The battle against Mewtwo reaches its climax as Mewtwo realizes its full power and its true purpose.
Chapter 15: Strangers in a Familiar Place
It just wasn't fair.
It would have been fine by Ranma if this world was totally different from his own - after all, who would have expected two completely separate worlds to have anything in common? He still held out hopes that, when this whole Sailor Scout mess was taken care of (and how could Mewtwo possibly fail, said Lina), he'd be able to return to his own world and everything would return to normal. It would be just another event in his life, like the pit of cats, the battle with Pantyhose Taro, the period when he'd been trapped in his cursed form.... Sure, he REMEMBERED them all, but they were all just parts of the past. Although the pit had had some lasting effects....
Likewise, it would have been an extremely pleasant surprise to find that this world was the same as his own. If he were to find Ukyo, Ryoga, Shampoo, the Tendo family, and even his various enemies living in this world, it would have meant an even sooner return to normalcy, which was far from the worst fate imaginable. Not even the prospect of bumping into an exact twin of himself - possibly accompanied by a duplicate Akane - could make him feel any less at home in such a situation. Heck, he'd welcome any help they could lend him in defeating the Sailor Scouts and returning to his own world.
But this... what he'd found sickened him, even though there was really nothing wrong with it at all. The world of the Sailor Scouts did indeed have a Nerima district; and what was more, all of the familiar landmarks were in the same places as those in Ranma's world. However, they were only tantalizingly similar enough to remind him of home without being at all comforting.
The first stop had been Ucchan's restaurant, where he'd been planning to stop for an okonomiyaki, if the place existed. The small food stand was there, but the banner read "Yamashita Ice Cream". Ranma had sighed sadly at the sight, which had been all the confirmation he'd needed that none of his friends would exist in this world. He didn't know why he'd even bothered to keep looking, but it was comforting to blame his own stubborn streak for refusing to believe that any Nerima could exist without at least one person or place he recognized.
His next stop had been the Tendo Dojo of Anything-Goes Martial Arts, which was now the proud home of the Terada Dojo of Advanced-Level Judo. From what little he could see over the wall, the house itself was exactly the same as he remembered, but the dojo building had some rather ornate carvings at the edges of the roof, and occupied more than half of the backyard. No more koi pond to get dunked in every morning if he lived there... and, judging by the fact that this family apparently had enough income to warrant a larger, well-constructed dojo, probably a long succession of noisy students practicing at all hours. He could only imagine what Akane would think of that. Enough people to test her skills against that she wouldn't have to keep comparing herself to him... might be just what she needed to loosen up a bit.
The Cat CafÃ© was still serving ramen, but its name was now "Sunflower Ramen" and the older girl acting as the restaurant's greeter was distinctly Japanese. She had bowed slightly to him as he approached the restaurant front, but he hadn't planned to go in. The ramen experience just wouldn't be the same when there was no fighting going on in the restaurant and the proprietor wasn't plotting another random scheme to make him marry her great-granddaughter. He'd noticed a newspaper box out front of the restaurant and had peered through the glass at the front page. Not surprisingly, it had prominently featured a blurry picture of the Sailor Scouts fighting Kusanagi, taken from the video camera mounted on a nearby ATM.
At first glance, Furinkan High School hadn't changed much. Even the nameplate still read "Furinkan" under the coating of spray paint. But the gates were closed and locked, since school was out for the day, and there were no statues of the principal visible on the grounds. Ranma was willing to bet that he wouldn't find a single coconut anywhere on the property, either. Of course, he hadn't dared to climb over the gate to see - even if they weren't crazy freaks from Hawaii, principals could still be dangerous people to cross. Instead, he'd passed quickly by and proceeded to the nearby site of Dr. Tofu's clinic, which housed a massage parlor in this world. That wasn't too great a stretch, given the doctor's intimate knowledge of pressure point techniques.
He'd even gone as far as the Kuno mansion, which, now that he had a reason to notice, was rather close to the Juuban district. The mansion still stood, in all its splendor, but the grounds didn't look very well tended. An elderly woman (who, oddly enough, wasn't washing her sidewalk) had told him that the mansion had belonged to millionaire playboy Maxfield Stanton until his mysterious disappearance a few months earlier. That news had left Ranma scratching his head. Was it possible that the disappearance had something to do with the house itself? And more importantly, might it also happen at the parallel location in his own world? Probably not. That would just be TOO convenient.
And so it was a thoroughly disillusioned Ranma who aimlessly wandered the streets of Nerima, staring at the buildings that he knew so well even though not a one of them was the same. The barbershop was a flower shop, the toy shop was a candy shop, the McDonald's was a Taco Bell.... It was like a ghost town, despite the many people he saw in the streets and stores. It was Nerima, but it wasn't Nerima.
"Hey," said Lina's voice from over his shoulder. "What are you doing way out here?"
He sighed. "Just looking around."
"You said you were going out to eat," Lina reminded him.
"I wasn't hungry," replied Ranma. "I was just checking out the old neighborhood."
Lina stared at him curiously for a few seconds, until she realized what he meant. "Oh! This is where you live, in your world?"
He nodded. "Yes and no. I live here... but this place isn't where I live." He looked up at her for the first time and was surprised to see her wearing her Grass Valley Junior High uniform. Of course, it was obvious why she was wearing it - she couldn't very well walk the streets of Tokyo in her full sorceress garb - but it was his first time getting a good look at it. He hadn't paid much attention to it when he'd seen it before, in the gym at Crossroads, since there she'd been just another face in a sea of girls all wearing exactly the same uniform. But now that she was standing right in front of him, he couldn't help noticing that she looked very good in it. There was something about school uniforms that worked to the advantage of a girl without much in the chest area.
With a start, he realized that she was growing uncomfortable under his stare, and quickly picked up the conversation where he'd left it. "So, what about you? Where do you live in your world?"
"I don't really have a home," she replied. "I wander from place to place in search of treasure."
"Oh, right. So you said before."
Lina swept her arm in a grand gesture that took in not only the local scenery, but the tall structures in the distance as well. "This Tokyo place... there's nothing like it in my world. Buildings as tall as the ones they have around here are all centers of magic, and there's rarely more than one in any city. They're always either the home of a powerful monster, or a tower built by someone who desperately needed to show off and had plenty of money and magic to spare. They always go eccentric and end up filling the place with traps and sticking a treasure at the end of it that's never worth the trouble of getting it."
"Sounds like you've been to a lot of them," noted Ranma.
Lina shrugged. "It's what I do." She looked up at the Taco Bell that they were standing in front of. "Are you sure you don't want to eat something?"
It took Ranma a few seconds to realize that she didn't intend to eat WITH him... or did she? With girls, he could never tell. In truth, he was getting a bit hungry, but he had to take the safe option. "I'm fine. We should get back to the Negaverse and wait to see what happens with Mewtwo."
Lina seemed disappointed at his answer, but he could have been imagining it. "All right." She waved her arm and opened a portal, and they stepped through before anyone could notice it. The now-familiar darkness of the Negaverse swallowed them as the portal closed. They'd become so used to the setting by now that it no longer depressed them, but Ranma was still grateful to have Lina nearby. He could only imagine what it had been like waiting there while he explored Nerima at his leisure. "Did Ryoko get back yet?" he asked her.
"Not as far as I know," she replied. "Not that the Negaverse is short of places to hide. She could have gotten back before we did, and I wouldn't know."
Something in her voice made Ranma think that she was irritated, most likely as a result of his question. But why would that be? Maybe she was still out of sorts after being dead.... Oh, right. There was a question he'd been supposed to ask before asking about Ryoko. "So, how are you feeling?"
That relieved the mood a bit. "I'm feeling a lot better after Sailor Moon fixed me up. As you noticed, I can hold the disguise spell." She chanted under her breath, and the school uniform dissolved into her usual outfit. "I honestly think my magic's completely back to normal."
"So you can throw fireballs and fly without killing yourself again?"
She nodded. "I tried a few spells over in the practice area. Even the Dragon Slave didn't hurt a bit when I cast it. I'd call that a pretty good indication that I'm okay."
"Might want to keep it quiet, though," advised Ranma. "If Beryl finds out that we're both in fighting form, we might have to go out there again."
Lina nodded morosely.
It seemed like as good a time as any to bring up his new idea. "I was thinking about something while I was walking around Nerima," said Ranma. "You and Ryoko and the other girl can all fly wherever you want, but I've gotta be carried everywhere."
Lina stated at him as if wondering whether he'd lost his mind. "You want me to try to teach you how to fly?"
"It would make things easier for you and Ryoko," he pointed out. "It can't really be that hard, can it?"
Lina sighed. "Sure, it's pretty simple as far as spells go, but learning to use magic period is a long and difficult process. Besides, you don't have a link to the monsters of my world. There's no way you could tap into their power."
"What about using my own power?" he suggested. "Didn't you say you could do that?"
"Sure, if you don't mind puking up blood," she replied. "Magic takes a lot more energy than you think. It'll tear your insides to shreds if you throw yourself at it too hard."
"Hey, I can control my energy," Ranma boasted. "Haven't you seen how much energy goes into the Moko Takabisha? And that barely tires me out anymore."
"But that's a blast of pure energy," Lina pointed out. "It's a one-to-one ratio. With magic, you're trying to use that energy to shape the world in ways that defy the laws of physics. That takes a lot more power and a lot more concentration. Even some of the most powerful sorcerers in the world can't cast anything bigger than a Mini Flare without tapping the monster realm for power."
"So how do you do that?" asked Ranma.
Lina shook her head emphatically. "Don't get involved with it, Ranma. Even if there is a way for you to tap into the power of monsters, don't try it. I've been down that road, and it's not a road you want to travel."
"I've never backed away from a challenge," stated Ranma.
"Back away from this one!" Lina snapped. "Didn't what I told you before sink in at all? I pray to the lords of darkness for power, Ranma! Is that really how you want to live?"
"It's only flying..." Ranma began.
"Just drop it," Lina warned, cutting him off. "I'm not going to let you soil yourself with dark power. You don't want to share my fate."
"What fate?" asked Ranma.
Lina's eyes darted to the ground in discomfort, but before she could explain, a hole opened a few feet from them, and Ryoko fell through it and landed on her stomach, groaning in pain. Her body was so blackened from head to toe that only her tail and spiked hair served to distinguish her from their other partner.
Ranma and Lina ran to her side. "Are you okay?" asked Ranma.
"Oh, sure," mumbled Ryoko. "I think I probably have about two minutes left to live. Just peachy."
"We've gotta help her!" Ranma said urgently. "Don't you know any healing magic?"
"A bit," Lina replied apologetically. "Enough for healing cuts and scrapes, mainly. I can't cure something like this."
"Don't worry about me," Ryoko said weakly. "I won't die from something like this. It just hurts more than getting zapped usually does...." She rolled over onto her back, wincing with each motion.
"I can heal her," said a deep voice from the darkness. Ranma squinted until he was able to make out the almost invisible outline that separated the girl in black's form from the rest of the darkness. She knelt beside Ryoko and placed her hands on the space pirate's chest. Within seconds, Ryoko's entire body began to emit a bright glow, and moments later, the glow faded, leaving Ryoko completely healed.
Ryoko sat bolt upright as soon as the hands left her. "Whoa... that's it?"
"Do you feel better, Ryoko?" asked Lina.
Ryoko flexed her fists, then patted herself in a few random places. "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear I'd never been hurt at all."
Ranma looked up at the girl in black and slowly nodded, impressed. "You seem to have quite a number of talents you haven't shown us yet," he noted.
Ryoko growled, preventing the girl from replying, if she had had any intention of doing so. "All right!" she shouted, leaping into the air to hover a few inches above the ground. "I'm going back out there to teach that bitch Jupiter a lesson!"
"I wouldn't," warned Lina. "Mewtwo's out there right now, probably dealing with all of the Sailor Scouts at once. We'd just get in the way."
"Nuts to that!" said Ryoko. "I want a piece of that action!" She opened a portal and lunged toward it.
"Idiot," said the girl in black, halting Ryoko in mid-flight. "You underestimate them."
"What are you talking about?" asked Ryoko.
"It's part of their power," explained the girl in black. "You don't think their ridiculous costumes actually help them fight, do you? The revealing clothes; naked transformations; long, flashy attacks... even the fact that all of the Sailor Scouts are female. They may seem like weaknesses, but they are all merely distractions designed to disguise the true strength of the Sailor Scouts. Their enemies all underestimate them, allowing the Sailor Scouts to seize the initiative and surprise their opponents with their full power."
"I've never considered being female a weakness," said Lina.
"I believe your words on the subject were 'They're just a bunch of girls with wimpy powers that even Sylphiel would laugh at. How could I possibly lose to them?'" the girl countered, in a tone that made the smile on her face quite evident.
"You're awfully talkative today," remarked Ryoko.
The girl in black fell characteristically silent.
When it was obvious that no response was forthcoming, Ryoko groaned and let the portal close and sat down in the air with her arms crossed. "Fine. Then I won't kill the Sailor Scouts. So what am I supposed to do for fun?"
Lina nudged Ranma. "Hey, maybe SHE can teach you how to fly!"
Ryoko's ears perked up. "Who can teach what now?"
"Well, look at yourself," said Lina. "You make flying look so natural."
"For me, it is," Ryoko replied with a slight shrug. "I just shift most of my body mass into the other dimension, where there's no gravity and I can move around just by thinking about it. I can go up, down, through walls, whatever. But the only way anyone else can do it is if I phase them out myself."
"Well, how did you learn to do it?" asked Ranma.
"I've always been able to," said Ryoko. "It's like breathing. I don't think about it. I just do it."
"I know how Ranma can fly," said the girl in black.
Ryoko turned to stare at the girl once again. "What CAN'T you do?"
The girl in black fell eerily silent at that, giving Ryoko the verbal equivalent of an angry glare. After what she felt was a sufficiently long pause, she stepped around Ryoko and stood in front of Ranma. "Do you want me to tell you how you can fly?"
"Do you even have to ask?" Ranma cracked his knuckles and bowed slightly. "So, what do I do?"
"It's a rather simple process, but it will not be easy," said the girl in black.
"I'm ready," Ranma said determinedly.
Lina and Ryoko watched with interest, curious to know how Ranma could fly without magic or access to another dimension.
"Very well," said the girl in black. "Gather your energy."
Ranma smirked. "Sounds easy so far." He concentrated, and an aura of light surrounded his body, illuminating everything within sight except the girl in black herself. Even the floor was visible as a swirl of dull colors in the brilliant light of Ranma's life energy.
The girl shook her head. "No, that's not it. You need to gather it in one place. It won't do you any good if the energy simply fills your entire body."
"Oh, gotcha. You mean my Moko Takabisha." The light faded in an instant, only to return in the form of a large ball in Ranma's hands.
"Better," agreed the girl. "Now, try it without using your hands."
The light vanished. "What do you mean, without my hands?" asked Ranma. "How else am I supposed to hold it?"
"The very fact that you have to ask that question proves that you lack the necessary control over your energy," she replied. "Using your hands is a mental crutch. Until you do away with it, you won't be able to take the next step."
Ranma dropped his hands to his sides and concentrated again. His body glowed dimly, but the ball of light didn't form. "You're really asking a lot, you know that?"
"I told you it wouldn't be easy," said the girl. She crossed her arms behind her back and, with no further visible effort, created a ball of dark energy in front of her chest almost twice as large as the one Ranma had made. Even the girl's body seemed distinctly luminous compared to the light-swallowing darkness of her life energy. "That's all there is to it. You'll just have to practice until you figure it out." The dark energy vanished, blinding the others as its disappearance left what seemed like a bright flash. "Let me know when you've learned that much." She turned around to leave, but Ranma grabbed her shoulder.
"Hey! I want to know the rest! I made that mistake with the Hiryu Shoten Ha, but I'm not finishing this technique blind."
She turned back with the air of a smile. "Very well. The rest is a simple step. Once you can focus your energy without using your hands, you'll be able to gather it to any point in proximity to your body. The key is to make it take the form of a disc beneath your feet. Then, move the disc upward, and you'll be carried with it."
Ranma rubbed his head. "Sounds complicated."
"You'll get used to it quickly," the girl assured him. "After that, it will be as natural as walking, if perhaps a bit more tiring. But judging from what I saw of it, you have more than enough energy."
"Don't worry," Ranma assured her. "I'll get this flying thing down, and I'll be flying circles around you in no time."
"Don't waste all your energy trying," she warned him good-naturedly. "Remember, you have a date with Sailor Mercury tonight."
"That's only if the Sailor Scouts can beat Mewtwo," he reminded her.
"Oh, I'm sure they will," she replied with a smile. "They're not out of tricks yet." She vanished, leaving the other two women staring at Ranma.
"Let me get this straight," Ryoko said at last. "We're supposed to be killing them, but you're going OUT with one of them?"
Ranma rolled his eyes. "So that I can kill her. We're not going out to dinner and a movie."
"I don't know," mused Lina. "Sounds like that could be fun. And cheap, too. Just get her to pay for everything, since she'll be dead at the end of the night anyway."
"Ha ha," Ranma said sarcastically. "Very funny." He took a deep breath and began to strain with the effort of attempting to create a ball of life energy without using his hands.
Ryoko shrugged and squinted at the air in front of her. A tiny ball of red light flared into existence a few inches from her chest. "Whew, this IS hard," she agreed. The ball grew to the size of Ranma's Moko Takabisha, then floated down to the ground and became a disc under her feet. "Don't know how long I can keep this up," she said as she rose a foot into the air. The disc vanished, and she wiped the sweat from her forehead. "I'm glad I don't have to do it that way all the time!"
Ranma groaned. "Man, even SHE can do it. What am I doing wrong? What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing's wrong," Lina assured him, patting his shoulder. "You just need to practice more."
He sighed. "I WILL figure this out."
"I'm sure you will," she agreed. "Just give it time. You know, I think there's a lot more to that girl than we thought."
"That girl?" repeated Ranma, who was paying less attention to Lina than he was to his efforts to create a ball of energy.
"You know, shadow-girl," Lina clarified. "The one who's teaching you to fly."
"Oh, right." He stopped for another breather. "She seems nice enough."
"Yeah, but she FEELS evil," said Lina. "I don't know. Something about her really bothers me."
Ryoko floated just over Lina's head. "I think she likes Ranma," she whispered.
Lina planted a fist in Ryoko's jaw. "I didn't ask your opinion," she hissed.
Ryoko rubbed her bruised cheek and glared at Lina. "Remind me next time that you can't take a joke." She vanished in a thick puff of smoke.
"I've got an idea," Ranma announced. He held his hands out and let his energy collect in front of his palms, then quickly dropped his arms to his sides and let the ball float there. "Maybe this will -" The light exploded, throwing both Ranma and Lina to the ground.
Ranma coughed out a mouthful of the soot that covered him from head to toe. "Then again, maybe it won't."
"I think you're just trying too hard, Ranma," Lina advised him. "You need to stop worrying about it so much and relax. It'll come to you."
"Nothing ever comes through laziness," Ranma told her as if quoting it from somewhere.
"And nothing comes from overexertion either," countered Lina. "Look, just take a break for now. Come have lunch with me, and maybe you'll get an idea in the meantime."
This time, it was unmistakably an invitation. "Are you asking me out?" asked Ranma, not sure if he could believe his ears.
"I'm just worried about you is all," she replied. "You're going to burn yourself out that way."
"Oh." He wasn't sure whether he should be disappointed or relieved. On the one hand, he didn't want to be saddled with yet another girl competing for his hand in marriage. On the other, Lina was certainly at the top of his list of girls he wouldn't mind having join the ranks of his fiancÃ©es. And once they were finished with the Sailor Scouts, they'd be going back to their own worlds anyway, never to meet again. No sense throwing away what little time they had together. "Sure," he agreed. "I think I might be able to eat something after all. Just as long as we go someplace other than Nerima."
Lina smiled. "Don't worry. I know just the place."
Sailor Moon could barely force her eyes open as the blue light in Mewtwo's paws filled her vision, blinding her. Yet even through slitted eyelids, she could see the light break into fragments as the universe began to wind down to a halt once again, torn apart by the thousands of cracks that seemed to appear whenever a powerful enemy attacked her and her friends. She wondered once again what could be causing it, but didn't waste much brainpower on it. After all, she wasn't going to live long enough to do anything about it anyway. Her life was already flashing before her eyes. 'Wow,' she thought to herself. 'I really was a klutz, wasn't I?'
The blue ball of death shrank until it could no longer be seen, at which point the cracks closed up. "Interesting," said Mewtwo. "It appears that this time anomaly is linked to my Psychic attack."
"It happened once before," Mercury said from behind Mewtwo. "And there was no buildup of energy then."
Mewtwo turned to face her. "You do not need to tell me that. Yet I detect some concern on your part. Admittedly, I do not like the feel of it, but why does it matter to you?"
Mercury did her best not to let her fear show. As long as Mewtwo was willing to listen, she might as well take advantage of the opportunity. "I'm worried about the stability of our world," she explained. "It felt as if the entire world were about to come apart at once. And if our world is endangered by our fighting, you're in as much danger as we are."
"Ah," said Mewtwo. "You are trying to dissuade me from killing you. A noble effort, if perhaps a cowardly one. But you must face your death now. If I cannot use the Psychic attack to destroy you quickly, then I must simply use a more painful method."
"Wait!" protested Mercury. Before she could get another word out, Mewtwo pointed a stubby finger at her, and she flew backward, almost immediately feeling the impact with a flat, unyielding surface. There was a sharp CRACK! and stars filled her vision as her head bounced off the wall behind her.
"You have nothing to say to me," Mewtwo informed her disdainfully, its voice the only thing clear to her muddled senses. "Your stalling ends here." A blue glow surrounded Mewtwo's body, and the other Sailor Scouts began to move as well. Mars and Venus slammed into each other sideways, Jupiter hit the ground face first, and Sailor Moon remained in place at the center of a storm of psychic punches. Mercury left an indentation in the wall as she was pried away to join the other Scouts in uncontrollably bouncing off walls, the ground, and each other as Mewtwo led them through a fandango of pain.
Sailor Moon crossed her arms over her face to protect it, but the blows still landed in spite of her defense. All she could do was tighten her muscles and take the pounding, her already bruised body weakening even further with every attack. But she knew that she couldn't last very long that way. As futile as her position seemed, she had to find a way to fight back. Her hand rose to her forehead, where her fingers clamped on her tiara.
"That again?" Mewtwo asked dubiously. "Why bother? You know it will have no effect on me."
She pushed her energy into the tiara, ignoring Mewtwo's skeptical remarks. "MOON TIARA MAGIC!" she shouted, throwing the projectile at Mewtwo as hard as she could. The tiara bounced harmlessly off Mewtwo's shield with no visible effect. However, the severe beating paused briefly at that moment, only to resume as soon as the spent tiara hit the ground. It wasn't even long enough to take a breath, but it was a blissful reprieve while it lasted.
Sailor Moon wasn't the only one to notice the lapse, however. Sailor Mercury also felt a slight hesitation in her flight as the tiara failed to strike its target. It didn't take her long to realize what that meant - Mewtwo could still be distracted, if only for a second. That revelation alone wasn't going to be nearly enough to save them, but it was a start - and by now, Mewtwo was undoubtedly fully aware that she'd uncovered the weakness. And if the secret was out, the only option was to go for it and hope it bought her enough time to think of something to follow up with. "Everyone!" she shouted, pausing as a collision with Sailor Jupiter knocked the wind out of her. She gasped for breath and continued. "Attack it! Hit it with everything you've got!"
Sailor Moon had already prepared another discus, but as she wound up to throw it, Mewtwo wrenched her arm and made her drop it. The other Scouts also felt Mewtwo's grip pulling on their arms as they tried to aim, preventing most of them from using their attacks. However, Jupiter didn't need her hands free. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" she yelled, and lightning shot from her tiara.
Mewtwo's shield blocked the lightning, as expected, but the Sailor Scouts managed to pull their arms free in that instant to take aim for another attack. Venus and Mars struck in unison, their energy attacks exploding against the invisible curved surface of Mewtwo's shield. That in turn gave Sailor Moon enough time to get off another round of Moon Tiara Magic, and Jupiter followed that quickly with her Jupiter Thunder Crash.
Relieved that her plan was working, Mercury turned her attention to coming up with a way to take advantage of the distraction. But Mewtwo wasn't finished yet. With a spine-tingling growl of rage, Mewtwo reared back, its aura intensifying to blinding brightness. The glow quickly faded, but as it did, the force holding Mercury up suddenly let go, to be replaced by a crushing pressure on her throat. Her muscles went limp as her air supply was cut off, leaving her entire body dangling by her neck. The strangled gasps of the other Sailor Scouts told her that they were in the same situation. She reached up to her throat as her vision started to fade to black, but it was predictably useless.
Suddenly, a ball of water flew from the sky and smashed into Mewtwo's shield, covering it with a thick shell of water. A huge boulder slammed into it next, shattering into pieces on impact. Forgotten, the Sailor Scouts fell to the ground as Mewtwo sent the water flying in all directions and turned toward the rooftop where the new threat was. "Again?" it groaned, stretching a paw to the distant rooftop. As the Sailor Scouts watched, two women fell from the top of the building, tracing a graceful arc through the air until they stopped right in front of Mewtwo. The one with long aqua hair fell to the ground between Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars, while the one with the boyishly short dirty blonde hair floated in Mewtwo's grip. "You.... How many times do I have to kill you before you stay dead?"
Sailor Moon's bleary eyes focused on the woman sitting next to her. Her uniform was unmistakable - a sailor fuku, exactly like those of the Sailor Scouts. "Are you... the Sailor Scouts of the Outer Planets?" she asked.
The unidentified Sailor Scout stared back, frozen in fear.
"Neptune, what are you doing?" gasped the one who was still in the air. "Help me!"
"But the Inner Scouts... they've seen us!" protested Neptune.
"And the universe still seems to be in one piece," returned the other. "Which is a lot more than you can say about me if you don't do something!"
"MOON TIARA MAGIC!" Sailor Moon's tiara sped past the shocked Neptune and struck Mewtwo's shield, bouncing off as it always did with no effect. The other Inner Scouts quickly followed up with their own attacks, valiantly leaping to the defense of their unknown friends. Mewtwo snarled and struck back at all of them with psychic punches, allowing Neptune to pull her partner free of its weakened grip. The Outer Scouts attacked in tandem before Mewtwo could renew its assault on them.
"NEPTUNE DEEP SUBMERGE!"
"URANUS WORLD SHAKING!"
Mewtwo pointed its arms at the incoming projectiles and halted them in their tracks, but the Inner Scouts were already preparing their next attacks. Three elemental waves and a tiara hit Mewtwo's shield at the same time, breaking its concentration enough to allow the Outers' attacks to hit home.
Before they could prepare another strike, Mewtwo launched itself straight up, not stopping until it was barely a dot in the upper atmosphere. Then, it became visible again, as a blue flame so intense that it put the afternoon sun to shame. Everything in sight took on its blue hue, making the street look like a scene filmed through a monochromatic lens. The cracks appeared almost instantly, making time wind down almost to a halt.
"Aa ppaarraaddooxx!" shouted Neptune.
"Iitt'ss tthhaatt eenneerrggyy," replied Uranus. "Iitt'ss wwaayy ttoooo mmuucchh!"
"NO MORE GAMES!" yelled Mewtwo, both the speed and volume of its voice making the Sailor Scouts' heads ache. "Whether it destroys this universe or not, I WILL KILL YOU ALL!" With that, it turned its head to the ground and sped downwards at what almost seemed to be a normal speed, given the time dilation. Within seconds, it was close enough that they could make out its silhouette in the middle of the aura, and they could feel the sheer force of its energy pressing down on them from above.
"VVEENNUUSS CCRREESSCCEENNTT BBEEAAMM SSMMAASSHH!" shouted Venus, sending a beam of energy toward the attacking PokÃ©mon. The speed of her attack was so fast that it took only a moment to reach Mewtwo even through the time dilution. It struck Mewtwo squarely on the head but had absolutely no effect.
"Iitt llooookkss lliikkee tthhee sshhiieelldd iiss ddoowwnn," observed Mars. "Bbuutt iitt'ss iinn ssoommee kkiinndd ooff bbeerrsseerrkkeerr mmooddee.... Oouurr aattttaacckkss aarreenn'tt ggooiinngg ttoo hhuurrtt iitt!"
Mercury pulled down her visor, hoping to gain some insight into Mewtwo's latest form of attack, but not surprisingly, the word OVERLOAD flashed on the screen, blinking on and off once every few seconds. Mercury's hand clenched on the computer in frustration - and then it hit her. It was a long shot, but considering the certainty that Mewtwo's impact with the Earth would cause major damage, that tiny chance was the only option. She pulled back her arm and hurled the computer into the center of the group, praying that it would cross the distance in time.
The next few seconds took nearly five minutes to play out, but to those who awaited the outcome, it passed in a heartbeat. Mewtwo sped inexorably toward the ground, while the Mercury Computer slowly arced through its collision course with the incoming PokÃ©mon. Soon, they could feel its aura beating down on them like an oven broiler, and they had to turn their heads down as quickly as they could to avoid looking directly into the blinding light. Instead, they turned their attention to the Mercury Computer one by one, wondering Mercury was hoping to gain by throwing it into the path of the monster and sure destruction. Mercury didn't exactly know that herself, which may have been what prevented Mewtwo from noticing it until it had reached the level of the nearby rooftops.
Its head slowly swiveled to bring the computer into sight as it continued to descend, now so close that the Scouts felt like they were about to be torn apart from the intensity of Mewtwo's entire power at close range. It stretched out a paw and pointed it at the computer, freezing it in midair. But by that time, Mercury's attention was no longer on the computer or the PokÃ©mon, but on the giant orb of dark energy just beyond them. The dark attack caught Mewtwo completely unawares, hitting it solidly on its blind side and knocking it right into the now immobile Mercury Computer. Mewtwo and its entire aura became no more than a large ball of red energy, which promptly swirled into the Mercury Computer like a penny spinning around the inside of a funnel. The instability in the universe repaired itself with a thunderous crash, letting the softly glowing Mercury Computer fall to the ground at normal speed. It bounced several times, wriggling like a desperate fish out of water.
Sailor Moon was the first to catch her breath. "What just happened?" she asked.
"Mewtwo seemed afraid of the Mercury Computer before," replied Mercury. "I thought if I could get it to touch the computer, something might happen."
"It sure did!" said Jupiter. "It looked like Mewtwo got sucked inside!"
"But it's trying to get out," Venus pointed out.
Mercury nodded. "Quickly, everyone. This is our chance to prepare a combined attack and blast it when it escapes."
Sailor Moon raised her tiara and turned it into a discus. "Ready!"
Mercury pushed her energy into the discus as she had before. "By the power of Mercury!"
"By the power of Jupiter!"
"By the power of Mars!"
"By the power of Venus!"
The energy surrounding the tiara took on the familiar warm glow, but rather than sealing it with her own power, Sailor Moon turned to the Outer Scouts. "Come on, you two! We need your energy as well!"
Neptune blinked in surprise. "Are they supposed to be able to do that?" she asked.
"Who cares?" returned Uranus. "They're doing it, and we're helping." She raised her hands. "By the power of Uranus!" she shouted, clouding the mixture of energy with fine dust.
Neptune sighed and followed suit. "By the power of Neptune!" The water began to roll and spin within the ball of energy, forming huge waves. Even with Venus' energy holding the mixture together, it seemed to be threatening to fall apart in Sailor Moon's hands.
Sailor Moon smiled and focused her own energy into the discus. "And by the power of the Moon," she chanted, "let our combined power strike down our enemies!" The resulting projectile was much larger and brighter than the previous one had been, bathing all seven Scouts in its warm light. Despite the drain of providing the energy for the attack, they felt re-energized just looking at it.
Seconds later, the Mercury Computer popped open and Mewtwo emerged in the same flash of red light in which it had entered the computer. Sailor Moon threw the discus without hesitation. "SAILOR SCOUTS COMBINED TIARA MAGIC!"
"Fools," said Mewtwo, extending a paw and focusing on the incoming projectile. However, in its weakened and disoriented state, it never had a chance against the minds of all seven Sailor Scouts. The discus slammed into its chest, knocking it to the ground, where it collapsed in a heap on top of its armor. Weakly, it raised its head, but it was clearly out of energy. "It appears that I suffer from the weakness of emotions after all," it said. "So blinded by rage that I left myself open to attack. I see.... I have learned much about myself as well." With that, its head dropped, and it lay unmoving atop the pile of metal parts.
"Did we kill it?" asked Sailor Moon.
"I don't think so," replied Mercury. She cautiously edged close enough to retrieve her computer and scanned Mewtwo. "It's unconscious from energy loss, but it's still alive."
"Then let's finish the job!" said Mars, taking aim at Mewtwo for a final blast.
"No!" shouted Venus, pushing Mars' arms down. "There's no need to kill it now!"
"You want to just leave it there until it wakes up?" Mars shot back.
"It won't wake up," Uranus promised. "Once you five leave, we'll make sure of that."
Sailor Moon turned to the almost forgotten Outer Scouts and bowed deeply. "Thank you for your help, both of you. We couldn't have survived without you."
Uranus snorted. "It's our job."
"Then do you know where these enemies are coming from?" asked Mercury. "We know so little about what we're facing that anything you can tell us will help."
"We'll tell you everything we can later," replied Neptune. "We'll have to confer with someone first. We don't know much more than you do, ourselves, and even less of that is safe to tell you."
Mars nodded. "We meet at the Cherry Hill Shrine at the edge of town. Do you know it?"
"We're familiar with it," replied Neptune. "We'll be there as soon as we can. Wait for us there."
"Make sure that you don't come as Sailor Scouts," warned Mercury. "The other people living at the shrine don't know that we're actually the Sailor Scouts, and we need to keep it that way, especially now that our enemies are trying to discover our true identities."
"I don't think that's a good idea," said Uranus. "We have to keep our true identities a secret as well... especially from the five of you."
"We'll work something out," added Neptune. "No need to worry. Just get going, before Mewtwo really does wake up."
"Why do we have to leave before you can take care of Mewtwo?" asked Venus.
"That's one of the things we can't tell you," Uranus said impatiently. "Just trust us and get out of sight so we can do what needs to be done."
Mars scowled. "All right," she said, sounding more grudging than she intended. "We'll trust you."
The battered Inner Scouts said their goodbyes and quickly departed the scene, leaving the Outers to their own devices. Sailor Pluto appeared shortly thereafter, nodding in satisfaction at the fallen PokÃ©mon. "They did well," she said proudly. "As did the two of you."
"It was your attack that saved us at the last second," Neptune replied.
"You could have helped sooner," fumed Uranus.
"She did," Neptune informed her. "She healed you and Sailor Mars, and got the Mercury Computer repaired."
Pluto assumed a puzzled look. "Sailor Mars? I'd forgotten she was injured. Now that you mention it, it was strange to see her here, and in full health. But I promise you, I had nothing to do with it."
"That's odd," said Neptune. "I wonder who, then...."
"So what's the deal with the Inner Scouts, anyway?" Uranus asked suddenly. "You told us if they saw us, it would be a paradox. But they knew who we were even before we showed up."
Pluto nodded. "I will have to think about that, later. But this is neither the time nor the place for that. Help me get Mewtwo back into its armor."
The three quickly got to work reassembling the contraption, and managed to get all the pieces in the right places without too much difficulty.
"Will that stay together once it gets back to its own world?" asked Neptune, eyeing their handiwork dubiously.
"Most likely not," replied Pluto. "The events that have happened in this world have likely resulted in this creature being let loose in its own world to wreak untold havoc. Yet we have done all we can. That matter will have to be resolved on its own." She raised her staff in front of her body horizontally. "PLUTO DIMENSIONAL BANISHMENT!" Mewtwo and its armor promptly vanished in a ball of dark energy.
Pluto looked herself over. "Again, nothing," she declared. "Just as when I sent Kusanagi back to his world, it required almost no effort at all."
"Well, that's good, right?" asked Neptune.
"In this case, yes," replied Pluto. "But because Sailor Saturn felt so different... I fear that we may not have seen the last of her after all."
"That's going to make this tough," said Uranus. "Especially if these other bad guys keep showing up. If all of us put together had this much trouble beating Mewtwo, what's going to happen if Beryl sends someone even stronger?"
"We'll find a way to win," said Neptune. "At the very least, we know that for whatever reason, there's no paradox in the Inner Scouts knowing about us. In the next battle, we'll be able to fight side by side with them."
Pluto nodded wistfully. "I think I understand now. The universe is indeed a strange machination, if it were to hold true...."
"What?" Uranus prompted.
Pluto sighed. "I suppose there's no harm in it now. The fundamental truth of the universe was not meant for mortal minds, but then the problem at hand is far beyond the scope of mortals anyway, and you two have pledged your lives to it. You deserve to know the truth, even though it may well cost you your sanity if you are not prepared for it."
"Like I've never heard that before," said Uranus skeptically. "What is it, forty-two?"
"You may joke now," said Pluto, "but you will change your tune when you hear what I have to tell you." She pointed her staff, and the Gate of Time opened before them.
"Where are you going to take us?" asked Neptune, edging away from the opening. "To the center of the universe? The place with all the answers?"
"Our hotel room," Pluto replied with a smile. "This is just a faster way to get there."
Uranus laughed at Neptune's reaction. "The look on your face...!"
"I hope you will take what I have to say more seriously than that," Pluto warned her. "For what I will say once we get there will forever change the way you view the universe."
"Is it really that amazing?" asked Neptune.
"More so," replied Pluto, beckoning them toward the portal. "Just don't say I didn't warn you...."
Beryl frowned at her globe. "Your fighter lost again, Chronite," she said with an air more of frustration than anger, but with just a touch of superiority. And that omnipresent, annoying cheer that she just couldn't dispel from Momiji's voice no matter how hard she tried. The power, she reminded herself, watching her mitama glow with some satisfaction. The power made it all worthwhile.
"Indeed," replied Chronite. "I'm not as surprised as you might think. It seems that the Sailor Scouts are truly a force to be reckoned with. Particularly Sailor Pluto...."
"What do you intend to do about it?" asked Beryl.
"Mewtwo's weakness was its arrogance," said Chronite. "It believed far too much in its capacity to get the job done. What we need is a fighter whose capacity matches up to his expectations."
"And you know of such a fighter?"
"Naturally," replied Chronite. "I know just the character for the job."
"If it's more powerful than Mewtwo, why didn't you bring it in the first place?" she challenged.
"There is a risk involved with summoning fighters of greater power," explained Chronite. "If the fight we propose isn't up to their standards, they may turn on us instead."
"Let them try," said Beryl, letting the mitama's glow bathe herself and Chronite. "No force can stand against my power."
"No force in this universe, certainly, my Queen," Chronite corrected her, adding the respectful title as a placating gesture. "But in other universes, there are powers that can strike down even gods. Powers that even I would stand no chance against in my current state." During the uncomfortable pause that followed this statement, he remembered the alleged hierarchy of power and hastily added, "Powers that even you could not control."
Beryl snorted. "Maybe so. So what do you have in mind?"
"The world I intend to visit this time is the home of some of the most powerful beings in all of creation," he replied authoritatively. "The most powerful ones, of course, are aligned so heavily with good that not even coercion could convince them to join us. The evil powers are nowhere near their level, but they are still more than adequate to dispatch the Sailor Scouts with minimal effort."
"So you plan to find the most powerful of the evil powers and hire his services?" asked Beryl.
"Not the most powerful," Chronite said hastily. "That one has no fear whatsoever, and has either the mind of a child or the infinite hunger for destruction that outweighs any actual cognitive faculties. To convince him to attack the Sailor Scouts would be impossible in either case. But the one who precedes him is a titan with a quest that a side trip to this dimension may actually help him fulfill... if I can convince him, of course."
Beryl scowled, but it disappointingly came out as more of a pout. "We should hire the stronger fighter, regardless. If you can only draw one fighter from this power-rich world, I won't take a chance with any less than the best."
"That simply won't do," said Chronite, shaking his head. "That one gains too much of his strength from the good within him. If the Sailor Scouts continue the way they have been, they might well convince him to turn to their side, no matter what we offer him. And when that part of him is expelled...." He shuddered. "Even I hesitate to go near such a monster. He would never join us."
Beryl sighed. "Very well. Then we will go with your choice. But know this, Chronite...." She drew herself to full height, seeming to tower over him despite the fact that she was almost a full foot shorter. The mitama's glow seemed tinged with blood red. "I will not tolerate another failure from you. If this new fighter lets the Sailor Scouts survive, you WILL know the full force of my wrath."
Surprisingly, Chronite found himself cowering. "Yes, ma'am," he said meekly. Satisfied with that reaction, she turned and walked away into the darkness, leaving him alone with his heart pounding in his chest. "Just like an angry mother," he noted to himself. "Perhaps she WOULD be able to control Majin Buu after all... all the more reason not to bring him here." Swallowing hard, he formed a portal and stepped through it, preparing himself to meet the new ally in the battle against the Sailor Scouts.