SAILOR MOON SUPERS: THE WAR OF DREAMS PART SIX

A Sailor Moon Sekkushiaru Roman

by Sailor Mac

      The Dead Moon Circus was a perpetually dark, drab place. Shadows seemed to cover every single surface, even where there was no visible source of light. Even the temperature there seemed to be perpetually colder than in the unsuspecting world surrounding it.

      Today, it seemed even darker than usual to Nehelenia, who gazed out at her domain from the mirror that was her perpetual prison.

      Those fools aren't moving fast enough, she thought. Time is drawing short. . .if I'm not able to launch my attack soon, the spell of concealment I put on this place will wear off, and we will be detected. The surprise attack will be impossible.

      She paced about her prison, thinking that they were weeks behind schedule. When I created my henchmen from animals, she thought, I thought I had it all figured out, calculated down to the letter. . .the speed they were going to work at, the number of Dream Mirrors each one was going to steal. . .

      "Of course," she said aloud, "at the time, I didn't count on any *Sailor Soldiers.*" She spat those last words out with a venom that most people only reserve for the names of those who had betrayed and harmed them.

      Still only five, she thought. Sailor Mercury has yet to show herself. Perhaps she won't. . .perhaps she wasn't reborn this time around. . .

      But she had to admit that what was *really* disturbing her was not Sailor Mercury, or the lack of her. . .it was the little one. There had never been anything like her in the Silver Millennium. . someone claiming to be a second Sailor Moon. . .The more she thought of the child Sailor Soldier, the more she thought, How many others are there that I don't know about? How many others could present themselves without warning? No. . .they won't get a chance to. We're going to put an end to this, as soon as possible. . .

      Nehelenia stalked to the front of her mirror and called in a ringing voice, "Zirconia! I need to see you at once!"

      A pause, and then, the stooped, withered crone shuffled toward the mirror, leaning heavily on her staff. Atop it, her familiar, the eyeball creature Zircon, glared at the queen with contempt. Zircon always had a strange kind of empathy with Zirconia, an ability to read what was in the deepest part of her thoughts and manifest them. If Zirconia hated someone, she might try to keep a civil tongue in their presence. . .but that eye would always give her true feelings away.

      I'll blast that thing into a ball of dust if it doesn't stop that, Nehelenia thought.

      "Yes, your majesty," Zirconia said in a wheezing croak. I know just what this is about, she thought. She's going to tell me to speed it up, and I'm going to have to tell her it's impossible. We go through this at least once a day now.

      Sure enough, Nehelenia said, "Zirconia, we *have* to step up the collection of the Mirrors of Dreams! If our job isn't finished soon. . ."

      "I am quite aware of the risks, your majesty," Zirconia said.

      "I don't think you are. This spell of concealment can't last forever! If we are exposed. . ."

      "I am quite aware of the nature of this spell. It is I who taught you how to do it, remember. I can assure you that we are doing everything we can. . ."

      "You are NOT!" Nehelenia shouted. "Why are there still Sailor Soldiers about? Why haven't you found out anything about the second Pegasus? Why don't I have enough Mirrors of Dreams?"

      Zirconia bristled. She'd heard these words over. . .and over. . .and then, she had to go back to those three ridiculous henchmen and browbeat them and try to get them to work harder. . .and still, she had to hear Nehelenia chide her again and again and again. . .

      "Perhaps," she snapped, "you would like to try this yourself, my *Queen*? Perhaps I and those three you created should just bow out of this project, since it seems we are so incompetent, and let *you* do it yourself? Take on the Sailor Soldiers singlehandedly? Collect your own dream information? From inside that mirror, yet?"

      Zirconia watched Nehelenia draw back, a look of horror on her face. Good, she thought. It's about time I said my piece.

      Nehelenia paused, trembling, as if she were so shocked and horrified she couldn't even form words. Then, she said, in a shaky voice, "Do not. . .EVER. . .speak to me like that again! If you do, so help me, I'll. . ."

      "Destroy all four of us? You'll be back to square one again, won't you? Having to do it all yourself?"

      Nehelenia raised an arm, pointing at her former teacher, trembling with rage, mentally willing a huge tide of dark power to form and come after her. . .

      Then, the words Zirconia had said sank in. To destroy her would be to destroy everything they'd accomplished so far. Zirconia was right. . .Nehelenia was utterly dependent on her and the henchmen for the plan to succeed.

      She lowered the arm and just stood, silently. The former teacher and student glared at each other for a moment that seemed to last an eternity.

      Finally, Nehelenia said, quietly, "Fine. Carry on. But I do hope your assistants are doing what they are supposed to right now."

      "As a matter of fact," said Zirconia, "one of them is out on a mission right now."

      "I want a report that it was successful," Nehelenia said, before stalking away.

      She flung herself on her throne, her head in her hands. I am utterly powerless right now, she thought. The most powerful black sorceress in history, and my hands are tied. Totally dependent on a bunch of incompetents to carry out my plans. . .because I'm stuck here, in this mirror. If I were free to roam around. . .I would have had this planet conquered by now.

      "That's what they were afraid of, those two bitches," she said. "That's why Cassiopeia and Serenity put me in here in the first place! Well, I'll have the last laugh on them in the end! I'll destroy their Sailor Soldiers, claim the Earth for my own. . . even if I *have* to get rid of those four and find a way to do it myself!"

      Zirconia may think she's indespensible now, she thought, but just wait until after I've won. She'll have a big surprise coming up for her.

      And the fate of those other three. . .is already decided. . .

* * *

      Reenie rushed along the sidewalk, ducking and dodging her way through pedestrians. She couldn't get to Cherry Tree Temple fast enough.

      This was no ordinary Sailor Soldier meeting she was going to. This was the unveiling of the new fukus the ones that she had designed. Just the idea of seeing everyone wearing her creations made her heart swell with excitement. She still couldn't believe sometimes that they'd gone for them.

      I owe it all to Pegasus, she thought. I would never have done anything like that if it weren't for his encouragement.

      She wondered what her mother back home in Crystal Tokyo would think of the new her. Her oldest friend, Puu Sailor Pluto had certainly seemed impressed. Reenie was glad that Puu  had shown up in contemporary Tokyo although she didn't get to see much of her. She's busy all the time, it seems, she thought. . .like when the Deathbusters were around. . .like when Heather was around. . .

      Reenie made a quick left turn so she could take a shortcut through the park. The one thing missing from my life right now, she thought, is Heather. Pegasus said I would see her again, when the time was right. . .but when is that going to be? Could it be she has something to do with him, with everything that's been happening lately. . .

      She crossed the baseball field and headed in the direction of a playground, looking for the path that would take her up to the temple. I definitely want to get there before the others, she thought, so I can get a peek at the outfits and make sure they don't need any last minute. . .

      A high, piercing scream suddenly split the air. Reenie stopped dead in her tracks, her head swiveling this way and that, trying to see any sign that something was wrong. . .

      She saw it in front of the playground. It was one of those mirrors, one of those horrible giant mirrors people were bound to when the new enemies attacked them. She couldn't see who the victim was,  or which one of those three creeps was attacking the person. There was no time to *think* now. She had to spring into action.

      Ducking behind a cluster of trees, she opened the heart locket at her chest, saying, "MOON CRISIS POWER!" A blast of energy shot through her, like a lighting bolt from within, filling her with a sensation of swelling power. She wasn't even aware of her school clothes vanishing and being replaced with the little pink-and-white uniform she hated so much. . .the uniform that, after today, she would never have to wear again to her relief.

      The energy blast ebbed away, leaving her feeling stronger, in both body and mind. The little girl had become Neo-Sailor Moon.

      She dashed out toward the mirror. . .and when she saw who it was, she gasped. A small, plumpish girl with round glasses and long, wavy silver hair. . .her classmate, Emily. The girl who sat catty-corner from her in class, who'd won first place in the science fair. . .She had one of those smaller mirrors in front of her chest, and. . .it was the blue-haired creep who could be a boy or girl this time, dressed as an ice cream vendor, just pulling his-or-her head out of the mirror. . .

      "HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!" Reenie shouted, pointing her wand at the creep. "You don't know who you're dealing with! I'm Neo-Sailor Moon!"

      Fish Eye turned around at the sound of the voice. Lucky me, he thought, the Sailor Soldier that showed up was the puny little one! And Hawk Eye couldn't manage to get rid of her. . .what a wimp! Well, she should be easy to take care of.  . .

      He regarded her with the same contempt one might use while looking at a bug on the sidewalk. "Oh, I know very well what I'm dealing with. Absolutely nothing at all."

      Reenie bristled at that remark. Nothing at all? she thought. I'll show him! She raised her wand, preparing to launch her Pink Sugar Heart Attack.

      But at that moment, Fish Eye shouted, "LEMURE! COME FORTH!" A whirlwind of colored dust roared up from the ground, taking shape rapidly. . .and Reenie suddenly found herself facing. . .

      A doll. An enormous rag doll, in a calico dress, with yellow sausage curls of yarn all over its head. Blue button eyes stared vacuously into space, and its red yarn grin was a bit *too* big, making it look just over the line between happy and demented.

      Reenie couldn't believe it. *This* was the best that this weirdo could come up with? They're losing their power, she thought.

      She raised the wand again. "PINK SUGAR HEART. . ."

      The doll turned toward her and raised its arms, and a shiny red ball formed between the mittenlike hands. "Wanna play?" it said. And it flung the ball at Reenie, which screamed toward her like a guided missile. . .and burst into flame midair. Reenie leapt away, landing on the ground hard, skidding over stones and gravel, needles of pain shooting through her. She looked up to see the ball hit a tree trunk. . .which exploded.

      "I don't like it when people won't play," the doll said, raising its hands again.  Another fireball screamed toward Reenie, and this time, she barely rolled out of the way, gasping as she the thing hit the ground next to her, blowing a huge hole in the earth.

      Fish Eye watched, chortling. Suddenly, his dark and dreary day was looking up. Finally, he thought, we're going to *get* one of them! Finally! And the old bag will stop griping at us at long last. . .

      He was going to open his portal back to the Dead Moon Circus, but decided not to. I *have* to see the end of this, he thought.

      Reenie got to her feet just as another fireball flew her way. She leapt to the ground again. . .but not until it had singed her arm. She cried out with the pain, her other hand coming up instinctively to cover it, dropping her wand to the ground.

      I'll never be able to get it with the Pink Sugar Heart Attack, she thought. I won't be able to get close enough. . .it'll fry me on the spot. Panic swept through her. . .there was no way out of this one, not unless she could summon the other Sailor Soldiers in time. . .

      Or Pegasus, she thought. Maybe, if I concentrate, I can make the bell appear. . .

      "You're very naughty for not playing with me," the lemure said. "You're going to be punished for that!" And Reenie saw it raise its arms over its head, widespread, and a ball much, much bigger than the previous ones start to form. A fresh wave of panic washed over her. . .she wondered if even Pegasus would be able to help her now. . .

* * *

      Amy walked through the park, headed for the temple. It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm, with just a light breeze. . .

      She noticed and appreciated none of it.

      This was just another bleak day to her, as every day had been ever since the "Mistress Amy" incident, when she had taken advantage of Adam's love for her, pushed them both too far in her quest to know and understand all about human sexuality.

      He was still leaving messages on her machine, and she was still ignoring them. I wish he'd just give up, she thought, and find someone else. . .someone who can give him the kind of relationship he deserves. . .

      It was getting harder and harder to keep up the front of cheerfulness, of being just the same Amy everyone knew and loved. She knew sooner or later one of her friends was going to notice something was wrong and then put her through the third degree. And she had no idea whatsoever what she would say. What would her friends think if they knew that sweet, smart, level-headed Amy had experimented with just about every kind of sex imaginable, up to and including becoming a dominatrix?

      I look back at myself  during that time, she thought, and try to think, that wasn't me, that was someone else. . .But it *was* me. It was *me* who exploited and used the man I love for my own selfish ends. . .

      If only I had a second chance, an opportunity to do it all over again. . .I would. . .

      Her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of an explosion, and screaming. She tensed, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.

      Just over there, she thought. Beyond that clump of trees, in the playground. . .

      For a split second, she wondered who the victim was, and fear rose within her. . .a very high percentage of the people who had been attacked had been Sailor Soldiers, or acquaintences of Sailor Soldiers.

      I could find someone I care about under attack, she thought. They're targeting *us*, I know they are. . .either because they know we're Sailor Soldiers, or because they sense we have some sort of gift. . .

      She rushed over to investigate, flipping her wrist in order to bring her Mercury wand spinning out of subspace and into her hand. She had a feeling she was going to need it.

* * *

      Reenie lay on the ground, watching the fireball the monster was forming getting bigger and bigger, sure that her death was at hand. . .

      And then, she remembered what Pegasus had said to her not so long ago. . .that she had a great power inside her, a power she wasn't fully aware yet. And he'd told her a phrase to remember, a phrase that would unleash that power. . .

      She jumped to her feet and pointed the wand at the monster again. But instead of saying her usual phrase, she shouted, "ROSE HEART SHATTER!"

      An enormous surge of energy seemed to shoot out of the very core of her and down her arm, out through the wand. A huge, heart-shaped burst of pink energy materialized from the wand and flew toward the creature, enveloping its entire body. . .then hardened into a casing of crystal, which shattered, disintegrating the lemure along with it.

      Fish Eye just stared, in amazement, his entire body trembling with shock and rage. No. . .this couldn't be. . .this wasn't supposed to happen! The smallest of the Sailor Soldiers was *not* supposed to have such a devastating attack! She was supposed to be dead!

      "BRAT!" he shouted aloud. "How did you manage to do that? HOW?"

      Reenie turned on her heel toward him, wand pointed at Nehelenia's henchman. "I'll SHOW you. ROSE HEART. . ."

      Fish Eye panicked. . .he wasn't going to be able to summon another lemure in time to avoid the attack!. . .and opened his dimensional portal, leaping through and pulling it closed behind him.

      Reenie finally closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. I did it, Pegasus, she thought. I used the power you said I had inside me. Thank you. . .thank you so much. . .

      Unknown to her, another person had witnessed the destruction of the monster, and was standing rooted to the spot, trembling.

      I can't believe that was Reenie, Amy thought. She was so confident, facing that thing. . .and that attack! It was so powerful. . .just as powerful as any of the attacks we use. . .she truly *is* a Super-level Sailor Soldier!

      And I'm not. . .and don't know if I'll ever be. . .

      Suddenly, Reenie was turning, and noticing her. . .she was running toward Amy with open arms, shouting excitedly, "Did you see it, Amy? Did you see?"

      Amy embraced Reenie, saying quietly, "Yes, Reenie. . .I saw. . .and I'm so, so proud of you. . ."

      "I'm a *real* Sailor Soldier now!" Reenie said happily, squeezing Amy tightly.

      Yes, you are, Amy thought. And that sent a wave of fear through her. With Reenie's strength on the rise. . .and her own confidence and power in decline. . .could Reenie usurp her spot on the Sailor Team?

* * *

      Serena looked at the articles of clothing that had been laid out on every available surface of Raye's bedroom. The Egyptian-style white dresses with the sailor collars and belts in each Sailor Soldier's color.  . .the body stockings that went underneath, again in the planetary colors.  . .the white go-go boots. . .

      "I still don't see how these are going to become magical armor," she told Luna.

      "With the crystal," Luna said. "Just activate it, and concentrate on making the garments stronger than steel. It shouldn't even take that much energy out of you. I watched your mother do this to create the fukus you have now. . .a simple operation, really."

      Serena opened her locket, drawing out the magical stone, supposedly the greatest power in the universe. It glowed with a brilliant silver light as it hovered in the air just above her hand.

      It can turn ordinary cloth stronger than steel, she thought. It can stop an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, heal people whose souls have been stolen by evil, destroy monsters of all kinds. . .

      But it couldn't heal Darien. Her heart ached at the thought of her beloved still struggling with the curse that was eating him up from the inside out. He seems fine most of the time, she thought. . .but every now and then. . .he'll start coughing, and choking, and then comes that horrible black fluid. . .and all I can do is watch.

      She raised the crystal over her head, with both hands. I have to put these thoughts out of my head, she thought. I have to focus, do what I'm supposed to. . .I'm not going to be able to help Darien and defeat this enemy if I can't push aside my fears and problems and concentrate.

      She willed the crystal, with all her might, to turn the ordinary garments into magical armor. She felt the power launching itself from her and being amplified by the stone, radiating from her soul outward. . .she could *feel* the cloth absorbing the magic, growing stronger. . .

      Finally, she felt that the cloth was filled to capacity, like a sponge that had soaked up too much water. Gradually, she released the power and lowered the crystal.

      "*Nice* job, Sailor Moon," Luna said. "That was a lot quicker than I thought it was going to be!"

      Serena walked over to her own new uniform, which was draped over a chair. Rather than do the collar, belt and bodysuit in the red, white and blue of her old fuku,  Raye had made them silver. I'm going to look like a walking mirror going into battle, she thought.

      She reached out and touched the cloth. "The texture's no different," she said.

      "Look closer at the material," said Luna. "See how it seems to glow, ever-so-slightly? That's the magic. It'll repel just about every kind of conventional weapon, and most magical weapons as well. Now, you have to make your existing Sailor Moon uniform disappear, and put on this one. . ."

      "Don't look," Serena said.

      "What?" said Luna. "I've been living with you for two years, Serena! You think I haven't seen you in the altogether before? Not that it's exactly a welcome sight. . ."

      "Darien doesn't think that way," Serena said, folding her arms.

      Luna bristled. . .Serena could literally see her fur standing on end. "We are *not* going to go there," she huffed.

      Serena chuckled to herself. Luna never had gotten comfortable with the fact that she and Darien shared a physical relationship. Or, at least they had before he had gotten sick. . .

      No. Couldn't think that way. Had to concentrate on what was at hand.

      She passed her hands over her body, slowly, willing the white Super Sailor Moon fuku to vanish. She felt it dissolve like sugar in water, until nothing remained but the gloves and the brooch, which dropped to the floor.

      Reaching for her new garments, she slipped into them. The body stocking was made of an elastic material designed for athletic garments, and it offered support and protection. The dress was more modest than the old fukus, the skirt ending just above the knee. She buckled her belt and fixed her brooch at the bottom of her sailor collar. . .there were no unnecessary bows on these outfits, and she thanked the gods for that. Finally, she pulled on the flat-heeled boots, then took a look at herself in the mirror.

      "Hmm," she said. "I wouldn't wear it on a fashion runway. . .but it'll serve its purpose."

      "This isn't a *fashion show*!" Luna said. "The point of these new outfits is to keep you from getting *hurt*, not to make the cover of 'Vogue'!"

      "Oh, Luna.  .you *know* I'm not really that shallow. At least. . .not anymore."

      Her feline guardian walked around her feet, surveying the outfit from every angle. Serena certainly did seem well-protected. Reenie did very well in designing these, Luna thought.

      "I know you're not that shallow," she said. "You've done a lot of growing up since I've known you. Even if you do seem incapable of keeping your room clean."

      "Hey! I'm better than I used to be at that! You haven't fallen over anything on the floor recently, have you?"

      "That's because it's all *piled on your bed* now," Luna grumbled.

      Serena stepped away from the mirror. "Well, I think our experiment is a success." She reached for her brooch, willing herself to detransform, and felt the power drain out of her body as the glamor spell which changed her appearance to the outside world melted away, as her new uniform disappeared and her school clothes reappeared. "Now, we just have to go tell the others what to do."

      The two headed out to the living room of the temple apartment, where the other Sailor Soldiers were gathered. Amy had her head buried in a book of course. Lita and Mina both had their heads bent over a magazine, and Reenie and Raye were passing a Game Boy back and forth. All heads snapped up when Serena entered.

      "Okay, guys," she said. "We're ready. What you're gonna do is go in that room one by one, transform, make your uniform dissolve, put on the new one and detransform. Then, the next time we have to fight those whackos. . .they'll get a look at our new look!"

      "Cool!" Lita said. "Finally, I can look like a *warrior*, not a bimbo!"

      "And I can get rid of those damn shoes," Raye said. "Okay, who wants to go first?"

      "Reenie, why don't you go first?" Lita said. "After all, you designed them."

      "Nah," Reenie said. "I want Amy to go first."

      There was a long pause, during which Amy didn't look up from her book.

      Then, she said. . .still not meeting anyone's eyes. . . "I'm not doing it."

      "Amy!" Serena said. "What do you mean, you're not doing it?"

      "I mean. . .well, all of you *should* have a new look. . .because you've reached Super form. I haven't. And I don't know if I ever will."

      "Aw, c'mon, Aims!" Lita sat next to Amy and draped an arm over her. "It's just a matter of time, that's all! You're gonna get your power-up any day now! You don't think your Guardian Deity would just *forget* you, do you?"

      If I deserved to be forgotten. . .he would, she thought. "Look. . .if it happens. . ."

      "WHEN it happens," Mina corrected her.

      "All right, then. . .when. . .I'll change to the new uniform. But for now, I'll just stay as I am."

      The others all looked at each other. This was *not* like Amy.

      "Well," said Serena, "all right, but. . .don't forget, we'll have the uniform ready when you want it!"

      Amy nodded. You might as well just put it away, she thought. Because I'm not going to need it.

      She looked over at Reenie as the youngest Sailor Soldier rushed off to Raye's bedroom. Again, she remembered the fierce confidence with which the girl had faced down Fish Eye, the devastating attack she'd released. . .and she wondered if her place on the Sailor Team had already been usurped.

* * *

      Adam sat at the library desk, struggling to stay awake.

      This is the third time this week this has happened, he thought. If only I could fall asleep at night the way I've been doing at work lately. . .

      But he couldn't. Not at all. Because his bedroom carried too many memories of her.

      Why won't she return my calls? he thought. Is she still ashamed of what happened between us? Why won't she believe the messages I left on her machine. . .and, gods, I must have left hundreds. . .saying that it's okay, I don't hold anything against her, I want to pick up where we left off?

      He'd even written her a long, heartfelt E-mail, in which he poured out his love for her and begged her to come back to him. She hadn't replied to that, either.

      He stood up and went over to a stack of books that had just been returned, arranging them carefully by Dewey decimal number. There was no real need to do that. . .the library assistant who was on shelving duty that day would usually do it him- or herself. . .but he needed to do something to keep his hands and mind busy, or he *would* fall asleep.

      Maybe I should go talk to one of her girlfriends, he thought. They're usually all hanging around Crown Cafe or the arcade, aren't they? Maybe they might know. . .

      "Um, excuse me?" said a masculine voice at the desk. Adam looked up, and saw a familiar figure perpetually tousled brown hair, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans. . .David Chase.

      "Oh, hi," Adam said, rushing back to his post. "Sorry about that."

      "No problem whatsoever," David said, pushing over a stack of books and his student ID card. "I'm in no huge rush. Lori said she had some errands to run after class today. . .had to go to the computer store and get an ink cartridge for her printer."

      That, at least, made Adam smile a little. Well, at least *somebody's* love life is going well, he thought.

      "I hear you," he said, running the books and card through the scanner. . .and stifling a yawn. "Well, from the looks of this, you're going to be busy, anyway."

      "Paper coming up in my world history class. Due in two weeks. Lori said if I don't put a dent in it by this weekend, she's locking me out of her room. And believe me. . .when she says that, she *means* it."

      "She doesn't look like someone to mess with," Adam replied, handing the books and card back to David. "Well. . .seeya later!"

      "Sure thing," David said, putting the books in his backpack and heading for the door.

      As he started to walk back across the campus, David thought of how Adam had looked. Tired, gaunt. . .and wasn't he getting thinner, too? Not his usual robust, cheerful self.

      That bugged David. They weren't best of buddies, but they'd been friendly. . .they'd had a few classes together, met up for lunch every once in awhile. David hated to see someone that nice going through a rough time. I just hope it's not some sort of illness, he thought.

      That made him think of Darien, and he winced.

      Something was *definitely* very wrong with his best friend. He kept having these periods where he'd suddenly get very sick-looking. . .his skin would turn grey, he'd break out in a light sweat. . .and then, he'd excuse himself and rush for the men's room.

      David turned a corner and headed for the student parking lot, shifting the backpack from one hand to the other. . .damn this heavy load of books! Lori was right, he was always leaving thing like this to the last minute. If he'd begun the paper sooner, he'd only had to bring home one or two books a week, not a huge load at once.

      As he opened his car and tossed the bag in, he thought of his recent discovery. . .that Darien had a secret life as Tuxedo Mask, the only man to appear on a regular basis alongside the Sailor Soldiers. I know the Sailors have been busy lately, he thought. . .there's been a lot of reports of strange things happening, bizarre attacks on people. . .could one of those monsters have done him some kind of permanent damage? He didn't want to think about that. . .not only because of Darien, but because he, himself had been attacked and Lori had fought the monsters, getting bitten herself in the process.

      He jumped in the driver's seat, pulled his seat belt around, gunned the motor. If only there was some way he could talk to Darien about it. . .but he was sure his friend would be very upset if he knew his secret had been discovered. He'd be even *more* upset if he knew Lori had seen Sailor Venus detransform, and they'd been able to figure out the true identities of *all* the Sailor Soldiers.

      As he headed into rush-hour traffic, he wondered if his friend would ever want to confide in him. . .because that very well might be his only shot at finding out the full truth.

      Hiding behind a tree near the parking lot, an aqua-haired young woman pulled a cell phone out of her purse and pushed an auto-dial number. There were a couple of rings, then a low-pitched woman's voice on the other end. . .

      "Moshi moshi?"

      "It's me. He just pulled out of the campus lot, he's going back to his apartment. She's apparently out running errands. They won't meet up until later on tonight."

      "Anything interesting?"

      "Nothing at all. He just did research for a term paper. Honestly, Alex. . .this is starting to get boring. If they're involved with the enemy. . .they haven't done anything in that department for days."

      "Still. . .until we can be *absolutely* sure. . .we can't afford to give this up."

      Michelle chuckled softly. "You can be incredibly stubborn sometimes, you know."

      "*I* can be stubborn? I'm not the one who insisted on waiting in front of the dorm for them for *three hours* the other night."

      "Touche. Well, I guess we have a couple of hours to get something to eat before. . ."

      "Let's let Sonya do the stakeout tonight. We need a break. Let's go out for a *real* dinner. . .one that doesn't come wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic. Or paper and cardboard."

      Michelle frowned a bit to herself. It wasn't like *either* of them to suggest a "break" during a mission. Nights off were for when their task was completed. She's getting just as bored with this as I am, she thought, and just as doubtful about their involvement. . .but we can't give it up entirely. Not just yet. "Are you sure?"

      "Yes, I'm sure. Just carry the mirror with you, just in case."

      That made perfect sense. Her Talisman and Sonya's could transmit images back and forth to each other. If Sonya *did* see something noteworthy, she could show it to them. . .and to the people in the restaurant, it would just appear to be a woman checking her lipstick in her mirror.

      "Okay. . .I guess we can do that for *one* night. I'll be home in about 15 minutes."

      Michelle hung up the phone and started back out toward the street. I almost wish we *would* find some piece of evidence connecting them to the enemy, she thought. At least that would be the end of these endless stakeouts.

* * *

      Computer stores were *not* Lori's favorite place. Take a Byte (the name of the store made her wince) was no exception.

      All of those computer wonks standing around, comparing the merits of this hardware to that, how they could accelerate the graphics performances of their machines, the merits of the G4 cube as compared to the more "conventional" tower. . .

      It was all Greek to her. As far as she was concerned, she turned the thing on, opened her E-mail or her word processing program, did what she had to and turned it off. It was a tool to help her accomplish her goals, nothing more.

      But this tool did her no good if she couldn't *print*. You could send out E-mail blasts to people, sure. . .but computer science had not yet found a way to put cyber billboards on telephone poles. If you wanted to organize a rally. . .fliers were a must.

      She stood in front of a rack of printer cartridges, trying to decide what the hell one fit hers. All she knew was she had a StyleWriter. Why the hell did Apple have to make 50 different models of the thing? All it did was *print*, for gods' sake. It wasn't as if the thing got up and made dinner for you. She finally grabbed a box that looked somewhat familiar and headed for the cash register.

      There, looking at some boxes of software near the counter, was a very familiar face. Amy Anderson. . .one of the Sailor Soldiers.

      So, Lori thought. . .she's a computer wonk! Why does that not surprise me? Hey, maybe I should ask *her* if she knows anything about printers.

      Of course, she thought, I could ask *any* of these people that. Or that owner, Lois something-or-other. . .she knew that a lot of computer geeks considered the woman something akin to a god. But. . .hell, I *want* to talk to this girl. I have to admit, I'm curious about what a Sailor Soldier's like in everyday life. I met her once, briefly. . .when she came to the campus with Mina in the middle of the porn mess. . .but I never *talked* to her.

      She approached Amy and said, quietly, "Hey. . .you're Amy, right? Serena's friend?"

      The girl looked up, with a strangely cold expression on her face. "Yes. . .I am."

      "I'm Lori. . .maybe you remember me. Ex-professional anti-porn bitch."

      "Yes. . .I remember."

      Does she speak in more than three-word sentences? Lori thought. "Look. . .I was wondering if I could get your advice on something. . .computer-wise. I'm trying to find the right printer cartridge. . ."

      Amy didn't look up from the software box she was holding. She just wanted Lori to go away. She hadn't even spoken to Lois, a longtime friend of hers. She just wanted the whole world to go away.

      But I have a feeling she won't go away, she thought, until I help her. She's a stubborn woman. . .I remember that distinctly from the pornography mess.

      "What kind of printer do you have?"

      "Color Stylewriter. One of the older ones."

      Amy took the box and looked at it. "This is for a black-and-white printer. Come on, I'll help you find the right one."

      She watched as Amy took the wrong box back, scanned the shelves briefly, then took down another box. "There. . .this should be more like it."

      "Thanks! I would have gotten this home, tried to use it, and. . .well, the scene wouldn't have been pretty. And my boyfriend would have gotten the worst of it. Not that he's never gotten the worst of it from me before."

      "It must be an interesting relationship," Amy said, "dating your own ex-enemy." She remembered back when Mina had done just about everything to get David and Lori together, and how devastated she had been when it hadn't worked. . .at first.

      "Well, we still have our fights sometimes," Lori said. "Only thing is. . .we don't *murder* each other anymore. It got. . .pretty ugly for awhile."

      Yes, Amy thought. . .and the whole porn controversy started because of me, didn't it? She remembered how guilty she'd felt about that,how Adam had helped her work through that guilt. . .

      And how did I repay him? she thought. By using him.

      Aloud, she said, "I remember it quite well."

      "Hey, you go out with a guy from our school, don't you? The guy who works at the library?"

      Amy looked down, her hand gripping at the shelf as if trying to hold herself up. Lori didn't miss that. Uh-oh, she thought, looks like there's trouble in paradise here.

      "Sorry," Lori said. "Um, look, thanks for your help. . .I'm gonna check this out and then walk back to campus. . .um, you're welcome to join me, if you're going in that direction. . ."

      Amy was about to politely decline. . .when she thought, I *am* going in that direction, aren't I? And Lori. . .well, she seems a lot nicer than her reputation. She's a few years older, a political activist, a woman of the world. .  .

      Maybe I could tell her a little of what happened. . .a little, mind you, not the whole thing. . .and see what she thinks about it? Maybe I'd feel better if I got an *objective* opinion. . .

      "Sure," she said. "I'll walk with you."

* * *

      At the Dead Moon Circus, Fish Eye sat at the bar with his head in his hands.

      We can't win, he thought. We can't win against *any* of them. Not even the little, puny one. We might as well just give it up, and walk around wearing signs saying, "We Were Beaten by a Bunch of Kids."

      Tiger Eye and Hawk Eye observed him from the doorway. "Has he left the bar at *all* since that mission?" said Hawk Eye.

      Tiger Eye shook his head. "He's glued to the barstool. We're going to have to pry him off."

      They walked over to him. "Hey, what's up?" Tiger Eye said, trying to sound cheerful.

      Fish Eye didn't look up.

      "Whatever happened to you," Hawk Eye said, "it's probably nothing that hasn't happened to us, too. Come on. . .spill it!"

      Fish Eye lifted his head, slowly. But instead of telling them, he just said, "I am *so* sick of this. . .if only there were somewhere else we could go. . .something else we could do. . ."

      "Get your butt kicked by a Sailor Soldier?" said Hawk Eye.

      "SHUT UP!" Fish Eye leapt to his feet, knocking over the barstool, eyes ablaze with rage. "You don't know the half of it! I just stood there and watched. . .as the little one. . .the little TWERP, for crying out loud.  . .destroyed my lemure. And then. . .she chased me away! She glowered at me, and pointed her little wand, and all I could do was run. . ."

      "Whoa," Hawk Eye said, sitting down on the barstool. "That's *bad.*"

      Fish Eye groaned again, sinking face-first to the bar.

      Tiger Eye clapped a hand on his back. "Hey. . .maybe it's not as bad as you think. If they're throwing everything they've got at us. . .they've got to tire out sooner or later, right? And then. . .that's when we'll have them!"

      "I'm the one who's tired," Fish Eye mumbled, not raising his head.

      Hawk Eye shook his head. "I'm with Fish Eye on this one. *We're* the ones running themselves ragged."

      Tiger Eye drew himself up to his full height, a look of shock on his face. "You mean. . .you mean. . .you two are. . .GIVING UP? You can't give up!"

      Fish Eye raised his head. "Do you *really* think we're going to be able to beat the Sailor Soldiers?"

      "Sure! Hey, we just haven't figured out the way to do it, right? I mean, maybe the lemure thing isn't the way to go. Maybe we can. . .trick them into destroying each other! Or convince them to commit mass suicide! Or.  .or. . ." He sank down into the seat with a sigh. "Okay. . .so we're in deep doo doo."

      "Maybe *Nehelenia* will just give up," Hawk Eye said. "Then she'll just release us, and we can. . .well, we'll find *something* to do, right? Worst comes to worst. . .we can always just work in a pizza place or something like that."

      "Pizza place?" Tiger Eye said. "No way! I would *not* go work in a pizza place! I'm made for better things than that!"

      Fish Eye sat back up and stared at Tiger Eye, arms folded. "Oh, yeah? Like what?"

      Leaning back in his seat, with his hands folded behind his head, Tiger Eye said, "I'm going to be a cover model for romance books, of course."

      Hawk Eye and Fish Eye just stared at each other for a second. Then, they both burst out in hysterical laughter.

      "What?" Tiger Eye said. "What did I say?"

      "You want to be. . .a BOOK COVER MODEL?" Hawk Eye laughed. "WHY?"

      "Well, every time you see one of those books. . .the guys on the cover look like me, don't they? I can't help it if I've got that sexy, bad-boy-bishounen look. I might as well make money off it, right?"

      Hawk Eye and Fish Eye continued to laugh, Fish Eye pounding the table as he rocked back and forth, tears streaming from his eyes.  "You. . .dressed as a pirate. . .clutching a woman who's popping out of her top. . ."

      "I don't see what's so funny," Tiger Eye huffed. "I'm just making money off my natural charm."

      Hawk Eye leaned back in his seat, holding his sides.  "With you and your ego in the room. . .there's be no place for the busty babe. . ."

      Tiger Eye folded his arms. "I'll have you know that women think I'm. . ."

      There was a crackle of static from the speakers above them, and an all-too-familiar shriveled face appeared on the monitor. All three of them groaned.

      "What is this I just heard from Zircon?" Zirconia said. "Defeated by the youngest and weakest of the Sailor Soldiers? Running away before she can attack? What the hell good are you doing anyone if you do THAT kind of thing?"

      Fish Eye leapt to his feet. "Let's see YOU do better!"

      "My job is NOT to be Nehelenia's foot soldier! My job lately has consisted of convincing her not to kill us all! Which isn't being helped by *your* incompetence!"

      "He brought back the dream mirror, didn't he?" Tiger Eye said. "So he's *not* totally incompetent!"

      "Do NOT give me any backtalk!" Zirconia snapped. "If you knew the full story of why you're here and why you're doing this, you would NOT be so rebellious! You're lucky you're alive right now!"

      "What IS this full story you keep talking about?" Hawk Eye said, standing up and advancing on the monitors a step. "We want to know!"

      "Nehelenia doesn't want you to know! Suffice to say, if you were to disobey her. . .it would be the end of you."

      The three henchmen looked at each other. They knew that that they weren't going to get any more information out of the withered hag.

      Which was getting increasingly frustrating.

      "Now, I'm sending Zircon in with some more potential targets," Zirconia said, "and I want the contents of a mirror brought back here as soon as possible. . .or next time, I will NOT defend you to Her Highness!" The image on the monitor blinked off.

      Fish Eye stamped his foot, fists clenched into balls with anger. "Damn her!" he cried. "She just keeps giving us orders, and orders, and more orders. . .and we don't know *why* we're doing this! We know she wants those mirrors, but.. .why US?"

      "Maybe we'll find out after this is all over," Hawk Eye said, slumping back into his seat. "*Maybe.*"

      There was an all-too-familiar flapping sound, and the giant, winged eyeball flew into the room, the usual sheaf of photos clutched in its talons. When they were released, they fluttered down to the table like dried-out leaves.

      All three of them just stared at the stack. Once, there was a time when they pounced on those photos eagerly, wanting more than anything to experience the thrill of the chase, to hunt and stalk and capture.

      Now, it was just a tiresome ritual, something meaningless they had to do over, and over, and over, without hope of ever knowing exactly why.

      Finally, Tiger Eye sighed, "I guess it's my turn." And he started to shuffle through the photos.

* * *

      The first half-block or so after leaving Take a Byte, Lori and Amy walked in silence.

      She seems like a nice person, Amy thought. Easy to talk to, at any rate. So. . .why can't I think of anything to say?

      Meanwhile, Lori was having similar thoughts.

      This isn't like me to not be able to talk, she thought. Maybe it's because I'm afraid I'll blurt out that I know she's a Sailor Soldier. . .and the Sailor Soldier who started the porn controversy to boot? I've been in all kinds of situations and dealt with all kinds of people before, but. . .dealing with a superheroine is a new one for me.

      Finally, Amy said, "Do you still have your women's group?"

      "Oh, yeah," Lori said. "Not as big as it was in the crazy old days, but. . .we still do plenty of stuff. Right now, we're campaigning to get more women's rooms built on campus. Not as glamorous as taking on porn, but a hell of a lot less frustrating."

      "It must be a relief to not be at the center of all that controversy anymore," Amy said.

      "You'd better believe it," Lori said. "At first, it was a rush.  . .it was exciting. . .but by the time it was over. . .I was just *so* burned out, I just wanted it to be *over*, no matter how it ended. Gods.  . .you can't imagine what it's like, having something that started out as such a terrific high end on such a miserable low."

      Amy looked down at the ground, arms crossed over her body protectively. "Yes, I can."

      "Aww, geez. . .you had something bad happen to you recently, didn't you? Trouble with the boyfriend? Never mind. . .it's none of my business."

      "I. . .I don't mind you asking," Amy said, quietly. "I guess you could say it was. . .trouble. . ."

      Lori looked at the girl's wide, blue eyes. They looked positively haunted. Those were *not* the eyes of a teenager who'd had a spat with a boyfriend because he'd forgotten a date with her and gone out with his buddies instead. They were the eyes of a young woman who was deeply wounded, and was burying her pain deep inside.

      "Look," Lori said, quietly, "if you want to bounce your problems off someone. . .I'm willing to listen. I don't really know anyone in your gang that well, except for Darien, so I'm not going to blab."

      Amy paused, taking a deep breath. I'll just tell her a *little*, right? she thought. Not the whole thing. . .

      "Well," she said, "it involves.  . .something that happened between me and Adam. . .my boyfriend."

      Lori nodded. She'd expected as much.

      Amy looked up at the sky for a moment. . .watched birds flying overhead in erratic patterns. . .they all seemed to do that lately, didn't they? Ever since the enemies showed up. . .

      Finally, she said, "Well. . .I've always been into knowledge. . .research. . .I like finding out everything I can about something. . .and one day. . .I decided I was going to research. . ." She looked down at the ground, a blush creeping over her cheeks. "Sexuality," she said, quietly.

      Hoo, boy, Lori thought. This definitely runs deeper than your usual boy-girl problem. She cheated on him to do it? He found out about her research and had a fit? She brought someone else into their bed as part of the research?

      "Look," Lori said, "maybe you'll want to sit down on a bench. . ."

      Amy followed her to the seat, sitting down carefully, folding her hands on her lap and staring at them.

      I've come this far, she thought. I can't just stop here. I'm going to have to tell her. . .something.. .

      "Well. . .I decided that I wanted to try. . .a few things. . ."

      And then, suddenly, the whole story was pouring out of her, like a swollen river bursting a dam. The experimentations with positions, techniques. . .Adam's enthusiasm level starting to go down as her own continued to rise. .  .

      When she got toward the end of the story, she hesitated a bit. I wasn't myself when I did the bondage thing, she thought. I'd just had my Mirror of Dreams stolen, I was in a kind of shock. . .I certainly can't tell her about that.

      Finally, she said, "And then. . .came a night, where. . .well, something happened, and I was feeling. . .kind of shell-shocked, not quite myself, and. . .I went out of control. I took it as far as. . .bondage. With me dominant. And then, that's when I realized that I had. . .used him. . .to fulfill my own selfish needs."

      Amy sagged, feeling drained, as if finally unburdening her story had taken everything out of her.

      Lori just sat in stunned silence for a moment. This sweet, brilliant, quiet girl. . .had this sexual dynamo inside her? Why the hell did she tell *me* all this? I'm just someone she knew vaguely, and then just met again in the computer store. . .

      But she knew why. Poor kid, she thought, she's been carrying around one *hell* of a guilt trip, and she hasn't been able to tell any of her girlfriends. That, and trying to be a Sailor Soldier on top of that? It's a wonder she hasn't exploded.

      Then, she said, quietly, "Amy. . .I *don't* think you used him."

      "Yes, I did!" Amy said. "I made him into a lab rat! I exploited what was between us!"

      "If he really felt like a *lab rat*, Amy. . .he wouldn't have stayed with you. From what it sounds like. . .he *loves* you. He really does. And he went along with it because of that."

      "Then I *did* exploit our love!"

      "No. . .you *didn't.* Look, Amy. . .I think part of your problem is you think what you did was *bad*. . .that wanting to experiment made you some kind of a slut. Am I right?"

      Amy looked down, biting her lip. She nodded, slightly.

      "But Amy. . .there *is* no shame in it. Hey, we're all human, right? We all get curious. It's natural. Especially a smart girl like you, who's into science and experiments and crap like that. And when we get curious, we want to explore. Being curious, and exploring. . .it's a natural part of love, too, isn't it? If it wasn't. . .people would still be doing it in just one position."

      "Have you. . .ever. . ."

      "Well, I haven't gone the whips 'n' chains route, even though there's people who think that's what I'm into. But yeah, I've experimented with different things. I think everyone has. And as long as the other person doesn't say *no*. . .it's cool."

      Amy thought this over. It made sense, didn't it? Adam had the right to refuse her at any time. . .to tell her he felt he was being used. . .and he didn't, did he? And Adam had always been straightforward with her before. . . wasn't there a number of times when he'd told her she was studying herself blind? Or that he just didn't want to make love that night because he'd had a tough day at school?

      "I. . .I didn't think about it that way before. . ."

      "There's a very, very big difference between *love* and *abuse,* Amy. Believe me. . .I know."

      Amy got to her feet, slowly. "Lori. . .thank you so much. This talk. . .it's been a *huge* help to me. You can't imagine how much better I feel right now!"

      Lori smiled a bit. "Oh, I think I can."

      "I have to make it up to you, somehow. . ."

      Lori wished she could tell Amy that she owed her nothing. . .because it was Amy Sailor Mercury who was responsible, in a way, for her and David getting together. Hey, if it wasn't for her, there would have been no porn controversy, and they probably wouldn't have met!

      She just replied, "Don't worry about it."

      "I'm going to go find him, and talk to him now. . .thank you *so* much again. . ." She waved, and took off at a near-run, moving like a person who'd been carrying a heavy load, and then had that load lifted. Because that's exactly what she was.

      Lori watched her go. Geez, she thought. . .I was able to help her! Me, the woman who's been accused of being the most insensitive on the planet. . .actually *helped* somebody! Ha, that'll show the people who call me an insensitive bitch. . .

      She got up, picking up her bag from the store. This had been a *very* productive shopping trip.

* * *

      Raye headed down the temple steps, shopping list in hand. It just figured that when she let her grandfather do the shopping, he forgot half the things he was supposed to get. Now she was going to have to make a trip to the grocery store before she could make dinner.

      I'd send Chad, she thought. . .but he'd probably forget *more* than half of the things he was supposed to get.

      She headed off into town, thinking about how the Sailor Soldier uniforms had come out. She was very pleased with them. . .they certainly made them look like *warriors* with some dignity, and not cheerleaders.

      But one thing was bothering her about the meeting. . . Amy's refusal to put on the new outfit.

      As a cool evening breeze whipped up, she pulled her windbreaker closer around her. There'd been a sudden chill like this, she thought, the day I rescued Amy from those monsters. I'd been so worried about her before that. . .thought she was acting weird. . .but she'd told me she was fine. . .

      As she walked into the market, picking up a handbasket, she thought that Amy was still acting weird. But now. . .it was a different *kind* of weird. She seemed fine on the surface. . .studying her brains out, showing up at all the Sailor Soldier meetings, going with the other girls to the mall or the movies. . .but she seemed distant. As if she'd rather be somewhere else. Her participation in conversations was minimal. And there was this strange look in her eyes. . .as if she perpetually had something on her mind. . .

      Raye rushed from aisle to aisle, rapidly zeroing in on everything she needed. After years of being the primary cook and grocery shopper in her household, she knew every millimeter of this supermarket by heart. As she headed for the checkout counter, she thought that there was one last thing she just couldn't put her finger on. . .something else that was strange about Amy. . .

      The checkout line was, as usual, eternal. It seemed that no matter how many cashiers this place hired, the lines never got any shorter. It's like the shoppers breed like amoebas, Raye thought.

      She looked around, hoping fr some interesting people-watching opportunities to pass the time. There was a middle-aged couple in near-identical Hawaiian-print shirts and jeans arguing over whether she had picked up the right brand of rice. . .a crying toddler pulling on his mother's arm, begging her to buy him some Pocky. . .a professional-looking woman in a starched gray suit holding her cell phone to her ear with one hand while she loaded food on the cashier conveyer belt with the other. . .a teenage couple making out. . .

      Gods, Raye thought. . .right in the grocery line? That takes some guts. Chad and I would never. . .

      And then, the thing that had been eluding her about Amy clicked into her brain. Of course, she thought. . .why didn't I see it before, it's so obvious. . .She hasn't mentioned Adam since she was attacked!

      That was *definitely* not like Amy. She wasn't as demonstrative about her boyfriend as Serena, who clung to Darien's arm constantly. . .or Mina, who insisted on  reminding them over and over how many days, hours, minutes until Glenn's next visit. . .but she *did* mention him quite a bit.

      Boyfriend trouble, Raye thought. That would explain a *lot*. . .maybe I should talk to her after dinner tonight. She's too shy to volunteer information like that unless you ask her.

      After what seemed an eternity, she reached the cashier. She handed over the cash, then took her plastic bag out into the parking lot. . .and promptly bumped into a tall man with long blond hair, a tailored suit, and a heavy load of groceries. He tottered, and one bag plummeted to the ground. Raye found herself reflexively ducking toward the ground, and she caught it right before it hit.

      "Thanks," the man said. "I'm afraid I wasn't looking where I was going."

      "Well, *that* was obvious," Raye said, handing the bag back over.

      "I was too busy looking at you," he said, giving her a huge smile that, to her, looked as fake as a toothpaste ad.

      "Puh-LEEZ," Raye huffed, waving her hand dismissively. "You're going to have to try harder than that." She started to walk away.

      "You don't understand," the man said. "You've got something I want. . .and I'm going to get it."

      "You don't think I've heard *that* one before?" Raye said. And she started to walk back out to the road. She hadn't gone far when she heard the sound of footsteps close behind her. A quick glance over her shoulder told her it was the man. . .still struggling with his bags as he walked. Hasn't he got anything better to do, she thought?

      She made a quick right turn into the park. . .I know a lot of the side paths most people don't, she thought. I'll be able to lose this jerk in no time. He can't keep walking that fast, not weighted down with those sacks.

      But the footsteps kept following. She quickened her own step, turning into a small, narrow walkway shrouded from view of the road by trees. I don't hear him, she thought. Finally. . .I've lost him. . .

      And then, a masculine voice seemed to shout from everywhere at once, "I *told* you that you had something I want. . .and now, I'm going to take it."

      She wheeled around. It was the man from before. . .but now, he was in some kind of weird circus outfit with tights that left very little to the imagination. Her heart quickened. . .she knew instantly who he was. . .

      "You're an enemy!" she shouted, reaching out her hand to summon her Mars wand. But she didn't get a chance.

      "ONE!" he shouted, and she felt herself flung against a wall that had come out of nowhere. . .

* * *

      Amy rushed through the park, feeling like she could go as fast as an Olympic runner. Oh, gods, I hope he's home, she thought. She turned down a side path that Raye had shown her once. . .the faster she got there, the better. . .

      And then, she stopped in her tracks. There was Raye. . .collapsing to the ground. . .pale and unconscious. . .and one of those enemies standing over her, a gloating look on his face. . .

      "Thank you for sharing that dream with me," he said. "It was *very* entertaining. Well, my work here is done. Just the cleanup to take care of. . ."

      Amy knew very well what was coming next. He was going to call out a lemure, one of those monsters. And only a Super-level Sailor Soldier could defeat one. Somehow, she felt no fear at this prospect. . .only a strange sort of calm. . .because she *knew* she could defeat it. She'd faced down and defeated her own inner demons. . .the ones outside would be no trouble.

      The others all received their power-ups from their Guardian Deities, she thought. Lita's appeared to her in a vision. . .Mina called out to hers for help. . .but she knew she didn't have to do either. She was ready. . .and, deep in her being, she could sense that Mercury knew that.

      Looking up, she said, quietly, "I'm ready to receive the power now."

      A few sparks of blue light appeared just above her head. They swirled around, slowly, then faster and faster, until they created a whirlwind of glowing blue. In the middle, something was starting to form and take shape. . .a pink rod with a gold handle and a large blue crystal ball on top.

      She put out her hand, and the wand dropped into it. Instantly, she knew what to say, what to do. . .

      Meanwhile, Tiger Eye was surveying the lemure he'd just called out. . .a huge, feral dog, covered with matted, midnight-black fur, its eyes like burning coals. This will take care of the lady quite nicely, he thought. And no Sailor Soldiers at all to boot! Finally. . .a mission that's a success. . .

      "Have fun!" he told the creature as he opened his dimensional portal and leaped through. . .

      . . .a split second before Amy shouted, "MERCURY CRYSTAL POWER!" She felt power surging through her like a massive tidal wave, and she gloried in it.. .it truly felt like the birth of a new self, like everything that had been holding her back had been swept away.

      She faced the thing without fear. It was advancing on Raye, snarling, its jaws open, its saliva dripping to the ground. . .which singed and dissolved the grass everywhere it fell.

      "You want to play with something?" Amy shouted. "Play with *me*!"

      The beast turned around, snarling. . .then, it opened its mouth and exhaled a huge, grey cloud of noxious gas, which flew toward Amy. She dove out of the way, only to see it hit and dissolve the tree she had been standing in front of.

      Acid, she thought. This thing will annihilate its target in a split second. There was no time to *think*, because it was turning toward her again, opening its jaws. . .She leapt out of the way again as the acid cloud hit the ground, leaving a hole in the ground the size of a small swimming pool.

      It needed a few seconds between the first blast and the second, she thought. I have a tiny, tiny window of opportunity to literally freeze it in its tracks. Another acid cloud streaked toward her, and she dropped and rolled. . .thrusting her hand up and calling out "MERCURY!" as she did so. There was a slight shimmer of light around her hand, and a small, curved Celtic-style harp appeared in it.

      She leapt to her feet, pointed the harp at the creature and plucked the strings, shouting, "AQUA RHAPSODY!" A stream of blue mist shot from the harp, which within milliseconds had become a wall of water, a miniature tsunami which slammed into the creature, then turned immediately to ice. The ice dissolved back into blue mist, dissolving the lemure alone with it.

      Amy instantly rushed to Raye's side. Her friend was starting to come to, sitting up very slowly, holding her head as if she were in great pain.

      "Raye!" Amy said. "Are you all right?"

      "That's kind of a dumb question," Raye said, sitting up the rest of the way. . .then bending over double.

      "Here. . .take deep breaths, you're in shock right now," Amy said. "Your blood pressure has dropped very suddenly, and your heart rate. . ."

      "Amy. . .only you would give me a medical report at a time like this," Raye said, rolling over onto her side and using her arms to help push herself back up to her feet. Amy grabbed her arm and helped boost her.

      "What happened?" Amy said.

      "Some loser followed me home from the grocery store. How was I to know he was an enemy?" Raye scrambled around on the ground for the bag. . .thank the gods, everything was still there, and nothing broke.

      "They got all of us that way," Amy said. "Disguising themselves as harmless humans. . ."

      "I wouldn't say *this* one's disguise was harmless," Raye said. . .and then, she got a good look at Amy. Her bows were longer. . .the crystal at her chest was heart-shaped. . .she had a star on her choker, even extra piercings in her ears! And what was that in her hand?

      "Waaait a second," Raye said. "Did you go Super on me?"

      "Yes!" Amy said. "It just happened."

      "And you thought it wasn't going to!"

      "Well. . ." Amy looked down for a second. "There were. . .reasons for that. And the reasons. . .don't exist anymore."

      Raye smiled a bit. Well, she thought. . .this definitely means I *was* right. Something *was* wrong. But. . .it doesn't seem like there's anything wrong anymore.

      "Just give me a second to detransform," Amy said, "and I'll walk you home."

      "No need," Raye said. "I'll be fine."

      "Are you sure?"

      Raye put a hand on Amy's shoulder. "I'm *sure*. I've been through this kind of stuff before, remember? Had my heart crystal stolen. . .been crucified in a spaceship. . .even died and came back to life. This. . .is nothing."

      She doesn't look like it's *nothing,* Amy thought. "Okay, but. . .call me later and let me know you're all right."

      "Sure. . .you'll be at Adam's, right?"

      Amy gave a start. . .how did she know that? "Um. . .maybe," she said, unable to control the blush spreading over her face.

      Raye suppressed a big grin. Yes, she thought. . .she's definitely going there. She's going to be all right now.

* * *

      When Amy arrived at Adam's front door, she suddenly froze. What do I say to him? she thought. I just can't walk in like I used to and say, "Hi, honey, how are you doing, how was class today?" What if he doesn't want to see me. . .what if he just slams the door in my face. . .I can't say I blame him, after I didn't return all those calls on my answering machine. . .

      She raised her hand and knocked, softly and timidly.

      Adam looked up from the book he'd been studying.  Who the heck could that be? he thought. He certainly wasn't expecting a visitor. . .wouldn't allow himself to expect, to hope, ever since the sudden split with Amy.

      He went to the door, opened it. . .and his heart leapt. Mixed emotions washed over him, joy on top of bewilderment. "Amy. . ." he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

      "I need to talk to you," she said. "Can I come in?"

      "Yes. . .yes, of course!" He moved aside, and watched her glide into his living room. . .a sight he thought he'd never see again. She settled herself on the couch, as she'd done a thousand times before, but she didn't look quite comfortable there. She sat stiffly, her hands folded on her lap, eyes looking straight ahead.

      Adam sat opposite her, leaning over, as if encouraging her to talk. There was silence for a long moment. . .

      Then, finally, she said, "Adam. . .I've done some thinking about what happened between us that night. . .and the weeks leading up to it. . ."

      "It's all right, Amy. I don't hold any of it against you. I never did. I knew what you were doing. I know how much you like to experiment, try to learn things. . .I admit, I *was* getting a little worn out, but. . .it's not as if you were doing something *wrong.*"

      "That's just it." She looked down at her hands and started to run the fingers of the right one under the band of her communicator on her left wrist. "I *did* do something wrong. Or. .. at least. . .I thought I did."

      "No, Amy. Please don't. . ."

      She put her hand up, silencing him. . .she felt she *had* to tell her story without interruption. "I thought I had used you for my own ends, been unbelievably selfish. Turned the man I loved into just another research project. And that's why I couldn't face you for so long. I just felt so *guilty*. . .I tried to act like normal with my friends, but. ..the guilt was eating me up inside."

      "Amy. . ." Adam reached over and covered her hands with his. "There was *no* need to feel guilty. None whatsoever."

      She tilted her head upward, and her eyes met his. She could see the love there, and the compassion, and the forgiveness. . .It makes me wonder now, she thought, why I felt that way.

      "I know that now," she said. "I had a talk. . .with a friend. And it helped me see the light about a lot of things. You see, at the time I thought I was doing it *just* as an experiment. A scientific thing. It didn't occur to me that the *real* reason I wanted to try so many different forms of lovemaking. . .was purely out of love. And a desire to explore that love to the fullest." A small smile crossed her face. "I guess I took myself by surprise."

      "Well. . .you took *me* by surprise, I have to admit that."

      She sighed, looking down. "I know. . .and I really shouldn't have. . ."

      He tilted her chin upward. "But. . .that wasn't a *bad* thing, Amy. Hey, it kept me on my toes. I never knew what side of you I was going to see next. . .and that was exciting."

      She looked at him, blinking. "Really?"

      "Really. Hey, if anything. . .it sure as hell kept our relationship from getting stale, right?"

      She pulled back from him, her body becoming rigid. "I'd *like* to think it was in no danger of going stale anyway."

      He laughed, and squeezed her hand. "It wasn't.  . .not at all. . .it's just that this, well. . .kept it *fresh* all the time, and. . ." He rubbed the side of his face, turning slightly red. "I'm not making any sense whatsoever, am I?"

      "Well, you're not. Not much, anyway. . .but that's all right. I think I know what you're trying to say." She found herself relaxing again. A bit of their old bond, their old rapport, was returning.

      "Well, anyway. . .look, let's just put this behind us. Move on. . .pick up where we left off. . ."

      She looked down. "Can we do that?"

      "I don't really know if we can or we can't, but. . .hell, we might as well give it a try, right?"

      She looked up at him, and a small smile spread over her face. . .which rapidly became larger. A second chance, she thought. The second chance I thought I wasn't going to have.

      "Adam, I'm so glad. . .I was afraid I was going to lose you forever. . ."

      "Are you kidding? You're not going to get rid of me that easily, Girl Genius." He leaned over and kissed her lips, softly.

      "Oh?" She nestled her head against his shoulder, thinking. . .I'm so happy now. . .so happy, and content. . .I really feel like I've come through the fire, and come out of it cleansed, and a better person.

      "Who said. . .that I'd *want* to get rid of you?" she whispered, leaning over to bring her lips to his. His arms tightened around her as their lips brushed. . .a soft, gentle caress at first, then slowly, deepening, growing hotter and wetter, one tongue probing for the other, then tangling and stroking in a sensuous dance.

      Amy felt her body go absolutely limp as she relaxed totally. . .more relaxed than she'd felt in what seemed like eternity. Her hand came up to tangle in his dark red hair as she raised a leg, wrapping it over his hip, bringing her womanhood into contact with his manhood. Both of them gasped, and began to wriggle a bit, rubbing together as their hands roamed each other's bodies. . .caressing shoulders, slowly massaging down backs.

      No performances tonight, she thought. No gimmicks. Just him and me. . .and I'm more seriously *into it* than I think I've ever been. No pressure on either one of us. This isn't about experimenting. . .it's just about love.

      As they eased apart from each other, and he gently kissed her cheek and temple, he thought that this was like the first time all over again. We're re-learning how it feels to be just another couple, he thought. It feels a bit odd, knowing she's not going to be springing any kind of surprise on me. . .but, at the same time, it feels great.

      "Feel like going in the other room?" he whispered as he brought his lips to her ear, softly kissing the lobe before nipping at it. She shuddered.

      "Y-yes," she whispered. "That's. . .a good idea. . ."

      She wrapped her arms around his neck and hopped up so her knees were clinging to his hips. He grasped her bottom, gently squeezing, supporting her and making a thrill pass through her at the same time. Slowly, he walked toward the bedroom.

      Amy tried not to think about the last time she'd been in that room. . .her bondage costume, the way she'd dominated him and gotten a thrill out of it. . .Then, she smiled to herself as he gently deposited her on the bed. That incident was over, in the past. And, in a strange way. . .it had actually been *good* for her. For both of them.  She felt more in touch with her sexuality now. . .and unashamed of it.

      He bent over, kissing her lips as he unbuttoned her shirt, slowly. . .She reached up and did the same to him, letting her hands wander underneath, caressing his soft, smooth skin. She pushed the fabric down and off, then sat up so she could toss away her own blouse and bra. He slid off her skirt and underwear, then stood back, gazing at her nudity almost reverently.

      "Wow. . .just stunning. . ." He rid himself of the rest of his own clothing, then lay beside her. Instantly, they were in each other's arms, kissing deeply, starting to rub up against each other. . .first very slowly and softly, a mere touch of flesh on flesh, then harder, faster, more urgently.

      She felt his chest slide over her nipples, each brush of skin on skin sending a fresh electric jolt through her. With a loud groan, she opened her legs, wrapping them around him, pumping her hips to rub her most sensitive flesh against his.

      "Ohhh. . ." he moaned, throwing his head back as shockwaves of heat started to pass through him. "No. . .not so fast. . .not yet. . .we have all night. . ."

      "It just feels so good," she sighed. "So very. . .very. . ."

      "Ssshh. . .take it easy. We have plenty of other things to do first. . .like this. . ."

      He swept his tongue down her neck, her chest. . .When he reached her breast, he began to lick it in slow swirls, over the curve first, then moving upward, by degrees, to the pink around her nipple. He teased that with feathery touches. . .a split second of contact, then moving away, again and again. . .

      She felt her heart pounding as her entire body writhed, reaching up for him, trying to pull him closer. As his lips finally closed over her nipple and he began to suck, she let out a small wail, her hands tangling in his hair again, trying to hold him there all night.. .although she had no protest when his tongue began to slide across to the other breast.

      His lips closed over the nipple and he sucked hard for a couple of seconds. . .then eased away and slowly, lovingly drew his tongue over the hardened bud. . .kissing around it, then taking it in his lips and sucking on it slowly. . .pulling it almost all the way out, then pushing it in again. . .

      "Yes," she moaned. "Gods. . .so delicious. . .ohhh, you're so good. . ."

      He moved back up and kissed her lips again, tenderly. . .her breathing slowed down a bit. . .she seemed to have grown calmer. . .

      And then, he was aware of a lovely sensation. . .a very feminine hand brushing up and down over the length of his manhood.

      Amy kissed him deeply, her palm caressing the shaft in slow, wide circles, moving up and down with maddening slowness. She let her fingers flutter over the head as her tongue slowly slid in and out of his mouth, as if to remind him of the other, more intimate motions to come later.

      Her other hand cupped and caressed the sac beneath as she grasped his shaft gently, yet firmly and started a steady up and down, up and down pumping motion. He leaned his head back, his eyes closed, totally lost in the sensation. . .especially when she kissed down his chest and began to suck on a nipple.

      Her tongue flicked over the bud  before her lips surrounded it, drawing slowly, deeply. . .she felt him writhe beneath him, heard his moans and gasps, and it only served to make her own blood all the hotter.

      "Ohh. . .gods. . .keep that up, and. . .the evening's going to come to an end *real* fast. . ." he gasped.

      She moved back up, kissing his lips softly. "Don't worry. . .I won't let that happen." She turned toward the nighttable, reaching for where she knew the packages of condoms were. She undid the package, got it ready to put on. . .

      And then, she bent over and took it in her mouth, sliding it in and out rapidly, making him let out a loud groan. "Yes. . .ohhh. . .that's incredible. . ."

      She took him in a deeply as she could, savoring the taste, the way he felt against her lips, her tongue. . .She wished she could take him all the way this way. . .but it wasn't what either of them really wanted, not tonight.

      Reluctantly, she slid her mouth away and rolled on the condom. . .as she felt his fingers probe her soft folds, caressing them, sliding into her entrance a bit, then moving up, brushing ever-so-slightly against her jewel, then down again, rubbing back and forth, stroking upward slowly, downward again. . .

      She leaned forward, gasping, moaning, feeling like her entire body was going to burst into flames any second. She moved backwards against his fingers, trying to get him to go deeper, harder, faster. ..

      No. She eased away. This was for both of them. . .they were going to meet the summit of passion together. And she pulled him onto his side, lying facing him with her leg thrown over his hip. Their lips met again as they wriggled, positioning themselves just right. . .

      Then, both thrust forward, and he entered her. As they felt the intimate contact, both gasped, eyes flying open, lips parting. . .Both sets of hips began to thrust, slow and easy at first, just savoring the feel of hard enveloped in soft. . .

      The heat built in him slowly. . .slowly. . .like a spark devouring the grass around it bit by bit. Gods, when was the last time when it was like this? This was absolutely heavenly.

      She started to move a bit faster. . .eager to have him deeper inside her, to make the delicious tingles spreading through her belly shoot to every part of her. He groaned, and picked up his own pace, his hands stealing down her body to cup and stroke her bottom, kneading it gently in time to their thrusts.

      They moved more and more urgently, and she tossed her head about, overwhelmed with fiery sensations. .  ."Yes," she moaned. "Ohh, that feels wonderful." The hungry throb from the very core of her. . .the fiery tingles as her nipples rubbed against his chest again and again. . . .the slow warmth where his fingers were caressing her bottom. . .She felt herself in a dilemma of beautiful agony. . .she wanted release like hell, but at the same time, she wanted it to go on and on. . .

      "Oooh, love. . .you feel sooo good, oh, gods. . .soon. . .soon. . ."

      "Yes. . .I'm almost there, too. . .come with me. . ."

      And then, she felt the sweet eruption within her, and she shrieked as her whole body shook with passionate spasms, her arms clinging to him as she buried her head in his shoulder. Just as she thought it was over, another wave of delicious spasms wracked her, until, finally, she went completely limp.

      As her sheath clamped around him, he felt himself being drawn to the very edge of ecstasy, and he drove harder, faster, willing his body to go over the edge. . .Finally, the passion exploded, and one hot, tingling shiver after another wracked him as he shouted her name. He sagged against her when it was over, panting.

      They held each other tightly, kissing each other's cheeks, temples and lips. "I love you so much," she whispered.

      "I love you, too," he replied. "More than you'll ever know."

      They broke apart just long enough for him to deal with the condom, then they snuggled up, with her head on his chest.

      "Mmmm," she said.  "That's it. No more gimmicks *ever.*"

      "You never needed them," he said.

      "Well. . .I think it was something we both *needed* to do. But. . .I think we're past that, and we don't need it anymore." She smiled at him. "I know *I* don't."

      "And I don't, either. We can just be. . . *us* now."

      They kissed again, and she started to drift off to sleep.

      The experiment is over for good, she thought. And the ultimate result. . .is a success.

     

* * *

      In the marble-lined corridors of another realm, a young man clad in a white toga with short, curly blond hair walked with a confident step. He was very pleased with the day's events. . .very pleased indeed. Things could not have gone more perfectly.

      "I understand your charge received her new powers today," a deep voice said behind him.

      The young man turned. It figures it would be him, he thought. "Oh, she did, indeed. I didn't have to lift a finger. She simply opened her heart and soul and accepted the power. The only thing I had to do was send the wand to her, and put the proper words and actions into her mind."

      "And not a moment too soon," the other said. "If they had gone any longer without *all* the Soldiers of the Inner Planets having Super-level powers. . ."

      "I know, I know," the young man said. "But. . .it worked out. She got the powers on time, didn't she? Don't worry. . .I know what's at stake. I have the situation in hand."

      The other shook his head. "You always were overconfident, Mercury."

      "Overconfident? Not this time. I *do* know what I'm doing. Everything. . .is according to plan."

      "Then be on your guard. The crisis is at hand. . .and your charge may need your help."

      Mercury nodded at the other, and continued on his way.

      The other god watched him go, sighing. It had been touch-and-go. . .but the Sailor Soldiers were all ready, at last. Ready for the confrontation of their lives.

      The very future is at stake, he thought. If they win. . .Crystal Tokyo will eventually become a reality. If they lose. .. the world will be shrouded in darkness.

      But there was still one piece of the puzzle that needed to fall into place before they could achieve that victory. . .and the god new very well what it was.

      He walked down the hall, turning into a room on the left, which was set up as a small, austere temple. There were a few benches, some carvings of stylized figures on the wall, and, at the far end, a fire blazing in a large stone bowl.

      A teenage boy sat in front of the fire, fingers templed, head bowed. He turned when he heard the approach of the other, then bowed, respectfully.

      "I was meditating," he said. "I figure we need all the wisdom and insight we can get for our next move."

      "Yes. . .your part in the drama is coming up," said the other. . .a tall, muscular man in a white royal robe, a conical crown on his dark head. The god whose images had adorned the temples of Atlantis, back in the Silver Millennium. Osiris, guardian deity of the Royal House of Earth.

      We're *both* going to have to play our parts well from this point, he thought. For the sake of the world. . .and the sake of one young man. . .

* * *

      David sat on the couch at Darien's apartment, book in hand. He was supposed to be studying. . .but instead, he was watching his friend.

      He's looking more and more unwell, he thought. Pale. . .losing weight. . .and his breath sounds wheezy sometimes. . .Darien behaved normally enough in class. But every now and then, he'd bolt from the room as soon as class was over, as if he had an urgent need to go to the men's room. . .but he never did. Instead, he'd flee the campus entirely. . .only to show up in time for the next class, looking as well as ever.

      I really should say something to him, David thought. I should let him know that I'm his friend. . .that I'm always here to help. . .but. . .he seems to be going out of his way to cover up his sickness, isn't he? He may get upset if I let on that I know.

      He turned his eyes back to the text, trying to focus on the words. . .but the sound of Darien's increasingly raspy breathing was keeping him from concentrating.

      If he's struggling so hard to cover up how sick he is, David thought, it could be because he has cancer, or AIDS. . .but if he had something like that, he'd be *constantly* sick, it wouldn't come and go like that.

      Or. . .it could be that the sickness is somehow related to his magical activities. . . and if I were to tell him, I'd be letting on that I know he's Tuxedo Mask. That would *not* be good. He'd demand to know how I knew that. . and what could I tell him? How much of a code of silence do the Sailor Soldiers have, anyway? What would they do to someone who found out their secrets?

      Darien stood up, stretching his limbs. "I'm getting a soda. . .do you want anything?"

      "Do you have any cold green tea?"

      "I think I have a couple of cans left." He started to head toward the kitchen. . .and suddenly, he was seized with an enormous fit of coughing, bending over double, his hands tightly clasped over his mouth. David leapt to his feet, in alarm. This was *not* normal. . .not the way his entire body was being wracked with heaving spasms. . .and, oh, gods, was that *black fluid* leaking out from between his fingers?

      Darien managed to run to the kitchen, leaning over so his head and shoulders were in the sink. Gradually, the coughing faded, and he sagged, panting, his entire body bathed in sweat.  He reached up and turned on the faucet, rapidly washing his hands.

      David walked into the kitchen, slowly, step by step, almost afraid that if he made one wrong move, the horrible coughing would start up again.

      "Darien?" he said, quietly. "Are you okay?"

      Darien turned around. David looked worried. . .the kind of look you usually saw on the face of someone who's witnessed a terrible car crash, and wants like hell to help, but knows they can't do anything.

      I wish I could tell him, he thought. I hate having to keep him in the dark like this. . .he *is* my best friend. But I can't tell him. What could I possibly say? I can just see myself telling the *truth*. . .I think I'm carrying some kind of ancient curse. . .and seeing him laugh it off.

      He took a deep breath and tried to smile. "I'm okay. Really, I am. It's just, well. . .this cold. . .more like a flu. . .that just won't go away. Too many late nights, you know."

      Darien? David thought. Too many late nights? "You don't strike me as the party-dude type," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.

      "I mean too many late nights *studying*," Darien said, trying to sound lighthearted. "What did you *think* I meant?"

      David frowned. "Well, cool it. You're beginning to sound like you have double pneumonia. Keeping your straight-A status isn't worth your *life*."

      "I know, I know. . .believe me, David, Serena's given me the same lecture." As Darien opened the refrigerator, rooting around for the soft drinks, he remembered Serena trying to heal him with the crystal and failing. . .the look of utter defeat on her face. . .

      And we're no closer to finding the missing piece of the Golden Crystal, he thought. We haven't got a clue. And every day. . .I feel sicker, and weaker. . .and it's harder and harder to keep up the front of normalcy. . .

      "Maybe you should listen to *both* of us," David said. "See a doctor before you get worse."

      "I will, I will," Darien said, tossing David the promised can of tea. He popped his own Coke and took a long drink. The normally sweet, syrupy beverage tasted like battery acid to him. . .a reminder that the curse was still in his body, still eating him from the inside.

      David started to carry his own drink into the living room. I wish like hell I could believe him, he thought. But. . .I can't. I *know* there's more to this than meets the eye. If only I could talk to him. . .force him to tell me the truth. . .

      He watched Darien come back into the living room and settle back into his chair, with his book, breathing easy, the color restored to his face. . .like nothing had ever happened.

      I wonder, David thought, if I ever *will* know the full truth.

* * *

      Reenie walked through the park, taking the same route she had while going to the last Sailor Soldier meeting. Only this time, there was no attack going on, no monsters.

      She thought back to that moment when she had unleashed her true power, the power that Pegasus had said was sleeping inside her. It was unlike anything she'd ever experienced before. . .like she was unleashing her very soul.

      I wouldn't have been able to do that, she thought, if I hadn't met Pegasus. . .if he hadn't made me feel like I could do *anything*.

      When she'd told him about using Rose Heart Shatter, he'd been delighted. . .but not surprised. When she'd questioned him about that, he'd said, "I knew you could do it all along, Reenie. It's just. . .*you* had to realize that you could do it."

      "You mean. . .all the time I was just using Pink Sugar Heart Attack. . .I could have been using a *real* attack?"

      "Not exactly," Pegasus said. "A Sailor Soldier's talents evolve along with her soul. Every time she passes a major test in her life, and she grows, and develops. . .her powers grow and develop along with her."

      "You mean. . .I was able to do this because of all the other stuff that's been happening to me? Doing my hair differently, designing the clothes. . ."

      "Yes. You're discovering your true self. And that's making you stronger. . .as a person, and as a Sailor Soldier."

      "My true self," Reenie whispered to herself now, as she walked down the path towards the temple. She remembered seeing herself in the mirror wearing her new Sailor Soldier uniform for the first time, and contrasted Neo-Sailor Moon's dignified dress and hairstyle with the old image of Sailor Chibi-Moon. . .bunny ear hairstyle, silly little pink dress. . .

      I've gone so, so far past that, she thought. And it gave her a warm feeling inside.

      She walked into the temple, to find the others already seated around their regular table, munching on onegiri and drinking tea.

      Everyone, that was. . .except Amy.

      "Where's Amy?" Reenie said, taking a seat between Serena and Mina.

      "Not a clue," Raye said, passing her the plate. "Here, we saved you a bonito onegiri. We know those are your favorites."

      "Thanks," Reenie said, taking the seaweed-wrapped triangle of pressed rice. "It's not like her to be so late. She's usually the first one here!"

      "Maybe she got held up at the library or something," Lita said.

      "Why does she spend her whole life at the library, anyway?" Serena said. "I mean. . .it's not as if we have a paper due for over a month!"

      "Hey, maybe she likes to plan ahead," Mina said, reaching for another onegiri. "You know what they say. . .nine stitches can save you a lot of time!"

      The others groaned. Artemis said, "Well, you were in the *ballpark* with that one, at least.  Somewhere in the bleachers. . .way, way up at the very top of the stadium, in left field. . .but you were in the *ballpark.*"

      "Humph," Mina said, sticking her tongue out at him. "I'll let you know that I. . ."

      At that moment, Amy dashed through the door, panting and flushed. Her hair was mussed, and her blouse was buttoned wrong. And her face radiated pure joy.

      Raye didn't miss a bit of this. I think, she thought. . .Amy's problem is *more* than solved. *Big* time.

      Amy glided into the room, still smiling, and settled herself at the table. She looked at her fellow Sailor Soldiers, and said just six words. . .

      "I'll have that fashion makeover now."

* * *

      In a zone between the realms of the conscious and the unconscious, known to some as the Dreamscape, the young god who had spoken with Osiris traveled, seeking out the one being who would be most crucial to the next stage of the gods' plan.

      The thought patterns of thousands of life forms, human and nonhuman, flowed over and through him. He could sense at once what it was like to be a 13-year-old girl, a hard-working father of three, an elderly woman facing her final illness. . .

      It all would have been overwhelming to a human. But to a god, it was par for the course.

      And then, he became aware of a consciousness that shone like a beacon. A being with a fettered body, and a mind that refused to be fettered.

      He'd entered this person's consciousness before. And soon, very soon, he would do it again. . .and this time, it would be for more than just some advice.

      "Helios," he said, "you and I are about to have a date with destiny. The future of the Royal Family of Crystal Tokyo. . .and of the very world itself. . .is at stake."

AUTHOR'S NOTES: We're getting close to the homestretch, folks! Thanks tons to everyone who's commented on this series so far. Rewriting the SuperS season had been a goal of mine for a long time, and I'm so pleased to see my efforts to do so have paid off.

Thanks tons to my editor, Steve Savage, who, as usual, provided invaluable input (and who also came up with the name for Reenie's new attack!) Check out his original fantasy series, Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai. Thanks also to the great people at fanfiction.net and A Sailor Moon Romance who make it possible for me to share my stories!

E-mail me at sailormac@wjjz.com. My Web page is at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/sailormac.