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 Four: Desperate Battles
The darkness shimmered in a little-used supply closet at the Minato Ward studios for InterFM Tokyo, and after a short time, a black rift opened. From this rift, four figures made their way to defensive positions in the cramped room, and with its passengers deposited at their destination, the portal shimmered once more and vanished into the lighter darkness of the room. The clutter of dusty, unused equipment seemed to mask sounds, and it was no different when one of the figures began to speak.
"You all know the plan," said a figure dressed in grey, his voice somehow sounding both mild and forceful even in the muting darkness. "We have fifteen minutes to complete this phase of the operation, and I expect no screw-ups."
The other three figures, female by their silhouettes, nodded curtly at the orders, and without further communication, the four soldiers smoothly exited the storeroom into the brightly lit corridors of the radio station. Moving with the ease of people intimately familiar with an area, the squad walked quickly and efficiently to the main broadcast studio. One of the women peered through the small window in the metal door that led to the currently operational broadcasting booth control room, and after informing her compatriots of the situation with hand signals, the figures got into position. Opening the door and ignoring the protests of the room's occupants, the three females fanned out, and in a burst of dark energy, the five radio employees were lying on the floor, unconscious.
With quick efficiency, the grey-clad figure moved past the downed humans and to a door at the other end of the room, the glow of the 'On the Air' sign shining red above. Glancing at one of the women, now seated at a control station, the figure waited for her signal, and almost as soon as he looked, she nodded that the broadcasting booth microphone was cut off. Without any further delay, the man entered the booth and, in a similar flash of dark power, rendered the DJ insensate.
Consulting the clock above the now unconscious DJ, the male figure nodded to the other three. "Good," he told them. "Now get the equipment ready for our debut."
Once more moving with the quiet efficiency of those that commonly work with such equipment, the three females cleared the area of its normal staff and set up the equipment to end the last song right at midnight. Just as the new day began, the figure in grey sat down before the microphone and spoke to Tokyo over the air waves for the first time, his voice low and intimate. "It's the midnight hour, and I'd like to welcome you to our new program. I'm your host, Jay Daitou, and this is Midnight Zero…."
The glittering sunlight shining in from the window through spread white curtains caused Usagi to clench her eyes, trying with all her being to resist the sun's pull toward consciousness. Her bruised body still ached from the previous day's battle, and she wanted nothing more than to sleep away her pains. Unfortunately for her wishes, a certain small black cat must have known that it was a school day, because after only a minute or two of resistance, the blonde girl felt the slight weight of her moon guardian standing on her stomach.
"Usagi," Luna said, her voice sounding painfully loud to Usagi's sleep-fogged brain. "It's a school day, and you do need to go to class. Not only do you need to learn, but we can't have you acting abnormally. What if the Dark Kingdom noticed?"
Moaning from such an assault of logic so early in the morning, the blonde teen finally admitted defeat and opened her eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight. A brief glance at the clock revealed that she was actually up earlier than her usual dash to school, so much so that she could actually enjoy a bath before her trip to the learning institution. However, she wasn't quite convinced that it was worth it. "But I'm still so tired and sore, Luna," she whined at the cat, wincing as she tried to stretch. "Can't I sleep for just a little longer?"
The black cat looked at her sympathetically, but her words brooked no opposition. "I know you've been fighting hard the past few days, but you still have to go to school."
Usagi slowly rose from her bed and made her way sleepily to the bathroom, amazed that it was actually free. Maybe a nice relaxing bath was just what her sore muscles needed.
"Good morning, Ranma!" a cheery feminine voice called out, and the pigtailed negawarrior looked up from the musings of his morning walk to school. Considering that he was only just outside his apartment building, that pretty much narrowed the owner of the voice down to one person.
"Morning, Akane," he replied to the dark-haired girl. "How's it going?"
Tendo Akane scowled for a moment, saying, "Well, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night." However, the look of annoyance was brief, and she brightened almost immediately as she continued speaking. "But that's okay. I can survive a night or two of less sleep. How are you this morning?"
Ranma smiled back, unconcerned with Akane's brief show of temper. "Pretty much the same."
"Say, Ranma," Akane asked. "Why aren't you wearing a school uniform?"
Ranma glanced down at his current attire, a green silk Chinese tunic and loose black pants tied at the ankles, then shrugged. "I like wearing this. It's comfortable and I can fight in it."
"But won't you get in trouble?"
Ranma shrugged again, answering in an unconcerned tone, "It'll be all right."
After taking her own turn shrugging, Akane turned toward Juuban High, and Ranma hopped lightly to the fence top, following the brown-eyed girl. After about two minutes of walking in silence, the dark-haired boy heard Akane say, "Ranma?"
"What's up?" he replied, continuing his walk.
"Why are you walking on the fence?"
"Balance practice," Ranma answered, his voice serious, but then he grinned, glancing down at his new friend. "And it's something I really like to do. You should try it some time."
Akane shrugged yet another time that morning, a dubious look on her face, and beyond that the two continued on their way to school. As they reached the halfway point to Juuban High, another cheerful voice called for the two students' attention. "Good morning, Ranma," the voice of his red-haired friend, Furuhata Unazuki, called out. "Hey, Akane!" The two students paused to let Unazuki catch up, greeting her as she approached.
"Hey, guys," the redhead said after exchanging morning pleasantries with the other two. "Would you like to do something after school? My parents owe me a day off after making me work yesterday."
Ranma grinned at the suggestion, asking, "What do you guys wanna do?"
"You said you're a martial artist, right Ranma?" Akane asked, seeming just a little nervous. "Maybe we could go to the park and have a match or something?"
The pigtailed negawarrior shrugged at the suggestion, a little uncomfortable with accepting a title he no longer thought he held. Still, it didn't sound like a bad idea, so he replied, "I'm game if Unazuki doesn't mind. I don't think she's a fighter."
"Hey," Unazuki said, her voice as enthusiastic as ever. "I won't turn down watching a good fight, even if I don't fight myself. After that, why don't we get something to eat?"
Smiling and noting Akane's nod, Ranma answered, "Sounds like we have a plan."
Jadeite watched the Terran studio employees go about their normal daily routines with some pity and some disgust, the two feelings stemming from the same source. 'They don't even know there's a war going on,' he thought. 'And we can't let them know until we've already won. It's too hard to send enough youma to Terra to counter the mundane military as well as the Senshi at this point.'
Deciding to focus more on the plan than the unfortunate nature of their war on Terra, Jadeite shifted his viewing crystal to another room. In that room, choked in envelopes, one of his youma stood, disguised as a human. "We don't have a show called Midnight Zero!" came the thin voice of the studio's shift manager. "I don't know where all this mail is coming from."
Another youma, posing as a producer for the studio, entered the room and said, "Don't worry about this mail. I'll take care of it."
The one real human in the room looked dubiously at the youma, disguised as a woman in a dark red business suit, but he didn't argue. After staring at the increasing pile of letters for a moment, he silently left the mail room.
Now satisfied that his youma had the plan well in hand, the dark general turned away from the monitoring station and its crystalline viewers, content to allow his third youma to continue the surveillance. Instead, in a flash of dark energy, Jadeite vanished from Terra and appeared in his R&D section headquarters near Dark Moon.
Even as the excess power from the transport rolled off his grey uniform, his temporary adjutant while Akonei was healing raced up, and Jadeite struggled to remember the young staff officer's name even as he cut off whatever the green-skinned youma was about to say. "Major… Maroko, what's the status of Project Waveforce?"
The adjutant blinked her yellow, cat-like eyes, confused for a moment before replying, "Oh, that's the tape thing, right?"
Jadeite closed his eyes for a moment, dearly wishing Akonei was still able to perform her duties. Temporary replacements tended to be so inefficient! But he checked his temper, reminding himself that this youma wasn't normally in this position. "Yes, it's the 'tape thing'."
Seemingly oblivious to the general's mild irritation, Maroko reached into a pocket of her jumpsuit and pulled out a small crystal. "I just got the report from the head researcher. He thinks it will take a few more days to finish a prototype."
Evoking a small construct, Jadeite read the latest report from Dr. Merul, noting the setbacks in the project. "A few more days…" he muttered darkly. "Well, I'll just have to find a way to keep Sailor Moon worn down while he finishes his work."
Looking back at the major, the blond negawarrior said, "Thank you, major. Carry on."
Maroko saluted Jadeite and turned smartly back toward her small office, a smile on her face. The negawarrior put thoughts of inefficiencies and temporary replacements out of his mind, teleporting to his primary office in Dark Moon. Normally, his adjutant would go with him, but Project Waveforce was more important than having an administrative assistant next to him at all times.
Arriving, Jadeite powered a communication construct. "Captain Tetis, report."
In a swirl of blue energy, an aqua-haired, blue-skinned negalyte appeared before him, saying, "What are your orders, Master Jadeite?"
"I need you to go to Terra and distract Sailor Moon," answered the dark general. "Just cause a lot of damage, drain some lifeforce, and capture as many Terrans as possible. When Sailor Moon arrives, you may engage her, but don't worry about defeating her. Just get out of there."
Tetis scowled at the orders, replying, "I'm in Spec Ops, and you don't think I can take her?! That bitch has killed four youma already, and I want to see her pay!"
Narrowing his eyes at the slight insubordination, Jadeite growled, "It's not a matter of whether you can take her or not; I'm not going to lose a valuable soldier like you in a distraction! You are under specific orders to keep a teleport construct ready to escape if she even comes close to getting the upper hand, and you will use it!"
Setting her jaw, the negalyte captain nodded curtly. "Yes, sir."
Allowing his anger to subside, Jadeite continued in his normal, calm voice, "Captain, we will get vengeance for the fallen later. Right now, we need to think about the mission."
The tension draining from her continence, Tetis replied, "Yes, sir."
"Dismissed," said Jadeite, and the negalyte vanished in much the same way she had arrived.
After Tetis left, Jadeite sat down to think, but a stray thought, not his own, interrupted his musings. 'Jadeite, I have been reviewing your plans,' said the voice of Queen Beryl in his mind. 'While I approve, I require that you draw some energy from this 'Midnight Zero' operation prior to its primary objective.'
Jadeite grimaced at that idea. 'Your Majesty,' he thought back to his Queen. 'If we tip our hand on project Waveforce….'
'I will brook no argument on this matter, Jadeite,' the queen's cold, vicious tone replied. 'Gain enough energy in the interim to satisfy me… Or do you willfully defy me?'
Shivering at the queen's ire, Jadeite quickly acquiesced. 'Of course not, your majesty. It will be as you command.'
Even as her presence faded from his mind, the dark general clenched his jaw. If Project Waveforce failed because of the queen's demand, he would still be held responsible for its failure. Digging through the numerous constructs in his repertoire, Jadeite decided on a very small draining construct easily fitted in an object, hopefully too small for easy detection.
Thinking for a moment, he used a materialization construct to call into existence several black corsages, and after imbuing each with an energy draining construct, he decided to give these as prizes for having a letter read on Midnight Zero. That would satisfy the queen's requirement. The problem solved, a smile of satisfaction slowly spread over his chiseled features. 'If I can keep Sailor Moon off balance and distracted, maybe even injure her, then my other plans will draw her in and I won't have to worry about her stumbling onto Midnight Zero.'
The bath had done a surprisingly good job of removing many of Usagi's aches, but the rabbit girl was very tired. Even with the cheering news relayed by her mother that morning that Naru was getting out of the hospital that afternoon, Usagi had a hard time making it through the day.
In home room, Usagi noticed, through the haze of her exhaustion, that many of the students were talking about a new radio show on InterFM, and at lunch she cornered Umino about it. Even as she walked slowly toward home, she replayed the somewhat strange conversation in her mind.
"U-U-Usagi-san…" Umino had stammered, still nervous and ashamed in her presence, she supposed. "What can I do for you?"
It really looked like he wanted to bolt, his back against the brick wall of the school, and the blonde teen stood in front of him. "Tell me about that new radio program," she answered in a sweet voice. "I think it's called… Darknight Ten?"
"I think you mean Midnight Zero," the nerdish boy answered, his voice suddenly calm since this was business. "It's a new radio program on InterFM, and the host, Jay Daitou, reads love letters on the air. The show only plays for about ten minutes every night at midnight, but the host promised a special prize for actually having your love letter read on the air."
After that, she'd let Umino escape, and for the rest of the day, Usagi couldn't get thoughts of Midnight Zero out of her mind. It just sounded so romantic to have a love letter read on the air at midnight, and the blonde's lack of a boyfriend compounded with her exhaustion, making her depressed. In fact, she was so busy moping that she forgot to look where she was going.
"Hey, odongo-head," said an annoyed masculine voice. "Watch where you're going!"
Unfortunately, there wasn't time for Usagi to stop, and she still ran straight into Mamoru as he was talking to Motoki outside the Crown Game Center.
"Gee," Mamoru continued as his blond friend steadied Usagi. "Are you blind as well as clumsy?"
Even irritated as she was by the verbal barb, Usagi was too depressed to rise to the taunt. Sighing, she made to walk away from the two men. However, Motoki said, "Usagi, what's wrong?"
"I'm just tired, Motoki," the blonde teen answered, smiling faintly. "It's nothing."
Putting a hand to his chin in thought, the blond man replied, "Well, why don't you come in and have some ice cream, on the house. Maybe that'll cheer you up."
Little hearts appeared in Usagi's eyes even as Mamoru said, "I'll see you later, Motoki. And you really shouldn't encourage her like that."
The junior high girl glared at Mamoru, scowling, but the black-haired man just waved jauntily and walked off. Putting the jerk out of her mind, Usagi turned back to Motoki, and as he ushered her into the Game Center, the hearts returned, especially when he mentioned that he was on break. The blonde teen quickly lost herself in a daydream where she was on a date with Motoki, and the glimmerings of a plan to get a letter on Midnight Zero formed as she stared at her handsome boothmate.
"I guess I really should stop by the restaurant," Unazuki said in a tone far from her usual cheerful one. "But my parents better not make me work again."
Unazuki, Ranma, and Akane were walking home from another boring day at school, and Unazuki was a little more than leery about stopping by the Crown. She really didn't want to miss the sparring match between Ranma and Akane, but her sense of responsibility wouldn't allow her to skip asking her parents if they needed her. Besides, she felt like a snack.
"Don't worry about it, Unazuki," said Ranma. "I'm sure we'll spar more than once."
Both of her new friends had been discussing martial arts at every break during the day, and Unazuki was honestly feeling a little left out. Sure, she'd taken some karate lessons when she was younger, but they were both on a whole different level than her. It seemed like martial arts were the center point in both their lives, and the redhead was feeling just a little jealous.
"I know," Unazuki replied, forcing a small amount of cheerfulness back into her voice. "Come on. Let's get this over with."
Arriving at the Crown, Unazuki led Ranma and Akane up to the Parlor and headed for the kitchen, telling them to sit anywhere. As she entered the restaurant's brightly lit cooking area, the redhead greeted her mother. "Hi, mom."
An older red-haired woman answered her in a cheerful voice. "How was school, Unazuki-chan?"
"It was fine," the younger redhead replied. "I was hoping you didn't need me to wait tables today since I had plans with some friends."
Smiling, Unazuki's mother said, "Actually, everyone made it to work today, so you can go have fun. Just don't be out too late."
Brightening instantly, the high school freshman gave her mom a quick hug. "Thanks, mom. I'll see you later."
Practically skipping out of the kitchen, Unazuki looked around for her friends, a bright smile once more gracing her face. After a moment of looking, she spied Ranma and Akane sitting at a booth across from her brother and a young blonde girl Unazuki hadn't seen in some time.
"Hi, Usagi-chan!" The redhead waved to her younger friend as she walked over, but she was somewhat alarmed at the girl's tired expression and the way she slowly ate her ice cream. "What's the matter?"
"She's just really tired," Motoki answered for the younger girl. "As far as I can tell, she was up late last night, right, Usagi?"
"Huh?" Usagi answered intelligently, looking up for the first time. "Oh… hi, Unazuki."
Unazuki took a seat next to Ranma. "You look really out of it, Usagi-chan," the redhead said, concern filling her voice. "I really think you should head home and at least take a nap."
Usagi nodded absently as she ate another spoonfull of ice cream, and Unazuki continued to get more concerned. Eating ice cream slowly was just so unlike Usagi.
"Well," said Motoki, "I was trying to introduce your friends to Usagi, but I don't think today's a good day."
"Don't worry about it," Ranma said. "We'll just have to do introductions some other time."
"Let's go over to that park, then," Akane suggested, and Unazuki was swept out of the restaurant by her two friends, her snack forgotten in their rush to go spar.
Akane watched Unazuki and Ranma as the redhead led them to the park on Tenth Street. While Akane had mixed feelings about sparring with a boy, she could already tell that her skills were slipping from only three days lack of practice. Without the morning fights and Kuno to hone her skills, she felt like she was getting out of shape and losing her edge.
Even though Akane had been the best martial artist in Nerima, she wondered about her pigtailed friend's skills. After hearing his life story, she had to admit that he would have to be very, very good… maybe as good as she was. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a small voice tried to warn her against underestimating him, telling her that his training was much more rigorous than her own, but she suppressed it. Tendo Akane was the best martial artist in Nerima, and even if Ranma was as good as her, she would give him a good fight.
As the three friends arrived at the park, the youngest Tendo surveyed the damage caused by the riot two days previous; the clean-up crews having yet to reach this area. That was, of course, why Unazuki chose this place. None of them wanted a crowd of spectators for the sparring match.
Unazuki led them past the major damage and the destroyed gypsy wagon, making their destination a small copse of trees with a clearing in the middle. The red-haired girl stepped to one side as Ranma stretched a bit, and Akane walked a little distance away to change into her gi.
A few minutes later, the Tendo heir returned to the clearing wearing her yellow practice gi, and Ranma stood patiently, waiting for the fight to begin.
"Okay, guys," called Unazuki from the side lines. "Remember that this is just a practice match. Ready? Begin!"
Akane immediately dropped into a stance, but she blinked as Ranma just stood there, smiling faintly. Deciding that he was inviting her to attack first, the raven-haired girl took a couple of cautious steps forward and led off with a light, testing jab.
Ranma just leaned back a little, dodging the blow by mere millimeters, and Akane's estimation of his skill went up a notch. 'He's fast,' she thought grimly, knowing that speed had never been her strongest suit.
Following the jab, Akane feinted a crescent kick and went for a reverse punch to the kidney, but once again Ranma simply swayed to avoid her blows. It was like fighting a wisp of smoke, and since her attacks had yet to even connect, Akane's temper began to rise, quickly getting the better of her. 'Is he reading my moves?!' she thought incredulously.
Finally, after several more attacks, Akane yelled, "This time for real!" Focusing her ki, the Tendo heir rushed forward at twice normal speed, her fist faintly glowing red.
There was a satisfying crack, but it was not Ranma that she struck, and looking up from where her hand was imbedded in the trunk of a tree, she saw Ranma lightly bounce off of the tree to land behind her. A light tap on the back of her head ended the match, much to her annoyance. Ranma was extremely good… and as much as she didn't want to admit it, he was better than she was.
Unazuki's eyes widened as Akane raced toward Ranma, the pigtailed boy seemingly unconcerned. Even as she thought 'This is practice??' Ranma dodged her punch with blinding speed. Thinking back to the karate lessons she'd taken when she was younger, Unazuki recognized Akane's attack as a simple jab, but it was performed with more speed than the redhead had ever seen. On top of that, Ranma had just leaned back a little to dodge the blow, the youngest Furuhata barely seeing him move. Unazuki shook her head in wonder; these two were absolutely amazing.
Even as she watched, Akane's attacks got faster and stronger, the Tendo heir's body moving fluidly through an intricate dance meant for destruction. Unazuki had to concentrate very hard not to miss some of the girl's moves, and between feints, strikes, kicks, and punches, the redhead could barely keep up with the fight.
Ranma, on the other hand, barely moved, but what little movement he made was at least three times Akane's speed. Unazuki had a hard time even seeing when he moved. It was obvious that Akane was getting angry, and Furuhata couldn't blame her. Ranma had yet to even remove his hands from behind his back!
Finally, it seemed that Akane had had enough. "This time for real!" the girl in the yellow gi yelled, and Unazuki's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as Akane's fist glowed a faint red. The redhead's mouth fell open even as the Tendo heir raced forward at at least double her previous speed, and the sudden crack at the end made her think Ranma might be seriously hurt.
When Unazuki's eyes finally caught up with the fight, she was amazed at the sight. Akane had her hand buried up to the wrist in the trunk of a tree, and Ranma was just landing behind her to tap her on the back of the head. She rushed over to her two friends since the match was obviously over.
Ranma watched as Akane approached cautiously, evaluating her style. 'Slow opening,' he thought, 'but then again, I am a new opponent.'
After he dodged her initial jab, he considered her follow-up. 'She's telegraphing her moves, but I can't tell if she's doing it intentionally. That feint was completely transparent, and she still seems to be testing me, going slowly.'
As the match progressed and he saw the look of concentration and growing irritation on Akane's face, he finally understood. 'She's going at top speed?!' he thought unhappily. 'She's just barely in my skill class, but Akane's definitely at the bottom and I'm at the top… I guess I won't get a good sparring partner out of her after all.'
Suddenly, Akane yelled, "This time for real!" and Ranma saw her take control of her ki. A slight smile came to his lips as the Tendo girl's speed doubled and her fist glowed red. 'At least she knows how to boost her ki beyond simple speed and strength enhancement,' he thought, less disappointed in his opponent. 'She has potential, but it looks like no one pushed her to reach it. Oh well, I'll be damned if I use any of oyaji's stupid training methods, no matter how much potential she has.'
Ranma absently jumped over Akane's final attack, and bouncing off the tree, he landed behind her, ending the match with a light tap on the back of the girl's raven-haired head. Akane was almost shaking with anger as she extracted her fist from the tree, but Ranma laughed and said, "Good match, Akane."
Thankfully, Akane's anger quickly bled off, and she joined Ranma in his laughter. "You're really good!" she exclaimed finally. "I guess your training trip really paid off."
"I guess so," Ranma replied, embarrassed by her compliment. "But it was a crappy way to grow up."
Akane sobered with that comment, answering, "Yeah."
Just then, Unazuki raced up, exclaiming, "You two are really, really awesome! How on earth did you learn to do that??"
Ranma scratched the back of his head, explaining embarrassedly, "It's just a buncha training. Before I came here, I was on a training trip with my Pop for ten years."
"Wow," replied the redhead, amazement clear on her face.
"Okay, Ranma," Akane said. "Why don't we go again, and this time you attack first?"
"Um… Uh…" Ranma stammered, but he was saved from trying to deny his friend's request by the sound of an explosion. "What the heck was that?!"
The three highschoolers raced toward the plume of smoke rising over the trees.
Having sensed a new dark presence in the city, Luna cast a location spell and met Usagi just as her charge was leaving the Crown Center. Beckoning her girl into a nearby alley, Luna said, "Usagi, there's something dark coming."
The blonde sometime superhero's face, which had been looking remarkably better after talking with Motoki, fell back into an exhausted and depressed expression. "Won't they ever stop, Luna?" she asked the black cat, a couple of tears running silently down her cheeks. "I just can't keep this up."
Luna looked at her charge with a great deal of concern. "You must be strong, Usagi," the moon guardian replied. "Innocent people are counting on you."
Usagi sighed and reached for her brooch, Luna seeing more resignation in her eyes than determination. "Moon Prism Power, Make Up!"
A brief light show later, Sailor Moon stood before Luna, and the small cat could already see the transformation's magic revitalizing the girl, though she still had a resigned look in her eyes.
"All right, Luna," she said in a flat voice. "Where is the new monster?"
Ranma, Unazuki, and Akane found the source of the explosion just down the street from Juuban High: a woman with cyan hair, pale blue skin, and slate-grey eyes lacking both cornea and pupil. Covering the woman's body was a sleek, crystalline suit of armor with long spikes rising diagonally from the back of the shoulders, armor almost certainly made of ice. The woman was throwing icicles fairly indiscriminately, though she hit none of the humans. The explosion came from a smoldering car, and as the three highschoolers watched, another parked car exploded, an icicle penetrating its gas tank.
Feeling the negaforce, Ranma formed his sensory constructs and powered them, wincing at the sudden pain and dropping them in surprise. Trying to figure out why it hurt to activate the constructs, the neophyte negawarrior looked into his reserves… and found them empty! He hadn't 'hunted' since getting back to Japan, and now he was burning his own ki to power the constructs.
Ranma hadn't wanted to 'hunt' at all, but he understood it as a necessary part of being a negawarrior. If he didn't gain additional ki from somewhere, the negaforce would annihilate him. As unhappy as he was with the idea of draining others, he knew he would have to do so. In the meantime, Ranma watched the battle with unaided senses, tensed to carry his friends to safety should the woman or the now approaching Senshi get too close.
Tetis grabbed another human with blinding speed and launched him through the black rift, topping off her reserves before sending him to a harvesting center. Being a negalyte, she was very adept at using constructs in combat, and such a feat as draining some lifeforce in mid-action was simple to her. Another volley of icicles caused two more cars to explode and knocked a fire hydrant over, resulting in a spectacular column of water spraying from the street. The special operations captain smiled at her handiwork as she absently plucked another cowering human up and tossed him into the void.
"Hold it!" cried a voice from beside the column of water, and Tetis turned to see a blonde girl in a white bodysuit and extremely short blue miniskirt standing there in a ridiculous pose. The rainbow effect from the water just completed the image. "People shouldn't have to fear going out during the day, and streets are public places for everyone! I am the beautiful sailor-suited girl fighter, Sailor Moon, and I will punish you!"
'What kind of idiot is this little bitch?' the cyan-haired negalyte thought, disgusted. 'Who gives up their surprise advantage to make some corny speech? And then she just stands there… I can't believe I'm under orders to run away—'
Suddenly, Tetis was doubled over with the Senshi's fist buried in her gut, and her opinion of Moon rose a great deal, especially as the blonde superhero followed up with a crescent kick to her head. The dark captain flew across the street, slamming into a car with enough force to majorly dent the door. Dazed, Tetis almost didn't hear Sailor Moon start her attack. "Moon Tiara—"
"No!!" yelled the downed negalyte, and she threw a volley of icicles at Moon, forcing the Senshi to dodge and disrupting her attack. "I will not be beaten by some little moon bitch!!"
Two more volleys of icicles later, Tetis had yet to hit Sailor Moon, but she smiled regardless.
"What are you so happy about, monster?!" Moon yelled. "You haven't even hit me yet!"
Chuckling, Tetis threw two more volleys of icicles simultaneously, one to either side of Moon, and while the Senshi was boxed in, the ice negalyte unleashed a greater construct at Sailor Moon, a ray of pure cold.
"Take this!" Tetis shouted at her opponent, and just as the negalyte had hoped her enemy would do when denied side movement, Moon dodged backward…directly into the towering fountain made from the hydrant's destruction. And then the beam of cold struck the water.
"Aaagh!" cried Sailor Moon as half her body was frozen into the new column of ice, and the negalyte started forward, a blade of ice forming over her right hand.
"Finally," Tetis said as she raised the blade to decapitate the superhero. "I can get revenge for those you've killed."
Moon's eyes widened as the enemy approached, and she struggled futilely against her icy restraints. Something was different about this enemy; she didn't feel like the other youma she'd faced, nor did she seem like the man at the gym. Of course, all this was academic since the woman was about to kill her.
The Senshi of the Moon squeezed her eyes shut as the blade descended, but a strange whizzing sound caused her to look up… just in time to see a red rose lance through the youma's sword, shattering the ice. The rose continued on its course until its green stem buried into her frozen prison, and with a horrible cracking crash, the entire column shattered, covering the street in chunks of ice.
Sailor Moon hit the ground hard, and several of the ice pieces from higher in the frozen fountain hit her prone form. Dazed and shivering, Moon almost didn't see that three more roses that came from nowhere to bracket the ice monster, but the creature's screams were unmistakable. The power emanating from the triangle of roses slammed the creature into the ground, cracking her armor, and with a flourish of a black cape, the source of her rescue made himself known.
"Never give up, Sailor Moon," the mysterious tuxedo-clad man encouraged her. "We are the side of good, and good will always triumph over evil."
Rising from the ground and steadying herself, Moon nodded firmly to her savior, and then, turning back to where the enemy was writhing on the ground, she began her attack. "Moon Tiara Action!"
The tiara shot at the creature, but at the last moment, the ice woman vanished in a weak flash of dark energy. Without a target, Moon's tiara vanished, returning to her forehead.
"Thank you," the Senshi began, turning to where the mysterious man had been, but he was already gone.
"Damn…." exclaimed an amazed Ranma, and neither Akane nor Unazuki could do anything beyond nod their heads in agreement with his statement.
Dazed, though one for different reasons, the three teens walked away from the battlefield just after Sailor Moon vanished into an alley further down the street. Ranma was definitely glad that the ice woman had escaped, and though she'd caused a lot of destruction, it didn't look like she killed anyone. Maybe he'd ask Nephrite about her later.
"Well, why don't we go get some dinner, then," Unazuki suggested weakly, and neither Ranma nor Akane could think of any reason not to, their sparring match forgotten in the face of the battle.
Tetis reappeared in the Shinjuku harvesting center, gasping for breath on the ground. The youma assigned to the station yelped in surprise and rushed over to help the ice negalyte, her leathery skin creaking as she moved.
"Captain Tetis!" cried the youma, her words lisping due to sharp teeth and a forked tongue. "Are you all right?! What happened?"
Tetis groaned, leaning heavily. "That Moon Senshi happened," she answered, exhausted. Looking up at the youma, she recognized Corporal Kinja. "Do you have a communication crystal here, corporal? I don't have enough energy at this point to form that construct."
"Of course, captain," Kinja replied, and after helping Tetis over to a seat, the youma corporal rush off to her office to retrieve the crystal.
'What kind of insane attack hit me?' Tetis thought, still dazed. 'It was like some kind of disrupting magnetic field. It felt like it was trying to tear me apart, one atom at a time!'
Before she could finish that train of thought, Kinja returned with communication crystal. Nodding her thanks, the negalyte keyed the crystal to contact Jadeite while Kinja busied herself with station upkeep tasks.
'This is Jadeite,' general's voice said in her mind. 'Report, Tetis.'
'Mission complete, Master Jadeite,' she thought back to him. 'I retreated, as ordered. In fact, if I hadn't had that teleport construct ready, she would have killed me.'
'I'm glad you're all right, and now you see why I wanted you ready to retreat,' replied the general.
'Actually,' the negalyte captain returned, 'I had Sailor Moon on the ropes, but she had help.'
'What?!' exclaimed an incredulous Jadeite. 'Another one already? This is not good.'
'Sir, I'm not sure this one is a Senshi,' Tetis replied. 'For one thing, this one's male, and I thought that all the Senshi were female. The Moon Kingdom was a matriarchy, at least according to the briefing.'
'Hmm,' said Jadeite thoughtfully. 'I'll have to look into this one. Good work, Tetis. How are your injuries?'
Tetis took a moment to examine herself before replying, 'Nothing a day in the medical center and a reserve recharge won't cure.'
'Good,' Jadeite approved. 'Report to me again after you are back to full strength. I'll call the medical center ahead of you to get you priority treatment, and you can go ahead and recharge where you are.'
'Yes, sir. Captain Tetis out.'
Sailor Moon collapsed against one wall of the alley, shivering. She was so tired after that battle, and it seemed that her fighting became less and less effective as time went on. This time, her enemy had escaped as well.
"Are you all right, Sailor Moon?" asked her moon guardian. "We certainly are lucky that tuxedo person arrived when he did."
"So now I've gone from defeating two youma alone in one day to needing a rescue and botching the finishing move when he hands it to me on a silver platter…" Moon muttered, dejectedly. "Some superhero I turned out to be."
Looking down at Luna, the blonde Senshi could see the concern in the cat's eyes. "Don't look at it like that, Sailor Moon," said the lunar cat. "The enemy seems to be attacking you with more and more powerful foes. This one was several times stronger than any that I've seen you face, and you have to remember that she ran from you."
Moon sighed. "I guess you're right, Luna," she replied. "Well, I'm going to stay transformed for a while. Naru gets out of the hospital in about two hours, and I want to be there to see her."
"All right, Sailor Moon, but you should find a place with better cover."
Nodding in agreement with the moon cat, Sailor Moon scooped Luna into her arms and leapt to the roof of the building behind her.
After eating a good dinner at the Crown Parlor and begging off walking back to the building with Akane, Ranma went out to hunt. Much as he disliked this part of being a negawarrior, the pigtailed boy knew that he would always have to do it. Becoming a negawarrior was completely irreversible, not that he would change back if he had the chance. Despite the distasteful portions, he liked being a negawarrior, all in all.
Much as he had done in China to keep his reserves up during Nephrite's training, Ranma headed for the less savory areas of the city near Tokyo Harbor, intent on finding some thugs and thieves that he could offer a good night's sleep. On the way, he snagged a cup of cold water, and in an alley, he changed himself into a more inviting target.
Once at the harbor, the small redhead began wandering, and as she had come to expect, there were three men stalking her no more than five minutes after she started. Walking slowly enough to let them keep up, she started acting scared, and as their footsteps increased in speed, Ranma increased her pace. Finally, spying a dark, dead end alley, she ducked in and faced her unwitting prey.
The three of them were ugly, old sailors, probably off one of the fishing boats she'd seen at the docks, and with any luck, who ever found them would assume they drank themselves to sleep.
"I think you wandered into the wrong part of town, little girl," the first one said in a tone of purely malicious lechery, slowly stalking toward the 'defenseless' girl. "But we'll help you get back home if you give us something first."
Ranma gave them a predatory grin, and they stopped in their tracks.
It was over in thirty seconds, and it only took that long because one of them managed to run a little bit. An elbow to the temple for one, a hard knee in the gut for the second, and a hammer fist to the base of the skull on the third put the three of them down, though the one who tried to run also got a dislocated shoulder from when Ranma grabbed him. The redhead dragged him back into the alley, and after setting the one sailor's shoulder, she set to work.
The construct came easily to Ranma's mind, one of the first ones Nephrite ever taught her, and she touched the first sailor's forehead. It was far too pleasurable, in Ranma's opinion, to drain the ki from someone, and much as she would like to deny it, the red-haired negawarrior had never felt anything so good in her short life. It was always so hard to stop before their life was in danger, but she managed it, an involuntary sigh escaping her lips as she broke the contact.
Moving on to the second sailor, she reflected that it could be that the construct was causing the effect, but she doubted it. The more she learned, the more she understood what each piece of a construct did, and the energy draining construct was so simple that it seemed like a single line rather than an actual construct. How do you make a line simpler?
Even as she finished draining the second sailor as much as she dared and moved on to the third, an analogy came to mind. In the Japanese writing system, kanji are made up of strokes, and that was very similar to the formation of a construct, though the construct was three dimensional. In fact, even the kanji radicals were similar: simpler kanji embedded in more complex ones equated to simpler constructs embedded in more complex ones.
With the third sailor drained, Ranma checked her reserves, and finding them only about fifty percent full, she left the sailors sleeping peacefully in the alley to search for more prey.
Sailor Moon sat on a roof near the hospital where Naru was staying, allowing the healing magic of her Senshi transformation to repair her body and soothe her mind. The horrors of the past few days exceeded anything Usagi had previously considered, and it was taking her some time to adapt. Luna was taking a catnap in Moon's lap, and the superhero was absently stroking her little black guardian.
'I know that if I can't save everyone, it's all right,' a voice, like her own but drained of all passion, said in her mind. 'I must fight my best, mourn the dead, and move on. It's all I can do.'
'No!' she railed against the voice. 'There must be a way to save everyone. No one has to die….'
The voice, so similar to her own, chuckled humorlessly. 'I wish that were true, but people die in war. I need to deal with it and move on, or it will destroy me.'
'No…' she replied, but with less vehemence than before. 'No, I can't believe it.'
That voice had been plaguing her every time she transformed, recommending paths with a greater chance of victory than those she took, but to take those paths would be to sacrifice innocent lives. How could she do that?
Just like back at Osa P when she was fighting her very first youma. 'By the kami,' she thought. 'Was that really only three days ago?'
Before she could continue to wrestle with her inner soldier, movement from the hospital entrance caught her eye: Naru. Jumping down into the shadowed alley between buildings, she released her transformation, gritting her teeth against the resurgence of aching muscles and a wave of near-crushing fatigue.
Forcing herself into a cheerful demeanor, Usagi rushed forward to greet her friend. "Naru-chan!"
"Usagi-chan, it's so good to see y—" Naru began, but she cut off.
"Are you all right, Naru-chan?" Usagi asked, but Naru was too busy staring at her.
"By Kami-sama, Usagi-chan, I should be asking you that question," Naru exclaimed. "You look awful."
If she was honest with herself, Usagi knew that Naru was right, but the blonde teen didn't have the luxury of letting fatigue stop her. "It's been a long past couple of days, Naru-chan," she answered, not quite able to suppress a yawn. "I'll be alrigh—" And as the fatigue she'd been fighting overwhelmed her, Usagi fell into darkness. The last thing she heard was Naru crying out her name.
As Ranma entered the apartment with full energy reserves and an evening snack, she noticed Nephrite relaxing on the sofa. Saying hello to Nephrite and setting her okonomiyaki on the floor next to the black leather armchair, Ranma made a quick trip to the bathroom for a gender change.
Once he returned to the living room and started eating, he asked, "So, what's up?"
"I've finished my current tasks in the Dark Kingdom, so we can get back to work," Nephrite answered with a smile. "And I have just the construct for you to learn, and hopefully learn quickly."
"Sounds like fun," the pigtailed negawarrior replied.
"All right," Nephrite's grin turned a bit evil. "You know how I don't need to sleep? Well if we're going to get any work done while you're still going to school, we'll have to work at night."
"You mean you're gonna teach me the construct that does that?!" Ranma asked with growing excitement.
Nephrite grinned more at his student's enthusiasm. "Not exactly; that one's a little tough for a beginner. I'll teach you a rejuvenation construct that will help you with the late nights. It builds into the one I use, but you need to master this one first."
"Right," answered the younger man. "When do we start?"
"Right now," the dark general answered. "Here's the basic pattern…."
As midnight arrived, Luna was listening to the radio, keeping the volume low to avoid disturbing her sleeping charge. Her last meeting with Central, a bare half hour earlier, had brought her more disappointment on the reinforcement front, and though she hardly believed it, she rather enjoyed some of the music from this era. 'Music soothes the savage beast indeed,' she thought wryly.
Luna laid her head down, intending to go to sleep to the music, but a soft, intimate sounding voice interrupted her intentions, and she almost reached a paw up to change the station. However, the name of the host, Jay Daitou, tickled her mind, like a forgotten memory, and she continued to listen to the broadcast.
"Tonight, we have a letter from a Junior High School girl, Yuukimi. She writes…."
Luna listened through the end of the show, and even as the music returned to lull her to sleep, she still couldn't place what sounded so familiar about 'Jay Daitou'.
As the three youma returned to the station's normal music selection and Jadeite clicked off the microphone, the dark general addressed his subordinates. "I've come up with a plan to trap Sailor Moon, but we have some preparation to do and not much time. Even if it doesn't work, we'll get more harvesting stock."
All eyes in the room faced the dark general and the stack of flyers reading 'Talent Show at InterFM, Tomorrow!!!! Live interview on Midnight Zero to the Winner!!!' in his hand as he outlined the preparations.
The next morning found Ranma and Akane running into each other on the roof just as the sun peaked on the sleeping city from Tokyo Bay, both intent on a morning workout before school. The cool breeze coming in from the east was pleasant, if a bit chilly, but Ranma found such weather perfect for practice. While the rough surface of the rooftop was hardly as pleasant as a dojo, it served its purpose well. As there was plenty of space, they found their respective corners and practiced kata, but understandably, in Ranma's opinion, Akane wanted a rematch after their match the day before.
"Hey, Ranma," Akane called out to her friend once she'd finished her kata. "Do you want to spar for a bit?"
A slightly dubious look crossed Ranma's face at the question, but after a mild cute attack, he acquiesced, and they stood much the same as the day before, Ranma with his hands behind his back and Akane in a combat stance.
"Would you mind leading off this time, Ranma?" Akane asked, shifting her stance to a defensive one. "I haven't had any 'aggressive defense' practice for a while, and I don't want to get too rusty."
Not moving, Ranma decided to stall for time. "What do you mean, 'aggressive defense' practice?" he asked in a quizzical voice.
Akane stepped out of her stance as she answered him. "Well, remember how I told you about the fights at my old school? Well, those fights were actually some of the better training I've done in a while, and while I don't want to be forced to fight, I still want to train."
Ranma considered this for a moment, thinking over his own wish to train as opposed to his prohibitions about fighting girls normally, and his vow never to use any of his father's training methods. After nearly a minute of consideration, Ranma finally answered, "All right, but let's keep it down to light contact. It's a school day, after all."
Akane flashed the boy a brilliant smile as she dropped once more into a defensive stance. "Okay, and maybe we can do some full contact on the weekend."
"Not likely," Ranma mumbled, relieved that Akane accepted light contact.
"What did you say?" asked the black-haired girl.
Panicking slightly, Ranma replied, "Nothing!"
Akane nodded, and Ranma, relieved that she didn't press the matter, thought, 'This gives me until the weekend to think of a way out of that. Of course, today is Friday….'
Without further thought, Ranma rushed forward to spar with Akane, trying to keep his speed to something just a little better than what the girl had displayed the day before.
Usagi blinked awake in her own bed, unaware of how she arrived there. The bright sunlight shining in from her window indicated that it had to be morning, but the blonde Tsukino ignored that fact in favor of waking her sluggish body. She stretched, wincing at the soreness in her muscles, and looked at the clock. It read ten-thirty in the morning.
"Oh no!" she cried, trying to leap out of bed, though managing little more than a pained stagger. "Why didn't you wake me up, Mom?!"
Before she could much more than open a dresser drawer, Usagi's door opened up, and Ikuko stepped into the room. "Usagi," she said quietly. "Don't worry about school today. Just rest."
Feeling relief flood through her body, the blonde teen almost collapsed where she stood, only just managing to return to her bed before falling. Her mother sat next to her and slipped the covers over the Tsukino daughter's tired form.
"What on earth happened, Usagi-chan?" Ikuko asked in a voice filled with concern. "You didn't come by home after school, and yesterday evening, I got a call from Naru-chan saying that you collapsed when you met her at the hospital. You never woke up once when your father brought you home."
"I'm sorry, mom…" Usagi mumbled at her parent, eyes slowly beginning to close. "I'm just really tired…."
"Don't worry, dear," the blue-haired woman replied in a caring voice, planting a kiss on the younger woman's forehead. "Just get some rest."
Usagi's last thoughts before drifting back to sleep were, 'Where is Luna?'
Still a little annoyed at Ranma for his version of 'light contact' sparring, Akane opened her lunch. For her, 'light contact' sparring was keeping the hitting to less than bruising, but obviously, the pigtailed boy's version kept it down to the lightest taps she could still feel. 'Oh well,' she thought with a less than completely friendly smile. 'I can really cut loose this weekend.'
As she glanced at her pigtailed friend, she noticed that her other friend was conspicuously absent from her seat, but even without the redhead's presence, Ranma was already tearing into his lunch. A moment later, just as Akane began eating her own lunch, Unazuki entered the classroom and sat in the once-again vacant seat in front of the youngest Tendo, her hands carrying the reason for her absence: food from the school store.
"Hey, guys," Unazuki greeted her friends, pulling a folded piece of paper from her school uniform pocket opening it to their scrutiny. "Take a look at this!"
Akane paused in her eating to look over the flyer advertising a talent show for the following afternoon. "Not much time to prepare," she mentioned to her red-haired friend.
"I know," she replied, "but that was part of the point, according to the fine print. They only started advertising it today!"
Reading the flyer again, Akane asked, "What is Midnight Zero?"
"It's this cool new radio show where they read love letters on the air," answered the redhead. "They air it at midnight every night on InterFM. That's why I didn't bring my lunch today; I was up late listening to it. So, you wanna try this talent show thing?"
"I don't know…." Akane answered dubiously. She never considered herself very talented in anything other than martial arts.
"Ah, come on," urged Unazuki. "It's a half day at school, and I don't have anything to do. It'll be fun."
In lieu of answering, Akane turned to Ranma, who was just finishing his lunch. "What do you think, Ranma?"
"'Bout what?" asked the boy of the trio, and Akane scowled at him.
"Haven't you been listening to the conversation?" she asked him, irritated. "Do you want to go to a talent show tomorrow?"
"I dunno," Ranma replied. "It's not really my thing."
"Oh come on, you two," Unazuki interjected. "With you guys doing a martial arts display, we can't lose!"
Akane perked up at that, but then she asked, "But what will you be doing in the show?"
The red-haired teen put a finger to her lips, answering thoughtfully, "Well, every martial arts match needs a referee, right?"
"I guess," replied Akane. "If it's official." Turning back to her male friend, Akane asked, "What do you say, Ranma."
While his face made it clear that he didn't really want to go, he relented quickly. "I guess so…."
Smiling brightly, Akane returned to her food, looking forward to a match with Ranma where he couldn't weasel out of full contact if they wanted to win.
Tetis awoke from intensive healing feeling like a new negalyte, though the strange buzzing coming from a source near her head was annoying. The ice woman slowly opened her eyes in the dim, aquamarine light of a recovery vat in the medical center and forced herself to sit up, coughing up the last of the green healing fluid in which the healers had submerged her. As her fit of coughing subsided, the buzzing took on more of a ringing sound, and Tetis turned to see the source: a small black message crystal.
Shaking her head to clear it, the ice negalyte silenced the crystal with a touch, activating its message.
'Captain Tetis,' the recorded voice of Jadeite spoke directly into her mind. 'I asked the healers to place this next to your recovery vat so that you would receive these orders upon your recovery. I am detained by my work with Project Waveforce, so I will leave their execution up to your discretion.'
Tetis nodded as the recording continued. 'I need you to make a repeat performance just like yesterday. Waveforce is almost complete, but I need to distract Sailor Moon for a little bit longer. Jadeite out.'
Smiling with malicious glee, Tetis erased the orders and turned just in time to see one of her subordinate youma entering the room. "Private," she ordered the hairless grey elven creature with three black pits for eyes. "I need you to watch my back on a little mission…."
Luna was patrolling the streets of Juuban in the afternoon since her charge was down for the day, but so far her detection spells had found no dark presence in the area. The black moon cat once more pondered the strange name of that DJ, Jay Daitou, from the night before, but the memory still wouldn't come. 'Ah well,' she thought. 'If it was important, I would probably have already remembered.'
Suddenly, just as a small dark power source pinged on her detection spell, she heard the sound of a siren approaching, quickly. Finally paying attention to her surroundings rather than her spells, she realized that she was standing outside of Usagi's Junior High, and the siren approaching was that of an ambulance.
Jumping quickly out of the school's driveway, Luna barely dodged the speeding emergency vehicle as it sped through the gate into the schoolyard. Continuing to monitor her spell for that small source of dark power, the black guardian entered the schoolyard to watch the proceedings.
Two paramedics rushed out of the ambulance with a stretcher and raced into the school, returning a few minutes later with one of the students, an unconscious girl. More importantly, to Luna, the source of the dark power centered on the unconscious girl. Just as the paramedics were loading the stretcher into the ambulance, the lunar feline caught sight of the source of the dark power: a black corsage pinned to the shoulder of the student's seifuku. As they finished loading the comatose student into the ambulance, other students were making their way out of the building and off of school property, the school day ending.
Even as Luna made ready to follow the ambulance and study the small black flower set, the sharp pain of an overloaded detection spell caused her to wince. Once she'd reduced the sensitivity of her spell, the moon guardian's eyes widened at the intensity of the new dark power source… and at its familiarity. Without further thought, Luna raced toward the Tsukino household; Usagi was going to get another chance to fight the ice woman.
Shingo was almost home from school, walking side by side with his friend Mika, when she said, "Look at this, Shingo-kun."
The youngest Tsukino turned to see his friend pointing at a flyer taped to a nearby telephone pole. "It's a talent show for tomorrow afternoon!" Mika said, reiterating the words on the flyer. "Want to be in it with me, Shingo-kun? I think it sounds like fun!"
Shingo shrugged at his friend. "I heard some of the other kids talking about it at lunch, so they'll probably be there."
Mika smiled brightly at him, replying, "Then it'll be even more fun!"
"So," Shingo asked, "what should we do for the show?"
Mika was about to answer when a black blur in the corner of his eye caught his attention. "Was that Luna?" he mumbled absently.
"Huh?" his female companion asked.
The brown-haired Tsukino blinked and turned his attention back to Mika, smiling at her. "Oh, nothing. Let's go to my house and think about what to do for the talent show."
Mika nodded cutely, snagged his arm, and practically dragged him through the mid-afternoon sunshine to the Tsukino home.
Usagi was just finishing up her letter to Midnight Zero when Luna raced into her bedroom through the cracked door. Looking curiously at the small black cat, the blonde teen absently folded the letter in thirds and stuffed it into the envelope.
"Usagi!" Luna cried. "You must transform! That ice creature is back!"
All good humor left the girl at the cat's words, and she stood, resigned. "Where?" she asked in a dull voice.
"I'll show you," answered Luna, her voice now full of concern. "Transform quickly!"
Usagi nodded to the small cat, and with a "Moon Prism Power, Make Up," Sailor Moon stood in Tsukino Usagi's bedroom. "Let's go, Luna."
Scooping the cat into her arms, the Moon Senshi leapt out of the second story window and landed with a lithe grace in the Tsukino's yard. Ignoring the arriving Shingo's and Mika's surprised stares, Moon took off in the direction her guardian indicated, and it wasn't long before she found her way to the small commercial area that included the Crown Game Center, the ice monster once more destroying cars and throwing people into a black rift even as they screamed.
"Stop it, you monster!" she yelled at the woman. "I am the beautiful sailor suited soldier, Sailor Moon, and in the name of the moon, I will punish you!"
Rather than answering or simply standing there like last time, the ice monster blurred, charging at the blonde Senshi. Moon's eyes widened as a frozen slap from the creature burned her cheek and knocked her to the ground. Rolling, she barely avoided a follow up stomp that would have broken her neck, and she had barely regained her feet before having to dodge a volley of razor sharp icicles.
It seemed that this time, the ice woman was out for blood, but the deadly seriousness of the situation served only to bring out Moon's inner soldier even more. Staring coldly at the creature, she advanced, dodging the icicles the woman threw, and the blonde Senshi even snagged one icicle out of the air and hurled it back at her target, surprising the woman. Moon barely registered the cuts on her hand from that attack, slowly oozing blood to stain her white gloves.
Finally reaching the retreating denizen of the Negaverse, Sailor Moon unloaded a vicious reverse punch to the creature's chest with enough force to crack its ice armor, and the dark kingdom soldier retreated, a look of astonishment on her face. The Senshi, however, was beyond caring, her rage at this creature who had nearly killed her the day before absolute. Racing forward with the intent of beating the ice woman to death, Moon made the fight a hand to hand affair.
Since they had agreed to do the talent show on Saturday, Ranma had begged off hanging out with his friends in favor of some 'homework'. Of course, the homework he was referring to had nothing to do with Juuban High; he just wanted some time to practice his constructs and learns some new ones from Nephrite. Now, however, he was beginning to regret that decision. First off, the dark general was nowhere to be found when he returned to the apartment, so getting more instruction from his tutor was out of the question, and while he could practice the constructs he already knew, the pigtailed negawarrior was dying to learn new ones as well. On top of that, when he left for a walk to clear his head and practice some of his constructs, the apartment building's lawn sprinklers kicked on, soaking the now female Ranma.
She was about to head down to the corner kissaten to get some hot water when she felt a strong source of negaforce appear, and smiling for the first time since leaving her friends for the day, Ranma raced off toward the surely brewing battle, the familiar route to the Crown Center making her worried for Unazuki.
Plumes of black smoke from detonated cars and a slowly closing black portal very reminiscent of the last battle scene framed the same ice woman from before. Forming the constructs she could not use in the last battle, the red-haired girl fueled them from her reserves and took a good look at the woman as she threw another volley of icicles, scattering a group of pedestrians without hurting them. Through the sensory constructs, Ranma noted that the ice woman was very different from the other youma she'd seen, and her sense wasn't right for a negawarrior either. 'A Negalyte,' Ranma guessed, making a note to ask Nephrite about it later.
Even as Ranma was considering this, Sailor Moon arrived with one of her usual corny speeches, and the pigtailed girl leaned against a nearby car to watch the action, hoping to see some new constructs.
This time, the ice negalyte didn't underestimate Moon at all, unloading a vicious slap to the superhero's face and following up with a lethal stomp. The dark kingdom soldier wasn't pulling any punches, and the battle persisted in a deadly silence as both sides gave their all to kill the other, the usual battle banter and bluster missing from the action. Ranma studied the constructs the negalyte used to fight, and she likened them to using ki to enhance speed and strength. The icicle construct was also interesting, and the newest negawarrior studied it carefully, though she was distracted when Moon actually snagged one of the icicles from the air and hurled it back at the negalyte.
As the battle changed from missile and dodging to a messy hand to hand brawl, Ranma expanded her sensory construct into a large sphere approximately half a kilometer in diameter. The construct was difficult to maintain at that level of power, but even as she kept her eyes on the continuing battle, the pigtailed girl wanted to know what else was happening in the area. Three things immediately jumped out at her: there was a youma, much weaker than the negalyte, watching the battle from the roof of the Crown Center, there was a small source of mana-based magic coming from an alley across the street, and another source of magic approaching rapidly from the south. All in all, it seemed that the battle was going to get even more interesting, very soon.
Luna watched, hidden in an alleyway, as Sailor Moon closed with the enemy for some messy hand to hand, and she continued to monitor her detection spells, studying the status of both her charge and the enemy ice creature. Despite both taking hits, Moon was still going strong, and her opponent still radiated a strong aura of dark power. This battle was far from over, and Luna silently cheered as the superhero got a clean punch through to strike the ice creature's jaw, though she winced as a counter punch tagged the Senshi on the shoulder.
Just then, another source of dark power registered in her detection spell, and it took only a moment to narrow it to a small, red-haired girl of no more than sixteen, leaning calmly against a parked car and observing the battle. 'By Queen Serenity,' Luna thought in shock. 'Who is that girl? She will bear watching….'
Private Junko of Jadeite's special operations department, under Captain Tetis' command, continued to watch the battle from her vantage point on the roof of the Crown Center, her detection constructs kept at low power to avoid being spotted, as ordered. Even though she wanted to watch Captain Tetis fight, her job on this mission was to watch out for the Tuxedo-clad enemy that had won the last fight for Sailor Moon. Without his interference, Tetis thought she could kill Sailor Moon, and that was definitely a goal worth risking her life. Impatiently, she scanned the skyline for her target, her claws sheathing and unsheathing reflexively as she waited.
Even as each of the combatants on the street connected with solid hits, Moon to Tetis' jaw and Tetis to Moon's shoulder, a glimpse of black announced the stranger's arrival. Clad in a tuxedo, complete with masquerade mask, top hat, cape, and cane, the unknown combatant crouched on the roof across from the youma private, studying the battle while idly spinning a trademark rose in his hand.
Junko's muscles coiled for a leap as the masked man drew his arm back for a shot, and as the special operations private launched through the air at him, the man threw the rose. The tawny-furred, cat-like youma had no time to see where the shot went as she landed atop her opponent, slamming him to the roof. They wrestled, rolling off the roof, and Junko landed badly with her opponent on top, three stories down on concrete. The fall didn't really hurt her, but she was stunned enough that she released her foe, and he leapt away, brandishing his cane like a sword.
Briefly noting that their unexpected appearance had momentarily halted the other fight on the street, Junko fully unsheathed her claws and jumped at the tuxedo-clad man. Bring up his cane in a high block, he shoved the youma back with surprising strength, and the battle continued.
A blinding pain erupted from Tetis' right shoulder, and she fell back from a simultaneous assault by Sailor Moon. As she retreated, she spotted the source of her pain: a red rose had drilled through her armor and deep into her shoulder, making her arm useless. Without her dominant hand, the battle was quickly turning against her, and the particularly vicious shot where Moon jammed the rose deeper into her flesh didn't help at all.
A yowling sound caused Tetis and Moon to both jump back from their battle and look up, just in time to see a ball of black cloth and tawny fur fall from the third story roof of a nearby building. Once it hit the ground, the ball resolved itself into Private Junko, lying stunned on the ground, and the tuxedo-clad figure who was her target. The man recovered from the fall first and jumped off of the youma, holding his cane like a sword and ready, and Junko wasted no time in pouncing at her foe. At that point, Tetis was reminded that she had her own enemy as the blonde Senshi rejoined the fight with a double fist to the youma captain's head.
Reeling from the blow and still in great pain from the rose stuck in her shoulder, Tetis could not defend against Moon's new assault, and she quickly fell back, her vision blurring and a roaring sound in her ears. All it had taken was that single rose and a small distraction for Sailor Moon to gain the upper hand in the battle, and it had shaken Tetis' confidence greatly that for the second time, she was losing a battle with the Moon bitch.
Over the roaring sound in her ears, she heard the words she most dreaded, but her reeling mind struggled to form to teleport construct to escape.
Slowly, she placed each piece of the construct, but she knew she wasn't going to make it. Sailor Moon was chanting her final attack too quickly, and Tetis felt like she was moving in slow motion, the pain of her injuries almost breaking her concentration.
Two lines away from finishing the teleport construct, Tetis' eyes widened as a glowing disk flew from Moon's hand, and she knew it to be her death. Suddenly, with a cry of "Captain!" Private Junko was there, throwing herself between Tetis and the Senshi's final attack. The private took the disk in the middle of her back, and through her tears, Tetis saw the brief instant of absolute pain in Junko's eyes before she disintegrated from the influx of planetary lifeforce through her shattered energy shield. Through the still falling remains of her comrade, Tetis saw Moon recover her weapon, and without compassion or mercy in her eyes, the Senshi began her attack again.
Determined to make Junko's sacrifice worth while, Tetis finished her teleport construct and fled, vanishing just before the disk would have ripped through her form. Even as she reappeared in the Shinjuku harvesting station, the negalyte collapsed, sobbing from sorrow, pain, and exhaustion.
The ice woman was reeling from her repeated blows, and Sailor Moon wasn't about to show the monster mercy. While her tuxedo-clad ally had her distracted, Moon had attacked, taking advantage of the opening to beat the creature to the ground. Finally, she began her final attack, but surprisingly, the youma fighting with the tuxedo man jumped in the way, disintegrating from the tiara's spell. After recovering her weapon she threw it again, but the ice woman managed to vanish before the tiara could strike.
Even as the enemy fled, the adrenaline that had been sustaining her body drained away, and Sailor Moon involuntarily fell to her hands and knees. Exhaustion almost as bad as the night before assailed her mind, but one thing remained important before she could pass out. Looking to her ally, bruises and small cuts covering his face, she asked one question. "Who are you?"
The tuxedo-clad man turned to go, but before he leapt to the rooftops again, he answered her in a quiet voice. "You can call me Tuxedo Kamen." Then he was gone, and Sailor Moon barely staggered into the alley where Luna was hiding before collapsing into unconsciousness.
When the cat youma appeared, Ranma ran. She was no coward, but the pigtailed negawarrior had good reason to fear that visage. Mindlessly, Ranma fled back to her apartment, and it wasn't until she arrived that the shaking began to go away. Even the thought of a c-c— feline that size was enough to give her nightmares, and she wanted nothing more than to get the image out of her head.
Without delay, Ranma went to the bathroom and returned to his birth gender, relishing the greater strength of this form. Thinking that some kata might help him purge the memory of that horrible visage, Ranma headed for the door.
"Hang on, Ranma," a voice stopped him, and the pigtailed teen turned to see Nephrite sitting in his normal position on the couch, a puzzled look on his face. "What's got you so worried?"
"Um," Ranma replied uneasily. He didn't want his fear to become common knowledge, but he guessed he could tell his de facto guardian. "I have this fear of c-c-cats, and there was a cat youma in the latest battle…." Ranma hated the quiver in his voice as he spoke, and he absolutely detested the stutter when he tried to say the 'c' word.
Nephrite looked puzzled at this, asking, "How on Terra would you get a fear of cats?"
Resignedly, Ranma dropped into the chair across from Nephrite and related the story of the Nekoken training in a tremulous voice. As he described being repeatedly wrapped in fish sausage, sardines, fish paste, and other seafood products and dropped into a pit of over fifty starving cats, the dark general's face went from disbelief to horror to disgust. Once Ranma finished his tale, all the incredulous Nephrite could reply was, "And you mourned this man's death?!"
"He may have done some pretty awful things to me in the name of the Art, but he was still my father," the younger negawarrior answered, a bit defensively. Sure, his father wasn't perfect, but he had been an excellent, if brutal, sensei.
The grey-clad man could only shake his head at that. "Well, why don't we work on some of the constructs I taught you last night? Have you got the rejuvenation construct down yet?"
Relieved at the change of subject, Ranma replied, "I think so." After a nod from Nephrite to demonstrate, Ranma formed the construct and powered it. Instantly, what little fatigue he'd gained from the run back to the apartment vanished and he felt like he'd just had a refreshing nap and a cool drink. Blinking at his success, Ranma said, "I think it worked." Then he looked at the clock, shocked that it had taken him nearly an hour to form the construct.
Smiling, Nephrite replied, "I knew you could do it, and don't worry; speed will come with practice. All right, I'm going to show you the next step toward the full construct, and this one is a bit more complicated. Here we go…."
Sailor Moon awoke from her exhausted slumber three hours after the battle, Luna faithfully watching over her. A quick assessment of her injuries was better than after most battles, and the nap in her transformed state had help to rejuvenate her greatly. She was still fatigued, but not nearly as badly as before. Glancing over at Luna, she said, "I guess we should get home, Luna."
The small guardian jumped into her arms and Moon leapt to the roof to begin her journey home. As she jumped from roof to roof, Luna spoke. "Sailor Moon, I think you should begin to learn magic other than the pre-made spells for your transformation and tiara attacks. I only know a few spells, but I would be happy to teach them to you."
Smiling for the first time since waking up, the blonde Senshi replied, "That sounds like a good idea. What kind of magic can you teach me?"
"The easiest ones I know are for enhancing your senses and detecting energy sources," answered the guardian cat, purring a bit in approval of Moon's quick acceptance of magical instruction. "Spells for scanning someone's status are a little more complex, as are certain device-driven spells. The most complex spells I know are some simple and weak healing spells, but it will be quite a while before you become good enough to cast those."
Sailor Moon nodded as the guardian spoke, storing away the information for future use, but her mind was mainly focused on her waiting bed and the hope that she could sleep the night in her transformed state. It would help a great deal, and Luna agreed when she mentioned it. "Just remember to lock your door," the black moon guardian advised. "We wouldn't want you family finding out that you are Sailor Moon."
As the third installment of Midnight Zero drew to a close, Jadeite sighed. The plan was almost certainly moving too slowly for Queen Beryl's approval, and even with the trap he laid for the following day, the news from Tetis was depressing indeed. Losing a special operations soldier, even a private, was a large blow to Jadeite's plans indeed. It also confirmed his suspicions that the standard, run of the mill soldier youma was truly no match for a Senshi, and that cut the dark general's options drastically. Not only that, but losing Private Junko was a huge blow to Tetis' morale, especially since Jadeite had not sanctioned her use in the operation.
Turning his mind to the coming trap, Jadeite considered yet again the pros and cons of his idea to supplement it. On the plus side, if they really did lure Moon and her ally into the trap, the rest of the city should be Senshi-free and easy pickings, but at the moment, he didn't have enough resources on Terra to exploit that vulnerability. Thus the cons: he would have to expend precious lifeforce to transport more youma to Terra and maintain their energy shields to keep them alive, and Queen Beryl would not be pleased with the loss. The only question in Jadeite's mind was whether or not he was sure that Sailor Moon would fall into his trap, and whether or not the trap would succeed if she did.
Finally, Jadeite made his decision, and with a wry grin, he thought, 'I've never made it my way to be overly cautious, and that methodology served me well for twenty millennia as a general of the Dark Kingdom.'
With that, Jadeite formed the communications construct and summoned three more youma from his special operations department, expending quite a bit of lifeforce to transport them. Once he gave them their orders and they left, Jadeite returned to his office in Dark Moon. It was a good thing it took quite a bit less energy to transport a negawarrior than a youma, though no one seemed to know why this was true. Otherwise, he would be stuck on one side or the other, and that wouldn't be very productive. Returning to the latest status reports on Project Waveforce, he set about his tasks for the night.
For the first time in nearly a week, Sailor Moon awoke feeling refreshed, the sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window not seeming so abrasive as usual. Of course, fifteen hours spent sleeping in her transformed state had helped a great deal, and even when Usagi dropped the transformation, the fatigue didn't return. For the first time in quite a while, the Tsukino daughter smiled in the morning light. She'd even woken up early enough to take a bath before school!
The morning seemed to be going perfect, from soaking in the tub for half an hour, to dressing in a fresh school uniform, to having, for once, a leisurely breakfast with her family. True, Shingo seemed to be looking at her strangely, but he did that a lot. As the two Tsukino children left for school, she asked, "Itouto-chan, why are you looking at me like that?"
Shingo seemed nervous as he replied, "No reason! I'll see you later, nee-chan!"
With that, he raced off in the direction of his school, leaving Usagi to stare quizzically at his back. As she walked to school, the blonde teen saw a familiar figure also walking toward Juuban Junior High.
"Umino-kun!" she shouted to him, and his suddenly stiff back reminded her that he had yet to forgive himself for the riot incident. Catching up to her nerdish friend, she clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Cheer up, Umino-kun!"
The boy sighed and mumbled something incoherent, and Usagi searched her mind for some way to really show Umino that she forgave him. Just then, a flyer taped to a telephone pole caught her eye, and she knew what to do.
"Umino-kun, why don't we go to that talent show this afternoon?" asked the blonde teen, pointing to the flyer. "It'll be fun!"
Umino glanced up and his apprehensive mood fell away. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "And if we win, we get to be on Midnight Zero live!!"
Usagi smiled as her exuberant friend seemed to be back, but almost as quickly his apprehension reappeared. "Are you sure you want to do it with me, Usagi-san…?"
Forcing down her irritation at the boy's tiresome mood, she replied in a mock annoyed tone, "Of course. I would do it with Naru-chan, but she's still out. Why wouldn't I want to go with you?"
Hope and fear warred on the information dealer's face, but in the end, he looked happy. "Thank you, Usagi… chan."
Smiling at him again, she asked, "So what should we do?"
"Hmm," Umino said. "Do you know that song, 'Moonlight Densetsu'?"
"Well, yeah!" exclaimed the exuberant blonde. "It's only one of my favorite songs!"
"We could sing it as a duet," replied the brown-haired boy, some of his nervousness returning.
Usagi smiled brightly. "That sounds great. C'mon, let's get to class!"
With that, she grabbed his hand and took off toward school, happy that they were on speaking terms again.
After school let out at the end of the half day and the trio of Ranma, Unazuki, and Akane got a free lunch at the Crown Parlor, the three teens walked to the radio station, fully enjoying the pleasant spring weather. Once again, there was a good breeze coming in from of Tokyo Bay and the sun wasn't too hot, and on top of that, Unazuki couldn't wait to get to the talent show. It would be so much fun to watch Ranma and Akane spar again, and she was sure that they would win.
As they continued on, the redhead spotted a familiar face going the same direction. "Usagi-chan," she called out, catching the younger girl's attention. "How are you, today?"
Usagi smiled brightly and replied, "Hi, Unazuki-chan! I'm feeling a lot better, thanks. Are you guys going to the talent show too?"
Unazuki nodded brightly. "What are you going to do for it?"
"Umino-kun and I are going to be singing 'Moonlight Densetsu'. What about you?"
"I'm going to referee a martial arts match between my friends here," answered Unazuki. Seeing Usagi's puzzled face, she said, "Oh, I haven't introduced you yet, have I?"
Usagi shook her head, and the red-haired teen continued. "Usagi, these are my new friends Saotome Ranma and Tendo Akane. Ranma, Akane, this is my friend Tsukino Usagi and her friend, Umino Gurio."
The two fighters greeted the Junior High school kids politely, and the five set off once more for the studio. As they walked, Unazuki noticed Umino taking glances at Akane out of the corner of his eye, but before she could mention it, another voice called out, "Onee-chan!"
Usagi turned, and Unazuki saw Usagi's kid brother, Shingo, and his little friend Mika approaching. "Hi, itouto," the Tsukino daughter greeted with a bright smile. "Are you and Mika-chan going to the talent show?"
"Yep," Shingo replied. "We're going to dance."
Usagi snickered at that and Shingo got annoyed. "Hey, what's so funny," asked the youngest Tsukino in a testy tone.
Still giggling, his older sister answered, "Oh, nothing."
And so it went, all the way to the studio where the talent show was to be held. Usagi ribbed her brother while Shingo insulted his sister. All the others watched with a mixture of amusement and annoyance toward the sibling rivalry displayed there.
Ranma wasn't really looking forward to being in the talent show, and the crowd at the studio simply increased his discomfort. "Hey," he said to Unazuki. "We're like the oldest people here!"
Indeed, the studio lobby was mostly filled with primary schoolers with the occasional knot of junior high students in the mix. As far as he could see, there were no other high school teens in the line, and that was making the pigtailed negawarrior nervous.
"So what, Ranma," replied his red-haired companion. "It'll still be fun."
Ranma grumbled even as his female escorts herded him back stage to get ready, and Akane excused herself briefly to put on her gi. All around Ranma and Unazuki, kids were practicing their acts and getting into costumes that didn't require privacy, and the whole ordeal was getting on his nerves.
"Say, Ranma," asked Unazuki. "Don't you think you should wear a gi for the exhibition match? It'll look more official."
"Probably," the black-haired boy replied, looking down at his green silk Chinese shirt and black pants, "but I don't own a gi anymore. My last one was pretty trashed when my father died."
The redhead looked at him sympathetically and said no more. Finally, Akane rejoined them, asking the same question and receiving the same response. All the sympathy was actually starting to annoy Ranma more than the kids when a tall woman called for attention.
"Excuse me, everyone," said a tall, classical beauty with very fair skin. She wore a red woman's business suit and made it look good, and her voice was like chimes, lacking any kind of harshness. "Thank you all for attending our talent show, and as you know, the prize is a live interview on Midnight Zero. Now, the audience with be voting to judge who wins, so get out there and impress those fans!"
The woman paused briefly before saying, "The first thing we're going to do is have everyone come out on stage and say hi, and then we'll begin the show. Each person or team will take a number, and we will proceed in that order. Are there any questions?"
A couple of the primary school students had questions, but Ranma tuned them out. As far as he was concerned, the sooner this thing was over, the better. However, just at that point, the young negawarrior sensed something was not quite right about the situation, but he couldn't pinpoint the feeling. Deciding to keep on his toes, the Saotome heir fell into line with Akane and Unazuki.
The feeling of wrongness increased as the trio made their way onto stage, and Ranma looked out over the crowd… or what seemed to be a crowd. Instincts honed over years of training reached out for the source of the impending danger, and he realized what was so wrong: he could sense no ki from anyone except the people on stage. The audience was an illusion!
Forming his sensory constructs, he realized that he must have walked into a Dark Kingdom harvesting trap, and that meant great danger for his two friends. Even as the thought occurred to him, he saw the draining construct reach out to the gathered humans on the stage, and he even felt a pull on his own reserves, though it was not strong enough to drain a negawarrior.
Without thought, Ranma snagged both Akane and Unazuki by the waste and leapt off the stage, back into the wings where it was presumably safe. The young negawarrior did not stop running until he no longer felt the pull on his reserves, but by then, the red-haired girl was unconscious and Akane was dazed from the lifeforce drain. Using his sensory constructs, Ranma gave his friends a once-over, sighing with relief when he noticed that they would be all right with a little food and rest.
Once he'd made that determination, the pigtailed boy's face twisted into a snarl with anger at both the youma who set this up and at himself for not sensing it sooner and keeping his friends safe. Walking back to the wings of the stage, safely protected by a shield against negaforce constructs, he fully intended to give the youma a piece of his mind.
Usagi knew something was wrong the moment she set foot on the stage, and the slight fatigue she began to feel proved it. Grabbing Shingo and Mika, she pulled them off stage, despite their weak protests, and before she finally got them to safety, the youngest Tsukino and his friend were unconscious from the energy drain.
Quickly, the blonde teen found an empty dressing room and transformed, Sailor Moon rushing forth to attack those who would harm her family and friends.
The sight that greeted her when she reentered the stage was one of horror: all around her, children and teens lay unconscious on the stage, drained of their very lifeforce. Quickly, she checked the nearest body, coincidentally being Umino's. Thankfully, his pulse was strong, and he seemed to be in no further danger. The feeling of something trying to drain away her lifeforce was gone, and she was certain it was not simply her Senshi powers protecting her. The enemy had stopped draining before actually harming the people, and for a moment, that gave Sailor Moon some food for thought.
However, her brief doubts as to the evil nature of their enemy were put to rest when an energy beam narrowly missed her head, exploding against the back of the stage. Spinning to face her assailant, she saw a three meter tall youma with skin the color of dried blood holding one of its four arms as though it had just fired the blast. Each multi-jointed arm was tipped in three wickedly curved claws, and the youma's eyes were slitted like a cat's, but horizontally. Then the beast smiled, its mouth full of razor sharp, five centimeter long teeth.
"Hey you!" she yelled, all the while wondering why she would be talking at a time like this. "Talent shows are—"
The youma decided not to listen to Moon's speech, and leaping at Sailor Moon, the monster raked the claws of the lower two arms while trying to grab the blonde Senshi with the upper ones. Moon dodged back, avoiding the grab, but the raking lower claws managed to shred her bodysuit over her stomach and draw a small amount of blood.
Even as the youma attacked, it spoke. "We will drain any humans we wish, and you will not stop us, Moon bitch."
Grimacing in pain, the Moon Senshi decided to go on the offensive, charging the youma head on, but even though she was much faster than the clawed monstrosity, her knuckles stung when she tried to punch its rock-hard carapace.
Gritting her teeth against the pain, Moon went for a kick, aiming for one of the joints in its legs. The youma narrowly dodged the strike and tried to take moon's head off with a claw strike, but the Senshi dropped to the floor to avoid it. That, however, was a mistake.
Two stomp attacks forced the Senshi to roll between the youma's legs, and in that moment, she knew she had failed, and now she was going to die. Staring upward for that one instant, she looked at the youma's four arms converging at one point, and more importantly, the large ball of energy that had formed between them. And then that energy rushed downward at the middle of her chest.
Ranma arrived just in time to see the large, insectoid youma leap at Sailor Moon, and he decided that he wasn't going to be 'talking' to the youma any time soon. Reinforcing his shield with a construct to repel mana-based magic, Ranma settled back to watch yet another fight between Senshi and youma. Interestingly enough, this particular youma seemed to have the upper hand against the Moon Senshi, and this was made abundantly clear when Sailor Moon punched the thing and then shook her fist in pain. However, what the youma said just before the blonde Senshi attacked made Ranma's blood boil.
'So,' he thought in disgust, 'you think you can drain my friends whenever you want, and you have no conscience to tell you that draining indiscriminately is wrong, eh? Let's see how you like this!'
Just as the youma had Moon on the ground and was about to unload an energy blast at point blank range, Ranma decided to test one of his own modifications on a shield construct. Quickly forming the shield, he set it between the youma and Moon. As the energy blast came into contact with Ranma's invisible shield, the air rippled, and the blast momentarily disappeared.
Ranma grimaced as he directed the flow of absorbed energy through his reserves and back toward the shield construct, but his efforts were quite painful. Then, in a blinding flash, the blast returned… moving in the opposite direction! The youma had only seconds to look surprised before her own blast slammed into her chest, flinging her toward the ceiling.
Ranma smirked through the pain of having to absorb and redirect so much energy at once. Maybe that would teach them about indiscriminate draining. Resolving not to help either side in the remainder of the battle, Ranma sat down and, wishing he had some popcorn, enjoyed the show.
Both Sailor Moon and the youma blinked in surprise as the energy blast meant to burn through Moon's chest disappeared in a rippling section of air, and a moment later, the blast reappeared, blasting the youma just as she had intended to blast Sailor Moon. The blonde Senshi watched with wide eyes as the youma slammed into the ceiling before the blast dissipated, a charred hole in her chest oozing ichor.
Contemplating this strange turn of events, and even hoping that it signified a new ally in her struggle against the Dark Kingdom, Moon regained her feet just as the youma crashed into the empty seats of the auditorium. Even as the blonde Senshi moved forward to finish off the youma, however, the creature rose from its crater, and while it seemed a bit worse for wear, its eyes glared murder at the Moon Senshi.
Just then, a strange whizzing sound drew Moon's attention, and she looked up, hoping to see Tuxedo Kamen and his signature attack. However, the whizzing wasn't a crimson rose but a shard of blue crystal, and the shard lanced through Sailor Moon's shoulder tearing a hole of bright agony through her flesh. Gripping the shoulder above her now limply hanging arm and crying silent tears of pain, Moon's eyes widened as she heard the whistling once more. Looking up, Moon was sure that this shard would hit her in the head.
Tuxedo Kamen dropped from the attic to the balcony through a trap door and assessed the situation. Sailor Moon was standing in front of a badly hurt youma lying in a crater, looking ready to finish it. Kamen reflected on the fact that while he had been present at every one of Sailor Moon's battles, he hadn't helped unless she needed it. In fact, Kamen wasn't entirely certain who he actually was, just the fact that he had to protect the lovely blonde Senshi if she needed him.
Since she seemed about to destroy the youma, Tuxedo Kamen almost settled back, content to watch the beauty in action, but a pop and whirring sound stopped him short. Then, he saw Sailor Moon fall to one knee, clutching her left shoulder in agony, and her left arm hung as though dead. Whirling to the side, Kamen saw another youma holding a long tube, seeming to aim at the Moon Senshi, and even as he watched, another pop came from the tube, and he could see the sliver of dark blue crystal fly at the one he must protect.
Reaching into his cloak, Kamen produced two of his signature red roses, and quick as lightning and more accurately than a computer, he flung one rose to intercept the shard of crystal a mere half meter from Moon's head. The other rose found its target in the sniping youma's right shoulder, lancing deep into its flesh.
The tuxedo clad man pulled another three roses from his cloak, the grim set to his jaw showing this to be the finishing move, but a deep, blinding pain in the back of his right calf caused him to drop to one knee, barely keeping hold of his weapons. Immediately, Kamen rolled to cover, away from what ever had attacked him from behind, and once there, he extracted another shard of blue crystal from his now blood-covered leg.
Wincing with pain, Kamen began to worry. Now both he and Moon were injured, and their opponents numbered at least three. This was not good.
Even as the shard of blue crystal lanced through Moon's shoulder, Ranma enhanced his sight and look at the source: a youma holding a long tube, like a rifle. His mouth twisted in distaste, and he reflected once more that this wasn't honorable combat. When he was with his father, he had studied many tactics, including war, and while he knew that such tactics were perfectly acceptable in war, he still couldn't bring himself to like them. To him, all combat should be conducted in the honorable style of challenges, and it annoyed him that his side of this war seemed to be using the more underhanded tactics before the other did.
While he contemplated this, the sniper youma fired again, but a brilliant red rose intercepted the attack only a half meter from Sailor Moon's head, and another such rose found is way to the shoulder of the sniping youma. Once again, Moon's ally had shown up, but this time it seemed that the Dark Kingdom's team was prepared, because just as the tuxedo-clad man was about to throw more roses, he fell to one knee. Unfortunately, Ranma couldn't see what happened from there since the railing of the balcony prevented line of sight, so he turned his attention back to the battle in the main seating area.
Moon was back on her feet, but her left arm hung uselessly at her side. The youma was also back on its feet, but moving sluggishly due to the horrible gash in her chest carapace. Ranma was almost sorry he'd redirected the attack at the youma rather than simply away; he hadn't known just how powerful it was until he'd already done it. All in all, it looked to be battle of the cripples, and Ranma wondered why both sides couldn't just decide that they were too injured to fight.
Certainly, Ranma knew that in war you often had to fight to the death, but there was an emotional side to him that didn't want to think that way. Surely there could be a peace between the Earth and the Dark Kingdom.
Tuxedo Kamen threw two roses blindly around the corner, flinging them at the enemy that he labeled 'Ambusher' before limping out to face the other youma. Even though Ambusher was probably the greater threat, Kamen couldn't have another youma at his back, even injured, if he was to take care of that threat. Pulling his cane, the tuxedo-clad man jumped at the youma he labeled 'Sniper' as best he could, going for the quick end with an overhead slash. Sniper raised the tube and blocked the strike, but the weapon was sundered in two by the sheer force of Kamen's swing.
With that youma briefly dazed, Kamen whirled on his good leg and unloaded three roses at Ambusher, forcing the approaching youma to duck, and continuing his spin, the tuxedo-clad hero used his momentum to slam his cane into Sniper. Feeling the wet crush of flesh and the pop of snapping bone through his cane, Kamen kept his attention on Ambusher, and while he heard Sniper cry out, one of his roses found its mark in the tube weapon held by the ambusher, causing the weapon to begin to emit a high-pitched whine.
The youma looked at her weapon in surprise and then fear, throwing the damaged device over the edge of the balcony. A moment later, an explosion like a ripple through reality rocked the entire auditorium, throwing everyone off their feet. Kamen held his head as he struggled to regain his bearings, and rapidly blinking his eyes to banish the haziness in his vision, he glanced at both his foes.
Ambusher was down, looking to be unconscious, but Sniper, regardless of her broken leg and useless arm, was slowly making her way to her feet. Knowing that he was now in no condition to fight, Kamen did the only thing he could: take the initiative. Swinging his cane like a baseball bat while the youma was still recovering, Kamen connected with the creatures head, pitching her over the balcony railing and down to where Sailor Moon was fighting.
Moon ignored the youma's shriek as she buried her hand within the gash in on the creature's chest, and clenching that hand into a fist, she turned her movement into a side kick, sending the creature flying. Sailor Moon dropped what she had ripped from the youma's chest, and she flicked her hand to knock off the ichor, grimacing in disgust. The red monstrosity landed on her back, crumpled painfully by the auditorium's seats. However, it wasn't out yet, and it slowly and painfully tried to return to its feet.
Then another youma fell atop its prone form. Reflexively looking up to find the source of the fallen creature, Moon couldn't help but smile at the telltale flash of black cape signifying more help from Tuxedo Kamen. Turning her attention back to the two fallen youma, now unmoving, she grasped her tiara, intent on removing the enemies of life from her world.
"Moon Tiara Action!"
Tuxedo Kamen watched briefly as Sailor Moon's attack destroyed both of the unconscious youma on the ground floor, a satisfied smile on his face. Two more abominations down.
With that in mind, Kamen turned to where Ambusher had fallen unconscious, but the youma was nowhere in sight. Cursing, the black-clad hero made his exit, very unhappy with the escape of the third monster.
Looking once more on Sailor Moon's final attack, this time used to kill incapacitated foes, Ranma felt sick. Thinking that he never should have helped the blonde killer, he guiltily walked away. No matter how much he wanted to teach that youma a lesson for her presumption in draining his friends, the pigtailed negawarrior never wished it death, and he certainly never wished it such an agonizing one. He wouldn't wish Sailor Moon's final attack on his worst enemy.
Returning to where he'd left Unazuki and Akane, he was gratified to see Akane had recovered, and the raven-haired girl was now cradling the still unconscious Unazuki's head in her lap.
"How is she?" Ranma asked as he approached. "And how are you?"
Akane jumped a little and looked up, her brown eyes widening in a startled look. "Oh, Ranma!" she yelped, "you surprised me. I'm feeling all right, but Unazuki still isn't awake."
Kneeling next to his fallen friend, Ranma pressed his right index and middle fingers to her forehead, using a minor construct to assess her condition. About half of her ki had been drained, and that meant that without help, she wouldn't recover for another few hours. A perfect opportunity to test one of his theories.
Being both a ki adept and a negawarrior gave him a great deal of insight into how life energy worked, and the experience of draining others and that scroll he'd found in his father's things had given him an idea. Closing his eyes, Ranma channeled his ki into his fingers, applying the mindset necessary to drain others without the construct. By doing this, he made himself open to this sort of connection, and now he need to open Unazuki to it.
Remembering what was written in that scroll and applying a bit of negaforce draining theory to the knowledge there, Ranma reached out with his other hand and tapped three pressure points on Unazuki's head to make her receptive to a ki transfer. The scroll related all such pressure points, but it recommended the ones around the breasts.
At this point, the scroll would have him quickly pull back his ki, creating a vacuum to draw in the ki of the subject, but Ranma did the opposite. Pushing more ki into his extended fingers, and helped along by the fact that Unazuki's body was low on the energy of life, he tried to transfer ki from his reserves into the unconscious girl.
Unfortunately, he realized as he tried, that wasn't going to work. Deciding to worry about the reasons later, Ranma channeled his own ki into his friend, and within seconds, he felt Unazuki stir.
Opening his eyes and breaking his trance-like state, the pigtailed negawarrior suddenly fell backward, landing hard on his backside. Doing that had taken a lot more out of him than he'd thought it would, and now he was very tired and very hungry. Akane was staring at him in shock, and he bet it was because he'd done something she'd never thought possible. Even he hadn't thought it possible before becoming a negawarrior and reading Happosai's scroll.
Finally, Unazuki's eyes fluttered open, and she yawned. "What happened?" she asked, sitting up and stretching. Ranma did his best not to watch the interesting things that stretching did to his friend's body, but neither of the girls noticed.
"I don't know," Akane replied, looking puzzled. "When we got on stage, all of the sudden I felt really tired, and I kinda remember Ranma carrying us out of there."
"I don't really know what happened," Ranma lied, feeling a bit guilty but not about to tell them what really happened. "Everyone started to collapse, and since it only started on stage, I figured I should get us out of there."
Ranma hoped his story would hold, and fortunately or unfortunately, the girls seemed too shaken to question him. "Let's just get out of here," suggested Akane. "I'm still kinda tired, but I'm really, really hungry!"
Helping Unazuki to her feet, Ranma smiled. "I can second that."
The redhead also managed a grin. "Well, let's see what I can do to remedy that problem over at the Parlor."
Sailor Moon detransformed and called the police to the scene, the blonde Tsukino settling in to wait for the authorities next to her brother and his friend. Just as Usagi began to hear approaching sirens, the two kids awoke, both moaning about headaches.
"Nee-chan," asked Shingo in a weak voice. "What happened?"
Thinking quickly, the elder Tsukino replied, "There was a monster in there, but I don't know what happened. I blacked out after getting you two off the stage and only just woke up a couple of minutes ago."
In a rare display of gratitude, Shingo thanked his sister and gave her a big hug. Usagi, for her part, just hugged him back. This incident came entirely too close to catching the people close to her, and that only galvanized her decision to fight the enemy as Sailor Moon. While she felt a little bad about lying to her brother, Luna's admonition about keeping her identity a secret took precedent. She might fight with her brother, but she would never want to see him in danger.
Any further discussion was interrupted as police and paramedics arrived at the scene.
Jadeite finally returned to the monitoring station much later than he'd anticipated, the details of Project Waveforce taking up too much of his time. Annoyed that he had surely missed the talent show trap, he teleported into the room to find no one there. 'Did the trap fail?' he wondered apprehensively.
His answer entered the room a moment later, beaten and battered, but alive. The youma lieutenant, one of the two snipers he'd assigned to help the captain in charge of the trap, knelt on the floor, out of breath. Her complexion, usually very pale, was a sickly green-white, and she was bleeding from several roses sticking out of her body in various places.
"Master Jadeite…' she rasped, coughing as she tried to speak. "We ambushed Sailor Moon and her ally… but they were too strong… others are dead. Moon killed… them…."
The lieutenant collapsed with that, and the dark general rushed forward to check his soldier's wounds. Thankfully, she was still alive, only unconscious from her injuries. Still, she would need intensive healing, and Jadeite quickly teleported her to the medical center.
'Now to find out what happened in there,' thought the dark general, sitting at the monitoring console. All the surveillance equipment in the auditorium registered as destroyed, and the recordings were so degraded as to be useless. Checking the system logs revealed a powerful burst of power had destroyed the surveillance crystals in the room and caused a surge that had erased half the recordings in the system, including the ones from the auditorium.
Jadeite slammed his fist into the console, uttering a few choice curses in the native language of the Negaverse. Now he would have to wait for that lieutenant to recover to learn even a little of what had happened in that room.
Before his anger could reach destructive levels, however, three more youma entered the room. "Master Jadeite," their leader greeted, saluting the dark general. "The harvesting operation was a complete success, sir. We captured more than five hundred new subjects without significant interference, and all three of our harvesting stations are nearly full. Neither Sailor Moon nor her ally attacked while we worked."
The words soothed the anger in Jadeite over the talent show incident a great deal; even if the trap had failed to kill Sailor Moon and her ally, it had still succeeded in distracting them long enough to reverse all the failures so far. He now had more subjects than his original estimates suggested, and he could report this success to Queen Beryl. The news wasn't good enough to bring a smile to his face, but at least it made some of the sacrifices worthwhile.
Finally home, Usagi dropped onto the couch in the Tsukino living room, dead tired. After fighting the battle, talking to police and paramedics, dodging the news people who had shown up on their heels, and enduring massive, worried hugs from both her parents, she was exhausted. Still, the police had seemed to take her story about a monster very seriously, and something about that really bothered her. Deciding that worries could at least wait until after a good night's sleep, at least.
Snagging the remote control, the blonde teen turned on the television, and seeing that it was a news program, she was about to change the channel when some of the reporters words filtered into her sleep-fogged brain.
"…so you're saying that a giant monster grabbed your sister and threw her into a 'black portal'?" asked the reporter.
The hysterical woman standing next to him sobbed, replying brokenly, "Yes, it did."
Turning back to the camera, the reporter said, "There you have it. A large creature attacked a movie theater and kidnapped the majority of the audience. Similar incidents have been reported all over Juuban and Shinjuku this evening, including this movie theater, a shopping mall, and a radio station audi…."
Usagi tuned out the rest of the speech, her heart numb and her hands shaking with depression, sorrow, and a new wave of crushing weariness. 'All those people,' she thought numbly, her body automatically carrying her to her room. 'While I was fighting one battle, they took all those people….'
Without thought, the blonde sometime superhero collapsed face down on her bed, her tears slowly soaking the pillow. She barely registered Luna's concern-filled words, her heart broken by the battle she surely could not win.
Nephrite stood with the other generals as Jadeite made his report, a small smile of satisfaction on his face. Jadeite was doing very well in his mission, despite Sailor Moon's interference. Ranma was coming along nicely, just as Nephrite had predicted he would, and as long as Jadeite was doing well, Nephrite was free to teach his protégé. Finally, even though he didn't particularly like the man, Kunzite's training was quickly bringing more youma and negalytes into active duty for Terra-side combat. The war would soon be won if they continued with these kinds of results.
"Very good, Jadeite," intoned Queen Beryl, favoring him with one of her rare smiles. "I am glad that your mission is proceeding well."
Nephrite glanced at Jadeite, and his friend looked satisfied for the first time in a long while. However, that expression dimmed at the queen's next words. "However, Jadeite, you have lost many youma, and while you have the potential to give us a great deal of renewable energy, your missions and research have left our lifeforce reserves lower than when you started. I give you leave to continue to operate at your own discretion, especially your pet project, but I warn you: do not fail me. The results would be most… unpleasant."
Nephrite recognized the dismissal, and so, apparently, did Jadeite. All the present generals knelt, fist over heart, to their queen before departing, Zoisite and Kunzite vanishing. Jadeite, to his credit, did not scowl until he'd turned away from the queen, practically stalking from the throne room. Nephrite hurried to catch up with his fellow dark general, placing a hand on Jadeite's shoulder in the anteroom beyond the crystal doors.
"She wants the impossible," Jadeite growled to him without turning or slowing. "I cannot gain energy instantly, and I cannot do it without spending some!"
"Don't worry, my friend," Nephrite replied, trying to calm the other general. "Now that you have all those subjects, everything will work out. You'll turn a profit, and her majesty won't have anything to complain about."
Some of the tension left Jadeite's form at Nephrite's words, and he replied, "I suppose you're right. She always was rather demanding, wasn't she?"
"Tell you what," suggested Nephrite. "Why don't we go out to my villa and relax for a little while. I don't have to be back to teach Ranma for another couple of hours, and you look like you could use a rest."
After a moment's thought, Jadeite agreed, and the two dark generals headed for a brief bit of relaxation. "By the way, Jadeite," Nephrite said as they walked. "We really need to work on your aliases. I mean really, 'Jay Daitou'?"
To be continued.
Author's notes: Okay, I'm sure that the biggest complaint about this part will be the somewhat OOC nature of Ranma's 'punishment' of the youma that drained his friends. I admit, it was a little out of character, but it really worked for me. A few things I can point out before the review lynching is that A) Ranma is fiercely loyal to his friends, B) he really wasn't aware of how powerful the blast was when he decided to try his new technique, and C) he's always hyped up about learning new techniques and trying them out.
As always, I want to thank my prereaders for their assistance.
Next time: Chapter 3 Part 5: Between Cold and Calculating! Until then.
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