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 is 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 Four: Shadows of the Past
 

     Usagi woke slowly to the most wonderful sensation.  Soft lips were tracing along the tender
skin of her throat, slowly making their way up to slide along the curve of her jaw.  A throaty,
feline purr escaped her as someone embraced her from behind, wrapping her in drowsy heat.  She
arched her back, giving the teasing lips freedom to do as they wished, her eyelids fluttering, still
heavy with sleep.  The mouth trailed sweet heat down to the point of her chin, then slowly moved
up towards her mouth.  Her breath quickened at the delicious sensations as she was rolled slowly
onto her back, the gentle pressure of hot breath teasing her lips apart in anticipation.
     "Minako, what are you doing?" a voice demanded angrily.  Frowning, Usagi pried her eyes
open to see sparkling blue eyes and a tousled mane of blonde hair.
     "Morning, princess," Minako said sweetly.
     "Miiinaaakooo," Usagi moaned.  "I thought you were Mamo-chan!"
     "He wakes you up like this?" Minako asked mischievously.
     "Well ..."
     "You can get off of her any time," the voice came again.  Out of the corner of her eye, Usagi
could see Rei standing beside the sofa bed, arms crossed.  Minako sighed and began pull away,
but Usagi reached up and twined her arms around the other girl's neck, pulling herself up enough
to kiss Minako lightly on the lips.
     "It is a nice way to wake up, anyway," Usagi said impishly.  "Thank you, Minako."
     "Anything for my princess," Minako said, smirking at Rei.  Usagi had to admit that the look on
the raven-haired girl's face as she stomped away was priceless.
     "Hey, Makoto," Minako yawned as she crawled from the rumpled bed.  "What's for
breakfast?"
     "Mustard," Makoto replied.  "Unless someone goes for groceries."
     "If you're cooking, I'm up for it," Minako said easily, raking her heavy blonde hair back from
her face with her fingers.  Usagi watched her strut across the floor, reflecting wryly that her friend
always acted as if all eyes were on her.  And, much of the time, it seemed she was right.
     "Great," Makoto said.  "While you're doing that, I'm going to run down to Memorial Square.
There's something in for me."
     "I can get that too," Minako offered, rooting around in her bag.
     "No, I want to make sure it's what I'm after before I pay," Makoto told her.  "Anyway, it's a
little out of the way.  I should be there and back by the time you finish, though."
     "You're taking your motorcycle?" Usagi asked, grabbing at the opportunity.  "Can I come?"
     "Someone has to be here if Ami calls," Makoto told her.
     "No problem," Rei said.  "I'll stay."
     "So it's okay?" Usagi asked.  Makoto gave her a grin.
     "Sure, why not?  Get dressed and we'll run down there now."  Usagi bounded out of bed and
grabbed her things.  She always liked riding on the back of a motorcycle, but that wasn't the
reason she wanted to go with Makoto.  Somewhere along the way there was bound to be a pay
phone, and she wanted to make a call in private.
     Rei might not want to discuss the woman from the club, but Usagi wasn't going to be put off.
If that woman had some sort of hold over Rei, then the sooner it was dealt with, the better.
     And Usagi was just the person to handle this.  Well, with Mamoru's help; she'd noted the
license plate of the fancy car from last night, and Mamoru could track the owner down for her
easily.
     Usagi suppressed a satisfied grin.
     She loved being clever.

***

     The knock startled Hotaru out of her reverie, and she turned to see Setsuna standing in the
doorway.
     "So here you are," the emerald-haired woman said.  "I figured as much."  She came into the
bathroom and moved to stand behind Hotaru, gently taking the straight razor from the smaller
woman's hand.  Then she began combing Hotaru's thick midnight locks back with her fingers,
gathering them at the base of the girl's neck.
     "You got it a little too short last time," Setsuna murmured idly.  Hotaru sneaked a look at the
other woman in the mirror, suddenly feeling anxious about Setsuna's close proximity.  The strange
events of the previous night had shaken her, but the hunger remained dormant and after a moment
she forced herself to relax.
     "Setsuna," Hotaru began.
     "Hush," Setsuna ordered sternly.  "Stop moving around, I don't want to get it crooked."
Hotaru did as she was told, her head feeling immediately lighter as Setsuna made an expert pass
with the razor.  Then she set it down and retrieved a small pair of scissors, touching up the ends.
     "I can do that," Hotaru protested.
     "It's all right," Setsuna replied.  "Let me."
     "I'm sorry," Hotaru said after a few moments of strained silence.  "About last night.  I let
things go too long, and ..."
     "Hotaru, I understand," Setsuna murmured as she worked.  "I know you weren't trying to hurt
me.  We're just going to have to work together to make sure your hunger doesn't get so intense in
the future.  You understand that, don't you?"
     "Yes," Hotaru said quietly.  Setsuna's calm, almost sisterly tone had the effect of relieving
Hotaru's anxiety, allowing her to relax a little.  For a moment, she considered telling Setsuna
about the previous night, about her dream and waking up with the hunger fully on her.
     But in the end, she didn't.  Hotaru didn't understand what had happened, but the hunger had
vanished as suddenly as it had come on her.  And surely, whatever it had been, it was simply an
anomaly.  If it began to recur, then she would have to tell the others, but for now tensions were
high enough under her roof.
     "I owe Haruka an apology, too," Hotaru sighed at last.  "I said some unpleasant things to her
last night."
     "So I hear," Setsuna murmured.  "You don't really believe she's looking for an excuse to kill
you, do you?"
     "Of course not," Hotaru said, scowling.  She started to turn her head and Setsuna gently
tugged it back into position.
     "Haruka and Michiru are ... careful," Setsuna murmured, pausing to meet Hotaru's eyes in the
mirror.  "That's all.  They're as protective of you as I am, they just don't show it the same way."
     "Sometimes it doesn't feel that way," Hotaru muttered.
     "I know.  But trust me, they're on your side.  We all are.  Now hold still so I can finish this."
     Hotaru complied, the metallic snick-snick of the scissors near her ear strangely soothing.  Soon
enough she would have to go downstairs and apologize to Haruka, no doubt enduring a lecture
on hiding the intensity of the hunger from them.  Then she would have to see what had happened
in the city over night, taking the time to sift through for anything that might be significant.
     In the meantime, though, it was nice to sit here and be fussed over.  The normality of it pushed
the aftereffects of her nightmare away, made her feel stable and secure and good.
     That was a feeling she intended to cherish for as long as she could.

***

     The rain had stopped and the clouds scattered, letting watery sunlight through to kiss the earth
for the first time in days.  The wind was cool but lacked winter's biting edge, and Usagi couldn't
help but grin as she clung to Makoto's back.  It was always fun, riding on a motorcycle.  Almost
made her want to learn how to drive one.
     Almost.
     She closed her eyes a moment, just letting herself be surrounded by the sensation of being near
Makoto.  The tall girl's long ponytail rippled in the wind where it hung below her helmet, and it
tickled Usagi's face as she leaned into her friend's reassuringly strong body.  It smelled faintly of
rose perfume, and for a moment Usagi could recall a time when she'd been injured, and how safe
she'd felt cradled in Makoto's strong arms.
     If she'd ever had a big sister, she would have wanted her to be just like Makoto; stubborn,
brave, and strong, but also gentle.
     At their destination, Usagi had called Mamoru's office while Makoto went inside to conduct
her business.  He hadn't been at his desk, and the surge of disappointment had been sudden and
intense.  That made twice she'd had to leave messages; she had the sudden urge to talk to him,
just to hear his voice.
     You're being unreasonable, she told herself now as the sleek motorcycle raced along the
expressway.  He has a lot to deal with at work right now, a lot of responsibility.  You can't expect
him to put everything on hold just because you want to say hi.
     After all, she wanted him to respect her ability.  And if something was threatening her senshi,
her people, then it was up to her to figure out what it was and find a way to deal with it.  And that
was just what she was going to do.
     She just wished she had some idea where to start.
     The fine thrum of the bike's engine resonated in her nerves as Makoto manoeuvred the
machine through traffic, steadily passing cars and leaving them behind.  Usagi took a deep breath
and let it out slowly.  All that could wait for a little while; this feeling was something she wanted
to cherish.  The wind tugged playfully at her ponytails, the world rushed by at dizzying speed, and
all she had to do was hold on and let someone else do the driving.
     They were on an elevated section of the roadway, and Usagi caught a glimpse of the bay in the
distance, shards of broken light thrown from the water's choppy surface drawing the eye.
     Then something else caught her eye, something much closer.  They were overtaking a red car
in the lane beside them, and something about it niggled at Usagi's memory.  It only took a moment
for her to place it, though.
     Minako had called it a Fransescetti or something, but all that mattered was that it looked like
the car that woman had been driving.  As they drew closer, she could make out the plate number
and felt a tingle of apprehension mixed with excitement.
     It was the same car, all right.  Ironically, after she'd gone to so much trouble to track the
woman down, she'd found her completely by accident.
     The bike came abreast of the low-slung car, and Usagi turned her head to get a look at the
driver.  She was driving with her window down, and Usagi caught a glimpse of luxuriant platinum
hair being tousled by the wind, then the curve of one high cheekbone, the smooth line of the jaw.
     The woman glanced over just at that moment and caught her staring.
     Makoto had a full helmet with a visor, but the one Usagi was wearing left her face bare, and
startled recognition flared briefly in the woman's captivating dark eyes.  It was as if Usagi could
actually FEEL the force of the woman's personality as their gazes locked, and her mouth went
inexplicably dry.
     Then they were past, and Usagi realized her heart was racing in her chest.  She couldn't let this
woman get to her like this; if she was going to confront the stranger, she'd have to give the
impression of power.  Usagi felt certain a woman like that would eat her alive if she sensed
weakness.
     Her reverie was interrupted by a flash of motion that she caught out of the corner of her eye.
With a throaty roar, the red car lunged ahead, pulling alongside them once more.  The enigmatic
beauty stared brazenly at Usagi, keeping pace with the motorcycle effortlessly.  Usagi felt a warm
flush spread from her neck down across her chest, almost as if the woman's gaze was touching
her, insinuating itself into intimate, hidden places.
     The sensation was disturbing; all the more so for not being totally unpleasant.
     Makoto had taken notice of the other vehicle's actions, and was glancing over at it now.  The
driver took no notice, though, her disconcerting gaze reserved solely for Usagi.  Finally, the
corners of those lush red lips curled up arrogantly, and the woman blew a contemptuous kiss from
her fingertips.  Then, with a high-pitched whine, the car accelerated away, leaving Usagi feeling
strangely light-headed.
     That ... woman.  Usagi shook her head.  Her confusion was fading, to be replaced with anger.
That woman had been taunting her.  She had some kind of hold over Rei, and she no doubt
believed that no one was strong enough to challenge it.
     Well, she was wrong.  Her shadow talents would find their match in Usagi, princess of the
White Moon.  That woman would soon find out that Rei had friends, friends who were not to be
trifled with.
     Her plan of having Mamoru track the woman down had been a good one, but suddenly Usagi
was stricken by the need to seize the moment.  After all, the challenge had been issued, and she
had no intention of ignoring it.
     "Hey!" Makoto shouted, her voice muffled by the helmet.  "Who was that?"
     "Mako-chan!  Can you catch up to her?" Usagi asked, leaning forward.  The visor of Makoto's
helmet was depolarized, and Usagi could see the taller girl's brow furrow.
     "Catch her?  Usagi ..."
     "Please!  I'll explain later, just don't lose her!"  Makoto paused a moment, staring at the exotic
sports car that was now a small speck quickly receding into the distance, then nodded her head
sharply.
     "Okay," she called back.  "Hold on tight!"  Usagi huddled against Makoto's back, excitement
surging in her chest as the bike leapt ahead almost eagerly.
     The chase was on.

***

     At least the rain had finally stopped.
     I stared out the window of the cheap hotel room, yawning hugely.  The paint was worn and
the walls were cracked in places, but the room was fairly clean, not to mention warm and dry.
The accommodations were better than anything I'd seen in weeks.
     Unfortunately, I hadn't slept well.  There had been the standard issue nightmares, the ones I
still had sometimes; I hadn't dreamt of my Nerima in months, but last night had found me once
again wandering those shattered streets, lost in a nightmare landscape.  In the dream I'd found
Ukyou's shoe in the street, full of blood.  She was the last one to die, and I don't have very clear
memories of what happened after that thing took her.  Maybe the events in my dream really had
happened and I'd just repressed them, or maybe it was just a freaky dream thing.  I honestly don't
know for sure.
     After that, I'd turned a corner in the dream, figuratively and literally, to find myself staring
down the street that led past the dojo.  There, neatly lined up in the middle of the roadway, had
been lonely pairs of shoes; blood-soaked, they formed a line that disappeared into the distance.
Being a dream, I'd known who each pair belonged to, and I shouted out a name for each as I ran
along, knowing I needed to get to the end of the line.
     But I ran and ran, and there were always more shoes, and they were all empty.  All of them.  I
know it probably doesn't sound frightening; I mean, shoes?  Scary, huh?  But I woke up in a cold
sweat, heart slamming against my ribs, and a name on my lips, the only name I hadn't uttered in
my dream.
     No prizes for guessing whose name it was.  I didn't say it, though.  I'm not sure why, but it just
felt like saying her name aloud would have been ... I don't know, improper somehow.  I couldn't
live in the past forever.
     Unfortunately, I couldn't make it let go either.  Made for bad nights, on occasion.
     And then there was the other thing, of course.  I couldn't seem to get the events in the
bathhouse out of my head.  The strange little girl and her weird rhyme had made guest
appearances in my dreams too, along with a lot of things that didn't frighten me the way my earlier
nightmares had, but did disturb me for reasons I couldn't explain.
     I hadn't really gotten any sleep until almost dawn, and now it was nearly nine-thirty.  I had to
check out within the hour unless I was going to stay another night, and that idea didn't really
appeal to me.  The world outside my window was still somewhat dingy and gray, despite the
gleam of sunlight on fresh rainwater, but I'd seen far worse.  And the temptation to just lie down
and let the world go on its merry way was, I knew from experience, a both seductive and
dangerous one.
     So I packed up my meagre possessions, stuffing them into the hidden pocket in my sash, and
headed out.  Since I'd paid cash, I'd had to pay the night in advance, so that saved me a trip to the
desk.  The morning clerk was every bit as sullen as her counterpart from the night-shift had been,
and she ignored me effortlessly as I strode through the cramped lobby and out the doors.
     I turned and started walking aimlessly, forming the vague intention of finding somewhere to
eat.  That was as far as my plans for life went; beyond that, my calender was pretty uncluttered.
     That thought brought me back to the sailor girls from the previous day, Rei and Usagi.  And
the flashy dominatrix in the black leather, too; the more I thought about it, the more certain I was
that she was the blonde in the cat outfit who'd been at their table.  I was still curious about them,
or more specifically about their reaction to me.  I might be making too much out of it, but that girl
Rei had definitely recognized me, and I wanted to know why.
     I had no idea how to find them, but thinking about it would at least give me something to
focus on for a while.
     The air was cool and smelled clean, as if the rain had washed all the smells of a city out of it.
Faintly, I caught the tang of salt water, although I couldn't see the ocean itself.  Maybe I'd go
down to the waterfront later on.  Somehow, watching the sea was always soothing.
     I walked for a time, heading back through the area I'd traversed the previous night.  The area
was a mix of semi-abandoned industrial buildings and new development, and I'd seen some places
where I was pretty sure I could get something to eat.  As I turned onto a familiar street, though, I
found myself slowing.
     A couple of blocks down, a small crowd was gathered behind some hastily erected barricades.
Flashing lights strobed from an untidy tangle of police cars that blocked part of the road with
casual disregard.
     Something about the scene tickled my memory, and I stopped for a moment, hit by a sensation
of deja vu.  Frowning, I started walking again, drawn by the atmosphere of fascination given off
by the crowd.
     I had closed about half the distance when I finally realized that the action was centred around
the very bathhouse where I'd seen the strange girl the previous night.
     Fighting down a sense of apprehension, I edged up to the back of the crowd.  From this
vantage point, I could see that there was damage to the building's walls; some holes had been
added since my last visit, and debris was scattered across the narrow sidewalk and into the street.
Whatever had happened, it had been sudden and violent.
     An explosion, the rational part of my mind stated.  Natural gas, or whatever they use around
here.  This doesn't have to have anything to do with you.
     And that was absolutely true, but I didn't believe for a second that it was anything simple.
     "Hey," I said to a guy about my age who was peering through the press at the uniformed cops
clustered around the remains of the front door.  "What happened?"
     "Place got hit last night," he replied without turning.  "Torn up real bad, from what I hear."
     "Robbery?" I asked, striving to sound casual.  The guy snorted.
     "Who in the hells robs a bathhouse?" he asked derisively.  "Naw, this was another weird night
in the neighbourhood.  They really did a job on the place.  Funny, huh?"
     "What is?" I asked.
     "Why would wraiths attack a bathhouse?"
     I hard-edged shard of ice fell into my gut at his words.  Wraiths?  First wraiths show up when I
meet those two girls, then they make another appearance, this time in force, again where the girls
are.  And now, they attack a bathhouse where I had a vision or something.
     They must have showed up soon after I left.  That thought shattered some of the numbness
that had begun to settle around me.  Coincidence?  How could it be?  But why?  How were all
these things connected?
     I had no idea, but I knew some girls who might be able to shed some light on the matter.
     The urge to find them had suddenly gotten stronger.
     A lot stronger.

***

     It took a while before the chase ended.
     It seemed to Usagi that the woman in the red car was enjoying the pursuit, dodging in and out
of traffic, powering her way through small gaps and surging ahead whenever she had any space.
     But even with two riders, the bike stayed with her.  The ride was exhilarating; Makoto may
not have been the driver that Haruka was, but she knew how to handle her machine.  She never let
their quarry get too far ahead, but left a margin of safety in case the other woman did something
drastic.
     When the racy red machine finally cut off the expressway, Usagi figured things were about to
get even stickier.  Chasing someone through city traffic was an entirely different matter, and she
wondered if she should tell Makoto to back off.  She could still proceed with her original plan,
after all.
     But the woman didn't go far.  When she hit the surface streets she slowed, then signalled and
swung into a parking lot, cruising all the way to the back before parking slantwise across two
spaces.  Makoto followed cautiously, coming to a stop some distance away.  She planted her feet
as the bike braked, and Usagi peered around the taller girl's body to see the car's door swing up.
The woman emerged with that same sleek grace that Usagi recalled from the previous night, then
closed the door and just stood there, a half-smile on her ruby lips.
     Waiting.
     The message was clear; Usagi would have to go to her.  Well, all right, then.  After all, she'd
chased the woman this far.  Usagi slipped off the back of the bike and loosened the chin strap of
her helmet.  When Makoto killed the bike's engine and followed suit, though, she shook her head.
     "Here," she said, handing the tall girl the helmet.  "Wait for me here, okay?"
     "What?" Makoto asked, her green eyes narrowing.  "Usagi, what is all this about?  Who is that
woman?"
     "I'll explain later, I promise," Usagi said, gazing imploringly into Makoto's eyes.  "But I have
to talk to her alone, Mako-chan.  It won't take long.  Please?"
     Makoto frowned, turning to stare at the woman across the parking lot.
     "All right," she said grudgingly.  "But I'll be right here if you need anything."
     "Thanks, Mako-chan!" Usagi beamed.  "You're the best!"  Turning, she began walking
towards the other woman, trying to ignore the maddening tingle of apprehension in her belly.
Perhaps she should let Makoto come with her; what if the woman tried something?
     No, she told herself firmly.  I should be the one to handle this.  And my light is strong enough
to beat her shadow, if it comes to that.  Squaring her shoulders, she marched straight up to where
the woman stood watching her with what appeared to be mild amusement.
     "Well, well," the woman murmured huskily.  "The pretty little flower.  How is it that I always
find you in the company of such strong, beautiful women?"  With this last, she flicked a lazy
glance over Usagi's shoulder towards where Makoto was waiting.
     "I'm Usagi Tsukino," Usagi said firmly.
     "Saekianna der Kae," the woman replied, her bottomless dark eyes returning to Usagi, looking
her over brazenly.  Usagi felt herself flush at the frankness of the woman's appraisal.  "It seems
you wanted to talk to me, Usagi.  Well, here I am."
     "Yes," Usagi replied.  Heat still suffused her cheeks, and she paused to marshal her thoughts.
This was beginning badly; next to Saekianna's poise and effortless sophistication, she suddenly felt
young and clumsy.  "It's about Rei."
     "What about her?" Saekianna asked.
     "I ..."  Usagi stopped, cursing herself.  There was something about the woman facing her, an
almost subliminal pull, that distracted her, confused her.  Remember, a little voice piped up.
Remember what she is.  Don't be beguiled by her tricks.
     "In the club," Usagi said firmly.  "It was you who threw that rose."
     "Yes," Saekianna said, inclining her head slightly.  "And if you went to all this trouble just to
thank me for saving you, I must say I'm touched."
     "What?" Usagi blurted.  She hadn't expected the woman to admit it so freely.  And, in fact, she
did have a point.  She'd killed the wraith that had been on the verge of attacking Usagi and the
waitress.  "No!  I mean ... I know what you are."
     "And what is that, little flower?" Saekianna asked, crossing her arms.
     "A Sister of Shadows," Usagi said, lifting her chin to stare defiantly into the woman's eyes.  "A
priestess of Dasma."
     "In fact, I am the reigning High Priestess," Saekianna corrected her haughtily, once again
taking the wind from Usagi's sails by refusing to be defensive.  "And you, if I am any judge, claim
that pale witch Alieva as your patron.  Perhaps you are even favoured by her somehow."  This last
was delivered with an arched eyebrow.
     "Perhaps I am," Usagi replied, giving a smug smile of her own.  "I was raised by White Lady's
sisterhood, after all.  And I know all about your kind."
     "My kind?" the other woman echoed, more amused than insulted.  "And what sorts of things
did you learn at the knees of our counterparts?"
     "The Sisters of Shadows know all sorts of ways to corrupt, to manipulate, to control," Usagi
said righteously.  "That's how you got a hold over Rei, isn't it?"
     "What?"  For the first time, the alluring beauty's control slipped, and Usagi pressed her
advantage.
     "I don't know exactly what's going on, but Rei is my friend.  If you try to force her to serve
you, I promise you'll answer to me, in the name of the ..."  Usagi broke off as Saekianna threw her
head back.
     And started to laugh.
     Even her laugh was sultry, caressing the ear like fine silk.  Usagi was too angry to care,
though.
     "What's so funny?" she demanded, furious.  "If you think I'm joking, you're wrong!  Stay away
from Rei from now on, or there will be trouble!"
     Saekianna suddenly moved so that she was standing directly in front of Usagi, so close they
were almost touching.  Usagi was enveloped in a heady wave of perfume, and the sense of the
woman's personality was so powerful it seemed to prickle across her skin like raw electricity.  The
laughter had died away, but there was still a trace of dark amusement in those entrancing eyes as
they locked with Usagi's, demanding her full attention.
     "Is that what this is all about?" she asked softly, her breath warm against Usagi's face.  "You
think I'm pulling Rei's strings?"
     "Y-Yes," Usagi breathed, her throat strangely tight.
     "Little fool," Saekianna crooned.  "You say she's your friend, but you understand nothing
about her.  She is no unwilling pawn of the Sisterhood.  She is one of us."
     "What?" Usagi whispered.  "You ... you're lying!  That's impossible!"
     "Is it?"  Saekianna reached out and caught Usagi's hand in her own, slowly twining her fingers
with the other girl's while holding her gaze.  Usagi was peripherally aware of Makoto moving
closer, but her gaze was trapped in the silken vise of the other woman's mesmerizing eyes.
     "Rei's ... she's not like you," Usagi said weakly.
     "How would you know what she's like?" Saekianna murmured, stroking the back of Usagi's
captive hand with her thumb in a delicately distracting manner.  "I knew her when she was
younger, pale little flower.  We were Sisters, partners ... and lovers.  I know the dark fires that
drove her to the Sisterhood.  I have tasted them, ridden their fury and tamed them as much as any
person could.  Together we fought, whored, seduced, and subjugated, all in the name of our Dark
Lady."  Saekianna reached up and lightly traced her long nails up the taut flesh of Usagi's throat,
curling her slim fingers around the curve of the girl's jaw and tilting Usagi's head back.
     "Hey!" Usagi heard Makoto growl from close by.
     "Rei is not only like me, little flower," Saekianna whispered huskily to the spellbound girl, "she
is the only Sister who could ever challenge me.  She might have been Nightmistress one day, had
she stayed with us."  The platinum-maned beauty let her fingers trail slowly away from Usagi's
chin, the sensation of those fingers slipping over flesh very nearly making Usagi whimper.  Her
senses seemed almost painfully acute, a hot prickling spreading over her body as Saekianna raised
the still captive hand towards her lips, compelling dark eyes still haughtily dominating Usagi's
own.
     Just as those full red lips were about to brush her hand, though, a thought made it through the
submissive fog that had somehow clouded her mind unopposed.  She'd chosen to confront this
woman, both as Rei's friend and as princess of the White Moon, and yet here she was not even
putting up a fight.  If she let herself be dominated so easily, then perhaps she really didn't deserve
to be either.
     With a cry, she yanked her hand back, stumbling off balance with the force of the motion.
Fortunately, Makoto was right behind her and caught her easily, but Usagi realized she was
breathing heavily, as if she'd just run up twenty flights of stairs.  Saekianna regarded her with
languid hauteur, her gorgeous eyes lidded.
     "You would be easy, if I wanted you," the alluring beauty said with the faintest sneer playing
at her lips.
     "You'd have to go through me first," Makoto said flatly.  Usagi had always thought the tall girl
possessed a great intimidating stare, and she was levelling one at Saekianna at that moment, green
eyes flashing coldly.  Saekianna, for her part, was checking out Makoto's long curvaceous body
with undisguised interest.  The tall girl's form-fitting leather motorcycle suit left little to the
imagination.
     "How a fragile little thing like you manages to attract such strong women is beyond me,"
Saekianna said, ignoring Makoto's terse threat and turning her gaze back to Usagi.  "But I do
know this.  Rei may feel some obligation to help you with your problems, but you can never be to
her what I was.  Never.  I know things about her that she would never share with you."
     "Shut up!" Usagi blurted, stung.  Some part of her curdled under the woman's taunts as they
struck at her deepest insecurities, lodging their barbs in the most vulnerable places.
     "She wants to come back to Dasma's bosom," Saekianna said softly, her eyes flashing.  Usagi
felt Makoto stiffen behind her at the Dark Lady's name.  "If you try to chain her down with your
insipid righteousness, she will only come to resent you."
     "I don't believe you!" Usagi shouted, driven to distraction by the woman's cool detachment.
"Rei is not a Sister of Shadows!"
     "You don't have to believe me," Saekianna said with a sly smile.  "Just ask her.  Ask the girl
you think you know so well, and see what she says.  Then you'll know, little flower.  You'll know
that she has never revealed her true heart to you.  That heart is only for those she regards as
equals."  With that, Saekianna turned, her hair flowing around her body like a cloak, and strode
back to her car.  Usagi wanted to shout something as the arrogant beauty slipped inside and
started the powerful engine, something defiant and devastating.
     But she could only stand there and watch impotently as the sleek machine powered out of the
lot and back onto the street.  The confidence she'd felt earlier, when she'd schemed to find this
woman and confront her, had been shattered, vaporised.  Had she ever really thought that she was
favoured of Alieva, that her power would sustain her and dispel the shadows of the sultry
priestess?
     How could she have been so foolish?
     "Usagi?"  Makoto's voice was soft as her hands fell on Usagi's shoulders, turning her.  Usagi
couldn't meet the other girl's eyes, though.  She felt belittled, humiliated.
     "Usagi?" Makoto repeated.  "Are you all right?"
     Usagi swallowed against the lump in her throat, hot tears stinging her eyes as they fought to be
free.  Rei IS my friend, she told herself silently, but there was a terrible doubt there, its seeds laid
by Saekianna's taunts.  She would never lie to me that way, never.
     Never.
     But there was only one way for Usagi to set her heart at rest.
     She had to talk to Rei, had to hear it from her friend's own lips.
     Rei, she thought desolately, why did she say those things?

***

     "Careful!" Rei blurted.
     "Look," Minako sighed, rolling her eyes.  "There was lots of space there, so just relax and let
me drive."
     "You call this driving?" Rei scowled.
     "You didn't have to come," Minako pointed out.
     "I'm tired of sitting around," Rei growled.  "But I'm not so bored that I want to get
hospitalized, okay?"
     Minako shrugged.  When she'd returned with the groceries, Rei had been on the phone with
Ami.  The last senshi was at the train station, but the line didn't run any closer to this part of town,
so Minako had offered to go and pick her up.  Rei had invited herself along, since Usagi and
Makoto hadn't returned from their errands yet.
     Minako drove with her usual flair, which people like Rei insisted on interpreting as
recklessness.  It was funny; Minako had seen first hand that Rei knew how to enjoy herself, but
sometimes the girl could be such a pain in the ass.
         "It's nice to see Usagi happy again," Rei said at last.
     "Mmm-hmm," Minako agreed.  "After all that stuff that Hotaru said that night, I wasn't sure
how she'd react to being around us again.  I mean, finding out that we were all just pawns in
Hotaru's private little war ... that kind of thing could make you doubt yourself, your purpose."
     "Usagi was meant for better things than that, and she knows it," Rei replied.  "She's special."
     "I know," Minako said with a fond smile.
     "Do you?" Rei asked, her tone cutting.  "Then why do you insist on throwing yourself at her
the way you do?"
     "Come on, Rei," Minako shot back.  "You're an experienced woman, I don't have to explain
this to you.  Do I?"
     "My point," Rei snapped.  "Usagi has Mamoru.  He's what she wants, she's made that pretty
clear ..."
     "Fine by me," Minako replied.  "I want our princess to be happy as much as you do, Rei."
     "Really?  Then why are you always mauling her, trying to confuse her?"
     "It's called flirting, Rei," Minako said flatly.  "I know for a fact that you're pretty good at it
yourself."
     "There's a difference between flirtation and throwing yourself at someone!" Rei growled.
"Usagi is not some tavern wench, you know!  You could show a little restraint!"
     "You know what your problem is, Rei Hino?" Minako said, wrenching the wheel to bolt
around a pack of cars.  "You've put Usagi up on a pedestal, ever since we discovered our lives in
the Silver Millennium.  You treat her like some fragile glass sculpture that has to be protected
from everything.  In the beginning, there was more than a little heat between you two, as I recall."
     "Everything is about sex as far as you're concerned," Rei snapped.
     "Don't deny it, babe," Minako replied.  "I was there.  But now you've idealized her relationship
with the shining prince, and I can't figure out why."
     "Because she deserves to be happy!"
     "I agree!  But shouldn't she get to decide what makes her happy?  She likes it when I hit on
her, Rei.  It makes her feel sexy and desirable and wanted.  She's a woman, and she needs to be
treated that way, not as some untouchable princess!"  Minako turned her attention to the road,
and an awkward silence grew up between the two.  Minako knew that, for some reason, Rei hated
to talk about Usagi in this context.  She couldn't figure out why; Rei was at least as sensual a
woman as Minako herself, enjoying the pleasures of touch and the fine arts of flirtation and
seduction.  Well, if Rei wanted to deny her own feelings for whatever reason, that was her
business.
     Minako took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Rei's temper was up, and she wondered if the
silence would drag out until they reached the train station, or if Rei would give vent to her anger.
She could be pretty unreasonable when the subject was their princess.
     "I just don't want her to get hurt."  Rei's words were soft in the still air of the car's cabin, the
cutting edge of anger gone now, and Minako gave a silent sigh of relief.
     "I don't either," Minako replied, changing lanes with a cursory glance over her shoulder.  "But
unlike you, I don't think she's some fragile, innocent waif.  She's pretty tough, and she knows
what she wants.  Mamoru may have more on his hands then he bargained for."
     "It's hard enough to find happiness in this screwed up city," Rei shot back darkly.  "We should
be helping her, not getting in the way."
     "Rei, I am not getting in the way!" Minako exclaimed, exasperated.  "Usagi loves the
attention!  It makes her feel beautiful and special, which she is.  And I refuse to hide the fact that
I'd happily bed her.  But if Mamoru makes her happy, then I'm all for them being together.  I'm
not trying to steal her away from him.  Why should I?  After all, as princess she's entitled to
concubines, isn't she?"
     That got Rei's attention.
     "What?" the dark-haired girl blurted.
     "Well, isn't she?" Minako continued.  "She could have Mamoru and all of us, if she wanted.
Her mother exercised that privilege in the early days of her rule, as I recall ..."
     "This isn't the Court of the White Moon," Rei informed her.  "Things are different now."
     "Well, she's still our princess," Minako said stubbornly.  "And there's nothing that would
prevent her from having lovers, as long as Mamoru approved, right?"  Minako smiled slyly.  "You
may be her favourite, Rei, but I bet I'll be her first concubine."
     "You are really amazing," Rei said, shaking her head.  "That's a crazy idea.  Usagi is NOT
going to have concubines, or consorts, or anything of the sort!"
     "Why not?" Minako argued.  "She's a healthy girl with healthy appetites and a warm, sensual
nature.  I bet she'd love the idea."
     "I hope you haven't been filling her head with this nonsense," Rei muttered, slumping back
against her seat.
     "You know, you're almost a different person when it comes to mentioning Usagi and sex in the
same sentence," Minako mused, watching Rei out of the corner of her eye.  "I mean, you are a
very sexual person, Rei.  You like to flirt, to tease, to seduce ... and you like to have those things
done to you in return.  What's so wrong about Usagi liking the same things?"  Rei didn't respond
at first, rolling her head loosely on the headrest to stare out the window, and Minako wondered if
the other girl was going to respond.
     "Desire has its dark side," Rei murmured at last, her voice surprisingly soft.  "You may think
you know it, but you're wrong.  It's intoxicating, like a drug, and you can lose your way so easily
under its spell.  You think you're in control but really, you're just hanging on to the tiger's tail.
And that tiger is hungry, Minako.  I don't want our princess ever driven by that hunger.  I prefer
her the way she is now, a little too trusting, always wanting justice, always wanting to make
things right.  That's special in this world, and when we find a shining light like that we have to
protect it."
     There was something oddly wistful about Rei's words, and Minako felt an odd certainty that
Rei had been talking about herself as much as Usagi.  It made her wonder, not for the first time,
about Rei's shadowed past.  She recalled the woman in the Ferengetti, remembered the way she'd
stood near Rei, her stance speaking silent volumes of the intimacy between the two.  Perhaps she
should push her luck just a little more, try to part the curtains that obscured Rei's past just a little.
Maybe if she understood what this was really all about, she'd know why Rei was so strangely
protective of Usagi.
      But at that moment, something caught her eye, and seconds  later she wrenched the wheel
hard, swerving into a nearby parking lot in a cacophony of horns and squealing tires.  Rei had
braced her hands against the dashboard, and glared darkly at Minako as the car came to a
shuddering halt.
     "Nice going," she growled, peering out from under the silken screen of her dishevelled raven
hair.  "But this is a tube station, genius.  Ami's at the surface station near the strip, remember?"
     "Come on," Minako said shortly, bolting from the car.  She moved around the other cars
parked nearby so that she had a clearer view of the building ahead of them.  It was an interchange
station, a nexus of commuter lines for the tube lines and surface transit.  As such, it saw a lot of
commuter traffic.
     Right at the moment, all those commuters seemed intent on leaving the building.  Quickly.
     "What's going on?" Rei asked, following Minako's gaze.  "What's wrong?"
     The reply came in the form of something bursting from the flat roof of the terminal building,
propelled by a beam of intense blue light.  That something appeared to be a wraith, and the light
...
     "That's her, isn't it?" Minako asked, eyes narrowed.  The energy seemed the same as that used
by the mysterious red-head from the club.
     "I think so," Rei replied with a grim smile.  "Looks like we can finally get some answers from
this girl.
     "If the wraiths don't get her first."  Minako winced as several windows along the front of the
terminal shattered in quick succession.
     "They won't," Rei said, breaking into a run.  "Come on!"

***

     It had only taken them a few seconds to find someplace to change.  Mars suspected the urgent
desire of nearly everyone present to be somewhere else had something to do with that.
     Broken glass crunched underfoot as she dashed into the nearly deserted building, Venus close
behind.
     Oops.  Make that Mistress V close behind ...
     "Couldn't you just wear your fuku for once?" Mars snapped as she ran.  V smirked.
     "I stand out this way," she informed the fiery senshi.  "Anyway, I think I look much better in
black than in orange."
     Mars didn't bother to reply, scanning the main concourse for trouble.  There was debris
scattered across the cool polished tile, and water gushed from a broken pipe in one of the walls.
Most of the action, though, seemed to be near the stairs leading to the tube platform.
     As she led the charge, several things registered at once.  First, although there was some blood
evident there were no bodies, which meant they'd been lucky so far.  Second, there were a few
wraiths flying around, but they were hardly the only threat present.  They were outnumbered by
gargoyles.
     And third, the ubiquitous red-head was at the centre of things once again.
     Mars watched as several of the airborne gargoyles tried to swarm the girl.  She faded quickly
back into the stairwell, forcing the creatures to come at her from the front.  One gargoyle, a huge
black-skinned specimen, wheeled in midair and tore one of the circling wraiths in half with its
huge talons.  The remaining two wraiths shrieked in anger, and the red-head took advantage of
the momentary diversion to turn and head down the stairs.
     "Smart," V murmured.  "Down on the platform, there's no room for flying."
     "Let's catch them in a crossfire before they notice us," Mars replied.  "Ready?"  V nodded and
broke to the right.  Mars closed in a little, sticking close to the wall.  The remaining gargoyles
were facing off against the wraiths, enraged beyond reason.  In a perfect world, they could have
just waited for the monsters to finish each other off.  But this wasn't a perfect world; the
gargoyles outnumbered the competition badly, and anyway, waiting only increased the chances of
that girl slipping away again.
     However irresponsible V could be in her personal life, she held up her end of a fight.  Once in
position, she signalled to Mars with a small nod, and the two senshi attacked together.  A series of
explosive fireballs intersected a storm of luminous hearts just where the two groups of monsters
were fighting, and the results were as quick as they were deadly.  Only two creatures escaped the
initial onslaught, and they were quickly mopped up by the two senshi.
     Mars met her partner at the top of the stairs, and with hand signals indicated that they should
descend on opposite sides, covering each other.  V nodded, but before they could start down an
unearthly roar reverberated up from below, followed by the sound of shouting.  Trading glances,
the two raced down the stairs, only to stop short at the scene that greeted them.
     A train had stopped partway into the long boarding platform, and from the angle of the first
car it appeared to have derailed slightly.  The reason it had stopped was crouched on the tracks,
baying angrily as it butted the lead car with its large, reptilian head.
     A salamander.  Even as Mars watched, the huge creature whipped its head back on its long
neck.  She knew it was preparing to let loose with a blast of flame, and she could still see people
scrambling back towards the cars still within the tunnel.  They weren't moving fast enough,
though; some of them were going to be badly hurt, if not killed outright.
     "Hey, ugly!  Over here!"  The shout was accompanied by a large, sharp-edged chunk of
concrete hurled with astounding accuracy.  It bounced off the tough hide of the salamander's
snout without causing any visible damage, but the creature's attention was effectively diverted.
     It was the red-head again.  Of course.  She was moving along the platform in the opposite
direction from the stalled train, shouting and waving to draw the creature's attention.  The
salamander wavered, as if uncertain what to do.
     Well, whoever she really was, that girl had the right idea.  They couldn't let the salamander
flame the train before it was evacuated.  Mars broke into a run, heading towards the edge of the
platform where the mysterious girl was standing.
     "Hey!" the girl shouted again as the salamander began to turn back to the train.  Mars let loose
with a bolt of fire which seemed to splash harmlessly off the monster's hide.
     "For the record," V gritted as she caught up to her partner, "salamanders attack with fire, and
they're pretty resistant to it."
     "I noticed!" Mars shot back.  The blast had gotten the creature's attention again, however, and
the beam of brilliant yellow light that lanced into its hindquarters seemed to settle the matter.  It
began to turn around, surprisingly quick and agile for its size, one of its forearms snapping a pillar
like it was made of balsa wood.  The red-head leapt down to the tracks and ran into the tunnel,
with Mars and V right behind.
     "Can it get turned around?" Mars asked.  V glanced back.
     "Oh, yeah," she confirmed.  "Limber fellow.  I believe they're good at fitting into small spaces,
too, which means he'll be joining us in here."
     "What if he makes with the fire?" the red-head called back.  Mars looked at V, who shrugged.
     "Great," Mars growled.  "The train's safe, but we're going to be toasted.
     "Whoa!"  The red-head's voice drifted back to them, and within moments they had caught up
to her and discovered the problem for themselves.  A gaping hole had been opened in the floor of
the tunnel, the metal rails twisted like putty where they jutted jaggedly into empty space.
     "At least we know where he came from," V said cheerfully.  "Now what?"  All three turned at
once to see the enraged salamander wedging itself into the tunnel behind them.  Its tiny eyes
seemed to glow a baleful red, and tiny flames curled up from its mouth as it took a bead on them.
     "Into the hole?" V asked.
     "Into the hole," Mars confirmed.  The red-headed girl apparently concurred; she leapt into the
darkness ahead of them.  Mars followed suit, and winced as flames rocketed through the space
where they'd been standing only moments before.  Heat rippled over them, stealing breath and
prickling skin even as she fell through the dark, hoping their landing wouldn't be difficult.
     It wasn't.  The fall was farther than she'd expected, but the surface was even, and she caught a
glimpse of it rushing up in time to set herself, landing neatly and rolling away.  The lighting down
here was much dimmer, but as her eyes adapted she could see they were in another tunnel,
somewhat smaller than the first.
     The skitter of small rocks falling alerted her to the salamander's presence at the top of the hole,
and she retreated down the tunnel behind V and the red-head.
     "It's coming down," V pointed out helpfully.  "What's the plan?"
     "No place to hide this time," the red-head said.
     "Okay," Mars replied, stopping in the middle of the tunnel.  "That thing's hide is pretty tough.
My fire is definitely not going to hurt it."
     "I can fire a Crescent Beam into its mouth when it tries to flame us," V said.  "One shot right
through the roof of the mouth and blammo!  Done like dinner."
     "Your beam is pretty narrow," Mars said, her pulse quickening as the rain of debris began to
intensify.  "And I don't think a salamander's brain is that big.  If you miss, we're toast!"
     "Ummm," the red-head said, pointing.  The salamander's head and neck were emerging from
the hole, and as it spotted them its sinuous bulk dropped out of the opening with a solid thud.
The creature fixed them with its cold reptilian gaze, making an ominous growling noise deep in its
throat.  The wedge-shaped head reared back, and flames began to lick around the edges of its
mouth.
     "Come on, open up," V murmured, extending her finger as the salamander lumbered forward.
     'The roof!" the red-head exclaimed.  "If we concentrate our fire, we can bring the roof down
on that thing!"
     "Tricky," Mars breathed.  The salamander stopped, flames intensifying.  Mars swore the air in
the tunnel was getting hotter.
     "Mars?" V asked, holding her pose.  There was no time to argue the merits of the plan; it
seemed a better bet than V's sniper shot.  And how tender was the mouth of something that
breathed fire, anyway?
     "Do it!" Mars shouted.  As the salamander brought its head forward, the three girls unleashed
their attacks at the roof above it.  There was a loud roar, and a wave of hot air hammered them as
rock and dust exploded everywhere.  By unspoken accord all three retreated, not wanting to be
caught in the cave-in.
     The noise went on for what seemed like a long time but probably wasn't more than fifteen
seconds before finally tapering off.  Mars waved at the heavy dust that hung in the air, coughing
and grimacing at the gritty taste in her mouth.
     "V!  You okay?"
     "You bet," the blonde replied.
     "Me too, thanks for asking," the redhead said wryly.  Mars stood with her back to the tunnel
wall, making sure the mystery girl couldn't get behind her without being obvious about it.  When
the dust had cleared enough to see in the dim light, it became apparent that there was no further
danger from the salamander.
     Unfortunately, the cave-in had completely blocked the tunnel, and the roof around the
blockage looked very unstable.  They would not be leaving the way they'd entered.  They'd have
to walk to the next station.
     For the moment, though, that was the least of her concerns.  She turned her gaze to the
red-head, who was shaking her head ruefully as she checked out the damage.
     "Well," V said, her attention also fixed on the mystery girl.  "Here we all are."
     "Yes," Mars agreed.  "And I think it's about time we had some answers."

***

     Saekianna strode through the doors of her mansion, heels clicking sharply on the polished
marble floor.  One of the household staff waited, dressed in the severely cut, tight-bodiced black
and white uniform that managed to be alluring despite its plainness.  She, like all of the staff, was
exquisitely lovely, her blue eyes lowered demurely as she bowed deeply to the lady of the manor.
     Her behaviour befitted that of a servant greeting her employer; anyone entering would have
found nothing out of the ordinary about her.  They certainly would not have guessed that she, like
all the other staff, were Maidens of the Rose, serving the Sisterhood as was their calling.
     "Nightmistress," the girl murmured in her pleasingly modulated voice.  "Mistress Mirra awaits
you in your study."
     "Have tea sent up, and prepare the Cage for my practice session," Saekianna replied, handing
the girl her leather driving gloves.
     "At once, Nightmistress," the girl replied smoothly, bowing again and moving off with supple
grace.  Saekianna went directly to her study, entering to find Mirra staring out the window.
     "Nightmistress," the other woman greeted her with a bow.
     "Mirra," Saekianna replied.  She seated herself behind her desk and motioned the other woman
to sit as well.
     Mirra was one of the strongest of the Sisters, and Saekianna's right hand.  Her dark hair was
cut short and full to frame her face, accentuating her strong bone structure and piercing ice-blue
eyes.  She wore her usual enigmatic smile as she studied Saekianna carefully.
     "The transaction was completed without difficulty?" Saekianna asked.
     "Yes," Mirra replied.  "The deal is done."
     "Good."  Saekianna waited as another Maiden entered the room with a tray, moving
unobtrusively to set it on the desk.  She poured two cups full of steaming tea, placing one in front
of Saekianna and giving the other to the smiling Mirra before bowing and taking her leave.  Mirra
watched the gentle sway of the girl's hips as she walked, only tearing her gaze away once the door
had been closed.
     "The Maidens are all aflutter," she sighed, sipping her tea.  "They sense that something is in the
air."
     "Indeed?" Saekianna replied.  "I am certain that our Sisters can think of some outlet for that
energy."
     "They have been more than happy to do just that," Mirra admitted.
     "Something troubles you, Mirra?" Saekianna asked, noting the other woman's posture and
tone.
     "As it happens, yes," Mirra replied, inclining her head.  "There is not much time left before
Baniesti.  Can we really afford this distraction?"
     "You have made your concerns on this point clear, Mirra," Saekianna replied coolly.
     The other woman sat back, her icy blue gaze steady.
     "May I speak freely?" she asked at last.
     "Of course, Mirra," Saekianna replied.  "You know I value your counsel."  Some of the
stiffness went out of Mirra's slim frame, and she smiled wryly.
     "You've brought us this far, Saekianna," Mirra said at last, her smile widening into one far
more engaging than her usual expression.  "Why do we need these outsiders?  Bringing them in
just seems like a risk.  There's so much at stake."
     "I am not bringing in outsiders," Saekianna replied, sipping her tea.  "If we use them, it will be
as Thorns, nothing more."
     "You are going to a lot of trouble to find them," Mirra pressed.  "The bounty hunter we're sure
about, but this one ..."
     "Mistress V is Sailor Venus," Saekianna murmured, a silky smile playing at her lips.  "After
last night, I am certain."
     "I see," Mirra replied.  "But it will still take time to find her, and more still to make her over
into a Thorn that we can use.  And time is something we are in short supply of."
     "I would very much like to use these girls come Baniesti," Saekianna said softly, pinning her
lieutenant with her gaze.  "The irony of the situation appeals to me greatly, as does the prospect
of their ... indoctrination.  However, that is not why I've been seeking an opening into their
circle."
     "Then why?" Mirra asked, her brow creased.
     "This Sailor Moon," Saekianna breathed, leaning back in her chair.  "Her name, her emblem,
invoke the White Moon.  I want to know what relationship, if any, she has to the cursed White
Lady.  If she is some sort of avatar of that pale bitch, we should certainly deal with her before
Baniesti, or we may find an unexpected obstacle to our success."
     "I have found nothing to link her to the temple," Mirra pointed out.  "And she hadn't even been
sighted for over a month, at least until yesterday."
     "But as you pointed out, Mirra, there is so very much at stake.  I will not permit this girl and
her sisters to stand in our way.  If she opposes us, then she will either submit or die.  Either way, I
must know for certain if she is a threat.  I cannot find her, but I believe I will be able to find this
Mistress V.  She seemed very protective of that club and its patrons last night."
     "I hope you're right," Mirra said, frowning into her tea, "because the other one, Jupiter, seems
to have gone to ground.  There was some sort of incident last night, bad blood between her and a
group of weres over a capture.  She'll be even harder to track now."
     "Have faith, Mirra.  The Dark Lady herself smiles on us."  Saekianna removed a slip of paper
from her tailored jacket, holding it between two fingers.  "Tell me, do you remember my old
partner?"
     "Rei Darkeyes?" Mirra asked.  "Of course.  You two were Fire and Ice, unstoppable.  Like a
force of nature."
     "Yes," Saekianna mused softly, staring at the folded slip of paper.  "Yes, we were that.  And
will be again."
     "You've seen her?" Mirra asked, surprised.
     "Indeed.  There's only one obstacle to her rejoining us, and I intend to deal with that obstacle
personally."  Saekianna held out the slip of paper.  "Trace this license plate number, and find out
what you can about the owner of the motorcycle.  I want a full report by the time I finish my
workout."
     "No problem," Mirra replied, taking the paper and bowing.  After she was gone, Saekianna
reclined a moment, a hungry smile on her lips.
     Usagi Tsukino, she thought.  You are going to find out what it means to stand in my way.  I'll
see you kneel before me, and once you've pledged yourself to the Maidens of the Rose, there's no
way Rei will be bound by you.
     She'll be free to join us again.
     Saekianna pictured how the doe-eyed little blonde would look in the black and white uniform
of her house staff as she rose and walked to the door, a warm tingle in her belly.
     Everything was falling into place for her.  Soon, she would be in possession of everything she
desired.
     Everything.

***

     And here I'd started off my day certain that I'd never find these girls again.  Just goes to show
how often I'm right, I guess.
     The one named Rei was staring at me suspiciously.  I hadn't seen her do anything during that
first fight, but now I knew she could throw fire around.
     The other one was definitely the girl who'd been at their table in the club.  She was wearing
that risque outfit again, all shiny leather and tight lacings and bare skin.  I didn't see how she could
walk in those boots, much less fight, but she'd done all right.
     Of course, now that we were here, I had no idea what to say.
     "Well, here we all are," Mistress V said.  Unlike her friend, she was smiling at me while giving
me the once over.
     "Yes," Rei said coolly.  "And I think it's time we had some answers."
     "Answers?" I echoed blankly.  I hadn't known there were questions.
     "Yes," Rei said.  "For starters, who are you and what do you want with the senshi?"
     "Um, Ranko.  Ranko Saotome.  And I don't want anything with any senshi."
     "Really?" Rei asked acidly.  "So it's just coincidence that we keep meeting, and every time we
meet, wraiths show up?"
     "Hold on," I protested.  "The way I see it, every time I see YOU things get weird.  I never saw
a wraith before I met you!"
     She didn't seem impressed by that argument.
     "What exactly are you up to?" Rei shot back.  "Or do you want me to believe it's just
coincidence you keep showing up wherever we go?"
     "Um," I said.  "Well, I did follow you and your friend Usagi to that club last night, but that
was only because ..."
     "What?" the dark-haired girl blurted.  She and Mistress V were looking at me strangely, and I
stopped, trying to think of what I'd said.
     "Um, I followed you," I repeated slowly.  "But ..."
     "My friend?" Rei asked slowly, her eyes locked on mine.  "What are you talking about?"
     "The girl with the odango and the ponytails," I said, wondering why she was acting so strange
about something so simple.  "You called her Usagi when I ran into you on the sidewalk ..."
     "You're thinking of someone else," Rei said firmly.  Mistress V was looking back and forth
between us, her eyes shadowed by the brim of her cap, and I couldn't help but think that there was
more to this than I understood.
     "Right," I said with a placating gesture.  "So I followed two girls named Rei and Usagi, who
are someone else entirely, to that club, where they met with the girl in the kitty-cat outfit."  I
nodded at Mistress V.
     "Mars ..." Mistress V began.
     "How?" Rei asked angrily, her hands clenched into fists.  "How did you know?"  I took an
instinctive step back.  I know temperamental women, and this one was definitely getting mad.
     "How did I know what?" I asked, thoroughly confused.
     "How did you know who we were?" she asked, glaring.
     "Look," I said, beginning to get more than a little irritated myself.  "If you don't want people
to recognize you, then wear a bloody mask or something!"
     "That's just the point," Mistress V said, cocking her head.  "People DON'T recognize us like
this.  It's a magic thing, a ..."
     "Glamourie," Rei said flatly.  "Part of the transformation magic.  But we look exactly the same
to you, don't we?"
     "Well, yeah," I said.  "Except for the clothes, of course."
     "Do you suppose that's why you had the vision?" Mistress V asked her.
     "Vision?" I broke in.
     "Mars had a vision," the sultry blonde told me, "and you were in it."
     "Wait a minute," I said, holding up my hands.  "A vision?  So that's why you freaked when you
saw me?  You didn't recognize me?"
     "I recognized you from my vision," Rei, or Mars, or whatever she was calling herself, said.
"Where else would I recognize you from?"
     "Well," I sighed.  "I thought you might know someone ... um, who looks just like me.  That's
all."
     "You mean you've got a twin?" Mistress V asked.  "Hey, maybe SHE'S the one you saw in
your vision, Mars!"
     "A twin," Mars said flatly.  "Convenient."
     "I said maybe," I replied, stung a little by her tone.  "That's why I was following you, to find
out for sure."
     "You don't know if you have a twin?" Mars asked in disbelief.
     "It's a long story," I sighed.  "So what did you see in this vision?"
     "I saw you bringing danger to the people around me," Mars said, her eyes narrowed.  "I saw a
great shadow spreading, covering everything.  And you were at the centre of it."
     "Look, I've got nothing against you or your friends," I said.  "I'm just passing through."  The
hair on the back of my neck prickled painfully, though.  A great shadow?  There was a lot of
death and destruction in my wake; could that be what she'd seen?  Or could it be that all that
darkness was still following me around, waiting to spring up again?
     "Well, I've got some old business to get out of the way first," V said, walking towards me with
a slow, sinuous gait.  I tensed, wondering if she was going to attack.  I really didn't want to fight
these girls; nothing I'd seen indicated that they were the bad guys.  In fact, anyone who fought the
monsters was okay in my book.
     She stopped directly in front of me and stared into my eyes for a moment.  Hers were blue and
sparkled with an inner fire, something playful but with a sharp edge.  She smelled like girl and
leather, not at all a bad combination.  In this form, I was shorter than she was, so I had to look up
slightly to meet her gaze, keeping my face expressionless.  This girl struck me as being
unpredictable.
     Still, there's unpredictable and then there's unpredictable; when she slipped her arm around my
waist, I was caught off-guard.
     When she dipped me low and kissed me, off-guard got upgraded to flabbergasted.
     She was pretty strong, holding my weight easily in her arms.  Her lips were soft, but the kiss
was anything but.  Her mouth slid over mine, eliciting wild spikes of pleasure in my chest as it
created a silken friction along the tender skin of my lips.  As she began to pull back, she caught
my lower lip between hers and pulled gently, parting with a gentle plosive sound as she righted me
again, placing me back on my feet.
     "Nyahaaa," I mumbled.  I think my eyes may have been a little glazed, too.  Her actions had
just been so entirely unexpected, my brain was having a little trouble catching up to events.  Also,
my knees felt distinctly rubbery.
     "Excuse me," Mars said wearily.  "Don't you think we should find out whether or not she's our
enemy before you start doing that?"
     "Nope," V replied, still staring down into my eyes.  "This way, if she does turn out to be a bad
guy, I still get to kiss her."
     "Um," I said, testing out my synapses.  A few of them actually seemed to be firing, so I tried
again.  "Um.  What ... why did you just do that?"
     "That," V said, trailing her gloved fingers along my cheek lightly, "was me saying thank-you."
     "Oh.  For?"
     "Last night at the club," the blonde bombshell replied with a sultry smile.  "You saved my ass,
remember?"
     "Ah.  Well, uh ... you're welcome," I managed weakly.
     "Can you just be serious for ONE minute, V?" Mars asked, sounding distinctly irritated.
     "I was being serious," V told her with a sniff.  "I thought she deserved a reward for saving my
life.  And note, Mars, that saving my life tends to indicate a low probability that she wants me
dead."
     "So you're going to totally ignore my vision, then?" Mars fired back.  V stepped away from me
and went to face the other girl.
     "Well, it's not like you're infallible," V said slyly.
     "Is this about Hotaru again?" Mars growled, back rigid with suppressed anger.  Still reeling
from the unexpected kiss, I watched them in amazement.  They seemed determined to get on each
other's nerves; despite that, neither of them actually turned her back on me.
     Well, fine.  I didn't totally trust them either.
     But come on.  A vision?
     Hey, I was a girl!  She'd kissed me like that when we were both girls!
     And what kind of vision, anyway?
     "Uh, ladies?" I said weakly, tired of trying to marshal my racing thoughts.  They ignored me,
bickering away.
     "Ladies?" I repeated, louder this time.  They stopped, turning to stare at me together.
     "Yes?" Mars asked tightly.
     "The train is safe, the salamander's squished," I said, "but what about us?  What do we do
now?"
     "Ranko's right," V replied.  "We should get out of here.  We can discuss what to do about this
... situation later."
     "Fine," Mars grumbled.  She pinned me with her deep violet eyes.  "But I'm keeping my eye on
you, so don't try anything."
     "Like what?" I asked defensively.
     "Like blowing up the moon," V said with a secretive smile.
     "Pardon?" I blinked.
     "Never mind," Mars said with a put-upon sigh.  "Let's just get going, all right?"

***

     Makoto felt a strange mixture of relief and apprehension as she read the note Minako had left.
The trip to pick up Ami had only delayed the inevitable, but at least it gave her some time to try
and talk to Usagi.
     She turned, watching as the lovely blonde walked slowly across the floor to settle on one of
the couches like a wind-blown thistle.  Makoto hated the sudden fragility in her friend, hated that
stuck-up snobby bitch for causing it.
     And hated herself for not being able to fix it.
     She'd heard enough of what had passed between Usagi and the stranger to understand how
grave the situation was.  That woman had claimed Rei was a priestess of Dasma's order.  Not only
that, but Usagi, despite her weak protestations to the contrary, seemed to believe her ... or at
least, not totally disbelieve her.
     That alone told Makoto there was more going on than met the eye.  Usagi would never believe
that her Rei was a worshipper of the Dark Lady, not without damned good reason.  And Usagi'd
obviously known the woman in the Ferengetti, but how?  How would a girl like Usagi, nurtured
by the White Sisters, know a sultry priestess of the White Lady's opposite number?
     She dithered a moment, watching Usagi stare vacantly into space.  Rei would be back soon,
and it would probably be helpful if Usagi was a little less out of it when that happened.  Before
she could take more than two steps, however, the phone rang.  Cursing under her breath, she
went to answer it, keeping one eye on Usagi.
     "Yeah?" she barked.
     "Makoto?"
     "Ami?  Hey, what's up?  I just got back and found a note saying that Minako and Rei are on
their way to get you."
     "They were supposed to be," Ami replied, her voice breathy with concern.  "But I called a half
hour ago and they still haven't shown up."
     "What?"  Makoto frowned.  In that case, they should have been at the train station already.
"No sign of them?"
     "None," Ami said.  "I was getting a little worried so I thought I'd call."
     "Ami, can you grab a taxi here?" Makoto asked quietly, eyeing Usagi.  She could go pick Ami
up herself, but that would mean leaving Usagi alone.
     Not an option.
     Ami agreed readily, and Makoto gave her directions, then hung up.  Usagi hadn't moved at all
during the entire conversation, and Makoto sighed.  As for Rei and Minako, this didn't have to be
a crisis.  They might just be caught in traffic.  If they made it to the train station and Ami wasn't
there, they'd no doubt call.  At any rate, there wasn't anything she could do but wait.
     Or maybe there was something.  Checking the fridge, she found that Minako had gotten the
groceries before heading off to pick up Ami.  She walked up behind Usagi and leaned over the
back of the couch, beaming.
     "Well, we've got food," she announced.  "How about some brunch while we wait for the
others to get back?"
     "I'm not hungry," Usagi said wanly.  Makoto winced.
     Not hungry?  Usagi?
     This was going to be even worse than she'd thought.

***

     Mars kept an eye on Ranko, trying to figure out exactly what they were going to do.
     It was bad enough that this girl knew who they really were.  The situation was exacerbated in
her eyes, though, by the fact that she refused to do anything hostile or provocative.
     In fact, thus far she'd fought against the monsters at every opportunity, not incidentally
protecting innocent bystanders, although whether by design Mars couldn't say.
     It was maddening.  Articulating the emotional impact, the certainty of disaster, that had come
across in her vision, was extremely difficult at the best of times; the others just didn't understand
how horrifying the experience had been.
     On the other hand, Mars didn't sense anything from the girl that would account for what she'd
seen.  Oh, Ranko was definitely unusual; strong and incredibly fast, a lethal fighter able to harness
her own chi as a weapon, if Mars judged her energy attacks correctly.
     And quite a looker.  Her loose, boyish clothing tried valiantly to disguise the curves of her
petite frame, but wasn't quite up to the task as her athletic stride pulled her pants tight against her
rounded buttocks with every step and her shirt outlined high firm breasts as it was cinched tightly
around a narrow waist.  Her long, thin flame-red braid snaked sinuously along her back as she
moved, and unruly bangs made a silken frame for high cheekbones and deep blue eyes that
showed the slightest hint of gray when the light struck them just so.
     It was the eyes that bothered her the most.  In her vision, they'd been dead orbs, windows on a
soulless husk.  But these eyes were very much alive, full of vitality, strength ... and shadows,
lurking deep beneath the surface.
     Mars didn't begrudge the girl her shadows; many people, herself included, carried their own
personal darkness around.  But what did it mean?  Was Ranko really a harbinger of disaster?
Could the fate revealed in her vision be avoided if Ranko's eyes remained alive with the glimmer
of her soul?
     Too many questions.  And no answers.
     "Man, we should have reached the next station by now," V groused.  That roused Mars from
her reverie.
     V had a point; they HAD been walking for quite a while.
     "I don't think this is a regular tube tunnel," Mars said.  "It was quite a distance underneath the
main tunnel, remember.  It must be some kind of maintenance tunnel."
     "Whatever it is, it doesn't get used much," Ranko said, crouching.  "These rails are all pitted
and rusty."  V crouched beside the girl, who promptly blushed a bright crimson that rivalled her
hair.  Mars suppressed a sigh; it was hard to take a girl who blushed so easily as a serious threat.
And after all, it had just been one kiss.
     She knelt and saw that Ranko was correct about the rails, though.  Frowning, she stood again
and moved over to the wall to get a better look at the dim lights which provided them with their
illumination.  What she found surprised her.
     "Glowstones," she murmured.
     "What?" V asked, joining her.
     "These aren't electric lights, they're glowstones," Mars said.  "They used to use them a lot in
the last century, before the Sidhe Wars drove up the cost of such things."
     "So?" V asked, frowning.
     "So," Mars replied, taking in their surroundings with a critical eye, "this is no maintenance
tunnel.  I think we may be in part of the old tube system, a forgotten line."
     "Forgotten?" Ranko asked.  "What do you mean, forgotten?"
     "Saeni has been attacked many times in her history, and rebuilt each time," Mars said absently.
"The Drakennin Sidhe pushed Queen Virla's forces all the way back to Saeni during the last war,
and the city was badly damaged."
     "But she did spank their pointy-eared asses," V grinned.
     "Yes, and levelled parts of the city in the process," Mars mused, turning.  "I've got no idea of
which way we're going now ..."
     "Well, if this was a tube tunnel, there still has to be a station somewhere, right?" Ranko asked.
     "Presumably," Mars murmured.  "Hopefully it'll have easy access to the surface, although that
doesn't seem likely."
     "Right.  If people knew this tunnel was here, they'd have scavenged all these pretty
glowstones," V agreed.  "Well, I guess we'll just have to find a station and go from there."
     They set off again, trudging through the abandoned tunnel.  All things considered, Mars
thought the tunnel was in excellent shape.  She tried to recall some details about the underground
transit system back around Queen Virla's time, but couldn't remember anything helpful.  History
spoke of furious battles and heroism; it tended to neglect mundane details such as the municipal
transit system.
     She did recall that monsters had been a problem even then, and regular patrols had kept the
tunnels clear of intrusion.  She didn't think they had to worry too much about that, though.
      Or did they?  After all, the salamander seemed to have gotten into the current tube tunnel
from this one ...
     Not a comforting thought.
     "Damn," V said suddenly.
     "What's wrong?" Mars asked.
     "Someone is still waiting for us at the surface line station," the blonde said sheepishly.  Mars
pinched the bridge of her nose and nodded.  She'd forgotten all about that.
     "When we don't call, she'll phone the apartment again," Mars pointed out.  "Nothing much we
can do now anyway."
     They continued on in silence for a time, their pace discouraging idle chatter as they ate up
distance, waiting for some sign of possible egress.  It was hard to say how much time had passed
since they'd first started out, but it had to have been at least a couple of hours when Mars called a
rest break.
     "Man," V grumbled.  "This train must have been the express."  She took off her hat and shook
out her blonde mane, combing her gloved fingers through it in a way that caused it to cascade
down her back in an eye-catching silken disarray.  Mars knew the girl well enough to know that
she was putting on a show; she'd certainly managed to catch Ranko's attention, although the
red-head was studiously pretending not to watch.
     "Maybe we just ought to blast our way out," V sighed.
     "Oh, marvellous idea," Mars agreed.  "Except we have no idea what's above us.  We could
drop a train on ourselves, for instance.  Or just crush ourselves under tons of rock."
     "What do you think?" V asked Ranko.
     "Um," the red-head hemmed, obviously surprised to have been asked.  "I think she's right.  We
shouldn't do anything that extreme unless we have to."
     "Fine," V said.  "Be boring."
     "Come on, let's go," Mars said wearily.  "The sooner we find an exit, the sooner we can get
out of this bloody tunnel."
     They set off again, Mars letting Ranko get a distance ahead as she fell into step beside V.
     "Okay," the senshi of fire said in a low voice.  "Once we're out of here, we still have a
problem.  What are we going to do about her?"
     "I have a plan," V replied gravely.  "I'll take her home and seduce her.  Once she's thoroughly
smitten with me, I'll instruct her never to reveal our identities."
     "Can't you be serious for once?" Mars hissed.
     "Well, what do you want to do?  Kill her?"
     "Of course not!" Mars gritted.  "But we can't ignore this problem, V.  It isn't going to go away
by itself!"
     "Listen," V said after a moment, her blue eyes following Ranko's progress closely.  "I know
you'll take this as a shot, but I'm not convinced that you're right about her.  My instincts are pretty
good despite what you probably think, and I don't get any sort of bad vibe from her at all."
     Mars nodded glumly.  She could hardly argue this point; after all, nothing the girl had done
had revealed any animosity towards the senshi at all.  The more Mars saw, the less inclined she
was to believe that the girl was concealing some sort of grudge against them.
     "I know how it sounds," the raven-tressed senshi sighed after a moment.  "But in my vision,
she was different, not like this at all."
     "Different how?" V pressed.  "Evil?"
     "No, more like ... empty.  Soulless, like a zombie.  Her eyes were just dead.  It wasn't like she
was calling the darkness out of malice, but more like ..."  Mars broke off, frustrated at her inability
to articulate the jumble of feelings her vision had thrust upon her.
     "Like?"
     "Like she was beyond caring," Mars finished.  "Like nothing mattered anymore.  And there
was a bigger shadow behind her, one I couldn't see clearly.  It might have been urging her on ...
that part I can't really explain.  But I'm certain the danger is real."
     "I'm not questioning that," V murmured quietly.  "But does Ranko really have that much
power?  She's a wicked fighter, but what you're talking about goes way beyond that.  And if
something or someone pushes her to the point you describe, maybe the only way for us to prevent
this disaster is to keep her safe."
     "Maybe," Mars said slowly.  "I don't know.  But I suspect we're going to have to keep her
close until we figure this out."
     "Music to my ears, babe," V grinned, her demeanor switching from serious to devilish in the
blink of an eye.  "I think our hot little tomboy is a trifle shy.  And the shy ones are always fun to
seduce ..."
     Mars sighed and shook her head.  Sometimes she thought V's outrageous antics were part of a
facade, but if they were there was no question that the sultry blonde enjoyed playing her part to
the hilt.  And she really was quite a sensual and alluring girl; with a little training, she'd have made
a capable Sister.
     "Hey!" Ranko's voice came back to them.  "I see something ahead!"  The two senshi broke
into a run, quickly catching up to Ranko.  Mars could see what had caught the girl's attention;
there appeared to be a darker spot along the right-hand wall.
     Together, the three continued quickly along the tunnel, the irregularity taking shape as an
opening.  They drew near to find a platform at nearly head-height, and V whooped.
     "Now we're talking!" she crowed.  "Man, I want to get out of here and get something to eat!"
     Mars silently agreed; it must be well past lunchtime by now, and they hadn't had any breakfast
either.  Ranko crouched slightly and sprang up to the platform, V and Mars following suit.
     It was quite a sight to behold.  Dusty green and black tiles disappeared into the shadowed
recesses of the old platform, pillars standing in orderly rows like forgotten soldiers.  Some of the
glowstones around the platform must have been destroyed or taken; heavy pools of darkness lay
all about, giving the abandoned station a vaguely desolate air.
     "Wow," V said, her voice hushed.  "Nobody's been here in a very long time, that's for sure."
     "Let's look around," Mars said, automatically lowering her own voice in the funereal
surroundings.  "See if there's a way up."
     Moving tentatively, they walked across the platform.  The heels of V's boots and Mars' pumps
made hollow tick-tack noises on the cold tile that echoed sharply in the darkness, but other than
that and the sound of her own breathing Mars couldn't hear anything.
     "Check this out," V breathed, pointing.  Mars joined her and looked at the plaque bolted to
one of the pillars.
     "Wyvern Keep Station," she read.
     "Wyvern Keep?" V echoed.  "Wasn't that one of those old defence posts from the Sidhe
Wars?"
     "That's right," Mars said.  "A series of Keeps connected by a wall surrounded the city back
then, forming a defensive perimeter.  None of them survived the war, though.  This station must
have been near Wyvern Keep.  During wartime, the military could have used the line to bring
supplies and men underground from the inner city, I guess."
     "Hey, take a look at this," Ranko called.  The two senshi walked over to a nearby pillar where
the red-head stood staring at something on the floor.  Mars noticed a bare spot on the pillar where
something had been removed; from the shape of the lighter patch and its position, she guessed it
was one of the station's nameplates.
     "My, my," V breathed.  "Someone made a little offering to Olidia, goddess of luuuuuv."
     "Is that what that is?" Ranko asked.
     "Uh-huh," V replied with a knowing smile.  "Olidia is usually associated with Venus, you
know, so I have a natural affinity for her.  I like to think of myself as an avatar of love."
     "As opposed to a sex-crazed bimbo, you mean," Mars shot back, earning a black look from V.
Mars knelt to get a better look at what had been laid at the base of the pillar.
     It was an offering, all right.  Olidia was associated with romantic love the way Dasma was
associated with lust and the darker aspects of desire, and people often made offerings to one or
the other.  This was obviously the work of someone seeking Olidia's blessing.
     Fortunately, Olidia (whom the Kalliestri actually called Venus, a fact Mars forbore to mention
to V) didn't require expensive offerings, just heartfelt ones.  The usual three roses were present,
and although they were badly desiccated Mars knew that there would have been one red for
passion, one yellow for friendship, and one white for purity.  They were bound with a silk ribbon
that they supplicant would have worn on their person while in the presence of the target of their
affections; if the tie had belonged to said target the offering was supposedly that much more likely
to gain Olidia's approval.
     Something personal belonging to the supplicant would be under the flowers, sealing the pact.
Many young lovers made such offerings when trying to woo, but they usually did so at a temple.
Mars wondered why this person had come to such a strange place to do so.
     "Hey, what's this?" V muttered, reaching down.  She jostled the flowers lightly with the back
of her hand, and the dried stems rustled noisily.
     "Leave that alone," Mars sighed, knowing that the blonde would ignore her.  V scooped
something from the dusty floor, standing smoothly and staring into her cupped palm.
     "Well, well," she said with a crooked smile.  "What do we have here?"  Puzzled by the glint in
V's eye, Mars checked out what the other senshi had found.  When she realized what V had
cradled in her palm, a tiny shock of surprise jolted her.
     The silver earrings were tarnished but still managed to gleam weakly in the uncertain light,
nestled snugly in a bed of supple black leather.  Ranko peered down at the small objects, brow
furrowed.
     "Rose earrings?" she asked.
     "Rose earrings," V confirmed, giving Mars a meaningful glance.
     "Oh, come on," Mars said.  "It's just coincidence."
     "Maybe," V smirked.  "But can't you just see her doing something like this?  Under that
tough-guy exterior, she's just such a girl!"
     "Uh, what are you two talking about?" Ranko asked.
     "Nothing," Mars sighed.  "It's not important."
     "Huh.  Well, I'll tell you what IS important," Ranko continued, dismissing the matter of the
earrings.  "Someone got down here to leave this junk behind.  There's tracks in the dust if you
look close.  And if they got down, we can get up."
     The tracks in question were softened by a layer of dust; clearly, they were at least several years
old.  Still, Ranko's reasoning was sound.  This could be just what they were looking for.
     The tracks meandered a little across the floor, leading away from the edge of the platform.
The three followed the tracks back, soon spotting the bottom of a flight of stairs.  Unfortunately,
they ascended only a short distance before being totally blocked by rubble.
     "Damn, a dead end," V growled.
     "Yeah, but the tracks don't go that way," Ranko told her, squinting at the floor.  "We need
more light."
     V obliged by summoning her whip.  Its warm, golden light washed across the floor, and Mars
could see that Ranko was correct.  The faint tracks veered off to the right.  They followed the
trail left by the intruder towards a back wall, behind what might have once been an information
booth.
     "There's only a couple of trails, one coming in and one going back," V observed.  "She
wandered around a little back this way, but she obviously didn't spend too much time down here."
     "I don't blame her," Ranko said dryly.  "It's not all that cheery, is it?"
     They came to the point where all the tracks appeared to converge, a steel hatch of some sort
set in the grimy wall.  Something else caught Mars' attention though, a clear spot near the hatch.
V noticed it too, and moved so her whip illuminated it more clearly.
     "Well, well, well," V breathed.  "Still think it's coincidence, Mars?"
     Mars shook her head.  A design had been painted onto the wall in deep red, a design familiar
to young lovers everywhere.  It was a heart, and inside were two sets of initials joined with a plus
sign.
     "M.K. plus Y.S.," V murmured, rubbing her lower lip with her thumb thoughtfully.  "Y.S.?  Y
... Yoshi?  Could it be ...?"
     "Lost again," Ranko announced.  "Did someone you know do this?"
     "Maybe," Mars admitted.
     "That little dickens!" V said, admiration in her voice.  "She never said anything about ..."
     "Later, V," Mars broke in.  V blinked.
     "Yeah, sure," she said, her eyes still a little distant.  Mars grabbed the handle set into the
hatchway and turned.  It took some effort and the handle made an awful racket, but it did turn.  A
sharp tug caused the hatch to swing outwards with a metallic shriek, revealing a shaft dimly lit
with more of the ubiquitous glowstones.  Metal rungs were set into the back wall of the shaft and
extended upwards; the rungs themselves were rusted but appeared to be fairly secure.
     "Okay, I guess we go up," she announced.  "I'll go first."  She stepped into the shaft and
gripped the rungs, testing their stability before trusting her weight to them.  They groaned slightly
but held, and slowly she started up.
     There was a slight breeze in her face, a good sign.  She couldn't see light above them, though,
which was not so good.  Perhaps she should make sure that there was actually a way out before
they all went to the trouble of climbing.
     A quick glance below showed her that it was already too late.  V was on the ladder below her,
and Ranko was beginning her climb.
     "Hey, Mars!" V called.
     "What is it?"
     "From here, I can see right up your skirt!" V said in her most suggestive tone.  "I don't mind
telling you, voyeurism gets me hot!"
     "Everything gets you hot, nympho," Mars called back.  "Just climb, okay?"
     "Hey Ranko, can you see up her skirt?" V continued gaily.
      "I'm not looking!" Ranko shot  back, sounding flustered.  Mars suppressed a sigh at V's usual
antics and continued to climb.
     They appeared to be in some sort of old emergency access shaft, or perhaps it had been for
ventilation.  One or two rungs were missing along the way, but all in all the climb was not
difficult.  Soon Mars reached another hatch, this one partially ajar.  It appeared to be jammed, and
she had some trouble getting enough leverage from her precarious position, but finally she
managed to force the twisted hatch open far enough to squeeze through.  She found herself in a
small room with concrete walls along two sides.  The rest of the chamber was crumbled rock and
debris, but there was a ragged opening in the ceiling.  V and Ranko joined her, and  one by one
they leapt up through the hole.
     "Where are we?" V asked, looking around.  This new room appeared to be of a slightly more
modern design.  There were electric lights instead of glowstones, but they were all broken, and V
had to summon her whip again for light.  They trudged through the small room, which had been
stripped of anything useful, and walked through a doorway whose frame had been broken at some
point.
     That put them in a series of bare concrete corridors, and Mars led them along, looking for
some clue as to the way out.  Around one corner they found a flight of cracked concrete stairs
that led up, and they took them.
     Upstairs was a little different.  There were signs of habitation, although none recent.  Mouldy
mattresses lay strewn about a large room, and empty tin cans were piled in one corner.  They
passed through the room and down a hallway decorated with intricate graffiti.
     "Black Dragons Rule," V read.  "Well, that cinches it."
     "Cinches what?" Ranko asked.  She'd been mostly quiet sine the climb, and Mars wondered
what would happen once they reached the surface.  She had no sense that Ranko meant to do
anything hostile, but she still hadn't decided what to do about the girl.
     "The Black Dragons were a gang," Mars said, a trifle shortly.  "One of our friends was a
member."  Ranko accepted that silently and they moved on.
     Soon Mars could see light ahead, and another set of stairs led up.  Almost unconsciously she
picked up the pace, and moments later they were standing outside of a half-collapsed building.
     "Whoo," Ranko sighed, looking around.  "Bad part of town, huh?"
     "You could say that," Mars sighed.  "Of all the areas we could have ended up in, this is
probably the worst."
     The signs of devastation were all around them; not a single structure was undamaged, the
streets were choked with rubble, and nothing moved anywhere.  Through a gap in the skyline,
Mars could glimpse the ruins of the Old City, and suppressed a shudder.
     "What happened here?" Ranko asked, her braid tossing lightly in the cool wind.
     "This," V told her, "is the Zone.  It's the area that lies between the edge of the Triangle and the
Old City.  It used to be a pretty nice part of town, but that was before the Long Dark."
     "The long what?" Ranko asked.  It took a moment for the question to register, but when it did
Mars turned to V.  Their eyes met, then both turned to Ranko with identical expressions of
disbelief.
     "The Long Dark," Mars said slowly.  "You're not trying to tell us you've never heard of it, are
you?"
     "I'm not from around here," Ranko replied defensively.
     "Really?  And what planet ARE you from?" V asked.
     "What's the big deal?" Ranko frowned, looking from one to the other.  "I just asked what it
was, that's all."
     "The big deal," Mars echoed softly.  "About fourteen years ago, the sun set on this city one
pleasant spring evening.  It didn't rise again for thirteen days.  And during that long night, the
Clans of Night unleashed their unholy alliance of vampires, necromancers and other foul spawn on
this city.  They gorged themselves on the blood of the innocent, they killed with impunity, and
they declared themselves the ruling gods of a new dark order.  Saeni was to be their citadel, from
which they would spread their stain over the entire world as it trembled at their feet.  This city
was pushed to the brink of absolute subjugation, and only the bravery of a few and the
intervention of the gods at the last minute saved us from being enslaved.  That, my friend, is the
big deal."
     "You know," V said into the ensuing silence, "it was kind of a hard event to have missed, no
matter where you're from."
     "Um," Ranko said weakly.  "I guess it would be."
     Mars turned away, searching for the best path back to an inhabited area.  She didn't know
what Ranko was playing at by pretending ignorance.  But, a nagging little voice piped up, she
doesn't seem like she's lying, does she?  And what would lying about this gain her, anyway?
     What indeed?  Just another mystery surrounding the red-headed girl, one of many.  But it was
just inconceivable to Mars that anyone could be ignorant of that period which had become known
as the Long Dark, when the world trembled in the grip of the darkest magics.  Saeni had been at
the epicentre of events, but the repercussions had been felt around the world.
     "I see towers over that way," Ranko said, shading her eyes with her hand.
     "That's the Old City," V sighed, rolling her eyes.  "You don't want to go there."
     "Why not?"
     "Because nobody who goes there ever comes back," V explained.  "Boy, you really are
clueless.  How long have you been in Saeni?"
     "Not long," Ranko grumbled.  "And I wouldn't have come here at all if I'd known the place
was lousy with monsters and sections no one ever comes back from and cranky sailor girls."  This
last was delivered with a dark glance at Mars, who felt her already short temper twang like a
guitar string.
     "Okay," V said, unobtrusively stepping between Mars and Ranko, "on that inspirational note,
let's get moving, shall we?"  Mars took a deep breath, slowly let it out, and nodded.
     They started walking, Mars casting about for landmarks to indicate exactly where they were.
Destruction stretched all around, naked steel beams thrusting from piles of rubble like skeletal
remains, some festooned with tatters of cable.  The entire area seemed to Mars like the decayed
remains of a great beast, and she tried not to let the permeating sense of desolation and despair
get to her.
     That was difficult, though, considering the memories that being here evoked in her, memories
that rarely rested easily as it was.  They wove down the rubble-strewn street, coming to an
intersection which gave Mars a better view of the surrounding area.  There was a sudden
sensation in her chest, like a chime being struck, and the reverberations spread through her body,
raising bittersweet prickles along her skin.
     "I know where we are," she said softly.
     "You do?" Ranko asked.  "How?"
     "Because," Mars said, pointing without meeting anyone's eyes, "I used to live down that way.
That building over there was the old Royal Stadium."
     "Mars," V began, a gentle empathy underlying her tone.  Mars didn't acknowledge it; her
defences had been badly shaken by the unexpected sight of her old neighbourhood, and her
sudden vulnerability made her ... nervous.
     "Come on," the raven-haired senshi said brusquely, leading the way.  "This will take us
towards the Twin Towers drawbridge.  From there we can probably find a working phone or
something."  She marched off, leaving the other two to follow.
     They walked in silence for a time.  That silence was heavy, a constant and nearly physical
pressure against Mars' skin.  She knew V wanted to say something reassuring, but was probably
constrained by Ranko's presence; Ranko probably wanted to ask a million questions but could tell
just how unwelcome they would be.  All in all, it made things more than a little uncomfortable.
     "So, Ranko," V said after a time, "what are your plans now?"
     "Plans?" Ranko repeated blankly.
     "Yes," V said.  "What are you going to do?"
     "I, uh, don't really know," Ranko admitted.
     "Well, you said you weren't from Saeni.  What brought you to the city in the first place?"
     "Just wandering," Ranko replied evasively.
     "Oh?  Where are you staying?" V asked.
     "Here and there," Ranko said.  "You know, wherever.  I travel light, go from place to place."
     "That sounds kind of exciting," V murmured, gazing at the red-head from under the lowered
brim of her cap.
     "Not really," Ranko shrugged.  "I mean, I've seen a lot of places, done a lot of things, but it
does start to get to you after a while."
     "Maybe you should go home for a while, then," V suggested.
     "That's ... not really possible," Ranko replied.  Something in the girl's tone caught Mars'
attention, although when she glanced over Ranko's expression was carefully neutral.  There was a
shadow lurking in those blue eyes again, though, and for once Mars didn't think of her vision.
This shadow was a more familiar sort, one that many inhabitants of this city harboured; it spoke of
old pain and loss.
     "Look," V said then, pointing.  Ahead, past the crumbling ruin of an old stone building, rose
the remains of the Two Towers.  They marked the edge of the White Orb River, beyond which lay
civilization, or what passed for civilization near the fringes of the Triangle.  They were nearly in
the clear.
     And Mars still had no idea how to handle the girl from her vision.  What on earth was she
supposed to do about Ranko?
     They quickened the pace a little, passing by the burned out ruin of what had been, according to
the still-intact sign, a post office, then skirting a huge pile of debris.
     Mars caught a sudden flash of motion and only had a moment to react before something
sprang from behind the pile, rocketing past her.  Instinctively, she and V moved so they were back
to back, Mars cursing herself for being so careless.
     There were three of them; four, if you counted the one that had hit Ranko and knocked her to
the ground.  That one was a leopard, and it stood straddling the stunned girl, bared fangs hovering
near Ranko's vulnerable throat.  The other three were human, but Mars recognized one from the
previous night's encounter.
     "Weres," she murmured.
     "Very good, sailor girl," the blonde woman sneered, her pale blonde braid swaying in the
breeze.  "You remember me, yes?"
     "Yes," Mars replied darkly.  "And when this is over, you'll remember us, kitty-cat."
     "Carefully," the blonde cautioned.  "Or Mika will tear your friend's throat out."  The leopard
made a low coughing noise in its throat, and Mars saw Ranko start to stir.
     "Yui, wasn't it?" V asked softly.  "I thought you guys had a beef with Jupiter."
     "We do," Yui said shortly.  "But Rin isn't handling things well.  He's soft on the amazon,
because he wants her.  But if I have you two, then I can get Jupiter and present her to Gareth
myself."
     "Nice plan," Mars said, her voice a throaty growl.  "But you don't have us."
     "I have her," Yui said smugly, pointing at the frozen Ranko.  "Either you surrender, or she
dies.  After all, I only need one of you alive."
     Mars tensed as Ranko's eyes focussed on the big cat straddling her.  The red-head's body went
rigid, and a small, strangled sound escaped from her clenched jaw.
     "Well?" Yui demanded.  "Do you give up?  Or shall I let Mika feed?  He's very hungry, you
know ..."
     Yui's voice trailed off as a low, feline snarl rose into the air.  The leopard's tail had stopped
lashing, and its ears lay back flat against its head.  Mars was certain that it was going to strike.
     Then Ranko growled back.
     The sound that came from the red-head's throat was inhuman, a low, feline yowl of rage that
made the tiny hairs on the back of Mars' neck stand up painfully.
     "What in the hells?" V breathed.
     "I don't ..." Mars began.
     Then everything happened at once.
 

End part four.