the board of education."
Board of education? Ranma blinked, turning his skeptical glance from the red eyed woman to Akane and back before taking the terse reply at face value. It wasn't like such an occurrence was without precedent, though a small part of him was left wondering just why the Tokyo board of Education invested so heavily in its teachers knowing martial arts… The last thing he needed was another loopy pineapple chucking, age transfiguring martial arts ki vampire on his ass, after all.
"Sure, why not."
Akane simply rolled her eyes as Kasumi joined her off to the side, followed by a smirking Nabiki who had just stepped out of the house. The mirth in her voice was clearly evident as she voiced the most obvious conclusion available. "Another fiancée?"
"Board of Education." Kasumi corrected gently as the pair faced off, forcing a skeptical look from her younger sibling. "Akane may receive a theater scholarship."
"Really." Nabiki's deadpanned reply was lost on Kasumi, who simply nodded. The middle Tendo looked to Akane for confirmation, who nodded in turn.
"Not like the pervert fights girls seriously," She replied, her face crinkling with dissatisfaction. "Baka."
Nabiki shook her head as she debated whether to stay for the impending fight or turn back to her room and the magazine awaiting on her bed. It was a tough call for the middle Tendo, who had already deemed the forthcoming battle sadly predictable. The two would fight, Ranma would hold out with the dodging shtick, and when it became obvious the girl couldn't win, she would fold, playing on the Saotome's weakness for crying women to get whatever she was after.
Board of Education, my ass, she rolled her eyes. That was perhaps her only reason to stick around and watch. First hand information was much better than pumping it out of her younger sister's skewed point of view or owing Kasumi a favor later for a second hand account. Besides, scholarship or not, it was always amusing to see just what trouble her future brother in-law could get into… and how much was to be made off of it.
Ranma waited in his deceptively open stance. Setsuna stood before him with her own aire of nonchalance, as if mildly curious, but mostly bored with the entire process. Another minute ticked by without a move and Nabiki began to get bored. Maybe owing sis a favor would be worth--
"I see," The emerald haired guardian crooked the slightest of smiles. "A gentleman. And I thought chivalry was dead."
Ranma? A gentleman? chivalry? It was one of the few times Akane and Nabiki's thoughts ran in parallel, both doubting they had heard the statement correctly as they couldn't have possibly occupied the same sentence with the name 'Ranma'.
Ranma blinked with surprise. Setsuna sighed as the development rolled around in his mind. "Then the first move must be mine, I suppose."
The boy nodded and the slight smile evaporated. "Then let us begin."
Ranma's guard snapped up a split second for the woman's first strike blurred in while the tactical portion of his brain committed every aspect of its execution to memory for break down and analysis. Fast; but not unexpectedly so. He'd watched her drop Ryoga at the impressive speed she displayed now. His arm to the impact and he processed the deflection. Definitely got some strength there. The sliding step in indicated a Tai Chi variant, and the attack itself was direct enough; in short, a probe. While he would have been content to dodge it outright, it was fast enough to warrant an instant deflection, lest she turn it into something more.
The pigtailed boy efficiently blocking the initial strike while stepping out of the leg sweep that followed, then a snap kick. Probe, probe, probe. Which he was fine with. Even probes gave him insight into the woman's style and tactics. For instances, whatever the woman was using, it wasn't Tai Chi. It moved like it, but the style was harder; more aggressive in seeking out targets. Tai Chi he would be safe in dodging. This variant, however… Her entire stance and posture left to many avenues open to attack from, forcing a more active defense.
He was thanking himself less than a second later as what looked like an overly committed punch turned into a screaming roundhouse that would have decisively ended the match for a person of lesser skill. The hit made solid contact with the back of his hand as he deflected it and the combination that followed… Completely missing the kick it had screened. A long leg flashed out through the opening, planting a solid heal into Ranma's sternum. Air exploded from the wide eyed boy's chest as he slid back two meters, fighting to retain his balance.
When friction finally bled his inertia away, he found the woman directing a bemused expression his way. Ranma smirked back. She could fight, had hit him and wasn't a fiancée… This was going to be good.
From the sidelines, Nabiki gaped and Akane's eyes widened. On any given day, the middle Tendo would have been more than happy to take a bet against Ranma. That meant money. Absurd amounts of money… Today, she was thanking God she hadn't. Today she would have bled cash given the fact that she normally offered fantastic odds on simply hitting Ranma, let alone winning a match, and some woman claiming to be a teacher had just accomplished the former.
But why is he smiling about it?
The moment was short lived as Ranma decided to return the favor. He blurred forward, matching her speed and then some while advancing on her like a martial arts buzz saw. Even Setsuna wallowed in a split second's worth of shock at his speed before her own guard snapped up, deflecting a series of lighting probes that appeared to be rooted in some bastardized Kempo variant. It was a direct attack, but faster than her opening by a considerable margin. Block, block, Blo--WHAT THE HELL?
The Senshi of Pluto suddenly found her left arm in a vice as her pigtailed opponent, slid around on her flank as if skating across ice, locking the joint that had been deflecting his probes and reversing it behind her back. Judo! Where the hell had that come from?! There was no time to consider the matter further as Ranma moved her arm into hyperextension, from which there could only be three outcomes- Yield, pop the joint, or-- Setsuna cart wheeled around the lock's center of gravity and pivoted, breaking her opponent's hold and forcing him into decisive close range combat.
The move should have forced the kid onto the defensive, resetting their match in her favor. Should have. Instead, the opening she had just created melted away and his blue eyes were back in her face as if he had never left offense. Combinations continued to hammer at her guard until one slipped by. Three blows were deflected outright. A forth slipped through and a foot hammered at her ribcage.
Half power. A warning, she decided, based on his earlier performance against the bandanna'd boy. Still giving me an opportunity to still back out. Nice kid.
Setsuna stepped into form three of Martian Coup de Vitesse, executing a more aggressive version of an art that hadn't seen use on earth in over fifteen hundred years. She was, in fact, its sole practitioner. Form three abandoned all forms of defense in favor of a crushing offense and her combinations swept into Ranma's own offense like a sledge hammer. Her shoulder and leg took two more hits as her stance seemingly opened up from Ranma's point of view. He moved for a decisive blow and suddenly took a savage round house kick to the chin, two finger tip punches to the chest and a kick to the legs.
For the first time in the Tendo's memory, Ranma fell.
Stars exploded across Ranma's vision for that split second as he executed a graceless roll-out on instinct alone. His bout of double vision cleared, only to find the green haired woman still on him, moving in for the knock out blow.
The strike came in and Ranma flowed through the roll's inertia off his back, into the air and kicked the open fist away with a foot before flipping back to his feet. The martial artist flowed into a Tae Kwon Do stance, intercepting the next combination at the forearm and flipping the woman into the grassy earth on her own momentum. Instead of breaking contact, Setsuna opted to reverse the grip as she dropped, serving up two more hard kicks to his ribs for his trouble. Ranma broke the hold and stepped out of combat range, mentally frowning as he watched the woman recover from her fall.
Doesn't that screwed up have Tai Chi of hers have any defense?! Ranma frowned mentally as his right ribcage throbbed. An art centered around taking hits only for opportunities to inflict more punishing blows? Still, one thing was absolutely clear to the martial artist now… The woman was simply too damn good to fight with kiddie gloves.
And now she held him with that same bemused expression, as if to emphasis the fact. Ranma's smirk returned. "Don't say I didn't warn ya…"
Setsuna's brain was just processing her own witty retort when the Saotome blurred forward, utilizing the fullest measure of speed available to him. Her offensive response was completely inadequate as he slid to blank range and battered her torso with a five fisted dragon strike. She committed to her reprisal in full and he flowed around it like liquid mercury, opening up on her exposed back. The point of Ranma's fingers punched five targets all along her spine, ending at the sciatic nerve and finishing with a hard kick.
Setsuna nearly fell face first into the earth as her own world was suddenly engulfed in excruciating pain. The Mistress of Time rolled through the blow and recovered, albeit shakily, her entire left arm now completely numb. Pressure points, she realized. The nerve was a bonus. She used her remaining arm to reach up to the now dead limb, pushing at three points with her finger tips. Feeling began to flow back to left arm as she reconsidered her advancing opponent. Form three against somebody like him was a mistake. He was simply too fast and hit too hard to guarantee the necessary retaliation that made the martial arts branch so effective. The kid was heavy on the offense, that much was obvious. And how many goddamn styles does he know? She had already counted nearly five, at least, all woven into that Kempo style of his.
She nodded at herself, coming to a conclusion. Form two it is then, heavy on the counter attacks.
Ranma watched the woman's stance tighten up with curiosity. Lower center of gravity, more pivot options, less attack flexibility unless he missed his guess. Guess that full offensive thing wasn't working out too well for her, he chuckled internally, his thoughts shadowed with mischievous grin. Still, the pressure point reversal was a nice touch.
Blue eyes sparkled and Ranma reengaged. Setsuna took the blurring strikes head on, evading and deflecting until a hole opened up. She didn't have to wait long. The pig tailed boy readied another combination and she found her opportunity, twisting around to take full advantage of the breach. Her still numb left forearm blocked the next strike, allowing her to pour into the opening and hammer his gut with two hard punches.
She was rewarded by an explosive gasp, but the victory was short lived as the Saotome's knee came up into her soft stomach in kind. Ranma put enough into the blow to lift her off the ground, grab her blocking arm and throw her to the ground again.
Separateseparateseperate! The mantra screamed through Setsuna's brain and she twisted to take the landing, flowing into a foot sweep to catch the boy off guard. The leg caught him, destabilizing his balance. She readied her counterattack from ground level, only to watch as he turned the handicap into a rolling attack, nearly taking the two open handed fists that followed. Coup de Vitesse! The kid is trying form three Coup de Vitesse!
Setsuna hopped up and threw a token snap kick his way as she considered the new development. Sloppy as hell, but the fact that he's even attempting it after seeing it only once! The possibilities floated through the Guardians brain as she considered just how talented the boy before her was; The barest measure of hope reignited within her. Time to find out just how good you really are, Saotome.
The Princess of Pluto concentrated, opening up her planetary bindings and link to the Time Gates ever so slightly. Up to this point, she hadn't used anything other than what her bindings passively granted her-- increased stamina, strength and reflexes. Now, she had just increased those and would be actively drawing upon her own gifts as well. Technically it was cheating, but necessary if she was to find out just how well Ranma did in the deep end where she need his potential most.
From the sidelines, the sisters had been joined by Genma and Soun, both of whom asked the same fiancée question before settling in to watch a duel whose intensity they hadn't seen matched in quite a while. Soun was staring. Genma was gawking. Few could match his son's skill in the art and to date, none of them had been female. This one was not only holding her own, but landing solid hits. It wasn't possible, but… it was.
Ranma stepped forward again and renewed his offensive. This time, Setsuna was ready and compressed time around her person, subjectively slowing the outside world as her own speed increased exponentially. Two steps from her, the guardian's next advantage took hold.
High speed fist technique. Overly committed. Punch by punch deflection. Counterattack with beta kick to head. Highest probability to hit from low angle of attack…
The Kachū Tenshin Amaguriken came in and Setsuna couldn't help but to be impressed. With anybody else, she could have slacked off under time dilatation. Ranma still forced her to block, though his overwhelming edge in speed was blunted by her boost and the fact that she had literally seen it coming. She took Ranma's technique, deflecting each and every one of two hundred high speed punches before retaliating in kind. His move had left no option to evade and she took the opportunity for all it was worth, ducking into a low crouch to thrust a long leg up into his chin. Ranma saw stars for the second time since their duel began and was pushed upward a good meter before landing hard and without preparation.
Roll out. Attempt to reengage. Kick combination, two parts. Highest probabilities to evade right, interrupt second part with chop to the left leg. Mobility limited by twenty to eighty percent, outcomes even...
The martial artist hit the ground hard but recovered quickly, rolling forward in an attempt to retain the offensive. He hopped up, attempting to thrust a combination kick into the woman only watch her dodge right and into a zone of low flexibility for blocking. The edge of her hand came down, targeting a nerve bundle along the thigh that lit his entirely right leg on fire before settling into numbness.
Ranma staggered to separate, desperately trying to figure out what had changed. The woman had gotten faster, that much was certain. Fast my ass… she deflected every one of my chestnut fists! And now she was finding the perfect counter to each and every one of his moves, retaliating for maximum effect. She's been holding back that much? Before she was tolerable. Now…
Ranma grinned through the throbbing pain. …Now it was time to step it up a notch.
Setsuna watched the pain smile form and the premonition flashed again. Glowing. Power. Special technique! Ranged Ki shot! The Guardian's attention snapped back to her opponent in the here and now and found him glowing.
A one meter wide ball of super dense ki formed in the Saotome's hand and he thrust the bright blue sphere at the emerald haired combatant, forcing her wild evasion left. Ranma was already following the attack in and reengaged hand to hand.
Feint! Force guard! Break contact to avoid being decisively engaged! Counter, Reversal at sixty percent, higher probabilities on rolling with the punch and joint lock the left arm!
Setsuna Meiou barely had time to process the premonitions and followed the visions instinctively. She retreated from Ranma's renewed onslaught and countered, grabbing the attacking arm as the opening presented itself, pulling it through on its own momentum and flipping the martial artist through the air.
Setsuna held the stance and… stared. The water froted from the impact and a busty redhead girl waded out a second later with a none too happy look on her face. The irate girl sputtered pond water, a blue eyed glare settling on Guardian.
"I swear people do that on purpose!"
The Princess of Pluto shrugged off the mental reboot like a pro. She had seen stranger in her fifteen thousand years. Either Ranma was so damn good at illusionary magic that even she couldn't detect it, a Starlight, or...
Water. Magic. Transformation. "Jusenkyo?"
Ranma's feminine ire stalled, replaced by curiosity. "Yeah. How'd ya know?"
"I'm a… Historian of sorts." she replied with an enigmatic smile, causing Ranma to arch an eyebrow. Nabiki couldn't resist.
"I thought you were a teacher."
"A teacher of history," Setsuna's smile turned condescending, as if a two year old could have picked up on the concept. Nabiki scowled and the guardian turned back to Ranma. "Shall we continue?"
Ranma cocked her head at the woman, as if making a judgment call of sorts. A moment later, that cockeyed grin of hers reappeared and she cracked her knuckles. "Let's."
Setsuna frowned within. There was something different in her opponent's blue eyes now. Besides belonging to a female, she amended silently.
The girl blurred.
This time her gifts barely warned her of the incoming attack with enough time to avoid the renewal of hostilities, staying just one step ahead of Ranma's attacks to maintain parity. It was a double edged sword now. She had just enough time to read the attacks, but not enough to read the counter attack probabilities for a--
It was a right cross, three tiers lower on the probabilities she had gauged and dismissed on the had moved to probability number one, snapping her head viciously ninety degrees. Setsuna's world wavered and her guard dropped. It was of little surprise that the diminutive redhead exploited the hole ruthlessly, burying a fist in the Senshi's abdomen and paving the way for another three kicks that tracked up her torso.
The Mistress of Time took the full brunt of the strike and tumbled wildly across the Tendo court yard before coming to her senses and recovering through a sloppy roll. The world blurred out of focus again and she shook the disorientation away. Setsuna staggered up and rubbed her jaw while marveling at the power the girl had packed into the strike. Finally got him ...her to take the gloves off…
Warning. Class three impact detected. Emergency power-up initi—
Negative, override. The Guardian of Time suppressed her armor's AI and readied for the next round, digging deeper into time dilatation. She'd have a headache tomorrow, but for now…
The redheaded typhoon was on her again, but this time she was manageable, slowed enough through temporal manipulation to read her moves in premonition and produce the counters necessary to ablate her offensive. Ranma stepped in, dealing a kick at chestnut fist speeds. It wasn't something she could have quite pulled off as a guy, but the marginal increase in speed came with more innate flexibility, and she put it to use; pushing nearly three hundred kicks on target.
Block, block, block, deflection, block, deflection, critical miss, FUCK!
Setsuna cleanly evaded kick number one hundred and forty six, grabbing it at the girl's shin, pulling her in off balance. It was perhaps the biggest weakness of using the 'chestnut kick' and the guardian had timed it to exploit the fault perfectly. Ranma staggered off balance and the Princess of Pluto repaid her for the earlier trespass with a similar right cross, hooked with an elbow for good measure. Ranma's head snapped around violently, but it wasn't over. The emerald haired combatant still had her leg.
Under normal circumstances, Setsuna Meiou couldn't have reproduced the chestnut fist. Her art was another and extreme speed training wasn't part and parcel to that art. But when one could manipulate the time-space curve around them, it wasn't absolutely necessary. One hundred a fifty strength augmented punches pulverized the redhead's midsection in under a two seconds, turning her gut to liquid pain while fueling her desperation further.
Opponent's attempt to disengage. Attempt to retake offensive. highest probabilities on leg attacks; secondary on head and chest respectively. Assuming legs, counter to--
Ranma pushed off on her only mobile leg; using the one Setsuna had locked as a pivot. The Saotome was suddenly airborne, corkscrewing around the pivot while her free leg flashed out to take a chunk out of the woman's face. Setsuna's eyes widened, warned only by her premonition and the fact that the reprisal was a secondary probability. She barely saw the foot that blew by her nose, jerking out of the way only a fraction of a second before wind tore by it.
Back open, ninety eight percent odds on successful strike to the third vertebrae. Attempt to disengage at eighty three percent...
The wild corkscrew forced Setsuna to relinquish her hold on Ranma's leg, but the redhead's back was now wide open as she landed, practically lighting a neon sign that begged for a pounding. Setsuna obliged, bringing her elbow down on the requisite vertebrae like a sledge hammer and slamming the girl into the earth at her feet.
Nintey-three percent on retaliation, leg sweep. Counter attack high odds of failure, best odds to withdraw and reengage...
The ground cracked with the martial artist's impact. Ranma's body pulsed with renewed pain, but she gritted her teeth, shifting her center of gravity wildly and sweeping an outstretched leg in hopes of connecting with the woman's. Instead, she gathered nothing but air as her opponent hopped over the sweep and withdrew from melee ranges.
Sonofabitch! She growled internally as the green haired woman began to circle around onto her flank. Ranma pushed herself back up and quickly took stock of the situation. Almost like she's reading my moves somehow...! And it just ain't natural how she keeps speedin' up... Already hits like Ryoga...
Setsuna herself was performing the same analysis, but with the added advantage of being able to foresee the future. Or rather 'a' future. So far, she was impressed he had lasted this long against her augmented abilities. Long enough to be useful in a fight? That was the question she posed to herself. When the shit hit the fan, whoever stood with her would more than likely be wading ass deep in super powered magical youma, not to mention facing down something along the lines of Beryl or worse. Could a martial artist hold his or her own in that sort of high threat—
High speed charge. Feint with Coup de Vitesse, special technique ...cloaking field?!
The red head charged in as advertised, Setsuna too shocked to even consider an outcome past seeing the girl disappear in her vision. Ranma executed the double feint and slid off to screen the technique's activation. Sure enough, the girl wavered before Setsuna's eyes, disappearing from sight.
WHAT THE HELL?
Attack! Rear! High penetration Ki tech—!
The vision came too late, even under time dilation. The Mistress of Time had barely begun to spin around when Ranma uncloaked aft, already in position to deliver the white snake reliable fist technique to her exposed back. The girl's fingertips came up and channeled ethereal spikes of ki before punching into thirteen separate points. Each impact dumped the ki's full potential through Setsuna's clothing without damage, only to see their full effect as it reacted her internal organs.
WARNING! Class six impact detected! Her fuku AI screamed through her link as she hit the earth. Augmenting healing focals; Transformation override in place. Advise transformation immediately!
Snap kick combination, best probabilities in wrist deflection right, recover, ranged ki technique, side step left, reengage...
The Guardian of Time could barely keep up as she fought to extricate herself from the perilous situation. The kick snapped out and she deflected it out of position, allowing precious seconds to right her aching body before profiling right to avoid another blast of ki from the girl's outstretched hand. The bolt blazed by and she charged in accordance to her premonition, evading the girls next high speed fist technique and landing two open handed fists to the chest while kicking her legs out from under her.
The premonitions continued to flow in for Setsuna, who in turn continued to dismantle the martial artist hit by hit. Ranma was bruised and staggering, but still refused to go down. Setsuna stepped into the third form of her art, ready to end the match decisively. Before, it had been a mistake, but now she had an unmistakable edge. Now, she could take hits without...
Setsuna paused as the premonition tugged at her thoughts. Something unusual. She searched the vision, finding nothing out of the ordinary with the higher probabilities. In fact, she was about to dismiss the feeling entirely and execute her offensive when she caught a glimpse at one of the lowest possibilities that normal would have gone ignored.
Elemental Ki Tornado? Setsuna dug lower as the vision of a ki fueled tornado played out. What she found checked her doubts about this particular martial artist surviving in a high threat environment. A Ley line shattering technique?! Vacuum blades?!
Ranma was panting heavily, but watched as the woman who clearly held the advantage suddenly float out of range... nervously? Something had changed and while she was more than happy to take the breathing room, she was also wondering just what had unsettled her opponent. The answer came moments later.
The redhead blinked, now staring incredulously at the green haired woman. Ranma wasn't sure whether to be happy or pissed. "You WHAT?!"
"I yield," The pensive expression evaporated with the answer, and Setsuna now held Ranma with the enigmatic smile she had started the match with. "I can only foresee this duel becoming vastly more destructive before a winner is declared. In any case, that is not my intention."
"Uh..." It was the best Ranma could produce. Sure, she was all but certain the woman could take the heavier techniques, but...
Nabiki was just as shocked, as were the rest of her family. Even Genma wore a surprised expression. And right he should, The middle Tendo decided. This history teacher was cleaning his almighty heir's clock. Still, the bait was so obvious that she just had to ask.
"Then what is your intention?"
Setsuna Meiou smiled with the question, but otherwise ignored it. "Ranma Saotome, heir to the Anything Goes School of martial arts... I have a proposition for you."
"And what's that?" The redhead cocked an eyebrow cautiously, wiping a trickle of blood from the edge of her mouth. The situation was entirely too weird for her taste, going from zero to sixty and back in a single fight.
"I would like to offer you a martial arts scholarship," Setsuna replied, eliciting a number of gasps from the observers scattered around them. "A full ride to Tokyo University."
Nabiki nearly choked. "Full ride?! Him!?"
"I'm a martial artist too!" Even as her sister's voice pitched to near squealing levels, Akane had seized on a different fact entirely. "I would like to apply as well!"
"Of course you may," Setsuna gave the girl a charitable look, then glanced back over her shoulder to the patch of dirt occupied by Ryoga's face. "Do you think you can pass the entrance exam?"
The youngest Tendo suddenly found her mouth dry and the women shrugged, pulling a business card from her pant pocket and proffering it to Ranma with both hands. "The board expects the requisite paperwork to be filed in a timely manner... if you can drop by this address on Friday, we can process it immediately."
Ranma's brain had since stalled and she took the card on pure automation. "S-sure..."
"Very well then," She smiled, turning for the front gate. "See you on Friday. One o'clock. Don't be late."
With that, the History Teacher departed, leaving two stunned Saotomes and four equally stunned Tendos in her wake.
Author's Notes; "What? You already have a Setsuna/Ranma match! Hey! Why don't you just fill in that in-between time from BoT! Dammit! You have other fics to write! Back to work, Slave!"
Of course, you would be correct in citing all three of these, save that my muse has ADD and I feel it best to let those complete works stay that way... Complete. BoT was never intended to detail a full romance and while I could shoe horn it in, I'm inclined not to. So that said, you get an entirely new one built as an in-depth action romance from the ground up. Without detailing too much plot, there will be no fuku Ranma, though I will have her grow into her female aspect. I enjoy writing evolution, so call the Ranma-chan content of this story at… thirty to forty percent.
Yūko Ichihara; A principle character in the series XXXHolic and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle by Clamp. Her laid back demeanor belies the fact that she is, in fact, a dimensional witch with the ability to grant wishes at a price always equivalent to the weight of the wish, no more, no less. This give/take construct governs her existence both voluntarily and involuntarily and their prices range from servitude as in Kimihiro Watanuki's case, to the complete loss of memories, abilities, etc.
Setsuna, martial artist; I assume you just don't become a Senshi without the basics in order to defend your world and your queen; likewise important temporal artifacts. thus, I credit Setsuna with hand to hand skill hose upkeep I assume she would take seriously as part of her post. While she may not be a gifted genius in her arts, 15k years has to count for something and I'm writing it in as such.
Setsuna vs Ranma; Also discussed at length over at TFF. Simply put, I consider Setsuna to have a depth of experience in that she has a solid in-depth knowledge of her art and others while Ranma has breadth, his knowledge dipping into numerous arts only insofar as to leech them of their most useful moves. Also taken into consideration is the fact that Ranma is a martial arts genius; Setsuna is merely 15k years worth of good. All things being equal, Ranma should win. In this match, however, they obviously were not.
Ranma YSK/USK; Another topic we beat like a dead redheaded step horse. when it comes right down to it, I interpret Ranma's 'sealing' of the Yama/Umi sen ken arts as sealing others access to them. He has learned the USK and has ample access to both arts during the Kumon Ryu arc; Likewise has ultimately employed techniques more destructive than both, thus I credit him with practical knowledge of both by either reading the scrolls himself or simply watching the YSK performed by Ryu (Ranma grasped the USK side after merely one round with Genma).
Sailor your name here; Setsuna doesn't have the ability to bind planets. Stop pestering her.
Hitsuzen; The Japanese equivalent of fate and destiny; the primary difference being in that fate implies an immutable course of action that must be taken, where Hitsuzen implies an inevitable interconnection between events borne of free will. The phrase "there are no coincidences, only hitsuzen" is used as a philosophical conjunction toward that end. The difference between 'fate' and 'Hitsuzen' is nebulous at best, though it is a central philosophy in many CLAMP works.
Barycenter; The center of mass of two or more bodies, usually bodies orbiting around each other. This point is not necessarily equal distance between both bodies.
Special Thanks; Oh man... there's a lot of people on this one... Amy, Dustin, DT, Hitaumonwa, HolyKnight, MageOhki, The One Who Shall Not be Named and everybody who commented on the TFF beta thread. Yas alls rocks. If I forgot anybody, you know i still love you. Any errors left over are my responsibility alone.