The individual battles conclude as the Sailor Scouts prepare to reunite - if they survive long enough.
Chapter 12: As Long as We Survive
Uranus cringed at each scream that rose from the alley below as Mewtwo twisted Sailor Mercury's body up like a pretzel. Her hands clenched into fists as she stared down into the traces of thin fog that filled the alley, and more than once she had to forcefully restrain herself from leaping off the edge of the roof to Mercury's aid. There were other sounds amid the screams, pops and cracks that had to signal Mercury's body being torn apart from the inside, but the poor, brave girl was living through it all. The whole horrible, twisted nightmare. She just wouldn't give in... and until she did, it would just go on and on....
Uranus jumped as Neptune's hand lightly touched her shoulder. "Can you tell what's going on?" Neptune asked so quietly that it was barely audible over the noise of Mercury's torture. "Is she all right?"
Uranus shook her head. "It's not trying to kill her yet, from the sound of it, but by now she's probably wishing it would. I think it's playing with her, trying to keep her alive and conscious while it tortures her. And so far, it's working."
Neptune gasped. "What are we going to do?"
"The only thing we can do. Nothing."
"We can't just leave her down there!" Neptune pointed to the writhing shadow in the mist below. "How can you watch this and not do anything?" she demanded.
"I don't like it any more than you do," replied Uranus, "but we can't let her see us. Until she loses consciousness, there's nothing we can do but watch and wait."
"By that time, it may be too late!" Neptune protested.
Uranus turned to face her partner. "You heard what Pluto said! We can't overstep our bounds here, or we'll destroy a lot more than just Sailor Mercury!"
"Sailor Pluto believes in us," Neptune reminded her. "We have to believe in ourselves!"
"Oh, I believe in us all right," Uranus assured her. "I just don't believe in this crazy situation." She turned back to the alley. "I hate this." She pounded her fist on the edge of the roof angrily. "Why are we even here? We can't do anything!"
"There must be something we can do," said Neptune. "Sailor Mercury - no, the entire world is depending on us!"
"And what do you want me to do about it?" snapped Uranus. "There's nothing we can do! Nothing! We may as well be sitting up here with our hands tied behind our backs!"
"Is that so?" asked Neptune. "Well, I'm not going to sit up here any longer. If we can't come up with a plan, I'm going to jump down there and help her myself, and let whatever happens happen."
"Don't make me have to stop you," spat Uranus, whirling around again to glare at Neptune. The two Scouts locked eyes as Sailor Mercury's screams intensified with a new kind of pain, and each one saw the true concern of the other. Neither enjoyed the idea of standing still while the torture below continued, but neither was willing to be the first to violate Sailor Pluto's warning.
Finally, Neptune broke the silence. "I feel like such a monster all over again."
"We have to wait until that thing's business is finished before we can help her," Uranus agreed. "But unlike the last time, we're not planning to leave her dead if she happens to have the right type of Heart Crystal. We're going to save her, no matter what!"
"Is there no way we can convince it to leave?" asked Neptune. "A distraction, perhaps?"
"What do you suggest we do? Attack it?" Uranus countered. "You saw how effective that was the last time it attacked us."
"We don't necessarily have to attack it directly," replied Neptune. "We could attack something nearby, just enough to draw its attention."
"Right," snorted Uranus. "And we'd probably end up hitting Sailor Mercury at the same time."
Neptune's head fell in shame. "You're right."
"Yeah..." said Uranus, with a note of hope in her voice. "That just might work!"
"What might work?" asked Neptune, excitement building at the prospect of having a plan at last.
Uranus returned her gaze to the alley below. "We can't do anything while Mercury's still conscious, right?" Neptune nodded. "So... I'll knock her out myself."
Neptune took a deep breath. "Are you sure that's a good idea, Uranus?"
"It's the only idea I've got!" returned Uranus. "I'll hit her with a World Shaking while she's not paying attention, and that should be enough to knock her unconscious. Then you jump down there and get her to safety while I distract that thing long enough to buy you some time."
"But you're already weak from fighting it before," Neptune pointed out. "You should be the one to take Mercury away while I distract it."
"That won't work," said Uranus. "I might be too tired to move quickly enough while carrying her."
After a moment's hesitation, Neptune agreed. "All right. But be very careful. Don't get yourself killed."
"I always fight to win," Uranus assured her.
Neptune grabbed the sides of Uranus' head. "No, I mean it. If you die...." She trailed off and finished her sentence by kissing Uranus on the lips in a quick motion.
Uranus smiled as Neptune broke the kiss. "Hey, relax. I'll be fine, I promise. But we have to hurry." She turned back to the edge of the roof, leaned over, and struck the side of the building with her fist. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!"
A glowing boulder streaked down toward the barely visible figure of Sailor Mercury in the mist below, but even before it had reached its target, Neptune leapt off the edge of the roof and aimed her hands down at the unmoving shadow of the enemy. "NEPTUNE DEEP SUBMERGE!" she shouted with impeccable timing. Just as the boulder struck Sailor Mercury and knocked her to the ground, the creature below flew up out of the mist and right into Neptune's water attack. The water failed to penetrate the invisible barrier that surrounded the creature, but the resulting splash obscured its vision until Neptune was safely beneath the cover of the fog.
Uranus sent another boulder to smash into the enemy's shield before it could get its bearings, hoping to distract it long enough for Neptune to get away. She couldn't see into the fog well enough to determine whether Neptune had escaped yet or not, but the armored enemy below turned its head toward Uranus, its eyes glowing so fiercely that its entire helmet seemed to be engulfed in blue flame. In the next instant, the creature was at eye level with her, floating just beyond the edge of the roof. She backed away in shock at its sudden appearance, tripping over her own feet.
"You..." spat the creature. "How is it that you still live? My power should have been enough to destroy you, and your consciousness was gone after I attacked you!"
Uranus fought back her fear and stared her enemy right in the visor. "You can never count a Sailor Scout out of the battle!" she said in a voice that wavered with terror despite her resolve. She wanted to stand up, but was afraid that her shivering legs wouldn't be able to support her.
The creature's body straightened as it landed on the rooftop. "You pretend at bravery, but in truth, you are terrified of me. That I can understand. I am indeed capable of destroying you with minimal effort." The glow in its eyes dimmed. "And yet you survived my last attack... how?"
"I'll never tell you!" Uranus shouted. She couldn't let it find out about Sailor Pluto's interference... who knew what it could do with that information?
"Ah, it was this 'Sailor Pluto' who saved you," the enemy said casually, as if it was old news.
Uranus gasped. "How did you know?"
"Simple," it replied. "I know EVERYTHING that you know. Your mind holds no secrets from me." It flexed its fingers as if using them to count the secrets it had extracted from her. "I know that you and Sailor Neptune are trying to protect the other Sailor Scouts from me, but that you cannot be discovered without risking a paradox. I know that you are limited to the use of your most basic powers, which are incapable of defeating your enemies. I know that you are hoping to distract me to allow Sailor Neptune a chance to find safety." It seemed to frown in displeasure at that last revelation. "A pity I did not suspect it sooner. By now, they are likely a good distance away, and I can no longer probe Sailor Mercury's mind to find out where she is."
Uranus forced herself to her feet, reminding herself of the importance of her part of the plan. She had to fight to protect Neptune! "I'll never let you get your hands on them!" she snarled defiantly.
"You can do nothing to stop me," it replied coolly, raising its hands in front of its body. "Still, I cannot allow you to interfere further." A familiar ball of blue light appeared between them, and Uranus found herself staring into the light in horror. That attack had nearly killed her the last time, and this time, Sailor Pluto wouldn't be able to help her. "How unfortunate that you decided to interfere," said the enemy as it took aim. "Had you minded your own business, you would have survived."
"I'm not dead!" Uranus shouted back. "You can't kill me so easily!" As the creature let its attack fly, she released an attack of her own. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!" The boulder collided with the energy ball midway between the two fighters, scattering the energy in a blinding flash. Uranus turned her head, loath to look away from her enemy but unable to see anything in the afterimage of the explosion anyway. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her: Her opponent had also undoubtedly been blinded by the flash, giving her a chance to retreat to a safe distance. Without hesitation, she charged for the edge of the roof and leapt toward the adjacent building. In mid-leap, however, she suddenly halted in place, floating motionlessly between the rooftops.
The armored enemy stepped out of the fading blue light with its paw raised, clenched in a fist. "You are wise to try to run, given that you cannot win this battle. But there is no escape from me."
"Is that so?" taunted Uranus, trying to keep her cool despite her helplessness. "Then what about Neptune and Mercury?"
"They will not live long," the creature assured her as it opened its fist. Uranus barely had time to feel the sick sensation in her stomach as the force holding her in midair vanished before she plunged five stories to an abrupt landing on the pavement below. She was only dimly aware of her attacker flying over her, and then the world went black.
When she woke up again, her entire body ached, and she was lying on her back in some kind of shallow puddle. She tried to sit up, but couldn't move an inch. The viscous liquid seemed to hold her to the ground. 'What is this stuff?' she asked herself. 'Glue?' She opened her eyes, but all that she could see was a single smear of dark red that filled her entire field of vision. 'Oh, it's blood.' She let out a deep sigh and tried to inhale again, but her lungs did not seem inclined to comply. 'Blood has such a pretty color,' she decided. 'I'm going to find some flowers that color and give them to Neptune. That's how I'll apologize for not keeping my promise.'
A dark shadow fell over her, and she pried her eyes open again to look at the figure blocking what little sunlight reached the floor of the alley in the early afternoon. She could only make out what appeared from her perspective to be a very tall human form, its left hand locked in a tight grip around a long thin shaft, the upper end of which was hidden in the shadows. Even through the film of blood over her eyes, Uranus could see a dark aura surrounding the figure... an aura of death. Her blood froze at the sight of the figure, and she tried to move, to escape, but her muscles may as well have belonged to a completely different body for all the good it did. She was as good as tied up and gagged as the figure bent down to lay a hand on her face and push her eyes closed. She tried to open them again, but they were as unresponsive as the rest of her body. Besides, it hurt to struggle. It was so nice to just lie there, accepting whatever fate came to her....
'No! I have to fight!' she told herself. But even as the words crossed her mind, the blackness beneath her eyelids swallowed her thoughts as well, and she faded into nothingness.
Someone - or something - was calling to her from far away. She couldn't make out the words, if there were any, but judging by its tone, it seemed worried about her. There was a sense of urgency as well, as if to indicate that if she didn't act on this message, something terrible would happen. To her? To the caller? To the world? There was no way to know. What little sense she had of the caller was fading quickly, segueing smoothly into a set of physical sensations.
Heat. She was burning - her face and chest were pressed against a rough, hot surface, and her back felt like it was on fire. Her legs, on the other hand, felt like they were buried in snow. Confused by the odd discrepancy, she tried to open her eyes, only to be assaulted by intense brightness that forced them closed again. 'What's going on?' she asked herself. 'It's so hard to think... feels like my brain is melting.'
Sailor Mars. That was her name. The revelation came to her like the last page of a detective novel, making pieces fall into place. She had been walking through a desert, and she must have collapsed, which explained the gritty texture and extreme temperature of the surface she was lying on... sand that had absorbed enough of the sun's rays to become a veritable stove. But why did her legs feel so cold? Strangely enough, now that she thought about it, they also seemed to be pointed downwards, as if they were stuck in the ground....
Adrenaline overcame her weariness as she pushed herself up and turned her head to look at her legs. As she feared, she was buried up to her hips in the funnel-like quicksand that she had fallen afoul of earlier. The pit was much wider than she remembered it, so much so that its edge was nearly a straight line that ran under her waist. Worse, she could feel the sand under her belly beginning to sink downward, opening the mouth of the deadly pit even wider. That would explain why her legs were in the quicksand - after she had collapsed, it had expanded to meet her, and would apparently continue to grow in the same way until it swallowed the entire desert. Long before that, however, it would consume what little solid ground she could reach, and her with it.
'At least I woke up in time,' she thought gratefully, grasping at the sand in front of her to pull herself out. Unfortunately, the sand's grip on her legs was much stronger than it had been the last time, preventing her from gaining even an inch against its sucking power. Fatigue was taking its toll as well; it wasn't long before she was forced to rest, spreading her weight as best she could over the solid ground to counter the force of her weight trying to drag her down into the pit. The upper half of her body felt strangely light, and she had to concentrate to be sure that it wasn't merely a trick of the heat taking its toll on her mind. 'It's my center of mass,' she realized, recalling a lesson from her biology class. 'The center of mass of the female body is in the hips. Last time, my hips were over solid ground, so I was able to pull myself out. This time, they're sitting on the surface of the quicksand, which is why my upper body weight is barely supporting me. I have to get out of this stuff fast, or it'll drag me under!'
The heat of the sand on her chest was much less agonizing now, she realized. Then she noticed the reason: her hips were sliding down the side of the pit as it softened, levering her upper body up off the desert floor. "No!" she cried, digging her fingers into the ground to slow her descent. She had to keep her weight over solid ground as much as she could... but she quickly realized that it wasn't working. She was already overbalanced, and felt herself sinking deeper despite her effort to hold herself up. Abandoning the idea, she brought her arms closer to the edge of the pit and pressed her palms to the ground, using her arms to hold herself up directly. Her muscles immediately began to ache, but she prayed for strength and held on, grateful for the added strength of Planet Power within her. Without that, she would have undoubtedly succumbed long before, either to the heat or to the quicksand, or both.
Her new grip wasn't much better. She didn't even feel her arms relaxing, but her hips slowly descended into the quicksand as the sand began to cling to the folds of her skirt, weighing her down even more. The soothing touch of the cool sand on her burning skin was a relief at first, but once she had allowed herself a moment to enjoy the feeling, she reminded herself that every inch of her body that was cool was an inch closer to death. 'Maybe death isn't going to be so bad,' she thought, then immediately regretted it. Whether it was physical or mental, weakness meant death - and no matter how hot she was, death was NOT an option!
As she felt the sand cover her waist, Mars realized that her attempt to hold herself up was failing miserably. She turned her arms and shifted her hands across the surface, hoping to find a position that was comfortable, but each movement merely let her sink a bit deeper without easing the pain at all. Growing desperate as the quicksand rose to her navel, Mars leaned forward as far as she could and propped herself up on her elbows. Her shoulders still felt a bit tired, but it was a bearable position, and she didn't seem to be sinking any deeper for the moment. She took a few deep breaths, wondering how long the respite would last... and whether she would ever be able to extricate herself from the pit, or was merely delaying her inevitable demise.
Before she could muster the strength to try to escape again, a faint hint of movement on the horizon presented an answer to both questions. Mars raised her head to peer through the haze of heat rising from the desert floor, hoping against hope that what she had seen was not merely a mirage, but perhaps a fellow traveler who might be able to come to her aid. "Help me!" she did her best to shout, but her plea came out as a weak croak from her dry throat. If there was a person out there, there was no chance that they could hear her. Fortunately, it didn't seem to matter. Before long, she saw the movement again, and it appeared to be a bit closer this time. There was definitely a shape in the distance, and as she watched, it slowly grew sharper and sharper as it approached her. Her heart skipped a beat. She was going to be rescued after all! She could barely make out the dark outline of a human figure stepping out of the wavering air... no, wait. It couldn't be....
It was. As it shambled into view, there was no mistaking the black shadow that had stalked her before. Whether it had come back to life, or it had never actually died, or this was an entirely different shadow, Mars had no idea; but it was coming for her once again, and this time, she couldn't use her fire attack against it without letting go of solid ground entirely and sinking to her doom. It was moving quite quickly, too, as if determined to catch her before she could become submerged. Of course, she didn't plan to foil it by letting go... but what other choice was there? She pushed with her elbows, hoping that by some miracle she could crawl out of the quicksand, but it held her as fast as ever, and she only succeeded in loosening the sand under her arms. The edge of the pit gave way, and she was sinking again, the bottom of her breasts now barely above the moving surface. She stretched her arms out to grab the nearest solid ground, digging her fingers into the sand for purchase, but her grip was futile - the edge was too far away now to support her.
Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult as the sand pressed against her chest from all sides. However, there was also a bit of additional comfort in her position. Her entire back, which had been exposed to the sun for who knew how long, was finally shielded from the heat under a thick layer of cool sand. Only her head and arms remained above the surface, and consequently felt as if they were on fire. She fought away a wave of dizziness, only to feel tears starting to form in her eyes. She was so hot... the sun burned... under the sand was cool....
A shadow fell on her, blissfully taking the harsh edge off the sun's heat. Mars was halfway through a sigh of relief when she realized what was producing the shadow and tilted her head up to see the black figure standing at the edge of the pit, its arm reaching for her face. She screamed, trying to push herself away from the phantom but only digging herself deeper into the sand, until the dust rising around her face got into her mouth and choked her. The shadow remained resolutely still while she struggled, keeping its hand in front of her face, the fingers toward her and the palm sideways, almost as if offering to shake her hand. Mars considered this as she spat out a mouthful of dust. If the shadow was so determined to get to her, why hadn't it just reached down and touched her? Instead, it seemed to be waiting for her to touch it... and what then? The truth was that she honestly didn't know. It could certainly be worse than sinking in quicksand, but if it was really so evil, why did it have to wait for her to accept whatever fate it had in store for her? If it was so bad, why didn't it take her itself? Could it be... that it was actually trying to help her?
Mars felt the shifting sand climbing the sides of her face, about to cover her head, and she knew that her time had run out. If she didn't take her chances with the shadow, she was dead. She had only a few seconds to decide....
She stretched her arm up and grabbed the figure's hand, surprised at how soft and smooth it felt. The hand's grip was strong, however, and it immediately set to work hauling her out of the pit. She reached for the pit's edge with her free hand, lending her own strength to the effort, but it was slow going even so. Her ascent was agonizing as well, as most of her body had been cooled by the sand for so long that every inch that emerged into the sun felt doubly burned. Still, the thought that she had actually found an ally in this wasteland rather than an enemy pushed the heat right out of her mind. By the time she had crawled up onto solid ground, her weariness was gone, left in the pit along with her despair and her left shoe.
Shivering in the lingering terror of her ordeal, Mars propped herself up on her knees and left hand and coughed the last of the sand from her throat. The shadowed figure stood above her patiently, holding her right hand while she caught her breath. Once her lungs had stopped aching and her breathing had returned to normal, Mars got to her feet and self-consciously brushed the remaining sand from her skirt. Once the fabric was as clean as she could make it, she adjusted her bow slightly. 'What am I doing?' she asked herself. 'I don't really care what my clothes look like, do I?' No, she realized. She was doing anything she could to take her attention away from the shadow-person. Her entire face burned with the embarrassed blush of having been so terrified of what had turned out to be a benevolent thing.
She cleared her throat and turned to the figure at last. "Um, thank you," she began. "You saved my life." The shadow didn't deign to acknowledge her words, but continued to stare at the distant horizon as if searching for something. "I'm sorry I set you on fire before," Mars continued diplomatically. "I didn't know whether you were a friend or an enemy at first." The shadow remained resolutely silent, leaving Mars with the feeling that it still hadn't accepted her apology. "You know... because you don't say anything," she explained, desperate for the shadow to respond somehow, even if not with words.
Seeing that the shadow still wouldn't talk, Mars turned to the direction it was staring, hoping that its attention was fixed elsewhere for a reason. "What's out there?" she asked. "Something dangerous?" But even as she spoke the last words of her question, she saw what was happening. The sun was quickly sinking beneath the horizon, turning the sky blood red for a few seconds before vanishing completely. Only the full moon remained to brighten the dark night until the stars began to appear one by one in the dome of the sky.
Mars stared into the night sky in wonder, enjoying the sudden, wonderful chill. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the wind blew across the desert sands again, but this time it was delightfully cool, and she turned to face it, letting the breeze play across her cheeks and sweep her hair up behind her. Even the way it blew her skirt up, which she usually found annoying, didn't faze her after the hours she'd spent wishing for such a refreshing sensation. It wasn't until the last of the lingering heat had been drawn from her skin and her body started to shiver in the cold that she indulged the suspicion that was tugging at the back of her mind. "The sun was directly above us just a few minutes ago," she said aloud. "So how can it be sunset already?"
Mars turned expectantly toward the shadow, which was nearly invisible in the darkness. "You know what's going on here, don't you?" When the shadow failed once again to acknowledge her question, she gave its arm a sharp jerk, watching with some satisfaction as it stumbled. "I want some answers, and I don't care if you have to say them in sign language, or charades, or write in the sand with your finger!" The shadow held its hand in front of its face as if seeing it for the first time. Perhaps it was. "Who or what are you?" Mars asked it. "And where is this place?"
The shadow seemed to turn its head to look at her, then bent down and traced in the sand with the index finger of the hand that wasn't still holding Mars' tightly. Mars squatted to look at the character that it was drawing, leaning to get the most out of what little light remained in the landscape. It was a kanji that she was quite familiar with, having painted it on countless sleep charms that had been sold to interested Cherry Hill Shrine patrons: DREAM.
"You mean this is a dream?" she asked quietly. Yet even as she asked the question, pieces began to fall into place. This world - the desert with its blazing heat - had been some sort of metaphor symbolizing her struggle to survive in the real world. The quicksand was the embodiment of death, creeping up to swallow her, and this vague shadow was what little remained of her life. And now she was whole once again, joined with the thread of life. She had won the battle... but.... "Why am I still here?" she asked. "How do I get back? How do I wake up from this dream?"
The figure stood up swiftly and raised its hand to her cheek, applying a light pressure to tilt her head until she was staring into its featureless face. While she was too stunned to do anything, it moved its own head forward to meet hers, and she felt a soft pair of lips place a kiss right on her mouth. Mars quickly backed away, reaching up to wipe her mouth disgustedly on the back of her arm, but midway through the motion, her muscles went limp and she collapsed to the sand, paralyzed. The world went dark, and everything began to fade... sights, sounds, smells....
"Why?" she whispered as she lay helplessly on the cold desert floor, the strong hand gripping hers the only sensation that remained to her. Then, the hand let go, and was gone. She reached out for it with her last ounce of strength, but it was no longer there. She was in total void - a disembodied mind. "Did I make the wrong choice?" she asked, and the words floated in her awareness, having nowhere outside of her to go.
"Am I... gone?"
The darkness was total, and went on for eternity. But at the end of it all, there was a voice. A young, innocent voice that reminded her of herself as a child. "Sailor Mars!" it said desperately. "Are you all right?"
She could feel her body again. The hard pavement under her shoulder blades and buttocks was hot, but not nearly so much so as the hot... something she'd just been... what was she doing again?
Oh, right. She was trying to get to the place in her vision, the place where her friends would die if she wasn't there to stop the creature she'd seen... the creature! She sat bolt upright, only now beginning to feel and smell the sweat pouring down her face. The vision was back, and more urgent than ever.
"Yay! You're awake!" cheered the voice, and Mars finally opened her eyes and turned to face its source. A young girl, about six by Mars' estimation, stood beside her with a half-excited, half-concerned look on her face. "Are you all right?" the girl asked again. "Your clothes are all bloody."
Mars' hand crept up to her side, where she expected to feel the pain of her injury... but her side felt just fine, and she could detect no sign of a wound under the patch of dried blood that stained her fuku. She was still a bit dizzy, but it seemed to be getting better rather than worse as she moved. "Yeah, I'm fine," she replied.
"I'm so glad you're all right!" said the girl. "I'm a big fan! You're my favorite Sailor Scout!"
"Thanks, kid," Mars said curtly as she stood up slowly, easing herself through the motions while paying attention for the first sign of the expected pain that never came.
"Are you fighting a big, evil monster?" the young girl asked excitedly.
"I think so," Mars replied. "You'd better get indoors. Things could get really nasty soon."
The girl seemed about to argue, but instead bravely nodded, deciding to take the sage advice of her greatest hero. She ran toward a nearby house, screaming, "Mommy! Mommy! Guess who I just talked to!"
Mars felt obligated to sigh nostalgically at the reminder of the innocence of youth before focusing on the vision and setting off again, this time at full health. Now, she knew that she would reach her friends in time, and nothing could stop her!
Jupiter could do nothing but stare up at Ryoko as the space pirate swooped down at supersonic speed to slice her head in half. However, the anticipated sword-swing never came. Just before Ryoko came within melee range of Jupiter, something long, thin, and black intercepted her, smacking her in the side just below the ribcage and diverting her flight path into the street next to Jupiter. She smashed a crater in the street's surface as she landed, kicking up a huge cloud of black dust. Jupiter coughed as her eyes traced the black rod to its source.
Tuxedo Mask stood at the mouth of the alley adjacent to the warehouse, holding his cane in striking position with one hand and his ribs with the other. The cane retracted as he ran to Jupiter's side. "Sailor Jupiter, are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine, thanks to you," she replied. "What about you? Are you okay?"
Tuxedo Mask nodded. "I'll live."
"That's what you think," said Ryoko's voice from the dust cloud. The orange glow of her sword shone from the depths of the cloud even before she stepped into view, the oddly refracting light casting strangely upon her face to bring out her rage all the more clearly. "I wasn't going to kill you before, but now you've pissed me off!"
Tuxedo Mask had begun to raise his cane to block even before Ryoko swung her sword, but still barely parried in time. Ryoko didn't even pause before following up with another swing, then another, forcing Tuxedo Mask to back away as he blocked each one. Ryoko advanced boldly as Tuxedo Mask retreated, steering him toward the nearest wall.
As Ryoko stepped past Jupiter, Jupiter leapt forward to grab Ryoko from behind in a bear hug. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" she shouted, sending a surge of electricity through Ryoko's body. The jolt sent Ryoko's body into spasms, allowing Tuxedo Mask to smack her in the stomach with his cane. Ryoko staggered backwards from the blow, screaming in pain, but managed through sheer strength of will to gain enough control of her arms to reach down and pry Jupiter's arms away from her body. She bent forward and hurled Jupiter over her shoulders, still holding Jupiter's hands so that she could drive her knee into the back of the Sailor Scout's head as she flipped forward. Jupiter hit the ground hard and did not rise.
Having dealt with the immediate threat of Jupiter's electricity, Ryoko returned her attention to her remaining opponent, but she was a bit too late. As she looked up, she felt the end of Tuxedo Mask's cane plow into her stomach, pushing her backwards as it continued to extend. She tried to roll out of its path, but it was moving too quickly for her to do anything but go along for the ride. She felt her back hit a solid object, and let herself sink into it before the cane could crush her insides.
Tuxedo Mask quickly retracted his cane as he saw Ryoko vanish into the brick wall, then knelt next to Jupiter and shook her. "Jupiter, wake up!" he urged her.
Jupiter sluggishly opened her eyes. "Huh? What...? Tuxedo...." Then she sobered in an instant and quickly turned her head, searching the area for signs of her opponent. "Where's Ryoko?"
"I think she ran away," replied Tuxedo Mask. "She disappeared into a wall."
Jupiter leapt to her feet. "She could be in the ground! We have to get somewhere -"
Tuxedo Mask's cry of alarm cut her off as Ryoko's hands grabbed his ankles and began to pull him into the ground. Jupiter reached for his arms with a cry of "Tuxedo!" and managed to get her fingers around his wrists, but it felt like she was trying to hold a cloud. Her hands slipped right through his arms as if he were a ghost.
"Jupiter, help!" he cried as he continued to descend. "Do something!"
Panicking, Jupiter grabbed at the first idea to cross her mind. "Brace yourself, Tuxedo Mask!" she warned, stretching her hands into his chest. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!"
As the electricity arced from her hands, she willed it to pass through Tuxedo Mask's body as quickly as possible and into Ryoko, but Tuxedo Mask still screamed in pain as her attack coursed through him. Jupiter nearly broke off her attack at the sound, but reminded herself of how narrowly she had escaped being trapped underground and summoned all of her determination to protect Tuxedo Mask from that fate.
Seconds later, as Tuxedo Mask's screams crescendoed to a peak, he popped out of the ground, knocking Jupiter to the street as he landed on top of her. Ryoko flew straight up into the sky, trailing thick black smoke like a screaming snake. When she stopped nearly a hundred feet above the street and the smoke swirled upward to surround her, a bright orange glow provided a beacon to show her position within the cloud. "You bitch!" Ryoko screamed, her voice on the verge of cracking. "Why won't you just die?"
The fireball flew straight at Jupiter, and she pushed at Tuxedo Mask to move his dead weight off her body so that she could dodge the attack. At first, he was too heavy to move, but as the fireball drew close enough for Jupiter to feel its heat, Tuxedo Mask rolled over on his own. He swung his cane upward at the incoming projectile, deflecting it like a baseball into the street several yards away.
"So you're still alive too," Ryoko noted aloud as the smoke around her began to dissipate, giving the observers below a clear view of her blackened face and hair. "Then try these on for size!" Ryoko charged up fireballs in both hands and launched them in rapid succession, sending a volley of dozens of fireballs toward Tuxedo Mask. The caped fighter held his cane above himself and spun it in his fingers like a propeller, creating a virtual shield which reflected the projectiles right back at Ryoko, who was forced to dodge her own shots as they flew back up, spreading themselves out due to the erratic reflection.
As Ryoko danced from side to side in the air, fitting easily through the gaps between the incoming fireballs, she charged up another shot, watching the fighters below for the best opportunity to release it with what she hoped would be enough power to explode on impact rather than being reflected by Tuxedo Mask's makeshift shield. A fireball blocked her view for a second, and she spun around it, quickly reorienting herself on the figures below - but only Tuxedo Mask was there, his cane at the ready to defend himself even after Jupiter had escaped. Ryoko turned in the air, searching for Jupiter on the ground. It was the prickling of the hairs on the back of her neck that drew her attention to her left side, and she reflexively raised her shield even as she turned to see the bolt of lightning strike the invisible wall harmlessly. She let out a relieved sigh. Jupiter had almost managed to hit her with that sneak attack, but as the sparks disappeared, she could see the Sailor Scout in the street below, panting from her fatigue and helpless now that she was no longer under Tuxedo Mask's protective shield. Ryoko could feel the fire burning in her own eyes as she took aim and prepared to land at least one good hit before Jupiter could realize that her attack had failed.
The familiarly painful tip of Tuxedo Mask's cane stabbed into Ryoko's side before she could fire, catching her right below the ribs and impacting her already injured gut. The pain was so sharp and intense that Ryoko forgot about Jupiter completely until the next electric bolt shot through her body seconds later. Ryoko's muscles went into seizure as yet another gigawatt dose of electricity tore through her, and for a moment, she blacked out. She quickly came to, only to feel herself falling straight down. She did her best to recover, but only barely managed to right herself before she hit the ground; so instead of splitting her skull, the impact merely winded her and left her sprawled in the street, still twitching but otherwise unable to move.
Jupiter fell to her knees to catch her breath, keeping her gaze fixed on Ryoko's smoking form in case her opponent still had any fight left in her. Ryoko continued to shudder as occasional sparks arced across her body, but there was no other hint of movement or sign of life at all. Cautiously, Jupiter crawled forward to examine the body, but a shout from Tuxedo Mask stopped her. "Stay back, Sailor Jupiter!" he shouted, pointing his cane at Ryoko and extending it into her side again, evoking a groan of pain as the impact flipped her over.
Ryoko finally sat up, keeping her head bowed. Her right arm continued to twitch involuntarily, forcing her to hold herself up with only her left arm. Her eyes, when she opened them, were the only part of her body that was not blackened and burnt, and her wheezing breaths were audible even from a distance. While Tuxedo Mask prepared his cane for another blow, Ryoko turned her head to look first at Jupiter, then at Tuxedo Mask. "All right," she whispered, ending her sentence with a coughing fit. She had to take a deep breath before she could continue speaking. "I give up. I didn't think you two could beat me, but I guess I underestimated you."
"What are you going to do now?" asked Jupiter, holding up a hand to warn Tuxedo Mask not to attack again. He seemed anxious to finish off their opponent, but something told Jupiter that it would be wiser to hold back as long as Ryoko was unable to fight.
Ryoko leaned forward as if to stand up, but either decided against it in mid-motion or was simply unable to get to her feet and remained sitting on the ground. "I don't really have a choice, do I? I have to retreat for now." She forced her charred lips into a smile. "Don't worry. I'll be back sooner or later, and then I'll kill you." The ground under her opened up into a black hole, and Ryoko descended into it.
"She's getting away!" shouted Tuxedo Mask as he ran toward the hole, but it closed before he could get even halfway there.
Jupiter heaved a sigh of relief as the hole closed and vanished. "She's gone," she said in a tone that lacked all of Tuxedo Mask's regret.
Tuxedo Mask kicked angrily at the ground where Ryoko had escaped. The sudden movement pulled at his insides, causing the dull pain he'd been ignoring to flare at once. He fell to his knees, clutching his stomach. Jupiter was at his side in a flash. "Are you all right, Tuxedo Mask?" she asked.
Tuxedo Mask shook his head. "I feel like I've been cooked...."
Jupiter blushed. "Sorry about that. It was the only way I could think of to save you...."
Tuxedo Mask nodded appreciatively. "I know... it's not that I'm ungrateful or anything. It just really hurts."
Jupiter winced. "Are you going to be okay?"
"I don't think it's serious," he replied. "I'll get back to the warehouse on my own. You need to get back to the others. It's already been way too long."
Jupiter hesitated at the thought of leaving Tuxedo Mask on his own, but he was right; the other Scouts were fighting for their lives, and needed all the help they could get. "All right," she agreed. "I'll be back soon. Take care of yourself, okay?"
"You're the one who's going to be in danger," he reminded her. But Jupiter was already on her way to the confrontation with the new enemy, and didn't bother to reply. Tuxedo Mask sighed, shook his head, and then began the painful trek back to his hiding place. "Good luck, Sailor Jupiter," he said to himself. "I have a feeling you're going to need it."
For what seemed like an hour, Ranma sat in the street holding Lina's body, completely ignoring the Sailor Scouts who were watching him. He could feel her heart beating, and see her chest very slightly rising and falling with her breathing; but no matter how hard he shook her, no matter how many times he called her name, she did not wake up. Just like that, when he had finally found someone he could feel safe confiding in, she was gone. Somehow, it hurt in a way that losing Akane hadn't. It had been bad enough seeing Akane in a state of non-death, motionless but alive, from which she would awaken as soon as the crystal was deactivated. But there was no crystal keeping Lina in her comatose state.
Ranma looked down upon the lifeless face of his erstwhile partner, and felt all of the familiar mixed emotions surge through his heart. On an impulse, he let the fingers of his right hand rest on her cheek, using his thumb to gently wipe the dribble of blood from her lips. It smeared slightly across her mouth and chin, but Ranma found himself staring at the stained lips intently, and the feelings within him deepened. He closed his eyes, but could still see every detail of her face. His mind wiped the blood away and breathed color back into her pale cheeks, life into her glassy eyes, and the spark of vitality into her beautiful lips....
A puff of warm air touched Ranma's chin, and he opened his eyes to see what it was. He got quite a shock to see Lina's face inches from his own, her eyes wide open in surprise. He could feel her breath on his lips, and blood rushed to his face as he realized what he had been about to do. His muscles tensed as he prepared to be punched into the lower ionosphere. However, Lina seemed to be in too much shock to do anything. Ranma froze in place, trying to figure out what he should do. His throat had seized up so that speaking was out of the question. As for shifting his position to something a bit more comfortable... if he moved any closer, he really would be kissing her, but he couldn't bring himself to back away.
A few seconds later, Lina solved the dilemma by arching her back and groaning in pain. Ranma had to adjust his grip to avoid dropping her. "Lina! Are you all right?"
Lina coughed, spraying blood all over herself. "I don't think I'm going to last much longer," she whispered. "I can feel my energy... draining away."
"Why?" Ranma asked again. "What's wrong with you?"
"I should have noticed it sooner," replied Lina. "I can't feel the monster realm any more. It must have happened when Mewtwo revived me... it didn't repair the link between myself and my world. So ever since then, every time I used my magic, I was using my own power. And while monsters have so much power that they don't miss the occasional Fireball or Dragon Slave..." - she had to pause for breath - "... humans can't sustain that type of power for very long. I used way too much... and now...." Her eyes rolled back into her head.
"NO!" shouted Ranma, shaking her up and down. "Don't you dare die!"
"That's... not helping..." Lina said, offering no resistance to the buffeting she was receiving at Ranma's hands. She coughed again, but it was weaker this time. "I strained myself... too much."
"Don't talk!" advised Ranma. "Don't try to move! Don't even breathe!" Lina gasped and began to choke. "No, wait! Breathe! Breathe!" He tilted her head back and placed his mouth over hers, forcing air down her throat. When he sat up, she coughed up another throatful of blood and then collapsed. Ranma felt his own lungs weakening as he helplessly watched Lina die in his arms.
Sailor Venus, meanwhile, was cradling a body at the other side of the street, praying that there was still time. "Wake up, Sailor Moon!" she begged. "Please, hurry!"
Sailor Moon slowly, weakly opened her eyes. "Venus... what happened to me?"
"You're awake!" Venus cheered gratefully. "I'm so relieved!" She lifted Sailor Moon into a sitting position. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm pretty tired," Sailor Moon admitted. "I don't remember what happened, but I hurt all over...."
"Can you still use your power?" Venus asked desperately, only now considering the possibility that Sailor Moon might not have the power she would need.
Sailor Moon flexed her arms experimentally. "I think so. Where's the enemy?"
Venus took a deep breath. This was going to be the hard part.... "I don't want you to fight them this time, Sailor Moon."
"What do you mean?"
"Amelia's dying," replied Venus, her voice cracking as she heard the words coming out of her own mouth. "You have to use your power to save her. You have to!"
"Amelia...?" Sailor Moon mulled the name over. "She's the one who's fighting us, isn't she?"
"I know she's our enemy," Venus agreed. "But she's not evil! I can feel how much she and Ranma love each other. There's no way someone evil could have a love like that!"
Sailor Moon smiled. "Don't worry, Venus. I could never let anyone die if I could save them, even if they were an enemy."
Sailor Venus' eyes sparkled. "Thank you, Sailor Moon!"
Sailor Moon stood up, seemingly much stronger than she had been before, and walked across the street to kneel beside Lina. Ranma's hackles rose as she approached. "Don't you dare touch her!" he warned, clenching a fist.
"It's okay," Sailor Moon assured him. "I'm here to help."
"What do you mean?" asked Ranma, not lowering his guard.
"I can save her," replied Sailor Moon.
Ranma glanced down at Lina, then back at Sailor Moon. "Why should I trust you?" he asked.
"You don't have a choice," Sailor Moon reminded him. "If I don't heal her quickly, she'll die."
"That's not what I meant," countered Ranma. "We're trying to kill you. Why would you want to help us?"
"Because WE'RE not trying to kill YOU," replied Sailor Moon. "We fight to protect the innocent... and if you really wanted to kill us, we'd be dead already. You've been holding back all this time, whether you knew it or not."
"Believe what you want," Ranma said defensively. Then, relenting, he laid Lina on the ground and backed away. "If you can help her, then do it."
Sailor Moon nodded and held the Moon Crescent Wand over Lina's chest. "I hope I'm not too late," she whispered, concentrating her power into the Imperium Silver Crystal.
As the healing power from the crystal washed over her, Lina opened her eyes. She gave a start as she saw Sailor Moon sitting over her and tried to leap to her feet, but her body was still too weak to move. "What are you doing to me?" she demanded, her voice a bare murmur.
"Hold still," Sailor Moon told her. "I can feel the hole in your spirit. Let me heal it."
"Don't," begged Lina. "Just let me die."
"What?!" exclaimed Ranma.
"If you heal me," Lina continued with a sinister smile, "I'll kill you."
"That's not the way the Sailor Scouts work," said Sailor Moon, returning Lina's smile warmly. "Sailor Venus tells me you have a good heart, and I can believe her."
"Good, bad, it doesn't matter," Lina pointed out, closing her eyes blissfully as the healing began to take effect. "One Fireball, and you'll die just the same."
"Then I guess I'll have to worry about that when the time comes," said Sailor Moon. "Right now, your life is all that's important."
"You're still going to heal her, even though she threatened you?" asked Ranma.
"I know it doesn't seem to make sense," agreed Sailor Moon, "but I believe there's a way to settle our situation without having to kill each other."
"You don't know how much I want to believe that," said Ranma.
A hand patted Ranma on the shoulder. "You're worried about the girl that Queen Beryl's holding hostage, aren't you?"
Ranma turned to face Venus. "How did you know about Akane?" he asked.
"Amelia told me why you guys are fighting," Venus replied.
"Amelia? You mean Lina?" Ranma looked back at his partner to see that most of the color had returned to her face. "That's right. You guys were friends."
"We still are," Venus corrected him. "I can't blame you or Ame- I mean, Lina, for fighting us. I can feel how strong your love for your friends is. You're doing what you think you have to do to save them."
"And you've got a better idea?" asked Ranma skeptically.
Venus shook her head sadly. "Not really. But I know there has to be a way! Sailor Mercury's the smart one. If you told her everything, she'd be able to think of a way to save your friends...."
"They'd be dead before we could get to Sailor Mercury," said Ranma. "Queen Beryl's watching us, and the second she thinks we're no good to her, she'll kill them."
Venus wiped a film of tears from her eyes. "I know... but there has to be a way...."
Ranma shook his head. "Sorry, but I have to agree with Lina. Once your friend's finished healing Lina, we're going to have to go back to fighting you."
"Please, give us a chance!" urged Venus. "I know we can help you!"
Before Ranma could respond, Lina sat up abruptly and rubbed her head. "Ow... never thought being healed could be so painful." At the same time, Sailor Moon collapsed, unconscious.
"Are you okay, Lina?" asked Ranma.
Lina stood up and flexed her arms experimentally. "Well, I think my body's healed fully. But I'd better check my magic."
"Careful," warned Ranma as Lina extended her arm to the sky. "If it's not working properly, you could hurt yourself again!"
"I'm just going to use something small," Lina assured him. A ball of light appeared over her hand and glowed brightly. "Didn't feel a thing," she announced proudly. She lowered her arm and aimed at Sailor Moon. "Now for one with a bit more power...."
"STOP IT!" Venus leapt up and shoulder-charged Lina before she could power up an attack spell. The two girls landed in a heap with Venus on top.
Lina roughly pushed Venus off and sat up. "What was that about not wanting to fight?" she asked pointedly.
"How could you?" Venus demanded in answer. "Sailor Moon just saved your life, and she gave you back your power! And now you want to kill her?"
"I warned her," replied Lina. "I can't go easy on you just because she saved my life. In fact, we'd all be better off if she'd just let me die. Then my nightmare would be over...."
"No! Don't say that!" shouted Ranma. "We're in this together, remember?"
"If that's the case," said Lina, "then help me kill them."
Ranma hesitated, then raised his hands. "All right. Let's do it."
Venus pointed her finger at the pair threateningly as she stepped between them and Sailor Moon. "I don't want to hurt you," she reminded them, "but I will if I have to!"
"Bring it on," invited Lina. "That little beam of yours doesn't stand up to my Burst Rondo."
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" shouted Venus, sending a beam past Lina's ear, missing by inches. "I won't miss next time!" she warned.
Lina's mouth curled into an evil grin. "I plan to score a hit with my first shot," she said.
Venus' finger twitched.
Lina's bicep flexed.
A bead of sweat appeared on Venus' forehead.
A similar bead oozed out from behind Lina's headband.
Ranma held his breath, afraid that the slightest stimulus could provoke either one of the other combatants and leave him in the middle of a deadly crossfire.
Sailor Moon stirred, and everything seemed to happen at once. Lina's jewelry began to glow, and her fingers curled around a growing ball of fire. Venus grabbed her right forearm with her left hand, bracing her aching arm in preparation for another shot. Ranma took a defensive position, steeling himself for whatever errant attack would inevitably end up flying his way.
Lina looked up to adjust her aim, and her eyes met those of Sailor Venus. They were eyes full of determination, and Lina knew that if she wanted to attack Sailor Moon, she would have to get through Venus first. Yet there was hesitation in those eyes, too. As much as Venus was determined to protect her fallen comrade, it was quite likely that she would sooner die than risk hurting Lina. Well, that was fine with Lina Inverse....
As Lina tensed her arm, she noticed that Venus' firing arm was shaking in fear. Whether she was afraid of death, or afraid of having to attack a former friend, Lina couldn't tell. But one thing was certain. She couldn't afford to back down again! Not after what had happened after the last battle, when she'd had the Sailor Scouts in her sights and passed up the chance to finish them....
Suddenly, something felt very wrong with the entire situation. It took Lina a few seconds to notice that the Fireball she'd been charging up had dissipated. Sailor Venus had lowered her arm, and was merely staring inquisitively at Lina. Lina glanced over at Ranma without moving her head, to see the same blank look echoed on his face. She felt that look coming over herself as well. How long had she zoned out?
Long enough, apparently. Sailor Moon seemed to have recovered most of her strength. She sat up and looked around. "Venus... Lina and Ranma... what's going on? Are you guys fighting already?"
"Be careful, Sailor Moon!" warned Venus as she returned her arm to the firing position. "I think they're trying to catch us off guard or something!"
Sailor Moon pulled her legs in to stand up. "Don't worry, Sailor Venus. I'll help you...." With those words, she lost her balance and landed on her butt. "Just give me a second...."
Lina could hardly believe it. They were so pathetic, and yet they would give everything to protect each other. It was almost noble. But she couldn't stop to admire them! This was her opportunity! She had to kill them! But there was so much running through her mind... and she felt so dizzy....
Without warning, Lina collapsed as if in a faint, barely giving Ranma time to catch her. "Lina!" he shouted. "What's wrong now?"
"I think maybe you were right," Lina replied in a weak voice. "It's a bit too soon to use my power. We'd better get out of here and rest for a while."
"I don't know if we should let them go," said Ranma. "We're never going to get another chance like this...."
"Mewtwo will take care of them for us," Lina assured him. "I don't think I can fight them anymore."
"Same here," agreed Ranma, and at that moment, Lina didn't know whether his reason was the same as hers or not. But she didn't dwell on the question for long. A bit of mental effort opened a portal to the Negaverse, and they stepped through it together, letting it close behind them.
Venus let her arm fall to her side in surprise. "I don't get it," she said. "I really thought she was going to kill us that time!"
"I'm not planning to complain," said Sailor Moon. "I think we should just be thankful and get back to the others before it's too late."
"I just don't understand," continued Venus, completely ignoring Sailor Moon. "Something's driving her to fight us, but I don't think it's her love. Her feelings are too confused. That must be why she didn't kill us when she had the chance."
"What are you talking about?" asked Sailor Moon.
Venus clasped a fist over her heart. "I don't know," she replied honestly. "Both of them are so sad, but... there's something different about Lina's pain. I've never felt anything like it before."
Sailor Moon put her hand reassuringly on Venus' shoulder. "We'll find a way to help them. But right now, we have a problem of our own to take care of."
Venus nodded. "You're right. Let's go, Sailor Moon!"
"Well, what's going on?" Beryl asked anxiously as she stared into the crystal ball. She hated having to ask the question, but it always seemed as if Chronite could see so much more in it than she could. While she could only watch one part of the battle, he could report on every thread of the action simultaneously. She knew better than to let jealousy get the better of her over such a trivial matter - As if! Jealous of a mere servant? Certainly not! - but it still irked her that she was forced to defer to a subordinate for information. Not only that, but Momiji's body was much shorter than her own had been, forcing Beryl to look up into Chronite's face. She didn't like that at all.
Chronite seemed to take no notice of Beryl's mental state, delivering his report in a level tone. "It appears that all of the Sailor Scouts are out of trouble for the moment, and most of our troops have returned to the Negaverse beaten. They're keeping their distance from us while they nurse their wounds. On the plus side, Mewtwo is searching for the Sailor Scouts now. Once he finds them, it will all be over."
"I'm glad you're optimistic about this," Beryl said facetiously. "What I've seen from you so far gives me no reason to believe this fighter will be any different from the others."
"Just have patience, Queen Beryl," Chronite assured her. "There is no way the Sailor Scouts can defeat Mewtwo."
"For your sake, I hope you're right." The threat didn't sound nearly as intimidating as she'd hoped, as her voice still carried that annoying air of innocence. She was beginning to think that Momiji had never been angry in her life, leaving her vocal cords incapable of forming her favorite tones.
The air opened behind them, and Beryl and Chronite turned in tandem to see who had intruded upon their vigil. However, all they saw was the blackness of the Negaverse as the portal closed. The only hint that anyone was there at all was the heavy, rasping breathing.
"Show yourself!" Beryl demanded of the darkness. The crystal on her chest began to glow, filling her with power.
"I think I see something," said Chronite, squinting into the darkness. Indeed, he could barely make out the dark outline of a human figure in the dim blue light from Beryl's mitama.... "Mistress 9!"
"Sailor Saturn?" asked Beryl, as the dark Sailor Scout's shadow gave way to reveal her normal uniform. "Where have you been? What happened to you?"
Sailor Saturn looked up at Beryl, giving the Queen of the Negaverse a momentary glimpse of her bone-white face, just long enough to utter two words before collapsing to the ground: "Too... strong...."
Beryl stared down at the fallen Scout with disdain bordering on disgust. "I asked you a question, Sailor Saturn! Tell me what happened to you!"
Chronite bent down to listen to Saturn's shallow breathing. "She's barely alive. I don't think she's in any condition to answer you, Queen Beryl."
"I don't care what condition she's in!" shouted Beryl. "I will have my answer! Wake her up!"
"The strain might very well kill her at this point," argued Chronite. "Her body is too weak even to move." He tapped her side with his foot, provoking no response. "I'm surprised she made it back to the Negaverse alive."
"Back from where?" asked Beryl. "What was she doing that weakened her this much?"
"With that sick body of hers, it could be anything," Chronite shot back. "You'll just have to wait until she's recovered her energy."
Beryl stiffened. "You'd best watch your tone, Chronite! I'll make you wish you were in her place if you raise your voice to me again!" Her mitama began to glow again, giving her at least some satisfaction.
Chronite snarled back, stifling his temper. "As you command," he spat in his calmest tone. "Perhaps you would prefer to return to your globe. I'm sure you don't want to miss the moment when Mewtwo tears the Sailor Scouts apart."
Beryl stood still, searching for a way to appear to have the upper hand. "Very well," she said at last. "I have no time for invalids. Take care of her, Chronite. I must return to my throne." She spun around abruptly, causing her skirt to rise high enough to give Chronite a brief glimpse of her panties.
Chronite turned his nose up at Beryl's back as she vanished into the darkness. "So... you went out on your own, eh, 9?" he asked once he was sure Beryl couldn't overhear him. "What were you thinking? That body's not suited for fighting. You could barely throw a punch without keeling over!" He sighed, while Saturn merely lay there and slept. "Still, to weaken you this much, it would have to have been someone very powerful. Only a Guardian of Time could stand a chance against you in a fight. But you wouldn't have been foolish enough to challenge Sailor Pluto face to face, would you?" His face darkened. "I don't like uncertainty, 9. Beryl may be willing to put up with you, but I'm the one who brought you here. You don't want to make me regret that decision."
Having spoken his mind to the comatose girl, Chronite faded into the darkness in search of Beryl. After all, he couldn't let her get too comfortable in his absence....