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 Takeuchi, creator of
Sailor Moon.

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

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
 

Chapter 13: Misdirection and Misfortune
 
 
 

     "That," Minako stated, throwing her arms out and spinning
lazily, "was absolutely, positively, just what the doctor ordered."
She had a warm glow on from the wine, and her body felt relaxed
from the bath and pampered by the sensation of her sheer silk robe
against bare skin.  The robe was black and glossy, held closed at the
waist with a narrow matching sash, and between the wedge of bare
flesh at her cleavage and the hem which hung high on her creamy
thighs, it appeared to show more then it concealed.
     Which was, as always, the point.
     She'd managed to talk Rei into wearing a robe as well, silk
like hers but white where Minako's was black.  It contrasted
beautifully with Rei's sable hair, and the way the light turned to
liquid as it slid over both the silk and that mane made Minako want
to touch, to luxuriate in the incomparable feel of that softness as it
flowed through her fingers.
     She suspected Ami would disapprove, however, and since
they were currently in Ami's room she supposed it wouldn't hurt to
deny herself.
     Denying one's desires wasn't always bad; waiting could make
the prize all the sweeter.
     "All these machines," Makoto grumbled, pacing the room
like a caged tigress.  "They bug me.  I mean, I've never had a way
with these things, you know?"
     "Yes, we remember," Rei said dryly, causing Minako to
laugh aloud as she recalled some of Makoto's more memorable
attempts to coax information from computers.  The tall girl
scowled, but far from being intimidated, Minako was struck by how
beautiful Makoto was.  Even if she had refused Minako's offer of a
slinky robe for her own thong panties and cropped t-shirt, the sheer
physicality of her presence was a testament to why two beautiful,
powerful, wilful shifters would be fighting over her.
     "They can be useful," Ami muttered absently as she worked
at one of the stations, tilting her head to look over her glasses.  The
studious girl claimed that the glasses helped when her eyes were
weary from too much reading.  Minako wondered about that.  Ami
liked to fiddle with them; they seemed more of a crutch than
anything else.  She'd worn them much more often in the beginning,
when they were all strangers.
     Of course, they looked good on her, too, but knowing Ami,
she didn't even realize that.  Minako watched Ami take her glasses
off and slip the end of one earpiece lightly between her teeth, her
blue eyes fixed raptly on the pale glow of the computer screen.
Ami was clad in a worn and very comfy-looking terrycloth
bathrobe; if Minako wanted to roll around kittenishly on Rei, she
wanted to grab Ami and cuddle her.
     "Still sifting through your info searches?" Minako asked, moving
so she could look over Ami's shoulder.
     "Mmm-hmmm," Ami breathed, staring at the screen.  "I'm still
trying to get more details on any of a number of things, such as the
Church of the Sentinel, the Eye, and the incidents that are linked to
the airship crash.  I'm looking for patterns, clues, anything that
might be of use to us.  This is the last one for now, I'll just ..."
     "Oooo!  Let me, let me!" Minako blurted, leaning over
Ami's shoulder to grab the mouse, taking pains to ensure her
breasts pressed against the other girl's back in the most alluring
manner possible as she did so.  Before Ami could object, Minako
manoeuvred the pointer over the submit button and clicked it.
     "Submit," she murmured silkily.  Then she clicked again.
"Submit."  Click.  Click.  Click.  "Submit, submit, submit!"
     "Wha ... hey, cut it out!" Ami cried, grabbing at the mouse.
Minako continued to click, smirking evilly as Ami finally wrested
the mouse away.
     "Sorry, love," she purred.  "Your computer has now
submitted to yours truly."
     Ami snorted delicately, her cheeks flushed a bright pink as she
cradled the mouse against her chest.  "That's what you think,
Minako.  No way are you dominant enough to make my computer
submit."
     It was something just so un-Ami that Minako was literally
struck speechless, able only to gape at the girl as Makoto burst out
laughing.  Even Rei chuckled.
     "Minako," the dark-haired girl murmured with quiet amusement,
"stop molesting Ami's computer, would you?"  Minako caught
something in Rei's gaze as those dark violet eyes glanced at Ami,
something that flickered and then was gone, something she hadn't
quite been able to read.  She glanced back at the defiant Ami, still
unable to fashion any sort of rejoinder.
     "Huh," was all she managed.  "It really always is the quiet
ones."
     "She got you good," Makoto grinned, wiping tears from her
eyes as she leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.  "Oh, if
you could have seen your face ..."
     "Ami, have you begun looking into breaking the seal on
Dasma?" Rei asked.  Makoto's laughter trailed off, and Minako
suppressed a sigh.  The night had been so nice and relaxing so far,
but apparently it was back to business.
     "I've begun searches for information linked to that as well," Ami
told her, swivelling her chair as Rei perched on the edge of Ami's
bed,  sweeping her hair out like a heavy cloak.  Minako eyed the
way the hem of Rei's robe rode up her thighs as she sat and debated
trying to steer the conversation back to lighter topics.  But no; Rei
was right.  As senshi, they needed to talk about this, and probably
without Usagi present.
     "I hope you're being careful," Makoto frowned, grabbing
the twin to Ami's chair from the far table and pulling it close before
sitting.  "I mean, couldn't something like that attract attention?"
     "Absolutely," Ami told her.  "And yes, I am being careful.
I've tried to flag anything that deals with conflict between gods and
also ancient magicks for starters.  But it's entirely possible that,
even if I were able to state my intentions outright, such information
doesn't exist anywhere."
     "It's a long shot, all right," Rei nodded.  "But what is
wrought can be undone, as a rule."
     "This was wrought by a goddess," Minako told her.
     "And maybe it shouldn't be undone," Makoto added, her
green eyes clouded with a hint of storminess.  Things were still
tense enough between Rei and Makoto without throwing the Dark
Lady Herself into the mix.  This had the potential to get ugly, and
that was the last thing that Minako wanted.  Time for a little charm.
     She'd been wandering the room idly, and sidled up behind
Makoto's chair.  Slipping her arms around the auburn-haired girl's
neck, she rested her chin on the top of Makoto's head lightly.
"Let's back up a minute," Minako murmured, making herself
comfortable.  "Why do you think our princess is so worked up
about this thing?"
     "Yeah, she does seem to be showing even less forethought
than usual," Makoto grumbled, reaching up to hang one hand idly
from Minako's wrist.
     "What do you think, Ami?" Rei asked.
     "I would have to say that this relates to the Silver
Millennium," Ami said.  "For starters."  She was toying with her
glasses again, a sure sign that her metal gears were revving up.
     "Because there's so much we don't know about that time?"
Minako asked.
     "Partly," Ami acknowledged.  "And partly it's Usagi herself.
Family is very important to her, something we can all appreciate
since she considers us as family.  But she has had bonds of family
brutally severed not once, but twice.  Her father died before she
was born back in the White Moon Court, remember."
     "He did?" Makoto asked.  "I don't recall ..."
     "I do," Rei said quietly.  "Nobody spoke much of him,
either.  I remember that Queen Serenity grieved for a very long
time, and that she would never discuss him with her daughter.  That
was one of the only areas where they ever clashed."
     "That's right," Minako said, Rei's words triggering a
memory as was often the case with events from their previous life.
"Usagi was starved for any details about her father, anything at all.
But her mother simply wouldn't speak of him, not to anyone."
     "Yes," Ami said.  "And then Usagi lost her mother as well.
And in this world, she lost her family at a young age, something we
can all relate to.  That makes her feel lost sometimes, ungrounded,
adrift.  She's asked me in the past to trace her ancestry, you know."
     "No, I didn't," Rei said softly.
     "Me neither," Minako said.  She didn't know why that
revelation surprised her, but it did.  "You mean here, or back then?"
     "Both," Ami said with a sad smile.  "I did what I could, but
that wasn't much."
     "What a sec," Makoto interrupted.  "Are you saying that
Usagi wants to trace her family tree, and that's why she wants to
release Spasma?"
     "Now THAT's blasphemous," Rei told Minako.
     "Ah."
     "It's not that simple," Ami shrugged.  "But I think a part of
it could be her desire to have a living link to her past.  Until the end,
the White Moon Court that we lived in was a peaceful place, and
most people lived as if it had always been that way.  There was a
lot, though, that we didn't know about our idyllic world.  A lot that
we still don't know."
     "For instance?" Minako asked.
     "Well, it has become apparent to us from Banri that the White
Moon was founded by rebel gods," Ami said, stopping to gnaw
lightly on the earpiece of her glasses.  "Back by our time, though,
little was widely known of the distant past.  We certainly never
suspected such a thing.  Nor did we know that White Moon was
not always the serene and peaceful kingdom we grew up in."
     "Wait a minute," Makoto frowned.  "I don't remember
anything about that, either."
     "Got me, too," Minako admitted.
     "I learned of the history of House Mars, as eldest daughter,"
Rei said, tilting her head thoughtfully.  "There was political intrigue,
of course, but nothing approaching outright unrest in those histories
that I recall."
     "There was a section of the Royal Libraries that was off-
limits to all but a select few," Ami said, and Minako noted the slight
pink flush of the girl's cheeks, tried to recall just how much wine
Ami'd had.  "I already had access to certain areas that most people
did not, so I sneaked in on one or two occasions and availed myself
of histories and books that were hidden away in a secret reading
room.  I found it by chance one day while looking for information
on the early history of my House."
     "Damn, Ami," Minako said wryly.  "Sneaking into a library?
To study?  Even when you're bad, you're so square!"
     "These books contained what I believe to be the only written
records of the early days of the White Moon," Ami protested, and
Minako thought the girl's offended hauteur was adorable, although
she refrained from saying so aloud.  "I never came across any
mention of the rebel gods, but there was a lot there that had faded
into obscurity by our time."
     "Like?" Minako asked.  She was intrigued by the way Ami
seemed to be enjoying herself.  Normally, Ami wasn't the slightest
bit cagey about sharing information, but it was apparent that the girl
was drawing them along in a very deliberate fashion.
     "Well," Ami said slowly, shifting in her chair to get
comfortable.  "For instance, they revealed the origin of the White
Moon Senshi."
     "Cool," Makoto beamed.  "That must have been quite
something, to see how senshi like us first came together to protect
the princess."
     "Technically, the Outers answered directly to the Queen,"
Rei pointed out.  "Their duties traditionally involved the defence of
the Court from external threats."
     "Those weren't their original duties, though," Ami said with
a smile that Minako could only describe as secretive.  "Nor were
ours to protect the princess."
     Minako could not take it any longer.  She stood up from
behind Makoto and stalked over to where Ami sat.  Up close, she
could see that Ami was indeed feeling the effects of the wine she'd
had.  Maybe that explained her sudden playfulness; at any rate,
Minako knew when someone wanted to be coaxed.
     "Come on, sweetheart," she cajoled, putting her hands on
the arms of Ami's chair and rocking it gently back and forth as she
leaned down and gazed soulfully into Ami's eyes.  "Spill.  What's
the big secret?"
     "Maybe I shouldn't," Ami murmured with a sidelong
glance.  "After all, it's kind of shocking ..."
     "Ca-maaaaaaawn," Minako pleaded, practically straddling
the chair as she stared down at Ami.  "That's not fair.  And I'm not
gonna leave you alone until you tell me.  Hey, are you naked under
that robe?"
     She knew damned well what Ami had on under the robe,
but her inquiry, coupled with a sudden propensity by her hands to
wander, apparently convinced Ami that she'd had enough fun.
     "All right," Ami said with reluctance that seemed entirely
feigned to Minako.  "Well, the truth is, during the period just before
the rise of the White Moon Court, the ten Great Houses were
fighting each other constantly for control of the world."
     "Wait," Makoto frowned.  "Nine Great Houses, Ami."
     "Ten," Ami corrected her primly, but her eyes gleamed
with the pleasure of knowing things no one else knew.  "At the
point near where the histories started, House Gaia had risen to a
position of dominance.  It had come into possession of dark
magicks and powerful weapons and threatened to conquer all of
the other Houses."
     "House Gaia?  There was a House Gaia?  I don't remember
any reference to them," Rei said, her attention rivetted on Ami.
     "Same here," Minako said.  "Does that mean there was a
Sailor Gaia?"
     "There weren't technically any Sailor Senshi at that point,"
Ami told her, apparently unfazed by the interruptions.  "Anyway,
the head of House Gaia played her opponents against each other as
her own political and military power grew.  In the end, though,
House Luna rose above the others and defeated House Gaia,
through means fair or foul, I suppose.  The writings were unclear
on particulars of the battles that led to Gaia's downfall."
     "If Dasma founded House Luna," Makoto murmured, "then I
would suspect treachery and dark doings."
     "Actually, she is supposed to have followed the darker paths
in order to fight the Genrous," Rei pointed out.  "And, amongst the
Dark Gods, she hardly has a monopoly on treachery and
manipulation.  They were a pretty scheming lot, at least if the tales
are true.  The dark and wild ways were embraced by all.  She'd
hardly have stood out as anyone particularly twisted."
     "At any rate, whether her House used treachery or simply good
tactics, they were triumphant," Ami acknowledged.  "It seems likely
that the strongest of the rebel gods would have been responsible for
the Great Houses, which eventually became the Houses we were
familiar with, so as their descendants the heads of the Houses
would have been formidable opponents indeed."
     "What's this got to do with the senshi, though?" Makoto
asked.
     "I bet the head of House Luna called the senshi together to
beat the enemy!" Minako crowed, doing a subtle dance over Ami's
chair.
     "Actually, House Luna gained supreme power by
swallowing what remained of the defeated House Gaia," Ami said,
giving Minako a brilliant smile.  "Afterwards, the head of the House
declared herself Queen of White Moon and informed the remaining
Houses that they would be required to send their eldest daughters
to Court, to ensure an end to the unrest and to contribute to the
peace of the newly established kingdom.  Such was her new power
that they had no choice but to obey."
     "Hostages?" Rei breathed.
     "Indeed," Ami said, inclining her head.  "Important hostages,
since succession within the Houses always followed the female side.
The Queen kept four of the girls for herself, giving responsibility for
the other four to her eldest daughter.  Initially, the girls were
required to please the Queen and the Princess, playing instruments
or reading to them, or performing other ... tasks."
     "A harem," Minako said in disbelief.  "We were originally a
cross between servant girls, harem slaves and entertainers?"
     "That's incredible," Rei said softly.
     "Come on, Ami.  You're pulling our legs, right?"  Makoto
was leaning forward, incredulity plain on her face.
     "I don't think she is," Minako said after examining Ami's
expression closely.
     "I wouldn't make something like this up," Ami told them, face
flushed and eyes sparkling.  "There were veiled references as to
how control was exercised over the girls, indicating that the early
Queens might have been more like Dasma than we care to think.
Eventually, though, the Houses began to recover their power, and
the Crown was forced to negotiate better conditions for the
hostages they took from each House.  It wasn't until the war against
the Dragon Kingdom that those girls were allowed to serve the
kingdom with the power of their Houses, though, under the direct
command of the Queen.  That paved the way for the formation of
the Sailor Senshi."
     "And you think this is the sort of thing that Usagi wants to
know about?" Makoto asked, leaning forward and propping her
elbows on her knees.
     "She'd love hearing about the old days," Rei sighed in
response.  "You know she would.  But she's not going to risk
breaking the seal on Dasma just to hear stories from the dawn of
the moon's civilization.  Since breaking away from Hotaru and the
others, and especially in light of recent events, she has become very
cognizant of her role as our princess.  As such, she wants to forge
an alliance, to protect all of us from the Sisterhood.  A very royal
thing to do, no?"
     "Yeah," Minako conceded, slipping away from Ami.  "If it
works.  Even if we break the seal, though, who knows what would
happen if we brought Dasma here?"
     "Past precedent would tend to favour a troublesome
outcome," Ami informed them.  "In short, the gods have been
staying out of mortal affairs for most of the last century, save for
the odd crisis like the Long Dark.  It isn't like in the old days, when
they would come down and lead their mortal armies against each
other, or show up at festivals in disguise and wreck entire towns in
drunken revelry ..."
     "Yes, how have we gotten along without them?" Makoto
asked dryly.
     "I'm just saying that gods have traditionally had their own way
of doing things, and even if Usagi was able to forge an alliance with
Dasma, the results might be a little more than we bargained for,"
Ami protested, waving her glasses around a trifle sloppily.
     "Of all the goddesses she could have been descended from, why
Spasma?" Makoto groused.  "Why the Goddess of Slinking Around
Like A Cat In Heat?  I mean, if Minako was descended from her,
I'd understand, but Usagi?"
     "Am I supposed to take offense?" Minako purred, sliding
her hands up over her head and striking a provocative pose.
     "Makoto, there is a lot we don't understand about the gods and
their relationships to us, and each other," Ami lectured, ignoring
Minako and twirling her glasses idly before going back to chewing
ever-so-gently on that earpiece.  "The sexual aspect of Dasma is
certainly what she has come to represent to us, but I suspect that
there is more to her than that.  And as a goddess, she possesses
power, power which is strong in her descendants."
     "That's true," Rei broke in.  "Worship of the gods by
mortals has always tended to simplify their characteristics, making
them somewhat easier to relate to.  Most of the Sisterhood's
teachings focussed on the Dark Lady's different carnal aspects, but
from time to time I came across references that suggested there
were depths we scarcely suspected."
     "Rei," Minako murmured, strutting over to the bed and
draping herself languidly over the raven-maned beauty, "I've been
thinking.  How could Dasma found one of the Great Houses?
When you mentioned her history last night, didn't you say that by
the time the Genrous rose she was a patron of courtesans and
dancers, fairly obscure at that?"
     "It's nice to know that you pay attention," Rei said softly,
glancing at Minako from under lowered lashes as the blonde ran her
fingers through Rei's soft sable locks.  "Especially when there are
so many distractions at hand."  Minako sighed happily as Rei's hand
strayed along her bare thigh, creating an electric sensation of nails
on skin.
     "Ladies," Makoto interrupted.  "Could you turn the heat
down a little?"
     "You could join us," Minako offered, twining her arms
around Rei's neck and resting her cheek against the other girl's,
favouring Makoto with a smouldering, sultry stare.  "The bed's
plenty big enough for three ... or four."
     Ami hiccupped, managing to make that small sound seem
both scandalised and vaguely alarmed.  Makoto merely laughed.
     "Wasn't there a point in all this somewhere?" the tall girl
asked.  Minako glanced down at the front of Rei's robe, getting
pinched for her trouble.
     "That wasn't what she meant," Rei chided her.  Minako
noticed, though, that Rei was doing little to discourage her
flirtations, which was both unusual and intriguing.  "And to answer
your question, Minako, yes, that is what I said.  However, going
back to those unplumbed depths I mentioned, there is a story which
you might find interesting, especially in light of what we learned
today.  It relates to a very interesting scroll in the possession of an
obscure scholar I once seduced."
     "Business," Minako inquired throatily, "or pleasure?"
     "The former," Rei sighed.  "I was taught many ways to
pleasure a man, but I've rarely enjoyed their company in the
bedroom."
     "More for me," Makoto grinned.  For her part, Ami seemed
characteristically uncomfortable around frank discussions of
anything sexual.  Ah, well.  One day, Minako was definitely going
to unleash that girl's wild side.
     "The scroll?" Ami muttered, clearing her throat.  "What did
it say?"
     "I don't know," Rei admitted, stroking her fingers through
Minako's hair absently as the blonde nuzzled her throat.  "Kristoff
was a specialist in ancient languages, and it was apparently written
in some extremely obscure old tongue dating to before the rise of
the White Moon, older even than Old Gaian.  He loved to talk
about his work, though."
     "Boring pillowtalk?" Minako asked sympathetically.
     "As a general rule," Rei replied ruefully.  "One night he
mentioned something that genuinely caught my interest, however,
a passage in a scroll he'd been commissioned to work on involving
the fall of Nemesis.  The passage he'd been translating dealt with
the conflict between the factions of gods."
     "That is fascinating," Ami breathed, leaning forward in her
chair, eyes alight.  "Very little is known of that period in history.
Most of what we hear is myth, legend.  If that scroll was genuine
then its historical value would be immeasurable!"
     Minako was personally of the opinion that the curve of
Rei's neck and the scent of her hair was far more interesting than
some mouldy old scroll, but she had asked the question, after all, so
she contented herself with nudging Rei's earlobe playfully with her
nose as the sultry beauty related her story.
     "Much is said of that time, little is actually known," Rei
acknowledged.  "But this one passage dealt specifically with
Coronn, who held title of Warmaster.  Under Him in the Great
Pantheon were three subordinates: the Reaper, the Venger, and the
Huntress.  They wielded the power of war and conflict in His name,
and were greatly feared by the other gods.  It was such dark power
that led the Elders to dismantle the old power structure when
Nemesis fell and was banished to Shadow."
     "Uh-huh.  I don't see what this has to do with what we
were talking about," Makoto shrugged, doing interesting things to
her unencumbered breasts in the process.
     "The gods in question were identified in the writings not only
by title, but also by name," Rei told them.  Ami looked as close to
sexually aroused as Minako had ever seen her.
     "Names?" Ami asked, her lips moist and slightly parted.
     "Oh, yes," Rei told her, drawing the moment out teasingly.
"And Coronn's Huntress was named Dasma."
     "Get out!" Makoto blurted.  "She was a war goddess?"
     "If we are to believe this scroll was authentic, then yes," Rei
said.
     "How does one go from war goddess to patron of
courtesans?" Minako murmured, her breath stirring the hair by
Rei's ear.
     "I have no idea," Rei admitted.  "However, it would make
sense that a war goddess could found a powerful House.  By our
time, the gods had long since receded from the affairs of the White
Moon, remember, and we never suspected that they were our
ancestors.  Perhaps they decided that their direct interference was
doing more harm than good, leading to the same problems which
had ravaged Nemesis.  Maybe, with Her descendants finally ruling a
peaceful kingdom and the other gods having found other matters to
occupy their interests, Dasma decided to retire and make love, not
war."
     "But She didn't resurrect her Huntress persona when the
Genrous showed up," Minako pointed out.
     "One goddess could not have defeated the Genrous.  Her chosen
methods were actually surprisingly effective," Rei noted.  "At any
rate, much of this is speculation, writings from a long ago age by
someone who might have possessed their own agenda.  And that's
if the scroll was genuine.  Kristoff never did reveal who it was that
commissioned him to work on it ..."
     "The other names," Ami breathed.  "What were they?  Do
you remember?"
     Minako felt Rei tense slightly, then let her breath out.
     "Keep in mind that this information was never, to the best of my
knowledge, authenticated," Rei told Ami.  "In fact, Kristoff had
an unfortunate and very fatal accident less than a month after I
completed my assignment with him, and a fire ravaged his
workshop.  Not the Sisterhood's doing, I assure you," she added
hastily as Makoto's eyes narrowed.  "My assignment had nothing to
do with the scroll in question, it was just something he told me
about in an effort to impress me.  However, if the scroll still exists,
I suspect it is safely ensconced in some temple's strongest vault."
     "Whoo," Minako crooned.  "Hot stuff.  Spill, girlfriend.
Who were the guilty parties?"
     "According to this scroll," Rei said after a momentary
hesitation, "Coronn's Huntress, wreathed in fierce beauty, was
named Dasma the Wild.  His Venger, the sword that was never
defeated, was named Travos."
     "Travos?  Travos, patron of Gaia, red-rose Travos?"
Minako actually pulled away from Rei, astonished.
     "The very same," Rei said softly.  "And the last, His Reaper,
the silent spectre of death which haunted battlefields, the one whose
cloaked figure evoked terror in the hearts of the most hardened
soldier, was named Alieva the Serpent."
     Silence.
     "Oh, man," Makoto breathed.  "Oh, BABY.  You just can't
expect me to believe that Alieva the White, the Lightbringer, started
her career as a goddess as a harbinger of death."
     "No wonder the poor bastard ended up dead," Minako said,
shaking her head in disbelief.  "Did he have any idea how dangerous
this thing was?"
     "Not really," Rei sighed.  "He was a real academic,
engrossed in unravelling the puzzles placed before him.  I think the
political and religious ramifications were matters he considered trite
and mundane, beneath the importance of his work.  When he spoke
to me of these things it was with a very real sense of excitement at
uncovering secrets that had lain buried for a very long time."
     "Those three," Ami muttered, her gaze distant and
unfocussed.  "Travos, Dasma, and Alieva.  They always seem to be
appearing together in some way throughout history.  If it were true,
it would explain a lot.  The feud between Dasma and Alieva, for
instance."
     "Why?  This would make them war goddess buddies," Makoto
shrugged.
     "Yes, but when Nemesis fell, the Elders stripped the younger
gods of their titles and demanded that they renounce certain
allegiances before they would be allowed into Nikhien," Rei
mused.  "If what Banri told us is true, then Alieva and Travos
complied, while Dasma did not.  She probably felt betrayed by their
actions."
     Minako thought Rei looked sexy when deep in thought.  Of
course, she thought Rei looked sexy doing just about anything, so
that was hardly surprising.  "I take it the temples would not be
happy if something like this was brought to light?" the blonde
asked.
     "Hardly," Ami muttered, twirling her glasses around and
around.  "Things would definitely get ugly."
     "Gods reinvent themselves?" Makoto said ruefully.  "Who
knew?  I wonder if they have to, like, apply for positions or
something?  You know, fill out a form, first, second, and third
choices?  God of love, war, or textiles?"
     "Minako Aino, Goddess of Black Leather and Stilettos,"
Minako announced, standing and striking a pose.
     "Now that I can see," Makoto said with an emphatic nod.
"You've got my vote."
     "At any rate, without the actual scroll, nobody would dare
challenge accepted history," Rei told them.  "Even with it, there
would be a firestorm of accusations and denouncements.  But you
can see the sort of thing we'd be getting into here.  Gods don't like
mortals poking around in their business.  Hells, for all I know, the
gods heard about this and offed poor Kristoff themselves."
     "So, can we convince Usagi to let this go?" Makoto asked.
The girls all looked at each other, sighing in unison.
     "Well, look at the bright side," Minako said.  "We have no
idea how to spring Dasma, so it won't be an immediate concern."
     "No," Rei said quietly.  "But the Sisterhood still is."
     "Yeah," Minako nodded.  "What we need, girls, is a plan."

***

     Usagi had been drowsing, surrounded by wonderful
warmth.  She opened her eyes and nuzzled into the soft dark hair
behind Mamoru's ear like a kitten, purring low in her throat.
     "That's a happy sound," Mamoru's voice observed wryly.
     "I'm a happy girl," she replied, wriggling as he moved his
arm to bring her body even closer to his.  "Couldn't you tell?"
     "It's not like you made a secret of it."
     "It's dark in here.  When did that happen?"
     "Well, it's night," he informed her.  "As a trained
investigator, I can tell you that it gets dark at night."
     "Is it really that late?  I sort of lost track of the time."
     "I'd be insulted," he said huskily, "if you hadn't."
Moonlight cast a soft silver glow into the room, allowing Usagi to
just make out Mamoru's face.  She reached up to trace the lines of
his cheekbones with her fingertips, memorizing the landscape of
those features through touch.
     "I guess the others have probably turned in," she sighed.  "I
was hoping to talk with them a little.  Well, I guess tomorrow will
have to be soon enough."
     "Usako."  His voice was sombre all of a sudden, and she
knew instinctively what was coming.  "You know this doesn't
change things, don't you?  You can't eliminate all the tension
between people just by sleeping with them.  I'm still not happy
about all the secrets, especially regarding Rei.  And I'm not thrilled
about your girls and the way they carry on.  You can throw this
Ranma guy onto the list, too."
     "All we need is a chance," Usagi murmured, sighing happily
as Mamoru stroked her hair with one hand.  "I love you and I love
them, and we can work everything out if we just give each other
some room.  And some trust."
     "I hope you're right," he rumbled, shifting his position a
little.  "I do trust you, Usako, but things are getting so crazy.  Rei
was a Sister, Dasma is your ancestor, Hotaru's a half-vampire and
Ami runs around in Aethyr.  And that's just for starters.  It's like
storm clouds are gathering, and all I can do is sit and watch them
come."
     "You take too much on yourself, Mamo-chan," she chided
gently.  "When a storm comes, you can worry all you like, but that
won't stop it from coming.  We're boarding up the windows and
stocking emergency supplies, and when things get rough we'll all be
looking out for one another.  That's how we get through rough
times."
     "You," he said softly, turning his head to look at her in the
soft light.  "You, Usagi Tsukino, are the only woman I've ever
known who could say something like that and make me believe it."
     "It's a gift," she giggled, gratified by the smile that spread
across his face.  He had such a sexy smile; it was a shame he didn't
show it more often.
     Of course, she knew one way to make him smile.  Slowly,
she let her free hand drift down his chest and across the ridges of
muscle that defined the plain of his flat stomach.  And then past,
and down.  A sharp intake of breath told her that she had his
attention.
     "Again?" he asked in disbelief.
     "I hope you aren't going to tell me that you aren't ... up for
it?"  Mischief shaded her words, and his embrace tightened, taking
her breath away.
     "Not a chance," he assured her as he leaned close.  "After
all, the night is young."
     "And you can still rise to the challenge?" she teased.  "Even
after the first two times?"
     "Try me," he suggested huskily.
     So she did.
     And it was true.  Good things really did come in threes.

***

     Minako felt a delicious little tingle in the pit of her belly.
She was sitting on the edge of Rei's bed, kicking her feet idly as she
watched the priestess move around the room.  Their discussion in
Ami's room had not yielded a practical plan of action, and they had
dispersed for the night.  Usagi and Mamoru had yet to come up for
air, and Phobos and Deimos had flown off somewhere together.
Ranma had turned in, and a glance outside had shown her two cats,
one white and one black, scampering across the unruly grounds.
Minako suspected that there was going to be some untamed animal
loving tonight.
     Hopefully, some of it would be in this very room.
     "So, Rei," she murmured, watching the way the short hem
of Rei's silk robe slithered over her taut thighs as she moved.  "You
never told me how your meditation went."
     "I'm still working on it," Rei admitted.  "Sorting through
the impressions takes time.  I will say this, however.  I am certain at
this point that Ranma is not acting with any evil intent."
     "Ha!"
     "I am also certain," Rei went on blithely, "that he, or she,
will be sought as a conduit for dark forces.  How, exactly, I cannot
yet say.  Dangerous forces swirl around that one.  We can't grow
complacent, Minako."
     "You know we can't stay here indefinitely, either," Minako
murmured.  "Baniesti is nearly here.  We need to stop whatever's
happening."
     "I know.  Believe me, I know.  But we can't do any good
by blundering around blindly."
     "I suppose you're right," Minako admitted.  "Well, it is
getting late, isn't it?  I suppose things might seem clearer after a
good night's sleep."
     "They might," Rei conceded.  "But you aren't going to be
sleeping for a while, I suspect."
     "Why, Miss Hino, whatever do you mean?" Minako asked
coquettishly, hiding her arousal as Rei crossed the room towards
her.
     "I mean," Rei breathed, standing before her like desire given
form, "that we have unfinished business to attend to."
     "Indeed?" Minako said throatily as Rei slid onto the bed.
"I'm certain I don't know what you are talking about."
     "Oh, I believe you do," Rei whispered, reaching out to
grasp the loose end of the black silk sash cinched at Minako's
waist.  Slowly Rei tugged on it, pulling it loose and drawing it into
her hands.  Minako's robe slid open, unrestrained, as the blonde sat
still, her eyes smouldering with long denied passions.  The delicious
dance of flirtation between the two girls was about to come to its
long-awaited fruition, and she did not feel any need to hurry the
moment.  She wished to savour it for as long as possible.
     "What are you going to do," Minako whispered back, "with
that?"
     Rei smiled, and that wicked curve of ruby lips left Minako
weak.  Rei leaned forward, looping one end of the sash around
Minako's wrist.  Then she slowly wrapped the cool silk around the
other wrist, languorously bringing them together, staring into
Minako's eyes all the while.
     Gently, Rei urged the blonde back, and Minako let herself
sprawl slowly onto the bed.  Rei leaned against her supine body,
pressing the bound wrists up over Minako's head and making them
fast to the headboard.
     "You're not resisting," Rei whispered.
     "Would it do any good?" Minako whispered back, heart
thudding in her throat.
     "No," Rei told her, surveying her captive with sultry
satisfaction.  "None at all."  Rei reached down, tracing her
fingertips along the open front of Minako's black robe.  Those
talented fingers slid, feather-light, over flushed skin, pausing to
apply pressure in odd spots along the blonde's ribs and waist.  Rei
tossed her hair back and moved to straddle the bound girl lightly.
The priestess clasped her hands together, fingers intertwined in a
complex manner as she began to chant under her breath.
     Minako watched with lidded eyes, her breath coming more
quickly.  Whatever Rei had been doing with her hands, it had fired
Minako's blood.  It appeared that she was going to get to
experience some of Rei's more exotic talents first hand.
     Rei turned her hands, extended index fingers pointing down.
As her chant reached a low crescendo, she thrust downward,
striking Minako in a point midway between the bottom of the
breastbone and the navel.  Minako gasped aloud, writhing on the
bed as the fire in her blood burned hotter.
     "Rei," she breathed.  "That feels ... mmmm! ... incredible!
What is it?"
     "It's a technique called the Siquiein," Rei told her, gazing
down at the girl, violet eyes glinting.  "It does two things to the
subject.  First, it heightens sensation, causing even the slightest
touch to become exquisitely arousing."
     Rei demonstrated by leaning forward, letting her hair
cascade down to slide across the taut plain of Minako's belly.  The
blonde cried out at the sensation, tossing her head as sweet
passionate flames curled and licked through her body.
     "And ... the second?" she gasped when she could speak.
     "Ah," Rei told her with a wicked smile.  "The second effect
is to prevent the subject from achieving ... release."
     It took a moment for Rei's words to register, as even the
feel of the cool sheets against her skin as she squirmed made
Minako crazy.  Finally, though, she managed to focus on the sable-
maned beauty who sat astride her.
     "What?" Minako asked breathily.  "What do you mean?"
     "The Siquiein," Rei murmured, "was a technique used for
punishment.  It is extremely effective, you see, because it allows the
user to bring all of her sensual arts to bear on the subject while
denying her any satisfaction.  If used improperly, it can eventually
drive a woman to the brink of madness."
     Minako tensed, her heels digging into the firm mattress.  Rei
apparently was no amateur when it came to knotwork; the silk that
had been wound around her wrists was tight.  She could not slip
out of the snare.
     "You can't be serious," Minako blurted.  Rei reached down,
trailing her fingernails along the edge of Minako's neck and down
the slope of her shoulders.  Minako bit her lip to keep from crying
out; she couldn't just keep feeling such pleasure indefinitely.  That
simply wasn't possible.
     Rei bent at the waist, her hair falling around them like a
scented sable curtain as she brought her face close to the helpless
blonde's.  "You toyed with my henshin rod," the haughty
seductress murmured.  "You must have known there would be ...
consequences."
     "You're still mad about that?" Minako asked meekly as
those light-devouring violet eyes drank her in.
     "If I was mad," Rei whispered, the feel of her breath against
Minako's skin excruciatingly delightful, "you would be the first to
know.  You've gotten into my good books, my love, but I am not a
woman to let such a slight go.  And such a submissive outfit, too."
     "I'm really sorry," Minako murmured contritely.  Her breath
burned in her chest, and Rei moved languidly so that her heavy
silken mane would continue to slither teasingly over bare skin,
eliciting will-sapping waves of pleasure.
     "No, you're not," Rei breathed.  "Not yet.  You, my
Minako, have two choices.  You can ask to be let up, in which case
I will set you free."
     "You will?" Minako asked huskily, doubt in her eyes.
     "Indeed," Rei replied, moving so that her mouth hovered
only a hair's breadth over the other girl's before pulling away again
before Minako could close the gap between them.  "But there is no
place in my bed for a girl who cannot take her just punishment.  On
the other hand, if you can endure the Siquiein for longer than any
other I've subjected to it, then I will allow you to court my favour."
     "You," Minako gasped as one long nail traced the outline of
her ear, "are an incredible bitch."
     "Yes," Rei crooned, pleased.  "So tell me, kitten.  What will
it be?
     Rei let her gaze linger lovingly on Minako's bound form,
but the blonde knew there was no doubt in the sultry priestess's
mind what her response would be.  Minako had wanted to evoke
Rei's temper when she'd played her little prank, after all, and she
had, even more so than she'd planned since the others had
witnessed her handiwork as well.  She would take her punishment.
     "Huh-how long?" Minako mumbled as Rei slowly ground
her hips in a lazy motion.
     "Something on your mind, Minako?" Rei whispered.
     "How long duh-do ... ohh! ... do I have tuh-to ... last?"
     "Ah, Minako," Rei murmured huskily.  "That would be
telling."
     "Bitch."
     "And quite an accomplished one," Rei replied, her voice
sliding inside Minako's ears like a lover's caress.  "Does that mean
you do not accept my terms?"
     "I never back down," Minako returned with as much
defiance as she could muster.  The fierce light that response kindled
in Rei's eyes made her body go weak.
     "That's what I wanted to hear," the priestess breathed.
     "Do your worst," Minako taunted, steeling herself.  She
would be worthy of Rei's passions, no matter what.
     "Ah, Minako.  You are a delight," Rei smirked, drawing her
fingers along the underside of the girl's breasts until a groan
escaped Minako's clamped lips.  "But there is one thing about me
that you must learn if there is to be anything between us."
     Rei moved with the carnal grace of a she-devil, arranging
herself carefully on top of the helpless blonde and staring into her
eyes from only inches away.
     "You must learn," Rei breathed, her lush full lips forming
each word with exquisite care, "that I am not a woman to be trifled
with."
     Then Rei pulled something from under her pillow and
dangled it in front of Minako teasingly.
     "A gag?" Minako gasped, rivulets of sweat running down her
cheeks.
     "Indeed," Rei told her.  "If anyone else in this house is to
get any sleep tonight, I believe we will be needing it.  And sooner
rather than later."
     And she smiled that bitch-goddess smile.
 
***

     Setsuna liked Darkrise.  The club had excellent music, not
the loud mindless beat thumping noise that polluted popular dance
clubs, but a mixture of mesmerizing undertones and pulse-stirring
beats that sensually insinuated themselves into the body, moving it
like some succubus puppeteer.  It also had a good crowd, sexy and
sophisticated but not stuffy, good lighting, a nice dance floor, and
booths that were cozy and private while still providing a
commanding view of the action.
     They also made an excellent Black Starburst, and she was
not surprised to see one waiting for her when she arrived at Haruka
and Michiru's table.
     "Glad you could make it," Michiru smiled.  The light picked
out spots of glitter on her slinky black dress as she moved, brushing
her hair back from her face.  Haruka had one arm slung over
Michiru's bare shoulders, her suit jacket off and her white shirt
undone far enough that Setsuna could see the tops of her breasts.
     "We saw you come in," Haruka added as Setsuna hung her
trenchcoat at the end of the high-backed booth and slid in beside
Michiru, claiming the drink.  "That's why I love this table.  You can
see everything."
     "I see something I like," Michiru added, giving Setsuna a
long, lingering look.  "That's new, isn't it?"
     "Yes," Setsuna admitted.  Her outfit was soft supple leather, a
deep green that was nearly black, like her hair.  The skirt was short,
the sleeves long, and the collar open as she had tugged the zipper
dangerously low.  It was tight in all the right places, and it looked
fantastic on her.  She'd added a bracelet and some earrings as well
as her favourite choker to spice things up a little more, along with
some new pumps with high-heels and ankle straps.  With all that
had been going on of late, she'd figured to indulge herself a bit.
That was the wonderful thing about going out as Sailor Pluto; she
could dress up as much as she liked beforehand, so that when her
night was over she could simply transform back and hit a club.  It
beat having to go home and change.
     "So, was your night as frustrating as ours?" Haruka asked
wryly.  Setsuna took a long pull at her drink, giving out a long sigh
as the liquor seared its way into her belly where it flared sweetly.
     "I'll tell you this, Haruka.  The palace has two days, maybe
three, before they'll have to go public with this vamp situation.
Word is already spreading through the city's underbelly, and
although it is still more rumour than anything, it won't take long for
this thing to blow wide open."
     "I concur," Michiru murmured, sipping at a tall, slim glass
of something golden.  Queensyn, most likely.  One of Michiru's
favourites, and from the loose way her gaze roamed the room, not
her first.  "That won't make our job any easier."
     "It's not like we're having any luck as it is," Haruka sighed.
"We have searched out every old haunt, if you'll pardon the
expression, that was frequented by vampires back in the day.
We've tracked down every half-baked lead, every place and person
that had any association at all with vampires.  This witch just seems
to have vanished."
     "I wish I could believe she was gone," Setsuna sighed,
taking another drink and settling back against the padded booth.
     "Our lives are never that simple," Michiru replied.
     "I know.  But I feel a little guilty, sitting here while that
thing is still out there somewhere."
     A slim hand slid under her hair and began gently kneading
the back of her neck, and Setsuna groaned appreciatively.  "Don't
feel guilty," Michiru told her softly.  "We need to blow off steam
from time to time, Setsuna.  We're only human, and we can't afford
to get burned out and make foolish mistakes."
     "You're right," Setsuna breathed, eyes closing as some of
the tension leached from her body.  "I wish I could make Hotaru
see that."
     "I wish we could, too," Haruka's voice came from off to
her right.  "She's been working harder than any of us.  I know this
is personal for her, but she's been through so much lately.  She
needs to take a step back, get some perspective."
     "Easy for us to say," Setsuna murmured.  "That vamp not
only violated her mother, she very deliberately corrupted an unborn
baby with her darkness.  Hotaru went through her own personal
hell because of some vampiress's whim.  I suspect perspective is
hard to come by."
     "Gah!" Michiru blurted.  "Enough!"  She tossed back the
rest of her drink with uncharacteristic directness, then seized
Setsuna's hand firmly.  "Enough talk about work!  I came here to
relax, and I want to dance.  Setsuna, let's go."
     "What?  I'm not finished my drink," Setsuna protested.
"Haruka, you go."
     "Her mind's made up," Haruka shot back, blue eyes
sparkling.
     "Damn straight," Michiru nodded.  "Come on, Su.  You can't
wear an outfit like that and not show it off.  That's
practically criminal.  And you haven't danced with me for ages.  So
let's go."
     Setsuna sighed and gave in, allowing herself to be pulled to
the dance floor.  Michiru whirled and gave her a sultry smile, then
raised her arms over her head and began to gyrate sinuously to the
music.  Setsuna followed suit, letting the bewitching girl draw her
into a private world of sybaritic pleasures where the two of them
danced with sensual abandon.  Setsuna lost herself in the music and
gave herself totally to the experience of just moving.  It felt good to
stop thinking for a while and just be.  Michiru, like some fey music
elemental, flirted with the music and with her, moving in and out,
tossing her hair, blowing soft kisses and twirling lazily in a way
which should not have been possible for any creature with a
skeleton.
     There were many other dancers, but the two women had
eyes only for each other, each feeding off the other, moving close
and flowing through the sinuous undertones, matching each other's
moves, hands flowing through the air over arms and hips and hair
without ever quite touching.  It was flirtation, teasing sensual fun,
and Setsuna let herself go with it for the first time in far too long.
Michiru was very good at this game, first turning up the heat, then
drawing away with an arch, challenging stare, then spinning around
and slowly slithering back in.
     Gods, it was fun.
     She lost track of how long they'd been out there when the
stretch of faster songs finally ended, a slower tempo number
swelling into the warm, smoky air.  Setsuna blinked and stopped,
plunging her fingers into her hair and flipping it back.  She turned to
step off the dance floor as couples began to get closer, only to find
Michiru's arms twining around her neck.
     "Uh-uh," the smaller woman said, giving Setsuna a hungry
look.  "We're not done, my Su.  You owe me a few slow dances,
too."
     "I never disappoint a lady," Setsuna replied with a wry smile,
slipping her arms around Michiru's slender waist.  "I suppose you
want to lead?"  Michiru rose up on her tip-toes and placed her lips
next to Setsuna's ear.
     "Oh, I don't mind being led ... on the dance floor," she
whispered, her voice a silky purr.
     "Nice to know," Setsuna murmured, starting to dance.
Michiru nestled her head in the crook of Setsuna's shoulder
contentedly as they moved, and Setsuna had to admit it was a very
comfortable feeling.  Michiru moved with an easy, effortless grace;
when it came to dance partners, Michiru had no equal in Setsuna's
experience.  She moved like there was music in her blood.
     Setsuna wondered if she made love the same way.  There
was no doubt in her mind that Michiru wanted her thoughts to take
a sexual track tonight, but what harm was there?  The woman was
an accomplished and exquisitely sophisticated flirt, after all.
Setsuna had endured clumsy and even offensive overtures from
suitors of both sexes in the past; she fully intended to enjoy the
attentions of an expert as the tensions of the day receded.
     "I love your hair," Michiru murmured, her fingers luxuriating
in the heavy silken fall of green-black tresses languidly.  The smaller
girl twined a thick skein around her fingers and drew it to her face
so she could breath in the fragrance, eyes lidded with pleasure.  "I
remember that women at Court, our Court, tended to favour hair
that was long, usually below their knees.  The Queen's touched the
floor when unbound.  I'm glad that style is making a comeback in
the here and now.  There's nothing as sensual against your bare
skin, is there?"
     "Haruka will be jealous," Setsuna whispered into the sweet
tension that coiled in the sliver of space between them.  "All this
talk of long hair.  How is she to compete?"
     "She had hers long when I met her," Michiru replied lazily.
"Not nearly as long as yours, just to the small of her back.  It
never suited her, though.  She'd grown it to please someone else."
     "That doesn't sound like our Haruka."
     "No, it doesn't, does it?  The way she is now is so ... her.
Don't you think?"
     "Michiru, I honestly can't imagine the two of you other than
as I know you.  I missed you even when I didn't know what I was
missing."
     The two girls swayed to the music for a moment, Michiru's
gaze locking with Setsuna's across mere inches of space.
     "I'm glad you came tonight," Michiru said at last, leaning
her head back on Setsuna's shoulder.  The girl's hot breath sent
tingles along the taut flesh of Setsuna's throat as she spoke.  "It
seems like forever since we've spent time together without some
crisis being the centre of attention."
     "Things have been tense since the girls left," Setsuna replied
as they drifted on the strains of music.  "Our little sisters.  I miss
them."
     "So do I.  I don't think I realized just how much until Usagi
paid us her little impromptu visit.  I'm glad that they're together,
though.  Loneliness can eat at you like winter cold, settling into
your bones until you start to feel like it was always there, like it
belongs at your side.  I remember that loneliness."
     Setsuna felt Michiru's lithe body tremble slightly in her arms
and pulled back enough so that she could look down into the girl's
eyes.  "We're talking about when you first awakened?"
     "Even before that," Michiru replied, and her eyes seemed to
be seeing something very far off in that moment.  "My family was
wealthy, but always distant.  I was raised by tutors and servants,
you know."  Setsuna hadn't known; Michiru rarely spoke of her
childhood, save perhaps to Haruka.  "And when I awoke to my
senshi side, I knew only that there didn't seem to be anyone else
like me, no one from before.  Until I met Haruka, I believed I might
be the only senshi in this time.  I never realized how much I needed
what the rest of you offer.  It's something I can barely articulate,
but together we are much more than we are apart."
     "We're talking about Hotaru now, right?"
     "As perceptive as she is sultry," Michiru purred, nuzzling
Setsuna's earlobe.  "Yes, that's where this is leading.  Do you recall
when we met her back in the White Moon Court?"
     Oh, yes," Setsuna said, unconsciously tightening her grip on
her dance partner.  "She was a mere child, but she had the saddest
eyes I'd ever seen.  She was so alone, so isolated."
     "Yes.  And she still is.  If she would only come out with us
one night, play and laugh and know what it is to be with her friends,
even just for a little while.  Because we are her friends, Setsuna.
We are senshi, yes, but even senshi need something more than cold
duty."
     "I don't disagree," Setsuna sighed.
     "Have you tried talking to her?  You understand loneliness
almost as well as she does.  I think she might listen to you."
     Setsuna caught Michiru's glance and felt warmth blossom
inside her at the look in those sea-green eyes.  Michiru did
understand her burden, even though Setsuna never spoke of it.
Yes, Setsuna thought, it is good to have friends.  Very good.
     "I've tried, Michiru, but that woman guards herself so
closely.  She wants to let us in, I truly believe that.  But she spent
all of her first life being shunned and isolated, and thanks to this
vampire she's had to endure tragedy and isolation in this life as
well.  It isn't easy for her."
     "We need to get the girls back," Michiru declared.  "Even
Hotaru wasn't immune to their loopy charms.  Do you remember
the time Minako tried to seduce her?"
     "I remember the time Minako tried to seduce you," Setsuna
shot back.  "And I remember the look on her face when you told
her she was out of her league.  Gods, that was priceless!"
     "And when Makoto tried to use the computer that time?"
     Setsuna laughed aloud.  "Or when Usagi and Minako made
cupcakes?"
     "Hotaru very nearly had them summarily executed when she
saw the kitchen," Michiru snickered.  "Ah, gods, Su, we used to
laugh.  Our lives will never be easy, or simple, but we used to enjoy
the good times.  We need that again.  I fear that dark times are
coming, and our strength will come from our bond with each other.
Somehow, we need to make Hotaru understand that."
     "You and Haruka are scheming to get Usagi together with
Hotaru, hmmm?"
     "Perceptive and sultry," Michiru murmured again.  "How is
it you're still single?"
     "Impossibly high standards," Setsuna said primly, guiding
the smaller woman around the dance floor.  "And I'm high-
maintenance."
     "I can live with that," Michiru said with a wicked smile,
seizing Setsuna's hand as the song ended.  "Come on, let's go find
Haruka before she gets into trouble.  She's a rare talent for it, does
my Haruka."
     "Shouldn't we be getting back?" Setsuna asked.
     "The world can take care of itself for a few hours, darling
Su," Michiru replied.  "And us, we have to enjoy what little time we
have to the fullest.  Are you game?"
     Setsuna met the smaller girl's challenging gaze and
understood why Haruka was so beguiled.  Beneath her sleek,
sophisticated exterior, Michiru was a virtual dynamo, trouble in a
twelve-hundred crown dress.  That kind of trouble was not for the
faint of heart, but well worth the risk for the bold.  Or the incredibly
lucky.
     "Impress me," Setsuna replied.
     And the band played on while the world took care of itself.
     If only for a little while.

***

     The house was full of rooms, and the rooms were full of
shadows.
     Like the house's owner.
     Hotaru prowled those shadowy rooms, driven again by
some unnameable need.  The shadows called to her, beckoned and
teased as they slid around her like phantom lovers, silent sirens of
darkness.
     This restlessness that plagued her nights was something
new.  The hunger drove her, but she knew what it wanted.  This
was different.  Her skin felt too tight on her body as darkness
seeped from its daytime hiding places and filled the world.  She
ached to move, to prowl, to run with the shadows and bay with
wild pleasure.
     It should have troubled her more than it did.
     Her perambulations carried her aimlessly through the house,
and along the way she discarded her blouse when it became simply
too confining.  Her skirt went next, and by the time she reached the
kitchen she was walking barefoot, clad only in matching bra and
panties of deep lavender silk and lace.  There was a climate
controlled wine room off the main kitchen, and Hotaru strode in
when the urge for a drink struck her.  The cool air raised gooseflesh
on her bare skin, but she ignored it, searching impatiently until she
found a bottle of Dortessin Red.  A good vintage, too, she thought
as she carried it into the kitchen.
     Several utensils were tossed about before she found a
corkscrew, and she watched with fascination as the deep red wine
flowed freely into the glass snifter she'd grabbed from the
cupboard.  She took a long drink, sighing aloud as the wine
scratched an itch nothing else had been able to touch.  She refilled
the glass and wandered out into the dining room.
     The place was too quiet, too empty.  She should have
accepted the invitation by the others to join them for a drink.  As
usual, though, she'd held herself back, aloof from the throbbing
underbelly of the night.
     "It's hot in here," she muttered to no one in particular.
     It was hot.  And quiet, too quiet.  She had an expensive
sound system, didn't she?  Time to give it a workout.  She made
her way to the luxurious sitting room and ran her index finger idly
along the crystal cases until she found something suitably raunchy.
Not one of hers, certainly not Michiru's.  Something one of the
girls had left behind?
     Well, no matter.  She inserted it in the player and cranked
up the volume until she could feel the throbbing pulse of the bass in
her belly.  She closed her eyes and swayed, taking another drink.
Yes, she should have gone out.
     No.  Shouldn't.  Feeling a little too edgy these nights, even
if the hunger isn't back.  It's her fault.  That vampire bitch.  She's
making me feel trapped.  She's the one who should feel trapped,
she's the one.  Not me.  Not me, trapped in this house, in my own
skin, trapped, constrained, held back, confined ...
     "Gonna howl," she whispered, voice lost in the thunder of
the music.  "Find her, kill her, then I'm gonna HOOOOOWL ..."
     And she danced in the dark, alone.

***

     That's right, my sweet, she whispered as she watched her
daughter from the shadows.  Crave it.  Ache to spill my blood, to
rend my flesh.  Your true nature cannot be denied.
     In the end, I'll show you that you are your mother's
daughter ...

***

     I slipped into the hall, senses alert.  Gloom shrouded
everything, but I could see well enough to slip along the hallway.
Still, I didn't see Phobos and Deimos until I was right on top of
them.
     "Hey," I whispered, heart racing.  "You guys scared me."
     "Sorry," Deimos replied lazily.  She was sitting on the wide
windowsill at the end of the hall, reclining against the glass with
Phobos sitting in front of her.  She had her arms around the other
girl, who even in the dim light seemed a bit flushed.
     "What brings you out so late?" Phobos asked, and her voice
was husky, her eyes strangely heavy.
     "Uh, didn't you guys hear that?" I asked.  "It sounded like
someone crying out ..."
     "Oh, we certainly did," Deimos replied.  "But if you were
planning on joining them, forget it.  Tonight, Minako is the sole
focus of Rei-sama's attention.  She won't want any distractions."
     "Minako's stamina is impressive," Phobos murmured
lightly.  "Rei-sama is well pleased."
     I finally realized what they were talking about and felt heat
rush to my face.  So that muffled, indistinct cry hadn't been a cry of
alarm, but one of ...
     Why was I surprised?
     "If you wanted to bed one of them," Deimos called as I
started back down the hallway, "you should have made your move
earlier."
     "Better luck tomorrow," Phobos added.  I didn't bother to
reply.
     Luna had come looking for Artemis earlier, and they had
definitely been flirting.  Usagi and Mamoru were apparently in her
room.  For all I knew, Ami and Makoto were together too.
     I felt incredibly uncomfortable.  Even though none of what
was going on actually had anything to do with me, somehow I felt
awkward, clumsy, like I was in the way.
     I didn't like the feeling, not at all.  But I certainly couldn't
do anything about it.  After all, it wasn't my fault that people here
jumped into bed together at the drop of a hat.
     So I went back to bed, put my pillow over my ears, and
tried to sleep.

***

     The sky had brightened to a pale gray when Rei woke.  She
lay still for a time, luxuriating in the warmth of the bed and of the
girl next to her.  Minako slept soundly, no doubt exhausted by her
punishment.
     By the time Rei had finally deigned to end the girl's sweet
torment, Minako had been pleading for release.  Afterwards Rei had
wiped the sweat from the blonde's brow, untying her and using her
arts to soothe stressed muscles.  Minako had fallen asleep in her
arms, sated beyond anything she had ever experienced.
     The girl scarcely seemed to have stirred in the night, and Rei
brushed her lips fondly across the sleeping girl's forehead before
rising to perform her meditations.
     Phobos and Deimos joined her; she did not know where the
two had spent the night, but they slipped easily in through the
window and knelt silently beside her as she went through her
routine.  Neither of them disturbed her until she was finished.
     "Rei-sama," Deimos murmured with a sly glance at the bed,
"did you have fun last night?"
     "You know I did," Rei replied, shaking her hair out and
standing naked in the dawning day.  "You were in contact almost
the entire time."
     "Poor Minako didn't get to show off any of her skills,"
Phobos said sweetly.  "She must be terribly vexed, proud as she is
of her beauty."
     "She works harder when she's vexed," Rei smiled.  The
twins launched themselves into the air, landing lightly on Rei's
shoulders.  "Next time she'll have a chance to impress me."
     Rei went to the spartan night table and sat, picking up her
brush and brushing out her hair with long, slow strokes.  Phobos
and Deimos fluttered about, content to touch her body and her
thoughts from time to time as she worked.  When her mane
gleamed darkly in the light, she rose again and strode sensuously
over to the bed.
     "Rise and shine," she said sweetly.  Minako groaned, rolling
over and pulling the blankets up over her head.
     "Witch," the blonde mumbled drowsily.  "Succubus.  Go
'way."
     "You need to keep your strength up," Rei admonished her,
pulling the blankets back to Minako's vocal displeasure.  "If you're
going to be courting my favour."
     "That mean I won?" Minako asked, opening one eye and
rolling it to peer blearily up at the sleek priestess.
     "Ah, yes, you did fall asleep before I got a chance to tell you.
Well, you only made the top ten, but I was sufficiently impressed
that I've decided you deserve a chance."
     "You," Minako moaned, "are an evil woman.  If I could
move, I'd throw you down and show you some of my own talents."
     "Promises, promises.  Come, let's get dressed and get some
breakfast into you."  Rei held out her hand, and after a dark, one-
eyed glare, Minako sighed and reached up to take it, allowing
herself to be pulled to a sitting position.
     "Mean," Minako whispered.  "Cruel.  Heartless."
     "You wouldn't worship me otherwise," Rei replied huskily,
giving the blonde a sultry stare as the twins looked on with delight.
     "Not gonna worship you," Minako said petulantly.  "Gonna
punish you.  Real bad."
     "If you're going to be convincing," Rei said, her voice low
and silky, "it would help if you could stand."
     "Help me?" Minako murmured, looking up at Rei from
under lowered lashes.  Rei wrapped her arms around the girl and
helped her stand.  She was certain that Minako was exaggerating
her infirmity, but she was willing to play the game.  Sure enough,
Minako managed to get her hands into quite a few sensitive spots in
the process of standing.
     "You already brushed your hair," Minako whispered,
leaning heavily against Rei.  "Mine's all tangled from writhing and
tossing, and my arms are tired.  Will you do mine too?"
     "I should have woken you," Rei replied, tugging sharply at
one tangle, "and made you brush mine."
     "I said I was sooooory," Minako crooned, giving Rei her
best puppy-dog eyes.
     "Well, I suppose we can't have you looking bedraggled
after spending the night in my bed.  Especially when I'm looking so
good.  But you should have a shower first.  You worked up quite a
sweat last night."
     "Cat burglars don't sweat," Minako told her haughtily.
"They glow."
     "How very droll," Rei said archly.  "Why don't you go rinse
all that glow off?"
     Minako grumbled, fishing around for her robe which lay in a
crumpled heap, minus its sash, beside the bed.  "You could at least
join me," the blonde cajoled as she slipped into her robe.
     "And I would, if we had the time," Rei sighed, her fingers
tracing lightly along the line of Minako's jaw.  "But time grows
short, and there is much to do."
     "Duty calls," Minako muttered.
     "It does indeed," Rei told her, swatting the recalcitrant girl
lightly on the butt.  "Now go."
     Minako trooped off to one of the upstairs bathrooms,
leaving Rei to get cleaned up and dressed.
     "I will need the two of you today," she told the twins as she
performed her ablutions in the small bathroom adjacent to her
room.
     "We know," Deimos replied.  "We've sensed some of what
you intend.  We will do anything we can to help, Rei-sama."
     "You can count on us," Phobos added.  Rei looked at the
two girls, perched easily on the edge of the sink, and smiled.
     "I know I can," she said softly.  "Come, let's see if the
others are up yet."
     "You know, Makoto still seems unhappy with you, Rei-
sama," Deimos noted as they went back to the bedroom.  "Perhaps
she needs a taste of what you gave Minako last night?"
     "Little one, Minako's tastes are varied and quite wild," Rei
said wryly.  "Domination in the bedroom is a game she is quite
willing to play, whether she be on the giving or receiving end.
Makoto is quite a different story.  She would not react well to such
treatment by me."
     "Hmmph.  What a pity," Phobos sniffed.  "She doesn't
know what she's missing."
     "Nevertheless, Makoto's protective nature has been
provoked, at least as far as she's concerned," Rei told them.  "What
she needs is space, and I'm going to give it to her."
     "What about the princess?" Deimos inquired.  "And
Mamoru?  What are you going to do about that situation?"
     "Honestly, Deimos, I don't know.  All of this will take time,
and right now our focus must be the Sisterhood and this vampire.
Personal matters will need to take a back seat.  Come."
     Dressed in low-slung pants and a white shirt, Rei went
down to the kitchen.  Makoto and Ami were already there, Minako
showing up on Rei's heels.
     "Any sign of life from our princess?" Rei asked.
     "She was getting into the bathroom just as I left," Minako
told her.  "She'll be down shortly."
     "And it's not even noon," Makoto noted.  "Who knew that
sex was the way to get her out of bed at a decent hour?"
     "Makoto!" Ami blurted, scandalised.
     "Luna and Artemis?" Rei asked.
     "Watching Ranma do his morning katas.  Just, you know,
keeping an eye on him," Makoto said casually.  Rei noticed the tall
girl flicking a quick glance at Minako as she spoke, as if wondering
if the blonde would take offence.  If she did, she hid it well.
     "So," Minako said.  "What about breakfast, Makoto?  I'm
starved!"
     "Yes, I suppose our princess will be, too," Makoto sighed.
     "Hey, everybody," Usagi beamed, bouncing into the room
and fairly radiating joy.  "Isn't it a glorious morning?"
     She swept through the room, stopping to kiss Rei, then
Minako.  She blew kissed to the twins, hugged Ami, and wrapped
her arms around Makoto's neck, bussing the girl firmly on the
cheek.
     "Breakfast?" the blonde asked.
     "I'm taking requests," Makoto grinned in reply.
     "Usako," Mamoru said by way of greeting as he strode into the
room.
     "You have to go?" she replied.
     "Yes, the page earlier was from Yu.  He needs me."  Mamoru
leaned down and kissed her on the mouth, a lingering kiss that got
Usagi's full attention.  Still, Rei couldn't help wondering if she was
being sent a message.  She wouldn't put that past Mamoru; he had
never been hesitant about his dislike of her.
     This had the potential to get unpleasant, indeed.  Only
Usagi's presence in the entire mess gave her hope that things could
possibly be worked out.
     Rei noticed there was something wrong with his shirt; it seemed
to be missing quite a few buttons, and from the way Minako was
smirking she'd noticed as well.  Rei had experienced Usagi's
impulsive nature first hand, but the mental image of their princess
ripping stoic Mamoru's shirt off made her want to smile.
     "Be careful, okay?" she whispered when he'd finished.
     "You, too.  And call me if anything breaks," he said, pinning
her with his gaze.
     "Promise," she murmured, eyes wide and innocent.
     "Ladies," he said with a cool nod to the girls, then strode out of
the room.
     "I hope he's got a spare shirt in the car," Minako giggled.
     "You little vixen," Rei added with a sly stare at Usagi.
     "He does, and I am," Usagi announced shamelessly.
     "He so wants me," Minako sniffed.
     "That could be the way to get him to warm up to you
guys," Usagi agreed.
     "Say, Rei," Minako said slyly.  "You're the one who knows all
about pleasuring men.  The three of you in one bed would ease
tensions a whole lot."
     "Minako, even you aren't naive enough to believe that sex
makes things simpler," Rei sighed.
     "If not simpler, at least more fun," Minako pointed out.
"And if you were all sated all the time, there'd be lots less tension."
     "So," Usagi interrupted, throwing her arms around
Minako's shoulders and hugging her fiercely.  "Did I mention your
plan worked out perfectly?"
     "Of course," Minako said with a total lack of modesty.  "So,
tell."
     "How was your night?" Usagi replied, staring deeply into
Minako's eyes before turning to Rei with a thoughtful expression.
     "You first."
     "Breakfast first," Makoto announced.
     "Indeed," Rei murmured.  "Breakfast.  And then, ladies, I'm
afraid we have more serious issues to discuss."

***

     Mamoru knew he was in trouble as soon as he saw Yusaku.
Yu was wearing THAT smile, the guileless, aw-shucks, I'm just
here to help smile that he used to slide through barrages of
bureaucratic nonsense and middle-management doublespeak.  His
eyes fairly sparkled behind the lenses of his glasses as he cocked his
head, giving every appearance of being absolutely captivated by
what was being said to him
     Mamoru's day didn't get any better when he saw just who it
was Yu was humouring.  Inspector Kentaro Hongo was one of the
sub-commanders of the task force hunting the vamp, a slick, flashy
man with movie-star looks and a shrewd ability to navigate the
political intrigues of the police force.  Mamoru had disliked him on
sight, and had since not had cause to rethink his initial evaluation.
     "Chiba!" the inspector barked, catching sight of him.  "How
nice of you to join us, at long last!  What in the hells is the matter
with you?"
     "Problem, Inspector?" Mamoru asked calmly.  Calm was
good; losing his temper with a weasel like this would buy him more
trouble than he needed.  Especially now.
     "Problem?  I've been looking for you since last night, and
every time I ask your partner where you are, he says you're in the
damned crapper!"
     Yu's smile widened, and Mamoru fought the urge to just
start shooting.
     "I had some bad fish, sir," he said blithely.
     "Oh, you think you're funny, Chiba?" Hongo sneered.  "I've
got everyone from Her Majesty on down climbing onto my back
wanting results on this thing, and what do I get?  Comedians!  If
you don't watch your step, Detective Constable, you're going to
find your ass tossed off this task force so fast it'll make your head
spin!"
     Hongo stood with his finger extended and his eyes
narrowed dramatically, and all Mamoru could think was that the
man was waiting for the camera to dolly in for his close up.
Everyone was a potential audience for Kentaro Hongo; the man had
clearly missed his calling.
     "Did I hear you right?" a voice asked from behind them.
Mamoru turned to find a harried looking woman with short brown
hair and creases around her implacable gray eyes fixing her stare on
Inspector Hongo.  "You're kicking my guys loose?  Because I'm
up to my ass in monsters, Kenny, and I could use the manpower."
     Kenny.  Mamoru suppressed a smirk.  As divisional
commander, Kaede Amagi had earned the respect of the men and
women who served under her, and while the head of the task force
could give her orders, woe betide any of his underlings who tried
that.  Hongo's boyish good looks twisted into a scowl as his cheeks
reddened.
     "Forget that," he snapped.  "Commander Fuyuri wants
this taken care of, and I've assigned the task to these men.  I
assume they are capab ..."
     "Why don't you boys take care of that?" Amagi said idly,
gesturing at the folder in Yu's hand as she walked past, totally
ignoring Hongo.  Mamoru and Yu fell into step neatly.
     "You got it, Chief," Yu said, chipper and eager.
     "We're on it," Mamoru added.  He glanced back to see
Inspector Hongo fiddling self-consciously with his cufflinks, trying
hard not to look like he'd just been dismissed in the middle of his
tirade as several uniforms and clerical workers nearby looked on
with undisguised glee.
     "Oh, that was beautiful," Yu murmured as they turned a
corner and headed towards the elevators.  "Chief, why don't you
marry me?"
     "I've already got a wife and two husbands, Yusaku.
There's only so much raw joy one woman can take.  Now you boys
go and do the task force's moronic grunt work instead of helping
clear our backlog, and I'll go scream at Highview some more over
how understaffed I am."
     "Hang in there, Chief," Mamoru said sympathetically.
     "Just catch this bitch, boys, and stake her before she turns
this city into her own private level of hell, okay?"
     "We aim to please," Yusaku said cheerily.  She nodded and
started to walk away, then paused.
     "Oh, and Yusaku?"
     "Yeah, Chief?"
     "The crapper?  For eighteen hours?  That's pretty lame,
boyo.  I expect better from you."
     "That's because I save my best bullshit for you, chief."
     "Keep him out of trouble, okay?" she said to Mamoru,
sounding weary.  Then she was gone down the corridor leading to
her office, and Mamoru followed Yu to the elevator.
     "She looks tired," Mamoru said.
     "I believe it.  You, on the other hand, look great.
Somebody got some last night."
     "Sorry you took heat, Yu.  I didn't think Hongo'd come
looking for us personally."
     "No sweat," Yu replied, and something in his tone, or his
eyes, made Mamoru stop.
     "What?"
     "Wait," Yu replied evenly.  "Until we're in the car."
     "Yu ..."
     "Trust me, partner.  It'll keep."
     Mamoru frowned, but held his curiosity as they boarded the
crowded elevator and headed for the main vehicle garage.  It was
busy, as it almost always was, and Mamoru was disheartened by the
amount of damage he saw on marked units coming in for shift
change.  Things were getting worse out there, and as the central
division for the sector, they were seeing the worst of it.
     He followed Yu to their unit and climbed into the passenger
seat, settling in and waiting.  Yu didn't start the car, merely sitting
behind the wheel and holding the folder in his hand out to Mamoru,
who took it and flipped it open.
     And froze.
     "Yeah," Yu said glumly.  "That's what I said.  I kept hoping
Hongo would run out of steam without mentioning her name.  I
didn't want you to get caught by surprise."
     "I don't get it," Mamoru muttered, leafing through the file.
"Why ... what ...?"
     "Well, here's the problem," Yu said, rubbing his hands
together briskly.  "First, Cyrie der Kae died violently of blood loss.
Now granted, her blood all flowed out because she was mutilated
by a maniac, but still, official cause of death was blood loss, so she
was in the task force's database of recent cases.  Then someone
went looking into her case in the last forty-eight hours and tripped
an alarm somewhere in the system."
     "Ah, shit.  Sorry, Yu."
     "Yeah, well, so I'm not quite as smart as I think I am," Yu
shrugged.  "At least they didn't trace it back to us.  But it was
enough to get someone's attention.  Hells, they're grasping at
straws, partner.  It doesn't take much to get the hounds on the
scent.  So, as a matter of routine, they wanted to talk to the
daughter, who moved into her mother's mansion a couple of
months back.  Only, get this, the daughter's cleared out, servants
and all, and is nowhere to be found.  Not normally that suspicious,
but added to the unauthorized recent access of this file?  Did I
mention they're grasping at straws?  So, we managed to get this
thing on someone's radar, and now we've gotta go oversee the
exhumation of this Tyrian noblewoman and escort her body back to
the morgue so old Wasa can poke at her earthly remains and tell us
there's no evidence of a vampire."
     "Did I mention I was sorry?" Mamoru asked weakly.
     "Forget it, partner.  I'm pretty sure a woman was involved,
which is the best reason any guy has for getting in hot water."
     Mamoru thought.  "Say, Cyrie der Kae was Tyrian
nobility, right?  Any chance her people will object to the
exhumation?  You know, on religious grounds, or matters of
diplomacy, or just to be a pain in the ass?"
     "Don't get your hopes up, Mamoru.  They wouldn't even
send someone to take her body back to Tyria.  I heard a rumour she
was on the Domina's shit list, and that's why she graced our fine
city with her presence in the first place.  No, we can't depend on the
Tyrians to be their usual uncooperative selves, champ.  We actually
have to do this."
     "We don't have to watch the autopsy."
     "Would you rather go talk to Hongo again?
     "Point.  When do they start the exhumation?"
     "When we get there."
     "What, they afraid she'll get up and walk away?  She's been
dead for months.  And it's the middle of the day.  No vamp action
now."
     "Rules is rules.  Anyway, I bet Kenny didn't want us to miss a
minute of quality police work.  I think he likes you, Mamoru."
     "Oh, just drive, would you?"

***

     "Well, I'm insulted," Michiru was saying as Setsuna walked
into the kitchen.
     "About what?" Setsuna asked.
     "Good morning," Michiru replied, looking her usual cool
and sophisticated self as she cradled a mug of steaming tea in her
slim hands.  "Did you sleep well?"
     "Thank you, yes," Setsuna said, crossing to the counter
where Haruka was already pouring her some coffee.  The only trace
of the previous night's untamed passions was the flicker of heat in
Michiru's eye as she watched Setsuna move.  The sun was up, after
all; it was time for business, not pleasure.
     Pity.
     "Michiru was just complaining about Hotaru," Haruka
informed her. "We found an empty wine bottle near the pool, and
one of her blouses thrown aside in the upstairs hallway."
     "If she was in the mood to cut loose, she might have just
joined us," Michiru sniffed.  "I mean, really."
     "That doesn't sound like Hotaru," Setsuna frowned, adding
a splash of honey to her coffee and crossing the room to sit at the
table with Michiru.
     "She's been acting a little twitchy lately," Haruka pointed
out.  "The other night, Michiru and I were checking up on her and
found her having a nightmare.  She was wearing the most exquisite
lingerie, and had her hair slicked back.  Almost like a woman who
was expecting company in bed."
     "Odd," Setsuna murmured, fiddling with her coffee mug,
the one with the picture of timepieces all over it.  "Still, Hotaru is a
woman.  Because of the hunger, or more precisely her fear of it, she
has trouble finding an outlet for her sensual side.  And she does
have an intensely sensual side, that I think we can agree on.
Perhaps she was just venting a little."
     "I wish she'd find a better way to do it," Haruka
complained.  "Wandering the house at night, alone?  That's such a
lonesome way to answer the cries of her heart."
     "We've discussed this before," Michiru sighed, sipping her
tea elegantly.  "Hotaru has to be willing to open up to us.  The
issue simply cannot be forced."
     "On a more immediate note, what do we have scheduled for
today?" Setsuna asked as the coffee slowly seeped into her
bloodstream, washing away the vestiges of the late night.
     "A few sites we wanted to investigate," Haruka shrugged.
"Long shots, really."
     "We will chase every long shot until we run this bitch to
ground," Hotaru announced, breezing into the kitchen briskly.  She
was impeccably groomed, as always, her blouse a deep, shimmering
purple, her long black skirt slit high up one side.
     "No argument here," Setsuna said.  "But thus far we
haven't found a single lead that's been any good at all."
     "That's because we've been looking in the wrong places,"
Hotaru told her, pouring coffee into a plain white porcelain mug
and drinking it black.  "This isn't just any vampire, it's the vampire
responsible for my mother's murder."
     "We believe," Michiru added softly.  Hotaru glanced at her.
     "I feel certain that she is the one," the violet-eyed woman said
firmly.  "And so we must ask ourselves, where would she go?
Where would this creature hide from the ruthless light of day?"
     "We've been running through all the old known hideouts,"
Haruka pointed out.  "The police have a great deal more in the way
of manpower, though, and they have beaten us to many of the
sites."
     "Regardless, this vampiress has not survived by being
stupid," Setsuna added.  "She will not prove so easy to find."
     "I take it none of your usual sources have been able to provide
any insight?" Michiru inquired.
     "None," Hotaru stated.  "However, I've been thinking.
This creature is not only ruthless and cruel, she likes to play.  She
toyed with my mother under the very eyes of the law.  I believe she
possesses a twisted sense of humour, indeed a need to revel in her
supposed superiority.  We must use that against her."
     "I don't follow," Haruka frowned.
     "I believe she will choose to lair in places that possess meaning
for her and also for those she destroyed so ruthlessly.  My father's
house has been abandoned for years," Hotaru said, her deep violet
eyes gleaming as she looked to each of them in turn.  "We'll start
there."
     "She wouldn't," Setsuna breathed, but even as she said the
words she knew that such a creature might very well glory in such
irony.
     "Oh, I wouldn't be too sure," Hotaru said with grim
humour.  "The police are looking for an unknown vampire, ladies.
We are looking for a specific one.  We have to try to think as she
would think.  We must get inside her head and anticipate her
moves.  That is how we will find her."
     Hotaru stood abruptly, pushing her chair back as she gazed
down at Setsuna and Michiru.
     "We are going to find her," she said, "and we are going to
kill her.  One way or another.  We leave in five minutes."
     With that, she turned on her heel and marched out of the
kitchen, leaving silence in her wake.
     "Wow," Haruka said at last.
     "Do you think she could be right?" Setsuna asked.  "About
this vamp playing with all of us?"
     "I don't know," Michiru confessed, brow furrowed as her
gaze lingered on the doorway through which Hotaru had vanished.
"But I will tell you this.  I am not at all happy about Hotaru trying
to get into the head of a true vampire.  No, not happy at all."
     Setsuna had no reply to that.  She shared Michiru's
misgivings, after all.  But they were no closer to finding this
creature than they had been when they'd started.  Where was she,
and what was she doing when the sun fell?
     And could they find her before she spread her taint through
their city?

***

     "A pine box?" Mamoru asked in disbelief as the back-hoe raised
the coffin from the freshly dug earth.  Two men in mud-spattered
coveralls grabbed the swinging coffin as it cleared the edges of the
hole and shouted instructions as they guided it to a clear spot on the
ground.
     "And a pauper's cemetery," Yu sighed.  "I'm telling you, the
woman had no friends."
     "She was a noble," Mamoru frowned.  "Wasn't there money
left from her estate?"
     "I checked that," Yu told him, casting a wary eye at the
clouds which were scudding in over the pale blue ceiling of sky.
"Damn.  Gonna rain again, I think.  Anyway, the daughter
inherited."
     "She couldn't give her mother a better send-off?"
     "According to the file, Saekianna der Kae ordered the
cheapest possible interment, no service, nothing.  She didn't even
show."
     "Cold," Mamoru muttered, watching the workers wrestle
the stained pine box into the back of the waiting truck.  The driver
oversaw the loading, securing the box before walking over to them.
     "Okay, guys," the driver said.  "Ready to go."
     "We'll follow you back," Yu told him.  "You know how to
get to the loading dock by the morgue?"
     "I've made more than a few deliveries to old Wasa," the
driver grinned, shrugging his beefy shoulders within his battered
leather jacket.  "But you guys have been keeping us hopping this
last week.  Real strange goings-on, you know?"  The man's face
was open, eager for information.
     "Sorry," Mamoru told the man.  "They don't tell us
anything, just give us our orders."
     "Yeah, but police escort for a corpse?"
     "Preserving the chain of evidence," Yu said primly.
     "Huh.  That mean you guys want to open the box before we
go?"
     "No bloody way," Mamoru said flatly.  "Homicides are bad
enough.  She's been in the ground, what, six months?"
     "Yeah," the driver nodded.  "About that.  Just asking, guys.
Okay, let's get this done.  Your bosses have more work for us
today, I've gotta be at a graveyard out Newpeak way next, and
time's a-wastin', you know?."
     The driver ambled back to his truck, stopping to check the
rear doors before climbing in.  Mamoru and Yu returned to their
unit, and when the nondescript truck pulled out onto the narrow
lane that led to the main gates, they fell in behind.
     "This is how rumours start," Mamoru sighed.
     "The task force has been as circumspect as possible,
Mamoru, but rumours are already flying," Yu told him.
     "Are we even doing any good?  This witch may have
decided to stir us up like a kid with a hornet's nest, you know.
Even now she could be watching from a safe distance, laughing at
us."
     "Maybe."  Yu kept his eyes on the road.
     "But you don't think so."
     "I told you, Mamoru.  Something bad is coming.  I wish to
all the gods that we had seen the last of this vamp, but I just feel it
in my gut.  She's not done with us, my son.  Not yet."

***

     Wynneth stirred, eyes fluttering open.  She'd haunted her
daughter's dreams all night, steering them as subtly as possible so
that she might glimpse the faces of the hated senshi of the White
Moon.  Each night it became easier, Hotaru's defences slipping as
the dark tidal pull of vampiric blood increased in strength.
     And now the sun was high, dangerous to her still, it's
throbbing presence nagging at her awareness as it always did.  But
the hated sun was not what had awakened her.  Something had
stirred, one thread of her web of deceit and treachery which had
been spun and left in place.  But which one?  Sitting up and
throwing the dark silk sheets back, she rose from her bed, sending
wraiths scuttling from the shadows to attend her.  Soon she would
have delicious human servants, and a family of her own kind.  Soon
she would be a goddess ...
     But now, she had to focus.  She closed her eyes and reached
out, tracing the lines of her magick to discover the source of the
disturbance.
     There.  How strange.  Her little insurance policy, the one
she had nearly forgotten about.  It seemed unlikely at this point that
she would need it, but that thought was shouldered rudely aside by
concern.  Why had that thread been disturbed?
     "Go," she snapped, and one of her wraiths responded by sinking
into the pools of shadow that cloaked the chamber.  She paced the
bedchamber, hair flowing like a cloak of shadow as she awaited
word from her minions.  After all her planning, could she be undone
by something as simple as this?  If the Sisterhood suspected they
were being manipulated, her entire scheme could be in jeopardy.
     She stopped still as a statue, closing her eyes and looking
through the eyes of her loyal wraith as it flew over the graveyard.
It took only moments for Wynneth to see the open grave.
     She shrieked with rage, and her wraiths cowered, falling to
their knees as she stalked through the opulent bedchamber, cloaked
in beauty and fury.  How?  How had this happened?  And why now,
when she was so close?
     "Find her!" she screeched, her voice rising in the still, dead
air.  The remaining wraiths promptly vanished into the shadows,
leaving their mistress quivering with frustration, her hair snaking
restlessly around her body.  It took her long moments to get her
temper back under control, and when she did she attempted to trace
the thread of magick to her pawn.
     (Too clever,) her inner voice chided.  (Too clever by half ...)
     "Shut up," she hissed, throwing her head back.
     There.  Moving.  Wynneth sent the command with savage
glee, and her wraiths answered, soaring through Shadow and sky to
close in on those who had taken their mistress's property.  She
looked through their eyes, riding the wave of disorientation as she
switched from one to another.  Wynneth wanted to see who had
done this, who had dared to interfere with her plans.
     Whoever it was, they would pay dearly.
     There.  A truck, black and nondescript.  That was where she
was.  Her wraiths moved in closer, tried to see more.  Soon she
could see that there was a man driving the truck, a mere human
man with not even the faintest glimmering of magicks about him.
Not the Sisterhood?  Unless they'd hired the man ... but no, if they
suspected something they'd have handled this themselves.  So who
...?
     (You saw something,) her inner voice said flatly.  (Look again.
You saw something.)
     "Stop bothering me," Wynneth muttered petulantly.
Whoever this man was, he would not survive.  Her wraiths would
tear him from his stupid machine and feast on him, punish him for
disturbing their mistress.  Or better, they would bring him back to
her.  She would show the trembling peasant what it meant to
inconvenience a goddess ...
     (That face.  THAT FACE.)
     She blinked.  What was this nonsense?  What face?
Nevertheless, she flipped through the images that her wraiths were
seeing, stopping when a pang of recognition struck her.  There, in
the car behind that truck.  She did know him, not the driver but the
other, a lovely man with the shock of dark hair and cool blue eyes.
But from where?
     Then she had it.  Her darling daughter's dreams, dreams of
girls she'd betrayed, and an angry young man who'd accused her.
A policeman, boyfriend of the hated fairytale princess, a man who'd
once been a prince.
     A policeman.
     Wynneth felt her long nails digging into her palms, scented
her own blood as it seeped from the cuts.  A quick look told her
that the truck was indeed heading towards a large, heavily fortified
police building, was in fact very nearly there.  And once there, the
princess's consort would cast his eyes upon a sight he was not
meant to see.  And he would tell his princess.  That could threaten
her plans as certainly as if the Sisterhood had discovered her
involvement.  If those girls could link her to the Sisterhood, they
might figure out what was happening.  They might manage to
interfere.
     And that would not do.
     "Destroy them," she whispered, reaching out to her wraiths.
     Only to find her command blocked.
     (No.)
     "They must be destroyed!" she shrieked.  "I will not allow
anything to threaten all I have worked for!"
     (Then think.  How much do they know?  If your wraiths
swoop down, there will be a connection between you and the der
Kae woman.)
     "Her body will be destroyed!  No one will ..."
     (There will be a link.  The police linked you and your wraiths
to the club, your little indiscretion.  And the church.  And he talks
to his princess.  The link will be there, and so the risk of
interference increases.  We cannot afford that.)
     "They are nearly at the police station!" Wynneth wailed,
frustrated.  "I will miss my chance!"
     (No.  Think.  You have the means to wreak havoc upon
them, to kill many.  And if any who might see the body were to die
in the chaos, if a few corpses were to vanish, there would be no
reason to suspect you.  Would there?)
     Wynneth cocked her head, anger ebbing as it often did at
times like this.  The voice was almost mesmerizing, her own inner
self revealing valuable truths before she could act rashly and
destroy that which she had waited so long to accomplish.
     "But the wraiths," she pouted.  "They will know ..."
     (Not your lovelies.  Bring the wrath upon them.  Show them
fear.)
     Wynneth felt her gaze drawn to the corner, where her
plunder from the previous day lay nestled in a bed of dark velvet,
glittering softly in the dim light.  A dim figure huddled next to it,
trembling even in sleep.  Wynneth's tiny fangs showed as she smiled
widely, then laughed aloud.
     "Show them fear," she said softly.  "Yes.  Oh, yes.  They
will learn fear.  Let my ascension be heralded by blood and death
and fear, and let those who would dare defy me pay the price."
     Her laughter cut through the silence like rusty metal, and
she summoned more wraiths to do her bidding.

***

     "Sick.  Can you believe it?" Wasa complained as the driver
wrestled his cargo onto the waiting gurney.  "And them being
young men, too, and healthy.  Malingering, that's what I say.
Bloody malingering."
     "Sign here, would you?" the driver said, cheerfully ignoring
Wasa's tirade.  Mamoru figured that the guy must have to deal with
Wasa regularly, and had simply learned to ride out the old man's
constant litany.
     Wasa complied, still complaining about his young assistants,
and the driver ambled back to his truck.  Wasa turned to Yu and
Mamoru.
     "Both of them, calling in sick," he went on sourly.  "Hung
over, that's what.  Hung over from too much good living.  I hate a
man what can't handle his spirits, you know?  Drink all you like,
but don't neglect your duties."
     "Why don't we push this?" Yu asked blithely.
     "Thought you'd never offer, my lad," Wasa grinned.
Grinning didn't improve his looks any; he was of old Reinan stock,
like Yu, but unlike the handsome detective he looked like a gnarled
old dwarf.  His balding head only came up to Mamoru's collarbone,
and his nose looked to have been broken at least one more time
than it had been set.  Sprigs of gray hair sprouted from his huge
ears and the knuckles of his big, square hands.  But Wasa's watery
blue eyes sparkled with mischief, and he was rarely fooled.  And
never twice.
     Also, he shared the odd streak of black humour that seemed
to follow those who dealt with death for a living.  Everything could
become routine, even death in all its most violent guises.  There
was little Wasa hadn't seen at least once during his tenure with the
department, and this didn't promise to hold any surprises.  Mamoru
wished he could tell the old man that this was a waste of time, but
he couldn't.  Not without revealing that he and Yu had violated
procedure pretty badly.
     So he took one end of the gurney, and Yu took the other,
and they followed Wasa down the hallway to where the ugly pale
green tiles started.  Wasa country, Yu called it.
     "Police escort, eh, Wasa?" Yu said cheerily.  "What do you
figure?"
     "The old rules," Wasa shrugged.  "There's a lot of old
Division V folk on the task force, you know.  And you're too
young to remember, but back in the day those suspected of being
vamp victims had to be exhumed as close to midday as possible and
escorted back to a secure facility before the casket was even
opened."
     "Casket?" Yu sniffed.  "It's a bloody box, Wasa."
     "Eeh," Wasa shrugged.  "Same difference."
     "Yeah, but Wasa, worst case scenario, if she was just bitten,
there's no problem," Mamoru pointed out.  "If the vamp made her
drink and turned her, she'll be long gone.  What's the longest they
stay in the coffin before turning?"
     "Longest I ever heard was three days, my son," Wasa
grunted, hunting through the pockets of a battered tweed jacket
that was nearly as ugly as he was.  "The longer the vamp has been
at them, the quicker they rise.  Bloody vampires.  Kids these days,
they think vampires are romantic figures, eh?  You believe that, my
boys?  The forbidden allure of the demon lover.  What a lot of
bollocks.  Hungry, soulless predators, that's all that lot ever was.
We should have hunted them down right from word go."
     "No argument here," Yu said as they swung around a
corner.
     "They showed their true colours in the end, but by the gods
they took a lot of people with 'em.  I don't know what to hope for
here.  If she was bit, does that help you at all?"
     "Don't see how," Mamoru shrugged.  "Anyway, they gave
us her file when we drove out.  Bad one, Wasa.  Got butchered in
her own house.  I don't figure there's much chance you'll find
anything.  They're grasping at straws."
     "Police work, blue eyes," Wasa admonished.  "The wheels
of justice, they do grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.  One of these
routine assignments is going to pop something open, you wait.
Yusaku here's infected you with his need for a high-profile bust, is
that it?"
     "He's keen to meet Her Majesty," Mamoru told the old man
soberly.  "Maybe get a medal."
     "Laugh all you like," Yu sniffed.  "When I'm famous and
living in Highview, I'll have little use for the likes of you two."
     "Shocking," Wasa chuckled.  "You're a slut for fame,
Yusaku.  What would your dear departed mother say?"
     "Her?  She wanted me to be a poet."
     "Oh, gods," Mamoru moaned.  "Don't start, Yu.  Say,
Wasa, what do the rules say about the autopsy?  We don't have to
watch, do we?"
     "You've a strong stomach, bucko.  But this one will be
messy, no doubt.  In the ground six months, more or less ... let me
see her file, would you, lad?"
     Wasa flipped through, brightening immediately.  "I
remember her," he grinned.  "Seems she was a right looker, she
was.  Before the deranged bastard got to her, anyway.  Pity.  There
were servants, too, as I recall.  A mess, the lot."
     "Servants were cremated, so no problems there," Yu told
him.  "Here, get the door, would you?"
     "Yes, yes," Wasa muttered.  Mamoru noticed that, when Yu
spent time around Wasa, he developed a slight sing-songy accent in
response to the man's cadences, a vestige of his days in the old
homeland.
     "In here, lads," Wasa huffed.  They trooped into a sparkling
clean room full of stainless steel surfaces and smelling of antiseptic
and harsh cleaners.  Mamoru always fancied he could smell
something darker underneath that detergent, but considering how
fussy Wasa was about his morgue, it must have been his
imagination.
     "On the table?" Yu asked.
     "We'll open the box there," Wasa grunted, hunting around.
"Then we'll move her.  Here."  He handed them a small, squat
bottle, and Yu unscrewed the cap.  Mamoru recognized the smell of
Merton's nasal paste right away; it was wonderful stuff for clearing
the sinuses during cold and flu season.  Its strong smell was also
useful for blunting other, less savoury olfactory experiences.  Yu
finished and handed the bottle to Mamoru, who took a glob of the
medicinal-smelling whitish paste on one finger and smeared it under
and around both nostrils.
     "Smell's not too bad from here," Wasa said, standing over
the box.  "We might get lucky.  Here, put these on."
     "Doubt it," Yu sighed, taking the latex gloves and slipping
them on.  "That old municipal cemetery's on some pretty low land,
and the rains have been bad this year.  Look at how the wood's
rotting under there.  We'll be lucky the damned thing doesn't come
apart on us, cost the city another box, make my damned taxes go
up again.  Well, let's get on with it."
     "Here," Wasa said, holding out a well-used crow bar.
When Yu raised an eyebrow, Wasa shrugged.  "No morgue should
be without one."
     "We good to go?" Yu asked, wielding the crowbar like a
sword.
     "This room is approved for such examinations," Wasa told
him. "Once closed, the door completes the wards.  If a vamp did
rise in here, it could be easily contained.  Now stop stalling."
     "Fine," Yu sighed, digging the edge of the crowbar into the
wood.  The soft wood parted easily under the force of Yu's blow.
He levered the lid up slightly, then repositioned the crowbar and
prepared to repeat the motion.
     Then there was a loud bang, followed by a thud that
Mamoru felt in the soles of his feet.
     "What in the hells?" Yu blinked, looking around.
     "Some hot-shot probably just steered his Avenger into the
wall of the vehicle dock," Wasa sighed.  "These youngsters, things
are never dull with them around."
     Mamoru knew that wasn't the case.  Something felt wrong,
somehow.  As if there were danger nearby ...
     An alarm klaxon sounded just as Yu prepared to open the
lid of the box again, making them all jump.
     "Now what?" Yu snapped, dancing back as the crowbar
clattered noisily to the floor.  The banging came again, along
with distant shouts.
     "Sounds like trouble.  We'd better check that out," Mamoru
said.
     "Yeah.  Wasa, lock up the room until we get back, okay?"
     "I can do an autopsy without guards, Yusaku."
     "What about regulations?"
     "Go on, lads.  I'll be sure not to finish before you get back,
all right?  Go, go."
     Mamoru looked at Yu, who shrugged.  "It's your call,
Wasa," Mamoru said.  "We'll be right back, okay?"
     "So excitable," Wasa sighed as they bolted for the door.
"Young people today, always in such a hurry ..."

***

     Preston was having a bad day.
     Being a liaison officer had seemed like a good career choice
once upon a time.  After all, in a city like Saeni, being a cop on the
streets was a dicey and dangerous business at the best of times.
Sitting in comfortable offices and helping different departments
with their organizational challenges had seemed like a cakewalk in
comparison, with good pay and benefits.
     Gods, he thought blackly.  Somebody just shoot me.
     Garr Blessiruth he'd disliked on sight.  The wind mage was
a prissy little man with perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect posture
and a precise manner of speech which grated on Preston's nerves.
Badly.  Also, Garr wore suspenders.  Preston though people who
wore suspenders looked ridiculous.  Belts were perfectly well suited
to holding up pants.  And these particular suspenders were a bilious
shade of puke-green which, if not in violation of police dress codes,
certainly should have been.  They were certainly jarring against all
that prissy perfection.
     Of course, much as he disliked Garr, the woman sitting
across the table from the wind mage was even more aggravating.
Meaghan Piakesti was, in Preston's opinion, a typical Viernan, hot
blooded and short tempered.  Even now her dark eyes flashed as
she faced off with the representative from metro's Mage Division.
Ordinarily, Lieutenant Masters would have attended the meeting,
especially since he'd requested it in the first place.  Since the good
lieutenant was now occupying a hospital bed, however, his second
in command had taken it upon herself to fill in for him.
     Piakesti was still in her dark ETF coveralls with their
numerous pockets full of gear, a faint line from her helmet still
visible on her forehead.  Her short dark hair was carelessly tousled
and her dusky skin flushed even darker from high temper.  Preston
had once dated a Viernan woman, a hot-blooded temptress with
insatiable appetites.  She'd been great in the sack, but one thing he
never would have dared do was to give her a gun.  Piakesti had
two, her sidearm and a short, ugly assault weapon slung over the
back of her chair.
     Preston liked to think he was fairly open minded about
things; his bosses allowed women to serve on the front lines, after
all, so he did his best to treat female officers as if they were as good
as their male counterparts.  But a woman like this, she needed to
grow her hair, put on a dress, and devote her passions in a more
appropriate arena, like a pleasure house.
     "What in the hells are you staring at?" Piakesti asked
snidely, and Preston started.
     "Ah, just considering how best to facilitate a compromise
which could accommodate the needs of all sides," he lied.  Don't
mess with me, bitch, he sneered behind his placid mask.  You're on
my turf now.
     "Swell," Piakesti spat.  "Accommodate this.  We need
mystic back-up on the front lines.  Lieutenant Masters nearly
bought it today because we got caught flat-footed.  If we'd had
someone who could sense magickal energies, it wouldn't have
happened."
     "I appreciate your position, sergeant," Garr replied
smoothly before Preston could unleash another barrage of calming
buzzwords.  "And believe me, I do not wish to see my fellow
officers coming to harm any more than you do.  That is why Mage
Division was created, after all.  But we are simply stretched too
thin."
     "I know this anti-vampire task force has grabbed up a bunch
of your people," Piakesti shot back, sending Preston's needles into
the danger zone.
     "Please, sergeant," he murmured, resisting the urge to verbally
slap the woman down.  "There is officially no ..."
     "But come on!" Piakesti went on, ignoring Preston
completely.  "They've got these mages sitting around on stand-by
until they find something, and everybody knows it!  We need that
back-up now, Blessiruth, right now!  Do you know how many
officers we've lost since the spring rush began?"
     "I do," Garr replied, steepling his fingers.  "Believe me,
sergeant, I wear the same badge as the rest of the force.  Those
deaths and injuries strike home with me, with all of us."
     "Then get the fat-heads to break us loose some mages!"
Piakesti shouted, banging her fist on the table as she leaned
forward.  Preston suppressed a yelp, believing for one panicked
moment that the enraged woman was actually going to leap across
the table and physically throttle the unfortunate wind mage.  She
managed to hold herself back, though, and Garr simply shrugged.
     "I'm afraid that I do not possess the authority to override
the head of the vampire task force," he said softly, cutting off
Preston's objection with a stern glare.  "The palace has given
Commander Fuyuri a great deal of authority to deal with this
situation ..."
     "I was at that church, boya," Piakesti growled.  "I know
what that vamp can do.  But they aren't even close to finding her,
and every day we're encountering more and more magick on the
streets.  We've started seeing high-level daimons and monsters, the
kind that use spells as well as innate magicks.  ETF training and
weapons just aren't enough!  How many people have to die before
someone starts listening to us?"
     "Command is well aware of your concerns," Preston broke
in, determined to take back control of the meeting.  He WAS the
liaison officer, after all.
     "Can it, boya," the dishevelled sergeant snapped.  "I've
heard all the talk.  I want action."
     "Sergeant!" Preston said, mustering all his authority.  This
had gone on long enough; it was time to put this woman in her
place.  "That will do!  This won't accomplish anything!"
     "That's what I'm afraid of!" Piakesti shot back.  "Well,
Blessiruth?  I'm gonna make a stink here, and all I want to know is
whether you're in or out."
     Preston was apoplectic, hardly able to keep himself from
lashing out.  How dare she?  She was a mere ETF sergeant!  He
was the one who would have to make recommendations to the
brass, and the angrier she made him, the worse her case was going
to look.  The sooner she learned that, the better off she would be.
     "I am on your side, sergeant," Garr said with a tiny smile.
"If that counts for anything.  But as for results, we simply do not
have any more personnel.  If I could somehow convince my
superiors to assign Central ETF more mages, then someone else
will have to suf ..."
     Garr trailed off, and Preston's first instinct was to leap into
the conversational gap and reassert control before the two managed
to make a further hash of things.  Two things stopped him.  First
was the utter stillness which had descended over Garr Blessiruth.
Second was the fact that Piakesti now had her ugly assault weapon
in her hands.
     "What?" she asked, eyeing the wind mage carefully.
     "What sort of wards does the division have?" Garr asked,
and his voice was distant, as if he were not entirely in the room with
them.
     "I don't know anything about that kind of stuff," Piakesti
admitted.
     "The main building," Preston announced, ignoring the
woman's shocking lack of knowledge, "possesses a standard
complement of defensive wards, providing a wide range of
protection against all types of mystic ..."
     "Something is here," Garr muttered.  "Magick, of a type I've
never felt before."
     "Here?" Preston gaped.  "You must be mistaken.  Fifty-five
Division is the central division for this entire sector.  The main
ETF and Mobile Armour teams are headquartered here!  Nobody
would be stupid enough to ..."
     He was cut off by a deep, resonant thud.  A second quickly
followed, and the entire room shook.
     "What is it?" Piakesti asked.
     "Something just hit your standard complement of wards,"
Garr informed them.  "Something big, big enough to trigger almost
all of them at once."
     Preston wanted to shout at the fussy little moron.  Police
divisions were heavily defended, and were perhaps the safest places
in the city outside of the palace district.
     Before he could make that observation, though, he heard
the first screams.
     And then a klaxon started sounding.

***

     Wasa sighed as he hefted the crowbar.  He really should
follow the regulations and wait for the boys to come back.  But he
had so much work to do, and the gods only knew what sort of
inane crisis had popped up now.  One of the new pilots, promoted
to active duty due to personnel shortages, had accidentally
discharged his armoured unit's rifle in the hanger just the week
before, blowing a nice hole in one of the walls.  Luckily, no one had
been hurt, but with resources stretched so thin accidents were
becoming more common.
     Every year, he thought sadly as he tore the cover off the
box, standing aside as it toppled to the floor.  Every year we go
through the same thing, and make most of the same mistakes.
Idiots, the lot of us.
     As he bent over and set the crowbar down, he thought that
Yu had been wrong.  Despite everything, the smell wasn't bad at
all.  Maybe he'd get lucky.  He was, in his own humble opinion, due
for a little luck.
     Then he straightened up with a sigh and looked into the
battered pine box.
     And froze.
     Derk Wasa had done many autopsies in his career.  He
scarcely could remember them all, of course, but he recalled this
one.  The woman had been killed with particular savagery; he well
recalled the ruined mass of flesh that had once been a Tyrian
noblewoman.  Almost every square inch of skin had been torn or
cut, the mutilation horribly violent.  Only the dark, clouded eyes
had been whole, staring up out of that ruined face.  Even the
woman's long, pale hair had been stained red by blood.
     Before him lay a vision of unearthly beauty, alabaster pale and
unblemished in her stark black funeral shroud, white hair cascading
down past an unmarked face, every detail heartbreakingly perfect.
The only wound on her, which had drawn Wasa's gaze immediately,
was the neat pair of puncture wounds on her throat.
     Healed after death?  Typical of vampiric attacks, of course.  He
remembered that well enough.  But she had died six months before,
and they never stayed in their coffins longer than three nights after
death.  Never.  Kept perfect, yet not risen? Wasa had seen every
type of vampire nonsense in his day.  This just didn't happen.  It
made no sense.
     But he could not deny what he was seeing.
     And he was alone here.  Despite the fact that the noon sun
stood high outside, and that new vamps could not awaken during
daylight hours, a chill dread had him in its grasp.  This was
something he had never wanted to see again in his lifetime.
     He backed away from the discoloured pine box.  He'd close
the door and seal the wards, then call Yu and Mamoru and
everyone else on that damned task force.  They'd been looking for
a lead; well, now they had one.  And come sunset, she would be
awake.  Or at least, she should be.
     Awake and hungry.
     "Old man."  The whisper, desiccated and stomach churning,
made him freeze in place.  At first he was certain it had come from
inside the box, and that he would see one pale, perfect arm rise
from that box at any moment.  But then came another whisper, and
another, a storm of dead leaves blown on an ill wind.  Coming from
behind him.
     He turned, eyes wide.  They were coming from the
shadows, terrible in their beauty, with crimson eyes that held no
mercy.
     Only hunger.
     "Opened the box, old man?" the one closest to him hissed,
ruby lips parting to show fangs beneath.  "Saw what you shouldn't
have?  Poor old man.  Bet you taste bad."
     He opened his mouth to cry out; Mamoru and Yu were just
down the hall, they'd be there in moments.
     There was a whickering sound as long nails cut through air
and something thicker, and his shout got caught in something heavy
and wet before it could emerge.  The coroner in him knew his
throat had been slit, and that he was drowning in his own blood.
     But they weren't going to be that patient.  They rode him to
the floor, tearing into him gleefully.  The pain became distant
quickly, mercifully quickly.
     Hope you choke on me, you beasts, he thought numbly.  Hope
you choke.  Be careful lads, ah, be careful ...
     Then darkness was closing in, and the sounds were going
away, and Derk Wasa reached the end of his long and eventful
road.

***

     "Holy shit!" the officer was shouting as he ran towards Yu
and Mamoru.  "I mean, holy shit!"
     "What in the hells is happening?" Yu cried, grabbing the guy
before he could run past.  The entire building was shaking now, as
if it was being hammered by artillery.  Mamoru had never been in
the military, but when he'd asked Yu if the impacts were shells,
Yu's response had been negative.
     "We got trouble!" another voice called out.  Mamoru didn't
know the man, but the female officer sprinting towards them with
her gun in her hand was someone he knew vaguely from traffic
division.
     "Rika, what is it?" he called.  The petite brunette stopped beside
them, panting for breath.
     "It's insane," she gasped.  "All of a sudden, monsters
started coming from everywhere.  There's a wendiis out back
ramming itself into our wards, over and over.  That's gotta hurt,
but it won't stop.  And the wards are so overstressed that you can
see them glowing.  They're red.  That's bad, right?"
     It was bad, but Mamoru just turned to Yu and the young
man.
     "A wendiis?" he asked.
     "It's a large ..." Yu began.
     "I know what it is," Mamoru said.  "How much trouble are
we in?"
     "That's not all," Rika went on.  "From the docks, I could
see monsters coming from every direction.  Towards us.  They're
not going after each other, either.  And Ty, the dockmaster, was on
the line with the front desk before it went dead.  There's a
salamander at the front doors.  And wyverns."
     "Yu," Mamoru said tightly.
     "Just like the market district yesterday," Yu nodded.
     "Can they get through?"
     "Oh, they're coming through," the young officer said, eyes
wide.  "We gotta do something!"
     "We are going to do something," Yu informed him.
     "But they're everywhere!" the young man blurted.  "We're
surrounded, we're ..."
     Yu grabbed the panicky man and laid a long, deep kiss on
him.  Mamoru slapped his forehead as Rika watched with prurient
interest.
     "They never put that in the crisis handbook," she remarked.
     "He's incorrigible."
     "Say, Detective, I'm feeling a little panicky myself," Rika
said with a smile.  Mamoru sighed and rolled his eyes as Yu finally
let the younger officer come up for air.
     "Better?"
     "Yuh.  Yeah.  Better," the young officer replied, cheeks
flushed.
     "Great.  You go to the central dispatch area.  Here's my number.
Call me when you get there.  If we aren't getting any instructions
from a central command post by then, I'll give you instructions.
Go."
     Nodding, the man went.  Mamoru turned to his partner and
said, "You know, one day you're going to get in trouble for that."
     "What's life without risk?" Yu shrugged.  "Rika, was it?
Rika, I want you to go down to B1 and check the mobile armour
hanger.  If nobody's in charge down there, call me.  We need to get
some units and heavy weapons up to this level to defend the main
entry points.  Got it?"
     "Got it."
     "Go."
     She saluted smartly and took off running.  Mamoru looked
at Yu with admiration, and the older man shrugged eloquently.
     "I've been under fire before," Yu said.  "That'll do until the
command post starts giving orders.  Which ought to be soon."
     "And what about us?"
     "We're going to grab Wasa and get to a more central location,"
Yu said grimly.  "Come on.  We may not have much time."
     Mamoru followed his partner back down the hall, passing
the branching corridor that led to the elevators and heading back
into Wasa country.  Their footfalls echoed hollowly against the
cool tile, and in the background sounds of shouting and thudding
continued.
     Yu burst through the door to the main morgue, shouting
Wasa's name.  Mamoru noticed that the door to the main cooler
stood open, which was strange.  He moved to see inside, and froze.
The gurneys had all been overturned, and shredded body bags lay
strewn madly about the spacious interior.
     And all the bags were empty.
     "Yu?" he called, not taking his eyes off the carnage as he
unholstered his gun.  "We've got trouble."
     "In here, Mamoru."
     Something in his partner's voice made Mamoru back away
from the cooler, eyes sweeping the main room as he eased up to the
autopsy room.
     "Yu, the cooler's open," he said quietly.  "All the bodies
are gone.  Where's Wasa?"
     "Here," Yu replied, his voice low.  "Right here."
     Wasa lay crumpled in the corner, a dark stain of his own
blood covering him like a shroud.  Yu reached out to close the old
man's eyes gently.
     "They're already inside?" Mamoru hissed, back to the wall.
"That's impossible!  The wards are still holding!"
     "Well, something got past the wards, then," Yu said warily, as
he stood, skirting the room.  Mamoru went the other direction, gun
held at the ready.  He only hoped the rounds he was carrying would
stop whatever had gotten in.  Verri Demonkillers were made with
blessed silver and contained a mithril core, which made them
effective against a large range of beasties.  But there were still
things that no bullet would kill.
     The gurney they'd wheeled in was overturned and the pine
box smashed.  Of the der Kae woman, there was no sign.
     "Whatever it was took all the bodies," Yu breathed as they
moved to the door.  "Why?"
     "They didn't take Wasa," Mamoru pointed out.  Yu nodded
and Mamoru burst out into the main room, followed by his partner.
Nothing moved out there.  There was no sign of anything.
     "How?" Mamoru gritted.  "How did it get in?  How did it
kill him so quickly and take all those bodies?"
     "Don't know, Mamoru.  But something's inside, and we've
got to let everyone know.  Or Wasa won't be the last one to die.
Come on."

***

     Breakfast was over, and everyone was seated around the
table.  It was time to craft a plan for dealing with their problems,
and everyone knew it.
     Sadly, no one could agree on what to do.
     "We need to do something," Usagi said stubbornly.  "We
can't just sit here."
     "We can't act just for the sake of taking action," Rei chided
her.  "It's risky to go out anywhere, remember."
     "Baniesti is getting closer by the hour," Minako pointed out,
getting up to prowl the room restlessly.  "I think we can all agree
that something bad is going to happen.  Sitting here isn't going to
stop that."
     Rei watched the blonde pace.  Minako presented a simple
yet striking picture in tight jeans and a cropped,  sleeveless black
top with a scooped neck.  She was wearing some lovely silver
jewellery, a sculpted bracelet on one forearm and a choker necklace
formed of three strands of silver and turquoise, each atop the other
and linked with more thin silver links.  Minako wasn't one to let
being cooped up keep her from putting on a show, that was certain.
     "We don't have a starting point," Makoto pointed out.  The
voice of reason, Rei thought with some surprise.  A nice change
there.  Ordinarily, Makoto would be agitating for action.
     "Well, we need to find one," Usagi said.  "We need to find
the Sisterhood and stop them, and we need to find a way to break
the seal, and we need to find this vampire.  With all these things on
our plate, we just can't sit here."
     "I agree," Rei told her.  "And I have a plan, of sorts.  I
know that Saekianna wants us in her grasp, if only to ensure that
we don't interfere in her scheme.  She may have someone watching
the places we would go to seek her out, like her mother's mansion
and Club Kiss, and possibly even our homes."
     "But we can't go out looking," Makoto frowned.  "She
knows us."
     "I want to use Phobos and Deimos," Rei said.  "They can fly
above as crows, unnoticed.  I can look through their eyes for
familiar faces or traces of magicks used by the Sisterhood."
     "They don't know me," Ami said quietly.  "I could go out
as well."
     "Too dangerous," Makoto said flatly.  "You can't go
without back-up, Ami."
     "But what if we can't find any of them?" Usagi asked.
"We'll still be stuck here, waiting.  There must be more we can do."
     Rei hesitated.  "There is one other thing," she said at last.
"Someone who has resources we don't."
     "Mamoru?" the princess asked.  "I already asked him to ..."
     "She means Hotaru, Princess," Minako said gently.
     "Oh, hey," Makoto growled.  "No chance.  What are you
thinking?"
     "I'm thinking," Rei replied, her voice even, "that the Outers
are in danger.  They, after all, are Sailor Senshi as well, and I doubt
Sass will make any distinction between them and us.  Whatever the
situation between us, we are obligated to warn them.  Which means
one of us will have to meet with them as soon as possible."
     "I can take care of that," Usagi said brightly.
     "Not alone," Makoto scowled.  "We discussed this."
     "Yes, yes, not alone," Usagi agreed quickly.  "But they
might just have some way to break this thing wide open!  Wouldn't
that be great?"
     "Um," a voice said.  They all turned to face Ranma.  Rei
was surprised that the boy had spoken up; until now he'd
maintained his characteristic silence.  "I may have something else
that will be useful.  A plan, sort of."
     "Plan?" Minako asked.  "What kind of plan?"
     "Well, I remembered how you were talking about ways to
find out more about your enemies and stuff, and I came up with this
idea," Ranma said tentatively.  "But I don't even know if it'll do
you any good ..."
     "Try us," Rei suggested.
     "Well," Ranma said, fidgeting.  "It's about the key.  And the
vampire.  See, I was thinking.  The wraiths are probably servants of
the vampire, right?  And we know that they came to the bathhouse
after I dowsed there.  So I was thinking we could lay a trap, try to
capture one.  I could make the key glow as bait ..."
     "Rei?" Artemis asked.  "Could you ward an area so that
they couldn't escape?"
     "I could set wards that would draw all Shadow in an area to
them, essentially making it impossible for them to escape by that
means," Rei said slowly.  "Minako's whip should hold one of
them."
     "Then it could work?" Ranma asked, brightening.
     "It would be dangerous," Ami pointed out.  "We don't
know how many she would send."
     "Yeah, but we'd be making things happen for once,"
Makoto said with a savage grin.  "I like it.  We should ..."
     The discussion was cut off by a loud wailing alarm that
filled the air, causing everyone to jump to their feet immediately.
     "Ami?" Makoto asked, "what the hells is that?"
     "Intruders?" Minako growled, henshin rod in her hand.
     "No," Ami replied, gaze flicking upwards.  "One of my
system's priority triggers."
     "You mean it found something?" Usagi squeaked.  "About
the Sisterhood, or Dasma?"
     "Whatever it is," Ami replied, dashing towards the door,
"it's triggered more than one alarm.  Come on!"
     They all followed Ami to the stairs, Phobos and Deimos
soaring up ahead, Ranma bringing up the rear.  Ami burst into her
room and was in her chair in a flash, fingers flying over the
keyboard as the others piled in behind her.
     "Well?" Usagi demanded.
     "Oh, please, tell me it's something we can fight," Makoto
begged.
     "Amen to that," Minako grinned.  Rei said nothing; Ami's
face had gone a sick, pasty white, and Rei suddenly knew that
something was very wrong.
     "Usagi?" Ami said, her voice strengthless.
     "What?  What is it?"  Usagi's enthusiasm began to wane.
Their princess was well-attuned to the moods of her girls, and she'd
picked up on Ami's distress quickly.  "Ami, what?  Tell me!"
     "Oh, shit," Minako gasped as she got a look at the screen.
     "Somebody say something!" Makoto growled.  "What is
it?"
     "Fifty-five division," Minako said, eyes fixed to the screen.
"It's under attack.  The reports are sketchy, but it looks like a war
zone ... guys, this is just like what happened in the market
yesterday.  Monsters swarming together, attacking a single target."
     "This doesn't look good," Ami said hoarsely.  "They were
calling for help, but then communication was cut off.  An
emergency SJA scramble has been declared on top of ..."
     Usagi turned and stormed through the girls around her.  Rei
was prepared, and caught the girl by the arms, holding her firmly.
     "Let go, Rei," Usagi gasped.  Rei held her tighter, trying to
force those wide blue eyes to meet her own.
     "Usagi ..."
     "He's there, I know he is!"
     "It's a trap, Usagi.  The Sisterhood was behind what
happened yesterday, we know that.  They must have linked
Mamoru to you somehow.  They want us to come!"
     "I'm not leaving him out there!" Usagi shouted, blinking
back tears.  "You can't ask me to do that!  You can't!  He'd come
for me, wherever I was, whatever stood in the way!  Rei, don't you
dare say I can't go!"
     "You are not going," Rei said firmly.  "I am.  This thing all
started because of me ..."
     "Cut the bullshit, Rei!" Makoto snapped.  "We're all in this
now!  Usagi stays here, but I'm going!"
     "We're all going!" Minako announced.  Rei turned the full
force of her glare on the brash blonde as she strode boldly through
the small crowd, but Minako showed no sign of being cowed.
     "That's what they want!" Rei gritted.  "Have I not been
clear enough on what they will do to any of us they capture?"
     "Artemis," Minako commanded.  "Go get your gear.  You
know what I need."  The guardian frowned, then comprehension
dawned in his eyes.
     "Got it," he announced, vanishing through the door.
     "Princess," Minako said in a low, urgent voice.  "Remember
my present?"
     "What?" the distraught girl asked, brow creased.  "What are
you talking about?"
     "Now's the time to use it," Minako told her.
     'What in the hells are you up to, Minako?" Rei asked.
Minako's eyes fairly glowed, and Rei felt a surge of excitement
deep in her belly.  Minako might be a maniac, but she was their
maniac, and when the girl was on her game she was truly a force to
be reckoned with.
     "Lies and deceit," Minako said grimly.  "We're gonna beat
the Sisterhood at their own game.  Now listen ..."

***

     Hotaru pulled off the road, staring up into the threatening
sky.
     "Police flyers," Setsuna said, opening her window to crane
her head outside.  "A lot of them.  Where are they going in such a
hurry?"
     "The police just closed the expressway south of here,"
Hotaru frowned, turning the radio up.  "Something very big is
going on.  Wait a moment."
     She pulled out the car's built in terminal from under the
dash, closing her eyes and charging the sigil disc with her own
power signature.  Glowing green runes skidded across the screen as
she attempted to slip in to restricted nets through her usual back
doors.
     "What?" Setsuna asked as Hotaru's eyes widened.  What is
this madness? Hotaru wondered.  What is going on?
     "Setsuna, contact Haruka and Michiru and have them meet
us at the train station near Harbour College.  It appears we need to
pay a visit to our local police station."

***

     "Report!" Kaede bellowed.
     "Chief!" one of the duty techs replied.  "We've been trying
to raise you.  Internal communications are down!"
     "Yeah, and most of the anti-personnel barriers have come down
as well," Kaede growled.  "You wouldn't believe how much trouble
I had getting here.  Now somebody tell me what's going on!"
     "Not sure," a grizzled tech sergeant named Murphy told her
in clipped tones as he leaned over one of the consoles in the
dispatch and control centre.  "I can tell you this, chief.  Our wards
are getting hit, and hard.  Herrdis?"
     "Still nothing, sarge!  I can't divert any power from
Magenet!"
     "What?" Kaede asked, a chill tightening her flesh painfully.
"What's he talking about?"
     "We don't have priests on site," Murphy told her as he
began pushing buttons.  "Our wards are encoded using Crystal
Magick to store the spell energy.  Response time is immediate, but
our shielding capability has limits without priests to keep feeding
power into them.  Ordinarily, we could divert power from
Magenet's grid ..."
     "Sarge, cut to it," Kaede snapped, striding to the middle of
the room.  Most of the dispatch comms were spewing static, and
the techs all looked on the verge of panic as they monitored their
stations.
     "As best as I can figure, our crystal wardpoints are
resonating with something," Murphy grunted as he worked.
"That's interfering with our connection to Magenet.  We can't draw
any more power, and what we have is being pushed to the limit."
     "By what?" Kaede asked over the chatter of techs as they
shouted cryptic phrases to each other.
     "Monsters, chief.  A shitload of them.  They're attacking the
wards on all sides, so we can't even divert power from one sector
of our own shield."
     "Overstress!" one tech shouted above the din.  "Ward
overstress alarm, G-2!  Sarge, we're way into the red!"  Kaede
glanced up at the main display, noting that the green line that
surrounded her division had turned to yellow in most places, and
now red in a few others.
     "I need communications!" Kaede informed the beefy
sergeant.  "We've got to get some people to any point where they
might break through!"
     "Whatever's resonating with the crystals must be what's
wreaking havoc with internal systems, chief.  Best we can do is
send runners.  I'll try to get you an updated look at where security
barriers are down so ..."
     "BREACH!  WE GOT A BREACH!" one of the techs fairly
shrieked, coming out of his chair.
     "Calm down!" Murphy snapped.  "Plot it!"
     "Uh, uh, B sector, uh, B sector area three!"
     "Main level, near the old storage rooms," Murphy growled
before Kaede could ask.  Seconds later, a black spot appeared on
the display and an insistent buzzer began to clamour for attention.
She felt the cold sweat gathering under the straps of her holster.
Her division was under attack, and most of her people were in the
field.  The ones still in the building were now out of contact.
     This was bad.
     "Another breach!  C sector!" a tech sang out.
     "Vehicle bays!" Murphy snapped.  "You, you, and you.
Those comms ain't working anyway, so you ..."
     "A sector showing heavy overstress!  Breach imminent in A
sector, main reception!"
     "Power curve is dropping, sarge!  If we don't get more
power into our ward circuit, we're gonna lose all our shields!"
     "They're getting in, aren't they?" Kaede asked.  Murphy
straightened up, fixing her with narrow eyes that were perpetually
locked in a squint.
     "We need help, chief," he said softly.  "We're in deep.
Look at all those contact points."
     She glanced up at the main screen.  The floorplan of the
building was surrounded by a line which was now almost entirely a
glowing cherry red.  Small red dots showed the points where the
wards were being attacked.  They were clustered in points all
around the main tower, with more joining in even as she watched.
     "Get someone to the roof, chief," he continued in a low
voice.  "This place is built like a fortress, but once they're through
the wards they'll start on the walls, and there are too many for us to
stop them all.  We need help.  Get a flyer up and have it send out a
distress call.  We don't have much time."
     "Our units will know something's wrong," she replied
tersely.  "They're all out of contact, and ..."
     "Sarge!  We're losing wards!"
     The line on the main screen was now flickering wildly, a
half-dozen gaps visible in its protective arc.  Even as she watched,
hoping against hope for a miracle, the wards flared one last time
and went dark.
     "Ah, shit," Murphy breathed beside her.  "We're in it now."

***

     Mamoru coughed, the acrid smoke in the air stinging his
throat.  The floor shuddered under his feet again, and he found
himself wondering if parts of the building might not just collapse
under the beating.
     "Everybody okay?" a voice called.
     "Yeah!" he replied.  "Yu?"
     "Right here, partner," Yu said from nearby, crawling along
the debris-strewn floor until he reached Mamoru's position.  "I
think maybe we just lost our wards."
     "Yeah, and the bad guys keep on coming," Mamoru muttered,
cursing as the lights dimmed and flickered.  "Hey!  You guys!  Any
word from upstairs?"
     "No!  All the lines are down, and something is interfering
with wireless signals!" shouted a sweat-streaked detective from the
other side of the small lobby.  "We're trying to make it down to the
armour bays!"
     "Us, too!" Yu called.  "We could use some more freaking
firepower!  How many you got?"
     "Four!  You?"
     "Two of us here.  Can you see if there are any more of them
down there?"
     "No!  Too much smoke!"
     A sudden gust of wind swept through the area, tearing the
concealing shroud of smoke to tatters.  Mamoru blinked, peering
around the corner.
     "How's that?" a cheery voice inquired.
     "Hey, Piakesti!" Yu crowed.  "Nice timing!"
     "I might have known I'd find you two in the thick of
things," the ETF sergeant said, dark eyes sweeping the area briskly
as she advanced in the company of a dapper little man wearing a
pair of the ugliest suspenders Mamoru had ever seen.  "This is Garr
Blessiruth, Mage Division."
     "Thanks for stopping by," Mamoru said, trying to look in
every direction at once.  "I see you found the armoury."
     "ETF duty room, actually.  Here," Garr said, tossing Mamoru an
assault rifle and a belt festooned with clips.  "She insisted I carry
that."
     "Can never have too many guns," Piakesti noted.
     "My good woman, I am an accomplished wind mage, not a
pack mule," Garr said with a dark look at the sergeant.
     "What about me?" Yu asked.
     "Rifle AND grenades for you, Yu," Piakesti grinned, handing
him a bag.  "We tried to get up to the chief's office, but the lifts are
all out, and a lot of the security barriers have dropped.  Makes it
hard to get around."
     "Yeah, a lot of the back-up systems have failed," Yu
growled.  "And I have a feeling I know why.  The little bastards got
in early, and I think they're messing with things."
     "The beasties don't appear to be particularly fussy about
tactics," Garr pointed out.  "They simply seem to be charging in,
albeit in numbers I've never seen before."  Mamoru liked the little
man; his calm was contagious.
     "They got into the morgue early on," Mamoru told them.
"Something got Wasa, and stole a bunch of corpses."
     "Wasa's dead?" Piakesti asked as she slid up to their position,
back to the wall.  "Gods, I thought the little troll would outlive the
lot of us."
     "Not much of a challenge, that, not unless we get a handle on
this thing," Yu grunted.  "Those damned emergency containment
barriers are sealing off access to some of the places I'd like
to go.  Hopefully they slow the damned monsters down, too."
     "Hey, guys!"
     "Who is that?" Piakesti asked.
     "Couple of detectives and some clerks, by the look of it" Yu
said.  "Guys!  How's access to the armour bays?"
     "We can get down the stairs, but the main vehicle lift is
blocked!" a man shouted back.  "Something came through the wall,
and the shaft is full of crap!"
     "Hang on!" Yu shouted back.  "Hey, Blastimouth ..."
     "Blessiruth, you nit."
     "I love a mage with an attitude," Yu grinned, managing to
look boyishly handsome even through the dirt and sweat.  "If you
went down to the garage, could you control your wind enough to
clear the shaft without bringing the rest of the roof down?"
     "That would depend," Garr frowned.  "If it is possible, I can
do it.  Structural damage will be an issue, of course ..."
     "Of course," Yu said dismissively.  "But if we could clear
the shaft, could you lift a vehicle with your wind?"
     "Up a shaft?  Tricky," Garr frowned.  "How big a vehicle?"
     "I'm hoping we've got a Wolverine down there, or an
Avenger," Yu said.  "Actually, the Avenger's got a grapnel and
winch, and could probably get itself up the shaft if it was clear.  I
hope we've got some pilots in the house."
     "If we do, they're probably already trying to get out,"
Mamoru pointed out.
     "Okay, then.  Blessiruth here goes down with those four to
scope out the garage and clear the shaft," Yu said, checking his
guns.  "And be careful down there.  If the power is as flaky as it is
up here, it'll be dark.  There could be bad things.  I sent someone
down earlier, but we've yet to hear back from her.  Could just be
the interference, but ..."
     "I have some experience with bad things," Garr said with a
thin smile.  "No worries, Detective."
     "Yusaku," Yu said.  "Call me Yu."
     "And what will you be doing while I brave the lower levels,
Yu?" Garr asked smoothly.
     "Me, Mamoru, and Piakesti are going to secure the lift at
this level and keep the bad guys from overruning the floor," Yu
replied with a rakish grin.  Gods, Mamoru thought.  Doesn't he
ever turn it off?  But he knew better than that.  Yu never missed an
opportunity to charm.  "Once we've got some serious weapons,
we'll set up a defensive position and try to find out what our overall
tactical situation is."
     "Very good," Garr replied.  "See you soon."
     Garr wasn't big, but he was light on his feet, and he shot
across the open space to the other side of the lobby like a streak of
light.  Mamoru watched him confer briefly with the people on the
other side, then he shot them a quick thumbs-up and disappeared.
     "Our turn," Yu said, checking the area quickly.  "Come on,
it's this way."  They ran along the damaged corridor, hearing
distant sounds of gunfire and the odd explosion.
     "This is ridiculous," Mamoru grunted as they ran.  "What's
driving them to do this?"
     "Don't know," Piakesti replied tersely.  "But that little
fiasco yesterday in the market was apparently just a warm up.  You
should see the plaza in front of the division!"
     "We need to get communications up so we can coordinate
our efforts," Yu said, stopping at another intersection and checking
the corner before proceeding.  "Mamoru, any signal on your phone
yet?"
     "Nope," Mamoru told him after checking.  "Still nothing.  The
sigil disc isn't showing any activity at all.  Weird."
     "The rest of my team should have been out in the annex,"
Piakesti growled.  "But with Lieutenant Masters out of action and
me out of contact, they're going to be taking orders from some
paper-pushing moron."
     "Masters got hurt?" Yu asked.  "When was this?"
     "Early this morning," Piakesti told him.  "Things are getting
bad out there."
     "Things are getting bad in here," Mamoru pointed out.  "I
expect help will be on the way by now, though."
     "Maybe," Piakesti told him.  "But with units all over the city
stretched thin, it could take time for us to get any serious
reinforcements.  And I have to wonder how much time we have."
     "Okay, kids, this is it," Yu said as they neared a set of heavy
double doors.  "The holding area and the lift are through here, but
there's lots of open space out there, and if the wall was breached we
could have company.  I'm going to scout up to the doors, you two
cover me."
     Mamoru holstered his pistol and hefted the assault rifle,
checking it out before taking his position.  He had his roses, of
course, but he intended to hold those in reserve unless he had no
other choice.  For now, survival was the order of the day, and Yu
exuded the air of a man who'd faced intense combat and survived.
Mamoru was more than willing to let Yu take the lead here.
     "He's waving us up," Piakesti said quietly.  "You first."
     Mamoru nodded and made his way slowly to where Yu was
waiting.
     Then a series of explosions rocked the building, and he was
thrown to the floor heavily as the lights flickered and went out
completely.
     Leaving them in the dark.

***

     "Nightmistress?"
     "I see it, Yurina."  Saekianna watched the television screen,
her demeanor stoic.  Not only had some unknown enemy stolen the
Genosphere from them, it was now flaunting that power.
     "If we were to go," Jackinda murmured, her voice a low,
nearly feral growl, "we might catch the ones who attacked us.  And
take back that which was stolen."
     "Vengeance is a worthy goal," Saekianna agreed.  She
missed Mirra's presence at her side in times of crisis, but the girl
was still resting at the insistence of their healer.  "But what if this
display is meant to draw us out?  We must be cautious.  We have
come too far to be brought low at the moment of our triumph."
     "But Nightmistress ...!" Jackinda cried.
     "I can scarcely afford to divert any of our priestesses now,"
Saekianna snapped.  "Preparations have nearly all of them tied up."
     "The Maidens could go," Yurina murmured, her fan
fluttering languidly.  "They could act as our eyes.  After all, the
hated sailor girls may show up."
     "They wouldn't dare," Saekianna growled.  Still, Yurina
had piqued her interest, as she no doubt had intended.  It was worth
a modicum of risk for the chance to gain some intelligence on the
force which had taken the Genosphere, killed one of her priestesses
and taken another.
     "Yurina," Saekianna said at last, eyes still fixed on the
images of carnage.  "Send two of your most cunning girls.  They
are to keep a low profile, watching only.  Understood?"
     "Perfectly, my Nightmistress," Yurina acknowledged,
bowing her head before sweeping gracefully from the room.
     Soon, those who have wronged us will pay, Sisters,
Saekianna thought blackly.  Have no doubt of that.  In the
meantime, she thought blackly, enjoy your playtime, whoever you
are.  Enjoy it while you can.  For soon, it will be our turn to wreak
sweet havoc on our enemies.
     And you won't enjoy that.  No, not at all.

***

     Pluto stood at the edge of the roof, appalled at the scene
which greeted her.  The plaza in front of the police compound,
ordinarily filled with visitors and official traffic, was a squirming,
writhing sea of monsters, apparently hell-bent on gaining access to
the main tower.  Several marked units and armoured cars lay
scattered around the scene, bearing the scars of battle as they
burned fitfully.
     "The wards are down," Saturn said quietly.
     "Yes," Pluto acknowledged.  "And the tower itself is taking
heavy damage.  It looks as though the walls have been breached in
more than one location."
     "The things are on every side," Uranus announced as she
and Neptune arrived.  "We came from the south, and there are cops
throwing everything they have at the mob there."
     "It isn't enough," Neptune added.  "These things won't stop
coming, and some of the bigger ones can stand up to any
conventional weapon the police have."
     "What is it?" Pluto asked.  "What's making them do this?
Yesterday, you said ..."
     "I believe an artifact known as Silkaine's Siren, also
sometimes called a Genosphere, is at work," the taciturn woman
said, wind whipping her shoulder length dark hair back from the
stark planes of her face.  "As long as it is being fed power, the
beasts will try to reach it."
     "So it's inside the tower," Uranus nodded.  "We find it and
remove it, we solve the problem."
     "Nice," Neptune said with a tiny smile, "to have such clear
objectives."
     "What concerns me is the purpose of such a display," Pluto
murmured.  "This is nothing more than wholesale carnage!"
     "That pleases some, Pluto.  I am not one of those people."
Saturn turned to the other senshi, glaive held in one gloved hand as
if it weighed nothing.  "This offends me, and I will see an end put to
it."
     "Doesn't seem to offend the bounty hunters," Uranus
remarked.  "There are almost as many of them as police down
there."
     Pluto followed the tall senshi's gaze, noting the array of
outlandish outfits and wild techniques used by the city's bravos as
they laid into the horde with magicks and weapons, eliciting a fierce
response.  At that moment, a small band streaked across a lower
rooftop across the way from them, bounding into the fray fearlessly.
Pluto blinked, looked again.
     No.  It couldn't be.  But even as she had the thought, she
took a second look.
     "Did anyone just see ...?" she began.
     "What is it?" Saturn asked, a tad impatiently.
     "I, ah, nothing.  It doesn't matter."  The others appeared
curious at Pluto's uncharacteristic show of uncertainty, but there
was little time for curiosity.
     "We'll circle around on Demetre Street," Saturn announced.
"It's hemmed in by large buildings, and we'll be able to outflank the
majority of the creatures while getting within striking distance of
the vehicle garage access.  Once inside the building, our priority is
to find the Genosphere and whatever is powering it, and to disable
or destroy the artifact.  Let's go."
     Saturn leapt from the edge, and Pluto was about to follow
suit when Uranus stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
     "Hey," the blonde said.  "You know she'll come, right?
This is Mamoru's division."
     "She may already be here," Pluto replied.  The others
frowned.
     "I don't see any sailor fukus down there," Neptune said.
"They tend to stand out."
     "You'll understand when you see them," Pluto replied,
tightening her grasp on her keystaff and following Saturn.
     And when the Inner and Outer Senshi met again, after all
that had happened?  Well, first things first.  There would be time to
worry about that after the enemy had been defeated.
     With the call to battle hot in her blood, she silently wished
the younger girls luck and followed Saturn.

***

     "Meaghan!  You all right?"
     "Peachy!" Piakesti called back, struggling out from under
shattered fragments of concrete which had rained down on her.
Mamoru swept the hole in the wall with the assault rifle, taking a
moment to wonder how Yu knew Piakesti's first name.  The gun
was hot in his hand, and he knew that his last clip was nearly empty.
     Looked like he'd be digging out those roses after all.
     "Clear over here!" he called.
     "Won't be for long," Yu grunted.  A thin stream of blood
trickled down the blond's face, and he wiped it away impatiently
with his sleeve, leaving a pink streak behind.  Mamoru knew there
were others not far from them; he could hear them firing from time
to time.  But they seemed to be pinned down, as well.  Earlier,
there had been an explosion below them, one which had caused
what sounded like a collapse of the floor somewhere deeper inside.
     The intrepid Garr Blessiruth hadn't reappeared, and
Mamoru was beginning to fear the worst.  He should have
volunteered to go; in the darkness, he could have changed into his
Tuxedo Mask persona with no one the wiser.
     Ah, hindsight.
     But abandoning his partner would have been tough.  If he
went missing, Yu would go looking for him, especially after his
premonition of disaster.  It was better this way, at least for now.
And if he had to blow his secret, he wouldn't mind Yu knowing.
Piakesti was another matter, but there was that saying about
beggars and choosers.
     "How are you for ammo, Chiba?"
     "This is my last clip," he called back.
     "Here."  She tossed him one, slipped another into her rifle.
"That's going to do it for our ammo.  Yu, we've got to try and pull
back from here.  Garr must have run into trouble, and we can't hold
out any longer."
     "Yeah, that last bunch nearly got through," Yu nodded
glumly.  "And I don't hear any shooting from down on our right
flank anymore.  If these things get in behind us, we're done for.
Okay, kids, before the next wave, fall back to the intersection
where the hall to facility maintenance runs off.  We'll regroup near
stairwell six, try to reach the armoury ..."
     Yu was cut off by a high-pitched shriek, and Mamoru jerked
his gun up in time to see something big and covered with spines
stooping out of the sky, wings tucked back and talons extended as
it plunged through one of the holes in the wall straight towards him.
     Oh, shit, he thought as he tried to get a bead on the thing.
It was moving so fast, though, and time seemed to stretch out
around him as he had time to wonder if one of the others would get
it.  Yu will, he thought desperately.  He never misses.  He ...
     There was no gunshot, but something white spun through
the air and slammed into the thing, causing it to shriek again, this
time in pain.  It slammed into the floor only a little over an arm's
length away, Mamoru falling back against the wall, his heart
pounding.  He'd been getting ready to leave here, and had let his
attention lapse for just a second.  That could have been fatal, and
yet ...
     His eyes followed the white streak as it bobbed lazily
through the air, curving to soar back up to the lip of one large,
jagged hole.  A slender figure was silhouetted there by the diffuse
daylight, and it took Mamoru a moment to resolve the details.
     She stood boldly, head bowed to the white rose which had
returned to her hand.  Her face was shadowed by the black top-hat
she wore, and her lithe form was cloaked by a silken fall of
gorgeous pale blonde hair which fell to her ankles.  His eyes traced
the lines of her outfit in mute wonder; the crimson bowtie at her
throat, the fitted black vest and cropped tuxedo jacket with its long
tails over a high-cut thong and white ruffled shirt, mesh hose
encasing long shapely legs which were only enhanced by glossy
black pumps.
     "What in all the hells?" Piakesti whispered into the silence.
     "Evil casts its shadow everywhere," the blonde beauty
intoned, her voice low and throaty.  "But the noble police will
always have a friend in ... Tuxedo Mask!"
     She raised her head dramatically, and Mamoru could see she
indeed wore a slender black mask.  Her blue eyes blazed from
behind it, and he felt her gaze on him, heavy with so much that
could not be spoken now.
     Usako, he thought.  You magnificent lunatic.
     "Incoming!" Piakesti bellowed, and Mamoru was broken
from his trance to see that more of the spiked fliers were diving in
from above.  Usagi sprang from her perch, sending her rose knifing
up into the mass as she moved.  His heart seized in that moment,
until a golden beam from somewhere outside scythed through the
enemy, and a burst of flame consumed those that remained.
     I never thought I'd be glad to know those two were around,
he thought.  The tuxedo-clad blonde landed neatly beside him,
spinning with a neat flourish to doff her hat in a sultry salute.  Then
she strode over to him and planted a lingering kiss on his cheek.
     "Stay with them," she whispered.  "Keep them safe.  I'll be
okay."
     Then she pulled back, fixing him with blue eyes that danced
with mischief.
     "Stay safe, protectors of our fair city," she intoned, seating
the hat back atop her head with a snap of her wrist.  "We will lend
our strength to your aid."
     With that, she took three steps and launched herself into the
air, landing easily on the edge of the hole she'd entered through.
Turning, she blew them a kiss, then clasped the white rose in her
teeth and vanished from view.
     "That's our cue," Yu announced into the ensuing silence.  "Time
to fall back and regroup.  Let's rock, kiddies."
     They moved quickly back to the nearest corridor, and Mamoru
cast a glance back, but Usagi had landed outside the building,
somewhere he couldn't see.
     "You know," Yu remarked as they carefully made their way
through the dusty haze that filled the air, "I've heard of Tuxedo
Mask.  Just another one of our fine city's happy vigilantes, albeit a
well-dressed one.  But I always heard he was a guy."
     "Maybe she's a copycat," Mamoru shrugged.
     "She wears it well," Yu grinned.  Mamoru silently agreed.
     "I didn't know the lunatic fringe was your thing, Yu,"
Piakesti said, sounding a bit snide.
     "I think you'd look great in an outfit like that, Meaghan," Yu
offered.
     "Don't get your hopes up, Yusaku," Piakesti shot back.  "I
leave that sort of thing to overpowered girls with no common sense
and a need for attention.  Come on, Chiba.  Tell me that little tart
didn't do anything for you."
     "She saved my life," Mamoru pointed out.  "And I've got to
admit, I've always been a sucker for tuxedos.  And roses."
     "Men," Piakesti sighed.  "It's a wonder we tolerate you."
     "All right, not the entire outfit," Yu said, his gaze sweeping
the corridor behind them as they advanced.  "Just the stockings, and
the shoes."
     "I've got a gun, Yu."
     "Spoilsport."

***

     "What have I told you," Mars growled, "about making
speeches?"
     "It was totally appropriate," Sailor Moon replied smugly.
Or Sailor Tuxedo Mask?  Well, whatever, she coming to realize
why Venus liked tinkering with her costume template.  This was
not only fun, it was entirely liberating having another persona.
     "How's it working?" Venus asked.
     "Perfectly," Moon replied, looking down at the white rose
in her hand.  "My tiara looks different, but it's just as effective."
     "Princess," Mars said, trying to look in every direction at
once.  "You know he's safe now.  We, on the other hand, are not.
Another wave could break through to this area at any time.  We
need ..."
     "We've caught a break!" Mercury called from her perch
above the doors.  "A Raure showed up!"
     "That's a break?" Moon asked, aghast.  Raures were huge,
slimy worm-monsters with armoured heads; they not only smelled
bad, they also made the most disgusting liquid slurping noises when
they moved.  She was pretty sure that, if anyone kept track of these
things, the Raure would qualify as producing the most disgusting
slimy stuff of any monster known.
     "It tried to come in between two buildings on Strater
Street," Mercury told them.  "The police brought part of one of the
buildings down on it, creating a bottleneck."
     "That won't hold the monsters for long," Jupiter pointed
out grimly.  "If they can't get around, they'll eat their way
through."
     "Eww," Moon declared.
     "And it won't affect fliers or burrowers at all," Mars added.
"Not to mention that every ugly in the city is filling up every
approach to this complex.  We can't stop them all."
     "But you got to see him," Venus said, putting her hand on
Moon's shoulder.  "You know he's okay."
     "And he'll stay okay if we keep these things from getting
in," Moon said firmly.
     "That's a little lacking in the strategy department, Princess,"
Mars shot back.  "We need to ..."
     A blur of motion cut her off, and suddenly Sailor Moon
found herself surrounded by a defensive phalanx of her senshi.  That
was unnecessary, however, she quickly saw.  A tall, leggy blonde in
a sailor fuku stood on the cracked asphalt of the enclosed courtyard
before them, a savagely mischievous twinkle glittering in her eye.
Wordlessly, she strode forward, and when the princess saw that her
girls weren't going to give way, she pushed through to meet Uranus
halfway.
     "Princess," the lanky blonde murmured, sweeping the
tuxedo-clad girl into her arms and spinning her neatly around.
"New costume.  I approve."
     Moon suppressed a delicious shudder at the way Uranus's
breath tickled her ear, settling for giggling lightly and pushing away.
     "You like?"
     "I do," Uranus admitted.  "You look spectacular."
     "Seconded," Neptune added sleekly as she appeared behind
her partner.  "I suppose we have Venus to thank for this."
     "What?" Venus squawked.  "Why me?  Any one of us could
have accessed the costume templates!  What about Mercury?  She's
the girl genius!"
     "If it had been our Mercury," Uranus said dryly, "you all
wouldn't look like extras from 'Passions of the Tyrian Slave
Harem'."
     "Okay, seriously, has EVERYONE seen that damned
video?" Jupiter scowled.
     The princess had to admit that Uranus had a point.  They'd
needed a costume template to replace their distinctive fukus and
hopefully confuse anyone searching for them.  Minako had refused
to let anyone else use the modified tuxedo look, arguing that she'd
made it specifically for her princess.  That had secretly pleased
Usagi, and although she hadn't said anything she knew one
blue-eyed blonde who was going to enjoy her reward.
     Minako's distinctive Mistress V template was out because it was
associated with Venus now in the minds of the Sisterhood; that was
a real shame, since the princess had really wanted to see her girls in
that outfit.  Rei would smoulder, Makoto was built for something
sleek and revealing, and Ami ... Ami would no doubt be a
revelation.
     But that costume didn't meet their needs, and with no time to
waste they'd been forced to use a template that Minako already had
programmed.  The filmy bedroom look she'd sneaked onto Rei's
henshin rod had been one of two available, and for obvious reasons
none of the girls had wanted to fight monsters in lingerie.
     That had left only one other choice.
     The princess hadn't bothered to wonder why her Minako
had programmed this particular costume template.  It was
everything she expected from Minako; sexy, outlandish, and a
touch depraved.
     All right, maybe more than a touch.
     All her senshi were now wearing what were essentially
maid's outfits, although a maid would have had trouble doing any
actual housework while wearing such an ensemble.  Outside of the
bedroom, of course.  They outfits were comprised of brief, glossy
black miniskirts and fitted bodices tightly cinched at the waist by
twin belts.  The bodice rose to cover the breasts to a point barely
above the nipple, leaving plenty of cleavage below the white collar
that graced the throat.  Each girl had a different-coloured cloth
tying the collar closed; red for Mars, blue for Mercury, green for
Jupiter and yellow for Venus.
     A frilly white apron, barely a semi-circle of cloth, dangled in
front of the miniskirt, hanging below its hem without managing to
lend the slightest bit of modesty to the entire get-up.  Lace-trimmed
garters emerged from under the apron, clasping silk stockings
which clung to long legs with a sensual sheen.  High-heeled pumps
adorned the feet, while a frilly maid's tiara sat high on each senshi's
head.  White cuffs which matched the collar were worn at the
wrist, with sleeves that extended up past the elbow where they
flared, leaving the shoulder bare.  There were minor variations in
the uniforms; Venus had a long red ribbon tied into the luxuriant
fall of her hair, Jupiter had black ankle boots instead of pumps,
Mercury had white half-gloves that extended to the base of her
middle finger.  But all in all, they looked much more like a noble's
harem than a fierce fighting force.
     "We don't have time to explain now," Sailor Moon told the
two Outer Senshi.  "We ..."
     Two more blurs streaked to the ground, and everyone froze.
For whatever reason, the princess simply hadn't expected Pluto and
Saturn to be here.  It made sense that they were, given the severity
of the situation, but she found herself caught off-guard regardless.
Pluto seemed torn between being amused and appalled as she
surveyed the girls arrayed near the rear doors.  Saturn's expression,
as usual, was damned near impossible to read.
     "If we are all quite finished with playtime," the violet-eyed
woman said with a cool hauteur that made Moon wince, "perhaps it
would be a good idea to move into the shelter of the building before
the next wave arrives."
     So saying, she snapped her glaive around in a movement
that was at once economical and practised, then strode by the
stunned Inner Senshi.
     Saturn's characteristic curt assertion of authority was not
going to help an already explosive situation, and judging by the
look which flickered across Uranus's face, the princess was not the
only person to hold that opinion.
     Saturn leapt easily through the hole high in the thick stone
wall, Pluto following after.  Neptune and Uranus exchanged
glances.
     "Please, Princess," Neptune said softly.  "Now is not the
time to be fighting amongst ourselves."
     "She is way out of line," Venus said, her voice for once
devoid of any trace of playfulness.  Uranus met the other senshi's
gaze easily.
     "Yes," the older girl admitted.  "But she knows what's
causing all  this, so you will all have to ask yourselves a question.
Is ego worth endangering the lives inside this building?"
     With that, she streaked skyward, Neptune right behind her.
The five senshi stood in a loose cluster, all of the high from beating
back the first wave of attackers gone.
     "Princess?" Mars asked finally.  Moon saw that all of the
girls were looking to her; this was her call all the way.
     "Never let it be said," she purred throatily as she ran her
index finger along the brim of her top hat, "that Tuxedo Moon
couldn't handle herself."
     "'Atta girl," Jupiter grinned.
     "We're with you," Mercury added.
     "Well, let's go, then," Mars said, and although she wasn't
smiling Moon saw approval in her dark, exotic eyes.
     They entered the damaged building, ending up in the
spacious loading dock where Mamoru and Yu had been holed up
with the heavily armed woman.  They approached the others,
stopping a few feet away.  Moon sensed her girls ranked around
her, and although she did not wish a confrontation with Saturn, she
was glad for their presence.
     She tried to recall the horror and sympathy that the tale of
Hotaru's birth and childhood had aroused in her.  Strangely,
though, she found herself growing angry with Saturn.  It wasn't so
much the cold way the older woman was treating her, but the
disrespect she was showing to Moon's senshi.  No matter what the
reasons behind her behaviour, there was no excuse to act as though
nothing had happened.
     "I believe an artifact called a Genosphere is responsible for this
carnage," Saturn announced without preamble.  "It attracts the
creatures with its irresistible call.  If we destroy it, the spell will be
broken."
     "Which will be dangerous," Uranus pointed out, "when all
the monsters go wild.  But we have no alternative."
     "Mercury," Moon said.  Mercury nodded and moved to
summon her visor.
     "Attempts to locate the artifact through magick will prove
ineffectual," Saturn interrupted.  "At this strength, it will create a
field of interference that will effectively mask its location from all
manner of sensing ..."
     The princess blinked as Mercury's visor appeared over her
eyes.  In keeping with her costume, the visor appeared much more
suited to the boudoir than to battle, appearing as a dainty feathered
mask.  Mercury turned to glare at Venus.
     "Hey," the blonde senshi shrugged.  "Don't look at me.
The template accommodates all sorts of details on its own."
     "We will split up and search by sectors," Saturn said stiffly.
     "Mercury will locate the target for us," the princess said
smoothly.  "Then we'll go in together."
     "She will not be able to locate it," Saturn insisted, the frost
in her voice turning sharper.  "If our initial search turns up nothing,
we will isolate a creature and allow it access to the building.  It
should make for the source of the call."
     "It might injure someone along the way," Moon pointed
out.  "That's too dangerous."
     "This is not a game," Saturn informed her, dark eyes
flashing as she let her gaze linger disdainfully over the flashy
tuxedo.  "We will take whatever risks I deem necessary."
     Moon sensed more than saw that she and Saturn were the
focus of everyone's attention.  The princess wanted to say
something to Saturn, something that would let her know
forgiveness awaited her.  Things were, unfortunately, not that
simple.  As Princess, she had a duty not only to herself but also to
her senshi.  If she backed down now, she would never be able to
make Saturn see her as more than the clumsy girl who'd been
recruited back in the beginning.  It was time to be royal in fact as
well as name.
     "Such risks are not necessary," the princess informed the
older woman firmly.  "Mercury will have the location very shortly."
     This was not mere blind confidence in the ability of her
senshi.  Moon knew her girls, and Mercury's expression, even
though her face was partly hidden by the mask, spoke not of
frustration but of concentration.  The quietest senshi was on the
trail, and once she had hold of a problem Mercury never let go.
     "This is pointless," Saturn said flatly.  "If you insist on
behaving childishly, then we will deal with the matter without you.
Uranus, Neptune, take the ..."
     "Got it," Mercury said.  Her quiet words caused all heads to
swivel in her direction.  "A paired emission and remote pointsource,
using some sort of old Crystal Sorcery containment ward.  A triple
pyramid matrix structure, very complex.  It looked like interference
at first, but once I knew what I was looking at I was able to
determine the principal and secondary loci."
     "The sphere can project the point of attraction?" Pluto
asked, raising one elegant eyebrow.  "I did not know that."
     "Apparently," Mercury said, still gazing off through her
visor.  "The point of attraction is in the centre of the tower, near
the sixth floor."
     "So the thing isn't actually here?" Venus cried.
     "The sphere is stationary on sub level three," Mercury told
her, a small triumphant smile gracing her lips.  The princess nodded
once, not looking back at Saturn.  That look might be interpreted as
a need for approval or validation.
     "Mercury," she said crisply, "you'll have to take point.  Jupiter is
with you.  Mars, we may need a ward to help us disable the sphere,
so be ready.  Venus, you've got the rear.  Let's go."
     They leapt into action smoothly, and she couldn't help but
feel pride in her senshi.
     Watch, she thought.  Watch us, Saturn.  We aren't the girls
you took in and tried to mould into your personal weapon, not
anymore.
     Watch us go.  And follow.
     If you can keep up.

***

     "A triple pyramid structure?" Neptune murmured as she
watched the girls disappear into the building.
     "Difficult, I suppose?" Uranus shrugged.
     "Very," Pluto said, unable to hide the approval in her voice.
"Very impressive, indeed."
     "The sphere will be guarded," Saturn said flatly, staring at the
outlandishly-clad girls as they vanished down the corridor.
     "Then by all means, let us join in," Uranus said with her
trademark crooked, go-to-hells smile.
     "Indeed," Neptune agreed.  "I for one do not wish to be
upstaged by the lovely Tuxedo Mask and her delectable Warrior
Maids."
     "I'm glad you are all enjoying yourselves so much," Saturn
muttered venomously as she led the way.  The sounds of  gunfire
were becoming steadier from outside as more reinforcements
arrived, and now the shriek of combat flyers filled the air above the
building.
     "Saturn," Pluto said, her tone even.  "We are not taking this
lightly, believe me.  But you must understand something.  If there is
to be fighting, you cannot take command of them.  Things are not
as they once were, and I should not have to tell you that.  They will
only follow her now.  If you cannot treat her as an equal, then the
best we can manage is to stay out of each other's way."
     Pluto watched Saturn pause for a moment before continuing
down the corridor.  The olive-skinned woman sighed.  This was not
the way for these two groups to meet again.  There was no room
here for the delicate dance of hurt pride and careful reconciliation
that was needed to begin the mending.  It was entirely possible that,
even if they stopped the Genosphere, things might actually get
worse for the Sailor Senshi.
     "I hate to be a pessimist," Uranus sighed, "but this has
debacle written all over it."
     "There's little we can do," Neptune replied softly, "except
stay close to her and hope that our fearless leader can manage not
to make a bad situation worse."
     They moved in unison to follow Saturn, leaving Pluto by
unspoken accord to guard the rear.  She tossed back her dark hair
and gripped her staff tightly, slipping silently down the wrecked
corridor, senses alert for danger.
     But in the back of her mind, she couldn't help mulling over
one thing.
     Why maid costumes?

***

     "So?" I asked, leaping out of the path of an enraged
something with tusks and fur and a serious case of the uglies.
     "They're heading inside," Deimos informed me.  "The Lady
Mercury has located the source of the problem.  If they can destroy
it, the monsters should stop coming."
     Swell.  That would only leave us with about a jillion to deal
with.  I ducked instinctively as two more weird-looking airplanes
dove down towards the plaza, firing into the mass of monsters.  It
hardly seemed to make a difference, though.  The things just
stampeded over their own dead and kept on attacking the main
building.
     Things were going from bad to worse, despite the
appearance of more and more cops and bounty hunters.  There was
simply no way to mount any kind of concerted offensive; the things
were right up against the front of the main tower, and despite the
fire being rained down on them from makeshift emplacements on
the upper floors, the heavy stone building looked like it was taking
a pounding.
     "Has Phobos seen any sign of the Sisterhood yet?" I asked
as I let loose with a chi blast.  I'd seen another fighter in the crowd
using chi blasts, a buxom girl with long, chestnut-coloured hair.
She was the first chi-user I'd seen besides me, but if this thing went
on much longer I figured I'd get a chance to see every bounty
hunter in the city.  This was even worse than yesterday.
     "No!" Deimos exclaimed, fluttering up above me as an
explosion sent debris flying near us.  "Hey, jackass!  Watch the
ordinance, wouldja?"
     "Those women must be out of their minds, attacking the
police like this!" I gritted.  "This is all-out war!"
     Armoured police units were trying to get through the rear of
the mob, but they kept being overtaken by new arrivals.  I saw one
heavily armoured police unit, as tall as a streetlight, swinging wildly
with a huge black axe while its twin fired a barrage of shots from a
giant rifle.  Both vanished moments later under a tide of screeching
black things with one eye and a lot of legs, each one of them as
large as a streetcar.
     "Listen!" Deimos shouted in my ear.
     "I can't hear a damned thing!"
     "No, I mean listen, I've got an idea!" the tiny girl hollered,
landing on my shoulder and gripping my hair with both hands.
"Our mistress and the others are inside, right?  The only danger to
them is in there!  We can't make any difference out here now!"
     "You want to go inside?" I asked incredulously.  "How are
we supposed to manage that?"
     "Things were less hectic back by the garage doors a little
while ago," Deimos told me.  "I asked Phobos to check it out from
the air.  If this sphere thing is the problem, then the sooner we shut
it down the better, right?"
     I was saved from a reply by a low rumble from overhead.
An airship was coming into view over the buildings, and this one
definitely wasn't for passengers.  It bristled with guns, every line of
its hull clearly shouting that this was not a ship you wanted to mess
with.
     "The military," Deimos said, frowning.  "Oh, boy.  Even if
they've finished evacuating the surrounding blocks, they can't
seriously mean to start firing those big-ass guns down here."
     What they did and didn't intend became a moot point just
then, as a loud crash rose above the din of screeching monsters and
constant combat.  A huge cloud of dust was billowing out from the
front of the building, and I watched with sick horror as I saw bodies
falling from some of the defensive positions directly above the main
doors.  I saw bounty hunters skirting the edges of the mob, dressed
in outfits that made the senshi's new clothes look conservative.
Some appeared to be trying to rack up a body count, others worked
together and nearly seemed to have a plan.  Bolts of energy
streaked through the mob, along with arrows, boomerangs, bullets,
and just about every other weapon imaginable.  The smell was
awful, the noise was worse, and even though more police seemed
to be showing up, along with the increasing ranks of bounty
hunters, it didn't seem like we could do any good at all.
     Not unless the girls shut down whatever was causing this.
     "I don't suppose you'd like to go someplace safer?" Deimos
asked weakly.
     "Forget it," I told her, feeling a feral grin tugging at my lips.
"Until your partner spots any of the Sisterhood, I've got nothing to
do but keep killing monsters."
     I tried to ignore the screams of the wounded as the ever-
growing mob surged forward, trying to smash its way into the
building.  I was a fighter, and right now there was only one way I
could do any good.
     So I lent my strength to the battle.

***

     Venus didn't know whether to be heartened or pissed off
when she noticed that Saturn and the others were trailing along
after them.  Saturn, particularly, had earned her personal rancour by
not even acknowledging the situation between the two groups.  The
woman had a lot of nerve, that much was for certain.  Served her
right, getting showed up by Mercury.  If she thought the Inner
Senshi were somehow second-string, she was in for a rude
awakening.
     Things were getting quieter as they descended, but if this
sphere really was down here then the calm was no doubt deceptive.
Harsh lights cast their yellow glow over cold concrete, and the
doors they passed were marked in bold black with letters and
numbers.  Venus wondered idly what they were.  Storage areas?
High-security cells?  This area wasn't likely on the public tour.
     Mars was ahead of her, sticking close to their princess.
Venus admired the view; it was a shame that she couldn't have used
the Mistress V template.  Rei hadn't even wanted to use the
Tuxedo Mask template, but Minako had successfully argued that it
was different enough from Tux-boy that there wouldn't be any
automatic association there.  Bounty hunters' outfits ran the gamut
from weird to outright outlandish, and one girl in a sexy tuxedo
would hardly draw the attention of someone looking for sailor
fukus.
     Still, when this was over, she'd be programming a few extra
costume templates.  She had special ideas for each of the girls.
     They were only on sub-level two, and Mercury had said
three, so she wasn't surprised when Mercury and Jupiter stopped
near a drab gray door marked R-3 Stairs.
     "The area below is open," Mercury was saying, "but full of
what looks like equipment and vehicles.  It must be a storage area."
     "We'll be vulnerable, coming out of a small stairwell door,"
Mars mused.
     "You think the Sisterhood is down there?" Moon asked
quietly.  "Waiting for us?"
     "If this is a trap, it's quite a noisy one," Mars replied.  "And
how could they count on us finding them?  It doesn't make sense."
     Indeed.  Venus was quite certain that Saturn's assessment
of the near impossibility of locating the artifact had been bang on.
She suspected, however, that Mercury's experience in Aethyr with
esoteric and forgotten magicks may well have stood her in good
stead.
     "Okay," Venus said.  "There have been ventilation shafts at
regular intervals, so there should be another one just down past that
pillar."
     "There is," Mercury confirmed.
     "I'll go down the shaft and secure the stairs, then.  When I
give the word, you guys come through."
     "We'll go through," Mars corrected.  "If the Sisters are
waiting, I stand the best chance of anticipating their tactics."
     "The magick from the artifact is making it difficult to scan
accurately," Mercury murmured, "but I think there is only one
person down there."
     "Here come the others," Jupiter muttered under her breath.
"Are we going to wait for them?"
     "No," Moon announced firmly.  "If the Sisterhood sees
sailor uniforms, they'll know what they are dealing with right away.
We need the element of surprise.  Mars, Venus, get going.  And be
careful."  This last was delivered with such blue-eyed sincerity that
Venus could not resist giving her princess a fleeting kiss before
dashing down the cool, dank corridor with Mars close behind.
     "There," she said, spotting the metal grate.  "Boost me."
     Mars cupped her hands and Venus stepped up, being careful
to use the flat of her pump and not the stiletto heel.  Mars lifted her
and Venus made quick if quiet work of the obstruction.
     "Me first," Mars said as Venus pulled herself up.
     "Nope," Venus shot back cheerfully.  "Me.  I need you to
bail me out if I get in over my head."
     "That sounds like a full-time job.  Ten second head start.
Luck."
     "Thanks, babe."  Venus slid into the shaft.  The vertical
drop was a short distance inside.  Venus, or rather the Highview
Cat, was an old hand at navigating through hidden paths like air
shafts.  She dangled her legs over the edge of the shaft, easily
spotting the pale light from the next horizontal access one floor
below her.  She dropped silently, catching the edge of the air vent
as she reached it and pulling herself up.  The metal of the shaft
flexed gently under her weight, but she writhed through the shaft
with uncanny stealth, popping the grate off when she reached it
with practised ease.
     Then she slid halfway out and flipped neatly to the floor,
sliding to the side as she sought a target.  Venus sighted along her
extended finger, sweeping the area quickly and efficiently.  This
area was indeed some sort of converted storage room; bare
concrete pillars broke the space up into large aisles full of shelving,
wire cages, and bulky equipment covered with dusty tarpaulins.
Only roughly one in four of the battered light fixtures was actually
working, leaving Venus to wonder if that was the normal state
when the sub-level was unattended, or whether the ongoing trouble
had left the sector with only emergency power.
     Or, she thought grimly, maybe whatever is down here
wanted all these shadows.  For shadows did lay thick around her,
clinging everywhere.  Anything could be hiding out there, only a
few feet away.
     This was not going to be easy.
     She had picked out the most defensible position she could
find, as well as the stairwell door and three reasonably useful escape
routes, by the time Mars hit the floor.  The raven-maned beauty
joined her immediately, the two standing back-to-back as they
surveyed what lay before them.  It was comforting, having Mars at
her back that way.  And more than a little arousing, the way their
hair brushed with gentle intimacy, but such thoughts would have to
wait.
     "What do you think?" she asked softly.
     "There is something down here," Mars replied, her voice a
throaty whisper.  "I feel traces of Shadow Magick."
     "Sisterhood?"
     "Could be.  Got the door?"
     "Yeah.  I'm going to signal the others to come down.  We
need Mercury to pinpoint this thing for us."
     "You're covered."
     Venus touched her earring, a brief, murmured exchange
following.  Then she nodded to Mars and slipped away, taking up
position on the far side of the door and searching the gloom for any
threat.  When the door finally opened, the sound of the crash bar
operating and the latch retracting seemed terribly loud to her in the
oppressive silence, despite Jupiter's obvious care.  The others
slipped through and split up, the princess and Jupiter going to Mars
with Uranus and Neptune following, Mercury coming her way with
Saturn and Pluto trailing along.  Saturn looked even more
impassive than usual, and Venus fought the urge to gloat.
     Gloating would come later.  Lots and lots of gloating.
     "Hey," Venus nodded.  "Where's our bandit, Merc?"
     "That way," Mercury replied softly, pointing.  "There is a
large open space near the centre of the room, and that's where the
sphere is.  One person with it."
     "That's all?" Venus frowned.
     "The magick from the sphere is making it difficult to tell,
but I'm certain there is only one person there.  I'm concerned about
what else might be down here, though."
     "That makes two of us," Pluto murmured.  The four were
clustered close together behind a pillar, and Venus could smell the
spicy musk of Pluto's perfume.  The scent was surprisingly
nostalgic, but Venus pushed those feelings away.  Time later to
worry about what would happen between the two groups.  Right
now, it was time to go to work.
     "Okay," she nodded.  "I'm going to take the point and bring
Mars up with me.  If there's any spooky stuff going on, she should
sense it.  You coordinate with the princess and keep an eye on the
perimeter, Mercury.  We'll flank the enemy's position and hit them
hard.  Let's go."
     She wondered if Saturn would object to her plan, but
wonder of wonders, the woman had nothing to say at all, simply
following along after Mercury as Venus slid into the shadows.
     As the blonde senshi advanced along a line of cluttered
metal shelves, she took a moment to wonder what was going on
above them.  She couldn't hear any of the sounds of battle, but it
would still be raging, at least until they destroyed this sphere.
     And Ranma was up there, with Phobos and Deimos.  And
Artemis and Luna.
     She hoped they would all be all right.  Judging by the events
at the market the previous day, once the sphere was cut off, things
were going to get very ugly up there.

***

     Her wraiths scuttled through the shadows, letting her see
the wonderful carnage through their eyes.  And wonderful it was.
Oh, in a way it was a waste to kill all those delicious humans, but
soon she would have her pick of an enslaved world.  Only the very
sweetest of her subjects would have the privilege of coming before
her to slake her thirsts, whether for blood or carnal pleasures.  The
rest would amuse her in other ways.
     By dying in futile battle, for example.
     The city's self-proclaimed heroes were so ineffectual,
hamstrung as they were by their need to protect those trapped in
the tower.  They should have sacrificed those unfortunates and used
their military might to obliterate the rampaging mob of monsters.
But they would never do that.  They lacked the will, the strength.
They were weak, and so they fought and died for her amusement.
     She had missed this.  Oh, she had the incriminating
evidence, the only witness dead, the theft effectively camouflaged
by the rampant destruction.  She could stop this any time.
     But it was so fun to watch ...
     A thread of awareness twitched, and Wynneth let herself be
drawn to her wraiths in the depths of the tower.  There were people
down there now, and she smiled, ruby lips curling in an arrogant
sneer.  Had a mere human been clever enough to find the source of
the rampage?  Well, well.  Perhaps she should instruct her wraiths
to bring her this enterprising hero.  The brave and resourceful were
always so stubborn, so much fun to break.
     She caught sight of the intruders, and a warm tingle
skittered down into her belly.  Such alluring girls, and with an aura
of power.  Their blood would be sweet, their submission sweeter ...
     She froze.  There, a sailor uniform.  And there.  So.  But it
was hardly a surprise that it would be them, was it?  In fact, wasn't
that her darling daughter?  Why, yes, so it was, slipping through the
shadows instead of embracing them as she should.  And now that
she looked closely, she could see that all the cursed senshi were
present.
     Wynneth tapped her long, crimson nails against her full
lower lip thoughtfully.  Her deception should hold up, even against
these hated girls.  Tempting though it was to try and take one or
two, the time was not quite ripe.  Oh, she fully intended to degrade
and debase the simpering senshi; she had been looking forward to
that for a very long time indeed.  But she could not risk exposure
here, not after all her hard work.
     Let the girls find the Genosphere.  They would not know
that her wraiths had channelled much of the power it had required;
instead, they would blame the one who held it.  Afterwards, there
would certainly not be any evidence to tie her to that one, either.
She'd seen to that.
     She sat back in her throne, crossing her legs slowly as she
closed her eyes and concentrated on the show unfolding beneath the
police station for her personal entertainment.
     The mundane conflict above it was already paling in comparison.

***

     Mars moved easily through the gloom, Venus close beside
her.  Her training as a priestess had honed the sable-haired girl's
mystic senses, but never had she felt anything quite like this.  Mars
suspected that this artifact was to blame for the odd distortions of
magick around them.  She hadn't felt this during the previous
encounter, but then the artifact seemed to be operating at a much
higher level this time.
     Regardless, she was uneasy.  There were still traces of
mystic energy tickling faintly at the edges of her perception; as an
adept, she was fairly certain that they were Shadow Magick.
     "Our plan is going to be blown," Venus breathed as they
slipped through ranks of shadowed crates, "if the Sisters see the
Outers."
     "We'll have to strike first to maintain the element of
surprise," Mars agreed.
     "Mars, what about Saturn and the others?  If Saekianna is
here, they're bound to hear the truth."  Venus shot her a concerned
look, but Mars simply shrugged.
     "There are things, Venus, which simply cannot be helped.
This is one of them.  If we deal the first and decisive blow to the
enemy, then it won't become an issue, right?"
     Venus looked unconvinced.  Mars didn't blame her.  There
were larger concerns here, though, at least as far as the former
Sister was concerned.  To begin with, none of this made sense.
Saekianna would have been gathering all the information she could
on the senshi, but there was no way she could have a
comprehensive view of their abilities.  Certainly, she couldn't be
even reasonably certain that they would be able to track the
Genosphere; without Mercury's sensors and, Mars had no doubt,
her extensive experience with ancient arcana, they certainly would
not have made it this far.
     And declaring war on the police?  Mars knew Saekianna
well, knew her tactics, knew how she thought.  The events at the
market she could comprehend, although that plan had been reckless
and had ultimately failed.  But this?  This was sheer madness.
     And so far, she had detected none of the traps or snares a
Sister would set to protect herself during a spell.  Mercury had
detected only one person; Saekianna?  If so, what ace could she
have up her sleeve to be so confident of victory only one day after
being soundly defeated by Sailor Moon?
     Only one way to find out, and Mars was determined to be
the first to venture into harm's way.  Venus had understood that,
arranging for the two of them to take the point.  That was the sort
of thing the brash blonde was capable of, a sort of unspoken accord
that was at odds with her usual outspoken manner, but nonetheless
charming.  And welcome.
     "There," Venus murmured.  Mars nodded.  Soundlessly,
they leapt to the top of a long row of high old file cabinets, moving
quickly towards the dim pool of light that was their goal.  Mars
didn't have to look back to know that the others would be just
where they were supposed to be.  Still, she could not completely
shake the sense of unease.  If this was a trap, they were going to be
springing it deliberately.  At least they had a trump card in the
Outers; as unhappy as she had been to see the older girls, their
power would certainly be welcome if things got ugly.
     The pair edged up to the brink of the cabinets, lingering just
out of sight in the shelter of the uncertain shadows.  A large space
had been cleared in the centre of the room, hastily by the look of
the jumbled tables and boxes that ringed the perimeter.  In the
centre of the stained concrete a woman sat cross-legged, eyes
closed, hands held out palm up.  Above her hands floated a crystal
sphere, wreathed in the most lovely crimson light.  That light
seemed to ebb and flow like the tides, tendrils slithering out from
the glittering surface to snake around and enter again in an endless
dance.
     The woman's face was clear in that light, the hood of her robe
thrown back around her shoulders, and Mars felt a strange sense of
disappointment.  It wasn't Sass.  It was, however, a familiar face.
     "A Sister?" Venus whispered, her lips close to Mars' ear.
Mars nodded and moved her mouth closer to Venus.
     "Name's Hundri," she hissed back.  "She seems to be
feeding power to the artifact.  No defensive wards at all that I can
sense, though.  She's just sitting there.  Damned strange."
     Venus nodded, fingering her communicator.  Mars listened
to her exchange with the princess.  They were to attack and try to
draw out whatever hidden menace the Sisterhood had in store for
them.  The Outers would wait until the enemy tipped their hand
before acting.  That suited Mars; this way, the Sisterhood would
not immediately know they were dealing with Sailor Senshi.
     Hopefully, that would give them an advantage.  Mars
couldn't help wondering, though, what Sass could be hoping to
accomplish.  The scuffle at the market had given her a chance to
nab Usagi, but what could one Sister do now, when the senshi were
forewarned?
     Venus glanced at her, one eyebrow cocked.  Mars smiled
back.  She was being given the lead.  Excellent.  The time for
thoughts and doubts was past.
     Showtime.
     She leapt nimbly from the top of the cabinets, landing only a
few feet away from Hundri.  Venus was at her back, and she saw
the others emerging from the gloom at the Sister's back.  Hundri
gave no sign she was aware of any of them, sitting motionless, her
black robes smudged with dirt and torn in a few places.  Softly,
Mars called the girl's name.  The Sister opened her eyes, lovely
hazel orbs that seemed clouded with red light.
     "So," Hundri said, her voice as sweet as Mars remembered.
"You've come, just as she said you would."
     "Where is she, Hundri?" Mars asked.  She was almost
painfully aware of her surroundings, but there was nothing moving
down here, nothing but them.
     "You want my sweet treasure," Hundri continued, her eyes
narrowing.  "You want to take it away.  I won't let you.  I'll never
let it be taken away.  Never."
     Mars felt a cold chill slither around the base of her spine.
There was something lurking in Hundri's eyes, a look that she had
seen many times before in the eyes of men and women who'd fallen
prey to her own bewitching charms.  Hundri was there, but she was
not in control.
     The sphere?  Was it so powerful that it could actually
enslave those who attempted to use it?  If so, then perhaps that
explained what was happening here.  This might all be the will of
the sphere, with the Sisterhood's plans thrown by the wayside.
     "Just put that down, Hundri," she murmured, letting the
subtle weave of compulsion enter her voice as she slid a step closer.
"I want to talk to you, but that light hurts my eyes.  Put the sphere
down and talk to me."
     For a moment she thought it would work.  Hundri seemed
to see her, seemed on the verge on responding.  Then the woman
smiled.
     "Never," she repeated softly.
     "Everybody get back!" Mercury shouted.  Mars was torn
for half an instant; if she lunged, she might be able to reach the
woman, or to strike the sphere.  But she didn't know what power it
might bring to protect itself, and she trusted Mercury's judgement.
She sprang back, soaring through the still musty air and flipping to
land neatly on the edge of a stack of crates.  Hundri hadn't moved,
but the room seemed to be shaking ever so slightly.
     "Mercury?" Venus asked over the comm link.  "I've got a
bead on the sphere ..."
     "She's changed the attraction point!" Mercury cried.  "It's
right on top of her!"
     A beam of golden light streaked out, striking the sphere and
splashing harmlessly against its surface like water.  Hundri seemed
unfazed, her beatific smile unwavering as the shaking grew worse.
Mars took a ward between her fingers, hoping it would have some
effect on the artifact, but before she could throw the crates began to
totter under her, and she was forced to jump.
     "What is it?" Venus blurted from nearby.  Mars shook her
head, hearing Jupiter cursing from somewhere off to her left.  The
floor began to crack, dust rising as a crooked fork of darkness
knifed across the open area before them.  Concrete exploded
upwards, and Mars lost sight of Hundri for a moment.
     Then she saw her again, and her stomach churned.  The girl
was clasped in the jaws of a salamander, only her head and chest
visible.  Blood streaked her robes and face as the salamander
whipped its huge, wedge-shaped head from side-to-side.
     Horrifyingly, she was still smiling as she clasped the glowing
sphere to her chest.
     Then the salamander made a small jerking motion, a short
bob of its head, and the girl disappeared into its maw.  The
salamander raised its scaled head until it brushed the high ceiling,
ignoring the long clawed beasts that had emerged from the ragged
hole in the floor as it bayed triumphantly.  Mars staggered back,
wary of the unsteady footing caused by the salamander's entrance.
     "Now what?" Venus shouted over the noise as she joined
Mars, with Jupiter and the princess close behind.
     Mars had no idea, but she was saved from making a reply
when the clawed burrowers stopped dead, their blunt eyeless heads
rising quizzically into the air.  The salamander also froze, as if
suddenly uncertain.
     "Shit," Venus whispered.  "If she's dead, the sphere just
stopped working.  And that means ..."
     The salamander looked around, its confused gaze becoming
baleful as it caught sight of the clustered senshi.
     "Time," Jupiter remarked, "for a new plan."

***

     "What in the hells just happened?" Piakesti asked.
     Mamoru had no answer.  Everything had just gone quiet.
Their attempts to reach the armour bays on B-1 had been stopped
dead by an incursion of beasts, and the three of them, along with a
handful of others they'd picked up along the way, had been pinned
down.  Apparently, they were right where the things wanted to go.
     Now, however, even as they watched, a shambling hulk
turned and looked for a long moment at the shrieking, spider-like
monstrosity beside it.  Then, cocking its head, it reached down and
began pulling the thing's legs off.
     As if that were some pre-arranged signal, the creatures
jammed into the corridor began fighting each other all at once.
     "Holy shit," Yu muttered.
     "Just like the market," Mamoru breathed, checking his gun
and taking advantage of the lull to slide his last clip into the butt.
"Whatever was causing them to attack is gone now."
     "Yeah, well, that doesn't make us safe!" Piakesti gritted as
one unhappy camper hurled a ball of claws and teeth their way.
The monster hit the wall and bounced back at them, nearly
decapitating one of the unfortunate uniformed officers before the
others could get a bead on it and shoot it dead.
     "She's right," Mamoru said, recalling the wild melee that
had ensued previously when the monsters had been released from
whatever had been controlling them.  "We've got to get out of
here!"
     Trapped in the confines of the corridor, the monsters were
going berserk, natural enemies lashing out at each other with
reckless abandon.  Now that they weren't the sole focus of the
beasts' fury, the officers began to fall back from their makeshift
barricade of vending machines and office furniture.
     "Will they leave now?" one of the officers, a young man
with blood soaked into one sleeve of his shirt asked grimly.  He'd
held up well, but Mamoru thought the lad looked on the verge of
panic.
     "Their instincts for self-preservation should kick in, at least
in some cases," Yu said, covering their retreat.  "But some of these
guys are going bugfuck, and some just plain don't like people.  We
ain't out of the woods yet, kids."
     Mamoru fired into the milling crowd of monsters to
discourage any from rushing them, wondering about Usagi and the
others.  They had probably been responsible for stopping whatever
had been behind the attack.  He could only hope that Usagi was
okay.  He yearned to go to her, but he couldn't run out on Yu and
the others in the middle of all this.  He had a duty to them as well,
sworn oaths to uphold.  Usagi'd been telling him that he needed to
trust her, that her senshi could protect her.
     He fervently prayed that she was right.  Because right now,
despite the fact that the monsters had been freed from whatever had
controlled them, he still sensed that his love was in danger.
     "The stairs?" Mamoru shouted.
     "Yeah!" Yu called back.  "Now, while they're going at it!
It's our only chance!"
     Mamoru and Yu covered the others as they fell back in a
ragged line towards the stairs that would lead them to the first sub-
level.  None of the people they'd sent down there had reappeared
yet; Mamoru hoped that they had simply been delayed by unforseen
difficulties.
     Otherwise, they might be going from the frying pan right
into the fire.

***

     Venus grabbed her princess as the salamander reared its
head back.  She remembered what that particular move meant, and
cried out a warning.  There was a blur of motion, and suddenly
Saturn was standing before them, glaive held out horizontally
before her slender form.  The gout of flame from the salamander hit
Saturn's Silence Wall and stopped dead, splashing out to either
side.
     "Saturn!" Moon cried out.
     "Get to the stairs!" Saturn replied.  "Quickly!"
     "No time!" Mars replied.  Venus saw that she was right; the
salamander's blast had missed them, but had started numerous fires,
and smoke was beginning to billow around them.  As well, the
fractures in the floor were beginning to spread, and the clawed
burrowers were scuttling around in the shadows, apparently looking
for something warm and soft to eat.  Like yummy sailor girls, for
instance.
     Then the lights went out.
     Venus cursed.  There should have been an emergency
circuit, but after a few seconds they were still in the dark, with
smoke thickening in the air and an enraged salamander thrashing
around, making things worse.  She summoned her whip in her free
hand, twirling it to generate light while she clung tightly to her
princess.
     "Mercury!" she called.  "What's above us?"
     "A garage or something!" Mercury called back after a
moment.  "Wide open directly above you!"
     Good enough.  She moved back, but before she could do
anything she saw Uranus's power signature streak up and meet a
gout of Mars' flame, blowing a hole in the ceiling above them.
     "Going up," she murmured to the tuxedo-clad blonde
standing in the circle of her arm.
     "Absolutely," Moon replied.  They leapt together, easily
clearing the edge of the hole.  Mars and Jupiter followed, then
Mercury and Neptune.  This level still had lights, although not as
many as it should have had.  There were large slots for trucks and
heavy equipment to park in, mostly empty.  They backed away from
the hole, casting their gazes back.
     "Saturn?" the princess asked, concerned.  "And Pluto and
Uranus?  Maybe we should ..."
     "Don't worry, princess," Neptune reassured her.  "They'll
be along."
     As if summoned by those words, the lanky form of Uranus
streaked out of the hole, landing neatly beside her partner.
     "Miss me?" the blonde asked.
     "Dreadfully," Neptune replied.  Venus had nearly forgotten
the subtle heat that always seemed to shimmer in the air between
those two, no matter what the circumstances.
     Pluto was next, with Saturn close behind.
     "We need to get to ground level," Mercury announced.
"The monsters will be wild, now that the sphere's influence is
gone."
     "What about the salamander?" Jupiter asked with an uneasy
glance at the hole.
     "The sphere's call has ceased," Pluto pointed out.  "And it
can no longer see us.  It should retreat back underground."
     "Um," Mercury said, directing her gaze downwards.  Venus
didn't need Mercury's visor to tell her that the salamander wasn't
about to go quietly.  The things were ill-tempered at the best of
times, and tenacious to boot.
     "Let's get out of here," Mars suggested.  "Just in case."
     "Good idea," Mercury said hastily.  "I think it's trying to
climb out of its hole."
     A flickering light from the ragged gap in the floor of the
garage told Venus that the fire down below was spreading.  Not
that a salamander would care much about a little thing like that, of
course.
     They dashed across the floor, high heels clicking loudly on
concrete.  Behind them, another roar erupted from the salamander,
and Venus chanced a glance over her shoulder.  She was just in
time to see a huge gout of flame explode through the garage floor,
spreading debris everywhere.
     This floor seemed to have its systems more intact; the flame
immediately set off the sprinkler system.  Water poured down from
the sprinkler heads lining the ceiling in a noisy rush, creating a
silvery rain.  Behind them, the salamander's head rose through the
second hole.  It caught sight of them and shrieked, the sound
reverberating through Venus's bones as it tried to claw its way up
onto this level.
     "Oh, for the love of ..." Jupiter growled.  Venus fired off a beam
at the thing's head, but just as in the subway tunnel it had no
appreciable effect.
     "Leave it!" Saturn called.  "It won't be able to get up the
stairs!  I'll cover your retreat ..."
     There was a dull whump, like an explosion, and suddenly
the air was full of dust as the ceiling between them and their new
friend suddenly collapsed.  Something fell through the hole,
crashing to the floor with an incredible din.  Inexplicably, wind
began to swirl in the air before them, sending sheets of water
billowing in every direction.
     Through the sudden deluge, Venus could make out a slim
figure descending from the level above with his arms outstretched.
Below him was the wreck of an armoured car of the type the police
tactical teams used..  It had fallen on something big and nasty
looking, apparently killing it.  The floor down here had already
taken quite a beating, though, and she figured there wasn't much
time before the vehicle ended up continuing its downward journey.
     Which was bad, as she could see that there was someone
still inside.  The man, clearly a wind-mage, dropped to the sheltered
side of the armoured car and began trying to pull the door open.
Venus could see that it was useless; the fall had buckled the frame,
and the armoured windscreen was damaged but still too intact to
allow egress.
     She ran over to the car, nearly falling as the intrepid
salamander began widening its hole in order to better reach its prey.
The officer inside was a slender woman with blood running down
her face from a nasty gash in her forehead.  Her movements were
sluggish, and Venus knew she wouldn't make it out on her own.
     "Move!" she commanded, slashing her beam through the
edge of the damaged door in a series of short motions.  It fell off
the car with a heavy crash, and the slender wind-mage was reaching
inside in an instant, pulling his injured comrade to safety.
     Well, relative safety.  The salamander had cleared enough
space to lunge forward, and the mage barely managed to pull the
woman clear before the salamander managed to lock its jaws
around the wreck.  It flung the tangle of metal sideways with a
sharp snap of its neck as Venus helped the mage half-drag, half-
carry the injured officer back towards the others.  The salamander
quickly tired of its new toy and once again locked its gaze on them.
Saturn was there, though, to block its flame once more.
     "My thanks, ladies," the man gasped.  "Bloody hells!  First
the things wanted to go up, then they wanted to go down.  What a
mess!"
     "We've cut off the source of the problem," the princess
informed him, "but we've still got to deal with the monsters."
     "Excellent idea," Saturn said.  "Pluto?"
     Venus watched in amazement as the sultry, olive-skinned
woman broke from the cover of Saturn's shield and dashed across
the wet floor, levelling her keystaff at the salamander and
unleashing a ball of dark energy.  Unlike the previous attacks, this
one hurt the thing, and it shrieked with rage and pain, turning its
attention to this new threat.
     That, apparently, was the opportunity that Saturn had been
waiting for.  She ran forward and launched herself into a shallow
arc, spinning her Silence Glaive in one hand expertly until it seemed
to be a shimmering disc.  The salamander caught sight of her and
started to turn back, but it was too slow.  Saturn slashed her glaive
across the salamander as she passed, landing neatly on the far side
of the hole.  The salamander paused, a look very much like surprise
on its reptilian face as a thread of crimson appeared, bisecting its
head on the same angle as Saturn's pass.  Then the thread erupted
into a gush, and the top of the creature's head slid slowly away to
fall into the ragged hole.  The rest of the salamander slumped
forward, crashing through the floor and taking the wrecked
armoured car with it.
     "Bad day for whoever has to fix the floors in here!" Jupiter
shouted.
     "Let's get upstairs before anything else decides to show
up!" Moon declared.  Venus was in full agreement.  Uranus
scooped the semi-conscious police officer into her arms, and
together they leapt up through the newest hole.
     The next level was a wreck.  Apparently there'd been some
heavy fighting here, but the police had been holding their own.  An
armoured unit was slumped against one of the concrete support
pillars, one leg torn away.  Venus didn't know what type it was, but
despite the damage the pilot was still inside, sweeping the area with
a relatively compact sidearm.
     "Hey!" a shout came from behind them.  The bay was full of
dead beasties and wrecked vehicles, but through the devastation she
could see several officers running towards them.  One of them was
Mamoru.
     "We meet again," a good-looking blond man with a ponytail
and glasses grinned as he caught sight of the princess.
     "Hey, Garr!  We thought you'd bought it," a gorgeous,
dusky skinned woman chimed in as she swept the area with an
assault rifle.
     "Things got a trifle complicated," the wind mage replied.
"Young Rika here had to get creative, and then the floor
collapsed."  He nodded to indicate the unconscious woman in
Uranus' arms.
     "Whatever was calling these things is gone, and now they're
out of control," the short-haired woman with the ugly gun told
them.  The patch on her uniform said "Piakesti".  Venus thought it
should have read "Dead Sexy", and was willing to tell her so.
     Later.  First things first.
     "We know," Moon replied.  "We're going up to try and
help contain the situation."
     "Now that we have some extra hands and fewer
distractions," Garr the wind mage added, "we may be able to get
some units up to ground level.  Come, detectives, lend a hand,
would you?"
     Venus noticed her princess exchanging emotion-laden
glances with Mamoru, who was dirty and slightly ragged but
looked essentially unharmed.  Then she saw Mamoru shooting a
hostile glance at the Outers.  Yes, the fun was far from over.
     Uranus gave the injured officer to one of the new arrivals,
then they proceeded in the direction of the stairs.  Venus cast a
glance back to see a pilot emerging from the damaged armoured
unit, waving and shouting something to the others.
     Good luck, folks, she thought.  And don't worry.  When we
get through with the people who did this, they'll never trouble you
again.
     Or anyone else, for that matter.

***

     A low haze filled the air, mostly smoke from guns and the
sporadic fires that had cropped up, as well as dust from buildings
which had been damned near levelled.  The noise was still there as
well, shrieking beasts competing with sirens, gunfire, shouting, and
just general pandemonium.
     I dodged something that swooped down at me from above,
but it was gone before I could tag it.  According to Phobos, the
girls had stopped whatever had been causing the monsters to
gravitate here.  Many of the creatures had started leaving the area
immediately, or tried to at any rate.  The forces which had been
harrying the flanks of the mob as well as trying to stop additional
forces from joining in had suddenly found the tide turning, and
things remained chaotic.
     Fortunately, the monsters no longer only fought those who
impeded their progress; now they were happy to fight each other as
well.  There were a couple of real prize fights still going on in the
main plaza, like the salamander that was fighting something that
looked like a smaller version of a dragon.  Now that they weren't
conducting a desperate defence, the police were managing to fight
back.
     From my new perch on the roof of a three-story building
across the street from the plaza, I could see what was going on
without getting overrun.  It seemed like the best idea to let the
monsters try and disperse; several bounty hunters seemed to have
gotten the same idea, and had vacated the immediate area.  Flyers
with police markings were still buzzing through the skies above us,
but they were being careful about getting too close to the action.
The blackened wreckage of several flyers scattered around the
plaza bore silent testimony to what happened to those not
exercising proper caution.
     "Is it safe?" Deimos asked as she popped out of the collar of
my shirt.
     "Well, we're not in the thick of it anymore," I told her.
Phobos popped up a moment later, and I fought the urge to squirm
at the feel of their tiny feet against my breasts.
     "Man," Deimos complained.  "There were things out there
that would have eaten me in one bite!"
     "Are you sure that Mars doesn't want us to come in?" I
asked.
     "She says they're coming out now," Deimos replied, craning
her head back to try and meet my gaze.  "She wants you to stay in
position and look for Sisters."
     Right.  I wasn't too happy about that; I could find monsters
to kill simply by going in any direction, and now rescue crews were
trying to get to those caught in the fighting who could still be
helped.  My stomach churned at that sight; for a moment I wasn't
just remembering, I was actually back in my Nerima, smoke
stinging my nose as sirens wailed everywhere and people cried out
from the site of the latest attack.
     I wanted to go help, to do more than I already had.  But I'd
promised to keep an eye out for Saekianna and her merry band; if
this was a trap, we needed to keep one step ahead of the enemy.
And if this was a trap, then I wanted to get my hands on the people
responsible.  Anyone who could cause this much random
destruction just to try and draw out their enemy was scum in my
book.
     "I haven't spotted Saekianna, or any of the ones I saw at the
parking garage," I shrugged.  "She showed you faces to look for,
right?"
     "Yes," Phobos said primly.  "But we saw no one matching
the mental images she showed us."
     "What kind of idiot sets a trap and then doesn't even show
up to check it?" I growled.
     "By the looks of things, maybe it got away from them,"
Deimos pointed out, finally emerging from my shirt and leaping up
to my shoulder.  "This is definitely bigger than that scene at the
market."
     Phobos followed suit, but instead of landing on my shoulder
she hovered in the air over it, gazing behind me with an expression
of vague alarm.
     "Company," she said softly.
     I turned.  Others had ended up on the roof in the time I'd been
there, all of them bounty hunters by the look of them.  None of
them had stayed, though; they'd merely been seeking a vantage
point to get a read on the movements of the monsters.  This group,
though, was different.  There were five of them, three men, two
women.  One of the women seemed familiar to me, a tall woman
with her pale blonde hair worn in a long braid.  She was whispering
something to a man in an expensive-looking suit.  He was clearly
the leader; the others deferred to him as he moved across the roof,
his long glossy hair rippling in the breeze.  His eyes were focussed
on me, and there was something there, a kind of hunger almost, that
I definitely didn't like.  Guys like this always gave me trouble in girl
form.
     The others spread out behind him, not exactly threatening,
but I'd have to break their line to reach the door at the other end of
the roof.  Not that I needed the door, but they didn't know that.
They all moved with an easy grace that told me I was facing serious
opponents, people who knew how to move, how to fight.
     This was all I needed.  As if the damned monsters weren't
bad enough, now we had to start fighting each other?
     "Well, Yui?" the tall guy with the long hair asked, his green
eyes locked on me from only a few feet away.
     "It's definitely her," the blonde replied, watching me warily.
Yui?  I'd heard the name, too.  But where?
     "Something I can do for you folks?" I asked, not striving to
sound too friendly.
     "Oh, dear," the man murmured, looking down the knife
edge of his perfect nose at me.  "She doesn't seem to remember
you, Yui.  Or Mika, either.  How ... insulting."
     "Pal," I said, "I got one nerve left, and you're getting on it.
Why don't we just cut to the chase, huh?"
     A silence descended over the group, as they all turned to
see how their leader would react.  He smiled at me, but it wasn't a
pleasant smile.  It made his mouth curve into the right shape, but his
eyes, those stayed cold as ice.  Green ice.
     "What an interesting girl you are," he growled, his voice
coming from someplace low in his throat.  "Harnessing the spirit of
a great cat, and travelling with fairies.  My curiosity is piqued, my
dear."
     There was a chorus of faint popping noises, and I saw the
faces of a couple of the group begin to ripple and change.  Then I
finally understood.  These guys were werecats, probably from the
group that had jumped us in the ruins.  I didn't remember any of
them clearly, but obviously they remembered me.
     Fortunately, the guy in charge held up his hand, forestalling
any full-scale changes.  Which was just as well, since I figured that
the sight of five huge cats would send me into the Neko-ken faster
than I could blink.
     "You were in the company of some lovely sailor girls at the
time," he continued, fixing me with that cold green fire in his eyes.
"But you are not one, and thus I do not think our truce includes
you.  My master wishes to know more of this magick which calls
upon the essence of the cat without physical shift."
     "No," I replied, "he really doesn't."
     "Come now," the man breathed, as his flunkies moved
subtly to flank me.  "This need not be unpleasant, my lovely.  We
are soul kin, are we not?"
     "Buddy, you really don't know what you're talking about,"
I told him.  "But I can tell you that I'm not interested in your
master or what he wants to know.  This place looks like they just
staged World War Three, and you think I care about this?"
     "I care," he said carefully, "about that which my master
cares about.  Perhaps you heard the call as well, in your animal
soul.  Perhaps that is why we meet here, in this place, in this time of
disaster.  It is fate."
     "It's a crock," I shot back.  "Look, I'm waiting for some
people, so why don't you take a walk?"
     I didn't expect it to be that easy, and it wasn't.  He
continued to hold my gaze for a few moments, but if he expected
me to melt he was sorely disappointed.  Finally, he shrugged.
     "This could be very pleasant for you," he told me, moving a
half step closer.  Oh, boy.
     "You're not my type," I told him dryly.
     "Nevertheless, I do wish to witness your power," the man
told me, his voice silky smooth.  "If you will not be cooperative,
then perhaps some persuasion is in order?"
     The blonde girl, Yui, the other girl, and two of the men started
shucking their clothes with quick, practised motions, and I knew I
was in trouble as they started to change immediately.  I didn't want
to end up in the Neko-ken, not now.  Phobos and Deimos, who had
until now remained silent, suddenly took to the air.  I checked over
my shoulder, but the ground below was currently occupied by a
writhing mass of unpleasant-looking worm things, which were
frantically trying to get away from a small group of police with
flamethrowers.
     Right.  The other way, then.  I leapt, clearing the group
easily.  When I hit the roof, though, something streaked around
from the right to cut off my retreat, something big, with spots.
Something very cat-like.
     My heart began to race.  Just seeing a normal housecat sent
me into paroxysms of panic; the sight of this huge feline was
pushing me right into the Neko-ken.  I dodged, but now there was
another one coming in from the side, a third behind it.  I tired to
move back, but I tripped over something.  Something big, with fur,
something that growled ...

***

     Pluto had seen battlefields before.  A great many of them, in
fact.  She was not shocked by the destruction which had been
wrought by the monsters' rampage; in her time, she had witnessed
far worse.  She was saddened, though.  It was clear that there had
been terrible casualties, although she suspected the true cost would
not be known for some time.
     They had left the wind-mage and his comrades to attempt to free
up some of their heavy weapons, and now they were following their
younger counterparts across the still-dangerous plaza.  The police
tower bore several scars as a result of the pitched battle, with
sporadic fire still coming from the upper floors.
     "Looks bad, huh?" Uranus muttered as they ran.
     "Very bad," Pluto agreed.  "Where are we going?  There
doesn't seem to be any one major concentration of monsters at this
point."
     "Mars seemed to get some sort of communication indicating
trouble," Neptune told her.  "The girls got quite upset."
     "Artemis and Luna must be coordinating things from the
outside," Pluto mused.  "Very interesting."
     "Did you notice," Uranus murmured, casting a glance ahead
at the running senshi in their maid outfits, "that Mars seemed to
know that girl with the sphere?"
     "Indeed," Neptune nodded.  "It appears there will be
questions after all."
     "We've got to talk to Saturn, though.  She's not handling
this very well," Pluto sighed.
     "We were trying to work out some sort of controlled
meeting, so of course this had to happen," Uranus snorted, pausing
to fire off a blast at a wounded creature that ventured too near their
path.  "We'll just have to deal with this.  The best thing, I think, is
to let Saturn and the princess talk."
     "Agreed," Neptune said.  "The princess will be able to reach
her if anyone can.  They need to get things between them out in the
open before we can go any further."
     "It appears we will have to address our current crisis first,"
Pluto pointed out, as ahead of them the senshi began leaping up to
a battered awning above a small storefront, springboarding up to
the roof.
     "Isn't that where we met up before we went in?" Uranus
asked.
     "It is indeed," Pluto told her.  "Let's go see what our little
sisters have in store for us."

***

     Venus checked in with Artemis as they ran, but he had
nothing on Ranma.  He'd been monitoring the situation as best he
could from a distance, but without a spare communicator they'd
had to rely on Mars' link with Phobos and Deimos to keep tabs on
the martial artist.  And all Mars could tell her was that there was
trouble, and that they were needed quickly.
     Swell.
     At least there was still no sign of the Sisterhood.  In fact,
except for that one lunatic with the sphere, they hadn't put in an
appearance at all.  None of this made sense to her, but she was
willing to postpone worrying about the attack until later.  Right
now, they were all present and accounted for except for Ranma.
And since they'd asked him to keep watch for the Sisterhood while
they went in, she felt more than a little responsible for him.
     Mars pointed the way, and they raced through a scene of
absolute devastation towards a small building on the far side of the
plaza.  It had fared better than some, although all the windows in
front were broken, and the street in front was littered with the
burning, and mercifully unmoving, forms of several serpentine
creatures.  A spray of water arced out ahead of them courtesy of
Mercury, damping the flames, and moments later they were leaping
up the front of the building to reach the rooftop.
     It took Venus only seconds to see what the problem was.
     Werecats.
     They stood in a ragged circle, four of them.  Ranma was
crouched on the roof, lips peeled back from her teeth, and if she
wasn't gone into kitty-cat mode yet, she certainly wasn't far from
it.  What was really interesting, though, was what was keeping the
cats from charging Ranma.
     There, between the cats and the red-head, stood a very
large, very pissed-looking gray wolf.
     Venus fixed her gaze on Rin, who stood overseeing the
confrontation with what appeared to be cool amusement.  She felt
anger rushing up inside her in a hot tide, but before she could act
the suave shifter was surrounded by a cascade of lightning bolts
which cracked and seared the air around him.
     "Rin," a voice said into the ensuing silence.  "Call them off.
Now."
     "Jupiter," Rin said, moving only his head.  "What a fetching
outfit.  I quite like it ..."
     "You're pushing my buttons, Rin.  You don't want to do
that."
     "On the contrary.  The wolf is not covered by our truce."
     Venus moved towards Ranma, only to be brought up short
when one of the great cats turned and snarled at her.
     "I think she likes you," Rin said, looking suave and thoroughly
lickable.  Venus snapped her wrist and her whip snaked out to catch
the cat by the throat.  She planted her feet and yanked with all of
her strength, jerking the startled cat off its feet and halfway across
the rooftop, where it fell in an ungainly heap.
     "Rin, baby," she growled.  "Now's not the time for charm.
We're having a very bad day."
     "The leather was much more intimidating, my dear," Rin told her
coolly.  "Is this how you fulfill your obligations under our truce?"
     "Don't get cute, Rin," Jupiter shot back.  She was in his
face now, and the air seemed thick with the promise of violence.
"You're trying to get back at that girl for what happened in the
ruins before.  That's bush league, pal.  Take a look around.  People
are in trouble here."
     "We know that," Rin said, and the playful heat was gone
from his voice.  "After all, are we not good enough to die for the
realm?  Not good enough to enjoy the status of citizens, but good
enough to die.  Why do you think my people were here?"
     "The girl, Rin," Venus said tightly.  "If you push her, she's
going to lose control, and then we're all going to have more trouble
than we need, that I promise you."
     "Like calls to like," Rin replied, his gaze going from Jupiter
to Venus and then back.  "She is like us.  She possesses the spirit of
the beast, the heart of the predator, the soul of the cat.  It is our
right to challenge her, test her."
     "No."  That one word was accompanied by a flash of light,
and Sailor Moon strode across the roof, ponytails doing a sinuous
dance in the fitful breeze.
     "No?" Rin echoed, his voice dangerous.  "How, no?  The
affairs of the clans are not yours, little one."
     "You wanted a truce with me and my people, Rin," Sailor
Moon replied.  "Jupiter vouched for your integrity, and so I agreed.
But that girl is under the protection of my Court.  Whatever beast
lives in her soul, it is not yours to challenge."
     Rin looked down at Jupiter for a long moment.  They rest of
the group were frozen in their strange tableau; the other senshi
staying back, the three free cats held at bay by the menacing wolf,
Ranma trembling in a ball on the roof.
     "With all due respect, Princess," Rin said softly, "we answer
only to the Mother Moon.  And while you name yourself Moon,
you are not she.  You cannot deny us the rules by which we live.
Shifters live not only by the rules of men, but also those of our
beasts.  There is a part of her which is like us, which calls to us.
You should not interfere."
     One of the cats lunged at that moment, trying to get past the
wolf.  It managed to flank the beast, but before it could do anything
Ranma let out a fierce, feline shriek.  Her arm swung in a vicious
arc, and although the tawny beast was at least ten feet away a series
of parallel bloody wounds, like claw marks, erupted along its flank.
Yowling in pain, the cat fell back, writhing and snarling.
     "You're the one who should not interfere, Rin," Venus
snapped.  "Did you see that?  She is NOT like you!  You don't
understand what you're dealing with!"
     "Withdraw, Rin," Sailor Moon said evenly.  "That girl is
under my protection, and if you do not withdraw I will consider our
truce at an end."
     Rin hesitated, and Venus saw that an enraged Ranma was
moving forward, no doubt meaning to attack the source of her
frustration.  With tempers running high, that could be the trigger
that pushed everybody past the point of no return.  This close
to the full moon, she had to wonder how tight Rin's hold on
his people would be.  Releasing the whip which held one of the
cats, she leapt across the roof, landing between Ranma and the
nearest cat.
     "Come here, baby," she said in a low, husky voice.  "Come
on.  Don't pay attention to those bad old cats.  Here, puss."
     Ranma flinched, but she held her arms out and waited.
Ranma's body was low to the ground, as if she might spring at any
moment, but Venus kept talking to her in low, comforting tones.
     "You cannot deny us the right to defend ourselves," Rin
said loudly.
     "Self-defence?" a high voice came.  "They started it!
Ranma didn't want to fight!"  Deimos was swooping through the
air above them, looking quite indignant.
     "If your people change back, Rin, then I can control her,"
Venus said quietly.  "If they don't, then this is on your head."
     "Now's not the time to be stubborn, Rin," Jupiter said
behind her.  "We will no more let you hurt her than you would let
us hurt one of your people.  So.  What will it be?"
     Venus kept her eyes locked on Ranma, who did not
advance, but also did not relax her feline attack stance.  Tension
sang in the lines of the girl's body, and Venus wondered what
would happen if she got between the girl and her prey.  Surely
Ranma wouldn't hurt her?  But there was little of angst or self-
awareness in those stormy blue-gray eyes, only feral wildness.
     For long moments, she didn't think Rin was going to
cooperate.  Then the man issued a curt command, and she heard the
unmistakable sounds of shifters changing shape.  She was glad she
didn't have to watch; truth be told, it creeped her out a little, the
way their bodies morphed and changed.
     "There," Rin's voice came.  "If harm come to my people
now, Princess, it will be a very bad thing."
     "If you threaten us again, boy," Uranus's voice came in
response, "you will find out just what bad means."
     "Everything's okay," Venus said before Rin could reply.
"Hey, Ranma.  Hey, baby.  Come here.  Puss, puss, puss."  Ranma
seemed puzzled by the transformations, still tense but no longer
seeming to be on the verge of attack.  She lowered her head and
cast a suspicious glance at the wolf which stood between her and
several naked shifters.
     "Yoshi," Jupiter said.  "Please."
     Yoshi?  Venus watched out of the corner of her eye as the
wolf shuddered, slowly changing to human form.  Still a little
creepy, but when it was done, there stood Yoshi, all rangy muscle
and lithe grace.  And naked, of course.  There was that about
shifters, they were pretty damned comfortable in their own skin.
     Yoshi's blond hair was unbound and blew around his face
enticingly as his gray eyes sought out Ranma.
     "I didn't know she was yours, Jupiter," the werewolf said.
     "No, you were just interfering," Rin said in a low and
thoroughly unpleasant voice.  "As usual."
     "Boys," Jupiter growled.
     "Hey," Venus said softly.  "Hey, Ranma.  All the bad kitties
are gone now.  Come on, come see me."  If she couldn't control the
feral girl now, after convincing the shifters to all change, there
would be very bad trouble indeed.  She wondered for a moment if
she should ask Mars to try her animal attraction trick again, then
the petite red-head sprang forward into her outstretched arms.  She
was knocked back on her butt, whoofing loudly, then carefully
wrapped her arms around the suddenly affectionate girl.
     "That's my girl," she crooned, stroking tousled flaming
bangs from the girl's dirt-smudged face.  "Everything's okay now."
She scratched Ranma behind the ears, and the red-head closed her
eyes and butted her head into Venus's chest, then began to purr.
     "Very interesting," Rin said from behind her.  "I had no idea
she was someone's pet."
     "What she is, Rin, is off-limits," Jupiter growled.  "You get
it?"
     "I understand," he replied smoothly.  "This was merely an
unfortunate ... misunderstanding.  But if our truce is to include
outsiders, Gareth will need to know.  You cannot simply keep
changing the rules, oh Princess.  No matter who you are."
     "You made your point, Rin," Jupiter said firmly.  Venus
kept stroking Ranma's hair, noting that the girl kept her eyes on
Rin.  Despite her deceptively relaxed state, Venus had no doubt
that Ranma sensed what Rin and the others were.  Yoshi didn't
seem to bother her as much.
     "I am glad," Rin replied.  The man looked sinfully good, and
Venus was certain he knew it.  Of course, expensive as his suit was,
it was certainly upstaged by Yoshi's birthday suit.  Yoshi had some
scars and one tattoo that she could see, but he stood before several
strange women and a pack of werecats as though he were clad in
armour.  "And young Yoshi?  Is he covered by our truce?"
     Don't say yes, Jupiter, Venus pleaded mentally.  If you have
any conception of the male ego, don't say yes.
     "No," Yoshi said evenly.  "You know I'm not, Rin."
     "Well, then," Rin purred, his glorious green eyes narrowed.
The focus had suddenly shifted to the two men, despite the fact that
all of Rin's cats were naked.  "We will take this up another time,
pup."
     "Believe it," Yoshi said, cold fury filling the gray of his
eyes.
     Rin bowed to the princess, making the gesture look courtly
and gently mocking at the same time.  Then he strode off the roof,
his people gathering their clothes and following with wary glances
over their shoulders.  Venus felt Ranma settle into her lap as Jupiter
went to Yoshi and began talking to him in low tones.  Yoshi and
Rin, Venus though.  Damn, she is one lucky girl.
     And if she could figure out a way to get them both into bed
at once, she'd be a goddess in Venus's humble opinion.
     "You've been a busy girl, Princess," Uranus murmured, her
gaze flicking from Ranma to the retreating werecats to the naked
Yoshi and back to Sailor Moon.  "I scarcely know where to begin."
     "We should leave this place," Pluto said.  "We need to find
someplace safe, and quiet.  There is much to discuss."
     Venus noticed that Ranma had stopped purring, then the
red-head lifted her head from Venus's lap and blinked drowsily.
     "Huh?" she asked.  "What happened.  I ... ow!  Dammit!"  She
rubbed her shoulder, wincing.
     "Welcome back," Venus grinned.  "Hey, we didn't even
need hot water this time."  Ranma seemed troubled by that for
some reason, looking away from her to flick her gaze over the roof.
     "Where'd they go?" she asked.
     "We sent them packing," Venus informed her.  "But, for the
record, you were winning.  How do you feel?"
     "I'll live," Ranma grimaced.
     "So?" Jupiter asked.  The others all turned to face Sailor
Moon, who in turn moved to stand in front of Saturn.
     "Yes," the princess said softly.  "We do have a lot to talk
about.  Don't we?  But first, we have to help clean up this mess."
     "Very well," Saturn said, her face a mask of composure.  "Shall
we meet back at the mansion afterwards?"
     "Neutral territory, I think," Mars said.  Saturn turned to her,
gaze darkening, but Sailor Moon leapt in.
     "Neutral territory sounds good," she said firmly.  "I
remember a place, nice and private, discretion assured.  Uranus?"
     "Ah, yes," Uranus replied.  "I recall it well.  Yes, I think it
would do."
     The others didn't look thrilled, but Venus realized that the
princess was right.  Business first, and then, well ...
     More business.  Unpleasant, but well overdue.

***

     "Well, now," Wynneth sighed, running one hand over the
sleek silk sheets that were draped over her luxurious bed.  They
were the colour of old blood, dark red that was nearly black in the
half-light.  The sensation of that silk against her skin pleased her;
she did so enjoy the sensual pleasures of the flesh.  "That was
entertaining.  Such a lot of destruction and chaos.  It will take the
poor darlings some time to even begin to unravel what just
happened."
     She moved, making the mere act of standing into a piece of
erotic theatre, her dark dress swirling around pale flesh as she
circled the bed.  Her wraiths bowed before her terrible beauty,
abasing themselves.  As the humans would.  As those last few
ignorant survivors of the White Moon would.
     "Yes," she breathed into the stillness.  "That poor wretched
Sister, foolishly worshipping an impotent goddess, was destroyed
by her own weakness.  Who is to say otherwise?  No body will be
found, no marks upon that smooth throat will give lie to such a
tale."
     She slid languorously onto silken sheets that lay heavy with
her perfume, filling the air with her cloying scent like a beautiful yet
deadly flower beckoning the unwary to their delicious doom.  A
woman's figure lay there, her pale platinum hair lying thick and
lovely against the dark silk.  Covered in the tattered remains of a
burial shroud, Wynneth could see that her perfect porcelain skin
fairly glowed, unmarked by any blemish save one; a pair of tiny
puncture marks on her pale throat.
     "And you, my lovely," Wynneth breath, reaching out to
brush a lock of that heavy, pale silk from the curve of a cool cheek.
"I kept you against the day that I might need you.  And yet the
moment of my triumph draws near, and my little contingency plan
was unneeded.  All you ended up being good for was posing a last
minute threat to my plans, however small."
     She leaned forward, dark hair spilling over pale, and pursed
her full lips.  Gently, she blew into the woman's face, releasing the
spell which had held her between moments for all this time.
Tentatively, dark eyes that had once looked with disdain upon those
who had come before them fluttered open, full of pain and fear.
And, of course, hunger.
     "There, there, my pet," Wynneth crooned.  "I shan't discard
you.  You are so lovely, and I may yet find a use for you.  Now
come.  Come and kneel to your new mistress."
     She held out her hand and drew the woman up.  Slowly she
increased the pressure on that slim, elegant hand.  The woman
began to whimper, and Wynneth's smile widened until the tips of
her fangs were showing.
     "You do remember me, don't you?" she whispered.  "Then
kneel.  Kneel and worship your new goddess.  Kneel!"
     The mewling vampiress scrambled to obey, and Wynneth
smiled fondly down upon her, reaching out to stroke her hair.
     "That's right," she murmured.  "You are my first new
vampire in quite some time, my pet.  I've been busy, you know.
But soon you'll have plenty of sisters.  Tell me, are you hungry?"
     Her voice was honeyed, sweet, and Cyrie gazed up at her
eagerly.
     "Yes."  Her voice was a harsh rustling, like autumn leaves in
the wind, and Wynneth backhanded the beauty with casual force,
throwing her from the bed.  Cyrie tumbled heavily to the floor and
ended up in an untidy heap where she trembled, her rags sliding
away as Wynneth slowly rose and strode over to her.
     "Tell me," she repeated softly, eyes full of darkness, "are you
hungry?"
     "Yes ... mistress," the new vampiress moaned.  Wynneth
reached down to cup the woman's chin and gently but firmly tilted
her head back so that their eyes met.
     "So," she murmured huskily.  "Then it is time to begin
teaching you how to hunt.  Ah, my pet.  You have been so much
trouble for your mistress.  Unlike your lovely, cooperative
daughter.  Let us hope she remains ignorant and cooperative.  For
just a little while longer."
     She laughed, a sound edged with darkness that has never
known the dawn, and all around the chamber her pets trembled in
terrified adoration.
     As the world soon would.
 
 

end part 13