Continuing Tales

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 22 of 26

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Destiny's Child

Ranma smiled as she pulled the last bow into place on her costume. It was too long since she had been to a decent party. Ever since she had started posing as Tomoe Hotaru, she did not have any real friends. Well, not until recently. Now she had Chibi-Usa, Sailor Mars, Ucchan, Shampoo, Cologne, Mako-chan, oh and Hino Rei too. Not to mention all of Chibi-Usa's and Rei's other friends.

Admiring herself in the mirror, Ranma gave another smirk. No-one would have a better costume than she would tonight. Not for the first time, he was glad that his female half was as cute as his male half. It would hardly do to ware a costume like this if he was a tomboy or something. Ranma forced down a giggle thinking of Rei dressed the way she was at the moment.

On the subject of Rei, the last part of her present had arrived today too. The little lead figurine was sitting on his dresser, looking completely innocent. Old buddy Wydicslaw, had come through perfectly once again. He might be getting old now, but he clearly remembered his comrade-in-arms, Ranma The Rebel. Over the last month he had been sending parts to Ranma in Japan, and finally she had the perfect gift for Rei-san.

Placing her hands together in front of her, Ranma formed a 'pistol' with he two index fingers. 'Fireball', she whispered, and a small, low powered, sphere of flame ripped across the room smashing into the cast lead statue on her dresser.

With a spring in her step, Ranma crossed to the dresser and picked up the piece of hard metal that now stood revealed.

"Ah! Hot! Hot!"

Juggling it for a few moment, Ranma let the metalwork cool, the attached it to the other bits she had. Just perfect, someone as vulnerable as a temple maiden needs a little help in staying safe. Especially when their city of residence is filled with demons, Daimons and evil witches. It was unlikely this little toy could save her, but it might keep any attackers distracted long enough for help to arrive.

Secreting the gift in her costume, Ranma headed off. It was time to really make some jaws drop. Just wait till they saw her!

Makoto looked around her apartment and wondered when Ranma would be getting there. So far all of the invited guest aside from him and his sister were here. They even had one uninvited guest: the Amazon succubus that was after her boyfriend. Not that she was being insulting by saying that, Shampoo had actually come dressed as a little, red skinned, seductive demoness, complete with a red tail and arrow head end. Despite all the nasty thoughts had about how Shampoo was trying such an obvious tactic to seduce Ranma, Makoto had to admit she did a good job on the costume.

Currently Shampoo was working in her kitchen. Initially Makoto had been reluctant to let a barbarian girl into her precious kitchen, but a short period of observation had easily dispelled that idea. Her Japanese might be broken, but her cooking skills were in fine condition, and Makoto was sure that Shampoo was probably just as skilled as she was with a frying pan or wok. If only Shampoo could be taught how to ask for the right ingredients, the two of them could have such fun cooking together.

This also assumed that Shampoo could be made to give up on her boyfriend.

Wiggling her way past where Usagi and Mamoru were sitting, Makoto decided to make another trip to the kitchen. Earlier, she had been gently removed from her favourite spot when it was peacefully invaded by Ukyo and Shampoo. Ukyo was yet another girl that was trying for Ranma. How could one man get so many girls chasing him? Especially since none of the girls had ever gotten particularly far with him. As far as she knew, no-one had even received an innocent kiss goodnight, let alone anything more serious.

Taking a deep breath, Makoto inhaled the lovely aromas of cooking Okonomiyaki. Despite the fact that she was dressed as an eagle - a skin tight, feather patterned bodysuit with funny yellow feet and a pair of feathered wings stretching under her arms - Ukyo had immediately managed to produce a portable griddle from somewhere the instant that she learned no-one was serving Okonomiyaki at the party. In all honesty, none of the organisers had even considered fresh Okonomiyaki as a pre-requisite to a successful party, but Ukyo assured them that no truly great party was without it.

Watching the two girls working franticly and furiously in the kitchen, she finally understood what Ukyo had meant when she referred to the Okonomiyaki school of cooking martial arts. Shampoo had simply nodded at that point and challenged her to see who could cook the most and the best for the party. Currently the Ukyo was tossing out a wide array of her speciality to anyone who wanted it. Not to be outdone, Shampoo was generating tray after tray of intricate Chinese delicacies and finger food.

There was a definite competitive edge to the girls, but to an outside observer it looked a friendly competition. Shampoo had yet to draw her sword or bonbori, and Ukyo still had her battle spatula slung. (How does an eagle fly wearing a battle spatula?) Moving forward to a brief clear spot, Makoto cleared some space on the bench.

"Care to take on another challenger?"

The two girls did not even stop moving to answer her; they just turned around and gave a smile. It was a threatening, challenging smile. A smile that asked: 'Do you really think you are in our league?' Makoto had never tried a martial arts cooking competition like this before, so she was glad that they had decided to leave the fighting aspect to another time. On the other hand, it was her kitchen, her food, she was an excellent cook, and she knew all of the favourite dishes of every person there. There was no way that they were going to beat her in her own kitchen.

The already massive flow of snack foods from the kitchen increased by another fifty percent, and even Usagi was hard pressed to keep up with the flow of available food.

Through the din of conversations and background music, above the hiss and bubble of the cooking, and past the clatter and bang of the cooking, a knock could be heard at the front door. By mutual consent, all three girls called a temporary truce and ran out into the main room. If Ranma was here, then they all wanted to be at their best appearance.

Shampoo cleaned off her hands and twirled her tail slightly. Ukyo spread her wings and preened in preparation. Makoto, who was dressed as a cowboy, straightened her belt and looked over at Rei. Rei was reclining in a chair talking to Ami. Rei was obviously not worried if it was Ranma, and that suited her fine. Rei had decided to come as a traditional samurai, and Ami was dressed in a very slinky mermaid outfit.

Ami's mermaid outfit had probably been the biggest surprise of night so far. It was not that anyone did not recognise her affinity with water, it was just that she was normally such a conservative girl. When Ami had appeared wearing the green and blue swimsuit with the fish scale pattern, they had been stunned. She had even dyed her hair with a temporary blue that suited her quite well, and her makeup, tail and aqua coloured scale leggings made her look stunning.

All the girls immediately felt jealous, but the modest way she moved, and the compliments she showered on their own costumes made them all feel much better. Ami was even enjoying the party more than anyone expected. Currently she was cornering Michiru and talking to the older girl in friendly terms, discussing things that most of her friends would not be as capable of understanding.

Looking across the room to where Chibi-Usa had gone to answer the door, Makoto was delighted to hear her girlish scream of delight. Ranma must be wearing something pretty special to get a rise like that out of Chibi-Usa. Perhaps he was dressed as Hercules, or maybe he was appearing as one of those muscled, shirtless pirates, or perhaps he was dressed as a slave to be sold at the markets, or...

Hang on. Chibi-Usa's twelve. She has not even begun to think about those sorts of things yet. Which would mean that she would not even care what Ranma was wearing. To Chibi-Usa, Ranma was simply Hotaru's brother, and no more important than that. Just give her a few years and she would begin to realise what a great catch Makoto had made.

Makoto watched as Chibi-Usa walked around from the front door again, desperately trying to stop from breaking out into a massive smile. She looked incredibly cute in her little angel's outfit. She had a pair of small wings, and was all done in white with gold trim. The look of unbridled happiness that she wore only made her look even more like the part.

Clearing her throat, Chibi-Usa coughed and got everyone's attention. "Now may I present, my very best friend: Tomoe Hotaru!"

Hotaru literally leapt into the room. With a quick spin, she pointed an arm and struck a pose.

"Ai ya seitou no dairi toshite, atashi wa SEERAA chibi MAAZU yo."
"For love and justice, I am Little Sailor Mars!"

And she was. Right down to the finest details, this was definitely a miniature version of the fiery Sailor Mars. From a ruby-like gem in her tiara to the soles of her small red high heels, she was Sailor Mars. True, Rei's hair was longer, but you can't have everything.

Silence reigned supreme in the room for long seconds, before several of the guests started clapping and cheering. Oddly enough, when the cheers started, it was the Senshi that were the last to join in. Every one of them was looking at the costume and trying to decide what about it seemed so strange.

Never before had they seemed someone who looked so right in a Senshi costume, yet somehow she seemed... wrong... out of place... Maybe it was just the wrong colour for her, they were used to seeing her wear black or dark colours. Perhaps if she wore a costume that was darker, perhaps a blue skirt with a black bow would be more her colour... But then, no Senshi actually wore colours like that.

The costume was simple, but it was perfect. Makoto did not know how much time she must have spent studying Sailor Mars to make sure she had everything right, she just wished she had better taste and chose the tall and beautiful Sailor Jupiter.

Rei was the first to react, naturally enough. As the clapping and cheering finally began to abate, she made her way over and looked down at little Hotaru. She was standing next to Chibi-Usa, blushing at the attention she was getting, Rei kneeled down in front of her so that their eyes were almost level and looked her over again. Amazing, the girl seemed to have every little detail down perfectly.

"Wow, you really did a great job on the costume there, Hotaru-chan. Did Kaori help you make it?"

Hotaru looked at her feet, and rotated the point of one red shoe into the ground. See seemed embarrassed to be complimented like this. "Sewing's something I sort of picked up along the way... It helps if you can make your own clothes and stuff."

"So did you find a pattern or something?"

"No... I did it all from memory."

Rei was impressed. Sure, there was not much to a Senshi's uniform, but Hotaru obviously had all of the little details right. She had the angle right for the curve in the tiara; she even had the little five pointed stars for ear-rings. "Do you like Sailor Mars?"

"Yeah, she's the best. Sailor Mars is the strongest and best of them all. If I was bigger, I would want to be like Sailor Mars. She's cute too."

Rei blushed a fiery red. "I think she's the best too."

Minako rushed up, landing right next to Rei so that she could face Hotaru. "No, no, no. Sailor Venus is the cutest. She looks so pretty in that orange skirt, and she has the best attacks too."

"WHAT? No way does Venus have the best attack. Supreme Thunder is much better than Venus-Love-Me Chain! Not only that, but Jupiter's stronger than Mars any day."

Minako got back to her feet and looked up at Makoto, staring the taller girl in the eye. "She might be stronger than Mars, but there's no way someone as tall as Sailor Jupiter can be as cute as Sailor Venus." Switch targets. "Isn't that right, Hotaru-chan? Sailor V's always been the best."

"Well, the papers say she was pretty good in England, but now Sailor Mars is here, and no-one is smarter, stronger or cuter than she is."

Another voice chimed in behind Hotaru, and she looked back to see Ami in an earnest stance; hands clenched below her chin. "You don't mean that, do you Hotaru-chan? Sailor Mercury is the smartest of all the girls."

Hotaru nodded. "She might be smart, but I bet Sailor Mars is just as smart. Sailor Mars has the rest of them beat hands down."

Rei nodded vigorously. "See, Hotaru-chan knows what she's talking about."

Makoto looked over at her friend who had one hand possessively on her fan's shoulder. "Come on Rei, you and I know that Sailor Jupiter is stronger than Sailor Mars..."

"Sailor Mercury is definitely smarter..."

"And Venus is the cutest..."

Somehow Hotaru knew she should have consulted some of the others before choosing her costume. She never realised that these girls were such dedicated fans. Looking up at them, she considered for a moment. You know, if they all got together, they could have done a good theme at the party. Minako would make a great Sailor Venus, or perhaps Sailor V... the mask would hide some of the differences in facial features. Mako-chan would make a good Sailor Jupiter. Ami would do a creditable job as Sailor Mercury; again, she could keep the visor down so that people would have a hard time seeing her face.

Naturally, there was only one choice for Sailor Mars... That left Rei to dress up as Tuxedo Kamen. A tomboy like her should have no problem with that. Smiling quietly to herself, Hotaru knew she would have to suggest this for the next party they had. These girls would make a knockout group of vigilantes.

All was going well for a while: each of the girls was arguing with increasing vigour who was the best Senshi and Hotaru was just standing there watching. It was nice to see that Rei could get all flustered and aggressive even without Ranma. Suddenly Usagi broke through their little circle. Tears were forming at the edge of her eyes and her lower lip was quaking dangerously as she teetered on the edge of tears.

"But... But... What about the pretty soldier Sailor Moon? Isn't she the best at something?"

Hotaru looked up at her with confusion. "Who?"

"S-Sailor Moon."

"Who's Sailor Moon?"

"WHAT? No! You have to know Sailor Moon, she the leader. She's the beautiful Moon Princess. Come on Hotaru, you've got to know her, you know the rest. Waaah!

"Fighting evil in the moonlight. Finding love in the daylight. Never running from a real fight. She is the one named Sailor Moon...

"She's got red boots and she's got a pretty blue skirt and she's got the Moon Sceptre and she's got..."

"Oh! I know who you mean now: Queen Serenity."

"No, Sailor Moon."

"Hey, I'm the one with the Spirit Staff from the Moon Kingdom. I'm the one who studied them in Tibet. I know what I'm talking about, even Takuhi agrees, and he saw her once. That's Queen Serenity. She's the Queen of the whole Moon Kingdom, and the best ruler in the whole world..."

Usagi almost collapsed in relief. All right, Hotaru-chan had the name wrong, but she had the right idea. Sailor Moon was the best ruler ever. And she was cute, and strong and powerful, and everyone loved her... Usagi started to drift away into a dream world where everyone loved her and she was always in her Moon Princess form. So caught up in her dreams, she barely managed to catch Hotaru's next words.

"Mind you, now that I think about it... the Moon Kingdom's been dust for thousands of years now. So these can't be the real sailor suited defenders."

All the girls jumped on that one: "YES, THEY ARE!"

Rei gave the shocked girl a quick squeeze. "Sorry, Hotaru-chan. We just all big fans just like you. _I_ think that they're the reincarnation of the originals."

Hotaru paused for a moment and sucked on her lip. "Could be... but I don't believe in reincarnation. If it could happen, then I'd still have Akane."

Rei remembered what Ranma had said only a few days ago. 'Akane loved Hotaru as much as she loved me.' The poor little girl must have thought of her as another mother or maybe a big sister. The way Ranma talks about her, she must have been the most caring and sensitive person in the whole of existence. Anyone that could get Ranma's praise must be a saint and a paragon of womanly virtue. He even told me once that her cooking was something that you would remember for the rest of your life, even if you've only had one bite; you would never want to anything ever again. This is from a guy that has had the best Makoto, Shampoo and Ukyo can offer; Akane must have been an amazing cook.

Rei was not the only one to notice their little guest getting sad. Usagi saw it quickly too, and leapt back into the fray, trying to score points for her favourite Senshi: herself. "Hey, Sailor Moon's still the best because she has Tuxedo Kamen. None of the other's have a handsome and mysterious man like him."

In the background, Hotaru could see Mamoru cringe slightly. Poor guy, his girlfriend is hung up on some superhero that she'll never get to meet. "I don't know about that Usagi-san. I think Sailor Mars is still better off. She has Saturn Knight, and he's much better than Tuxedo Kamen."

A bubble of silence descended on the small cluster of people near the front door. It was only a week ago that any of them had even heard the name Saturn Knight, and here was a non-Senshi that seemed to know the name, and his personal predilection to Sailor Mars.

Rei kneeled down in front of Hotaru and looked her in the eyes again. "Hotaru-chan. Where did you hear the name Saturn Knight?"

Hotaru wondered that herself. It was only moments ago that the name popped into her head. "Oh... Um... Sure... Everyone knows about Saturn Knight, right? The handsome tuxedo suited defender of Saturn, and um... actually... I kinda think that was all he defended. But yeah, everyone knows about him... Don't you?"

Not to be outshone by some little kid when it came to knowledge about the Sailor Senshi, Usagi piped up. "Sure. _I_ do. Maybe _Rei-chan_ doesn't, but I do."

"Come on, Usagi-chan, that's not nice, and you know it."

Usagi stuck out her tongue. "Piiiiida!"

Seeing Rei's famous temper coming to bear on someone other than her male half, Hotaru smiled, and then side stepped through the two glaring teenagers. "I'm just going to go say hello to Ucchan and Shampoo."

Distracted for a moment, Rei looked down at Hotaru. Wow, this girl gets around. "You know Shampoo?"

"Didn't we just do this? Sure, everyone knows Shampoo. She's the... um... Chinese suited defender of ... um... defender of ramen! See ya!"

It took the girls a while to recover from a joke that bad, and by then little Hotaru had slid through their group, then past Naru - Usagi's one time best friend at school - and her boyfriend, who was also from Usagi's school.

Naturally enough, Ukyo and Shampoo had departed during the other girls' 'discussion' about the Sailor Senshi. Neither Ukyo nor Shampoo knew much about the Sailor Senshi, and neither of them cared too much about them. As far as Ukyo was concerned, their reputation was overblown considering the fact that they could not save her friend Kikyo. Since they were not Amazons, Shampoo knew that they obviously would not be as good as her or her great-grandmother. Most importantly, none of the Sailor Senshi were after Ranma, so they did not even enter the final equation.

Shampoo and Ukyo were both strangers in the city so it was nice to be invited to a party, a good chance to make new friends. Most of the people there were a bit younger than they were, but basically they were fun to be with. Ukyo had spotted a sweet looking couple about her age in one of the corners of the room when she had come in. She only had a little time to observe them before Shampoo had arrived and they had set up their little contest, but Ukyo would have sworn that the boy was the well-known racer Tenou Haruka.

At the start of the night Ukyo had vowed to herself that she would spare some time from being with Ranma to talk to Haruka. Perhaps he or his girlfriend could offer Ukyo a few tips on how to land a catch like Ranma.

It had been over an hour since she first arrived - with Shampoo arriving only minutes later. Every minute that ticked by, she wanted to leave the kitchen and spend some time with the racer and his girlfriend. It was not that she disliked cooking (far from it), it was the fact that she was rapidly beginning to dislike Shampoo.

From the very beginning, Shampoo had talked about her 'husband'. It was as though the girl assumed that they were already married, and she was just waiting for Ranma to work up the courage to sweep her off her feet. 'As if that would ever happen': Ukyo knew that she was Ranchan's one and only girl. Poor Shampoo obviously did not realise this, and got just a little bit upset when Ukyo had casually mentioned the fact that she was actually Ranma's fiancee.

That had been about forty minutes ago, and since then, things had gotten progressively more 'enthusiastic' between the two girls. It had started out fairly innocently, Ukyo called Shampoo a 'Purple Haired Bimbo' and Shampoo called Ukyo the 'Stupid Spatula Girl'.

Then there had been that time when Shampoo accidentally threw four sharp knives that just missed Ukyo's head. Ukyo gritted her teeth and smiled, she took it in the same way that Shampoo took it when Ukyo 'accidentally' retaliated with eight skewers and a couple of throwing spatulas.

Shampoo was preparing for some serious toe-to-toe combat against Ukyo when Makoto arrived. Instantly both girls were smiles and happiness again. They were both guests here, and it would hardly do for their hostess to see them duelling in her kitchen, even if it was in good fun. With someone in the kitchen acting as an overseer, the two competitors managed to stay on good behaviour, this was even more true when Makoto joined in the cooking challenge. All the girls had to dedicate their every thought to food just to stay in the competition.

Hotaru's arrival and their break from cooking seemed to diffuse the situation for a while. With Makoto out talking and a generous supply of cooked delicacies ready, Shampoo and Ukyou seemed to have some spare time.

"Spatula Girl... Who new girl?"

"Hmm... Oh, that's Hotaru. She's Ranchan's little sister. Used to be my best friend a few years ago."

"Why you no meet then?"

"What? You think I could fight my way through that crowd of girls to see her without doing some serious violence? Honey, you have another thing coming, besides, I know she'll be here as soon as she can get past them, and I don't like beating up on people who are younger than me."

"Shampoo understand. Why Great Grandmother no mention Husband's sister?"

"Why would she? I mean she's probably never even met Hotaru before."

Shampoo delicately placed a finger to her lower lip as she thought. "Spatula Girl could be right. Great Grandmother know all about Husband, but she no mention little sister."

"Yeah, well, they're a bit of an odd family that one. Honestly, I've never met any brother and sister that are closer than them, they seem to tell each other everything, even the little things that you never even bother mentioning."

"Why that strange?"

Ukyo leaned against one of the kitchen counters and gestured vaguely with one hand. "Nothing's strange about that. What is weird, is the way that they seem to be almost embarrassed of each other. I've known Hotaru since we were both little girls, she was living with a foster family and called Ai then. In all that time, and ever since I've been in Tokyo with them, not once have I seen the two of them together."

"That strange... Hmm, Great Grandmother mention Husband have curse. Maybe little sister ashamed of curse."

"Ranchan's cursed? I've never heard that one before. Humph. Don't think you can scare me away from my Ranchan just by telling me he's cursed. We've been friends for years, and he is about the most uncursed person I've ever met. Private: yes. Cursed: no."

"Do you still want him now that you know he's cursed?"

Both of the girls turned guiltily to see a sombre looking Hotaru in the doorway. Ukyo was not the first to recover, but Shampoo showed no signs of apologising for what they had been saying. "I'm sorry Hotaru-chan. We weren't really talking about you behind your back. I just never knew that Ranchan was cursed."

"You didn't answer my question."

"Well, I guess it depends on what his curse is."

"Shampoo want know too."

Hotaru put a smirk on her face and sang her next words. "But I'm not gunna tell youuuuuu."

A wicked gleam came to Ukyo's eyes as she raised her hands and advanced on the little Senshi. "Oh, I think we could tickle it out of you... Don't you Shampoo?"

Shampoo gave a predatory smile to match Ukyo's. "Shampoo agree with Spatula Girl. Little Girl never resist ancient Chinese Amazon... TICKLE ATTACK!"

From here things got confusing. First it was Shampoo and Ukyo against Hotaru, but when Chibi-Usa saw Hotaru succumb to the bigger girls, she leapt into the fray. Seeing her biggest (or smallest) fan so set upon, Rei also joined in, which worked well until someone hit one of Ukyo's flour bags, covering the kitchen in white dust. By the time Makoto was involved it had degenerated into a tickling free-for-all that quickly left everyone on the floor gasping for breath and shuddering as the compulsive laughter finally faded.

All of the girls sat on the kitchen floor and grinned at each other. Chibi-Usa sat in Makoto's lap, and Hotaru in Rei's. Hotaru had struggled at this for a few moments, after all she was a guy, and this was hardly the sort of thing you would want to be doing with a tomboy anyway. After a while she relented and settled down. 'I mean, Rei-san thinks I'm a girl, so it not as though anything could happen. Besides, Rei-san like Sailor Mars too, so I suppose it shows she has good taste in something.'

Makoto looked around her white covered kitchen and sighed. This is one room that could wait until the morning to clean. "Anyone want to tell me what this was all about?"

"We were trying to get Hotaru-chan to tell us what Ranma's curse was."


Ukyo shrugged her shoulders and looked at the other girls. "Comes as a surprise, doesn't it. Shampoo only told me tonight too."

Rei gave Shampoo her famous glare. "Come on, Shampoo. You can't seriously expect us to believe that Ranma's cursed, can you?"

"It true. Great Grandmother tell Shampoo: Ranma cursed. Great Grandmother never wrong."

Rei looked down at the passenger on her lap. "Come on, Hotaru-chan. Defend your brother. Don't just sit there and let Shampoo start rumours about him."

Hotaru twisted her index fingers together and looked rather nervous. "Well... That is to say..."

Rei bounced Hotaru on her lap slightly. "You man she wasn't lying? Hmm, well. you'll tell us what his curse is, won't you, Hotaru-chan?"

Hotaru squeezed her lips shut and shook her head back and forwards.

"Why not?"

"Because... Because Ranma's embarrassed, and I'm embarrassed. It's a stain on our family honour, and has been for the longest time. But... but most importantly, I'm not going to tell you, because you might never find out. In just a couple of months, Ranma's going to be cured. No more curse. All gone. Forever."

Rei gave Hotaru a brief hug, trying to cheer her up since this talk was obviously distressing her. Unfortunately for the boy trapped inside Hotaru's body, the gentle hug did anything but calm her down. "It's OK. You don't have to tell us if you don't want to."

Rei shared a look with the other girls. Hotaru did not have to tell them, but there was no way that they would go easy on Ranma the next time they saw him.

They talked for a while, and people drifted in and out. After a time, Rei stood Hotaru up, and struggled to stand up, her legs filled with pins and needles.

Hotaru covered her mouth in shock. "Rei-san! I've just realised, I've got a present for you, and I completely forgot to give it to you."

Rei gave a wry chuckle. "And my being paralysed by you sitting on my legs makes you remember?"

Nod, nod. Hotaru turned away and fumbled down her top for a few moments, eventually turning back with her present.

Rei's jaw dropped. Nothing less than completely stunned would describe the situation. Hotaru had presented her with a silver staff, over three foot in length, with a billiard ball sized ruby mounted on the head of the staff. Rei was not sure what surprised her the most: the fact that Hotaru was offering her a present that was worth a fortune, or the fact that she had managed to produce a three foot staff from within her Senshi costume.

"H.. H... How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"How did you hide it? I didn't even see it... For that matter, I didn't even feel it when we were tickling each other in the kitchen."

"That? Oh, that's nothing. It's a hidden weapons technique I learned in China. See."

It was like watching a magician at work. Even moving slowly, Hotaru slid the staff into one glove, then she demonstrated pulling it out from under the neck-scarf style collar of the Senshi's uniform. Then she did it again, right in front of Rei's eyes.

"See, it's all sleight of hand."

Rei shook her head, staring numbly until Hotaru forced the staff between her fingers. "Hotaru-chan. I can't accept this. It's too expensive. It's just too much. You hardly know me, and this must have cost you a fortune."

Hotaru looked hurt for a moment, then her face grew earnest. She had to get Rei to accept this staff. "Rei-san, it's not just from me, it's from Ranma too. You don't know what sort of effort we had to go through to get it here for you. First I had to send a letter to an old, old friend in Tibet, and he used the old Catholic underground to ship it to another friend in Poland.

"In Poland, someone that owes me a favour, Mr Wydicslaw - he's a first class smuggler - broke it down. He sent it bit by bit to Japan, and then I reassembled it here."

Hotaru remembered Wydicslaw's reaction to the ruby... Lina always had go a bit overboard when it came to making magic jewels.

"But... why? Why so much? It's a beautiful staff, but why send it like that, surely your friends in Tibet could have sent it here just as easily."

"No, no, no. The Japanese government is way to cautious about spiritually and magically active items entering the country to allow that sort of thing."

"Are you trying to tell me this is a magic staff?" The story just got wilder and stranger at every turn.

"No, silly. No-one makes them any more. This is a spirit staff, like Takuhi's. But this one's got access to the Tochou."

"What's the Tochou?"

Hotaru grinned. "Spiritual chainsaws... sort of. This staff is for your protection, Rei-san. The city's just too dangerous these days. All you have to do is hit the staff onto the ground and say 'In the name of Tendo Ranma, I summon...' Then you say their name. Pretty easy really."

"What? Like this? In the name of Te---"

Covered in a cold sweat, Hotaru yanked the stick from Rei's hands and clamped another hand on her mouth. "No! Careful, this is dangerous. It'll also only work ten times. Look, point it this way. See, this bit is towards your target. The Tochou will appear and then just rip things up until it stops or runs out of distance."

Hotaru sighted down the staff and thought about 'accidentally' releasing a Tochou at the unsuspecting Michiru in her sights. Sighing, she decided against it and handed the staff back to Rei.

"Look Rei-san. I know you're worried about the cost of the staff, but it's all right, really. If you're really worried, you can just borrow it until you've used all of the summons on it." 'Yeah, right,' Hotaru though. 'Then I'll just spend a couple of weeks recharging it.'

"Oh, and don't try and summon one inside your shrine. It could get... messy."

Before Rei could protest, Hotaru left the stunned girl and moved through the party. She had two more people to see before she left. Someday she would have to have a chat with Usagi about her taste in party guests.

"Hello, Michiru. Killed anyone else recently?"

Michiru went white. How could anyone say that? It was not her fault that the girl had died. If anyone, this strange little girl should be accusing the Witches 5 and thanking Michiru for saving so many others. Hiding her pain, and stilling the overly protective Haruka, Michiru leaned down to give Hotaru a few harsh words about respect for her elders.

Before Michiru opened her mouth to speak, Ranma eased his iron control over his Ki. With her eyes glowing a brilliant, flickering blue, she too leaned in. "Don't even think of hurting any of these girls here. That would really put you on my bad side."

Taking advantage of the stunning effect of those burning eyes, Hotaru doused their fire and grabbed Haruka, pulling her ear in close.

"And you! You make me sick! Killers I can understand, but you and your sick little mind games! I don't care if she is one of the bad guys, I can't stand what you're doing. Pretending to be a guy, and all the while you're a girl? That's really low. Even a fool can see she loves you. She might be a killer, and so might you, but when she finds out that her 'boyfriend' is really a girl, it's going to hurt her more than I ever could.

"Have at least some heart. Admit you're a girl and break it off now before it becomes any worse."

Before either of the stunned girls could respond, Hotaru moved away to say her goodbyes to the others at the party. As she disappeared into the crowd, Haruka stuck her arm around Michiru and nibbled on her ear. "You know I'm a girl, don't you?"

Michiru blushed as red as Sailor Mars' skirt. By this stage it would be difficult for her not to know.

Five minutes later, Ranma appeared through a window. Moving for all world like he had been circulating for a while, he contrived to bump into Mamoru and (of course) Usagi.

"Hey, Mamoru-san. This is the first time I've seen you since the school, isn't it?"

Mamoru fidgeted nervously. He and Hotaru had talked, surely she had explained things to her brother... If not... it was too crowded to fight in here, but Mamoru was determined that he would do a better job of defending himself than last time. In the last few weeks he had done some serious training. There would be no way Ranma would catch him by surprise like he did last time.

Adopting a slightly defensive posture, Mamoru prepared himself. "Yeah. Bit of a misunderstanding that."

Ranma chuckled and scratched under his short pony tail. "Um... Yeah... Ha, ha... Um, I just wanted to say that I'm really... um... I mean, I'd do it again in an instant if I thought it was true... But it wasn't and Usagi and Chibi-Usa and everyone explained it to me, so... Well, I wanted to say that you're not a bad guy and all... So, if... like..."

Mamoru smiled. "It's OK, Ranma. You don't actually have to say you're sorry."

He sagged visibly in relief. "Thanks... Not that I'd have a hard time saying I was sorry or nothing. I just.. you know what I mean. Um... Hey, Usagi, that's a real pretty dress, suits you real good, it does."

Usagi smiled and clung to her Mamo-chan's arm. Everyone had said that going as a Princess and her Prince was just a little too obvious. Besides, she wore that sort of thing every chance she got. But Ranma liked her costume. He thought she looked nice. Usagi looked up at the face of the man whose arm she was holding. Not that Ranma mattered: Mamoru - Prince Endymion of the Moon Kingdom - thought she looked nice as a Princess, and that was what mattered.

Of course, it didn't hurt if the other boys realised how cute she was.

Ranma was walking through the guests, saying hello to people that his male half had never met. The biggest problem pretending to be two people was trying to remember who he should greet, how he should greet them and what he was supposed to know about them. Now that he had bumped into most of the people that Hotaru had been introduced to, he should be fairly safe from any sort of slip up.

As he moved through the people, he could start to feel something. Someone was watching him. Several people. Ranma looked around. No- one... just all the party guests. Catching a smile from Ukyo, Ranma retreated slightly; if she caught him now, he knew she'd ask him about the curse.

Dodging between a young couple and grabbing a glass of something fizzy, Ranma resurfaced and came almost nose to nose with Shampoo.

"Beloved Husband!" Shampoo cooed as she tried to latch onto his neck.

Back-peddling furiously, Ranma managed to trip over a low table as she got her arms around him. "Sh-Shampoo. What are you doing here?"

"Shampoo come party, be with Husband. Yes?"

As he felt her snuggle up against his chest, Ranma retreated. Backing into the kitchen he waved his hands and tried to keep her off him, without actually touching anything that he shouldn't. Or at least anything he thought he shouldn't, Ranma was pretty confident that Shampoo's ideas of what he should and should not touch were different to his own.

Safely in the kitchen and hidden from view from most of the party, Ranma sighed in relief. Gods, this would have looked bad if the tomboy had seen him, especially with her temper. Then again, Ucchan never made much of a secret of her possessive streak either. Ranma swallowed in fear: the last thing he needed was to find out if Mako-chan had the same penchant for hitting him for every imagined infraction.

Suddenly Ranma's danger sense pinged and the kitchen no longer felt like a quiet haven. In fact, it was more the quiet before the storm. Taking his eyes from the mass of purple hair that was firmly attached to his chest, he slowly looked around.

"Get off him now you Chinese Bimbo!"

"Shampoo, you were supposed to lure him her so we could ask about his curse."

"Ranma! How could try and seduce someone in the middle of Mako-chan's kitchen?"

Makoto flicked an eye at Rei, but chose not to comment. 'I don't mind him seducing someone in my kitchen, it's more a matter of who he seduces.'

Shampoo turned her face up to him and blinked her big brown eyes at him. In her most seductive voice she asked. "Ranma tell Shampoo about curse? Then Ranma take Shampoo on date?"

Ranma place his hands on her shoulders and tried to push her away. "No way! I ain't telling nobody about my curse till it's cured, and then I'm definitely not."

Ukyo slid up to him and put an arm around his shoulder, none to subtly trying to dislodge Shampoo at the same time. "It's OK, Ranchan. We don't really mind what it is, we're just curious."

Makoto began to see red. These girls were making moves on _her_ boyfriend, in _her_ kitchen, at _her_ party. She had not felt this way about a guy since her old boyfriend, so there was no way she would give up without a fight. "Hey, Hey! What do you think your doing?"

That pervert! Here he was, playing with her feelings again! Rei had invited him to this party, went to all the effort of being nice to him recently, and now he's got two of his own fiancees draped over him, and he's trying to seduce Mako-chan. Look at him: waving his arms, trying to reach for every girl in the room.

"Ranma you pervert! How could you do this to me?" Silence held for a moment as the frying pan bounced off Ranma's head and landed on the floor. Rei dashed from the room, silver tears drifting behind her.

A moment later, Ranma awoke and opened his eyes. Perhaps that was not the best idea. From where he lay, he looked up at Shampoo clad in tight red, Ukyo's pert, feathered body, and straight up the short skirt of Makoto's cowboy costume. Now was definitely not the right time to be lying on the kitchen floor with his eyes open.

Almost levitating to his feet, Ranma sprang from the room. It seemed like everything was happening too fast. Ranma knew what a jealous woman was like, Akane got that way every time a girl came anywhere near the dojo. Surely none of these girls could be that possessive but he did not want to take the chance.

Why did things like this happen to him? He was engaged to his best friend. Another one of his best friends was doing her level best to see him marry her great granddaughter. One of the sweetest girls he had ever met had apparently fallen for him head over heels (which for her is a long trip). Not only that, but there was some strange arrangement with his tomboy teacher. All that, and he had found a girl who he could really like, but they were both afraid to lower the masks that they wore.

Ranma needed some time to think, time to get away. Time to find out more about the lovely Sailor Mars and how she felt about him.

Watching their prey escape, the girls set aside their rivalries and sprinted after him. After two laps of the living room, Rei joined in, saying something about 'can't trust him with that many girls without supervision'. After that, the entire assembly ran out of the room, to dash screaming and yelling into the night.

Watching them leave, Michiru wished that Makoto had a piano in her apartment: she had a sudden urge to start playing the Benny Hill Show ending theme. Then again, maybe she would just go home and read Don Juan De Marco again.

The departure of Ranma and his entourage seemed to indicate that the party was coming to an end. In pairs and singles, people departed. Usagi offered to stay around and help eat the remaining food until Makoto returned, which let Michiru and Haruka leave for a short trip back to Michiru's place.

Descending the stairs from Makoto's apartment, they passed a heavily built boy wearing dusty clothes, he was well muscled and had a broad, honest face. He was probably quite attractive... if you were into that sort of thing.

"Excuse me Miss. Is this the way to Kino Makoto's place?"

"Yes, just up those stairs."

"Heh, heh, heh. Tendo Ranma, now you shall pay for what you have done to me."

Looking up that the retreating figure, Haruka looked at her shorter companion. "You don't suppose that was Mako-chan's old boyfriend?"

"It could be, she was always saying how great he was. Maybe he's upset with Ranma for stealing his girlfriend..."

The shrugged their shoulders and walked out of the building, not hearing the muted cry of frustration. Once again, Ranma had run like a coward and had avoided meeting Hibiki's wrath.

Hotaru's comments earlier to Haruka had stirred something in both of them. Firstly there was the anger that someone would talk that way to them and about them. Then confusion; you would need to have lived in the remotest mountains for the last hundred years not to realise that they were lesbians. Not only that, but it was a perfectly acceptable situation. Apparently that was something that little Hotaru had not realised yet.

The most powerful feeling that Hotaru's impassioned speech had generated was that of love. Hotaru was closer to an enemy than an ally. They were suspicious of her motives for nearly everything she did, and they knew that there was something indefinably not right about her and her father. For all of that - and her limited association with them - she had seen how strongly they were in love. Holding each other's hands, Michiru and Haruka walked to the car, each basking in the warmth of the love that they shared.

Somehow it should not have come as a surprise to them to see the Guardian of Time waiting at their car. Setsuna was nonchalantly leaning against it, for all the world looking like she had just arrived, and had been expecting them to arrive just then.

"I am concerned about Saturn Knight."

As the women entered the car, Michiru mentioned how she overheard Hotaru talking to the Inner Senshi this evening. Apparently she knew about Saturn Knight also.

"Yes, that is true." Setsuna gave a small wave, implying that she already knew this.

"Do you know how she knew, Setsuna-san?"

"This morning, during the demon attack, that's the second time any of us have been threatened by Saturn Knight."

It was more of a statement than a question, but the younger women nodded confirmation anyway. If Setsuna wanted to avoid answering a question, there was no point in asking it again.

This morning had been an ordinary demon, not one of the Witches 5 out searching for Heart Crystals. Every now and again some monster or creature from the nether hells would break through into this world. At times like these, the Sailor Senshi still responded. Although the Mamono Hunters and other assorted groups did what they could, this area of Tokyo was generally taken care of by the Senshi, even for small events like a single minor demon appearing.

"He was rather adamant when we spoke. He told me that if we hurt the Inner Senshi, he would hunt us down. He also said that if I tried to interfere in his personal life again, then he would kill me."

Setsuna gave a small chuckle. "That part was almost exactly what he said to me all of those millennium ago. Something to do with when I tried to arrange a marriage for Sailor Saturn to a Venusian prince."

"Do you expect any sort of problem from Saturn Knight?"

"No. Saturn Knight is a nothing. He's no-one that matters really. If he were a threat to us, I would have dealt with him long ago. For that matter, if he is going to be a threat in the future, I would also know that."

To herself, Setsuna reflected on the fact that when she had asked her future self whether Saturn Knight would be a bad influence on Sailor Saturn, the Crystal Tokyo Senshi had laughed. Setsuna knew that she rarely laughed, especially at serious questions. Unless she changed radically, she surmised that there was nothing to worry about Saturn Knight.

Haruka took up the thread of conversation. "All right, so we just ignore Saturn Knight. But I have to ask, if he was such a pest, if you hated him, and the Queen barely tolerated him... Why would she send him into the future with the Senshi and Endymion?"

After a moment silence, Haruka spared her eyes from the road and caught Setsuna's expression. She was deep in thought, probably trying to decide why her Queen would make such a decision. A decision that Setsuna no doubt regarded as a bad one.

"I'm not certain. I can find out, but it's not really important.... What I think happened is that Sailor Saturn sent him forward."

"Sailor Saturn!?"

"Indeed. You must realise, while the Queen was powerful beyond anyone else, she was not the only one with great power. If she could manage to send her daughter, four Inner Senshi, three Outer, and her daughter's husband-to-be, someone would only need one ninth of her power to send one man.

"Sailor Saturn had very little of the power that Queen Serenity had when it came to anything other than a direct battle. However, in a direct battle, there was no-one that could compare. She could cast a powerful healing spell, and she had some potent battle magic, but her real power lay in her devastating final attack. A final attack that could destroy a planet.

"Someone with that power, properly motivated, may be able to send someone's soul forward in time."

"So what are we going to do? If Saturn Knight is here, now, then doesn't that mean that Sailor Saturn is going to be awakening soon?"

"She may indeed. She is not awake yet, but I know she will awaken soon. Less than a week ago I felt someone discharge a substantial portion of Sailor Saturn's magic. Few others in the world would recognise it as I would, but I have seeking it for thousands of years. The opportunity for Sailor Saturn to be raised without Saturn Knight was too valuable to pass up. When she awakens, I, and the two of you, will be instrumental in continuing to raise and educate her."

"But you don't expect Saturn Knight to have something to say about that?"

"True, Michiru-san, it did have me worried for a long time once I knew that he was active. Since then, I have taken steps. I am now completely confident that Saturn Knight will not have an adverse affect on Sailor Saturn. I also know that the pair of you shall be her guardian in the future."

That suitably impressed them. It was rare for Setsuna to give any sort of definite answer with regards to the future, so this was obviously an issue she felt strongly on. It was also an issue that their foreknowledge would have little or no effect. Even without reassurances, the Senshi would ignore Saturn Knight, now they would just have added faith in their decisions. Similarly, it would give them time to adjust to the idea of looking after another girl and mentoring her.

Setsuna wished that she had a few more details on Sailor Saturn. She had been tempted to stop and observe the future, but the Sailor Pluto of Crystal Tokyo had advised against it in the strongest possible terms. For her to know the details of this future would risk a paradox of horrific proportions.

Setsuna's future self had even gone so far as to say that she was caught by surprise by several events in the coming months when they had occurred to her. Such an admission threatened a paradox itself: if Setsuna abused her powers and examined time, she would be changing the facts that she had just told herself. Setsuna hated it when she forced herself into these situations.

Michiru hopped out of the front seat and let Setsuna climb out of the little two door that Haruka had driven tonight. While the tall woman tidied her already neat clothes, Michiru pressed the final issue. "If he is no threat to Sailor Saturn, should we do anything about him at all?"

"Personally, I have no interest in letting a psychopath being an advisor to our Princess' best friend. At this point there is no need for direst action against him, but I will continue to... make suggestions to Luna and Artemis. I suspect that they will be more amicable to reason than Rei-san. I know that those two cats hold quite a sway over the Inner Senshi and the Princess."

* * *

Two days later, at the Hikawa shrine, Ranma sat opposite Rei with a frown on his face.

"You know, Rei-san, I really think this idea stinks."

"I know Ranma, you've already told me that seventeen times."

"Eighteen, Rei-chan." Ami chipped in helpfully. "Remember, there was that time yesterday too, when you were---"

"I think he understands, Ami-chan."

Ami opened her book again and buried her head in it. "Sorry."

Casting his eyes around their audience, Ranma looked for a supportive smile, or something that would indicate that he did not need to go through with this. Nothing. All of Rei's friends were there, sitting and watching. Watching him make a fool of himself.

"Go on, admit it, you just chose a fire reading because you know I've never mastered it."

'Damn right.' Thought Rei. Out loud she vigorously denied it. "No, of course not, Ranma. It's just that you have as much Ki as two ordinary people, you may even have more than I do. What I need is for you to help me with power for this fire reading. I really want to be able to show Usagi-chan some of her future. With your help, hopefully we'll be able to."

'I don't believe it! I'm suppressing that much Ki, and she still thinks I have more than two normal people?! How can this be?' Ranma let no trace of his real concern colour his voice. "But, Rei-san! I won't even be able to see what's going on if I'm meditating."

'Right again'. Rei tried to force some semblance of concern into her voice as she finished arranging her robes and sat before the sacred fire. "I know, and I'm sorry about that, Ranma. But this could be really important for Usagi-chan. You... you wouldn't want her to miss out on some big opportunity, would you?"

"No! No, of course not. I... I just wish I could see what was happening too."

Placing he palms outwards by the fire, Rei focused herself. "Just meditate, Ranma. Please. I really appreciate what you're doing. Now... Concentrate... Focus... Find your centre and we shall begin."

As Ranma closed his eyes, the other Inner Senshi gathered closer. Rei had warned them that even if she could make the images in the sacred fire strong enough for them to see, they would still be faint. In all likelihood, it would only be Rei that could see them. But she would be able to get a better understanding of what she was looking at.

The Vision Of Silence. She had first seen a faint image of impending doom months ago. There was a threat that was coming that would endanger the entire world, and they were the ones to be facing it. For the longest time, she had despaired of ever seeing more detail on the event. Now that he grandfather had taught Rei some power sharing techniques she could use with Ranma, she could use his power to see in greater detail.

She hoped.

Entering her own meditative state, Rei looked at the fire. Deep into the fire. Deep into the sacred fire where the images of the past and the future reside. "Oh, sacred fire---"

Whoosh! With a roar, the flames leapt to roof height. In the flames, for all to see, was the image of a woman. A woman of surpassing beauty. She had short-cropped black hair, and a smile that was so cute, so open and honest that it made her face light up. The smiling face stared out of the fire at them, and her eyes seemed to twinkle at some unseen joke.

"Ranma! Ranma! Snap out of it Ranma!"

A few gentle taps to his cheeks managed to bring Ranma back from his meditations. "What, we done already? But you hardly used any Ki."

"Ranma, there was something wrong. I... I don't think the technique worked correctly. We had enough power... but the focus and control wasn't there."

Ami leaned forwards. She might not be a Shinto trainee like Rei, but she had a sneaking suspicion what had just happened. "Ranma, if I describe a girl, could you tell me if you recognise her? Let's see... She was smiling, and she had big eyes, I think they might have been brown. She had short black hair, and seemed so happy."

"Hmm, could be Hotaru. Why?"

"No, not Hotaru, besides Hotaru-chan's eyes are purple. Shorter hair, and she was definitely older. She almost looked... mischievous... I don't know, something like that. It's because we saw her in the fire."

"Ahh, that's probably Akane. My Akane... I always use her as my centre for meditation. She always looked like that just after she poured boiling water on me."

Ami gulped. If pouring boiling water on her husband was Akane's idea of fun, she was glad that Ranma was Rei's and Makoto's boyfriend, not hers. Those sorts of party games were not to her taste. "She poured boiling water on you?"

"Err, just forget I said that... OK? It sort of became a... a... joke, yeah, a joke. After my father introduced us that way. Um, he was the one that poured the boiling water on me first."

Ranma smiled in an unconvincing manner. Rei scowled at him, and the rest of the girls gave a smile that was just as convincing as his.

Rei asserted herself again. "All right, Ranma. Let's try that in a different way then. This time, close your eyes and meditate. Rather than you direct the energy into the fire, just let me have it. Leave all of the control up to me. Just relax." Under her voice she also whispered: "That way we won't have to see everything you want us to."

Once again, they both meditated. This time when Rei had called to the sacred fire, she reached out her hands and placed her palms on Ranma's. "Relax and begin to let me take control."

Ranma began to ease off. It was not easy, giving up control of his inner energies. The only thing that made it possible was the fact that he trusted Rei. She might be a tomboy, she might be angry a lot of the time, but he trusted her implicitly. If she thought she was ready to control Ki of his level, he would give her the opportunity. Surely if she could not do a proper fire reading with her skills and his power, then no-one could.

All was quiet for a moment, then there was a massive blue flash, knocking everyone over. When they managed to recover their feet, it was to see Ranma sitting there serenely, while Rei shuddered slightly, focusing more power than she ever expected. The sacred flame had changed so that it looked less like a wood fire, and more like a blue butane flame.

Ranma checked his Ki levels and frowned mentally. He had used more Ki when he was fighting Cologne and he could have kept that up all day, but he could feel Rei struggling to maintain control. Suddenly it dawned on him: Rei did not realise his true reserves. Akane would have called it an ego bigger than the whole world. He called it Ki refined and nurtured for four centuries, three of those included the use of Ki as a martial arts attack. You got no precision - none of the finesse needed for fire readings as a completely random example - but you got buckets and buckets of power.

Power that a Shinto Priestess would never be expecting. Shinto dealt in subtlety, precision and accuracy. Combat usage dealt in great gouts of raw ego; enough ego to break down a wall or force a hurricane.

Easing back in some of his control, Ranma felt Rei calm down. After a moment, she opened her eyes and looked worriedly at the blue flame. Blue with the power of confidence. Dimly, as though seen underwater, Rei could still see the image of Akane's face. Now it was just a background, something that she could call the flames to hide.

As the worried Senshi gathered around the pair, Rei took steered to power. Focusing this much spiritual energy was a challenge, but it was one that she knew she was up to. Mastering a vision like this would give the Senshi an unbeatable advantage in their upcoming fight. When she had first seen the Vision Of Silence, it was like a bad dream: all you could remember when you awoke was the horror and none of the important details.

All that would change now, They had six people in the room, and of them all, Ranma was the only one that was not able to see the Vision. Displayed before them like a three dimensional, burning television, the sacred flame showed them their future.

The Senshi were fighting. It was flashes of short skirts in bright colours as they moved through a dark building. One fell, then another. The Outer Senshi were there too, apparently struggling against a common enemy.

Everyone was in a large room, but it was a room filled with darkness, indistinct and indecisive. All that could be seen in the room was a woman: tall and regal, with very long, jet back hair. She was laughing and holding up the Holy Grail. Even through the vision they could see the power that came from the Grail, an obviously forbidden power as they saw Sailor Moon cry out against its use.

Behind the woman a darkness arose. A darkness reaching out, sending its tentacles of power into our world. A world incapacitated, as one-by-one the Senshi were shown lying motionless, possibly dead; certainly wounded.

The vision shifted once more, and it was a woman, a girl really, wearing the short sailor style of the Senshi, but it was a Senshi that none of them recognised. A Senshi in dark and forbidding colours. The Vision held still for a moment, focused on the single image of Sailor Moon and this new Senshi. Both held the Grail, and neither looked happy; it was impossible to tell if Moon was receiving the Grail or fighting for it.

The new Senshi's eyes glittered with the dedication of someone willing to kill... and willing to die.

Now they are in the darkness. It is all around, just a single source of red light is the evil that sits at its heart. The scene is a frightening tableaux: the dark Senshi holding Saturn Knight's weapon prepared to strike, a weapon even more outsized on her than on Saturn Knight. At her feet Sailor Moon can be seen. She is beaten and battered, her clothes torn from a loosing fight.

As the large weapon drops, the vision fades. All that remains is Sailor Moon's voice, and another voice in the background... The first sound of the entire vision, it starts strongly, then fades, vanishing into a world consuming Silence.

"Sailor Saturn! No! There must be another way! Don't do it! We want to help you..."


Rei collapses sideways as the vision ends, the sacred flame returning to a normal fire. In an instant she was surrounded by the other girls, and Ami began to pat her hand, as she groggily began to sit up.

Usagi threw her arms around Rei's neck and began to sob onto her shoulder. "Oh, Rei-chan. That was so scary! And you fell over! And I was so worried about you! And what are we going to do?"

Rei held her aching head and wondered how someone Usagi's size could have big enough lungs to say all that in the one breath. Forcing the pounding in her skull to subside for a moment, Rei looked across the fire.


He was still in a lotus position, and only just beginning to return to consciousness. "Wow. Rei-san, I'm really impressed. A bit rough at the start, but you did a great job on the control. You get anything useful?"

Actually Ranma was more than just impressed. In what felt like only minutes, Rei had managed to drain over half his Ki. Sure, he had let her, but she was the one that had created the channel for the power. He wondered if she realised just how much spiritual energy she had channelled? He'd have to drop by Cologne's tonight; a discharge like that should have been able to be felt for a mile around, if you knew what to look for.

A little bit weakly, Rei nodded her head. "Thanks, Ranma. I couldn't have done it without you."

"Hey, well, you asked for the best and you got him. So, I mean, of course even a tomboy like you could do it with someone like me to help."

Minako looked up at Ranma. Sure he was cute, but that did not mean he could talk to Rei like that. "Ranma! Can't you say something nice for once?"

"Sure I can: Rei-san, those temple clothes really suit you. I mean, with a skirt that big, it can even hide the size of you big thighs. And the shirt too, no-one can tell how flat---" The sound of one of her sandals bouncing off his head cut short his 'compliment'.

"What? What did I say?"

Ami shook her head. "If you don't know now, you'll never know. Not even if you live to be a hundred years old."

"You got that right. So, you gunna tell me what you saw?"

Getting to her feet, Rei retrieved her sandal and started to lead everyone back into the courtyard. The last thing she wanted to do was to tell him what they had seen. When she had seen only fleeting glimpses of the Vision it had been bad enough. Now that she had seen what may come to pass, it was worse than ever. Sailor Pluto had warned them that Sailor Saturn could be dangerous. Now they saw what could happen if this did not improve, if they could not contact Sailor Saturn and gain her trust.

"I'm sorry, Ranma. It was something personal for Usagi-chan. You... you don't mind if we keep it private... do you?"

Ranma affectionately gave Usagi's hair a quick ruffling. "Nah, I can live without the sordid details of Usagi-chan's love life. Just so long as it wasn't the end of the world or something."

"N-No... Not at all, nothing like that... Really!" 'At least,' Rei thought. 'It won't be the end of the world if we do things right.'

They were all on the front steps to the shrine talking, and Ranma knew that he should be going home, letting Usagi and her friends talk about what they had seen in the fire. 'Probably the boy she's going to marry, or something else that girls gossip about.' Ranma thought. He could see in Rei's face the fact that she wanted him to leave: she desperately wanted to talk to Usagi and her friends but after receiving his help, it would be unforgivably impolite to rush him away.

He happened to be looking at Rei's eyes when he first felt it and he could tell instantly that she could feel the presence of evil in the air. Her brows lowered slightly, and he could see her lips thin as she concentrated. As one they turned to look down the street, searching for whatever person was powerful enough to attract their attention, moment later he could feel Minako do the same, followed by the other girls.

It did not take much watching until they were able to see the cause of their premonition: Witch Mimete. She was running down a street, laughing in a most irritating manner as she dodged in and out between people.

Ranma cursed. 'Here I am with a group of defenceless school girls, and there goes another one of those evil Witches! Damn it! I need to be down there, maybe I can stop her before she or those impostors try and take someone else's Heart Crystal. Not only that, but Sailor Mars is sure to show up any moment, and there no way I can change with Rei-san or her friends about.'

Looking at the nervous way the girls were fidgeting and looking at him, Ranma reached the only possibly conclusion. "Don't worry, I'll keep her busy until the Sailor girls arrive. Takuhi! Come forth and guard these girls!"

With a flourish, Ranma picked off the top of his staff, releasing Takuhi in a brilliant flare of light. The massive bird spirit - the size of a house when his wings were spread - soared free of its home and circled. With a deafening cry, Takuhi swooped down and over flew the girls, counting them and watching them like a mother hen protects her chicks.

"Ranma, wait!"

"I can't wait, Rei-san. Don't worry Takuhi will keep you safe."

Running down the street, Ranma hated that lie. Against ordinary people, sure Takuhi could keep them safe. People with guns could hurt him, and people like the Witches 5 or those fake Sailor girls would have him for breakfast. Ranma's only hope was to get to the Witch first and keep her busy until the Senshi arrived.

He was under no illusions about his ability to beat her in a fight. He had watched the Sailors go toe-to-toe against her in the past, and knew that they were outclassed, winning only because of their dedication, determination and teamwork. Ranma knew he was the best martial artist there was, but sometimes being the best just isn't good enough.

As he raced down the street and out of his friend's sight, he prepared an attack. Ki was too draining to use at this great a range, and he would need all of that just to stay alive. Most of his magic attacks were too broad and indiscriminate. Actually, the only attack he knew that he could be confident of using with any chance of success would also kill thousands of innocent people. A city is no place for using the Dragon Slave, no matter what Lina had tried to teach him.

Finally he spotted her as she moved through a mall. To all appearances, she was ogling the boys there, and seemed to be selecting Heart Crystals purely on the basis of how nice they looked. 'Damn, she's definitely gunna want mine!'

Firing his Elemenkia Lance, Ranma caught her attention. It might not be as potent as a Mars Fire Soul or the Jupiter Thunder Crash, but it would guarantee her full attention.

Back at the temple, Usagi had reached for her locket as soon as Ranma was out of sight. Instantly Rei slapped her hand away, and pointed at Takuhi who was sitting on the ground, watching both them and the deserted streets intently. "No! You can't. If you transform now, Takuhi will know, and he'll tell Ranma and Hotaru everything."

"W-well what are we going to do?"

"I don't know, perhaps we can go into the temple, he probably can't follow us there..."

"Everyone! Look!"

Ami pointed to the base of the stairs where Takuhi sat. In the shadows, some tall forms moved. Suddenly brilliant green water streamed from one of them, blasting into the spirit bird. Takuhi took flight instantly, circling around to dive bomb Sailor Pluto who was now standing openly in the middle of the street.

It was a perfectly understandable reaction really. The Outers were chasing Mimete, and they come across the Inner Senshi, all standing under the watchful eyes of some sort of giant bird monster. What were they supposed to think?

As one, the Inner Senshi ran down, screaming for them to stop. Before they could get to the other group, Takuhi finished his loop and dive bombed Sailor Pluto. His one clawed foot extended and ready to gouge her to death for her ally's unprovoked attack.

Despite the distance between them, they could all hear Sailor Pluto's whispered words. Every other Senshi screamed their attack names but for some reason Sailor Pluto's attack was only ever given at a whisper...

"Dead Scream."

A fraction of a second before she became bird food, a glowing purple sphere formed between her and the spirit creature. Takuhi collided with the attack full force, smashing into it so hard that it forced Sailor Pluto back a step, even as the Dead Scream did it's work.

When the girls arrived it was all over. Sailor Uranus gave the corpse a nudge with her boot, snorting at an fearsome appearing adversary that seemed all show and no substance. All that remained of Takuhi was a crushed looking bird form, no larger than an eagle or large goose.

"No..." Rei whispered.

Usagi turned on Sailor Pluto. "Why did you attack it? Takuhi was supposed to be protecting us. He wasn't doing you any harm."

Sailor Pluto did not even turn back, but Uranus gave her a scolding glance before she headed off to join her friends and they followed Mimete. "You're supposed to be defending others, not sitting her under the wing of some demon bird. We rescued you so that you can rescue others, now get moving."

"But Takuhi was Hotaru's pet; you didn't have to kill him. We could have left by another way."

"If she associates with monsters like this, she deserves what she gets. People are being attacked out there, so sacrifices must be made... I don't have time to stand around and talk, and neither do you."

As Sailor Uranus ran off, a horror struck Ami kneeled down by the large, and very dead bird. Gently she brushed the feathers back from his almost human face then turned to the others. "Go and help Ranma. I'll take Takuhi up to the Shrine, then I'll meet you. Make sure that you stop her. Don't let this be in vain."

The Senshi did arrive in time. They also saved a number of innocent people, including a badly beaten Ranma. If not for their timely arrival, Witch Mimete may have had time to steal his Heart Crystal too. It was tribute enough that he survived that long against her, providing the time they needed to arrive.

All of their efforts still felt insufficient when Ranma returned to the shrine. The Senshi had beaten him back and were there to help with the bad news. He took one look at the caved in chest of his long time companion and collapsed to his knees, crying and holding the bird.

Rei tentatively reached out put a hand on his shoulder. "Ranma... I... I'm sorry..."

Ranma looked up at her, his face full of pain. Even as she watched, his features smoothed and he locked it all away behind his iron control. "It hurts Rei-san. It hurts."

Silently, Ranma stood and took the bird into his arms. He left the staff on the floor. It was useless now, just another lump of wood as far as he was concerned. In the silence, a single drop of blood came out of Takuhi's mouth, flowed down its cheek, and landed with an audible splash on the floor.

Ranma looked down at Rei. He put a hand on her shoulder. "At least you're safe... I'm going to find out who did this, and then there will be hell to pay.

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 22 of 26

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