The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

Naturally, I own neither Sailor Moon nor Ranma. So here's the disclaimer

 

Ranma 1/2 and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC.

 

Previous chapters and other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C is appreciated.

 

Book 2:  Betrayed Consequences

Chapter 8:  Golden Plan

Formerly:  Reconstitution and Reincarnation Part 2

 

 


            The demoness dropped a gigantic gun on the table. It consisted of a frame holding stubby barrel that connected to an oversized action and feed. The device looked as if it would be more at home mounted on a vehicle than in the hands of a woman. "I am Heavy Weapons Girl, and this," Misako affectionately put her hands on the large gun, "is my weapon." She smirked at the others in the room.


            "She weighs over eighty kilograms and fires fifty dollar, forty millimeter custom-tooled grenades at over four rounds a second. It costs over twelve thousand dollars to fire this weapon for one minute," she confidentially added the last sentence in a low whisper


            The demoness then burst into a fit of laughter, while her sisters cautiously backed away.


            As her laughter died down, she waved her finger. She then looked down at some smudges on the barrel. Her eyes flared. "Oh my... who touched Sasha?" Her voice got angrier. "Who touched my gun?" She accused, turning to look at her sisters and agents.


            Ranma shook her head, and turned to Eve. "When are we going?"


            "Once the observers call back," Captain Eve Jarvis said with a little smile.


            Misako's voice grew solemn and she looked into the distance. "Some people think they can outsmart me, maybe" Misako sniffed and nodded. "Maybe. I've yet to meet one that can outsmart grenade," she said reaching onto her web harness over her bikini top and miniskirt and pulled out one of the nearly fist-sized munitions.


            "Your English is better than that." Ukyou rolled her eyes as she reassembled her gun.


            "I'm sorry I wasn't able to build you a second one," Nodoka apologized to Ukyou.


            "No, no, it's good that Aunty Eve got it."


            Nariko coughed as she adjusted how her sword hung at her hip.


            "Master Nishina still doesn't like the locking mechanism?" Nabiki asked with a bit of disappointment.


            "No, he doesn't. We're also working on the hinge for your knives too. Sorry," Nodoka frowned.


            "It's okay. You're making some really great stuff," Nabiki cheerfully stated. After seeing Nariko's sword on the test range, Nabiki was more than willing to wait if that's what it took.


            Nodoka smiled.


            Wearing a slightly modified version of standard combat gear, mostly to allow for her tail and wings, Eve tapped her headset and answered the message. After receiving a few statements a thin smile formed on her face.

 

            "Everyone into the helicopter!" she ordered. "I want Gold and Blue teams in position as soon as possible."


            "What'd they find?" Ranma asked as she jogged beside her sister.


            "About three dozen warm bodies and a smattering of Pattern A. There's at least two AOM fathers there."


            "Nice," Ranma said as she climbed onto the helicopter. She turned to Misako. "You ready for the next part, Honey?"


            Misako affectionately patted Sasha as the BlackHawk lifted off. "Oh, yes."


            "What about you?" Ranma asked Eve. "You can fly fine in practice, but..."


            "I'll be okay," Jarvis assured her sister. "I do have more experience jumping out of aircraft than you."


            "Yes," Ranma smirked. Eve was a bit clumsy in the air, but unlike everyone else she landed right on her feet the first time.


            "We're three minutes out," Lieutenant Hilbert said over their headsets. Happy to be flying into battle again, he increased altitude. His job was to get them to the target location before the enemy had a chance to prepare. After confirming with the Captain he put the helicopter into a slight dive then quickly pulled it into an orbit around the buildings.


            Bracing herself on the open port helicopter door, Misako then aimed the shouldered weapon and depressed the trigger. Immediately the gun cycled up and as it emptied belts of grenades she laughed loudly and maniacally. "Cry some more!" she laughed as the grenades were launched at a trio of doublewide trailers sitting in a clearing in the woods. It near the weapon's maximum range but given the size of the targets...


            Most of the rounds hit one of the three dwellings and exploded, ripping through the thin walls. Hilbert and Lindemann's night vision goggles showed figures within the building falling and breaking apart. They could also see the buildings themselves starting to sag and collapse.


            Once the firing died down Ukyou scoped out the carnage. She could swear the smell of blood rose up from the shredded buildings. "You had to copy that video game didn't you?" she asked.


            "Heh, cry some more." Misako chuckled; she then turned to her mate. "What? Heavy Weapons Guy is cool." She shrugged. "I wonder if grandma would build me a gun like his."


            "Jump!" Ranma admonished as she pushed Misako out of the aircraft, once it had dived to the release height. Immediately after that the rest of the broodlings leapt and Ranma was alone with her sister.

 

***************


            Pacing down the length of the small room, Mike Stevedore eyed the flimsy door. He rubbed his nose and pushed some hair out of his face. "I don't like it, there's too many higher ups."


            "What you told Father Chesterfield was important," Bill said as he stretched out. "I mean the redhead you saw was obviously the main demon, but that blonde..." He waved a hand. "Those Mercenaries really are selling their souls to become demons."


            "But I mean... they saw me," Mike scratched his arm.


            "Yeah, but you lost them, and now you've told Chesterfield. You did real good."


            "But what if... what if I didn't shake them?"


            Bill laughed. "Then they would have caught you, ripped out your guts and eaten you. Don't worry kid. You're clear."


            A low droning noise grew to audibility and the door slammed open, almost destroying itself in the process. The stout and sturdy frame of Father Chesterfield came out being followed by two Assembly priests. "We've got demons!" He shouted just as the roof seemed to explode. The initial concussion knocked them down and Stevedore looked up to see a shell fall right next to Bill.


            Chesterfield seemed immune to the spray of blood and shrapnel and motioned for his men to follow. One of them was cut down by the indiscriminant barrage. Chesterfield and the remaining priest crouched down and went through the other door.

 

***************

 


            Ranma pulled the broken door open and Eve stepped over the wreckage. The blonde fired her weapon twice and then dashed into the room followed by Ranma and Nariko. Almost purring, Eve knelt down and moved forward. She looked down to see a headless body and smiled at the bloody mess.


            She stepped forward and passed the other shot person and found a third body, this one had a large gash in his side and was trying to get up. Eve noted the gun in his hand and with an economical rake of her claws tore through his sternum and cut his heart apart.


            Before retracting her left hand, she briefly paused to savor the energy. She then looked to the next room and motioned with her hand before taking aim with her sidearm.


            Nariko smiled and drew her sword as her mother shot a DarkStar burst through the flimsy wall and Eve shouldered through the door. Nariko jumped through the opening and raised her sword to block the long bayonet of Father Chesterfield. He responded by flicking out a second blade which Nariko sidestepped.


            "Interesting training," Eve remarked as she kept aim on the priest, who had parried Nariko's slash and tried to thrust forward on her open side.


            "Yes, it took a lot of self control to not fry him myself," Ranma remarked as her eyes flared. "His buddies are coming Nari-chan, don't dawdle."


            "Yes, Mother," Nariko grumbled as she caught the end of one of the bayonets with her blade and tried to flick it off. She found herself pulling away to block an attack with his other blade.


            She parried his attack by going got inside the sweep and slashed across at chest-height which was narrowly dodged by Chesterfield dropping down. The stout man then pounced up leading with both of his blades now glowing a bright yellow.


            Nariko smirked and, jumping to the side and pivoting on one leg, struck downward. Now perpendicular to the charging man's weapons, the edge of her blade turned red as it struck. There was a brief flare as her sword sunk through the two blessed blades and cut them down.


            He instantly rotated the blade in his near hand and stabbed forward with the truncated instrument as his other hand threw the weapon at her head. One-handed, Nariko flicked her blade up to knock away the projectile while with her momentarily free hand she grabbed the back of the stabbing blade.


            "Lightning Devastation!" she yelled sending a surge of power into the broken bayonet.


            Chesterfield dropped the blade but not before receiving a sizable shock. His aura flickering he momentarily backed away. Nariko pouted; she could sense another priest just about to arrive and had to finish this.


            With a shrug she leveled her sword. "Lightning Devastation!" The electrical power readily went to her blade where it was channeled and shot forward, right into an armored figure that had thrown himself in front of Chesterfield.


            The newcomer's aura held long enough for him to toss a sequence of blades from within his coat. Nariko flipped her sword over and intercepted most while sidestepping to dodge the rest. Right then the younger priest's aura failed and before he could respond Nariko stabbed down into his kidney and, on the follow-through, that cut bone, armor and entrails with ease, moved the blade diagonally up to his chest. In the same motion she turned to Chesterfield, who had rearmed and was backing away. His eyes darted to Ranma and Eve.


            "Oh, don't mind us," Ranma said as she appraised the cut Nariko had made. It had managed to damage most of the major organs and sever the spine, nicely retarding the second priest's regeneration.


            "We're just proctoring," Eve added.


            Ranma raised an eyebrow "That's it. Help Nariko: kill him."


            Before Ranma could finish, Eve had fired her gun. As this happened, Chesterfield flared his shield and moved as to put Nariko between himself and the blonde. His blades came up and one met Nariko's sword where she deflected and then pulled her blade back to cut his extended arm.

 

            Edge glowing red, the katana dug through his aura like a fork into pudding. The blade then met the armor to the arm which provided much less resistance and it descended until there was no resistance.


            Nariko pulled away and dodged the blade in his remaining hand before ducking down and sweeping her blade low. Chesterfield managed to stab his bayonet down and intercept the attack before it hit his leg. The yellow glow around his blade almost managed to hold up to the katana's dark aura, but he had exposed himself. The sword snapped through the bayonet and cut through his left leg at the knee.


            Eve had been moving but this opportunity came up before she could flank the priest. With an exposed head and chest the blonde took the most educational target. Five rounds each weighing over thirty-five grams and having a kinetic energy of eight kilo-Joules slammed into the protective aura at over twice the speed of sound.


            He had no chance to dodge and the aura around his head crumpled and vanished, just like everything above his shoulder blades. The body fell and Nariko quickly extracted the heart with her sword.


            "Sure?" Eve asked looking hungrily at the offered organ.


            "You passed Mother's training test well," Nariko said with a smile.


            "I thought you were the one being trained?" Eve asked as she reloaded her gun.


            "Everything's training, everyone gets trained," Ranma said as she shoved the heart into Eve's mouth. The blonde bit down and eagerly ate the rest of the organ causing the brood mother to smile.

 

***************

 


            Nabiki held her hands and with concentration released a spray of tiny icicles that shot and embedded themselves in the slightly dazed acolytes. The grenade attack had just ended and they found a little demon had entered the makeshift barracks.


            Further back a pair with a bit more clarity watched as their friends got blown apart when the icicles detonated. Before they could grab their weapons, one was pounced on and had a hand slice through his spine at the hips while the other managed to grab a gun. Only to have it explode in his hands when an inky shadow reached up and contacted it.


            Akane quickly moved on and joined Nabiki who had fired through the door to the next room causing more confusion. The two dashed into the room and anticlimactically found that the occupants were mostly dead with only a couple survivors who at least tried to fight.


            "This is disappointing," Akane grumbled.


            "What do you expect, Misako did have some fun with that toy of hers." Nabiki frowned at the newly minted paraplegic. "Sis, finish your kills," she admonished while launching a fireball at the crawling man.


            "Sorry," Akane looked at where he had dragged himself. It was odd it looked like he had gone to a locker and then back towards the center of the room. "You think he was trying to escape?" She tried to walk closer but was stopped by her sister


            "Judging by the grenades on him, he's booby-trapped himself."


            "Now that's just uncivilized."


            "Yeah, well they know we tend to eat them," Nabiki spoke into her headset. "Central building is clear. Minor resistance, no survivors."


            "Least you got some," Misako grumbled over the audio channel. "South building was already being cleared by Gold Team. By the time we got there, there was nothing to do but have a snack and move some live ones."


            "Oh yeah, we were supposed to do that," Akane shrugged.


            "You have no right to complain about not seeing any action," Ukyou lectured.


            Nabiki smirked; she could tell Misako was rolling her eyes.


            "Rendezvous at the North building," Nariko ordered finally, speaking on the audio channel. "The outside seems secure but use caution."

 

***************

 


            Consciousness returned to Stevedore as screams and gunfire neared. It sounded like some type of heavy weapon that was slowly, deliberately firing. In the distance, automatic weapons fire came in periodic bursts.


            He limped over to the body of one of the priests. He barely registered the nature of attack that killed someone who could regenerate; the entire room was trashed and one of the walls bowed unsettlingly. As he fumbled about for a weapon, someone swooped into the room. Drawing a sidearm, Stevedore turned to see a flash of red-tinged silver.


            "He looks familiar," Eve pondered, looking at the decapitated head with a pout.


            "Did you want him?" Nariko asked, wiping her sword.


            "No, there's a couple alive in the next room," Eve remarked.


            "Finally," Ranma formed another DarkStar burst and motioned to the others. Shadows lengthened around her as her hair began to writhe. The orb exploded, and like previously, gave more concussive force than magical shrapnel. The three demons entered the room and quickly covered the two survivors. One of whom looked to be older than the average clueless acolyte.


            One looked up to find Nariko's blade at his throat while the other had the beaming face of Ranma standing to his side while Eve covered them both a few paces behind. "Central building secure, all teams check in," Eve reported over the audio channel. She briefly looked over the room, one wall had collapsed and the ceiling was sagging. The rest of the room was broken and splintered, including half of a large table that seemed to have been covered with reports and photographs. "Okay, bring in any captured to my location."


            "Rendezvous at the North building," Nariko said to her sisters via her headset


            "That everything?" Ranma asked while watching the fidgeting man's hateful eyes.


            "The outside seems secure but use caution," Nariko added.


            "This is why you should make sure no one's spying on your little spies," Ranma laughed. "Or did you think you were so clever that we wouldn't find you?"


            "There's no point in telling him," Eve gently reprimanded. "These guys are in over their heads. They still think that they're going to fight swarms of feral minions." She said while wondering. The Assembly had to have some inkling of what they were up against, and their surveillance had generated plenty of intelligence data for them. Which all strongly implied a desire for another attack, one with more finesse and preparation than previous ones.


            Eve turned and gave a tiny smile to the two Assembly of Man members who were brought in by a squad of agents with brood escort. "Nice work Lieutenant Patterson," Eve said after looking over the bound men. She turned to the shorter of the two men who had been brought in. "Well Paladin, it looks like you're the ranking figure here. Your last attack gave a nice Casus belli. Now, neither of us officially exist, so there's no pesky oversight to worry about," she lied on her last statement as she walked over and smirked at the phone on the table, amazingly it appeared operational.


            "Your actions will determine what happens here," Captain Jarvis explained.


            "You're not going to win, demon!" Paladin Farnsworth defiantly spat.


            Eve lowered the hand that had intercepted the saliva, and sighed. "Simple silence would have been more productive than childish impudence."


            Paladin Farnsworth glared.


            "Yes, yes, you have your pride, and your willingness to die for your cause." Eve motioned and Morrison roughly shoved Farnsworth into a chair. "We all know how this will end."


            "You won't get anything from me." Farnsworth tried to rise but the barrel of a HOG slammed onto the back of his head.


            Eve raised an eyebrow. "At the very least, I'll be entertained and have a nice meal."


            "You think the Inquisitors are bad?" Ukyou inquired. "The Assembly's got a lot to learn."


            "Yes, we have your documents. You're just a bonus." Eve said as she sat down on the table and her tail lazily waved behind her. She noted how the paladin's eyes followed it but did not smile.


            The blonde picked up a photograph. "You've been tracking our motor-pools. Not a bad idea, and it just came at the cost of a few recon people. That's nothing, you folks are approaching company strength losses, so what do you guys really matter? Must be lovely for morale though."


            Ukyou stepped in and leveled her gun to cover the fourth man and allow her mother to go over to Eve. Ukyou sighed, she used her power but the four captured assemblymen were too fearful already to do much good.


            "You expect me to talk to get leniency? A quick death? I won't betray humanity like that."


            "Of course not, you're not that much of a weasel. Though, you won't talk in exchange for a quick death for your men either," Eve shrugged. "And I know none of your men would talk in exchange for leniency."


            Ranma looked at the paladin and chuckled to herself.


            Nariko warmly smiled at the man she held at sword-point.


            "So we come to the part that we all knew was coming," Eve said as she extended a single claw. "Make sure the microphones are on."


            Nabiki looked at the four men and a smile formed. "So! Any one you don't like and want to see go first? Better speak up now you won't get another chance like this."


            The one being covered by Nariko spoke up. "Paladin Farnsworth's always been a real dick, but I wouldn't wish this on him."


            "Consider it a freebee," Eve said as she pulled Farnsworth out of his chair and tossed him onto the floor; she jumped down and pulled him up to his knees. Using a single claw she disemboweled the paladin. Farnsworth screamed and thrashed; he would have tried to hold in his entrails but his hands were handcuffed behind him. "I could have that nice girl decapitate you with her sword," Eve whispered into his ear.


            The paladin shivered and cut off his screams. "Doesn't matter, you'll all die, monsters," he swore.


            "I was always a monster," Eve chuckled before ramming her tail into the back of Farnsworth's chest. More blood poured out of the wound in his stomach and the man slumped over into the blonde's hungry arms.


            "Not too entertaining, but you did get a meal," Ranma said as she patted her sister on the shoulder.


            Eve forced down a blush and sliced out the liver and handed it to the redhead.


            "Oh, I can't," Ranma said as she politely declined.


            "No, I insist, I know you really like it," Eve assured.


            "But it's your first; you need it more than me." Ranma blinked and looked up. For a moment she could swear she smelled Rei.


            "You're going to take half," Eve stated as she began to cut the liver over the paladin's corpse.


            "A quarter," Ranma paused, the Senshi's odor had dissipated just as oddly as it had arrived.


            "One third." Eve had already cut the liver and handed the smaller piece to the redhead.


            "Oh alright," Ranma laughed as she began to munch on the organ. She walked away to discretely ask if anyone else sensed any new Senshi.


            Eve quickly finished her meal and flicked some of the blood off of her hands. "So does anyone else have a request?"

 

***************

 


            Ranma handed Eve a towel after the blonde stepped out of the locker-room shower. "Well?"


            "Yes, it's very refreshing," Eve said as she dried off. "My work's not normally that... messy." The blonde then went to her locker and started to get dressed.


            "You're having fun," Ranma allowed. She was surprised Eve had been as contained as she was, especially with the last one.


            "The documents proved more useful anyway," the blonde shrugged as she put her hair back up in its bun.


            "You were right, those goobers didn't know what they were doing," Ranma said as she watched her sister dress.


            "Compartmentalization is not a bad idea. They know what will happen if captured," Eve smirked as she gave a final adjustment to her skirt.


            "They'd have a different team carry out the hit," Ranma guessed as the two left the locker room and walked down the corridor. "Interesting."


            "They have the manpower for it. For now at least." Eve turned to the redhead. "How did I do tonight?" she asked a hint of bashfulness slipping into her voice as her tail curled.


            Ranma stopped. "Well, you mostly used your Company training. Nothing wrong with that. Close quarter combat hasn't come up yet. Don't worry, if I didn't trust you in a fight you wouldn't be here."


            Eve nodded. "Shame, Nariko wasn't challenged more."


            "That's why I had you practice on him," Ranma stated as they resumed walking. "It's good experience for her though."


            "Good," Eve said as she knocked on Jacob's office. The two demons were let in. Ranma went to the couch and watched Eve salute and give her report.


            "Interesting," Jacob finally said while he thumbed through copies of some of the captured documents. "You believe they were going to hit us in convoy?"


            "Yes Sir, they were watching out transit routes," Eve explained.


            "Did you know there was a working phone in that room?" Jacob asked, carefully studying the captain's face. He continued before the demon could respond. "Apparently, it was connected to one of their monasteries. I'm sure it gave them some interesting information. Of course, they would have known about the attack and the loss of their operation."


            "Were you able to track a location of their base?" Jarvis asked.


            Jacob leaned back slightly. "We're working on that."


            "Where's Stillwater?" Ranma asked.


            "He's still in a conference call with the general. While Major Koster's report was ultimately favorable of our operation, the developments with the Assembly reach beyond this command."


            "And?" Ranma politely asked.


            "All North American faculties are being put on higher alert." Jacob chuckled. "Counter espionage against the Assembly will be more vigorous too."


            The redhead laughed.


            "A full debriefing will occur tomorrow, but what's your opinion?" Jacob asked.


            "The Assembly has been stung, but they won't stop," Eve appraised.


            "What? We're going to have to kill them all?"


            Jacob shrugged. "That's their choice. They started this fight; we'll finish it."

 

***************

 


            "Well, that was fun," Minako said just after detransforming. She took a sip of water.


            "Are you kidding?" Usagi gasped as she wiped some sweat off her brow. She pouted at the running showers. It had taken a couple practices for Setsuna to reveal that their training warehouse even had showers. Though both were being used by Makoto and Rei. Usagi envied Setsuna who never got sweaty enough to need to wash.


            "We got her pretty good tonight." Minako smiled.


            "Really? I thought we were going to lose once her balls stopped glowing," Usagi sighed. Not just were the orbs hard to see but the rest of the warehouse darkened.


            "Well, they still glowed a bit, like soap bubbles. Or pretty shimmering butterflies." Minako paused in thought. "Yeah iridescent. That's what it's called!"


            "Yeah. So, you think we're ready for Ami?"


            Minako tilted her head. "No we're not," she said in almost a whisper.


            "What?"


            "It's your responsibility. You're the one that's to take Ami, put her on her knees and show her who's boss."


            Usagi stared at Minako.


            "Gah, no not like that!" Minako waved her arms, though she was fairly certain that's exactly what Mistress Mercury wanted.


            "Yes, we've got to find her first." Usagi sighed.


            "Don't worry, she'll be coming for us nice and soon," Minako assured.


            Usagi narrowed her eyes.


            Setsuna stepped in and gave a knowing smile to Minako. "Venus is right. Mercury wants you and she won't stop. Not now."


            The princess nodded. "I know... it's just... scary."


            "Scarier than DarkStar?" Minako skeptically asked.


            Usagi paused while Setsuna frowned. DarkStar was an option. She was a Senshi too, and one that Mercury feared.


            "I mean..." Minako coughed. "You've seen her at her worst right? All covered in blood, right after eating someone. You weren't scared then... in fact you kinda spaced out and drooled a bit." The blonde paused and looked at the clouded, distant expression that had formed on her princess' face. "Yeah... like that."


            "Yes, well-" Setsuna raised and eyebrow. "Usagi knows DarkStar won't hurt her."


            "Unless Usagi was into it," Minako muttered she looked over to see an almost contemplative expression forming on the other blonde's face.


            Setsuna did not miss it either and made a note to talk to her Princess in private.

 

***************

 


            Eve pulled off her clothes. "When will you let me sleep back at my place?"


            "When you stop living on a cot in your office," Ranma remarked as she stripped.


            "Oh," Eve shrugged.


            "You're also still very young," Nabiki said as she nudged Akane over, waking her older sister up in the process.


            "I guess," Eve said crossing her hands over her chest.


            Ranma frowned. "You should know this, we don't really sleep alone." She looked to Nariko who was sleeping with Akane curled up on her side. "It's just not what succubae do."


            Eve nodded. She had not been alone ever since being turned. She sat down on the edge of the giant bed that dominated the room.


            "There you are," Nodoka smiled, opening the door. She sat down and started pulling off her lab coat. "How was the mission?"


            "It was fine," Ranma said, hugging her mother from behind. "No injuries and we wiped them all out."


            "That's good," Nodoka said after she had neatly folded her clothes. "Did you find anything useful Eve?"


            "I suppose," Eve said as she found Ranma sitting next to her and pushing her down. The redhead then used the larger woman as a makeshift pillow. Eve shrugged and tried to make herself more comfortable. "We'll know more once the captured documents are analyzed."


            "Good," Nodoka said as she slipped into the brood pile.


            Ranma smirked at Eve's well-hidden surprise. "Mom doesn't do it as much as she would like, but she sleeps here whenever she can."


            Eve nodded but she still fidgeted as Nodoka moved next to her. "Calm down. Dear, you have slept with women before?"


            "Not before she was turned," Ranma remarked.


            Nodoka raised an eyebrow. "Are you still a virgin?"


            "Nein," Eve stated, slightly hurt.


            "You were rather handsome," Nabiki remarked not opening her eyes. "I'm sure you had plenty of one night stands."


            "It's okay, Sis," Ranma assured snuggling on her. "Don't worry about it."

 

***************


            Mercury glared at the man sitting across from her. She suppressed the urge to rip his tie off and properly knot it. "What brings you here?" she asked regaining her composure.


            "Well, the intermission is almost over; I'm just checking things out before curtain rises," Murdock amiably said before sniffing his wineglass.


            "Oh?" Mercury inquired.


            "Yes, I know you're suspicious; rightly so," he chuckled when Mercury took a large drink from her glass. "The time is coming for you to prove your worth."


            "I know that," she replied, coolly leaning back into the leather wingback chair.


            "You've made a nice image, very thematic," he held his glass and changed his expression to match that of someone in an art gallery. "I really like how you don't look sinister, or even overtly evil." He took a small sip and winced imperceptibly. "Still a bit green in this, but overall, it's been well played."


            "I'm glad I meet with your approval."


            "Oh, don't be so icy." Murdock waved a finger. "You're being a bit too dramatic. This isn't a game."


            "Coming from the man dressed in a deliberately rumpled suit?" Mercury rolled her eyes. "Your entire look is ripped right from Noir."


            "Nah, I don't dress well enough to be in Les Soldats," Murdock took another sip. "Maybe you're onto something. This vintage is growing on me. It's... amusingly dry."


            "Yes, I suppose you'll next say I should let it mature a bit more, to reach it's full potential."


            "Actually, I was just going to ask for another glass."


            "I can see why you drove Setsuna insane," Mercury admitted as she motioned for Orion to freshen his glass. She had her own plans for the Guardian of the Gates.


            "And yet DarkStar proved impervious to my machinations," Murdock said, mirthfully. He frowned at the crestfallen dark mistress. "Now, now, I'm sure you'll make the Queen see things your way, and that she'll reward you for all your hard work."


            "Don't patronize me," Mercury glared.


            "Well, don't make it so easy." Murdock looked down and straightened his silver tie clip. "You're getting maudlin and sulking in your nicely appointed and well-stocked lair."


            Mercury glared.


            "Oh now, you're pouting even more, great combination with the evening wear." He turned to Orion. "She's looking dangerously cute right?"


            Orion coughed.


            "What do you want?"


            "That's a question that'll drive you insane. Why not take a page from DarkStar? She doesn't give a damn what my plans are, provided they don't interfere with hers."


            "And what is she planning?"


            Murdock laughed. "Oh, you're kidding me? You don't know what she's up to?"


            "You should just tell me, then."


            The grey-eyed man kept laughing. "Oh man, you are wet behind the ears."


            "Don't you want me to be better informed so I'll do your bidding?"


            Murdock clamed himself and took a slow drink. He paused reflectively. "No, not really. I think you're working out just fine."


            Mercury's frustration had started to lower the temperature in the room.


            "Besides, you're not working for me." He put down his glass. "Good luck trying to convince anyone that."


            "I don't need to."


            Murdock nodded. "So... where is Virgo? I don't see a statue."


            "You know where she is."


            "Helping you capture another blonde?" Murdock asked as he leaned back into his chair. "I hope it's not a certain blue-eyed demonic lass."


            "Damn Germans!" Mercury swore as her hand clenched over the stem of her wine glass


            "The Captain upsets you that much?" Murdock asked.


            "Yes! DarkStar makes a little protégée out of a Company officer. And of course it's one that's a complete perfectionist." Mercury clenched her hand.


            Orion silently watched.


            "DarkStar does have the highest of standards," Murdock reminded.


            "Yes, so she picked the best. Someone that's scary to agents. Someone that specializes in torture and was a cold killing-machine as a human. And what do I have to work with?" Mercury waved. "Imitations."


            "That's a harsh evaluation," Murdock noted. "But I'm sure jealousy is in no way tainting your judgment. Sure DarkStar and her friends can kill, torture, and consume their enemies, and be mostly accepted by the Senshi, but you... one little fight where you hogtie them with ice and they suddenly start calling you a Dark Senshi."


            He leaned forward and folded his hands. "You have a tremendous opportunity here. You have no oversight, but tremendous knowledge at your disposal. The narrative can shift fully into your court. You just have to keep playing the right people."


            "It's not that easy," Mercury sighed.


            "It's not supposed to be," Murdock sipped from his glass. "If things were easy you'd be done by now."


            Mercury narrowed her eyes.


            "We are operating on time constraints here," Murdock stated, his voice finally getting stern.


            "Care to enlighten me about that?" Mercury asked.


            Murdock laughed. "Oh my, no. If you want to learn more you've gotta do your own research. I have a certain expectation from you, and you don't want to disappoint me."


            Mercury repressed a shiver at the jovial expression. Her scans and scrying were not able to pick anything up. He was a void. "I'm not just some expendable minion."


            "No, you're certainly not a minion." Murdock smirked.


            Mercury rubbed her temple.


            "So, is that it?" he shrugged. "I guess you're progressing satisfactorily."


            Mercury gritted her teeth as frost started to form around her.


            "Oh? The inanities of a known liar still hurt you. No wonder you're beneath DarkStar's notice," he put down the glass and dusted his hands. "So what are you going to do?"


            Mercury finished her drink and looked Murdock in the eye. "I think it's time for you to leave," she calmly ordered as her left hand gave a little motion.


            Murdock casually looked over and saw Orion moving to his side. "Yes, I suppose it is," he said before standing up. He looked at the glaring Mercury and straightened his jacket. "I'm sure you'll do just fine," he smiled before taking his hat and leaving the room.


           

***************

 


            Sitting on the back porch, Happosai tamped his pipe. "So you're my student's new sister?"


            "Yes," Eve stated simply as she sipped at her coffee.


            "Ranma does good work," Happosai remarked after a lecherous appraisal.


            Eve smirked and stretched her neck.


            He took a long drag from his pipe. "You know waking up earlier than Ranma won't get you out of training."


            Eve shrugged.


            "Now I'm not gonna ask why you changed; that's obvious." The diminutive man chuckled.


            "Yes, I wanted to be a sexy lady," Eve dryly remarked, cupping her chest.


            "Don't tempt an old man," Happosai did not even try to conceal what he was staring at. "I'm being good."

 

            Eve smiled and took another sip.


            Happosai tilted his head. "Well, I should be waking up my other students."


            The blonde smirked. "They seem harmless enough." She remembered interviewing Genma those months ago.


            Happosai raised an eyebrow but went back to his smoking. "She is a busy girl," he said eventually. "School, training, battles: it's never a dull moment."


            "Nothing wrong with that," Eve remarked. In the past, keeping busy had always allowed him to ward off metaphorical demons, and be prepared for fighting literal ones. Now she had even more reasons to keep up the same pace, there was more to fight for.


            "There you are," Ranma said as she bounded onto the porch from the kitchen. Her hair bounced around with the rest of her. "You should put on your unitard," the redhead said with a smirk.


            "Want some help with the training?" Happosai offered.


            "Yes, that'll do," Ranma said with an evil laugh.

 

***************

 


            Mercury glowered as the bright green sheet rose from the floor to the ceiling. After a pause the symbols on the large metal door on the opposite end of the alcove flashed brightly and then dimmed to an even glow. She sighed as the door eased its way open.


            "The mechanism is powered by your Senshi magic?" Orion asked following her mistress into a corridor far larger than the one they had entered. To the left, it ran for several hundred meters and was spotted with occasional sets of huge doors. To the right it widened to become some type of receiving dock that ended in a set of airlocks similar to the one they entered from, save on a much larger scale. Orion supposed that an airliner could be nosed into this storage facility, which was absurd given how ridiculously far underground they were.


            "Yes," Mercury sniffed as she looked around the dim metallic corridors. "It's a way to make sure it will last and prevent unauthorized access."


            Orion snickered. They were probably the definition of unauthorized access, now.

 

            "It looks okay in here," she noted, still surprised by the lack of damage. That the environmental systems were still keeping the atmosphere in a mix of mothballing noble gasses was less impressive. Though the breathing abilities of their Senshi magic was appreciated.


            "The palace battle never got this deep. The Queen ended it before they got this far," Mercury explained as she placed her gloved palm on a panel on the nearest a set of immense doors. Pieces of metal the size of barn-sides slid away and the two stepped into a gigantic room. With a wave of her hand recessed lights, most of which still activated, did their best at illuminating the room. Marching down the length were rows of large and decrepit metal and crystal machinery. She frowned and knelt down over a pile of small crystals spilled in between some desks.


            "Anything good?" Orion asked picking up a clear sheet covered in writing.


            Mercury shook her head. "Well, there's a few old games, some data processing programs, one that'll write scrolls for filing reports," she explained as she passed each crystal under a reader built into her gloves. "This one has control spells for an adaptive scrying array," she passed it to Orion who put it into a satchel.


            "Did they really do their research here?" Orion asked walking between the hulking machines. The absence of dust or wear was disquieting, but not as odd as the occasional empty spot marked by empty brackets, severed cables, and broken runes.


            "Disappointing isn't it?" Mercury sighed as she prodded a broken thaumatic analyzer.


            "But the gates... this was supposed to be huge?"


            "Yes, but the Queen developed it at the start of her empire." Mercury walked over to a wall where wedged between what had to be a calendar and a landscape poster was a schematic of... something. Mercury tried to make herself believe that the diagram in the center was that of a set of doors.


            "What, they stopped studying it after they started using the gates?" Orion asked with shock.


            "It became routine." Mercury took the diagram and handed it to Orion. "I guess compared to the Silver Crystal the gates seemed more sane."


            "What about the stuff they removed?" Orion had walked off and was leafing through some documents that had been spilled on the floor. They appeared to be tutorials for data analysis and spell simulators.


            "Relocated to more important projects? Mothballed in custom purpose storage? Who knows?" Mercury shrugged. She pulled at a tag on one of the viewing crystals. "That's odd."


            Orion stood up after storing a scroll that taught golem design. "What?"


            Mercury opened her hand and watched as the red tag fell back down. "Did you see any tags on the machines you looked at?"


            "Some of them, sure," Orion recalled. "What's it mean?"


            "They're shutdown tags." Mercury had already walked to another piece of equipment and was searching for another date.


            Orion walked back to a large device consisting of concentric tubes at different angles. "And the numbers on them are the date they were shut down." She pulled at the red tag and read the date and hibernation mode. "Huh...."


            "It's an early year isn't it?"


            "Yeah, this is... before DarkStar's time. No wonder this stuff's so old."


            "Strange." Mercury shook her head. "But they kept it setup... mostly," she frowned at one of the empty stations. The absent machines reminded her of a smile with missing teeth.


            "So... they abandoned the research after determining the gates were safe to use. They probably spent a bit more time figuring out the accuracy of the system, and ways of blocking it. Then they removed machines that were needed elsewhere," Orion proposed.


            Mercury turned and gave a little smile to the other Senshi. "Yes, I suppose they did. My predecessor's notes mention this being a surprisingly boring project."


            "She didn't spend that much time on it?"


            "Unless she was deliberately misleading on the notes that only Senshi of Mercury were going to read." Mercury looked at the small office at the far end of the room. The walls were glass and allowed a full view of the large room's apparatuses and workstations. The office was completely stripped save for an achievement award plaque that rested on the desk. The date on it was a few years before those on the deactivation tags.


            "Anything?"


            "Nope," Mercury walked past Orion and hastily made her way out of the experimental suite and back to the main corridor. The two skimmed through three more large rooms, each one with more equipment missing. Though the machinery that remained was even larger and more cryptic. The last chamber they entered was nothing but an empty gantry that was half disassembled. The neat piles of struts and bolts and total absence of scattered papers or inane data storage crystals was surprisingly disquieting.


            The two left the final lab and were at the armored doors that barred the far end of the long corridor. Orion appraised at the collection of metallurgy and runes. "The notes were right. The gate's behind this door?"


            Mercury shook her head. "Nope" She stood before the door and cringed as a silver flash washed over her body. Just before dying out the lights briefly sparked over her ice skirt. The doors eased open revealing another alcove and an even more impressive metal door. She sighed and motioned for Orion to follow her. After a few more increasingly... personal scans the final door opened to reveal a darkened room.


            "What would have happened if the scans failed me?" Orion asked blinking at the darkness. She could make out an indistinct shape on the far side of the room


            "Anyone who was not a Senshi or a part of the project would probably have been vaporized." Mercury smiled, sweetly.


            "Interesting way to prove I'm the genuine article, Mistress." Orion said, but Mercury had already wandered into the dark room. Orion did allow a smile to form when the blue-haired woman almost tripped over a chair.


            Orion stepped forward and idly noticed a handful of crystal displays that were still glowing. The room itself was semicircular in shape, in the middle of the outer arc was the airlock to the corridor. She could see that the walls of the outer arc were stocked with shelves full of books, scrolls, and crystals. The inner arc was sunken slightly and had an oblique wall that jutted out further on the top. Workstations with still active displays dotted this arc.


            The slanted wall of the inner arc was a curved window that was a single piece. From the refraction Orion guessed that it had to be over sixty centimeters thick. She also noticed that recessed on the inside of the arc were tracks for what had to be some kind of armored shutter. These all paled before what was on the other side of the window.


            It looked like a pair of elegant paneled doors suspended by an overwrought archway, which was a riot of styles and detailing. The doors were firmly shut and smoke crept around what she assumed to be floors. The smoke served to similarly obscure any far walls or the opposite ends of the chamber. Orion looked down and was not surprised to see the room extend below the observation deck. Shivering, she turned her gaze back up to the gates. As ugly as they were it gave less of a sense of vertigo than the misty cavity.


            "The Space-Time Door," Mercury stated glaring at the artifact.


            "They were still working here," Orion noted, turning her attention to one of the workstations. Before she moved further she poked a button near the door and the room lit up. While the glow from the workstations and illumination from the gate chamber did provide weak lighting, neither provided enough illumination. Aside from that, the light they provided felt wrong. There should not be light coming from mist, and the displays simply hurt her eyes.


            "Yes, one has to keep an eye on things," Mercury snickered.


            "How do we get to the gates themselves?"


            "We don't. Nothing would distract Setsuna from that, but this place was designed to spy on the gates."


            "And anyone who should have access to the gate itself wouldn't be so mundane to merely walk to it." Orion snickered.


            Mercury ignored her and went to a workstation and paged through the output. It seemed to be recording emissions and usage from the gates. The spikes of activity seemed to match her memory, but she was sure to make a copy of the data with a blank crystal of her own creation.


            Orion raised an eyebrow and started browsing the library. The titles seemed to be all reference materials and recordings of emissions from the gates. Once she found the latter she started going back in descending order. "I found data from when this thing first came online!"


            Mercury looked up from the workstation. "Good. Make a copy," she said fidgeting with one of her hair pins as she worked.


            "They recorded the gates being used here, and then analyzed and tried to replicate the results in the labs down the hall," Orion suggested as she went to another workstation to copy those earliest crystals.


            "Sure," Mercury mumbled. She stopped playing with her hair and stared at the doors. They were a representation; a projection of an artifact that, using the Key of Space-Time, could be accessed at any time and place. This made the presence of a observation platform for the gates... odd. The Queen must have wanted the gates watched while reams of ultimately futile data was taken.


            "Anything else?" Orion asked after she finished making the copies.


            Mercury sighed. "No. I think we're done here."


            "What's wrong?" Orion walked over to her mistress.


            "I don't like this. Everything seems... staged." She brushed a bit of her hair. "There must have been more. Queen Serenity didn't build it, but she felt the need to have people study it."


            "Give it a veneer of approval. Why?"


            "Yes, one wonders what is so questionable that the Queen needed to have others approve it," Mercury sighed again. She did not like where this was going.


            "What about our spells to block the gate?" Orion asked.


            "Yes, we need to cross-index it with the data we've captured here."


            Orion nodded and started going to the recording library. "I do wonder how Murdock knew to do this. It's not like he could get in here."


            Mercury's frowned deepened. "Yes, he's not a Senshi. Not by a long shot."


            "We've got to figure out where he got his information." Orion made a note.


            "Murdock bears watching," Mercury reminded. "I don't think he really needed us, or DarkStar."


            Orion tilted her head. "I see," she said after a pause. "Then it's for the best that she can't see us."


            "I just hope she doesn't know what our next plan is."

 

***************


            "Where are you going Red?"  Sam asked as she ran up to the redhead.


            "Oh, I've gotta leave early," Ranma said as she strode towards the door.


            "Why?" the short-haired blonde asked with a big smile.


            Ranma turned and faced her friend, her free and teased red hair bouncing around her head. "You've certainly gotten more assertive."


            "I think you're a bad influence on us. Before you and your family came by, Naoko and I were perfectly normal," Sam teased.


            "Before I came you, two weren't going on dates," Ranma smirked.


            Sam blushed. "With guys. We've been going on double dates."


            "If you say so," the redhead teased.


            "I didn't know being a lesbian was a requirement for these uniforms," Sam said referring to the black-bloused,  purple-skirted, and fishnet-stockinged variant on the Furinkan uniform favored by the redhead's clique.


            Ranma smiled. "No, it's not a requirement per se."


            "So where are you going?" Sam asked as they made it to a side door.  She looked out to see a black leggy blonde leaning on an idling van. "She looks nice."


            "Oh Eve? Yeah, she's my sister... big sister obviously."


            Sam raised an eyebrow. "So, she's a cousin to Misako and Nabiki Saotome too? 


            "Well, yeah."


            "And Akane's a Tendo and Nariko's a Kuno.  Interesting family you've got going."


            Ranma coughed. "We're all close."


            "Are you close with your sister too? She's quite well developed." Sam said with a tinge of jealousy in her voice.


            The redhead held at the door, and looked over Sam. "Don't worry you're looking better too."


            "I noticed that. It's nice to finally fill out," Sam said as she crossed her hands over her chest. "I had to get some new bras."


            "Did you have to let out your blouse?" Ranma asked, she looked out to see Eve tapping her watch.


            "Oddly enough, no," Sam dryly remarked.


            "We'll talk later," Ranma promised. "But I've got an appointment," she said before running out to the waiting van.


            "Problems with your school friends?" Eve asked as she opened the side door for her sister.


            "They know me as a sixteen year old girl named Sunshine Saotome," Ranma shrugged as she pulled her hair back and felt it reluctantly form into a neat bun.


            "Useful," Eve remarked as she helped adjust her sister's hair. "Take us around the block, Morrison," the blonde told the driver.


            "Figured you'd like it that way," Ranma smirked and began to shift her clothes.


            "It does make you look older."  Eve evaluated the charcoal suit-skirt Ranma had shifted into. "Very professional."


            "Thank you," Ranma smiled as the van slowed and stopped a the high school's main entrance.


            "Are you sure about this meeting?" Eve handed a pair of sunglasses over to the redhead. "Your cover is pretty thin as it is."


            "It's just a parent teacher conference. Besides I'm a succubus, no one will believe that a teenager is the mother to teenagers. " Ranma stretched a bit, popping her spine. She straightened out and looked the blonde in the eye. "I'm pretty sure you've got some training to do," she suggested, her face gaining a predatory edge.


            Eve coughed, and returned to the van. "I'll be sure to practice my flying."


            "Good," Ranma said as she walked into the school with a more sensual and smooth gait.  She walked up to administration and found a prim teacher already waiting for her in a conference room.


            "You're in early," Ranma said as she sat down and looked around the room,  true to the Drake's tastes the framed pictures in the room showcased the natural beauty of his adopted country.


            Mrs. Nancy Asmik looked at her watch. "I suppose so." The mousy brunette frowned at the other woman. "You're, Nabiki's mother, Mrs. Ranma Saotome?"


            "Miss actually, but yes," Ranma said as she put her sunglasses away.


            "You must have had her when you were young," Nancy remarked. She chewed on her pen. "Isn't Misako her older sister?"


            Ranma looked Asmik in the eye. "I had Misako two months before I turned eighteen."


            "Oh,"  the teacher looked away. "Well you look..."


            "Believe me, it's really a curse.  I have girls in high school and I still get carded at bars." Ranma shook her head.  It was getting too easy to lie to people.  She had never been carded in a bar. "How is my Nabiki doing?"


            "As you know it's unusual to move a student two grade levels up, but..."


            "The Drake, I'm sorry, Principal Kuno and the administration of Saint Helena made their decision."


            Nancy looked the woman over. The redhead's face was more angular and her poise was that of a wearier woman.  The way she dressed was more than she expected from a teenage mother,  but that had to be sixteen years ago. "In this case I... I am reluctant to say that the Drake's judgment was correct."


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "Ah, your message was on the level, this is a routine meeting."


            "As such things are in this situation," Nancy looked among her notes. "Nabiki is a very bright girl.  She does have a bit of an attitude issue." She waved off the redhead's worried expression. "It's nothing more than teenage ego. I guess it's good she's getting it over with young.  I wish my daughter had kept her head when she was Nabiki's age."


            "She does not suffer fools well," Ranma allowed with a smile. "What happened with your daughter?"


            "Nothing that some time in the real world didn't straighten out," Nancy dismissed. "Yes, I noticed that about Nabiki.  Right now her situation is acute, but give her a few years and it will diminish."


            "That makes sense."


            "You remember,  the difference between someone your age and," Nancy did some mental arithmetic, "someone thirty, is nothing, but for Nabiki the difference between two years is a lot."


            Ranma nodded. "How is she with the other students?"


            "Fair enough.  She made some sarcastic remarks that amused most of them.  Of course there's some of girls jealous of her, but oddly enough no one's bullied or really teased her."


            "Really?"


            "Oh sure, she has to deflect some minor stuff with snide remarks, but...  well her older sister does protect her." Nancy paused and studied the woman. "In fact there's the whole clique she's in.  Those... dark uniforms and all."


            "Yes, I'm amazed the administration lets the girls get away with those," Ranma smirked.


            "Nariko's the principal's niece," Nancy dismissed with a wave. She tilted her head and blinked.


            "Yes?"


            "Well, you obviously know her, she's your daughters' cousin." Nancy noted.


            "Oh yes," Ranma smiled thinly. "Sunshine. There is a strong resemblance."


            "If not for the age difference, I'd say you were twins."


            Ranma shrugged. "What of the rest?"


            "Good girls I suppose, a bit... open,  but it seems most teenagers are these days," Nancy shrugged.


            "Back to Nabiki?"


            "Well, it's rather cut and dry," the teacher shrugged but decided to go through the list. As she went over things, she noted how Miss Saotome's gaze never left her.


            "You'll tell me if anything happens?" Ranma asked.


            "Of course," Nancy said before she stood. "It's been good talking to you."


            Ranma shook her hand. "I've enjoyed it too."  After leaving the room her smile vanished when she recognized the brunette delivering a batch of papers to the receptionist.


            "Red... err Sunshine?" Naoko asked tilting her head.


            "No, this is Sunshine's aunt, Ranma Saotome," Nancy said as she exited the conference room. She gave one last wave and left down the hallway.


            "Odd... that's Sunshine's brother's name." Naoko remarked.


            "It runs in the family," Ranma said, flatly.


            "Yes,  you're more reserved," Naoko noted, looking at the severe suit and tight bun.


            "She is more of a livewire," Ranma allowed.


            "So, you're...  Ukyou's mother?"


            "No,  Misako and Nabiki's," Ranma said, with a slight blush.  Maybe lying had not gotten too easy for her.


            "Of course," Naoko smirked. "Anything you want me to tell your daughters and nieces?" she asked with a helpful nod.


            Ranma frowned briefly. Sam and Naoko needed to be addressed, but she had another meeting to get to. "Just to say hi," the redhead thinly smiled before walking away.


            Naoko pondered for a second before returning to class. She had spent too much time away, especially since she was just delivering some teacher evaluations. This was something Sam needed to know.

 

***************

 


            "Hello Puu," Ranma smirked as she entered the bar. She motioned to the bartender and as she sat down next to the green-haired woman a glass of scotch on the rocks was placed in front of her.


            "You look oddly respectable," Setsuna noted. The redhead was in a nice silk suit skirt and coat. She was worried about this meeting, but recent events had proven the necessity of it.


            "I was just at a parent-teacher conference," Ranma said as she pulled out the ties that has for a while tamed her hair.. She nearly purred when her tresses seemed to flex and return to its normal shape. "What do you want to talk about?" she asked while sniffing the contents of her glass.


            Setsuna looked over and caught a large blonde casually watching both of them. The Senshi shrugged. She had seen weirder things, demons were almost mundane. "I think Mercury's up to something."


            Ranma slowly put her glass down and carefully eyed Setsuna. "You're kidding, right?"


            Setsuna sighed. "More than just being Murdock's puppet. She's smart enough to not fight us again, and I'm worried."


            "About what? Another double agent?" Ranma's laugh was cut off when she noticed the fear in Setsuna's face.


            "Let's go over the list. Rei has been studying her fire a lot, and has seen some things best not seen. She was alone with Ami on that Mistress Lyra vision. She could have been taken then. Minako was abducted and afterwards started wearing a new uniform. She's passed every test and there's no reason to doubt her but..."


            "Sometimes it is the obvious choice," Ranma murmured.


            "And Makoto, well nothing's happened to her, she's be supportive, studious, and unwavering. That alone is suspicious. Then there's the Outers and Chibi-Usa back in Japan, two have been corrupted in the past and the other two have shown that they can be led to do highly questionable things."


            "You worry that Murdock, Akumi, or whoever, has another corrupted Senshi?" Ranma took a small sip. "You've missed a few though."


            Setsuna nodded. "Yes, the Mau might be corrupted too. They're in the background and are easy to overlook, but still... they see everything."


            "Still missing more," Ranma chuckled.


            "Well I'm not counting the Princess. The second she gets under dark control... that's it. We lose."


            "We?" Ranma's smile showed her fangs.


            "Oh please, I'm not counting you either. You've already been tempted, and have plenty of opportunity to become corrupted."


            Ranma raised and eyebrow. "You do know what I do right?" she asked slowly.


            "Yes, you're very vicious and dark. An incredibly scary killing machine." Setsuna's laugh was too strained for Ranma's taste. "How can someone corrupt that? No offense, but you're a simple creature. It's an excellent defense. How can anyone else tempt your dark-side?" Setsuna took a long pull at her martini. "No, you're totally at home with your base, inhuman nature."


            "You still missed one, Puu."


            "Of course, myself." This time Setsuna's laugh actually upset Ranma enough to make her spill her drink. She turned to the demon and stared her down.


            Ranma paused. She had not noticed how normal the green-haired woman's eyes were. Bright blood-red eyes should not look completely mundane.


            "There's a reason I didn't count myself." Setsuna's quiet and manic laugh repeated. "It's obvious. I'm not hiding my nefarious plans towards the Princess."


            "Yes, the take over the world thing." Ranma took another sip. "Why tell me all this? I don't really care."


            "That's a lie. You can trick Mistress Mercury all you want, but I know enough about you."


            Ranma suppressed a blush.


            "Look, I'm worried about someone actually getting the Princess, and you should be too."


            "She really does have a rock that can reset the world?"


            "If that is the end goal for Murdock," Setsuna took another long drink. "Personally, I think that's just icing for him. His real goal is something more... tangible. That crystal is quite hard to control, purposefully so."


            "What do you want me to do?"


            Setsuna finished her drink and ordered another. "Are you for hire?" she finally asked.


            "You're kidding, right?" Ranma looked at Setsuna's face and sighed. "Damn, you aren't. Okay... what do you want?"


            "I don't want anyone to get to the Princess. If I can't trust Guardian Senshi to protect her...."


            "I'm a Senshi, and so are my girls." Ranma reminded.


            "Fine, I can't trust human Senshi," Setsuna grabbed her new glass as soon as it was placed in front of her.


            "You should really talk to these guys," Ranma said handing a business card over.


            Setsuna smirked at the Willard International Consulting logo. "That's not what I want."


            "You don't want an organization that has the manpower to cover the Princess round the clock. Can't afford them? Or worried about them?"


            "I want you," Setsuna stiffly remarked.


            "Oh, why didn't you say that earlier," Ranma saucily asked. "Look, you can't separate us. I work for them. I trust the Company. I don't trust you. What do you even want me to do? I don't do bodyguarding. I've got my own battles."


            "How suspicious and worldly of you." Setsuna still pocketed the card.


            "Do you even realize what my help would be?" Ranma gently rolled her glass. "Say we agree on compensation, and say you hire me to get Akumi. What do you expect me to do? What would Usagi think? She made me promise not to fight Mercury."


            "That's my concern," Setsuna coldly stated.


            "Even pretending it is. What then? You know what kind of 'help' I offer."


            "Yes, you don't fight like a martial artist, a magical girl, a super heroine, or a dark queen. You fight like a paramilitary demon."


            "No, Eve's that." Ranma chuckled as her eyes just slightly glowed. "I'm something else."


            "Not up to the challenge?"


            "Maybe I'll do it as a freebie then. Do freelance; that way you save money and I don't have anything limiting my decisions."


            Setsuna sighed. "You're going to do whatever you want anyway."


            "That is the nice part about being me," Ranma nodded in agreement. "Mmmm, dark conspiracies with demons. You do know I'm going to tell Usagi all of this right?" She took a small sip. "Weren't you finally starting to appear competent in her eyes?"


            "This is her idea," Setsuna whispered. "She's the one that wants you."


            Ranma turned her head. "What? This is her idea?"


            "Our pure princess isn't as innocent as you make her to be," Setsuna reminded.


            "She doesn't trust her friends? Does she trust you?"


            "While I'd love to think she trusts me totally, I'm sure she's setting up a contingency to deal with me, maybe that's why she ordered me to talk to you."


            "Clever girl."


            "With everything she's been through? Yes, she's grown up. Does this change your mind?"


            "You know it'll be child's play to see if you're lying about this."


            "That's why I'm not."


            "Okay, so what's the proposal?" Ranma asked, a bit more impressed with Usagi helming this scheme.


            "We need you to be a backup. Mercury will unveil her next plan, and I want, Usagi wants the Inners to handle it, but..."


            "But say Mercury pops in and unveils that Makoto, Minako and Rei are all corrupted."


            "That's where you come in."


            "Does Usagi know what she's asking? She knows how I fight right?"


            Setsuna grew quiet, and took a couple swigs of her martini. "Here's where we differ. I'd tell you to kill the corrupted Senshi if there was no other choice. They've died before and they understand that's a part of the job. If it comes between them and her... that's what I'd want."


            Ranma nodded. "What If I wasn't there? Would she kill them?"


           Setsuna chuckled. "Between you and me? Yes, she'd fry them all. I don't know if she could live with herself after that, maybe if she could bring them back."


            "What does Usagi think?"


            Setsuna closed her eyes. "If faced between having herself be corrupted and killing her friends with no other way out, no escape, she wants you to kill her. I'm being clear right? She wants you to destroy her."


            "She's that worried about being corrupted?"

 

            "If Usagi falls... if she stays fallen,  we lose, "Setsuna repeated.

           

            Ranma shrugged.


            "You're being matter of fact," Setsuna remarked.


            "I'm surprised that she's being this mature and planning stuff out. It's a bit morbid, but that's how these things go. So, what else? You can't just be hiring me to be her suicide switch."


            "There's more, ideally we want you to be an edge for us. Ami's afraid of you."


            Ranma smirked. "That's true. What about turning?"


            Setsuna sighed. "Yes, some corruptions and most brainwashing can be countered by that, especially if you make her a daughter. I'm sorry Ranma. She doesn't want that."


            "Oh, I see," Ranma curtly said.


            "She's worried about being corrupted and..."


            "While she trusts me to kill her she doesn't trust me to mother her?"


            "She would be exchanging one master for another." Setsuna shrugged. "This is all her words. I guess that's not the kind of relationship she has in mind with you."


            "Well, she is being paranoid enough to pay a demon to kill her," Ranma shook her head. "Why isn't she telling me this?"


            "It's less suspicious this way. We always have clandestine meetings," Setsuna took a drink. "I'm sure it's not because she gets tongue-tied and flustered around you."


            Ranma laughed. "Right, what else? What does she want me to do with Akumi and her goons?"


            "Well she doesn't want them killed," Setsuna offered.


            "What does she want?" Ranma asked pressing the issue.


            "Here's where you can get creative. Mercury knows we won't kill her when she fights us and she knows you will kill her if she fights you."


            "She is jealous of me already," Ranma started to smile.


            "I thought you'd like this job."


            "What made Usagi decide to do this?"


            Setsuna smiled slightly. "She finally realized what it'll take to win."


            Ranma snickered. "Nice to see more professionalism from you guys. What about any new corrupted Senshi? You seem pretty certain that Mercury will do that."


            "It's a scenario I hope won't happen, but we've already lost Mercury and Orion." Setsuna finished her glass. "It depends on situation. How many and who gets it."


            "Oh? Interesting." Ranma saw only a couple reasons why it would greatly matter which Senshi ended up becoming the new minion to Mistress Mercury.


            "Discretion and measured force are required. Honestly, that's no change for you; you're not one to get into fights without good reason."


            "Aside from Usagi's 'escape clause' what are you paying for?" Ranma asked.


            "We want you to be more active. So far, you don't put your nose into Mercury's schemes, and even then she seems worried about you."


            "And when I start showing an active interest, she'll start thinking that I'm making a move to head her off. Wonderful."


            "It fits well but not perfectly, and any missing parts are filled in by her own paranoia."


            "Of course, you're working on the idea that I don't have any dark plans for Usagi, or that it's one that won't interfere with your own."


            "Ultimately yes," Setsuna admitted.


            "You still need to work out the proper payment," Ranma reminded.


            "Other Senshi don't need to be paid for their work," Setsuna said before ordering her third drink.


            "What else do you want?"

 
            "As you said, the others can't be relied on." Setsuna took her new drink and gave a measured sip.


            "There's still more."


            "Disclosure of course." Setsuna put down her drink for the twentieth time by Ranma's count. "Tell either of us about any new interactions with Mercury or her minions."


            "Fine," Ranma waved off. "I can get you recordings of most of that stuff, but what if Akumi finds out about this deal?"

 

            Setsuna smirked. "Then she starts to worry about me too, and that the conspiracy against the queen she's trying to save will grow in her mind."


            "Cute, but I want all the information you have on Akumi. From when she revealed herself to Minako's abduction, and that's before I even decide to take on the deal."


            "Well, you were at the first incident so that leaves the convenience store fight and the abduction."


            "Yes, tell me about that, specifically how Usagi and Mercury interacted."


            "Easy enough, what about payment? How much?" Setsuna sighed.


            The demon gave a wide grin. "If you'd had let me on your little team you wouldn't have needed to pay me."


            "I can't appeal to a higher duty in you?" Setsuna asked.


            "Well, Usagi could, but I know you've got no problems with money, and I do have a family. So... there's going to be money," Ranma motioned for Eve to get closer.


            Setsuna looked at the leather-clad blonde again. "We'll be working though WIC?"


            "They handle all my finances." Ranma shrugged.


            "Standard freelancer support is regular payments during the duration of the contract with additional payments being doled out for extras met on the contract. You will be hiring Miss Saotome and her broodlings. That it will be  Six Pattern D's. You will also finance any additional Company resources drawn upon during the execution of said contract," Eve explained.


            "All this to get your help." Setsuna shook her head.


            "You don't want help; you wanted to hire me," Ranma reminded.


            "I've heard your requirements and a proper contract can easily be drafted." Eve interjected after getting a glass of beer. "The regular payments will support observation and basic interference with your target's operations. Any combat operations will fall under the extra clauses, with pricing following an attached rubric and intensity and duration formula. Of course any Company support will follow in the same structure."


            "I didn't want to hire WIC," Setsuna said.


            "Then that breaks the deal. I choose who I fight with, not you," Ranma stated.


            "Fine," Setsuna dismissed with a wave of the hand.


            Eve noted to tell the Company Lawyers to be especially thorough with this contract before continuing. "Naturally there's the standard legal waivers that come from hiring through a private military corporation, and some nonstandard ones specific to the nature of the NH field."


            "Yes, well I want this deal done sooner rather than later."


           "Good, good," Ranma nodded. "I just want one more thing." Only Eve noticed the flicker of hesitation in the redhead. "A date with Usagi."


            "Date?" Setsuna expected something like this. "That'll be suspicious."


            "Make it just a lunch thing then," Ranma offered.


            "I'll ask her," Setsuna sighed as she finished her glass. "Well, it's been productive," she said as she got up and left. She had another meeting to get ready for.


            "Making your move?" Eve asked.


            "Well... she is good looking." Ranma blushed.


            "Let's hope she says yes, Sis."

 

***************


            Eve flipped to a new page and a new adventure for Silva and resumed her notes. She frowned at the cover briefly before looking at the empty shelf that held demonic texts, and decided to not put it away just yet.


            "What's wrong?" Nabiki asked from the far corner of the bed.


            "I don't see any reason we cannot become conversant in demonic Latin. We're all fully bilingual, and the progress you girls have made shows appropriate achievement."


            Nabiki smirked, Eve was being so studious and serious over a children's book. It was like watching Nariko carefully read that puppy book of hers. Nabiki recalled seeing Eve read that book and Misako had once read it and was brought to tears as well. She wondered if it was something that happened to those who were born with a Y chromosome.


            "But you worry about pronunciation?" Akane asked as she leafed through her own book. It really was a pain to translate, especially if she wanted to learn any of the good stuff.


            "It would be handy to be able to speak it," Eve admitted.  "Not having a native speaker teaching us will be a hurdle."


            "Oh Aunty, I just think you're just bucking for a chance to meet Grandma," Misako teased looking up from the Company report she was reading. She froze. "Uh... sorry Captain Ma'am."


            The blonde suppressed a smile. Misako was the older demon, and had a lot more experience and power, but a Captain is a Captain. "This is recreation time, cadet." Eve did not look up from her work. "If we were in the dojo the range or battle there could be a problem, if your mother didn't get to you first."


            "Yes.. Aunty." Misako saw the slight smile on the blonde's face and was confused.


            "But you're not some green cadet with a head full of war-games are you?" Eve laughed. "I'm sorry, a little joke."


            "Oh, okay," Misako shook her head. Eve was a bit odd, but at least she could let her hair down and be almost... normal.


             "You and your mate were both AOM Acolytes. Promising ones if I recall."


            "Yes, Father Oslo was probably going to fast track... me to Paladin." Misako hesitated. Part of her was still amazed that she had ever wanted to be a paladin or a succubus warrior, a Company agent or a Sailor Senshi or Ranma Saotome's daughter.


            "You also managed to become a Company contractor, and somehow meet my sister's standards," Eve said looking up with a little smirk. "There is more to being an operations agent, but we know you can fight and protect your comrades. The rest just helps you do those two things."


            Misako nodded.


            "What did our last battle accomplish?" Eve asked with a little smile.


            "We killed a bunch of them, captured some documents, and found out their plans," Nabiki offered.


            "Very good, what else?" Eve turned to Misako.


            "We got the initiative," Misako added confidently.


            "What benefit does that have? We've had larger battles with them before."


            "This time we're not fighting back when they attack us. Now they're the ones defending their bases. Look at it from their perspective. Their encampments can be wiped out by us whenever we want. At least before they could pretend they were the ones controlling the fight."


            "And what effect does this have? Do Assemblymen fear dying?"


            Misako smirked. "Not really, especially in battle, not when they're facing monsters like us."


            "So what's the advantage?"


            "It rattles them. There's a difference between dying in a fight you started and being slaughtered while you wait in a dinky trailer. Kinda takes out the romantic stylin'." Misako chuckled.


            "Psychological warfare then?" Eve asked.


            "It hurts the boys back at the monastery; knowing that they'll get fried before they even see a demon. I mean how many of their men have survived?"


            "We estimate a couple acolytes escaped the helicopter crash." Eve smiled. It was probably for the best that a couple escaped. The damage their stories would do was well worth it. Assuming they found their way out of the back woods and then even wanted to go back to the Assembly. "So that's the line grunt side. What about the officers?"


            Misako laughed. "Oh yes, the Assembly has two kinds of higher ups. There's the deluded fools that actually believe all the crap, then there's the ones that learn the right things to say but plot and work their way up."


            "Which are more dangerous?" Eve asked.


            Misako shrugged. "Depends, you know that. The fools are more predictable, but they won't stop. The other ones will ease up but they might just be biding. You learn to be real patient in the Assembly."


            "What will they do next?"


            "How many men are available?" Misako asked. "Anything more and they'll be putting it all in."


            "Are they willing to gamble like that?" Eve asked.


            "You know the answer to that Aunty," Misako smirked. "I'm sure you talked to Ucchan about this."


            "Yes, but I'm interested in your perspective," Eve reached out and patted Misako's hand.
           


            "Well, it looks like they're going after our gates and vehicles. They might mount a full attack on a base. Sure it's suicidal, but if they have enough men they may think they can overwhelm. The alternative is hitting our vehicles."


            "Asymmetrical warfare?"


            Misako frowned. "As a starter, anything like that would be the first step. Like they did with the helicopter. Assembly doctrine emphasizes on large preset traps and small hunting teams."


            "Yes, those work so great against us," Akane added.


            "On the other hand, the Assembly would worry that the Company is raising a demonic army," Misako said.


            Eve rubbed her chin.


            "Might bring in the Inquisitorial branch. If they think it's worth gambling on that," Misako added the last sentence after some thought.


            "The Assembly's internal security force?"


            "That's a nice description for the scary freaks that keep everyone in line. Not as much in battle, I mean when you fight monsters if you don't win the best you can hope for is dying. Rest of the time acolytes worry about the inquisitors."


            "Like a political officer?"


            "Yeah about right. Someone to watch everyone and make sure you're enthusiastic enough to the cause. Remember when I said there were two kinds of higher ups?"


            "The useful idiots become inquisitors?"


            "Knew you were smart." Misako laughed. "But I bet you knew all that."


            "And there's not that many of these guys? As they're the loyal core?"


            "Yes, personal flunkies of bigwigs bishops and the like. Take a lot to get a force of them though."


            "Something to think about."


            "I still say we go on the attack. I know where more than a couple of their bases are." Misako licked her lips. "We can go out for food."


            "Yes, as you said we've talked with Ukyou and know those locations," Eve smiled at the thought of feeding.


            "Wonder when Ucchan and Narichan will finish making dinner," Akane remarked rubbing her belly.


            "Mom being there's probably slowing things down," Nabiki joked.


            "So why not have us take out one of their monasteries?" Misako asked. "Really hit them."


            "What makes battle more than violence?" Eve asked.


            Misako rolled her eyes. "Controlled violence to a specific application. So what? You're saying we keep that held in reserve then hit them there when it's best?"


            The blonde succubus shrugged.


            Misako's green eyes sparkled. "I get it. We get only one chance to wipe out a base, a real base, for the first time. So make it count, make a statement. We want them to react to us now."


            "Lovely plan, Sis," Nabiki sighed.


            "I can see worse reasons for killing people," Eve stated, her voice flattening.


            "Oh don't sour like that." Misako leaned in and hugged Eve. "You shouldn't be ashamed of what you are. Don't feel bad about enjoying it," she whispered.


            Eve hugged back and purred happily.


            "Yeah, I'm not sure Misa's the best moral guide," Nabiki cautioned.

 

***************

 


            "What brings you here?" Haruka asked as she poured her guest some tea.


            "Yes, are there more demons?" Michiru jokingly asked.


            "I'm sure there are," Hotaru muttered as she took a sip, while Chibi-Usa snickered. The Senshi of Saturn went back to the little wooden boxes and light oils in front of her.


            Setsuna raised an eyebrow. "Yes, DarkStar has created a sister, but that's not the point. I'm here to warn you about Ami."


            "The naughty corseted lesbian?" Haruka smiled and gave her lover a meaningful wink. "We always wondered about her."


            "Well, she's become quite domineering," Setsuna remarked.


            "It's always the quiet ones," Michiru said as her eyes darted to the other side of the table.


            "I think she's going to become a bigger problem." Setsuna sighed. "I don't like this."


            "But, she's a continent away?" Haruka remarked.


            "It's not a problem for Puu," Chibi-Usa reminded.


            Michiru shook her head. "I thought the Inners had to do it as a group."


            "Ami's been a busy girl." Setsuna took a sip. "And yes, she could easily teleport from Toronto to Tokyo."


            "Do you think she'll come to us?" Hotaru asked as she cleaned one of her sharpening stones.


            Setsuna smiled slightly. "I'm actually hoping she does, but I don't see her having that level of hubris."


            "If she wanted to get killed, Red's much closer." Chibi-Usa remarked.


            Haruka and Michiru blinked and stared at the pink-haired girl.


            "You three have been training already," Setsuna stated.


            "Yeah... Hotaru's even sharpened my sword," Haruka glanced at Chibi-Usa, shook her head, and turned to Setsuna. "What's going on? This isn't like you."


            "Oh? I guess I'm just loosening up," Setsuna chuckled.


            "Fine don't tell us," Michiru said.


            "We shouldn't get too cocky," Hotaru cautioned.


            "I suppose not," Haruka admitted. "Ami does want Usagi, right?"


            "Yes, but what if her plan is to neutralize all of us first? Have it so it's just her and Mother?" Chibi-Usa asked.


            "Well, you four are more... free with what you can do if Ami comes sniffing around," Setsuna said.


            "Oh? Letting us be our old selves again?" Haruka smirked.


            "Getting any of you four would give Ami more than hitting power than one of the Inners. Hotaru's the heaviest power-wise and Chibi-Usa would be a massive psychological coup."


            "Except both of us have already been turned evil," Chibi-Usa reminded. "Mother knows how to deal with that situation."


            "Yes, Ami wants to win, she wouldn't copy the plans of failures. Still... I worry."


            "Because she has an inferiority complex with other professional lesbian Senshi?" Chibi-Usa happily asked.


            Setsuna paused at the red-eyed girl's comment. "Yes, I fear Ami is trying to compete with DarkStar."


            "Least she's not competing with us," Hotaru muttered in a dark voice.


            "Sorry kiddo, she's reclaimed her tessen, but compared to the glaive or the talismans..."


            "Let alone the ginzuishou," Chibi-Usa added.


            "Exactly," Setsuna nodded. "At least the others are getting up to speed. Minako's using her sword again."


            "Good, she's supposed to be leading them." Hotaru paused. "Is she keeping it sharp?"


            "I'm still easing her into things," Setsuna said generating a disappointed sigh in Hotaru. "One of DarkStar's spawn is using a sword made out of Dantite."


            "That's a lousy pun." Hotaru frowned. "But is it real demonic metal? All of it?"


            "What's this?"


            "Combination of Dante and the common ending for steel heat treating phases," Setsuna explained with a snicker. "The material's rare and has many names, and is itself an alloy of metal and something even more alien and toxic. Some succubae call it spirit channel, but that's moot."


            "You're talking about a whole sword of it? Not just edging?" Hotaru tilted her head. "That's..."


            "DarkStar's grandmother gave it special as a present."


            "The sword? That's nice of her."


            Setsuna laughed. "No, the gift was just the raw metal. DarkStar's mother made the sword, with some help from an Oskar Nishina."


            "Master Nishina?" Hotaru's face lit up. "Oh wow."


            "You know him? Who is he? How do you know all this?" Michiru asked.


            "He's a sword-smith. It's interesting stuff," Hotaru blushed nervously.


            "Yeah, even I've heard of him. Does a lot of custom work," Haruka added.


            "So, the Brood Senshi are doing their own stuff," Hotaru nodded.


            Setsuna chuckled. "Oh yes, there's definite reasons Ami's so jealous."


            "And you really see Ami as more of a threat than Red?" Chibi-Usa asked.


            Once again, Setsuna studied the queen's daughter. There were limits to the gate guardian's paranoia, but she still wondered. "Yes, DarkStar is quite approachable, if you know what she wants."


            "Pardon?" Hotaru asked.


            Setsuna sipped her tea. "She's on our side now."


            "Well that's nice," Michiru remarked. "How did you do that?"


            Setsuna shrugged. "Money."


            "You had to pay her? We can do that?"


            "It's how the Company works. Professionals require payment, even if it's a token amount," Chibi-Usa explained.


            "Yes... that's right," Setsuna raised an eyebrow and made another mental note.


            "So, what's she going to do? What should we do?" Michiru asked.


            Setsuna took a sip, finishing her tea. "Insurance."


            "Us or her?"


            "Different kinds," Setsuna explained as she poured herself another glass. "Ami's not going to surprise me, not again."

 

***************

 


            "Interesting plans you and my girls came up with," Ranma remarked as the two walked down the sidewalk.


            "We've still got some time." Eve looked at their destination. "Well, first things first."


            "Are we underdressed?" Ranma asked as the two entered the deli.


            "We're in matching leather jackets, skirts and bodices. I think we're overdressed," Eve dryly remarked.


            "Gee, thanks." Ranma scanned the room and found two Senshi sitting at a table.


            "Going out is nice and all, but why me?"


            "I could have brought one of my daughters, but when I heard that Rei was coming..." Ranma chuckled evilly.


            Eve smirked.


            Usagi looked up to see two pale women walk over to her. Ranma was expected but the other... the deep blue eyes and tightly pulled back blonde hair were something else. "Another... daughter?"


            Rei froze. She had insisted on coming; Usagi alone with DarkStar seemed like a bad idea, but now she was starting to regret her choice.


            "She's my sister," Ranma smiled. Usagi was wearing a nice blouse and matching skirt, while Rei was in pants and a sweater. "Rei's met her, haven't yah?"


            "The vision," Rei whispered.


            "You like watchin' don't yah?" Ranma teased.


            "She's a voyeur," Eve added.


            "So, the blonde demon you saw wasn't me, it was her?" Usagi asked.


            Eve smiled thinly.


            "Didn't you notice that she was tall?" Ranma asked as she browsed the menu. She was in the mood for a sausage sub.


            "Well... she might have grown... becoming a demon does that..." Rei said as she looked over Eve who looked at the raven-haired girl with amusement.


            "I'm just happy you agreed to lunch," Ranma smiled.


            "Sorry, if Setsuna's questions bugged you," Usagi said her eyes darting to Rei.


           "No, you guys should know if I'd seen Ami," Ranma said after the four paused to place their orders with the waitress. She used this chance to examine Rei, who seemed to miss Usagi's omission.


            Usagi watched the waitress retreat. "I just... I just don't like hiding things from people."


            "Ami's working for the enemy now," Rei reminded.


            "Yes, it still hurts," Usagi flatly stated.


            "Having your family taken an turned against you is a wound that that doesn't heel," Ranma said sympathetically. "How's other things, been training?"


            "Yeah, Puu's actually been doing it," Usagi said as she sipped her soda.


            Rei shook her head; they were only now starting to beat those damn orbs.


            "Oh? I can't imagine her training. How's that been?" Ranma asked leaning forward.


            Eve's smile shifted slightly. Her sister had some skill at this.


            "She has all these crazy light balls. They fire everywhere," Usagi frowned. "It's a real pain."


            "Sounds stressful,  anything else keeping you busy?"


            "Yeah, it's just these glowing ball games," Rei grumbled. "Course, Setsuna's got no idea how to teach."


            "We're working better as a team," Usagi defended. She quieted down as their waitress deposited their sandwiches. Noticing Eve's large grinder submarine sandwich, Usagi started to watch the blonde demon eat.


            Ranma smiled and began to chew on her sub. She wondered how long it would take Usagi to notice that she had a sandwich to eat herself.


            "Ah, they do have good food here." Eve then took a sip.


            "It's okay. I'm sure it's nothing like a nice human liver," Rei stated, as she nibbled at her club. "Are you okay?" she asked Usagi, after noticing that she had hardly eaten her sandwich.


            "Uh yeah, fine... fine." Usagi nervously laughed. She clumsily picked up her lunch and moved her gaze from Eve to Ranma who was happily munching on an Italian sausage. She pulled her collar, and took a bite.


            "Yeah, human's good, but you can't compare a fresh kill with something prepared. Totally different food." Eve said.


            Ranma nodded. "It's the difference between something that's still got that fresh... life to it, meat that you killed yourself, and the more refined and prepared taste of something that was slaughtered a while ago."


            "Sounds... interesting," Usagi coughed. "At least you're having fun."


            Rei tilted her head and stared at her princess.


            "Not like that," Usagi blushed.


            "I'm... goin' to the bathroom," Ranma said, getting up.


            Watching her go,Rei frowned. She looked at her cup then at the blonde demon. "Me too," she grumbled, following the redhead.


            After using the toilet, Ranma was inspecting her reflection. She decided to increase her makeup just a bit more; she was a succubus, might as well be more sensual.


            Rei soon took the sink next to the redhead after going to the bathroom. "You're not doing anything funny are you?"


            "You're the one that's been spying on me," Ranma replied.


            "I was just using my visions to look out for threats," Rei glared. "Besides, it was over two weeks ago that I saw that vision."


            "Really?" Ranma decided not to tell Rei that the feeding happened only a couple days ago. "You confused Eve with a demon Moon Princess?" She smiled showing her fangs.


            "Yes, I'm sorry that I found that scary," Rei dryly said.


            Ranma chuckled and gave a wink.


            "You're just having a ball aren't you." Rei turned and washed her hands.


            "Pretty much," Ranma admitted.


            Back at the table, Usagi was trying to talk with Eve. With just one demoness the distraction level was a bit more manageable. "You're a succubus now? What... what made you go? Were you injured?"


            Eve put down her lunch. "No, I was fine... physically. Emotionally..." she shrugged. "I didn't have anything else."


            "Ranma is very affectionate." Usagi looked down.


            "When are you going to start teasing her back?"


            "Huh?"


            "I noticed how you look at her," Eve smirked. "Want some hints about what she likes?"


            "Well... no... thanks," the teenager blushed.


            "Anytime you need any advice just ask," Eve smiled.


            "Thanks," Usagi had to grin back.  The blonde demoness expression was... intense but seemed heartfelt.. "You seem close to Ranma. Have you two been friends long?"


            "She's my longest and best friend." Eve paused and sighed sadly.


            "What's wrong?"


            "That's why I became a demon." Eve looked at Usagi in the eye. "I'm a grown woman, well was a man, and my first real friend was a teenage single mom succubus."


            "I'm sorry." Usagi reached out and put her hand over Eve's. "What about family?"


            "Same thing." Eve's pout deepened.


            "You couldn't have picked better family than Ranma."


            Eve blushed. "You really are a sweet girl."


            "You are too."


            "No, I'm a monster," Eve sighed.


            "That's not true," Usagi's eyes hardened.


            "You don't know what I've done."


            "Doesn't matter."


            "No, this was before I became a demon."


            Usagi narrowed her eyes. "No, what I mean is that Ranma would never, ever let a monster into her family, let alone be her sister. Do you know what that means? How much she trusts you?"


            Eve stared at the younger blonde.


            "I don't know you, but I do know Ranma."


            "Yes, that's true," Eve smiled. "Things have been better."


            "You're so lucky to have someone you can trust like that."


            Eve seemed to glow with joy. "Yes, I am." She noticed Usagi's growing frown. "I'm sorry."


            Usagi looked up briefly. "It's not your fault."

             She sighed. "It's not theirs really."


            "Yes, they've been corrupted."


            "It still hurts."


            "Then get them back. Punish the person that did this too them too," Eve offered.


            "I will," Usagi promised. She looked over to see Rei and Ranma exiting the bathroom.


            Rei smiled in relief when she saw Usagi still human. The other blonde was still a shock to her. She was attuned enough to sense the... unnatural and this Eve woman clearly counted.


            "Did you two have a good chat?" Ranma asked, sensing Eve's joy.


            "Yes, you've got a good sister," Usagi said brightening a bit.


            "And Usagi's a good friend," Eve added.


            "Oh, that's just creepy," Rei said as she sat down. "Least you two have different hairstyles."


            "That and Eve's almost a foot taller," Ranma added.


            Usagi looked down at her chest and then back up at Eve's, while the German blushed slightly.


            "Setsuna told me about that fight in the convenience store and Minako's abduction," Ranma said. "You guys should be worried."


            "Oh? Thanks for the insight." Rei sighed.


            "You guys are getting better. Setsuna's training seems to be helping."


            "Let us know when you want some real training," Eve smirked.


            "Really?" Rei skeptically asked. "Aren't you new at the magical girl thing?"


            "Well you guys don't need training on how to cast spells, you need better teamwork and fighting skills."


            "Setsuna's been helping us with that," Usagi pointed out.


            "Seems like she's doing it somewhat well," Ranma admitted.


            Rei raised an eyebrow. She did not think they had told Ranma enough about the training.


            "Well, if we hear anything about Miss Mizuno we will tell you," Eve assured.


            "That's good," Usagi said.


            "What do you think her next plan is?" Rei asked the two demons.


            Ranma looked at Eve who gave a small nod. "Whittling down the Senshi one by one."


            Rei's eyes widened. "Really?"


            "It's that or getting Usagi," Eve remarked before taking another bite. "And really, she's a Senshi too, that will just make getting the rest of you easier."


            Usagi chewed on her lower lip. "Yeah that's why we have to stop her."

 

***************

 

            "They're here," Mars said as she looked around the empty lot.


            "Who?" Princess Venus asked as she stepped forward.


            "DarkStar and her brood," Sailor Moon guessed as she kicked away a broken box.


            "That's fast," Sailor Jupiter shook her head. They had just called in the brood a few minutes ago.


            "Where?" Venus asked looking around, she didn't hear a helicopter or see any flying demons, and the rooftops seemed clear of silhouettes.


            Sailor Jupiter saw movement in the corner of her eye and turned to see Sailor DarkStar land a few feet from her.


            "Not bad, you kept someone watching your backs," Ranma evaluated as she sniffed the air. "I don't smell Merc or her flunkies."


            "Yeah, we came up empty, too," Mars grumbled.


            "I don't like it," Venus had drawn her sword looked about. "It's a trap."


            "Well you hear about Mercury setting up... what - a giant crystal around here and end up with what?." Ranma's eyes scanned the debris-strewn field. Abandoned buildings loomed around them.


            "There is something magical here," Mars stated as the group went to the edge of the field. Setsuna had told them about this tip and they finally got the chance to strike


            "Yeah, she's got something planned," Jupiter grumbled.


            "You did the right thing calling us," Ranma allowed. She followed the Senshi as they entered one of the abandoned buildings. Venus and Mars had flanked Moon while Jupiter took the rear. Ranma shrugged; things were working well enough. They walked down a corridor and the quartet of Senshi stopped halfway through a storage room.


            "Oh God, that's it," Princess Venus remarked at seeing the dark blue crystal that was floating in the far end.


            An image formed around the two foot tall crystal that solidified into a hologram of Mistress Mercury. "Ah good, you're here. I was worrying that I might have to call off your little training mission." The image of Mercury smiled a bit at the redhead in the back. "Ah, hello DarkStar, are you proctoring?"


            Ranma raised an eyebrow. "I was called in to help."


            "Just destroy it." The edge of Venus' sword glowed as she stepped forward past some boxes. Just then to the left of the blonde a thick spray burst out of a small crate. Princess Venus screamed as a few gallons of golden gel splashed over her. Scrambling, she tried to wipe it off her, but it stuck to her skin. It came off her armor easily enough, though with big smears.


             The golden goop spread over her body, and seemed to just appear on her skin too. A pain blossomed in her temples as her vision shimmered. The gel started to solidify and turn into familiar gold plates, but in much greater number. What had started as a decorative armor that only covered select areas was rapidly turning unto a highly form-fitting full suit of armor. She tried to pry the segments off but her armored hands could not grip onto any of the edges.


            "Venus," Moon cried as she ran over but stopped a few paces away.


            "Don't! It could get you too," Lady Venus pleaded as the gel finally started to rise above her neck. She screamed in terror; she had not expected this. It rapidly formed over her head and solidified into a full helmet with a pair of thin arched eye slits. The helmet had a feminine face formed into the gold that matched Minako's but was cold and harsh. Within the complete encasement Minako's yells were suddenly halted, and the eye slits began to grow a bright red.


            The shapely armored figure stood to attention and sheathed her sword. Glowing eyes focused on the holographic image of Mercury.


            Ranma frowned. It looked like Setsuna's paranoia wasn't unwarranted.


            "Stop it!" Flames started to grow around Mars' form.


            "What did you do?" Moon yelled as she readied her scepter.


            "Shame it absorbed your hair," Mercury shrugged. She waved her hand and a long crest formed on top of the golden helmet. Like a centurion's it went front to back. However this one was made of shimmering golden locks and was far longer in the back than normal and streamed down her rear.


            Mercury tapped her chin. "Still needs something more." She looked to DarkStar and gave a saucy wink. A pair of red horns then spiraled out of the golden helmet and grew to a length of four inches. Together with the glow from the eye slits and the chest and back bows, they were the only non-gold on her. The golden figure stiffened her back and then changed her stance as a pair of large metallic demon wings grew from her back. The armored gloves shifted and their fingers lengthened to talons.


            The human Senshi stepped back in blank horror.


            Ranma cracked a smile and then started snickering.


            "This isn't funny!" Moon shouted.


            "Oh but it is," Mercury chuckled as well. "Venus, fetch me our princess if you please. We need to... train her."


            "Yes, Mistress," Venus said in a monotone before she shifted her head to focus on Moon. The golden lips did not move. She wanted to run a glove over her armored body but knew keeping her poise would be important and her mistress would be displeased if she ruined the moment.


            "Ranma!" Moon asked as she backed away.


            Ranma immediately stopped laughing, and brushing past Jupiter, strode up to Venus. "You're now a flunky of Akumi?"


            Venus's eye slits flashed brighter. "I serve the Queen."


            Ranma smiled thinly. "Good. You know what I'll do if you draw, right?"


            Venus turned her head between the demon and the queen. She noticed that the demon's figure was becoming wreathed in shadows and her hair had started to shift and rise as if it were in a strong wind. Even if Venus could not sense other demons, she knew they would be there. DarkStar never went into battle alone.


            "You should know my stance in this Senshi nonsense." A grin had returned to Ranma's face and she started to laugh. "Sorry, but man. You look silly. I'm surprised she didn't give you a tail."


            "You're just going to talk with her?" Sailor Moon asked in an oddly calm voice.


            "I don't fight lightly," Ranma stiffly replied. "You're free to try to blast with your purifying magic.  It couldn't hurt."


             Behind Venus the hologram of Mercury reappeared. "I knew I forgot something. Thanks Red!" After she said this a golden tail with Russian-gold fins grew out of Venus' back bow.


            Ranma sighed and shook her head. "Do you want me running around in a black corset and ice skirt, Akumi?"


            "You'd look good in it," Mercury agreed.


            "No way. I'm not going to freeze my crotch."


            "Stop this banter!" Jupiter shouted. "Look at what they did to Mina!"


            Venus turned to Moon. "While these two talk fashion, maybe we should just get started?"

            "You're still in there," Moon said with a bit of a smile.


            "Nice to see you care," Venus said as she reached for her sword. She was happy her mask kept the same haughty expression, it would not do to have Moon see a mirthful grin.


            "Minako no!"


            Ranma noticed Venus' arm move to the hilt. "What did I tell you?"


            "But she is armed as well. " Venus pointed to the kaleidoscope in Sailor Moon's hands.


            Moon looked down at the little cylinder. "Hey, this doesn't count."


            "I heard that thing shoots out a thick beam of doom?" Ranma asked, curious to see that weapon in action.

 

            "Then shoot me with it," Venus said as she drew her sword: a silver crystal weapon of comparable length to the wielder's height.


            "Flashy," Ranma dryly remarked. She did wonder how Nariko's blade would fare.


            As Venus charged forward and Moon fired. The thick energy beam struck golden armor in a bright explosion. Venus fell to her knees as bits of gold dripped down from her chest.


            Tears in her eyes, Moon leveled her weapon at the prone form. Mars and Jupiter came in from behind. After finding lightning ineffective, the brunette attacked with her fists, punching the armored backside. Venus' wing unfolded and knocked the brunette to the ground.


            Quickly turning, Venus held out her free hand. "Venus Love Me Chain," her monotone voice intoned as a series of golden chains bound Jupiter's form. Sighing in pleasure she turned to see Mars attacking, as expected. As the flames harmlessly hit her healed chest she thrust forward with her sword.


            "Better," Venus flatly stated as she cornered Rei whose arms had started to glow in flames. The armored figure was in mid downward swing when Usagi jumped in.


            The sparkly rod came up and caught the edge of the golden sword. "No," Serenity's daughter swore as she strained against force of Venus' weapon.


            Venus paused and was punched by the now unbound Jupiter. The attack did not do much damage, but it knocked her off balance. The helmeted figure turned and her eye slits flared brighter.


            "You forgot we learned how to get out of that stuff," Jupiter snarled as she readied an attack.


            Venus stopped and turned to see that Mars and Moon closing in from the other side.


            "Well, this is disappointing," Mercury sighed as her hologram flickered and eventually shut off. The crystal was briefly visible before it exploded in a flash of blinding blue light.


            Mars jumped in front of Moon, who saw the demonic image of Venus vanishing in the brightness. As the Senshi pulled at their eyes the pain eventually dimmed and they saw a room empty of Venus and DarkStar.


            "Ami you bitch!" Mars screamed.


            "That's it? She's really gonna pick us off one by one?" Jupiter asked.


            "No, we've got it handled," Usagi said with a little smile.


            "What?" Mars asked.


            "And where's Ranma?" Jupiter inquired.

 

***************

 


            Venus landed on the ground with a heavy thud. Golden wings folded back as she stretched her neck. Her glowing eyes spotted a store window on the darkened storefront. The metallic figured strutted over and gazed at her reflection.


            She stared at her frozen expression and ran an armored claw over her chest armor. She then moved to one of her horns and ended up poking at what her blonde hair had turned into. Turning, the figure looked up and expressionless eyes watched a red-haired succubus land a few feet away.


            "Enjoying your new look?" Ranma asked with a little smirk.


            Venus tilted her head.


            "I guess your little plan to scare them went off well," Ranma noted, trying to smell out the girl within the suit. It seemed quite contained.


            The golden girl flexed her hand and looked back to her reflection.


            "Oh, I see. Akumi's slaved you into a mindless automaton, that just happens to be vain," Ranma noticed the lack of response and sighed. The armor did give her a perfect poker face. Almost perfect, Ranma amended as she noticed Venus' posture shift.


            The succubus smirked and continued. "I'm not surprised. Mercury even let that headstrong fool Shampoo stay free, but she saved something... special for you. You just happen to be turned into something that makes you look like a robot? You're an obvious ploy. Just a pretend warrior. Not even a real succubus." As Ranma stepped forward, the shadows followed her. "You don't even know what you're pretending to be."


            Venus instantly shifted her position as she seamlessly drew her sword. The crystal blade was held inches from the amused succubus. "I am not a joke," the golden figure flatly entailed. "This weapon was forged by the Queen herself and is the same material as the Ginzuishou."


            "Well that's nice." Ranma's grin grew to where it revealed her teeth. "Just be glad you can act better around your Princess than me," she said sidestepping the blade. "Are there any Senshi that aren't... corrupted? Or is this all just a game to train up Usagi?"

 
            "The Queen is none of your business," Venus swore as she lowered her blade.


            "Yes, she has her hands full with armored and corseted Senshi." Ranma flicked her tail.


            Venus' glowing eyes seemed to flicker on and off.


            "I just wonder if you know what you're getting yourself into," the succubus cautioned as she inspected the detailing on Venus' armor.


            "What?" Venus asked as she adjusted her posture.


            "Well, you'll find out soon enough." Ranma advised. She sighed and looked at the golden figure.


            Venus tilted her head slightly.


            "Tell Mistress Mercury to stop by whenever she gets bored with playing and wants to be a professional about it. I mean, gold armor?" Ranma shook her head, and turned away.


            "Wait!" Venus had been pleased with the results, the armor was surprisingly accommodating and comfortable; it really was a pleasure to use. "You're treating me like some toy."


            "Eh?" Ranma raised an eyebrow. "You're playing a minion while serving a girl that's also pretending to be a super-villain."


            "What if it's not an act?"


            "Then you just ended up encased in armor of her own design. Real smart move there." Ranma flexed her fingers. "You can play your little magical girl games, but don't forget that some people don't play games."


            "I know who I serve," Venus asserted as she looked around, once again there was an absence of silhouettes or other indications that she was being watched, but that meant nothing.


            "The best part," Ranma smirked as she circled the figure inspecting it. "Is that Akumi won't even question me letting you go. She and I do have an... understanding."


            Once again Venus's eye-slits flickered.


            "Oh? Surprised that I've got my own schemes?" Ranma leaned in and whispered into where Venus' ear would have been. "Sorry Mina, but I have my own priorities, I can't babysit the Senshi."


            Venus tilted her head. She did not know how much the demon knew, but it seemed very dangerous to her mistress' plans.


            "Playing the silent robot bit?" Ranma nodded. "It's a much better act."


            As Venus stared at Ranma she flexed her talons experimentally.


            "Akumi did to a pretty good job making you, I guess," Ranma allowed. "The demon theme's a bit played, but the armor does seem effective."


            "I'm glad I meet with your approval," Venus mechanically replied.


            "Good, good!" Ranma laughed. "Act as if you are the armor. I think you can fool the Inners." She paused. "But I don't know if you'll be able to fool Akumi."


            "The Queen is the only one that matters."

 

End ch8

 

Once again, I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They're the ones that made sure this story was readable. DGC, J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, Wray, Solara, Kevin Hammel, Ikarus, and Jerry Starfire.

 

Revision notes:  Ah the good old golden Venus.