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 3:  Raising Trouble

Chapter 12:  Expert Authority

Formerly:  Reconcile and Refine Part 1i

 


            Standing before a sink that was too tall for her, Sailor Earth pulled her white elbow-length gloves back on, taking care to line up the little silver claw covers in the finger tips. Finished she looked up at her reflection.


            Startling turquoise eyes with vertical pupils rimmed in dark violet looked back. They were set in an innocent, joyful looking face adorned with sparse touches of makeup. A bit of eyeliner for her big eyes and some pink lip gloss. Her nose was more delicate and the shape of her face was different, with a smaller jaw line and softer features. Her body was similarly delicate and youthful.


            A gold tiara set with a polished emerald hung from her tiny inner horns, while her large curled horns were covered with bands of pinkish blonde hair until they became a pair of spiraled buns. Falling from the curled odangos were twin braided ponytails that nearly reached her ankles. The ends of which were tied off with green bows that matched the pair on the tips of her buns. Picking up one of the braids, she looked at Usagi's work and smiled as she played with it.


            Below her ankles were a pair of crimson spats with little crescent moon buckles on the front Wrapped around her feet, the leather coverings were cut to expose the silver gleam of her little hooves. The spats themselves were hard to see given the ankle-height hem of her pleated skirting.


            Earrings consisting of emerald quartered circle earth symbols braced by gold crescent moons at the bottom hung from long almost elfin ears. Dropping the braid she flicked one of the earrings and gave a happy sigh as the twin symbol of the Earth and the Moon rocked back and forth.


            She wore a modest white top with a V waist, and a high hem around her neck with a little blue collar with green piping. Long sleeves came down and just overlapped with her gloves. Below the waist were the long blue pleats of her skirt.


            A little red bow sat above her left chest, and was matched by a bigger one that proofed behind her waist, the trailing ribbons of which were wrapped around her coiled tail and then tied off in a third red bow. A pair of little golden wings with silver membranes spread from her back framing the image.


            The door opened and closed and a tall, strong, sensual, almost severe woman stepped into the reflection. She wore the grey coat and skirt of a WIC dress uniform, and her blonde hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Eve's eyes softened at the sight of the little demoness.


            "You didn't need to escort me," Sailor Earth said as she leaned back onto her sister.


            Eve put her arms around the tiny demon who stood a full half a meter shorter than her. "But I did. Miss Tsukino seemed almost... heartbroken when you said you had to 'Use the little Demon's Room.' "


            "It was more that you offered to take me before she could."


            "You are my... little sister," Eve said a bit of worry entering her voice; after this she would have to talk with her superior officers to update them on the situation, and reduce their worry.


            Sailor Earth felt it and more. She closed her eyes. "Yes, and I'm your older sister. Nothing will change that, but she is my... princess. Wow..." The demon opened her eyes and looked at her reflection anew. Little pointed ears, little pointed fangs, little pointed claws, even her hooves were small and fairly sharp ended.


            Eve exhaled and squeezed her tighter.


            "I know, you're wondering if I'm okay," Sailor Earth said in a soft voice.


            "You just got formally inducted into the Pattern Silvers..."


            Earth frowned slightly. The term seemed as impersonal and clinical as "Pattern D".


            "Yes, Sailor Senshi. It seems like it was a big moment," Eve dryly added.


            The pink-blonde demoness' innocent giggle turned into a more throaty chuckle. "Oh Eve." She closed her eyes and there was a green flash that darkened to purple as her form grew and her clothes shrank. "I always was a Senshi, but I was never accepted, I was never seen as one. However today...  today I realized that despite it all, despite everything that's happened, Usagi would still accept me."


            "The first DarkStar never called herself Sailor Earth; she wasn't truly accepted," Eve nodded. "And the age? The Tsukino look?"


            Earth frowned. "Could you imagine being away from your girls for a couple weeks, let alone months? She was in pain. She sent her daughter off to be... safe. I can see why she wanted to shelter Usa from all this... I don't know if that's right, if she's just delaying the inevitable, or if whatever safety there is worth the time alone."


            Eve gave a weak smile. "Humans have more options than we do."


            Earth nodded. "Still, maybe this will be clearer."


            Pink-blonde hair darkened to deep red as it unbraided, becoming a free fall and exposing her horns, while bows, pleats, and ribbons vanished. Turquoise gave way to deep purple as her eyes shifted to round pupils. Hooves were replaced by black leather high heels and her newly exposed tail straightened and her wings grew back to their full size and red and purple coloration.


            Blue silk was replaced by a knee-length black leather skirt and green leather belt with her top becoming a plain deep purple blouse and leather jacket with green piping. The demon's face grew more mature and her features sharpened until she looked like someone else. Finally, her ears pulled in as the earrings shrank. The pair still had the same crescent moon and earth combo, but were now little gold and emerald stud earrings.


           The only thing that remained unchanged was the choker with a purple crystal four pointed star over the Earth symbol. Now reaching up to her sister's chest, Ranma stretched her back. Her wings also stretched out and, as small as they were, still bumped against the bathroom's far wall.


            Eve inhaled and concentrated. She could feel her sister; it was still her sister but now.... now that bright beaming power from the earth was dialed down; more was visible. It was easier to feel the other connections. She could sense the radiant arcing lines and bonds that came from the brood queen, but now there were more. Similar, but different, less instinctual, more channeled and crafted.


            The WIC officer squeezed her sister's hands.


            "You can feel them?" Ranma asked.


            Eve nodded; she noticed that her sister's fangs were actually less pronounced in her "normal" form.


            "They're like us," she chuckled. "All our planning about the 'Pattern Silvers' and how come they couldn't be like us, and it turns out they're another brood. We're-"


            "Another brood?" Eve completed.


            "Close, very close," Ranma gave a happy smile that turned serious. "And I see how right we were in the training. We were going about it wrong though, but now we can do it better.  We can train them, train the Princess."  The redhead smiled.


            "We did come up with some one-on-one training for today," Eve stated as she ran a hand through Ranma's hair.


            "Good, today has been very helpful," Ranma smiled at her pale, sensual reflection. "We can keep building on this."


            "Well," Eve coughed. "You do have that mission with JTF2."

            "Damn," Ranma's shoulders slumped.


            Eve bent down at the waist to reach her sister's eye level, even in her normal form Ranma was still far shorter than the German demoness. "You've still got a couple hours before, at least use that time to bond... Sailor Earth," Eve snickered.


            "Oh?" Ranma gave a coquettish grin as she stepped back. "You asked for it." She tapped her choker with two fingers and shouted: "Earth Power Make-Up!" Purple light sprung over her until it completely obscured her form. A bright green Earth symbol flared on her forehead surrounded by the violet energy.


             As she did a little spin that flowed into a skip-like dance step, the light contracted and began to turn green as her body and wings shrank. The outline of her hair parted down the middle, wrapped around her horns into buns, was fed into twin ponytails that were braided and capped with bows. As she moved and used her arms to pose, gloves came into existence and her blouse shifted into something more modest and fitting her smaller, shorter figure.


            She turned, kicking up with one leg and a high heeled foot became a hoof and her skirt softened and grew and flounced up. Bows puffed around the base and tip of her tail, and she kicked with the other leg turning that into a hoof, and forming the matching spats. Bows, jewels, gloves, and other accents began to form out of the green light and gain definition.


            As she planted both hooves on the ground with a ringing chime, her face changed back to the more youthful and innocent look. "The Pretty Lunar Demon Senshi: Sailor Earth, is ready for Love And Justice!" She gleefully shouted as the light faded, revealing her turquoise, slitted eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head, causing pink-blond twintails to flail to either side.


            "In the name of the Moon and Earth: I'll punish you with my ribbon-tail!" she gleefully said as her coiled tail shook back and forth in its silk-sheath with a little twist and shake from her hips. Triumphantly showing her pronounced canines, she raised her right arm while moving her left arm from her hip to across her chest while extending out the V for victory sign and then finally lowered her right arm to point straight at Eve.


            The tall demoness strode forward, her face carefully neutral. She reached out and flicked one of the little demon's large dangling earrings. "What I love is how you can keep coming up with original material," Eve stated, her tone cool.


            Sailor Earth let her lower lip quiver as her ribbon-ensnared tail wavered back and forth.


            Eve kept her neutral expression, though her eyes sparkled, and she knew her sister could feel her.


            The little Senshi began to laugh. Eve smirked and chuckled. Sailor Earth stared for a moment and she broke down into fits of giggles.


            Still laughing, Eve shook her head, and scooped up her sister in a big hug easily lifting the diminutive demon. "Come on, we've got a lot of work to do. And plenty of new introductions," she said carrying her out of the bathroom.


            "Is this... too good?" Earth asked leaning her head on Eve's shoulder.


            Stopping, Eve turned the demoness so they could face each other. She paused then stated. "Elaborate."


            "Well, my daughters are strong and growing nicely. You've come a long way. Your girls are fitting in, even Sophie with her youth and Morrison vacillating on what she'll take as a new first name and her human family. Cecilia's family is settling into support training, which means the Fifth's coming along nicely as a unit, and now I'm with the Senshi. I'm worried the other shoe could drop, that-"


            "You signed up for more than you expected?" Eve asked skepticism coloring her voice. She put her sister down and gave a sigh. "Well, I suppose if you should ask anyone about that, it's me."


            "You did get more than you bargained for." Earth looked down at her uniform then pulled at a braid.


            "And it has been too good to be true." Eve smiled. "Almost. You worried about new commitments?"


             "Yeah, there's that. We've already been working with the Princess. And that contract is still valid," she reminded with cold emphasis. "We still have a lot of work, not counting the inter-dim collapse."


            "And you think you can be more persuasive if you're on the inside?"


            Earth raised an eyebrow. "I am on the inside. And don't make it sound so manipulative."


            "Genuinely wanting to help someone and gaining their trust is a very effective way to persuade them."


            "Yes," Earth smiled at her sister. "It worked very well for you."


            Eve inclined her head. "And our plans? The contingencies?"


            Earth glanced at the mirror again and caught the gold in her earrings and the sparkle from the matching crescent-shaped buckles just above her hooves. "I told you... the contract is valid." She closed her eyes. In addition to support and protection, Usagi and Setsuna had contracted Ranma as a... failsafe, just in case the Heir-Serenity truly fell.


            The little demon opened her eyes. "The contingencies stay."


            "Even with your new... connection?"


            Sailor Earth gave a sad laugh. "If anything it's made it stronger. I understand what she stands for, the ideals she's trying to hold to, the powers she has." Her face turned grave. "Our estimates on the risks, the Silvers, the Senshi, we pose... I can see why Murdock, why the Rune Order, tried so hard to corrupt her."


            "Some would take that to mean you don't trust your new team," Eve stated with a slight smile.


            Earth caught the expression and smirked. "Far from it. You know what needs to be done."


            Eve nodded, catching the implication. Not that the Company would stop its surveillance or contingency practices, but that her sister was still supporting them and considered them integral to continued operations was heartening. "So you while you do have concerns about the Senshi's performance, that's not your main worry is it?"


            "In a way it is." Earth's ribboned tail drooped slightly. "The pressure isn't going away, and... well, they're my family. And you know how I feel about substandard training and skills, especially for those I care about."


            "More pressure?"


            Earth nodded. "Then add to that all these nice things. I'm finally getting along with them and now there will be more training, and more battles. And they will have ample time to prove their wiliness to match the outreach on our part."


            "Too good to last." Eve frowned. Somehow seeing such existential dread on such an innocent looking face... "You know how dangerous things are. Being worried about loss is normal, especially when you have so much to lose," Eve hugged her. "Maybe you should talk with-"


            Earth enjoyed the hug for a moment. "No... I mean... yes I think I maybe talking things with a... professional... but that's not my worry. Losing someone in battle is one thing, but losing them to..."


            "Rejection? Betrayal?" Eve knew Ranma had experienced the first, and the Senshi had experienced the latter. "And the pressures from training, battle, from responsibilities... that would push them away?"


            Sailor Earth nodded.


            Instead of responding Eve took her sister's hand. Love, power, emotions flooded between the two. Eve took a moment to relish the sensations and stand in awe of her sister.


            The vast branching array of connections flared in Sailor Earth's mind, her brood, her teams, her families, it was all her family. Faint echoes of other people, WIC agents, her other family, popped up then faded back down but did not go dark. The succubus gave a little, almost reassured smile.


            Still holding her sisters hand, Eve resumed walking.


            With her spare hand, Sailor Earth held her chin, and pondered. "Yes, very strong but... wouldn't that make any breaks all the more painful?"

            Standing before the door to the Senshi's room, Eve stopped and put an arm around Sailor Earth's shoulder.

 

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

 


            Feeling his neck tingle, Murdock scanned the crowd once more. His gaze lifted over the cheap paperback and swept across the plaza before the small outdoor table in front of the Belgian bar. Four and five story, brick and stone buildings lined the sides of the roughly rectangular plaza square, which was bordered by small roadways and centered with a slightly rundown fountain.


            He spotted her on the sidewalk browsing at a rack of books and software packages that had been dragged in front of an electronics boutique. She was a woman at the young edge of middle age with brown hair cut in a short bob which combined with her sleekly expensive, but subdued, grey suit and skirt made her look like a finance executive. Her back was to him, but Murdock knew who it was. He could visualize her thin lips, severe cheekbones and grey eyes.


            Putting down the book, he folded his hands below his chin and stared at her. It was horrible tradecraft but he did not have to wait long. She looked up from her browsing and gave a long glance across the plaza, taking in the scene before her. Her eyes passed over Murdock's bar, pausing only momentarily. She then took a couple steps and continued her browsing.


            He smirked at her self control. Her eyes only widened on her second pass, and it took two more passes after that before she flung her arms down in disgust and began walking his way.


            Murdock chuckled and returned to his book. It would take her at least a minute to cross the plaza, longer if she wanted to avoid the arcing granite fountain. The pipes mounted in the mouths of the rearing horses and other equestrian figures were poorly aimed and were serviced by water at uneven pressure. It had a habit of spraying water onto the benches around it. He watched as she waited to cross the road and strode across the cobbles of the square and cut through a pair of bollards to get back to the outer side of the road. Feeling a shadow draw over him, the mage put his book back on the table and took a sip of his drink.


            Reaching him, the woman gave an oft used sigh. "Murdock, Murdock, Murdock… you can hide from the demons, the Senshi, the humans, but you know better than to hide from us." A feral, hungry smile crossed the woman's face. She could see that lesser mage had stiffened in his seat, and try to give his greasy, weaseling smile.  She wore four silver rings each embedded with a different colored stone.


            "Well, well, Catharine Longmans. I'd hardly call this hiding."  Murdock said/

Still smiling, Murdock's shoulders relaxed and he leaned back in his chair. "Come, it's been a while. Care to take a seat?" he asked, waving across the table.  He eyed the jade stone on her left ring finger.


            Catharine's watery grey eyes widened slightly. "Really?" she purred contemplating his placid-seeming reaction. There were few things that Murdock was frightened of, and the associates she represented, the higher ups in the Rune Order, were on the top of that list. She flicked her fingers and, to Murdock's relief, a black stone on her right pointer finger flashed blue.


            Murdock lifted up a tumbler and sniffed it. "It occurred to me, what leverage do you really have over me?" he asked, though to anyone outside the bubble it would be pure gibberish.


            Catharine's lips pulled back slowly revealing neat little teeth.


            "Seriously: torture, exposure, desiccation. Small potatoes when you get right down to it. All you've got left is killing me."


            "That would bring a certain satisfaction." Catharine looked at Murdock's book, "Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes", with confusion.


            "Short term only."


            Recovering a cold, polished composure, Catharine gave a wide smile.


            Murdock sighed, eying the jade ring.. "Fine, it'd be a treasured memory. But my death would bring you no gain among the council. The Order has lost its muscle."


            "That is more Corvine's problem." Catharine hissed, her calm slipping for a moment. "The Assembly of Man should have been more than sufficient to neutralize the brood."


            "Perhaps." Murdock shrugged. "Instead it became a steady source of food for them." He ran a finger over the edge of his glass, causing a ringing hum. "Convenient. Your rival on the council is weakened, while your own scheme is strengthened."


            "Except you never delivered." Catharine glared. "DarkStar is still beyond our grasp, and with her the Heir-Serenity, and now you quit."


            "Yup!" Murdock chuckled. He knew things had gotten even worse for the Order. "Almost makes me wish I was at the council meeting when you told them that. My, the old men's reactions..."


            "Futhark did have... choice words," Catharine said allowing anger to edge her voice.


            "I still performed better than any of your other agents."


            Catharine's smile drew back into a grimace.


            "I only took out one. The others-" Murdock shrugged. "All I can say is neither the brood nor WIC took them out. Personally, I'd blame Miss Meiou."


            The senior mage's expression hardened further.


            "Ah." Murdock smoothed his tie. "You've got that much sense."


            "You still haven't explained why I should just let you escape. I don't know what you'd get up to."


            Murdock snorted. "The hell you say. I've worked for you for years. If you don't know what I'm capable of then you're worse at your job than I thought."


            "Insults now?"


            "You broke tradecraft to talk to me openly in the field. After knowing I'd been compromised."


            Grey eyes simmering, Catharine raised an eyebrow.  Her hands held the edge of the table and she stood straighter in her seat.


            Murdock felt the flicker of her partially unveiled power. "Yes, yes, and it's not like I have contacts with organizations specializing in counter-magic warfare."


            "You're not alone in that regard," Catharine hissed.


            "Ah" Murdock nodded. "So is Jameson still playing around with those mercenaries of his? I suppose remnants of ideological failures do bring a certain desperate tenacity."


            "What can you expect when someone sees their inevitable, their iron-strong, empire last a bare hundredth of the time they expected it to. They are failures, they're relics from a past world. Nightmares that even the most ignorant would recoil from, they're only able to pass among humanity in disguise." She smirked, her eyes flashing. "Fortunately the thinnest of veneers are sufficient."


            Murdock raised an eyebrow, and played with his glass. "Well, no wonder Jameson thinks they're our kind of people."


            "Our? I thought you quit."  She ran a finger over the band of her jade ring.


            Murdock's hand fell to the table, nearly knocking his glass over. "And I thought you were trying to bring me back."


            "Jameson's building support. The Council is getting sick of these games. They're tired of cloak and dagger. They see Heir-Serenity as a growing risk. Besides... these won't be the first such mercenaries, will they?"


            "The Russians. Such lovely work." Murdock leaned back. "Are you sure Jameson didn't hire them as his cat's paw? I'd be willing to consider him that intelligent."


            "No, but I'd be willing to lie and say he did, if that'll get you to get with the program."  She looked out at the fountain.  A group of school children had fallen prey to the fluctuating water spouts. "You know what failure entails?"


            Murdock's grin vanished and his eyes narrowed. "Careful. I know you didn't hire them, but I'd bet fair odds you know who did."


            "Oh? Really? What makes you think I'm not behind it?"  As she talked, Catherine's tone slipped, bits of anger burbled into her normally calm, even tone.


            "You would have made sure they were properly briefed; you would have made sure they knew what they were up against instead of blindly stumbling into a brood of demons. And you'd have them start off with a snatch and grab, not an assassination."


            Catharine bowed her head in assent. "Well done. Now do you want to know who did hire them?" she asked, her eyes sparkling.


            "What's in it for me?"


            "You want... payment for this secret?"


            Murdock shook his head. " Catharine, Catharine, things have really fallen apart without me haven't they?"


            "No, not at all." Catharine huffed.


            "I'm sorry I was too busy being tortured by demons to help you."


            Catharine stared as the man began to laugh, with what seemed to be genuine mirth.


            "You don't get it do you? I didn't fail. What do you take me for? I know what failure means,  for us, for the Order, for the world. The balls are just taking a bit longer to hit the ground. DarkStar's still spending time with the Princess."


            "I am aware," Catharine stiffly said.  The trio of children had run away from the fountain,  their shock and surprise turned to joy.


            "Are you?" Murdock sniggered but regained his composure. "Things are awakening; things are breaking through."

            Catharine stared.


            "You felt it too."


            "The pulse."


            "There was more than one." Murdock shook his head. "It's interesting what rival succubae do when you place them in close proximity for an extended period of time.

            Catharine humored the man. "They fight, and the weaker is consumed by the stronger."


            "Sometimes. Sometimes it's not so literal."


            "Ah yes, your little matchmaker scheme," Catharine rolled her eyes. She looked at the mage and felt her anger lessen somewhat. Murdock always was a bright pupil, though he did have more fun trying to break the system than trying to win it. "That was why you killed the Father, instead of the daughter."


            "And I have some scruples,"  Murdock said, almost insulted. "That was the main body of my work, I ensured proximity, means, and motive."


            Catharine found herself nodding. "Given the raw materials you had to work with, you made a fair enough go."


            At that moment a waiter walked up to the table.  A slim, almost gaunt, middle-aged man he had a wispy moustache but wore his suit and apron with the crisp precision of a parade uniform. Pausing to take in the foreigner's 'conversation' he gave a disdainful sniff. "May I take your order... Miss?"  He asked in, of all things, British accented English.


            Catharine's nostrils flared and she fumed at the waiter before forcing her expression into something like a smile. She tapped her ring. "No thank you,  we're almost done."


            "Oh, do try the apricot wine," Murdock offered as he tapped his clear drink.


            The grey-eyed woman slowly turned back to Murdock. "No.  I'm good."


            "Sorry Reggie,"  Murdock made a point to study Catharine's visage, gave an exaggerated look of horror, and then playfully waved his hand shooing the waiter away.


            "If I didn't know better I'd say you summoned him,"  Catharine said as the waiter glided away.


            Murdock chuckled. "The apricot wine is quite good."


            Catharine gave his glass a meaningful glance before she unclenched her fist.  She stared at the small stones before reactivating the distortion ward.


            "Now, now you act as if I-" Murdock's grin grew becoming a parody of open friendliness. "Sorry, you act as if we failed."


            "Lovely, the impatience gambit. Just a little bit more time, eh?"


            "The horse may yet sing," Murdock assured.


            Catharine blinked. "Ah, Nasrudin and the Sultan's Horse?" she asked recalling the story.


            Murdock spread his hands.


            "Yes, of course you would put yourself in the position of the captured con-man, and of course you would place me as the Sultan being convinced to show mercy." Catharine narrowed her eyes. "Do you want another year to prove your case?"


            Chastised, Murdock nodded his assent. "That seems a bit long. A lot can happen in a year."


            "Yes, the sultan might die. The horse might die. you might die," Catharine said, completing the story's moral with a thin smile. "You really think after all this DarkStar could still deliver Serenity's Heir to us?"


            Murdock tilted his head. "Perhaps, but keep in mind who, and what, Serenity's Heir represents."


            "Yes. That is the whole reason we're trying to contain her." Catharine crossed her arms in frustration. "That's the whole reason you were sent to twist those close to her into tools we could use, and to do it before anyone else did."


            "Closed, a door prevents ingress and egress. Open... the same symmetry applies." He looked out over at the fountain and its jetting arcs of water. "We're seeing a lot more doors being opened, a lot more connections being made."


            Catharine glowered. "Don't press, if you want to fix things I can make... arrangements."


            "I'm sure you can, and you will need my help, given the... consequences of our work."


            "What's your answer then? Will you come quietly? Will you help?"


            Looking down, Murdock idly tapped his book. "No and yes. I'm not going back, I've had enough interrogations, but I'll still help you. Jameson's got no idea what kind of mess his boys are going to be dropped into."

 

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

 

            The door opened; Sailor Earth stepped inside. Feeling both her families, there was no surprise as her daughters cheered. The pinkish-blonde did get a bit of a start when she was immediately mobbed, not just by her daughters but by Eve's three daughters as well.


            Taken into a great group hug, Earth realized just how short she had become. Even Nabiki was taller than her, and Eve's shortest daughter, Morgan towered over her. She caught a glimpse of her mother but the mass of broodlings soon obstructed the serene-looking auburn haired woman. She let herself fall into the warmth and love. It was only after the better part of a full minute that the hug began to break apart and the brood actually began to look at their mother.


            Akane took in the longer fangs, the pointed ears, the claws, and especially the hooves. Though most of her attention was on the ribbon-wrapped tail. Swishing her own tail, she leaned in and whispered an inquiry as to what exactly her mother was keeping hidden.


            Earth blushed and Ukyou took a measure of her little gold and silver wings. "Least I'm not alone in turning blonde," she joked leaning in close. Her face turned a bit more serious and Earth felt her daughter's gentle concerns wash over her. Ukyou was the most skilled at demonic empathy, and while her specialty lay in inserting emotions into other people she was also very skilled in reading others.


            Feeling the grand tree of emotional connections, Earth could almost see Ukyou softly climbing over the branches. Satisfied, the platinum blonde demoness kissed her mother on the forehead just under her tiara.


            Basking in the connections with her family, Earth blushed. She felt more... filled in, an aching hole of fear and rejection had been closed. She looked to the Senshi and bowed her head, presenting golden horns. "Thank you, all of you." 


            When she lifted her head back up, Ukyou had moved off and a short demoness took her place. Earth found the experience novel, so did her youngest daughter who giggled softly. Nabiki looked down at her mother, then at Usagi's face, then back at her mother. Smirking, she giggled and gave the tiny succubus another hug.


            Staring into turquoise, vertically slitted eyes, Nariko took in her mother's mental state. Her own crimson eyes tracked to Sailor Moon. She watched as her mother and the moon princess shared a look. Nariko could sense the Princess' pain and longing, and nodded to her mother. Nodoka and Earth also shared a moment before more demons stepped in  and blocked the view.


            Her giant rifle slung over her back, Morgan stepped up. The redhead with the pageboy style hair looked to her own mother, who nodded. Morgan leaned forward and concentrated with her tiny black horns. She chuckled and beckoned to her sisters.


            Morrison leaned in her face grave. She brushed back some of her rich green hair.


            Earth smiled somewhat nervously.


            Seeing the fangs the Agent stepped back with a smile.


            Sophie stepped in. She blinked and whispered to her aunt. "I've got no idea what they're all doing. You smell the same to me; you've still got that refined predatory violence... just now you've made it look... cute." The black haired demoness laughed.


            Earth giggled and Sophie was suddenly hugged by her sisters. Sophie's shock melted into a little purr.


            "That's what I saw, not that being cute is rare for us," Morrison said shooting Morgan a glance.


            The short sniper laughed as the trio went to their mother and just barely avoided being barreled into by the orange-haired demoness.
            Misako grabbed her mother and dragged her to a bed. She sat the little demoness down and began inspecting her makeup. Giving a vaguely satisfied sniff she then went to her hair.


            "Mother, mother, mother, what have you gotten yourself into?" she asked undoing the bow at the end of Earth's right side braid. Removing the bow atop her right hair bun she began to expose the horn lying beneath.


            Earth shivered a bit as the horn was exposed to the air and her daughter's prodding. Taking out a brush, Misako took apart the braid and smoothed out the great fall of blonde and pink hair on her mother's right side.


            She looked at the loose hair, then at the curled bun and braided twin tail on the left side. The demoness began to push the hair around. She tried holding it up, having it fall back in the center, leaving it falling down but with a bit more bangs, she tried several more styles, one of which was a mass of bows that grew smaller as they got further away from her mother's head.


            With each try her frown deepened and Misako's frustration grew. Growling, Misako dropped her hair brush and picks up the two green bows and begins rewinding hair around her mother's horn. Once the curled bun was recreated she started braiding the long ponytail.


            She turned to Usagi who was standing over the bed, Nodoka at her side.. "We'll need to share from now on, okay?" she asked as she finished up the braiding and readied the bow so she could tie it off.


            Quivering, Earth patiently waited until her hair was finished before jumping off the bed. Her hooves hit with a ringing clop and she took off with a run. "Mommy!" she happily cried as she wrapped her arms around Nodoka and Usagi.

            Both taller women leaned down and hugged the little demon clinging to their mid sections. Purring, Sailor Earth looked up, pure adoration in her eyes.


            Feeling a fluttery, warm feeling in her stomach, Usagi saw the demons in the room home in on her. Soon she found herself at the center of another massive group hug. She turned to see Nodoka serenely taking it all as she patted her daughter. Usagi found herself mirroring the elder Saotome's actions.


            Eve had sidled up to just behind Nodoka and Usagi and looked over the shorter blonde's shoulder with a contemplative, knowing smile. Usagi glanced back and saw the rest of her Senshi, with Kiri in the lead, being drawn towards the giant huddle.


            "I'm sorry," Usagi looked at each of the demons in turn. Unsurprisingly Misako seemed the most skeptical bordering on hostile, but Nariko was also guarded. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you. I thought..."


            Sailor Moon closed her eye and squeezed Sailor Earth tighter. "I thought I knew how things were going to go. I thought I could handle everything on my own, and anything else... I just hire you all to take care of."


            She opened her eyes and looked into Earth's pensive expression. "I thought I could, my Senshi could handle it, while forgetting that you, all of you, were Senshi." She turned and took in the assembled demons. Feeling the weight of their eyes on her. "I forgot... that your mother was one of us."


            "I didn't treat her that way, and it caused me, it caused you, it caused my friends a lot of heartache and pain." Sailor Moon sagged as her knees wobbled. "I'm sorry for my pride." She started to tremble, but found Kiri and Eve holding her shoulders while Minako and Makoto braced her back and sides, and Rei hugged her from behind looping her arms across Moon's chest. Earth ,of course, held her up by the waist.


            Feeling herself go almost limp, Moon was held by her Senshi and surrounded by the brood. Concern wafted from both groups with little bursts of fear and hesitation from the former while the latter seemed mollified and more sympathetic. Slipping between her sisters, Nariko stepped forward and offered her hand.


            Feeling an almost insistent, somewhat tingly sensation from where Earth held onto her Usagi blinked. The pressure waxed and waned. "That feels nice...  that what it's like for all of the brood?"


            With an embarrassed blush Earth pulled back a tad. "You can feel that?"  Earth whispered, almost awestruck. Blinking Usagi found Nariko's pale hand,  took it, and  pulled was lifted back to her feet.


            Bowing her head, Nariko took her arm back and put it around Earth's shoulder.


            Mirroring the gesture, Usagi was then caught by the demon's deep red eyes. Like Earth's hair, the similarity with her own daughter caused her to ache.


            Nariko leaned in. "Mother has put her trust in you; do not betray it. Perhaps she is on your team for a reason, eh? Do not dismiss her counsel," she whispered staring into Sailor Moon's eyes.


            "Thank you, Nari-chan," Sailor Earth hugged her eldest daughter and returned to the bed. Flanked by Nodoka and Usagi, Earth sat down pressed between the two taller women. The little demon smiled at the assembled Senshi and succubae.  Earth promised to herself that she would  redouble her efforts.  Her training, her family's training could make the difference for the Senshi, for the Princess, for Usagi.


            Looking at the trio, Kiri cleared her throat. "Well, now that we're finished with our apologies and hugs, shall we get to business?"


            "Finished? Well, maybe some more hugs, later." Earth gave a light giggle though her eyes were more mischievous.


            Kiri rolled her eyes.


            Earth smirked. "Anyway, for today's training we've got something a bit different in mind." She looked to each of the Senshi in turn. "Each of you will get personal training. Two on one. Nariko and Akane, you've got Minako."


            Already having been briefed on this, the red eyed demon nodded to the blonde as Akane sidled up to Minako with a little smile.


            "Sword work, Mother?" Nariko asked, idly tapping her scabbard.


            Earth nodded.


            "If you want to swap us, I could help with that," Misako said, giving a big grin.


            "No, you and Ucchan will work with Rei," Earth reminded.


            "With her?" Rei blinked at the grinning orange-haired demoness. "Really?"


            Walking towards Rei, Ukyou nodded. "Yes, we've come up with some ideas. Misa-chan and I have a good range of experience, and I'm sure you'll find her a tenacious sparring partner."


            Misako flexed her fingers then fluffed her curly-full bodied hair.


            "Right, and you?"


            Ukyou chuckled. "I'll be making sure you two don't kill each other for real."


            Misako pouted.


            "Insane," Sailor Mars muttered.


            Sailor Earth gave an exaggerated nod of agreement. "Right, next we have Makoto, who will get Nabiki and Sophie.


            Sophie gave a bit of an apprehensive wave to the brunette, copper-armored Senshi.


            "That leaves, myself and Eve and Morgan and Morrison, we'll handle Usagi and Puu."


            Eve raised an eyebrow at that. She looked at her sister and her mother and then at Miss Tsukino. "There's also a field exercise with JTF2. Investigating where the pulse broke through into our world."


            Earth frowned. "Yeah... thanks for the reminder. I should go to the hanger." She leaned back and against both her mother and Usagi for a moment before straightening herself up.


            "I can take care of it. You stay, I can go," Eve assured.


            Earth nodded but looked a bit unsure.


            "No," Usagi stated.


            Sailor Earth blinked. "What?" Ranma asked looking up at the Princess.


            "You don't have to drop everything. You made a deal to work with the Canadians today, you should keep it."


            Ranma tilted her head causing her pink braids to rock back and forth. She nodded to herself. "Thank you,"  she hesitantly said. "I was planning to- well... but..."


            "It's okay,"  Usagi squeezed Earth's hand. "I know how it seems like it's all missions with you ."


            "No, there's training," Earth said, completely deadpan.


            "And feeding," Eve reminded.


            "And time with family," Nodoka added.


            "Well...  you could come along,"  Earth quietly offered.


            "Really? That's..."  Looking into the little demon's eyes Usagi halted. It was tempting,  and there would be a lot of armed guards there but...  "No... 


            "No?"  Earth asked. Her eyes seemed to get bigger as her lip slowly quivered.


            Usagi hugged her. "No. You've got a job to do up there.  JTF2 as well.  They can't be distracted by babysitting me,  and even if they could it wouldn't be as safe.  It'd be pretty selfish of me. Part of me wants to go, and not care about the threat, the risk to you and them and my Senshi. Part of me doesn't care about that stuff but... I do have to care." The blonde admitted as she stroked her Senshi's hair


            Purring,  Sailor Earth nuzzled Usagi. "That's right," she quietly said.


            "A test?"  Usagi asked, still petting the demon's horn shaped odangos.


            Still purring, the tiny demoness smiled then met Moon's gaze. "I told you. I take this stuff seriously." After looking at a clock on the wall, she jumped up onto her hooves. "Well, I guess I should get going then."


            "Okay... I'll do my best."


            "Oh, I know you will," Earth smirked. "Don't worry, you'll be in good hands." She marched to the door and turned back. She winked and blew a kiss at Usagi before giving a smile to her family. She basked in the emotions from her connection with them and then opened the door.

 

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

 


            Work momentarily forgotten, the Comptroller gazed out the window. Out in the fields farmers in ones and twos were harvesting the crop. It looked like quotas would be met, even if it required more power than had been estimated. Further out there were no farms. Once, the neat rows of bunched, waving tentacles bearing swollen silvery bulbs would transition into slick, branching forests, rustling, rippling meadows, or at least boulder-fields strewn with stubby shrubs that crawled between the rocks.


            Now, there was nothing. It was worn, dull land. Over the years, even wasteland had given way to a rolling expanse as the mountains had worn down and the valleys had filled. Despite the view, the Comptroller felt hopeful. It was a rare but familiar feeling every other time had ended in disappointment, but such was hope.


            Leaning back, the Comptroller's gaze went to the graceful sweeping towers that dotted the farmlands and the stubby city they ringed. Made of gleaming metal, the towers were the only brightness in the drab, sullen land. They reached up and up until it seemed they touched the sky. Atop each tower were seven arcing beams that stretched out, growing thinner and thinner. In between each group of towers the tips of the beams touched, forming immense buttresses that girdled the sky.


            Above that were the ghost stars. The echoes of long dead suns and vacant galaxies reduced the night sky into a parody of vitality. However, even mirages had their purpose. The Astronomers used the historical record the light represented as a way to track and research the Cataclysm. For what that was worth.


            Further from the city, the towers got sparser and the buttresses weaker. The Comptroller knew that the outermost ones had failed but... the horizon was okay. Things were stable. The Comptroller puffed its torso in relief. The tendrils that ringed the top of its body flared out as the clusters of sense organs returned to the work that had piled up on the plinth.


            Some of the tendrils had their sense organs retracted and were used as flexible manipulators, while the rest studied the array of reports that were displayed on the plinth's glossy black surface. However... a couple tendrils were still facing backwards, looking out the window, studying the horizon.

 
            That far out, the wastelands had been worn down to a nearly level plain. It gave a clear view of the angled kinks that made up the edge of the world. The Comptroller calmed itself and studied the data; the projections could be worse. At least they were managing the decline.


            The door to the office opened and the Comptroller looked up. The Head Surveyor made a show of ducking through the rounded doorway. The Comptroller had to laugh. It remembered being sixty-four, the urge to show off was strong, and did not abate for at least two more stages.


           Bobbing up to a stool with a cupped recess for sitting, the Surveyor bowed, lowering its torso as it waved its tendrils.


            "Punctual as always," the Comptroller said using a pair of tendrils wearing metallic bracelets that signified their conversational role. They were joined by several other tendrils to weave a joyful, if somewhat grandiose welcome.


            "It is my pleasure. I had hoped..." The Surveyor paused, its tendrils stilling.


            "Go on?" the Comptroller mildly asked, leaning back to conceal its greater bulk.


            "Well, I feared you might need some... context on Echo-382."


            The Comptroller saw something was wrong. "No joy? Your group may just have found the Holder of a Thousand Souls. Yes, you found the Enemy's presence, but we have come to expect that. Or has the analysis changed?" The Comptroller's interest was momentarily raised.


            "Yes, Comptroller. My joy is tempered by the situation." The Surveyor's tendrils drooped. "We have found the Holder, but here we wait. The Explorers are ready, but they sit idled."


            "Have we really found the Holder... the signal was faint and only came at the very end of our sweep."


            "You think it is a false Holder? A false Coverer of the Sky?"


            The Comptroller paused to think. Its reading put aside as this required its full attention. It looked out the window at the array of buttresses. Without the Holder they had to use this weak imitation to protect themselves. "The Holder of Souls, the Coverer of the Sky is the heir of our true god the Herald of the Outer Gods. And yet, it is not blasphemy to be skeptical. The Herald blessed us with minds; minds it expects us to use."


            "The same god that provided our seers with the wisdom to build the buttresses," the Surveyor pointed out.


            "What if instead of finding the Holder we have found another doomed world... like this?" the Comptroller asked a bit icily as it continued to work at the plinth. Truth be told, it only took a few tendrils to go through the quota reports..


            "The same wisdom that went into the buttresses also went into my equipment, Comptroller," the Head Surveyor said


            "We have had false positives before." The Comptroller leaned forward and flared its grey-green torso and orange tendrils. It wanted to make things clear; it was eight times the size of a lowly rank sixty-four Head Surveyor and there were plenty of waiting thirty-two's that would kill for its spot and the privilege to merge with another thirty-two. "What makes this different?"


            "Yes, the Holder only stirred at the end of our Survey. Just as it was supposed to. Echo-382 is different. Its emissions were strange enough to push it towards the top of the survey list. A move that has paid off I might add."


            The Comptroller exhaled in amusement. "Oh yes. I am aware. The survey signal was given to us by the Herald, specifically to engender that response." The Comptroller paused. In a bare breath, memories were accessed. Passed down from the previous Comptroller and the one before that in a daisy-chain of recollections and data.


            Few Comptrollers had failed in office. Many were promoted after their service, thus merging was infrequently available. Copied data was not as good as absorbed data, but there were limits to even a Comptroller's privileges, even with a retired predecessor.


            "Yes," the Comptroller said, the memories burning a clear awestruck devotion into its mind. "The Herald personally appeared and gave the signal to the first Comptroller. We were told that we would know when we found the Herald."


             "Why are we waiting then? What if time is of the essence? What if the Holder is in danger? You said yourself the Enemy's work is apparent on Echo-382."


            "What do you recommend?" The Comptroller asked, amused.


            "Exploration. There is only so much a Survey Echo can reveal."


            "Are you aware of the expense? Of the risk? We have only so much power, so much time."


            "Exactly." The Surveyor gasped as its respiration slowed. "I know the point of Survey! We are the Pathfinders. While others learn how to empower the Holder, how to stave off the Enemy, we search for them both. What if we have found our goal? We cannot let it slip through our grasp. The Explorers are ready. We could send them this very moment."


            "You are right, with conditions. Once we are certain, we will move." the Comptroller drew its attention back outside. "We will observe, we will learn, and when we are sure we will help the Holder defeat the Enemy."


            "And if we are too slow?"


            "If the Holder really is at Echo-382, then its presence will become abundantly clear."

 

End chapter

 

I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, DGC, Wray, Kevin Hammel, and Ikarus.

 

Revision notes:  And more of the pieces for the Battle of Ottawa start to come together.  One chapter left in Raising Trouble.