AN: This is an older work I decided to get around to posting; it's a bit rougher than most of my stuff these days, but I have big plans for it. This will not be updating terribly fast, but should have the further 20-40k words that complete its story within the next few months.

((()))

It was a fairly slow day at the Stairs on the extreme Western edge of Cape Futtsu, a Peninsula that defined the southern edge of Tokyo Bay. The long gradually tapering Peninsula had an odd feature at the tip, a conglomeration of platforms known as 'The Stairway,' that were joined, appropriately enough, by an array of stairways. Over thirty platforms ascending to something over a hundred feet in height, they were a tourist and weekend attraction that gave an appreciable view of the nearby beaches, small islands just off the Peninsula, and Tokyo bay in general.

The light week-day traffic had only a couple dozen people throughout the entire structure, and a scattering of families up and down the beach. The weather was clear and moderately cool for summer, and an eagle-eyed observer on the platforms had an angle to notice the odd silhouette and protrusion moving through the gentle waves of Tokyo Bay. None of the tourists, however, were anywhere near observant enough to notice the shape, and didn't.

One of the young children swimming in the surf, however, was about to. Her name was Mako, and she was all of four years old (though she'd insist she was almost five if you asked her age), and her exhausted mother (who might go on at great length about the frustrations of the last month if you let her), had fallen asleep on her beach towel. Mako was an ambitious young girl, and after seeing the far side of Tokyo bay from the top of the Stairway, had decided that she was going to swim across it. She was an intelligent girl, and thus waited for her mother to fall asleep before attempting the endeavor; she was also an inexperienced girl (unsurprising for her age), and thus unaware of her small body's limited ability to deal with the cold water, and of things such as muscle cramps. In all fairness to the girl, she did have the raw physical ability and endurance to swim that distance, just not in water that cold.

She swam and walked along the arc of sandbars, enjoying the squishy feel of the mud between her tiny toes. It was when she passed the breakwaters provided by the peninsula and islands, however, that she rapidly began to tire in the more substantial waves, and flounder. It didn't take her long to realize that her best chance was at swimming back to the islands, and so she reversed course, but a half-kilometer is a long way for a half-drowned, cramping girl to swim. Determined girl she was, Mako got halfway there before the gradually accumulating water in her lungs overcame her, and she went under.

Something large moving through the water sensed her distress, and moved to the drowning girl's position. A moment later, it was moving fast, and a large pair of jaws burst up through the surface of the water, delicately collecting her before submerging again. An intense glow rolled out beneath the water a moment later. Then a large furred head rose smoothly up from the waves, and began cutting through the water towards the islands.

A short while later, Mako was forcibly roused by something pressing heavily down on her back, and involuntary muscle spasms painfully coughing salt-water out of her lungs. It took several fits of coughing before her body was satisfied that it had enough of the stinging liquid expelled, and the pressure on her back subsided. Groaning, Mako pulled herself up into a sitting position, and rubbed her throat, hoping to sooth the slight burning sensation the saltwater had left behind. She looked around, finding herself on one of the sand-bar islands she had crossed before, while the sun was setting to the west, which cast a lumpy shape to her side in shadow.

It took her a few moments of squinting her eyes into focus to realize it was a head. A large head; it was bigger than she was!

"Eep!" she said, drawing her hands up to her mouth to muffle any louder and potentially more provocative sounds, while her eyebrows tried to climb into her hairline.

Moving forward slightly, it nudged the shocked little girl, and she rocked slightly, before overcoming her shock enough to balance herself. Then she felt its breath wash over her, warm and invigorating in the cool air, pouring vitality and energy back into her tired and worn body. Lost wide-eyed in the sensation, she didn't notice the head slip back under water as the creature swam away. Blinking as she focused back on the outside world, she stood to look around for the strange creature that she realized had saved her life. After looking for a few seconds and seeing nothing but sand and water around her, she set off back towards the shore, one thought fixed firmly in her mind.

She had to tell her mother about this.

((()))

"Some sort of enormous creature?"

"No, doesn't sound like anything that lives in the waters around Japan to me either."

"Yes, I wouldn't let my children around Kaiju stories too much after that either."

"That's strange, all the old Godzilla movies I remembered involved fire breath, not something that would affect someone's energy."

"Heavens, swimming out from Cape Futtsu on her own? That's terrible! You must have been sick with worry just from that, not to mention coming up with stories about creatures in the water while she's at it!"

"Little Mako-chan always has been ambitious, but still, trying to swim across Tokyo Bay on her own! What was she thinking?"

Giggle. "I hope she does some day too, but when she's a couple years older, and with somebody pulling alongside in a boat, to make sure she doesn't drown."

"Yes, I'll talk to you tomorrow. Bai Bai!"

((()))

"Luna! Luna! There's some kind of monster down at the beach on Futtsu cape harassing little children!"

"Contact the other Senshi! We need to get down there as soon as we can!"

((()))

"Are you sure about this Usagi?"

"Of course I am Rei! My mom was talking with one of her friends on the phone; there was some sort of horrible beast attacking children at Futtsu Cape!"

"Well, I suppose the distance could be why I haven't sensed any evil presence, but you'd better not be wasting our time."

"Right! Luna's finding us the fastest transport there she can, we'll meet at the bus-stop near your shrine!"

Four young girls were walking alongside the road heading towards Futtsu Cape, a vivacious somewhat short blond with Odango-styled hair, a timid short-haired bluenette of similar stature, a regal-looking young lady in a miko's garb with long black hair of more average size, and a massively tall Brunette who stood at an unheard of (for Japanese women) 5'10".

"Ahhhh!" said the blond, "I love the smell of the beach! I hope they have ice-cream!"

"We're here looking for Yoma," The raven-haired girl said pointedly, "Not a trip to the beach."

"Of course we're here for Yoma!" The blond shot back, smiling impishly at the other girl, "No reason we can't hit the beach after we've finished it off though!"

The dark-haired girl rolled her eyes, but did not comment further. The larger brunette was simply walking along, enjoying the sunlight and breeze, looking around for something interesting or signs of trouble. The bluenette was tapping away at a sort of miniature computer, though she rather quickly stopped, and her face paled.

"Oh no!" she said, "You were right Usagi, there's two large non-human creatures on the Cape! I'm not sure what one of them is, but the other is definitely a Yoma, we have to hurry, this way!"

The girls immediately charged off the path into the forest alongside the road; four bursts of coruscating light flashed out over a few seconds, and then the Sailor Senshi were leaping towards the forest, following Sailor Mercury's directions. It wasn't long before they could tell they were nearing their target, crashes and roars reaching through the woods towards them. As they closed, there was a thundering splash, and a curtain of water blossomed into the air. The Senshi burst into a small clearing in the forest, centered on a rectangular pool of water, which was currently occupied by the thrashing form of a blue-furred creature.

As they watched, it tore free from some sort of green bonds, turned to the tree line facing away from them, and roared. Mercury pointed in the same direction.

"There!" She said, "That one's the Yoma!"

'That' was some form of plant creature, formed from a misshapen mass of tree and bush, and it was lashing out at the blue-haired creature with a wave of tentacles. The blue creature roared again, leaping into the air, and the Sailors finally got their first clear sight of the creature's full body, as a long fleshy membrane was pulled clear of its main body. Large muscular limbs were joined to a long, full chest and abdomen; the folds of flesh were an enormous pair of wings projecting from powerful muscle packs on its back. Its tail was fully twice as long as its body, a muscular appendage tapering into a sinuous tip, and its neck was as long as its body again, ending in a powerful, large-jawed head with a (relatively) small bony frill covering the join with its neck. It made an odd hocking noise as they watched, and spat violently downwards, an intense wave of cold washing over the clearing as an amorphous projectile slammed into the mass of tentacles it had leapt over, flash-freezing them into the water of the pool.

Another wave of tentacles lashed out at the creature, and it crashed down into them, easily overwhelming them with its superior mass and gravity, though all the Senshi (except Moon) noticed blood spattering past the point of contact. After crashing into the ground, it audibly sucked in a powerful breath, clawing at a smaller set of attacking tentacles as it did, then exhaled away from the Senshi with an odd sort of whistling sound. A moment later a blinding flash of light seared the clearing, blinding every creature present, except the Dragon and Mercury, whose eyes were protected by her visor.

"It's going for the humans!" Mercury cried, and darted forward, not noticing that her compatriots were temporarily blind and not following.

The other Senshi also had not spotted the humans she was referring to, unsurprising considering their lack of magitek scanning equipment, and the attention-drawing spectacle before them. Mercury, however, charged towards the pair of unconscious humans held in the plant-yoma's grasp, uncertain if they needed to be protected from one creature, the other, or both. The question was very quickly answered for her; the Dragon began drawing another breath, the plant-creature whipped its pair of human captives around between itself and the Dragon, which responded by exhaling the breath to no unusual effect, and clawing the trough the tentacles holding the humans in place.

Mercury swept up the dropped humans, an awkward action, even with her supernaturally enhanced strength, since the young man and woman were larger than her separately, not to mention combined. Still, she managed to swing one over her shoulder, and catch the other around the waist, managing an odd staggering run away from the pair of fighting monsters. She didn't see it, but the other Senshi, clearing the remnants of their flash-blindness did, when the Dragon started in shock as she whipped past the pair of them. Then the Dragon turned back towards the monster and roared again, a roar of anger, challenge, with just a hint of victory mixed in.

Moon and Mars raced up to meet Ami, relieving her of her burdens, and the three of them retreated while Jupiter interposed herself between the fight and the other Senshi, watching warily as the Dragon body-slammed the Yoma and the two began to wrestle up close.

"They're fine physically," Ami said after a quick scan with the Mercury computer, "Aside from a few scrapes and bruises."

"You got them free before they were too heavily drained," Rei said, laying a hand over the heart of each of them, "Their life force is drained, but they should recover fully."

"How did you get them away from…" Moon bewilderedly indicated the intense violence taking place between the two monsters across the clearing from them.

"The Dragon cut them free," Ami said, "I just carried them out."

The other girls all turned to stare at her in shock, and Ami began to fidget nervously under their gaze.

"You mean the Dragon is a good guy," Usagi suddenly burst out, and Ami nodded hesitantly in response.

"We've got to help him then!" Moon shouted decisively, and charged off towards the wrestling pair of beasts.

"Come back here you idiot!" Rei shouted, trying to catch up with Usagi, "You'll get yourself killed!"

Mercury and Jupiter chased after Mars, as Mars chased after Moon. Moon moved past the tree line, approaching where the fight had moved as the Dragon pushed the Yoma back into the forest, and caught clear sight of what was going on. There were dismembered tentacles and red blood spread everywhere, the plant-monster was now essentially tentacle-less, and had only its trunk and arms to engage the Dragon with. The Dragon was bleeding freely, but still furiously pressing its opponent, apparently trying to close for a grapple.

The Yoma ducked back to evade a grab from one of the Dragon's forelimbs, and Moon took advantage of the opportunity the distance between the opponents offered.

"Moon Tiara Action!" She shouted, hurling her overpowered accessory at the Yoma, splitting it neatly in half.

Not taking any chances, the Dragon lunged forward, catching the top half in one of its claws and its jaws, and twisted violently with both, tearing the creature's head off. Moon felt like the fleshy ripping sounds might make her sick, and suddenly felt some doubt about whether or not the creature was one of the good guys. That was messy. The other Senshi formed up around her, and the dragon creature spat out the disintegrating head of the Yoma, then turned to look at the lot of them.

They were only ten feet away when the Dragon's neck bridged part of the distance between its body and the Senshi, and they became viscerally aware of just how big it was. Jupiter, though enormous by Japanese standards, still had to bend her neck enough to make it ache in order to look the creature in the eye, and though its mouth was closed now, they had all seen the large, unpleasantly sharp-looking teeth that lined its jaws.

"B-big!" Moon gasped out, staring wide-eyed up at the creature.

The Dragon slowly moved its head closer, turning its head slightly to the right and staring at them intently out of its left eye. Up close, they could see bloody cuts on the bony ridges along its snout and around its eyes; nothing deep, but there was definitely blood staining the short fur that covered its face. Its face now less than a yard from the Senshi, it took a long inhalation through its nostrils, and the girls tensed, ready to attack or evade, but it did not open its mouth for another breath attack. After a long moment, it exhaled wetly through its nose, and then turned away from the Senshi, walking back towards the clearing.

"Probably checking our scents to see if we're a threat," Mercury said, attention slipping back to her computer as she began scanning the creature in detail.

"Eww!" Moon said, shaking her hands to try to get liquid off of them, "It sneezed on us!"

"Unless its snot is red, I don't think so," Mars said, looking at the red specks on her own fuku.

Mercury and Moon's eyes both widened, and Usagi spoke as Mercury ran after the creature, typing furiously on her computer.

"That's blood?" Moon gasped, and chased after the creature, "We have to help it!"

"It's an unknown species," Mercury said as she caught up with it, "It's massive, it's as big as a Bush Elephant, though its mass is distributed differently, there's no way it should be able to fly with this kind of weight and apparent bone density, and what does it eat to support all that mass?"

"Mercury!" Mars barked, "What's wrong with it? Why is it bleeding blood?"

"It's got a perforated lung, and its intestines have been holed through as well," Ami breathed, "Oh this is bad. Its physiology doesn't make any sense, its skeleton shouldn't be able to support its weight in this configuration, and there's something wrong with the mass-to-heart ratio, and-"

"Mercury!" Mars barked again, "What matters now is how do we heal it!"

"You don't understand!" Ami cried, "Its body shouldn't work the way it is! With a heart this small, it shouldn't be alive at all!"

They had arrived at the far side of the clearing, and Jupiter, being the only Senshi not arguing or lost trying to follow the argument, was the first to notice that the Dragon had stopped in front of the two comatose civilians. It took a short breath in, and Jupiter lunged forward to try to move the civilians, but was too far away. A vibrant kaleidoscope of indistinct colors washed out of the creature's mouth in a soft mist, and Jupiter instead tried to interpose her body between the dragon and the helpless people beneath it. The mist washed over all three of them, and to Jupiter's surprise, she found herself feeling suddenly energized and charged up.

"What was that?" Ami burst out, "Its heart-rate, respiration rate, the amount of neural activity, everything just plummeted! What did it do?"

"Whatever it did," Jupiter said, checking herself and the unconscious pair over, "They look a lot better, and I feel great."

"It channeled energy into them," Rei said, "I've never felt anything quite like it, but I've read about rituals for such before."

"Whatever it did," Ami said, "It looks like it just expended the last reserves of its energy, it's bleeding to death."

Putting image to words, the creature sagged, and slouched backwards until it collapsed onto its side, jaw falling open, its breathing now audibly labored.

"What can we do?" Moon asked in an uncharacteristic small and quiet voice.

"He needs a doctor, and a blood transfusion, a big transfusion, some time within the next hour, or he'll bleed out and die." Mercury said miserably, "And that's if we can bind all his external wounds well enough to pretty much stop all but the internal bleeding. He might suffocate on his own blood before then anyways, I don't know."

"Where can we find a doctor that'll work on a Dragon?" Moon asked desperately, "Or maybe we should find a vet?"

"A Doctor," Mercury said, shaking her head, "The standards are higher, and either one would be working with an unfamiliar body. Doctors are much more used to working under lots of time pressure, and since we'd need to find one in a hospital anyways, we'd have a better chance at getting all the supplies they'd need."

"What would they need?" Jupiter said calmly, her body practically vibrating energy that did not show in her voice.

"About eighty pints of blood," Mercury said, "And surgical equipment and supplies to deal with half a dozen people, I don't know all the specifics. But we'd need someone we could trust to keep things secret, and…"

"Your mother is a doctor," Mars cut in bluntly, "Does she work anywhere near here?"

"Yes," Ami said, "But she works all the way over in Tokyo proper, at Kokuritsugan General! That's in Chou Ward!"

"Do they have a Helipad?" Rei demanded.

"Yes, but-"

"Can your mother keep a secret?" Rei demanded harshly.

For a long moment, there was silence.

"Yes," Ami said at length, uncharacteristic bitterness in her voice, "Yes she can."

"Then since she's the only doctor we know, she's the one we need to call."

"How do we get her though?" Usagi asked worriedly.

"Simple," Rei said, "Tell her the Senshi need a doctor, and she was recommended with the abilities we need."

"That'll be easy," Ami said, tone still bitter, "She is a chest specialist after all."

((()))

"Mizuno, we've received a request for cavalry medical, from the Senshi of all people, and they asked for you by name."

"By name?"

"'Saeko Mizuno' they said, 'Thoracic Specialist.' Also said they have an unusually large patient with a chest injury, and to bring lots of blood, they asked for one hundred and sixty pints of O-neg."

"One hundred and sixty? What kind of mess have they gotten themselves into this time?"

"I don't know, but somehow word has already leaked out to the media that we're sending the A-cav at the Senshi's request, and you're going to be on it. After that, we can't afford the PR hit if we don't send you out. I know you're almost to the end of your shift, but…"

Sigh. "I understand. Any other idea what to expect?"

"They said to bring full kit and supplies for half a dozen victims, but specifically said they would only allow you and one nurse into the area, and that you'd be the only ones needed. They said to head out over Tokyo bay, and they'd direct us from there."

"Right, I'm moving."

"Chopper lifts in five."

((()))

The Helicopter was the largest medical chopper in all of Tokyo, and was something of a beast, designed to function essentially as a mobile ICU for up to five people, or less delicate transport for a dozen. It was currently packed to the gills with bagged blood, and three full field surgical kits, and powering its way over Tokyo bay as twilight faded into night across the city, carrying a somewhat surprised M.D., and an anxious R.N.

"Hello? Hello?" A young girl's voice called unexpectedly over the intercom, "Is this the medical helicopter?"

"This is MED-4 out of KKGN," The pilot said, "This is not a public channel, please clear the frequency."

"Mercury, are you sure this is the right channel?" The girl's voice said, "He wouldn't answer me." Pause. "Oh! So that's what that means! Mr. Pilot, I'm Sailor Moon, and I'm sorry for the intrusion, but we need you to head due south, and Mercury wants to know how many others are on this channel."

"Just us, KKGN, and air-traffic control," The pilot replied.

"Well," Moon said, "Then I'm supposed to tell you that you need to head due South to Cape Futtsu, we'll be in the middle of the clearing covered in fog, it's south of the pools."

"Roger," The Pilot said, "We should be able to make Futtsu pool in ten minutes."

"Good," Moon said, and then her voice turned sad, "Please hurry, Mercury says to tell you that the 'Primary patient is in danger of exsanguination or associated asphyxiation.'"

The nurse winced.

"You really should hurry," Saeko said, "That means he might suffocate from his own blood flooding his lungs."

The pilot winced as he drew their course around south, accelerating to the Helicopter's top speed.

((()))

The Pilot hadn't been entirely sure what to expect when Moon said 'the clearing covered in fog,' but what he found was exactly that: a clearing buried in fog, which leaked out into the surrounding forest. He approached quickly but carefully, his experience in transporting fragile near-dead patients showing as he feathered the helicopter down into the clearing, landing it in the somewhat-larger southwest corner. As the rotors pushed away the thick and resilient fog, he was surprised to discover that the reason that corner of the clearing was larger, was that something had smashed the trees there to kindling.

It was fortunate, because otherwise he would have been forced to try to land in the pool that took up the center of the clearing, but it was still unnerving thinking about the kind of violence involved in reducing the trees to flinders. Once he touched down, an unbelievably tall young brunette dressed in white and green approach the chopper and helped Doctor Mizuno and the attending nurse out, before indicating the interior of the helicopter and shouting a question.

"All of it," Mizuno shouted back, and the Senshi nodded, before climbing into the helicopter, and loading herself down with a more equipment than it was humanly possible to carry, then leading the medical personnel off into the mist.

A few seconds later she was back for another immense load, this time carrying ice and blood-packed chests that the pilot knew were far beyond what anybody should be able to lift, especially a slender girl like her. He shook his head, and watched as the girl quickly loaded out his entire cargo, before lifting off to move into a holding pattern in case he might be needed to evacuate patients.

On the ground, as the background roar of the helicopter faded away, Saeko Mizuno was staring dumbstruck at the 'patient' before her.

"What is that?" She asked, thunderstruck.

"We've never seen one before either," The short blue-haired Senshi beside her said softly, her voice itching at Saeko's memories, "But it saved two civilians and helped us defeat one of the Yoma. We need to try to save it, and you were the best doctor for the job we knew of."

"But I don't even know its anatomy!" Mizuno protested.

"You don't need to," the Senshi said, "We have this."

The girl held up a small computer which was displaying a detailed scan of the creature in front of them.

"I can have the Mercury computer show you every system separately from the others, or in combination, or even a live feed of what is going on inside of it as you work. In addition, I am familiar with most surgical instruments and have some limited experience, allowing me to serve as a secondary aid in support of your nurse."

For a long minute there was silence, while Saeko grappled with the improbability before her, and what she was expected to do about it. Then she turned to the nurse.

"Ready all six IV's, Rieka," she said, "Blue here will help you find veins to insert at."

"I am Sailor Mercury," the small girl said softly, as she began manipulating her computer to display the skin and circulatory system."

"You realize, Mercury," Saeko said, "I'm basically going to have to carve its chest open from the top and the bottom in order to get at its lung?"

Mercury nodded before speaking.

"It's abdomen too, its intestines have been perforated."

"You didn't mention that when you called us in."

"We wanted to give out as little revealing information as we could get away with," Mercury said quietly, "We're taking our biggest risk of exposure ever here, but we have to try to help him, he almost got himself killed doing our job."

Saeko sighed and nodded.

"Well," she said, "Let's get to it."

((()))

"I don't like keeping it here," Rei said, somewhat sharply.

"If I had to tell my mother to keep a secret," Ami said, quiet voice laced with steel, "You can hide a Dragon in the grounds of your shrine. It's not like any of the rest of us have anywhere near enough space to hide something so large."

Rei continued to stare at the large Dragon, little more than a silhouette in the low light of her house's basement.

"I'm not going to be able to keep it hidden from my grandpa."

"I know," Ami said, "You'll have to try the 'Senshi asked us to' card."

"That'd work for me, since I live here, but what about the rest of you?"

"We were here with you when the Dragon arrived."

"Clever," Rei said, "We don't even have to tell any actual lies. I still don't like it."

"Neither do I," Ami said softly, "But we don't have any better options, do we?"

There was silence for a time.

"Something feels different about him," Rei said, "Is something changing? And why do you call it a 'him' anyways?"

"Because he's male," Ami said, activating her visor to scan the creature again, "And judging by his heart-rate, I think he's waking up."

Rei nodded, and they both tensed slightly as the creature slowly woke. While they waited for it to notice them, they both sat down on the basement steps. The basement at the Hikawa shrine was really just an underground storage room, they had chosen it because the double-doors that allowed direct access from outside were large enough for magically-strengthened Senshi to ferry the creature through, and it was the most out-of-the-way location they could think of to hide it. Even with its wings furled, and tail curled around it, they'd had to lay it diagonally across the room to keep from kinking its neck when they laid it out.

Its eyes opened slowly, glittering darkly in the low light, each easily larger than one of the girl's fists, and it took a quick survey of its surroundings before facing the girls. It made a soft crooning sound, which though quiet, came at a deep enough tone that the young Senshi could feel it almost as much as hear it, ending on a higher note than it began. Ami chose to interpret the sound as a question.

"We brought you here to hide while you heal," she said, her voice raised slightly, "You should be safe here."

Some of the muscles in the creature's head began to move, but then it winced as the movement pulled at scabbed-over gashes all across its face. The movement failed to convey any form of comprehension to the girls. Ami's mind flew into gear, immediately trying to decipher a way to communicate with the creature, or even just see if it was sentient, but it was interrupted.

"Hey girls," Usagi's voice came from the top of the stairs, "Is it-WOAH!"

Crash.

Tumble.

Crunch.

Thud.

"Owie…" Usagi said, rubbing her head from her new position on the bottom of the stairs, but on top of Rei and Ami.

The Dragon began making a chuffing, chortling sound that the girls soon realized was laughter.

"Well," Ami said, voice muffled from underneath Usagi's stomach, "That answers whether it's sentient or not."

"Eh?" Usagi said, pulling herself off her friends.

"Only intelligent creatures understand humor, Usa-chan," Ami said.

"Falling down the stairs isn't funny!" Usagi protested, "It hurts!"

"Depends on where you're sitting," Rei smirked, "And where he's sitting, it's funny."

Behind them, the Dragon's chortling laugh dropped in pitch, and the creature abruptly began pulling itself to the side on its forelegs, drawing the attention of the girls. As they watched, it curled its self around slightly, then flinched and stopped, before twisting its neck around to hide its head under one of its wings. The Dragon definitely was not laughing anymore, and wet, soggy sounds started to emerge from beneath the creature's wing.

"He's crying," Usagi said softly, and clambered over her schoolmates towards the Dragon.

The other Senshi were silent as the creature's huge body trembled and jumped under poorly-concealed tears.

"Ano…" Usagi said softly as she walked around the creature to where it had hidden its head, "Dragon-san, why are you crying?"

She laid her hands along a portion of its long neck, and wrapped it in an awkward hug. The Dragon, unsurprisingly, said nothing in response, and after a while, Usagi decided she couldn't let this just be the way it was. Clambering up onto the creature's flank, she pried up the leading edge of the wing and crawled under.

"Dragon-san?" she said, feeling around in the dark for its head as she wriggled further under the wing, "Dragon-san?"

Shortly, she reached the creature's head, and wrapped her arms around its face, taking care after it flinched slightly when she brushed one of its wounds.

"Dragon-san," Usagi said softly, "I don't know why you're so sad, but we'll be your friends."

"Un," Ami nodded, though her voice was muffled and neither the Dragon nor Usagi could see it from under the creature's wing.

Rei, eyes slightly glazed in a distracted expression, jumped slightly as Ami nudged her with a toe.

"Yes, we are willing to befriend you," she said.

Usagi cradled the creature's head as best she could, considering it probably out-massed her, and softly cried tears of sympathy into its thick, salt-encrusted fur. The Dragon released a long, low, pained rumbling sound, and the shivers running up and down its body intensified, as did its tears.

"Oh, Dragon-san," Usagi said, her own tears distorting her voice with sorrow, "It'll be okay Dragon-san, it'll be okay."

Ami and Rei listened to the soothing murmurs of Usagi's voice, muffled by the Dragon's wings, with fondness in their eyes.

"Dumpling head is good at something, it seems," Rei said with a half-hearted cutting tone.

Ami just smiled as they watched their sometimes-fearless leader bond with the creature that they had saved the night before.

((()))

Ami slipped quietly and exhaustedly into the home she shared with her mother, sighing tiredly as she unloaded her book bag. Lifting her glasses so she could rub her bloodshot eyes, she sat down to take care of her shoes, then hefted her book bag again as she moved further into the apartment. She was startled to see her mother sitting on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket, staring at her with something strange in her eyes.

"I suppose it's not really surprising," she said softly, "That it would take something like becoming a Senshi to affect your study habits noticeably."

Ami froze, staring at her mother in shock. Had the disguise fields failed?

"I'm not sure if I should be transcendentally proud," Her mother continued, "Or utterly horrified. From what I've seen, there's not much a young woman could do to save more lives than you are, but on the other hand, how many times have you almost died?"

Ami just stood there and stared at her mother. The woman sighed and stood, walking over to Ami, and drawing her into an embrace, wrapping the blanket around both of them as she lifted her daughter up and carried her over to the couch. It took several long moments for Ami's mind to roll back into gear enough to realize that she was trembling in a cross between fatigue and shock.

"I'm sorry that this burden has come to you," her mother said softly, cradling her daughter gently, "How can I help you carry it?"

A choked sob escaped from Ami's throat, and her mother pulled her into a tighter embrace as the trembling girl began to cry silently into her mother's shoulder. It was well past dawn when Ami had arrived, and both of them ended up falling asleep on the couch together.

Well into the afternoon, Saeko woke, taking a moment to remember where she was, and what the warm weight on and around her was. She smiled bittersweetly, savoring the time of closeness to her daughter; such happenings were far, far too rare. It was a full half-hour before Ami woke, but Saeko was more than willing to put up with the cramps, pins and needles, and muscle aches that she'd accrued from holding her daughter for so long.

"Good morning sweetheart," she whispered to her drowsy daughter.

"Morning mummy," Ami said drowsily, and snuggled deeper into her mother's embrace.

Tears slid down Saeko's face. She had missed this so very much, the closeness with her daughter. Serious doubts as to whether or not her work at the hospital was worth the cost to her and her daughter sprang forth, not for the first time, but the strongest she could remember in recent history.

"Mmm," Ami said, shaking herself to a more aware state, "What time is it."

"A little after four," Saeko said, glancing at the VCR clock.

For a minute or two, the pair simply enjoyed their closeness.

"How'd you figure it out?" Ami asked after a while.

"I know you're brilliant dear," Saeko said, "Even smarter than I am, but I do have twenty and some years of experience on you. Also, I'm your mother. You were the right size and shape, even if something kept me from recognizing your face, and your speech patterns were all you. You're unusual enough in Japan today that it raised my suspicion, your reaction when you got in last night made me certain."

"I suppose it was silly of me," Ami reflected, "To work so closely with you and not expect you to recognize me."

Saeko smiled, a thing of some weariness, but also of deep-running contentment and satisfaction.

"I'm so proud of you, Ami," She said, "It can't have been easy, fighting monsters when you're fourteen years old."

Ami nodded shyly. There was silence for a time again, and Ami felt her mother tense up slightly after a while.

"What is it mother?" Ami asked quietly.

"Well," Saeko said, "I want to ask you some questions, but I don't want to bring up bad memories from fighting last night, or put you under pressure."

"It's okay mummy," Ami said, smiling slightly, "I understand your curiosity quite well, I inherited it after all."

Saeko smiled again before speaking.

"Well, first off, I'm guessing Tsukino-san, Hino-san, and Kino-san are the other Senshi?"

Ami thought for a moment, and then nodded. No point in denying it now.

"What about that scanner you were using during the surgery? I've never seen anything that thorough."

"It's a relic of the Moon Kingdom," Ami said, "It, combined with my visor, allow a great deal of scanning and data processing abilities. It's also tied into a mainframe, which is probably more powerful than every other computer on the planet combined."

Saeko nodded thoughtfully.

"What about the creature?" she said, and by her tone, Ami could tell that this was what was really preying on her mind, "Is it the sort of thing you usually fight?"

Ami blinked, and then realized how things probably appeared to her mother.

"Heavens no," Ami said firmly, "Yoma are usually twisted versions of humans, and we haven't seen any that even approach Dragon-san for size or power. The Yoma we saw him fight was easily the largest and most powerful we've ever seen." Ami frowned, "It was also the most inhuman. I wish I'd had time for a more detailed scan, I wonder if there's a correlation…"

Ami could feel the tension leaving her mother's body.

"So it's usually not that dangerous?" Saeko asked.

"No mummy," Ami said, smiling, "The Yoma we fought before would never have been able to hurt Dragon-san that much, even if they used hostages like the plant-Yoma did. I'm really glad that Dragon-san showed up when he did, we might have been in trouble otherwise."

Saeko smiled down at her daughter, held close in her arms. She really needed to make more time for doing things like this.

"Me too, Ami-chan, me too."

((()))

Ranma Saotome was bored. Bored bored bored bored. Boredom was a fairly good place to be, on the whole, at least with the Nerima Wrecking Crew around; bored meant he wasn't stuck as a girl, or finding a new fiancée intent on marrying him, or rescuing kidnapped Tendo girls, or…

Yeah, whatever, bored was boring, but overall not half bad. Shouting erupted in the Tendo Dojo below, and Ranma immediately beat a hasty retreat, seeing absolutely no reason whatsoever to risk getting caught in another Tendo family spat. Judging by the voices, some of his assorted fiancées had decided to pick a fight again. After all the nonsense he had put up with over the last year and change, he had ultimately decided that none of them were actually going to kill each other, and he wouldn't butt into their fights anymore. He had hoped that Akane would learn some humility after Ukyo and Shampoo both stomped her into the ground, but it had ultimately just made the girl more pissy. A pissiness which she, of course tried to take out on Ranma. Ranma shook his head as he roof-hopped his way across Nerima; that had put another damper on his still-uncertain feelings towards the girl.

Girls confused the hell out of Ranma; he'd had more interaction with them in the average day over the last year, than he did over an average year before coming to Nerima. Well, he supposed the time around Uc-chan was an exception, but he hadn't known she was a girl, so it didn't really count anyways. As he skipped across the rooftops, once again Ranma found his mind trying to unravel the riddle of the female mind.

Shampoo was easy; she wasn't that different from himself, she fought, she ate, she slept. The differences were in that she was a girl, and attracted to guys, rather than the opposite, and aggressive about it. He didn't get why the Amazon laws were the way they were, but it explained her aggressiveness about stuff.

Ukyo confused the hell out of Ranma, he had befriended the girl thinking she was a guy, and had fought with him/her when she showed back up, before realizing he was a she. A cute she too. Now she seemed happy to be friends again, and was a helluva good cook. Those parts Ranma could understand, but why the hell did she keep trying to confuse their great friendship with romance? He got that there was the whole 'engaged' thing, but why did she act like she wanted it, rather than that it was a hassle?

Akane was just plain crazy. So was Kodachi. Ranma didn't even want to think about some of the other people that had come on to him; he liked the sanity he still had. A sanity that he had lately been coming to think was less intact than he had thought. Something just seemed wrong about everything that happened in Nerima, though he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

Ranma was abruptly torn from his train of thought and ended his current leap by dropping into a combat crouch rather than taking another leap. Something here was not right, his danger sense was screaming, and something just felt off. His eyes flickered around the immediate area; he saw nothing… But there was something he also didn't see. He focused on his hearing, listening to the background sounds of the night, and silently slid back and forth across the roof, listening to the white noise of the city. Sniffing the air gently, he focused on what he didn't see again, watching as some dust and a few loose scraps were blown across and around the street by an eddying wind current. A current that had no business flowing like that in an empty street.

Slipping into the Umisenken, Ranma dropped silently down from the edge of the building, and slunk across the street to the thing-that-wasn't. Moving carefully, he probed about with his fingers until they came into contact with a hard metallic surface. Well, he hadn't expected that. He'd never heard of a machine that could do what Ki masters could do before. Closing his eyes, he silently began feeling out the shape of the thing, and then climbing it once he'd taken the measure of all that he could reach. To many climbing something made largely out of smooth metal would have been impossible; for an advanced practitioner of Anything Goes, it was merely more of a challenge than usual.

Eventually he reached the top of the thing, and was uncertain what to do from there. It was clearly some sort of machine, but he wasn't sure if it was controlled by remote or internally. Probing the surface of the machine with his hands, he eventually found a hatch, which answered his question. Carefully feeling around, he eventually found the latching mechanism, and after a few attempts to pick the lock, eventually just ripped the thing open. It was unexpectedly difficult; the thing was clearly more than just common steel or iron; probably some kind of armor for a war machine.

"Ohayo!" Ranma called cheerfully into the revealed interior of the machine, "What is this thing?"

A young man in some sort of cross between body armor and a skin-suit was staring up at the ripped-open hatch, and the voice with no person attached to it.

"An Armor Slave," The young man said, "And who's there?"

"Ranma Saotome," Ranma said, "Who're you?"

"I'm Sergeant Kurz Weber… wait, where are you? And what are you doing attacking Mithril?" The young man had shifted to an aggressive stance, and pulled a gun out, training it on the forcibly opened hatch.

"I'm hiding," Ranma said in a conspiratorial tone voice, "And I should be the one asking what you're doing hiding in invisible robots in Nerima during the night. If you're here ta' fight, I'd like ta' get it over with, I've got school tomorrow."

"This is Urzu six," The blond young man said his words clearly directed at someone else, "Get Sagara moving, potential hostile infantry in the area."

"Oy," Ranma said, "Don't make me start taking this machine apart to get at you. Why're you here?"

The young man was silent for a few seconds before responding.

"I'm with Mithril," He finally said, "A private military contractor. We're here on a body-guard/escort mission. The identity of the individual we are protecting is classified."

Ranma frowned thoughtfully at this, though his potential opponent couldn't see it.

"Alright then," Ranma said, "But I'm warnin' you, if your 'individual' either tries to kill me or marry me, I ain't holdin' back if you interfere."

"That seems reasonable," The young man said, before pausing to go over that in his head a second time. "Wait, Kill or Marry? What the hell?"

But Ranma was already gone.

((()))

"Behold! A young maiden in the full flower of her beauty!"

Akane stared.

Ranma stared.

The tall new girl with the long blue hair, tied back in a manner surprisingly similar to Akane's before Ryoga had given it an improvised trim, stared.

"I am Tatewaki Kuno, known as the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, undefeated," Tatewaki ignored Ranma's cough, "Champion of Kendo. I will permit you to date me."

Akane was almost relieved; the girl was flat-out gorgeous, and she was beginning to feel the stirrings of jealousy, until Kuno set his sights on her. That made the girl both someone to be pitied, and useful.

Ranma was struck with disbelief; did Kuno pull this with every girl who would rather fight him than date him?

Chidori was building up a full head of steam, preparing to lay a righteous smack-down on the arrogant buffoon, when he stepped forward to embrace her.

"I'm sorry mister Kuno, but I cannot allow an armed civilian within striking range of Miss Chidori." said a young man who now stood between the blue-haired newcomer and Kuno, unusually tall and with odd body language, but otherwise remarkably normal looking for a Japanese high-schooler.

"What?" Kuno bellowed, "Who are you, peasant, to stand between me and my true love?"

"I am Sergeant Sousuke Sagara," Sagara said, "I am part of Miss Chidori's security detail."

"Ah, of course, "Kuno said, "Such beauty certainly could not traverse the streets safely without attracting the unwanted attention of foul vagrants and ruffians. I must warn you, good protector, that there is a Foul Sorcerer who lurks hereabouts, and lays despicable spells and enchantments upon maidens both innocent and fair, clouding their minds and judgement. There!"

Kuno whipped out his Bokken, pointing it directly at Ranma, who had been moving closer to observe how the newcomer dealt with Kuno.

"This is Ranma Saotome," Kuno roared, face and voice full of righteous indignation, "Foul bewitcher of my true loves, Akane and the Pig-tailed girl."

Ranma snorted.

"Not a word, wretch!" Kuno shouted, "I will defeat you for the sake of beautiful maidens everywhere!"

"Hi," Akane said as Ranma began attempting to pound sense, or failing that, unconsciousness, into Kuno, "I'm Tendo Akane, and don't worry too much about Kuno. He's a pervert, but if he gives you any trouble either Ranma or I can beat him to a pulp for you."

"Uh," Chidori said looking down at the slender girl who had just professed the ability to beat up a man who probably weighed twice what she did. Then she looked over at the brawl between Kuno and Ranma.

"Strike!" Kuno bellowed, lashing out with his Bokken, "Strike! Strike! Strike."

"Ptthbtbtbtbt!" Ranma said, sticking his tongue out at Kuno as he danced out of the way of each blow, apparently effortlessly.

"What the hell is going on here?" Chidori roared.

"It appears to be some form of dominance match between civilians," Sousuke helpfully informed, "Though they display unusually high levels of skill in martial arts."

"Almost everyone here at Furinkan high is a martial artist," Akane helpfully supplied, "But Ranma, Ukyou, Kuno and I are easily the best. Before Ranma showed up I had to beat through thirty or forty perverts just to get in the front door."

"Hmm," Sousuke said, "We may need to increase your security detail, Miss Chidori, this sounds like it could be hazardous."

Chidori growled, "I'm not putting up with more of you military muscle-heads following me around all day, It's taken me long enough to get used to your team, and I'm not putting up with your blond friend hitting on me and any friends I try to make all the time!"

"Miss Chidori," Sousuke began, "I assure you-"

Sousuke was cut off by the unconscious form of Kuno rocketing across the school yard towards him. Sousuke ducked, rolled, and came up in front of Chidori, weapon out and trained on Ranma.

"Nice reflexes," Ranma said nonchalantly, "You a martial artist?"

"A variety of martial arts were included in my training as a soldier," Sousuke said calmly from behind his weapon, "Humans are not capable of putting that much force behind a blow, or surviving such an impact without crushing their fist. What are you?"

Ranma grinned.

"I'm Ranma Saotome, master of the Anything Goes School of martial arts, best martial artist you'll ever meet. I can pull that kind of thing because I'm a Ki adept."

Ranma paused for a moment before looking closely at the pair of newcomers.

"Y'both seem like you're at the beginning of using Ki yourselves," he turned and leaned forward to peer more closely at Chidori, "Though I'd look out, you seem like you're mostly just channeling anger Ki, and that can be dangerous, you'll tend to get more and more angry if you use it too much."

Sousuke abruptly whipped around and fired off a trio of shots, deflecting a trio of spinning wooden projectiles, which then slammed into the ground around him and Chidori. Closer inspection revealed them to be spiked gymnastics clubs.

"OH HO HO HO!" Came the somehow mind-wrenching laugh of Kodachi Kuno, "Another vile harlot out to lure my handsome lord Ranma away from me! I'll not have it, peasants!"

"I must ask you to stand down ma'am," Sagara said, and for the first time there was a bite to his tone, "Any further armed assault on Miss Chidori will be met with lethal force."

"You would presume to command me, peasant wretch?" Kodachi said, "Kodachi Kuno, the Black Rose of Saint Hebereke's School for Girls?"

Ranma and Akane groaned.

"Another Kuno?" Chidori said, "His sister?" She asked, kicking the unconscious Tatewaki.

"Yeah," Ranma said, nodding, "She's got it for me as bad as Tatewaki has it for Akane and 'Ranko.' Give me a minute to take care of this."

Ranma leapt off towards Kodachi, whose eyes widened with glee as he approached her.

Chidori's jaw worked silently for a few seconds before she managed to shift out of mental neutral.

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?"

((()))

Ami led her mother down into the Hikawa shrine's basement, careful to be quiet on the wooden steps leading down to the de-facto Dragon's den. Her mother easily noticed and mimicked the silence, and they soon found themselves standing next to the sleeping behemoth. It was big. Outdoors last night was one thing, where there was an open sky, and there had been the mad rush to keep the creature from bleeding to death; looking at it when its prone form still reached half way or more to the ceiling was another. Ami had not yet come into her full growth, but Saeko stood at 5'2", and from where she was watching the creature breathe, its inhalations and exhalations raised and lowered its mass above and below level with her eyes.

"Did you notice about its size too?" Saeko whispered.

"Its body shouldn't be able to function at that size," Ami said, nodding, "Not with that kind of muscular and skeletal structure. It's the size of a full grown African Elephant, but the mass that goes into its wings and flight muscles, not to mention the length of tail and head, should make it much less structurally sound. We've seen it use its wings to aid a jump, but don't know if it can outright fly."

The two of them moved up around its flank, to the side where its head was tucked under its wing, and Ami activated the Mercury computer, setting it to scan the creature.

"What's this?" Saeko asked, pointing to a lumpy mass the scan had picked up around the Dragon's head, "It's too large for bruising, and there's no way a tumor could form that quickly…"

Ami frowned, then twisted her head around to get a different perspective on things. Closing her eyes and bowing her head, she groaned.

"It's Usagi," Ami said, irritation lacing her tone, "She crawled in there to comfort Dragon-san when he was crying last night, and I guess she fell asleep. Her mother is probably worried sick about her."

For about a minute, there was silence while they both studied the scan of the creature.

"Can you set this thing to scan only for non-living matter?" Saeko asked.

Ami nodded, and made the adjustment. Usagi's clothes stood out in an odd silhouette, as well as dozens of odd lumps up and down the creature's flanks and limbs, as well as a few in its neck and tail.

"What's all this?" Ami asked, frowning.

Saeko also frowned, then indicated a cluster of the lumps in the creature's right shoulder.

"Zoom in here," she said, then surveyed the cluster from the closer perspective after Ami complied.

"Those are rounds from a fifty caliber machine gun," Saeko said, distaste rich in her tone, "Somebody tried very hard to kill this creature."

"Who?" Ami asked, sorrow in her voice.

Saeko shook her head before answering.

"No way to be sure, the M2 Browning machine gun has been in manufacture since World War One, and while the American military still uses it the most, there's simply too many of them to say for sure. This creature's hide must be very tough; the fifty caliber is devastating against the human body, it didn't even get past muscle tissue here."

Saeko fell silent as she realized what that meant about how powerful the creature that fought the Dragon, and therefore her daughter also, had to be in order to inflict such damage. It was a sobering and unsettling realization for anyone, but especially for her as a mother.

"How do we get them out?" Ami asked tentatively.

"We don't," Saeko said, shaking her head again, "Not any time soon anyways, the wounds have healed over, and we'd do more damage removing them than they did going in. Scans of it while moving should show if they're impairing it in any way, but either way we'll be waiting until after it has finished healing from the lung and intestinal surgery."

Ami nodded.

"Thank you for coming to look in on him again mom," She said softly, reaching over to wrap her mother in a hug, "He didn't have to protect those people or help us, and you didn't have to help us either."

Her mother smiled down at her.

"I may not be a 'warrior of love and justice,'" Saeko said warmly, "But I am a Doctor, and I fight death off as best as I can."

For a long moment, the two simply enjoyed holding each other.

"Well," Ami said at length, "That only leads one issue to deal with."

Saeko raised an eyebrow in question.

"How to wake Usagi up…"

((()))

One week later.

Rei Hino woke to a thundering roar from the basement of the shrine. Something wasn't right; something was very, very wrong, she felt sapped, drained, like something was sucking the life energy out of her. It was, she realized with a start, exactly what was happening; something was sucking the life energy out of her, and from the faint impressions she received through her nascent spirit-sense, this was a massively wide-spread effect. The roiling mass of agitated energy beneath her, however, was anything but wide-spread; and it did not take a genius to recognize what it was.

Tumbling out of her bed, she leapt out of her open window, and charged around the side of the building just in time to see the wooden cellar doors explode outward in a burst of fire.

"Shit," she said quietly under her breath, and thinking quickly, transformed into Sailor Mars.

The Dragon surged out from the basement, eyes swiveling around to lock onto something in the distance, and it growled for a moment before crouching low. Rei took that moment to leap onto the dragon's back.

"Not without me you don't!" She shouted, and the Dragon hesitated for a moment before whipping its tail around to reposition her. The prehensile tail wrapped around her waist and lifted her over the Dragon's wing joints, to the base of its neck. Then the Dragon sprinted across the shrine yard, leapt into the air, pushed off against the wall of the shrine, and beat the air with a powerful stroke of its wings.

Rei was struck between a sense of vertigo, and a feeling of freedom, as the ground fell away from them, and successive beats of the creature's powerful wings propelled them onward and upward. It was exhilarating, flying freely through the open air nothing but the stars and sky above her, nothing but the massive creature beneath her. It was chilly, in the night sky, especially as the wing-beats accelerated and their pace picked up, so Rei leaned forward into the Dragon's neck to get partially out of the wind, and wrapped her arms tightly around it.

Sticking her face into the creature's fur, she realized for the first time just how soft it was, now that it was clean. It was soft, warm, and even on the Dragon's neck, it was long enough that she was able to bury fully half her face in it. It was a strange sensation, but then everything about the creature was strange; Ami and her mother's examination of the creature the other day made that abundantly clear, but to Rei there was something more, something different about it.

A rumble from the Dragon's throat drew her attention back to the outside world, and Rei braced herself with her rear legs, before loosing her grip with her arms, and leaning back to look about them. Tokyo Tower. The Dragon beneath her sucked in a deep inhalation, and then spat sharply. An incandescent bolt of lightning arced from somewhere within the creature's maw to a transmission dish on the tower, which in turn sprayed out a hail of brilliant sparks.

Rei immediately felt the energy drain stop, and with the drain cleared, she could suddenly sense the presence of a Yoma on the second tier of the tower.

"Dragon-san!" she shouted, prodding the side of the creature's neck, "Up there!"

Rei pointed up to where she could sense the Yoma's presence, and the Dragon ascended towards the indicated point, roaring a challenge as they ascended.

"Wretched Senshi!" a shrill voice cried, "I will not suffer you to interfere with the Dark Kingdom's plans again! Die!"

With that, a silhouette leapt down from the superstructure of Tokyo tower, sweeping down towards the Senshi and Dragon. The Dragon abruptly veered to the right, tumbling through a crude barrel roll, evading the Yoma's attack, then swinging around to face the creature. It pulled out of its dive on dark wings, bleeding of its accrued momentum to regain altitude parity with Rei and the Dragon.

The Dragon bellowed another challenge, its deep roar resonating out across the tower and nearby city. Rei joined the creature's war-cry with her own.

"Fire Soul!" she shouted, and a searing jet of flame lurched out towards the Yoma, but the shot went wild.

Rei was suddenly very aware of how little experience in firing from any sort of mobile platform she had, much less a flying Dragon. The Dragon twisted around into a sharp turn as the Yoma made another attack run

"Fire Soul!" Rei cried, aiming more carefully this time, but the shot, while closer, still missed.

Rei paused a moment to think, but another fly-by attack from the Yoma caused the Dragon to evade, the motion breaking her train of thought. For the next few minutes, Rei was simply holding on for dear life as the Dragon and Yoma moved through a bewildering series of aerial contortions. The Dragon constantly tried to maneuver to bring its enormous claws or tail to bear, periodically exhaling streams of flame when the Yoma made a run at his wings. Rei was contributing with supporting fire, and getting closer and closer to hitting, but had yet to strike the target.

Then the Yoma finally scored a hit, on the Dragon's right wing. Bellowing in outrage, the Dragon's flight faltered, and it began to fall. Rei gritted her teeth as panic welled up in her. Well, she thought, I hoped to die in a spectacular way, I guess falling from an aerial battle around Tokyo Tower while riding a Dragon counts. Mad cackles followed them as the Yoma dove after them.

"Foolish mortals!" The Yoma cried as it closed in to taunt them, "You are nothing before the power of the Dark Kingdom."

The Dragon exhaled sharply, and Rei felt the temperatures drop from unpleasantly cold to glacial. The Yoma screamed in outrage as its joints and wings stiffened up in the suddenly frigid temperatures. A fierce, feral grin lit Rei's features.

"Fire Soul!" Rei roared at the top of her lungs, and a powerful blast of flame roared out and engulfed the Yoma, lighting the screaming creature on fire. The Dragon abruptly whipped its wings about, regaining control of its flight, and slammed into the screaming, burning creature, gripping it in its fore-claws, then pulling.

The screaming cut off as a snapping sound marked the Yoma being torn in half. The Dragon roared out its victory over the creature, then tucked its wings into a sharp dive down and away from Tokyo Tower.

((()))

"That cannot be natural," Kaname Chidori said, staring at the soaked red-head in front of her.

"Damn Jusenkyo," Ranma grumbled, wringing water out of her hair.

Sousuke frowned, looking at the now-female Ranma.

"This is most disconcerting," He said, "Do other temperatures or liquids transform you into a different form?"

"Hot water'll turn me back into my normal self," Ranma said with some irritation, "But 'side from that, nothin'."

Sousuke's face assumed his 'Is this a security concern?' thoughtful expression.

"Why am I always surrounded by weirdos?" Chidori growled under her breath as she forcefully dug into her lunch.

((()))

Beryl glared at Zoicite.

"They have what amongst their forces now?"

"A Dragon, my queen, and from the way it fought, a well-trained and seasoned Battle Dragon the likes of which I have not seen since of old."

Beryl snarled.

"No wonder they have bested our forces so readily!" she raged, "I will suffer this duplicity on their part no longer!"

Standing imperiously before her throne, she glared harshly down at her generals.

"No more holding back!" She commanded, "You have twelve hours to prepare a full-out assault, Commit every Yoma we have, and bring me the Millennium Crystal at all costs!"

((()))

All across the Twenty-Four Special Wards of Tokyo, gateways of darkness opened, and Yoma poured into the massive city. There were roughly a half-dozen gates in each ward, and hundreds of Yoma came into each, rapidly fanning out through the city, demanding the location of the Millennium Crystal, and draining those who knew nothing. Police forces immediately were called in to attempt to fight, but street cops with small caliber revolvers were essentially helpless against them, and the more heavily armed riot and special-task forces were only marginally effective with their more powerful weaponry. The call for the JSDF to come in went out in less than three minutes, requests for support from nearby American forces would be rolling out in less than ten, but it would be fifteen minutes before the JSDF arrived, and twenty-five before the Americans did.

Fifteen minutes is a long time for an unarmed civilian population to face over two thousand Yoma in battle.

"THE HELL?" Kaname Chidori said, staring at the frothing horde of bestial monsters pouring across the courtyard of Furinkan high school.

The throaty roar of a large-bore automatic cannon sounded, and a brace of shells swept across the thronging mass, tearing the front ranks to shreds, and dealing considerable damage to those immediately behind as well. Feral shrieks of pain echoed about the yard.

Directly in front of the main entrance to Furinkan, a massive armored form faded into view, sweeping another line of fire across the swarm of creatures attempting to invade the school.

Kaname Chidori abruptly found herself swept of her feet and moving fast.

"My apologies miss Chidori," Sousuke said from beneath her, "But Urzu-six's M9 does not guarantee this as a viable defensive position, I will evacuate us to the roof and call for helicopter retrieval."

"But what about the other students?" Kaname asked desperately.

"We will alert as many as we can while we retreat," Sousuke said.

Another roar of gunfire sounded behind them, and more monstrous roars of pain resounded.

"HEY EVERYBODY!" Kaname screamed from Sousuke's back, "GET TO THE ROOF, SAFEST PLACE AND POSSIBLE EVACUATION!"

((()))

Yoma poured up the stairway to the Hikawa shrine, slavering in hunger for the intensely strong life force they detected within. There were at least three different sources of life energy within the shrine, all of them powerful, two to an almost absurd degree. It was an intoxicating sensation, drawing in Yoma from almost a full mile away, a maddeningly sweet odor the likes of which none of them had ever sensed before. Unbeknownst to the Yoma in Juuban, an even greater beacon of life energy flowed out from Furinkan high, but that was not the concern of the current occupants of the Hikawa shrine.

"Fire Soul!" Mars screamed, splashing a gout of fire across the rapidly rising front rank of Yoma, causing them to stumble.

By itself, the attack was not sufficient to destroy any of the Yoma, but it caused them to stumble, and being trampled by the horde behind them was enough to destroy the twisted creatures.

"Fire Soul!" Mars screamed again, and again, and again, sending jet after jet of flame down at the encroaching horde, slowly eroding it away.

'Slowly' was not enough, however, as the horde was rapidly approaching. Behind her, the dragon stood, and when Rei glanced back at it, she saw it was staring down at the horde of approaching Yoma intently, but taking no overt hostile action. Gritting her teeth against the nauseating rise of panic within her chest, Rei turned back towards the horde, continuing her barrage. She didn't know what to do; every battle before this had been her and at least one team-mate against one Yoma, and they had always, always, always won. After the Dragon had showed up, she had expected things to get even easier; after all, they had an ally that could fight the enemy physically, not just with magic, right? But there were dozens of Yoma charging her now, and none of the other Senshi were there, and the Dragon wasn't doing anything, and…

Rei desperately forced the panic back. She was a Shrine Maiden, one from a line of miko who had a history of defeating and purging demons. Even if she would die here today, she would take out as many of them as she could, and buy as many other people the opportunity to escape and survive as she could. Besides, even in Senshi form, there was no way she'd be able to outrun the creatures. Sailor Mars chose to stand and fight.

If she had either remembered her combat experience from her previous life, or had any in this life, she would have understood the concept of 'firing retreat.' The Dragon beside her, however, did. A low rumbling hiss sounded beside and behind Rei as the Yoma swarm crossed the final distance to the Hikawa shrine entrance. Rei was too focused on trying to target accurately through her tears to be consciously aware of it, but she, and every other intelligent creature within line of sight was eminently aware of what came next.

With a screaming roar, a blazing torrent of fire ripped free of the Dragon's throat, pouring down the walkway and washing over the near portion of the approaching Yoma. Bestial screams of pain and rage emanated from the blaze, but the Dragon did not wait to hear them out, choosing instead to snap its tail forward, wrapping it around Sailor Mars waist, and leapt into the air over the blazing mass of writhing monster-flesh. Rei, her mind too overwhelmed by warring terror and relief to do much else, simply continued to fire blasts of flame into the swarm of Yoma below as the Dragon soared up and away from the mass.

((()))

'Panicked' was not a strong enough word for Usagi Tsukino's current state of mind. 'Utterly paralyzed with terror' was more appropriate. The cause was the eviscerated corpse of her mother in the room behind her.

"Attack!" Ami commanded sharply, and Sailor Moon's wrist flashed out, sending her tiara scything into a trio of Yoma, slaying one and injuring two, before it swung back around to her hand.

Where Sailor Moon stood, simply staring at the gold adornment, mind shut down to all but the most basic of functions. Beside her, Sailor Mercury launched a bolt of ice at the wounded Yoma, dispatching one and inspiring the other to retreat into the freezing fog pervading the apartment building's corridor. Behind them, Saeko Mizuno was working desperately to keep Shingo's punctured lung from killing the boy. It looked pretty bleak for the boy, as Saeko had little more than two first aid kits to work with.

Usagi's hands trembled as they clutched the tiara held between them. Blood. So much blood. And what was worse, so much of it wasn't even red, it was black, and green, and it had noodles mixed into it, why was there food in momma's blood? Usagi was noisily sick, repeatedly, again and again and again, until every last shred of food was voided from her stomach. She had always rather liked Ramen, but to Usagi it was now the most utterly repulsive food in existence.

((()))

At the Tendo Dojo, things were ugly. A bleeding Panda was forcibly crushing a Yoma's skull, while an armored Soun Tendo danced like a cat, powerful, sure strokes of his sword cutting the abominations down as they assaulted the family's house. Soun's armor was battered, but between his Ki-reinforcing techniques, and the fact that it was fundamentally well-made armor, it had yet to be pierced. Unfortunately, there were over a dozen Yoma on the property, and only two of them to defend Kasumi, who was nowhere near the caliber of combatant necessary to be anything more than cannon fodder to the Yoma.

In fact, if Soun weren't so busy fighting for his and his daughter's life, he would have been gaping at Kasumi, as she hummed to herself while working the oven and portioning out flour for some purpose or another. After the pair were driven back into the kitchen, the battle waged for a good three minutes, the balance of power resting on a razor's edge, skill and experience on one side, brute force and durability on the other. Unfortunately, the two warriors were unable to maintain tactical control of the kitchen and survive, and after slaying seven of the beasts, were forced away from Kasumi, who ignored their pleas to leave the stove.

"Oh my," Kasumi said, staring at a trio of Yoma from her position beside the oven, "It isn't very polite, coming over uninvited and damaging my kitchen like this."

The Yoma grinned ferally at her, and the largest one reach out with its claws. Kasumi flipped the oven door open, which had heated to over two hundred degrees Celsius in the time she had available to heat it. As the door opened, it also dragged out an odd construction of coffee filters, flour, a few unusual spices, and pulled the spray assembly off the cap of a can of cooking spray. The pressurized contents of the spray blasted the flour and spices out in a fine spray of airborne particles, and after a fraction of a second, the contents of the can also made contact with the heating element if the oven, igniting, then carrying the combustion reaction across the air to the expanding cloud of flour and spice.

BOOM.

A thunderous detonation leapt out of the oven, smashing into the trio of Yoma in front of Kasumi, and blasting them into the crowd assaulting Genma across the kitchen. The Yoma, inexperienced combat mooks that they were, flinched, some of them stopping to stare. Genma and Soun capitalized on their mistake, and within thirty seconds the last of the Yoma were slain.

"Oh my," Kasumi said, inspecting her scorched dress, "I'm afraid I may have used too much Cayenne."

Genma and Soun stared.

((()))

Makoto, sitting amongst the reeds and flowers, petting a purring Luna on her lap, watched as the planes flew in and out of Tokyo International Airport. Sometimes, she felt the need to escape from Usagi and Rei's personality conflicts; sometimes it took traveling all the way to the Tamegawa River's outlet into Tokyo bay to feel she was truly out of range. Still, there was a peaceful balance, here amongst the plants of the earth, watching the water flow, as the large craft plied the air, with a happy kitty on her lap. That Luna made good company when she felt talkative was a bonus.

Her peace was shattered, however, when one of the aircraft she was watching was beset by flying Yoma, and pitched downward, crashing into the Tamegawa river just before it would have landed had it held its course. It was a horrifically violent thing, uncontrolled and wild, the right wing of the large jet being torn clean off, the body splitting open as it collided with the surface of the water, baggage and passengers, some still attached to their seats, flying out into the cold waters below. For a moment, Makoto was frozen in shock.

Then she kicked into mental high-gear, and rushed towards the wreck.

"Don't forget to transform!" Luna shouted from behind her.

((()))

"The Queen has isolated the region within which the Crystal resides," Zoicite said, looking down at Tokyo from over a thousand meters of altitude.

"Do we have enough energy for a barrier?" Kunzite asked.

"Yes," Nephrite said, "Though the Dragon may be able to breach it."

"If it does, we can simply ambush it after it has expended itself in the effort," Kunzite replied.

"What of the Senshi?" Nephrite returned, "Saturn could easily destroy the barrier, and the other Outer Senshi combined may be capable as well."

"They do not appear to have awakened," Zoicite said, shaking his head, "And if Saturn has, we cannot hope to triumph regardless of what tactics we employ.

"Agreed," Kunzite said, "We shall cordon off the immediate region and find the Ginzuishi."

"Agreed," Zoicite said, nodding his head.

"Agreed," Nephrite said, and the three disappeared.

((()))

Around and across Tokyo, the JSDF began moving into the city, deploying infantry by helicopter, and moving up mechanized infantry and armor. The US Army and Marine forces on leave based around Hardy Barracks were recalled promptly, and due to the time of day were reasonably sober and conscious. The USS George Washington went on alert in the bay, and began prepping helicopters for transport and close fire support. The 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Airbase began to scramble assets, especially their medical support units to deal with wounded from heavy urban fighting in a non-evacuated population center.

Military units began pouring into Tokyo, scrambled at the company and regiment level as higher ranking officers tried desperately to pull together a coherent picture of the situation on the ground in the special wards of Tokyo. Wounded were already rolling into the hospitals all across the ward by the hundreds, and no one had any idea of the fatality count.

((()))

A thundering roar and crash disrupted Ami's thought patterns as the building shuddered slightly behind her. They had been pushed back into the Tsukino parent's bedroom, as it was the largest room with only a single entry point from the rest of the apartment. Shingo was in stable but critical condition, perilously low on blood, and Ami's mother was trying to figure out how to help her embattled daughter. Usagi was in even worse mental shape; not really surprising considering she was now trapped in a room with her mother's corpse.

A blast of chill air washed over the room, causing all the occupants save Ami to shiver. Saeko quickly but carefully moved her body up against Shingo, attempting to protect him from the cold with her own body heat. Violent smashing, tearing, and ripping sounds resounded from the corridor, then a wash of heat swept over the room, then another, and there was silence nearby.

"Whaaa?" came a familiar, but dazed voice from outside the room.

To Ami, all that really mattered was that it was a blatantly human, female voice.

"Meatball head?" Rei asked, stepping into the room in her guise as Sailor Mars.

Usagi didn't even twitch in response to the hated nickname.

"Rei!" Ami called out in relief, "Thank goodness! How did you get here?"

The Dragon stuck its head into the room, pushing Rei farther into the room in the process, and answering Ami's question without a word being spoken. It looked around briefly, before retracting its head and moving away.

Rei looked terrible, her hair and face were a mess, she had clearly been crying a great deal recently, and riding a Dragon across Juuban probably hadn't helped anything.

"Did something happen?" Ami asked Rei softly, moving up and tentatively putting one of her hands on the taller girl's shoulder.

Rei shook her head violently, wrapping her arms around herself and curling inward.

"Nothing happened," she said, her voice trembling, "But kami, there were dozens of Yoma, and we were so close to dying…"

Usagi burst into sobs again, distracting Ami and Rei.

"What happened to her?" Rei asked quietly.

"Her mother," Ami whispered, gesturing to the blood-soaked sheet covering a human-shaped outline beside the bed.

Rei went deathly pale.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the Dragon roared again, drawing the attention of the Senshi. Ami followed Rei out into the apartment's living room, where the Dragon was thrashing around in a wrestling match with a massive and over-muscled Yoma. Physically the monster was nowhere near as large as the Dragon, but the low ceiling and tight quarters, as well as its supernaturally enhanced strength put it somewhere around on par with the Dragon for wrestling ability.

For several seconds the Senshi simply watched as the two creatures thrashed around the apartment, until the Yoma made the mistake of attempting to pin the Dragon while it was belly-up. The Dragon was able to bring all four of its legs into play, wrapping them around the creature, then craning its neck around and inhaling deeply.

With a powerful exhalation, it spat out a small gout of flame, barely singeing the Yoma's head. The creature redoubled its efforts to escape, and the Dragon whipped its head around to face Rei, and started growling at her. It took several tries for it to articulate the sound in a vaguely understandable manner.

"Fahr s-s-houl," It growled out finally, and Rei jumped slightly.

"Fire Soul!" she screamed forcefully, and an intense lance of flame lashed out at the Yoma, scorching its exposed abdomen.

The creature screamed, but the flame failed to pierce its thick hide. Mars roared in rage and frustration.

"Fire Soul!" she screamed, "Fire Soul! Fire Soul! Fire-raaaAAGH!"

Rei devolved into inarticulate screams of rage, as she hurled bolt after bolt of flame at the creature, abbreviating, and finally doing away with the incantation altogether as she swung her arms back and forth, drowning the creature in flame until its screams stopped. Once the screaming stopped, she realized Ami was desperately trying to pull her back.

"Stop Rei, please!" Mercury pleaded, "You'll kill the Dragon too!"

A satisfied growl sounded from the flaming mass that was overtaking the living room, and the Dragon rolled upright amid the flames, standing and shaking off burning debris. Mercury immediately whipped out her computer and began a scan of the Dragon, studying the condition of its body.

"Ami!" Saeko yelled from the bedroom, "We're going to have smoke inhalation problems in here in a minute or two!"

"Shabon Spray!" Ami shouted, and a cool fog washed over the living room, but was rapidly driven off by the growing flames.

"No good!" Rei said, "We'll have to leave!"

"Shingo's injured!" Ami shouted over the rising roar of the flames.

Rei turned and ran into the room.

"No way he's moving without a stretcher," Saeko said, "I've barely stopped enough of his bleeding to stabilize him."

Moving its head into the room, the Dragon looked around briefly before tearing the frame off the door, and then squeezing itself into the bedroom. It briefly looked at the various occupants, while the various occupants looked at it, and then gently picked up Mars with one hand/paw to place her beside Saeko and Shingo, then moved Mercury and Moon as well. Moon, still sobbing quietly, latched onto the Dragon's fore-paw and refused to let go. All the conscious people in the room stared at Moon for a few moments, and in doing so all except the Dragon missed its deep inhalation; none of them missed the exhalation.

A vibrant cascade of color and something washed over them, washing away fatigue, aches, and abrasions. All of them were aware of it to some degree, but Moon in particular was suddenly struck by the fact that the creature was very alive, and right next to her. Her sobbing trailed off into silent tears, but she clung all the more tightly to the Dragon's forelimb.

All of them felt more alive. A paw and a tail quickly came about, lifting all the living humans in the room onto the Dragon's back, one by one, though it took a moment to convince Usagi to cling to the Dragon's neck instead of his paw. Partially unfurling his wings, the Dragon covered his passengers with them, then squeezed back into the burning living room.

"Dragon-san," Ami asked, "What are you-"

The Dragon lunged forward, smashing through the broad floor-to-ceiling living room windows, then opened his wings and dove towards the earth.

((()))

"Captain," One of the bridge crew said, "We're detecting some odd energy emissions across the city."

"Let me see," Teletha Testarossa said immediately, and the tech relayed the relevant information to one of the displays attached to the captain's chair.

For a long moment, she studied the waveform of the detected energy, then her eyes narrowed, and she manipulated the display, bringing up a map of Tokyo and overlaying the emission points.

"I want us in Tokyo Bay now," She said with uncharacteristic sharpness, "I don't care if you have to break every navigational law and remove every safety on the reactor and drives. Maximum possible speed into Tokyo bay."

The Tuatha De Daanan's powerful drives rumbled to life.

((()))

Minako had been hoping for some vacation time when she came to Tokyo. Her airplane hadn't even landed before she was under attack by the Dark Kingdom, and this did nothing for her mood.

Tearing a few Yoma apart, and meeting another Senshi before she even finished rescuing the plane's passengers, on the other hand, perked her up considerably.

She just made careful sure not to let Artemis or the new Senshi see her cry when she realized she wouldn't have to fight alone anymore.

((()))

"Bruce, they're coming again!" A male voice shouted in English.

"Roger!" an impossibly deep voice boomed through the appliance store, and the trio of battered Japanese police officers watched as the immense muscle-bound American named Bruce, well over two meters tall, picked up another refrigerator, and turned towards the storefront.

A screaming shrieking quartet of monsters blitzed into the store.

"UP YOURS, YA TROLLS!" Bruce roared, and charged down the aisle of appliances towards the advancing creatures.

They charged directly for him, too bloodthirsty, or possibly just too stupid to understand the principles of inertia. Roaring inarticulately, the huge American crashed into the small swarm of Yoma, bowling them over, and crushing two of them beneath the refrigerator. The impact and crushing force involved would have killed a human instantly, but the Yoma were much more durable than a regular human. Bruce was not finished though.

"Got you, assholes!" The first male voice shouted, and a quartet of men armed with metal pipes and large knives leapt over the rows of appliances, attacking the other two Yoma.

Bruce, roaring in fury, raised the fridge again, and then smashed it down on the pair he had bowled over. And again. And again. And again. Eventually, the Yoma stopped thrashing. Calming slowly, Bruce turned his attention to his compatriots, only three of whom were standing.

"Denzel bought it," The first man said, wiping dark ichor off of his face, and nodding towards a bloody body beneath a pile of Yoma-ash "Took a claw through the chest, held the sucker in place long enough for me to gut it. Toivola's got a dislocated shoulder."

Bruce nodded, and moved to help the named man re-set the joint.

"Puuri!" The first man shouted towards the back of the store, "How much longer for the next batch?"

"Three more minutes, Larson," Puuri shouted down the stairwell, "Two dozen this time, found another janitor's closet."

Larson nodded, and began cleaning his knife.

"Wh-who are you people?" One of the injured police officers managed to ask in broken English.

"Michigan State Militia," Larson answered, turning to face the diminutive Japanese man with a fierce smile, "Upper Peninsula Branch. Call us the Billy Goats Gruff."

((()))

The main entrance to Kokuritsugan Hospital was all but deserted, the glass in doors and windows to the main atrium shattered. Air currents stirred large mounds of dust that littered the lobby, unheeded by the single man standing resolutely in the center of the large room. Of the three passages leading from the atrium further into the hospital interior, two were blocked, and the third was manned by a half-dozen armed men. Within the atrium, however, the man stood alone.

Sniffing wetly, a vaguely canine Yoma moved around the entrance of the hospital, sniffing at the stairs and ramp leading up to the door, and at the door itself. After some time, it snorted, and then moved off.

The man remained, watching.

((()))

"Sitrep," Demanded US Army lieutenant George Tasks as he walked into the rapidly-assembling command center at Hardy Barracks.

"Total FUBAR sir," A second lieutenant with 'Higgs' on his fatigues said, "We've got first-hand witness accounts, live and recorded footage, and skirmishes with damned monsters on the streets of Tokyo."

Tasks blinked for a moment, then forced his mind back into gear.

"Show me," He said, and Higgs gestured to an NCO who was stationed at a computer terminal attached to a still being-set-up projector.

Tasks and Higgs moved around to see the screen, and the Corporal pulled up a video file and began playback. Screams sounded out of the computer's speakers, the panicked screams of a crowd fleeing that Tasks was quite familiar with, the pained shrieks that sounded through the screams were more disturbing to him than the screams themselves. The visual was the jerking, horrible mess of something filmed by an inexperienced cameraman on the run, but that only lasted for a couple of seconds before they reached the meat of the footage.

Tasks glanced at the progress bar of the video, then the NCO's name tag, Ojst. The man had adroitly skipped a half minute of apparently irrelevant footage; Tasks like to keep his eye out for competence.

On the screen, the individual taking the footage, apparently a rather portly Japanese young man, fell to the back of the crowd, and his camera, no doubt a home hobbyist model judging by the grainy picture, gained a jittery but clear view of what was driving the crowd. A swarm of perversely feminine monstrosities were driving the crowd, lashing out with inhumanely strong limbs to grab members of the crowd, then holding them for a few seconds, after which the civilians went limp and were discarded, leaving the creatures to move on to new targets. One of the new targets was the camera man, and like many of the Japanese George had met, the man was obsessive enough about his gadgetry, and out of touch enough with reality, that rather than struggle to break free, he brought the camera around to face the creature that had captured him.

The face was a disturbing mixture of human and monstrosity, but the expression was pure monster, much as Tasks had seen on many human faces before. Malice, taking pleasure from exerting power of others, and crushing them beneath one's own power. Task's jaw clenched in anger as the camera dropped with its wielder, and then Ojst stopped the feed.

"Nothing but a shot of the sky after that, sir," Ojst said, looking up at Tasks.

Tasks nodded.

"Who is in command?" Tasks asked, looking around the command post.

"Right now," Higgs said, "You. The Major was off-base when this started, and one of the enemy insertion points was right on top of the hotel he was at. We haven't heard anything from him. The Colonel is inbound from Okinawa, but we don't have an ETA yet."

"Hell of a time to get caught with the brass away," Tasks said, "How long until we've got a tac-map up?"

"Now sir," One of the techs said, and one of the projectors came online, displaying a map of the greater Tokyo area.

"Give me a spread of confirmed enemy contact in red, suspected in yellow," Tasks ordered.

Over four dozen red points on the map, with more than twice that in yellow.

"Oh hell," Tasks said.

((()))

A frothing horde of Yoma charged the gates of the Imperial Palace, their simple minds expecting another easy meal from the humans they sensed massing at the gates. Although not particularly large or on the whole terribly heavily armed, the JSDF did not take the Emperor's protection lightly. Four separate heavy machine gun positions opened up on the Yoma as they closed to within fifty meters.

Eighty-seven Yoma were cut down without ever reaching the gate; nothing but dust, ash, and spent ammunition remained of the foolhardy assault attempt.

((()))

A handful of winged Yoma moved to attack the massive ship that was easing out of its dock into Tokyo bay. The Phalanx Block 1B Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) fires 20mm rounds with a muzzle velocity of 1,100 meters per second at a rate of up to 4,500 rounds per minute, or 75 rounds per second. These rounds are either Armor Piercing (AP) Tungsten Penetrator rounds, or depleted Uranium with discarding sabots, which are effective at ranges over 3.5 kilometers. The USS George Washington, a Nimitz Class Super-carrier massing over 100,000 tons, mounts three Phalanx CIWS to combat surface-skimming and other ship-killer missiles, as well as other possible threats.

Four bursts of 20mm rounds were fired when the Yoma closed within a kilometer; the heavy weapons fire blew the Yoma apart in a violent explosion of gore, before dissolving to dust and scattering on the wind.

((()))

Ranma snarled in rage, an extremely unusual mood for him in a fight, but present now nonetheless. These, these monsters were sucking the ki right out of people! It was disgusting! Revolting! Ranma suddenly found himself inanely wishing he was better with book learning, so he knew more words to throw at the creatures. Another screaming monstrosity leapt up over the edge of the school roof, and Ranma rammed his fist through its chest, then hurled the gurgling creature at another attempting to take the roof ten meters over.

Across from him, Sousuke's pistol cracked repeatedly in precisely timed three-shot groups. At the stairwell entrance to his right Kuno spouted off dramatic-sounding defiance of 'demons imitating fair forms' as he systematically beat down the monsters trying to storm the stairwell. To his left, Ukyo stood watching over her own section of fence like a hawk. At the center of the roof, the entire student population of Furinkan high was clustered around the war-machine that was taking out any stragglers that got past Sousuke or Ukyo.

Including many injured students.

Including Akane, passed out and still bleeding slowly from where her right arm had been severed between her shoulder and elbow.

Ranma snarled in rage again, leaping up onto the fence at the edge of the roof, and loosed a stream of Ki blasts into the throng of Yoma below. Unlike his more common Ki blasts, the Moko Takibasha were tinged heavily with red, reflecting his rage. Ranma was going to find out who was responsible for this atrocity, he was going to find them even if he had to track them to the ends of the earth.

There would be blood for this.

((()))

"Sir!" came a half-panicked shout from the entrance to the command tent, "You need to see this!"

Dropping what was in his hands, Tasks immediately strode out of the tent, and looked where the private at the tent's entrance indicated. Instincts kicked in, and he automatically fell into an at-ease position as he looked up into the shrouded sky; best not to let his subordinates see that he was shocked beyond rational comprehension. Then he shifted mental gears and accepted that this engagement was going to play as much by the laws of fantasy as of cold, hard, science, and brought his more creative aspect into play.

There was a hemispherical dome of light forming overhead, of a deep pink-gray coloration; it was of substantial size, reaching several thousand meters in altitude. Judging by rate of expansion, it would finish closing in less than three minutes. Tasks stormed back into the command tent.

"Get me a direct line to USJF command, now."

((()))

Angling for speed, two final flights of American helicopters attempted to make it into Tokyo before the dome finished forming. One was carrying heavy munitions and ammo for small arms, as requisitioned by the currently on-site CO, the other was carrying another load of medical supplies. Each flight was formed of 3 Chinook CH-47D helicopters, and capable of carrying something on the order of 21 tons of cargo each.

That's a lot of grenades.

It's also a hell of a lot of explosives to be carrying when you're moving at almost 240 kilometers per hour, into potentially hostile airspace, with unknown hostiles present. Fortunately, this group of pilots had been specifically selected for their rather aggressive natures. Technically, they were gunship pilots, and were only qualified to pilot the Chinook's because of a pissing match between them and the Chinook's usual pilots about which chopper was harder to handle, a gunship or a cargo helicopter. Neither side had been willing to admit defeat, but both had ended up qualified on the other's aircraft; hence the gunship pilots flying into combat with the usual pilots riding in the co-pilot's seats.

They were not sure when, or even if, they would be leaving the city, after all. Of necessity, the helicopters were coming in high, as the lower perimeter of the pink-gray dome had already formed. Fortunately, the high-performance machines were able to enter the dome before it fully closed; unfortunately, this made them extremely obvious targets. Two score monstrosities with wings began rising up from the city below to attack them. Considering that their mode of propulsion was organic wings, normally the creatures would never have been fast enough to pose a threat, however there were a couple problems. First, the Chinooks had to decelerate in order to approach their landing zone. Second, these particular creatures were either stupid enough, or confident enough in their own durability, to try to ram the Chinooks head on.

Considering the placement of the cockpit on a Chinook, or pretty much any helicopter, that was a bit of a problem for the pilots. As a result, the 6 Chinooks quickly found themselves embroiled in a strange dogfight with the creatures, waist-mounted machine-guns and light aviation armor pitted against supernatural strength and durability. On the whole, it was a mess, the Yoma gradually eroding the choppers armor and body work, the American gunners shaving down the Yoma's numbers, and attempting to keep them off the chopper's hulls.

Then the pilots decided to drop altitude to reduce the Yoma's maneuvering room, trying to mitigate one of the few advantages the smaller creatures had, by moving in amongst the buildings of Tokyo. Considering the massive span of the Chinook's rotors, main thoroughfares were the only 'canyons' amongst the urban jungle broad enough to host a Chinook flying through, but, as hoped, it did cut down on the Yoma's maneuverability.

Then a Dragon burst out of one of the apartment blocks in a hail of glass and flame. The lead Chinook pilot hauled back on his control yoke and forward on the main rotors' throttle, decelerating and gaining altitude to pop up over the interloping creature. Gouts of flame began to leap from the Dragon's back, and the next Chinook's gunners pivoted around to face the Dragon.

"Hold fire!" The Chinook's co-pilot shouted, "It's targeting the beasts!"

The gunners promptly switched their attentions back towards the flying Yoma attacking them, and their flying convoy picked up a new member.

((()))

"Who dares to defy the Dark Kingdom?" Kunzite demanded as he stared down at the horde of students huddled together on the school's roof.

Standing on air over Furinkan High, his cape billowing in the evening wind, imperious sneer firmly affixed on his face, he drew the eye of every man, woman, and child within earshot. That was, of course, entirely the point; Dark Generals were nothing if not over-dramatic.

The type of attention he drew, however, was not quite what he expected.

"I am Ranma Saotome, of the Anything Goes school of Martial Arts," A young man declared in a glacially cold tone, "I dare. Are you responsible for this butchery?"

"I am Kunzite," Kunzite declared, sneering down at the boy. "Dark General in service to Beryl, Queen of the Dark Kingdom. It is upon her orders that I and the other Dark Generals scour this pathetic city of-urk."

Kunzite had not even seen the man-child move. He was simply there, his right hand around the Dark General's throat, his grip like a steel voice, applying the maximum possible force to Kunzite's throat without killing him outright. The eyes, the eyes, colder than Kunzite had ever seen even his Queen's, harder than granite, as implacable-

Ranma spoke, cutting off Kunzite's suddenly frantic thoughts.

"You," Ranma said harshly, "Are a monster. And I kill monsters. I have killed a god. You are nothing."

Kunzite tried to speak, to say something in response, but Ranma's grip on his throat was so tight the Dark General could not even gurgle, much less form coherent words.

Then Ranma squeezed, strength capable of smashing through reinforced concrete crushing the Shittenou's throat like so much ground brief, severing his head from his body. A flash or rage leaked through Ranma's repression with Soul of Ice, and he slammed a Ki-enhanced punch into the man's head before his brain had realized he was dead, crushing the head like an egg and spattering it across the schoolyard below.

As Ranma pushed off the Dark General's now-falling corpse and dropped back to Furinkan's roof, the rest of the student body stared, realizing for the first time in a very long time just how deadly Nerima's premier martial artist could be, if he ever decided to stop pulling punches.

The Yoma fled.

((()))

"Sir, I could name for you a half-dozen different scenarios that might fit this scenario," Tasks said, "All of them containing an element that would be considered either directly out of Science or Fantasy Fiction, and none that would fit common logic of how the world functions today."

"That's why we are concerned about you, Lieutenant," The voice from the other side of the communication line said, "There've been concerns about how in-touch with reality you are since your days in ROTC."

"It you have somebody else available sir," Tasks said, "I'd be happy to defer to someone else with more experience and qualifications, but Captains West and Jordan are pinned down in Nagano and Adachi wards."

"Sir!" one of the comm techs said, and Tasks shifted his attention to look over at the man, "We've got a transmission from a 'Captain Testarossa,' checks out with security protocol as an ally."

"One moment, sir," Tasks said, and nodded to the tech.

"This is Captain Testarossa of the Tuatha De Danaan," A focused female voice said, "Do not attempt to cross the raising barrier, it is the product of Black Technology, and will ward transport of living matter, energy transmission, as well as more advanced articles of technology, such as nuclear reactors, or Lambda-driven hardware."

"This is Lieutenant Tasks, ma'am," Tasks said, "Currently in command of US ground forces in Tokyo, what's Mithril?"

"Customarily classified to Colonel-level or higher by US armed forces," Testarossa said, "We'll send you a brief. Short-term, we'll be deploying Arm-Slaves and infantry assets with limited air support to Nerima ward. We have personnel on the ground there, and should be able to handle the trans-dimensional incursions there. We'll keep you informed. Testarossa out."

"Sorry about that sir," Tasks said, "Apparently an organization called Mithril will be deploying to Nerima, under the command of Captain Testarossa."

"Damn cowboys," The officer on the other end of the line said, to Tasks shock, "Testarossa especially. Little girls fighting a man's war."

"Sir?" Tasks asked.

"She's only-" The other officer began in anger.

"Sir!" An NCO shouted, bursting into the command tent, "You need to see this!"

"Excuse me sir," Tasks said, lowering the handset and following the NCO out of the tent.

Once outside, he looked where the NCO indicated, and saw a flight of Chinooks approaching low over the city. A flight of Chinooks being swarmed by a myriad of flying creatures that were strongly reminiscent of Harpies. Several of the Chinooks had large holes in their hull, and one was trailing smoke from its rear engine, as well as moving more sluggishly than the rest. Within a few seconds, however, the helicopters were within range of small-arms fire from the base's defensive perimeter, and a torrent of hot lead began cutting the 'harpies' out of the sky. As they approached, it became clear that one of the organic fliers was carrying humans on board, with jets of flame and occasionally ice lashing out at the other organic fliers. A couple of infantrymen suffered from brain lock, but for most of them their training and discipline was sufficient to keep them firing at the encroaching attackers.

Then the Chinooks were over the base, and massed fire from practically every man on the base eliminated all remaining hostiles. For a moment, Tasks was worried that falling body-parts from the attackers would present a hazard to his men, but the dying creatures simply dissolved into dust and ash, and were blasted away by the powerful downdraft and eddies of the Chinook's rotors. The massive helicopters began maneuvering to land at the Helipads, while the Dragon looked around for a moment, before locking eyes with Tasks, and diving down to an earth-jarring landing directly in front of the Lieutenant.

"What the hell was that Soldier?" The officer on the other side of the comm shouted, apparently having been rerouted to the command tent's PA in order to get his attention.

"The last flight of Chinooks has arrived," Tasks said calmly, raising the comm back to his mouth, "Under assault by some form of Harpy-like creature, and escorted by a Dragon carrying Japanese civilians."

"Dammit Tasks!" The officer shouted, "That's it, I'm relieving you, and taking personal command of this, get the hell-"

The transmission cut off.

Tasks looked up.

The Dome had finished forming overhead.

"It would seem," The Dragon said in an improbably deep rumbling voice, "That your immediate superior is a fool."

Tasks looked up at the creature.

"I do not know what code you live by," The Dragon rumbled, looking down at Tasks, "But by the code I live, it is better to serve honorably, than surrender to the whims of a deluded fool."

Tasks closed his eyes, and clenched his jaw, spending a long moment in deep thought, before opening his eyes again and meeting the Dragon's gaze. Something passed between the two, then Tasks nodded, and turned back to the command tent.

"I am considering General Graham's order that I be relieved as unlawful due to his lack of comprehension of the situation and clear lack of self-control at the time the order was given," Tasks stated, staring at the largely motionless staff in the command tent, "Does anyone care to contest this?"

No one spoke, and Tasks nodded sharply and marched back into the command tent.

"We've got a war to fight, let's get to it."

The Dragon grinned fiercely, then began looking around for medical facilities.

"You can talk English?" Ami asked hesitantly from the creature's back.

"Yes," The Dragon rumbled, "I wish that I had known you could."

((()))

AN: For those of you who track more than just one of my stories, I should be moving back to Dragon Summoning next; I did get some work on Cameron's Legacy done, but I'm not ready to post it yet. I've sorted out the rest of Dragon Summoning's plot arc, a process which reminded me *why* I generally don't make a full project out of something before I know how I intend the story to actually end.