Sailor Moon returns from the brink of death and stands alone against Cell, who has acquired all the powers of the other Sailor Scouts.
Chapter 19: One on One with the Evil One
She was a horrible person.
She couldn't believe how useless she had turned out to be when her friends had needed her the most. She'd given everything she had to keep them safe, but one by one, they'd been taken from her. And now she, too, was going to die. Not only that, but she was going to die in the most ignominious way imaginable. But it was all she deserved after her failure. She wasn't worthy of the title of Sailor Scout.
No, that was wrong. She couldn't blame herself. She'd done her best. It was the fault of Cell and his monstrous power. She'd learned long before that she couldn't hold herself accountable for the destruction caused by Queen Beryl and her minions. They were the bad guys... she and her friends were doing everything they could to stop it, but they were only human. Well, more than human, but still far from infallible. Obviously, given that she was dying....
Was she dead yet? Clearly not, if she was still thinking. Then again, maybe this was what death was like... complete senselessness, with nothing to do but think for all eternity. It certainly wasn't what she'd expected, but not many things she'd encountered were. She hadn't expected to become a Sailor Scout either, and since then, her life had been nothing but a succession of surprises. In that light, her death was just the latest surprise in the nearly interminable list - one more hurdle to get over, even if it was the last.
But was it really the end? If she could still think, there might still be hope! If she could just do something... anything! She pushed her arm upward with all her might against the anticipated resistance, but it moved easily as if through nothing but air. Her shoulder blade rubbed against the ground as she moved, and for the first time, she considered the possibility that she had ended up in a new place altogether. The air was not cold, and the temperature of the ground matched her body's heat so well that she hadn't even felt it until she'd tried to move. It was perfectly flat, as well, not the rough texture of the blacktop she'd been on while fighting Cell. So she wasn't in a senseless void after all... just a place with very little to sense. No sound or smells, anyway, and not much to feel. As for sight... well, having her eyes tightly closed made it difficult to judge. There certainly didn't seem to be much light filtering through her eyelids. But it probably wasn't completely dark out there either, and seeing where she was might give her some clue as to what had happened. It was probably either heaven or hell, though. She certainly hadn't been reincarnated into a full-grown body. Everyone knew that when you were reincarnated, you had to start from birth. Or was she an exception due to the Planet Power within her? No, that couldn't be. She'd been reincarnated once already, and had had to be born just like any other girl.
Still, all the pondering was just delaying the inevitable moment when she would have to stop wondering where she was and just open her eyes. Whatever fate lay in store for her was unlikely to get any more desirable as she waited. Not to mention that she had no idea whether this new body would get hungry or sleepy or need to use the restroom, and she would have to find places to take care of those needs before they arose. And what did she have to be scared of, anyway? Anything that happened to her from this point was bound to happen sooner or later anyway, now that she was in this afterlife. It was about time she faced her fate.
A brilliant starlit sky greeted her as she opened her eyes. The stars shone clearly, without the twinkling she'd grown accustomed to from her time in the living world. This world had no clouds to distort the starlight. But the stars alone couldn't account for the soft glow that surrounded her. She sat up to get a better view of her environment. Everything she saw - the broken columns of crystal, the ornate fountains that no longer sprayed water, the fallen statues of both humans and creatures she'd never seen before, even the tiled ground itself - still emitted a faint light that belied the ruined condition of the place. It probably wasn't hell... but if it was heaven, it had recently fallen to some dark power. Still, there was an eerie familiarity to the place. It wasn't quite as if she'd been there before, but in some way, she felt incredibly safe, as if an aura of magic protected anyone who entered from harm. As she surveyed the decrepit splendor, the fear she'd felt before quickly vanished.
Newly emboldened, she stood up and brushed off the skirt of her fuku, even though there was no dust on the ground to collect on her clothes. The soft sound of her hands brushing the cloth stood out in the silence, reminding her that even though she had overcome her fear, she was still alone in this place. "Hello?" she called out. She waited for a while, but there was no reply - not even the echo of her own voice. She spun around, searching for any sign of life other than herself... and that's when she saw the palace. Well, what remained of the palace, anyway. It was mostly the length of the base of the shattered walls, and the places where what remained of the ancient towers stood, that suggested the form of a crystal palace there. That, and a lingering memory in the back of her mind that, when she had last been here, the palace had stood tall and beautiful. The crystal portcullis used to be right there, and the watchtowers to either side of it, there and there. Above that, the automatic weapons Mercury had built, poised to ward off any who dared attack... the Moon Palace.
"Serena," announced a familiar woman's voice from behind one of the crystal pillars. Sailor Moon whirled to face the woman who had been her mother in a former life. Queen Serenity smiled and bowed slightly. "I've been waiting for you."
"... and then he turned the ground under me into quicksand," said Sailor Moon, bringing the story of the battle with Cell to its conclusion as the two women walked through the former halls of the once great Moon Palace. "I tried to use my tiara to save Venus, but I dropped it and it sank. And I tried to get out, but I couldn't. I thought I was dead, but instead, I woke up here."
Serenity nodded sagely. "Yes, I know why you've come here." She motioned for Sailor Moon to stop, while she turned around and took her seat in the crystal throne that had miraculously remained intact amidst the rubble. "Sailor Pluto told me this day would come."
"She did?" queried Sailor Moon.
"Indeed. Sailor Pluto knows all that happens in past, present, and future. When I gave up my life to send you and the Sailor Scouts into the future, Pluto preserved my spirit for this very purpose. She told me that, after you had defeated Beryl, you would face more difficult opponents, fiends with greater power than you were capable of fighting with the power you would possess at the time. One of them would pull you into the ground, and that would trigger the spell of destiny that Sailor Pluto placed upon your soul. Instead of dying, you would awaken here, where I would present you with the power you need to defeat your new enemies."
Sailor Moon gasped in wonder. "Really? You can help me beat Cell?"
"I believe I can," Serenity replied with a smile. She reached behind the throne and withdrew an ornate golden scepter. Its handle was decorated with three embossed stars, ending with an ornament in the shape of a heart, which was attached to a ruby-set crescent moon framing a large red orb and topped with a jeweled crown. "This is the Moon Scepter. Its power is far greater than that of the Moon Crescent Wand."
"The Moon Scepter..." Sailor Moon repeated as she reached for the scepter. "It's beautiful. Is it really powerful enough to beat Cell?"
"It must be," replied Serenity. "Pluto would not have spent the effort to create the destiny spell if it were not the key to your victory."
"Then I'll take it!" said Sailor Moon. "With this, defeating Cell and Beryl will be no problem!"
Serenity quickly pulled back the scepter before Sailor Moon's fingers could close around it. "Did you say Beryl? I thought you had already defeated her!"
Sailor Moon shook her head. "No... she's the one sending these new enemies after us."
Serenity's face darkened. "But that's impossible. Pluto told me that you would come here after defeating Beryl. If this is too soon, then...." Her eyes fell to the Moon Scepter.
"What is it?" asked Sailor Moon. "What's wrong?"
"I - I don't think I can give this to you now," said Serenity. "I'm sorry. You're not ready for it yet."
"But I need it!" protested Sailor Moon. "There's no way I can beat Cell without it!"
"The Moon Scepter is not merely more powerful than the weapons you wield already," explained Serenity. "It also draws much more of your spirit to produce that power. If your spirit is not strong enough to withstand that drain, the power of the Moon Scepter will tear you apart."
"But you said if," Sailor Moon pointed out. "Does that mean I might be strong enough already?"
"You could be," admitted Serenity. "There is no absolute answer, no criterion which will determine when your body and spirit are capable of handling this power. It will be up to you to judge that." Her hands twisted on the shaft of the Moon Scepter. "In the meantime... I suppose I must leave the decision up to you." She held the scepter up to Sailor Moon. "If you think you are ready, then take it."
Sailor Moon hesitantly reached for the scepter. "I don't know if I'm ready or not. But if it's the only way to save my friends, I have to try."
Serenity pulled the scepter back again. "Serena... there is one more thing I must warn you."
Sailor Moon's hand quickly returned to her side. "What is it?"
"This power... it is not a healing power, like that of the Moon Crescent Wand. The power of the Moon Scepter is pure destruction. It will utterly obliterate anything it touches."
"But the Sailor Scouts are part of Cell! If I destroy Cell while they're still inside him...."
Serenity nodded sadly. "The Sailor Scouts will be destroyed as well."
"Then I can't possibly take it!" Sailor Moon backed away from the throne. "There must be another way!"
"I do not know of another," replied Serenity. "If your power is indeed too weak, then this is the only way I know of to increase it."
"But what about the power I have now?" Sailor Moon asked determinedly. "Isn't there some way I can save the Sailor Scouts?"
"I don't know," repeated Serenity. "The Moon Scepter is the only sure way to defeat Cell... if you can use it."
"But I don't want to destroy my friends...."
"They gave their lives to protect you," Serenity reminded her. "You must not let that sacrifice be in vain. If you allow Cell to overcome you again, then their lives will be wasted."
Sailor Moon nodded ruefully. "When you put it that way...." She stepped back to the throne and reached for the Moon Scepter again. "I guess I have no choice."
"There is always a choice," Serenity corrected her. "Some choices are just more clear-cut than others." She lifted the Moon Scepter into Sailor Moon's hand.
As Sailor Moon's fingers closed around the handle of the Moon Scepter, the air shuddered and familiar cracks split the sky apart. Sailor Moon gasped, frozen in place as the universe teetered on the edge of shattering. "Oh, no! Not this again!"
"What is happening?" asked Serenity, staring into the sky in horror. "Sailor Pluto never mentioned anything about this!"
"No, but Uranus and Neptune told me about it," replied Sailor Moon. "This is a paradox. It means that something's messing with the future, and if we don't fix it, the universe will be torn apart!"
"Then you don't have much time," said Serenity. "You must choose quickly whether or not to accept the Moon Scepter and return to your own time to battle Cell."
"I have to defeat him, or we're all doomed," reflected Sailor Moon. "No matter what the cost, I have to win, even if my friends have to die, right?" She shook her head adamantly and let go of the scepter. "What am I saying? I can't let my friends be destroyed just so I can take the easy way out!"
The cracks in the universe closed, restoring the world to unity. Serenity smiled. "Then your decision is made. Your friends are most important to you, even when your own life is at stake. You will not accept victory at the cost of human lives."
"Is that wrong?" asked Sailor Moon, her voice tinged with worry. "If I throw my life away to save my friends...."
"That very sacrifice is the reason you live," Serenity reminded her. "And the reason I do not."
It took a few moments for the meaning of Serenity's words to hit home. "Huh? Oh...."
"Do not apologize, Serena. I have never regretted my decision, nor would I take it back if given the chance. Pluto tells me that you have grown up into a wonderful girl, and now I've seen it with my own eyes. I'm so proud of you, my daughter."
Sailor Moon felt her face growing warm under the stream of praise. "Well, I'm not really that great... I screw things up all the time, and I'm a real klutz."
"Everyone has moments of clumsiness. You'll grow out of it."
"I sure hope so."
"I KNOW so," Serenity replied with a reassuring smile.
Hope dawned on Sailor Moon's face for the first time since being told of the Moon Scepter's full power. "Then... you really think I can win?"
"You have chosen a difficult path, Serena. Trying to prevent others from making sacrifices will require you to make many of your own, and they will be painful. But it is also a noble path, and it will lead to your truest friends. Always remember that if a leader values her followers as you do, her kindness may bury them... but that kindness can also be the foundation of victory. The universe seems to have faith in you," Serenity added, her smile not diminishing in the slightest. "And I have faith in you as well. All that remains is for you to have faith in yourself."
"Yes," agreed Sailor Moon. "I will save my friends, I know it!"
"Good. Go make me proud," commanded Serenity. "I wish you good fortune and all the love I can give. There is nothing more I can do for you. Until we meet again...." She raised her fingers to her lips and kissed them, then blew the kiss to her daughter. Sailor Moon barely had time to notice it before the floor under her feet opened into a pool of light and swallowed her in an instant. Serenity continued to stare until the light had shrunk to a point and vanished. It was then that she could no longer hold back her tears. "I'm sorry I lied to you, my daughter. I knew the power of the Moon Scepter was beyond your ability, but the choice not to use it had to be yours. Only with the determination to defeat Cell without its power can you succeed. But that determination alone will not be nearly enough."
Sniffling daintily, she returned the Moon Scepter to its place behind her throne and stood up, clasping her hands together in supplication. "Fight well, Sailor Moon. Your future... the future of the universe itself... is in your hands now."
Cell stared in horror into the fragmented sky while Venus' arms grasped blindly for some hope of survival. "Wwhhaatt iiss tthhiiss?" he asked. "Wwhhaatt iiss ggooiinngg oonn?"
Ryoko slowly shivered, every would-be rapid movement accentuated by the time dilation. "Nnoott tthhiiss tthhiinngg aaggaaiinn... iitt ggiivveess mmee tthhee ccrreeeeppss."
"Ii tthhiinnkk tthhiiss iiss wwhhaatt Ssaaiilloorr Pplluuttoo wwaass ttaallkkiinngg aabboouutt," said Lina. "Aa ppaarraaddooxx."
The blood began to drain from Ranma's face. "Yyoouu mmeeaann...."
Lina stepped up to the edge of the roof and cupped her hands over her mouth. "Cceellll!" she shouted, drawing attention to the rooftop for the first time since the battle had begun. "Ddoonn'tt kkiillll tthhee llaasstt Ssaaiilloorr Ssccoouutt! Iitt'llll ddeessttrrooyy tthhiiss eennttiirree uunniivveerrssee!"
Cell's shocked expression softened. "Ooff ccoouurrssee. Tthhiiss uunniivveerrssee... hhooww ccoonnvveenniieenntt tthhaatt Ii wwoonn'tt bbee hheerree ttoo mmiissss iitt." He pulled Sailor Venus the rest of the way into his tail until her arms vanished from sight.
Lina growled quietly. "Ddiiddnn'tt hhee hheeaarr wwhhaatt Ii ssaaiidd?"
Suddenly, the tip of Cell's tail bulged like a balloon, then exploded in a blinding flash of light and the loud clap of thunder. The watchers on the roof had to wait several seconds for their vision to return before they could see Venus' hands poking out of what remained of Cell's tail in the courtyard below.
Cell smirked. "I was expecting you to try that again. Why do you think I swallowed your hands last?" His tail regrew around Venus' hands, and he resumed pulling her in.
"Wait... the paradox is over," noted Lina. "But Venus didn't escape... so what's going on?"
"She's not the one who's escaping," replied Ranma. "Take a look over there."
Lina followed Ranma's pointing finger to see the surface of the quicksand that had swallowed Sailor Moon bubbling furiously as if boiling. "What the heck is going on?" she asked.
"She can't possibly still be alive," said Ryoko. "She's been under there for over a minute, and that's not counting the time dilation from the paradox."
"Well, she's not under anymore," said Ranma, as two bright yellow spots appeared in the center of the pit. They grew quickly into tiny round balls the size of meatballs, joined by a curved dome, as the top of Sailor Moon's head continued to rise out of the ground.
"Think we should warn Cell?" asked Lina.
"Like he'd listen to you," retorted Ryoko. "He'll just kill her again anyway, sooner or later. Why not give the girl a few more minutes to live?"
"Does anyone else think it's weird that she's coming up clean?" asked Ranma.
"What do you mean?" asked Lina.
"There's no mud left on her at all," remarked Ranma. "You'd expect her to be filthy after swimming in that muck. It was all over her the last time. But now...." He trailed off as her shoulders broke the surface. "Hey, that's not what she was wearing before!"
"What are you talking about?" asked Ryoko. "She couldn't have changed clothes." But even as she finished her sentence, she noticed what Ranma had already observed. Sailor Moon was indeed no longer wearing her fuku. Instead, her clothes appeared to be made of pure white lace, with frills around the neck and shoulders. She'd gained a crescent moon necklace as well as an ornate jeweled tiara and ruby earrings during her time beneath the surface. But it was still her face that had changed the most. Even from the rooftop, they could see the newfound maturity and strength in her eyes.
As Sailor Moon rose to waist-depth, Cell's ears twitched. "Something is happening," he muttered. He turned around and gasped at the sight of the opponent he'd left for dead, very much alive and rising from her grave as he watched. "You!" he shouted, pointing an accusing finger. "How did you escape my trap! You can't possibly have the power to do that!"
Sailor Moon finally moved for the first time since her reappearance, raising her head to stare into Cell's eyes. The fury of her glare made Cell take a reflexive step backward in fear. "Wherever evil is found, there you will find me. I am Serena daughter of Serenity, Princess of the Moon Kingdom, and I am the defender of the innocent. Strength, size, weapons - they mean nothing to me, for I fight with my pride and my courage. My power will strike down all of my enemies, for I am Sailor Moon! And in the name of the Moon..." She kicked her leg up, causing the tiara that had landed on her foot to jump up into her hand, and she caught it firmly. "... I will destroy you and save my friends!"
"It's too late for your friends," replied Cell. The bulge in his tail finally merged with his body, and the familiar glow of evolution covered him. This time, however, the light didn't completely fade, but collected within his body, illuminating him brightly from the inside. The peals of electricity and fire that leapt across his skin cast eerie shadows in the pool of light that surrounded him. "Ah," he sighed contentedly. "The one power that could harm me, mine at last. Nothing stands in my way now."
Princess Serena's cold stare didn't waver in the slightest. "Moon Tiara Magic," she said darkly, not even bothering to shout the name of her signature attack. The tiara in her hand became a glowing discus.
"I've seen that before," Cell reminded her. "You don't honestly think it's going to work any better now just because you're in a dress, do you?"
"Your heart contains nothing but evil," said Princess Serena. "That is why I will strike you down! Enemy of mankind, prepare to be moon dust! YAH!" She pulled her arm back and hurled the discus in a blinding flash of light. The spectators on the roof had to shut their eyes, but the afterimage of the discus' trail remained in their vision long after the thunderous sonic boom of its flight had faded to silence. The light took a few seconds more to die down, finally allowing them to open their eyes and survey the destruction.
Cell stood exactly where he had been before, holding the discus disdainfully at arm's length. "Not bad," he conceded. "That almost hit me. But you still can't match my speed and power. Allow me to demonstrate." He wound up and threw the tiara back at Princess Serena with such speed that she couldn't get out of its path in time. She barely managed to twist in the air, leaving only her right side exposed to the projectile. It tore a chunk out of her abdomen as it flew past, throwing her backward beyond the edge of the quicksand below to land on the solid asphalt. Her dress shimmered and became the familiar fuku of Sailor Moon as she skidded to a halt. Blood quickly coated the fabric that covered her wound, instantly rendering her right half as dark as the blacktop beneath her.
Cell took his time in crossing the distance to Sailor Moon's side, while she pressed her left hand to her bleeding side in a vain effort to hold her insides in place. Sweat poured from her forehead as she fought a losing battle to stay awake. However, her heart lurched with each step that Cell took, and her breath quickened, adding even more blood to the pool forming around her. As he drew close, she weakly kicked her legs at the ground, trying to crawl away, but she didn't have the strength left to budge herself.
The sky was swimming before her eyes by the time Cell drew to a halt beside her, his toes sending tiny ripples through the puddle of blood. "I suppose it doesn't really matter how you survived my trap," he said. "All the more energy for me to absorb." He raised his tail and thrust it downward, aiming for Sailor Moon's stomach. Summoning all the strength that remained to her, Sailor Moon rolled aside, leaving only the empty space from the discus wound in the tail's path. The deadly point stabbed through the fabric and ended up embedded harmlessly in the asphalt.
Cell reached down and wrapped his fingers around Sailor Moon's throat, pulling her up to his face as he extracted his tail from her leotard. "So, you think you have some fight left in you?" he snarled.
"I'll never give up until I'm dead," croaked Sailor Moon.
"I believe that can be arranged," Cell replied calmly. He quickly brought his knee up, jamming it into Sailor Moon's stomach once, twice, thrice in quick succession. Her head slumped forward, and a thin stream of blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth. "Let's see you fight back now," he taunted.
Sailor Moon tried to respond, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a thick glob of blood and mucus.
Cell tossed Sailor Moon to the ground, where she landed in a bloody heap. "Humans. Always trying to delay the inevitable." He raised his tail and prepared to stab her again while she was too weak to dodge.
A quiet whisper in his ear stopped him in mid-motion. "Pluto Deadly Scream." Before he knew what was happening, the Time Key that Pluto was holding at his side disgorged a powerful force that threw him clear across the courtyard. With the monster out of the way, Pluto quickly fell to her knees at Sailor Moon's side and rolled the girl onto her back.
Sailor Moon's eyes fluttered open to gaze glassily upon her rescuer. "Sailor... Pluto?"
Pluto nodded carefully, mindful of the dark patch of blood that covered most of her throat. "I wish I could do more for you, but all I have is this." She opened her hand to reveal a tiny bean between her fingers. "It is called a Senzu Bean... it comes from Cell's world, and it has the power to rejuvenate you. Eat it quickly so that you can defend yourself."
Pluto pressed the bean to Sailor Moon's lips, but Sailor Moon turned her head to avoid it. "But you need that bean. You're dying too...."
"But you are the one who can defeat Cell," said Pluto, forcing the Senzu Bean into Sailor Moon's mouth.
Sailor Moon chewed the bean a few times, then swallowed it. "No, I can't. I didn't take the Moon Scepter."
"You don't need it," Pluto assured her. "Just believe in the power you have, and it will -" The air in front of Sailor Moon's face exploded in a bright flash, sending Pluto flying. Sailor Moon quickly sat up and turned to face Cell as he lowered his arm.
"What an idiot," he said condescendingly. "If she could only gather one Senzu Bean, she should have used it herself. She, at least, was a worthy opponent." A smile crossed his lips. "Then again, it will be easy to absorb her power while she can't defend herself."
Sailor Moon leapt to her feet and spread her arms wide, not even noticing that the pain she'd felt before was gone. "If you want to get to Sailor Pluto, you'll have to fight me first!"
Cell smirked. "I believe we've already done that and seen the result. But if you insist...."
Undaunted, Sailor Moon reached behind her back and withdrew the Moon Crescent Wand. "I'm not going to lose this time!"
Cell opened his mouth wide, but instead of speaking, he spewed a wave of flames at Sailor Moon. The Scout stood firm, holding the Moon Crescent Wand in front of herself. The flames turned aside as they approached her, repelled by a curved barrier inches in front of the wand. Sailor Moon flinched from the heat of the flames, but the barrier held firm, preventing the fire from touching her.
Cell closed his mouth and straightened up to assess his opponent's new defense. "So, you've been holding back all this time. But it doesn't matter how much power you have. I will break it!" He raised a hand and let fly with a powerful jet of water. Sailor Moon's feet slid across the wet ground as the force of the water pushed her back, but the shield kept her completely dry.
"Give up, Cell!" warned Sailor Moon as the torrent stopped. "The power of the Moon Kingdom protects me!"
"Oh dear," Cell said mockingly. "Whatever shall I do?" Electricity crackled across his body, and Sailor Moon tightened her grip on the Moon Crescent Wand. However, when Cell unleashed his attack, the arc of electricity didn't even come close to her. Instead, it shot straight into the puddle of water at her feet, electrocuting the entire puddle with a high voltage charge - and Sailor Moon's body with it. The Sailor Scout screamed as the shock shot through her, throwing her backward. She landed on dry ground, barely keeping her grip on the wand, and immediately rolled aside as Cell's fist smashed into the ground where her head had been. She ended up on her feet, still twitching as the last of the electricity worked its way through her muscles.
"I'm impressed," scoffed Cell. "Most humans wouldn't be able to stand after an attack like that."
"Defending myself isn't going to be enough," said Sailor Moon. She aimed the Moon Crescent Wand at Cell. "COSMIC MOON POWER!" A thin beam of golden light shot forth from the Imperium Silver Crystal and hit Cell in the chest before he could dodge, carrying him with it as in radiated along its narrow path.
Cell quickly recovered his senses and dug his feet into the ground, blocking the beam with one hand. "You think this is enough to stop me?" he shouted, charging his palm with energy. He threw his arm up, redirecting the beam into the night sky. He took a few heavy breaths while he composed himself, then restored the confident smirk to his face. "That was more power than I was expecting from a human... but it still won't be enough!"
Sailor Moon winced as the combined effects of the electricity and the exertion of her attack hit her in a wave of pain. "It's no good," she whispered. "I just don't have enough power to damage him." She closed her eyes and prayed silently. "Mother, please.... I know you believe in me, but I can't do this alone. I need your strength, Mother. I need to feel your power within me."
"What are you doing over there?" asked Cell. "Waiting for the end?" He fired a large ball of energy at her, but she didn't flinch as it exploded against her shield.
"Please, Mother," continued Sailor Moon, her fingers clutching the wand in a deathgrip. "Give me the power to defeat this enemy and save my friends!"
It was a tiny sensation in the pit of her stomach at first, but the comforting warmth quickly spread to fill her entire body. As it flowed through her, every aching muscle it touched instantly relaxed, leaving only delicious relief in its wake. The warmth reminded her of the woman who had taken care of her since the day of her birth, but there was a familiar strength in it as well. It took her a few seconds to realize what the sensation was, because she hadn't expected such a powerful answer to her prayer. But that was what it was... the full, unadulterated power of a mother's love. Somehow, Queen Serenity had found a way to send her energy into the future, to the moment when her daughter would most need it.
Sailor Moon reached deep down inside herself and embraced the energy within, focusing it into the Moon Crescent Wand. It was going to be the most powerful attack she'd ever used, an all-or-nothing blast that would either destroy Cell or leave her powerless to defend herself. All the energy of the Moon Kingdom was in her hands now. She opened her eyes, raised the wand, and took aim. "COSMIC MOON -"
"That's it!" shouted Cell. His eyes narrowed to slits, and a pair of thin beams shot forth from them straight at Sailor Moon's heart. She barely had enough time to return the Moon Crescent Wand to the defensive position before the beams reached the shield. However, the invisible barrier merely bent the beams at an angle as they passed through, diverting one of them harmlessly past her left ear while the other shot right through her left shoulder, sending a spray of blood from the exit wound. Her arm fell limply to her side, and she dropped to her knees, pressing her right fist to the injured shoulder in an attempt to stem the blood flow. Her left hand rested on the hard ground, but she couldn't feel it. The entire arm was numb.
Cell cracked a smile. "As I expected. Your shield can block most of my attacks, but the pure love energy of the Crescent Beam passes through easily, even when tainted with my own energy." He shot another Twin Crescent Beam at Sailor Moon, who quickly raised the Moon Crescent Wand to block the beams. One beam struck the handle of the wand and fizzled, while the other refracted downward and just grazed her right knee.
Sailor Moon gritted her teeth against the pain in her leg and shoulder, focusing on the power of her mother's love within her. But the energy wasn't there. Somehow, in the shock of Cell's attack, she'd lost her link to the precious energy of the Moon Kingdom, and with it, her last hope. What little of her own energy remained wouldn't even make a dent in her opponent's defenses, let alone defeat him completely. She let the hand that still held the Moon Crescent Wand fall to the ground in despair as Cell's third attack struck her squarely in the forehead. Her tiara took most of the impact and broke into three pieces. The center piece landed on the ground in front of her with the inset jewel facing up, still softly glowing.
"I'm sorry, Mother," whispered Sailor Moon. "I wasted the energy you gave me."
"Nothing is wasted unless you allow it to be," Serenity's voice whispered back. "You can only truly be defeated if you give up."
"But there's no way I can win. I'm not strong enough."
"There is more to victory than strength," Serenity reminded her. "Cell relies entirely on his power to fight, and that is his weakness. You must defeat him with your intelligence, your courage, and your love. Those are your greatest weapons."
"My love?" repeated Sailor Moon. But the jewel's glow had faded, and her mother's voice was silent. Sailor Moon raised her eyes to her opponent, who was preparing to finish her off with a final Twin Crescent Beam. She had no love for that monster. But what other love could Serenity have meant? No matter. There was always intelligence and courage to fall back on, and what she lacked in the former, she more than made up for in the latter. Summoning all the courage she had, she raised the Moon Crescent Wand to block the incoming attack, positioning it carefully so that the beams would pass to either side of the Imperium Silver Crystal.
Cell smiled in anticipation as the beams hit the invisible shield, bending as they passed through. However, instead of turning outward as they had before, the beams curved inward and struck the crystal, which shone brilliantly as it absorbed them. Fueled by the energy of her opponent's own attack, Sailor Moon pushed herself to her feet, favoring her left leg. Ignoring the pounding of her heartbeat echoing in her head, she aimed the wand at Cell with her only functioning arm. "MOON CRESCENT BEAM ANNIHILATION!" she shouted, returning the energy in a beam that tore a gaping hole in Cell's chest.
Cell gasped and spat out a mouthful of purple ooze. "Impossible! It wasn't that powerful before!"
Sailor Moon allowed herself a sigh of relief. "It worked!" But as the blood running down her forehead seeped into her eyes, casting her vision into dark shades of red, she realized that it wasn't going to be enough. And she barely had enough energy left to stand, let alone continue to defend herself.
The sides of Cell's wound throbbed like an animal trying to break through a thick plastic sheet, spurting the purple blood in all directions. "I don't understand! You're just a human girl! You can't have this much power!" His lips curled into a devious grin. "Yes, of course. It's some kind of trick. You're not that strong! You can't defeat me!" With that, the wound repaired itself, and Cell launched himself at Sailor Moon, barely giving her time to raise the Moon Crescent Wand. He stopped short and spun around, swinging the rock-hard tip of his tail into the side of her head with bone-crushing force. She collapsed to the ground, covering the right side of her face with a hand while blood poured from between her fingers.
Cell took a few labored breaths and glared at the fallen Sailor Scout. "Wait.... Do you mean to tell me that all this time, while you blocked every technique I absorbed, you couldn't stop a basic physical attack? Is that all it takes to bring down the mighty Sailor Moon?" He coughed angrily, which became an enraged chuckle, and finally gave way to deep belly laughter.
"He's lost it," Ryoko said dryly.
Sailor Moon slowly sat up, using her blood-covered right hand to support herself. Her right eye could barely open a tiny crack, and all she could see through that crack was her own blood. But she kept her good eye on Cell while she struggled to her feet, wary of his apparent lapse of sanity. His fist lashed out before she could finish rising, pounding her in the stomach, but as she stumbled back, he pressed forward, punching her again and again so quickly that she didn't even have time to fall down between blows.
"Try to make a fool of me, will you?" shouted Cell indignantly. "Now who's impossible to damage?" He brought his foot up swiftly between her legs, sending her on a vertical ride into the sky at just under escape velocity. Sailor Moon squeezed her legs together, trying to hold back the pain in her crotch, but it was the sharp, shooting pain in her chest that worried her most. She tried to inhale, but none of the thin air of the upper atmosphere entered her lungs. She brought her hand up to her breasts and pressed lightly, hoping to clear the airway, but her touch felt like a knife sliding between her ribs. She could feel something shifting beneath her fingers - her ribs were either broken or completely crushed. She finally managed a startled gasp, which she immediately exhaled in a weak cough. The jagged edges of what remained of her ribcage were starting to scratch her insides, making her itch in a place she couldn't possibly scratch. And she was only now slowing down to begin her plummet back to Earth.
Breathe in, cough, cough, cough. Breathe in, cough, cough, cough. It was becoming a regular pattern now, making her compacted chest burn without pause. But at least it was getting air through her body, staving off the worst of the dizziness. It was also causing her to cough up more blood with each mile she fell. Even if she had enough to last until she hit the ground, the terminal velocity impact would surely kill her, and there were no more Senzu Beans waiting for her. She had to focus on something other than death, some kind of plan that would save her, and possibly even help her defeat Cell... but one thing at a time. She had to get her feet back on the ground first.
An image popped into her desperate mind - a scene from a spy movie, where the hero had used his jacket as a parachute to survive a normally fatal fall. Unfortunately, the sailor fuku once again proved to be completely impractical for such an application. The damn thing wasn't good for anything except eye candy for male opponents. Scratch that idea... but there was something else that might work instead of a parachute. She carefully twisted until she was facing the ground and held the Moon Crescent Wand in front of her, concentrating all of her energy into the shield that had protected her from so many of Cell's attacks. The air beneath her quickly became hot enough to burn her skin as the shield provided a bit of drag, slowing her down before impact.
It wasn't nearly enough. She slammed into the asphalt face first with a noise that was halfway between CRUNCH and SPLAT, then bounced higher than the top of Cell's head and flipped over before landing hard enough to bounce a second time, finally flopping onto her stomach as she came to rest in a giant pool of blood. She couldn't feel her legs at all anymore, but since the only sensation in the rest of her body was incredible pain, she was thankful for small favors.
"So, you survived that, too," observed Cell as he waded through the blood toward her prone form. "I'm not surprised anymore. You've got more energy than I thought it was possible for a human to possess. With that much energy, no power in all the universe could ever stand against me!"
Sailor Moon felt a twinge in her back as Cell stabbed her with his tail, barely missing her spine. She fought to raise her one good arm to pull it out, but her limb refused to respond to her command. She weakly opened her eye to see the bulges traveling up the length of his tail as he sucked the life out of her. Adrenaline pumped through her body as she watched her arm begin to wither away, but she was helpless to save herself. The most she could do in her defense was throw up, and she hoped to spare herself the effort.
Suddenly, the needle slipped out of its hole, and Cell spun around to face the dark shape that loomed behind him. "Nice try, Sailor Pluto. But you can't catch me by surprise twice."
Even with her ears filled with blood, Sailor Moon could hear Pluto's nervous swallow. "Cell, I will only ask you once more. You must cooperate with me or this universe will be destroyed, and it will take you with it!"
"And I suppose you have the power to prevent this cataclysm?" Cell remarked snidely.
"I do," said Pluto.
"Then I will have it, once I absorb you," replied Cell. "Problem solved."
"No, that's not -!" began Pluto, before Cell cut her off with a violent blow. Sailor Moon couldn't see what was happening, but judging from Sailor Pluto's cries of pain, Cell had the upper hand despite her threats. A few quick strikes later, and Pluto collapsed to the ground.
Tears filled Sailor Moon's eyes as the last echoes of the fight died away, leaving only her own pulse to break the silence. She wanted it to stop. Queen Serenity had given her a second chance after she'd failed to save her friends, and she'd blown it. Pluto had given her another chance, and she'd blown that too. Everyone had believed in her and put their lives on the line to protect her, and now what little remained of her body was lying in a pool of its own blood, powerless to prevent the ultimate destruction of the universe.
Sailor Moon gasped at the sound, coughing almost immediately. It was Sailor Pluto's voice! "Sai-"
"Don't try to speak!" warned Sailor Pluto. "I'm only pretending to be unconscious. I'm speaking directly into your mind so that Cell can't hear me. Please, listen carefully. This is the only chance we have to set the timeline right. I must tell you something that you won't like to hear, but I must explain myself quickly.
"It is written that you will defeat Beryl by merging your power with that of the other Sailor Scouts - and that they must sacrifice their lives to bring that about. Don't say anything!" she snapped, as Sailor Moon was about to do just that. "It is history, and that must not change. The universe depends on it!
"The Sailor Scouts have already sacrificed their lives by becoming part of Cell. There is only one way to turn that sacrifice into a victory now. You must lure Cell into the Negaverse, where he will use that power to defeat Queen Beryl in your stead. It is not exactly according to history, but it will have to be close enough. It is the only way that the rightful timeline can be restored. Do not worry... you and the other Scouts will be resurrected once Beryl is dead. I will see to it.
"I'm using the last of my power to open the portal beside you. Summon whatever strength you can and get through it. Once you're on the far side, I'll return to the Gate of Time, where Cell can't reach me. He'll have to follow you, and the portal will close behind him."
Sailor Moon's body shivered, and a chill filled her withered bones. Something felt very wrong with the world.
"The paradox has begun! Quickly, before I become one with Cell!"
She could feel the evil seeping from the portal, and the cracks in the universe that heralded the impending breakdown of the fabric of space and time. The Negaverse was so close to her, the hatred that filled the place washing over her like surf as the portal disgorged its intangible contents. If she could just roll over, she'd pass through it out of the crumbling world, and she could die in peace, her last heroic act the one that saved the world once and for all.
But her friends would remain dead. Being resurrected wasn't the same as not dying in the first place. She could tell in Pluto's tone that there was something Pluto had failed to tell her, something important that they would lose in the transition. She couldn't let that happen! She'd come back to save her friends, not sacrifice them!
"Please," she begged, ignoring Pluto's admonition against speaking aloud. "Somebody... give me the power to save my friends."
With that, she lay down to die, the plea her last vestige in the living world. There was nobody left to respond. But then she felt it flowing into her body - warm energy that reminded her of how great it felt to be near her friends, studying or playing video games or even just hanging out. She could feel the presence of the Sailor Scouts in her, somehow. They were still alive inside Cell, and they were sending her all the energy they could to fuel her last effort to save them. This time, she couldn't waste it. There would be no more chances. She pushed herself up to her knees, her entire body aching but able to move once again.
Cell turned to face her with Sailor Pluto halfway up his tail. He groaned and put a palm to his forehead. "Again? What are you, a Saiyan?"
Ignoring Cell's incomprehensible taunt, she rose to her feet, her legs shaking violently under her weight, and raised the Moon Crescent Wand over her head. If the Sailor Scouts were indeed alive, there was one thing that might save them, and she had to try it, even if it killed her. She slowly traced a vertical circle around herself with the tip of the crescent. "Moon... Healing... Activation!" she called out with as much force as she could, barely more than a whisper.
Cell laughed as the golden light washed over and through him. "Healing? Now I've heard everything. What exactly do you intend to do by healing m-" He retched and quickly covered his mouth as if trying to prevent himself from throwing up. His gut began to expand like a rapidly inflating basketball. "No! What are you doing to me!" he shouted. "This can't be! I can't control the energy!"
Sailor Pluto popped out of Cell's tail and fell to the ground, quickly rolling to a safe distance as Cell grew to the size of a minivan. His skin began to bulge in places, as if something inside were trying to force its way out. Then, with a final scream of agony and despair and a bright flash, he exploded, showering the entire courtyard with purple ooze.
Ranma wiped as much of the gook from his face as he could. "So much for him," he noted dryly.
"What the hell happened?" demanded Ryoko. "I thought we had that one in the bag!"
"I think Cell bit off more than he could chew... literally," said Lina. She pointed to the large pile of Sailor Scouts that now occupied the space where Cell had stood.
Sailor Venus, on the top of the stack, was the first one to wake up. "Huh? What's going on? Am I dead or something?"
"I don't think so," Mercury groaned from the bottom of the pile. "I wouldn't be in this much pain if I were. Would you all mind getting off my back now?"
"Yeah, somebody up there needs to lose some weight!" complained Uranus.
Venus quickly slid off to the ground. "Is everyone okay?"
Mars sat up and rubbed her stomach. "Yeah, I'm fine. I can't even feel where Cell stabbed me."
Venus reached up to help Mars to the ground and found herself staring at her own arm. She rubbed the purple muck from her forearm in amazement. "Hey! My scar's gone!"
Jupiter rolled off the pile and took a look for herself. "Yeah, you're right. I think my knee's back to normal, too."
"I'm feeling perfectly fine again," announced Neptune as Uranus rose and helped her to her feet. "It seems we've all been healed completely."
"But how?" asked Mars. "What happened to us? And what happened to Cell?"
"I'd say it looks like he blew himself up," said Uranus, brushing the drying ooze from her body.
"Or someone else blew him up," suggested Mercury, as she finally stood up. She blushed and quickly turned away from the naked man at the bottom of the pile, wiping her hand on her leotard. "But where's Sailor Moon?"
Venus shook her head sadly. "She wasn't absorbed by Cell, like the rest of us. She just... died."
Mars' eyes widened. "No! Not Sailor Moon!" She stepped back from the group and looked around, searching for any sign of their leader. "Look! There's someone there!"
The Sailor Scouts started to move toward the human-shaped mound of purple slime, but the form of the Time Key rose from it, and Sailor Pluto sat up.
"Pluto! You're all right!" Uranus cried joyously, while the Inner Scouts tried not to look as disappointed as they were.
Pluto disgustedly spat out a mouthful of Cell and chuckled under her breath. "She did it. She found a way to beat the paradox. I swear, I will never understand that girl."
"Who did it?" asked Mars, anticipating the answer she knew couldn't possibly come.
"Sailor Moon," replied Pluto, pointing past the Sailor Scouts to the other girl hidden under the thick layer of slime. She wasn't moving, but Venus ran to her side anyway, hauling her up out of the murk and cradling her.
At first, it appeared that she was just tired from the effort of fighting Cell, but as the ooze dripped from her body, the bloodstains and wounds began to show clearly, and Venus had to fight to avoid vomiting for the third time that night. Had it been the first, she wouldn't have been able to hold back. She wiped the slime off Sailor Moon's face and pushed her head up. "Sailor Moon? Are you okay?"
For several moments, it appeared that Sailor Moon's silence would be the only answer. Then, her left eye fluttered open and focused on Venus, and a smile crossed her lips. "You're... alive...!"
Venus returned the smile as best she could without bursting into tears. "Yeah. We're all just fine."
"I'm... so glad," said Sailor Moon. With that, her body went limp, and her uniform smoothly transformed into her casual outfit.
This time, Venus cried openly. "Sailor Moon! No! Don't die!"
"Hold on!" said Mercury, taking her knees at Serena's other side. She carefully pressed two fingers to Serena's throat and her ear to the girl's mouth. "She's still alive," Mercury announced. "But we have to get her to a hospital right away!"
"I'll take her," announced Tuxedo Mask. He stepped past Sailor Mercury and bent down to pick up his future wife, holding her as gently as a newborn baby.
"Hurry!" urged Mercury. "She doesn't have much time left!"
"Wait!" Pluto called out as she got to her feet, using the butt of the Time Key as a cane. "Go through the Gate of Time. It's the quickest way."
Uranus watched Pluto wobble unsteadily. "Are you sure you should be doing that?" she asked. "You look like you need to get to the hospital yourself!"
"I'm immortal," Pluto reminded her. "A little thing like a throat wound won't kill me." She raised the Time Key, and the dark portal opened beside Tuxedo Mask. "Take care of her well. She must survive!"
Tuxedo Mask nodded wordlessly and leapt through the portal, which closed behind him.
Mars sighed. "This is bad, you guys. Sailor Moon's going to be out of battle for who knows how long, and our enemies could attack again at any time?"
"It will be soon," Pluto announced darkly. "Very soon. Cell will return."
"But I thought Sailor Moon blew him up!" argued Uranus. "Are you saying he can come back from THAT?"
Pluto nodded. "Even the goo covering this courtyard is enough to reconstruct his entire body. It will take some time, but he will return as powerful as before."
"Then what can we do?" asked Jupiter. "How can we beat him without Sailor Moon?"
"You can't," replied Pluto. "Your power simply isn't enough. I should have interceded sooner last time, but I was afraid of the consequences of taking action. This time, I know the danger of not acting quickly enough. I will be ready for his return."
"What are you going to do?" asked Neptune.
"I must summon another warrior to fight beside you," said Pluto. "I can only hope that she will agree to help us."
"Another warrior?" asked Neptune. "You don't mean... the one you were going to bring if Uranus and I refused?"
"Yes, our last resort. A warrior more powerful than any of you, but that much more unstable. And because of her situation, her presence in this timeline will make a paradox that much more likely. But without her help, the paradox is certain."
"Who is she?" asked Uranus. "Is she someone we know?"
"Yes, and no," replied Pluto. "You will know her soon enough... it would be folly to bring her here while you know nothing of her. I will grant you the memory of her past - and your future." She took a deep breath and clasped the Time Key in both hands. "There. The story will be told - it will be part of the One True Timeline soon enough."
"What do you mean?" asked Mars. "One True Timeline?"
"It's complicated," said Uranus. "It's something to do with trees and books and probably noodles."
Pluto smirked and shook her head. "I will return soon, Sailor Scouts. Pray that I am not alone when I do." With that, she opened the Gate of Time and stepped inside.
"So, what do we do now?" asked Jupiter as the portal closed.
"We wait," replied Uranus.
Up on the rooftop, Ranma sat back and considered what he'd seen. "That girl who was Sailor Moon..." he mused. "I know her."
And then the flood of memories came, and for several minutes, they could focus on nothing else.