After meeting the Outer Scouts, the Inner Scouts set a trap for Ranma using Amy as bait. No sooner is the trap sprung, however, than a new enemy appears.
Chapter 17: Amy's Desperate Situation
"... So they're not really bad people," finished Mina, ending her brief summary to the Study Buddies of what she'd learned from Lina before the battle. "They're fighting to save the people they love from Queen Beryl, just like we are."
"Do you think we can trust them?" asked Lita. "After all, they ARE working for Beryl."
"We can trust them," affirmed Serena. "They had a perfect opportunity to kill me and Sailor Venus, and they didn't."
"Maybe they wanted to let you two lead them to the rest of us," suggested Lita.
"That wouldn't make much sense," Amy pointed out. "We've shown that we can stand up to them quite well when we fight together. Their best tactic would be to split us up and fight us separately, as they did today."
"They wanted to kill us," added Serena. "But I guess they felt indebted to us because I healed Lina when she was about to die."
"You did WHAT?" asked Lita. "Why are you helping them?"
"Just because they're trying to kill us doesn't give us the right to do the same," countered Serena. "No matter how bad the situation is, nobody has to die to make it right."
"Well, with an attitude like that, we're the only ones who are going to die," said Lita.
"I think Serena has a point," observed Amy. "As I've said before, everyone we've fought is much more powerful than we are. I think that if they really were trying to kill us, we would already be dead. However, if they don't really want to fight us, then they might be allowing us to live, no matter how much stronger they are."
Lita nodded. "That all makes sense, but...." She paused. "Wait, that's exactly what I feel! Why am I arguing? That's Raye's job!" She turned to Raye, who was sitting at a corner of the table with her arms crossed, pointedly avoiding looking at anyone else. "Raye? Is something wrong?"
"You're unusually quiet today," said Amy. "Ever since your grandfather pointed out how strange it was to see you up and about, you haven't said a word."
"It's not just that," added Mina. "Ever since I mentioned Lina, you've been really dark and broody."
"Yeah," put in Serena. "What's up with you tonight?"
"I didn't want to burst you guys' bubble," Raye said at last, "but you're wrong."
"About what?" asked Serena.
"About our enemies," replied Raye. "They're evil."
Mina's jaw dropped in shock. "What? No way! I know Lina was telling the truth!"
"No offense, but you were friends with her before that," Raye pointed out. "You probably just aren't willing to accept that she's your enemy now. But I felt the evil within her even when we first met."
"Are you absolutely sure about that?" asked Amy. "You seem to be the dissenting opinion here."
Raye nodded firmly. "I know what I felt. Mina may be in tune with people's emotions, but I can sense their spirits. And Lina's spirit is wrapped in a cloak of darkness. She may not be evil herself, but evil controls her. And that control is a lot more direct than holding someone hostage."
"Is that true of the others, then?" asked Serena.
Raye shook her head. "I didn't sense the same thing about the others. Not even the one we fought today. It was just Lina. But considering that she's the one who made up that story, I doubt we can trust any of them."
"No!" shouted Mina. "She was telling the truth! I know it! And I'm not just hoping, either!"
"Keep your voice down!" warned Raye. "Do you want my grandpa to hear you?"
Mina meekly sagged. "Sorry. But I would know if Lina was lying to me."
"Maybe you're both right," suggested Lita. "Maybe she is trying to save someone, but she's still being controlled by that dark power Raye mentioned."
Mina rubbed her neck. "I guess so. I can't feel people's spirits like Raye can. All I know is what's in their hearts."
Raye shook her head. "No, that's not it either. The darkness has a complete hold on Lina's spirit - a hold that's far too strong to have been imposed by force. Whatever is controlling her, she gave herself to it willingly. That much, I can tell you without question."
"Geez, lighten up, Raye!" said Serena. "You're so moody!"
"I just don't want to see any of you hurt because you trust our enemies too much," said Raye. "They're dangerous people, all of them."
"Well, whether they're evil or just victims isn't what's important," Amy pointed out. "We have to figure out what to do next in either case. We need to defeat our enemies without killing them, if we can."
"That's easy for you to say," returned Serena. "It's hard enough not getting killed ourselves!"
"But we have a new technique that may prove effective," Amy reminded her.
"If we can get our opponents to stand still long enough," added Raye. "That combination attack you taught us takes a long time to perform."
Amy sighed. "That is one disadvantage. It also requires all five of us to work properly, so we wouldn't be able to split up. But the stopping power is worth the preparation it requires. The Combined Tiara Magic should be able to penetrate any enemy barrier, no matter how effective it is otherwise."
"Well, that is handy," agreed Lita. "We'd even be able to stop Ryoko with an attack like that."
"Like she'd wait for us to pull it off," said Raye darkly.
Amy scratched her chin. "Hmmm.... I suppose there are a few problems left to be worked out." She glanced at her watch. "Unfortunately, I don't really have time to work on them right now. I promised to meet Ranko at the library to study tonight."
The other girls' eyes narrowed. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked Mina. "You said she was a new girl who arrived at the same time as Amelia, right? That means she could be... on the other side." She'd had to catch herself before the word 'enemy' could slip out. She would NOT think of them as enemies, no matter what Raye said!
Amy shook her head. "I don't think so. I have a good feeling about Ranko."
"No offense," said Mina, "but I had a good feeling about Amelia too. And my good feelings are alw- usually right," she corrected herself, glancing at Raye.
"You haven't met Ranko," Amy pointed out. "Three of us have, and I don't think any of us would suspect her of anything."
"Well..." Lita began. "She WAS there last night, right before Ranma attacked me."
Mina scoffed. "You can't be serious! Ranma's a boy! He couldn't possibly disguise himself as Ranko!"
"But she might have told Ranma where I would be," explained Lita.
"Did Ranko know that you're a Sailor Scout?" asked Amy.
"I don't know. She might have. I mean, Lina figured out that Mina is Sailor Venus, didn't she? Maybe they've got some sort of Planet Power detecting gizmo."
Amy shook her head. "Even in the days of the Silver Millennium, human science wasn't capable of creating a machine that could detect the presence of Planet Power. And in those days, the Sailor Scouts were in their Scout forms all the time. We were born into these disguises for our protection, so it only makes sense that our Planet Power should be even more difficult to detect while we're in our normal identities."
"But hasn't science advanced a lot since then?" asked Lita.
"And our enemies are from another world," Mina added, belatedly biting down on the word she'd been trying to avoid using. "They might have access to technology that we don't."
"There is that," Amy agreed. "Perhaps some extra caution is in order."
"I'll go with you to the library," said Mina. "I'll be able to tell if Ranko is on their side or not."
"I don't know whether we can trust your people sense any more," said Raye. "After all, you were wrong about Lina."
Mina chewed on her lip to stifle her reply.
"Why don't we all go?" suggested Serena. "That way, if Amy gets attacked -"
"We'll all be marked as Sailor Scouts by association," finished Raye. "That's no good. We can't let them know who we are - at least, those of us who haven't already been found out. If we show up, we'll have to already be in our Sailor Scout outfits."
"But we can't go with Amy in our sailor fuku!" protested Serena.
"We'll have to keep our distance and wait to see what happens," assessed Mina. "If Ranko turns out to be one of them, then we'll step in to stop her. And if everything goes well, we can just leave the two of you alone."
"You'll have to hold your own until we can get there," said Lita, "but we'll be there a lot sooner."
Amy nodded. "I'll feel much safer with you guys nearby."
"Right," agreed Raye. "We won't be caught off guard this time."
The sound of Raye's grandfather clearing his throat in the doorway caught their attention. "How is the studying coming along, girls?" he asked.
Raye scowled. "Grandpa, I thought I asked you not to interrupt us while we're studying!"
"Well, yes," he acknowledged apologetically, "but these two young ladies were quite insistent that you'd asked them to tutor your group today." He stepped aside to let the two high school-age girls enter the room. "You never mentioned you had such attractive friends."
"Hands off, buster," said the dirty blonde in a husky voice as she double-stepped to keep her rump out of reach of his grope. "I'm not your type."
The aqua-haired woman gasped audibly and jumped, not having been quite fast enough to avoid the pinch.
Raye slammed her fists on the table. "Grandpa! What do you think you're doing?"
Raye's grandfather bowed his head in shame. "I apologize. I don't know what came over me. Please enjoy our hospitality, honored guests." He shuffled backwards out of the room, muttering something barely coherent about lost youth and natural urges.
Amy waited until he was out of earshot before speaking. "I presume you two are Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune?" she asked.
"That's right," replied the girl who doubled as Sailor Neptune. "But you'd probably better call me Michelle for now. My partner is Amarah."
The girls sitting around the table nodded in unison. "Nice to meet you," said Mina. "I'm Mina, and these are -"
"Skip the introductions," said Amarah as she familiarly took a place at the table. "We know who you are."
This time, Amy was the only one who nodded, while her friends merely looked very confused. "I think I understand," she announced. "You mentioned a paradox during the fight against Mewtwo, which would only make sense if you had come from the future."
Amarah recoiled at this revelation, but Michelle smiled. "That's right. You don't miss much, do you?"
"Watch what you say to them!" hissed Amarah. "We can't let them know too much!"
"So you guys are really from the future?" asked Raye. "How far in the future?"
"We can't say," Amarah said quickly. "We can't tell you anything about the future, except that it depends on all of you staying alive, at least until we can get this whole thing with people from other dimensions sorted out."
"The future's always depended on us," replied Lita. "We're the only ones who can fight Beryl and her army. At least, until you two showed up."
Michelle shook her head. "I'm afraid we won't be able to help you in that battle," she said. "But the problem is that, in the future we came from, the enemies you're fighting now never existed. But our past is being rewritten, and we have to make it merge with the past that we know."
"But that's not possible!" protested Amy. "You can't change the past!"
"I guess we're not really CHANGING the past," Amarah conceded. "More like adding a new chapter to it. The stuff that happens before and after doesn't change, but this new stuff is happening in between. Sort of like freeze-framing existence, fighting a few battles in the meantime, then putting everything back where it was so that when you hit PLAY again, no one notices that anything happened."
"But even the tiniest changes will cause ripples that will unavoidably alter the future," Amy pointed out.
"Well, we can't let that happen," replied Amarah. "If it does, those cracks you saw today will tear the universe apart."
"So you mean what we've been seeing are potential paradoxes?" asked Raye.
"That's right," said Michelle. "So far, we've been able to avert the paradoxes before they become irrevocable. But if any of you were to die, it would be the end. And there may be other, possibly very subtle changes that would be equally terminal."
"Yipes!" shrieked Serena. "That's serious!"
"Yes it is," agreed Michelle, schooling her expression. "But Chaucer also displays quite an admirable wit. Consider chapter nine...."
The other girls merely stared at her blankly. However, before any of them could express their confusion verbally, Raye's grandfather set a tray down on the table. "Sorry to bother you again," he apologized, "but I thought our lovely young guests might like some tea and cookies." He winked slyly.
"Aren't they a little young for you?" grumbled Raye.
Amarah cleared her throat. "Thanks for the snacks, old man. But before you get too comfortable with us, we're engaged."
"Oh, really?" asked Raye's grandfather, hopefully interested. "To whom?"
He stared at the two of them in disbelief for a few seconds, then shook his head sadly and left the room. "It figures," he muttered. "It's always the cute ones...."
Raye nodded, impressed. "That's one way to get rid of him."
"You WERE just joking, right?" asked Mina.
"Do I look like I joke?" retorted Amarah.
Mina blinked. "Ooooooooooooookay. Let's talk about something else."
"There's nothing else to say," said Amarah, abruptly standing up. "We've told you what we came here to say. Watch what you do and keep yourselves alive."
"But what about our questions?" asked Raye. "Who are these people we're fighting? Why are they attacking us? Are they evil, or are they being forced to do it?"
"They all have their own reasons," replied Michelle. "We don't claim to know them all personally."
"Oh," said Mina, crestfallen. "But that means that some of them could just be innocent victims!"
"I suppose that could be true," conceded Michelle, sensing the motive behind Mina's statement. "But it is difficult to call those who are trying to kill you innocent."
"My thoughts exactly," said Raye.
Amarah cleared her throat meaningfully. "Look, the point is, don't get too close to anybody. We don't know who you can trust and who you can't, but it's better to make the safe mistake and not trust someone who's really not your enemy, rather than opening yourself up for an attack."
"I know that," agreed Mina. "But it's hard to turn away a friend, even if you know they might try to kill you if you don't."
"It's hard to believe the warriors who keep this planet safe have such pitiful survival instincts," said Amarah. "Sometimes I wonder if it's even worth saving you guys. We could probably just replace you with Sailor Scouts who know what they're doing...."
"Don't be so hard on them, Amarah," urged Michelle. "They still haven't had much time to settle into their roles. They'll become stronger emotionally as their power grows."
Amy took her cue from that statement. "If you're from the future, you know about our future powers, don't you? Please, tell us how we can achieve them!"
Amarah shook her head firmly. "No. Forget about it. That's one of the things that could cause a paradox. And it's probably best if you don't use that combined attack anymore either."
"Why not?" asked Raye. "Nothing happened when we used it earlier."
"Right now, we're at a more liberal point in the timeline," offered Michelle. "The rules for what constitutes a paradox are much looser than they will be later. But when this period ends - and we have no idea when that will be - using your combined attack will be forbidden."
Mina sighed. "And that was going to be our ace in the hole, too."
"Why is it forbidden, exactly?" asked Amy.
"We can't tell you," replied Amarah. "But it would interfere with what has to happen in the future."
"What has to happen?" repeated Raye.
"We've said too much," Michelle quickly put in. "I think Amarah's right. We should leave before we say something we shouldn't." She stood up and followed Amarah to the door.
"Wait!" called Lita. "What about our next battle?"
Amarah turned back and smiled. "We'll be there. And from now on, we'll be right there with you guys. No point hiding anymore, now that you know about us."
"But don't get any ideas about trying to reach our power level," advised Michelle. "Your bodies, and the universe, can't handle it yet."
Amy grudgingly nodded. "We understand."
"Good. We'll see you soon." The Outer Scouts waved and left the room.
Raye crossed her arms. "Well, they couldn't have been any less helpful."
"They're right, you know," said Amy. "It's not wise to know too much about our future."
"This isn't some kind of moralistic movie," Raye pointed out. "We're talking about our lives and the fate of the world here! Every bit of information we get could mean the difference between life and death!"
"But not in the order you might think," countered Amy. "If you knew that something bad was going to happen in the future, you might try to change it. That's where paradoxes come from."
"That's also why I made it to Mewtwo in time to save you guys," retorted Raye.
"Visions of things that haven't happened yet are one thing," replied Amy. "News from time travelers is something else entirely. That would be a certainty, and probably not one you'd want to face."
"Guys?" interjected Lita. "Maybe this isn't the best time to argue."
Amy and Raye blushed.
"You know, we forgot to tell them about tonight's plan," said Mina.
Raye gave a start. "Shoot, you're right! We could really use their help!"
"But we don't know how to contact them," said Amy. "I suppose we'll just have to trust them to find us when the time comes."
Raye groaned. "I hate depending on chance."
"They'll be there," asserted Serena. "I know we can trust them."
"Didn't they just say we're not supposed to trust ANYONE?" Raye noted sarcastically. Nobody bothered to laugh or glare at her.
Amy stood up. "Excuse me, everyone. It's time for me to go meet Ranko."
"We'll transform once we get outside and follow you at a safe distance," said Serena.
Amy smiled. "Thanks, guys."
"Hey, we know what it's like to show up expecting to see a friend and find an enemy instead," said Mina. "We're behind you all the way."
With a warm feeling in her heart, Amy turned to the door, only to bump into Raye's grandfather as he strolled into the room. "Sorry, my dear," he apologized. "I was just coming to check on our gue- they're gone!" He gasped and ran to the table, peering behind it as if expecting to find someone hiding there. "Where'd they go?"
"They left already," said Raye. "It was just a five-minute session."
Raye's grandfather's shoulders slumped. "They didn't even say goodbye... such ungrateful girls. I tell you, the youth of today...."
"They really weren't your type," Raye reminded him bluntly. "They're lesbians."
"I tell you, the youth of today..." he repeated as he left the room.
Amy couldn't dispel the goofy expression from her face. "Tell me again why we always meet here?"
Amy rounded the corner of the school building, emerging into the wide courtyard where lunchtime and after-school sports generally took place. Of course, it was devoid of activity at this late hour. Not many students took advantage of the library's after-school hours, and it was generally left to the honor system after five o'clock, when even the librarian went home, leaving the building open to any student with an honor pass. Amy quickly crossed the courtyard, trying to stay in the light from the street lamps as much as possible. It gave her pause to think that she'd walked alone at night in her old neighborhood without fear many times, and had felt even safer since discovering that she was a Sailor Scout. However, she was more nervous than ever, and for the first time, she wished that she were just an ordinary girl visiting the library for an innocent study meeting.
That sentiment doubled as she heard the male voice from the darkness ahead. "You look cold."
Indeed, she was trembling from head to toe, but she forced herself to stand firm. The other Sailor Scouts would be there any second. "Ranma Saotome!" she squeaked. Well, her voice had cracked, but it had certainly been loud enough to carry to the others.
Ranma stepped into the light, blinking in surprise. "You know, for a second there, I was beginning to think maybe you weren't Sailor Mercury. But only a Sailor Scout would know me by that name."
Amy gasped as she realized her mistake. But it didn't matter anymore. She pulled out her wand and prepared to transform.
Ranma knocked the wand out of her hand before she could even open her mouth. "Sorry, Amy, but I can't let you do that. You'll be a lot harder to kill if I let you turn into Sailor Mercury."
Amy slowly backed away, no longer able to hide her nervousness. "You wouldn't..." she stalled. Where WERE the others? They should have been at her side as soon as Ranma had appeared!
Ranma lunged forward, grabbing her arm even though she'd thought she was well outside his reach. "I have to tell you, I really don't want to do this. But I don't have a choice anymore. My time's running out." He pulled her in close, twisting her arm until it felt like it would break.
Amy cried out as she lost her balance, causing her arm to twist even further as she fell to her knees. Ranma spun her around, pulling both arms up behind her back, and wrapped his arm around her neck, choking her. "Just give up," he advised her. "It's just going to hurt more if you fight."
Amy shifted her weight suddenly, hoping to throw him off balance, but his grip was stronger than what little force she could apply. She kicked at him, but without leverage, she couldn't hit him hard enough to dislodge him. She was helpless, just as she had been when Mewtwo had caught up with her, but this time her captor was determined to kill her as quickly as possible. Why hadn't the others shown up yet?
Suddenly, the sky above the library burst into flame with a loud boom. She heard Ranma chuckle softly. "Sounds like your friends have come to the rescue. I kind of figured you'd have bodyguards tonight. So we set up a little ambush for them." He squeezed just a bit harder, drawing a weak gurgle from her throat. "They're not going to make it in time to save you."
Amy strained to breathe, but it only made her throat burn even more. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears as she began to feel the familiar sensation of suffocation - her lungs ached, her muscles were limp, and her mind was racing, focusing on everything other than her impending death. Her friends - they had to still be alive, but there was no way they'd reach her in time. She was going to die that way, alone and useless.
No! She couldn't just die! She had to think of something! She tugged at her arms, trying to free at least one of them, but Ranma's left hand held both of her wrists firmly. "W-why?" she croaked weakly.
His grip relaxed slightly, just enough for her to take in a quick gasp of air before he restored his chokehold. "One of you has to die tonight," he whispered. "I don't really care which one it is, but since you're the one I've got my hands on, the choice is pretty easy."
That didn't sound like the innocent Ranma Mina had been advocating at the meeting earlier! Then again, he'd said at the beginning that he didn't want to kill her.... What did it all mean? How did the pieces fit together? What was the truth that the Outer Scouts couldn't tell her?
She hoped Ranko was all right. The last thing she needed was for Ranko to show up and get involved in this fight.
Where had that come from?
Another explosion shook the earth.
She wasn't thinking straight. Her mind was wandering. She had to stay focused!
What was her mother going to say when she turned up late for dinner? She should have called before leaving Raye's house.
There was an intense wave of heat, and something hard hit her in the face, slamming against the entire front of her body. Her lungs heaved, and she took in far too much air at once. She felt herself wobbling on her feet, but she didn't realize that she was already lying flat on the ground until a pair of hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up. Before she could thank her rescuer, she was spun around and slammed into a brick wall face first. "I tried to make it quick and painless," said Ranma, "but it looks like I have to do it the hard way."
"Amy, hang on!" shouted an indistinct voice. "We'll save you!"
"Don't worry, Ranma!" returned a much more strained voice. "We'll hold them off until you finish her!"
No, she begged silently. Save me....
She was spun around again, and the wall pounded her left side. Her arm went numb, but she could still feel a tiny trickle of warm moisture running down its length. Then there was a sharp blow to the side of her head, and stars danced in the darkness that passed for her vision.
Suddenly, Ranma was pulled bodily away, and a different hand grabbed her good arm, helping her stand upright. "Amy! Are you okay?" asked Sailor Venus.
Amy tried to nod, but her head felt like it was full of water. She must have hit the bricks harder than she'd thought. Maybe a nod wasn't the appropriate response at all.
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" shouted Venus, producing a bright flash in front of Amy's eyes. "Hey, hurry up and transform! I don't know how much longer we can hold them off!"
"I can't," admitted Amy. "I've lost my wand. I don't know where it is, and I can barely see to find it."
"Don't worry," Venus assured her. "We'll find it. Is it somewhere around here?"
"I think so," replied Amy. "Ranma knocked it out of my hand."
Shadows passed in front of Amy's vision, and she heard something hit Venus hard, knocking her to the ground. "Here's the one that can't fight back!" said Ryoko, drawing her sword. "Doesn't really matter who kills you, as long as the job gets done!"
Amy ducked in anticipation of the sword's swing, but something large plowed into Ryoko and shoved her aside. "Come on, you guys!" shouted Jupiter. "We have to protect Amy! Everyone gather close!"
"No, we need to keep them AWAY from her!" Mars shouted back from somewhere across the courtyard. "Split up and draw them away!"
"Someone try to find Mercury's wand!" added Venus. "Hurry!"
Amy reeled, leaning against the wall for support. Her vision was starting to clear, but the barrage of sounds from all directions was giving her a headache; of course, the fact that her head had been rammed into a few walls didn't help much. She felt bad leaving the other Scouts to fight for themselves, especially when they had to protect her at the same time, but it was all she could do to stand up, let alone do something to help her friends. If she could become Sailor Mercury, there might be a chance, but that was becoming more unlikely by the second.
With one final blink, Amy managed to clear her eyes enough that she could see Jupiter and Venus standing in front of her, facing down Lina and Ryoko. "Just concentrate on the one who can't transform," advised Lina. "Once we finish her, Ranma's fiancÃ©e will be safe, and we can get out of here."
"I've gotta admit, these girls can put up a fight," said Ryoko. "But it's over now!" She swung her sword, forcing both Jupiter and Venus to leap out of the way. "Now!"
Lina took aim at Amy through the newly created gap. "BURST RONDO!"
Amy watched the hundreds of bursts of light approach with fear in her eyes, too weak to move out of the way. Thinking quickly, she used that weakness to her advantage, letting herself fall to the ground as the Burst Rondo shattered the wall she'd just been standing in front of. Unfortunately, that left her prone and unable to move as Lina adjusted her aim and fired a second salvo. Amy closed her eyes and waited for the impact that would surely kill her.
It never came. An arm wrapped around her waist, and she was picked up. She heard Sailor Jupiter groan in pain as the first few shots hit her before she could jump clear of the blast zone. But they managed to make it to safety, and Amy grabbed Jupiter's waist tightly as the Scout sped up to stay a step ahead of Ryoko. The energy blade slashed at the air behind them, scraping Amy's legs on several passes and drawing blood twice. The wounds stung, but the pain wasn't nearly enough to make her cry out.
Suddenly, a beam lanced from the sky, exploding on contact with Ryoko's shield. Ryoko spun off to the side, allowing Jupiter to gain some distance. She stopped and spun around to see who had saved her, but the sight was such a shock that she dropped Amy onto the ground. The creature that descended from the sky was even taller than Mewtwo, but its skin was lime green, with triangular olive speckles from head to toe. It had two arms and legs, but there the similarities to the human form ended. Its waist seemed to be a mere orange band connecting its upper half to its lower, and a long tail protruded from the center of its back, beneath what appeared to be a pair of immobile black wings. The tail curled like a snake all the way to the hypodermic-like spike at its end. Its head appeared to have a large boomerang protruding from the forehead, and its face was like that of a mantis, complete with a set of slits where its mouth should have been. It landed lightly on its feet in the center of the courtyard and crossed its arms, facing Ryoko. "I do apologize for my attack," it said in a raspy voice. "But these girls are of no use to me dead."
"I don't get it," whispered Jupiter. "Is he on our side or not?"
"Who do you think you are, pal?" Ryoko asked accusingly.
"My name is Cell," he announced. "I'm told that these girls have a great deal of power, and I want to have it for myself. For that, I'll need them alive until I kill them myself."
"Guess that answers my question," mumbled Jupiter.
Amy quickly stood up, wobbling slightly. "Quick, someone find my wand! I have to help!"
Cell bent down and picked up an object at his feet. "This wand is what gives you your power?" he asked, staring at it. "It doesn't look very special."
Sailor Mars gasped. "Oh no! He's got Mercury's wand!"
Cell snorted and tossed it to Amy. "Here. Do whatever you do with it quickly, so I can get on with killing you."
"Are you crazy?" asked Ryoko. "Once she transforms, she can fight back!"
"That's the idea," replied Cell. "I can't absorb power she doesn't have."
Amy clutched the wand in both hands uncertainly as the other four Scouts gathered around her. "It sounds like he wants me to transform... what should I do?"
"Do it," said Mars. "We'll need all the power we can get to beat him."
Venus nodded. "I can't feel any emotions from him at all, but I'm sure he's not being coerced into fighting us. He WANTS to fight us, and he wants us to be at full power."
"Well, we're going to be!" said Jupiter. "And we're going to win!"
Cell yawned pretentiously. "You might want to hurry this up," he advised. "And everyone who's not a Sailor Scout might want to find a safe place to hide. We wouldn't want any... unexpected casualties."
Ranma sighed with relief as he leapt to the library roof. Lina and Ryoko landed to either side of him. "Man, that was close," he breathed. "I almost had to kill her."
"Weren't you going to?" asked Lina.
Ranma nodded. "Yeah, I would have. I can't let Akane die, no matter what. But if this Cell can kill them for me, then at least my hands are clean."
Ryoko snorted. "What a wuss."
"I notice you're up here with us, Ryoko," Lina pointed out.
"I'm gonna give Cell his fair chance," said Ryoko. "And when he messes up, then I'm gonna finish the job."
Ranma's eyes widened as he returned them to the scene below. "I don't know about that," he declared. "I've never seen an aura as big as his... and I have a feeling he's holding back a lot."
The girls fell silent and turned their attention to what was happening below.
Amy finally finished catching her breath. "I'm ready," she announced, holding her wand over her head. "MERCURY POWER!"
Cell watched in amazement as Amy transformed into Sailor Mercury. "Excellent," he whispered with an evil gleam in his eye. "This power will indeed serve me well."
"I don't like the way he's looking at us," whispered Mars. "It feels like there's a hungry tiger staring at me."
"Just make sure he doesn't try anything before she finishes transforming," returned Venus.
Despite the Sailor Scouts' caution, Cell seemed perfectly content to watch the transformation to its conclusion.
Ryoko placed a foot on the edge of the roof and rolled up an invisible sleeve. "One shot! That's all it'd take to finish her off right now!"
"Better not," warned Ranma. "I think Cell wants them at full strength for a reason."
"Idiot," said Ryoko. "He's going to be dealing with more than he bargains for."
"Maybe not," countered Lina. "Mewtwo was pretty strong, and I have a feeling Cell's even stronger."
The light faded, and Sailor Mercury stepped to the front of the group, showing no sign of her injuries. "Thanks for waiting. I'm ready to fight!" She pointed boldly at Cell. "I'm Sailor Mercury, and we're the Sailor Scouts! Together, we will put an end to your evil!"
Cell hummed and rubbed his chin. "How deliciously heroic. I'm going to enjoy absorbing you."
"'Absorbing?'" repeated Lina. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ranma shrugged. "Maybe in his own world, it's another word for fighting."
Sailor Venus clenched a fist. "All right, Scouts!" she shouted. "Let's get down and dirty! VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" She pointed her finger and fired her beam at Cell, who didn't flinch as the beam struck his body. When the smoke cleared, there wasn't even a mark.
Sailor Moon gasped. "No effect?"
Mars growled. "Don't tell me we're fighting another one of these invincible enemies!" She held her index fingers together and aimed them at Cell. "MARS FIRE IGNITE!"
Cell stood firm as the flames engulfed him. They seemed to take hold at first, but quickly flickered and died, leaving no sign of damage.
"Where does Queen Beryl find these guys?" asked Jupiter.
"Don't give up!" shouted Mercury. "He must have a weakness!"
Sailor Moon pulled her tiara off and held it over her head. "Guys, try the combined attack!"
"But the Outer Scouts said we weren't supposed to use it!" Venus protested.
"I don't think we have a choice," replied Sailor Moon. The others nodded and began to concentrate on their powers.
"By the power of Mercury!" shouted Mercury, sending a stream of blue energy into the discus.
"By the power of Jupiter!" shouted Jupiter, blasting the discus with electricity.
"By the power of Mars!" shouted Mars, adding her fire to the mix.
"By the power of Venus!" shouted Venus, finishing the combination with her love energy.
"And by the power of the Moon," finished Sailor Moon, "let our combined power strike down our enemies! SAILOR SCOUTS COMBINED TIARA MAGIC!" She wound up and hurled the powered-up projectile at Cell. His mouth curled upward in a smile as the attack closed the distance - and then he was no longer in its path. Before the Sailor Scouts could react, Cell had jabbed an elbow into Mercury's back and a foot into the side of Venus' head, sending both girls flying.
"He's behind us!" Jupiter shouted unnecessarily. She spun around, aiming a kick at Cell, but he was behind her even before she'd completed the motion. He swiftly brought his fists down on her head, knocking her to the ground... and several feet INTO the ground. Sailor Mars gaped at the Jupiter-shaped indentation, then took a defensive stance, shaking like a leaf.
Cell snorted. "Is this the power that can hold the world in its grip? What a joke. I'm already tired of this ridiculous game." He reached into the hole and pulled Jupiter out by her neck, her body dangling limply from his hand. He raised his tail above his head, and the needlelike tip gleamed in the dim light from the streetlamps.
"One down," declared Ryoko.
Before Cell could impale Sailor Jupiter, a rose stem embedded itself in his tail. Cell turned to face his new adversary and sneered. "Passing through on your way to a cocktail party?" he taunted. "Do yourself a favor and leave now. You're not the one I'm here to kill."
"Not a chance, you evil creature!" shouted Tuxedo Mask. "If you want to harm the Sailor Scouts, you'll have to fight me first!" He drew his cane and brandished it boldly.
Cell let Jupiter fall from his fingers to collapse in an unceremonious heap on the ground. "Very well," he said slowly. "I doubt you'll be much of a challenge, but you'll do for a warm-up."
Tuxedo Mask charged across the courtyard and swung his cane hard at Cell's head. It broke in half on impact, leaving Cell undamaged.
"Tuxedo Mask, get away from him!" shouted Sailor Moon. "He's too powerful!"
Cell smiled evilly. "Now it's my turn." He slammed a fist into Tuxedo Mask's stomach, then followed it with an elbow to the back of Tuxedo Mask's head as he doubled over in pain. Cell's knee found its mark in his opponent's face, sending the caped crusader flying into the sky. Cell launched himself after Tuxedo Mask and overtook him quickly, then swung his arms and knocked him straight down. Tuxedo Mask was unconscious long before he hit the ground.
"Did you see that?" Ranma asked his partners rhetorically. "I don't think even I could beat that!"
"Just be glad he's on OUR side," said Ryoko.
Cell landed lightly beside the still body of his foe. "Have I proven myself worthy of a fight with the Sailor Scouts now?" he mocked the fallen one. "Well, no matter. I can use the extra energy." He raised his tail and jabbed the tip into Tuxedo Mask's back.
"Tuxedo Mask! No!" screamed Sailor Moon.
As the spectators watched helplessly, a bulge formed at the tip of Cell's tail and moved along the length of the long tube, into Cell's body. Another bulge appeared, then another, as if large chunks of Tuxedo Mask's body were being sucked through a straw. The body began to shrink and wither as Cell continued to absorb it.
Sailor Mars' fingers tensed. "MARS FIRE IGNITE!" she shouted, sending a jet of flame at Cell.
As before, Cell ignored the attack, sucking Tuxedo Mask's body patiently through his tail until it was gone. His task finished, Cell pulled his tail free of the empty pile of clothes and turned toward the Sailor Scouts who were still standing. "Refreshing," he announced as casually as if he'd just finished drinking a can of soda. "So, which one of you will be next?"