Continuing Tales

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 25 of 26

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Destiny's Child

Ranma looked down on the blasted landscape and tried to find the satisfaction that he expected. Everyone who had ever opposed him was dead. Everyone who had ever mocked or tormented him was dead. Even all those other people who did not know him - but surely would have tormented him if they had known him - they were dead too. They were dead. They were all dead.

Craters pocked the ground, some were simply the shattered rocks of explosives, others were the fused glass of nuclear devices or powerful magic. It was painfully obvious how well his enemies had fought, but they had fallen. Noting was left, just the shattered remains of their civilisation.

He had expected to feel glee at the destruction of the Moon Kingdom, and the deaths of almost every person in the solar system, but instead he just felt empty. He turned to his wife and looked at her. With her head bowed so that she could look at the ground so many kilometres beneath them, her short black hair fell forward and covered her face. "Do you regret this?"

All she did was look up at him and he knew that he should have never asked that question. Of course she regretted it. It did not matter to her that the people of the Kingdom hated and feared her as much as they did him, she loved them anyway. Maybe that was why he did not feel the elation he desired. She cared, so by extension: he cared. Her pain was his pain, his pain was hers.

They were already holding hands so that her magic could shield him from the cold, hard vacuum of space, so he carefully changed his grip and placed an arm around her shoulder. Giving someone a hug when you are suspended a hundred kilometres up, and while they are holding a eight foot pole arm is not an easy thing to do. It didn't stop him though, in their short years together they had overcome difficulties greater than that together. It is not easy being so feared that you are sent so far from the place that you are supposed to defend, causing you arrive too late to save anything.

Holding her close, Ranma realised that he did regret one thing about the passing of the Moon Kingdom: Queen Serenity was also dead. In time he had grown to respect her. Not love her as his wife did, nor was there the adulation of all her other subjects. Just respect. Respect for a woman who did her job well, who was just and fair to all her subjects. A woman who was now dead and lying somewhere within the shattered castle beneath their feet.

"What do we do now? Is anyone still alive? Is Beryl still alive?" For a moment thoughts of fighting and revenge flittered through his head. He would not have fought for her while she was alive, but Serenity's own sacrifice made him willing to fight for her after her death.

Her voice was as quiet as a whisper. "There are still people alive. Some of the shelters on Earth are still intact. Beryl is gone. Everyone else is gone."

"Even Saturn's colonies?"

She leaned her head on his chest and the wetness of her tears confirmed it like no other answer could. If those meddling Outer Senshi were still here, he would have killed them himself. It was their fault that he and his wife had been so far out-system training. So far out-system that when Beryl's genocidal revolution began, all they could do was come running and watch as bright lights flared on every habitable planet and moon. The cowardly Outer Senshi were so afraid of his wife that they would rather see the Kingdom in ruins by an enemy than risk her being present to defend it. He ground his teeth and held her close. She would need his support today as much as he needed hers every other day.

Ranma took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. They both needed her strength in this time of trial. "What are we going to do now? Do we head down to Earth and look for survivors, or should we check out the Palace first?"

His wife shook her head. "There's no-one left on the moon. Beryl made sure of that. Queen Serenity sent me a message. She couldn't save everyone... but she managed to... to send some of our souls into the future... She wanted her daughter and some others to have another chance."

He smiled. It was perfect. He would be able to live his entire life here with her, then when they were reborn in the future, they would be able to share each other all over again. "That's wonderful! How do we do it? How do we go into the future?"

Closing her eyes, she turned her head looked past her shoulder and down at the moon again. "She couldn't send _us_. All she could send was me."

That stopped him cold. She was leaving? She would leave him? This wasn't supposed to happen. They were supposed to be together forever. The two of them, inseparable. He _needed_ her. A small whimper escaped his lips before Ranma felt her small body pushed against his chest. Holding him tightly her voice was muffled, but he could make out the words clearly enough.

"I'm not leaving you. I can't leave you. You're a part of me. You are my heart, without you, I would have let Beryl take this place without a fight if she wanted it. Without you there is no reason for being in the future."

"What can we do? There's no way that you can fight the queen's magic. The Glaive can't help with that."

She might have smiled. He could feel her face move, and her voice was happier now that she had told him the hardest part. "I've had an idea. The whole idea was to send the Senshi forward, right? What I think I can do is free your soul to travel too. If I do it right, I can link your soul, and you'll follow me into the future. Wherever I am reincarnated, you should be too. I think I can do it. I hope."

Ranma smiled down at the crown of her head. The short black hair smelled so nice as he lay his cheek on top of her head. "I know you can. I'll always follow wherever you lead. When you need me, I'll be there. They'll never keep us apart."

After standing there for half an hour just relishing the feeling of being so close to each other, his wife moved and smiled up at him. She still looked the same age that she did when he married her. Something about her magic, he assumed. None of the Senshi ever aged, they only died from war or grievous accidents. Something about her youthful appearance and the plans for reincarnation worried him for a moment.

"We have to prepare for the future. Close you're eyes for just a second, you know how you hate the landings."

There was a brief sensation of movement, then they were on the ground. The moon was grey and lifeless, a desert where once there had been paradise. He guessed they were standing in what had once been the main barracks for the Queen's personal guard. Judging by the size of the crater, they would be able to see this one all the way from Earth.

She gave him a quick kiss and stepped away. "This won't hurt even for a moment. DEATH... REBORN... REVOLUTION!"

It was her ultimate attack; an attack that could destroy an entire world, or cleanse all evidence of the Moon Kingdom. As he watched the white ribbons stream from Sailor Saturn, he realised that she was right: there was no p---.

Hotaru sat bolt upright in bed, sweat pouring from her small brow. She had to give up those super-deluxe Okonomiyaki before bed. They were giving her weird dreams again.

* * *

The first golden rays of sunlight were beginning to tickle the tallest buildings, chasing the darkness of the night away. Even though the morning still carried the subtle reminders of an unusually cool night, it was showing all the signs that it would be a perfect day. The fingers of light that reached down through the city's towers showed a sky clear of clouds; as bright and clear as any city's air could be.

The sounds of leaves rustling in the park combined with the noises of early morning delivery trucks. These were the only sounds that could be heard in the area, despite the vigorous workout that was happening in the middle of the rolling grass. A single man stood there: his hair would just touch his shoulders if it was not held back by a small pony tail.

His pose was relaxed but focused. Fists were clenched loosely, and his arms rested by his side. At some unseen signal, he again leapt into the air, cresting the branches at the top of the tree beside him. For a surprising period of time, the energetic young man hung suspended in mid air, his every limb a flurry of motion. After a considerable time, the martial artist began his descent, continuing the dazzling training Kata the whole way.

Despite a fall that would have seriously injured lesser men, he instantly bounced backwards, combining his movements with a rolling kick. The kick became a cartwheel as he bounced up on his hands, continuing the sequence of attacks as he moved across the park.

Throughout the entire acrobatic extravaganza, not a single sound was heard other than the wind and the passing vehicles. After all, aerial attacks were the speciality of the Anything Goes School of martial arts, and Saotome Ranma was the master of that school.

Jogging back to the city after his workout, Ranma luxuriated in the feeling of power that his fully grown male body gave him. Only a week to go, only a week to go, Ranma repeated as a mantra. The spiritual entity called Mistress 9 was currently having an out-of-body experience so to speak. Out of his body really, since she did not actually have one yet. It all meant that while she was off talking to her associates and organising some of the last minute plans, he could goof off and just relax. Sometime tonight she would drop back in and they would be ready for the last week of work.

Ranma did not usually work out so late in the day; he normally preferred to be done before dawn, because fewer people would see just how good he was. His level of skill often seemed unnatural to people and scared them away, and he did not want to do that to any of his friends currently. Once he was cured of the curse and had that pressure off his shoulders, Ranma would consider starting to show some of his closer friends a little more of his true ability. After all, there is no point in being the best if you can't prove it now and again.

Moving at a steady jog that would cross the twenty kilometres back to his foster father's house in an hour, Ranma considered what he would do today. It was shaping up to be a lovely Sunday, and he did not relish the idea of spending it all indoors. Especially since he had stayed up all night making a dress for Rei-san. Well, almost all night. He had managed a short nap, but that had been interrupted by another nightmare. They had gone away for a while, so he hoped that this was just a single occurrence.

Perhaps he could go over and annoy Rei-san for a while? No. That wouldn't be nice, since he was already making her wait until Monday morning for the answer to her question. Who would have thought that a tomboy like Rei-san would have asked him out? Ranma kept repeating to himself that he was only going out with her because a tomboy like her would never have a real chance of getting together with anyone else.

All right, maybe Ucchan would be a better choice... Then again, maybe not. She was always pretty busy on Sundays, so he would just be in the way. For a fleeting moment the thought occurred to him that he could help her in the restaurant, but that thought died of loneliness. Today was much too nice to spend it serving tables or cooking food.

Then it dawned on him: Cologne-chan and Shampoo! Since they both worked in the Nekohaten, one of them would be able to spare some time to talk with him. Admittedly Shampoo was always a little too affectionate for his tastes, but that was just how her people were. Hey, perhaps he could train with her for a little bit. If she was the village champion at the moment, he should help make sure that she did not loose her edge before she returned to the Joketsuzoku.

After dropping home for a leisurely wash and soak in the tub, Ranma changed clothes and left for the Nekohaten. That meant he had changed sex four times this morning and clothes only once. He woke up female, trained as male, went female before returning to the Tomoe residence, and finally back to male after he had finished his bath and left the house. It was times like these that he really looked forward to the time when he would be able to spend days - weeks even - consistently male.

Ranma arrived at Cologne's restaurant at half past ten. It was the perfect time to drop in for someone looking for a post-breakfast snack. The girls would be getting ready for the lunch rush, but the crowds would not be there yet. Just the right sort of time to get a quick bowl of ramen to tide him over until lunch.

"Hey, Shampoo! How's --- Whoa!"

The surprised Ranma found himself holding a double armful of curves as Shampoo crooned softly leaning against his chest. "Husband come visit Shampoo? Husband want take Shampoo on date, yes?"

Now he remembered why he usually tried to visit Cologne as a girl. Shampoo was nice enough to Hotaru, but she certainly did not go out of her way like she did for the male Ranma. Sometimes Ranma actually got the feeling that Shampoo only liked Hotaru for the sake of her 'Husband'. After all, according to the popular myth which Ranma had perpetuated, Hotaru was weak and frail; not at all like a real Amazon.

He could tell that Shampoo was all Amazon, which included the fact that she knew how to get her man. Real Amazons stressed the need of finding your perfect mate and then pursuing them until they were yours. With the seductive way that Shampoo was holding him and kneading his shoulders, he guessed she could have almost any boy she wanted. Not only was she sexy and willing, she was a talented fighter and quite smart once you got past her poor Japanese. Now if only he did not have other reasons not to marry her...

"Errr.... Shampoo, I think that guy wants to pay or something."

Shampoo looked over her shoulder then gave the offending customer the briefest of glares. She could tell that she was making progress with her husband, it was only a matter of time before he came around. With added bounce, she walked to the customer's table and took his money. "Husband sit down. Shampoo make too, too delicious ramen."

Now that was service! Trying not to pay attention to the way that Shampoo's skirt was so short you could almost see her armpits, Ranma slid onto one of the seats. Juggling chopsticks, he glanced over to where Shampoo was assembling a ramen using her normal dazzling speed.

"Where's Cologne-chan? She's usually here at this time of day."

"Great Grandmother go markets. Get new foods, add ancient Amazon delicacy to menu."

"Aww, you're not doing that thing with the parboiled ox hoof, are you?" Ranma suppressed a shudder of disgust just thinking about it. It had been a popular dish when he had arrived, but fortunately it had gone out of style.

"No. That too good for Japanese barbarians. This monkey seasoning for noodles. Here, you eat!"

So long as they weren't caught near the Spring Of The Drowned Monkey, that was fine with him. Since there were no other customers in the restaurant, Shampoo slid into a seat opposite him and watched rapturously as he devoured the bowl of noodles.

He was just draining the last of the tasty liquid from the bowl when something struck him as odd. Placing the dish back on the table he looked at Shampoo owlishly and blinked a couple of times. Although she was just sitting there, she seemed to move in and out of focus a couple of times.

"I... don't feel too good..."

Abruptly, Ranma's face slammed down onto the table. The thin china bowl shattered into a dozen pieces under his head, but it could hardly be heard over the sound of his snores. Shampoo looked down at her husband to be with alarm. Picking him up by the pony tail, she dropped his head again, and his snores continued uninterrupted.

"Shampoo no expect it work so fast."

With just a little concern, Shampoo left the sleeping Ranma and walked back into the kitchen. Picking up the recipe again, she ran her finger down it until she came across the entry for sleeping powder. "Aiya! Not two Tablespoon! Is two pinch!"

Giving the snoring form a quick glance, she walked back and put her hands under his shoulders, pulling him from the seat. Since he would probably be unconscious for the rest of the day, Shampoo decided to let him lie on her bed and sleep it off. Perhaps he would understand how much she loved him when he woke up in her room. Besides, somehow she suspected that Great Grandmother would not entirely approve of her latest plan to gain her husband. At least, not unless it worked.

Before sleeping beauty could be left to rest, there was just one thing left to do. Shampoo needed to remove the last obstacle that held her husband in Japan. She knew now that Violent Tomboy Girl and Spatula Girl were not his real reasons. Even he had said that his reason for curing Violent Girl was not because he loved her. That left only one other girl in his life, and she presented no real competition to a pure bred Amazon.

Pulling out her shampoo and comb, she released Ranma's pony tail and went to work. Two minutes later, he was sleeping on her bed, all his problems solved. Smiling happily, Shampoo placed a quick kiss on his handsome brow then returned to looking after the shop. Great Grandmother would be so proud when Shampoo showed he how much her husband wanted to return to China with them.

Four hours later, Ranma opened his eyes and looked around in confusion. There was something wrong here. Something seriously wrong. This wasn't his room. Wearily he tried to decide just what his room looked like, but he wasn't sure. There was something it was...

A pile of leaves beside his father on the roadside...

A plain woven straw mat shared with some monks...

A hidden bunker, crouched with some soldiers...

A smiling face with beautiful black hair. She smiled up at him...


Wobbling slightly, Ranma gained his feet and leaned against a wall. This almost looked like a girl's room, and he couldn't remember being in one of them before he woke up... Hey, all those voices and smells of cooking. Could he be in a restaurant or something? Placing the palm of his hand against his forehead, Ranma tried to sort out the memories. He remembered a couple of places he went to eat, but why was he here? Why was he asleep? Something seemed to be missing.

Lurching over to the window, Ranma looked down onto the street below. Something was very wrong. Something was missing. Akane would know what it was. He should go and see her. She would know. Even as he pushed open the window and jumped down to the street, something bothered him. Akane was dead. But she couldn't be dead. He had spoken to her just the other day. He knew she was dead... Was she just sick? Would that explain this tightness around his heart?

Ranma knew that there was only one thing he could do. So he set his mouth firmly and moved down the road. First it was a drunken walk, then a jog, finally he was feeling well enough to cover the rooftops in his normal leaping strides. He knew the shrine where Akane lived. His father had engaged them to be married, if anything was wrong with Akane, he would find out there.

The first steps up to the shrine brought another round of confusing and conflicting thoughts to Ranma. This was definitely the shrine where the tomboy lived, but there was something wrong. Where was the dojo? He had always been able to see the dojo before as he came home... couldn't he? This was the School Of Anything Goes Shinto Martial Arts, wasn't it? By the time he had reached the top step and was looking around the flagstones, Ranma was less sure. This didn't seem to be his home. He recognised bits of it, and he knew that Akane was here; but it did not feel like home.

"Ranma? What are you doing here?"

Almost in a daydream, Ranma turned. The voice. He knew that voice. It had to be her. It was angry, but at the same time caring. No two people could possibly be like that. She was standing there, holding the broom, wearing a loose, white top and baggy red pants. Something about her face seemed odd, but it must be his Akane. It must.

With a move faster than comprehension, Ranma was beside her and held her in his arms. His wife. He had been so sure that she was dead, but here she was. In the flesh. Holding her tightly, Ranma buried his face in her lovely, long, black hair and breathed deeply. She smelled like cherry blossoms. He remembered how she almost always smelled of cherry blossoms. She liked to use their scented oils before they made love.

Something finally penetrated his bliss saturated brain and exploded like a bombshell. She was just standing there. She was not responding, she had not even dropped her broom. All she was doing was shaking. Somehow in the distance he thought he could hear the sounds of people cheering. "Akane? Are you ill? You're shaking."

Small but strong arms suddenly forced themselves between the two of them and his wife pulled herself away from him. "Ranma, are you out of your mind? What on Earth do you think you are doing?"

Ranma looked at his wife. Then he looked again. She was younger... or was she? He... he couldn't quite remember. Akane seemed all ages to him at the same time. But this wasn't Akane. This was... "R... Rei? No. Not Rei! You have to be Akane!"

He tried to grab her again but she backed away and swiped him across the head with the broom. He knew who Rei was, she was a friend he had known for a little while. But the Rei he knew would never hit him, she was nice and quiet. Not at all like his tomboy, Akane. This must be Akane! It must! She couldn't be dead!

When she swiped at his head again, he ducked under the blow and came in close. Close enough to kiss his precious Akane. Only instinct save him from a blow that would cripple any man. Standing still in confusion he looked as his wife back away with fear in her eyes. Was it possible that this was not really his wife?

"I... I think you better go now Ranma. Maybe you should come back some other time when you're feeling better."

The cheering had stopped and he could see a group of girls standing to the side, just around from the corner of the building. They did not look entirely happy with him. Placing one hand to the side of his head, Ranma took a step back. The girl was looking less and less like Tendo Akane and more like Hino Rei every second he stood there.

Pain lanced through his skull, and Ranma gripped his head as he turned and lurched down the stairs at an approximation of a run. Somehow it was becoming clear in small, jarring bursts. Akane was dead. He had held her in his arms as she died. She had been dead now for all of two torturous years and he was trying to cheat on her with some school girl? What had happened to him? What was going on here? Where was his home? How had he come to---

The truck drove past, its driver completely oblivious to the puddle that he had just driven through. Totally ignorant of the little girl that was standing on the side of the road, dripping.

* * *

Cologne - Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku Amazons, fearsome warrior and great grandmother of the Amazon warrior Shampoo - walked into the Nekohaten. Her day had been entirely successful, and she was looking forward to working with Shampoo for the night shift. Being a mighty warrior was wonderful in a society that valued them, but being in Japan had given her a well earned holiday. Council intrigues and the children's foolishness would wear anyone down after a while. The simple elegance of running a restaurant brought back to mind the simple, earthy pleasures of her own childhood. Having her best friend from her childhood around did not hurt either.

After she had dropped her new ingredients in the cold storage room, Cologne deftly inserted herself into the cooking area, seamlessly taking over from Shampoo and allowing the considerably younger - and marginally more attractive - girl to concentrate on serving the customers.

"You seem awfully happy tonight, Shampoo. Did Ranma visit you today?"

Shampoo nodded as she collected another two bowls of steaming noodles. "Husband still here."

Cologne raised one eyebrow and looked inquisitively at her great granddaughter as she continued to make ramen. "Really? Still here? I'm afraid my eyes are getting too old. I cannot see him anywhere child."

Shampoo gave a tinkling laugh and shook her head. "Husband still in bedroom. He sleep for long time."

Well, well. Maybe Ranma was not as shy as Cologne had grown to expect. "I did not anticipate my friend to be so forward."

As she blushed and began clearing a couple of tables, Shampoo elaborated. "Shampoo have too, too clever plan. Shampoo use Xai Fang Gao Shiatsu technique, make Husband forget girl who keep him in Japan."

Cologne slapped her hand down on the counter with a crack like a rifle shot. "You foolish girl! I thought I raised you better than that. Not only is the Xia Fang Gao prone to loss of effect over long periods, which makes it totally unsuited for use against you husband, he is also an Amazon. Using that technique on a member of the tribe without their permission is punishable by the strongest measures! You are only lucky that it was Ranma, anyone else would probably demand that punishment, he's is likely to go easy on you. Besides, I think you established before that it was not just his ties with Hino girl that kept him here. What where you thinking?"

Shampoo paled. She could not remember the last time that her great grandmother had yelled at her with such genuine anger in her voice. "Shampoo learn lesson. Shampoo not make him forget Violent Girl. Shampoo make Husband forget Little Sister... If he remember when back in China, he forgive. Husband no seem to like Little Sister, anyway."

The room was silent bar the sound of patrons. Turning around, Shampoo looked for her great grandmother, but the room was empty of ancient Amazons. Surely even she would what a good idea it was when she calmed down. She might not have approved of the idea initially, but now that it was done, there was no way that she would continue to object.

In just two incredible bounces, Cologne's cane propelled her from the rear doorway to stand nose to nose with Shampoo. "Ranma is not in your bedroom. Make it clear to me: why did you think he was there?"

Shampoo gulped. Her great grandmother rarely looked serious, and now she was actually worried. What could be so bad about doing a little memory work on Ranma if it got her a husband? Shampoo might get in trouble, but there was nothing dangerous about it, was there?

"Shampoo give Ranma sleep powder in ramen."

"And then you suppressed his memories of Hotaru. Correct?"

The lavender haired girl gave a slightly fearful nod. Had she done something wrong? Ignoring the customers that were beginning to queue up, Cologne sat Shampoo in a chair and drew forth all the details the girl could remember. Eventually the older woman took a chair opposite her and sighed in weariness.

"So really, you do not know when Ranma left your bedroom."

"Shampoo no know. Recipe book say he sleep all day."

"You will find that Ranma is a quite unusual boy. Because I have sworn to him that I would never reveal his curse to you, I cannot tell you all the ways that this could cause problems. I am not even sure of them myself.

"Suffice it to say that because of his curse, your actions against Hotaru could have very serious repercussions for him." Looking Shampoo in the eye, Cologne kept her voice level and devoid of the strong emotions she felt. "There are likely to be even stronger repercussions for you if anything happens to him as a result of his."

Seeing her only living descendant in such confusion and so obviously frightened, Cologne decided to reveal just a little of the truth before she went out to find Ranma. If she could find him and undo Shampoo's actions, there should be no problems. If she failed... that did not really bear thinking about. The girl side of Ranma comprised almost the entire time that Ranma had been alive since his wife had died. There was no question that Ranma had loved Akane: he had managed to carry the flame of love for over three hundred years while the subject of his affections was no more. The only time that Ranma had been male - other than recently - was when he was at his worst. When things were too depressing, she knew that Ranma would return to his male form and weep for his wife.

If he could not remember those passing years; if he could not remember the friends his girl half had made; if he could not remember the healing he had done, Ranma may well be out of his mind with grief.

"Right now all Ranma is probably thinking about is his dead wife. With Hotaru suppressed, he is probably a different man now. I'm going out to look for him. If by any chance he returns... just try and keep him here. Don't force him, and above all, do NOT attempt to hold him against his will. I do not know how good his control will be at this time."

Before she let a very confused Shampoo, Cologne went back to the kitchen and took a thermos filled with hot water. She did not know who Ranma would become if he was splashed with cold water now. The memory block would almost certainly work in reverse, depriving Hotaru of the Ranma side of her existence. Who knows what the girl would be like without any memory of a childhood, without any of the formative years that shaped her personality? It hardly bore thinking on. When she left the Nekohaten, she did not even wave goodbye to Shampoo.

Moving down the street as fast as her cane could carry her, Cologne tried to catalogue the places that Ranma may have gone. To the temple maiden's, almost certainly. To the home that his girl form had stayed... perhaps. Maybe even to Ukyo's shop. What if Ranma had decided to go back to where he and Akane had once lived? Or to Poland or China? Or even just somewhere else in Japan he had lived. The possibilities were endless. With a snort, Cologne decided to stop listing places; there were simply too many.

One of the things that scared her the most was the possibility that Ranma might get into a fight. Would he even realise his own true power? His school of fighting recommended going all-out unless you were sure of victory. If he did that... Well, he obviously had not done so yet, otherwise Cologne would have certainly heard the explosions.

Arriving at the place she had nominated as "most likely to be visited by a deranged Ranma", Cologne dropped off her staff and used it to rap on the front door of the house located at the Hikawa Shrine. A brief period of quiet was followed by the sound of footsteps, then the door opened.

"Ahhh! A monster!" Quick as a whip the elder Hino priest pulled out a ward and began to wave it at Cologne. "Back! Back I say!"

With a grimace but no real malice, Cologne bonked him on the head with her staff. She did not have time to deal with him today. Besides, fancy a wrinkled prune like him calling her a monster! With a few quick pokes of her staff, Cologne forced the harmless elder backwards until the doorway was clear and she could slip past. She was about to start searching the house for her quarry when the girl presented herself.

Standing straight and tall, with luxurious black hair that went past her narrow waist, Hino Rei reminded the Matriarch of how she herself had once looked. Despite the calls of her grandfather, Rei apparently had decided to face the unknown monster head on. She was running down the hall holding a trio of her own wards. If Cologne was any judge of power, these wards were substantially more effective than the earlier ones waved at her.

"Where's the monster?... Oh, it's you Granny." She almost sounded disappointed. "Stop that Gramps. This is Cologne, she's the great grandmother of one of Ranma's girlfriends."

"Of course! I knew that! Do you think I can't tell the difference between an old woman and a dangerous monster? Humph. I was just testing your reaction."

Affecting an insulted air, Grandfather Hino stuck his nose in the air and walked out of the house. All the while he mumbled about how slow Rei had been coming to save her poor, defenceless grandfather.

"Sorry about that Granny. His eyesight's not the best these days. Sometimes I think his mind is going too. Can I help you with something?"

"As a matter of fact you can, Child. I am seeking Ranma. Have you seen him?"

Rei puffed out her breath and flicked her hair back. "Seen him? He was practically hanging all over me earlier today. If you ask me, I think he must have been drinking."

"Interesting, I did not expect this. Do you have any idea why?"

"I don't know. Is it the anniversary of his wife's death? He seemed pretty hung up on her. He even thought I was Akane for a while there!"

Cologne leaned forward on her staff so that she could get a better look at Rei. Perhaps she did look like Ranma's dead wife, it was hard for her to say. Cologne had seen Ranma's paintings three hundred years ago, but she was only a little girl then. That much time could dull the memories even in a mind as fine as hers.

Deciding that Amazon problems should stay within the tribe, Cologne decided to give an abridged version of the truth. "Ranma has been affected by the same memory technique that was used on you. My great granddaughter did it in an attempt to help the boy, but made a small mistake. Our friend is likely to be feeling rather confused at the moment. Do you know where he is at the moment?"

"No, I'm afraid not. He just ran off earlier when I told him I wasn't Akane."

Turning, Cologne hopped out the door then stopped and looked back at Rei. As much as she wanted Shampoo to be the girl that Ranma married, she would not put Rei at risk just for that. At least, she would not put her at risk over something as minor as this. "I also have reason to believe that Hotaru may not be entirely well at the moment either. If you see either of them, do not hesitate to call Shampoo or myself. It could be vital to your safety."

Leaving a confused temple maiden behind her, Cologne sped off to the next destination on her list. The Tomoe home was a good half hour's hop away for her. Not for the first time, Cologne begrudged the years that had made her old and frail. When she was younger, she would have been able to sprint the distance in less time, but in those days she might not have had the knowledge she possessed these days. Knowledge necessary to cure her friend.

Finding the Tomoe home was no great difficulty, getting in might be a little harder. Since she had been there before, Cologne was familiar with Kaori, the housekeeper. Kaori seemed obsessed with the idea that Hotaru should not have visitors, causing the woman to deny Hotaru's presence even if guests knew Hotaru was there.

In the interests of speed, Cologne skirted the house and stood looking up at the window to Hotaru's room. Climbing a smooth wall might be difficult for most people, but Cologne was armed with three centuries of secret tricks. Scrambling up the wall with the same apparent ease that she could crawl across a floor, Cologne soon reached Hotaru's window and stepped inside. Much as she suspected, it was empty. The bed was made, and nothing looked like it had been disturbed. This did not look like the place that an amnesiac had visited searching for their identity.

Looking around the room, Cologne contemplated a last resort and eventually gave in. When Ranma had revealed to her that he would be cured, Ranma had told Cologne about a spirit entity. While the spirit apparently watched over Ranma much of the time, she was known to take time off to do her own work. Surely this must be the case today, else the spirit would have convinced Ranma to either get help from Cologne or to return here. That meant that the spirit was not with Ranma... possibly even in this house at the moment.

Feeling slightly foolish, Cologne squared her shoulders and raised her voice. "Mistress 9! Mistress 9! Can you hear me? I need to speak to you about Ranma. Can you hear me?"

She tried twice more before a ethereal presence began to form in the room. It had the shape of a tall, thin woman, with long waving hair. The spirit itself was very dim, even in the low light of the evening shadows. When the spirit spoke, Cologne had to strain her ears just to hear her.

"You would be Cologne. Ranma has told me a great things about you. What is it you want?"

"I want Ranma. Where is he?"

Even though shadows seemed to cloak the figure, Cologne swore she saw a brief flash of anger and hatred cross the face. It vanished quickly, but it was enough to make her question the friendship of the spirit that claimed she was helping Ranma for selfless reasons.

"You cannot have him. The boy is mine and my master's."

"I do not mean I want to own him, foolish woman. I need to speak to him. He has been accidentally afflicted by something. Something that I can undo."

Mistress 9 concentrated for a few moments before a look of alarm crossed her face and her movements became erratic and distressed. "I... I cannot find him. His mind has vanished! No! All that work, wasted. I will never be ready in time for my master's arrival."

Through force of habit, Cologne swung her staff trying to knock some sense into the bereft woman-spirit. The staff slipped through the apparition harmlessly, but it did capture her attention. "Ranma is not dead. If you cannot sense him, it means that his curse has been activated, and his mind is just sleeping. Hopefully he will come back here at some time. When he does, call me on this number. I will be able to restore him to normalcy."

After she dropped a business card for the Nekohaten on the floor, Cologne bounced out the window. Mistress 9 disturbed her somehow, even if only for the way she habitually concealed herself. If she had nothing to hide, why was hiding second nature to her? Leaving the house at her best speed, Cologne sincerely hoped that Ranma knew what he was doing.

Inside the house, Mistress 9 faded into nothing again. As she faded, all that could be seen was her smile of joy. Things might be easier than she ever suspected.

* * *

Eighty seven minutes before Cologne's visit to Ranma's home, Kuonji Ukyo was cooking Okonomiyaki. This in itself was not at all unusual, especially since the Sunday night rush tended to be a rather busy time. What was strange was the way one of her best friends walked past the front door of the Ucchan. Tomoe Hotaru did not walk in, she did not wave, she did not even turn her head to smile at the chef behind the grill. All the little girl did was walk past slowly, almost like a sleepwalker.

With a dexterity born from years of practice, Ukyo tossed the two cooking delicacies onto plates and dashed to the front door. On her way she deposited the food on the appropriate customer's tables with nary a glance. "Hey, Hotaru-chan! Where are you going?"

Slowly, as if in a daze, Hotaru stopped and turned back to the restaurant. Pushing her black hair back from where it covered her eyes, the short girl gave the smiling chef a long appraisal. "I know you... You're... Kuonji Ukyo... Ucchan."

Kneeling down, Ukyo placed her head at the same height as the other girl and beckoned her over. "Are you all right, Sugar? You sound a little... I don't know... spaced out."

"I'm not sure. Do you know who I am?"

"Huh? Sure I do. You're Tomoe Hotaru... Do you want to come in and sit down?"

"I'm glad. I keep hearing all these other names, and I'm not sure which is me. You only have one name, but I seem to have so many. And they're all different. I keep thinking I should be doing something else, but I can't remember what..."

Taking her hand, Ukyo led the small girl into the shop. For as long as she had known her, Hotaru had been a bright and happy girl, just like Ukyo. Now... Now she seemed like all of that brightness and zest for living had been lost somehow.

When Ukyo led Hotaru to a chair, the little girl sat down and stared straight ahead. That was all, she did not speak or look around. It was as though she was an actor on stage who had forgotten her lines; simply moving where the director pointed. "Hotaru-chan, did something happen to you? You don't look so hot. Should I call your father?"

"Off... Yes. There's something missing. I don't know what it is. I think I should keep looking."

"Oh, no you don't. You stay here and wait for your father. I'll give him a call right away."

Without taking her eye off the girl, Ukyo dialled her friend's home. As she cradled the phone against her neck, Ukyo took change from a pair of customers who had finished their meals. There were a few more lining up to be served, but something told her that it might be a good idea to wait before she took their orders. "Hello?... Oh, Kaori-san. Is Tomoe- san there?... Busy in his lab? But this is really important--- You're sure? There's no way you could get him for me?... I see. OK, thanks for your time."

Casting nervous glances between her shell-shocked looking friend and the customers she had lining up, Ukyo made a hard decision. With a polite bow and effusive apologies Ukyo told the assembled people that she would not be able to prepare dinner for them. Unfortunately there was a personal problem that would mean the Ucchan would have to close early tonight.

After she turned off the grill and gave some of her tools a quick rinse, Ukyo sat by Hotaru and waited for those customers already eating to finish and leave. She had already flipped her sign to "closed" to dissuade any more customers, so while they sat there Ukyo tried to draw Hotaru out of her shell, but the little girl seemed confused and apathetic. Only once in the half hour that they waited did she show any sign of animation. Considering the unusual condition her friend was in, Ukyo decided to dissuade her from having the sparring session she desired.

Eventually the last of the Ucchan's customers had paid and left. Placing all the dirty dishes in a pile where she could deal with them on her return, Ukyo took Hotaru by the hand and led her out the door. With a final stop to lock the door, the pair left for Hotaru's home.

Needless to say it was a scowling Kaori that greeted them at the door. The tall woman in the red dress took one look at Hotaru and immediately whisked the girl inside. Ukyo barely had time to place her foot in the door before it was slammed shut. Kaori looked up at the chef from where she was examining Hotaru and glared at her.

"What do you want?"

"What do I want?! What do you think I want? I want to make sure she's OK!"

Kaori straightened and took Hotaru's hand in her own. The little girl looked at the linked hands with indifference, but she did not object to them. "She will be perfectly all right. My master's first requirement is that this girl is seen to in every way. I shall tend to her until he is able to provide treatment."

Taken aback by the harsh bluntness of the maid, Ukyo stumbled for words. Eventually she nodded her head and backed away. She might be Hotaru's friend, but she was not actually her family. If her father thought it was best the Kaori look after the girl, then there was not much that Ukyo could do about it. On the other hand, she could certainly come back tomorrow and check on her friend.

"Well... I guess I'll see you tomorrow then."

"That will not be necessary."

"Oh, I think it will. Hotaru and I have been looking after each other longer than you've been around. You can be damn sure that I'll be here just as soon as the morning rush is done!"

Kaori set her mouth in a line and pulled Hotaru behind her protectively. "Do not bother. If you see the old woman, tell her that she is not needed here either. She disturbed important work earlier today, and we will not tolerate another disturbance tonight."

With that the door closed and Hotaru was taken up to her bedroom. Hotaru was only part way up the stairs when she felt something strange. It was almost as though a wind had blown through her body, a faint pressure on her mind was all that remained. Instinctively she fought back, causing Kaori to drop her hand as Hotaru began to glow a brilliant blue.

'Wait! Wait! I am your friend, Mistress 9! Don't do this!'

Eyes flicking back and forth frantically, Hotaru searched for the source of the voice. Even as she searched, her confused thoughts anchored on a single memory, then an entire series. Mistress 9 was a spirit. She had met her on a train one night. Since that time, the spirit had been helping her... helping her to... to...

The blue glow faded and Hotaru absently allowed herself to again be led to her room. 'You are Mistress 9. I remember you now. You were helping me to... I... I don't know. You were helping me to...'

'I was helping you to get better. You have been very sick.'

'Sick? Sick. Yes. I remember being sick. I... why was I sick? I'm never sick.'

While Kaori sat her on the bed and changed her clothes for sleep, Hotaru continued her conversation. Mistress 9 was a friend. She was trying to help Hotaru get better. There was a lot that needed to be done, but Hotaru and Mistress 9 were working together to achieve it.

Deep in her mind, Hotaru could feel the echo of truth to this. There were edges of doubt even in her memories, but as before, Hotaru pushed them down. She felt so confused now. If she had not wanted to know everything about Mistress 9 before... before whatever had happened to her memory, she did not want to know now.

Sliding beneath the covers, Hotaru laid her head on the pillow, blinked once at Kaori and closed her eyes. Even though Mistress 9 kept talking, Hotaru let sleep claim her. It was so confusing. There was something missing, but she was not sure what. Perhaps she would remember in the morning.

Monday morning came as it so often does, but no mysteries were revealing in the dawning sunlight. Just as confused and filled with the same unnamed longing, Hotaru lay staring at the ceiling until Mistress 9 asked that she rise and prepare herself for breakfast.

Routine seemed to flow easily to her hands. Dressing in the drab coloured school uniform was a task that she had done many times in the past and it happened almost automatically. She was not sure why she did it, but she did it nonetheless. Once she was ready, Hotaru walked downstairs and sat at the dinner table. Both her memories and Mistress 9 assured her that food would soon arrive. Once again her friend Mistress 9 was right; food did appear and Hotaru ate.

It may have been good or it may have been bad, but the food that she was eating was not what Hotaru was missing. There was something that she needed, but no matter how much she tried, she could not quite pin down the details. Mistress 9 was little help, all she could recommend was avoiding school and spending the day in her father's laboratory. For some reason that filled the girl with a unspecified dread that caused her to reject the suggestion. Something had to happen after school, something important. She knew she needed to deliver a message to someone, but she was not sure what the message was.

The sound of knocking from the front door caught her attention. Normally it would have passed unnoticed, but she felt a brief flicker as Mistress 9 left her mind and then returned in short order. Hotaru could almost feel the spirit smile as she spoke.

'It is someone that you know. If you wish to find out what is missing, if you want to know what has made you so confused, I would recommend that you let me take control for a short time.'

As the conversation was purely mental, it was very rapid, allowing Hotaru to ask questions without causing a noticeable delay. 'I didn't know you could do that.'

'Normally I could not, but if you let me I can. It's perfectly safe, you could take control back anytime you want.'

There was something about the way that Mistress 9 made that statement that worried Hotaru. But then, Mistress 9 was her friend. She would not lie. It must be safe.

'I... OK'

There was a twisting sensation, and Hotaru tried to move with it. She could feel the sensations of dizziness then dislocation as she suddenly found herself looking with a slightly different perspective. Her eyes no longer tracked as she desire, her hands no longer followed her commands: Mistress 9, her friend had succeeded.

'What are you doing now?'

'Now that I have access to the body, I am just casting a quick spell to help things move smoothly.'

'But... But that's a spell of binding...'

Hotaru's mouth curved into a cruel smile as she finished the spell. When she spoke, it was not with the same childlike innocence or calm adult wisdom that normally issued from the mouth. Now the tone was mocking and cold. "But of course. You did not really think I would be foolish enough to allow you to interfere when I had control, did you?"

Inside her mind, Hotaru struggled against the magical barriers that held her in place, by they were too tight. There was still something missing, but now she knew rage and anger. Deceived! Deceived and played like a fool! A burning need for vengeance arose within her soul, demanding that she cast out the person who she had foolishly allowed to take possession of her body. With a mental howl of anguish, Hotaru threw herself against the barrier that held her tight. She might break them eventually, but she was certain that it would not be soon. Whatever the spell was that had been used on her, she felt that it was something Mistress 9 excelled at, obviously taking the spirit only the briefest of time to cast.

Numb with dread, Hotaru could only watch as Mistress 9 stood and walked to the front door. Placing one hand on the doorknob, she turned it and opened the door to their unsuspecting visitor.

"Hello, Chibi-Usa. It is _so_ nice to see you today."

"Are... Are you all right, Hotaru-chan? Rei-san said that you might be sick... you don't sound too well."

Hotaru released an echoing laugh completely at odds with her normal behaviour. "Oh, yes, little one. You can definitely help me."

As Hotaru drew back her arm, Chibi-Usa heard the frantic sound of an old woman yelling at her. In slow motion, she turned and saw Hotaru's friend Cologne moving towards her at a speed faster than she though someone her age should be able to move.

The old woman looked like she was going to run straight into her, and that scared Chibi-Usa. It did not scare her half as much as the cruel leer that Hotaru was wearing, nor the ominous black shadow that flickered around her friend's hand. A hand that was rapidly descending to strike her chest.

In the one flickering instant it was over and Chibi-Usa barely had time to scream. The old woman was definitely going to hit her, but she was shouting something about Shiatsu and roasting chestnuts. But then her best friend hit her, and that was all she knew.

Four meters away from Hotaru, Cologne spared a glimpse for the unconscious girl in her arms and looked back at her friend. The little pink haired girl was unconscious, but there were no marks on her. Perhaps Cologne had actually been there in time with her rapid treatment of Shampoo's Xai Fang Gao Shiatsu. The next two seconds showed that she had hoped too soon. Hotaru was holding something bright, shiny and angular in her hand, and the mocking laugh was nothing that the real Hotaru would ever produce.

"Ranma! Can you hear me? Try to remember! That should have released your memories!"

Trapped within his own skull, Ranma howled and redoubled his efforts on the mental barriers, but they held fast. He remembered. He remembered everything thanks to Cologne. He also remembered Mistress 9 striking out and wrenching a Heart Crystal from Chibi-Usa. Only two groups of people had ever shown themselves to have an active interest stealing Heart Crystals. He had identified all three members of the fake sailors. That meant that this must be one of the Witches 5.

Weeping and crying in anguished self recrimination, Ranma beat futilely, trying to regain control of his traitorous body. Months - years even - of wilful ignorance had let him side with the enemy. His all consuming lust for a cure had blinded him to the obvious. Throughout the entire time he had known her, he had never questioned Mistress 9 on her real intentions, allowing himself to be satisfied with her simple platitudes and easy answers. Now, because of a moment's weakness, she was the one in control. She was the one calling the shots, and her first action had been to take the soul from the most innocent and pure person he had ever known.

It tore at his soul to be trapped, watching as his body moved of its violation. A hand raised itself under the dominion of a woman he now realised was as much a demon as any he had known. That same hand fired a deadly bolt of black energy at Cologne, forcing the old woman to dodge and evade as she carried her precious cargo of Chibi-Usa. Watching his best friend fight for her very life made Ranma wish he had cut off his own hand centuries ago. Nothing was worth the thought of his body attacking his friends; if he had eyes to cry, tears would have fallen as he realised that this was no doubt just the beginning of Mistress 9's true evil.

An evil that he had been willing to blind himself to, just so he could be cured. Cursing himself for his foolishness, Ranma set about systematically breaking the magic bonds that held him prisoner in his own mind. He needed to get free and stop Mistress 9, and he needed to do in under twelve hours: because that was when he had to be able to deliver his reply to Rei-san.

While Ranma was waging an internal battle against an invading entity, Cologne was waging her own internal battle. Should she stay here and help Ranma, or help the stricken child in her arms? Something had gone horribly wrong, and her oldest, dearest friend was in dire trouble. Her cure for the Xia Fang Gao Shiatsu should have released Ranma's mind and restored his sanity. Despite that, Ranma (or Hotaru as he went by in his current form) was still acting strangely.

Cologne may have been able to understand it if Hotaru was using one of the many forms of attack that the little girl had known and displayed before. The problem came because Hotaru was fighting in an entirely different way. She shot magical bolts through the air; magic rather than Ki or Hotaru's preferred hand-to-hand. Not only that, but these were some form of dark magic, evil looking streaks of blackness that seemed to exude menace even as they passed.

If Cologne was willing to set down the little girl she was holding, she was fairly confident that she could beat Hotaru the way that she was acting. Hotaru's once phenomenal speed had almost vanished, her bottomless bag of tricks had apparently been closed. While Cologne jumped around holding her pink haired passenger, she tried to puzzle out where she had seen this style of fighting before. It was sometime recently, but with the difficulty of dodging energy blasts, she was having a hard time concentrating.

Finally Cologne realised, and it made her blood run cold. It was the way that Hotaru was moving, it was the energy she could feel from those magical blasts; they all reminded her Witch Mimete. Cologne had been all to intimately acquainted with Mimete's Charm Buster, and the power which narrowly missed her every time Hotaru fired seemed frighteningly similar. Even the way that Hotaru was holding herself echoed of Mimete's movements, as though they had trained or studied together.

The main difference between Mimete and Hotaru seemed to be the difference in speed and power. Mimete's attack had been devastating, and while Hotaru's attacks were doing substantial damage to the landscape, they were not as powerful as the Charm Buster. However, Hotaru was firing them at a much greater rate than Mimete could possibly manage. Most frightening was the slight hesitations and uncertainties in Hotaru's movements. It was as though she expected to be so much faster... almost as though she had not yet had time to cast the spells needed to accelerate her actions the way that Mimete had.

Mistress 9 stopped for a moment and both combatants looked at each other. Mistress 9 was burdened by the lack of time to prepare herself; Cologne was hampered by the child she carried.

"Go now, Old Woman. Leave, and you might live for a while."

That voice! Hotaru had never sounded like that in her whole life. It was callous, uncaring... evil. "Who are you? What have you done to Hotaru?"

Mistress 9 laughed. These humans were such fun, they never expected the truth until it was too late. "I am Mistress 9, leader of the Witches 5, servant of Master Pharaoh 90. Go now. Take the child if you will, it is of no consequence to me.

"And when you go, thank your great granddaughter for me. Without her memory work, I would not have been able to take control for another week, and even then the fight would have been long and difficult. Thank her and let her know that it was her efforts that have allowed us to conquer your world so easily!"

Cologne was about to attack again as Mistress 9 laughed. All she had to do was remember that this was not really her friend. Even if the real Ranma was in there somewhere, Cologne knew that Ranma would be willing to make any sacrifice necessary to stop someone as deranged as Mistress 9. A slight movement held Cologne back, forcing her to look into the entry of the Tomoe home. There was something in there, something larger than human, and definitely unsafe to be around. If she had allowed Mistress 9 to goad her into action, Cologne and Chibi-Usa would have been easy pickings for a Daimon.

There was really only one option. While she was carrying someone her own size, there was no way that she could fight a Daimon. If it was just her against the Daimon, she might have won. If it was just her against Mistress 9 - in her current state - Cologne almost certainly would have won. Now, burdened and facing both at once, Cologne took her only option. She ran.

Even as she took her first steps down the road, fleeing the battle, Cologne could hear the sounds of pursuit being ordered. No matter how much it ate at her to run from a battle, Cologne knew that it was her obligation to run. She needed to get the child to safety, and she needed to find people capable of helping her fight. The Sailor Senshi would be ideal, but she had no idea where she could find them.

After running for five minutes, Cologne had not yet managed to lose the Daimon pursuing her. Bounding over a small hedgerow, Cologne almost knocked down the saviour that she had been hoping for. Lined up and sprinting towards her was a group of five magical girls, each resplendent in their glorious colours, each posing for battle as they saw her clutching an unconscious girl.

Knowing that the Daimon was hot on her heels, Cologne did not bother with explanations, she just kept running. Dodging past Sailor Moon, the wizened elder carried her precious cargo past the confused girls and continued down the street that they had just come from. Sailor Moon was turning to chase the woman holding her daughter when the Daimon sprinted through the group, knocking her aside as it passed.

Five mouths hung open for a precious second as each of the Senshi tried to evaluate what they had just seen. An old woman looking like she had kidnapped Chibi-Usa was being pursued by a Daimon. Daimons and Senshi were historic enemies, if one of them was willing to ignore the potential for a surprise attack on the girls just so that it could continue to chase the woman, it meant that it wanted her really badly. Anything that a Daimon wanted that badly, the Senshi had to protect.

The thoughts clicked into place all at the same time and like a rainbow wave the Senshi turned and gave chase. Bounding obstacles and circling buildings, the quintet followed, slowly making ground. Slowly that was, until Venus' Love-Me-Chain snaked out and briefly entangled the Daimon. That was the turning point. Now it was just the five Sailor Senshi against one Daimon. While the Daimon brought itself back to its feet, the girls skidded to a halt and prepared their attacks.

Even as they girls gathered their energies, the Daimon rose and charged them, bellowing like the demented hell spawn that it was. Less than five meters from Sailor Moon, four potent streams of energy ripped into it, momentarily halting its advance. Before it could regain its lost momentum, Sailor Moon raised her sceptre to the sky and began to perform her attack.


The golden beam plunged straight through the monster's torso while it towered over the short girl. Pouring energy into the evil beast, Sailor Moon could feel it disintegrate even as it tried to lower it's arms to attack her.

Tired but satisfied, Sailor Moon looked up to the sound of clapping. It was the old woman, she had turned back during their fight and watched from the side lines. Seeing the woman still holding Chibi-Usa, Moon rushed over and pulled her daughter into her arms, holding the little girl tightly.

"Chibi-Usa! Chibi-Usa! Are you all right? Can you hear me?"

"She cannot hear you Child. She has had her Heart Crystal stolen."

With iron in her gaze, Moon looked at the seemingly decrepit woman. Obviously she was much more than she seemed, because she had managed to carry Chibi-Usa for some distance and still out run the Daimon. "Do you know what happened? Do you know where it is?"

"I do, and I shall tell you everything you need to know, but first, we must get her somewhere safe that she can rest."

* * *

Mistress 9 walked along next to the man posing as her father as they entered the school where he worked. While she had diligently worked on breaking Ranma's curse so that she could gain her own body, he had been at work here. Everything had been prepared within the main tower of the school for a ceremony that would summon Master Pharaoh 90 from the dark reaches in which he resided. As the sun passed overhead, they were ready to begin on the final stage of their plan. Soon, no-one on Earth would be able to stop then.

"You should feel proud, Ranma. It is due to you that we are able to do this so easily and with such safety. Without a cursed individual like yourself, I would have had to go through all sorts of difficulties possessing someone."

As Tomoe Souichi unlocked the doors and guided Mistress 9 inside, she continued to lecture Ranma. He was beating mindlessly at his mental prison, but she knew he would be able to hear.

"I realise that you never spent enough time studying mind control spells, but they are very useful. You might have noticed that the one I am using on you is very, very good. That's why I was so glad I could find someone like you. You see, that spell will disappear completely in another two hours, but until then it will be completely impervious to your escape attempts.

"If I had used a normal person, I could have had endless troubles because the old personality would be suppressed but still there. With you, I can just sever you completely."

Mistress 9 stopped in the middle of the large entry room. Once it had been intended as a trophy hall of some sort, but now it would serve another purpose. It would be a garbage dump for the human waste that Mistress 9 no longer needed.

Silently Ranma screamed, but it was to no avail. Mistress 9 raised Chibi-Usa's Heart Crystal and placed it into her mouth, consuming the power inside. Instantly, she could feel the extra energy flushing through her system. Power supreme, the power to break the curse and free herself from the meddling idiot she had been forced to use.

Focusing her magic, Mistress 9 went to work, cutting the last of the magical bonds between Tendo Ranma's body and the body known as Tomoe Hotaru. Bright light covered Hotaru, growing and expanding. When the indistinguishable glowing form was almost roof height, it peaked and began to recede. As the light died down, it could be seen that there were now two people where there used to be one.

After almost a minute of brightness, the magical labours of two years were completed. For a short moment, two people stood there, Mistress 9 and Ranma. Then, like a tree being felled, Ranma collapsed straight onto his face to lie prone on the floor.

Grinning evilly, Mistress 9 concentrated and forced herself to grow. Her clothes changed with her, to reveal a tall woman was a hard face in a long, tight black dress. Mistress 9's hair - once short like Hotaru's - continued to grow, first reaching her hips, then on to the floor.

Giving the body on the floor a nudge with her foot, Mistress 9 indulged in a short laugh. "You foolish, foolish boy."

"What... What have you done to me?" Ranma's voice was weak, barely able to make the words loud enough to be heard.

"Oh, dear me! Did I forget to mention that there would only be enough magical energy for one body? I'm sorry, I'm sure I would have mentioned that." Thick and heavy sarcasm dripped from her words like week old custard. Still tormenting her ex-partner Mistress 9 brought her hands together and looked at the far wall. "Moko Takabisha!" Nothing happened.

"Hmm, that was a nice little magical attack. Never mind, I shall learn how you did it soon enough." Soon, all that was left with Ranma was the echo's of Mistress 9's laugh. While he lay there, too weak to move, she had gone off to destroy the world.

All Ranma could do was moan in response. A day ago, the world had been his oyster. Now, everything was ashes. He had been played as easily as an old piano; even the cure that all his hopes had been pinned on was now revealed to be false.

All that he could be grateful for was the fact that Mistress 9 seemed to be as ignorant of the power of the human soul as most magic users were. The power of Ki - the Moko Takabisha - had noting to do with magic. In the same way, Ranma could have almost no Ki remaining, but he could still cast all of his spells. Both were needed for a body to survive, and all Ranma had at the moment was Ki. Without a source of magical energy, his body would die just as surely as if Mistress 9 had torn out his Heart Crystal.

Mistress 9 might have been right about him dying without magic, but she had failed to realise just what he could do without it. Using the power of Ki alone, he could animate his body for hours. He was dying, certainly, but in the mean time, he would go up there and get Chibi- Usa's Heart Crystal back, and send Mistress 9 back to whatever hell had spawned her!

Just as soon as he could work up the energy to stand...

* * *

Mars felt bad about leaving Sailor Moon with Chibi-Usa, but someone needed to look after the girl, and someone needed to investigate the Tomoe house. Four Senshi and one ancient Amazon arrayed themselves at the front of the Tomoe home and looked on it with mild trepidation. >From Cologne's description, at least one Witch and her Daimon had been here. Without Sailor Moon, that might be more than they could handle.

'Might be' was not enough to stop the Sailor Senshi. With a nod from Venus, the five women charged in through the open front door. Cologne was still carrying her thermos, but she refused to explain what it was for. All she asked was that if they encountered Hotaru, Cologne should be allowed to try and engage her first. With that in mind, Cologne let the Senshi check out the living room and basement, while Cologne moved to the bedroom.

The bedroom was as empty as she feared. There were clothes on the floor, and the bed looked slept in, but there were no signs of Hotaru and no signs of a struggle. Looking for clues, Cologne began going through the clothing, starting with the pair of pants that were on the floor. Pants sized to fit Ranma.

There was nothing in there to indicate where Ranma was or what was going on, but there was a small slip of paper. Squinting her old eyes slightly, Cologne read it, only to have her eyes go wide again with surprise. Amazing, the Hino girl had actually asked Ranma out. She wondered whether Ranma would accept. After all, he had apparently rejected every other offer from Shampoo, Makoto and Ukyo.

Slipping the note into the voluminous folds of her robe, she examined the rest of the room. Although she respected Ranma's right to choose whomever he desired, there was no reason that she shouldn't help Shampoo, who was obviously the best choice. Besides, she rationalised, if Hino Rei was keen enough, she would approach Ranma again and give him a reminder. Remembering what she had seen of Rei, that reminder would probably be neither subtle nor gentle, increasing Shampoo's chances yet again.

Downstairs the Senshi were investigating the incriminating evidence in Tomoe Souichi's lab. There were beakers, bunsen burners and all manner of other lab equipment. There were also piles and piles of lab books. Whether or not Hotaru had known what was going on, her father had definitely been in it up to his eyebrows.

While Sailor Mercury sat down and tried to garner some clues from the book, the remaining girls set about taking apart the building brick by brick, looking for clues. It was obvious that the woman called Mistress 9 was not here now, nor was the Daimon. That also meant that where ever they were, the Senshi could find Chibi-Usa's Heart Crystal there too. Finding that Crystal was becoming increasingly important every second that passed. Without the Crystal, Chibi-Usa would die some time tonight.

When the clock ticked past two in the afternoon and no definite clues had been found, Cologne appraised Sailor Venus of a change in plans. Still holding out the hope that Hotaru may have been able to regain proper control, Cologne wanted to search some of her friends old haunts. If Hotaru (or Ranma) was to be found, Cologne knew she would find her.

The idea of working with a non-Senshi for long periods of time had not sat well with Sailor Venus, so she did not object too greatly when Cologne left. She might be able to do things that most old women could not, but Venus could not help shake the belief that she really was the frail old lady she looked like. The sorts of enemies that the Senshi would be facing would be a trial for even their great powers. A lady as old and decrepit-looking as Cologne would simply be another target.

Looking back on the building as she left, Cologne hoped that she would be the first one to find Hotaru. If the Senshi found her first, there was no telling what would happen. At least Cologne knew ways of incapacitating someone, even a fighter as good as Hotaru could be defeated with a little luck. Just as importantly as searching for Hotaru, Cologne wanted to get back to the Nekohaten. Shampoo had been alone all day, and Cologne was worried about her. Not just what might happen if Hotaru returned there, but she was just as concerned about how Shampoo would be feeling, as she would surely be wracked with guilt over what happened to Ranma.

At around six in the evening, Sailor Jupiter hit the mother lode. Given the quantity of material to search, each of the girls had grabbed a handful of lab books and begun reading. Most of them had dealt with strange chemical reactions, spells and complicated machinery. The book Jupiter had just opened was different. It was a record that detailed the acquisition and modification of the spell casting site: the main tower at Mugen Academy. Hotaru's school.

Crowded around the revealing book, Venus hit her communicator. "Sailor Moon? Tuxedo Kamen?"


"We've found them! Mugen Academy, it's where Hotaru went to school. For that matter, I think Tomoe Sensei worked there. That must have been how he had access to be able to set up the place. We've got a map here. Do you know where it is?"

"I do. Chibi-Usa used to like to meet Hotaru there some times. She... I still can't believe that little Hotaru is completely bad!"

"Neither do I Sailor Moon. Neither do I. Can you leave Chibi-Usa for a while? We'll met you out the front of the school."

"Right! Mamoru is going to stay here with her. I'll met you there."

Twenty minutes later, five Senshi gathered at the base of Mugen Academy's main tower. Behind them, the moon hung large and low in the sky. It was a bright yellow, cast into a almost C shaped crescent, languidly casting dim shadows of the girls that reached almost the entire way to the tower. A light breeze stole through the group and gently stirred their hair.

It was a perfect night for fighting evil.

Just as the group started forwards, a small helicopter charged onto the scene, momentarily distracting the girls from their objective. The Outer Senshi had arrived in their usual glorious manner. Even if they had not been distracted, the Senshi would have not been able to prevent Mistress 9's masterful defence of her stronghold.

For every window and door in the tower, a thick red fluid began to pour forth. Where it touched the ground, a Daimon instantly rose and charged at the defenders of love and justice. Not to be intimidated by these weaker brethren of the mighty engines of evil they usually fought, Sailors Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter began to lay down a withering fire of magic.

Fire, water, earth and lightning assaulted the Daimons, but the hordes continued to drive forward, closing in on the girls by weight of numbers and dogged determination. When they were close enough for a telling effect, Sailor Moon cast her Moon Spiral Heart Attack, banishing a small army forever. It was not enough, as instantly a new legion arose, closing in on the Senshi.

The Outer Senshi in the helicopter were not faring much better. By being able to avoid the mindless hordes of dark minions that Mistress 9 had at her command, the three Outers managed to attract Mistress 9's personal attention. All it took was a few short bursts of dark energy from the tower and the Outer's helicopter was a burning wreck, rapidly approaching the ground in a crash that would surely kill them all.

Even as Sailor Neptune was bracing herself against the back of the pilot's seat and preparing for death, everything went quiet. Raising her head, Neptune looked around. Surprise turned to bafflement as she saw the frozen flames that had once been licking at the laminated plastic of her window. "What?... How?..."

Sailor Pluto answered with a slightly strained voice that echoed strangely. "This is my most forbidden technique: the ability to stop time. For a short while, the three of us will be immune to the effects of time. Come, we must escape before this vehicle carries us to our deaths."

Confused, but not questioning their good luck and powerful ally, Neptune and Uranus joined hands with Pluto and teleported to the roof. The Inner Senshi needed all five to be present for a teleport, the Outers could perform the same with only three, or even two. From the roof they would be able to gain access.

Looking up at the helicopter, the girls covered their eyes as time resumed and their unfortunate transport exploded in a blaze of glory. While they forced access to the building, Pluto steadfastly ignored the other girls' questions on what had just happened. Why was the technique forbidden? Who had forbidden it? And what would happen to her for using it?

Their actions had not gone unnoticed by others. Inside the tower, an exhausted Ranma had almost climbed the stairwell to the top floor when he felt the slight impact on the timeline. Despite his tiredness, his lips curled back in a snarl and he forced himself onwards. _She_ was here. His other nemesis. The evil witch Meiou Setsuna. Not only did she have access to the Gates Of Time, she most assuredly seemed willing to abuse those powers. Concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, Ranma wondered which was the bigger threat to the human race. Mistress 9 who wanted to conquer it, or Setsuna who would almost certainly destroy it one day by accident.

"They stopped time and teleported in. The Outer Planet Soldiers certainly are different." Inside the building, Mistress 9 was mildly impressed.

"Nonetheless, your power is truly great, Messiah of Silence." Tomoe said as he complemented his Mistress' power. She simply nodded and idly brushed her enormously long hair back.

"True as that might be, I will still need the Grail to be able to activate the machine you have spent so much time preparing. When Eudial found the three Talismans for us, she failed in the most important task. The three Talismans summon the Holy Grail, a source of almost unlimited magical power. Now our enemy has it in her possession."

Tomoe looked worried. "Sailor Moon? But... will even you be able to defeat her? She is supposed to be exceptionally powerful."

Mistress 9 smiled condescendingly and chuckled. Shedding height and years, Mistress 9 shrunk back into her original form of Hotaru. Clenching her fists beneath her chin, Hotaru looked up at the man who was her father. She looked quite incredibly cute and vulnerable. "Perhaps if I ask her nicely..."

The laugh that followed was anything but childish and nice. "Now, you go and deal with those three intruders. Use whatever means you need."

Souichi laughed as he had never done before. With a series of strange cracking noises, the once human form of Hotaru's father was enlarged and warped beyond normal comprehension. Daimon Germatos looked at his mistress and smiled. Tomoe Souichi had been an intelligent and valuable pawn in his time. The Daimon that they had implanted in him had simply been a safety precaution, but now that the man was no longer needed...

Despite the damage that had been done to his mind by the long exposure to the evil, magic and mysterious concoctions kept within his house, a small part of Souichi's mind had remained human enough to wonder at what he was doing. Only the overriding thought of helping his daughter had kept him close to sane and functional. Now even that was gone, and it was a blessing, for the man who had once been Tomoe Souichi would have been terrified at what he intended to do to the Outer Senshi.

Mistress 9 watched her last servant depart and smiled happily. Now all she needed was the Grail. Reaching out a hand, she pushed at the air in front of her, causing ripples to appear as though a rock had been dropped into a pond. A little more force, and her hand simply disappeared, slicing though this point in space to appear elsewhere.

It was the third time that Sailor Moon had used the Moon Spiral Heart Attack. Each time she cleared a cluster of Daimons, but each time the army reformed and advanced on them again. Each of the Inner Senshi was waging their own inner battle as well as the battle against the Daimons. Long minutes of pitched battle was having a telling effect on their strengths. Most times that they fought, they faced only one or two enemies. All they needed was a few attacks and their Princess was able to bring them home to victory.

This battle was different. This time there seemed to be no end to the opponents. No matter how many of the hideous, deformed creatures they killed, two appeared for each one killed. Each Sailor felt like she had banished more evil tonight than any other night in their life, but still the forces of darkness continued to break upon them like some sea of evil. A sea that threatened to drown them all should any one person falter.

It was into this thunderous, crashing maelstrom that Mistress 9's hand appeared. Sailor Moon was behind her friends, recuperating and preparing for another attack. There had to be a limit to these Daimons eventually. As soon as their opponents slacked off enough to give the Sailors some time, they would be able to do a Sailor Teleport and enter the tower without having to fight all of the Daimons arrayed against them. They would have been able to do this if all five had been present, but Mistress 9 had other plans.

Guided by unseen eyes, Mistress 9 unerringly found Sailor Moon's throat and gripped it hard. With a strong pull Mistress 9 began to haul the sailor suited defender of love and justice through the portal she had created. It was not until Sailor Moon had been dragged through up to her waist that any of her friends actually saw what was happening.

"Sailor Moon!" Mars yelled, as she tried to disengage and help her friend. It was only moments too late that she reached the spot where her leader had been. Fingertips brushing against the sole of one red boot, Sailor Mars watched as Sailor Moon vanished into a small ripple in the air.

"Noooo!" Turning back to the Daimons, Sailor Mars unleashed her fire with redoubled vigour. Daimons fell like wheat before a thresher, but it was still not enough.

Withdrawing slightly, the girls relieved some of the pressure by the Daimons. "We can't teleport without Sailor Moon!"

Jupiter nodded. "Right! But we have to trust Sailor Moon. She'll do what's right, and we'll be able to help her as soon as we get through these things."

"Yeah, besides, we have to stop them spreading throughout the city! Don't worry, Sailor Moon. We'll be with you soon, and the Outers are in there somewhere to help you too."

With a grim nod, the four remaining inner planet Senshi formed up into a line again and charged. Magic crackled around them as they ran, tearing into the Daimons. Against the quantity they faced, even this charge failed to see them through, forcing them to resort to the same magic attacks that they had been for so long now. The entrance to the tower seemed a long, long way ahead.

Blinking slowly, Sailor Moon pushed the hair back from her eyes. "Where?... That's right! Someone grabbed me, it must have been Mistress 9!"

Coughing a couple of times as she sat up, Sailor Moon looked around. She must have been strangled unconscious when she was pulled through, that would explain why her throat was so sore. Her uniform, already showing small tears from the battle they had been waging looked no better for her lying on the floor.

Once she had regained her feet, Sailor Moon took a careful stock of the area. It took only a few moments to recognise little Hotaru lying unconscious only a few feet away from her. Running over to the girl, Sailor Moon kneeled at her side and tried to wake her up by patting her hand and shaking her lightly.

Slowly and weakly Hotaru opened her eyes, and Sailor Moon almost wept with the look of hope that she saw there. "It's OK, Hotaru-chan. We'll get you out of here."

Holding on to the older girl, Hotaru's voice shook with emotion. "You have to help me. She's inside my head. I can feel her. She want's to do bad things."

Getting to her feet, Sailor Moon took Hotaru's hand and led her to the exit. "Don't worry. You'll be OK. We'll all help you."

"I... I heard her say that the only thing that can stop her is the Holy Grail. If.. If I had that..."

Sailor Moon looked indecisive. She had been entrusted with the Grail to guard it. She knew she was not supposed to give it out. But this might be Hotaru's only chance... Slowly she brought out the Grail. She felt so uncertain.

That uncertainty was brought to a shattering halt as Sailors Neptune and Uranus appeared in one of the doorways. "Don't do it Sailor Moon! She's evil! Get away from her, we have to kill her!"

Moon was shocked! She knew the Outer Senshi were willing to be extreme, but this was going too far even for them. When she saw Neptune cast her Deep Submerge and Uranus cast World Shaking, she reacted purely on instinct. Any ordinary little girl would have been killed instantly by those attacks. If there was even the slightest chance that the Outers could be wrong and Hotaru could be saved, Sailor Moon knew she could not take that chance.

Leaping in front of Hotaru might not have been the smartest thing that Sailor Moon ever did, but even as she was blasted across the room by the power of the girls who were supposed to be her allies, she knew it was the right thing to do. "I can't let you kill her. Sacrifices do not always have to be made."

Slowly, tentatively - and to the sound of the Outer's screamed objections - Sailor Moon held out the Holy Grail. With a look of nervous expectation, Hotaru reached out and took the Grail into her small hands. Her normally sombre face went from a tentative smile, to a grin, to a laugh of startling passion and volume.

All around them, people were still yelling 'no' in a futile attempt to make Moon take back the Grail, but it was too late. Turning her back on Sailor Moon, Hotaru immediately walked the few steps that were needed to place her in front of the machinery adorning the entire wall of the room. Machinery filled with strange images of swirling galaxies and brilliant stars. Every step she took, Hotaru gained stature and age. By the time she had reached a small alcove in the wall, she was at her full height, recognisable as the mature form that Mistress 9 had used before.

Placing the Grail in the wall Mistress 9 raised her hands and addressed them. "I am Mistress 9, servant to the mighty Master Pharaoh 90, Lord of the Darkness. With this beacon that we have activated, Master Pharaoh 90 can find your pitiful planet and he will bring the Silence. Everything will be destroyed as he brings darkness over your world. The truth of darkness shall reign where once the lies of light existed. Look! He comes! He comes!"

A dark swirling blackness had begun to form next to her, and all everyone could do was watch stunned. Powerful blots of black lightning repeatedly launched from the vortex, smashing anything in the room that they touched. Unbelievably, Mistress 9 seemed to have won. Then, just as the Senshi present were about to try a charge against the very heart of darkness, a voice from behind cried out against Mistress 9's actions, drawing all eyes.

Saturn Knight stood in the doorway, using the Silence Glaive as a crutch to keep himself erect. Almost at the top of the stairs, something had told Ranma to transform into Saturn Knight. He did not know where he got the power to, but now that he was here, he could finally stop what his blindness had allowed to happen. "No! You may not do this! I forbid you to use that body for your evil purposes! I will stop you, no matter what it takes!"

His face was drawn and haggard, and he walked with all the speed of an old man with rheumatism, but he seemed to be able to walk through the inferno of darkness without fear. Even when Mistress 9 turned on him and launched bolt after bolt of magic into him, all it did was strengthen him.

"No! You can't be alive! You're dead! I killed you. Damn it! Why won't you stay dead?"

Reaching out with the last of his energy, Ranma touched Mistress 9. It was only a light touch, but with all his substantial will behind it, Ranma wished he could undo what he had done.

* * *

Ranma stood in a plane of greyness. It was grey everywhere. Not white, not black, just a shade of unidentifiable, unlimited grey. There was no up, no down, no front, no back. Just grey. All grey but for the one point of darkness. A shape of blackness in the field of grey. Across the field of grey came a vertical ellipse of pure blackness, and as it drew nearer he could feel its evil.

"So this is the true form of Mistress 9."

The darkness laughed. "Foolish mortal. You have entered my realm now. This is the realm of the mind, where only spirits may exist. The connection of the curse may have allowed you to rejoin and force this meeting, but do not think you can win. I am Mistress 9, and I have brought darkness to the realm of spirits for longer than you can possibly imagine. There is nothing that you can do that can possibly stop me."

Ranma rallied against that. "I am Tendo Ranma, master of the Anything Goes School Of Martial Arts. I have trained under the greatest masters of magic, spiritualism and martial arts in the world. There is nothing I cannot defeat!"

The blackness laughed. It had the same voice that Mistress 9 had when she talked to him in his head. How he had ever mistaken her for a friend, he could not understand. "You want to know the true power of darkness? Try this!"

A tendril of the purest black shot out of Mistress 9. Where her edges were blurred and indistinct, this was a clean line of evil cutting across the neutral grey of the indefinite landscape. Catching him unready, the blackness struck him fairly in the chest, sending him sailing backwards. Although it was only the one attack, lights danced at the edge of his vision while pain rippled up and down his torso. It was pain like he had never experienced before.

Feeling as though he was on fire while someone was trying to unstitch his body at the very core of its existence, Ranma reclaimed his feet in time to mostly avoid the next attack. Black fire running up his calf forced him to keep rolling as he dodged more attacks. No matter how he tried to move, the evil blackness of Mistress 9 followed him, seeming to be able to move without care in any direction.

It was when he saw Mistress 9 moving down through what he had thought of as the ground that he realised that the normal rules of combat did not apply here... wherever here was. Before she could strike again, Ranma leapt. There was noting to leap from, his mind kept telling him, but he did leap. All it took was the right perspective, and Ranma was able to move around. No matter where he was, he was in reach of something to grab or jump from, but if he wanted it, the space was as clear as air. And aerial combat was his speciality.

Seeing that her opponent was not the easy target she had first though, Mistress 9 increased her attacks in every way possible. They were faster, larger and more dangerous. But now she was not the only one fighting. The first time Ranma brought his hands together and screamed Moko Takabisha, Mistress 9 did not even deign to dodge. Blithely relying on the knowledge that magic would not work in a spiritual battle for the dominion of their body, Mistress 9 had anticipated Ranma would be making himself into a stationary target.

Ranma's projectile of radiant, glowing blue Ki slammed into her with the force of a freight train, scattering small particles of darkness into the grey void. Slowly these evaporated and it was a slightly smaller and much wiser Mistress 9 that faced him now.

"So, you are not as defenceless as I would have expected. It will make it even more pleasurable for me to consign your soul to darkness when I finally defeat you. No-one has dared to hurt me like that in all the centuries I have lived!"

This time a web of darkness erupted from Mistress 9, cascading directly at Ranma. Two glowing balls of Ki broke the centre and let him through, but even the light touch from the edge fragments numbed his left arm with pain. Flipping and rolling over Mistress 9, Ranma unleashed a beam of Ki that only narrowly missed his adversary.

Time seemed to have no meaning in their fight as the two masters of spiritual combat fought each other. It may have been hours or it may have been days. In the grey nothingness of the mind, there was not concept of time. No way to tell what was occurring in the real world. After an eternity of fighting, Ranma and Mistress 9 separated and circled each other warily. Both were injured, but both fought on, for to lose this battle was to lose their life.

Mistress 9's voice echoed out from the void, taunting him. "I shall so look forward to playing with your little friends once we finish here. Master Pharaoh 90 will join us soon, and when he does, darkness shall reign supreme. He shall bring the Silence, and everyone on your world shall perish. But just for you, I shall save some of your friends... Their deaths shall be particularly long and painful."

"He... He hasn't come yet?"

Ranma could swear that he could see Mistress 9 start in surprise, but how an indistinct ellipse of blackness does that, he could not describe. "You did not know? You would fight all this time and you did not know? Our time here is barely an instant. When I have slain you, I will be able to watch all your friends suffering, without losing a single precious minute of it."

Master Pharaoh 90 had not yet arrived? There was no rush to defeat Mistress 9 then. He could take his time and be careful. Ranma knew that he might take a few hits along the way, but there was no way that he would be defeated now. Winning was what he did best.

He was about to launch another attack at Mistress 9 when he felt a third presence. It was weak and indistinct, but he felt it. Chibi-Usa's voice rang out from the void, reminding the both that Mistress 9 had gained much of her power from Chibi-Usa's Heart Crystal. "We fight for love and justice, and that is something you can never defeat."

The voice faded away after a moment, but it had served its purpose. Mistress 9 was distracted, and Ranma was fuelled with new purpose and determination. It was the work of but a moment to build it, but the Ki ball that he finally released was almost as tall as he was. Soaring towards Mistress 9, she was almost too late noticing it.

Dodging by the slimmest margins, the blackness of Mistress 9 curved above the huge ball of Ki, narrowly avoiding being fried instantly. With a feeling of glee, Mistress 9 concentrated on Ranma and returned the attack. When the Ki ball failed to sail harmlessly into the infinite depths but instead exploded just behind her, Mistress 9 was caught completely unaware.

Disoriented, disrupted and crippled by the all consuming pain of the blast, Mistress 9 was completely unaware of Ranma running closer to her. When she was finally able to comprehend again, Ranma was already cupping his hands and pouring energy into them. Before she was able to pull herself together and form any sort of credible defence, Ranma's light was burning her darkness from every corner of their universe.

Wherever there was darkness, Ranma directed the light. Wherever there was hatred, he brought compassion. Where there was pain he brought restitution. With a last agonised scream, Mistress 9 passed from the world of the living.

* * *

Sailor Moon watched as Saturn Knight touched Mistress 9 and then seemed to fall into her. With a slow motion effect he literally seemed to dissolve into the tall woman. While he moved, the bodies became covered in a swirling, boiling patina of dark and light. For a precious second, light and dark fought seeking dominance. In the end, light was ascendant, completely covering Mistress 9's form in a brilliant glow.

The eye searing glow held for only a instant, but it was enough to cause everyone to shield their eyes as the light seemed to explode out from Mistress 9. Squinting her eyes, Moon interposed her hand to try and block the light. She could just make out a shape past her hand, and it was the shape of a young girl in a short skirt with a large bow on her chest holding something very tall. The girl smiled once and vanished, the light vanishing with her.

Looking around for a startled moment, it took the Senshi's eyes a while to readjust to the darkness. To her horror, Sailor Moon saw that the dark portal was still growing. Deep inside it, Moon could dimly see a darker shape moving. It was approaching. Still distant, she knew that it would not take long before Master Pharaoh 90 would arrive. If Mistress 9 and her servants had been so powerful, how could they hope to stand against someone even she considered all powerful?

Standing in the corner, Neptune and Uranus had been joined by the third Outer Senshi. Pluto had seen all that had gone before and now looked at her compatriots. Clearly they would gain no support in what must be done from Sailor Moon.

"That person we just saw was Sailor Saturn, the Senshi of creation and destruction. Her mind had been polluted by both Mistress 9 and Saturn Knight. I do not know where she is now, but I am sure she will return. When she does, we must be ready for her."

Watching her two allies nod, Pluto continued. "Sailor Saturn has the power to destroy the world. In every sense she presents just as real a danger as Master Pharaoh 90. If Sailor Moon can block his arrival, we will be able to deal with Sailor Saturn. There is no way that she can be allowed to live as she currently is, she simply presents too great a risk."

Watching Sailor Moon prepare to engage the vortex, the three Outers readied themselves. It was not a nice mission, but they were the world's only defence against Sailor Saturn. Better that they tarnished themselves forever by a cowardly attack than risk letting her live and destroy the world with her hate filled mind that had been corrupted by evil Mistress 9 and the psychotic Saturn Knight.

* * *

Chiba Mamoru sat next to Chibi-Usa's bed in the Tsukino home. Throughout the day she had been getting weaker and paler. Now she seemed as fragile as glass, and even the simple effort of breathing seemed to be a strain. Unless the Senshi succeeded and returned with her Heart Crystal, his daughter was doomed.

Once again tears threatened at his eyes when he thought of the injustice of everything. Chibi-Usa had come back in time to them so that she could train with Sailor Moon and learn to be the new Moon Senshi when she returned to her own time in Crystal Tokyo. Instead, his precious daughter had been set upon by the evil that the Senshi were fighting and would now lose her life. Where was the reason and justice in that?

The brilliant flare of light announced a Sailor Senshi teleporting in, but when his eyes found the girl, it was not one that he recognised. She was shorter than any of the girls that he knew, and younger too. She was dressed much as any Senshi was, with a short blue skirt, white bodysuit, gloves and a large black bow proudly displayed on her chest. The style of dress may have been similar, but the colours were different from any he had known. Equally, rather than the small, round jewel in the middle of her bow, she sported a large spiked gem, like a gleaming star.

Strangest of all was the long silver staff that towered over her. It's pair of long wicked blades glinted in the room's light, drawing all eyes to them. Only as he looked at the weapon did realisation began to pierce his brain. "You..."

"Standing in place of the silent world Saturn, I am the destruction and creation Senshi, Sailor Saturn!"

Mamoru's knees shook. He knew what Pluto had told them about Sailor Saturn, and none of that inspired confidence in her. Then she took her eyes from him and looked at the form lying in the bed. The instant she took in Chibi-Usa's small, still body, her expression softened and she gave a small smile. Raising her left hand, she produced a pink, multifaceted star: Chibi-Usa's Heart Crystal.

Walking to stand next to the girl, Sailor Saturn gently returned the crystal to her chest. Looking up at Mamoru, she gave him a reassuring smile as Chibi-Usa's breathing strengthened and colour began to return to her cheeks.

"She will survive and be strong."

"How... How did you get it?"

Sailor Saturn sighed and looked away for a moment. "An evil woman called Mistress 9 possessed my mind and body. While she did this, she attacked my friend and took her Heart Crystal. It was in my darkest hour that I heard Chibi-Usa call to me. She said that we fight for love and justice and I realised that she was right.

"Without Chibi-Usa, I may have lost that battle, and Mistress 9 would have been free on this world. Chibi-Usa was the only person who could possibly have reached me like that. Because of her, I have become Sailor Saturn, I have remembered who I am and what my true powers are."

Mamoru looked up in awe. "Because of her..."

Sailor Saturn nodded once and gently brushed Chibi-Usa's head. "Because of her I know what I must do."

Watching Sailor Saturn teleport away with the same ease she arrived, Mamoru marvelled at what he had heard. If not for his daughter, Sailor Saturn may never have survived to come into the world. Without her, he knew that the Senshi would be in dire straits against their current enemy. Hopefully her power would make the difference they needed.

Looking down at his daughter who was now sleeping normally, Mamoru shook his head. "You sent her here for training, Sailor Pluto? The one girl that happened to make all the difference in the end? Sailor Pluto, you and I shall have a very long talk some day about how to treat my family..."

* * *

As Sailor Saturn talked to Mamoru, she marvelled at how clear and simple everything seemed now. Her change into Sailor Saturn had freed her mind. Now she could remember her past, and just what life had really been like.

All of the dreams that she had been suffering from now longer seemed like nightmares, they were memories that had been dredged up. Recollections of a time long in the past when she was Sailor Saturn all the time. But it was not just Sailor Saturn, for she remembered being Saturn Knight. At the same time, she could remember being both people, she also knew that she was both people at the moment.

When Queen Serenity had used her magic to pull Sailor Saturn's soul far into the future, Sailor Saturn had pulled along her husband's soul. Their marriage and love had been more important to them than the possibility of a new life. For the life of one without the other did not bear thinking about. Using all of her skill and power, Sailor Saturn had tried to take her husband with her so that he too could be reincarnated.

Unfortunately, other than in battle magic, Sailor Saturn was nowhere near equal to Queen Serenity. Her control of the spell was poor, and her strength was weak. Rather than taking her soul to a time in the future when all the Senshi would awaken within a year of each other, Sailor Saturn had dropped both of them hundreds of years too early. The very mechanism that she had used to bring Saturn Knight with her was already fundamentally flawed. Bonding his soul to hers so she could act as a guide was a brilliant idea for someone untrained in those arts, but Serenity could have identified the problems immediately.

Sailor Saturn and Saturn Knight had reincarnated into the same body. Their long travel through time and the years of life as Ranma had fused their souls. Personalities merged and memories mixed. The two lovers no longer existed as separate entities. It seemed only destiny that had allowed Ranma to fall into that cursed spring all those years ago, but even that could have been some manifestation of the magic that had brought them together.

Although she did not realise it, Sailor Saturn's and Saturn Knight's memories were as fragmented the rest of the Senshi after their reincarnation. It was these holes in their recollection that caused the strange dreams and the almost split personality. Now that Sailor Saturn had awaken, she could feel the mental healing going on. The presence of two souls was giving her a memory of herself that continued to expand. Given time, she knew that she would remember all the details that she needed of her previous life.

Now, however, she was Tendo Ranma, temporarily in the guise of Sailor Saturn. Sailor Saturn had a destiny to fulfil and a world to save. Neither of those would be completed by themselves, and she was the only one with the power to stop Master Pharaoh 90. Already her memories had filled in the blanks on how to access her most powerful attacks. With an ease that surprised herself, Sailor Saturn teleported back into the main tower of Mugen Academy. The future was hers to defend, and it was her responsibility to fix the damage that she had done.

Her return was quite prompt from the perspective of the people occupying the room where Master Pharaoh 90 had been summoned. Saturn had not spent much time talking to Mamoru, so she was able to take advantage of her position and reclaim the Grail for safe keeping. The black lightning was continuing to stream from the open portal to Master Pharaoh 90, but Sailor Saturn was able to dodge these for the short distance it took for her to be able to return it to Queen Serenity.

Smiling fondly down at the young queen, Sailor Saturn could more clearly remember the help the girl's mother had given her when she was Saturn Knight back in the Moon Kingdom. She knew in the heart of her being that she would be able to trust Queen Serenity with the power that the Grail presented. The fact that she had mistakenly given it to Mistress 9 meant that she was not perfect and might make mistakes, but it also showed that she had the compassion and the love to never use the Grail for evil. That was enough of a endorsement for Sailor Saturn to relinquish the powerful magical item into her young hands.

Kneeling down next to her beaten looking queen, Sailor Saturn held out the Grail with both hands. Her queen looked somewhat surprised, but she tentatively reached took the Grail. With Queen Serenity lying on the stairs leading up to the platform Sailor Saturn was on, she was looking up into the eyes of her newest Senshi. Sailor Saturn's eyes were as hard as flint, a deep purple colour with none of the laughing humour that Hotaru usually possessed. A look passed between the two of them, and they both knew that Sailor Saturn was planning on doing something very brave and very foolish, but probably also very necessary.

Unfortunately, Sailor Saturn's position also placed her in an entirely open setting. From where the Outer Senshi stood, Sailor Moon obscured only the smallest area of their target. Resolving that this would be their best chance to catch their adversary unawares, the three women powered up and attacked, launching their attacks at the smallest, newest and most dangerous Senshi.

Warned by instincts honed by hundreds of years of fighting, Sailor Saturn was launching herself into the air before she was even aware of moving. Looking downwards, she saw three coloured streams of energy sail past underneath her and detonate against the floor where she had been standing. Tucking into a roll, Sailor Saturn was completely unharmed by the missed attacks, even using the explosion to propel her in the direction of the three women that had made her life hell for so long now. It was time to end this permanently.

Dropping to her feet in front of the women, a quick smile crossed Sailor Saturn's lips. The persona of Tomoe Hotaru that she had worn for so many months now was weak and sickly; hardly capable of running distances, let alone fighting. That was about as far from the truth as possible for Ranma's girl form as it was possible to be. Now that she was empowered by the magic associated with being Sailor Saturn, she took speed and power to whole new levels.

Obvious from the way that they were standing, both Meiou Setsuna and Tenou Haruka were experienced fighters, while Kaiou Michiru relied primarily on her enhanced speed and magical capabilities. Three to one against Sailor Saturn - a twelve year old girl - it was a long, long way from an equal fight.

Moving forward to striking distance, Sailor Saturn concentrated on Haruka and Michiru first. Not only were they the least threats, she also had special plans for Setsuna. Plans that did not include the older woman ever seeing another sunrise.

Using the Silence Glaive like a quarter staff, Saturn knocked Michiru's legs from underneath her. A slight flick with the end of the weapon had the woman's feet moving up to parallel with her head. Spinning the eight foot staff around her as though it was a cheer leader's baton, Sailor Saturn vaulted the falling body of the girl in the green skirt. Pushing herself off from the falling body with her free hand, Saturn sent Michiru rocketing to the floor as she flew feet first at Haruka.

Stunned by the speed that the little girl had moved, Haruka was still bring up her defences as a leg went either side of her torso. With a sharp, scissoring motion, Sailor Saturn buckled Haruka's knees from behind and rolled her own body almost two complete revolutions. Although her mass was considerably smaller than the big girl's, her movements flipped Haruka into a wall, sending cracks radiating out from her head.

Catching herself with one hand, Sailor Saturn popped herself back to her feet and stood in front of Meiou Setsuna. Behind her she heard the sound of two bodies bounding on the floor. She knew they were not dead yet, it would take considerably more than that to do them in. By her reckoning, they should be stunned for the precious seconds she needed to eliminate the one person with access to the Gates Of Time.

For a long moment, two powerful Senshi faced each other with death in their eyes. Both believed that the other person was the greatest threat that their world faced, neither of them shifting an inch in their perceptions. Acting on some hidden signal both moved in the same instant.

Bringing up the Time Staff, Sailor Pluto started her Dead Scream. It was the same attack that she had used to kill Takuhi, and she would now use it to destroy Sailor Saturn. The girl would probably be able to survive the first blast, but once Sailors Neptune and Uranus were back on their feet, she was confident that they would prevail.

Slashing down with the massive weapon in both hands, Sailor Saturn called out the final attack of the Kotetsu Sen Ha, or Thousand Blade Steel, one of Ranma's own extensions to the Umi Sen Ken and Yama Sen Ken . "CHERRY BLOSSOM IN SUNBEAM!"

Perfected over hundreds of years of training, it was aimed at creating an irresistible attack against a human sized target. Lunging the Silence Glaive in an intricate pattern against Setsuna, the bladed tip was reduced to nothing more than a flash of silver every time the weapon stopped to reverse it's stroke. To an outside observer, the form of Sailor Pluto would seem to have been covered in a column of shinning, moving silver: the sunbeam of the attack.

The cherry blossom became apparent almost instantly that the attack began. The cherry blossoms where Ranma had grown up were a gentle pink in colour and you would often see them floating gently to the ground as a wind blew. Small, bright flashes of red began appearing in the sunbeam of Saturn's attack. On the floor, small spots of blood began to appear, gently floating down through the light of the blade's constant movement.

Even as Sailor Moon was calling out for them to stop fighting, the pair separated. Sailor Saturn exploded backwards from her opponent, propelled by the power of the Dead Scream. The one thing that the attack had never been designed to counter was magic. If Setsuna had attempted to flee or fight her off with her staff, Setsuna would have died. As it was, the Guardian Of Time sagging on one knee, a vast multitude of cuts bleeding freely, her clothes in tatters.

The other Outer Senshi were rising to their feet as Sailor Saturn prepared to attack them once more. Everyone was brought up sharply as a young voice filled with fear called out. "No! Its almost here."

Instantly all eyes moved to the portal. Indeed, the red heart of the darkness seemed to be almost ready to arrive. Trying to ignore the ache throughout her body from the point blank attack, combined with a long day of hardship and abuse, Sailor Saturn sprinted up to the dais that the portal was mounted on.

"Stay here, Queen Serenity! It's my fault that this thing was able to get here. With my attack I can destroy a world, not even this thing could withstand that."

Without a second look, Sailor Saturn leaped through the portal, going to meet Master Pharaoh 90 on his home ground. Heedless of the protest that the Outer Senshi were making, Sailor Moon charged after her newest ally. "Wait! You can't! The Death Reborn Revolution will kill you! Your too weak!"

Finding her way through the blackness, Sailor Moon was almost with Saturn when one of the bolts of black lightning from Master Pharaoh 90 hit her. They were almost invisible in the surrounding darkness, and it knocked her to the ground instantly. Lying at Sailor Saturn's feet, she pleaded with the girl, even as she knew it was too late.

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


The control room that Tomoe Souichi had spent so much time and effort building exploded. Smoke filled the room, and the sound of flames seemed to come from everywhere. Covering themselves with their arms, the three Outer Senshi looked up in fear. This was not what they had been fighting for. They never wanted Sailor Moon to die. She was their Queen and their friend, no matter how they treated her sometimes.

Sailor Uranus collapsed to her knees next to Neptune and looked into the smoke with eyes streaming tears. Whether the tears were from the harsh smoke or the harsher loss, she did not know and did not care. Then, though through the smoke and darkness, a shape moved. Walking unsteadily towards them was a small figure in a torn, short skirt.

The clouds parted for a moment, and Sailor Moon stepped forwards to the sounds of rejoicing. "I'm alive... we're both alive."

To the Outer's shock, Sailor Moon held out a small cloth covered bundle. Somehow her magic and Sailor Saturn's skill had been enough to save Hotaru's life. Unfortunately, the spell had drained too much of her life energy, reducing her to the age of a new born baby. Once more Sailor Saturn slept until such time as the most powerful and dangerous Senshi was needed.

* * *

Makoto slumped back in her chair as she talked with Rei. The last few days had been just as hectic as before the arrival of Mistress 9. There might not have been any Daimons jumping out of nowhere to attack people, but the Senshi had all had their hands full trying to clean up after the battle.

By the time Sailor Saturn defeated Master Pharaoh 90, almost all of the Inner Senshi had been beaten to unconsciousness. Makoto - Sailor Jupiter - was the last one standing, and she had been fending off the hordes of evil from her vulnerable friends with her fists and feet. Relief had come just as she was feeling that she could take no more. Around her, all the remain Daimons had simply fallen to the ground and dissolved into a red muck that had slowly evaporated.

Since then, the girls had spent their time ensuring that no documents existed from Tomoe's research. The plans for how to bring Master Pharaoh 90 and his kind into this world should never fall into anyone's hands.

Looking over at her sombre looking friend, Makoto tried to cheer her up. "Come on, it's not like Hotaru actually died. She's still alive and kicking. The Outers are just going to be taking care of her until she gets old enough to help us again."

After everyone had recovered from the attack and were at Usagi's place with the new baby Hotaru, Sailor Pluto had appeared before them. She was completely healed from her cuts, and was her usual poised self. With her normal blunt directness, Sailor Pluto had explained that it was the remnants of Mistress 9 and Saturn Knight in her mind that had caused Sailor Saturn to attack the Outers. Now that she was well, the Outer Senshi - the oldest of the magical girl defenders - would look after her and raise her. Hotaru would be able to grow up with them as a normal girl, with a safe future.

Rei looked back at Makoto, finally stirring from her stupor. "I guess. I... I just feel so bad that Saturn Knight had to die to save us. I know that he couldn't have loved me. I know that must have loved Saturn, but it still hurts that he's gone."

Along with all of the other events, Sailor Moon had described to everyone how Saturn Knight had been destroyed by Mistress 9. Almost dead, he had gone up to Mistress9, and she had totally vaporised him. However, his sacrifice had allowed Sailor Saturn to break free of Mistress 9 and save Chibi-Usa, then go on to save the world.

"I'm sorry too, Rei-chan. I never knew him like you did, but if I have to die, I'd want to do it saving the world and the woman I loved. It makes it all worth while."

Rei opened her mouth to say something else, but Ukyo appeared around the corner of the building. "Hi, guys."

"Hey." Makoto and Rei stood up and walked with Ukyo out of the temple. It had been four days since Ranma had disappeared, and no-one had managed to find a single trace of him anywhere. Cologne and Shampoo were almost out of their minds looking for him, dropping into the temple at least once a day to see if he had arrived.

Nobody had told the Amazons about what had happened to Hotaru yet. Usagi was still trying to think up a good excuse. Since Cologne was such a good friend of the girl, everyone agreed that they had to be told. Although Pluto was against it, Usagi had told Rei and Makoto that tomorrow she would tell Cologne a little of the truth about Hotaru, and ask if she wanted to be the girl's god-mother or something. Raising a child was a difficult task, and the Outers would want all the help they could get, even if they did not admit it.

Today Ukyo, Makoto and Rei were going to go though the Tomoe house and look for clues for Ranma. The two Senshi realised that a lot of the place had already been searched, but that was to find information first on Chibi-Usa, then to destroy Tomoe's research. Now they needed clues on Ranma's whereabouts. Ukyo had already been given an abridged version of what had happened to Hotaru when they had seen her appear at the Tomoe place the morning after the disaster at Mugen Academy's tower.

Using the key that she had borrowed from Michiru, Rei let them into the house. Ukyo gasped at the complete disarray that everything was in. No- one had cleaned since the Senshi had searched the place, and it looked like a team of vandals had been through. Delicately, the three girls stepped over various obstacles on the ground and began searching.

Moving carefully through the house from the front door to the back, the three girls searched everywhere. After a while it became apparent to Rei and Makoto that they were very fortunate to have brought Ukyo along. The girl's Senshi forms were much stronger, and when they had previously searched the house to look for clues about Chibi-Usa, they had not been tidy. Where a Senshi could easily move a bookshelf or cupboard to search behind it, now the two younger girls had to rely on the startlingly strong chef to move things for them.

Being slow, methodical and thorough, it took them until almost lunch time before the reached Hotaru's bedroom. Although they knew that it would be likely to contain information on Hotaru, they wanted to be sure that they searched everything. If they had looked in Hotaru's room first, they might have found one clue and ran off with that, missing so other vital fact hidden elsewhere. It was with heavy hearts that the three girls entered Hotaru's room, because although they had not expected to find many clues, they had not even found one clue yet, not a single hint of any form.

"Hey, aren't those the pictures of Akane-san that Ami-chan told us about?"

"I guess you're right, they must be. You know, Mako-chan, she really does look like Ami with that hair cut."

Ukyo walked over to look closely at the three pictures hanging on the wall that the other two had been discussing. She pointed at the third picture along. "But I thought Ranma's wife was Akane... How can this be her if she's that old?"

Rei answered as she walked over to the cupboard and opened it so she could search. "No... Well, yes, his wife was Akane, but this isn't her. Isn't his wife, I mean. These are some pictures that had been in Hotaru-chan's family for three hundred years, I think. Hotaru-chan told Ami-chan that the woman in the pictures was also called Akane. It must have been a popular name in her family."

The three looked through the room in silence for a couple of minutes before a startled gasp brought their attention back to Rei. Gathering around her, the two taller girls looked down on her as she knelt on the floor. She was sobbing softly and was clutching something to her chest. Moving slightly, Ukyo could see a flash of bright red, shiny fabric. "Is that one of Ranma's shirts?"

Certainly the fabric looked like the red silk that Ranma normally wore. With a shake of the head, Rei climbed back to her feet and allowed a long red dress to unfold. Brilliant, fine, red silk set off a design that was elegant in its simplicity. With a modest neckline and a low, scooping back, the dress was full length, reaching the floor as Rei held it by the shoulders. Although they were not the ones holding it, Ukyo and Makoto could tell that it was exceptionally well sown, the seams hardly showing. A dress of such fine fabric and remarkable sewing would be worth a small fortune, surely.

What puzzled the Ukyo and Makoto most was why Hotaru would have such a dress in her cupboard. Obviously the dress was far too large for her. They could hardly think of any reason why it would be there, unless it was something that had belonged to Hotaru's mother. But then, why would Rei be crying? Makoto moved beside her friend and place and arm around her shoulder comfortingly. "What's the matter, Rei?"

Silently, Rei turned the dress slightly so that Makoto could see the small tag that was pinned to the back of the dress. Makoto read aloud for Ukyo's benefit. "To dear Rei-san. I made this dress for you, and I hope everything goes well on your d... date with Ranma." Makoto paused and looked gave Rei a shocked look. "You got Ranma to agree to go out on a date with you?"

Rei nodded as she silently sat on the end of the bed, still holding the dress to her. She might not have actually gotten Ranma's agreement, but if Hotaru believed that he would go out with her, Rei knew that the date was as good as hers. She had not tried on the dress, but she somehow suspected that little Hotaru had gotten it right. What hurt even more was the fact that for all her care and effort - and it must have been a monstrous effort for her to complete it in the time she had - Hotaru might never get to see her wearing it.

A clank from across the room announced Ukyo sitting down on the floor as her battle spatula knocked against a wall. "I... I thought it might have just been me. I really did. You both know how I got engaged to Ranma, don't you?"

When the others nodded, she continued. "As soon as my engagement was agreed on with Hotaru-chan's foster parents at the time, both her and Ranma vanished. I know that most of us have been trying to get Ranma to go out with us for months now. Every time I've asked him, he's just changed the subject. Shampoo says he almost runs away from her some times. I think that old woman, Cologne, is probably the only woman he doesn't run away from.

"What I'm trying to say is... What if Ranma found out that Hotaru-chan was trying to get him to go on a date with you? Even if he wanted it, maybe... maybe all the pressure frightened him. I guess... what if he ran away again? What if he's that afraid of commitment?"

The others just sat in silence as they tried to come to grips with what Ukyo had just suggested. Especially since it had a frightening ring of truth to the speculation.

* * *

Kaiou Michiru opened the door the home that she shared with her friend Haruka and looked around. They had been considering moving out together for a while, and now that they were taking care of Hotaru, it seemed to make so much more sense. When she could not see anyone outside, she started to close the door, only to be stopped by the sound of a brief cough. Looking down she saw the most ancient and withered woman she had ever had the misfortune to lay her eyes upon.

"I'm sorry, Madam. I did not see you there. Can I help you?"

After pushing the door wide open with her staff, the ancient woman jumped onto the wooden stick that was almost as creased as her face, and hopped down the hallway of Michiru's home. "Yes, you can help me. Where is Tomoe Hotaru?"

Feeling slightly silly at being intimidated by such a old and fragile looking woman, Michiru closed the door and followed the old woman back to the living room where she had already encountered Haruka. Standing on her cane, the old woman still did not reach head height of the two women, so she looked up at them with a frown on her face.

"I shall ask you again. Where is Tomoe Hotaru?"

Haruka crossed her arms over her chest and looked at the woman. Something about the old woman suggested strength and inner confidence causing Haruka to subconsciously maintain a safe distance initially.

"Hotaru-chan is sleeping. Who are you and why have you barged in here?"

"My name is Cologne... just Cologne. I am a Matriarch of the Joketsuzoku Amazons, and I am Hotaru's sister."

Michiru, who had been standing in the hallway that Cologne had just walked through spluttered and covered up a laugh. "Excuse me please, Cologne-san. Aren't you just a little old to be Hotaru's sister?"

"All women in the Amazon village are sisters. Even if that were not true, Hotaru is a member of our village and I am the village's leader. When I heard that something had happened to her and that the two of you had decided to raise her, I came here immediately. I request that you release Hotaru and allow her to come with me."

"I'm sorry Cologne-san, but that's not something that we can do. Haruka and I have been appointed Hotaru-chan's legal guardians. Not only that, but we love the little girl. I can't just give her up to you."

Cologne snorted. "I find that hard to believe. Less than a week ago Hotaru was a twelve year old girl, and now she is a baby. Somehow I find it doubtful that the two of you have grown to love her in that time. It is even less likely that you have managed to force all that paperwork through the ponderous Japanese bureaucracy in that time."

Looking around the recently furnished home, Cologne took in the fine quality of the furniture and it's apparent newness. "When I was told that she had been somehow afflicted to return to a baby, and that a Kaiou Michiru was now her registered mother, I became immediately suspicious. I must admit, the strange circumstances in which the two of you have suddenly decided to start a new home together with her does little to inspire my confidence. It would be much better for all involved if you would simply hand her over. We shall go back to China and you need never worry about her again."

A third voice came from the other exit to the living room attracted everyone's attention. It was soft, but filled with the strength of steel. "That would not be advisable. Hotaru shall stay here."

Cologne sucked in her breath, it was rare for her to be surprised in this day and age, but when it came to her friend Hotaru, there seemed to be no end to the surprises. "Mistress Senshi! Hotaru's friend had mentioned that your group was involved..."

Sailor Pluto nodded her head and slowly looked around the room, taking in each of the three occupants. She recognised Cologne from the time that she had learned the cure to the Xai Fang Gao Shiatsu technique, but she was fairly confident that neither Haruka nor Michiru had ever met the old woman before. After a pause, she focused on Cologne and gave the guest her full attention.

"My name is Sailor Pluto, and I am one of the Sailor Senshi. It was by her involvement with the recent evil that threatened Tokyo that Hotaru- chan was... injured. It was at my personal request that these two are taking care of the child."

Unconsciously, Cologne nodded her head along with Sailor Pluto. She knew that Ranma had been tied up in the affair with Mistress 9 and the Daimons. It was also obvious that the Sailor Senshi had been involved. Someone would need to be particularly dense - or never watch the news or read a paper - to miss the fact that the girls were fighting a war on a regular basis.

"But why choose these two? Surely that matter is now resolved. Hotaru would be raised much better in my village along with the people that truly understand her."

"I can understand your concern, but this decision has been made with the best interests of everyone at heart. I have been told that you were aware of Mistress 9's possession of Hotaru... Good, then you should be aware that these two have also been briefed on the more pertinent facets of what has happened. They have been told to keep a specific watch on Hotaru so that no relapse can occur, and so that she can be able to be raised as a normal child."

"Hotaru is hardly a normal child."

"Truly, that is so. However, it is only here in Tokyo that Sailor Moon will be available to help her whenever it is needed. I and the other Senshi shall keep a close watch on these two and Hotaru and ensure that there is no danger to them or anyone else."

Cologne went silent and thought for a while. What they said was true, but she could not shake the feeling that she should take Hotaru back to the Amazon village. Perhaps, in time, she might be able to help bring back the friend that she once had. She did not even know whether Ranma's curse still existed. Was this Hotaru - a body torn apart from Ranma when Mistress 9 broke his curse - or was it Ranma in his cursed form? No-one had found Ranma's body anywhere, so Cologne maintained hope that somewhere deep inside the girl's mind her friend still existed.

Looking from the two women who lived here and were pretending to be Hotaru's new parents and back to Sailor Pluto, Cologne struggled to find the right answer within herself. When she had first come here, she had been prepared to take Hotaru with her by force if necessary. Two girls who were still school age would be no match for someone of her power. A Sailor Senshi was another matter entirely. Setting aside the possibility - maybe even probability - that Cologne would be defeated, it raised the question of whether she was right in her course of action. The Senshi fought for love and justice. Even Cologne had been saved on more that one occasion by the girls, and their protection and patronage of Hotaru was something that she could not easily discount.

Reaching a reluctant conclusion, Cologne looked up at Sailor Pluto and slowly nodded her head. "I... will accept this arrangement. However, in the years to come, I or someone from my village will come here and educate Hotaru in our ways. There is much that she must learn, from fighting to village laws and secret techniques known only to the Amazons."

Sharing a glance Haruka and Michiru nodded. Surely in a few years time Cologne would have forgotten about Hotaru. Would she really be willing to put in the effort of coming to Japan from her little village in China just to train the girl? Not only that, but Hotaru had always been such a weak and sickly girl; when her first lessons in martial arts arrived, she would almost certainly decide to end it herself.

"If I may, I would like some time with Hotaru alone."

That request did not go over as well. It was only with the prodding of Sailor Pluto that Haruka finally acquiesced to Cologne being in the same room as their adopted daughter by themselves. Escorting Cologne to the bedroom, she closed the thin wooden door and stood on the other side with Michiru and Pluto. If they heard anything strange, they would be inside before Cologne could possibly act.

Cologne looked down into the little Hotaru's crib and reached out one withered hand to shake the little girl awake. When Hotaru's large purple eyes looked up at her and the baby's face curled into a childish look of fun, Cologne almost cried aloud with pleasure. Her enthusiasm was too early, as that was all Hotaru did. She did not suddenly speak with Ranma's cocky attitude. She did not complain, she did not even move to greet Cologne. All baby Hotaru did was gurgle slightly and drool from the corner of her mouth.

Reaching out a gentle hand, Cologne cleaned up her friend in much the same way that Hotaru must have done when she first looked after Cologne, back in the Amazon village all those centuries ago. "Ranma? Hotaru? Soap? Can you hear me? Are you in there?"

The baby gurgled again and reached up with small, grasping hands to grip Cologne's green robe. "Oh, my dear friend... How far you have been brought down."

With eyes slowly shedding tears, Cologne walked back to Hotaru's new parents and bid them goodbye with hardly a word. She had never realised just how hard it would be to see her friend reduced to such a state. Ranma had always been so strong. Always so far beyond everyone else. Now she had been reduced to this. Even Ranma's remarkable Ki seemed to have vanished.

With a heavy heart, Cologne slowly walked back to the Nekohaten. She did not hop on her stick as she usually did, the whole effort needed just did not seem justified in the face of the loss she had just suffered. Withdrawing one hand from her robe, she looked at the parchment scroll that Ranma had given her only a week ago. He had wanted her to look after the Saotome Secret Techniques in case something happened to him. Something had happened, and she was deeply tempted to break the seal then and begin to read of his noble history.

A sudden resolve made her place the scroll back in her robe and Cologne continued homewards. Hotaru was still alive, and Hotaru was Ranma. Maybe. There was still a chance that he would return some day. She would return, and she would wait for twelve years before she opened the scroll. Deep within her, Cologne hoped that with all her might that when Ranma returned to the proper age of his cursed form, he might be granted with return of his old memories and abilities.

Shampoo was waiting for her with packed bags when she returned to the restaurant. Before Cologne had left, the two had discussed their options. There was still a good chance that they might find Shampoo a husband if they stayed in Japan longer, but neither really believed that they would find one to match Ranma. It would be better for both of them if they returned to their village and let their wounds heal. Time would allow Shampoo to love again, and in time she would find a husband.

For the last four days, Cologne had reassured Shampoo that her actions had not hurt either her little sister Hotaru nor her intended husband Ranma. They might have caused a few complications, but the events that followed had been set in motion long before Shampoo had acted. It had soothed the girl's conscience, but Shampoo had sworn never to use the Xai Fang Gao technique ever again.

"Let us go home, Great Granddaughter. For now, Ranma is as far beyond our reach as the dead."

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 25 of 26

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