Continuing Tales

Dark Kingdom Renegades 9: Thy Kingdom Come

A Sailor Moon Story
by Mark Latus

Part 8 of 12

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Thy Kingdom Come

Lady Azurite glanced around the devastated bedroom and shook her head once again. Magnesite? She was definitely going to have a long talk with Titanite. In the meantime she seemed to have learned everything she could in here. She'd had memory crystals in the mirror removed and had finished playing them back, fast forwarding to the arrival of the senshi. Her deputies had already collected the main scanning records. The records were vague, thanks to Hermes interference, but that wasn't the important point. What was important was she had determined that they hadn't been duplicated. That would make containing the rumours easier. Or at least the accuracy of the rumours regarding Sailor Polaris. Not that she had any better idea than anyone else what had happened but she knew who to ask. Before she could act on that thought she was interrupted by the arrival of one of her underlings.

"Azurite ...?" Vercrin, the commander of the Sable security division enter and bowed. As a divisional commander he was high ranking enough to not use her title, a privilege he took every opportunity to demonstrate to anyone listening. His efficiency more than compensated for his arrogance. Besides a youma who didn't revel in privilege would be someone to watch. Humility and quiet servitude meant they were plotting something. She nodded her acknowledgement.

"Go ahead."

"We've finished the interviews with the survivors, not that it took very long given their numbers. As you predicted all the survivors attacked anyone other than Hermes in the frontal assault and got clear before Zeus arrived for the mop up. The attack pattern seems to have indicate a definite division within the group. Hermes and Zeus were killing everything in their path while the others seemed to be more interested in getting here. Indeed they appear to have avoided finishing off the seriously injured which is rather curious."

"Very. A qualm Zeus obviously didn't share."

"Exactly so Azurite. Though that does bring up the question that all the survivors fled or crawled from the combat zones. If we don't take action won't that promote cowardice within our forces?"

She shook her head, "Withdrawing from battle because of combat injuries is prudence not cowardice. Punishing that is the sort of foolishness Beryl used. Any survivors who fought and suffered injuries before escaping are to be commended. Of course anyone who fled at the mere sight of the senshi is useless to us. They're fair game."

"As you command. There are three survivors who claim to have been rendered unconscious during the attack and possess no apparent injuries. Should I have them interrogated further?"

"That can wait. First I want to hear about the attack itself."

"Very good. Well once security realized the Palace had been breached they sent in the troops. Youma only as human guards are only useful for keeping the humans in line. The first on the scene got wiped out by Hermes. Those who saw them go down set their shields to energy mode and passed the word. After which the first squad charged in with an exaggerated sense of invulnerability."

Azurite nodded. The shield medallions were something of a two edged sword. Youma equipped with them had been able to make mincemeat out of the human forces equipped with kinetic weaponry. For the most part anyway, kinetic shielding hadn't been effective against things like flamethrowers. They'd prevent the fire from reaching you but the heat would broil you inside your force shield. The main problem with Dark Kingdom shield technology was the difficulty in shielding against kinetic impact and radiant energy simultaneously. The shield harmonics conflicted and could only be merged by someone with extraordinary power reserves to balance them. Short of the Overlord there was no one known who could. Not that she hadn't tried herself. When Pyrite had first created the prototype shields she had experimented to see if she could use a medallion to generate one field type while she generated its' opposite. The feedback would have killed her if she hadn't aborted the experiments early. But double shielding hadn't been Pyrite's goal. His objective was to make youma capable of standing up to contemporary human weaponry and it had been a resounding success. The only drawback was the youma began to overestimate the medallion's capabilities and learned the hard way that it was possible to overload the shields. For example taking on tanks without waiting for their own armour to support them. Direct hits by heavy ordinance weren't survivable. Taking on senshi had similar risks.

"So the first wave charges them, except for the smart ones who find cover before attacking, and start shooting soon as the senshi are in the open."

Vercrin nodded. "Naturally most of them got wiped out right away. Hermes had the highest death toll. Some were blasted by the ... uh false senshi."

That was the current official line. Hermes and Zeus had clearly recruited human girls, equipped them with magic to simulate senshi attacks and dressed them like their late comrades. "Some died when their shields overloaded, others were just stunned and lived until Zeus mopped them up. As for the smarter youma ... naturally they were using radiant shielding in addition to firing from cover. Unfortunately at least two of the intruders were using kinetic weaponry."

"Which someone should have anticipated. It's not like Zeus and Hermes haven't combined forces with armed humans before!"

"There were no visible weapons nor was scanning picking any up."

Azurite frowned. "The scanning system was scrambled and there are such things as concealed weapons. I'm going to have to review security procedures here, might be some dead wood that needs chopping. Anyway that's a worry for later. Continue with your report."

"Very good. As I said two of the intruders began using kinetic weaponry against the snipers. Guided kinetic weapons to be precise. One was using some sort of TK force sphere ..." That, Azurite thought, would be the one who identified herself as Sailor Polaris. Who seems to be the key to this whole fiasco. Whoever the hell she really was. "The other was using some sort of glowing discus ... we haven't identified it yet ..."

"Moon Tiara Action."

Confusion filled the apelike face, "Excuse me Commander, I don't ...?"

"Check the files on Sailor Moon's attack techniques. On second thoughts don't bother, I've got something else in mind for you. So they picked off the snipers?"

Eager to reassert himself, Vercrin resumed, "Yes, my lady. Both attacks were very effective but seem to have varied between being stunning and lethal. A restraint not previously noted among human rebels. We also have some reports of something like maces or a related blunt instrument being used. While we found damage inflicted by them there was no trace of the weapons themselves. I speculate the artifacts were psychoplasm and subsequently dissolved but this is just a theory. Further investigation ..."

"Is unnecessary. Leave it." Vercrin looked a little nervous. He'd been getting the idea maybe he was learning a little too much. Which could mean his career was coming to an abrupt end.

"Very good." After a moment's silence Azurite handed him the sealed case holding the crystal recordings. "You will take these to the Citadel and present them to the Overlord personally. Do not give them to anyone else or let them out of your sight! Here's your authorization to see him." She gave him the encoded gemstone which colours rippled through in a seemingly random sequence. "It includes my recommendation that he erase your memory of recent events to ensure this remains a Dark Circle only matter. Which may seem unduly harsh but is a necessary precaution." Vercrin grinned, showing his fangs.

"Considering the alternative I am happy to cooperate!"

"It's bad policy to dispose of useful tools. And you wouldn't be working for me if you weren't too good to waste."

"Thank you for your confidence. It is unfortunate I will not remember this."

"Life is full of disappointments. Now get going." Dismissed, Vercrin bowed again and withdrew, heading for the nearest functional teleporter stage. Her authorization would get him an immediate warp to the Citadel though passing through security would slow him down. Only the Dark Circle could enter the Overlord's headquarters without hindrance. Including Magnesite though he was always kept under discrete surveillance while present. Currently he was back in Sydney overseeing his domain ... and undoubtably wondering about the mystery senshi he'd encountered. Speaking of whom ...

Azurite touched a gemstone on her wristband and the privacy screen surrounded her. While transparent from within this force shield appeared an impenetrable black from outside. It also blocked all sound from leaving so no one outside could spy on her. With that she activated the special communicator built into the band. This was a working tool but she generally wore it always, or at least had it handy at all times. Pyrite had limited this communication band to the inner circle alone. Magnesite had never heard of it, no one outside the true circle had. It was supposedly impossible to intercept or decrypt without one of the other three communicators. The signal was audio only, unlike the telepathic pagers built into the encoded portraits on Titanite's bedroom wall. Created by the Overlord they would only respond to Titanite's touch. She had her own set in her own headquarters but preferred not to use them. While they would always reach the recipient she didn't like anyone inside her head and assumed they felt likewise. Besides saving them for emergency contact only was the intention and the current situation, while troubling, didn't qualify. So this signal wouldn't reach Pyrite immediately unless he had his communicator handy but she could live with that. If need be she could always teleport to the Citadel and find him herself.

A few seconds passed before a familiar voice answered. "What's up Azurite?" Which meant he wasn't alone or it'd be "Azure".

"I've finished the investigation this end. Vercrin's on his way to Calcite with all the recordings from this end."

"You could have sent him directly to me." A slight hint of reproach.

"He needs a memory wipe."

"Ah! uhm, is that really necessary?"

"You tell me. I still don't know what we're dealing with so I'm doing a bit of rumour control. All anybody here knows is Hermes and Zeus attacked with human mages dressed as senshi. They were too busy fighting to name themselves so that doesn't raise any questions with the staff. But I've got plenty of my own, most of them concerning Sailor Polaris."

A familiar voice chimed in, "Yeah, I want to know how she was shutting down my security system! Not to mention why Shadow wouldn't blast her! How can you say there's nothing wrong with him? What in the Abyss is going on?" Well now she knew who was with him.

"I'm still working on that cousin. Excuse me." Azurite heard the soft hum of Pyrite's privacy screen activating. Now that they were alone she asked, "You've seen images of this Sailor Polaris?"

"Yes. Shadow has an accesible memory so I was able to review it from his perspective. I got sight and sound of her. Calcite and Titanite watched it with me. It was after we saw her that he ordered you to scramble to the Palace and investigate."

"I thought it was something like that." A pause then she asked, "Titanite still doesn't have a clue who Sailor Polaris looks like?"

"Not in the slightest. Still to be fair how often do you expect to see yourself outside the mirror?"

"I can see that might create a mental blindspot. But that doesn't answer the question of who she was and where she came from."

"I'm still working on that but I do have a theory."

She snorted, "So no progress yet. That's what you told me a couple of hours ago."

"Not quite. Then I told you I had theories. I've eliminated all but one of them."

"Which is?"

"Which is still being investigated. It's fairly outlandish so no one's hearing it until I'm sure."

Her voice turned sultry, "Oh I'll bet I could get it out of you with a little work." Then she went businesslike, "But bantering aside I need answers. I can hardly put out a security alert on Titanite but if this lookalike can beat our security systems then we've got a major breach. I've quietly put the word out to report her appearances at any of the major bases as we fear the senshi might try an assassination attempt. Long as the real Titanite stays at the Citadel that should prevent the fake from being able to stay anywhere too long. But it won't keep her out and there's no saying how much damage she can do in the meantime."

"For now that's all you can do. All I can say is that if my theory's right it won't make things much easier."

"Thank you, that's really encouraging."

"Oh? Azure, I seem to recall you complaining about a lack of challenges not too long ago."

"Heh, you've got me there. Well, like the humans say, 'Be careful what you wish for, you might get it'! Getting back to our problem, what do the replicas have to say?"

"Nothing yet, they're still out cold."

She frowned, that was odd. "Calcite didn't wake them up?"

She sensed him shaking his head. "Nope. Decided that they might have implanted memories to confuse us further. He wants me to work it out based on the evidence. Then we'll wake them up and see if their version of events matches the facts. If so fine, if not then we'll have to do a bit of deep mindprobing. It should be interesting. Coming back to take a look?"

"Much as I'd like to I've got other things take care of. My deputies can handle the wrap up but I've got a problem in my own dominion to take care of."

"Oh? I hadn't heard."

She chuckled briefly, "Security is my responsibility. Letting word leak out about a rebellion wouldn't be a good move. So no one outside Argentina has heard about it. Well, except for Calcite and long as it stays quiet and gets squashed quickly he's not worried."

Azurite sounded confident except Pyrite couldn't understand how a rebellion could have got going in the first place. "What happened?"

"Pure bad luck combined with bad timing and local superstitions. Another human spontaneously developed mage abilities but this one didn't go up in flames during transition. This was while all the bosses were away at the party. To make matters worse she managed to toast a couple of lowers who got careless and decided to handle her themselves. If the morons hadn't got overconfident ... well anyway this was very public and they've got some sort of goddess/mother of the country hangup down there so suddenly word's spreading about a second coming. First I know of it is when I get a call about mass insurrection in the Buenos Aires enclave after you've rushed off to the Citadel. They'd been trying to handle it without letting me know and botched the whole thing. You know how it is, we've got the power and the weapons but they've got the numbers. And when they get fired up enough to die for a cause it complicates things. Then before I can crush it personally I get a call from Calcite and wind up examining the Palace. So I ran a few containment measures. All our installations are sealed behind force shields and all the youma have been evacuated. We've cut all the communication links in and out except for concealed videofeed and surrounded it with a battleline. >From the images we're getting they think they've driven us off. Fools! If I couldn't handle it Calcite could just level everything within 100 km. But humans can be really slow learners."

Pyrite's voice was dry and controlled, "So are you planning to retake the city and just have all the rebels shot?"

"No." It was surprising, Pyrite thought, just how much death can be crammed into one syllable.

"Ah." He didn't think he'd sounded at all disapproving but she'd caught it anyway.

"Pyr, this is necessary. If we're going to hold this planet then we have to do more than convince the humans that raising their hands against us is equivalent to suicide. We have to convince them that it also signs the death warrant of everyone they care about! Sure Calcite can crush all opposition but we want to rule the world not destroy it which means we've got to avoid the overkill option. I have to squash them flat in a way that would make Beryl squirm. That's why I've let them think they're winning. When we show the other human enclaves that victory and hope crushed into despair and terror they'll know what happens when they defy us. This is necessary! We can't win without getting our hands dirty! And we can't afford to lose, not with what's at stake!"

Pyrite felt a flush of shame, how dare he disapprove of her! "I'm sorry Azure. I know all this intellectually and Abyss knows I've done terrible things to the humans in my dominion to maintain order. I'm just ... It's just ... I wish we didn't have to do it this way. But you're right, there was no other way! If only ... but we could never have coexisted with them anymore than the ... other youma."

"Ah Pyrite ...", her voice was soft and understanding. "You're too gentle for what we've made you do. I wish there was a way to spare you this but ..." A moment of silence then, "But you've never failed us and I'm proud of you for that. Compassion for the humans isn't weakness it's just ... inappropriate. You're stronger than you think, don't underestimate yourself." After a pause she chuckled and added, "Well that's enough serious talk and I've got to go convince my commanders I'm scarier than Beryl. Soon as we're through here I'll join you. My place or yours?"

"I think neither." That took her by surprise but he continued, "I want you with me but it might be a good idea for the four of us to hang around the Citadel for the next little while. Better call in Magnesite too just in case. "

That meant assembling the entire Dark Circle in Calcite's headquarters. But why? Why would her physical presence be required given hololinks and being able to teleport there in an instant? What was going on? "I gather you have things to tell me."

"Oh yes. I should know for sure by the time you've finished mopping up. Then you'll get your chance to make me tell you."

"Oh you'll tell me. I can be very persuasive!"

"Looking forward to it. I love you."

Three little words that youma weren't supposed to say. But then they weren't normal youma, they were something better. "And I love you. But now duty calls. I'll see you later." Pyrite signed off and she deactivated the privacy screen to find her deputies waiting for orders. She told them to investigate the three possible cowardice cases but not to take action without her authorization. She also made it clear she wanted the facts and they would suffer if they falsified the answers. As she had a reputation for being cruel but fair this didn't surprise them. The fair part was a little unusual but you couldn't argue with success and it was a good quality in the youma who held the power of life and death over you. Azurite vanished and they got busy.

Azurite materialized in the command post and her officers snapped to attention. "Report." The infantry, cavalry and air force commanders spoke simultaneously.

"Lady Azurite, all troops are in place and awaiting your orders."

"Your Ladyship, all available armour is in position and will move on your word."

"Azurite, we are ready to launch and turn the enclave into a massacre."

"My ... Your troops are ready to storm the enclave."

"On your signal we will crush them into the ground!" The three youma commanders began to squabble about who would strike the first blow and restore the enclave to their ... her hands.

"Enough!" They all shut up abruptly and awaited her orders. Amusement showed in her red eyes. "The first blow against the humans will be struck by me." They fell over themselves agreeing this was an excellent plan. "After that ... " She strode over to the situation map and began tapping highlighted areas. "The first stage is a rapid end to armed resistance. Raphomn (air) you will strike these targets within the enclave, here, here and here. Simultaneously the third and fourth armoured units will strike these strongholds on the perimeter. After that your job will be to contain the humans within the borders. I don't want the enclave flattened."

Chophra, the infantry Commander preened. "Very wise my Lady. You wish us to occupy the city and restore order?"

Raphomn and Werda looked at one another then tried to grab a little more glory. "Lady Azurite, surely the humans will need more of a lesson than this?"

"If we rain death from above ..."

"And bring the walls down on top of them ..."

They both stopped at her look. "You misunderstand gentlemen. I am not going to settle for killing a few rebels then put the remaining humans back to work. I want to turn Buenos Aires into a nightmare! I want humans to scream when they simply hear the name. Armour and air power aren't right for the job. They're too impersonal and they used to do that sort of thing to each other all the time. They're jaded by death in that fashion, we need something more extreme. Listen well, Chophra ..."

"My Lady?"

"Once the city is secured I want 10,000 rounded up for energy drain." She nodded towards the other commanders. "You two will keep the selected humans under control until they are processed by the mobile energy drainers. They are in position? Excellent, waste not, want not. That'll more than make up for the energy we expend in the assault. After the roundup ..." Somewhere deep inside she quailed but her voice remained firm, "Chophra after that your troops are free to do what they like to the humans!"

He looked puzzled, "My Lady?"

"I want massacre, savagery and brutality. I want horror beyond anything the humans can imagine. I want to show every human left in the world the consequences of defiance. I want something that will kill all thoughts of rebellion forever. Is that quite clear?"

Chophra's wolflike face split in a wide grin that exposed his fangs. "Yes Ma'am. Thank you Ma'am!"

Raphomn and Werda glared at him. Lucky bastard, a license to commit atrocity. Some youma got all the lucky breaks. Well that was life, they'd just have to run as wild as possible during their attack runs.

Azurite arrived at the well shielded forward post. In the distance she could make out humans on their improvised barricades. Including the mage. Human mages had been a factor they hadn't considered when they restored magic to the world. Especially as they had flooded the world with dark mana. But it seemed a few of the old necromancer bloodlines had survived which meant a scattered few individuals capable of spontaneously tapping into the mana flow Calcite radiated. Most of them couldn't handle the influx of power and incinerated themselves. A few survived and a few of them could access their new powers instinctively. No great threat, none of the mages approached senshi power levels but they were a nuisance. More importantly they gave the humans something to rally around. Sadly they hadn't beaten rebellion out of humanity yet. Many had given up but there were still those waiting for a saviour. Like this mage. Azurite snorted, a saviour!? Hah! If the humans knew anything about magic they'd know just how weak she was.

Azurite touched the scrying crystal before her and took a closer look at the mage. Younger than she'd expected, scared but more afraid of looking like a coward than facing the youma. Holding a christian icon and seemed to be praying. She obviously had no idea of the true source of her power! She was looking towards Azurite's position, probably wondering why the youma didn't counterattack. She and the other rebels were about to find out what the youma were waiting for. Azurite glanced at the heap before her that had been prepared for her use. The finely ground "unbreakable" glass twinkled in the dim light from above. She reached out a shielded hand and let it sift between her fingers. Without the force shield she'd have just slashed her hands to pieces on the razor sharp fragments.

"I will show you fear in a handful of dust", she murmured. It was a quote from a human poem, one that seemed appropriate to this moment. She'd become interested in human literature lately. Fascinating stuff. Most youma thought there was nothing to learn from the humans. Fools, there was much humanity had done that eclipsed their own race's accomplishments. It was no weakness to admit the humans had things to teach them. But they couldn't see that. It was as Calcite had said, the other youma were the inferior breed, not them. Their kind was the best and brightest, a fusion of the best qualities of human and youma. It was only fitting that they ruled. At the beginning she'd been uncertain but now, every day, it became more and more obvious. And things like what she was about to do became easier.

She concentrated and started the air swirling. The ground glass began to stir. Her power rose and she built her own whirlwind. But what filled this vortex was deadlier than any dust devil. She felt her energy peak and threw the storm towards the barricade. This should ensure no one thought she was going soft. Bolts of raw unfocused power tore through the hurricane as the untrained mage tried to deflect it. Azurite chuckled.

"Don't cry for me Argentina. I'll settle for cowering in terror." She heard the mage shriek as the storm fell upon her. Another human quote came to mind which she paraphrased. "You have sown the wind and shall inherit the razorwind!" The barricade before her was lifeless, she turned back to her waiting commanders. "Stop gaping and start the attack!" They leapt to obey her. Now that was how it should be.

It's best not dwell on what followed.

Sometime later at the North Pole a gang of shivering human workers were startled by the sudden appearance of the Dark Circle. Despite the layers of insulated clothing the cold had wormed its' way to their bones so they wanted nothing more than to finish the cleanup and get back through the gateway. Normally they served on the other side of the gateway within the old palace, keeping things tidy for the odd visitor. They didn't tend to leave the palace, Dark Kingdom wildlife was heavy on threats and predators which didn't distinguish between human and youma. Leaving the shielded palace grounds wasn't advised. The youma never bothered tracking servants who fled into the Kingdom. They didn't have to. It wasn't such a bad life. Plenty of food and few youma around. Just show them plenty of deference and obedience and you were okay. Most of the time anyway.

Occasionally they got sent through the gateway to clear away the snow which piled up and obscured the ice pillars. The Overlord had decreed the frozen senshi should remain visible to all who came to see them. What they were removing now wasn't snow. They'd cleared the snowpiles around the three pillars before the party. Very little snow had collected yet but after the celebration when some of the youma had staggered the short distance from the dimensional gate to the teleport stage they had stopped to pay their respects as they passed the senshi. It had undoubtably seemed hilarious to them but then most youma don't have a sophisticated sense of humour.

So driven by the cold they'd been hurrying through their task when the seven figures materialized on the teleport pad. Not wishing to be punished they'd stopped working and bowed automatically. Then they realised just who had appeared and prostrated themselves in the snow.

His black aura rippling around him the Overlord had stepped from the pad and glanced momentarily at the ice columns. He showed little interest, not surprising after all this time. The catwoman draping herself around him seemed amused. Princess Titanite had stared at them with what must be gloating enjoyment until nudged forward by Lady Azurite. She favoured the pillars with a single bored glance then let her eyes drop. Lord Pyrite kept studying them as he walked, his expression unreadable. Behind the youma trailed two servants, eyes downcast in deference to the masters. The redhead shivered from the cold, not surprising as she wore a loose flowing shift. Her blond companion was equally illdressed for the climate (though her dress was longer, reaching to her knees) but didn't seem to notice until her companion bumped into her hard. Then she began to quake from the cold.

The Overlord had spared a glance to the kneeling and freezing humans and, seemingly bored by the excessive humility, told them, "That's sufficient grovelling. Continue with your task." Eager to finish the humans had risen (while bowing several more times), picked up their ice scrapers and continued removing frozen urine from the entombed senshi's glaciers. Without slowing the Overlord and his party had walked through the glowing dimensional gate and vanished from view.

As soon as the gateway guards had reported who had just arrived Caini, the major domo appointed to supervise the old palace, rushed from his quarters frantically buttoning and straightening his clothes. He dearly wished he'd had a little warning so he could have combed his fur. But that was the least of his worries, in the aftermath of the party the palace was strewn with mess and disorder. The humans were cleaning it up; picking up the garbage, mopping away the more obvious stains, shampooing the carpets, removing the occasional severed limb, vacuuming up the odd dustpile and laundering the condiments out of the ancient tapestries. But the palace still looked like ... well like a lot of youma had been rampaging through the tunnels having fun. Which was only distinguished from a lot of youma rampaging through the hallways waging war by the low number of fatalities. Nothing unusual about the state of the palace but youma lords weren't noted for their understanding natures. If the Overlord felt the place should already be spotless ...! Caini shivered.

Arriving at the great chamber before the Dark Circle sauntered in Caini slowed to a respectful walk and made a last effort and tidying his appearance. He winced as he surveyed the interior. Well it could have been a lot worse and at least the tables and leftover food had been removed. Or rather the food that had remained on the trays as opposed to that currently decorating the floors and walls. Despite the cool air Caini began to sweat.

The doors hummed open and the Overlord and his party entered. As he bowed Caini noted that the guards had been incorrect, this was not the entire Dark Circle. Magnesite was conspicuously absent which left him wondering about the unknown youma. She didn't look like much and he felt a sudden instinctively dislike. Possibly due to his wolflike visage or perhaps from jealousy if she was the new member of the Circle. Regardless he resolved to layer on the respect until he knew her status. She might just be the Overlord's new plaything but she also might soon be the newest of the Overlord's deputies. The real question was, could he benefit from this somehow?

"Your Supremacy, I did not expect you to honour us with your presence so suddenly."

"I was unaware I had to keep you informed of my whereabouts. I'll be more careful in the future." Despite the mildness of the Overlord's voice Caini felt ice forming in his stomach.

"Hahaha, most amusing of your Supremacy. All creation is yours to travel as you will and none would dare deny that. I merely meant ..." What to say? The truth would have to do. "I merely meant that this place is currently unfit for your august person. The servants have not finished their cleanup." Apologetic (but eager to avoid to avoid personal blame) Caini continued, "I have been working the humans as hard as I can but we don't have the numbers we'd need to order things quickly. Under normal circumstances we have more than enough servants but ..." Caini realised this could be considered criticism of whichever member of the Circle had set the staffing numbers for the old palace and choked off this line of thought. Instead he said, "Unfortunately we have to let the humans stop to rest which slows down the process. They're a weak race and beating them can be counterproductive what with their fragility. They cripple or die so easily and that means fewer to do the work. So in line with your overlordship's conservation measures we've been using the threat of punishment rather than punishment as long as they work hard. That seems to be an excellent motivator but it means we have to make allowances for their inferior strength."

From the corner of his eye Caini noted a peculiar expression on Princess Titanite's face. Probably disgusted by the notion of giving humans a break. Fortunately the Overlord said, "I am well aware of human deficiencies and did not expect the Great Chamber to be spotless this soon after a celebration. You are doing a commendable job ..." Caini felt his blood pressure dropping, "... but what I require now is privacy. I want everyone out of here immediately." Before Caini could speak the Overlord held up his hand, "No, I do not require servants. The attendants I have brought with me are more than sufficient." Caini had been ignoring the servants who trailed the Circle and continued to do so. They were beneath his notice. So he didn't see the blonde tuck a few loose brown hairs beneath her wig. Or the redheaded human beside her unobtrusively drive an elbow into her taller companion's side. The blonde winced but took her hand away from her hair without exclamation.

Meanwhile Caini was silently thanking the Abyss for his foresight in having the statue installed as soon as the Overlord and his entourage had departed. The youma had begun departing fairly rapidly as soon as he had left and the chance to impress him had gone. After that they hurried (or at least quickly staggered) back to their fiefs so they could keep an eye on their underlings. As soon as the crowd had thinned he'd had the dias cleared and the statue moved into place. He'd suspected the Overlord might materialize sometime soon to see if his commemorative monument was in place. Of course Caini hadn't expected it to be quite this soon. As he straightened up from his latest bow (during which he'd unobtrusively ordered the servants to leave the great chamber until further notice) he decided to ensure the Overlord noticed his efficiency.

"Before I have your leave to depart I should like to inform your Overlordship that we have installed the monument you so graciously presented at the celebration."

The Overlord's gaze flickered in the direction Caini indicated and he nodded approvingly. "Very good. Your diligence will be rewarded. In the meantime you have my leave to depart." Suppressing a smile Caini backed towards the portal which sealed behind him. For the first time since they'd entered the Dark Kingdom the royal party was alone. After a few moments of silence Lord Pyrite replaced his scrying crystals in his coat and murmured, "All clear. No one's listening."

Titanite let out a deep breath, "Thought he'd never leave. I guess he bought your act Cal!"

"Don't get too relaxed Ti. It'll best not to get too far out of character. So stop fiddling with your wig." This last bit was addressed to Sailor Zeus who grumbled, "This thing's itching like crazy!"

"Leave it Makoto." Zeus glared at the currently redheaded Hermes but complied.

Pyrite nodded with satisfaction, "Looks like the auric simulator works just fine. Told you I could do a reasonable simulation based on Hermes scans."

Calcite nodded. "At least from a distance and among youma who don't meet him very often. Hopefully we won't have to test it under close scrutiny." He might have said more but noticed Azurite was studying his face. "What's wrong?"

"Cal, I hate to say it but the scar's fading."

"Dammit!" For the first time in his life Calcite regretted his healing factor. Normally it was a distinct advantage but under current circumstances ... He really wished he could use a glamour to simulate it but they couldn't risk it being detected. Equally unfortunately no one in the group had ever bothered studying make up and special effects. Being able to simulate Overlord Calcite's one visible difference from him would be a definite plus. "I'll take care of it when we're through. Now let's get down to business." He nodded towards the wall. "I was expecting a lot of paintings and tapestries telling the whole story of how they seized power but it looks like they didn't bother. So much for clues to how they pulled it off."

Hermes snorted. "Do you think they'd tell the other youma how to duplicate their feat?"

"Only in very general terms. Youma expect their leaders to be verbose and grandiose about their plans so the Dark Circle should prove no exception." Calcite sighed then continued, "The simple fact is that from everything you've told us it's hopeless to try beat them in combat. Both ... the Overlord and the Princess outpower all of us combined. So that's not an option. As for the alternative ... the other two are an unknown quantity. The Overlord may have upped their power levels, we simply don't know. Even if they operate on equivalent power levels I can't see replacing them and trying an assassination attempt as being successful. Frankly Azurite's the only one who might pull it off." Pyrite looked as though he might say something but held his peace. It wasn't the slight on his own skills that rankled but rather the risk Azurite would be taking.

Meanwhile Calcite continued, "But even if we manage to locate and replace Lady Azurite there's no saying Azure can eliminate the Overlord. Even if he does let his guard down around her it's still a longshot. We have no idea of the extent of his powers. If his aura defends him automatically as you claim then she's never going to have the opportunity to strike. And getting both him and the Princess at once? No chance! Besides which I can't see them missing the resemblance between their Titanite and Sailor Polaris. Right now things should be confused enough that we've got a window of opportunity for this impersonation. It's not going to last." Pyrite thanked whatever gods might be listening Azure wouldn't get the chance to volunteer for a suicide mission. If she thought it was the only way to protect everyone ... best not to give her the option. Luckily she didn't look disappointed at losing the chance to sacrifice herself selflessly. Heroism was a fine thing as long as you didn't take it too seriously. At least that was his opinion.

As for Calcite he had paused a moment before adding, "Our only real hope is to figure out how he bound Metallia and took it's power. If we can learn that and break the link, even if only temporarily, then we have a chance."

Ti was feeling her confidence draining away. "That uhhh ... that doesn't sound very inspiring."

"Maybe not but it's all we've got. Now let's have a look at this statue and see if it tells us anything." With that he headed for the dias. Titanite sighed and followed, wondering if she'd have preferred a less honest assessment of their chances.

Though she didn't show it as she walked beside Calcite Margrave was feeling very edgy. As soon as they'd arrived in this world she'd felt the same unease that affected her on her first visit. Once again the world seemed filled with a background noise just on the threshold of hearing. A strangely familiar sound that no one else noticed. A sort of wordless whispering, she had the impression she was on the verge of hearing ... something. But what? If it was really there why was she the only one who heard it? The first time They'd passed through this dimension neither Cal nor Ti had heard it. During the wait between Ti's escape from and their return to this world she'd asked Ti if she'd heard it. Ti obviously hadn't noticed it during either visit to this world and had no idea what she was talking about. She'd asked Margrave if she was feeling all right ... snot nosed little renegade brat! Margrave stopped in her tracks. Why had she thought that all of a sudden? Must be this damned noise, getting on her nerves and making her irritable. Well since she couldn't block it out (was it really a sound? It had been just as loud when she plugged her ears) she'd just have to do her best to ignore it. Best not to mention it. Those senshi already loathed this alliance and, while they might grudgingly admit, they needed the others she was surplus to them (not to mention to Azurite). If they thought she was cracking up then they might ... She hid her shudder then realized everyone except Ti had moved on.

"Something wrong?" Margrave felt a flare of anger at the inquiry then squelched it. She must be in a fouler mood than she'd thought.

"Wrong? What could be wrong? This is the Dark Kingdom. It's where I belong." Titanite looked very unconvinced. "Look, let's just say I've got conflicted loyalties right now and leave it at that. Don't look so worried, I'm in no hurry to go back to rejoining the low rank youma. It's just ... oh forget it, let's catch up." Best to change the subject and distract Ti. "Your Princess Titanite act is going to need some work." That did the trick.

"Look, you know I'm no good at acting like ..."

"Like me?"

"Uhm ..."

"Joke. From what you've said she's your basic sadistic evil queen type. So think of a couple of your anime villainesses and try to act like them for a bit. And don't worry if it's over the top, after Beryl that's what youma are expecting."

"Anime bad girls ... hadn't thought of it that way. Maybe I could pull that off for a while." Margrave nodded slightly, you just had to find the right trigger.

"Give it a shot. If you can't handle that try for lofty distain. Just try not to look so shocked." With that they rejoined the others who were gathered around the statue.

Azurite was saying, "Wonder what happened to the throne?"

Calcite shrugged, "Maybe the Overlord had it moved to his throne room. Or maybe he had it converted to something useful like a rockgarden. Why Beryl wanted a throne that looked like it was about to eat her I'll never know."

Zeus frowned, "Eat her?"

"It looked like a demon's head with gaping jaws and lots of teeth. Ugly piece of sculpture. Well, aesthetics aren't a youma strong point. Come to think of it most Kingdom art was ... is pretty tasteless by human standards."

Pyrite speculated, "If the Overlord shares your taste he probably had it destroyed. Though right now we don't now if there's any similarity between you and your counterpart other than appearance." After a pause he added, "Based on what we've heard about Titanite's counterpart that could be all that's alike between you." Titanite glared, she obviously disliked being reminded of her counterpart. "Anyway Cal your Dark Lord act seems flawless, just the right hint of hidden menace."

Calcite shrugged, "It's not that far from my old public persona."

"True. Still as Spock observed it's easier for the civilized man to ..." Pyrite's voice trailed off at Calcite's gesture.

"Cousin, if you mention 'Mirror, Mirror' one more time I am going to hurt you."

"Ah ... So what do you think of this statue?"

"Rather restrained for youma work. Wonder if he had humans carve this?"

Margrave turned her attention to the statue. Or statues to be more precise. There were five figures carved from black marble standing on the pedestal. The members of the Dark Circle weren't much more than life sized. Calcite stood in the forefront, his expression cold but satisfied. Between his hands he held a globe gripped tightly. The fingers of the right punched through China, obliterated most of Japan and put dents into the Pacific Ocean. The left gouged holes through Europe and the North Atlantic. Symbolic rather marking territory he ruled personally. After all he claimed the whole world as his, he just had others administer sections for him. The stone Calcite was flanked by Titanite on the right and Pyrite on the left. Azurite stood behind Titanite while Magnesite followed Pyrite. The four figures wore triumphant expressions though Magnesite's seemed a little false. Or was that just her imagination? Margrave looked down to read the motto carved on the front of the pedestal in youma'shak characters.

"'Failure is the only sin.' Sounds like a good youma sentiment. Wonder if that's a quote from the Overlord?" Ignoring Hermes glare she reached out to touch to the plaque. As she did she heard Pyrite say, "I'm getting some funny readings from this thing." The phrase, "Oh shit!" came to mind as her hand made contact. Then everything blurred and she was somewhere else.

Titanite saw Margrave stiffen and her eyes go vacant and reached out for her automatically. Only to be hauled away by Azurite shouting, "Wait! We don't know what's got her!" Before she could try to break Azurite's grip (which would have been very doubtful) Calcite had activated his shield and was about to haul Margrave clear. Just before he made contact she suddenly pulled her hand away and blinked. "Incredible!"

Margrave seemed to notice everyone was staring at her. "What are you looking at me like that for?"

"Margrave, are you all right?"

"Sure, just a little dazed from info overload." Everybody was waiting for to her to continue. "When I touched it, it was like ... well like virtual reality in the SF films. I got all these scenes of the Dark Circle tearing the world apart. Well it wasn't just images there was matching sound, scent and touch. It was like I was there with them. Incredible."

Pyrite nodded as though she'd just confirmed something he'd suspected. "It seems to be psi-encoded with imagery. Rather like a more advanced method of accessing data crystals. At a guess it's their version of a video show in a museum." He nodded towards the walls, "They must have decided paintings and tapestries were too static or obsolete. At any rate this is what we were looking for, hopefully we can get a few answers." With that he reached out and touched the pedestal before anyone could stop him. After a moment he pulled his hand back looking puzzled. "Nothing happened." Azurite was about to accuse Margrave of making the whole thing up when Pyrite snapped his fingers. "Of course, I have to drop my psi shields before I can access it. Silly of me to forget." Margrave grinned as Azurite choked back her accusation and glared at her.

Pyrite touched the statue again. As he did so Margrave slapped her hand against it again. Both broke contact a few moments later. Margrave looked puzzled as she said, "That was different from the first time. It didn't start playing the show it asked for what Pyrite wanted to see."

Pyrite shrugged, it seemed obvious. "Must be different levels of access. Ordinary youma get a pre-packaged show. Higher rankers get to pick and choose what they want to see. I would guess it can't tell the difference between Lord Pyrite and me so I had full access."

Calcite nodded with determination. "This is just what we need. One of us will access it and tell the others what they see!"

"Actually there's no reason we can't all go in together." Everyone looked at Pyrite. "When we were in there I heard Margrave's thoughts ..."

"WHAT!" Azurite sounded almost as shocked as Margrave. Pyrite reassured her rather hastily.

"Oh nothing too deep, just surface subvocalised thoughts. So we can communicate with one another while we're experiencing the playback and direct it as we see fit."

"That could be useful ..." Hermes broke in before Calcite could continue.

"As a human I'll have no access so I'll go in with you. You can access material as I direct you ..." Calcite decide it would be best to nip this in the bud.

"You're not in charge here, Hermes!" Before she could manage an angry retort he continued, "I've got no objections to you joining us but we'll be making group decisions on what's most important to see." He made a quick decision and announced, "Ti, you'll stand guard while we're ... viewing the recordings. If anything happens, anyone enters or whatever break us loose from the statue immediately. If Margrave's anything to go by we'll lose awareness of the outside world when this thing's running."

Hermes considered challenging Calcite but decided to let it go for now. "Zeus, keep watch and if there's any betrayal you know what to do!" She heard the catwoman mutter something about melodramatic idiots and secrecy but let it slide. It took a few more minutes for Pyrite to finish checking for psychic booby traps (which he should have done before trying it in the first place) before he gave it the all clear. Four youma and one senshi reached out and touched the victory monument together then froze into entranced stillness. Zeus and Titanite looked at each other.

"So what do we do now?"

Zeus shrugged, "Wait, I guess." She pulled off the blond wig and ran her fingers through her short hair. "This thing itches like crazy."

Ti nodded, "I'm not to fond of wigs myself."

"Why would you need to wear one? You can cast a glamour. Matter of fact you said you normally do that so you can pass for a normal girl."

"Special circumstances. Jadeite would have detected a glamour and we were trying to make him think I was Sailor Moon."

Zeus tried to make sense of this without much luck. "Huh?"

"Okay, well here's the story ..."

Meanwhile Calcite found himself in a blue void. His surroundings seemed to to shimmer and a voice said, "Please specify your choice of scene." He ignored it and subvocalized, "Azure, Pyr, Margrave, Hermes?" He heard their acknowledgements though Margrave and Hermes sounded flat. Suddenly he was no longer alone as Pyrite appeared next to him.

"Thought there must be a multi user function!" With that Pyrite began issuing commands and the others materialized around them. While Azure and Pyr looked real Hermes and Margrave's images seemed simpler. Cartoon like. "Must indicate their lower userlevel."

"Is that going to handicap their watching this?"

"I don't think so, they're in the higher level. I think it indicates that they can't direct any of the playback. They're just passive observers." While they might be observers Hermes was far from passive.

"Well?! Get on with it!"

Calcite ignored the preemptory tone. Abrasive as she was Hermes was right. They were wasting time. "Show us how ... I stole Metallia's power." At his command the void filled with rock and they found themselves in a wide tunnel in Kel Shaaizar, the City of Exile. Before them was a massive ironwood doorway engraved with a mural of Metallia tearing apart Serenity's capital. To either side of the door with its' image of the demon queen smiting the Moon Kingdom stood a youma. Hermes snapped into attack pose and automatically summoned power before realizing neither saw her. How could they? Neither was really present, they were simply recordings of an earlier time. She heard the catwoman chuckle but ignored it.

Both guards wore ceremonial black and silver armour somewhat reminiscent of Endymion's. The froglike male on the left leaned on his halberd and looked bored. The sleek, snakewoman to the right looked slightly more alert but yawned abruptly. Guard duty at the Temple of Metallia was one of the most boring duties in the Kingdom. Almost no one sought entrance. Queen Beryl was the only regular visitor and she always teleported directly to the inner sanctum. Youma didn't have much in the way of faith or organized religion. You don't need faith when you know your god's sitting in the temple licking its' wounds and brooding. There's also not much point in petitioning for divine aid when your deity is fully occupied with healing itself. Apart from the Feast of Metallia no one ever came here and those who did were almost always passing through. Both started as they felt a tremor in the rockface and glanced behind them. They suddenly looked very attentive

The frogman muttered quietly, "They're getting more frequent. Suppose she's really waking up?"

His comrade shrugged, "That's the rumour. Guess only her majesty knows for sure and she won't deign to talk to the likes of us."

"Yeah, well ... I'm just sort of wondering ... what happens to us if Great Metallia wakes up on our shift?"

"Then we are truly blessed", she responded automatically.

"Praise Metallia!", he answered just as automatically.

Fighting the urge to give more thanks to Metallia the snakewoman tried to answer. "It might not be healthy to be nearby ...", she nodded at the destruction carved into the door panels. "On the other hand deserting your post is a sure ticket to execution. So if it happens we'll just hope Metallia rewards those who've stood vigil over her."

Her companion looked torn between cynicism and worshipfulness but before either could win out his face went slack and he slumped. She had just begun to look confused when her own face sprouted a knife hilt. The pair of guards had just hit the floor when Calcite and Azurite materialized beside them. Both wore the uniforms Magnesite had designated for his deputies and looked much as they had in their Dark Kingdom days. While the other Azurite looked identical there were two differences in the alternate Calcite. Besides the scar he seemed a bit stockier but the added bulk didn't hinder him as the two got to work as soon as they materialized. Moving quickly and silently they straightened the guards limbs. The corpses seemed to be undergoing rapid rigour mortis rather than the standard combustion effect. The scar faced Calcite seemed to concentrate momentarily and both blades blinked out of existence. A trickle of fluid ran out of the snakewoman's wound and Hermes heard Pyrite say, "Direbutterfly venom! He must have coated the blades with it!" The recorded Azurite took a pack off her back and rummaged through it. As three other figures emerge from the gloom of the tunnels she produced a small patch with a green matching the frogman's skin. She stuck it over the wound then crossed to the snakewoman passing Calcite en route.

Calcite propped the guard up and checked it balanced then returned to Azurite's side. The second Pyrite silently opened his case and hung glowing crystals of varying hues in the air. The second guard was propped up as Magnesite, trailed by a Titanite wearing an outfit that made Sailor Polaris look overdressed, joined the trio. He was still wearing his pseudo general uniform and showed none of the Bogart mannerisms that "their" Magnesite had affected. This version looked on the verge of fleeing but froze as the Titanite in the fishnet bodystocking held up a hand clutching a crystal rod. Magnesite reached for his shirt's collar then lowered his hand and stayed put. So far nobody had said anything.

The other Pyrite broke the silence. "The alarms are disabled but I imagine everyone's watching the senshi anyway." Calcite nodded, "Let's move." With that Calcite, Azurite and Pyrite tore up the tunnel. Magnesite paused for moment then, after a glare at the grinning Titanite, followed. She brought up the rear and the observers found the scene rushing to keep up with her.

The scene became static again as Titanite entered the inner sanctum. The chamber was dominated by Metallia's cocoon which filled the center of the room. Within it the dark shape pulsed as its' form rippled. The air felt filled with dread and disaster as Metallia approached awakening. The watching Pyrite commented on how remarkable it was that they'd copied this and speculated the Dark Circle had used their own memories for source material. Hermes fought down the urge to do battle with the phantasm. Something within her had screamed for vengeance when she felt this aura. A memory of her past life or just a reaction to the all encompassing sense of wrongness? "Soon ..." the venom dripping voice filled the temple, "... so very soon! My awakening is almost at hand." The voice broke into cold laughter and the watchers felt their blood chill. Their counterparts shivered but kept working, Azurite and Calcite helping Pyrite to place copper pylons topped with glowing prisms around the cocoon. If Metallia was aware of their presence it gave no indication as it resumed crooning its' plans of vengeance.

The last pylon in place Pyrite began touching the crystals that hovered before him in some sort of pattern. In response the prisms shifted colours as he worked swiftly and with a nervous expression but a sure touch. Calcite asked the question all the watchers were wondering.

"What is he doing."

Pyrite raised his hands, "I have no idea!". He sounded baffled. Then Margrave cut in on his bewilderment.

"What's he doing?" The other Calcite had started removing his clothes. None of his associates seemed to think this was odd, in fact Azurite lent a hand. Margrave chuckled and turned to the Azurite beside her, "So does this fulfill a few old fantasies?" Azurite fought off both a flush and the urge to throttle Margrave. Calcite interrupted before they got distracted.

"More to the point, what is he wearing?" They turned back to see that under his clothes the scarred Calcite was wearing a silver exoskeleton, encrusted with gemstones that outlined his muscles and covered his body like a spiderweb. Margrave made a quick comparison then announced, "That explains the stockiness. I'd say you're both built about the same." She grinned, "Enjoy it while you can Azzie."

Before she could respond Calcite said, "Enough Margrave. Let's worry about what that thing he's wearing is." There was a slotted panel in the exosuit's back running between his shoulder blades. Pyrite had unfolded two sets of poles and snapped them into the slots. He spread them apart revealing a thin transparent membrane glimmering in the dim light. The effect was rather like broad, ungainly wings. Pyrite continued to check the exosuit, tightening the odd joint and making a few small adjustments. As he did this Titanite unslung her backpack and removed an ironwood box engraved with warding symbols and masking gems. Keeping an eye on Magnesite Azurite crossed over to join her. She picked up the box, raising an eyebrow as she glanced towards Magnesite. Titanite grinned and toyed with the crystal rod in response. Magnesite didn't notice the silent exchange, all his attention was fixed on Metallia. Azurite returned to Calcite and Pyrite, placed the box down and began an unsealing ritual. She completed it as Pyrite finished his final adjustments on Calcite's attire. She lifted the lid and gazed at the crystals within despite the bright white light they gave off.

"Well, here's all the energy we retrieved, let's hope it's enough." She sounded bitter.

"You did your best, we couldn't anticipate that fool's intervention." It was shocking to the watchers that he'd spoken in the same reassuring tones as their Calcite. They'd been expecting him to sound more like one of the generals, that arrogant superiority coupled with a "fail me and die" attitude. Instead it sounded like he forgave her for what she considered a major failure. Calcite glanced toward the coccoon. "I'd say time's running out!"

"Not quite yet." Pyrite sounded a little edgy but his voice was steady. "Get ready to feed in the energy on my signal ..."

"Where'd they get life energy anyway?" Pyrite's question broke his counterparts voice. The scene before them froze as the kneeling Azurite handed a crystal up to the reaching Calcite. The void returned and the watchers found themselves somewhere else.

It was obviously Earth and where on Earth was obvious from the Tokyo tower in the background. Before them stretched a long line of girls from preteen to midtwenties. From the way they dressed it was either late fall or early winter. Chilly but not bitingly cold yet. All had either sportbags or carried skates and were waiting to enter a large domed arena. Hermes frowned and muttered, "This looks familiar." Before she could explain further Azurite pointed to a couple watching the line. "Over there!" There were quite a few pedestrians observing the line and wondering what it was for. At first glance Hermes didn't seen anything noteworthy about the pair. Then she looked closer and swore. Give the woman blue hair and red eyes and she'd be a dead ringer for Azurite. The man beside her was obviously Pyrite. Their perspective suddenly shifted and they were sanding behind and to the side of the pair. The now blue eyed Pyrite was saying, "They aren't going to show up. Kunzite must have completely lost it if he thinks he won't see through this."

"They'll be here." Azurite sounded certain but Pyrite snorted.

"Come on, could a trap be any more obvious?" He took the newspaper from under his arm and unfolded the ad. "Free skating lessons for groups of five girls. Like they aren't going to see anything suspicious in that?"

Azurite chuckled, "You also bet they'd never fall for that 'Moon Princess Skiing Contest. This may be incredibly obvious but that was a lot less subtle and they walked into that without a clue."

"Which is exactly why they'll know this is a trap! By now it's got to be pretty obvious that every time there's opening freebies or contests with fabulous prizes that it's a Dark Kingdom trap. Even if most of them are idiots Hermes is supposed to be a genius."

"Smart but naive and easily manipulated by the others. Which is her major handicap and why she'll be here!" Hermes expression darkened at the assessment and she lashed out at Azurite. Her arm passed through without doing any damage to the image. Meanwhile the recorded Pyrite was saying, "What makes you so sure they'll be here."

"Because Calcite thinks they'll be here and he's the expert on senshi behaviour."

"Speaking of him ..."

"He'll rejoin us presently. He's not going to waste the operating window Kunzite's presence has bought us." She was silent for a moment then added, "At least we've determined my little fiasco wasn't detected by either the senshi or Kunzite. No sign of anything other than construction workers at the site." She fell silent and Pyrite took her arm.

"We've been over this a dozen times already. There was no way you could have anticipated that lunatic's intervention."

"Really? We've known he was out there but since he always seemed to be hanging around the senshi we ignored him. A big mistake."

"On the positive side at least he won't be bothering us again."

Azurite reached in her jacket's pocket and fingered something. "True."

The scene shifted abruptly to a trio of vending machines in a commercial district. A van with a corporate logo matching one displayed on the machines was parked at the curb with it's door open. The uniformed driver had just loaded fresh stocks onto a handtruck and wheeled it to the nearest machine. He opened it and began changing the drink canisters and emptying the cashbox ignoring the odd gawker who walked by.

"What's this got to do with anything?"

Perhaps in answer to Margrave's question, perhaps in a preprogrammed sequence, the worker's face flickered and was overlaid with the scarred Calcite's. As none of the passerby's reacted it must have been added after the fact for effect. Pyrite moved in closer to the image and watched his hands. A sealed compartment opened unobtrusively and Calcite reached inside, withdrawing a white glowing crystal that immediately vanished into the toolbox beside him. Pyrite called, "Freeze frame!" and the scene paused. He looked past the immobilised Calcite into the hidden cavity. "Looks like most of the space is packed with warding magics to keep the life energy from being detectable. It cuts down on the efficency of the draining but makes it more secure."

Hermes waved an arm at the vending machines and snarled, "You mean those things drain energy from everyone who uses them?"

Pyrite shook his head, "I don't think it's that specific. I think they draw energy from everyone who passes."

"WHAT!" Somewhat calmer. "That's ridiculous. We'd have heard about them pretty quickly!" Pyrite nodded in agreement.

"You would have heard about them if they sucked power on the general's standard from them. But I think this is a trickle accumulator."

"A what?"

"It's a theoretical type of energy drain I came up with when I heard about the general's failing constantly." Hermes gave him a very unfriendly look. Defensively he continued, "Look, it's my nature to solve problems so when I heard about the general's screwing up I thought how energy draining could be done efficiently and unobtrusively. But I didn't tell anyone my idea and I certainly didn't try to implement it."

Calcite nodded, "This is the first time I've heard about it." Azurite agreed and Margrave said admiringly, "You're sneakier than I thought!"

Pyrite sighed then said, "It seems here my other self didn't keep the knowledge to himself."

Hermes gestured at the frozen scene. "You still haven't said just what a trickle accumulator is!"

"It's a very minor energy draining artifact. Concealed in some disguise it's placed in a populated area and drains energy from the passersby."

"That sounds fairly typical. What's so special?"

"It's a very low intensity drain. Rather than explain our life energy measuring system let's just say it takes a fraction of one percent of your energy. So little that you probably don't even notice. And if you do notice a momentary weakness you think it's stress, or overwork or not enough sleep or any of a thousand other explanations. The energy drain is so minor it's undetectable by scanning unless you're standing on top of it and the stolen energy is stored in a shielded chamber so it's radiation can't be spotted."

Hermes shook her head, "You wouldn't get enough energy to make it worthwhile!" She didn't sound certain of that.

Pyrite answered, somewhat regretfully, "It would take some time but there are a lot of people in this city. Set the collector in a well travelled spot and in a few weeks you'd have more than all the generals combined collected. And without the risk of fighting the senshi. They'd never even know you were there ..." He trailed off as he realized that was exactly what had happened in this world. Hermes eyes burned with fury and her voice was colder than usual.

"Most ingenious." Pyrite decided to change the subject.

"Uh ... resume playback." The scene cut back to the englamoured Azurite and Pyrite watching the line. Suddenly a new fivesome arrived, three of them being pushed into line by the two blond members of the group. Pyrite covered his eyes and groaned faintly. Those were the senshi in human form all right. He spoke quietly.

"I don't believe this! Kunzite could have had a neon sign on the roof saying, 'Senshi Trap' and they'd still walk in without a clue!" Azurite chuckled and, watching her younger self, Hermes seemed to show something other than controlled rage. She almost looked embarrassed.

Meanwhile Azurite whispered, "You lose!" None of the senshi paid any attention to them or any of the bystanders. Instead they were all talking about skating, Usagi bragging about how her genes would make her a great skater by instinct alone.

Somewhat hopefully Pyrite asked, "Maybe they know it's a trap but they're going in to turn the tables on Kunzite?"

Azurite chuckled again, "Do you really think so?"

Pyrite sighed, "No." After a pause he added, "How did you know?"

"I asked Calcite if they were going to show up and he said yes. Like I said he's the expert on senshi! He kept Aphrodite chasing shadows for months!"

"Except the kill got screwed up."

"Not his fault. Beryl ordered Magnesite to take out Sailor A and we should have known he'd screw up." Azurite looked at the senshi. Not surprisingly Moon and Ares, or rather Tsukino and Hino were arguing again. She sighed, "It'd be so easy to take them all out with one well aimed vortex."

"Azurite!" That looked a little odd. The watching Pyrite suspected his counterpart had actually said, "Azure" but it had been edited. The senshi obviously hadn't heard a thing.

"Just commenting. I know we're not allowed to touch them. Don't want to blow our cover and like Calcite says, they make a great distraction." She felt Pyrite twitch. "What happened?"

Quietly, "Endymion's in the area." She nodded. "Time to go then." With that the couple unobtrusively walked off. No one in the line took note of their departure. The scene shifted to a parking garage and the two walking towards a darkened corner. Calcite, still wearing the "HappiSnax" uniform was leaning against the van. The three got in and took seats. They seemed to be waiting for something. Calcite was the first to speak. He looked at Pyrite and asked, "Something wrong?"

Azurite answered, "He bet me the senshi wouldn't be dumb enough to show up at the ice rink." She chuckled, "He lost."

Pyrite shook his head, "I cannot believe they are that stupid. What's worse is the continued failure of our leadership to outwit them!"

Calcite smiled faintly. "It does not give one much faith in our bloodlines. Best not to dwell on it. Though I would note cousin that you didn't anticipate their behaviour. And you are supposed to be a genius."

Pyrite looked embarrassed. "I must admit I failed to predict the sheer level of their idiocy. I'm humiliated."

Azurite purred, "No, that comes later." Before he could respond Calcite broke in.

"Bantering aside let's discuss a few vitals while we're waiting. No sign they detected you?"

Pyrite turned all business. "None. No evidence that Ares had any psychic indications of our presence."

Azurite agreed, "Aura masking appears successful. Which again raises the question how Trenchcoat Mask found me." Hermes made a small noise.

"It could be our warpgates aren't as discrete as we think ..." Pyrite suddenly looked abstracted, "Kunzite just opened his gate!" Calcite nodded and started the van while Pyrite opened the glove compartment and touched the crystalline assemblage within. A black hole in space opened before the van and it drove through. The gate closed behind them leaving the parking lot silent again. The scene seemed to waver and suddenly they were back in the void. Then the image of the temple reappeared everyone frozen in the positions they'd been in when Pyrite had asked where the energy came from.

Pyrite looked around at the still figures and commented, "I'd guess they were using Kunzite's warps to disguise the signature of their own gates. Much as Cal did when he was setting up our new lives. In which case they were collected energy without authorization for this. Whatever this is."

"Let's find out." Calcite nodded at their counterparts and said, "Resume!" Motion returned and Calcite fitted the crystal Azurite passed him into place on his wrist gauntlets. She straightened up carrying the remaining crystals and in a few moments he'd got them all in place. Pyrite was studying Metallia's cocoon and Calcite was rechecking his exosuit. The Calcite watching could tell his counterpart was worried and trying to mask the fear. Azure's counterpart obviously knew it too. Perhaps to counter that, or perhaps as a distraction from her own nervousness she removed a piece of silk from a pocket and unfolded it.

"Calcite, I understand it was a human custom that when a knight went into battle her carried a favour from his lady around his arm." Her fingers brushed his bicep avoiding the framework to stroke the flesh. "I can't claim to be that but here's a little something for good luck." With that she tied the piece of cloth into place. She stepped back so those watching could see. It was a black silk mask or had been, now it was largely stained reddish brown. She smiled and said, "Soaked in the blood or an enemy it'll bring you luck."

Calcite smiled back. "After all this time you pick now to suddenly get superstitious?"

"Hush." She leaned forward and kissed him as Hermes suddenly gasped "Trenchcoat Mask."

"Freeze!" Seeing her counterpart and Calcite locked in their kiss Azurite decided she could have picked a better place. But she ignored it and looked at Hermes. "You recognise that?"

"That's Trenchcoat Mask's mask!"

Margrave smiled, "Yeah, it is, isn't it!" Glancing around ostentatiously Margrave asked, "Wonder if they've got the trenchcoat stashed around here somewhere?" She looked very pleased, rather like the cat that got the canary. Perhaps in this universe her counterpart hadn't wound up picking thorns out of her butt. Hermes looked on the verge of exploding but Azurite decided (reluctantly) that she'd better prevent a fight from starting.

"You speculating something had happened to Trenchcoat Mask and this appears to confirm it. Perhaps we should find out what." Before she could give the command Calcite interrupted.

"Hold on a moment."

"What's wrong?"

"I'm just thinking that this display seems a bit ... simplistic. It needs a bit more depth. In the last segment there was no explanation of what we were seeing and without Pyrite's explanation we wouldn't have known just what we were watching."

"So you're saying it needs subtitles?"

"Perhaps, we don't know what they've built into this thing." Calcite took a moment to consider, "Let's try this ..." He looked back to the scene before them. "Show us the death of Trenchcoat Mask with as much detail as possible." The scene changed and they were somewhere else. And someone else.

Azurite continued punching the unlocking sequence into the concealed pad on the support column before her. Magnesite stood beside her, his expression hovering somewhere between boredom and fear. In a rough triangle three of Pyrite's cybs stood to cover her back and sides. They were there as much to watch Magnesite as to keep watch. Right now thanks to their glamours all three appeared to be stereotypical men in black. The sunglasses and suits were somewhat incongruous, this being the middle of the night and three quarters of the way up an unfinished apartment block. The wind was cold, on this the fourteenth floor of the construction site, as it whistled through the empty spaces walls would occupy someday but that wasn't what made her suppress a shiver. Something felt wrong here. There was no indication that anything was wrong but her instincts were telling her otherwise. She trusted her instincts, that was one reason she was still alive. Despite the evidence to the contrary she felt someone was watching them. But who? The senshi were out of town and Tuxedo Mask was in Beryl's clutches. No normal human could be avoiding detection up here so who or what was it. If it was one of Kunzite's agents they were in trouble. Shit! What if it was that damned ninja of his?

She shook off the idea. There was no evidence Kunzite suspected anything and he was too busy trying to save his own neck before he wound up like his lover, Zoisite. Right now all Kunzite's attention was focused on the "Moon Princess Ski Contest" which was on the very limits of his operational range. Being so far outside Tokyo's mana field Pyrite had told her projecting his image would be all Kunzite could accomplish. He'd merged his agent to the chosen human in Tokyo as was his standard practice then sent her on her way brainwashed to do his bidding. Azurite suspected he hadn't informed the youma he'd selected it was a suicide mission. While she remained dormant she could survive outside Tokyo temporarily. But once she manifested she'd be running on borrowed time. How long the host's life force could sustain her was anyone's guess but any use of power would make time run out faster. Not being a complete idiot Kunzite must have infused energy into the host but that wouldn't last long. Still it just might be long enough and that could be a problem. The last thing they needed right now was for the senshi to take casualties. They made a great distraction.

Thinking of the senshi Azurite almost shook her head. How the senshi had fallen for such an obvious trap amazed her. Their naivete was almost beyond belief. When Calcite had predicted they'd enter the contest she'd almost told him he was crazy. But she'd already learned his knowledge of the senshi was exceptional. Though he did get a little ... extreme when talking about Sailor Aphrodite, once known as Sailor A. Still the senshi's gullibility was her good fortune as it meant she could unload the accumulators without worry of detection. At least that's what she'd thought but it seemed she was wrong.

Beside her Magnesite scowled and muttered, "Why the hell am I here? I don't have any way to help you and you've got freak force here for bodyguard duty." He didn't make any personal comments, he'd learned the hard way she didn't care for that.

"You're here to make sure you're in this as deeply as the rest of us. This is a little insurance against you running off to Beryl and telling her you've discovered your underlings are up to something. To quote the human expression, 'We all have to hang together, or we'll all be hanged separately!" Quietly and giving no sign of urgency she continued, "Don't react but we're being watched." He tensed slightly but gave no other indication of having heard her. Unobtrusively he began building deathbolts and holding them waiting. Azurite continued working on the encoded column, as she did she rubbed her neck as though massaging stiff muscles and activated the mike in her collar lapel. Very quietly she spoke into it, "Listen up ..." The fact she was talking to them through their implanted receivers would cue the cybs that things were seriously wrong but not to show it. She continued, "We're being watched but I can't pinpoint the source. So here's what we're going to do. I'm about to crack the pillar, that should distract whoever's watching us. Soon as I say 'Alright!' you will fan out in the direction you're facing blasting anything that could be hiding someone. That should flush him out. Meantime keep looking bored. Out!"

Azurite completed the sequence and took a step back as the pillar before her split in the middle exposing a crystal sphere the size of a soccer ball. It glowed with a florescent white light brightening the gloom around them. Beside her Magnesite murmured, "So much life force! Beautiful." Azurite grinned, "Alright!" then hit the floor and rolled as the cybs blurred into action. A figure tore from behind a stack of panelling to the right. The cyb on that side turned to blast him and something flickered from his hand. The youma's glamour flickered out revealing a cross between humanoid armadillo and belly dancer. There was a chink in it's natural armour plating between neck and shoulders which now had the stem of a yellow rose punched through it. The youma howled and batted at it's neck with the crystal claws Pyrite had given it. Azurite was in motion and didn't slow but knew two things instantly. He could see through glamour to spot weakpoints but the real disaster was his weapons. Roses! It was Endymion! Beryl was on to them! She noted the fact but ignored it, all her attention on killing this bastard and worrying about the consequences afterwards.

Hawthal, the middle youma poured fire across the floor. He wasn't quite fast enough, just singeing the figure who rolled under the blaze rather than incinerating. He lowered his aim but not quite fast enough. The figure in black came up inside his reach swinging his arm. The crowbar he had pulled from nowhere caught Hawthal in the throat hard. The choking youma flung his arms wide spraying fire everywhere. Magnesite automatically cycled his field to energy blocking as he drew a bead on the figure then yelled as a rose took him in the forearm. Azurite kept her shield blocking kinetic impact and kept moving as her winds tore away the fire that poured her way. Roses zipped by her but she dodged, not wanting to test her shield against them. She leapt over the ball bearings the figure had scattered and fired in midair. The vortex burst did it's usual trick of ignoring equal and opposite reaction so her flight was uninterrupted as it tore toward the figure. It wasn't Endymion, she realized, as she got her first good look at the man flying backwards. He twisted in flight and missed the pillar she'd intended to smash him against. No matter, he was heading out into open space. Unless he could fly he was dead. As that wasn't impossible she dashed for the edge. >From the corner of her eyes she saw Magnesite clutching his arm and swearing, Hawthal collapse making a gurgling noise as he slashed open his windpipe to get air and Yourvik, the last youma rushing from the opposite side to all the action.

She was fast enough to see the masked man in the black trenchcoat free falling through space. She was about to turn away and check for other intruders when she saw him raise something. An immense black umbrella canopy unfurled and his descent speed slowed to something survivable.

"You've gotta be kidding!" Even as she said this Azurite was hefting a girder which she heaved at the ridiculous canopy accelerating it with another micro hurricane. It struck dead centre and in a swirl of fabric, steel and flailing limbs the jumble dropped like a stone. From below came the screech of brakes and the sound of steel on steel from multiple impacts. Azurite looked down to the street and spotted a vacant spot. "Magnesite, I'm going down. Check for others." Without waiting for a reply she teleported. In the sudden chaos of blood, death and screaming no one saw her appear.

Above Magnesite saw the rose in his arm blink out of existence and blood well up. Cursing he wrapped his hand over the entry and exit wound and turned his power to healing. The bloodflow slowed then stopped as his hand glowed with the healing spell. Healing magicks were a real drain on resources but better than bleeding to death. Though from the speed it looked like he'd lucked out and it had missed the major vessels. Azurite flickered back into existence and he snarled, "Did you smear him all over the street?"

She shook her head, "No, the busload of orphans broke his fall."

Magnesite hurt to much to see any humour in that. "Is the bastard dead?"

For an answer she held up a black mask which dripped red. "I really hope so because I don't want to tangle with anyone who can heal from that." She glanced around and saw Hawthal's body collapsing to dust. The 'dillodancer was already gone which just left one cyb. Yourvick saluted, "All clear, no other ... whoevers. Ma'am, who was that?"

Azurite could finally concentrate on that question. "Not sure ... I've seen references to a Trenchcoat Mask and what I recall of the description ..." She cut herself off as her instincts started screaming. What in the Abyss was ...? She saw the spiderweb of cracks spreading across the containment globe from the hole where the rose stem had impacted. "IT'S GONNA BLOW!" Azurite thought of arrival point and vanished. Magnesite banished the pain from his mind, focused and was gone an instant later leaving Yourvick gaping in confusion.

Azurite looked up from the alleyway to the west and saw the fourteenth floor on the skeletal building frame flare with light. She swore the foulest oaths she could think of. Magnesite added his own curses as he cradled his arm. Azurite regained control of her temper and tried to assess the tactical situation. "Good thing the senshi are out of town or they'd never have missed a flare like that."

"How'd he find us? According to your bedmate the battery should have been undetectable. Either he's incompetent or maybe he decided Titanite's more to his taste so you're expendable ..." Magnesite screeched as Azurite squeezed his arm.

"Pyrite is neither incompetent or interested in Titanite. By now you should know I don't like comments like that but I'll let it go this time because you're in shock from your wound. This time!" Magnesite swallowed the "Bitch!" he'd been about to mutter and changed the subject for health reasons.

"What next?"

"We go back, clean up and see if anything's salvageable." Magnesite nodded, remembering that discovery meant his neck too and they teleported back. There was no trace of any of the cybs apart from the prosthetics that had given them their name and small, rapidly dissipating dustpiles. Azurite sighed and muttered, "Alas poor Yourvick", as she noticed the artificial leg with clawed toes. Magnesite snorted.

"Who cares if we lost a couple of cripples?"

"Those cripples are the only decent troops we've got!" She pulled a square of material from a side pocket and unfolded it into a bag. "Make yourself useful and collect the parts. They aren't going to disintegrate and we can't leave them!" She did a quick survey of the surroundings. Not much in the way of physical damage, certainly nothing that hinted at a supernatural explanation. Yourvick had been toasted by the life energy discharge but it hadn't done much to the inorganic surroundings. She studied the accumulator and swore quietly. The entire collection assemblage was blown. Two months of leaching the thousands of humans who scurried past and they didn't have a thing to show for it. All she could do was reseal the pillar to hide the evidence. Thank Darkness Calcite had insisted on auxiliary collectors or they'd be in the same boat as everyone else when the senshi brought the war to the Kingdom. But how had that bastard found them? She'd checked for leakage and there was none. The accumulator was secure. Could he have detected their warpgate and followed them here? Kunzite wasn't travelling to Tokyo with all his attention focused on the ski resort so they hadn't been able to use his presence to mask their gate. But with the senshi gone there shouldn't have been the risk of detection. At least that's what they thought, it seemed unlike Tuxedo Mask the late Trenchcoat Mask hadn't been following the senshi around. So he could have spotted the gate. It was possible but how could he have done that? More important could the senshi replicate whatever he'd done? Well dead men tell no tales so whoever he was and wherever he'd come from Trenchcoat Mask's secrets remained his own. In the meantime all they could do was cut their losses and report.

"Ahhh ... what are we going to tell Calcite?"

"The truth."

"Is that wise?"

"Wiser than lying to him."

Magnesite considered that. "Fine but this was your operation. The responsibility for failure is yours!"

She nodded. "I accept that." He stared at her. "You still don't get how the Dark Circle operates." Good, she thought, that means you'll break the rules and we can be rid of you. "Let's go, Calcite's waiting." Magnesite hefted the sack and both figures vanished.

The scene vanished and they were back in Metallia's temple, Calcite and Azurite locked in their frozen kiss. For a few moments none of the watchers said anything then Calcite broke the silence.

"I think perhaps a little less detail is called for."

Azurite shivered slightly and nodded. "Good idea!" She didn't spook easily, well no one who'd survived the Dark Kingdom would, but that had been far too creepy. She'd been submerged in her counterparts thoughts and she hadn't liked it. They all had but to the others it had been an alien experience, to her it had almost felt familiar. Which was crazy because there was nothing similar about the other Azurite except for their matching physical appearance. She must be imagining things, finding connections where none existed. At any rate seeing things through the perceptions of others was a bit too much. Pyrite speculated that this level of access was probably limited to the Dark Circle's authorization. Who else could be trusted to view it and not look for weakness? Calcite gave instructions and the playback resumed.

The kiss ended, if it disturbed Pyrite he gave no sign. "Get ready." Calcite nodded and stepped up to the circle of pylons. Magnesite was looking very ill at ease and called, "There's still time to call this off! She hasn't noticed us yet and we can destroy the guards' bodies and pass them off as senshi casualties!"

Calcite kept watching the cocoon before him as he answered. "There's a human toast that seems rather appropriate right now. Translated in youma'shak it goes like this, 'He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small, that dares not put it to the touch, to gain or lose it all.' Does that answer you?"

Magnesite looked blank so Titanite snorted and said, "Death or glory. There's no going back now! Right big brother?"

"That's right sister." An instant later Pyrite shouted, "NOW! FIRE NOW!"

On the first, "NOW" Calcite had raised his hands and discharged the mounted crystals into the cocoon. There was a howl of sudden awakening and Calcite stepped inside the ring of pylons right up to the casing. Within the darkness roiled in confusion and Calcite pulled his arms into striking position. Pyrite screamed, "DO IT!" and Calcite punched both hands through the membrane into the swirling blackness. Darkness seemed to pour through the holes and skitter across his exoskeleton. Calcite's face twisted then he opened his mouth and screamed. The long wordless howl of agony filled the chamber. Everyone, recorded and observing tried to block the wail from their ears. No one noticed at first that the cocoon was empty and all the darkness that had dwelt within swirled around Calcite. Calcite fell to his knees still howling, his eyes now a solid glowing purple. He pounded on the floor sending chips of stone flying. The noise lowered in volume and shifted from pain to rage filled growling. You could hear yourself think again. Calcite's face became a mask of fury and he raised a hand towards his own throat. Then reversed his grasp and clawed at the floor again, leaving gouges. He snarled in anger which seemed focused on nothing and everything. In a flurry of sparks one of the suit's silver ribs blasted free from the frame and embedded itself in the roof. Cracks appeared on the wing struts and the film between them crackled with energy. Magnesite took a step toward the passageway. Blockers insured Beryl was the only one who could teleport into the temple so for everyone else the tunnel was the only way in or out.

"Not much point in running." Azurite hadn't turned from watching Calcite but Magnesite froze. She continued, "If this doesn't work and Metallia consumes him do you really think there's anywhere in the Kingdom you can hide from it?"

Magnesite looked about to curse this whole idiotic venture but changed his mind. No way out now, the dice were cast. If they lived or died depended on Calcite. Not really expecting an answer he asked, "How will we know when it's over. If Metallia possesses him will we even know it."

Pyrite answered, "I believe so. Based on my research if Metallia wins the psychic battle then Calcite will undergo spontaneous mutation emitting a massive pulse of energy. If we survive that Metallia will destroy us for daring to try and bind it."

"Sorry I asked." They fell silent and studied Calcite. He seemed calmer, which meant he looked like he'd just kill you instead of tear your heart out and eat it while you watched and died. Cracks covered the exoskeleton and more and more of the framework shattered. "This is not a good sign." The near invisible fabric of the wings ignited and the struts broke off leaving stubs emerging from the backplate.

Trying to sound cool and collected Pyrite announced, "The exoframe's main purpose was to enable Calcite to survive initial contact. Everything really depends on him and his berserker factor combined with psi disciplines and the magicks we've used." The lecture was obviously old news to all those who had been present. Among the watchers Calcite and Margrave looked at each other as they remembered Titanite's misadventure and the entity she'd called the "Lord of Chaos!" That had been a short term possession but if she'd been able to extend it... Suddenly this was starting to make some kind of sense. The other Calcite had learned of his ability to reverse possession and tried to use it on Metallia herself. And from all the evidence he'd succeeded. They turned back to the scene before them to see something was happening.

The kneeling Calcite gave a convulsive shiver and slumped. Most of the silver suit had fragmented surrounding Calcite with a ring of sparkling dust. In its' place a black aura flickered around him, outlining him with darkness. His eyes open and they saw the solid purple that filled them fade to his familiar purple irises. He looked down at himself studying first his hands, then his body and the aura that surrounded them. His expression changing from neutral to fascinated. None of the others dared do more than breathe. After a few moments more he lowered his hands and smiled.


For the first time since he breached the cocoon he seemed to become aware of the others in the temple. Tradition would lead you to expect a booming echoing voice. Instead in a warm voice he reassured Titanite, "Yes sister, I'm still me."

She gave a cry of voice and rushed to hug him. "NO!" She stopped abruptly at his tone and raised hand. She looked bewildered and not as tough as she'd seemed a few moments earlier.

"What's wrong. I thought ..."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. But I'm still getting the hang of this and I think this aura could ... hurt you." He obviously suspected it might do more than that and the others picked that up. Titanite nodded and didn't get any closer though she held her position.

Calcite stood up and flexed. Introspectively he murmured, "So much power. I never dreamed it would feel like this." He winced momentarily and frowned then his expression cleared. "Now what to do first?"

"Getting dressed might be an idea." Calcite looked at Azurite blankly then seemed to remember his near nudity. He laughed and snapped his fingers causing the remnants of the frame to peel away. He turned to the spot where Azurite had placed his folded clothes and pointed. The garments flew towards him and somehow draped themselves around him despite his staying stationary. A mirror appeared before him and Calcite studied his uniform. He nodded and the garments shifted from grey to black while the red sash disappeared. "Somewhat of a cliche but this colour will do for the time being. It was hard to tell where the clothing stopped and the aura began. Calcite closed his eyes and concentrated. The aura diminished, becoming a thin outline around him. "That's more like it." He turned to Pyrite, "What's the current situation?" Pyrite held up his scrying crystal which displayed and icefilled landscape. He'd been dividing his attention between watching it and Calcite.

"Two senshi wounded, two dead. Sailor Moon was pulled into the Kingdom by Beryl. Can't monitor the Great Chamber so I've no idea how that's going."

"Which two died." The question was casual by Pyrite looked ill at ease.

"Ares and ... Aphrodite." Calcite's face twisted and rage filled it. He seemed about to yell but suddenly froze. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, his face and body relaxing. When he'd calmed himself he smiled ruefully, "Looks like my mind guest wants out and can use strong emotion to try and free herself." In a neutral tone he commented, "Pity about Sailor Aphrodite, I wanted to kill her. Ah well." No one said anything. Then he turned his mind to another topic. "Well let's go see how her majesty and Sailor Moon are getting along." He raised his hand and without effort or warning a warpgate materialized before him. "Shall we go?" Without waiting for an answer he stepped through the gateway. A moment later Titanite followed him, trailed by Azurite and Pyrite. Magnesite brought up the rear. As he stepped through the warp the scene around them shifted to the room their real bodies stood in; Beryl's throne room, the Great Chamber. Hermes took in the scene and actually gasped.

Beryl stood beside her throne, she'd been gloating over sight before her. But now her expression was changing from triumphant to uncertain. Hermes saw Mamoru wearing his Endymion armour towering over Usagi with his sword raised for the killing blow. Battered and bruised Usagi was on her knees before him raising her hands. But it wasn't a plea for mercy, instead she held a star shaped music box towards him which played a melody. Determination and love filled her face as she called on him to remember. Mamoru didn't strike, he remained locked in place with his sword upraised. Then lowered it as the hatred vanished from his face. Beryl stared dumbfounded as all the dark emotions she had implanted in Endymion were burned away by a power she had never truly comprehended. The last shreds of Beryl's conditioning were torn away by the purity of Usagi's unconditional love. A floodgate opened in his mind as he remembered their first lives and the love affair that had ended so suddenly at the hands of Beryl. But though the flesh had died the love lived on waiting for the day they would have a second chance. The day had finally come. He reached for her as Beryl watching in confusion.

The twin energy bolts tore from the shadows tearing through the reunited lovers before gouging a crater in the far wall. Mamoru toppled forward falling onto Usagi who was slumping to the floor. In a final spasm her arms wrapped around him and her fingers locked together behind his back just below the smoking hole. They lay still, Mamoru covering Usagi in their final embrace.

Beryl dropped the crystal spear she'd just summoned. "Endymion?!" For a moment she stared at the dead man in disbelief. Then she spun to face the source of the deathbolts and snarled, "Whoever did that shall suffer such agonies that they beg for the eternal sleep! Stand forth and face me, fool!"

The chamber was supposed to be empty. She had sent all her courtiers away so she alone could relish the spectacle of the Moon Princess dying at Endymion's hands. None should have been able to break the seal she had placed over the hall. Yet footsteps rang out in the stillness as a shape emerged from the shadows. For a moment it seemed a disembodied head and hands but it was simply a humanic dressed entirely in black.

"Neither sporting nor honourable striking like that but I felt it wisest not to wait until she regained the ginzuishou." Beryl's gaze flickered to the moon stick in the middle of the floor that Sailor Moon had dropped during Endymion's attack. He stepped into the light and Beryl bared her fangs.

"I know you! You're that agent of Magnesite's, Calflyte or some such who fought Sailor A. You dare to kill Endymion before my very eyes?! I will make your death a spectacle to make Metallia cringe!" Her rage peaked and her urge to see him suffer was overridden by her desire to spill blood. In an instant she held a crystal spear aloft and was about to fling it. Before she could it exploded into dust and she was surrounded by a cloud. "WHAT IN THE ABYSS?" Her magic had never failed her before.

As Beryl tried to comprehend four more figures emerged from the shadows. She recognised Magnesite but the others were unknown. No matter, she knew what this portended. So Magnesite was not content to try for a vacant general's place, he wanted it all. "Magnesite, you dare to challenge me? You seriously think that your power can match mine? If your underlings were any threat I would know of them. But I am glad you brought them. You will watch them die before you learned what Oolite learned centuries ago. The Dark Kingdom is mine! NOW AND FOREVER!"

"Magnesite is not the leader of this coup. I am! And the name is Calcite!" She turned to confront the speaker and raised her staff. Within the orb that topped it power gathered.

"So Magnesite is the puppet of an underling. Not unknown. And you are the one who killed Endymion. Good, then you shall suffer as none has since the Kingdom's birth. Remember this pain, in time to come you will treasure it as the least you suffered." Black lightning poured from the staff and enveloped Calcite. He vanished into the glare and she listened for the screaming. At first there was silence, then a conversational voice asking, "Have you started yet?" Dumbstruck Beryl ceased the onslaught and saw Calcite standing before her unharmed. The black aura that she'd barely noticed around him seemed to have thickened. "This wasn't quite how I intended to test my new abilities but with all the senshi dead or dying it will have to serve." Beryl's eyes narrowed then she suddenly poured her lightning towards the four followers.

It never reached them. Halfway there it struck an invisible barrier and sprayed everywhere tearing up the walls, roof and floor but didn't advance further. The staff exploded in Beryl's hands and the blast flung her from the dias. Calcite roared, "NO ONE THREATENS MY SISTER!", and his aura flared about him. He took a step forward, his face twisting in rage but stopped as Titanite called, "Cal, Metallia's getting loose!" He stopped and, with a visible effort, put down the anger. Stunned Beryl gaped at him with fear and incomprehension. Impossible, none could beat her! She could never have maintained her rule over the youma if she wasn't the most powerful. From the corner of her eye she glimpsed the forgotten ginzuishou mounted on the absurd weapon and tried to scuttle for it.

"No more games!" The blast caught her in the side and bounced her across the floor. She came to rest and struggled to rise. Her body refused to obey her and she struggled to rise as Calcite stalked towards her. He stopped and bent down to pick something up. She recognised it as the circlet that had ringed her brow for decades. The symbol of her rule over the Kingdom that would be replaced by the crown of Earth one day. Calcite turned and tossed it toward his followers. "Azurite, catch."


"Calm down sister I have another trinket in mind for you. But first ..." He continued towards Beryl. For the first time in centuries she was scared. How could this be happening? There was one last hope, "Great Metallia your servant calls you. For these many centuries I have served you well and protected you in the days of your weakness. Now the hour of your awakening is at hand and I beg a boon. Arise and protect me! Destroy this insect who challenges your high priestess and cast his followers into the Abyss. Great Metallia hear my prayer!"

She heard the assembled youma break into laughter. Calcite filled her vision, his dark aura like black fire licking around him without consuming. He gazed down on her and said, "Beryl, look on me. Not the flesh but the power. Don't you recognise it."

In hopes it would delay him until Metallia revived she looked. Then screamed in horror. "Great Metallia, you possess this body?! Why do you strike your faithful servant!"

He shook his head. "You have it backwards Beryl. Metallia does not possess me, I possess her! Her power is mine to do with as I please. And it pleases me to take control of first the Dark Kingdom and then the Earth!"

Her face a mixture of confusion and pain Beryl blurted out, "NO! THIS CANNOT BE. IT, IT CANNOT END LIKE THIS!"

"Yes it can."


Calcite nodded, "You're right, it isn't fair. Ask the universe to refund your admission ticket."

The last thing Beryl saw was Calcite's hand glowing with power. The last thing she heard was Azurite saying, "The Queen is dead, long live the King!"

Hermes and the youma watched their counterparts celebrate the conquest. They saw Calcite pick up the discarded moonstick, snap the ginzuishou free and study it. After a few moments he nodded and tossed it to his sister who squealed with glee, almost looking like a normal teenager for a brief period. As Hermes had told them he announced his coup to both the youma and, unwittingly, to the remaining senshi on the iceplains of D Point. Calcite stepped onto the throne's dias and pointed a finger. There was a flare and the throne ceased to exist except as a small sprinkling of dust. Calcite chuckled that he'd wanted to get rid of that camp monstrosity for years. At his invitation the others joined him on the empty dias. Titanite toyed with the silver crystal as Azurite put the circlet down saying she'd try it on when it had been thoroughly sterilized. After centuries on Beryl's forehead who knew what it had picked up? Everyone laughed at that and Magnesite looked relaxed for the first time since the recording had started.

In response to Calcite's startling announcement the high power youma poured into the now unsealed great chamber. A few of the early arrivals took shots at the force shielded group and were instantly incinerated. Most studied the stasis fields surrounding the remains of Beryl, Endymion and Sailor Moon and decided to wait until a weakness presented itself.

Calcite waited until a majority were present then told them how things had changed for the better. Soon they would go forth to rule the human world. The senshi were no more, or at least were no longer a major threat. The two survivors would be hunted down and destroyed. With the power he possessed the youma could not be defeated. This lead to a loud debate on blasphemy which ended with Calcite obliterating the more fanatical. A few voices objections to Calcite's usurpation of power with complete disregard to the rules of succession. Calcite explained courteously that Beryl had not left an heir believing she would rule forever and he was not assuming the royal prerogatives as his title would be Overlord rather than King. Had they been wise they'd have ended the issue there but the more vocal spokesyouma made the error of equating politeness with weakness. Their leader was just beginning a loud and lengthy tirade concerning the merit of traditional values and respect for the laws of the Kingdom when they were all consumed by black fire. Calcite inquired if any more lawyers remained and, not receiving an answer announced that the question was now settled.

Lord Pyrite spoke into the sudden silence. He told the assembled youma that they would find life under his cousin's rule much like the kingdom's traditional pattern. Once again there was a supreme ruler with four deputies and life would proceed much as it always had. The youma looked around as the dustpiles that dotted the crowd and had to agree that this seemed very familiar. Besides conquering the world sounded good.

Overlord Calcite decided to sweeten things for the youma. He announced that in the best Kingdom tradition he would commit an act of violence and terror to inaugurate his reign. The senshi had guarded a city known as Tokyo. As a show of power to the humans he would destroy it. At his announcement a three dimensional model of Tokyo appeared in the empty space between the dias and the crowd of youma. Closer examination revealed tiny cars zipping along the streets and mite sized figures bustling along the sidewalk or staring up at a sky that gone a solid, uniform black. At Calcite's gesture a dome of dark power enclosed the city but became transparent over the model. Hermes whispered, "The real one was solid black and blocked all attempts at communication." As they watched past events unfold Calcite said quietly, "Route full detail to me alone." Perhaps this would give him some insight to how his counterpart thought. Before them Calcite stepped closer to the projection.

Titanite turned to her brother and asked, "You're really going to destroy the city?"

Quietly he answered, "I have just told the humans I will and I cannot be seen as bluffing. Also Metallia claws at my mind, I think death on this scale will sate her appetite for a time." Long enough, he thought, for me to gain greater control of it. Soon I will be able to make it content with lesser slaughter as I bind it to my will. But I must never become complacent. It's like the old fable about saddling a zugganaut. You're fine as long as you stay on it's back. But should you stumble it will rend you.

"That's so cool. A whole city and everyone in it!" Titanite's smile was genuine. She was looking forward to this. Calcite was reminded of a human proverb concerning sowing and reaping. Besides he couldn't deny a certain thrill at what he was about to do. But first there was a chore to perform.

"I will not be killing everyone in Tokyo, there are a few I'm sparing." He raised his voice and addressed the assembled youma. "Before the destruction begins there is one last task to accomplish. As some of you know our greatest warriors of antiquity were reborn in Tokyo. By the ancient curse of our enemy Serenity they were condemned to be reborn as humans! Worse yet was that after they had been restored to their rightful forms Sailor Moon returned them to human!" Many youma looked sickened and disgusted by the thought. "Therefore I will bring them to the Kingdom and return them to their true shapes. Then they shall avenge their humilation by hunting down the surviving senshi!" The cheering shook the room. Calcite thought it amazing that he had actually, however fleetingly, united the youma in a common cause. With that he turned his attention to the display before him. His new powers seemed so obvious, it was as if he'd always had them. Calcite reached out with his mind and touched the city of Tokyo searching for those he sought.

In Tokyo a youth, once nicknamed Crane Joe before his uncanny luck with the prize machines ceased, turned from staring at the pitch black sky as he felt something touch him. There was no one there yet he'd felt a stranger's eyes upon him. Why had he ...? Before he could complete the thought he was gone.

Kneeling in his church praying with those of his congregation who'd sought comfort on this dark night the priest felt something reach out. A line from Shakespeare replaced the bible verses he'd been reciting. He blurted out, "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!" He disappeared before the awestruck eyes of his congregation.

In her home Yumemi Yumeno tried to take her mind of the pervasive sense of doom by sketching. She was alone this night though this was no longer the unchanging norm. Since she'd asked that couple to model for her picture she'd started emerging from her introverted shell. But tonight she was alone and the solitude scared her. All she could draw were nightmare images, the floor was littered with crumpled and discarded paper. It must be a holdover from whatever had happened to her two weeks earlier. All she remembered was a man in black emerging before her then waking up with five others in a closed amusement park. None of them could remember what had happened to them or could describe the man they'd seen before blacking out. A thorough medical examination showed no physical trauma or traces of drugs and some of the detectives had accused them of staging an elaborate hoax. But there was nothing to prove that and she certainly hadn't been faking so their case was open. Eventually, an officer had confided, unless a break appeared it would be placed in the files with all the other bizarre and unusual cases that couldn't exactly be defined as crimes. Like that harbour cruising ship that had disappeared after all the passengers were somehow moved to a rusted hulk in Tokyo Bay. She looked at her latest drawing. It had an angel's wings but the body of a devil. Why had she drawn that?

"You'll find out." Before she could scream at the voice that whispered in her mind something touched her and she froze. There was a dry chuckle and then the sketchpad fell to the floor of the empty house.

In Hikawa shrine the aged priest prayed before the sacred fire for knowledge of the evil that blotted out the stars and protection for all who dwelled beneath them. "Not even a twinge!" a voice mused.

"Who's there? Yuchiro are you playing a trick on your master?"

"No, he isn't." He barely had time to register the answer. Then he was gone leaving the inner shrine empty. The presence was about to depart but paused and reached out an astral finger. The sacred fire snuffed out and a chuckle rang through the shrine.

In Motoki Furuhata's apartment Reika clung to her boyfriend and shivered. Her life had gone crazy lately and she'd been feeling very fragile. She'd thought she was getting better but tonight she felt worse than she had the day her life turned upside down. Two weeks ago she'd disappeared from the archeological dig in Niger without a trace to reappear in Tokyo six hours later. Which was impossible, what flight could have transported her that distance in such a short time? If it wasn't for the sworn statements faxed by her colleagues that she'd been in Africa six hours before they found her in the amusement park the police would have accused her of running some kind of scam. Which some of them still believed even if there was no evidence to charge her with fraud or possible gain for her. She'd delayed returning to the dig until she could sort out what had happened. Thankfully Motoki was there to help her try and make sense of it. She'd have gone crazy without someone to lean on.

Suddenly an image came to her. Standing in a circle of fire with an effeminate looking man (or a somewhat butch woman) threatening them. Motoki trying to defend her and failing then something terrible happening. Why was she thinking this? What did it mean?

"Come and find out."

She stiffened as she heard the whisper. Motoki felt her tense and asked, "What's wrong?" Before she could answer he found his arms empty. For a moment he sat dumbfounded. "REIKA!" An instant later lighting began striking the apartment tower.

The family sat around the TV set as an anchorwoman who knew no more than them read the first confused reports of the impenetrable darkness over all Japan and the loss of satellite communications. Sitting on the lap of his young mistress the spoiled cat should have been the only relaxed one of those present. Instead he bristled as though his fur was being stroked the wrong way. Hissing, the cat leapt free of her arms and dashed to look for the source. Despite his bulk the tomcat possessed surprising strength and agility which kept the neighbourhood strays in their place. Also his habit of announcing his presence by tossing fishbones kept them from bothering him. Who wants to challenge a crazy cat?

Evidently someone did. Someone who was going to learn the error of his ways. Ignoring his owner's cries of "Rhett Butler!" he tore through the house looking for the intruder. He stopped in the girl's bedroom. The sense of presence was strongest here yet there was no scent. The cat didn't think merely looked for something. Something drew his eye to an especially deep patch of shadow. From it a voice issued, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty." With a howl Rhett Butler charged into the shadow. He didn't emerge from the darkness and the room seemed empty when the girl entered.

"Rhett Butler?" Like him her eyes were drawn to the deep darkness under her bed. Something seemed to move in the darkness. She hesitated remembering that she'd thought monsters lived under there not that long ago. But she was a big girl now and daddy said big girls didn't believe in monsters under the bed. There were no such things. Reassured she kneeled down and looked into the shadows. And learned her father didn't know everything.

Outside, as he scanned the city for the last one, Calcite's astral self noted the screams and did the mental equivalent of frowning. He hadn't intended to start manifesting shadow constructs yet, nor to bring down the lightning. Metallia was leaking through and impatient to begin. He'd better find Banbou in a hurry, make his announcement to the humans then begin the slaughter. With every moment he grew more and more eager to start. There! He'd found him. Better get this over with and get going. He could hardly wait!

Ryo Urawa stood outside studying the black sky and wishing his powers told him what was going on. (Hermes gave a little gasp as she saw him but said nothing). His precognition was weak and unreliable these days. He'd dreamed that Ami was going into danger but when he'd phoned her she was already gone. Maybe he was overreacting, she was Sailor Hermes, she went into dangerous situations all the time. Yet he didn't dream of those. Was it just the spotty nature of his visions or was this battle far riskier than all the others? That was when the vision hit, stronger than the ones about Endymion.

Something was coming for him! Something unstoppable! There was no escape and after it had him ... He screamed and raced for the front door slamming through it as he rushed for his parents, "MOM! DAD! GET OUT ...!" He froze like a fly in amber before the astonished eyes of his parents. He could neither speak nor move, only think.

"NOPLEASETAKEMEBUTSPARETHEMIBEGYOU..." He sensed something shake it's head

"Sorry but I can't do that. They're a liability tying you to the false life Serenity condemned you to endure." His mother stepped forward, confusion written all over her face. Somehow her son was balancing as though a pause switch had been hit while he was running. "Ryo?"

Inside his mind Ryo screamed at his parents to get away. Then screamed louder as his parents ignited and his mother burned before his eyes. Unconcerned with the noise the voice told him, "Someday you'll thank me for this. Shall we go?" Ryo vanished as the blaze spread to the house itself.

Abruptly the scene cut back to the Great Chamber and a hemispherical dome on the former throne dias. Within it were six figures; two priests of competing religions, one old, one young; two women, one mid twenties, one nineteen, a fat cat and a teenage boy. Another teenage boy materialized within and fell to his knees sobbing. Calcite tapped on the dome and nodded a greeting to those within. "Welcome home. I'll restore you to yourselves later on but I'm quite busy right now. If you'll excuse me I have to wreak my vengeance!" He shrugged, "What can I say? It's traditional." Ignoring their cries he turned back to the model of Tokyo his aura flaring around him.

He told his audience that he would now inform humanity that their planet was under new management. A montage of cities around the world appeared. His image filled the sky and, as Hermes had already told them the watchers, he told the world that Tokyo would be destroyed. Hermes ignored this, she'd heard it all before and, her face expressionless, watched the recording of Ryo Urawa weeping inside the dome.

Overlord Calcite was the only one who knew that another announcement had gone to Tokyo alone. Within the dome that sealed off the city from the outside world Calcite had projected himself. His message had been simple, "In three minutes I will begin destroying this city. Make peace with whatever deities you worship."

No one outside the inner circle would ever know of this for the other youma would not understand. He and the others shared emotions that were incomprehensible to their fellow youma. Compassion was one of them so he had given the humans a last chance to prepare for death. For even joined with Metallia and the life he had lead he had not forgotten mercy. For was it not these virtues that made them superior to the other youma? He had no wish to destroy the city but everything has it's price and this was the price of controlling Metallia. Needs must when the demon drives. He wouldn't enjoy this in the least. Like a man defusing a bomb he opened a channel in his mind bringing forth both power and the being that now shared his mind. Metallia looked through his eyes on the millions of lives that filled Tokyo and was momentarily awed by how the world had grown. Then she began to drool.

What followed would disturb the sleep of those who watched for years to come. At first energy bolts rained on the panicked city bringing swift death but that felt insufficient. Metallia whispered suggestions and euthanasia gave way to nightmare. It was impossible to watch all that followed though none would want to. Each caught there own glimpses of the horrors that followed as the sky rained fire and acid ; shadows stepped from walls to murder those who'd cast them ; tower blocks snapped off and crashed to the ground crushing those within and without ; demons shaped from psychoplasm and creatures that existed only in Metallia's darkest imagination stalked the street ; fireballs chased victims down the street moving slowly enough for them to believe they might survive if they kept running until exhaustion dropped them and the fire leisurely flowed over them to roast them slowly ; in a parody of Hermes fog clouds drifted through the city freezing to death those caught within them, leaving behind ice statues of huddling figures with frozen tears ; lighting sprayed everywhere, some of the humans running into the bolts seeking the quick death of electrocution ; water became corrosive consuming those who sought refuge from the fires that blazed through the city.

It was impossible to truly describe the carnage, to comprehend that this wasn't all some special effects extravaganza for sadists. In a sense it was, the demon queen gibbered with joy at the carnage. The slaughter that accompanied the fall of Silver Millenium had been sedate compared to this. That this had really happened was nearly impossible to believe. The phrase, "hell on earth", echoed through all their minds.

A few individual moments seemed to stand out as the Overlord sensed powers within the city. As the destruction started a sickly child looked up though there was nothing to see but the ceiling of her room. From somewhere overhead the voice shouting of doom had echoed. She'd felt something stir within her to challenge the voice. She felt energy gathering and raised her arm feeling a phrase bubbling up from inside. There was a crash from above and Hotaru Tomoe barely had time to scream before the roof descended like an avalanche.

Overhead Calcite wondered momentarily what he had just destroyed as he sought out other beings of power within the city. As deathbolts strafed the city randomly he focused his attention on finding anything else that might interfere. Ah! There was something. The shield over Mugen Gakuen resisted momentarily then popped like a soapbubble. Calcite drove his power down in an unstoppable beam annihilating first the school then the underground complex below it and all it's inhabitants as it burned down to the bedrock. Professor Tomoe joined his daughter as did all his highly eccentric assistants. Calcite studied the crater and wasn't satisfied. Something remained, something non physical. Senses he hadn't possessed hours earlier reached out and touched something. A tear in space and time! If left unchecked who knew what would emerge someday? Calcite reached out and pinched the nascent spacewarp with astral fingers. It winked out of existence and Calcite heard Metallia laugh as it whispered. With the hole closed on this end the other end of the gateway would now open onto the primal chaos of the interdimensional void. When the explorers on the other side opened their end of the gate they'd get an unpleasant shock. Calcite ignored both the gloating and the demands for atrocity. Patience, he thought, when all who could challenge are dead you'll have your fun. His mind roved the city seeking and destroying deliberately as the sky rained random death. Metallia watched the carnage and thought, "Not enough!"

Thankfully it was edited so they didn't have to endure the hours of atrocity Calcite had lavished on the city. All they got were the highlights but those were bad enough. No one, not even Hermes, reacted to the sight of Ryo and the others restored to their demonic forms. They were all numb from witnessing Tokyo's fate. Pyrite noted clinically that from the shifts in the chamber's occupants that retransformation must have been a difficult procedure taking quite some time.

Calcite shook himself out of his stupor and considered shutting down the recording. They'd learned all they could from this thing. He didn't think the Overlord would have recorded the technical details of his triumph but at least they had an overview of the process. Perhaps Pyrite could successfully reverse-engineer his counterpart's invention and they could break the link somehow. But that seemed unlikely, what was binding Metallia was the mind of the Overlord. After destroying Tokyo it had tried to make him move on to the other cities and tear down first Japan then the rest of the world. But, as Calcite had theorized it was glutted with terror and suffering. Forcing it to waddle back to it's mindcage had been easy. As he slammed the door it had bellowed that it would be free one day and would make him suffer for this indignity by destroying ... Having a low tolerance for melodrama the Overlord had tuned it out and got on with running the Dark Kingdom.

Deeply disturbed by all this and not wanting to watch his other self level human civilization Calcite was about to cancel the program when he realized there was no sign of that happening. Instead there were just the five members of the Dark Circle studying maps of Earth and the Kingdom while discussion division of territory and how to kill the next few months while the world fell apart. From the way they talked this was obviously an old topic and they were just finalizing a few details. Why was this here? Youma have little tolerance for detail, they prefer spectacle. What was so fascinating about this that they'd included it? The answer was rather surprising.

Titanite looked up from toying with the silver crystal. "Hey, big brother."

What's up sister?" He looked indulgent.

"Remember what we said about a new broom sweeping away all the failures of the past. Remember what I said about there still being one leftover from the old regime and how we should resolve things."

He chuckled, "You just want to see what your new toy can do, don't you?"

"Well yeah. I know I can't use it for any big stuff without it tapping my lifeforce but you said it'll amplify my powers no problem."

"So I did. And you'd like to test it?"

She grinned. "You bet. So how about it? It's not like we're deciding anything crucial here."

"Why not?" Calcite raised a hand and a warp gateway appeared. Azurite (now Lady Azurite, the Overlord having titled his followers) looked up from the map of South America and asked, "Mind if I tag along? I've got a few things I'd like to say."

Princess Titanite nodded, "Sure, but it's kinda pointless unless he can not only see but lipread."

Her friend shrugged, "It's more for my benefit than his. Give things a sense of closure."

"Fine by me, let's go." With that Titanite walked through the gateway followed by Azurite. The scene shifted to the Eternal Sleep Chamber as the two walked down the hallway lined with sleepers. Each pedestal held a crystal imprisoning its occupant in suspension. Immobile, without any sense save perhaps sight but alive and aware. A living death deemed the ultimate punishment by Beryl. Telepaths who came close to the chamber invariably went mad from the despair and horror that emanated from the sleepers. They stopped before the last occupied pedestal and looked at the figure within. Azurite dragged over a vacant pedestal and placed it before the sleeper. Then vaulted onto it so she was face to face with Jadeite.

"Hello father. Sorry I've never been to visit but I've been awfully busy and who has the time to look in on a useless failure? Not that you ever acknowledged me as yours, hell I wouldn't even know it if Pyrite hadn't ... Well never mind. Even if you hadn't got frozen you'd never have accepted the new order." She paused a moment. "I'm not sure why I came here. Maybe I'm looking for vengeance, maybe I feel I owe you something even if it's only a good bye. This could be mercy, one thing everyone agrees about this place is you all want it to end. Well you're about to get your wish." She nodded an Titanite jumped up to join her. "This is Titanite, her brother just took over the Dark Kingdom ..." Titanite waved. "She's here to kill you."

With that they stepped down and Titanite raised one hand while gripping the crystal tightly with the other. A sphere formed in her empty hand. She closed her eyes and concentrated. The sphere grew bigger and brighter, it's intensity growing until it was almost blinding. Azurite looked away then heard Titanite say, "Ready?"

She responded, "Shields are firm. Any time you're ready."

"Then here we go!" The sphere tore forward and there was a massive flare of light accompanied by a shattering noise. Azurite's eyesight returned to normal and she saw the floor covered with crystal shards.

"DAMN!" Titanite didn't sound happy.

"What's wrong?"

"THIS!" Titanite kicked over the shard she'd been looking at. There was a hand inside it. "If this thing worked as advertised there shouldn't be anything bigger that dust left. Some ultimate weapon this thing is! What a gyp!"

Azurite had to smile. "Do you really think your brother would have turned it over if it was the ultimate weapon?"

"Of course not! He'd have kept it for himself and ditched Metallia. It's just ... just a bit disappointing is all." She looked a little down but that vanished as something caught her eye. "Hey! Look at this!" Azurite saw where she was pointing and started. Then shrugged slightly. His expression unchanged Jadeite stared back at them. Titanite picked up the crystal encased head and took a closer look. "Doesn't seem to be disintegrating. The crystal must prevent or at least slow burn up." She hefted it thoughtfully. "Think this would make a good mantlepiece if I had the jagged bits ground off?"

"Certainly a unique one ... you don't suppose ..." She trailed off.

After a moment Titanite asked innocently, "Suppose what?"

"Hmmm ... oh nothing important. Shall we go or do you want more target practice."

"No, I think that's enough. Cal can put the rest of them down. Shall we go?"

"Freeze" The two froze on their way to the warp gate. Calcite looked around at his group. "I think we've got everything useful we're going to get out of this thing. Besides which it's not a good idea to leave our bodies standing around stupefied while we watch documentaries."

Azurite wondered if what her counterpart had almost suggested was that the decapitated Jadeite was still alive within the crystal. Grisly thought. "I agree, let's get out." Pyrite and Margrave nodded. Hermes said quietly, "I have learned more than I wanted to know. I didn't think that was possible." She seemed on the verge of adding something but shook her head and said simply, "Let's go!"

Sailor Zeus and Titanite were rather startled when the others started moving again interrupting Titanite's tale about another other-dimensional senshi she'd known. Zeus had taken her story about Sailor Charon and anime based universes with a grain of salt but Ti was miffed at not getting to finish. At least until she saw the way the others looked. No one would talk about what they'd seen in generalities which upset Zeus. However Ti wasn't sure she really wanted to know what they'd seen.

There was a quick conference to discuss their next move. Pyrite proposed they visit Calcite's old dwelling for any clues they might find. Immediately after saying this he disappeared. He reappeared a few moments later reporting he had just visited a teleport point that corresponded to a small grove near the fortified home in their Dark Kingdom. There followed a brief vocal discussion with Calcite and Azurite suggesting it was unwise to assume an exact correspondence between universes. Especially as the mass migration of the youma would have allowed the flora and fauna to spread wildly. Pyrite admitted that he had acted in haste but at least he could report that the landing zone was clear. After a brief consultation as to who would transport who (the network not being active in the Dark Kingdom) the group departed leaving Caini to sense the teleports and wonder where they'd gone in the Kingdom and if he'd been supposed to maintain it. Indicators at Calcite's mansion lit up and he breathed a sigh of relief. He'd made sure it was kept just as they'd left it. He even had the pantry restocked periodically with fresh foodstuffs that matched those they'd left behind.

Titanite looked around the room with dismay. At first she'd thought it wasn't hers but she saw a few odds and ends she recognised. But not very many. This place wasn't identical to their old home, it was larger. It appeared that both Azurite and Pyrite's counterparts had been living here full time and a new wing had been added to house Pyrite's laboratory. That's where the others were, sifting through the lab to find out exactly what the other Pyrite had done. Which would hopefully let them figure out how to undo it.

Ti walked into the room and shook her head. There wasn't an anime or manga poster in sight. From the posters and other detritus scattered around it seemed that her other self had liked some of the more nihilistic rock groups along with having an excessive interest in leather. She noticed a box marked "Titanite's Toy Chest" and had a look inside. Then slammed the lid rather hurriedly and resolved not to think about what those things were for. She heard an amused snort and Margrave slunk in.

"I'd say you've got very different tastes."

"Can we talk about something else?" Margrave seemed amused by her discomfort.

"Heh, if anyone had told me that you ..." She stopped and blinked several times then started massaging her forehead.

"Margrave, is something wrong?"

"I'M FINE!" Titanite stepped back as Margrave snapped at her. A moment later she shook herself and muttered, "Sorry. Just a ... headache. Nothing serious but it's making me irritable."

Something was definitely wrong but it was equally clear that she wasn't going to talk about it. Ti changed the subject, "Are they having any luck?"

"Nope. They're still looking but Pyrite says there's obviously a few things missing. I figure any schematics or vital data was either taken with them or destroyed. No way they'd be dumb enough to leave it lying around."

"Oh. Well we might as well join ...." Her voice trailed off as she noticed a locket on the floor. She picked it up and opened it to see a portrait of a youma woman with horns.

From behind her Margrave said, "That looks familiar."

"I've got one just like it. My one picture of my mother. Maybe she didn't love me but that didn't change how I felt about her." Ti shook her head. "I almost got killed by Magnesite by coming home to get this after I realized I hadn't packed it. She just left it here to gather dust."

Margrave suppressed the urge to sneer at the sentimentality (wondering why she was in such a rotten mood) and said, "She's obviously decided other things are more important to her. Let's get the hell out of here."

Titanite looked at the locket a moment longer then nodded, placed it back where she'd found it and followed Margrave downstairs.

In the laboratory Pyrite was finishing packing a mix of encoded crystals, scrolls and musty books. He was saying, "Well there's nothing specific here but judging by the general reference material my counterpart's research was heavily geared towards demonology and necromancy. I kept a few texts on those subjects around for appearance's sake but these are all heavily read and annotated. Maybe I can figure something useful out from these in time but I can't guarantee anything!"

"Time is one thing we're lacking." Calcite shook his head. "We can't stay here much longer. They're going to wonder why their rulers are hanging around the Dark Kingdom instead of running the world. And if words gets out of the Kingdom and back to the Dark Circle ..." He didn't finish, he didn't need to. "We have to find someplace secure so Pyrite can work out if there's any way to counter the Overlord."

"I vote we fire up the warpkey and head for MegaTokyo!" Everyone turned to look at Margrave. "It makes sense! We know we can survive there, we have contacts in the city who owe you and best of all the Overlord's never heard of it."

Calcite shook his head. "Opening another gate means leaving a trail for them to follow. I will not endanger a third world."

"WILL YOU QUIT THE STUPID RENEGADE MORALIZING AND THINK!" Margrave managed to calm herself slightly, "We are talking about going up against a version of you with godlike powers! Pyrite's counterpart has diverged enough that he doesn't have a clue how they pulled off their little coup. Do you really think a couple of days are going to make a difference?"

"We either face them here or run and let them track us down. Neither's an ideal choice but we've got to deal with how it is rather than what we want. So we aren't dragging any more worlds into this mess. Besides which who knows what we'd become after dimensional assimilation got through with us. All of which assumes that Tokyo isn't crawling with youma troops looking for the nexus point. We'd better assume that it's off limits or will be shortly."

Margrave snarled but acquiesced with poor grace. Calcite looked to the senshi. "We need somewhere secure, somewhere the senshi don't know about so they can't expose it to the Overlord. You must have someplace you hide from the youma when you aren't out raiding." Zeus and Hermes looked at each other.

At length Hermes nodded fractionally and Zeus said, "We've got a base. It's pretty small but the youma don't have a clue where it is." She paused a moment, "We can take you there once we're back under the teleport network."

Calcite nodded, "Pack up and let's go. Everyone get back in character and let's make an appropriately regal exit!"

Sometime later, having obliquely implied to Caini that his neck was secure for the time being (which qualified as high praise from youma elite) they crossed back to Earth. Following Hermes directions they arrived in Greenland. She'd picked a low populated place for the final jump. As they'd learned to do the Renegades tapped into the network. Margrave clung to Calcite and hoped for the best while wondering why she didn't make a break for it. But one look at Hermes answered that.

According to Hermes the base was reachable via the network but it's coordinates were not listed in the system. She would input them and thanks to her system hacking they would be transported there without the destination being recorded. This presented a problem to the Renegades but Pyrite had a way around it.

The plan was simple. Zeus and Hermes would jump to their destination. Pyrite would sense the teleport and using the jump pattern would direct the linked teleport of his fellow youma. Theoretically it should be simple. When Hermes and Zeus vanished Pyrite was still thinking about chaos theory and the gaps between theory and field testing. But he sensed the jump and triggered it even as he thought, "What the hell!"

They appeared in what, at first glance, Calcite would have called roman or grecian ruins based on the preponderance of toppled columns. And yet they didn't look weathered and there was no sign of restoration or tourism. Azurite took a step and stumbled as her normally fantastic balance deserted her. Calcite reached to steady her but his motion was way off. Azurite continued to fall far too slowly and Pyrite realized how light he felt. Already knowing what he'd see he looked up.

Overhead he saw the stars filling a black sky without a hint of clouds and a large blue and black sphere. He studied the black blobs and imagined the shapes of continents below them. From beside him he heard Azurite carefully picking herself up and Calcite asking, "Where the hell are we? Some kind of pocket dimension?" Before Pyrite could answer Hermes spoke.

"I see one of you has figured it out." She gestured at the ruins, "Welcome to Silver Millennium and the grand lunar city of Queen Serenity". She looked over the ruins and shook her head. "What's left of it anyway."

Dark Kingdom Renegades 9: Thy Kingdom Come

A Sailor Moon Story
by Mark Latus

Part 8 of 12

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