A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.
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.
Temporary Backup Site.
C&C as always is wanted.
Chapter 28 Redesign and Relaxation Part 2
Standing on a wooded mountain bluff, Setsuna, in her adult form and dressed in her former dark red and white seifuku rather than the obsidian armored version she had worn of late, watched the small village below. With a mix of thatched roofs and Bavarian styling, it was picturesque. The small buildings and avenues were also perfectly groomed and brightly painted and the little gardens were prefect. It was surrounded by fields and orchards that were equally bright and vibrant.
Encircling the cleared lands were sylvan forests which slowly turned thicker and more wild the further out one looked. Completing the fairy-tale look were the crystal and white marble spires of the castle that rose from the bluffs just north of where Setsuna stood.
Compared to the brutal elegance of the castle the pristine village seemed merely quaint and cozy. Setsuna knew that the Princess would not have it any other way. The castle protectively loomed over the village, but it did not cast its shadow over the princess. Here, at least, the Queens were still alive.
Focusing her attention on one of the pastel-painted buildings, Setsuna watched the Princess and her five closest friends trot out in a happy gaggle. Naru and Mercury were among them, restored as Usagi wished they one day would be.
Setsuna's gaze went down the street to where she saw herself, or at least the younger version "Kiri" running towards the group. Setsuna smiled. She knew how this dream worked. As the
Setsuna watched the events unfold. Even here, the Princess could not escape her duties. The Guardian of the Space-Time Door was hit by a bit of melancholy and a tinge of cold, old jealousy. Being Sailor Senshi, especially these bright idealized ones, was escapist.
She pushed those thoughts aside and let her Princess dream.
In the real world, about a hundred kilometers to the North of where the Princess slept, there was a weak spot in the structure of reality. This was not surprising; such things were why the Senshi had been moved across continents.
Feeling something pierce though the weak point, Setsuna's eyes widened, light burst around her body, and a swarm of iridescent spheres flew out from the aura. She could sense that her response was not alone. The Company had detected the breach and alerts were already being triggered.
It was like using a laser to burn through a rubber sheet. Normally, the photons were too weak and the matter too solid to cut through. However, stretch the sheet thing enough, and then dial the laser power up... and the light beam will punch a hole right through the sheet.
Setsuna was about to wake Usagi, but just as suddenly, the beam cut out and the hole began to close. The dream continued, and for a moment Setsuna's confusion grew. Then the beam turned on. And off then on again.
Seeing the pulsing energy, and then feeling the ripples it caused across the world, Setsuna realized its purpose. The beam was the inter-dimensional equivalent of radar. Energy would be emitted, and a detector on the other side of the hole would pick it up. It was also akin to shining a light into a darkened room to see what was inside.
After less than a minute the emission cut out entirely and the soft-spot closed and dimensional stability returned to its slow decay. Setsuna kept her spheres out but the... incursion, such as it was, had stopped. And feeling the pulsing ripples herself, she had a fair idea who was behind it.
Shivering, her attention turned back to the dream. The Senshi, even the ones that were mere figments of the Princess's imagination, had not even noticed. "Well, I never thought. He would bother with a recon sweep."
"It was not Him," a smooth voice said from what seemed to be empty air.
Setsuna felt the vibrations subtly twist the dream as the sun dropped to the west and night fell. The starry darkness before her precipitated into a trim female humanoid form.
She wore jeweled sandals, gold gloves, and heavy gold bracelets set with lapis lazuli and rubies. Heavy gold ankh earrings hung from ears made from literal darkness. Gold lips curled into a lazy smile. Intricate, golden makeup surrounded mirthful eyes with golden "whites", deep maroon irises and pupils that were deep starry fields that showed galaxies that had been dead for eons.
A precisely sculpted pageboy with an even fan of bangs had formed from a thousands and thousands of golden strands that moved with an eerie fluidity and uniformity that gave the impression of a single flexible mass..
Instead of a jewel, the center of her silver tiara held a cobra raging up ready to strike. The silver serpent had ruby eyes and alternating ruby and sapphire scales on the belly and hood.
While her hemlines had gold trim and a few other jeweled accents, her clothing was a plain white silk. This gave an elegant and understated contrast to the riotous wealth the rest of the woman's accessories suggested. However, Setsuna's greatest surprise was the style of clothing the new woman wore: a crisp white Seifuku with gold bows. The gem in the center of her chest bow was a large circle of milky-white polished adularia and bore an opalescent bluish sheen.
Looking into those deep, deep eyes, Setsuna's heart fell. The Egyptian theme made it blatantly obvious who she was talking to, and it was little wonder she would defend her father. "Nuit," she said, using the being's most common name. "You do not belong here, and you certainly do not belong in that uniform."
"Why should I not dress this way?" She asked as the ruby eyes to her serpent headpiece flashed. She paused and looked into the distance.
"Am I not 'She Who Protects'?" Nuit then bowed her head. "I am Nuit, and I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil," she stated, her words sliding out as if recalled by rote. She stood confidently and her expression was a self-assured mask.
"Oh? Come now." The woman's voice was even. She serenely waited for Setsuna to calm herself.
"You wear the same uniform," Nuit said, stretching her shoulders and peered over the bluff. The Princess' dream was still proceeding. The younger Kiri was busy explaining how sudden nightfall showed the importance of completing the Senshi's "mission."
Nuit held her hand out and found it fixed in the air. An iridescent wall appeared around her palm. She looked out and saw that the "shell" covered the whole of the village and the forest. Her face was controlled
"Did you think I would not ward you?" Setsuna asked narrowing her eyes at the woman. "The Princess shall have her dreams. Right now you are in my dream, and my dream is to merely watch her dream. Changing the night sky was enough for you."
"You care for her," Nuit observed gold and red eyes widening. Jealousy clouding her face, she stepped back from the barrier.
"Because, I am Sailor Pluto. That is what it means to wear this uniform," Setsuna said, hoping that no uncertainty, no regret leaked into her voice.
"Have you fallen so deeply into bondage?" Now pity flashed across the stellar-skinned woman's face. "Perhaps you need to wake up?" she asked. Now concern edged her smooth, resonant voice.
"Big words for one such as you," Setsuna stepped forward iridescence flaring over her uniform.
"Peace." Nuit gracefully held her gloved hands up. "I have brought neither my crook nor my flail. I am not here to fight."
"If you had brought them I would have taken them and bent you over my knee," Setsuna stated. "You were not expected, not here, not now."
"Is that a promise to do said bending on a later date then?" Nuit asked, golden eyebrow raised.
"Stupid meddling outsiders," Setsuna grumbled, brushing Nuit's comment aside.
"And do not blame the summoners. In looking they shall find what they seek," she flatly said as ruby snake-eyes glowed.
"You cannot measure something without changing it. When you look into the abyss..." Setsuna exhaled and looked at the sky then back down at the village. "You're the abyss staring back."
"And I have found you." Nuit stepped to Setsuna's right side.
Setsuna looked down and realized how short and how... young the being next to her was. Despite her poise and grace, the form she assumed could not be much older than the Princess or the other Inner Senshi.
"I should apologize for the actions of my worshipers," Nuit bowed her head. "But they did get my attention, and I saw you..."
"Cut the act."
"Act?" For a moment the woman's façade slipped and a bit of panic oozed between the cracks in her expression. She quickly recovered. "An act? From you, given who you are, who you work for? Besides. I like this act," Nuit flipped one of the pleats of her skirt and ran a hand through her hair. She leaned on the taller woman and looked up.
Setsuna returned the gaze. However, she first looked at the snake's eyes as they flickered on and off. Now that she was prepared, Nuit's maroon eyes bore no danger. Within those ancient starry pupils Sailor Pluto saw a being of calm, eternal patience. Worship, wrath, waiting, it was all the same to her. She would do what she had been created to do.
Nuit held her stance. She felt the time slip by, but it was dream time, and compared to the wait for her summons, this was nothing.
Setsuna put an arm around Nuit's shoulder. "What... what do you want?"
"You're lonely. You've done your duty. The time spent alone should be immaterial, but we both know that it wasn't. You felt the years go past, and while you've got companions now, they don't understand do they?" Nuit put her arm around Setsuna's waist, mirroring the older woman's actions.
"That doesn't answer my question"
"If you need someone to... talk to," Nuit paused her voice cracking.
Setsuna broke away from the starry-woman's eyes. "You... you want a friend?"
"You are the Guardian, you understand. Mortals do not. Immortals are not good company."
"Not a fan of your father's friends."
Nuit shook her head.
"I will be busy."
"So shall I," Nuit coyly said.
"Are you that lonely?"
"Are you? This is your dream," Nuit gave Setsuna another hug. "You can banish me from this place whenever you wish."
"Maybe I'm drawing out more information from you," Setsuna said.
"I could say the same." Nuit looked down seemingly unsure of herself.
"What will you be busy with, pray tell?" Setsuna asked.
Nuit looked Sailor Pluto up and down. "Much the same as you. I am 'She Who Protects'? I have come so that I may enfold and protect you from all things evil," she repeated in the same smooth tone as before. The eyes on her serpent head piece stopped glowing. "Though I'll admit, I don't have a Princess to protect. Not even one with such unique sleeping arrangements," she looked down and the stars embedded in her cheeks grew brighter in something akin to an embarrassed blush.
Setsuna kept her face neutral. She would bet good money that Nuit knew full well about the Venus Armor, but the stellar-woman could be simply referring to the dream-valley. It was galling to have something like Nuit take exception towards the Princess' life, but Setsuna could understand.
"I don't have team mates either," Nuit continued, her voice cracking. "Even mortals that don't truly understand."
"Completely trustworthy." Setsuna slipped out of the light hug. Her crimson eyes looked over the eldritch goddess pausing at her far more alien maroon eyes. "You realize my situation. Despite the highly, highly suspect timing of your appearance you haven't done anything wrong. Well, other than invade my dream to pop in and say 'Hi.' "
Nuit's golden lips slowly curled into a bashful smile that grew more confident. "But this is not your dream. Unless you're so deeply into servitude that your dream is to be a servant."
Setsuna's expression stiffened. "Not that I have any moral compunction about eliminating potential threats but..." She hesitated seeing the shorter woman's growing mask of confident poise. Setsuna cleared her throat. "But I'm left with two choices. In both cases you're new here and have been summoned by something from beyond the stars. Thus you either just fell off the turnip truck, stumbled into existence, and are so new at this that you came to the nearest being of power asking to make friends."
Setsuna then grinned. "Or you're a very, very patient offshoot of your Father, who deliberately adjusted your form to catch my eye and gain my sympathy in the first steps of a plan to subvert me to your... team." She studied the woman before her. In her duties as Sailor Pluto, and before, she had run into many beings. At least this one kept the tentacles out of sight and did not indulge in surrounding herself with worshipers, servitors, and brood. In some ways the subtlety betrayed a disturbing knowledge of human norms and culture.
Some were like Nuit, in many ways they were worlds unto themselves splinters of power that broke off of something greater and would seek to complete their duty, to complete themselves. Understanding their motives was key to understanding the threat they posed.
Nuit gave a gentle clap. "Either way I've yet to try your patience." She bowed her head slightly. Her golden hair shifted forward.
Setsuna glanced back at the valley. The dream was proceeding without her. As it should be, it was not her place to interfere with the Princess' dreams. "Speaking of that, my patience is at an end. I'm sorry but I cannot spend all night talking with you."
Nuit's eyes darted to the group of Sailor Senshi leaving the village to go on their grand adventure.
"No, I have other duties." Setsuna exhaled and cupped her hands summoning a grapefruit-sized black sphere that rippled and glowed with iridescence.
"Consider my offer," Nuit's grin became uncertain but more eager. "If you need someone to talk to, if your duties become too much of a burden, look me up. You know how to find me, right?" she coyly asked.
The sphere started to drift from Setsuna's fingers. "Well... yes. I did just hear your wakeup call."
Nodding, Nuit held her hands to her sides palms out. She raised her chin and Setsuna released the sphere. It shot forward and exploded into a shimmering rainbow like mass that expanded to envelop the goddess and wash her out of the dream in a multi-colored burst of sparkling motes of light.
Nuit smiled as she vanished. Instead of trying to backtrack to where Nuit truly dwelled, Setsuna had simply severed the link that allowed her to project herself into the dream.
Setsuna walked around in a circle. She checked the dream. She checked the shield around the village and valley. She checked the soft spots out in lower
Finally, she gave Usagi yet another check. She was secure and safe, even though she was currently sleeping inside a golden animate and sapient armor.
Only then did the Senshi of Pluto open her eyes, her real eyes, or at least the eyes of the physical body she currently inhabited. Rolling her shoulders, she straightened her knees and got out of a meditative position. Her legs ached from sitting on the concrete floor, but she pushed that aside.
Standing up, she sighed. She was back in her Kiri body, which was serviceable, albeit too short. She looked around the dim room. The rest of the Senshi... at least those that were human, on this continent, and not under Murdock's sway slept.
Kiri walked to the gleaming armored form of the queen. Glowing jewels and reflective metal cast and spread a soft throbbing light. She lay asleep on one of the bunk beds, the heavy weight of the armor compressing the mattress and frame springs. The form was still. Done in heavy gold and silver, she looked somewhat like a sarcophagus.
Her face literally was a silver mask that shone with nearly enough light to read by. Her lips were gold, but unlike Nuit her eyes were solid blue crystal. She also put Nuit's hair to shame. The Queen bore a solid helmet of white gold armor that had been sculpted into a high bouffant that also covered the back and sides of her head.
Thick chest and bodice armor encircled her body and led to the anchor ring for the layers of interlocking armored skirts. Her hands were not visible, being concealed by a hefty wand cannon on her right, and a sword gauntlet that linked to a silver blade over her left. Combined with the high pauldrons that covered her shoulders and the armored sleeves, she looked like some sort of battle-ball gown.
This impression was supported by the various bits of crystal, engraved etchings, and the innumerable crescent moons that adored the armor. The whole thing looked more like a statue of a queen than the real thing.
This time Kiri's sigh was deeper, resigned, and apprehensive. She supposed that was accurate. The whole armor was a monument to both Usagi's and Minako's fears. She shook her head. Makoto and Rei were right. Especially when compared to the likes of Nuit or the likes of DarkStar, this armor-Queen was an imitator.
Kiri nodded. In the morning she would make her move, but first she had someone to warn. She walked over to the door and turned the lock. A pair of company agents were on guard. As she got their attention and explained who she needed to talk to, Kiri realized that they and the strangely old-fashioned looking tripod-mounted machine gun were not just placed to fire at anyone trying to break into the room, but they were also placed in case they needed to fire in the opposite direction. She wondered how far away the crews with missile tubes and the heavier vehicle mounted weapons were.
The Senshi shrugged at that. It was a wonder that her guard was not heavier. Usually there was at least one demon skulking about.
Following her escort, Kiri was led to the hanger. There was a pair of helicopters waiting on the perforated plate that made up the temporary landing pad. Their engines were spun up causing a reverberating whine that went into the empty night. That they were running at idle showed the Company was ready to deploy them at a moment's notice, and yet they had not already been deployed.
Seeing a flash of red, the Senshi of Pluto went straight to the demons. They were kitted up in arms and armor. Though the bulk of the brood had taken the lull to flop down onto whatever chairs or cleared bits of concrete they could find. Half of them were resting not asleep, but more calmly waiting. The rest, including Eve were checking out their gear and equipment. While Nariko and Morrison were intently studying a screen with a scanner read out.
Ranma was different and paced slightly with her hand to her headset. She was dressed in her Kevlar vest and skirt with inset armor plates over a Kevlar bodysuit. She wore heavy boots and a web-harness that contained the various kit she had accumulated over time. Her deep red hair was pulled back in a wild fall that ran down between her wings and to her tail. It seemed to bristle and move with the tone of her voice.
She only had one pair of horns visible, but Kiri knew the demon had acquired more. The tip of her tail would periodically roll to one side before turning back over. "Are you sure? I know that's what the UAVs say but... yeah. I know." The demon turned and faced the youthful looking Senshi. Her focused, almost predatory, face sized the shorter woman up.
"Took you long enough," Ranma stated. "Spill."
Taking in the accusation, Kiri stalled. Near-instantly she recovered by putting her hand to her chest and taking an affronted tone. "Oh? Must you blame everything mysterious and sinister on me?"
"I'm not blaming you, but clearly you know something." Ranma's jaw tensed. "Is there time for games then? Why can't you ever drop by with something nice? The
"My, a date? Well as much as I love reliving history, I may have to pass." Kiri then thought the demons were a bit too attentive, sitting there waiting for their Mother's command. However, she could sense the apprehension and the real question Ranma had left unsaid.
"No... I don't think we've got a beachhead situation," Kiri said. The truth seemed wrong to her, but she did not know her... visitor's intentions, nor her true allegiance.
Ranma's tail relaxed. "Not yet, but someone did come in and peek through the curtains."
Kiri inclined her head. "What did this grand sensor network of yours pick up?"
"Grand?" Ranma scoffed. "Half of the long range scanners the Canadians bought. And without a UAV up in the area the resolution's for shit. And even if we had a UAV aloft, ours aren't big enough to carry the really precise scanners. That far out it's a tripwire not a camera."
Kiri held her tongue, from what she knew of WIC's technology that as a bit of an understatement, but not much. "What about jamming?"
Ranma cocked an eyebrow. "Our jammers are even bulkier. Well, save for these." She gestured to the bow on her chest which was a WIC jammer antennae hooked up to a kludge of WIC tech and Silver Millennium magic and powered by the demon's Sailor Senshi abilities.
Kiri assumed that WIC had managed to miniaturized the technology for general purpose, though production and execution would be harder without a Pattern Silver to work off of.
The demon shrugged. "I suppose we'll know if someone ports into downtown with an invasion force, but we need more time to install more scanners."
"And money, hence the Canadian cost-share," Kiri tapped her chin. "But I'm betting you did send a UAV in. So what do you know?"
"Based on the decay? Someone with a bit of expertise and power decided to do a bit of recon. Know who?" Ranma demanded.
"Do you or your associates know?"
The succubus looked to some of the officers. She caught her sister's eye and exchanged a glance with the blonde. "We're still-"
"Collating the data," Kiri completed with a bit of elation. Clearly, she had no moral problem with concealing information, but it was handy to know the situation was reciprocal. "Well... that puts you ahead on that count."
Ranma studied the shorter woman. "And what count are you ahead on?"
Kiri sighed. "It was more than a reconnaissance sweep. The energy pulse had a pattern, a signal."
The demoness swore. "Jacob was right. Of course he was." She tapped her headset. "Red here. Wakeup Call has been confirmed. Repeat Wakeup Call." There was a pause. "Yes Sir. I agree, expand the sweep. Sure, update JTF2." As she listened she nodded and gave the occasional bit of advice.
Kiri found herself smirking. "That's why you're still on alert." she then nodded in understanding. "You thought it could be a message too."
"Anything can be a message: a flare, a shot in the dark, a cup of coffee on a table, a bit of tape on a lamppost. One example that really stuck out during our training class was this message an imprisoned spy sent out. Jacob told us how the man, code named number six, knew anything he sent out would be picked up and analyzed by the guards.
"So he put three blank pages in an envelope and hid it for a dead drop that never came. Naturally, the guards found it and confronted with what had to be a secret message sent the papers to a laboratory for analysis." The demon chuckled. "Doing exactly what the spy wanted. Of course they could not find anything and dutifully reported the results."
"Ah, so his controllers had penetrated the laboratory." Kiri surmised. She studied the demon. She had let slip that she was being trained by the WIC officers. This was part of the test. "The message was the number of pages wasn't it?" she asked, noting the details that Ranma had provided.
"Right, though could have been how the pages were folded too, or the type of envelope." Ranma nodded. "Just as long as you've setup what the codes all mean a head of time. And boring a hole in reality big enough to send a message is a lot cheaper than one big enough to send people." Ranma shrugged. "What kind of message was sent out? Activating pathfinders? Sleeper cell?"
"Oh sorry, but wakeup call, sleeper cell." The green-haired woman laughed again. "You don't know how right you are."
The demoness exhaled. "What woke up?" She followed Kiri's gaze and looked at her broodlings. "Love-Coda?"
Kiri nodded. "But not... not one of the big ones. Technically, she doesn't even have an alias in the Love-Coda system."
Kiri shook her head. "I don't know... she seemed nice enough but you know how it goes when powerful secretive beings seem nice." She flashed her teeth at the demon.
"You talked with her?" Ranma's curiosity rose and she paused to check her own senses to see if anything was... amiss.
"She found me." Kiri said a tad defensively. "I was communing with the Time-Space Door and she popped up and basically we exchanged business cards."
Ranma snickered. "Right. Just the crowd you run with?"
"You know the kind of things the Old Queen had me do. The kind of people she would have me talk with."
The demoness rubbed her forefinger against her thumb. "Actually, I don't. But I can guess."
"Right." Kiri began to turn away.
"And where are you going?" Ranma locked her eyes to Kiri's. "I need a full brief on what we're up against. This sounds like a major player in our 'Little Problem'."
Kiri chuckled. "Oh trust me, she's a newbie."
"That doesn't get you off the hook," Ranma insisted. "I've only been back from vacation a couple days and this Queen babysitting is getting tedious. If we have a new enemy, I want in."
The Senshi of Pluto snickered. "Honestly? I don't know." She deliberately broke the gaze and looked back the way she had come. "But I do know I should wake the Senshi up and warn them."
"After you went straight to me to warn us first," the demon smirked.
"You were already prepped and ready to fight. It was the smart move," Kiri admitted.
Ranma nodded. "Go warn them. Not sure they really need to know this second but," she turned and smiled at her daughters, "being suddenly woken in the middle of the night not knowing if you'll have to fight for your life is good training."
A length of chain looped through a pair of handcuffs with each end going to an eyebolt screwed into the heavy steel table. The bound man sat at the table and scanned the walls, bright green eyes shone as he studied the guards who filled the opposite side of the small concrete room.
There were three of them: two male, one female. Their shoulder patches displayed a pair of gold keys over a white Greek cross on a red field. The men wore body-armor and leveled Sturmgewehr 57's at the prisoner. He studied the battle-rifles; he pinned his hopes on their great length given the confines of the room.
However, the woman, the nun, worried the Assemblyman. In her left hand she held a softly glowing silver cross, the top of which was looped to a chord that went around her neck. Her right hand held a SIG P220 that was pointed at the low ready. The Assemblyman's attention was more on the simple silver ring around her middle finger, instead of the weapon it held.
Like her companions, her deep blue eyes were hard and steady, but unlike their neutral, distant faces, she bore a slight, almost pitying, smile. Her stance adjusted slightly as the door unlocked, and the guard to her left pivoted to cover the door and the prisoner.
The door opened, and a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested giant of a man swept into the room. A pair of black pants and matching tunic made his broad ruddy face and orange-red hair seem to float into the room. The same could be said for the great silver cross he wore upside-down and the pair of silver cufflinks at his sleeve. However, the brightest part was the exposed white square of his clerical collar; it was a stark contrast to the faded, ragged clothes the prisoner wore.
Seemingly ignoring the bare concrete and the chains, Bishop O'Malley smiled at the room. He nodded to one of the guards who lowered his weapon and then at the nun who stepped to the side Still bearing a serene smile, he approached the table and the manacled man. "Why, hello my, Son. Is there anything you'd like to confess?"
"Papal scum. There's no limit to your treachery is there?" the man tried to spit but his mouth was too dry.
O'Malley's eyes twinkled. "Oh? And what's that... Father?"
The Assembly priest blinked.
"Not in the mood for theology, Chauncey? I'm sure the good sister here could warrant a nice rant based on Exodus 22:18."
"What?" Father Chauncey Ramones asked.
"Surely you're not that ignorant? You do know what the bible is?"
Ramones' eyes began to flare up.
The sister's cross glowed a bit brighter and the Assemblyman's eyes snapped back to normal.
O'Malley's grin sharpened. "Yes, I suppose a prohibition against sorcery wouldn't be something your kind could get behind. Maybe something from Mark Five then?"
"The grenade?" The Assemblyman blinked; his eyes darting from the pair of silver crosses to the pair of battle rifles.
"My, my. You really are a sorry creature, Father. Fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, miracles of the Lord... including a man possessed by demons." O'Malley shook his head. "Has the Company really degraded your lot this much? Aren't you supposed to be a warrior priest? Defending the flock of humanity from the Pit?"
Chauncey set his jaw.
"How bad is recruiting? If an ignorant coward like you is able to rise above acolyte?"
Chauncey's eyes flickered again.
Glaring down at the Assemblyman, O'Malley turned and paced, always staying between the guards. "It's... it's not that hard. The laziest mail-order priest can find enough fire and brimstone to incite a flock. Why can't you? Aren't you supposed to be on a Holy Mission?"
"Who are you to claim God's will?" Chauncey yelled.
O'Malley chuckled. "Is that what it takes? How much does your pride have to be hurt?"
"We would have won!" Chauncey looked down. "It wasn't... fair."
"You lost, you tried and you were beaten. Had you done so many courier missions that you'd lost your edge?"
"You were eager to get back into the field... and look how you performed." O'Malley sniffed. "Are you the best that High Father Corvine could attract? Perhaps he should have switched to a different Abrahamic religion and started trolling
"Really? I just suggested that your spiritual and military leader should switch religions and start looking for terrorists. That at least deservers a 'Die heretic!' or maybe a 'Blasphemer!' " The Papal Intelligence Chief sighed. "Did all the Assembly's competence die with Bishop Fortson?"
"The Bishop was a great man," the green-eyed man said reflexively and flatly.
O'Malley leaned towards the sullen man. "Am I facing the dregs? Fools promoted beyond their competence to give the illusion of a fighting force?"
Chauncey leaned back and lowered his gaze.
O'Malley stepped to the side of the table. "I know you've lost much. You've seen your friends die, and you know what the Company, what those demons have done to you and yours." Still standing outside of reach, he loomed over the Assemblyman.
"Then why are you helping them?" Chauncey demanded. "I mean, demons, for Christ's sake! They're actual creatures in league with Satan. Your God should be happy that we are smiting them."
"My God? What's your God then? The smiting would seem to be a bit one-sided Father."
Chauncey averted his eyes again.
"Good God, man, you're supposed to be a church militant, a knight templar." O'Malley smirked. "Well, I suppose the latter's more ours than yours."
"Is the Pope taking the side of the demons then? What of God's will?"
"Presumptuous fool!" O'Malley's face reddened. "You dare speak in place of God. Such arrogance. That-" He chuckled. "-is our job."
"They're still demons, fallen, cast out of Heaven."
"Oh? You think the beings that have slaughtered your lot are the Fallen?" O'Malley gave a light chuckle. "Please, if you think the Adversary's ranks are mere horns and claws...." He shook his head. "The resurgence of old evils proceeds and you focus on the superficialities."
"What are you talking about?"
O'Malley shook his head again and turned to the nun. "Can you believe it Sister Sarah?"
Sarah gave a little frown. "He is comforted in his ignorance."
Turning back, O'Malley nodded. "Son, there's one thing you Americans and your firebrand-backwoods preaching has got right. Bad times are coming, but we'd be lucky if it was plain old Scratch and his pitchfork."
O'Malley leaned in. "It's a metaphor. The Creation, the Rebellion, the End, it's all too much for us to comprehend. Most of us can barely understand Redemption, and that was deliberately dumbed down to our level. Do you understand how out of our depth we are?" The bishop turned aside. "But all children must grow up."
"So... you are talking about Satan right?" Chauncey looked down confused.
O'Malley shook his head. "What I would give to merely be facing a suave man in a black and red suit or a contemptibly-swarthy man with goat legs and leering eyes. No, those... masks are shadows of the enemy we face."
Still standing to the side, O'Malley sighed and raised his arm. In the harsh light it's shadow began to creep across the metal surface, towards where Chauncey was staring. "The table. See my arm?"
Looking at the shadow, Chauncey nodded.
"No... you don't. What you see is a simplification, a projection. It follows the motions of my arm. It can obscure and interact with other shadows, but it's nothing but an absence of light."
"Then what...." the Assemblyman looked around the dark, dry room. "What are you talking about. What's the real Adversary?"
"Pride, contempt, arrogance. A projection, but one among many. We face a being that grew fat in the shadow of the Almighty. A corruption that oozes and leaks through the holes of the universe. There is a whole writhing entity that seeks to come through and like all of the true Fallen it seeks to make a mockery of the Almighty's plan."
Chauncey felt his skin crawl. He was reminded of the times he had seen Fortson and his Inquisitors pass. They were the masked enforcers of the Assembly of Man and their presence always carried a greasy pressure, the sense that they were the tip of something greater, something just outside of sight. Chauncey had considered such moments one of the few times he had felt anything religious, but now...
He looked back up at the Catholic priest and blinked.
O'Malley nodded. "Those mercenaries, those demons especially they... understand this. As they should. Who better to understand the twisting power of the Adversary than some of its earliest victims."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend then?"
"No. The enemy of my enemy is my ally. Key difference."
"I doubt the Assembly of Man is considered either an ally or a friend."
"True." O'Malley nodded. "But are they your ally?"
Chauncey raises an eyebrow. "Really?" He lifted up his arms showing the chains. "I hardly think they've done worse to me."
O'Malley stepped back. "They're the ones that sent you on this last mission. The Assembly has been greatly weakened, and Company reprisals have made your situation even worse. Why attack the Church?"
"You've worked with them," Chauncey spat but his glare softened..
"Son, you know better than that," O'Malley sighed. "What was the first thing you accused me of?"
Chauncey stared ahead.
"You accused the Church of treachery. Now, did you mean my church or yours?"
The Irishman laughed. "Naturally. But whose?"
Chauncey watched as the Bishop walked around the far side of the table.
"You recall the mission previous to this debacle?"
The Assemblyman looked up. "What?"
"You delivered a package.
"The Church has... cordial relationships with the local government. Though the Protestants have been making inroads."
Leaning back, Chauncey snickered. "Nice, going to convince me that my bosses tried to bump me off? Because I knew too much?"
"No, not really." O'Malley shook his head. "If they wanted to make sure you were dead, they'd accuse you of heresy and kill you."
"Your Inquisitors? There's a reason we gave up on that idea, Son."
"And my men?"
"It's your organization. I suppose it could be worse. You should have looked a bit closer at the people you were being a package boy for; that might have frightened you into... action."
"What? Who was I working for?"
"We have our suspicions," O'Malley frowned. "There are jackals and then there are jackals." The bishop shook his head. "What would have happened to your men?"
"Usually the acolytes are spared, unless they rebel and try to take the fallen priest's side." Chauncey looked down. "Still, better odds than my men got."
"Miss Clementine and Mister Francis are recovering. It is a shame about Parker, but your actions gave my men little choice."
Chauncey let his arms fall to the table.
"You need to consider your future." O'Malley looked to the door. "You could live a long, long life. Secure, everything taken care of. We could give you all the scripture and reference books you want. Maybe you'd actually learn what it means to be a shepherd of the Lord."
"Secure? Stuffed into a little cell." Chauncey shook his head. "You'll have to give me a better offer if you want me to talk."
O'Malley laughed. "No, that's our offer if you don't talk." He stepped to the side.
"If I do talk, you'll forgive my sins then?"
The Bishop shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. Yes, it'd be easier if you confessed your sins, and I hope that if you do seek forgiveness from the Lord that you will help us in your work."
"Trusting of you."
"Really?" O'Malley raised an eyebrow and looked to the guards and nun behind him. "If you say so." He started walking towards the door.
O'Malley slowly turned back to the bound man. "Yes?" He stepped closer until he loomed over the hunched priest.
"What is it that you want? I mean, exactly."
"What do you want?"
"It's simple. Your conditions are... adequate and your men are being taken care of, but I'm sure there's something extra we can do for you. " O'Malley smiled warmly. "What do you desire?"
Kiri stalked towards the large lacquer-haired blonde. The Senshi of Pluto looked over her... queen. She reassured herself that Mars and Jupiter were right. While this was a more controllable form, it was not worth it. The hassle of transporting her from WIC's testing Range to their Downtown Facility underscored that. Mobility was simply a major problem. Assenting to it made the situation worse than what Mercury proposed; at least her plans were for an independent, domineering queen.
"Ah good," the armored queen stated, her voice smooth and deep. "I have been thinking about DarkStar." She paused. "And that... alien signal."
"My Queen?" Kiri asked with a mix of mock diffidence and genuine trepidation. At least the Queen was currently in a guise that could pass for human, albeit a rather large woman, but still human enough. "There was more to that briefing than just a reconnaissance sweep," she gently chided.
"Yes, yes. Do you have the gift?"
Kiri nodded, then seemingly to herself nodded again. "They were right, we must fix this," she muttered, half under her breath.
Golden brows rose in confusion. "Puu? What's going on?" The queen's gaze shifted to see Mars and Jupiter standing at the doorway. Their metallic armor sullenly reflecting the light.
Standing before the woman, Kiri shrugged. "Just taking some advice." She looked to Mars and Jupiter.
The black-haired young woman gave a firm nod. After a moment's hesitation, her brunette partner nodded as well.
Kiri flexed her fingers. Lengthening by several inches, her nails turned iridescent.
"What is this?" The queen demanded.
"We're worried about you. We're worried about what you're becoming, who you are. But also..." Mars exhaled. "Who are we? Are we your friends? Are we your retainers? Your subjects? What's happening to us?
"Rei, I...." The golden woman stopped and looked as if she was trying to cry. Then the human-seeming woman separated her arms, withdrawing her wand cannon and bladed claws from the muff. "Stand down! Answer your Queen," she demanded her voice deepening.
"Hmmm, sensible instincts. Finally." Kiri sighed and looked up, above the woman's big blue eyes. "Mina, Imperial override: Case Charlie Threshold."
The ruby crescent moon on the queen's forehead throbbed. "Gatekeeper acknowledged," Mina's voice said from the crimson gem.
Kiri squared her shoulders. "In the Name of the Silver Key, release wards," she stated, her voice seeming to come from the walls, the ceiling, the floor, from the air itself.
The ruby flashed again, but was soon swallowed by her silver forehead. The woman's face turned into a snarl as her human guise slipped away, returning her form to that of heavy silver and gold. "No! You will not have her! I won't lose anyone else! Never again!" Usagi's voice cried, its high pitch clashing with the scale of the woman she pretended to be. "Mina! Answer me!"
Sighing, Kiri stepped forward. Her hair whipped about and her black armor gleamed with a squirming iridescence. "I should not have let things be, but I suppose that bridge is long crossed."
Raising her arms, the queen blinked in confusion. Her mind was silent, her friend had retreated. Then Kiri went into motion. The green-haired young woman crossed the last few feet separating the two in a blink.
Kiri sunk her nails into the Queen's chest. Jupiter cried out. Iridescent bubbles danced over the heavy golden bodice, and it split open with a meaty crack. With that breach completed, Kiri cut straight down, ripping through the waist's anchor ring and the armor skirting.
Armor melting around her, the queen gasped in surprise and stumbled to her knees. The face covering sloughed off in streams of room temperature metallic liquid, revealing the ruby crescent moon, which flared back to life. Kiri stepped back and watched the woman rise from the pool of melted armor. She retched and a blob of golden goop cut with little ruby tendrils slipped past her lips.
Kiri stood over the mess. Worry filled her face as she waited to see what would emerge from the liquid gold and broken armor.
"Oh look, another costume," Mars laughed as Serenity in her campaigning armor rose.
Luna looked up from an upper bunk bed. "It's familiar at least," the cat commented.
Serenity's hair was the same glossy silver-grey and was held in a tight French braid bun. Nearly six feet tall, her body was willowy but powerful with wiry muscles and statuesque curves.
The metal gauntlets over her arms were a bit more silvery than before. Her high collared blouse was embellished with patterns of gold thread woven through it. And similar gold thread formed the embroidery edging the dark blue silk bow pinned over her chest.
The gold piping to the matching blue jacket was thicker. Her skirting was still three layers. An inner layer golden, ankle-length with silver trim was mostly covered by overlapping pleats of heavy dark blue material.
The silver-grey armor that formed the outer layer was minimally changed. The resemblance to Venus' metallic armor was even stronger. Her boots were unchanged, being armored and only somewhat sleek. The only jewelry she wore was a thick heavy tiara that bore a ruby crescent moon. A silver hilted sword was buckled at her hip held in a gold trimmed ebony scabbard, and her wand staff was slung over a shoulder.
For several seconds, the woman blinked with confusion and stared at her hands. Then her ruby crescent moon began to glow and the muted glaze eased from her eyes and her stance straightened. The woman shook her head, and stretched her shoulders.
"Well, someone interrupted a truly adorable little dream," Serenity said in a resonant but human ranged voice. Curled at her feet was a slight double-ponytailed blonde in golden armor. She bore a matching ruby crescent moon on her tiara. "Come on Moon," Serenity helped the blonde to her feet. In the form of teenage Usagi, she wore the golden equivalent of the metallic armor the other Senshi wore. The original Venus markings having been replaced with crescent moons.
The blonde, Minako dressed as Usagi, smirked and leaned on the taller woman's side.
"Pluto, Pluto, Pluto, what will I do with you?" Usagi, dressed as Serenity, asked, her gem flashing. Her expression turned grave. "I suppose I should thank you." She turned to the others. "And you two."
Serenity clasped her hands and bowed at her waist.
Minako held her tongue.
"I'm sorry. I was greedy. I took advantage of... all of you. It will not happen again." Serenity rose back up. "And we don't have time for me to run off and hide. We still have the DarkStar and Nuit issues to sort out."
"No one else has seen this Nuit woman," Jupiter reminded.
"No one else saw Mistress Lyra either," Mars added. "Didn't stop Ami from trying to use her as a boogyman against us. That is until Mina exposed her," she bowed her head.
Kiri turned her nose up at Mars' accusation. "Well, if not for myself and the others' you'd still be in that lotus-eater machine, no offense, Mina," Kiri apologized to the simulated Sailor Moon.
"I was just helping her, not my fault she wanted a dream-world where she could hide. Even if it was a lovely place where she could pretend she's going on harmless adventures with her friends," Minako stated.
Jupiter stepped forward and put her hand on the blonde's shoulder "Mina.... that's not... What happened was bad for you two. You both became.... something else."
"No... " Minako swallowed her eyes flashing red. "No, you're right. I'm sorry." She leaned forward so Serenity and Jupiter both caught her.
Jupiter hugged Minako. "Its.... it'll be okay. We were worried."
"With good reason," Mars stated, her expression warmed and she put an arm around Minako. "This is all so strange."
"But we did it out of concern. We... care," Jupiter said.
"I love you guys too," Minako smiled. She then blinked and her gaze became distant. The door clicked as it was unlocked, and the blonde squared her shoulders and stood up straight as it opened.
"You should listen to them Serena," Ranma's voice smoothly chuckled as she entered the room. "There's little more dangerous than ill-placed good intentions."
Serenity raised an eyebrow. Instead of a slight and youthful succubus, the woman that stood before her was a demon queen. All curves and gentle arcs, the demon's purple dress hugged her body.
Despite her grace, or perhaps because of it, when she entered the room, her hips brushed against Mars, while the side of her chest ran across Jupiter. For Kiri, her thick muscular tail nearly knocked the green-haired girl down. Smooth, lightly toned arms ended with long purple nails that flashed with a pearlescence similar to Kiri's manicure.
Her wings were similarly enlarged, now functioning something like a suspended cloak that went from the demon's luxuriant and puffy hair bun to her skyscraper heels. Bright blonde and orange, highlights and streaks added depth to rich crimson tresses.
However, Serenity's attention was on the demon's face. Much like Serenity herself it bore the maturity warranting full adulthood, even more on the demon's case. Where Serenity's was more stark and worried, the demon's was different.
She bore the laugh lines and the gentle rounding from a rich if very well preserved life. Smooth and raised, her cheeks gave a splash of vitality that complemented if contrasted with the rest of her face.
Behind slim purple glasses, violet eyes sparkled while obsidian jewelry flashed at her ears, neck, and halfway up her seven inch tall updo. She walked with presence, but the lavender lipstick, and fall of curly ribbons atop her hair served as a feminine reminder that this was a succubus' power. There was also an undercurrent of... uncertainty about the woman. As given by how little skin she actually showed and how much of her figure was augmented by lace and ruffles.
Glancing to Minako, Serenity gave a brief nod. She then bowed. "Brood Queen. Apologies if my... knights' actions disturbed you."
Ranma smiled and her face briefly became an incarnation of one of her pseudonyms. Still beaming, she strode forward. Serenity smelled her subtle, flowery perfume, and felt the floor start to shift. Her gaze returned to the demon's face and the tantalizingly blonde eyebrows and highlights.
The demon eyed the Moon-cat and her expression hardened for a split second before going back to the Lunar Royal.
Serenity exhaled and focused, the floor stopped its gentle rocking and her head cleared, her mind sharpened. "Haven't asked, your vacation... it seems you fed well?" She inquired once she had regained control.
Noting the long second, and far larger, pair spiraled horns the demoness now bore, Serenity raised an eyebrows again. In the two days since Ranma had come back from her "vacation" Serenity had the feeling that the demon was holding something back. Now she had proof.
She met Ranma's gaze and for a moment felt herself being pulled in again. Warm, hungry sensuality ran though her brain like a hot caress, much like being with Minako. Serenity shook her head and pulled back. Cool focus returned.
"More than you can understand," Ranma laughed as her tail swept back and forth, slowing as it neared Kiri. "Or are you offering something?"
Keeping her nails long, Kiri made her way around back to Serenity's side.
Ranma nodded to the younger looking woman. "Good work; there were concerns the armor would be too much to give up."
Serenity frowned, eyeing the demon queen's tail. Then she followed Kiri's gaze and looked to the door, and saw Eve enter. Wearing a custom fitted dress uniform, the blonde succubus sauntered in. With her powerful and mature figure she actually looked like a relative to the more matronly brood queen. Between the queen's figure, presence, and softly mature face, Eve actually looked like the younger of the two.
"I'm not sure she realizes the cost of such an offer, Dear Sister." Looking at the shocked and... blushing Mars and Jupiter, Eve smirked.
"Perhaps she does. Serenity was always willing to... deal with demons in the past."
"Speaking of deal..." Eve looked to the Senshi and let her question hang.
Ranma nodded. "I talked with the Colonel. I'm thinking about it."
"Talk with Lieutenant Tendo."
"She would know, wouldn't she?" Ranma nodded.
"What's going on?" Serenity asked.
"Just a bit if business, sorry for the interruption," Eve bowed her head.
"What about you?" Ranma asked her sister.
Eve smiled. "Talking to them? It was some help... kept me until you came along."
"If that's not a ringing endorsement of our shrinks I don't know what is." Ranma slipped off her glasses and renewed her warm smile.
"What's wrong?" Serenity asked catching Ranma's eye.
"No!" Minako's voice cried in Serenity's mind via the gem. "Look away."
Looking at the demon, Serenity felt as if she were being drawn into a warm bath, like she was back in the armor. The pressure increased, she wobbled as her focus melted away.
Ranma sniffed and put her glasses back on.
Gazing at the woman, Serenity steeled herself and extended her arms embracing the demoness. Rewarded with a surprised squeak, Serenity released a portion of her magic to power the summoning. She clasped her hands and a gleaming choker appeared. Silver bands held a deeply purple gem cut into a four pointed star.
Pluto held her peace. She had warned Serenity. She had done her best to check out the artifact and the silver box it had been given to her in.
Ranma looked quizzical.
"I never accepted you as a Senshi." Serenity lowered her gaze. "I apologize. I've forgotten that you're one of us."
Eyes smoldering, Mars set her jaw.
"Don't make a scene," Jupiter whispered to her.
The demoness reached out and held the star up by a strap. "Huh... I've been getting a lot of stuff lately."
"What?" Serenity blinked.
The demoness smiled. "Yes, Murdock gave me a present three nights ago."
"You spent your time off with... him?" Serenity mirrored Minako's motions and tried to straighten her stance into something more formal.
"Nope, he sent some goons to rape and kill me. One of them was wearing Murdock's tie clasp. He was sending a message."
"And that was a present?" Serenity blinked and turned to Kiri. "I don't get it... Puu, maybe being with Mina did fry my brain."
The small Senshi gave a laugh that was somewhat forced and nervous, while the blonde Senshi sniffed and turned away from her queen.
"He ruined your day off with an assassination attempt?" Jupiter shook her head. "Remind me... why did you let him go?"
"Oh, it's not like it was an effective attempt." Ranma waved her hand dismissively.
"Then... present- how?" Serenity asked.
"The assassination attempt was the present." Meiou's tone was deadpan.
"Or, entertainment. Whichever. One of those." Mars narrowed her eyes at the demoness. "The hit-men, you ate them, didn't you?"
Ranma chuckled. "No. I gave them a lecture about the immorality of molesting women and purified their dark hearts."
"So, you mocked them as you killed them and ate their organs," Mars spat before giving Serenity a meaningful glance.
The redhead's smirk grew. "It wasn't burning them alive, but I was short on options.
Mars huffed and turned her back to Ranma. "Lovely choice in allies, oh wise queen."
"It's not unexpected," Luna commented. "Working with the likes of House BlackSky is one of the more... colorful family traditions."
Serenity spun on a heel and glared at Mars and her cat. "I'm trying to apologize to DarkStar."
"Well, then. By all means flatter the torturing demon who can be bribed by being fed rapists, and who has been arrogantly insulting you at every turn. I suppose it's natural given what it took to get you to stop using Minako like a fancy blouse and new skirt. I'm sorry for risking your relationship with such a valuable teammate." Mars bowed her head in mock apology.
"The latter one's not exactly the same caliber of offense," Jupiter said.
"Yes, what about the time, she cut Usagi's.. err mine... her the queen's hair," Minako coughed.
"That was Eve," Kiri reminded.
Ranma ignored the other Senshi. "They have a point." She said walking to Serenity and brushed an errant strand of hair. "What if I've got some evil scheme for you?"
"Nefarious Mephistophelian plots aren't your style." Eve said from her position leaning next to the doorway.
"I made Mercury an offer," Ranma pouted.
"And how did that work out?" Eve teased.
"You've seen Ami, too?" Mars shook her head and turned to Serenity. "We should be concerned right?"
"That was a couple weeks back," Ranma dismissed. "I told you about that meeting."
"Right, the one at the bar where she had a freeze spell set on a deadman," Kiri Meiou said.
"Besides I'm not the only one having clandestine moonlit meetings with shady characters." Ranma gave Kiri a meaningful glance. "And yeah, that was clever of Akumi."
"Why would that stop you? You've killed far more humans than that?"
Eying the black-haired woman, the demoness gave a frosty smile. "Because, apparently, Akumi knows me far better than you do."
"What's that supposed to mean? She used human shields to keep you from attacking her. Why?"
"Because it worked." The succubus blinked in disbelief. "Yes, I've killed. Lots of times. But the people in that restaurant were not my enemy. They were bystanders, innocents. No, it was your friend that abused a demon's morals to secure her escape."
"Oh." Mars sighed again, embarrassed.
"She has done worse," Venus reminded.
Stepping back from Ranma, Serenity's eyes widened. "Oh. Uh... can we have some... privacy?" she looked to Eve and then to her Senshi.
"Privacy isn't an option." Ranma glanced up to one of the cameras in the room.
"Usagi..." Mars hissed.
"No. That's the wrong word." Serenity rested her hand on the side of her scepter's leather holster. "I just want a one on one. I don't care if it's recorded. You'd just write up the conversation later and report it back to your... associates."
Smirking at the unintended double entendre, Ranma bowed her head. "Eve, can you give us some time."
Eve eyed Mars. "Sure."
Mars stared right back at the demoness. Her smoldering, burning gaze beat back the demon's cold, sharp and predatory eyes. "Puu should stay."
"Trusting me?" Kiri chuckled.
"Mina's spent enough time with the Queen, and if not me and Mako-chan well... who's left?" Mars looked down at the shorter girl. "Don't prove me wrong."
"Luna's staying too," Serenity said looking to the cat.
Ranma eyed the cat flaring her nostrils slightly, curling her tail, which had its razor filaments extend out before the demoness withdrew them back in, but made no other comment.
"Oh?" Kiri asked.
"She's been with me from the start," Serenity stated.
Bowing her head, Luna backed away from the demoness. "Uh... I can go, really that's perfectly fine."
Serenity shook her head. "No, you can stay."
The cat sighed.
Eve stepped back from the door and allowed the three Senshi to file out. She then closed the armored door behind her.
After hearing lock shut, Ranma let her shoulders slump down and her posture relax. Flopping onto one of the bunk beds shattered the last of her prim poise. Her wings were loosely folded and fell behind her while the spade-tipped end of her long tail flipped back and forth. Though she did manage to keep her knees together, if only due to the constriction of her dress. She held up the purple star-shaped gem and inspected it before gently setting it down onto the bed next to her.
After a moment, Serenity sat down on the bed next to the demoness while Kiri stood at her side. The beds were close and Serenity found her knees only a couple inches from the demon's. Luna hopped down and curled up next to her queen.
Ranma pulled off her glasses and instead of the sensual assault, Serenity was hit by a soft wave of reproachful embarrassment with an undercurrent of shame.
"I... I should be the one to apologize." Ranma rubbed the corners of her eyes. "I've been under pressure constant pressure for so long. I've given up so much... and everyone...." She closed her eyes. "Everyone went along with it. The Company, my daughters, my sisters, my mother. Even my father... ultimately... he encouraged me. And then you come along, you with just as much weight on your shoulders, you who had lived through so much and remained so... naïve, so lily-white. We've got cultists, Russians, demons, mercenaries, eldritch goddesses, fallen magical girls, and god knows what, but you just keep going."
Serenity narrowed her eyes. "What are you saying?"
The demoness clenched her teeth. She exhaled through sharp gleaming fangs. Again she eyed the cat with an almost hungry expression. "And it all got taken care of for you. You faced monsters, your friends died, and it all got... better. Someone would always step in and help you, protect you."
Kiri spoke up. "And here you are... with your family protecting...."
Leaning forward, Ranma nodded.
"You're jealous." Serenity looked down at the succubus.
The demon's tail straightened and knocked a couple sheets off the bed.
Despite herself, Serenity laughed. "Jealous. Look at me, this isn't my life." She pointed to the armored gown she wore. "Everything's been passed down from my Mother. I'm living her legacy, and what's not her legacy has been taken away by other people trying to use me like a pawn. I should count myself lucky that I don't have more of a legacy to worry about. Queen Serenity is burden enough. Look at what Puu has to deal with."
Kiri set her jaw and nodded.
"I lost my fiance; my daughter mocks me just as much as you do; cultists think I'm gonna destroy the world, and crazy Russians are trying to kill me. Hell, I can't even use my name anymore! What could you possibly be jealous of?"
Leaning back, the demoness raised an eyebrow. She slowly dusted off the top hem of her gown. "Did you miss the whole, always protected always... insulated thing?"
"I started out alone, and a few times..." Serenity looked down. "I ended things. Alone."
An approving smile crossed Ranma's face.
"Geeze, you really have a one-track mind," Serenity stated, though her eyes softened.
"I know what it's like to live up to your legacy. To have the weight of history pressing down on you. To have even more responsibility on your shoulders."
"Which is why you're jealous, why you lecture, why you... resent me?" Serenity ventured.
Purple eyes looked to blue-silver. "Your life has been one crucible after another. You've been pitted against nightmares, monsters, and fallen friends and it's been getting worse and worse. Well maybe Akumi isn't quite as bad as having your daughter or your lover turned against you."
Kiri's brows furrowed. It was easy to forget that the demoness had access to WIC's records and dossiers and was obviously intimately familiar with them. The capacity for horrific levels of violence was not the only capability the demoness normally concealed.
"You didn't answer my question," Serenity said.
Ranma played with the glasses in her hands before returning them to her face. "You've been through the crucible, yet nothing changed. You didn't grow. You didn't learn. You didn't harden. You didn't even break. Who the hell wouldn't be jealous and angry?"
Serenity gaped but the demon's tone was resigned. It was like the redhead's anger had cooled to a cynical disappointment.
Ranma sighed. "It's like it all rolled off of you. Like you never experienced it at all!"
Serenity shook her head. "No. That's not true. You didn't know me... you don't know what I was like. I was just a kid. I fought and I won. I kept winning. Yes..." the queen exhaled. "Yes I made mistakes, mistakes that cost me dearly, but I learned. I didn't give up. I clawed my way up from starting out along being thrown into this mess with just a broach and a cat with no memory..."
"Hey!" Luna groused. "You were the whiny crybaby that couldn't figure out who Mamoru was. Remember when your crying was actually a weapon?"
Ranma blinked. "I'm trying to be less... well less of a demonic bitch. So, I'll try to not be visibly frightened by the idea of how bad you must have been. However, it sounds like you were nothing more than a little girl playing princess with her plastic ponies."
"I was hardly fourteen! I was playing princess!" Serenity nearly screamed. "You can't make short what I've been through. I didn't have training like you, I didn't spend my whole life learning to fight. I didn't have a mercenary army to help me. No one taught me how to fight.
"I was barely fifteen when this started for me," Ranma reminded.
"It's a good thing I was already a klutz." Serenity gave a pained laugh. "That way my parents didn’t question the bruises and cuts. Nope just silly little clumsy-bunny. I was alone. Then later... we were alone."
Feeling guilty, Luna leaned and nuzzled Serenity while Kiri held the taller woman's shoulder and squeezed.
Watching, the demoness crossed her arms, thinking of the training her Father was putting her through at fourteen. As she reflected her anger lessened, and her sympathy for Usagi grew. Genma had put her through hell for years on end, but what the Senshi went through at
Serenity flexed her hands and looked to Kiri. "Wait... that's your point?"
"That's why she said 'rolled off'," Kiri reminded.
"Can you even comprehend what I had to give up? Imagine losing your gender, your species, your humanity. Having to cut down and compromise your morals because you're faced between choices that are bad and worse," Ranma looked off at the wall behind Serenity. Her eyes seemed to grow and once more drew the young queen in.
"Pick, and choose. Is it more important to protect your daughter, or to protect the people who'll be massacred by the monster you're sending her up against? Narrow it down to the absolute last things you'll ever give up... and live afraid of what'll happen when you have to choose one of them," the demon said, haunted.
"Is that why "Is that why your sister is talking about you going to counseling?" Serenity asked.
Ranma exhaled and held her gaze. "We all have our limits. There's no shame but... I just want to make sure I'm not wasting my time. I've done so much..." she slowly closed her eyes and opened them again.
"I've had the fate of the world in my hands. I've been the doom of alien invaders and other civilizations, time and reality have bent to my will. I've reset the world, and robbed death blind. I've been able to stick to it and win. If I push and believe in myself...." Serenity trailed off.
Ranma pulled back and looked to the silver-haired woman. "Is that your coping mechanism then? Pretend it's all easy, that there aren't hard choices if you're good enough and pure enough?"
"Yes, that's exactly how it is. I guess it's easy to make my ideals sound lame if you're cynical enough." Serenity coldly stated.
"I'm not doubting the power of Love. Though I do think the universe is sorely lacking any type of Justice that isn't nasty, brutish, and short."
Kiri chuckled. "I thought you were trying to apologize."
Ranma shrugged. "I was, then the Princess wanted to know why I'm jealous and resentful."
Serenity reached out and put a hand on the demon's knee. "You're in a brutal, bloody world. You live with compromised morals and sacrificed values. And I..."
"Stay clean and pure." Ranma looked at Serenity's hand. Even the Lunar campaigning armor was pure and crisp, shining metal and gold detail-work. "We live in the same world, Princess."
"Yes, and it can be the better world. Things don't have to be that grim." Serenity squeezed Ranma's knee.
Rocking her hips, Ranma scooted forward so that her legs bumped into Serenity's causing them to separate as the demon's knees slid in between the moon queen's. The motion also caused her hand to skip up and come back down on the strawberry-blonde's upper thigh just below the ruffles that went around the waist of her gown.
Placing her hand back onto Serenity's and pressing it in-place, Ranma exhaled and leaned forward. "Don't you think I'd want that? If I could trust someone enough to know that my family, my daughters would be safe." Inches from Serenity's face she lowered her glasses with her free hand.
Feeling the succubus's warm breath and body. Serenity swallowed. "I..." She closed her eyes and rebuilt her concentration. "I promise. I will not abuse your trust."
She reached out and took the demon's cheek in her hand. "My strength is not like your strength, but I have fought, I have won. But... I'll listen to you. I told you no one ever taught me."
Ranma lightly leaned into the physical contact, satisfaction and cautious longing bubbled up.
Feeling then emotional pressure, Serenity kept looking into the demon's eyes. "This is too..."
"Too much?" Using her feet, Ranma pushed herself forward and twisted so that her thighs slid atop Serenity's lap with her legs dangling between Serenity's pressing over the silver-haired woman's dress.
"Too little?" she asked smelling Usagi and gauging her comfort level. The demoness unsummoned her wings and curled her tail around Serenity's waist. Ranma inhaled again and gave a little smile. Keeping pressure on Serenity's hand, Ranma made sure it was against the uppermost part of the inner half of her thigh.
The redhead then leaned over and rested her head on the taller woman's chest. She tilted her head so that the point of one of her larger horns poked Serenity in the sternum. Via her expanded horns, she paused to take in Serenity's emotions.
Gasping at the surge of emotion, Serenity saw her other hand fall over the demoness embracing her.
"I'm not as up to date on my pre-Unification Lunar history, did DarkStar and the Elder Queen Serenity carry on like this?" Luna asked Kiri.
"On occasion," the Senshi of Pluto replied, smirking
Sighing contently, Ranma looked up at the Moon Queen. "How can I trust you if you can't trust yourself?"
"What? I don't doubt myself... well not anymore, I just-" Serenity's explanation was cut off when the succubus lifted her head and kissed Serenity. The queen found her arms, hands, and thighs tightening as she held the demoness closer to her. Despite neither opening their mouths, Serenity found herself beginning to wash away.
Then it broke off.
"Mmm... he really was a lucky man," Ranma purred as she put her head back onto Serenity's chest.
"Uh.... yeah." Serenity blushed. She thought of Mamoru and her mind immediately slid to the daughter they shared. With Chibi-Usa alive, he would never truly be gone.
Ranma shifted to make herself more comfortable, and Serenity a bit less. The horn dug in a bit more and the tail tightened. "You don't doubt yourself, but that's not enough. Look at you, you were just hiding inside a dream-machine made out of a dear friend, and you can hardly handle the chaste teasing of a succubus."
"You call this chaste?" Serenity cried.
Ranma raised an eyebrow. "If I really wanted to I'd have you on the ground begging to be turned," the demoness' tone was matter of fact.
Kiri shifted her stance slightly.
Serenity let her grip loosen. "And you don't? Wouldn't it be easier for you?"
"Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's right," the demon spat. "Besides, I'd have to placate the other Senshi."
"Why wouldn't you just have your new demon-bride do it for you?" Kiri suggested.
Rubbing her chin, Ranma nodded. "That's a good point. I guess the reason is... well.. I'm not a cheap two-bit villain. That whole capture you and make you turn your friends is Mercury's style."
"You're vamped up in a frilly gown, painful looking heels, ridiculously fancy hair, and are sitting in my lap trying to seduce me."
"I'm a classy two-bit villain." The demoness squeezed her legs trapping Serenity's hand. "Or would that be a five-bit villain?"
"Why not go for a full eight-bits, that way you'd be a loonie?" Luna suggested.
Ranma, snickered. "Good one, yah foul little beast."
"Ranma!" Serenity chided.
"I don't like cats." The demon glared. She could always handle them one at a time, and it had taken months and months of heavy and bloody combat to have a desensitizing effect... She wondered if clawing and biting people as they screamed in terror was a fair way to lessen a primal fear of the same. It sounded as far as one could get from legitimate exposure therapy, but it seemed to work.
"Oh-kay...." the queen shook her head. "And you being a crazy person?"
Ranma blinked, her mind coming back from the dark pit that dominated that part of her childhood.
"Loonie, for loon, the type of bird on the dollar coins in this country," Kiri explained.
Staring at her advisors, Serenity felt the feelings the demon had been pushing on her lesson with the disbelieving shock. "That's real?"
"You've been living here for months, and you don't know this yet?" Luna asked.
"I was busy! I knew there was a bird on some of the coins, but pardon me for not researching the type and checking if it matched up with some weird foreign pun."
"Huh," Kiri looked between the demoness and the queen who was still hugging her. "Well, I think everyone who ever talks about a dollar here says 'loonie'... You'd hear it four times buying snacks..."
"I thought they were just weird; this is
"Which is why they call it the loonie."
Ranma cleared her throat. "As interesting as currency puns are, we have more pressing matters."
"Like convincing Serenity to resume fondling you? Or maybe just some good-old fashioned necking?" Kiri asked with a big innocent-looking smile.
"Those are, indeed, among them. But there is the matter of cybernetic assassins and a potential invasion supported by eldritch sleeper cells. "
"I have failed you." Serenity lowered her head and kissed the glossy, ridged surface of the offered horn.
Eyes half closing in bliss, she heard a rusting and the sound of metal on crystal. "Oh?" she removed her glasses and they faded off into a stream of violet shadows.
Serenity held the choker by its four-pointed star. "You are a Senshi, and you have sacrificed for me, but not as a Senshi. I never tired to understand who you are, who you used to be. You came to become jealous of me and I let it stand." Finding her left hand still trapped between the demon's legs, Serenity awkwardly rolled the choker around Ranma's neck. "I didn't treat you like a teammate or a friend, let alone someone willing to fight for me, to protect me."
"As a matter of fact, you treated her like a mercenary, contracting out her services. Which is still valid," Kiri reminded.
The succubus softly laughed and after a moment put the cool band in place so that Serenity could clasp it. She had a moment to be stunned by the effect, or lack of effect: there was no spark of energy, or flash of magic, or trickle of power.
However, Serenity did take the demoness by the horn, gently angled her neck and pressing her lips resumed their embrace.
Basking in the sensations, Ranma concentrated and her gown begin to... constrict. Cloth gave way to a single wrapping sheet of metal. Polished to where it reflected dark purples and reds the glossy black titanium material hugged her body and formed along her curves as if it had been poured in place. The purple ruffles on her upper hem paled and became golden ribbon that tied the top of her dress in place while the bow in the center grew and became deep ruby red.
The dress itself lengthened, going from knee to shin length, while at the same time it squeezed into a form-fitting shape. Veins of cobalt blue and the rich violet of cobalt chloride appeared over the length of the dress curling and arcing, especially down her legs and around her torso where they took a pattern somewhat reminiscent of corsetry.
A matching soft bow tied itself around the base of her tail and the ruffles around her waist spread and grew into a short purple pleated overskirt that barely reached her thighs. An obsidian purple star set in a silver frame grew at the center of her chest ribbon, and her horns were gilt by spirals of the same purple metal that ended in little golden ribbons at the tips.
A mix of gold dust and more of the purple cobalt compound settled over her hair and linked up, transforming her tresses into a fully sculpted and encased piece of jewelry that seamlessly mated up with her horns. It then thickened; the layered links providing the sense of formed and shaped beauty about the demoness.
This impression was enhanced by her alabaster skin. Her makeup was the same soft warm shades but was not a shade more metallic than pastel, especially her lips, which were almost mirror-like in their gloss.
Breaking the kiss, Ranma looked down. Licking her lips she smiled and flexed her shoulders. "Well what do you think? A bit gaudy but it could grow on me," she stated, hoping that Dirac's scanners were recording.
"You combined the new Senshi's uniform style with my old moon gowns?" Serenity asked gently tugged a golden horn bow.
Purring, the demoness pushed herself closer to Serenity and rested her head on the larger woman's chest, presenting her horns. "You helped. Impractical as hell though."
"I'm pretty sure you'd kill me if I tried messing with your clothes... on my own, but if you want to wear this stuff...." Serenity bent down and kissed a coated horn. "Though I'd prefer to see you dress like this when you're cooking us dinner."
Nonplused, Kiri's only response was a simple question: "Cooking us dinner?" She smiled, it seemed that Mars was right. Her role was to chaperone and make sure neither party did anything too... rash.
Luna blinked at the display. "Huh, well this breed of chauvinism does run in the family."
"Well, yes. Playing dress-up is fun." Shivering slightly, the demon queen smiled. "Now what next? You have a plan?"
"Next?" Serenity looked down at the demoness.
"A bit longer term than that," Ranma gently chided. "The Russians are a considerable threat, but they are merely a symptom of the problems you face. We know almost nothing about Nuit and her allies. Actually, I'll be doing a ride along with JTF2 as they scope out where the pulse broke through."
"Some fieldwork should help them. Even if it's a milk-run," Ranma added.
"You've made quite the list of enemies, and while you've... neutralized most of them. Enough remain. Not to mention those your mother angered." Ranma glanced at Kiri as she said the last.
Serenity looked to Kiri then to the succubus. "You have a plan?"
"Me?" Ranma tried to look innocent. "Well, today's training will hopefully mix things up, but that's not exactly what I meant." She raised her free arm and snapped her fingers.
"What?" Serenity went back to Kiri. "Puu, are you part of this?"
The younger looking woman sighed. "No, but I can figure it out."
The door to the room unlocked and Kiri noted that Ranma still turned her head to face it, and that the demon had freed both her hands and had them at the ready.
Opening the door, Eve stepped in with a slight smile. "Well, this is a surprise," she said, stepping between the bunk beds and running a hand over Ranma's, and Serenity's, shoulders
"Please, you were watching it. Why else would Ranma give that obvious gesture."
"We've tried being subtle." The tall blonde's smile actually started to reach her eyes. "And it looks like the direct approach has some dividends." She lifted the star-shaped choker's jewel. "Pretty enough."
"I'd think the shiny liquid-metal dress or turning my hair into a formed sculpture would be more impressive." Ranma said as she swung her tail back and forth.
"I suppose one is symbolic of the other," Eve slipped a hand around Ranma's waist and straightened the bow tied at the base of her tail. She then took the opposite bunk where Ranma had been sitting.
"And you showed remarkable restraint," Eve said to Serenity.
The queen coughed. "Really?"
"Sure. Not a single crescent moon."
"I..." Serenity looked at the demon in her lap. "That seemed a bit... well no."
Eve shrugged. "I'm actually a bit disappointed. A couple could have looked very nice as hanging earrings."
Ranma made a thoughtful noise.
"Now you're just teasing me," Serenity pouted. "Well, at least you didn't say anything about the uniforms. Though I'll agree that Ranma's original one was far too skimpy and a bit of a joke, not as bad a my daughter's. So much pink." She gave a wistful laugh.
The demon winced, empathizing with the other mother's pain. "Aww thanks." Ranma kissed Serenity and looked contemplative. "Dress-up is just part of it, we could also have some real fun."
"That a challenge?" Ranma asked, giving a throaty chuckle.
"What?" Serenity blinked as the demon stood up. "Ah, you have something in mind."
The demoness closed her eyes and her form, her clothes, her skin, her hair, her horns took on a dark shimmer. It then began to brighten, going from deep purple to a bright, almost frothy lavender. Her sculpted updo shone and throbbed with a golden glow. The glow expanded, drawing in the great curled horns on either side of her head and wrapping them in layers of golden bands and binding in the larger pair until they were obscured from view.
Her dress puffed and shifted as her pleats raced down her skirting, transforming the metallic garment into a dark blue flowing silk that ran from a white V-style waist down to her ankles.
The top of her dress turned white as it too softened and grew up and over her chest. White silk grew up until it came in just under the demon's choker. There it ended with a thin blue collar with white piping. Crisp white sleeves inched down to her elbows. They were met by red-trimmed silk gloves that encased thin hands. Built into the tip of each glove were shiny silver covers that moved with the demon's extended little claws.
Shifting her footing, one high heel shifted, then the other. The shoes pulling in and becoming more shiny as the demon's ankles retreated back. She lifted one foot off the ground and when it came down it had become a dainty-looking silver hoof.
She repeated the gesture and another hoof came down. Red leather formed to cover from the flesh above her hooves to her new ankles. The spats were trimmed in white and bore little gold crescent moons as accents. Wings shrank in and lost breath and width as they turned pale white on the inside and soft silver on the outside with golden "fingers" and supports between the membranes.
The demoness gave a sigh as her face softened and smoothed, becoming a bit smaller as the years seemed to pull back. The dress adjusted as the rest of her frame retreated inward to match a more youthful and delicate figure. The makeup on her eyes dialed down as it became simpler and more understated. The rest of her cosmetics also became more subdued, her lipstick becoming a pinkish partially metallic gloss.
The glowing over her hair bun flared and the whole sculpture broke down. With a soft rustle, two thick golden-blonde ponytails spilled out and fell to her shins ending with little curls on the end. Reddish-pink highlights ran though the twin tails in looping whorls.
Unlike the expected round odango style buns, these ponytails emerged from a pair of buns formed by wrapping hair around the spirals of the shrunken-by-half horns on either side of her head until they became tight little, pink accented, coiled buns that stuck out atop her head. The tips of each was tied off with a little red bow.
Her inner and smaller horns served as the anchors to a thin golden tiara that went down between blonde bangs to rest on her brow. Dangling crescent moon earrings formed on ears with little, almost elfin, points.
The bow on her chest shrank, going from purple to red as it moved from the center to above her left breast where it served as more of an accent. It seemed that the extra material went to the tails of the crimson bow at the back of her waist. Both ribbons then wrapped around her tail. The appendage was completely concealed ending with a secondary bow tied at the end that obscured the tailfins.
Her eyes still closed, the demoness gave a tight lipped smile, and... shifted. Serenity gasped. The demon's face pulled in a bit and her nose became more delicate. When the changes stopped, Serenity, Usagi, was looking at a younger version of herself. A version a bit older, but a bit shorter than Kiri. Not how Usagi ever was, but an idealized version with perfect skin and figure, and eyes a bit too large.
Then the demon opened her eyes. They were big and startling turquoise with no whites. And only a bit of violet around her vertically silted pupils.
"The Pretty Senshi of Earth Sailor DarkStar is ready!" She cheered striking a pose, her hoof making almost a musical ringing as she put it down and threw the V for victory sign and smiled toothily revealing four gleaming fangs sticking above the rest of her bright white teeth.
Eve blinked and stepped close. "Well, blonde."
Luna tilted her head. "That's a bit familiar," the cat said.
Kiki stared at the shorter woman while the succubus gave a slow twirl. Smirking, she slipped out of the room and to the commissary.
Serenity for her part raced over and scooped up the diminutive, formally dressed Senshi in a big hug, lifting her hooves off the ground. "Oh, that's adorable!" she gushed.
The demoness leaned into the taller woman and gave a purring nuzzle.
It was a long hug with Serenity studying the dainty demoness. Of particular interest was the Sailor Moon style succubus' hair and clothes, particularly the spiraled buns and bows.
The demon's expression turned serious "My Queen," she added in a soft voice, eyes downcast.
Still holding the demon up she reached with a spare hand to clasp Ranma's in her own, feeling the dainty claws. Ranma looked up, into Serenity's eyes.
"No...." The queen closed her eyes and the glamour flickered away. Silver hair and a tall regal armored gown shifted into another blonde with twin ponytails and a white seifuku. This one had more fancy shoulder accents, a multicolored and multi-tiered skirt, and actually showed some skin.
Blushing, Sailor Moon hugged the demoness a new. She drew her in and kissed the shorter Senshi on the forehead. She then stepped back to the bed and sat down, placing the demon into her lap.
As she adjusted to the demon's sight weight, Moon nudged her wrapped tail to the side. She noticed that succubus had crossed her legs at the ankles a bit above her hooves. She put her arms around the demon's shoulders. "This is really very, very sweet of you," she whispered into her ear.
"Thank you," the demon gave a big smile and looked to Eve.
Eve raised an eyebrow but feeling the emotions between the two returned the expression and nodded.
"Such a lovely gesture," Usagi repeated as she absently played with one of Ranma's ponytails. She looked at the pinkish color and gave a wistful, but happy sigh.
The man known as Todor Zhivkov was led through the low-lit, musky, dusty office. The same trim, dark-haired Russian woman had taken him past an office pool that had been converted into an impromptu armory and machine shop. Crates and storage boxes were piled between the desks, with several of the topmost ones open, revealing polished bits of rounded metal, gleaming canisters, and rows of baggies containing various electronic odds and ends.
There were a few maps pinned to the walls and a couple of desks were covered in diagrams and schematics. Both were in neat little piles. Small thermal charges were being used as paperweights.
As he walked down the hallway, he looked into a handful of open offices. Bedding and a cache of clothes and armor had been placed into the rooms but, aside from that, they were simply the empty, transient rooms, a place to crash.
As they passed, he glanced into what had been the office's break-room. Unlike the rest of the place the small kitchenette looked lived in. A cupboard door was open revealing a stock of enriched black bread and microwavable containers of soup. There were some bottles of spices on the counter next to a brand new dish rack. There was a bit of a mess of dirty dishes in the sink; far from military precision. On the room's battered table was an overturned paperback with a slim shiny blade used as a bookmark.
Zhivkov gave a little smile. It was rather like the living spaces his men were currently sequestered in, save for a bit neater housekeeping and a bit less openness with the pornography.
Desyat stopped at the door to the conference room and motioned for the Bulgarian mercenary to enter. Zhivkov nodded. He ignored the chill at his back as he passed in front of her. If they wanted to kill him, there was nothing he could do to stop them.
He did allow himself a smile as he crossed the seemingly cavernous room. If he failed to return, he had left orders. He had his doubts his men could take out all of these women, but the altercation would certainly get WIC's attention.
Galina A'deen sat at the end of the table. She had the deceptively delicate-looking face and figure of a ballet-dancer, excepting a bosom that was a tad too large to be proper for a ballerina. She looked up, her long brown hair was pulled over her left shoulder and partially obscured her face.
For a moment, the cyborg studied the man before her. Coming off the street, Zhivkov was dressed in his shabby suit and his dark brown crew-cut was getting a bit shaggy. His posture was forward and his jaw and cheeks hung a bit. It was only when one looked at his sharp hazel eyes and steady hands that his nature became clearer.
Galina allowed a smile. He would have good news. He would already have alerted them if there was anything untoward. Zhivkov was nothing if not prompt.
Zhivkov's eyes did another sweep of the room, he allowed himself to relax. There was no sign of that garishly dressed brute of a man. "Where is our... Comrade?"
"Mr. de Veste has an engagement up North."
Zhivkov raised an eyebrow. "He's moving against their training base then?"
Chuckling Galina shook her head. "No, they've been moving about, but at last they have returned to that facility. In a way that makes it easier."
Zhivkov's mood soured. He could accept the compartmentalization of intelligence, but that that hideous, smiling man warranted a greater need to know was galling.
"In doing so, he did manage to lend support to our own sensor net." Galina shrugged. "But no, his business is further to the North, at the capital."
The Bulgarian blinked and worked out his knowledge of geography. They were already in the provincial capital (in governance not action, the city was quite cosmopolitan and large enough to meet nearly all their fabrication needs). His mind was reluctant to make the conclusion but it was inescapable. If de Veste had not been sent to a provincial capital, that left only one place...
"Why?" Zhivkov asked, the word dripping with shocked disbelief. "If I may ask," he hesitantly added.
"He's acquiring some necessary equipment. I will inform you when the mission concludes."
Zhivkov's brow furrowed.
"He's being watched. I have Shest babysitting him," Galina explained. After the Pulse Incident Shest could use something with less stress, and this was a simple enough mission, and as a bonus one Shest was uniquely skilled to help on. It should be good for her, provided she could keep Mal from being too much of an irritant.
"Ah," Zhivkov nodded, seemingly satisfied. "No trouble then."
"And of the demon and your 'client'?"
Galina's gaze sharpened. "There's no love lost between the fluffy little Zaika and the Ryzhaya bestiya. The demon would kill the bunny, but she has a reason to keep her alive, and to spend a small fortune doing it. Not to mention this draws in her... corporate allies."
Zhivkov nodded. "Both of which ultimately depend on government patronage. Therefore..." he took a chair and sat down. His mind pondered the situation. Objectively, he had no... moral problems assisting in the assassination of a spoiled princess. He certainly had no ideological qualms about the destruction of royalists. However, he was enough of a realist, and a businessman, to look at the situation objectively. "Therefore these demons and their Company see a profit in keeping the bunny alive."
"An immense profit."
"And thus you investigate the governmental links," Zhivkov nodded. "There's just one fault. Of all people, why send him?"
Galina looked down at her neatly written notes and sighed. "He was available."
Zhivkov pushed aside the jealousy of why she didn't send some of his men with the realization that she could not spare any of her own. There were simply too few cyborgs left.
For a moment, Zhivkov saw the woman at her real age. He saw the worn refugee of a collapsed ideology, of a betrayed country, of a vanished world. She was supposed to be the future. Even now, decades later, she was one of the most lethal people on the planet.
Zhivkov kept his composure. He could relate. He had taken the Thracian Union and built it into a strong force. One that ensured it could survive and... He shook his head. That was it, there was no overturning Glasnost. That government did not even exist anymore. His men could fight, they could win, but for what? The Fatherland could not be restored, no more than Galina's Motherland.
He watched as Galina mulled over her own past. The
These women had no such luck. The consequences of Comrade Scaglietti's inability to mass produce his creations continued to haunt them.
"I see," Zhivkov stated, knowing the concerns the woman across from him had. If Scaglietti had been able to make more than a bare dozen or so cyborgs... If someone else in the Red Army had been able to continue his work... If the damn Chekists had not destroyed everything in a fit of jealous paranoia....
Zhivkov was enough of a nationalist to have little love for the Russian domination of the
"I'm not the only one lost in the past then?" Galina asked with a sad little laugh.
Zhivkov exhaled. He knew why Galina had accepted this job, why she had kept with it despite the losses, why she had hired him, and why he had accepted, in spite of the risks to his men.
Galina nodded. "I trust you're here to discuss the progress of the technicals, mortars, and the artillery system. You have problems, but not insurmountable ones."
"Right. Would have warned you." Zhivkov leaned back. "For starters, those sighting systems you've given us should be most helpful."
Galina waved her hand. "We didn't have enough working turrets to put them in anyway. What's the problem?"
"Well, we've got them sighted co-axially with the existing systems. I'm not worried about them failing per se. The boys can handle losing a fancy laser, but..." The older man fatalistically spread his hands.
"You want a live-fire test." Galina sighed, expecting this. "Are you worried about the guns?"
"Hell no, we stowed the guns proper. Golakov and his boys unpacked them and tested them out... as much as he could." Zhivkov admitted, his pride deflating a bit before returning. "But you get a hit with the twins and I guarantee they'll take out anything."
"Would you bet your life on it?" Galina asked casually.
"Hell yes." The Bulgarian snorted. "You bet your life with any gun you take into battle. And that's my point. I trust the guns. The turret mounts and these fancy sights and controls not so much."
"You're worried that the guns will shear off their mountings? Hardscrabble Third-World militias can manage the task."
"And get 'em broken half the time." Zhivkov laughed. "No, they will stay. I have men that know how strong of a bolt to use and how much to torque 'em. But these guns weren't designed to be stuck on the back of a truck, and they certainly weren't designed to be remotely aimed, and they definitely weren't designed to be used against demons and frilly little magical girls."
Galina smirked. "Well, maybe not the latter. I can think of a better weapon for them."
Zhivkov nodded. Her proposal was to divide his forces, the bulk of the technicals would go with Group A, while the rest of his heavy weapons would go with the B group. He did not have much in the way of an artillery barrage, but if used at the right moment, it would be enough, especially when combined with the plethora of mortars and the vast amount of available small arms. Galina's contract was generous, and she had ordered everything the Thracian Union had to offer.
"Your men are taking the work well?" Galina then asked.
"The combat footage you've provided was... motivating. As were the edits."
Smiling slightly, Galina nodded her head. "Some discretion is seemed wise, a brutal enemy that takes no prisoners is one thing, but an enemy that will eat you as you lie screaming and thrashing?"
"Better to hear about than see," Zhivkov agreed. Unlike the bulk of his men, he and his officers had seen the full videos. "Either way they will fight to the death, but... without hope, without initiative."
"Sometimes experience and... pride makes up for a hopeless situation," Galina tightly said.
Zhivkov nodded "Still, it keeps them at their tasks, which is good. We have plenty of work, and a busy soldier is a happy soldier." Zhivkov then tapped the table and looked around the empty conference room once again.
Galina decided to allow him the soldier comment. "You have concerns still?" she asked after noting his pensive stare.
"The men are green."
"Oh? Have you got no more veterans? Has the quality of the Thracian Union sunk so low?" Galina teased, her warm smile almost breaking her dour façade.
"That is a lie, you know it." Zhivkov sighed. "However, we have yet to fight... demons or-" His distaste grew. "Magical girls. You've given footage, capabilities, even some training. But the men don't truly believe. They haven't been bloodied."
The combat cyborg waited.
"Perhaps that is for the best. If they don't truly know how bad it can get... they won't falter."
Galina forced herself to smile and to do so with warm, friendly eyes. She knew he was wrong. Experience would be the best protection his men could have. To be unaware, or to be overconfident would be ruinous. The demons were professional predators, equipped and trained by a mercenary organization specializing in non-human combat.
And while Galina put fair odds on the
"Zhivkov, I won't tell you which is better for your men. You know them better than I, but... I doubt we'll get a chance to 'freshen' them." Galina allowed her false smile to dissipate. "The enemy we face is hard to escape. Even my team can barely extract themselves. No, for your men to get away clear, they will need overwhelming firepower."
"And surprise will help," Zhivkov nodded. He disliked using untested equipment, and fighting an untested foe, but uncertainty was a part of life. "Which we will not have if we fight them multiple times."
"Indeed, they're already adapting towards my team, and I'm sure they have a fair idea your men are here."
Zhivkov grunted. "And to think it's come to this. We've lost a war without admitting who our real enemies were, and now we're scampering around yet another war we don't understand."
The room fell silent as Galina appraised the Bulgarian once again. She then nodded, a tiny but genuine smile forming. "You're correct. We're not a part of this. We were hired into it. They think we're the beaten scraps and ghosts of a failed and broken empire." Galina's smile grew, revealing her teeth. "We will show them what ghosts can do. If we are to be relegated to the dustbin of history then it is our duty to drag the little bunny queen down with us, one historical relic to another."
Zhivkov allowed a nod. The
"It was easier when it was just us and them," he muttered, knowing it was never that simple.
"They were the enemy, we were saving the world against their greed, their exploitation." Zhivkov snorted. "Saving it for our master's greed and our exploitation it turned out."
Galina chuckled, and hoped Arisha was not listening in. "Both sides had their nomenklatura. The difference is that those in the West didn't have to fill gulags and mass graves with dissidents to get rich. Yes, they found it easier to pacify their populaces with trinkets and food, but that's the point, they could afford such opiates. In the West, over here, the impoverished could protest their masters, it was pointless but they could do it.
"Our masters had to make do with fear of the knock in the night to keep people in line." Galina sighed. "The worst part? After Stalin we lost the mass murder and then lost competence and merely coasted on inertia. I shudder to think that the two must be intrinsically related." Zhivkov held his tongue. It was always wise to indulge the one who paid the bills.
"Though I do take pleasure at one of the Chekists' great successes. They managed to convince the nomenklatura over here that enlightened, and enriching, technocratic rule could work. It was an appeal to vanity, the dirty communists were too stupid to make communism work. Feh."
Galina snorted. "The best the Chekists could do was plant the seeds of crude boutique-Bolshevism masking Nouveau riche aristocracy. I suppose it is better than the communist veneer our German... comrades put over their neo-fascist state."
"Fraternal Socialist Allies can be so vexing," Zhivkov agreed without a hint of irony.
"As bad as it is... I suppose it's not a return to Czarism, sure the soft-handed, pointed-headed glad-handlers invariably rule, but they don't think it's a divine right."
Zhivkov leaned back and allowed himself a barbed retort. "No, only the inexorable march of historical inevitability."
Galina laughed. "Too true. Too true. At least we can destroy one more royalist before we go."
Zhivkov returned with false laughter. de Vest was right about one thing, the
Looking into the light-filled night sky, Mercury stared out the window of her suite in the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. Her hand clenched the stem of her wineglass. The cool glass felt strange in her ungloved hand. There was the noise of a low-lying helicopter. Her heart stilled. Behind her both Virgo and Orion stopped.
The purple Senshi lowered a matte grey case and cocked her head. "Civilian," she stated mildly before resuming her work.
Mercury snorted. "That doesn't mean anything. Pluto has chartered helicopters before."
"Is that why you went against the presidential suite?" Orion asked as she stepped into place at Mercury's heel. Her gaze matched Mercury's and momentarily looked up at the ceiling.
"No... no," Mercury shook her head and frowned at the sensation of hair against her neck. After having her hair up it felt weird to be wearing it down. Though she had kept it long. Cutting it seemed to be an unneeded sacrifice.
Mercury returned to looking out the floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows. "It seemed a bit much. Much as I would have loved a private pool and sundeck." She sighed and looked around the hundred and twenty square meter two bedroom suite she had rented.
"This place is larger than my old apartment... " Orion frowned. "Both of them. It's bigger than mother's old store," she added in a hushed voice.
"We can see it, if you like. I can make the time," Mercury offered giving Orion a small smile.
"No," Orion turned her head and went to the laptop that she had already unpacked. "Osa-P is gone."
Mercury nodded and turned back to the window. She had managed to avoid the temptation of a penthouse suite, but she had indulged in a south-eastern view. Before her sprawled Azabujuban, the
She turned from the immense and skeletal orange tower to the relatively shorter buildings and lights that made up her former home. She took a sip of wine, careful not to spill on her clothes.
Mercury cared little for the skirt and blouse she wore, but the seifuku-style school uniform was familiar... if a bit ill-fitting before Virgo had worked on it to let out the blouse some. Mercury inclined her head as a thrumming vibration cut through the suite. It bounced off the warding over the windows causing a blue flicker for a moment before settling down.
"Secure," Virgo stated after silently taking the space Orion had occupied at Mercury's heel. "At least from the Sailors. Though in force, we'd have little time to teleport."
Mercury nodded absently. The lilac scent of the bouquet the staff had placed by the door dominated the room.
"You are concerned?"
Mercury spun around on her right heel, her unbound hair flying about same with her pleated skirt. She stomped her left foot, though unlike the respectable clack of a stiletto it was the soft thud of a Mary Jane.
She glared at Virgo, but the crystalline Senshi had a perfectly controlled expression. Her features had become more statuesque, and were even a bit stylized. Her hair was a sculpted piece of a large bun in the back, smaller twin purple odango buns on the sides with flexing ponytails. Her hairdo was made out of a crystal material that was lighter and more translucent shade of purple than the rest of her.
Both of Virgo's swords were holstered in an X pattern across her back. The shadows of their scabbards just visible through the thickness of her body and the clear bodysuit, gloves, and boots of her seifuku were made by giving those portions of her body a more milky white coloration and adding carvings of her constellation that were set with tiny blue gems. A gold Mercury mark was embossed on her neck and surrounded by a silver circle that centered an inset band that went around her neck forming an ersatz choker.
The only parts not sculpted as details on her body were her pleated skirt, her bows, and the sailor collar she wore. The crystalline golem stood before Mistress Mercury and waited. Virgo hummed with power to the extent that it caused little sparks and ripples against the pulsing signal scramblers.
The whole time Mercury had studied her, Virgo simply waited. Her faceted jewel-like eyes unblinking unmoving. Chest perfectly still, jewel-like eyes unblinking… unmoving. Reflections of the neon lights far bellow played across her sparkling surface, providing the beautiful statue with the illusion of motion, and life. Gloved hands, hands that were gloves, were clasped in front of her, and she neatly balanced on high heeled boots that were as much a part of her as her hair, lips, or tiara.
"Yes Virgo. I am concerned." Mercury replied. "I've returned. I'm going to meet my parents. You can understand my apprehension."
Suddenly moving, Virgo's eyelids expanded, narrowing her gaze. She tilted her head and went completely still. "More than you... my Mistress," she added.
"By your nature, you understand my apprehension. You've been changed more than I have, you're even less your mother's daughter." Mercury turned back to the window. "My worry. However, my parents have skills. Skills that I need; skills that even you could appreciate."
Virgo raised a silver-inlaid eyebrow. "As you say."
Mercury made a thoughtful noise. "Well, what would you do? If you could go back home, if you could find your estranged father."
"I got along with my father," Virgo stiffly said. She gazed out the window. Her quest for revenge had taken everything from her, but it had made her more powerful. If she returned to the village... Virgo looked down at her mistress. "Are you thinking about them, about-" she hesitated for a second. "About recruitment?"
Mercury sipped her wine. "You know what I plan. Do you think I would give your people greater due than my own parents?"
"From a tactical standpoint, your parents are far easier targets," Orion stated.
"As is your Mother," Virgo added.
"We have business." Mercury crossed her arms. "I've dressed down."
Virgo nodded and her form shimmered.
Mercury eyed Virgo. "Acceptable enough." She turned to Orion. "And you?"
Orion snapped her fingers and her double-bladed staff vanished and her Senshi uniform was replaced with a pale green dress tied with a white belt.
Mercury blinked. "You're staying as Janet?"
Orion eyed the equipment that they had built using the fabricators in the lunar laboratory adjacent to the Space-Time door. Combined with Mercury's original tools and what they had learned on the Venus and Virgo projects mass production was well within reach. She turned back to Mistress Mercury. "Why bother going back to Naru?"
"So that's it? We're all in agreement. There is no going back." A frown flickered across Mercury's face. "Yes, we must all look forward... and prepare." She smiled and gave a salute with her glass.
Three armored Senshi sat around the table in the training center's commissary. The blonde wore a seifuku with golden fabric and white silk bows under gold plates and skirting. The brunette wore copper with broad section green with patina and polished accents. Wearing red-bronze armor Mars tapped table and looked around the commissary. "Just great... we shouldn't have left her alone." She sat next to Venus-as-Moon with Jupiter opposite her.
Sitting a distance away were Misako and Ukyou. Both succubae were armed and wore the bodysuit and inner-armor portions of their battle-dress. The outer armor sections were leaning on a couple chairs off to the side. The two demons would occasionally chat with each other, but spent most of their time cleaning their weapons and loading magazines.
"She's not alone," Minako stiffly stated.
Jupiter held the bridge of her nose.
"And did you see Eve get up and go? No doubt they've got the queen outnumbered."
"She's not alone," Minako repeated.
Mars eyed the blonde who looked so very much like the Princes... the Queen. "Yeah, she's with Pluto. And yeah... she did help Usagi. Still, I'd like to see this new enemy myself. And they're going to be late, don't we have training today?" she asked glancing at the demons watching them. The platinum blonde and orange-haired one were of Ranma's brood, while the one with short dark red hair was Eve's daughter. The blonde looked up from the box of over-sized ammunition and gave a cold smile.
"We agreed to get her help," Jupiter sighed as she looked around the concrete room.
The brunette Senshi gave the room another glance; Eve was still gone. Which figured. She brought her attention back to Mars and Venus.
Minako looked off in the distance, her eyes taking a flat red sheen. "So, you two were behind what Puu did to me."
"What you and Usagi were doing was making things worse," Jupiter stated.
"I know, but...we thought – I thought I was protecting her." Minako sniffed and crossed her arms over her chest.
"She was shut away from the world. You were turning her into a robot," Jupiter explained.
"And not a useful one either. Do you know how big and clumsy you two were?" Rei reminded.
"Hey, we were getting pretty agile and fast! It would have worked if-" Minako looked down. "I am sorry."
Jupiter put a hand on Minako's. "You okay, Honey?"
Minako turned her head and her eyes flashed red for a second. "Been better."
Mars sighed. "DarkStar is right. The princess... is in trouble. She's still in that Serenity getup."
"Tell me about it," Minako snapped in reply, as she gestured to her own Sailor Moon style golden seifuku and twin blonde ponytails.
The doors to the commissary opened and Jupiter blinked. "I don't think that's a worry..."
Giving a coquettish smile, Kiri stepped into the room. She walked up to the table and gave a beckoning gesture.
"You left her alone with them?" Mars asked.
"When you came to me with your worries about the Queen, I trusted you. Come on" Kiri chuckled as she waved more emphatically.
Giving a perplexed shrug, Mars and the other two Senshi got up.
Misako perked up and gave a broad smirk. "Showing off mother's power?"
Giving off a purr, Ukyou seemed to sniff the air. "Well, glad to see Mother's feeling better."
"What?" Rei asked, scandalized.
Misako laughed. "It's not what you think. It's... nicer more innocent." The demoness licked her lips and gave a dreamy smile.
"Something like that." Kiri nodded. She turned around and left the commissary.
What's going on?" Mars asked as they followed Kiri down the hallway and around the corner.
"Oh, you have no flare for the dramatic," Kiri teased as they passed through the guard check point and returned to the Senshi's room.
"That's not reassuring," Jupiter said as Kiri knocked then opened the door.
Minako, Jupiter and Mars crossed the threshold. The first thing they saw was Sailor Moon, not Serenity, not the Queen, but their Princess.
Minako gave a little smile, her guise was just that. A disguise to fool outsiders. This was the real Usagi. Giving a serene, tranquil smile, Usagi waved an arm before returning to gently braiding the restful succubus's hair. She had two long ponytails, one was braided down its length and capped near the end with a red bow. The other was about halfway done.
"You're back!" Makoto cried as she ran towards the bed. She saw the dainty little pinkish-blonde demoness snuggled into Usagi's lap, but that was immaterial. It was not even an issue that the demoness looked a lot like Usagi; the real deal, the real Usagi, was sitting right there before the brunette. And the demon was so young, so small, so adorably and softly dressed that she seemed made for the Princess' lap.
And the demon looked more like Usagi's version of a succubus, cute, cuddly, and non-threatening. Her arms went out and to hug her princess she had to hug the princess'... dau-demoness. Usagi put down the partially braided ponytail and accepted the hug.
Rei blinked back a tear as she joined Minako in adding to Makoto's crushing hug. Feeling her Princess' presence, feeling it without glamours, without disguises, Rei's worries were pushed away. She even let the feelings from the other "Moon" Senshi in the group hug wash over her.
"Back to normal?" Rei asked, as the young demon purred.
Usagi blushed. "I wanted to be at ease. Sailor Earth –er- Ranma... Helped me. Didn't you honey?" she asked giving Ranma a fresh hug and basking in the love of her friends.
As the embrace broke up, Eve slipped in and gave Usagi and Ranma a strong hug. She held Usagi's gaze for a moment before looking to Ranma and smiling as she withdrew.
"Some help," Rei laughed with a hint of jealousy at the diminutive demon. However, looking into those great big turquoise eyes, Rei found her hostility begin to wane. She turned away.
"Oh, it really was," Usagi said, resuming braiding the demon's hair. "You were all a great help in this. Thank you."
"And the... hair?" Rei asked.
Usagi looked down at the nearly complete braid and blushed. "Oh, well I thought it would look cute."
Looking at her own twin ponytail style, Minako laughed.
Rei cracked a smile. "Yes, you would."
Nodding, Usagi did a few more braids.
"Everyone likes to play with my hair," Ranma said a bit smugly.
"I can see why," Usagi said as she neared the end. She then compared the two ponytails. "Okay, this one's done," she told Ranma, who closed her eyes and summoned a matching bow capping off both braided pinkish-blonde ponytails.
"But the whole look? I mean she's like a darling little moon demon."
Ranma preened a bit.
"Oh yeah!" Usagi giggles. "She's got the cutest little speech. You wanna show them?"
The demoness blushed and pulled in a bit.
"Come, on, it's really cute," Usagi kissed Ranma on the cheek. "And your hair is really nice, goes great with your uniform."
Looking at her braids, the demoness smiled and gave Usagi a quick hug. She then hopped off Moon's lap and hit the floor with a light clop. She backed away and standing on one hoof did a little spin that flowed into a skip-like dance step. As she moved and used her arms to pose, her long skirt flounced up, almost showing a bit of skin above her ankles.
She planted both hooves on the ground with a musical clomp. "The Pretty Lunar Demon Senshi: Sailor Earth, is ready for Love And Justice!" She gleefully shouted crossing her arms over her chest and shaking her head, causing her ankle-length braided twin-tails to bounce about.
"In the name of the Moon and Earth I'll punish you with my ribbon-tail!" she gleefully said as her silk-sheathed tail cutely coiled back and forth with a little twist and shake. After her cheer, she smiled revealing her fangs and triumphantly raised her right arm while moving her left arm from her hip to across her chest while extending out the V for victory sign.
"Wow, way to improvise!" Usagi clapped.
"By taking my material." Minako joked, having recognizing the finishing move from her own transformation sequence. She was always creeped out by the constant surveillance WIC had them under, but at least it allowed for some benefit.
The demon held the pose for a couple seconds before collapsing into giggles.
She was joined by the other Senshi. Even Eve smirked.
Looking between the two "lunar" Senshi, Rei felt her heart warm. She opened her mouth, but Jupiter stood up cutting her off.
"That was great. I can see why Usagi liked this..." Makoto bent down to the little demon's eye level. She looked to her princess, her queen, relaxed and happy, calm and content.
Rei hesitated and saw Minako stand up and join in. The two began to thank and hug the purring demoness. Exhaling, Rei closed her eyes. She stood up and walked to the demoness.
A tall Senshi in a red bronze armored uniform looked at the smaller, delicate, Senshi in her conservative, prim silken uniform. "Sailor Earth?"
Flanked by Jupiter and Minako, the demoness looked up. All three tensed as the black-haired woman stared at the demoness.
Looking into her eyes, Mars saw that they were not fully turquoise, there was a band of dark purple around the silted irises. "Sailor Earth," she repeated and then bowed. "Thank you."
Blinking, the demoness cantered forward and wrapped her arms around Mars. The black-haired Senshi stiffened but then realized that the demon only came up to her chest, with the red bowed tips of her spiraled odangos barely reaching Mars' shoulders.
Mars looked down at the braided hair, sparkling crescent moons, and soft silk blouse and skirting. "Sailor Earth.."
The demoness giggled at the title. "Yes?"
Reaching out, Mars slipped her arms under Sailor Earth's little wings. "If the Princess believes in you...." she hugged the small Senshi, lifting her off her hooves. "That's good enough for me... welcome to the team," she whispered.
Feeling the pulses of acceptance and love, the succubus gasped. What had been a wistful improvisation of the plan to "guide" the Queen had gotten away from her. The part of her that considered it all a plan had faded and faded until... Sailor Earth blushed and leaned her head onto Mars' shoulder. "Thank you," she gasped softly crying.
"Oh... it's okay. It's okay," Mars said, finding herself smiling. She reassuringly patting Earth on the back, Mars carried the demoness back to her Princess, and deposited gently sobbing Sailor Earth back into Sailor Moon's lap.
Usagi hugged Sailor Earth and the tears stopped. Savoring the little succubus' purr, she idly played with a braided ponytail before adjusting one of the bows on the tip of Earth's spiraled hair buns. "I'm.... overwhelmed, by all of you." She looked to each of her Senshi, to Luna, to Eve.
Sailor Earth found herself giggling. It was clear to her, the Pattern Silvers, the Senshi, they were like their own little brood, one she was a part of. "I won."
"Really?" Kiri asked.
"Sure, I've got our Princess back to normal," the tiny demon contentedly sighed and leaned her head onto Usagi's chest. "And I've got another brood, another family."
"Yes you do, my little pretty Lunar demon," Usagi assured as she gently rocked the demoness.
Blushing, Earth blinked back a couple little tears. Sating herself in Usagi's affection she regained her composure. She was a mother, a brood queen, a contractor, a... Sailor Senshi...? Yet, she was not... one. She could feel the connection to the other girls, and to the very earth itself, a vast well of power arced around her, further than the horizon and as deep as the world.... As she searched, her confidence began to reassert itself, and then something tripped in her.
Light flared from her again, but this time it was concentrated on her forehead which glowed deep purple with a four pointed star before it burst and was replaced with a bright rich green quartered circle: the symbol from earth. Spreading from the light her earrings changed going from gold crescent moons to earth symbols with the crescent moons overlaid at the bottom. Her choker glowed bright but instead of breaking the four pointed star there grew slightly and a circular backing formed with her Senshi sign visible behind the purple crystal. Power welled and the piece of jewelry became an artifact.
Her back arched as the piping on her collar and the trim on her spats and sleeves all changed to green. The glow continued to expand as the bows on the tips of her hair buns and the ends of her braided twin tails also changed color while the rest of her ribbons and bows stayed crimson. Then the light pulled back, like a retreating tide pulled by gravity it all receded into her. The energy pulsed over her, running though her hooves, to the spiraled hair buns, around her coiled and sheathed tail, to her dangling tiara, across her nearly floor length skirt, and arched over her silver claws and pointed ears. The energy pressed against diminutive frame her and the new Sailor Earth was formed and forged.
Sailor Earth gasped, as the connections to the Senshi, her Senshi bloomed in her mind. The feeling of another family struck her. It lacked the raw instinctual power of her children and sisters, but it was close. That was all over the heavy pulsing power of the Earth, her world. Nearly overwhelmed, she snuggled against Moon.
"Wow, guess you really are one of us." Makoto blinked, the air around her suddenly seemed a bit clearer. It was as if she could more easily... see the other Senshi. They stood out more sharply.
Eve nodded, her smug confidence betraying a tiny bit of worry behind her blue eyes.
Catching the look, Earth shook her head and gave a reassuring smile and pushed some of her emotions out so her sister could feel. The dam burst and a torrent of emotions and power flared out and swamped Eve, Earth's daughters, Eve's daughters, Cecilia and her daughters, and even trickled out to her mother, Nodoka.
Usagi, on the other hand, felt a growing contented warmth. She looked down at the new Senshi and felt proud, felt complete.
"Told you I was right," Mars laughed while Kiri gave an almost melancholy look, but quickly covered it up. The black haired woman frowned and looked at Kiri. She studied the green haired woman, unsure as to what was wrong with her expression... something about it seemed off, seemed false.
Stroking her hair, Usagi peered into her Senshi's blissful eyes. "Honey?"
The demon nodded, gathering her thoughts, feeling as if she had to gather herself back in. Seeing Usagi, her Princess, her spirits lifted further. She grinned and rolled over to hug Moon, this time extending out her little wings and wrapping them around her Princes.
Sailor Moon returned the hug and the two sat there for a while, until Makoto snickered at Mars' expression of near tearful joy. The hug broke apart with Earth blushing.
"Well, our work's just starting," Sailor Earth chirped as she wriggled her spiraled and sheathed tail. "We have some serious threats, and if we're going to be on the same team," she winked at Mars, "we'll have to keep up our training, and learn to work together."
"Back on topic?" Eve gave a little smirk, still relishing the feelings from her sister.
Sailor Earth pouted.
Eve gave a tiny sniff. "We do have some ideas, such as regaining initiative, both against the Russians and the Miss Mizuno. We are also sending the Canadians to investigate that 'soft spot' the signal originated from. They too can use the training."
"And you decided to let me just... play?" Usagi asked.
"I know I needed it...and so did you right?" Earth softly asked. She looked around at the other Senshi with a bit more empathy for their apprehension and fears, but also for their camaraderie.
"I did," Usagi assured.
"Now I won't take any slacking or incompetence, because we've got some training planned and this is important stuff," Sailor Earth blushed. "But I'm sure you'll do great."
End Chapter 28
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.
Also, special thanks to frice2000 on the Fukufics form for inspiring the development and refinement of the "Sailor Earth" idea.