The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

This is for posting Fiction and C&C replies ONLY. Note this does not have to be a "fukufic" or even fanfiction. All completed /ready-for0review longform creative writing allowed. No posting of individual scenes; that is what the Outlines and Scenes section is for.Replying posts must give actual commentary, no "GREAT IDEA" or "THIS SUCKS".

The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Sun Oct 23, 2016 5:59 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 Fourteen: In the Balance



Sailor Mercury's fingers flew across the keyboard of her computer, typing quickly as she tried to make sense of the data she was getting in response. She had already breached Tanizaki's computer network, but her current task was significantly harder. She was attempting to circumvent the magical wards Tanizaki's sorcerer had protected the building with. If successful, it would allow her to scan anywhere in the skyscraper, free of interference, but it was proving a difficult puzzle.

Pausing in her efforts, she brought up the security camera feeds again, checking on how her friends were doing. Sailor Moon and the rest of that group were still somewhere in the secret area of the building, where her cameras didn't monitor. The group tasked with freeing the captive monsters had already done so, and was now heading toward one of the stairways. Sailor Mars and Konatsu were also heading down, though Sailor Mars was unconscious and slung over Konatsu's back. In addition, there were four small children following along behind them.

Sailor Mercury activated her communicator. "Sailor Jupiter!" she said. "Sailor Mars and Konatsu are about twenty floors above you, coming down the southeast stairs. But it looks like she's hurt, and they can't move quickly because there have some rescued children with them. Could some of you meet up with them, and help them to safety?"

"Sure!" came Sailor Jupiter's static-tinged reply. "I'll ask Ryouga and Sailor Saturn to come along. If Sailor Mars is hurt, she might be able to heal her."

Satisfied, Sailor Mercury brought up the camera feed for the lobby, checking on Mousse's fight. But a worried frown crossed her face at what she saw. Tanizaki's black-robed assassin had Mousse on the defensive, using a pair of nunchaku to hammer at his defenses. Even as she watched, Zhang landed a blow to the side of Mousse's head that sent him staggering away, followed by a second strike, slamming the weapon into Mousse's skull from the opposite direction.

Sailor Mercury sucked in a quick breath, her mind racing. From her current position, she couldn't reach him in time, but maybe... "Wait, Mousse is in trouble!" she shouted into her communicator. "Someone needs to get down to the lobby right now!"

"On it!" Sailor Venus's voice crackled back across the channel immediately. On the feed from the security cameras, Sailor Mercury saw the blonde Senshi break into a run toward the elevators. But at the same time, on a different image, Zhang was drawing out a blade from his sleeve. The assassin said something to Mousse, though without audio Sailor Mercury couldn't tell what he was telling him.

And then, with a single slash, Zhang cut Mousse across the chest.



**********



Zhang watched as Mousse tumbled back along the polished marble of the lobby floor, leaving a long smear of blood as he went. The young man had leapt backward at the last moment, turning a strike that should have cut him in half into merely a deep gash.

Not that it made much difference, in Zhang's case.

Mousse's body began to quiver and convulse, his breath coming in shallow, heaving rasps. Soon he was coughing up blood and bile, as the deadly poison that had been on the sword spread through his system. And with this, I am now truly the last practitioner of the Four Arts of Assassination, Zhang thought. It feels... anticlimactic.

Yet as Zhang watched, he noticed that the symptoms were not quite as severe as he would have expected. In fact, with an effort, Mousse actually managed to pull himself up to his hands and knees, albeit unsteadily. Oh, of course, Zhang thought. Father would give a vial of our secret poison to the acolytes, so they could begin their resistance training. The boy must have kept his, and resumed that training once he realized he'd be fighting me.

It wouldn't be enough to keep the boy from dying, not if Zhang was any judge. One single vial wasn't enough to develop full immunity. It would merely draw out his death a little longer. Still, Zhang thought. I don't have time to waste. Tanizaki will want my help dealing with the rest of this boy's friends, and he's already delayed me for longer than I expected.

Zhang's hand shot out, a throwing knife shooting from his sleeve and into his palm. He hurled it, aiming the blade right between Mousse's eyes. But with a sudden surge of impossible strength, Mousse wrenched a sword from his own sleeve and knocked the knife spinning away in a shower of sparks. Raw killing intent seethed out from the blind warrior, manifesting around him in what remained of his battle aura.

"Not... yet..." the young fighter choked out, fury twisting his features. "Not... finished... yet."

Impressive... Zhang thought, his eyebrows rising a little. Even considering his resistance to the poison, it shouldn't be possible for him to move like that. Right now, he's using pure rage to keep himself going. It's the only thing he has left.

The assassin drew more knives from his sleeves, his hands emerging this time with a blade between each of his fingers. He won't be able to deflect this many in the state he's in, Zhang thought. And once he's dead, there won't be anything to stop me from—

But then—despite the swirling miasma of killing intent that Mousse was flooding the air with—Zhang's danger sense detected another, less obvious threat from behind him. He whirled, just in time to see the blonde, fuku-clad figure of Sailor Venus plummet down the open elevator shaft and into view.

She gripped her golden chain in one hand; it was attached somewhere far above, and she was extending its length to control her plummeting descent. Her other hand, however, was leveled directly at him, golden power blazing at her fingertips from the attack she had been charging the whole way down. "Crescent... Beam..."

Zhang hurled his daggers at her instead of Mousse, the blades spinning through the air, each one tracing a different path toward her. And, for a moment, it looked as though they might hit her.

"...Shower!"

The attack erupted from the Senshi's fingertips, so many arcing beams of blazing light that Zhang couldn't begin to count them all. The beams intercepted each of the daggers, some just barely in time. Zhang's weapons were all knocked away as the barrage of destructive magic swarmed toward him. Cursing under his breath, the assassin leaped out of the way, up and to the side.

Or rather, he tried to. In mid-jump, he felt something coil around around his ankle. Zhang's eyes widened. It was one of Mousse's chains. The blind warrior had anticipated Zhang's last-minute dodge and timed his own move perfectly, yanking the assassin back into the path of the attack. Zhang barely had time to cross his arms in an attempt to shield himself... and then the magic hit him.

A short cry of pain escaped Zhang's mouth as bolt after bolt slammed into him, his body jerking and twisting under the assault. Each hit tore through his robes and burned into his body, his flesh sizzling from the energy discharged. On and on it went, until finally the attack had spent itself, leaving Zhang on his hands and knees, robe in tatters, smoke rising from the many wounds he had taken as he panted for breath.

With a wet, choking howl, Mousse wrenched on the chain attached to Zhang's ankle, sending the assassin flying back through the air toward him. At the same time, a knife shot from Mousse's sleeve into his other hand, and he launched himself forward in a lunge. The charge was tottering, unsteady... but Zhang himself was not in much better shape.

They hurtled toward each other, albeit unwillingly in Zhang's case. Mousse thrust his knife in a stab at Zhang's kidney, but the assassin managed to twist in midair and grab hold of his wrist, stopping it with inches to spare. Mousse did not slow his charge, hitting Zhang with his shoulder in a clumsy tackle before the other man's feet even touched the ground. The two of them careened onward, plowing straight through one of the marble pillars in an explosion of stone fragments and dust.

Gritting his teeth, Zhang flipped a knife of his own out of his sleeve and stabbed it down at Mousse's neck. But Mousse managed to grab that wrist, locking the two fighters together even tighter. A moment later they reached the far wall. Mousse slammed Zhang into it, pinning him there as they strained against each other.

Inch by inch, Zhang forced his blade closer to Mousse's neck. The blind warrior's strength was fading fast under the poison's effects, as he exhausted the burst of willpower that he had been riding. But before the dagger could cut him Mousse stomped his foot on the ground, and a small hidden blade extended from the toe of his shoe. Zhang tried to avoid it, but injured and pinned against the wall, he didn't have the maneuverability. Mousse's kick drove the blade deep into the lower part of the assassin's leg.

Zhang snarled at the burst of pain. Then he swung his head forward, slamming his forehead into Mousse's. The young man reeled, but through sheer, bloody-minded tenacity he did not release his grip. Instead he drove his foot-blade into Zhang's leg a second time, and then a third.

With a cry of rage, Zhang headbutted Mousse a second time, even harder. Finally it worked, breaking Mousse's grip and knocking him back to the floor in a heap. Using one hand to prop himself up against the wall, Zhang looked down at his beaten foe. Too bad... he thought. Even with the help of a Senshi... you were still too weak to avenge your friend with your own hands.

"Venus Love and Beauty Shock!"

While the two of them had been struggling, Sailor Venus had been charging up an attack, and now that Mousse was out of the way she wound up and hurled it with all her might. The golden heart shot toward him at incredible speed, and in the condition he was in, there was no way he could dodge. It hit him in his stomach, jackknifing his body and smashing him through the wall behind with the sheer force of the impact. He crashed through several more walls beyond that, the attack driving him deeper and deeper into the skyscraper.

Then the glowing heart detonated, filling Zhang's vision with a brilliant eruption of energy.



**********



Sailor Venus rushed over to where Mousse lay, kneeling down beside his fallen body. He was twitching uncontrollably, and a white, blood-speckled froth was building around his lips. His chest was rising and falling in spasms, but it didn't sound like he was pulling hardly any air in.

"Sailor Mercury!" shouted Sailor Venus into her communicator. "The guy he was fighting is gone... but he got poisoned and he's looking really bad! He's coughing up a bunch of blood and gunk, and he's barely breathing at all!"

"I'm on my way!" Sailor Mercury's reply crackled over the link. "Just... do what you can for him until I get there! Keep his head tilted back, and keep his airway as clear as possible!"

Sailor Venus reached down to follow the instructions, only to have Mousse's hand shoot up and catch her by the wrist. "No..." he croaked out, his words barely intelligible. "Not... me. Zhang... might... not... be dead... yet. You have to... go... make sure. Make... sure..."

But Sailor Venus ignored his protests, wrenching her hand free so that she could continue to follow Sailor Mercury's instructions. There was no way she was going to just let him die!

It was then, as she worked, that she sensed something that sent a chill running through her. It was power coming from somewhere high above them. Power so very like Princess Serenity's... and yet entirely unlike it as well. It had the same strength, the same world-shaking immensity to it, blanketing the building and everything around with its sheer weight. But where the Princess's power radiated warmth and love, all Sailor Venus could sense from this magic was fear and pain.

What's going on up there? she wondered. Somehow, it feels like something terrible just happened...



**********



Her breath coming in erratic gasps, Unit Zero stared down with wide eyes at the Silver Crystal resting between her palms. For her, in that moment, nothing else existed. Her gaze traced every line, every facet of the crystal's complex, lotus-flower shape. She could scarcely believe it.

It was hers.

She could feel its strength, its life, flowing into her, warm comfort like she had never even imagined was possible. The clone's shoulders shook in a silent sob, like a convulsion. Her eyes shone with unshed tears, and her fingers trembled as she held onto the most precious object in the world.

A flash of blinding light radiated out from her, as her black bodysuit faded away, replaced by a pure white dress. She barely noticed. Her entire attention was consumed by the indescribable feelings running through her. For the first time in her short life, the constant pain in her soul simply melted away. For the first time in her life, she didn't feel an aching void in her chest, like it was trying to devour her from the inside out. For the first time in her life she felt...

...whole.



**********



Ranma dodged left and right, circling around the edges of Tanizaki's reach. He was focused entirely on defense—that, and trying to get his right arm working again after the pressure point attack he'd taken. He could open and close his fist now, and the arm itself could move sluggishly, but it was not nearly enough to fight his opponent on even footing.

Tanizaki switched styles constantly as he attacked, keeping Ranma on his toes. He was back to the pressure point style at the moment, forcing Ranma to redirect all his jabs or dodge them entirely. The stalemate was holding for now, but the constant, frantic defense was wearing Ranma down, while Tanizaki showed no signs of weariness.

Then both combatants froze, an aura of immense power manifesting to their senses. So similar—and yet so different—from what he had sensed all those years ago on the arctic ice. It was the same level of power... but with none of the overflowing love and compassion behind it.

"She did it..." Tanizaki breathed, half-turning his head in the direction of the presence, as he beheld the fulfillment of everything he had expended all this effort toward. There was no doubt what had happened. Unit Zero had just claimed the Silver Crystal. World-shaking cosmic power was now his to command.

And in that single, fleeting moment of distraction, Ranma went on the offensive.

The reversal in tactics was as sudden as it was extreme. The pigtailed fighter abandoned his defensive strategy, throwing it away in favor of a furious, all-out attack, raining down countless punches and kicks with blistering speed. It caught Tanizaki off-guard enough that Ranma managed to slip a punch past his opponent's guard and into his rib cage, knocking him back. Tanizaki tried to counter with a spin kick as he landed, but Ranma made an acrobatic flip over the attack, twisting in mid-air to fire a ki blast straight down on Tanizaki from overhead, smashing him down to one knee.

Ranma rode the force of his attack's point-blank detonation, letting it push him up to the room's ceiling. He immediately ricocheted off of it, aiming his dive toward the exit that led back out into the larger main chamber. He threw everything he had into speed, crossing the distance in a flicker of motion, rebounding off the walls to adjust his course. He had to get to Sailor Moon now. Already it might be too late.

His danger sense screamed at him, causing him to adjust his course slightly. A ki blast exploded where he would otherwise have been, pelting him with shrapnel. Tanizaki was right behind him, keeping pace while attacking. Didn't that hit even faze him at all? Ranma wondered, incredulous.

Either way, Ranma knew he stood no chance of actually beating Tanizaki until his arm fully recovered. He continued to run, dodging ki blasts all the while as the two of them raced down past the catwalks to the floor of the large chamber. From there, Ranma followed the trail of destruction that Sailor Moon and her clone had left in the wake of their struggle. Ranma called on every evasive trick he knew, and some that he made up on the fly, as he raced straight toward the source of that overwhelming presence, praying he could get there before the clone finished off the real Sailor Moon.

He was moving so fast that it took him barely more than a second to reach his destination. He rounded one final corner... and his throat went dry at what he saw. Usagi lay sprawled out on the floor, unconscious. Unit Zero, on the other hand, was levitating in mid-air, clad in a flowing white dress.

Oh hell. Ranma had experienced firsthand what Sailor Moon was capable of in that state, and he doubted that Unit Zero would show the same restraint that Sailor Moon had during their brief fight back in the warehouse. Things were about to get very bad.

Then his sixth sense warned him again, and he dove forward into a roll. He scooped up Usagi's limp form as he went by, then twisted his body to shield her from the blast as one of Tanizaki's ki attacks exploded where she had just been lying. He's trying to finish her off! Ranma thought. He wants to make sure she can't ever take the Silver Crystal back.

Ranma dropped into a defensive stance, cradling Usagi's body in his arms. He could feel her breathing against his chest, but it was weak and shallow. He himself was panting for breath, his right arm still sluggish in its responses. As he watched, muscles tensed, Tanizaki landed next to the clone, and addressed her. "Unit Zero!"

The sound of Tanizaki's voice startled the clone out of her transfixed daze, looking over at her master. He continued to speak, his tone sharp. "I recall telling you that you were to eliminate Sailor Moon as soon as you took control of the Silver Crystal. Why is she still alive?"

An expression of primal terror crossed Unit Zero's face at his words, and she cringed like a beaten dog. Tanizaki let out an irritated breath, then continued. "We will discuss your failings later. Right now, you have an opportunity to mitigate your blunder. Help me to kill them."

Unit Zero nodded as fast as she could, desperation in her eyes. Then she turned toward Ranma and drew in a deep breath. Arcane might began to gather around her, a magic aura so immense that Ranma couldn't even wrap his mind around what he was sensing. He swallowed. He was about to go up against the most powerful being on the planet, as well as one of the most skilled martial artists he had ever fought. While he was alone, injured, exhausted, and trying to protect the girl in his arms.

Which meant he had no choice left. He was out of options. There was only one chance to survive this. Only one tactic to employ. Only one move that could save them.

And Ranma knew he had to use it.



**********



Tanizaki regarded Ranma, deciding on whether to focus on killing him first, or to target the fallen moon princess held protectively in his arms. The choice was mostly academic, of course. There was no chance left that Ranma could pull out a victory.

Which was why it was so unexpected when Ranma laughed.

It was a laugh of such utter confidence that Tanizaki hesitated. Did the young man still have something up his sleeve? It seemed impossible... but he had underestimated these fighters before, and paid the price for it each time. He tensed imperceptibly, gathering his ki in preparation to counter whatever Ranma was about to do. Unit Zero looked over at her master for guidance, also confused by the sudden show of assurance.

"Alright, Tanizaki..." Ranma said. "Alright. I guess I don't have any choice. I never wanted to use this move ever again... but if you force me to, I will. If this is the way it's going to be, then I'll give you a taste of... the Saotome Secret Technique."

Tanizaki frowned, concerned in spite of himself. The file his people had compiled on Ranma had contained a list of all his most dangerous known abilities, but it had mentioned nothing by that name. Did he really have a secret trump card of such last resort that it surpassed everything else? Whatever it was, he saw no doubt in Ranma's eyes that it would work.

The two martial artists faced each other down, the air between them thick with tension, both gathering their ki for the inevitable clash. Every muscle tense. Every sense alert. All their martial skill was brought to bear in preparation for this one, single moment of truth.

And then Ranma turned around and ran like hell.

Tanizaki blinked. Then he let out a hiss of annoyance as he realized what "the Saotome Secret Technique" actually entailed. By then, Ranma and Usagi had already vanished around a corner in the hallway, out of direct line of sight.

Tanizaki made no move to pursue. Instead, he turned to the clone. "Unit Zero," he said. "Give me a directed magical attack, aimed in the direction I indicate." The clone didn't know how to sense ki, but Tanizaki certainly could, and that meant that between the two of them, there was nowhere for Ranma to hide.

Unit Zero nodded, and raised one hand in front of her, frowning in concentration. She had to focus for a moment before anything happened; apparently, she was still figuring out how to control the magic she had obtained. But soon white light was gathering in her palm, the incredible power making the hairs on the back of Tanizaki's neck prickle.

And this isn't even her full strength yet... Tanizaki thought, the corners of his mouth lifting in a small smile. Ekim had prepared the clone as best he could, preparing and modifying and conditioning her body to withstand immense magical pressure. But even with that, the sorcerer had warned Tanizaki that the clone would need time to accustom herself to wielding the Silver Crystal before she could tap its true potential. Worse, the previous Sailor Moon was still alive, the crystal's ownership still divided.

Still, that last problem was one easily remedied. Once he saw that the clone was ready, Tanizaki reached out with his senses, then leveled a finger in Ranma's direction. "There," he said. "Fire."



**********



Ranma ran at breakneck speed, the hallway flying past as he tried to put as much distance as he could between them and Tanizaki. He ran as fast as he dared, bracing Usagi's head against himself as he ran, trying to minimize the strain on her untransformed body. Sorry about this... but it's better than letting them catch up with us.

Suddenly his danger sense screamed at him. In the blink of an eye he flung himself forward with an extra burst of desperate speed. He felt some of Usagi's bones snap from the sudden acceleration, but there was no time to do anything other than wince.

Then behind him, everything went white.

An enormous, blinding beam of raw annihilation ripped through the space they had occupied a split-second before, vaporizing everything in its path as it lanced through the skyscraper and off into the horizon. Ranma's headlong dodge ended in a roll, bringing him back to his feet to continue his flight. But he didn't get far before his danger sense howled at him again.

This time he had to fling himself backward, the deadly beam tearing through the space ahead of them, its outer edge missing them by centimeters. Ranma landed on his back, sliding across the debris-filled floor. He rolled to his feet yet again, but already he could sense another attack building. It was taking everything he had just to keep himself and Usagi a half-step ahead of death, and he knew he couldn't keep it up. Even as his mind raced for a strategy, a third blast of magic tore through the walls between them and their attackers.

"Silence Wall!"

Just before the attack reached them, Sailor Saturn landed nearby, her glaive held out in front of her. The blast of magic crashed against a wall of semitransparent force, breaking over it above and to either side. Sailor Saturn clenched her teeth, bracing herself in a deep stance, as the powers of the two strongest Sailor Senshi on the planet clashed against each other.

Ranma half-turned his head away, shielding his eyes from the searing radiance of the point of impact, as he stood in the eye of the storm. When it finally ended, he was able to clearly see Unit Zero and Tanizaki through the hole made by their latest attack. And Tanizaki didn't look very happy at the new arrival.

Nor did his mood improve with the next two arrivals either. Ryouga and Sailor Neptune landed next to Ranma as well, taking up positions on either side of him. The pigtailed fighter let out a fervent breath of relief. They must have sensed Unit Zero take the Silver Crystal just like he had, and had run up here to investigate the overwhelming surge of magical power.

Ryouga was the first to speak. "What the hell is going on, Ranma?" he said. "Why are there two Sailor Moons?"

"This is the real one, P-chan," Ranma said, gesturing with his head toward the girl in his arms. "The one over there in the white dress... Tanizaki controls her. But right now, she's the one who's got the Silver Crystal."

The expressions of the other three went grim, as they heard Ranma's explanation. All of them understood the implications of that fact. Nevertheless, they all steeled themselves, readying themselves for the battle staring them in the face.



**********



"Princess."

The voice was quiet and calm, but the word went straight to Usagi's core. She lifted her head, taking in her surroundings in bewilderment.

She was lying on a floor of polished white stone, in a small rotunda with stone pillars surrounding her. Beyond those pillars she could see nothing but a sea of stars, shining brilliantly against the dark sky. It was a view she recognized; she had been here before, albeit years ago.

Just like that previous time, she found herself clad in the white dress of her princess form. Also like that previous time, there was a tall, regal figure standing in front of her. She wore garments similar to Usagi's, and her hair was done up in a similar style, though the woman's hair was a paler hue. "Queen Serenity!" Usagi exclaimed. "It's been so long since you last appeared!"

A small, sad smile crossed the face of Usagi's first mother. "Not by my choice," she said. "I wish that I could have supported you more, given you more counsel. But I have expended too much of what little strength remained to me, and the distance between me and the world of the living is growing more difficult to bridge."

"But you're here now!" said Usagi. "Is it because of how important this fight is? Is there something you can tell me about what I can do? Or some new power you can help me to find, like last time?"

The queen shook her head. "No," she admitted. "I have no solution for what you face. In truth... I was able to reach you this time not because of how close I have come to the world of the living... but rather because of how close you have come to where I linger. You are... not far from death, my daughter."

"Oh." Usagi took a moment to digest that. Then she spoke again. "But am I really stuck here? Isn't there any way I could get back and help my friends? I mean... you appeared to all of us before, right? In the real world, even!"

"That was only possible because you were there," explained Queen Serenity. "We are linked, you and I. Both of us have bonded ourselves to the Silver Crystal when we inherited it. It was through that connection that I was able to manifest myself—and even then just as a phantasm. But now that the Silver Crystal is in the grip of your enemy..."

But her words didn't diminish Usagi's determination in the slightest. She looked up at her mother, urgency in her eyes. "It's still worth trying," she said. "I don't know how much I'll be able to do, but if there's even a chance it will help my friends, I want to do what I can. Please, can you show me how to appear like that? The way you did for me?"

"Of course," was Queen Serenity's response. "I do not know how well it will work... but I will always give you any aid I can, small though it might be."

"Thank you!" Usagi exclaimed, wrapping Queen Serenity in a spontaneous hug. Then, after a moment, held like that, the two of them separated and sat down on the stone floor, facing each other.

"First, close your eyes," the queen began. "And then visualize yourself floating free of your body, as though carried by a gentle breeze..."



**********



Tanizaki's lip twisted in a grimace, as he regarded the opponents arrayed against him. Damnation, he thought. Even with all the martial artists I hired, they still weren't able to incapacitate Sailor Saturn? And why is the Hibiki boy still standing? All their Jusenkyo-cursed fighters should have been taken out with ease as soon as the sprinkler system activated.

Clearly, something had gone wrong. But there was no use in recriminations right now; he would have to face the situation as he found it. He clamped down on the surge of anger that ran through him, not allowing it to influence his judgement. The Senshi of Ruin and Rebirth was perhaps the only member of their group left who might still be able to hurt Unit Zero, especially with the clone still adjusting to her newfound power. But this was the hand he had drawn, and he would have to play it.

"Continue attacking!" he snapped, and Unit Zero nodded in obedience. But Sailor Saturn was faster than the clone, swinging her glaive around to aim directly at them, magical power gathering there in a pulsing purple glow.

"Silence Cannon!" she shouted, unleashing her own attack. The huge purple beam raged out from the tip of her weapon, and Unit Zero barely had time to raise her hands in defense. A glowing, spherical shield of white magic sprang into existence around her, just before Sailor Saturn's attack crashed over it. The clone's defenses held, even as Sailor Saturn continued to pour on the destructive energy.

Even before that attack hit, Tanizaki was already gone. He had vanished in a flicker of speed, angling away to avoid Sailor Saturn's beam, then rocketing at her from the side. But Ranma tossed Usagi through the air into Sailor Neptune's arms, and launched himself to intercept. The two clashed in a furious exchange of blows, with Ranma tired and heavily on the defensive, but still managing to hold Tanizaki at bay.

"Get her out of here!" he shouted back at Sailor Neptune, without taking his eyes off his foe. "He's trying to kill her now that his clone has the crystal. You gotta get her someplace safe!"

Sailor Neptune hesitated, then nodded and broke into a run off in the direction of the elevators. Simultaneously, Ryouga charged forward, adding his own barrage of attacks to Ranma's as the young martial artists pressed Tanizaki two-on-one. Tanizaki tried to counter, using pressure points to attack Ryouga. But Ranma anticipated it and deflected the attacks, while the Hibiki boy continued to press a punishing offensive.

Behind Ranma, the magical duel continued to rage, as Sailor Saturn kept up her relentless assault on Unit Zero's shield, pouring more and more of her magic into the beam attack she was using. The ambient magic emanating from them choked the air, as the two of them matched their strength against each other. But even as she maintained the magical barrier, the clone was also gathering magic in her other hand, the Silver Crystal growing ever-brighter as she did so. Then the clone thrust out her palm, countering her opponent's beam with one of her own.

Unit Zero's attack tore through Sailor Saturn's beam, splitting it down the middle. Sailor Saturn's eyes widened, and she abandoned her attack, spinning her glaive around to throw up another Silence Wall at the last second. But rather than stop it head-on, this time she tilted her barrier, using the oblique angle to deflect the raging beam of magic up and to the right. Then she launched herself forward in a sprint, swerving to the left around the clone's attack. This time she struck out not with her magic but with her weapon, thrusting the ancient tool of annihilation out in front of her as she charged in like a living missile.

As before, Unit Zero defended herself by creating a shield. But as Tanizaki saw Sailor Saturn attack—her pace undiminished—he was seized by a sudden premonition. "No!" he shouted, while fending off a series of punches from Ranma. "Dodge!"

Too late. The Silence Glaive struck the clone's shield in a flash of light... then pierced it, continuing on toward the clone herself. Unit Zero threw herself to the side, but not fast enough to prevent the weapon from stabbing her in the side. Blood spread from the wound, staining the pure white of her dress red.

But if Sailor Saturn expected the injury to slow Unit Zero down, she was quickly disabused of that notion. The clone barely even seemed to notice the pain. Instead, her hands clamped down on the Silence Glaive's haft, locking the weapon in place. Then she wrenched it around her in a half-circle, smashing Sailor Saturn through one of the nearby walls, then back around again through another. Through it all, Sailor Saturn hung on tight rather than be disarmed.

Finally, Unit Zero swung her opponent directly overhead, then back down again to slam her into the floor. Even through all that, Sailor Saturn did not release her hold on her weapon. And as she lay prone, the tip of the glaive began to glow, preparing for a blast that would be fired mere inches from Unit Zero's chest. "Silence..."

Before Sailor Saturn could fire, Unit Zero swung her again, this time releasing the Silence Glaive to fling her away. The Senshi spun high through the air, but managed to control her trajectory enough to hit the wall feet-first. Sailor Saturn bent her knees to absorb the impact, then sprang off the wall again, shooting back down at the clone. Sailor Saturn swung her glaive in a fierce, two-handed swing, but the clone was ready this time and leapt to one side.

Sailor Saturn did not let up, spinning her blade in a wide arc around her as she lunged, aiming to bisect Unit Zero at the waist. The clone shot upward, part jump and part levitation, and the swing cut only the air beneath her. Then, from overhead, Unit Zero thrust her palm downward, unleashing another beam of destructive force. This one from point-blank range.

"Silence Wa—" Sailor Saturn began, but it broke off in a scream of pain. She tried to put up her defense in time, but the Silence Wall had barely even started to form when Unit Zero's attack crashed into it. The young Senshi screamed as she tried to maintain her faltering barrier, while it was hammered by the torrent of blinding white magic fired down from above.

Beneath her, the floor shattered from the spillover around the edges of her Silence Wall, along with the energy leaking through the growing cracks in her hastily-erected defense to hit Sailor Saturn herself. The beam drove her down through the floor and out of sight. Nor did it stop there. Unit Zero's attack continued, blasting her opponent down through level after level after level.



**********



Ryouga's heart nearly stopped as he heard Sailor Saturn scream, as he saw the beam of magic engulf Sailor Saturn, driving her down through the floor and out of sight. "Hotaru!" he cried out. Then he spun and launched himself headlong toward the levitating clone, who was still keeping up the attack.

The clone glanced up at his shout... just in time for Ryouga to leap into the air, using all the momentum of his charge to slam the most powerful ki blast he could manage directly into her face, where it exploded in a blast of light. She recoiled back, blinking rapidly, less from any damage and more from the sudden burst of radiance in her eyes. In her current state, his all-out attack had amounted to little more than a flash-bang.

But it had distracted her, pausing her assault. The beam vanished, allowing him to see Sailor Saturn's injured body below him, still falling through the hole drilled by the spillover from the beam. Before Unit Zero's vision could clear, Ryouga drove a foot into her chest, kicking off her to propel his dive through the innumerable successive holes the clone's attack had carved. Floor after floor shot by as he plummeted, kicking off each one in turn to increase the speed of his descent, finally landing in a crash next to Sailor Saturn.

She was in bad shape, sprawled out unconscious on her back with her glaive lying across her. She had taken a lot of damage from the attack itself, and landed badly on top of that. Her sailor seifuku was tattered, and she was bleeding from a wound to the head. Immediately upon landing, Ryouga scooped her up in his arms and dove forward into a roll, carrying her out of view of her attacker floating high overhead.

"Hotaru!" he whispered, rapidly patting the side of her face in an attempt to wake her up. "Hotaru, are you alright?"

No response. Nearly panicking, Ryouga leaned in closer, to check if she was at least still breathing. She was, at least for the moment. But the clone was already on the move. He could sense that overwhelming presence coming down after them, following the same path through the floors that he had. Ryouga ducked through a nearby door in the hallway, chosen at random, slamming it shut behind him just in time to remain out of sight.

There was silence for a moment. Then he heard light footsteps walking down the hallway, followed by the sound of a door being wrenched off its hinges and hurled tumbling away. Then more footsteps, and then another door torn away. The clone had not abandoned her hunt.

I have to get Hotaru somewhere safe! Ryouga thought. There's no way I can beat that monster on my own. But... which way was "safe"? He didn't have anyone to follow anymore! The lost boy looked back and forth with growing desperation, searching the room for the best way to sneak out. I... I came in from that direction, right? Or... wait, no, was it that one? Which way out takes me away from that monster out there and which one takes me closer to her?

The sound of more footsteps, and another door ripped free. Ryouga realized that there was no time to hesitate. This has to work! he thought. It's not just me at risk this time. If I choose wrong, Hotaru will die too. I can't let that happen! Even if I get lost every other time in my life, this one time I need to pick the right direction!

Taking a deep breath, Ryouga strained his ears, trying to fix in his mind the direction that the footsteps were coming from. Then, concentrating as hard as he could, he tried his absolute hardest to sneak away in the opposite direction. Fortunately, there was a door leading that way; the clone would doubtless have heard if he'd broken down a wall.

Step by step he crept onward, not letting his thoughts waver even for a moment, focusing on the door that was their only chance of escape. Please, please, please, please, Ryouga thought. Please, just this once. For Hotaru's sake. Please let this work.

To his disbelief, he actually did make it to the door. He didn't even go in circles once—at least, not as far as he could tell. A shaky smile crossing his face, he shifted Sailor Saturn's limp body in his arms so he had a hand free, reached down with it and flung the door open.

And nearly ran straight into Unit Zero. The clone was standing outside the exact same door he had chosen. In fact, her hand had been mere inches away from grabbing it herself when he had gone and done her work for her. Ryouga's heart turned to ice in his chest. Time slowed to a crawl for him, as he realized how utterly he had failed the girl he was holding.

Then something snapped inside of the lost boy. Before the clone's eyes had even finished widening at his unexpected appearance, he dropped Sailor Saturn and roared out a battle cry. Then, in an act of pure desperation, he launched himself straight at Unit Zero with all the force he could muster, slamming his shoulder into her at a speed that most humans couldn't even follow.

And while she may have been a being of immense cosmic power, that immense cosmic power was contained in the body of a young girl who might have weighed a hundred pounds if she were soaking wet. Ryouga might not have been able to hurt her with his attacks, but he could at least move her.

The two of them plowed through wall after wall after wall, the impacts coming so fast that they blurred together. Even so, it did not take Unit Zero long to react, using her levitation to bring her movement back under her control. In the space of an instant, she went from a skinny young girl to an absolutely immovable object.

"Oooof!" Ryouga rebounded off her, knocked onto his back in a painful and undignified flop. The clone spared him a puzzled look, then lifted her palm to aim down at his prone form as she gathered her blinding white magic there for another beam.

But Ryouga was faster. His hand shot down to his waist, ripping his belt free and lashing out with it in a single motion. The end of the belt coiled around Unit Zero's wrist, and he took advantage of her immovable status to wrench himself toward her, sliding past her along the floor. Once behind the clone he kicked himself up into the air, flipping around to brace his knees against her back. At the same time, he twisted the belt around to wrap around the clone's neck in an improvised garrote.

Unit Zero spun back and forth in an attempt to dislodge him from his perch on her back, but he held on tight. Gritting his teeth, he channeled his ki into the belt and then pulled, veins in his neck bulging as he tried to throttle her. Even with all his strength, he wasn't able to crush or damage her windpipe in any way, but there was still enough give in the softer parts of her neck that he managed to cut off most of her air supply.

Swinging her hand up at an awkward angle behind her head, Unit Zero unleashed the magic blast she had been building in her palm. The huge beam lanced up at an angle, vaporizing dozens of walls before disappearing up into the sky. But Ryouga wrapped his legs around Unit Zero's waist and twisted out of the way and the last minute. He continued to pull his belt tight, even as the clumsily-aimed beam missed him by the slimmest of margins.

Even though that blast had failed, Ryouga knew that he was in grave danger. There were any number of ways Unit Zero could still try to attack him, depending on how clever she was with her magic. But as second after second went by without being able to breathe, the inexperienced clone made the worst mistake possible.

She began to panic.

Unit Zero flung herself back and forth, her movements becoming more and more frenzied. She swung Ryouga through one wall after another, but he refused to let go or abandon his perch. In desperation, she threw herself straight back as hard as she could, her flight amplifying the movement. She shot backward through the air, plowing Ryouga through the entire remaining width of the skyscraper, until the two of them exploded out of it entirely in a shower of glass.

Ryouga felt the wind tear at him, his hair blowing around his head. Their velocity of their flight was undiminished, sending the two of them on a crazy, spinning, end-over-end trajectory through the skies above Shinjuku Ward, still locked in their struggle for survival.



*********



Rebounding back and forth from wall to wall of the elevator shaft, Sailor Mercury descended as fast as she could. Above her, she could sense the enormous power radiating, power so like Princess Serenity's and yet so different. Fear and worry clenched at her heart. She didn't know what was going on. Part of her wanted nothing more than to race back up the shaft, to see if there was anything, however small, that she could do to help.

But she trusted Sailor Moon. And she knew that her friend would never want someone else sacrificed to aid her. There was no telling whether she could contribute to whatever was going on above, but from Sailor Venus' description, Mousse was certainly going to die if no one helped him. So she continued to descend, albeit clenching her teeth so hard it hurt.

Soon she reached the ground floor, rebounding off the back wall and into the lobby beyond. She ran over to where Mousse lay, Sailor Venus kneeling over him, still giving the aid Sailor Mercury had described over the communicator. Sailor Mercury knelt down next to them, lowering her Mercury Visor over her eyes and scanning with it.

This is bad... she thought, as data flooded across her vision. The poison was attacking Mousse's respiratory system, causing bleeding in his lungs and swelling in his throat. It wasn't as bad as it could have been—he seemed to have a marginal degree of resistance to the toxin—but even so it wouldn't be enough to save him. His air supply was almost completely cut off, and it was only growing worse. Unless something changed he would be dead within minutes.

After considering her medical knowledge and all the options available, the young doctor-in-training made her decision. Running over to the far end of the room, she searched behind the large marble front desk where the lobby's receptionists had sat until they fled. She threw office supplies left and right until she found what she was looking for. A pen. She snapped off the top and bottom, dumping out the ink-filled tube inside, then rushed back to Mousse.

Now I need something sharp... she thought. There were innumerable discarded blades lying around from the weaponmasters' battle, of course, but first Sailor Mercury had to scan them to determine which ones had been Mousse's and which ones had been his enemy's. Adding fresh poison to Mousse's system was the last thing she wanted to do.

Soon she found a throwing knife sticking in the floor, which her visor confirmed had no trace of poison on it. She pulled it free, then turned to Sailor Venus. "Hold him steady."

Wide eyed, Sailor Venus did as she was told, pressing Mousse's shoulders to the ground with all her strength. Sailor Mercury bent over him, feeling along his neck for the right place to cut, while consulting her scans at the same time. Then, bringing up the knife, she made a short incision into his throat, about a half-inch deep.

Sailor Mercury used her finger to open the cut, then took the hollowed pen and inserted it inside. Sailor Venus went a little green, but did not release her hold. Then, Sailor Mercury leaned down and breathed two quick breaths into the improvised tube, followed by one breath every five seconds.

Consulting her visor between breaths, Sailor Mercury saw that Mousse's condition was improving, if only a little. He's not out of danger yet, she thought. But if we can keep him stable, he just might pull through...



**********



Damn it, Ranma thought, as he panted for breath. He's going to beat me.

The pigtailed fighter backpedaled, as fast as he could with the strength he had left, struggling to weather a series of kicks that were knocking him around like a pinball even through his blocks. But even though he survived that barrage, he could see how the rest of the fight was going to play out.

He was losing. Not even he could deny it anymore. Tanizaki was wearing him down. Ranma had exerted so much strength just surviving up to this point that he could barely defend anymore, let alone attack. Meanwhile, Tanizaki seemed to be attacking just as hard and fast as ever.

He'll kill me if we keep this up, Ranma thought. Only chance is to get away. But even if I pull it off, he'll just go down through that hole and kill Sailor Saturn. Ranma had sensed Ryouga's presence rocket out of the area, locked together with the overwhelming aura of the clone, but Sailor Saturn's presence was still many floors below. Weak, but still detectable.

If I'm gonna run for it, I'll need to grab her too, he told himself. But can I pull it off before he takes me out?

Ranma didn't know the answer. But it was the only chance he could see for them to get out of this alive. So he took it.

Without warning, he turned and sprinted away, heading for the large hole in the floor. He heard rapid footfalls from behind, as Tanizaki chased after him. Then he felt a spike of his danger sense, as a ki blast hurtled toward his back. But before it could reach him, he dove headlong into the hole and began his descent.

The floors blurred past him as he descended. Tanizaki jumped in after him, raining more ki blasts down from above, but Ranma spun in midair, firing up ki attacks of his own to cover his descent. The two of them fell together, the air between them exploding with staccato bursts of energy as they went.

Ranma landed first, his back crashing into the first intact floor. Immediately he rolled to the side and back to his feet, as Tanizaki landed in a crouch where he had just been. The older man sprang forward, launching a blistering, all-out attack that hammered mercilessly on Ranma's guard, driving him back without a moment's respite.

But as the fight wore on, Ranma slowly began to notice something... odd. Tanizaki's attacks... there's something different about them, the pigtailed fighter realized. He's using more big, sweeping strikes. None of them as precise as before. He isn't trying to hit me with any of his pressure points either. What's going on?

Was Tanizaki getting tired too? No, that didn't quite fit. The attacks were still coming as hard and fast as ever, with no sign of weariness. Then what was it? Ranma continued to dodge, left and right, parrying and redirecting each blow... until finally he began to grasp what had changed.

It's his reaction time! The realization didn't make any sense to Ranma, but the longer he watched Tanizaki's movements, the more certain he was. His reaction time is slower than before! That's why he's trying to overwhelm me with a bunch of big, sweeping attacks! It's to keep me from realizing that he can't react as fast to my moves anymore!

Ranma couldn't figure out why something like that would happen. Is it some kind of secret technique the bastard's been using all this time? he wondered. A boost that wears off eventually, and hurts his reflexes when it does? But Ranma couldn't imagine what kind of technique could do something like that, nor could he detect any changes in Tanizaki's ki aura.

Still, even if he didn't know why it was happening, he sure as hell knew how he could exploit it. Ranma continued to allow Tanizaki drive him back, giving ground with every blow, letting the older man think he'd won. But all the while, Ranma was watching. Studying the subtle cues of how his foe's reactions had changed. Laying the bait for his trap.

Come on... Ranma thought. Come on, come on you bastard! You think you've got me on the ropes, so make your move!

And then he saw it. The chance he had been waiting for. Tanizaki came after him with a savage flurry of kicks... and without warning, Ranma flung himself forward with renewed speed, abandoning his defense in favor of a single, all-or-nothing strike.

He was banking everything on the hope that he could target that slight delay he had seen. That tiny fraction of a heartbeat before Tanizaki could react. If his attack was too early, Tanizaki would see it coming even with the delay. If his attack was too late, Tanizaki's kicks would hit him before he could counter. It was like trying to thread the eye of a needle from fifty feet away, a nearly-impossible feat of timing and precision.

Ranma did it effortlessly.

Tanizaki's eyes widened at the sight of Ranma's sudden counterattack, but by the time he registered it, the older man had already committed himself to his own kick. The two fighters collided, Ranma's fist driving deep into Tanizaki's stomach with an uppercut that sent him flying back through the air to land in a tumble before rolling back to his feet.

Still breathing heavily, Ranma nevertheless offered his opponent a humorless grin. "What's the matter, Tanizaki?" he asked. "Losing your touch?"

Tanizaki's lip twisted, anger burning in his eyes. For several seconds the two of them stood there, taking each other's measure. I can win! Ranma thought. I don't know why this is happening... but whatever it is, I've got the timing now. He won't be able to keep blocking me, not with a handicap like that!

Evidently, Tanizaki agreed. Without a word, he took a step back, then leapt straight up, disappearing back through the hole in the ceiling they had so recently come down. Ranma's immediate urge was to chase after him, but he restrained himself. Whatever slowed down his reaction time like that, I don't know how long it'll last, he thought. I bet he's planning to lead me on a chase, until he can fight like normal again.

And Ranma knew that if that happened, he was in no shape to fight Tanizaki without this strange advantage. More to the point, he couldn't leave Sailor Saturn undefended either. Getting her to safety was the first priority.

Still, even as he turned toward the direction of Sailor Saturn's ki aura, his mind was still churning over what he'd just witnessed. There's something weird going on with Tanizaki, thought Ranma. Some... trick to how he fights. Something I'm not seeing yet. But whatever it is, I think it's the key to beating him. And I think what just happened was a big clue.

I just have to figure out what it means...



**********



Sailor Mercury bent over Usagi's prone body, typing frantically into her computer, her eyes scanning back and forth across the readings she was getting. Sailor Neptune looked anxiously over Sailor Mercury's shoulder, still panting slightly from how fast she'd run to get Usagi here. Sailor Venus was watching over Mousse—who was stable for the moment—but it was obvious that she was afraid for Usagi as well. And based on what the Mercury computer was reporting, she had every reason to be.

She's almost completely cut off from the Silver Crystal! Sailor Mercury thought, chewing on her lower lip as she analyzed the readings from her device. Watching the energy flow around Usagi was like watching an enormous game of spiritual tug-of-war... one that the blonde girl was losing badly.

The situation was even more unpredictable because of Usagi's unique relationship to her Star Seed. For nearly anyone else, having their Star Seed extracted like this would cause their physical body to start fading away in seconds. The Silver Crystal, however, was a Star Seed that didn't play by the usual rules. Indeed, Usagi had been carrying it around outside her body for the better part of the last four years.

These are closer to the symptoms we saw when Sailor Lead Crow extracted Usagi's Star Seed during the Galaxia conflict, Sailor Mercury thought. She hasn't vanished, just lost consciousness. But how long can she last like this? Even if her body isn't disappearing, she still needs a full connection to her Star Seed. If these readings are correct, she's still dying. Just... slower.

Further analysis was interrupted, however, as Shampoo came stumbling into the lobby from the direction of one of the building's stairwells, with the unconscious body of Sailor Pluto under one arm, and Tuxedo Kamen slung over her shoulder. She was limping on a badly injured leg, careening back and forth with only marginal control over her course, obviously in enormous pain.

Sailor Neptune rushed over to Shampoo, and as they drew nearer the Joketsuzoku girl pitched forward, nearly collapsing into Sailor Neptune's arms. The Senshi caught the three of them as they fell, awkwardly lowering them to the ground as best she could.

Sailor Mercury's mind raced. If they're down, then nearly half of us have been incapacitated, she thought. This isn't good. What should we do? I need to think of a plan!

But the number of active fighters they had was dwindling, even as the number of vulnerable people they had to protect skyrocketed. Once Sailor Jupiter and the others arrived with the beleaguered monster prisoners, they would only be stretched thinner. I don't know if we can protect them all the way things are, let alone counterattack, she thought. If it keeps going like this... people are going to die.

It was at that moment that Ranma dropped down the elevator shaft. He looked absolutely exhausted, but he was still holding tight to Sailor Saturn's limp form. Sailor Mercury's heart sank even further at the sight. Ranma, for his part, looked over at Usagi. "How's she doing?"

"...not well." Sailor Mercury shook her head. "She's hanging on for now, but I can't do anything to help her. Unless..." She paused, brow furrowing in thought, as the beginnings of an idea occurred to her. "There... might be a way. To give her some extra time, at least. But we'd have to get her back to Juuban."

"Do it." Ranma said, without hesitation. "There's no way we can win like this. We gotta get some breathing room, get as many people back on their feet as we can before we take another crack at him. And we need to figure out what we're gonna do about that clone."

He handed Sailor Saturn over to Sailor Neptune, then turned toward the exit leading out of the building. "As soon as everyone's back, get them out of here," he said. "They'll be safe if you can get 'em to the Dark Kingdom portal. I'll meet you there after I track down wherever Ryouga's gotten himself to."



**********



Skyscrapers shot past on either side of Ryouga as he and the clone hurtled through the air, tumbling over one another in their uncontrolled trajectory through the city, wind whipping at them both. Muscles straining, the lost boy continued to pour every ounce of his strength into tightening his belt, cutting off as much of the clone's air supply as he could.

Their course was angled slightly downward, but still erratic as Unit Zero flung them back and forth in her panicked, instinctual attempts to shake him off. Occasionally they would slam into the sides of the skyscrapers themselves, either bouncing off like human pinballs or crashing straight through and out the other side, depending on the angle. But no matter what, nothing could halt or slow their crazed, spiraling flight.

Ryouga had no plan beyond simply hanging on. He had lost track of how long they had been struggling like this; probably not even a minute yet, but it seemed like far longer. He didn't know whether it was even physically possible for him to constrict the clone's airway enough to actually take her down, but he did know it was the only chance he had.

As they struggled, Ryouga noticed that the clone was changing their course, carrying them higher instead of descending. Soon they were back above the surrounding skyscrapers, higher than all but Tanizaki's gleaming tower far behind them. A sinking feeling began to form in Ryouga's chest. Oh no. If she's doing what I think she's doing...

In seconds, Unit Zero reached the apex of her climb, in a brief moment of floating weightlessness. Then the clone spun in midair, putting him underneath her... and poured all her speed into a drop. Straight down.

Ryouga's stomach lurched, but he hung onto his grip, pulling with all his might in a last-ditch attempt to choke her out before they hit. They continued to plummet, accelerating faster and faster all the way down, the wind screaming around them. As they rocketed earthward, reaching mind-boggling speeds in their descent, only a single thought had the chance to go through Ryouga's mind. Crap, this is going to hur—

Then he hit the street below, the clone driving him into the concrete with meteoric force. Ryouga felt his ribs crack, the force of the impact blasting a crater that stretched almost the entire width of the road. Any nearby cars were launched over a foot into the air before crashing down again, to the sound of smashed machinery. Behind them, the sound of squealing brakes broke out as other cars tried to avoid colliding with the wrecked vehicles, along with occasional crunches of metal when some failed.

Ryouga's vision flashed white, and he let out a gasping cry of pain as the wind was knocked out of him. Unit Zero took advantage, ripping the belt from his loosened hands and flinging it away. She rolled off of him, gasping for breath, her chest heaving as air once again entered into her lungs without impediment.

The lost boy rolled in the opposite direction, pulling himself to his hands and knees with a pained grimace. But before he could get any farther the clone's head snapped up, her eyes fixing on him. She lunged, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and then hurling him across the street, into the side of one of the damaged cars. Ryouga hit with enough force that the car practically folded in half around him. He barely missed crushing the shell-shocked driver, who sat cowering in the wreckage of what had seconds ago been his perfectly functioning vehicle.

Coughing up blood, Ryouga pried himself out of the twisted metal, looking over at the clone. Her eyes were wide and bloodshot, her breathing still shuddering in and out in erratic bursts. Her hand snapped up, blazing white power gathering into her palm once again, which she aimed directly at Ryouga. Damn, the lost boy thought, as he tried to think of what he could do in his current state and came up empty. This... might be it for me.

Then, without warning, a ghostly, semitransparent figure appeared between Ryouga and Unit Zero. It was faint and flickering, but even with her back to him it was unmistakeable who it was. Sailor Moon stood protectively in front of Ryouga, her arms spread out to either side. As she did so, the clone suddenly clutched both hands to her chest in agony. The blast she had been about to unleash on him flickered out of existence as she crumpled to her knees, doubled over.

It was exactly like the attacks Sailor Moon had suffered from Unit Zero before, in the warehouse and elsewhere. Only this time, their positions were reversed. Sailor Moon didn't look happy about causing Unit Zero pain, but it had stopped her from vaporizing Ryouga. She was saying something, trying to talk to the clone, but although her mouth was moving, no sound could be heard from the faint image.

Nor did Unit Zero seem inclined to listen. The clone's eyes were wide with terror at the sight of Sailor Moon's image, and she clutched the Silver Crystal tight to her chest with both hands, shaking her head back and forth. Summoning up a burst of strength from somewhere, she lurched away, stumbling away at a blind run.

Ryouga quickly lost sight of where she fled, and the image of Sailor Moon vanished a moment later. With a pained groan, the lost boy slumped back against the wreckage of the car he'd been thrown into, sliding down it to sit with a thud on the shattered road. He ignored the crowd slowly gathering around him, his broken ribs making their presence known a bit more insistently now that the adrenaline was fading.

Well, he thought. That was... something. Now... how am I going to find my way back?



**********



With a gasp, Usagi felt herself snap back to the celestial rotunda, falling to her knees. Queen Serenity rushed over, placing a hand on her shoulder to steady her. After a few moments Usagi caught her breath, then looked up at her mother with a tired smile. "It worked..."

"You were able to appear in the mortal world?" asked Queen Serenity.

"Uh-huh," Usagi said, "It was just in time, too. The clone was just about to blast one of my friends, but I managed to stop her."

"That was fortunate," replied her mother. "You should recover your strength, and concentrate on your link to the Silver Crystal. If you sense her about to use your power, you can try to interfere again. Though I fear that in this state, you will not be able to do much more than hold the clone in check."

"That's okay," said Usagi. "My friends are all amazing, and I trust that they'll find a way to win this. I just need to help out however I can."

With that, she sat down on the floor of the rotunda, closing her eyes as she focused on the connection, however tenuous, that still existed between her and her stolen Star Seed. If this was all she could do, then she would do it as best she could.



**********



Tanizaki strode out of the elevator into his penthouse office at the very top of his building, heading for the large computer system installed there. He had hoped, by his retreat, to lure Ranma into chasing him, but it seemed that the young man had not taken the bait. Instead, Ranma had fled with Sailor Saturn.

With that gambit unsuccessful, Tanizaki judged that his next-best course of action was to locate Unit Zero, to better direct her power. He had sensed her exiting the building, but could not feel her presence any longer. Wherever she was, though, his computer could locate her. One of the several implants that his people had surgically inserted into the clone was a tracking device, a precaution which would pay dividends now. Reaching down to the keyboard, he hit a key combination to bring the system online.

However, instead of the normal login screen, when the rows of monitors flickered to life all they showed were solid blue backgrounds with the symbol of Mercury centered on each one. Tanizaki stared at them for a few seconds, fists clenched tight. So this is why the sprinkler trap failed, he thought. A muscle tightening in his jaw was the only outward sign of the anger boiling up inside him. That damned Mizuno girl.

His plans for defeating the Sailor Senshi had included extensive contingencies against the world-shattering titans in their number. Apparently, he would have been better served to spend more of his time developing contingencies against blue-haired geniuses instead.

For a while he simply stood there, fighting down the angry outburst that threatened to explode out of him. But he managed to rein in his temper, forcing himself to remain in control. This was no time for indulging himself; he had to plan out his next step, and how he would deal with these unexpected complications. And so Tanizaki analyzed the new situation, breaking down the possible strategies and trying to determine what new opportunities this presented.

He was interrupted, however, as the door behind him opened and Mr. Nagai—Tanizaki's chief political advisor and lobbyist—emerged from the elevator. "Excuse me, sir," the short, thin-featured man said, as he bowed nervously. "I was told to bring you an update on our status."

Tanizaki turned, glancing over his shoulder at him. "Where is Zhang?" he asked. "He should be giving this report, not you."

Nagai swallowed visibly. "He is... in the medical section, sir. He was injured badly in the battle. But, from what I've been told, he managed to crawl away to a hiding place before losing consciousness. Our men found him and brought him to the infirmary. When he woke up again, he ordered someone to bring you a summary of the latest developments. And... I was the only one who had security clearance to come up here."

Zhang was incapacitated? Tanizaki thought, his eyebrows going up. Even when I resolve to stop underestimating them, they manage to still exceed my expectations. Aloud, though, all he said was: "How much damage did we incur?"

"It's... hard to say at this point," Nagai said. "But the security officers say that the majority of our on-site Synth forces have been destroyed. And almost all of the martial artists we hired were incapacitated. The building itself suffered structural damage as well, though repairs are already underway as we speak."

"Unfortunate," Tanizaki said. "But well within acceptable losses." True, his trap had not gone exactly as planned, most notably in Sailor Moon's continued survival. But she was incapacitated, and Unit Zero had gained control of the Silver Crystal. Everything else was secondary to that.

"Have security teams sent into the city," Tanizaki ordered. "Their task will be to locate a girl with long blonde pigtails. She will be wearing either a black leotard or a white, flowing dress, depending on the form she is in. Also, go to Ekim's quarters and inform him that I want to speak with him."

But instead of departing, Nagai winced. "Actually, sir..." he began. "I... haven't quite finished with the damage report yet..."



**********



The door slammed open, allowing Tanizaki access to his skyscraper's medical section. He stalked inside, his stride long and rapid as he moved down the hallway. Finally he arrived at his destination, flinging that door open as well and entering the treatment room.

Several doctors and nurses milled about inside, talking in hushed tones. The air was filled with beeping noises from the wide array of medical machinery that was also present. But Tanizaki's gaze gravitated immediately toward the bed in the center. On it lay a human body, though it was so heavily burnt from head to toe that it was barely recognizable. The doctors had hooked it up to a web of I.V. tubes, while other, more alien-looking machines bathed the body with glowing green light.

Tanizaki narrowed his eyes at the sight. Damnation! he thought. This was a loss far worse than any so far. As much of a fool as Ekim had been, it had taken Tanizaki decades of searching to acquire an occult practitioner who could channel such immense power. More than any other of his employees, Ekim's function had been irreplaceable.

"What is the prognosis?" asked Tanizaki, looking over at the head doctor.

The thin, balding man looked up from the monitor he had been studying, noticing Tanizaki for the first time. "Sir!" he exclaimed, surprised. "It's... I'm not sure, sir. The thing is... he should be dead. And I don't mean that figuratively, sir. With the damage his body has sustained, his heart shouldn't be beating, and what's left of his lungs shouldn't be physically capable of breathing. And yet..." He gestured helplessly toward the bed, where the burnt figure's chest was rising and falling ever so slightly.

Tanizaki frowned in thought. Was this some kind of failsafe spell Ekim had prepared to keep himself alive in a situation like this? That seemed the most likely explanation, at least. "Will he recover?" Tanizaki asked.

"It's... not looking good, sir," the doctor said. "These burns aren't responding to any of our treatments. Not even the technology we took from the Dark Kingdom healing pods is having any effect. I don't see how he'll ever be functional again."

For a moment, Tanizaki simply studied what remained of his sorcerer. Then he exhaled. "Keep trying," he ordered the doctor. "And keep me informed of any developments." But he doubted there would be any change. Already he was evaluating his options. He would need to find another advisor with some degree of magical power and knowledge, even if the replacement wasn't on Ekim's level. Perhaps it was time to give a second look to some of the lesser practitioners he had rejected in his initial search.

Plans still formulating, he turned on his heel, walking back out of the treatment room and into the hallway beyond. I should check on Zhang's status, and then speak with Nagai again, he thought. With our current resources, it may be best to pursue a more... creative approach toward finishing off Sailor Moon.



**********



Ekim's inner world was nothing but darkness and agony. All the normal windows to the outside had been ruined: eyes, ears, tongue, nose, all of them burned beyond hope of use. The only sensation that permeated through to his consciousness was raw, unceasing pain.

And in that emptiness and pain, It waited and planned.

So long. So very, very long since It had been able to affect this physical realm directly. Not since the battle all those eons ago, when It had faced the Sailor Senshi of this galaxy in single combat and found Itself sealed away. Ever since then It had been reduced to acting through pathetic mortal agents, bestowing fragments of Its power and the assistance of Its lesser spawn in exchange for help in weakening the prison that held It.

But this... this was something new, something entirely without precedent. Its mortal agent on this world was nearly dead, all but killed by a different Sailor Senshi. But in doing so, the Senshi had called down the power of her planet directly, burning through barriers that she should not have been able to circumvent. That influx had created a weakness in the dimensional fabric, a weakness It had been able to exploit.

For the first time in countless ages, a tiny, infinitesimally small part of Itself had escaped the seal, and was able to interact with this mortal realm directly.

The foothold was weak, fragile, tied to the life force of this miserable vessel that had imbued himself with Its corruption just before the Senshi attacked it. Fury roiled within the ancient being at the indignity of being forced to sustain the biological processes of a maggot like this. Forcing the creature's lungs to rise and fall, forcing the creature's heart to pump, even as what was left of the human's mind begged incoherently for the release of death. To think that for all Its power, It was forced to work through such a ruined shell.

Even so, It was closer to true freedom than It had been since that long-ago loss. All that remained was to take advantage of the opportunity.

As It lay there, It slowly closed the fingers of its host, clenching them tight as It experimented with manipulating the body. The charred shell did not even have the strength to move on its own, forcing It to use Its power to manipulate the body directly, a meat puppet dancing on the strings of eldritch magic.

Then It turned the host's head toward one of the nearby maggots. It could not understand their primitive, mewling vocalizations, not exactly. But even as a tiny fragment of Its power, It could still impress Its will on such weak-minded mortals, as well as rip from their minds a general sense of their thoughts, such as they were.

Opening the mouth of Its host, the nameless horror began to whisper in a harsh, alien tongue, one unlike any mortal language. Everyone in the room tensed, their eyes going wide as It uttered ancient, terrible blasphemies that would slowly erode their wills with terror and madness, eventually bringing them under Its control.

And this was only the beginning. No longer would It be forced to work through inept mortal catspaws. Soon, It would have everything It needed to enter this realm again, with all Its power. And no Sailor Senshi would impede Its endless hunger this time.



**********



Ryouga's broken ribs sent sharp spikes of pain through his body with each jump he made, but the lost boy only clenched his teeth and continued to follow after Ranma. His rival had found him at the center of the growing crowd, not long after Unit Zero had fled from the apparition of Sailor Moon. Now the two of them were racing back toward Juuban, though not fast enough for Ryouga's liking.

Eventually, the two of them arrived back at the small office building that hid the portal to the Dark Kingdom. Ranma pushed through the door first, with Ryouga following close behind. Upon entering the small lobby, the first one they encountered was Sailor Saturn.

A surge of joy swept through Ryouga. Ranma had already told him that she had made it out alive, but it was still an immense relief to see her up and around again, her injuries healed. She was sitting alone in front of the doorway leading to the rear part of the building, her arms wrapped tight around her knees, her expression downcast.

She looked up as they approached, and a flash of relief crossed her face as well when she saw them. But it didn't last, her spirits quickly falling again, and she looked down, not meeting their eyes. Ryouga frowned, not used to seeing the young girl so despondent.

Ranma, meanwhile stepped forward. "Hey, where is everybody?"

"Down the hall, in one of the back rooms," Sailor Saturn explained. "I... I said I'd stand guard out here."

"Good idea," said Ranma. Then he gestured with his thumb back at Ryouga. "I'll head back there to check on things, but do you think you can fix up P-chan here with your healing magic? He took a good hit in that last fight."

Ryouga's lip twisted. He hadn't told Ranma about the injury, and had been trying not to let on about it, but of course his rival had noticed anyway. Sailor Saturn's reply was a quick nod. Seeing that, Ranma departed with a wave, leaving the two of them alone.

There was a moment of awkward silence. Sailor Saturn rose to her feet and walked over to Ryouga, then hesitantly reached out and placed her hand on his chest, a familiar purple glow building there. But she still looked miserable, and she still wouldn't look him in the eye. Ryouga hesitated, wondering what he ought to do in a situation like this.

He opened his mouth to speak, but the words caught in his throat. Everything that came to mind felt so wrong when he actually went to say it. He was worthless when it came to talking or emotional things like this. What could he tell her that could cheer her up in a situation like the one they faced?

But he had to say something. Seeing her hurting was a thousand times more painful than any embarrassing gaffe he might make. He finally managed something simple. "A-are you alright?"

Sailor Saturn nodded, but her shoulders tightened and he felt the pressure of her hand on his chest increase. Of course, Ryouga thought. It's not herself she's worried about. Aloud, what he said was: "Don't worry. There has to be some way we can stop Tanizaki and save Sailor Moon. We'll figure something out."

He tried to put as much reassurance as he could into his words, but the effect was the opposite. Sailor Saturn looked up at him, anguish in her eyes. Anguish and guilt. "There was a way!" she burst out. "I... I just didn't use it when I had the chance. I could have saved everyone. I could have stopped all of this! Usagi is back there dying because I was selfish!"

As she spoke, Ryouga remembered what Beneda had told them days ago. The legends about what Sailor Saturn could do. Her control over the power of Death. And the cost of her using that power. He swallowed. "But... if you'd done that then you would have died."

"Then that's what should have happened!" Sailor Saturn shouted. "That's what I'm for! To stop dangers like this before they can hurt Usagi or Chibi-Usa!"

Ryouga saw the beginnings of tears forming in her eyes, and the sight hit him straight in the chest, more devastating than any blow he'd ever taken. Blinking, Sailor Saturn looked down at the ground again. "It was... easier before," she said, her voice dropping down to little more than a whisper. "Pharaoh 90... Queen Nehelenia... Sailor Galaxia... Sometimes they beat me before I could use the power. But each time I always tried. But... this time..."

She took a shuddering breath. "I could have done it. If I'd invoked the power right away, at the beginning of the fight... I don't think they could have stopped me in time. But... this time I hesitated. I thought... maybe we could win without going that far. Maybe... maybe I could make it back, and be with..." Her voice trailed off, and for some strange reason she stole a glance up at Ryouga, before quickly looking down again. "I was wrong. I should never have taken a chance like that. Because I hesitated, Usagi is..."

Watching as Sailor Saturn was crushed under the weight of the responsibility she felt was like a lead weight in Ryouga's own stomach. "You can't blame yourself for not using a suicide attack as your first move!" he protested. "That's crazy! I barely know Sailor Moon, and even I know she'd never want to win that way!"

"Even if it made her sad, though... if it saved her life—"

"Hotaru, you did save her life!" Ryouga exclaimed. "You saved all our lives! If you hadn't been there, that fake Sailor Moon would have vaporized every single one of us! You don't need to throw your own life away to make a difference!"

The lost boy continued to talk, wracking his brain for ways to reassure the young Senshi. "In fact... in fact, think what would have happened to us today if you had used your power back then, on one of those other times! You're so much stronger and more amazing than just that one power."

Sailor Saturn looked up at him again. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he saw a little more hope in them now. He continued to press on. "We're all still alive. No one's dead yet, which is better that it'd be if you had used that power. We still have a chance to turn this around."

For a while Sailor Saturn digested his words, deep in thought. "Still..." she said at last. "Sometimes a sacrifice like that is necessary. Sometimes it really is the only way."

Ryouga opened his mouth to protest, but she looked directly at him with those dark, solemn eyes of hers, and he knew she would see through any denial. Those were the eyes of someone all too acquainted with the realities she was talking about. She knew better. And she deserved better from him than empty words.

"Sometimes," he finally agreed. "Sometimes it is the only way. But I don't think this was one of those times."

"But how do you know?" asked Sailor Saturn. "How can you tell when it would be better to die for your friends, and when it would be better to live and fight for them?"

Her question caused memories to return unbidden to Ryouga's mind. Memories of that final battle in India, on Nanda Devi mountain. Instead of answering directly, Ryouga took a deep breath and spoke. "There's a martial arts technique I know," he said. "I've only ever used it once. I came up with the idea years ago, when I was... well, I was in a pretty bad place. I had just... lost someone very important to me. And then I fought someone named Death Phantom who made me see some truths about my life that I didn't want to admit."

"Anyway, after all that... I created the Tora no Seishin."

"What does it do?" Sailor Saturn asked.

"It's pretty simple," Ryouga explained. "I've never been any good with tricky, complicated techniques like Ranma is. It's just a way to pull more power out of your body. A lot more."

As Ryouga spoke, his gaze grew distant. "Martial artists can use the ki generated by our bodies to make ourselves stronger. But the Tora no Seishin... it doesn't just use the ki you create naturally. It turns your whole body into its fuel, eating you from the inside out, pulling every last drop of life from every single part of you that's alive. But until it finishes... the power you get is like nothing else I've ever experienced."

Ryouga paused. "And then... well... you die. The technique is too powerful to stop halfway."

Sailor Saturn gave him a puzzled look. "But... you said you used it once. And you're not dead."

"Oh. Well." Ryouga coughed. "That's kind of a long story. You Senshi get involved in a lot of magic stuff, right? So you've probably come across one or two of those grant-you-three-wishes things? You know, the kind that say you can wish for anything you want, but it'll always grant it in a way that screws you over?"

The young Senshi was giving him a blank look, so Ryouga pressed on. "Um, anyway, Shampoo had one of those. A wishing flute, that time. She had already used two of the wishes before that, which turned out like you'd expect. But then there was this big fight in India, and..."

Ryouga's voice trailed off, remembering the desperation he'd felt in that moment. "We were going to lose. The lunatic we were fighting had this... ancient armor that he'd found somewhere, and it made him nearly invincible. He was going to kill us all, and a lot more people besides. So... I used the technique."

With one hand Ryouga reached out in front of him, then clenched his fist. "One punch. That's all it took. Before that, I couldn't even scratch his armor, no matter how hard I hit him. But after... the armor was like cardboard. I can't even put it into words. It was like... all the power for your whole life, concentrated into a single minute."

"And then Shampoo used her wish to keep you from dying?" asked Sailor Saturn.

Ryouga nodded. "We never figured out why the flute gave her the wish that one time without screwing anything up. Maybe she asked in just the right way. Or... maybe it was because that time, she was using it for someone else's sake, instead of her own."

"So how did you decide?" asked Sailor Saturn. "How did you know it was time to go that far?"

"I... don't think there's any way to know for sure," Ryouga admitted. "But there is one thing I did after that happened. I swore to Akane and Ranma that I'd never use that technique ever again."

Sailor Saturn's face scrunched into a frown. "But... you just said that sometimes, doing something like that is necessary."

"Yes." Ryouga nodded. "And that's how I decide. If it ever gets so bad that I'm willing to break a promise I made to the people I really care about... then it's bad enough for me to use that technique again." He scratched the back of his head. "It's stupid, I know, but that's what I came up with."

The lost boy let out a long breath. "Anyway, however you look at it, I think you made the right choice today. There's no way we're going to lose to something like this, so don't waste your life just to make our win a little easier. We're going to turn this around, beat Tanizaki to a pulp, and get Sailor Moon's powers back. And we're going to do it together. All of us."

Sailor Saturn gave a small but vigorous nod. Determination had replaced the self-recrimination that had been in her eyes before. "You're right," she said. "Usagi won't lose to something like this. I should have more faith in her." She hesitated for a moment, then continued. "Also... I don't think what you said is stupid at all! In fact..."

She hesitated for a second or two, then looked him right in the eye, her expression earnest. "In fact... I promise the same thing. I promise you I won't use my power over Death."

Ryouga raised his eyebrows in surprise. Hearing that, he couldn't help thinking back to what he'd actually said. About not using a technique like that unless it was bad enough to break a promise "to the people I really care about." And she'd just promised him. Could that mean...?

But then he mentally kicked himself. No, it was obvious he was reading too much into her words. She probably didn't mean anything by it. He was just hearing what he wanted to hear.

Even realizing that, though, he still couldn't help but respond. "I... I promise you too," he told her, the words tumbling out before he even realized what he was saying. "I won't ever use the Tora no Seishin again. You have my word on that, Hotaru."



**********



Tanizaki was in the Synth chamber, surveying the damage done to the growth tanks by his and Ranma's fight, when Unit Zero finally returned. She approached him on the catwalk, with two of Tanizaki's scientists trailing behind her on either side. She came to attention a few paces away from him, her back ramrod-straight.

"I trust that you've examined her?" Tanizaki asked the scientists, while still studying the damage to the chamber. "Has she sustained any harm?"

One of the scientists shook his head. "Nothing physical that we could detect, sir. However... the synchronization ratio with the Silver Crystal has actually decreased slightly from the readings we were getting upon acquisition."

Tanizaki's mouth set into a thin line. The original Sailor Moon was no doubt fighting back. It only underlined the importance of killing her as soon as possible. They would not be truly safe until Unit Zero could draw on the full, uncontested power of the Silver Crystal. "Did she at least kill her opponents?" Tanizaki asked.

The other scientist hesitated. "According to the crowd at the scene, and the inquiries our soldiers made... no."

At this, Tanizaki turned to look at Unit Zero directly, disapproval in his gaze. The clone cringed, tensing. Tanizaki let the silence hang in the air for a few seconds, before speaking to her. "I gave you an order, Unit Zero. And yet you did not carry it out. You understand the punishment you deserve for that, don't you?"

The clone clenched her eyes shut, her body trembling. But she gave two quick, jerking nods in response, as he had trained her. Ritual behavior was an important tool to ingrain her role into her mind. Tanizaki waited for a few more seconds, letting the anticipation work on her. Then he spoke. "Epsilon Omega Four One Three."

As he spoke, one of the sub-dermal implants Metzger had installed in her detected the keyphrase, immediately performing a voiceprint analysis and confirming that the speaker was Tanizaki. With that ascertained, it activated its function without delay.

The clone's scream echoed through the vast chamber, as she fell to the catwalk floor. There she thrashed back and forth, clutching at her head. She howled and howled in pain, only stopping when she had expelled all the air in her lungs. Even then she could only try to scream more, but since she was not able to take so much as a breath in, she made little more than a choked whisper as she arched her back in agony.

As he watched, Tanizaki kept mental count of how many seconds had passed, calculating the length of time that would best serve for this refresher. The implant would cause no physical damage; it was wired into her brain itself, directly creating an experience of pure pain to which she could never adjust or acclimate.

When he finally decided that she had had enough, Tanizaki spoke again. "Gamma Theta Two Nine Seven." The code phrase deactivated the implant, causing Unit Zero to slump where she lay, curling up into a fetal ball on the ground. Her body shook with her suppressed sobs.

Discipline had been administered, but the next part of the ritual was even more important. "Unit Zero," Tanizaki said, as he walked over and knelt down next to her. The clone looked up at him, tears staining her face, as he reached down and gently stroked her head.

"You know I don't enjoy it when you force me to do that," he told her, softening his tone to affect a display of compassion mixed with sadness. "If you weren't so disobedient, I wouldn't ever have to. Can you promise me you'll do better next time?"

The clone nodded her head frantically, desperate to do anything that would appease him. Satisfied, Tanizaki rose back to his feet. This two-pronged approach was the key to ensuring Unit Zero's loyalty. On one hand, associate the idea of "disobedience" with unimaginable pain, and keep reinforcing that lesson on a regular basis, from the day of her artificial birth. On the other hand, offer himself as her sole source of comfort as well, contingent on obedience.

Her desperate need to believe in the few scraps of kindness that only he offered her caused her to rationalize the torture as truly her fault, just as he kept telling her it was. A well-known psychological phenomena, one that could cause victims to become dependent on the one harming them, even to the point where they were completely unable to turn against their victimizer, even when given every opportunity to do so.

Which was the precise state of mind he was aiming to create. If he could not wield the Silver Crystal himself, he would not leave it to anyone who might possibly turn against him. It was far too much power to bestow on anything so unreliable as an "ally". It could only belong to someone whose will was broken to his own.

And he had made certain that Unit Zero was utterly and completely broken.



**********



Back at the office building that hid the Dark Kingdom portal, Sailor Mars stood vigil over Usagi's unconscious form, along with Ranma and the rest of the Sailor Senshi. Most of them were scattered around the cramped room, but Sailor Chibi-moon knelt at Usagi's side, her small hands on her mother's chest. A nimbus of white light glowed around that point of contact.

Sailor Mars alternated between watching Sailor Chibi-moon's efforts and looking over at Sailor Mercury, who was keeping a constant eye on Usagi's condition through her computer. Finally, the Senshi of Water looked up and spoke.

"She isn't in immediate danger," she told them. "Linking her life force to Sailor Chibi-moon's has helped to stabilize her. But I don't know how long this will last. Her deterioration has slowed, but it's still happening. Based on what I'm seeing, she has... a week. Maybe two. I'm not sure."

"There has to be something we can do!" Sailor Jupiter protested, though it was clear from her desperate expression that she had no ideas herself.

"There is." Sailor Pluto's words and tone were both calm. "And it is straightforward. We must kill that clone as quickly as possible."

"Hey! Hey, hold on a minute..." interjected Ranma. "Is that really the only way? None of this was the clone's idea, you know. Tanizaki's the one who made her into what she is. She's just a scared little kid who doesn't even understand what's going on."

"That's right!" agreed Sailor Chibi-moon, looking up from where she knelt at her mother's side. "Puu-chan, you know Usagi would never want us to do that for her. She'd want us to find a way to stop Tanizaki without sacrificing anyone."

"It has nothing to do with what she wants," Sailor Pluto replied, her face set like flint. "There are two of them, but only one Star Seed between them. I know of few arithmetic problems that are simpler. One of them will ultimately die, and I will not let it be Usagi!"

"Look, if the problem is this 'Star Seed' thing, can't you just..." Ranma wiggled his fingers in the air for a few seconds. "...magic the clone up a new one, or something?"

"No." Sailor Mars shook her head. "There are some things not even the Silver Crystal can fix. And a missing Star Seed..."

Her voice trailed off, as her thoughts returned unbidden to the fight against Sailor Galaxia, when Sailor Mars had lost her own Star Seed. The memory of Sailor Moon holding her, begging her not to leave her, helpless to do anything but watch as Sailor Mars died in her arms.

Sailor Mars closed her eyes. "...a missing Star Seed is one of those things. Believe me, if there were any way Usagi could have healed that clone, she would have done it. But... there are some things even she can't do."

"Sailor Mars is correct," Sailor Pluto said. "Not even the Silver Crystal can create a new Star Seed out of nothing. If we are to save Usagi, if we are to stop Tanizaki's plan, Unit Zero must die and Sailor Moon must reclaim her power."

The words stabbed into Sailor Mars' chest. Could she do it? Could she kill Unit Zero, if it was the only way to save Usagi's life? Even though it would mean going against everything Usagi believed? Every other time they had faced a dilemma like this, they had found another way, found some miracle that would allow them to win without taking that step. Could she do any less now?

But there was one difference, Sailor Mars knew, between this and all those other times. This time, the one who had found all the other miracles was the one who needed saving.



**********



Over in a nearby room, others kept a similar vigil. Akane sat near Mousse's bed, watching as his chest rose and fell with labored, hitching gasps. His face was pale and gaunt, his skin sweaty and his hair disheveled from his occasional thrashing fits.

Beneda sat on the other side of him, chewing her lower lip as she inserted acupuncture needles into his skin. They had sent for Doctor Tofu, but until he arrived, Beneda was using what she'd learned from him as best she could to help Mousse's body fight off the toxin.

Shampoo sat next to Beneda, watching Mousse intently. It was hard for Akane to read the Joketsuzoku girl's emotions. Her rival—her friend—could be inscrutable at the best of times. Even after years of feuding with each other, training together, and fighting alongside one another, there was so much that was enigmatic about the Chinese beauty.

Still, Akane could tell that Shampoo was worried, though the other girl didn't let it show. Even if Shampoo had never loved Mousse in the way he wanted her to, he had still been her friend from childhood. This couldn't be easy for her.

The stifling silence was eventually broken as the door opened and Sailor Mercury walked in, followed by Ranma. "How's he doing?" Ranma asked, looking over to where Mousse lay. The sight of the hidden weapons master in such a fragile state seemed to make him uneasy.

Sailor Mercury, for her part, took out her computer and scanned Mousse. "There's not much change," she said. "He's stable, and Sailor Saturn's healing helped to repair some of the damage the poison caused to his body. But repairing damage is all that type of healing can do. It won't extract the poison that's still inside him. His body will have to metabolize it... however long that takes."

Akane nodded. "Thank you for your help," she said. She knew how worried all the Senshi were over Usagi. Nevertheless, Sailor Mercury had made sure to regularly keep checking in on Mousse as well, setting aside the time to scan him for any complications.

"It's nothing, really," Sailor Mercury replied. "Please, let me know if you notice anything change in his condition."

"We will," Beneda assured her.

"Good." Sailor Mercury nodded. "I'm... sorry I can't stay for longer, but there are still several tests I need to run on Usagi, and I also need to start working through all the data we took from Tanizaki's mainframe. There might be something in there that will give us an edge."

"Sailor-girl do that," said Shampoo, speaking up for the first time, a dangerous fire burning in her eyes. "When fight suit-man next time... Shampoo want to hit bastard with everything possible."



**********



His hands twisting ceaselessly in his lap, Nagai sat in the sterile white conference room. He licked his lips, listening to the almost-inaudible hum of the lights above him. The room seemed far more empty now. Normally, this was where Tanizaki would take briefings with his chief experts in various fields. Metzger for science, Ekim for sorcery, Zhang for security and Nagai for politics.

Today, however, Metzger was missing, presumed dead. Ekim was all but dead, and Zhang was recovering in the medical ward inside one of the healing capsules they had procured from the Dark Kingdom. It was just Tanizaki and Nagai now... making Nagai wonder if he would be next, should events continue on the same course.

I'm just a politician! he whined to himself as he fidgeted. I'm supposed to be winning business leaders and heads of state over to Tanizaki's side, paving the way for his organization's influence! I didn't sign up to put my neck at risk!

Not that he would ever voice such sentiments aloud, of course. He knew he was in too deep to do anything but see it through. He would just have to keep his head down as best he could, and hope that his employer knew what he was doing.

Said employer sat at his customary seat at the head of the table, deep in thought. At length, he spoke. "Sailor Moon is the key to everything," he said. "The Silver Crystal's true ultimate power is lethal enough for the wielder, even in a normal situation. According to Ekim, it would be impossible for Unit Zero to reach that level so long as her grasp on the Silver Crystal is contested. But if we can just kill Sailor Moon, then that power will allow us to win in a single stroke."

Nagai shifted clumsily through the stack of reports in front of him. "The... ah... the science division reports that they're working on replenishing our supply of Synths, sir. But they say it will take some time before we're back at full capacity."

"Not fast enough," was Tanizaki's immediate reaction. "Our opponents' plan will doubtless be to heal themselves, regroup, and make a second attack as soon as they are back at optimal fighting strength. We don't have days to waste."

"According to the scientists, if we... um... if we push the growth cycle any faster the quality of the Synths will drop a great deal." Nagai shook his head. "I don't see what other options we have for supplementing our fighting force. Almost half the martial artists we hired have quit after what happened today, and most of the rest are incapacitated to one degree or another."

Tanizaki's fingers drummed against the table as he considered the problem. "Have them speed up the Synth growth cycle," he finally said. "But we won't rely on just that. We have other options. And if recent events have confirmed anything, it is that when fighting the Sailor Senshi, taking advantage of their natures is more telling than raw combat strength."

He rose to his feet. "Assemble a press conference for me as soon as possible. Use every angle you have. I want everyone covering this, and I want complete control over what they report, from beginning to end."

"A press conference? For you, personally, sir?" Nagai's eyebrows shot up. "But... until now, we've tried very hard to ensure that you remained out of the public eye as much as possible. Do you really want to throw all that away?"

"We are entering a different phase of the game," Tanizaki replied. "The pieces are changing their positions on the board, and that requires new strategies to adapt. Our opponents have embroiled us in a public incident. Now that our trap was successful, instead of trying to cover it up... let us instead use it."



**********



Sailor Mercury's eyes scanned repeatedly across row after row of text and images as the data scrolled down the monitor of her computer. With Usagi and Mousse stable for now, she had spent the last few hours studying the data she had downloaded from Tanizaki's network.

"Unbelievable..." she murmured as she read, half to herself. Then she looked up at the other Sailor Senshi, who were still sitting around her in the same room where Usagi lay unconscious. "I suspected there was more to Tanizaki's power base than just his official company, but I never imagined... this."

"How extensive is it?" asked Sailor Pluto.

"I only have a rough idea at this point, but if I had to estimate..." Sailor Mercury paused. "I'd guess that 'Tanizaki Heavy Industries' is less than ten percent of what he actually controls. There are countless other companies, run through false names and shell corporations. Criminal enterprises, too. He has a hand in smuggling, extortion, drugs, human trafficking, gambling... everything."

Even as she spoke, Sailor Mercury was still scrolling, reading. "Not all of his control is direct, though. He has incriminating information on politicians, celebrities, business leaders. Sometimes his agents will engineer a little bit of dirt, and use it as a lever to get the target to do something just a little bit worse so it doesn't become public. Then they'll pass that information on to other agents, and repeat the cycle. Always pulling the target further in."

"And he's never been discovered?" asked Sailor Mars.

"He doesn't do most of it directly," Sailor Mercury explained. "It's boxes within boxes, chains of influence. Most of his pawns don't even know who they really work for. Tanizaki is the only one who can see it all. He's like a spider sitting at the center of its web. Except his web covers the entire world."

The blue-haired girl continued to read. "Through bribes, threats or blackmail, he controls more than three-fourths of the National Diet, and he has a strong presence in many other world governments as well. It all stretches back... generations. Based on the dates of some of these records, it looks like his family has been using these tactics to build this shadow empire since well before the Meji era. He didn't just inherit the Tanizaki corporation. He inherited a conspiracy that's over a hundred years old."

The weight of that realization settled on the rest of those present, and for a while no one said anything. Then suddenly, Sailor Pluto frowned. "You said his control extends to all manner of different areas," she said. "Does that include news outlets?"

Sailor Mercury typed in a quick search on her keypad, then scanned the results. "Yes," she said. "Not directly, for most of them, but through various channels he can influence news outlets around the world. Here in Japan, where his power base is the strongest..." She read a little more, and then looked up. "One way or another, he controls virtually all of them."

Her mouth set in a grim line, Sailor Pluto rose to her feet. She hurried out of the room, the other Senshi trailing behind her with worried curiosity. The Senshi of Time to the nearby break room, where the guards previously stationed there had spent their downtime. There was a small television set up there, which Sailor Pluto turned on.

She did not need to flip through the channels; what she sought was already running on the first one she tried. The screen showed a reporter standing in front of Tanizaki's skyscraper. "—incredible turn of events," the man said. "Again, we have confirmation that the Sailor Senshi, long considered heroes of justice, have just today instigated a completely unprovoked attack on a prominent businessman. It is still unclear why the former heroes have turned against the society they once protected, but reliable sources indicate that this is only the first step in their destructive rampage."

Behind the reporter, the streets were swarming with countless armed figures wearing JSDF uniforms. In addition to the ordinary soldiers, armored personnel vehicles were driving by every so often, their mounted turret guns manned and ready, and as they watched they could hear the sounds of helicopters flying over the reporter's head.

"In response to this brazen assault, the government has deployed the JSDF in its full capacity to defend our citizens against any who would attack them," the reporter continued. "At a rare press conference an hour ago, company CEO Tanizaki Kazuo had the following to say."

The image cut to a view of Tanizaki, standing behind a simple podium, in a room packed full of reporters, with flashbulbs going off at near-constant intervals. "I would like to reassure all my fellow citizens who may be troubled by the recent actions of these out-of-control vigilantes," he said, looking out from where he stood at the cameras, at the watching world. "I am committed to working together with the government to ensure that they are brought to justice. There will be nowhere for them to run. There will be nowhere for them to hide. We will work tirelessly to bring the full force of the law down on these criminals, and return proper power and authority to where it belongs."



**********



Over an hour later, Sailor Chibi-moon walked through the hallway of the small office building, her body numb and tingling from the protracted time she had spent channeling her life force into her future mother. With a moment's focus, she undid her Senshi transformation as she walked, a pink glow flashing around her momentarily before returning her to being Chibi-Usa.

She had been willing to keep at her labor, despite her growing fatigue, but Sailor Mercury had asked her to take a break for a while. Not only to give her a chance to recover some of her strength, but also so Sailor Mercury could check how well Usagi's condition would hold on its own. So Chibi-Usa wandered off toward the break room, looking for a place to rest.

The muffled sound of the television reached her as she approached the door, growing more distinct as she opened it. The room was empty now, except for one person. Ranma still sat there, leaning back in one of the chairs, focused on the news program. It was showing a replay of Tanizaki's speech, and Ranma's eyes were locked on the image, studying it as though he could force it to give up its secrets.

Chibi-Usa, in turn, studied Ranma for a few moments. For all that the Sailor Senshi were cooperating with him now, she personally hadn't interacted much with the pigtailed young man. All she knew about him was that he was a strange, very powerful fighter with a tendency toward bizarre plans, as evidenced by his "Dark Lords" scheme.

But who was Saotome Ranma, really?

After a couple seconds had gone by, Ranma glanced back over his shoulder at her. "Hey, Sailor Pipsqueak," he called out. "Something up?"

"It's Sailor Chibi-moon," corrected the pink-haired girl for the second time, giving him an annoyed glare. Whoever Saotome Ranma really was, it was obvious that "jerk" was a part of it.

"Sure, sure," was Ranma's response, as he turned back to look at the television again. But the replay of Tanizaki's speech was done now, and the image cut to a news commentator talking about the latest responses of support for the initiative from various politicians. Seeing that, Ranma lost most of his previous interest.

Chibi-Usa walked over and flopped down into another chair. Then she glanced over at Ranma. "Why were you watching him give that speech again?"

"Just trying to... I don't know. Jog my memory." Ranma rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, frowning in thought. "There's something about the way he fights. Something... off about it. I only noticed it for sure at the very end, but the more I think about it, there might have been more to it than just that. There was something that didn't fit about that whole battle. I just... can't quite put my finger on it."

His words didn't make much sense to Chibi-Usa, and not knowing what to say, she turned back to the television. The image switched again, to a shot of the JSDF forces mustering in a defensive array around Tanizaki's skyscraper. At length, she spoke. "I don't understand why he's doing this."

"Who, Tanizaki?" Ranma asked.

Chibi-Usa nodded. "What does he even gain from having a clone with Sailor Moon's powers?" she asked pointing at the television screen. "I mean, look at how much power he already has! Why does he need to take the Silver Crystal on top of all that?"

"Because he wants to win," Ranma told her. "I talked with him about it while we were fighting, and that's one thing I can tell you for sure. He doesn't care about the money or the power, not for its own sake. It's... well... it's because he's a martial artist. Matching himself against the next opponent, the next battle, the next challenge, so he can grow stronger from it... that's the only thing that matters to him."

"If he really only cares about martial arts, then why didn't he just challenge Usagi to a fight, like you did?" Chibi-Usa asked, her tone skeptical. "What do science experiments and corrupt politicians and magic rituals and big companies have to do with martial arts?"

"For a guy like Tanizaki?" asked Ranma. "Everything. All those things you said? They're just weapons to him. Like Ryouga's umbrella or Ukyo's spatula. That's how you can have things like Martial Arts Okonomiyaki. Or Martial Arts Figure Skating. Or Martial Arts Fly Fishing. Or Martial Arts Tea Ceremony. If you treat it like a battle, anything can be a martial art."

The pink-haired girl blinked. "...there's a Martial Arts Tea Ceremony?" she asked. "How does that even work? The tea ceremony is supposed to be about grace and respect and good manners and peaceful contemplation!"

"Uh-huh," Ranma agreed. "And Martial Arts Tea Ceremony is basically the same thing. You're just... also trying to beat the other guy's face in with the tea ceremony tools while you do it."

Chibi-Usa gave him a flat look, unable to tell if he was making fun of her or not. Ranma just pressed on. "See, that's what I'm saying. For most people, just the normal tea ceremony is fine. But for some people, it's a war. People like Tanizaki."

For a moment Chibi-Usa looked at Ranma, at the expression on his face as he said that. Finally, she ventured to speak. "...and people like you?"

One corner of Ranma's mouth quirked up in a rueful half-smile. "And people like me," he agreed. "I'm not as bad as I used to be. And I'd never have done what Tanizaki did. But... wanting to prove you're better than the other guy? Needing to win, no matter what kind of challenge it is? Yeah. When he said that... I knew exactly what he was talking about."

Chibi-Usa pondered his words. "So... then I guess you'd call what Tanizaki does 'Martial Arts World Domination,' then?"

"Heh. Not a bad name for it," Ranma said, chuckling. "Except it won't even end with just this world. If Tanizaki gets Sailor Moon's power and runs out of challenges here, he'll take his war anywhere else he can find. Hell, when I went to his skyscraper the first time, he showed me a model of an actual spaceship he already had his people working on. Trust me, he isn't going to stop. Not ever. Not unless someone stops him."

"Then that's what we have to do," said Chibi-Usa, her voice small but firm. There was too much riding on this, too many lives depending on them. They couldn't let more people be hurt by Tanizaki's selfish ambitions.

Ranma nodded in agreement, and for a minute or two they just say there, with the muted noise from the television the only thing breaking the silence. Then finally, Chibi-Usa turned to Ranma again. "But seriously. Martial Arts Tea Ceremony?"

"I swear, it's the truth," Ranma said, raising his hands. "Trained in it myself for a bit. Had to help a guy get out of an arranged marriage by beating his fiancee in a Martial Arts Tea Ceremony duel." Then Ranma paused. "Except when the day of the fight came, she actually turned out to be a monkey."

Chibi-Usa's flat stare returned. "...okay, now I know you're just making fun of me."



**********



That evening, Tanizaki stood alone in his office at the top of his skyscraper, looking out over the city as the sun sank beneath the horizon in a blaze of red and gold. The day had not gone entirely as planned, but none of the upsets had been catastrophic. His position was strong, stronger than ever.

Sailor Moon had escaped, but he had the Silver Crystal, and that meant that the Sailor Senshi were operating on borrowed time. Meanwhile, his people were already working with the JSDF on a plan of attack, in preparation to take the fight to the Sailor Senshi. There was resistance to the idea of attacking the beloved heroes without any attempt at negotiation—even more than he had expected—but in the end he was certain they would fall in line with their orders.

A small smile crossed his face as he anticipated the culmination of his strategy. His foes this time had been worthy opponents, giving him more trouble than any others in recent memory. But he could see the endgame now. They were running out of moves, and soon they would fall before him, just like all his previous foes had.

It was only a matter of time.



**********



In the ethereal confines of the celestial rotunda, Usagi sat with her eyes closed, stretching out with her senses along the tenuous link still remaining between herself and the Silver Crystal. She kept constant vigil, alert for any sign that Unit Zero might be using her stolen power, ready to do her best to interfere. But no such sign came.

Still, even if there had been no further use of the Silver Crystal, that did not mean that Usagi could sense nothing over the link connecting her to her clone. Indeed, the more she concentrated, the more impressions she could glean. Stray feelings and emotions reverberating across the tangled, tattered thread of magic strung between them.

And what she felt made her stomach sink in dismay.

Finally, when she could bear it no longer, she rose to her feet. "I'm going out there again," she said to her mother, who was still sitting nearby. "I think I've got a better handle on how to do it, now."

Her mother's eyebrows went up. "Is the clone trying to use your power?" she asked. "I can sense nothing."

Usagi shook her head. "No," she said. "No, it's... something else."

"Then... are you sure this is a good idea?" the queen asked. "You are the only one who can prevent the clone from using the Silver Crystal. You ought to conserve your strength so you can manifest when it is absolutely necessary."

"I know," Usagi said. "But... this is necessary. This is really, really necessary."



**********



Far below Tanizaki's lofty penthouse suite, Unit Zero sat huddled in the corner of the small cell where she had spent the majority of her short life. There was no connection to the outside, just blank steel walls and silence.

Second after second went by, the seconds stretching into minutes and the minutes into hours, with nothing to break the crushing isolation. She watched the thick metal door to the room, not taking her eyes off of it as she pleaded in wordless desperation for her master to return. He was the only one who would visit her, who would touch her, who would give her some small measure of affection.

Except for when he hurt her. But that was her fault; he only did that when she was bad. As long as she was good—as long as she didn't fail him—he would be pleased with her. The clone clenched her fists tight, promising herself over and over again that she would do better next time. If she could just... be good all the time, then he wouldn't have to get angry again, and everything would be perfect.

And so she sat there, alone, sequestered away in the most secure area of the skyscraper. Protected by layers of thick walls, heavy blast doors, countless guards, and automated defenses. Behind all of that, she watched for a sign of her master, a sign that steadfastly refused to come.

But someone else did appear before her. Semi-transparent, but unmistakable all the same. A figure that materialized out of thin air, clad in white, with a face and body identical to her own. The girl she had stolen the Silver Crystal from.

Unit Zero's eyes went wide with terror, and she scrambled away as far as she could, to the other side of the room, switching corners to the one that put her farthest away from the apparition. Her heart hammered in her chest, as she tried to think of what to do. She was desperate to run away... but her master had ordered her to stay in her cell.

Fear of losing what she had gained—fear of going back to the emptiness of before—clashed against the fear of disobedience, leaving her trembling in place. But strangely, the other girl made no move to attack her. The clone felt no increase in the pull on the Silver Crystal. Instead, the other girl simply stood there.

"It's okay!" the other girl said, holding up her hands, palms out. "It's okay. I don't want to hurt you. I just... You were feeling so sad, and I could tell, and... well... I thought maybe you'd like someone to talk with?"



**********



The mood was somber around Usagi's bedside as the Sailor Senshi gathered there again to listen to Ami's latest report. Most of the Senshi had undone their transformations by now, except for Sailor Pluto. Chibi-Usa sat in silence, thoughts and worries churning within her.

As it turned out, Ami had learned little that they did not already know. No significant change, either for the better or the worse. Finally, Sailor Pluto spoke up. "We must decide what we are going to do," she said. "How will we strike at Tanizaki next, given the latest developments?"

"I don't see how anything has changed," said Michiru. "We'll need to fight our way through Tanizaki's defenses and take out that clone."

"But now he's protecting himself with people who don't realize what's really going on!" protested Minako. "Fighting his Synths is one thing, but I don't want to use my powers against JSDF soldiers who think they're doing the right thing!"

"We might not have a choice," Haruka replied, her tone grim. "We can't let Tanizaki succeed, and even if they don't know any better, if those soldiers are fighting for him..."

"There must be some other way," said Ami. "We shouldn't rush into this. If we take some more time to think of other options..."

"How much time can we afford to waste?" argued Haruka. "The princess is getting worse, and every hour we delay is another hour Tanizaki has to prepare. And whether those men know Tanizaki's true goals or not, they are on his side. Right now, practically the entire world is our enemy."

At that, Chibi-Usa glanced up from her own troubled ponderings. "That's not true!" she said, the words spilling from her almost unbidden.

Her outburst caused the rest of them to turn and look at her. "I do not like it either, Small Lady," Sailor Pluto said, compassion in her eyes. "But it is the reality we face. We must accept the danger facing us. It would not be the first time the armies of Earth sided against us."

Her expression darkened, and Chibi-Usa knew that the Senshi of Time was thinking back to the Earth's role in the genocide of the original Moon Kingdom. But Chibi-Usa shook her head. "No!" she said. "They aren't our enemies, not really. I don't believe that Tanizaki's kind of world is what they really want!"

Chibi-Usa rose to her feet, looking around at her friends. "They aren't on his side," she said. "He's just using them. Tricking them. To him, they're just..." She thought back to her conversation with Ranma, before continuing. "...weapons. That's all he sees them as. Just another bunch of weapons he can use against us. But that's also his weakness, because I know they're so much more than that. We just have to show them the truth."

"And how do you propose we do that?" asked Michiru, skepticism in her voice. "According to Ami, Tanizaki controls all the news media in Japan. Every television channel, every radio station, every newspaper. Even if you think they would believe us over him, there's no way we could reach enough people with the message. Not in time."

"Yes there is!" Chibi-Usa said. The plan was coming together in her mind even as she spoke, her eyes lighting up as she realized what they had to do. "So what if Tanizaki controls all those things? There are even better ways to get the truth out to everybody."

As she spoke, a toothy grin crossed her face. "In fact..." she said. "We have ways of reaching people that Tanizaki could only dream about."
claymade
Asteroid Senshi
Posts: 930
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby CRBWildcat » Mon Oct 24, 2016 6:47 pm

Right when I think this story can't climb any higher, someone hands me a stepladder. :)

Looks nice from what I could tell.
Image
Senshi of Zeta Aquilae
Spammer Rank C --- from Himitsu, 10-25-07. "Holy @!#%!, she made Zelas cry."
SpamLady Supreme --- from Colonel Caprice, 8-16-2017
Song of the week. Updated Sundays/Mondays.
CRBWildcat
User avatar
Super Power Senshi
Posts: 30947
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Tue Oct 25, 2016 9:20 am

CRBWildcat wrote:Right when I think this story can't climb any higher, someone hands me a stepladder. :)

Looks nice from what I could tell.

Thanks very much! Really glad to hear that you enjoyed it! :D
claymade
Asteroid Senshi
Posts: 930
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby ckosacranoid » Tue Oct 25, 2016 1:45 pm

Talk about leaving a stand off with both groups right now. One gets the government into the act, the is going to bring up some dirt into the media somehow and things are going to get weird. Cool to see a new chapter.
http://otakuracing.blogspot.com/
my blog for busniess and other things i do.
ckosacranoid
Chibi Sailor Senshi
Posts: 367
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Tue Oct 25, 2016 8:27 pm

ckosacranoid wrote:Talk about leaving a stand off with both groups right now. One gets the government into the act, the is going to bring up some dirt into the media somehow and things are going to get weird. Cool to see a new chapter.

Thanks! Yeah, things are right at a new tipping point at present. Though as far as what our heroes' exact plan is... well, only time will tell... :wink:

Again, thank you for the feedback!
claymade
Asteroid Senshi
Posts: 930
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby TattooTheDL » Thu Dec 29, 2016 11:48 am

I only found out about this story by accident, because the early concept intrigued me from what I caught on TVtropes.

I immediately binged on the story from the beginning onwards like a netflix TV series and have not regretted a moment of it. Well done sir!
TattooTheDL
Senshi Candidate
Posts: 23
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby claymade » Thu Dec 29, 2016 12:06 pm

TattooTheDL wrote:I only found out about this story by accident, because the early concept intrigued me from what I caught on TVtropes.

I immediately binged on the story from the beginning onwards like a netflix TV series and have not regretted a moment of it. Well done sir!

Thank you very much! :D It's really encouraging to hear when people are enjoying the story.
claymade
Asteroid Senshi
Posts: 930
 

Re: The Dark Lords Ascendant, Chapter 14 [R/SM Cross]

Postby TattooTheDL » Thu Dec 29, 2016 12:14 pm

claymade wrote:Thank you very much! :D It's really encouraging to hear when people are enjoying the story.


What can I say, you've done the series and it's focal point of "Instant anarchy, just add Nerima" very proud. I especially love the reactions of the Sailor Scouts to the anarchy that is the NWC, AND when the secrets start being revealed.

That always bugs the crap out of me, when stories never address the mistaken assumptions and impressions that lead up to the chaos, so Ryoga's explanation of "We were pretending to save our friends life." and the other aspects of the overall plot really made my soul happy. Figuring out Ranma's cat-phobia and why THAT was making him look suspicious was very satisfying to me.
TattooTheDL
Senshi Candidate
Posts: 23
 


Return to Stories and C&C

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users