Cell absorbs the bodies of the Sailor Scouts one by one, adding their power to his own. Could he be unstoppable?
Chapter 18: The Ascension of Cell
The silence didn't last very long before Sailor Moon broke it. "TUXEDO MASK!" she screamed, running toward the empty tuxedo that was all that remained of her future husband.
Sailor Mars grabbed at her as she passed, but missed. "Sailor Moon, no!" she shouted in vain as the crying girl fell to her knees and clutched the pile of clothes, cradling them to her chest as if their former occupant were still within.
Mercury sat up and gasped at the numbers suddenly flashing in giant red characters in her visor. It took her a few seconds to find her voice. "His power!" she shouted at last. "He's become even stronger! It's like he added Tuxedo Mask's power to his own!"
"He absorbed him..." Venus realized. "That's what he meant! He's going to try to absorb all of us the same way!" She got up, pressing a hand to her aching side, and stood in front of Jupiter, who was just beginning to stir. "Sailor Moon, get away from him!" she shouted. "Don't let him stab you with his tail!"
Sailor Moon made no move as Cell raised his tail threateningly.
"She's not even paying attention!" said Mars. "She's still in shock over Tuxedo Mask!"
"We don't have time for her to cry!" snapped Venus. "Sailor Mercury, we have to get her out of there!"
"Right!" Mercury stood up unsteadily and raised her arms. "MERCURY BUBBLES SPLASH!"
Ryoko leapt to the edge of the roof, her body tensing as the courtyard below filled with a thick fog. "Damn! They're going to get away!"
Ranma held her back. "If you go down there, you'll be blind," he reminded her. "We'll watch from up here and make sure they can't get away."
"You can't hide from me!" shouted Cell. There was a bright flash, and waves of energy surrounded him, pushing the fog away. In the now clear air, he could clearly see Sailor Mercury right in front of him, staring back in horror as she vainly tried to drag Sailor Moon away. With a smile, Cell clamped a giant hand around her head and lifted her completely off the ground. Her grip on Sailor Moon broke almost instantly, and she found herself dangling helplessly yet again.
"I've decided," announced Cell. "You'll be the first."
Mercury gritted her teeth and reached up to grab Cell's arm in an attempt to free herself, but a sharp, shooting pain in the right side of her chest stopped her short. She looked down to see the tip of Cell's tail embedded in her breast, sucking up her blood faster than it could pour from the wound.
"Sailor Mercury, no!" screamed Venus. "Sailor Moon, pull yourself together! Mercury needs you!"
Sailor Moon didn't respond to Venus' plea. Cell, however, suddenly stopped his absorption and withdrew his tail from Mercury's chest. He lifted the bloody tip to his mouth and licked it, savoring the flavor of her blood. "Yes... I can taste the power within you. Absorbing your energy alone would be a waste." He let Mercury fall from his fingers, and she crumpled to the ground. The tip of Cell's tail suddenly opened like a blooming flower, becoming a wide funnel with a dark, forbidding hole in its center.
Mercury weakly opened her eyes, coughing up a mouthful of blood as she tried to get her bearings. The next thing she saw was the inside of Cell's funnel, as a strong wind began to pull her toward its gaping mouth. She stretched her arms up and grabbed the sides of the funnel, but the wound in her chest had drained all of her strength. She could offer no resistance as her head and shoulders entered the hole, pinning her arms to her sides. The funnel closed around her, and Cell's powerful tail muscles began to draw her into the tube like a snake ingesting its food.
Lina blanched. "Ew... that's pretty gross."
Ryoko nodded. "Not even the Sailor Scouts deserve THAT."
Venus took aim at Cell's face. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" she shouted, hitting her mark squarely. Cell ignored the attack.
Mars watched with clenched fists. "I can't attack without hitting Mercury too!" She cupped her hands to her mouth. "Yo, meatball-brain! Wake up and do something!"
Sailor Moon snapped to attention, looking up at the object that was casting its shadow on her. The last traces of Mercury's skirt vanished into Cell's tail as she watched, while Mercury continued to kick hopelessly at the air. Sailor Moon immediately leapt to her feet and grabbed Mercury's ankles, pulling as hard as she could. "Hang on, Sailor Mercury!" she shouted. "I won't let you go!"
"Be careful, you idiot!" warned Mars. "You'll get sucked in too!"
Sailor Moon continued to hold on while Cell sucked in Mercury's thighs, then her calves, only barely letting go before the funnel closed around the soles of Mercury's boots. She leapt forward and threw her arms around the base of Cell's tail, trying to stop the bulge that contained Mercury from merging with Cell's body.
With one final grunt of exertion, Cell pulled Mercury's body right through Sailor Moon's arms and into himself. Sailor Moon backed away, staring at the base of his tail, as Cell's entire body began to glow brightly. The light faded within moments, revealing that Cell's skin had changed to a deep blue that reflected the faint light in the courtyard like waves on the surface of a pool. He looked down at himself, enjoying what he saw. "Hmmm... not bad at all. Not as powerful as the fighters in my world, but the elemental power will be of considerable use to me. And when I absorb the rest of their powers...." He looked up at the massed Sailor Scouts with an eager gleam in his eyes.
Sailor Moon grabbed the tip of Cell's tail and tugged angrily on it. "Give her back, you monster! Give Sailor Mercury back!"
Cell glared disdainfully at her. "You really don't learn very quickly, do you?" He flexed the fingers of his right hand and pointed his palm into her face. A powerful spray of water poured out, throwing Sailor Moon backward. She landed on her back, coughing up the water from her lungs as Cell raised his tail to stab her. "I doubt your power will do me any good. I think I'll just take your life energy instead."
"Sailor Moon, no!" shouted Mars, taking aim at Cell. "MARS FIRE IGNITE!" This time, the flames rolled right over Cell without even touching him.
"Be careful!" warned Jupiter as she finally got to her feet. "You'll hit Sailor Moon too!"
"She's about to die anyway if we don't save her!" Mars pointed out.
Venus pointed a finger in desperation, even though she knew her attack was useless. But before she could fire, a glowing boulder streaked across the courtyard, clipping Cell's tail as it darted downward. The deadly point struck the ground beside Sailor Moon's shoulder, and he looked up to see where it had come from just in time to receive a faceful of Sailor Neptune's water attack. The ball of water carried Cell with it until it splashed against the wall of the school building, where another well-timed attack from Uranus smashed into him and knocked him through the bricks and into a classroom.
"It's the Outer Scouts!" cheered Venus.
Sailor Moon quickly shook off her shock and sat up. "Uranus! Neptune!" she shouted accusingly. "What took you so long? If you'd gotten here sooner, you could have saved Sailor Mercury and Tuxedo Mask!"
"Hey, what do you think we were trying to do?" Uranus shot back. "We were here when that thing first attacked Sailor Mercury, but then you jumped in the way and we couldn't get a clear shot!"
"Sailor Mercury can't be dead," added Neptune. "If she were, there would have been a paradox by now. There must be a way to bring her back, somehow."
The pile of bricks in the classroom shifted as Cell climbed to his feet. "That was quite a display," he said. "Even more power than the rest of them! I'll be sure to make good use of your powers once I absorb them."
As he stepped out into the open, Neptune gasped. "He's not damaged at all!"
"We'll have to attack together," said Uranus, taking a battle stance. "Ready, Neptune?"
"Ready!" The two launched their energy blasts in tandem, sending a pair of projectiles streaking toward Cell. He watched them spiral through the air until the last second, when he leapt smoothly over them and changed directions in midair, making a beeline for the Outer Scouts.
"Look out!" shouted Uranus, too late. Cell was between the Outer Scouts before they could move, swinging his legs to kick both of them at the same time. Sailor Uranus' flight sent her through the wall of the auditorium, while Neptune landed on her back on the blacktop, skidding several feet before coming to a stop. She managed to open her eyes, only to see Cell's funnel bearing down on her.
This time, Sailor Moon leapt to action immediately. "MOON TIARA MAGIC!" she shouted, hurling her attack at Cell. Cell merely knocked the discus aside with his forearm and covered Neptune's head with his tail. She struggled to escape, but the pain in her bruised side quickly drained what little strength she could muster to fight the powerful suction.
Uranus weakly climbed out of the hole in the auditorium wall and gathered energy in her hand. It wasn't much, but it would have to do. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!" she shouted, sending her attack in Cell's direction. He was so engrossed in his target that he failed to see the attack coming, and it hit him in the back hard enough to knock him off balance. Sailor Neptune popped out of his tail and rolled onto her stomach as she landed.
Uranus tried to prepare a follow-up attack, but she was in severe pain. She fell to one knee, leaning on the rubble from the wall to stay up even that much. "Neptune, run!" she shouted desperately.
Neptune pushed herself up onto her elbows, but a shooting pain in her side stopped her short. "I can't move!" she shouted back. "I think my ribs are broken!"
"We can't let Cell absorb her!" said Mars. She ran toward the monster, with Venus and Jupiter close behind. Cell simply waved his arm at them, and a wave of energy threw them all backward. With those distractions out of the way, he returned his attention to the helpless Neptune. Realizing the futility of trying to stand, Neptune began to crawl away, but she couldn't move quickly enough. Cell lifted his foot and brought it down hard on the small of her back, forcing the air out of her lungs in one blow. She felt the rest of her ribs snap one by one, and then everything went black.
The others watched helplessly as Cell once again covered Neptune's head with his funnel, knowing that their attacks would have no effect. Only Uranus continued to fight, but her weakened body refused to move. "Neptune, hang on!" she shouted, more to herself than to her partner. "I'll save you, somehow!" She sat down heavily and turned her face to the sky. "Sailor Pluto, hurry! Do something! Forget about the Inner Scouts and save Neptune!"
There was no response to Uranus' plea as Neptune's body slid through Cell's tail like a strand of spaghetti.
Uranus pounded the ground uselessly with her fist. "NEPTUNE! DAMMIT, WHY DON'T YOU DO SOMETHING? I KNOW YOU CAN!"
Ryoko snorted. "Hmph. The way she's crying, you'd think those two were married or something."
"This is sick," said Ranma, getting to his feet.
"Nothing wrong with a little healthy love between women," said Ryoko.
"That's not what I mean! He's not just killing them, he's.... I can't just stand here and watch!" He stepped onto the edge of the roof, preparing to jump down, but Lina held him back.
"Just let him do his job, Ranma," she urged him. "Then Akane will be safe, and we can all go home."
Ranma sighed and sat down. "Yeah, you're right. This is what happens when I can't get the job done. But I don't like it."
Down below, Cell pulled Sailor Neptune into his body and began to glow, as his body took on an even deeper shade of aqua. The appearance of water on his skin seemed to penetrate even deeper into his body now, and the reflections were those of a stormy sea rather than calm waves. "Excellent," he declared. "Now I can truly feel the power of water flowing through me." He spread his arms, and four jets of water sprayed from the earth, fountaining several stories into the air and soaking a large area of the courtyard.
"We're never going to beat him at this rate!" shouted Mars. "He's just going to suck us all up one by one and absorb our powers!"
Cell stepped casually out from between the fountains of water and strode toward Sailor Uranus. "Please, don't stop screaming for my sake," he invited. "I want to hear your terror one more time before you join your friend."
"I'll never give you the pleasure!" Uranus spat defiantly, brushing tears from her face angrily.
"Stop right there!" shouted a deep voice from behind Cell. He turned to face a woman almost as tall as himself, sporting long hair that was such a dark shade of green it was almost black, and a sailor fuku with an even darker skirt. "You must stop this at once, before you destroy this entire universe!"
Uranus' eyes grew wide at the sound of the voice. "Pluto... you bitch! Why didn't you save Neptune?"
"It is not my place to interfere in this world," replied Pluto. "Already, I have done too much, and given power to my adversary. But if Cell continues this absorption, the risk will be even greater."
"It really doesn't matter how many of you I absorb," countered Cell. "No power in this universe can stand up to me. The power I acquire here is merely a means to simplify my goal." He raised his arm and fired an energy blast at Sailor Pluto. Without seeming to move, she was suddenly several feet outside the path of the attack. Cell's eyes narrowed. "I see. You have power like his...."
"You cannot absorb me," warned Sailor Pluto. "If I am destroyed, it will throw this entire universe into chaos!"
"As if I care about the fate of this universe!" snorted Cell. "All that matters to me is the power that you and the other Sailor Scouts have!"
"I won't let you lay a finger on any one of them!" shouted Pluto. "PLUTO DEADLY SCREAM!" She leveled her staff at Cell and fired a ball of dark energy at him. Cell easily dodged the attack and retaliated with a ball of his own energy, which Pluto parried with her staff.
Sailor Moon trotted over to where the other Inner Scouts stood, watching the unfolding duel. "Who is that woman?" she asked. "She looks like a Sailor Scout!"
"Uranus called her Sailor Pluto," said Venus. "I wonder why they didn't tell us about her before."
"I don't like the way that fight is going," said Mars. "They're too evenly matched!"
"At least Sailor Pluto's holding her own so far," observed Jupiter. "Maybe she can beat him!"
Deciding that long-range combat was useless, Cell darted in to close range and began to attack Sailor Pluto with his fists and feet, his limbs moving so quickly that not even Ranma could follow them. Sailor Pluto blocked as best she could, but her limited ability to manipulate time wasn't enough to protect her. She countered by swinging her staff at Cell's head, but the blow didn't faze him.
"She's losing!" shouted Sailor Mars. "Cell's going to absorb her too!"
"We can't let that happen!" Uranus shouted across the battlefield. "Sailor Pluto is the Guardian of Time! If Cell controls her power, he'll be unstoppable!"
"Don't do this!" Pluto begged, trying one more time to reason with Cell. "If you absorb me, this universe will be destroyed by the paradox!"
Lina's ears perked up. "Paradox? They mentioned that before."
"You think it's a bluff?" asked Ranma. "I mean, universes don't just blow up, do they?"
"It's not as hard as you think to destroy a universe," Lina pointed out. "I've almost destroyed my own twice. Which is why I'm here, actually...."
Before she could finish her sentence, a lucky strike from Cell's tail sent Pluto's staff spinning across the blacktop. Cell's tail was at her throat before she could blink. "On second thought..." he mumbled, then quickly rammed his tail forward, barely missing Pluto's windpipe. "You're too dangerous an opponent to underestimate." He pulled his tail free, and Pluto fell to her knees, blood gushing from the wound. The tail opened into a funnel, and he positioned it over her head, preparing to absorb her power.
"It's all over if he absorbs her!" shouted Mars. "We have to stop him!"
Uranus stood up, holding the wall for support with one hand while she charged up her attack with the other. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!"
Cell calmly pointed his palm at the incoming projectile and blasted it with a powerful jet of water, sending it right back at Uranus, who barely managed to fall flat on her face as the stone exploded against the wall above her. The threat dispensed with, he returned to his objective, covering Pluto's head with his tail and beginning to draw her in.
"What are we going to do?" asked Venus. "He's too strong, and he has water powers now!"
"Water powers?" Jupiter's eyes lit up. "Everybody stand back! I have an idea!" As the other Scouts backed away, Jupiter's hair stood on end. She crossed her arms over her chest and raised the antenna of her tiara. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" A bolt of lightning struck her antenna, then arced across the courtyard to Cell. Cell screamed in pain as the electricity shot through his body, and Sailor Pluto shot out of his tail like a bullet. She rolled across the ground and came to a stop not far from Uranus.
Uranus raised her head. "Pluto, you have to get out of here! You can't let Cell absorb your power too!"
"But you and the others..." protested Pluto.
"We'll be in even more danger if Cell absorbs you," Uranus pointed out. "Just get yourself someplace safe and don't worry about us!"
"I'm afraid you're right," agreed Pluto. She raised her arm imploringly toward where her staff had fallen. "Key of Time, to me!"
The staff vibrated at her command, then leapt up and flew toward her. Cell sneered and stretched out a hand to grab it, but a shout of "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" from Jupiter sent another bolt of lightning through his body, paralyzing him long enough for the staff to slip through his fingers and into Pluto's. Space wrapped around her, and she vanished.
Cell snarled as he watched his target escape. "It seems I've made a mistake by absorbing the two Sailor Scouts with water elemental powers, giving me a weakness to an electric attack." His eyes focused on Uranus as she tried once again to stand up. "However, the power of earth should be an adequate shield."
Uranus' eyes grew wide as she realized that she was the new object of Cell's attention. She felt a chill as she realized that there was nothing she could do to protect herself, but she was determined to go down fighting. "URANUS WORLD SHAKING!" she shouted, pounding the ground in front of her and sending a boulder streaking toward Cell. He darted around it and landed on her back, knocking the air out of her lungs, then hopped to the ground beside her.
"Sailor Uranus!" shouted Sailor Moon. "Jupiter, you have to do something!"
"I'm on it," Jupiter assured her, charging up another blast. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!"
Cell raised his hand at the approaching electricity and shot a giant ball of water at it. The water absorbed the electricity as it crossed the distance, splashing all over Jupiter before she could dodge. Jupiter screamed as the electricity lanced through her body, then collapsed to the ground in a smoking heap.
Seizing advantage of the momentary distraction, Uranus leapt at Cell with her fists raised. Cell spun around and grabbed her wrists in both hands, then pulled them apart, stretching her arms to their limit. His tail appeared above her head, opening to reveal the deadly funnel. With her arms pinned, all she could do was kick at Cell's chest, but he didn't even seem to feel the blows.
Uranus felt the suction from the funnel and knew she didn't have much time left. Thinking quickly, she swung her legs up over her head and braced them on the sides of the funnel. Cell cackled as her feet slipped on the water he'd secreted on the inner surface of the funnel and slid right into the hole. The sides of the funnel closed tightly around her legs and began to draw her in.
Mars fell to her knees and gave Jupiter a vigorous shake. "Come on, wake up! She needs your help!" After a short pause, she shook her head despondently. "No good! She's out cold!"
"We can't just stand here and do nothing!" said Venus. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" The beam hit Cell with no effect. Venus' hand fell to her side in frustration. "Dammit! We're just not powerful enough!"
"The only one with enough power to hurt Cell is Sailor Uranus!" said Mars. "If he absorbs her, we're as good as dead!"
Uranus groaned as the lip of the funnel crept under her miniskirt, pressing against her hips in a way that reminded her of some of the things Neptune used to do during those long evenings they'd spent together. It was a revolting and terrifying comparison. She did her best to ignore the sensations and grabbed at the tail, prying at the edges in a vain attempt to free herself. Unfortunately, the tail's grip was too tight, and there was no room to use her World Shaking. She briefly considered summoning the Space Sword, but the chilling thought of the universe being torn apart quickly dispelled that idea. There was nothing she could do to prevent Cell from sucking her in.
"It's so interesting to watch you struggle," said Cell pensively. "Perhaps I should absorb more of my victims feet first."
"Shut up!" shouted Uranus as the mouth of the funnel expanded just enough to take in her breasts. She could almost feel Neptune's hands on her, as if her partner were taking charge of her absorption personally.... She looked up at the Inner Scouts with desperation in her eyes. "If you girls are holding out some big plan, now would be a great time to use it!"
Sailor Moon turned to her friends. "What about the combined attack?"
"It's our best shot," agreed Mars. "But we need Mercury for that. And Jupiter's in no condition to -"
"I can do it," groaned Jupiter as she climbed to her hands and knees. Venus hauled her to her feet, and she managed to remain standing under her own power.
"I guess it can't hurt to try," said Venus. "We have to do something."
"All right," said Sailor Moon. She removed her tiara and held it over her head.
"Hurry!" shouted Uranus as Cell's tail pulled her shoulders in, forcing her arms straight.
Jupiter raised her arms determinedly. "By the power of Jupiter!" Electricity surrounded the discus as her power took form, forming a cage in the absence of Mercury's water power.
"By the power of Mars!" shouted Mars, sending fire into the cage. It flared like a star as it wrapped around the discus.
"By the power of Venus!" shouted Venus, covering the discus with white energy.
"And by the power of the Moon," finished Sailor Moon, "let our combined powers strike down our enemies!" The mixture of energies combined into a white light, as it had before, but it was rather dim and pulsated as if preparing to wink out at any second. Wasting no time, Sailor Moon hurled the discus at Cell. "SAILOR SCOUTS COMBINED TIARA MAGIC!"
Cell raised his hand to catch the discus, but even without Mercury's energy in it, the projectile proved stronger than his defense for once. It sliced easily through his hand, chopping his fingers off as it went, then proceeded to tear a hole through his chest before whirling off into the sky.
"All right!" cheered Mars. "We got him!"
Cell stared at the hole in his body with an irritated look. "How inconvenient," he assessed. "No matter." He screwed his eyes shut and tensed his muscles, eliciting another groan from Uranus, this one more pained than pleasure. The exposed edges of the wound bulged outward, pulsating in time with a heartbeat; then, in an instant, spat forth enough material to completely fill the hole. Purple slime dripped from the edges of the newly-healed wound, then vanished as the new green skin changed color to match the rest of Cell's body. Seconds after the attack had torn him open, Cell's chest showed absolutely no sign of damage. He tensed again, and the stumps of his fingers disgorged a new set of digits. "That's better," he said. He curled his new fingers experimentally, nodded with satisfaction, then pulled Uranus the rest of the way into his tail in one smooth motion. Her fingers clutched at the edges for a few final seconds before they were pulled inside.
"It didn't do anything at all?" said Mars incredulously.
"Quick, another combined attack!" ordered Sailor Moon.
"There's no time!" replied Jupiter. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" This time, Cell didn't even bother to counter her attack. Instead, he pulled Uranus into his body before the attack could land, and the white glow of his new transformation pushed the electricity away like a rubber suit. When the light faded, the aqueous surface of Cell's body seemed to be covered with sand-colored speckles.
Sailor Moon covered her mouth with her hand and gasped. "She's gone..." she whispered.
"Looks like it's over for them now," said Lina. "They've lost everyone who had enough power to damage Cell, and even the electricity won't work anymore."
"Not to mention Cell seems to be able to heal himself even if they DO damage him," added Ranma.
Below them, Mars came to the same conclusion. "I hate to say it, you guys, but I don't think there's anything we can do. We'd better run for it and hope we can think of something once we're clear!"
"But Mercury and Tuxedo Mask and the others are still inside Cell!" protested Sailor Moon. "We have to save them!"
"We can't save them if we're dead!" Mars shot back. "I say we all run in different directions and try to lose him."
Venus nodded emphatically. "Maybe Sailor Pluto can catch up with us later, once she's healed."
"But the others!" repeated Sailor Moon.
"Just grab her and get out of here!" said Mars. "We don't have time for her whining!"
Sailor Venus grabbed Sailor Moon by the elbow and ran away from Cell, while Jupiter and Mars took off in different directions.
Cell watched them go with a smile on his face. "So, they plan to divide and escape? I suppose it's a reasonable strategy." He flexed his fist. "Let's see how this new elemental power works." He bent down and pressed his palm to the ground at his feet.
At the far side of the courtyard, Sailor Mars shrieked as her legs plunged knee-deep into what had appeared to be solid blacktop. "Not again!" she screamed.
Jupiter, who was similarly mired, turned to her with an inquisitive stare. "What do you mean, not again?"
Mars shook her head. "I don't know.... I just felt the strangest sense of dÃ©jÃ vu."
Jupiter's stomach lurched as she started to lose her balance. As she righted herself, she felt the liquid earth rising around her thighs. "Um, Mars... I think we're sinking!"
Mars quickly lifted her arms to keep them well clear of the sucking surface. "I feel it too. I have a feeling this stuff is quicksand."
"Quicksand?" repeated Jupiter. "But how? This is solid asphalt!"
"Was," corrected Mars. "Cell has the powers of earth AND water now."
Jupiter swallowed hard. "So, what do we do now?"
Mars shrugged. "Sink, I guess."
Meanwhile, Cell appeared in front of the fleeing Venus, cutting off her escape. Venus stopped in her tracks and reflexively pointed her finger at his face. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" Cell flinched at the blow, giving Venus time to turn around and run in the other direction. Sailor Moon couldn't get out of the way fast enough, and the two tripped over each other and fell to the ground at Cell's feet.
Cell's hand wrapped around Venus' throat, and he pulled her up to his face. "Remember, fighting only makes it hurt. Allow me to demonstrate." He gave her throat a hard squeeze as his tail opened above her head.
Sailor Moon sat up and tore her tiara from her head. "MOON TIARA MAGIC!" she shouted, hurling the discus over Cell's shoulder. It neatly sliced the tip off his tail, causing Cell to release his grip on Venus. She dropped to the ground and rolled out of his reach in the same motion.
Sailor Moon stood up and put her hands on her hips. "You may have taken some of our friends from us, but without your tail, you can't absorb the rest of us!"
"That's where you're wrong," said Cell. He clasped his hands together and groaned, and a new tip sprouted from the stump of his tail.
"They're in trouble!" shouted Mars. She lunged for a handhold at the edge of the quicksand, driving herself to waist-depth almost instantly.
"Mars, don't struggle!" warned Jupiter. "It'll just make you sink faster!"
Mars turned to show her determined face to Jupiter. "If it's a choice between being swallowed by quicksand or by Cell's tail, I'll take the quicksand any day."
Jupiter stared at the undulating ground around her hips. "I'd rather not have to die at all, but I guess you've got a point. Hold still and let me try getting out of this stuff." She carefully leaned forward and grabbed the solid edge of the pit, slowly pulling herself toward safety. Her efforts pushed her down as much as forward, but as her waist settled into the quicksand, she found herself close enough to the edge to hold herself up. She lay down on her stomach and pushed with all her might, slowly but steadily swinging her legs up to the surface.
"Wow," said Mars. "Maybe struggling isn't such a bad idea after all."
"It's all -" Jupiter grunted as she pulled her hips out of the pit "- upper body strength."
Mars felt the slurry tickling her lower ribs and sighed. "Well, at least one of us is going to survive."
"I'll get you out as soon as I can," Jupiter assured her.
"Don't worry about me," said Mars. "I'll stop sinking after a while. But I think they need your help more." She raised an arm to point to the other Scouts, who were backing nervously away from Cell as he advanced menacingly on them.
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" shouted Venus, knocking Cell's head back with a well-placed shot.
Cell rubbed his chin and scowled at her. "When did that little beam get so powerful?" he asked.
Venus quickly backed away, firing her Crescent Beam repeatedly to keep Cell at bay, but he pushed his way forward through the constant barrage. Suddenly, Sailor Moon's tiara flew over Venus' head and sliced through Cell's neck, decapitating him. Venus sighed her relief. "Finally! It's over!"
Before Venus could inhale, the stump of Cell's neck bulged, and a new head sprouted forth. Cell tilted his head from one side to the other, casually cracking his neck as if losing and regrowing his head was a common experience for him.
"He's unstoppable!" whined Sailor Moon. "We're never going to beat him!"
"Just keep attacking him with everything you've got!" commanded Venus. "I think we might be weakening him!" She pushed all of her energy into a Crescent Beam, knocking Cell back hard enough that he had to stab his tail into the ground to keep his balance. Relieved, she took another step backward, and the ground swallowed her legs in an instant. She screamed and raised her arms to ward off Cell's funnel as it descended upon her - but the next thing she felt was a pair of hands grabbing her waist and pulling her out of the quicksand. She looked up to see the mud-covered Sailor Jupiter standing in front of her, holding Cell's tail up to keep it away from Venus, while Sailor Moon hauled her to solid ground.
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" shouted Venus, knocking Cell's tail aside with her beam to allow Jupiter to escape. "Thanks for the save, guys!"
"Go help Sailor Mars!" ordered Jupiter, waving her arm in the direction of the imperiled Scout. "I'll keep Cell busy!"
"I'm staying too!" asserted Sailor Moon. She pulled off her tiara and prepared to throw it in Jupiter's defense.
"You guys be careful," said Venus. "I'll be right back with Sailor Mars!"
Cell smiled as Venus ran to Mars' rescue. "I trust you've realized the futility of running away. It's only a matter of time now until you're all part of me."
"I wouldn't bet on it!" retorted Jupiter. She quickly leapt aside as she saw Cell stab his tail into the ground, barely escaping before the spot where she'd been standing turned to quicksand. "You can't catch me with the same trick twice!"
"Well, he tricked me!" whined Sailor Moon, knee-deep in the liquid ground. "Help!"
Jupiter groaned in exasperation, not taking her eyes off Cell. "Sorry, but I'm a little busy right now! Try not to move!"
"Easy for you to say," mumbled Sailor Moon. "I'm the one who's sinking!"
"Then let's make this quick," said Jupiter. "JUPITER THUNDER CRASH!" Lightning leapt from her tiara and enveloped Cell, who didn't even flinch. "Shoot! I forgot that won't work!"
Cell chuckled and curled his hand around a ball of energy, which he casually flung at Jupiter with such speed that she couldn't dodge it. The explosion threw her head over heels, but Cell was in front of her before she could land. He stretched out his arm and flicked her forehead with a finger, sending her into the sky. He leapt up to meet her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and shot downward at supersonic speed, letting go of her just above the ground and veering off. He hovered beside the giant cloud of dust from her impact and reached into it, pulling Jupiter out by her ponytail.
"Hold it right there!" shouted Sailor Moon, brandishing her tiara without regard to the quicksand that she was waist-deep in. "I won't let you hurt my friends any more!"
Cell clamped his hand onto Jupiter's skull and picked her up, letting her body dangle in front of his body. "Are you willing to risk her life by attacking me?"
"You can't use her as a shield!" protested Sailor Moon. "That's just evil!"
"So I'm told," said Cell with a mock bow. "I'd advise you to hold still until I'm done with this one."
"Just try it!" threatened Sailor Moon, holding her discus aloft. "If you try to absorb her, I'll have a clear shot at your tail!"
"Yet, the luxury of time is on my side," noted Cell.
Sailor Moon gave the quicksand a brief worried glance. "I don't care what happens to me!" she shouted defiantly. "If I have to die to protect my friends, then I will!"
"I'm sure that can be arranged," agreed Cell.
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" The beam struck the side of Cell's head, nearly snapping his neck from the force. Venus and Mars ran to Sailor Moon's side, each grabbing an arm to haul her up out of the pit.
Cell threw a ball of light at the trio, who could do little more than brace for the impact. Venus and Mars held on doggedly to Sailor Moon's arms as the projectile exploded, but that only caused all three of them to fly across the courtyard together, landing in a heap in the giant puddle of water from Cell's original demonstration of Neptune's power.
"You can't all die at once," said Cell as he turned his attention back to the unconscious Sailor Scout in his hand. He shifted his grip to hold her shoulders so that he could cover her head with the funnel and begin to suck her in. As the lip of the funnel closed over her shoulders, Jupiter's legs began to kick weakly, but she was powerless to stop her ascent into the tube.
Sailor Moon raised her head just in time to see the hem of Jupiter's skirt vanish into Cell's tail. "No..." she moaned. "You can't!" She pushed herself to her feet, slipping several times in the pitch that covered her legs. By the time she could stand, only Jupiter's muddy boots were visible poking out of the end of Cell's tail. They quickly went up the tube as well.
Sailor Moon tore the tiara from her head. "MOON TIARA MAGIC!" As she wound up to throw, a wave of dizziness hit her, and her vision blurred. The discus flew off in the wrong direction, nearly slicing off Ranma's ear as he ducked, while Sailor Moon fell back to the ground.
Cell watched the discus fly out of sight, shaking his head sadly. "Humans. Such sad creatures. Even when they can't take care of themselves, they try to help others. It all amounts to the same thing in the end." He pulled Sailor Jupiter into his body. "But enough poetry. I have a job to do." As the glow of his new integration faded, arcs of electricity crackled across his skin. He watched them trace from pebble to pebble across his arms, then pointed a finger at the Sailor Scouts who remained.
Venus lifted her head out of the water, which was beginning to turn black as it washed the mud off their bodies, and saw Cell preparing to launch an attack. She wasted no time in putting up the only defense she could. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" The beam tore into Cell's shoulder, snapping his arm back and sending his electric attack harmlessly into the sky.
Cell stared angrily at the smoking crater in his shoulder. "What is happening? Why does your attack damage me more as I grow more powerful?"
"Yeah," echoed Ryoko, "how come? He should be even stronger now, right?"
"I thought it would be obvious," replied Lina. "Just like when he absorbed too much water power and had an elemental weakness to electricity, now he's got an elemental weakness to Sailor Venus' love power."
"What kind of power makes him weak to that?" asked Ryoko.
"Evil," replied Lina. "His entire body is full of it, and every time he absorbs a Sailor Scout, that power grows."
Ryoko hummed. "Talk about a double-edged sword."
Cell seemed to disappear and reappear at the edge of the puddle as the Sailor Scouts tried to get to their feet. He reached down and grabbed Venus by the collar as the hole in his shoulder rippled and repaired itself. "You won't live to try that again, I promise you." He clenched his fingers and sent the full force of his electricity through her. She couldn't hold back the screams as her body arched and bucked involuntarily while Cell fried her alive.
Sailor Moon pushed herself up to an elbow at the sound of Venus' screams and grabbed her tiara, then threw it sidearm at Cell while shouting "MOON TIARA MAGIC!" Cell easily knocked the discus away with his forearm, letting up his electric attack for a split second while he was distracted. Venus seized the opportunity and focused her energy into her fingertip, then pressed it to Cell's wrist before the electric current could resume. The blast completely severed Cell's hand, dropping her to the ground with its fingers still clutching her leotard.
Now it was Sailor Mars who had risen to her knees to take aim at the stump of Cell's wrist. "MARS FIRE IGNITE!" she shouted, sending a jet of flame shooting across the exposed innards of Cell's arm.
Once the flame attack had ended, Mars rose to her feet to assess the damage, but as always, Cell's body was unharmed. Without even acknowledging the attack, Cell tensed his muscles to regrow his hand. However, after several seconds had passed, his arm remained handless. "What's wrong with me?" he asked aloud. "Why am I not regenerating?" His eyes narrowed, and he glared at Mars. "You...."
Mars smiled and gave a cocky salute. "I call that the Sailor Mars Cauterization Special."
Cell simply pointed at her with his good hand and blasted her with electricity until she collapsed. "I don't have a name for that," he said, "but if it shuts you up, I'm satisfied."
Venus shakily stood up, raising a finger threateningly. "Hey, you leave her alone!"
"Every time I put one down, another pops up," groaned Cell.
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" shouted Venus, shooting a beam at Cell. He slid aside to dodge it, then darted forward and smacked her on the head with the tip of his tail before she could get off another shot. She leaned back just in time to avoid the worst of the impact, but as she fell, Cell's funnel opened and quickly snapped closed around her right wrist. She threw her weight backward, hoping to break free, but merely wrenched her shoulder and nearly dislocated it as Cell's grip held firm. The muscles within his tail closed around her hand and drew her in until the tip of the tail encircled her shoulder. Realizing that the opening wasn't large enough to take her in any further, Venus grabbed the tip of the tail and pried with fierce determination, but when the funnel opened, the tube held her arm firmly in place. She was drawn into the wider opening in an instant, and the funnel closed over her head, entombing her in its cold darkness.
Sailor Mars pushed herself to her elbows and watched as Sailor Venus again began to slide up Cell's tail. She clenched her fists angrily and turned her head to face Sailor Moon. "Yo, meatball-head, wake up! Sailor Venus needs your help!"
Sailor Moon weakly opened her eyes. "I don't think I can use my power again," she whispered. "I barely made it work the last time."
"You can't just give up!" shouted Mars. "You never give up, no matter how bad things get!"
"I can't move," moaned Sailor Moon. "I don't have the energy left to fight any more."
"Then find it!" snapped Mars. "You're the one who wanted to stay and fight when the rest of us wanted to run away. And you were right. It's our duty to protect all the people who can't fight for themselves. We have to win, to protect everyone! And right now, Cell's sucking up the best chance we have at victory! Are you going to let him take Sailor Venus too?"
Sailor Moon shook her head and removed her tiara. "Moon... Tiara..." she whispered, making the headpiece glow faintly. It flickered, alternately taking the form of a discus, then returning to its original shape. "I can't do it," she announced tearfully. "I've never had to use so much power at once. I just... don't have it in me anymore." Her hand fell to the ground, dropping the tiara into the mud.
Mars let Sailor Moon be and turned her attention instead to Cell, as the last traces of Venus' boots vanished into his tail. "Then I guess it's up to me," she spat, pushing herself to her feet. She clasped her hands together with her index fingers extended and drew on all the power she could find, pushing it into the growing fireball at her fingertips.
Cell spread his arms wide, pulling his tail behind him. "You want one final shot at me before I absorb you as well? Then make it a quick one. You haven't much time."
Mars gritted her teeth as the energy coursing through her began to take its toll, making her entire body ache, but she ignored the pain and focused on her goal. She had to come up with enough energy to destroy Cell in one shot, and the only way to be sure was to give him everything she had left and then some. But she had to wait until the last possible second, to make sure she had every ounce of power she could muster....
Suddenly, Cell's tail exploded in a blinding flash of light, showering the entire courtyard with purple goo. Cell spun around to face the source of the attack, but the only thing behind him was Sailor Venus, sprawled on the ground and coughing. "You... how did you do that?" he demanded. "Did you destroy my tail from the inside?"
Sailor Mars smiled as Cell turned his back to her, giving her an excellent target - the stump of his missing tail. She took aim and let fly the attack she'd been building up, sending a powerful jet of flame shooting at the exposed target. A spout of water from the stump formed a shield just a moment before the flames could hit home, but Mars poured even more energy into the attack, adrenaline surging through her system as sheer determination overcame her fatigue. Gallons of water turned to steam in the wake of Mars' fire, forming a cloud that covered Cell from head to toe, but she kept fighting. This attack was her only chance, and just a little more power would spell the end of Cell's murderous rampage....
A barely perceptible shadow moved slightly in the depths of the steam cloud. Before Mars could react, Cell's new tail shot out of the steam and tore right through her stomach as it regrew. The entire needle protruded from her back in a spray of blood, while the round tip penetrated halfway through her body before finally reaching its limit and lodging in her gut. A quick gasp escaped her lips, along with a few ounces of blood. Then, Cell withdrew his tail in a swift motion, opening the funnel and covering her head with it before her nearly lifeless body could fall to the ground.
Sailor Moon's heart sank as she watched helplessly. "I'm sorry... I wasn't strong enough."
Venus rolled over and took aim at Cell's back. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!" Her beam hit the base of Cell's tail, leaving a large burn mark but not penetrating the skin. Cell twisted at the waist and fired a ball of light, which exploded right next to her as she rolled out of the way. The blast threw her several feet across the courtyard. When she stopped, she looked up to see Cell standing over her.
"Wait your turn," he said. "I have to finish absorbing this one before she dies."
"NO!" screamed Venus, climbing to her feet. She pointed her finger at Cell's face, but he grabbed her forearm in his remaining hand and twisted hard, nearly lifting her off the ground in a very painful way. Venus cried out in pain and lost her balance, tugging even harder on her pinned arm as she started to fall. Cell held her for just a second longer before letting her drop to the ground, where she curled around her injured arm protectively.
Cell sneered at the fallen Scout as he pulled Sailor Mars the rest of the way into his tail. "The power of fire is mine," he announced. "Now things will really - dare I say it? - heat up!" He cackled as his body glowed with the familiar energy as he integrated Sailor Mars into himself. When the glow faded, the sparks crackling over his skin were joined by tiny peals of flame that leapt from one invisible node to another like solar flares.
"Well, let's see how it works," said Cell. He peered down at Sailor Venus and opened his mouth to spit a wave of fire at her. Venus' eyes widened in horror as the flames approached, and she pushed herself away with her good arm, barely rolling to safety in time.
"Lovely," said Cell. "I can see why Chronite felt this power would be of use to me." He raised the stump of his right arm and pointed his left index finger at it. A ball of light formed at the tip of the finger and shot out in a beam that severed what was left of his forearm. A new hand instantly sprouted from the freshly opened stump. "Ahh, it feels good to be whole once again, now that they don't have the power of fire to prevent me from regenerating lost parts."
Venus quickly stood up, bracing her injured arm with her left hand. "I've had enough!" she shouted. "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM -"
Before she could finish her attack, Cell's fist pounded her in the stomach with enough force to instantly double her over. She coughed up a lungful of blood as her body curled around his fist, while time seemed to slow to a crawl as if to prolong her pain. Then, the laws of momentum reasserted themselves, and she flew across the courtyard to land in an undignified heap.
Sailor Moon pushed herself up on her elbows. "Venus...."
"Well, that was easier than I expected," said Cell as he strode toward the incapacitated Scout. Sailor Venus tried to stand up, but hadn't gotten to her hands and knees before her stomach heaved and she vomited up a foul-tasting mixture of blood and half-digested food. She spat out the last of it as Cell's shadow fell on her, blocking the light from the streetlamps.
"Stop!" shouted Sailor Moon. "I won't let you!" She pushed herself up to her feet, wobbling wildly as she stood upright. The tiara in her hand became a discus, flickered, then glowed brightly. "I won't let you hurt her!"
Cell turned to face her. "Are you up already? Then I'll just have to beat you first!" He opened his hand and charged up a ball of energy to throw at her, but a wide beam of light shot through him from behind, tearing a gaping hole in his chest. He whirled angrily on Venus and raised his arm to throw the ball at her instead, but the Moon Tiara tore a chunk out of his left side before he could strike. He screamed in rage and leapt into the air, coming down where Sailor Moon had been standing with enough force to leave a crater as the Scout dove out of the way.
"Don't give up!" shouted Venus. "We've got a chance to beat him! Keep attacking until there's nothing left!" She rose to one foot, but a wave of nausea prevented her from standing up any further.
Cell ignored the hopeful plea and lowered his hand to shoot the energy ball at Sailor Moon before she could recover from the shock of his previous attack. She crawled out of the way, barely making it to the periphery of the blast in time. The explosion sent her rolling across the blacktop, but she used the momentum to roll to her feet. She tore the tiara from her head, but dropped it as the ground liquefied beneath her feet and swallowed her legs whole. The tiara landed on the wet surface and bobbed for a split second before the mud closed over it. Sailor Moon gasped and plunged her arms into the quicksand, searching for the lost tiara, but her fingers found nothing but the bottomless mud.
Cell smiled. "That ought to keep her busy for a while." He turned back to Sailor Venus, who tensed as she felt his eyes on her and aimed her finger at him.
"VENUS CRESCENT BEAM SMASH!"
Cell leaned easily aside to dodge the blast, then leapt forward, grabbing her arms and holding them as far apart as they would stretch. She twisted in his grip, hoping to pull an arm free, but her stomach churned as she moved, abruptly ending her struggle.
"No!" shouted Sailor Moon. "I have to save Sailor Venus, with or without my tiara!" She pulled her arms out of the mud, sinking to her chest in the process, and lunged for the edge of the pit. Her mud-covered fingers slipped across the solid surface without finding purchase. She swallowed hard as the quicksand rose around her neck and clawed vainly at the ground in a last, desperate attempt to survive. Suddenly, something beneath the surface grabbed her foot and tugged it sharply, causing her leg to jerk involuntarily. The sudden movement plunged her head beneath the surface in an instant, and she panicked, thrashing wildly in an attempt to swim to the surface for air. This only served to speed her descent, and she sank even faster as the surface rose farther and farther out of reach. Blind and deaf to the world, Sailor Moon sank into the infinite muddy blackness until she could hold her breath no longer. The air escaped from her lungs in a single fatal gasp, and the mud rushed in to fill the vacuum, coating her tongue with the acrid taste of pitch as it filled her and choked out the last of her air.
Venus watched helplessly as the quicksand swallowed the last traces of Sailor Moon's pigtails and the bubbles of her dying exhalation broke the surface. "I can't believe it... not Sailor Moon!"
"Indeed," countered Cell. "I didn't need her power anyway. But yours seems to be stronger than I first believed, so I suppose it's only fitting that I absorb you last."
Venus quickly turned her attention back to Cell, remembering her own predicament now that Sailor Moon had succumbed to her fate. Summoning all the strength she had left, she swung her legs up and kicked at his chest repeatedly, but Cell ignored the blows and waited patiently while she put up the last fight of her life. Her stomach turned from the effort, but she choked back the bile that rose in her throat and let her legs dangle while she summoned the energy for another round.
She never got the chance. Before she could move again, she felt the lip of the funnel tighten around her ankles, and her heart leapt into her throat. She tried to pull her legs free, but Cell's tail held her in an unbreakable grip, closing tightly around her feet as it rose around her body, encircling more and more of her with every second that passed. Once again, she tried to pull an arm out of Cell's grasp, but that too proved to be stronger than her weakened muscles. There was nothing she could do to prevent the tail from swallowing her, inch by inch.
Already, the lip of the tail was around her shoulders, and Cell raised her arms straight over her head so they would fit into the tube. The movement forced her head back, and she found herself staring up into the night sky. As she watched, the starry field split apart, spilling colorless light onto the battlefield through a countless web of cracks. "A paradox," she whispered. "I have to stop it! I have to fight...." But even as she said it, she knew it was futile. Her head was halfway into Cell's tail, and she couldn't move a muscle. She closed her eyes firmly, shutting out the scene of impending destruction. "I'm sorry, everyone. I let you all die, even Sailor Moon. I couldn't save you." A tear ran down her cheek. "But don't worry. We're all going to be together again soon." The tail closed over her head, and she took her final breath and waited for the end.