By Ken Wolfe
Characters taken from Sailor Moon (DIC) and Sandman (DC Comics)
Usagi woke lying on the hard earth. She opened her eyes and found herself looking up into a gray, featureless sky. Puzzled,she sat up and looked around. She was sitting on the shore of a lake or an ocean. A lake, she decided, no ocean could be so utterly still. Looking the other way, there was nothing but a rocky, flat wasteland stretching as far as she could see. Which was not far, for like the lake it disappeared into an obscuring grayness hardly a stone's throw away. It was as if there were a thick fog, but she did not feel cold or damp. She did not feel much of anything at all. It was a monochrome world of stillness,
devoid of color or sound or even a breath of wind.
It took just a few moments for Usagi to remember that she was dead.
In a flash her last moment on Earth played across her mind's eye. There had been nothing much to see, just the blinding white wall of destruction rushing out to consume her, to consume everything in its path. There had been nothing much to hear, except the distant wail of the goddess Metallia as she went through her death throes. There had been nothing much to feel,
except being swept up by the tide of obliteration, then falling,
A feeling of overwhelming sadness came over her. Was this really all there was for them now? She took another look at her surroundings. It would be hard to imagine a place more dead than this. Her clothing - which she absently noted was the school uniform she had been wearing when she had last transformed into Sailor Moon - was the only bit of color in the overwhelming gray dimness. There was nobody and nothing here, she was alone. Were they really to be alone for all eternity? She could hardly claim to deserve any better, Usagi thought sadly. Her entire life had been one long misdemeanor. Any good she had done had always been done reluctantly, and only at the repeated prodding of her betters. Yes, this was a fitting fate for her. But not for her friends. Oh, surely not her dear friends. Rei-chan, Ami-can, Mako-chan, Minako-chan, they had all been such good people. And Mamo-chan... no, it was impossible to think of him sharing this fate. She prayed - knelt down and clamped her eyes shut and prayed - that they must be in a better place. They had saved the world... no, they had prodded a sniveling crybaby like her into saving the world. Surely at least they deserved something better.
Usagi was still kneeling thus when the sound of gently splashing water caught her attention. Startled at this sudden intrusion into the preternatural silence of this place, her eyes flew open and she gazed out at where she thought it had come from. The sound came again, but still she saw nothing, not even a ripple in the water. She waited, squinting into the grayness. At first she thought her eyes were playing tricks, but gradually it became clear that something was emerging from the mist. Usagi stood and took a few steps closer to the lake shore, waiting. The dark shape slowly resolved itself into a small, flat wooden boat. There were two shadowy figures standing upon it. The one in the back made a rhythmic motion in time with the gurgling of water. He was moving the boat along with his paddle. Even when they emerged from the mist there was little to see of him, just the long paddle and a tattered, hooded cloak that covered him from head to foot. But Usagi barely noticed him, it was the woman standing at the prow of the boat who really caught her attention. She was a short, petite young woman with unnaturally pale skin and straight black hair that was left to spill naturally across her white shoulders. She wore a tight-fitting black body suit that was held up with thin straps that left her arms and much of her upper torso bare. The matching leather boots and wide belt were dull and flat. With the oversized silver buckle at her belt and a large silver Ankh worn about her neck completing the outfit, she presented a casual, stylish look that seemed out of place in this setting. She was a creature of black and white who stood out in this world of grays.
As the boat slowly approached the shore, Usagi could see that the woman was grinning at her. She waved a black-nailed hand.
"Hi Usagi. Sorry to keep you waiting." Usagi did not even think to reply, she just stood and stared. It was not hearing her name that had astonished her, it was just the casual tone of this encounter that was throwing her. As soon as the boat gently crunched against the shore, the woman leaped down from the boat, landing lightly on the ground. She turned and waved to her companion. "Thanks, Ferryman. Keep the meter running, okay?" The hood obscuring the man's head bobbed down then back up again. The woman turned back to face Usagi again. Seen closer, she was quite pretty, with dark eyes and a pixie-like face. Her lips were black, as were the little whorls painted or tattooed beside each of her eyes. It just further emphasized the lack of color. "I know the scenery is not much to look at, but it's the only place on your journey we'll have a chance to talk."
Usagi shook her head in confusion. "I'm sorry... do I know you?"
The woman sighed. The impish grin never really left her face, but now it was tinged with a feeling of annoyance that was clearly not directed at Usagi. "This is normally the point where I would show you the place where you died and you would figure out who I am."
That took a moment to sink in. "You're... Death?"
The woman inclined her head. "Pleased to meet you."
"Pleased to meet you," Usagi returned automatically. "Um... you're here to take me... uh, to take me away, right?"
"Normally, I would be."
Usagi frowned. "I'm dead, aren't I?"
"That's what we're here to talk about. You did something that makes the situation a bit more complicated. You made a wish."
"Yes. Just as you were about to die, you made a wish."
Usagi remembered now, her final words as she had been falling into oblivion. "I wish I could go back to those happy days. I wish I could go back to my plain, ordinary life," she repeated.
Death nodded. "Well, it looks like your wish came true. We're just as surprised about it as you, believe me. I mean, there's my brother Destiny writing your obituary in his big fat book when suddenly the words just disappear right off the page." She snapped her fingers. "Poof, just like that." She chuckled, her eyes sparkling playfully. "He was quite vexed about it, let me tell you. So of course he calls up his little sister and says you've got to go find whoever has done this and get things fixed up. So, here I am, Usagi. Now we've got to get this business fixed up."
Death's manner was still pleasant and friendly, but at the same time there was no mistaking the firmness in the tone that said there was something that needed setting right. She sounded very much like Usagi's father just before he was about to patiently explain why Usagi should not have done something. "I'm sorry, I don't understand. What do I need to do?" Usagi asked.
"You need to decide whether you really want this wish."
Usagi frowned. "I can do that?"
Death's cheeks dimpled as her lips curled into a pleasant grin, making her look even cuter. "You've already done it, Usagi. You've set the clock back to before you died. If you decide it's what you want, then just as soon as we're done here you're going to wake up in your bed and go to school and all your friends will be there waiting for you."
Usagi tried to think clearly about this, tried to make sense of what this strange woman was saying. "But... won't we have to fight Metallia all over again?"
"Nope. The Dark Kingdom wasn't included in your wish. They'll be gone, either way. In fact, I just finished delivering them all to the next world. You just have to decide whether you want to let your wish stand, or..." she pointed. "Whether you want to use that again and undo the wish."
Usagi took a step back, her hand going reflexively to the locket at her breast that held the Ginzuishou. "Why would I do that?"
she asked sharply, suddenly feeling threatened. "Are you trying to trick me?"
Death spread her arms wide, her face losing just a little of its impish playfulness. "I'm putting all my cards on the table, Usagi. We can't force you to decide one way or another, you took that choice from us when you made your wish. You're the only one who can undo it."
"Why would I?" Usagi asked again. "Why would I let my friends die?" She was still not sure how much she could trust this woman called Death. But if her friends' lives were at stake she felt it would be wrong not to at least listen.
Death cocked her head. "Have you heard the proverb about death and taxes?"
"Sure, Minako told me. It goes, 'The only sure thing about death is that we'll have to pay taxes on it.'"
Death's eye twitched. "Uh... actually, it goes 'The only sure things in life are death and taxes.'"
Death looked both ways and leaned close for a moment, speaking softly as if not wanting anyone else to hear. "Just between you and me, the bit about taxes is a lie." She straightened up again. "But death is the one thing in the world that is certain. That is, it was, until you made your wish. You and your friends are about to become the first people on Earth who actually succeed in cheating death."
"Why is it cheating?" Usagi shot back. "My friends only died because I wasn't good enough to help them and they had to protect me! It wasn't fair! They didn't deserve to die like that!"
"Death is just like love, and just like all the other blessings and curses in the world, Usagi. It comes to people in its own good time, whether or not you or I or anyone else thinks they deserve it. It's not your fault or anybody else's, it just is."
Usagi managed to calm down a bit. "I'm not trying to cheat death. Everything has to die eventually, I know that. I just wanted my friends to have a long, happy life first, that's all."
"That's what you say now. But what will you do the next time you're watching your friends' lives come to an end? Even if they've had a longer and happier life than they had ever dared hope for, would you be content to let them go?" Usagi was silent. There was no point saying anything, they both knew the answer. Death continued. "You're just starting to wake up to your powers, Usagi. If you decide to live, then one day you'll be able to wish for just about anything you want. One day, you'll be able to put me out of business for good if you want to. Do you understand what that would mean?"
"No," Usagi answered truthfully.
"It would be the end of the world as you know it. It would be the end of life as you know it. All the normal reasons that people have to cherish their lives and cherish their children would be gone. There may still very well be people who cherish life, but it would be for reasons so utterly alien that the Usagi who is growing up and falling in love for the first time in her life could not possibly understand them. You may help to build a world of sublime beauty, but it will be a world you would not recognize or understand if you saw it now."
Usagi's head was swimming. "I... I don't... what is all that supposed to mean?"
"It means, Usagi, that either you accept the world for what it is, including my part in it, or you decide to try and change it into something different."
Usagi fidgeted for a moment. "Onesan... sorry, can I call you that?"
Death chuckled. "You remind me a lot of my little sister, so I guess it's okay."
"Onesan, if I could really do that, I mean really stop people from dying, ever... do you think it would stop people from being happy? Do you think it would stop people loving each other?"
Death sighed. "There are a million worlds that I almost never get to visit anymore because most everyone lives forever. Some of them are pretty nice, some of them are not so nice. I guess it's a matter of taste. By the time you're powerful enough to do the same for this world, you'll be a very different person. I can't even imagine what you could do to this world, Usagi."
It took a moment for Usagi to work up the courage to ask her next question. "I'll go wherever you want to take me, but... my friends, if I let them die, will they be going to a better place?"
"Sorry girl, that's not my department. I'm strictly pickup and delivery. Like I said, all my cards are on the table. I've told you everything I can, you're just going to have to decide."
Usagi thought very hard, very carefully, and for a very long time. Death waited silently, showing no sign of impatience, other than playing absently with her silver Ankh every now and then.
After several minutes, Usagi squared her shoulders and faced Death. "I want my wish."
"Okay. It was nice meeting you, Usagi." Death turned, walked back towards the boat, and leaped deftly back into it.
"Wait!" Usagi cried out.
Death turned around and raised a slim eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Is that it? Just... 'okay'?"
"I told you, you've already made the wish. If you're not going to undo it, then there's nothing more to do. When I leave, you'll wake up in your bed and that's that."
"Don't you even want to know why?"
"If you want to tell me, sure."
"It's because I know Mamo-chan can make me happy for as long as I live, even forever. If a crybaby like me can be happy forever, then anyone can. Don't you think so?"
"I don't know, do you think so?"
Usagi nodded. "Yes, I do."
"Then I guess you've made the right choice." She turned back towards her silent companion.
Death looked back at her again. Her expression was still pleasant, but there was perhaps a hint of irritation. "Yes?"
"Will I remember any of this? I mean, when I wake up."
"If I tell you that now, would it do you any good?"
Usagi thought about that for a moment. She scratched the back of her head and laughed nervously. "That was a pretty dumb question, wasn't it? Sorry, I shouldn't be keeping you, you're probably way too busy to be standing here talking."
Death smiled. "Don't sweat it." She made to turn away, seemed to consider for a moment, then locked her piercing eyes on Usagi once again. "It's very hard, you know, trying to give people something to live for when I'm not around anymore. In fact, it's probably the hardest thing in the world. But something tells me you'll do okay." At a casual gesture from her, the man she called Ferryman put his oar to the water. Leaving barely a ripple, the boat moved slowly from the bank. Death sighed heavily. "Well, now comes the hard part," she said wistfully.
Usagi frowned. "What do you mean?" she called out.
Death's laughter was already sounding like it was miles away. "It'll be a pain explaining this to my big brother Destiny, he hates doing revisions."
The next thing Usagi knew the alarm was ringing and mother was shouting that she was going to be late again.