The Return

A Ranma Sailor Moon fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

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

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

 

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

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

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

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

Chapter 29 Reconcile and Refine Part 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
Eve exhaled and squeezed her tighter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
The WIC officer squeezed her sister's hands.

           
"You can feel them?" Ranma asked.

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

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

           
"Another brood?" Eve completed.

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

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

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

           
"Well," Eve coughed. "You do have that mission with JTF2."
           
"Damn," Ranma's shoulders slumped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
"Even with your new... connection?"

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

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

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

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

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

           
"More pressure?"

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

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

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

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

           
Sailor Earth nodded.

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

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

           
Still holding her sisters hand, Eve resumed walking.

           
With her spare hand, Sailor Earth held her chin, and pondered. "Yes, very strong but... wouldn't that make any breaks all the more painful?"
           
Standing before the door to the Senshi's room, Eve stopped and put an arm around Sailor Earth's shoulder.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
"Short term only."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
Catharine's smile drew back into a grimace.

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

           
The senior mage's expression hardened further.

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

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

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

           
"Insults now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
"What's in it for me?"

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

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

           
"No, not at all." Catharine huffed.

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

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

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

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

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

           
"You felt it too."

           
"The pulse."

           
"There was more than one." Murdock shook his head. "It's interesting what rival succubae do when you place them in close proximity for an extended period of time.
           
Catharine humored the man. "They fight, and the weaker is consumed by the stronger."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
"The horse may yet sing," Murdock assured.

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

           
Murdock spread his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
Earth smiled somewhat nervously.

           
Seeing the fangs the Agent stepped back with a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
Quivering, Earth patiently waited until her hair was finished before jumping off the bed. Her hooves hit with a ringing clop and she took off with a run. "Mommy!" she happily cried as she wrapped her arms around Nodoka and Usagi.
           
Both taller women leaned down and hugged the little demon clinging to their mid sections. Purring, Sailor Earth looked up, pure adoration in her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
Kiri rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

           
Earth nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

           
"Right, and you?"

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

           
Misako pouted.

           
"Insane," Sailor Mars muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
Earth nodded but looked a bit unsure.

           
"No," Usagi stated.

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

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

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

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

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

           
"And feeding," Eve reminded.

           
"And time with family," Nodoka added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           
"And if we are too slow?"

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

 

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

 

           
When the demoness entered the hanger, Major Wellwood Ellis Sifton stared. Next to him, Colonel Edwards looked and simply nodded. The company officer was wearing the grey almost suit-like Company dress uniform and held a small leather folder in one hand. With a face like that, Sifton wondered how well the Company officer could gamble.

           
Sifton regained his own composure. Over time he had gotten... acclimatized to the demons. Mentally, he could fit them into a historical context. Ancient armies would regularly recruit groups that had had more experience in the bush, looser rules of engagement, and a less formal command structure. Auxiliaries in the historical sense, and, it seemed in the present sense.

           
It could even account for the more... exotic and savage needs of his allies and trainers. However, he had gotten used to them as scarily strong pale women with powers and demonic accents.

           
Now... he kept his gaze locked onto the demon's startling turquoise, purple rimmed, slited eyes. Even if that required looking down due to her diminutive size. She looked familiar, like a mix of the blue-eyed blondes that WIC and the demons were watching and the redheaded, purple eyed head demon.

           
Now that he had made eye-contact, he tried to keep it. It kept him from staring at the ribbon-encased, spiraled tail, little cape-like wings, and most of all, the little silver hooves she balanced on..

           
However, by looking to her eyes, he was free to see the prominent choker around her neck, her pointed ears, prominent flans, and the twin pinkish blonde braid that spilled down form a pair of curled buns on either side of her head. She was adorned with green and red bows in various sizes that gave her an almost festive appearance. It was all rather disarming-looking.

           
Sifton concentrated, recalling just what these demons could do, despite how cute they could look. In the handful of seconds it took her to reach him, the sense of familiarity grew. Sifton glanced over to see the stone-faced Company officer's expression shift to something almost amused, or at least some breed of guarded interest.

           
The short demon wore a modest almost gown-like version of the magical girl's uniform, which combined with her hair and face made her look very much like the blonde and silver haired leaders of that group, albeit even younger and even more vulnerable looking. At her heel was a lanky company agent with a scanner display in one hand and a metal box in the other.

           
"Major Wellwood Sifton." Beaming, the young demoness clopped up to him.

           
The JTF2 officer smiled, the noise was a bit more musical, but familiar enough to a man who had grown up around cattle and horses. "And you are?" He supposed she was Miss Saotome or at least a Miss Saotome, but he did not want to presume.

           
The succubus gave a playful smile. "Why the Pretty Lunar Demon Senshi: Sailor Earth of course." Catching Jacob's slight shift her grin grew. "No, I don't think I'll do the full introduction."
           
Sifton stared as he heard a couple of his staff suppress snickers.

           
Earth laughed. "Sorry. It's me Ranma."

           
"Miss Saotome?" Sifton blinked; there was a familiar... feeling around the little demon, but...

           
"I figured you should at least be familiar with this form too."

           
Jacob's eyebrows went up fractionally.

           
She shrugged. "I'm so sorry for the delay." She held out her hand and bowed her head, causing her ponytails to swing forward. "I was detained by a... friend... family business and then I had to talk with my daughters."

           
Sifton took the white gloved hand, and the sniggering grew slightly. Considering the circumstances they were holding up rather well. He looked down and saw that she had little silver claws integrated with the tips of the gloves.

           
Her eyes went to his staff, specifically Lieutenant Hanna Hill, the snickerer. The demon then gave a playful smirk.

           
Sifton gave a little nod. "It was my pleasure to wait for one of such skill and beauty, my young lady." He added, raising her hand and gave it a quick kiss.

           
"Such a gentleman," Earth giggled. She looked to Colonel Edwards.

           
"Yes, Miss Saotome. He is an accomplished military man. Your type, it would seem, perhaps you two can be more social at a later time, perhaps in a bit more appropriate... dress," Jacob offered completely straight-faced while he tapped his fingers against the stiff bound folder.

           
The demon laughed.

           
"But, I presume Agent Dirac wants a bit of your time as well," Jacob gestured to the Company agent standing to Earth's side.

           
Sailor Earth, Ranma, turned and bowed her head to Dirac. "I'm so sorry for rushing away. You did get the take from Usagi?"

           
Jared Dirac nodded. "Yes, Ma'am. Recorded her Pattern Silver emissions for the whole morning."
           
"
That's good. I think she'll be okay, but it'll be good to check up on her..." Ranma's smile left her unspoken question hang.

           
"And the choker? Are we still examining it?" Dirac addressed Ranma but he caught Jacob's eye.

           
Earth sighed. "Right. Trust but verify?" her eye went to Jacob.

           
Jacob nodded. "On Major Saotome's and Captain Jarvis' recommendations. Which I support. A transformation device can also help refine kit and load outs for the Fifth."

           
"I agree, too," Sailor Earth admitted, fingering the choker. Usagi did have Puu dig it up out of an archive, and there was much WIC could learn from her new team's artifacts.

           
"What's this about?" Sifton looked between the company personnel. "If I may ask."

           
"Building another alliance," Ranma explained as she unbuckled her choker. The purple four-pointed star backed with the quartered circle symbol of earth fell into the padding of Dirac's box. The demoness closed her eyes and the silk dress, green bows and other accents, braided hair, and clothing began to brighten turning into a greenish, almost liquid, light that ran down her body.

           
As the light faded her form grew, gaining height and maturity. Her face became a bit leaner and sharper looking. The vanishing green glow exposed a succubus of the type Sifton was more familiar with. Pale skin, lithe but strong body, rich crimson tresses, and the Kevlar bodysuit and composite plate he had expected from the 5th Non Human Task Force.

           
Peeling off her body, the magical green light pooled around her hooves. Those were the last bits to be fade out as she simply stepped forward, revealing a pair of plain military-style boots. The remainder of the vibrant green light evaporated in a flash of purple sparkles. The demoness idly stretched her legs and lifted each to flex her ankles.

           
Ranma glanced at her watch. "We've still got a bit of time before the mission." She circled around to Sifton's side and looked at some of the waiting JTF2 personnel. They reminded her of the WIC regulars, though a bit older and with a lower ratio of women to men. There was also more of that mix of anxiety and boredom that only soldiers could truly combine.

           
"Have I missed the briefing?" Ranma asked Sifton after concluding her scan. The snickering had stopped and the JTF2 troops had seemed blasé about her entrance. The demon's mood lightened, that was one upside of the Venus armor debacle; it made people more accepting of... lesser changes.

           
"No, I was picking the Major's brain," Jacob stated.

           
"The Colonel was curious if there was a way to speed up the procurement of a surplused LAV III." Sifton eyed the... officer. That a mercenary group wanted an armored fighting vehicle was not the frightening bit. For one, they had larger weapons than that already.

           
"We don't need full functionality; it's for testing and eval purposes only," Jacob held up a hand.
           
"Well, the parts you do want will cause the delays," Sifton evenly said. No the truly frightening part was what these mercenaries were thinking of doing with the vehicle's 20mm main gun. Even with the Fifth's... abilities, that seemed to push the limits of what a "man-portable" weapon could be.

           
"Wait? So we might get a BTR first?" Ranma sighed. "If there's funding issues, we could ask on Usagi, Kiri has resources and connections."

           
"That's not the problem, but we could expand the contract. To be fair, Soviet surplus weapons are much easier to get," Jacob stated.

           
"Yes, as one of our enemies is proving." The demoness chuckled. "Still you'd think we could go up to a depot and pick one up. It's just a 20mm gun. We've already got a HIMARS battery."

           
"Not my decision," Sifton said, wondering exactly how the Company got the Army brass, let alone the Prime Minister, to agree to authorizing that.

           
"No tanks? The Royal Canadian Dragoons have some Leopard 2's up there too," Lieutenant Hanna Hill asked, breaking her silence.

           
Bearing a somewhat brittle smile, Ranma looked to Colonel Edwards.

           
Jacob tilted his head fractionally. "That seems to be a bit much for the Fifth. While I don't deny the usefulness of armor and cannot speak for all of WIC's procurement aims,  allotting members o the Fifth to tanker school seems an ill use of their talents."

           
Sifton wanted to shout: You've got trucks loaded with 227mm artillery rockets in the city and you're worried about tanks. However, he held his tongue and merely grunted.

           
"Besides, when the situation becomes such where we need tanks then I'd trust them in the hands people specifically trained on them," Jacob said.

           
"Shame our meeting at the War Museum wasn't later, when that new exhibit about the Afgan war was setup," Ranma said with a little pout.

           
Sifton's ears perked. He was sure he knew what exhibit she was talking about: a pair of the twenty Leopard 2-A6Ms that Canada had borrowed and subsequently purchased from Germany for the Afghanistan deployment.

           
One was in the exhibition hall as part of the Afghan exhibit while the other was in the vehicle hall. Sifton did chuckle, the Canadian War Museum was in downtown Ottawa and having tanks in his nation's capitol had historical precedent.

           
Recalling Jacob's line Sifton blinked. "Wait when?"

           
"Pardon. If." Jacob clarified, he cleared his throat. "As last night's incident shows. We are not the only ones preparing and laying groundwork. That reminds me, we'll need to get coordination with 425 Tactical at CFB Bagotville."

           
Jacob turned to Sifton and his voice turned stern, almost chastising. "That is something we will both have to do. Major, things will get worse. It is our job to be ready when all hell breaks loose. That said we should, apply pressure to get some F18's moved to a place where they can respond in time. It'd be nice to have some heavy air power in our back pocket before the year is out."

           
"Why don't we just ask for a couple on the tarmac at Pearson with the rest of a squadron on back at Trenton?" Sifton asked managing to keep his voice even. "That way you can have some planes ready to go the second the red phone goes off."

           
The demon's eyes widened and she barked off a single laugh as she looked to Jacob. "Oh wonderful!"

           
Sifton blinked. He could see a bit of the youthful demoness within the redheaded succubus.

           
"Isn't that what you were thinking?" Ranma asked Jacob.

           
"Well, we considered Buttonville Airport. Person's an international airport and that much extra traffic could play hell with deployment."

           
Sifton boggled. He could accept a pathological desire for overwhelming firepower but the way they talked; it was almost as if they... "What if that's not enough? Why not setup a full forward base?" Sifton asked, taking a guess at his hunch

           
"We will need somewhere to put the Royal Canadian Dragoons," Ranma mused as she counted out on her fingers. "That is a lot of tanks."

           
"We might not need the whole regiment." Jacob shifted his leather folding pad to the other hand. "If we were so lucky."

           
Sifton nodded to himself. That was fear. The shape-shifting demon queen and the pinch-faced old spook were afraid. They thought they'd actually need that much firepower. "Our best bet is preventing the inter-dim collapse before it gets goin'?"

           
Jacob tapped his fingers. "See my previous comment about luck. For this campaign we need all contingencies open. I'd press for conscription if I didn't think it would take too long to pay off. However, it is a shame you got rid of your Genies. Though they were getting long in the tooth. But then in '84 you lost the capability of even launching a NATO loaner when you retired your Starfighters."

           
Sifton let the draft comment slide. It would require lots of time, a huge political cost, and a public admission of a true existential threat. All that might keep the country intact, though it would ensure the Prime Minister never held office again. Compared to that nuclear weapons were... "The... AIR-2? You wish Canada had nukes? Well... less political fallout than conscription, anyway. And we have the raw material, processing, and knowledge to spin up production."

           
Disappointment crossed Jacob's face. "If things truly go pear-shaped I'd prefer that the door be slammed shut by your lot."

           
Sifton studied the man and wondered if he was saying that in the worst cast someone would need to 'slam the door' shut, and hopefully Canada was up to the challenge? Or was the Company man saying that WIC could do it, but felt it more diplomatic if Canada did it themselves? And if the latter... what in hell did WIC have? At least military hardware was a bit more reassuring, the abilities of the young women the Company seemed to collect were a whole other issue.

           
The Major cleared his throat. "Of course, location and rapid response is critical, both in averting a collapse and in the worse case containing one."

           
Ranma smiled. "Yes, which is why we want you to deploy more of your fancy planes and tanks."

           
"But that's what we want; what do you require?" Jacob asked.

           
Shifton shook his head. "No, scanners and jammers are the big thing. Detectors for when things get... soft and jammers to keep them from coming in." He eyed the demon and the spook. "But you've already started that. We're buying the damn things from you by the truckload. Though it would be nice if we had truckloads of the things. The politicians and the WOGs got first dibs. Though I can see priority going to command and the NDHQ," he admitted.

           
"Wog? What the hell does that mean?" Ranma asked.

           
"With-Out Guns: rear echelon support and command staff," Shifton explained. "Our HQ and a couple other big bases got them first, after the Prime Minister and Parliament of course."

           
The demoness shook her head at the idea of an organization that did not arm every single soldier. Though in actuality, WIC was unusual in its mandate of universal and constant armament.

           
"You are starting up factory lines to build your own," Jacob reminded. "You saw what happened last night. We're losing intel because we simply don't have enough assets. We've hardly got two cities covered and most of that is trip-wire grade stuff."

           
"And thus you turn a problem into a training opportunity," Sifton sighed.

           
Ranma patted the officer on the arm, "Don't worry, your men know how to use the personal Kaskade scanners, the Wasserfall is the same, just bigger."

           
Shifton looked down at the shorter woman, for a bare moment he though he could see a flare of turqoise in her deep purple eyes."And weighs a dozen kilos or so," he said carefully looking into her eyes and only broke eye contact after he had finished talking.

           
Looking at Sifton's vexed expression, Jacob lifted his bound folder. "Pardon the delay, but I do have some personal correspondence for Miss Saotome, a family issue. Won't take a minute."

           
Sifton frowned but nodded. "Of course. Family is important."

           
Ranma followed Jacob to the other end of the hangar. "What's this about?" she asked as they stopped in front of a wheeled metal frame that was holding up a partially disassembled turbo shaft engine. "Me taking up the mantle of Sailor Earth?"

           
"As I understood it you were always Sailor Earth, even your past incarnation was that Senshi. She never took up the name, and it would seem the power, due to political reasons," Jacob said as if he were giving a history lecture.

           
Ranma crossed her arms and tapped her chin. "Yeah, and I wasn't exactly willing to listen to Puu for a while, so it wasn't like I wanted to take up those powers."

           
"That has changed," Jacob stated.

           
The demoness gave a ghost of a smile and nodded to the officer. "Yes."

           
"You're now on the same team as them. You've offered your support, training, and guidance. Given a base of trust you'll build on that expanding ties and gaining more influence."

           
"You make it sound so cynical." Ranma sighed.

           
"Do I? Perhaps you doubt the sincerity and support I've offered then," Jacob said a bit lightly.

           
"Hah," the demoness shook her head. "You're not worried then?"

           
Jacob gave a little grunt. "Please, I'm always worried, but to use a crude phrase having them inside the tent pissing out is better than having them outside pissing in. Perhaps now our efforts to that end will be less clumsy.

           
"We need the Pattern Silvers. I'm confident in you and yours. Your brood are reliable and professional. I would rather depend on your family in battle, but they are Pattern D's first, Silvers second. The Silvers, especially Tsukino herself have a specific purpose in the coming troubles. The more we have the more margin we have the better chance we have at getting through this."

           
Ranma bristled a bit at the clinical terms, but it faded; she knew Jacob felt more comfortable talking about the Senshi in more abstract terms, especially in this kind of planning. "Right, I agree, Sir."

           
The older man gave a smile as subtle as the demon's had been. "That's why even in isolation your increased attunement to your powers is a good thing. And yes I do trust you, but remember Miss Aino. It took outside action to make her and Miss Tsukino see the error of their ways." The Company officer narrowed his pale blue eyes. "And you can trust that I will not let you fall into similar self-indulgence."

           
Looking into the man's cold, steady gaze, Ranma shivered a tiny bit. His conviction and strength of will radiated in pulsing waves. "A close thing that Puu took action when she did."

           
"She realized her miscalculation... Not long after we did ourselves," Jacob admitted.

           
"You're concerned about Usagi?"

           
Jacob tilted his head slightly.

           
"Of course you are." Ranma gave a little laugh. "But, has today made things worse?"

           
"We wanted you to get closer to Miss Tsukino." The officer's eyes softened slightly. "And this certainly counts, but closeness comes with a cost."

           
The demoness nodded. She understood Jacob's subtext, the Senshi represented another set of obligations and loyalties.

           
"I know Usagi would choose support and love no matter what." Ranma's eyes narrowed and she let a trickle of her emotions out.

           
Jacob raised an eyebrow.

           
 "Like her, you understand the magnitude of what we face. But unlike her you have supported my family and me from day one. It's your men who have fought and bled at my side."

           
Tapping his leather folder, Jacob gave a slight smile. "Indeed."

           
The demoness chuckled. "But, there's more that you wanted to talk to me about? Puu? Or family business?"

           
"While I am interested on what Captain Jarvis can get out of Miss Meiou…. No, you've got a few letters," Jacob opened his leather folder and handed her a pair of envelopes.

           
Ranma took the first square-shaped envelope. It was black with grey edges. On the back was written the name AlterCaela - BlackSky. Ranma raised her eyebrow. A claw came out and she slit the envelope. Inside were two pieces of paper: one grey, hand lettered with fine red ink, in Demonic, the other was white and typed out in English.

           
"Grandma?" Ranma eyed the translation and the original document. Her demonic was good enough to make out most of the letter, but it was easier to switch to the English, especially when BlackSky got more flowery and started asking about her great-granddaughters and giving bits of advice.

           
Eventually, Ranma did get to the point where BlackSky got around to admonishing Ranma for not writing as much and then mentioning that she had found a nice cousin, or at least someone from the RedStorm branch of the family, who worked for the same people and suggested that maybe they should set up a meeting.

           
"Verification and translation took a bit of time," Jacob stated.

           
"It's about another granddaughter of hers, named Yohko." Ranma lowered the letter and cocked her head to the side. "She wants to setup a playdate?"

           
"The former Miss Mano is a registered Pattern D, Class 13 and on the active roster."

           
Ranma snorted. Her own Pattern was a few rungs higher, but at those levels the class system was a rough scale at best. Most any being over Class 10 or so learned how to throttle the amount of power they leaked out. Ranma found it a bit embarrassing how long it took her to get control of her own abilities.

           
"She's done work in South East Asia mostly for our Singapore facility. Surprisingly little work in Japan... at least for us. " Jacob explained.

           
"What's the deal? And how come the Company didn't know they had another one of BlackSky's granddaughters working for them. How many succubae do you have? You've only got two other NH Task Forces."

           
"Our Miss RedStorm is an independent contractor. As for the connection it would seem that she is many generations removed from BlackSky. Given she's from a sub-House."

           
Ranma looked at the other letter which was written out in Japanese and was just a brief introduction, offer to meet, and list of contact methods. There was no accompanying translation. "And the letters came in on the same day. You're suspicious."

           
"BlackSky's came with Miss RedStorm's. We presume BlackSky's letter was hand delivered to RedStorm."

           
"Meaning BlackSky's having contact with my... cousin," Ranma looked at the letters; she then folded them up and put them back in their envelopes. "What do you think?"

           
Jacob gave a ghost of a smile. "You're worried about Alexia."

           
"Yeah, the last cousin from the old family," Ranma looked down. "I'm going to need the company's full file on Yohko. I've also gotta talk with grandma, see what she's really after."

           
"Concerns of a setup? False flag?"

           
Ranma's hand closed over the envelope. "Not quite... it feels like her, but she's still BlackSky you know? You've met her."

           
"And a most charming eldritch demon-empress. Even negating the political implications, this still leaves her rounding up members of your extended family and setting up 'playdates' as you call them, or perhaps she's playing matchmaker."

           
"We're related," Ranma stated.

           
Jacob shrugged. "She's your first cousin thrice removed. Though, I'm not sure BlackSky has that in mind and even if she did, I doubt she would be concerned if you were more closely related. Such is the way for royalty… human or otherwise."

           
Ranma huffed. "Thanks Colonel."

           
"It's not my fault your species makes genealogists cry."

           
The demon laughed.

           
Jacob gave a slight, almost approving nod.

           
"She is registered," Ranma admitted with a frown. She had issues with registration, but she was already tied to the Company... she shrugged. "And another Pattern D could be useful."

           
Jacob noted the nomenclature. "Thinking of expanding the Unit?"

           
"Perhaps, we'll see what we can do with the Senshi, the Pattern Silvers."

           
Jacob made a thoughtful of skeptical noise.

           
"You're the one that extended the offer to Miss Cecilia and her daughters."

           
"We needed the manpower, and they needed the work, it'll be good for them," Ranma stated.

           
"As it's good for your girls." Jacob nodded. "Later today, we should look over the budget. Most NH Task Forces do their own procurement and operations allotments. That allows them to be run as their own units and moved organically as needed."

           
"Great, add more onto my pile, as if-" Ranma blinked. "This is about delegating right?"  

           
"You are only... well you're not human, but even you have limits." Jacob's ghost of a smile returned. "And it's not like you're one to shirk from responsibility," he neutrally reminded.

           
"Right, what else?"

           
"With you and Miss Tsukino. It was good work." Jacob then looked the demoness in the eye and waited.

           
"This again?" Ranma raised an eyebrow. "You're going to ask if I can handle things?"

           
"It's a wise precaution. You've accepted another position, more obligations."

           
The demon looked down at her boots then across the hanger at the Canadian officers. "I already took a day off, maybe another... sooner rather than later."

           
Jacob clasped his hands behind his back.

           
The demon studied the older human. "Fine. I know I've got my limits. I just had a whole chat with Usagi about them. Is that what this is about? You're worried I'm flying her flag? That I'll become her tool?"

           
"Regardless of affiliation, we should all worry about a person like Miss Tsukino turning others into her tools."

           
Ranma closed her eyes and exhaled. "I know. I'm not sure how close... I think I can help her though, but I'm worried..."

           
"I know you've said you're afraid that things are going too well," Jacob said mildly. "But that's only part of it. You're afraid of the inverse too."

           
"That things are falling apart. That I've stuck my tail into a situation I don't know and am making things... worse. Ami's still turned traitor and here I come playing the little lunar demon."

           
The redheaded demoness felt her body ripple and flex as she focused on her power. There was no physical change but she knew it was just a matter of will.

           
"You picked a form designed to appeal to Miss Tsukino's emotional needs and be disarming in the eyes of her friends."
           
"Classic succubus move, eh?" Ranma added a cold laugh.

           
"Classic spook too." Jacob paced keeping his hands behind his back. "But that's not to say there isn't genuine feelings, genuine loyalty at work. You just... used your training and natural talents."

           
The demoness gave a bemused snort. Then on reflection her tail drooped slightly. "So I'm a spook and a succubus, no matter the form I take," Ranma quietly said.

           
"Is that a fear of yours?" Jacob mildly asked. "I have every confidence in your character. You know who to reward with your trust."

           
Ranma chuckled, her tail swishing back and forth.

           
"To address your question. an example: even tools can break. A wise person knows to keep them maintained. People are more complicated than tools, but they are no less prone to failure."

           
"Eve already mentioned it." She paused. "Are we talking about counseling now?"

           
Jacob looked over the demon, from her stance to the curl of her tail. "We can. I won't lie, finding someone with the skill, experience, and clearance won't be easy, but the Company is large enough and we will provide for you. We've had some luck in being able to prepare but our time is running out."

           
"We should get back to the Major," Ranma said, fighting back a slight blush.

           
Jacob nodded. "Of course. Personally, I don't like the feel of last night's sneak and peak, nor do I like that Miss Meiou is now announcing that her facility, or perhaps her dreamscape, has been compromised. It's actually reassuring that I have someone more trustworthy with Miss Tsukino's ear."

           
"You question the timing?" Ranma asked. "That little toy of Shest's did make things worse."

           
"That could be a factor, but there's also someone else sending out a signal, or-" Jacob shrugged in admission. "Or it could be a result of the inter-dim barriers weakening. We do expect things to get worse, and an incursion is a matter of when not if."

           
"That's what you told the Major." She handed the envelopes over. "Take care of these until I get back,"

           
"Of course." Jacob slipped the letters into his leather folder.

           
"Speaking of limits, be careful with Major Sifton, I think he's having a hard time dealing with the... scale of things. You coming in as Sailor Earth was shock enough.

           
"Still, it's better than it could be all those milk runs have shown him and his men that the NH world is a problem. On the upside last night's event gives him something tangible to look at, and gives him something to do."

           
Ranma gave a sympathetic sigh. "Yes, he still thinks of it as a serial killer or terrorist type problem, which fits with his combat experience."

           
She looked back. "He hasn't seen a major incursion yet. For that matter... neither have I."

           
Jacob's pace slowed. "Yes."

           
 "I've read the reports," Ranma said before looking forward again. "Case Julia Train, the last inter-dim weakening, and Upsweep Whistle twenty years before that. I think we need to tell Sifton more."

           
"Him and his superiors." Jacob gave a tired grunt that could almost be considered a laugh. "For all that you are, for all that you sense, you hardly believe what we face. The magnitude of our threat."

           
Ranma stopped. She exhaled. "Yeah, an invasion."

           
"No, my dear Miss Saotome," Jacob said without any condescension. He shook his head. "A Beachhead Scenario would be a welcome relief."

           
"Oh?" Ranma nodded her head. "Right, that's because an invasion means there's somewhere to invade from, and somewhere to invade too."

           
"Indeed." Jacob smiled, cold satisfaction reaching his blue eyes. "Now let's get back to the good Major. There is much to teach."

 

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

 

           
Stretching her neck, Mars stepped outside. The air was crisp and there was a gentle breeze from the North. The gently rolling hills of the Company training facility gave a false sense of natural tranquility. She only had to look up at the rusted hulks of vehicles and slit trenches, to see proof that this had been a battlefield. Further up the slope of a largish, now denuded hill, she could see the devastated wood, concrete, and stone.

           
Walking down a freshly installed gravel path, Mars felt her anger wax and wane. The sense of peace was further shattered by a pair of helicopters flying over low and fast. She saw soldiers sitting on either side of the open doors with their boots dangling. Mars looked up and could see their uniforms were dark green, and not the grey-green preferred by the Company.

           
She looked at her two.... trainers and scowled. The Company was never subtle when it came to giving a message. The meaning here was clear enough. They had power. They had governmental support. They were the professionals.

           
Following along, Mars basked in her hatred of their arrogance. It formed a nice distraction until she noticed that the two demons in front of her had stopped in a small bit of graded grass.

           
For a moment, Mars studied the gouged and burnt ground. When she looked up she saw the orange-haired demoness unbuckling off her armored vest and skirting. She paused to unholster her sidearm and place the overly large pistol next to her grenade launcher.

           
"What going to go easy on me?" Mars snorted. "Giving me a handicap?"

           
Shrugging out of her armor Misako chuckled.  Looking at Mars, she sniffed the air meaningfully.

           
Ukyou looked around the field. "This isn't cleared for firearms practice. Bullets tend to go far." She put down the long case she had shoulder and stared unzipping it.

           
"No..." Mars shook her head. "The armor."

           
Misako placed the outer armor layer down next to her weapons and smoothed it out a bit. Between the circumferentially articulated skirting, the contoured high-necked armored vest, and the twinned chest-mounted jammer antennas, the demons' armor looked a lot like a militarized Sailor Senshi Seifuku.

           
Mars smirked at that. Originally, the Senshi uniform looked a lot like a school uniform, which borrowed heavily from naval uniforms. However, her own seifuku had been modified to be more combative albeit with flexible metallic plate instead of dense Kevlar weave.

           
After she finished making sure everything was neatly folded, Misako rose and stretched her shoulders and flexed her wings a bit. She still wore the inner layer of her armor. Lighter, thinner, and lacking ballistic plates, it was a roughly skin-tight bodysuit of flexible Kevlar with the ability to breathe.

           
"Well? You don't have to go easy on me," Mars demanded her eyes flickering with anger. She would have preferred to stay with Usagi, or even Earth, but neither was around right now.

           
"Going easy?" Misako chuckled. "No, this is to maximize speed and mobility." Teeth flashing in a big grin, Misako swept one leg back and went into a loose and causally predatory stance.

           
"Oh," Mars frowned. She then noted that Misako had not unbuckled her elbow pads or knee pads.

           
"We do want to thank you." Ukyou stepped closer to Misako and took her mate's hand.

           
"Huh?" Mars asked.

           
"Accepting Mother. It means a lot to her; she...  she really wanted to 'fit' in with well...  people like her."

           
"Not her own kids," Misako clarified. "We're great and all, but Mom needed like... peers.  Though Eve and Sissy really help."

           
Ukyou sighed. "Anyway,  thanks for helping her.  It means a lot to us."

           
"Ah, well...."  Mars looked between the demons.

           
Misako streatched her neck. "Come on,  you can accept our thanks by getting all bloody with me."       
 

           
Mars starred at the green-eyed demon's near face-splitting grin.

           
"You sure you're up to this?" Ukyou asked as she removed a  pair of elegantly but simply styled katanas from the bag, unwrapped them, and handed each over to Misako. 

           
The orange haired succubus looked into the bag and saw a thick-handled long umbrella laying near the bottom.  Holding the blades, she looked at it for a moment.

           
"Huh, aren't swords more Minako's thing?" Mars asked.

           
Stepping away from the bag, Misako eyed the Senshi. "Nariko's working with her, yes," she said as she tested the balance of each blade. "My... even Grandmother and Master Nishina's practice pieces are pieces of art."

           
"Wait, do you even know how to use those? I thought you were the team's heavy weapons and demolition person?"

           
"I prefer to use Sasha yes. But-" Misako chuckled. "I was a fast-tracked acolyte in the Assembly of Man. I used a blade back when I fought mother."

           
"I thought when you fought Earth... er.. DarkStar you were an evil... more evil demon?"

           
Misako rolled her eyes. "And before that. One thing I could do well as a human was fight. No matter the species or gender I could kill demons. Now they don't have to go to waste."

           
"Besides, we're basing this on Arisha's fighting style," Ukyou explained.

           
"Nariko showed me her moves during our sparing sessions," Misako assured as her grin grew. "Don't worry I won't go easy on you," she purred.

           
Mars glared then turned to the blonde demoness. "Do I get swords too then?"

           
"You should probably use what you'd normally fight with," Ukyou said.

           
"She isn't," Mars pointed.

           
"I'm not fighting as myself," Misako pouted. "Are you sure I can't use my tail?" she begged her mate.

           
Looking into Misako's bright, pulsing green eyes, Ukyou's stern expression shifted to a grin. "Maybe later." She turned back to Mars. "I've got spares; are you going to fight with a sword?" Ukyou asked as she rooted through the canvas bag. "I'm sure Pluto or one of the blonde princesses could whip something up."

           
"Good idea." Misako eyed the smoldering woman. "Maybe a whip could work. Oh! Or a riding crop."

           
"Let's get on with it then," Mars's words were clipped as she let her fingers flex..

           
"Huh," Ukyou walked over to Misako's armor and arms. She picked up the pile of ammunition and grenades and moved it another fifteen meters away from the other two.

           
"Mother did show your queen that leather shop." Misako sighted down the length of the sword, checking the blade. "I suppose they could take a custom order. Another corset? A nice bridle? Or maybe something in silk? I'm sure they could arrange for a two-for-one deal. They do look so cute together."

           
The demoness savored the emotions pulsing off the Senshi. "Yes, Mother makes an adorable addition to the team. I could tell you liked little Sailor Earth." Misako's tongue flicked out and ran over her lip. "Maybe you and Mother and the Princess could play house? One big happy family."

           
"That's it!" Mars snapped bright red flames flaring around her hands.

           
"Good," Misako smirked.

           
Mars screamed and a pillar of fire shot up and down from her hand before condensing into a bow made of a composite dark, thick-grained wood and dully gleaming bronze. The line of flames moved off becoming a tight beam of fire that pulled the recurved bow tips towards each other.

           
Raising the weapon, Mars summoned a notched arrow with a black wooden shaft, glowing bronze head and blue and red flaming fletches. A bronze and obsidian ring flashed over her thumb.

           
Suddenly her anger begin to subside. Hesitating, she stopped herself form drawing back the bow as she felt her frustration and rage being washed off in serene waves. She noticed the leaves looping and frittering as the wind blew them off the trees.

           
Then Mars noticed Ukyou steeping out from behind and to the left. The platinum blonde's orange eyes glowed, and she kept her hands down at her sides, just off the butts of the twin SSP's she had holstered hanging low on either side of her skirt.

           
"Perhaps I should remind you of the rules," Ukyou said, brightly.

           
"Nah, let her have her fun, this could get interesting." Licks of green flame started to appear on Misako's swords.

           
"Fine," Mars lowered the bow. She glared at the demon. Mars could feel the jealousy bubbling within herself. "But don't go rooting around in my mind."

           
"Please, I can only project. No reading." Ukyou rolled her eyes. "Anyway. Misa-chan's good at regeneration, but she's not as good as mother. So, you can't cut loose completely."

           
Ukyou turned to her mate. "And you, Rei can take a lot of punishment but don't cut her too much."

           
"No dismembering, no disemboweling..." Misako tapped her lips with the flat of the sword. "But I can bite her, right?"

           
"You can try," Mars glowered.

           
"That's the point," Ukyou said, her voice close to Mars. "Are you ready?"

           
"Yes!" Mars shouted, hearing a rustling in Ukyou's duffle bag. She figured the blonde demon was moving it to a safer location.

           
Ukyou paused and looked to Misako then back to Mars. "Are you still ready?"

           
"Yes!" Mars repeated as Ukyou returned to her previous position.

           
"Wrong!" Ukyou arced her arm back, fully extending the baton she held, and slammed it forward, driving the rounded tip of the metal shaft into Mars's knee.

           
Bronze armor absorbed most of the blow, but Mars screamed, loosed her arrow into the distance, fell to her knee, and screamed again. Glaring daggers, she summoned another arrow and snapped off a weak-shot at Ukyou.

           
Ukyou twirled the metal baton, deflecting the slow arrow. "Lesson number one: watch your six. Someone gets behind you and it's over."

           
She glanced at the arrow and nodded. "Counterattacking, not bad. Though at this range pure fire would be better."

           
 "Crazy bitch!" Mars gasped trying to push herself back onto her feet. "I'm not fighting you."

           
Stepping forward, Misako chuckled. "Lesson two: trust no one. Minute Lucifer birthed the third demon, a conspiracy was hatched against the other two. Get up damn you!"

           
Mars looked up. The demoness was smiling, even laughing a little. She snapped. Flames raced from her scalp to the tips of her tresses, wreathing her hair in fire. " Smug! Arrogant! Whore!" She screamed and with each word shot off an arrow in rapid succession.

           
Flicking her green-flaming swords to deflect the arrows, Misako ran forward. She crossed the field in barely a second, with the third arrow being launched from only two meters away. She swung with her left sword going high to catch the bow, her right going low to catch Mars's right knee.

           
Despite the pain, Mars sidestepped and turned stepping back. The left sword swept up missing Mars's bow while the right similarly slashed past her leg. Mars then tried to get in when the swords were swinging away from her.

           
Then Misako pivoted and flipped the blades back The left came down. Grimacing, Mars turned her arm and stepped forward. The blade slammed into her bronze bracer with the force of a sledgehammer, and drew all of Mars's attention away from the demon's right blade.

           
Her elbow screamed and her shoulder was wrenched downward and forward, but the armor held. Another arrow appeared in her opposing hand; she thrust forward jabbing the blade through the demon's armor and into her side. She felt warm blood pour over her hand. Through the shaft she could feel organs being shredded by the burning tip.

           
Eyes widening, Mars yelped in shock and fear and... pain. She looked down to see that while she had caught one of Misako's blades, the other was free to slice through the armor over her stomach. The cut was shallow, but spots of blood were coming out of the wound.

           
"Oh god...." Mars released her grip on the arrow and tried to back away, but found her left arm stuck. The sword had bit deeply into her bracer.

           
"Good show!" Misako laughed madly as she grasped the wooden shaft and pulled. "Shame we cannot follow-through."

           
Mars found herself hyperventilating. "What the hell was that?"

           
"Training?" Ukyou said at Mars's ear.

           
The Senshi spun on her heel and her free hand came aflame just under Ukyou's chin.

           
Nodding with approval, the demoness handed her a tube of liquid skin sealant and some adhesive gauze. "I'm sure you'll be healed already, but too much blood will make things slick," Ukyou explained.

           
"Ah... right," Mars busied herself with cleaning and dressing her wound. Her hair had begun to go out. It kept her mind off things, like seeing Misako gleefully rip the barbed arrow out of her guts. She turned away, but the sound alone was somehow worse.

           
In addition to the wet, meaty noises, Mars could feel the uncertainty, the anxiety Ukyou was broadcasting. Mars lifted her head. "Uh...   you need any help?"

           
"Nah." Misako gave a bloody smile and spat something pink and wobbly onto the grass. "But thanks.  You did good."

           
"Um... thanks." Mars looked to the ground and was relieved to see no evidence of Misako's powers at work. Emotional manipulation and energy draining would be a hideous combination.

           
"You have considerable magical aptitude and strength. That makes you analogous to man-portable howitzers and the like. But once someone gets close in your options and most critically time are limited," Ukyou explained.

           
"Unfortunately, the Soviets Cyborgs specialize in close quarter combat," Misako chuckled. "They also can take a lot of punishment and when going for a kill will simply soak it up."

           
The Senshi snorted. "Yes, I've fought them before. They're a bitch to keep away, but you can do it," Mars's eyes flashed.

           
"What makes it worse is they have extensive internal armor and compartmentalization. However, they don't regenerate so in theory you can wear one down." Misako flicked some blood of a sword. "Viable if you hit one far off enough."

           
"As a courtesy, we'll ask you if you're ready... this time," Ukyou added.

           
Mars exhaled and ran a gloved hand against her forehead. There was the brushing noise of metal on metal as the armored back of her palm scraped against her tiara. The motion was reflexive - there was no sweat on her brow. "Right, gimme a sec."

           
The loud thundering whine of helicopter engines became louder. Grimacing, she looked up and saw more of the Canadian craft take to the air. The sight was surprisingly majestic and filled her with a bit of awe as the powerful machines clawed their way into the sky.

           
Mars slowly looked away and turned to Ukyou. "Get out of my damn head," she rasped concentrating on pushing out the... fluff that seemed to be pressing into her mind.

           
"Ah, a start." Ukyou's tail curled forward slightly. "But we'll really need to work on your emotional blocking."

           
"It's distracting."

           
"That's the point." Ukyou laughed and she paced around Mars. "I push the target, get her scared, confident, introspective, whatever gets her off her game, gets her sloppy."

           
Mars crossed her arms and tapped her bow against her elbow. "Yeah, the Russians can't do that."

           
"Don't be so sure. You don't need magical powers to do psyops" Ukyou stated. "Misa... I think another round will be illustrative."

           
"She going to mess with my head without magic?" Mars asked as she readied her bow.

           
The green-eyed demoness grinned as she hefted one of her swords and arced her left arm back.

           
"What?" Disbelief crossed Mars's face as her brows began to furrow. Then Misako whipped her arm forward. The sword lazily spun through the air as Mars rushed to the side to dodge. The blade slammed into the ground and stuck up at an angle.

           
Misako rushed forward, holding the remaining blade high and horizontal.

Clenching her jaw, Mars fired a spread of arrows They fanned out and exploded in deep red flames when they hit the demon. Which was uncomfortably close.

           
"You lunatic-" Mars's angered scream was cut short when Misako threw the second sword, like a spear.

           
The blade was not properly balanced for such a throw, but it managed the couple meters in distance before it slammed home in Mars's side, sinking through the armored plate of her uniform.

           
Sparing only a quick glance to the giant puncture wound, Mars took a couple of steps back. By then, Misako was on her. The demon's boot cut behind Mars's left leg and pulled it back, while Misako grabbed the impaled sword and pushed forward.

           
The two Senshi slammed onto the ground, and Mars found herself screaming. Pain burned in her shoulders from where she hit, and of course, her entire left side was throbbing in pain from the blade stuck into her.

           
And then the demon leaned forward, she was kneeling down and straddling Mars's thighs and hips, which locked Mars's legs to the ground. It was painful and embarrassing. The demon's face closed to Mars's and her lips parted in a wide grin.

           
"This is why you lose. You don't want for power, you don't even want for ruthlessness." Misako grabbed Mars's bow arm and pinned it to the ground at the wrist with one arm, while she took the hilt of the sword with the other. "What was the name of that Dark Kingdom General you murdered?"

           
Mars ground her teeth as her hair burst into flames and the grass around the pair began to burn. "Not... murder."

           
"Jadeite might disagree..." Misako purred as her own aura flared out. Green flames began to mix with red. "But let it out. The fire is your friend," she assured in a sweet, sultry voice.

           
"Shut up!" Mars screamed as her left arm raced up and she slammed her gauntleted fist into Misako's jaw. The demon's head snapped around and she flipped it back to resume looming. Her jaw was misshapen and looked partially dislodged.           
 

           
"Nice," Misako rasped. Her mouth opened, working her broken jaw, which was already mending, and spit out a few fangs that had been loosened by the impact. A couple of them landed on Mars's neck and cheeks.

           
"You spotted the opening she left you," Ukyou said her voice seemingly being whispered in Mars's ear. "Now commit."

           
Blazing, Mars's eyes widened. She felt liquid bead on her forehead, drip down and then ignite. Her hair had burst into a flaming fan, flaring behind her. Her shoulders burned and the wound simmered as steam started to spray around the sword.

           
Misako's broken grin seemed to grow. "Yes... yes... Ucchan perhaps we should loosen the sparring limits. Our firebug seems to be learning. Mother was right to bring them into our little family," she crooned as her teeth began to straighten and grow back.

           
Like a glass rod breaking, Mars felt something shear apart inside her. Her flaming aura, flared, buffeting Misako's own flames. The demon's grip slipped and suddenly Mars had both hands free.

           
Cupping her palms, she joined them just under the demon's chest. A column of fire shot out. Curling and swirling, the flames were dense, forming a pillar that hammered the succubus and blasting her off the Senshi and into the sky. "Crazy! Arrogant! Whore!" Mars screamed her voice breaking.

           
Misako flopped and rolled over as bits of her uniform and the flesh beneath burned and charred. Mars tracked the demon's ascent and her heart lurched when she saw Misako's eyes refocus and her wings snap out.

           
"Awww... looks like someone's got a nickname," Ukyou laughed, her voice again seemingly in Mars's ear. "And someone else is learning to commit."

           
The demon quickly righted herself and tipped over into a steep dive.

           
 Scrambling to her feet, Mars pulled out her bow. Her side throbbed in pain and she looked down to see that she was still impaled. "Why won't you stop?" she demanded as she snapped off a pair of arrows before jumping back.

           
Misako narrowed her eyes and a pair of bright green beams shot out and raked over Mars's skirting leaving twin smoldering tracks of melted metal. Any other day Mars would have screamed at the molten bronze trickling over her legs, but with her whole body enflamed it seemed a minor inconvenience at most.

           
At the bottom of her dive Misako leveled out and raced towards Mars. The Senshi sidestepped to dodge but her side still exploded in fire and blinding pain as the demon flew past. She staggered and saw that Misako had ripped the blade out of her side.

           
Cupping her hands again, she spun on her heel and saw the demon standing still with a pensive expression. The middle part of her sword was covered in flaming blood.

           
Mars glanced down and saw that her wound was slowly mending itself as the injury burned away being replaced by heat-patinaed metal and pinkish flesh. The splashes and spurts of blood that came out would hit the ground and instantly erupt in little fires that readily began spreading through the grass.

           
Misako's manic grin vanished. "We won't stop. We won't give in. Bad things happen if you fail: death, or worse capture."

           
"This is training," Mars gasped as she leveled her bow.

           
The demon's smile returned.

           
"We can stop," Ukyou cautioned. "I did warn you two about going too far."

           
"No way... she started this." Mars spat. She blinked in slight surprise when her saliva did not erupt into flames.

           
"Okay," Ukyou shrugged and stepped back a bit further.

           
"Not going to warn us not to kill each other?" Mars asked as the flames grew around her body, obscuring all the exposed skin below her neck.

           
"Huh? We can kill each other now?" Misako's eyes brightened.

           
"No." Ukyou sternly stated. "Mother'd be very angry at the mess and she'd be even more angry if we had to explain killing one of the Princess' friends. We might lose that contract," she added with a laugh.

           
"What about me? You don't think I could kill her?" Mars asked as she drew back the bowstring and concentrated, filling more power into the arrowhead.

           
Ukyou gave a whistle. "Honey, you don't wanna go down that road." She put her hand over the butt of her gun. "Least, you don't wanna tell us about it."

           
"Stop talking... more fighting..." Misako whined. She had retrieved both of her swords and had resumed her customary relaxed position a bare four meters from Mars

           
Mars gaped. "This is insane, this is insane," she muttered to herself as she released the arrow. The bow snapped forward, blasting the shaft in a dark red, almost black streak. Racing towards Misako, the arrowhead exploded.

           
But Mars had already started running and leapt at the demoness as the crimson engulfed her. A charred sword came down and Mars blocked with her right arm. There was a wet thunk as the blade sunk halfway into the heavy gauntlet. The impact caused her hand to spasm and drop the bow, but she held her arm up. Molten bronze on either side of the cut began to creep up the blade.

           
Still wreathed in Mars' fire, Misako's left sword came down low and the Senshi turned her knee so the armor caught it. There was a crunch as she felt the joint give way but the armor held. Screaming, Mars found herself sliding down.

           
Misako gave both blades a quick jerk, and, finding them stuck fast, released the hilts. Her hands then dove in to grapple with Mars while her right leg took out the Senshi's other knee.

           
As that happened Mars smacked her wrists together with such speed that the sword snapped off her arm, cupped her palms, and fired right into Misako's waist. There was a bright almost orange flash as both girls were knocked onto their backs.

           
Feeling feverish, her body shivering despite the heat, Mars pulled herself up, or tried too. Her knees expressed their displeasure in a most creative way that involved stabs and shrieks. Instead, she rolled over and curled herself back Looking down, Mars grabbed her bow and saw that once again the grass around her had been charred into ash.

           
Rising up on her hips, Mars saw that the demon had also pulled herself up and was sitting with her legs folded under her. Lengths of bloody and smoldering ropy things were in her hands and spilled out in front of her.

           
It was then that Mars realized that her last blast had burned through all the armor on the demon's belly and then through the belly itself. After a few seconds of watching the demoness reel her own intestines back in, Mars lurched to the side and learned something.

           
Her saliva would not catch on fire, and neither would her vomit and bile. However, that was small consolation as it did come up extra warm, which triggered yet another gagging session. The burning heat in her mouth contrasted with the steaming limp mass of hair that weighted down on her head and back.

           
Mars exhaled and spit and gagged again.

           
Misako looked up at her mate with a pout. "You said no disemboweling."

           
Ukyou knelt down and hugged her. "That was for you Sugar. I just told Rei to watch out the damage she gave you. One sec."

           
The blonde demoness rose, ran to her duffle bag and took out a towel and a large canteen. She then walked to the smoldering Senshi and eyed the flickering flames that were going out around and on her body.

           
Mars lifted her arm out and found the canteen just out of reach.

           
"You cool enough?" Ukyou asked. "I don't want you to get hit by steam... not sure if that'd hurt you."

           
"What better time to find out?" Misako asked as she finished stuffing her guts back in. "Oh come on, stupid organs!" she cried as she punched the last bits of intestines and then held her ragged skin with one hand while she pulled out a trauma kit from a undamaged pocket on her vest.

           
"Fine... I'm. I'm fine," Mars croaked out as she took the water. She filled her mouth and spit. After taking a few deep drinks, she poured the remainder onto the towel and unceremoniously dropped it atop her head. Looking up from the dripping covering, she found that Ukyou had returned with another canteen. "Thank you."

           
"How you feeling?" Ukyou knelt down and inhaled. "You gonna be able to walk?"

           
Mars eyed the demon looming over her, smelling her. She took a sip from the second canteen. "I've had worse."

           
Misako slumped her shoulders and poked at the bloody mess around her middle. The bandages had kept her somewhat intact, though they were not required for long. "Damn guts, I'd rip the stupid things out and eat 'em but that'd just make the problem worse."

           
Staring at the demoness, Mars absently took an end of the towel and patted her neck. "Are you... okay that looks... painful," she finished lamely looking down at her hands.

           
Misako snorted. "Of course it's painful! You burned my guts out you crazy pyro." The succubus pulled her lips back revealing an almost repaired smile.

           
Mars shivered at the not so neat rows of sharp fangs. Especially as she could actually see one of the lower canines twisting back into position.

           
"You've got the anger, I'll give you that." Misako turned away and spat something thick, red and phlegmy out. She then gave the rough bandaging over her stomach a final check and closed her eyes. The succubus's form and then her clothing began to ripple. Burnt, blasted, and simply absent bits of cloth and armor were quickly replaced with a new, pristine uniform.

           
At first Mars thought that the demoness had repaired her uniform, outer armor and all. Then the Senshi looked over and saw that Misako's ballistic vest and weapons were still stacked at the far edge of the burnt training grounds.

           
Mars' attention returned to the demon's clothes. The penny dropped. "That's a new set? You have spare seifuku you can summon?"

           
Misako laughed. "You don't?"

           
Ukyou cleared her throat. "We did kind of bootstrap our Senshi powers and equipment."

           
"And you didn't use it in the fight?"
           
With concerns of her own, Misako poked at the Kevlar over her stomach and muttered. Her attention returned to Mars and she looked up with a smug smile.

           
"Same reason you didn't use your guns, claws, and tail I guess..." Mars sighed. "But then you started flying and hit me with eyebeams."

           
Misako stared. "I cheated," she said as if explaining to a lax pupil.

           
Ukyou helped her mate to her feet then addressed Mars. "Yes, I suppose that wasn't the best training," she admitted extending a hand.

           
"You're insane, all of you." Mars stood. "But... you make a real tough target." She lifted her left leg then the other and shifted her weight.

           
"You okay?" Ukyou repeated the question.

           
"Now you're concerned?" Mars' voice was sharp. "Gimmie a sec," she closed her eyes. There was a flash of fire and her armor and jewelry vanished. Less intense, Rei's expression had softened, losing the burning focus. However she bore the haggard, stoop-shouldered posture of someone who had been through exhausting manual labor. It was quite incongruous with the clean and dry white, red-trimmed blouse, and still-creased black pants she wore.

           
 "Where were you when the fight was getting out of hand?" Rei demanded.

           
Ukyou rolled her eyes. "I was warning you two and then hearing that you both wanted to keep beating on each other."

           
"Feh." Mars tried her legs again and nodded in relief. The soaked and hot towel had remained on her head, and Rei had pulled it off to give her face another rubdown. When she pulled it away she jumped back with a yelp.

           
The green-eyed demon had sidled up to her and now stood well within arm's reach.      
"Admit it, you had fun."

           
Eyes narrowing, Rei stepped back "That's crazy. It was brutal and violent."

           
Giving a tight little smile, Misako nodded approvingly.

           
Rei swallowed. In retrospect she preferred the giant toothy grins, at least those she could expect but this... it was like they had shared some deep secret. She could almost feel a link between herself and the demons; it was like Ranma, like Earth, had never left.

           
"Nice use of a question to make it look like you answered," Misako patted Mars on the shoulder. "Just remember to avoid lying to yourself. That's just bad strategy."

           
"I'm not lying," Rei huffed.

           
"I didn't say you were," Misako giggled. "You chose your words very carefully."

           
"Not everyone's a duplicitous little sneak."

           
Misako's nod returned, this time with a patronizing bent.

           
"Leave her alone, Sugar," Ukyou handed her mate her sidearm and grenade launcher. She then checked the somewhat damp grounds to make sure the fires had gone out.

           
Misako took a moment to holster her SSP and then cuddle with the surprisingly short 40mm grenade launcher. "Did you miss Mommy, Sasha? I know, I know. Poor lonely, Svetlana. I bet she would have wanted to play."

           
Rei felt her mouth go dry. She took another swig from her canteen. "Is she serious?"

           
"About talking to her gun or wanting to shoot you?" Ukyou hefted her duffle bag and the trio started walking back to the buildings.

           
Pulling a face that made her look even more exasperated, Rei just shook her head.

           
"Oh, and don't pretend you didn't enjoy blasting my mate's guts open. Your emotions were pretty obvious," Ukyou assured in a mock whisper.

           
Rei tried to control her expression. After a moment she realized what the blonde demon was actually talking about. "Stop reading my mind."

           
Ukyou laughed. "Told you, we don't do that. Not bad poker face though. Still need a bit more schooling in self-control."

           
Rei arched an eyebrow and looked to the giddy Misako. "From you lot?"

           
"Oh, can I be lecturing and arrogant now?" Misako happily asked.

           
Ukyou rubbed her neck. "No... no."

           
"Aw nuts," Misako pouted. "But I bet she doesn't know how to secure her dreams."

           
"Lecturing time's over."

           
"Yeah, I think that's something I've got you girls beat," Rei shook her head and snickered. She then stretched her neck. She felt better, if much less powerful, but there was still a mental fatigue to what she had been through.

           
"Yes, the miko, a Shinto shrine maiden. Consecrated virgin and all that," Misako nodded. "Actually that's really handy."

           
Rei's eyed widened. She was surprised that the demon had not made that last bit more suggestive. "You know that from being in the –um- Assembly right?"

           
"Hardly," Shaking her head, Ukyou lead them down another path. "The Assembly of Man was not big on Christian theology beyond 'Kill the minions of Satan' let alone comparative religions. No, we know about Shinto from mother... and our own childhoods." The platinum blonde demoness' voice became distant at the last.

           
'Well, I'm not just a miko in the modern sense. There's also the ancient and literal meaning: a shaman woman, an oracle for the kami."

           
"So little Miss Pyro has a bunch of invisible friends that only she can see that tell her secrets." Misako tapped her chin. "Do they tell you to burn things?"

           
"At least I don't talk to my weapons."

           
Laughing, Misako slapped Rei on the back. "Maybe you should! I bet Mr. Bow gets lonely."

           
Rei bristled and spun to glare at the demon. "Don't you touch me!"

           
Misako bowed her head.

           
Rei knew that was a sign of assent in her culture and among succubae presenting the horns had a similar connotation. However, the way Misako looked over her nose with her head inclined was pure predatory stalk.

           
"Good. Maybe when Mother returns we can share another group hug." Misako's grin slimmed, hiding her teeth. "And nice evasion."
           
"Evasion?" Rei asked.

           
"You should never tell someone what the fires tell you to burn. They wouldn't understand."

           
Rei looked to the waiting buildings and their promise of a shower. That kept her calm... however her curiosity would not abate. "Please tell me she's joking," Rei implored Ukyou.

           
"Sure, Misa-chan's just playing you." Ukyou stated her voice was bland almost monotone. "She's completely stable and this is all part of an intricate training and intelligence gathering exercise where we test the limits of your mental, magical, and physical capabilities. Mother would never stand for an unstable, unfit daughter."

           
"I love your hair!" Misako gushed. "So dark but with burning highlights. It's so you."

           
Rei eyed the orange-haired demoness. "Well... yours is nice too."

           
"Really? Let's swap!" Misako lowered her head again.

           
"What?" Rei asked as the demoness charged, head butting her in the forehead. There was a heavy "thud"; it felt like her skull cracked, and Rei was knocked over

           
"Did it work?" Misako asked leaning over Rei. She looked at the Senshi then pulled at her own hair. "Awww." Grabbing Rei's hand she stood up and dragged the black-haired girl with her.

           
"You're mad."

           
"Next time you should run too," Misako pouted. "I don't think we got enough relative speed at impact."

           
"No!" Rei screamed. "Stop trying to headbutt me!"

           
"I want your hair!"

           
"That's even worse! Why weren't you this crazy with your mother? You loved her Sailor Earth hair."

           
"Braids don't look good on me," Misako stated flatly. "Besides, mother would kick my ass if I tried to headbutt her."

           
"Really?" Rei was skeptical; from what she had seen the brood mother was more likely to pout and give a stern lecture than resort to corporal punishment.

           
"Trust me, there's more to her than looking cute."

           
"I know, I saw how vamped up she was dressed this morning," Rei sighed. "And quit distracting me, this still doesn't explain why you think a headbutt can swap hair."

           
Misako snorted. "It worked when I wanted Nabiki's dress."

           
"She was humoring you, Dear," Ukyou sighed. "Rei's not even a demon."

           
"We can fix that," Misako muttered. She looked to Rei and gave a little sigh. "You really would make a lovely demon."

           
Laughing, Ukyou pulled her mate to the side and forced a smile. "Sorry about this. I'd control her but I really don't care." The blonde frowned. "Well she hasn't hurt you... much."

           
"You're not exactly selling this whole demon-hood thing. Your mother is a much less threatening example." Rei rubbed her forehead, at least there did not seem to be any immediate swelling.

           
"Please, if we really wanted to recruit you we'd go heavy on the seduction," Ukyou said as she focused on Rei and pushed, just a little bit.

           
Eyeing the demons, Rei shivered. They were quite beautiful, she had known it in the abstract but seeing them now... Rei blinked and shook her head, feeling dirty but in a fun way. "Oh... I see," she stated with a violated shiver.

           
"But we'd never do that; it's wrong." Ukyou smirked. "And much simpler than actually showing a genuine interest in you as a person and what you value and can offer us on an intellectual and spiritual level."

           
"I dunno," Misako said as she absently nuzzled Ukyou. "That's a bit too overdone. At least this way we're not sugar-coating things. I think if we were really sinister about it we'd play up the cute and cuddly angle and push how much love and camaraderie there is in a brood.."

           
Rei ignored the bait. "You tried to bash my head in to steal my hair."

           
"And it would have worked! But someone didn't want to be a team player. Share your hair!" Misako's eyes flared.

           
"You're insane. All of you."

           
"Now Serenity, she had fabulous hair, but then she had to transform Minako into a bouffant updo." Misako absently shrugged. "At least she's better now."

           
"I really don't like agreeing with you about that." Rei frowned.

           
"Well, I did like that makeover Serenity... the Princess helped Mother with. Don't you agree that Sailor Earth just looks fabulous" Smirking, Misako eyed Rei.

           
"Uh..."

           
"Fine, fine." Misako waved her hand. "I think the best solution is to have Mother take the Princess back for a visit with Grandmother. Making Serenity into a proper Demon Queen should solve all of our problems. There. You agree with that?" the green eyed demon flatly asked.

           
"Lord no." Rei then nodded with relief. "Ah, much better."

           
"No problem," Misako slipped out of Ukyou's grip and slapped Rei on the back, hard. "That's what friends do. You have any other paranoid issues I can satisfy for you? Maybe a fear about your slowly eroding humanity or the growing madness of your Mistress and her key advisors. Or maybe that you're all happy about a demon on your team because she's cute and little. Or maybe the idea of serving a demon queen secretly thrills you especially since it'll quiet the whispering concerns you have that the Princess might not be able to handle things this time."

           
"It would take more than that to turn Usagi into a demon,"  Rei stated... with bravado.

           
"Oh?  Do you know what's needed to make one of us?"  Misako leered. Seizing on Rei's hesitation she leaned in. "We've got some books we can show you.  Oh don't look that way, they're for kids, little broodlings.   They'll also teach you how to read and write."

           
"Misako!" Ukyou called.

           
"Err  no thanks," Rei grumbled and quickened her pace.

           
"What? You've got a problem with hard truths being thoughtlessly shoved into your face?"

           
"Okay, now I know you're screwing with me." Rei gave a bitter laugh.

           
"See! Feel better now?" Misako gave Rei another pat on the shoulder, and this time the Senshi did not stumble.

           
"Huh," Rei shook her head and resumed walking. The doors were only few meters away. She could handle a few more seconds of sarcastic, sociopathic demons. At least the others had to have been pounded just as bad as she had been.

 

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

 

           
Leaning back in her seat on the outside patio, Orion looked at the cafe's large glass fronted window. In the reflection of the glossy smoked glass she could see the bulk of the Juuban Second General Hospital in the distance and across the street. In the evening darkness the white stone hospital practically glowed from all the lights. The street itself was lit almost as bright as day, with only the sky itself betraying the late hour.

           
Idly poking at one of the daifuku on her plate, she allowed herself a brief memory of seeing her mother go off to work. Pushing the thoughts aside, she picked up one of the small confections filled with sweetened red bean paste and took a bite.

           
Her attention moved to a different spot on the reflection. This one to a table at the far end of the cafe where two women sat. One was younger with longer hair, the other older with shorter, almost pixie-cut hair that curled at the bangs.

           
Both had hair of a deep blue shade and both sat square shouldered and confidently. The younger was dressed in a schoolgirl uniform that straddled the line where it could be called a sailor-style seifuku but an almost business-like cut to the coat and blouse.  The colors were darker and the hem-lines were cleaner giving a more suit-like style and shape. However the skirt was still too short. Wearing a labcoat over plain but functional blouse and pants, the older of the two, a Doctor Saeko Mizuno, still seemed perturbed by her daughter's newfound... confidence.

           
"I hope this goes better than the Mistress Lyra debacle," Orion told to her companion.

           
"Who?" Virgo asked, she had her back to the window so she glanced over to the street and let her eyes follow a car until gaze intersected with the table in question. During the process, she lifted her cup and took a deep sniff over the steaming tea.

           
"You... want one?" Orion pushed the plate of daifuku forward.

           
The former Amazon gave a little smile and took a tiny sip of her tea. "No thank you. I'm good." She lowered the cup and made a point of brushing at the top hem of the shiny purple Lycra-like dress she wore. "Who was, Mistress Lyra?" she asked as she scanned along the street, the buildings, and even the sky. Orion was to watch in case they were needed to support the Mistress, Virgo was to watch in case someone else was watching, and she had been enhanced to help in that regard. Seeing in the dark was only the start of her new capabilities.

           
"This was Pre-Unification. Despite being from the Terran kingdom, she was an associate of Serenity. High sorceress, skilled in runes, enchantments, folding space, she specialized in artifacts and high dimensional geometry.  Some of her work was used in the Space Time Door coverup.. Even helped the queen develop some... things. Was known for being serious, dour, and... " Orion paused and blushed. "More than a bit odd. She sometimes wore an odd spiky armor, sometimes she wore an, apparently, scandalous gown that somehow left nothing to the imagination, but really that was just the start."

           
"Oh?" Virgo took a spoon and stirred her tea. "But our Mistress is so restrained in dress and drive. And her creations," Virgo added and for a moment her eyes flashed to their faceted gem-like purple, which could detect more than her old eyes ever could, before her glamour reasserted itself giving her gaze a more human bent.

           
"It wasn't just the..." Orion looked down, but not before glancing back at the reflection. The discussion seemed to be progressing, with Mercury leaning forward with a smug little smile, and Doctor Mizuno leaning back with a bit of shock.

           
The auburn haired Senshi raised her gaze. "As you've guessed Lyra wasn't human... not all the way. Among other things, she was part unicorn, that's why she was so good at magic, in spite of her... handicaps. That magic skill was why she was able to… add to herself, this was why Serenity accepted her despite her… quirks.  Personality… well, Serenity was more results oriented, especially in the early days."  Orion shook her head.

           
"Our Mistress picked her for a reason." The purple-haired gem girl shrugged. "How does ancient history become a debacle? Did you try to summon her?" Virgo lightly asked.

           
"Close. We tried to use her memory. The real Mistress Lyra Haros disappeared on an expedition beyond the solar system. Contact was lost. Nothing was found. Given that and her powers she seemed like a perfect boogieman."

           
 Virgo looked around and added in an even lower whisper. "Also, I do not see these mercenaries, but from I have been told they can watch remotely, which seems worse."

           
"Yeah the lack of overt surveillance is not WIC's style." Orion shivered.

           
Virgo chuckled, and then allowed herself another tiny sip. "So, an intricate plot failed?"

           
"It wasn't that intricate. This was before we had to... leave. Back when the Princess-" Orion's shoulder slumped and her eyes went to the reflection of the hospital. "Back when Usagi trusted us. We placed a bit of evidence and since Mercury was the Senshi's analyst the conclusion was inescapable: Mistress Lyra was the one pulling the strings."

           
"And because that Mistress was a phantom of our Mistress, Mercury could offer to improve the Senshi." Virgo held up her arm and rotated her wrist. "Protection from enchantment and such. I see the plan. How did it fail?"

           
Orion gritted her teeth before answering. "Because Pluto was more suspicious and paranoid than we were. Because Mercury pushed too hard. And because Minako asked the wrong questions, and the blonde bimbo blundered into guessing that Mercury was behind it all."

           
"Getting the enemy it underestimate you is valid tactically.  And who is more underestimated than the bimbo? Even a warrior can be thought of as a stupid clod if she can't speak the language."  Virgo looked into her tea and her prefect posture slipped into a slouch for a moment.  "After you ran and took up the villain gig?"

           
Looking back to the reflection, Orion nodded. She saw that, Doctor Mizuno's shock had morphed into fully affronted horror. "Get ready, I think we might be needed," she whispered.

           
"You were right then? A shame our Mistress cannot predict like you." Virgo smirked.

           
At the other table the conversation's increasing heat and flaring tempers had started to boil over. "And what have you gotten yourself into?" Saeko Mizuno demanded as she glared at her daughter's... arrogant assertiveness. "You dress up like a.... businesslike parody of a school girl and try to offer me a job? I told you; I can't move."

           
"Mother, that is a short-sighted view. I'm offering you a far more interesting opportunity... like your research." Mercury put her hand on her mother's and tried to warmly smile. "Remember before you started working in that bland parade of injury and sickness? Remember your laboratory work? Remember how you regretted work eating up so much of your time? Well... we can work together."

           
"Ami!  These are sick and injured people you're brushing aside. How could you be so cold?" Saeko demanded.

           
Mercury looked affronted but forced a smile. "Oh there are ways, but consider how much more you could do,  the greater help you could give."

           
"What are you talking about? Some research hospital in Canada?" Saeko asked, disbelief dripping from her voice. She grabbed her daughter's hand in hers and was surprised at how strong the grip actually was. "What about your friends?  You were getting better Ami.  You were so happy. I was afraid you'd be like those other child prodigies, alone, isolated. Have you cut yourself off again?  You have friends that care about you; I care about you."

           
Squeezing her mother's hand Mercury smirked. "I know you do.  And I know my friends do; they're just... misguided.  But we can make them better. I promise you that."

           
 "This is wrong!"  Saeko shouted, shaking her head. "It's not normal for you to suddenly appear back in Japan and ambush me right after my shift." She glanced down the too-bright street.

           
"Normal? Hah. I can fill your days with research and developments that push the bounds of humanity. You can help us progress beyond the limits of our flesh." Mercury squeezed. "Just come with me back to the hotel. I can show you a presentation and if you're not convinced... well we can part our ways. Maybe we can send each other birthday and Christmas cards."

           
Saeko winced at the comment. That was the level of contact her ex-husband had with their daughter. "No. You are right that I've spent too much time apart from you, and your actions today have proved it. I'm not even going to comment on your hair or what you must be wearing under that blouse."

           
The doctor straightened herself. "No. This ends. In fact, I'm going to have to call  Miss Meiou and discharge you. Clearly this exchange program has given you too many liberties. Not to mention the ghastly news coming from that city your school is in. Clearly the reputation of Canadian politeness is overrated. Then I'm going to call your friends, and their parents and figure out what's gotten into you."

           
"I'm afraid you're too late." Mercury's face hardened into a neutral, distant expression. "I've already been discharged." She snapped her fingers.

           
"What? You're not going to stop me, I'm your mother."

           
Looking Saeko in the eye, Mercury sadly shook her head. "It didn't have to be this way."

           
"Why didn't Miss Meiou tell me?" Saeko narrowed her eyes, but they widened when a pair of young women. One, auburn haired, in a business-like school uniform like her daughter, another, with long amethyst hair, in a shiny purple knee-length dress walked up and stood behind her on either side.

           
The auburn haired unceremoniously reached into Saeko's coat pocket, pulled out her phone, and placed it in her daughter's waiting hand.

           
"You had to make things harder mother." Mercury gave a sad frown and pulled the battery out of the device. She glanced at Virgo.

           
Again, the purple Senshi looked around, but shook her head. "I'm not getting any active surveillance. We could be missing something. Best not to wait and find out."

           
Mercury nodded. She could tell that there were not any jammers in the area, and as long as they had that going for them, teleporting and escape was still an option.

           
Saeko began to rise but the young lady in purple put her hand on the doctor's shoulder and she found herself unable to resist the force and was actually pushed back into her seat.

           
Still gripping her mother's hand, Mercury leaned across the table and with her free hand cupped Saeko's chin. "Mother. All I ask is that you come with me to the hotel. I'll show you the presentation. Where you'll work, the things you'll do. If you don't want a position in our organization... if the research is not your liking... you'll be free to go. You don't even have to make a decision right away, you can go back home and sleep on it."

           
"What about you?" Doctor Mizuno demanded. "What have you gotten yourself into?" She looked at the two young women her daughter's age. "Is this...."
           
Mercury smirked. "The strange things that have plagued Juuban? That have plagued Toronto? I promise. The presentation will answer all your questions. Let's go." Mercury nodded to her Senshi and dropped a few bills onto the table.

           
"You're lying." Saeko stated as she stood, sounding more disappointed over that than anything else.

           
"Not about this," Mercury assured as they left the cafe's patio. It was not far to the hotel and their suite. Once they got to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo everything would be made clear to her mother.

 

           

End chapter 29

 

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.