Ranma confronts Lita, who must transform into Sailor Jupiter to defend herself. Meanwhile, a new enemy stalks the Sailor Scouts from the rooftops.
Chapter 5: The Fight of Lita's Life
Lita's lungs began to ache as she ran to the appointed place. "Dammit, why does Raye have to live so far from civilization? I'm going to be dead tired before the match!" However fatigued she was, Lita kept running, determined not to make a bad impression on Ranko by being late.
Shortly after eight, she arrived at the dojo. Ranko was already there, leaning against the outer wall. Curiously enough, she was standing on her head. "Sorry I'm late," Lita apologized. "I lost track of the time."
"That's okay," said Ranko. "I was a little late myself. Just got here." She flipped easily to her feet. "Need a few minutes to catch your breath before we go inside?"
"I'll be okay," Lita assured her. "We should probably get changed before sparring anyway."
"Sure thing. I was just offering." Ranko held the door open. "After you."
Lita led the way in and pointed to a cubicle at the near end of the dojo. "That's the changing room."
"You can change first," offered Ranko.
"Why don't we just get changed at the same time? There's plenty of room for two."
Ranko blushed. "Well, it's not really... I mean... okay, whatever." She shrugged and made her way to the changing room.
"Poor girl," said Lita to herself. "She must be shy around new people." She joined Ranko in the cubicle and began to undress. Even though she wanted to respect Ranko's privacy, she couldn't help but notice that Ranko studiously avoided looking at her while she changed. When Ranko's shirt came off, she got an even bigger surprise. "Don't you wear a bra?"
Ranko reflexively turned to Lita, flashing her ample bare chest for a brief moment before noticing Lita's state of undress and turning back. "They never feel comfortable. It's kind of embarrassing..."
"I understand," said Lita. "I was just concerned. Without support, your chest might get in the way during the match. And you tire more quickly because of the excess movement."
"It's okay, really. I'm used to fighting this way." Ranko slid off her pants, exposing a pair of yellow boxer shorts with blue stripes down the sides. Lita restrained her comment.
'It seems strange,' Lita thought to herself, 'but now that I think about it... Ranko dresses like a boy!' She filed the thought for future consideration and donned her uniform. As she finished tying the belt around her gi, Ranko left the cubicle. Lita's eyes fell to Ranko's gym bag. Her outer clothes had been hastily thrown on top of it, but they still revealed the outline of an object within. Lita's curiosity got the better of her, and she reached into the bag to see what it was. Her hand met a cylinder, and she groped at it until she found a tiny handle near the top. 'A thermos... must be an energy drink or something. I should have thought to bring some for myself.'
Feeling slightly ashamed for her prying, Lita adjusted her uniform and stepped out of the cubicle, just in time to hear Ranko complaining to herself. "Yep. Girls definitely take longer to get changed." Lita nearly asked what she meant by that, but caught herself. Ranko looked up from her stretching. "There you are. Hurry up and stretch, unless you want to be here all night."
Lita sat down and began to work her leg muscles. "Say... how often do you practice?"
Ranko paused mid-stretch. "I guess you could say my whole life is devoted to martial arts. I couldn't get away from the Art if I wanted to."
"Well, you don't practice while you're in school, do you?"
"I don't spend much time in school," said Ranko. "That's why I'm not doing so well in class. I've been mostly home-schooled, and most of that was training."
"So, why are you going to school now?"
Ranko sighed. "Pops says it's important for a young... lady like me to know a few things, even if it takes time away from my training. You know how dads can be."
Lita stiffened visibly. "I wouldn't know," she said coldly. "I don't have a father."
"Huh? How could that happen? You mean he's dead?"
"It happened when I was still young. I don't remember much about him, really. He used to run this dojo, when he was alive. That's why I take my martial arts so seriously. I feel like if I train really hard to be the best martial artist I can be, I might be able to follow in his footsteps and make him proud of me."
"So... you train because you think it'll make your father happy?" asked Ranko. "That makes two of us."
"You're right! Maybe we have more in common than we thought!"
Ranko shook her head before starting on her neck stretches. "Nah. We're probably worlds apart."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Lita.
"Hey, no offense meant. I just think we're two completely different people. Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
Lita shook her head. 'She talks like a boy, too,' she thought. Aloud, she asked, "Finished stretching yet?"
"I'm ready when you are," replied Ranko.
The two girls made their way to the center of the dojo and faced each other. They bowed, then took their fighting stances. 'Well, the stance is right,' thought Ranko. 'Now, to check out those Judo counters and analyze her defense.'
She stepped forward, and the match began in earnest. Ranko led with a series of kicks, which Lita blocked until she could grab one of Ranko's legs and sweep the other one off the floor. Ranko landed on her back and rolled backwards into a standing position.
"That was a pretty nice recovery," said Lita.
"Knowing how to get up is as important as knowing how not to get knocked down," replied Ranko. "I told you, my whole life has been devoted to martial arts."
"I'm beginning to understand what you mean!" Lita feinted, then charged forward with a flurry of punches. Ranko easily dodged every one, watching Lita shift her balance with every punch. Finally, Ranko bent over backwards to plant her hands on the floor, grabbed one of Lita's arms between her feet, and rolled onto her stomach, swinging Lita over her body to land on her back on the dojo floor.
Ranko smoothly rolled to her feet, while Lita's recovery was more of a flip. "Not bad," said Ranko, truly impressed. "Most people wouldn't be able to get up after a move like that."
"I'm a lot tougher than most people," said Lita.
Ranko didn't reply. The fight continued, but Ranko could no longer put her heart into it, summoning barely enough will to avoid Lita's attacks. As the fight progressed, the suspicion she prayed would be false was further and further proven, until there was no longer any doubt. By the time she summoned her voice to excuse herself, there was only one thought passing through her mind, which she nearly blurted out right then and there: 'Of course you're tougher than most people. You're Sailor Jupiter.'
The darkness shifted, expelling a red-haired man and a large crystal. "I have returned, my Queen," announced Chronite with a bow.
Beryl stepped down off of her throne. "Excellent. I trust you succeeded, then?"
"Indeed, my Queen. Our new ally is on his way to assist the fight as we speak."
"And who is this?" she asked, peering into the crystal. The girl's auburn hair arced upwards, blown by a timeless wind at the moment of her capture. Her face was locked in an expression of shock that was all too familiar to Beryl by now, tinted blue by the glow coming from her chest that shone through the shirt. Her hands were on her skirt, in a vain attempt to hold it down in the same wind that had blown her hair, but the back of the skirt was still raised above her waist, revealing a pair of white panties with a picture of a giraffe. "I suppose she might have some appeal to a human."
"He does not love her yet, my Queen," said Chronite. "That affection would have come in time, but with it, he grows soft."
"Then what use is she to him?" asked Beryl. "Why would he be willing to fight for her life?"
"Her death will destroy an entire race of creatures that seek to devastate his world... but only if she dies in that world. If she dies here, his cause will be lost."
"Hmmm... interesting. I hope you know what you're doing."
"All too well, my Queen," replied Chronite. He bowed once again and vanished.
Beryl frowned at the crystal. "I don't like the tone of his voice. If I didn't know better - and perhaps I truly don't - I'd swear he was plotting against me. Without any better recourse, I have no choice but to put up with him... for now. But all I need is one excuse, and I'll crush him like a bug!"
She spun around suddenly. "What are you still doing here?" she demanded. The girl in black didn't respond. "Get out there and prove your worth to me! This is your only chance to make up for your failure!" The girl in black nodded and vanished. "Honestly, good help is impossible to find these days! No wonder my invasion has fared so poorly..."
Lita dressed slowly, deep in thought about the evening's events. Ranko hadn't said a word after the single throw, and she hadn't even seemed to be paying attention to the fight; yet Lita still couldn't touch her after that. It was as if Ranko's mind was in another world, leaving her reflexes in charge of the fight. When Ranko had finally spoken, it had been to excuse herself for a previous engagement. She had packed her bag and left, still in her uniform. "I guess she didn't want to share the changing room with me again," said Lita. "I feel sorry for her. It must be tough spending so much time practicing martial arts that you don't have any time for friends. I wish I could invite her to Study Buddies..."
Lita looked up to find herself outside in her street clothes. She'd been so lost in her introspection that she'd mechanically dressed herself and left the dojo without even noticing it. "That's weird," she said aloud. "Why am I thinking so hard about Ranko? Do I care that much about her?"
A shadowed figure stepped out of a nearby alley. "Better watch where you're going, Lita. You never know who you might bump into."
Lita immediately dropped into her fighting stance. "Who's there?" she asked.
"Don't you remember me?" asked the figure. It stepped out of the shadows, revealing itself as the boy whom she'd fought with earlier that day. Lita gasped, but quickly regained her composure.
'I can't let him know that I recognize him!' thought Lita. That thought was immediately followed by, 'I hope Ranko got far enough away that she won't get involved!' Aloud, she merely repeated her question. "Who are you, and what do you want with me?"
"I'm Ranma Saotome," said the boy. "And I'm here to kill you."
Lita's entire body tensed up despite her attempts to remain calm. "Somebody help!" she shouted. "This guy's trying to kill me!"
"Nobody's going to help you," said Ranma. "I know how this world works. Innocent people have better things to do than get involved in battles, and by the time your friends get here, you'll be long dead. There's only one thing you can do to save yourself: transform into Sailor Jupiter."
"What?" Lita was so shocked that she completely forgot to feign innocence. Fortunately, she was also too shocked to give anything away.
Ranma's features darkened, and he almost seemed to be worried about something. "Look, I don't have time to mess around. My partners are going to be here any minute, and they won't hesitate to kill you no matter what form you're in. But I'm not like them. I won't kill a helpless girl, even to save my fiancÃ©e."
"Save your fiancÃ©e? What do you mean?"
"I told you, I don't have time for this!" shouted Ranma. "Transform so we can fight fairly before the others get here!"
"I... I don't... I mean..." stammered Lita, not sure whether to admit the truth or try to escape.
Ranma brought his hands together in front of his body, and a ball of light began to grow between them. "This is your last warning! Transform now, or I'll kill you as you are!"
Lita's breath caught in her throat. He seemed determined to kill her whether or not she transformed, and she couldn't see any way to escape. If he was giving her the chance to transform, she would have to take it. She grabbed her transformation wand and held it aloft. "JUPITER POWER!"
Trista gasped, causing her to choke on the noodles that were halfway down her throat. Amarah leapt out of her seat and pounded Trista on the back. "Come on! Cough it up!"
Trista's lungs heaved, and she spat out the half-eaten glob of noodles onto the table. "Are you okay, Pluto?" asked Michelle.
"What's wrong?" asked Amarah. "You looked like you'd seen a ghost!"
Trista leaned heavily on the table. "I'm fine... I just felt a surge of energy. One of the Inner Scouts is transforming."
"They're attacking!" said Michelle. "We have to go! Pluto, can you make it?"
"I'm fine," repeated Trista. "I just need to catch my breath."
"Okay," said Amarah. "You transform, while Neptune and I get our disguises on. If they've already transformed, we haven't got much time."
"What about the others?" asked Michelle. "Are the other Scouts transforming as well?"
Trista shook her head. "No. Only one of them has transformed."
"Why does that matter?" asked Amarah.
"Nothing," said Michelle. "It probably doesn't matter. What does matter is that we get there in time to save them."
"Exactly," agreed Trista, taking up her transformation wand. "Let us pray that we're not already too late."
Ranma watched as Lita's body became a glowing mass, as if her silhouette were a window into a world of white light. Her clothes vanished, and a white leotard appeared to take their place. Traces of light worked their way up her feet and ankles, turning into a pair of green boots. Lita spun around, and a green strip of cloth followed her movement, becoming a skirt around her waist. A pink bow sprouted from the fabric on her chest, and a golden tiara crossed her forehead. When she opened her eyes, the color returned to the bare flesh that remained - which was quite a large portion of her body - and Ranma found himself face to face with Sailor Jupiter. Even having watched the transformation, Ranma found it hard to tell that the face staring at him belonged to Lita, but he did notice a few similarities. "That's some strong transformation magic," he whispered to himself.
Sailor Jupiter pointed a finger at Ranma. "That's right! I am Sailor Jupiter, and I fight for truth and justice! You attack innocent girls, and for that, I will punish you in the name of the planet Jupiter!"
"I just got through telling you that I DON'T want to have to kill an innocent girl," said Ranma. "But now that you've finally changed, I don't have to hold back!"
"You'd better not underestimate me," warned Jupiter.
"Trust me, you couldn't beat me with twice the power you've got," said Ranma. "You're a disgrace to the martial arts!"
Sailor Jupiter blanched. "Hey, that's not fair! You said we were going to fight!"
"You should consider yourself lucky that I'm giving you these extra few seconds to live," said Ranma. "Not that you deserve them. I'm surprised you lasted this long, with those pathetic skills of yours."
Sailor Jupiter growled. "If you're trying to intimidate me, it's not working! Are we going to fight or not?"
"My father once told me that only the strong can survive. The weak must be weeded out. I've never really trusted my father's judgment... but it seems that he may have had a point. Now, it's your turn to be mowed down like the weed you are... for Akane's sake."
Sailor Jupiter took a step back. "What are you saying? I don't understand!"
"Please forgive me, Lita!" shouted Ranma as he charged forward. "I'm doing this for Akane!" Jupiter did her best to block, but Ranma's combo was too fast for her. His hands and feet pummeled her from head to toe, knocking her onto her back. Ranma leapt onto her stomach and raised his fist above his head for the killing blow. "That was too easy. You weren't even worth the trouble."
Before Ranma could land the fatal punch, Jupiter swung her legs upward mightily with a shout of "Don't count me out of this yet!" dislodging Ranma from his perch. Ranma landed on his feet, and Jupiter got to hers equally quickly. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!"
Ranma leapt into the air to avoid Jupiter's lightning attack, aiming his foot at her head as he landed. Jupiter crossed her arms in front of her face to block the kick, but the impact still nearly knocked her off balance. She knew there'd be at least one bruise on her forearms from that blow. Before she could dwell on the pain, however, Ranma was attacking her again. As before, Jupiter blocked as best she could, but the blows came too quickly for her to avoid them all. Jupiter swallowed hard as she realized that not only had Ranma been holding back during their previous encounter, he'd probably been suppressing his combat reflexes to avoid hurting her, although she couldn't fathom the reason for that.
Blocking was useless; Jupiter had no choice but to counterattack. She took a step back and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "JUPITER TH-" Ranma's fist smashed her nose, cutting her attack short. Jupiter decided to switch tacks and kicked at Ranma, who turned her leg aside without even pausing in his attack. Jupiter nearly lost her balance, but kept her footing until a lucky kick pounded her kneecap, sending her to the ground again.
Ranma's foot pressed down on Jupiter's chest. "Just give up," said Ranma. "You're not going to get anywhere by fighting me, you know. I gave you your chance, and you blew it." Jupiter strained to move, but her knee felt as if it would shatter if she tried to move it. Ranma clenched his fist. "I hate you! You deserve to die!" His fist came crashing down, and Jupiter could do nothing more than shut her eyes and wait for the end.
Ranma's knuckles pounded the pavement beside Jupiter's head, gouging a rut in the sidewalk. "How the hell did she do it? I just can't..." He stood up again and pointed an accusing finger at Jupiter. "It's your fault! You're the one who's making me fail! Why can't you fight back properly so I can kill you in self-defense?" The pavement on the other side of Jupiter's head was punched into a crater. "Why do you have to be so innocent and useless?" Jupiter opened her eyes to see Ranma's expression darken. "That's it! That's why you have to die!" He raised his fist one final time. "This time..."
A red rose embedded its stem into the back of Ranma's hand. "OW!" He tore the rose from his flesh and glared up at his attacker, perched on a nearby roof. "It's the freak in the mask!"
"That's Tuxedo Mask to you, evildoer!" said Tuxedo Mask. "The only freak here is a fighter who would turn his skills against a defenseless girl."
"I don't think that's any of your business, pal," returned Ranma. "You'd better get out of here before I have to kill you, too."
"You won't be killing anyone today!" shouted Tuxedo Mask. He pointed his cane at Ranma, and the tip extended toward Ranma's head at blinding speed.
Ranma caught the shaft as it neared his head and diverted it to smash harmlessly into the ground, then jerked the cane out of Tuxedo Mask's hand. "If you want to fight me, you're only throwing your life away. I came here to fight Sailor Jupiter, and then I'll be gone."
"If you oppose the Sailor Scouts, then you'll have to fight your way through me!" Tuxedo Mask leapt from the rooftop, hurling more than a dozen roses at Ranma. Ranma leapt away just in time to dodge the flowers. Jupiter screamed in pain as one of them stabbed her injured leg, while the rest missed any living target completely.
"Hey, nice throw!" taunted Ranma. "You managed to hit the girl you're trying to protect!"
Tuxedo Mask knelt beside Jupiter. "Sailor Jupiter! I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"
"I don't think I can stand up," said Jupiter. "But I'll survive."
"He's pretty fast," said Tuxedo Mask. "I'll keep him away from you for as long as I can."
"Be careful," warned Jupiter. "He's inhumanly powerful..."
"I'd listen to her if I were you," said Ranma. "You don't have a chance of beating me."
"That's where you're wrong!" shouted Tuxedo Mask. "Good will always triumph over evil!"
"Believe in the power of good all you want," replied Ranma, "but there are some enemies that you can't beat no matter how hard you fight." He pictured the crystallized Akane in his mind, and a wave of rage shot through him. He charged, directing it all at Tuxedo Mask. Tuxedo Mask spun around the front of the attack and planted a foot in Ranma's side.
'I'm getting sloppy,' Ranma thought to himself as he fell. 'I've got to focus. Cool down my thoughts...' He let Tuxedo Mask press his attack, slowly backing away as he blocked and dodged the best moves his opponent had to offer. Ranma moved slowly to the side as he retreated, drawing the path of his retreat into an arc, which became a circle, and then began to spiral inward...
"There they are!" said Amarah, peering out of the alley at the action across the street. "It looks like that boy we saw earlier is fighting Tuxedo Mask."
"Sailor Jupiter's there too," announced Michelle. "The others haven't made it here yet."
"Good," said Pluto. "Then we shouldn't have much trouble luring our enemy away where we can fight him without fear of causing a paradox."
Amarah shook her head. "This isn't right. There's something missing here..."
"Missing?" asked Pluto. "What could be missing?"
"The victim!" realized Michelle. "There's no victim!"
"No," said Amarah. "Sailor Jupiter is the victim. Think about it. The girl who was attacked earlier today looked like Sailor Mars, and now Sailor Jupiter's the only girl in sight. They're trying to find the true identities of the Sailor Scouts, and this time they're on target!"
"Then there is no innocent victim," said Pluto. "But it doesn't look like Jupiter will be able to escape on her own."
"Then we have to help her!" said Michelle.
"What are we going to do, shoot from the sidelines again?" asked Amarah. "We can't go out there and fight like this!" She tore her hat off and threw it aside.
"Uranus, what are you doing?" asked Michelle.
"These disguises aren't going to do us any good. If we're going to get involved in this fight, we'd better have our weapons ready."
"No!" shouted Pluto. "You can't let Sailor Jupiter see you as a Sailor Scout!"
"Look, I don't know much about dimensions and paradoxes," replied Amarah. "But I do know what's happening now, and I know what I have to do to save Sailor Jupiter's life."
"We need to listen to Sailor Pluto!" protested Michelle.
Amarah turned away from her companions and grasped her transformation wand tightly. "I'm tired of watching people die just because it's the right thing to do. I've had enough of it! This time, I'm taking charge of my own battle."
Michelle wrapped her arms around Amarah's waist. "Please. I know how hard it is to do the right thing when it might cost someone their life. But I'm begging you... don't put the universe at risk just because one person might..." She planted her head between Amarah's shoulder blades and let her tears drip down the back of Amarah's shirt. "I don't want you to... to..."
"Relax." Amarah lifted Michelle's hands just enough that she could turn around in her partner's arms. "I'm not going to do anything stupid, I promise." She briefly returned her partner's embrace, then pushed herself away. "Now, hurry up and transform. We've got a life to save."
Tuxedo Mask nearly faltered as he began to shiver in an intense cold. Something portentous was about to happen; he could feel it. His opponent seemed to be weakening, despite his reluctance to attack. Tuxedo Mask fought even harder, feeling his skin burn with the heat of his exertions.
"Now, you're finished!" shouted Ranma suddenly, stepping back out of Tuxedo Mask's reach for a split second. "HIRYU SHOTEN HA!" He swung his fist in an uppercut, sending a rush of cold air to meet the warmth of Tuxedo Mask's body. The swirling air around them, kicked up into a weak tornado by the path of their fighting, became a huge funnel of near-solid air, which sucked Tuxedo Mask up into its center before he could try to escape.
"Tuxedo Mask! NO!" shouted Sailor Jupiter. She forced herself up onto one knee, and then to her feet, wincing as her injured leg took her weight. She staggered, then dropped into her fighting stance. "You let him go right now, or you're gonna regret it!"
Ranma turned to Sailor Jupiter and began to walk forward, slowly distancing himself from the tornado and advancing on her. His face passed from shadow to shadow, until the light from a street lamp illuminated him enough to reveal its features. Tiny drops of water reflected the light from his cheeks. "I already regret it, Lita. I'm sorry, but I have no choice. I have to kill you."
"Why?" demanded Jupiter. "What did I ever do to you?"
"It doesn't matter!" shouted Ranma, and a bright glow sprang up around him. "In a few minutes, you'll be dead, and it won't matter anymore!" He raised his hands and aimed them at her. "MOKO TAKABISHA!" A tiny ball of light formed in his hands and began to grow as he converted his life energy into deadly force...
Amy halted suddenly as she rounded the corner near the dojo. "What's wrong, Amy?" asked Serena.
"It's that boy who attacked us earlier today!" replied Amy. "He's fighting Lita, and it looks like she's in bad shape!"
The others quickly peered around the corner. "What's that tornado doing in the middle of the street?" asked Raye.
"Isn't that Tuxedo Mask in the middle of it?" asked Mina.
"What?" shouted Serena. She rolled up her sleeve. "How dare he hurt my Darien!"
"Hold it, Serena," said Raye, grabbing Serena's collar as she passed in a huff. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Let me go! I have to save Darien!"
"Maybe you should transform into Sailor Moon first," suggested Raye.
Serena froze. "Oh, right. Silly me!"
"Sometimes, I really wonder," said Mina, as Serena pulled out her compact and the others their transformation wands.
The ball of light in Ranma's hands grew to the size of a basketball, then quickly doubled in size. Sailor Jupiter stared into it like a deer into headlights, frozen in terror in the face of the ever-growing ball of death. It took all of her effort to lift one foot to take a step backwards, and her injured knee gave a twinge of pain as she did so. She fell to the ground, not once taking her eyes off of the energy ball.
The ball, now slightly wider than Ranma's body, began to flicker. Its surface churned like that of a star, but it no longer continued to grow. Ranma stared at it, sweat pouring down his brow. 'It's never been this tough before! Why can't I channel my power properly?' He closed his eyes, but the light from the half-formed Moko Takabisha still burned in his eyes, leaving an imprint of the cowering Sailor Jupiter. 'This attack is supposed to channel my determination and courage... but can't work up that much determination about killing Sailor Jupiter! This is all I've got! But I have to do it! I have to! For Akane!' The ball stabilized and began to grow once again, slowly. 'Just keep telling yourself... it's for Akane. For Akane...'
A glowing stone shot through the center of the tornado, sending the air scattering as it sped on toward Ranma. The martial artist dodged, losing control of his attack in the process. As the Moko Takabisha exploded, throwing Ranma to the ground, the tornado spun apart and dissipated, dumping Tuxedo Mask unceremoniously into the street. "Not them again!" groaned Ranma. He sensed the incoming ball of water and leapt over it just in time to avoid an embarrassing soaking. "Why does everyone have to attack me with water?"
"Relax!" called a voice from above. "The cavalry is here!" As Ranma landed from his leap, Lina and Ryoko landed to either side of him.
"I can't do it," said Ranma. "I can't kill her like this."
"What a wimp," said Ryoko. "Looks like I'm the one who's going to have to do all the killing. Well, that's fine with me!" She raised a hand eagerly and charged up a fireball. A rose sliced its way through the fireball, dissolving it. "Dammit! That Mask guy is here too? Who sent out invitations to this party?"
"You hold him off for just a sec, Ryoko," said Lina. "Ranma and I will finish off Sailor Jupiter."
"You sure you're not going to chicken out again?" asked Ryoko.
"No problem," said Lina. "Just keep him and those mystery helpers off our backs until we get the job done."
"Gotcha," said Ryoko, forming her energy sword and charging at Tuxedo Mask.
"I told you I can't do it," said Ranma. "I tried."
"We can do it, Ranma," replied Lina. "We'll do it together. That way, we kind of share the blame." She raised a hand, and a fireball began to form. With her free hand, she found Ranma's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You ready?"
"I'm ready," said Ranma. "I'll do it for Akane." His hands cupped around a tiny ball of light, which he aimed at Sailor Jupiter. "On three?"
"Right," said Lina. "One! Two! Th-"
"Watch out!" shouted Ranma. A cold fog filled the air around Jupiter and continued to spread toward Ranma and Lina. "The other Sailor Scouts are here!"
"Don't lose your focus!" warned Lina. "We can still blast her!"
"MARS FIRE IGNITE!" shouted Sailor Mars. Ranma and Lina dove in opposite directions to avoid the jet of flame that shot out of the encroaching mist.
A ball of darkness exploded at Ryoko's feet, throwing her into a building without disturbing Tuxedo Mask at all. "TUXEDO MASK, SAILOR SCOUTS, TAKE SAILOR JUPITER WITH YOU AND RUN AWAY!" ordered a deep voice. "WE WILL FIGHT THESE ENEMIES ONCE YOU ARE GONE!"
"Don't let them get away again!" shouted Ryoko as the fog washed over her, blinding her. Ranma barely heard her, as he was halfway up a fire escape, ironically using the device to escape upwards above the level of the fog. He reached the roof in short order and peered over the edge. A tall woman with long dark hair, wearing what appeared to be a Sailor Scout uniform, stood on the roof of the building, watching the battle from above. Ranma quickly ducked out of sight.
Lina stumbled blindly in the fog and raised her arms. "DIEM WING!" The wind spell blew the fog away, revealing the street to be empty except for herself and Ryoko. "Dammit! They got away!"
Ranma leapt down to the street and pointed in the direction the Sailor Scouts had fled. "They went that way!"
"Maybe so, but you won't be following them," said a heavy woman's voice from behind them. They turned to face a Sailor Scout with short dirty blonde hair and a dark skirt, with a ribbon on her front that matched her hair.
"We'll be your opponents," said a lighter voice from behind them. They turned again to face another Scout with shoulder-length aqua-tinted hair and matching ribbon, whose skirt was the same color as the other girl's. "I am Sailor Neptune!"
"And I'm Sailor Uranus," chorused the first. "Your power may be enough to defeat the other Sailor Scouts, but we're far more powerful than they are!"
"Hold on," said Lina. "I thought there were only five Sailor Scouts!"
"And we thought Beryl had only four generals," replied Uranus. "It seems that all of the sides have grown in number."
The woman Ranma had seen on the roof appeared next to Uranus, holding a staff nearly as long as she was tall, topped with a heart-shaped crystal ball. "And the three of you definitely do not belong in this universe. Do you realize that by staying here and interfering with the events of this timeline, you are creating the conditions that will lead to a paradox?"
"That's not our problem," said Ryoko. "We've got our orders, and we're going to carry them out. You're Sailor Scouts, so you've got to die too!"
"I'm not so sure about that," said Lina. "I don't like the sound of what she said. Paradoxes aren't something to take lightly."
"Get over it!" returned Ryoko. "She's just saying that to scare you!"
"No!" shouted the Sailor Scout with the long dark hair. "This universe is becoming more unstable with every action you take! Even the tiniest divergence from the preordained sequence of events could destroy this universe... and all of yours with it!"
"I'm not concerned," said Ryoko. "Queen Beryl wouldn't destroy the universe that she's working so hard to conquer. I'm calling your bluff." She raised her hand and charged up a fireball.
The Sailor Scout held her staff in front of her body. "Do not force us to attack you. We will do so if we must."
"I'm counting on it," replied Ryoko. With a scream, she released the fireball at the tall Sailor Scout, who blocked it with her staff.
Sailor Uranus raised her hand, gathering energy. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!" She clenched her glowing fist and punched the ground. A familiar glowing stone emerged from the ground and flew toward the group in the center of the ring of Sailor Scouts.
Lina took aim at the incoming projectile. "BURST RONDO!" The tiny projectiles exploded against the World Shaking, breaking it into pieces, but the pieces quickly coalesced into one large energy ball again, not losing any momentum. Uranus' attack slammed into Lina and knocked her down.
A wall of water appeared behind Sailor Neptune. "NEPTUNE DEEP SUBMERGE!" She spun around, gathering energy in her hands, then launched a ball of water at Lina from behind. Ryoko stepped into the path of the ball and raised her shield. The Deep Submerge impacted against the shield with a splash, but when the splash ended, all of the water was inside the shield. Bubbles floated to the surface of the water ball as Ryoko fought to free herself from the moist prison.
Ranma quickly reached through Ryoko's shield, caught hold of her arm, and hauled her out to safety. As soon as Ryoko was outside the shield, it collapsed, leaving the water to splash harmlessly onto the ground. Ryoko gasped for air. "They're too powerful..."
Ranma glared at the new Sailor Scouts as he laid Ryoko down, as if daring them to attack. "Listen, Sailor Uranus, Sailor Neptune, and whoever you are. You don't understand what it is we're trying to do. We're not the bad guys here."
"Aren't you?" asked Neptune. "You're trying to kill the Sailor Scouts. What have they ever done to you?"
"It's not what they've done to us," said Lina, as she stood up. "We don't really have a choice about this. Queen Beryl -"
"Shut up!" shouted Uranus. "I'm not going to listen to this any more!" She raised her hand above her head and gathered energy. "URANUS WORLD -" Her attack was cut off as she fell forward, propelled by an invisible force from behind. Six pairs of eyes turned to stare at the girl in black.
"Go after the others," said the girl in black. "I'll take care of these three."
"You heard the girl," said Ryoko. "Let's go!" She took off into the sky, and Lina followed quickly with Ranma holding on for dear life.
"They're getting away!" shouted Uranus. "Pluto, you have to stop them!"
"Let us vanquish this new opponent first," said Pluto. "Combine your attacks now!"
Uranus and Neptune stood side by side, and hurled their attacks in tandem at the girl in black. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!" "NEPTUNE DEEP SUBMERGE!" Sailor Pluto pointed her staff at the girl in black and added, "PLUTO DEADLY SCREAM!" The three projectiles streaked toward the girl in black, who merely watched them until they were right in front of her face. She raised a hand, and all three attacks blinked out of existence.
Uranus gasped. "What kind of power is that? She blocked all three attacks at once!"
Neptune turned to Pluto. "Who is that girl? You must know!"
"I do," replied Pluto. "But you will not like the answer."
"I will tell you who I am," said the girl in black. "And then you will return to when and where you belong. Do not throw your lives away fighting a battle that you cannot win."
"Shut up and show yourself!" demanded Uranus.
"Very well," said the girl in black. The shadows shifted, slowly revealing a pair of long legs wearing dark purple knee-high boots, topped by a matching sailor skirt and white leotard with an even darker purple ribbon. A full head of shoulder-length jet-black hair framed a wiry girl's face from which dark eyes stared out from beneath a subtly adorned tiara. The girl's tight mouth curved imperceptibly upwards and downwards at the same time, making her expression unreadable.
Uranus gasped again. "It can't be! Sailor Saturn!"
"Why are you fighting us?" asked Neptune. "You're a Sailor Scout just like us!"
"No," said Sailor Saturn. "I am the Sailor Scout of Destruction. I am not like YOU at all."
"This is not the Sailor Saturn you remember," Pluto warned her comrades. "This Sailor Saturn was taken from her timeline just after she first gained control of her power. At that time, she was still under the control of Mistress 9, the Sovereign of Silence."
"Then that's not really Sailor Saturn, but Mistress 9!" said Uranus.
"Those eyes..." said Neptune.
Pluto gripped her staff. "We cannot afford to waste time fighting here! The Inner Scouts are in grave danger!"
Uranus clenched her teeth. "But if even all three of us can't punch through her protection..."
"We don't have a hope of defeating Mistress 9," said Neptune. "But we have to prevent her from reaching the Inner Scouts at any cost, or she'll destroy them!"
"Are you prepared to risk your lives to defend those worthless girls?" asked Sailor Saturn.
"We'll risk our lives to protect anyone who needs our help!" replied Neptune.
"And the Inner Scouts need that help now!" added Uranus.
"Then I will not withhold my full power any longer," said Saturn. Her glaive appeared in her hands, and she leveled it at Pluto. "Prepare for your destruction."
Pluto charged at Saturn, swinging her staff like a spear. Saturn blocked with her glaive, nearly tearing the Time Key from Pluto's hands. "Come on!" said Neptune. "We've got to help her!"
"Right!" said Uranus. She began to gather energy to summon the Space Sword. As the energy gathered into her hands, however, the color began to drain from the surroundings, casting the world into shades of gray. Huge cracks appeared in the sky, and colorless light began to seep through.
"What's happening?" shouted Sailor Neptune.
Pluto blocked a swing by Saturn. "No! The universe is breaking apart!" She lost her grip on the Time Key as Sailor Saturn swung at it again. The staff spun off down the street, coming to a stop in the gutter. Sailor Saturn pressed the tip of her glaive to Pluto's throat, then looked up. Her eyes grew wide as she saw the ongoing destruction.
"Sailor Saturn! You have to stop this!" shouted Neptune.
"This is not my power at work," replied Saturn. Uranus' energy continued to build as the four Sailor Scouts watched the universe crumble around them.
A pair of yellow eyes watched from the rooftops as four girls in miniskirts ran past, followed by a man in a tuxedo and top hat, carrying a fifth miniskirted girl. "So, those must be the Sailor Scouts... they don't look tough to me. This will be a cinch." He gave the collar of his coat a tug, and seven blue stones glowed beneath the concealing clothing and gloves that he wore to cover them. He flexed his arms experimentally, and a pair of long, slightly curved blades emerged from the backs of his forearms. "Feels good to get the old blades out. Haven't seen much action in a while."
The moonlight glinted off of his fangs as he smiled. "They'll never know what hit them." He leapt from rooftop to rooftop, easily keeping pace with the Sailor Scouts while he waited for just the right moment to drop onto them from above and slice them to pieces. A few seconds. That's all it would take to turn five girls and a man into scraps of bloody flesh, muscle, and bone. His bloody tickets home, just a few short seconds away....
He leapt. Time seemed to slow to a halt as he hurtled toward the bodies below. He was moving at the speed of a falling feather, and the ground was hours away. Thoughts raced through his head as he descended; thoughts of his lost love, thoughts of the love that was yet to come, who was even now trapped in a fragile crystal....
As he drew close to his target, he realized that the time shift was not subjective. Time really had slowed down. The figures below were turning to look up at him, but too slowly... too slowly by far. By the time a pair of eyes could catch a glimpse of him, they'd be inches apart. A blade between the eyes would be quick and merciful. It was the least he could do for such cute girls.
Still, they were getting close now. Nearly within striking distance. Whatever twist of fate or physics had given him time to reflect could only last so long, and the time of death was at hand. The man would die first, of course. He'd aimed at the dark shape of the tuxedo and cape when he'd leapt, and his aim was impeccable as always. Two more feet, and he'd be there. One more foot...
Now. He swung his right blade at the head below the black top hat... and that was when the universe began to fall apart around him.