Note: this is the fourth postlude to Different Colors. You really won't understand what's going on unless you've read the second and third postludes first.

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

Ellen Kuhfeld

One Saturday morning the doorbell rang, and Michiru's voice floated out from the kitchen. "Can you get that, dear?"

Haruka marked her place and put down the racing magazine. She rose from the sofa, went to the door, opened it, and looked out. Nobody there? Then she looked down and saw a very small girl in a green sailor fuku, with a staff and long white hair.

In a gravelly voice, the small girl said, "I hear this is where I get Sailor Scout Cookies."

The voice shocked Haruka enough to take a second look. Kami in Heaven, she thought, that's not a girl. It's a very small old woman in a fuku. At least I think it's a woman. A stunned look settled onto her face. Sailor Scout Cookies?

The old woman stamped the tip of her staff down on Haruka's foot. "Don't just stand there with your mouth open, Haruka. I know there are cookies. I smelled Michiru baking them from a block away."

She knows too much, Haruka thought as she grabbed for the old woman's arm to pull her inside. There was nobody there to grab. She looked down. Nobody. Then she whirled around and saw the gnome in the entryway, quietly trading her shoes for slippers.

"It's so nice of you to ask an old woman in," Cologne said. "Might there be any tea to go with the cookies?"

Haruka felt a breeze on her face, and closed the door. She put a hand in the pocket of her slacks to touch the reassuring solidity of her henshin rod. Whatever this woman does or doesn't know, I feel more comfortable holding this.

Cologne looked her over with her enormous eyes, then cackled. "Are you glad to see me, or is that just a henshin rod in your pocket?"

Haruka stood blankly for a moment, then ground out, "You aren't acting like a youma or a daimohn, but you're at least as annoying."

Cologne gave a cheerful little croak. "No, missy, I'm probably worse from your point of view. I'm an Amazon." She lifted the sides of her skirt and curtsied. "I'm Cologne, Matriarch of the Amazon nation. By appointment of Princess Serenity, military tutor to the Royal Court of the Moon. At your service."

In the last few months Haruka had been clouted over the head, scolded, frustrated, taunted, and chased by amazons, in good weather and in bad. Curse it, they aren't the enemy. They're wiping out daimohn as vigorously as we are. And they know the Princess, which is more than we do. What do they want? Dear kami, what do they want? She collapsed onto the sofa, and turned her head to the kitchen. "Bring some tea and cookies, Michiru. We seem to have a guest."

Soon they'd all gathered around a low table, which fit Cologne better than their European-style table. Teacups, a kettle, and a plate of cookies – frosted black, with a sprinkling of candy moons and stars – were at the center. Michiru poured, gave the first cup to Cologne, the second to Haruka, and took the third herself. They ate cookies, drank tea, and spoke of the weather.

The first cup finished, Cologne looked at the two girls across the table. "So. We share a mission, but disagree on tactics. It's time to put that behind us. I have no desire to spend the next century chasing daimohns. But I'm not willing to sacrifice three innocents to get some kind of Grail, just to keep it out of the hands of a Messiah of Silence. That's death magic, and it almost never ends well. The Princess and I, and our warriors, aren't going to let you do it."

Haruka's eyes blazed. "We need the grail!" Michiru nodded agreement.

"No. You need to keep the Messiah of Silence from getting the grail. Killing evil alchemists is much more acceptable than killing innocent bystanders."

Haruka sniffed. "What alchemist? I suppose you know where to find him?"

"We've had ninjas watching his house for over a week. He has an underground laboratory where he makes daimohn seeds, then sends them out to collect heart crystals. The Witches Five have their base down there also. The alchemist has been throwing increasingly loud hissy fits – so far not a single daimohn has made it home with a crystal. I wouldn't be surprised if he tried a mass daimohn attack soon. We should hit him before that."

A voice came from behind Cologne. "You propose a surprise attack? But what if you're surprised yourself?"

Cologne sat calmly. "Sailor Pluto, I presume? Princess Serenity told me of your enthusiasm for surprises and mystery. Pity she doesn't enjoy them as much as you do. Besides, I have surprises of my own."

Pluto squawked, and jumped as if she'd just been goosed. She had. She spun around to find a red-haired girl in amazon garb behind her. "Dead Scream!"

The redhead smiled at Pluto from her seat on the Garnet Rod, and fluttered her fingers. "Hi! I'm one o' the surprises! Aren't you glad I'm not all evil an' murderous?" She put her index finger to her lips, pursed them out cutely, looked down at Pluto. "Y'know, that short a fuku is just askin' for it."

Haruka looked at the smoldering hole in the kitchen wall and palmed her forehead. "Damn it, Puu, I thought we'd agreed not to do that in the house."

"My kitchen!" Michiru wailed. "That's the wall with my good pots and pans!" Then she remembed there were other serious matters afoot and turned to Ranma. "You appeared out of thin air! You! You! I remember you. You hit Haruka with some kind of fireball!" Michiru's voice descended from dismay into a growl.

Cologne expanded her aura, and brought the room to silence. "As enjoyable as this has been, there's work to be done. Before we settle down to it –" she gestured at Pluto "– go check with your princess to be sure I can speak for her. Life might be less complicated if these two – " she waved a hand at Haruka and Michiru "– were brought into the chain of command. Don't startle the Princess – it's not proper protocol."

All three Senshi glowered at Cologne and Ranma. The two stood there blandly, looking back at Pluto. Eventually she disappeared, silently save for a muted "hmpf" of annoyance.

Ranma looked around and rubbed her hands together. "Cookies! Mind if I have some? I hear Sailor Scout Cookies are special good." The cookies disappeared with great speed. Then she sniffed the air. "The next batch is gettin' a bit crispy. I can smell that even over the burnt hole in the wall."

Michiru ran into the kitchen with a squeak and a flurry of her skirt. Ranma poured herself a cup of tea.

Cologne sat at the table, and looked with regret at the empty cookie plate. Sailor Scout Cookies really were good. She took another cup of tea as a consolation prize. She inclined her head to Haruka. "I must apologize for all this; I thought you could use a practical demonstration. The Senshi are stronger in magic than we are, but you lost control of the situation when we took you by surprise and kept you off-balance. If we wanted to harm you, you would have been harmed. If you fought back ..." Cologne pointed to the hole in the kitchen wall, "… you would have destroyed your own home. We want to do that to the evil alchemist we've been discussing."

Michiru had taken the cookies out of the oven and was standing in the kitchen doorway, listening.

"We're going to raid that alchemist. The more of us there are, the more chaotic the battle will be. We'll be ready for the confusion. The Death Busters won't. But let's wait until Pluto returns. It'll probably be a while."

Ranma sat, just in case, in an innocuous pose that was actually part of Martial Arts Tea Ceremony. "While we're talkin' confusing, there's one thing makes me wonder. I've seen senshi for all the planets, if you count Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen as Earth. Except where's Saturn?"

Haruka and Michiru shivered. "You don't want to see her. She's the doomsday weapon. She only appears when the whole Earth is in danger."

"If I see her, I'll be careful not to startle her."

"If you see her, kill her." Haruka made a sour face.

Ranma looked at Cologne and raised her eyebrows.

Cologne nodded at Ranma. "You have a point." Then she looked at Haruka and Michiru. "How should I say this? You seem a bit – enthusiastic – about the killing part of the warrior business."

oOo

Mercury's data goggles were down over her eyes. "Ranma's communicator is only a block away. They'll be here any minute. So Princess up, Usagi – and remember, you are the princess. Positions, everyone!"

The Tendo Dojo was set up as fancily as could be done in such a short time, with a raised platform covered by tatami mats, and cushions for Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion. Mercury and Venus stood to one side of the platform, Mars and Jupiter to the other. Artemis and Luna were watching unobtrusively, while Rhett Butler sat before the platform. There was a smaller platform with one cushion; Akane and Shampoo stood to either side of it. The windows were open, so the fresh breeze could blow through.

Ranma appeared in the doorway, and motioned her companions to wait. She took up a practice naginata waiting against the wall, and stamped it three times. "Hear ye, hear ye! Cologne, Matriarch of the Amazons!" Cologne entered, with dignity, and moved to the smaller platform. She settled herself upon the cushion.

Ranma stamped the naginata twice. "Hear ye! Setsuna, Princess of Pluto!" Meiou Setsuna entered, then quietly transformed to Sailor Pluto and took her place behind Serenity. Her face was at its most enigmatic; her ki was at its most unsettled.

Ranma stamped the naginata once. "Hear ye! Haruka, Princess of Uranus, and Michiru, Princess of Neptune, are come to the court of Their Highnesses Serenity, Princess of the Moon, and Endymion, Prince of the Earth!" Haruka and Michiru entered, transformed, and came to stand before Serenity and Endymion. Her job as herald done for the moment, Ranma closed the door and went to stand behind Cologne.

Serenity spoke formally. "Welcome to Our court. It is good we have a chance to meet, unencumbered by the presence of daimohn and the press of dealing with them."

Endymion nodded agreement. "We study statecraft, while defending the Earth. In time, we shall re-form the Kingdom of the Moon, and expand back out into the Solar System."

"The Amazons – " Serenity nodded toward Cologne " – are allied with us. They, too, defend the Earth. They are most excellent strategists, and we are learning much from them."

Endymion rose, stood forth. "Which brings matters of allegiance to the fore. In the Silver Millennium, Uranus and Neptune were worlds of the Moon Kingdom, and their Senshi were sworn to defend the Kingdom and serve the Queen. It is a new age now, and we are in new lives. The senshi at our sides have sworn loyalty. What will you choose to do, here and now?"

Haruka and Michiru – Uranus and Neptune – stood in silence, eyes wide and mouths open. After a while Haruka started to say something, but Michiru squeezed her shoulder and shook her head. Finally Michiru spoke. "What choices do we have? What are the consequences of our choice?"

Serenity smiled. "I see, Princess Neptune, that the courtcraft of the Silver Millennium is starting to wake within you. You can swear fealty and become members of this Court. You can ally with Us. You can be independent of Us. Or you can declare yourselves Our enemies. If you leave without choosing, We shall assume your independence unless events prove otherwise."

Michiru thought a moment. "May we withdraw to speak with one another, and with our sister Princess, Setsuna?"

Serenity and Endymion smiled, and spoke together. "Of course!" They pointed to a door set in a side wall.

Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto went through the door, and found themselves in a small changing room. "What the hell are we going to do?" Uranus asked.

"I'm going to check the Gates of Time," Pluto said as she vanished. Almost immediately she returned, wearing a bemused expression.

"Swear fealty. It improves the probability of Crystal Tokyo. But damn!" Setsuna shook her head, "all of a sudden the place is full of cats. I've never seen that in my projections."

"There was a cat sitting in front of the Princess," Michiru noted. "We should ask if it means anything."

"Fealty first, questions later." The three moved back to the main room, to stand before their Prince and Princess. Michiru bowed, and spoke. "We have determined, Your Highnesses, to join your Court."

"We accept," Serenity and Endymion said.

Then the ancient acts and words came back to them. Uranus and Neptune knelt before the Prince and Princess, and spoke.

"I here swear fealty and do homage

to the Crown of the Moon:

To ever be a good soldier and true,

Reverent and generous,

Shield of the weak,

Obedient to my liege,

Foremost in battle,

Courteous at all times,

Champion of love and justice.

Thus swear I, Neptune;

Thus swear I, Uranus."

Serenity and Endymion spoke as one:

"This do We swear, and will never forget:

To be your liege, rewarding service with love,

Valor with honor, and oathbreaking with justice."

Endymion drew his sword, and Serenity her scepter. Endymion laid the flat of his sword on Neptune's right shoulder, and Serenity laid her scepter on Neptune's left. They lifted them. "Rise, Princess and Sailor Neptune, defender of the Solar System and the Kingdom of the Moon and Earth." And then they did likewise to Uranus.

The other senshi converged on Uranus and Neptune, and enveloped them in a mass hug. Then they returned to their places beside the Prince and Princess.

Ranma took a step forward, and stamped the naginata thrice upon the floor. "Is there other business to be brought before the Court of the Moon?" When nothing was said, she stamped the naginata once and said "This Court is ended." And everybody was free to move about.

Serenity stepped down from the platform, shimmered, and became Usagi. Uranus' eyes opened wide. "Dumpling?"

Usagi smiled and nodded. "Dumpling."

"How did you learn to run so formal a Court?"

Usagi inclined her head towards Cologne. "She's been teaching me. She's been Matriarch for over a hundred years; she knows the business."

Then Endymion and the Inner Senshi detransformed. Uranus and Neptune were startled to see so many people they already knew.

"Join us. Be yourselves," Usagi said; and the three Outer Senshi detransformed.

Cologne clapped her hands. "And now – food from the Cat Café, for your enjoyment!" Ranma, Akane, and Shampoo opened the door, went out, and returned with a table laden with food.

Kasumi brought in an elaborate cake, which she set in pride of place on the table. Ranma's and Usagi's eyes lit up, and they converged on it. They went to work devouring it, but Ranma was distracted by the octopus balls and Usagi by the cookies, so there was enough left for the others.

While this was happening, Kasumi set two plates under the table: one with tuna, one with liver. Three cats began to eat.

Setsuna approached Usagi. "The Gates of Time suddenly show Crystal Tokyo filled with cats. I know Luna and Artemis, but who's that other cat? Where does he fit in our plans?"

"Mmphhmm."

"Don't talk with your mouth full, Princess."

Usagi chewed and swallowed. "The Princess doesn't talk with her mouth full. Usagi does. And Sailor Moon is usually too busy to eat."

Setsuna palmed her forehead. "The big cat?"

"That's Rhett Butler. He's Luna's protector, and he's willing to help the rest of us. He's one of the Seven Great Youma, and very strong."

"Youma?"

Everybody was staring at the two of them. Usagi put her hands over her ears. "Don't yell, Puu. He joined with us, so I didn't seal him away with the others. Luna and Ranma both trust him."

Rhett Butler looked up at Setsuna from his place before the liver, and licked his chops. Then he sat on his haunches in the classic maneki-neko pose of the good-luck cat. Somehow he managed to look innocent.

In one corner of the dojo, Haruka had gone over to Ranma. "This is the Tendo Dojo, and your name is Ranma. Are you the notorious Saotome Ranma?"

Ranma smirked, and stood a bit taller. "That's me, and I'm the best!"

"I always thought Ranma Saotome was a guy."

"Oh, I can do that, too. You should understand. But I'm not gunna do it in these clothes. I'd rip 'em."

Haruka squinted one eye at Ranma. "I've always wanted to spar with Saotome Ranma."

"Well then, let's go outside. More room, fewer people. And to keep the damage down, you don't henshin and I won't use my claws or any ki moves."

"Claws?"

Ranma tossed a fallen branch in the air, swiped at it. It came down in five neat pieces. "Claws."

Haruka began to wonder what she was getting into, but it was too late. Already, Ranma was calling in the door. "Akane, Makoto, we need a couple referees."

The two came trotting out, followed by Cologne, Shampoo, and the others. Most thought Haruka was too full of herself, and they wanted to see what Ranma would do. Makoto dropped her hand and said "begin". Ranma and Haruka began to circle about one another.

There was a sudden flurry of motion, and Haruka found herself caught in the fearsome Hell's Cradle attack, scrunched up like a child and wrapped inescapably in Ranma's arms. Ranma smiled at Haruka fondly. "Tickle tickle tickle …" Haruka began to squirm and shriek, but she didn't stand a prayer of getting away. Ranma tickled her until she was helpless.

There was applause from the porch. Everybody looked in that direction. Usagi and Rei, the manga hounds, stared. "Panda Panko? The Warlord?"

"Good going, son!" the panda said in her rustling voice. "You did that technique flawlessly!"

Ranma let Haruka free. Haruka looked her in the face. "Seriously, does that mean Panda Panko is your mother?"

Ranma put her hand behind her head, tugged at her pigtail. "Uh, actually, she's my father."

"I think I'm going to pass out now," Haruka said as she lay flat on her back and closed her eyes.

At that point, the party descended into genteel chaos. Usagi and Rei headed straight for the panda, Setsuna for Cologne, Makoto for Kasumi – she still remembered that dinner at the Kunos, and was eager to talk cooking. Others went for the food.

Akane came over, wrapped an arm around Ranma, and kissed her on the cheek. "Good for you, being gentle with her. We've given her enough trouble as it is."

Haruka roused up, and she and Michiru stared. "Are you two together?"

Ranma and Akane held their left hands out to display their rings. "We're married."

Haruka scoffed. "Pull the other one."

"I did say I could do guy," Ranma said, to Akane's nod. "It's easiest to do guy and gal about half-and-half. But I'm usually a gal when the Amazon Sisters fight, because we like being a matched set."

About then, Cologne and Setsuna came over to collect Haruka and Michiru. Cologne began giving them a critique of their fighting abilities, and told Haruka about the training the dojo gave. "But you, Michiru, are a violinist. We can't risk your fingers. At my café, Ami is learning Chinese medicine, and the art of war. Usagi is learning statecraft. Shampoo, Ranma and Akane, they're family, and learning advanced martial arts. Help us carry the utensils back to the café, and you can see how it works."

Cologne called Usagi, Ami, and the Amazons over. "Lets get everything back to the kitchen, so we can be ready for the dinner rush." Then she looked around the room. "Everybody be here tomorrow morning at ten for a briefing. We're going to take care of certain problems tomorrow afternoon."

oOo

Sunday morning, everybody crowded into the Tendo Dojo. Cologne, Sailor Mercury, and Ranma were in front, next to an easel of hand-drawn maps and floor plans. The Inner Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen were grouped at one end of the room, the Outers at the other, conveniently by the door. Shampoo and Akane sat between the groups, surrounded by cats. Happosai was near Akane.

Cologne and Ranma explained the battle plan. Ranma went first. "When Witch Eudial was killed in a car crash, we salvaged some Buster weaponry." She held up something that looked like a crossbreed between a bazooka and a Super Soaker. "Eudial's Buster Gun removes pure heart crystals. It's not pleasant – I've been through it, and so have many of you."

"I could carry on fighting, because I have two souls. The gun only removed one. From Artemis' observations, I think some of the people in that house have two souls – their own, and something possessing them. This gun maybe can clear out both souls. Then we can put the human soul back. I'll be carrying it."

Then Cologne started the battle assignments. "Of all the witches," Cologne said, "Mimete is the most predictable in small ways. When the weather is good, she goes for an afternoon walk in the park. Happosai will be waiting for her. Mimete can teleport, and once Happosai fastens on, she's almost certain to teleport back to headquarters. That'll start the confusion. Then we attack."

"Fastens on? Is this Happosai some kind of leech?" Uranus wanted to know.

Ranma shrugged. "You're close – the word is 'letch'. He's the most vigorous and unkillable dirty old man in all of Japan."

Uranus burst out, "You're going to use a sexual harassment attack? You can't do that!"

With a lewd smile, Happosai did puppy-dog eyes and batted his lashes at Uranus. "You'd be so cruel to a poor old man?"

Cologne scowled at Uranus. "That's why you'll be stationed outdoors. You won't have to watch. If any witches or daimohn get away from the rest of us, you can kill them to your heart's content. I must say, child, you have an odd set of priorities. These aren't good people, and I don't mind upsetting them, but at least save a few for interrogation."

Cologne stamped her staff. "All right, people. We've gone over the order of battle. Eat something light, make any arrangements you must, and go to the bathroom. We regroup here at two p.m." She clapped her hands. "Dismissed!"

Happosai skipped merrily along behind Sailor Uranus as they all left.

oOo

A squirrel in the tree by the Tomoe mansion chattered angrily at the bushy-haired woman walking on the sidewalk below. He shook the branch he was on, and rustled the leaves. When she'd gone, he ducked into his squirrel nest and activated the communicator. "Artemis here. Witch Mimete has left the building, headed in the direction of the park."

On the screen of the communicator, Ranma circled her thumb and forefinger. "Happosai's ready. Mimete usually takes about five minutes to get to the park, so be on the alert about then."

In the park, Happosai waited in a well-placed tree as Mimete approached. When she came beneath his limb, he dropped on her with a glad cry of "Hotcha!" and burrowed into her blouse.

Mimete screamed at the animated little lump moving around inside her clothes doing naughty things. "Get him off me!" she yelled as she flailed and beat on it. Then with a final shriek she vanished, taking Happosai with her.

Almost immediately, the communicator lit to reveal a squirrel's face. "There's a lot of screaming coming from the house. Hit it!"

Sailor Pluto vanished from the dojo, taking Cologne and Sailors Uranus and Neptune with her. They appeared in the back yard of the Tomoe mansion.

"Sailor teleport!" Moon cried, and the Inner Senshi took Tuxedo Kamen, the Amazon Trio, and the cats with them. They appeared in the front yard. Tuxedo Kamen leaped to the rooftop; he'd be the high sentinel to make sure nobody got away.

Rhett Butler shifted to his Youma form. Ranma, carrying the Buster Gun, faded from sight. They hit the front door together, clawing it into a cloud of splinters, and headed for the stairs down to the basement. Five seconds later the Inners charged in the door, just as Uranus and Neptune came barreling around the corner to guard the front of the house. Pluto was watching the back, and Cologne went in the back way.

Ranma and Rhett Butler crashed through the final door into the basement. A man in glasses and a lab coat – Professor Tomoe – was trying to open a door labelled "Witches Five Four", and having no luck. Shrieks, crashes, thumps, and loud cries of "HOTCHA!" came through the door.

Rhett headed straight for the lab equipment, and began shredding. Chemicals flew about, and smoke and sparks from ruined electronics. Ranma's ki-vision saw double for the man in the lab coat.She fired the Buster Gun and snagged his heart crystal – a dingy thing, nothing like the crystals they'd seen before.

The man began to grow. He lurched in pain and knocked into his lab table, spilling beakers and flasks into one great mess. Slowly, he changed into a giant plant-beast that roared in anger. I knew it, Ranma thought, and fired the Buster Gun once more. It pulled out an ugly lump – melted, dark, with a few crystal facets poking out – and the plant-beast shriveled back to a man, who collapsed. The lump rocked and twitched on the floor, and started to grow again as the Inners, Akane, and Shampoo came through the doorway. "Akane! Moon! Over here!" Ranma cried as she became visible and attacked the lump with her claws.

A sooty red burst of smoke and flame came where the claws hit the crystal. Ranma wailed like a hurt cat, and grasped her hand. A few small pieces shattered from the lump, which had begun an eerie moan. By then Akane was there, and used her mallet on it. More smoke and flame; the mallet-head was on fire, and the moan had become louder.

"Cold iron, monster!" Shampoo yelled as she smashed the lump with a mace, which melted. Molten iron flowed over the lump, glowing bright yellow as sparks flew. "You like hot iron, then?" Shampoo said, as the cry of the lump rose to a shriek.

Sailor Moon had finished charging up. "Moon Spiral Heart Attack!" she cast at the lump. With a groan, it shattered into dust. "Moon Spiral Heart Attack!" again, just to be sure.

The door to the Witches Five base slammed open. The witches ran out in panic, trying to escape Happosai, only to land in the middle of pandemonium. The liquid spilled on the table had flowed onto a clump of embryonic daimohn seeds. They joined with the laboratory equipment, and came jerkily to life. Rhett Butler started pulling the arms and legs off one that had grown from a centrifuge, while Mars was trading fire-bursts with a Bunsen-burner daimohn. Mimete was at the head of the witch-pack; a Bunsen blast set her skirt on fire, and she headed up the stairs trailing smoke and noise. A cry of "Deep Submerge" came down the stairs as Neptune put her out, followed by a "World Shaking" as Uranus did her in. The building quivered, lights flickered, and equipment rattled on shelves and tables. One of the ceiling lightbulbs burst with a flash of light and a puff of white smoke.

Akane and Moon moved to help Rhett Butler with the impromptu daimohns, while Shampoo, Ranma, and Cologne headed for the remaining three witches, who were still squirming from a pervert in their underwear – such underwear as they retained, anyhow. Cologne's staff, Shampoo's mace, and Ranma's fist put them into the deepest of sleeps.

Suddenly the room was quiet, save for heavy breathing and the dripping of chemicals. Now that she had time, Ranma noticed how awful the chemicals smelled.

A small girl, with purple eyes and hair, peered timorously around the ruined door. She gasped, clutched the door-frame, and began to collapse in a painful faint. But Ranma was seeing double again. When a black star appeared on the girl's forehead, and she began to grow – Ranma shot her with the Buster Gun. This time the lump came forth first, a nasty thing, twice as large as the lump she'd pulled from the professor, spiny, and glowing an actinic purple.

The girl looked up. The black star had been replaced on her forehead by the sigil of Saturn. Before anybody could move, she became Sailor Saturn, pointed her polearm at the lump, and said "Silence Glaive Surprise". There was a deep hole where the crystal had lain, getting wider at the bottom, with a wisp of smoke coming from it. The rush of water from a severed main came from the pit.

Saturn ran over to the man in the lab coat, and took him in her arms. "Father! Father!" she sobbed when his form remained still, and she buried her face against his shoulder.

Ranma went over to them. The double vision was gone. She gently placed the heart crystal on the man's chest. He absorbed it, moaned, and stirred. "Oh, father, you're alive!" Saturn cried out. The other senshi gathered around.

Sailor Moon summed it up. "The daimohn are destroyed. The witches are unconscious. We seem to have driven out and destroyed two evil entities. And this place is a mess. What now?"

That was answered when the fire sprinklers came on, and turned Shampoo into a cat. She made unhappy noises about the smell and feel of the chemicals on the floor.

Rhett Butler shrank down to his cat form. He grimaced and sneezed at the chemicals and the haze, picked Shampoo up in his mouth like a kitten, and carried her up the stairs for some fresh air. Happosai followed, with a small sack over his shoulder and a twinkle in his eye. "What a haul, what a haul!" he kept murmuring to himself.

Sailor Moon went over to Sailor Saturn, knelt by her, and put an arm around her shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Saturn, shaking, wrapped her arms around Moon's waist and began to cry. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! Those things, those terrible things, they were in our heads. They took over and made us do awful stuff, and we didn't have any control, and, and, and…." She wailed incoherently.

Moon stroked Saturn's hair. "There, there, it's over now. They're gone."

The water was still rushing deep underground, and the house began to settle and creak. "Out of here! Now!" Cologne shouted. The Amazon Trio picked up the three unconscious witches, Sailor Jupiter picked up the mad scientist, and Moon carried Saturn. They ran up the stairs and outside, then all gathered together at a safe distance – all but Uranus and Neptune. Tuxedo Kamen leapt down from the roof, and Pluto came around the house. There was a quick flicker of motion as a black cat disappeared through a hedge.

Witch Mimete's bloody corpse was at the base of a large tree. Uranus' World Shaking had picked her up, smashed her headfirst into the tree, and cracked her skull. Neptune was hugging herself and shivering, eyes fastened on Mimete's body. Uranus was on one hand and her knees, head down, breathing harshly, with a pool of vomit before her. Her other hand clutched at her stomach. She was trying hard not to vomit again.

Cologne went over to Uranus, took a shoulder in each hand, and said nothing. Eventually, Uranus twisted her head and body to look up at her. "Was this your first?" Cologne asked gently.

Uranus nodded a "yes", then her head fell down again, and she began to sob.

"I didn't realize you were so inexperienced," Cologne said. "This is a warrior's most important lesson. Never get to where you don't feel terrible about killing someone. Daimohn don't count. People do – even bad people."

And then the house began to creak and snap, and collapsed into the sinkhole caused by Saturn's glaive and the rushing water. Cologne had Rhett Butler toss Mimete's body in after the house.

Uranus was aghast. "You – you just threw her away!"

Cologne sighed. "This may be a war for us, but not everybody agrees. For us, she was an enemy combatant. For the police, she would be a murder victim. Down the sinkhole, she's an unfortunate who suffered fatal injuries when the house fell. We don't want the police involved."

Ranma whispered into Cologne's ear. She nodded.

"Ranma hears sirens headed this way. It's time we leave." Everybody gathered together, and a quick Sailor Teleport got them back to the Tendo dojo. In the tree, a squirrel waited to see what the police and medics would do and say. Under the hedge, a black cat watched.

oOo

Once back in the dojo, Cologne had the witches lain down in the yard, under close watch. Then she went over to a large bucket of water. She fanned out half-a-dozen small packets. "We should neutralize those witches before they wake up," she said. "Turning them into something small will keep them from raising much of a fuss." Then she looked at Usagi and smiled. "It's only temporary." She dissolved a packet of Instant Gerbil in the bucket, then sloshed it over the witches. Ranma, Shampoo, and Akane, wearing rubber gloves, grabbed the gerbils quick-as-a-flash and put them in the sturdy gerbil cages Cologne had also supplied.

That left them with Saturn, Professor Tomoe, and a distraught Uranus and Neptune. Ranma and Akane unrolled a mat for the Professor, lay him down, and covered him with a blanket. They'd had plenty of practice with Soun.

Cologne asked Mars to transform back into her miko's robes. "As a miko, you probably have experience counselling the distraught." The two of them went over to Uranus, who was sitting on the floor, back against the wall, arms around her folded legs and head down between her arms.

Rei knelt, and started to chant a calming mantra. Cologne sat next to Uranus. Neptune hovered nearby.

"I'm sorry," Cologne said. "You two should have been on the entry squad. There were plenty of daimohn for you to fight down there. I didn't know you had so little experience with death, or with how fragile humans are."

Uranus raised her head enough to glare at Cologne.

"The other senshi are experienced. I thought at your age, you would be, too"

"Experienced? They're kids!"

"They're kids who've been fighting for three years now. Every one of them has died at least once, some of them twice. They've killed youma – and youma are a lot closer to human than daimohn are. They've had to come to terms with death."

Uranus sighed, lowered her head, and was still. Neptune sat down next to her, on the other side from Cologne. All three closed their eyes and lost themselves in Rei's chant.

By Professor Tomoe, the three Amazon sisters, Sailor Moon, and Hotaru were gathered. The professor seemed to be sleeping deeply, but comfortably.

"Hotaru, what are you going to do now?" Moon asked.

Hotaru's eyes were large and moist. "I don't know, I just don't know. My father always took care of me, even when he was possessed."

Akane looked at Hotaru, and her heart melted. "You can stay with us, honey. Ranma and I are married, this is our home. We can worry about the rest after your father recovers."

Ranma and Shampoo nodded approval. Moon sighed in relief. Hotaru collapsed onto Akane's shoulders. Several minutes later, she turned to her father, lay on the futon next to him, and put her head on his shoulder. He made the slightest of murmurs, but kept right on sleeping. "Can I stay here with my father until he wakes up?"

Ranma said, "We got these witches here. You shouldn't be in the same room, just in case they manage to do something about being gerbils. And I don't want to take them into the house. Let's take you and your father into the house instead." Ranma looked over to Rhett Butler, who was standing next to the gerbil cages. "Rhett and I, we got two souls each. We're safer around the witches than anybody else. We can watch them tonight to make sure they behave."

"Besides," Ranma smirked, "being watched by cats all night long should loosen their tongues in the morning." Rhett Butler looked in Ranma's direction with an approving nod and a wicked show of teeth. Then he yawned at the gerbils. One of them had started to wake – but the sight of that terrible maw made her faint. And that was only Rhett Butler as a normal cat. The kami alone knew what she'd have done if he'd been in his youma form –probably involuntary urination followed by a heart attack.

Cologne came over to get Shampoo. "I think Haruka would do better if she stayed at Rei's shrine tonight. Come help me carry her."

With that, the victorious band started to break up. "We'll be at the shrine tomorrow evening for a debriefing," Cologne and Ranma said.

Then Ranma took the Professor up to the room he and Akane shared, they made up a futon, and laid him down comfortably. "Hotaru and I can share the bed," Akane said.

It was time for dinner. They ate.

oOo

In the dead Tau Ceti system, it is not dinnertime. Pharaoh 90 waits for his faithful servants, Germatoid and Mistress 9, to open the gate to Earth. Unfortunately for him, they've been permanently delayed. As he waits, he's learning the same lesson so many other world-devourers have learned: be sure you have a gateway to a new world before you finish eating the old one. He gets hungrier by the eon, but nobody edible comes to visit; they've all heard of his reputation as a host, and his even worse reputation as a guest.