Shades of Darkness
A Sailor Moon Fanfic
By: Aaron Nowack
Chapter 1: Opening Gambits
"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter."
- Winston Churchill
Disclaimer: Sailor Moon is owned by Naoko Takeuchi, whose creative talents far exceed my most humble own. Distribution and other rights to Sailor Moon belong to lots of different companies that I do not own. I make or imply no claim to ownership of Sailor Moon or its characters. However, the text of this fanfic is mine, and should not be used without permission. Thank you.
Sailor Pluto started as a new sound entered her awareness. Her ancient home, Castle Charon, was normally silent, save for the sounds she herself made. The fact that it was now shattered and ruined from the recent apocalyptic battle had not seemed to change that fact. Yet now she had heard... something. Perhaps it was just some of the rubble settling.
"Or perhaps not," the Senshi muttered as she heard the sound resume, this time clearly identifiable as footsteps. Her gloved hand tightened around her staff as she waited for her visitor. For there was only one place any intruder could be seeking - the central courtyard, the ruin of which she had been searching.
Why she had been searching she was not sure. She had seen the Great Seal shattered with her own eyes, and it took hardly a moment to determine that the Gates of Time were gone, beyond the range of even her keen magical senses. Yet she could not bring herself to accept that. She had guarded those Gates for almost all of her long life, and the Seal had been in her keeping for its entire existence. Without them, it was almost as though her purpose for existing had been taken from her.
Though that was not the case. Her mission still burned inside of her - the path to the shining future of Crystal Tokyo was still narrow and treacherous, in need of a guiding hand. Even were none trying to block that path, keeping history moving in the proper direction was an experience not unlike herding cats. Even with all her foresight, she had never imagined that the world would take the shape it had, and it had been as much through luck as her skill that the utopia she sought was still even possible, much less as likely as it was - though that chance was still almost infinitesimal.
Sailor Pluto forced these musings from her mind, tensing as she heard the intruder draw nearer. When she came into view, Pluto started slightly and relaxed somewhat. "You," she said simply.
Pluto had to repress a shudder at hearing her own voice coming from another's lips. Even after countless years, seeing her future self was more than a little disturbing. The first time they had met, she had thought herself soon to be, if not already, insane. "How are you here? The Gates are lost."
"How, then?" the younger Pluto asked.
"I cannot say," the elder replied. "There is very little I can do to aid you now."
The younger Pluto grimaced. "I know that too well. What can you say?"
"That the hour we have long worked for draws near. That the Great Ice is coming, and that the battle to determine what world will awaken in a thousand years has already begun to rage. That you must stay the course, now more than ever, lest all you have sacrificed be in vain."
"I know that," the younger Pluto said, barely managing to conceal her irritation. "Is there nothing more you can give me?"
A frown creased the elder's face. "I... I can tell you this. Be wary. There are other forces at work than those of Serenity the Dark, and... no, I have already said too much." She paused, then continued, her voice far more confident. "You know what you must do, what only you can do."
"How will I? Without the Gates, I cannot read the timestream well. I have no way to know what must occur."
The elder Pluto smiled mysteriously. "I will be watching." She faded away, and the younger Pluto cursed at the empty air.
"Are you okay?"
Furuhata Motoki looked up at his sister's voice. "I'm... I don't know, Unazuki."
Unazuki glanced around the somewhat less-than crowded Crown Cafe, then turned to the counter. "Kazuma! I'm taking a quick break!"
The young man, who the staff had appointed the Cafe's temporary manager after the proprietress had "disappeared", smiled and nodded, and Unazuki slid into the other side of Motoki's booth. "All right," she said, idly twirling a strand of her red hair. "Talk."
Motoki blinked. "What?"
"Oh, come on," Unazuki said, sighing. "You've been moping in here for almost two hours. What's wrong? Bored since the arcade is still closed?" In fact, almost no progress had been made towards trying to repair it.
"A little, but that's not it," Motoki replied. "I... Meno talked with Mer... Ami yesterday."
"He told me she said that Mamoru would be coming back to class next week."
Unazuki's eyes widened, "Oh."
"I haven't seen him since then, you realize? Not since I almost killed him." Motoki stared down at his hands.
Unazuki reached over and grasped one of his hands. "You did save him, you realize. That counts for something."
"No. I was the one who made him need saving. That," he said bitterly, "counts for something too."
Unazuki tightened her grip. "You're friends. That's all that matters."
Motoki laughed harshly. "What's a little bloodshed between friends, huh?" He paused. "Motoki and Mamoru were friends. Zeus and Endymion? That's another story."
Unazuki opened her mouth to reply, but stopped as the other waitress on this shift drew near. "Do you want something to drink, Unazuki?" she asked.
"No, but thanks anyway, Akane." The other waitress nodded and continued on her way to the counter, stopping a few booths down to ask whether another customer needed a refill.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Motoki spoke. "I guess I should -"
"Go see him." Motoki blinked at the interruption, then stared at his sister as though she had grown a second head. "You heard me," Unazuki continued. "This has been eating you up for the past three weeks, and you'll never settle it unless you talk to him."
"What am I supposed to say, 'Sorry I tried to kill you?'"
"That's up to you."
Motoki sighed. "I should go."
Unazuki nodded. "I need to get back to work," she said as she rose.
Motoki followed suit and left the cafe. As the door closed behind him, he glanced over at the dark, silent Crown Arcade. After a moment, he fished around in his pocket for a key and moved around to the back door. He unlocked it and slipped inside the back room.
This was it. This small storeroom had been the place. He glanced down at the blood that still stained the concrete floor, and shuddered. There was no sign of the youma that had died here, even the dust its corpse had become having long since evaporated. But the blood... even if it had been cleaned, Motoki knew he would still have seen it.
After a long moment, he tore his eyes away from the red stain and walked into the arcade proper. The machines stood like ancient, inscrutable monoliths, looming out of the darkness. Motoki flipped a light switch, and they metamorphosed from ominous sentinels to almost pathetic, mute reminders that once this place had been a place of happiness. Now, even with the lights on, it felt more like a tomb to Motoki.
He wandered over the Super Sailor Fighter II machine, fingering its cracked side panel. This was the machine that had housed a powerful energy draining device. Placed by the youma who posed as the arcades' proprietress, it had sparked the incident that left the arcade still closed. It had been one of Tuxedo Kamen's roses that had destroyed the device, leaving this scar on the machine that had hosted it.
Motoki barely stopped himself from punching the side panel, doing further damage. Damn it! When had things gotten so complicated? He had had friends who had joined the other side during the war, and never felt this way about them. But then, that was then... and this was now. He had never had to worry about what to say to any of those friends, because the war had outlived all of them. Now the war was over, and his friend-turned-enemy was an ally in a different war. How was he supposed to deal with that, even setting aside what had happened here mere weeks ago?
The sound of a door opening startled Motoki from his thoughts, and he glanced towards the back room. Who could it be? His face paled as the trespasser entered the main room. For a moment the two were silent. "Hi," Motoki finally said weakly, dropping his gaze.
"Hi." Mamoru's voice was flat, and even though Motoki wasn't looking he could tell that Mamoru was fingering the scar he had to have. "I saw your sister. She said you wanted to see me, and I saw you through the windows..." He trailed off.
"She did, huh?" Motoki asked, then fell silent.
After a few moments, Mamoru said, "I should leave."
He turned to do so, but stopped as Motoki shook his head. "No, stay. We really do need to talk."
"You're right," Mamoru said, but neither said anything more for several moments.
"How... how is your wound?" Motoki asked, breaking the silence.
"There's barely even a scar," Mamoru said.
Another silence. "That's good." After a few moments, Motoki punched the side of the broken arcade machine, not caring that he damaged it further. "I knew this wasn't going to work."
"It's not going to be the same as it used to be. It might never be," Mamoru said.
"I suppose not." Motoki cursed. "I'm no good at this kind of thing. Gaia was always the diplomat."
"You could start with apologizing," Mamoru said dryly.
Motoki's lips curled back into an almost feral grin. "Weren't you trying to kill me too?"
Mamoru shifted uncomfortably, glancing away. "You gave me good reason."
Motoki let out a bark of bitter laughter. "I suppose I did."
"Why, Motoki? How could you possibly support something like that?"
"Do you think we liked the thought of using the fleet against Earth? Do you think we enjoyed the possibility that innocents would die at our hands? We are not that inhuman, Mamoru. It seemed we had no other choice."
"Why?" Mamoru repeated. "What was so horrible that you could consider that?"
Motoki's face was smooth and blank. "No one has the right to decide mankind's future for it. Not you, not me, and certainly not Pluto. Would you rather die freely or live as a slave?"
"What gives you the right to make that decision for others?"
"What gives you the right to decide that Pluto's vision of Utopia is worth the destruction of this world?"
"The Great Ice," Mamoru said flatly. "There might be no way to stop it, you realize."
"Better to try and fail than to not try at all!" Motoki's voice was almost a yell. He paused, breathing heavily. "We aren't going anywhere with this."
"You're right." Mamoru glanced away again. "Ami tells me that before you went to Pluto, you had a vote."
"We did." Motoki's eyes were hard. "On what to do if we freed the fleet and you refused to capitulate."
"Which way did you vote?"
"Would you have agreed to terms?"
Mamoru shuffled his feet. "I don't know," he said after a second's pause.
"Think quickly," Motoki said. "Which will it be, innocent deaths or surrender?"
"I said I don't know!"
"That's almost similar to the decision we faced. It's not an easy choice, no matter how much you might want it to be."
Mamoru's eyes were troubled. "I can't believe that you would vote to go through with such a thing."
"I didn't. But I know why those who did chose that way."
Mamoru bowed his head. "I guess... I guess I can understand that." His eyes blazed briefly as he raised his head again. "I still don't like it."
"Nobody does." For a moment, a haunted look passed over Motoki's eyes. "You are very lucky that you do not remember the war." He then fell silent.
After several awkward seconds, Mamoru extended his hand. "I don't know if this is going to work, but... one way or another, we're going to have to work together now. I'd rather at least try to be friends."
"All we can do is try." Motoki took Mamoru's hand. "That's all humans can ever do."
When she had ruled the Dark Kingdom, Beryl had resided in a vast suite at the heart of her palace, adjacent to the throne room. Once richly appointed and filled with all manner of treasures magical and mundane, arcane tomes, and the other spoils of ten millennia of rule, they were now long stripped of anything with the slightest bit of value. Where once powerful youma longed for a chance to be one of the few invited to meet with the Queen within, now only the lost or curious disturbed the thick layers of dust that covered the cold, stone floors and the few items too large and valueless to be worth looting.
Jadeite had never bothered to claim the royal chambers, feeling them too exposed for his taste. Instead, he had resumed occupancy of the same rooms he had taken for himself long ago after his humiliating flight from the vast southern isle that had been his domain. Located atop one of the palace's highest towers, almost directly above the throne room and Beryl's suite, they were cramped but easily defensible. This fact had served him well during his brief but turbulent reign.
Metallia had opted for neither of these options, for the moment at least. Deep in the labyrinthine catacombs beneath the palace lay the hidden sanctum from which Nyxan and Ishamanar had summoned the dark goddess. Only her inner circle was aware the chamber existed, and it was there that they could find her when she was not in some public place. To those outside that small group, the Queen might as well have vanished.
It was outside the door to this chamber that Asphara, consort to Metallia's general Ishamanar, found herself now. The large, bat-like wings that sprouted from the back of her otherwise human-seeming form twitched nervously as she lightly knocked on the thick metal door. Even for a youma as well-connected and as much in the Queen's favor as herself, no meeting with Metallia was anything to take lightly or calmly.
When the door swung open, Asphara started back. On the other side of the doorway was a figure that, despite standing almost a head shorter than her, sent almost instinctual tremors of fear down her spine. The Silence Glaive glinting menacingly in one hand, Sailor Saturn looked the youma up and down with her flat, dull eyes, seemingly without interest or comprehension. After a moment that seemed eons-long to Asphara, the Senshi nodded and turned away, vanishing into the shadowed depths of the sanctum.
Taking a handful of seconds to calm herself, Asphara soon followed, the door swinging silently shut behind her. Even her youma eyes took a few moments to adjust to the darkness. Once they had, she took several steps forward and knelt before her goddess. As Metallia's attention turned to her, the already pitch-black shadows seemed to thicken and solidify, until Asphara felt almost as though she were being smothered by the darkness.
Metallia smiled, and the golden crescent on her forehead seemed to shine. "Rise, Asphara." Hearing her own name coming from the goddess's lips made the youma shake with unnamable sensations. "You have served me well, child."
Asphara's throat was dry, and it took her a moment to find the words to speak. "Thank you, Great One." She began to rise to her feet, only to stagger as her weak, shaking legs buckled under her. Her fall halted with shocking suddenness, but it was nothing to the shock she felt when she saw that it was Sailor Saturn's gloved hands supporting her. She wrenched herself free, then glanced uncertainly at the Senshi. After a moment, she nodded her thanks. The Senshi nodded curtly in reply, then faded back into the thick shadows.
Metallia seemed unconcerned by the incident, continuing as though it had not happened. "Your consort has set you to watching the human Jadeite, yes?"
"Y-yes, Great One," Asphara managed to stutter out in reply.
"Is it some doing of his that brings you here?" Metallia asked.
"No, my Queen," Asphara said.
"Very well." A frown seemed to briefly cross the Queen's face, but in the darkness Asphara could not be sure. "What errand brings you then, child?"
"Great Metallia, my consort sends me to inform you that he has gathered his thousand, and that he awaits only your blessing to strike."
Metallia laughed, and whatever frown her face might have borne vanished. "Very well, then. My blessing for him, and my curse for this Tokyo."
The Hikawa Shrine still bore some of the scars of battle. Though the fires that had raged in the aftermath of one of the final conflicts between the Champions and the Senshi had failed to do much structural damage, thanks in large part to the rapid response of the Juuban Fire Department, a number of obvious, temporary patches marred the Shrine's once-beautiful exterior, waiting for the time when final repairs could be made.
Despite this, it was still by far the best place for the Senshi to hold a meeting, particularly when, as was now and frequently the case, Grandfather Hino was away. Most other places were too public or, as was the case with Makoto or the Outer Senshi's apartments, too small to comfortably hold the entire group for the many hours these meetings could take.
This particular meeting was still just beginning, the last of the handful of late-comers having just arrived, and the conversation not yet having made its way from the forcibly cheerful small-talk to the far more serious reasons for the gathering. For any who did not know those reasons, this conclave would seem to be made of an odd collection of people who could have no conceivable common interest, ranging from elegant, somewhat famous musicians to a willowy, amazonish girl; from a quiet, studious bookworm to some who seemed her direct opposite. Yet the one thing they all shared outweighed these differences so greatly that it was almost inconceivable to them that they might never have met without it.
For the moment, though, they continued to almost unknowingly dart around the reasons for their meeting, pretending that no greater purpose had called them to this place. "Honestly, Usagi, would it kill you to be on time for once?"
The named girl briefly stuck out her tongue at the speaker. "I said I was sorry! And it's not my fault this time, Rei! Mom wouldn't let me go out until I helped her clean the living room."
Rei merely rolled her eyes. "If you say so."
"Wasn't Mamoru supposed to come this time?" Makoto asked.
Rei nodded. "But he called me and said he had some errands to run, so we shouldn't wait for him." She shot a glare at Usagi, who responded once more with a display of her tongue.
Haruka shifted in her seat. "Then let's start." A quiet settled over the group as they were forced to recall that there was a reason they were here.
Ami was the one who broke the calm. "I met with Meno again yesterday."
"Hermes?" Minako asked, and Ami nodded.
Usagi frowned. "This isn't good enough."
Ami blinked at the unexpected comment. "What do you mean?"
"We need to be closer to the Champions," Usagi said. "If we're really going to work together with them, we can't only have you and Hermes talking once a week, or it'll be like..." Usagi faltered, glancing nervously at the Outer Senshi.
"Like before with us," Haruka finished quietly for her. "We'll wind up working at cross purposes with them."
Michiru glanced sideways at Haruka. "We might end up doing that in any case."
Makoto crossed her arms. "I don't trust them."
It was Rei who responded. "We don't really have a choice. If what's coming is half as bad as we fear, we'll need them." Minako nodded, her normally cheerful expression vanished.
"I don't like it," was all Makoto said in reply.
"I think they can be trusted," Ami said after a moment. "At least as far as their word goes. They swore to Usagi, and they aren't the type to break an oath."
Usagi shuddered slightly. They might have sworn their loyalty amidst the ruins of Castle Charon, but they had not been pleased to do so. She, too, thought they would stand by the word they had given, but she also felt that it would only take one wrong step for them to start chafing at that bond, and she did not want that to happen. She shook her head, noticing that the room had once again fallen silent. "They did swear to me," she said. "That means I have a responsibility to them."
No words greeted this pronouncement, so Usagi continued. "Ami. Can you contact Meno?"
She nodded. "Yes."
"Then I want you to arrange a meeting. Not with him, but with all the Champions. With all of us."
Another brief silence fell, and this time it was Michiru who broke it. "Did Meno tell you anything in your meeting?" she asked.
Ami's eyes flicked to Rei. "Where is your grandfather, Rei?"
The raven-haired Senshi blinked at the seeming change of subject. "He's visiting another shrine, in Yokohama."
"Have you talked to him lately?" Ami pressed.
"Of course," Rei replied. "He calls every night."
Ami breathed a sigh of relief at this. "Maybe it wasn't anything, then."
"What wasn't?" Makoto asked.
Ami paused, seeming to gather her thoughts. "Meno said his brother was missing."
"His brother?" Minako asked.
"Urawa Ryo," Ami replied after a moment.
Usagi was the first of the handful who recognized the name to respond. "Your boyfriend's missing?"
"He isn't my boyfriend," Ami said irritably. "I haven't talked to him in over a year."
"What does his brother have to do with anything, much less Grandfather Hino?" Michiru asked.
Ami's eyes dropped. "They were each one of the Seven Great Youma."
Haruka seemed puzzled for a moment, then her eyes seemed to bug out as she remembered the story. "Rei's grandfather?"
Rei shifted uncomfortably. "He doesn't know anything about it. And there's never been even a trace of evil on him." She sniffed slightly. "Just perversion."
Haruka shook her head. "Still," she began, only to shake her head and begin again, this time addressing Ami. "You were afraid the Dark Kingdom was recovering them. Who were the others?"
Ami grimaced as she brought out her computer and entered a few commands. "I didn't keep very good track of them. A 'Cranemaster Joe.' A priest who at the time worked at a nearby graveyard; I never got his name. The artist Yumeno Yumemi. A Nishimura Reika, who was Motoki's girlfriend at the time. And a cat. Maybe Setsuna can find out where that one got to, but I can't."
"I think I met Ms. Yumeno once," Michiru said. "She didn't seem -"
"None of them do," Usagi interrupted.
"Except for that Cranemaster Joe." Makoto snorted. "He was a real jerk. I can't believe I thought he was like my sempai."
Haruka's eyes closed, and she seemed to be holding in a sigh. "One more thing to worry about. Even if the Dark Kingdom hasn't gone after them already, they might try it sometime."
Minako sighed. "At least they don't seem to be in any hurry to try anything."
Seemingly in reply, the Shrine shook, ancient timbers groaning. As the shaking stopped, the Senshi darted to their feet, and it was Haruka who was the first to ask the question that was on all their minds.
"What the hell was that?"
It started with a speck of light. A tiny, unnoticeable red dot in the sky over the Juuban district of Tokyo. At least, it was unnoticeable at first. Mere moments after it appeared, it flared a brilliant crimson, a bright, impossible star that blinded the few who happened to be looking directly at it for several moments. Even as the glare died down, the speck of light began to expand, a wave of crimson flooding across the sky.
Unlike the last time such an strange sight had appeared over Juuban, there were quite a few who realized what the blazing sky warned of. The papers outside of Juuban might have downplayed reports of monsters and attributed the damage to various natural or man-made disasters, but the people of Juuban remembered. It took mere seconds for the panic to begin.
It took only slightly longer for the invaders to arrive. This time, no shimmering portal appeared for them to pour out of. Rank upon rank of monstrous creatures simply began to appear in the heart of Juuban. The flow of traffic, already confused by the spectacle of the fiery sky, disintegrated entirely as all rules were forgotten, a primal urge to flee taking hold of even the bravest of men at the sight of the demons.
Harsh commands boomed out in a language that resembled no human tongue, audible all over Juuban's shopping district. Inhuman, terrible roars answered them, rising from a thousand throats. A final command barked out, one whose meaning seemed entirely too clear to the humans, despite the incomprehensible language in which it was uttered. "Kill them all!"
The first to die was a salaryman who had been searching for a new place to eat lunch. A squad of youma had appeared surrounding him, and one of them casually disemboweled him with a single claw swipe even before the words of the final command had faded. The man fell back from the force, and had a few moments to feel his lifeblood draining out before his senses faded. It would be less than fifteen seconds before another would join him in death.
It took quite a bit longer for alarms to begin to sound in locations throughout Japan, and from there move on to places beyond. Though it had been happy to bolster reporters' skepticism when it came to tales of monsters attacking in Juuban, the government itself had heeded the warning of the first red sky and other, previous incidents, and contingency plans had been laid.
Even with those plans available, it took some time for those responsible to determine a course of action appropriate for the exact circumstances, or at least the fragmentary portion of them that were known. Once those decisions had been made, the tremendous task of deploying significant forces to the streets of their own capital city began.
Tuxedo Kamen shattered the glass storefront of the Crown Arcade with a single rose, leaping through even before the glass had finished falling. Zeus followed a moment later, sword crackling in his hands. He spared a glance for the handful of pedestrians, shouting at them to flee. He grimaced at thought that there might be no safe location to flee to. He then turned his attention to the reason for their unseemly haste in exiting the Arcade. Youma.
The closest was a tentacled monstrosity, and Zeus hoped he was only imagining the bloodstains he thought he saw on its twisting appendages. Two sword blows divested the monster of a decent portion of those, and a final stab finished it off. Unfortunately, it was far from the only demon to be visiting Tokyo today.
Nearby, Tuxedo Kamen fended off twin snarling, wolf-like youma with his cane. His off hand darted into his coat and emerged with another rose. He flung at one of the beasts. The youma didn't go down, but it backed off. He took advantage of the chance to get a number of solid blows in on the other, but the blunt cane seemed to do little damage.
A curse escaped his lips, and he... shifted. His formal wear became dark armor and his cane became a sharp, heavy sword. Endymion cursed again, angry with himself for not thinking to use his stronger form sooner. One youma fell under his sword, then the other. He launched himself at a winged creature. Yet, still there were more youma. Inhuman roars and all too human screams sounded from all directions, a chorus appropriate to the infernal sky that blazed above.
Zeus moved to block three snake creatures from attacking Tuxedo Kamen's rear. Another group of youma reached the door of the Crown Cafe, seeking to reach the frightened clientele within. A figure holding a glowing sword appeared in the doorway. A youma tried to shove past her, and Aphrodite removed its head from its body.
Behind her, the customers panicked. The young temporary manager struggled to lead them all into the slightly more defensible back room, but Aphrodite had no time to note this. Even with the defensive advantage of the doorway, there were enough youma to press her hard. Those numbers were quickly increasing. Youma congregated in this section of street, sensing a troublesome knot of resistance.
Zeus found himself pushed up against Endymion's back. Soon, the two were surrounded by a swarm of youma. The monsters were seemingly a menagerie of all shapes and sizes, of all the fearsome creatures that lurked in the back of the human mind. Both sides were too closely packed for any awesome displays of magic. The battle nothing more then a furious storm of blade and claw. The youma died, one after the other, but still they came on. Still, pained, human screams sounded from all directions.
The two slowly worked their way over to the Crown Cafe, where a tiring Aphrodite still blocked the doorway. She gratefully stepped back as the two reached her. Her brother took her place, while she tended a nasty claw-scrape on Endymion's side. She managed to at least dull the pain, and he muttered a quick thanks.
Aphrodite shook her head. "It's nothing."
"That's right." It was a deep, inhuman voice that spoke, and the youma drew back slightly. A large, mostly humanoid figure stepped forward, though a pair of horns on its forehead and the crimson color of its skin were more than enough to identify it as hardly human. "All your efforts are nothing. Surrender, and mayhap you can survive as slaves."
Lightning crackled around Zeus's blade. "Thunder Bolt!"
The youma merely smiled, raising one paw-like hand. The burst of electricity faltered before it reached it. "That is futile. This is our hour now." A fanged grin settled on its face. "General Ishamanar and Great Metallia!"
It charged, and the other youma were not far behind. The youma's apparent leader contemptuously forced Zeus's blade aside, almost bowling over the Champion. Endymion was right behind him, and a point-blank rose bought him a moment's time to recover. The lead youma turned on Endymion, only to scream in surprised pain as Aphrodite's shining sword cut into its side. The recovered Zeus attacked from the other flank, and now it was the youma who was being pushed back.
A clawed strike left a bloody trail down Zeus's face. He ignored the blow, plunging his sword where the youma's heart should be. This was more than the monster could take, and more dust fell to the pile before the Cafe's door. At their leader's fall, the other youma backed off again. The three warriors took advantage of the respite to gain a brief moment of rest.
Zeus thought that he heard gunshots in the distance - the police, or the army maybe. He couldn't imagine either group having much success, but he prayed that they would. Soon, he had no time to consider the distant, possibly imaginary gunfire further. The youma had regrouped, and were pressing their attack yet again.
The next minutes were a nightmarish whirlwind of battle. The enraged youma struggled to force their way through the narrow doorway. Each time one of the defenders struck, a youma went down. There was always another close behind, though, and all too often the fallen youma was able to rise again. There seemed no end to the battle, and Zeus could not forget that this was probably only the tiniest portion of a vastly larger attack.
A scream sounded from the back room. "They found the back door," Aphrodite said, her face whitening.
"Go," her brother said when he had a moment to do so. "You too, Endymion. I'll hold them here." Or try to, he finished silently.
There was no time for further words. The other two defenders raced back to try and defend the civilians. Zeus stepped into the center of the doorway and raised his sword, making his tired muscles groan in protest. "Thunder Bolt!"
The lightning forced the youma back. This time Zeus pressed the attack. There wasn't much point in defending the front door now. He just needed to keep these youma busy. This he succeeded at quite well, cutting through youma almost as quickly as they presented themselves. Yet he knew that he could not keep this up for long. Only the surprise of his sudden assault was keeping the enemy from overwhelming him. It would not be long before he made a fatal mistake.
That came far shorter than he might have hoped, a brief over extension making it possible for an insect youma to get inside his guard. He stumbled back, but soon more youma were upon him, forcing him down. He felt his sword being torn from his grasp, and knew there was nothing more he could do.
"Tidal Wave!" The youma scattered before Poseidon's attack, and Zeus let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. The other Champion wasn't alone: Hades and Medea were with him, and by the time Zeus managed to regain his feet the youma were breaking and running.
"Are you okay?" Poseidon asked.
"I'm not hurt." He winced from his wounds as he tried to rise, and reconsidered. "Not too badly, anyway. My sister and Endymion - they're in the back room."
"We're fine." Zeus let out another relieved sigh as Aphrodite emerged from the cafe. "There were only one or two back there."
Tuxedo Kamen soon approached, a haunted look in his eyes. "What are we going to do with the survivors?"
"We have to get them somewhere safe," Zeus said.
Medea shook her head. "I don't know if there is anywhere safe."
"That bad?" Aphrodite asked, her shoulders slumping.
Hades answered first. "Worse."
It had been almost two hours since, for the second time, the sky over Juuban had begun to blaze. By now, the heart-rending chorus of screams had died down to a quiet whimper, more through lack of instruments then a lack of musicians. Most civilians in the heart of Juuban had either fled beyond the current reach of the youma invaders, or were by now dead or well-enough hidden to avoid their notice. These streets now belonged to the youma... and to those few who had the power and the will the hunt them.
The roads were littered with abandoned cars, a number with engines still running. Others had been torn to pieces by curious youma, who had never seen such contraptions before... occasionally, with the drivers still inside. Storefronts were shattered, and more than one building was aflame. Most depressing, though, were the bodies.
Some, perhaps even most, were merely unconscious, their energy drained to strengthen the enemy forces. Given the chance, they would recover swiftly. Far too many, though, were dead - clawed to pieces, ripped asunder, burned alive, or any of the other painful ways to die the youma army offered them. No small number of these corpses had been partially consumed by the demons who had slain them.
Ares no longer saw the bodies. There were too many, and there was nothing he could do for them, not even the living ones. He was no healer to save the wounded, nor was he a priest to care for the dead. It was better to pretend that the fallen were not there, to instead concentrate on what he could do. He was a warrior, and it was to war that he went.
At the moment, he faced down a trio of youma in an otherwise abandoned street. The handful of civilians these youma had cornered had managed to flee, thanks to the distraction Ares provided. Even if he accomplished nothing else, he had at least bought them more time to flee, to reach some more secure haven.
The closest youma, a creature with an oddly shaped, almost reptilian head atop an otherwise normal, if gray-skinned, woman's body, snarled, revealing a mouth filled with long fangs. "At last, a challenge."
Ares forced himself to smirk as he studied his opponents. This one seemed the most powerful of the three - the others, an almost matching feline pair, distinguishable only by the differing colors of their fur, were little more than half as strong. "A challenge I doubt you will meet, youma."
The monster's pale, yellowish eyes seemed to glow faintly in the odd light. "We shall see, Champion."
Ares's sword caught fire. "Flame Strike!" The blazing bolt sped from his extended blade towards the leader, only to sputter and die as it neared.
"Is that all?" the youma asked. Without waiting for an answer, she gestured towards the darker-furred of her companions. "Kill him."
The cat youma leapt forward with surprising speed, but it wasn't quite fast enough to catch Ares unguarded. A quick strike of his sword forced the attacking youma to keep its distance. The monster snarled, and long, ethereal claws sprung from its hands. The first swipe marred Ares's armor, but he managed to block the second.
The Champion took the offensive, and quickly scored a return blow that, had the youma been a hair slower, would have ended the fight. As it was, a long trail of black, hissing blood now marked the youma's side. Ares risked a quick glance backward. He smiled grimly as his suspicions were confirmed. This youma's twin had been taking advantage of his distraction to circle around behind him.
"Enough," he said, and plunged his sword into the road beneath his feet. The two youma raced to take advantage of his suddenly lowered guard, but not quickly enough. "Raging Inferno!" A circle of explosions surrounded the Champion, gouging craters in the dark asphalt. The two youma screamed briefly, and when the flames died down there was nothing left of them.
Ares raised his sword and advanced on the remaining youma. She flung out one clawed hand, and hurled dark lightning at the Champion. He effortlessly blocked the attack with the flat of his blade and continued to close the distance. The youma snarled wordlessly and fired another burst, with no more effect than the last. Ares's sword swept out, and his opponent stumbled backward to avoid it, falling to the ground. Ares stood over the monster, raising his sword like an executioner. The sword began to fall, only to stop as a new voice spoke.
"Soul Flame." The firebolt forced Ares back, and the youma scurried out from underneath his blade. "Go, little youma." The youma complied, vanishing so quickly that it almost seemed she teleported away.
"Jadeite," Ares spat out.
The dark general smiled and allowed himself to settle to the ground. "We meet yet again, Deinas."
"What do you want?"
Jadeite extended one gloved hand, and flames danced in it. "What do you think?"
"A quick death," Ares said, a familiar, dark smile returning to his face. "There are no hostages for you to take here." The last time the two had fought, the dark lord had taken Sailor Mars hostage, halting the duel until Sailor Saturn's appearance had put an end to it. Slowly, Ares extended his sword, pointing it at the other man.
Jadeite smiled, and cocked his head as though listening to a distant voice. "The screams... they're wonderful, aren't they? Great Metallia will be most pleased, I think."
"Flame Strike!" A torrent of white-hot fire spewed from the tip of Ares's blade, hungrily streaming towards the general.
Jadeite's smile widened, and he flung the dancing flame from his hands directly into the storm of fire speeding towards him. His ball of flame rapidly expanded as it flew. When it reached Ares's bolt it absorbed it, sending the inferno racing back at the Champion. Ares screamed as the fire struck him, knocking him halfway across the street and sending his sword spinning far out of reach.
Even as the Champion struggled to rise, Jadeite vanished, only to reappear in a burst of flame, hovering over his fallen foe. The general raised both arms, balls of white-hot flame shining in his hands like miniature suns. "Pathetic," he spat. "I had hoped you would be a better challenge this time, Deinas."
Ares grasped at a handful of rubble, hurling it at Jadeite and trying to roll out from underneath him. The stones evaporated long before they could strike the general, and he smirked. "You promised me a quick death, Champion. I assure you, I will show no such mercy." The fireballs in Jadeite's hands flared brightly, the white light obliterating the odd tint cast from the blazing sky overhead. "Die, worm!"
"Ice Storm!" The razor-sharp shards of ice failed to draw blood from the general, but did succeed in distracting him from his spell. The blazing orbs in his hands flickered and died, and Jadeite spun in mid-air, spitting a ancient curse at the new arrival.
Hermes ignored the curse, raising his sword in a defensive position. Jadeite snarled, and flames once again gathered in his hands. "I'll deal with you first, then. Soul Flame Barrage!" Firebolt after firebolt flew at the Champion of Mercury. He managed to block the first few, but soon stumbled back under the onslaught.
The dark general laughed. "You worthless scum. You are nothing!"
Jadeite half-spun in mid-air, flinging Ares's firebolt aside with one arm. "That is futile."
Ares smiled, his sword a bar of white flame, as he looked at something above and behind the general. "Perhaps."
The twin attacks slammed into the general from above, and it was Jadeite's turn to scream. The two Champions below pressed the attack, and the general vanished in a storm of fire and ice. When the magic cleared, Jadeite was kneeling on the ground, his gray uniform in tatters. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune leapt down from the building they stood upon, and soon the four warriors had the general surrounded.
"I will not go back on my word, Jadeite," Ares said. "A quick death you shall have."
Jadeite's mouth twisted into a fierce snarl. "I'm not out of this fight yet, Champion."
There was a flicker of darkness, and Sailor Saturn appeared, protectively hovering over the general. "Silence wall," she intoned softly.
Ares cursed, swinging his sword futilely at the shimmering barrier that surrounded the two. Jadeite rose unsteadily, and smirked at the Champion. "It seems Iris has won you a reprieve, Deinas."
Saturn's eyes turned to Jadeite. "Great Metallia requests your presence, General. I will take you to her." Jadeite nodded, and the two vanished in a second flicker of darkness.
After a moment, Ares bowed shallowly to the two Senshi. "Your aid was most welcome."
"We are allies now," Uranus replied.
"So we are." It was Hermes who spoke. "What now?"
"We were sent to find you," Neptune said. "Mercury thinks she's found the center of all this. The other Senshi are already on their way there."
"Where?" Ares said.
Uranus smiled wearily. "Where else? The ruins of the Osa-P."
It was not quite accurate to call them ruins. The Osa-P shopping center had been heavily damaged in what had been the largest youma strike ever before today. However, repairs had long ago begun, and many of the businesses had been serving customers again in a matter of days. The building had, strangely, fared somewhat better in this much larger strike. Most of the youma's destructive fury was being spent further from the epicenter, where what had been a headlong charge when the attack began was being slowed to a relative crawl. This was due in no small part to the Herculean efforts of first the police and now the military.
The sounds of gunfire and explosions could be heard from that conflict, even here at the heart of the rough circle that line of battle formed. So could the screams of the wounded and dying, and the youma's battle roars. It would be hard for an observer to say which force was least prepared for the foe it found itself grappling with, but there was no doubt which side was getting the better of the struggle. Perhaps two dozen humans fell for every youma they brought down, their training insufficient for dealing with opponents who could shrug off machine gun fire like a human might insect bites. It was a testimony to the courage and skill of the defenders that the youma advance had slowed as much as it had, and that the defensive perimeter, though it was stretched, had not yet broken.
However, here at the eye of the storm, none had time to consider such matters. Ishamanar, General of the Dark Kingdom and leader of the assault, stared down at the rapidly disappearing pile of dust that mere moments ago had been one of his bodyguards. After a few seconds, his eyes glanced up at the five figures that had appeared atop a nearby building, and he raised one arm in half-mocking salute. "I was wondering whether you would make an appearance."
The Senshi did not bother to respond to Ishamanar's comment, wordlessly leaping down to the street before him. The General of the Dark Kingdom grinned fiercely, gesturing his bodyguards forward. "This is far too fine a day to bother with dealing with you myself." His eyes glanced to his guards as he continued. "Kill them." The guards, hulking, reptilian youma Ishamanar had chosen for their unmatched strength and endurance, let out a loud, deep roar that shook the nearby buildings and charged the Senshi.
"Crescent Beam!" The thin, laser-like ray of light neatly speared the lead youma through one of its three eyes. The guard's massive body took one more stumbling step forward, but in less than a second the beast was half dust.
As if in answer, one of the four remaining youma's jaws gaped open, spewing acid at the five Senshi. They scattered away from the attack, firing off a handful of attacks. Most of the magical blasts did little more then scratch the monster's armored scales. Another youma swiped at Sailor Mercury with one clawed hand, but the Senshi darted back out of the monster's range and cast a point-blank Shine Aqua Illusion. It did little more than stun her opponent. Sailor Mars and Jupiter were soon engaged with the other two youma, trading ineffectual attacks.
That left Moon and Venus to face the first youma, which seemed to be gearing up to launch another acid blast. Venus fired another Crescent Beam, but missed the eye this time, the attack bouncing off the youma's scales. A deep gurgling noise emanated from the youma's throat as it prepared to spit again.
Before the acid could be released, Sailor Moon extended one hand, an almost ridiculously ornate scepter appearing in her tightly clenched fist. Power surged through her and into the rod, and she mouthed the words, "Moon Spiral Heart Attack." The youma vanished, the torrent of magic not even leaving dust behind.
Ishamanar was not pleased to note that this left a clear path between him and Sailor Moon. After a moment, a globe of fire appeared in one of the youma general's four hands. In these few seconds, the combined efforts of Mercury and Venus brought down another youma. Ishamanar's eyes met Sailor Moon's, and he smiled.
The youma general concentrated briefly, feeling the dark energy that permeated the atmosphere, and the fireball in his hand... shifted. Where once it was hot and bright, now it radiated a chill darkness, shining darkly in his outstretched palm. Sailor Moon took a step forward, and Ishamanar hurled the dark flame at her. As the ball of darkness neared, Sailor Moon raised her weapon, brow furrowing in concentration.
The scepter began to glow a bright silver to match the onrushing blackness. Sailor Moon swung the scepter to meet it. When the two forces touched there was a loud crack. For an instant, the two seemed equally matched, Sailor Moon unable to force the darkness aside, while Ishamanar's attack proved unable to penetrate her defenses. Then, ever so slowly, the darkness began to retreat, the glowing scepter pushing through it.
Ishamanar concentrated, and for a moment the darkness deepened, the silver glow seeming to dim in its presence. Sailor Moon let out a pained grunt, and then the darkness shattered. She breathed heavily for a second, then took another step towards the dark general.
"Impressive," Ishamanar commented, red flames gathering in his hands. "But good enough? I think not."
With a surprisingly loud thud, the body of the last of Ishamanar's bodyguards fell over, rapidly turning to dust. By this point the sounds of combat had begun to attract nearby youma, though not so many as Ishamanar might have hoped. The motley collection of perhaps a dozen youma did not seem strong enough to delay the Senshi for long. He would have to make the best of that time.
He brought all four of his hands together, a rapidly growing fireball forming between them. "Now, die!" he screamed, a wide bar of flame streaming from his hands.
"Moon Spiral Heart Attack!" The two powers warred in the air between the Senshi and the youma. Ishamanar grunted, shifting his balance as he struggled to keep from being knocked over by the force of the conflict. Sailor Moon seemed unaffected, though had the youma been closer he would have been able to see beads of sweat streaming down her face.
Neither could say how exactly long the struggle lasted, but eventually the flames sputtered and died out. Sailor Moon's attack rocketed forward, forcing Ishamanar back and to his knees. The Senshi seemed to waver for a moment, faint from exhaustion, but she soon straightened and advanced on the fallen general.
Ishamanar managed to rise before she reached him, and with a quick glance he saw that not only were there no other youma left in sight, but several Champions and more Senshi had arrived while he had been concentrating on Sailor Moon. "I underestimated you, girl." The youma general smiled slightly. "But before you celebrate overmuch, look around you and think carefully on who has won this battle." For an instant, the world seemed to darken, and when it passed Ishamanar was gone.
"What now?" asked Ares, one of the recent arrivals.
"I think," Sailor Moon began. She paused, then started over. "I think I know what to do." Her hand clasped her brooch, and after a moment a thin pillar of silver light arced up into the fiery heavens.
Sailor Moon's vision dimmed, and the sounds of battle faded from her ears. Channeling power through the Ginzuishou consumed all her attention, as she wove magic half from instinct, half from guesswork. After a few timeless moments she felt a dark, familiar presence on the edge of her weave, and for some indeterminate time they grappled. Then the other force withdrew, undefeated but no longer willing to continue the struggle. With what felt like her last strength, she finished the weave, and sent it hurling at the half-grasped outlines of another, opposite weave.
She felt herself slumping over, someone's hands arresting her fall. Slowly, her vision began to clear, and she caught a glimpse of almost painfully bright, blue sky. She could feel unbound magic whirling through the streets of the city, sweeping youma in its grasp and bearing them back to their own world. Unfortunately, she could also feel those youma - far too many of them - who had drained too much energy to be so easily snared.
After a moment, she managed to rise, still blinking from the almost unnaturally bright seeming sunlight. She pushed aside Mars's hands, and took a deep breath. Even the air tasted somehow cleaner. She took another breath, then spoke, her voice weary. "Let's go. We still have work to do."
Night had long since fallen. After the confrontation with Ishamanar, Endymion and the remaining Champions had been found returning from escorting a group of civilians across what had recently been the line of battle. In the hours since then, both Champions and Senshi had engaged themselves with attempting to eliminate the remaining youma. The task was made more difficult by the fact that it was the most powerful and cunning demons who had remained behind. To prevent unnecessary complications, they did their best to avoid contact with the military units attempting the same thing, which did nothing to make the task easier or less tiring.
Now, exhausted both physically and emotionally, they regrouped at the stairs of the Hikawa Shrine, which fortunately had not been further damaged in the hostilities. There was almost no light - power was out in many sections of Juuban, and there was only a tiny sliver of new moon visible in the night sky. For several moments, the gathered warriors merely stared at each other, then almost as one they detransformed and headed up the stairs, into the dark, empty shrine.
Fortunately, they discovered that the shrine had power, and while the others gathered in the large room usually used for Senshi meetings, Rei went to prepare as much food as she could find. She returned before anything of importance was said. She placed the food in the center of the large gathering, and carefully sat herself as far as she could from Ikawa while still remaining in the group. This was made easier by the fact that, for the most part, the Champions had gathered in one clump and the Senshi at the other.
"Thank you," muttered one of the Champions she didn't recognize at first - after a moment's thought she placed him as Poseidon and in another moment recalled that she had been told his name was Hoshi - as he reached into a bowl of chips she had set down near him.
She merely nodded curtly in reply, and for several minutes there was no sound but that of the tired, half-hearted eating. Ami had her computer out and was fiddling with it as she ate. After a moment Meno moved near her and the two were soon engrossed in a quiet conversation Rei was too tired to follow, though she was unsure whether she would have been capable of doing so even fully rested.
A dark quiet depression hung over the group, and Rei found herself returning to the parting taunt of youma leader - Ishamanar, Ami had said his name was, reminding everyone that he had appeared briefly after the battle in which Saturn and Chronus were lost. "Before you celebrate overmuch, look around you and think carefully on who has won this battle." They had failed, and failed badly. How many people were now dead? She couldn't bear to think about it, and she was almost glad that she would probably never know the exact number.
Makoto suddenly stretched, yawning loudly. "I feel like I could sleep for a week." There was a brief mutter of agreement.
"We can't," Ikawa said flatly.
Haruka gave a slight nod. "There are still youma out there." Her hand tightened around Michiru's. "We have to kill them."
Ami raised her weary eyes. "We have to rest sometime."
"But not all at once," the female Champion Rei knew had to be Medea said. The man by her side - Hades - nodded.
Minako suddenly buried her face in her hands. "God, my parents are going to kill me."
Usagi started. "I have to let Mom and Dad know I'm all right!" She paused, a worried look appearing on her face. "I hope they're all right."
"We can call them," Rei said, rising. "Tell them we hid in the Shrine and you're staying the night here because you're afraid it's not safe to try and go home." Usagi nodded, and Rei walked over to the closest phone and lifted it up, only to curse and nearly throw it back onto the receiver. "The phone's out."
"I have a cell," Hoshi said, rummaging in his pocket. When he retrieved it and turned it on, he glanced at the small screen cursed quietly. "No good, it looks like the cell network is down too."
Usagi slumped. "Then I have to go home." Minako nodded in agreement.
Ami clucked her tongue. "My mother is certainly busy at the hospital, but I should still go home and try to get in touch with her."
Ikawa closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "Who else has family in Juuban? Unazuki?"
Motoki was the one who answered, frowning. "I can tell Mom that she's staying in my apartment with me, but we'll still need to try and talk to her."
"All right," Ikawa said after a moment. "That's... five. You can go do what you have to do now. The rest of us, we need to split in half. One group will patrol now, the other will rest here. We switch places halfway through the night. In the morning, you five take over." He started suddenly, then glanced at Usagi. "Is that all right with you, Your Highness?" he asked.
It seemed to take Usagi a moment to realize that she was being addressed, and she blinked wearily for several seconds. "That's fine," she finally said. She straightened, forcing a bit of energy into her voice. "Let's get moving, then."
Author's Random Ramblings
1) One chapter and the prologue down... fourteen and the epilogue to go. I hope it takes a bit less than three years this time around.
2) Thanks to Angus MacSpon for prereading this chapter as well. Hopefully, the fight scenes should read a little bit better than they did in the draft I sent him.
3) Thanks also go to the whole host of people who participated in the "Youma Vs. The World" conversation that this fic sparked on the FFML.
4) Any and all comments, on both the prologue and this, are most welcome.
Started: November 19, 2003
Draft Finished: December 11, 2003
Draft Released: December 22, 2003
Final Released: January 16, 2004