"THE NIGHTMARE DEMON"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2000 by Naoko Takeuchi and Toei Animation. This individual story is (c)2000 by Bill Kropfhauser.
"It's too nice a day to study!" whined Usagi.
The five friends were gathered at the temple to spend the Saturday afternoon together. Chibi-usa had gone along because Hotaru was still missing and Usagi wanted her to get her mind off of her friend for an afternoon; besides, it allowed Chibi-usa to make sure Usagi didn't sneak off and see Mamoru. She was now playing in the garden.
"Yesterday you said it was too rainy to study," Ami chided her.
"It was," Usagi gaped, amazed Ami could even question her "logic".
"I've got to side with Usagi on this one," Minako sighed. "It is too nice to study."
"It figures," clucked Makoto. "You two are cut from the same cloth."
"Only I'm way more talented," Minako replied in jest, striking a pose. She got an annoyed glare from Usagi.
"Well I think we ought to plan our next move with the enemy," Makoto replied. "There's no telling what they plan next."
Rei sighed. "I have to confess, I've been corrupted by those two." Minako and Usagi high-fived. "I'm sick of school and enemies and heart crystals and I've done fire readings until my head hurts. I just want to go somewhere and ogle cute guys."
Makoto's shoulders slumped. "That does sound appealing, now that you mention it."
"Come on, everyone!" gasped Ami. "High school exams are only a few months away!"
"Listen to what you just said," Rei scowled. "'A few months'?"
"Well, it doesn't hurt to get an early start," Ami offered weakly.
"Forget it," the others said in unison.
"Well you four do as you like. I'm going to get some studying done."
"I don't think so," Minako chimed in, a cheshire grin on her face.
"And why not?"
"Because I hid your books."
Ami gasped in horror. "Give me back my books!" she squealed, lurching across the table at a giggling Minako.
Chibi-usa squatted on the ground in the garden, staring in rapt fascination at a Praying Mantis easing itself up the stalk of a plant. Such insects were unheard of in the thirtieth century. Though she missed her parents and Sailor Pluto, as well as her newly found friend Hotaru, the wonder she felt at that moment made enduring the separation bearable.
The chatter inside had shifted to the subject of current fashion. Minako had pointed opinions on the subject, as usual, and was drawing heated arguments from Usagi and Rei, with Makoto and Ami adding their opinions when they could get a word in. During the discussion, Usagi heard the loud "cawing" of crows from outside. She glanced at Rei and saw the her friend's expression, as if the girl was listening to the birds. Suddenly Rei pushed herself away from the table and moved to the door.
"Rei?" Usagi asked as the others stared after her.
"Shhh," Rei replied. "I can't hear Phobos clearly. He's very excited about something." Rei stepped out onto the porch, gazing up at the sky. The wind had picked up and her thick black hair wafted behind her. The others hovered in the doorway, staring. Rei extended her arm.
Within seconds, a huge black crow perched on the arm, while its twin landed on a bannister nearby. Rei gently pulled her arm to her body until the crow and she were face to face. The crow began clicking its bill, its eyes never leaving Rei's face, while Rei listened intently. This never failed to creep the scouts out, except Ami, but no one said a word. Finally she stroked the bird and glanced at her friends.
"What did Phobos say?" Usagi asked.
"This is Deimos," Rei replied gently. "Something's in the sky. It's making them afraid. They came to warn me," and Rei smiled almost self-consciously, "and my flock."
"What is it?" Makoto asked.
"They don't know. They're only birds." Rei scowled. "But I'm beginning to feel something unnatural in the air myself. It's headed this way, too. We need to be ready."
They all sighed. With the Deathbusters plot hovering over their heads and Hotaru Tomoe missing, they didn't need this, too. They needed to reclaim their lives for a little while. But each scout knew her duty, so there was no protest.
Suddenly Chibi-usa came running up onto the porch. Makoto, nearest to her, knelt down to catch the fleeing girl. Frantic, the girl lept into Makoto's arms and clutched the scout for safety.
"What's wrong, little rabbit?" Makoto asked.
"I saw something!" she cried, clearly upset. "Out in the garden!"
"What did you see?" asked Ami.
"A black cloud!" Chibi-usa wailed. "It's headed for the garden, and it's evil!"
Mamoru weaved in and out of lanes of traffic on his cycle, in a huge hurry. He, too, sensed the coming storm. Although he couldn't discern what it was, he sensed the threat to Usagi and Chibi-usa and knew where he belonged. If only he could get there in time. However, the darkness was faster. As it overtook the cyclist, his eyes closed and his cycle folded under him, skidding to a stop into a retaining wall. Mamoru lay unconscious
Haruka and Michiru were sitting in a sidewalk café, seemingly enjoying each other's company. However, they had other things in mind, as the café sat at an angle that allowed them to observe their high school. The building looked empty at the moment, but they knew better.
"What do you suppose they're doing in there?" Haruka asked, her penetrating gaze fixed on the building that sat on the block like a monolith of evil.
"What we're doing," Michiru commented. "Searching for the Messiah of Silence and planning their next move. They're close, too. Closer than I'd like them to be."
She looked at Haruka, but her partner was distracted. The sandy-haired scout was gazing up into the sky, at a gathering black mist that seemed to be enveloping Tokyo.
"The winds are restless," Haruka commented, her concern controlled, yet insistent.
"As are the seas," Michiru replied. She sensed it now, too, and her arms were over her breast as if she was cold. "It's something different, though. It's isn't connected to The Silence."
"Then the others can handle it," Haruka said dismissively. "Someone must guard against The Silence."
"They'll handle it," Michiru said, her eyes drooping. "They're . . ." and Michiru slumped in her seat. Haruka didn't notice, for she was already unconscious.
"Maybe we better transform," suggested Minako, then quickly added, "What do you think, Usagi?"
"I think I'm getting sick and tired of some new enemy spoiling my day," groused Usagi. She pulled her crystal heart locket off of her blouse and held it up defiantly. "Moon Cosmic Power Make up!"
The locket was followed by four power wands. In seconds, Sailor Moon and her Sailor Scouts were running for the temple garden. Jupiter and Mars took point as the Scouts stared up at the sky. A blackness akin to a bad storm colored the clouds, but they could feel it was no storm. Mercury's visor clicked into place and she began analyzing data. Chibi-usa hung back, wondering if she should transform as well.
"These readings aren't making any sense," Mercury said. "It's a water vapor, like rain, but it's contaminated with some sort of energy. I can't seem to match it to anything I've encountered, but there are elements to the wave signature that resemble psychic energy."
"Just give us a target, Mercury," Venus said. "That cloud is getting too close."
"That's just it," Mercury replied. "There's nothing there to strike at."
"Maybe for you," Mars said and pulled out one of her mystic wards. She pressed it to her forehead, murmuring the sacred chant that energized it.
Her arm reared back, then flung it into the gathering cloud, the ward amazingly resistant to the force of the rising winds. It struck the cloud and immediately the swirling darkness stopped dead, as if it hit an invisible wall. The blackness surged angrily, but couldn't penetrate past the barrier.
"That got it!" Jupiter cheered.
"I'm scanning the area," Mercury announced. "There has to be a source for all that psychic energy!"
With the immediate threat neutralized, Sailor Moon turned and began searching for Chibi-usa. Her gaze took her to the edge of the garden. Suddenly, she locked onto the girl, unconscious on the ground with the black mist swirling around her.
"CHIBI-USA! shrieked Sailor Moon. Venus turned to look, while Jupiter glanced quickly. The cloud surged against the ward as Sailor Moon started for the fallen girl.
"We may need you here," Venus cautioned, catching Usagi's wrist and holding her in place. "I'll go." Usagi wanted to argue, but nodded.
"There!" Mercury cried, pointing to the trees.
The four scouts strained to see what Mercury had locked onto. At first there was nothing but darkness. Then a figure began to emerge from the gloom, a vaguely human figure walking with a confident, unhurried gait. The figure was female, with pallid skin and long tendrils of black hair pouring down her back. A low cut dress was draped loosely on her tall, gaunt frame and brushed the grass, withering it beneath her. Her face had a seductive, terrible beauty to it, but her eyes glowed with a sickly violet light. You didn't need to have the psychic sensitivity of Mars to know this - - thing - - was both supernatural and evil.
"Identify yourself!" snapped Mars. "I invoke you to identify yourself!"
"I?" the demon smiled. "I am the mistress of that which you hold at arm's length. I am the goddess of the clutching beast you lock deep down within you and dare not let out. I am priestess of the dark and unimaginable. I am Tan-Mi-Ko. Would you invoke me, little fire priestess?"
"Aaaah!" Mars cried out in pain. The scouts had only a second to look to their friend, trying to see if she'd been struck, before their attention was drawn to the ward above them. It began to curl and brown, then burst into a bright yellow and crimson flame, the psychic energy feeding back into Rei's conscious mind. The black mists instantly surged forth, hungry for the scouts.
"Sparkling wide pressure!"
"Venus love me chain!"
Both attacks sprang forth, doomed to fail from the start. The chain fell harmlessly away, while the lightning passed through the mist without effect.
"Usagi, use the scepter!" cried Sailor Mercury.
"Right!" she said, then hesitated. "But shouldn't I use the Moon Crisis Attack?"
"Do something! We don't have much time!"
Already Mars was fainting as the mist passed around her. Galvanized by the assault on her friends, Sailor Moon went into action.
"Moon Spiral Heart Attack!" she called out, and the scepter began to glow bright red.
The concentrated heart energy of the silver imperium crystal lanced through the cloud. All of the vapor it touched trembled and faded to light in the face of the pure cherry red energy. Usagi allowed herself a smirk of triumph.
"No, Usagi, strike the demon!" cried Mercury.
To her horror, Usagi watched the black mist pour into the swath her beam had cleaved once the cherry red energy had passed. By now Jupiter and Venus were overcome. Usagi locked eyes with the demon, still approaching her with mocking arrogance. She wondered if she had another scepter blast in her, then realized there wasn't any choice. But as she raised the scepter, the mists coalesced around her and Sailor Moon realized she may have run out of time.
Ami began to summon Shine Aqua Illusion in a last ditch effort to stave off the black mist and buy her and Usagi some time. But the invocation died in her throat as the black mist suddenly dissipated into nothingness. She looked to the demon, expecting some new offensive from it, but the demon seemed just as confused as she was.
"Well, looks like I was right after all," Sailor Moon smirked smugly.
"I don't understand," Mercury murmured. "The psychic wave flow was emanating from the demon. Something's wrong here."
"Oh God, give me a little credit, Ami!" pouted Usagi. "You can't be right all the time!"
"It's not about being right," protested Mercury.
"You think you've won?" the demon bellowed, then added contemptuously, "Sailor Moon! But you haven't! I'll have your minds," and her gnarled hands raised to strike from afar, "one way or another!"
Sailor Moon was caught flat-footed; besides, Ami didn't think Usagi had another strike in her just yet. Ami moved to cover Usagi with her own body, cursing herself mentally for forgetting about the demon in her concern over her mistake. Whatever was coming, she'd take the brunt of the blast, perhaps shield Usagi enough to allow her to counterattack. Mercury steeled herself for the impact.
"World Shaking!" thundered over the grounds, followed by a teeth-rattling geo-force. Ami saw the demon struck squarely by the force Sailor Uranus threw at it. It was lifted, convulsing, into the air, then dissipated into dust under the assault. Mercury relaxed and allowed herself a sigh of relief.
"Such fragile demons shouldn't go around attacking others," Uranus said, savagely pleased with herself.
"Uranus! Neptune!" Sailor Moon squealed happily when she spotted the two outer scouts. "Thanks!"
"Yes, I'm glad you came when you did," Mercury added gratefully.
"Don't be!" Uranus snapped harshly. "You should have handled it yourself!"
Mercury was shocked. Uranus could be callous and blunt, but this was beyond reason. And Uranus seemed to be speaking directly to Mercury.
"You were slow! Clumsy! Dull-witted!" Uranus continued. "It was pathetic!"
"Throwing your own life away is one thing," Neptune added, more calm and controlled, but no less disapproving, "but you risk everyone when you fight as a Sailor Sensei. There's no margin for failure."
Mercury bowed her head. Tears stung her eyes, but she didn't protest. They were right. There was no room in her life for failure. Her best wasn't good enough if it didn't do the job. Too much was at stake. She had to do better. Out of the corner of her eye, Ami could see Mars and Jupiter were awake. They all sat staring at her, their silent accusations a cacaphony in her ears. Ami bit her lip.
"I'll try harder," she whispered, wishing she could crawl into a hole. What probably hurt most was the silence from behind her. Usagi, by not defending her as she so readily defended anyone and everyone, seemed to condemn her the most.
The urgent cry was from behind them all, from Venus. They turned as one.
"Usagi!" screamed Venus, almost panic stricken, kneeling next to a still unconscious little pink haired girl. "Something's wrong with Chibi-usa!"
Usagi broke into a full run and covered the space between them in seconds. Ami was quick on her heels and the others weren't far behind.
"Chibi-usa?" Usagi asked as she knelt down beside the girl. "Come on, this isn't funny!" She reached for the girl, then pulled back, afraid to disturb her. "She's so still!"
"I'll call an ambulance!" Jupiter said and raced off.
"Ami, can you do something?" Mars asked timidly.
"Yeah, you're the doctor's kid," added Venus.
"But I'm not . . ." began Mercury, only to have Usagi's look make her stop. It was so pathetic, terrified and needful, her lip quivering and tears dribbling from her huge, pleading saucer eyes. "I'll do what I can."
They all moved so Ami could lean in. Mercury felt for a pulse and found nothing. Chibi-usa wasn't breathing. She was beginning to turn ashen. Ami wasn't a doctor yet, but she knew a few things and CPR was one of them. She cradled Chibi-usa's neck to tilt the head back and cleared the mouth.
"Does anybody else know CPR?" Ami asked.
"I do," volunteered Minako.
"Chest massage," Ami responded curtly. "I'll breathe."
Mercury began breathing for the little girl, blowing oxygen down her throat. When she paused, Venus would gently press up and down on Chibi-usa's chest with her palms. When Venus reached the necessary number of beats, Mercury would breathe again.
It seemed to take forever. Mercury and Venus worked in tandem, while Mars cradled a whimpering Usagi. Mercury saw it all peripherally: Uranus and Neptune already resigned to the girl's death, Mars offering up silent prayers, Venus looking to her with every thrust of her palms, doubt creeping over her face. And Usagi seemed held together by a thread, ready to fall apart at any time.
Mercury drove herself on. She couldn't quit, even though her ribs were beginning to ache. To quit was to fail and she couldn't fail. It wasn't permitted; not if she was ever going to live up to the pristinely impossible standard of her mother. But Chibi-usa wouldn't breathe, wouldn't respond. Mercury didn't know how long it had been, but she sensed it was becoming too long. Jupiter was watching now, too. The medics were on the way. She pressed on, wondering where they were.
"Ami," came the gentle, firm voice of her mother, followed by her hand on the girl's shoulder. "You can stop now. She's gone."
A mournful wail sprang up from Usagi, like that of a wild animal. She tore herself from Mars' grasp and flung herself across Chibi-usa's body, sobbing uncontrollably. Venus looked down, her closed eyelids too weak a barrier to hold back the tears.
"Poor child," whispered Michiru. She and Haruka turned and walked away.
"I did my best," Ami offered weakly as her mother gathered the girl in her arms.
"I know," her mother responded softly.
However, Ami heard the unspoken addendum. "It wasn't enough, though. You'll have to do better next time." She jammed her eyes shut, stung. She could hear Mars and Jupiter murmuring.
"She really screwed that up," Mars whispered sadly.
"Well what did you expect?" Jupiter responded, her tone pitying. "She's not her mom, after all."
"Maybe she'll never be."
Tears burned paths down Ami's cheeks.
Usagi's wailing had died down to low, mournful keening. Ami pulled away from her mother and softly approached.
"Usagi, I . . ." Ami began.
"Go," Usagi responded, her voice choked with tears. "Just . . . go."
The girl turned away, another pound of flesh lost.
"Come, Ami," her mother said softly. "It's time to stop playing soldier and amount to something."
"Yes, mother," Ami whispered, her transformation wand slipping from her hand. "I'll try to measure up." But as a silver light enveloped them, Ami feared she'd fail yet again.
Her eyelids were heavy and for more than a second Chibi-usa considered staying there and sleeping some more. But whatever she was laying on was hard, so she finally pried herself up. Besides, her mother would be in soon, nagging her to get up. That had never seemed fair, but particularly now that she'd been into the past and knew what a layabout her mother had been as a girl.
The scene that greeted the little pink-haired girl was a strange one. She was outside the castle in Crystal Tokyo, but it wasn't as she remembered. Dark shadows grew from every corner and the sky was a dull indigo. Chibi-usa looked around nervously. No one was there and she couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Hopefully Sailor Pluto had brought them back, but back to what?
"Puu?" she said timidly and instantly snapped her mouth closed.
It wasn't her voice. Chibi-usa scrambled to her feet and instantly sensed it was wrong. She sprang up with far more power than was normal and her line of sight was higher. She looked at her hands. They weren't her hands. She looked at her legs and they weren't her legs.
"What's happening?" the girl wondered aloud. She looked around frantically, trying to find something familiar. Then her eyes locked onto a dreadful sight.
A body, broken and lifeless, lay amid the jagged rocks that surrounded the castle's outer wall. It was a girl, a thin, frail little girl covered from the neck down in a black body stocking and a short dark skirt. Her jet-black hair, cut to the neckline, was strewn across her face. Chibi-usa knew instantly who it was, but she ran over to be certain, praying with every step that it wasn't Hotaru. She knelt down, coming to rest on legs that were far too big to be hers, and cradled the dead girl's face in her hands.
"Hotaru-chan?" she squeaked. Already the flesh felt cold and alien, the wistful features of her friend scarred by the force that had claimed her young life. Chibi-usa's young mind was adding up the evidence she was confronted with, but the summary was too horrible to even conceive. It couldn't be so.
"DADDY!" Chibi-usa cried, breaking out in a full run for the castle. "MOMMY!"
It had to be something else, anything else. She had to find her parents. She had to find her daddy.
"Daddy! Mommy!" yelled Chibi-usa as she burst through the castle doors with far too much ease. "Puu! Somebody help me!"
Chibi-usa bounded into the front atrium, her footfalls echoing through the seemingly empty castle. She raced at full speed for the door that would take her to the royal chambers. Queen Serenity and King Endymion had to be there. But as she closed in on the door, Chibi-usa caught her reflection in a mirror near the door. The girl recoiled in horror.
"NOOOOOO!" she wailed, staring in terror at the reflection of Black Lady. She stumbled back several steps, eyes wide and hands to her mouth, screeching "No! God, no! Not again, no!"
Black Lady plowed through the door and flew up the stairs. She had to find Endymion. He would fix it. He always made things right. Frantic, tears pouring from her eyes, Black Lady searched room to room. She had to find him.
"Black Lady!" Endymion gasped as she flung open the door. She was on him in a second, falling to her knees at his chair even as Endymion flung himself to a safe distance.
"Daddy, it's me!" cried Black Lady. "Somebody did this to me! But it's still me inside! Daddy, please help me! Please don't let them do this to me again! Please! I don't want to hurt anyone again!"
"Chibi-usa?" gaped Endymion.
The svelte, deadly beauty nodded weakly, tears streaming down her face and her chest shuddering from her sobs. She pleaded silently with her beloved father, the man she loved like no other, praying that he could see the child beneath.
Endymion took two steps toward her and Black Lady remained still, looking up at him in supplication. Then he sank to his knees and the girl fell against his chest. Black Lady cried out all of her fear and all of her anguish as Endymion cradled her against him and stroked her head.
"Why, Daddy?" Black Lady sobbed. "Why did it happen again? It was so terrible the first time! I couldn't stop myself from doing such horrible things!"
"I don't know," Endymion offered. "But your mother and I will do something."
"Hotaru-chan is dead! I saw her, Daddy! And I can't find Puu!" she cried. "I'm afraid! I might have done something to them! Help me, Daddy, please!"
Endymion didn't answer. His hand fell away from her head and his other from her shoulder.
"Daddy?" Black Lady asked, suddenly afraid.
She moved to look at her father. Endymion fell from her arms and sprawled limply on the floor. Black Lady shrieked in terror.
"Daddy!" she squealed, shaking Endymion. He didn't respond. "Daddy!" she screamed again, shaking him harder. Her shaking grew more frantic, but it was no use. Endymion was dead and Black Lady sensed to her horror that it was her fault.
Black Lady turned and found Serenity in the doorway. Her mother lunged at them, shoving her out of the way and landing next to her dead husband.
"No!" she cried, her placid demeanor shattering into long shards. "No, my prince . . . my love, don't leave me! You're my life, my strength! I can't go on without you! Oh, oh, Mamo-chan, please! Please come back! I'm begging you!"
"Mommy?" Black Lady squeaked, her pain shunted aside by the anguish her mother felt. "Mommy, please say he's not dead. I-I didn't mean it!"
Serenity whirled on the girl, her eyes blazing with a naked hatred that no one had ever seen possess the woman. Black Lady cringed at the sight.
"You!" spat Serenity. "You ungrateful, evil little spore! What did he do? What did he do to you to deserve this?!"
"I didn't mean it, Mommy!" wailed Black Lady. "Somebody did this to me!"
Then above them both, a spectral entity as dreaded as her current form materialized, laughing.
"No one did this to you, Black Lady," cackled Wise Man. "This form is your destiny. You cannot escape it anymore than you can carry this planet upon your shoulders!"
"No! You're lying!" screamed Black Lady. "Mommy, make him stop!"
"If only I'd known," hissed Serenity. "I would have strangled you with your own umbilical cord! Now everything is gone because I was weak and blind! Why didn't anybody tell me? Why didn't I know?"
"No, Mommy, please!"
"Come to me, Black Lady," said Wise Man, his hand extended. "Embrace your destiny! Embrace the evil that resides within your soul!"
"No!" screamed Serenity. "You won't kill again! I won't let it happen again! Pluto!"
"Yes, my Queen," said Sailor Pluto, appearing from nowhere.
"Deal with this!" "Puu!" cried Black Lady. "It was an accident! Please believe me!"
Pluto's face remained the same, melancholy and world-weary.
"I have no choice, Small Lady," Pluto said. "Dead Scream."
The power hit Black Lady full force. As a silver light engulfed her, Chibi-usa's last thought was that she didn't want to die.
It seemed Makoto had only closed her eyes for a moment, but when she forced them open again, the scene was horrific. Venus and Mars were already down and the demon Tan-Mi-Ko was using the sinister black mist to strangle Mercury and Sailor Moon. Her jaw set and her eyes blazing, Makoto gathered herself.
"Supreme Thunder!" her voice rang out in a low, hoarse, almost masculine roar.
Electricity lanced from the ground to the heavens, using her body as the conductor. Using her mastery over it, Jupiter gathered it into herself, then let it fly at her enemy in an eruption of deadly proportions. Spurred on not only by the menace of the situation, but by the menace to her friends, Jupiter cast as strong a bolt as she could draw from the Earth.
Electricity danced from her, burning the air around them to ozone. So strong was her bolt that the atmosphere around the temple superheated and a tremendous thunderclap shattered glass all over the area. Tan-Mi-Ko was struck dead center in the chest. The demon stiffened, emitting an ear-piercing scream. It shook from the energy overload until it shook into powder and dispersed.
Makoto sunk to one knee, momentarily overcome by the huge transfer of energy. But the warm sun peeking out from behind the dissipating black cloud made her smile. The crisis was over. The city and her friends were safe.
"Guess that took care of . . ." she began to say, turning to her friends. However, the words died in her throat when she saw their expressions. Mercury was astounded. Mars and Venus were looking at her as if they'd never met her before. And Sailor Moon - - Sailor Moon had that nervous, uneasy smile she always got when she was confronted by something that scared her.
"Uh, yeah," Usagi said, her voice quavering. "I, uh, guess that demon won't be bothering us again. W-Whatever you say, Jupiter."
Again? Was it happening again? Makoto thought she had found a place where she could finally fit in. A place where being the biggest and the strongest didn't matter. A place where people wouldn't be scared of her, shun her because they couldn't accept her for who she was instead of what she was.
"L-Look," Mercury stammered. "Maybe this study group idea was a bad one. Perhaps I'd better go home."
"I'll join you!" Venus said, too quickly.
"Um . . ." Usagi began.
"No," Makoto whispered. "You guys stay. I'll go."
As she descended the steps of the temple to the street, Makoto noticed none of them tried to talk her out of it. She let out a loud sigh.
If you asked Makoto what the saddest movie ever made was, her answer would surprise you. She'd say "Frankenstein". She'd say that because it was her life story plastered onto the silver screen. Even as a young girl, Makoto remembered being bigger than everyone else her age. It always came in handy when the kids were choosing up sides for softball. But you can't play softball twenty-four seven.
Unbidden, the memories flooded back. The other girls, always viewing her as a freakish tomboy or a physical threat. The other boys, always seeing her as intimidating or as a challenge. Her life became a vicious circle. If she didn't fight back, the others saw it as weakness and attacked harder. If she did, she just reinforced the stereotype. And when her parents died, it became even harder to control the anger and resentment. The fighting seemed to come even easier to her, but so did the ostracism. Makoto had no one to turn to for help or understanding. Being alone was a lousy life, but often it was either that or constant fighting just to survive.
Makoto had been drowning. Caught in a whirlpool of contempt and mistrust, sick and tired of people fearing her or judging her a freak because she wasn't like them, the girl felt like she was being sucked under. That is, until a life preserver in the form of a goofy, clumsy, always smiling little blonde with two ridiculous balls of hair on her head and infinite charity in her heart pulled her to safety. But now she'd managed to scare even Usagi and the others.
"Oh!" Makoto gasped as she ran into someone. "I'm sorry. I wasn't looking where . . ."
The words died in Makoto's throat as she looked into the face of the man she'd run into. The entire world dropped away. Her whole being seemed to focus in on his face.
"Are you hurt?" he asked.
"No," she mumbled. Her mouth curled up at the corners on its own volition. God, he was so handsome. He had to be the one. Makoto could swear she heard a choir of angels singing. "My name's Makoto."
"Pleased to meet you," he said. She could tell he was slightly uneasy, but he was tolerating it well. Maybe that meant he was kind and loving and compassionate. Maybe he was the one. "Um, are you sure you're all right? Maybe you'd better sit down."
"Sure," she grinned as the stranger led her into the restaurant they were in front of. "Will you sit with me?" It was a bold move, one she wouldn't have normally made outside of a battle with an enemy. However, he smiled and sat across from her at the table.
"That was a bit of a jolt," he offered lightly over tea. "You're pretty strong."
"I've always been pretty strong," she replied, looking down into the tea. "I have friends who need me to be strong. It's a dangerous world, you know."
"I suppose," he said.
As they talked, Makoto couldn't tear her gaze away from him. He was a walking dream come true. Thick, soft black hair, deep soulful eyes and an easy grin made him look like a magazine cover come to life. She sensed strength to him, but an inner grace as well. He had kind hands. The conversation grew more easy between them and she found herself hoping he would ask her out. However, the more time and words passed, the less likely that seemed to occur.
"Maybe he's just shy," she thought, pinning her hopes on a desperate notion.
Suddenly they both realized hours had passed. Her dream man got up. He took her hand, bowed respectfully, and told her he'd enjoyed their time together. As he headed for the door, Makoto felt her chance at something special slipping away.
"Say," she said, stopping him just outside the entrance. "Maybe we could have dinner soon?" She knew it wasn't ladylike to pursue a man so openly and blatantly, but it was often hard for someone with one foot in two worlds to abide by the rules of either. "A lot of my friends say I'm a pretty good cook."
He turned to her, genuinely amused by the idea.
"Really?" he said. "You look like someone who'd be more skilled at building a kitchen than operating in one. Thank you, but I prefer someone more feminine."
All emotion drained out of the girl. She stood in the doorway, stunned, and watched him walk away. He hadn't been malicious about it, but that didn't make it hurt any less.
Makoto's mind whirled. Unbidden, she remembered the times she'd been rejected before, the times she'd watched Usagi and Mamoru kissing and felt such envy, every insult or slight or mocking attitude that had ever left a scar on her heart. A woman by gender, yet too masculine to ever be considered such no matter how much she threw herself into cooking or housekeeping or other "feminine" pursuits. Would the day ever come when she could stop thinking of herself as some mutated, crossbred genetic freak?
"It's not fair!" fumed Makoto, her voice choked with emotion. Her fist lashed out behind her in frustration and broke a window in the front of the restaurant. The clatter of glass woke her from her self-pity, even as the owner raced outside.
"Why did you break my window, you hood?" he snarled, shaking his fist at her.
"I - - I'm sorry!" gasped Makoto. "I didn't mean it!"
"Sure you didn't!" snapped the enraged man. "I know your type! Just because you're bigger than everybody, you think you can do anything you want!"
"No, that's not true!" Makoto argued. "Look, I'll replace . . ."
"Look at you! You're not even a proper woman! You've got more muscles than I do!"
"Stop saying that!" Makoto snapped, her anger growing.
"You're some kind of freak!"
"Take that back!"
"I will not!"
"Take it back!" Makoto demanded.
"Make me, freak!"
Her fist connected with the man's jaw before Makoto even realized she was throwing the punch. Old reflexes had taken over. She felt bone crunch beneath her knuckles and, though she was sickened by it, deep down a little part of her cheered. The man twisted awkwardly on one foot, then spun to the sidewalk with a heavy thud. Makoto stood over him, the surging adrenaline in her body making her temples throb, waiting for him to attack her. However he lay on the sidewalk, unmoving.
"What did she do?" whispered the gathered crowd.
"That girl hit him!"
"Girl? Girls don't punch like that! She's some sort of . . ."
"Shh! You want her to come after you?"
"Hey, he's not moving!"
The words snapped Makoto out of her concentration. He wasn't moving. Several onlookers knelt down to the fallen man. A sick feeling crept over Makoto.
"He's dead," gasped one of the people examining the man.
"You killed him, you," gasped someone in the crowd, "you monster!"
"What are you?" gasped another.
"I-I . . ." stammered Makoto.
Suddenly the crowd surged at her, their faces colored with fear and hostility. Hands clutched at Makoto's blouse, her ponytail, whatever they could get hold of. Fearing for her life, the girl began lashing out with her fists and feet. There were too many, though, and they surged over her like an ocean wave.
With the epitaphs "freak", "monster" and "bully" echoing all around her, Makoto found herself carried off. Hands clutched her arms and torso as they lifted her above them. More hands locked around her legs as she twisted and squirmed, trying to escape them. The mob brought her to a utility pole with an overhanging street light. Makoto's eyes widened with alarm as she some of the people in the crowd carrying torches.
Forced up against the pole, the mob lashed the struggling girl to it. Makoto pulled and tugged for her freedom, but the cords across her chest and around her legs were just too strong. All the while the mob was chanting the same harrowing phrase: "Kill the monster!"
Wood appeared at her feet. Makoto thrashed in the grip of her bonds as the torches were set to the kindling, lighting it afire. She threw her head back and bellowed her impotent rage to the heavens. Already the heat was beginning to blister her skin. The flames around her crackled and danced. Behind them, the angry mob pumped their fists and their torches in the air in triumph.
"Die, monster!" they shouted in chorus. "Die!"
And as a silver light began to envelop her, Makoto's last thought was that she didn't want to die this way.
The mist swirled closer and closer, but the psychic assault was already there, pounding on Rei's senses like a taiko drummer. Through the assault, she could hear Jupiter and Venus attacking, Mercury shouting out readings and recommendations, and Sailor Moon squealing like a five-year-old. Shunting her annoyance aside, Rei began to center herself, gathering her power into her core. But the mental assault was too much for her to control and her fiery temper flared, even as Fire Soul erupted from her. The fireball got away from her, despite her efforts to snatch it back or narrow its scope.
A holocaust of fire burst out, claiming everything in its path. Mars feared the worst and was not disappointed. When the fireball spent itself, what was left sickened her. The beautiful wooded area that had been a sanctuary to birds, animals and more than one troubled spirit visiting the temple was reduced to cinders. There was no telling how many animal bodies were in there, but one charred humanoid was evident. A black mist dissipated from what was Tan-Mi-Ko with a cackle of frustration over its ended life.
What a waste. All those spirits consumed because she'd lost control. Why was it so hard? Sometimes it was as if she was possessed.
"Kinda overkill, don't you think?" chimed in Sailor Moon and just that quickly Rei's vision clouded over red.
"Well maybe you should have done something, Moon Princess!" snarled Mars, whirling on Usagi with a firestorm of rage.
Instantly she regretted her cruel words and tone, just as she had so many times before. Usagi's puppy dog eyes began to mist over and the others got that same old uncomfortable grimace that made Rei feel like an ogre. Even Chibi-usa was clinging nervously to Venus's leg.
"Hey, girl, she didn't mean anything by it," Jupiter offered in mediation.
She was right. So was Usagi. Rei knew she should apologize. But she just couldn't bring herself to do it. To apologize, to soften your stance was weakness and she didn't dare show weakness, ever. Weakness invited attack and she'd suffered too many wounds in her short life to risk it again.
"Is the threat gone?" Mars asked Mercury, avoiding the subject and the apology.
"All my readings are normal," Mercury replied, covering her reproachful feelings with scientific detachment. "It seems to be."
"Good," and Rei ventured past her friends into the charred woodland. "I have some explaining to do."
Out in the center of the carnage, Rei sat down and cleared her mind. She began to reach out to the spirits of the trees she'd killed, to apologize. Trees weren't like humans. They didn't use weakness against you. They didn't try to hurt you because you were different. They weren't malicious. Her mind sought out those she'd wronged, offering her apology, asking forgiveness. The trees didn't respond and Rei grew puzzled. Was something interfering?
"Dad said I was wrong," a male voice said, ripping Rei's eyes open, "but I knew something like this would happen."
Rei examined the man, a dark-haired, oddly attractive man in his late forties. His face was beginning to fill out around the chin and jowls, but he looked familiar. Rei stared for a few moments, searching her memory.
"You!" Rei hissed, the beast within her surging up once more. Her father didn't flinch. "What do you want?!"
"What does it matter what I want," her father spoke, his tone an edgy blend of sadness and contempt with just a little fear mixed in. "It's too late. You're already becoming what I feared."
"Really?" his daughter snapped. "And of course you see that as something bad, right. Well, if it is bad, maybe it's because I never had a father!"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" he replied, not backing down. "I'll take the blame for bringing you into this world, Rei Hino, but that's where my responsibility ends!"
She stared up at him, at the naked hatred streaked with fear radiating from his twisted expression. It was all she could do not to cast him into flames and excoriate him from her life.
"Why do you hate me so?" she asked, more hurt in her voice that she wished to show.
"You don't know? You can't feel it? Or are you just playing with me, demon?"
"What?" gasped Rei, shaken by the word.
"Demon child!" he hissed. "Do you know the horror of seeing your first, most precious daughter claimed by Hell? I tried! I tried to love you, tried to guide and protect you, but I'm only a man! I couldn't handle your powers! I couldn't guide you! Couldn't keep you from the dark path! Dad knew. Dad could contain you. I stayed as long as I could, then I had to go."
"You bastard!" raged Rei, angry tears pouring down her face. "You ignorant, superstitious jerk! For years I prayed you'd abandoned me because you had no other choice! That one day you'd come for me and make it up to me for having to face all those stupid taunts and fearful whispers alone! That some day I wouldn't have to hole up in this temple for the rest of my life because I'm Grandpa's only support and the world thinks I'm some sort of supernatural freak! And all this time you were just like them! Damn you!"
"You think it's just superstition, demon child?" her father said with an eerie calm. "I know better. So does Dad. He kept you contained, but he's old now. He can't hold you back any longer."
"You feel it, don't you? The beast inside you? That ravenous, wild animal inside you that lashes out whenever you lose control? You saw what it can do today. Do you think this is the worst you can do, demon child?"
"No one died today, Rei. Can you say it won't happen the next time? Because you know there always will be a next time."
A primal roar exploded from Rei's throat. Her body shook with the fury that always was and would be her curse to bear. Then a force surged from her, dissipating that tremendous anger, hurt and betrayal that gripped her. When she regained her senses, her father stood aflame before her. Shock possessed her body as Rei scrabbled back along the ground, stumbling and falling against a burnt hulk of a tree.
"You see," the flaming corpse said before collapsing.
"Rei?" she heard Usagi say. The voice trembled with shock and alarm, with the concern for a friend that Usagi would always possess, but with just a tint of dread as well. It was like an arrow through Rei's heart.
"Run, Usagi," Rei whispered, keening on the ground, her legs pulled to her chest. "Run. Run before I consume you, too."
The singing career was gone. Anime actor, loving wife, temple priestess - - all gone. It would be oh so lonely, but she'd been lonely before. It was better this way. She was the fire, and fire consumed everything it touched whether it was innocent or not. It was better to go off alone, far away, so she couldn't hurt anyone.
And so no one could hurt her. As the silver light enveloped her, Rei began to cry.
Her eyelids were getting heavy. It would be so easy to give into the fatigue she suddenly felt. But Minako knew she couldn't. Her vast experience, both as a sailor scout and before as Sailor V, told her that to succumb was to be defeated. Marshaling all of her strength, Sailor Venus fought her way back to consciousness.
"Love Me Chain, Encircle!" Venus shouted, directing the energy chain at Tan-Mi-Ko.
"Ha ha ha ha ha!" the demon cackled as she pressed her hands together, palms flared, in front of her. The chain deflected harmlessly away.
"Crescent beam!" Venus bellowed, straining to put everything she could behind the blast of energy. Again it was useless. The demon deflected it away with little effort.
But Venus knew to bunch her attacks. As the beam shot forward, the sailor scout followed it toward the demon. Even as Tan-Mi-Ko deflected the energy beam, Venus flung herself at the demon about chest high and delivered a vicious kick to its face. Her Sailor V Kick staggered the menace. However, the demon recovered with supernatural speed. Sailor Venus felt a cold, unearthly hand lock around her ankle in a grip of iron.
"Venus, get out of the way!" she heard Mercury shout. Not knowing what the scout planned, Venus nevertheless executed a twisting somersault while in the grip of the monster that took her temporarily above it. The maneuver would have been impossible for anyone other than the legendary Sailor V.
"Shine Aqua Illusion!" Mercury yelled.
Tan-Mi-Ko was struck full on and quick frozen, all but the hand clutching Venus. Minako executed another impossible twist, nearly dislocating her ankle, and wrenched free. She flipped over and out of the way, landing at the ready on the balls of her feet.
"Moon Spiral Heart Attack!" rang out, followed closely by a cherry red energy force that smashed through Tan-Mi-Ko with tremendous force. It shattered both Ami's ice block and Tan-Mi-Ko like brittle glass. Sailor Venus nodded in triumphant satisfaction.
"What did you think you were doing?"
Venus turned in confusion and found Mars glaring at her. The other scouts flanked Mars and none of them were happy.
"Just kicking butt, gang," Venus grinned, striking a ridiculous pose that always diffused resentment in the past.
It didn't work this time.
"Hey, what's up?" Venus gaped, stunned by the vehemence of her friends. "I was just trying to beat that demon."
" 'We' were beating the demon," Mars snarled, "until you had to start grandstanding!"
"Yeah, we're a team, girl!" snapped Jupiter. "That means we act like a team!"
"I made a judgment call!" Venus countered.
"Then you showed poor judgment," Mercury said. "We had it handled."
"But we keep forgetting how much better Sailor V is than the rest of us," Sailor Moon added, her voice dripping with bitterness.
"Hey, what is this, guys?" Venus said, struggling to comprehend the attack on her. "If I overstepped myself, I'm sorry. I guess it's just instinct."
"Instinct or ego?" Mercury asked. "Face it, you've never been comfortable in the group since we found out Usagi was the Moon Princess."
"That's not true!" Venus protested.
"You've always had to be the star!" Jupiter scowled. "You've always shown us up whenever you could! You have to be number one!"
"Always going off on your own, undercutting Sailor Moon's authority!" sneered Mars. "Acting like your way is the only way!"
"Hey, you should talk!"
"I'm surprised you didn't try to steal Mamoru away from me!" fumed Sailor Moon, her face twisted in hate. "Well I've had enough of you, glamour girl! You're out of this group!"
"But . . ." Venus sputtered. The four sailor scouts pushed past her and stalked off. "Come on, guys! Whatever I did, I'm sorry!" The scouts continued on, unmoved by her pleas. "Don't do this! Please, don't shut me out like this! Whatever I did to offend you, I'll change! I promise!"
Venus stumbled and fell to her knees. The sailor scouts walked on, ignoring her. She scrambled to her feet, trying to catch up to them, but they seemed to easily out-distanced her.
"Wait!" she cried. "Don't go! I'm sorry! Don't hate me!"
Venus suddenly found herself in a sea of people, cutting her off from her friends. She tried to push her way through to them. That only made the mass of humanity angry. They began shoving her. Soon the girl was bouncing around the crowd like a pinball.
"Who do you think you are?"
"Quit shoving, brat!"
"You're no better than us!"
"Stop!" cried Sailor Venus, helpless against the tide.
"Don't tell me what to do!"
"She doesn't belong!"
"I do!" Minako wailed.
"Thinks she's somebody!"
"Why are you all doing this to me?" Minako shrieked.
All around her were faces twisted in hatred and hands shoving her away. There wasn't a friendly face in any direction. The jostling continued until Minako lost her balance and tumbled to the ground.
The mob surrounded her, flinging insults and angry accusations. Minako looked up at them, whimpering, overwhelmed and fearful for her very life. Amid the mob of strangers were every person she'd ever known. It was as if the entire world had turned against her. And her mother, no surprise, was leading them.
"Don't!" cried Minako, tears streaming down her pretty face. "Please!"
Just then, Sailor Venus spotted someone in the distance. A man had a woman up against a building. He seemed to be choking her.
"Let me through!" she shouted desperately, her own problems shunted to the background as her training took over. Being a sailor scout was an obligation that couldn't be ignored, no matter the turmoil in one's own life. She had been selected and she had to serve, no matter what.
The mob grasped at her, trying to hold her back. Reluctantly, Venus began shoving, using her experience to cleave her way through the swarm of angry people. Finally she broke free, save for one single annoyance clinging to her neck, trying to impede her. Venus glanced around and saw it was her mother. A simple judo flip disposed of her. Venus felt a little guilty about the satisfaction that gave her, but only a little.
Racing toward the crime, Venus found her senses had been right. The massive man was strangling the unfortunate woman. He radiated strength and had an unearthly presence about him as well.
"Venus Love-me Chain encircle!" Venus shouted.
The chain sprang forth and wrapped around the man, gripping him tight. Grabbing one end, Venus jerked on the chain, hoping to pull him away from his victim. However, the man wouldn't budge. His victim sank to the ground, stunned and gasping. At least he was away from her.
"This ought to get the crowd back on my side," grinned Venus, ever confident.
Venus lunged forward and delivered a roundhouse kick to his face in the best tradition of Sailor V. It didn't effect him. He made a lunge for Venus, but the chain thankfully held and he couldn't raise his arms. Venus scrambled away, crouching at the ready in case her adversary pursued his attack.
His victim forgotten, the unearthly giant bolted forward, directly at Sailor Venus.
"Venus Crescent Beam!" shouted Venus.
The beam, aimed directly at the oncoming menace, lanced out. Though she was aiming low at his ankles to try to bring him down, the unexpected happened. Upon striking the strange menace, he exploded suddenly in a gigantic fireball. Molten liquid sprayed out in every direction. The force of the blast knocked Sailor Venus back against a wall, stunning her.
Then some of the super-hot liquid hit Minako's face. Instantly, seering pain gripped the girl. Her hands shot up to her face even as her strength vacated her legs. Sinking to her knees, Minako furiously rubbed at her face with the material of her elbow length gloves to remove the burning liquid. As it ate through the material of her gloves, Minako could feel the burning liquid disappear. The pain in her face wasn't subsiding, but it wasn't growing. Staggered, in shock, Sailor Venus lay against the wall, her mind registering only the tingling of her face. Then she registered the muted whispers of the crowd.
Pulling herself up to her feet, Venus struggled to the reflective surface of a nearby car. She didn't want to look, but she faced the reflection with all the bravery ever demonstrated by Sailor V.
At first, all she could do was stare in shock. Her golden hair was singed and ragged. Her costume was shredded. And her face - - that twisted, red, pocked, featureless lump of dead flesh with two wide eyes staring out of it couldn't be her. But when it's misshapen mouth pulled back in a grimace and tears welled up the same time she felt hers welling, Minako knew.
"Everything," she whispered, sinking to the ground against the car and clutching her head in her hands. "It's cost me everything: My career, my past, my future, even my looks! Now I'll never be famous," and she sobbed raggedly, "unless it's as the ugliest woman in the world! Oh, Artemis, help me!"
To add to her misery, the piteous buzz of the crowd made her even more aware of the terrible price she'd paid for her heroics. If only they would go away. Ironic; mere moments ago, she was courting them. Now she wished them gone. As a silvery light engulfed her, Minako prayed it was oblivion.
It seemed like she'd only closed her eyes for a moment, but when Sailor Moon opened them, she found a completely alien vista before her. The sky was an ominous violet, the ground was brown and rocky, barren and devoid of life.
"Mercury?" she called out tentatively. The echoing wind whistled through the craggy surroundings. "Guys?"
No one responded. Nothing could be seen save for the craggy terrain. Sailor Moon rubbed her upper arm nervously. It wasn't as if she sensed a threat; there was nothing around. But the scene disturbed her so much that she had an urge to move and began walking forward. There was no goal, save to find someone, anyone, and find out what was going on.
"I wonder what happened?" muttered Usagi as she worked her way through the rocky landscape. She stepped wrong, nearly turned an ankle and grimaced. "They're probably playing a trick on me. I bet they're sitting behind a rock, laughing at me. Not funny, guys!"
The wind mocked her.
"Or maybe this is because of that demon thingy. I did shoot the wrong thing. Oh, I wish Ami were here to tell me what was going on . . . or Minako. She'd know what to do."
Usagi grunted as she hauled herself over a rocky upshoot, then cautiously eased her way down a steep incline.
"I wish Mars or Jupiter were here to help me be strong," she said, sniffing back tears, "or Mamo-chan. God, I miss Mamo-chan right now. He'd wrap me up in his cape and carry me off to some place safe."
She continued to ease down the incline.
"I'd even take Chibi-usa right now," murmured Usagi, "the little wart."
Halfway down the incline, Usagi began to compliment herself on handling the situation with uncharacteristic nimbleness. It was at that moment that a loose stone dislodged beneath her feet.
"YIIIIIIIIII!" squealed Sailor Moon. Her arms pin-wheeled violently as she tried to regain her balance. The girl teetered precariously as gravity seemed to toy with her. Just as she was nearly there, more soil gave way and Sailor Moon tumbled down the side of the incline.
"Uh, oh, uh, uh, ow!" gasped Usagi, rolling to a stop at the bottom. "Uhhhh," she groaned, gathering her wits. "Ow! Why couldn't Sailor Scouts have hard suits instead of mini-skirts? My legs are probably all scraped!"
The rest of her complaint caught in her throat. Sailor Moon saw upon looking up a body lying not two feet from her. She couldn't see the face due to the position of the body, but she recognized the soiled, tattered green skirt.
"Neptune!" Sailor Moon cried, scrambling along the rocks on hands and knees.
She cradled Sailor Neptune in her lap, bending down to try to revive her. But the girl gasped in shock and recoiled upon seeing Neptune's lifeless eyes staring back up at her. Neptune slumped to the ground. Sailor Moon's eyes welled with tears and her lips quivered.
Desperately she looked around, searching for help. Off to her left, near a gap in the rocky terrain, she spotted two more figures on the ground. One was Uranus, the other possibly Pluto. Hauling herself off the ground, Sailor Moon sprinted to them, hoping she wasn't too late.
When she arrived, she could see Pluto was gone, too, an ugly burn on her chest. Uranus was still breathing, though raggedly. Sailor Moon knelt down and cradled the scout. Haruka's face and limbs were criss-crossed with scars and abrasions, and her mouth seemed pulled in a permanent grimace.
"Dumpling," whispered Uranus. "At least you made it."
"Haruka, what happened?" sobbed Sailor Moon.
"Demon . . . won," she rasped. "Everyone's dead . . . just us left . . ." She felt Usagi's tears plinking on her forehead. "Don't be . . . sentimental about me . . . Dumpling. You've got work . . . to do."
"What? What do I do?" Sailor Moon cried. Uranus gazed into her eyes.
"Wonder what it . . . would have been like .. ." and Uranus died.
"Haruka!" wailed Usagi. She bent over the woman's body and sobbed mournfully. Then she sat bolt upright, her cheeks wet and her eyes wide. "No. Please don't let it be true," she whispered. "Not again!"
Sailor Moon raced off in the direction the bodies were leading. Just over a ridge, Jupiter lay dead. Mercury was about fifty feet beyond her. There were others too, civilians she didn't recognize. Men, women and children, all dead. Usagi's heart thumped loudly in her chest as she ran on. Her mind was in a full panic.
She found Venus about a hundred yards along, amid more bodies. The scout cradled Artemis to her and they had died together. It was all becoming too much for her. All the death and destruction, all of her friends gone; it was too much to accept.
"Mars!" she shouted into the wind. "Luna! Anybody?"
Further on, amid carelessly strewn bodies, was the lifeless form of Luna. Sailor Moon picked the cat up and cradled it to her breast. Luna had been her conscience and her confidant. She thought back, trying to remember if she'd ever told the little cat how much she loved her. It was criminal for Luna to die, but it would be more so if she died not knowing.
"Mars," she gasped, clinging desperately to the only hope she had left. "Please let Mars be alive! Please!"
Sailor Moon picked her way through the carnage until she came to one body. It was a grotesque parody of human life, but enough remained to show her it was Tan-Mi-Ko. She wanted to feel some sort of bitterness or hatred for the thing that had doomed so many, but she couldn't. It wasn't in Usagi's nature. All she could feel was an enormous pity and sadness for her enemy. All that energy devoted to destruction and evil was just so useless.
She turned away, and there before her was Mars. Sailor Moon forced herself forward and walked mechanically to her friend, her last hope draining away. She reached the body, then sank to her knees like a puppet with its strings cut.
"Rei," she whispered, her voice so choked with emotion that it couldn't go louder. "Not again. Why did you all have to die again? Now I'm all alone." And the dam burst. Tears poured out of the anguished girl. "All alone . . ."
Sailor Moon curled up into a little ball and cried piteously. She didn't want to see anything else. She didn't want to look for Mamoru. She was too afraid she'd find him and the sight of Mamoru broken and dead again was one sight she just couldn't take. So she cried and her sobs echoed through the still, lifeless Earth. No one heard. No one came. No one was touched by her sadness.
Usagi cried until there were no more tears left to cry. She lay in her little ball afterward, hiccuping from so many tears shed and so many sobs given off. She thought about what Uranus had said. It was up to her. It was always up to her, but never more so than now. The girl pulled herself up to her knees.
"Crisis .. .hic, . . .Make Up."
The change and the accompanying surge of power and energy that usually thrilled her was barely noticed now. Super Sailor Moon had other things on her mind. It was up to her. She was the only one who could save Mamoru. She was the only one who could save her friends. She was the only one who could save the world.
And she was the only one who could save herself from the unbearable loneliness. She was Sailor Moon, the future Neo-Queen Serenity and the architect of Crystal Tokyo, but more importantly she was Usagi Tsukino, and if Usagi had no one to shower love and friendship on, she had no reason to exist.
Cradling the Sacred Cup in her hands, Usagi closed her eyes and poured her prayers into her power source. She called the staggering power of the cup forth, holding it in her mind's hands, manipulating it. It was a strain. It was always a strain, but what she planned would most likely kill her. It didn't matter. To resurrect her world, or her friends, or even only Mamoru, was enough to make the price worth paying.
The cup began to glow silver. Its radiant energy seemed to vibrate from the cup, spreading out in all directions. She filled it with her one prayer over and over: "Bring them back; bring everyone back." The energy seemed to waiver for a moment, then spilled out like water, flooding over everything. As Super Sailor Moon was enveloped by the silver energy, she felt a familiar weakness within her. As always, it was like the cup was drawing its power from her.
"Take it," she whispered. "Take it all. Take everything I have. Just save my world. Save my friends."
As the silver energy radiated out in the real world, it began to dissipate the black mist surrounding everyone. As they were touched by the silver energy, a calm overtook each scout and each person in Tokyo. Their fear, dread and sorrow were replaced by a secure feeling. They could each feel Sailor Moon's loving prayer touch them through the energy of the Sacred Cup. Her calm serenity and her overpowering wish for everyone's well-being felt like a warm, comforting touch. The darkness that had invaded everyone's mind dissolved under the onslaught. Everyone began to wake up from their nightmares and realize that, so long as Sailor Moon commanded the energy of the silver imperium crystal and the Sacred Cup, there was nothing to fear.
"Save my . . ." and Usagi stopped with a start. "Huh?"
The vista of destruction was gone. She was back in the temple. She held the cup and wore the reignment of Super Sailor Moon, so that at least had happened. But everything else evaporated as if it had been a dream.
The first thing that caught her eye was Tan-Mi-Ko collapsing to the ground about sixty yards in the distance. A black mist seemed to rise from the demon's body and chattered angrily as it dissipated. The clouds instantly began to revert to white, the sky to blue.
"Was it all a dream?" gaped Usagi. "Some sort of evil vision?" She looked around for her friends and spotted Mars pulling herself off the ground. "REI!"
Mars turned just in time to spot Sailor Moon before the girl tackled her. They both tumbled over into the grass, Usagi's arms wrapped around Rei's neck and chest.
"Usagi, have you gone totally mental?!" Rei gasped.
"Go ahead!" Usagi squealed happily. "Yell, scream, call me names, hit me, I don't care! You're alive!" Mars saw tears pouring down Usagi's face, but she saw the huge grin as well.
"I won't hit you," smiled Mars. "But if you keep hugging me like this, we're going to have to get married." Usagi burst out laughing, but she didn't let go.
"Are we going to have to pour water on your two?" Venus jibed.
"Minako! Oh, I'm so glad you're all safe!" cried Sailor Moon. She released Mars, lurched to her feet and hugged Venus and Mercury, who was standing next to Venus. Jupiter was behind them, cradling a crying Chibi-usa. Sailor Moon reached for her friend, but couldn't grasp her without strangling Mercury.
"What exactly did you see, Usagi?" Venus asked, staggered by Sailor Moon's exuberant relief.
"The most horrible, awful, terrible thing I could possibly imagine!" Usagi said. "And I'm so grateful it wasn't real!"
Mercury looked at Mars and the two seemed to share the same thought.
"You know, the energy that mist was giving off was psychic," Mars said.
"Yes, it could have induced unconscious hallucinations geared to a person's greatest fear," Mercury summarized.
"So that demon was making us all live out our worst fears?" asked Venus.
"It certainly fit what I saw," shivered Jupiter.
"Me, too," Venus said. Mercury and Mars kept their own counsel.
By this time, Sailor Moon had taken Chibi-usa from Jupiter. The little girl clung to Sailor Moon, still crying and terrified.
"Did you hear Mercury, little rabbit?" Sailor Moon cooed in a soft, soothing tone. "It was just a dream."
"But," sobbed Chibi-usa, "what if it does happen? I don't want to hurt you! I don't want to hurt anybody!"
"We know, little rabbit. We know you have a good heart. You just have to have faith: Faith in the power of the silver imperium crystal and faith in your own good heart. Believe, little rabbit. You'll never hurt anyone if you believe in the power of a good heart."
Chibi-usa crushed herself to Sailor Moon, wanting desperately to believe. The scouts looked on, contented smiles on their faces. It was just the thing you'd expect Sailor Moon to say. Suddenly their reverie was broken by the sound of something vaulting the wall and moving through the nearby shrubs at high speed. They turned to confront it and found Tuxedo Mask racing up to them, a haunted look on his face.
"Mamo-chan!" squealed Chibi-usa. She jerked herself out of Sailor Moon's arms and lunged for Tuxedo Mask. He caught her and she clung to him. Cradling the little girl, he walked up to Sailor Moon.
"Usako!" he gasped, unable to believe she was before him. "I saw you ..."
"It's over now," she smiled sweetly, touching his cheek. The pain in his eyes seemed to dissipate and Sailor Moon felt her heart leap.
Tuxedo Mask clutched her to him and Sailor Moon molded herself to his strong form. She let out a very loud, very contented sigh. Then she heard it echoed by four other voices.
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