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 7: Chance Encounters
 

     "You want to run that by me again?" Minako asked, dumbfounded.  "You're the new owner?"
     "Correct," Saekianna replied smoothly from behind her large, glossy hardwood desk.  Of Pon's
cluttered old table, there was no sign.  Like Pon himself, it had disappeared literally overnight.
"I've been looking over my assets, and by all accounts you are quite popular, both with the
clientele and with the other girls.  I'm surprised to find that you've never gone for your courtesan's
licence."
     "I don't test well," Minako said tightly, the shock beginning to fade.
     "Oh, I find that hard to believe," the platinum-maned beauty murmured, giving Minako a slow,
appreciative appraisal.
     Up close, Saekianna was even more alluring than when Minako had seen her the other night.
Ordinarily, brazen flirtation from such a seductive enchantress would have effortlessly beguiled
the blonde senshi.  Dark erotic promise radiated from the woman, her every slightest move a
languorous ballet.
     Now, however, all Minako felt was the dull anger beginning to throb at her temples.  First this
woman had put that awful pain in Usagi's eyes, and now she had the unmitigated gall to just buy
up Minako's workplace?  And she was just going to sit there and come on to Minako after all
she'd done?
     "We should discuss your financial compensation," Saekianna continued in that maddeningly
husky voice.  "I'm always on the lookout for new talent."
     "For the Sisterhood?" Minako asked archly.
     "Such disapproval in your tone," Saekianna murmured in reply, dark eyes sparkling.  "Don't
tell me you share your young friend's prejudice against us."
     "No, actually I don't," Minako said, trying not to lose her temper.  For all she knew, that was
just what this bitch wanted.  "But if you think I'm going to work for you, you've got another
thing coming."
     "And just why shouldn't you work for me?" Saekianna asked, raising one slim eyebrow.  "I
assure you, the Sisterhood is quite adept at managing such establishments."
     "You hurt my friend," Minako gritted, fingers curling into fists at her side.
     "Your friend," Saekianna replied, evidently unimpressed by Minako's anger, "challenged me
over Rei.  I am not the sort of woman to let something like that pass unanswered."
     "Maybe it's not for you to say, did you ever think of that?  Why are you so sure Rei would
pick you over Usagi?" Minako asked.  "You have no idea what's between them."
     "Are you quite serious?" the other woman asked, her expression of cool amusement giving
way to genuine surprise.  "You can't think that Rei would choose to stay with that meek little
blossom, girl!  You're as bad as your friend.  I'll bet that you didn't even know what Rei was.
None of you know her as I do.  Rei belongs with the Sisterhood.  She belongs TO the
Sisterhood."
     "She's my friend," Minako said flatly.  "And I don't give up on my friends."
     "Indeed?"  That mocking half-smile had returned to Saekianna's ruby lips as she leaned back in
her high-backed leather chair.  "Yet if young Usagi was so wounded, then why was Rei with me
last night?"
     Minako's eyes widened, and the other woman laughed, a throaty sound that caressed the ear
like velvet.
     "Oh, yes," Saekianna mocked.  "In fact, I'll bet you don't even know where she is right now,
do you?"  Minako felt the blood rush to her face as the accusation hit home, and the other
woman's dark eyes pinned her with a mesmerizing gaze.
     "She's confused right now," Minako muttered, hating herself for letting the other woman get
under her skin.  "That's all."
     "She did not seem at all confused to me last night," Saekianna remarked.  "And if she truly
cared about any of you, wouldn't she have come to you?  Or at least called?  But she hasn't, has
she?  I'm sure you were a pleasant diversion for a while, but I am back in her life now, and there
won't be room for pretty little playthings anymore."
     "We'll see," Minako growled, hoping her words didn't sound as lame as she thought.  "We'll
see who Rei picks."
     "Yes," Saekianna murmured, pressing the tips of her fingers together.  "We will."
     Minako hated the utter confidence in the other woman's voice, hated herself for not having a
devastating comeback, hated Rei for putting them all in this position.  She wanted to lash out, but
instinctively she knew that it would be a bad idea to give Saekianna any excuse to take action
against her.  Barely holding her temper in check, she whirled and stormed back to the door,
jerking it open in one savage motion.
     "By the way," she snapped over her shoulder.  "I quit!"
     Then she slammed the door behind her.

***

     Rei checked her reflection in the darkened shop window.  She was wearing a black dress that
started at mid-chest and ended high on the thigh.  Narrow garters extended from under her skirt
to the tops of her stockings.  Black ankle boots with slim heels graced her feet, a wide collar
secured with two narrow straps circled her throat.  Over it all she wore a long loose red coat slit
high in the back that swirled as she walked.  Normally, she'd have worn her black coat with this
outfit, but she'd left it behind at Minako's.  Well, she'd just have to get another.
      She walked down the street to the narrow entrance to Club Kiss.  She had no idea why
Saekianna had insisted on meeting her there, but she had an ominous sensation in the pit of her
stomach.  Somehow, she didn't think mere nostalgia was the reason.
     The club was open, although hardly busy this early.  Rei walked to the back, aware of the
admiring looks she was getting along the way.  The bartender on duty was an attractive woman
with short red hair and dark skin.  Rei sidled up to her and mentioned Saekianna's name, thinking
she would be directed to one of the upstairs rooms.  Instead, to her surprise, she was pointed
towards a door marked "Employees Only".
     Strange.  She passed through, aware of the bartender's gaze on her back as she went.  Through
the door was a narrow hallway which led back into the building.  There was a door at the end that
repeated the theme of authorized personnel only, and one just before it which appeared to be
some kind of storage.  Since it seemed highly unlikely that Saekianna intended to meet her in a
storage room, Rei headed for the end door.
     Just before she reached it, the door burst open, rebounding off the wall forcefully and
springing back at the girl storming through.  She angrily shoved the door back again, coming up
short as she looked up to find Rei in her path.
     Minako.  Of course, why not?  The way her luck had been running of late, it was bound to
happen.
     "Well," Minako said sourly, her face flushed.  It was clear she was in a foul temper.  "Look
who it is."
     "I don't have time for this right now," Rei replied, hoping she could slip by without causing a
scene.  Minako, predictably, was having none of that.
     "Make time!" the blonde spat, thrusting her arm out to block the narrow hall.  "You know
what really pisses me off, Rei?  Let me tell you.  What really pisses me off is that last night, while
Usagi was hurt and confused and worried about you and I was wandering the bloody city trying
to find you, YOU ... YOU were playing bedroom games with that WOMAN!"
     "Keep your voice down," Rei hissed.
     "Oh, I don't think so, babe," Minako shot back.  "I've been sticking up for you, Rei.  Telling
people that things can't be as bad as they look ..."
     "Well, bully for you," Rei snapped, feeling guilty and resenting Minako for that, even though
she was hardly the one to blame.  "I never asked you to get involved in this, did I?  Why don't you
just let it go for once?"
     "Oh, I don't know," Minako growled.  "How about because your boss, the Right Honourable
Queen of the Bitch People, just bought this club?"
     "What?"  That caught Rei off guard.
     "Oh yeah," Minako told her.  "And she's been asking a lot of questions about Mistress V, who
just happens to show up here quite often.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  What's going on, Rei?
Is the Sisterhood targeting senshi?"
     That was a damned good question.  It had occurred to Rei the previous night that Saekianna
would not ignore the senshi's presence in Saeni if it threatened to interfere with her plans.
     "Would you believe me if I said I didn't know?" Rei asked, her thoughts spinning wildly.
     "Gods, you make me mad sometimes!" Minako gritted, pushing her face closer to Rei's.
"Don't play these martyr games with me, okay?  Your past came back and bit you on the ass?
Well, I'm sorry!  But I'm on your side, and so is Usagi.  You could start acting like it instead of
treating us as the enemy!"
     "That's not what I'm doing!" Rei replied, biting her words off harshly.
     "Then tell me what you are doing!" Minako said, some of the tension going out of her
shoulders.  "Tell me, and let me help."
     Rei was shaken by the realization that Minako was being completely honest.  She did want to
help, no matter what.  And that was just what Rei wanted to avoid.  It was bad enough that Rei's
past had wounded Usagi's heart, but the present was much more dangerous.  If the Sisterhood
really was looking to take down the senshi, then Rei had to keep the girls far away from
Saekianna.  The further, the better.
     And that meant far away from her.
     "I don't want your help," Rei said flatly, shoving Minako's arm out of the way.  "Just stay away
from me."
     "Here now," a familiar voice said from behind Minako.  "I can't have such rowdiness in my
new club, can I?"  Saekianna was standing in the doorway leading to the employee area, arms
crossed and a superior smile on her perfect face.  Rei knew that the woman would be enjoying
this scene immensely.  She also knew she had to end this quickly, otherwise Saekianna might just
find some reason to take offense against Minako.  If that happened, she would certainly target the
girl for her own brand of retribution.  Saekianna had always enjoyed getting back at others for any
slight, real or imagined.
     "This girl was just leaving," Rei said, fixing her expression into a cold mask.  "She has no
further business here."
     "Is that so?" Minako asked, her voice curiously gentle as she stared into Rei's eyes.  "Can you
really go to this woman after what she did to Usagi?"
     "Usagi?  What are you talking about?"  Rei's mask slipped for an instant, and a spark bloomed
in Minako's blue eyes.
     "Oh, didn't you know?  She's the one who told Usagi your secret," Minako murmured.  "Come
on, Rei.  Didn't you wonder how she found out?"
     Rei stood there, frozen, as Minako brushed by her brusquely.
     "Or maybe you didn't want to know," the blonde said as she passed.  Rei didn't reply.  After
all, Minako was right.  Once the shock had worn off, she should have asked herself the
all-important question: how had Usagi discovered the truth?  Finding out so soon after
Saekianna's appearance could hardly be mere coincidence, could it?  Had she been willfully blind?
     "If you reconsider your position, come and see me," Saekianna called sweetly.  Minako's reply
was profane and biologically impossible, and Rei watched numbly as the blonde stormed down the
hallway and disappeared through the door at the far end.
     That was your chance, she told herself.  Your chance to try and go back, try and make this
better.  But even as she had the thought, she dismissed it.  Whatever happened from here on in,
she was going to make certain that her personal trash didn't stain any of her former comrades.
     Especially not Usagi.
     "Ah, what a waste," Saekianna murmured.  "Well, Rei, come back to my office, won't you?"
Silently, Rei followed the other woman, holding herself in check until the office door was closed.
     "You told her about me."  It wasn't a question, and Saekianna didn't look surprised at all.
     "Yes," the platinum-maned beauty admitted easily.  "She had some lovely young amazon on a
motorcycle chase me down so she could confront me over you.  Really, the little mouse has gall,
I'll give her that."
     "You had no right to interfere in my business that way, Sass," Rei said, remaining by the door.
     "I am the Nightmistress," Saekianna reminded her, the playfulness going out of her tone.
"Anything that concerns the Sisterhood concerns me.  Nobody, be she priestess or queen,
challenges me over one of my Sisters."
     "I'm not a Sister anymore, remember?" Rei asked softly, keeping her temper on a short leash.
     "No one leaves the Sisterhood, Rei," Saekianna replied sternly.  "You know that.  You got
away from Griitna, and she never managed to find you and bring you back.  In truth, she ended up
spending more time trying to quell the unrest your accusations caused than tracking you down.
But that is all in the past."
     "You're saying I have no choice here?"  Rei's voice was dangerous, and she no longer bothered
to try and hide her anger.
     "Rei, I know you," Saekianna sighed, leaning her hips back against the edge of her desk.
"Nothing makes you more stubborn than when someone tries to force you into something, so just
listen to me.  Why should I force you?  This is what you wanted, what WE wanted.  We talked
about this, the destiny we would fulfill one day, and that day is finally here.  Embrace it willingly."
     "What are you talking about?" Rei asked, eyes narrowed.  "You keep going on about destiny,
but you seem to be conveniently forgetting that everything we believed was based on lies!"
     "Not everything," Saekianna said with a secretive smile.  "I told you your vision was
incomplete, didn't I?  And I promised you proof.  Well, here it is."  The woman traced a languid
pattern in the air, and the signet ring on her finger glowed with dark fire that prickled at Rei's
mystic senses.  Something glimmered to life within Saekianna's hand, something long and vaguely
phallic, and Rei frowned, confused.  What did Saekianna expect to prove with ...
     Saekianna smiled, holding her prize out for Rei to see.  It gleamed an oily black, the surface
seeming to shift and slither, almost as though it were alive.
     Alive ... Rei tensed.  The object was roughly cylindrical, bulbous at one end and flared at the
other, contoured along its length almost like a handle.  And there, near the flared end, was a red
circle with a black rose emblem within it.  Even as she watched, Saekianna waved her hand in a
loose arc, and a thick black tendril snaked from the flared end, extending into the air and twining
like a thing alive.  Saekianna reached out her free hand and it came to her, Rei's eyes widening as
the other woman stroked the whip's length like one would stroke a kitten.
     "That can't be," Rei breathed.  "It's impossible.  She was lost ..."
     "Lost from the Dark Lady's own hand when she fell to that White bitch," Saekianna
murmured, her eyes following the whip as it extended, coiling loosely around her body.  "Legend
had it that she fell into Shadow, beyond Alieva's reach, or that she was sealed with her mistress,
or even that she was imprisoned within the White Temple here in Saeni.  But it turns out all those
rumours were wrong, Rei."
     "Banri," Rei said, gaze locked on the legendary weapon.  "Dasma's whip.  But how?"
     "She was waiting for me within the heart of the Labyrinth," Saekianna told her.  "Residing
within the darkest shadows, waiting for a true follower of her mistress."
     "But my vision, I saw ... Sass, there was nothing there.  Nothing!"
     "Can you ignore the evidence of your own senses?" Saekianna asked haughtily.  The gleaming
length of the mystical whip moved slowly through the air, making its serpentine way towards Rei.
She reached out and lightly touched the coil as it snaked around her, gasping at the sensation of
power that skittered up her fingers and along her nerve endings.
     Everything was the same as in the old stories.  This had to be Banri.
     "And there was something else there, Rei," Saekianna told her, eyes sparkling with delight at
Rei's reaction.  "Knowledge.  Power.  The means to achieve what we always said we'd do."
     Rei looked up from Banri, her eyes locking with the other woman's.  Finally, she understood
what it must be that Saekianna was talking about.  It had been, of course, the dream of every
Sister for the past century, but none had ever come close to pulling it off.  Not until now.
     "You think you can really do it," Rei whispered.  "You believe you can break the seal and
release the Dark Lady."
     "Believe it?" Saekianna asked with a glorious smile.  "Rei, I know it.  The time has finally
come.  The Dark Lady will be free once more!"

***

     Makoto stretched, enjoying the sound and feel of her leather riding gear.  A nice ride was just
what the doctor ordered, followed by poking around in some of the seamier dives in the city.
Maybe somebody would be stupid enough to pick a fight with her and give her an excuse to blow
off even more steam.
     She plunked her helmet down on the seat of her bike and threw open the roll up door.  It
ratcheted up smoothly, and Makoto paused to take a breath, then frowned as she caught sight of a
dark van with tinted windows sitting only a few feet away, a strange woman leaning against the
side.  She began walking over towards Makoto as soon as the door opened, moving with a fluid,
sensual gait that made the lanky senshi think of shifters.
     Rin's werecats?  But how would they have known where to find her?  Friends of Yoshi's,
maybe?
     "Makoto Kino?" the woman asked, a sly and somehow knowing smile on her full lips.  Her
skin was dusky dark, her short hair even darker, and something about her made Makoto's hackles
rise.
     "Yeah?" Makoto replied cautiously.
     "Would you come with me, please?"  The woman was dressed in a conservative dark suit
jacket and skirt, dark sunglasses hiding her eyes.  The outfit should have screamed cop, but
something about the woman just seemed smug, arrogant, just like ...
     "Who are you?" Makoto asked tightly, although she was afraid she knew.
     "I represent someone who wants to meet with you," the woman replied, placing one hand on
her hip in an oddly graceful motion.  "For a little ... talk."
     "Let me guess," Makoto said flatly.  "Are her initials Saekianna der Kae?"  The woman just
smiled, somehow radiating superiority.
     She was really beginning to get on Makoto's nerves.
     "You must have really made an impression on her when you met," the woman murmured,
taking a step forward.  "It really is an honour to be invited for a private audience."
     "I'll pass," Makoto replied, drawing herself to her full height and glaring at the shorter woman.
"Now why don't you take a hike?"
     "Don't be like that," the woman pouted prettily.  "Our mistress has taken an interest in you and
your little friend, and she really isn't the type to take no for an answer."
     Little friend?  Usagi?  Makoto felt her temper coming to a boil, and she welcomed the
sensation.  The Sister watched her from behind her sunglasses, that sly, self-satisfied smile never
changing, and Makoto noted the languid movement of her hands as they began to rise.
     "If you try any of that spooky Sisterhood black magic," the tall senshi growled, "I'm going to
have to kick your ass."
     "Black magic?" the woman asked innocently.  "Why, whatever do you mean?  Look, there's
nothing up my sleeve."  She raised her left arm, and something shot out of the space between
her wrist and the edge of her sleeve in a blur of motion.  Makoto reacted instinctively, throwing
herself to the side and rolling away, scrambling to her feet and backing away quickly.
     Her opponent had driven her away from the open door, and now Makoto had no place to
retreat.  She watched, wary, as the woman took a slow step towards her, then another.
     "Oh, dear," the woman murmured.  "I did have something up my sleeve after all.  Would you
like to see it again?"  She gestured, and again something snaked out of her sleeve to twine
sinuously in the air before the woman.  It looked like a long thin ribbon of some silky material,
glossy dark in the sunlight.
     "A nice trick, don't you think?" the woman asked, continuing her slow advance.  "Now, where
were we?  Oh, yes.  My mistress commands your presence.  Now, you can come willingly or ...
unwillingly.  Personally, I'd love an excuse to subdue you, my lovely amazon.  So, what do you
say?"
     Makoto didn't know how much range the woman's lash had, but she'd seen how fast it was.
Still, she probably wouldn't be expecting an attack.  If Makoto could get away from the woman
for even a few moments, she might find someplace to transform.  Then the fight would take on a
much different tenor.
     "What do I say?" Makoto repeated.  "I say ... THIS!"  Gathering herself, she used her long
legs to launch an all-out attack, twisting her body and coming in low in an attempt to throw the
other woman off-balance.  Her opponent danced away from her rush, though, moving with
contemptuous ease, and before Makoto could turn she felt something sleek and smooth slithering
around her neck.  It pulled tight, cutting off her breath abruptly and pulling her upright.
     "Oh, my, you are a spirited one," the woman sneered, turning the snared Makoto so that they
were face to face.  "You probably think you won't tell us where to find your insipid little friend,
too.  But you will.  Our mistress will make you tell, and I'll enjoy watching.  What do you think of
that?"
     Makoto could barely breathe, clawing desperately at her throat.  The material felt like silk but
its grip was like iron, and she couldn't budge it.  Black spots began to appear around the edges of
her vision, and she desperately forced one hand down to grope for her henshin rod, but the
smirking Sister sent a ripple through her bespelled lash and caught Makoto's wrists easily.
      "Oh, my," she purred.  "What's wrong?  Cat got your tongue?"
     I won't betray you, Usagi, Makoto thought as her struggles began to fade.  No matter what.  I
promise ...
     There was a flash across her failing vision, and suddenly the pressure around her wrists and
throat eased and she was falling back, sprawling across the cracked asphalt.  Makoto gasped for
air, throwing the now inanimate scrap of silk away from her.
     A gleam caught her eye, and she spotted a large, broad-bladed knife sticking out of the wall of
her building, still quivering with the force of the throw.  It looked familiar, and even before she
heard his voice she knew who had come to her rescue.
     "I don't think you should be doing that," a curiously gentle voice said, and Makoto turned her
head to see him standing there, dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt.
     Yoshi.
     "Well, well," the woman snarled.  "What have we here, a knight in shining armour?  This
doesn't concern you, boy.  You should leave while you have the chance."
     "If it concerns her, it concerns me," Yoshi replied, his stance loose and deceptively relaxed.
Makoto wanted to warn him, but as she got some of her wind back, she realized that the Sister's
attention was mostly focussed on him.
     But it wouldn't be for long.
     So she made her move, getting her feet under her and launching herself forward for a second
time.  This time, though, she caught the woman off-guard.  The Sister tried to slip away from
Makoto's attack, but didn't quite manage the evasion.  Makoto's punch caught the edge of her
opponent's jaw, snapping her head back.  Makoto spun and, although still winded from being
choked, she snapped a savagely powerful knee up into the woman's stomach, causing her to
double over sharply.  The dark shades flew off the woman's face, and Makoto hammered a hard
punch down.  Her fist caught the woman flush against one high cheekbone, throwing her to the
ground where she rolled frantically, regaining her feet and backing up much as Makoto had done
earlier.
     Yoshi circled towards her, both of them watching the Sister.  Her air of smug superiority was
gone now, her face contorted with rage.
     "You okay?" Yoshi called to her.
     "Yeah," Makoto gasped.  "Thanks."  Yoshi smiled, those pale gray eyes lingering for a
moment before flicking back to their enemy.
     "I was ... going to be nice to you," the Sister gasped, her face already beginning to bruise.
"But now, you're going to see just how nasty I can be."
     "Careful," Makoto told Yoshi.  "She's one of the Dark Lady's minions."
     "Really?" Yoshi asked, his voice cool.  "Lady, unless you want to meet your goddess in
person, I think you'd better just give up."
     "I think not," the Sister growled, her dark eyes shifting from Yoshi to Makoto and back as
they began to flank her.  "Don't underestimate us ..."  In mid-sentence she attacked, flinging one
arm in a sharp arc toward Makoto.
     "Look out!" Yoshi cried, and suddenly Makoto found herself thrown to the side as the
werewolf threw her out of the way.  She rolled across the pavement, grateful for the protection
afforded by the leather she wore.  As it was, she picked up more bruises as she skidded across the
rough parking lot.  When she tumbled to a stop, she managed to rise to all fours, lifting her head
to see Yoshi standing where she'd been, a dazed expression on his face.  Slowly he reached up and
pulled a black rose from the base of his throat where it had lodged, stem first, and clumsily let it
fall from a limp hand.
     "Yoshi?" she called.  The Sister walked over to the stunned man, a triumphant expression on
her bruised face.  Dread twisted in Makoto's belly at the sight; Yoshi just stood there, making no
effort to stop the woman as she twined her hands around his neck and drew herself close to him.
     "Well, that wasn't what I had in mind," she said softly, her eyes pinning Makoto with malicious
glee.  "But this will work out well, I think.  Yes, I'll just have your boyfriend bring you to heel for
me. Nobody can resist the enchantment of our Black Rose.  He will now obey me, do anything to
please me.  And I do mean anything ..."
     "No," Makoto breathed.  "Yoshi?  YOSHI?"
     "Now, my dear," the Sister murmured, ignoring Makoto's anguished cries, cradling Yoshi's
face in her hands and turning it so that his drugged, bespelled eyes met hers.  "I want you to do
something for me.  And you will, won't you?  You're feeling warm and good, aren't you?  You
want to please me.  Say it.  Tell your girl how you only want to please me."
     Makoto watched helplessly as Yoshi stared into the Sister's eyes, enrapt.  Impotent rage filled
her at the thought of Yoshi reduced to some kind of sex toy for one of those witches.  Her hands
clenched in fury as she shook her hair out of her face, rising to her knees.
     "Tell her," the Sister urged, her eyes gleaming as they held his, her lips moist, parted ever so
slightly.
     Yoshi screamed.
     His hand arced up, fingers curled like claws, and the woman staggered back.  Makoto stared in
shock at the sight of thin streams of blood where the woman's jacket and blouse had been torn.
The Sister almost seemed unaware of her injuries, fixing her dark gaze on Yoshi as the man curled
slightly in on himself, as if in pain.
     "Stop resisting!" she snapped, and Makoto sensed the undercurrent of command in her voice.
"Obey me, boy!  You want me.  You need me.  Obedience brings pleasure, resistence brings
pain.  Obey!"  It seemed to Makoto that the Sister was trying to compel Yoshi with her voice;
maybe that was how it was supposed to work, but a fleeting glimpse of his face told her that
things weren't going at all as the woman intended.
     In an instant, Yoshi sprang at the woman, who seemed unable to accept that he would not
succumb to her control.  He bore her back, forcing her to the ground where he straddled her, head
bowed.  His long hair hung down so that Makoto couldn't see his face, but she knew something
was terribly wrong.  The Sister knew it too; she reached up slowly, cupping his cheek and trying
to reassert control.
     "It's all right," she crooned.  "Your blood boils, doesn't it?  It boils for me.  Everything will be
all right.  All you have to do is obey ..."
     Yoshi's shoulders hunched, and then he flung his arms apart, cloth tearing noisily as he
shredded the rest of the woman's jacket and blouse.  Makoto stood shakily, staring in disbelief as
Yoshi stared down at the woman's lacy bra ... or maybe he was staring at the trickles of blood on
her skin.
     "Yoshi, stop it!" Makoto cried.
     "Let me up," the Sister commanded, but her voice shook ever so slightly as she spoke.  Yoshi
didn't reply, his shoulders heaving as he stared at the trapped woman fixedly.
     "Let me up!" the woman shouted, trying to push him away.  Yoshi responded by back-handing
her casually across the face.  Makoto flinched at the sharp crack of flesh on flesh as the woman's
head snapped to the side with the force of Yoshi's shifter strength, then lolled back.  With a growl,
Yoshi leaned down and sniffed the juncture of the stunned woman's bared throat.
     "Yoshi!" Makoto shouted.  "Stop it!  Yoshi, listen to me!  Get hold of yourself!"  She noticed
that his fingertips had lengthened into claws, as if he was on the verge of transforming.  Even as
she watched, they shrank back to shorter, blunter human fingers, quivering where they hovered
over the supine woman's bare skin.  Makoto moved closer, Yoshi's strange behaviour beginning to
sow seeds of prickly fear in her gut.
     She hadn't been afraid of Yoshi since she'd gotten to know him, so many years ago.  She didn't
want to be afraid of him now.  But the way he was staring at the helpless woman beneath him was
dangerous, predatory ... and profoundly disturbing.
     "Yoshi."  She pitched her voice low, striving to remain calm.  "Come on, Yoshi.  She's no
threat now."  From this distance, she could see the leather thong that tied Yoshi's blonde hair back
at the nape of his neck, could see the sweat beading on his skin as he panted.  The sound was not
unlike that of an animal, and Makoto hesitated.  There was a part of the beast in every were,
Yoshi had told her once.  She supposed that was true, but she'd seen Yoshi change, and she'd
never seen him lose all of himself.
     But now, as he turned his eyes to her, some part of her knew that it wasn't Yoshi looking at
her, at least not the Yoshi she knew.  His gaze was at once feral and hungry, and something dark
fixed its attention on her with an intensity that was unsettling.
     "Makoto," he breathed, a muscle in his cheek twitching spasmodically.  "You smell ... good."
     Run, something told her.  Yoshi wouldn't hurt you, but that's not him.  Run.
     She ran.
     Behind her came the sound of scrabbling as Yoshi scrambled to his feet.  Makoto concentrated
on running, painfully aware of just how isolated the building was.  She could try for the street, but
traffic was light there, and all she could accomplish that way was to endanger some innocent.  No,
she was better off making for the rear of the building; hopefully she could lose Yoshi for a few
moments in the debris and junk back there.  Long enough, at least, to transform.  She'd be
stronger then, strong enough to stop Yoshi without hurting him.
     Before he hurt her.
     She skidded slightly as she rounded the corner, painfully aware of just how close the sounds of
pursuit were.  She didn't dare risk looking back, though.  Pouring on the speed, she sprinted down
the narrow alley at one end of her building, hemmed in by rusty chain-link fence on one side and
pitted concrete on the other.  Her long legs ate up the distance, and she burst out into the trash-
strewn lot behind the building in a blur of speed, henshin rod already nestled in her palm.  So close
now; all she needed was another ten seconds.
     Then something hit her from behind and she went down, rolling across the uneven ground.
She caught a glimpse of Yoshi, stumbling in her wake, and knew that he'd be on her before she
could gain her feet again.  Her options had run out, and almost before she had made the decision
she'd triggered her transformation, brilliant light surrounding her tumbling form.
     When Yoshi pounced on her, Sailor Jupiter met his attack.  She caught his body in mid-air
while still on her back, using his momentum to heave him past.  Nimbly she rolled once more and
leapt to her feet, only to find Yoshi ready for her.  He charged wildly, and Jupiter had to dodge
his outstretched arms and dance to the side.  Growling with frustration, he spun again, only his
mindless frenzy giving Jupiter any kind of edge.
     As he closed on her, she hit him hard on the shoulder, throwing him off-balance.
     "Yoshi!" she cried as he staggered back.  "Yoshi, listen to me!  You have to stop!"  She wasn't
sure if the werewolf knew what was going on, or if he even realized that Makoto and Jupiter were
the same person.  All she knew was that she had to try to get through to him.
     Yoshi righted himself quickly, staring at her with fevered eyes as a streamer of spit dribbled
from one corner of his mouth.  With a savage leer, he came at her again and Jupiter felt her
despair grow.  She hit him again, staggering him, but he recovered and lunged at her, cloth tearing
as part of her skirt was pulled away.  She knew she had to quit pulling her punches if she wanted
to stop him; shifters were very strong and resilient, even in their human forms.  Knowing,
however, was one thing.  Bringing herself to hurt Yoshi was something else.
     Jupiter tried to tag Yoshi a third time with a shot hard enough to put him down where she
might pin him, but he slipped past the blow with uncanny grace and slammed his body into hers,
throwing them to the ground.  He landed on top, his weight pressing her down heavily and driving
the breath from her lungs.  Momentarily stunned, Jupiter gasped for breath as Yoshi planted his
hands on her shoulders, those horribly hungry eyes boring into her from only a few inches away.
She could feel his body against her, and it was clear that whatever else was going on in his head,
he was very aroused.
     His breath whistled noisily as he lowered his head, sniffing her.  Jupiter's mouth was dry, and
she steeled herself, avoiding sudden moves.
     "Yoshi," she whispered.  "This isn't you.  This isn't what you're like.  I know that.  Come back,
Yosh.  Come back to me, okay?  Just come back."
     His gaze didn't return to hers, instead slipping lower to the swell of her breasts.  His hands
began to wander in the direction his eyes had taken, his breath coming faster now, and ice began
to flow through Jupiter's veins.
     He was really going to do it.
     Jupiter head-butted him abruptly, getting her hands between their bodies as Yoshi reared back
with a roar of pain.  Gritting her teeth, she threw him to the side and rolled away, gaining her feet
at the same time he did.
     Yoshi was enraged now, and she knew what she had to do.  Summoning her power, she drew
lightning to her cupped palm, and as Yoshi charged in heedlessly she threw it with a wordless cry.
The sparkling ball of lightning hit Yoshi dead-centre, hurling him back into a pile of old wooden
palettes.  He crashed through the rotted wood noisily, splinters cartwheeling through the air as
more debris collapsed in on him.
     Jupiter held her breath, watching as the dust settled.  He was down; she'd done it.  She only
hoped he wasn't too ...
     Yoshi threw the broken remnants of several palettes off of him as he staggered to his feet,
shaking his head and sending dust flying in a dirty halo.  Then he fixed his empty gray eyes on
Jupiter again ... and charged.
     The second lightning ball caught him in almost the same spot the first one had, and he spun
head over heels as he was thrown back, hitting the ground heavily.  Jupiter's breath came in
ragged gasps as she watched his limp form carefully.  Don't get up, she thought.  Don't.  Please,
Yoshi.
     He got up.
     She looked into those gray eyes again, so empty of everything but formless hunger.  That was
not a look she associated with those eyes, not an expression that should be there.  Jupiter
remembered being a girl, hurt and dirty and huddled in the mud that day so long ago.  She
remembered a boy with pale gray eyes chasing off her attackers, and the look in those eyes when
he'd reached his hand down to her had been gentle, so gentle.  It had been the first time anyone
had been gentle with her in a long time.
     Hot tears prickled at her eyes as Yoshi came at her again, tongue lolling out of his mouth like
a mad dog's.
     "Don't," she pleaded.  "Please, Yoshi.  I don't want to hurt you."  But he was still somewhere
beyond her reach, and with a howl he launched himself at her once more.
     Jupiter dodged and hit him once, then again.  And again.  Yoshi wouldn't stop, though, and
managed to shred her fuku between her breasts, drawing a thin line of blood.  He was still
dangerous, refusing to stop, driven by whatever that Sisterhood bitch had done to him.
     For his own good, she had to stop him.  For his own good.
     When he reached for her again, she grabbed his wrist, squeezing tightly as a tear slipped down
her cheek.
     "I'm sorry, Yosh," she whispered.  And unleashed a torrent of lightning into him.  He spasmed
and howled wildly, head thrown back as the power slammed through his already battered body,
jerking him around like a puppet on broken strings.
     Enough, Jupiter prayed.  Let it be enough.  She cut off the power, poised to act if Yoshi
somehow was still capable of fighting.
     He wasn't.  As soon as she ceased her assault, he collapsed, eyes rolling back in his head.
Jupiter caught him before he hit the ground, lowering him tenderly.  His clothes were badly torn
from the fight, his breathing was fast and shallow, and she looked down at his battered form, her
throat tight with anguish.  A spot of moisture appeared on his cheek as a tear fell from her eye,
and she wiped her gloved hand across her face angrily.  This was no time to get weepy.  Yoshi
was tough, he'd be okay.  He had to be.
     But the woman who'd done this to him, she was going to pay, and pay dearly.
     When Jupiter returned to the front of the building, though, she was too late.
     The Sister was gone.

***

     Usagi paid the cabbie and watched as he pulled away from the curb.  Butterflies tickled the
inside of her stomach, and she took a deep breath to calm her anxiety.  The others were going to
be very, very angry when they found out what she'd done.
     Well, it wasn't like she'd lied to them.  She really WAS going to see Mamoru.  First, though,
she had to make a stop.
     Cars were parked along the street, and Usagi scanned them as she walked, wondering what
she'd do if they weren't here.  She didn't want to go to the house, not yet.  This had been her best
alternative, though, and if it didn't pan out she really wasn't sure what to do next.
     There.  She stopped when she caught sight of it, a yellow convertible parked just ahead, nose
angled in to the curb.  She didn't know much about cars, but that was one of Haruka's.  Even
though the day was clear, the top on the car was up.  At this time of year, after all, one couldn't be
too careful about the weather.
     A quick glance inside confirmed that the car was indeed Haruka's.  A tiny white bunny dangled
from the rear-view mirror, looking out of place in the gleaming, sharp-edged interior.  That little
detail cheered her somehow; the sight of her little gift to the older girl, emblazoned with the
symbol for protection on its belly, had remained even after all that had happened.
     Drawing another deep breath, Usagi straightened and started down the sidewalk again, her
step firmer now.  So much was happening to her people, wounding their souls, driving them
apart, sowing seeds of discord and distrust.  Having to watch that made her feel like a dagger was
being slowly driven through her own heart.  The pain was horrible.  She thought of a pair of deep
violet eyes, and that bottomless pool of despair threatened to drown her.
     Rei.  She wanted her Rei back, wanted that with a need so intense it was nearly tangible.  But
it wouldn't be that simple.  Things had gotten complicated somehow.  Maybe this was her
punishment for shirking her duty for so long.  She had let herself be lulled, sulking in the safety of
Mamoru's apartment, instead of trying to heal the rift that had split her senshi.  Now the rift was
spreading, and the only way to heal it was to go back to the source.
     She stopped in front of the café, staring up at the door.  The place didn't even have a name that
she knew; the lettering on the door just said "Café".  It was a nice enough place, quiet and
intimate, not unlike countless other cafes in the area.  But this one, for some reason, drew Haruka
and Michiru on a regular basis.  They would never tell her why, just smiling secretively whenever
she asked.  That was all right, though.  All that mattered now was that they were here.
     A waiter appeared as she stepped inside, but she told him politely that she was meeting
someone, and he just nodded.  She scanned the mostly empty room, spotting them easily in the far
corner.  Their booth was partly obscured by a large fern-like plant, allowing Usagi to get most of
the way to them before being spotted.  Haruka was seated with her back to Usagi, but Michiru
glanced up and spotted her as she approached.  Under other circumstances, the shocked
expression on the usually imperturbable girl's face would have been funny.  As it was, Haruka
picked up on Michiru's gaze immediately, turning in the booth with a grim look on her face.
Usagi's heart stuttered as that cold gaze sought her out, but it was quickly replaced with
recognition and astonishment.
     "Usagi!"
     "Um, hi," Usagi replied, stopping just behind the booth, her hands clasped nervously in front of
her.  "I'm sorry to bother you guys, but, um, I was wondering if we could ... talk."  It sounded so
lame, now that she said it out loud, and she felt like a total ass.  This wasn't going at all as she'd
hoped.
     "I think that would be a wonderful idea," Haruka said, favouring Usagi with one of her
patented lazy smiles.  "Have a seat, kitten."  Usagi flushed.  That had always been Haruka's pet
name for her, and the sound of it made her feel instantly better.  Haruka moved over, leaving
room for Usagi, then waved the waiter over and ordered a coffee with three creams and three
sugars, just the way Usagi liked it.  Usagi sat, fidgeting nervously until the waiter had deposited
the coffee in front of her and departed.
     "I must say, this is an unexpected surprise," Michiru murmured, leaning forward to prop her
chin on the backs of her interlaced fingers.
     "I know," Usagi replied, toying with her coffee cup.  "I'm sorry for just showing up ..."
     "Don't be," Haruka said softly.  "We've been wanting to talk with you, too.  About what
happened.  Hotaru thought it was too soon, but I think she's wrong about that."
     "You must have been wondering," Michiru said.  "About Hotaru.  About how she could be a
senshi, and walk around in daylight, but still be ..."
     "A vampire?" Usagi asked softly.  "I don't really understand it.  The things she said that night,
they weren't the truth, were they?  She didn't mean any of that?"  Her tone was pleading despite
her resolution to be strong throughout this meeting.
     "We'll tell you the story," Haruka said with a sad smile, her chin resting against her fist.  "You
deserve to know the truth.  You probably deserved to know from the start, but Hotaru ... well,
she always said you'd never trust her if you knew."
     "She was probably right," Michiru pointed out.
     "I suppose," Haruka sighed.  "It's been hard for her, kitten.  From the beginning, her dark side
caused her to be treated with mistrust."
     "So she was a vampire the whole time we knew her?" Usagi asked.
     "Not exactly," Haruka told her.  "You see, kitten, Hotaru isn't exactly a vampire.  She was
never bitten, never changed.  Our Hotaru is something unique.  You could call her half vampire,
half human."
     "Half vampire?" Usagi asked, watching Haruka closely to see if the woman cracked a smile.
She couldn't be serious, could she?  "Haruka, there's no such thing.  You can't be half-vampire.
That's like being a little bit pregnant.  Isn't it?"
     "I don't blame you for being sceptical," Haruka said.  Usagi thought she detected approval in
Haruka's voice when she said that.
     "Usagi, before the Long Dark there were a lot of vampires in this city," Michiru murmured,
sea-green eyes made opaque by something, memory perhaps, or maybe some deep emotion that
lingered from those bygone days.  "They were an accepted part of the landscape, just like the
shifter clans and the demi-humans.  Their power was kept in check by a couple of major factors,
namely the fact that they were always warring amongst themselves for territory and power, and
also the fact that the authorities could destroy them on sight, just like any other monster or
demon."
     "What do you know about the Anliss Initiative?" Haruka asked her, and Usagi sighed.  A
history lesson?  This was almost like being back in school with the White Sisters.
     "Well, it was named after a count named Anliss," Usagi began tentatively.
     "Actually, he was a duke," Haruka told her, eyes sparkling with mischief.  Usagi had missed
that sparkle.  "But go on."
     "Um, there was a case back then where a Tyrian slaver argued in Royal Court that she should
be able to keep her slaves at her estate in the city because it was no different than demi-humans
and shifters.  She said they weren't full citizens and didn't have the same rights as other people
under the law, so it was a double standard.  Or something like that."
     "That was the gist of it, yes," Haruka nodded.  "She lost her case, but it brought to the
forefront the issue of citizenship rights for certain peoples.  Even after slavery was abolished in
the kingdom, certain classes of people suffered because they didn't have the protections accorded
to full citizens.  Mostly, attention focussed on so-called demi-humans and shifters.  They were
often exploited by the ruthless, forced to work in conditions little better than actual slavery."
     "People had tried to address the issue before, but without much success," Michiru said,
cradling her tea cup in her delicate musician's hands.  "Too many among the aristocracy had a
vested interest in cheap labour, or had a power base that didn't want the status quo disturbed.  But
Tyria was beginning to press the Trade Council for sanctions, claiming that they were being shut
out of a lucrative slave market."
     "Just the accusation made the palace look bad," Haruka continued.  "And it wasn't totally
without merit.  Plus, some of the affected groups, especially the shifters, had formed militant clans
to protect their people from those who preyed on them.  Those clans became a force in the
Triangle, and things started to get ugly.  So the old queen took serious notice when Duke Anliss
proposed an initiative to extend citizenship rights within the kingdom."
     "I remember all this from school," Usagi said, idly sipping at her coffee.  "But what does it
have to do with Hotaru?"
     "Patience, kitten," Haruka smiled.  "We're getting there.  People were pretty polarized over the
initiative, but the general consensus was that it was high time something was done to address the
problem.  Demi-humans were part human, after all, even if they originally were made by the
Genrous as slaves and warriors.  And shifters, some of them had been human before having the
change passed on to them, and the rest, well, their human forms weren't so different from us, were
they?"
     "And by that logic, the vampires wanted fair consideration as well," Michiru stated, her full lips
drawing into a slight scowl.  "After all, they'd all been human once."
     "There was fear about giving these groups rights, but talks went on, meetings and committees
and endless sessions of the parliament.  Vampire attacks dropped off as a sign of good faith, the
shifters clans kept a low profile, and demi-humans stopped their work disruptions.  It was starting
to look like the Anliss Initiative might actually accomplish something.
     "Into this state of affairs, we now introduce the Tomoe family."
     Finally, Usagi thought eagerly.
     "Yukari Tomoe was a beautiful woman by all accounts, graceful and charming as well.  She
was married to a brilliant young researcher, and maybe the fact that he spent so much time with
his work made her restless.  At any rate, she became involved in the Anliss Initiative,
enthusiastically.  She came to believe fervently that the treatment of certain elements of our
society as second-class citizens, or worse, was horribly unjust."  Haruka stopped, leaning back to
take a sip from her tea.
     "So what happened?" Usagi asked, her hands clasped tightly.  She was enthralled in spite of
herself.
     "We can't be quite certain how it happened," Haruka continued.  "Maybe Yukari met the
vampire who would destroy her life at a rally or through the growing Anliss movement, or maybe
she was just targeted because of her beauty and innocence.  Whatever the case, all we can say for
certain is that at some point in that turbulent time, Yukari fell under the spell of a vampire.  The
vampire seems to have toyed with her, feeding off of her but not killing or even harming her
significantly.  That was hardly unusual for a vampire, as they always loved playing with the minds
and hearts of mere mortals.  But somewhere in the same time period, Yukari Tomoe also
managed to get pregnant."
     "The vampire?" Usagi asked, aghast.
     "Not possible," Michiru told her.  "Vampires cannot sire children.  That is a fact."
     "Then how?" Usagi muttered, puzzled.
     "Do you know how vampires control people, Usagi?" Haruka asked, her blue eyes grave.
"Some people are weak and can be controlled by their gaze.  Others succumb to the vampire's
bite.  But the surest way for them to exert control is to make their victims drink the vampire's own
tainted blood."
     "Eww," Usagi shuddered.
     "Yes," Haruka nodded.  "It is like a drug to a human, placing them under the vampire's control
no matter how strong-willed they may be.  To make a person into one of their number, more than
a bite is needed.  The vampire must drain their human victim, usually over a period of time.  Then,
when they are weak and near death, the vampire will force their victim to gorge themselves on
dark vampiric blood.  The vampire's essence overcomes the last remnants of humanity and the
victim dies, to be reborn as a vampire."
     "It appears that the vampire who ensnared Yukari used her blood to keep the woman under
her control," Michiru murmured.
     "Her?" Usagi asked.
     "Patience," Haruka said again.  "During those months, Yukari met regularly with her vampiric
lover, and was suckled on tainted blood.  Not enough to change her into a vampire, and she
would certainly have been firmly under the vampire's control within days of the first taste.  The
only reason to have made her drink for so long seems to be that the vampire discovered her
pregnancy."
     "The baby," Usagi said, a terrible hollowness in her chest.  "Hotaru?"
     "Yes," Haruka said softly.  "And for months, perhaps for the entire time, Yukari was being fed
small amounts of a vampire's blood, almost daily near the end."
     "There have been recorded attacks on pregnant women before," Michiru added, watching
Usagi gravely.  "But never anything like this."
     "It seems to have been a deliberate action, to see what would happen," Haruka said.  "Just the
sort of cold-blooded act a monster would commit."
     "But didn't anyone notice?" Usagi cried.
     "Her husband was wrapped up in his work, and at first he didn't notice anything was amiss,"
Haruka replied, her eyes darkening with unfocussed anger.  "By the time he began to take an
interest in what was happening with his wife, it was probably already too late.  She had told her
doctor that she was seeing a specialist, but it turned out she didn't go near any doctor during her
pregnancy.  Her obedience to her new mistress was absolute, no matter the cost to her unborn
child."
     "And even when her husband began to get vaguely concerned about his wife's strange comings
and goings, he didn't suspect the awful truth," Michiru sighed.  "A lot was happening then, with
opposition to the Anliss Initiative causing a rift at court, and the outbreak of hostilities along the
border.  He was working on a magical research project for the crown, but finally he started to turn
his attention to his family."
     The two women fell silent for a moment, and Usagi realized that she was leaning forward,
hands clenched tightly.  She had never suspected the truth could be anything like this.
     "What happened next?" she asked finally, troubled by the macabre story but needing to know
all of the truth.
     "Things came to a head one night, when a terrible storm struck," Haruka said, picking up the
thread of the story seamlessly.  "He returned home early to find the house dark.  He was worried,
for the baby was due soon, and he thought perhaps that his wife had needed to go to the hospital.
He climbed the stairs to their room, only to be brought up short near the top when he heard a
sound.  It sounded like moans of passion, and he burst into the room only to see a scene out of a
nightmare.  His wife was being clutched tightly by a shadowy form with red eyes, and when he
tried to rush forward something dark, like a snake, grabbed him and threw him back.  When he
got up, the shadow was gone, and his wife lay on the bed, dark blood on her lips and a fresh bite
mark on her throat."
     "She had other bite marks, older ones, all over her body," Michiru said gently.  "He finally
knew the truth, but it was too late.  His wife was dying.  The vampire had drained most of her
blood, and her heart was giving out."
     "But she was also in labour," Haruka said.  "And, just as she died, her daughter was born."
     "That's terrible," Usagi whispered, her hand over her mouth.  "That poor man."
     "He staked his wife when she rose, then reported the attack to the authorities after the fact,"
Haruka went on.  "He never told them, though, about what had been going on.  And although the
attack on a pregnant woman was one of the events that brought down the Anliss Initiative's
support, the damage was done.  The vampires had finally managed to unite behind a common
goal, and that would eventually lead to the disaster that became known as the Long Dark.  And
for the Tomoe family, too, it was far too late."
     "So Hotaru ... she was born, but still a vampire?" Usagi asked.
     "We know some of these things from the journals her father kept," Michiru said.  "But there is
a large gap after his wife's death.  As far as we can tell, although Hotaru was a very frail child, she
was fairly normal at first.  Her father kept the secret of his wife's liaisons with the unholy creature
and hoped that his daughter had escaped the taint.  Sadly, that was not to be."
     "Yes," Haruka nodded.  "She grew, and the vampire did not return to trouble them.  He began
to think the nightmare was over.  But, around the time she was three, things began to happen.  He
found her with the family pet, a small cat, one stormy night.  She had bitten it and drained its
blood."
     Usagi felt herself go pale, and Haruka paused.
     "Perhaps I should stop," the blonde said gently.
     "No," Usagi replied, firming her resolve.  "No, I want to know all of it.  Please."
     "Very well.  He locked her up, afraid that she had finally become what he feared most, but the
next morning she seemed normal again, unharmed by the sunlight.  It took a while, but eventually
something similar happened.  By the time she was five, she was feeding fairly regularly.  Her
father would buy animals for her, so that she could feed when the hunger came upon her.  After a
time, animal blood would no longer suffice and he took to purchasing human blood, ostensibly for
research.  The whole time, he devoted his efforts to finding out how her existence was possible,
and how her curse might be cured."
     "But he couldn't help her?" Usagi asked, feeling a pang of sympathy in her heart.  The two
women exchanged glances.
     "Usagi, there's one thing you have to understand," Michiru said at last.  "By that point, he was
quite unstable.  He was plagued with guilt over not noticing what was happening with his wife,
guilt over not being able to save her.  He really had loved her, after all.  And Hotaru was growing
to be the spitting image of her mother.  She represented not only what he had lost, but the thing
that had taken it from him."
     "As time went on, he slowly went mad," Haruka murmured softly.  "We don't know much
about those last years, what it must have been like for her growing up in that house with him.  We
do know he rarely let her out, and the basement was arranged so that she could be imprisoned
down there."
     "Oh," Usagi gasped.
     "His research, all his skills of which he'd been so proud, failed him," Haruka went on.  "When
Hotaru was thirteen years old, he killed himself on a night much like the one of her birth.  She was
the one who found him."
     "Terrible," Usagi said, her voice trembling.  "That's so terrible.  Why did such a horrible thing
have to happen?"
     "I don't know, kitten," Haruka replied, covering Usagi's hands with one of her own.  Usagi like
the feel of Haruka's hands; they were warm and strong and always made her feel safe somehow.
"But soon after the Long Dark occurred, and his death was attributed to that.  She lived alone
afterwards, always having to keep her dark side under control.  And nobody ever knew the truth,
until we came along."
     "That's why she is how she is, princess," Michiru said, leaning close.  "Hotaru has had a hard
life.  I'm not certain even we know exactly how hard, but she has prevailed, discovering her
identity as a senshi, seeking out the rest of us, and always fighting the dark, both within and
without."
     "But that night," Usagi said slowly.  "She said things, horrible things.  She said we were her
pawns, that she could do what she wanted with us ..."
     "When the hunger overtakes her, her dark nature sometimes runs wild," Haruka said,
squeezing Usagi's hands.  "She says awful things, does things she wouldn't normally do.  She was
waiting for Setsuna that night, but you showed up instead, and with the darkness rising her deeply
buried resentment against you came to the surface."
     "Resentment?" Usagi blurted.  "Against me?  I ... I never knew Hotaru resented me!"
     "It's Setsuna's theory," Michiru broke in, giving Haruka a glare.
     "It makes sense," Haruka retorted smoothly.  "It's not so much you, princess, as your mother."
     "My mother?  She never knew my mother."
     "She means the queen," Michiru said.  "Serenity."
     "Yes," Haruka sighed.  "You have memories of the Silver Millennium, kitten.  You remember
her."
     "Of course," Usagi said.  "I don't remember everything about our previous lives, but I
remember her, and my senshi."
     "And us?" Michiru asked.
     "I recall that there were Outer Senshi," Usagi said slowly.  "But they weren't often at court.  I
might have met you once, I'm not sure."
     "Three times," Haruka said.  "Only once that you'd remember, though.  But you wouldn't
remember Hotaru, because her you never met.  She might have seen you from afar, but you didn't
come into contact."
     "Why?" Usagi asked.
     "Not even Setsuna is certain of the events that led up to this," Michiru said, that distant look in
her eyes again.  "There are some mysterious circumstances surrounding Hotaru's birth.  At the
time, the queen was still in mourning for her husband, your father, who had died soon after your
birth."
     "Wait," Usagi frowned.  "Hotaru was born AFTER I was?"
     "Yes, she was the youngest back then," Michiru told her.  "But, for some reason, when the
new senshi of Saturn was about to be born, the queen used her power to do something we still
don't understand.  She released the mystic seal on the senshi's power."
     "The what?"
     "A senshi's power grows with them," Haruka stated.  "It matures and grows.  Long-lived as
we were, our powers could eventually become very great indeed.  But the queen used the
ginzoushou to release all the checks on the new senshi of Saturn's power, giving her access to a
devastating amount, enough to smash an entire planet ... at the cost of her own life."
     "The legend of the Omega Soldier had become reality," Michiru added.  "As a result, the girl
was closely guarded, always kept isolated from others.  Nobody was certain how her power might
manifest itself, and it was considered far too dangerous to let her act as a normal child."
     "We met her only once after her birth, shortly before the end," Haruka said.  "She was a
terribly serious girl, polite and well-behaved."
     "And lonely," Michiru added sadly.
     "And lonely," Haruka agreed.  "You could see it in her eyes.  She knew people were afraid of
her, even though she was sworn to use her power to protect the White Moon, not destroy it.  But
she never complained, just bore the terrible responsibility in silence."
     "I never knew any of this," Usagi protested.  "I mean ... I don't think I did."
     "It wasn't common knowledge," Haruka confirmed.  "The queen probably kept it from you."
     "But she made Hotaru what she was," Usagi said, eyes downcast.  "And you think Hotaru
hated her for it.  And me."
     "Setsuna thinks so," Haruka shrugged.  "And I agree it makes sense, but ... Usagi, Hotaru
might resent what happened back then, but she doesn't hate you.  Having you under her roof
was a revelation, believe me.  All you girls were so good for her.  Please don't think the things she
said that night were her real feelings.  She suffered every time we sent you girls out alone, even
though she knew you had to learn to stand and fight on your own.  There were nights she paced
the floor until I thought she'd wear a trench in it, waiting for one of you to come in.  Even when
the rest of us thought you five would never learn to become a team, would never bond with each
other the way you once had, she never lost hope.  I ask you to remember that, whatever happens."
     "Thank you," Usagi breathed, tears shimmering in her eyes.  "Thank you for telling me all this,
Haruka, Michiru.  I'm so glad ... glad to know the truth."
     "Well, I'm glad you came to us," Haruka replied, that rakish grin back full force.  "I can only
imagine what the others had to say when you told them you wanted to talk to us."  Usagi just sat
still, giving Haruka her most winning smile.
     "Uh-oh," Haruka muttered.
     "You didn't tell the other senshi?" Michiru asked wearily.
     "What about Mamoru?" Haruka asked.  Usagi smiled some more, throwing in some bashful
squirming for good measure.
     "Did you at least tell Luna?" Michiru murmured.  Usagi made a show of placing her coffee
mug in the exact geographical centre of her saucer.
     "I admire your spirit, princess," Haruka sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose with thumb and
forefinger.  "But protecting you has got to be a nerve-wracking task at the best of times.  What
would you have done if we'd actually been under the control of a hostile vampire?"
     "The risk was mine to take," Usagi replied evenly, matching Haruka's gaze.  "I can't be put in a
glass bubble and kept away from the world, you know.  I'm not a fairytale princess, made just for
swooning and marrying princes.  I thought I proved that when I fought Beryl."
     Surprise bloomed in Haruka's eyes, and Usagi wondered if she'd gone too far.  Still, she
couldn't back down.  If she was going to keep from falling apart over Rei's disappearance, she had
to stay strong.
     "That was very well said," Michiru declared.  "But you do owe it to your senshi to trust them,
don't you?  Sneaking behind their backs is unworthy of their devotion to you."
     "I ... hadn't thought of it that way," Usagi mumbled, feeling her cheeks grow warm.
     "Still, I was very impressed, kitten," Haruka reassured her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"And you are right, you have earned respect for your abilities.  Just don't forget to extend the
same respect to your girls."
     "Indeed," Michiru told her.  "How would you feel if Rei went off on her own and got into
trouble, and you weren't there to help her?"
     Usagi's stomach immediately twisted into a knot, and a chill ran down her back.
     "Usagi?" Haruka asked, concern clear in her voice.  "What's wrong?"
     "Nothing," Usagi assured the other girl quickly.  "Um, I've got to ... you know.  I'll be right
back, okay?"  She managed to get up without knocking anything over and rushed to the bathroom
at the back of the café.  Once inside, she fell back against the door, fighting the urge to break into
tears.
     Stop it! she berated herself.  You can't go to pieces just because someone mentions Rei!  Usagi
had succeeded in keeping that particular problem under firm control until now, but somehow
Michiru's words had struck home.
     Where are you, Rei? she wondered.  Why haven't you come back yet?  That woman wasn't
right about you, was she?  She couldn't have been, she just couldn't!
     Rei ...
     I miss you ...

***

     Haruka watched Usagi go, mouth set in a slight scowl.
     "She just needed to go very badly," Michiru said.
     "You think?"
     "No, not really.  Rei?"
     "It looks like," Haruka sighed.  "I wonder what's going on with our little sisters these days?"
     "We should go slowly with this, Haruka," Michiru cautioned.  "There are still a lot of hurt
feelings to deal with, and Hotaru isn't in the best frame of mind right now either."
     "Good point," Haruka conceded.  "Still, optimism is a nice change of pace."
     "She really is something, isn't she?" Michiru said with a slight smile.
     "That she is," Haruka replied softly.  "That's why we've got to tell her the rest of the story.  If
the vampire we've heard about is the one who killed Hotaru's mother, then she may have come
back to hunt down the child she helped create.  We could all be in danger."
     "Should I go get her, do you think?" Michiru asked.
     "Leave her," Haruka said, casting a knowing glance in the direction Usagi had gone.
"Sometimes, a girl just needs to be alone."

***

     Ami moved through the forest, watching as colourful birds that would never be found in any
mundane encyclopaedia took flight in a noisy barrage.  She stepped from the edge of the dense
growth onto a rippling plain of long grasses and wild flowers, senses alert for anything unusual.  It
was light now, and she glanced behind her to see her shadow lying along the ground.  It was
limned with darkness, but filled with a strange glowing pattern that shifted within the confines of
her shadow as she moved.  Although it was only a visible fragment of her portal/anchor, the sight
always comforted her ... for if it was to be broken or lost, she would be trapped here.
     The wind blew gently, brushing her hair back out of her face, and she breathed in the scents of
the place, wondering if Willow would show up this time, or if she'd have to go wandering.
     "Ami!  Hi-hiiiiiii!"
     "Hello there, Willow," Ami smiled as the small fairy sailed in on the wind, swooping in close to
the grass only to loop up at the last moment, landing on Ami's hand in a flourish.  "How are you?"
     "Fine," Willow chirped with broad smile, pirouetting playfully in Ami's palm.  "Why is Ami
dressed like that?"  Ami glanced down, noting that her clothing had a distinctly martial air; a fitted
jacket with epaulets, tight-fitting breeches and high boots.  It wasn't armour, but it was far from a
good sign.  The recent turmoil must have affected her more deeply then she'd thought.  She
concentrated for a moment, nodding with satisfaction as her clothing rippled and flowed like
water, settling into the form of a light sundress with a pattern of pale blue flowers.
     "Better?" she asked the fairy.
     "Uh-huh," Willow nodded.  "Ami looks pretty both ways, but Willow doesn't want Ami to
fight."
     "Why would I have to fight?" Ami asked, and Willow scowled, scuffing her bare feet in Ami's
palm.  It actually tickled, and Ami had to repress the urge to laugh out loud.
     "Before, Willow told Ami about a new thing," Willow said slowly, her long tangled mane of
blonde hair dancing on the light breeze.  "Now there are other things, too.  Dragon comes to see
them, and everyone is afraid."
     Ami felt her skin prickle.  Dragon?  Dragon was, by all accounts, not a force to be trifled with.
She'd only seen the creature once, and that had been in the darkness and from a distance many
years before, but the sensations that encounter had evoked had never left her.
     "Is Dragon near?" she asked the fairy nervously.  Willow shook her head emphatically,
gold-blonde curls bouncing into her face.
     "Not now," Willow announced.  "But Dragon is always claiming new things.  Dragon is mean,
and greedy too!"
     "Well then," Ami sighed.  "That's all right.  I don't want to get near Dragon."
     "Ami, come see!" Willow blurted, her mood shifting capriciously.  "Willow wants to show you
new things!"
     "All right," Ami murmured tolerantly.  Willow giggled, launching herself into the air and flying
lazy loops around her friend before darting off in a line parallel to the forest.  Ami followed,
shaking her head.  Willow was uncharacteristically bold for a fairy, always wanting to explore and
find new things.  Most fairies wouldn't have come anywhere near her, but Willow, well, Willow
was an explorer, adventurer and thrill-seeker all rolled into one.  That combination was also rare
for a fairy, and Ami had wondered at first if Willow was some kind of outcast.  That turned out
not to be the case; she was just a little different.  And Ami's initial worries that Willow's
adventurous nature would lead her to fall prey to one of the many dangers of her home had
proven unfounded as well.  Willow knew how to take care of herself.
     Ami walked along behind the fairy, glancing at the Way where it wound through the grass and
into the forest.  Nothing travelled its broad flat surface today, and she didn't sense any sort of
disturbance which might prove dangerous.  Still, a part of her constantly monitored the
background noise of the world around her; she didn't want to be unprepared if something did
come.
     Willow soared ahead, and Ami frowned, calling the fairy back.  Effortlessly Willow floated
back to her, borne aloft on her gossamer wings.
     "Are we going near the Abyss, Willow?" Ami asked.
     "Yup!" Willow grinned.  "Neat stuff came up!  And something so big even Dragon couldn't
take it away!  Come see!  Come!"  Willow streaked off again, and Ami followed.  She supposed it
would be all right, although the Abyss was far from her favourite place.  It could be a treasure
trove of discoveries, since odd things tended to surface from its depths, but that particular feature
also had been know to draw treasure seekers ... as well as the predators that hunted them.
     As Ami crested a gentle rise, though, those thoughts were driven from her mind by the sight
which greeted her.  The land here described a slight slope down to the sharp edge of the Abyss,
beyond which there seemed to be nothing at all.  The sight of the Abyss was awe-inspiring itself,
but today Ami saw something even more breathtaking.
     Floating in space just beyond the end of the land was what looked like a castle.  It hung in the
air, jagged rock extending below to match the slim towering spires above.  The whole thing was
surrounded by a high wall of dark, glossy stone or perhaps crystal.  Ami had never seen anything
like it, certainly not here where nothing man-made lasted for very long.  She stared, enrapt,
wondering if there was a way in.  But of course, there would have to be, wouldn't there?  And she
would find it.
     This was what she loved about this place; her heart was racing, her blood hot in her veins and
her body tingling with a sensation that was nearly sexual.  An artificial structure, here?  Where
had it come from?  The Abyss?  Who had made it, and why?  What would she find inside?
     "Ami, isn't it wonderful?" Willow said with barely restrained glee.  "Willow has never seen its
like!"
     "Neither have I," Ami breathed.  There was something about the castle; despite its size it
seemed to soar, at once impregnable and delicate, all dark gleaming spires and flowing lines.
     "So beautiful," Willow sighed.
     "Is it faerie-made, Willow?" Ami asked, her heart still pounding as she took in the sight.
     "No-no-no!" Willow asserted with a fierce shake of her head.  "Queen says no, too."
     "Has anyone tried to get inside?"
     "Not yet," Willow shrugged.  "Willow goes close, but it pushes away."
     "How do you mean?" Ami asked, shifting her gaze finally to Willow.
     "It just ... pushes," Willow shrugged, obviously unable to articulate any further.  "It does not
want visitors, Willow thinks."
     "Too bad," Ami muttered under her breath.  "It's going to have some.  Come on, Willow."
Ami started down the grassy slope, and Willow flew up and landed on her shoulder, riding along
happily.  The pair had only gone about half way down, though, when something caught Ami's eye.
Frowning, she peered off into the undergrowth that lay in an almost straight line, delineating the
border between grass and forest.  There was an area of obvious recent disturbance, marked by
trees snapped like twigs and torn-up earth.  Something gleamed strangely behind it all, and Ami
stopped.  Willow followed her gaze and tightened her grip on Ami's shoulder.
     "Ah!" the fairy exclaimed.  "The shiny thing!"
     "This is something else new?" Ami asked, although clearly it was.  This place had a way of
swallowing up anything foreign or alien in nature very quickly; whatever had crashed into the
forest could not have been there long.
     "Yes, the shiny thing," Willow told Ami.  "It floated up out of the Abyss and whooooo, into
the air and BAM! into the trees.  Willow has never seen such a shiny thing before."
     Ami paused, torn.  She wanted a closer look at the floating castle, but the other object was
between her and the edge of the Abyss.  From Willow's exuberant explanation, she gathered it had
bobbed up from the depths of the Abyss, although as far as she knew it was unusual for anything
to do so with enough speed to be hurled so far inland.
     Finally she shrugged, eliciting a squeak from Willow.  She might just as well take a look.  The
castle wasn't going anywhere.  Continuing on, she angled towards the line of trees, listening to the
rustle of grasses as she moved.  The closer she came to the site of the impact, the more curious
she became.  Something was indeed embedded in the ground behind the shrouding forest,
something very strange.  It took her a few moments to figure out what she was looking at; the
trees seemed to be distorted and inverted in an area where the object should be.  Finally, she
stopped at the edge of the forest, able to see clearly.
     Although it was embedded in the earth, she could see enough of the object to deduce that it
seemed to be a large sphere.  The secret of the distortion quickly became apparent to her, as well.
The surface of the sphere was a mirror, reflecting back the area around it.  Ami had no idea what
it could be, but she doubted it was natural.  Still, it was strange that the mirror was so perfect.
The chaotic forces of this plane hadn't begun to break the thing down at all as far as she could tell.
     She was about to step closer when Willow hopped from her shoulder, landing sprawled on
Ami's head.  When Ami looked up in surprise, she saw two large black crows perched on a nearby
tree branch.  The two were eerily still, and almost seemed to be watching what was going on
below ... an impression Ami was not prepared to completely discount.
     "What are they?" Ami asked.
     "Crows," Willow said off-handedly, but there was an expression on the fairy's delicate features
that hinted at something held back; distaste, perhaps, mixed with wariness.  Still, Willow would
tell her if there was any danger.  Ami turned her attention back to the sphere, easing closer.  There
was no sense of magic about the thing, no noise or light or vibration that she could sense.  That
thought triggered another, and she concentrated.
     "Trouble, Ami?" Willow asked, tightening her grip on Ami's hair.  Ami started to shake her
head, then stopped herself.
     "No, Willow," she said softly.  "I just want to have a closer look."  A quick glance revealed
that her dress had been replaced with her sailor fuku, and she smiled.  It probably wasn't necessary
for her to manifest that particular uniform to use her senshi abilities here, but the association was
so strong that one seemed to invariably follow the other.
     The crows, apparently spooked by the sudden change, squawked loudly, agitation clear in the
way they spread their wings and hopped about on the branch.  Ami ignored them, though,
concentrating her attention on the sphere.  She touched her earring and brought her visor
flickering into existence before her eyes, then began scanning the surface of the object.
     She could get readings on its shape and temperature, but none of her scans penetrated the
surface.  Strange.  Slowly, Ami began circling the mysterious orb, stepping cautiously over
branches and uprooted bushes.  Willow watched the proceedings, quiet for once, perched securely
on Ami's head.
     When she reached the back half of the object, Ami found the only break in the sphere's surface.
There, set incongruously into the side of the sphere, was a perfectly ordinary looking door, the
sort of door one might find on an older house.  It had inset panels and a brass-coloured knob, and
appeared to be made of painted wood, but Ami's scans could no more penetrate it than they could
the rest of the object.
     Ami moved closer, watching for any reaction.  The door was tilted about fifteen degrees from
perpendicular to the ground, and Ami supposed she was just lucky it had ended up above ground
at all.  Otherwise, she might never had found a way in.
     Assuming, of course, that this really WAS a way in.
     There was only one way to find out for sure.  Taking a deep breath, Ami reached out and
grasped the door knob.
     It turned.
     Gently, she pulled the door open.  From what she could see, there should be plenty of room
inside to move around.  Indeed, the door revealed a large room, dark and full of stale air.  A quick
scan showed some faint heat sources, and Ami's heart began to race.  There appeared to be
machinery in there, and some of it still had power!  What had she stumbled across?
     Gingerly, she grasped the door frame and boosted herself up so she could enter.  Willow
stirred uneasily, but stayed with her.  The light from the doorway was dim, but Ami used her visor
to amplify the available light so she could see.
     This room took up most of the centre section of the sphere, although Ami suspected there
might be other rooms above and below.  That space could be taken up by machinery too, though.
This area looked like it might have suffered some damage; the wall ahead of her was covered with
control panels and screens, some broken or twisted.  There was a padded chair in front of the
biggest screen, and she figured it for some sort of control station.
     "Ami," Willow whispered.  "Is this a human thing?"
     "I think so," Ami murmured.  "It appears to be some kind of machine."
     "Ma-sheeens can't survive here," Willow protested.  "Not without the circle.  Humans neither.
But this feels old-old-old, Ami.  Like it was here for a long time."
     Ami silently agreed.  It did feel old, somehow.  She eased across the sloped deck, moving
carefully.  Pieces of metal were scattered along the floor, and Ami wondered if all this damage
had been done when the thing had been thrown clear of the Abyss, or if something else had done
all this.  She reached the chair, which was covered with a fine layer of dust.  Gently, she eased
herself down into it.
     And nearly leapt back out when the lights came on.
     Fortunately, her visor immediately compensated for the additional light, keeping her from
being temporarily blinded.  Willow squealed in alarm, promptly diving down the front of Ami's
fuku.  Ami sat still, trying to reign in her thundering heart.  All right, she thought.  There's still
power, and sitting here triggered the lights automatically.  That's all.
     She had a better view of  what was around her now, and she tried to take it all in.  The
large screen was cracked and dark, but a smaller one to the side was flickering fitfully, and she
swivelled the chair to get a better look.  The flickering went on for a few moments, then the
screen stabilized, and characters began appearing there.
     "Ami?" Willow's voice came, muffled.  "Is it okay?"
     "Yes," Ami said absently, hardly noticing as Willow popped her head out of the front of her
fuku.  Words were appearing on the screen now, and Ami was recording them through her visor.
Better yet, though, she could understand them.  They appeared to be a slight variant of Kendur,
the language the Genrous had used.  She frowned, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
     FSC/165779 PATDES GAMMA1719 SERVICE
REGISTRY TD 155 JA SUBSECTOR GARRISON
     Some way of identifying the particular unit, perhaps?
     BEACON STATUS: EMERGENCY/DISTRESS
     COMMAND SYSTEMS: FAIL
     MAIN MONITOR: FAIL
     TRANSIT SYSTEMS: FAIL
     TRANSIT CORE: SECURED AS PER CRASH
     PROTOCOLS
     WARNING: UNABLE TO ENTER LOCAL SUBSPACE
     Interesting.  Very interesting.  Apparently, this was a status report for whoever found the
thing.  Things didn't look good, but what was a transit core?  Did that mean this sphere was a
vehicle of some sort?
     And what exactly was local subspace?
     "What is this thing?" she asked aloud.  The screen flashed, and she blinked.
     MAIN MONITOR: FAIL
     VOICE COMMAND INTERFACE LIMITED
     Had it understood her?  She cleared her throat.
     "Who are you?" she asked.
     PATDES GAMMA 1719 UNIT DESIGNATION
"GWEN"
     "Gwen?  Your name is Gwen?  What happened here, can you tell me?"
     MAIN MONITOR: FA@#$L
     EMERGENCY SYSTEMS ONLY CURR%$%
     DAMAGE CONTROL UNAVAILABLE
     FLIGHT RECORDER UNAVAILABLE
     Flight recorder?  She sat back, noticing that Willow was watching the proceedings intently.
     "Does it understand, Ami?" the fairy asked softly.
     "Yes," Ami frowned.  She'd been speaking her own language, but the thing had responded,
albeit in the same language it had been using from the start.  If it was some sort of control
computer, its systems seemed to have been crippled, either by damage or loss of power.  She
wondered if there was any way to access its main database and find out who had made it, and
exactly what it was.
     She began to look around the room, shifting in the chair to keep her balance.  Perhaps she
could find something, an obviously damaged panel to fix or some sort of storage media.
     She didn't find any of those, but she did see something that she'd missed before, scrawled on
the far wall.  Her blood seemed to thicken and cool as she stopped, staring at the huge ragged
letters on the wall.
 
     WHEREFORE THE EYE?
     IT DOESN'T KNOW
     IT DOESN'T SEE
     'WARE THE DARK OUTSIDE
     SALVATION IN THE KEY
 
     Under the cryptic scrawl was a simplistic, almost childish picture of a tower or pole with a
large representation of an eye atop it.  The eye was marred by a diagonal slash, and underneath
the drawing was more writing, this time in small, almost cramped writing.

     black omega
 
     Those words were written at least a dozen times, the words wandering down the wall in a
drunken slant until they reached the floor.  Ami wasn't at all certain what had happened, but she
had a moment of terrible clarity: whoever had written the message and drawn the picture had been
completely mad.
     Her visor revealed something else.  The message had been written in blood.  Human blood.
And judging from the decay at the cellular level, even allowing for unknown environmental
factors, it had obviously been on that wall a very, very long time.
     "The Eye," Willow said, her tiny voice hushed.  At first Ami was uncertain she'd heard the
little fairy correctly.
     "What did you say, Willow?" she asked.
     "The Eye that sees, the Eye that knows," Willow said gravely.  "Maybe this is Its place, Its
shrine.  Willow and Ami should go from here."
     "You've heard about this Eye?" Ami breathed.  In the excitement of coming here, she'd
forgotten to ask Willow about the strange happenings in her world.  The chance that she might
find out something from the fairy had seemed remote at best, but apparently she'd been mistaken.
     "Willow knows," the fairy whispered, her body stiff against Ami's.  "What Queen says.  What
Sidhe Lady says.  What mad-mad spirit girl says.  Willow listens."
     "Willow, this is important," Ami said, scarcely daring to breathe.  "Do you know what the Eye
is?  Is it a bad thing?"
     Willow was silent for so long that Ami was about to repeat the question.  Finally, though, the
fairy stirred.
     "The Eye is not-us," Willow said.
     "What does that mean?  I don't understand, Willow," Ami said.  Willow turned her face up so
she could look at Ami, and the girl was struck by the sombre look in the normally vivacious fairy's
eyes.
     "Not-us," Willow repeated.  "Not-human.  Not-faerie."
     "Did the gods make it, then?"
     "Not-gods.  The ones who made the gods made the Eye, in the beforetimes," Willow stated.
     "Why?  Why did they make it?" Ami pressed.
     "To see," Willow said.  "To know.  But now it can't."
     "Willow ..." Ami began, only to be distracted by a flashing from her visor.  Several energy
spikes were occurring, and she turned the chair to face the screen again.
 
     THE EYE

     read the screen.

     THE EYE THE EYE IN ITS BLACK TOWER
THINKING THOUGHTS DREAMING DREAMS IT DOES NOT
SEE US BUT MAYBE IT KNOWS IT KNOWS WHAT IS
COMING DOES IT KNOW THE DARK WILL COME BACK
AND THIS TIME THIS TIME THIS
 
     "Gwen?" Ami asked softly.  She was beginning to get a
serious case of the willies, but she had to persist.  Whatever was
happening, there might actually be answers here, something to help
her understand what was happening.  "Gwen, can you hear me?"
 
     TOMMY?

     "I'm Ami," she said, ignoring Willow's squirming.  "Who is Tommy?"
 
     GEHRINGER THOMAS J. PATROL OFFICER FIRST
CLASS SERIAL NUM
];..
     SERIAL

     TOMMY IS THAT YOU?

     "Gwen?"
 
     TOMMY?  WHERE DID YOU GO?  IT'S DARK AND I
CAN'T SEE AND IT'S DARK TOMMY

     "Gwen?  Can you tell me about the Eye?" Ami asked.  The screen flickered for a moment, and
Ami frowned.  Power was fluctuating within the machines here, but the flow was irregular, like a
damaged heartbeat.
 
     I DREAM ABOUT IT TOMMY.  BAD DREAMS ALL
THE TIME NOW I KNOW NOW I HAVE SEEN I HAVE
KNOWN I HAVE I HAVE TOMMY WHERE DID YOU GO?
YOU PROMISED TO COME RIGHT BACK YOU PROMISED
TO COME BACK YOU PROMISED
 
     "Gwen?"
 
     SOMETHING'S COMING THE EYE REMEMBERS AND I
KNOW NOW AND ITS ALWAYS DARK AND TOMMY TOM

     THOMAS J.

     TOMMY

     "Gwen?  Can you ...?"
 
     TOMMY I'M SCARED

     Ami stared at the screen in disbelief.  What kind of machine was this?  Was all this just the
result of damaged circuits?  This machine couldn't actually be calling for a man who was probably
long dead, could it?  It couldn't actually be suffering nightmares.  It couldn't actually be ... afraid.
     Could it?

     TOMMY I WANT TO GO I WANT TO GO HOME NOW
 
     PLEASE?

     Sorrow tightened Ami's chest, strange sorrow for a machine lost in strange machine dreams,
begging for release from its suffering.  She had to do something.  But what?  What could she ...?
     "Ami," Willow said.
     "Hush," Ami replied.  "I have to think, Willow."  It was apparent she wouldn't get anything
from the increasingly irrational machine called Gwen, but if she could just find a link to its
information storage, some sort of library files, then maybe she could find answers.
     "Ami and Willow have to go," Willow said, her voice oddly tremulous.
     "Willow," Ami frowned.  Willow burst from the front of Ami's fuku and hovered in front of
Ami's face, her wings fluttering rapidly.
     "Please, Ami, please!" Willow cried.  For a moment, Ami was struck by the echo of Gwen's
plea in Willow's voice.  Then something else caught her attention, and she turned toward the
door.  A raucous cawing tore through the air, and as she watched the two crows from earlier
swooped past the opening, once, then again.
     And it was strangely dark out there.
     "Willow?"  The fairy was staring at something, and as Ami turned she thought she caught a
glimpse of a girl in flowing robes, blonde hair falling past her shoulders, a strange pattern traced
on one cheek.  But a moment later the form was gone, and Ami could only blink in confusion.
     "Willow?  Was someone there?"
     "Mad-mad spirit girl says ..."  Willow trailed off, her luminous green eyes widening with alarm.
"Says Dragon is coming.  Ami, Dragon!  Dragon!"
     Damn.  Ami bolted to her feet, stumbling across the sloping deck.  She wanted to stay and
delve into this mystery, but not if it meant tangling with Dragon.
     At the threshold she hesitated.  The sky was dark now, full of roiling clouds lashed by sheets
of lightning, and Ami flashed on a memory that connected with a deep animal fear.  This was
Dragon's work, all right.
     Time to go.
     "Willow, will you be all right?" she asked as she leapt to the ground.
     "Dragon doesn't chase little fairies that hide!" Willow shouted over the rising wind.  "But
Dragon will kill Ami!  Run, Ami!  Please!"
     "Be careful, little Willow!" Ami called.  Willow blew her a kiss and darted off like a tiny
rocket, leaving Ami alone in the growing tempest.  Drawing a breath, Ami concentrated, reaching
out to the portal and fixing it with her mind, drawing herself back, back.  The world around her
began to blur and twist.
     Then there was a flapping noise, and black feathers were everywhere ...

***

     The lights inside the room remained on, flickering unsteadily.  The chair that Ami had vacated
rocked in a jerky pendulum motion, slowly shuddering to a halt.  The screen flickered, gibberish
characters filling it for a moment.  Then it cleared.

     TOMMY?  DON'T GO TOMMY DON'T GO AWAY
AGAIN AND LEAVE ME ALONE TOMMY TOMMY PLEASE

     A rustle of robes filled the air, and a lithe young woman with long blonde hair and a gleaming
pattern of blue lines on one cheek brushed her hand across the screen.
     "You aren't alone any longer, little sister," the girl said with a sad smile.

     TOMMY?

     "No.  Not Tommy."

     HELP ME PLEASE IT'S DARK AND I CAN'T I CAN'T
THE EYE IT'S THE EYE I FEEL IT PLEASE MAKE IT STOP
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE

     "It isn't a dream, little sister," the girl said, only now she was younger, scarcely more than five
or six.  "You remember.  It isn't your fault.  They made you, all of you, the only way they could.
They didn't understand what they'd found, so they copied all of it.  That's why there is a part of
you that remembers."
     There was silence for a time, then the screen flickered once again.

     i'm scared

     "I know, little sister.  But big sister is going to make it better.  I'll send you to see your
Tommy, too.  He's waiting in the light.  You'd like that, wouldn't you?  To see him again in the
light?"  The tall woman smiled gently, her slim fingers tracing the dusty surface of the screen
again and again.
 
     you promise?

     "I do," the teenaged girl said softly.  She trailed her fingers across the screen and the buckled
panel beside it, and somewhere below the floor something groaned, then whined, the tone
dropping steadily until it ran off into nothing.  Where the girl's fingers passed, everything began to
still, to go quiet, and one by one the lights went out.
     "Sleep now, little sister," she crooned.  "You won't be alone any more."  The lights dimmed,
the screen the last source of illumination in the room, and then it blinked, fluttered.

     thank you big sister

     The woman rested her palms against the wall on either side of the screen, her head bowed
forward.  There was nothing else here now, no light or sound, only the pale glow of the screen
itself.

     tommy?  tom?

     there you are! you had

     me
 
         worried you dummy

     Then the screen flickered one last time, and went dark.
     And the room was empty again.

***

     Ami fell back against the floor, blinking.  The transition had been abrupt, and she was dizzy,
disoriented.  Also, there was a strange flapping noise in her ears.
     She opened her eyes, and for a moment she wasn't certain what she was seeing.  Something
was floating in the air above her face, something like a black feather.
     A feather?
     Ami sat up quickly, ignoring the spinning in her head as she cast about for the source of the
flapping.  She found it quickly enough; the two large black crows, hopping around the perimeter
of the circle, clearly as disoriented as she was.  Panicked, she scrambled to her feet.  If she was
quick, she could catch them before they caused any damage.
     Unfortunately, they were quicker.  As she lunged, the two crows took to the air, shakily at
first, circling the room in search of an exit.  There were no windows in here; the only escape was
through the door, which was open.  Ami edged that way, hoping that the crows wouldn't notice
what she was doing.
     Once again, though, they proved faster than her.  The two black forms darted out the gap
between the door and the frame, and Ami set off in pursuit, trying to summon a blast of water
until she remembered that she was not transformed in this reality.  She fumbled for her henshin
rod as she ran, her stomach doing flip-flops as the birds shot down the long hall and soared up the
stairwell towards the third floor.  By the time she reached the top of the stairs, she was
transformed.  Sadly, that didn't matter.  The window at the top of the stairs was open, and the
birds had escaped.
     At least, she hoped they were just birds.  Creatures from Aethyr had a tendency to be more
than they appeared, and she'd never brought something alive back before.  She wondered, for just
a moment, if any of the others had back then.
     Well, there was nothing she could do about it now.  Sighing in frustration, she trudged back
down the stairs, noting how dusty everything up here was.  Just days ago she'd resolved to clean
that upper floor, and had even opened that window to air the place out.
     But that was going to have to take a back seat to the current situation.  To be safe, she should
wait a while before returning to Aethyr, but she had some references now that she could check
on.  As she walked, Ami thought again about the haunting machine called Gwen, and suppressed
a shiver.
     This whole thing was beginning to take on a very disturbing air.  She wondered if the others
were finding things as strange as she was.

***

     Luna picked up the item she'd found hidden in the back of Minako's closet, holding it gingerly.
It dangled from her fingers, a bewildering collection of slim straps and metal rings.
     "Hey!  What are you doing?"  She turned to see Artemis standing in the doorway, a slightly
panicked look on his face.
     "Honestly, Artemis.  The way you let that girl carry on," Luna sniffed.  "What sort of deranged
sex-toy is this, anyway?"
     "Uh, the usual sort," Artemis said quickly, moving to take it away from her.  "And I don't let
her carry on, you know.  That's just how she is."  Luna frowned as he stuffed the offending item
back into the box she'd taken it from.  She knew Artemis, and he was being ever-so-slightly
furtive.  And there was something strange about that leather and ring thing, wasn't there?  Luna
was no starry-eyed innocent; that thing had been made from some kind of tough material, almost
like canvas, and the rings had been painted black, not gleaming silver like most bondage gear.  In
fact, now that she thought about it, it had looked less like something used for lascivious pursuits
and more like some sort of climbing harness.
     But what would Minako be doing with something like that?
     "Anyway, what are you doing poking around back here?" Artemis asked fussily.
     "I was just looking for some spare bedding," Luna informed him, wondering why he was so
flustered.  "With so many of us under one roof, we're going to need more.  It looks like Minako is
behind on doing laundry, as well as house cleaning."
     "Yeah, that's Mina," Artemis sighed.  "She's not really the domestic type."
     Luna stood, gazing around the cluttered room.  Minako's stamp was on everything, from lacy
underthings draped over a lamp to photos of her and the other girls that were slipped into the
frame of her dressing table mirror.  It came to her suddenly that she'd actually missed Minako's
foibles and idiosyncrasies; chief among those being the girl's brash, flirtatious yet undeniable
devotion to Usagi.
     That thought led to thoughts of Rei, and the situation that they found themselves in, and she
walked over to the window, gazing out at the unfamiliar neighbourhood moodily.  What was to
become of them all now?  Did the future hold any peace for the survivors of the White Moon?
      "What are we going to do about that girl?" she murmured.
     "Aw, Mina's not so hard to get along with," Artemis said, startling her.  She hadn't realized
she'd spoken aloud.
     "I meant this Ranko," Luna told him.  "What if she really is the Outsider, as Ami theorised?"
     "I don't know if that's so or not," Artemis admitted.  "But I wouldn't have let Mina go out
alone with Ranko if I thought the girl was evil.  You heard her story, Luna.  Do you think Ranko
means any harm?"
     "No," Luna sighed.  "But with Hotaru, and then Rei ... I think I'm just starting to second-guess
myself."
     "I understand.  Believe me, I do.  But Mina seems to have taken a liking to Ranko, and she
really is a pretty good judge of character.  Just don't tell her I said that, all right?"
     "Deal," Luna said wryly.  She sensed Artemis' presence close behind her, then tensed as his
arms encircled her shoulders.
     "Hey, relax," he breathed in her ear.  "Didn't you miss me at all while we were separated?"
     She took a breath, letting the tension drain from her body as Artemis drew her gently back
against him.  His shoulders were broad, his hips narrow, and his long hair smelled faintly of male
musk and shampoo, the way it always did.
     "Yes," she said softly.  "I have missed you, you randy old tomcat.  I had hoped things would
get better on their own, and we would reunite under better circumstances.  I guess we all let
things go, waiting for someone else to make the first move."
     "Well, I'm done waiting for someone else to make the first move," Artemis rumbled, the pitch
of his voice sending pleasurable tingles down her back.  "The girls are all out and we've got the
place to ourselves.  I say we take advantage of the moment.  Who knows when we'll get
another?"
     Secretly, Luna agreed with him, but she feigned reluctance, forcing Artemis to coax her.  It
was hardly a new game between them, and soon she was nestled against his chest, chin tilted up as
she gazed into his eyes.  They held the gaze for a deliberately long moment before she finally gave
in and rose on her tiptoes, pressing her mouth against his.  His eyes sparkled with mirth, then he
kissed her back and her eyes closed.
     Whatever his faults, Artemis was a fantastic kisser, a trait Luna had always found irresistible in
a man.  She wrapped her arms around his neck, winding her fingers languorously in the straight
silken fall of his hair.  She gloried in the purely physical sensations; the hot, hungry press of his
lips, the warm solidity of his chest, and the sleek cool feel of his hair.
     Yes, it HAD been a while.
     Then the phone rang.
     The noise was jarring, breaking the quiet intimacy that had grown around them, and Artemis
said a very bad word as he pulled away.
     "It's uncanny, isn't it?" Luna asked weakly.
     "Damn right," Artemis growled.  "Boy, this better be good."  She watched his back as he
strode over to one of Minako's night stands, rooting through laundry and a pile of magazines for
the offending telephone.  His warmth lingered teasingly where their bodies had been pressed
together, and Luna decided that if Artemis got too distracted with the phone, she was going to
have to take a page from Minako's book and just hurl herself on him.
     "Yeah?" Artemis asked curtly as he picked up the receiver, cutting the noise off in mid-ring.
"Oh, Makoto.  Sorry, I just ... what?  No, none of the others are here.  What?  Damn."
      Luna froze in place, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickling.  She couldn't see Artemis'
face, but just his sudden change of posture and the tone of his voice told her that something was
terribly wrong.
     "Is he all right?" Artemis went on after a long pause.  "Well, that's good.  No, I understand.
You did what you had to.  Do you really think they ... all right, you've got a point.  We'll grab
some stuff and get out of here now.  I'll try and get the others.  You can?  Right, good. Where?
Yes, I know it.  Okay, we'll try to round up Usagi and Mina and meet you there.  Yes, you too.
Bye."
     Luna stood, her hands clasped over her heart as she waited for Artemis to tell her what was
going on.  She didn't have long to wait.
     "One of the Sisterhood showed up at Makoto's place," he told her, mouth set in a grim line.
"She tried to capture Makoto."
     "Oh, no!" Luna cried.  "What happened?"
     "She's okay," Artemis said, coming over to place his hands on her shoulders.  "Her neighbour
got in the way, and the Sister tried to control him.  Makoto said he went berserk after that, and
she had to transform to take him out.  In the confusion, the Sister got away."
     "But he's all right?"
     "Yes," Artemis told her.  "Beat up, but she thinks he'll be fine.  Luna, Makoto thinks we
should get out of here.  If the Sisterhood knows where she lives ..."
     "You think Rei betrayed us?" Luna asked, and her heart cried out, for her princess and for
everything they'd had together.
     "I didn't say that," Artemis replied gruffly, but he couldn't meet her eyes.  "All I know is we
shouldn't be anywhere they might find us.  We have to get hold of Mina and Ami, Usagi too, and
tell them what's going on.  Come on, let's get ready."
     He started to walk away, and Luna stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his slim waist.
She pressed her face against his shoulder and closed her eyes.
     "In a moment," she whispered.  "Okay?  I just ... just need one moment to help me go on."
     "Sure," he murmured, his breath stirring her hair as he kissed the crown of her head lightly.
"In a moment."
     He put his arms around her, and for that moment she could believe that everything was all
right.  She grabbed on to that feeling, memorizing everything about it so that she would be able to
call it up again to give her strength.
     And when she finally did have to pull away, she suspected Artemis had been doing the same
thing.

***

     Makoto sat and watched Yoshi's face as he slept.  With his unruly pale blonde hair curling
around his high cheekbones, he looked curiously boyish and vulnerable.  She smiled fondly,
recalling all the trouble they'd gotten into over the years.  Outside of the senshi, Yoshi was the
closest thing she had to family.
     And she wasn't about to forgive the Sisterhood for what they'd done to him.
     He was stripped to the waist, and she could see the bruises and cuts from their fight, standing
out in stark contrast to his pale skin.  She'd tended to his wounds as best she could, and was only
waiting to see if he had snapped out of whatever had been done to him.  If not, she wasn't sure
what she would do.
     Something about what had happened had been nagging at her, and as she stared at Yoshi it
finally occurred to her just what seemed out of place.
     She hadn't transformed right away.
     Her thought had been to get away from the woman first, in order to preserve her secret; she'd
only attempted to transform when it had looked as if she would be choked into unconsciousness.
There was nothing unusual about her actions, at least under normal conditions.  But the situation
was far from normal, wasn't it?
     Her denouncement of Rei's betrayal had been the loudest.  After all, to Makoto betrayal was
the worst sin anyone could commit, and she'd been unforgiving and unyielding in her
conversations with Minako on the subject.  Rei had betrayed them, and that was that.
     So why hadn't she transformed?  If Rei had been spying, the Sisterhood would have known her
secret, and it wouldn't have mattered, yet Makoto hadn't wanted to reveal herself.  She thought
back to the confrontation, her brow furrowed.  The Sister hadn't acted like she'd known about
Jupiter.  In fact, if Makoto had been willing to transform as soon as the Sister had made her move,
the fight would have been very brief.
     Did she believe, deep inside, that Rei had remained true?  Gods knew she wanted that to be the
case, but she was so afraid, not for herself so much as Usagi.  The cost of trusting the wrong
person was just so high, so terribly high ...
     "Those must be some heavy thoughts," Yoshi mumbled, startling her out of her reverie.  He
was staring at her, eyes only half open.
     "Yoshi," Makoto blurted.  "Damn, you scared me!  How do you feel?"
     "Like I just went several rounds with the Ogre King," he muttered.  His hands were over his
head, and she winced as his attempts to move them down yielded only a metallic clinking.  Yoshi
frowned, craning his head until he could see the handcuffs that held him to the bed.
     "Sorry," Makoto said.  "I wasn't sure you'd be ... you know, in your right mind when you
woke up."
     "I understand," he said, his voice ominously quiet.  She moved forward, only to be stopped by
the force of his gaze as it shifted back to her.  Something lurked deep in those pale gray eyes,
something dark and wounded.  Makoto could feel it in that instant, resonating in her heart.
     "You did the right thing," he went on in a low voice.  "I would have hurt you, and ... worse."
      "Stop it!" she cried, moving over to the bed.  "It wasn't your fault, Yoshi!  That woman did
something to you, that's all!"
     "Fault wouldn't matter," Yoshi said heavily.  "If I'd hurt you like that, I never could have lived
with myself."
     Makoto leaned over his prone body, pulling the tiny key out of her shirt pocket.  She hated the
self-loathing in Yoshi's voice, and swore to herself as she unlocked the cuffs that the Sisterhood
would pay dearly for hurting him that way.  It was time they learned that toying with people
carried a high price.
     "Well, you didn't," she murmured softly as she unlocked the cuffs.  "Let's not talk about that,
okay?"  The cuffs opened, but he didn't move right away.  Makoto looked down, noticing that her
long auburn ponytail had slipped over her shoulder and was pooled on his chest.  There was
something terribly intimate about the way her hair looked against his bare skin, and she blushed in
spite of herself.  As she started to pull back, though, Yoshi reached up and caught her shoulders
with his big, calloused hands.
     "We do have to talk, though," he said, gray eyes seeking green and holding them.  "Don't we,
Jupiter?"
     She sighed, feeling a certain tension she hadn't even been aware of flow from her body.  So he
did remember, after all.  Well, it was done now, and no use crying about it.
     "I guess you're mad, huh?" she asked weakly.  Strangely, Yoshi smiled up at her.
     "Everybody has secrets," he replied.  "You are entitled to yours, Makoto.  And at least now I
don't have to wonder why you have handcuffs."  She blinked, then blushed furiously.
     "Doofus!" she snapped, pulling away.  But there was a loose, relieved feeling in her stomach;
this was how it should be between them.  They'd been friends for a long time.
     "Sorry," he said in that warm, husky voice as he pulled himself up off the bed.  He winced as
he moved, but still managed to sit up.  "What you do in bed is none of my business."
     "It could have been," she retorted.  An awkward silence followed that, and Makoto cursed
herself.  This was absolutely the wrong time to bring that up, wasn't it?
     "Maybe I regret missing that opportunity," Yoshi said, staring up at her from under his
rumpled blonde bangs.  Makoto's heart seemed to surge for a moment, but she resolved to keep
her demeanor calm.
     "Yosh, now's not the time for this," she said.  "That woman was a member of Dasma's
Sisterhood, and she got away.  They could send more of their bitch-godesses here.  I'm getting
out for a while, and you should too."
     He nodded, getting to his feet slowly and padding barefoot across the floor to his dresser.
Makoto tried not to feel disappointed as he dug out a fresh shirt, easing it on over his bruises and
covering up his leanly muscled torso.
     "So why are the Sisters of Shadows after you?" he asked.  "Or are they after Jupiter?"
     "I'm not honesty sure," she replied.  "But not many people know about my other identity, so
..."
     "Makoto," he said, walking over to her.  "You're secret is safe with me.  You do know that,
don't you?"  His shirt was unbuttoned, and she tried to ignore the supple play of muscles under his
skin as he moved.
     "I know," she murmured.  "Hells, you know most of my secrets already, Yosh.  What's one
more?"
     "Do you have someplace to go?" he asked, standing close and looking down into her eyes.
"Maybe with your friends from the other day?  I suppose they're also ..."
     "Yoshi," she said sternly.  "My secret I entrust to you, but nobody else's.  So don't speculate
about that.  Okay?"
     "Okay," he agreed with a wry grin.  "No speculating.  Just one more thing before you go."
     "What?" she asked softly.  She could smell Yoshi, could feel his heat from this close, and she
desperately reminded herself of her vow.  Hard as it had been after he'd turned her down that
time, she had vowed to keep her feelings for him under tight reign and remain strictly friends.
Anything else would risk the friendship she treasured.
     "I remember what you said to me, while I was out there," he said, his voice throaty and low.
"You had such faith in me, believed in me so much."
     "Yoshi ..."
     "But if that happens to me again, Makoto," he went on, eyes darkening with intensity, "don't
hesitate.  I need to know you'll do whatever it takes to stop me.  Don't let me hurt a woman that
way, especially not you.  Promise."
     "Oh, Yoshi," she breathed.  "Of course.  But you wouldn't do that, you aren't that type of
guy."
     "When I'm out of control like that, I'm not any sort of guy," he told her.  "I'm not the wolf,
either.  I'm just a beast that  will take what it wants, no matter what."
     "Yosh, I'm glad you didn't rape that woman," Makoto said, "but I'm also glad that spell blew
up in her face.  I hate that black-magic mind control bullshit, and that's the truth.  It's sneaky and
... and dirty.  Give me a clean fight any day."
     "Squirt, you never change," Yoshi sighed as he shook his head, eyes gleaming.
     "I told you to stop calling me that," she sniffed, hitting him lightly on the shoulder.  "Look, I
gotta go.  Keep in touch, okay?"
     "How will I reach you?"
     "I'll be around the hunter hang-outs," she told him.  "Look for me there.  I'll keep you
informed about this thing."  She turned and walked over to the door, but he called her name as
she opened it.
     "Be careful," he said, and for a second she saw the lanky youth that used to chide her as she
went out to steal food or look for kicks or trouble.
     "You too," she said with a tiny smile.
     Then the door to his apartment closed, and Makoto's thoughts turned to her enemies.
     And her friends.

***

     She stood at the edge of the room, fingering her plastic purple visitor's badge nervously.
There were desks and dividers everywhere, and she was trying to recall how to get to the one she
wanted when she spotted a familiar face coming out of the corridor to her left.
     "Hey there, cutie," the man grinned.
     "Yu!" Usagi replied.  "Is Mamo-chan here?  I want to see him ..."
     "Aw, and here I was hoping you'd come to see me," the blonde detective said with a twinkle in
his eye.  Then he turned and called down the hall behind him.
     "Hey, Mamo-chan, pick up the pace!"
     "What did you call me?" Mamoru asked, frowning at his partner.  He barely had time to see
Usagi before she was throwing herself at him, burying her face in the crook of his shoulder and
wrapping her arms around his lean waist.  He smelled good, and felt good too.  She sighed
happily as his hands came up flat against her back.
     "Usako," he murmured, surprise evident in his voice.  "What are you doing here?"
     "I wanted to see you," she told him, reluctantly pulling her face away from his body so she
could look up into his eyes.
     "I've been wanting to see you too," he said gently.  "But now's not the best time ..."
     "Oh, go on, Chiba!" Yusaku said, not bothering to hide his amusement.  "It'll take them some
time to get us into our next meeting.  Until then, I'll cover for you.  Take her into the break room,
why don't you?  Gods, it gets little enough use these days."
     "Thanks, Yu," Usagi beamed.
     "He could use a quickie, gorgeous," Yusaku told her gravely.  "He's been very tense, you
know."
     "Yu!" Usagi blurted, delightfully scandalized.  Yusaku reminded her somewhat of Minako, and
she smiled as he gave them a knowing wink and sauntered off across the busy squad room.
Mamoru guided her with his hand at the small of her back, leading her into a room with three
couches and a table and chairs along with some vending machines.
     "Coffee?" he asked as he shut the door.  As soon as it was closed, she leapt nimbly into his
arms, pressing her mouth to his.  Mamoru was surprised, but almost immediately responded.  The
kiss was sweet, and it went on for some time before he finally broke it and set her gently on her
feet.
     "Wow," he breathed.  "And here I was thinking you'd forgotten all about me."
     "Never," she told him.  "I'm sorry I left so suddenly, but things just started happening."
     "I understand," he told her.  "So you're back with your senshi."
     "Something is happening," she said, clasping her hands behind her back and watching him.  His
tie was askew, and his shirt had bunched around his gun; she found herself noticing every little
detail as he walked across the room to a vending machine and popped some coins in.
     "Usako, at this time of year a lot is happening.  We've got monsters in the sewers, in the
streets, in graveyards and office buildings and at least one hospital so far.  We even had a
salamander in the subway, if you can believe that."
     "I know.  Minako and Rei crunched it," Usagi told him.  "Along with another girl."
     "Huh.  Figures," he said, offering her a coffee.  "I hope you're being careful."
     "Mmm," she murmured.  "But we didn't just get together for the annual monster problems,
Mamo-chan.  Rei had a vision of disaster, and that's led to some deeper problems."
     "Swell," he sighed.  "That's all the city needs.  More problems."
     "I need to talk to you about Hotaru," she said, tensing as he went dangerously still.
     "I hope you aren't going to tell me you still want to talk to her," Mamoru said, blue eyes
narrowing.  "Because before you do, there's something I think you should know."
     "The vampire that's been causing trouble isn't her, Mamo-chan," Usagi said, gathering her
courage.  He stared at her, emotions flashing across his face in quick succession as he considered
the import of her words.
     "You didn't," he breathed at last.
     "I went to Haruka and Michiru," she told him, lifting her chin.  "There were things I needed to
know."
     "Damn it, Usagi!" he snapped.  "I can't believe you!  That was reckless, you know that?  What
were you thinking?"
     "I needed to know the truth," she went on steadily.  "And now I do.  Mamoru, Hotaru isn't
responsible for what's been going on ..."
     "Usagi, they're using you!  Can't you see that?  They're just using you to deflect suspicion!
You can't trust them, not after what happened!"
     She walked across the floor to where he was standing, setting her untouched coffee on the
table.  Gently, she framed Mamoru's face in her hands, catching his gaze and holding it.
     "Mamoru," she said, her voice low and even as she willed him to listen.  "My people are in
danger, and I have to help them.  I have to do my duty.  So I need you to at least listen to what I
have to say before you come to any conclusions.  Will you do that?  For me?"
     He stared back, and she could see the conflict raging inside him.  She was placing him in an
awkward position, invoking her duty as White Moon Princess against his as a police officer.  He
had agreed to respect her power, after all, and now she was calling him on that, even though his
nature was to protect her from any threat.
     "All right," he said at last, jaw set.  "I'll listen."
     "That's all I ask," she said softly, smiling.
     And she started talking.

***

     Rei brooded as the streetcar rattled along, chin propped in her palm.  Her impulsive call to
Saekianna the previous night was having unanticipated consequences, and she sensed the strands
of her past closing around her like a venomous spider's web, slowly cutting off all avenues of
escape.
     Seeking comfort in her former partner had possessed a certain appeal to her at the time, but
she had forgotten some of the lessons their tempestuous relationship had seared into her.  For
instance, Saekianna hated to lose.  At anything.  She always took even the slightest defeat
personally.  Also, she was unused to being told "no".
     Rei hadn't intended to broach the subject of her status as a former Sister because, quite
frankly, she didn't want to return to that life.  Things had changed over the last three years, SHE
had changed, and she couldn't simply step back into the skin of the girl she'd been.  If her life as a
senshi was over, then she would have to find a new path.
     She should have known it would not be that easy.  Saekianna wanted her back in the fold, and
Rei suspected it was only their shared past that had prevented the new Nightmistress from
"insisting" that Rei return.  Had Saekianna run across any other girl who'd fled the Sisterhood's
dark embrace, Rei had no doubt the renegade would have been brought to heel immediately.  Rei
could only wonder how long Saekianna's patience with her would last.
     But that wasn't the only problem facing her now.  Recalling the eldritch brush of Banri's mystic
coils against her skin, she shuddered in spite of herself.  Saekianna claimed to have the power to
break the seal and release the Dark Lady, and Banri definitely seemed to validate that claim.
     But it didn't make any sense.  If Banri, along with this other item of power Saekianna claimed
to have, had resided at the heart of the labyrinth, then why hadn't Griitna claimed them?  The
woman had possessed complete control of the labyrinth, of that Rei was certain.  Something just
didn't add up here.
     Supposing, however, that Saekianna could do as she claimed.  Just keeping the Nightmistress
away from the senshi was one thing, but what might a newly awakened Dasma do if she learned
that senshi of the White Moon Court had been reborn in the here and now?  Would she strike out
at them?  Command her loyal Sisterhood to hunt them?
     Rei closed her eyes, rubbing her thumb along the bridge of her nose wearily.  Behind her
closed lids she could see Usagi's shocked face, Makoto's blazing anger, Ami's total
incomprehension and Minako's puzzled hurt.  How could she explain any of this to them?  And
did they have any reason to believe her, the girl who'd kept so much from them?
     So what was she to do?
     One thing seemed certain.  She had turned out to be the path that darkness could traverse, the
path that could lead it directly into the lives of her friends.  Whatever the truth was, she couldn't
just walk away from the inconvenient reality of her tainted past, but neither could she allow
herself to be the instrument that brought such darkness to the senshi.
     So, until she knew what was happening, she had to hold herself away from those girls, just as
she had earlier with Minako.  Sailor Mars would cease to be, perhaps for good ... but in her place,
the woman they'd called Sister Darkeyes would use her abilities and experience to try and unravel
the twisted skeins of treachery and deception.
     And she'd have to manage it without losing herself, the Rei that now was, into the Rei that had
been.
     Lost in her reverie, she failed to notice the commotion near the front of the streetcar until it
suddenly jerked to a halt.  Cursing under her breath, Rei clambered to her feet by grabbing one of
the poles lining the aisle.  Her poor motorcycle was still awaiting the final parts to put it back in
working order.  Foreign parts were a pain to get, something she was reminded of every time she
had to fix the thing.  Still, until the shipment came in she was subject to the caprices of public
transit, like sudden and inexplicable delays.
     This, however, seemed to be shaping up to be something more.  As she neared the crowd at
the front of the car, she glimpsed motion ahead in the street.  Cursing her self-indulgent brooding,
she concentrated for a moment, quickly confirming that supernatural creatures were nearby.
     Damn.
     She shoved back through the muttering crowd, pushing her way out the back doors and into
the street.  Traffic was at a standstill all the way up to the next intersection, and she could see
shapes swooping through the air.  Worse, she could hear the sounds of metal crumpling and glass
breaking.
     And, faintly, the sound of screams.
     Her first instinct was to act.  There was no sign of the police; even if their resources weren't
stretched thin, it would take them time to reach the scene through this rapidly worsening traffic.
     Her fingers brushed her henshin rod, and she paused, uncertain.  The power was there, but
how could she call upon it?   To fight in the colours of the White Moon when her soul was in such
turmoil would only call the darkness closer to her comrades.  She had made her decision, and she
must abide by it.
     But she wouldn't allow these foul things to have their way.  She had fought those who would
prey on humans even as a Sister of Shadows; wherever her heart lay, that power was still hers to
command without fear of tainting her princess' banner.  Moving quickly, she darted through the
crowd, not worrying about being seen.  Nobody was watching her.
     As she ran, Rei reached out, feeling the coils of mystic power that lay around her just as she'd
been taught so long ago.  The crowd seemed to part around her, allowing her to pass as they fled
en masse from what was starting to sound like a full-scale street battle.  By the time Rei reached
the source of the trouble, there was no one around her.
     Scabrous creatures that resembled giant bloodshot eyeballs were diving at stalled cars, tearing
metal with their wickedly long talons as they passed, sometimes even managing to overturn a
vehicle.  Two cars were burning, and the few people still trying to flee were clearly injured, one so
badly that he was being practically carried by two others.
     For a moment, Rei was back there again, a little girl clutching her mother's hand in the dark as
the street around them erupted in chaos.  It was only a momentary flash of memory, but it fed her
simmering anger.  Frustrations which hadn't been able to find vent boiled and raged, and she
welcomed the strength.
     Rei stood with her legs apart, long coat flowing in the breeze as she raised her hands slowly.
     "By blood and by power," she intoned.  "I summon thee.  Bound by my will, answer to my
command and lend me your strength ... Azakaru!"
     Her shadow twitched where it lay against the smooth pavement, swirling in an inky tide.
Slowly, it began to shorten, and Rei gasped as she felt it flow up her bare skin, setting her flesh
tingling with its eldritch power.
     Within seconds, her shadow was gone, and she opened her eyes, a feral smile gracing her full
lips.
     Showtime.

***

     Minako fumed, leaning on the horn again.
     "What in the hells is going on?" she groused.  "This traffic is horrible, even for this part of
town!"
     "Maybe we should try to go the other way," Ranko suggested.  Minako glared at the red-head,
who just shrugged.
     "Or not," Ranko muttered.
     Minako leaned on the horn again, ignoring the glares she was getting from people in the
vehicles around her.  Her run-in with Saekianna had put her in a foul mood, and Rei's aloofness
hadn't helped matters.  What could that girl be thinking?  Protecting Usagi, even if her methods
were questionable, was one thing.  But running to the arms of that venomous witch?  This was
worse than she'd dreamed.  She was very much afraid that Rei was going to do something
irrevocable, led by her stubborn pride and unpredictable temper.
     That couldn't be allowed to happen.  Unfortunately, Minako was currently at a loss as to how
to prevent it.
     Unless ...
     "Hey, did you see that?" Ranko asked, sitting up in her seat so abruptly she nearly quivered.
     "What?"
     "Something flying up there," Ranko said, narrowing her eyes.
     "A police flyer, maybe," Minako shrugged.  "This has been an especially bad year for monster
activity ..."
     She was cut off by a distant dull whump.
     "An explosion?" Ranko murmured.
     "Yeah," Minako said, smiling thinly as she spotted a plume of flame and dark smoke rising into
the air somewhere ahead.  "Trouble."
     And trouble was just what the doctor ordered.  Minako Aino was in the mood to blow off a
little steam, and kicking some monster ass was a great way to do that.
     "Come on, Ranko," she grinned.  "Let's dance!"

***

     Saekianna slapped her leather driving gloves against her thigh, the sharp snap making several
Maidens in the foyer jump.
     "How bad is it?" she asked Mirra curtly.
     "Vi will recover," Mirra told her, falling into step a pace behind as her Nightmistress passed.
     "I am glad to hear that," Saekianna murmured.  "However, I am most certainly not happy
about her failure.  What happened?"
     "She had the girl," Mirra said, her fine features set in a carefully neutral mask, "when someone
intervened.  A man."
     "And this man bested one of my Sisters?  That, Mirra, is not acceptable," Saekianna said, her
tone edged with ice.
     "She used a rose on him," Mirra replied.  "However, she failed to control him afterward."
     "What?"  Saekianna stopped in her tracks.
     "There's more," Mirra told her.  "Far from being rendered docile and pliant, the boy went
berserk and could not be controlled.  He seemed driven by wild lust, and beat her unconscious."
      "And the Kino girl?"
     "When Vi woke, the both were gone."
     Saekianna cursed silently.  This hadn't been what she'd intended at all.  How had a simple
capture with the element of surprise on their side turned out so badly?
     "Tell me about the man," she demanded.
     "The only significant factor Vi noticed was that he was a were," Mirra remarked.
     "That should have made little difference," Saekianna mused, starting to walk again.  "At times,
a shifter's inner beast responds even more strongly to our call than a normal person's."
     "Baniesti is nearly upon us," Mirra suggested.  "The lunar cycle affects weres strangely
sometimes."
     "No," Saekianna said.  "It must have been something else."
     "I checked the enchantments on our roses," Mirra said, her tone a trifle stiff.  "They were
perfect.  It is taking time to grow the new ones, but our existing supply shows no sign of neglect."
     "It was not my intention to suggest any such thing," Saekianna replied, studying Mirra's face
closely for the first time since she'd entered the mansion.  The woman's flawless skin was even
paler than usual, and her short hair looked somewhat dishevelled, which was completely out of
character for the normally fastidious woman.
     "I beg your pardon, Nightmistress," Mirra said smoothly.
     "All right, out with it," Saekianna said sternly.  "What is the matter?"
     "As your second, I must voice my concerns." Mirra's posture was formal, her words carefully
chosen.  "I felt that efforts to find members of the sailor senshi were risky, given our limited
resources this close to our goal, but at least they were justifiable.  However, your vendetta against
this girl who challenged you over Sister Rei is a luxury we cannot afford."
     "Have a care, Mirra," Saekianna said, her voice deceptively soft.  Mirra shifted her gaze, no
fear in her eyes.
     "Our Dark Lady counsels us to follow her path, but did she not also tell us that we must not be
brought low by our desires?  We must rule them, and not be ruled BY them.  We are so close to
what we have waited for, Nightmistress.  I understand the need to bring such a haughty little girl
to heel.  It must burn in your breast like fire, knowing that she challenged you so.  But can the girl
not wait?  After we have succeeded, then surely the Dark Lady will allow us to indulge our
desires in an orgiastic celebration such as this city has never seen ... but if we grow arrogant in
our pride, then we may lose our opportunity, as She lost Her freedom."
     "I would never squander this chance, Sister," Saekianna breathed, her voice low and
dangerous.
     "I do not accuse you," Mirra replied, bowing her head respectfully.  "But even our Dark Lady
was lead astray by her passions.  I beg of you, Nightmistress, leave the girl for now.  We can ill
afford the distraction."
     A part of Saekianna knew that Mirra was right.  It was risky, what she was doing.  But bold
action had brought her this far, and she hadn't risen to the highest position of the Sisterhood to
which she'd dedicated her life just to fall prey to timidity now.  It was within her grasp to have
everything perfect for the Dark Lady's ascension, almost as if it had been destined.  She must
prove herself worthy of her Lady's favour.
     She must.  And she would.
     "I must attend to Vi," she said coolly to Mirra.  "Whatever the reason for the shifter's
resistence to our control, her failure must not go unpunished."
     "Then I shall check on the preparations for Baniesti, Nightmistress," Mirra replied smoothly.
She turned to go, and Saekianna stopped her.
     "Also ensure that there are at least four senior Sisters available for tonight," she told Mirra.
     "Of course, Nightmistress," Mirra replied, not mentioning how that would interfere with the
preparations.
     Saekianna watched the other woman go, a smile twitching at the corner of her ruby lips.
Perhaps Mirra was chafing under the constraints of being second in command.  Well, if she
wanted to lead, she could certainly issue a challenge at any time.
     Saekianna would meet it gladly.
     Turning, she continued along the cool, elegant hall.  Vi's failure to acquire the Kino girl was
troubling.  Saekianna suspected she knew the reason why the were had gone berserk; if she was
right, their target might have been badly hurt.  Or worse.  And if Makoto Kino had somehow
managed to escape the berserker's clutches, she now knew that the Sisterhood was after her and
her friend.
     A stronger Sister might have been able to tame the beast regardless, but the strife which
Griitna had triggered in an attempt to retain control of the Sisterhood had cost them some of their
most experienced priestesses.  Saekianna had to manage her remaining resources wisely; in that at
least, Mirra had been correct.
     But this setback would not deter her.  The Tsukino girl would taste her wrath, and Rei would
stand by her side when the Dark Lady's long imprisonment ended.
     After all, Saekianna der Kae was not a woman to settle for second best.

***

     I followed Minako, or Mistress V as I was supposed to call her when she transformed, across
the rooftops.  She was fast and nimble, not slowed down at all by her ridiculously high heels and
sex-kitten get-up.  All things considered, she really was an unusual girl.  At the very least, though,
I had to respect her abilities, even if her personality was kind of weird.
     In a flash of blonde hair and black leather she hurled herself across the gap between buildings,
and I followed, landing easily.  We were close now; I could hear screeching and smell smoke.  V
dashed across to the far side of the roof and I followed, stopping at the edge to survey the scene
below.
     Cars were scattered across the intersection, some flipped on their sides or roofs, a couple on
fire.  That wasn't what caught my attention, though.  There were monsters flying around and
screeching like mad, and at their centre was a girl.  As I watched, she threw some sort of paper
ward which knifed through the air like a blade, burying itself in the bulbous eye of one of the
creatures.  The thing screamed, its maw wide, then spiralled into the ground where it twitched,
smoking.  The girl threw another ward, this one with strange patterns on it.  It stopped in the air,
patterns forming a shape much like a fanged mouth, and two other nightmares were drawn into it
like smoke, vanishing when the ward burst into flame.
     "Wow," I said.  "Not bad."  I glanced at V, but her eyes were fixed on the priestess doing
battle.  I wondered for a second if she was going to make some sort of off-colour remark, but the
hard set of her mouth and the way her eyes were narrowed told me quickly that this was one time
her flirtatious nature was going to take a back seat.
     Frowning, I looked back down at the girl.  By herself she was managing to hold a swarm of
the things at bay, slowly whittling down their numbers.  Her courage and skill aside, she seemed
like just the sort of girl V would openly admire.  Even from here, I could see that she moved with
a kind of lazy animal grace.  Her long, flowing red coat revealed a sleek black dress and lots of
bare skin, and her long black hair rippled dramatically in the breeze.
     The only thing that seemed unusual was that her skin was covered with black tattoos in
mysterious, spidery patterns.  As she turned, I could see that they even spread to her face, framing
her eyes and curving down her cheekbones to ...
     Her face.  It seemed familiar.  In fact, now that I got a good look, she seemed VERY familiar.
     "Is that ... Rei?" I asked, confused.  This didn't look like any of the senshi attacks I'd seen her
use before.
     "What are you doing?" V whispered.  It took me a moment to realize that she was talking to
Rei, not me.  She seemed to be angry, and I resigned myself to once again not having any idea
what was going on.
     "Uh, are we going down?" I asked.  In truth, Rei didn't seem to need the help, but I felt the call
to battle keenly and wanted to mix it up.  V just kept her gaze rivetted on the fight, her expression
strangely tight.
     "Maybe she doesn't want our help," V murmured at last.  "Maybe that's the point here.  Don't
you think?"
     "What are you talking about?" I asked, suddenly feeling unreasonably irritated.  "You're the
one who keeps sticking up for her.  I mean, she could be in trouble if one of those things gets
through her defences.  Is she your friend or not?"
     I expected a sharp comeback to my little outburst, but V just kept on staring down at the
figure standing in a challenging stance in the middle of the street.
     "Well," the blonde said at last.  "I guess that's the question, isn't it?  Shall we go ask her?"
     I was about to agree when something caught my eye, cruising through the air on the other side
of the street.  I blinked, unwilling to believe my eyes at first.
     "Hey!" I hissed, grabbing V's shoulder.  "Is that what I think it is?"  Her gaze followed mine,
and she stiffened.
     "A wraith," she growled.  "The same type as at the club."
     "And as your friends fought the first time we met," I added.  "I guess this little fracas has
attracted more attention."  Even as I said that, a second wraith appeared, then a third, their dark
robes and hair streaming out behind them as they sailed, silent and sinister, above the melee.
Then, as one, the wraiths dove towards the unsuspecting priestess.
     And V sprang into action, all hesitation forgotten.

***

     Rei rode the exquisite rush of her power, letting it guide her as the foul things tried vainly to
reach her and drag her down.  They couldn't, of course, and she laughed aloud, which only
enraged them all the more.  They wanted nothing more than to strip her of her pride and power
and leave her broken body on the ground, and their failure to even scratch her made them scream
their impotent fury to the uncaring winds.
     It was unlike her fire, this dark power; in some ways it was more subtle, yet more personal.
     It also had its drawbacks.
     Something stirred at the edge of her awareness and she whirled, eyes widening at the sight of a
wraith streaking directly at her.  Its eyes blazed with triumph as it stretched its arms wide, razored
talons gleaming, and Rei barely had time to curse her overconfidence as she realized she wouldn't
be able to defend in time.
     Then a beam of fiercely golden light lanced into the creature's head, and it screamed as it
tumbled through the air, coming so close to Rei that its hair and robe actually brushed her skin.  It
crashed to the ground heavily and slid into a burning car, but Rei was already moving, casting
about for the source of the beam.
     As if she wouldn't recognize that power signature in her sleep.
     V.
     A vision in black leather bounded off of the awning on a nearby building, arcing gracefully to
the street.  Rei caught a perfect view of her as she landed, liquid gold hair streaming out behind
her, slim gloved arms extended out and back, knees bent as she hit the pavement like a bolt from
the heavens.  No sooner had the girl landed then she sprang into action, followed by a petite
red-head in loose fitting black clothing.  But in that one frozen instant when Rei had seen her,
poised like some fey offspring of the gods of desire and war, V's luminous blue eyes had sought
her out, fixing her with a gaze that was somehow a challenge.
     Rei tried to ignore the conflicting emotions that V's appearance stirred in her, instead searching
for more of the wraiths.  She remembered them from their previous encounters; they had been
summoned by someone with strong Shadow magic, and thus would be difficult for her to sense in
the midst of these other creatures.  They could also prove somewhat resistant to her magic.
     Still, she'd make do.  She spotted two more, circling over their downed sister.  As one, they
screeched and targeted her, and she drew two more wards to her hand in preparation.  A gleaming
whip rose from nowhere to snare one, though, dragging it down to the street, and Rei glimpsed
V's triumphant grin before turning her attention back to the remaining wraith.
     Her first ward was a Trap, and it tried to envelop the creature upon contact.  As she'd feared,
though, it only slowed the wraith.  The inky tangles of power failed to contain the struggling
creature, which actually managed to phase through the darkness, leaving it hanging in the air a
short distance away.
     It regarded her with its crimson eyes, and Rei suppressed a shiver.  Its female face was
savagely beautiful when not contorted into a rictus of rage, and its mesmerizing eyes held
frightening intelligence.  Rei suspected that a Shadow sorceress must have summoned the wraiths
she'd recently encountered; no doubt they were a distorted mirror of her own beauty, and she
must indeed be powerful to not only summon so many but also to grant them anything beyond
animal cunning.
     The wraith's eyes bored into Rei's, and she could feel it trying to beguile her with its power, to
lull her into dropping her guard so it could attack.  This time she couldn't deny the chill that
spread through her.  Never had she encountered a mere wraith that could do that.  Its mistress
must be formidable indeed.
     She shook off the attempt to cloud her thoughts contemptuously, drawing herself up as she
glared at the hovering creature.  It seemed surprised at the ease with which she broke its hold,
momentary consternation evident on its face.  Then it did something which disturbed Rei more
than anything she'd witnessed so far.
     It smiled.  And it spoke.
     "Sister," it hissed, sibilant and somehow alluring.
     "I think not," Rei replied, her voice low and venomous.  The wraith's smile widened, blood-red
lips parting to reveal its sharp ivory fangs.
     "Our Mistress will want you," it whispered lazily.  Then it shot into the air like a rocket, arcing
up and away before Rei could attack.
     "Hey!  Pay attention, damn it!"  Those words snapped her attention back to her immediate
surroundings, and she cursed herself for being distracted.  V had finished the other two wraiths,
and was sending a storm of blazing golden hearts knifing into a cluster of flying eyeballs.  They
screeched and dropped from the sky, fatally stricken.  Off to one side Ranko leapt through the air,
executing a lethal aerial ballet that was beautiful yet deadly.  The red-head moved in a pattern that
was incredibly complex, one that she must only have been able to create moments before initiating
it; it carried her from one flying creature to the next, each on a different path and moving at
different speeds.  And yet, Ranko not only hit each flying nightmare, she did it without a single
wasted movement.
     Rei had never seen anything quite like it; even Makoto, whose physical attacks were more
grounded in martial arts than those of any of the other Inners, couldn't match the sheer artistry of
this attack.
     It was too bad she couldn't take the time to watch more of it.  There were still stragglers,
though, and instead of flying off to kill again as would have been sensible they seemed intent on
attacking her in complete defiance of any sort of common sense.
     Fine by her.
     Dancing away from their extended talons, she unleashed the other ward still in her hand, a
Dispel.  It hit one of the creatures as it climbed away, tearing a shriek of pain from it as its own
mystic matrix was unravelled in seconds, causing it to vaporize.  The second wheeled around, and
she concentrated, holding her hand out with the palm up.  The patterns there shifted and swirled,
extending up from her palm to form a blade of shadow.  As the howling fiend dove, Rei brought
her arm up in a short arc, meeting it with her power.  A faint shock ran through her arm as the
shadow blade bisected the creature, sending it tumbling to the ground in two pieces of nearly the
same size.
     Rei noted wryly that the thing smelled even worse dead than it had alive.  A quick glance
around revealed that the sky was clear; V had finished all those who had dared attack her, and
Ranko was rapidly mopping up the few flyers that had escaped V's wrath.
     Speaking of which ...
     Rei let the shadow pool back onto her palm, watching impassively as V stalked towards her.
This promised to be a difficult conversation at best, and Rei tried to hold her temper in check.
Nothing would be gained by blowing up now.
     V stopped an arm's length away, her eyes shadowed by the brim of her black cap until she
raised her chin, revealing blue eyes made luminous by the heat of battle and an anger that churned
just beneath the surface.
     "Doing your good deed for the day?" V asked, her voice low and even.
     "I've no love for darkling spawn.  Or have you forgotten?" Rei replied, glad that the tone of
their meeting was adversarial right from the get go.  That would make it easier.
     "I haven't forgotten," V said.  "I haven't forgotten what you are, or where your heart lies,
although I'm starting to wonder if you have."
     "Don't start that again," Rei warned.
     "Why?  Why won't you listen to me?  Rei, you have to come back!  The longer this goes on,
the greater the damage becomes!"
     "Come back?" Rei echoed softly.  She spread her arms, letting her gaze linger deliberately on
the black patterns visible across her hands.  "And what do you think our princess would say when
she saw this, hmmm?  Would she rush to embrace me?  Is that what you think?"
     "Why are you trying to drive us away?" V cried.
     "Why do you want to be close to this?" Rei retorted, thrusting her hands out viciously.
"You're supposed to be protecting her, not exposing her to such an insidious darkness!"
     V stared at Rei's hands, then raised her eyes to hold Rei's gaze.
     "Usagi doesn't need to be protected from you," V said gravely.
     "You understand nothing," Rei spat.  "I never expected naivete from you, girl.  I'm the one she
needs to be protected from the most, don't you see?  She'd lower her defences around me and let
the dark slip in, almost unnoticed at first.  That's how it happens!  You accept the first little bit,
then a bit more, and soon you wonder what the big deal was."
     "You have such an idealistic view of her, Rei.  That's your biggest weakness, I think.  She isn't
fragile, and you aren't carrying your personal darkness like some sort of virus!"
     "There's no point in talking to you about this," Rei said flatly.  "You just refuse to listen.  Can't
you understand that I'm trying to protect her?"
     "Can't you understand that you don't need to protect her, you need to trust her?" V replied,
leaning forward with the urgency of her words.  "That's the way out of this, Rei.  You have to
respect her strength, and you have to trust her, even if it scares you, even if you think she might
refuse to forgive you.  Damn it, you have to try!"
     Rei was left speechless by V's words as they struck a weak spot in her emotional armour.  She
felt her throat tightening, and knew she had to leave before she weakened any further.
     "I think you were right about why Saekianna's interested in the club," she told V, hoping her
inner turmoil was safely locked behind the impassive mask of her face.  "You need to stay away
from her, and you need to keep the others away from her as well.  That's all I have to say."  She
turned on her heel in a swirl of raven hair and supple red leather, haunted by the bitter taste in her
mouth.  This was the second time in a day she'd rebuffed Minako's attempts at reconciliation, and
she sensed there would not be a third try.
     "Wait," V said, causing Rei to pause in spite of herself.  V walked around until she was
standing in front of Rei again, and the priestess steeled herself for an outburst, perhaps even a
slap.
     Instead, V reached up, grasping her cap's brim in her slim gloved fingers and taking it off,
shaking out her tousled blonde mane.  Then she leaned forward, one hand on Rei's shoulder, and
whispered something in Rei's ear.  Rei stood stock still, eyes widening as V's breath feathered
lightly against her ear.  After a time, the blonde pulled back, having forgone her usual attempts at
copping a feel.  Her blue eyes were uncharacteristically grave, and Rei stared into them from only
inches away.
     "It's not the same," Rei said at last.  "And anyway, that changes nothing."
     "I suppose not," V said softly.  "But she won't like hearing it.  And I'll tell her, as soon as you
come back."
     "What's the point?" Rei asked, searching for something in V's demeanour, something to tell her
that this was just some elaborate prank.  She found nothing, however, save determination.
     "I just thought you'd like to know you aren't the only one with a less than pristine past," V
replied evenly.  Then she leaned in again, this time pressing her mouth against Rei's.  Rei nearly
responded to the kiss, but held herself back.  Mostly, at any rate.
     "And what was that for?" she asked when V broke the sweetly intimate contact, managing to
keep her voice level.
     "That was because I miss you," V replied, that fey mischief lurking in her blue eyes once again.
"And this, this is so you'll think of me."  She took the cap and set it lightly on Rei's head, tugging
it into place fussily with the brim.
     "I ... have to go," Rei muttered, finding that she could no longer meet V's eyes.
     "Figure this out, Rei," V replied, her voice barely a whisper.  "And don't take too long.  Or I'm
going to have to come get you and drag you back."
     "Stay away from the Sisterhood," Rei said, her voice husky with sudden emotion.  "I mean it."
     "Stay safe," was V's reply.  Rei shouldered past the blonde, striding rapidly across the
debris-strewn street.  Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Ranko talking to a tall, rawboned
man, then she was past them and into the shelter of a deserted side-street.  As she walked, she
released her Shadow, and once again it flowed to the ground, trailing after her.
     Damn Minako.  Damn her, anyway.  How was Rei supposed to protect Usagi from harm when
Minako kept trying to bring them back together?  Couldn't that girl see what was best for their
princess?  Why did she have to be so difficult?
     As she walked, Rei gathered her loose flowing coat around her, head bowed.
     (Can't you understand that you don't need to protect her)
     Slowly, almost reluctantly, she reached up to brush her fingers lightly across the shiny brim of
the cap Minako had given her.
     (you need to trust her?)
     Rei felt a dull ache in her chest, and she thrust her hands fiercely into her pockets.  She was
trying to do the right thing, the right thing for everybody.  Why in the hells did it have to be so
hard?
     And why did it have to hurt?

***

     Fighting the uglies improved my mood greatly.  That feeling was soured somewhat, though,
when I saw V walking towards Rei.  There was a tension between the two that curdled the air.  I
really didn't want to witness another emotional scene; it was very awkward to see someone's raw
psyche laid bare that way.
     Especially when the people involved were virtual strangers.
     At that moment, though, I caught sight of movement and turned, almost hoping for a straggler
to beat on.  What I found was a tall figure in a light beige poncho moving around the scattered
hulks of cars.  As he drew closer, I could see that he was probably in his mid-thirties, with short
dark hair and a square chin.  He was a little taller than I would have been if I'd been in guy form,
and looked to be in pretty good shape.
     The way he moved, though, was what told me that he was dangerous.  It wasn't obvious; he
didn't strut or anything.  But he had the sort of aura that fighters get when they're completely
confident in their abilities.  The wind blew his poncho around a bit, enough at least to see that he
was carrying some equipment strapped to his body, including at least two handguns.
     "Looks like I missed the excitement," he said to me with a faint smile, his brown eyes
squinting.
     "Afraid so," I told him.  He shrugged.
     "Well, that's the way it goes," he said simply.  "At least there don't seem to have been any
fatalities this time."
     "This time?" I asked.
     "This has been a bad year for attacks, the worst in a decade I'd say," the man replied, his
no-nonsense gaze sweeping the area.  "Twelve people dead so far, not to mention injuries and
property damage.  Still, you three did good for yourselves today.  An even three way split, or are
you going by body count?"
     "Uh, what?" I blinked.
     "The money, miss," the man said.  "I was just curious, mind you, but I saw the end of your
scrap and I could verify seven of your kills if you needed me to."
     "Uh, what?" I asked again.
     "For the bounty," he said.  His manner was patient, giving him the air of a man not easily
ruffled.
     "There's a bounty?" I inquired politely.  That sort of made sense, but the idea had never
occurred to me.
     "Oh yes," he told me.  "The police can't keep up with things as it is, you know.  General
bounty on monsters engaged in any attack on persons or property runs at fifteen hundred crowns
apiece, and that's only if there isn't a higher bounty posted on the specific nasty."
     "You're kidding," I said.
     "Oh, no," he told me.  "Just the seven I saw you nail would net you just over ten grand."
     'Ten ...?"  I was speechless.  The change I'd taken from the punks was close to running out,
and this guy was tossing around figures like that?  Of course, I'd always gotten by in the past, but
never by much.  I'd lived a pretty hand to mouth existence my whole life.  Ten thousand crowns
was a small fortune.
     "Of course, that's the award on a Class A license and I'd have to guess you aren't a licensed
bounty hunter," the man went on, and I froze.
     "Uh, licensed?"
     "I thought so," he said with a knowing smile.  "To claim any SJA bounty, you have to be
licensed with them.  Rules, you know."
     "Oh."  Well, easy come, easy go, as they say.
     "Don't look so downcast," he said easily.  "It's not hard to get licensed, although it does cost
and you do have to pass a rudimentary combat test to get a Class G license.  The lower class
licenses don't pay out at as high a rate on standing bounties, but the advantage is you can register
under any name and remain fairly anonymous."
     "Really?"  This was beginning to sound interesting.
     "You should look into it if you're going to be risking your neck stomping critters," the man
said.  "By the way, if you didn't know about the bounty, just why were you out here?"
     "I hate monsters," I said, surprised by the venom in my voice.  The man looked down at me for
a moment, almost like he was taking my measure, then he smiled that faint smile of his again.
     "You'll do," he murmured.  "You've got style, miss, and heart.  That counts for a lot.  What's
your name?"
     "Ranko," I told him.
     "They call me Birdy," he said.  "Look me up if you're ever down by the Hunter's Strip.  I'll buy
you a drink."  With that he turned and walked away with a casual wave.  I watched him go, then
turned to find that Rei was gone and V was coming my way.
     "Come on," she said.  "Let's get out of here."
     "Where did Rei go?" I asked.
     "Hopefully, to find the answers she needs," V muttered.
     "Huh?"
     "Never mind," she sighed.  "Let's get something to eat.  I don't know about you, but I'm
starved."

***

     Mamoru rubbed his hands over his cheeks, sighing deeply.  Usagi just waited, wondering what
his response would be.  She'd told him everything, at least everything that Haruka and Michiru
had told her.  She'd glossed over the events involving Ranko and Rei.
     "All right, I'll grant you it's at least plausible," he said at last.  "But I'm going have to check
into the background behind all this before I can even begin to accept it as fact."
     "If the vampire causing problems is the one who created Hotaru, then that might give you
someplace to start," Usagi said helpfully.  She dearly wanted to give Mamoru something to work
with, something that would prove to him that Hotaru wasn't the monster they'd all thought.
     "I don't know," he sighed.  "We think the vamp was responsible for the airship crash a couple
days ago, for instance, but we don't know why.  The head of the task force thought maybe she'd
just returned to the city.  I didn't think it was likely then, but if Hotaru really isn't the cause of all
this then all bets are off."  Usagi's blood seemed to chill at his words.  The airship crash?  The one
that they'd linked to the strange events following Ranko across the kingdom?
     "Why ... would you think a vampire would cause an airship crash?" Usagi asked, hoping she
sounded casual.  Acting wasn't really her strong suit.
     "We have reasons," Mamoru replied absently.  "The vamp also summoned wraiths when she
attacked a club uptown, and we've been seeing an abnormal amount of this particular type since
the crash.  Including at the site of the church massacre."
     "What?" Usagi blurted.  Wraiths?  Like the ones that had attacked the bathhouse?  Her
thoughts began to whirl.
     "Hey," Mamoru said with a frown.  "Don't get the idea of going after this vamp, Usako.  I
mean it.  She took over a club full of people, placing them under her control without breaking a
sweat.  And she engineered the slaughter of a bunch of weird monks at some fringe church, and
who knows what else.  She's very dangerous."
     "I wasn't thinking that," Usagi assured him quickly.  "I was just surprised, that's all.  What's
this about a church?"
     "Something called the Church of the Sentinel," Mamoru told her. "Nobody knows anything
about it, really.  Seems they worshipped something they called the Eye.  Anyway, she had her
wraiths kill them all, and we don't know why ... Usako?  Are you all right?"
     Usagi felt faint.  The Eye?  Wraiths?  The airship crash?  What WAS all this?
     "I'm sorry," Mamoru murmured, his strong hands easing her into a hard plastic chair.  "I
shouldn't be burdening you with all this."
     "No, it's okay," Usagi insisted.  "I like hearing about your work."  They often discussed his
cases; it was a habit from the time when the Dark Kingdom had been engineering incidents in the
city.
     "This is too gruesome, though," he sighed.  "Look, even if Hotaru didn't mean to do what she
did and say what she said, she could still be dangerous if she loses control.  Right?"
     "I just want to make things right again," Usagi told him.  "I need to.  You understand, don't
you?"
     "Promise me you won't go near her alone," he said sternly.
     "Okay," Usagi said, because he needed to hear it and because she very much intended to have
all her senshi together when she attempted to reconcile everything.  "I promise."
     "Good," he said.  "Damn, here comes Yu.  I guess we're back into strategy sessions until we
come up with some idea of where to look for this creature."
     "Sorry, cutie-pie," Yusaku said to her as he passed.  "I need him again."
     "That's okay," Usagi told him.  "Just take good care of him for me, okay?"
     "Hmmm," Yusaku said with an evil gleam in his eye.  "I could take VERY good care of him
..."
     "We are supposed to be working," Mamoru told his partner.
     "Is he always this upright?" Yusaku grumbled.
     "Nope," Usagi told him with a wicked smile.  "You just need to get him in the mood."
     "Usako!" Mamoru blurted.  "Don't get him started!"
     "Oh, pooh.  You two guys go make the city safe, okay?  But be careful."  She levelled a finger,
first at Yusaku, then at Mamoru.
     "Yes, ma'am," Yusaku grinned.
     "Call me later, okay?" Mamoru said softly.  She touched his arm lightly and nodded.
     "I will," she promised as Yusaku walked away to give them some privacy.
     "And remember what I told you," he said, blue eyes boring into her.
     "I will," she sighed.  "Trust me, Mamo-chan, I'll be in a lot less danger than you.  Promise
you'll be careful."
     "I'll try," he said.
     "I love you," she said softly, smiling.  Yusaku smirked from a distance as Mamoru squirmed
under his scrutiny.
     "Love you too," Mamoru murmured, leaning close to kiss her cheek.  "Stay out of trouble,
you."
     "I will if you will," she said with a wink.  He ushered her to the door of the squad room,
leaving her when she assured him she could find the way out.  She turned her visitor's badge in at
the counter, smiling at the heavyset desk sergeant and striding out the front door into the warm
sun.
     There her smile faded, leaving a troubled expression in its wake.  It was perturbing, the bits
and pieces she'd gleaned from Mamoru's idle words.  Could the strange incidents that had dogged
Ranko really be connected to the vampire somehow?  What might this mean?
     "Usagi!"  She blinked, startled out of her reverie by the shout.  Her gaze raked the street in
front of the station, spotting Makoto straddling her motorcycle.  The tall girl pulled her helmet off
and shook out her ponytail impatiently, and Usagi trotted over to her.
     "Mako-chan!  You can't park here, you'll get a ticket," she chided.
     "Never mind that," Makoto said tightly.  "Come on, we've got to go.  Get on."
     "Why?  What's happened?" Usagi asked, alarmed by Makoto's tone.
     "The Sisterhood tried to hit me at my place," Makoto informed her.  "I want to take you
someplace safe."
     "Oh, no," Usagi gasped, one hand fluttering to her mouth.  "You weren't hurt, were you?"
      "No, I'm fine," Makoto told her, fierce gaze softening somewhat.  "My friend Yoshi got
messed up, but he should be okay too.  I'm just worried that they'll try for you next."
     "What about Ami and Minako?  And Luna and Artemis?"
     "I got hold of the cats, told them to get out and meet up with us," Makoto told her, green eyes
grave.  "I've left a message for Ami to get back to me, and Artemis was going to try and get
Minako on her phone.  I'm sure they'll be fine, Usagi.  Let's just worry about getting you
somewhere safe, okay?"
     Numbly, Usagi put on the proffered helmet and climbed onto the back of Makoto's
motorcycle.  How had the Sisterhood found Makoto?
     There was one way they might have, but she refused to believe.  Rei wouldn't, she just
wouldn't.  No matter what.
     "Someplace safe," Usagi whispered.  But with her senshi divided, could her heart ever find
sanctuary?
 
 
 
 

end part 7