Sorry for the unforgivably long wait, but technology problems and writers block got in the way. Now, without further hassle...


Chapter Three

Hikawa Shrine

"You think they're on their way?"

"Of course they're coming, Rei's with them. She wouldn't leave us hanging, and neither would Mamoru. Usagi, maybe, but not them."

"Hey, ease up on Usagi. She's gotten a lot better at being on time lately."

"Yeah, but you know what they say, Ami, 'time baits for nomads.'

"Thats 'time waits for no man', Minako."

"That too."

"Shh! I see them coming!"

"Yes, Luna."

As Rei, Usagi, and Mamoru exited the taxi, the sole man of the group looked at the sky nervously. Clouds were starting to roll in, and they looked dark.

But he didn't get time to really think about the implications that transforming before he had the chance to tell the girls about his little... incident... would have. The other girls, along with the two cats, jumped out from behind the columns of the archway, showering the arriving trio with confetti. "Welcome back!" shouted a chorus of female voices... and Artemis.

Brushing the little pieces of paper out of his hair, Mamoru managed to say "Uh, thanks. But, um, why the celebration?"

Minako, who was at the front of the pack, said "Well, our resident university student has come back from China without hassle! Sure, it was a little earlier than we expected, but at least we didn't have any devastating incidents this time, right?"

"MINAKO!" chorused the other four voices.

"What? It's not like you all weren't thinking it!" the blonde defended. Ami, Makoto, Luna, and Artemis all looked away at various points in space, not wanting to admit to anything.

Rei, having been in the uncomfortably quiet taxi, looked at Mamoru suspiciously. "Well, you were in an awful hurry to come back, weren't you?"

The pressure mounting, Mamoru looked back at the sky, now extremely concerned about the quickly darkening weather. Usagi looked up at him worriedly. "Mamo-chan... what aren't you telling us?" As she was about to say something else, a streak of lightning arced across the dark clouds.

Once the flash from the lightning faded from their eyes, the four guardian senshi could see that their leader and her fiancé were both dashing up the steps to the Hikawa Shrine. The thunder roared, promising a downpour of rain. The group followed their princess and her prince, each of them wondering why on earth Mamoru was running faster than Usagi.

After mounting the stairs, Mamoru came to stand under the main house's awning. He looked around, and saw that the rain had just started to come down. Sighing in relief that he had dodged the current watery bullet, he watched as Usagi and the other girls dashed up the remaining steps.

"Ma-mo-ru!" Usagi panted, rushing up to where Mamoru stood. "Why... didn't (huff) you wait (puff) for us?"

Rei nodded, adding "It's really rather rude of you to go ahead of your girlfriend, especially in the rain like this."

"W-well, it's just that... I guess..." Mamoru mumbled, showing none of his masked alter-ego's suave personality. "Look, can we just go inside, so I can explain things to you somewhere it's not pouring rain?"

From his perch on Minako's shoulder, a very miserable looking Artemis grumbled "Yes, could we be anywhere but out here?"

"Okay, okay, I'll go grab some towels and we can dry off inside," Rei said, closing the discussion.

The group split up, the girls (including Luna) going to the large bathroom to towel off, and the men (that is, Mamoru and Artemis) went straight to Rei's room with a single towel for the cat. Mamoru, much to everyone else's anger, was still perfectly dry.

Once the group was dry (or, in the case of the local Mau, only somewhat damp,) they met up in Rei's bedroom. This room had become a regular meeting place for the Inner Senshi over the past few years, and on the odd occasion that the more distant Outer Senshi made an appearance, the group discussions migrated to the sacred fire chamber. Since they primarily only got together with the other group when there were 'incidents' with random monsters popping up, this didn't happen very often. But that is a topic for another day, and another battle. For now, the challenge will be protecting Mamoru's dignity.

"So, Mamoru..." Ami started off the conversation. "We all thought you were going to be in China for a month. Why'd you come back so soon?"

"Well, that's kind of a strange story, and I'm not really sure how to tell it..." Mamoru said, somewhat dejectedly.

"Mamo-chan, you've been acting really weird since the airport. What's wrong?" Usagi asked. All those present looked worried, but Usagi most of all.

"Okay, I guess I'd better try to explain," Mamoru started to tell his tale, most of which we have already heard, but will hear again now. "Professor Akiyama took me out into the middle of no-mans-land in a mountain range—a long way off from civilization. We'd been out there for about a week, when we arrived at the first of his 'stops' along the way. You'd have thought he was a tourist, the way he was acting.

"Anyway, we came to this natural spring, with a lot of pools of water. There, a father and daughter who I guess were running the place came out, and tried to get us to leave, or at least not get much closer. That was weird at the time, but I guess I know why they were so worried now."

Mamoru sighed. He wasn't used to telling long stories like this; usually he worked behind the scenes of the group. His lecturing skills certainly weren't that great, even if they DID always seem to distract who- or what-ever the girls were battling.

"So, the two are trying to get us away from the water, but the professor didn't listen. I caught him before he fell into one of the springs, and wound up falling in myself."

"But what does that have to do with you coming home early?" Minako pried, leaning in with enthusiasm. "Were the springs cursed or something?"

Seven faces turned to look at the bubbly blonde. "Minako, you've been playing too many video games again..." Artemis moaned.

At the same time Artemis spoke, Mamoru sputtered out "How—how did you know?"

Seven faces turned to look at the prince of the Earth, sounding a flat chorus of "WHAT."

Elsewhere, in the shadows

"My lady, we have detected the Moon Princess and the Earth Prince. They are located in the Earth City of Tokyo."

"Thank you, Rhodonite. Biotite, tell me, how goes your task?"

"The attempts to revive those beings destroyed by the Princess and her soldiers have been met with success, my lady. We have almost perfected the method of tethering them back to this realm."

"Good, good. Iolite, have you found the records of The Fall?"

"Not as of yet, my lady. It seems that mankind has lost the memory of both the Silver kingdom of the Moon and the Golden kingdom of the Earth."

"Search more carefully, then. We must find out what happened in The Fall."

"Yes, my lady."

"I am returning to my quarters. Send for me when Azurite returns from her mission."

"As you wish, my lady," the three generals chorused.

Once the doors to her chambers closed behind her, the ruler of the small band of sorceresses knelt by a low shrine, placed before a mirror. At the shrine, atop a small. velvety pillow, was a single dark orb—all that she had been able to find intact at the ruins.

She gazed into the mirror. "Sister, can you hear me? I need guidance."

A smoky silhouette faded into view in the mirror, seeming to emanate from the reflection of the sphere. "Oh, my dearest Lady Agate, what is it that you seek?"

Agate stared into the mirror, saying, "Rhodonite has almost located the Prince and Princess. What should become of their guardians?"

The figure chuckled darkly. "They draw strength from the bonds they share with each other. Destroying them will not serve your purpose.

"You must isolate the soldiers and the Nobility from each other—body, heart, and soul.

"Avenge me, younger sister."

The kneeling Agate bowed deeply before the image. "It shall be as you say, my sister.

"I will avenge you... Beryl."