"Ti, we try to avoid contact with the Senshi remember? Showing
them all where we live is a bad idea." Calcite wasn't worried about
being overheard as he was speaking the Dark Kingdom's language. He hadn't
used their native tongue in months as speaking Japanese had become second
nature. But it was perfect for this situation as it meant only their group
would understand him. At least that's what he thought until Sailor Hermes
spoke a few harsh, guttural words.
"So you're still scared of the Senshi? Interesting." Calcite stared at her momentarily at a loss. He wasn't alone, Margrave and the other Renegades were equally stunned.
Sailor Moon looked up from petting Margrave. "Do they have a throat infection?" The question jogged Titanite out of her daze.
"Huh? Uh no, they're speaking Youma'shak, our native language. I didn't know you guys could do that."
"There's a youma language?"
"Sure. You didn't think we spoke contemporary Japanese in the Dark Kingdom?"
"Well ... yeah. Every youma we met did. Matter of fact they all spoke fluent Japanese. Hey! You must have had great language teachers in the Dark Kingdom. Think you could help me with my English classes?"
"Actually we sort of cheat. See we have these translator implants. As you use them you build up your vocabulary and context until you're hardly accessing them anymore."
"Oh." Usagi felt disappointed until the brainstorm hit. "Hey can I trade something for one of those translators? I've got a huge pile of old manga mom wants me to recycle."
"Well I don't ... what have you got?"
Pyrite called over, "Ti, we don't have any spare translators. And I'm not making one just so you can get more comics and Sailor Moon can cheat in school."
Sailor Mercury nodded, "You should succeed in school through your own hard work and dedication. Not because of some magical trick."
Titanite glowered and Sailor Moon seemed on the verge of tears as she accused Ami-chan of being mean to her. Watching this Sailor Zeus felt close to tears herself. She was just like Usagi ... no she was Usagi! The Usagi of a world where everything worked out. She glanced over to her counterpart who was watching her suspiciously. A world where the only thing I have to worry about is finding a new boyfriend. At least that's what I was like. She called herself Sailor Jupiter not Sailor Zeus. Ami's lookalike called herself Sailor Mercury. What differences are there apart from the names? Which reminded her, "So you're Minako Aino, Sailor Aphrodite and she's Rei Hino, Sailor Ares?"
"I'm Sailor Venus ..."
"And I'm Sailor Mars!"
"So Usagi's the only one who has the same Senshi name? How about Luna and Artemis?"
"If you mean the cats then those are their names." Weirder and weirder.
Turning back to Calcite and Sailor Hermes he'd regained his voice. "How did you learn youma'shak?" He was watching her closely. Hermes cursed herself for showing off. She might have just thrown away a hole card. She should have kept her knowledge secret. "I didn't learn it. I have a translator ...", she'd been listening to Titanite and Usagi, "... much as you do."
Sailor Mercury frowned. "I don't have a translator."
"Then I assume Artemis is fine. I ... acquired mine from him after he had no further use for his."
Minako overheard that and stared at Hermes. "What do you mean Artemis didn't need it?"
Hermes looked her in the eye and said coldly. "He sacrificed himself to save our lives. After he died Luna insisted I take his translator as Artemis wouldn't want it wasted. She kept going despite losing everything that mattered. I've done my best to follow her example."
There was a moment's silence broken by Usagi asking, "So where's the food Polaris mentioned?" Calcite was about to say it was none of her business when Mercury called up a streetmap on her terminal. She turned the screen to face him and asked, "Is this your house?" From the way he twitched it obviously was the right address. The Senshi and Renegades craned their necks to try and see the screen. Mercury blanked it and folded up her terminal.
Calcite make a rapid recovery and assessment. He asked quietly, "How long have you had that information?" From the way the other Senshi looked they were almost as surprised as him.
"I uncovered your whereabouts shortly after the incident with the fake generals. While we'd agreed not to look for you as long as you didn't cause trouble I decided it might be wise to discover your new location. Purely as a precaution."
Sailor Venus frowned. "Why didn't you ever mention it to me?"
"There was never any reason too. While there were some strange incidents shortly afterwards the source obviously wasn't youma. As the DKR, which I believe Polaris said was the group's name, weren't connected to Chibi-Usa's pursuers or subsequent events I had no reason to reveal their location. Also ..." She paused and blushed slightly before continuing, "... I had to break into a number of civic databases to find them." The blush deepened.
Jupiter shook her head. "Ami, you're a cyberpunk!" Sailor Mercury turned even redder and mumbled something about necessity.
Azurite swore under her breath. They've known where to find us all along. Okay so we always suspected it wouldn't be too difficult if they wanted to but ... She took a moment to compose herself. On the positive side the Senshi hadn't used this knowledge against them. Still it meant Cal's house was no longer secure. She glanced over to Calcite and caught his nod. Guess who's coming to dinner?
"Well as it seems our location isn't secret I guess my sister's invitation stands after all." Titanite was about to cheer while Margrave forget acting cute and shot him a sharp look. "With one precaution." His sister watched him in confusion as he made eye contact with Sailor Hermes. Something formed in his hand. She glanced away to Sailor Zeus, pursed her lips then looked back and nodded. She caught the collar Calcite tossed her. Zeus stared at her in shock.
"It's a sign of good faith. Besides we stand or fall together. If things go wrong I can't keep going without you. Anyway the odds against me alone are ridiculous." She snapped the collar into place.
Somewhat grudgingly Calcite said, "That earns you a lot of credibility." He'd expected her to refuse.
"Maybe this'll give us a bit more." Suddenly she was holding something. Calcite, Azurite and Margrave all tensed and prepared to strike when they realized that it was her computer. Hermes tossed it to Mercury who caught it but looked very confused. "Tie it into yours and compare the data. I'd like to know just how different this world is from ours." Mercury nodded and began linking the two terminals together.
"So how do we get to this secret headquarters of yours? Is it far? Cause we aren't exactly inconspicuous on the bus." Rei was feeling rather left out by recent events. All she'd done lately was get knocked over by Usagi then stand around trying to figure this whole mess out.
"It's some distance away. We got here by teleportation."
"Really?" Sailor Moon sounded surprised. Then she confided to Titanite, "Course we can teleport too."
Ami looked up from the interfacing terminals. "We've never actually tried short range transport. I don't know if we can jump exactly enough as our other jumps were to large open areas."
"No problem!" Titanite beamed, it was so obvious. "Four Renegades, eight of the rest of you. If we all take two of you with us, no problem." Before her brother could object she added, "It's close enough that I can handle the additional mass with ease. Want to come with me?" Sailor Moon looked uncertain but nodded, perhaps thinking of the promised snacks. "Great then I'll take you and Margrave." A brief flicker of alarm crossed the catwoman's face but wasn't noticeable unless you knew her. Which Ti did. "Don't worry Margrave. I know what I'm doing." Margrave looked as though she was about to say something but simply nodded.
"Ti I think it would be best if ..." Suddenly the threesome was gone.
Pyrite coughed. "That appears to resolve the matter."
Calcite stifled the urge to sigh. "Seems that way." He looked from Hermes to Zeus. "I'll bring the outsiders. Azure, Pyr split up the others." He took Hermes arm and she shuddered at his touch. For a moment Zeus seemed ready to fight but at a signal from Hermes she joined her silently. Pyrite performed a quick courtly bow.
"If two of you ladies would care to join me?"
Jupiter took a step towards him but was blocked by Azurite. "I think you'd better ride with me. Anyone else?" Mercury joined Pyrite followed closely by Mars who eyed him suspiciously. Venus joined Jupiter. Azurite wondered if Venus knew that on the few occasions Gray and Lord Calcite had been required to appear simultaneously she'd filled in for the latter.
"Either of you get warpsick?"
"Guess we'll find out." With that all three Renegades teleported dragging the Senshi with them.
The nine materialized in the room Titanite had decorated earlier. To see the three early arrivals sprawled on the floor. Calcite immediately rushed to Titanite's side as the four Senshi noisily clustered around Sailor Moon. Mercury knelt down to examine her as the others stood over her asking what was wrong. After a quick word with Azurite Pyrite pushed through the crowd to have a look at Margrave. While Azurite listened to the crowd she kept her gaze locked on Sailors Hermes and Zeus. If they tried to take advantage of the confusion she'd be ready for them. They didn't. Right now they were studying Ti's banners with confusion. They were also practically drooling over the food. Yet despite their obvious hunger they regarded the food with suspicion.
None of the three seem to be suffering. Quite the contrary all seemed locked in a euphoric daze. Titanite kept repeating "Beautiful" while Pyrite heard Margrave giggle and mutter, "Scuse me while I kiss the sky." Sailor Moon had been silent but she suddenly looked into Ami's eyes and spoke.
"All is one tied together by the thread of infinity. Time and space are illusions within the whole. I have become one with the arc of forever ..." Sailor Mercury was looking worried while everyone else looked confused. Then Usagi's nose wrinkled and she sniffed the air, "FOOD!" The glaze disappeared from her eyes along with all hints of cosmic awareness. She nearly bowled Mercury over in her hurry to track the odour's source. The others sighed in relief, that was the Usagi they knew. Her bellow snapped Margrave and Titanite out of their trances.
Margrave rubbed her head and muttered, "Haven't felt like that since I chewed J'mara root."
Quietly in youma'shak Pyrite asked, "You used J'mara?"
"Just once, when I was much younger. I didn't think the visions and contentment were worth the scrambled senses and being off guard. A wise decision considering the average lifespan of J'mara users." She gave him one of her sultry looks, "Besides I found better ways to obtain my pleasures. As I can demonstrate."
Pyrite smiled faintly. "I see you're back to normal." He nodded towards the Senshi who were trying to find out what had happened from Usagi (along with restraining her from throwing herself at the buffet). "Meantime we have company." Margrave sighed quietly and nodded. Think cute and nonthreatening. She slipped back into brain dead and bouncy mode.
Meanwhile Titanite was looked confused as she tried to work it out. "What happened? I don't know ... I did the jump and ... and as we were in between the park and the house ..."
"Ti it's impossible to perceive anything during the jump. It lasts a nanosecond at most."
"Cal I know that! But you weren't there and I'm just trying to describe what I think happened."
"Sorry. Go ahead."
"It's like suddenly I was everywhere in the world ... part of everything. No that's not right. I was seeing that but ... but it all centered on her." She pointed to Sailor Moon then continued, "The rest of you didn't have any problems?"
"No, so it's not teleporting with Senshi that does it. Of course there's only on Moon Princess. I wonder if it's connected with the Ginzuishou?"
Sailor Moon heard that and turned to look at him. "What about the Ginzuishou?"
"Just speculating that it might have reacted with Ti's teleport for some reason. Fortunately the effects seem temporary." As he said this Titanite realized she didn't feel any hint of warp sickness.
Sailor Moon was still looking at Calcite. "Polaris-chan said that there was food for guests?"
He'd forgotten about that in the recent confusion. "Hmmm ... oh yes. Ti got a little carried away so there's far more than we can possible eat. Please help your ..." Sailor Moon pounced on the buffet and began sampling everything. Embarrassed expressions and large sweat drops appeared on the other Senshi. "...selves."
Sailor Hermes stood there undecided, glancing from the table to the renegades in confusion. Sailor Zeus made a quick decision, walked over to the table and began loading a plate. Meanwhile Usagi was chomping her way through coldcuts, springrolls, sushi, rumaki, fried shrimp, scotch eggs and a variety of other foods. After Sailor Polaris joined Usagi at the table all the Senshi except Mercury and Hermes followed and began picked at the buffet in a more civilized fashion. Hermes kept studying the food with distrust while Mercury was reading through the data from the interfaced terminals.
The adults watched the single girl feeding frenzy with a certain disbelief. In between mouthfuls she'd ask Ti what she was eating. Ti was happy to answer as she liked seeing her cooking appreciated. This was where the problem arose. Sailor Moon tried a small basket full of small golden brown cylinders. She "Ummmed" in appreciation and began emptying it. Titanite beamed, that had been an experiment but looked like it was a success!
Sailor Moon stopped munching long enough to say, "These are delicious! Sweet and crunchy. What are they?"
"Kruthan'ick!" Sailor Moon slapped her hard on the back and Titanite went down. From the floor she asked, "Why did you do that?"
"You were choking!"
"I wasn't choking! That's its' name." Sailor Mars muttered "Odango head" at Usagi and helped Titanite back up.
Sailor Moon glanced into the nearly empty bowl. "Funny name."
"Well that's not exactly its' name. It's a Dark Kingdom recipe that I modified as you can't get any of the real ingredients. But I think its' a pretty good copy."
Usagi frowned and eyed the remnants a little dubiously. Jupiter asked, "So it's not really Dark Kingdom food?" Ti nodded. "It's really just Earth food prepared in Dark Kingdom style?" Ti considered arguing about the "normal food" part but instead just said, "That's right."
Usagi breathed a sign of relief then got back to work on the bowl. Everything would have been fine if Jupiter hadn't asked, "What does the name mean?" and Ti hadn't answered honestly.
"It roughly translates as 'Honey glazed Krut'. Of course you can't get Krut around here so I had to substitute crickets but I think ... Are you all right?" Sailor Moon had just turned an interesting shade of green. She clamped a hand over her mouth and glanced around frantically. Calcite took a guess at what that meant.
"Up the stairs, first door on your right." Sailor Moon headed for the toilet with a speed that astounded those who knew her. Mars and Venus put their plates down carefully and stepped backwards. Sailor Jupiter began studying the food a lot closer while Titanite looked a bit dismayed. Calcite decided to intervene.
"I should mention that my sister only made one attempt to replicate Dark Kingdom food. The remainder is all human recipes. However you might want to avoid the soup." Jupiter looked from the ladle she was holding into the thick green bubbling liquid within the pot. Intrigued by the smell she'd been about to sample it. Instead she carefully eased the ladle back and stepped away from it.
Next to Calcite Azurite whispered, "I thought that was just leek soup?"
Just as quietly he answered. "It is. Very good leek soup. I'd just like to be sure there'll be some left for me."
Over by the table Minako looked at the soup and misquoted, "Well, 'too many broths are spoiled by cooking'!"
Mercury looked up from the computer screens, "I think you mean 'too many cooks spoil the broth' which isn't really relevant anyway." Minako begun sulking.
That was when Makoto realized that her counterpart, Sailor Zeus, hadn't turned a hair during their recent bout of revulsion. She finished loading a second plate and realized she was being watched. The skinny senshi shrugged, "I've learned not to be too fussy in this past year. So's Ami. If she didn't totally mistrust our ... hosts she'd be over here." Everyone looked to the thin Sailor Hermes who continued to regard the youma with barely controlled hatred. Ignoring their audience Zeus walked over to Hermes and handed her a plate. "Here!" Before her friend could object she said, "You're as hungry as I am. They don't need to drug or poison us. After all they can blow our heads off anytime they choose. And I for one would rather die on a full stomach." She plopped herself down on a nearby couch and began to eat. Hermes stared at the plate and tried to briefly to ignore the rush of saliva. Then sighed and joined her friend. Both resisted the urge to tear into food. Last thing they needed was to make themselves sick. Instead they began methodically eating it in small bites. They realized they were still being watched by everyone else. By now Sailor Moon had rejoined the group and was standing there. Torn between letting free food sit there verses the fear of eating something disgusting. Sailor Polaris had started trying to describe what was in the various dishes in an effort to reassure her. But that had quickly been sidetracking by Sailor Jupiter into a comparison of recipes. After a little thought Mars and Venus had picked out the dishes they considered safe and were eating from those. Mercury was still studying the computers while nibbling from the plate one of her friends had dropped on the armrest of her chair. The youma were also picking at their own plates but all their attention was focused on their recent opponents.
Sailor Moon made a somewhat inevitable decision and went for the buffet again. Zeus realized Jupiter had broken off her discussion and was studying her closely. She finished off her current mouthful then addressed her counterpart. "I know I look pretty messy but life in the field gets kinda rough. God I miss showers."
Jupiter tried to think of something to say. "You're me ... sort of?" she nodded. "Why'd cut you our ... your hair. We ... I liked it long."
"Me too. But with all the animals in the wild dying there are lots of fleas and lice looking for hosts. I should really cut it as short as Ami but I decided I could live with this. Lucky we found a supply of that medicated shampoo ..." She realized her counterpart was studying her with loathing.
"You've got lice?! And you're so thin!"
Zeus felt herself getting angry. This idiot's got a soft life and she's judging me?! Very coldly she said, "I don't have lice now but I have had them. But that's just a minor inconvenience. You have no idea what we've been through! As for the skinniness ... Food's hard to find and half the time the rats have got there first! These Senshi bodies are not only tougher than human they get a lot more nourishment out of food. But you've got to feed them something or, just like human bodies, they'll devour their own tissues." With that she started eating again. As she chewed she realized all the other Senshi were regarding her with a certain horror. Feeling slightly malicious she added, "The thing I really hate is that whoever designed these Senshi costumes wasn't planning for us to live in them long-term. These one piece bodysuits are a pain. When you can't fight the call of nature anymore you've got to peel the whole thing off if you want to p..."
"WAIT A MINUTE!" Sailor Moon was blushing as she broke in. "You can't mean ..."
"Senshi bladder control is excellent but not infinite."
"Couldn't you just find a toilet then change back?"
Hermes put down her empty plate and gave a mirthless grin. "Our world is rather short on functioning plumbing right now. At least outside the youma controlled enclaves. As for changing back ... the last time we used our human forms was just before we left for the North Pole."
That caused a definite stir. Mercury looked up and asked (somewhat incredulously), "You've been using your Senshi forms continuously for over a year?"
Hermes nodded. "Turning human meant becoming vulnerable. We couldn't risk that."
Zeus put down her own empty plate. "Besides now we can't turn back as we'd never be able to revert. Ami had to use the transformation wands and the disguise pen for parts when she was hacking into the youma teleport network."
"Hold it!" All eyes turned to Calcite. "There's no such thing as the youma teleport network. There never was." Hermes gave another of those humourless smiles.
"It was a recent creation. Pyrite designed it and you built it. That way youma could travel anywhere on Earth they wanted to put down human uprisings. It was a useful tool for you too enslave the world."
"This is getting ridiculous. I never wanted to conquer the world. Even if I did I don't have to power to do that. On top of which youma can't survive most places on Earth. There isn't enough background mana to sustain us." Calcite abruptly wondered if he should have added the last bit.
Mercury looked as if she'd suddenly solved a puzzle while Hermes said, "I am aware youma need magic to survive. But thanks to Metallia's influence that's not a problem."
Sailor Moon looked confused. "But I beat Metallia! And that was two years ago!"
"Not to them." Everyone turned to Mercury. "I've compared the data in this terminal to mine and found the divergences. There are three main differences." She paused to toss the terminal back to Sailor Hermes who grabbed it out of the air and began punching keys. "The first is that what we know as the ancient Greek names for planets were used instead of the roman. So we have Sailor Hermes rather than Sailor Mercury, Sailor Aphrodite instead of Sailor Venus ... and so on. Other than that history seems to have proceeded identically until January 1993. Two years ago today to be precise. The same people were the Senshi, just the names were different. Even their adventures mirror ours. Hermes personal journal matches mine ..."
"You never mentioned you keep a journal." Rei was frowning. "What exactly does it say about me?" Mercury acquired a sweat drop as everyone began demanding information."
"ENOUGH!" Everyone fell silent at Azurite's yell. "I for one would be interested in the meat of this story. You can sort the rest of this out among yourselves later. Now let her get on with it." Her red eyes seemed to be almost glowing. At any rate she looked scary enough to quiet the Senshi.
"Er yes, thank you. Uh ... The second discrepancy is the time. According to my ... her computer it's still 1994. To be precise it is exactly one year ago today."
"How's that possible."
Before Ami could admit she really didn't know Pyrite said, "Must be some sort of chronological flux in their warpgate. We've found the dates in other dimensions don't necessarily mirror this one's."
Titanite chimed in, "Yeah. That why it was 2033 when we arrived in MegaTumphkwisx." The last of this was muffled by Calcite clamping a hand over Titanite's mouth.
"You'll have to forgive my sister. She has a very vivid imagination." He released his hold and she glared at him but kept silent. "You mentioned three differences. The last being ... ?"
"Finally, everything changed after the North Pole. According to her computer only these two returned from D Point. Immediately after that a youma named Calcite began a successful campaign of global conquest. There was too much for me to get more than a very general overview of it because their history becomes so different." Everyone looked at Calcite who gazed back without flinching.
"In case it's escaped anyone's attention I did not attempt to take over the world and the Dark Kingdom is history. This counterpart of mine has no connection to me except the same name. I am not going to feel any guilt over anything someone in another universe may or may not have done."
"Right. You've got enough to feel guilty about in this universe."
Calcite turned to face Minako. "Meaning?"
"Meaning you caused a lot of trouble in England."
"A little property damage. A small price to pay for keeping my sister safe." She didn't look mollified. "What's really bothering you is that I kept you running in circles for about a year."
"Hey! I almost beat you a dozen times!"
"Uh huh. If I'd been serious it would have been simple to kill you once I worked out Minako Aino was Sailor V. Or to strike when I was fighting along side you in my Gray identity." Minako started fuming. "For that matter once Sailor Venus appeared and she was so obviously Sailor V it was easy for me to learn who the other senshi were. I just observed the four girls who hung around with Minako Aino, discovered their names and matched them to the appropriate Senshi. If I'd been seriously working for the Dark Kingdom you'd have been attacked while off guard in your civilian identities."
The two were glaring at each other so Titanite decided to defuse the situation. "Uh well I guess that settles that we're all on the same side. Or at least not on Beryl's side. So how about we find out a little more about this other world?" That turned their attention back to the alternate Senshi.
Hermes looked at Calcite and said, "You think just like our Calcite. He didn't bother with big grandiose plans either. Just found the weak points and struck. We were completely unprepared for that. We kept expecting hordes of youma rampaging. But Calcite was so much more subtle than Beryl and her generals."
Azurite had been watching the two all along. "So let's hear your version of events. I'd say everyone here wants you story." There were nods and various mutters of assent. Hermes just looked hostile so it was up to Zeus to say, "Why not?" Hermes turned to reproach her but Makoto simply asked, "How will they understand us if they don't know what happened to our world?" Ami sighed and subsided. "Okay everyone better find a seat. This is gonna take a while."
Sailor Zeus tried to think how she'd tell this. Maybe she should let Ami start. After all she was the smart one of the two of them. She looked over at the Renegades and shook her head. "If anyone ever told me I'd be sitting anywhere peacefully with most of the Dark Circle I'd have said they were crazy.
"Four out of five. Only one who's missing is Magnesite." That name was obviously familiar to them and to some of the Senshi. Sailor Moon looked puzzled, as if she wasn't certain whether or not she knew it. Then the cat girl, who'd been hanging around Calcite as unobtrusively as possible, spoke.
"Magnesite here. Margrave fetch!" She bounded out of the room in dash that alternated between bipedal and quadrupedal. It matched her light bouncy voice. Quietly Azurite tried to work out how long Margrave could keep up the cute routine before she cracked. It was left to Mercury to ask, "What is she anyway?"
Titanite answered quickly. "She's a catgirl. We picked her up on ... an expedition to another dimension. She decided she'd like to stick with us so here we all are."
"You travel to other dimensions?"
"Not regularly. We've found we can't exactly fit into any of the nearby reachable dimensions." She left her next thought unsaid. At least not without becoming someone else and we'd all rather not do that.
"Which is why we spotted you and learned that other dimensions exist. Using the readings I'd taken we followed you here. Once we'd stolen the appropriate supplies." Hermes found herself the center of attention again. Until Pyrite spoke.
"I'd question calling them appropriate supplies. Using one of those clunky old warpfield generators to breach the boundaries of your continuum was a desperate act."
"You're right. It was pure desperation. There was nothing else left to try." You could see it in her eyes. The hopelessness that was slowly crushing her. Held off by a few last sparks of optimism.
Before things could get too soulcrushing Margrave returned. She slapped the crystal statue on the now ravaged buffet table and beamed. "Here Magnesite." With that she squatted down at Calcite's side and began purring. A quick glance showed Calcite that she was finding maintaining her act harder than she'd expected. She'd welcomed an excuse to leave the room. In fact Calcite had half expected her to jump through a window and bolt.
Zeus took a deep breath. Everyone seemed to be waiting for her to begin. Why the hell had she volunteered? She was more of a doer than a talker. A fact that had caused her no end of trouble by making her act without thinking on several occasions. "Ami, maybe you should ..." Hermes took her hand.
"Just start. I'll jump in as need be." Looked like she was stuck with it.
How to start this? She glanced up at Titanite's banners. "Two years free of the Dark Kingdom? For us it was one year ago that we went to fight the Dark Kingdom on it's own ground. Just one year since everything went to hell. It seems so much longer." She fell silent as memory overtook her. Ami squeezed her hand and she took up the narrative again.
"I remember on that day I wasn't scared, I was actually excited. This was going to be the biggest fight of my life. I couldn't wait. We met at Hikawa shrine just like we'd planned. We were all charged up and ready. At least that's what we thought. Looking back I can't believe how overconfident we were. How incredibly stupid I was."
"Not stupid, just naive." Sailor Hermes broke in before she could start wallowing in self pity. "We'd won too many victories, too easily. Never any injuries that wouldn't heal in a few hours. It gave us an exaggerated sense of our own invulnerability. Even me, even after I'd relived my past self dying I didn't get it. That was like a dream. Besides she wasn't exactly me. Perhaps we shared the same soul, perhaps we even looked alike but weren't the same person. Her death didn't touch me the way it should have." She paused for a moment then said, "It's funny but out of all of us Usagi was the only one seriously thinking that we might not be coming back. I always thought of her as the one who avoided the harsh realities of life but she was seeing it clearer than me. I was so sure we'd win. After all we were the heroines! The white hats. And the good guys always won!"
"But not this time. Usagi was right. Most of us weren't going to be coming home. Not then, not ever."
She fell silent and Makoto took up the tale again. "Well we teleported to the pole the way Luna and Artemis had told us. We arrived in the middle of this vast expanse of white. Nothing around but the five of us. Then the reception committee arrived. This horde of youma hauling this giant green glass globe ..."
"Wait a sec!" Minako's exclamation halted Zeus. "There were just the five Senshi?"
"What about Trenchcoat Mask?" Zeus looked puzzled. "Who? Oh right, I haven't thought about him in months. Last time we saw him was ... a month, two months earlier ... somewhere inbetween there." Hermes nodded. "We never knew who he was or why he'd showed up in the first place. He was a lot more elusive than Mamoru-san. Wonder whatever happened to him?"
"If he was in Tokyo that day he died." Hermes voice was flat. "As we've never run across any youma reports on him we have to assume he either died with Tokyo or was already dead. Go on Zeus ... Makoto." That was a concession. Ami had largely abandoned her human identity and usually used their senshi names for the two of them. She only answered to Ami from Makoto. To everyone else who asked she was Sailor Hermes. No other name. She'd told Makoto, "Ami Mizuno was a shy quiet girl who just wanted a few friends and to be a doctor. She had her whole life planned out from childhood. Then civilization died and Ami Mizuno and her plans died with it. All that's left is Sailor Hermes. A warrior who's going to fight on until they kill her. Because she doesn't have anything left to live for." It was then she'd begun to wonder about Ami's sanity. Not that she was any sort of great example of stability herself. After all they'd been through was it any wonder they were both a little crazy?
Makoto shook off the speculation. "Where was I before I was interrupted? Oh right, the globe. Well I didn't like the look of it and neither did Minako. So we both blasted it."
"And it absorbed your attacks?"
Sailor Zeus frowned at her counterpart. "Absorbed? Well that's one way of phrasing it. There was this huge white flare and next thing I knew I was sitting on my butt in the snow. My vision cleared and I saw the others were all sprawled around. Usagi was screaming her head off that she was blind and Rei would have slapped her if she could have seen her. Anyway Ami managed to convince her that it was going to clear up soon. There was no trace of the youma or the globe. Just this huge crater melted in the snow which was full of water. It was beginning to freeze already. Not surprising when you considered it was the North Pole. Anyway soon as Usagi can see again she spots it and that reminds her just how cold it is. So her teeth started chattering and she begins bitching. Of course Rei immediately started picking on her and Ami was stuck being the peacemaker again." Sailors Moon and Mars started glaring at each other and Usagi was about to accuse Rei of being mean to her in every universe when Zeus spoke wistfully. "God, I miss them both. I wish I'd told them more how much I loved them." Usagi looked to the scarred Makoto and said simply, "They knew." Rei nodded.
After a moment Makoto resumed her story. "We were feeling pretty cocky right then. Thinking that if that was the worst they could throw at us then this was going to be a cakewalk. We hadn't met the DD Girls yet."
Azurite interrupted this time. "Now they were a real pack of psychos. Quintuplets were really rare in the Dark Kingdom . Story was they couldn't agree which of them should be firstborn so they clawed their way out of their mother. After that they started getting worse. Glad we were never mixed up with them." She missed Calcite's slight wince and Margrave's grin widening.
"Look do you want to hear the story or not?" After everyone had agreed they wanted to know what happened she continued. "Okay, well the girls show up using this mirage of Mamoru. Of course Usagi falls for it immediately. Even after the girls show themselves she falls for the same trick again. Course I can't claim to be any brighter as they trapped me the same way. We were retreating ... well running really, it wasn't exactly organized. I spin around to blast them and they pull this illusion of Motoki-san which makes me freeze. So all five of them grab me and haul me into the air to electrocute me. Guess they didn't study my powers closely enough. Anyway I get the idea of generating all the power I can and trying to overload them." She reached down and rubbed her scar unconsciously. "Not the smartest thing I've ever done but my options were kind of limited ..."
Makoto screamed from the pain as she built more and more power. The youmas snarled and tried to match her. This wasn't going to end until one side or the other reached their limit. She could feel the burning increasing as the youma upped the ante. The pain focused her anger and she drew more power. Dimly she realized she'd never reached this level before. Her scream was of rage and commitment. She had to beat them and protect Usagi. Nothing else mattered. She couldn't contain the power any more and it exploded. The world went white again.
She seemed to be floating. Separated from the agony that had engulfed her body. The pain brought her back to reality. It was a different pain. Sharp rather than burning. Her vision returned and she saw she had her hands clamped around her thigh. Blood was oozing between her fingers. She screamed.
Ami was the first to reach her. Makoto was sprawled against the ice mound that had been blasted out of the ground by the explosion. Ami began to automatically calculate the force of the blast then shook it off. She reached Makoto at a dead run. Makoto wasn't the only one screaming. One of the DD Girls, the purple one, was lying nearby. She seemed unaware of the approaching Senshi as she clawed at the ice beneath. One of her legs was obviously broken but there was no sign of movement below the chest. A jagged spear of ice protruded from her back, just below the place the wings joined. Ami speculated briefly on spinal damage then forgot the youma as she reached Makoto.
Makoto picked her up at the last moment and snapped her head up looking for an enemy. For a few heart stopping moments she seemed ready to fire another thunderbolt. Then she recognised Ami and tried to act stoic. "I ... It's nothing. Just a uhhh .... just a scratch."
"Mako move your hands and let me see!"
"It's nothing. I'm fine AHHHH!" She added the last as Ami probed her leg."
"Makoto Kino you can either move your hands and let me look or I'll have Mina and Rei pry them off and hold them while I examine you. Save yourself a little dignity and move your damn hands!" Makoto cringed slightly at Ami's tone and released her grip. Ami heard movement behind her. Without turning away she said, "Somebody watch the injured youma. The rest of you keep a lookout for the other four and don't bother me until I'm done here!" Rei might have argued with the abrupt order but Minako grabbed her arm.
Quietly "Let Ami help Makoto. I'll watch the youma, you guard Usagi." Rei hesitated a moment then nodded. Slightly louder Minako called, "There's only three of them left. One of them's buried in the iceheap." Ami's head nodded slightly but she gave no other sign of having heard. Minako headed over to watch the injured youma. It gave no sign of having heard her. Instead it kept beating at the ice and screaming in pain with the occasional curse thrown in. Minako hesitated. If it had been healthy and hostile she'd have blasted it without a thought. But this youma was crippled and helpless. Killing it in cold blood seemed wrong somehow.
Meanwhile Ami was examining Makoto's leg and cursing herself for a lack of foresight. They weren't carrying anything in the way of first aid equipment. Getting injured like this hadn't occurred to any of them. For the others it was an understandable oversight. But she was supposed to be the smart one who was going to be a doctor. How could she have made such a glaring oversight? The wound appeared to have been caused by shattered ice turned into lethal shrapnel. Thankfully none of the major blood vessels had been severed. But it had been close and the damage that had been done ... Ami tore a strip loose from her skirt and folded it into a rough pad. Ordering Makoto to hold it in place she detached the ribbon from the back of her costume and bound the pad into place. Then examined her handiwork critically. Well it wouldn't win any first aid awards but it should do the trick. She realized she was sweating and reached up to wipe her brow. But stopped as she saw the red stains on her gloves.
From behind Usagi asked, "Is Mako-chan going to be all right?" Ami started violently. She hadn't realized anyone was behind her.
"She'll be fine. BUT! ...", this broke Usagi's rush forward to hug Mako, "She'll have to take it easy. No strain until a real doctor fixes it up."
"Whaddaya mean? I'll be fine." Makoto started to get up but Ami placed a blood stained glove on her chest.
"Let's leave the macho idiocy to guys, okay?" Before Makoto could protest she said, "You can't keep going. While you didn't sever any main blood vessels it barely missed your femoral artery. If that had gone you'd have bled to death." Usagi gasped and Makoto paled but tried to keep looking tough. Better tell her the bad news. "I'm sorry but ... several of your tendons are cut. They need surgical repair. Bottom line is until that happens your left leg is useless."
Usagi gasped again then grabbed Ami by the shoulders and spun her around. "Ami-chan. You're sure." Ami nodded and resolution filled Usagi's face. "There's no choice. Everybody we'll teleport back to Tokyo so Mako-chan can get taken care of in a hospital."
Minako looked away from the youma. It had stopped screaming and was now sobbing in frustration. "Usagi we can't! If we do that then we can't teleport back here. Not without all five of us. We won't have enough energy."
Rei nodded. "Besides we don't have enough time. You heard Luna. The recent disasters are a sign of things to come. It's minor now but we're running out of time fast. We have to stay here."
"But Mako-chan's hurt!"
"Hey don't worry about me." Makoto tried to sound chipper despite the pain and the fact that she'd just tried to move her leg without success. It was starting to feel numb and disconnected. Inside she was screaming as she wondered if she'd be ever walk normally again. But she couldn't let Usagi see that. Usagi had to keep going without worrying about her. She couldn't let her failure hurt the princess. She had to be strong for her. "I'll stay here as rearguard. Anyone tries to sneak up on you and I'll blast them. You guys go take out Queen Beryl and rescue Mamoru then head back here and pick me up. Then we'll all do the Sailor Teleport back to Tokyo and everything'll be fine. You can drop me off at hospital before you and Mamoru-chan go on a date. Soon as I can I'll be back on my feet and looking for a new boyfriend."
"Don't worry Usagi-chan. No, Sailor Moon. You've got a very important job to do. Besides I'll be fine. Right Ami?"
"That's right. Makoto will be fine." She didn't add the rest. Long as I didn't miss anything and the youma don't come back. She's stuck in place which makes her a sitting duck. I have no idea how the injury will affect her powers. Which reminded her. "What about the youma?"
The injured youma was still ignoring them. It sounded more coherent but still didn't seem aware of them. Her brown hair was matted with dark green blood. Then Minako recognised the name it was repeating. "Calcite, you bastard!" The voice was low and rasping. "You promised me backup. Where is it. Help me! Answer me. Where are you, damn your eyes!"
"Calcite? What about Calcite?" The youma didn't respond to Minako's question. She just kept sobbing and repeated her anguished pleas for help.
Ami looked from her terminal to the youma. "It's dying! Multiple internal injuries. Another hour at most."
Minako nodded. "That makes up my mind." She knelt down by the youma an touched a finger to her forehead. "Calcite?!", the youma whispered in sudden hope. Minako spoke softly, "Crescent beam!" There was a faint buzz and the youma slumped. Her outline began to blur as the disintegration effect began.
"Calcite", Minako murmured. "It's been a while since I heard that name."
Rei looked up from automatically saying a quick prayer for the deceased. A bit pointless as it was a youma. Still it was virtually automatic. "That means something to you?"
"Back in my Sailor A days he was my main enemy. I followed him from Tokyo all the way to England. I never did learn exactly what he was up to."
"You never talk about what you were doing back then." Minako glanced over to Usagi before replying.
"There were a lot of complications back then. Things didn't work out so I don't like to talk about them unless I have to. Anyway all the heavy action was happening in Tokyo so after it looked like Sailor A had been killed I headed home and became Sailor Aphrodite. Far as I know Calcite disappeared after I, that is Sailor A, died."
Rei looked over to the place Ami had tagged as their destination. "Well Ami says the gateway to the Dark Kingdom is over there. Looks like you're going to get the chance to settle things."
Minako tried to crack her knuckles but had to settle for looking mean. "I'm ready."
Sailor Zeus paused to take a drink of water. Ami looked to Sailor Venus and commented, "You didn't mention Calcite to us until that business with Magnesite and the fake generals."
"The name didn't come up until then. When we met the DD Girls none of them mentioned it." What none of them added but they all remembered was their Makoto hadn't survived that first encounter. Sailor Jupiter shivered as she remembered being half buried in ice and knowing she was dying. To distract herself she asked, "Just what did happen in England anyway?"
"None of your business."
"Oh? Is there a boy involved?"
"I said it's none of your business!"
Makoto grinned. "Yep, definitely a boy involved." Rei managed to stop Minako before she whacked Jupiter with her plate.
Meanwhile Azurite was saying, "This other Calcite has to be a very different person. There was never any connection between you and the girls." Yet she thought she caught a flicker of something cross his face. Ti frowned, she'd picked up something from her brother.
If Calcite was a closed book Pyrite was a lot more open. Seeing his expression Azurite realized he knew something. But what? Then it hit her. It couldn't be! She glanced to Margrave and saw the speculation written there. Yes it could. The Alternate Senshi had mentioned the purple skinned sister among the DD girls. What was her name? Latithax ... Latiax ... something like that. No it was Latitax!
"Cal, it can't have been ... I mean you and Latitax! You didn't!"
For a few moments it seemed he wouldn't answer. Then somewhat defensively Calcite said, "I don't really see what relevance my old romantic involvements have to what's going on here. The Kingdom's history in our continuum. Besides that was over with years ago."
That was overheard and they became the center of attention. Azurite her Margrave whisper in youma'shak. "Told you I wasn't his first and he could've done a lot worse." She could practically hear the grin.
"I don't believe this. One of those psychos ... It was just one right?"
She was very relieved to see him nod. "Even for the Dark Kingdom the DD Girls were vicious hardcases. Why them? What was it, the wings?"
"In case you've forgotten in the Dark Kingdom we were supposed to be the same ilk. Collectively they had the nastier rep. Individually yours was about equal to theirs. As was my own."
"So why them and not me?" Stupid, stupid, stupid. "I mean back then I was also after you." Pyrite seemed willing to let it slid and she breathed a quick sigh of relief.
"This was back shortly before we knew you were a Renegade. So far as I knew you were just as bad as them. But you were a lot smarter which increased the odds you'd see me slip up and know I was a Renegade."
Azurite digested this answer for a moment. "So I was too smart to become your lover."
Calcite nodded. "And after we knew you were involved with Pyrite so it seemed irrelevant." Margrave turned her head so Azurite would see her grin but the Senshi wouldn't. Her way of saying that by then she'd ensnared Calcite so Azurite hadn't had a chance. She thought about it then shrugged mentally. Old business, let it lie. She snuggled over a bit closer to Pyrite and he eased an arm over her shoulders.
Calcite was eager to let the matter drop. "Okay maybe we can get back to your story. Or perhaps to her story if they left you behind." He indicated Hermes. She studied him for a moment then began to speak.
"The four of us left Makoto and headed toward the Kingdom's gateway. We were still caught in the illusion field that the youma were generating." She paused as the memory returned. "I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. As my powers were purely defensive ... at least they were back then, I've killed a lot of youma since ..." She looked squarely at the Renegades, "And I've enjoyed every killing. The only good youma is a dead youma!"
Calcite didn't flinch. "If you think ruthlessness impresses me you are sadly mistaken. And if you truly enjoy killing then I pity you."
Hermes snarled something incoherent and started getting up. Zeus grabbed her arm. "You do remember the exploding collars, right Ami?"
For a moment it looked like Ami would strike her but then the wild look faded. "You're right. I shouldn't let a youma get to me." She sat back down and resumed her story. "At the time my powers were limited to the Shabon Spray mist generation technique. Useful for defence and setting up an ambush but useless for combat. I convinced the others that it would be best for me to neutralize the illusion generator. I'd separate from them and the youma would be sure to attack me. Three against one would be great odds. When they attacked I'd blind them with the fog then find and neutralize the illusion generator. Then I'd rejoin the Usagi, Rei and Minako. I really thought I could do that. Things didn't work out as I'd hoped. I managed to destroy the illusion generator but nothing else worked out. The pain was indescribable. I stopped thinking, I hurt too much to comprehend anything else. So I don't actually remember the next part but my faithful computer recorded everything they said.
The dark green youma woman kept probing her forehead as though that would somehow repair the jewel. Dammit that thing was one of a kind. Irreplaceable! Not to mention the symbol of her leadership of this merry little family. Her two remaining sisters studied her speculatively.
"It appears you underestimated her. She has cost us a useful weapon."
There was nothing to do but brazen it out. "A distraction, nothing more. In any event our numbers are now equal again." She glanced around but saw no teleport signatures. "It appears Latitax overestimated her importance to Calcite. I seen no sign of reinforcements."
Ashitax shrugged her orange shoulders.. "With Latitax dead he might feel any alliance is equally dead. Which is good as it means the glory of killing the Senshi will be divided among the three of us."
Baritax nodded in agreement. "A three way split is better than a five way ..." There was a whimper from the figure sprawled on the ice. Baritax frowned. "Still alive? Tougher than I thought." She raised an arm shifting it into tentacle form. She'd punch one of them through the Senshi's vitals and wrap this up. Chest or head?
"Hold!" Eyes narrowing she turned back to Comitax. She was the leader but only because Helitax had always backed her. The rest of them couldn't form an effective alliance as they all wanted to be number one. Now Comitax's follower was dead and she'd lost the jewel so they were all equal as far as Baritax was concerned.
"Mercy for a Senshi? Has loss of the jewel deranged you."
"Don't be ridiculous just look at her. Her lifeglow is fading, she is obviously dying. It is equally obvious she is in agonizing pain." Comitax smiled. "I like that. The Senshi have cost us two sisters, I see no reason to grant them a swift death. She is no threat and will be dead soon. Once we have eliminated the other three we will return to finish off the cripple. As for this one ... if she's still alive we'll drag her back to the Kingdom and let her expire in front of Queen Beryl. She should rather enjoy that."
Ashitax nodded. "That sounds like an excellent plan. Perhaps we should give Sailor Zeus the same treatment so both can die in front of her majesty."
Baritax swore, looked like Comitax would remain the leader. Well no matter. Once this day was over and they were covered in glory she could split from her sisters. There'd be no shortage of youma willing to follow her. Perhaps Beryl would reward them the vacant generals' posts. Yes, that would be perfect. However ... "We shouldn't play around with Sailor Zeus. She's already cost us two sisters. This one was a joke but she's too dangerous to take chances. I say we finish her off quickly soon as we've wiped out the others!"
Comitax nodded. "Agreed. Now let's get to work." She unfolded her wings and launched herself upwards. Baritax followed. Ashitax stayed long enough to gaze into the senshi's pain wracked face and giggle, "See you later!" Then she followed her sisters and the dying Sailor Hermes was alone on the ice.
Mercury's hand shook as listen to her other self recite her story. When her memory returned her death hadn't seemed as terrible. She remembered being in pain but the memory of the actual sensation was gone. She hadn't lived long after that and had expired almost immediately afterwards. Evidently Hermes attackers hadn't used as intense a heat as she'd faced. Or perhaps here she'd used up more of her strength so she had less resistance. She couldn't help staring at Hermes's torso and the lines in the fabric. What was behind her costume? Was her whole chest nothing but scar tissue? Her double had fallen silent and was staring at her. Daring her to ask. Ami looked away.
"Ami-chan, you're spilling coffee everywhere." Usagi was looking at Mercury in confusion. Ami blushed and put down the dripping cup and saucer as Usagi asked, "You said you got back from the North Pole and you're here now so you weren't really dying, right?"
Hermes voice was cold. "I was dying from third degree burns and shock. Perhaps it would have been the first time someone died of those at the North Pole. But you're right I didn't die that day." Quietly she added, "Though I sometimes wish I had."
"Only in my weaker moments when everything seems hopeless. Don't worry Makoto, I'm stronger than that. I won't die before they kill me. We swore we'd go out fighting and I'll keep my promise." They clasped hands and were silent for a moment.
Which was broken by Usagi going, "AHHHH! They're like Haruka and Michiru?!" The two senshi broke apart in confusion and Sailors Mercury and Jupiter stared at one another then looked away and blushed. Zeus asked, "Who are they?"
Rei answered, "Your world's different so I don't know if you'd have ever met them. Have you ever heard of Sailor Uranus or Sailor Neptune?"
Hermes muttered, "Heaven and Poseidon. Yes we met them briefly." She shivered at the memory. "If they're very lucky they're dead by now."
Before anyone could ask about that Zeus spoke. "We'll get to that. But what about them anyway?"
There was a bit of foot shuffling among the Senshi and whispers among them. At last Minako said, "They uhh ... always work as partners. They're ... close friends." Zeus didn't seem to get it. "Very, very close friends." Zeus seemed to think about it for a moment as did Hermes. Zeus got it first.
"Oh I get it. I didn't know that as we only met them once ..." The penny dropped. "WAIT A MINUTE! You think we're ...!" She looked very angry and this time it was Hermes turn to hold her back.
Hermes looked cold as she told them. "We do not have nor want that kind of relationship. If we seem unusually close it's because we're each the only one in the world the other can rely on. There's no one else left."
There were sudden apologies from the Senshi. Azurite and Margrave remembered their own encounter with Neptune and Uranus and a comment they had made about Azurite. Azurite sighed. That didn't bother her, she'd been getting some fairly steamy fan mail from women all along. Or rather Azure DeWitt had for her model and movie work. She felt secure in her sexuality so it held no interest to her. However she always destroyed them nowadays to prevent Margrave answering them in her name. Which had caused some trouble when she'd left a few letters lying around. What bothered her about the incident was Margrave would have something new to bait her with.
Usagi said apologetically, "Sorry, Sorry. It was an easy mistake to make 'cause Makoto dated Haruka once. Ooops!" Titanite wondered if she should be taking notes. This was getting interested. Makoto was about to yell at Usagi when Zeus said, "You dated a girl?"
"It wasn't a date. I just thought she was cool so I went out with her!" Jupiter had turned an interesting shade of red. Before things could degenerate further Calcite broke in.
"While some people might find the sexuality of senshi fascinating I'm not one of them. I'm more interested in hearing about this other world. Either of you care to continue?"
"It doesn't really interest me either." Hermes nodded to Zeus. "You'd better take over from here."
"Okay." Zeus tried to collect her thoughts then looked at Jupiter. "From the way Ami explained this parallel universe stuff we were the same person until the North Pole mission. Things changed after that cause I wouldn't date girls." Jupiter began a furious denial. "Just kidding. I don't think I'd change that much. Anyway I was left sitting propped up against that iceheap with nothing for company except two disintegrating youma. I'll bet you can guess what I did next."
Jupiter nodded. "You decided to follow them. Be a real rear guard."
"Right! I was too stubborn to just sit there. Problem was my leg wasn't working right. That's when I had my great idea. There were plenty of huge icicles scattered all over the place ... Lucky nobody got impaled in the explosion now that I think of it ... sorry I'm getting sidetracked. Anyway I decided I'd try using one of them as a crutch. First one I use snaps under my weight and I go down hard. My leg feels like it's on fire ..." Oh no! Why had she said that? She looked at Ami. "Sorry!"
"It's just a description. I don't doubt it hurt. Go on."
"Right. Well I was a little more cautious next time and managed to find another the right size that seemed strong enough. So I started following the tracks in the snow. I was plodding along and my leg dragging so I was feeling sorry for myself. That was when I heard Ami screaming ..."
Makoto limped toward the source of the screams as fast as she could. Her trailing leg sent shocks of pain with every step but she ignored it. She thought she was getting close. Just over that ridge she should hopefully be able to see something. She'd seen three figures rocket into the air from somewhere up ahead. They'd seemed to spot her and pause but they'd zoomed away in the opposite direction. She tried not to think about the fact the screaming had cut off about ten minutes ago.
There was an odd smell in the air. Almost like roasted pork. Overcooked by the scent. She topped the ridge and saw the source of the odour. Then screamed.
She tumbled down the slope halfway between running and falling. It ended with her crashing into the crater's bottom. She ignored both the ringing in her head and the pain in her leg. Doing a swift three limbed crawl she reached the sprawled figure. Fighting the urge to vomit she reached out to take Ami's pulse. Then the charred girl gave a tortured gasp as she struggled to breathe.
The top of Ami's uniform had been seared away in the attack. Modesty was the least of her concerns. Makoto couldn't understand how anyone that burned could still be alive. She realized she was feeling lightheaded and disconnected. With an effort she stop herself falling into the easy way out of fainting. She had to do something for Ami fast.
What had that damned first aid course said about burns? Soak in icewater! No unfrozen water here but ... even as she thought that she began shovelling snow onto her friend. She heaped it as high as she dared. Too high and Ami wouldn't be able to breathe under the weight of it.
Ami's hand seemed to twitch as a flicker of awareness appeared in her eyes. Hopefully the snow was helping. She took Ami's hand and managed to stifle a cry at the crushing grip. The bones in her hand creaked as Ami grasped at her like a lifeline. She tried to think. Ami looked bad ... hell if she were normal she'd probably be dead already. She needed help fast. Stuff the mission! They'd come back. Her free hand pulled the communicator out of wherever the heck it disappeared to when not needed. She hit the emergency signal.
Nothing but static on the screen. Either it had been broken when she was attacked or the youma were jamming them. She could yell for help but by now the others were out of earshot and the only things she could hope to attract were youma. There had to be something else she could do! If she could get Ami to transform back maybe the injuries wouldn't transfer over!
Then she really thought about that. If the injuries did transfer to Ami's normal body she'd be dead in a few seconds. If they didn't, great! Except they were stuck at the North Pole and Ami would freeze to death pretty quickly. This couldn't be happening! There had to be a way out!
But there wasn't. There were just the two of them and she didn't know what to do! She felt Ami's grip loosening. She was slipping away! No. She couldn't let the youma win.
"Ami, you've gotta hold on! I can't even imagine what it's like for you but you can leave us! If we lose you Usagi's gonna fall apart and she'll lose. Please, you've gotta be strong just a little longer. Then Usagi, Minako and Rei will beat Beryl and we can all go home. We'll get you to hospital and they'll fix you right up. I'll bet Ryo visits you everyday. Just stay with me. Please don't leave us. We love you ..." Her tears were freezing on her face but she didn't pause as she brushed the ice away.
"So I kept talking. Babbling everything I could think of hoping it'd help Ami hang on. About the boys we'd date and all the things we'd do once we got back to Tokyo. God, I was so selfish! I made her stay alive because of how much her dying would hurt us. She was in such pain and I didn't ..." Zeus's eyes had been watering throughout her story. Now she broke down and began to bawl. Hermes wrapped her arms around Makoto and held her. For a change her voice was gentle.
"It's all right. You helped me. I'd have taken the easy way out and let myself die if you hadn't kept me back. You kept me strong when I was ready to give into weakness.
At length the tears dried up and Makoto sniffled. Hermes took a proffered tissue and cleaned up her friend. Then realized Titanite had been the one to hand it to her and turned a hate filled glare on the Renegade. Titanite retreated fast.
Looking around the room Hermes saw everyone (except the cat woman) looking distinctly uncomfortable. Good. These other Senshi were weak, they hadn't been hardened yet. They needed to be reforged in the fires of battle. As she had been. Else they'd been unable to defend their world against other menaces. As for the youma they were kin to monsters. How little would it take for them to become the Dark Circle? Makoto was looking at her.
"Sorry I fell apart. I just ... Maybe you should tell this?"
She shook her head. "No. You were the only one of us who was really there. I was just hanging on to you as if you were a lifeline. Tell them the rest."
"Okay." She took a few deep breaths to center herself. It was fair to say she had everyone's attention. She resumed her account. "I kept talking to Ami saying anything that came into my head. I guess I had no secrets from her before too long. I wasn't even thinking about the youma anymore, just about keeping Ami going a little longer. Any of them could have snuck up on me unnoticed and finished us both. But they had over targets in mind. I was babbling away to Ami when it happened. Suddenly we both knew Minako was dead.
She was silent for a moment then continued in a monotone. "Despite all that had happened I couldn't believe it. We were the heroines, we always won. Maybe we could get hurt but actually die? No way! Something would always save us at the last minute! But there weren't any rules anymore. The youma had kicked over the board."
"I didn't question how I knew what had happened. I hadn't seen it, hadn't heard it and I still don't know exactly what happened. But I know it happened. So did Ami."
"She started to slip away and I screamed at her to stay with me. I was yelling that if we lost anyone else Usagi would be destroyed. I didn't even know if it was already too late. God I almost grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. I nearly slapped her."
"I wouldn't have noticed. Stop feeling guilty and tell them the story!"
With an effort Zeus looked away from Minako and resumed. "Everything was going straight to hell. I was yelling at Ami like a crazy woman and crying my eyes out. Ami tried to speak but I stopped her. I didn't want her overexerting herself. Just breathing was a struggle for her. I was just getting myself under control when Rei fell."
"Two of us gone, Ami dying and me next to useless. I couldn't even comprehend how it had all fallen apart so quickly. Everything was up to Usagi and she was alone. If I'd been in her place I can't say I wouldn't have just folded up and waited to die. But she didn't! She went to face Beryl.
Things get confusing after that. I'm not sure how long after Rei died it happened. Time had become meaningless except for Ami's breathing. Nothing else mattered. I was hoping that somehow Usagi would unlock the true power of the Ginzuisho and make everything all right again. Like a kid's fairy tale, 'then they all woke up and it was just a bad dream'. I know that sounds crazy but I really thought that." She fell silent and everyone looked at her. No one dared to say anything. Jupiter was trying to find the right words when her counterpart continued.
"Then Usagi died. I can't begin to describe what that was like. Do you have any idea how it feels when all hope dies?" Her tone was flat and unemotional. No one could answer her. "Ami just gave up and stopped fighting. I didn't notice. Nothing mattered anymore." She looked straight at Calcite. "That was when you appeared."
Makoto stared at the image filling the sky. It was of an enclosed space that seemed part of a vast cavern. There were four figures in the image. Only one showed signs of life. Mamoru wearing the black and silver armour she'd seen him in a few weeks earlier was slumped over Usagi. Her arms were wrapped around his back, just below the smoking wound. Usagi's eyes were wide open and lifeless. The third figure was recognisable as Queen Beryl. Makoto remembered the image that had appeared behind Zoisite and Kunzite and the woman Serenity had shown them overseeing the destruction of Silver Millennium. Her face was untouched but most of her chest was gone. Something had punched a circular hole right through her. Her face was frozen in an expression of bewilderment. As though death was something that only happened to other people. The one living person in the image smiled.
"There has been a change in management. The threat of both the Moon Princess and the Terran King has been removed. I have also ended the menace of being ruled by an incompetent. My name is Calcite but you can call me The Overlord." He paused to brush back an errant lock of green hair. Then casually said, "One more thing, the Dark Kingdom is no more." He raised a hand and the black aura surrounding him deepened. Darkness seemed to gather in his palm. "Welcome to the Dark World!" The blackness he held seemed to explode outwards in all directions. Almost as though it was eating the light. Above Makoto and Ami the sky the Arctic day shifted to darkest night in the space of moments.
"And that was the last time I saw a blue sky until today." The Senshi glared at Calcite as though it was his fault. Which in a sense it was.
Calcite became the centre of attention. He kept his cool and asked, "This self proclaimed Overlord looked something like me?"
"HE LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE YOU!" Then Makoto frowned and added grudgingly, "Except for the scar."
"He has a long, thin, diagonal scar across his cheek right here." She ran a finger over her face.
Azurite snorted. "Small flaw in your story. We don't scar."
Calcite nodded. "Part of being Renegades is having regeneration ability. I don't retain scars anymore than the others." The Senshi didn't look convinced. With fluid grace Margrave unfolded herself from the floor and slashed a line across Calcite's cheek. He grabbed her wrist and held it immobile. Quiet and controlled he spoke. "Don't do that!"
Margrave looked bright eyed and innocent. "Margrave sorry. Margrave think demonstration help Senshi see. Margrave dumb, not think. Margrave make mistake." Her voice dropped a bit. "Calcite punish later?"
He scowled but released his grip and Margrave settled down on her haunches again. Azurite kept her own expression neutral but her thoughts were troubled. Just a scratch but Calcite shouldn't have let her surprise him like that. He's letting his guard down around her and that is trouble. She could have gone for his throat. She probably wouldn't under current circumstances but if she fell into a youma rage then Calcite had better be 100% battleready! Giving her a break then could get him killed.
Meanwhile the blood had already clotted and the cut was closing. Calcite wiped away the drying blood and the Senshi watched in fascination. If the prime cause of amazement was the rapid healing or the blue blood he didn't know.
"Well that settles that. Maybe this counterpart exists but he's no Renegade. His genetic structure must be vastly different." As he said this Calcite wondered what a normal youma version of himself would be like. Pyrite frowned. The Renegade gene was a recessive so it was quite easy to imagine a world where the children born to Nephrite and Metrenar were normal youmas. Yet the Renegade gene was such a vital part of them. While the child could still be a humanic and might bear the same name the odds of him looking anything like Calcite were ridiculous.
"You're identical." Sailor Hermes had unfolded her computer which was displaying a gene map. "I got the chance to scan the Overlord when he killed the American President in front of us. You're identical! How do you think I was able to recognise you as more than simply youma?"
"We have only your word for that. It doesn't make any sense."
"There appears to be a discrepancy. But perhaps you should hear the rest of our tale. Continue Makoto."
Makoto remembered what had happened next and swallowed hard. Perhaps she skip ahead to their return to Tokyo? No. She couldn't hide what she'd done. That would be the greater cowardice. Her counterpart looked at her. "You said Ami had given up when the Overlord appeared? But you said she didn't die then. So what happened?"
Makoto felt bile in her throat but managed to get the words out. "I ran."
"I said I ran. I GOT SCARED AND I RAN ALL THE GODDAMNED WAY TO TOKYO! I TURNED YELLOW AND FLED!"
"How could you run? There was no way back?" Jupiter looked confused rather than accusing. Probably thinking she wouldn't have done the same thing. Honey, you're me. You'd have done exactly the same thing.
"I wanted out. All I could think of was I wanted to go home. Maybe Luna would do one of those jumps and come up with some new gadget that would make everything better. Maybe they could fix Ami up. But what I really wanted was to run away and hide myself."
"I can't exactly explain what happened next. Ami was dying and her power was ... flowing away. I could ... not exactly see it but sense it. I seized it instinctively ... don't ask me how. We've experimented and I can't link into her power. I wasn't really thinking anything except 'I WANT OUT' but somehow that was enough. The 'Sailor Teleport' engaged somehow and suddenly we were back at the shrine. Artemis and Luna came rushing up to demand what had happened. Then they got a good look at Ami.
Ami was dying, that much was obvious. She lay cradled in Makoto's arms and had stopped breathing. Makoto was sobbing as she babbled her jumbled account of recent events. She was incoherent and hysterical half the time. It looked like she had good cause. Artemis caught the main point.
"So Minako's dead. So are Rei and Usagi. Ami's about to join them." He spoke quietly but with determination. The crescent moon mark on his forehead began to glow brightly. Luna was appalled.
"ARTEMIS! What are you doing?"
"What I have to. We can't lose Ami and Makoto needs helps."
"Stop it at once!"
"Don't get so worked up Luna. I'll still have eight lives left." Before Luna could protest that was just an expression a beam poured from his mark and enveloped both senshi. He ignored Luna's wail, ignored everything but channelling his power. This was a desperate, last ditch capability all moon cats possessed to be used only in the direst emergency. This more than qualified.
Artemis slumped and the beam flickered out. Luna spared the senshi a quick glance then ran to him. She nuzzled his fur and began to cry. "You fool, you're not supposed to be a hero! How could you leave me like this!"
Artemis opened one eye. "Why Luna, I didn't know you cared! Owww!" Luna pulled her claws out of his rump. "Don't get carried away." She looked back to the Senshi. "Meanwhile we've got to look after them."
The glow faded from Makoto's eyes and her sight began returning. The pain in her leg was gone but that wasn't what captured her attention. She heard a gasp and the body in her arms shift.
Her eyes cleared and she was able to get a good look at Ami. Ami's costume was whole again and she was breathing normally. Her expression was one of pure wonder as, still blind, she raised a hand to touch her chest. But something was different, while her Sailor Hermes costume was as skintight as before it was no longer smooth. Her fingers encountered one of the many ridges that crisscrossed her upper body. Her expression changed to one of confusion and she sat up. Makoto glanced toward her own leg. Where the wound should be there was a large white scar. As though this was an old injury.
"There was nothing I could do about the scarring." Artemis's voice sounded shaky. The cats were beside them, Luna scanned the pitch black sky while Artemis regarded the Senshi. He looked weary. "I was able to divert my life force into a healing spell. This was the best I could do."
Makoto's mind was whirling as she tried to put everything together. Ami's voice cut through her daze. "You burned up your own life to save me?"
"I'm a guardian cat without a senshi to guard. I had no further use for it." That brought all the memories of what she'd felt back. Before Makoto could speak Ami said sincerely, "I can never repay your sacrifice adequately. I swear to you I will not waste the second chance you've given me." She didn't seem concerned with what must lie beneath her fuku. Makoto though of how ugly she'd thought her leg looked and felt very small. Ami continued, "You know everyone else is ...?" Both cats nodded. Ami joined Luna in looking up and activated her vizor. "The darkness seems to start about 15 miles up. I can't tell how far it extends. In fact I'm not able to scan anything about it. Though I'd imagine it can stop radio and microwave signals far easier than it blocks my scan. Which means if this phenomena is global no one's getting signals from their satellites."
Artemis nodded. "It also means nobody's going to see the sun rise tomorrow. We're looking at global panic."
"The least of our worries." Makoto could only stare at Ami, how could she be so together? Ami seemed to sense this and turned to her. "I feel like my heart turned to glass and shattered. But we've got no time to mourn. It's our responsibility to protect the world. The others died for that and we can't let that be in vain." Her voice wavered a bit as she said, "the others" but was otherwise firm. Makoto could only nod. Right now she wanted someone else to take charge and tell her what to do. Because she had absolutely no idea. Ami turned back to Artemis as Luna kept scanning the sky. Her hackles were up. Something was very wrong.
"Now it goes without saying the situation is grim. Beryl now has the Ginzuishou ..."
"No she doesn't!" Both seemed surprised at Makoto's interruption. "You were out of it when that image appeared. Beryl's dead! Calcite ... the guy Mina... (she continued with an effort) Minako mentioned took over!"
Ami frowned. "That's ... right. It's there in my mind. I wasn't consciously away of it but now you've reminded me ..." Ami looked thoughtful than shook her head. "Some sort of telepathic projection. Probably intended for the youma rather than us. We just caught it because of our proximity. So there's been a coup in the Kingdom. All that means is our enemy's name changes. Artemis can this Overlord Calcite character use the Ginzuishou?"
"I ... don't think so. I believe there's a failsafe against using it for selfish and evil purposes."
"Well that's what I was told. I don't actually know. I also don't know if the failsafe can be broken." Artemis shivered. The cold seemed so much sharper. Was it just a reaction to the unrelenting darkness above or had he burned up most of his strength?
"Let's assume for the present he can't access its' power. You told us that Metallia was awaking and causing both the sunspots and the rise in tectonic shifting. It's the real menace. Whoever rules the Dark Kingdom is irrelevant. What can we do to fight that?"
Artemis sighed. "You can't fight Metallia. There's only one thing we can do. Go to America right now."
"America? You mean one of their military bases?"
Artemis shook his head. "No. I mean go right to the top. Teleport to the White House and get the President to launch their missiles at the North Pole."
"WHAT?" Luna looked at Artemis in astonishment. "Are you out of your mind?"
"No, I'm deadly serious. I think the only thing that has a prayer of working is a full nuclear strike on the Dark Kingdom. If the missiles pass through the warpgate and detonate inside the Kingdom than maybe, just maybe we'll have a chance. Face facts Luna! There's nothing else left that might work. The Russians are too disorganized and the Chinese too paranoid. The Americans are the only ones with sufficient capability who might believe us."
Makoto couldn't believe the cats were discussing this. Using nuclear weapons?! This had to be a sick joke. But Ami asked calmly, "How do you propose we get to the president. Everything will be in chaos. Even if the airlines are still running and we commandeer a plane to the states we still have to get to the president. Time is of the essence."
Artemis nodded. "You're right. We'll have to do the Sailor Teleport directly to the White House."
Over Luna's startled exclamation Ami asked, "Can we manage that with just two of us ... sorry, stupid question. Makoto got us both back here on her own." Artemis shook his head.
"Special circumstances. Far as I can tell you were close to dead and radiating your magic instead of containing it. She used that to power the jump."
Artemis ignored the interruption and continued, "She used up quite a bit of your power in the process." Ami looked surprised.
"I feel fine. Using the Shabon Spray technique would be simple."
Artemis sighed, "We didn't want to tell you this because we thought you'd feel inadequate ... but the fact of the matter is all of you are ... were operating at a fraction of your true potential."
"WHAT!" Both senshi stared at the white cat. He shrugged as best as a cat could.
"Do you really think Sailor Hermes, one of the mighty Inner Senshi was limited to throwing fog at her enemies. You have a whole range of ice and cold based powers. Unfortunately you don't know how to access them yet. As for you Makoto your Supreme Thunder is the least powerful attack you're capable of!"
Makoto muttered, "I don't believe this" while Ami was a bit more pragmatic. "These other techniques ... how do I access them?"
Artemis sighed again. "I don't know. I wish Phoebe were here."
"The moon cat assigned to the House of Hermes. As I was part of the House of Aphrodite. She could have given you more details. But she's been dead for millennia so I'll explain this as best I can. The real problem is Senshi used to follow a cycle of an Elder to Younger. The elder held the actual office but the younger had power herself. After the former Younger became the Elder a new Younger Senshi would manifest among the children of the House. They'd then be given intensive training by both the Elder Senshi and their cat guardian. That's the problem. This time around you all started as teenagers without trainers and only hazy memories of your first lives. It's slowed your progress down considerably. Worse most of you don't have your own guardians." He sighed. "Not that I was much use to Minako. I still couldn't get her using anything beyond Crescent Beam. Lacking all the childhood background slowed things down. It didn't help that she ran off to England chasing Lord Calcite. Well at least this clears up the question of if he was a real menace or just a distraction."
Before they could ask about that he got back on track. "At any rate returning to your original question, no the two of you alone can't summon enough power to teleport. However if Luna and I link in our energy ..."
"NO!" They turned to Luna in amazement, she never yelled at anyone except Usagi. "Artemis you've used up too much! If you give any more you could ..." Artemis looked resigned yet resolute.
"We have a duty Luna. If we don't stop the youma then my life becomes irrelevant." He gave her a grin. "Besides I'm not planning on dying anytime soon. You don't rid of me that easily. I've got an old bet with Puck to collect."
Before Luna could answer that the decision was taken out of her hands. Her head snapped up towards the sky as her prenatural senses began shrieking. "SOMETHING'S COMING! SOMETHING TERRIBLE!!" She locked gazes with Artemis. "No choice, we'll use your plan. It's the only thing that might work! Ami, Makoto! We're using the teleport. Link hands!"
The two Senshi grasped each others' hands. Both cats dashed under the circle of their arms. Their crescent moon marks began to glow. Artemis had time to whisper "I love you" before the power peaked and both Senshi cried out, "SAILOR TELEPORT!"
An emergency meeting of the United States Security Council with the President in attendance was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of two girls in short skirted outfits and a pair of cats. One cat slumped and lay still, an unmoving white bundle of fur. Luna whispered, "You lied to me Artemis, you did die on me." Then blinking away the tears she addressed the understandably startled president loudly in English. "Good day sir. We come here with vital information concerning the grave crisis that is overtaking the world. This global darkness is simply the first step."
Makoto paused in her recitation. "Of course I didn't know what she'd said back then. I only know a few words of English." Sailor Jupiter nodded in agreement the frowned. Her counterpart was sounding hoarse. "I mean I can speak it nowadays because of the translator but back then I had a problem. Ami was able to get by but Luna had to translate for me. God my throat hurts." She paused to massage it. "Ami, could you ...?" Ami nodded and Makoto gratefully took the juice her counterpart offered.
Ami got rolling right away. "Skipping over the inevitable confusion and our having to disable a number of secret service agents Luna got the president to listen. He seemed impressed that her mouth movements matched her voice but you could tell he didn't believe a word of it. That's when it happened. Suddenly everyone got this urge to head for the nearest window and look up. Imposed over the darkness was this massive projection of Calcite. He looked like he was speaking but there was no actual sound. Instead we 'heard' a telepathic transmission. To us it was Japanese, to the Americans it was English. I didn't ask Luna what she heard. It was a simple message and a chilling one. He said, 'I am Calcite. I am responsible for both the global darkness and the imminent annihilation of the city known as Tokyo. I will address the United Nations at precisely 10 am Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. Enjoy the darkness. You have seen your last sunrise!'. His face had been becoming wilder as he talked, the black aura around him flaring. You could tell it from the darkness in the sky by the blue tinge around the image. At any rate it gave us a certain amount of credibility. We weren't worried about that. It was his statement about destroying Tokyo that took our attention. We weren't alone, everyone had heard that.
As I'd theorized most satellite communication was down. The satellites were still there, they simply couldn't transmit through the dark layer. However there were still naval links. It seemed the darkness ceased 200 miles offshore. Due to a curtain effect you couldn't tell the darkness ended until you crossed that 200 mile line. The oceans remained subjected to the same night and day cycle as always. I would realize later that was because he wished to keep the oxygen producing phytoplankton functioning normally. Also as the oceans didn't cool down without sunlight he avoided starting an ice age. The ecological consequences of eternal darkness hadn't occurred to us yet. Suffice it to say his goal was global conquest not the end of the world. Which was the first indication that Metallia was not free as all it wanted was to spread destruction.
No one knew what to do with us and we made it clear we were not going to be shunted aside. I think half of them thought we were extraterrestrials. Also they started talking very slowly to us as though that would make them easier to understand. They were reluctant to use overwhelming force and they couldn't get rid of us any other way. We didn't care, we just wanted to know what was happening to Tokyo.
While satellite links were down the land and sea lines were still operating normally. Which was how we found out the situation in Japan. The Tokyo area was sealed within a hemisphere of black fire. Actually it was a sphere as attempts to submerge under it or dig below it encountered the lower half of the sphere. There was no contact with anyone inside the dome, no way to see within. No one knew what was going on inside and there was no way to break in. Makoto was for going back by any means necessary. I kept thinking about my mother and the families of our fallen friends. But Artemis had sacrificed himself to bring us here. We had to honour his loss. We couldn't teleport back with just three of us and I feared that by the time we got back by air it would all be over. Even if we had stayed there would have nothing we could have done. Except died with everyone else." She fell silent for a moment as the Senshi stared at her in horror. The she roused herself from her memories and resumed.
"It was a long, frustrating day not knowing what was happening. It was a long day in another sense still being early afternoon in Washington DC. After making it clear we were not going to be guinea pigs we spent some time demonstrating our paranormal abilities. It took out minds off our helplessness before this menace. The tests improved our credibility and you could tell the scientists were eager to dissect us.. We took charge of Artemis's body before they could do anything to it. Luna claimed it needed ritual prayer done over it. The truth was she wanted his translator. Following her guidance and my terminal's instructions we removed it and implanted it in me. The sudden improvement in my English went unnoticed in the general confusion.
Local time it was a little after six when the first reports started coming in. The dome had disappeared about half an hour earlier. Tokyo looked like a warzone. Shattered buildings, fires everywhere, bodies ..." Hermes cold voice shook then trailed off momentarily. She waved away Makoto's hand and resumed.
"Emergency services, self defence force troops, mobilized American troops, world media and panic stricken relatives poured in. Do you know how many survivors they found?" No one guessed. Everyone shook their heads. Hermes glared at the Renegades, her hate filled look said it all. She resumed in the same cold monotone. "None." Before they could react to that she went on. "There were no miraculous rescues, no survivors trapped under the rubble, there was no one living left. Everyone in Tokyo had died one way or another. At the time they were just reporting heavy casualties. We kept waiting for word. They couldn't all be dead."
"But they were." Makoto wiped her eyes but managed to avoid a weeping fit. Ami's eyes glistened but she didn't cry. "Everyone we knew was gone. Wiped away in the space of hours. I couldn't believe it. It was just too big. Something over eight million people were dead. It wasn't possible! It was madness! But it was real, it had happened. Eight million people dead. I couldn't imagine anything that terrible. This was the end of the world. It couldn't get worse."
Ami shook her head. "I was a fool. It had barely begun."
Makoto crossed to the guestroom Ami had been given well aware she was being watched. Their status was somewhere between guest, potential threat and unknown. You couldn't blame them for being edgy, the whole world was going mad. She just couldn't comprehend the city being dead. It was too big for her to grasp. It was almost impossible to deal with just Usagi ...
Makoto felt her eyes start to water. She took a moment to centre herself and dried her eyes. She had to stay strong. She was Sailor Zeus one of the two remaining Senshi. Ami had held on for her when living meant enduring unimaginable agony. She couldn't repay that with weakness.
Before she could knock Ami called, "It's open", from within. She sounded flat and unemotional. Makoto pushed the door open and saw an empty room identical to the one she'd been given. The door to the bathroom was half open and there was a light within. She strode over and opened it. Her greeting died unspoken.
Ami had peeled her bodysuit down to the waist and was sitting in front of the full length mirror. Makoto fought the impulse to gag and look away. To just below the neckline Ami's upper body was a mass of scar tissue. Her own scar suddenly seemed incredibly trivial. She wouldn't flinch from this, she couldn't seem to reject Ami after what she'd been through.
Matter of factly Ami said, "I was just thinking how incredibly ugly I am now. But Artemis was in a hurry and it was repairing the internal damage that was vital. As he burned up his life to save me I can hardly complain about how my exterior looks. Besides given everything else that's happened today it seems so ... petty to complain about my appearance." Her voice roughened. "Tokyo is dead. Practically everyone we knew is gone." Tears stained her cheeks but she ignored them. "I was just thinking that my ... my mother ..." Her voice broke and she closed her eyes as she bowed her head. Makoto wrapped her arms around her friend and felt Ami embrace her in return. They sat there in silence but Ami neither wept nor relaxed. At length Makoto whispered, "It's okay to cry. I bawled like a baby when my parents died. So much for the tough girl. But it helps you to mourn them. It's nothing shameful."
Ami's voice was muffled as he head rested on Makoto's shoulder. "I can't."
"But why not."
"Because if I start I'll never stop." With that Ami released her own grip and pushed herself out of Makoto's arms. "When this is over I'll cry." Her voice was cold and controlled, in the days to come Makoto would come to know that tone with its' edge of icy rage well. Right now it was a shock to hear Ami sound like this. "Now where is Luna?"
"Last I saw she was talking to the president and telling his cat to stop hissing at her. Socks didn't seem to know quite how to deal with that. Look you said you felt tired. Why don't you rest?"
"I'll be fine. We can't afford to waste time and according to my terminal with these bodies we need less sleep. Have you tried to untransform yet?" The question took Makoto by surprise.
"Huh? Uh no, what with everything going on ..."
"Good. There's no point. We need to be constantly battle ready from now on so we'll remain as Senshi until I say otherwise." Before Makoto could protest Ami gave her a bitter smile. "Besides the damage carries over to our human selves. I checked just before you walked in."
"Don't worry, we'll look into reconstructive surgery after we've taken care of the youma. They can do some marvellous things these days." Makoto nodded hesitantly. She wasn't really lying, Makoto's scar should be easy enough for a skilled plastic surgeon to cover. But injuries like hers would never be repairable. She turned her thoughts away from pity and thought about the murdered millions. Focus on the rage, it would help her learn how to access her more lethal abilities. It was obvious, she'd never been able to hurt anything because she didn't want to. Not even youma. Things had changed. Now she wanted to pay them back for her mother, her father and Ryo. He'd still been in Tokyo as the police investigated the case. The only one of the kidnapped six (seven but Rhett Butler the cat wasn't counted) found in the amusement park who was faking having amnesia. Why hadn't she seen him before they launched the attack? Was she afraid of what he might foresee. Or was she just scared to tell him what she really felt? Now he'd never know. But she would avenge him and all the others! She strode for the door.
"Ah Ami? You uhhh ... you might want to fix your fuku first."
Ami realized she was about to step out topless and automatically reddened. Then realized that any man who saw her would be repelled rather than intrigued. Idly she noted scar tissue didn't blush. Makoto heard her teeth grind. "Like me to give you a hand?"
Ami sighed. "Sure. This thing's tight and one piece. It's tricky to get down."
"Yeah, I see you had to wriggle through the neckhole. Hope that doesn't stretch it permanently."
"No it'll return to it's normal dimensions when back in place." Ami gave her a funny look. "Didn't you ever examine your Senshi costume and body?"
"Well ... no. I just transformed when there was a fight then changed back. Same as the others." Ami shook her head.
"Am I the only one with any curiosity?" For a moment she sounded amused at her own rhetorical question. Then remembered that she was almost the only one left. The traces of humour vanished and she was all business as Makoto helped her with her suit.
At a little before 10 am the following morning all three visitors were camped in front of a television set with the president, his family and a large number of unobtrusive but heavily armed security guards. His daughter was fascinated by Luna and was having her translate for Makoto more out of a desire to hear the cat talk than an interest in the Japanese girl. Ami had been confining her remarks to monosyllables as much as possible.
The image of Calcite and the announcement had been seen across the world. The fact the sun hadn't risen anywhere and the world remained enshrouded in darkness gave it a definite credibility. With all the satellite links down all the networks in the world had scrambled for video access to New York via land based links and underwater cables. Coverage started hours ago with commentators speculating endlessly about what was going to happen. The theories about Calcite were legion, from invading extraterrestrials to the Dark Kingdom story which had been leaked from the White House. This was drawing the greatest audience of all time. Despite the circumstances the networks were in ecstasy. At least for now.
The podium had been left empty and the General Assembly was filled beyond both capacity and all safety regulations. Security had settled for wedging the doors shut to seal out the crush. The noise level was deafening but it shut off as if sliced by a knife as the figure materialized. Cameras zoomed in on a closeup on the green haired man. He seemed amused and waved a hand exposing fingernails of the same hue. Announcers began informing the audience that the black aura was not caused by special effects, people in the hall saw it with their own eyes.
He tapped on a microphone and nodded in satisfaction at the amplified sound. Then spoke, "Good morning to the representatives of the human nations and all the ladies and gentlemen watching. I have chosen to address you in English as my knowledge of your languages is currently limited to this and Japanese. This tongue is the more widely understood and is the closest thing you have to a universal language so it'll have to do."
"My name is Calcite, Overlord of the Dark Kingdom and future sovereign of the world. I am responsible for both the darkness currently covering the terrestrial landmasses and the deaths of the entire population of Tokyo." He ignored the rising clamour and continued. "What I am about to tell you is the truth. I don't particularly care if you believe it but these are the facts."
"Prior to the start of your recorded history there was an earlier era of human civilization known as Silver Millennium. Indeed it was descended from an even earlier period called Golden Imperium though my knowledge of that period is very sketchy."
"During this period the Kingdom of Arcadia made an alliance with the demonic entity known as Metallia. Power and artifacts in exchange for souls. It should have occurred to them that should they actually release Metallia the alliance would end and they would be its' slaves. Unfortunately Queen Beryl made an ill advised attempt to assume control of the planet through prince Endymion. After that Arcadia was at war with the combined forces of every other Kingdom on the planet. Beryl drew more and more power from Metallia and seized control of the Earth. If she'd been content with that the other worlds in the system might have shrugged their shoulders and signed treaties with the new government. But she wanted it all and released Metallia. Metallia was defeated against all expectations by Queen Serenity of the Moon Kingdom through magical trickery. Magic vanished from the Earth and the Silver Mellium crumbled and was forgotten. Both the Arcadian army and its' Queen were cast into exile in another dimension. Lacking any way back they seized territory in the new world and named it The Dark Kingdom of Arcadia-in-Exile. Then being human they set about breeding their successors. Over the centuries, under the influence of Metallia, their descendants gradually mutated into a new race that named itself the youma. But they never forgot their ancestral homeworld. Or that it was theirs by right of conquest. Quite simply, Earth is our inheritance. And at long last we have returned to claim our birthright!"
Everybody began shouting at once. An overzealous security guard tried to seize Calcite. When his fingertips touched the aura the flesh vaporized from his finger bones. The effect spread up his arm and over his body. It took about two seconds, long enough for one horrified look but no way to scream with his lungs already dissolved. The skeleton stood there for a second then fell apart into a jumble of bones. Guns were drawn and fired. The bullets that struck the aura vanished and black light spit back along their trajectory. The luckless marksmen flared and vanished leaving a sprinkling of ash. The chaos increased tenfold.
Calcite let it continue for a few minutes then his voice boomed over the confusion. "ENOUGH!" He spoke into the stunned silence.
"I am not here to debate with you. I am here to tell you how things will be run from now on. As the world is a little big for me to run by myself it will be divided up into territories run by my deputies." A man appeared who bore a striking resemblance to the late Humphrey Bogart. "Lord Magnesite; Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and any other territory in that vicinity." He vanished to be replaced by a blue haired woman. "Lady Azurite, South America." A darkhaired man with yellow eyes, "Lord Pyrite, North America." A teenage girl whose hair matched his, "My sister, Princess Titanite. Asia and any other bits I choose to throw her way." She waved then vanished. "The remainder of the world will remain under my personal rule."
He smiled at the outrage. "Now you are probably about to make a lot of speeches about fighting us on the beaches, your finest hour and so forth. Followed by a rousing show of unity. Unfortunately you're not going to get anything to shoot at just yet. My race will remain in our own dimension for the time being. The good news is that the recent unexplained disasters will stop. The bad news is this is because Metallia is now under my control. There will not be random destruction, just carefully orchestrated annihilation."
"The darkness is permanent so you can forget harvesting. Your crops need sunlight as does the wild plant life. Without plants herbivores perish, which eliminates the carnivores. The planetary ecology is about to undergo massive alteration. No plants, no animals. Being omnivores won't help you."
"Meanwhile I'll be systematically destroying food stores and power stations worldwide. Urban civilization is fragile. Knock out a few pins and it all falls apart. For those that don't live in cities life depends on the cycle of the seasons. Which is now disrupted. There will be starvation in a month and you'll be eating each other in two. In three months time you'll be begging us to enslave you in exchange for food."
There was an outpouring of fury but no one dared touch him. Throwing a glass and striking the aura with water was met by the same lethal response as a bullet. He pointed out a delegate and everyone backed away from the man. He paled but stood his ground and gazed at the youma defiantly.
Calcite asked mildly, "Please repeat your question."
Surprised not to be struck dead the Peruvian delegate asked, "What do you expect us to do? Lie down and let you roll over us."
"What do I expect? I expect most of you to die. This planet is overpopulated and there are too many of you for us to control. So we'll be using hunger to cull your numbers about two thirds."
Calcite's smile broadened. A scalpel materialized in his hand and he put a shallow cut in his thumb. Blue blood eased forth as the TV cameras went in for a closeup. "I'm not human." The blade vanished. His eyes glowed momentarily and the cut vanished without a trace.
He ignored the outrage. "Resistance is futile. But given your psychology inevitable." Then he frowned as though hearing something no one else could. He shook his head and muttered, "That's so corny." The sensitive microphones picked it up. Again he seemed to be listening to someone. "I know, I know. I lost that bet." He sighed and raised his voice, "Puny humans, your weapons are useless!" A large sign reading 3:00:00 appeared behind him.
"One more thing before I go. Some of you may doubt I destroyed Tokyo so another demonstration is clearly in order. Therefore in three hours time I will kill everyone in New York. Anyone who wishes to survive should leave now." As suddenly as he'd appeared, he was gone. The sign remained.
It was counting down! The United Nations General Assembly exploded into pandemonium!
Ami paused in her recitation as she remembered watching the chaos from Washington. She looked to the Senshi of this world and didn't like what she saw. They were gripped by her story but it was like they were listening to a horror story. They just didn't comprehend. How could they? She studied her counterpart again. Sailor Mercury had everything she'd lost and took it all for granted. She had a brilliant future as a surgeon ahead while all Hermes had was a war she couldn't win. She felt a jealous rage burning inside. Ignore it. Save her fury for the youma.
"Evacuating a city the size of New York in three hours was impossible. Especially as everyone had been listening to the Overlord's speech. Inside of five minutes the streets were permanently gridlocked and there were dozens of homicides as drivers berserked. There was a large exodus on foot, a human wave fleeing the city. How many were trampled to death in the stampede we'll never know. It was impossible to even try to control. Seven and a half million people reduced to total anarchy within minutes. Every bridge and tunnel became a deathtrap as people fought their way through them. Three quarters of a million made it beyond the city limits before the black dome appeared. It looked just like Tokyo's.
During this period the Americans weren't idle. They were reprogramming their missiles to strike the Arctic rather than overflying it on the way to Russia. The Russians were frantically reprogramming their own weapons to the coordinates they'd been given. We now had a lot more credibility with the President and the military heads were screaming we should have come to them straight away and let them handle the youma. 'Never send a girl to do a man's job', was repeated frequently. The Chinese were supplied with the coordinates but claimed they didn't have the capability to strike the North Pole. That was a lie, they simply preferred to conserve their nuclear stockpile and observe whatever form of counterattack fell on those who launched."
Ami sighed. "It's quite possible nobody still possessed a nuclear arsenal at this point. Calcite wouldn't have wasted the hours between his first announcement and his declaration of war. But we didn't understand his subtlety yet."
"The launch took place about fifteen minutes after the New York dome appeared. It may have been delayed to make sure this wasn't a hoax. 100 missiles each carrying 20 independent warheads of 1 megaton apiece headed for the stratosphere to drop down onto D point. What happened to them we don't know but all contact was lost after they entered dark layer. Naval observation confirmed nothing fell on the North Pole. The second attack wave consisted of surface hugging cruise missiles. They were destroyed by energy beams as soon as they appeared over the horizon."
"Despite our objections the President gave the order to airburst several missiles pre-impact to hopefully throw off the youma's air defences." Does anyone except my counterpart follow this or are they all just trying to look smart? "None of the missiles would detonate and all of them were destroyed in seconds. Artemis's gamble hadn't paid off. He'd died for nothing."
"He died to heal you and to warn the world. He'd have thought that worthwhile."
"You're right Zeus ... Mako. He'd have done it again in a second." She looked to Sailor Venus. "Take care of your guardian. We didn't appreciate our Artemis until it was too late."
"At any rate to resume my story; After the nuclear fiasco everyone was somewhat dumbfounded. I don't know how many planes the American and Russian air forces sacrificed before they realized that any aircraft that appeared over the North Pole would be instantly destroyed. So with the spy satellites unable to penetrate the darkness and only the ones linked to naval vessels capable of being contacted advance reconasissance was impossible. New plans were made for land based assaults by using the combined NATO and Russian navies to land troops on the iceshelf. There were a number of major logistical hurdles to overcome. At this point the dome disappeared over New York City."
"As the closest things to experts we were sent ... strongly requested perhaps I should say ... to investigate. The airport was a disaster area so we went in via chopper. Accompanied by a mix of secret service agents and airborne troops who couldn't understand why they were ordered to protect two girls who looked like iceskaters."
"They referred to in several ways. That was one of the cleanest. They underestimated both my hearing and my ability to speak English."
Zeus's eye's narrowed. "That's not what you told me they were saying."
"Last thing we needed was lightning in a helicopter." Ami paused a moment. "What we found was terrible. The entire population was dead. Yet the city itself was largely undamaged. All the bodies showed signs of age and desiccation. My computer confirmed that they'd been killed by a massive life energy drain. It was the first time we'd seen it cause any deaths, let alone millions."
"People can die from energy draining?" Usagi sounded shocked. "But everyone who was attacked was just very weak afterwards. Nobody died!"
Ami looked bitter. "Overlord Calcite was a lot more efficient than his predecessors. He also had a lot more power to play with. It took hours to suck the city dry but he was willing to wait."
Mercury frowned, this made no sense. There would surely be swifter ways to destroy a city. For that matter they claimed Tokyo had been destroyed by other means. "But why? They didn't need life energy anymore! Was it just some sort of twisted message? A declaration of war?"
Hermes shook her head. "That's what I thought. A grandiose gesture. And if Beryl had still been in charge I'd have been right. But Calcite was much more subtle. He did and does nothing without purpose. It was weeks before we found out the reason."
"What followed was global panic as every country in the world mobilized its' forces to resist the youma assault. Through the Americans I released pictures of the youmas we'd fought. That was to stop people shooting each other on the grounds that they were youma. We did everything we could to make it clear that human looking youma were an exception. Everyone was ready and willing to fight. 'Here comes the sun' became a rallying cry. Destroy the youma and the world would return to normal."
"But there was nothing to shoot at. The youma stayed put. No ravaging horde appeared. It was a war without an enemy. But not without heavy casualties. New York was only the first city. The following day a dome appeared over St. Petersburg and it suffered the same fate. The next day it was Calcutta! Every day for three weeks a city died! The final deathtoll was over 100 million. But no sign of the youma, nothing to strike back at and revenge ourselves on.
"Alone that would have been bad enough but that wasn't all! In the Middle East oil derricks were crushed to scrap by something unseen. Tankers disappeared in mid ocean along with their naval escorts. As did naval vessels worldwide. The last message from the US Seventh fleet reported that the aircraft carrier 'Enterprise' had literally disappeared leaving a vacuum that air and water poured in to fill. The ship reporting that was the next to go."
"All over the world nuclear power plants began shutting down. Not melting down, just ceasing to produce power. Examination showed the fuel rods had somehow become inert. On a hunch I asked them to check their missile silos. Sure enough every nuclear warhead examined was no longer functional. Calcite wanted conquest not destruction. If humanity turned on itself because it couldn't get to him he didn't want us able to destroy the biosphere.
"Around the world large food stockpiles burned. There was mass starvation in the third world initially met by mass outpourings of aid. Soon there was hunger in the industrialized nations and food shipments stopped. Africa and South America erupted into war as nations invaded their neighbours in a desperate bid to survive. Asia followed suit and I knew it wouldn't be long before America was also starving. In a desperate effort to ward off famine all domesticated animals were ordered destroyed by the American, Canadian, Australian and European governments. The carcasses would serve as food and animal feed would be redirected to human consumption. Fishing was stepped up dramatically as the oceans remained unchanged."
"But it was too late. Civilization was dying as power plants ran out of oil and the nuclear plants shut down. Hydroelectric dams remained but were being taxed beyond their capacity. We learned later that the only reason they weren't destroyed was Calcite thought some clean electric sources might be useful. So there was neither the power nor freezer capacity to preserve the millions of tons of slaughtered animals. The fisheries had already been overfished by every country in the world. Also vessels that crossed the line from darkness to light were vanishing with increasing frequency. Every city was under martial law but the troops were also hungry. Anarchy was just around the corner.
"I said earlier there was no sign of actual youma presence. That wasn't exactly true. There were hundreds of sighting but almost all turned out to mistakes or hoaxes. Almost all. There were a very few genuine incidents but we still don't know what they mean. The day after New York died security cameras in a Los Angeles minimall saw a man in black armour materialize in a Taco Hut. He was accompanied by an orange skinned women with fangs and a glowing red eye. He grabbed one Christine McVee, an unexceptional twenty year old student, announced 'Mars needs women' then all three disappeared." She glared at Pyrite. "He looked exactly like you. She wasn't the only woman he grabbed. There was a similar incident in London, England and Cape Town, South Africa. There were rumours of one in Peiping but those were never confirmed."
"It was in the sixth week that the fields appeared. We were still with the President and his advisors though we were now located in a military base inside a Colorado mountain. Washington, DC had been abandoned when the rioting became uncontrollable. It probably made an amusing sight, all these generals conferring with two teenagers in sailor suits and a talking cat. But I wasn't laughing much in those days."
"At any rate the reports arrive of new, small domes appearing. But these weren't over cities or even towns. They'd appeared over fallow fields in Idaho. Attempts to breach the domes were being made with no luck. I pushed for Zeus and myself to investigate in person. They were somewhat reluctant as we were their main source of information about the youma but they agreed when we ordered Luna to stay. Besides they'd learned we were more than capable of taking care of ourselves." Makoto twitched as she remembered using her powers on the mob that had burst through the White House fence on the day of the evacuation. The first time she'd killed humans. She'd shivered and cried in Ami's arms all the way to Colorado. The first time. But far from the last time.
The captain looked at his superior in disbelief. He'd been looking that way since the promised specialists arrived and the two girls had stepped out of the copter. They'd been accompanied by a pack of scientist (who were busy supervising the setting up generators and their equipment), Secret Service Agents and this man who'd just taken charge. "Colonel Barr, you think two girls in miniskirts are somehow going to get us through that?" He gestured toward the mile long hemisphere behind them. Two hundred feet tall at its' highest point the black half oval had resisted all attempts to blast through it. The demolitions experts were telling him it might take a micro nuke to breach it.
The colonel smiled at some unknown joke. "Well I don't know if they can crack it but they're surely going to try. Now have everyone pull back and give them room."
The captain shook his head. The world had gone crazy, half his men had deserted and now it looked like everyone at the top had gone mad. But he wasn't at the point of mutinying yet. He gave the order and his troops fell back. Makoto and Ami were left on their own. From the ranks she heard a variety of comments but didn't understand them. She gave Ami a hard eyed smile.
"I don't know what they're saying but I'll bet they think this is a waste of time."
Ami nodded. "You're right. So show them they're wrong."
"My pleasure!" Ami stepped to the side as Makoto began to glow. There was the crackle of electricity. "Here we go ... SUPREME THUNDER!!!" There was a flare of light and the captain was temporarily blinded. His vision cleared just in time to see the two girls disappearing through the ten foot wide hole in the dome. His troops joined him in gaping in wonder. Then his reason returned. "What are you waiting for? Christmas? Follow them!" He started toward the hole and the immobile ranks snapped back to reality.
Makoto was trying to watch all sides as she looked for a trap. But there wasn't one. Just a field of frozen earth with a little snow. It seemed a little warmer in here than outside but that was probably because the dome blocked the windchill. Ami had activated her visor and was scanning for something ... anything out of the ordinary. So far she hadn't found it. Then her terminal chirped and she studied the ground in confusion. Makoto watched her reach down and pull a small off-white disc free from the ground. "What is it?"
Ami shook her head. "Some type of unidentified fungoid. But what it's doing here I have no idea." She gazed at the surrounding ground. "This place seems to be full of spores for it and small nodules."
Makoto's eyes narrowed. "Poisonous?"
Ami looked even more puzzled. "No. Not in the least. This might even be edible when it's grown a bit more. Must be hardy if it can grow in the dead of winter in darkness ... That's it!"
"This is of Dark Kingdom origin. I'll bet it's their equivalent of a cultivatable crop."
"That doesn't make any sense. Surely they farm the stuff in the Dark Kingdom? After all where else did they have to grow food before ..." She trailed off as she saw the soldiers following their captain. She noticed the hole she'd blasted was at least a foot smaller. The dome must repair itself.
Ami glanced up at the troops who were looking for nonexistent enemies. She dismissed her worry at having nervous armed men behind her as cowardly and answered Makoto. "This isn't for them. It's for human consumption. Remember what the Overlord said? 'You'll be begging us to enslave you in return for food'. They need something to feed their slaves."
Makoto thought about this then grinned. "Hey this is great! We've just found how to get the food we need. I'll blow open all the domes then we'll send workers in to harvest ..." She trailed off at Ami's expression.
"It won't work. According to the computer's estimates of its life cycle this stuff needs at least another three weeks to ripen. Besides look at the hole. It's already shrinking. Another ten minutes and the field will be cut off from the outside world again." She sighed, "Even if all that happens I'd be very surprised if the youma don't take measures to prevent us from ... WARP SIGNATURE! DIMENSIONAL GATEWAY OPENING!" Makoto swore and built her energy as she followed Ami's gaze. Behind them the captain snapped the safety off his M16A2. He had no idea what she'd meant but it sounded like bad news. His men did the same automatically without waiting for the order. After a few weeks of "urban suppression" duty they were a little trigger happy.
Ten youma materialized in a semicircle. Despite vast physiological differences they all had two things in common. Each carried a green crystal rod about two feet long equipped with personalized handgrips and wore a gold and jadeite amulet. Their number dropped to nine almost instantly as Sailor Zeus's attack turned the fishman into sushi. The others spread out fast waving their crystal rods as they moved. Beams of red light poured out and scythed through the troops. Men fell in pieces as the beams cut through flesh like a hot knife through butter. The captain saw the girl in blue summon something then the dome filled with a fog. The creatures seemed to be blinded but he could see them clearly. As could the girl in green as she crisped another one. Bullets were flying everywhere, some fired in anger, some in calculation, but most in panic. No one was listening to him and despite seeming to have no vision the creatures were still lethal.
They called out to one another in a language he didn't even recognise and four of them quickly gathered in a square then began sweeping their beams around. He took aim at one that looked a combination of frog and ... Ronald MacDonald? He opened fire from ten feet away. It went down hard then bounced back to its' feet seemingly unhurt. He was still staring when the creature swept its weapon toward the direction the bullets had come from.
Seven left and Makoto had accounted for all three of those. Ami couldn't believe it, they were all bulletproof! Her visor finished the scan and gave her the results. Just as she'd feared. All the youma possessed kinetic energy shields. It would take a shell to penetrate. The soldiers were dead men if they stayed. They'd just lost their leader so they wouldn't get the order to retreat. All right she'd lead them to safety.
She called to attract their attention then dove for cover as the bullets chewed up the ground. The survivors were firing at anything they saw or heard. She heard Makoto swear then the screams as the youma directed their fire at the chattering guns. The noise was lessening and her fog was dissipating. Makoto rubbed her shoulder then dropped the bullet in her hand.
"These outfits are bulletproof but there has to be a better way to have found that out."
"Can you still use the Supreme Thunder?"
Makoto stood up, a ball of electricity in her right hand. "SUPREME THUNDER!" The group of four youma became a flare of light. When it cleared two were gone and the remainder had dropped and started to combust. Makoto winced. "Yeah but I don't know if I can take the remaining three and still get us out of here."
Ami nodded. "Forget the youma we're heading for the hole before it closes. Everyone else is dead and there's nothing to stop reinforcements from arriving. Follow me!" The fog thickened and the youma howled in frustration. Makoto hesitated for a second then followed her.
The hole had shrunk to about three feet in diameter and was closing rapidly. It was simple for the Senshi to dive through and roll to their feet. Sailor Hermes watched the hole reseal while Makoto glanced away momentarily to the colonel. Before he could ask she shook her head and he saw in her eyes that none of his men were coming back.
They waited for an hour until they were sure that no youma were going to follow them out. It seemed as long as they stayed on this side of the shield the youma didn't care what they did.
"Youma don't carry beam weapons." Pyrite decided to focus on the technical aspects of the story. "The majority that don't have energy manipulation abilities depend on swords and various missile firing weapons. As the youma you described didn't use powers of their own that would make them low class. Which means they wouldn't have shields."
Makoto glowered at the slur on Ami's veracity but Sailor Hermes said simply, "Look in the backpack I had on." Calcite had removed it from her and dropped in a corner where he could keep an eye on it. Pyrite shrugged and ambled over to the two packs. Calcite pointed out the one he'd removed from her and Pyrite looked inside. Then frowned and fished out a green rod.
He turned it over in his hands but it wasn't the physical shape he was feeling. What he was really doing was studying the magics bound to it.
"This is weird."
Sailor Mars made a cynical snort. "Today what isn't weird."
"What I mean is magick is an artform. Like most arts you can tell the artist by his work. If I didn't know better I'd say I made this."
Hermes gave another humourless smile. "You did. Or rather Lord Pyrite did. He designed the original then mass produced it. It became the standard issue weapon for the youma. Along with the force field medallions it meant a dozen youma could chew up a battalion."
"Amazing. I never had the resources to do anything like that though a version of me that was one of the generals ..." He realized both Calcite and Azurite were signalling him to shut up. "Of course I would hardly arm the normal youma. Renegades would have been the first things they'd gun down." He returned his attention to the weapon. "There's been some sort of modification to this."
Ami nodded. "Normally they only work for youma. Through trial and error I altered it so I could fire it." Zeus decided not to mention the dozen that had nearly blown up in her face along the way. "Occasionally it's handy to have a way to kill youma that can't be attributed to senshi."
Calcite nodded. "Assassination that can be blamed on rivalry among the youma. So they'll kill each other off for you."
"Whatever works." She noticed Mercury looked shocked and disapproving. Get desperate enough and you'll try anything my sister self.
Pyrite interrupted. "There's something odd about the battery component. This is almost drained but it's designed to carry far too much power. You shouldn't be able to pack that much energy in this small a unit. There's an odd hint of necromancy about this too. Almost as though ... " The pieces fell into place and he looked at Sailor Hermes. She nodded relishing the horror on his face.
"That's right, it uses human life force. Calcite wasn't destroying those cities just to terrorize us. He was taking the power and storing it. Then using it to arm his youma. All the time we'd been chasing shadows and cowering from his campaign of destruction he'd been getting the youma ready to take the world and hold it. He'd thrown away the swords and arrows and gave them weapons humanity couldn't match. They were still vulnerable to energy based attacks like Makoto's but she was the only one left who could do those. At least that's what we thought, there were two other Senshi we hadn't met yet. The point was Calcite was ahead of us every step of the way. Beryl would have sent a horde of youma out as soon as Usagi fell. Calcite waited until he was ready. Civilization was on the brink. One good shove and the whole thing would collapse. Ten days after we investigated the fields he decided it was time. By now there were reports of domes appearing worldwide. All unbreachable and opaque. Rumours spread there was food inside and crowds surrounded them as people tried to claw their way in. I imagine that amused them.
The President paced to his office wearily hearing the two Senshi bicker in Japanese. They'd become unofficial bodyguards after stories circulated about a monster cat tearing apart Yeltsin. It was evidently retaliation for trying a troop assault through Siberia over the ice connecting Zemlya and the North Pole. America barely existed as a nation anymore. Without food and power the cities were deathtraps. Impossible to govern and the source of vast mobs pouring forth to seek food. Containment was proving impossible and the rumours about cannibal armies running amuck were beginning to seem a lot more reasonable. If there was just something they could fight against it wouldn't seem so hopeless. Luna, his wife and daughter were walking beside him. Both kept their own council.
Behind him Sailor Zeus was saying, "Why are we even staying here. They can't do anything. We might as well go back to Japan!"
"How?" Ami looked tired. "We can't teleport back without killing Luna. There are no commercial flights anymore. Any ship that leaves the darkness vanishes without a trace and we can hardly walk. Besides which the last reports we heard indicate Japan's in even worse shape than here. Face facts, there's nothing to go back too. Everyone we knew is dead."
The two preceding Secret Service agents opened the doors. Then saw the bodies of the staff within. They smoothly pulled their guns and stepped in front of the President. Both crumpled and hit the floor.
The First Family stood frozen as Hermes swiftly knelt to check them. Zeus looked for an intruder. Luna announced. "They're alive, just unconscious. The same as everyone else in here."
"There was no need for unnecessary bloodshed. I simply wanted a quiet chat." The voice came from the swivel chair behind the desk. Currently it's back was towards them so they couldn't see the speaker. But they all recognised his voice from the United Nations. The chair squeaked as it rotated and Overlord Calcite faced them. "Good afternoon."
"SUPREME THUNDER!" Lightning flared around the Overlord and blue sparks crackled over his black aura. He didn't even twitch.
"Ouch." He seemed amused and stood up. Makoto took a step back. Ami raised her hands, "Shabon ..."
"Please Sailor Hermes, we both know fog can't hurt me. Why embarrass yourself?" Ami stood frozen for a moment then lowered her hands. She burned with rage but restrained herself from attacking him physically. She'd seen how that ended. Calcite's gaze shifted to the President.
"Well now that we've determined that the greatest weapons you have can't even scratch me are you ready to listen to me?"
He forced himself not to run. "What do you want?"
The youma king chuckled. "A great many things. However the only one you can provide is an orderly transition of power. There's still some structure out there. If you surrender your nation to me it'll simply things for me. Or rather for Pyrite. Save him having to totally rebuild the infrastructure from scratch. In exchange you, your family and associates (he nodded around the room) not only get to survive but I'll find you positions of authority. Authority over humans that is, humans giving orders to youma is unthinkable. This doesn't apply to the Senshi. As our ancestral enemies they must be destroyed." He looked at Makoto and shook his head. "I was going to kill you personally but you're just not worth the effort. I have to say the Senshi have not lived up to the legends. A pity I was rather looking forward to an exercise of my new abilities."
"WORLD SHAKING" Something tore through adjoining wall and slammed into the Overlord. With a startled cry he was flung across the room. He was rolling to his feet when another voice called, "DEEP SUBMERGE!" Blue light flared and the Overlord slumped to his knees. In a dazed voice he said, "Name of the Abyss! What was that?" Hermes and Zeus were wondering the same thing when the pair entered.
Both wore senshi costumes, the short haired blonde spoke first. "Invited by the new age, the warrior of fury, Sailor Heaven."
Like Ami the second had dark hair with a bluish tint. She looked far more severe than Ami had been but they were about on par now. "The Warrior of storm and ocean, Sailor Poseidon."
"The legendary Outer Senshi I presume." The Overlord rose to his feet. "Our records were sketchy about if you even existed but this seems to resolve the matter."
Ami had activated her vizor and was studying the newcomers. "Incredible! Their power level is at least twice yours Zeus."
Makoto slammed a fist into her palm. "Alright! With three of us ..."
"Keep back child." Sailor Heaven didn't even look at her. "You're way out of your league. this is a job for real warriors."
Poseidon sounded less harsh but equally firm. "Your best attack didn't even inconvenience him. You can do nothing to help us."
"But ..." Ami grabbed her arm.
"Don't get in the way. If they can destroy him then we can't risk ruining it."
"Listen to your friend." Ami continued scanning the youma and the Outer Senshi. They were powerful but somehow this didn't seem right.
Calcite chuckled softly. "A real warrior wouldn't have stopped her attack to introduce herself. In your place I wouldn't have ceased attacking until my enemy combusted. Free advice, unless you're at my power level avoid the unnecessary expository dialogue."
Heaven gave a tight grin. "You just lost your only chance to either surrender or escape. From now on, no mercy." The Overlord smiled himself.
"That's the way I like it. Let's go!" He raised a hand but he'd been distracted by Heaven while Poseidon built her own attack. "DEEP SUBMERGE!" Makoto's dive knocked the First Family out of the doorway an instant before the Overlord tore through the space. The floor shredded as he hit. He had no sooner stopped bouncing that a "WORLD SHAKING" hammered into him. He snarled and twin bolts of energy tore through the spaces the Outer Senshi had occupied. He had time for a startled "WHAT!" before Poseidon's attack hit him.
The wall cratered as he hit it despite being built into the mountainside itself. Before he could move another "World Shaking!" slammed into him followed by another "Deep Submerge". Both Outer Senshi now rained their attacks onto the howling Overlord. After he fell silent they each blasted him twice more. No one could see him through the haze of dust from the pulverized wall. It cleared enough for them to see the battered figure embedded in the mountainside. He wasn't breathing.
Sailor Heaven nodded in satisfaction then jumped as Sailor Poseidon fired a final attack into the still figure. Makoto watched them with awe. "You did it! You beat him."
The President and his family picked themselves off the floor. The youma leader was dead? Just what exactly did that mean? Who was in charge now?
Then Ami called. "Something's wrong. He's not disintegrating!" As soon as she said this the sardonic applause started from behind them. The unmarked Overlord strode out of the office. He stopped just short of the shocked Outer Senshi and smiled. "Most amusing. Bravo."
Poseidon looked back at the dead Overlord automatically. The body changed to a three dimensional silhouette and began to fade. From behind came a chuckle. "Just kidding. I was wondering what you were capable of doing." His voice hardened. "Did you really think I didn't know you were in here? You're not dealing with Beryl anymore!"
"WORLD SHAKING!" The yellow energy sphere tore towards Calcite. Halfway there it took a 90 degree angle and tore through the roof.
"Not this time. My turn." Both Senshi were knocked down the corridor by the shockwave. Poseidon rolled to her feet to see Heaven lying in a daze. The Overlord began ambling down the corridor towards them. She summoned her power and felt the attack build. She held onto it and poured more power into it. NOW! "DEEP SUBMERGE!"
The blue energy sphere tore towards Calcite. Who raised a hand and caught it. He brought it closer for a better look. "Even has a little ring around it. That's so cute!" Poseidon was stunned. This was impossible! She was slammed into the wall by a second shockwave.
"Should have blasted me while I was distracted."
"MICHIRU!" Sailor Heaven rose to her feet with obvious effort. "If you've hurt her I'll ..." The Overlord flicked his wrist and tossed Poseidon's attack into her. Sailor Heaven dropped like a stone.
The Overlord stepped past her to the crumpled figure of Sailor Poseidon. He reached down and grabbed her by the long flowing hair. Then hauled her too her knees. "Rise and shine. We have a fight to finish." Her eyes snapped open and she slammed a fist into his nose intended to smash bone fragments into his brain. Then screamed in pain and would have hit the floor if he'd released her hair. Calcite showed no signs of injury and chuckled softly.
"You're lucky I've toned my aura down. Contact is painful rather than lethal." Behind him Sailor Heaven rose to her feet and silently summoned all her available power. Everything she had left was focused into this. If this didn't do it then nothing would. She saw Michiru looking at her but giving no sign to the Overlord. This attack would kill them both. She hesitated for a moment. Then saw Michiru silently mouth the words, "Do it Haruka!" No turning back. "WORLD SHAKING!" With a roar it smashed into the Overlord's back.
He didn't budge. Just absorbed the impact without passing any of it on to Sailor Poseidon. He turned to look at Heaven and said simply, "No more games." Suddenly the air around her crackled with black lightning. She screamed in pain and rage then dropped. Still dragging the semiconscious Poseidon he walked over to Heaven. She was still breathing. Good. He picked her up and raised her in the air about five feet up. When he released his grip she still hung there. He did the same with Poseidon then walked back to the secondary oval office. The fallen senshi drifted after him.
He looked past Hermes and Zeus who blocked the doorway to the First Family. "Well Mr. President? Before we were so rudely interrupted I had made you an offer."
"What did you do with our sailors?"
"You didn't see? Oh your navy! Same thing I did with all the other ships. I didn't want to just destroy them and pollute the oceans so I moved them. You never know when you'll need something." "Moved them? Where on Earth ...?"
"Nowhere on Earth. Are you familiar with the L-5 point? I've never been there myself but it's the point Earth and the Moon's gravity wells merge to create a balancing point. An object placed there will remain stable for centuries."
"But all those people on the ships!"
"Dead of course. Unprotected in vacuum the wouldn't last long. I suppose on the subs they had to wait for the cold to finish them or for the air to run out." He looked briefly curious. "I'll have to ask Pyrite. But we're getting sidetracked. I asked you a question. Your answer please?" His voice was so maddeningly mild. A world conquering monster shouldn't sound so bloody civil!
The President showed a courage that would have amazed his surviving critics. "You are an abomination! I will not cede one square inch of this nation to you and I will die before I bow before you!"
Calcite nodded. "Well yes, that was the alternative." He snapped his fingers and the president became a pillar of fire. In a second all that was left was ash. His wife shrieked and threw herself at him. She was immediately shocked unconscious. His daughter just began to scream. Calcite frowned. "I hope he wasn't speaking metaphorically. That would be very embarrassing. Ah well, convey my congratulations to the Vice President on his sudden elevation. Hmmm?" Sailor Zeus was crackling with power.
Makoto felt pushed beyond the limit. She'd just seen this monster demolish another two Senshi after a sick joke, confess to asphyxiating god knows how many men and women then burn their host to death before his family's eyes. She'd never dreamed she'd ever witness some much cruelty in her entire life. This was the creature who was starving the world and condemning millions to death. She wanted the power to kill him more than she'd ever wanted anything in her whole life. The words formed in her mind and she screamed, "SPARKLING WIDE PRESSURE!" It felt like more power than every "SUPREME THUNDER" she'd ever thrown combined. The power exploded against the Overlord's aura in a dazzle of electricity. And it still wasn't enough.
The Overlord looked at her very condescendingly. "That's it? That's the best you can do?" He shook his head. "I was right the first time. You're not worth wasting my time on. Fortunately I know some people who'd be perfect." He chuckled again. "I've got some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is I didn't kill everyone in Tokyo. That's also the bad news." He had their undivided attention. "I saved seven people, well six people and one cat." Ami felt herself torn between anticipation and horror. Could it be? "Because of Sailor Moon they'd been torn from their true shapes and condemned to live their lives as humans. I rescued then from that sorry fate and restored them. Meet the hunt team I've empowered to kill you. But I forgot, you've already met the Seven Great Youma." With that a window opened in the air and they saw seven monstrous figures. Once the carriers of the rainbow crystals and Beryl's greatest warriors in the battle for the Moon Kingdom. Reborn as humans and saved from the Dark Kingdom by Sailor Moon. Now restored again to their original forms. Ami stared at the hulking creature that resembled a bipedal metallic crab. She managed to stop the tears but couldn't help gasping, "Ryo!"
The window must have been two way because Banbou looked at her and croaked, "Ami!". Calcite didn't like that. His eyes glowed and the youma fell over shrieking as black sparks crawled along his carapace. To himself the Overlord muttered, "Thought I'd completely erased the human personality. Ah well, it'll add a bit of irony to the hunt."
Makoto was planning to try comforting Ami when Hermes gave a low animalistic growl. Zeus was understandably startled. Inside Ami's mind a barrier broke and she howled, "SHINING AQUA ILLUSION!" The Overlord disappeared in a flurry of white. It cleared and revealed an ice statue of the Calcite. For a moment Ami dared hope then the ice cracked and sprayed outwards. The Overlord stood there looking none the worse for wear.
"Not bad! You actually frozen all the moisture in the air around my aura. You're almost worth killing." Reluctantly he added, "But I did promise the Seven they could have you. Ah well. You've got a week's grace. Enjoy yourselves while you can." With that he vanished taking Sailors Heaven and Poseidon with him.
An hour later in the midst of the grief and chaos surrounding the aftermath of the Overlord's visit the Senshi were heading for the surface. As they'd been told once more Calcite's image was filling the sky. Again they heard him via telepathy.
"Humans today I faced your champions and I was not impressed." Images filled the sky of his battle with Sailors Heaven and Poseidon. These were replaced by the victorious Calcite shrugging off Hermes and Zeus's attacks. "Sailor Hermes and Sailor Zeus were not worth soiling my hands over. My servants will destroy them." An image of the Seven appeared. "As for your fallen champions ..." The image shifted to Calcite standing in a cavern lined with unpleasant spiked and bladed machinery. Heaven and Poseidon had been shackled to x shaped crosses. Both radiated defiance. "Your champions made the error of letting me take them alive. I will now demonstrate why defying me and failing to die fighting is a mistake." With that a variety of bladed tools appeared in his hands and he set to work.
There are limits to both stoicism and even a senshi's ability to resist pain. You could look away from the sky but you couldn't escape the telepathically transmitted sounds. The screaming seemed to fill the world.
All the senshi looked very pale. So did the younger youma and the yellow eyed man. The others retained excellent poker faces. Makoto finished the story. "I don't know how many hours it went on. It seemed like forever. At long last it was quiet and I looked up. God, the way they looked ... I thought they were dead ... no that's not right. I hoped they were dead. I was praying that it was finally over. But just before the image faded I saw Heaven twitch. We found out a few month's later that they were still alive but they were being held in the Overlord's citadel. If they're very lucky he'll tire of them soon and dispose of them.
At length Sailor Mercury asked, "None of this explains why you came to our world. I don't think it was just to escape yours."
"You're quite right." She looked to Titanite. "After the Overlord's visit we took off on our own. No sense getting everyone else killed when the youma came looking for us. The Overlord had done us an inadvertent favour. He'd made us known to everyone in the world. Before then we were virtually unknown outside of ... outside of Tokyo. When the youma came out to occupy the world there were still plenty of people ready to resist. Many of them were ready to follow us. Ami discovered the youma had placed a network of teleporting stations around the world to let them move troops more easily. She learned how we could tap into it so we were able to travel the world. There was no shortage of people eager to follow us into battle."
"But there are too many youma and only two of us. Too many people died fighting with us so we returned to fighting on alone. Now the resistance is gone and the surviving humans traded their freedom for survival. You can hardly blame them. Talk about dying for your ideals is one thing, watching your loved ones starve to death in front of you is another. We had no options and no hope left."
"Then a few months ago everything changed. While we were foraging through the ruins of Tokyo Makoto spotted another Senshi." She glared at Titanite. "Or rather what we thought was another Senshi. I examined the readings I got at the time then compared them to the readings I'd got concerning the Dark Kingdom. I realized we were dealing with another dimension. One where the Senshi still existed and had interdimensional travelling capability."
"The plan was simple, steal the equipment to open the gateway, come here and have the Senshi follow us back to free our world. And we did it. But things aren't what they seemed and our warp generator burned out."
"Well no matter. If you'll reopen the gate and follow us back we'll show the youma what the Senshi can really do!" The fanaticism in her tone made Sailor Mercury edgy.
"But we can't do that. I have no idea how to traverse dimensions. I imagine the DKR must but they haven't shared that knowledge ..."
Before she could finish Hermes was giving Calcite a very cold look. "Your counterpart is a genocidal monster but you're getting a chance to make amends for what you did to our world. You found our world once you can find it again. I want a gateway set up between this word and ours!"
Calcite put down his drink and said four words in a calm tone.
"When hell freezes over."