Chapter 1 – First Meetings
Maybe walking home wasn't her best idea. Granted, home was less than a mile away, but it was getting dark and she probably should have called Haruka-papa like Chibiusa had suggested.
Hotaru stopped and leaned against the lamp post next to her, catching her breath. If she was going to be completely honest with herself, she had to admit that it wasn't the encroaching night that was bothering her. She and her surrogate family had plenty of experience roaming the moonlit streets of Juban.
No, it was the mostly uphill hike that was the problem. How Chbiusa, with her short legs, managed to find the energy to practically bounce up this path and not end up passing out when she got to Setsuna-Mama's house was a mystery. Hell, how any of her friends managed to make the trip giggling and smiling the whole way was an infernal mystery.
Thus the chilling stubbornness in Hotaru's bearing when Chibiusa had noticed the setting sun and guiltily suggested that maybe it would be best to have Haruka-papa drive over. Fixing up that little episode was going to have to be a priority. Her tiny, but entirely overly energized friend had only been trying to help. She certainly didn't deserve the treatment she got for it.
"Okay, so I stop and catch my breath for a few minutes, and hopefully Usa decided to call home anyway," the sometimes Senshi said out loud to nobody. "Then I call her when I get home and apologize for being so cold with her." Sinking to the cement in the flickering glow of the streetlight, Hotaru rested, hoping that she'd see a familiar 2000GT convertible cruising down the street any second now.
Minutes passed and no yellow sports cars materialized. Drat. She had really been hoping that this would have been one of those times her friend decided to be over-protective. Oh well, no more rest for the weary. With a grunt, Hotaru pulled herself back to her feet and turned to continue home.
A single stride brought her to the edge of the pool of light in which she'd taken sanctuary, but a dreadful coldness in her heart stopped her before she could cross into the darkness. The once comforting twilight had changed somehow, and suddenly the curtain of florescent illumination seemed an insufficient barrier against the lurking shadows of an ominously deserted commercial district.
Hotaru's hand slipped into her jacket pocket, clutching the gem hidden within. She hadn't needed to call upon its power in months. She didn't relish the thought of doing so now either, but some sinister force was twisting the silence of this street to its own end. Whatever it was, it was in for a nasty surprise. Glancing about, Hotaru withdrew the Saturn Crystal. The silence belonged to the Senshi of Saturn, and she wasn't about to let some misguided spirit steal it away for wicked purposes.
"Saturn Crystal Power! Make-Up!"
The shout of the transformation phrase woke the dormant gem, which answered the call by bursting into a luminous starburst of violet streamers. The radiant bands flowed around the teen's body obscuring her metamorphosis. Moments later the ribbons of liquid light drifted away into the darkness, revealing the cold beauty of the sailor suited Guardian of Destruction holding, in the hand that had just gripped the crystal, the ultimate symbol of her office, the dreaded scythe of death herself, the Silence Glaive.
"Impressive," an ominous voice hissed through the darkness. "I hadn't thought to find such tempting power in so deliciously innocent a package." The rasping voice seemed to echo from all around.
Deep within the recesses of Saturn's mind, the girl who was still Hotaru wanted to tremble and hide at the vile sound, but the overpowering forces of Life and Death which commanded her remained unmoved. Senshi Saturn might as well have been sculpted from ice, her still form radiating chill menace.
"I am the Bringer of Endings, Guardian of Life and Death, Keeper of the Silence." Whatever tremors of fear Hotaru might have felt didn't resonate in the deathly voice of her Senshi form. "In the name of the Silence I command you, show yourself."
And so he did. A shadow broke away from the lesser darkness around it and drifted nearer to the pool of light. He was taller than the guardian, and at ease even in spite of the divine aura that she projected. He was wrapped in a cloak of midnight hues which hid much of his form, but the face that peered out from beneath his hood revealed more than any would ever care to know about the manner of his shape. Loose grey skin hung lifelessly about his skull. His worn and corpse-like visage was held in a grotesque parody of paternal indulgence by muscles that strained with the continence of rigormortis. The gleam of his yellowing eyes despoiled mirth with its ghastly imitation.
"My little corner of Hell is not so insulated that I would not know who you are, World Reaper. I am the Scion of Fear, he who serves the will of the Lord of the Ninth." His ghoulish smile widened with the introduction, displaying a rotting maw of razor sharp needles.
"You are not welcome in this plane, devil. Return to your pits."
"Ah, but you see Death Mistress, that is where you are wrong. I was invited to this plane. I come at the urgent request of one who was willing to pay the price for my services." The devil's eyes shone in the streetlight, casting an eerie glow of their own.
The part of the senshi that was still Hotaru felt the gaze sink into Saturn's flesh and fall upon her. A flicker of true joy sparkled within Fear's insidious yellow orbs and the girl inside felt horrifically exposed in spite of the great power that owned her. Her spirit tried to shudder uncontrollably beneath the mantle of Saturn's undeniable strength.
"Who brought you here?" her icy alter ego demanded. "What purpose have they set you upon?"
"Oh, now that would be telling. Suffice it to say that you aren't the one I've been sent to find. Now that our paths have crossed, however, perhaps I shall relieve you of the burden of your office!" Fear exploded into sudden motion, reaching out from his cloak with cadaverous hands coursing with inky black bolts of power.
Saturn leapt clear of the dark lightning as it decimated the streetlight she had been standing under. Her landing brought her within striking range of the devil and the Silence Glaive lashed out in a blur. Unfortunately the deadly blade met only air. Fear had vanished utterly, leaving the lethal senshi apparently alone in the darkness.
The guardian adopted a defensive posture and slowly rotated, scanning the shadows for her attacker. Deep within her mind, Hotaru continued to weep in terror. The monster's presence had not abated with his apparent departure.
The blasted husk of the lamp post continued to crackle with slowly dissipating tendrils of electrical power, and the air was heavy with the stench of ozone and corpse-flesh, but in the creeping darkness there was no hint as to the devil's position.
Saturn felt the attack mere heartbeats before the shower of eldritch bolts streaked out of the night. She spun and slammed the butt of her weapon into the sidewalk. "Silent Wall!"
Streamers of dark fire battered against the shadowy dome of force that Saturn had erected. They were strong… far stronger than the guardian would have anticipated, and they did not abate as Fear peeled himself once more from the surrounding night.
The devil had a single bony hand raised, holding aloft a pulsating orb of dark energy that spilled fourth hellish lightning into the Silent Wall. He glided forward effortlessly, seemingly unhindered with maintaining his attack. "Your power is impressive, Guardian, but it will ultimately prove impotent. As mighty as you are, you still require the soul of that little girl to maintain your existence, and she will soon despair so thoroughly that her energies will be useless to you. Even now her panic robs you of your full potential."
Under the onslaught of the hellstorm, Saturn felt her knees beginning to buckle. The devil was right. Hotaru's spirit was becoming too unfocused, too afraid. There was no physical force that the Guardian of Silence could not overcome, but the aura of unnatural terror this creature was generating attacked the mind of her host directly. Eventually Hotaru would lose the will to defend herself and the floodgates of power that allowed Saturn to exist would close completely, leaving a defenseless girl at the mercy of Fear itself. As it was, it was all the Senshi could do to maintain her barrier.
The devil began to chuckle. Saturn's eyes darted about the abandoned street, hoping to find some path of escape. Hotaru's gibbering was growing more insistent. Her spirit was beginning to seep through the frosty grip of the Guardian's might. In moments the dome would…
BOOM! An explosion of cerulean light plowed into the devil's flank, splashing against the dome with heated intensity. As the flash abated Saturn saw that Fear had been knocked back several meters. He stood uninjured, but his dreadful attack had ceased. His gaze was no longer upon her, but rather turned upward towards the roof of the building behind her.
The Guardian of Silence turned towards the source of the indigo blast as well, expecting to find one of her fellow senshi poised to deliver judgment upon the devil. What she saw was no senshi.
For a startled moment both the Senshi and Hotaru were in complete agreement. Whoever their savior was, he was clearly the most gorgeous man that had ever existed. He stood balanced on the corner of the building, dressed in a thread-bare red silk tang and black slacks, juggling in one hand three small pebbles that glowed with cobalt fire. He seemed the very picture of relaxed grace and careless power. His dark braid fluttered in the wind behind him and his cocky smile sparkled with inexplicable amusement. Surely he was some great god of myth and legend, come to save the day and then sweep a lonely girl off her feet in a whirlwind romance.
"Hey ugly! Why don't you leave the little cheerleader alone and try picking on someone more your speed?"
Okay, so maybe he wasn't exactly prince charming, Hotaru amended, but that didn't make him any less easy on the eyes.
From his perch, Ranma scanned the battlefield below. One pretty girl in need of rescuing, check. One pissed off demon in need of a beating, check. One appropriately flashy entrance, check. Looks like the start of another interesting night.
"So, it seems you are the one to find me," Big ugly hissed. "This is the second time tonight I've been unexpectedly impressed, Mr. Saotome. Most humans aren't nearly so willing to walk into their demise."
Ranma stopped juggling his ki charged pebbles and took a closer look at the monster below. "Do I know you?"
"No," it smiled, "but you know the one who sent me. Happosai sends his regards."
Ranma hung his head dejectedly. What was it going to take to get those crazies back in Nermia to catch a clue? Ah well, at least the cute magical girl was taking the opportunity to get some breathing room.
Suddenly the monster's form blurred towards him. Ranma tossed the ki charged pebbles at his feet and leapt high into the air. The resulting explosion left the corner of the building a mess of shrapnel and dust. The black form of Mr. Ugly fell hard to the pavement below as the world's greatest martial arts protégé ascended to the top of his parabolic arc.
Caught off guard, and dazed by the blast, the poor sucker didn't even have time to realize that nearly two meters of unadulterated pain had angled itself for a collision course and was now inbound at terminal velocity.
Ranma's fist crashed into the top of the devil's head like a comet, sending the hideous servant of the hells back into the asphalt with a satisfying crunch. Ranma, in the mean time, took the opportunity to spring backwards off of its now dented skull in a one handed vault that put him squarely between the monster and its earlier victim.
"You okay?" He spared a quick glance back at the girl while he readied himself for round two. After all, Happy's little friends never went down with the first hit. The girl didn't answer, but rather assumed her own combat stance behind him, raising that wicked looking pole-arm in a defensive posture.
The creature snickered as it pulled its head out of the broken road. That was never a good sign. "I see the old fool was not exaggerating your prowess young warrior. Perhaps I should not take you so lightly!" With that, the form blurred again, lashing out in a whirlwind of viscous strikes at the pigtailed youth.
Ranma, for his part, was impressed. This thing was fast! Even with the amaguriken training the walking corpse was pressing him hard. A swirling aura of frustration and anger slowly started to build around the devil. Ranma smirked. It was the perfect setup for the Hiryu Shoten…
Before Ranma could complete the thought, his opponent disengaged and funneled his aura into the ground. The resulting explosion of heat and force flung the martial artist like a ragdoll into the face of a nearby store.
In his dazed state, Ranma could barely sense the dark bolts that were hurtling down range. Fortunately the pole-arm wielding magical girl decided to step in when he stepped out, so the blasts were a bit wide of their mark.
The pigtailed youth fell from the martial arts shaped crater in the brick wall and pulled himself carefully back to his feet, attempting to shake off the dizziness caused by the impact.
Down the street Mr. Ugly and the dark haired girl were stuck in a stalemate. The girl was managing to keep ahead of her opponent's ki lightning but the blasts were preventing her from closing in near enough to make that pointy stick of hers worth using.
It looked like it was time to play the hero again. With a self satisfied grin, Saotome once again erupted in cobalt blue ki-fire. Widening his stance, Ranma gathered his confidence for his signature attack. Between his cupped hands, the flickering of spiritual energy intensified into a sphere of brilliant light.
The destructive orb of spiritual energy rocketed down range towards its ghoulish target. Once more the night lit up with azure brilliance, this time sending the hell spawn through the window of an electronics shop across the street.
The purple skirted magical girl spared a cool glance over her shoulder at the pigtailed teen that was running up to the scene of the last melee.
"Hey," Ranma said as he pulled up along side his latest damsel in distress. "I thought all you magical girl types worked in teams. When's the back-up getting here?"
The girl considered Saotome out of the corner of her eye. "I have no reason to believe they are aware of this situation."
"Oh, well then I guess it's just us. No problem, we'll just-" A lance of black energy shot from the store front and slammed into road between the two teens, blasting them away from each other.
Ranma managed to recover in mid-air, landing lightly several meters away. The girl was not so lucky. She had landed poorly and skull-face was making her pay for the error with bolt after bolt of dark ki.
The girl tumbled wildly over the broken blacktop trying to stay ahead of the blasts, and while she had managed not to take any direct hits, the concussive force was whipping her around like a windsock in a hurricane.
Ranma raced after her tumbling form, blasting his own ki into the pavement in an effort to create a smokescreen. Finally amidst the hail of random bolts of power, Ranma managed to scoop the girl up and twist the both of them into a more controlled evasion.
As the young martial artist attempted to angle their tumbling into some semblance of cover, the girl lashed out at the ground with the butt end of her weapon and shouted out "Silent Wall!" Their roll came to an abrupt halt, and Ranma found himself inside the dark dome that the girl had been hiding behind earlier.
Bolts of power continued to rain on the structure, turning the street outside to molten tar. Inside, however, the din of the blasts was strangely muted. The girl breathed heavily and tried to get her feet under her. That last round hadn't gone so well for her. The skirt she wore was frayed into tatters and her legs and arms were covered in deep cuts and angry red abrasions.
Ranma watched her turn her head to check on him, giving him full view of the extent of the damage she'd taken. Her lip was split and one eye was slowly swelling shut. In the twilight of the dome he could see for the first time the utter panic behind her frosty gaze. The temperature dropped and a cold fog began to form in the confines of the magical shelter. A good fight was one thing, but Saotome would be damned if he let the mess that was his life hurt someone else.
"Prepare yourself. If it can't harm us physically, it will attempt to attack our minds. You must…" Whatever she was about to say died on her lips. The panic locked behind her cool indifference bubbled to the surface in great waves, forcing her to turn her head towards the source of the spiritual attack.
Then Ranma felt it. A choking weed of terror dug its way through his Soul of Ice technique, trying to rob him of his senses. It was powerful. The darkness of the dome seemed to intensify and the shadowed whispers of mewling and hissing began to echo amongst the dull thudding of the arcane bolts that slammed against the side of his dark prison.
Had he not already been channeling the Soul of Ice, he would have fallen immediately to the fear of the Neko-ken. As it was, Saotome redoubled his efforts to deaden his emotions into impenetrable frost.
The purple clad girl who had erected the dome sat transfixed by the demon outside, literally shaking now in terror. The trim of her uniform began to fray into luminous threads of violet light that were caught in a phantom breeze and blown away. The poor girl clung to the shaft of her weapon weeping openly in despair. Ranma saw the hopeless, broken agony in her and the Soul of Ice snapped back into place. Cold fury burned away the last visages of fear, leaving only icy killing intent.
"Your resistance to my power is incredible boy," the demon laughed, "but it will make no difference in the end. There is no escape from the trap that the Senshi of Destruction inadvertently placed you in. In moments her powers will fail utterly and you will be eradicated from existence by my Hellfire Storm. The outcome has always been inevitable."
The creature was right, relentless bombardment of the crumbling dome had left the street a sea of bubbling, raging hellfire. No creature could withstand the swirling vortex of heat for long. Saffron had thought the same thing. A maliciously cold smile spread across Saotome's face.
"Hiryu…" It began like the whisper of steel leaving the scabbard as he raised his arm towards the demon.
"Hyo…" The syllables tumbled from Ranma's mouth like the first stones of an avalanche as his fist opened.
In a deafening roar, Saotome's frozen aura lashed out at the swirling maelstrom of the devil's Hellfire storm. A spinning beam of cold rage erupted from the palm of Ranma's outstretched hand ripping through the protective dome and slamming into the chest of the creature beyond.
The bombardment cease. The dome failed. The mysterious girl who had erected it to begin with lay on the ground next to her fearsome weapon, all but spent. The bubbling tarmac hissed and churned as snow crystals drifted down in the wake of the most devastating technique in the pigtailed warrior's arsenal. Across the scarred and pitted field, the devil known as Fear gaped in open mouth astonishment at the frozen hole in his chest.
It looked up, putrid orbs of yellow hellfire met frozen pools of cerulean rage. The demon then loosed a savage roar into the sky, shattering the few windows that had survived the conflict thus far. The frozen wound in its chest burst open, spilling fourth a hideous puss that filled the gaping crevasse.
"You!" Its hate filled gaze snapped back onto the lone remaining combatant. "You pitiful mortal scum! You dare to challenge me! I am Fear Itself! Barron of the Despairing Wastes! I shall crush you!"
Ranma ignored the ranting devil and knelt next to the girl that he had tried to save… that tried to save him… "Are you alright?"
"I… I c… can't maintain…" She was curled into a fetal position, trembling with fear and exertion.
Ranma brushed a few stray locks of her ebony hair from her face tenderly. "You just rest. I've got this."
He stepped over her still trembling form and stared down the panting Barron of the Ninth Hell. His hand reached out, gripping the shaft of the weapon that was still standing upright in the now cooling street. It lapped at his cold ki hungrily, trying to harness the dreadful power it sensed. Ranma clamped down hard on the flows of his own life force. The blade was a tool, nothing more. He wouldn't be defeated by it, nor by the demon before him, nor by anything else in creation.
"You," The young warrior's voice hissed. "I think I've had just about enough of you." Ranma jerked the glaive free of its molten prison and both he and the demon blurred towards one another.
Hotaru was lost. She knew it in her heart. The Guardian of Silence all but begged her to get up… to fight. The girl shook harder. This was hell. She was in hell. She would boil in a lake of molten tar for the rest of eternity. Her friends and family had abandoned her to the clutches of the devil Fear. Even the Guardian Spirit that wielded Silence would, in moments, abandon her. There was no salvation. The heat and smoke and crushing fear seared her flesh. It was over…
And then… then there was blessed coolness. Had she died before the fiend could take her? Hotaru forced her will upon the Guardian and looked up. She was still lying on the field of battle, but the torrent of fire and anguish had ended. Flakes of snow drifted down into the rapidly cooling ground, quenching the aching wound in the earth.
"Are you alright?" The voice was salvation… a soothing balm. How should she answer? How did one explain what it was like to be pulled from the pits of hell? The Guardian wrestled with her for control and managed to squeeze out some lame answer. What did she say?
A hand touched her brow. It was cool… soothing… tender. Her tremors abated. "You just rest. I've got this." It was the voice again… that merciful, blessed voice. He had saved her when nobody else could. She couldn't just abandon him now.
He stepped past her… stood before her… between her and the devil. Fear was howling and ranting in the distance. It's dreadful influence washing over the scarred ground.
"You," the voice whispered. It was a sound filled with the promise of cold justice. "I think I've had just about enough of you." Perhaps Usagi didn't really understand the concept, or her voice would sound exactly like that when she told the forces of darkness that they would be punished.
The earth before Hotaru gave way as the glaive was ripped free of the molten ground, and then the battle was joined. Midway down the field, two unstoppable forces of nature collided in an explosion of palpable fury.
Where Fear lashed out the world around was annihilated in a tumult of fire and lightning. Burning rage and hate swept from his corpse-like form in a terrible dance of destruction.
But her savior; by the gods, what was he? The Silence glaive leapt and danced in his hands like a living thing. Wisps of frost trailed in his wake. Where his strikes landed the burning ground froze instantly solid, spreading tendrils of ice, like deadly serpents, at his opponent. He was an avenging angel. He was a god made flesh. No mortal being could be so brave, so deadly, so in control. Even her Guardian hadn't been able to fight like that.
At the thought of her, the Guardian rallied once more against Hotaru's control. The girl relented. She was weak and tired and her avenging angel needed real help. With great pain and effort, the Harbinger of Silence forced herself to her feet.
At the far end of the field the flames and the frost, the earth and the sky had all become one. The beautiful, chaotic spectacle was a microcosm of the birth of the universe. And in the center of the dreadful storm of whirling earth, fire, and ice, two beings fought; battering and carving away at each other; burning and freezing one another in turn. For a moment the Guardian understood her host's thoughts and was humbled.
And then the awesome display of power reached its crescendo. Even the Guardian couldn't perceive the slight misstep that had turned the tide, but she saw clearly the result. The young warrior flew from the battle in one direction; the Silence Glaive sailed off in another. The first crashed painfully into a pile of rubble while the second clattered against the pock-marked earth meters away.
The devil stalked the fallen warrior, blasting fire and lightning into the crater where he landed. This then was truly the end. Fear had won. Its contract had been satisfied and its freedom to roam this plain had been earned. What was worse, the Senshi of Silence hadn't the power to escape. The devil would claim Hotaru, and with her the power to destroy worlds. There was only one hope for salvation. The only blessing was that there was nobody to witness the sad end of this age.
The Guardian stumbled for her discarded weapon, staggering on unsteady feet. For a moment, the presence of Hotaru had gone silent, shocked numb at the dashing of her hopes. But as the Guardian shambled across the field, the anguish of the girl inside made itself known.
Hotaru's presence surged forward, trying to claim control of their shared body. He couldn't be dead. He just couldn't! It was a mistake. They had to help him. They had to save him. For a split second she managed to gain control of a leg, one leg, just enough to take a half step towards the carnage at the distant end of the war torn street.
The Senshi of Saturn pitched uncontrollably at the loss of balance and fell. She struggled to pull herself up, managing only to drag herself along the ground, closer and closer to the instrument of dark salvation. Her hand reached out for it. Her fingers brushed the cool metal surface of its shaft.
The blade sprang unsuspectingly to life, skittering out of Saturn's tenuous grasp and hurtling itself towards the crater where the doom of the world was being laid bare.
"You pitiful ant!" Fear yelled as he released another bolt of hellfire into the ruin of his opponent. "Did you really think you could defy ME!"
Ranma lay dazed in the blasted and bubbling crater. The Soul of Ice had failed when he'd crashed, and with it his protection from the scorching heat. His body burned in agony like it hadn't done since Jusendo.
Was this it? Was this the end of the great Ranma Saotome? Another blast of lightning wracked his failing body. All his rivals, all his challenges, did he die in a ditch at the hands of some fiend he'd never even met before?
"I told you that the outcome of this fight was inevitable," The beast gloated over another round of ki based lightning. "You were fated to lose to me."
Lose? Is that what was happening? Ranma struggled for coherent thought. Something about that statement wasn't right. Was he losing? It sure felt like it. Insane martial artists couldn't beat him, dragons fell in his wake, and even the gods couldn't stand against his strength.
A faint blue glow began to emanate from the broken form of the martial artist. Impossibly he began to laugh through the seizures and coughing.
"Have I broken you at last, young warrior?" The devil pondered as he considered the shaking mass of the inexplicably amused martial artist. "Perhaps it's time we end this little game."
Ranma's eyes opened. "…couldn't… Couldn't agree more." Ranma reached out his hand.
"Are you really going to attack me now?" Fear scoffed. "Do you honestly still think you can win?"
The faint aura around the boy leeched across the ground, slithering silently from the crater like a ghost. "Aint… you heard? R… Ranma Saotome don't… lose!"
With that the creeping tendril of ki latched onto the hungry blade of the Silence Glave. Saotome yanked for all he was worth, flinging the heft of the lethal weapon across the ground by force of will alone. The shaft pitched across the battlefield and flung itself into the waiting hand of the battered martial artist. Its hunger was intense and he couldn't resist it this time. He didn't intend to. Ranma remembered every rival, every triumph, every impossible victory snatched from the jaws of utter defeat. This battle would be added to that list like all the others.
The Silence Glaive drank deeply of Ranma's confidence. The blade of the most lethal weapon in creation lit with indigo flame. "Ultimate…" the blade arced towards the Barron of the Ninth. "Moko…" The force of perfect confidence gathered at the blade's tip.
Everything that Ranma ever was lept from the Glaive in a razor thin lance of pure blue light. The beam traced a path across Fear's frame from the edge of his putrid left thigh to the tip of his rotting right shoulder.
The two forces locked eyes with one another. For several seconds nothing happened. Fear began to laugh his triumph, watching the fading ember of Ranma's ki burn away with the effort of keeping him conscious. Then the bottom of the midnight cloak fell away, drifting to the scorched earth like a leaf on the wind.
"You were right." Ranma whispered. "The outcome… it was always inevitable." Yellow hellfire seeped from a perfectly straight line across the devil's torso, following the path of Ranma's final, ultimate attack. Its twisted body fell into two, each half being consumed by the flames contained within. In the end, all that was left of Fear was dust. Ranma collapsed against the cooling earth and waited for death to claim him. His record would remain un-diminished.
Hotaru watched from the ground as the final, epic blow fell. As the devil burned, her eyes locked for a split second with the azure orbs of the impossible hero who had saved her. Then he collapsed, unmoving, back into the crater from which he had summoned the Silence Glaive and used it to cut down a Barron of the Ninth Hell.
In utter awe, Hotaru crawled to the hero's resting place. His chest had stilled. Panic clutched at Hotaru's heart. He couldn't be dead. Not after all that. Not after saving her so completely.
She reached out to him, put her hands on his lifeless chest, and poured her soul into him, trying to fan whatever spark of life remained in his still form. She felt herself fading, growing so close to lifelessness herself. If it took her own life to save his, then so be it.
Darkness started to creep around the edges of her vision. There was a thump beneath her hands; then another. Slowly a rhythm built. His chest lifted slightly and fell. She let go.
Hotaru tried to lift herself off of the boy, but found that she couldn't. Had she spent more energy than she could afford? Would she die here after all? As her vision continued to fade, she rode the steady rise and fall of his chest, comforted by the fact that he, at least, would survive.
Absently she noted that the Guardian had left her. When had that happened? He had caught her eye before falling into his near death. Had he seen her change? If he did, would he remember? It didn't matter. He would live and if there was enough of her soul left for her own recovery, then she would deal with the consequences later.
Off in the darkness she heard the roar of an engine and the squeal of breaks. Light flooded the devastated street making it look more like the crater strewn surface of some dead world than a place where only hours ago people had lived and worked.
Someone screamed her name in the distance…
Usa must have called after all…
Author's notes – Since my original posting, I've changed some elements of the ending to add a bit more suspense to the next chapter.