Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma 1/2 or Sailor Moon in any way, shape or form. All associated characters, trademarks, etc. are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and Naoko Takeuchi. I'm just telling some stories about them.
Author's Note: Sorry about the delay on getting this chapter out. On the plus side, part of the reason it took so long was that I ended up re-working where the chapter boundaries fell to try and get a better flow... the upshot being that I already have the next chapter very nearly done already as well, since I ended this one in a different place than originally planned due to sizing issues. So it shouldn't be anywhere near as long a wait for the next one to be ready.
(Oh, and just FYI, a couple reviewers mentioned to me that they didn't get any alerts from this site for the last chapter update, so if you've been following just based on those it might be worth a quick check to make sure Chapter Four didn't slip by.)
With that said, hope you enjoy!
Chapter Five: The Opening Moves
When Usagi awoke early the next morning, she felt barely rested at all. Sleep had not come easily, and even once she had managed to fall into slumber it had been fitful and uneasy, filled with shadowy, half-remembered dreams.
Stifling a yawn, the groggy seventeen-year-old pulled herself into a sitting position. It wasn't usual for her to be awake this early, but something told her that she wouldn't be able to get back to sleep again. Instead she turned to look out the nearby window, at the early, rose-colored flickers of dawn starting to creep over the rooftops. Bringing with them the day of their scheduled battle.
The blonde girl looked down toward the foot of her bed, where Luna had been curled up sleeping. With a prick of guilt, she realized that her stirring had woken the small cat. "Sorry," she said, matching the whisper that Luna had used. "I was just... thinking."
Luna padded up the length of the bed, sitting down next to Usagi and looking up at her young charge. "About the fight?"
Usagi nodded. She'd been trying to decide how she would handle it. Ranma's brainwashed servants were the easiest part; they'd seen with their own eyes yesterday that the Silver Moon Crystal Power Kiss could free them from whatever magic was enslaving them. One way or another, she had to do that much. Accepting his challenge was worth it just for the chance to do so.
But what then? How many of the six fighters Ranma was fielding would be like that, and how many would be like the Dark Lord himself, trying to conquer the Earth of their own free will? With him, there didn't seem to have been any corruptive outside influence for her powers to purify. It was his own desires that were leading him down this path.
They would have to stop him somehow. She knew that. But Usagi was determined to find a way to do it without anyone dying. Maybe once they stripped him of his supporters they might be able to concentrate their efforts and bring him down using one of their non-lethal attacks?
She sighed. Ami was so much better at this kind of strategizing than she was. She'd have to ask the blue-haired girl if she had any ideas for capturing their opponent alive when they met up again.
And if worst came to worst... there was always the Ginzuisho.
Those kinds of thoughts chased each other back and forth through Usagi's mind, with no solid conclusions presenting themselves. They were suddenly interrupted, however, by the feel of a paw placed atop her hand. The young princess looked down at Luna, who was looking back up at her with a concerned expression. "Don't worry so much, Usagi. We've been through worse than this. I'm sure everything will work out."
Usagi smiled, reaching over with her other hand to pet Luna's head affectionately. "Thanks," she said. "I'm sure it will too."
"All right," Ranma said, using one knuckle to rap the piece of paper that he'd laid out on the Tendo's living room table. "This is how we're gonna play it."
Gathered around that table, and the paper resting on it, was everyone who had shown up in response to the formal challenge Ranma had issued to the Sailor Senshi—a larger group than before. Ryouga was sitting on the opposite side of the table from Ranma, his arms crossed as he studied the diagram on the paper, which was upside down for him. Akane, Shampoo, Ukyo and Beneda all sat around the table on either side. Konatsu looked on from just over Ukyo's shoulder, while Mousse and Kuno each leaned against nearby walls.
It was a good turnout. Response had been quick when Ranma had come back with the news that the Sailor Senshi had flatly refused to believe his explanation, that they still considered "the Dark Lords of Nerima" to be their enemies, and that it would all be settled today in a face-off. Even those that weren't on the Senshi's list yet, like Mousse, had been more than willing to pitch in to help their friends who were.
Besides, all of them enjoyed a good scrap. This was, after all, their usual method of resolving disputes like these to begin with.
Ryouga scrutinized the diagram Ranma had sketched, but his examination didn't reveal much. His rival had just drawn very rough, cartoonish versions of the faces of the various magical warriors opposing them. The pigtailed fighter had broken them down into groups, each group of faces having its own row.
The topmost row, which seemed to correspond to the highest threat in Ranma's mind, consisted of the two talking cats. Or at least, Ryouga assumed it was them. The lost boy didn't remember them having quite so many fangs, or such a demonic expression, but who was he to criticize Ranma's artistic vision?
"So the most important ones to take care of from the start are these... things," Ranma told them, his finger stabbing down on that first row. "Konatsu, that's your job. I want you to stake out the Moon girl's house. Watch her, so we'll know if they're trying anything funny. And then you'll be in the perfect position to grab the little monsters right off. Stuff 'em in a bag or something, and then get back to the main fight as fast as you can."
"Of course, Ranma," was the ninja's eager-to-please reply.
"Good," the pigtailed fighter said, a distinct note of relief in his voice. "Now the next most dangerous one is her." He pointed to the next row down, which consisted of a single face, this one identifiable mainly by the buns and pigtails Ranma had drawn on either side of her head. "We don't even really know everything she's capable of, and what we do know is pretty crazy. Hell, when she was throwing down with Metallia I couldn't even get close to them, and that was without them realizing I was even there."
"And you think we can beat someone who can do that?" asked Mousse skeptically, a skepticism that Ryouga shared.
"Well... depends," Ranma hedged. "I mean, not if she went all out, but we don't know what it'd take to make her do that. Anyway, there's no reason to risk that in the first place... not when we've got a way better secret weapon to use against her instead."
Akane's expression became a puzzled frown. "Secret weapon? What secret weapon are you talking about?"
Ranma's grin widened as he looked back at his fiancée. "Actually... you."
The youngest Tendo blinked. "Me?"
"All of you." Ranma waved his hand across Ukyo, Shampoo and Akane. "Remember, for some reason they think I like to brainwash girls into my servants, and the whole thing with Kodachi just 'proved' it to them. So if you guys are fighting them then they aren't going to be trying to kill you to begin with. They'll just be trying to hit you with that Moon girl's magic fix-you-up beam..."
"...which won't actually do anything to us even if it does hit," finished Ukyo, understanding now.
"And that isn't even the best part," Ranma continued. "That healing attack of hers? It isn't quick, and she's a sitting duck while she's trying to get it ready. Kodachi managed to land a hit on her while she was charging it up, and I'm sure any of you could pull it off too. That's what we aim for. Go after Sailor Moon with the girls she wants to save, and go for a quick knockout while she's trying to do her thing."
Ryouga nodded, while silently noting a nuance to the plan that Ranma had not mentioned. This method of dealing with Sailor Moon also allowed Akane and the other girls to contribute in a role that was both inarguably crucial... but at the same time almost completely safe. The lost boy was pretty sure that had been a deliberate part of Ranma's planning.
"Using their own compassion against them," Ukyo remarked. "That's a pretty nasty trick."
Ranma shrugged helplessly. "Hey, I tried to tell them you guys weren't brainwashed! It's not my fault if they don't believe me, and it comes back to bite 'em in the ass."
"And what about the rest of the Senshi?" asked Mousse. "I assume that we'll be handling them?"
"Right," agreed Ranma, pointing to the next row down, which had six faces on it, one with a top hat and one notably smaller than the others. "They'll probably be trying to run interference for Sailor Moon, so the rest of us will have to keep them busy to give the girls their shot. Just try to draw their fire as much as you can. Heck, we don't even really want to beat any of her friends until Sailor Moon is out cold first—just to be on the safe side."
"Don't forget about the Outer Senshi," warned Beneda. "I know they weren't part of the seven-on-six challenge that you made, but I very much doubt that they'll just sit this out."
"Right." Ranma indicated the final row, this one with only two faces on it, one with short hair, the other with hair a bit longer. "We'll have to have someone ready to stop them if they try to interfere."
Ryouga's eyes gravitated to the short-haired drawing, mentally superimposing it with his memory of the Senshi in question holding a sword to the throat of a trembling Beneda. "Sailor Uranus is mine," he announced, his tone brooking no dissent.
Shampoo, meanwhile, was studying the diagram Ranma had sketched out, a look of slight puzzlement on her face. "Shampoo have question," she said, moving her finger across the different faces as she spoke. "Plan is for dealing with Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Tuxedo-man and Mini-moon-girl... but is more planets than just that. If 'Outer Senshi' is being problem, then what about Saturn? Pluto?"
At that, Beneda spoke up. "No," she said, shaking her head. "You don't need to worry about either of those. Even if Sailor Pluto were still alive today, she wouldn't involve herself in matters like these. According to the youma legends, she had some kind of... special purpose, or mission that she'd been assigned. No one knew what that was, but whatever it was, she never left it, or involved herself in battles like this one."
"And Sailor Saturn?" asked Ukyo.
The youma laughed a humorless laugh. "Sailor Saturn... the legends about her are the ones that we'd tell young youma if we wanted to scare them within an inch of their lives. She was the Senshi of Ruin and Rebirth, the wielder of the Silence Glaive. But she wasn't active, not even back during the time of the Moon Kingdom."
"Why not?" asked Ryouga, curious.
"Because she wasn't a normal Sailor Senshi," Beneda explained. "She was a weapon of last resort, born only into times of untold calamity. Her normal destructive strength was immense; there are tales of her obliterating entire fortresses at once, or toppling mountains with a single blast. But even that was like nothing at all compared to her true power."
"What was that?" asked Akane, sounding a little nervous herself.
"Death," replied the youma, her voice flat. "She held power over death, and could invoke it at will. She could cleanse an entire planet of life if she desired, just as easily as you or I might snap our fingers."
Then Beneda sighed. "But using that power would kill her as well. That's why you don't need to worry about Sailor Saturn showing up. She would never even appear unless such desperate measures were soon to be necessary... and even if that had happened, she wouldn't survive whatever crisis she was born to end."
Ryouga frowned. What an awful destiny to have... he thought. And worse, for something like that to rest on the shoulders of a young girl, like one of those Senshi? The thought didn't sit well with him. But aloud, all he said was: "Okay. So it'll just be these nine at most that we have to deal with."
"Yes," agreed Beneda. "And a good thing, too. All this is crazy enough as it is. But if Sailor Saturn were involved it would be nothing short of suicide."
Tomoe Hotaru glanced up from her breakfast as her father, Tomoe Souichi, entered the room. The tall, white-haired man looked down at her kindly, before moving over to sit across the table from her, pouring a bowl of cereal to match her own. "Good morning," he said, as he began to eat. "You're up early."
"I wanted to be sure I had everything ready," Hotaru explained. "Did you work things out with the school about my absence?"
"Yes," Souichi said. "I told them that you needed some time to recuperate from a relapse of the health problems that were causing your seizures. You've been excused from classes indefinitely."
"Thank you." The slender, dark-haired girl regretted the need for the deception, but she knew that it was necessary. "I left a note for you with the phone number of Haruka and Michiru's house if you need to reach me."
Her father nodded, a sad smile on his face. "You won't mind if I call you now and then to see how you're doing?" he asked. "It'll be very lonely around here without you."
Hotaru felt a twinge in her chest. "Hopefully I shouldn't be gone very long," she said hurriedly, trying to reassure him. "From what Setsuna told me this doesn't seem quite as... involved as last time. I may only be over there a few days."
"That's good," replied Professor Tomoe. "I hope it does end quickly. I... worry about you, when you're gone like that."
The young girl bowed her head, not meeting her parent's eyes. She hadn't told him any specifics about why Setsuna was calling her away again. That was Outer Senshi business, not something that civilians should be involved in. Safer for everyone that way.
Except that, unlike the families of the other Sailor Senshi, her father had seen something of the supernatural events surrounding his daughter. True, he didn't specifically remember the time he'd spent possessed by the Daimon Germatoid, creator of all the other Daimons. But he still knew that his daughter—who had reverted back to an infant following the battle against Pharaoh 90 at Mugen Academy—had suddenly grown back into a teenage girl again in a matter of weeks.
Which was a rather hard secret to keep from one's father.
Hotaru had given him a brief explanation for the change, and he had accepted it quietly, not pressuring her for more. There were times, usually after she noticed her father staring out a window at nothing, a haunted look on his face, when she wondered whether or not her explanation had called back some fleeting memory of his time as the leader of the Death Busters... and of what he had tried to do to her back then.
She hoped not. There was no need for him to relive that pain and guilt. Germatoid was destroyed, she was free of Mistress Nine's possession, and Pharaoh 90 had been defeated once and for all. She had her real father back, the one who loved her. That was all that mattered.
And yet... when she looked at the weary set of his shoulders, slightly stooped, as though under a burden she could not see, she wondered what buried guilt still lay beneath the surface, eating away at him. And what, if anything, she could do to help release him from it.
The jangling ring of their telephone interrupted her thoughts, and being the closest, she hopped up from the table to answer it. "Hello?"
"Hotaru." The voice on the other end was instantly recognizable.
"Setsuna," the young girl replied. "My father has worked things out for my absence. I can join the rest of the Outer Senshi whenever you want."
"Good," was Setsuna's response. "But there has been a new development. I've spoken with Chibi-Usa, and these 'Dark Lords' have made their move. They've challenged the Inner Senshi to a seven-against-six fight at noon today, and the Inner Senshi have accepted."
Hotaru's eyebrows went up. "What are we going to do?"
"We let them play this out," replied the Senshi of Time. "Long enough to draw the enemy in, at least. But I want the Outer Senshi on hand to intervene if the fight starts to go badly. Usagi's agreement with them notwithstanding."
"...I agree." It made her stomach sour, going behind Usagi's back and against her wishes like this. But Hotaru owed Usagi and Chibi-Usa everything, and she was determined to do whatever it took to keep them safe. Even if it did mean breaking the agreement they had made, at least it would be herself who would be at fault for that—not either of them. "What can I do?"
"The battle is taking place at an abandoned warehouse," Setsuna explained. "The four of us will meet there ahead of time and stake it out. Then, if our assistance is required, we will be on hand to crush these Dark Lords once and for all."
"So tell us, Doctor Metzger..." asked Kazuo, looking across the small group consisting of Metzger, Zhang and Ekim, all of whom were seated in his personal office overlooking the city. "What have you learned about the next clash between this Ranma and the Sailor Senshi?"
The elderly German cleared his throat. "I've instructed that all pertinent intelligence reports be delivered to the Janus Project, and I told the interrogators to push as hard as they could for the information," he told the rest of them. "According to their reports, there will be two battles taking place today involving the Sailor Senshi. One in an abandoned warehouse in Nerima, the other closer to the Juuban area."
"Interesting," Kazuo said. "Which of the two will Sailor Moon be taking part in?"
"The warehouse, as best we can determine," answered Metzger. "But sir... there's one other thing of which you should be aware. From what Project Janus has told us... it seems as though Sailor Saturn will be involved today as well."
That caused Kazuo's eyebrows to go up. "They're using her?" he remarked. "They must be treating this as a serious threat. She isn't a resource they deploy for small problems."
"It certainly has been a rare occurrence from what we've observed," agreed the doctor.
"But isn't that also a chance for us?" asked Zhang, leaning forward, a predator's gleam in his eyes. "Think about it. Sailor Saturn. In her transformed state, fighting in a location we know ahead of time. That's not a chance that comes along every day."
Kazuo stroked his chin in thought. "A good point," he said at length. "I hadn't planned on making any further attempts until we'd gotten Unit Zero more stable, but you're right. A chance at Sailor Saturn is rare enough—and her abilities dangerous enough—that we should at least be ready in case the opportunity presents itself."
He turned back to Doctor Metzger. "I want a full squad of Asura-class Synths deployed to the area where Sailor Saturn will be fighting," he said. "Include a Wraith-class for scouting and transport as well. They should stay hidden, but be ready to strike should the situation warrant."
Then Kazuo spoke to Zhang. "Meanwhile, I want you to be the spotter for the test run of Unit Zero," he told the Chinese assassin. "Go to this warehouse, and observe the battle taking place there. If you see an opening that will allow us to conduct the test without drawing suspicion on ourselves, signal us."
Zhang replied with a small bow. "Of course, sir."
Kazuo leaned back in his chair, his mouth quirking up into a small smile as he did so. He had to admit, he was enjoying this development. A new player in the game, a completely unexpected wrinkle in his plans that he had to adjust for and find new ways to turn to his advantage. And a fellow martial artist, no less. By all accounts this 'Ranma' was an amazing prodigy, a true genius of a fighter.
Very intriguing indeed... mused Kazuo. I wonder how much of a challenge he could give me...
With the early-morning meeting of the Nerima contingent finished, there was little for Ryouga to do but sit on the backyard porch of the Tendo home and wait until it was time to head out on his task. He resisted the urge to pace. That might have helped to assuage his growing impatience... but it could also end up with him in Aomori, which was not something they could afford right now.
The lost boy glanced back over his shoulder. "Oh! Hey Beneda," he said, brightening at the sight of his friend. She was in her youma form at the moment, and she walked around to sit down next to him.
"You know, with all the crazy things going on since you got back, we never took the time to just catch up," she said, a note of concern in her voice. "How have you been doing? Anything new happening?"
The lost boy shrugged. "Not much. I found a job working at a construction site that I managed to hold for a little longer than usual before I got lost again." He paused, then sighed, figuring he might as well answer the question he knew she wasn't asking. "And no, I didn't get so depressed over hearing that Akari is... engaged... that I broke my promise to you guys and started practicing the Tora no Seishin again. Good grief, I'm not that fragile!"
Beneda's response was a look of slight embarrassment, but mostly relief. "Sorry. We were just worried about you. Disappearing for so long right after you heard the news..."
"Yeah, Ranma asked me the same thing right when I got back," Ryouga said. "But I wouldn't do anything that stupid. Really. I've... gotten over all that. Honest."
"That's good," said the youma, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Then she smirked. "Don't tell Ranma, though. He might get it into his head to try and play matchmaker again."
Ryouga shuddered. There had been a period of time—back when his depression over Akari forgetting about him had been far greater—where Ranma had taken it upon himself to "help" by orchestrating a series of dates designed to help Ryouga find someone new. The list had included Ukyo, Akane's friend Sayuri, and even Beneda herself.
With Beneda it had at least been pleasant, if a bit awkward; neither of them really thought of the other in that way. Besides, he knew from their conversations when he'd gone to her for advice with Akane, and later Akari, that she had developed that kind of romantic attraction toward Doctor Tofu. Ukyo, on the other hand, had spent the better part of their "date" trying to convince him that no, he really did still have a shot at Akane, that they'd be perfect for each other if he'd only get his act together. And Sayuri...
He'd actually gone on several such dates with Sayuri before she'd finally admitted that—while she'd been willing to give it a try as a favor to Akane—she wanted more out of a relationship than a guy who would only ever be around for two or three times a month, on the occasions when he managed to find his way back.
"...yeah," Ryouga agreed. Right now, he didn't even want to deal with that sort of thing. It had hurt him too often and too badly. He just wanted to concentrate on more important matters, like helping his friends get out of this latest mess. "Anyway, how's work at the clinic going?"
Beneda shrugged. "Same as always. I'm learning a lot, and business is good. Just... so long as Kasumi doesn't come over, in which case I have to get all the patients outside as quick as I can before the Doctor... well, you know how he gets."
The lost boy gave Beneda a sympathetic look, hearing the despondent tone in the youma's voice as she spoke of her oblivious rival. "You haven't talked to Doctor Tofu yet? About how you feel?"
"No. I can't." She stared down at the ground, chewing on her lower lip as she fidgeted. "That's a violation of human customs, right? A teacher getting involved with his student? I read something about that in one of the medical ethics books that he gave me. What if I ask him, and it hurts things between us?"
"So you're going to wait until you finish your training before you say anything?" asked Ryouga. "That's... dangerous, with Kasumi in the picture. If he manages to get his feelings across one of these days without completely freaking out, who knows what might happen?"
"I know!" Beneda sighed, her shoulders slumping. "It's all so confusing, trying to do it the human way, without accidentally screwing it all up one way or the other. It wasn't anything like this back in the Dark Kingdom."
"Well, don't let it get you down," suggested Ryouga, trying his best to be encouraging. "I'm sure it'll work out in the end. Honestly, I don't think it would be a problem to at least talk to him about it. Even if he doesn't want to go for it right now, I don't think it'd hurt anything between you. He'd probably understand."
Beneda didn't look too terribly convinced, but she offered back a small smile regardless. "Thanks," she said. "I'll... think about it."
Ryouga would have inquired further into how she was doing, but it was at that moment when Ukyo walked around the corner of the house and into view. "Oh, there you are," she said. "Are you ready to head out? We're going to have to leave soon if we want to make sure we can catch the Outer Senshi if they head for the warehouse."
The okonomiyaki chef didn't sound overly thrilled about the mission. Ryouga knew that she'd have much rather been fighting right alongside Ranma than him, but he needed someone to go with him to make sure he didn't get lost, and if the Outer Senshi were indeed more powerful and ruthless than the Inner Senshi then it needed to be someone who could defend herself pretty well. They'd eventually decided on Ukyo, who had grudgingly accepted.
"Where are we headed?" Ryouga asked, as he rose to his feet. Not that the answer would mean much to him, but he felt as though it ought to be asked regardless.
"Well, it's better if we stop those two before they complicate Ranchan's showdown," Ukyo said. "And I'm pretty sure that 'Sailor Uranus' and 'Sailor Neptune' are the same two that visited my restaurant before they attacked Beneda. The address they gave me after they saw Beneda was a phony, but I still had their phone number from some calls we did earlier in the week, so I checked some telephone books for the Minato Ward area. Eventually I found a 'Tenoh Haruka' living at the same address as a 'Michiru Kaioh'."
The lost boy nodded in approval. "So we catch them there?"
"A lot better than letting them butt in while Ranma is hashing things out with the other Senshi, I'd say," was Ukyo's response. "But we should probably hurry."
"Fine by me. Let's go." Ryouga turned back to Beneda. "You sit tight here. We'll be back as soon as we take care of this."
Ryouga had done his best to be reassuring, but he could tell from her expression that Beneda was still worried. "Just... be careful," she urged him.
"I will," he promised. "Don't worry. They won't even scratch me."
Setsuna had told her to meet at the warehouse a half hour before the appointed time of the battle, and Hotaru had allowed herself extra time on top of that to make sure she found the place without any problems, leaving her father's house with plenty of time to spare. She'd taken the subway into Nerima Ward, then took a bus, before finally making her way on foot to her destination. All things considered she arrived a good ten minutes before even Setsuna's request, still in her civilian form in the interests of keeping a low profile.
At least the Dark Lords hadn't arrived yet—or at least, they didn't seem to be there. The fifteen-year-old girl searched the large wooden building with her gaze, trying to find any signs of movement, but all she could see was lifeless and deserted.
"Ah, good. You're here."
Despite herself, Hotaru couldn't entirely suppress the startled "eep!" that escaped her lips, as she jumped a little and whirled around to face the fuku-clad form of Sailor Pluto. The green-haired woman had come up behind her completely undetected.
"None of our opponents have shown themselves yet," continued the older woman, and Hotaru wondered how long she had been observing this place. "But stay alert. There's no telling when they could arrive. We should head inside and take up positions."
The two Senshi walked across the open area surrounding the warehouse, entering through a door that had been left partially open. Once inside, Sailor Saturn quickly realized why the place had been chosen as a battleground. The cavernous building was filled with old crates, stacked into piles of various heights that were scattered across the warehouse floor. Several wooden catwalks ran overhead, both crossing the room as well as running around its perimeter. Sunlight filtered in through numerous cracks in the wall, casting long shafts of light in the dust that hung in the air.
Hotaru looked over at the other Senshi. "Should we find a hiding place so they don't see us?"
"That won't be necessary." Jumping up to a position on an out-of-the-way pile of crates from which she could survey most of the room, Sailor Pluto held her Garnet Rod out in front of her and intoned the words "Dead Field." The heart on the end of the staff glowed, the space around her distorted for several seconds, and then she winked out of Hotaru's sight as though she had never been there.
The young girl climbed up onto that pile of crates herself, approaching tentatively. Once she came within about five feet of where she had last seen Sailor Pluto, the other Senshi was suddenly visible again. "This will allow us to watch the battle unfold without being observed ourselves," stated the Senshi of Time. "It will erase us from all senses and spectrums of perception. Not even Sailor Mercury's visor will be able to detect us within this level of protection."
Which reminded Hotaru anew that what they were doing was going behind the backs of Usagi and the other Inners. Her gaze lowered to the ground, but all she said aloud was: "Then I suppose I should transform too. To be ready for whatever happens."
Sailor Pluto nodded. "We need to be alert for both the enemy, and for Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, whenever they arrive," she said. Then she gave a slight frown. "In fact... knowing those two, I would have expected them to have arrived by now as well."
The remark caused Hotaru some concern as well, but she tried to put the best face on it she could. "Well... maybe something came up?"
As it happened, Haruka and Michiru had made a similar decision to Hotaru's, leaving early so as to be sure of arriving well in advance of the scheduled meeting. Their plan, like hers, had been to take the subway, so they were still in civilian form as they prepared to leave the house that they shared. "So, what do you make of all this business?" Haruka asked, as they walked downstairs.
"It seems fairly straightforward," replied Michiru. "For all his magic and extra-dimensional origin this Ranma seems like an ordinary conqueror or despot. There's no indication of any greater power backing him like there was with the Death Busters."
Haruka nodded. "Yes, he seems mortal enough," she said. "My only worry is whether the princess will be willing to take advantage of that."
"It doesn't matter," was Michiru's response. "Yes, we both know she won't want to kill him. And she shouldn't have to dirty her hands with anything like that. She isn't even supposed to be fighting on the front lines in the first place—even though she always does. We're supposed to be the ones protecting her."
"Even from herself," agreed Haruka. Usagi might not agree with it, but the two of them were willing to use whatever measures were necessary to defend the world. That was the role of the Outer Senshi, and they were entirely committed to it.
The two of them reached the main hallway, and there put on their shoes before exiting out to the street beyond. "Let's hurry," Michiru said. "We need to get to the station in time... to... catch..."
Her voice trailed off, her face suddenly going pale. Haruka turned to see what it was that had shaken her, and once she saw, her face turned a similar hue.
There, standing between them and their destination were Ryouga and Ukyo. The bandanna-wearing fighter was leaning back against a nearby telephone pole, arms crossed, while the okonomiyaki chef was sitting crouched on the other side of the street. As the two approached she rose to her feet, a grim smile on her face. "Going somewhere?"
Haruka's fists clenched, her knuckles whitening. She had been afraid of this, afraid that their enemies might connect "Michiru Kaioh" and "Tenoh Haruka" with the Sailor Senshi who had shown up so soon after. As the days had gone by without any attack she had allowed herself to hope that they hadn't figured it out, but it seemed that hope had been in vain after all. Both their secret identities had been revealed.
"Ukyo," said Michiru, her voice tight. "I appreciate this follow-up visit... but after giving it some careful consideration we've decided not to go with your restaurant for our party's catering. I hope you'll understand."
The chef's smirk widened slightly. "Actually," she said. "We're here about a different party. This one's going on in a warehouse, and it's one you're not invited to. So you've got two choices. Either you stay put and let Ranma and the other Senshi have their showdown like they agreed..."
"...or you try to interfere," spoke up Ryouga, his tone leaving little doubt as to which option he'd prefer they take. "And we have our own showdown right here, before the main event."
Haruka glanced around. Fortunately, the street was deserted at the moment, giving the Senshi a bit more freedom if they acted quickly. "Here or there, we're going to take you all down anyway," she told the Dark Lord as she reached into her pocket, pulling out her transformation pen. "Let's see how well you do when you're not using a sneak attack."
"Fine by me." Ryouga began to crack his knuckles but otherwise waited for them to transform. Haruka and Michiru both raised their transformation pens in response, reciting the activation phrases as they did so.
"Uranus Crystal Power, Make Up!"
"Neptune Crystal Power, Make Up!"
Haruka felt the magic take hold of her, her normal clothes dissolving away as it did so. She spun, the pen in her hand swinging around her in a circle, its path tracing a circle of orange energy on the ground below. Once complete it flared up around her, her white leotard forming as the magic coursed around her. The blue collar, blue skirt and yellow bow formed moments later, and then her transformation was complete, and she stood as Sailor Uranus against the opponents facing them.
Or rather, the opponent facing them. Ukyo still looked ready to fight, but Ryouga had spun away, his back now toward them, clutching at his nose with both hands as though to stem an enormous nosebleed. "Wh-wh-what are you thinking?" he stammered, his face burning red. "D-d-don't you realize that you're completely...? I mean, while you're turning into...? Couldn't you have just...?" He continued to splutter incoherently, while Ukyo's response was just to slam her palm into her forehead in aggravation.
Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune exchanged disbelieving glances, thrown by his reaction. Of all the characteristics they might have expected from an evil overlord, this level of flustered modesty was not one of them. Such gentlemanly foes weren't common at all. It was almost enough to make Sailor Uranus feel guilty about taking the perfect shot that it offered her.
Crackling orange energy gathered in her hand, which she slammed down into the pavement at her feet. From there it plowed through the ground toward the Dark Lord, gathering speed as it went. In moments it burst back up into the air, now a glowing sphere of destructive force. Ryouga spun back around just in time for his eyes to widen as it plowed into him head-on, blasting him backward through the telephone pole he had just been leaning against, then through the brick wall around the yard behind that, then through the house wall behind that, which crumbled down in ruins around him.
With him taken care of, the two Senshi turned their attention to the remaining opponent. Ukyo, however, seemed surprisingly undismayed by the turn of events. She simply sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose in vexation. "Idiot," they heard her mutter under her breath, before glancing over and calling out in a loud voice. "You totally deserved that, you know. Taking your eyes off your opponent."
The pile of rubble shifted, and then to Sailor Uranus's surprise Ryouga pulled himself back out of it. He gave a pained wince as he did so, and used one hand to wipe a small trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth, but he otherwise seemed to have survived the World Shaking intact. What is this guy made out of? the Senshi wondered.
He glowered at her, cracking his neck back and forth, any embarrassment from their transformation entirely out of his system now. A furious, flame-like aura began to build around him, growing so hot that it was sweltering even from this distance. "All right," he said, as he began to advance on her. "My turn."
In the privacy of her room, Akane pulled the fabric of her gi around her and tied it in place, her fingers moving with the unconscious ease of years of practice. It had seemed appropriate to wear, considering the formal nature of the challenge she was about to participate in. Soon the belt was synched tight around her waist, and she felt at least somewhat ready for what was to come.
"Akane look good," came a quiet voice from behind her.
The Tendo girl gave a startled jump, whirling halfway around before she managed to get herself back under control—but by then, of course, it was far too late to deny Shampoo the satisfaction. The Chinese girl was standing by the window, which she had opened and entered without Akane either hearing or sensing her presence. "...at least, Akane looking better than last time we do this."
The Tendo girl rolled her eyes. "That's not very hard. I'm surprised you didn't drag out those old costumes from somewhere and try to get me to wear that ridiculous mask and robe again."
The corner of Shampoo's lips quirked upward in a small smile. "Shampoo did consider it."
The reminiscence hung in the air between the two for a moment, before the Chinese girl spoke again. "Shampoo surprised that Akane not argue for Shampoo to be the one going with lost boy to fight Outer Senshi."
Akane raised her eyebrows a little. "Why?"
"Akane know why," was Shampoo's flat retort, looking at her rival with a piercing stare.
"You mean, because of what you warned me about at our last fight?" Akane asked. "That you might need to kill me one day?"
"Is not even question of 'kill' in battle like this!" snapped Shampoo, agitation in her voice. "Akane have any idea how easy thing it is to just let Akane die if fight go bad? For Ranma plan, need to work together, and is common sense to only fight alongside someone can trust!"
Now it was Akane's turn to give a wan little smile. She walked over to Shampoo and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Then it's fine," she said, softly but firmly. "Because I do trust you. There isn't anyone else that I'd rather have watching my back."
Shampoo jerked back at the words, as though they had stung her. "Then Akane is idiot!" she retorted, her fists clenching. "Akane stupid trust get Akane killed!"
"We'll see," responded Akane. "But I'm not going to push you away because of something like this. And I don't think you're going to betray me. We've been through too much together for me to believe that now."
The Chinese girl looked away, the muscles of her jaw working silently. When she finally spoke, it was in a strained voice. "Shampoo may not have choice."
"We always have a choice," was Akane's quiet reply. "And... whatever choice you feel you need to make in this mess... it's not going to change the fact that I consider you a friend."
Spatulas hissed through the air as Ukyo hurled them with machine-gun-like speed, tracing Sailor Neptune's path as the green-haired Senshi's ducking, weaving sprint turned into a headlong dive over the hood of a nearby parked car and into cover behind it. The vehicle's windows shattered and its metal body warped under Ukyo's barrage, but it shielded the Senshi long enough for her to reply.
A flash of greenish light outlined the ruined vehicle from behind, and then Sailor Neptune stood back into view, releasing a blast of magic from her palms with a cry of "Deep Submerge!"
The watery sphere bore down on Ukyo, growing in size as it came, crashing waves forming in its wake. Rather than try to dodge away, the okonomiyaki chef launched herself into a sprint directly toward it, then at the last instant twisted herself into a low slide along the ground.
The Deep Submerge shot overhead, clearing her body by mere inches, its arcane energies making her skin crawl even as the waves trailing it slammed into her. But she burst through them, soaked but intact, her slide bringing her right up to the car that her opponent was using for defense.
Ukyo whipped the giant spatula off her back and spun it in a single smooth motion underneath the car. Then she wrenched it upward, sending the vehicle flipping through the air like it was one of her okonomiyaki. Sailor Neptune's eyes bulged as what had moments ago been her shield suddenly became a two-ton projectile on a collision course with her face.
The Senshi ducked frantically, the car spinning overhead to land behind her in a crash of tortured metal. Ukyo was already pressing the attack, swinging her spatula back down in an overhead strike. But it was blocked, when in a glow of green light, something that looked like a hand mirror appeared in the Senshi's grasp. The magical warrior raised it to intercept Ukyo's strike and the two weapons clashed together, the mirror's edge grinding against the neck of the battle spatula.
For a moment the two young women strained against each other, their eyes and weapons both locked, testing each other's strength. Then Sailor Neptune angled her weapon so that its reflective face was now pointed directly at Ukyo. The okonomiyaki chef could see the image of her own face reflected clearly there... but only for a moment, as its face began to glow with magical power. "Submarine..."
Ukyo ducked low, while at the same time twirling her spatula to come up underneath the charging weapon and knock it skyward, as the Senshi released her attack with a shout of "...Reflection!" A wide beam burst from the mirror, just barely missing the martial artist, who used the opening to spin and drive the hilt of her weapon into the Senshi's stomach, lifting her off her feet and sending her flying backward. But Sailor Neptune managed to twist with the blow, shifting the point of impact so that it wasn't nearly as damaging as Ukyo had hoped. The Senshi landed on her feet, grimacing a little but still ready to fight.
With the lull in her own duel, Ukyo listened for a moment to the crashes, explosions and other sounds of combat coming from the other end of the street, where the duel between Ryouga and Sailor Uranus had drifted. She wasn't worried about him; if she could hold her own against her opponent then she doubted the lost boy was having much trouble with his. Still, she wanted to win conclusively before he finished up there and came to offer any unnecessary help.
It was then that Sailor Neptune raise her mirror once again. Ukyo's hand shot out in response, grabbing a bunch of spatula-shurikens from her bandolier and hurling them, aiming to either disarm the Senshi of her weapon or force her to move it to avoid the attack. Ukyo herself was already charging in, the fierce battle reigniting.
"Space Sword Blaster!"
Panting for breath and clutching at her aching side with her free hand, Sailor Uranus swung her sword in a rapid flurry of blows, each strike sending a slash of golden energy scything down the length of the street toward the oncoming Dark Lord. Ryouga, however, leapt for the rooftop to her left, running along it as the Senshi spun to send more slashes up after him.
The Senshi gritted her teeth and continued her assault, but for all her attempts she couldn't hit him. Then Ryouga made his counterattack, pulling a bandanna from around his head as he ran. The piece of cloth straightened in his hands, becoming rigid, and he hurled it down through a gap in her barrage with a cry of "Nuno Bakusai Tenketsu!"
The bandanna embedded in the ground right at her feet, whereupon the concrete exploded, blasting her through the air. She struggled to bring her end-over-end trajectory under control, but before she could, Ryouga dove down from the rooftops like a striking hawk, hitting her with a punch that slammed her back to earth. Her back carved a shallow trench through the street as she skidded to the other side.
Pushing back the pain, Sailor Uranus rolled unsteadily to her feet, stumbling for balance. Her open palm shot skyward, calling her power to it once more. "World—"
But the Dark Lord was on her before she could cast it down into the earth, his hand grabbing hold of her wrist, stopping the attack cold. Sailor Uranus used her other arm in an attempt to eviscerate him with the Space Sword, thrusting it up into his stomach, but Ryouga caught that wrist as well with his other hand. Then he yanked with both arms, wrenching her toward him in a crashing head butt.
Sailor Uranus' vision exploded into white, her knees wobbling beneath her as she fought to hang onto consciousness. She felt, rather than saw, the follow-up kick slam into her rib cage from the side, lifting her off her feet and sending her flying down the length of the street to land in an uncontrolled tumble.
Slowly, shakily, she managed to pull herself up to her hands and knees, lifting her head to look in the direction she'd come from. Ryouga hadn't moved, simply standing there, arms crossed, that raging aura still blazing around him. "So tell me," he bit out as he glared down at her. "How does it feel to point that sword at someone who can actually fight back? Not so fun when you aren't threatening someone weaker than you, is it?"
Sailor Uranus blinked, confused for a moment before realizing what the Dark Lord was talking about. Wait... that youma? she thought, shaking her head in an attempt to clear it. That was why he was so angry?
With an effort, the Senshi pulled herself back into a standing position, looking her opponent straight in the eye. She'd lost her grip on the Space Sword when he'd head butted her, but she raised her hand and re-summoned it to her grasp in a flash of orange light, holding it in a guard position in front of her. "I don't care whether an enemy is weaker than I am, or stronger than I am," she told him. "I don't care what my duty requires me to do, or what it costs me. I only care about defending this planet and the ones I care about from anyone who would endanger them. And right now, that means you."
Her words seemed to give Ryouga pause, and he looked at her with a measuring gaze for several long moments. She met that gaze without flinching, even though she knew full well that with the pounding she'd already taken, she didn't have much chance left of surviving the next few seconds.
Eventually, the Dark Lord gave a grudging nod. "All right... not just a bully then, I guess," he admitted, and Sailor Uranus saw the aura surrounding him reduce to a low simmer. "Anyway. Let's finish this. Unless you want to just turn off your transformation and surrender now."
Sailor Uranus spat to one side, an eloquent expression of what she thought of his offer. She then raised her sword, channeling her power to it one more time, even as Ryouga gathered himself in preparation for his decisive attack.
As the explosive tempura flakes detonated beneath her, Sailor Neptune leaped backward for the rooftops, her mirror glowing green with gathering power as she soared. Ukyo, in response, produced a half-dozen thick ropes of intertwined noodles from somewhere and hurled them up after her. They snaked toward Sailor Neptune from every direction, twisting unnaturally through the air as though they had a mind of their own.
The Senshi unleashed her Submarine Reflection, the pale beam ripping through three of the noodle ropes that were aiming for her neck, and forcing Ukyo to dive headlong to the left as the attack carved a trench through the street. But just before she reached the rooftop she felt one of the remaining ropes coil around her ankle. Then there was a sickening lurch as she was yanked off-course, Ukyo swinging her overhead and then back earthward with all of her might. Sailor Neptune let out a short cry as she was slammed flat on her back, the concrete around her shattering from the impact.
Ukyo immediately launched herself in pursuit, bearing down on her prone foe with superhuman speed, her giant spatula upraised. But Sailor Neptune rolled to the side at the last second, and the young chef's downward slash only struck the crater that the Senshi's body had made. And in her eagerness, Ukyo had overextended herself. Sailor Neptune retaliated, hooking one of her feet behind her opponent's ankle to brace it and kicking out with the other, driving her high heel into Ukyo's knee joint as hard as she could.
The okonomiyaki chef screamed in pain and raised her spatula to strike again, but before she could Sailor Neptune kicked out once more, this time catching her opponent square in the torso. Ukyo went flying away while Sailor Neptune rolled back to her feet, leveling her mirror toward where Ukyo had landed.
Before she could fire, the chef slammed a small packet into the ground, and the entire area was filled with an explosion of flour, cloaking that entire area in a white haze. Sailor Neptune gathered her magic and began to unleash Submarine Reflection after Submarine Reflection into the fog, but none of them seemed as though they were connecting. Her suspicions were confirmed when over a dozen small spatulas spun out of the flour cloud, homing in on her like a swarm of insects.
I don't have time to keep fighting blind like this! the Senshi realized as she dived into a roll to avoid the shuriken. I have to finish her so I can go help Sailor Uranus. She knew she'd gained an advantage with that hit to Ukyo's knee; it had to have slowed the other girl significantly. Then again, Sailor Neptune was not in the best condition herself, between the two-story slam and the other hits she'd taken earlier.
The Senshi stopped using the Deep Aqua Mirror to fire, and instead tilted it so that it reflected the area shrouded by the flour to her. The surface glowed green momentarily, and once that glow faded, the ancient artifact began to reflect the truth of what lay within that haze to her, displaying a wispy, glowing figure that showed the location of her foe.
Ukyo was on the move, not staying in any one place for too long. But she was limping, as Sailor Neptune had suspected. The Senshi raised her free hand, gathering another sphere of watery magic there, while her brilliant mind calculated the angles from the reflection to determine exactly where to aim. She had the advantage of surprise now, her opponent unaware that the cover she was relying on was no longer protecting her.
The magical attack shot directly toward Ukyo, who with her injured leg had no chance to dodge in time. All she managed was to swing her giant spatula up in front of her as a shield. The Deep Submerge hit her spatula, blasting it back into her, and in turn blasting her down the length of the street to land in a crumpled heap, her weapon tumbling from her hands.
Sailor Neptune hurried over to where Ukyo lay, her mirror ready to fire at any sign of movement. The aches and pains from the beating she had taken up to this point were hurting even worse, now that the immediate rush of battle was no longer there to distract her. Still, she reached her fallen foe quickly, confirming that she was out cold.
For a moment, the Senshi considered whether it would be better just to finish Ukyo off right there and then, to make absolutely sure she wouldn't rejoin the fight later on. It wasn't an idea she liked, and she could imagine Usagi's horror at the death of a girl who had been her friend, and was probably just brainwashed into joining this fight. And really, how much of a threat would she even be at this point. But it would be the safest course of action...
Sailor Neptune hesitated, torn... until her internal conflict was suddenly interrupted by someone tapping her shoulder from behind. She whirled around, and her eyes bulged at the sight of Ryouga standing there impassively.
She tried to leap away, but the Dark Lord was already attacking, and between the element of surprise and all the damage she'd taken in the previous fight she didn't have a chance to avoid it. One hand grabbed her shoulder, pulling her toward him, while the other slammed right into her solar plexus in devastating punch. Her body folded over his fist, as everything went black.
"How's this? Does this hurt?"
A sharp intake of breath and a few unladylike words muttered almost too quietly for Ryouga to hear told him that the answer to his question was in the affirmative. He removed his hands from Ukyo's knee and sighed. "Yeah, she got you good. I think it's probably a fracture. You should have Doctor Tofu or Beneda look at it once we get back."
The lost boy himself was no medical practitioner, not on their level, at least. Still, his directional curse had forced him to learn at least basic first aid from a very young age—bandages, splints, that sort of thing—since any injury he sustained in the wild was usually days or weeks away from being looked at by any real doctor. And right now, that rudimentary experience was telling him that Ukyo's injury was not a small one.
The okonomyaki chef grimaced. "The problem is getting back. I bet I can manage walking, especially if I use my spatula as a crutch, but hopping rooftops..." She winced at the thought. "And we're not exactly going to be able to drag those two through the city streets either." She gestured over to the currently-captive Outer Senshi.
Ryouga had restrained them with some of Mousse's thickest chains that he had borrowed for just this purpose. The two magical warriors were bound back-to-back, one chain cinching them together at the waist, while other chains held their ankles together. Sailor Uranus was glaring daggers at him, as was Sailor Neptune, though the latter of the two had to crane her neck around to do so, which somewhat dampened the effect.
The four of them were on the roof of one of the nearby houses; Ryouga had managed to get all three of the then-unconscious girls slung haphazardly across his back for long enough to leap up here, where they were out of direct line of sight from the ground. It afforded some measure of privacy while he tried to puzzle out what to do next. He didn't want Ukyo moving around unnecessarily with her injury. But that meant that he was stranded here too, since without her he'd unquestionably end up on the other end of the country if he tried to head anywhere without her to lead him.
That said, it wasn't like they had any further part in the plan anyway. Once the rest of the Senshi were conclusively defeated—and therefore forced to admit that Ranma wasn't trying to kill them after all—someone else with a working directional sense would doubtless arrive to see how things had gone. At which point they would be able to free the Outer Senshi and arrange transportation back to Nerima for Ukyo.
Yes, the lost boy thought, there was no need to rush things. Someone would be coming for them soon enough.
Sailor Saturn's hand clenched the haft of her Silence Glaive tight, her thumb rubbing up and down in a small, near-unconscious gesture of worry. The silence was stifling as she and Sailor Pluto lay in wait, watching the empty warehouse. Sailor Saturn's thoughts were elsewhere, though, and eventually she looked up at the other Senshi. "They're not coming. Something's happened to them."
Sailor Pluto did not immediately respond, but Sailor Saturn could tell that the same concerns were on her mind as well. It was getting very close to the time of the battle itself, but Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were still nowhere to be found. There was no way they would be this late unless something—or someone—had stopped them from coming.
"It is likely that they have been intercepted by the enemy," the Senshi of Time finally admitted, not looking back at the young girl. "But there is nothing we can do about that now. The main confrontation is imminent, and we must be here to protect the princess."
Sailor Saturn was fully aware of that, but the uneasiness she had felt before about what they were doing now returned tenfold. Going behind the Inner Senshi's backs like this had been bad enough, but doing that while two of her fellow Senshi might be in serious trouble elsewhere was even worse. Can I really just leave Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune to their fate? she asked herself. What would Sailor Moon do in this situation?
The answer to that was obvious, of course. She would try to save everyone, just as she had done for Sailor Saturn herself. Usagi would never agree to sacrificing someone else's life so that she would be better protected; the very idea would be anathema to her.
And from her memories, Sailor Saturn heard the voice of Sailor Chibi-moon, when the young girl had stopped her from releasing her power of Death against Queen Nehelenia. "Saturn... You told me to believe in the future of our prince and princess. Don't worry. They won't give way."
The young girl took a deep breath, and then spoke. "I'm going to try and find them." Sailor Pluto did turn to face her at that, her eyes widening a little, and Sailor Saturn rushed to explain herself. "I trust the Inner Senshi to win this. If it's a question of power they have Sailor Moon, and they'll still have you watching their backs. It's Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune who are in the most danger right now, and I think they're the ones I should be helping."
Sailor Pluto regarded her, and then spoke. "You realize, they may be dead already."
The hand gripping her glaive tightened even more at that. "...I know," Sailor Saturn admitted quietly. "But I still have to try."
Both Senshi met each others' gazes, until finally Sailor Pluto gave a small nod. "If you're going to do it, you should hurry."
"Thank you," was Sailor Saturn's heartfelt response. Then, without wasting any further time, she spun and dashed out of Sailor Pluto's Dead Field, leaping down from the pile of crates and sprinting toward the nearest exit. She soon burst through that, racing out into the yard beyond, then leaping for the surrounding buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop.
I will find them, she told herself, willing it to be true. I have to find them.
And when I do... If those 'Dark Lords' have hurt them...
Cold anger gripped at her heart, and she could feel the terrible power of Saturn swelling ever-higher in response. She rocketed from rooftop to rooftop in a barely-followable streak of purple and white, as the Senshi of Ruin and Rebirth bore down on her target, Silence Glaive in hand.