A Ranma ½ / Sailor Moon crossover story
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.
Chapter Three: Dreaming in Moonlight
Part Two: Moonlit Struggles
Nephrite walked through the streets of Dark Moon, capital of the Dark Kingdom, with a somber but satisfied expression on his face. On the positive side of matters, the Queen had allowed him to continue his training of Ranma, but on that same note, she was now interested in his young apprentice. From past experience, the brown-haired negawarrior knew that she would, to sate her curiosity, scry on the training sessions. While he was a loyal general of the Dark Kingdom, sometimes Beryl's… appetites… disturbed him, and he did not want Ranma to fall prey to those… indulgences… that her majesty enjoyed from time to time.
Taking a moment and stopping for his thoughts in one of the city's many squares, Nephrite found his gaze fixated on the large statue at its center, a statue of him. It had been dedicated, the dark general recalled, after his successful annexation of one of the neighboring nations some fifteen millennia past. Thinking as he looked at the statue, 'I haven't changed at all… Not in twenty millennia…'
Slowly gazing at the surrounding buildings in the perpetual twilight of Dark Moon, Nephrite reflected on how different this place was compared to the cities of Terra… and how similar. Certainly, the structures were made from different materials, crystal rather than concrete and mythril rather than steel, and these buildings were made to accommodate a wider variety of forms than the human buildings. However, even with the higher ceilings and more often ramps than stairs, there was a definite similarity between Dark Moon and, say, Hong Kong. The streets still teemed with residents, workers, business 'people', children, and the occasional warrior youma or, even rarer, negalyte, and the buildings still reached for the sky, though here it was perpetually covered by roiling black clouds.
Continuing his morose walk, Nephrite did not notice when another person fell in step with him in his continued musings. This situation continued until the dark general left the more populated streets, and then he finally noticed the other man who'd joined him on the walk. Looking at his latest companion, he looked a bit puzzled.
"Hello, Jadeite," he said quietly, and the other dark general smiled. "What brings you to this part of Dark Moon?"
The blonde general replied, "Welcome back, Nephrite. I was heading toward the central armory when I saw you, so I thought I'd say hello since you haven't been back in a while."
"Ah, I see." The brown haired negawarrior nodded. "So what's happened in my absence, old friend?"
"Well," answered Jadeite, continuing to speak quietly. "You missed the final briefing, and the invasion has begun."
"Queen Beryl told me that when I spoke to her earlier," said Nephrite. "However, she didn't tell me what all was decided, and you know how I feel about asking Zoicite and Kunzite…"
Jadeite smirked at this, and replied, "Yes, I know, and I agree." Looking a bit more serious, but unable to hide his pleasure, the short haired negawarrior continued. "I was given command of the resourcing component of the operation, so my youma are the first to set foot on Terra in twenty millennia."
Nephrite nodded. "Congratulations. So, where is the draining operation?"
"During my scouting mission, I came across only one place on Terra that had the proper conjunction of lei lines to mimic the environment of Dark Moon," Jadeite replied with a smirk. "It's a Terran city called Tokyo. There should be more than enough humans to gather all the lifeforce we need from a city like that, and we can save a great deal of energy since youma can naturally survive there."
Nephrite's eyes narrowed when the other man mentioned that the first battleground on Terra would be Tokyo; he had hoped that Ranma would be away from the fighting during the rest of his training. 'Oh well,' he thought, minutely shrugging his shoulders. 'I doubt I'd be able to get Ranma to leave now that he's home…'
"You look a bit troubled, Nephrite," Jadeite said into the silence following his revelation of the local he was using for his operation. "Is there something wrong with using Tokyo for this operation?"
The brown haired man slowly shook his head and replied, "Not really. It just overlaps with a few of my plans, that's all. I can adjust to accommodate your operation so that we don't get in each other's way."
With Nephrite's reassurance, Jadeite smiled. "That's good to hear. So, what kept you on Terra for so long?"
Nephrite was about to answer when he realized that they had reached his destination, and he replied instead, "Well, why don't I tell you about it over some tea. It's been quite a while since I've been out here to my villa, and I was going to relax tonight before returning to Terra.
Jadeite looked up at the gates momentarily, and puzzled expression on his face as he gazed at the mythril bars. However, less than a second later the expression faded and he said, "Sure, Nephrite."
Nephrite nodded at his old friend and usured him through the already opening gates.
As the gates slowly swung open, seemingly of their own accord, Jadeite took a quick look at Nephrite's villa. Built in an open, airy style, the house seemed made for nothing but relaxation. The three meter tall crystal wall surrounding the dwelling was separated from the villa by a small garden, a few small statues and fountains, well maintained, were scattered across the grounds.
"I don't think I've been here in about two hundred years," said Jadeite in a quiet voice, not wishing to disturb the peaceful atmosphere. "It looks just the same."
Nephrite nodded to his friend and gestured for him to follow. As the two dark generals entered the house, Jadeite continued his examination of the place. It seemed that the nominal size of the dwelling was even smaller than expected, made evident by the door only three meters ahead into another garden, this one encircled by the villa.
The short haired negawarrior's musings were interrupted when a youma entered the foyer, her red skin and waist-length blue hair making her human-like form all the more exotic. She was barefoot and wore a light, sleeveless tunic and soft, loose pants that almost floated around her legs as she moved to greet the entering men.
"Master Nephrite," she said in a soft, cool voice conveying nothing but respect, her fist over heart salute accompanying her bow. To Jadeite, her voice reminded him of a small, cold mountain stream, refreshing and pleasant to hear. As he thought, the youma continued. "It is good to see you again; I hope you are pleased with the maintenance of the villa."
Nephrite smiled at the youma and replied, "I am very pleased, Karia. You have done an excellent job here."
Karia smiled brightly at the praise and turned toward Jadeite saying, "And welcome, also, to you, General Jadeite."
"Thank you," replied the blonde negawarrior, all the while wracking his brain about the blue haired youma. He was certain he had met her before, but he could not, to save his life, remember when.
Smiling brightly and showing a few sharp teeth, the red skinned girl spoke again. "I was just about to prepare a light repast and tea; may I also prepare something for you and your guest, Master Nephrite?"
Nephrite smiled at Karia in return and replied, "Yes, please. That was precisely what I had in mind."
Bowing again to the brown haired negawarrior, Karia said, "It will be ready in twenty minutes."
With that, the blue haired youma padded from the room, and Nephrite turned to his blonde companion. "Shall we wait in the garden?" asked the brown haired man.
"Certainly," Jadeite replied, waiting for Nephrite to lead the way. The owner of the villa preceded his guest toward the inner garden, and Jadeite finally remembered why this place had always been a haven for his longtime friend. If the garden surrounding the house was peaceful, then this was serene. Fountains in the corners of the enclosed garden babble quietly, gifting the place with an ambient background, and four cobblestone paths ran from the villa proper to the center of the terrarium where a table and four chairs awaited them. The high, clear crystal roof above glowed with ambient light, lending the garden a pale glow almost like moonlight, but what astounded Jadeite the most, as it always had in the past, were the plants. Terran plants.
As he now remembered feeling before, Jadeite experienced a subtle shift of energy as he stepped into the enclosed garden, and he once again marveled at the construct that allowed Terran plants to live in the Negaverse. Nephrite or one of his youma had kept the construct powered for over twenty millennia, and each blade of grass, each shrub, and especially the one tree in the garden were a treasure beyond worth in the Dark Kingdom. Even in Dark Moon, an area of nominal neutrality in the conflicting energies of the universe and Negaverse, life forms without will could not survive. Even in these comparably low levels of negaforce, creatures that did not have the mental capacity for thought would perish from exposure, similar to the radiation poisoning early Silver Millennium researchers had experienced while studying Sol much closer than Mercury's orbit.
As the two dark generals made their way to the chairs and seated themselves, Jadeite relished the feel of lifeforce surrounding him. After twenty thousand years of exile, twenty millennia of staving off the transformation into a negalyte, it was wonderful to visit Terra once more. He was still human, unlike most of the other negawarriors that were not Guardians at the time of banishment, and being back in his natural environment after so long was nearly orgasmic: this garden was like a little piece of Terra in the Negaverse. 'In fact,' Jadeite thought, 'if it weren't for my duty to Queen Beryl, I would probably just stay on Terra. I truly have missed my home these long millennia…'
Nephrite's voice broke his train of thought as the other dark general said, "You look depressed, Jadeite. What troubles you so?"
"It's nothing," replied Jadeite, a somewhat sad smirk resting on his face. "I was just thinking of Terra and how wonderful it felt to be there again."
The brown haired negawarrior nodded. "Yes, it was wonderful…"
Tilting his head slightly to the side, Jadeite replied in a quizzical voice. "Was it that feeling that kept you away for so long?"
"No," Nephrite replied, smiling tiredly. "Though being on Terra again was magnificent, it wasn't that…"
The blonde negawarrior's eyes narrowed at the evasive reply, and he said, "Well then, what was it? I have a great deal of respect for your abilities at scouting, and I'm very curious about why your mission took so long."
Nephrite looked a bit reluctant, but after a moment he responded. "I found someone on Terra, someone who has a great deal of potential as a negawarrior."
Jadeite scoffed. "There's no time to train another negawarrior right now! The invasion has already begun!"
Nephrite was about to reply when he sat bolt upright in his chair, his eyes widening and becoming unfocused. The short haired negawarrior frowned at his friend and said, "What's wrong, Nephrite?"
Slowly, the longer haired dark general relaxed into his seat, his eyes returning to normal. "Nothing is actually wrong," he replied quietly. "I just received a beacon call from my apprentice, and the news is very interesting. I suggest that you query your youma in Azabu Juuban."
Jadeite's eyes narrowed at Nephrite's words. 'How could he know my youma are in Juuban?' he thought, but nonetheless, the blonde dark general stood and walked toward the foyer door to the garden. It was impossible to use constructs in the protected area due to the complete lack of negaforce, so he had to return to the villa proper to query his warriors. As he finally stepped out of the garden, Jadeite, quickly and with deft skill, formed his communication construct and reached out to his youma.
Eyes widening and a gasp drawing breath quickly into his lungs, Jadeite discovered that one of his four youma in Juuban was gone. Furious, the dark general clenched his teeth and returned to the table where Nephrite sat, impassive.
"How did you know that one of my youma was dead?!" the enraged negawarrior shouted at his friend. "What the hell is going on here?!"
Nephrite's eyes narrowed, and Jadeite quickly understood his faux pas. Disturbing such a peaceful place with angry words was not to be done, and that it was one of the dwellings his friend maintained only made the situation worse. "I apologize, my friend," he said quickly, and was relieved that Nephrite's frown disappeared. Once Nephrite seemed calm once again, Jadeite continued, "I still want to know how you knew."
Nephrite sighed and replied, "My apprentice witnessed the battle and subsequent death of the youma, but he didn't quite understand what occurred."
Jadeite morosely considered this turn of events, his mind reeling at the sudden loss of a quarter of his current plan. It was bad enough that one of his operations had failed, but the fact that his youma had died was terrible. 'I need to speak to her family,' he thought unhappily. 'They should know of her fate… Wait a minute!'
"What's all this about an apprentice, Nephrite," the blonde said, his anger returning but not his previous volume.
Nephrite sighed before answering, his voice carrying a decidedly exasperated tone. "I already told you that I found someone who has great potential as a negawarrior, and after only nine weeks of training he was inducted."
It took a moment for the information to filter into Jadeite's mind, but once the information was finally understood, the light haired negawarrior gaped at his equal. "Did you actually say nine WEEKS???" he asked incredulously, and at the brown haired man's nod, Jadeite's mouth fell open even as his eyes widened. "That's absolutely unheard of! It took us over a year, and we were Guardian Candidates, but this is absolutely astounding!"
This particular revelation was affecting Jadeite in strange ways, and the blonde general's eyes narrowed again as he continued to consider the information. "Wait a minute," he said in an annoyed tone. "If your apprentice watched the battle, why didn't he help?"
Looking annoyed himself, Nephrite replied, "Because I specifically instructed him not to enter into any battle where negaforce or mana was being used. He only knows the basic sensory and harvesting constructs, Jadeite."
At this rather obvious declaration, Jadeite felt a bit chagrinned, but before he could respond, Karia entered the garden bearing a tray.
Smiling, the blue haired youma set the tray down between the two men saying, "Here is the meal and tea. Please enjoy them." After bowing once again to the two generals, she retreated once more to the interior of the villa.
Jadeite snagged the closer cup of tea and stared into its depths, trying to find comfort in the green liquid. It seemed to work as he felt the peace of the garden seeped slowly through his mind, and by the time he took his first sip, the blonde negawarrior could once again speak without emotion clouding his judgment.
"Nephrite," he said in a calm voice. At the other man's nod, he continued. "Please tell me about this apprentice of yours."
"Well," replied Nephrite, the smile and pride in his voice obvious. "His name is Ranma…"
Usagi yelped as she felt a set of sharp claws penetrate the skin on her back, and she leapt out of bed. Unfortunately for the teenaged girl, she was still in her transformed state, so when she jumped, she hit her head on the ceiling and sent the small, but sharp, object on her back slamming into the wall. Hitting the ground on her bottom, tears began to leak from her eyes.
'That really hurt…' she thought, unhappy with being awoken in such a manner, but then, the memories of the previous night made themselves known. 'By the Kami! Did I really kill a monster last night?!'
Looking to the dark shape lying crumpled on the floor of her bedroom, Usagi gasped. 'NO!!!" she shouted in her mind seeing the broken form of a cat lying on the carpet. 'Oh KAMI! I killed Luna!!!!'
Working totally on instinct since her conscious mind shut down at the sight of the small, oddly twisted form on the floor, Sailor Moon fingered the transformation brooch at the center of the bow on her chest. 'I wish,' she thought as tears streamed down her cheeks. 'I wish Luna was alright…'
Astounding the new superhero, the brooch glowed brightly and a wave of power was directed at the broken cat. Usagi watched as the cat's ribs and spine were realigned under the shining beacon that her brooch let forth, and the little advisor's eyelids fluttered as she regained consciousness. Once the healing was completed, the Senshi collapsed, completely drained.
Luna slowly pulled herself from the floor, a strange sense of mortal fear suffusing her mind. 'I could have sworn that Sailor Moon just killed me…' she thought, disturbed by the aberrant thought. 'It must have been my imagination.'
Seeing Usagi, still in the guise of Sailor Moon, lying prone on the floor in a crumpled heap reminded Luna of her previous action, and she resolved, 'Never wake the girl like that when she is Sailor Moon.'
Taking a brief moment to cast her status spell on Moon's sleeping form, the small black cat sighed with relief. While there was still some bruising, the broken ribs were almost completely healed, and the other cuts and bruises from the fight had fully vanished. The reason that the girl had collapsed was, strangely enough, exhaustion.
Padding up to the girl silently, Luna pawed the brooch. To anyone uninitiated with Senshi, Usagi's body was wrapped in red ribbons that retracted into the small piece of jewelry, returning the blonde devil hunter to her original condition before her first transformation. Coincidentally, that also meant that she was still in her school uniform. Usagi moaned slightly in her sleep and rolled onto her side as Luna pawed the transformation brooch across the floor to a safer spot underneath the sleeping girl's nightstand.
Finally satisfied that her blonde charge's identity would remain a secret, Luna padded silently from the room seeking a safer place to sleep.
Sunlight playing across closed eyes slowly brought Ranma from the bliss of sleep into wakefulness, and he stirred slowly in his bedroll in the otherwise unfurnished room. For a moment, he didn't remember why he was sleeping in a room rather than under some tree in China, but memories from the previous day slowly filtered into his awareness. He was in his newly rented apartment, and today he needed to enroll in school.
Rolling out of the bed roll and blinking blurry eyes, Ranma slowly climbed to his feet, and like a zombie from a cheesy B flick, he staggered over to the bathroom of the small apartment. Flicking on the cold water at the sink, he splashed his face, the chill liquid finally bringing the pigtailed negawarrior to full wakefulness.
Thirty minutes later, after a shower, Ranma pulled his last set of clean clothes from his backpack and dressed for the day, the outfit identical to what he'd worn the day before save that the shirt was black.
'I'd better buy some more clothes today,' he thought as he slipped his shoes on and headed out of the apartment. As Ranma walked down the hall toward the elevators, he drew a small amount of negaforce and used the annihilation energy to power his sensor constructs once again. Most of his neighbors were awake and beginning their daily rituals, and the young negawarrior found nothing in these mundane tasks to pique his interest.
The elevator arrived at his floor, and Ranma noted that the other occupant was one Umishi Ichiro, the apartment building manager.
"Good morning, Umishi-san," Ranma greeted absently.
"Good morning," the older man replied, but then his voice grew puzzled. "I don't believe we've met, young man, and I know I've met all the tenants on this floor. Who are you?"
For a moment, Ranma was completely baffled by the manager's denial, but then it hit him. 'Oh yeah,' he thought, mentally smacking himself in the forehead. 'I was a girl when I met him last!'
"I'm Saotome Ranma," he answered. "Sorry about this. Ranko is my sister, and she told me about you."
Immediately, Umishi's face brightened. "Ah," he said. "You must have gotten in late last night, and Ranko let you in. I see. Pleased to meet you, Saotome-san."
After replying in kind to the man's introductory rote, Ranma asked, "By the way, do you know where the local high school is? I need to get enrolled."
"Oh yes," Ichiro answered, nodding. "Juuban High is only a few blocks from here, but to get enrolled you'll need proof of address. Come by the office with me before you go, and I'll give you a copy of your rental receipt."
The pigtailed teen nodded his assent to the manager, and when the elevator reached the ground floor, Ranma followed the older man to the office. It only took a few keystrokes on his computer to set the laser printer going, and a moment later Ranma was holding the still hot copy of his rental receipt. Thanking Umishi, the pigtailed negawarrior made his way out of the building and toward the high school.
Usagi's eyes shot open as she heard her brother scream, and adrenaline-energized muscles brought her to her feet quicker than her mother would have believed. Memories of Luna saying that the enemies might attack her family ran through the blonde's head as she through her door open and raced for her brother's door.
"Shingo!" she cried out, and threw his door open… just to be hit squarely in the face with a pillow.
"Get away!" Shingo yelled, and Usagi could almost hear panic in the boy's voice. "Get away from MEEE!!!"
Finally removing the pillow from her face, Usagi's gaze shot around the room, trying to find the menacing youma that would attack her family. Instead, all she saw as Shingo scrambling up the headboard of his bed, and Luna waking up at the foot.
Clenching her teeth, Usagi launched the pillow at her little brother yelling, "What the heck's wrong with you, Shingo!? Your screaming nearly scared the life outta me!!"
The pillow caught Shingo in the face, and the blonde teen stalked over to the bed and collected Luna. Holding the small black cat protectively to her chest, she continued to tease her little brother.
"What's the big deal, Shingo?" she jibbed. "She's just a cute widdle kitty. Is my baby brother afraid of a cute widdle kitty? Huh??"
Shingo almost recovered enough to shout at his sister, but then Usagi grabbed Luna by the scruff of her neck and waved her a handful of centimeters from Shingo's face, eliciting another scream from the boy. Usagi laughed even harder as he resumed his panicky retreat, just egging her on.
"Usagi! Shingo!" came the voice of Ikuko from below. "Come down for breakfast!"
Usagi thrust Luna at Shingo one last time before calling back, "Okay, Mom!" Cradling Luna against her chest once more, Usagi left the room and headed down the stairs.
Strangely enough, the school was devoid of students when Ranma arrived, and a brief glance at a nearby clock explained why. 'Seven thirty…' thought Ranma, annoyed that he hadn't looked at a clock before. 'School doesn't start for another hour… Maybe I should catch some breakfast first, then.'
A quick glance around revealed a small coffee shop across the street from the school, and while coffee and pastries were hardly a traditional breakfast, Ranma decided to eat there anyway. Suiting actions to thoughts, Ranma walked the fifteen meters to the shop.
Ducking beneath the shop curtain, the pigtailed teen briefly scanned the interior of the shop with both eyes and negawarrior senses, and he was quite surprised by the crowd. In fact, it seemed that this coffee shop was a popular before-school hang out for students, and most of the tables were already filled with teenagers. Ranma almost decided to try to find a quieter place to have breakfast when he sensed someone familiar in the room. Repeating his scan, the young negawarrior confirmed it, and he walked into the shop toward a table in the far corner.
"Nice to see you again," Ranma greeted as he reached the table, and the red-head sitting there looked up, startled. "May I join you?"
Unazuki smiled at Ranma's greeting and replied, "Sure. It's nice to see I didn't scare you away last night."
"No chance of that," Ranma said as he made himself comfortable in the chair opposite Unazuki. Before he could say more, a college age waitress stepped up to the table. It seemed that Unazuki had not yet ordered, so she went ahead with an order for apple strudel and a breve. After taking her order, the waitress turned to Ranma, and he answered the same.
"You don't really seem like the type who would like that, Ranma," said Unazuki after the waitress left. "You really strike me as the more traditional type when it comes to food."
"Naa," replied Ranma, smirking. "Honestly, I think I'd eat anything that's edible."
Unazuki giggled at that, and then said, "What brings you out so early?"
Ranma opened his mouth to answer, but Unazuki suddenly smacked a fist into her open palm and said, "Oh! I remember. You were going to enroll in school today, weren't you?"
Again, Ranma tried to speak, and again, Unazuki, smiling brightly, cut him off without realizing it. "How 'bout I show you around and help you get enrolled? Com'on, it'll be fun!"
This time, Ranma's answer was cut off by the return of the waitress with their breakfast, and from that point until Ranma had finished his strudel and half his breve, there was no conversation.
"Hey," said Unazuki after she finished her pastry. "Look at the time! School is going to start in, like, fifteen minutes! We have to hurry!"
Without waiting for Ranma to speak or move, Unazuki grabbed his hand and pulled the pigtailed teen out of the coffee shop, across the street, and into the school.
Luna sullenly ate the tuna that Ikuko gave her and eyed Usagi angrily, but even her annoyance at being used as a prop in the rampant sibling rivalry evident in the Tsukino household did not blind her to the significance of the conversation taking place at the table. Unfortunately for her, it seemed that her fate would be decided without her being able to defend herself, and despite the fact that she knew she couldn't talk to the rest of the family, it still irked her to allow such a thing to happen.
"I hate cats!" Shingo was saying. "I wanna get rid of it!"
No matter how angry she was with Usagi, Luna couldn't help but be offended by being called it, and when Usagi championed her causes as a living, sentient being, the small black cat was at least somewhat pleased.
"Shingo!" Usagi exclaimed. "Luna is a she, not an it! That's downright rude! Please, can I keep her as a pet, Mom?"
'Hmm,' thought Luna. 'This is predictable enough. First arguing with the sibling, and now appeals to the parents. This actually reminds me of when I was a kitten.'
The next move, however, surprised Luna.
"You two will just have to decide between yourselves, Usagi," said Ikuko, and a moment later, Kenji nodded in agreeance with his wife.
Luna looked up at the two parental figures, aghast. This particular development changed her chances of staying here, in her estimation, from fifty-fifty to little-to-none, and her being forced to live elsewhere would complicate her mission significantly. However, the damage was already done, and Luna watched as Usagi nodded her acceptance of the deal and excused herself from the table.
Quickly, Luna ate the rest of the tuna and followed her young charge upstairs, still licking her lips after the tasty meal. As she entered Usagi's room, the small black cat cast a quick scanning spell to confirm that they were alone, and seeing this to be the case, she said, "Usagi, you'll never be able to get Shingo to accept me. That was definitely a nearly phobic reaction!"
Usagi, her voice muffled as she pulled a shirt on, replied, "There was no other way, Luna. When Mom says that it's up to us, she means it, and if we get too bad about it, Shingo and I'll both feel it."
Almost growling, Luna rebutted, "It will really make my job here very hard if I have to live somewhere else, Usagi. Don't forget that I need to train and advise you about your powers!"
Pausing mid-way in fastening her skirt, Usagi leaned over the small cat and whispered fiercely. "Shh! Luna, you're the one that told me that I had to keep my identity a secret!"
Luna looked at her quizzically for a moment, and then replied, "Oh relax, Usagi. I'm monitoring the area with a scanning spell. No one else is even upstairs."
Usagi shrugged and resumed dressing for school. "In any case," she continued. "I think you should try to make Shingo like you, because we won't have a choice if you don't."
Standing outside his new homeroom, Ranma shook his right hand to try to get some of the feeling back. Unazuki didn't look it, but she had some real strength in her grip. Speaking of the enthusiastic redhead, she was smiling encouragingly at him, urging him to go in.
Since he already had his proof of residence, enrollment hadn't been half as difficult as he'd expected, the only hitch being when asked about parents. In the end, Ranma said that he was an orphan and that his guardian had not yet arrived in Tokyo. The school had accepted that one only on the promise that his guardian had to come by the school within two weeks of his attendance, a condition to which Ranma readily agreed.
With those events in the past, now all Ranma had to do was surrender the better part of almost every day to this mind-numbingly boring place, and even though he hated it, he would do it to keep people from being too suspicious.
"C'mon, Ranma!" Unazuki urged, impatient to go inside. "Just get your introduction over with and everything will be fine."
Ranma almost chuckled at her misinterpretation of his hesitation, but instead he shrugged. "Alright," he said in a resigned voice. "Let's do it…"
She nodded once and turned, knocking at the classroom door. A moment later, a high pitched voice replied, "Come in."
As Unazuki opened the door, Ranma saw the owner of the voice, and he almost burst out laughing. Of course, this did nothing to endear the speaker to him.
"Saotome-san," the small girl wearing a yellow dress at the front of the room intoned gravely. "I don't know what is so funny, and this is hardly the way to introduce yourself to your classmates."
Before Ranma could say anything else, Unazuki cut him off, giggling. "I'm sorry, Ranma. I just had to see your reaction to our instructor. This is Ninomiya Hinako-sensei, and yes, she really is a teacher."
"I see, Furuhata-san," Hinako continued crossly, but her voice lost most of its annoyance. "You really should avoid tricking other students like that, but I'll overlook it this time. Please take your seat."
As Unazuki moved to a desk near the back of the room, Hinako turned to Ranma. "Saotome-san," she said, "I have a somewhat rare condition that leaves me looking like this most of the time. I would appreciate it if my condition is ignored, if you please."
"Okay, Hinako-sensei," replied the pigtailed negawarrior while doing everything in his power to avoid laughing. "I'll be sure to remember that."
"Good," said the apparent child, smiling cutely. "Well, why don't you introduce yourself?"
Turning to the class, Ranma smiled and said, "Hello, everyone; I'm Saotome Ranma. Pleased to meetcha."
As Usagi reached Juuban Junior High, she noticed that Luna had decided not to follow her. 'Good,' she thought. 'Maybe Luna decided to try to make friends with Shingo.'
Since, for once, she was actually ten minutes early to class, she walked toward her classroom at a fairly sedate pace, a far cry from her usual speed. As she entered the classroom, the first thing she noticed was that Haruna-sensei's desk was empty, and since this was the second day in a row that she arrived at school before the normally obsessively punctual teacher, she began to worry. Glancing around the rest of the room, she noted that almost all the other students were already seated, ready for class, and she decided that the best course of action was to head for her own desk.
'Odd,' thought Usagi. 'Since transforming yesterday, it's been really easy to concentrate and remember things…'
Unfortunately for her train of thought, a nerdish boy decided that now was a good time to penny the tracks, and the train derailed with his greeting of "Hey there, hot stuff!"
Indignantly, Usagi turned to face the hentai that referred to her in such a vulgar manner… and was caught completely off guard by seeing Umino there… wearing a suit.
"What's the big idea, Umino?" asked Usagi in an offended tone. However, unlike his usual demeanor, the information dealer did not immediately back down.
"I said, 'Hey there, hot stuff,'" replied Umino, unabashed. "You have to know I like you, and you constantly rebuff me. I just don't understand it, sweetie."
Usagi growled at the boy's presumption, but her indignation was preempted by Haruna's entrance into the classroom. The teacher tiredly staggered to her desk, her face lined and her eyes baggy.
"Alright, class," she said tiredly. "If anyone is absent, please raise your hand."
While funny the day before, this performance now, two days in a row, was alarming to Usagi. She exchanged a quick glance with another classmate, and the other girl sent back a look that definitely agreed with Usagi's assessment of the situation.
"Alright," Haruna continued in an exhausted tone. "Free study for today."
With that, Haruna dropped her head to her desk and began snoring, and most of the class cheered for two days of good luck. However, Usagi and Umino were not among them. Usagi didn't cheer because she was worried about Haruna-sensei, but Umino's reason was revealed only after he walked to where Haruna was sleeping.
"Ha!" the nerdish boy shouted as he knocked the halfway unconscious teacher from her chair. Beyond this, to the delight of the boys and the disgust of the girls, he undressed the sleeping teacher completely, leaving her naked on the classroom floor.
"Heh, heh, heh," Umino chuckled as he looked down at the exhausted, naked teacher. "I knew you were hot, teach!"
Usagi almost screamed as Umino undressed Haruna, but for some reason not even known to the girl herself, a corner of her mind assessed the situation logically, all she did was stare in disgust. While the blonde's mind invented all sorts of cruelties Umino could inflict upon the helpless teacher, the nerd defied them all by turning away from the nude woman and walking out of the classroom.
A small black shape crouched in the bushes near Tsukino Shingo's primary school, and the creature wracked its brain, trying to figure out how to endear itself to a young boy.
'Damn it,' Luna thought. 'It's not as though I really am a cat… Not a normal one, anyway.'
If anyone had seen Luna at that moment, they would have agreed with her assessment quite readily. She was lounging on her side under the cover of the bush, but she had one forepaw cocked at an odd angle to support her chin, a highly human-like position similar to the thinker.
'Oh forget it,' Luna finally thought. 'I'll just go up to him and act like any other cat. Maybe he'll just get over his fears.'
Deciding on this course of action, the black cat stood and stretched, working kinks out of stiff muscles. Doing a quick survey of the area, Luna saw that she had made her decision just in time: Shingo was walking with and talking animatedly to a classmate and would pass her hiding place in only a few seconds.
As Shingo passed the bush, Luna walked out and rubbed up against his leg, doing her very best to look hyper cute… but this just didn't have the desired results.
For her part, Luna only bounced twice after being kicked in the boy's escape, and after shaking the stars from her eyes, Luna thought, 'This isn't going to be easy…'
A distortion in the air of Ranma's living room precursed Nephrite's entrance by only a fraction of a second, and the dark general scanned the area with eyes and negaforce constructs before moving. 'Hmm,' he thought appraisingly. 'Ranma got us a pretty good place here,' and then his thoughts turned wry to match an amused smirk, 'but the furnishings are a bit spartan for my tastes.'
Before going any further, Nephrite decided that his uniform would be a bit conspicuous if he left the apartment, and he empowered a quick construct to change it into a somewhat stylish green sport coat and slacks combination with a white dress shirt. Taking a quick look at himself using a minor surveyllance construct, he made certain that the clothing was correct for the modern style.
Giving himself a quick tour of the apartment, he assumed that the empty room was his and the room containing Ranma's bedroll and pack was the kid's. Expanding his scan to examine the surrounding apartments and buidlings, he assessed the location's positive and negative factors.
'Well,' he thought. 'It's close to everything with a good harvesting base nearby, but that could be a double-edged sword, considering Jadeite's task. I'd much rather Ranma be left out of the fighting entirely until he's ready, but I guess we don't always get what we wish for. I'd better teach him some shield constructs next…'
In the kitchen, Nephrite noticed a note and a key. Pocketing the key and picking up the note, he read, 'Nephrite, Going to enroll in school. Telling everyone you're my guardian. Key is for the apartment. –Ranma.'
Finally satisfied with his apprentice's work, Nephrite briefly scribed a note on the wall opposite the front door that only Ranma could see with his sensory construct and headed out of the door. The hall leading from the apartment to the elevator was in excellent condition, and Nephrite was pleased with the lack of tacky decorum. The elevator was similar, and upon reaching the ground floor, Nephrite decided that he would have to make certain that the designer of this building would survive the liberation of Terra.
Before he managed to leave the building, however, a middle-aged man entering the lobby with a sandwich greeted him. "Good afternoon, sir," he said politely, giving Nephrite a bow. "I saw you come from the tenant elevators, but I do not believe that we have met. My name is Umishi Ichiro, the building manager."
"Sanjouin Masato," replied Nephrite as he returned the bow. "I'm Saotome Ranma's guardian."
"Ah," said Umishi. "I see. I've already met both of your charges, and they seem like a very nice pair of kids. I can see how you trusted Ranko-san to find an apartment before her brother and you arrived; she seems very responsible."
Momentarily puzzled, Nephrite just looked at the man. However, just as the apartment manager was getting somewhat uncomfortable with the dark general, understanding dawned on Nephrite. 'Clever, Ranma,' he thought, smiling. 'So, now you're your own sister. I'll have to help you out on that one.'
To Umishi, he said, "Yes, Ranko-chan is a very responsible young woman. I apologize, Umishi-san, but I really must be going."
"Of course, Sanjouin-san," replied the apartment manager with a renewed smile. "Have a good day."
Nephrite replied in kind as he walked past the older-appearing man.
When his third period teacher left the classroom, Ranma realized something was wrong. All around him, students were pulling out cloth-wrapped bento boxes and talking, the sounds and sights of lunchtime at a school. As expected, Ranma's stomach growled, but that 'something' that was wrong was his lack of his own bento.
'Maybe the school has one of those food counters so I can buy some lunch,' he thought, rising from his seat. A quick search of the halls revealed just such a counter, but then he realized that his only form of readily available money was a debit card. Unfortunately for the pigtailed negawarrior, the food counter didn't take plastic, and there was no ATM in sight.
Sighing, Ranma headed back toward his classroom, resigned to have nothing for lunch. As he dropped into his seat, a cheerful voice said, "Hey Ranma! Where's your lunch?"
Looking to his left where Unazuki was eating her rather large bento, Ranma replied, "I don't have one. I forgot to buy something this morning or even get any money out of the bank…"
Before replying, Unazuki started scooping some of her rice into the lid of her bento box, and Ranma asked, "What are you doing?"
"My parents own the restaurant where I work," she replied distractedly, "so they always give me way too much in my bento. I figure the least I can do is share it." That last was said with a quick glance at his face and a cheery smile.
"Really, you don't have to do that," said Ranma, but his stomach decided that moment was a good time to disagree, growling loudly. The pigtailed teen scratched the back of his head and laughed, embarrassed.
"I know I don't have to," the red-head replied, scooping some yellowtail sashimi and eel next to the rice in the bento lid. "But I want to."
Too hungry to argue further, Ranma accepted the food-laden bento lid with a quick "thanks" and quickly proved that he was still a Saotome. Unazuki, for her part, stared wide eyed at the performance of Musabetsu eating technique; he was finished in thirty seconds flat.
"Did you even taste that?" she asked in an awestruck voice. "I've never seen anyone eat like that."
"Yep," replied the negawarrior in a happy tone. "And it was great!"
Unazuki could only shake her head at his reply.
The dark beast continued her vigil over the primary school, waiting for the right opportunity to strike and make her target like her. Over the past several minutes, children had been exiting the school for recess, and if the black predator was to find her target, she needed to be vigilant.
'There!' the creature thought as she spotted her quarry. 'Maybe if I sneak up on him, he won't have a chance to run.'
Now one must understand that the use of the predator's mind is not advisable in making friends, but Luna had yet to make this realization. Creeping from her hiding place, she approached her prey from its blind spot and downwind; the boy would not escape.
Finally reaching pouncing distance, the small black cat made one last survey of the target. The boy was standing still, talking with the same classmate Luna had seen earlier in the day. The girl was paying close attention to what Shingo was saying, and Luna decided to listen for a moment.
"Don't you think, Mika-chan?" asked Shingo.
"I don't know, Shingo-kun," she replied, her voice somewhat dubious. "I don't see what's wrong with letting your sister keep a cat. But on the other hand, I'd rather have a Shaneera, myself."
Luna tuned them out, a small part of her brain wondering just what caused the youngest Tsukino's extreme dislike of felines. However, the vast majority of her brain was still focused into predator mode, so that line of inquiry was placed on low priority.
As her target continued to talk about the strange new pets, Shaneera, Luna crouched for the pounce. 'Once he feels how soft my fur is and sees that I don't use my claws,' Luna thought, 'he'll see that I'm nice. Then he'll let me stay.'
Luna sprang from her position and landed on Shingo's shoulder, careful to avoid using her claws for purchase. Taking a deep breath, she started purring as loudly as she could… with predictable results.
Shingo leapt into the air and then broke for the school entrance, the other students laughing at him. Unfortunately, Luna's instincts overrode her resolution to not use her claws, and she dug them into the boy's shoulder to keep her perch as the youngest Tsukino accelerated. This just made him increase his speed even further and scream louder, and just as he was about to reenter the school, Shingo made a quick one eighty that finally dislodged Luna from his shoulder. The small cat fell to the tiled floor of the school entry hall and slid all the way to the opposite wall.
Panting for breath, Luna stared wide-eyed at the boy, still running for his life. She would have sat there for some time yet, but an annoyed voice grasped her attention.
"I just waxed this floor, cat," growled the school janitor, but Luna was less captivated by his words than the broom he was currently brandishing. "Get out of here!!"
Luna raced for the door, a swipe from the broom lending extra speed to her mad dash for her hiding place in the bushes.
Umino was getting worse every minute, and what ever insanity gripped the normally timid boy seemed to be spreading to the other students. Usagi watched Umino from a safe distance as he started breaking windows, throwing what ever came to hand at them, and the worst part was that some of their classmates had started emulating him. At first it was just a couple of other boys, but by lunch time, everyone other than Usagi was running around the classroom and halls, breaking things, drawing graffiti on the walls, and fighting.
Making sure to keep out of sight, Usagi began to retreat from the insanity, a few tears leaking from her eyes because of the destruction. Turning a corner, she walked away from the riot waiting to happen, but just as she thought she had escaped, a hand landed on her shoulder. Screaming, Usagi jumped at least a meter into the air, coming down facing her attacker.
"What the hell is wrong with you today, Umino?!" the blonde shouted at the suit-clad boy. "I hate you when you're like this!"
Heedless of her words, Umino advanced on Usagi without speaking, a small, arrogant smirk resting on his face, and for the first time ever, Usagi felt menace from her erstwhile friend.
"Umino," Usagi began, her voice finally showing some of her fear. "What do you think you're doing?"
The smirk on Umino's face widened into a cruel smile, and he answered, "Well, sweet thing, what do you think? I told you that I just don't understand why you're so cold to me, and now I'm going to force the issue."
The blonde's eyes widened at the implication of Umino's words, and she began to back away from the information dealer. However, a moment later, her back was pressed against the wall, and Umino was holding her there with a hand on each shoulder. Bringing his face within an inch of her's, the nerdish boy said, "Well, fancy seeing you like this, hotty. Let's just go ahead and take advantage of it, shall we?"
Then the boy leaned in and kissed her, and Usagi felt her fragile heart shatter. Umino had just stolen her first kiss, and it tore her apart. In the wake of her depression came two feelings: white-hot anger and the resolve to punish the one who took away her first kiss.
Even Usagi didn't see the punch coming, and it was her fist connecting with Umino's head. As the boy flew toward the opposite side of the hall, some of the combat instincts she had retained from her transformed state kicked in, and she landed a powerful side kick into the information dealer's stomach, increasing his speed and slamming him into the wall.
"I'LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU, UMINO!!!!!" Usagi screamed, and she unleashed slap after slap to the boy's face. "How could you?!"
An indeterminate time later, Usagi finally saw that Umino was unconscious, and she stopped hitting him. The boy's face was a mass of bruises, and in several places, Usagi's nails had actually cut him. However, Usagi could feel no remorse for her actions.
Deciding to leave Umino there, the blonde girl glanced at the clock. 'One o'clock,' she thought, worry tingling her mental voice. 'And it sounds like the others are getting worse… I have to get out of here.'
With the decision made, Usagi headed for the front entrance of the school, confident that the teachers wouldn't worry about one student playing hooky when the rest of the class was rioting.
Nephrite opened the door to the furniture store and looked around, seeking something that fit his style. Almost immediately, a saleswoman approached him, and he said, "I'm looking for a living room set in black leather and two bedroom sets in dark wood."
Nodding at his request, she lead Nephrite to several living room sets that fit his description, but the dark general was not satisfied until the third one. Three torchieres lit the scene in a dim, indirect manner, and the sofa and love seat combination were upholstered in soft, black suede. The end tables and coffee table were black iron with black-with-silver-rivulet marble tops, and finally, there was a modern-styled entertainment center.
Telling the sales lady that this was exactly what he had in mind, she noted the reference number and replied, "Then shall we move on to the bedroom sets?"
Nodding to the woman, she led him directly to exactly what he was looking for. 'She's very good at her work if she can infer what I would like from a single selection,' Nephrite thought with no small approval. 'She might even be able to serve in the Queen's court if she could keep up this success rate.'
The set she led him to was all oak, stained so dark that it was almost black. Double beds with black silk sheets and a black comforter may not have been very traditional in Japan, but they were certainly well within Nephrite's liking. The matching nightstands used the same marble as the coffee table in the living room set, and the armoire was gracefully carved without being gaudy.
"Perfect," he told her. "I would like to order one set of the living room and two of the bedroom."
The saleswoman quickly and efficiently collected Nephrite's information and his payment, as well as the rather sizable tip he offered her, and assured him that the furniture would be delivered in the next day or two. With that, Nephrite thanked her and left the store, intent on returning to the Dark Kingdom for some supplies.
Luna was despairing of ever convincing Shingo to like her, and this increasingly fueled her desperation. Unfortunately, Luna plus desperation generally leaves out logic, and when she heard the school bell ring, releasing the students from their classes, Luna scrambled from her hiding place and up into a tree overhanging the walk. Crouching there, she kept watch for Shingo, intent of proving herself a lovable little kitty… even if it killed him.
As the students milled about, talking and playing, Luna finally spotted the youngest Tsukino exiting the school building along with that same friend, Mika. The black cat readied herself to pounce, and just as Shingo passed under the limb where she waited, she dropped onto his shoulder…
Usagi looked up at the scream only to see her little brother barreling toward her, Luna perched on his shoulder. Unfortunately, realization of this fact did not come in time to avoid a collision, and the siblings fell to the ground. Usagi snatched Luna up from the ground and yelled, "What the heck were you doing to my cat, Shingo!?"
Just as angry as Usagi, Shingo shot back, "I didn't do nothin' to that stupid cat! She's been following me around all day tryin' ta pounce on me!"
Losing a bit of her anger, Usagi looked down at Luna… who was doing her level best to look cute and innocent. Of course, that only made her look like the cat that ate the canary. Seeing this, Usagi sighed. "Alright, Shingo," she said in a resigned voice. "I came here to pick you up and offer you a deal. I'll buy you a pet if you'll let me keep Luna."
Shingo looked suspiciously at his sister, but before he could voice any problems, Mika's voice came from behind him. "Oh Shingo-kun," she said brightly. "That means you can get a Shaneera, just like me! Come on; let's go to the pet store, now!"
Usagi scratched her head at the rather one sided conversation, but when Mika grabbed her little brother's arm and started dragging him in the direction of the pet store, she had no choice but to follow. Along the way, Usagi happened to see Osa-P, the front entrance still closed off by police tape. 'Oh yeah,' she thought. 'I need to go visit Naru today, too.'
Another two blocks past Osa-P, Mika pulled Shingo into a store, and Usagi had to run so that she wouldn't lose them. Inside the store, several people were looking at the Shaneera, small fuzz balls with big, cute eyes, but the real attractor was the scent. Each Shaneera put off its own distinctive scent, like a natural perfume, and Usagi thought it all smelled wonderful.
Walking up to her brother and Mika, she said, "So itouto, is this the pet you want?"
"Hey!" Shingo returned, obviously still annoyed at her because of Luna. "Back off! I'll tell ya when I find the one I want."
Usagi would have made warding gestures if she hadn't been holding Luna, and the blonde teenager backed off all the same. It wouldn't do to get Shingo even more upset with her when she was trying to get something from him. While she waited for his decision, Usagi tuned out the voices in the store and started looking at the Shaneera. She had to admit that they were pretty cute, but she would much rather have Luna. A tug at her arm brought Usagi back from her thoughts.
"Are you totally zoned out, now, or what, odongo atama?"
Usagi whirled, and expecting to see Shingo there, she almost tripped when she saw Chiba Mamoru standing there, looking at her.
"What do you think you're doing?" Usagi asked indignantly.
Ignoring her question, Mamoru said, "Are you going to buy a Shaneera, too?"
"Not for myself, no," she answered with eyes narrowed at his semi-civilized question. "Why do you want to know?"
Mamoru shrugged elaborately and replied derisively, "The scent of perfume doesn't suit you."
The odongoed teen was practically growling as he walked away, and Usagi thought, 'That guy makes me sooo mad!'
Usagi almost went after Mamoru to give him a little piece of her mind, but a tug at her arm stopped her. Turning her annoyance on the newcomer, she almost shouted at Shingo and Mika, each holding a Shaneera.
"So," said Shingo, raising an eyebrow. "Are you still going to buy me the Shaneera?"
Letting go of her annoyance for the moment, Usagi smiled. If she bought Shingo his pet, then he would have agreed to her deal. Smiling, the ponytailed girl replied, "Sure thing, itouto."
Mika followed them to the counter, and she bought her Shaneera right after them. Both kids couldn't seem to take their eyes off of their new Shaneera. Usagi thought, 'Oh, that's so cute! They just love their new pets!'
As they exited the store, Usagi spoke to Shingo. "I need to go by the hospital and visit Naru, so you go on home and tell Mom where I am."
"I'm not your personal messenger service, Usagi," the brown haired boy returned hotly.
"Come on, Shingo!" Usagi replied, equally as hot. "It's not that hard!"
After a second more of defiance, Shingo gave in saying, "Oh, alright," and Usagi set off toward the hospital.
Ranma practically raced from the classroom to the gates, extremely happy that another school day was over. As he reached the gates, however, he heard someone call his name.
"Ranma!" called Unazuki. "Hey, wait up!"
Doing as she asked, Ranma leaned against the gate post and put his hands behind his head and affecting a bored expression. When the exuberant red-head finally caught up, she was out of breath from running, but she was still smiling.
"Hey Ranma," she said. "Today's one of my days off from the Parlor; do you want to go do something?"
"Umm," replied Ranma, looking down and somewhat stumped about why this girl was hanging around him so much. "Well, I was going to buy some new outfits; I think you've already seen every piece of clothing I own…"
When he looked back up, he couldn't understand why Unazuki was blushing, so he just continued. "I mean, you don't have ta come if ya don't wanna."
"No, no!" Unazuki answered quickly. "Let's go!"
Then, suiting action to words, she took his arm and started walking, and he had very little choice but to follow.
Arriving at the hospital, Usagi walked up to the front desk and inquired about Naru.
"Osaka Naru?" the nurse asked rhetorically. "She's stable, in room four-twenty-one."
Thanking the nurse, Usagi quickly walked to the elevator, and when the car arrived, she punched the button for the fourth floor. As the elevator car sped upward, Usagi had the chance to finally talk to Luna alone, and quickly snagging the little black cat from her school bag, she said, "Luna, what the heck did you do to Shingo?"
Luna had the good sense to look abashed, but her reply was puzzled. "I only tried to get close to him and make friends, like you suggested."
Usagi just looked at Luna like she was dumb, but a moment later the expression faded back to neutrality. "Luna," she said in a hushed voice. "Something really bad was going on back at my school; that's why I left early. Umino came to school acting really weird, and by the time I left, most of my class was practically rioting! I just don't know what happened."
Luna's ears twitched as though searching for a faint sound, and then an expression of alarm graced her face. "Usagi! I sense a great deal of negative energy coming from the direction of your school!"
"But," Usagi replied, starting to cry. "There wasn't any big monster there, just a bunch of kids messing the place up!"
"Still, you could have transformed and kept the peace, right?"
"No!" Usagi really was crying now. "My transformation brooch was gone when I woke up this morning! If you weren't here, I would have thought it was all a dream!"
"Look out, Usagi," said Luna as she ducked back into the bag. "The doors are opening!"
Usagi stood quickly, but if anyone had noticed her crouching position in the elevator, they made no sign of it. Putting the possible incident out of her mind, the fuku-clad girl walked over to the nurse station and asked, "Could you point me in the direction of room 421?"
The busy nurse attendant pointed down the hall to the right without speaking, and after a quick "Arigatou," Usagi sped down the hall to her friend's room. At the door, she heard two voices speaking inside.
"Mizuno-sensei," came the voice of Naru, the pain still noticeable in her voice. "Have they found my mother yet?"
The doctor's voice was that of a woman in her mid-thirties. "I'm sorry I can't give you any good news, Naru-chan, but you can't give up hope. I'll see you later, alright?"
"Alright," Naru replied, and the doctor almost ran into Usagi on her way out of the room.
"Oh," she said as she placed a hand on Usagi's shoulder to steady both of them. "Sumimasen. Are you alright?"
"Yes, thank you," the ponytailed girl replied. "I'm just here to see Naru-chan."
Mizuno-sensei was about ten centimeters taller than Usagi with short blue hair. Her smile was open and friendly, if a bit on the busy side. "I'm glad someone has finally come to visit Naru-chan," she said briskly. "We haven't yet found any relatives, so any help you might be able to give would be appreciated. I'm sorry that I don't have more time to speak with you, but I have two other patients waiting for me. Please excuse me."
With that, Mizuno-sensei walked around Usagi and off to care for her other patients and a much more somber Usagi stepped into Naru's room. When the auburn haired girl in the hospital bed saw her long time friend, Usagi could see that she was very depressed, and she immediately tried to put more cheer into her expression.
"Stop it, Usagi-chan," said Naru, though she almost laughed. "You look really funny when you're trying to hide how you're feeling."
Letting her expression fall back into its morose posture, Usagi still managed a wan smile for her friend. "So what are the doctors saying?"
"My leg and three ribs are broken," replied Naru. "But that's the worst of it. They want to keep me here for another day or two for observation, but after that I can go home… if they find my mother…"
A sudden stab of guilt impaled Usagi through the heart hearing her friend suffering since that self-same girl was the cause of Naru's pain. 'How can I tell her that I killed her mother because she became a youma…?' thought Usagi. 'What kind of friend AM I?!'
"Usagi-chan?" Naru's voice was filled with concern for her apparently unresponsive friend, and Usagi shook her head, at least temporarily clearing her mind of guilt and remorse.
"I'm alright, Naru-chan," Usagi replied. "Let me tell you what happened at school today. You won't believe it!"
Sitting in a booth at the Crown Parlor across from Unazuki, Ranma contentedly sipped on a vanilla milkshake, the purchases of the day next to him and dinner in his stomach. While the pigtailed negawarrior would have been happy to pay for them to go to a restaurant, Unazuki had insisted on coming here since she could get the meal free, and Genma had always taught Ranma to respect free stuff.
The shopping trip that Ranma had intended was a quick half hour in a Chinese clothing store to pick up a few more outfits, maybe some of other colors. However, by bringing Unazuki with him, the trip had instead take all of the afternoon, and by the time they left the last shop the ponytailed redhead wanted to visit, it was already six o'clock.
Walking the distance from that last shop to the Crown Parlor, Ranma had noticed a surprising lack of people on the streets, and when he activated his negaforce sensory constructs, he noted a large construct, seemingly made from spider silk, winding through the streets and attaching to various pedestrians. Almost instinctively, he formed a simple shield construct around Unazuki and himself to ward against the large construct's effects, but he couldn't begin to guess at the huge gossamer monstrosity's purpose. Deciding that he and his friend were safe, whatever it did, he wouldn't get involved if he could help it.
When they reached the Crown Game Center, Unazuki introduced him to her older brother, Motoki, but she hadn't given them much time to chat before hustling Ranma up to the Parlor. Ranma had a triple cheeseburger plate again, and Unazuki ordered a caesar salad.
Now, with dinner eaten, the two teens sat in a companionable silence as they drank the last of their shakes. Ranma, for his part, was somewhat distracted by the movement of the giant construct still growing around him, and several times Unazuki had to repeat questions to him. Finally, Unazuki asked in a somewhat exasperated voice, "What is it, Ranma? You keep spacing out!"
"I'm sorry, Unazuki," he replied. "I just keep thinking that I'm forgetting something, but I can't place it…"
The attractive red head put a finger to her lips in thought for a moment, then exclaimed, "Oh no! We have a paper due tomorrow! We're both going to have to get to work on that one… I'd love to stay and chat, but my parents'll kill me if I don't keep my grades up. I'm sorry, Ranma."
"Don't worry about it," replied the teenage negawarrior, smiling. "I should probably get home and work on it myself. I'll see you tomorrow."
Unazuki smiled back and said, "Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow in class."
With that, Ranma headed down the stairs and outside, but when he reached the sidewalk, the pigtailed teen did not turn toward his apartment. Instead, he began to trace the huge, web-like construct back to its source, maintaining the shield on Unazuki as long as he could.
As Usagi left the hospital, the thought that she had killed her friend's mother had her almost to the point of vomiting with guilt and grief, and tears fell liberally from her eyes. Getting out of sight of the hospital, the ponytailed teen sat down on a secluded park bench and wept. A few moments after she really started sobbing, she felt Luna nuzzle her forehead and say, "What's wrong, Usagi? Your friend will be alright, at least from what I heard."
Usagi's voice was barely intelligible through her crying, but reply she did. "B-but I-I-I k-k-killed Naru's mo-mo…"
"What are you talking about, Usagi?" Luna said, sounding aghast. "You didn't kill Naru's mother! That was a youma of the Dark Kingdom, not a human!"
In disbelief, Usagi stared through Luna, eyes glazed, and the cat proceeded to paw her nose to get the girl's attention. "I mean it, Usagi!" Luna continued. "Yes, the Dark Kingdom has youma that can possess others, but that was not one of them! That youma was PRETENDING to be Naru's mother, so her real mother is somewhere else."
"Somewhere else?" asked Usagi in a small voice, but it grew in strength as she spoke. "I'm glad I didn't kill Naru-chan's mother, but we still have to find her! Do you have any idea where she could be?"
"I'll ask central to try to locate her," Luna replied. "But right now, we have bigger problems. Like I was trying to tell you in the elevator, there is a huge amount of negative energy in the air, and it's grown to almost double since we last talked! The city needs Sailor Moon, and your transformation brooch is at home…"
Just then, three people ran past the bench, screaming. Usagi and Luna looked in the direction they came from, and were surprised by a massive number of people, rioting in the street. At their head, the figure of a boy wearing thick glasses was leading them into the park, a boy wearing a very familiar suit.
"Do you know where my brooch is, Luna?" Usagi asked, suddenly showing her new-found business-like attitude in the face of a crisis. "And can you track me?"
"Yes," Luna replied. "To both questions. What do you have in mind?"
"I just saw someone I think will lead me to the source of the negative energy," Usagi continued, "but I'll lose him if I go home for my brooch. You get it and track me down. I'll be waiting."
Usagi was about to run off when she heard "Wait a moment, Usagi!" from behind, and she turned slightly to see what Luna had in mind. Similar to how she produced the brooch, Luna once again did a rather impressive double flip maneuver, and at the apex of the jump, a small object shaped like a pen fell to the ground. Picking the object up off the ground, the small cat dropped it into Usagi's hand.
"That's the disguise wand," she said, almost breathless. "To use it, envision what you want to look like and say 'Disguise Power.' It should help you trail that boy."
Nodding once, Usagi pocketed the wand and turned away; she couldn't even hear the cat leave over the sound of the approaching rioters. 'Now that's not something I want to get caught up in,' the blonde thought, and after a moment of watching them, she formed an image of unremarkable clothing and short black hair to confuse anyone who knew her. With the image firmly formed within her mind, she reached into her pocket and whispered "disguise power."
Unlike her Sailor transformation, the disguise pen had no explosion of power and light, and nor did she feel her clothes disintegrate. Instead, all she felt was a strange ripple move across her body, and a moment later, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a storefront in the light of the setting sun. 'Wow,' the now black haired girl thought, amazed even though she expected it to work. 'That worked pretty well.'
Turning away, she unobtrusively joined the body of rioters, careful to keep Umino in sight at all times.
As Ranma walked, he studied the web construct above him, and slowly, he began to figure out its purpose. It was only so complex-looking because it was so big; the bigger the construct, the more of what he dubbed 'structure threads' were necessary to hold it together. Beyond this, there were three much simpler constructs repeated over and over throughout the construct, and while Ranma would have hated to power a construct of that size, the smaller constructs would be easy now that he saw how they were formed.
The first construct, the sticky part of the web, was how it attached to people's minds and ki patterns, and it was what Ranma was actually blocking with his instinctual shield construct. Once attached, the second construct would influence people toward anger, rage, destructive behavior, and a lack of inhibitions, and that part explained all the shouting from two blocks over. Finally, the third construct was a variant on one that Nephrite had taught him to harvest lifeforce. All in all, it was a pretty good way to harvest a lot of lifeforce from a lot people at once, especially with the high level of emotion causing the victims to pump out more ki than usual, but there were problems with the idea. The rioting, for example.
Ranma carefully skirted the edge of the fighting, and he could see that the police didn't seem to be able to stop it. The pigtailed negawarrior was only glad that the rioters were still at least a kilometer from his apartment building and the Crown center, and they were moving away from them.
Reading the construct patterns, it appeared that there were several 'centers' to this web, and while five of them were in the body of the rioters, two others were somewhere else. However, six of the seven centers were moving toward the last, and that one was staying still. In light of that, Ranma decided that it must be the real center, the origin. Content to watch the carnage without getting involved, Ranma stayed on the rooftops at the outskirts of the crowd and followed, waiting to see the mastermind behind the web.
Luna raced into the Tsukino house and up the stairs, intent on getting Usagi's transformation brooch from the girl's room. The small black cat was somewhat annoyed with herself for not remembering about the brooch earlier, but that was past now. Behind the thin barrier of the disguise wand, Usagi had no weapons and no armor against what ever youma or dark general was causing the riot, and without her Senshi transformation, she was as vulnerable as any other human out there.
As she skidded to a halt in Usagi's room, Luna cursed the memory fragmentation of her stasis cell once more. She knew that the Senshi magic was more potent than a simple transformation spell, but she didn't know how to teach Usagi what she needed to know to make use of that power. If she could, assuming that these memories were uncorrupted, then the transformation object would work more like a disguise tool rather than a power up, keeping others from realizing Sailor Moon was Usagi rather than the other way around.
Snatching up the brooch from underneath her charge's nightstand, Luna ran back out of the door, but a strange smell coming from Shingo's room brought her to a halt. As she peered inside, she saw her charge's younger brother sitting at his desk, staring at his new little Shaneera. If there had been any movement, anything to indicate that he was doing more than staring into its eyes lifelessly, she would have moved on immediately, but there was nothing, no sign that he was actually treating it like a pet. It was almost as though he were mesmerized.
Shaking her head, Luna decided that it had to wait. Casting a location spell, Luna got a moving fix on Usagi, and the little cat took off toward her charge at top speed. Usagi was facing a couple hundred rioters and at least one youma out there, and if she didn't get her brooch soon, that story would have a very tragic ending.
Usagi made sure to stay on the far side of the crowd from where the police were attempting to reduce the damage, but it was difficult as more police were arriving by the minute. If she was stuck in the crowd when the officers decided enough was enough, she would be taken down like all the others.
The worst part about walking through this crowd was the sense that they truly were innocents in this. Something was influencing them, making them give in to their darker desires, and thankfully, it had yet to touch her.
The sounds of the riot were harsh on the teenage girl's ears, and she could barely hear the officers' orders over the shouting, breaking glass, and fighting. Taking a look around, Usagi could see that most of the damage was cosmetic: broken windows and smashed doors. However, at least two storefronts had smoke pouring from their shattered front windows, and the teen could see the red hints of a starting fire deep within.
At one point, she almost lost track of Umino, and when she saw him again, he was stealing down an alley, away from the main body of rioters. Deciding that it was pointless to stick around, she took off after him. A quick glance behind told her why Umino had decided that now was a good time to leave: the police were bringing the heavy end of the hammer down on the rioters, and between the tear gas and the fire hoses, it wasn't a pretty sight. Resolving to worry about the crowd later, she continued to follow her own quarry.
Without the crowd surrounding him, Umino moved with much more caution than before, and a couple of times she thought he'd spotted her. Nevertheless, she continued to follow, and eventually, she recognized the Tenth Street Park where the ward's newest fortune teller resided, at least according to Naru. Sure enough, Umino disappeared into the wagon sitting in the park, and Usagi settled in to wait for Luna, hiding in some bushes.
When the police decided enough was enough and came down hard on the rioters, Ranma moved away on the rooftops. He could still see the web, and since the 'centers' back in the crowd were winking out one by one, he could pretty well ignore them for the other two. 'Wait a minute,' he thought after making another assessment of the web as a whole. 'One of those centers in the crowd was smart enough to get away… Maybe that's the true center, and the one that isn't moving was injured or something…'
Shrugging, Ranma continued toward the immobile center, knowing that it didn't matter since he was going to the same place that all three of the others were headed. He even made better time to the unmoving center than any of the others, traveling over the rooftops as he was.
When he arrived at the site of the immobile center, what he saw almost made him laugh. 'What the heck is a gypsy wagon doing in Japan?' he asked himself incredulously, but there was no denying it. Right out of eastern European and Russian folk lore, a brightly painted wagon sat, big as life, in the park on Tenth Street, and that was the destination for the other centers.
Though the pigtailed negawarrior was ready to spend some time studying the huge construct in greater detail, it seemed that the action would not wait. The first to arrive was a boy in a mussed and torn suit wearing thick glasses, and not far behind him, there was a black haired girl wearing torn jeans and a halter top. The boy ran immediately up to the wagon and entered, but the girl ducked down behind some bushes near the wagon. Since he could still see the construct, Ranma knew that she was not one of the centers.
Another two minutes later, the last center arrived, a girl of sixteen or so with long dark red hair and wearing a strapless leather dress. So intent was Ranma in watching the patterns of the shifting constructs as the centers merged that he lost sight of the first girl, but then, he had the perfect vantage point to see Sailor Moon's entrance.
As a small black shape approached, Usagi moved away from her impromptu hiding place, her mind focused on what she had seen. First, Umino had entered the wagon, and then a young woman with long red hair. Without a doubt, this was the origin of the dark forces that assailed her ward.
A moment later, she rendezvoused with Luna at the edge of an alley, catching the cat in mid leap and carrying her into the shadows. "You got it?" she asked anxiously.
As Usagi saw Luna's mouth was full of brooch, she easily accepted the rapid nod of the cat's head, and a moment later, Luna dropped the brooch into her hand. With a murmured "Thanks, Luna," Usagi raised the brooch and called out, "Moon Prism Power, Make Up!"
An eruption of light and energy caused her disguise to evaporate, and the still unusual sensation of her clothing disintegrating enveloped her just before the power. As before, she spun with the power, and the attire of Sailor Moon enveloped her body as the soldier's thoughts suffused in her mind. As the transformation ended, the Senshi of the Moon charged forth from the alley in full force, her mentor silently cheering from behind.
Umino watched, a cruel smirk on his face, as the fortune teller opened a strange dark rift within the wagon. Without hesitation, the woman with the dark red hair and the black crystal bracelet jumped through the portal, and he was about to follow when the roof of the wagon was sheered from the walls.
"AAAHHH!!" screamed the suit-clad boy as he threw himself to the ground, and the fortune teller grew from the stature of a short woman into a three meter tall conglomeration of woman and snake, the rift closing before the transformation was complete.
Ranma watched as Sailor Moon snagged her tiara from the air as it returned, and the pigtailed teen's respect for Tokyo's newest devil hunter rose a couple of notches. 'Wow,' he thought, impressed at the display of power. 'She took the entire roof off of the wagon with one attack. If I saw it right, that wasn't the same attack she used on that woman yesterday. There's more to this girl than I thought.'
Before he could further assess Moon's combat potential, a three meter tall, half snake half woman suddenly rose from the wreckage of the wagon and faced off against the blonde superhero. With equal suddenness, the vast web of the construct retracted into the creature faster than Ranma would have imagined, and only a thin thread still connecting the beast with the hapless young man cowering in the wreckage of the wagon.
"I fight for love and justice," the blonde Senshi called out to the monster. "I'm Sailor Moon, and in the name of the Moon, I'll punish you!"
'Where does she get her lines?' Ranma thought in disgust, but then there was no more time to be embarrassed by extension. The fight had begun.
Not even bothering to wonder where her words actually came from, Sailor Moon announced her presence to the enemy, and before consciously thinking about it, she was moving. The youma lashed out with two black beams of energy, but the Senshi was already gone, ducking close and landing a hard knife-hand to the youma's side.
As the creature screamed, it materialized a huge, wickedly curved sword and slashed at the Moon Senshi. Dodging the initial slash, the pigtailed Sailor tried to close again, and the snake woman's sword caught her on the backswing, opening a long cut on her forearm and sending her flying into a nearby tree.
The Senshi of the Moon screamed in pain from the injury, but she didn't slow down. Racing forward again, she dodged the youma's sword, but before she could land a blow, the creature's other fist slammed into her gut, throwing her back into the tree. Tears leaked from her eyes at the pain, and the youma advanced for the kill.
Suddenly, a rose as red as blood slashed through the air to lodge itself in the youma's sword arm causing the youma to drop its blade. For the first time, the creature spoke, its voice inhuman and cold, "Who the hell are you?!"
"Sailor Moon!" came the voice of Tuxedo Kamen from one of the nearby rooftops. "Never forget what you are fighting for!"
Nodding unconsciously at Kamen's words, Moon rose from the base of the tree and attacked. Racing forward and dodging another punch, Moon caught the youma with a side kick hard enough to crack its energy shield and send the creature flying, and then the moment came. Without hesitation, she pulled off her tiara, and even as the creature was about to slam into a tree halfway across the park, she let her tiara fly with a cry of "Moon Tiara Action!"
Once again, Ranma was captivated by the sheer brutality of Sailor Moon's final attack, and he watched in morbid fascination as it did its work, absorbing every grisly detail via his sensory constructs. Before the creature could actually strike the tree, the tiara penetrated its shield and created the ki conduit, just like the last time. Even as the living creature was transformed into grey dust, its body hit the tree, creating a massive cloud in spectacular fashion. So captivated by the sight was Ranma that he missed Sailor Moon's exit, and he never saw that other guy at all.
Shrugging, Ranma decided that it was about time for him to head home, anyway, and roof hoping was definitely the fastest way. Leaping from roof to roof across the skyline of Juuban, the young negawarrior reflected on everything he had seen in the evening. Focusing on the constructs, Ranma decided that he needed to pay very careful attention to any constructs he saw, and he especially wished that he'd seen the entire materialization construct the creature had used to form its sword.
Making sure that he remembered every line of the constructs he did manage to study, Ranma stopped briefly to recreate the 'sticky' part of the web using his own energy, but he wasn't certain he succeeded at it without testing it. However, the pigtailed negawarrior had no intention of doing so tonight.
Finally reaching his building, Ranma quickly rode the elevator to his floor and made his way to his apartment. Once inside, he finally put down the two bags of clothes he'd bought earlier in the day sat down against the wall. It was only then that he realized that he was not alone.
"Looks like you've had a long day," said Nephrite, tossing Ranma a soda. "School ended quite a while ago."
"Yeah," the apprentice replied in a weary tone. "Between a new friend and a riot, it's definitely been a long day. And I still have some homework to do…"
"A riot, huh," Nephrite said. "Remember my warning Ranma. Don't get involved in any battles where you sense mana or lifeforce being used, by either side. You're not ready for a fight like that."
Ranma chuckled, but it wasn't an amused sound. "How could I forget all the times you beat me in China? I'll remember."
"I also have another warning for you," continued Nephrite. "While I was in the Dark Kingdom, I learned that energy harvesting operations are already underway in this city, probably even in this ward."
"That makes sense, considering that a construct caused the riot," Ranma replied, much to Nephrite's surprise. "I even figured out how that thing worked."
Of course, Nephrite never stayed surprised for long, and he wiped his face clear of emotion quickly enough that Ranma thought he might have imagined it in the first place. "Well, it's good that you learned something new," Nephrite said. "I still have some business to take care of in the Dark Kingdom, so I'll be gone for another day or two. In the meantime, read this and try some of the constructs in it."
So saying, Nephrite tossed a fairly thick, hard bound book to Ranma, the title reading "Basic Shield and Combat Constructs." The younger negawarrior flipped through a couple of pages and decided that he could easily treat this like a martial arts manual: certainly not as good as learning from a person, but usable in a teacher's absence. A moment later, he nodded to his instructor. "Alright," he said confidently. "I'll see you in a couple of days."
Nephrite turned toward the door, but just before opening it, he said, "Oh, I stocked the fridge and ordered some furniture, Ranma. It should be delivered tomorrow or the next day."
"'kay," Ranma replied, waving over his shoulder as he turned toward the hall. "I'll be expecting it, then."
The pigtailed apprentice heard the door open and close as Nephrite exited the apartment, and Ranma left a trail of dirty clothes leading to the bathroom, eager for a relaxing shower after a long day.
Sailor Moon sat in the alley, wincing as the Senshi regenerative magic went to work on her bruised ribs and the long laceration on her forearm. 'Another monster dead,' she thought with muted satisfaction, 'but at what cost?'
Hundreds of rioters, innocents but for the influence of the negative energy, were injured and arrested, and there was so much property damage back there. It was a melancholy victory if for no other reason than that she was unable to prevent the collateral damage.
"Great job, Sailor Moon!" Luna congratulated. "You won another battle."
"Luna…" the ponytailed superhero whispered. "Was there any way that we could have stopped that riot? Is there some way that we can stop them before they hurt so many people and do so much damage?"
The small cat's face scrunched up in a thoughtful expression, but when she spoke her voice was definitely in the negative. "I don't think so, Sailor Moon. Central gives me as much warning as it can, but our capabilities are very limited. There are more Senshi out there, waiting for us to discover them. Please keep your hope alive."
Smiling bravely, Moon replied, "I will Luna. Let's head home."
Suiting action to words, the Senshi of the Moon stood and began her slow walk toward home.
With the combatants gone, the battlefield of Tenth Street Park was quiet for nearly ten minutes before a low moan sounded from the wreckage. Slowly, painfully, a hand appeared from the rubble of the gypsy wagon, and after some scrabbling at the debris, an arm, torso, and head followed. Gurio Umino slowly rose from the wreckage, covered in dirt, splinters, and bruises.
"What happened?" he half whispered, half moaned. "I feel awful, and I can't remember anything since this morning…"
As he moved, sounds escaped his lips. Moans, whimpers, and hisses from the various pressures of his bruises filled the air, and after finally clearing himself from the debris, he sat down against a tree, breathing hard from the pain.
'I don't understand why I'm here…' he thought, desperately trying to remember what had happened. 'I got out of bed this morning, took a shower, and-'
Umino gasped, and the events of the day came rushing into his mind all at once.
'I-I stripped Haruna-sensei nude?! I started a RIOT!?!' he thought in disbelief. 'How could I do things like that??'
A few tears leaked from his eyes as he remembered forcing a kiss on Usagi, and he knew that he owed her more than an apology. 'I have to make this up to Usagi-san somehow!' he thought desperately. 'I just have to figure out how…'
Carefully and painfully, Umino levered himself to a standing position and began his long, lonely, and achingly slow trek home, his thoughts never leaving the subject of restitution for Usagi.
By the time Sailor Moon reached the Tsukino home, the long slash on her forearm had healed to a thin white line, and the swelling in her ribs had vanished. It was still somewhat painful to move, but it was something she could manage in her untransformed state. In the bushes outside the front door, her fingers explored the edges of her transformation brooch, and a moment later, her body was wrapped in red ribbons of energy. When they receded, Usagi was sitting on the ground wearing her school uniform.
Sighing, then wincing from the action, the ponytailed girl slowly rose from the bushes, her small black cat peeking out from her school bag. Usagi had never felt this tired before, and her aim was to do nothing but fall into bed and sleep for a week. As she entered the house, the familiar sight of her mother waiting for her greeted her eyes, but the expression was not Ikuko's normal anger at late arrivals.
"Usagi!" the Tsukino matriarch cried, rushing forward and embracing her daughter. "I was so worried about you, sweetheart! They were saying on the news that there was a riot, and I thought you might have been caught by the rioters!"
Usagi managed to keep from wincing as her mother put pressure on her ribs, but her voice was weak as she replied, "No Okaasan, I'm fine. I hid when I saw what was happening, so that's why I'm late."
"I'm so glad you're safe, Usagi-chan," her mother continued. "Would you like some dinner?"
"Actually, Okaasan," Usagi answered. "I'm really really tired. Can I just go to bed?"
Ikuko smiled indulgently and said, "Of course dear, but I'll put your plate in the fridge in case you get hungry later."
"Thanks, Okaasan," Usagi managed a weak smile for her mother before heading for the stairs. "Oyasumi nasai."
"Oyasumi, Usagi-chan," she heard Ikuko reply.
The Tsukino daughter really was bone weary, but as she reached the top of the stairs, a voice sounded out of her school bag. "Usagi," said Luna. "I just remembered something I saw when I came here for your brooch. You really should look in on Shingo before you go to bed."
Usagi looked at her adviser like the cat had just said the most horrible thing imaginable, feeling betrayed, but she asked anyway. "Why?"
Luna cringed at Usagi's look, but she continued anyway. "He looked like he was mesmerized by that Shaneera you bought him earlier today. I think something is really wrong."
Almost ready to cry from fatigue, Usagi nonetheless headed not for her own room and welcoming bed, but for her brother's room. Knocking on the door, the elder Tsukino sibling called out, "Shingo? Can I come in?"
When no answer came from within, Usagi knocked once more, and this time she struck with enough force to slowly swing the door open. Through the now open door, Usagi saw that Shingo was sitting at his desk, eyes glazed, staring into the eyes of his Shaneera. Gasping at his vacant look, Usagi advanced into the room.
'I've got to get that thing away from him!' she thought, alarmed, but when she reached out to grab the Shaneera, an iron-hard grip caught her wrist. Tracing the arm to her younger brother, she saw that Shingo now had a fierce look in his eyes, and he was snarling angrily.
"Shingo!" cried Usagi. "We have to get rid of it! It's trying to hurt you!"
Adrenaline shot through Usagi's body as the youngest Tsukino tightened his grip on her arm and shouted back, "NO!!"
Reacting to his anger and the pain of his grip, Usagi tore her hand free and went, again, for the Shaneera with her left hand. Shingo once again caught her hand before she could snag the aromatic pet, this time with both hands, and Usagi yelled, "Snap out of it, Shingo!"
The younger Tsukino child only replied with a growl, and suddenly all the stress was too much for Usagi. Rearing back her right hand, she left Shingo lying on the floor, the red imprint of her right hand gracing his left cheek. The boy stared up at his sister, eyes wide in shock; a shock that Usagi knew was mirrored in her own eyes. Falling to her knees, she desperately spoke, "I'm sorry, Shingo. I'm so sorry, itouto!"
The boy gasped as she came within arms reach, and then, at top speed, he stood, grabbed the Shaneera, and ran out of the room. Tears in her eyes at her actions and what had been done to her brother, Usagi raced after him, hoping that she could help him before what ever was controlling him could hurt him any more.
Having finished his school paper, Ranma was relaxing on his bedroll, looking at the book Nephrite had given him before returning to the Dark Kingdom. The first chapter had been an introduction to making constructs quickly enough for battle, and the pigtailed negawarrior was able to liken it to some of the ki manipulation techniques he'd learned from his father. The other enlightening item in the introduction was the identity of the book's author, Nephrite himself. As Ranma hungrily absorbed the information, he munched on a rice cake and sipped a soda from the freshly stocked pantry and refrigerator.
Moving on to the second chapter, he recognized a variant on the pattern he'd instinctively formed to keep the web construct from touching him or Unazuki, but this form was more powerful. Knowing he needed to get to sleep soon, Ranma decided to thumb through the book a little more rather than reading it verbatim.
The third chapter went over energy barriers that were solid enough to stop matter, and the fourth described shields against mana-based magic. The fifth chapter, like a capstone for the description of shields, analyzed how to synthesize the various forms of shields for overall protection.
Moving on to the sixth chapter, Ranma recognized the effects of the first attack described as one Nephrite had used on him before he'd been inducted. The raw infusion of negaforce into a life form created an explosion by annihilating the target's lifeforce, a powerful and dangerous attack, to both victim and user.
The former martial artist was yawning as he thumbed to the seventh chapter, and he decided that any further insights would be lost on his fatigue-fogged brain. Setting the book down, he flicked off the light and got into his bedroll, sleep rolling over him almost immediately.
Usagi watched Shingo run into the pet store where she had bought him the Shaneera, and an icy premonition settled into her gut. Swerving into a nearby alley, she activated her transformation for the second time in one day, and Sailor Moon raced out of the alley toward the pet store.
Heedless of the now locked door, the Senshi of the Moon plowed into the store amid splintering wood and breaking glass, but she was not prepared for the sight before her. At least fifteen children, Shingo and Mika among them, and another five teens and adults stood around the room, all with the same glazed look that her brother had had while he was staring at his Shaneera. Near the back of the room, a strange conglomeration of woman and spider was directing the older humans into a roiling black rift, and before Sailor Moon could even speak, three more of them disappeared into the inky depths.
"NOO!!" the superhero cried, getting the youma's attention. Even so, the strange spider creature still took a moment to shove the final two teens through the rift before facing the Senshi. As the youma saw the devil hunter, her mandibles spread in an odd approximation of a cruel smile, and Sailor Moon felt fear.
"So," the youma said conversationally, an odd hiss in her voice. "You are the little bitch who's been wrecking our plans. Do you have a name?"
Pushing her fear away, Sailor Moon snarled at the beast, crying out, "I am the sailor suit beautiful soldier of love and justice! I am Sailor Moon, and I'll punish you in the name of the Moon!"
As she finished her strange speech, still trying to figure out where the corny lines came from, a strange sound filled the store, originating from the youma. It was a cross between a hiccup and a metallic hiss, but it wasn't long before Moon realized that the youma was laughing at her.
"You are so ridiculous," the spider creature said amid her laughing. "I have a hard time believing that you're really the idiot who's opposing us."
Gritting her teeth, the Senshi growled at the youma, and yelling, "I'll show you!!" she charged, pulling back her right fist for a hard punch. However, Moon found herself flying in the opposite direction of her charge, the wind knocked out of her as two of the spider youma's eight legs slammed into her gut. The Senshi of the Moon flew through the shattered door and across the street, slamming into a storefront there, and she lay on the sidewalk, holding her now more than bruised ribs.
"Sailor Moon!" came an insistent voice from beyond her closed eyes, and the blonde superhero managed to open her eyes to see a small cat looking fearfully at her. "You must fight back, Sailor Moon!"
"Luna…" she whispered, wincing at the pain in her chest. "I- I'll try."
Scrabbling at the cracked concrete construction of the storefront behind her, Moon slowly made her way to her feet, but the sight before her was hardly heartening. All the children, with the youma standing at the back, were moving toward her like zombies, and she didn't think they were here to help.
"Go, my slaves," hissed the youma. "Bring me her head."
A horrible feeling settled in Moon's stomach at the youma's words, and it became even worse when the children began to increase their speed. One little girl broke into a run and leapt at the teenaged superhero, latching on to her arm and biting her shoulder hard enough to draw blood. The Moon Senshi screamed and involuntarily threw the girl off, but a boy jumped at her leg and grabbed on, sinking his teeth into her thigh.
Acting on instinctual fear, Moon kicked the boy off and, scooping up Luna, she jumped over the crowd of children onto the roof of the pet store. "I can't do it Luna!" she cried, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I can't fight them!"
"Sailor Moon," replied the little advisor insistently, "you must destroy the youma. There is a technique you can use with the Moon Tiara to disrupt its control over the children, but unless you kill the youma, they will fall under its influence again! Use the Moon Tiara Stardust!"
Shoving her pain and fear aside, Sailor Moon put on a brave face and grasped her tiara. "Moon Tiara…" she began, and the tiara transformed, just like in her Moon Tiara Action attack, but she could feel some minor differences, as though the tiara was sensing her intent. "Stardust!" she finished and let the tiara fly into the center of the crowd of children. Instead of slicing through or disintegrating the kids, the tiara shattered on impact with a young girl in the center, and sparkling motes of light showered the possessed group. Almost as one, the children fell to the ground, unconscious, and Sailor Moon felt her tiara reappear on her brow,
"NOO!!!" cried the youma, but Moon was angry to the point of hatred. Jumping onto the creature's back with a wordless cry, the Senshi of the Moon thrust a spear-hand through the youma's shield and exoskeleton, eliciting a cry of agony from the creature.
"How DARE you?!" Moon screamed, and she punctuated the words by snagging one of the spider's legs and hyper-extending it with a palm heel strike. "How DARE you take control of CHILDREN and make them FIGHT?!?!?!?!"
The follow-up to the hyperextension was a roundhouse that threw the youma through the front wall of its pet store, breaking two more of its legs. "Mercy!" it cried from within the store, but Sailor Moon had none to give it.
Lifting her tiara from her brow, she stared at the mangled spider with undisguised hatred, no remorse for the ichor-oozing injuries she'd inflicted. "Moon Tiara Action!" she yelled, and let the tiara fly. However, when it struck the youma, the creature didn't simply fall to dust. Instead, a powerful detonation destroyed the entire pet store, and Sailor Moon nodded in satisfaction of the end as her tiara reappeared once more on her brow.
With the adrenaline of battle over, the Senshi collapsed to the ground, only her transformed state keeping her from unconsciousness and oozing blood from several places on her body, Moon just focused on getting back her breath. As she did, Luna ran up to her and said, "Well, that was a bit brutal, but it worked. Good job, Sailor Moon!"
The Senshi just nodded to the moon cat, and then a sound caused her to look at the children. Moaning and whimpering, the children were slowly waking from unconsciousness, looking around like they didn't know where they were. Several started crying and a few actually ran off without saying anything at all, but Shingo and Mika walked over to where Moon was sitting.
"Thank you for saving us," said Shingo. "Are you Sailor V?"
Moon shook her head, a gentle smile coming to her face at seeing that her brother was alright. "No, I'm Sailor Moon."
"Thank you, Sailor Moon."
Nephrite looked up from his scrying circle upon hearing loud and angry cursing coming from down the hall. Standing, Nephrite left his quarters in the Dark Palace and walked the five meters to the Jadeite's rooms. Knocking, Nephrite waited for a terse greeting before entering. Jadeite was sitting in a chair in his common room, staring angrily at the remains of two crystal spheres.
"So, what happened?" asked Nephrite.
Jadeite almost growled at the question, and his response came out in a grating tone. "That devil hunter bitch killed two more of my youma today. Three quarters of my initial force is dead."
"Hmm," Nephrite thought for a moment before replying. "Well, it was fairly audacious to think that you could start a riot and not get your youma killed. It would be hard not to notice a construct that fills half the ward."
"I know that!" snapped Jadeite. "That was the plan in the first place, though the youma was supposed to escape. The construct itself required most of the lifeforce it absorbed, but that was just the diversion for my real plan. That's what I'm so mad about; that moon bitch killed that youma too!"
"Really?" asked Nephrite. "Were you really totally unsuccessful?"
"Well," replied Jadeite in a less annoyed tone. "No, not actually, but that plan was supposed to gather a much larger harvesting stock… We only got fifty humans, not even a quarter of the projected numbers, and now my plan is running behind schedule…"
"Relax, then," Nephrite continued in a reasonable tone. "You got the harvesting stock, and even if it isn't as much as you hoped for, a setback is not a failure. I know why you're really so upset: now you have to notify two more families that their loved ones won't be coming back."
Tossing Nephrite a wry smile, he replied, "You know me too well. Well, I had better start working up some replacement plans that take that Senshi into account. Thanks for putting things into perspective, Nephrite."
"Anytime, old friend."
Leaving the room, Nephrite's pleasant façade faded into a mask of worry. If Sailor Moon was powerful enough to take down two even low power youma in one day, then she was certainly not inconsiderable in his own plans. She would bear both watching and much thought….
To be continued.
Author's notes: This chapter took me four months to get over writer's block and four days to actually write, if that is any indication of why it took so long. Weighing in at over 17,000 words, it is also the new heavy-weight champion of my writings. Also, with this addition, Negawarrior becomes one of the few, proud fics to eclipse the 50,000 word mark, and the first of my fics to do it!
Okay, I'm certain that there will be a lot of controversial stuff for reviewers to pick apart in their reviews of this one, and the thing that comes to mind first is Usagi's behavior. Please remember, I'm writing this with her getting that same military-style mind that the outers get, so she becomes colder in crisis situations. If you want to see the clumsy, playful Usagi from canon, wait until I've brought in another Senshi or two. Until she is in more social situations besides talking to Luna, you aren't going to see her like that.
Obviously, I'm accelerating the timeline quite a bit, and that's part of what's going to make Usagi psychologically tougher. Also, it's going to push her to her limits physically. I'm going to be really hard on Usagi for a while, and we'll see how her character develops. I'm certain that she'll never be serious or super responsible, but she will be a powerful warrior.
I'm also, obviously, changing Jadeite a bit. Nephrite may be the gentlest of the dark generals, but he wouldn't have been able to survive twenty thousand years of exile in the Negaverse without at least one friend he could count on.
The one thing I never could stand about Sailor Moon was the enemy's unfailing stupidity. Send one youma after another at the scouts, hoping one will get lucky. Then, when you increase the power of a given youma, you do it just enough that the Senshi just get a little stronger to beat it, making your enemies worse. I won't have it! Jadeite capturing humans to use as harvesting stock is much more intelligent than having him just drain people out in the open. I'm going to write the Dark Kingdom as I would have run it, and I'm going to keep the mindset and limitations of it pure.
Well, if you've read this far, then thank you for reading. Later.
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