Haruka walked into the bedroom, where Michiru was treating Hotaru. "How is she?" she asked.
Michiru looked over to where her love was standing and smiled tiredly. "If nothing else, I trust the Mercury Computer's analysis of her. She'll be alright with some rest." She turned back to where Hotaru was sleeping.
Haruka walked over to Michiru, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "You should get some rest yourself. I know you're worried about her, after we almost lost her. But worrying yourself to death isn't going to do you any good. And you said it yourself, Mercury's computer reported she'd be okay. She has all her life energy back."
"I know. I just can't help but think... if that new girl, Sailor Moon, hadn't shown up yesterday..." Michiru started.
Haruka's expression immediately darkened. "That is NOT Princess Serenity. I don't know what Pluto's trying to pull, but you know as well as I do that Princess Serenity was not sent forward."
"I know, but have you considered the source of that information? Endymion had already been corrupted by the time he told us that, and we haven't seen him since then," said Michiru. "It's possible he was lying to us, to get us to give up."
"Endymion is a lot of things, but even as a Dark Kingdom stooge, he's not a liar. He was with Princess Serenity in a hidden area on Earth when the Queen's spell cast us forward. He died making sure she would live. The Queen's spell wouldn't have worked on Princess Serenity if she was still alive," said Haruka.
"You're right, of course," said Michiru. "But who is this new girl, then, and why does she seem so much like Princess Serenity?"
"I don't know, and frankly, I don't care," answered Haruka, angrily. "She's not one of us. She's a Dark Kingdom plant, or just another victim of Pluto's machinations. Either way we have to get rid of her, immediately."
At the Hikawa Shrine, four girls and one mau listened as Ranma finished detailing the end of her fight with Jadeite. The looks on their faces ran the full range between amazed and disbelieving, but none of them interrupted while Ranma told her story.
"... But after he put up that shield of his, I couldn't even put a dent in it. I could hear my attacks ringing against it, but it didn't seem like it was even going to crack. After that, I guess he just decided he'd had enough and teleported away. Then you guys showed up, and you all know the rest," Ranma finished.
"He probably heard us coming," said Makoto. "That coward won't stick around for a fair fight. We've tried to corner him enough times to know how he is about that."
Ami had the Mercury Computer out, and was typing furiously into it. Rei looked at Ami quizzically for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, now at least we know he's not invulnerable underneath that barrier of his. Maybe if we can catch him off-guard again, we can bring him down for good."
Ami shook her head. "The element of surprise is lost; it's doubtful we'll have another opportunity like that. But the more we know about the general's abilities, the better the chances we have of breaking through his defenses." She snapped the computer closed and released it into a subspace pocket. "Maybe we could lure him out with a single senshi to see what kind of abilities he employs? If any senshi has a chance of weathering whatever tricks Jadeite has up his sleeves, it'll be Ranma."
Minako looked indignantly over at Ami. "You want to use my Flower-chan as bait?!" she asked incredulously. "Have you forgotten who she is?"
Ranma held a hand up to Minako. "It's alright, Heart-... Minako. I'm not exactly that person anymore, and the Moon Kingdom hasn't existed for thousands of years. For now, I'm just another... girl..."
Ranma looked out the window off into the distance, seemingly lost in thought. Ami took that opportunity to defend herself. "Well, after seeing what she did against that dog youma last night, I thought she was the one that was most likely to survive an encounter with Jadeite. She doesn't seem to be too against it either."
Makoto nodded and voiced her support for Ami's plan. "It's a good idea. It could work, and if we can actually bring him down, that would be one less dark kingdom general to deal with. We might actually have a reprieve from all the youma showing up all the time, and that would give Ami a chance to catch up on our schoolwork."
Ami shot an angry glance at Makoto. "If you spent just a little bit more time studying, you wouldn't need me to keep you caught up on your work when the youma show up. I really shouldn't be doing your homework in the first place. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you use the youma attacks as an excuse to slack off."
Rei rolled her eyes at the familiar argument that was brewing and decided to interrupt. "Well, if Ranma's okay with it, that's the important part. I don't like the idea of using Princess Serenity as bait either, but if she's willing..."
Minako nudged Ranma. "You okay there? You look like you're a thousand miles away."
Ranma came back to herself with a start, and blinked. What had she just been thinking about? "Yeah, I'm fine. Listen, could you cover for me with your mom for a while? I have something I need to do."
"Again? Ranma, last time you said something like that, you came to my house crying in the middle of the night... and you still haven't told me what that was all about." Minako said, drawing the attention of the other three girls in the room.
"Wait, what happened?" asked Makoto
"She did what?" said Rei at almost exactly the same time.
Ami remained silent but let the quizzical look in her eyes voice the question for her.
Ranma waved her hands in a warding gesture at the four girls. "Hey, it's not like that this time. I just need to go to Nerima and get some of my stuff back. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Makoto gave Ranma an incredulous look. "How did you end up in Juuban while your stuff ended up in Nerima? Mix-up on the rail lines?"
Ranma shook her head, and decided to fall back on one of her all-purpose excuses. "Just blame my old man for that," she said. Well, it was true enough anyway. If her father had let her come here when she asked, instead of insisting on going to the Tendos, she would still have her belongings, what few of them there were. On the other hand, she didn't even want to think about what he would have said about the way she broke down, so it was probably for the best. "Anyway, I want to try to get there and back before it gets too dark, so I'd better leave now. Er, do any of you have a map to Nerima?"
Rei's computer printer whirred to life, and started printing out what looked like a map of the area, with a line indicating the fastest route to Nerima. Rei shot an accusing look at Ami, who was just putting away the Mercury Computer. Ami gave her an innocent look. "What? It's not my fault your computer isn't secure or fast enough."
Rei scowled. "How did you hack into my computer, anyway? I don't even have a wireless network for you to hack in to!"
This time it was Minako's turn to try to break up a familiar argument. "Well, however she got it, Ranma has her map." She turned to said redhead. "Are you going to be okay? I could come with you."
Ranma shook her head at that. "I'll be fine, this is something I've got to do myself. I'll see myself out," she said, and headed for the door.
"Take care then, Flower-chan. I'll see you when you get home," Minako said.
Despite Minako's attempted interference, Rei and Ami had managed to engage in their all-too-familiar argument over whether it was okay to use the Mercury Computer to hack into other computers. Somehow Makoto had gotten involved since Minako had turned her attention to Ranma, and when Minako turned back to the three of them, they were all fully invested in arguing about it. Minako facepalmed and sighed. A leader's work is never done.
She looked over to where Artemis was curled up on Rei's bed. "Why don't you ever say anything when they start fighting like this?"
Artemis looked up at Minako when she addressed him, and gave a little shrug before curling up again. "Why would they listen to me? I'm just a cat."
The entire journey to Nerima, Ranma couldn't get what Sailor Uranus had said out of her mind. 'You're not her!' she had said. She was right, in a way. She wasn't strictly Princess Serenity. But she wasn't strictly Ranma anymore, either. So what did that make her? Guy? Girl? Princess? Martial Artist? Maybe all of the above?
The first thing she needed to sort out was her self-identity, she decided. She stopped at a convenience store restroom and splashed herself with some hot water. With his manhood restored for the first time in what felt like days, he resumed travelling to Nerima. He caught a passing rail car, and settled himself on its roof for the ride.
He thought about what made him the person he was. He was Ranma Saotome, Martial Artist, raised to be a man among men by his father to fulfill the contract with his mother. He nodded at that, but then frowned. That couldn't be all there was to him, could it? He thought about what else he liked, and came up short. Everything he had liked aside from the art, even before he had been cursed, had been forced out of him by his father. Usually it was because it was too girly, but other times it was because it was a distraction from the Art.
He thought about a few things he had given up. Games of strategy... well, his father had him focus that into the art. He'd once liked building models, but that seemed too girly to Genma, and he was quickly dissuaded from it. Sports were a distraction. Everything was a distraction. He realized that, at current, all he was was a martial artist... and maybe a cook. Genma did allow him to cook for them once in a while, and he did take a certain amount of pride in making the food turn out good. So he was a Martial Artist that could cook. That wasn't a lot of person, when he thought about it.
What about friends? He'd been on the road for so long, he'd almost forgotten the meaning of the word. The friendship Minako had shown him so far... had he experienced anything like it before? He had to think hard to remember back so long ago to another little boy he remembered playing with, before Genma took him on the road again. The boy was being trained in a strange kind of food-based martial art, and he'd sparred with the boy more than once. He'd liked playing with that boy, and he'd been sad when he had to leave him. That boy probably didn't even remember him, though. What about more recently? He thought about the boy at the last school he attended, the one that was always getting lost. The two of them had gotten into more fights than anyone else he could remember, but beneath the outward hostility there was a lot of respect between them. They were more rivals than friends, but somehow he knew that when the chips were down he could count on his rival to have his back.
Further thought about his friendships came up empty. Besides those two, he couldn't think of anyone he knew as more than a passing acquaintance. So, he had a friend who had probably forgotten him by now, and a rival he hadn't seen for too long. Was he happy? He thought he had been once, but he'd never really thought about it. In some way, he guessed he was content with what he was, but it didn't really seem like enough anymore.
He compared that to Serenity's life. She was a princess, raised to be the heir to the Moon Kingdom. She had been friends with the other eight planetary princesses... that did include Princess Pluto, for all that they had a somewhat antagonistic relationship. She loved Princess Venus like a sister, the two of them had been nearly inseparable. She might have been a little bit of a crybaby, but that was probably because she was used to being given her way. She liked plants and flowers, things that had been scarce on the moon and yet found in abundance on Earth. She liked to sneak off to Earth to pick flowers, and then use her magic to transform moon rocks into crystal formations that mimicked those flowers. Her room in the Moon Palace was full of such formations. It was a beautiful place...
A splash of water brought Ranma back to the present, and she grumbled. So much for arriving male, unless she wanted to stop for more hot water. She looked around to get her bearings, and decided she still had some time before the rail car reached Nerima. She spared a glare toward the underpass the rail car had passed through; she could still see the broken pipe that had sprayed her, and was still spraying water all over the rail line.
Reflecting back on what she had been thinking about, she decided that there was a lot more to Princess Serenity than there was to Ranma. But somehow, Princess Serenity had felt... trapped. She was watched and protected all the time. Unless she snuck off somewhere, which she would invariably get into trouble for, she always had a guard on her. She had been told it was for her protection, but she just felt stifled, like she was something fragile that needed to be protected. Like a bird in a gilded cage.
Ranma felt hollow now, but at least he was free. Princess Serenity was whole, but had no freedom. On thinking about it, neither choice seemed to be that attractive. She couldn't imagine needing to be watched over all the time, but she couldn't settle for the life she had as Ranma anymore. But then, Luna had said that she could choose which parts of her she wanted to keep.
She thought about all that she was, and who she wanted to be. She wanted to have that wholeness of Princess Serenity, and keep the freedom of Ranma. The princesses were here, her sister was here, and she wanted to be friends with them again. But she didn't want to be protected and caged like that again... and she realized she didn't have to be. She was Ranma Saotome, heir to the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, and she didn't lose to anyone. She was also Princess Serenity, heir to the Moon Kingdom, and she had a responsibility to protect the world from the Dark Kingdom.
"I am Princess Ranma-Serenity Saotome," she said, testing how that identity felt to her. She nodded. "Ranma for short," she finished. She didn't have to give up being Ranma in order to be Princess Serenity. She was both at once. She smiled, for the moment at peace with herself.
Then a stray thought about Prince Endymion wiped the smile from her face, simultaneously making her stomach flutter in delight at the thought of being held in his strong arms, and making her stomach turn in disgust at the thought of being with a guy. She suppressed a shudder. Okay, so there were still things about being Princess Serenity that she still needed to come to terms with. She may be accepting of a past life where she had been a girl, and accepting that the girl in that past life was still a part of her, but she was still a guy. Or at least, part of her was; she was probably going to need to get used to having two, sometimes opposing, reactions to the same situation. She didn't think she was ready to even consider any kind of romance with another guy until she got her head more sorted out.
She felt the rail car start to slow, and noticed that she was approaching Nerima. She hopped off the rail car and made her way to a nearby street, looking around for an elevated area from which to gain her bearings. Spotting one in the distance, she started to head there.
On her way, she passed an electronics store, where a radio in the window was broadcasting a news channel. She stopped when she heard the radio news reporter mention Juuban.
"... and in Juuban today there has been another youma attack, this time targetting the local elementary school. The Sailor Senshi responded to the threat, and by all indications battled it out with the youma there with no regards for the lives of the youma's hostages. Five students and a teacher were hospitalized with injuries obtained when the Sailor Senshi blew through a classroom wall. One student was found dead at the scene, and two students are reported missing by their parents. There is a reward posted by the school board for any information leading to the location of either of the missing students."
As the radio continued on to give the names and descriptions of the two missing students, Ranma sighed, and shook her head. "This... isn't right," she said. The Senshi were supposed to be protecting people, not causing injuries and deaths. She definitely needed to talk to Minako when she returned to Juuban.
"Darn right, it isn't right, missy," said another passerby. "Who do those senshi think they are, anyway? Just fighting the big nasty monster and running off. We're better off without them, I say."
Ranma frowned. "But then who would take care of the youma? The police wouldn't be able to handle them," she said.
The passerby shrugged. "Make the senshi give their weapons over to the police. Then the police would be able to handle them, and a lot better than a bunch of kids playing dress-up would." The passerby continued on his way, leaving Ranma alone with the radio. Ranma frowned at the man's attitude. Did everyone think like that about the Senshi, even out here in Nerima?
"In other news," the radioman continued, "A reward is being offered by the Juuban Police Department for any information leading to the capture and detainment of any or all of the Sailor Senshi. These girls possess weapons that have been proven highly destructive, and so should be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Do not attempt to approach a Senshi if you see one. If you have any information regarding the Sailor Senshi, please call Juuban Police."
Ranma shook her head and continued on her way. She really didn't know what to think about the police being after the Sailor Senshi. Did they really think that the powers the senshi had could be given away so easily? She supposed they did, or they wouldn't be trying to get in the Senshi's way now. Of course, that now included her, as well. She really couldn't think of herself as being apart from the Senshi anymore. They needed her, and she was one of them whether she accepted that or not. Besides, there was no way she was going to let her sister Heart-chan fight the Dark Kingdom alone.
She spotted the Tendo Dojo, and roof-hopped over to it. She walked up to the front door and lifted her hand to knock on the door... and then remembered that she was still female. She groaned, and started to leave so she could get some hot water, when the door opened and a voice called to her. "Ranma, is that you?"
Ranma turned back to see the middle sister - Nabiki, if her memory served her - standing in the doorway looking her over. "So that's what you look like as a girl. Not bad, Saotome," she said.
Nabiki was giving her the same speculative look she had at first, when Ranma had arrived before with her father, and Ranma still wasn't sure she liked it. "Yeah, it's me. My pops isn't around, is he?" she asked.
"He went looking for you this morning, and hasn't been back since. He gave us your description as a girl in case you came back, and took both your backpacks. He said he'd be back around nightfall..." Nabiki looked up and gauged the sun's position. "That should be in about an hour and a half," she said.
Ranma pondered that and sighed. "No, I don't think he's coming back. If he took the packs, he's planning on staying somewhere else."
Nabiki rolled her eyes. "That figures. He got in an argument with daddy last night after you disappeared. Daddy wanted to call the engagement off, since you didn't seem interested and none of us stepped up to take the engagement. There was a lot of crying and drama, and I really wasn't interested enough to listen to everything they said to each other, but the end effect is you don't have to marry any of us if you don't want to. That's also assuming Genma could even find you. You... don't want to marry any of us, do you?"
Ranma looked at Nabiki, the part of her that had been Princess Serenity sending off warning signals that she had just been handed a live grenade in the form of a question. She thought carefully about her answer before she spoke. "I'm sure you're a really nice girl, and any guy should be flattered if you were to just take an interest in them. But I don't know you, or either of your sisters, well enough to say whether I want to marry any of you or not. If we had more time to be together, I'd say we should start by being friends before we decide if we want to be engaged, but I have something important going on elsewhere. I... can't stay here."
Nabiki held the speculative look for a few more moments, then closed her eyes and sighed. "It's just as well, I guess," she said, before opening her eyes again. "I can't tell at this point if you're a guy who turns into a girl, or a girl who turns into a guy, and that kinda wierds me out when I think of trying to start a relationship with you. Your father told us what the right answer was, but I still feel like I'm talking to a girl."
Ranma blinked, and finally identified the speculative look Nabiki had been giving her. "Wait, you were interested in... with me?"
Nabiki looked at her for a few moments as if trying to decide how much to say, then shrugged and continued on with a 'to hell with it' expression. "I've burned a lot of my bridges. Most of the guys that know me are afraid of me, and the rest just plain don't like me, because of how I do business. When I heard about this engagement, I thought a nice little arranged marriage would be just what I needed to make sure I wouldn't have to be alone if I couldn't find a guy on my own... and let me tell you, my prospects are really slim. I'm not like my big sister, who's so sweet that she could find a guy in a heartbeat if she were to just try... or like my little sister, who literally has guys swarming all over her at the schoolgate every morning. To tell the truth, I'm a bit jealous of both of them."
Ranma thought about that a moment. "So you were going to take the engagement. But why didn't you?"
"Would you believe it's because I thought you were gay?" Nabiki asked.
Ranma blinked. "Well, that's new, I guess."
Nabiki nodded. "You seemed a bit girlish then, and I thought it had to be because you were gay. I didn't want the engagement if I was going to lose you anyway to another guy; I really didn't want that kind of hit to my ego. Now that I know about the curse, it makes sense... but you seem even more like a girl now, and not just because you are one at the moment. Are you..."
Nabiki let the question dangle, and Ranma realized what she was asking. "No, I'm not gay... at least, I don't think I am. To be honest, this whole thing is all kinds of confusing for me, and all I'm going to say about it is there's a bit more to it than just changing genders for me."
Nabiki thought about that and nodded. "Makes sense, I guess. So what now? We refuse the engagement, go our separate ways, and never see each other again?"
Ranma looked at Nabiki again, and realized that Nabiki was still holding on to some small sliver of hope that she'd take the engagement. "Do you even want the engagement, now?" she asked.
"You really are like a girl, aren't you? I should be charging you for all the information about me I've been giving you for free," Nabiki jibed, deadpan.
"But I thought you just said that the idea of getting into a relationship with me wierds you out," Ranma said.
Nabiki rolled her eyes. "No, I said that the fact I couldn't tell whether you're a guy that turns into a girl or a girl that turns into a guy by talking to you wierds me out," she said. "You said you're not gay, or at least that it's confusing for you, and with your... condition, I can't really blame you for that. I would be lying if I said your guy form didn't turn my crank a little, and I could certainly do a lot worse than a guy that could probably turn anyone that tried to threaten me into a human pretzel. You're... attractive in a lot of ways, Saotome, and I suppose I can overlook your unique situation in light of all you offer." Nabiki paused for a breath, then seemed to realize what she had just said. "And if you tell ANYONE, even my sisters, that I said any of this, I'll find some way to make you regret it for the rest of your life," she said with a slight blush.
Ranma thought about it, and decided that she really didn't want to hurt the girl's feelings. The part of her that was Serenity felt sorry for the girl, and the part of her that was Ranma did think she was kinda cute. "I'm not going to promise anything about the engagement," she started, and Nabiki's face visibly fell. "But if you give me some way of contacting you, I promise I'll keep in touch," she said.
Nabiki's reaction was immediate. She ran into the house, and after about a minute came back out with an object in each hand. One seemed to be a piece of paper, and the other was...
She didn't even have time to register the teacup in Nabiki's other hand before she had tossed its contents onto her. She, now he, gave Nabiki a sour look. "It's a promise, then," Nabiki said and, before Ranma could react, kissed him full on the lips. "Sealed with a kiss," she continued after the kiss, with an impish grin. "You'd better make good on that promise, Saotome," she finished as she folded the piece of paper and stuck it in his pocket while his halted mental processes struggled to reboot.
"Hey!" came a voice from above, and Ranma recognized it as that of Nabiki's younger sister. Both he and Nabiki looked up to where Akane was leaning half out of a second floor window. "You'd better not be getting any ideas about my sister!" she yelled.
Nabiki looked up at Akane with a half-lidded stare. "Akane, what are you doing? You know what I charge for eavesdropping on me, right?" she asked in a deadpan voice.
"But sis, he... she..." Akane started.
Nabiki pulled something out of her pocket, and as she flipped it open and pulled a pencil out of it Ranma recognized it as a small notepad book, complete with pencil holder. Akane's eyes widened when she saw it, and she quickly drew back inside shutting the window.
Nabiki sighed as she put the notepad book away. "Family," she started. "Can't live with 'em..." She let that proverb dangle unfinished, and looked at Ranma again. "I expect to hear from you. It's a promise," she said, before turning around and heading back inside."
"Nabiki, wait," Ranma said as his higher brain functions finished rebooting. Nabiki turned and looked at him, the look in her eyes seeming to just dare him to say anything to contradict the promise he had just made. Ranma scrambled to find something to say. "I just... if pops comes back, could you tell him something for me?"
Nabiki nodded and looked at him expectantly. "Mom's really lonely," he said. "Tell him he needs to go back to her in Juuban, and visit once in a while. She... She's missed us. Both of us." Ranma remembered the atmosphere of loneliness that had permeated the Saotome home, and his heart almost broke anew just from the memory of it.
Nabiki looked him over one more time and nodded. "You have a good heart, Saotome. I'll tell him if I see him again," she said, entered the house, and closed the door.
Ranma looked up at the window the younger sister had been hanging out of, and met the girl's hostile gaze. Brr, if looks could kill... He turned and left the Tendo property, pulling the piece of paper out of his pocket to examine it. It contained Nabiki's name, a phone number, and an e-mail, as well as several forms of instant messenger. Below that was written, in neat handwriting, 'Contact me. It's a promise. 3'
Ranma had to chuckle as he walked down the street toward the rail line. "Oh, she had me twisted around her little finger, didn't she?" he asked, to no one in particular. On thinking about it, he decided that if circumstances had been different, he might have actually ended up engaged to the girl. It wasn't entirely an unattractive prospect, she seemed to be a nice enough girl. He folded the paper back up and slipped it back into his pocket before taking to the roofs.
Nabiki watched Ranma's retreating form from the window, with a smile on her face and a slight blush. She didn't hear Kasumi walk up behind her, and jumped when the older girl spoke. "Coming on a little strong, aren't we Nabiki?"
Nabiki fought to calm her racing heart. "Don't sneak up on me like that! How much did you overhear?" she asked.
Kasumi cocked her head and raised a finger to her cheek as she looked at Nabiki, that serene look never once leaving her face. "Oh, was I sneaking up on you? I was just walking like I normally do."
"Yeah, right," said Nabiki, but she had to admit she had been a little distracted.
"Well, you'll just have to guess at what I heard and what I didn't. I know how much you charge for eavesdropping," Kasumi said. "I do have a bit of advice, though."
Nabiki scowled at her older sister, but it was hard to keep up in the face of that serene demeanor. She sighed. She knew Kasumi was sharper than she usually acted, but even she couldn't guess at how keen the mind behind that bastion of serenity was. "What is it," she asked resignedly. She just couldn't stay mad at Kasumi.
"Don't manipulate him too much. He probably already knows what you're doing, and if you do it too much you'll lose him as even a friend," Kasumi said, before returning to her kitchen.
Nabiki stared after Kasumi for a minute before shaking her head. 'Definitely sharper than she acts,' she thought, before heading up the stairs to deliver Akane's bill.
General Endymion sat in his quarters in the Dark Kingdom, brooding. It wasn't over the youma he had helped create or the lives he was indirectly responsible for ending as a result. The corruption that had seeped into his heart prevented him from even seeing them as people, and so the blood on his hands did not matter. Every once in a while, though, a long-forgotten memory would resurface; a memory of a girl with fiery red hair and crystal blue eyes, with a heart as pure as the white gowns she usually wore. He remembered giving his life so that this girl would live.
Ironically, that act of sacrifice keeping her from dying was what prevented her from living now. He often daydreamed about the life she would have led on Earth, among the plants and grasses she loved, with the survivors of the Dark Kingdom's attack. Such daydreams came to him less and less frequently as the corruption in his heart seeped deeper, but the memory of that smile of hers, and the pure innocence she radiated, always caused the corruption to shrink back.
Sometimes, when the corruption had eased back enough, he mourned the fact that he had been too successful in keeping the princess alive. Had she fallen then she would have been reborn in the present, and the Dark Kingdom would have had another Serenity and the birthright that went with her to deal with. The Queen is dead, long live the Queen, and he would have been there beside the new Queen Serenity, fighting alongside her. Such traitorous thoughts always brought the corruption rushing back in, and the pain of his thoughts being forcibly twisted always reminded him of where his loyalties belonged now.
His door opened, interrupting him from his thoughts, and General Jadeite stepped in. Jadeite noted Endymion's condition with a cursory glance. "Another episode, Endymion?"
"They are coming less frequently these days," Endymion replied.
"Indeed?" Jadeite asked. "With as often as you have them, one might start to wonder about your loyalty."
"I live to serve the Queen," Endymion responded immediately and automatically.
"Of course you do," Jadeite replied. "But often I wonder, which Queen is it you serve?"
"Is there a point to this, Jadeite, or did you just come here to insult me?" Endymion asked.
"Yes, there was something I wanted to ask you. You told us, once your full memories returned, that there was no way for Princess Serenity to have been reincarnated," Jadeite said.
Endymion nodded. "She was still alive when the Queen's spell sent the guardians forward. I made sure of that, even at the cost of my own life."
"Is it possible she might have died anyway? Could she have taken her own life after you died, or been killed by a stray youma?" Jadeite asked.
Endymion couldn't figure out why he was being interrogated again now, but shrugged and answered the question anyway. "My last moments were with her, and I made her promise to live for both of us. I don't think any youma got past me; I didn't sense any more in the area before my injuries finally overcame me."
"Hmph, you're no help then," said Jadeite. "Who does this Sailor Moon think she is, then? An imposter?"
'Sailor Moon?' thought Endymion. The moon had no guardian besides Queen Serenity herself. He supposed it was possible for there to be a Sailor Moon, if either Queen Serenity or Princess Serenity were reincarnated. But Queen Serenity was the one that cast the reincarnation spell and had to be alive herself to do it, and Princess Serenity lived on. "Describe her," he said.
"Long red hair tied back in a pigtail, blue eyes, short, busty, and packs one hell of a punch," said Jadeite. "She also has a bit of an attitude, thinking she was in a position to 'pass judgement' on me."
Endymion frowned. "What, no 'love and justice' speeches?"
"She didn't say as much directly, no, but she did seem to like to hear the sound of her own voice," Jadeite replied.
Endymion's frown deepened. The description was right, but the Princess Serenity he knew wouldn't know how to throw a punch if her life depended on it. The girl did love to hear herself give speeches, but they were always about friendship, love, and justice. Something didn't quite add up. "I need to see her."
Jadeite shook his head. "No, you don't, and you will not. Bringing this imposter in is my responsibility, and we don't need you suddenly developing a sentimental side."
"You're not going to stop me, Jadeite." Endymion said.
"I don't have to. The girl gave me her identity... not just her name, but how she identifies herself... and I still can't scry her. At first I was getting this black-haired boy sitting on a train, but now I don't even get that much when I try; I get nothing. So unless you know of any other ways to track the Moon Princess, imposter or not..." Jadeite said, and let the implication dangle.
Endymion opened his mouth to retort, but thought better of what he was about to say. Jadeite couldn't scry the girl, so he was trying to trick Endymion into doing his work for him so he could take credit for it. Instead, Endymion shook his head. "No. I'm afraid I don't," he responded.
"Well, no matter," Jadeite said, and shrugged. "This imposter has proven to wield at least some measure of Queen Serenity's powers, so chances are good she is using the Silver Crystal or has some connection to it. When we bring her in, our plans to resurrect Metallia will be realized. Perhaps then, we'll give the pretty little doll that resembles your princess to you."
Endymion had started to growl at Jadeite and was getting ready to attack him, when searing pain lanced through his skull and he collapsed, holding his head. He gritted his teeth to hold in his scream; even in as much pain as he was in he didn't want Jadeite to see his weakness.
Jadeite watched Endymion impassively and sniffed. "You're still a traitorous dog. Enjoy your episode. I'll find this imposter without you," he said and left, closing the door behind him.
Endymion finally released his scream once he was sure Jadeite would be out of hearing range, feeling the corruption burn through his mind. It ate through any thoughts of betraying the Dark Kingdom, leaving only thoughts of loyalty to Queen Beryl. It destroyed any feelings of compassion or love that he had held on to, and left only hatred and disdain for his fellow humans. When the corruption finally finished with him, he uncurled from the ball he had formed on the floor and stood.
He felt a comfortable numbness, and called up the smiling image of the Princess from that part of his heart the corruption couldn't touch. "Princess Serenity," he said. "Imposter or not, I have to see her."
AN: This is not the Author's Note you're looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.
Star wars joke aside, this chapter came in at 6500 words. Still longer than the average, but the average still seems to be increasing.
This chapter didn't move the story very far, instead focusing on Ranma's further development. She seems to be coming to somewhat of an understanding of herself, but she still has farther to go. Unfortunately for Jadeite, this bit of introspection changed how Ranma identifies herself and ruined his plans, and now he has to go with Plan B. What is plan B? We'll find out soon, as long as something else doesn't happen to screw that up too.
I was considering putting in the scene where Jadeite's scrying mirror exploded while he was trying to scry Ranma, but in the end I couldn't wedge it in there anywhere it really fit, so I had to leave it out. Of course, he wouldn't admit to something like that happening to Endymion, but I'm sure Nephrite got a good laugh out of watching it happen. More on that in future chapters.
In the month of December, I received 7070 views to Millennial Panic, from 2453 visitors. The only month I received more visitors or views to Millennial Panic was in July, when its first three chapters were released. This means something. I haven't quite decided what it means, exactly, but I can only hope it means Millennial Panic is becoming more popular. We'll see how January turns out.