?     This story is a work of fanfiction.  As such, it owes a great
debt to the creators of the characters used herein: Rumiko
Takahashi, creator of Ranma, and Naoko Takeushi, creator of
Sailor Moon.

     This story is contains scenes of a dark nature and Lime
rated material, and thus may not be suited for younger readers.
Reader discretion is advised.
 
 
 

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Chapter One: Storm Season
 

     She stood in the protective gloom of a covered terrace,
sheltered from the fury of the storm which continued to rage,
unabated.  The incessant drumming of the heavy rain was a sound
that she would have found pleasant, even lulling, had she been
listening to it from the warmth of her bed, rather than here, in the
dead of night and in the presence of disaster.
     A tall, cloaked figure strode through the rain, backlit by the
flashing beacons of emergency vehicles, coming towards her.
Although the cloak hung down from wide shoulder guards,
obscuring the wearer completely, it couldn't hide anything from her
eyes.  She'd have known her partner anywhere, anytime.
     No matter what.
     The tall figure stepped into the shelter and threw back the
cloak's hood to reveal tousled blonde hair and a pensive expression.
The smaller girl smiled despite herself, taken with just how
vulnerable her partner appeared in that moment.  The smile died
quickly, though; this was no place for levity.  Not tonight.
     "Was that Detective Constable Chiba I saw you talking to,
Uranus?" she asked.  The tall blonde nodded, absently shaking the
excess water from her cloak.
     "It was," Uranus said ruefully.  "I wonder just who he irritated
to pull such an unpleasant duty shift?"
     Neptune shrugged the way she did most everything, with a
sort of languid elegance.
     "I was just wondering the same thing," she murmured, "about
us."
     "What's that expression?" Uranus asked, glancing back at the
activity in front of the skyship terminal building.  "It's a lousy job,
but ..."
     "I am familiar with that particular expression," Neptune
admitted.  "What I can't figure out is why we were sent.  This
doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would interest her."  A huge
sheet of lightning flared, casting the world into painfully bright
relief before the reign of darkness returned.  Thunder crashed, ear-
achingly close, and Neptune winced in spite of herself.
     "What a night," she sighed.  "I can't understand what the
pilot was thinking, trying to dock a skyship in this."
     "That's not the biggest mystery here," Uranus informed her,
and something in her partner's tone caught her attention.  Her
lovely emerald-green eyes narrowed.
     "Indeed?" the green-haired senshi asked, raising one slim
eyebrow.  "Care to share?"  Uranus began to walk deeper into the
concealing gloom, and Neptune automatically fell into step beside
her.
     "That airship left Ostera two days ago, bound for Port
Augai," Uranus told her.  This time, both eyebrows rose.
     "That wouldn't bring them anywhere near here," Neptune
mused.  "Curious."  Uranus nodded.
     "Nobody's heard from them since soon after they left," the
tall blonde continued.  "When the night watch in the tower spotted
a ship coming in, they had no idea who it was.  All their marker
beacons were red because of the storm, and all traffic had been re-
routed.  That skyship was running with her lights rigged for cruise,
but no internal lights visible in any of the windows."  Neptune felt a
tingle at the base of neck, not fear but something just as primal, a
sense of wrongness.  It appeared she had been hasty in her
assessment of the situation.
     "Did they try to communicate with the ship?" she asked.
     "No reply," Haruka replied.  "The ship was coming straight in
towards the skyport, but well above.  It would have passed right
over, but when it drew near it went into what one of the controllers
described as a deliberate dive, crashing into the lower docks."  Both
were silent for a time as that statement sank in.
     "Very strange," Neptune said at last.  "Have they been able
to get inside the wreckage?"
     "Oh, yes," Uranus told her.  "A large part of the airship was
intact.  The fire was restricted to the rear section, and the heavy
rain kept it from spreading, so the crash teams were able to get into
the forward section to search for survivors."  The look on the
blonde's face told volumes.
     "I take it they found none," Neptune said.  Uranus made a
sound, half-snort and half-chuckle, deep in her throat.
     "No," she said softly.  "There were no survivors.  What they
did find is what prompted them to call in the police, however."
Neptune stepped ahead and whirled to face her partner, who
stopped and stared down at her.
     "What is it?" Neptune asked.  "What did they find?"
Uranus' eyes reflected the turmoil of the skies as they met
Neptune's steadily.
     "The bodies they found didn't die in the crash.  They'd been
dead for some time, close to forty-eight hours according to
Detective Chiba."  Neptune felt that sensation of dread intensify.
     "How did they die?" she asked, because she knew Uranus
wanted her to.
     "Badly," was the answer.  "They were butchered.  All of
them.  Murdered."  More lightning flickered and flared, punctuated
by thunder as the two women stood surrounded by nature's fury.
     "Why?" Neptune asked finally.  "And who?"  Uranus favoured
her with a humourless smile.
     "Those are very good questions," she said, her expression grave.
"Let's go see if we can't find some answers."

***

     What good a key, without a lock?
     The question drifted to her, and it felt as if she'd been
hearing it for some time.  All around her were empty streets and
deserted buildings, desolate yet heavy with alien menace under a
threatening sky.
     What good a key, without a lock?
     She heard sounds, faint and disturbing, carried to her on the
barren wind.  They might have been screams of madness, or cries
for help by the damned; she couldn't tell for certain.
     But she was afraid.  That much was certain.  Terror, blind
and unreasoning, had rooted in her breast, but how to flee when the
dark was everywhere?
     She chose a direction and ran, the dry cold wind whipping
her hair around her face and burning her lungs.  She only stopped
when the street she'd fled down opened out into the same plaza
she'd just been looking at.
     No escape.
     What good a key, without a lock?
     The weathered gray stones at the centre of the wide plaza
began to ripple and buckle, and with a grinding screech they were
burst asunder as something black thrust forth from the defiled earth,
reaching into the sky.
     A tower, she thought numbly as it rose higher and higher,
its tip lost in the roiling clouds.  No it's the spire the spire of the
sentinel the spire of the Eye the Eye that sees ...
     What good a key, without a lock?
     The maddening voice, deep and laced with mad humour,
drew her eyes back to the base of the tower
     (the spire)
     where a huge, vaguely man-shaped shadow stood.
     Do you call forth the Eye, children of the light? the voice
asked, menace joining the insane glee.  Would you shelter under Its
benign gaze, as in the Beforetimes?
     The shadows pulled back from the base of the
     (spire, the spire of the Eye, the Eye that)
     tower, revealing a smaller figure.  She could see this one clearly,
and although the smaller figure was clad in dark, baggy pants and a
loose matching shirt, there was no question that she was female.
Her long, flame-red braid snaked sinuously in the wind, but under
unruly bangs her eyes were dead, empty.
     What good a key, without a lock?
     Between the girl's full breasts light flared, blue-white and
intense.  It traced a strange shape, a shape not unlike
     (What good)
     a key.  The light was answered in the clouds with a flare of
energy, and they drew back from the tower as if unable to tolerate
its presence among them any longer.  Looking up, she saw black
sky through that opening, unmarred by the glittering presence of
stars.  A round shape marked the top of the tower, round and
white, and as she watched it rose, turning slowly.
     It was an eye.  It was THE Eye, the Eye that sees, the Eye
that knows, the ...
     She could see it now.  It stared down upon her, but its gaze
was blank.  It was clouded, milky.
     Tremble, children of the light, the voice taunted.  The Eye
does not see, neither does It know.  We have struck It blind, and
the promised time approaches.  The lock awaits, mistress of the
key.  You need only turn ...
     The red-headed girl stood, wreathed in light and shadow, as
the Eye rose higher and higher.
     Then it became the moon, full and silvery, looming over the
ruins of a place long dead and forsaken.  That sight filled her with
joy, a wild, defiant emotion, and she raised her arms as if in
supplication.  The moon's light was bright, and pure, and they its
children were granted its ward against even this darkness ...
     Soundlessly, the moon shattered.  Darkness poured from the
cracks in its surface, spreading like a stain, swelling and pushing
down upon them, coming to claim them all.  The red-head stood
uncaring, the key-shaped light now in her hand, while all around
mad laughter shrieked like a whirlwind.  The darkness flowed,
consuming everything, eating the light, the warmth, the world.
     She screamed.

     She was hunched over, panting, trying to draw breath as drops
of icy sweat dripped from the tip of her nose to plop upon the
tangled bedclothes.  Had she screamed out loud?  That would bring
the Nightmistress for certain, and she didn't want that.  As she drew
her legs up to her chest, she noted that she was trembling, and
automatically tried to force herself to stop, vaguely alarmed when
her body didn't respond.  The Nightmistress would be angry at her
loss of control, and ... she'd ask about the vision, she'd want to ... to
...
     She bit her lip hard, the pain helping her to focus.  The
room was dark, but it was her room, her bed.  She was not going to
be subjected to the harsh discipline and humiliating probings of a
Nightmistress; she'd left that all behind, forever.  She was beyond
their reach now.
     Nobody is ever beyond their reach, a little voice told her
timidly.  Not while any of them survive.  She viciously forced the
fear back down with all the others.  Times like this were the worst,
awake in the dark of night, her defences down, uncertain of where
she was, WHO she was ...
     The room was lit by an actinic flash, and a thunderous crack
made her cry out instinctively.  Gritting her teeth, she cursed her
weakness, forcing her body to uncurl from the little ball it had
drawn into.  Just the storm, she told herself sternly.  Not afraid of a
storm, are you, Rei?  Only little girls are afraid of storms.  Now get
it together.
     Her raven mane had fallen around her face, and she raked its
heavy silken weight back with her fingers, breathing deeply, each
breath trembling less than the one before until finally her respiration
was even and her heart had ceased its panicky racing.
     A vision?  Had it been a vision?  She swallowed, trying to
force her thoughts into some semblance of order.  Her sweat-
soaked sheets were tangled around her, and the torrential rain beat
a steady rhythm against the house, indicating that the storm hadn't
abated at all since she'd gone to bed.
     A vision.  Yes.  A warning, but of what?  Locks, keys,
towers and eyes
     (the Eye that sees the Eye that knows)
     and a mysterious figure.  Visions could be rife with
symbolism, and Rei had a chilling feeling that the broken moon
boded very ill for all who'd once been members of the Lunar Court.
     The one thing that hadn't been at all ambiguous, though, had
been the girl.  Rei had seen the red-head clearly: her boyish
clothing, her dead eyes, the strange glowing key.  She'd never seen
the girl before in her life, but Rei had no doubt she existed.  And
she was obviously trouble.
     Kicking the tangled bedclothes aside, she climbed out of her
bed and stood in the darkness, listening to the rain and the sounds
of the storm.  Sodden with icy sweat, her nightgown clung
unpleasantly to her body.  She shrugged out of it and tossed it back
on the bed, padding naked to her dresser and fishing around for
something to wear.  Finally, she pulled out an oversized t-shirt and
slipped it on, then went down to the kitchen.
     She strongly doubted she'd be sleeping any more that night.

***

     The storm peaked and began to wane, but the driving rain
continued on past dawn, cloaking the waking world in shades of
gray.  Pale, watery light seeped through the windows of the plush
study, doing little to brighten the place.  Dark and expensive
looking wood and leather dominated the room; along with an entire
wall of books, the decor suggested a somewhat masculine hand, but
the slim figure standing in front of the heavy desk was anything but.
     Leaning against the edge of the desk languidly, she cupped one
elbow in the opposite hand, tapping her forefinger against full dark
lips and regarding both Haruka and Michiru in turn.  She appeared
to be roughly the same age as the other two, except for her eyes.
Gorgeous though they were, they seemed to harbour darkness both
fey and dangerous in their depths.
     Her clothes were simple but striking, black high-waisted
pants tucked into glossy boots and a white bouse open at the
throat, revealing a black choker cinched around her slim pale
throat.  Glossy raven's wing hair framed her delicate features, cut
blunt at the ends so that they just brushed her shoulders.  She was
undoubtedly beautiful, but something about her also hinted at
mystery, danger.  Hers was the sort of allure that drove obsessed
suitors mad in the pursuit of a smile of approval, a careless laugh.
     "Interesting," she murmured into the stillness, her voice the
only sound but the din of falling rain.
     "I was actually hoping for something a little less vague, Hotaru,"
Haruka said, standing hip-shot, arms crossed.  Hotaru cocked her
head, sending a ripple through her hair as it brushed her jaw.
     "Very interesting," Hotaru clarified.  Haruka and Michiru
shared a brief glance.
     "Some days," Haruka sighed, "talking to you is like pulling
teeth."
     "Only somewhat less pleasant," Michiru added softly.  "You
seem to have been taking lessons from Setsuna."  Hotaru smiled, a
tiny but genuine expression.
     "I'm sorry," she said.  "I'm not trying to be difficult.  I'm
just not certain of the significance of this information."
     "You had us out there pretty soon after the crash," Haruka
pointed out.  "Something about it must have seemed important to
you."  Hotaru's smile faded away like mist.
     "It matches a certain profile," she said, eyes darkening.  "But the
profile itself is somewhat vague."
     "The Outsider," Haruka said softly.
     "I don't want you jumping to conclusions," Hotaru replied
sternly.  "This incident may be related to a series of others which, in
turn, MAY be related to the Outsider.  Right now all we have is
conjecture, which is why I want you two to stay alert.  If the crash
is related to the other incidents, there will be more trouble soon.
There are a few things I'll have you checking out later that may cast
a clearer light on things."  Michiru and Haruka traded another
glance.
     "Trouble is nothing new for us," Michiru assured her.  "But
how close to us is this trouble going to be?"
     "I can't even begin to guess right now," Hotaru told her.  "It
may simply be another one of the mysteries that this city seems to
draw.  Only time will tell."
     "Should we warn them?" Haruka asked.  There was an
awkward silence.  Nobody asked who she was referring to.  There
was no need.
     "No," Hotaru said at last, her face an expressionless mask.
"It wouldn't do any good at any rate, not coming from us.  Maybe
once we have something concrete we can try."
     "Maybe it's better this way," Michiru murmured.  "At least this
way, they'll be safe."  Hotaru turned her head, staring out at the
falling rain.
     "If what I fear comes to pass," she whispered, "then no one
will be safe.  No one."
     There wasn't much to say after that.

***

     When the door opened, at first Rei could only gape.  The
girl who'd opened the door stared back, her expression shifting
from impish humour to astonishment to pleasure all in the space of
seconds.
     "Rei!" she cried with unabashed delight.
     "Usagi," Rei spat, regaining her composure.  "What on
earth are you doing answering the door dressed like that?"  Usagi
blinked, glancing down at herself.  She was wearing a large white
man's shirt with the bottom two buttons done up, and a pair of
white panties.  And nothing else.  The shirt was too big for her,
slender arms looking almost sticklike where they emerged from
rolled up sleeves.  The shirt gapped intriguingly elsewhere, barely
covering Usagi's assets, but Usagi seemed unconcerned by her
revealing state of undress.
     "Oh, I thought you were Mamo-chan," she grinned
sheepishly.  "He was out early and stopped in on his way to
division, and I thought he forgot something."  She grabbed Rei's
hand eagerly and pulled her inside.
     "Why would he be ringing the doorbell?" Rei asked wearily.
"He lives here, idiot!"
     "It's good to see you!" Usagi said, ignoring Rei's gibe.  She
looked Rei up and down, sky-blue eyes alight with pleasure.  "You
look really good, Rei.  Really.  Come in, come in!"  Rei tried to
ignore the feeling Usagi's beguiling openness always kindled in her
chest, but without any noticeable measure of success.  Would you
still be so happy to see me, she wondered with a twinge of regret, if
you knew the truth, if you knew my secrets?
     "I can't stay," she said quickly.  Usagi's face fell, and Rei
felt a pang of guilt.
     "What?" she cried.  "But it's been weeks since we ... since,
well, you know.  And I haven't seen you at all since then!  At least
have some breakfast.  I'll make you something!"  I can't stay, Rei
thought.  I can't, because what you think I am is a lie, and I hate
lying to you.  You've been hurt by enough lies already, Usagi.  She
opened her mouth to refuse, but Usagi was already dashing down
the hallway.  Rei stood there, feeling the old emotions rushing back,
filling her with sensations bittersweet and melancholy, and with a
vague longing that she'd thought was behind her for good.
     "Waffles!" Usagi shouted from the kitchen.  "I'm getting
pretty good at those!  How 'bout waffles?"  Rei sighed, a tiny smile
pulling at her lips.  How could she have forgotten how hard it was
to say no to Usagi?  She slipped off her shoes and donned a pair of
house slippers, then padded to the kitchen.
     "All right, I'll stay for a few minutes," she said against her better
judgement.  Sure, just a few minutes.  That wouldn't hurt, after all.
Just a little while, deliver her warning, then she'd go.
     Usagi turned from the counter to face her, a delighted smile
lighting up her face.  She couldn't have been long out of bed; her
blonde hair fell, unbound, nearly to her ankles, and even dressed as
she was and wielding a spatula, there was an almost unearthly
beauty about her.  Rei felt that tug at her heart again, and
swallowed against a sudden lump in her throat.
     So much for this being quick and painless.
     Usagi seated her at the table, insisting on doing everything
herself.  Rei watched the other girl work, propping her chin in her
hand.
     "Your new lifestyle is agreeing with you, I see," she said
dryly.  Usagi started and looked almost guilty.
     "Well, living with Mamo-chan is different," she said.  "But I
miss having you guys around.  How is everyone doing?"  Rei
glanced away, trying to hide her discomfort.
     "We don't really keep in touch," she said with deliberate
casualness.  "In the aftermath, everything just kind of fell apart, you
know?"  She glanced back to see Usagi just standing there, a bowl
of batter held forgotten in her hands.  She looked ... bereft,
somehow.  Lost.
     "We didn't have to break up," she said, and her voice was
small, barely concealing a hurt that Rei knew must go deep.  "Just
because of Hotaru ..."
     "It was never meant to be, Usagi," Rei said, a tad more
sharply than she'd intended.  "You should let it go, like we all
have."
     "I can't just do that," she said, eyes fixed on the floor.
"Because, when we were together, we became friends.  You were
all special to me, and even though you all left and you never call or
come around, I think we still are."  Special.  Rei felt that guilt
again, and suppressed a shudder.
     "In a lot of ways, we were strangers, Usagi," Rei said softly.
"Have you considered that maybe it's better this way?"  Usagi's
gaze lifted to meet Rei's, and the blonde's eyes were glistening with
moisture.
     "No," she said, her voice quiet but certain.  "No, I never
thought that.  And I never will.  We were meant to be together,
Rei.  I ... I need you.  All of you."  Suddenly, Rei couldn't breathe.
Oh, I can't do this, she thought as her throat tightened.  I can't sit
here and listen to her talk like this.  The need to get away was
suddenly almost painful in its intensity, and Rei bolted to her feet
and took several quick strides toward the door, barely registering
the clatter as something fell to the floor behind her.
     She had nearly reached the doorway when slim arms circled
her waist, squeezing tightly.  Usagi collided with her and clung,
pressing against Rei's back, holding her, keeping her from leaving
as she must.  Rei closed her eyes and tried to breathe.
     "Usagi ..."  It was half-command, half-plea.
     "Don't go."  Usagi's face was buried in Rei's hair, her voice
tiny and muffled, but it still cut deep.  "Don't leave, Rei.  Don't
leave again.  I've missed you."  Rei closed her eyes.  How was it
that this girl could touch her heart, a place she'd locked away so
long ago and jealously guarded ever since?  Was it their shared past
in some long-ago kingdom, or something else?
     "You don't know me, Usagi," she whispered.  "You're
better off without me in your life."
     "Liar," Usagi whispered back.  "I know what matters.  I
know that, no matter who brought us together and why, we're
friends.  You're trying to protect me again, like always, but I don't
need to be protected, not from you."  Rei took shaky breath, feeling
the warmth of Usagi's barely clad body pressed tightly against her
back.  Foolish girl, she thought ruefully, always so unaware of her
own sensual nature.
     "Mamoru wouldn't approve, would he?" she asked, playing
her last trump card.  She could feel Usagi's breath stirring her hair,
but the girl's embrace didn't slacken.
     "I already told him not to make me choose," Usagi said at
last.  "And he won't.  Don't use him as an excuse, Rei.  No more
excuses.  I don't want to hear that it's for my own good, or that it
wasn't meant to be, or that this isn't the Moon Kingdom and things
are different.  Tell me you don't want me in your life at all, because
if you don't I'm not letting you go again."
     There was only one option, of course.  No matter how
much it made her feel like she wanted to die, she had to end this.
Once the warning was delivered, she would sever all ties with Usagi
as cruelly as possible.  It would hurt her for a while, but she'd
recover.  She had her life with Mamoru now, after all.  She should
let the past rest.  Rei pulled away slowly, turning so she could face
Usagi, and found herself staring into glistening blue eyes brimming
with warmth and hope.
     "Usagi."
     "Yes?" Usagi asked timidly, her slender frame quivering with
tension.  Rei sighed.
     "You have some batter on your nose."  She reached out
with her forefinger and wiped the glob away neatly as Usagi gaped.
Then a smile broke out on the blonde's face, like the first rays of
dawn, and she jumped in the air, bouncing on her toes.
     "I knew you couldn't say it!" she blurted.  Rei sucked the
batter off her finger, watching Usagi's outburst ruefully.  Idiot, she
thought.  I'm an idiot.  What's wrong with me?  Have I become so
weak-willed?  But she couldn't help responding to Usagi's infectious
joy.  As always.
     Some things, it appeared, never changed.
     "Well, you're such a klutz, I figure someone should at least
keep an eye on you for a while," she grumbled.  "Come on, I'll help
you clean up the mess you made."  Usagi froze, then glanced over
her shoulder at the upended bowl.
     "Oops," she said sheepishly.  Rei shook her head, and
together they cleaned up the mess.  Crouched beside Usagi, Rei
realized for the first time just how intensely she'd missed the other
girl.  Growing up as she had, she'd never had a close friendship with
anyone, and certainly had never known anyone as open and
guileless as Usagi.  In the temple, the girls had learned to guard
their secrets jealously, for to trust was to open yourself to those
who would subjugate you for their own purposes.  Usagi's light was
so different from the cool shadows that nested deep inside her.
That light drew her, warmed the hidden parts of her soul, and she
wondered for a moment what part of her could possibly exert such
a pull over the other girl.  How could she deserve friendship from
someone like this?
     "Usagi," she said as they stood together.  "I didn't just drop by
to see you.  I came today for a reason."
     "Reason?" Usagi asked, puzzled.  Rei nodded.
     "I had a vision last night," she said softly.  "I wanted to
warn you that you might be in danger."  Usagi's expression turned
serious, and she fidgeted absently.  Usagi was a champion fidgeter
when she was nervous, and Rei fought the urge to grab the girl and
hold her in place.
     "Not from ... Hotaru?" she asked anxiously.  Rei shook her
head.
     "No," she said softly.  "I think now that we know the truth,
she won't bother trying to control us again.  I'm not really sure
where the danger will come from.  All I can really tell you is that I
saw the moon destroyed by a horrible shadow, but I couldn't see
what cast it."
     "The moon," Usagi murmured.  "Meaning me personally?  Or all
of us?"
     "Visions are funny, Usagi," Rei murmured.  "I can't say for
sure what it meant, only that the sense of danger was very intense."
     "Then the others could be in danger too!" Usagi cried.
     "Yes, that's possible ..." Rei began cautiously.
     "Well, what are you waiting for?  We've got to go warn
them!"
     "Whoa!  Hold on, Usagi."  Rei grabbed the blonde's slim
wrist to keep her from bolting and met the other girl's gaze sternly.
     "Rei," Usagi frowned, "you just said ..."
     "I said it was possible, not certain."
     "Well, that's enough for me!" Usagi returned, thrusting her
chin out.  Rei had also somehow forgotten just how stubborn Usagi
could be, and she fought to keep a lid on her temper.
     "Look, just what do you have in mind?" she asked with
thinly disguised impatience.  Usagi cocked her head.
     "We do for them what you just did for me," she replied.
"We go visit them and warn them about the danger."  Rei sighed
and let Usagi's hand drop.
     "A fine plan," she informed her friend.  "But there are a few
problems."
     "Like what?" Usagi asked suspiciously.
     "For one thing, I have no idea where they're living."  Usagi
stared at her blankly.
     "No idea?" she repeated.  "Rei ... you mean you guys haven't
been keeping in touch at all?"  Rei shifted her gaze away from the
hurt in Usagi's eyes.
     "After everything came crashing down, none of us really
wanted to be together," she said, brushing her hair with the back of
her hand.  Toying with her hair when she was anxious was a bad
habit, and one she'd tried to rid herself of many times.  She didn't
want others knowing when she was ill at ease.  Fortunately, Usagi
seemed too preoccupied to notice.
     "I thought everyone was just busy, or felt awkward about what
happened, and that was why I never heard ..." Usagi mumbled.  "I
can't believe this.  You guys don't even talk to each other?  Ever?"
Rei  tried not to flinch from the sorrow in Usagi's voice.  Hotaru
had been the one to find five girls in the urban wilderness of Saeni,
and she had been the one who had revealed their strange shared
past and abilities as senshi.  But even before they'd found out the
mysterious woman's true motivations, she'd never won their hearts
or their complete loyalty.  She'd held herself too far away from
them for that.  Life under her roof had provided some measure of
shelter from the past for each of them, and there had been the
money of course, but the new Inner Senshi had been five very
different girls who, in the end, had only one thing in common.
     Usagi.  Somehow, over time she'd managed to draw them all, to
become the focus of their group despite everything, all the mistrust
and personality conflicts and power struggles.  In the end, she'd
been the only thing holding them together.  And when
Mamoru had taken her in that night after they'd finally learned the
truth, well, they'd all drifted away, back to the lives they'd left
behind.  Rei hadn't tried to contact Usagi since, and apparently none
of the others had either.  Maybe it was because she, of all of them,
was clean, pure.  Unspoiled.  She deserved the fairytale ending with
her prince.
     But you couldn't stay away, could you? a mocking voice
came from deep within.  You could have called her, sent her a
letter, but no, you WANTED to see her, didn't you?  So much for
your oh-so-noble efforts to preserve her happiness.  Unwilling to
deny yourself your true desires, eh, Sister of Shadows?
     "Look, Usagi," Rei said gently, trying to ignore the guilt
fostered by her inner voice.  "If you want, I'll try to find them, let
them know about the vision."  Usagi froze, then turned slowly to
face Rei again.  Rei felt a vertiginous drop in the pit of her stomach;
Usagi had THAT look, the expression that embodied cunning and
mischief and a general sense that Usagi was suddenly very, very
pleased with herself.
     "You don't know where they're living," Usagi said slowly.
Rei frowned.
     "That's what I ..."
     "But I bet I know where at least one of them is working,"
Usagi crooned.  "After all, she always talked about that club and
how popular she was ..."  Rei blinked.
     "Oh," she said, comprehension not bringing any relief at all.
"You know, you're probably right.  And she did say that she hangs
out there a lot even when she's not working.  I suppose I could ..."
     "WE could," Usagi corrected.  Rei's stomach plummeted
again.
     "No," she said.  "Absolutely no way."
     "Reiiiiii," Usagi pleaded, eyes mournful.  Rei scowled.
     "Usagi, there is NO WAY I am taking you to a wild place
like that in the heart of the Triangle.  Do you understand?  NO.
WAY."
     "I've been in the Triangle before," Usagi objected.
     "As Sailor Moon, with all of us together," Rei said flatly.
"Forget it, just put it out of your mind.  I am not taking you with
me."
     "That's too bad," Usagi sighed.  Rei fought the urge to
smirk.
     "I'm glad you ..."
     "It'll be more dangerous for me, going alone," Usagi
continued, pushing her index fingers together winsomely.  "But if
your mind is made up, then I guess I'll have to respect your
decision."  Rei just gaped at her, flabbergasted.
     "You," she breathed.  "You wouldn't.  No, what am I
saying?  You would, wouldn't you?"  Usagi gazed demurely at Rei
from under lowered lashes, and Rei considered re-evaluating her
position on Usagi's naivete regarding her own sex appeal.
     "Rei," she pouted, playing with thick strands of her
unbound hair.  "I want to see them again.  It isn't right, the way
things are now.  And if you're going anyway, then how much more
dangerous will it be to take me along?  You know I'll ..."
     "Oh, all right!" Rei snapped.  "I get it!  Fine, we'll go
together!  Gods, Mamoru will kill me if anything happens ..."
     "Yay!" Usagi squealed, clasping her hands and bouncing
girlishly.  "It'll be great, won't it, Rei?  Having everyone back
together again?"
     "Yeah, great," Rei muttered.  She wasn't at all certain what
sort of reception they could expect; the others had probably, like
her, slipped back into the patterns of their old lives.  "But would
you at least go put some clothes on?"  Usagi's bouncing was having
an interesting effect on certain parts of her anatomy, and the loose
white shirt was fighting a losing battle in the area of containment.
     "Oops," Usagi said sheepishly.  "Okay, stay there.  I'll be
right back!"  So saying, she turned and bolted, leaving only the
faintest trace of her scent behind.
     Rei sighed, and leaned wearily against the kitchen counter.
     This was certainly not what she'd had in mind for her day.
     So why did she feel so ... happy?

***

     Usagi hummed under her breath as she rummaged through
the closet, throwing things onto the bed with careless abandon.
Just when she'd begun to despair at ever hearing from her friends
again, Rei showed up on her very doorstep!  Rei; beautiful, hot-
tempered, stubborn, wonderful Rei.  Usagi'd missed her so much;
no one had taunted her or called her clutz or slugabed in weeks!
     And the others, how were they doing?  She knew they'd
always thought of her as somehow sheltered, too delicate to hear
the details about their rough lives in the untamed streets of the
Triangle, but they were wrong.  She knew more than they thought,
and she didn't care.  They were her friends, they'd been through so
much together, and once they were a team again nothing would be
able to tear them apart.
     "Do you mind?" a sleepy voice inquired archly from behind
her.  She turned to see a furry face and a pair of gleaming eyes
peering out from under a discarded blouse.
     "Sorry, Luna," she said cheerfully.  "In a hurry."  Luna
frowned at her.
     "Are you going out?" she asked, yawning to show sharp
feline teeth.  Usagi nodded.
     "Yes, with Rei," she said, holding up a dress, then
discarding it.   Luna dodged the incoming garment and ended up on
the pillow, glaring at Usagi from behind.
     "Rei?" she asked slowly.  "Why is she getting in touch with
you all of a sudden?"
     "Oh, just to talk," Usagi said vaguely.  Luna was very
overprotective, and Usagi saw no reason to make her worry.  Not,
of course, that there was anything to worry about.  She decided on
what to wear and carried it to the master bathroom, where she
slipped out of Mamoru's shirt.  She paused to inhale his scent from
the soft material, savouring the masculine musk before tossing it at
the hamper, then picked up a brush and started brushing out her
hair.  In the large mirror she saw Luna pad into the room behind her
and leap up on the vanity.
     "I'm not sure this is a good idea, Usagi," Luna said.  Usagi
glanced over at the small black cat.
     "Oh, come on, Luna," she sighed.  "It's Rei."  She put the brush
down and began tying her hair into its distinctive twin-odango style.
Luna watched her, clearly unhappy.
     "Maybe you should talk to Mamoru first," Luna said finally.
Usagi scowled.
     "Why does everybody worry so much about what Mamo-
chan will think?" she asked, irritated.  "He's my boyfriend, not my
father.  He does plenty of things I don't approve of, you know!"
Luna sighed.
     "Well, at least promise to be careful," she said glumly.
"Storm season tends to stir things up, even in the city."  Usagi
winked.
     "Don't worry," she said, holding up her brooch.  "I'll have
this.  If anything nasty shows its face, Sailor Moon will deal with
it!"
     "Oh, wonderful," Luna muttered.  "Now I feel MUCH
better."
     "Stop worrying so much," Usagi chided, checking her
reflection in the mirror quickly.  "I'm just going to have a day with
my friends, and believe me, nothing is going to spoil it.  Nothing."

***

     The Old City hadn't changed at all since she'd last been
there.  That was hardly surprising; she thought it unlikely that any
humans came here at all.
     And how long had it been, anyway?  Her memories danced
and flitted, ephemeral like the morning mists.
     Little matter, a voice told her.  Little matter, the past.  The
promised time is near.
     Ah, yes.  The pinnacle of all her efforts, all her planning.  It
was fated that the bearer had come to this particular city at this
time.  Fated.  Yes, that must be true.  Now all she had to do was ...
was ...
     All the pieces must be in place before you can act, the voice
reminded her patiently.
     Ah, yes.  The pieces.  Not just the bearer of the key, but the
others as well.  Once she'd confirmed that they were here and now,
as predicted, then she could begin to draw all the elements together.
But how to find them?  She'd delivered another challenge to the
bearer, but that one remained maddeningly elusive.  How ...?
     Stir things up, the voice murmured inside her head.  Its
whisper had long since ceased to seem intrusive or even unusual.  It
almost seemed like part of her now, even during the times when she
slept, waiting.
     Yes, she thought.  A fine plan.  They will be drawn, their nature
would not have it any other way.  She shifted in her throne, cloaked
by the thick shadows, and raised one pale hand.  As her loose
sleeve fell back she drew a long, sharp nail across the bared wrist
and flicked it carelessly away.  Droplets of blood scattered to the
cold stone floor, and where each drop fell the air shimmered with
power.  Shadow and blood merged, and the drops rippled and grew
into human sized forms.  Each was identical, a tall female form with
long black hair and red eyes, cloaked in flowing robes.  As one,
they fell to their knees before their mistress.
     "My wraiths," she purred.  "You know my will.  Go forth,
and let me see if all is in readiness for my ascension."  The wraiths
rose soundlessly, turning and rising into the air, streaking away into
the darkness.  She watched them go with a cruel smile on her lips.
     It had been so long since she'd been in Saeni.  The cold
phantoms of the Old City had their own power, but she hungered
for warmer pleasures.  Perhaps she would relocate to the teeming
chaos of the human city while she waited for events to unfold.
     As she rose, gathering her robes around her smoothly, she
felt a pang of hunger that was not her own.  For a moment that
gave her pause, until she reached out along the tendrils of her
power and identified the source.  Then she smiled, crimson lips
parting to reveal the faintest hint of fangs.
     Ah, yes.  That one.  So much unfinished business for her in
this city.  So much to look forward to.  As she shook off the effects
of her sleep, she remembered more and more.
     The last days of human reign were going to be very
interesting, indeed.

***

     I only caught a glimpse of her through the crowd, but for an
instant my heart seemed to constrict painfully.  I couldn't move,
couldn't breathe.  It felt like my blood was a hot hammer against
the inside of my skull.
     Then the moment passed.  The moving throng of people
parted, rushing through the fading drizzle that persisted in the wake
of the storm, and I could see that the resemblance was really
superficial at best.  The hairstyle was similar, but she really didn't
look much like her at all.
     It's still like this sometimes, though.  I'll see a girl, or hear a
voice behind me, or catch the faintest whiff of a certain scent, and
for just a split second I'll think, Akane.  But it's never her.  It's
never going to be her.
     And I know that.  It's my mind, it plays these tricks.  There
are people who would say my mind was never anything great to
start with, but it knows some really cruel tricks, let me tell you.  In
the beginning it happened more often, but now it's almost worse.
I'll go for weeks at a time, then suddenly my idiot brain will spring
one of these Akane traps on me.  There's that moment of almost
painful adrenaline, then the letdown, and the colour seems to go out
of the world.
     It's stupid.  I've accepted that she's gone, but there's
always the thought lurking at the back of my head, never dying no
matter how many times I squash it.
     What if she exists on this world?
     It's possible, I guess.  But even if she did, that wouldn't
mean I could just walk into her life and things would be peachy.
Past experience had shown me that.  But it would be easier,
somehow, if I could just say to myself, get over it.  She's dead,
forever.
     And in my world, she was.  But I knew at least one other
where she was very much alive, and very much in love with my
counterpart there.  So there always existed for me the possibility
that I might see her someday, just out of the blue, and I think that
was why I kept having these episodes.
     Or maybe that wasn't it at all.  Either way, as the girl with
the familiar hairstyle rushed by on her way somewhere drier, my
mood went straight into the gutter.
     Not that it had all that far to go, mind you.  I was soaked to
the skin, having been caught out in the open by the storm.  And I
was nearly broke, so finding someplace to dry off and turn back
into a guy was going to be difficult.
     I wasn't all that sure why I'd come here, anyway.  When I'd
first arrived in this world, I'd been way out in the boonies.  In the
nearly two years since then, I'd covered a lot of ground, seen a lot
of things, formed a lot of questions.
     But answers hadn't been anywhere to be found.  So now I
was here, in Saeni.  It was the capitol city of the kingdom of Altua,
and supposedly the biggest city on the continent.  I'd heard a lot
about it, and it sounded like a place to go to look for answers.
     It was a big city.  Okay, big didn't really do it justice; it was
huge.  I was guessing that it was at least as big as Tokyo.  At least.
The city seemed to be split up into different sections or districts,
and the buildings could vary quite a lot in appearance and
construction depending on where you were, at least from what I'd
seen so far.
     The fortress look was very big, though.  I was passing
through an area where the buildings were mostly stone, with heavy
walls and gates, some even with towers.  These buildings had been
built to stand up to serious attack, it appeared to me.
     But attack from what?
     My first impression upon awakening in this world had been
that it was going to be another primitive one.  That had turned out
not to be true.  The machines here were strange, not looking at all
like what I was used to, but they had all the modern conveniences.
Sure, instead of airplanes they had those big skyships, and I'd seen
cops carrying swords or pikes as well as guns, and the traffic on the
roads looked like a weird combination of futuristic and retro
vehicles.  Still, everything worked, possibly with the help of magic,
which was not uncommon here, but it worked.  They even had stuff
we'd never had back home, like the giant robot thingies I'd seen
guarding the city gates.
     So maybe it wasn't impossible that I'd find someone who
knew what a hyperlink key was, and why mine wouldn't work
anymore.
     Right at the moment, though, I had no idea where to start.
I was cold, wet, hungry, and, thanks to my idiot brain, depressed.  I
was pretty sure that things couldn't get any worse.
     At least, until I caught sight of a newspaper in a box on the
corner.
     Skyship Crash Mystery, the headline read.  The story caught
my eye, and the more I read the greater the feeling of dread in my
gut.
     It had happened again.
     In recent months, it seemed that no sooner had I arrived in a
city than some strange incident occurred, usually killing a whole
whack of people.  The circumstances were always unusual, as if
devised to attract attention.  There'd been the ship which had
crashed into port in Ostera, for instance, two days after I arrived.
The ship, a freighter, had been found empty.  It was in good
condition, all the lifeboats in place, but the crew had vanished
without a trace, and the unmanned ship had just plowed into the
docks at full speed.
     The first couple could have been coincidences, but this was
the seventh time something like this had happened.  That was
stretching coincidence way beyond the limits, as far as I was
concerned.  But how could these incidents relate to me personally?
     I turned away from the box and started walking, head down
as I brooded over yet another dark cloud in my life.
     So naturally, I wasn't looking where I was going ...

***

     It was amazing.
     The air smelled sweeter, the wan daylight seeping through
the threatening clouds seemed to be tinged with gold, and
everything was ripe with possibility.  Usagi walked along in a state
of near euphoria.
     She'd missed this.  These last weeks had been so chaotic for
her, the horrible confrontation with Hotaru followed so quickly by
Mamoru's offer of shelter.  Those days had seemed almost like a
dream, but lost in that dream had been the girls she'd met in
Hotaru's service, girls who shared a mystic past with her.  At first,
she'd spent her time wallowing in a funk, brooding over the
revelations that had been made that night.  Slowly, though, she'd
emerged to find Mamoru there, ever-patient, taking care of her and
asking nothing in return.
     It had been wonderful, just like she'd always dreamed it
would be.  She was in love.  But, in recent days, something had
begun to nag at her.
     Something was amiss.
     Gradually, she'd come to realize that she'd heard nothing
from the other four girls since their parting that night.  In a
relatively short time they'd come to occupy a large place in her life,
and she began to miss them.  At first, she thought it might be
Mamoru.  After all, he'd never liked them, and the feeling was
mutual.  She'd thought they might be staying away because of him,
and that thought gnawed at her.  But when she'd tried to find them,
she realized she had no idea where to look.  They'd all been
strangers when Hotaru had brought them together, and large parts
of their lives outside that stately manor had remained shrouded,
hidden away.
     But now, Rei had come to her.  It was perfect.
     She sneaked a glance at Rei as they walked.  The raven-
haired girl looked effortlessly beautiful, as usual, and Usagi felt a
pang of jealousy at how easily Rei seemed to draw all eyes to her.
She was wearing a tailored black suit with narrow chalk pinstripes,
the waist of the jacket nipped in to hug her figure.  The collar of the
blouse was open over the lapels, revealing an alluring triangle of
pale skin below the throat.  The breeze made Rei's long black
trenchcoat ripple languidly behind her, and her heels clicked sharply
as she strode along the sidewalk as if it was hers alone.  I might
have once been a princess, Usagi thought wistfully, but I'll never be
as ... regal ... as she is.
     Rei glanced back, brushing her windblown hair out of her
face with the back of her hand in a gesture Usagi had come to
associate with her friend.  The familiarity made her smile, and Rei
raised an eyebrow archly.
     "Something funny?" she asked.  Usagi shook her head,
sticking her hands in the pockets of her cropped jacket.
     "I was just thinking that you look good," she said.  Rei
blinked, clearly taken off-guard.
     "At least I don't look TOO good," she grumbled.  Usagi
giggled and pirouetted, displaying her dress.  Okay, the skirt might
be a little short, and the bodice just the tiniest bit tight, but she
knew she'd have a hard time getting noticed next to Rei, and every
little bit helped.
     "We're going to a club, remember?" she asked.  "I wanted
to fit in ... although I can't believe you're admitting I look sexy."
She peered at Rei smugly, and the other girl gave her head a
haughty toss.
     "I didn't say sexy," she sniffed.  "Easy is more like it."
Usagi gaped.
     "What?" she blurted.  "What kind of thing is that to say,
Rei?"  Rei's eyes narrowed and she raised her chin in that slightly
superior way that never failed to get to Usagi.
     "Well, you ARE living in sin," she pointed out.  "People
might get the wrong impression."  Usagi flushed.
     "We're not doing anything wrong!" she shot back.  "Mamo-
chan just offered me a place to stay until I can get back on my feet,
that's all!"
     "Oh?" Rei murmured.  "That doesn't explain why you
answered the door wearing his shirt, Usagi.  JUST his shirt."  Usagi
spluttered.
     "Brat!" she snapped.
     "Hussy," Rei returned, turning her head to glare.  Usagi was
out of practice, but if Rei thought she was going to win so easily,
she was sadly mistaken.  Usagi was just warming up.
     "You're just jealous," Usagi declared.  Rei twitched.
     "Jealous?" she squawked.  "I'll have you know ..."  Just
what Rei was going to have her know went unrevealed, however.
Rei's attention was centred on her, and as a result she didn't see the
girl coming around the corner, her head down and deep in thought.
The two collided, and Rei was thrown off-balance.  She grabbed
the other girl to steady herself.
     The stranger was about their age, maybe nineteen or twenty.
A little shorter than Usagi, she had fiery red hair tied back in a long,
thin braid.  Unruly bangs framed her delicate features, and large
blue eyes with a hint of gray peered out apologetically from under
long lashes.  Her clothing was boyish, a loose black high collared
shirt and matching pants, with a red sash cinched around her tiny
waist, but her loose clothing couldn't hide the lush curves of her
body, and Usagi wondered fleetingly why the girl didn't wear
something more flattering.
     "I'm sorry," she blurted, her voice a pleasant alto.  Rei
straightened, uncharacteristically flustered.
     "No," she replied, "it was my ..."  Her voice trailed off, and
Usagi turned to see what was wrong.  Rei's normally pale skin had
gone ghostly white, and her eyes seemed to be large, dark holes
staring in horror.  Something about Rei's expression frightened
Usagi badly, and she instinctively stepped forward.
     "You," Rei whispered.
     "Rei ..." Usagi began, reaching out.  Rei jumped back from
the red-head, sweeping Usagi behind her quickly, her eyes never
leaving the stranger.
     "Usagi, run!" she shouted.  Usagi glanced from Rei to the
strange girl, who seemed more puzzled than anything.
     "What ...?" she began.
     "Now, dammit!" Rei snapped, moving to place herself directly
between Usagi and the other girl.  Usagi didn't know what was
going on, but Rei was not someone who was easily panicked.
Something about this girl had spooked her, though, and Usagi's
heart raced as she picked up on her friend's distress.  She opened
her mouth to protest that she wasn't leaving Rei alone, not if there
was trouble.
     Then she heard the first screams.

***

     My first thought was that another me must exist on this world
after all, and this girl knew her.  That was the only reason I could
figure for the way she was looking at me.  Unless she was a nutcase
who went off the rails if someone bumped into her on the street.
     I was almost ready to hope that was the explanation.
     She'd moved her friend, the girl with the ponytails she'd called
Usagi, behind her.  The way she stood told me that she knew
something about fighting, and I definitely got the feeling things
were about to get ugly.
     Perfect.  My day had actually gotten worse.  Well, at least
there was one small consolation.
     This one didn't look anything like Akane.
     Then I heard a scream, high and shrill, and pivoted slightly
to seek out the source.  The girl chose that moment to attack,
throwing a pretty wicked punch that came straight out from the
shoulder, with all her weight behind it.
     She seemed pretty surprised when I caught her hand
without turning.
     "Rei!" the blonde cried.  The girl tried to pull her hand back,
and after a moment I let her, taking a step to open up some space
between us.  The district I was in was pretty busy in spite of the
promise of more rain, and for a moment all I could see were people
milling around wildly.  Then several cars swerved further down the
street, and the sound of crumpling metal and breaking glass rose
above the shouts.  Something dark darted into the road, then
streaked towards where we were standing.  It barrelled by us,
arcing up into the sky, and I had the brief impression of glowing
eyes and long, wild hair and robes.
     "She summoned a wraith!" the one called Rei snarled,
backing away with her friend behind her.  She, presumably,
meaning me.  "Run for it!"  From the corner of my eye I saw them
retreating quickly, but I didn't have time to correct that girl's
assumption.  I was too busy watching the thing she'd called a
wraith.
     It slowed to a hover nearly fifty feet off the ground, turning
in a slow circle as traffic snarled to a standstill and people stood
around, gaping and pointing.  Its black robes rippled in the cool
wind, and long hair streamed back from a pale face that was cruelly
beautiful, and totally without mercy.
     It was the eyes that clinched it for me, though, those
glowing red eyes, so utterly inhuman.  This wraith thing was just
some sort of demon.
     I've got a thing about demons.  I think it dates back to
when they killed the girl I loved, and my family and friends and
everybody in my whole damned world.
     Yeah.  The only good demon is a dead demon.  Suddenly,
all the troubles of my day, the cold and wet, the painful memories
of Akane, everything, was wiped away in a haze of red.
     A demon.  I could fight, fight all out and hold nothing back.
That was the only time that it all went away, when I could live in
the moment and be free of all my shadows, even if only for a little
while.  I felt anticipation like a fine vibration in my bones, and the
world seemed to slow down around me.
     The demon finally got tired of watching us all and began to
dive towards the street, screeching.
     I went to meet it.

***

     Light flared in the sheltered alleyway as the transformation
effect faded, and Sailor Moon followed Sailor Mars towards the
street.
     The scene that awaited them was unexpected.  Two parked
cars were on fire, one of them jerking as something exploded
underneath.  People were running in every direction, pointing and
screaming and doing other completely non-productive things.
None of this came as a surprise to Mars.
     The unexpected part was what the red-head was doing.  As
the two senshi watched, the girl sprinted across the street, the
wraith swooping down towards her.  At the last moment, the girl
spun and leapt, attacking the wraith in mid-air and sending it
crashing into the heavy stone facade of a nearby building.
     Mars watched, puzzled.  The red-headed girl moved with
almost unearthly speed and grace, dancing through the air as if
she'd been given an exemption from gravity.  The wraith arrowed
out of the crumbled wall, its face contorting into a fierce rictus as it
opened its mouth and shrieked.  The air itself appeared to waver as
the focussed scream lanced out at the girl, but she was already gone
before the destructive force reached her.
     The two clashed in the air above the street again, and Mars
couldn't deny one very obvious fact: the girl from her vision was
fighting against the wraith, not with it.  It was possible she'd
jumped to the wrong conclusion by assuming the girl had
summoned the creature herself, but the sight of that face outside of
a dream had shaken her more than she cared to admit.  And one
thing she was sure of; that girl was intimately involved in whatever
darkness threatened Usagi.
     "Let's get that thing before it does any more damage,"
Sailor Moon said eagerly, brandishing her sceptre.  Mars nodded.
     "Just as long as you promise not to make any speeches this
time," she said, darting out from the cover of the alley.
     "Geez!" Sailor Moon shot back.  "It was just one time, and
you guys never let me forget it!"  They raced into the street,
watching as the girl dropped to a street light and springboarded
away just before it shattered.  The girl spun through the air,
confounding the wraith's attempts to pin her down.  Sailor Moon
made an appreciative sound.
     "She's pretty good," the blonde remarked.  Privately, Mars
had to agree.  And that might prove a problem if she came after
them when she finished with the wraith.  But first things first.
     As they took up positions in the middle of the street, the girl
arced into the air again, snapping her body into a spin and then
plunging down at the wraith from above, launching a series of
punches so fast her hands seemed to blur.  The wraith was smashed
to the ground again, but Mars knew that such creatures, while not
particularly smart or powerful, could take a lot of physical damage.
     "Sailor Moon!" she called.  The other girl nodded and
levelled her sceptre.  As the red-head looped through the air to land
on another light post, the enraged wraith pulled itself free of the
small crater it had formed and gathered itself to charge.
     It never got the chance.
     Mars felt a tingle of power skitter over her skin as Sailor
Moon let fly with a brilliant bolt of power.  It caught the
unfortunate wraith full on, and the thing screamed in surprise and
pain as the light tore through it.  In moments it was reduced to
dust, its final cry cut short.  Sailor Moon grinned triumphantly, but
Mars turned her attention to the strange girl.
     The red-head was staring down at them from her perch,
clearly taken off-guard by the turn of events.  Her eyes seemed to
lock with Mars' across the street, and the senshi felt a nagging
doubt form in the back of her mind.  The girl appeared just as she
had in the vision, every detain the same ... except for the eyes.  In
the vision, the girl's eyes had been dead, empty.  But here, a fiery
spirit animated those blue eyes.  What exactly that meant, Mars
didn't know.  But she meant to find out.
     If this girl was a threat to Usagi, then she'd need more than
fancy footwork to save her.
     The moment was broken by a faint wailing that quickly
swelled.  The girl's attention was drawn, and Mars followed her
gaze down the street.
     "The police?" Sailor Moon asked incredulously.  "They're
never this fast!  Hey, I wonder if Mamo-chan ..."
     "Even if he is, you can't talk to him looking like that," Mars
said tightly.  The girl on the pole hesitated a moment, then sprang
away.  Mars smiled.
     "Running away?" she murmured under her breath.  She took
off in pursuit, and heard Sailor Moon fall in close behind.
     "Uh, Mars?" the other girl asked, a tad breathless.  "Just
why are we chasing that girl?  I mean, who IS she?"
     "Tell you later," Mars replied tersely.  They headed into a
side street as the sound of sirens grew louder behind them.  The
red-headed girl leapt with feline grace from perch to perch, making
her way quickly down the street, the two senshi in hot pursuit.  She
was moving too quickly for Mars to risk an attack; they'd definitely
need to corner her first.
     If they could.  Up ahead, traffic moved through a busy
intersection, and the girl was going to get there at least ten seconds
before they did.  Mars put on a burst of speed, eliciting a squawk
from her partner, but the red-head maintained her lead, leaping to
the ground and running headlong into traffic.  Mars lost sight of her
as several trucks and trolleycars sped by, and when she reached the
intersection her fears were confirmed.
     Somehow, her quarry had vanished.

***

     I flipped up over the roof of the building, peering down
carefully to keep from being seen.  The two girls were looking
around, clearly upset at having lost sight of me.
     This was beginning to get interesting.  First, the one called
Rei acted as if she knew me; not only that, from her reaction we
were clearly enemies.  Then those two showed up in the middle of
my fight, dressed in those sailor fukus.  There was more to them
than met the eye; when I'd looked down at them after the blonde
had toasted the wraith, for a moment I hadn't even recognized
them.
     But then I felt something, a tiny surge of heat in my chest,
and I realized that they were the same two girls.  And if that little
burst of heat was what I thought, then I definitely wanted to find
out more about these two.
     But I'd have to be careful.  At least one of them had a lot of
offensive power, and they were both fast, nearly catching up to me
during our little foot race.  And they clearly thought of me as an
enemy, so it probably wouldn't be a good idea to get caught
following them.
     Which was exactly what I was going to do.

***

     She stayed submerged in the shadowed nook, watching the
girl on the roof from a safe distance.  Having arrived too late to
help her sister, she'd lurked above the street, watching.  She
remained unobserved as two girls chased the third, and watched
with amusement the prey's strategy as she became the huntress.
     But the wraith, in turn, hunted all.  This girl, in particular,
interested her, although she wasn't certain why.  Something about
her, a momentary sense of power, of heat ...
     She quivered.  How pleasant it would be to find a human
and drink of their life force, but she couldn't indulge herself just
yet.  The Mistress would be displeased, and it was never wise to
displease the Mistress.  She wanted chaos, confusion, and pain, and
the more people involved, the better.  Just why she wanted this was
unclear, and irrelevant besides.  What the Mistress wanted, the
Mistress got.  But the wraith had seen what an indiscriminate attack
had brought upon her sister.  She was cunning, and thought she
knew a way to fulfill her Mistress' wishes and sate her own hunger
besides.
     She would follow this girl.  When she arrived at someplace
suitable, someplace with a lot of people, she would spring her
attack, feasting on the most dangerous threat first before wreaking
havoc amongst the others.
     Not a complicated plan, but it suited her.  So she lurked.
     And followed.
     Waiting ...

***

     Detective Constable First Class Mamoru Chiba leaned back
in his chair and sighed heavily.  That sigh turned itself into a yawn,
and he rubbed his palms over his face as he tried to shake off his
weariness.
     "We're not keeping you up, are we, Chiba?" his partner
asked with mock concern.  Yusaku Otohari was thirtyish, with
slightly roguish good looks that kept his bed full and his life
interesting.  He leaned on the edge of Mamoru's desk, grinning
crookedly.  "I guess your new girlfriend must be keeping you up
nights, huh?"
     "Funny, Yu," Mamoru grunted.  "Is that the forensic
report?"  He pointed to the folder in Yusaku's hand, and the other
man nodded.
     "Afraid so," the other man sighed.  Mamoru's eyes narrowed.
He'd been partnered with Yusaku long enough to know that sigh.
     "All right, tell me," he said.  Yusaku peered down at him
from the corner of one green eye, light flashing on the steel rims of
his round glasses.
     "Ah, you know me so well," the taller man said ruefully, his long
blonde ponytail twitching as he shook his head and sat across from
his partner, his angular face unusually grim.
     "Come on, now," Mamoru said, a vague feeling of alarm
creeping into his gut.  "How much worse could it be?"
     "Partner, we're right in the middle of something ugly here,"
Yusaku replied, tossing the folder onto the desk.  Warily, Mamoru
picked it up and opened it.
     "Forensics had a couple of good ones to work with,"
Yusaku said as Mamoru perused the contents quickly.  "Check the
one for stateroom twenty-one B."  Mamoru flipped through the
pages of diagrams and arcane notes, quickly finding the item in
question.  He skimmed through, stopped, frowned, then went
through again.
     "What the hell is this?" he asked finally, glancing up at his
partner.  "Are they sure?"  Yusaku shrugged, taking his glasses off
and holding them up to the harsh white lights that were typical of
government offices.
     "Not completely," he said, squinting critically.  "Old Wasa is
saying the body was probably moved after death.  Since the ship
was in such bad shape, it's hard to be certain.  And there was
trauma to the body that was almost certainly a result of the crash.
But ..."  He lowered his glasses and met Mamoru's gaze, and
Mamoru could see that Yusaku had a feeling about this.  A bad
feeling.  As did he.
     "The body," Mamoru said slowly, "was completely
exsanguinated."
     "Yep," Yusaku agreed.  "And no blood was found
anywhere in the stateroom.  So ... a body drained of blood, what's
the obvious conclusion?"  Mamoru glanced down at the
accompanying photos, pulling them free from the paper clip that
held them on the page and flipping through them.
     "Wasa could be right," Mamoru argued.  "That crash shook
things up badly, and there's more than enough blood elsewhere in
that section to account for this woman."  He looked up at Yusaku.
     "And there's no mention of bite marks," he added.
     "True," Yusaku nodded, the very picture of casual indifference.
"Although they could have been hidden by one of those wounds
supposedly caused in the crash.  But let me tell you, partner, I hope
to the Hells that old Wasa IS right.  Because the last thing this city
needs is more vampire trouble."
     "You're talking like it's the Long Dark all over again,"
Mamoru chided.
     "Fourteen years," Yusaku said softly, and something dark
flickered behind those bright eyes, usually so carefree.  "Everybody
who lived through the Long Dark bears some scars from it,
Mamoru.  There are reminders almost everywhere you go, even
today.  So many children were orphaned, so much damage done, so
many darknesses unleashed.  The only good to come out of that last
battle was that all the vampire clans were destroyed utterly.  Since
that day, we haven't had any vampire trouble at all in Saeni."
Mamoru felt his stomach twist, and he glanced down at the report
to avoid Yusaku's eyes.
     Because that wasn't strictly true, was it?  And that situation
was made all the worse by the fact that he couldn't talk to anyone
here about it ...
     "We have to see the chief soon, Mamoru," Yusaku said
briskly, shaking off his mood.  "You can be sure he'll bury any
suggestion of vampire activity, at least publically.  We're going to
be expected to keep this under wraps until we have some hard
evidence, understand?"
     "And if we do find some evidence that a vampire was involved?"
Mamoru asked.  Yusaku smiled.
     "Well, then.  That'll go right to the Royal Court, and the
guys who uncovered it will be brought to the attention of Very
Important People.  Chance!"
     "Swell," Mamoru muttered.
     "Aw, cheer up," the other man prodded.  "Hey, have you
heard about all the monster activity in the north end today?"
     "We're not supposed to call them monsters anymore, Yu,"
Mamoru sighed, going back to the report.  Yusaku rolled his eyes.
     "Okay, "supernatural entities", then.  Gods, I hate those
weenies from the PR department.  Anyway, the storm riled up some
bad things, and a couple of divisions near the Triangle had to
scramble."
     "Uh-huh," Mamoru murmured, paging through the report.
"Bad?"
     "Not really, casualties were light.  But our pretty sailor girls
put in an appearance, according to witnesses."  Mamoru frowned,
his brows drawing together.
     "Those two," he grumbled.  "Strutting around my crime
scene like that ... I'd like to know where the authorization came
from."  He'd tried to find out, but had hit a wall of silence.  It must
have been high up, though, and this wasn't the first time it had
happened.  It drove him crazy, especially now.  As long as they
kept their distance from Usagi, though, he'd follow orders and let
them see what they wanted.  But if they didn't, then all bets were
off.
     "Not those two from this morning," Yusaku said airily.  "Some
of the other ones, from a couple months back."  Mamoru froze.
     "What?" he asked sharply.  "Which ones?"  Yusaku
frowned at him.
     "I don't remember," he said.  "Anyway, they're all cute,
from what I hear.  Since when are you interested in Saeni's very
own battling sailor girls, anyway?"  Mamoru forced himself to
relax.
     "Just a ... professional interest," he mumbled defensively.
     "Sure," Yusaku snorted.  "And just what do you think that
cute little girlfriend of yours would say if she knew you were
getting so worked up about these sailor cuties?"  Mamoru closed
the folder and tossed it back to his partner.
     "When I see her," he said, "I'll be sure to ask.  Excuse me, Yu.
Gotta make a call before we see the chief."
     "Sure, I get it," Yusaku winked as he got up.  "Say hi to the
little woman for me, huh?"  Mamoru nodded, trying to ignore the
feeling of dread in his gut.  After all, there were plenty of others.
There was no reason to assume Usagi had been involved at all.
     But the phone rang twenty times, and nobody answered.

***

     It was full dark by the time they arrived at their destination,
the heavy cloud cover choking off the last of the wan daylight.  The
Triangle was not the sort of place Rei really wanted to be walking
around in after dark, but Usagi would not relent, especially after the
earlier scrap with the wraith.  She was intent upon warning the
others of the danger, and the sooner the better.  The red-head was a
concrete element of Rei's vision, and although neither of them was
quite certain what to make of the girl's actions, Rei felt certain the
girl represented a threat.
     Of course, so did the neighbourhood they were currently
walking in.
     The Triangle was a roughly wedge-shaped area of the city,
with the river as its southern boundary.  The port district defined
the eastern border, stretching along the edge of the bay up to the
ruined swath of wrecked buildings and desolate stretches that
comprised the northernmost limits of Saeni itself.  Beyond that lay
the Old City, shunned by all.
     All the living, at any rate.
     Rei had hoped to get to their destination and leave much
earlier, but the incident with the wraith, plus her insistence on
taking a roundabout route to ensure that they weren't followed, had
delayed them.  She'd expected Usagi to whine about all the
walking, but the girl seemed to remain oddly upbeat.  Of course,
being Usagi she hadn't been able to resist the lure of several street
vendors, so they'd eaten as they walked, satisfying their appetites
with assorted fast food delicacies.  Rei was always amazed at how
Usagi could pack it away.
     Finally, though, after much walking and two train rides, they'd
arrived.  Rei's misgivings were strong, but it hardly made sense to
turn back now.  And Usagi had a point; if the danger in her vision
threatened them all, then the least she could do was warn the
others.  What they chose to do with that warning was their own
concern.
     She just hoped that, after all this, Minako was here.
     This area was part of the Triangle's infamous entertainment
district, and garishly lit signs were everywhere, leering over
sidewalks crowded in spite of the threatening skies.  Usagi gawked
like a tourist as they walked, and Rei had to remind herself that
Usagi was much less familiar with the underside of the city than the
rest of them.  She kept her friend close to her; even with all these
people about, this was not a safe area, especially not for a pretty
and somewhat naive girl.
     "Is that it?" Usagi asked breathlessly.  Between two hulking
stone buildings was a narrow alley aglow with a vulgar red light.
The arch over the alley bore a glowing sign announcing the
establishment to the thrill-seeking crowds anxious for someplace to
sate their appetites.  A giant pair of ruby lips, parted enticingly,
beckoned to passers by, their ripe kiss at once wanton and sensual,
full of dark promise.
     Rei'd never been there, but she'd been in dozens of
establishments just like it.  While the Sisterhood favoured subtler
venues, they never shrank away from the base, the raw, the
depraved.  All part of the job, after all.
     "Come on," she said, leading Usagi under the arch and into
the womb-like embrace of the alley.  It went back for almost fifty
feet before a set of stairs descended below ground.  The stairs
ended at a heavy steel door, upon which another blood-red kiss had
been emblazoned, along with a small legend which read: Club Kiss.
     "This is wild," Usagi breathed.
     "Exactly," Rei shot back.  "Keep that in mind and keep a
low profile, okay?"  Usagi scowled at her.
     "Geez, Rei," she fumed.  "I'm not a kid, you know!"  With
a prissy hmmph! she pushed past Rei and pulled on the ornate door
handle.  Despite its imposing nature, the door opened easily,
allowing a low, throbbing rhythm to escape from within.  Usagi
paused on the threshold and shot Rei an impish look over her
shoulder.
     "Coming?" she asked.  In and out, Rei told herself.  Just in
and out.  Nothing is going to go wrong.
     Nothing.
     Tugging nervously at her hair, she followed Usagi inside.

***

     This wasn't at all what I'd been expecting.
     Their roundabout path had made it hard to follow the two
girls without being spotted, but I was sure they hadn't seen me.
They'd covered a hell of a lot of ground, though, and the
neighbourhoods we'd passed through had gotten decidedly seedy at
times.  Now we were here.
     I was pretty sure this wasn't the local shrine.
     I'd hoped that they'd lead me to their house, so I could
stake out the area and get an idea of who they were before I
approached them.  Now I had to decide whether to risk following
them inside this place.
     Thunder rumbled in the distance, and I winced.  More rain.
Great.  Just what I needed.
     I hung back for a short while, watching the alleyway, but
they didn't emerge.  I started to get worried.  What if there was a
back way out?  For some reason, the thought that this girl knew an
alternate me had become significant in my mind.  And there was
the possibility, however remote, that they were somehow linked
to my key.  Whatever the case, I didn't want to lose them now.
     I glanced around, trying to be inconspicuous.  I needn't
have bothered; it would have taken a lot more than me to stand out
on this street.  The whole area seemed devoted to clubs and bars
and, I was pretty sure, houses of ill-repute.  Nobody was looking at
one scruffy girl.
     So why did I feel like I was being watched?
     I shook off the sensation irritably.  Standing here wasn't
doing me any good.  The high I'd gotten from fighting that wraith
had long since faded, and depression threatened to waltz right back
in to take its place.  As long as I had something to do, though, it
seemed to be held at bay.
     That tore it.  I started across the street, intent on at least
taking a look.  If the place was too small for me to remain
unnoticed, I'd retreat.  Otherwise, I'd hang around and see what
was what.
     And maybe the last of my money would be enough to buy
me something to eat.
     I was starved.

***

     In the deep shadows of a sheltered doorway, a slender
female figure emerged as if from the gloom itself.  She was quite
happy with herself; her patience had finally been rewarded.  Her
quarry hadn't lingered much, wandering in a seemingly random
manner for hours, but now she had found a place to settle.
     And what a place.  The wraith sensed the energy of humans
pulsing from within, and that energy was bright, vital, excited.  That
energy stoked her hunger, drew her like flame drew a moth.
     She also sensed some of her sisters, distant but drawing
closer by the moment.  Very well, then.  She would wait for them,
and they would go in together.  That way, the Mistress would have
even more chaos, an even bigger splash to send ripples through
the human city.  That would please her greatly, and it was always
prudent to please the Mistress.
     And anyway, she needn't be selfish.
     She could tell that there was plenty of prey for everyone.

***

     Setsuna moved easily through the huge mansion despite the
darkness.  Michiru and Haruka were not here, and Hotaru was
almost certainly brooding in her study again, as she'd done often
since that night, the night when her plans had come crashing down
around her.
     Setsuna rather missed the energy that the five younger girls
had brought to the manor.  It had made the place come alive.  And,
she thought, it had been good for Hotaru.
     Sadly, that was over.  Setsuna wondered if the damage
could ever be repaired.  She wondered if there was time.
     Time.
     The effect on the Gates was still increasing; the distortion
was worse than she'd ever seen it.  If Hotaru was correct, then that
fact could mean the Outsider was finally drawing near.
     There were still too many unknown factors to come to any
conclusions, though, much less form a plan of action.  She'd read of
the skyship crash, and wondered if Hotaru had sent the other two
out to investigate.  Probably.  The newspapers had played up the
stranger elements of the story, and Setsuna felt certain there was
even more to the story than had been revealed.
     That wasn't her main reason for being here, though.
     The wind had picked up outside, and through the window at
the end of the hall she saw lightning flash off in the distance.  It
looked like the city would be cowering under nature's lash for
another night.  Sighing, Setsuna moved slowly down the dim
hallway, stopping outside the door to Hotaru's study.  She'd
intended to arrive earlier, when there would have been less risk, and
now she hesitated.  Her transformation pen was close at hand, but
arriving as Sailor Pluto would send a clear message to Hotaru, and
not the one Setsuna wanted to send.  She'd worked so hard to draw
the other woman out, to reassure her.  The wrong move could
sunder that fragile bond.
     They'd all seen just how easily trust could be destroyed.
     Gathering herself, she knocked softly and eased the door
open.
     "Hotaru?"  The study was dark, only the lamp on Hotaru's
desk casting an isolated circle of warm light.  It took her a moment
to spot Hotaru, standing in shadows with her hands clasped behind
her back, staring out the glass doors into the darkness beyond the
balcony.
     "Setsuna," the girl murmured.  "I've been expecting you."
Setsuna closed the door and moved to stand where she could see
Hotaru more clearly.  Not yet, she thought with a measure of relief.
Not yet, but soon.
     "You know why I'm here," Setsuna said.  "You've waited
too long again.  Hotaru, why won't you heed my advice?  Especially
after what happened with Usagi ..."
     "It calls to me, you know," Hotaru said, a strange longing in
her voice. "The dark, the night ..."
     "I know," Setsuna replied softly.  "Hotaru, I'm here to help
you."  Hotaru laughed, a lilting sound that made the skin on the
back of Setsuna's neck prickle.
     "Help me?" she asked, turning.  Her hair swung against her
cheek with the motion, and then a trick of light and shadow made it
seem to lengthen.
     No.  Not an illusion.  Hotaru's midnight hair burst out in a
silken wave, flowing down her back to her feet in seconds.  The
glossy raven locks rippled as if caught in a light breeze, but there
was no wind in the room to stir them.  Hotaru took a languid step
forward, bringing her further into the light.  Setsuna saw that her
lips were even darker than normal, and her gorgeous eyes seemed
to swallow the lamp's glow.
     Hotaru smiled, her lush lips parting.  Nestled in their
softness, Setsuna could make out the tips of a pair of ivory fangs,
glistening in the soft glow of the room's only illumination.
     "If you really want to help me, Setsuna," Hotaru breathed,
her voice a husky purr, "then come a little ... closer."
     Outside, the storm returned.
 
 

End part one.