Chapter 12: "The Challenge"

A neo-Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.

Endymion stared. Rei and Jupiter stared. The Asteroids stared. From over on Usa's bed, Diana stared. Saturn was still unconscious, or she would have stared.

They all stared.

Sailor Moon sat on the floor, her legs at awkward angles. Her face was flung up toward the ceiling and the crescent moon birthmark on her forehead had appeared. It was visible through her tiara, for the birthmark was emitting an intense shaft of pink light up, to and through the ceiling itself. Surrounding Sailor Moon in a circle was a softer, dimmer pink light also traveling from the floor to the ceiling. The shaft of light twinkled and shimmered when dust particles passed into its field. Her trails of pink hair fluttered upward, whipping through displaced air currents.

From the shaft of light, pink tendrils extended out. They held Lady Kitsune up in the air, a tendril locked around each wrist and ankle. The fox spirit was splayed spread-eagle, held rigid in the air, so rigidly that she couldn't move despite the strain evident in the muscles of her limbs. Another tendril wrapped around her throat and Lady Kitsune flung her head back, arching under the choking pressure at her neck.

"What's going on?" gasped Ceres.

"It's her fear response," Rei whispered in awe and alarm. "Ever since she was a little girl, this has happened whenever she's been in mortal terror."

Endymion moved forward, reaching for his daughter to try to comfort her and allay her fears. But when he touched the light, a burst of energy flung him back. The others caught and braced him.

"Pallas, can you establish contact with Sailor Moon telepathically?" Jupiter asked hastily.

"Pallas can try," the blue senshi offered. Her eyes clamped shut and her brow furrowed. The senshi's face twisted trying to break through the psychic interference Sailor Moon's fear response was throwing up.

And inside the heart of Sailor Moon, Helios mentally caressed her mind.

"Maiden," he said desperately. "Calm yourself. The threat is over."

"No!" Sailor Moon mentally gasped. "Not again! It's not going to happen again!"

"This is not Metallia, Maiden. Pull back. Your power reaches dangerous levels. And I fear for the life of the fox spirit you restrain."

"It's not going to happen again! It's not going to happen again!"

"Would you kill her, Maiden?"

"She won't be a threat! It will end any chance of that!"

"So, too, may mercy, Maiden."

"How can you be sure, Helios? How can you be sure? How?"

"Faith. Faith in the fact that you have the strength to bestow mercy and not concern yourself with such things as reprisals. And faith that the receipt of such a gift will inspire gratitude and a desire to emulate such charity toward others."

"But what if . . .?"

"Maiden. Either you believe - - or you do not."

In the real world, Sailor Pallas shook her head. "Pallas is sorry. The Princess is too scared to listen. She can hear Prince Horsie-Man trying to make The Princess feel better, but all The Princess can say is 'Not again'."

"Endymion?" they all heard Serenity gasp from the hall. Venus was with her. "What's happening?" Serenity pushed into the room, then reined up when she saw Sailor Moon.

"Lady Kitsune must have attacked her and triggered the fear response," Endymion summarized.

"Oh my goodness!" Serenity exclaimed.

She reached out and touched the shaft of pink light, then flinched back as the energy bit her. Resolution then filled the queen and she jammed her hands against the barrier. Energy sparked from the field where her hands touched, but Serenity persevered. She would break the barrier and get to her child.

And then it wasn't there. Serenity flopped forward awkwardly and caught herself before she could face-plant into the floor. Lady Kitsune dropped to the floor and sprawled like a broken doll. Rei moved in to check her - - and bind her spiritually if the need arose. And Sailor Moon? Her shoulders slumped and her head bent forward. She seemed to shudder. Endymion knelt down next to her, his hands steadying on her shoulders.

"Honey?" he softly inquired.

"Pop," she softly acknowledged. Meekly Sailor Moon turned to Rei. "Did I . . . did I kill her?"

"No, Muffin," Rei shook her head. "She's still with us."

By now Serenity had moved in on Sailor Moon's other side, lending all the comfort she could supply.

"I would have," stammered Sailor Moon in horror. "I was going to . . . going to kill her. I was so terrified of-of Queen Metallia happening all over again. I was going to . . ."

"But you didn't," Serenity told her with that loving, assuring coo her voice took on at times like these.

"Because Helios stopped me," murmured Sailor Moon, "again."

"Well," Serenity offered, stroking her daughter's hair, "you were smart enough to listen."

Sailor Moon digested this for a few moments. Then her hand came up and caught Serenity's hand.

"Thanks Mom," Sailor Moon whispered sheepishly.

When the fox spirit who had masqueraded as Lady Kitsune regained consciousness, she found herself surrounded by the Royal Family, the inner senshi, the outer senshi, the Asteroid Senshi and three cats. Moreover, her facade as a human had receded when she was unconscious. Her face was that of a large red fox, her body humanoid, but covered in fur.

Her first inclination was to bolt the room. However, she found that she couldn't move. Her copper eyes shifted to the right and spotted the sutra dangling from the side of her head, robbing her of voluntary function. Her eyes also caught sight of the priest kneeling beside her, staring intently with violet eyes that seemed to penetrate to her very core.

"Mercy, Sensei," the fox spirit whimpered.

"Do you have a name?" Rei asked as the others looked on.

"Moriko," the fox spirit mumbled, "Sensei."

"How long have you lived here?"

"Mere months, Sensei. I will leave if you wish! Just - - please do not slay me."

"No one is going to hurt you, Moriko," Serenity said, leaning into the fox spirit's view. "We only want to know why. Why would you attack Sailor Moon?"

"I," Moriko began. "I wished - - to become human, Queen Serenity. It is all I have ever wished for. All I have ever cared about. I see how the humans in this hearth interact. It made me long to be like you all." Moriko's mood darkened. "I know the tales among my kind. To steal the essence of a human can bring death." Her eyes began to moisten. "But the Ritual Of The Moon takes so long! I could not bear the length!"

Everyone watched her with countenances ranging from sympathetic to skeptical.

"And then I saw Sailor Moon," Moriko continued. "She had so much essence. More than anyone I have ever known, save yourself. And she was of the moon itself! I thought," and Moriko clutched up, her shame and regret wedging momentarily in her throat, "that she had so much essence - - that it would not harm her if I - - stole - - some. Enough to become human. Enough to become a pale shade of what she is."

Unable to move, Moriko's eyes shifted from the floor up to where Serenity and Usa sat.

"Oh I beg you, Princess of the Moon, forgive me!" Moriko exclaimed. "I am truly sorry for my actions! It was wrong, what I did! I know that now. I'm," and her gaze dropped back to the floor, "free of the madness that took hold of my mind."

"You're saying you didn't intentionally attack the Princess Usagi?" Endymion asked.

"I was," Moriko fumbled through her feelings, "overwhelmed - - by the lure of my dream. I saw a quick route to my goal. I thought I could steal what I needed and not harm the Princess. My conscience told me it was wrong - - but I was too focused on the prize to listen."

"How old are you?"

The question came from Usa and took everyone by surprise, Moriko most of all. The fox spirit's eyes bulged, then focused again on the floor.

"Majesty, I," Moriko began, then stopped. Her demeanor became resigned. "Fifteen summers have I seen."

"Barely more than a baby in the life of a fox spirit," commented Rei.

Usa stared at Moriko. The fox spirit wouldn't meet her gaze.

"Aunt Rei," Usa started, "can you let her go?"

"Are you nuts?" demanded Vesta.

"My Lady!" gasped Diana.

"Usa, are you sure?" Endymion leaned in and asked.

"She was too focused on her goal to think of the consequences," Usa shrugged. "Hey, I can relate. A lot of us in this room can relate. She's not evil. She just made a mistake." She turned back to Moriko. "Right?"

"Your Majesty is good and kind!" Moriko said, her voice quaking with emotion. "I have learned where I went wrong. I will trouble you no more. I will use the Ritual Of The Moon to gain what I want," and Moriko seemed to grimace some, "no matter how long it may take me. This I pledge."

With her mother looking on, beaming proudly, Usa nodded to Rei. After a moment, Rei nodded and removed the sutra. Moriko slumped with relief. After she made no sudden moves toward either the door or Usa, the senshi slumped with relief, too.

"Thank you, Majesty," Moriko said, bowing on her knees and touching her forehead to the floor before Usa. "I will leave your hearth now. I vow to you that you will never be sorry for this decision."

"Hold on," Usa stopped her. "All you wanted was to be human." The Princess smiled. "Maybe I can help with that. You know, remove the temptation?"

"Majesty?" Moriko stared, uncertain of what Usa was getting at.

"Please - - it's Usa," the Princess said gently. She turned and extended her hand to Helios. Helios was about to take her hand to merge with her into Sailor Moon, but Serenity politely interceded.

"Usa, honey," Serenity interjected, "maybe I should do this."

"Why? Are you saying I can't manage it?" huffed Usa.

"I'm saying I can manage it more easily," Serenity explained patiently. "And you're probably a little tired from everything that's happened."

Usa wanted to argue, but unfortunately for her everything her mother had said made sense.

"Fine!" Usa snorted, her shoulders hunched.

"Stand up, Moriko," Serenity smiled gently as she rose to her feet.

Timidly the fox spirit ascended to full height. The spirit stood several inches taller than the diminutive queen. Serenity cupped her hands before her chest and opened the warp in which the Silver Crystal resided. Moriko's eyes bulged, partly in fear, but also in fascination at the brilliance of the silver jewel.

"Relax. No one's going to hurt you," Serenity told her. "Now think of the kind of human you'd like to be."

Reflexively, Moriko closed her eyes to concentrate. Serenity lifted the Silver Crystal up and brought it to within a hair's width of Moriko's forehead. Then Serenity closed her eyes. The jewel flared brilliantly, engulfing the room in silvery light until nothing could be seen except that light. The effect lasted for a few moments and then died away.

Standing there where Moriko the fox spirit had been was a pretty young woman. Her eyes were copper and her hair was russet red. And she had a familiar look to her features.

"She looks like The Princess!" exclaimed Sailor Pallas.

Moriko's hands went up to her face. She felt the smooth skin, the tiny nose and the prominent cheekbones. She glanced down and found smooth skin where before there had been fur. Turning, she looked over to a mirror that Usa kept by her door and saw a human woman with long, thick russet red hair done up in rabbit ear odangos with twin trails falling down her back. Twisting around, Moriko found no sign of a tail.

"Majesty!" Moriko burst out into happy tears as she clutched Serenity. Sinking to her knees, she pressed her newly minted human face into the folds of Serenity's gown and stained it with grateful tears. But Serenity bent down and lifted her back up to her feet.

"Ah, ah," she playfully chastised Moriko. "It's Serenity, not Majesty."

"Yes! Yes! Oh thank you! Thank you for this gift! I swear to be loyal to you forever for this!"

"I'm happy to do it," Serenity beamed. Sailor Moon was off to the side and she was just as proud and happy. "But do me just one favor?"

"Anything! Name it!" cried Moriko. Serenity reached up and pulled the rabbit ear odangos loose, causing the thick russet hair to fall down Moriko's back.

"Wear your hair like this," Serenity requested. "The resemblance is a little - - too close."

"As you wish, Ma . . ." and Moriko caught herself. "Queen Serenity," she nodded, flushing.

"Good job, Mom," Usa nodded. Then she leaned in. "But I COULD have done it."

"We'll discuss it later," Serenity murmured back. Turning back to Moriko, the queen asked, "Where were you living in the palace?"

"A room in the upper level," Moriko replied tensely. "It was not used by anyone, save to store some boxes."

"Well we can't have that," Serenity replied and Moriko's face fell. "We'll just have to get you some proper quarters here."

"Majesty! Do you mean it?" gasped Moriko.

"Not if you keep calling me 'Majesty'," Serenity said through clenched teeth. The elder senshi all giggled.

"Forgive me, please!" Moriko said quickly, "S-Serenity. I would be honored to live here, if you will allow me! I pledge my life to your service and to guard this hearth! Though I have no more fox magic, I have some skills and am quite willing and able!"

"That's not a bad idea," Endymion replied. "The Palace Guard can always use another hand - - on a probationary basis. I'll take it up with Captain Masashi."

"Oh, you are all too kind to me!" wailed Moriko emotionally. "Curse me for my stupidity in ever causing you all pain! I will make it up to you all, I swear it!"

As the Royal Couple escorted Moriko out of Usa's bedroom to get her settled and the elders filtered out - - with all of them silently nodding their approval to Usa for her part in this - - Usa's friends drifted over to her and Helios.

"I'm glad she got a second chance," Jun commented. "I hope she makes the most of it."

"She will," Usa proclaimed confidently, Helios pressing into her back comfortably. The others looked at her curiously.

"How can you be so certain, Usa?" Hotaru asked her. Usa looked directly at her and smiled.

"Faith," the Princess replied. "Faith in the power of mercy." And she reached down, taking Helios's hand. Helios leaned in and pressed his cheek to hers.

A week had passed. Moriko was beginning to feel her way around the palace. Though she was new to the ways of being human, she was welcomed by the palace staff. Many of the staff took an instant liking to her. Of course, she did look like two of the staff's favorite people. What she did with that small advantage would be up to her.

In the quarters of the Asteroid Senshi, Jun had just finished her homework. She scanned the room to see what her sisters were doing. Palla-Palla was hard at work on her homework, which consisted of elementary level spelling. Try as she might, Palla-Palla could never seem to retain the knowledge when it came to spelling. She could read, but she could never translate that skill into writing. It was just one more quirk of her retardation. Yet she persisted relentlessly, trying to master the skill.

Cere, on the other hand, had minimized her homework and was reading about her favorite singing idol. Jun sighed with frustration. Sometimes she wished she could transfer the brain capacity Cere and Ves didn't use to Palla-Palla, to make up for what was denied her. The only thing that kept her from smacking her two wayward sisters was that she knew Cere and Ves would gladly transfer their unused brain capacity to Palla-Palla if they could. Life wasn't fair sometimes. But hey, at least it had allowed the four of them to meet.

Her gaze moved to Ves. Ves wasn't doing her homework - - that was expected. But she wasn't streaming the soccer match, which was unexpected. Instead, she seemed to be searching the vid-com directories.

"Ves?" Jun inquired.

"He's not here!" Ves articulated her alarm.

"Who's not there?" Cere asked.


Jun moved closer and peered over her shoulder. "What is that? The Calgary directory?" Jun asked.

"That's where he's from!" Ves barked. "But he's not here! And the agency he works for never heard of him!"

"Looks like he fed you a line to get you in bed, Ves," Cere told her.

"That bastard," murmured Ves, stunned.

"Live and learn," offered Jun.

"Live and learn Hell!" snapped Ves.

"What are you getting so worked up about? He was just a one night stand for you. You said it yourself. I guess you were just a one night stand for him, too," Cere chided her.

Angrily, Ves bolted from her chair, swatting a holder full of memory crystals up into the air. The teen stalked into her room and shut the door behind her. Jun and Cere stared after her in surprise. As they stared, Palla-Palla walked up.

"What's wrong with Ves-Ves?" Palla-Palla asked.

"I guess Carlton wasn't a one night stand after all," Cere replied.

"Or he started out as one and became more," suggested Jun.

"Palla-Palla doesn't understand."

"Um," Jun began, trying to figure out a way to make Palla-Palla comprehend, "it seems Ves liked Carlton a whole lot more than she thought she did - - but Carlton didn't like her as much as she thought he did."

"Oh," Palla-Palla said forlornly. "Poor Ves-Ves."

Inside her bedroom, Ves sat on her bed, her knees pulled up to her chin and her arms wrapped across them. She stared off into the darkness.

"He's just a guy," she chided herself. "Why am I feeling this way? He's just a guy!"

The darkness had no answers. At least, none Ves liked hearing.

In the ornate pathway leading up to the front gate of the Crystal Palace, Hotaru Tomoe waited. She checked her chronometer nervously for the fourth time in the past ten minutes. The slight girl wore a colorful - - light blue, which for her was colorful - - jacket and a billowing floral skirt, pink roses on a black background. The cold wind whistled around her hose-covered legs, but she was oblivious to it. Her eyes darted back to her chronometer, but were drawn back when the gate to the palace opened.

"Yutaka!" Hotaru exclaimed when her date emerged. He seemed a little weary from his marathon sessions with the holographic image of Dr. Krause, his instructor, but the sight of Hotaru energized him. The sight of him did more for Hotaru. She ran up to him, leaped into his arms and kissed him passionately while her shoes dangled just off the pavement.

"Hotaru would just die if she knew we were watching her," remarked Usa. She and Helios were sitting snuggled on a bench partially obscured from the gate by bushes and trees. She wore a brown jacket, a tight red skirt cut high on the thigh and heavy pink leggings. "She sure seems to like Yutaka, though."

"Perhaps we should stop observing her," suggested Helios.

"You're no fun," Usa playfully chided him. But the pair got up and, hand in hand, strolled through the dense, ornate foliage that decorated the grounds around the palace.

"Your homework?" Helios asked.

"Done," Usa answered.

"And your self-assigned research into every corner of knowledge in existence?" Helios asked, with just a touch of satire. Usa glanced at him, acknowledging the velvet-covered jab.

"On hold - - for the night," she replied with a wry smirk. "I've come to find out that there are other things that are just as important as being prepared for every possible situation. Snuggling with a cute Dream Guardian is one." She glanced maliciously back at Helios. "You wouldn't happen to know where I could find one, would you?"

"Touche, Maiden," Helios replied in good humor. "You will, perhaps, be heartened to know that all of your suffering has not been in vain. You have grown spiritually from this. The manner in which you handled the fox spirit Moriko is testament to that."

"Yeah, I guess," Usa shrugged. "Maybe it's just me, but it didn't seem like that hard a decision." Usa gulped. "It's a good thing you talked me out of killing her."

"You are still human, Maiden," Helios told her. "You are permitted to know fear, so long as you do not allow your fear to rule your actions. And your actions afterward do you much credit."

"She seemed worthy of my faith," Usa replied.

"A judgment shared by your mother," Helios reminded her. "And one not shared by many others in the room. Your faith in her essential goodness, in your strength and in the support of those around you made the best of a potentially bad situation." His hand squeezed tighter. "And you have once again justified my faith in you."

"Ooh, I get the shivers when you talk like that," Usa grinned. She stopped, swung around to face Helios and draped her arms around his neck. "Want to have your way with me?"

"Here?" Helios asked, bemused.

"I don't care who sees us."

"The King and Queen might," he reminded her.

Usa leaned in and kissed Helios.

"I dare you to say that again," Usa whispered.

"You make it difficult," Helios breathed back.

"Good," Usa grinned saucily. Helios pinched her bottom.

"Behave," Helios told her gently as she jumped and squealed with alarm.

Usa sighed. "When I'm queen, I'm going to abolish rules. OK, want to find some place where we can enjoy an intimate dinner without being recognized?"

"In Crystal Tokyo? I would love it, but is it possible? You are quite famous."

"Won't know until we try," Usa smirked. A smile dawned on the face of her guy.

"Lead the way, Maiden," he said. "I have faith that you will succeed."