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A Ranma / Sailor Moon crossover story
by jimra

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 Five: Between Cold and Calculating

Jadeite and the newly recovered Akonei teleported from the medical center to the dark general's R&D section, heading for a meeting with the section chief, Dr. Merul. Due to Ranma's very timely interference, the healers had been able to not only get Akonei back to operational health, but they had even been able to regenerate her arm thanks to how quickly they started treatment. Consequently, Jadeite felt he owed Ranma a debt, and Akonei had already told him that she wanted to express her gratitude to her savior as well. Besides, it was good to have his normal adjutant back. Pushing these thoughts from his head as they appeared in the meeting room, Jadeite kept his mind firmly from his mind and focused on Project Waveforce.

In the meeting room, around a lozenge-shaped obsidian table, were two negalytes. The first, one of the oldest negalytes in the Dark Kingdom, was Dr, Merul, a man who had changed from negawarrior to negalyte due to negaforce exposure before Jadeite had even been born. No one even knew the elder negalyte's first name anymore, preferring to call him doctor or the more familiar 'doc'. The second negalyte was unfamiliar to Jadeite, but he had a vague recollection of her as Dr. Merul's lab assistant.

Merul himself was just a hair shorter than Jadeite, with a long grey beard that reached below his knees and hair of the same length and color. Though his skin had turned pitch-black from his transformation into a negalyte, his bright blue eyes had never taken on the cat-like slit pupil that was a common trait in most negalytes, and he looked at the dark general from under his bushy grey eyebrows as he examined everything with piercing intensity. The venerable being wore a white lab coat, surprising Jadeite, in the current style of Terran scientists, and his black pants and boots made him seem to be a disembodied head floating over an empty lab coat.

The assistant, also dressed in a white lab coat, though hers was sleeveless, had pale aquamarine skin. It was obvious why her coat was cut in that manner as sharp, bony ridges grew from her forearms, contrasting with her skin in a bright crimson. Her hair, the same shade as her skin, flowed down to the small of her back, and her amphibian-like tail twitched nervously behind her through a slit in the back of her lab coat.

"Hello, General Jadeite," Merul greeted the negawarrior, and once again Jadeite was reminded that Merul was not actually his subordinate, but rather, he worked as he wished. His status as the most brilliant researcher and construct theorist in the Dark Kingdom gave him that right, and even Queen Beryl was hesitant to give him orders. "It is good to see you again."

"Greetings, Dr. Merul," replied the blonde negawarrior. "How goes the project?"

Smirking at him, Merul answered, "You never were one for small talk, were you, Jadeite? Very well, then."

Before continuing, Merul motioned for the negawarrior and the youma to sit at the table, and after taking his own seat, the doctor said, "Project Waveforce is proceeding apace, but it is still a few days from completion."

Jadeite scowled at his words, but the venerable negalyte spoke again before the dark general could voice his concerns. "However, I have an interesting little device for you. My lab assistant here came up with it."

The shorter, female negalyte blushed at her superior's recognition, but Jadeite focused on Dr. Merul. "What is it?"

Producing a crystal disk the same size as a compact disk, Merul said, "While working on the waveforce project, young Jumako here decided to try to apply some of the theory on a smaller device in her spare time, and she succeeded admirably."

The negalyte's blush, a darker blue coloration spreading across her cerulean skin, increased at the doctor's praise, and she mumbled, "It isn't really all that good, doctor...."

"Nonsense, young one," insisted Merul, smiling at his increasingly embarrassed lab assistant.

"So what does it do, doctor?" asked Jadeite, both impatient and intrigued. Anything that Merul praised this highly must be pretty impressive. Dr. Merul was not known for giving praise generously.

"Well, general," answered Merul. "It will drain lifeforce from humans, but only in a specific circumstance. Let me tell you how it came about."

Before Jadeite could protest, the venerable negalyte began, and Jadeite knew better than to interrupt Merul unless it was a true emergency. "In the course of our research on Project Waveforce, Jumako and I traveled to Terra for research. In fact, you would be surprised how different the humans of this time are from the humans of the Silver Millennium. True, their forms have changed little in the twenty thousand years the barrier was active, but mentally and energy-wise, the difference is enormous.

"What we discovered was that the flows of lifeforce through the human body have changed drastically from the last time we were able to study full human subjects. As you know, you generals are the only negawarriors who were able to stave off the change during our long imprisonment, and even all of you are at least one quarter of the way through."

Jadeite nodded at the almost rhetorical piece of information; not a day passed when he didn't think about the changes altering his body from its original form. Certainly, the high-level rejuvenation constructs he used kept him from aging, but even they could protect him from the long-term negaforce exposure, both internal and external, for only so long.

"Since it is rather expensive to travel back and forth from Terra on a regular basis, we also gathered several pieces of current Terran technology for study, and among those items was a computer."

The blonde negawarrior had seen what the humans of this time called a computer, and he had scoffed at such a low-powered device. He still remembered the great crystalline super-computers of Mercury, and even the handheld devices of the Silver Millennium put the modern electricity-driven computers to shame.

Merul interrupted his thoughts by continuing. "In Jumako's study of the device, she correlated her findings with Project Waveforce to create this. It is not nearly as powerful or versatile as the tape we are developing for the project, but it will work well for close-range draining."

"So what do you suggest?" asked Jadeite, wanting Merul to get to the point.

Merul shook his head at the general's impatience, but nonetheless, he continued. "These disks, if placed in a current Terran computer, will stimulate the mental processes of the user, the more intelligent the user the better, generating more energy in the subject. Of course, it will drain that user, though not to the point of death, and hold the lifeforce in a reservoir built into each disk. As you can see, it takes more work since you have to recover the disk, but it could still be productive."

Beryl was still on his case about not having yet made a profit on the energy he'd used, and Jadeite was eager for some respite from the overbearing ruler. "How soon can you provide me with a significant number of these disks?"

Merul smiled, showing his ivory-white teeth to the dark general. "We have one hundred ready for use right now, General Jadeite."

Jadeite smirked. That was precisely why he liked Dr. Merul.

Considering she was just out for a morning jog on the only day she didn't have to be at school, Saotome Ranma would have thought she'd be happier. Of course, being wet, cold, and female began her troubles, and the pus-dripping, multi-tentacled monster tearing up the street in front of her was only the icing on the cake.

Only a block from her apartment, at the very start of a planned fifteen kilometer run around Juuban to start a good day of training, an old woman washing the walk in front of her door didn't see the black-haired boy jogging by. Deciding that she would still have a good day, Ranma continued her jog, but now, standing about two blocks from the Crown Center, a disgusting creature had appeared from a black miasma.

Forming her sensory constructs and preparing to step aside to watch, Ranma looked at the monster, and received a shock. Rather than sensing the dark energy of negaforce at work, Ranma felt only pure evil from the creature, the black, oily aura of absolute malice. The pigtailed girl had only felt this kind of aura once before, and a smirk came to her face as she remembered.

A couple of weeks before arriving in Jusenkyo, Ranma and Genma had arrived in a small village. The people there claimed that a daemon was attacking their livestock and some of their children. Recognizing them as martial artists, the people begged Genma to fight the daemon, offering him everything from food and sake to a large, to the villagers, sum of money. Eventually, her father had agreed to their request, and the two of them had hunted the daemon in the wooded hills around the village for three days, eventually coming upon the misshapen creature.

The monster, looking like a large mosquito, was busy exsanguinating a large pig with its long proboscis when they approached, and Genma immediately leapt on its back to break its wings, forcing it to fight on the ground. For what amounted to a large bug, that one had put up quite a fight against the two martial artists, but they eventually managed to kill it. The most memorable thing about the creature was its aura, and now Ranma faced another creature, even more disgusting, with an almost identical black stain of a soul.

Her smirk turning evil, the pigtailed girl realized that this was an opponent against whom she could really cut loose, and Ranma had been itching to use some of the attack constructs Nephrite had recently been teaching her. Forming a shield construct to shelter her from any nasty surprises the creature might have waiting, Ranma leapt to attack, her hands holding black orbs of dark, destructive power.

This being an honest-to-God daemon, the redhead didn't bother with any kind of battlecry, opting to simply cut loose and attack full force, and indeed, her initial attack seemed to do a good deal of damage. Jumping high into the air and dropping on the daemon from above, Ranma snagged one of its many writhing tentacles in a black-gloved hand, the simple construct covering the hand releasing a burst of pure negaforce into the offending extremity. The result was predictable, and the neophyte negawarrior's smirk grew as an explosion of annihilating ki and negaforce severed the limb.

Landing in a crouch to avoid two other ropy appendages trying to strike her, Ranma pivoted on one leg to drive the other heel first into the monster's main body in what would have been a sweep on a humanoid opponent. While the daemon did not fall, its howl of pain was more than satisfying to the red-haired girl. Ranma performed a quick shoulder roll and chopped two more tentacles, both falling to the ground as her construct continued to make itself useful.

Unfortunately for the creature, Ranma was beginning to grow bored with it, and if she wasn't enjoying a fight, the redhead was likely to finish it. Continuing to dodge tentacle strikes with neglectful ease, the negawarrior closed with the beast.

Usagi truly wished she wasn't walking in the commercial district near the Crown Center at seven in the morning on a Sunday; she would like nothing more than to be asleep at that very moment. Unfortunately for her, at six that morning, the blonde teen's eyes had snapped open, and a terrible feeling coiling like an icy snake in her gut. She had almost transformed right then from the sheer dread, but Usagi held off, deciding to investigate further.

The elder Tsukino child had dressed quietly and slipped out of the house, following the feeling as it grew stronger. Eventually, the clenching fear led her to the street where the Crown Center was located, and she found the probable cause of her feeling. A large, pus-dripping, many-tentacled monster was there, destroying anything within reach. Ducking into an alleyway, Usagi grasped her transformation brooch, and a brief light show later, Sailor Moon raced from the alley, intent on dealing with yet another threat to her universe... but someone was already there!

Moon skidded to a stop and gaped at the short, red-haired girl who was tearing up the enemy, dodging its strikes with greater speed than the blonde Senshi had ever seen and tearing into its flesh with strong, unarmed blows. Of course, Moon didn't miss the fact that the girl was surrounded by a blue aura, and she especially noticed the dark energy around the redhead's hands. It reminded her, somehow, of that blonde enemy who'd gotten away, but why would a warrior for the Dark Kingdom be destroying one of their own allies?

A roar of pain returned Moon's attention to the continuing battle, and she quickly saw what caused the creature to shriek: in the girl's black-encased hands, a large chunk of the daemon's flesh dripped green-black blood. Looking back at the hellish creature, she could see the gaping wound in its side, in addition to several severed and cauterized tentacles.

Tossing aside the chunk of daemonic flesh, she heard the redhead taunt the monster, saying, "You sure are hard to kill, daemon. Guess I'll have to try harder."

Whether the monster understood her or not, its roar of rage and pain certainly made it seem like her words angered it. The beast lashed out with three of its remaining tentacles, and the girl, in keeping with her fighting style, continued to dodge them like a wisp of smoke. Sidestepping one more tentacle strike, the redhead changed her tactics. Jumping on the offending tentacle and using it to spring high above the monster, she brought her hands together, their dark aura intensifying in a blinding flash. Then, with a yell, the pigtailed girl released a beam of intense darkness at the creature.

As the beam struck, the creature seemed to collapse in on itself, tentacles being pressed into the sides of its disgusting body, and then, in a shower of slimy gore, the daemon exploded. Pus, blood, and unmentionably disturbing chunks of flesh rained upon the street and surrounding buildings, but the strange, red-haired devil hunter Moon was watching managed to drop back to the street after the remaining gore had already landed, showing little daemonic blood on her red Chinese tang or black pants. Even as the blue and black auras that the girl used to fight faded, Moon rushed forward to congratulate the girl on winning the battle.

Easily dodging yet another tentacle strike, Ranma decided that it was about time to end this. With her new abilities as a negawarrior, the beast, obviously a low level daemon if it was this weak and slow, was no match for her; in fact, she could have taken it before she became a negawarrior. Still using her ki in the normal way to increase her strength and speed, Ranma's blue battle aura blazed around her, but the real fun came from the constructs she held in each hand, their simple effect being satisfyingly effective. At each blow, the bit of monstrous flesh she struck would explode a moment later, the negaforce annihilating with the creature's evil-stained ki. She had even ripped a chunk of flesh from the daemon's body, but largely, the battle wasn't even a challenge.

"You sure are hard to kill, daemon," the negawarrior taunted the beast in a mocking tone. "Guess I'll have to try harder."

The creature's reply, an angry roar, made Ranma certain that it had understood her, and just to cap the cocky taunt, the redhead firmly planted a smirk on her face. The red-haired negawarrior dodged several more tentacle strikes, affecting a bored expression, and then used one more tentacle as a springboard, launching herself high above the hell-spawned monstrosity.

Quickly, Ranma applied a new construct to the negaforce already in her hands, and the dark aura surrounding them flashed. The construct, one that Nephrite had used on her during their training, contained a great deal of raw negaforce, Ranma added a Saotome twist to the original one Nephrite taught him. Added to the leading edge of the blast was an inverted shield construct made to surround the creature as it struck, containing the annihilation energy within the barrier.

Even as she watched, the blast struck and the barrier enveloped the daemon, clenching around the beast like a fist even as the negaforce annihilated the beast's malevolent ki, and then, with the pain of her inverted shield construct shredding apart, the blast broke the barrier and chunks of daemon littered the area.

Ranma landed easily in the remains of the hellspawn, letting her legs bend to absorb the impact. Regardless of how easy she considered the battle, using her negawarrior powers like that for the first time was tiring and draining to her reserves. Now, as she checked them, she found the reservoir of ki in her aura at a little less than twenty-five percent, and the pain in her head from shredding her own barrier was worse than the time her father had talked her into a drinking contest against him.

The pigtailed negawarrior was just massaging her temples to try to relieve some of the pain when a cheerful voice spoke up behind her. "That was great!"

Startled more by the fact that she hadn't sensed anyone behind her than the voice itself, Ranma leapt two meters into the air, coming back down in a combat stance to face... Sailor Moon! Instantly on guard, Ranma looked at the Moon Senshi, knowing that she was not up to fighting an enemy like the blonde magical girl, especially after killing that daemon.

"Wow!" continued Moon, chirping at Ranma in an annoyingly bubbly voice. "Thank you so much for killing that monster. It's nice to know I'm not alone trying to save our world."

Being lumped in the same category as such a savage killer as the Moon Senshi made Ranma sick, and even though she had just killed a daemon, that was different! That creature was mindlessly malevolent, intent on as much destruction as it could achieve before its death. If Ranma hadn't destroyed it, someone else would have later, and the cost in damage and life would have been much greater.

Giving the Moon Senshi one more look of distrust and disgust, Ranma jumped to the roof of a nearby building, intent on traveling down to Tokyo harbor. It may not be the best time to hunt, but if real daemons were going to be showing up, the pigtailed negawarrior needed to keep her reserves full.

Moon watched as the red-haired girl jumped to a third story roof and leapt away; she never even spoke to the blonde Senshi. In fact, if Moon didn't know better, she would have thought the girl didn't like her, but since they'd never met before, how was that possible? Thankfully, though, the coiling dread that had drawn her to the battle had subsided once the girl destroyed the daemon.

Even as the blonde Senshi returned to her normal form in a nearby alley, she reflected on the battle she'd witnessed, wondering if that girl could be another Senshi. Resolving to ask Luna about it, she headed home.

It was almost eight o'clock when the Tsukino daughter arrived at her house, and as usual when Usagi went somewhere without asking, Ikuko was waiting for her at the door.

"Usagi!" her mother cried as she opened the door. "Where on earth have you been? After you were involved in that incident yesterday, I went to check on you this morning and you were gone! You're going to worry your mother to death."

While saying all of this, Ikuko had wrapped her teenage daughter in a crushing hug, and Usagi's face was turning blue by the time the older woman released her.

"Well?" asked the blue-haired woman while the younger girl gasped for breath. "Where were you?!"

"I'm sorry, mom," replied Usagi in a small voice. "I didn't mean to worry you; I was just out taking a walk because I couldn't sleep."

The anger and worry in Ikuko's eyes faded with the apology and explanation, and she said, "That's all right, Usagi-chan. Just, next time, leave a note or something."

Nodding to her mother, the blonde girl promised, "I will, mom."

"Now," Ikuko continued, her scowl deepening again, "I heard from one of my friends that you missed an exam on Friday when you were out sick, and I remember how you did on your last test... Since you'll be taking the make up exam tomorrow, I want you in your room studying all day today!"

Usagi's eyes widened at this; how could she spend the only day she didn't have to go to school studying?! Looking into her mother's eyes, the blonde Tsukino realized that there would be no arguing the point, and after reluctantly agreeing to her mother's demand, Ikuko smiled brightly.

"All right dear," she said, her voice happy once again. "Let's go have breakfast; you can get to studying afterward."

Not at all looking forward to spending her day off studying, Usagi had quite forgotten to ask Luna about the redhead by the end of breakfast.

Akane knocked on the door to Ranma's apartment, her anticipation for their full-contact spar growing by the minute. Her pigtailed friend was a very good martial artist, and there was nothing like a good fight to get a martial artist's blood going. Waiting about fifteen seconds for the door to open, the raven-haired girl's patience wore out and she knocked again. For about five minutes, this pattern repeated, and just as Akane's temper was almost gone, a sleepy-looking, bishonen man with long brown hair walked to the door in a grey robe.

"What do you want?" he asked in an annoyed voice, eyes barely open.

Taken by surprise, Akane stared at the unknown man for a moment before collecting her wits. "Um," she said hesitantly, "is Ranma here?"

The man grumbled something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "What on Terra is this? Can Ranma come out to play?", but Akane let is slide, considering she didn't know him. Logically, this must be Ranma's guardian, but having never met the man before, she didn't know quite how to react to him.

Obviously turning his attention back to Akane, the man said, "Ranma left earlier for a jog, but I'm sure he'll be back later."

Disappointment at the delay showing on Akane's face, she replied, "Okay. Please tell him I came by. Sorry for waking you up."

Shaking his head and mumbling something to the effect of "No problem," the brown-haired man closed the door, and Akane, lacking anything better to do, headed back to her apartment for a little studying. 'Ranma,' she thought, an edge to her mental tone, 'you'd better come back for our spar!'

Turning away from the door, Nephrite grumbled a bit more, incoherently, and then, with a sigh of regret, he formed a rejuvenation construct and morphed his 'robe' into its standard form, the grey uniform he'd worn almost every day since becoming a Guardian. 'The first time I let myself sleep since Ranma's test and someone wakes me up ten minutes in,' the dark general thought with an almost inaudible sigh. 'Typical.'

Gurio Umino, information dealer for Juuban Junior High, was working his trade on his normal day off. With Tendo-sama's sister in this area of Tokyo, he had the opportunity to gain her attention, and he wasn't going to pass up such a rare chance, especially for a junior high student. Tendo Nabiki's network of information dealers and amateur bookies spanned over half of Tokyo's high and junior high schools, including every school in the Nerima, Shinjuku, and Minato wards. It was even rumored that she had a few agents in the primary schools, though Umino found it hard to believe that anyone younger than junior high age was intelligent enough to comprehend the network's purpose. Tendo-sama was a powerful woman for only a second year high school student.

As Gurio walked through the commercial area containing, among other things, the Crown Center and his normal route to school, a surprising sight came into view. Police had roped off a partially destroyed area of street, and through the crowd forming at the edge of the police lines, the nerdish boy could see that the street was completely wrecked. Pulling out the small black notebook he used to catalogue such unusual events, Umino began to take notes, formulating a report he could write tonight and file the following day at his drop. You never knew what Tendo-sama would find interesting, but a lesson well learned by being a junior member of her organization was that information was never without value.

It was nearly half an hour later, ten-thirty in the morning by a public clock, when the young information dealer finished taking his notes. It wouldn't be an exhaustive report, but it would certainly cover the needs of a preliminary report. If Tendo-sama or one of her lieutenants felt the event was important, they would request more information via his drop. Thinking of which, he would check it before heading home to write his report.

Walking into an alley leading to the narrow way behind the commercial buildings, Umino walked quickly and calmly toward the black mailbox that was his main contact with Tendo-sama's network, his mind still going over how he would word his report on the incident in the street. However, he quickly snapped back to reality when he approached the mailbox as there was a figure standing next to it, leaning against the wall with arms crossed in front.

Slowing to a more cautious pace, Umino surreptitiously studied the individual, obviously waiting at the drop for him. She was older than him, probably in high school, and if she was standing straight, she would probably stand about half a head taller than him. The girl's brown hair was cut short, and she wore a light blue blouse and white slacks combination that flattered her figure. Her eyes were closed, but as he silently approached, she said, "Gurio Umino."

The sound of his name, less a question than a statement, brought the young information dealer up short, and a small amount of fear coiled in his stomach. Could this be some representative of a rival network, out to get him like the Yakuza dealt with competition?

The girl's eyes opened, and Umino had never seen such a piercing gaze. The girl's liquid brown orbs gazed into his own eyes through his glasses, seeming to pierce his soul. In precise tones, she asked, "Do you know who I am?"

Wordlessly, the nerdish boy shook his head. Her face seemed familiar, but he could not place it. As he denied knowing her, the brown-haired girl smirked. "Well, recently I've gotten to know you, if only from your reports. Why don't we go to the nearest kissaten and you can tell me more about this 'talent show incident' involving my sister. I'm very interested."

Umino's heart leapt into his throat, and he almost passed out from shock. This woman was Tendo Nabiki-sama herself!! Nodding woodenly and walking forward when she motioned for him to lead, Gurio Umino led the person he respected most to breakfast.

It was nearly noon when Tendo Nabiki left the kissaten, leaving the hapless young man to his own devices. The boy, Gurio, had some potential, especially for a junior high schooler, but he had no technique yet. Nabiki smirked to herself; he might be hapless, but his information was valuable, if only in the sense of keeping track of her sister.

Walking from the small commercial area where she'd ambushed her agent, Nabiki made her way to the apartment building where Akane was living now, reflecting on why her younger sister was now living away from home. The middle Tendo daughter would have let Kuno's idiocy continue indefinitely were it not for the incident that had immediately preceded her sister's absence from the dojo. Kuno's deranged mind was going more and more with each morning fight, and one day, he arrived at school with a real katana rather than his customary bokken. What followed was Akane fighting for her life against the moronic Kuno heir, and while she had won the battle, she didn't come out unscathed. Several cuts and scrapes adorned her sister after the fight, and Nabiki immediately took Akane to Dr. Tofu's clinic.

The next day, Nabiki contacted Kuno's attorneys, and with her threats to sue, she received a large settlement so that Tatewaki would remain 'eccentric' rather than insane in the eyes of the general public. Using money from that settlement, Nabiki decided to get her sister away from the madness at Furinkan High, and with the money from the settlement, a sum that the Kuno family probably wouldn't even miss, Nabiki could now afford to keep Akane safe from the moron, not that she didn't intend to continue to leech money off of him due to that obsession.

Arriving at the apartment building, Nabiki rode the elevator to the twelfth floor, knocking on Akane's door when she reached it. Nabiki waited as she heard bare feet approaching, and the door swung open a moment later.

"Ranma, where have you--" said Akane's voice as the door opened, and Nabiki raised an eyebrow at her little sister's startled expression when the raven-haired girl saw who was on the other side of the door, though it quickly changed to delight. "Oh, hi, Nabiki! I didn't know you were coming over today!"

Nabiki smirked at her younger sister, adding one more thing to tease her about to the list. "Hello to you, imouto-chan," she replied in a wry tone.

"Please," said Akane, stepping out of her sister's way. "Come on in, nee-chan."

Slipping off her shoes at the door, Nabiki followed the youngest Tendo into the small apartment, remembering the layout from when she'd first rented it. Seeing several pieces of furniture from the dojo made the living room feel more like home, and she was certain that if she looked in Akane's bedroom, it would be almost identical to her room at home, especially since the younger girl had moved all of her furniture here.

"So, Nabiki," Akane began. "What brings you here?"

Affecting a hurt tone, Nabiki replied, "Whatever do you mean, Akane? Can't I visit my baby sister?"

Akane looked irritated and happy at the same time, in the usual way she reacted to Nabiki's teasing, but the middle Tendo daughter wasn't nearly done ribbing her sister. "Oh, and who is Ranma? Only here a week and you already have a boyfriend?"

Akane blushed a deep crimson before throwing a pillow at her older sister, and Nabiki smirked harder. "He's just a friend from school, Nabiki," she said, embarrassment clear in her tone.

"Really?" asked the elder girl in mock surprise. "So why is he coming by on a Sunday?"

Akane growled, though Nabiki knew that she wasn't really upset. "He's a martial artist, and we were going to spar today."

For the first time since arriving in Juuban, Nabiki was truly surprised. Akane wanting to spar with a boy? Maybe this move was just what her little sister needed; if Akane was willing to have a friendly spar with a boy, she was making real progress. Nabiki smiled at her sister. "I don't really have anything to do today, Akane. You want to hang out?"

Akane smiled brightly at her sister before the discussion moved on to the mundane chatting of family separated for a short time.

After his meeting with Dr. Merul and collecting the supply of crystal disks, Jadeite and Akonei teleported to the Shinjuku harvesting station, the dark general ready to perform his next harvesting and distraction scheme. 'Distraction' because he couldn't afford for Sailor Moon to disrupt Project Waveforce at this point and 'harvesting' because Queen Beryl would disapprove of any operation that didn't net at least some lifeforce.

As they arrived, Corporal Kinja rushed up, greeting the general and his adjutant. "Hello, Master Jadeite. What can I do for you?"

"Is Captain Tetis still here?" Jadeite questioned, and at the corporal's nod, he asked, "Where is she?"

"Captain Tetis is sleeping, sir," answered Kinja, but almost hesitantly, she continued, "And she's been rather unresponsive since returning from her last mission, Master Jadeite."

Remembering the perfunctory report on her last mission, the dark general's face twisted. Although he told the negalyte that she could perform the given mission at her own discretion, she should have known that did not give her authorization to involve another youma. It wasn't actually disobeying orders, but it certainly did not make Jadeite happy.

Walking through corridors of trickle-drain crystals with humans inside, the blonde negawarrior made his way to the barracks, entering without knocking and finding Tetis on a bunk, eyes open but glazed.

"Captain," Jadeite said, his voice stern. "I have an assignment for you."

When Tetis did not move, her superior spoke again, more forcefully. "Captain, get up."

Still, the ice negalyte did not move, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling, and Jadeite was at the end of his patience. Grasping the negalyte by the front of her tunic, he dragged Tetis to her feet and planted a hard slap to her face, yelling, "Snap out of it!!"

Tetis blinked then, and her slate eyes focusing on Jadeite, she spoke hesitantly. "I'm sorry, Master Jadeite."

Releasing the special operations captain and letting his temper cool, Jadeite began to reconsider trying to use the negalyte in his latest scheme, and in the end, he decided against it. Turning to his subordinate, Jadeite said, "Captain, go to the medical center in Dark Moon and have them check you out. Report to me when they give you a clean bill of health." 'Physical and mental,' the dark general added in his mind.

"Yes, sir," Tetis replied, her voice a bare shadow of its former confident tone. With that, she teleported away, and Jadeite considered his options. Without Tetis' usual expertise in infiltration and tactics, not to mention her combat skills, the task would be a bit more difficult. There were a few other youma among his forces that he could trust to carry out the assignment, but he would have to teleport them from the Negaverse. Queen Beryl would not like the lifeforce expenditure needed to do so.

Still, with Tetis out of the loop, he had no choice, and as Akonei approached him, he said, "I need Lieutenants Koma and Mano transported to Terra for this assignment, Akonei. Have them take the disks and infiltrate the target location. They need to be done before afternoon classes begin."

Nodding, his adjutant was already forming the communications construct and relaying his orders. Jadeite turned away, trusting Akonei to do her duties, and he thought, 'How ironic that we are going to use the crystal disks at Crystal Seminar Prep School...'

It was late afternoon before a male Ranma returned to his apartment building, his reserves full and his muscles pleasantly sore from an intense workout. After killing the daemon and gaining a true gauge of his fighting abilities against the caliber of enemy that he would likely face in the future, the pigtailed negawarrior decided that he'd been neglecting the physical side of his training. So, after putting himself through the best workout he could think of in the city, Ranma felt better.

As he approached the building's exterior door, though, a figure made itself known, and Ranma felt a chill go up his spine.

"Ranma," growled the raven-haired girl standing just outside the lobby. "Where were you? I thought we were going to spar!"

Putting his hands up in a warding gesture at his friend's angry attitude, Ranma replied, "Sorry, Akane. I had some things I had to do, and they took longer than I thought."

In his mind, Ranma knew he had no intention to have a full contact sparring session with his lesser-skilled friend, but he didn't want to hurt her feelings. He just hoped she bought the excuse.

Akane's face softened, but not much. "I guess it's okay," she said in a hesitant voice, barely calm. "My sister stopped by, so we really wouldn't have had the time for a good match."

Just as Ranma was looking relieved, Akane continued. "But, I want your promise that we'll have a good sparring match next Sunday!"

Wincing, the pigtailed negawarrior tried to find some excuse to get him out of this mess, but nothing came to mind, especially in the face of Akane's large, liquid brown eyes distracting him with a 'cute attack'. Obviously, this meant a lot to her.

Sighing in defeat, Ranma replied, "I'll spar with you next weekend... But if something comes up, I might still have to give you a rain check."

Akane gave him a slightly dubious look, saying, "I guess that's the best I'm going to get, but you have to tell me before you go."

Assuming that was the best he would get, Ranma nodded his assent, and as usual, Akane's anger left, leaving her smiling. "Come on up to my apartment, Ranma. I want to introduce you to my sister."

Nabiki was puzzled when Akane suddenly jumped up and ran out of her apartment. She didn't think she'd said anything so bad that it would send her sister running, but the raven-haired Tendo had left the apartment at something only just less than a sprint. About five minutes later, Akane returned, practically dragging a black-haired boy with her, and a moment later, the Tendo martial heir made the introductions.

"Ranma," she said, gesturing to her elder sister. "This is Tendo Nabiki, my older sister."

Pointing toward this Ranma, Akane turned to look at Nabiki. "Nabiki, this is my new friend, Saotome Ranma."

Upon hearing that the boy's family name was Saotome, Nabiki immediately went into opportunist mode, and considering that her's and Akane's father was, at that moment, in China searching for Saotome Genma with Saotome Nodoka, meeting someone with the same last name was quite the coincidence. Saotome was not exactly the most common of names.

Everyone sitting down, the Tendo mercenary studied the pigtailed boy surreptitiously, making sure that he would not realize that he was being studied. Nabiki had several points of interest, not the least of which was her sister's well being, and he wasn't hard on the eyes, either. If Akane want to go out with him, she had certainly picked an excellent specimen of the male species. Of course, she would need to keep tabs on this boy as well, and that girl named Furuhata Unazuki, since they were now Akane's friends. It wouldn't do to let her baby sister get hurt again.

As the duo talked, the middle Tendo daughter stored away their words for later, putting the eidetic memory that was one of her greatest blessings to use. Instead, Nabiki watched the two teens' body language and listened for subtext in their tones. A keen eye for such things is how she stayed on top, and the ice queen wasn't about to let any opportunities pass her by.

For the first time in quite a while, Nabiki now saw Akane comfortable around a boy, and since one of the lesser reasons for getting her this apartment was that she at least gave boys a chance, the master information dealer was quite pleased with the situation -- even if it meant that she lost that bet with Kasumi. Akane was talking animatedly, and the boy was at least smiling.

For Ranma's part, he seemed a bit nervous, but that was understandable. Being in the home of a cute girl like Akane for the first time, she knew, could be pretty intimidating for boys. Nabiki thanked the kami for the umpteenth time for making her sister so easy to read. Otherwise, she might have misinterpreted his nervousness as dislike.

Suddenly, a flag in regards to the conversation pinged in her mind, and she replayed the last thing her sister had said.

"Don't worry about dinner, Ranma," said the smiling Akane, her voice cheerful. "I'll cook dinner for the three of us!"

If Nabiki had any less control over her emotions, fear would have caused her to break into a cold sweat. If she didn't head this off quickly, her sister might be down a friend. And she didn't necessarily mean that he would just stop being her friend; lives could be at stake.

"Akane," Nabiki spoke up for the first time in the conversation. "Why don't you let me get us all take-out, since I dropped by. We don't get to spend much time together anymore, and I'd hate to waste it while you cook."

The younger Tendo seemed to be considering her words, and while there was little chance of it, Akane always tried to find some reason to be offended when anyone tried to dissuade her from cooking.

After a moment of consideration, Akane acquiesced to Nabiki's offer, and it was everything the middle Tendo sister could do not to breathe a sigh of relief. The last thing she needed was to be sick on the way home.

Usagi stared at her history book, but the kanji were blurring together. Since breakfast, she had been in her room trying to study for her make up exam, with only a break for lunch. Hopefully, dinner would be ready soon, but the blonde felt that her eyes would fall out of their sockets if she didn't have a break. Getting up from her low table and flopping down on the bed, Usagi closed her eyes and tried to get the phantom kanji to vanish from behind her eyelids. A light bounce on her bed signaled that Luna had jumped up, but the girl didn't want to hear her guardian, yet again, entreat her to get back to her studies.

"Usagi," spoke the voice of the black moon guardian. "Maybe you should take a break from school work."

Those words, however, caused the Tsukino daughter's eyes to open wide. Luna never told her what she wanted to hear! Usagi looked at the moon cat like the black-furred guardian was sick, but Luna paid her no mind and continued. "I think we should study some more magic."

Usagi fell back to the bed, her worries about the lunar feline put to rest. 'Of course,' she thought, almost dejected. 'If it isn't fighting the Dark Kingdom or school work, it's studying magic... I can admit learning magic is fun, but I've barely gotten a break this past week.'

Opening her eyes once more, the blonde sometime superhero decided to give her attention to Luna before the moon guardian used her claws to get it, but before she could launch into another lecture on magic, a welcome sound came from downstairs.

"Usagi!" called Ikuko. "Dinner will be ready soon!"

Perking up immediately, the elder Tsukino child jumped off her bed, and ignoring Luna, she raced downstairs, the smell of her mother's yakisoba, miso soup, and sakanayaki spurring the blonde teen on. As she reached the kitchen, Usagi could see that her mother hadn't served the meal yet, and she sat down on the couch where her father, Tsukino Kenji, was watching the news.

"How's the studying coming," Kenji asked in a pleasant tone.

Usagi, brought down once again at the mention of studying, replied, "It's going all right, daddy. I'm just tired."

"Well, you do need to get a good mark on that exam tomorrow," soothed her father, "but I'm very proud of you, honey. You did study all day, and I think that shows that you're growing up."

Usagi flashed her father a brilliant smile as he turned his attention back to the television; it was nice to receive praise, especially on something about which she heard so few good things. A happier Tsukino daughter turned her attention to what the news anchor was saying.

"In other news," said the anchorman. "The latest nationwide exam results for second year junior high students are in, and once again, Mizuno Ami is the top scorer."

The anchor continued to speak, but his image was replaced by a picture of a cute, raven-haired girl shyly looking at the camera, an embarrassed smile on her lips. Usagi felt something curious at seeing the girl, but she couldn't quite place it. A moment later, her thoughts were interrupted as Ikuko called the family to dinner, this time served in full.

"C'mon, Luna," Usagi said to the cat sitting next to her, and she got up. It wasn't until the blonde teen reached the table that she noticed that the little black guardian wasn't with her: Luna was still staring at the picture on the news, a very puzzled look on her face.

"Earth to Luna," called Usagi, finally breaking her cat out of what ever trance she was in. "Let's eat."

Luna joined them in the kitchen to eat the fish Ikuko put in a small bowl near the table, but Usagi could swear that the lunar guardian was completely lost in thought as she ate.

Chinese food for dinner had been good for a change, and Ranma left Akane's apartment just after dinner. Bidding goodbye to Akane and her creepy, quiet sister, Ranma headed for his apartment.

Upon arrival at the apartment, Ranma noticed that Nephrite was relaxing on the couch, watching a television that had not been there that morning. Since the dark general was silent, the pigtailed negawarrior dropped into his favorite chair and watched the program, something called 'Takaishi's Castle' where the contestants, or perhaps torture volunteers, went through all manner of obstacle courses for whatever prize was offered by the hosts, two men dressed like gaudy daimyo from the Tokugawa shogunate.

After another forty-five minutes of watching, the program ended, and Nephrite turned off the television with the remote and sat up. "Well, that was interesting," he commented to Ranma. "Is that the normal entertainment for Terra these days?"

"Don't ask me," Ranma replied, dubious about the program himself. "You know I've been on the road for the past ten years. I haven't watched TV in at least two years."

Shrugging, the dark general asked about Ranma's day, mentioning first that a friend of his had stopped by that morning. "You should really ask your friends to be a little less insistent that someone come to the door when they knock," said Nephrite as he finished telling his pigtailed student about his encounter with Akane.

Ranma winced at the story, saying, "Yep, that's Akane."

After that, Ranma told Nephrite about his encounter with the daemon that morning and Sailor Moon's subsequent appearance. The dark general listened silently and attentively to the story, commenting at the end.

"I guess it's understandable that a daemon would have broken through here," said the elder negawarrior. "The reason Tokyo is vulnerable to that kind of attack is the same reason Jadeite chose it for his harvesting operation. The city is sitting on perhaps the biggest nexus of mystical energy on Terra. Considering that we might be facing the odd daemon or magic user around here, I think it's time we step up your training a notch or two."

Ranma smiled at this, but as Nephrite began the night's lessons, the pigtailed negawarrior began to understand what his sensei meant. Ranma didn't expect to sleep much for the next several days.

As Usagi arrived at school the next morning, she noticed a knot of students slowly moving toward the front entrance, obviously crowding around someone and asking questions. Intrigued by this event, the blonde sometime Senshi looked around, trying to spot the face of the one person she knew could tell her what was going on, and spotting the bespectacled boy, she trotted over.

"Umino-kun," she greeted, directly behind the boy. The information dealer in question, obviously surprised by her approach, jumped.

"Usagi-san," replied Umino after he regained his bearings. "Please don't surprise me like that."

Giggling, Usagi replied, "Sorry, Umino-kun." Without further ado, she asked, "Do you know what's going on?"

As usual, Umino immediately became business-like for his ostensible occupation. "There's a new student in school today. Mizuno Ami."

The name sounding familiar, Usagi wracked her brain for where she'd heard it before. Her nerdish friend, however, did not give the blonde teen time to think of it before continuing. "I'm sure you've heard of her before. She's the top scorer for our age group. She's a genius!"

Remembering then, Usagi thanked her friend and headed into school, later discovering that the raven-haired girl was also in her class. Usagi, then having to go for her make-up exam, left the classroom, but she resolved to try to make friends with the shy new girl at lunch.

It had been a long night, and even with the rejuvenation construct and an hour of sleep, Ranma was still tired as he met up with Akane and Unazuki before school. Still, the night had been rewarding, and the pigtailed negawarrior bet he was twice as fast at forming some of the more complex battle constructs now. Nephrite had complimented him on how fast he could raise his shields, and the simpler attack constructs were coming effortlessly. Now, Nephrite was even introducing him to a simple teleportation construct, and while it wouldn't transport him more than perhaps fifty meters, he couldn't wait to finish learning it.

The two girls were chatting animatedly, but Unazuki obviously realized he hadn't been speaking, because the redhead said, "Ranma, you look exhausted this morning. Didn't sleep well?"

The pigtailed negawarrior smiled at his friend reassuringly, replying, "Yeah, but I'll be all right."

Unazuki smiled back, and with that simple gesture, she made Ranma feel better. Honestly, the pigtailed boy wondered how she could have such an effect on him with just a smile, but his musings were cut off by a growl from Akane. Glancing over, he was surprised to see her holding a rose, and for the briefest of instants, he wondered if Sailor Moon's ally was around somewhere. Then, he followed Akane's glare to what had offended her.

Ranma was surprised that they were already to school, and the focus of Akane's ire was standing in the school gates. The boy was taller than the pigtailed boy, with short brown hair, and he was dressed in a kendoka's hakama, the bokken in his hand finishing the look.

"Tendo Akane," the boy said, and Ranma could swear that he could hear an edge of obsession or general madness as he spoke. "I have found you at last."

Glancing back at his raven-haired friend, Ranma took an instinctive step back. Never before had the pigtailed teen seen his friend generate such a large battle aura.

"Kuno," Akane grated out, her fist clenching and crushing the rose.

Raising an eyebrow, Ranma looked back at the kendoka, remembering Akane's story about the boy, and as Kuno began some sort of flowery speech, the pigtailed boy took another step away from Akane, her battle aura growing by the second. If this was really the person who had made the Tendo heir's life such a living hell, he was expecting some fireworks in the very near future. Ranma was not disappointed.

Akane raced forward with more speed than he had ever seen from the female martial artist, and Ranma doubted that anyone else in the campus could even follow her movements. A bare three seconds after she moved, Akane had covered the twenty meters between Ranma's group and the kendoka, burying her fist in the unfortunate boy's stomach.

The beating that followed was savage, vicious, and no more than what Kuno deserved if half the stories he'd heard about the kendoka were true. In the end, Akane launched the brown-haired boy into the sky with a powerful kick, ending the 'match' in approximately thirty seconds. Ranma jogged up to Akane, her chest heaving from exertion.

"Nice job, Akane," he told her, smiling and hoping that she would calm down. "Though we should probably get to class now."

Nodding, though still quite angry, Akane entered the school building with Ranma and Unazuki.

Knowing that Kuno had found out that her sister was going to Juuban High now, Nabiki stood in the Furinkan High schoolyard facing southeast toward Minato ward. Considering the timing and Akane's excellent aim when beating perverts, Kuno should be arriving in five... four... three....

Almost on cue, a black dot in the sky resolved itself into an unconscious kendoka, and right after Nabiki mentally counted "zero", Kuno landed in the Furinkan yard, skidding across the ground to slam into the school building. Nabiki shook her head, walking over to the unconscious boy and grabbing his arm.

"When will you learn, Kuno-chan?" she asked rhetorically as she dragged his unconscious form to the nurse's office.

Usagi was mentally exhausted when lunch rolled around, and she was none too confident in her performance on the make-up exam. Walking outside and opening her bento, she proceeded to drown her troubles by rapidly consuming the home-cooked meal. Five minutes later, a happier blonde remembered that she wanted to try to get to know the new girl, and she set about searching Ami out.

It took her nearly fifteen minutes to find the raven-haired girl, a considerable amount of time when lunch was only forty minutes long, and the shy new student was eating alone, avoiding her admiring crowds by eating behind a remote tree. The blonde teen was about to go introduce herself when a black blur dropped onto Ami's shoulder, surprising her.

"Hello there," said Mizuno's soft, soprano voice. "And what are you doing here?"

It took Usagi a moment to realize that the slightly shorter girl was not talking to her, and after observing the scene for a moment, the blonde realized that the black blur was Luna, whom Ami was now petting.

Deciding that this was a good opportunity to introduce herself, Usagi walked over to the other girl. "Hi," she said cheerfully. "I'm Tsukino Usagi, and that's my cat, Luna."

Ami looked up from where she was petting the black cat, replying shyly, "Oh, hello. My name is Mizuno Ami. Pleased to meet you, Tsukino-san. This is your cat?"

Usagi winced at the formality. "Just Usagi, please, Mizuno-san. Yes, that's Luna, though I don't know how she got here."

Unfortunately, the bell signaling the end of lunch prevented further discussion, and Ami, after saying goodbye to the blonde and her cat, walked back toward the school building. Usagi almost followed when Luna managed to get her attention.

"Usagi," said the small lunar guardian in a whispered voice. "There's something very strange about that girl's aura. I think she might be a youma."

Staring after the departing girl, Usagi knew that Luna was wrong, the feeling coming from deep in her heart.

After school, Usagi caught up with Ami as she was leaving, the blonde more cheerful than she had been since becoming Sailor Moon. Something about the raven-haired girl drew the sometime superheroine to Ami, and Usagi had a very urgent need to make friends with her.

"Hi, Ami-chan," greeted Usagi, wincing immediately at her familiar tone. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be so forward."

Ami smiled at the rabbit girl, replying, "That's okay, but only if I can call you Usagi-chan."

Smiling brightly, Usagi answered, "Of course you can call me that! So, what are you doing now, Ami-chan?"

"Well," the shorter girl replied, "I have about two hours until juku, so I was just going to go home and study for a while."

It surprised Usagi that Ami was in juku, a voluntary cram school held after normal school hours, but it wasn't that unusual. Umino went to one, as well. "Oh come on, Ami-chan," said the bubbly blonde. "Let's go to the arcade and play some games before you go to juku!"

Ami looked at her dubiously. "I don't know, Usagi-chan," she answered shyly. "I'm only two chapters ahead in history, and I really want to get started with that calculus book I'm borrowing from the library..."

Looking at her new friend askance, Usagi cried, "Two chapters ahead?! Calculus? C'mon, Ami-chan. It certainly won't hurt you to spend a couple hours of one afternoon at the arcade having fun."

Ami started to protest that calculus was fun, but Usagi's expression must have stopped her cold. After a few more seconds, she acquiesced to her new friend's demands, and Usagi snagged her arm and half lead, half dragged the genius girl to the Crown Game Center.

Ranma, Unazuki, and Akane made their way to the Crown Center after school let out, the raven-haired component of their trio having long since calmed down from her encounter with Kuno that morning. Unazuki, unfortunately, had to work that afternoon, so the other two were escorting her to the Parlor and planned to hang out and keep her company when the restaurant was slow. The redhead, for her part, was very happy that they would be there.

As they approached the combination arcade and restaurant, Motoki wave to his sister from where he was sweeping out front. While the Parlor was open for breakfast, the arcade portion of the Crown Center, where Motoki worked, did not open until the afternoons on school days, so the elder Furuhata was just getting ready to open.

"Hi, imouto-chan," the blonde man greeted his sister. "How are you today, Ranma-kun, Akane-san?"

"I'm doin' all right," answered Ranma, Akane echoing his sentiments. "How 'bout you?"

Motoki smiled at them, saying, "We're just about to open."

"Hey, Motoki," came another voice, calling from behind Motoki. "You ready for the physics test tomorrow?"

Approaching at a rapid walk, a black-haired man was coming down the street toward the small group of teens, waving to Motoki. "I'm ready, Mamoru," he said. "What about you?"

"Physics test?" asked Ranma in a puzzled voice.

Unazuki had forgotten that she hadn't introduced her brother's closest friend to them, and so remembering, she said, "That's Chiba Mamoru. He and my brother go to the Azabu Institute of Technology together."

"Hi, Unazuki-chan," said Mamoru, the black-haired man stepping over to greet the girl. "Who're your friends?"

"Hi, Mamoru," greeted Unazuki in reply. "This is Saotome Ranma, and this is Tendo Akane." The redhead pointed to each of her friends in turn as she spoke.

"Pleased to meet you, Ranma, Akane," Mamoru replied, nodding to each.

Before Unazuki could lead her friends upstairs or Mamoru and Motoki could start chatting, another two girls joined their group. "Hi, Unazuki-chan!" chirped Usagi, leading a somewhat timid girl up to the arcade. "Hi, Motoki!"

"Hi, Usagi-chan," replied Unazuki, her greeting echoed by everyone in the group, minus the chan in most cases, except Mamoru, who said, "Hello, dumpling-head."

Usagi growled at the much taller man, but she didn't reply to the minor insult. "Well, I want you all to meet my new friend, Mizuno Ami."

Presenting the girl, Unazuki took her first good look at Usagi's new friend. She was shorter than the blonde junior highschooler, with raven-dark hair and a slender build. Other than her eyes, which were a cerulean blue, and her build, which was slender, she could have been a younger version of Akane. While Unazuki was making these observations, Usagi continued the introductions, ending with Mamoru.

"...and the annoying guy with black hair is Chiba Mamoru," finished the blonde teen with some distaste, obviously shared by Mamoru himself.

"Right, dumpling-head," Mamoru shot back, before turning to Motoki and talking about their latest class together. Unazuki was relieved that Usagi didn't perpetuate the argument.

Finally, the knot of teens broke up. Mamoru followed Motoki over to the arcade side so the two of them could study on Motoki's breaks, Usagi lead Ami over the Sailor V video game, and Unazuki lead Ranma and Akane up to the Parlor, hearing Usagi complain loudly that Ami was already better than her at the Sailor V game. After getting Ranma and Akane a table near the back and some drinks on the house, Unazuki started her shift while her two friends studied to pass the time.

They had been studying for about an hour and a half before Ranma felt negaforce being used, and he searched his mind for an excuse to go watch the immanent battle. Akane was just showing him how one particular geometry problem was solved, and there wasn't really anything he could think to say. Then he had an idea.

"Oops," he said, exaggerating his tone. "I totally forgot that Masato asked me to pick something up on the way home from school. I really need to do it."

Ranma knew he didn't lie very well, and Akane's dubious expression confirmed that. "Who's Masato?" she asked.

"My guardian," replied the black-haired boy. "I'll be back, but I have to go by home first."

Akane relented when he said he would be back, and she told him to hurry since they needed to study. The geometry test was the following day, and he wasn't doing well enough in practice to pass it yet.

Getting up from the table, Ranma hurried out of the Parlor and out of the Crown center, following the sense of negaforce. Jogging lightly down several streets, the pigtailed negawarrior arrived at a large building several blocks from the Crown Center, the sign naming it Crystal Seminar Prep School.

'What would a youma be doing at juku?' Ranma thought, bewildered. Nonetheless, he walked into the lobby, still following the dark energy. Just as he passed through the doors, a short girl with raven hair nudged past him with a brief "excuse me" and raced into one of the classrooms. For a brief moment, Ranma thought it had been Akane, but the height had been wrong.

'Ami goes here?' he thought after remembering the girl who'd been with that odongoed blonde at the Crown Center. 'I wish people I knew would quit getting involved in Jadeite's harvesting operations.'

Ranma was so intent on watching the door Ami had passed through, he wasn't looking where he was going. As a result, when his black-slippered foot came down on a freshly waxed portion of floor, Ranma fell, sliding into a full mop bucket. When the redhead stood, she had a very disgruntled look on her face. Ranma muttered, "Typical."

About two minutes after Ami left for juku, Usagi noticed that her friend had left her bookbag next to the Sailor V game, and knowing that all her supplies for school and juku were inside, the blonde sometime Senshi picked it up and rushed after her friend. Unfortunately, Usagi realized as she ran outside, she didn't know where Ami's cram school was.

With a silent apology to her friend, Usagi opened Ami's book bag and quickly looked through the contents. At last, she found the raven-haired girl's prep school ID, and the school address was on the back. Luckily, Usagi knew the layout of the streets in Juuban's commercial area, and she set off at a rapid pace toward Ami's juku, carrying the other girl's school bag.

Just as Ami was ducking into her class, she realized that she had forgotten her school bag at that arcade, and with it, she had forgotten the crystal disk the teacher had explicitly told them they would be using today. Angry with herself for forgetting, the girl looked up, saying, "Sorry I'm la--"

Ami's apology trailed off, brought to silence by the sight of the room. The normal rows of computers were there, but the students were all slumped in their seats, unconscious. At the front of the room, the teacher was looking over all the students with a cruel, satisfied expression that frightened and angered the usually timid girl, and then the teacher looked at her.

"It was very bad to be late," she said, her voice grating and harsh, nothing like normal, and the woman's face contorted into an expression that human anatomy should have made impossible. "But you should join the rest of the class anyway!"

Surprisingly, the woman's arm stretched halfway across the room in an instant, snagging Ami by the neck and pulling her into the classroom. The sound of the door behind her slamming shut was like a death knell to the young genius, especially as the creature's hand, feeling like iron around her throat, began to close like a vise.

Luna, sensing the dark energy emanating from the prep school, met Usagi at the gate. "Usagi," she whispered to her charge. "Something bad is happening in there! You must transform."

"Oh no!" replied the blonde as she searched for a place where no one would see her. "This is Ami's juku. I hope she's okay...."

Luna answered, "I told you that girl was a youma!"

Finding some conveniently remote bushes in the cram school's yard, Usagi ducked into them, and a moment later, Sailor Moon exited, saying, "I know she's not, Luna, and I'm afraid the youma is hurting her."

Shaking her head at her overly-idealistic charge, Luna followed the Moon Senshi into the school, the sense of dark power growing ever stronger. Finally, the blonde Senshi kicked open the door of one particular classroom, and unsurprisingly, there was a youma there. What did surprise Luna was who it held in its unnaturally long arm. Mizuno Ami. The creature held the raven-haired girl's face close to one of the computer screens, growling about how something wasn't working

Sailor Moon launched into one of her usual corny speeches, Luna paid no attention to the lunar Senshi, her status spell telling her that something very strange was happening to Mizuno's aura. And that something was about to spike.

Even as Moon leapt into battle, forcing the youma to drop Ami, Luna saw it. A strange, blue mark glowed to life on Ami's forehead, a symbol that resonated within Luna, and the lunar guardian realized why Ami's aura was different. Ami was a Senshi!

Rushing to where the raven-haired girl was coughing on the floor, jumping into the air and performing the same double flip she'd used when she gave Usagi her brooch and pen. At the apex of her acrobatic performance, a blue henshin stick fell from thin air to land before the half-asphyxiated girl, and Luna called out to her. "Ami! You must help Sailor Moon!"

Even in her weakened state, Ami was still obviously incredulous of Luna speaking, and managed to reply, "Did you just t-talk?"

Noticing that the battle with the youma was going rather badly for Moon and barely repressing a sigh, Luna replied, "There is no time! Take this henshin stick and call out the first thing that comes to mind!"

Thankfully, Ami did not question the moon cat further, and grabbing the pen and painfully making her way to her feet, she raised the henshin wand, calling out, "Mercury Power, Make Up!"

Watching the light show, similar to Usagi's, Luna felt both relieved and saddened. Her relief stemmed from having reinforcements at last, but she was saddened that yet another girl's life would be turned upside down because of the Dark Kingdom's attack. Retreating to a safe distance, Luna watched the newest Senshi rush into battle to aide Sailor Moon.

As she raised the wand and called out, "Mercury Power, Make Up!" Mizuno Ami felt silly, but if a talking cat, a magical girl, and an inhuman monster weren't indicators of dreaming, nothing was. However, thoughts of dreaming only lasted a fraction of a second as power beyond anything she'd dreamed of surrounded her form, and she moved with the energy, only half conscious of her actions. Ami felt her clothing disintegrate, first of all, and pirouetting naked did make her feel quite self-conscious. Thankfully, less than a second later new clothing materialized on her bare form: a white bodysuit, a very short blue skirt, elbow-length white gloves with blue trim, and knee-high blue boots with white trim. On the middle of her chest and at the small of her back, bows of sky blue materialized out of the surrounding energy, and as the transformation completed, Sailor Mercury stood there in all her glory.

The power coursing through her body was incredible, and the now blue-haired girl could already tell that her speed and strength would be much greater in this transformed state. In addition, Mercury could feel an almost tangible power in the back of her mind, just waiting to be called forth. However, at that moment, the youma that had originally been trying to choke her had managed to grab Sailor Moon, and even now, it was wrapping its stretchable arms around her in crushing coils.

For some reason quite unknown to the newest Senshi, everything in her being called out for her to protect the blonde-haired girl, and almost before she knew she was moving, the Senshi of Mercury was racing forward to protect her blonde compatriot. Mercury leaped forward in a jump kick from behind the creature, slamming into the back of its head and forcing it to drop Sailor Moon. Then, as she analyzed the monster's tactics, Mercury dodged the whip-like strikes from its rubbery arms, making her way over to where Moon was recovering.

Before checking Moon's condition, Mercury finally gave voice and form to the strange energy she could feel in her mind. Bringing her arms up to cross on her chest and calling out, "Shabon Spray!" Mercury flooded the area with cold mist, impenetrable to vision. In the relative safety of the fog, the new Senshi finally turned to the other magical girl.

"Are you all right, Sailor Moon?" asked the Sailor Mercury, speaking for the first time in her transformed state, and even she was surprised at how much more confident her voice was now that she was in Senshi form.

Blinking big blue eyes, Sailor Moon looked at her newest ally, saying, "Thanks for saving me, but who are you?"

Smiling at the blonde, the blue Senshi introduced herself. "I'm Sailor Mercury."

Mercury was surprised to be drawn into a sobbing hug by the blonde Senshi. "I'm so glad you're here," Moon babbled. "It's been so terrible fighting alone...."

When Mercury finally extricated herself from Moon's embrace, she was not surprised to see tears running down the other superhero's face, and the intellectual Senshi resolved to ask Moon what had happened before her awakening at the earliest opportunity. Which was not now, as a harsh voice reminded her from behind.

"Cute trick with the fog," it rasped. "But I can kill you without seeing you!"

It was then that Mercury saw that her mist was dissipating, but the mystic fog had done its job, and two Senshi stood ready to put the monster in its place.

Lieutenant Koma faced the two Senshi, much less confident than she appeared. After the horror stories she'd heard about the Moon Senshi, facing two of them seemed like assured death, and Koma definitely didn't want to die. With Moon alone, she was fairly certain she could win, assuming the blonde Senshi's original ally, the tuxedo guy, didn't show up. Facing two Senshi, however, was dangerous beyond compare, and with that possible ally in the wings, Koma was sorely temped to flee. Unfortunately for the youma lieutenant, that wasn't possible. To run away would leave the crystal disks to the enemy, and they couldn't afford to lose the valuable lifeforce stored within each of the crystalline receptacles.

Shoring up her courage, Koma attacked the two Senshi using her whip-like arms to strike from a distance. Both Mercury and Moon dodged the strikes, though both took glancing blows to their blocking forearms when the strikes came too near. As the two Senshi closed, the youma lieutenant felt fear, and she went for a capture toward one of Mercury's legs, the attack an effort to delay the enemy. Unfortunately, she missed the grab, and worse, Mercury managed to stomp down on her appendage, immobilizing Koma and causing a sharp pain in the trapped arm.

Futilely attempting to free her arm, Koma lashed ineffectively at the Moon Senshi as she continued to close, but nothing would stop Sailor Moon from reaching her target. Finally, as the blonde Senshi was almost within melee combat range, Koma opened her mouth and fired a bolt of dark energy at the Senshi. The energy blast struck Moon square in the chest, slamming her into the wall, and Koma almost congratulated herself, but a sharp blow to the back of her head, knocking her to the floor, disabused her of any accomplishment.

While she had been preoccupied with Moon, Mercury had pinned her trapped arm under a desk and snuck up from behind. As Koma tried to rise, a double hammer-fist to her back forced her to the ground again, and from where she lay, she could already see Moon beginning to rise again. From there, Koma's life became pain, and she could only hope that at some point it would stop.

Moon rose, a bit painfully, from where she'd been blasted into the wall by the youma, just in time to see Mercury drive the monster into the ground with a double hammer-fist to its back. Rushing to join her fellow Senshi in destroying the youma, Moon attacked with all her strength, landing blow after blow on the monster that would attack her planet.

After Mercury landed a hard kick to the beast's stomach, the Moon Senshi lifted the youma by the neck and landed the most powerful blow she could muster into the center of its chest. Along with the feel and sound of cracked ribs, the youma flew through the air, slamming with crushing force into the far wall. Before it had even slid to the floor, Moon was already reaching for her tiara, calling out its attack phrase.

Ranma watched as Sailor Moon raced into the same classroom Ami had entered, and although he didn't know the raven-haired girl well, he hoped she would be all right caught in the middle of a war that really had nothing to do with her. The redhead was about to get closer for a better look when a hand landed on her shoulder. Ranma jumped high enough to hit her head on the ceiling, and by the time she came back down in a combat stance, she had already powered a shield construct against physical, construct, and mana attacks.

The woman who had startled the pigtailed negawarrior jumped back; it was her turn to be surprised. Almost reflexively, her arms grew chitinous spines and her eyes turned red, obviously half transforming into her true form. The youma and the negawarrior faced off silently for a moment before the woman stood down, returning to human form.

"You use constructs," said the youma as Ranma slowly calmed, though she didn't drop her shield. "Who are you, and what is your business here?"

"I'm Nephrite's student, Ranma," answered the redhead, following it up with a question of her own. "Are you one of Jadeite's soldiers?"

The woman nodded curtly. "I am Lieutenant Mano. Master Jadeite has mentioned you, and I am under orders to protect you if it becomes necessary."

Ranma scowled at the orders, growling, "I can protect myself." In a calmer tone, the red-haired negawarrior asked, "What's going on here?"

"I cannot tell you the specifics," the youma answered. "It would violate operational security. However, you know our mission on Terra is to acquire lifeforce for the war effort, so you understand that this is a harvesting operation."

A cry of pain coming from the classroom snapped them both out of the conversation, but when they turned to look within, a dense fog shrouded the room, making visibility impossible. Trying futilely to penetrate the dense mist with her blue eyes, Ranma mentioned, "Shouldn't you go help your comrade in there?"

The regretful tone of the youma was obvious when she answered. "I am under explicit orders not to interfere with any battles during the mission here, so Koma... Lieutenant Koma, that is... is on her own."

"Those are pretty rough orders," replied the pigtailed negawarrior, not unkindly. "Sounds like you really want to help her."

"I do," whispered the youma, her voice barely audible. "She's my sister."

Ranma winced again, knowing that in the majority of the battles she'd seen, Sailor Moon gave no quarter to her enemies. As the fog began to dissipate, however, a sharp gasp from his companion made him look away.

"What?" Ranma asked, her tone reflexively clipped.

The youma was staring into the room in horror, and she murmured, nearly in tears, "There are two of them now... I don't think Koma can deal with both of them."

Looking back into the room, Ranma saw that there were indeed two Senshi facing off against a youma with long, rubber-like arms. Even as they watched, the two Senshi dodged almost all of the youma's whip-like strikes and closed, attacking without mercy. Even when Koma attacked using a negaforce bolt that threw Moon into a wall, Mercury attacked from behind, keeping the youma from gaining the upper hand. The pigtailed girl took a step forward, intent on aiding the outnumbered youma, but an arm across her stomach stopped her. Looking at her companion in disbelief, Ranma saw green tears slowly sliding down her face.

"You cannot go, and I cannot go," the youma managed, her voice cracking as the two Senshi continued the merciless beating. "We must honor her sacrifice for the greater good of the Kingdom, and await the time when vengeance is possible." That last bit was said with a deep, burning hatred.

Even as Ranma turned back to the door, resolving to force her way past the youma if necessary, the pigtailed girl saw that it was too late. With a cry of "Moon Tiara Action!" Sailor Moon's final attack ripped into the youma, and with a cry of agony, Lieutenant Koma disintegrated into a fine, grey dust.

Moon and Mercury followed Luna away from the prep school after calling the police to deal with the drained students, and Moon was the happiest she'd been since becoming Sailor Moon. Another Senshi had appeared, and together with Mercury, the side of good had won another battle! Even better, this time no one on their side had been seriously hurt, and none of the people they were trying to protect had been kidnapped! She was so very happy.

Making their way to a nearby park, Moon and Mercury stepped into the bushes to detransform, and a moment later, Usagi and Ami walked out, each surprised by the other's identity.

"I knew there was something special about you ever since lunch, Ami," gushed Usagi, hugging the raven-haired girl. "I'm so happy you're here!"

In a rare display of emotion, Ami hugged Usagi back with equal fervor. "I felt there was something special about you, too, especially after you made such an effort to make friends with me."

After nearly five minutes, the two girls finally parted, and Luna said, "I'm glad you're with us, too, Ami. Things were getting bad for Usagi while she was alone."

"Well," replied the youngest Mizuno without any of her normal shyness, "you can count on me. But I need to know what's happened so far. What was that thing we were fighting? So many questions...."

Sitting down, the two sometime Senshi and the guardian cat began to discuss the situation.

Ranma walked back to the Crown Center with a sick feeling in his stomach and a great deal of sympathy for the youma he'd left behind at the prep school, stopping only once to get some hot water. Still, he admired the Lieutenant's discipline; to be able to watch as your own sibling was killed in a horrible manner due to orders took more loyalty than Ranma had thought possible. It was easy to race to the rescue, comparatively.

Arriving at the Crown, Ranma went back up to the parlor, sitting across from Akane. "Did you finish your errand?" asked the raven-haired Tendo as he sat down.

Ranma nodded, wordlessly returning to studying. If Akane noticed his somber mood, she didn't mention it, and it wasn't long before Unazuki walked over. "It's about time for my dinner break, guys," she said cheerfully. "What do you two want?"

Ranma ordered his usual, a triple cheeseburger plate with a chocolate shake, while Akane asked for a chicken caesar salad and root beer. Nodding to them both, Unazuki went to the kitchen while Ranma and Akane cleared the table of studying materials. A few minutes later, Unazuki returned with their drinks and a vanilla shake for herself, saying, "The food'll be ready in a few minutes."

The three of them were silent as they enjoyed their drinks, Unazuki choosing to sit next to Ranma. Eventually, the redhead broke the silence. "Jeez, you guys are quiet. Is studying that bad?"

Akane chuckled, replying, "No, but Ranma had to go do some errands for his guardian, so I was studying by myself for a while."

Unazuki nodded in understanding, and then asked, "Did you take care of everything? Why so glum, Ranma?"

Trying to mask his mood, the pigtailed negawarrior smiled at his friend. "It's nothing; I'm just not looking forward to the geometry test tomorrow."

Either Unazuki missed his continued unhappiness or she chose to ignore it, replying, "I know what you mean. I'm not looking forward to that history test coming up on Thursday...."

Brightening, Ranma said, "History? That's one subject I'm not worried about. If you want, we can study for it together."

Unazuki smiled, and the Saotome heir wondered once again how she managed to make him feel better with just a look. "Thanks," she replied. "History is probably my worst subject."

Ranma was about to reply when her mother arrived with their food. "Thanks, mom," Unazuki chirped, and after the other two expressed their gratitude to the elder Furuhata woman, they dug into their meals.

Lieutenant Mano watched as Ranma left the prep school, her face a mask of sorrow, pain, and anger. However, duty called, and the second youma lieutenant assigned to the crystal disk operation walked into the room where her sister met death. Due to their self-contained nature, the crystal disks had to be retrieved or the entire operation was a failure. If the operation was a failure, Koma had died for nothing.

Mano had collected the last of the crystal disks just before the sirens sounded outside, and using her ability to teleport, a rare talent in a youma, Mano arrived in the eastern harvesting station in Juuban with her cargo of crystals.

A youma corporal assigned to care for the facility greeted Mano as she arrived, tired and forlorn. "Is Master Jadeite here?" she asked the corporal, not caring if her voice was harsh. "I need to report."

"No, Lieutenant," answered Corporal Urya, "but I can get you a communication crystal if you need to call him."

Slumping to the floor, though careful not to damage her precious cargo, Mano answered, "Please."

Hurrying away to fulfill her request, Urya looked like a small bird that was chasing a particularly nimble worm, and with the other youma's red and pink feathers, small beak, and large black eyes, the comparison seemed to fit. A few moments later, the youma corporal returned bearing the small black crystal Mano requested. The lieutenant quickly checked the crystal to make sure it was keyed to Jadeite, and then she activated its power.

'This is Jadeite,' came the words in her mind. 'Report.'

'This is Lieutenant Mano, Master Jadeite,' she answered telepathically through the crystal's power. 'I am at Juuban Two, and the mission is over. I have the crystal disks--'

Blinking in surprise, Mano felt the crystal's connection suddenly vanish, but before she could consider the meaning of the loss, a flash of dark power heralded Jadeite's arrival at the harvesting station. Immediately, the blonde negawarrior walked over to the slumped youma, calling her to attention.

"What do you mean, 'the mission is over'?" he asked, seeming quite irritated. "We only started that operation yesterday!"

Almost hesitant to answer, Mano reluctantly answered, "Sailor Moon found the operation, and... and she had help. She and a Sailor Mercury killed Lieutenant Koma."

Mano wanted to say more, but her voice failed her. Jadeite was her idol, that being the reason she had joined the army under his command, and now, on top of losing her sister, she was disappointing her personal hero. Today, she couldn't win for losing.

Jadeite, for his part, looked to be experiencing equal parts disbelief, sorrow, and fear, and the youma lieutenant could well understand why. A second Senshi had easily doubled their problems, if not increased them more. Other than the retrieval of the crystal disks, Mano brought nothing but bad news.

"Are you all right?" asked Jadeite, surprising the youma lieutenant out of her bout of depression. "Were you injured?"

"No, Master Jadeite," she replied. "I stayed out of the fighting, as ordered."

Looking at her with sympathy, Jadeite said, "Go get some rest. We'll get our revenge on the Senshi soon."

The dark general's words brought some life back to Mano, and she stood, saluting him with fist over heart, before heading for the harvesting station's barracks, dreams of vengeance upon the Senshi that would murder her sister awaiting her in its bunks.

Jadeite watched Lieutenant Mano walk away, anger boiling in his heart. Even when the plan wasn't to trap Sailor Moon, she seemed to stumble upon his operations. It had cost him a valuable tactician, and the youma's loss might send her sister over the edge. All in all, not what Jadeite would consider a particularly successful operation.

Picking up the padded case that contained the crystal disks, Jadeite handed them to Corporal Urya. "Make sure to drain these into the storage crystals, Corporal," he ordered.

"Yes, sir," replied the youma corporal, taking the case from the dark general and leaving to drain them of their bounty of lifeforce. In the meantime, Jadeite teleported away to his R&D section.

As the dark general arrived back in Dark Moon, Dr. Merul and his lab assistant were waiting for him. Without preamble, Jadeite said, "The crystal disk operation is over. Sailor Moon found it too soon."

Far from being unhappy, Dr. Merul replied, "We didn't expect it to be very successful, but you knew that, didn't you, Jadeite?"

The blonde negawarrior almost growled at the venerable negalyte before cooling a bit. "It cost me the life of an experienced lieutenant, and the lifeforce we gathered will not be near enough to satisfy the Queen if she asks me why I had two more youma transported to Terra."

The unflappable Merul's smile never faltered, and he said, "Well then, here's something to cheer you up. Project Waveforce is ready for execution."

For a moment, Jadeite's eyes widened, and then, a smile came to his face. "That is great news, doctor! Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Well, Jumako came up with a way to augment the tape's effect," explained Merul. "Let me show you."

On the table between them, Merul set three clocks of varying design. One was an alarm clock, one was an old fashioned cuckoo clock, and the third was an elegant pendulum-driven clock. "Since Waveforce will drain lifeforce from everyone that listens, the best way to get even more is to cause the subjects to generate additional energy. There is a temporal construct embedded in each of these clocks that will speed up the human metabolism, causing, among other things, increased energy production."

Smirking at this development, Jadeite turned back to Merul. "You always did know how to cheer me up, doc."

After bidding Unazuki good night, Akane and Ranma made their way back to their apartment building, an odd silence resting between them as they walked. Normally they would banter back and forth or at least chat amiably, but Ranma was in a solemn mood, and Akane felt that it would be wrong to break it. Something sad had happened, and the raven-haired Tendo didn't think there was anything she could say to lighten her pigtailed friend's present, unhappy frame of mind.

They were just entering the apartment building when a man she recognized as Umishi Ichiro approached, obviously on his way home after a long day. "Ah, hello Tendo-san, Saotome-san," he greeted politely. "How are you two doing?"

"I'm fine, Umishi-san," answered Akane, and Ranma echoed her a half second later. "How are you?"

"Fine, fine," Umishi replied. "Oh, Saotome-san. How are your guardian and sister settling in?"

For a moment, Ranma seemed puzzled by Umishi's question, but Akane couldn't understand how someone could possibly be confused by such a question. Even as her pigtailed friend's expression cleared and he told Umishi that both were doing well, Akane realized that Ranma had never mentioned a sister. Strange, indeed.

A moment later, Umishi bid the two good night and left the building, but Akane wasn't going to let Ranma off that easily. "Hey, Ranma," she said, sounding annoyed even to herself. "How come you never mentioned a sister to me?!"

"Huh?" asked Ranma, obviously startled, and Akane pressed her advantage.

"Yeah," she continued, "Umishi-san just asked after your sister, and you said she was doing fine! You told Unazuki and me that you only lived with your guardian!"

Ranma really looked like a deer in headlights now, and Akane went for the kill, backing the pigtailed boy against the wall. "Well? Are you going to tell me about her?!"

Sighing in defeat, Ranma explained. "Ranko and I live together, and she was along on the training trip, but we honestly don't spend much time together during the day. We go to different schools, have different friends, and we don't really talk until night. It's Oyaji's fault... He always tried to keep us separated when we were kids, and we could only talk at night. I guess we're close, but we feel weird about hanging around each other during the day."

The story sounded a bit suspicious, but considering Ranma's upbringing, Akane could accept it. Ranma's father was crazy enough to do it, considering some of the other things the pigtailed boy told her. "So what does she look like?" she asked, still pressing for a bit more information. The Nabiki in her, she supposed.

"Well, her most distinguishing feature is her hair; it's bright red," Ranma replied, closing his eyes as though to visualize his sister. "Ranko has blue eyes just like mine, but she's quite a bit shorter. She likes clothes similar to mine, and she's almost as good at the Art as me...."

Ranma racked off a few more items of interest regarding his sister before Akane let him off the hook, and once they went their separate ways, Akane resolved that she would one day meet Ranma's sister. She must be a great martial artist; for Ranma to place someone even close to his level of skill was quite a compliment. From his description, they would get along great.

For the sixth time, Jadeite sat down at the microphone at InterFM, about to begin yet another installment of the ever more popular Midnight Zero. The fan mail continued to pour in, and though he had to teleport two more youma to help run the operation since Sailor Moon killed two of the originals, the energy from the corsages and the promise of the rewards from Project Waveforce kept Beryl from being overcritical of his pet project.

Glancing over the letter chosen for that night, Jadeite was satisfied that it was sufficiently alluring to the teenage crowd. It was from a girl recently hurt in an accident, and she addressed the letter to a boy who did not even know she had feelings for him. Someone named Motoki.

Smiling, Jadeite signaled his youma to turn on his microphone, and he leaned over to begin yet another broadcast. "This is Jay Daitou, and you are listening to Midnight Zero. Tonight a young woman named Naru writes to her love, Motoki....


To be continued.

Author's notes: Another chapter done, and the muse seems to be with me as I only finished the last one about a week ago. Then again, this is what being out of work does. Lots of time to write, and all that. However, this was only half of the content I'd originally slated for Part 5, so Chapter 3 has grown by yet another two parts.... Yeah, I know it seems like one step forward and two steps back, but bear with me. I just don't want my parts to go too much over 20,000 words. It makes them ungainly and unfocused, and besides, I can update more quickly this way. : )

As usual, I'd like to thank my prereaders (Malichite, Dark Jackel, and Phoenix) for their excellent advice, innovative ideas, and diligent proofreading. Next time, Chapter 3 Part 6: The Quickening Tempo of Combat! See you then.

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