Continuing Tales

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 24 of 26

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Destiny's Child

As Hotaru walked down the street to her destination, she felt worried and depressed. Things seemed to be coming to a head at the moment, and she was not sure that they were going well. Actually, despite a recent victory for the Sailors, overall things were pretty grim. Despite a down turn in events, Hotaru could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that end was getting closer every day.

It was now three days since the attack on Cologne, and the poor girl was still in hospital. Ranma had visited her every day, usually staying for several hours by her bedside. Often he would talk about what he remembered of life in the village, or read her the newspaper. The doctors kept promising she would come out of her coma any day now. Just watching Cologne in the bed hurt him. To him, she would always be the bouncing little child, the sweet teenager who looked up to him. Seeing her lying in the stark white hospital bed made her seem old and fragile.

No matter how much he hated to see Cologne brought low like this, he did not begrudge a single second spent with her. She was his oldest and dearest friend. She was a tie to a life of happiness in the days of his youth. Although Shampoo was a Joketsuzoku also, she did not bring back the memories the way Cologne did. Besides, in the half hour or hour that their visits coincided, Shampoo seemed to offer more attention to him than her own great grandmother. He could not blame her, because that was how she was raised, but Ranma had once promised himself that he did not want to sit around and watch as Cologne died of old age. Now that was exactly what he was doing and he wished Shampoo could really understand the depth of his suffering.

Added on top of Cologne's coma was a sense of dread. Yesterday the Sailors seemed to have won a great victory: finally defeating Witch Mimete. The only problem was that it was her successor - Witch Tellu - that had actually killed her. Again the Sailors had been in dire straits, but before Mimete could take advantage of her latest plan, Tellu had pulled the plug on her. Literally pulled the plug, since Mimete had contrived to enter a giant TV and was planning on using the power she had by the direct connection to Tokyo's power grid.

It was the fact that the Sailors had never actually defeated one of the Witches in direct combat gave him the sense of dread. Kaolinite had apparently fallen to her doom from Tokyo tower, Eudial defeated by Mimete's sabotage and a car accident, and now Mimete had been killed by Tellu. Each time their adversary became stronger, but the Senshi remained the same. It was only through their devotion and will power that they could hope to compete.

But how strong would Tellu prove to be?

At least he was back to getting lessons from that tomboy priestess. Rei-san had fully recovered from the Xai Fang Gao Shiatsu technique Shampoo had used. She had really hit the roof when he had told her that she had seen his curse. True, because of the memory prevention technique Rei could not remember seeing it, but that was not Ranma's fault. The last couple of days he had been getting great enjoyment over mocking her. She was the only one around who had seen his curse, and she did not know what it was. Unfortunately, he was the only one that found it hilarious.

Even though she was a tomboy, Rei-san did not have the strength needed to defend herself against the Daimons. Hell, she'd need to be one of the Sailors just to be safe, and there was no way that a simple temple maiden had that much power. In the previous week she had been attacked not once, but twice by the forces of evil. That was enough to make Ranma shiver in fear for her. The good fortune of having strong allies appearing could not continue forever, and that might mean that someday her luck would run out.

Ranma's only real hope was Mimete had borne Rei-san a personal grudge for some reason. Perhaps she bought a faulty charm once. Ranma knew just how poorly they worked: every charm for clear weather and no rain that he had tried, had failed. If he was lucky, Tellu would not follow in Mimete's footsteps, but luck was something he had learned not to count on a long time ago.

If all of that was not enough, Mistress 9 was saying that she was having a hard time getting the energy she needed to complete the separation of his halves. She assured him it would happen; Mistress 9 had once hoped that she might be able to complete it ahead of schedule, but that was not to be. She would complete it, she guaranteed him.

To keep things complicated, Ucchan's was being rebuilt, and poor Ukyo was forced to live in a hotel temporarily. Ranma had wanted to offer her a place to stay with the Tomoes, but Hotaru's 'father' had ruled that out summarily. So now she spent long days supervising construction or doing some casual work at another Okonomiyaki shop.

Hotaru was walking up the stairs to the front door when she reached what she hoped was the last of her real problems: the three girls that were trying to pass themselves off as fighters for love and justice like his pretty Sailor Mars. Being a Sailor was not about wearing a short skirt and having magical powers - although that did seem to be important. What really mattered was attitude. Queen Serenity and her warriors fought for love and justice, and that ruled to others out. Haruka, Setsuna and Michiru fought for their own hidden goals; to them it was the destination, not the journey.

The real pretty soldiers knew that it did not matter if you reached the end of your voyage, so long as you travelled correctly. Failure was something to be avoided, but years in Poland had taught Ranma that phrases like 'sacrifices must be made', 'the end justifies the means', and 'at any cost' were something that should never be in the vocabulary of people in power. Although he had never asked any of them, his Sailor Mars would never be willing to let someone sacrifice their life for hers. From the way that they acted, the three older girls seemed quite willing to let some people make the 'right' sacrifices.

Placing her hand upon the door-bell, Hotaru firmly pushed all of these depressing thoughts down. Even as the door chimed, Hotaru managed a smile. The other day she was sorting through her drawers and had come across something she knew would bring a smile to her face: her paintings of Akane. They were done something like three hundred years ago in the Amazon village. Ever since then they had been sealed inside a greased and waxed leather case. After seeing how age had affected some of the Amazon's books, Ranma had long ago decided that such an event would never occur to her last images of Akane.

The sound of running feet announced the arrival of Ranma's hope for restoring the pictures. It was one's of the tomboy's friends, and the smartest girl Ranma had ever met. He had met her a few times at Rei- san's or Chibi-Usa's, and she always seemed nice and sweet. She might get recruited as a Sailor girl with attitudes like those. Hotaru was laughing to herself at the joke as the door opened; someone as gentle as Ami did not seem the sort to be able to fight against demons.

"Hello, Ami-san!"

"Hello, Hotaru-chan. What a surprise to see you here. Are you lost?"

"No, I came here to see you. I was wondering if you could help me with something?"

"Sure, Hotaru-chan. Come on inside and tell me what I can do."

Stopping past the kitchen to layer a plate in biscuits her mother had bought and left for her, Ami led them to her room. It was a nice room, just as spotlessly tidy as Hotaru would have expected from such an organised girl. Taking one of the cookies and munching away, Hotaru sat on Ami's bed idly looking at all of the books on her shelves and stacked on her desk.

"Wow, you must be so smart, reading all the time. I wish I knew more than I did."

Ami blushed and covered her mouth in embarrassment. "Well, if you keep studying and do your school work, I'm sure that you'll do well."

After a couple more minutes of mindless small talk, and a few compliments to bolster Ami's faith in herself, Hotaru got to the point. "Ami-san, I have some really old pictures, and I was hoping you could give me some help getting them framed properly."

"You didn't need me for that Hotaru-chan. Any painting shop sells frames. You could have done it yourself; it's fun too."

"No, no, no! These are _really_ old pictures. I've got three of them, and their about three hundred years old. It's just that some canvases are supposed to get really brittle if they're too old, and I remem- I suspect that these ones are weak already. Here. They're sealed in this tube."

Hotaru handed the older girl a tube of some strange brown/black substance. It was a foot and a half long, and a couple of inches thick. Holding the tube in a delicate and slightly disgusted manner, Ami examined it closely. The surface was lumpy and irregular, covered in some thick, smooth and slightly greasy substance. There was also no sign of how to get the pictures in or out.

"Err... How do you know there are pictures in here?"

"Umm..." That was a tricky one. She really should have considered it before she arrived. "It's been... entrusted into my family... since they were first taken down."

Hotaru looked so earnest, Ami sincerely hoped that there were pictures in there. "Well, I don't want to get your hopes up, but I could probably cut this stuff away..."

"Please don't... The reason I came to you is because I knew you would be smart enough to be able to tell me who did this sort painting restoration work. That case has been sealed in wax and grease to protect them. Every few years - when it was starting to wear out - it would be renewed. Its been one of my regular jobs now for quite a while.

"What I really want is some way of preserving the paintings so that I can look at them, without them falling apart over time."

Holding the tube more carefully - even if only to avoid touching old animal grease - Ami looked at it more closely. "Well... I know a few people from the art gallery... and the museum might be able to help, but a proper restoration - the sort of treatment you need - is really expensive."

Hotaru waved a hand. "It's only money. It's the paintings that are irreplaceable."

"You don't understand. It might cost 100,000 yen or more!"

"Oh, is that all? Here." Hotaru passed her an American Express card. "This is set to draw straight from an account Ranma set up. If you need more than $300,000 US, you'll have to get approval, but don't let that stop you. The pictures are worth it."

"Th-- three hundred thousand US!? Do you realise how much that is in Yen?"

"Sure, I helped draw up the papers for it. Ami, you have to understand: these paintings are the finest works of art from the greatest painter in two generations of the Joketsuzoku. The girl in the paintings is the most beautiful woman in all of Japan during the sixteenth century. Besides, there's all sorts of money in Ranma's name floating around. If... if we can succeed, I thinks it's time to spend some of it."

Ami's eyes were as large as saucers as she clutched the tube. That came to over forty million yen. Forty million yen, and Hotaru had just handed it to her. She might have had doubts once, but if she and her brother were willing to give her this much money to spend, they must be serious. For that much money, you could buy some of the most famous paintings in the world.

Actually, it was just as strange that Hotaru and Ranma were that rich. She had seen the Tomoe home and while it was not small, it did not speak of this much money. Even then, Hotaru had clearly said that it was Ranma's money, not her father's. Momentarily, Ami wondered if Ranma was actually adopted by Tomoe Souichi. It would explain a lot of things: his money, why he did not live there now, his travel in his early years. Maybe Rei knew...

Coming out of her speculations with a quick shake, Ami gave Hotaru a confident smile. "Leave it in my hands, Hotaru-chan. I'll speak to some friends and see if they can do it. Trust me, since it's this important to you, we'll be very careful."

Engulfing the girl in a big hug, Hotaru held her tightly. Wiping a small tear from her eye, Hotaru smiled. At last, after three hundred years of waiting, she would be able to see pictures of Akane again.

Having left Ami's house, it was time to take another trip to the hospital. Cologne-chan would probably still be unconscious, but Hotaru could read to her or something. Poor little Cologne-chan: attacked by Witches in a strange country, surrounded by foreigners, all alone when Shampoo needed to work on finding a husband. Even if she could not hear the words, Hotaru knew Cologne-chan appreciated her presence.

Walking into Cologne's room, Hotaru was positively delighted. She was awake! Cologne was up and sitting in bed drinking some juice. Throwing herself across the room, the two small women held each other.

"I... I was so worried about you, Cologne-chan. The reason I left the village was I couldn't stand to see my friends dying, and here you go... I'm just so glad you're OK again."

Cologne held her friend. For the first twenty years of her life, Hotaru had always been a mother or a big sister to her. Since then she had borne her own children, and known the agony of watching them pass away. Returning the hug, Cologne soothed her friend, telling her it was all right.

Later the two ancient Amazons - one showing her age and the other not - shared the bed and sat talking. Cologne talked of her battle and the dangers in the city these days. Shampoo had been in earlier, and was there when she had awoken. While Shampoo was there, she had told Cologne how her husband had already hunted down the people that had attacked them.

"Is it true, Soap? Is it true that you took on the woman and her monsters?"

"Well, not by myself, but yeah, I did. One of them anyway. I was there when the Sailors killed the others. Until I bumped into Shampoo two days ago, I did not even know anything had happened to you."

"Mmm. Well, it is good that one of the Joketsuzoku was there to see to their end. Amazon justice must be maintained. Thank you.... Congratulations too, they are most powerful opponents."

Bowing her head slightly, Hotaru admired her hands. "More powerful than you may ever know. I'm in this pretty tightly at the moment. You can't tell anyone, but I know one of the Sailors... well, not exactly know her, more like we talk some times. Anyway, recently I've been in some of the fights, and they're not good news. These people are dangerous, Cologne-chan. If you ever see them again... be careful."

Cologne nodded. "How about you? Are you careful?"

"As careful as I can be. I won't lie to you, it's dangerous, but then, life is dangerous... Do you remember when we first met in Japan? You didn't know who was and I challenged you to a fight."

Cologne nodded her head. It had come as quite a series of shocks. This young upstart male firstly had the audacity to challenge her, then he made it worse by not loosing straight away. Only after a long and tiring battle, did her reveal that he was actually her long time friend whom she had thought was dead for many years.

Hotaru passed her a large scroll that she had pulled from within her shirt. Wordlessly, Cologne took it and looked at the words covering the wax seal. 'Saotome Secret Techniques'.

"My father was a great man. Before I was born, he designed two entirely new sets of martial arts techniques. Techniques so powerful, so deadly, and so dangerous he asked that they be sealed away. Never to be used other than in my darkest hour.

"I warn you now, these techniques require great inner strength and great prowess even to learn. Even Akane only ever managed to learn the Yama Sen Ken, and a few of the moves from the Umi Sen Ken. She and I trained together for many years, so these aren't the sort of thing that can be mastered overnight."

Cologne took the scroll in her hands and prepared to break the seal. She knew her friend had some mighty techniques that she was entirely happy to use. If this was a set that even she was scared to use, they must be lethal in the extreme. Before she could crack the wax, a small hand rested on top of hers.

"My father asked me never to pass on his knowledge to anyone other than my wife or my children. I... I've never had children, but I've always though of you as my daughter and my best friend. What I'm doing these days is dangerous. I'm not always sure that we'll come out on top, and I don't want the techniques that we developed to be lost. If... if something happens to me, these are yours to use as you see fit."

Cologne nodded and looked down at the parchment in her hands. It was a very fine quality paper, obviously the best available. Sitting here, holding the secrets of hundreds of years in her hands, Cologne could feel the temptation challenging her soul. Turning her head, she looked at Hotaru: there might be a way to get some hints on what was in the scroll. "You said 'we'. I thought your father developed these."

"Pops developed the first two of them. The core of the techniques. I've learned a lot since then, and I've found ways to improve things. I've added three techniques to the series to round them out..."

Sighing, Hotaru lay back and looked at the ceiling. The scroll she had given Cologne held so much of her life. So many memories, the results of so many years of studying the art. Even if something were to happen to her now, she would live forever in the Joketsuzoku's memories.

"Before I was even born, my father designed two sets of Martial Arts techniques. The groundwork was laid while he was courting my mother, and he perfected them in the first few years of my life when he started my training journey. Later on I added three more sets to make it complete, one for each of the elements: earth, air, fire, water, and metal.

"The first of these techniques was the Yama Sen Ken. The Thousand Fist Mountain. It's the simplest of the collection. The Yama Sen Ken is Earth. It is simple, straight forward, and designed for the demolition of opponents, buildings... anything really.

"Next is the Umi Sen Ken. The Thousand Fist Sea. Like water it is softer and more flexible than earth. It relies on stealth, trickery, subtlety and precision in it's attacks."

Ranma settled into a more comfortable position. She silently wished that the real Hotaru had not been such a girly sort of girl. Lying down in skirts was really annoying; if you weren't careful, you kept showing people all sorts of things they should not see.

"The Kotetsu Sen Ha, or Thousand Blade Steel, is probably perfect for Shampoo. Shampoo likes to fight with weapons, and that's what this set is about. Pops probably could have come up with them, but he always taught me to fight bare handed. Bare hands gives you lots of flexibility, but I have to admit there are advantages to weapons. It's sort of like the Yama Sen Ken adapted to use with greater reach and bladed attacks.

"The two hardest techniques in the collection are limited to only a few people who could ever learn them... they're just too hard. I think you could learn the Kaze Sen Ken. The Thousand Fist Wind is a series of linked attacks for using Ki in combat. I know you can do the Moko Takabisha, so you should be able to manage these with some training."

When Cologne looked at her with greater interest, Hotaru shrugged. "I won't go into details, but it's not really a series of attacks, it's more a new way of doing things. It makes you better and faster. It lets you deliver Ki in every attack you do, and it's designed to be as soft and subtle as the wind when necessary. Done properly, some of the attacks will leave your opponent dead before they realise that they have been attacked."

Looking at the younger woman seriously, Hotaru tried to convince Cologne with her eyes as much as her words. "The Hi Sen Ken is the Thousand Fist Fire. It's a series of magical attacks that I doubt anyone other than myself or the Sailor girls could perform. Even they would have trouble because of the Martial side of it, despite the fact that they have more magical power than I do.

"Be very careful if you try these. They are just as dangerous to you as your opponent. There are at least four techniques in then that are designed to exhaust every ounce of magical energy from you body. One of those is a suicide attack too... I've never managed to figure out what you'd use it on... but it's there."

Both the women sat silently and contemplated the scroll after that. One was young on the outside, but today she was feeling every day of her age inside. The other was withered and ancient outside, but inside she was giggling like a school girl. She might be a Matriarch of the Amazons, but she was still a martial artist, and the thought of being handed a treasury of new techniques made her feel as young as Shampoo.

They were still there several minutes later when Shampoo walked in. "Aiyaa! Little Sister in bed with Great Grandmother! We be such good friends! Shampoo have so much to teach you."

Upon entering the room, Shampoo had launched herself onto the now crowded hospital bed and proceeded to cling onto Hotaru in a enthusiastic - though sisterly - hug. Now the three of them were there, with Hotaru being held tightly to the curvaceous body of the friendly Amazon girl.

"Shampoo! I'm not your little sister."

"You Husband's sister, that make you Shampoo sister."

"I ain't gunna marry you Shampoo!"

"Not, you, Husband. Husband marry Shampoo."

"I just said I ain't marrying you."

"Little Sister confused. Shampoo marry husband, then you little sister."

As Hotaru attempted to grapple with the idea of being married to someone and being their little sister at the same time, Cologne placed a hand on her arm and whispered in her ear: "Remember, Shampoo doesn't know about your curse."

"Whoops, sorry. I'm just used to this sort of treatment when I'm a guy. Let's try this again: Shampoo, Ranma's not going to marry you."

"Husband will. Shampoo show him she best choice. All go back to China, all be too too happy."

Switching to Chinese to make it easier for the girl, Hotaru continued to try and explain the situation... without actually giving away the facts. "Shampoo, neither Ranma or I want him to marry you now. These too much happening at the moment. I... Ranma's going to be cured of his curse soon. Until then, you have to believe me: you don't want to marry him."

Shampoo smiled and gave Hotaru an extra squeeze. "You're such a clever girl! You've already learned my language so that you can come back to China with us? I'm so happy!"

Trying to avoid thinking about the soft flesh that pressed against her in all sort of interesting ways, Hotaru looked over at Cologne. "Did she understand a word I just said?"

"Shampoo is a very happy girl. I think she just likes to see the best in every situation."

On that pleasant note, Hotaru announced it time for her to leave Cologne in Shampoo's capable hands. After both of the other women extracted promises for Hotaru to return soon, she was allowed to leave. Needless to say, under the combined ministrations of Japanese medical system, Shampoo's caring, and both Cologne and Hotaru's knowledge, the sprightly old lady made a rapid recovery. In under two days she was up and around, bouncing on her cane. By the end of three days, the hospital staff were more than willing to release her.

It was at this point in time, just three days after Hotaru had given her the pictures, that Ami came knocking on the Tomoe family door. When Hotaru answered, she was amazed to see a veritable wall of brown paper. Looking up, she saw a pair of laughing blue eyes just cresting the top of the wrapping paper. Over the eyes was a covering of short blue-black hair that swayed gently in the light breeze of the afternoon.

"Hello, Hotaru-chan! Look what I've got."

"Err... You robbed a paper shop?"

"No, silly. It's your pictures. I picked them up from the gallery today."

"Really?! You've really got them? But it's so quick!"

Ami's eyes crinkled as she smiled. "I've really got them. The people at the gallery said it was pretty easy to do, even if they don't need to do it too often. They just cut open the case you gave me and laid them out. They're all properly framed now, and they guarantee that they won't fall apart over time. So... do you want to stay out here and talk about them, or go inside and have a look?..."

In stunned silence, Ami watched as sick little Hotaru grabbed all three of the pictures in their heavy frames and carried them inside. Even Ami who was three years older and in perfect health thought they were a burden. Hotaru was pretty strong for such a little girl. "Come on, Ami-san! Come up to my room!"

Walking through the house behind Hotaru, Ami struggled to place the feeling of dread that seemed to permeate the house. Something about the place seemed slightly off; as though someone was waiting for something, something of world shattering importance. As Ami was walking into Hotaru's room, sounds of laughter echoed up the stairs. Terrible, insane laugher. The sort of laughter that set your teeth on edge and made you want to run for the local asylum.

"W-Who was that?"

"One of my father's 'friends'. Every now and again he seems to have some woman over. I guess he's just lonely. I've never met any of them, but this one seems worse than most. Anyway, don't worry about her! Let's take a look at these pictures!"

Hotaru had laid out the three paper covered frames against the wall, largest in the middle, with a small one on either side. Even though she held her fingers poised above the paper and almost quivered in excitement, Hotaru paused and looked at Ami. "Thank you. I don't know what else I can say. It's been so long that I've wanted to see these pictures. I... Thank you."

Blushing furiously at the praise for doing something so simple, Ami avoided Hotaru's eyes and made a small waving gesture. "It's OK. Honestly. Well, there no need to wait any longer. Let's take a look."

Nodding, Hotaru gave a single long sweep, tearing the butcher's paper from the top of the largest frame to its base. In the light of the room, the gold frame glinted, but it was the picture that captured everyone's attention. It was a woman; she had large, liquid brown eyes, and a cheeky smile. Short-cropped black hair covered her head in an almost identical cut to Ami's.

Seeing Hotaru was entranced by the picture of the woman in her twenties, Ami tried to remember what she had said about the person in the portrait. 'The most beautiful woman in all Japan...' Casting a critical eye over the picture, Ami wondered about that. Sure, she was nice, quite cute really, but to be honest, she did not look as good as Minako or Rei. Besides, a yellow martial arts Gi was hardly the sort of stunning clothing you expected a model to wear. And that hair; it might be acceptable now to have short hair, but most of the refined ladies hundreds of years ago kept theirs very long.

On the other hand, Ami had to agree with Hotaru's statement that the artist was very good. The tones and textures were superb, and the subject seemed to have an almost lifelike quality. In much the same way as the Mona Lisa watched you wherever you went, this woman seemed to smile at you - you personally - wherever you were.

Only because the house was so silent did Ami hear the quietly whispered word that Hotaru uttered. "Akane." That was all, one word. But it was one word that was sufficient to bring tears to the young girl's face. After a moment, she turned away from the painting and sat on her bed. "Thank you, Ami-san. It means so much to me to be able to see these pictures."

Ami sat beside Hotaru and put an arm around her shoulders. Tears continued to fall down the girl's face but she was not crying, moreover it seemed that she simply could not contain the depth of her emotion. "Who is she?"

"Her name was Akane, and she was the greatest girl to ever study Anything Goes Martial Arts." Glancing between the picture and Ami, Hotaru lowered her brows in mock concentration. "Real tomboy type: Rei-san would like her. Come to think of it, Ami-san... you look a lot like Akane. Don't tell me you're a tomboy too."

Ami gave a short laugh. "No, I'm nice and sweet. Or I try to be."

Looking back at the picture, Hotaru sighed then whispered to herself. "A spirit of fire or a tomboy... The choices we have to make."

Ami stayed a while longer, and the looked at the other two pictures. Both were obviously the same woman, just an older and younger version. When Ami walked out the door, her brow furrowed in concentration. She knew she had heard the name Akane before, and it was something to do with Ranma. Not only that, but the face looked familiar. Maybe it was just because she looked so much like Ami herself. As her brilliant mind struggled to find the last, slippery clue she had, Ami walked home. She knew she had the answer, it was on the tip of her tongue... Now if she could just remember it.

Back in the house, Hotaru knelt down and placed a small kiss on the glass covering of the picture. "Hello again, Akane. I've missed you. We have so much to talk about."

* * *

No-one could deny that Witch Tellu was a fast worker. The very day after Witch Mimete's demise, she had presented Tomoe Souichi with a foolproof plan to capture more Heart Crystals than Mistress 9 could possibly need. Needless to say, she had also devised the perfect way to deal with those pesky Sailor Senshi should they intervene. Nothing would be able to stop her!

At least, that was what she told her master.

As cause for great concern to the Senshi, had they known, she was also right. Just four days after killing Mimete, Witch Tellu was ready and able to strike. Using her powers combined with the Daimons created by Tomoe, she had made an army of demon plants. Plants with only one goal in their teeny-tiny vegetable minds: steal Heart Crystals.

Acquiring a warehouse and setting up her plants had been the work of a single night. By Wednesday afternoon, Tellu's Botanical Gardens had been completed, and the grand opening was being advertised for that night.

As night fell and the moon rose in the sky, Tellu stood in the entrance to her garden and watched the people queuing outside. Her advertising had worked perfectly. All of her plants were exceptionally beautiful, not to mention unique in their appearance. Now the foolish cattle that populated the city were clamouring to see them. Fools! If only they knew what awaited them! Soon she, Tellu, would rule beside Master Pharaoh 90 when he came into this world. When he was told it was her that performed such valuable service, no reward would be too great.

Laughing with the simple pleasure of thinking about everyone bowing down as she passed, Tellu threw open the door to her warehouse. The gardening enthusiasts, the botanists, even the people who just appreciated pretty flowers all raced inside to see her remarkable display.

As the people began to circulate through the warehouse, Tellu smiled. Soon she would give the command for her plants to attack. When they did, she could harvest all of their Heart Crystals. Even if the vaunted Senshi arrived they would be no problem to her, despite the difficulties they had caused her sister Witches. Hidden among her lovely garden was a killer plant. A Daimon more powerful than ever before, drawing on her own power for its greatness. A Daimon that would be able to crush the Senshi.

Most importantly... it was a Daimon that could operate without her. When the Senshi arrived - and they would eventually - she would be long gone with the Crystals. Then, under the cover of her other plants, her killer could strike. The Senshi would be nothing more than a memory in less than a day.

Throwing back her head and laughing loudly, Tellu closed and sealed the front doors. Ignoring the sounds of some late comers banging on the outside, Tellu turned back to the people filling her beloved garden. Now was the time. Now was the moment of her greatest triumph. With a sweep of her hand, the plants transformed.

All around the room, beautiful flowering plants writhed and sprouted tentacles. Vines and creepers leaped from the trestles and engulfed their victims. All around, beauty turned to beast. Flora leapt and lurched in a most unnatural fashion. Standing in the middle of the warehouse, Tellu held aloft the massive crystal she was using to collect the Heart Crystals from people.

All around her, people fell to the floor as the physical embodiment of their souls were ripped away. In less than two minutes, none were left standing, and Tellu reigned supreme. Victory was hers!

Less than an hour earlier, an innocent looking pair of girls were trying to get their friend organised. For the third time in a row, they had managed to get fifty meters down the street from their companion's house, only to have her realise that she had forgotten something of vital importance. Back inside she would run, making them another five minutes late.

Finally Usagi was ready. It had taken a mammoth effort to get her organised, but Setsuna's steady reassurance, and Chibi-Usa's whining eventually convinced the blonde that she had every thing she needed. Although she did not spend a lot of time with the Guardian of Time, Meiou Setsuna was one of Chibi-Usa's few friends. The older woman was acquainted with her from the future, and Chibi-Usa had decided it was time for the three of them to spend some quality time together. Most importantly, it would be a chance for Chibi-Usa to see some really pretty plants that she had seen an advertisement for.

The three girls ran along the street, desperately trying to make up for lost time. Puffing and panting, they eventually arrived at the warehouse where the botany display was on. Unfortunately, they also managed to arrive just a few minutes late. As they had been running down the last stretch, they had seen the doors close. Banging their fists against the doors, the girls struggled to get in but to no avail.

Chibi-Usa gave Usagi a scowl. "I really wanted to see that! 'Special Display!', 'One Day Only!' and I missed it."

Setsuna nodded. "It would have been quite impressive. I expect that it was a special display from Tokyo's Botanical Gardens. Don't worry, Chibi-Usa, I'm sure that we will be able to see it again some day."

"Ohhhh, and it's all my fault. If I was ready quicker, we would have been able to see it. Ohhhh, I'm sorry guys. I didn't mean to."

"It's all right, Usagi-chan. Puu says that we can see it some other time. She's always right." Setsuna looked down at the little girl. She did not want to disillusion Chibi-Usa and say that she did not know for sure. Perhaps she could find a notice that said where it was occurring. Stepping away from Usagi and her daughter, she let them make plans what to do instead for the rest of the afternoon.

Setsuna looked back from the front door of the warehouse. "You know, it's really strange. I can't find any information here about who's actually presenting it. I was hoping that---"

Going silent for a moment, Setsuna gasped and set her features sternly. Screams! Screams of terror and pain! Looking back to her friends, they all nodded in unison, they had heard them too. Chibi- Usa stepped forward with determination. "The Witches 5! It was a trap! Quick, this looks like a job for... the Sailor Senshi!"

Sprinting around the corner of the building, each of the girls drew forth her henshin stick and recounted her words of power. With a dazzling display of pyrotechnics, the three sailor suited defenders of love and justice. Striking a pose, the girls prepared themselves for battle. Today they would again fight the forces of evil, and once again, the fate of the world rested on their shoulders. The duties of a magical girl defender were arduous, but none of them would ever consider relinquishing their tasks for the simple life. Too many people depended on them to allow that luxury.

Sailor Chibi Moon gave a smile. Too often she was left on the sidelines. Too often she had to wait while others did the fighting. This was her chance to get to do some real good for the world and to fight evil!

When her leader turned back to the front of the building, Sailor Pluto placed a gloved hand on her arm. "Wait, Sailor Moon! That's just what they'll be expecting. Come on, there's go to be a back way in."

Nodding once, Sailor Moon followed her compatriots. Shortly, they found a small, unlocked wooden door. Sailor Pluto was right: they could use this and get the drop on their enemy. For once, they would have the advantage of surprise. Hopefully, that would make up the difference in their numbers, because it would take a while for the rest of the Senshi to arrive, even though the call had already gone out.

Inside the warehouse was a scene from a gardener's nightmare. Plants writhed and thrashed on the floor, their whip like tendrils flailing around, seeking more victims. The whole place seemed to be alive with them, the only quiet spot was the small area in the centre of the floor that a woman stood.

She was obviously one of the Witches 5, because as they watched, several Heart Crystals floated from the people captured by the plants into a large crystal that she held in her hands. The woman's insane laughter echoed around the walls of the warehouse, showing that here was someone who really enjoyed their work.

"Plants are there to be appreciated by everyone. They are objects of beauty for everyone to enjoy, and you have perverted them to your own ends! I am Sailor Moon, and in the place of the Moon, I shall punish you!"

Tellu looked up to the balcony where the battle cry had come from. It was the Sailor Senshi, here to try and ruin her plans. But they were too late. Too late and too weak! The instant that Sailor Moon comes down to try and rescue these pitiful people, she would strike, unleashing her attack plants.

Sailor Moon did descend. Accompanied by her allies - one taller and one shorter - she landed and looked at all of the plants that were now starting to attack them. "Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea!"

While Sailor Moon tried to fight back the even encroaching mass of tendrils, Sailor Pluto and Sailor Chibi Moon went into action. Bright globes destroyed the attacking vines by irresistibly intense levels of the colour pink as Sailor Pluto used the Dead Scream to keep them at bay. On the right, Sailor Chibi Moon was crowing in triumph; not once, but twice her attack had worked! She was a real Sailor now, able to fight with the best of them.

Sailor Chibi Moon had just turned her head to boast to Sailor Moon when a tendril slipped past her defences and wrapped itself around her waist. "Eeeek! Pink Sugar Heart Attack!" Levelling the little wand at the tendril, small pink hearts came trickling out, fading before the impacted.

"No! No, not now! Pick Sugar Heart Attack!" Again the attack failed, and she could feel herself being pulled off her feet. Through the tangle of moving vines, she could see something larger. Something big, mean, and very scary looking. Now would probably be a really bad time to get taken in!


Knocking away the vine that was reaching for her, Sailor Moon saw her daughter caught by the vines. Even as she tried to move forward to help her, more tendrils came to attack her. There was no way that she could reach Chibi Moon in time...

Reaching inside herself for the power she needed, Sailor Moon took hold of the Moon Sceptre. She may not have defeated Witch Eudial, but this time there was no way she would fail. Her daughter was in danger, and Sailor Moon would use the full power of the Silver Moon Crystal to save her if she needed to.


Completing her turn, Sailor Moon directed the glowing beam over the plants. Wherever the energy touched, the possessed, evil plants shrivelled up. Working her way from one side of the room to the other, Sailor Moon systematically destroyed everything in their path. The only thing that escaped destruction was Witch Tellu, who had leapt above the path of destruction. Freed from the confines of the attacking tentacle, Sailor Chibi Moon fell backwards, running to hold onto her friend Sailor Pluto.

Lowering the Moon Sceptre, Sailor Moon sighed. Winning was so hard, but it had been worth it. Again Sailor Moon saves the day... Then she saw the Witch's smile and her blood ran cold.

"You destroyed my beautiful plant's Sailor Moon, and for that I shall kill you. Come forth, my Ultimate Plant. Come forth and fulfil your destiny: destroy Sailor Moon!"

>From deep within the burnt brown remains piled on the floor, something stirred. In moments, what had seemed like a mountain of dead vegetation had erupted into a screaming and whirling mass. Bigger than any of the previous plants, it ripped up the flooring exposing thick roots; roots that began to move and drag the plant closer to the people it wanted to make into dinner.

Furrowing her brows, Sailor Moon tightened her grip on the Moon Sceptre. 'Just a Daimon,' she told herself. 'Just a Daimon.' Never before had she been defeated by a single Daimon, and this time she would win again!


Once again the cleansing energy speared outwards from the Moon Sceptre. However, this time it was met by an equal power. Washing over the demon plant, the energy sprayed off it harmlessly in a fireworks display that made New Year's celebrations seem tame. Even though she gritted her teeth and poured everything she had into it, the plant resisted. It was not coming forward, but it was not retreating either.

Eventually the strain was too much, and Sailor Moon sagged to her knees, leaning on the Moon Sceptre for support. 'Too much. It was too much. There was no way I can beat that plant.' The sound of Tellu's laugh brought her head up, but even that was an effort.

"Ha! Sailor Moon, you are defeated. I have collected all the Heart Crystals from these people. Now my plant is after you. Yours are the only ones left! Soon you shall be defeated by my plant, because it has all my power too, and you could never defeat me!"

Although she felt like weeping, Sailor Moon lurched to her feet when she felt Sailor Pluto's hands under her arms. "Come on Sailor Moon, help will be here soon!"

Even as she spoke, one of the dextrous vines rippled through the space where they stood, knocking the two women flying. Lying on her side, Sailor Moon stared back at where her doom was approaching. Then she saw it, a movement in the rafters. Only one person would be there at this time! The vibrant red rose that rocketed from the darkness only confirmed her suspicions.

With a sound like a hundred breaking windows, the rose shattered Tellu's collection crystal. Freed from their constraints, dozens of stolen Heart Crystals fell onto the floor, spilling around Tellu's feet. "Sailor Moon, always remember that you are the heart of the people. While freedom exists, you will never be defeated."

Tellu looked around in stricken horror. All that work! All her effort to collect Heart Crystals! Well, Sailor Moon would still die, but she needed to get these Heart Crystals back to Mistress 9. Dropping to her hands and knees, Tellu began gathering the Crystals and piling them in her arms. Victory was still hers!

With her head down, Tellu never saw her ultimate plant stiffen for a second as though caught in indecision. Several tentacles flailed aimlessly for a few moments, then it lurched back where it came. Heart Crystals, that was what it craved, and it had found a huge supply. Heart Crystals, all guarded by this one woman...

Tellu gasped in pain when vines like steel cable wrapped around her throat and waist, lifting her off the floor. This was not supposed to happen! Her plan was fool proof! No plant of her creation would ever stop her! Even if it meant that Sailor Moon would live for another day, Tellu swore that she would destroy this treacherous plant and complete her mission to gain the Heart Crystals.

Bringing her hands together despite the pain, Tellu fired a bolt of power into the heart of the plant. Tendrils caught alight and fell to the ground burning, but still more came. No matter how many she destroyed, they still came at her. Their rough edges caught her skin, cutting her, draining her strength. In the midst of a field of Heart Crystals, Witch and Daimon battled for supremacy.

Watching from the sidelines, Sailors Moon, Pluto and Chibi Moon marvelled at what they saw. This plant had twice taken Sailor Moon's most powerful attack, and it was still slowly winning against the Witch. Or was it winning? Every moment that passed, the possibility of victory for either Witch or Daimon seemed to fade. The plant was slowly being destroyed, and the Witch weakened with each passing second.

The battle continued for almost two minutes before both of them collapsed, apparently dead. Tuxedo Kamen walked forward and poked the corpses both with his cane. They were dead. By linking her own energy to the Daimon, Tellu had guaranteed that it was the one enemy she could never defeat without loosing herself. Quietly, Tuxedo Kamen shuddered at the though of what would have happened to his precious Sailor Moon if he had not chanced to strike at Tellu's one weak point when he did.

In short order, Tuxedo Kamen was joined by the three Senshi already there. As they were returning the Crystals to their owners the other Senshi arrived. They were too late for the battle, but their help was always welcome. Especially welcome since Sailor Moon was so exhausted from her attacks that she could hardly stand.

As people began to recover consciousness, the Senshi made good their escape. Spending too long in one place was a good way to let the world know too much about them. Once out of sight, all the girls transformed. Chibi-Usa stood next to her mother, looking up at the older girl with respect in her eyes. Unfortunately, Usagi was too tired to notice it. All she did notice was the warm way Mamoru had his arm around her and was supporting her. His warmth went a long way to restoring her spirits and her strength.

After appropriate congratulations - and a few recriminations about Sailor Moon taking on the Witches single-handedly - they dispersed back to their other tasks. There was a lot that they could learn from this battle, but Sailor Moon was too tired to talk now. Booking a Senshi meeting at Rei's temple for the following day, the friends waved goodbye and went their separate ways.

Several blocks from where they parted company, Rei was beginning to feel she was being followed. Placing a hand into her pocket, she took firm hold of her henshin stick and looked around. No-one. The street seemed to be empty of people. It was not until she looked low to the ground that she discovered the small white cat that was walking along fifteen meters behind her.

Stopping where she was, Rei contemplated the small furry face. Normally Artemis was a happy cat, smiling or joking. It seemed he was only serious when Minako or Usagi were in trouble - which did seem to happen all too often. Now he looked like he was frowning; deep in thought as though worrying about the weighty questions of existence. Or... Or perhaps he was worrying about Minako...

"Artemis? Are you OK? Is Mina-chan OK?"

He looked up at her with a distracted air. "Mina-chan... Yes. Yes, _she's_ OK."

Rei relaxed and took her hand out of her pocket. Crisis averted. If there really was something wrong, she knew she could count on Artemis to tell her. She liked the cat, he sometimes seemed to take things too lightly, but he cared for her friends' well being and that was what mattered. Even though he seemed like a softy, there was iron in the core of his soul, and he had a dedication as strong as any of the Senshi. He was a cat you could depend on in trouble.


"Are you coming back to the shrine with me? You didn't have another fight with Luna, did you?"

It's hard to believe that a cat can blush, but Artemis' face turned a lively shade of red. "No! Not at all. Actually, Rei-chan, I needed to speak to you about something."

She barely managed to make out the last few words. Whatever subject was upsetting him, he must have felt really strongly about it. So strongly it made him nervous, rather than his normal go-get-'em attitude. Rei walked in silence. Whatever it was, he would tell her in his own good time.

"Rei-chan, I need to ask you some questions about Saturn Knight." Watching the way her mouth firmed into a thin line, he hurried on. "I'm not going to say anything bad about him. I... I just want what's best for you... For both of you."

Rei looked at him in askance. "You've been talking to Setsuna-san again, haven't you? She's never got anything good to say about him."

"No, honestly, I haven't. I'll admit, I didn't like Saturn Knight in the Moon Kingdom. I'll even admit that having him here scared me at first. But now... Now I... Now I don't really mind the fellow. All right, I never really speak to him, but he treats you so well. It's almost like he's a different man from the one I knew. He seems almost at peace, as though all his troubles have been put to rest."

"So you're not going to try and talk me out of seeing him? He actually asked me out to breakfast yesterday. Just us, not the Senshi, not at some Daimon attack. Isn't it too romantic?"

Artemis looked down at the ground and cursed under his breath. This was going to be so hard. "I know you like him Rei-chan, and I think he likes you, and that's why I need to talk to you. I also know that you haven't had a boyfriend since Mamoru."

Rei nodded. She had covered it up under a happy smile, but loosing Mamoru to Usagi had really hurt. She had tried to tell herself it was just a silly high school crush, but it had seemed like so much more than that. To find that the man you were head-over-heels in love with was destined for someone else... Well, Artemis was right, she hadn't had a boyfriend since then. Ranma did not really count. Perhaps Saturn Knight was the man she needed to help bring her into bloom again.

"Do you know why Sailor Pluto has tried to discourage you from seeing Saturn Knight?"

"Humph. She thinks he's a bad influence. She just remembers what he was like before. Being born again has changed him. I know it has! He's nice now. He... He doesn't do all those terrible things that she talks about."

"And do you know why she hasn't succeeded in breaking up the two of you?"

"Because... Because I think I love him, and she could never break that."

Artemis sighed and stopped walking. Looking down at his paws he sighed again. He was the only one that seemed to see it. Or maybe he was the only one that cared enough about Rei and Saturn Knight to do something. When tears began to blur his vision, he realised just how hard this would be for both him and Rei. He was almost ready to continue when he felt strong hands pick him up and gently nestle him the crook of her elbow.

"Hey, it's OK, Artemis. You can tell me. Is there some other reason that she wants to break us up?"

Wiping his tears away, Artemis looked up at his friend. Being an advisor and guardian of the Senshi was so much more than helping with battle plans. "What do you know about Sailor Saturn?"

"Not much. She's the last Senshi to awaken. I think Pluto said that she would only awaken when the world was in dire trouble and we really needed her. I'm pretty sure she supposed to be the strongest Senshi, but I can't remember if she's stronger than Sailor Moon."

"That's about right. In some ways she was stronger than Sailor Moon, or Queen Serenity even. In all other ways she was much weaker. But she was a very dangerous girl. A very troubled girl too. Long ago in the Moon Kingdom, everyone was scared of Sailor Saturn. "It was nothing that she did, Sailor Saturn was always a perfect little angel. It was just who she was. She was too powerful and dangerous, it made people nervous. Like you said, she also only appeared when the Kingdom was in great danger. Some people thought that if she was not around, the danger would go away too. "The reason that Sailor Pluto has not made stronger efforts to break up the two of you is she is worried about Sailor Saturn."

"What? Why is she worried about her? She hasn't even awoken yet."

"True. But you know how Pluto is. Leave no stone unturned. She thinks that Saturn Knight is a bad influence. I guess she's just worried that if you broke up with him, he might get together with Sailor Saturn."

Something cold and hard seemed to form in the bottom of Rei's stomach. She knew she did not want to ask this question, but something seemed to force her lips to speak. "Why does she think that?"

Artemis looked away from her. Being in Rei's arms no longer seemed quite so comforting. "Do you remember when we were all talking about Saturn Knight that first time? Can you remember why he's called that?"

"Sure," she said, sounding puzzled. "Because he's part of the royal family on Saturn. Like Mamoru was Earth Knight until he was engaged to Usagi... or Princess Serenity or whatever."

"That's...not quite... right."

"What do you mean? What else could it be, unless..." The cold, hard ball in her stomach seemed to settle even lower with a sudden shift.

"Yes. Saturn Knight... was Sailor Saturn's husband."


Silence aside from the sound of a white cat landing on the pavement. The hands that had held him had gone slack, and Rei had stopped walking. She just stood there; her mouth was working slowly, but no words came out.

Eventually she spoke. It was deathly quiet and in a whisper. "Why... Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"We thought you knew. We... I didn't realise until now how serious you were. I..."

"Please. Just... leave me alone for a while."

Artemis was standing there with one paw raised, ready to follow her as she ran down the street. It would have been easy to follow her, she left a trail of small wet spots on the road where her tears had fallen. Slowly Artemis turned and walked back to Minako's house.

>From his nose to his tail, he wished he had not been the one to tell Rei. It broke him up inside to have to do that to her. But... But what would have happened when Sailor Saturn finally awoke? Given further time, Rei would have fallen further and further into love, to loose her man to an uncaring destiny for a second time may have been too much to bear. Inside, Artemis had no doubts that Sailor Saturn and her Knight would be reunited some day, despite all of Pluto's plots. To love someone so much that she was able to send his soul forward in time so they could be together... was there anything that could keep apart?

* * *

Thursday morning, 5:18am. Nothing short of a demon from the pits of hell could rouse the sailor-suited defender of love and justice, Sailor Moon, from her bed at this time of the morning. Unfortunately, she was awake. Unfortunate for her, unfortunate for the people the demon had attacked, and unfortunate for the demon. It had definitely chosen the wrong time to visit the mortal plane.

Ringed around the demon, the girls leaped and struck, firing their magical energies into their foe with determination. At least, most of them did. Notably, Sailor Mars was there in body, but not in spirit. This morning she held to the rear, only firing the occasional attack at the demon. Even those attacks she did launch were her earlier and weaker attack: the Mars Fire Soul.

Beyond that, Sailor Mars kept sending dark glares at anyone that approached her, especially Sailors Moon and Jupiter. After Sailor Mercury hid the girls from the demon's view with her Bubble Blast, she decided it was time for her to try and rectify the situation. Normally it would be Sailor Moon's infectious good nature that overcame these sorts of problems, but today she could not get close before Mars would stomp off and pretend to be interested in attacking the demon.

"Mars, what's the matter? You seem... I don't know, upset about something I guess."

Mars turned away, but not fast enough that Sailor Mercury could not see the dark bags under her eyes. Eyes that were red and bloodshot from crying. Before the girl could retreat away from her too, Mercury put an arm around her shoulder and led her from the battle. Sailor Moon could take care of the demon; the other Senshi had weakened it enough. Now it was time for Mercury to try and help her team mate.

"Mercury... Do you think he knew? All this time? Do you think he knew anyway?"

Raising her eyes to where Sailor Mars looked, Mercury could see the tall figure of a man in the shadows. Although his features could not be seen in the darkness, the absence of a top hat informed her that this was Saturn Knight and not Tuxedo Mask. "Know what, Mars?"

She sniffled and wiped an errant tear from her face. "Known that we could never be together. Known about Sailor Saturn. Known about his destiny, perhaps. I don't know, Mercury. It just seems so hard some times. First it was Mamoru, now it's Saturn Knight. Is it something about me? Is it so wrong for me to have a man to love?"

"What are you talking about? Saturn Knight is here for you! He's not here to watch us fight. Why would you think that... Oh, no... Sailor Saturn... You don't think that?..."

Mars nodded. "Artemis told me last night on the way back to the shrine. He's Sailor Saturn's husband. She was the one that sent him through time. I know she's not awake yet, but when she is... is there any way that I can compete against her? It's the same as what happened with Mamoru all over again. I finally met a man I really like and he gets taken away from me. It's not even as though it's anything I did. It's just destiny."

"Oh, Mars. I'm so sorry. I never even thought..."

Mars nodded. Bracing herself as the demon disintegrated into dust in the background, Mars let her friend's supporting arm slid from her shoulder. Deep down she knew that Saturn Knight couldn't know about Sailor Saturn yet. She knew that he was a kind person inside. He would never do something like this to hurt her. The thought that she would be the one who would need break up with him drove a dagger of ice into her already broken heart.

Taking the first step to the most horrible thing she had ever needed to do, Sailor Mars tried to hold back the tears that fought for release. For him, she would be strong. For him. It would not be the last time they met, but it would be the last time that they met as potential lovers. For him, she would hold herself together. He deserved the truth from someone who cared. Later, when she was alone again, she could cry them both.

She watched her - no, not hers anymore - man jump to the ground. He still held the Silence Glaive in his hand. Before it had always seemed a symbol of his power and self assurance. A warrior and his weapon, both confident in the strength of his suitor that he would leave them battle unaided. She could see by the way that he walked and the cautious steps he took that he knew something was wrong. Those perceptive blue eyes of his must be taking in every moment of her despairing approach.

Offering her a cardboard box with one hand, he held the other out to take her small, fragile seeming fingers. He was always a gentleman, always so proper in the way he approached her. It was almost as though he was as scared of loosing her as she was of loosing him. She stopped three feet from him, and only just managed to stop her hand from reaching out to take his. It was had become a habit to hold hands and walk for a short while. Nothing more, just friends walking together and holding hands.

A sob escaped her throat and Sailor Mars turned her head so she could wipe more moisture from her face. When Saturn Knight took an instinctive step forward to comfort her, Sailor Mars retreated a step, staying just out of reach. The way he stopped short and looked at the offending hand, she may as well slapped him or stabbed him with a dagger. Confusion reigned on his face.

Before he could speak, she held up a hand and sniffled once. Saying it without his caring words would be hard enough. If he so much as spoke and offered her any support, Mars knew her resolve would break down; Sailor Saturn could be damned and so could destiny. This man would be hers. Her struggled ended in success because he held his silence. For long moments, they stood there, until slowly she raised her head and looked up at him through her thick black bangs.

"I... I can't..." Gods, this was killing her. "I can't... see you... any more."

"Wh... Wh...Why? What did I do?..."

"It's not you. It could never be you. It's nothing you did. It's... There's someone else..." Mars choked on her words and placed her hands over her face. "It's Sailor Saturn. The two of you are destined to be together... There's no place for me... I can't..."

By the time the sounds of his footsteps registered on her consciousness, he was already long gone. Gone; while she spoke. Gone; as she had rejected him. Gone; before she had even half finished explaining. All that remained was the small cardboard box he had brought her. Bending down she picked it up and tentatively looked inside. A table for two at a high class restaurant. And a calligraphy note inviting her to meet him there... without their masks.

As Sailor Mars sunk to her knees, the gentle brush strokes on the invitation dissolved in the moisture of her tears.

* * *

Saturn Knight ran and fought down the tears which struggled to break free. He was running, running from an enemy he could not fight. Running from pain he could not escape. His enemy was his own heart, his own mind. After three hundred years of being alone, Ranma had finally decided to try again... and he had been rejected. Rejected for another's attention.

'There's someone else...'

Her words still rang in his head like a death knell. The pretty soldier Sailor Mars had someone else. Of course she did. She was a woman of sublime beauty, powerful, self assured with a spirit of fire. How could someone like that possibly be alone? Had he been fooling himself all this time? Had he been leading himself on, pretending that she must feel the same things for him that he felt for her? Had... Had she been leading him on?


No, his Sailor Mars would never do that. She was kind and caring. She would never do something like that. It just made him feel all the worse for realising that it was not - could not - be her fault. That meant it was all his fault. He was the one that had rushed things. He was the one that had tried to go too far. To add extra salt to his wounds, he saw how she looked when she told him. Because of his ill considered actions, he had caused her such pain.

Stumbling to a halt in some alley... somewhere... Ranma dropped his costume then fell against the wall in pain. It was bad enough that he had deluded himself, not to mention forcing his obviously unwanted attentions on Sailor Mars. Now he had hurt her so badly when he forced her to open his eyes to the truth. Covering his face in shame, Ranma clawed at his forehead. How could he have been so blind? How could he have missed the fact that she did not have feelings for him? Was Cologne-chan right? Had he really been by himself for so long that it was impairing his judgement?

Stumbling through the alley, Ranma moaned in anguish. She was one of a kind. No-one else in the world was like her. No-one could ever replace Akane in his heart, but he had dared to hope that Sailor Mars might find room to live in his heart too. Two women, each so perfect, was it so wrong to love them both? Akane with the strength and grace of the tiger, Sailor Mars with the delicate beauty of a flickering flame.

Pain and anger welled in Ranma's soul. All he really wanted to do was fight back. Revenge himself against a world that hated him with vigorous strength. But he couldn't. He could no more go back and hurt Sailor Mars that cut his own arm off. Worse, because if he needed to amputate his arm for her sake, he would have... He still would. He could not even vent his anger in mindless destruction and violence. With his strength... with his magic... he hated to think how many people could be hurt by his foolish anger.

When the bucket of cold soapy water fell from a window high above him, it was the last straw. Shrunken, wet and female, Hotaru fumed. Water began to evaporate off her in a thick cloud of steam, and a sickly green aura surrounded her. Was there nothing in the last three hundred years that did not lead to heartache and failure? Was the nothing that could give him the same simple pleasure he knew from holding Akane's hand while walking through the falling cherry blossoms in the evening? Was there really no hope left in the world for him?

Running a hand through her hair she pulled it from the pony tail Ranma wore into Hotaru's typical bob-cut. Tilting her head back, and looking into the sky, Hotaru stared between the buildings. The sky was clear, no roof and no planes; no obstacles that might get hit when she vented her frustration. The entire alley glowed in the shifting green light of her depression as Hotaru lifted her small hands above her head. In a voice wracked with anguish, Hotaru whispered the words to free her spirit, and release her hold on the frustration building inside her.

"Shi shi hokodan!"

It was not loud, but it was enough. A green column of power spewed from her hands and arrowed into the sky. For kilometres around people could see the thin green line. It appeared instantly, and minutes later it disappeared just as suddenly. By the time anyone thought to investigate the alley, it was deserted.

* * *

Female, but this time in clothes that fit, Hotaru walked through the entry way of the Hikawa Shrine. Normally Ranma preferred to be male, but just this once he was glad that he could be a girl. All he really wanted was a sympathetic ear, someone to talk to. He knew Rei-san could be a nice girl, and although he loved to argue with her, it was not what he needed at the moment.

When he saw the taller girl sitting glumly on the front steps of the shrine, he knew he had made the right choice. If he was a guy, he knew he would feel the need to tease her, to try and cheer them both up. Somehow he sensed that this would not quite be what she needed at the moment. For that matter, a good shouting match was not what Ranma needed either. What he needed was a friend, someone who could just be there. He had considered going to see Chibi-Usa, but somehow he didn't think that the little girl would quite understand the idea of two friends just being together, she was more active, more of a 'do- er'. Rei-san practised meditation and all that sort of thing. If she didn't understand the benefits of silence, no-one would.

Plopping herself on the step next to Rei, Hotaru cupped her chin in her palms and subconsciously mimicked her friends posture. Both of them sat there, staring ahead, not saying a word. Each lost in the though of someone who they would never get to know.

After some minutes, a gust of wind took some of Rei's long hair and brushed it across Hotaru's face, causing her to sneeze. With a guilty start, Rei took the offending stands and pulled them back, holding the hair over her left shoulder. "Sorry about that Hotaru-chan."

"Rei-san? What's wrong? You looked so sad sitting here all by yourself."

Rei stifled a sniffle and looked away, idly stroking her hair. "It's nothing, Hotaru-chan. Maybe you'll understand in a few years. How about you? Anything I can do to help?"

Clenching her hands around her knees, Hotaru rested her head on her arms and looked sideways at Rei. She actually looked rather pretty with the light of the setting sun behind her. Almost like Sailor Mars in some distant fashion. "There's nothing you can do. This morning I just found out what an idiot I've been recently. There was someone I really liked. I thought they liked me back, I honestly did. And then.. And then they just came out and told me that they loved someone else. Just like that. Yes to the chocolates, but no to your heart."

Rei slid across and placed an arm around the girl. "I'm sorry Hotaru- chan, you do know how I feel. I... well there is this guy I've liked for a while. Real sweet type. I just found out that he's... well, let's just say that he's already married."

"He's married and he was trying to be your boyfriend too? Who is he? I'll rip him to shreds!"

Rei gave a short, amused, almost tragic laugh. "I'm sure you'd try. I'm sure you would. No... It wasn't quite like that. It was more of an arranged marriage. I found out before he did and... I never thought I cared about him that much."

Arranged marriages could be hard on everyone at the start. Ranma knew all about that. "Is there anything that you can do?"

Giving her another squeeze, Rei rested her head on Hotaru's small shoulder. "No. Nothing at all. It's just... fate. He's just someone who I cannot have. Of all the men I could have chosen, I seem to choose the ones who are destined for someone else... and there is never anything I can do."

"Sometimes the whole world seems to be against you. Only a few days ago Takuhi was killed and Cologne-chan was in hospital, now it's our lives falling apart. Does it get any better, Rei-san? Or does it just keep going like this for eternity?"

"No. No, it gets better. You have to believe in that. I believe in the future. I believe that there is a bright future, where everything is clean and nice, and peace and love rule. I don't know when it's going to happen, but if we all work at it, I know it will happen some day. Some day, Hotaru-chan. Some day."

"I'll be there, Rei-san. I don't know when it is, but I'll be there. I'll remember what you said today, and I'll remember how young you looked."

Rei put on a mock stern face. "What? Are you saying you're still going to be a young little cutie when I'm all old and ugly? Humph! I'll have you know that I have it on the best authority that I'll still look this good in thousands of years!"

"Suuure. I'm almost tempted just to stay a little girl for that whole time just to rub it in when you get old and wrinkly!"

"Me?! Wrinkly?! Eww! No!"

Both girls laughed for a while, momentarily forgetting their troubles. "I knew I could count on you to make everything better Rei- san."

"Well, not quite everything... We don't have any ice-cream."

Hotaru pulled a man's wallet from her pocket as she stood up. "Ranma's turn to pay! All we can eat!"

Jumping to her feet, Rei chased after the suddenly active little girl. "Hey! You can't do that to him!"

Two voices continued to laugh down the street, echoing between the buildings.

"Come get me!"

"Give me that wallet!"

"It's in a good cause!"

"Hey, stop running away!"

"Only a few more blocks!"

"Oh, no. I've forgotten my shoes!"

* * *

Ami looked around that the girls assembled across her floor and sighed. "Tell me again why you had to meet here?"

"Neutral ground. No can discuss Husband where he hear. Why you here?"

"This is my house!"

"That good. Shampoo no want more... obstacles..."

Ami looked at the Chinese model with the long purple hair who was playing with her knife in a most disturbing manner. "Gulp! I think I'll go make some tea now."

Shampoo looked around the room at the other girls assembled there. Here was almost everyone that knew anything about her husband. Over the last couple of days they had all been contacted, and had all agreed to share their meagre information. It seemed that Ranma had been hiding things about himself from all of them, so it was about time that they got together and aired all his dirty laundry and unearthed his hidden secrets.

All for his own good of course.

So here they were, finacees and suitors alike, anyone that had a good chance of knowing about Ranma. Shampoo, Ukyo, Makoto and - maybe - Rei made up the list of suitors. On the other hand, they also had Setsuna and Chibi-Usa since they knew his sister. Ami rounded out the compliment since she was the supplier of the "neutral ground" for the meeting. All weapons were to be checked at the door; or Ami's bedroom in Shampoo's case because there was not enough room in the front hall for all her weapons.

"Where Little Sister?"

Ukyo shrugged. "She might know him better than anyone else, but I get the feeling that she tells Ranma basically everything. I figured it would be better if we tried to do without her. Anyway, she wouldn't tell us what Ranma's curse was before, so she probably won't tell us now. How about you? Where's the old ghoul?"

"Great Grandmother no want come. Great Grandmother already know everything about Husband. Great Grandmother say cannot gossip about friend."

Rei nodded and looked at Setsuna. "I don't suppose that there's much you'd be allowed to tell us either?"

The older woman gave her a gentle smile, as though trying to say 'It's not easy knowing everything.' All she said was enough for most of them to discount her as an active participant in the evening's discussion. "It would not be... appropriate for me to reveal all that I know about the young gentleman. I can contribute some information on his sister... but I would not recommend that you rely on me to answer your questions."

Moving to a whiteboard that they had placed on one side of the room, Makoto wrote the word 'Age' neatly. "All right... Anyone know how old he is?"

"About twenty?"

"Do you actually know?"

Before Rei could reply, Ukyo waved her hand. "He's older than that. He would have been twenty about three or four years ago. I used to train with him before school."

Makoto wrote a tentative twenty-five on the board. "Anyone know where he lives?"


"Oookay. We know anything else about him?"

"Ranma dead wife called Akane."

"He's really good at martial arts."

"He's cursed, but I don't know what it is."

"He travelled a lot when he was young."

"His sister was adopted for a while."

Makoto grabbed that one. "Good one, Ukyo-san. Maybe we can figure out how old he is from his sister's age. Chibi-Usa, you know Hotaru-chan. How old is she?"

"I'm sorry, I've never asked her. She's in my year, so I guess she's about twelve."

Ukyo rounded on the small girl immediately. "She WHAT?! She can't be going to school with you! We went to school together for three years!"

"What's wrong with it? She probably just transferred schools and kept going." Chibi-Usa felt a little intimidated by the big girl, even if she didn't have her battle spatula currently.

"No, you don't understand. For three years we went to school _together_. Same class. Three years ago she was my age. I knew she was getting some sort of treatment of being small and not being able to grow up properly, but I never realised it was this bad."

"You mean her brain might not be developing either?!" You could trust Ami to come up with something sensible, no matter how horrifying the thought might be.

Ukyo nodded reluctantly.

"Oh, that's so sad." All the girls looked weepy for a while then continued on their quest to dig out Ranma's secrets. That is, all of them except Setsuna. She alone had seen Hotaru cast the Dragon Slave -from the safety of the Gates Of Time, of course. That sort of power and palpable evil demonstrated that there was nothing wrong with her brain, albeit her mind might be twisted and perverted by her evil ways. It was times like these that Setsuna wished she had not banned herself from investigating the chain of events leading up to the present. It would be very nice to be half as confident and well informed as she acted.

Setsuna had almost been satisfied with sheer coincidence when she remembered what Chibi-Usa had said: 'She's in my year.' Chibi-Usa's age. Of all the ages the girl could have picked, she just happened to appear exactly the same age as Chibi-Usa. The same age as the time travelling Moon Princess, the girl that Setsuna herself had sent back in time. Worse still, Setsuna's future self had never revealed why she had sent back Chibi-Usa. Now it seemed all too apparent.

Somehow over the centuries between now and the Crystal Millennium, Setsuna must have changed into a heartless and manipulative woman. She had obviously sent Chibi-Usa back as a lure, a target so vulnerable and tempting that it would draw out their enemies. It had worked too. Hotaru was most definitely interested Chibi-Usa; she pretended to be the princess' friend, associated with her and the Senshi and tried to hide her true evil power. Now it was just a question of how Setsuna could save Chibi-Usa without exposing her hand and having to attack Hotaru directly. This would require some serious thought.

After all the excitement the girls continued to compile vital statistics, everything from favourite foods to eye and hair colour. Ami was wandering through the room when she realised something that was missing from the list. "He's rich too."

Everyone turned to her. Rei could hardly keep the incredulity from her voice. "What on Earth do you mean 'he's rich'? He never has more hand a thousand yen, and his sister's just as badly off. His father has hardly anything other than house, and I don't think a teacher's salary would qualify as rich. Besides, the only work I've ever seen Ranma do is at that dojo, and I know he doesn't get paid for that. He can't be rich."

"But he is! Hotaru-chan got me to help with the restoration of some really old pictures. It cost almost a million yen, but it was nothing to her. She even gave me a credit card from Ranma with over forty million yen on it. I'm telling you, he's loaded."

Around the room there was silence. Makoto couldn't help but think that he was perfect in every way, and he was rich too. Rei felt herself soften to him. She knew several rich girls at school; they often complained about boys who dated only because of their money. She also knew several boys who liked to pretend that they were the gods' gift to women purely because of their money. Ranma obviously wanted to be loved for himself, not his money: that was so sweet.

Shampoo did not care: real warriors had no need for mere money.

Staring at the list, Ami felt else something tickling at the back of her brain. There was something there... Something that she remembered from before... "Akane!"

"Akane Husband dead wife. You know when they married, Smart Girl?"

Ami turned a questioning eye on the Amazon for the name but spoke nonetheless. "No, it's just that 'Akane' was the name of the girl in Hotaru-chan's pictures. For that matter, now that I think about it, she looked a lot like that girl in the fire reading Rei-chan did with Ranma. I wonder if there is some sort of connection?"

Rei shrugged. "Could be. How old were the pictures?"

"Three hundred years, according to Hotaru-chan. The people at the museum though that could be accurate."

"I guess that rules out the idea that the pictures were of Ranma's wife. Maybe they were related. Ranma knew all sorts of history about his wife's family. I was supposed to be some sort of tradition for the two clans to marry together or something."

"Humph. Amazon tribe better than that. Amazon know Shampoo need strong husband from outside village, or children come out bad."

They worked on their list for a while, but nothing conclusive seemed to come from it. Half the details were purely speculative, the other half were second hand information. All in all, they had managed to get themselves more questions than answers. That frustrated all of them, Shampoo more than most since her Great Grandmother apparently knew all the answers but would not tell her.

The only answer they did manage to come up with was Ranma's money. When Ranma had talked to Rei previously, he had let slip that his father's name was Genma and he was dead, but yet Hotaru's father is called Souichi and he was very much alive. Instant answer: Ranma was actually adopted, and his father must have left him lots of money. Now they just needed answer to some other questions.

Why was Hotaru adopted when Ukyo knew her?
Where does Ranma live?
How old is he?
How does he know people in Poland and Tibet?
How long did he stay there?
How did he and Hotaru get Takuhi's spirit staff?
How did he develop his Ki and martial arts to such levels?
When did he meet Cologne?
Why does Cologne consider Ranma to be an Amazon?
What did Ranma do during the day? He just seemed to vanish.
When was he married to Akane, and how long?
How could one man eat so much and stay so lean?
What was his family style of 'Anything Goes'? No-one had ever heard of it.

Most importantly... Whom did Ranma love?

When their meeting broke up, each of the girls silently vowed to themselves that they would be the one to extract the information from Ranma or Hotaru. Shampoo planned to speak to her Great Grandmother; maybe if she tried hard enough she could convince her to reveal all. Ukyo considered the weekend rush at the Ucchan, and decided that Monday would be the right time to nail him for some firm answers. Setsuna silently vowed that she would brace the Outer Senshi to prepare themselves, who knows when Hotaru would strike?

Makoto and Rei walked side by side as they left Ami's place. It was getting late so they decided it was time to take Chibi-Usa home. Naturally enough, Setsuna was with them and she kept casting worried glances at all three girls. In her books, each of the others were in dire trouble. Chibi-Usa was best friends with a girl who could give Lilith a run for her money as Satan's consort. Makoto and Rei were not much safer: they were involved with the hell-spawn's brother.

Setsuna was so involved in cursing the much maligned Hotaru that she failed to pay enough attention to Chibi-Usa. Before she could stop the little girl, she had blurted out a damaging and dangerous statement. "Rei-chan, if you like Ranma so much, why don't you ask him out? Maybe he'd tell you about his curse then."

"WHAT?" The three others echoed.

"As if I would ever want to do anything with boy! He is such an insensitive jerk. All he ever does is insult me. It's not as though he ever says anything nice about me."

Makoto nodded. "Come on, Chibi-Usa, you've seen them together. They're always picking on each other. When was the last time Rei-chan said a whole sentence to him without yelling? She's worse than she is with Usagi-chan."

"Yes, but.... But Hotaru-chan really likes her, and you know how well she and Ranma get on. Besides, Rei-chan likes Usagi-chan, but they still argue."

That stopped them, wisdom from the mouths of babes. Setsuna could see on Rei's face that she was wavering. "Please, Rei-chan. There is no need to jump into something like this. You are obviously still distraught over Saturn Knight. Really, are you sure that Ranma would be any more suitable for you?"

Rei went silent. How dare she? How dare she say something like that? For months Setsuna had hounded her to give up on Saturn Knight. Now that he was out of the picture, she was telling Rei that Saturn Knight would have been better than Ranma? Rei tossed her hair back over her shoulder with a negligent flick of her hand and raised her head as she looked away from the Guardian of Time.

"Well, I guess we'll let Ranma make that decision, won't we? I'm teaching him at the Shrine this Saturday, so I'll ask him then. If Ranma says no... so be it." Turning back to the taller Senshi, Rei looked up into Setsuna's eyes and brought her face close. "But never, ever think that you can interfere with my personal life. Don't even think about coming near either me or Ranma again this weekend!"

Stalking away in a huff, Rei ignored the others. She could get back to her place without their help, and there was no way under heaven that she would spend any more time with Setsuna tonight. In the darkness of the night, Makoto and Chibi-Usa watched Rei leave them, alternately appearing and vanishing as she crossed through the pools of brightness from the streetlights. Of the Time Guardian there was already no sign. She had vanished as silently as a ghost when Rei captured their attention.

* * *

Their training session on Saturday had been oddly quiet. Rei was trying to work her way around to something important, and Ranma... Rei was not sure what Ranma was thinking. Thinking? That was the wrong word to use for someone like him. Plotting was more like it. Plotting new ways to tease her, new ways to pick on her!

"Umm, Rei-san?"


Collecting herself quickly, Rei looked down at the ward she was demonstrating and cringed. She had just managed to scribble Ranma's name right across the middle of it as her mind wandered. As Rei felt her brows draw in and her mighty lungs fill with air for a nice relaxing shouting match, she caught herself just before words began to leave her throat.

There was a good reason why Rei was so tense today: she was trying to be nice to Ranma. Every time she wanted to say something to the inconsiderate jerk, she swallowed it down. Must be nice to Ranma. Must not hit Ranma with anything to relieve her frustration. It was really hard being nice to someone this long but she needed to. Just when she had thought Setsuna would have been crowing with delight at her break up with Saturn Knight, the woman starts bad mouthing Ranma and Hotaru.

There was no way that anyone was going to run this priestess' love life. Not Cupid, not destiny, and certainly not Setsuna. Rei knew what she wanted, and today she wanted a date with Ranma. When she first met him he had actually seemed quite nice - for a while. Now that she knew him better she saw the side of him that he had kept hidden from Ukyo and Makoto; no doubt he still wanted to be able to seduce them. His brash, over confident and irritatingly defensive behaviour still didn't belie the fact that he was actually quite cute.

Looking up at Ranma and the way that he was still smirking at her, Rei decided that cuteness must be his only good point. Here she had gone and botched an expensive piece of scroll, and he had not said a thing, just sitting there silently, somehow conveying the impression that he never had to worry about that sort of thing. He would always get it right the first time. How could he just sit there and think those things about her? She'd show him...

Calm. Must remain calm.

"You're awfully quiet today, Ranma. Cat got your tongue?"

Gods! Look at him flinch! "I... I'm sorry. Did I say something wrong?"

"Ah... no, not really, Rei-san. I just have really bad memories of c- c-c... them things. The thought of one of them sticking it's horrid furry paw down my mouth and grabbing my tongue and pulling and tearing and the blood and it's teeth and those eyes and the screaming all around and scratching and clawing and..."

Ranma had gone very pale and started to shake even as his words died into mumbling. Rei reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder. "Ranma! Ranma, it's OK! Don't think about them. You don't have to worry. You're perfectly safe here."

After a few moments Ranma's breathing returned to normal and he shook himself like a dog drying off. Bracing himself he tried to look proud and tough but Rei could see through his mask. "Aww, it's nothing. Just a little problem I've got. Nothing at all to worry about. Hardly any chance of anything going wrong. Hee, Hee."

Sitting back on her haunches, Rei gave him a disbelieving look. Did he seriously want her to accept that? Then again, this was Ranma: Mr I'm-So-Tough-I-Don't-Have-Problems. He probably did expect that his see-through acting fooled her.

Suddenly it dawned on her. Him, her, together, alone. No-one around, no-one to interrupt. All she needed to do was ask him. He'd never get the guts to ask her out, so she had to be the one to take the plunge. Drawing in a deep breath, she met his big blue eyes then looked down slightly. "Ranma..."

He leaned forward, anticipating her words. It was almost a whisper. "Yes?..."

"Nothing. Nothing at all. Let's just do that ward again." Coward! Coward! How can you face a demon by yourself and be afraid to ask out a stupid, inconsiderate boy? Coward!

In twenty minutes time, Rei had managed to almost complete the complex ward when a subtle beeping caught both their attention. Rei slapped her hand onto her watch and cringed in distress. She wouldn't see him again until Monday. She knew the way that he liked to hang around with Shampoo and the other girls on the weekend. If she missed her chance now, she might never get an opportunity. But the Senshi! They needed her. How could she get away with this? Especially since she knew how he hated it when she chased him away.

Then inspiration struck. Grabbing a piece of clean paper she wrote a short note and folded it before passing it to him. "I'm really sorry, Ranma. I forgot all about something I had to do. That was the alarm just then. I... I have to go. There was something I wanted to say to you all day... and I just couldn't. Could you... Could you read that note?... Please? I've got to go, but I'll see you on Monday for your answer."

As Rei ran from the room, Ranma looked down at the piece of folded paper in his hand and wondered what it was. Once again Rei had to run off, but this time she had left him something. Something from her, something that might be an explanation of why she had to keep leaving him. He was just opening the piece of paper when he felt something. Something to stop his hands moving in an instant.

Evil. Malignant, malevolent and malicious. Evil that would certainly attract the Sailor girls. For a moment he hesitated, thinking of how Sailor Mars had rejected him. Before he had even made up his mind, he was out of the door, clothes changing into his formal suit with cape and mask. No matter if she rejected him, he would still watch from the shadows. He would still ensure that she was safe and alive.

* * *

The Daimon was in a pitiful state, weakened to the point that it could barely bash a hole in a solid concrete wall. But then, with a troop of eight Senshi pursuing and harrying it, there was little wonder it was exhausted and wounded.

Purple blood fell from its torn body in several places, and it's upper left arm was charred where the last round of Mars Fire had hit it. Apparently it was so weak now it could not even heal itself properly. This would be a flawless victory for the Senshi. Without a Witch to guard and guide it, the Daimon had not stood a chance against them. This was even more true than usual since both the Inner and Outer Senshi were working together on this one.

Seeing the Daimon fall down to one knee as Mercury's Shine Aqua Illusion bombarded it, Sailor Moon drew forth the Moon Sceptre. Now it was her turn! No more people would be terrorised by this horrible creature of evil!

A hand touched her and stopped her as she prepared to attack. Moon looked up at the blonde Sailor Uranus. The other girl put a finger to her lips and pointed to where Sailors Pluto and Neptune were delaying the other Senshi. "Shh. Wait for a moment."

Sailor Moon blinked her big blue eyes and scratched her head with her free hand. "Wait? Wait for what?"

Uranus pointed to where the Daimon had retreated from them. In a few more moments it would be able to reach the people cowering the building. "Wait for that."

"Huh?" The other Senshi seemed to be having a similar conversation, and the Inners did not look happy.

"Wait until it takes a Heart Crystal. We have it all figured out. We know that our enemy must be ready to strike. We have to find them and defeat them now, while they are still weak."

With a vigorous tug, Sailor Moon freed her arm from Sailor Uranus. "We are the Sailor Senshi. We PROTECT PEOPLE from Daimons! I don't know who you are!"

Before Sailor Moon could side-step her, Uranus stepped in front of her. Even as her view was blocked by a broad chest covered by a yellow bow, Moon saw the Daimon pulling the Crystal from a young boy's chest. "Forget it! This is our best hope for victory! We have to trace the Daimons to their source."

It was only a light shove to keep the persistent Sailor girl back, but Moon's innate clumsiness worked against her. She could hardly believe that one of her fellow pretty soldiers - even one of the Outers - would actually physically restrain her. That was all it took, a light tap, a small rock and a lack of grace: suddenly Sailor Moon was sitting on the ground glaring up at the physically strongest Senshi. From where she sat, Sailor Moon really wondered if she would be able to ever get past Uranus if the girl did not decide to let her.

Things were deteriorating just as rapidly among the other girls. Mercury had feinted left while Venus went right. Sailor Neptune had been able to block Mercury from getting past her, but Sailor Venus now had a clear line of fire at the Daimon. Raising a hand to her lips, she winked, kissed her fingers and drew forth a string of hearts. With a flourish she drew the lengthening chain around her then threw it out at the Daimon.


No matter what the Outers thought, the end did not justify the means. Now that she had this nasty Daimon all tied up, it wasn't going anywhere without her permission... At least, that was true until a vigorous blast of water sheared its way through the magical chain. Bereft of the power from its owner, the glowing hearts that had bailed up the Daimon vanished. The beast regained its feet and started down the pavement.

Even as the Senshi of love was starting her attack, her allies had the same idea. With a nimble step to the left, Sailor Jupiter dodged around Pluto and tried to sprint to the Daimon. Before she could get more than two steps, Pluto's time staff appeared in front of her. Flicking her eyes to the left she saw her leader supine on the ground. Dodge the staff and land on Sailor Moon, or take the staff in the belly?

The wind hissed out of Jupiter's lips explosively and she folded around the staff. As she slipped to the ground, Jupiter looked over at Mars.

"Go, Mars!" She tried to yell, but all that came out was a whisper. With a good three meters between them, even Pluto would be hard pressed to get to her before she fried the Daimon to extra-crispy. Almost in slow motion, Sailor Jupiter watched as Pluto brought her staff back and prepared to deal with the Senshi of fire. A voice from the distance brought everything to a sharp and sudden halt.

* * *

Saturn Knight sat on the wall and watched as the woman he was forbidden to love scored another telling hit on the Daimon with her fire. That burn wasn't healing: the Daimon must be almost dead. Flicking his eyes to Queen Serenity, Saturn Knight frowned.

The Queen was being accosted by one of the impostors. Hmm, the others were too. Saturn Knight gave a grim smile. Now was the time of reckoning. Those other girls had skulked in the shadows for too long, avoiding a direct confrontation with the forces of good. Now they had overstepped the bounds. Laying hands on royalty, letting a Daimon escape and attack innocent bystanders; these were all things that the pretty Sailor girls fought against.

Pleasure at imminent justice turned to surprise and anger just as quickly. He owed the Queen no great loyalty, but that witch had just beaten her to the ground and was now gloating over the top of her. He was too far away to make out their words, but he had clearly heard it when Queen Serenity reprimanded Haruka and told her of the Sailors' virtuous pursuit of protecting people. Any moment now the other Sailors would deal with their enemies and defeat both these witches and the Daimon.

For a long time he had wanted to go to the Queen and tell her the names and addresses of the witches. Before he never expected that she would want them. The witches were careful to conceal their true nature. Now they had overstepped the mark. After this battle, he knew that the overly protective Sailor Mars would want to hunt that evil witch Haruka to the ends of the Earth. Mars was just as protective of her Queen as he was of Mars.

He had stepped forward for a better view when the unthinkable happened. First the Sailor in the orange skirt had her attack destroyed by the witch Michiru - Saturn Knight reminded himself that he should ask Sailor Mars what her friends names were, identifying them by skirt colours was rather tiresome. Michiru had upped the stakes by bringing magic into their battle. It was obvious from the brutal way that Setsuna had floored the real green skirted Sailor that she too was not averse to using force to achieve their goals.

But the way Setsuna was bringing her staff back... could it be an attack? Was she going to fire on his Sailor Mars?! He was moving and shouting with actions and words he never realised he knew. Anger and protectiveness fuelled his attack, and the eight foot weapon in his hand seemed to sing with happiness as he lowered the tip to fire. The Glaive was his friend and ally, it would help him do exactly what he wanted. Almost as though it was made for him.


* * *

Pluto heard the words and her blood went cold. She was wrong. Dead wrong, and they would all pay the price for it. She did not know how he had learned Sailor Saturn's devastating attack, but it would destroy everything for blocks around. All the Senshi: dead. Sailor Moon, her princess: dead. There was not even time for her to escape into the safety of the time stream.

* * *


A trench two meters wide and over fifteen meters deep rippled out from the tip of the Silence Glaive. The bitumen, dirt, rocks and piping vanished in near perfect silence. The only sound that could be heard was a single perfect note: a middle 'C' on the most perfect flute in existence. It was not loud, but no other sound could be heard. He had not brought the Silence, but all that stood between the Sailors and complete destruction was the unwavering hum of the Silence Glaive.

Almost in slow motion, everyone could see the trench extending. They were transfixed by the power, unable to move as an instant passed like an hour. By the time the trench was forty meters long and etching a line into a building down the road, the single note ended.

For a terrible moment it seemed as though the Silence had come, but it was only a natural quiet. As his attack ended, they could again hear the screams of people in the distance, the sounds of a water main severed by the Minor Note, and the sounds of Saturn Knight yelling.

"You shall not harm Sailor Mars! You survive this time for an action in your past! No more! When next you cross me, only one shall leave. Go! Go, Meiou Setsuna, and never tarnish my sight again!"

Seven pairs of eyes flicked from Saturn Knight to Sailor Pluto. Flicker was all they could do, because as fast as she could, the Time Guardian vanished again. Eyes darted back to Saturn Knight, but he had left too. Stunned to immobility, most of the Senshi could only stand motionless and stare. He had not hurt anyone this time, but there was no longer any question about whether he was a danger or not.

Sailor Moon was almost going to ask Mars to explain everything when she thought of the Daimon. Looking down the street, she expected to see it scampering away, with her from it separated by a massive trench. She was almost right: the remains of the Daimon were on the other side of the trench. All that remained of the evil creature was one misshapen arm that was rapidly dissolving to reveal a Heart Crystal held in its hand.

Moon's eyes locked with those of Sailor Mars and the silently asked the same questions: "Could he really be their enemy when he had shown such delicacy with such power? Would their enemy have shown mercy to someone they hated? Would any enemy of theirs have given a second thought to an innocent boy's Heart Crystal?"

In silence, the two remaining Outer Senshi left. They did not try to justify their actions, nor did they repent them. When they had restored the boy to health and left the area, the Inner Senshi de- transformed and formed a tight huddle as they walked down the street. One thing had occurred to all of them when they had time to think of it: Saturn Knight had known Sailor Pluto's real name. If she went home, the Time Guardian could be in serious danger.

* * *

Away from the battle, Ranma cursed himself. He should have killed her. He knew it. He should never have spared her life, no matter the fact that she had helped Rei when Shampoo had used the Xai Fang Gao Shiatsu technique on her. He should have killed her then and ended the greatest threat the world had ever faced.

In the instant that she vanished, Ranma had felt the power of the Gates Of Time. Lina Inverse had taught him to recognise the power, even though she had not taught him where the Gates were. The Gates Of Time were too great a risk for anyone to have access to them. Human or otherwise. Anyone that knew their existence was a threat to the entire human race, a ticking time bomb waiting to kill them all with one foolish error.

And he had just let her go.

* * *

Hotaru lay on her bed and looked at the ceiling. Regret was something she had come to learn to live with. Regret that she had not avoided Jusenkyo. Regret that she had not spent more time with Akane. Regret for so many things on her journey. Regret that Mistress 9 never seemed to be able to see Ranma's actions when he was Saturn Knight. Regret that she had not saved the world from the danger of Meiou Setsuna.

Even if she regretted her actions, she knew she had done everything she could. That was enough; she could fret and worry, but she would not be able to change one thing. After the battle, Ranma had immediately gone to Setsuna's home, hoping to find her there. It was deserted, and would probably remain like that. Well, someday she would set things right.

Hotaru raised her head and looked down past her feet at the pictures hung on the wall. "What are you looking at you tomboy?"

Hotaru smiled and chucked. She wished she could hear Akane answer that just one more time.

"Who are you calling a tomboy?"

Hotaru hit the roof! She didn't believe in visitations from the dead! It shouldn't be possible! "Oh... Oh It's just you, Rei-san. You almost gave me a heart attack."

Rei walked over to the bed and brushed the small girl's black hair from her eyes. The poor thing had gone as white as a ghost and was almost shaking. "I'm sorry, Hotaru-chan. I thought you knew I was here."

"That's OK. That's OK. I was just talking to my pictures... that's all. Say... I thought that Kaori usually stopped people from coming to visit me?"

Rei sat down on the edge of the bed and smiled. "Well, she might have, but it was your father that opened the door. He told me to come on in, but I had to make sure you got your sleep. He seemed really happy. He even told me that in a week's time you will be cured! Isn't that great?"

Hotaru smiled and nodded her head. One week. That was all Mistress 9 needed to break this rotten curse. One week and he would be a real man again. Forever more.

"Umm... Hotaru-chan. I was wondering... have you spoken to Ranma this afternoon? Since he came back from the shrine?"

"Err... Yes?"

"I don't suppose he mentioned anything about a note, did he? I asked him a really important question."

Damn! Hotaru cursed herself. She had forgotten all about the note that Rei had given him at the shrine. She must have left it in her black - man sized - pants. Casting a surreptitious glance over the side of the bed, Hotaru check that said pants were not visible to her guest. That could have raised some difficult questions: 'Say Hotaru, why was your brother undressing in your room? And is he running around naked now?'

Realising that she had been thinking too long, Hotaru tried another smile. "No, he said that he had the note, but he didn't tell me anything about what was in it."

"I hope he's read it." Rei nervously began to pick at the cover on the girl's bed.

"Sure he has. You can trust Ranma, Rei-san. He's probably waiting to give you an answer on... On whatever it is he needs to give you the answer."

That seemed to relive Rei. For a few moments she sat there, twisting a finger into the bedspread and watching the patterns it made. Then she looked up at the room's other occupant. "Hotaru-chan, if I tell you something, can I get you not to repeat a word of it to Ranma?"

"Ahh... That could be difficult."


How could she resist those pleading eyes? "All right. I will not say a single word about this to Ranma. If he finds out some other way, I can't do anything about it. But I won't tell him or write it down, or even drop any hint. Promise!"

Rei smiled and Hotaru knew it was worth juggling the facts. Just watching a smile like that was like watching the sun come out or a fire on a cold night. "Well, I decided to ask Ranma out on a date---"


"Really! Well, I was wondering... If he accepts, could I get you to help make me a dress? You did such a perfect job of it when you made that Sailor Mars costume, I just know you must be a great seamstress."

'Wow. Rei-san asked me out on a date! That must be what's on the paper.' Hotaru could hardly wait until she got a chance to read the slip of paper Rei had given Ranma at the shrine. She might be an uncute tomboy and all, but, hey, it would break her heart if he knocked her back. 'Not that I would actually want to go on a date with Rei-san'.

"Tell you what. How about I start on the dress now anyway? I wouldn't want to get your hopes up or anything, but you deserve a new dress, no matter what Ranma says."

Rei blushed. It put a pale red glow on her high cheek-bones, emphasising the fine lines of her face even more. "You... you don't mind? I mean, I'll help as much as I can, but I'm not very good. I'll pay for the fabric of course. Do you have a sewing machine? Mrs Tsukino could probably lend us one if we need it."

Hotaru laughed slightly. Who needed a sewing machine when her Ki powered arms could move so much faster and more accurately. She had plenty of fabric sitting around, especially since she had been meaning to make some Ranma-style shirts for her smaller girl body. With the impending cure, Hotaru had never really gotten around to it. With a little effort, Hotaru could have the dress made before lunch tomorrow.

Giving a smile, Hotaru cast a glance over Rei. Centuries of martial arts allowed her to accurately judge a persons reach, their height, leg length and all their other dimensions.

"How does red sound to you?"

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 24 of 26

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