A/N Okay everybody, it's update time! I'm not going to blab your ears off right now because I've put a rather long note at the end of this chapter. So, let me get my hugs out and we can get this chapter started. BIG HUGS TO:
little princess of mercury
Atem's Sister Atea
Princessa de Silence
As always, you guys have lifted my spirits. Now I'm going to let you get on with it.
Last time on Rekindled – The girls wrapped up their trip to moon and reliving the memories of their last day there.
Rekindled : A Classic Sailor Moon Twist
The Cold Road Ahead
"Serena, can I speak to you for a moment?" Miss Haruna asked as the bell rang and every student in her fourth period Algebra II class jumped from their seats and rushed for the door, eager to get to the cafeteria and lunch.
Serena, who was moving much slower than everyone else and was still at her seat, putting things in her bag, sighed, "Yes, Miss H." She trudged sluggishly up to the desk in the front of the room.
"Have a seat, Serena," Miss Haruna told her, pointing to one of the desks in the first row.
Serena bit back a groan, but did as she was told. If the woman wanted her to sit, then that meant that she had a lot to say. So much for getting this confrontation over with quickly.
Miss Haruna eyed her for a moment before standing up, giving her auburn head a shake and smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt before moving around to the front of her desk to lean against it.
"I'm going to cut right to the chase, Serena," she began in a brisk tone. "As of right now you are in danger of failing both this class and my English class. I've spoken with some of your other teachers, and they had similar things to say. You started off fine at the beginning of the school year, but several weeks in your grades began severely declining. You bounced back slightly at the end of the semester and were able to just squeak by. You continued to improve gradually when the new semester started, and I had hoped that meant that you were getting back on track. But in the past couple of weeks your grades have begun taking a nosedive again. You always seem depressed, easily distracted, and very exhausted. I've been teaching you for several years now, so you falling asleep in my class is not a new notion to me, but it seems to be happening more often than usual."
Serena grimaced internally. She didn't need anyone to tell her that she had been acting like one of the walking dead. She was all too aware of it. But it wasn't entirely her fault. Sleep had been hard to come by since Darien had been taken by Beryl. Every time she closed her eyes she saw his face, and dreams of him woke her whenever she slept for more than an hour or so at a time. It was easier to sit up, plotting and planning ways to get him back while catching catnaps in between and during classes.
Today was super hard because she and the other scouts had spent most of last evening on the moon, reliving the memories of the final day of their past lives, and hadn't arrived back on Earth until just a couple of hours just before dawn. The other girls had rushed home to try to squeeze in a power nap before school, but she had tossed and turned in her bed until even Luna had gotten disgruntled and had moved to the window seat to sleep. She'd finally dozed off, but had been jerked awake only a half hour later when her mother had burst into her room screeching that she was going to be late.
She'd dragged herself out of bed and stumbled out the door, barely tasting the toast that her mother had given her as she passed by the kitchen. To be honest, she didn't even want to eat it. But she had promised Darien that she would take care of herself and keep her strength up, so she slowly ate all of it as she trudged toward the arcade with Mina to meet up with Andrew and the rest of the girls.
In truth, the food, combined with the walk in the cool morning air and talking with her friends, had perked her up some, as had the fact that she had actually made it to school on time and had avoided another detention. But by halfway through Miss Haruna's first period English class her fatigue and worries about what was to come had caught up with her again, causing her to drift off and eventually doze.
"Serena, are you sick?" Miss Haruna's voice pulled her out of her musings.
She blinked hard. "Sick, Miss H?"
The teacher nodded. "I was just wondering because I know you are close to Andrew Furuhata, and he is friends with Darien Shields. Andrew has been helping Darien out since he has been sick the past couple of weeks by bringing his assignments back and forth to him. I also know that you and Darien haven't always gotten along, but over the past few months the two of you have seemed to be on much more civil terms. Whatever infection this is that Darien has picked up seems to be quite a nasty one, and I was just concerned that perhaps you may have caught it if you have gone with Andrew to visit him."
"O…oh…" Serena stammered. "No, I haven't caught what Darien has." She winced slightly as she said his name. "I haven't been around him all that much. I mean I have seen him a few times." That was an understatement. "But I'm not sick."
When Miss Haruna simply gave her a disbelieving look, she decided to amend what she'd said. "Well, I don't mean I feel great. I have had a case of the sniffles and a bit of a sore throat lately. Maybe I've caught a cold." She cringed at the white lie and waited to be busted for it. She'd always been a terrible liar.
To her relief, Miss Haruna seemed to buy it. "I know that there are several viruses going around right now. But if you are feeling too bad to even attempt to pay attention in class, Serena, then perhaps you should see a doctor. I hate sounding like a stodgy old schoolteacher, but you aren't benefiting one bit from attending any of your classes, and the point of coming to school is to learn. So I'm telling you now, you need to straighten out whatever is wrong with you so that you can at least try to focus some on your work. You are sixteen years old and practically an adult. That being said, I hate calling in parents about my students when they've reached your age, but I will contact your parents if I don't start seeing some improvement in the very near future. Have I made myself clear?"
"Crystal clear," Serena grumbled petulantly, though she managed to keep a tone of respect in her voice. Part of her was angry at being dressed down like this when her life was in such a shambles, but it wasn't Miss Haruna's fault. The woman was just doing her job. She had no idea that her student was a reincarnated princess from a long gone civilization who now masqueraded as a superhero, wielding a powerful magic crystal in an attempt to save the Earth from a demon entity and her puppet.
Miss Haruna looked her over seriously for a few more moments before nodding her head brusquely. "Okay, then. You know what's expected of you. I want to see some improvement by this time next week. Now, off to lunch with you."
That was all the motivation Serena needed. She jumped up from her seat, slinging her bag over her shoulder as she all but ran for the door. She was almost there; her escape was almost within her grasp, when Miss Haruna's voice stopped her again.
"Just one more thing before you go, Serena. And please be honest with me about this." The teacher's voice sounded oddly strained. "You're not pregnant, are you?"
"Wh…what! No!" Serena exclaimed as she spun around to gape at the uncomfortable looking woman.
But Miss Haruna managed to remain calm and composed. "I just wanted to make sure. Your moods and appearance lately made me have to consider the possibility. After all, young girls find themselves in unexpected situations all the time. And I happen to know that you have quite a few boys as friends."
Serena felt her cheeks flame with mortified heat. "I am NOT pregnant, Miss H! In fact, I would be willing to bet the fate of the world on that!"
She stomped out of the room to find Andrew leaning up again the wall of the hallway. His expression was casually blank and he whistled a tune softly under his breath as he looked up at the ceiling tiles like they were mildly interesting.
Her embarrassment swelled as she tried to glare at the boy who was like an older brother to her. "I guess you heard all of that, huh?"
He turned his head, his hazel eyes glinting mischievously. "I heard most of it. You may not have wanted to tell Miss H, but you can be honest with me, Sere. When is the baby due?"
She knew he was teasing her, but that didn't stop her from wailing, "Drew!"
He chuckled. "Don't be so touchy. Once Dare is back with us I'll give him a stern brotherly lecture. I'll make sure he pays his child support on time. He's a rich guy and can afford it."
She seemed to choke for a moment before she ground out, "I'm going to give you a lecture, Furuhata! And it's going to be compliments of my fists!" Then she lunged at him.
Thanks to his athletic ability, Andrew was able to dodge her. Laughing wildly, he sprinted for the stairway with her hot on his heels. He stopped when he reached the stairs and turned to face her. Her face was still flushed from embarrassment, but his teasing had brought a genuine smile to her face, one that had rarely been seen in the past two weeks.
He looked around the empty hallway to make sure they were alone before he reached out to tuck a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "It's good to see you smile again. It's been breaking my heart to see you so sad."
That smile quivered for just a moment, but then remained firmly in place. "It feels good to smile again. I know everyone has been trying to cheer me up, and I appreciate it, but it's just so hard to try to be happy when everything else seems to be so wrong. But that's all going to be over soon, one way or another."
Andrew heaved a sigh. "I wish I could go with you girls tomorrow. I feel a bit cowardly about staying behind while the rest of you are marching into battle. I get why I can't since I don't have powers the way you do, and I would only be in the way, but it still makes me feel like a loser."
"You're not a loser, Drew," Serena told him softly. "You're one of the bravest people I know. Believe me, I wish you could be there with me too. You have a way of being able to get through to Darien when I can't. But I know that you'll be there with us in spirit. Besides, somebody has to hold the fort down here. I have a feeling we're all going to be in need of Dr. Drew's concoctions when we get back."
He huffed a quiet laugh. "I'll have the milkshakes for you girls and the coffee for Darien ready and waiting. Just make sure that all of you get back in one piece."
He looked so concerned that she didn't have the heart to tell him her deepest fears, that some of them, or possibly none of them, would be returning from this battle. After all, they were going up against Beryl and Metallia, the two beings that managed to reduce both the earth and the moon kingdoms to piles of rubble.
At least this time Beryl only had one of the four earth generals sided with her, so that helped. But she also had Darien, or was he Endymion? She wasn't sure which name to call him anymore. But after her last couple of encounters with the so-called Dark Prince she wasn't sure what to expect out of him. She didn't want to believe that he could hurt her or the other scouts, but Beryl had meddled with his mind so much over the past two weeks that anything could happen. She would have to remain on her guard.
So rather than burden her friend with her uncertainties, she merely nodded her head. The smile that he had brought to her face before reappeared as she teased, "Now! How about escorting a girl to lunch? My stomach is feeling a bit grumbly, and the lunch period is already almost halfway over. I bet there won't be any pepperoni pizza left."
Andrew held his arm out gallantly to her. "Whatever the lady wishes. But I wouldn't be too concerned about you not being able to get your pepperoni fix. I'm sure you'll be covered somehow."
His words were proven correct just a minute later when they walked into the school cafeteria. Mina immediately jumped up from her seat and waved to them.
"There you are!" she exclaimed when they had drawn closer. "I was getting worried, Serena. I was also scared that the lunch line would run out of pizza before you got here, so I went ahead and picked you up some. I know it's your favorite."
Serena took one look at the plate on the table that held two large steaming pieces of pepperoni pizza and burst into a gale of giggles.
"I told you so," Andrew chuckled smugly beside her.
Mina, Raye, Lita, and Amy looked at each other in clueless confusion for a moment before shrugging. They had no idea what had their princess so tickled, and honestly, they didn't care. All that mattered was that Serena was laughing and smiling. That was what was important to them. None of them knew what the next day would bring, but they knew that they would have to be at their strongest, especially Serena.
And they all knew Serena well enough to know that while she was still tormented deep in her soul, she had an uncanny gift for finding a speck of silver lining in even the darkest clouds and drawing strength from it. And that ability, coupled with her compassion and determination to protect the planet, was the key they needed to defeat the Dark Kingdom. They may not all survive the coming fight, but as long as Serena was able to use the Silver Crystal, and didn't lose her focus, they had a shot at saving the world.
Luna ran a furry paw over her blurry eyes for what felt like the hundredth time that day, trying her best to clear her vision before returning her gaze to the computer screen that she had been studying relentlessly for the past several hours.
"I swear I saw it again," she said plaintively to her companion.
Artemis sighed as he looked up from his spot in front of an identical monitor only a few feet from her. "It's just your eyes playing tricks on you, Luna. I started seeing dots hours ago."
She shook her head. "No. I'm telling you, Artemis, the scanners are picking up on something. It's weak and sporadic, but it's there. I know you think it's all in my mind, but it's there."
The white feline stood and stretched, groaning when he felt his back pop in several places as he arched it. He and Luna had been in the control room under the arcade ever since they had returned from the moon during the pre-dawn hours, researching the best coordinates for the scouts to teleport to the next day when they went to face the Dark Kingdom. The magnetic fields over the Arctic, D-point in particular, interfered with their computer readings, making it almost impossible to pinpoint the exact location of the entrance to Beryl's lair, but they were hoping to find a spot that would put the scouts relatively close to it. They wanted to try to send their girls into the upcoming battle with as many advantages as possible.
He walked over and sat next to Luna, glancing at the screen, which showed a satellite view of D-point. The picture was blurry and full of static, just like the one he had been staring at. But a second window was open in the top left corner of the screen that showed a map of the Azabu and Juuban districts.
"We're supposed to be trying to localize the negative energy output in the Artic, not keeping an eye on things here. Besides, if the Dark Kingdom attacked right now the girls would know about it in seconds. You know that Amy has the Mercury computer programmed to pick up on their negative energy the moment it arrives here," he told her.
She nodded. "True. But a youma or a general would put out quite a bit of negative energy. This is so small that I doubt it would trigger her computer's alarm. Just watch this for a moment and tell me what you see." She enlarged the map so that it filled the entire screen.
"Okay. Okay," he grumbled, obviously humoring her. "What exactly am I looking for?"
"Just keep your eyes here," she demanded, tapping a spot on the screen. "Try to not even blink, or you might miss it."
He bit back a retort and focused his gaze on the point she'd indicated. He stared at the spot for a full minute, only blinking once, but saw nothing. His irritation was beginning to simmer and he was about to tell Luna that she was losing it, when something small flashed briefly on the screen.
"There! Did you see it?" Luna demanded shrilly.
"What…was that?" he asked hesitantly.
Her expression turned smug. "What do you think it is? This program is made to pick up negative energy signatures. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but whatever it might be it's stationary. I think it's being shielded somehow, that's why it keeps popping in and out on the scans."
Artemis, being a bit more computer savvy than she was, nudged her gently out of the way and took over her computer. With a few clicks he managed to zoom in closely on the spot.
"I'll be damned," he murmured. "It is a negative energy spot. But look, it's distorted just like the readings we are getting from D-point. Do you know what this means? We may have just found a doorway directly into the Dark Kingdom itself."
Luna grew excited. "Well Amy was saying just last week that she thought they might have a permanent portal somewhere to transport youma back and forth to their base. The generals were all able to open portals of their own to travel through, but they weren't present at all of the attacks. This must be how the youma have been getting here."
"And if it is, then that means that the scouts can probably use it to travel there as well," Artemis stated, looking more animated than he had in hours. "I'm sure Beryl would have had it placed in a convenient location. In any case, it's worth checking out. What time is it?"
Luna quickly checked the time on the computer. "It's 4:00. School is out and I bet the girls are upstairs by now in the arcade doing their normal afternoon thing."
"Perfect," Artemis practically purred. He tapped a few keys to access the scout communications program.
In a matter of seconds Mina's face appeared. "What's up, Artemis?"
"Are you and the girls at the arcade?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yeah. We just got here a little while ago. Why?"
"I need you to round them up and meet me and Luna out back as quickly as you can," he told her.
Her expression immediately became concerned. "What's going on?"
He shook his head. "I'll tell you when you get there. See you in a minute." He cut the communication.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to have the scouts go there?" Luna worried. "If this does turn out to be a portal to the Dark Kingdom they are going to want to jump right in instead of waiting until tomorrow."
"We won't let them," Artemis replied simply. "We'll tell them our suspicions, but we'll stress to them the importance of taking tonight to rest up before the battle tomorrow. I'm sure they'll listen to us."
Luna shrugged. "I'm surprised that you didn't just suggest the two of us going without them to check it out."
He let out a snort. "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid. Whatever this is, it's definitely Dark Kingdom territory. And since neither one of us can assume our human shapes here on Earth without help from the Silver Crystal, I'd feel much better going in with some backup. You never know what might pop up if we go sniffing around."
Luna sighed. She understood what he was saying, but that didn't mean that she had to like it. "Okay. You've got a point there."
The Dark Kingdom
Beryl smiled gleefully as she carefully watched the two men who were glaring murderously at each other across the wide table that had been set up in her throne room. The top of it was littered with hand drawn maps of their underground lair as well as maps of Tokyo. But the paper they were on was in danger of catching fire from the heat of the anger rolling off of Endymion and Kunzite.
"I still think your idea is crap!" the dark general snarled. "Do you honestly think that letting the princess and her scouts come right to our doorstep is actually the wise thing to do? It's madness!"
Endymion's voice was a deadly hiss as he glowered at the man. "I do think it is the best avenue for eliminating the threat they pose. Letting them bring the fight to us gives us the home field advantage."
"Home field advantage?" Kunzite snorted. "That sounds like a cop out to me. We should be the ones that attack them. If we can catch them off guard it could be an even bigger advantage to us. Tell me, prince. Is it laziness or cowardice that has led you to thinking this scheme of yours will work?"
There was a hiss of steel as Endymion's sword was pulled from its sheath. In a flash, he had the blade pressed against his foe's throat. "You dare speak to me like that? I am a prince! You are barely one step up from a common peasant! You will treat me with respect, or I will silence your rebellious tongue for good!"
"Endymion, my love," Beryl spoke up softly, feeling the need to diffuse the situation before it got out of hand. She could really care less if her prince snapped and killed the insubordinate general. Just seeing what little bit he had lost his temper so far already had her breathless and trembling in anticipation. Endymion was a perfect male specimen of everything a warrior should be, with the capability of becoming much more. Which he would once she had the Silver Crystal in her possession.
But Kunzite had been a somewhat faithful ally to her over the years and could possibly still be of use to her. So, no matter how exhilarating she found the mental images of Endymion giving into his bloodlust, she stopped him.
She tried, and succeeded, to not flinch as those deep pools of dark blue turned to her sharply. One of the things that she had regretted most about her hostile takeover of his mind had been the loss of the eyes that she had dreamed of for so long. The orbs looking at her now were the right shade, but the color was flat and lacked the sparkle that she was used to seeing there. The lack of pupils was also a creepy effect. But as the old saying went, eyes were the windows to the soul, and she had completely locked away the memories that were connected to his soul behind a mental steel door. Physically his eyes were open, but figuratively they were closed.
She hoped that with the power of the Silver Crystal she would be able to change that. She knew that she could never set him truly free without him revolting against her for killing his moon tramp and taking over his planet. But with just the right amount of influence of the crystal's magic she believed that he could be manipulated into a king that would suit her perfectly. Sure, it would be a relationship based on deception, but at least she would have the man she wanted.
"Leave him be for now," she demanded of the prince.
Kunzite bit back a sigh of relief as the cold steel was removed from his neck. Swallowing hard, he felt a slight sting where the sharp edge of the blade has touched his skin. He inclined his head to Beryl. "Thank you, my queen."
She shot him a scathing glare. "Do not thank me too quickly, my pet. Endymion is deserving of the same respect that you show me."
The general became enraged once more. "I made no vows to him!"
Beryl cut him off. "Be that as it may, you did swear loyalty to me. Endymion is my chosen husband and your future king. You will obey him as you obey me, or you will pay the price."
Kunzite bowed his head. "I apologize deeply, your majesty. I just can't help but worry about what dangers could befall you if the moon princess were to come here. She may be only a child, but she is a powerful child. Letting her into our midst could prove cataclysmic."
"Is that concern for my well-being that I hear in your voice, Kunzite?" Beryl drawled. "And here I thought you had no concerns for anyone except the Venusian princess. Do you think me so inept that I would feel threatened to be in Serenity's presence?"
"Of course not, my queen," Kunzite quickly backpedaled. "Your well-being has always been one of my top priorities. And as your guard I can't help but feel some fear for your safety. Letting those girls get too close could be a potential threat to you."
He shot a glance at the prince and noticed that the younger man's angry expression had cooled to one of complete indifference. It seemed that he and Endymion had something in common after all. Neither one of them particularly cared whether or not Beryl lived or died. But there was something else simmering ever so slightly in those mostly blank eyes, a possible emotion that he couldn't quite identify. And that worried him just a bit. Once he'd captured Venus he would need the help of Beryl's powers to make his princess a little more…complacent. After that she could go to hell.
Beryl's shrill laughter echoed around the chamber. "Do you think me so inept, Kunzite, that I would be unable to defend myself against that sniveling moon brat? You forget that I have faced her before and emerged the victor, even if it was by her own hand. Serenity may have the Silver Crystal, but she is weak. She doesn't have the strength of will to use it."
"Are you so sure of that?" Kunzite asked, cocking his head slightly toward Endymion to remind the queen that she currently had possession of someone who most definitely could inspire a determination to fight in the moon princess.
Her eyes narrowed for a moment. Then she smiled chillingly. "I am sure, Kunzite. We will continue with the plan to let those silly girls come to us. In fact, I'm quite looking forward to it. I have been working on a little surprise of my own to greet them when they arrive."
A chuckle rumbled from Endymion. "And how is the progress on your surprise proceeding, my queen?"
Beryl's expression turned to that of an excited child. "It will be ready by the morrow. I can't wait to see how those pathetic children react when they are faced with my newest creations. They are unlike anything that they have faced yet. With any luck they will be defeated without me ever even having to lift a finger, except to relieve Serenity of the Silver Crystal of course."
"Of course," Endymion agreed cordially.
"What surprise?" Kunzite demanded.
"Oh, it's just some youma that I specially designed for the express purpose of greeting Serenity and her scouts when they arrive. The confrontation should be quite entertaining," Beryl cackled.
The smile faded from her face a few moments later when her magic orb began swirling and humming ominously. She cupped it between her hands and brought it up to eye level to peer into it.
A gasp escaped her. "Those sneaky little bitches! They've discovered our portal in Tokyo! They can't come through it and confront us now. We're not ready yet."
Endymion stood up straight. "Would you like me to go deter them, my queen?"
"No! Send me!" Kunzite exclaimed. This could be an ideal opportunity to try to grab Venus again, and he couldn't pass it up.
Beryl looked back and forth between both men for a minute before announcing, "Kunzite, you go. Endymion, I need you to stay here to continue working on our plans."
The truth was that she was afraid to have Endymion alone in Serenity's presence. She was fairly certain that the magic she had used on him was strong enough to keep the moon princess from being able to unlock his memories unless she used the full power of the Silver Crystal, but she wasn't willing to take that chance. Kunzite, on the other hand, was expendable.
"Do whatever you have to do to throw them off the path. Disable the portal if you have to. Just don't let those brats get through to here," she ordered Kunzite.
The platinum haired general bowed. "It will be done as you've requested, your majesty." He summoned a portal of his own and stepped through it.
"I don't know why you sent him instead of me," Endymion grumbled once he and Beryl were alone. "The man is a bumbling idiot. If that princess and her scouts are half as good as I've heard, I bet he'll be back here within five minutes with his tail between his legs like a whipped puppy."
"Patience, my love. Patience," Beryl cooed to the prince. "I don't care what happens to Kunzite as long as he keeps those girls away for now. This is just an opening act, and I'm saving you for the main event."
"Okay, now I'm sure of it. We should not be down here," Sailor Moon whispered, twisting her fingers into her fuku skirt.
"Shh!" Mars shushed her harshly without opening her eyes. "I'm trying to concentrate here, Serena."
"What's the matter?" Venus chimed in.
Jupiter shrugged. "Serena's got this hinky feeling about this little mission. I can't say I blame her. My Spidey-senses are tingling."
Venus rolled her eyes. "It's probably just static electricity in your case, Lita."
"More than likely it's all of the negative energy around here," Mercury stated primly, not taking her eyes from her computer screen. "I'm feeling a bit jumpy from it myself. Not to mention the fact that it's causing my computer to pick up some very conflicting readings. I'm not sure which way we should go."
After meeting up with Luna and Artemis behind the arcade earlier, they had tracked the blip of negative energy that the felines believed could be a portal to the Dark Kingdom to a building that was only two blocks away from the arcade. At one time it had been a small bakery and café, but it had gone out of business at least a year before.
They had scouted around the building for a way in, and finally Lita had used some techniques that none of them had known that she had possessed to pick the lock on the backdoor to get them in. Once inside the mostly empty building they had transformed and had begun searching for the source of the negative energy.
It was Mercury, of course, who tracked the signal to what had once been an old supply closet in the back of the building. A closer inspection showed that the back wall could be moved. After a few minutes of grunting and groaning, Jupiter and Venus had managed to slide the wall out of the way, revealing a set of stairs leading down.
After descending for what had seemed like forever, they had found themselves in a long underground tunnel. They could all now sense the negativity in the air, but they had continued on in search of the source, until they'd reached a fork in the tunnel.
Mercury flipped her computer closed and clicked her visor off with a snort of disgust. "Well I'm at a loss. I can't get a clear enough reading to tell which way leads to the negative energy."
"Then we'll just have to check out both tunnels," Venus decreed.
"Or we could just forget about it and go home," Sailor Moon said tremulously. "I'm sure it's getting close to dinnertime, and you guys all know how my mom is about me being home by then."
"What's wrong, Meatball Head, getting scared?" Mars sneered as she opened her eyes. But the teasing light in her violet eyes let her blonde friend know that she was only picking on her. Then she sighed. "I can't really blame you. The negativity around here is enough to set anybody's teeth on edge. I can't pinpoint which way to go either."
Jupiter punched a gloved fist into her opposite palm. "So we go with Mina's suggestion and check out both tunnels. We can get it done in half the time if we split up."
Up until now, the feline advisors had been silent. But at Jupiter's words Luna began to sputter. "No! Absolutely not! We don't know what may be lurking down here. We cannot take the chance with Serena's life by cutting her guard in half. You girls have to stick together."
"Ugh! Come on, Luna," Sailor Moon groaned. "All I want to do is get done down here and get out as quickly as possible. This place is giving me a severe case of the jitters."
Venus shook her head. "No, Luna's right. We can't split up. We don't know what we might run into. It's safer if we stay together."
"I don't care about safe!" Sailor Moon shrieked. "I just want to get this over with so that I can go home and hopefully feel normal for a few hours. I don't think that's too much to ask. Besides, I'm not exactly helpless. I can fight too. We are all aware of the fact that there could be some creepy-crawlies down here, so we all just need to stay alert. And if one group does happen to run into anything, the others won't be that far away. So I say that Mars and Mercury take Luna and explore the left tunnel. Venus, Jupiter, and Artemis are with me in the right one. Okay?"
She stomped off toward the tunnel without waiting to see if the others would do as she wanted…and almost walked right into Kunzite as he materialized right in front of her. She jumped back a few feet with a screech.
Kunzite clucked his tongue at her. "So sorry, princess. But I'm afraid that I can't let you go snooping around where your little nose doesn't belong."
Artemis hissed at the dark general, hair standing up in a ridge down his spine as he arched his back. "So we were right! There is a portal to the Dark Kingdom here."
"There is, or rather, there was," Kunzite smirked. "I've already shut down the stabilizing wards that kept the portal open. In a few minutes it will close permanently. Queen Beryl doesn't want to make it too easy for you to discover exactly where we are."
The sight of that smirk sent a spike of anger shooting through Sailor Moon. "I don't give a damn what that devil woman wants! She is going to pay for everything that she's done. She's already destroyed one of my lives. I won't sit back and let her do it again."
He continued to look amused. "Those are big words to come from such a little girl. Tell me, princess, are willing to destroy Queen Beryl even at the cost of your prince's life?"
"I…I…" she stammered as her thoughts scattered. This was the one thing that she had refused to let herself think about ever since she and the scouts had begun planning to strike out at the Dark Kingdom. There was a chance that none of them would come out of this battle alive, but she had never pondered Darien's death as well. If she survived and he didn't, could she face life in a world without him? Would she make the same choice that Serenity had? She didn't have an answer.
She was pulled back, farther away from the gloating man, as four bodies suddenly formed a wall in front of her. The scouts angrily stared down Kunzite while he seemed completely calm.
"Well, well, Minako, it's a pleasure to see you again," he drawled.
"That's Sailor Venus to you, buddy! And don't you forget it!" she spat at him.
The smile on his face turned a bit brittle while his already steely gray eyes hardened more. "My sincere apologies for being presumptuous, Lady Venus."
"Enough with the chit chat," Jupiter growled. "So Queen Anorexia sent you to get in our way because we are getting too close to finding her little hidey-hole, huh?"
Kunzite inclined his head briefly. "More or less. She's very much aware that sooner or later you will find your way to our base, but she's not in the mood for dealing with you today."
"What a coward," Mars muttered under her breath.
"On the contrary," Kunzite replied with a chuckle. "My queen is looking forward to your coming confrontation with great zeal. But right now she and Endymion are otherwise…occupied." His eyes slid past the scouts to meet those of Sailor Moon.
Sailor Moon clenched her teeth together and bit back the sharp retort that sprang to the tip of her tongue. She didn't know why it still bothered her so much when Kunzite tossed around innuendoes about what Darien and Beryl might be doing together. She should be used to them by now. Besides, even if he wasn't in his right mind, she had a hard time believing that Darien would touch the witch in any romantic way by his own free will.
Relief flooded through her as well at his words. She hadn't seen Darien since she had healed him with the Silver Crystal that night at the amusement park. Nor had she been able to sense anything from him through their bond, not even a peep. She had known that he wasn't dead, her own heart and Mina's confirmation that she could still see the red string of fate that tied them together had told her that. But she had still worried about what condition he might be in.
She straightened up and glared at the general blocking their path. "Get out of the way, Kunzite. We came down here only to investigate. We didn't come looking for a fight."
He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "But a fight is exactly what you are going to get if you attempt to get by me, Serenity. You see, I'm under orders from my queen to deter you at all costs. So the way I see it, you have two choices. Either you walk away now and we face each other another day, or we have it out right here, right now."
Jupiter snarled. "Sounds good to me. I'm tired of all this blah blah and pussyfooting around. Let's get it on. Jupiter Thunder Crash!"
Mars grinned evilly. "I couldn't agree with you more. Mars Fire Ignite!"
The combination of lightning and fire shot from the two scouts and hurtled toward Kunzite. But rather than trying to dodge or deflect the attacks, he just stood there. Then, a split second before the attacks were about to hit him, a protective sphere of negative energy sprang to life around him. The crackling electricity and roaring flames hit the swirling darkness, and disappeared like they had been sucked right in.
"What the hell?" Jupiter muttered.
"That's impossible," Mars whispered.
Kunzite smirked superiorly at them. "Nothing is ever impossible, scouts. Now, how about a taste of your own medicine."
The darkness in front of him churned, and then spat out a wave of negative energy, heavily laced with lightning and fire.
"Mars! Jupiter!" Sailor Moon cried as her two friends were blasted off their feet by the attack. They flew back several feet and landed hard on the rocky ground.
"How dare you!" Mercury growled in an unusual show of temper. "Let's see how high and mighty you are after I freeze you where you stand. Mercury Ice Bubbles Freeze!"
Hundreds of tiny bubbles erupted from her fingertips and swooped toward Kunzite. It looked for a moment like the attack would be successful, but then the bubbles disappeared the same way Jupiter's lightning and Mars's fire had.
"Tsk, tsk, Mercury," Kunzite mock scolded the blue clad scout. "I had always been under the impression that you were the most intelligent of the scouts. Attacking me directly after seeing what I did to your friends was not smart…not smart at all."
The sphere around him disgorged another attack, this one aimed at Mercury. It snapped ominously with dark energy, but was tinged with the light blue color of Mercury's icy attack. In seconds the blue haired girl was prone on the ground next to Jupiter and Mars.
"No! Mercury!" Sailor Moon screamed as she struggled against the hold Venus had on her arm where she had pulled her out of the line of fire. "Let me go, Venus! I'll show that monster!" Her hand reached for the pocket where she had the Crescent Moon Wand and the Silver Crystal.
Venus grabbed her wrist in a tight grip. "No, Serena! It's too dangerous. I'll distract him while you run. Get out of here as fast as you can. The other girls and I will come find you when we get out of this."
Sailor Moon glared at her. "You can't seriously expect me to run when my friends are in trouble!"
"I expect you to do what you have to do to keep yourself safe!" Venus snapped back. "Your survival is the most important thing. You are the only one who can face Beryl. Without you the world is lost. So, for once, do as I say and get out of here." She gave her a bit of a push back in the direction from which they'd come.
She watched as Sailor Moon stumbled a few steps before jogging away unsteadily. Once she had disappeared around a bend she turned back to face the Dark Kingdom general.
Kunzite arched a brow at her. "Do you really believe that was wise, to send your princess off all by herself? What's to stop me from going after her once I've taken care of you?"
Surprisingly, Venus smiled at him. "I am not vain enough to delude myself into thinking that I can easily beat you. Our past confrontations are proof enough of that. In fact, I am very certain that it is highly probable that you will have removed me from the equation in only a minute or two. But make no mistake about this, if you are stupid enough to go after Sailor Moon once you are done with me, I can promise you a thorough ass kicking."
A hint of a smirk twitched his lips. "Is your faith in Serenity that strong?"
Her eyes bore steadily into his. "You better believe it! I know on the outside my princess may appear small and frail, but on the inside beats the heart of a true sailor scout. She'll gobble you up for an appetizer and then move on to Beryl for the main course. After that she'll throw in Metallia for dessert."
He shook his head. "Blind trust can be deadly, Venus."
"Hmph!" she huffed. "I already know that. You made sure I learned that lesson well that last day on the moon. But what I have for Serenity isn't blind trust, it is just simply trust. I believe in her. The Dark Kingdom is finished."
A purple energy blade appeared in each of Kunzite's hands. "I guess we'll just have to see about that, won't we?"
Venus took a fighting stance. "I guess we will."
The Dark Kingdom
"Well, well, he's doing better than I thought he would," Beryl murmured as she gazed into her orb, watching the fight that was now taking place between Kunzite and Sailor Venus. "I never thought he'd be able to hold his own against all of them, but he already has three down and the moon brat on the run. This could give us an advantage."
Endymion snorted from where he was perched on the arm of Beryl's throne, but said nothing. Unlike his queen, he was not impressed with Kunzite's ability to bully a bunch of little girls. Instead he searched the orb for any sign of the other blonde girl, Sailor Moon. Today was the first time, that he could remember anyway, that he had laid eyes on the moon princess that he'd heard so much about. He hadn't felt anything in particular as he'd looked at her, but that curious warm sensation that he had experienced twice before had flared up in his chest and had definitely piqued his interest.
"Ah! Perfect!" Beryl practically squealed as she watched Kunzite turn Venus's power back on her and knocked her to the ground to join the other scouts. "This is exactly the boon that could ensure the certainty of our victory. Let's see how well Serenity gets along without her precious scouts."
Endymion rolled his eyes at the queen's enthusiasm. Something deep inside of him told him that this battle wasn't over yet. He leaned forward to closer watch the scene unfold.
Sailor Moon shoved a fist into her mouth and bit down hard on her knuckles to keep from screaming as she saw Venus fall under the onslaught of Kunzite's attacks. Despite the orders from her friend to run, she had held back and watched from a position that was just out of sight. To her credit, Venus had managed to stand up to the dark general for a few minutes, but her luck had finally run out when he had caught her off guard by deflecting her own power on her.
"At last," Kunzite said reverently as he studied the fallen, orange clad girl before. "I finally have you where I want you Princess Venus. I will take you away where you will be mine, and there is nobody to stop me from doing it."
Sailor Moon felt her blood boil as he took a step toward Venus. She wasn't sure how effective she could be at standing up against him by herself, but she had to try. There was no way that she was just going to stand idly by and watch another important person in her life be taken by the enemy. She pulled out her wand and clenched it tightly in her hand as she darted out from her hiding place.
She had only taken two or three steps when she skidded to a halt as Beryl's nasal, disembodied voice filled the tunnel. "Kunzite, take all of the sailor scouts into custody. It will weaken the moon princess considerably to not have her protectors by her side. This is too good of an opportunity for us to pass up."
"As you wish, my queen," Kunzite answered, his hands reaching eagerly for Venus.
He jerked back in shock a few seconds later when he heard the fast click of footsteps and something moved in his peripheral vision. He got out of the way just in time to avoid the red booted foot that was kicking at him. He counted himself lucky that he did too. That kick had been delivered with deadly precision and would have done some damage if it had hit him. He looked up, and met the furious blue eyes of Sailor Moon.
"I thought you ran off," he said as conversationally as if he were discussing the weather.
"Just shut up!" the angry girl hissed back at him. "You have to know me well enough by now to know that I would never abandon my friends, even if that is what they want me to do. We are a team, and we stick together."
Kunzite returned her look with one of mock pity. "You're still just all sweetness and light, aren't you? How much longer are you going to fight it? How much more are we going to have to do to you before you realize that you are fighting a losing battle and finally give up? You have to know that you can't win."
"I'll never give up!" she countered back fiercely. "And I won't stand by and let you take my friends. I will fight for them with every last breath in my body if I have to."
He shrugged. "It's your choice." Then he manifested a purple energy boomerang in each hand and flung them at her.
The movement was so fast that she barely saw it. By the time her brain had finally caught up to what was happening and told her body to move, it was too late. One of the sharp attacks gouged her left thigh while the other one sliced into her right upper arm.
And boy did it HURT! She bit down hard enough on her tongue to draw blood to hold back the scream reverberating in her throat. She was beginning to think that it had been a stupid idea for her to try to stand up to Kunzite on her own. But when she saw her friends beginning to move about as their consciousness returned she began to feel more confident. She wouldn't be alone for long.
She had almost lost her grip on the moon wand when her arm had been cut, but now she tightened her fingers around it. Ignoring the pain she felt, she raised her arm to point the wand at Kunzite. "You're going down, Kunzite! Cosmic Moon Pow…ahhh!"
She shrieked as the ground bucked beneath her, interrupting her attack and sending her to her knees. She had known that whatever magic that Beryl had used to reanimate the generals' bodies after she had killed them had allowed the new inhabitants to retain the original powers that Endymion's guards had possessed in addition to the new powers that the negative energy had given them. She had witnessed that for herself when she had seen the fake Jadeite use fire, Nephrite electricity, and Zoicite ice.
But up until now, this general had only attacked with dark energy blasts and the weapons that he was able to conjure by using Kunzite's ability to manipulate energy into those forms. And that had caused Sailor Moon to forget the fact that the former head general of Earth's Royal Army had had the power to actually control the earth itself.
'Well, I remember now,' Sailor Moon thought sarcastically to herself as she pitched forward onto her hands and knees. Then a swishing sound had her head snapping up.
The energy boomerangs that Kunzite had thrown at her were still flying around. And even as she looked, they changed direction and swooped toward her. With no time to react, she clenched her eyes shut and waited for more pain.
She sensed scuffling all around her. And then, she heard their voices.
Instead of pain, a sense of calm fell over her as she was cocooned in the planetary power of her scouts. But that didn't stop hisses and gasps of pain.
She opened her eyes to see her friends standing around her with their henshin wands raised high as they called upon their powers to protect her. But while she was safe inside the shield that they had put up, they were left exposed on the outside. And Kunzite's boomerangs were busy trying to make mincemeat out of them.
"You guys, stop!" she cried, wincing when she saw one of the sharp weapons lay open the skin on Mercury's arm, sending blood flying.
"No can do, Meatball Head," Mars growled. "Our number one priority is to keep you safe."
"But I'm not a princess anymore!" she wailed. "It's not your job to protect me like it used to be!"
Mercury's expression showed a bit of hurt. "Do you think that is the only reason why we would protect you?"
"For real, girl!" Jupiter snorted. "We do it because you are our friend and you are important to us."
Venus nodded. "That's right. You are the one that brought all of us together and made us as tight as we are. That makes you extra special to us."
Kunzite made a gagging sound. "Please! I think I'm going to be ill from all of this lovey-doviness." He flicked his fingers to send his weapons in for a fresh round of attacks.
The combination of loss of energy and pain from their injuries were causing the scouts to weaken quickly. The stress shown clearly on all of their faces as they began to visibly wilt in front of Sailor Moon's eyes. As they began to sag toward the ground, she made a split second decision. Grasping her wand tightly in her hand, she darted out of the protective field of her friends' powers.
"Back for more?" Kunzite sneered as his weapons returned to his hands. Then, in the blink of an eye, he launched them at her.
There wasn't time for her to verbally launch a counter-attack, but she no longer felt helpless thanks to her friends' encouraging words. Unconsciously, she activated the Silver Crystal and it began glowing where it sat in the curve of the moon wand. She ducked the first boomerang, and then swung around to bat at the second one with the wand.
'Just imagine that you are in gym class,' she told herself as visions of her hitting a volleyball and sending it flying into an unsuspecting classmate's head whirled through her mind.
The impact of the wand hitting the boomerang sent a painful shockwave rattling up her injured arm, but she ignored it as she put as much strength as she could into the hit. She also might have given it a little punch of Silver Crystal power.
With a clang, the boomerang rocketed away from her, speeding back toward the dark general who had thrown it. She saw his gray eyes widen in shock as his form began shimmering in preparation to teleport.
Then there was a thud, and his body turned solid once more. Both he and Sailor Moon stared in surprise at the unimaginable sight of the boomerang that was sticking out of his chest where it had buried itself in his heart.
He looked up then, glaring at the tiny girl who had somehow managed to defeat him. How had she, a whiny child, been able to beat the leader of the Dark Kingdom's army? He wanted to rant at her, but no sound would come from his throat. Finally, he looked over her shoulder where he met Venus's tear-filled blue eyes. It looked like he wouldn't be getting his Aphrodite after all.
And then, with the vision of her lovely face filling his mind and eyes, he faded away.
Sailor Moon stared at the place he had been standing until the last glittery particle had disappeared, feeling numb with shock. She had just killed someone. Granted, he hadn't really been much different than the youmas that she had destroyed over the past few months, but he had been the most human looking. Worse, he had been in the body of someone that she had once known.
She heard a sob behind her and turned to see that Venus had sat down on the ground and was crying into her hands, and that made her feel worse. It couldn't have been easy on the blonde to watch the body of her past love disappear. And to have seen the death of that body being delivered by the hands of her friend? Well, that just…well, it sucked.
Then Venus looked up at Sailor Moon. Her eyes were red and wet, and her face was blotchy from crying, but she was smiling. "Thank you," she said quietly.
"What are you thanking me for?" Sailor Moon exclaimed. "You don't normally thank a person after they've just killed someone."
Venus shook her head. "You took out a youma, not a person. But you did much more than that. You freed Kunzite's body from Beryl's control. Finally, it's over, and I feel like he can truly rest in peace."
"You were pretty awesome," Jupiter drawled. "I guess all the time I've spent teaching you moves the last couple of weeks finally paid off."
Sailor Moon grinned. "You have taught me a lot, but I had a pretty good teacher before you as well. And now that we've cleared our way of Dark Kingdom generals, maybe we can get him back."
"After I get done kicking your ass for putting yourself in danger!" Mars snapped as she stomped over to her. "What were thinking by leaving our protection like that?"
"I'm sorry. I just…oof!" Sailor Moon started to apologize, but she was cut off when she found herself pulled into a warmer than average hug.
"You silly Meatball Head," Mars murmured against her shoulder. "You nearly scared the life out of me. I'm just glad that you are okay." Then she took a step back and smiled. "And Lita's right, you were pretty awesome."
"How is everybody?" Sailor Moon asked, grimacing at the pain she was now fully feeling in her arm and leg. "Kunzite managed to get some decent hits in on all of us."
Jupiter flapped a hand at her. "These cuts are nothing. They're barely more than scratches. After a good night's sleep we'll be back to normal."
"She's right," Mercury stated, not looking up from her computer. "All of our wounds are superficial and should be mostly gone by morning. My readings are not picking up any traces of negativity anymore, so Kunzite must have successfully shut down the portal like he said. With that being said, it's probably a good idea for all of us to head back up above ground. We all need to get as much rest as we can so that we can be ready for tomorrow."
Sailor Moon nodded in agreement. And then a thought struck her. "Hey! Where did Luna and Artemis go? I haven't seen either one of them in a while."
Venus shrugged. "If they were smart they probably high-tailed it out of here the moment the fight broke out. Artemis can talk a big game, but he's really not one for confrontations. It's not like he can do much with his cat body anyway."
"I'll remember that you said that the next time you come to me begging for me to claw some boy's eyes out because he made a pass at you," a very disgruntled Artemis grumbled as he and Luna came out of the right-hand tunnel.
She dismissed him with a wave. "You know that I'm only teasing, Artie."
The white feline bristled. "How many time do I have to tell you to not call me that?"
"Oh hush, you grumpy ball of fur!" Luna's voice cracked like a whip. "We have more important things to talk about, like telling the girls about what we found in that tunnel."
"What did you find?" all five scouts asked in unison, and then burst into giggles.
Luna gave them all an indulgent look before shaking her head. "Artemis and I had a suspicion that whatever the Dark Kingdom was hiding down here was in the right tunnel since it was the one that Kunzite was blocking. So once you girls had him distracted we were able to sneak past him to do a bit of exploring of our own."
Mercury's eyes were shining eagerly behind her visor. "And did you find it? Was it a portal like we thought?"
"It was," Artemis replied smugly. "Unfortunately it is gone now. But Luna and I took a chance before it disappeared and jumped through it. It took us straight to the Artic Circle and put us near an old, dormant volcano. It seems like the perfect spot for the Dark Kingdom to set up base if you ask me."
By this time, Mercury was bouncing up and down on her toes. "Do you think you might be able to point out its general location on a map?"
If cats could smile, Luna would have been beaming. "We can do better than that. We brought a tiny micro-transmitter with us and left it on the other side of the portal. The magnetic fields there may interfere with the transmission a bit, but your computer should be able to lock on to it. That will be your teleportation point."
The Dark Kingdom
"Idiot!" Beryl growled as she threw the orange stone she was holding in her hand into the velvet-lined box where it rested next to the red, green, and blue ones.
Endymion arched a brow sardonically as he watched the ranting queen with amusement. "I don't see why you're so surprised. I was sure that you were already aware that Kunzite was an imbecile."
Beryl had begun pacing in agitation, but at his words she spun around to pierce the prince with a look that would have sent most people scrambling in fear for their lives. "I am quite aware of what Kunzite's shortcomings were, Endymion. I did, however, have hopes that he might work out better than the other three. He may not have been the most cunning, spiritual, or smartest of the group, but he did have a cold, calculating nature that could match my own. That made him a formidable ally to have."
Endymion made sure to keep his expression smooth and innocent as he replied, "But isn't that what you have me for now? I thought we were well on our way to forming an unbeatable team. We have been working together well while we have been plotting the fall of the moon princess and her scouts, haven't we?"
In a flash, Beryl's entire demeanor changed. She became immediately contrite as she rushed to reassure him. "Of course, my dearest prince. We have worked well together. And you are the only man that I want by my side. I just let my emotions overrule my common sense for a moment."
She went to retrieve the box that held the generals' soul stones, and then she walked over to where Endymion was lounging casually on his throne. She perched gingerly on his knees and held the box out to him.
"For you," she told him simply.
He eyed the box with an expression that almost bordered on disgust. "What do I want that box of rocks for?"
She pressed it into his hands. "Consider it an early wedding gift. The generals were your guards and, at one time, your best friends. It is only right that you have possession of them. Do with them as you wish. Smash them if that is what you want. Or, if it pleases you, simply hold on to them for now. Once I have my hands on the Silver Crystal I'm sure I could find a way to bring them back, if you like."
She purposefully didn't add that if she were to waste the time and energy to return those damn Earth generals to life that it would be with some major modifications, much like she was planning to do to him. She wouldn't begrudge her king his guard. In fact, having the true generals back instead of modified youma could be useful. But she would make sure that they were completely devoted to her.
"Just take them," she insisted one last time a she released her hold on the box. Then she stood up and bent down to brush his unruly black bangs from his forehead and press a kiss there. "Now, I have a few things to tend to. But I will see you later."
"I will be waiting in breathless anticipation," Endymion drawled, barely withholding an eye-roll.
Once Beryl had left the throne room he hacked out a yakking sound and scrubbed his forehead with his sleeve. Call him strange, but he still couldn't stand for the woman that he was pledged to marry to touch him. It almost made him physically sick every time she did.
Now that little moon princess on the other hand, she was quite a sight to behold. He didn't know exactly how to describe it, but as he had watched her fight earlier he had begun to feel funny. His heart rate had sped up and his breathing had quickened. Now that he had a chance to sit back and analyze what he had been feeling, he realized that watching her had aroused him. How curious!
He snorted, shoving the box Beryl had given him into an inner pocket of his cape. It didn't matter if he had felt physically turned on by the sight of Serenity. It didn't even matter that he had experienced a jolt or two of fear when she had landed in a dangerous position. All that mattered was that she was a threat to his planet.
And unfortunately that meant that she was going to have to die soon, either by Beryl's hand…or his.
"What a shame," he murmured as he settled back in his throne, closing his eyes in hope of catching a brief rest. "She might have made a good queen if she wasn't so dangerous. It's too bad that I'll probably have to be the one to kill her."
"That's not funny, Darien!" Serena screeched as a snowball exploded in her face. She wiped the snow from her eyes with a gloved hand and glared at the now laughing young man.
He bent over slightly at the waist, arms around himself as he burst into deep chuckles. After a minute, he seemed to compose himself. "You're right, Sere. That wasn't funny." Then his face split into a wide grin. "It was absolutely hysterical!"
"Why you…" she growled, stooping down to scoop up a handful of the snow that covered the ground of Juuban Park. She quickly packed it into a snowball.
"Prepare to eat snow, Shields!" she yelled at him. But as she pulled her arm back to launch her icy attack at him she overbalanced, sending her feet sliding out from under her and her body flying face first into a snow drift.
She floundered for a moment until she felt steady hands on her shoulders. With Darien's help she managed to pull herself into a sitting position.
"Are you okay?" he asked anxiously as he gently brushed snow from her hair and jacket.
"I'm fine," she grumbled. "But I think I had an easier time back when I was fighting youma than I do trying to win a snowball fight with you."
He tilted his head a bit and gave her a strange smile. "What are you talking about, Serena? You've never had to fight a youma."
She jerked back and stared at him like he'd lost his mind. "Yes I have. I've fought lots of times. You have too. I was Sailor Moon and you were Tuxedo Mask, remember? We used to fight together against the Dark Kingdom."
He sighed heavily. "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about."
"Sounds like a certain Meatball Head has been reading to many manga and watching too many animes," Raye's voice suddenly popped up.
Serena looked up and saw that Raye, Amy, Lita, and Mina had joined them.
Lita nodded, ponytail bouncing. "Either that, or she's been chowing down on too many sweets."
"That could cause hallucinations I suppose," Amy mused.
Mina flipped her golden hair over her shoulder. "Nah! Girlfriend just needs a little retail R & R. How about we hit the mall."
Serena scrambled to her feet. "Don't any of you remember? You were involved in the battle too. The five of us were the sailor scouts. And we protected the Earth from the evil Queen Beryl."
"She's delusional," Raye snorted.
"Completely off her rocker," Lita agreed.
Amy shook her head. "Perhaps she should see a therapist."
Mina was bouncing on her toes. "I know a good doctor. It's called Dr. Shopping"
Serena felt like bursting into tears. "I can't believe this. I guess none of you remember anything about our past lives on the moon either."
Darien took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him. "Listen, sweetheart. I don't know what kind of crazy dreams you've been having, but they aren't real. You are Serena Tsukino. You are sixteen years old and a sophomore in high school. Raye, Amy, Lita, and Mina are your best friends and I am your boyfriend. You have never been a superhero, and you have never had to fight monsters. You are just a normal girl, living out a normal life."
"A normal life?" she murmured. Was she dreaming, or had the past few months been the dream? She wasn't quite sure at the moment if she was awake or asleep, and she really didn't care. She was going to enjoy this little slice of ordinary for as long as she could.
"You're right," she told Darien as she wound her arms around his waist and burrowed into his chest. "I'm just a normal girl with a normal life."
She jumped up in the bed at the loud yell and almost fell off of it and onto the floor. Her hand shot under her pillow to grab her brooch as her eyes darted around the room, searching for the threat. After a few long seconds, she realized that the danger was coming from her mother.
Ilene stood just inside the doorway with her apron on, glaring at her daughter while she waved the spatula she was holding in her hand. "This is the third time that I have been up here to wake you up, young lady! Now, get your butt up out of that bed and get moving!"
Now that she had determined that no one from the Dark Kingdom was infiltrating her bedroom, Serena sank back onto her mattress. "Aw, mom…"
"Don't you 'aww mom' me, Serena Usagi!" Ilene fired back in a clipped tone. "With the way your grades have been lately you can hardly afford to be playing hooky from school. And since you don't look to be sick to me, you get up and get dressed right now. I'm sure Mina will be here for you soon, and you don't want to make her late, do you?"
"No ma'am," Serena grumbled. "I'll be down soon."
Ilene shook her spatula again. "You better be. I don't want to have to come up here and tell you again. I'll just run down and put together a breakfast sandwich for you and you can eat on the way. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day you know. And you need all of the brain power you can get."
Serena groaned and pulled the covers over her head after her mother left the room. "Why me? Why couldn't I have stayed asleep just a little bit longer? Or better yet, why couldn't that dream have been real? Then I wouldn't be facing what I have to face today."
She heard a door slam, and then Sammy's voice as he raced past her room. "You better get your lazy butt moving, Meatball Head, or I'm going to eat all the bacon!"
"You better not, you little maggot!" she yelled back as she flung her blankets off of her. She really didn't care if he ate the bacon or not, but she knew her outraged reaction was expected and it would seem highly suspicious if she didn't retaliate at her brother's threat.
Acting like everything was the same as it had always been had become second nature to her now after everything she had been through the past few months. But the fact that she was able to fool her family into believing that she was the same girl that she had always been made her feel a little melancholy. She had always been known as a terrible liar, and she kind of wished that she could go back to being that girl again. That Serena hadn't been Sailor Moon or known that she was a reincarnated princess. That Serena had been normal.
"Ugh! Normal!" she muttered as she got up from the bed and trudged into the bathroom. That one word brought back the dream she had been having right before her mother had woken her. God how she wished that dream had been real. She felt like she had been fighting for years instead of months, and the thought of a boring, normal life sounded like heaven.
"Nothing I can do about it now. I am who I am," she told her reflection in the mirror above the sink as she reached for her toothbrush.
Luna wandered in while she was going through her morning routine and hopped up onto the vanity. She spoke softly to keep from being overheard by anyone who shouldn't know she could speak. "Good morning, Serena. Did you sleep well?"
"As well as could be expected I guess," Serena answered as she lathered up her face with her facial wash. "I rested enough that I was able to heal from yesterday's adventure. The cut on my arm and leg are gone."
Luna's furry head nodded. "That's good. Do you feel like you are ready for today?"
Serena remained quiet until she had rinsed her face. Then, she reached for a towel to pat it dry and turned to lean against the vanity. "That's a bit of a trick question, Luna. Can anybody ever truly be ready to march in and face an enemy they aren't sure they can defeat? A part of me wants to say that yes I am. I have trained, practiced, and worked as hard as I can to get to this moment. But in reality, I don't know what will happen when Beryl and I come face to face."
"A very diplomatic answer," Luna murmured approvingly. And then she chuckled softly. "I know Queen Serenity is watching over you, and she has to be so proud of the young woman you have become."
"Thank you," Serena said in a voice that was hardly more than a whisper. She laid a gentle hand on her feline advisor's head. "But my first step in saving the world is surviving my mother in this life long enough to get out of the house. If I'm not downstairs soon she may kill me herself and save Beryl the trouble."
"I'll be waiting for you outside," Luna told her as she jumped down from the counter and exited the bathroom, heading back to Serena's room where she could make a stealthy exit through the window.
Serena quickly changed her pajamas for the school uniform that she had hung on the back of the bathroom door the night before. Then she went back into her room to sit at her dressing table so she could tackle her hair.
In five minutes she was ready. She picked up her schoolbag and looked around her room one last time, wondering if she would ever be coming back to it again. Who knew how today was going to play out?
Taking a deep breath, she stepped out of the room and put on her "normal" Serena persona. "I'm going to be late!" she wailed as she pounded down the stairs. The two times she tripped on the way were sadly not an act, but at least she didn't fall. Then she skidded into the kitchen and stood panting as she clung to the edge of the center island.
Ilene cast a glance at the clock on the microwave. "Actually, you should be able to make it on time since you actually listened to me this time and got up when I told you to. Now, here's your lunch and a little something for breakfast for you. I saved a few pieces of bacon from your brother for you."
"Ha ha!" Serena gloated at Sammy where he sat at the kitchen table next to his dad.
"Yeah, yeah, yuk it up," he grumbled around a mouthful of egg.
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Sammy. That's disgusting," Ken scolded his son. Then he smiled at Serena. "Have a good day at school, Pumpkin."
Tears burned Serena's eyes as she looked around at the members of her family, taking in every tiny detail and trying to commit them to memory. She didn't know if she would ever see them again.
She skipped over to the table and hugged her father from behind. "Thanks, daddy! You have a good day too. I love you!"
He chuckled and reached up to pat her hands where they were clasped beneath his chin. "I love you too, sweetheart."
She let him go and turned to playfully ruffle Sammy's hair, ignoring his outraged cry. "Later, Maggot!"
Then she went over to her mother, who was by the sink, and caught her up in a big hug. "Thanks for everything, mom. I love you."
"I love you too, honey," Ilene responded after a confused second. "You're still studying with the girls tonight for that big test, aren't you?"
Serena's forced smile faltered for a fraction of a second before she recovered. "Uh, yeah. I'm not sure how late I'll be though. It depends on how long Amy grills us. But if it gets too late I'll probably just crash at Raye's, if that's okay."
Ilene nodded. "That's fine with me. At least with Raye I know you'll get up on time for school tomorrow. Just promise me that you'll be careful and not out running around alone. A lot of strange things have been happening recently."
'Don't I know it,' Serena thought to herself. "I'll be careful, mom." Then the doorbell rang and her eyes landed on the clock. "Oh my god! I'm going to be late!"
She grabbed up her lunch and the napkin wrapped sandwich that her mother had made for her and ran into the entry hall. She quickly slid on her school shoes and tried to juggle her bag and her food as she tried to wrestle herself into her jacket. Luckily Ilene had followed her and helped her get things sorted out. Then she threw open the door to reveal a frantic, wild-eyed Mina.
"We're late! We're late! We're late!" her fellow blonde squealed.
"I know!" Serena wailed back.
"We might just make the bell if we really book it!" Mina exclaimed, grabbing Serena by the hand and yanking her out the door. "Bye, Mrs. Tsukino!"
"Bye, girls!" Ilene called after them as they tore at break-neck speed down the walkway to the sidewalk. She shook her head, muttering, "I just hope they can make it there in one piece."
The two girls ran fast, but were careful to keep their speed slow enough that they didn't turn into blurs thanks to the extra boost their scout powers gave them. Once they were around the corner and out of sight of Serena's house, they ground to a halt.
"Well, how did I do?" Mina asked a little breathlessly. "Do you think my performance was enough to convince your mom that today is just a regular old day?"
Serena shot her a grin. "Sailor V strikes again! You haven't lost your touch V-babe."
Mina blew on her fingernails and buffed them against her shirt. "Naturally! My pretty face isn't the only thing that built my acting career. It was also my pure talent."
"Pure talent my tail!" Artemis grumbled as he and Luna jumped down from the branches of a tree to land on top of the wall next to the girls. "I thought you sounded like a screeching howler monkey. I could hear you all the way down here."
Mina's eyes narrowed on the white feline. "Watch it, furball! Just remember who it is that keeps you supplied with the cream and white albacore tuna that you like so much."
Artemis immediately shut up at that statement.
Luna cleared her throat. "Well, I will admit that the performance was a bit…rambunctious, but it wasn't necessarily over the top. Serena's mother has gotten used to all sorts of wacky antics out of you girls. And it is important that nothing arouse her suspicions." Then, her little kitty nose began to twitch. "Do I smell bacon?"
Serena laughed and picked up the cat to drape her over her shoulder. "I think so. Mom made me breakfast I could take on the go."
She undid the napkin wrapped package that she had been holding in her hand to find bacon, egg, and cheese nestled inside of one of Ilene's large, fluffy, baked from scratch biscuits. She fed bits of bacon to Luna as they walked along and shared a few bites with Artemis too, who was similarly draped over Mina's shoulder.
When they reached the corner where they would normally turn to go toward the Crown Arcade and school, they headed in the opposite direction. A few minutes later they were standing at the bottom of the steps that led up to the Hikawa Shrine.
There was a rope draped across the stairway with a sign that informed visitors that the shrine was closed for the day. Raye's grandfather had left earlier that morning to visit another shrine and Chad had taken a couple of days off to visit his family. That had made the shrine the perfect place for the scouts to meet up and perform their teleport.
Serena stared up the steps that would lead her into either salvation or doom and felt a surge of determination well up inside of her. This millennium long conflict was going to end today, one way or another. And maybe after that she could find some semblance of the normal life that she had dreamed about earlier.
She balled the now empty napkin up in her hand and ducked under the rope. "Let's do this!"
Raye sighed and pushed her bangs back, letting the chilly morning air cool the slight sheen of perspiration that had developed on her forehead from her exertions. She knew that it was silly to be sweeping, especially since the shrine was closed for the day and the last of the dead leaves from the trees had been swept up and disposed of weeks ago, but there was something soothing about the familiar rhythmic motion.
The city surrounding the shrine had come alive for the day. She could just barely hear the rumble of cars and buses on the street below as people made their commutes to work or school. Normally she would be right in the middle of it…but not today.
She had already been up for quite some time, rising from her bed a couple of hours before dawn to meditate in front of the Great Fire. Her nerves had been rattled at the thought of the upcoming battle she and her friends would be entering, but soon the fire's warmth and guidance had melted her uncertainties away.
After that she had gone and prepared tea and a light breakfast for herself and her grandfather. Later she had hugged the tiny man fondly and had sent him on his way to visit a friend, who was a priest in a shrine on the other side of the city.
Grandpa Hino had returned the hug enthusiastically, whispering in her ear, "The sky is clear now, but I sense a dark cloud hovering on the horizon. May Kami-sama watch over you and your friends today."
She had watched speechlessly as he'd scurried down the steps to the bus stop. Then she had giggled and shook her head. Nothing ever got past that old man. She had never told him about the changes that had happened in her and her friends' lives over the past few months, and he had never said anything to her either, but leave it to him to know that there was something going on. He may not know exactly what it was, but he would know.
She hadn't wanted to be left alone with her thoughts after he had gone, so she'd thrown herself into her normal chores to help keep her mind distracted while she waited on the other girls to arrive. As the spiritual specialist of the sailor scouts, she knew that it was important for her to go into this fight with a clear head. Her friends would be relying on her and her extrasensory perception to let them know if anything strange was happening around them.
"If you keep that up you might be able to sweep a hole right through the stone," a voice teased.
She turned around and saw that Lita had arrived in the courtyard where she stood. Amy was a few paces behind her. She grinned at the smirking brunette. "Yeah, sure. That may only take a few million years if I continuously sweep and never move from this spot, not even to sleep, eat, or take a bathroom break. Somehow I don't see myself living quite that long."
"It wouldn't be that hard to figure out," Amy murmured. "All you have to do is calculate the thickness of the stone and the rate of erosion caused by the pressure of the broom. Then you…"
"Oh, please!" Lita exclaimed in exasperation. "Sorry, Amy. But if I wanted to hear some long, drawn out equation today I would be in school."
Raye huffed a laugh and leaned on her broom handle. "So where are Blonde 1 and Blonde 2 at? You guys don't think that they've decided to take advantage of us skipping today to sleep in do you?"
Amy shook her head. "I wouldn't think so. They both know how important this is."
Lita nodded. "True. I'm sure they'll be here soon. I heard the two of them talking when we parted ways earlier. They were coming up with a plan to make sure Serena's mom didn't suspect that anything was going on. I swear that woman has a sixth sense that alerts her immediately whenever there is a hint of anything unusual."
Raye frowned. "But what about when the school calls to see why Serena's not in class today? That could land her in a whole lot of trouble with her parents later."
Amy smiled triumphantly and held up her Mercury computer. "Already taken care of. I rerouted the phone system so that any phone calls from the school to our phones will be rerouted to Luna and Artemis. They'll cover for us."
"Well, I guess that has all of our bases covered. Now we just have to wait for the Ditz Twins to get here," Raye muttered. Then she grasped her broom by the handle. "You guys make yourselves at home. I'm going to go change out of my robes before we go."
"What you're wearing won't matter once we've transformed," Lita quipped.
Raye shrugged. "I know. But if something happens and we are forced to de-transform I want to be wearing something that's a little bit easier to fight in."
She hurried toward the building that housed the living area for herself, her grandfather, and Chad, stopping briefly to put the broom away in a closet. After that she ducked into her bedroom. She pulled off her red and white priestess robes and debated a moment before putting on her school uniform like the other girls were wearing. If worse came to worse, and she died, she hoped that somehow her body would be returned to her grandfather for a proper burial. It would be best if she were found in her school clothes. That way her death could be written off as a youma attack and keep the identity of Sailor Mars a secret.
Aware that her thoughts were starting to take a morbid turn, she snorted and stomped out of the room. So much for all of the mental calmness she'd had earlier!
She was walking by the Great Fire room when she saw that the door was slid open a couple of inches. That was funny. She was pretty sure she had closed it all the way when she'd left earlier.
She opened the door and looked inside, figuring one of the girls must be in there. But the room was empty except for the crackling flames. She started to close the door again, but then she felt a tugging sensation, as if the fire were calling to her.
Well, she was never one to question the fire. She had felt completely in synch with it from the moment her grandfather had first set her in front of it as a little girl. It had been her friend through the lonely years of her life before she had met Serena and the others. Sometimes she didn't always like what it had to show her, but overall it had been a comfort to her.
She slid off her shoes and padded across the bamboo floor to kneel before its warmth. "I guess it's about that time, old friend. Thank you for all of the guidance you have given me over the years. I will try to use it wisely as I go into this fight."
The flames roared higher, and she heard the slightest whisper of a voice say, "Raye Hino, princess of Mars, warrior of fire, ask the question that burns most in your heart."
She gulped. There was one question that she had been dying to ask earlier, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to do it. In her past life, that last day on the moon, she had asked the fire to show her the future of herself and her friends, and had received a vision of nothing but darkness. She was too scared to ask it again, afraid that this time would be the same as the last.
Tendrils of warm air swirled around her, lifting strands of her hair and stroking her skin like hot fingers. "Ask your question, child, and I will show you what may be."
She clasped her hands to her chest and bowed her head as she closed her eyes in concentration. Finally, she whispered, "Great Fire, please show me the future. What will become of me and my friends after this fight?"
Seconds ticked by slowly as she focused all of her energy into seeing anything that the fire might show her. But as the time passed and everything remained dark, she grew frustrated.
"So history is doomed to repeat itself," she muttered under her breath. "We may be able to defeat Beryl and save the planet, but in the end we will have to forfeit our lives. Is this the only reason why we were reborn here in this place and time, to sacrifice ourselves in order to beat the evil from our past?"
Suddenly a vision sprang to life behind her eyelids. In it she was sitting next to Serena in a booth at the arcade. Serena, in turn, was leaning against Darien's arm as he sat beside her. Mina, Lita, and Amy were across the table from them, and they were all laughing about something. Even Andrew was there, chuckling along with them, and she thought she caught a quick glimpse of Asanuma and Kobyashi.
There were other figures around, but they were shadowy and impossible to see. From past experiences she knew that this was the fire's way of showing her people that she had yet to meet. Most of them were big, suggesting that they were either men or women who were taller than her, although two of the figures seemed to be smaller.
Her eyes snapped open and she stared into the flames, her heart pounding with renewed hope. If the fire was showing her visions of her and her friends together, along with people she had never met, then that meant that they must have a future.
"Is this my future?" she asked the fire directly, not expecting an answer.
Surprisingly, it responded. "Your future is what you make it to be, Sailor Mars. Go into this battle pure of mind and heart. Believe in the moon princess and trust in the power that she wields. The decisions that are made on this day will determine whether or not the future I have shown you will come to pass."
"Thank you," she whispered as the fire settled down once more into cheerily crackling flames. Her mind and body were completely calm for the first time in what felt like forever.
She would do as the fire had suggested. She would believe in Serena and what she was capable of. She would fight with every breath in her body to make sure that her princess made it to stand in front of Beryl. And hopefully once the dust from that confrontation had settled, they would emerge victorious.
As she stood she heard the quiet swish of the door opening and turned to see Serena looking in at her. The usually bubbly blonde looked fierce and determined, but her blue eyes shown with the same friendly light that they always had and her lips were lifted in the hint of a smile.
"Raye, is everything okay?" Serena asked her softly.
Raye cast one last look into the fire, drawing as much strength as she could from it. And then she turned to smile broadly at her friend. "Yeah, everything is good."
A/N Whew! Another one down! Okay, so you all obviously know what's going to happen next. Our brave little heroines are marching right into the middle of Dark Kingdom territory in order to face down the Queen Bitch. It may take me a little bit to get everything in the next chapter lined out because it's a difficult one. I've already got quite a few of the scenes written for it, but since this is supposed to be my retelling of events I'm working on putting my own spin on the unfortunate circumstances (aka everybody's deaths and such). I'm also working on making sure that this story will be able to flow into What If and actually make sense. Of course that's also the reason why I've decided to go back and re-vamp What If, which I am super excited about. I've already gone in and made some changes to the original so that events from season 1 and season 2 will match up. I don't normally like to toot my own horn, but I think the changes so far have only improved the story. We'll just have to wait and see how that goes. In the meantime, I hope you guys are enjoying the way this season is wrapping up. Feel free to drop me a few words and tell me what you think. Reviews are like gifts from heaven to me. Also, to those of you who don't read GT or follow my Facebook page, I've made my Christmas story for this year viewers' choice. So if there is a certain couple or situation you would like to see let me know. There is a poll up on my profile page for the pairings I've received requests for so far, so if you get a chance vote. I'm going to have to close the poll soon so I can get a story done in time for Christmas. Okay, I think that's it. I've rambled on long enough. Be happy and be safe everyone! Happy Holidays! Lots of love and hugs!