The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

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The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Sun Apr 03, 2016 1:25 pm

Disclaimer: I don't own Ranma 1/2 or Sailor Moon in any way, shape or form. All associated characters, trademarks, etc. are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and Naoko Takeuchi. I'm just telling some stories about them.



Chapter Thirteen: All Fall Down



Night passed uneventfully into morning—or rather, it did so in the human world. For those in the Dark Kingdom there was no visible change. Nevertheless, they did sleep and wake, which gave a rough sense of the passage of time, even if there was no sun to mark it. The monsters watched the new arrivals carefully, all the while continuing their nefarious schemes, plotting the ascendancy of their newly chosen masters.

After their decision the night before, the leaders of the various monster factions had brought in more of their subordinates to the conference, packing into the small bunkhouse in which they were gathered. The main leaders were still seated around the table in the center of the room, but now many others stood clustered around them.

All of them were there to pool their knowledge, to find some way to assist the Dark Lords of Nerima in their seduction and corruption of the Sailor Senshi.

"I think we should start with Sailor Venus!" exclaimed Trakil, to the murmured agreement of the other daimons surrounding her. "She's the Sailor Senshi associated with love, isn't she? That might make her more vulnerable to their wiles!"

"Or more resistant," countered Carda, speaking on behalf of the droids. "I believe that Sailor Mercury should be our first target. Robbing the Sailor Senshi of their chief strategist will be a decisive move."

"But Sailor Mercury is already the mate of our Bunbo the Seer!" Karkala protested. "Or... well... she practically is. I think. What about Sailor Pluto? The legends say that she guards some great, mysterious secret of the Moon Kingdom. Just think if the Dark Lords could gain control of something like that!"

"I think we should go after Sailor Mars!" argued yet another monster, one of the newcomers in the background. "Isn't she Sailor Moon's right hand? Getting her to fall would be a big blow!"

More and more monsters spoke up, adding their voices to the argument. Soon they were all talking over one another, each loudly making their case for why one Sailor Senshi or another would be the best choice for Ranma's next conquest. Jimenko watched them bicker for a while, before finally slamming her fist down onto the table. "Idiots!" she bellowed. "You don't understand the Dark Lords at all!"

The violence of her outburst was enough to fix all eyes on her, silencing the argument. Jimenko let her gaze sweep across the crowd before continuing. "The Dark Lords were already fighting the Sailor Senshi even without an advantage like this," she said, her eyes alight with fervor. "You all saw their power when they killed Metzger. They're not using this method because they need it to win. We shouldn't be thinking of which Sailor Senshi would give Ranma the greatest tactical advantage as one of his concubines. We should be thinking about which one would please him the most!"

Murmurs of agreement ran through the crowd of monsters. "But... which Sailor Senshi would he like most?" one of the daimons asked, confused.

"That's obvious," replied Jimenko. "Just look at the humans he's picked already."

"Well..." said Trakil, sounding the word out slowly. "From what I've heard, they're all warriors."

"Not just warriors," Carda corrected. "They are all... what is the human term? Martial artists."

"Exactly!" Jimenko said. "He's seduced all different kinds of human women... but they all have that one thing in common. They all practice martial arts." She gave a fierce grin as she looked across the room. "So I think the Sailor Senshi we should target first is obvious, don't you?"



**********



Beneda walked into the conference room, looking across the motley group packed into it. It wasn't designed to hold a meeting of this size, but they had taken the closest fit they could find in the Dark Kingdom research facility. The room itself was sterile and lifeless, with its off-white walls and harsh lighting, but the liveliness of the people currently inhabiting it more than made up the difference.

The Nerima martial artists were all there, of course, as were most of the Sailor Senshi. The only ones missing were the cats, and even they were listening in via Ami's wristwatch communicator. Most of the Sailor Senshi were in their ordinary civilian identities, though Sailor Uranus, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Pluto were still transformed.

The murmur of many different conversations filled the room, overlapping each other. Ami and Sailor Pluto were both looking at the Mercury computer as they talked quietly, probably about the upcoming attack. Makoto and Akane stood more to the rear of the crowded room, and from their hand gestures, it looked like they were discussing a martial arts technique of some sort.

Minako, meanwhile, was chatting eagerly at Mousse, while practically hanging off his arm. The hidden weapons master looked distinctly uncomfortable with the amorous attention, but also unsure of how to extricate himself. His predicament did not go unnoticed either. Shampoo watched him, a small, smug smile tugging at the corner of her mouth as he attempted to deal with his zealous-yet-undesired admirer.

Ryouga sat toward the center of the room, with Hotaru sitting next to him. From the bits of conversation she heard, Beneda gathered that they were talking about some of the things Ryouga had seen on his wide-ranging travels. Hotaru listened with rapt attention, breaking in from time to time with questions of her own. With a small smile of her own, Beneda decided not to interrupt the two of them.

"Beneda! Beneda! Over here!"

The youma turned to see that Usagi had risen from her seat and was waving happily, gesturing next to her at one of the few remaining empty chairs. The thought of socializing with Sailor Moon still unnerved Beneda a bit, but she swallowed the irrational fear and walked over toward the young human.

"I saved you a seat," Usagi continued, as Beneda sat down between her and Rei. "I really wanted to talk with you! But you've been so busy taking care of the sick daimons, and I didn't want to interrupt that."

"I... I wanted to talk to you too," Beneda said, the words coming out awkward and hesitant. "I mean... to apologize for everything I did. You know... trying to kill you. And then tricking you into thinking that Ranma and Ryogua were evil. I'm really sorry."

Usagi shook her head. "That's okay!" she assured Beneda, without reservation. "The important thing is that you came around in the end. That's what really matters." Then the blonde girl studied the floor for a bit, her mood faltering a little. "I... wish it happened that way more often."

Listening to Usagi talk, Beneda felt any lingering apprehension fade away in the face of her exuberant personality. The conversation soon shifted to more upbeat topics, such as the misadventures Beneda had been involved with alongside Ranma and Ryouga, with Usagi providing wide-eyed commentary. It continued like that until Ami finally got to her feet and walked to the front of the room.

"Ah, good morning everyone," she said. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get started. We need to decide how we're going to stop Tanizaki Kazuo."

"Doesn't seem too complicated to me," spoke up Ranma, as the other conversations began to die down. "We know where he's holed up, right? So we just head over there and kick his ass. Simple."

"In... broad strokes, yes," replied Ami. "But it's more than just that. After talking with Sailor Pluto, I believe that there are four distinct objectives that we need to fulfill during any attack we make."

"Four?" asked Ukyo, raising her eyebrows. "How do you end up with that many?"

"The first objective is as Ranma said," Ami explained. "We need to neutralize Tanizaki as a threat, ideally by apprehending him. But if our theory is correct—if his sorcerer has created an enchantment using Sailor Moon's blood—then we must find and destroy that as well."

"Along with the sorcerer himself," Sailor Pluto said, her voice hard. "The cult he serves must be eradicated. If you see a chance—any chance—kill him." Usagi opened her mouth in protest, but hesitated when she saw the dark look on Sailor Pluto's face. Beneda wondered what Sailor Pluto knew about this cult that would prompt such a savage reaction, but the youma decided against asking.

Before Usagi could respond, Konatsu interjected. "In short, Miss Pluto, you're describing an assassination," he said, his voice quiet. "If that is the case, then I suggest that you allow me to handle it."

Sailor Pluto regarded the ninja for a few moments, searching his eyes for something. Then she nodded. "Very well."

An uncomfortable silence fell, which Ami tried to fill by quickly moving on. "The next target is a target for rescue," she said. "We may have freed all the monsters here in the Dark Kingdom, but there are still some who are being held in the skyscraper itself. The ones Ranma sensed on his visit there."

"If they're being treated anything like what we saw here, then we definitely have to save them," agreed Makoto, driving a fist into her palm. "But... that's still only three things we have to do. What's the fourth goal?"

"Information." Seeing blank looks from the others, Ami explained further. "This won't be like any of our previous battles. We're not fighting a demon or an alien this time, but the owner of one of the largest companies in our own world. It won't be enough to just defeat Tanizaki in combat. We'll need proof of his crimes, to expose him for what he really is. I couldn't find anything on the computers here that incriminated him personally, but the mainframe in his headquarters ought to have something."

"So you're going to do your magic... computer... thing... once we get inside?" Ryouga asked.

Ami nodded. "If the network is similar to the one here, then I should be able to break in without much difficulty. I can have the Mercury Computer search for information, and I might even be able to hamper their operations. I found security systems in this Dark Kingdom base that they never got the chance to activate because Konatsu secured the control room. I wouldn't be surprised if the skyscraper has some as well."

"Sounds good to me," Ranma agreed. "I'll tell you one thing: it's gonna feel great to finally get some payback for everything that asshole put us through. Tanizaki isn't going to know what hit him."



**********



Zhang walked out of the elevator and into Tanizaki's office at the top floor of the skyscraper. His employer stood by one of the many floor-to-ceiling windows that wrapped around the room, looking out across the cityscape in the direction of the Dark Kingdom portal. Zhang cleared his throat, and Tanizaki turned to look at him. "You have something to report?"

"Yes sir," replied Zhang. "I've finished evaluating the martial artists who accepted our offer."

"Your appraisal?"

"We drew a mixed bag. Many of them are barely stronger than our Synths, but a handful do have real skill."

"I see," said Tanizaki, nodding. "Not unexpected, given the circumstances."

In truth, Zhang counted it a small miracle that they'd managed to hire even as many as they had. There were few martial artists in the world with enough skill to be relevant against the caliber of opponents they faced. Fewer still who would sell such transcendent skills to the highest bidder.

Worse, the worldwide effects of the Galaxia crisis was still a recent memory, as was the general understanding that Sailor Moon had resolved it. Even in the martial arts underworld, many of the fighters Zhang had tried to recruit declined when they heard who they would be pitted against. Some had cited the dishonor of attacking someone to whom they owed their lives. Others had laughed in his face, then asked him if he thought they were suicidal enough to attack an enemy who could operate on that scale.

More surprisingly, a few fighters who had been willing to accept—even despite all that—had balked on learning that Ranma was involved. According to one, there was "not enough money in the world to make it worth dealing with that smug asshole ever again." Another had assured Zhang, in the most fervent of terms, that nothing involving Ranma ever, ever worked out, and that whatever Zhang's plan was, he should probably just give it up.

Tanizaki, meanwhile, continued to speak. "Still, I will take whatever advantage I can. If nothing else, they will be more bodies to throw at our opponents."

"Yes sir. Where do you want them stationed?"

Tanizaki didn't reply immediately, frowning in thought for a few seconds. "The loss of our Dark Kingdom base was a serious blow," he said at last. "But the real failure would be to learn nothing from it. I believe that they struck there first because they were more concerned about the plight of the captives than the larger tactical situation."

Zhang's eyebrows rose. "You think they're going to attack the monster lab?"

"It will be one of their initial targets, at least," said Tanizaki. "Though we shouldn't rule out the possibility that they will divide their forces and hit us in multiple places at the same time. Ranma has met Ekim, so he could be a target too. You should allocate some of our forces to ensure that he is protected. His abilities are too important to risk losing."

"What about Unit Zero?" Zhang asked.

"I will guard Unit Zero personally," Tanizaki said. "Once Sailor Moon is in range, I will initiate full activation. If we succeed in stealing her power, then the only one left who can threaten us will be Sailor Saturn... and possibly Tuxedo Kamen if he uses the Golden Crystal."

"A shame the Synths couldn't get any of Sailor Saturn's blood when they ambushed her," Zhang mused. "We might have had a counter for her too, if Ranma's friend hadn't gotten in the way."

"That was unfortunate," agreed Tanizaki. "Truthfully, her power over Death is dangerous enough that I would prefer to avoid attacking with any of our high-value assets until after she has been incapacitated. Swarm her with every Synth and disposable martial artist we have, until one of them gets lucky. And only then reveal ourselves and bring Unit Zero into play."

"I'll position our forces accordingly," said Zhang. "Then it'll just be a matter of waiting for them to take the bait..."



**********



Sailor Uranus emerged from the administrative building out into the larger cavern, accompanied by Sailor Neptune. The blonde Outer Senshi stretched a little, glad to be out of the cramped room. Even after settling on the basic plan the discussion had still gone on for hours, hashing out the precise details. She was glad it was finally done... even if she wasn't overjoyed with the role she had been assigned.

The two of them walked in silence for a while, moving around the outskirts of the monster encampment, before Sailor Neptune spoke up. "Are you really alright with staying behind?"

Sailor Uranus allowed a rueful smile to cross her face. Her lover knew her too well. Being sidelined for such an important battle did chafe at her. Aloud, though, all she said was: "Someone has to watch over things here. And they'll have to guard against more dangers than just Tanizaki."

"The monsters, you mean?" asked Sailor Neptune.

"Yes." Sailor Uranus let her gaze sweep across the encampment, taking it all in, searching for anything suspicious. "The princess and the Inner Senshi are too trusting. They want to believe that this truce can work out. And... maybe some of the monsters really are genuine. But I don't believe for one second that they all are. Someone has to keep an eye on them, in case they make a play for revenge. And it has to be someone who'll be prepared for anything they're scheming."

"Mmm." Sailor Neptune nodded in agreement. "Then I suppose you'll be watching for any suspicious activity. Such as, for example... the group of monsters that have been trailing us for the past five minutes?"

Sailor Uranus grinned. "You noticed them too."

The group tailing them had three members that she could see: a youma, a lemure, and a daimon. It did unsettle Sailor Uranus a bit to see the different species working together so easily. The more unified they were, the more of a threat they could pose.

The two Outer Senshi continued to walk a meandering path, surreptitiously studying the monsters who were surreptitiously studying them. What was their aim? Sailor Uranus couldn't tell. Was this the prelude to an attack, or just information gathering? Were the other Sailor Senshi also being targeted?

The monsters kept conferring between themselves in hushed tones, until finally they made their move. They emerged from hiding, converging on the Sailor Senshi directly, with no attempt to hide their approach. Both young women tensed, and Sailor Uranus discreetly summoned her Space Sword. The short blade flashed into existence, hidden in a reverse-grip behind her arm, ready to be used at a moment's notice.

As the three monsters drew nearer, Sailor Uranus noticed that they seemed to be targeting her specifically. Her grip on her sword tightened. Soon they were right in front of her, practically ignoring Sailor Neptune. "Are you Sailor Uranus?" the daimon asked.

"Yes." Sailor Uranus tried to puzzle out the meaning behind the question. Was this some kind of personal vendetta? But over what?

Next, the youma spoke up. "In our ancient legends... it's said that Sailor Uranus was the greatest of all the Sailor Senshi in terms of fighting hand-to-hand. What you humans call 'martial arts'. Is that true?"

"You... could say that..." Sailor Uranus admitted. Sailor Jupiter practiced martial arts as well, but Sailor Uranus had always come out on top on the occasions that they'd clashed, so Sailor Uranus felt justified in agreeing. Did that mean this was some kind of challenge?

The monsters exchanged excited looks for a moment, then turned back to her. "Tell me..." said the lemure, with forced nonchalance. "What do you think of Ranma?"

Sailor Uranus blinked. "...think of him?"

"Yes!" the daimon said, doing an even worse job of hiding her eagerness. "He's very good looking, isn't he? I mean... for a human."

"I... suppose?" Sailor Uranus said, completely confused. She did have an intellectual grasp of the sort of qualities that women tended to find attractive in a man, even if they held no such attraction for her. "He's... in good shape, I guess."

"And so powerful and dominating!" gushed the youma. "The kind of master who'd take whatever he wants, and crush anything that stood in his way!"

"Just think about it!" the lemure added. "If you... um, I mean... if anyone were to become his woman, she'd probably never have to worry about anything ever again!"

Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune both stared blankly at the monsters. "Are you... trying to set me up with him?" Sailor Uranus finally managed, not quite believing what she was hearing.

The youma waved her hands defensively. "No, no, not at all!" she protested, albeit unconvincingly. "We were just... talking. In general. About all the incredible advantages for anyone who did decide to become his lover. Hypothetically speaking."

Sailor Uranus opened her mouth to reply. But there was just so much wrong with this conversation on every conceivable level that she found herself at a loss for where to begin. After a long, awkward silence she closed her mouth. A few seconds later she opened it to try again, but had no more success in saying something than before. Every response her mind came up with just seemed so ridiculous when she actually went to say it out loud. Surely this had to be some kind of trick or prank?

The blonde Senshi studied the faces of the monsters, studied the eager, excited expressions they wore. They... they actually mean it, she realized with morbid incredulity. They actually think they're making a tempting offer.

She tried to figure out why they would do something so bizarre, but trying only made her brain hurt. Nevertheless, she made the most tactful reply she could. "Well, I'm... pretty sure that Ranma already has a fiancée. I don't think he's looking to replace her."

"Oh, of course not!" blurted out the daimon. She sounded shocked, as though Sailor Uranus' presumption had caught her off-guard. "You certainly wouldn't be his fiancée! Maybe a concubine. At best."

Sailor Uranus' right eye twitched. With an effort she reined in her ire, refusing to let something so ridiculous damage her composure. Even so, a sinking feeling was growing in her stomach. She didn't know what idiocy these monsters were up to, but it was beginning to dawn on her that—given her newly assigned role—she would be stuck dealing with them for the immediate future.

This is going to be... interesting... she thought, resigning herself to whatever was ahead. Though I think I might have preferred it if they had just been trying to kill me...



**********



Mizuno Ami stood next to the bed where Ryo lay, still unconscious. Her mother had done what she could for him, hooking him up to an IV drip found among the camp's medical supplies. Now it was just a question of waiting, as the young man struggled to recover from his extreme blood loss.

Ami reached down, taking one of Ryo's hands in both of her own and holding tight, praying that some of the warmth might make it through to him, even in his comatose state. Her responsibilities as Sailor Mercury had kept her busy, but every free moment she'd had, she had come here to stand vigil. Her chest ached from her inability to talk to him, to thank him for everything he'd suffered these past two years. For their sakes.

"I'll be back soon," she whispered. "We're about to go put an end to this. We're going to stop the man who did this to you. Just... concentrate on getting better. Please."

Taking a deep breath, she stepped backward and pulled out her transformation pen. "Mercury Crystal Power, Make Up!" she called out, and felt the magic take hold. When her transformation had finished, Sailor Mercury turned and walked out of the room, picking up speed into a run as she headed for the portal leading back to the human world.



**********



Ranma leaned against the cold stone wall of the tunnel, waiting by the portal as the other members of their attack group said their goodbyes to friends and family. It felt weird, watching all the undisguised concern on the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Tsukino, Mr. and Mrs. Aino, Doctor Mizuno, and so on. Like he was looking in on something private, something he wasn't a part of.

"Hey. Ranma."

The pigtailed martial artist looked to his left, and saw a similar look of worry reflected in the eyes of his fiancee as she walked over to him. That's right, he reminded himself. I've got someone like that now too.

It was obviously tearing Akane up inside that she wouldn't be able to accompany them on the attack, though Ranma took selfish relief that she had been picked to help guard the Dark Kingdom along with Sailor Uranus in relative safety. Not that he thought they'd have much trouble taking out Tanizaki, of course. But... still, anything could happen.

She stood next to him, leaning against the wall next to him. Then she looked up at him, eyes pained, voice barely above a whisper. "Stay safe, okay?"

"Hey, you know me," he replied, grinning. "When have I ever let something like this get the better of me? You just watch. We'll pound Tanizaki flat in no time."

"I know." She gave him a brave smile of her own. Then she hesitated for a few more seconds, before speaking again, her voice still quiet. "Ranma... there's one other thing. While you're in there... look after Shampoo. I'm really worried about her."

Ranma blinked. He glanced over to where the Joketsuzoku warrioress was standing, off on the opposite side of the milling group. She was alone, her expression unreadable, looking off into the distance at nothing in particular. "What do you mean?" he asked, a current of unease working through him.

"It's just..." Akane hesitated. "I talked to her again, the night before last. About you. About us. She's trapped, Ranma. Between us, and her laws, and her people, and how much she loves you. She's trapped, and hurting, and I'm afraid she might do something desperate. And I don't know what to do about it."

Ranma opened his mouth to reply, only to realize he had no idea what to say. What was there to say to something like that? Even after a long, awkward silence, the best he could come up with was an assurance even he knew was weak. "Look... I'm not gonna let anything happen to her, okay? I'm not gonna let anything happen to anyone. Let's just take care of this Tanizaki thing first, and then we can figure out something for that mess."

Akane nodded, but any further discussion was cut off as Sailor Pluto, the final member that they'd been waiting for, made her arrival. "Is everyone ready to depart?" she asked, looking out across the assembled warriors.

Each of them indicated that they were, including Ranma. "Good," Sailor Pluto said. "Then it is time to take this fight to Tanizaki himself."



**********



The security center of Tanizaki's skyscraper was full of technicians working at glowing terminals that cast their harsh radiance into the otherwise-darkened room. Most of the walls were likewise covered floor to ceiling by monitors that constantly shifted between views from the different security cameras that watched nearly every inch of the skyscraper's one hundred and twenty-nine floors.

Tanizaki stood in the center of it all, hands clasped behind his back. Watching. Waiting. Until finally, his patience was rewarded. "Sir!" one of the lead technicians called out. "We've received a report from one of the surveillance teams you sent to the Juuban area. They say that a group of fourteen martial artists and Sailor Senshi has exited the Dark Kingdom portal, and they're heading in our direction at high speed!"

"Is Sailor Moon with them?" was Tanizaki's immediate question.

"Yes sir. They did report seeing her."

"Excellent." A smile tugged briefly at Tanizaki's mouth. "Contact all our forces in the building and place them on high alert. The operation is about to begin."

"Yes sir," came the technician's reply. He hesitated, then spoke again. "Sir...? We double-checked all our usual defenses. The cameras are tracking everything, and the hidden turrets are functioning perfectly. But... I still don't understand about the modification you asked us to make. What use is it to control the building's sprinkler system from here?"

"More than you might think, against these particular opponents," replied Tanizaki. "Once the enemy is too deep into the building to easily escape, you are to trigger the sprinklers on every floor where you see martial artists fighting."

"Yes sir." The technician clearly didn't understand, but he wasn't about to question the order he'd been given. Tanizaki, for his part, turned and strode toward the exit, moving toward his own chosen position.

Everything was in readiness. His forces were deployed, his traps were set, and his prey was drawing nearer. Win or lose, the culmination of everything he had been working for was imminent. It had all come down to this one chance to defeat Sailor Moon and bring her power under his control.



**********



As he meditated in the quarters that Tanizaki had given him, in front of the pentagram-inscribed stone altar that occupied the center of the room, Ekim sensed a stir of movement and anticipation among the minions that Tanizaki had assembled throughout the building. So, Ekim thought. The battle draws near...

His orders were to remain here, close at hand in case anything went wrong with Tanizaki's precious Unit Zero, but to otherwise avoid the fighting. The sorcerer snorted. Those were orders he had no intention whatsoever of obeying.

Ekim didn't care about Tanizaki's ambitions. He was certain that, whoever won this little squabble, his true master would devour them when it inevitably broke free of its imprisonment. What Ekim did care about was the chance to avenge his humiliation from two nights ago. Those brats had thwarted him. Beaten him. Scourged him with holy power. That could not go unanswered.

Our next encounter will not go as the last one did... he promised, his lip curling with spite. Last time I was fighting in a borrowed body, and could only risk using a small fraction of my magic. But now...

He glanced down at the altar in front of him, and for a moment he considered performing a ceremony. But he decided against it. He had already made propitiation earlier in the week; his patron's favor should still be strong. His time would be better spent preparing specific spells for the battle.

He picked up the stone knife from atop the altar, then used it to carve a series of runes into the flesh of his forearm. As he wrote the bloody incantation, he felt his master's taint surging into him, ready to be used. He whispered as he carved, the harsh words echoing what he was inscribing.

"By the power of the Nameless One, he who waits in the void beyond reality, the corrupter of light, the devourer of the innocent, I offer my mortal frame as a vessel for his wrath!"



**********



Tanizaki's headquarters was just as enormous as Ranma remembered, dwarfing all the other skyscrapers around it. The young martial artist landed right in front of the main entrance, an elaborate glass facade with a dozen doors allowing people to go in and out. The Sailor Senshi and the other martial artists landed around him, prompting murmurs from the nearby crowds of pedestrians. Ranma ignored them. He had bigger things to worry about.

As one, the colorful group of thirteen young men and women walked up the wide stone stairway to the entrances, pushing through the doors and into the immense lobby beyond. The furnishings were ostentatious: the floor, walls and ceiling were all white marble, as were the large pillars that dotted the open atrium. This was a room designed to make anyone entering it feel tiny and insignificant.

They had gotten about halfway through the lobby when a group of uniformed security guards scurried over to intercept them. "S- stop!" the lead guard said, holding up one hand. "What is your business?"

"We're here to settle something with your boss," Ranma shot back. "He's been attacking my friends, so I'm here to beat the crap out of him."

The guards responded by reaching for their sidearms, but they had barely cleared their holsters when Konatsu moved. The next instant all their guns were torn from their hands, impaled by the hail of shuriken the ninja had thrown. Ranma had been able to track each projectile's path, but to the rent-a-cops it must have looked like magic. The guys on this floor are just for show, Ranma thought. Even the soldiers back in the Dark Kingdom had more training than this.

Fear in their eyes, the guards started backing away. Sailor Moon turned to the other people in the lobby, receptionists, businessmen, office workers, all of them frozen in shock. "Everyone, please get out of here!" she urged. "We're here to stop something really bad that Mr. Tanizaki is doing, but we don't want anyone else to get caught in the fighting!"

It took a moment for what she said to sink in, but when it did, the people abruptly began to flee the area, most running outside. The guards, for their part, ran further back into the building, some of them pulling radios off of their belts and yelling frantically into them. Ranma just continued his advance, along with the others.

It didn't take them long to reach the elevators on the far side of the lobby. There were five elevator doors on this floor, but Ranma knew from his earlier visit that only the one in the center went all the way up to the more restricted floors. He wrenched the doors open, then gestured with his thumb to the empty shaft. "Alright! First floor, going up."

One by one, the martial artists and Senshi leaped into the shaft, rebounding from wall to wall as they made their ascent. Konatsu went first, followed by Sailor Mars. More and more of them shot past, until it was only Ranma and Sailor Moon left standing by the open door. Ranma was about to enter himself... but then he noticed something. Mousse had not kept up with the rest of them. Instead, the blind weaponmaster was standing back in the center of the lobby.

Before either of them could say anything, Mousse spoke. "Go on ahead," he told them, his voice tight. "My battle is here."

Ranma heard a laugh, and then the black-robed figure of Tanizaki's assassin stepped into view from behind one of the farther-off pillars. "There really is no hiding from your senses, is there?" the man remarked with a rueful smile.

"You could hide yourself in the depths of hell and I'd still find you," Mousse shot back. He swung his arm, and a dao sword shot from his sleeve into his waiting palm. He stepped back into a stance, readying himself. "Come on, you bastard. Let's end this."

Zhang walked toward Mousse, his stride relaxed. As he approached, he drew a dao sword of his own from his sleeve, matching Mousse's choice. Sailor Moon spoke up, worry in her voice. "Let us help you, too! Together, I'm sure we can—"

"No!" snapped Mousse, and Sailor Moon flinched at the fierceness of his rebuke. "This is my fight. No one else interferes!"

Sailor Moon chewed her lower lip, and Ranma could tell that she didn't like this. She didn't know Mousse's history with this man. She didn't know what had happened seven years ago... when someone else had tried to help Mousse fight this assassin. But Ranma knew. He knew how that had ended, and he knew why Mousse didn't want to involve anyone else again.

And it wasn't entirely without justification. Mousse was familiar with Zhang's style, and could defend against the man's arsenal of poisoned weapons better than anyone else, blocking and countering with his own arsenal. In a fight where the slightest scratch meant death, hand-to-hand styles like Ranma's were at a serious disadvantage. Even if they did gang up on the assassin, the chances of someone dying in the process would be very high.

More importantly, Ranma knew what this fight meant to Mousse, one martial artist to another. There were some things you had to face yourself.

Zhang continued to advance. When he stopped, it was just outside of the area Mousse could effectively attack with his current weapon. The assassin settled back into a stance of his own, blade held at the ready. Mousse shifted his weight slightly to compensate, the angle of his blade adjusting a few degrees, but Zhang made no further move in reply.

No one else moved. No one else breathed. Life and death hung balanced on a razor's edge.

Then they struck. The clash of steel echoed through the air, showers of sparks exploding between them as they lunged in on the attack. The two warriors exchanged innumerable slashes in the minutest fraction of a second as their swords struck and struck again. Again and again, their blades collided with jarring impact as they hacked at each other with ferocious intensity.

One slash from Mousse cut nothing but air as Zhang spun into a crouch, swinging his own sword down at his opponent's knee. Mousse leaped into a twisting, acrobatic flip that carried him over the assassin's blade, but Zhang adjusted his cut, swinging it upward. By that time, though, Mousse had his own sword back in guard position, and was able to block the attack.

Blade hit blade, and the force of the impact hurled Mousse even higher into the air. Zhang tossed his sword aside and pulled throwing knives out of his sleeves by the handful, hurling them up at his airborne opponent. Mousse's blade blurred as he tried to deflect the rain of steel, and he drew a new sword into his other hand to help strike the projectiles away.

Mousse managed to land without being hit, and the instant his feet touched the floor he propelled himself toward Zhang. He tried to close the distance with a series of high-speed dodges as more knives flew past on every side. Zhang countered his rush by pulling out a naginata from his sleeve, meeting Mousse's advance with a series of thrusts and sweeping slashes that kept him at a distance.

Soon Mousse tossed his swords aside as well, pulling out a long bamboo staff to match the naginata's reach. Each fighter whirled their weapon in dizzying patterns around themselves, each hammering on the other's weapon until the impacts sounded like machine gun fire, so rapid were the strikes.

Mousse is actually holding his own this time... Ranma thought as he watched the two combatants whirl around each other in their deadly, vicious dance. He isn't letting his anger control him like he did before. But will he be able to win?

Eventually he tore his eyes away from the fight, turning to Sailor Moon. "Come on," he said. "Mousse is right. Let's trust him with this. We gotta get going."

Sailor Moon still hesitated, reluctant, but in the end she acquiesced, turning and leaping into the elevator shaft. Ranma followed, but not before taking one last worried glance behind him.

"Kick his ass, Mousse," he whispered under his breath, a quiet plea that his friend could face down the demons that had been hounding him for so long, and overcome them.



**********



Even as the attackers burst their way into Tanizaki's skyscraper, a lone figure sat in an abandoned cubicle more than sixty stories up, one of so very many identical cubicles on that floor. She was a woman, appearing to be somewhere in her mid-twenties, wearing glasses and a nondescript business skirt. She was pretty, in a mousy sort of way, but hardly memorable.

The computer sitting on the desk in front of her was on, but she wasn't using it directly. Rather, she was typing rapidly on the much smaller Mercury Computer, which was using the larger machine as an entry point to the building's network. Sailor Mercury glanced over her shoulder every once in a while, but no one was paying attention to her, and even if someone had walked by, the Luna Disguise Pen was functioning perfectly.

She had used the disguise magic to slip in ahead of the others, and had signaled them with her communicator once she was in place and ready. Cracking the security had been easy; it used similar protections to the network in their Dark Kingdom base, and her magical computer made short work of the familiar defenses. Now she had full access to every computer in the building.

Already she had instructed the Mercury Computer to launch a distributed search-and-download attack, sending out crawler programs that scoured Tanizaki's mainframe for sensitive data and sent it back to her. Meanwhile, she was studying the various security systems that her device had been able to identify. It was quite an extensive setup, which could doubtless cause a great deal of trouble for her friends.

Well. She couldn't have that, now could she?



**********



In the darkness of the security center, technicians watched the countless glowing screens with unblinking intensity, tracking the progress of the intruders. They were in the elevator shaft now, rocketing up it with incredible speed. Any second now they would emerge. And once they were in the thick of combat, it would be time to turn on the building's sprinklers.

The lead technician already had the command up on his terminal, ready to activate at a moment's notice. His eyes flicked from monitor to monitor, watching the targets ascend. His hand hovered over the "enter" key, his nerves on edge as he waited for the moment to strike.

Then the entire room went dark.

All the lights shut off, and all the monitors went blank, his included. His finger slammed down on the key reflexively, mashing it several times, but to no effect. Around him, his subordinates were shouting in confusion, trying to figure out what had just happened.

A few seconds later, his monitor flickered back to life again. But instead of the normal interface, the only thing it displayed now was a solid blue screen, with a single symbol in the center in a different shade of blue.

The symbol of the planet Mercury.

All around him, the other monitors were blinking back online, all of them showing the same thing. Within seconds, all the screens blanketing the walls were nothing but a glowing mass of blue. The lead technician gaped up at the incomprehensible sight. "Wh- what's going on?" he demanded, a note of panic entering his voice. "What is this?"

"Something's taken over the system!" one of his subordinates shouted back, no less frantic. "Some kind of virus! Cameras, security systems, the entire network... we're completely locked out! Every single computer on the network is non-functional!"

"Try rebooting one of them! See if that clears it out!"

"I did! I think it's infected the BIOS somehow!"

"How could it have gotten past our firewall?"

The lead technician slumped back in his chair, staring with numb disbelief and stomach-churning anxiety at the catastrophe unfolding in front of him, as he tried to think of how he was going to explain this to his employer.



**********



Zhang watched carefully as Mousse circled him, both of them measuring the distance relative to their current weapons. Surprising, the assassin mused. I thought he would be dead by now. He's a far better fighter when he can keep a leash on his rage.

A smile growing on his face, Zhang went on the offensive. He lunged forward, feeling his blood rise at the realization that he had found a more worthy prey than expected. Drawing two Chinese hook swords, he hammered on Mousse's guard, twisting them in repeated attempts to disarm his opponent. Mousse jumped back, pulling out a small shield to help deflect the onslaught. Zhang only increased the pressure, attacking more aggressively with each passing second.

Mousse was giving ground at an increasing pace, backpedaling toward one of the pillars dotting the huge lobby. Then, suddenly, he took to the air, leaping up toward the pillar he had been heading toward and rebounding off it. From that altitude he flung down a barrage of bombs with burning fuses. Not just at Zhang, though. Mousse rained them down everywhere, blanketing the floor.

Zhang used his hook swords to deflect any bombs headed directly at him, keeping a zone around him clear. Then the bombs went off, exploding not with concussive force, but with expanding white clouds. Smoke bombs! thought Zhang. I see. A good tactic for him.

Mousse wasted no time in dropping down into the murk, out of sight. At the same time, the young man's presence diminished as he forcibly suppressed his killing intent. All the while the smoke was growing, expanding, until it blanketed the entire lobby. Soon it was so thick that Zhang couldn't see so much as a foot in front of his own face.

Step by careful step, Zhang moved through the room. With the sounds of their raging battle now halted, oppressive silence reigned over the area, aided by the smog that seemed to muffle everything further. Zhang strained his senses to their limit, ready to react at a moment's notice to any attack.

No attack came. Second after second crept by, with no sign of anything but the shifting haze. It was a waiting game now, a test of patience and alertness as the two of them maneuvered, looking for a chance to—

Zhang whirled, swinging one of his hook swords up and to the right to deflect a blow from a katana aimed at his head. He tried to find a chance to counterattack, but Mousse had already vanished again, the smoke swirling in the space he had just occupied. A second and a half later he attacked again, this time from directly behind Zhang, but the assassin managed to spin and block that one too.

Zhang kept stepping through the room, turning his body to face where he thought Mousse might be at any given moment. The younger man's stealth technique was good, but not perfect; Zhang could sometimes guess a general area where he was, particularly when his foe went to attack. But while Zhang had trained in fighting without the benefit of sight, it was little surprise that Mousse was much, much better at it. Zhang's other senses were sharp, but when measured against the blind warrior there was no comparison.

He heard the next attacks coming—throwing knives, hissing through the air. His hook swords made a dozen quick swipes, sending them spinning away, but he had barely done so when Mousse himself lunged in from the left, swinging a scimitar. Zhang barely parried, and this time Mousse pressed the attack, slashing twice more at Zhang's guard before vanishing. Zhang leaped after him... only to find himself charging straight toward the steel chakram Mousse had hurled to cover his retreat.

The assassin jerked his head to the side at the last moment. Even so, the circular blade took a notch out of his ear as it went past. He felt the small burst of pain, felt the blood seeping from the wound. He licked his lips, his smile widening.

Not bad at all... he thought. He's actually managing to push me. This could be a problem unless I change the game to be more in my favor...



**********



The group tasked with freeing the imprisoned monsters was the first to emerge from the elevator shaft. Finding the right floor hadn't been difficult; they had simply gone up until Ukyo had sensed the monsters' distinctive presences, and used that to point themselves in the right direction. Ryouga wrenched the doors open, and they all jumped out.

Ryouga carefully followed Sailor Neptune, who was taking point. Sailor Saturn was right beside him, with Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus behind them. Ukyo brought up the rear as the six of them raced down the sterile white hallway.

There was no resistance at first. Ryouga could sense the monsters they were here to rescue off in the distance, and he could also sense a large mass of Synths even closer. But their path remained clear. It's too quiet. They must know we're here. So what are they waiting for?

Then his danger sense howled a warning at him. The next moment, a black-clad ninja crashed through the ceiling, stabbing down at Sailor Saturn with the metal claw he wore on his right hand. But the blow never landed. Ryouga's hand shot out, grabbing the ninja by the wrist. Then he clenched, crushing the man's bones with sheer grip strength, before swinging him around in a half-circle to smash into the ninja who had just jumped out of the room to his left.

At the same time, another ninja lunged out of a room on the opposite side of the hallway. But Sailor Saturn took care of that one herself, driving the blunt end of her Silence Glaive into his stomach before he could react. He doubled over, giving her a perfect opening to raise the glaive high and crack him over the head with the haft. The ninja crumpled like a puppet with its strings cut.

Behind them, a ninja leaned out of a doorway, using a blowgun to fire a burst of needles at Sailor Saturn's back. But Ukyo spun, interposing her battle spatula to block the attack, and then made a leaping swing that smashed into the sniper's masked face before he could reload. "Hah!" she crowed, as the ninja's body flipped end over end through the air, before crashing back to the ground in a heap. "You jackasses aren't anywhere near as good as the ninja I train with!"

With their ambush foiled, Tanizaki's forces decided to abandon subtlety. Ryouga sensed the Synths up ahead start to move, and then heard the sounds of footfalls pounding ever closer. Seconds later, a horde of the four-armed Synths poured around a corner up ahead, swords drawn as they charged.

"Crescent Beam Shower!" Beams of golden light burst from Sailor Venus' fingertips, arcing around and between her allies to tear through the enemy formation. The hallway turned into a shooting gallery, especially once Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Neptune joined in. The flood of multi-colored energy ripped apart Synth after Synth, but the grey creatures continued to run headlong into the teeth of the barrage, heedless of their own safety.

They're trying to wear us down with numbers, Ryogua realized, as he positioned himself to intercept any straggling Synths that made it through the Senshi attacks. These grey things aren't much in a straight fight, and it doesn't look like they can hide their presence for an ambush... but if they keep sending them we might not be able to keep up.

But there was nothing for it. The monsters they were here to rescue were on the other side of this mindless horde, and Ryouga had no intention of backing down. Instead, he cracked his knuckles, and then hurled himself into the fray. Go ahead, then, he thought, a mirthless smile crossing his face. Throw everything you've got at us. We'll just see who gives out first...



**********



Higher up in the towering skyscraper, well past the halfway point, Sailor Mars and Konatsu clung to the inner wall of the elevator shaft, hanging just outside one of the doors. Sailor Mars noticed a security camera monitoring the interior of the shaft, but she trusted that Sailor Mercury had already crashed the security system.

Konatsu turned to look at her. "Is this the right floor, Miss Mars?" he asked in a whisper.

Sailor Mars nodded. Her sense for magic and evil energy was impeccable, and there was enough of both emanating from this floor that it fairly made her stomach turn. "I'm certain of it," she said, her voice just as quiet. Then she pointed. "It's in that direction. It feels just like what I sensed from Ranma, before we rescued him from that possession spell."

"Thank you," replied the ninja. "Now please, wait here."

Sailor Mars' mouth set in a worried line. "Are you sure?" she asked. Something inside her rebelled at the thought of staying behind, doing nothing while someone else risked their life. "What if something goes wrong? You might need help."

"If I go alone, I will have a better chance of dealing with this sorcerer before anyone realizing that I'm here," Konatsu assured her. "The safest way to handle someone like him is to strike before he even notices the threat. Please, Miss Mars... trust me. Everything will be fine. I'll come back for you once he's out of the way, and it's time to search for whatever magic he's using to attack Miss Moon."

With a sigh, Sailor Mars relented. "Alright," she said. Then she turned away to look in the direction she had sensed the evil aura. "But be careful. We don't know what his full powers are, and—" Her voice broke off as she turned back to find that Konatsu had already vanished without a trace.

"How did he...?" Sailor Mars muttered, mystified. Had he really worked the elevator door open, slipped through, and closed it again without her even realizing it? But if he hadn't, then which way had he gone? She had heard that he was good at sneaking, but this was just ridiculous.

In the end, though, there was nothing for her to do but wait. But even so, she kept her every sense alert. If anything did go wrong, she had to be ready to help.



**********



Panting for breath, Ryouga looked back and forth around him. The ground was strewn with Synth bodies, many of the corpses already melting into cloudy ooze. The walls of the hallway had been demolished in the fighting, opening up the area and giving the enemy more angles to attack them from. In response, the seven humans had formed into a circle, guarding each other's backs as they struck out at the waves of grey creatures that had beset them.

Ryouga had lost all count of how many Synths he had struck down. And his count was minuscule compared to the damage inflicted on the horde by the Senshi attacks. Sailor Saturn's attacks were particularly devastating, carving huge swaths through the enemy, but she had to be extremely cautious in using them. The last thing they wanted to do was bring down the entire skyscraper by accident.

There were a few close calls when the sheer force of numbers nearly overwhelmed them, but eventually the flood of grey creatures began to slow. It didn't stop altogether, though, and now that the enemy ranks were thinning, Ryouga could sense a new threat approaching. Many different ki auras, more powerful than any of the martial artists that had attacked them so far.

Those must be their strongest fighters, Ryouga thought. They stayed back while all the weak ones tried to wear us down, soften us up for the kill. But now that they have more room to maneuver, and we're tired out, they're making their move.

It was not long before the new arrivals came into view. No two were alike, and most likely they all practiced different styles. One wore ordinary street clothes, but had a build and stance that suggested he was a wrestler. Another man, this one a bit younger, wore a baseball cap cocked at an angle, and held a wooden baseball bat resting on his shoulder. He let out a wolf whistle as he noticed Sailor Jupiter, his eyes tracking her like a wolf eyeing a piece of meat.

Next to him was a woman holding a long bullwhip with nasty barbs on the end. She, unlike the man standing next to her, regarded them with dispassionate professionalism. And there were about a dozen more, though most of them did not look as strong as those three.

One figure, however, drew Ryouga's attention more than any of the others: a Thai man in a ragged jacket. He was not tall, but his compact frame was broad-shouldered and muscular, and the raw killing intent he was releasing put all the others to shame. Their eyes locked, and the Thai warrior's lip twisted up in a tiny smile. "Hibiki Ryouga..." he said in thickly accented Japanese. "Heard about you. Was hoping to fight Saotome, though."

Ryouga ground his teeth, and leveled a glare at the man. "You're not that lucky," he shot back, dropping into a guarded stance as he prepared for the imminent violence.

The standoff continued, second after second, until finally it was broken as Sailor Jupiter cupping her hands at her side, electricity sizzling between her palms. "Sparkling Wide..."

Immediately, the man with the baseball bat launched himself forward. She completed her attack just before he reached her, hurling the crackling blue sphere with a cry of "...Pressure!" It shot straight at his face, but he angled his charge at the last second.

The magical blast missed him by less than a centimeter as he dove into a roll that carried him past his target. He came out of the roll behind her, then whirled back around, using the momentum of his spin to swing his bat at the side of her head. Sailor Jupiter whirled to face him as well, then leaped back, barely dodging the strike.

He pounced after her, whipping his bat back and forth with savage swing after savage swing. Even as they fought, the rest of the enemy were also charging in on the attack. But Sailor Saturn leapt to meet them, thrusting her Glaive out in front of her and shouting "Silence Wall!"

A semitransparent barrier appeared in front of her, angled so that it divided the entire room... and divided the enemy force along with it. Only about half the remaining Synths and martial artists were on the same side of the wall as they were, while the other half either skidded to a stop or crashed into the shield in a vain attempt to break through. The Silence Wall didn't even waver.

The woman with the bullwhip, however, was on their side of the wall, and she lashed out at Sailor Saturn with the cruel weapon. But before it could hit the young Senshi, it was intercepted by the golden links of Sailor Venus' chain. The two weapons snarled around each other, yanking taut as their wielders pulled and strained, Sailor Venus with a reckless grin, the woman with a look of annoyance.

Ryouga also went on the offensive. He knew Sailor Saturn's maneuver would only buy them a few moments, but they were crucial moments, where the odds were decisively shifted. He was determined to make the most of them. With a roar he jumped into the thick of the largest group of enemies he could see, his fists and feet lashing out in every direction, sending Synths flying away like broken dolls, along with a few of the lesser martial artists. He abandoned defense entirely in favor of all-out attack, letting his impossibly-toughened hide absorb any sword strikes that landed as superficial gashes.

Simultaneously, Ukyo and Sailor Neptune pressed their attack on the other side of the room. The okonomiyaki chef was flinging her noodle-ropes around in a wide net, hampering and entangling the Synths, leaving them open for Sailor Neptune's devastating follow-up attacks. One of the enemy martial artists jumped at Ukyo with a flying kick, but she ducked and instead swung her battle spatula up underneath him in a mighty blow.

The impact flipped him overhead in an uncontrolled spin... much like flipping an okonomiyaki. As his trajectory carried him over her, Sailor Neptune raised her Deep Aqua Mirror and shouted "Submarine Reflection!" The blue-tinted beam shot straight up, blasting the man through the ceiling and out of sight.

But even as that enemy disappeared through the ceiling, the Thai warrior did the opposite. Realizing that the energy shield between them was impregnable, he instead slammed his fist into the floor, shattering it and disappearing through the hole. Ryouga's danger sense flared, and he threw himself toward Sailor Saturn, hooking his arm around her waist as he went past. An instant later, an enormous ki blast exploded up out of the floor where she had just been standing.

The debris from the blast was still spinning through the air when the Thai warrior shot out of the hole himself, swinging his leg around in a kick aimed at Ryouga's head. The lost boy tossed Sailor Saturn behind him, then planted his feet, raised both hands, and blocked it. The force of the impact shook his entire body. Damn, he's strong! Ryouga thought, suppressing a grimace of pain.

Ryouga immediately retaliated with a devastating counterpunch, only for the Thai warrior to block that just as solidly. The man then spun into a vicious elbow strike, which Ryouga was hard pressed to deflect. The two of them traded blows back and forth at speeds too fast for the naked eye to follow, the nearby walls shaking from the resultant shockwaves. For a brief moment they broke apart to get some distance, but then charged back into the fray, slamming together like two trains colliding head-on.

The Silence Wall had vanished when Ryouga had tackled Sailor Saturn, allowing the other half of the enemy to charge through and reinforce their comrades. But they were met by Sailor Saturn herself, Silence Glaive whirling around her, carving through the enemy Synths in an acrobatic dance of death. Nor did she stop throwing up new Silence Walls whenever she saw the opportunity to isolate or cut off whole sections of the enemy, allowing her side unmatched control over the battlefield.

Sailor Venus, meanwhile, had twisted her weapon free of her opponent's whip. She then spun, sending the whirling coils of her golden chain racing toward her foe. The woman responded with an equally-intricate display of whip-work, the magic-infused weapon and the ki-infused weapon snaking and twisting, entangling and unentangling, slashing and yanking as each tried to get around the others' defense. The air pressure from their strikes tore long gashes in the surrounding walls as they ripped past, forcing many of those fighting nearby to duck for cover.

All throughout the room the battle raged between the two groups, whirling and shifting and tilting in a riotous display of violence. Ryouga concentrated on hammering away at the Thai warrior, knowing that this was a fight that would demand his full attention. Roaring out a battle cry, he hurled himself at his opponent, calling on all his strength and skill as they collided again and again.



**********



Konatsu crept down the hallway toward his target, calling on his formidable array of stealth techniques. The entire level was crawling with soldiers and Synths. And worse, there were quite a few individuals whose auras marked them as martial artists. When possible, he preferred to keep a healthy distance away from them, just to be on the safe side.

He darted from place to place in imperceptible flickers of speed, cloaking his presence, exploiting his enemies' blind spots—both physical and mental. The art of the ninja began by becoming one with the shadows of the real world, but it reached its ultimate expression when you could wrap yourself in the shadows cast by your target's own subconscious. A tenuous, often fragile deception... but one that allowed for otherwise-impossible feats.

Konatsu wormed his way closer and closer, until finally he arrived at his goal. Right where Sailor Mars had said it would be. The door, unlike the others, had two guards stationed right in front of it, both of whom struck Konatsu as particularly skilled martial artists. One was a swordsman, the other a fist-fighter. He licked his lips. He doubted that he could get past without being noticed, as close to the door as the pair were standing.

He would have to take them down. The element of surprise would be crucial; without it, there was little chance he could defeat them both. He peered around the corner one final time, clearing his mind, gathering his ki and focusing it all into pure, raw speed. Then he rounded the corner and dashed toward them.

Konatsu's charge was blisteringly fast, covering the ground between them in less than the blink of an eye. Even so, they almost reacted in time. The swordsman had half-drawn his blade from its sheath when Konatsu reached him, but the ninja drew his own blade faster, using the full force of his charge to slam the hilt into the swordsman's solar plexus.

Without slowing down Konatsu spun past, using the ridge of his other hand to deliver a strike to the other fighter's throat. The man's eyes bulged, and he began to gag for breath. But not for long, as Konatsu grabbed him by his hair and wrenched his head down into a knee to the face. Then he spun back, raising the hilt of his sword and slamming it down into the base of the swordsman's neck from behind.

Both men crumpled. Konatsu caught them on the way down, lowering them gently the rest of the way to muffle the noise. The entire exchange had still been too loud, but considering the opponents it had been the best he could do. And it did not appear that anyone else had heard. There was no one left between him and his target.

Normally he would observe for longer, carefully planning out his attack. But in this situation time was of the essence. He reached out his hand toward the door, preparing himself to make his move—

—but just before his hand touched the door, it swung open, moving all by itself.

The room beyond was dark, lit only by a few small candles. Their flickering light played across shelves full of books and scrolls, while the heavy scent of incense filled Konatsu's nostrils. Other doors led deeper into Ekim's quarters, but the sorcerer himself was sitting on the other side of the stone altar in the room's center, looking straight at the ninja.

When the man spoke, his voice dripped with condescension. "So... You thought you could take the Chosen of the Nameless One by surprise? You thought a scurrying little rat like yourself could approach my sanctum without my knowledge?"

Konatsu moved his sword into a ready position, but he did not attack just yet. Instead he watched, gathering his ki. Ekim, for his part, rose to his feet, his pale yellow eyes studying Konatsu. "You... you were there that night..." the sorcerer said, malice in his tone. "I was hoping for the Saotome boy... but I suppose I can avenge myself on him later. I will begin with you."

With that, the sorcerer raised one hand and began to chant. "Power of destruction, power of unmaking," he intoned, six writhing spheres of dull red light forming at various points around him. "I call upon my master's might to bring forth retribution and ruin!" As he finished he clenched his fist, and all six spheres released searing beams that lanced toward Konatsu, burning straight through the ninja's torso.

Or rather, burning straight through the torso of his afterimage. Ekim's spiteful grin became a look of shock as he realized that his foe was now behind him, sword slashing at the side of Ekim's neck. The technique was a risky one: gather a large amount of ki, then expend it all in a single, incredibly high-speed dodge combined with a simple illusion technique. Make the enemy think his attack had landed. Then, in that unguarded moment of apparent victory, strike.

Konatsu struck.

The blade bit into Ekim's neck. But despite Konatsu putting all of he strength into the slash, despite how he had enhanced the sharpness of the blade with his ki, it sunk in less than an inch before stopping cold. And instead of blood, what sprayed out of the wound was a black sludge, a viscous, tar-like substance. Konatsu's danger sense flared and he leapt away, barely quick enough to avoid getting any of it on himself.

Everywhere the sludge landed it bubbled and roiled, growing in size as it oozed toward Konatsu. Even the little bit that stained his sword grew at a frightening rate, crawling down the blade toward his hand. For a fraction of a second he froze; the sword had been a gift to him from Ukyo. That hesitation almost cost him dearly, but at the last moment he hurled it away. The blade landed on the other side of the room, forming another point from which the sludge could grow and expand.

Ekim turned around, laughing. The spray from the side of his neck had died down to a trickle, as some of the black substance hardened to seal his wound shut. "In preparation for this battle I imbued my master's corruption into my very veins," he gloated, his eyes alight with fervor. "It is mine to command... and I command it to consume you!"

As he spoke, the expanding sludge surged toward Konatsu, forcing the ninja to dodge, ricocheting off the walls as he increasingly ran out of floor. He dove back through the door and out into the hallway, escaping the confines of the room, only for Ekim to clench his hands into claws. The six glowing red spheres orbiting the sorcerer pulsed again, this time focusing their energy into a single point, which then burst outward in a wave of crimson force.

The blast obliterated the entire outer wall of Ekim's quarters, then slammed into the ninja like a wrecking ball. The wall behind him was similarly destroyed as the shockwave hit it, and Konatsu tumbled along the ground amidst the falling debris.

He rolled to his feet, just in time to see Ekim stalking toward him. The glowing red orbs still spun around the sorcerer's body, while the ever-expanding wave of corruption swept outward as well. Konatsu threw himself back, rebounding from ceiling to wall to wall to floor, trying to stay one step ahead of the unholy assault.

As he retreated, Konatsu hurled shuriken at his foe. Every spinning blade found its target, but the wounds only sprayed more black sludge before sealing shut again. Ekim seemed beyond pain entirely, a crazed look on his face. Looking closer, Konatsu saw that even the blood vessels in the man's eyes had blackened, subsumed by the vile substance that was empowering him. It's like he isn't even human anymore, the ninja thought. Whatever he's done to himself, it's driven him mad, even more than he was when he was possessing Ranma.

Many soldiers, Synths and martial artists came running at the sound of combat, but the fanatical sorcerer didn't even seem to register their presence. The waves of corruption swept outward, catching many who couldn't dodge quite as well as Konatsu. Even a drop was fatal. Once it touched living skin, it ate its way into the body, spreading and growing. The screams of the victims as they dissolved made even Konatsu flinch.

Soon it was just the ninja and the sorcerer left. The few survivors among the enemy martial artists fell back, not caring to risk their lives in support of a man who considered them collateral damage, especially when death came in such a horrific way. Ekim didn't seem to care. He stalked after Konatsu, a toothy smile on his face, reveling in the death and destruction.

With a twist of his fingers, Ekim caused some of the filth to levitate into the air, forming an enormous blade that was twice the length of a man. With another flick of his fingers the weapon went slashing out, carving through the walls like paper in a rapid series of strikes. Debris rained down around Konatsu as he dodged, the floating blade chasing him every step of the way.

One such piece of debris brushed Konatsu's arm, and a tiny bit of residual sludge slithered from it onto his shirt. Moving fast as lightning, Konatsu ripped off that entire sleeve, hurling it away in the instant before the corruption ate through it. But the brief distraction was costly, allowing one of the crimson energy beams to hit him with a glancing blow.

The magic blast smashed into him, sending him spiraling away through the air. Ekim's levitating filth-blade didn't even wait for him to land. Rather, it swung again, ripping through the air to take full advantage of the opening.

"Fire Soul Bird!"

A giant, phoenix-like construct of pure flame swept across Konatsu's vision, seizing the corruption-blade in its talons. The flaming bird drove the vile weapon into to the ground, where it detonated in a blast of fire and heat.

"Are you alright?" came a female voice from Konatsu's left, and he turned to see Sailor Mars standing there. He answered with a grateful nod. Then they both turned back to their enemy.

Ekim leveled a poisonous glare at the new arrival. "So..." he spat. "One of the Sailor Senshi comes to die as well. It matters not. No matter how many try to oppose me, my master's power will drown you all in blood and terror!"

With that, he went back on the offensive. Glowing red energy beams lanced out from the spheres orbiting him, forcing them both to scramble and dodge. Then Ekim shifted his focus back to the corruption, which surged forward toward them with renewed speed.



**********



"Silver Moon Crystal Power Kiss!"

Ranma shielded his eyes as golden light blazed out from Sailor Moon's scepter, followed by a rush of white feathers. The holy power scoured the hallway, reducing any Synth it touched to a spray of grey liquid. It almost felt unfair. They'd encountered resistance since the moment they'd emerged from the elevator shaft, but the enemy was almost laughably outgunned.

All Ranma had needed to do so far was beat back the Synths long enough for Sailor Moon to charge up her big magic. He was pretty sure he could have managed that all by himself, and with Shampoo, Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Pluto backing him up it was barely even a warmup. Every time Sailor Moon let loose, she wiped out every monster in the area, leaving only a handful of human guards.

"We sure this is the right way?" Ranma asked, taking advantage of a lull in the combat to glance over at Sailor Moon. "I can't sense Tanizaki anywhere. So either he's hiding his presence, or we're on the wrong track."

"Sailor Mercury said she couldn't find him anywhere else... and that this area was the only part of the building that she couldn't see with the security cameras," said Sailor Moon. Then she shrugged. "There must be something secret here. And where else would he be hiding?"

"Shampoo not so sure," spoke up the Chinese girl. "But is still best clue so far."

The small group continued onward, until at last they came to a door different from the others they had seen. It was large, made of thick metal, and set to slide open or shut along a groove in the floor. Sailor Pluto wasted no time in blasting it inward with a Dead Scream, and the five of them continued through.

On the other side, the bland corporate trappings gave way to a rougher aesthetic. A large number of metal catwalks and gantries criss-crossed a huge, open chamber that stretched a half-dozen floors above and below their current level. The lighting was darker there, and much of it was provided by the orange glow from the liquid-filled tanks that lined the walls.

"Damn..." Ranma murmured, his gaze sweeping across the surroundings as he tried to take it all in. He recognized the tanks, of course. They were the same kind that Metzger had shown him when he had come here before. But while the labs had only had a handful of tanks, here they lined the chamber walls from top to bottom. And while the ones in the lab had Synths inside them, these were all empty, their previous inhabitants elsewhere.

"Ranma?" asked Sailor Moon, sounding a little nervous. "If this Tanizaki guy was making grey things as fast as he could... how many do you think he'd end up with?"

"I dunno," answered Ranma. "But when I was here last time, Metzger said that as long as you fed the tank a 'base biological sample' it could turn out a fresh copy in about a day. So I'd guess..." He glanced around the Synth factory again, trying to estimate how many tanks there were before finally giving up. "...a lot."

With nowhere to go but forward, they stepped out onto the catwalk in front of them. The metal bridge was wide enough for two people to walk side by side, and it led out toward a large metal pod embedded at its very center. At that point the catwalk split to run around the pod on either side. An unassuming wooden crate sat next to the pod as well.

And then Tanizaki Kazuo stepped into view from the opposite side of the cylinder, moving to stand between it and them.

"Welcome," he said. "I believe that this is the first time we've met face to face, Sailor Moon. Or do you prefer Princess Serenity? Either way, I am glad to finally have you here."

"You're not gonna be so glad once I'm done with you," Ranma promised. "You and I have a score to settle, Tanizaki."

"Wait!" pleaded Sailor Moon. "Please, Mr. Tanizaki... more fighting won't help anyone. I really want to talk this out with you! If you'd just give it a chance, there has to be a way to settle this without anyone else getting hurt!"

Tanizaki raised his eyebrows a little. Then he shrugged, and gestured for her to continue. "Very well," he agreed. "I will hear you out. You deserve that much, at least."

Sailor Moon looked surprised, but then she nodded and began. "We figured out what you're trying to do, that you used my blood to do some kind of magic... spell... thing... to try to steal my power. But that won't make anyone happy. Not even you! I mean... it won't even work! The Silver Crystal will only listen to someone from the Serenity family, so there's no way you could use it yourself. And if you do try to take it anyway... it could really mess everything up!"

The young girl hesitated. "I... don't even know why you want my power," she went on. "Please, can you help me understand?"

Tanizaki listened respectfully until she had finished. Then he replied. "Unfortunately, the peaceful solution you desire will not be possible," he said. "I will not roll over like a dog and accept inferiority to some 'greater being', no matter how generous or benevolent she may be. I will surpass you, just as I have surpassed everything and everyone else to reach where I am today."

As he spoke, Tanizaki turned and pressed a button on the cylindrical pod standing next to him. From inside, Ranma heard the low rumble of a motor, and the pod began to slowly rotate open. As it did, Tanizaki continued to speak. "To me, you and your friends are nothing more than the next step on the road I have walked my entire life to reach this point. I will not stop walking it now."

Sailor Moon flinched. "But you're doing such horrible things to other people in order to do it!"

"Which demonstrates why the power you wield is wasted on you," the businessman interrupted. "You do not possess the resolve to use it to its full potential. That is not, however, a limitation that I share."

Any further conversation was cut off, as Sailor Moon suddenly clutched at her chest in sudden pain, her legs nearly buckling. She was forced to lean against the catwalk railing to prop herself up, her entire body convulsing. Her gaze jerked away from the businessman over to the pod that was even now continuing to grind open.

"Now then," Tanizaki said, his eyes alight with anticipation. "I would like to introduce the tool that I had my people create. The instrument of transition between the old order of things and the new."

"My young friends, allow me to present Unit Zero."



**********



Konatsu hurled a half-dozen more shuriken at Ekim, imbuing them with ki to increase the sharpness of the blades. But they didn't even reach their target. The sorcerer caused some of the ever-spreading black filth to whirl around himself in a spherical torrent, and the weapons simply deflected away. Konatsu could still catch glimpses of Ekim through brief gaps in the raging flow, but every time he tried to target those openings the shield adjusted.

Nor was retaliation long in coming. More dark red beams blazed out from the spheres orbiting the sorcerer. The ninja and the Senshi both dodged, as the attacks carved through the surroundings. Eventually a lucky shot managed to tag Sailor Mars in the chest, blasting her back down the hallway.

She hit the ground hard, skidding, but managed to twist it into a roll, coming back up on one knee as a bow of flame formed in her hands. "Mars Flame Sniper!" she shouted, releasing a bolt that streaked back down the hallway to impact against Ekim's shield. The hallway erupted with the fiery detonation.

The whirling shield wavered, but did not buckle. Undeterred, Sailor Mars fired a second time, and then a third, the searing projectiles hammering against Ekim's defense one after another. The sorcerer responded by forming a spear out of his corruption and hurling it toward her, even as she tried for a fourth shot, drawing back the arrow and releasing it.

Right after the shot left her bow Konatsu tackled her from the side. The two of them crashed through the nearby wall as the lance of black sludge ripped past. The fourth arrow exploded out of their line of sight, but Konatsu could sense no change in Ekim's aura. It had done no more damage than the others.

"We can't even hurt him!" cried out Sailor Mars in frustration. "That was my strongest attack!" Konatsu was forced to agree. Those flaming arrows had been stronger than anything in his own arsenal, and that shield had shrugged them off without difficulty. Worse, even if they did somehow break through, there remained the defense of the corruption infusing Ekim's very body.

Then the entire wall behind them exploded inward, as their enemy breached the room in which they had taken momentary shelter. They both jumped away, and Konatsu threw down several smoke bombs to give them extra cover. He kept close to Sailor Mars as they continued to flee, weighing his options, trying to think of something they could do.

In the end, only one plan suggested itself. "Miss Mars," he whispered in an urgent undertone. "I don't think we can defeat him. But remember what Miss Pluto said. We must find and destroy whatever it is he's created using Sailor Moon's blood. I can draw his attention, keep him away from his lair. If you go search it, you may find what we seek."

"Will you be alright?" Sailor Mars whispered back, worry in her voice.

"I will be fine," Konatsu lied. "But hurry!" He gave Sailor Mars a small push. She hesitated a moment longer, then turned and ran off, circling to head back toward where the fight had originated from, via a roundabout route.

Konatsu, for his part, drew out more shuriken with one hand and a pair of explosive bombs with the other. He intended to fight with everything he had to keep Ekim's attention on him for as long as possible, to give Sailor Mars the chance she needed.



**********



Sailor Pluto watched in disbelief as Sailor Moon crumpled to her hands and knees, clutching at her chest in pain. It was just like all the times before, the air permeated with a terrible sense of hunger and emptiness. Except this time, they could sense the source. It was coming from the pod directly in front of them.

No! thought the Senshi of Time. I was wrong! Whatever they created to attack Sailor Moon, it isn't with Ekim. It's right here!

The thick steel doors of the capsule continued to rotate, grinding open. "I will correct you on two points, Sailor Moon," Tanizaki remarked to the young girl as she gasped for breath. "First: you said that I took your blood for a magic ritual. That is true... but incomplete. While there was a ritual involved, that was not the only use I had for your blood."

The capsule was partway open by that point, but in the dim lighting the interior was cast in deep shadow. Nevertheless, Sailor Pluto was sure she saw something inside move. It's alive! she thought. Whatever this 'Unit Zero' is, it's not just a spell or a weapon. It's a living thing!

"And second," Tanizaki continued. "You said that my plan could not succeed, because only a member of House Serenity can wield the Silver Crystal. As it happens, I already knew of that restriction from my own research. So in order to bring your power under my control, the approach was obvious."

With a loud clank, the capsule doors locked into position, now fully open. Then, out from the shadows of its interior, Unit Zero stepped into view. Her face was cast into harsh highlight by the orange glow from all the tanks lining the walls, but her features were nonetheless unmistakable. Because they matched Sailor Moon's exactly.

"If a member of House Serenity was necessary to control the Silver Crystal," Tanizaki said. "I would simply need one of my own. Thus, my second use for your blood. Once I obtained it, these ingenious tanks that Doctor Metzger built for me did the rest."

Sailor Pluto stood thunderstruck, staring at Unit Zero. The clone looked identical to the original. Even the hairstyle had been replicated to exacting detail, most likely to increase the strength of the thaumaturgic link. The only visible differences were the simple black leotard that Unit Zero wore instead of Senshi regalia, and a pair of large, bulky devices that encircled her forearms.

An artificial sister to Sailor Moon, born from the twisted science of a maniac. Now Sailor Pluto understood how Ekim had managed to make the link between them so strong. Unit Zero had been created from Sailor Moon's own transformed body; she was truly blood of her blood, flesh of her flesh. It's monstrous... unnatural... Sailor Pluto thought. But for the purposes of such magic... this clone would indeed qualify as a member of the Serenity line.

But even so, how does he intend to steal the Silver Crystal? the Senshi of Time wondered, her mind racing. Even a clone should have been born with a Star Seed of her own. She shouldn't be able to draw on Sailor Moon's like this. Unless...

Sailor Pluto took a closer look at the bulky pair of machines wrapped around the clone's arms. Her eyes widened, as she guessed what their function was. "Those gauntlets..." she demanded. "Are they...?"

A faint smile tugged at Tanizaki's lips. "Ah, you recognize them. Of course, Doctor Metzger's design is not nearly so elegant as Sailor Galaxia's. Still, he was able to devise a system to keep Unit Zero alive, even after Ekim severed her connection to her original Star Seed and bound her to Sailor Moon's."

"H- how could you?" At the sound of Sailor Moon's weak voice, Sailor Pluto looked back. The blonde girl had clamped one hand onto the railing of the catwalk, and was using it to pull herself unsteadily to her feet. "How could you do something so horrible? Taking away such an important part of her? Don't you see how much pain she's in?"

"Pain is an excellent motivator," Tanizaki responded dispassionately. "If she wishes to be free of it, she need only fulfill the purpose for which she was created. She need only claim the Silver Crystal to replace the Star Seed that she lost."

Turning away from Tanizaki, Sailor Moon addressed the clone directly. "You don't need to listen to him!" she pleaded. "We can figure out something to help you, I know it! Don't let him use you like this!"

"I'm afraid that will not work." Tanizaki turned to look over at the clone himself. "I've had extensive opportunity to work on Unit Zero's loyalty. From her very 'birth', in fact. And my techniques are very... effective. She knows well the consequences of deviating from my commands in even the slightest way. Isn't that correct?"

At his words the clone flinched, her entire frame stiffening. Terror filled her eyes at the mere thought of disobeying him. Not a sane fear, but something far more primal and ingrained. Of course, Sailor Pluto thought. He wouldn't trust the power of the Silver Crystal to anyone he didn't absolutely control. Whatever he had done to the clone in the brief time she had been alive, it hadn't just hurt her. It had broken her completely.

And Sailor Moon saw that too. "Unforgivable..." she managed to choke out. "You monster! In the name of the Moon, I'll punish you!"

"It isn't me you should be worried about," replied Tanizaki. Reaching over, he pressed a button on Unit Zero's gauntlets. They both detached and fell off her arms with a loud crash, and then an electrical discharge ran through them, reducing them to useless slag.

The clone clutched at her own chest, her face twisted with a pain that mirrored Sailor Moon's. Unit Zero doubled over, nearly collapsing, but then straightened up again, her eyes full of desperation as she thrust out her hand in a clutching, grasping gesture. Sailor Moon screamed again, dropping back down to her knees.

Sailor Pluto swung her Garnet Rod up, pale energy gathering at the tip of the staff as she aimed it at the clone. "Dead Scream," she whispered, firing the glowing sphere straight toward Unit Zero. But the clone simply raised her other hand, summoning a barrier of pale white energy. The Dead Scream hit it with a blinding detonation, but the clone's defense didn't even waver.

The burst of energy hadn't even faded when Sailor Pluto saw Ranma plummet down toward Tanizaki in a fierce diving kick. She hadn't even noticed him move. He must have used the distraction of the explosion to jump up to one of the higher catwalks, she realized. Then he immediately rebounded off it to attack from Tanizaki's blind spot!

But Tanizaki simply blocked, catching the kick on his forearm without bothering to look up. Once he had absorbed the impact, he immediately twisted his hand around to grab Ranma by the ankle and fling him back toward the rest of his allies. Ranma twisted in midair, landing on his feet and skidding backward across the metal mesh, ending in a fighting stance.

The older martial artist smiled at him. "Ah, yes..." he said. "I see that you are eager for a rematch. And—ordinarily—I would be more than happy to oblige."

But then Tanizaki turned, opening up the wooden crate by his feet and reaching into it. "Unfortunately for both of us, there is too much at stake right now for me to indulge myself. Too much at stake for me not to take every precaution I can. And while your strength is indeed formidable, my people have collected extensive dossiers on all of you..."

With that, he pulled his hands back out of the crate, now holding a sleepy-looking house cat. "...including your weaknesses."

Ranma's eyes bulged in unthinking terror and he scrambled backward as fast as he could, desperate to get away from the small furry animal. By the time he reached the far end of the chamber he managed to barely check his flight, but he was still trembling, his hand clenched in a deathgrip on the catwalk railing to the point where it was twisting the metal.

Tanizaki's smile widened. Then he turned to Unit Zero. "Keep Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Pluto alive if you can," he ordered. "I would prefer to bring their powers under my control as well. As for Sailor Moon, claim the Silver Crystal from her... and then kill her.."



**********



Zhang moved step by step through the thick cloud of smoke, wielding a sai in each hand. The assassin strained his perception against Mousse's stealth technique, searching the white haze with every sense he could bring to bear. In a situation like this, even a moment's delay in reaction could be fatal.

Finally, Zhang spoke. "You're doing better than I expected," he called out into the shifting cloud. "I never thought you could give me this much of a challenge."

No reply. Zhang turned to face the general direction he thought Mousse might be trying to flank him from. "Actually, what surprises me even more is that you're here at all," he said. "Thinking back, all those years ago... wasn't it your friend who usually won when the two of you sparred? I would have bet on him surviving that night, not you. Out of curiosity... how did you manage to kill him?"

The assassin sensed a flash of murderous intent boil out from the swirling cloud, and he turned toward exactly where Mousse was standing. That's the problem with stealth techniques, he thought, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. They can be such fragile things...

"Did you play on his sense of compassion, maybe?" Zhang continued as he walked through the smoke. "I do remember him being a weakling in that respect. If you took advantage of his soft heart and attacked him when his guard was down, it would make sense."

Zhang could sense Mousse struggling to keep his emotions suppressed, but such a thing was far easier said than done. Struggle though he might, it wasn't enough. "Well, whatever tactic you used, it obviously worked," Zhang said. "You're here, alive, and his corpse is feeding the worms. In the end... that's the only thing that matters."

Mousse's battle aura was blazing now. They both knew that the stealth technique was a lost cause. Even so, Zhang kept twisting the knife. "I hope you at least had the stomach to end his life yourself," he said. "The poison I used back then is extremely agonizing in its final stages... and I hate to think how he would have suffered if you left him to meet his end that way."

A howl of fury echoed through the cloud, and Zhang sensed Mousse hurtling straight toward him. The killing intent behind the strike was so crystal clear that Zhang might as well have seen it with his actual eyes. He threw up both his sai in a cross-block that caught Mousse's sword between them. Steel clashed against steel, the sheer force reverberating through Zhang's frame. This close, he could see Mousse's enraged expression with his own eyes.

The blind warrior did not withdraw back into his smokescreen this time. Instead he kept up the attack, slashing at Zhang with murderous force, both men drawing and discarding weapons at a blistering pace to try and gain an advantage over the other. Sparks flew around them as they struck and spun and parried. All the while, a smile was spreading across Zhang's face.

Now the fight was back in his favor.



**********



Sailor Pluto fired Dead Scream after Dead Scream down the catwalk toward Tanizaki and Unit Zero, while Tuxedo Kamen hurled roses as fast as he could. But the projectiles and energy blasts met with no more success than before, impacting harmlessly against the clone's magical shield. She can already leech this much power from the Silver Crystal? Sailor Pluto thought in disbelief. This is dangerous. We can't let it go any further!

With her other hand, the clone was already preparing her counterattack. Power gathered there, crackling and white-hot, power to dwarf anything they could bring to bear. Sailor Moon let out another scream as Unit Zero ripped the magic away from her to fuel the attack. Then the clone unleashed it, an enormous beam of magical energy exploding out from her hand, sweeping toward the small group. It was like staring an oncoming tsunami in the face, a wall of magical annihilation crashing toward them.

But before it could hit, Sailor Moon made an unsteady lunge up from her kneeling position and back to her feet, standing in front of them. She braced herself, thrusting both palms out in a shove. The blast broke around her own defensive barrier, howling past on every side of them.

The clone's attack did not abate. Indeed, the punishing stream of energy only increased in power. But even so, Sailor Moon began to push forward, moving directly into the storm. At first it was just a step, then two, but with each step she picked up speed until she was running at full tilt. When she reached her double it was with a flying tackle, wrapping her arms around Unit Zero as the two of them tumbled over the edge of the catwalk and out of sight.

"Sailor Moon!" shouted Tuxedo Kamen, rushing to the edge of the catwalk himself. He looked down to see where his love had fallen, a rose already in his hand to throw in support.

It was then that Tanizaki himself struck. One moment he was standing off at a distance, the next he had covered it in the blink of an eye, using all that momentum to drive a kick into Tuxedo Kamen's rib cage. The masked man couldn't react to the sudden assault in time, his body jackknifing and flying back to land in an end-over-end roll.

"I'm afraid that I cannot allow you to interfere with what Unit Zero is about to do," Tanizaki said. He began to advance on them, stroking the cat in his arms as he walked closer and closer. Each deliberate step clanked against the metal catwalk. "For the present, I am your opponent."

And then he resumed his attack.



**********



Vertigo clutched at Sailor Moon's stomach as she and her clone went over the edge of the catwalk and into an uncontrolled fall. Down and down they plummeted, tumbling around each other, gaining speed with every moment, until Sailor Moon felt her back strike the outer railing of one of the lower catwalks. She rebounded off with a cry of pain, then continued her fall the rest of the way to crash into the chamber floor.

She rolled back to her hands and knees, her movements wobbly and uneven. Her body hurt, but that was nothing compared to the raw, agonizing emptiness that was eating away at her. The clone was pulling on her very essence in a terrible tug-of-war.

It felt much like when Sailor Lead Crow had tried to extract her Star Seed... but even worse. Because in addition to her own pain, she could also sense a mirror of that pain coming from the clone, as the two of them struggled over that one vital piece of themselves. Every pull that Unit Zero made increased her wracking agony, and every time she tried to pull herself, she could feel an echo of the pain it caused the other girl.

"Please!" Sailor Moon begged again. "You have to listen to me! I don't know what he did to you, but you don't need to be afraid of him anymore! We can stop this if you just trust me!"

But the words had no effect. In her heart, Sailor Moon had known they wouldn't. Even beyond Tanizaki's brainwashing, she could see the desperate need in her double's eyes, the need to fill the same horrible void that Sailor Moon could also feel. The clone's expression was like that of a drowning swimmer, clutching in blind panic at anything that might save her.

She was fighting for her life, just as much as Sailor Moon was.

On the catwalk high above them the sounds of combat could also be heard, along with glimpses of furious movement as her friends battled against Tanizaki. The clone was also back on her feet, and thrust her hand out toward Sailor Moon once more, raw magic suffusing the air between them as they each called on more and more of the Silver Crystal's power.

Unit Zero clenched her fingers into claws, then raised her arm. Sailor Moon felt herself being lifted bodily into the air, kicking and thrashing as she tried to tear herself free. Then the clone made a vicious swiping motion, flinging Sailor Moon across the length of the chamber. Air rushed past her as she flew, howling in her ears from the sheer velocity. It only stopped when she hit the far wall with bone-jarring force.

The impact smashed a huge crater into the metal wall, and shattered all the nearby Synth tanks. Orange fluid and shards of glass sprayed everywhere, as Sailor Moon cried out. Nor did the clone give her a chance to recover. Instead, she repeated the action, flinging her opponent back across the chamber in the other direction, hitting the opposite wall to the same effect.

She tried to fling Sailor Moon a third time, but this time Sailor Moon countered, reaching out with her own magic to interfere with the clone's grasp. The Senshi slumped against the shattered metal wall, using it to prop herself up as she strained to wrest control of the writhing flow of invisible force running between them. Both girls strained themselves, their bodies trembling, sweat running down their faces as they matched will against will.

As they struggled, Sailor Moon heard a sickening crunch from up above, and then Sailor Pluto's limp body went flying off the edge of the catwalk, slamming into the wall, then tumbling all the way down to their level to land in a crumpled heap. Both her arms were broken, and she was bruised and bleeding. Horrified, Sailor Moon turned her head to make sure she was still alive.

Unit Zero took advantage of the distraction. More power gathered in her hands, power that Sailor Moon felt ripped out of her. The clone unleashed another enormous beam of magical power, and this time it hit Sailor Moon head-on. She threw up her arms in an attempt at a defense, but the blast still smashed her completely through the wall behind her, and the wall behind that, and the wall behind that, until Sailor Moon lost count. Her awareness only returned after she had come to a stop.

She could hear the footsteps of her approaching double, as the other girl advanced through the trail of carnage her blast had carved. Right now, Sailor Moon was lying face down in the wreckage of an office of some kind, but her vision was blurry and the details were difficult to make out. She turned to look up at Unit Zero, just in time to see the clone thrust one hand out toward her.

Sailor Moon screamed. The forces wrenching at her inmost being intensified, and a blinding light shone from her forehead. And then, despite all her efforts to resist, the Silver Crystal was torn from her, levitating up into the air between them. Waves of pure light radiated from its flower-shaped, multi-faceted structure, even as it continued to fly away from Sailor Moon.

The Senshi's eyes widened. She knew what it would mean for her friends—for the whole world—if Tanizaki gained control over the Silver Crystal. She thrust her own hand out in a grasping motion, much like Unit Zero had done. The movement of the Silver Crystal slowed, then began to oscillate back and forth, vibrating in the air, sometimes shifting closer to Sailor Moon, sometimes closer to the clone.

Back and forth they fought, struggling for control over the brilliant Star Seed. Sailor Moon's arm shook, her mind racing in circles as she tried to think of what she could do. But she couldn't come up with anything. And slowly but surely, the overall course of the Silver Crystal drifted closer and closer to Unit Zero.



**********



Ranma watched from the far end of the metal bridge, heart hammering painfully in his chest, his breathing just shy of hyperventilation, his eyes fixed on the damned cat in Tanizaki's arms. No matter how many times he told his body to move, his trembling, locked-up muscles refused to carry him any closer to that horrific little thing. It was only a constant struggle of his will that kept him from running even farther away.

Tuxedo Kamen's crumpled body lay at Tanizaki's feet, moving slightly but unable to stand. Sailor Pluto had long since been kicked over the edge. Shampoo was the only one left on her feet, and even she had not escaped unscathed. She was limping, favoring her left leg, and there was blood running down her face from a hit she'd taken to the forehead. Tanizaki, by contrast, didn't have a scratch on him.

The older man stood there, watching dispassionately as Shampoo moved in toward him, her stance defensive, her movements wary and tense. Then, just as she reach a point halfway between Ranma and Tanizaki, the businessman spoke. "Don't."

Shampoo hesitated, though with her back to him, Ranma couldn't see her expression. Tanizaki, meanwhile, continued to speak, his voice calm and direct. "You're a competent fighter, especially for one so young. You've acquitted yourself well. I respect that. But this is a fight you can't win. If you continue, I will kill you."

"Suit-man think Shampoo just give up?" the young warrioress shot back.

"Why not?" asked Tanizaki. "You have no stake in Sailor Moon's fate. Until a few days ago, you were enemies. Who is she to you now, that you would throw your life away in a hopeless effort to defend her?"

"Shampoo fight next to Airen," was Shampoo's unhesitating reply. "Shampoo is not abandoning. Not ever."

"Ah yes..." Tanizaki's eyes flicked over to where Ranma was cowering for a moment, then back to Shampoo. "I remember from your file. Your tribe has an absolute law about your marriage to him, correct? But... no, I can see it's more than just that. You really do care for him, don't you? And yet his affection belongs to someone else. Where does that leave you, I wonder?"

Shampoo flinched, as though struck. "Shampoo already know where Ranma heart is," she said, her voice quiet. "Shampoo not need suit-man to tell her."

"Then allow me to sweeten my offer," replied Tanizaki, his gaze focused on her with burning intensity. "Walk away. And I will give you Ranma in the bargain."

"...what?" There was something unreadable in Shampoo's voice. "What suit-man talking about?"

"I am talking about the power of the Silver Crystal," Tanizaki said. "Power that can rewrite the entire planet according to the whim of its wielder. It has done so before. And it can do so again."

The businessman gestured over to where Sailor Moon and Unit Zero had gone over the edge of the catwalk. "Once Sailor Moon is dead—and the Silver Crystal is under Unit Zero's uncontested control—all that power will be mine to command. And when I restructure the world, it would be a trivial matter to assign you and Ranma new places in it. Such as, for example... a happy, newlywed couple in your native village. Who have never even heard of Nerima or Tendo Akane."

Shampoo said nothing at all, leaving only a crushing silence. After a few moments, Tanizaki spoke again. "I honestly have no animosity toward any of you," he said. "I made an offer to Ranma when we first met. I'm making one to you now. Take it. This is the only chance you have of getting out of this alive. This is the only chance you have of being with the boy you love."

Even through the haze of cat-induced terror, the thought of so utterly losing Akane hit Ranma like a blow to the stomach. And yet... could he even blame Shampoo if she accepted? Tanizaki was right about her chances. Ranma had fought Tanizaki, had lost to him. And as good as she was, Shampoo wasn't on Ranma's level.

"Walk away," Tanizaki repeated. "Just walk away. And you can have everything you ever wanted."

The terrible silence continued. Then, finally, Shampoo turned to look back at Ranma, deep into his eyes, as if she was trying to burn what she saw there into her memory. Then the Joketsuzoku girl gave him a smile. A small, sad little smile that caused Ranma's heart to clench in his chest.

Once she had done that, she turned back to Tanizaki. "Suit-man can take offer and stick up ass," she told him. "Is not one single thing Shampoo want from suit-man."

And with that she broke into a run, charging across the catwalk toward her opponent.



**********



Tanizaki sighed in vexation as he watched the young woman race toward him. What a waste, he thought. Still, she had made her choice.

When she attacked him this time it was with renewed energy, her strikes coming even faster than before. Her long hair whipped around her as she twisted, dodged, spun, her hands and feet lashing out in a complex series of strikes, trying to create an opening she could exploit. Tanizaki leaned back and forth around her blows, allowing them to pass harmlessly by, all the while continuing to stroke the cat in his arms.

Then he went on the offensive, snapping out a kick aimed at her head. She barely managed to deflect it, scrambling backward as she did so. He kept up the pressure, hammering her with kick after kick, targeting high and low, switching legs back and forth in unpredictable patterns. He drove her back toward Ranma, crushing her offensive completely and forcing her into a frantic, all-out defense just to survive the onslaught.

Soon she started to run out of room. She tried to get to the other side of him, diving in low and rolling underneath one of his kicks to slip behind him. And she succeeded—only to have Tanizaki use the same leg to kick backward without setting it down. That kick got through her guard, slamming into her rib cage. She cried out in pain as her body was flung through the air like a rag doll. She crashed into Tuxedo Kamen, who had been trying to pull himself up to a kneeling position. The two of them tumbled over each other before finally coming to a rest, Shampoo on top.

The Joketsuzoku girl struggled back to her feet, but it was obvious that the hit had been a telling one. She was moving slower now, wobbling a little, pain filling her expression. This fight is over, Tanizaki thought. Not that she ever had any chance to begin with.

Even so, she went on the attack again. He turned to face her, while still making sure to angle his body so that he held the cat in Ranma's view. The fire he saw in her eyes as she came at him was undiminished, even if her movements were now less steady.

Tanizaki waited until she reached him, but this time he didn't even let her get any attacks off. He met her charge with a savage series of kicks, and in her diminished state she could not fend them off. Within seconds one got through, hitting the side of her knee and snapping it with a loud crack. She screamed in agony as she tumbled to the ground, landing on her back.

Without any pause, Tanizaki swung his leg up, then back down in a vicious axe kick aimed to break her neck just as he had broken her leg. She threw both her hands up, somehow managing to catch his foot's meteoric descent. But he just continued to push down, her arms trembling from the strain as his foot drew ever closer to her throat. It was taking all her strength just to hold off the inevitable for a few more moments.

He looked into her eyes again, curious whether her imminent death had taken any of the defiance out of them. It hadn't. She looked back up at him from the ground, unafraid.

Then she smirked.

Her hand made a deft, blindingly fast motion, and suddenly Tanizaki felt something sharp pierce his skin right where she was gripping his foot. He tried to pull his leg away... only to find that he was completely paralyzed. And looking closer, he saw what it was that Shampoo had stabbed him with.

A red rose.

Tanizaki's eyes widened as he realized—too late—just how badly he had underestimated this girl. The kick that had knocked her into Tuxedo Kamen... she had deliberately given him that opening. She had willingly taken the damage, in exchange for the chance to whisper a plan to her ally without Tanizaki realizing. In exchange for the chance to slip one of his enchanted projectiles up her sleeve.

She had known from the beginning that she wouldn't be able to beat him in a direct fight. Instead, everything she had done, every move she had made, every injury she had taken... it had all been leading up to this one moment.

"Do now!" Shampoo shouted. Out of the corner of his eye, Tanizaki saw movement over by where Tuxedo Kamen lay. The masked man was still too injured to stand, but with a trembling arm he managed to lift his black cane, aiming it. Then it exploded outward, extending to stretch across the distance between them and slam with unerring accuracy into the cat held in Tanizaki's arms, tearing the small creature from his grasp.

Already the paralysis was losing its momentary effect on Tanizaki... but that momentary effect had been one moment too long. The cat was beyond his reach, already traveling at a velocity that would leave little of it recognizable once it hit the wall. That particular advantage was about to disappear.

But he still had enough of a window to finish off Shampoo. He regretted the necessity even more now, having glimpsed her true capabilities. She was clearly exceptional. But she had rejected his offer, chosen to remain his enemy, and he could not afford to let such an exceptional enemy live. The young warrioress looked up at him, even now completely fearless. She must have known from the beginning that she would be trading her life to pull off her plan.

Raising his hands, Tanizaki stabbed both of them down toward the spent girl.



**********



For Ranma, time slowed to a crawl.

The cat was flying in his direction, propelled by Tuxedo Kamen's extending cane. Every instinct screamed at Ranma to flee. But in that moment, he also realized one thing with terrible clarity. Shampoo was about to die. If he ran now, then even when the cat was gone it would be too late. Tanizaki would have killed her.

Mere seconds ago, Ranma could not have imagined being more afraid than he was of the cat. But the fear he felt in that moment eclipsed it entirely. A strangled scream tore itself from his throat as he burst into motion, launching himself toward the oncoming feline. They passed each other halfway, the cat shooting right past his head. It was terrifying... but only the second most terrifying thing facing him.

Once the cat was behind him his speed increased even more, his thoughts growing clearer almost immediately. He shot across the catwalk, a living missile of red and black. Tanizaki jerked his head up, surprise written across his features, just in time for Ranma to drive a kick straight into the man's center of mass, blasting him away just before his attacks could touch Shampoo.

Panting for breath, his hands trembling, Ranma knelt down next to the Chinese girl. Shampoo looked back up at him, fierce pride in her eyes as she smiled through the pain. She's incredible... Ranma thought, looking at her in amazement. Pulling off something like that, against those odds...

At the far end of the catwalk, Tanizaki used the railing to pull himself back to his feet, cracking his neck left and right. Ranma got up as well. From the sound of it, the battle below between Sailor Moon and her clone had moved elsewhere in the building, though a quick glance over the edge confirmed that Sailor Pluto still lay far below, on the ground floor of the immense chamber.

"You guys are in no shape to fight," Ranma told Shampoo. "I hate to ask this... but could you get Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Pluto out of here? Try to meet up with the others and let them know what's going on. I'll handle this asshole."

"Shampoo do it," the young woman assured him, struggling to her feet despite her pain and limping toward Tuxedo Kamen. Ranma, for his part, walked toward where Tanizaki stood, his battle aura blazing as he readied himself for the imminent confrontation.



**********



Sailor Venus clenched her teeth, trying to ignore the pain from the bloody gashes she'd taken. Her opponent's whip had carved deep lacerations across her stomach and shoulder, ripping her sailor seifuku and staining it red. Nevertheless, with a burst of effort, she increased the speed of her chain swings, pushing the older woman back as the criss-crossing golden links shredded the air.

Forced into a corner, the whip-woman took the only opening she could find. She jumped off at an angle through a slight gap in the attacks. At the same time she lashed out with her whip at Sailor Venus' face, scoring a glancing hit that ripped a series of cuts across the Senshi's right cheek. Only by jerking her head away at the last moment did Sailor Venus keep one of the barbs from catching her in the eye.

But even as her blood flew through the air, Sailor Venus manipulated her chain to further adjust its course. It caught up with the woman's dodge, coiling around her ankle in mid-jump. Planting her feet, Sailor Venus yanked hard while giving her chain a mental command, and swung her foe in a wide arc around her. She used her enemy as a bludgeon, first sending her crashing through a cluster of Synths attacking Ukyo. Then she swung the woman back in the other direction, knocking another martial artist sprawling who had been just about to jump at Sailor Saturn.

Finally, she ordered the chain to fling the whip-woman straight upward. The enemy's body smashed through the ceiling and into the floor above. Sailor Venus continued her overhead swing, the Love-Me Chain carving through the ceiling above her until she brought her opponent crashing back down through the ceiling again on the other side.

Before the woman could recover, Sailor Venus twisted her chain to wind around her foe multiple times, binding her tight. Once the enemy martial artist was secure, Sailor Venus gathered power in her hand, concentrating it until golden radiance shone out from between her fingers. Then, with a wink, she used that hand to blow a kiss at the woman, sending the small, spinning heart of the Venus Love and Beauty Shock drifting lazily toward her.

When it hit, the detonation was immense. The shockwave blew Sailor Venus's hair back and rendered the whip-woman completely unconscious. With that taken care of, Sailor Venus turned around, taking stock of the situation. Most of the enemy martial artists were down at this point, and without their support, the remaining Synths had become much easier to deal with.

Sailor Jupiter stood over the prone body of the martial artist she had been fighting, who was even now twitching occasionally as residual bursts of electricity arced around him. She had picked up the bat he had been wielding, and was using it to smash away any Synth that got too close. Few did, however, considering that Sailor Saturn was holding most them at bay with her slashing glaive and well-timed uses of her Silence Wall. This left Sailor Jupiter free to spend most of her time releasing wave after wave of destructive energy, with cries of "Jupiter Oak Evolution!"

The countless green energy blasts shot from her tiara at speeds like that of a machine gun, yet striking with the force of grenades. The blasts flung enemies around like rag dolls, carving through their formations. The few left standing became easy pickings for Ukyo and Sailor Neptune, who were darting around the battlefield, striking wherever they saw an opportunity. Between all of that, the liquefied remains of countless Synths blanketed the floor.

The odds had shifted decisively in their favor, and what was left was mostly cleanup. At this point there was only one significant foe remaining.

Sailor Venus looked over to where Ryouga was fighting the Thai martial artist. Their battle had raged all across the area, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake as they exchanged kicks, punches, elbow strikes, knee strikes and ki blasts without pause or rest. Sailor Venus aimed her fingers, ready to assist with a Crescent Beam, but the two figures were locked so tightly in combat, moving and twisting so fast as the hammered each other, that she was worried she could just as easily hit Ryouga as her target.

And it turned out to be unnecessary. As she looked closer, she realized that the other man was outmatched. Ryouga was overwhelming him. No matter how many times they traded blows, the lost boy only came at him faster, fiercer the next time. Sailor Venus saw desperation enter the man's eyes as he was forced increasingly on the defensive, giving ground under the punishing assault.

There was no quick end to that fight. No single technique to decide it. Both fighters were too impossibly durable for something so easy, and even after it became obvious who held the upper hand, the older warrior refused to give in. The struggle dragged on to its bitter, grinding conclusion, becoming progressively less of a fight, and more a brutal, one-sided beating. When Ryouga hit the man for the last time, finally sending his limp body to the floor in unconsciousness, Sailor Venus let out a relieved breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. It was over.

Ryouga stood over his fallen enemy, panting for breath. His shirt was tattered, his clenched fists stained with his opponent's blood. He looked savage, almost animalistic, and Sailor Venus flinched a little at the sight.

Then Ryouga looked up, over to where Sailor Saturn stood on the other side of the room, watching him. Immediately he looked away again, cringing as his gaze shifted to the floor. He didn't want her to see him like that, Sailor Venus realized.

Because Ryouga was looking down, he didn't see Sailor Saturn walk over, not until she was right next to him. She gently took his hand in hers, causing him to look back up, startled. Then she placed her other hand on top of his, her healing magic flowing from that point of contact to soothe the injuries covering his body.

Ryouga opened his mouth to reply. He struggled for the words, before finally managing to fumble something out. "I... uh... Thank you."

Sailor Saturn nodded, smiled, then turned to the others. "I can heal anyone else who got hurt," she said. "And then let's go rescue those prisoners!"



**********



Sailor Mars sprinted through the empty hallways, following a circuitous path toward Ekim's quarters. She could hear the battle raging behind her, the sounds of Konatsu fighting to buy her time. She couldn't let him down. She had to find whatever Ekim had created with Sailor Moon's blood, and destroy it. Pushing herself to run even faster, she rounded the final corner before her destination came into view.

The entire outer wall had been blasted apart, offering her easy access. Sailor Mars dashed inside, her eyes darting left and right, taking rapid stock of everything. The stone altar was the room's most obvious feature, but while it was magical, it didn't have the sense of magic that had attacked Sailor Moon. There were also all manner of shelves lining the walls, filled with books, scrolls and other occult paraphernalia. She ran over to the nearest one and began searching.

The taint of unholy magic radiated from most of the items, but none of them matched what she was expecting to find. Nor did they bear any traces of Sailor Moon's blood or essence that she could detect. Soon she moved on to the next shelf, but with no more success than before.

Minute after minute of desperate searching went by, until she had gone through every single one of the shelves in the area. But she had nothing whatsoever to show for it. In frustration, she slammed her fist into the wall. This is taking too long! she thought. Konatsu is out there fighting for his life, and I don't know if what I'm looking for is even here!

As the noise from her outburst faded, Sailor Mars just barely heard something else. It was quiet, but it was unmistakably the sound of movement. She turned, looking in that direction. The noise had come from a different area of Ekim's quarters, behind a reinforced door that she hadn't opened yet.

Sailor Mars stepped closer, ready for an attack, every sense alert. Who knows what kind of monsters Ekim keeps nearby? she wondered, remembering all too well the misshapen horrors he had sent against them at Naru's home.

But she had to search everywhere, no matter what unnatural guardians Ekim might have left behind. A solid kick was enough to break the door's lock, and it swung open. The room on the other side was unlit, shrouded in murky shadow. She did see a small, indistinct movement deep within. But nothing emerged toward her, and what little movement she did see was accompanied by the sound of clinking chains.

A terrible apprehension clenched at Sailor Mars' chest. She knelt down, lowering herself to be closer to the source of the movement, and extended her hand, palm up. A small fire ignited there, its warm light expanding outward until it revealed what the shadows had hidden.

It was a small room, the walls and floor all concrete, with no furnishings except for a grate in the center of the floor. A thick steel chain was fastened to the floor at one end, while the other end connected to a set of manacles. Those manacles bound the ankles of the four children who were huddled trembling in the far corner, watching her with fear in their eyes.

Sailor Mars sucked in a breath. Her first instinct was to rush over to them, but she could see how terrified they were. Instead, she forced herself to approach slowly, calmly. "Don't be afraid," she assured them. "I'm not going to hurt you."

There was no answer. Looking closer, Sailor Mars wasn't even certain they spoke Japanese. They were a mix of ethnicities, two boys and two girls, ranging in age from around five to nine. All of them were poorly dressed and looked malnourished, looking at her with tears in their eyes. With no answer immediately forthcoming, Sailor Mars turned to the chain restraining them and gave it an experimental tug.

It doesn't make sense, the Senshi thought, trying to wrap her mind around the sudden discovery. Why is he keeping them here? Everything else in this place is all materials for his magic. Why would he—?

Then her eyes widened. Slowly, Sailor Mars turned to look over her shoulder, back out to the main room of Ekim's sanctum. Out to where the altar stood, with the stone knife laying atop it.

And then she understood.

Raw, molten fury laid hold of her. A consuming, volcanic rage that boiled up from inside until her entire body trembled with the struggle to contain it. An acrid scent filled the room, and she heard a heavy clank from the floor. She looked down, to see that her grip had melted straight through the chain, severing it in two. The liquified metal felt cool to the touch as it dripped between her fingers.

She looked back up at the children, into their frightened eyes. "Please... wait here for now," she heard herself say. "As long as that man is still out there, it's too dangerous for you to leave. But I'll come back for you once it's safe."



**********



Konatsu backpedaled, twisting and jumping, a kunai knife held in each hand. He searched for an opening to throw them, even as he dodged dark red beams of magic and the ever-advancing tide of devouring filth. The running battle had pushed him all the way back to where he began. The elevator was directly behind him, its doors wrenched open by Sailor Mars in her exit from the empty shaft.

He didn't have much room left. And Ekim knew it too. The sorcerer wore a crazed, gloating smile as he advanced, secure in his invincibility, untroubled by the many wounds Konatsu had inflicted on him. The corruption washed over the walls, the floor, the ceiling, flowing toward him from every angle. I can't hold him for much longer... Konatsu thought. I only hope that I bought enough time for Miss Mars to accomplish what she needed to do.

Then, without warning, he saw Sailor Mars round the corner behind Ekim. The sorcerer whirled, but then his expression became condescending when he saw who it was. "Ah, so you didn't just flee," he said. "But what do you hope to accomplish by returning, little girl? You've already seen how your pitiful magic compares against mine."

Sailor Mars gave no response. Konatsu frowned. There was something different about the Senshi, something that unnerved him for reasons he could not explain. He looked closer, and noticed that her hands were clenched into fists, so tight that they were trembling.

It was then that Konatsu noticed that the air surrounding him was steadily increasing in temperature.

The ninja swallowed, his danger sense going ballistic. He took a slow step back. Then another. Ekim noticed, and let out a contemptuous snort. "You see?" he said, gesturing at the ninja. "Even your own ally retreats rather than aid a lost cause."

Still, Sailor Mars said nothing. With a wave of his hand, Ekim sent his tide of corruption flowing in her direction, spreading out to encircle her on every side. She ignored it, her gaze not wavering from him. With a smirk Ekim clenched his fist, causing the black sludge to launch itself at her from every angle.

And then Sailor Mars called down fire.

Konatsu jerked his eyes away from the blinding eruption, shielding himself with his arms. A roaring wave of superheated air slammed into him as he scrambled away. Searing, merciless heat poured out from Sailor Mars as she levitated in the air, fire enveloping her in a howling cyclone. Her long black hair whipped about her, as on her forehead blazed the symbol of Mars, written with living flame.

All the corruption Ekim had attacked her with vanished, reduced to ash in an instant and then even the ash consumed until there was nothing left. The sorcerer lurched backward, his eyes wide with fear, tripping and landing on his back as he did so. He continued to pull himself backward, using his hands until he was able to scramble back to his feet.

Konatsu's breath caught in his throat as he watched the girl at the heart of the consuming inferno. Her outward form had not changed. But even so, to Konatsu's eyes she no longer resembled anything remotely human. Looking at her, he caught a glimpse of something else. Something ancient and beautiful and terrible.

Thrashing his hands, Ekim flung any remaining corruption at her. But it had no effect, incinerating before it came anywhere close. He thrust out his palms at her, his floating spheres firing their beams of crimson energy. But the power of her flame ripped his magic apart, without her even raising a finger. His efforts were useless, nothing more than chaff and tinder before the wrath of the living incarnation of Fire and War.

Mars stretched out her palm, leveling it at the sorcerer. Ekim's hands shot into the pockets of his robe, pulling out occult symbols and devices with frantic speed, invoking and expending them all in an effort to find something, anything that might save him. He shouted incantation after incantation, throwing wave after wave of dark magic against her, but none of it could affect the thing she had become.

Finally Ekim switched to defense, summoning a shield of pulsating black magic around him. He then layered it with glowing red runes, forming an extra layer of protection that strengthened and supported the outer shell. "By the power of the Nameless One..." the sorcerer screamed. "He who waits in the void beyond reality... the corrupter of light, the devourer of the innocent... I ward myself against your assault!"

Mars looked down at him, her gaze focusing past the magical barriers between them to the man himself. He stood there with his trembling arms crossed protectively in front of him. Then she spoke, her voice shaking with fury. A single word. A command.

"Burn."

Fire immolated Ekim's entire body. It erupted from nowhere and enveloped him, leaving nothing visible except flame shaped in the outline of a man. The sorcerer screamed and screamed and screamed, arms thrashing wildly, his spells vanishing as his concentration was shattered.

In a crazed attempt to escape, he turned and ran. His flight was a blind one, his only aim to get away from her. He ran past Konatsu, the heat washing over the ninja as Ekim stumbled by, along with the pungent scent of burning flesh. His heedless, headlong flight continued until he reached the far end of the hallway.

There, instead of his next step finding the floor beneath it... Ekim's foot found only the empty air of the open elevator shaft. Konatsu heard one last wailing scream of terror as the sorcerer's blazing body vanished from sight, falling down the interior of the skyscraper.

Once he had fallen so far that the scream was no longer audible, Konatsu turned back to Mars. He was just in time to see her crumple, the cyclone of fire fading from the air around her. Whatever she had done—whatever power she had touched—its use had clearly taken a great deal from her. Konatsu rushed over, catching her as she fell and kneeling beside her. "Miss Mars!"

The Senshi lifted her head to look up at him, and Konatsu could see that even that was an effort. "Back... in Ekim's room," she told him, her voice barely above a whisper. "Door... in the far wall. You have to... get them out of there."

"I will." He didn't know what she was talking about, but he could tell that it was important to her. She gave a relieved smile at his words, then slumped down into unconsciousness.

Reaching down, Konatsu pulled the girl onto his back, maneuvering her so that her limp arms draped over his shoulders from behind, with his own arms supporting her legs from underneath. Thus secure, he turned and ran back toward Ekim's quarters.



**********



Vakeri lay on the surgical bed, occasionally straining against the thick metal manacles holding her there. Outside, the sounds of combat had died down, leaving the youma with more questions than before. Who in all the hells was attacking this place? And if the fighting was over, who had won?

Whoever the attackers were, she hoped they had been victorious. Not that she expected it would help her any. She knew that there was no one left out there with any reason to care about the pathetic, broken remnants of the Dark Kingdom. Still, she wished retribution with all her heart on Tanizaki and his people for the torturous experiments they'd subjected her to.

After an interminable silence, she heard footsteps approaching the door to her room. They sounded as if made by the awkward-looking footwear that the humans called "high heels". Vakeri frowned. None of Tanizaki's doctors wore them, nor did any of the guards. Was this one of the attackers now?

Then the door swung open... revealing the blonde-haired form of one of the Sailor Senshi. Sailor Venus.

Vakeri laughed. It was the only thing she could do, a hysterical laugh that came out as half-laugh, half-sob. This had to be some kind of fate. After all she had survived, the defeat of the Dark Kingdom, Tanizaki's invasion, Metzger's testing... she'd lived through it all only to die to the age-old enemies of her people anyway.

The Sailor Senshi came toward her, deadly golden magic gathering at her fingertips. At least it's over now... Vakeri thought. They won't be able to hurt me anymore. She closed her eyes, looking away as she waited for the end.

"Crescent Beam!" The sound of the magic attack filled Vakeri's ears. But to her surprise, she found that after it had faded she was still alive. Opening her eyes, she saw that Sailor Venus had used the beam to slice apart the manacles on her right arm. As Vakeri watched, dumbstruck, Sailor Venus repeated the process on the other side. "Come on!" the Senshi said, offering the youma her hand. "We're getting you out of here!"

It took several seconds for Vakeri to even begin to wrap her mind around what was happening. "Wh-what?" she finally managed. "What are you talking about?"

"This is a rescue! Come on!" was Sailor Venus' urgent reply. Reaching down, she grabbed Vakeri by her wrist and pulled her to her feet. "We don't have a lot of time, so we have to hurry!"

"Wait!" Vakeri shouted. She still didn't understand what was going on, but there was one thing of crucial importance regardless. "I... I can't go. This collar..." She pointed to the bulky device around her neck. "If we try to leave this floor, it explodes."

"Oh. Right." Sailor Venus fiddled with her communicator and then spoke into it. "Sailor Mercury, we found the monsters. Can you do something about their collars?"

"Of course," came a static-tinged voice in reply. "It's all computer controlled, and right now I have exclusive control over every system on their network." A few seconds later there was a loud beep from the collar, and then it clicked open, falling to the ground with a thud.

"Come on!" Sailor Venus said again, pulling the stunned Vakeri behind her as she exited the room. Vakeri followed in a dazed state of shock, just barely managing to believe that this wasn't all just an insane dream.



**********



Ranma's fists and feet were impossible to track with the naked eye as he and Tanizaki dueled up and down the long metal walkway, trading strikes and blocks in equal proportion. Ranma threw all his skill and speed into the assault, raining down countless attacks every second while deflecting just as many in return. His forearms ached from absorbing so many of his enemy's punishing attacks, but Ranma ignored it, ratcheting up the intensity of his own attacks even more.

Suddenly Tanizaki thrust both his palms out, hurling a ki blast from point-blank range. But Ranma leapt off the bridge, the destructive energy blazing past as he aimed his trajectory toward one of the higher catwalks criss-crossing the chamber. He grabbed hold of the railing, swinging around it to spin himself off in a different direction as a second ki attack crashed into that catwalk as well.

The blast detonated, smashing the bridge in two and causing the remnants to buckle and fall, with twisted metal and debris tumbling down. But Ranma had already launched himself over to yet another catwalk, from which he immediately rebounded to plummet back down at his foe. Tanizaki tried to intercept him with yet more ki blasts, but this time Ranma countered with a barrage of his own. The two salvos collided, the resulting explosions filling the air with hot, raging energy.

Which was exactly what Ranma wanted. He called on the Body of Ice technique, focusing the cold particularly to his palms and projecting it outward. As he dove through the twisting energy patterns he wove them into a small cyclone around himself. The force of the sudden winds accelerated him toward Tanizaki with increased speed on a crazy, corkscrew path, leg outstretched.

"Hiryu Korin Yari!" he shouted, as he planted the diving kick into Tanizaki's guard. The attack blasted the older man off the catwalk and flung him across the chamber, cratering the metal wall between two of the Synth tanks.

Tanizaki grimaced in pain, but then pulled himself out of the wall and kicked off of it, landing back on the bridge in front of Ranma again. "Not bad," he said. "Your file mentioned that you could use environmental ki manipulation... but it didn't do justice to the level of skill you've attained."

Ranma smirked. "Yeah? Well you ain't seen nothing yet."

Tanizaki surged forward, and Ranma ran to meet him as well. They collided in another blistering exchange of blows, hammering at each other in complex patterns of attack. Each move, each feint, each strike led into the next, as they each tried to outmaneuver the other with layers upon layers of interweaving gambits.

The contest raged on, neither gaining a significant advantage. Until suddenly—right in the middle of a punch that Ranma was about to block—Tanizaki altered his attack. Instead of a punch, he jabbed a single finger into a very specific point on his opponent's right arm. Ranma realized the true target just a tiny fraction of a second too late as Tanizaki hit the pressure point, discharging a small burst of ki into it from his fingertip.

A scream tore itself from Ranma's throat as pain flooded his arm. His limb went into spasmodic convulsions, and Tanizaki took immediate advantage of the opening, diving forward in an attempt to land more strikes. In an instant, the man's entire style changed, his devastating punches and kicks replaced by sharp, surgical finger strikes.

Ranma swore, launching himself away as fast as he could go in a frantic, one-handed defense, but he couldn't keep up anymore. Tanizaki exploited the opening left by Ranma's disabled arm, stabbing with two fingers down toward a harder-to-hit pressure point, this one on the upper leg.

In desperation, Ranma called on Happousai's giant aura technique. The enormous ki-shroud replica exploded to life around him, deflecting Tanizaki's finger. The giant construct swung a fist down at Tanizaki, smashing through the catwalk like it was made of matchwood, but Tanizaki dodged with ease. He and Ranma both leaped away, abandoning their current catwalk as it collapsed, tumbling to the floor far below. Tanizaki's leap took him to one of the higher bridges, while Ranma dropped down to a lower one.

Panting for breath, Ranma craned his neck to look up at his opponent. Tanizaki was looking down at him with a tiny, amused smile on his face. He's a pressure point master! Ranma thought, while forcibly circulating his ki in an attempt to regain control of his arm. The pain was slowly subsiding, but even so he could barely so much as twitch his fingers. Damn! He must have been keeping it in reserve this whole time, so it would be a surprise if he ever really needed it.

But how could Ranma counter something like that? The giant-aura technique could protect him temporarily, but it burned through his stamina way too fast. If he relied on that, Tanizaki would just wear him down. Nor could he hope to survive long with only one arm, let alone go on the offensive. He raised his functional arm in a guard position, his mind racing from one idea to another. None of them were any good.

Even as Ranma struggled to come up with a plan, Tanizaki vaulted over the railing of the bridge he was standing on, diving toward Ranma like a hawk toward its prey.



**********



Mousse listened carefully as he and Zhang circled each other. The sound of the assassin's heartbeat was far more regular than his own, and his enemy's breathing was certainly more controlled than his own heavy panting. Zhang's ki aura was more focused as well, his killing intent honed and precise where Mousse's was erratic with fury and desperation. Zhang had the upper hand now, and they both knew it.

The slight echoes from their footsteps rippled out through the lobby, the subtle interplay indicating to Mousse the positions of all the weapons they had used in their duel so far. The whole area was thick with them, whether lying around, or embedded into the stone of the walls, pillars and floor. Swords, spears, arrows, knives, shuriken, along with too many other types and varieties to count. The two of them threaded between the discarded weapons as they circled, ready at a moment's notice to add more to that number.

Zhang made the next move. A nunchaku shot out from his sleeve as he charged. Mousse could hear its whirring path through the air as the assassin spun the weapon around himself in twisting, deadly-fast patterns. In response, Mousse drew a pair of tonfa from his own sleeves, the weapons crashing against each other as he tried to hold off the fury of Zhang's assault, their battle winding its way through the forest of weapons.

I can't keep this up much longer! Mousse thought. His enemy had worn him down over the course of the protracted battle, and was now moving in for the kill. Mousse was completely on the defensive, and now even that defense was falling apart. His arms ached, both from the crushing impacts and from the speed at which he was forced to constantly move them.

The blind warrior listened to the hissing path of the nunchaku as it battered against his defenses, sensed the killing intent that imbued every strike. He held out for as long as he could, but eventually one of the countless blows snaked past his tonfa and smashed into the side of Mousse's head. The force of the hit sent him reeling away... only for Zhang to spin, swinging his weapon around from the other direction, smashing into Mousse's head from that side as well.

The tonfa tumbled from his grasp. Mousse tried to gather his jumbled senses, tried to pull another weapon out of his sleeve to defend himself. But before he could, Zhang tossed the nunchaku aside. He lunged toward Mousse, driving a kick into the younger man's stomach that doubled him over. Then he drew a sword from his sleeve, with the unmistakable hiss of tempered metal cutting through the air.

"This has been enjoyable," the assassin said. "More so than I ever expected. You were a worthy opponent, and I'm glad I spared you back then. But right now... it is time for you to die."

And with that he slashed Mousse across the chest with the poisoned blade.



**********



Ranma leapt backward, struggling to deflect Tanizaki's pressure point strikes with his one functional hand. In his current condition, the only chance he had was to stay completely out of Tanizaki's range as much as he could. It could barely even be called a fight anymore. He was only fleeing, jumping from catwalk to catwalk, barely keeping ahead of the relentless pursuit.

There's no way I can win like this! he thought, as he ducked under one jab while redirecting another, before springing away. He was getting some feeling back in his right arm, and could make a weak fist. But at the rate things were going, Tanizaki was going to run him down long before he could fight at full strength again. Even now he was getting pushed toward the end of current catwalk, and would soon have to escape to another one before he was cornered.

Then Tanizaki switched styles again. Instead of pressure point jabs, he lashed out with a barrage of rapid-fire kicks that increased his range significantly. Ranma had expected a trick like that sooner or later, so the element of surprise wasn't as great. But with only one arm, it was still devastating. He tried to defend as best he could, but a kick still got through, hitting him square in the chest.

Ranma flew back through the air. His body crashed into the thick metal door at the far end of the catwalk, tearing it completely out of the doorframe. He hit the floor hard on the other side, tumbling through the room beyond. With a grimace of pain, he used the momentum to roll back to his feet... only for his eyes to widen at the sight of what the room contained.

It was much smaller than the cavernous chamber they had come from, only a single story high. It was, however, filled with the same machinery as the outer chamber, rows of tanks filled with glowing orange liquid. But instead of Synths, these tanks all had human figures floating in them. All of them identical to Sailor Moon.

Above each tank was a label, with a number on it. The first one Ranma saw was labeled "12". His gaze travelled down the descending numbers, all the way down to the tank labeled "00". That one was empty.

"...the hell?" Ranma muttered under his breath. Then he turned to Tanizaki, who had just entered the room as well. "What is all this? You've already got your clone to steal Sailor Moon's power. Why do you need this many?"

"Simple." Tanizaki advanced toward Ranma as he spoke, the orange radiance from the tanks playing across his face, growing and then fading as he moved past each one. "These clones are my own solution to the most fundamental limitation of the Silver Crystal. The limitation that has prevented even Sailor Moon from using it, except in direst need. The tendency it has to kill its wielder."

A knot of disgust began to form in Ranma's stomach as he realized how Tanizaki intended to use the girls in the tanks. "You mean... they're..."

"Replacements," Tanizaki confirmed. "Once the Silver Crystal is mine, there are numerous improvements I intend to make. I expect to burn through quite a few of these clones as I restructure human society into something a bit more to my liking. To say nothing of any future projects I may decide to undertake."

"Sick bastard!" Ranma spat.

"I would rather be that, than a coward who allows sentiment to prevent him from testing the limits of his potential," replied Tanizaki. "That eternal human drive to grasp for power, to grow beyond oneself—to overcome—is the only thing in existence that I consider worthy of veneration."

"Well try all you want, but I don't give much for your chances," Ranma shot back. "Your whole damn plan depends on your fake Sailor Moon beating the real one... but I've seen that girl in action, and I don't think it's gonna go your way."

"Perhaps not," said Tanizaki. "But you forget a key issue. While the clones you see here will have their Star Seeds replaced by the Silver Crystal as part of the transfer process, Unit Zero is different. The link to her Star Seed was severed immediately after her creation, at my specific order. Those gauntlets she was wearing? They were the only things keeping her alive. And now that they are destroyed, claiming the Silver Crystal is the only thing that can prevent her eventual death."

Ranma's eyes widened. When Tanizaki had explained earlier about the clone's origins and the cruelty involved in her creation, Ranma had written it off as evil gloating. Only now did he see how calculated it had been. Tanizaki wanted to make sure that Sailor Moon knew exactly who she was fighting, and what the stakes were.

"Two heirs of Serenity... but only one Star Seed between them," Tanizaki continued. "If your Sailor Moon wants to win, she will have to doom a tortured young girl to death in the process. Now how much of her vaunted willpower will she be able to muster toward that task, I wonder?"



**********



The Silver Crystal vibrated in midair, shifting erratically back and forth between Sailor Moon and her clone as both of them strained to pull it toward themselves. Sailor Moon's hand was trembling as she extended it toward her Star Seed, and eventually she added her other hand as well.

But her heart was not in the effort. With each pull she made on the Silver Crystal, she could feel the frantic desperation growing in the heart of her brainwashed twin. It ached in her own soul, across the link connecting them.

Sailor Moon didn't know what to do. It was all happening so fast, with no chance for her to think. She couldn't let Tanizaki have the Silver Crystal... but she couldn't take it from her clone either! How could she fix something like this? There had to be a way!

Raising her head, she looked at the clone, directly into her double's eyes. She doesn't even understand what's going on, Sailor Moon realized. She's been alive less than a month! Tanizaki might have grown her body to my age, but inside she's just a scared child! With that realization, fresh uncertainty stabbed into Sailor Moon's heart like daggers of ice.

And in that moment of doubt... the clone pulled.

Sailor Moon cried out in agony as the stalemate broke. The Silver Crystal shot through the air, straight into Unit Zero's palm. The clone's hand clenched around it, pure white light blazing out from her body like a star come to rest on earth.

At the same time, her transformation fading, Tsukino Usagi crumpled forward to the floor, her vision swallowed up by black as the emptiness took her.
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby Spica75 » Mon Apr 04, 2016 7:55 am

Another had assured Zhang, in the most fervent of terms, that nothing involving Ranma ever, ever worked out, and that whatever Zhang's plan was, he should probably just give it up.


:mrgreen:

Though I think I might have preferred it if they had just been trying to kill me...


I bet! :lol:

but when measured against the blind warrior there was no comparison.


"half-blind"? "nearly blind"?

"If I go alone, I will have a better chance of dealing with this sorcerer before anyone realizing that I'm here,"


"realize"?? "realizes"??



Excellent chapter!

And as usual, finding anything for potential correction is hard. I may not recall correctly, but Mousse isn´t completely blind is he?
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby CRBWildcat » Mon Apr 04, 2016 12:19 pm

I'm not sure who to feel sorry for at this point: the protagonists at Tanizaki's tower, :shock:
...or Sailor Uranus, where the Dark Kingdom monsters are concerned. :lol:
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Mon Apr 04, 2016 5:26 pm

Spica75 wrote:"realize"?? "realizes"??

Ah, nice catch! Thanks very much for pointing that out!

Spica75 wrote:Excellent chapter!

And as usual, finding anything for potential correction is hard. I may not recall correctly, but Mousse isn´t completely blind is he?

Thanks, really glad you enjoyed it!

And you're correct for canon Mousse, he's not completely blind, but one of the post-canon changes with respect to this fic is that since it's set years past the end of canon, his eyesight has continued to get worse, to the point where he is completely blind now, and even the glasses don't help anymore.

CRBWildcat wrote:I'm not sure who to feel sorry for at this point: the protagonists at Tanizaki's tower, :shock:
...or Sailor Uranus, where the Dark Kingdom monsters are concerned. :lol:

Heh heh heh. Only now does she begin to realize realize the true horror of getting involved with the kind of nuttiness that Ranma & company bring into the picture...

Thanks for the comments! :D
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby CRBWildcat » Mon Apr 04, 2016 7:55 pm

You're welcome. >^_^<

...Oh. That reminds me:

Already the paralysis was losing its momentary effect on Tanizaki... but that momentary effect had been one moment too long. The cat was beyond his reach, already traveling at a velocity that would leave little of it recognizable once it hit the wall. That particular advantage was about to disappear.


...
...
...
...
...
...
...

Sorry about that. :oops: Figured a moment of silence for the cat was in order. I'm good now.
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby Spica75 » Mon Apr 04, 2016 8:53 pm

And you're correct for canon Mousse, he's not completely blind, but one of the post-canon changes with respect to this fic is that since it's set years past the end of canon, his eyesight has continued to get worse, to the point where he is completely blind now, and even the glasses don't help anymore.


Ah ok, since you used it several times i guessed that might be it, and it´s a while since i read the rest of the story so i couldn´t remember properly.

Ah, nice catch! Thanks very much for pointing that out!


Happy to assist if ever so little with such a neat story.
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Tue Apr 05, 2016 5:14 pm

CRBWildcat wrote:Figured a moment of silence for the cat was in order.

Indeed.

...
...
...
...
...
...
...

Spica75 wrote:Ah ok, since you used it several times i guessed that might be it, and it´s a while since i read the rest of the story so i couldn´t remember properly.

Yeah, that's one (of many) reasons why I wish my update speed wasn't so crappy; it's really easy for little details like that to fall through the cracks when it's been so long... :oops:
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby ckosacranoid » Tue Apr 05, 2016 10:57 pm

Code: Select all
[code][/code]

Talk about an evil bastard in your writting. Killing a poor kitty, seems you have had ranma go kitty or even still go kitty if needed. And sailor moon fighting herself. Thats just evil. But very coolnwriting though and manking the bad guys very evil dicks for sure. Nice story and it been fun reading where this is going. Poor uranus and her new role from the monster point of view...thats funny.
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Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 13 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Tue Apr 05, 2016 11:53 pm

Thanks, glad to hear that you had fun with the chapter! :D
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