Shades of Darkness
Sailor Moon Fanfic
By: Aaron Nowack
Chapter 3: The End of the World
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;"
- "The Second Coming," W. B. Yeats
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.
This place did not exist. At least, it did not exist in the sense that a "place" was generally considered to exist. There was no map that this place could be located on, nor could such a map be made. There were no directions for how to reach it. It was next to nothing, far away from nothing. It was infinite in size, it was smaller than the tiniest of subatomic particles.
In the center, if such a thing could be said to have a center, stood the Gates of Time, closed and sealed. It was impossible to get to the side of or behind the Gates. Whatever direction one looked at them from, they always seemed to face the same way. Surrounding the Gates in all directions were walls of gray mists. No matter how far one moved in this place, the mists, if that was what they were, grew no closer and the Gates no farther away.
There were two people here, the only two who knew of this place: a man and a woman. The woman stood closer to the Gates, almost as if she were protecting them from the other. The man simply sat, cross-legged, in mid-air. Though his face could not be seen, it was somehow obvious that he smiled.
"Have you no words of thanks?" he said, a mocking tone in his voice.
"Why are you here?" the woman asked, as though the man had not spoken.
"How long have we worked toward these days?" the man asked. "Maybe I wish to celebrate their coming with you."
"Why did you aid me?"
"Aid you?" the man laughed. "I merely helped Sailor Pluto."
"You know what I mean," the woman said through gritted teeth.
"This is not the first time we have worked together," the man said. "We seek the same future, after all."
"Hardly." The woman's hands tightened on her staff.
"For now, at least. Neither of us would have been pleased if the Dragons had taken Sailor Pluto."
"Sometimes I wonder. I have no doubt that you could find a place in Metallia's service."
The man laughed a grating laugh. "You truly do not understand me, if you think I would serve her."
"I do not want to understand you."
"See, now that is where we differ." The man smirked. "I very much wish to understand you. Understanding a foe is the first step to defeating one."
"Is that why you are here?"
"No." The man paused. "Perhaps I merely came to accept my lovely opponent's gracious thanks for my aid."
"You yourself said," the woman replied, "that you did not aid me. You merely helped Sailor Pluto."
The man was silent for a moment, and for an instant dark energy flared around him. "I suppose I must go now," he said as the energy vanished, struggling to keep his tone jovial. "I have preparations to make." He paused. "Try not to tread on them too much," he continued, and the threat in his voice was clear. "It would be a shame if Serenity walked away with the prize because we interfered with each other."
"Metallia," the woman said harshly. "Not Serenity. She has abandoned any right to that name."
"Ah, yes. You have to believe that, don't you? Else she might turn your own oaths against you." The man smiled. "I must admit it. She is most skilled in the art of twisting minds."
"She is not alone in that," the woman said.
The man laughed again. "True. Perhaps one day I will have the pleasure of practicing on yours."
The woman's stance shifted, and the gray mists began to whirl as though stirred by some wind. "Do not test my patience," she said after a moment. "Or perhaps you will learn again who is the stronger of us."
Without a further word, the man vanished.
There was silence. Hermes slowly walked over to the rapidly disappearing ash that had only moments ago been his brother. He knelt, placing one gaunleted hand over it. After a moment, he began to whisper. At first, Sailor Moon could only say that the language he spoke was not Japanese.
Then it came back to her, the knowledge she only vaguely knew she had. Somewhere in her were the memories of Princess Serenity, who had lived so long ago on the Moon. She could never summon them up on command, but sometimes the memories came to her on their own. As they did now, so she could understand the words as easily as she could have had they been in her birth tongue.
A funeral chant. Not just any chant, but one the young Princess had heard only a handful of times - at least until the end, when she had heard it far too often. This chant was reserved solely for the warrior who had fallen facing the forces of darkness. It was a hymn of praise to the warrior's courage, a promise that the death would not be in vain, and an oath that the darkness would be destroyed, that the struggle would go on. The thought came to her that, even in the worst fighting, neither rebel nor loyalist had used this prayer for those who had died in that war. Even then, it was reserved for those who fell before true evil.
Hermes paused at the end of the prayer, letting the last sounds hang in the air, then added four more words. The other Champions began to echo them, and Sailor Moon surprised herself by joining in. Even more surprising, she could hear the other Senshi following suit.
"Until all are one."
The Champions shifted uncertainly, but Sailor Moon could tell that they appreciated the gesture of unity. Hermes rose, and she could see that even the ash was now gone. Her eyes shifted, and she noticed Mercury had risen from where she had knelt. There was no sign of tears on her face now, and there was something cold and hard about the way she stood. Something silent passed between her and Hermes.
"She will pay for this. I swear it," the Champion of Ice said, and there was no need to ask who 'she' was. Sailor Mercury nodded curtly, but said nothing. It seemed no one could find the words to respond. After another moment, Hermes shuddered, and his armor vanished, leaving only Urawa Meno behind. He cursed softly under his breath. "What am I going to tell our parents?" he asked, and once again no one could answer him.
A few moments later, the rest of the Senshi and Champions began to detransform. Sailor Moon was about to follow suit, but stopped when Mercury laid a hand on her shoulder. "We still have to patrol," she said in a tight voice.
Sailor Venus was by her side in a moment, and Aphrodite and Zeus weren't far behind. "Are we ready to go?" the male Champion asked. Sailor Moon just looked at Mercury.
The Senshi of Ice nodded. "I'll be fine." Sailor Moon wasn't so sure, but this didn't seem the time or place to press her.
Not long after, the five were standing on top of a low building. Mercury had pulled out her visor, and was scanning the area for any sign of the youma. They all seemed to have gone to ground. If one didn't look closely enough to see the military vehicles and damaged buildings, it might even have seemed like an ordinary day.
As Mercury continued her scan, Sailor Venus over to stand next to her and Sailor Moon. She glanced over her shoulder at Aphrodite and Zeus, who were quietly talking together a little way off. Venus shifted uncomfortably a moment, then spoke.
"My parents know I'm Sailor Venus," she said quietly.
Sailor Moon blinked. Mercury looked away from her computer. "How did they find out?" she asked in a voice just as quiet. It was obvious that neither of the Champions had noticed the conversation.
Venus shifted again. "I told them. It was the only way I could get them to let me out of the house." She paused. "Was it… okay for me to do that, Usagi?"
"It's fine," Sailor Moon said without thinking.
"How did they react?" Mercury asked.
Venus looked even more uncomfortable, something Sailor Moon would not have thought possible a moment before. "They were pretty mad," she answered after a moment. "Particularly once Dad figured out that I'd been Sailor V too…" Venus trailed off, then sighed. "I think it's more shock then anything, though. I'm sure they'll get over it." She smiled weakly. "What about you, Usagi?"
Now it was Sailor Moon's turn to look uncomfortable. "I… didn't have permission to leave. I just snuck out the window with Luna." What was she going to do when she went back home? She hadn't thought of that when she had left. Her parents had to be going crazy.
"I didn't have a problem," Mercury volunteered after several seconds of silence. "My mother has been at the hospital the whole time. The phone at our apartment was up, though, so I called her and let her know I was okay." She smiled slightly, but there was no mirth in it. "She even suggested that I go over to a friend's house if things calmed down, so I didn't have to be alone."
Sailor Moon's discomfort grew as she looked at Mercury. Someone else might have thought that the other Senshi had not been affected by Ryo's death, but Sailor Moon knew that that couldn't be the case. The emotions were buried deeply, too deeply, but she knew they were there. The way Mercury was trying to pretend they weren't couldn't be healthy. Sailor Moon opened her mouth, though she was not sure what she meant to say. Before she had a chance to find out, another voice intruded.
"Have you found anything?" Zeus's sudden question made the three Senshi start.
Mercury turned back to her scanning, and after a half-second answered. "Maybe. There's something about a kilometer and a half east that might be youma."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Aphrodite asked.
Sailor Moon nodded. "We'll talk more later," she whispered to Venus, though she glanced again at Mercury as she did so. She continued in a louder voice. "Let's get going."
It was hard to tell that this was Metallia's sanctum. The ever-present darkness was different somehow, raging like a whirlwind. Not even Asphara's youma eyes could pierce it, but she could feel it, feel the blackness press on her like a solid thing. It tore at her, threatening to sweep her away, consume everything that made her what she was and leave nothing but an empty shell behind.
Still, she stood her ground. She could sense Sailor Saturn standing by her side, even if she could not see the Senshi no matter how hard she tried. In the darkness, it was hard to imagine that the source of the power she felt was nothing but a young, human girl. She could not help but think of the Senshi in those terms, even though she knew well that it was a terrible mistake.
However, that power was nothing compared to the power she felt before her, the power of her goddess. She knew that it was at Metallia's command that the darkness had risen, and by her will that it raged so. Indeed, the only thing that she could see through the void was the crescent moon that shone on the dark Queen's forehead. It blazed with a bright, golden light that was somehow darker than even the nothingness that surrounded them.
Asphara could feel Metallia smile. "Now, it is time." The goddess's quiet voice seemed to come from every direction. Something in the darkness changed, and Asphara realized that Metallia's attention had returned to her. The youma shivered slightly. "You understand what you are to do?" the Queen asked.
"Yes, Great One," Asphara managed to answer, struggling to keep her voice level. She knew what she must do, even if the reasons for it were far beyond her.
"Good." The sense of Metallia's presence lessened slightly as her attention turned to the Senshi. No words that Asphara could hear passed between them, but after a moment something in the darkness changed. For a moment, Asphara thought its rage had calmed, but then she realized that it had not lessened at all. Instead, it had become… focused, ordered.
Something in the youma stirred, beating in time to the void that surrounded her. Every twist of nothingness Metallia wove resonated deep in Asphara's body. Her skin tingled with an almost pleasurable feeling. She found it hard to think, and could not say whether minutes or hours passed before Metallia spoke again.
"It is ready." The golden crescent moon, still the only thing Asphara could see, flickered slightly, even its somehow dark light weakened by the blackness that surrounded it. "Jadeite," Metallia said, and Asphara knew the word reached the General's ears. Even had she not, she soon would have, as Jadeite's reply reached her own.
"My Queen?" The General's voice showed no sign of surprise.
"You are ready." It was not a question.
"This is… somewhat sooner than I expected, Great Metallia." Jadeite paused. "I have selected my forces, but it will take some time to gather them."
"Then begin," Metallia said. "And prepare a small strike force, immediately. I would have my enemies distracted while I work."
"Your will. But when shall I make the main attack?" Jadeite asked.
Asphara could feel Metallia smile. "You will know."
At the Hikawa Shrine, after the patrol group left, the one that had just recently returned retired to get some rest. They were soon joined by Sachiko, who finally gave into the tiredness from her night-long vigil over the Shrine. This left the five members of the first patrol alone in the large room that usually served as the Senshi's meeting place.
Meno sat alone, even Hoshi having given up for the moment in his efforts to talk to the Champion of Mercury. He stared down at his computer, but did not move to touch it. Every so often, he would clench a fist almost tightly enough for his nails to break his skin, then relax it. If not for that motion, it might have been possible to think him unconscious.
On the other side of the room, Hoshi was telling Michiru an old story about when Cyrene's father had tried to engage her to Prince Endymion. Though the Champion took great care in replicating the precise combination of obscene gestures the Senshi of Air had used to respond, and Michiru smiled at his efforts, it was obvious that neither truly had any interest in the tale. Maybe some other time, but not now.
Haruka walked over to where Ikawa stood, glancing backward at the other two. "Please tell me he's making that up," she said after a moment. "Or at least exaggerating."
Ikawa turned to the Senshi. "I couldn't say. It happened when Phoebe and I were…" Ikawa trailed off and sighed. "Well, it isn't important what we were doing."
Haruka gave Ikawa an appraising glance. "Have you talked to her?"
He nodded. "The night after Castle Charon."
Ikawa waited for some other question or comment, but that was apparently all Haruka had to say on the subject. He glanced up at the rough, temporary patch in the room's roof. "It's really not so long ago that we made that hole, is it, Haruka?"
"You made it, not me," she replied, also looking upward. "At least you got my name right this time."
Ikawa chucked softly. "Sorry. It's just that you remind me of her."
"Well, that's only to be expected," Haruka replied.
"Not really," Ikawa said. After a moment, he explained. "The Inner Senshi seem to be mostly the same, but from what I've seen Michiru and Dia are fairly different."
Ikawa smiled slightly. "Uranus and Neptune were the last two worlds to be resettled during the Silver Millenium. Even at the end, both of them were basically frontiers, and Neptune much more so. Dia would probably have fit right in with the Martian nomads, though you were… or rather Cyrene was a bit of a civilizing influence on her."
"Somehow I find that hard to imagine." Haruka paused, then asked the question she found herself having to ask. "And… Iris?"
Ikawa clenched his fists, then slowly relaxed. "Iris was… Iris." He paused, then continued. "I'm really not the person to ask about her." Ikawa stopped again, and was silent for several more moments. "Once, before Juno, I asked you… Cyrene, how you could be so friendly with her. She told me something… something about darkness and light, I can't actually remember exactly what." He chuckled softly.
"Sounds more like something Michiru would say," Haruka commented.
"Well, I do remember what Dia said when I asked her more or less the same question," Ikawa answered. "She said, 'Because when I'm stuck on some dead asteroid with a thousand demon-summoning cultists, there's no one on all ten worlds I'd rather have at my back.'"
Haruka smirked. "That I can understand." She paused, then after a moment she asked another question. "Do you regret it?"
Ikawa frowned. "Regret what?"
It took Haruka a moment to respond. "Everything, I guess. The war. How we fought when you Awakened."
Now it was Ikawa's turn to stand silently as he thought. "No," he said, but then an instant later he continued, "Yes." The Champion paused again. "I'm not really arrogant or stubborn enough to just say that everything we did was right and that I don't regret any of it. I think the situation we're in would put the lie to that.
"But we always tried to do what we thought was right, and I don't regret that."
"I think I can understand that," Haruka said. "You know about the Death Busters?"
"Meno told us the outlines," Ikawa said. His eyes sought out Haruka's. "We are not so different, you and I."
Haruka just nodded slowly.
Sailor Pluto stood on the smooth plain that had once been Castle Charon The Dragons' fury had scoured the castle's ruins until nothing was left, even boiling away the frozen gases that normally covered Pluto's surface. There was no sign left that human hands had ever tamed this place, nothing left but a Senshi and a dead world. Her world.
Long ago, before even the ancient Senshi of Time had been born, Pluto had been known throughout the Solar System as the one world that mankind could never claim. The world's dark power stole away the lives of any who dared to tread on it, save only one. The one chosen as its Senshi, the Senshi of Death, had nothing to fear from Pluto. Rarely did she leave the dark world, save in times of great crisis or for the purpose of consorting to gain an heir.
Only shortly before the current Senshi Pluto had been born had that changed. The increasingly desperate rebels, fleeing the overwhelming power of Serenity the Dark, had reached the outermost world, their last chance for a haven from the Queen's armies. The aged Master of Death, one of the ten most powerful mages in the Solar System, spoke with the Senshi Pluto, the one Senshi whom the Queen had not yet turned to her will.
The two sacrificed their lives to build Castle Charon, a shelter where the rebels could land and fear neither the Queen nor Pluto's power. The Master's title had gone to his young apprentice, who with the other nine Masters would later summon the Champions. The Senshi's had fallen to her daughter, on distant Luna. When she emerged from the Queen's palace for the final battle, she called herself the Senshi of Silence and bore a strange polearm - a bargain between two devils that would haunt the Solar System for millennia to come.
When Serenity the Peacemaker forged her covenant with the Champions and founded the Silver Millennium, both the weapon and the title had gone to the new Senshi Saturn, a young girl who was both a niece to Saturn's king and half-sister to the fallen Senshi Pluto. The vacant post of the Senshi of Time would be granted to its current holder when she was old enough - the daughter of the man who had become the Champion of Saturn, the first person in recorded history to be born on the planet of Death.
With one stroke, it had been hoped, Serenity the Dark's foul bargain had be annulled and the Gates of Time had gained a Guardian incapable of using them to their fullest, most dangerous extent. The disasters that left the Golden Millennium a hollow ruin were never again to be repeated. On all counts, those hopes had been proven wrong. The post of Senshi Saturn became dark and haunted, even as the mysteries of the Gates had opened themselves to Senshi Pluto. And the Silver Millennium had fallen as surely as its predecessor, a fall so great that it would take thousands of years for the recovery to even begin.
Sailor Pluto could remember those days as clearly as if they had been yesterday. She remembered watching in something close to awe as Queen Serenity's final magic had swept the rebel fleet from Pluto's skies, remembered her tears at the price of that magic. She remembered watching as the cities of Mars had died slow deaths as the magics that gave them water had faded, as the survivors on Terra had fallen to barbarism and beyond, as those who had stayed with her in Castle Charon had grown old and died.
Now she could see it all happening again… not with the magical senses that had all but abandoned her, but with her own eyes. The other Senshi had not the slightest real comprehension of what was coming. Sometimes, she wondered if she herself did. The world mankind had built for itself had long since exceeded all her expectations of what could be accomplished without magic, becoming in some ways even greater than the long-vanished Silver Millennium, yet she feared it had no real defense against the coming storm.
Sailor Pluto could feel Metallia working, weaving some dark magic. She had tried a few, cautious probings around the edges of the sorcery, but these had only confirmed that it was far beyond her ability to interpret or disrupt. Any attempt, she feared, would be worse than futile, yet she could feel the urge building to do something.
She tried to tell herself that she could not risk taking action, that she needed to remain apart to preserve the future she had sacrificed so much for. Yet… she could no longer see the way, and a quiet voice in the back of her head reminded her that it could also be inaction that would doom Crystal Tokyo. Twin fears warred in her, and she was paralyzed with indecision.
"I will be watching," was all her future self had said when she had demanded to know how she could determine what to do. Pluto grimaced. If she was, she could not be very impressed so far. Metallia's plans proceeded apace, and all Pluto had accomplished was to be nearly captured, saved only by two saviors who had refused to reveal themselves.
It had to have been two - the magics were too different for it too be otherwise. Both had seemed somehow familiar, resonating with different parts of her, but no matter how hard she had tried, she could not place either. All she could say was that her magical senses were blind to both - not that that amounted to much considering the sorry state of those senses without the Gates of Time.
With that thought in her mind, Pluto made a decision. Her future self had seemed confident that she would figure out what to do. Without the Gates to aid her, she could only rely on instinct. There was nothing left to defend here, and every instinct in her burned with the desire to be at her Princess's side, to strike whatever small blows she could against the oncoming darkness.
An instant later, Pluto was once again a dead world.
Asphara waited in the darkness as Metallia began to weave her magic. Incredible power flowed throughout the sanctum, an electric sensation that left the youma even more nervous and on edge than she had been before. She glanced to the side, where she knew Sailor Saturn stood, but her eyes still could not penetrate the void-like blackness. She turned back forward, facing the darkly glowing golden crescent on her Queen's forehead.
She could not say how long she waited. Time seemed stretched and twisted, almost irrelevant. The darkness boiled with power, chaotic yet bound by a single, overwhelming will. Metallia was silent, all her attention focused on her work.
Some sound came from Asphara's side, and she once again half turned to face the Senshi. Still, she could see nothing. For an instant, the turbulent darkness calmed, then re-erupted into an even fiercer storm. The youma could feel something tugging at her, and it was all she could do to keep from being swept away.
A dull-seeming stone dagger floated out of the darkness, and Asphara reached up and grasped its hilt. For an instant, the darkness deepened and she could see neither the blade nor her hand. Then it lifted somewhat, and a shallow bowl, made of the same dark stone as the dagger appeared in the void before her. Red blood coated the bottom of the bowl, and Asphara hardly had to glance at the blade to confirm that it bore matching bloodstains.
Metallia's golden crescent flared brighter, and for an instant Asphara could hear her voice. "Now."
As she had been told, Asphara extended her free hand across the bowl, then without a second's hesitation drew the bloody blade across her palm. Despite its seeming dullness, the dagger cut both easily and deeply. Pale ichor dripped from the gash, falling into the bowl. As each droplet hit the blood, there was a hiss and a flash of steam.
Asphara's sense of the Senshi's presence by her side redoubled, and for an instant she felt as though she could even hear the human's heart beat. The sensation faded quickly as the bowl withdrew into the darkness, taking the mixture of Saturn's blood and Asphara's ichor with it. Asphara released the knife, and it too vanished.
Her hand throbbed dully, the gash she had made a line of fire across her palm. Ordinarily, so minor a wound should have healed in moments, but ichor still flowed freely from it. The pain seemed to have a strange echo to it, and Asphara had to wonder whether the feeling truly existed or was merely an effect of her light-headedness.
Then Metallia spoke, and the question fled her mind. "Very good, child," she said. Metallia's presence caressed Asphara, and in a single moment of burning pain her wound sealed, leaving behind only a thin, pale scar. For a few instants more the scar throbbed with much lesser pain, but soon that too faded away.
"Jadeite," Metallia said, and once again Asphara knew the goddess's words reached her General. "Is your distraction ready?"
"Yes, my Queen," came Jadeite's voice in reply. "The main attack will take somewhat more time to prepare, but thirty of my most powerful youma await only your word to strike."
"My word is theirs, then," Metallia said.
"Your will." For several seconds, Jadeite was silent, then he continued. "They are on their way, my Queen."
"I've been thinking." Meno's sudden comment caused the other four people in the room to start and turn to look at him. Hoshi looked as though he was about to crack some joke, but he bit the words back before they escaped his mouth. After a few more seconds of silence, Mercury's Champion continued. "We know that the Dark Kingdom is the prison formed by Queen Serenity for Beryl's forces."
Michiru spoke first. "Yes."
Meno continued, "Just as she imprisoned our fleet. Both prisons were bound with the Great Seal. When the Seal was destroyed, the fleet's prison -"
"- was disconnected from our universe," Ikawa said. "You told us when you tried to free it after Castle Charon."
"But the Dark Kingdom was not," Hoshi said. "Why not?"
"I can only assume that Metallia has anchored it somehow," Meno said. "But that anchor -"
"- is a weakness," Haruka said harshly, and Meno nodded. "What would happen if we disrupted it?"
"It would certainly sever any portals between the Dark Kingdom and Earth, and make it much more difficult - perhaps even impossible - for new ones to be established." Meno smiled a grim smile that never touched his eyes. "As a best-case scenario, with the boundary so weak, the Dark Kingdom might not be able to hold together. It could be completely destroyed."
Ikawa frowned in thought. "Can we do it?"
"I don't know. I'm not even sure where to begin." Meno sighed, frowning himself. "I need to talk with… Ami. She might have some ideas."
"They should be back soon," Michiru said, glancing at a clock.
Haruka's eyes were narrow. "I don't expect this will be easy."
"You expect correctly. Metallia will certainly detect such an effort, I believe," Meno said. "Likely, unopposed, she could foil it."
"We fended her off before," Michiru said. "At Castle Charon."
"Barely," Ikawa said. "And if we do this our strength will be divided." His face darkened. "And I fear her power may yet grow stronger."
"But it might be our best shot," Hoshi said with a glance at Meno, and the other Champion nodded.
"When Ami returns, I will discuss it with her," he said. "There's a lot to work through before we can be sure it's worth trying, or even really possible."
"Still," Ikawa said, "it's the best suggestion I've heard all day." Despite his words, his face remained grim. "Yesterday proved we need to do more than just wait for the youma to strike."
Meno's computer beeped. He opened it, and his face paled. "It's detected a new youma incursion."
Haruka's henshin stick appeared in her hand. "How many?"
"Not many, yet," Meno said. "Nothing like yesterday."
"Any is too many. Somebody wake the others," Ikawa said.
Hoshi nodded. "On it," he said as he left the room.
Ikawa smiled, but the smile did not lighten his face in the slightest. "Then let's get ready to go."
Rashira looked at the human city that spread tantalizingly below her. The four scarlet wings that sprouted from her back were somehow both feathered and scaled at the same time, and reflected the light of the mid-morning sun in patterns of sickly light that shifted with each slow and irregular beat. Such motion should have been insufficient to keep her decidedly non-aerodynamic form aloft. Nonetheless, she did not fall.
She had served Scalae, the Dragon of Fire, for three decades. She had even risen until from time to time she served on the Dragon's council of advisors alongside the most powerful Overlords in the South. Then the Overlord Chresk had gained Scalae's favor, and driven her from the council and the South. When Jadeite had begun to reform his legions in the wake of his return, she had followed him, and risen to some shadow of her former prominence. Now, the Dark General had given her this honor, to lead the vanguard of his attack on this Tokyo.
In one clawed hand she clutched a bow of red stone that he had given her. The power in it beat in time to Rashira's hearts, and a smile appeared on her human-like face as she carefully sighted one of the strange, impossibly tall towers of glass and metal. As the three squads of youma under her command appeared around her, an arrow of pure flame formed in the bow.
With a primal scream sounding deep in her throat, she loosed the missile. The explosion that resulted when it hit her target caused a shockwave that shattered the glass on neighboring towers. The whole middle section of the target itself vanished in a ball of flame. When the fire cleared, there was nothing left behind but a half-melted metal skeleton.
The tower stayed upright for several more moments, a testament to the skill of the builders. Then, the weakened metal crumpled, and the upper portions crashed down on the remainder of the structure. Rashira took a brief moment to consider how many humans had perished, but quickly decided that, whatever the number, it was nowhere near enough.
Rashira glanced at her retinue, and spoke. "Lord Jadeite has briefed all of you on your missions. You know what to do." She smiled again, and any human that could have seen the smile would have known fear. "In Metallia's name… begin."
Fully two-thirds of the youma that had come with her vanished, teleported away to begin their own tasks. Nine youma remained hovering beside her, some with the aid of their own wings, others with no visible means of support. One, a leathery winged creature, spoke, pointing at the base of the ruined tower. "Look, my lady."
Rashira's gaze followed the other youma's talon, and her smile widened as she saw a large cluster of humans and their strange metal beasts gathered there. Without a word, she summoned another arrow and loosed it. She didn't even bother to wait for the explosion to clear before she called forth the next arrow of flame, her eyes searching for the next target.
She was surprised to find that target also airborne. Apparently Terra's metal beasts were not limited to the ground, for three approached the youma squad, strange blades whirling above their bodies. One of them spat forth a stream of metal, and one of Rashira's youma, caught unawares, perished quickly.
The other two beasts joined the attack, but now the youma were aware of the threat. Rashira frowned slightly, and as they neared her the pieces of metal twisted away. Two of her youma hurled themselves at the closest of the beasts, shattering its glass head. One pulled a screaming human out of the wounded creature's head even as it plummeted to the ground, where it perished in flames.
Rashira loosed her fiery arrow at a second beast. It crossed the distance in seconds, piercing its target's belly. When the explosion died, there was nothing left but twisted, half-melted metal. The third beast turned to flee, but by now Rashira's youma had surrounded it. They toyed with the strange creature for a few moments before Rashira ordered them to finish it.
As its corpse fell to the road below, Rashira gazed curiously at it. It was not like anything she had encountered in the Dark Kingdom, but then, no creature with such weak magic would survive long there.
"Lady Rashira!" one of the youma called, and she shook her head to clear it of the strange thoughts.
"What is it?" she answered, but even as the youma replied she saw what had caught its attention. Rashira looked down at the group of Senshi that stood on a nearby rooftop, and smiled as she willed another arrow to form.
In the darkness, Asphara waited. Metallia had been silent for some time, and the only sound she could hear was her own breathing and the almost synchronized breaths of Sailor Saturn. If Metallia breathed, no sign of it reached Asphara, but there was no doubting the dark queen's presence. The darkness moved and pulsed at her command, as she silently wove the greatest magic Asphara had ever witnessed.
There was something more going on here, she came to realize. Surely by now, with the barrier between this Realm and Terra so weak, more than enough energy to sunder it forever had been gathered. Still, Metallia gathered in energy, and Asphara was certain that she would not stop until every bit of free energy in the Dark Kingdom was concentrated in this sanctum.
Something disturbed the darkness, and Asphara half-turned to face it, then wrenched her gaze back to the golden crescent moon that hung before her as her goddess spoke. "I expected your return sooner."
"My Queen -" two voices began. Loriel and Scalae. After a moment, the Water Dragon continued. "Castle Charon is destroyed."
"I have no time for games, Dragon," Metallia said. "You know what I sent you to do."
"The… the Gates of Time were not there, Great Metallia. They must have hid -"
"And Senshi Pluto?" Metallia asked.
"She escaped, Great Metallia," Loriel answered nervously.
Metallia's response was dangerously quiet. "Escaped?"
Now Scalae answered her. "My Queen, two allies came to her aid. Unknown allies."
For a long moment, Metallia was silent. "Two?" she finally said. "Explain."
"A time mage, easily more powerful than Pluto herself," Scalae said. "And another who wielded the dark energies with equal strength."
"I see," Metallia said, then paused. Asphara would have sworn that she could feel the goddess smile briefly before continuing. "No matter. I have another task for you two on Terra."
"Yes, my Queen," Loriel said. "We are to go to Tokyo with Jadeite?"
"No, Dragon. Not Tokyo." The darkness pulsed. "There are other cities. It is time they too knew my wrath."
"Great Metallia, the boundary still holds. The energy required to send us so far from the portals so soon after opening a portal to Pluto -" Scalae said.
"- is completely irrelevant," Metallia finished. "Pick one of their cities, a large one; I care not which. Destroy it as utterly as you destroyed Castle Charon."
"Your will, Great Metallia," the two Dragons answered, and their presence left the sanctum, along with a great deal of energy. Still, the vast energy expended did not greatly reduce the amount available to Metallia.
"And now, my children," the goddess said as her attention turned back to Asphara and Saturn, "we begin."
Zeus's eyes narrowed as he stared at the youma above. He thought he recognized that… "Scatter!" he yelled, shoving his sister off the rooftop. She twisted in midair to land on her feet, and did not pause as she sprinted away. As soon as he was sure she had landed safely, Zeus leapt in another direction. He was surprised to see Sailor Mercury landing beside him. The rooftop behind them vanished in a ball of fire, and the shockwave threw them across the street.
"What is that thing?" Mercury asked as they rose painfully.
"Martian firebow," Zeus answered curtly. "Damned if I know how one lasted ten thousand years."
"Any other powers?" Mercury asked, her eyes locked on the red-winged youma that bore the weapon.
"Just the one," Zeus replied with a shake of his head, "but that's enough. Did the others get off?"
"Good," Zeus said, then threw himself to the ground. "Watch out!"
A winged, reptilian youma swooped down behind the Senshi, and Mercury barely managed to dodge out of its path. It twisted round with surprising ease and speed to strike again. This time Mercury was ready for it. "Shine Aqua Illusion!"
The icy water struck the youma head-on, stopping its dive and knocking it to the ground. Before it could try to rise, Zeus was upon it. He pierced its chest with one thrust of his sword. In an instant, the monster was nothing but dust. The sound of another explosion came from the other side of the building. Zeus glanced up, and saw that the youma with the ancient bow's back was turned.
"Thunder Bolt!" The lightning arced up from Zeus's blade, but it sputtered and died out before it could reach the red-winged youma. She spun in midair with impossible-seeming speed. Another arrow of fire was already formed in her bow. Zeus cursed, diving for cover.
Not far away, another youma landed and engaged Sailor Mercury. The youma above, not caring that the explosion would hit her ally, loosed the arrow at the Senshi. Zeus shouted a warning, but too late.
The explosion sent Mercury flying into a nearby store's glass window. The youma she had been fighting was gone. Zeus cursed again, searching the battlefield, and found Sailor Venus had followed another youma to this side of the building. As she finished it off, Zeus pointed at the hovering youma. "Cover me!" he shouted.
Venus nodded, and a golden chain sprouted from her gloved hands, spiraling up towards the youma. Zeus raced to the broken window, only slowing to carefully slip through the glass. Inside, Mercury lay atop the shards, unnaturally still. The Champion knelt, quickly checking her pulse. He sighed in relief as he found one, weak though it was.
"Aphrodite!" he called, and less than a minute later his sister arrived. She blanched when she saw the fallen Senshi. "Is she -"
"She's alive," Zeus said. "At least for now."
Aphrodite nodded, and a golden glow formed in her hands as she knelt beside Mercury, setting her sword aside. "Go," she said to her brother. "I will do what I can."
Zeus left without a further word, returning to the battle. His presence quickly proved superfluous, as there were no youma to be found, and more Senshi and Champions present then when he had entered the store. His eyes caught Ares's. "When did you get here?"
"Just now," the Champion of Mars said.
"There was a youma with a firebow. Did it -"
"It got away." Ares spat. "Hermes is trying to track it down, but he says there's so much background noise it's getting hard to pick the youma out unless they're actually doing something."
"Background noise?" Zeus frowned. "That can't be good."
Before Ares could respond, Aphrodite emerged from the store, Mercury's still but breathing form cradled in her arms. In seconds, the gathered warriors had all clustered around her. "She'll be fine," Aphrodite said in answer to a panicked question from Sailor Moon. "She just needs a bit of rest." Sailor Moon breathed a relieved sigh, relaxing back against Endymion's strong form.
Ares grimaced. "She might not get it," he said quietly, and Zeus was not sure anyone else heard his words.
There was a strange popping noise, and everyone turned to see Sailor Pluto standing behind them. The Senshi of Time opened her mouth to speak, then staggered, barely catching her fall. For a long moment, she simply stood leaning against her staff, breathing heavily, and the sound of approaching sirens filled the air. "By the Ten," Pluto finally whispered just loudly enough to be heard. "How could I have been so blinded?"
She straightened, fixing her eyes on Sailor Moon. "You have to get ready. The youma are going to attack."
There was a moment's silence, then Poseidon responded, glancing around at the destruction. "No shit."
"Idiot." Pluto glared at the Champion. "This wasn't an attack. This was a distraction. Metallia is about to throw the portals to the Dark Kingdom wide open, and there's no limit to the number of youma she'll be able to bring through."
"We have to stop her," Sailor Moon said.
Pluto shook her head. "I'm sorry, Princess. I've failed you." She grimaced. "It's too late to stop."
Zeus cursed, and he was far from the only one.
Ares didn't waste time cursing. "We need to get back to the Shrine. It's a good, defensible position. Anything else is just asking to get picked off one by one. Hermes, see if you can put some kind of warning on the military's radio."
"I haven't had time to," Hermes began, but Ares cut him off with a rude gesture.
"Then broadcast it on every channel; I don't care. Just so long as they get the warning." Ares paused, glancing to Sailor Moon. "I assume this is all right with you, Princess?"
She nodded weakly, then shifted uncomfortably. "I need to warn my parents."
"Right," Ares said. "Endymion, Jupiter. Go with her. Either get them to the Shrine or get them out of the city."
Endymion's eyes met Ares's. "You don't need to tell me," Endymion said after a moment, and Ares nodded.
Zeus frowned. "I suppose that Aphrodite and I need to get in touch with our mom." He glanced at his sister and the burden she held in her arms. "Does anyone know how to get in touch with Mercury's mother?"
There was an uncomfortable silence, then Sailor Mars spoke. "Not unless she's at home."
"We can stop by there on the way to Usagi's house," Jupiter said.
Venus spoke up. "I'll need to… also," she finished weakly, her eyes distant.
Ares glanced at Uranus and Neptune. "Can you?"
The two Outer Senshi nodded as one, moving to stand by Venus. "Right," Uranus said to Ares. "No point in wasting time." With that, the three leapt atop a nearby building and soon were out of sight. The other two groups followed an instant later.
Pluto spoke again, shifting her grip on her staff. "There isn't enough time for this."
"You think I don't know that?" Ares asked. "But there's not a chance in hell of convincing the Princess not to try. It's still close to the same direction as the Shrine. Endymion and Cyrene will make sure they head that way if things get out of hand."
"And your two?" Pluto said.
"They can take care of themselves," Ares answered.
Pluto looked dubious, but before she could answer, the earth shuddered. She blanched. "It's starting."
"Then let's go," Ares said. "There's no more time to waste."
It was well into the evening in New York City when the earth moved. The shuddering was very light, and little damage was done, though it woke many who were already asleep. Still, an earthquake of even this magnitude would have been cause for comment, even had nothing else occurred.
After the recent news from Tokyo, for some it was more than that. A paranoid few had already fled New York, certain that it was too risky to remain in a major city. They would be the lucky ones. Perhaps a handful more saw the earthquake as a warning sign, and resolved to flee themselves at the earliest opportunity. They would be too late.
Had it been daylight, concern over the earthquake would have been quickly forgotten. The sea was surging, a massive wave forming with unnatural speed. It grew until it was perhaps forty stories high, then doubled in height in an instant, yet did not advance. Some of the few who noticed the wave swore to their companions that they saw something moving inside the water. But still, the wave hovered motionless over the city.
High in the dark, cloudless sky, a fiery, serpentine figure appeared. Its flames cast light enough to turn night into twilight on the streets below, and it twisted and turned in the air, gazing down curiously with gargantuan eyes. It began to fly about, still examining the streets below.
The earth shuddered again, much more strongly, and the tall skyscrapers wavered. For an instant, the fiery creature's eyes turned heavenwards, and it smiled at what its unnatural sight saw. Then, its attention returned to the ground below. It dove, until its long belly almost brushed the tops of the tallest buildings, which began to bubble and melt from the heat of its passing.
In the streets directly below, panicked crowds fled, but even they knew that outrunning the monster that had appeared was almost impossible. Still, almost impossible was a better chance than impossible, and so people ran. Elsewhere, hasty phone calls were being made, and people of importance were being wakened with news they had hoped never to hear. Other nations had not turned an entirely blind eye to the various disturbances in Tokyo over the past few years. As they grew in scale and danger, so grew the fear that they would spread beyond that city, to other parts of the world. And now… that had finally happened.
No blazing firmament had appeared over New York to match the two that had graced Tokyo. Somehow, this was not a comfort. Those investigating the matter were quickly discovering that the two earthquakes had been felt at equal strength worldwide, an impossibility that already had experts screaming at each other. There were plans that had been made, contingencies that had been prepared in case something like this happened. Now, the makers of those plans wondered whether they would prove as worthless as they had always feared.
Above New York City, the fiery creature that none below knew to call Scalae, the Dragon of Fire, coiled her long body around itself, almost into a ball. The air around her rippled, waves of heat emanating from her body. She began to blaze brighter and brighter, until it seemed as light as noon on the streets below her, and her mouth began to open. Some of those fleeing her presence began to slow, staring in wonderment. Others redoubled their efforts, but would meet the same fate as those who stood.
Flame poured downwards from the Dragon's maw, a cone of infernal destruction. When it died down, there was nothing on the ground below but ash for hundreds of meters around the spot where Scalae floated, and the shockwave had shattered windows for a vastly further distance. For one strange, silent moment, all was still.
Then the Fire Dragon shot up into the sky, and the gargantuan, impossible wave that Loriel had summoned and commanded to be still came crashing down on the city.
The bright, reflected light that shone from Terra almost blinded Asphara after so long in the darkness of Metallia's hidden sanctum. For a long moment, the youma simply stared in wonderment at the blue-green orb that spread out below her, the tasks that had sent her from their to the orbit of Terra forgotten. She did not wonder that she could breathe and survive in the vacuum that surrounded her.
Metallia's presence still engulfed her and protected her. Asphara felt almost as though she were still in the sanctum. She could still feel the void-like darkness pulsing and raging around her, the Senshi's still form by her side, and Metallia's glory and power before her. There was a strange distorted feeling to the sensation, as if it were merely an echo she felt.
Still, it was enough to remind her of the reason she was here. In her hand she held a blade of dark stone, perhaps even the same that she had used earlier, though if so there were no longer any stains on it to tell. She stared a moment at the thin, pale scar on her other palm, the only such mark on her body. Normally, when a youma survived a wound, it healed as though it had never been.
Asphara shifted the blade to her other hand. Not letting herself hesitate, she sliced at her unmarked hand, making a mirror image of the cut on the other. Pale ichor oozed out of the wound, floating off into space. The cut burned with pain, even more than it should have. Asphara wavered, and feared she might pass out.
She felt Metallia's attention, and the light-headedness passed. As she had been instructed, she released the stone dagger. It vanished in a pulse of darkness. For several moments, nothing seemed to happen.
Then Asphara felt a new burst of pain… not her own, but the Senshi's. She gasped at the strange sensation, but had no time to consider it. The storm of darkness she could half-feel raged uncontrolled, and even from her odd, removed perspective it felt as though it was about to consume her.
From out of nowhere, a white-gloved hand appeared, a bloody line drawn across its palm. Asphara reached forward with her own newly cut hand and grasped it. There was a sense of… resistance, and then the hand's owner appeared as suddenly as it had. Even though Asphara knew to expect her, she dropped Sailor Saturn's hand like it was a fiery brand, and backed away as rapidly as she could.
Saturn carried the Silence Glaive in her other hand. It glowed with a harsh, white light, and Asphara saw images that she could not name in the light, that nonetheless made her shudder in fear. An odd feeling surrounded the two, as though space itself was twisting and breaking. A vortex of dark energy surrounded them, untold power expending itself every moment.
Without words, the Senshi turned her back on Asphara and the blue-green world, which the youma almost felt she could see shaking under the forces that were being unleashed. The Senshi raised her glaive above her head, grasping it in both hands. Its light doubled and redoubled until it shone like an unholy star, and Asphara was forced to avert her eyes. Saturn brought the Glaive down, and the boundaries between worlds tore open.
Then Metallia unleashed the magic she had been weaving.
Sailor Neptune paused suddenly on a rooftop almost halfway between the scene of the recent battle and Venus's home. Her lover was by her side almost instantly. "What's wrong?" Uranus asked.
"I," Neptune began before shuddering. "I think it's about to happen."
"It?" Uranus asked in the mere seconds before she realized what Neptune was referring to. Then she simply cursed.
Sailor Venus, who had been several rooftops ahead, finally noticed that her two companions had stopped. She quickly doubled back to rejoin them. "What are you two waiting for?" she asked irritably.
"It's happening," Neptune repeated, and Venus realized what she meant almost as quickly as Uranus had.
"Then there really isn't any time to be standing around here," Venus replied. "We have to get to my parents!"
After a moment, Uranus nodded, and the three were on the move again. Somehow, they even managed to increase their speed even over the pace they had been setting before. The nearly empty streets below sped by so quickly that the trio didn't even have time to notice the unusual stillness and quiet.
Then the earth shuddered again. The earthquake threw Neptune off her landing, but fortunately Uranus was close enough to keep her from stumbling over the edge of the building they had just landed on. Slightly ahead of them, Venus glanced back, panicked fear in her eyes. "Come on!" she said, leaping to the next building without waiting to see if the other two followed her.
The two Outer Senshi exchanged a brief glance before following. Again, the streets sped by swiftly… yet too slowly. It would still take several more minutes before they reached Venus's house. As she leapt across a street for what seemed the thousandth time, Uranus began to wonder if the youma attack had actually been designed to lure them away from the neighborhoods surrounding the Hikawa Shrine. But that would mean…
The thought provided Uranus just enough warning to somehow twist in midair to avoid the burst of dark lightning that arced down from above, making a small crater in the asphalt below. She just barely managed to catch the side of the next building with one hand. She paused for only a second before pulling herself up onto the roof, rolling to avoid another attack.
Then she had a moment to take in the situation. There were five winged youma, of vaguely reptilian form, above the three Senshi. Uranus could see Venus one building ahead, but for one fearful instant she couldn't find her partner. Then a Deep Submerge flew up from the street below. The youma scattered to avoid the magical attack, and Uranus smirked.
"World Shaking!" One of the youma seemed to evaporate from the attack, too fast moving to dodge. Uranus heard a soft thump behind her, and knew Neptune had joined her on the roof. This little ambush wouldn't be much challenge.
The attacking youma seemed to realize this, as they rapidly gained altitude until they seemed little more than black specks. Uranus cursed, knowing that there was no way to follow them.
Neptune let out a curse of her own, and Uranus turned to her in puzzlement. Neptune simply pointed ahead of them, and when Uranus looked she saw Venus almost a half-dozen blocks ahead. The other Senshi hadn't even paused in her run. Uranus cursed again, and the two began to move again, somehow pushing themselves to even greater speeds.
When the two Outer Senshi had almost caught up with her, there was a sudden, bright light in the sky. All three came to a sudden halt as they blinked rapidly, trying to clear the afterimages from their eyes. After the sudden burst of light, the day, cloudless though it was, seemed darker to Uranus.
Then she heard Neptune gasp, and realized the day didn't only seem darker. She looked up at the sun, and did not have to avert her eyes. Large, black patches covered a good portion of the sun's surface, and were visibly growing. "Sunspots shouldn't be visible from -" Uranus began, but let the useless sentence trail off without finishing.
"I'm not so certain those are sunspots," Neptune said slowly as she watched the dark patches crawling across the sun's surface.
"Then what -" Sailor Venus began.
"Metallia," Uranus interrupted, and she said the name as though it were yet another curse.
She could only watch in sick fascination as the blackness spread across the sun and the sky grew dark. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the rapidly dimming moon. She couldn't say how long the three of them stood there, watching the sun die out, but far sooner than seemed possible, the last radiance flickered and vanished. For a moment, there was only the distant light of uncountably many stars.
Then Uranus raised a trembling hand. "What the hell is that?" A new body had appeared in the starry heavens, a large, dark orb that cast enough blood-red light to create an odd sort of twilight.
It was Sailor Venus who answered, her voice seeming sick. "The Dark Moon," she whispered, half to herself.
Author's Random Ramblings
1) Well… umm… it's been a while, hasn't it? With any luck the next chapter will not take nearly so long to write, but… my luck is not so good with this sort of thing.
2) The previous portions of this story are available at my website - http://www.mimiru.net/ - along with the prequel, Shades of Gray.
3) Thanks, as ever, to Angus MacSpon for his pre-reading.
4) Any and all comments are, also as ever, most welcome.
Started: March 25, 2004
Draft Finished: October 4, 2004
Draft Released: October 23, 2004