Mamoru Kusanagi joins the battle, while the Outer Scouts, learning the identity of the girl in black, try to prevent a paradox from destroying the universe.
Chapter 6: A Real Cut-Up
Sailor Uranus paused to stare up into the crumbling sky, the half-summoned Space Sword in her hands. "Sailor Pluto, what's going on?" she asked as the air began to split apart into large chunks.
Sailor Pluto turned to Uranus, moving in slow motion. "Tthhee uunniivveerrssee iiss bbrreeaakkiinngg aappaarrtt," she replied. "Tthhiiss iiss tthhee bbeeggiinnnniinngg ooff aa ppaarraaddooxx."
"Wwhhyy aarree yyoouu ttaallkkiinngg lliikkee tthhaatt?" asked Uranus. The sound of her own distorted speech shocked her, making her lose her balance. She fell backwards, but her movements were as slow as Pluto's had been, as if she were falling through a pool of molasses. She lifted her foot, at the same slow speed, and moved it backwards to catch herself.
"Uurraannuuss!" shouted Neptune as she ran to catch her partner.
"Let go of your sword," advised Saturn. Of the four Sailor Scouts, she was the only one who appeared to be operating in normal speed. "You're building up too much energy at once. This universe can't handle that magnitude of Planet Power at this time."
"Hhooww ddoo yyoouu kknnooww ssoo mmuucchh aabboouutt iitt?" asked Uranus.
"Jjuusstt ddoo iitt!" shouted Pluto. "Wwee ddoonn'tt hhaavvee aannyy cchhooiiccee -"
Sailor Uranus let her power die down, dispelling the Space Sword. As the energy returned to the earth, the fragmented sky collapsed back into one piece with a sound like a thunderclap, but much louder. Time returned to normal, throwing the already unbalanced Uranus even further off-center. Neptune's dive to catch her before she hit the ground also accelerated, and Uranus landed in Neptune's arms.
"- but to listen to her," finished Pluto, as if the time shift had never happened.
Uranus stared down at her body in disbelief, and then back to the sky, as the colors began to return to the surroundings. "Was that really a paradox? I thought..."
"It wasn't a paradox," replied Saturn. "A complete paradox would have torn the universe to pieces instantly. What you saw was a mere imbalance."
"An imbalance that would have led to a paradox, had it not been immediately corrected," added Pluto. "That is what will happen if any of the Inner Scouts die."
Sailor Saturn laughed, chilling the other Scouts to the bone. "Is that what you think? No wonder you're willing to throw your lives away trying to protect them!"
"Shut up! We're not going to trust you!" shouted Uranus. "You're trying to destroy the universe!"
"If I wanted to destroy the universe," replied Saturn, "I would have let you summon your sword."
"Then you're not trying to cause a paradox?" asked Neptune.
"I'm not as stupid as you seem to think I am. I am well aware that a paradox would destroy me along with the rest of the universe. Queen Beryl is the one who thinks she can kill the Sailor Scouts and rule the universe. I, on the other hand, know that it is impossible to destroy the universe of one's own past."
"Then what are you doing here?" asked Pluto. "What do you hope to accomplish?"
"I merely seek to alter this universe ever so slightly," said Saturn. "A few changes here and there, and my victory in the future will be assured."
"But that's in our past," Neptune pointed out. "You can't change that."
"Who said anything about changing your pasts?" asked Saturn.
Pluto paled. "No... you can't!"
"What is it, Pluto?" asked Neptune. "What are you so afraid of?"
"It is not your concern," snapped Pluto, gripping her staff so tightly that her knuckles turned white. "We must defeat Mistress 9 at any cost!"
"How?" asked Uranus. "We can't use our most powerful attacks without tearing the universe apart, and our weak ones can't hurt her!"
"I know that," said Pluto. "But we have no choice. We must fight."
"Then let's do it!" shouted Uranus. "WORLD SHAKING!"
"DEEP SUBMERGE!" echoed Neptune.
The attacks smashed into Saturn's shield with no effect as Sailor Saturn raised her glaive and slowly strode forward. Uranus charged ahead and punched at Saturn. Saturn easily parried the blow with her glaive, then swung the butt of the weapon into Uranus' gut, winding her.
"Sailor Pluto, do something!" urged Neptune. "You've got enough power to stop her, haven't you?"
"It's not safe for me to use my power that way," said Pluto.
"She's going to kill Uranus!" shouted Neptune, as Saturn pointed the business end of the glaive at her incapacitated opponent. Neptune darted forward and grabbed the handle as Saturn struck, jerking the blade away from her partner's chest. Saturn stared fearlessly into Neptune's eyes as she wrestled for control of the glaive, not even breaking a sweat while Neptune fought to pull the weapon away from her.
Saturn finally twisted the glaive out of Neptune's hands and threw her aside with a mighty heave, reclaiming her weapon. She lowered the blade to where Uranus lay - only to find that Uranus had regained her feet during Saturn's scuffle with Neptune. Saturn quickly swung her glaive behind her, barely in time to deflect Uranus' punch, then stepped aside and parried a blow from Pluto's staff.
"Your shield may be able to block our projectiles," said Uranus, "but can you fight all three of us at once, hand to hand?"
Sailor Saturn sneered. "It doesn't matter. The Sailor Scouts are fighting four opponents as we speak. By the time you get to them, they'll be long dead."
Neptune froze in place, halfway back to her feet. "Four opponents? Who's the fourth?"
"Never mind who it is!" said Uranus. "If they get to the Inner Scouts before we do, they're as good as dead!"
"Pluto, please!" pleaded Neptune. "You have to do something!"
Pluto bit her lip nervously and brandished her staff. "There is only one thing I can do. I'll try to hold off Sailor Saturn alone. The two of you must go and help the Inner Scouts."
"We can't let you do that!" said Uranus. "You'll be no match for her alone!"
"I'm afraid there is no other option," replied Pluto. "Don't worry about me. Just go!"
"But Sailor Pluto..." protested Uranus.
"Come on!" urged Neptune, grabbing Uranus' sleeve. "We have to save the other Scouts. Pluto knows what she's doing, I'm sure of it!" Uranus nodded, and the two of them ran past Sailor Saturn and set off on the trail of the Sailor Scouts. Sailor Saturn swung her glaive at them as they passed, but Pluto intervened and blocked with her staff. Saturn's stare burned into Pluto, but Pluto defiantly stared right back at her until Uranus and Neptune were out of sight.
"You know that you can't kill me," said Pluto, once she was sure that the others couldn't hear her.
"I know," replied Saturn. "But there are other ways to defeat you - ways that won't break the seal." She reached toward Pluto's face with her right hand. Stunned, Pluto was unable to move until Saturn's hand was inches from her face. She quickly backed away from the encroaching hand and swung her staff at Saturn's arm, narrowly missing as Saturn pulled her hand back. Saturn feinted with the glaive, causing Pluto to take another step back, then turned and ran in the direction the other Scouts had gone.
"Oh, no you don't!" shouted Pluto, giving chase immediately. She raised her staff and aimed at Saturn's fleeing form. "PLUTO DEADLY SCREAM!" Sailor Saturn turned and raised her shield to block the projectile, but in that second, Pluto was upon her. Pluto swung her staff, hitting the side of Saturn's head. Saturn staggered, but regained her balance in time to block Pluto's next swing.
"You know that you, also, can't kill me," said Saturn, as she swung her glaive at Pluto's head.
"There are other ways to defeat you," replied Pluto, ducking the glaive and thrusting her staff into Saturn's stomach. She followed with another blow to the head as Saturn reeled, leaving the dark girl on her knees in the street, cringing in pain.
"Damn this weak body," moaned Saturn. She struggled to get to her feet, but couldn't even get her knees off the ground. A tear fell from her eye. "Why... why must I be so weak?"
"I have no pity for you, Mistress 9," said Pluto. "Nor do the other Guardians of Time."
"I don't need your pity!" snapped Saturn. A wave of dizziness pounded her, and she cradled her head in her hands.
"And you won't get it," Pluto replied smoothly. "I'll put an end to your plan, whatever it may be."
"I'm... not... beaten... yet..." murmured Saturn, as dark waves of energy rose around her.
"Not yet," agreed Pluto. "But you'll never trouble us again." She raised her staff and held it horizontally in front of her body. "PLUTO DIMENSIONAL BANISHMENT!" Sailor Saturn's eyes grew wide as the energy waves surrounding her rose above her head to form a bubble. The bubble vanished, leaving behind nothing but a few last wisps of energy, which were quickly blown away by the breeze as air rushed in to fill the vacuum left by her sudden disappearance.
Pluto fell to her knees, panting heavily. Her sailor fuku shimmered and became her casual clothes, and her jewelry vanished. "I didn't think it would take that much out of me," Trista wheezed. "I'd better rest before I join the others." Her eyes fell on a nearby bench, and she started to rise to her feet. Before she could stand up, however, her weariness caught up with her, and she collapsed to the street. "No! I have to get up. I can't... fall asleep... here..." Despite her protests, Trista's eyes closed, and her muscles relaxed themselves. She let her head come to rest on her arms and slowly sank into a deep sleep.
The Sailor Scouts stopped in their tracks as time seemed to slow down around them. "Wwhhaatt'ss ggooiinngg oonn?" asked Sailor Venus.
"Iitt ffeeeellss lliikkee ttiimmee hhaass sslloowweedd ddoowwnn," said Mercury.
"Wwhhaaaaaaaatt?" asked Sailor Moon. "Ii ccaann'tt uunnddeerrssttaanndd aa wwoorrdd yyoouu'rree ssaayyiinngg!"
"Tthhaatt'ss bbeeccaauussee ttiimmee hhaass sslloowweedd ddoowwnn!" snapped Mars.
"Wweellll, hhooww ddoo wwee ssttoopp iitt?" asked Sailor Moon.
"Wwee ddoonn'tt wwaanntt ttoo ssttoopp iitt," replied Mercury. "Wwee wwaanntt ttoo ssppeeeedd iitt bbaacckk uupp."
"Yyoouu kknnooww wwhhaatt Ii mmeeaanntt," said Sailor Moon.
Sailor Jupiter's eyes opened, then closed, then opened again. She slowly jerked upwards in Tuxedo Mask's arms. "Ttuuxxeeddoo Mmaasskk! Aabboovvee yyoouu!"
Tuxedo Mask started to turn to look upwards, but his body refused to comply, dragging in slow motion just as the Sailor Scouts' speech had. He reflexively ducked, hoping to avoid whatever was coming despite the fact that he couldn't yet see it. His hat fell apart as a blade sliced through it, narrowly missing his head. He transferred Jupiter into one arm and grabbed his cane with the opposite hand, swinging it at his attacker while the two halves of his hat fell to the ground at a feather's pace.
"Llooookk aatt tthhee sskkyy!" shouted Venus. "Iitt'ss bbrreeaakkiinngg aappaarrtt!"
"Wwhhaatt aarree yyoouu ttaallkkiinngg aabboouutt?" asked Mars as she slowly turned her head up to look at the sky. She gasped as she saw the huge cracks forming in the atmosphere.
"Iitt'ss hhoorrrriibbllee," said Mercury. "Wwhhaatt ccoouulldd iitt mmeeaann?"
"Ii hhaavvee aa bbaadd ffeeeelliinngg aabboouutt tthhiiss!" said Mars.
Meanwhile, Tuxedo Mask's attacker blocked the slow-motion swing with his blades as the caped crusader finally turned far enough to see him. While they both withdrew their weapons for another swing, Tuxedo Mask had plenty of diluted time to take in his opponent's form. Dirty gray-green hair framed what appeared to be two pairs of slanted eyebrows, pointing to the tiny black dot in the middle of his forehead. The eyes that peered out of the round face had vertical pupils, like a cat's, but the rest of the eyes were white rather than the yellow that Tuxedo Mask had seen in the eyes of his former catlike opponent. A large, loose-fitting overcoat did little to obscure the bulging muscles within, especially since the sleeves were rolled up to accommodate - Tuxedo Mask had to look twice to make sure he wasn't seeing things - the long curved blades that protruded from the backs of his forearms.
The man swung one of these blades at Tuxedo Mask's head again, and Tuxedo Mask maneuvered his cane to block. What seemed like minutes later, the two weapons collided with a sound like thunder, but much louder, as if it were echoing off of the buildings around them. Tuxedo Mask felt his breathing return to normal speed, and the flaps of his opponent's coat settled against his hips immediately.
Mercury swung her head from side to side. "Everything's gone back to normal!" she announced.
Tuxedo Mask's opponent raised his arms defensively, pointing the blades right at Tuxedo Mask. "You finished playing around with time yet? I'm not in the mood for games!"
"What? You think we did that?" asked Sailor Moon. "I thought you were the one who -"
"Who are you, anyway?" interrupted Mars. "Why are you attacking us?"
"The name's Kusanagi," he replied. "Some crazy lady called Beryl wants me to kill you."
Sailor Mars growled. "How many of these creeps is she going to send after us?"
"But if he really wasn't the one who slowed time down, then who did?" wondered Mercury.
"Forget about that," said Venus. "It's over now. We've got a new problem to deal with."
"Let's get rid of this guy!" shouted Mars. "MARS FIRE IGNITE!"
Kusanagi leapt over the flames and slashed downwards at Mars with his blades. Without the benefit of time dilution, Mars couldn't react quickly enough to dodge both blades. The left blade missed completely, but the right one sliced a nasty gash down the side of her face, and another on her shoulder. No sooner had Kusanagi's feet hit the ground than he fluidly spun around and jabbed the left blade into Mars' side, then quickly pulled it out again in a spray of blood.
"Sailor Mars!" screamed Venus. She clenched her left fist as she pointed her right index finger at Kusanagi. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!"
Without even turning his head to look at it, Kusanagi blocked the incoming beam with his blade. "Nice try, pretty girl, but I'm too fast for you." He swung his arm in Venus' direction. As he did so, the arm turned into a woven rope of plantlike stems, telescoping outward to slam his fist into Venus' stomach. She crumpled to the ground at the same time that Sailor Mars did.
"He's not human!" Mercury whispered to herself.
"Leave my friends alone!" shouted Sailor Moon as she leapt at Kusanagi. Occupied as he was with retracting his arm, he sensed the incoming blow just a bit too late to dodge. Sailor Moon planted her right knee into the side of his head, then swung her left leg around to kick him in the face. Kusanagi caught her left ankle and held it at arm's length, letting her dangle upside down in front of him. Her skirt settled down around her abdomen, exposing the white leotard beneath. Sailor Moon swung her fists at Kusanagi, but couldn't reach any higher than his knees.
Kusanagi laughed out loud. "It's been a long time since I saw a pair of girl's underwear that didn't have an animal on it."
"What are you, some kind of pervert?" asked Sailor Moon.
"Yeah, she used to call me that," replied Kusanagi. "Then HE took her..." He swung Sailor Moon up above his head, then slammed her down into the ground. "It's your fault! I'll kill you all!"
"Stop it! She hasn't done anything to you!" shouted Tuxedo Mask.
Kusanagi turned to Tuxedo Mask, who was standing protectively in front of Sailor Mercury. "You're trying to protect them? Great job so far. Not exactly batting a thousand, are you?"
"Please, stop this!" shouted Mercury. "You're not a slave of the Negaverse! Why are you working for Queen Beryl?"
"It's weird," said Kusanagi, scratching his chin as he stared at her. "You look a little like her."
"Like whom?" demanded Mercury, stepping around Tuxedo Mask. "Not Queen Beryl!"
"No," said Kusanagi, shaking his head. "Never mind. I just got a good look at you. You don't look like Kaede after all. That's good." He tensed his arms, and his blades appeared again. "That makes it easier to kill you." He charged at Mercury with his blades raised to strike.
Tuxedo Mask stepped forward to meet Kusanagi's charge, but it was Sailor Jupiter's upward kick that stopped his blades before they could find their mark in Sailor Mercury. Jupiter wriggled free of Tuxedo Mask's protective embrace and dropped into her fighting stance before Kusanagi. "I won't let you hurt my friends!"
"What's with all of you?" asked Kusanagi. "My friends this, my friends that... don't any of you look out for yourselves?"
"We're a team," said Jupiter. "And that means we always work together!"
"We're the Sailor Scouts!" added Mercury. "And in the name of all that is good, we shall punish you!"
"Who will?" asked Kusanagi. "Them?" He waved his hand at the other Sailor Scouts. "I'm not worried. You'll be the ones who die!"
Electricity crackled around the antenna of Sailor Jupiter's tiara. "Bring it on!"
Meanwhile, Sailor Venus had dragged herself over to Sailor Mars and began to examine her wounds. "Are you okay, Sailor Mars?" she asked.
Sailor Mars weakly opened her eyes a crack. "He got me, didn't he?" she asked.
"I'd say," said Venus, nearly turning away in revulsion. "You're bleeding pretty bad." She stared regretfully at her fuku. "I wish these uniforms had some more fabric." She tore the ribbon from her chest and pressed it against Mars' side. "Just hang on and try to stay conscious. Everything will be all right."
"Is he going to finish us off?" asked Mars.
"I really hope not," replied Venus. "I'm no doctor, but you probably wouldn't survive another wound like this." She removed one of her hands from the ribbon and stared at the blood that had soaked through and covered her palm and fingers. "I need to use your ribbon too."
Mars looked down at the wound for the first time. "That's going to become a nasty scar, isn't it?" She sighed and let her head fall. "I never imagined we'd get into fights like this. Up until now, everything's been so easy. Now, we don't even know if we can survive..."
"Don't say that!" said Venus. "We can't give up hope! We're going to survive, and we're going to win!"
Kusanagi's plantlike arm wrapped around Tuxedo Mask, quickly binding his feet before working its way up toward his head. Tuxedo Mask could do nothing more than turn his wrist to maneuver his cane into position to block the blade as it darted toward his throat. Kusanagi hauled Tuxedo Mask into the air and held him there while he charged at the remaining two Sailor Scouts with his free arm poised to strike.
Sailor Jupiter stepped aside to avoid a slash from Kusanagi, but fell to her knees as she landed poorly on her bad leg. She turned to look up at Kusanagi as he prepared to land the killing blow. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" The lightning struck Kusanagi in the chest, knocking him backwards and forcing his arm to loosen its coils around Tuxedo Mask.
"Now, Sailor Mercury!" shouted Tuxedo Mask as he dropped to the ground. "Cover our escape!"
Mercury nodded. "MERCURY BUBBLES SPLASH!"
"DIEM WING!" answered a shout from above. Wind swept through the street, blowing the fog away as quickly as it could form. Lina, Ranma, and Ryoko landed in the clearing.
"Not you three again!" groaned Jupiter.
Ryoko stared at Kusanagi. "Who the heck are you?"
Kusanagi smiled. "You must be the useless bunch of clods Chronite told me about. Nice of you to finally show up."
"WHAT did he call me?" shouted Ryoko. "Just wait until I get my hands on that jerk!"
"Calm down, Ryoko," warned Ranma. "We need to deal with the Sailor Scouts right now."
"Don't worry," Ryoko assured him. "I'll show Chronite what I'm capable of!"
Blood continued to spill from the cloth beneath Venus' hands. "Damn! I'm already using all of our ribbons!" Her hands cast about for another piece of fabric, then came to rest on her own skirt. "Man! I can't do that!"
"I'm getting cold," moaned Mars. "Venus? You're still there, right?"
"Don't worry, Sailor Mars," said Venus. "I'm not going to let you die!" She tore her skirt off and pressed it to Mars' wound. "It's a good thing these uniforms regenerate." She took one of Mars' hands in her own. "Just hang on, Sailor Mars. You're going to be okay."
"That's fine," said Sailor Mars deliriously. "Be okay... that's good..."
"No!" shouted Venus. "Don't go into shock! Please, don't lose it now! Be strong, Sailor Mars!"
"I'm strong. I'm an ox. I'm a wild scallion. I'm a cherry soda..."
Mars opened her eyes again, but they failed to focus, as if she were staring right through Sailor Venus' head. "Mom? What are you doing here?"
Venus looked upwards into the night sky and saw nobody. "What are you talking about, Mars? Your mother's dead, remember?"
"I'll be ready for school soon," groaned Mars. "Just five more minutes..."
"Don't fall asleep!" shouted Venus. "You have to stay awake!" She shook Sailor Mars by the shoulders. Mars shook her head and winced at the returning pain in her side. Venus rubbed Mars' frigid hand between her bloodstained fingers. "Everyone else is too busy fighting to help... just try to stay awake a little longer, Sailor Mars. You're going to make it."
Kusanagi sighed. While Sailor Mercury tried to block Lina's magic with her bubbles to one side, Sailor Jupiter desperately fended off Ranma's best moves on the other, and Tuxedo Mask fenced with Ryoko in the middle, he was hungry for some action of his own. He turned to where Venus was desperately trying to keep Mars' blood in her body. "Those three can handle themselves for a while. I've got some unfinished business to take care of." He watched as Venus tore Mars' skirt off and added it to the makeshift bandage. "Yowza! And people think I'M a pervert!"
Venus tensed up as Kusanagi approached. "Stay back!" she shouted, pointing her finger at him. "Don't make me shoot you!"
"Ooh, I'm so scared," said Kusanagi. "Better put that finger away before you hurt someone."
"You asked for it! VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!"
Kusanagi blocked the beam with a blade. "Not a bad shot. But you still can't hit me."
Sailor Mars stirred. "Keep them away... keep them away..."
Tears welled up in Venus' eyes. "Please, leave us alone. She's dying."
"That's the idea," said Kusanagi. "I guess those dumb blonde jokes weren't all accurate. Too bad I'm gonna have to spill that great brain of yours all over the street!" He abruptly swung his arm, slashing at Venus' head. Venus screamed and raised her arm to ward off the blow, but Kusanagi's blade sliced right through, tearing skin, muscle, and bone - and then stopped. Venus opened her eyes as Kusanagi jerked his blade out of her arm and began to claw at his face, trying to dislodge a small black furry shape that had attached itself to his head.
"Luna?" asked Venus.
"Sorry we took so long to get here," said Artemis from beside Mars' head. "I hope we're not too late."
"I don't know," said Venus. "Sailor Mars isn't doing too well, and I just took a hit myself." She lowered her right arm slowly and cradled it in her left, watching the blood spill as she moved it. "I think my hand is going to fall off!"
"Then hold it still!" advised Artemis. "I'll try to get Sailor Mercury's attention. She'll know what to do about your injuries."
"Is that it? Can't you do something useful?"
Artemis did his best to shrug. "Sorry, Sailor Venus. I'm just a cat. What can I do?"
Realization crossed Venus' face. "Artemis! You and Luna attack the pigtailed boy!"
"What? Why do you want us to -"
Kusanagi finally peeled Luna off of his face and tossed her into the middle of the battle. Ranma screamed. "C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-CAT!" He backed away, right into Lina.
"Hey, watch it!" snapped Lina.
"He's afraid of cats?" asked Artemis. "Well, that gives us something to work with!" He leapt onto Ranma's shoulder and bit Ranma's ear.
Ranma froze. "Get it off me!"
"What's the big deal?" asked Ryoko. "It's just a cat."
"Call it off!" shouted Ranma. "Call it off!"
"Just reach up there and grab it," said Ryoko. She stepped forward, eliciting a hiss from Artemis. Ranma screamed again.
"So, you don't like cats?" asked Luna, as she leapt onto Ranma's other shoulder.
"Get off!" shouted Ranma. He reached up and tried to swat the cats off of his shoulders, but they easily dodged his hands, climbing around on top of his head. Ranma continued to scream, but his screams gradually grew weaker and weaker, turning into crazed laughter.
"He's starting to scare me," said Lina.
Ranma fell to his knees, dislodging his passengers from their perch, then put his hands on the ground. A deep rumble rose in his throat.
"What's that noise?" asked Jupiter.
"I've never heard a human make a noise like that before," said Artemis. "It almost sounds like... he's purring!"
Ranma began to lick the back of his hand, then rubbed it against his ear.
Sailor Scouts and enemies alike stared at Ranma. "What the heck is he doing?" asked Kusanagi.
"He seems to think he's a cat!" said Luna.
Ranma glared at Luna and growled.
"Hey, cut it out!" shouted Kusanagi. "You're supposed to be killing the Sailor Scouts, remember?" Ranma yowled and swatted at Kusanagi. The front of Kusanagi's coat and shirt fell apart in ribbons, revealing a set of strangely-shaped blue stones embedded in his chest. "What the -? He didn't even touch me!"
"Okay, everyone stay calm!" advised Lina. "Don't make him mad!"
Ranma turned his attention to Sailor Mercury, slinking toward her with amazingly catlike grace, considering the unusual posture required to walk on one's hands and feet. Sailor Mercury rubbed Ranma's head lightly. "My, aren't you a cute cat? Good cat." Ranma sniffed at Mercury, then batted a paw, slashing four crimson stripes across her chest. "Ouch! Bad cat!"
"Leave him alone!" whispered Artemis. "Venus and Mars need your help!"
"Right." Mercury quickly backed away, while Ranma scampered off to investigate Ryoko.
"I think we'd better try to knock some sense into him," said Ryoko. She drew her sword and waved it at Ranma. Ranma looked up from playfully swatting at her tail, his eyes following the glowing rod as it moved back and forth. "That's it. Watch the pretty sword."
"Ryoko, don't tease him," warned Lina. "He could be dangerous."
Ryoko smiled at Lina. "Don't worry. Cats and I share a special bond." Ryoko heard a horrifying grinding sound and turned to see Ranma chewing on what little was left of her sleeve. She let go of the sword and picked Ranma up by the collar. "All right, Ranma. Enough's enough. Time to stop playing around and kill some Sailor Scouts!"
While Ranma and Ryoko vanished into a tornado of flying fur, Sailor Mercury knelt next to Sailor Venus. She let a few bubbles splash onto Venus' arm, cleaning the blood from the wound. "This looks bad. I think this cut goes into the bone. I'd better splint it right away." She tore the ribbon off her chest and placed it over Venus' wound. "Hold this on it, and keep your arm as still as possible."
"What about Sailor Mars?" asked Venus.
Mercury used her power to clean the blood from Mars' side. "I think it's nearly stopped bleeding. She should be okay."
"She's in shock!"
"Loosen her clothing and cover her with a blanket," advised Mercury. "I'll try to find something to use as a splint for your arm." She quickly stood up and ran away.
"Mercury, wait!" shouted Venus, but Mercury didn't slow down. Venus looked down at Mars again. "How the heck do you loosen a leotard?"
Trista awoke to find herself in a comfortable bed. "Where am I?" she asked. "How did I get here?"
"I found you sleeping in the middle of the street," replied a light male voice from nearby. "A young woman like you shouldn't leave herself vulnerable like that, especially in those clothes. No offense meant, of course."
Trista shrank away from the young man beside the bed. "You didn't..."
"Of course not," replied the young man. "But I know quite a few men who would have. This part of town isn't known for its upstanding citizens. You're lucky I'm the one who found you."
Trista breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
"Here, have some tea," he offered, placing a tray on the bed. "You must be very tired. You've been sleeping a long time."
"How long?" she demanded.
"I can't really say," replied the man. "You were asleep when I found you."
"How long ago was that?" asked Trista.
The man shrugged. "About half an hour, I'd say."
Trista abruptly sat up, knocking the tray over. "I have to go! The others need me!"
"Hey! Careful!" shouted the man as he dove for the falling teacup. "That's my mother's good china!"
"I'm sorry," Trista apologized. "But I must go! There is no time to waste!"
"You should probably calm down. You're acting as if the entire world is depending on you!"
"It may very well be," said Trista, climbing out of the bed. "I thank you for your hospitality. And now I must leave." She ran out of the bedroom and quickly made her way outside.
In the safety of a nearby alley, Trista pulled out her transformation wand. "PLUTO PLANET POWER!" A curtain of energy surrounded her as her casual clothes transformed into the familiar fuku of Sailor Pluto. With a wave of her arms, the Time Key appeared in her hands. "Now, I must help the others!" She quickly faded into the Time Gate, thankful that she had such a means of swift transportation. Ideally, she would have been able to travel back in time and arrive at the battle in time to be useful, but that was not an option while foreign actors occupied the timeline. At least she could still feel the energies of all of the other Scouts, although most of them were fading quickly. They were still alive, and the universe showed no signs of another impending paradox. As long as they could hold out until she arrived, they might yet have a chance to survive.
The first thing Sailor Moon noticed as she awoke was a colossal migraine. The next sixty things she noticed were the other various aches all over her body. From the headache to her throbbing, possibly twisted ankle, she felt as if she could be the spokesgirl for every painkiller commercial on television - once she had taken a heavy dose of said painkillers. Lacking them, it was a struggle against her exhausted muscles just to try to stand up. But she had to fight again, to save her friends. Sailor Venus was behind her, tending to Sailor Mars' wounds despite the fact that her own right arm had been sliced halfway through. Sailor Jupiter was trying to keep Kusanagi away from that pair, with a bit of help from Luna and Artemis, and there was no sign of Sailor Mercury at all. Of course, with her grasp of strategy, Mercury was probably off working on a plan to... to... well, that was why it was Mercury's plan and not Sailor Moon's.
As Sailor Moon got to her hands and knees, she caught sight of the other three opponents behind Kusanagi. The pigtailed boy appeared to be attacking the two girls, although Sailor Moon couldn't imagine why. She'd thought they were all on the same side...
That line of thought ended abruptly as Kusanagi's blade slashed Jupiter's face, drawing a bloody line from the center of her forehead down the side of her nose, ending at her left cheek. Jupiter fell backwards, clutching her bleeding face with one hand while the other tried to ward off Kusanagi's continuing blows. Every blocked swing of his blades left a fresh cut on Jupiter's right arm as she was slowly pressed backwards, toward the other fallen Sailor Scouts.
Sailor Moon forced herself to her feet. "I told you... to leave my friends... alone!" She tore her tiara from her forehead. "MOON TIARA MAGIC!"
Kusanagi ducked the tiara, blocking a kick from Jupiter at the same time. "You may dress like sissies, but you've got some fight in you!" He shot his fist at Sailor Moon, whose aching body failed to move in time to avoid it. The powerful appendage pounded her in the chest, leaving a deep impression in her ribcage. She fell back to the ground, gasping for air but getting none.
Jupiter raised the fist of her remaining good arm defensively. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!"
Kusanagi held his arm in front of his face, letting the electricity engulf the limb. "I never thought about the advantages of being part plant until now." Jupiter stepped back to strike again, but her leg gave out once again, dumping her to the ground. Before she could try to get up, Kusanagi planted a foot on her chest and pressed down, pinning her. "You've got nothing left to fight with, honey."
As Kusanagi raised his blade to decapitate Sailor Jupiter, a glowing stone smashed him in the side, knocking him off Jupiter. "They're here!" shouted Lina.
"Who's here?" asked Ryoko, barely holding Ranma at arm's length. She turned to Lina, who had already leapt several feet away. "What are you -?" A ball of water engulfed Ryoko and Ranma, drowning the end of her question. Ryoko felt Ranma's bone structure shifting in her hands, and red streaks began to appear in his black hair. As the bubble dissipated, Ryoko quickly teleported away, taking him with her.
"Who's shooting at us now?" demanded Kusanagi, staring at the roof of a nearby building.
"It's those other Sailor Scouts!" replied Lina.
"What others?" asked Jupiter. "There aren't any other Sailor Scouts!"
"Other Sailor Scouts..." Artemis wondered aloud. "Could they really be here?"
"Could who really be here?" asked Luna.
"The Sailor Scouts of the Outer Planets... but they can't be on Earth! Not now!"
"Whoever it is, I'm not letting them make a fool of me!" shouted Kusanagi. He leapt up to the rooftop and took off after the unseen attackers.
"Guess that leaves just you and me," Lina said to the remaining members of the opposite team. She raised her arms as if holding a bow and arrow. "FREEZE ARROW!" Her projectile struck Artemis and Luna, encasing the cats in a block of ice.
"Luna! Artemis!" shouted Venus.
"I wouldn't worry about them," said Lina. "They're going to survive. It's yourselves that you should be worried about." A rose struck the ice block imprisoning the two cats. The ice cracked, but didn't break enough to free the cats. Lina sighed. "You really should run away, Tuxedo Mask. You're only going to get yourself killed by staying here."
Blood dribbled from Tuxedo Mask's mouth as he spoke. "I'll never abandon the Sailor Scouts... until I die."
Lina shrugged. "Fair enough. FIREBALL!" Tuxedo Mask covered his face with his cape as the Fireball engulfed him. As the flames caught in his clothes, Tuxedo Mask threw himself to the ground and began to roll to put out the flames. However, they only seemed to grow as he writhed in agony.
Jupiter pushed herself up into a sitting position. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!"
Lina raised her arm, and the lightning struck the amulet on her wrist and vanished. "Now it's my turn." As she raised her hand to cast a spell at Sailor Jupiter, a wave of bubbles washed over Tuxedo Mask, extinguishing the fire. Sailor Mercury dropped a large bag of chopsticks and a short piece of twine next to Sailor Venus and took her position beside Jupiter.
"Are you okay, Sailor Mercury?" asked Jupiter, staring at the large bloodstain on the front of Mercury's torn leotard.
"They're just scratches," Mercury assured her. "Sailor Venus and Sailor Mars were hit a lot worse. We have to protect them."
"We've only got one opponent left," said Jupiter. "Think we can hold out?"
"I wouldn't count on it," said Lina. "You're dealing with Lina Inverse now. And I don't think you're going to be running away again, when half of you are in no condition to run."
"We're not afraid of you!" shouted Jupiter.
"And I'm not afraid of you," replied Lina. "Let's see which one of us should have been afraid." She raised her arms. "DIEM WING!"
Mercury and Jupiter quickly crouched, bracing themselves against the powerful wind that blew from Lina's hands. Their position failed to save them, however, as the wind quickly overcame them, sending both of them, as well as Mars and Venus, flying. Mars cried out as the half-healed wound in her side was torn open again from the sudden movement. Venus' scream came moments later, as she landed on her injured arm. The resulting crack sounded as bad as it felt.
"That should buy me some time," said Lina. "Now to finish you off." She closed her eyes and began to chant. "Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows..."
Jupiter pushed herself up to her elbows. "Is everyone okay? Mercury?" Sailor Mercury didn't respond.
"I can't move my arm!" shouted Venus.
"Are you going to be all right?"
"I don't know, but she's casting another spell! You've got to stop her!"
"I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand..." A dragon appeared in the sky behind Lina.
Jupiter raised her head. "JUPITER THUNDER..." Her head throbbed, and she held it in her hands. "I can't do it!" she groaned. "It hurts too much!"
Venus tenderly cradled her right arm in her left hand and pointed it at Lina. "VENUS -"
"Don't!" shouted Jupiter. "The pressure could blow your arm right off!"
"Well, what can we do?" asked Venus. A shadow passed over her.
"Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed by the power you and I possess!" shouted Lina.
Lina opened her eyes, and the dragon in the sky did the same. A figure stood between her and the fallen Sailor Scouts, holding a short wand topped with a crescent moon. "By the power of the moon, I will not let you hurt my friends!" announced Sailor Moon, raising the Moon Crescent Wand in defense.
Energy gathered in Lina's hands, and she took aim. "DRAGON SLAVE!"
A horizontal pillar of fire shot out of Lina's hands toward Sailor Moon, exploding on impact. Lina smiled as Sailor Moon vanished within the depths of the fireball. The explosion hadn't grown much larger than a standard Fireball spell, however, when the flames began to shrink back into themselves. Lina clenched her teeth and poured more power into the spell. The fireball grew slightly, but most of the energy at the boundary seemed to be getting sucked into the center rather than expanding outward to engulf the other Scouts. Lina stared at the anomaly, transfixed, until she felt her own energy beginning to wane. She quickly broke the spell, letting the remaining energy implode as it was absorbed into the Moon Crescent Wand. The Silver Imperium Crystal within the crescent glowed brightly for several seconds after the spell ended. As the glow faded, so did Sailor Moon, falling first to her knees, then flat on her face.
Lina also fell to her knees, breathing far more heavily than she had expected. "What did she do to me? I feel so weak!"
"Now's our chance!" shouted Jupiter. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" She winced at the pain as the electricity leapt from her tiara.
The lightning lanced through Lina's body, throwing her onto her back. She lay there, staring up into the sky. "They're just a bunch of girls with wimpy powers that even Sylphiel would laugh at! How could I possibly lose to them?"
"Finish her off!" said Venus.
"Give me a minute," said Jupiter, rubbing her head. "That hurt more than I thought it would."
"We may not have a minute!" snapped Venus.
Lina managed to sit up. She held her arms in front of her chest so that the four amulets lined up. "Lord of darkness of the four worlds, I call upon you. Grant me all the power you possess," she chanted, and the amulets glowed brightly. Lina felt strength flowing into her, but it was little more than what she had had before. She doubted that it would be enough to cast more than one small spell. She quickly stood up and took aim at the Sailor Scouts.
"Hang on, guys," said Jupiter, crawling toward the fallen Moon Crescent Wand on her hands and knees. "I'll protect us."
"Will it work for you?" asked Venus.
"I don't think so," said Jupiter. "But we've got to try something!"
Lina watched as Jupiter collapsed to the ground, then pushed herself up and tried once again to reach the wand, only to collapse again. Sailor Venus tried to stand up, but immediately gave up as her arm threatened to snap in two. Tuxedo Mask was also getting to his feet, slowly but surely. However, he wouldn't be able to stop Lina from destroying the Sailor Scouts with a quick Fireball spell.
Lina closed her eyes to concentrate all of her power on an attack spell, but the image of the dying Scouts remained in her mind. Seeing her battered opponents in such horrible shape made Lina's heart sink. She glanced at her palms, contemplating the power that she had, power against which the Sailor Scouts were now completely defenseless; and then back at the Sailor Scouts themselves as they all waited for the end that they knew was coming. She felt like a monster. No, worse. She felt like she had when... when...
"I'd better not waste the last of my power," she whispered to herself. "I can't afford to leave myself vulnerable." She let her arms drop to her sides. "RAY WING!" The power of her spell carried her up to a rooftop, and she began to leap across the buildings in search of Kusanagi and his opponents.
"She's getting away!" shouted Venus.
"Let her go," said Tuxedo Mask. "We can't chase after her now."
Sailor Mercury groaned and sat up, holding her head. "Ouch... what's going on? What's happening?"
"Lina took off," said Venus. "One second, she was about to blast us all to pieces. The next, she was running away."
"There sure is something funny about those guys," said Jupiter. "That Kusanagi guy really seemed to want to kill us, but those others..."
"Whether they wanted to kill us or not, we definitely lost this battle," said Mercury.
"Well, at least we're all still alive," Venus pointed out.
"How is Sailor Mars doing?" asked Mercury. She turned to examine Sailor Mars, but Mars had reverted into her normal form. "Raye? Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine," Raye said softly. "I feel a lot stronger since I let go of the Sailor Scout power."
Mercury nodded. "It takes a lot of power to transform. When you get weak, you turn back to normal so that you can use that power to help speed the healing process."
"How long will it take to heal?" asked Raye.
"I don't know. We heal faster than most humans do, thanks to Planet Power, but a serious wound like this one will still take a day or two to clear up completely."
"I don't know if we have a day or two," said Raye. "They've attacked us twice today. How long before they strike again? Who says they're not on their way back right now?"
"You're right," agreed Mercury. "Venus, I'd better make a splint for your arm!" She quickly located the chopsticks and twine, which had landed not far from the Sailor Scouts, and hastily splinted Venus' arm. "That should hold until we can get an ambulance here."
"We can't go to the hospital," said Jupiter. "That's the first place they'll look."
"But Raye and Mina need immediate treatment, and the rest of us should be examined as well!"
"It's too dangerous," replied Jupiter. "They're looking for us in our normal identities. If we check into the hospital with wounds like these, it'll give us away!"
"She's right," agreed Tuxedo Mask. "Although it may not be safe to go untreated, you can't afford to put yourselves in a public place in your conditions."
"We can't miss school!" protested Venus. "That will give us away too!"
"We'll talk about that later," said Mercury. "Right now, we have to get everyone someplace safe. We can't stay here, or they might return to finish us off."
"We can't go to my apartment," said Jupiter. "They already know who I am."
"The Cherry Hill Shrine is probably our best bet," said Mercury. "It may be far away, but it has the best medical facilities available. Not to mention that Raye's grandfather may be able to offer some spiritual protection for Raye if anyone comes after her."
Tuxedo Mask knelt beside Raye and lifted her, cradling her carefully to avoid agitating her injury. "Sailor Venus, can you move?"
Venus held the splinted arm in her left hand as she stood up. "It should be okay."
Jupiter slung the unconscious Serena over her shoulder. "Okay! Let's get going!"
Everyone who was capable of moving did so, making rapid progress toward the Cherry Hill Shrine. Suddenly, Venus stopped. "Wait!" she shouted.
"What's wrong?" asked Mercury. "Is the splint not holding up?"
"That's not it! We forgot Luna and Artemis!"
"Oh. Right." With a half-chuckle, half-sigh, Sailor Mercury trotted back to pick up the frozen cats and carry them along to the shrine.
"Just wait until I get my hands on you!" growled Kusanagi as he chased after the retreating figures. They were Sailor Scouts, all right, but they were far more agile than the ones he'd fought before. This pair leapt from rooftop to rooftop as easily as he did, and liked to split up from time to time. When he chased after one of them, the other would attack him, blasting him with either a ball of water or a massive stone. Nothing powerful enough to hurt him, of course, but that didn't seem to discourage them at all. In fact, they seemed perfectly content to merely lead him further and further away from the other Sailor Scouts. That was fine by him, of course. These two would soon learn why it was a bad idea to piss off Mamoru Kusanagi.
Of course, he'd have to catch them first, and at this rate, that was easier said than done. He was starting to feel a bit fatigued from his fight, and his quarry didn't seem to have flagged a bit. Kusanagi would have bet even money on his ability to catch a cheetah on his worst day; but when that cheetah could fight back, the game became quite a bit tougher.
The two Scouts took off in opposite directions again, and Kusanagi chased after the tan-haired one. He'd discovered quickly that her stones were a bit more dangerous than the other one's water balls, so she became the target when they separated. He didn't have any trouble dodging the ball of water that he knew was coming, but it always prevented him from making an effective attack. This time, however, he tried a different strategy. He swung wide as he approached, hoping to draw the enemy fire away from his line of attack so that he could dodge toward, rather than away from, his target.
It worked. The ball of water streaked toward him, and he changed his trajectory to fly straight at the Sailor Scout in tan. She wasn't unprepared, of course, but he had the longer reach. His arm shot out, clipping her ear as she barely dodged.
"Uranus, are you all right?" shouted the other Scout as she leapt toward him.
"Stay back, Neptune!" shouted Uranus. "I can handle myself!" Uranus launched herself straight at Kusanagi, forcing him to cross his arms over his chest to block. He knocked her a short distance away and leapt forward, swinging his left blade at her while his right arm retracted. She kicked upwards as she fell onto her back on the rooftop, knocking his blade aside and catching his face with her heel.
"You're a lot faster than those other Scouts," said Kusanagi as Uranus flipped to her feet. He leapt to a different roof as Neptune tried to trip him from behind. The two Sailor Scouts took up side by side attack positions - and then turned tail and fled again across the rooftops.
"Dammit, come back here!" shouted Kusanagi as he gave chase again. "Quit running away and fight already!" At the rate he was going, it could be hours before he wore them down enough to catch them... assuming that they ran out of energy before he did. It was still only a short time after sunset, and his body had been through quite a bit of exertion before fully awakening.
Fortunately, the chase didn't last much longer. As the two of them split up once again, Ranma dropped from the sky, cutting off Uranus' escape. A fireball exploded at Neptune's feet, throwing her from the roof, and Ryoko floated down to land behind Uranus. The surrounded Sailor Scout cast her eyes back and forth between Ranma and Ryoko, fighting back her panic.
"Not a bad distraction," said Ryoko. "By the time we found some hot water for Ranma, the other Scouts were long gone. Even the trail of blood ended after a while." She clenched her fist, and her energy blade appeared. "But we can take care of those whiny girls anytime we want, especially with our new partner in crime. Right now, you're the one we're after."
Without a word, Uranus charged at Ryoko, dodging Ryoko's reflexive swing to kick her in the chest. She followed up by grabbing Ryoko's arm and flinging her at Ranma, who leapt over the flying Space Pirate and resumed his defensive position.
Kusanagi smiled and turned from the battle, leaping across the rooftops to the spot where Neptune had fallen. He peered over the edge of the roof, expecting to see her broken body four stories down, waiting for the merciful blow that would finish her off. Instead, she was hanging onto the edge of the roof by her fingertips, unable to pull herself up but still clutching doggedly to her only handhold. She gasped as she turned her eyes upward and saw him standing over her.
"Say, let me give you a hand," said Kusanagi. He raised his foot and brought it down hard on the fingers of her left hand, forcing her to let go of the roof. As she dangled by only her right hand, she risked glancing downward to assess the likelihood of surviving the drop. The piles of garbage below her offered little reassurance of a stable landing. She reached up to grab the roof again, but the heavy pressure of Kusanagi's foot pressed down on her right hand, nearly making her lose her grip completely.
Uranus gathered energy in her fist. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!" She pounded the roof, launching a ball of stone at Ranma. Ranma vaulted over the stone, aiming to land on Uranus' head. Uranus stepped back and kicked upwards at him, but Ranma agilely avoided the kick, grabbing Uranus' upstretched leg and tagging her inner thigh with his foot. Uranus' entire left leg went numb at the contact, and she stumbled backwards into a chimney.
"Had enough, Sailor Uranus?" asked Ranma, as Ryoko landed next to him.
Uranus tried to stand up, but her left leg refused to move. "What did you do to me?" she demanded.
"Can't move, eh?" asked Ryoko. "This should be easy!" She shot a fireball at Uranus, who threw herself aside to dodge as the fireball smashed the chimney into dust.
"Wow, you're really hanging on there," said Kusanagi as he ground his toes into Neptune's fingers. "It would be faster to just reach down and slice your head open right now. But I'm not stupid enough to give you something to grab onto." He lifted his foot and tensed his right arm, deploying his blade. "I'll just cut your hand off instead."
Neptune swung her legs against the side of the building and pushed off, swinging herself up in a circle and planting her foot in Kusanagi's face. He stumbled backwards, giving her room to land on the roof.
"You feisty bitch!" said Kusanagi, admiringly. "You've got some real moves."
"You should never underestimate your opponent," said Neptune. "That will be your downfall."
"Thanks for the tip," replied Kusanagi. "I never ignore advice from a beautiful woman."
Neptune recoiled in shock. "What are you hoping to achieve by flattering me?" she asked.
Kusanagi shrugged. "I figured it couldn't hurt."
Uranus rolled away from another fireball, but the explosion threw her against a brick outcropping. "Why won't you just die?" shouted Ryoko. Uranus grabbed the outcropping and pulled herself to her feet - or foot, as only her right leg was in any condition to support her weight. She threw herself forward, rolling under Ryoko's next fireball and thrusting her good leg into Ryoko's stomach. Using Ryoko as a springboard, she flipped back to her feet and rolled again, this time toward Ranma.
Ranma anticipated the incoming blow and grabbed her right foot as she aimed it at his groin. "You're pretty good, even when you can't use your whole body. You would have been great at Anything-Goes Martial Arts. That's why I hate to have to do this." He twisted at the waist, driving his knee into Uranus' knee with full force. Uranus screamed in pain.
"Uranus, hang on!" shouted Neptune. She darted forward, stopping just short of Kusanagi to trip him with a leg sweep. In a flash, she was on her feet, leaping to Uranus' rescue. "NEPTUNE DEEP SUBMERGE!" Ranma froze as the water approached him, but Ryoko leapt in front of him, shielding him from the water with her own body. She fell to her knees as the shower ended, coughing up water.
"Thanks, Ryoko," said Ranma.
"Don't get me wrong, Ranma," spluttered Ryoko. "I just don't feel like going through another hunt for hot water."
Taking advantage of Ranma's distraction, Uranus pounded him in the knee, sweeping his leg out from under him with her other arm. Ranma lost his balance and fell backwards, landing on Uranus' left leg. Uranus winced, but the anticipated pain never came. She quickly turned over in an attempt to free her leg, but a movement caught her eye. Kusanagi was sneaking up behind Neptune with his blades poised to strike. "Neptune, look out!" she shouted.
Neptune ducked as Kusanagi slashed at her neck, leaving only the ends of a few strands of hair as victims to the chop. As she fell into a crouch, she kicked up behind her, catching Kusanagi in the side. She quickly rolled forward as Kusanagi slashed at her again, slicing the rear off of her skirt and scratching her back just deeply enough to draw blood. Ignoring the pain, she leapt away from Kusanagi in a high arc that took her over the still-spluttering Ryoko. Kusanagi gave chase, leaping up just as Ryoko did. The two of them collided in midair, landing on top of Ranma in a three-person heap.
Sailor Neptune took aim at the pile of enemies. "NEPTUNE DEEP -" A sword flew through the air, narrowly missing Neptune's arm. "What was that?"
"You've got the Mask guy throwing roses at us whenever we try to attack," said Lina, leaping to the occupied roof. "I figured I'd even the score."
"I suppose we can't expect anything else from you," spat Uranus.
"Hey, just because I'm out of magic for the moment doesn't mean I have to sit by and watch you kill my partners. Of course, that water attack isn't going to do anything but soak them." She picked up her sword and shrugged. "Go ahead. Do your worst. Kill me if you can."
"You're giving me a free shot?" asked Neptune.
"Why not? It's not like a little water's going to hurt me," said Lina.
"Dammit!" shouted Kusanagi as he stood up. "Just kill them already! Quit toying with them! That's why they keep getting away!"
Neptune adjusted her aim. "NEPTUNE DEEP SUBMERGE!" The ball of water swept Kusanagi away, depositing him at the edge of the roof.
"Hmmm..." said Lina with a nod. "Not bad. Maybe he was right. Maybe I should kill you right now." She brandished the sword threateningly.
"I can't allow you to do that," deadpanned a voice from Lina's prior perch. Sailor Pluto stood proud and tall, holding her staff at her side like a queen's sceptre.
"How the hell many of them are there?" asked Kusanagi. He swung his arm at Pluto and extended it, launching his powerful fist at her. She easily turned it aside with her staff, and smoothly swung the staff around to point at Kusanagi. "PLUTO DEADLY SCREAM!" The projectile landed right on target before Kusanagi could attempt to dodge, leaving him no time to do anything more than stab his blade into the rooftop for support as he fell off the edge. Kusanagi dangled by his blade, barely conscious from the power of the blast.
Ryoko and Ranma leapt to their feet. "Go ahead!" challenged Ryoko. "Do your worst! We've seen your powers in action, and you have nothing powerful enough to kill us!"
"You bitch," said Kusanagi as he pulled himself up onto the roof. "I'll get you..."
Pluto smiled. "Uranus, Neptune... I hope this helps you." She held her staff horizontally in front of her body. "PLUTO DIMENSIONAL BANISHMENT!" A black bubble formed around Kusanagi, and then vanished, leaving no trace of him.
All of the spectators stared in amazement. "He's gone!" shouted Lina at last.
Pluto lowered the staff, momentarily wearing a shocked expression before replacing it with a mask of cold contempt. "Who wants to be next?"
Ryoko put her hands on her companions' shoulders. "I don't know about you two, but I'm all for running away."
"Works for me!" agreed Ranma. They all stepped backwards through a portal and vanished into the Negaverse.
Neptune knelt beside Uranus. "Are you okay?"
"I hope so," said Uranus. "Whatever he did to my leg, I should be able to fix once I get the time to examine it. As for my knee, I've just got to pop it back into place. I've been through worse than this."
"You got here just in time, Pluto!" said Neptune gratefully. She turned to Pluto, whose former contemptuous countenance had become morose. "Is something wrong?"
"That didn't tire me out at all," said Pluto. "When I banished Saturn to her own dimension, the effort put me to sleep for well over half an hour. I expected to be even more tired this time, since I only just woke up. But I don't feel weak at all."
"Maybe you just needed a rest," suggested Neptune.
"Or maybe Saturn was just more powerful," added Uranus. "Saturn wasn't affected by the paradox, remember? Maybe she's immune to normal time effects, and it took all of your power to send her back."
"I sincerely hope that you're right," said Pluto. "But I fear that something has gone horribly wrong. If it has, and if it does involve Sailor Saturn, then a paradox is almost certain."
"But she's gone now, right?" asked Uranus.
Pluto nodded. "Yes. And so has Kusanagi."
"Then there's nothing to worry about," said Neptune. "We can beat the other three, can't we?"
Pluto nodded again. "The other three will be no threat to us. But Beryl and Chronite are far from powerless. They will be able to summon yet another fighter."
"Then we've got to get ready," said Uranus. She grabbed her right leg and twisted it, snapping her knee back into place with another scream of pain.
Neptune wrapped her arms around Uranus' chest. "I'm sorry, Uranus. I should have done something sooner."
Uranus returned the embrace. "You were in enough danger yourself. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine." Uranus felt some kind of moisture soaking through Neptune's uniform and peered over Neptune's shoulder to look at it. "Neptune! You're bleeding!"
"I know," replied Neptune. "It's just a scratch. We can bandage it when we get back to our room."
"Just like you to pretend that an injury is nothing," said Uranus with a smile. "Oh well. Help me pop my other leg back into place."
Pluto smiled. "Despite our misgivings, and a few setbacks, this battle was indeed a victory for us. If we can fight this well in the future, we may yet be able to win the war." For the first time since she had sensed the disturbances in the timeline, Pluto felt relieved. At last their fight was beginning to look hopeful, even if that hope was faint. Pluto knew that her relief was unlikely to endure very long; but it would feel good while it lasted, and she needed to keep her spirits up. After all, the hardest battles were always yet to come.