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

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

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Chapter Six: Wanderers
 

     "This," I said, appalled, "is an absolute madhouse."
     "Aw, this is nothing," Minako told me.  "You should see it on a Saturday night.  Or around
Spring Festival."
     "This is nothing?" I echoed, dubious.  We stood at the top of a hill, in a large square where
several winding streets converged.  All around the night was lit by garish neon and filled with the
noise of thousands of voices, hundreds of different tunes, and the underlying rumble of traffic and
the sounds of the city.
     And there were so many people.  Being from Tokyo, I was hardly unaccustomed to crowds,
but it was a little disconcerting being in the middle of all this.  Minako could refer to this as the
club district, but I had a better name: Sex Central.
     So many people, and they all seemed to have one particular urge driving them.  I saw
everything from tight leather to sheer, body hugging spandex, to ... well, to in at least one case
almost nothing at all.  I saw one woman leading a man twice her size on a leash; I saw three
women in identical short black dresses and equally identical expressions of cool detachment
hanging all over a guy in a shirt that made me think, for the first time in years, of Principal Kunou;
I saw a brawny topless woman walk by, a brunette wearing a dreamy expression slung casually
over her bare shoulder.
     I saw people fighting, people kissing, and people groping each other openly and without the
least sense of modesty or self-consciousness, and not only couples.  Some groups of four or five
people, or even more, all seemed to be engaged in some sort of mobile group-flirtation, touching
and caressing, stroking hair or cheeks or even slipping hands under clothing without ever missing
a beat.  I even saw what looked like a couple of cat-girls; not costumes like Minako wore at her
club, mind you, but girls with cat ears and tails and slitted pupils in their green eyes.  That opened
my eyes to the fact that some of the crowd weren't human at all.
     I'd never seen anything like it.  There was so much sexual energy, and it was all so ... so
OPEN.  Nobody seemed to care if they were seen doing things that were usually done in a dark
bedroom somewhere with the door closed and locked and all the shades drawn tight.
     Japan had never been like this.
     "Stop gawking, hon!" Minako called.  "You look like a tourist!"  I hurried to catch up to her,
knowing that if I lost her in this crowd, I'd never find her again.
     "I can't believe this place!" I blurted.  "I mean ... I mean LOOK at all this!  Couldn't these
people be arrested or something?"
     "For what?" Minako asked, sounding genuinely puzzled.
     "Public indecency," I suggested, looking around.  "Cruelty to animals?  Or that?"  I pointed at
a couple passing nearby.  "Now that HAS to be against some law!"
     "Why?  Looks like fun to me," Minako said with a wicked smile.  I was quickly coming to
associate such smiles with her; she may have been a girl, but she wasn't like any of the girls I'd
known.
     The couple ignored us steadfastly, engrossed in each other, and I shook my head.
     "This is what people do for fun in this city?" I asked plaintively.
     "This is the Triangle, Ranko," Minako replied indifferently.  "People come down here to let it
all hang out.  The more outrageous, the better.  If they want more refined pleasures, they go
uptown.  That kind of diversion has its good points, too.  The exquisite dance of manners and
subtle flirtation, the slow, decadent sensual approach to absolute submission by one party or ..."
     "I think," I gritted, "that you're missing my point!"
     "Apparently," Minako shrugged.  "Anyway, I got a couple of possible sightings from my
contacts right in this area, so we're going to have to start looking around for Rei."
     "In this?" I squawked.
     "Yeah, we'd better split up," Minako said, nodding.  "I'll take this street, you take that one.
Check all the smaller bars, skip any place with dancing or live bands.  She'll want something fairly
tame to start, but ..."  Minako frowned and glanced at her watch.
     "She's got a good head start," the blonde continued.  "So if you see or hear any fights,
definitely check them out.  She won't be in a very good mood."
     "Uh, right," I said.  "And supposing I actually find her, then what?  I'm just someone from a
vision she had.  She'll never listen to me."
     "Oh, don't try to talk to her!" Minako cautioned.  "Just watch her, follow her if she leaves, and
then come tell me where she went.  I'll handle the rest."
     "Uh-huh," I said.  I hadn't thought it possible to feel less confident about Minako's plan until
that very moment.  "And how will I find you?"
     "If you can't find me, go back to my place," Minako suggested.  "I'll end up there eventually."
     "Uh, how do I get there?" I asked.  She stared.
     "We came here from there," she said.  "And you already went there once."
     "You guys took me there while I was in the Nekoken," I replied with as much patience as I
could muster.  "I don't remember how we got there, and I wasn't paying attention when we left."
     "Okay," Minako shrugged.  "Then meet me here."
     "I could look in this square for a month and not find you!" I protested.
     "What about meeting at the Lair?  Or Yuka's Teahouse?"  Minako seemed to take it as a
personal affront that I had no idea where any of these places were.
     "I'm not real familiar with the city," I grumbled as she glared at me.
     "Fine," she said.  "C'mere."  She grabbed my shirt and pulled me along the sidewalk until we
reached a corner, then mounted the base of a light pole nimbly and peered upwards.
     "Ah!" she crowed.  "There!  You see that?"  I followed her pointing finger with my gaze,
spotting darkness through a break in the buildings and ubiquitous neon.  She was pointing at a
dark outcropping of land jutting from the end of the wooded river valley we'd crossed in the cab
on the trip from her place.
     "Yeah," I said slowly.
     "That," she told me, "is the highest point of land overlooking the harbour.  Can you find that
okay?"
     "Sure ..." I began.
     "Perfect!  Then you meet me up there, under the old lighthouse!" she beamed.
     "Um, when?" I asked as she turned and made to go.
     "Whenever," she replied.  "I'm easy."  I just stared at her for a moment.  She was practically
vibrating with the need to move, to do something, and I had a feeling that this little expedition
was really more about making her feel like she was accomplishing something than any actual hope
that we'd find Rei.
     "What makes you so sure I'll show up?" I asked her.
"Aren't you worried I'll just take off or something?"  Minako just smiled at me, and I heaved a
sigh.
     "Wait, don't tell me," I said.  "You're an excellent judge of character?"
     "How good of you to notice," Minako beamed.  "Good luck!"
     And then she was gone, leaving me with a vague plan, uncertain motivations, and unclear
goals.
     Well, at least I wasn't going to be bored.

***

     Hotaru dreamed.
     In her dream, she stood in her study, arms wrapped tightly
around herself.  It was odd; she felt as though she were separate from the dream-Hotaru, a
phantom spectator.  Even so, she could feel what dream-Hotaru felt.
     It was the Hunger.  Dream-Hotaru quivered with it as it traced black need along her nerve
endings, singing its sweet siren song, tempting and beguiling and demanding to be sated, NOW.
     Dream-Hotaru resisted, though.  She had called Setsuna and the others, and help would be
here soon.  All she had to do was keep her emotions, her need, under control until they arrived.
The hunger had surprised her, coming upon her with savage speed, but everything would be fine
as long as Usagi and the others didn't see her like this ...
     With a start, Hotaru realized what she was looking at.  She was dreaming of that night, that
horrible night.  It had none of the soft, vague quality of a dream, though.  Everything was terribly,
mercilessly clear, more like reliving a memory than an actual dream.
     And she couldn't stop it.  She could only watch with a mounting sense of horror, knowing
what the outcome was destined to be while hoping in vain for the power to change it.
     Dream-Hotaru shuddered lightly as she stared out into the dark, nervously running the tip of
her tongue over her lower lip.  The dark urges were strong tonight; the price, she wondered, of
fighting the hunger the way she had been doing?
     Her heart leapt as she heard the door to her study open.  She was here!  Setsuna would let her
feed, and for a few glorious moments dream-Hotaru could submerge herself in that crimson tide,
revelling in the sensations of drinking sweet life's blood ...
     "Hotaru?"
     She froze, eyes widening with the split-second realization.  That voice, higher than Setsuna's
husky murmur.  That scent, not dark and mysterious but light, sweet, girlish.
     Not her.  It couldn't be her.  But even as dream-Hotaru thought that, the Hunger began to
rage, exulting as it pounded against her fraying control.
     It sensed innocence, and longed to corrupt it.  It sensed compassion, and longed to exploit it.
It sensed light, and longed to drown it in shadow.
     It sensed goodness, and longed to bewitch it with sweet sin.
     "You," dream-Hotaru rasped, her mouth dry.  "You know you aren't allowed in here.  Get
out."  It took all her will to ignore the scent of the girl's blood and speak those words.  Usagi
heard the effort, the trembling, in dream-Hotaru's voice.
     Get out! Hotaru shouted, but she was a phantom, and could not be heard.  She watched,
helpless, as Usagi's compassion proved her undoing.
     "Hotaru, what's wrong?  Are you hurt?"  Usagi moved further into the room, and both
Hotarus, the one in the dream and the dreamer herself, felt the darkness rising.
     How dare she? came the thought, and Hotaru couldn't tell if it came from her own thoughts or
those of her dream self.  Serenity had made her own daughter beautiful and pure; made her to
walk in the light, after all, choosing to inflict the dark power of the Omega Soldier upon another.
     And to have this girl, the haunting image of her mother, offer comfort when the darkness was
rising was simply adding insult to injury, wasn't it?  Shouldn't she have to pay?  Wouldn't it be
just, and right, that she be touched by what her mother, in cowardice, had wrought?
     No! Hotaru shouted silently.  That's not right!  She is not Serenity!  Stop it!
     But she knew that her dream-self wouldn't stop, even if she could have heard.  Darkness
whispered in her ear, and she listened.  It seemed she was powerless to resist its insinuating taint
when the Hunger was on her.
     And so dream-Hotaru's shoulders shuddered once, then relaxed as the decision was made ...
and Hotaru watched, unable not to see what was coming, knowing that her own weakness, her
own jealousy and bitterness had given the darkness the opening it needed.
     "Yes," dream-Hotaru murmured softly.  "It does hurt, princess.  But you can help me, if you
are willing."
     "Of course!" Usagi blurted, moving quickly until she was close enough to touch
dream-Hotaru, her guileless blue eyes wide with concern.  "What can I do?"
     "Come closer," dream-Hotaru whispered, turning.  Her hair, a deeper black in the gloom,
cascaded down her back suddenly in a silken wave, and Usagi blinked, obviously startled.
     But not frightened; no, Hotaru thought bitterly, Usagi would never have been afraid of her.
After all, Usagi had trusted her utterly.
     Even though, in the end, Hotaru had proven unworthy of that trust.
     "Hotaru, your hair," Usagi said, clearly confused.  "What ...?"
     "Do you like it?" dream-Hotaru asked with a sly, impish smile, running her fingers through the
long locks.
     "Yes, but ... how did you ...?"
     "Usagi, I need to talk to you," dream-Hotaru said softly.  "About something important, a
secret.  Will you listen?"
     "Of course!" Usagi said, her eyes blazing with her absolute willingness to help.
     "Yes," dream-Hotaru crooned, reaching her hand out to cup the blonde's cheek.  "Always
willing to help, aren't you?"
     Usagi gasped, missing the undercurrent of venom in dream-Hotaru's voice.
     "Your hand, Hotaru!" she said, reaching up to clasp it.  "It's so cold!  I'll go get the others ..."
     "No, there's no need," dream-Hotaru assured her with a smile, using her grip on Usagi's hand
to pull the girl closer.  Her midnight mane twined slowly around Usagi's waist, and the blonde
looked down, startled.
     "It's an interesting trick, isn't it?" dream-Hotaru asked, and Usagi smiled at her, delighted.
     "Yes," the blonde replied.  "But Hotaru, what's wrong with you?  You're so pale.  Do you feel
all right?"
     "I just need to share your warmth for a moment," dream-Hotaru murmured, pulling Usagi
against her.  "That's all.  You do trust me, don't you, sweet princess?"
     "Of course," Usagi replied, embracing dream-Hotaru warmly.  The utter faith in that small but
intimate gesture tore at Hotaru's heart as she watched.
     "Yes, of course," dream-Hotaru breathed.  "Little fool."  Her eyes, huge dark drowning pools,
had locked onto Usagi's, and the girl frowned vaguely as she fought to react through the beguiling
haze that had descended upon her thoughts.
     "What?" the mesmerized girl asked slowly.  "Hotaru, what are you ...?"
     "Hush," dream-Hotaru crooned.  "Just close your eyes and dream, princess."  Even through
the veil of the dream, the feel of Usagi's warm flesh was almost real.  Then dream-Hotaru was
biting down slowly, and blood filled her/their mouth/mouths in a sweet hot salty rush that
splintered the dream with terrifying suddenness.  Hotaru cried out as frozen images spun by her in
a dizzying storm, each razor-edged memory accompanied by its attendant sensations and
emotions: her hand burning where the red rose had cut across it as she snarled, Usagi limp in Rei's
arms; the horrified expressions on Haruka and Michiru's faces as they charged in behind the
stunned Inner Senshi; the anger that burned in Mamoru's blue eyes even through his mask.
     And then one shard buried itself in her chest, burning with a cold beyond anything she'd ever
felt as its image played out for her; dream-Hotaru became one with her, and they spat vileness at
the clustered girls, lost in the dark need of the hunger.  Pawns, she called them.  Mere tools,
gathered by and beholden to her, and if she required their blood, their very lives, how could they
complain?  No longer a royal court, were they not mere girls with some smattering of power?
     Once again she was forced to witness the raw betrayal on their faces, even as she struggled
against the nightmarish rage that pushed her, strove helplessly to stop the tide of madness, begged
silently for the strength to stop it from happening this time.
     I'm sorry! she screamed into the void, her voice without form or substance.  Lies, all of it!  I
never wanted this, please, come back!
     But they all turned their backs on the broken dream, and she could only watch as Haruka and
Michiru reached out to keep her from following, to restrain her until ... until ...
     She fought against the hands that held her, crying out instinctively.  Michiru was calling her
name even as she held her back, and for a moment Hotaru was certain she was actually there
again, forced to re-live that black night as penance for her sins.  She stared wildly, her chest
heaving as reality slowly re-asserted itself.
     She was in her bed, sitting up.  Michiru and Haruka were really there in her room, Michiru
perched on the bed and holding Hotaru by the shoulders while the lanky blonde looked on,
concern stamped on her strong features.
     "Hotaru, wake up," Michiru murmured, peering intently into the other woman's eyes.  "You're
having a nightmare."
     "Michiru," Hotaru gasped, trying to hide the emotional effects of her dream.  "You ... what ..."
She stopped, taking one deep breath, then another.  She didn't want the others to see her like this,
so close to the edge.  What would they think?  Would they suspect that she was losing her grip?
And if so, what would they do?
     "It's all right now," Michiru breathed, her hands warm and comforting on Hotaru's shoulders.
"Everything's okay.  You're safe."  The gentle tone Michiru used was like a salve on Hotaru's raw
nerves, and she shuddered lightly, turning her head so the green-haired girl wouldn't see her eyes.
Hotaru craved that gentleness, even if she could barely admit it to herself, but she always tried to
hide the soft, vulnerable part of her away from the others.  Mostly she succeeded, but now she
could feel her defensive shell trembling on the verge of total collapse.  Somehow, she had to
regain control of the situation.
     "I'm fine," she said briskly, marvelling at how steady her voice was.  "Thank you."
     "Uh-huh," Michiru replied softly.  "Hotaru Tomoe, woman of steel."  Her tone kept the
remark from being cutting, and as Hotaru's gaze swept back to catch Michiru's she saw gentle
mocking in those sea-green eyes.  With a guilty start she realized that she wasn't fooling Michiru
at all, and possibly never had.  Hotaru's breath caught in her throat as Michiru's slim, strong hands
slid up her bare shoulders, trailing gentle heat as they came to cup her neck.  Michiru squeezed
tenderly, her long fingers sliding under Hotaru's hair to lace at the nape of her neck.  The gesture
was intimate, familiar and comforting all at once, and Hotaru felt a lump form in her throat.
     "Trembling," Michiru whispered, bringing her face close to Hotaru's.  And she was, Hotaru
realized.  She couldn't seem to stop.  For a moment, she wanted to lunge forward, wrap her arms
around Michiru's waist, and break down sobbing on the other girl's shoulder.  She wanted that
with an intensity that was frightening, to just let go and be comforted, to abdicate all responsibility
for a little while.
     But she couldn't.  She hadn't earned such a luxury, not her, the woman whose loss of control
had destroyed all she'd dared dream of.  And there was a part of her that always held back, afraid
to be made vulnerable, to risk rejection.
     Still, she couldn't ignore Michiru's comfort, not completely.  She let out a shaky sigh as the
other girl kneaded the tense muscles at the back of her neck, subtly guiding Hotaru's wandering
gaze back to her own.
     "Better?" Michiru asked.  Hotaru nodded.
     "Thank you," she told Michiru, and this time her words held real gratitude.  Michiru nodded, a
small but genuine smile touching her lips.  Hotaru felt the bed shift slightly as Haruka eased
herself down behind her lover.
     "You feel like telling us about it?" the blonde asked softly.  Hotaru's instinctive response was
to refuse, but that would have seemed churlish given the intimate aura that had grown up around
them.
     "I dreamt of the night Usagi and the others left," Hotaru said.  She was certain the others
wouldn't push the issue, and she was proven correct.  Michiru gave her shoulders another squeeze
as Haruka draped herself over the smaller woman's shoulder gracefully.
     "I understand," was all Michiru said, her eyes awash with compassion.
     "So, Hotaru," Haruka murmured, "what's with this?  Expecting company?"  The blonde
reached out to run her finger teasingly along one spaghetti-thin strap of Hotaru's negligee, her
blunt nail scoring lightly along bare flesh in the process.  Hotaru flushed suddenly, both from
Haruka's deliberately flirtatious gesture and from the sudden recollection of the mood which had
driven her to dress so provocatively for bed.
     "No, of course not," Hotaru told Haruka, trying to maintain her composure.
     "Would you like some?" Michiru asked, her eyes now gleaming with mischief.
     "You two are terrible flirts," Hotaru sighed, covering her discomfort by making a show of
being exasperated.
     "There's nothing terrible about that," Haruka smiled, resting her chin on Michiru's shoulder.
"And warm arms are the best cure for a bad dream."
     "That's a tempting offer, but I'm fine," Hotaru assured her.  "Really."
     "You don't have to turn us down again," Michiru told her, letting her hands trail off Hotaru's
bare shoulders.  Hotaru repressed a twinge of regret at the loss of that contact; Michiru's hands
had possessed a warmth beyond mere body temperature, and Hotaru already missed it.  "That
offer is always open.  Haruka means we could just sleep in here, together."
     "I'm not a little girl, Michiru," Hotaru said ruefully.  "I can handle the dark of night.  Go on,
now.  I'm certain you two can think of something more interesting to do in a bed than coddle me."
     "All right," Michiru said, and Hotaru fancied she saw a flash of real regret in the girl's eyes.
"But that offer is also open, if you change your mind."  She slid from the bed with the same easy
grace that filled her every movement.  Haruka, though, lingered to lean toward Hotaru, smiling
impishly as she ran her fingers slowly through Hotaru's hair.
     "I like your hair that way," Haruka whispered huskily.  "It looks good on you."  Hotaru
blinked, recalling how she'd slicked her wet hair back before going to bed.  Before she could make
a response, though, Haruka bent slightly and planted a kiss, not quite chaste, on Hotaru's
forehead.
     "Good night," the blonde breathed.  "Sleep well."
     Then she was joining Michiru, and the two slipped quietly from Hotaru's room, closing the
door behind them.
     Hotaru sat in the ensuing silence, a tingling warmth lingering on her shoulders and neck, where
Michiru's hands had held her, and on her forehead, where soft lips had pressed a little too firm and
a little too long for a mere sisterly kiss.  In that moment, she envied the others their freedom; they
could give vent to their passions, never having to fear that they might lose control and harm those
they loved.
     She had no such freedom.  But oh, sometimes she ached for it.  She wanted to run after her
two friends and welcome them into her bed; she wanted to flirt, to entice, to seduce and play at
the sweet hot games of pleasure and passion.
     But she could never be certain where it would stop.  She knew that, in the grip of the hunger,
her siren's call could ensnare even unwilling prey.  To blur the line with Haruka and Michiru could
place them in peril, the same peril she'd already subjected Setsuna to.  All for her own desires for
warmth, intimacy, and love.
     No.  Better that she should suffer from loneliness than risk hurting her sister senshi, as she had
that shining princess in a single moment of weakness.
     She lay back down on the cool sheets, pulling her rumpled  bedclothes up around her.  The
house was quiet, and she rolled onto her side, curling into a ball.  She wrapped her arms around
herself, imagining she could hold that warmth to her and prevent it from evaporating, even just for
a little while.
     And although she knew it was foolish, that cherished warmth banished the fear and
self-loathing that her dream had evoked, and as she drifted off to sleep she felt protected, loved.
Safe.
     Even if only for a little while.

***

     Haruka glanced back at Hotaru's door, cocking her head quizzically.
     "Just a nightmare," she mused.  "I was sure ..."
     "That you felt something?" Michiru finished for her.  "As was I.  But the negative emotions of
such a traumatic memory could have caused enough of a disturbance for us to sense, given
Hotaru's dark side."
     Haruka had to agree, and they turned and walked down the hall.  Haruka slipped her arm
around the smaller girl's waist, marvelling as she always did just how natural it felt there.
     "She's lonely," the blonde sighed at last.
     "Of course," Michiru murmured.  "Hotaru has a sensual streak that runs deep, and wild.  But
she has to hold it in check, because she fears her dark side."
     "That doesn't mean she has to hold herself away from us so much," Haruka retorted.
     "She thinks it does," Michiru shrugged.  "She's come to equate passion, all passion, with her
hunger, so it makes her feel guilty and ashamed.  I think it would be good for her to explore her
desires, but you know Hotaru.  She can't be pushed."
     "The way she looked tonight," Haruka grinned, "it was hard not to push at least a little.  What
an irresistible sight."
     "Ahem," Michiru said fussily, her green eyes glinting as she glared up at the taller girl from
behind a veil of tumbled green silk.
     "Well, not the most irresistible sight in the room, of course," Haruka said hastily.
     "How good of you to notice," Michiru replied darkly, pulling away from Haruka's arm.
"Eventually."  She stalked down the hall, nose in the air and back stiff, stopping to glance over her
shoulder.
     "I think," Michiru said softly, her elegant features set in a thoroughly wicked expression quite
at odds with her characteristic elegance, "that someone needs some re-education in how to treat a
beautiful woman."  With that, Michiru spun in a swirl of silk skirts and scented hair and stalked
off, leaving Haruka standing there with a vital heat spreading through her body.
     It somehow never failed to astound Haruka, the way people seemed to assume that she was
the dominant one in their relationship.  Nobody ever seemed to suspect that elegant, mannered
Michiru might possess the spirit of a tigress.  Probably, Haruka thought as she began to walk
again, because so few had ever been privileged to witness that side of the girl.
     Haruka was one of that privileged few, and she knew that Michiru had merely seized on a
convenient pretext in order to feign anger.  Still, Haruka would be expected to make amends
when she reached the room they shared, where Michiru would be waiting.  And if she was
reluctant to do so, she might be ... coaxed.  Persuaded.  Perhaps even compelled.
     Haruka thought of the boots that Michiru had purchased earlier in the week, and the outfit that
went along with them.  That though brought an almost beatific smile to her face.
     Humming under her breath, she went to face the music.

***

     Wynneth pulled back into deeper Shadow, away from Hotaru's bedroom.  The girl's dream had
been delicious, full of anguish and self-loathing.  She'd been so caught up that she nearly hadn't
sensed the approach of others until it was too late.
     Her darling daughter had caused herself so much grief by denying her true nature.  Well, she
had been denied the proper guidance, hadn't she?  But the time was nearly upon them, and when
everything was in readiness Hotaru would be brought to heel at her mother's knee, where she
would learn how foolish it was to deny her dark hungers.
     And until that time, perhaps her dreams would entertain, as well as revealing the weaknesses
of the senshi she'd tried to unite under her leadership.  She'd gone about it all wrong, though.
Wynneth would show her the way.
     As they were, those girls were quarrelsome individuals.  As servants of a dark goddess,
though, they would be made to drink deeply of the darkness, after which they would serve
without question.
     Soon, now.  So very soon.

***

     The wind made a lonely sound, up here on the bluff.  She'd been right; it was the highest point
of land overlooking the water.  The rocky bluff came to a narrow point here to form a craggy
finger which pointed out to whatever lay beyond the ocean, the land sloping away in every
direction.
     The old lighthouse looked like it had been abandoned for quite some time.  Weathered walls
had been scoured nearly clean by the winds, and the windows near the base had all been boarded
up long ago with wood that was now gray with age and badly warped.  The path up from the road
had been hard to find, too, nearly grown over by low brush and trees.  I'd wondered if the point
would be a popular make-out spot or something similar, but apparently I needn't have worried.  I
had the place all to myself.
     The quiet was a nice change from the mad crush below, though.  A salt-tinged breeze was
blowing in off the water, and I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling the quiet resonate through
my whole body as I breathed in the night air.  The area was bathed only in pale moonlight and the
distant glow of the city lights, leaving deep shadows all around.  I was just another shadow
among them, just a piece of night broken loose from its moorings and left to drift aimlessly.
     I opened my eyes.  That wasn't exactly true, was it?  I'd spent my time actually looking for Rei,
despite the fact that I thought there was little chance of finding her.  And now I was here, in this
lonely oasis above the city, waiting for Minako to show up.  I'd considered not coming; I could
easily have vanished into the crush.  Easily.
     So why hadn't I?  Why was I bothering to wait here for a girl I hardly knew?  The answer was
clear to me, even if I didn't care to dwell on it.  I'd been drawn into their lives, although
completely by accident, and had touched the strangely exciting tangle of relationships between
those girls.  It had only been the most superficial of contacts, really; I couldn't presume to know
very much about them from what I'd seen.  But that wasn't the point.
     The point was that I'd been alone for a long time, and without consciously realizing it I'd
missed the energy that friends and rivals created between themselves.  It wasn't anything I'd really
thought of back when I'd been in Nerima, but that energy became like a subtle background noise,
one that you tuned out after a while because you became so accustomed to it.
     You only really missed it when it was gone.
     And now here I was, involving myself in something that promised to be very messy, very
intense, and very personal, and if I was honest with myself the reason was that I was really just
trying  to bask in the warmth of that energy for a while.  It warmed places in my soul that had
been numb for so long I'd nearly forgotten they were there.  But really, I was just a spectator in all
this.  Soon, the wandering wind would blow me someplace else, and from time to time I might
wonder what had become of these girls, especially the outrageous Minako and her friend Rei, who
had apparently betrayed a trust.
     Yes, soon I'd be gone, but not tonight.  Tonight I'd wait and see if Minako showed up as she'd
said she would.  I had a feeling she wouldn't; she struck me as impulsive, flighty even.  If someone
interesting caught her eye or, somehow, she found Rei, then she'd probably forget all about me.
But that was all right.  It was nice up here.
     And honestly, I had nothing else to do, nowhere else to be.  And nobody waiting for me
anywhere.
     When the bells in the city below tolled midnight, I was pretty certain Ms. Excellent Judge Of
Character wasn't going to show.  When they rang once an hour later, I upgraded that to certain.
So when I heard thrashing in the brush covering the trail about a half hour later, I was mildly
surprised.  When it actually turned out to be her, stomping up the gentle slope of rock and patchy
grass, I realized I hadn't really expected her to show at all.
     I also realized I was sort of glad to see her, and I wasn't sure how to feel about that.
     I was leaning against the wall of the brooding old lighthouse, and she didn't see me at first.
When I saw she was getting ready to call out, I whistled softly.  The blonde started, peering over
in my general direction.
     "Ranko?" she called.
     "Yeah," I told her, pushing off the wall.  My muscles had stiffened a little as I'd lingered, lost in
thought, and I stretched as I walked out to meet her.
     "Been waiting long?" she asked.
     "A while," I shrugged.  "I guess you didn't find her."
     "No," Minako sighed.  The wind gusted, blowing her long hair around her face.  She reached
up and raked it away with her fingers, turning to raise her face to the breeze, closing her eyes as it
flowed around her.
     "That's nice," she murmured softly, moving languorously as if she was revelling in the
sensation.
     "Yeah, it's quiet up here," I said.  "Kind of isolated, too."
     "'Wait for me there, on the highest point of land overlooking the water'," she said, her eyes still
closed.  Her lips curved into a gentle smile as she spoke.  "'I will survive the storm's fury, and
return to you there.  After all, our story is not yet finished ...'"
     "Huh?" I asked blankly.  She opened her eyes and glanced at me, eyes sparkling in the pale
light.
     "It's from "Zeisz and Lisna"," she explained.
     "Is that a song?" I asked.
     "It's a classic book," she replied, sounding exasperated.  "Geez, you're no fun at all.  Ami
would have fainted in shock if she'd heard that I'd read such a mouldering old thing!"
     "Sorry."
     "Anyway," she went on, still sounding vaguely reproachful.  "This place always reminds me of
that passage, when the two are about to be separated by the coming tempest of war, and Lisna
tells her love where to look for her afterwards.  It's a very romantic scene."
     "Huh," I said.  "This place is many things, but romantic?  It doesn't seem to have that kind of
popularity."
     "There are other places that are easier to get to, I suppose," Minako shrugged, the wind
billowing her long coat and hair out behind her as she walked towards the lighthouse.  "Plus,
there's the fact that this place is haunted.  That puts a lot of people off."
     "Haunted?" I asked, watching her warily.  "That's a joke, right?"
     "Uh-uh," she muttered, looking for a place to settle.  There was a rickety wooden railing
standing out near the edge of the  point, but she chose a place at the base of the lighthouse,
sweeping her coat out with her arm in a charmingly feminine gesture as she sat.
     "Haunted?" I repeated.
     "Hey, don't worry about it," she said, seeming to finally realize what was bothering me.
"Despite what people say, they aren't angry vengeful spirits.  I've seen the odd one from time to
time, but they've never bothered me.  Anyway, ghosts can frighten the gullible but they pose very
little threat to people like us.  Much less than, say, an angry salamander.  Sit, sit."
     Slightly mollified, I went and sat beside her, the wall cool against my back even through my
shirts.  Minako fished around inside of the long black coat she wore, coming out with a slim bottle
of something dark.  She cracked the seal and spun the cap off with an economy of motion that
obviously came from experience, then took a long pull from the neck.  Sighing loudly, she held
the bottle out to me.  I hesitated a moment, then accepted it.
     "Thanks," I said, taking a cautious sip.  The contents were sharp and smooth at the same time,
setting a dull conflagration in the pit of my stomach that burned steadily.
     "Nice, huh?" Minako said, retrieving the bottle.
     "Yuh," I gasped.  "So, no luck in your search?"
     "Afraid not," Minako sighed.  "That damned Rei.  Nothing's ever easy with her."  Minako
pulled the lapel of the long black coat up to her face and inhaled, her long dark lashes brushing
her cheek as her eyes drifted closed.  I watched, mystified.
     "Uh, what are you doing?" I asked finally.
     "This is Rei's coat," Minako murmured wistfully.  "She left it behind when she ran out."
     "Uh-huh.  And why are you sniffing it?" I asked, although I suspected I knew the answer.
     "Because I love her scent," Minako said simply.  "It's so ... her.  Dark, mysterious, sensuous ...
all the things that make me want to throw her down and ravish her.  Or be ravished BY her.  Man,
what a troublesome girl to be in love with."
     "Oh," I said, because I couldn't think of anything else to say.  It was a little unsettling to me,
being with someone who spoke of intimate things so openly.
     "Being in love with Usagi is much easier," Minako sighed, taking another drink.
     "So, you were in love with Rei, but now you love Usagi?" I asked.  Hell, I was just trying to
hold up my end of the conversation.  I didn't really expect it to make much sense.
     "No," Minako said, handing me the bottle.  "I mean, of the two people that I'm currently head
over heels in love with, Usagi causes me much less grief."
     Oh," I said.  I looked at the bottle, then took a healthy swig.  I had the feeling I'd need it if I
was going to continue with this conversation.  "Well, why don't you pick her then?"
     "What?" Minako asked.  "What do you mean?"
     "Since Usagi is the easiest to get along with, why don't you pick her?"  I wondered if Minako
was getting offended, but she merely seemed confused.
     "Why should I pick anyone?" Minako asked, nimbly plucking the bottle from my hands.  Her
gaze was disconcertingly steady, and I resisted the urge to fidget.
     "Well, I mean, you have to pick one of them in the end, right?" I pointed out.
     "Why?" Minako pressed.
     "Because ... because that's the way it is," I said, a little flustered by her apparent inability to
understand something so basic.  "You fall in love with one person and end up with them.  You
know, forsaking all others and all that."
     "Ranko," Minako said slowly, "what planet are you from, exactly?  I'm in love with Usagi and
Rei, in at least lust with my other sister senshi, and occasionally smitten by random passers-by.
Now, if I could get both Usagi and Rei into my bed, either together or separately, and neither of
them had a problem with it, and I didn't have a problem with it ... are you telling me YOU'D have
a problem with it?"
     "But ... but that's just not how it's done!" I protested.  "You can't just go around falling in love
with people like that!"
     "Of course I can," Minako snorted.  "Why shouldn't I?  Would it be better to pretend I was
something other than what I am?"
     "Er ...," I countered cleverly.
     "Er, indeed," Minako said, handing me the bottle.  "Here, you look like you could use this."
Obligingly, I took another drink.  The heat had begun to spread through my body, and I shrugged
my shoulders to loosen them as I sat and thought.
     "Do a lot of people feel like you do?" I asked finally.  Minako chuckled.
     "It's hardly uncommon, at any rate.  Ranko, I don't know where you're from, but it must be
someplace pretty backwards," she said ruefully.  "This is really shocking you, isn't it?"
     "Well, yeah," I muttered.  "I mean, the idea is pretty strange.  You could just go and fall in
love with as many people as you wanted?  And you could all ... together?  I mean ..."  I stopped,
instantly regretting having set off on this tack in the first place.
     "Ranko," Minako teased.  "You're blushing!  Of course we could all have sex, together or in
pairs or threesomes or whatever.  These are all things you have to work out with your particular
lovers, you know."
     "I suppose," I grumbled, hitting the bottle again.
     "Oh, come on," Minako pressed.  "You're a gorgeous girl and a hunky guy, all in one.  You
must have had your share of getting to know new bedmates."
     "Forget it," I muttered.  "I just ... I don't want to talk about that, okay?"
     "Sure," Minako shrugged after a moment.  "Sometimes I run my mouth without engaging my
brain.  I hope I didn't offend you."
     "It's fine," I told her.  "No problem.  Why don't we talk about something else?"
     "Sure," she smiled.
     "Maybe you can explain something to me."
     "What's that?" she replied, taking another drink.  We were beginning to put a dent in the bottle
now, and I took it when she offered.
     "This whole thing with your friend, Rei," I said, pausing to take a sip.  "I don't really get what
happened tonight."
     "Where to begin?" Minako asked sourly.
     "Well, for starters, who is Dasma?" I asked.  Minako turned her head, fixing me with a blank
stare.
     "You've never heard of Dasma?" she asked in obvious disbelief.
     "That's right," I said.  "I guess she's some kind of cult leader or something, since Rei's
supposed to be her follower or priestess or something ..."
     "You really are a strange one," Minako sighed.  "I mean, really.  Dasma's a goddess, Ranko.
The Dark Lady, counterpart of Alieva.  You've heard of Alieva?"  I shook my head, and she
sighed again.
     "Anyway," she went on, rolling her eyes.  "For those of us who've been living under a rock all
these years, Alieva is the White Lady, and her symbol is the White Moon.  Since we are all of the
old Court of the White Moon, that associates us with her in some ways."
     "Sure," I said, although I had no idea what she was talking about.  "So you worship Alieva."
     "Not personally," Minako said.  "At least, not particularly above other deities.  I'm talking
about our previous lives on the moon here."
     "You had a previous life on the moon," I said slowly.
     "You've never heard the old legends of the White Moon court and the Silver Millennium?" she
asked wearily.  "Well, why am I surprised?  Anyway, that's another long story for another time.
Now, if Alieva is associated with the power of the White Moon, Dasma is symbolized by its
unseen counterpart, Nemesis, the Dark Moon."  I craned my head back and scanned the sky, brow
furrowed.
     "I do hope," Minako said dryly, "that you aren't looking for Nemesis.  I mean, since I just
mentioned it is the "unseen" counterpart and all."
     "So you can't see it?" I asked.
     "Thus my use of the word "unseen", twice," Minako agreed.
     "So it's just a myth or something?"
     "Nemesis was supposedly the first home of the Gods when they came to Gaia," Minako told
me, settling back against the wall.  "That was before Godswar, when the Gods fought each other
and split into factions.  The legends say that the power of the Gods allowed Nemesis and the
White Moon to share the heavens; after the war, Nemesis was cast into Shadow, but still circles
above us, exerting her influence upon the children of the Gods even as her White sister does."
She glanced at me and shrugged, an eloquently languid gesture.
     "Or so it is said," she added.  "The priestly types claim to be able to measure its power, like
White Moon affects the tides, but I've never had a head for that type of thing.  All I know is that
it's supposed to be up there, brooding in the dark."
     "Ah," I said.  I wasn't really sure what all this was supposed to mean, but at least we weren't
talking about me.
     "So.  Uh, what was the point again?"
     "Rei," I reminded her.
     "Oh, yes.  Now, the followers of Dasma and Alieva have always been on opposite sides of
things, as it were, but about a hundred years ago open war broke out between the two goddesses.
The upshot was that Alieva defeated Dasma in a climactic battle, and what happened after that is
uncertain.  Some say Dasma was killed, but most think she was just sealed away.  Whatever, the
Sisters of Shadow lost their position as equals of the White Sisters.  They've become a tiny fringe
group who are forced to operate in hiding, a far cry from the prestige they used to enjoy.  But
they still exist, and they take out their frustrations on their counterparts whenever they can, which
gives the White Sisters justification to hunt and prosecute them."
     "But they worship an evil goddess, right?" I asked.  My head was buzzing pleasantly from the
drink, and I felt more comfortable discussing something as outrageous as the feud between two
goddesses and their followers than I had talking about events closer to the heart.
     "I had a similar conversation with Usagi recently," Minako sighed.  "Even though I didn't
realize then why she was so interested ... anyway.  Dasma isn't really evil.  She's dark, definitely.
The dark gods nurtured chaos and the wild, untamed part of the human spirit.  That was once
considered quite mainstream, but worship of the dark gods has fallen out of favour in recent
times."
     "So what's the problem with Rei worshipping her?" I asked.  Minako frowned prettily.
     "She doesn't just worship her," the blonde pointed out, reaching up to twine her fingers
absently in her wind-tousled blonde hair where it hung over her shoulder in a manner that was
very distracting.  "Rei is one of her priestesses.  That means she was schooled to hate everything
that Alieva represents.  And Usagi personifies the White Moon, maybe even more so to us than
Alieva does."
     "Rei doesn't hate Usagi," I declared.  "When we first met and Rei thought I was a maniac or
something, she threw herself between us to protect her."
     "Thank you!" Minako exclaimed, pointing enthusiastically.  "My point!"
     "Was it?"
     "Well, earlier," Minako frowned.  "I mean, Rei's always been like that with Usagi.  Almost
always, anyway.  They're so different, but the bond between them is just ..."  She trailed off, and
looking at her face in that moment I saw a flash of jealousy that would have been scary if it hadn't
been mixed with wistfulness.
     "So they ... uh, love each other too?" I asked.  I was having a little trouble getting used to how
things worked here, but it didn't seem like it would be out of line to ask that.
     "Ha!  Don't get me started!" Minako snorted.  "They're mad for each other, but they still
haven't done anything about it.  There's the whole Mamoru issue, I guess, and then Rei's so
stubborn about protecting her princess ... did I mention Usagi's a princess?"
     "Uh ..."
     "Well, she is.  Was.  But anyway ... those two are soulmates, and that's all there is to that."  I
deftly plucked the bottle from Minako's flailing grip and took a drink.
     "So, what happened then?" I gasped after a swig.  "I mean, your friend, the tall one ..."
     "Makoto.  Yeah, she went off, didn't she?  That girl's got a temper, but this ... nah, this was
something more.  Something hit her hot button big time.  She and Rei haven't always gotten along
that great, but she went waaaaay off on this thing."
     "Everybody seemed pretty shocked," I pointed out as she snatched the steadily declining bottle
back.
     "Sure, it's shocking," Minako said.  "I mean, how could Rei be a Sister of Shadows and still be
Usagi's friend and protector and ... and be in LOVE with her?  But she is, I know she is!  Usagi
was hurt because some other woman lorded it over her, having this knowledge about Rei that she
didn't have.  And what with things that happened to us recently, betrayal has been a big issue for
us.  But Usagi, she was hurt, sure, and shocked, but that doesn't mean she thinks Rei is the
enemy.  I mean, that's insane!"
     "But can this be smoothed over?" I asked.  I remembered all the misunderstandings that had
cropped up between Akane and me back in the old days.  Even when it became obvious that
things had been misinterpreted, two stubborn people could stay mad at each other for quite a
while.
     "Rei," Minako growled, hitting the bottle hard and gulping.  "Rei knows she hurt Usagi, so
she's trying to protect her by staying away from her.  This martyr bullshit makes me crazy, you
know?  If she really cares about Usagi, then she owes it to her to look that girl right in the
baby-blues and tell her how it is.  Just how it is.  Am I right?"
     "Sounds good," I shrugged.
     "Damn right!  And what about me?  I care about her too!  Would it kill her to stand up and tell
us about this, about how it happened and why she never told us and just give Usagi a chance to
say that it's all okay?  Because that's just what she'll do, you know.  That's how Usagi is.  But no,
she's got to go wallow in her enigmatic dark broody-funk, and who has to go pull her out of it just
so she can return and be lavished with Usagi's forgiveness and passion and ... I should probably
stop this here train of thought before it goes further."
     "You're jealous," I pointed out with half-drunken wisdom.  I knew it was a stupid thing to say
as soon as I said it.  Just because it was painfully obvious didn't mean it should be said out loud;
certainly not by me.  Minako stared off, her eyes looking out over the sparkling water of the
harbour below, suddenly quiet.
     "You must think I'm kinda dumb," she said, trying to make it light and nearly succeeding.  "All
worked up, going to all this trouble just to probably end up as the lowest point in the chain?
Kinda dippy, right?"
     "Hey, I've been jealous," I said quickly.  "It's not a fun feeling.  But you told me that you could
fall in love with as many people as you wanted, right?  So can they.  So you're part of something
pretty good, aren't you?  You've got friends and ... and love.  Some people don't have that much.
I just think you're luckier than you think."
     "Heh," Minako mumbled with a wry half-smile.  "Yeah, I guess you're right.  Sometimes I get
kind of competitive about these things.  My point was supposed to be that Rei should go and
come clean with Usagi no matter how hard it is.  That's all.  But she's too stubborn, so I'm going
to have to try and fix this.  And boy, it's going to be a thankless task."
     "Maybe she'll quit this Dasma thing if you ask," I said.
     "For all I know, she already has," Minako sighed.  "And if it came down to a choice, I KNOW
she'd choose Usagi.  It's just so frustrating.  Why did this have to happen now?"
     I didn't have an answer to that, so I just held the bottle out to her.  She took it, and we shared
it in silence for a few minutes.  The silence wasn't awkward, which surprised me a little.
     "You know, I really don't know what to make of you," Minako said finally as I handed the
bottle of to her.
     "How so?" I asked.  I felt loose and warm, and a rare sense of connection to the world that
had been missing for quite some time.
     "Well, here we are," Minako said, fixing me with a frank gaze, "sitting under the moonlight in
an isolated spot, sharing a bottle and talking about this and that.  And you haven't made a pass at
me."
     "Huh?" I asked, caught totally off-guard.
     "Not so much as a flirtatious remark," she went on, pouting as she closed one eye and peered
at me out of the corner of the other.  Even in the pale light that eye was a vivid blue, and I felt a
sudden sense of vertigo, like an abyss had just opened beneath me.
     "You're kind of sweet, in a weird way," she went on.  "And a little bit shy, I think.  But it hurts
a girl's ego to be ignored.  I'm starting to think you don't like me."
     "I ... you seem nice," I stammered lamely.  Her pout deepened into a frown.
     "Nice?" she echoed.  "Come on, Ranko.  I've been pouring my heart out about my problems
and my feelings, and the best you can do is nice?  I've had people like me and hate me, but I'm
rarely treated as just ... nice.  I really don't get any better reaction from you than that?"
     Her tone was arch, and I couldn't tell if she was teasing me or really offended.  She was
wrong, though.  I'd noticed her.  I'd noticed the way she smelled when the breeze carried her scent
to me.  I'd noticed the way her hair spilled down over her shoulders when she leaned to take the
bottle, shimmering gold against glossy black leather.  I'd noticed the way her fingers sometimes
brushed mine as we passed it back and forth.
     I'd noticed, but I'd tried to pretend that I hadn't.  Because it was wrong, wasn't it?  Wrong, and
unfaithful to HER memory, to feel anything about a girl, wrong to feel a warm tingle in my belly
while Akane would never feel anything ever again.  My head swam with guilt and shame and the
heady mix of liquor and perfume.
     I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but suddenly I didn't want to be here anymore.  I didn't want
to have to face this, not now.  I wasn't ready.
     "Why so serious?" Minako asked, her voice low and coy.  She leaned close, her hand falling
lightly on my shoulder, and I swear in that moment my heart stuttered with irrational panic.
     "Don't!" I blurted, jerking away.  She stared at me, frozen for a moment with her hand still
extended.  We only sat like that for maybe two seconds, but it seemed a lot longer.  I saw
something flicker and spin behind her eyes, something largely made up of hurt that disappeared
behind that cocksure surface like it had never been.  But I'd seen it; worse, I'd put it there.
     "We should go," she said briskly, tugging at the edges of Rei's coat.  "It's getting late."
     It was on the tip of my tongue to apologize, but what could I say that wouldn't sound trite, or
weak?  And why should I, anyway?  She stood, dusting herself off, and I climbed awkwardly to
my feet.  I hadn't asked for this, had I?  I just wanted to be left alone.  It was too hard to have to
deal with something like this.  It was just too hard, and if she took it the wrong way, well, that
was too bad, but I hadn't done anything wrong.  Nothing at all.  She moved to go by me, and I
stood there, partially in her way, head down so I wouldn't have to meet her eyes.
     I hadn't done anything wrong.  Nothing.  And it was none of her business anyway.
     "There was a girl," I said hoarsely as she started to brush past me.  "Once.  Her name was
Akane, and we were engaged.  She's ... gone now."
     I stood there a moment, my chest tight and hot and every muscle in my body quivering like a
bowstring.  If she went forward, her left shoulder would hit my right unless one of us moved.
Neither of us did, though.
     "Ranko," she said, gently.
     "I haven't said her name out loud in two years," I said, squeezing the words out past the lump
in my throat.  That was as close as I could come to an apology; I'd surprised myself by going as
far as I had.  I turned and started to go.
     "I shouldn't have pushed," she said.
     "It wasn't your fault," I replied, not meeting her gaze.  "I just ... don't want to talk about it,
you know?"  It was easier, not having to look at her while I spoke.  "Forget it, okay?"
     "Sure."  Her voice was warm, compassionate, comforting.  I wanted to yell at her, tell her not
to be so nice.  After all, I was confused enough about how I felt as it was.  Was it wrong to notice
a pretty girl?  Was it wrong to enjoy sitting, JUST sitting, with her?  But how could it be right,
with Akane's ghost sitting between us?  How?
     "You were right, we really should go," I said, trying to sound casual and nearly succeeding.
     "Ranko ..." Minako began.  She never got a chance to finish; two things happened in quick
succession just then.
     A strange, yet familiar, lilting sing-song started up somewhere distant, carried aloft on the
night wind.
     And the lighthouse light came on.

***

     It was as if everything was the same.
     The familiarity was comforting somehow; the feel of silk on her bare skin, the hot sated
sensations that pooled in different parts of her body, even the way the other woman's breath
sounded in her ear.  It was all so much the way it had been, as if the years hadn't  intervened at all.
     Rei stretched, feeling Saekianna's body shift against hers.  Her breathing was beginning to
return to normal, and she lay with her eyes closed, drowning her senses in the scent of the other
woman, the feel of her hair against bare skin, the tickle of her hot breath.  If she did that, then she
could convince herself that everything was the same as it had been back then.
     Only the persistent phantom of a girl with bright blue eyes and blonde hair ruined the
perfection of her escape.  Even with her eyes shut, Rei could see that girl, her eyes stricken with
betrayal.
     Stop it, Rei thought.  I never said you could trust me.  Anyway, it's better like this.  People
should go where they belong.
     "Naughty thoughts, Rei?" Saekianna asked in her throaty bedroom voice.
     "Absolutely," Rei replied, shoving the accusing vision away roughly.
     "Well, it has been a while since we were together," Saekianna purred.  "But nothing has
changed, has it?"
     "No," Rei said, trying to ignore the hollow feeling those words, which eerily echoed her own
thoughts, evoked.
     "I knew it wouldn't have.  When something is right, it doesn't have to change," Saekianna told
her, sliding off Rei slowly.  Rei shifted, hissing as the long scratches on her back began to sting.
Yes, some things never did change.
     "You should trim those talons, Sass," she said accusingly.
     "Hmmm, you always say that afterwards," Saekianna smirked.  "But it drives you wild in the
heat of the moment."
     "Yes, but blood is hellish to get out of these silk sheets," Rei grumbled, somehow happy to be
falling into the old patterns, the old banter.
     "Well, then, roll over," the platinum-maned woman urged.  Rei did so, lying on her stomach
with her cheek resting on her crossed arms.  Saekianna slithered up onto her back, and Rei gasped
as the woman's tongue flicked out and traced along the raw welts.  The sensation was delicious,
pleasure and pain mingling in a way she'd rarely experienced, and she sighed deeply.  This, too,
was familiar.  This was part of how her life had been.
     And how her life was going to be again.
     That thought didn't hurt the way she'd hurt earlier; perhaps immersing herself in the flow of her
old life had been just the tonic she'd needed after all.  Even the sudden, unwanted image of Usagi,
dressed only in panties and a man's dress shirt, a glob of waffle batter on her nose, couldn't hurt
her now.
     Because she had given up on that.  It only hurt to want what you couldn't have; when you
accepted that it was impossible, then you didn't long, didn't ache.  If you threw yourself into the
possible, the impossible quickly receded and was lost to view.
     That was the way it was.
     "There," Saekianna murmured, resting her cheek against Rei's back.
     "You haven't lost your touch, Sass," Rei mumbled, evoking a breathy chuckle.
     "Of course not," Saekianna replied.  "I get a lot of practice.  But no one has ever matched me
like you, Sister Darkeyes.  I knew I would find you again.  It was fated."
     "Fated?" Rei asked, rolling over.
     "Oh, yes," the other woman said, her dark eyes alight with pleasure as she gazed down at Rei's
naked form.  "It is only right.  Things are coming together, just as our Dark Lady planned.  Be a
darling and grab my coat, would you?  I think it's on your side."  Rei slid over to the side of the
bed and spotted Saekianna's rumpled coat on the floor.  As she leaned down to get it, the other
woman would have a titillating view of her naked posterior.  Rei wondered for a moment if that
had been Saekianna's motive, but only for a moment.  That wasn't the sensual woman's style; it
was more something Minako would do ...
     Clamping down on that thought, she grabbed the coat and levered herself up, handing it to
Saekianna who took it with a smile.  She searched through the pockets until she found a shiny
lacquered black case, extracting a slim pipe and a small pouch.  With economical motions, she
filled the pipe and lit it, blowing a plume of bluish smoke towards the ceiling, then offering the
pipe to Rei.
     "I quit," Rei shrugged.
     "Hmmm?" Saekianna rumbled with one eyebrow raised.  "Again?  The Dark Lady counsels us
not to deny our desires, Rei."
     "Spoken like the Nightmistress of the Sisterhood," Rei sighed, propping her chin on her hand
as Saekianna leaned back against the headboard, pale skin still glistening with perspiration.  "But
I'm not a Sister anymore."
     "You are what you were, Rei," Saekianna replied.  "You only lost your way for a time.  Your
heart remains with us."
     "You sound so certain," Rei murmured, the other woman's words striking an uncomfortable
chord within her.
     "Oh, I am," Saekianna assured her, blowing lazy smoke rings.  "And you, of all people,
deserve to be at my side when I fulfill the destiny I wrested from Griitna's traitorous hands."
     Rei stared up at the other woman, uncertain for once of what to say.  It was unlike Saekianna
to be wilfully blind, so what on earth was she talking about?
     "The damage she did to the Sisterhood will take a long time to repair, Sass," Rei said finally.
     "Not that long, Rei.  Not now that I have the means to finally realize our fondest dream."  The
pale-haired beauty fixed Rei with a smile as the puzzled girl pulled herself up to a sitting position.
     "What's that supposed to mean?" Rei demanded.  Saekianna offered the pipe and Rei took it,
more out of habit then anything else.
     "It means that I plumbed the labyrinth's depths, Rei," Saekianna breathed.  "It means I
penetrated the shadows surrounding its heart, and claimed the treasure there."
     "Sass," Rei began, a frown creasing her brow.  "This is me, remember?  I saw the truth for
myself.  There was never anything to find there.  The labyrinth was just a way for Griitna to
manipulate the Sisterhood."
     "Ah, Rei," Saekianna sighed.  "You never did suffer from insecurity about your abilities."
     "Meaning?"
     "Meaning that I am familiar with visions," Saekianna smiled.  "They can be fraught with
cryptic symbols and ambiguous meanings.  Much of what you saw was true, much as I didn't want
to admit it at the time.  But the emptiness you saw at the heart of our labyrinth represented only
the void that my predecessor's lack of faith created."
     "Really?" Rei asked archly.  "So you're saying that the gifts Griitna promised us were there all
along?"
     "That is correct."
     "Then why didn't she ever claim these items for herself, if they were as powerful as she
claimed?" Rei demanded.
     "You will understand in time," Saekianna murmured.  "Meet me tomorrow, and I will prove to
you that what I say is true."
     "You're leaving?" Rei asked.  Saekianna ran her free hand along Rei's shoulder and down her
chest, fingers trailing lightly over bare flesh.
     "There are things I must attend to," she told Rei, regret in her voice.  "The time draws near,
after all."
     "Time?  You mean Baniesti?" Rei inquired.
     "Tomorrow," Saekianna repeated softly.  "Meet me, and we'll talk of many things ... of what
happened after you left, and of the destiny that I am bringing to fruition.  Rei, it's going to be
glorious!  And I want to have you by my side, just like old times."
     "You mean you want me to rejoin the Sisterhood," Rei said.  There it was, finally out in the
open, but Rei still didn't know if she could do that.  Seeking forgetfulness in the arms of an old
lover was one thing, but that ...?
     "You never really left," Saekianna told her.  "But enough talk.  If I am to venture out into the
night, let it be with the taste of you lingering on my lips."  She leaned in, and Rei tilted her chin up
in response.  Their lips met, and Rei let herself be drawn into a silky hot kiss.  The sensations
were familiar and sweet, and they drove all thoughts of the future and the choices she would have
to make out of her mind, at least for a little while.
     At this point, that was enough for her.

***

     The snatch of singing faded almost immediately, and I wondered if I'd actually heard it at all.  I
thought about asking Minako if she'd heard it, but I didn't really want to make a fool out of
myself.  At least, no more than I might have already shown myself to be.
     "That light hasn't worked in years," Minako said, frowning.  Unease was evident in her stance
as she stared up at the brilliant shaft of illumination that lanced out over the water.  "This is very,
very strange."
     "Maybe some of those ghosts you were talking about before," I suggested, trying to ignore the
skin-prickling, anxious feeling that was beginning to nag at me.  "And anyway, I mean, it's just a
light, right?
     "Yes, but this lighthouse has a history," Minako began.  "There's just no way that ..."  She
trailed off, and when I glanced over at her again I found her frozen in place, eyes wide as she
stared at something behind us.  I followed her gaze out along the path of the light until I found
what she was looking at.
     It wasn't hard to find.  An airship was sailing in from out over the water, framed in the centre
of the shaft of light.  It seemed to be flying on a path that would take it right over us, and for a
moment I forgot the willies that had been jangling my nerves.  I hadn't seen one of the big airships
up close yet, and even from this distance I was surprised how quiet the thing was.  It glided
through the air with a silence that was almost eerie.
     "Wow," I murmured.  "He's flying pretty low, huh?  Think he's in trouble or something?"
     "Desidinder," Minako whispered hoarsely.
     "Pardon?" I asked, feeling distinctly uneasy at the expression on her face.  "Is that the name of
the ship?"
     "No one knows her name, Ranko," Minako said, her voice small and tight.  "She's been
appearing in the skies over this city since before there even were airships.  Back then, they named
her Desidinder.  It means Eternal Wanderer."
     "Wait a sec," I said, the hairs on the back of my neck beginning to stand up.  "Are you telling
me that's some kind of ... of ghost ship?"
     "A phantom," Minako breathed.  "There are so many stories about her, it's hard to tell what's
true and what's legend.  They say a flight of armed fliers chased her into the clouds once, back
during the Eight Years War.  They never came out of that cloud, and no sign of them was ever
found."
     "Is it dangerous, then?" I asked, watching with growing unease as the ship came closer.  The
long, streamlined lower hull seemed stained with blotches of darkness, and all the windows in the
structure that rose from the flat deck were dark.  It looked like there was a flag flying from one of
the high masts, but I couldn't make it out at this distance.
     "Dangerous?" Minako echoed.  "She usually appears before times of disaster or catastrophe,
and people have argued over whether she causes the trouble or is just a harbinger of some sort."
     "Catastrophe?" I muttered.  I didn't like the sound of that.
     "The last time she was seen in these skies," Minako said softly, "was just before the Long
Dark.  I was just a little girl then, but I saw her myself, that night."
     I didn't know what to say to that.  I only knew that the thing was huge, and spooky as hell, and
it was slowly drawing nearer.  The thought of having a famous ghost ship that had been around
nearly forever hanging over my head didn't seem at all appealing.
     Then it started again.  That singing, high and sing-songy.  And my heart clenched, spasmed.
     It was coming from the ship.
     "Do you hear that?" Minako asked, unease in her voice.  "It sounds like singing."
     I didn't answer.  I heard it all right, and out on that desolate ancient ship, I saw something
move near the bow.  Something that could have been a strange blonde girl wearing robes.
     And singing.
     The ship just kept on coming, riding the beam of light in towards us, getting bigger and bigger.
The area around the lighthouse was completely exposed, no shelter anywhere.  The idea of taking
shelter from a ghost ship inside a haunted lighthouse didn't really appeal to me, either.  That left
the dense woods back along the path that led down.  We'd be safer there ... although from what, I
couldn't say.  The thing hadn't done anything actually threatening; it was just making my heart
beat triple time.  Still, discretion was the better part of valour.
     But I wasn't going to be the one to suggest we run, not in front of a girl.  Life had burned
away a lot of the bravado and cockiness I'd once had, but I was still Ranma Saotome, and I wasn't
going to wimp out.  When she suggested we take cover, I'd let myself be talked into it.
Reluctantly.
     So what the hell was taking her so long?
     Minako stared, rapt, at the coming ship as that maddening little song became clearer and
clearer.  And the closer it got, the harder my heart slammed against the walls of my chest.  I felt
like I was watching a tsunami rising up against the horizon; it was impossible to fight a primal
force of nature, and stupid to try.  But at least I knew what a tsunami was.
     "Ranko?"  Something in Minako's voice made me glance back at her from the ship, only to find
her eyes fixed on my chest.  Those eyes gleamed even brighter blue than normal, and it took me a
moment to understand why.
     I was glowing.
     Or rather, the key was, pulsing with a bright blue glow that shone through my shirts like they
weren't even there.  And the light was getting stronger as the ship glided closer and closer.
     Swell.
     "What's going on?" she asked, eyes wide.
     "I wish I knew," I told her, trying to suppress my rising panic.  I was a martial artist; give me
an enemy to fight and I could deal.  But this, this was just too strange.  It was like a small animal
part of my brain was screaming at me to hide from something terrible, something that would drive
me mad if I saw even just a bit of it.  And, to top it all off, that crazy song was floating around on
the night wind.

     "The Eye doesn't see,
      The Eye doesn't know,
      It was blinded a long time ago,

      But the Wardens still know,
      And the Wardens still see,
      And now there's one who's found a Key,"

     "What in all the hells?" Minako whispered, looking from my chest to the ship and back.
"Ranko, what's going on?"
     But I just shook my head.  I had no answers for her.
 
     "But the Dark took his love,
      And left him alone,
      Lost and mournful and far from home.

      He took to the Paths,
      And the Paths lead, they say,
      To where the Truth is hidden away,

      But the Truth, it has teeth,
      It can kill with Its bite,
      And it serves both the Darkness and the Light,"

     The key was pulsing faster now, and I realized dimly that it was beating in time with my heart.
Somehow, that thought didn't comfort me in the least.
     And still the ship came closer, and on that derelict deck where nothing living had set foot in
ages, a small figure flitted gracefully, just out of sight.

      But a heart that is torn
      and unsure, they say,
      Will lack the strength to guard the Way,"

     What do you want? I thought, the sense of something hugely supernatural growing ever
stronger in my gut.  Just what do you want from me?
 

      Two are the Lock,
      And one has the Key,
      To unlock the forces of destiny,

      True of heart
      The Warden must fight,
      Or Dark shall reign in endless night."

     The ship was so close now that I could make out details, like the figure of a woman carved
into the bow, and a ragged broken spot on one of the rails where it looked to have been torn
away.
     And the symbol of an eye, white on black, fluttering from a high mast.  The feeling inside me
intensified, the sense of something indescribably old and somehow alien coming nearer, pushing
implacably against whatever separated it from us, stretching that barrier thinner and thinner.  And
when it burst, so would the feeling inside me, and then ... what?
     The ship was nearly directly above us now, and I could only glare at it, my fear and anger
futile weapons against its advance.  I didn't want it to come, but at the same time I needed to
know what was happening.  Some part of me was bound up in this ancient mystery, and no matter
what, I needed to know how.
     Then the light went out.
     We were left in sudden darkness, and Minako squealed in alarm.  At least, I hoped it was her.
The glow from the key faded immediately, and I strained to see through the dark, my night vision
ruined by staring at the lighthouse's dazzling beacon.
     Then light blazed beside me, and I found myself looking at Minako in her fetishy leather getup,
spinning a glowing whip made up of tiny gold hearts.  It cast a gentle light, and both of us looked
around frantically.
     Desidinder, like the lighthouse light, was gone.
     As suddenly as it had come.

***

     Minako sighed with relief as she opened the door to her apartment.  The trip home had been
an oddly quiet one; despite the fantastic nature of what they'd seen, neither she nor Ranko had
spoken about it.  It was as if they'd reached an unspoken agreement somewhere on that dark path
down from the lighthouse's rocky point to put the matter aside until it could be examined in the
bright rational light of day.
     "It's quiet," Ranko noted as he came in behind her.
     "It's late," Minako pointed out, stifling a yawn.  "Or early, if you prefer."  She was beginning
to feel the effects of the day.  The buzz from the whiskey had long since departed, leaving a weary
grittiness behind her eyelids, and shock had piled on shock as the day had progressed.  Minako
hadn't had a day this full in quite some time, and the only thing she was certain of now was that
she'd had enough.  Sleep had to follow, a good solid eight hours at least, before she would be
willing to even consider the ramifications of everything that had happened.
     Stripping her boots off with a sigh, she plodded to the closet and pulled a stack of blankets off
a shelf.  They were neatly folded, thanks to Artemis, along with extra towels and other linens.
Turning, she thrust them at Ranko.
     "You can have the couch," she muttered, then yawned widely.  "I've had enough of this day.
See you in the morning."
     Ranko looked slightly befuddled, but he took the blankets and headed for the couch.  Minako
wondered idly if he would return to his girl form before bedding down, but he seemed quite at
ease as a male.  She supposed that the girl must have spent a lot of time in that form to have
become so accustomed to it.  But then, there were a lot of strange things about the girl slash boy
that Minako wanted to investigate further.
      That was going to have to wait, though.  She shuffled off toward the bathroom, leaving
Ranko to fend for himself.  It wasn't the first time she'd had someone on her apartment overnight
on short acquaintance; she'd thought of bringing that point up to Ranko earlier, then decided that
he wouldn't find that information at all comforting.
     Minako splashed water on her face and brushed her teeth, then climbed the stairs to her room.
Artemis' door was shut, but the door to the guest room was open a crack, and she peered inside.
Pale light fell in a crooked line over the bed, revealing Ami sleeping on her side, nestled up against
Makoto.  Minako smiled wryly at the sight.  Ami's reticent nature was well known amongst the
other girls, but for some reason she had taken quickly to Makoto, of all people.  Minako was
quite certain that Ami wouldn't have slept so easily beside any of the rest of them, except maybe
Usagi ...
     Minako frowned.  Both girls were in here; that meant they'd left Usagi alone.  Easing the door
shut, she padded down to her door and opened it silently.  Usagi was curled up on her bed,
cocooned in the blankets, but she wasn't alone.  Minako's heart leapt for a moment as she saw a
spill of dark hair across Usagi's shoulder and down the blankets.  Rei?
     But no, she saw after a moment.  The hair was a tumble of gentle curls, not glossy and
smooth.  As she moved closer, she could see the curve of cheek and jaw and the tell-tale crescent
moon symbol upon the girl's forehead.  As if sensing Minako's scrutiny, the girl stirred, eyes
opening to search the darkness.
     "Minako?"
     "Hey, Luna," Minako whispered.  She knew the girl's night vision, even in human form, was
incredibly acute.  Moving quietly, she eased down on the bed beside Usagi.  Normally, Usagi slept
like a rock, but Minako didn't think her slumber would be quite so peaceful this night.  "I didn't
know you'd be here."
     "Artemis called me," the girl replied softly.  "He thought Usagi might need me."
     "He's pretty smart sometimes, for a tomcat," Minako smiled.  "I'm surprised he's not hovering
like a mother hen."
     "He's on the roof," Luna told her, glancing at Usagi to make sure their voices weren't
disturbing the girl.  "The only way Makoto would get any rest was if someone kept watch.  In
case ..."
     "In case we get attacked?" Minako asked wearily.
     "Minako, what's going on?" Luna murmured, her eyes brimming with concern.  "I just can't
believe this story about Rei.  There's no way she could hurt Usagi.  That's just insane."
     "I agree," Minako sighed.  "But until I find her and get her to spill her guts, we aren't going to
be able to get to the bottom of this."
     "I hope you can do that soon," Luna breathed, reaching out to smooth a stray lock of hair
from where it had fallen across Usagi's cheek.  "This is tearing her up inside.  And Makoto, she's
so angry.  She won't even talk about it."
     "I know, Luna," Minako whispered.  "I know.  I'm going to make this right for Usagi.  I
promise."
     "She's had to go through so much recently," Luna said sadly.  "Things were just beginning to
get back to normal.  She deserves better."  The guardian nestled a little more closely against
Usagi's back as the girl stirred, making a small noise deep in her throat.  Minako noticed her
princess's eyelids twitching as she dreamed, and nodded.
     "Yes," the blonde murmured.  "She deserves the best."  She stood and began stripping, tossing
her clothes aside carelessly but taking care to hang up Rei's coat.  Then she slipped into a nightie
and eased under the covers, putting Usagi between Luna and herself.
     "No luck tonight?" Luna asked.  It was plain desperation, of course; Minako would have told
any good news right off the bat, a fact that Luna well knew.
     "I don't want to talk about tonight," Minako sighed, cuddling up against Usagi carefully.  "Not
until I've had some sleep, darlin'.  In the morning, okay?"
     "Mmm," Luna replied.  Minako lay there, feeling the weight of the day seep through her body
and into the soft mattress.  The dark room was silent except for the sound of soft breathing, and
Minako stared at Usagi's sleeping face from only inches away.
     Yeah, she thought.  This girl, she deserves the best.  And I'm going to make sure she gets it.
Not matter what.
     With that thought, she drifted off to sleep.

***

     He watched the dim gray light of dawn beginning to brighten the horizon, the empty glass held
forgotten in his hand.
     He hadn't been able to get hold of Usagi all day, only hearing her voice on his messages.
Mamoru worried about her; not only was she apparently running around with the other senshi
again, but there was a vamp loose in the city.  A vamp whose modus operandi closely matched
that of the woman who'd betrayed his Usako so badly, a woman who might not be too happy to
find the senshi active again.
     Then, to top it all off, he'd come home to find Luna gone.
     It was apparent that the feline guardian had left in some haste, and that worried him even
more.  Had something happened to Usagi?
     He had a nagging feeling that she was in danger, not the immediate sort but more some sort of
lingering threat that hung in the air like smoke, slowly thickening until it became a choking cloud.
Yet nobody seemed to think it important to tell him what was going on.
     It was maddening.  He wanted to protect the woman he loved, needed to protect her.  But if
this investigation headed where he was afraid it would, Usagi would be in even more danger.  If
cornered, there was no telling what Hotaru would do.
     The feeling of impotence gnawed at him, and he yanked his tie, already at half-mast and badly
rumpled, off his neck and threw it away.  Certainly the senshi wouldn't go out of their way to
keep him in the loop, but that didn't mean he couldn't act.  If he couldn't go to Usagi and protect
her, he could at least go to the source of the problem.
     And deliver a little message.

***

     Usagi awoke, her heart pounding.  She'd had a dream, and while she couldn't recall the details
it had left her with a feeling of inexplicable dread, like she'd forgotten something important ... or
LOST something.  Yes, that was more like it; she'd lost something, and had been looking
frantically, certain that every moment which passed carried it further and further from her.
     Warmth surrounded her, and she opened her eyes to see Minako's sleeping face pressed
against the pillow close to hers.  The room was unfamiliar for a moment, then the reality of the
previous day came crashing back in on her and she felt cold despair congealing in her stomach.
     "Usagi?"  That voice told her who was behind her, and she reached blindly until she found a
hand to grasp.
     "Luna," she murmured.  "You're still here."
     "Of course," Luna chided gently.  "I wouldn't leave."
     Usagi knew that Luna told the truth, but the lingering effects of her dream made her cling
tightly regardless.  She lay still, taking a moment to draw strength from the nearness of her
guardian and one of her senshi.  It was as if their feelings for her surrounded her body, like heat
and light.  Usagi breathed it in, letting the sensation dispel as much of the gloom from her heart as
possible.
     She had the grim hunch that she would need as much strength as possible to get through this
day.
     Minako mumbled drowsily, prying her eyes open until she managed to focus on Usagi.  Usagi
smiled apologetically, even though her heart wasn't in it.
     "I'm sorry," she said.  "Did we wake you?"
     "Nuh," Minako replied, squinting.  "Nuh-uh.  You know how I love early mornin', right?"
     "You got back late," Usagi said.  She didn't want to ask; after all, if Minako had found Rei
then she certainly wouldn't make Usagi dig for the information.  It took the sleepy girl a few
moments to grasp the point of Usagi's inquiry, however.
     "Oh," Minako said at last, stopping in the middle of a stretch.  "Um.  I'm sorry, hon.  I didn't
find her.  But I will, I promise."
     "That's okay," Usagi told the other girl, hoping her dismay didn't show through.  "You know
Rei.  She'll need time to cool down before anyone can talk to her."  Even just saying Rei's name
brought a lump to Usagi's throat, but she smiled again just the same.  She wasn't going to mope
and cry and get everyone worried, not this time.  She'd be strong.  After all, she kept telling
Mamoru how she could take care of herself and how the senshi were her court, her responsibility.
If she ever wanted him to take her seriously, she was going to have to handle this.  She was going
to have to deal with this.
     Even if it made her feel like she wanted to die.
     "Usagi," Luna began.  Usagi ignored her, sitting up and spreading her arms wide.
     "Well, we aren't going to accomplish anything just sitting here," the princess announced to two
befuddled stares.  "It's the beginning of a glorious day.  We shouldn't let any of it go to waste.
Come on, if Makoto is up maybe we can get some breakfast."
     She hopped nimbly from the bed, deciding to let the worried gaze that the other two girls
exchanged slide.  Hotaru's betrayal had put her in a tail-spin, but she couldn't keep depending on
the others to make things right.  She had to do her part to keep things together.  Briskly, she
strode over to the window and threw the curtains open, letting a brilliant shaft of sunshine burst
inside.  Then, with a forced smile, she turned to the bed.
     "Coming?" she asked.

***

     I didn't really notice that I was being watched at first.
     I'd woken feeling thirsty and a little rough around the edges, probably from the bottle I'd
shared with Minako combined with lack of sleep.  Oh, and who could forget the visit from the
spooky ghost of the skies.
     After a long drink of water from the kitchen tap and a visit to the bathroom, I'd folded up the
blankets and started doing a few warm-up exercises to work the grit out of my joints.  From there
I moved into some low-intensity katas, and was feeling warm and loose before I finally realized I
had an audience.
     Two girls were watching me from the bottom of the stairs.  I remembered them both from the
previous night's festivities; one was tall, with green eyes and long auburn hair tied up in a ponytail,
the other shorter, with short dark hair and a serious look about her.
     "I don't mean to sound rude or anything," the tall one said, scowling, "but who are you and
what are you doing here?"
     "Um, I slept here," I said, acutely aware of her stare.  My tank top was torn and only came
down to just above my belly button, but at least I'd put my pants on.  "Minako said it was okay."
     "I'll just bet she did," the girl said darkly.  I tried to remember her name from the argument last
night.  Miaka?  Madoka?  No, Makoto, that was it.
     "You were here last night, weren't you?" the shorter one said softly.  Her name I couldn't
recall, so I just nodded.
     "Well, that's really swell," Makoto grumbled.  "Leave it to Minako, huh?"
     "It is her place," the other girl pointed out.
     "Hey, are people talking about me?" a voice came from behind the two.  "Not that I'd mind, of
course."  Minako walked past them, yawning.  She glanced over at me and smiled.  "Oh, hey,
Ranko.  Up already?"
     "Uh, yeah," I said.  Two more girls came out behind her; one was the blonde who'd been with
Rei the first time I met them, the other a girl with long dark hair and a strange mark on her
forehead, like the one that Artemis guy had.
     "All right, so it is your place," Makoto growled.  "But honestly, couldn't you keep your brains
out of your panties for just ONE NIGHT?"
     "What?" I blurted.  Did she think that I ... that we ...
     "I mean, how inappropriate is this?  With everything that's going on ..." Makoto continued, her
face flushed with anger.
     "You don't have any idea what's going on," Minako replied.  "And frankly, I'm getting a little
tired of your attitude."  Her voice was quiet, but her posture betrayed simmering anger to my
eyes, and I winced.  It looked like another argument was about to erupt.
     "Stop it, both of you," the blonde with the twin ponytails said firmly, moving between the two
girls.  Her actions seemed reasonable to me, but everyone looked at her as if she'd just grown an
extra head.
     "Usagi ..." Minako began.
     "Minako, did you really bring a boy home last night?" Usagi asked her.  Minako looked stung
by the question.  I considered speaking up, but decided that jumping into the middle of an
emotionally charged situation was really not the smartest thing I could do.
     "Actually, he was here last night when we showed up," the girl with the short hair told her.
     "He was?" Usagi asked.  "I, um, didn't notice.  But Minako, this is really sen ... our business."
     "Yes, definitely not for the ears of outsiders," Makoto pointed out.
     "No problem," I said flatly.  "I'll be gone in a minute."
     "Oh, no you won't!" Minako retorted, levelling her finger at me.  "You stay right where you
are!"  With that, she stomped off into the kitchen.  I shrugged and retrieved my shirt.  If things
were going to get ugly, I was better off leaving anyway.  I avoided looking at the small group of
girls as I slipped my shirt on, which is probably why I didn't notice what Minako was up to until
cold water hit me in the face.
     "Hey!" I spluttered, straightening up abruptly to glare at the blonde girl.  "Do you mind?"
     "I could watch that trick all day," Minako smirked.
     "I'm not a toy," I gritted, wadding up my shirt and mopping my face with it.  Rivulets of water
trickled down my breasts, evoking a distinctly distracting sensation that made me acutely aware of
how many people were staring at me.
     "Holy ..." Makoto breathed.
     "You.  It's ... it's you!" Usagi blurted, eyes wide.
     "Oh, yeah," Minako said, crossing her arms.  "You met Usagi and Rei at the same time, didn't
you, Ranko?"
     "Minako!" Usagi said, sounding vaguely alarmed.  "Don't you know who she is?"
     "She's the girl from Rei's vision," Minako confirmed.  The other girls stiffened, and I sensed
that things were not going well.
     "Also," Minako added, "she's the girl who saved my life and helped me and Rei whack a bunch
of gargoyles and a salamander.  Now, let's start again.  Ranko stays.  You all stay.  And you listen
to the whole story before you go flying off the handle."  This last was delivered with an arch look
at Makoto, who just sniffed and tossed her head.
     "But first," Minako beamed, "there should be breakfast."

***

     Minako might have been fed up with Makoto's temper, but she had to admit the tall girl did
fantastic breakfast.  She gulped down her food as she related her tale, thoroughly enjoying being
the centre of attention.  Ranko, she noticed, kept her head down and ate quietly.  The red-head
had done up her black shirt, which Minako thought was a pity.  Her full breasts had been quite
lovely, not to mention quite visible under the thin wet material of her tank top.
     "Wait a minute," Makoto said with a frown, interrupting Minako's narrative.  "You told her
who you were?"
     "No, I said she told US who we were," Minako corrected the girl patiently.  "She's seen Usagi
and Rei in civvies first, then as Moon and Mars.  And she saw me at the club, and then as Mistress
V, and in every case she recognized us right off."
     "That should not happen," Ami said, a cute little furrow appearing between her brows.
     "Well, I'd be interested in finding out more about that myself," Minako admitted.  "But let me
finish first.  We found our way out of the old tunnel only to run into some of those shifters from
Makoto's boyfriend's pack."
     "Rin is not any boyfriend of mine," Makoto shot back, cheeks flushing.  Minako knew she
shouldn't push, but teasing Makoto was nearly as much fun as teasing Rei.
     "Too bad," Minako sighed.  "He's a looker.  I bet he's a great kisser, too."
     "The shifters?" Luna prompted.
     "They ambushed us," Minako shrugged.  "And one of them was right on top of Ranko, but she
surprised them with her secret weapon."
     "Secret weapon?" Usagi asked.  Minako glanced at her princess, who had put on a brave face
that morning.  She seemed to be holding up, but Minako had to wonder how long she could keep
that up.
     "Oh, yes," Minako grinned.  "If you thought that seeing Ranko turn from a boy into a girl, wait
until you hear this."
     "Hey, is that breakfast I smell?" a familiar voice came from the doorway.
     "Hey, Artemis," Minako said, seeing the small white cat walk into the kitchen.  "Where've you
been?"
     "Up on the roof, keeping watch," the feline yawned.  "At least it didn't rain last night ..."
     At that point, Ranko turned around and caught sight of Artemis.
     And squealed.
     The red-head bolted from her chair, pushing back against the table with a panicked expression
on her face, eyes fixed with a kind of fascinated horror on Artemis, who was peering back in
puzzlement.
     "Uh, hey," Artemis greeted her.
     "Ranko?" Minako prompted.  "What's ...?"
     Ranko spun and clambered over the table, scattering dishes as she hurled herself away from
Artemis' side of the table.  Makoto happened to be in her path, and Ranko climbed right over the
tall girl, clinging to her back frantically.
     "Hey!" Makoto squawked.  "What in all the hells are you doing?  What's your problem?"
     "There's a c-cat!" Ranko stammered, trembling.  Minako went and picked Artemis up, staring
at Ranko thoughtfully.
     "Wait a minute," she said as Makoto tried in vain to dislodge the panicked girl.  "Ranko, when
you said cats triggered your Nekoken phobia thingy, I thought you meant BIG cats, like those
shifters.  You're not afraid of pussy cats, are you?"  She held an indignant Artemis out towards
the girl, causing Ranko to leap backwards.  The red-head scuttled across the floor until she ran
headlong into the cupboards, making tiny incoherent sounds in her throat.
     "Oh, for ..." Artemis grumbled.  He began to glow, and Minako released him as he
transformed to his human form.  "Better?"
     Ranko gulped for air, nodding as her trembling began to ease off.
     "That was incredible," Ami said, studying Ranko with an almost clinical fascination.
     "That's her secret weapon?" Makoto asked, clearly dubious.  "She's afraid of cats?"
     "When it gets bad enough, she becomes a cat," Minako said.  "Mentally, not physically.  It's a
lot more impressive than that little performance."
     "Well, excuse me!" Ranko snapped, picking herself off the floor.
     "As a cat, Ranko chased that Yui chick from last night half way across the city," Minako told
the others.
     "Rin sent his people after the other senshi?" Makoto mused.  "I really didn't think he'd do that.
I'm sorry, Usagi."
     "Hey, she's not the one who got attacked!" Minako protested.
     "You couldn't have known," Usagi reassured the tall girl.
     "I'll deal with that as soon as I can," Makoto promised.  "Bounty hunting as a senshi didn't
seem like such a risk when we were disbanded, but now my actions could place everyone else in
danger."
     "I could help you with that," Minako said.
     "You could?  How?" Makoto asked, turning to her with a frown.
     "I can access different costume templates in our henshin rods, remember?"
     "WHO can access different templates?" Artemis asked as he helped himself to some breakfast.
     "Well, Artemis showed me how to do it," Minako admitted ruefully.  "But it could be very
useful, don't you think?"
     "Maybe you're right," Makoto admitted.  "But we can worry about that later.  After you
chased off the shifters, then what?"
     "We worked our way back here," Minako shrugged.  "Ranko was still in kitty-cat mode, and
anyway she knew our identities, so we didn't want to let her out of our sight.  Then you guys
showed, and the rest, well ..."  Minako shrugged.  She wasn't looking forward to delving into the
Rei situation again, but it couldn't be ignored indefinitely.
     "If cats trigger this change, how do you change back?" Ami asked Ranko.  Always the curious
one, Minako thought.
     "There used to be a girl who could call me back," Ranko said, making a great show of dusting
herself off as she said it.  If it hadn't been for their discussion the previous night, Minako might
not have thought it significant, the way the red-head avoided looking at anyone as she said that.
As it was, Minako bet herself she knew who that girl was.  "But triggering my curse does the
trick, too."
     "So," Makoto said.  "Not only does one of our own turn out to be a Sister of Shadows, but
now a boy slash girl slash cat who seems to be the focus of something very bad shows up, and she
knows our secrets.  Is that all?"
     "Actually, I'm afraid it isn't," Minako sighed.  Everyone looked at her, dumbfounded.
     "I hope you're kidding," Usagi said, worry lurking behind her eyes.
     "Not this time, princess.  Last night, Ranko and I were unwinding up on Graaven's Point ..."
     "Where's that?" Makoto asked.
     "I think that's the proper name of the area where the old lighthouse is," Ami replied, giving
Minako a strange look.
     "Right you are, cutie-pie," Minako said, pointing her index finger at the quiet girl like a gun.
     "Isn't that thing supposed to be haunted?" Usagi asked with evident concern.
     "Not to mention decrepit," Makoto added.  "And dangerously isolated, especially at this time
of year."
     "Can we focus, people?" Minako grumbled.  "The point is not that we were there, but what we
saw."
     "This better not be some cock-eyed ghost story, Mina," Artemis mumbled through a mouthful
of food.
     "Cock-eyed?" she replied, eyebrow twitching.  "How about a sighting of Desidinder?"
     Several moments of gratifyingly shocked silence greeted that statement, and Minako shot
Artemis a haughty look which he ignored with practised ease.
     "Has anyone even seen it since the Long Dark?" Makoto asked finally, her manner
considerably subdued.
     "No confirmed sightings," Ami said softly. "Minako, are you sure it wasn't just a mundane
airship?  Military ships fly through that area sometimes on their way to the old shipyard at Veetay
Island."
     "I got a very good look," Minako said, crossing her arms.  Admittedly, she was milking this
just a little for dramatic effect, but so what?  It was a great story, and she did so love being the
centre of attention.
     "It must have been pretty dark up there," Ami pressed.
     "Not after the lighthouse beacon came on," Minako pointed out.  Another dead silence.
     "The light in the old lighthouse?" Makoto asked finally, disbelief evident in her voice.  "Come
on, that thing hasn't worked for at least fifty years!"
     "I don't even think there IS a light up there anymore," Ami added.
     "Ranko?" Minako murmured.  All eyes turned to the petite red-head.
     "I don't know anything about haunted lighthouses or ghost ships," Ranko shrugged, "but she's
right.  The light did come on, and there was a pretty spooky looking ship.  And when the light
went off, it disappeared."
     "And there's even more," Minako said, revelling in the way all eyes turned back towards her as
she spoke.  "There was singing coming from the ship."
     "Oh, great," Makoto snorted.  "Miki-ran himself, no doubt, returned from the dead to give an
impromptu concert!"  Minako just held the taller girl's gaze until it faltered.
     "It was strange," the blonde told her audience after a moment.  "I don't remember the whole
thing, but there was something about "two are the lock and one is the key", and a bit about an eye
that didn't see and didn't know ... Ami?  Are you okay?"
     "What?"  The quiet girl had gone pale, but she just shook her head at Minako's inquiry.  "Oh,
yes, I'm fine.  It's just strange, that's all."
     "What is all this supposed to mean?" Makoto asked, clearly frustrated.  "This is just what we
needed, ghost ships and riddles on top of everything else!"
     "Maybe it's all related somehow," Minako told them.  "After all, Desidinder often appears
before a great disaster, and Rei's vision was about some sort of darkness.  And there's one more
thing.  Ranko, maybe you could tell us about that thing you're wearing around your neck."
     "Huh?" Ranko asked, caught off-guard.
     "I saw it in the bath yesterday," Minako said, acting casual.  "And it started glowing last night
when Desidinder showed up.  Remember?"
     Reluctantly, Ranko fished the thing out of her shirt, appearing ill at ease as everyone's
attention focussed on the small blue crystal that dangled from her fist.
     "What is it?" Usagi asked, leaning forward.
     "That's a good question," Minako admitted.  "It reacted pretty strongly to Desidinder, and it
even looks a little like a key, just like our phantom song-bird was mentioning.  Quite a
coincidence, eh?"
     "I don't know anything about that!" Ranko protested.  Minako was inclined to believe the girl,
but she wasn't about to let the matter rest there.
     "You didn't answer the question, though," the blonde said, cocking her head.  "What is it,
exactly?"
     "Um," Ranko replied.  "I can tell you, I guess, but there's no guarantee you'll believe me.
You'll probably just think I'm lying or crazy or something."
     "Try us," Artemis suggested, eyes narrowed as he studied the key-shaped crystal.
     "Okay," Ranko shrugged.  "It's called a hyperlink key.  I don't know too much about it myself,
except that I think it's broken."
     "Hyperlink key?  What's it for?" Makoto frowned.
     "It's supposed to open gateways between different worlds," Ranko told them.  "I've used it to
travel to worlds that are kind of the same, only different.  That part's kind of hard to explain ..."
     "Like parallel worlds," Ami breathed.
     "Yeah," Ranko nodded.  "People in my world talked the same language you do here, but a lot
of things about our country were different.  I mean, WAY different."
     "Then," Ami whispered, her eyes unfocussed.  "You came here from another reality."
     "Well, I guess ..." Ranko began.
     "Outside of our space and time," Ami continued.
     "Outside?" Luna repeated, freezing in place.
     "Whoa, wait a minute," Makoto said, eyes widening as she sat up straight.  "You're not saying
..."
     "She came from outside of our space and time," Minako said slowly, "and Rei saw her at the
centre of some dark cataclysm."
     "You mean," Usagi blinked, realization dawning, "that Ranko could be the one Hotaru was
always talking about?"
     "Yes," Minako said grimly.  "The Outsider."

***

     Setsuna yawned as she strode through the front hall.  She hadn't gotten in until late, but she'd
risen fairly early out of habit.  It was not uncommon for her to get by with only four or five hours
of sleep a night, but recently she hadn't been sleeping well and it was beginning to catch up with
her.
     "Good morning, sleepyhead," Michiru smiled, coming through the doorway that led back
towards the kitchen.  Haruka followed close behind, and Setsuna noted with some irritation that
they both appeared indecently sated.  People in love really annoyed her sometimes, as irrational as
that was.
     "Good morning," Setsuna said placidly, concealing her irritation.  "Is there breakfast?"
     "Not yet," Haruka said.  "But there is coffee."
     "That is a start," Setsuna replied.  Just as she was turning to go get some, though, the doorbell
bonged its sonorous tone.
     "It's early for callers," Michiru frowned.  Setsuna silently agreed, but since she was closest to
the door, she walked over and opened it.  Her polite greeting died in her throat as she realized just
who was standing there.
     "Good morning, Setsuna," Mamoru Chiba said coolly.  "Ah, and Haruka and Michiru as well."
     "Detective Constable Chiba," Michiru replied, her tone that particularly stinging mixture of
civility and disdain that she managed so well.  "What an unexpected surprise."
     "Well, you've been visiting me at my crime scenes," Mamoru said, his smile not reaching the
hard blue of his eyes.  "I thought it only polite to return the favour."
     "This isn't a crime scene," Haruka pointed out, moving to stand behind her lover.
     "If you say so," Mamoru said glibly.  Setsuna stiffened at the oblique reference to Hotaru's
attack on Usagi.
     "Do you have some sort of official business here?" a voice came from behind them.  Setsuna
turned to see Hotaru coming down the stairs, looking poised and elegant in a white blouse and
dark skirt.
     "Official business?" Mamoru repeated.  "I wouldn't say that, exactly."
     "Then perhaps you should leave," Hotaru said, standing beside Setsuna and crossing her arms.
She showed no qualms about facing down a man who had last seen her in the grip of her vampiric
hunger.
     "In a moment," Mamoru said, all pretense of pleasantness gone.
     "Now," Hotaru said softly, and Setsuna knew, even though she wasn't watching them, that
Haruka and Michiru had moved to reinforce Hotaru's position.  This scenario wasn't completely
unexpected, although as time had passed Setsuna had considered it less likely that any of the
others would confront them in this way.
     "You know," he said, ignoring the threat implicit in Hotaru's voice, "Usagi is quite a girl.  She
even wanted to come see you, did you know that?  After what you did, she wanted to come and
give you a chance to explain."  Setsuna sensed Hotaru stiffen beside her.
     "But I made her see reason," Mamoru went on, eyes glinting.
     "Is there a point to this?" Haruka asked, cold anger evident in her voice.
     "It's only for her sake that I haven't blown your cover," Mamoru went on, staring directly at
Hotaru.  "I have no doubt that if you go down, you'll try to take her with you.  But that will only
protect you so far, Hotaru."
     "I wasn't aware I needed protection, Detective Constable," Hotaru replied, her voice taking a
razor keen edge.
     "A beautiful female vampire who binds her victims with her long black hair," Mamoru said
evenly.  "You must have known I'd find out.  You've been making quite a mess, after all, not
trying to hide your victims.  Did you know that they've reactivated V Division because of all
this?"  Slivers of ice pierced Setsuna's heart, and she heard a tiny sharp inhalation of breath from
behind her.
     "What are you talking about?"  Hotaru's voice had lost its edge, a dark undercurrent of what
Setsuna suspected was fear replacing it.
     "Do you really think I'll stand by while you play games with people's lives?" Mamoru asked
tightly, his lean frame rigid.  "Do you really think you can stand there and pretend that you
DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT?"  His voice was loud but controlled, and his
eyes blazed with anger.
     "Mamoru ..." Setsuna began.
     "Usagi's gone back to her senshi," Mamoru said flatly.  "I may not approve, but at least she'll
have lots of protection.  So you listen to me, lady.  For Usagi's sake, I'm giving you this warning.
This insane game stops.  If one more vamp victim shows up, I'll be back here with a full strike
force.  I won't have any more deaths on my conscience."
     With that, he took a step back, watching them coolly.  Setsuna noted that his suit jacket hung
open; she wondered what would appear in his hand if someone made a provocative move, a gun
or an enchanted rose.
     None of them moved, however, and he backed to the edge of the covered porch, then turned
and stalked down the path with his long, lithe gait.  Setsuna turned to Hotaru, who was standing
stock still, her dark eyes almost seeming to quiver with pent-up emotion.
     "Hotaru," she began.  Abruptly, Hotaru spun and plunged into the house, shoulders stiff and
head bowed.  Setsuna closed the door quietly and turned to her comrades.
     "This is bad," Haruka sighed, tension sculpting her face into a mask of worry.  "What should
we ...?"
     "I'll talk to her," Setsuna told them.
     "With everything that's been going on, this is the last thing I was worried about," Michiru
murmured.  "Why now?"
     Setsuna had no answer for her, so she simply set off in the direction Hotaru had taken.  She
suspected Hotaru would seek refuge in her study, and was quickly proven right.  Upon entering,
she found Hotaru standing stiffly at the windows, staring fixedly at the garden beyond.
     "It's her, isn't it?" Hotaru asked bitterly, aware of Setsuna's presence even though the woman
hadn't announced herself.
     "I don't know," Setsuna replied.
     "A female vampire who binds her victims with her long dark hair," Hotaru muttered.  "Not a
common vampiric trait, that."
     "There's no evidence that vampires pass on such secondary magical traits to their victims,"
Setsuna protested, which was technically true.  "She doesn't have to be the one."
     "You don't believe that any more than I do," Hotaru said, her voice hoarse.
     "I suppose not," Setsuna sighed.  "It seems too much to be mere coincidence."
     "We have to find out what the police know," Hotaru stated grimly, turning from the window
to show a composed facade.  "We have to find this witch, and kill her before she can do any more
damage."
     "We will," Setsuna told her.  "No matter what it takes."  Hotaru nodded and walked over to
the door.  She passed Setsuna silently, but hesitated in the doorway.
     "She wanted to talk to me, even after what happened," she said softly, keeping her back to
Setsuna.
     "I heard," Setsuna replied.
     "Idiotic girl," Hotaru whispered, but there was something heart-breakingly wistful in her voice.
"At least she's with the others, though.  She'll be safer that way."
     I hope so, Setsuna thought.  If there really is a vampire loose in the city, she may need that
protection.

***

     Mamoru stood outside the gate to Hotaru's mansion, trying to shake some of the tension that
had locked itself on his spine with ragged teeth.  He'd been fairly certain that Hotaru wouldn't take
any direct action against him, but he'd been in enough stand-offs to know that people didn't
always act predictably.
     He walked to his car and slid behind the wheel, just sitting for a while and staring through the
windshield.  There was no guarantee that his warning would have any effect, but for Usagi's sake
he'd had to make the effort.  Perhaps Hotaru had simply grown bold because none of them had
acted against her after the night she'd attacked Usagi.  He had ached to strike back at her, but
Usagi had begged him not to.
     And, of course, there was the not insignificant matter of Hotaru's power.  Besides being a
vampire who was apparently immune to sunlight, she possessed her senshi abilities.  And, it
seemed, the loyalty of three other powerful senshi.
      Mamoru didn't know if those three women were under Hotaru's spell or were helping her for
their own reasons.  They had continually gained access to investigations through routes he'd been
unable to penetrate, and now he was forced to wonder what their goal was.  Why, after so long,
would Hotaru reveal her presence through a series of blatant attacks?  Why would she leave
witnesses?
     He glanced at the pop-eyed beanbag bunny that lay sprawled on his dashboard.  Usagi had
given it to him, and she'd been pestering him to name the thing.  He picked it up and stared at it
gravely.
     "My friend," he muttered, "I hope you've got some good luck in you somewhere.  Because I've
got to tell you, if Hotaru decides to ignore my warning, I really don't know what's going to
happen."
     But one thing's for sure, he added silently.  There's no way I can handle her by myself.

***

     "Look," I said for the umpteenth time.  "I really don't know what this is all about."
     "Let me put it to you this way," Minako replied.  "Rei isn't the only one who saw disaster
surrounding you."
     "But we can't really be certain that Hotaru's Outsider is really Ranko," Ami pointed out as she
set her portable computer on the table.
     "If she's not," Makoto said grimly, "then this whole thing is one hell of a coincidence, don't
you think?"
     "I have to agree," Minako sighed.
     "It's about time you started making sense," Makoto nodded.
     "I agree that it seems likely Ranko is the one Hotaru told us would come to bring the Great
Silence," Minako continued.  "But that doesn't mean Ranko is an enemy."
     "You care to explain that?" the tall girl asked, not looking at all impressed.
     "I'm not out to hurt anyone," I protested.  "I haven't got anything against you guys, or anyone
else here.  In fact, if that key was working I would have left a long time ago."
     "How long have you been here, then?" Usagi asked, propping her chin on her hands.
     "About two years," I told her.  "I never stayed on one world that long after I started moving
around, but now I have no choice."
     "I think you should tell us all about this key thing," Makoto said from where she was leaning
against the wall.  I didn't take the obvious suspicion in her tone too personally; I guessed that to a
normal person, I probably did seem kind of suspicious.  And I was holding things back, after all.
"And about you."
     "There's no need to start throwing accusations around," Minako said firmly.  "Ranko saved my
life at least once, and every time we've encountered her she's been fighting monsters.  I think that
entitles her to a little slack, don't you?"
     "And the fact that you've got the hots for her probably entitles her to a lot of slack," Makoto
shot back.  I stiffened, but Minako jumped in before I could say anything.
     "Look, I don't know what's got into you, Makoto," the blonde growled, "but it's getting old,
you know?"
     "If you don't know why I'm low on trust these days,  blondie, you haven't been paying
attention!" Makoto snapped.
     "Stop it, both of you!" Usagi blurted.  Amazingly, both girls did stop, although neither looked
happy.
     "That's better," Usagi continued after a moment.  "If there is something dark coming, then we
need to concentrate on figuring out what it is and stopping it."
     "I hate to bring this up," Artemis added from the doorway, "but how much can we trust
Hotaru's warnings?  I mean, she lied about being a vampire all that time.  What if she wanted the
Outsider for some reason other than what she told us?"
     "Oh, that's perfect," Minako groaned.  "As if things weren't confused enough already."
     "Ami, can you tell us anything?" Usagi asked, twirling one of her ponytails nervously.  The
quiet girl had perched a pair of wire frame glasses on her pert nose and was studying her
computer intently.
     "This is incredible," Ami murmured.  I noticed that her usual self-consciousness had vanished
as she became engrossed in what she was doing.  "Ranko, when you said that the key was broken,
what did you mean exactly?"
     "It used to be able to find gates and open them," I told her.  "But now it doesn't."
     "Well, there are energy readings," Ami said, the readout from the screen reflected faintly on
her glasses.  "But they are very faint.  What would happen if you tried to find a gate and there
weren't any in its range?  Or, I suppose I should ask, does it even have a range limitation?"
     "Uh, I don't know," I admitted.  "But I've been all over since I got here, from Zaravven to
Ostera, and it's never even twitched, not once.  That never happened on any of the other worlds
before."
     "There doesn't appear to be any damage to the lattice structure of the crystal itself that I can
see," Ami muttered.  "I wonder ..."  Then she stopped dead, brow creased.
     "What is it, Ami?" Minako asked.
     "I don't ... maybe nothing," Ami said slowly.  "An association, something ... oh."  Then she
looked up at me, still frowning.
     "What?" I asked defensively.
     "I don't know where Zaravven is," she said, "but Ostera is just down the coast.  In fact, it's
been in the news lately.  When were you there?"
     "About a month ago," I said, confused.  "Why?"
     "And before that, what was the last city you were in?"
     "Uh, Giln, I guess ..."
     "Giln's pretty small to be called a city," Artemis said
helpfully.
     "Then I guess Javrenport," I shrugged, aware that everyone was watching me now.  "Why?"
     "So you probably came across the plains south of the Gordanis range, then up the coast?" Ami
asked mildly.  "You probably would have been in Kintare, Posda, Terrin Kay and Port Augai if
you took the main roads."
     "Yeah," I said.  "I passed through all of those cities, I think."
     "Ami, what's this about?" Usagi asked, looking from her friend to me and back.
     "I heard something about Terrin Kay in the news a couple months back," Artemis frowned.
"What was it, now?"
     "There was an airship crash here a couple of days ago," Ami said softly, and my skin seemed
to tighten all over my body.  I remembered seeing the headline on the newspaper, and thinking
about those other incidents.
     "Yeah, it's a big mystery why the thing was even here," Makoto nodded.  "It had left for a city
in the other direction."
     "And before that, a freighter crashed into port in Ostera, with all the lifeboats on board but no
people," Ami said, punching keys on her computer.  "And before that, in Javrenport, a late night
train pulled into the station and stopped at the platform, but when nobody came out a
maintenance worker went over to check.  There was blood all over the train, but no bodies.  And
the train's recorder showed it hadn't stopped along the way."
     "And the other cities?" Minako asked as the group traded concerned looks.  "The same sort of
thing?"
     "Yes," Ami nodded.  "Mysterious deaths and disappearances, usually involving transit of some
sort.  They got attention because of their bizarre nature, but there was nothing to link them
together."
     "Until now," Makoto said, staring at me.
     "Wait a minute!" I cried.  "I didn't have anything to do with any of that!"
     "But you were in each of the cities, and I expect if we checked we would see that these
occurrences all matched the times you were there pretty closely," Ami said.
     "This darkness must be following Ranko," Minako said.  "That's the only explanation that
makes sense.  I mean, come on, guys.  Why would a murderer go to so much trouble to protect
people in this city?"
     "But even if that's true, how is the darkness following you?" Luna asked.  "Is there someone
who knows where you're going?"
     "No," I said, my mouth dry.  "Half the time I don't know myself.  I've just been wandering with
no real destination, until I decided to come here to see if I could find any info on the key."
     "Is there anything that would give you away, then?" Minako asked.  "Anything you do in each
city that might lead someone to you?"
     I started to shake my head when a thought, nagging quietly in some corner of my brain,
suddenly made itself known.  A series of images linked themselves together with almost audible
clicks: a bathhouse, the singing girl, a blue glow reflected in the water and a crowd on the street.
     "The bathhouse!" I blurted.
     "The what?" Minako asked.  "What bathhouse?  What are you talking about?"
     "The other night, I was in a bathhouse," I told her, trying to straighten things out in my head.
"I tried to dowse with the key ..."
     "Dowse?" Ami interrupted.
     "If I let it hang and focus my chi on it, I can make it glow," I told her.  "It shows me the
direction of the nearest gate by spinning and then pointing."
     "Okay, so what?" Makoto asked.
     "It didn't point, but the next day I was walking by and there was a crowd out front.  A bunch
of wraiths or something came by after I left and trashed the place!"
     "Wait a minute," Makoto said slowly.  "I know what you're talking about.  That place is near
where I live."
     "You think they somehow were attracted to the key when you tried to make it work?" Minako
asked.
     "I don't know if it's possible," I told her, "but it makes sense.  Whenever I come to a new city,
I have the habit of dowsing, just to see if anything will happen.  If something could track the key
during those times ..."
     "They'd at least know what city you were in," Minako nodded.  "And the weird attacks with
the trains and such?"
     "A challenge?" Artemis hazarded.  "Something to say, 'I know you're here, come fight me'?"
     "You mean you think someone killed people just to get my attention?" I asked, feeling a dim
queasy horror rise in my gut.
     "Meaning someone really wants you, or that key," Minako said.  "Or both."
     "That doesn't make any sense," I muttered, shaking my head.  "I'm just a fighter.  A good one,
but not worth killing anyone over.  And the key doesn't work here."
     "It doesn't do what you want," Ami pointed out.  "But maybe someone knows a way to use it
that could bring about this Great Silence."
     "Ranko," Minako said, meeting my eyes unflinchingly, "I think it's time you told us all about
your friend the hyperlink key.  And don't leave anything out."

***

     Rei had just finished dressing when she heard it; a gentle chime coming from her low night
table.  She turned to see the disc Saekianna had given her rise into the air and begin to spin.  In
moments, an image of the platinum-maned beauty appeared in the air.  Its eyes sought her out,
and a sultry smile followed.
     "Nice," Saekianna said approvingly.  "Have you been thinking about me?"
     "You are hard to ignore," Rei admitted.  "And I must admit, you've piqued my curiosity."
     "Mmmm," the other woman purred.  "I was hoping for something more than that.  Like, say,
that you'd lay awake all the night through, aching for me."
     "If I had, I wouldn't admit it," Rei replied, trying to keep her tone light and bantering.  "Then
you'd be in the driver's seat, wouldn't you?"
     "A position I enjoy," Saekianna smiled.  "I wanted to set up our meeting for today so we could
talk more about destiny, and what I found in the labyrinth ... along with other positions I enjoy."
     "All right," Rei murmured.  "What did you have in mind?"
     Saekianna told her, and Rei felt a prickle of unease that she concealed smoothly.  Falling into
your old habits, eh? she told herself wryly.
     "Why there?" she asked aloud.
     "You'll see," Saekianna replied.  "It's a surprise.  You'll come?"  It wasn't really a question;
Rei's former partner was, as usual, utterly confident.
     "I'll be there," Rei replied.
     "Good.  See you soon."  The image faded, and the disc fell slowly to the table, landing with a
faint click.  Rei stared at it for a moment, then shifted her gaze to the picture frame that lay, face
down, beside it.
     The frame was plain, unadorned metal, silver in colour.  Rei stared at the back of it for long
moments, then finally picked it up and turned it over.  The picture was of her and Usagi, a candid
shot taken at Minako's last birthday.  Usagi had her arms around Rei's neck and was holding on
tight, eyes sparkling mischievously as she beamed at the camera.  Rei, caught off guard, had let a
genuine smile creep to her face as the blonde pressed against her, cheek to cheek.  It was one of
her favourite pictures, and she felt a familiar warmth seep through her as she looked at it.
     Then she sighed.  Pining over what could never be was not going to help her.  She set the
picture down gently, leaving it standing this time.  What Saekianna had told her didn't make sense,
but there was no denying the woman's self-assurance.  The new Nightmistress was up to
something.
     But what?  The question nagged at her, especially given where Saekianna had arranged for
them to meet.  The woman was a skilled schemer, and she wouldn't overlook the presence of the
White Moon senshi in this city.  Was she planning on dealing with them before bringing this
mysterious destiny to fruition?
     "Stay out of trouble, you," she said softly to the girl in the picture.  "Baniesti is nearly upon us,
and it's not safe for girls like you to be wandering the streets."
     Hardening her resolve, she got a coat from the closet and went in search of the truth.
     Whatever it might be.

***

     Minako sat, glancing at the others.  They were all quiet, digesting the tale that Ranko had
just told them.
     "So," Usagi said, hands clasped between her knees.  "No wonder Rei saw Ranko surrounded
by darkness.  What a terrible story."
     "A whole world swallowed by darkness," Minako murmured, glancing at the door that led to
the kitchen.  "That could have been us, if the queen hadn't broken the Darkness."
     "Let's say, for the sake of argument, that all of this is true," Makoto said, her face set in a
troubled scowl.  "We at least know that death follows this Ranko around."
     "That's not fair," Usagi frowned.  "Mako-chan, she didn't cause any of it.  Everybody she knew
died there.  I bet there were people she cared about that she lost!"
     "Yes," Minako agreed, her voice soft.  Ranko hadn't gone into any details during her grim tale,
but she remembered his face the night before when he'd mentioned Akane, the girl who'd died.
What had Ranko seen in those last days, as the dark had swallowed everything?  What scars had
been seared into her heart?
     "Usagi, you always want to believe the best of everybody," Makoto said, frustrated.  "And I
love that about you, but think for a minute.  If this girl, or boy, or whatever, is really the Outsider,
then is it safe to have her around?  Whether she causes this disaster intentionally or not, all the
signs seem to be that something bad is going to happen and she's going to be right in the middle of
it.  And if we stick close to her, then we're going to be in the middle of it too!"
     "But maybe we can stop it," Ami said, glancing up from under her bangs.  "If we know
enough, I mean.  Maybe that's why Rei had visions, as a warning."
     "I don't want to sound selfish," Makoto said, looking away from the other girl's gaze, "but I'm
worried about you guys.  We came through so much, but now everything is falling apart.  I feel
like I'm losing everything.  Is it really fair to ask us to put everything we've got left in danger on
the word of a traitor and a vampire?"
     "Mako-chan!" Usagi blurted.  "Don't call her that!"
     "I'm sorry, Usagi," Makoto said, and Minako fought the urge to slap the tall girl as she saw
tears well up in her princess's eyes.  "But face it.  Rei chose her path, and she's not coming back.
And we don't really know what she saw in her vision."
     "I believe in her," Usagi whispered, looking at the floor and hunching her shoulders.  "I can't
believe ... I can't believe you don't."
     "I wish I could, Usagi.  I do, if only for your sake.  But there's nothing worse than someone
who betrays your trust.  That's just the worst."  The tall girl clenched her fists spasmodically,
shaking her head abruptly and sending ripples through her long ponytail.
     "Look, if that's your attitude, then fine," Minako snapped.  "I'll look for Rei, you watch
Ranko."
     "No."  The word was quiet, and Minako frowned, not quite certain what she'd heard.
     "Usagi?" she asked.  "What ...?"
     "I said no," Usagi repeated, meeting Minako's gaze.  "Mako-chan's right about one thing.
Rei's made her decision.  For now, that will have to be enough.  We ... we have to concentrate on
finding out what's behind all the strange things that are happening.  Ranko, the key, Desidinder,
these bizarre murders, they all have to be linked somehow.  And if we can find out, then maybe
we can stop the Long Dark, or worse, from happening again.  We have to try.  I can't put my own
feelings ahead of all that."
     Minako was impressed.  She could tell how difficult it was for Usagi to place duty ahead of
her desire to find Rei.  There were times, though, when Usagi showed that she truly was a
princess, and this was one of those times.  An almost regal light glimmered in her still damp eyes,
and her mouth was set in that stubborn line that Minako knew only too well.
     "But where should we start?" Makoto asked.
     "Ami?" Usagi asked.  "Do you think you can look into this?  Anything you can find out could
help."
     "I have some resources I can use," Ami said slowly.  "They may be of some help.  I'll have to
go back to my place, though."
     "Good," the blonde said.  "Mako-chan, could you check around the hunter circuit, see if there
are any rumours going around about the murders?"
     "Sure," Makoto replied, the ghost of a smile touching her lips at Usagi's request.
     "And me?" Minako asked.
     "You should check any sources you have in the Triangle," Usagi said. "But I also want you to
keep an eye on Ranko for now.  She seems to trust you."
     "I'm not sure that's a good idea," Makoto interrupted.
     "Why?" Minako asked, eyes narrowing.  "Because I supposedly have the hots for her?"
     "Because sometimes I question your judgement," Makoto replied evenly, green eyes flashing.
     "First you accuse me of endangering Usagi because I want Rei, and now this," Minako said,
anger simmering just beneath the surface.  "I guess you just think I'm some cheap sex pervert,
huh?"
     "Guys," Ami said.
     "Well, maybe I wouldn't if you'd reign it in once and a while!" Makoto shot back.
     "Don't treat me like a bimbo, Makoto Kino!  I would never let anything happen to Usagi, no
matter what you think of me!"
     "Maybe not on purpose," Makoto replied, "but ..."
     "That ... is ... ENOUGH!"  Both girls froze as Usagi shot to her feet, glaring venomously at
both of them.  Her cheeks were flushed, and Minako felt her stomach do flip-flops as she realized
Usagi was finally angry.  It was a rare occasion, and she wasn't proud to have contributed.
     "What is the matter with everyone?" Usagi asked in the ensuing silence, looking from girl to
girl, her fists clenched by her side.  "Have you all forgotten what we've been through?  Have you
forgotten what we mean to each other?  This isn't right!  We're ... we're family, ALL of us.  It's
bad enough that outside forces keep trying to pull us apart, now you guys can't even get along?
Doesn't what we have together matter to any of you anymore?  Well?"
     "Of course it does," Makoto mumbled, her tone timid.  "But Usagi ..."
     "No buts!" Usagi snapped.  "I love all of you because of who you are.  Why can't you just do
the same?  Why do we have to fight at a time like this?  Why can't ... why can't you just
BELIEVE?"  Her anger seemed to fade, and her voice became plaintive.  Minako looked at her,
thinking how wrong it was that Usagi should appear so forlorn and alone in a circle of her best
friends.
     "I'm sorry, Usagi," she said, standing up and hugging the girl.  "You're right.  We're losing
sight of what's important."
     "I'm sorry too," Makoto sighed.  "Things are just happening too fast.  I'm scared for you,
Usagi."
     "Don't be," Usagi said, moving to embrace the tall girl.  "I'm not some fairytale princess,
remember?  I'm Sailor Moon, and I'm not going to forgive anyone who tries to wreck our
beautiful city.  Got it?"
     "Got it," Makoto said with a crooked grin, squeezing the girl in her arms.  She met Minako's
eyes over Usagi's head, and shrugged.  Minako shrugged back; it wasn't much of an apology, but
she knew better than to press Makoto now.  Later, when she'd cooled off more, they'd be able to
talk.
     "Usagi," Ami said, "what are you going to do while we're checking things out?"
     "Nothing dangerous, I hope," Makoto frowned.  Usagi chucked the girl lightly on the chin and
stuck her tongue out.
     "Relax," she told the green-eyed girl.  "I have my own source to check out, and he's my
favourite cop.  Now, let's get going.  The world isn't going to save itself, you know!"

***

     Makoto paid the cabby and walked across the cracked asphalt towards her building.  Since
there'd been three of them the previous night, she hadn't been able to bring her bike.  She was
regretting that now; a ride would have loosened her up a whole lot.
      She still wasn't certain that splitting up was a good idea, but sitting around worrying wasn't
getting them anywhere.  If it helped them come up with some answers, it would definitely be
worth it.  Things were just happening too quickly, and she felt like her brain was being put
through a strainer and reassembled.  This Ranko, for instance.  A girl who turned into a boy was
strange enough, but this whole story about different worlds was just way out there.
     And, of course, Usagi wanted to help her.  Makoto would have to keep her eye on the
red-headed girl; even though she seemed okay, Makoto knew from experience what happened
when you trusted the wrong person.
     That thought led her to Rei, and she felt her stomach flip-flop.  The idea that Rei could have
betrayed them was just horrible, and she wanted to deny it as strongly as Minako had.  But she
didn't have the luxury of blind faith, not anymore.  If she closed her eyes, she might still hear
screams in the background, feel warm blood on her hands as she cradled a broken body.
     She didn't want that blood to be Usagi's.
     Their princess had surprised her by putting the present situation ahead of searching for Rei, but
Makoto was pleased as well.  Maybe, when Rei didn't return, Usagi would be forced to face
reality.  She would be upset for a while, but she'd recover.  In the meantime, Makoto would
watch out for her, in case Rei and her friends tried anything.
     Thoughts of the last day's events swirled through her head as she opened the heavy roll-up
door and slipped inside.  So much was happening, and she was worried for Usagi, and the others
as well, even that nympho Minako.  But, despite everything, she felt good as well.  Jupiter the
bounty hunter was turning out to be something, but Sailor Jupiter ... well, that was special.
     As the door rumbled shut behind her, she found herself humming under her breath.

***

     She matched the description.  In fact, the description hardly did her justice.  The girl was quite
a beauty.  It was no wonder she'd caught the Nightmistress' eye.
     "Makoto Kino," the woman said softly, staring out the tinted window of the van.  "I believe
the Nightmistress intends to give her some personal attention.  What a lucky girl you are."
     She watched as the girl disappeared inside the building, a smile creeping to her full lips.
Things had been chaotic within the Sisterhood of late, but now she was finally going to get to
have some fun.
     Time to go to work.

***

     "I'm home," Ami said as she opened the door.  It was an old joke with her; nobody would
answer.  And nobody did.
     She moved through the cluttered room, nudging the door shut behind her with her hips.  After
just one night with the others, this place seemed terribly grim and lonely.  But that thought didn't
get to her the way it might have only days before.  After all, the senshi were a team once more.
     Except for Rei.  Ami shook her head as if trying to dislodge an unpleasant thought.  The
concept of Rei as a traitor was completely alien, and she couldn't help hoping that there would be
an explanation, something, ANYTHING that would make this go away.  But Ami was a smart
girl, just like everyone said, and she knew that was wishful thinking.  Nothing was going to make
this just go away.
     Ami just hoped that they wouldn't have to fight against Rei.  That might crush the still fragile
bond that the senshi had only just begun to rebuild.
     Preoccupied, Ami strode into her bedroom, flipping on lights as she went.  Her computers
hummed quietly to themselves, and she knew she should check her nets to see if anything useful
had cropped up.  Still, business could wait.
     The story that she'd heard couldn't.
     If this Ranko girl was telling the truth, and Ami believed she was, then she meant them no
harm.  That didn't mean, though, that harm wouldn't seek them out.  Ami thought back to what
Minako had told them, about sighting Desidinder and about the strange song she'd heard.
Something about an eye that didn't see and didn't know, and about a key.
     These things made Ami's skin prickle with unease.  These references were not totally unknown
to her.
     There was one source of information she had at her disposal that might shed some light on
what was going on, one source that went beyond the mundane reach of computer networks.  She
looked at the complex circle that was etched into large expanse of bare floor that took up the
entire back half of the room and drew a deep, steadying breath.
     Time to take a trip.

***

     Minako powered her car through a small gap in traffic, then accelerated to beat a traffic light.
It felt good to have her wheels back.
     She glanced at Ranko, who was staring out the window moodily, and sighed.
     "You've been awfully quiet," she said.
     "Mmmm," Ranko replied absently.
     Minako shrugged.  The girl didn't seem at all anxious to talk, but that was natural, she
supposed.  The story Ranko had told them had revealed a dark and no doubt painful past, and
Minako felt certain that just the telling had evoked bad memories for the girl.
     Still, Ranko had steered clear of any details.  She had revealed that her home had been
destroyed, but had made no mention of the fate of friends or family.  Or lovers.  Minako thought
of Ranko's face when she'd mentioned Akane's name the previous night, and wondered about the
girl's death.  Had Ranko been there?  Had she been forced to watch the girl die?
     She'd been equally vague about the world she'd ended up on after that, except to say that it
was very much like her home, including having versions of people she'd known.  That world had
been saved with the intervention of this dimensional police force she'd told them of, as well as
some powerful martial artists.
     And after that, she'd apparently just wandered with the help of the hyperlink key, until she'd
ended up stuck on their world.
     Take the different worlds out of the equation, and Ranko could have been a person from their
own city, bereft by disaster and taken to wandering, in search of ... well, who knew?  Peace,
perhaps, or forgetfulness.  Maybe even some form of redemption.
     Whatever the case, Minako was more convinced than ever that Ranko was not the cause of
whatever disaster Rei had seen, only another victim.   Maybe, if she could find Rei, they could
find out more of what lay behind the vision.
     Of course, Usagi had decided to be brave and make looking for Rei secondary to finding out
about the coming cataclysm.  That was very noble of her, and Minako respected that.  Usagi was
a lot stronger than some people gave her credit for.
     And of course Minako was going to ignore that decision.  The sooner she got Rei back into
the fold, the better the chance that the rift between senshi could be healed.  And anyway, it wasn't
like she was really IGNORING Usagi's directive, was it?  She was actually looking for
information about the disaster.  Rei was the one who'd had the vision, after all.  She might very
well be the most valuable source of information there was.
     And what Usagi didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
     "So, where are we going?" Ranko asked.  She still wasn't making eye contact, but she seemed
marginally less broody than she had been.  That was something, anyway.
     "We're going to stop by the club where I work," Minako told her.  "That way I can kill two
birds with one stone.  I need to arrange to take some time off, and I can ask around about Rei
while I'm there."
     "Didn't you tell me that this whole thing with Rei was supposed to be taking a back seat to
investigating all  this other weirdness?" Ranko pointed out.
     "If she was your friend," Minako asked, "would you let her take a back seat to anything?"
      "No," Ranko said after a moment.  "No, I guess I wouldn't."  Minako thought she heard
approval in the red-head's voice, but that might have been wishful thinking.  Regardless, Ranko
didn't press the point, and soon Minako was hunting for a parking spot near the club.  Since it was
early in the day, she actually managed to find one on the street not far from the entrance.  Minako
wedged her car into the spot and climbed out, placing her hands at the small of her back and
stretching.
     "Ah, late nights and early mornings," she muttered.  "Gotta love 'em.  You coming?"
     "Do you think that's a good idea?" Ranko asked.  "I mean, I was in there the other night and I
made kind of a mess, remember?"
     "Oh, hells," Minako snorted.  "Don't worry about that.  I bet you'll have grateful girls all over
you for what you did."
     "Uh, yeah," Ranko said with an insincere smile.  "Actually, I think I'll go on down the street to
that cart and get something to eat."
     "You just had breakfast," Minako protested.
     "Still hungry," Ranko shrugged.  Minako wondered if she should let Ranko out of her sight,
but only for a moment.  She wasn't going to be able to watch the red-head every second of the
day, and anyway if Ranko wanted to take off she'd find a way.  Minako was the one who kept
insisting the girl could be trusted; it was only fitting that she should demonstrate some of that
trust herself.
     "Okay," she said.  "Meet me back at the car.  I shouldn't be too long."
     "Sure," Ranko told her, turning to go.
     "Hey, red!" Minako called after her.
     "Huh?"
     "Stay out of trouble, okay?"
     "Of course," Ranko replied, and there was a ghost of a grin there.  Boy or girl, a smile really
suited Ranko's face.  In Minako's opinion, Ranko didn't smile nearly enough.
     Of course, she was beginning to learn just why that was.
     Sighing, she walked on down the street, crossing at the intersection and turning down the alley
that led to the narrow laneway behind the club.  She rang the bell at the back door, eyes scanning
the familiar graffiti there until she was buzzed in.
     The staff lounge was mostly empty, as the club itself would be this early.  Minako strode in the
way she normally did, with the air of a tigress on the prowl, and was immediately swarmed by the
few girls that were there.
     "Hello there, my kittens," she beamed as four girls in various states of agitation bounced
around her.  "How are we today?"
     "Minako, you're here!" one announced.
     "Yes I am," she replied.  "Thought I'd check in, see how things are going."
     "The place is fixed up already," another said breathlessly.
     "Wasn't Mistress V wonderful?" the third interjected, grabbing Minako's sleeve.  "She fought
off those awful wraiths and saved us all!  You saw, right?"
     "Yes, I did," Minako smiled.  "And she was terrific, wasn't she?"
     "The new boss has been asking a lot of questions about her," the fourth, a statuesque brunette
in a loose robe announced.
     "New boss?" Minako asked.
     "You haven't heard?" the first girl asked excitedly.
     "The club was sold, just like that!" the third jumped in.
     "Old Pon was gone when we showed up this morning," the brunette, whose name was Lia,
said softly.  "New boss showed up a couple hours ago, she's been talking to people ever since.
Says things are going to run like before, but you know how it goes, Minako.  New boss always
has to put her stamp on things, eh?"
     "A woman?" Minako asked, gently extricating herself from the other girls.
     "Maybe she won't be as much of a tightwad as old Pon," one of the girls sighed wistfully, but
Minako wasn't really paying attention.
     "Damn," she muttered.  "Just when I needed some time off, too."
     "Huh," Lia snorted.  "That figures.  Pon owed you big, but the new boss won't care about that.
Tough break."
     "Well, I should go see her anyway.  Maybe my record speaks for itself," Minako said with a
self-deprecating grin.
     The girls all laughed, and Minako waved and blew kisses as she left the lounge and headed for
the manager's office.  It was strange that old man Pon would sell the club so suddenly; maybe
the recent wraith attack had finally convinced him to seek a safer location in which to make
money off the appetites of others.
     The office door was closed, and Minako rapped lightly, rehearsing her spiel mentally as a
female voice bade her to enter.  She stepped inside, closing the door behind her.
     "Hi there," she said, pitching her voice low and sensual.  "I'm ..."  And then she stopped,
dumbfounded.  The woman behind the desk looked up and met her eyes, a lazy smile gracing lush,
ruby lips.
     "Minako Aino," the woman purred.  "The picture in your file doesn't do you justice.  Ah, but
we haven't been properly introduced, have we?  My name is Saekianna der Kae."
 

End chapter 6