SAILOR MOON SUPERS: THE WAR
OF DREAMS PART 4
A Sailor Moon Sekkushiaru Roman
By Sailor Mac
"REENIE! Come ON. . .we're BOTH going to be late for school!"
Reenie sighed when she heard Serena's shout from downstairs. She put the last of her books in her backpack and headed down the stairs, reaching out to grab the lunchbag Serena's mother was holding out. School was the last place in the world she wanted to be today. She wanted to be back in her dreams. . .with Pegasus.
In the everyday, waking world, she still felt like she was a bit out of place. . .the not-quite-a-Sailor Soldier who was younger than the others, the schoolgirl who had grown up in a different time, a different place than all of her schoolmates. But Pegasus made her feel special. Like what she had to say really *mattered.* To him, she was an equal, not a Cute Little Kid.
"I'm here," she told her future mother. "Let's go."
"Bye bye!" Eileen-mama called after them as they rushed out the door. "Have a good day!"
"It'll be a good day if we manage to make it all the way through without having to destroy any monsters," Serena murmured.
"Have we *had* any days like that lately?" Reenie replied.
"Don't think so."
Serena wasn't exaggerating. The enemies had stepped up their mysterious campaign of attacks on the innocent citizens of Tokyo. It seemed that every single day, they'd be walking down a street and hear a scream, or they'd get a call on Serena's communicator from one of the other Sailor Soldiers. They'd report to the scene, and find someone chained up, the all-too-familiar mirror hovering in front of their chests, one of those weirdoes sticking their head into it. . .
"All we ever do anymore," Serena said, "is eat, sleep, and destroy monsters. It was *never* like this before! Not with the Negaverse, or the Black Moon family, or the Deathbusters. Whoever these creeps are. . .they're sure persistent!"
Maybe I should ask Pegasus about them, Reenie thought. He might know. After all, he showed up the same time they did. . .and he's always telling me they're dangerous. . .maybe he's fighting them, too!
"Did the Negaverse have crazy people like those three working for them, too?"
Serena shook her head. "Nope. Just the generals. They all thought they were God's gift to women — well, except Zoicite, because she *was* a woman — but they were real creeps. Especially Malachite. He was the last of the first batch. . ."
A painful memory stung Serena. Malachite really hadn't been the last general. She remembered all too well Darien having been turned against her by the cruelest means possible — kidnapping, brainwashing, rape. . .
I never want Reenie to know about that, she thought. Just like I never want her to remember having been Black Lady. She'd never be able to live with herself if she knew that she'd once tried to destroy us.
"Serena?" Reenie said. "Have you gone off into the Twilight Zone again?"
"Me? Oh, no, I was just. . .thinking, that's all. About the enemies. Where they might have come from, what they're really up to. . ."
Who *are* those three nutjobs, anyway? she thought. Could they be good people turned bad, too? If they are. . .maybe I could heal them? Or are they just a bunch of bad-to-the-bone creeps without souls. . .
* * *
"Gods, I'm exhausted!" Fish Eye collapsed face-first onto the bar, his head on his crossed arms. "If the old bag gives us just *one more target* this week, I'm going to make her *swallow* that flying eye."
"*You're* exhausted?" Tiger Eye mumbled, slumped down in his seat. "I have to chase targets. . .*and* keep up an active social life!"
"If you call hitting on girls in the street and getting your face slapped over and over a social life," Hawk Eye grumbled from his perch atop the third barstool. . .a perch that was getting more and more precarious as he nodded off and started to slide.
"Hey!" said Tiger Eye. "I *did* get that one woman's phone number."
"She was a psychiatrist, and she gave you her business card," Fish Eye yawned.
"Well, it was *still* a phone number, right?"
"Gods, why doesn't that old hag just hire some *more* people to do her dirty work?" Fish Eye groaned, not moving from his position face-down atop the bar. "It's not as if we're the *only* people in the world who can do this."
"Um, I think we *are*," Hawk Eye said. "We don't see any *other* people going around yanking out Mirrors of Dreams."
"That's ‘cause nobody else has a boss like the one we have," Tiger Eye replied.
"I hope a good, strong wind comes along and makes her crumble into dust," Fish Eye mumbled.
"I heard that!" shouted an all-too-familiar voice from a monitor atop the bar. All three raised their heads, wearily, to see the image of Zirconia. "You ingrates don't realize how much you owe to Her Majesty Nehelenia and I."
"Owe?" said Tiger Eye. "We feel like we've already given everything we have to give."
"And then some," Hawk Eye added.
"If it wasn't for us, you three wouldn't even. . ." The image on the screen stopped speaking abruptly, as if she'd realized she was about to say something she shouldn't. "Well, get up! There's work to be done! Zircon has found some more targets!"
All three groaned. "Can't it wait until we've had a good night's sleep?" said Tiger Eye.
"No, it can't. I know you people. ‘Good night's sleep' translates into ‘total hibernation for nearly 24 hours.' Now, go through these pictures and pick out two targets. I expect you to hit them both by tomorrow evening." The image disappeared, and the black sorceress's familiar, a flying eyeball called Zircon, flapped into the room. Hovering over the bar like a grotesque bird of prey looking for food, it opened its talons and dropped a stack of photographs onto the bar.
The three of them groaned at the sight of the sea of faces. "They're all starting to look alike to me," Hawk Eye sighed.
"Me, too," said Tiger Eye, shuffling through them. . . "Oooh, except her! She's cute!"
"Okay, you're *not* going after her," Fish Eye said, grabbing the picture away from him. "You waste too much time when you slobber over them."
"Oh, like you *weren't* drooling over that basketball boy," Tiger Eye retorted.
"I wasn't *drooling.* I was admiring his appearance, that's all."
"GUUUYYS! Can we just pick two at random and get this over with?" said Hawk Eye.
Tiger Eye and Fish Eye looked at each other. "Right," said Tiger Eye. "Just for that, you're doing the next mission."
"For *what*? What did I do?"
"You *whined,*" Fish Eye said. "I HATE whining!"
"As if the two of *you* haven't been whining your heads off lately?"
"I'm going to take a nap," Fish Eye said, standing up with a yawn. "Let me know when you've managed to nail a Sailor Soldier."
"Like *he's* capable of doing it," Tiger Eye added, following him out of the bar tent.
Hawk Eye groaned, then collapsed face-first to the bar with a choked sob. Another damn mission. Another Mirror of Dreams. How many did Nehelenia need, anyway?
Target. . .the sooner he picked his target, the sooner he'd be over and done with this. . .
Without even looking, he reached out a grasped a photo. Raising his head, he saw it depicted a child of about 10, with short, brown hair and dark blue eyes.
"Good enough," he said, dragging himself to his feet reluctantly, mentally preparing himself for yet another confrontation with a Sailor Soldier.
* * *
Reenie swung her legs harder, pushing the swing further into the sky. She was almost as high up as she could possibly go now. As if she were flying. . .
Flying, like Pegasus.
All around her, the playground was filled with children going down the slide, digging tunnels in the sandbox, kicking around a soccer ball. They're all my age, she thought. And yet. . .I feel like I have nothing in common with them. Oh, she got along with them, all right. They would discuss the usual details of a 10-year-old's life. . .what a crab the gym teacher was, the best places to go for the latest collectible game cards, the latest plot developments on Card Captor Sakura. . .
But she could never discuss what was *really* important with them. Her life back in Crystal Tokyo. Being a Sailor Soldier. Pegasus. And thus. . .they would forever remain just acquaintances to her, never true friends. She was just as lonely as she'd been in Crystal Tokyo, when she was the unapproachable princess, the girl who never got to play with other, "normal" girls.
If only I could see Pegasus in the daytime, in the real world, she thought. But I can't. He only lives in my dreams. . .A flash of anger passed through her at the unfairness of it. She had the perfect friend, the friend she'd longed for all her life. . .and he didn't really exist!
Everyone else has someone, she thought. Serena and Darien have each other — and Darien has David, as well. Mina has that English guy who comes to visit her, Raye has Chad. . .heck, even Serena's dorky friend Melvin has Molly. . .Tears started to come to her eyes.
No, Reenie thought. I can't feel sorry for myself. I'm a princess. I have to hold my head high, all the time. She swallowed the lump in her throat, blinked away the tears and sat up ramrod-straight in the swing seat.
Burying her true feelings was something she'd gotten very good at. Even if the feelings tended to escape from time to time in the form of nasty, bratty remarks, or fights with Serena.
She continued to pump the swing as hard as she could, as if she could make it literally take flight, break away from the swingset, the playground, the entire mortal world, and carry her away to where Pegasus was.
Below her, childhood life continued as normal. . .or so a casual observer would think.
At first, the man in the tan business suit and wire-rimmed glasses could be taken for a father searching through the throngs for his child. After all, there was nothing that unusual about him, save for his spiky pink hair. Even that could be dismissed as an aging man trying to recapture his lost youth.
He paused, and looked at one girl in particular. . .who was climbing on a jungle gym. Short brown hair, dark blue eyes, the same school uniform as Reenie. Exactly what he was looking for.
"Excuse me," he said to her, "could you please tell me where your school is?"
The girl leapt from the piece of equipment with the grace of an Olympic gymnast, landing squarely on her feet. "Why do you want to go there?" she said. "It's closed for the day. That's why we're all here."
"I'm supposed to have an after-school conference with my son's teacher."
She frowned, a look of distrust on her face. "Why didn't the teacher tell you how to get there?"
"She assumed I'd know where it was. But I've never been there before. The boy's mother always went to school before. . .but she's. . ." A look of sadness crossed the man's face.
The girl's expression softened. "What happened to her?"
"She's sick. . .very sick. . .they don't know if she's going to make it. . ." The man's voice broke in a sob.
"Oh, no! I'm so sorry. . ."
"Never mind," said the man, wiping a tear from his eye. "I'll find the school myself." He started to walk away. . .and heard the sound of little footsteps running after him.
"I'll show you where it is," the girl said. "It's just around the corner there, and then a block over, on the right. . ." She barely noticed that the man had taken a path that led behind a clump of trees, which obscured them from the rest of the playground.
The man stopped, suddenly, and without looking at her, said, "You can show me something else."
A flash of fear passed through the girl. . .she began to remember things her mother had told her about what happened to children who talked to strangers, and she wished she'd paid closer attention. "W. . .what. . .?"
"Your beautiful dream." And suddenly, there was a theatrical curtain from seemingly nowhere descending over him, and then the man was gone, and some kind of freak in a pink circus outfit was in his place. "ONE!" he shouted, and the girl screamed as she felt herself pinned against a wall. . .
Reenie was at the summit of her upswing when she heard the scream, and knew this was definitely not the shriek of a child being playfully buried in the sandbox. It was the type of scream she knew all too well by now. As the swing descended, she leapt from it, almost losing her balance for a moment, but managing to keep upright. A crowd was beginning to gather near a clump of trees. . .She ran over toward them.
Once glimpse told her all she needed to know. There was her classmate, Lucy, in the all-too-familiar position — handcuffed to a large mirror, a small mirror hovering in front of her chest.
Oh, no, she thought, I've got no way of getting in touch with Serena and the others! Luna had never given her — or Darien, for that matter — a wrist communicator. Why? she thought. Why weren't we considered important enough?
But there was no time to mull over that. Lucy was in trouble. . .and right now, Reenie was the only person who could do anything about it. Even if all she could do was throw pink sugar hearts. . .at least it was *something*.
She ran behind another clump of trees, clasping her locket. Pegasus, she thought. . .I wish you were here with me now.
Taking a deep breath, she shouted, "MOON CRISIS POWER!"
* * *
Somewhere in the blackest depths of the Dead Moon Circus, Helios hovered in the mental limbo he had occupied ever since his imprisonment.
Thoughts, images, came and went. Occasionally, he'd catch a flash of a human's dream, if it were unusually strong or significant. He couldn't tell one element of the strange reality that was his from another.
The one thing that was distinct, that he could focus on, was Reenie. . .his maiden. The strong pulse of light in the darkness.
He was visiting her dreams almost nightly now, and he reveled in it. At last, he had something to look forward to. She was such good company. . .innocent, and yet with a wisdom beyond her years, sweet, but definitely one who took no guff.
Everything he knew he had always wanted in a consort.
But he couldn't think in that direction. Not yet. Not when so much was at stake. . .not when she was the only one who could free him from his prison.
He had to focus on the missing piece of the Golden Crystal, and how she could help him retrieve it. Because she was the only one who. . .
. . .the only one who could find it, could help him. . .
"Helios. . .you have to help Neo-Sailor Moon. She is in danger right now."
It was The Voice. The mysterious voice he heard in his head from time to time, the one which had told him about the maiden who would save him, who had helped him give the former Sailor Chibi Moon her power-up.
"Danger?" he answered it. "What's wrong?"
"She is trying to take on an agent of the Dead Moon single-handedly."
Panic shot through Helios. Single-handedly? She was only an apprentice Sailor Soldier! Even in Super form, she was nowhere near as strong as any of the others. There was no way she could do that. . .and survive. . .
"What can I do?" he replied. "I am stuck here. I cannot go to her, unless she is in a dream state. I am a creature of dreams, not reality."
"I will give you my help," the voice replied. "This is what you must do. . ."
* * *
Hawk Eye couldn't believe his luck.
Only one Sailor Soldier showed up. . .and it was the puny little one!
He'd almost laughed when she rushed onto the scene, proclaiming herself "Neo-Sailor Moon" and saying she was going to punish him. She looked like she couldn't "punish" a fly. A *lame* fly.
"Well, little girl," he said, "let's see what you can do."
And all she'd done was hold up a little stick and shoot pink hearts at him! It was the most pathetic thing he'd ever seen in his life.
Wait until the others hear about this, he thought. I'm going to be the first one of us to actually *destroy* a Sailor Soldier. *Then* we'll see who's whining!
She was still firing her pink hearts, trying to move closer to him, hoping that they would start to affect him, somehow. . .I've seen them work on other targets, right? she thought. The hearts hit them in the head, and stunned them. . .at least for a little while. Maybe if I just keep hitting him and hitting him with them, it'll knock him out.
"Idiot!" he shouted, waving a hand. A strong gust of wind came out of nowhere and knocked Reenie to the ground. Whoa, he thought. . .where did that come from? I didn't realize I could do that! He began to wonder what else he could do. Against this little gnat of a Sailor Soldier, he felt like a god!
She rolled over and over, barely keeping hold of her little wand. "Let's see how your little candies do against my lemure!" he shouted. A puff of smoke appeared from the ground, getting larger and larger, starting to take on a distinct shape.
Oh, yes, he thought. This one's a honey. The little twerp doesn't stand a chance. I'll just head back to the circus and start bragging. . .
When the smoke solidified, a giant toy soldier was standing there, clad in a red and blue uniform and a fuzzy Beefeater hat, rosy cheeks and a wide grin painted on his face.
"Well," Hawk Eye said, "this should be a good one. Wooden solder vs. Sailor Soldier. I'd like to stick around for it, but I've got business elsewhere. Ta ta!" He waved his hand again, and a leaf-ringed portal appeared. He leapt through, and was gone.
Reenie slowly raised her head and looked at the thing. It stood motionless. She got to her feet, bringing her wand up again.
"PINK SUGAR HEART. . ."
But then, the soldier pointed its musket at her and fired. A shower of little pellets knocked her to the ground, screaming, as they tore at and bruised her flesh. No, she thought, I can't give up. And she got to her feet again. . .only to have the thing fire a second time. The pain screamed through her, and she could only scream back.
I don't know if I can get up again, she thought. It hurts. . .it hurts so much. . .oh, Serena, Darien, if only you could come and help me! Why didn't Luna give me a communicator? Why? Why?
She looked up. The thing was rushing at her, holding the bayonet of its musket at a lethal angle. She was about to die. "PEGASUS!" she cried aloud, as if he could hear her, as if he could help her. . .
And then, there was a flash of light over her head. There was the Crystal Clarion, just as it had appeared in her dreams. No time to marvel about why it was here now. . .
She grabbed it and swung it. "CLARION CALL!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.
The lemure froze in its tracks, confused. What was this little creature doing? Where did the bell come from? She was supposed to just sit there and die. . .
There was another flash of light, in the sky. The children who had been watching the battle open-mouthed gaped even wider.
"Is that. . .a HORSE?" said one boy.
"No, it can't be!" another replied.
But it was. A big white horse with wings and a golden horn on its head, which swooped out of the sky like a bird of prey and descended on the big, bizarre toy soldier. The horse lowered its head, and the golden horn began to glow, as if a flashlight had been switched on inside it.
"LOOK OUT!" a third boy shouted. "IT'S GONNA BLOW!"
The horn shot out a beam of golden light, which enveloped the soldier. The overgrown toy shuddered, stiffened. . .then disintegrated, smashing into thousands of pieces, which then dissolved like sugar cubes in water.
The horse, without even pausing, flew toward Neo-Sailor Moon, swooping down so she could jump on its back, then rose back into the air, circling over the playground once, then rapidly disappearing over the horizon.
Lucy, who was sprawled on the ground, opened her eyes, slowly. How did I get over here? she thought. The last thing I remember is being on the jungle gym, and some guy asking me where to find the school. . .and now, she was over on one of the paths, and there were people all around her . . .
"What happened?" she asked.
The children looked at each other. Where did they begin? And then, it seemed that everyone was talking at once. . .
"Well, there was a weird guy in a circus outfit!"
"And a horse! A horse with wings!"
"And a Sailor Soldier, but she was kind of a lame one."
"And a giant tin soldier!"
Lucy shook her head. Either they're all teasing me, she thought, or I missed the coolest thing to happen around here all year!
* * *
Reenie couldn't believe it. She was soaring over Tokyo, riding on back of Pegasus! And it wasn't a dream! He *does* exist! she thought. I didn't make him up! He's *real*, and he's *here,* here with me. . .he knew I was in danger, and he came for me!
"How did you do it?" she said aloud.
"How did you find me?"
There was a pause, then he replied, "I heard your call."
"You've never come to me before, except in my dream."
He had found a wooded area, where it looked like they could talk, alone. He swooped downward, and she clung to his neck.
"You've never stood alone against an enemy before," he replied. "That was very brave of you, Reenie." He touched down gently on the ground, and she hopped off his back.
"But I didn't *do* anything," she replied.
"Do you really think so?" Pegasus said. "Your intervention distracted the enemy. If you hadn't been there, the girl would have died for sure."
"And *I* would have died for sure if you hadn't come," Reenie said. "That thing was about to kill me!"
"You didn't run away from it, did you? At all?"
She shook her head. "No way! I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. I was going to go down fighting."
"That shows your courage. You should be very proud of yourself, Reenie. You're a true Sailor Soldier."
A bright smile crossed her face. "You really think so?"
"Yes. And your future parents are going to need your courage during the time to come. You still have a hard fight ahead of you. Your enemy is doubling its efforts. Have you noticed there's been more and more attacks lately?"
Reenie nodded in the affirmative. "Serena was saying something about that this morning. . .that all we ever do is eat, sleep and destroy monsters."
"I'm afraid. . .it may only get worse before it gets better."
Reenie groaned. "I don't know if we can handle that."
"Of course, you can handle it. Your fellow Sailor Soldiers are all getting stronger powers, one by one. Once they realize the full potential of those powers, they'll be more than ready."
"I don't know if *I'm* more than ready."
"Yes, you are. You just proved that. You don't realize how far you've come since you first came back into the past, Reenie. You're getting much more brave, much more mature. You're becoming a young lady, not a little girl."
She felt herself blushing. . .and blushing was not something she normally did. Suddenly, a new thought was pushing into her mind, a thought which at one delighted her and made her feel a bit uncomfortable.
If only. . .Pegasus were human. . .
She stopped herself. Why am I thinking that? she thought. He's my friend, nothing more! Even if he *were* human, I'm still too young for us to be anything but friends!
She found herself saying the first thing that popped into her head. "I still *feel* like a little girl."
"What do you mean?"
"Well. . .this stuff I have to wear. This bunny hairdo. My mother back home likes it, but I don't. Not anymore, at least. And. . ." She brushed at the skirt of her fuku. "This thing. I don't like it. I don't like any of the Sailor Soldier outfits. The skirts are way too short and the big bows just look silly. The Sailor Soldiers who guard my mother back home don't look like that. Their uniforms are more, well. . .they look better. More. . .more like *soldiers* ought to look."
"More dignified?" said Pegasus.
"Yeah. And their uniforms keep them from getting hurt. Ours don't."
Helios smiled to himself. He certainly knew what she meant. He thought the Sailor Soldiers deserved far better uniforms than the ones they had. . .but the short-skirted fuku had been the standard ever since the Silver Millennium.
That didn't mean, however, that it had to stay that way forever. And suddenly, he knew just the thing that would give his friend a well-needed confidence booster. . .and, perhaps, help the morale of the Sailor Soldiers as a whole.
"Reenie," he said, "part of being a young lady is that you have full control over any part of your destiny. And you can start with this one."
"What? You mean. . .just get rid of the uniform?"
"You said you remembered what the uniforms in Crystal Tokyo look like. Maybe you could describe them to the others? Or, maybe even come up with entirely new ones?"
Reenie's eyes brightened at that one. Oh, she'd had an idea for her ideal Sailor Soldier uniform in the back of her head for a long time! "Yeah! I could do that! I can draw. . .maybe not as well as Serena, but not too bad. I could do them tonight, and we're supposed to have a meeting tomorrow. . ."
"And there's no reason you should *have* to keep the bunny hair, anyway. It's *your* hair, Reenie. . .you look the way *you* want to look."
She smiled to herself. Eileen-mama had been after her for weeks to get her hair cut. Her bangs were getting too long, she said, the bottoms of her pigtails were all split ends. . .Nobody would mind at all if she asked for money to go to the hairstylist after school.
Reenie impulsively threw her arms around her friend's neck. "I don't know what I'd do without you," she said.
Helios felt tears pricking the corners of his eyes. If only, he thought, I didn't have such a short time with her. If only we could be together all the time.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, either," he said. "And now. . .I have to get you back to your family."
"Do you *have* to?"
"Yes, Reenie. They're going to be worried about you. And I can't stay much longer, anyway." When he saw her crestfallen look, he added, "Don't worry. We'll see each other tonight."
She brightened. "Yes. . .we will, won't we?"
"Come on," he said, stooping down a bit so she could climb on his back for the flight back into town.
* * *
Serena banged on the door of Reenie's room. "Come on, Reenie! You've been shut up in there all night! I've got nobody to play Pokemon Stadium with!"
"I'm busy," came the voice from the other side.
Busy nothing, Serena thought. She's in there reading all my idol singer magazines and she doesn't want me to know that she took them! Just because my room's a *bit* untidy doesn't mean I'm not going to notice when one of the piles on the floor is gone!
"Just *one* game! Please?"
"Can't you play against the computer?"
"But it's not the same!"
There was a deep sigh from the other side of the door. "Tomorrow. . .okay?"
"Fine." Serena started back down the hall. The little thief, she thought. Just wait until she finally comes out of that room. I'm going to grab all those magazines and wave them in her face and then we'll see how *busy* she was. . .
Reenie heaved a deep sigh when she heard her retreat. She didn't like shutting Serena out like this. . .but she wanted her new project to be a total secret until the next day's Sailor Solder meeting. If Serena had opened the door, she would have seen the drawings on the floor and the magazines she was lying out on the bed, trying to pick just the right hairstyle for her.
She was down to four candidates. . .a short, straight cut, a curly style, a long, wavy look and a shoulder-length pageboy. None involved odangos.
I hope my mother back home isn't mad at me for doing this, she thought. It's been tradition since the Silver Millennium that the princess would wear an odango hairstyle. I'll be the first princess not to.
But the, she remembered what Pegasus told her. . .she was in control of her own destiny. She was, not her parents. If she didn't want to follow the established tradition for the appearance of the princess. . .she had the right and the power to start a new tradition.
I wonder, she thought, which hairstyle Pegasus would find most attractive. . .
She realized how her thinking was changing. Only a month ago, if she'd been considering changing her hair at all, she'd be wondering what *Darien* found most attractive.
Darien belongs to Serena, she thought. I know that now. And he has his own friends. We're still close, but. . .things are different. He's not. . .the center of my universe any more.
Her eyes strayed to the pile of drawings on the floor. "I wonder if they're going to like these?" she wondered aloud. They didn't come out all that bad, she thought. . .probably the best drawing she'd ever done. That's because she had felt truly inspired. These were truly her "dream uniforms". . .she'd taken the basic design she'd remembered her mother's guardians wearing and improved upon them.
"If they like them," she said, "we have new uniforms. If they don't. . .well, I tried. And we're no worse off than we are now."
She was feeling very good about herself right now. Better than she'd felt in a long time. Suddenly, she wasn't the little kid that everyone pushed aside anymore. She was a young woman, and she had something to contribute.
Gathering up the drawings, she hid them behind her bureau for the time being and took up the magazines again. Her eyes wandered from one picture to the other, mentally picturing each of the styles on her.
Yes, she wanted to look like a capable young woman with something to contribute. . .
A picture snapped into her mind, and suddenly, she knew just how she wanted to look. A broad smile crossed her face.
Okay, she thought, I'm ready for tomorrow. More than ready.
* * *
Nehelenia watched Zirconia retreat from the mirror, after giving her nightly status report. She was rooted to the spot, stunned.
It can't be, she thought. There is just no way it could have happened. That pet eye of hers is hallucinating! Helios is still here, just as I left him!
And yet. . .that dried-up old hag just told me he had shown up at the attack site and come to the rescue of a Sailor Soldier!
She should have known something was up when she saw the slight trembling in her former mentor's body as she approached the mirror. Nothing made Zirconia tremble. She'd conjured up the lowest, most hideous demons imaginable and stared them right in the eye, unblinking.
"Impossible!" Nehelenia said aloud. "Utterly impossible! I would have known if he'd escaped! I would have seen it, heard it, felt it. . ."
She rushed back into the chambers where the winged horse was imprisoned. Sure enough, there he was, hanging from the ceiling as always. There was no sign the bindings had been broken. . .and even if he had, there was no way he could have gotten back into them.
Perhaps he projected his spirit out of his body? she thought. But no. . .the horse that eyeball saw had *physical form.* There was no way a *spirit* could have destroyed the lemure.
"The only explanation," she said to her captive, "is that there's a *second* Pegasus out there. And it's helping you. Well, now that I'm on to you, you will not get away with it anymore! I'm going to find your accomplice like I found you. You will NOT get away with this!"
Helios heard her angry words, her retreating footsteps. There is no way you will ever know what is *really* going on, evil woman, he thought. There *is* no second Pegasus. There is only me. . .and the voice which gave me help.
He wondered, not for the first time, just who that voice was, where it came from. It certainly was different from all the other voices that were part of this strange world of his. It seemed as if it came from. . .somewhere else. From some other plane of reality.
It was certainly a powerful being of some sort. It had told him, "Leave your body, and I will cloak you in a temporary flesh until the sun goes down over Tokyo." And sure enough, as soon as he broke free of his prison, he found himself wearing hide and wings identical to those he'd left behind.
And he knew very well why he had to be back to his body by sunset. Nehelenia's powers were much stronger during the hours of darkness — she was a black sorceress, after all, and darkness and shadows were her natural element. She might be able to sense what was going on.
His mind turned again to The Voice, and he wondered where it came from. Another disembodied soul, perhaps? No, it was definitely some kind of supernatural being. It had power. He'd seen and felt that power in action.
When he had returned to his body after helping Reenie, The Voice had spoken to him again. "You did well, Helios. You helped her in more ways than one."
"I couldn't have done it without you," he'd replied. "Why did you help me?"
"Because I'm interested in you, and in her. I've been watching both of you for a long time."
"Why? Why us?"
"You might say that my family has a very special connection to hers," The Voice said. "And I, personally, have a special connection to Princess Small Lady Serenity. . .the young girl you know as Reenie."
"What about me?" Helios said.
"You have a special connection to her, as well."
"Does that mean. . .she's the maiden who will help me find the missing piece of the Golden Crystal?"
"You will know that in time, Helios. Now, you must rest. What you did today robbed you of your strength. You won't be able to do that often. . .only in emergencies."
"Then you'll help me do it again?"
"I'll give you my help whenever you and the Princess need it," The Voice said, gently. "And now, I must go. . ."
Helios thought now about what The Voice had said about him helping her in more ways than one. She's developed so much as a person, he thought. She's so much closer to adulthood. Maybe that's what he meant by that.
In fact, if she keeps going as she is, she won't need my help much longer. She'll be able to help herself.
And that thought made his heart swell with pride, and love.
* * *
"A WHAT?" Nehelenia's three henchmen yelled in unison. They weren't happy about being dragged out of the bar for a nighttime meeting with Zirconia. They were even less happy when they heard what the old crone had to tell them.
"You heard me," she croaked. "A second Pegasus! It showed up today to help a Sailor Soldier!"
"So now we have to figure out a way to catch this thing, too?" Tiger Eye said. "We can barely handle our workload as it is!"
"You're telling *me* that?" Zirconia snorted. "You haven't had a totally successful mission yet!"
"But the dream data. . ." said Fish Eye.
"The dream data is one thing! But there's still Sailor Soldiers everywhere! And now that you have this second Pegasus, things can only get worse! This creature *must* be captured. . .and the Sailor Soldiers *must* be dealt with!"
"How are we going to do that?" said Fish Eye. "This was *not* part of our original assignment!"
"Catch it in a net, a cage. Trick it into following you back here. Do anything. . .just bring us the second Pegasus!"
The three trooped back to the bar, heads down, gait shuffling. It hadn't started out to be a good day. . .and it has just gotten a lot worse.
"Just what we need," Tiger Eye grumbled, "a second Pegasus to catch."
"As if we didn't have enough problems," Hawk Eye said, slumping down in his seat.
"Didn't you see it at all?" said Fish Eye.
Hawk Eye shook his head. "I had left before it showed up."
"You left early?" said Fish Eye.
"Oh, like YOU TWO haven't been doing the exact same thing? It was one puny little Sailor Soldier! With no powers whatsoever! I thought she was dead for sure! And then. . .that THING had to show up!"
Tiger Eye groaned. "Isn't that the story of our lives? We think they're done for, and then something happens."
"Maybe then, the trick is to not leave until we make *sure* the Sailor Soldier is destroyed," said Fish Eye. "Even if we think for sure they're dead."
"They'll just find some other way to get us," Tiger Eye grumbled. "Like that second Pegasus."
"Hey!" yelled Fish Eye. "You're not giving up, are you? You, of all people?"
Tiger Eye heaved a deep sigh. "It seems. . .there are some situations where even my limitless charm won't work."
Hawk Eye and Fish Eye looked at each other, then both rolled their eyes toward the ceiling.
"Look" Hawk Eye said, "we've got to keep going. Nehelenia's *got* have almost enough dream stuff, right? So all we have to do is get a few more dreams, and she'll be able to take over the world, and we won't have to worry about second Pegasuses or Sailor Soldiers or anything like that."
"Yeah!" said Fish Eye. "She's going to be tossing some heavy rewards our way, I'll bet!"
At the sound of this, Tiger Eye perked up a bit. "Rewards?"
"Sure!" said Fish Eye. "She's gonna rule everything, right? And we're gonna *help* her rule everything. So she's got to give us stuff in return! Like money, and cars, and big houses, and. . ."
Tiger Eye was now sitting upright, his eyes lighting up. "I could get a Jaguar! And a killer wardrobe! And I could hang out with supermodels!" He jumped off the barstool. "And I'd be able to spend money on them like it was going out of style! I'd be able to buy them *anything*! Yes! I like this!" He turned back to the other two. "Okay. . .I'll do it! I'll do whatever Nehelenia needs!"
"Geez," Hawk Eye mumbled, "talk about your mood swings. . ."
"Um, Tiger Eye. . .we *do* have to figure out a way to catch the second Pegasus," said Fish Eye.
"Oh, don't worry about it. We'll figure it out when the time comes. Right now, I just want to think about being able to buy diamond rings for supermodels. . ." He wandered out of the tent, humming to himself.
Fish Eye watched him go. "Do we really *need* him on the team?" he said.
Hawk Eye shrugged.
* * *
"Reenie is late," Luna announced, telling the other Sailor Soldiers nothing they didn't already know. They were all sitting around the table in Raye's room. . .except for Lita, who was sitting at Raye's red iMac, looking up something for a school project.
"Raye," she said, "do you happen to know the URL for the Encyclopedia Britannica Japanese site?"
"I have it bookmarked," she replied, looking at her watch. "Geez, she was supposed to be here almost an hour ago! Not even *you* are this late, Serena!"
"Humph," Serena said, refusing to get into one of her old snipe-fests with Raye. "She'd said something about getting her hair cut on the way home from school."
"How long does it take to trim her bangs and snip her split ends?" said Raye. "It's not as if she ever has any ‘do other than the bunny ears."
"Well, you know what they say," Mina said. "There's more than one way to change the spots on the skin of a cat!"
Everyone just stared at her, blinking — except for Lita, who was still staring intently at the screen.
Then, Artemis shouted, "What the HELL did that mean?"
"Um, was it ‘There's more than one way to skin a leopard?'" said Mina, with her eyes squeezed shut and a hand behind her head. Everyone groaned.
"Mina, one of these days, you're going to. . ." Artemis began.
But he was interrupted by Lita, saying, "GEEZ, Raye. . .are there any yaoi sites on the Web you *don't* have bookmarked?"
She leapt up. "HEY! I didn't tell you you could look at those!"
"Well, I'm sorry, but the Britannica link is sandwiched between ‘Ultimate Bishounen Lair' and ‘Dial S for Shonen Ai.'"
"Yeah, and I don't see you *going* to the Britannica page very quickly! That looks like ‘Boy Plus Boy' on your screen right now!"
"I opened it by accident!"
"SUUURE you did!"
Luna let out a deep sigh. "*Why* does she find something like that so appealing? It's most unbecoming to a princess and a Sailor Soldier!"
"Oh, leave her alone, Luna," Serena said. "It's perfectly harmless. It doesn't get in the way of her school, her Sailor Soldier stuff *or* her relationship with Chad."
"Amy, what do you think?" Luna said.
But Amy didn't answer. She was buried in a book. Not that there was anything unusual about that. But over the past week or so. . .she'd seemed even more buried in her books than ever. She didn't come to Crown Cafe after school, or to the arcade. When you spoke to her, she seemed her usual pleasant self. . .but she usually didn't speak until spoken to.
Okay, Serena thought, maybe she's just piling on the schoolwork more than ever because she wants to make a big impression during her first year in high school. But. . .she's just doing *too much* work. Even for Amy. Maybe something's wrong between her and Adam?
"Amy?" Serena said.
Her head snapped up. "Yes?"
In the background, Raye was saying, "I saw you copy down that URL!"
"It was *notes*, Raye. I'm doing a *project,* remember?"
"On what? The mating habits of the wild bishounen?"
"We wanted to get your analysis of what's going on with Raye and Lita right now," Luna said.
"Sorry. . .I wasn't really paying attention."
Luna shook her head. "What's going *on* with you girls nowadays? Sometimes I wonder if you all. . ."
Just then, the door opened, and a small figure walked in. Instantly, Raye and Lita looked away from the computer. Amy dropped her book, and Artemis almost literally fell off the table.
It was Reenie. But it didn't look like the Reenie they knew. The bunny odangos were gone. Her hair had been cut into a chin-length style which curled under, framing her face softly. Her eyes looked brighter, her lips fuller — indeed, her entire face looked more mature.
"Reenie," Serena said in a voice barely above a whisper. "You. . .you got your hair. . .*really* cut!"
She smiled. "I wanted something different."
"Oh, it's different," Artemis said. He didn't mean it as in insult. . .he was just shocked at the extent of the change.
Lita walked over toward her. "You look. . .terrific, Reenie!"
She smiled. "Thanks." Walking over to the table, she put something on top of it. . .a large, brown envelope.
"You *do* look great," said Raye. "Where did you get the idea from?"
"Picture in an idol singer magazine," Reenie replied.
"So *that's* why you took all of them!" said Serena.
"I didn't tell you, because I wanted this to be a surprise." She sat down at the table. "And speaking of surprises. . .I've brought something I want to show all of you."
Serena just stared at her future daughter. She cut off the odangos? The royal odangos? The sight stung her a bit. We don't look as much alike anymore, she thought. It's almost as if Reenie is cutting herself off from me. Is that why she did it? Because she doesn't *want* to look like me anymore? Still. . .it's a good look, it suits her. . .
Reenie was reaching into the envelope and pulling out a sheaf of large, white papers. "I've been doing some thinking about what we wear. You know. . .the fukus. And I was wondering. . .what if we changed them? Got new ones?"
Luna seemed thunderstruck. "Reenie! The Sailor Soldiers have had the same uniforms since the Silver Millennium! You can't possibly. . ."
"Hey, who's to say we *can't* get new ones?" Lita said. "Come to think of it, I never liked the ones we have. They don't give us much protection, do they?"
"No, they don't," Serena said. "I can't tell you how many times I've come home with my arms and legs all banged up! And then I have to explain it to my mother!"
"Well, with you, that's easy," Raye said. "Just say, ‘Mom, I fell over again.' Who wouldn't believe you?"
"RAAAYYEE!" said Serena. "We are trying to have a *serious* conversation, here!"
"I *am* being serious!"
"Hey, I think I remember when we first got the uniforms," Mina said. "Artemis has been helping me remember some things from the Silver Millennium. . ."
"Oh, *I* remember it well," Artemis replied. "I was opposed to them. The guy who designed them was a real hentai."
"Yes!" Mina said. "He kept saying that the skirt had to be ‘a little shorter, a little shorter.' I'd ask why, and he said it was to help us run better."
"Yeah!" Raye said. "I think I remember, too. . .asking him why the top was so tight.. . .he said it was stretchy material to help us twist and turn easier."
"Did he *ever* give you a good explanation for the high heels, Raye?" said Mina.
She shook her head. "Or the bows. But it's pretty obvious why they were there. To draw attention to the T&A."
Lita shook her head. "I *knew* there was a good reason I didn't like these! We're supposed to be *soldiers,* not walking Playboy centerfolds!"
"Okay, Reenie," said Raye. "Let's see your designs!"
Reenie smiled. She had them ready and willing to see what she'd done! She turned the six papers face-up on the table, one by one. The girls gathered around to look.
"What style is the dress?" said Mina. "It looks. . .ancient."
"Greek?" said Lita.
"Ancient Egyptian," Amy said. "But with the Sailor collar instead of the traditional Egyptian cuff collar."
"See, I figured I should keep the traditional collar, but the rest of the dress. . .a totally new style," Reenie said. "It *is* Egyptian. The dress material would be white, and the collar would be the color of your planet. . .and then, a brooch right *here*, at the bottom of the collar, and a belt around the waist. . .both the planet colors. And the skirt is knee-length. . .still short enough to run, but long enough to be decent."
"What's this under it? The arm and leg coverings?" said Serena.
"It's a bodysuit. It protects your arms and legs. . .between the dress and the tops of the gloves and boots."
"You gave us all the same style boots, I see," Raye said. "And they're *flat-heeled*!"
"We could give yours heels, if that's what you're used to," said Reenie.
"Are you kidding? I *love* this! You don't know what a pain in the butt it is to have to run in high heels!"
"Interesting that the yaoi queen uses the expression ‘pain in the butt,'" Serena mumbled under her breath.
"I must say," Luna said, "this is *most* impressive, Reenie. You've really thought this out well!"
A broad smile crossed her face. "Thanks!"
Serena was thinking the same thing. New hairstyle. . .new outfits. . .Reenie is *thinking for herself* now, she thought. As her mother. . .I should be proud, right? Well, I am, kinda. . .but why is this a bit painful, too?
She remembered an expression she'd heard her mother use when she rushed out of the house to see Darien. . . "I'm losing my baby."
That's how I feel right now, she thought. Like I'm losing my baby. Even though. . .she's not *my* baby. Not yet, anyway. Still. . .
"Okay, so these look great," said Mina. "But how are we going to *get* them?"
"That's easy," Lita said. "I can sew. I could have these done presto."
"I can take some of them, too," Raye said.
"Three each?" said Lita.
Amy had been very quiet up until this point, just regarding the uniforms with a strange, blank expression. Does she like them or not? Reenie thought. "Amy?" she said.
Amy looked up from the drawings, slowly. "They're beautiful, Reenie," she said. "I'm very proud of you."
Lita and Raye were having a spirited discussion about fabrics and trimmings, their previous crankiness left far behind. Mina was studying the drawings some more, with Artemis peeking over her shoulder. "Um, guys," he said, "I hate to burst your bubble, but. . .what about the *boots*? You two certainly can't make those!"
A ripple of grumbling passed through the room, as reality set in again.
"Hey, wait a minute," said Serena. "Isn't there a place that does custom boots in the mall? We could all go down there and. . ."
"And do you know how much that would *cost*?" Luna said. "I doubt your allowances would cover that!"
"Well, there's no saying they *have* to be custom-made," Reenie replied. "We could just get regular boots, and, I don't know, paint them or something. . ."
"We *could* just keep the footwear we have," Serena said.
"Speak for yourself!" Raye retorted. "Do you know how long I've been *dying* to get rid of those spikes?"
"Guys, guys!" Artemis shouted. "Look, what about that thrift shop down by the railroad station? They have all kinds of cast-off junk from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And that means. . ."
"Old go-go boots! Which are just like the ones in Reenie's drawings!" Raye said.
"Artemis, you're a genius!" Lita added.
Everyone broke out in excited chatter again, and Reenie smiled. It's working, she thought. My designs are working! They love them! She felt pride swelling within her. .. true pride, not the remind-yourself-you're-a-princess feigned pride that had been part of her everyday life at home. And suddenly, she felt confident enough to do something else that needed doing. . .
Turning to Luna, she said, "Luna. . .is there any good reason Darien and I were never given communicators? We're Sailor Soldiers, too!"
The cat seemed flustered. "Why would you ask that?"
"Because yesterday, I was alone, and someone near me was attacked. I had to face the monster by myself, there was no way for me to call for help. I could have been killed!"
A quizzical look came over Luna's face. "You destroyed a monster. . .*by yourself*?" How is that possible? she thought. Reenie's powers are barely enough to give a monster a bump on the head, let alone destroy it!
I don't want anyone to know about Pegasus, Reenie thought. Not yet. Not until he gives me permission to tell the others. I don't want to risk putting him in any kind of danger. "I'll tell you about that part some other time," she said quickly. "But it's important now that Darien and I get them, Luna."
"She has a point," Artemis said. "*Is* there any good reason they never had communicators?"
Luna hemmed and hawed, mentally searching for an answer. *Was* there any reason, other than they were a man and a child, and therefore unimportant by the standards of the Moon Kingdom? But Darien had gained more power than anyone would have thought possible for one of his gender, and if Reenie had somehow managed to destroy a monster by herself. . .she certainly was no mere apprentice Sailor Soldier.
Artemis saw his fellow guardian's discomfort, and decided to put a quick end to it. "We'll see that you have them in the next day or so."
She smiled ear-to-ear, hugging them both. "Thank you!" she said, then scurried off across the room, to the others — Raye had gotten out her sewing kit and was starting to take measurements.
Artemis watched them. "So, once they have the costumes, how are they going to change them?"
"Transform, make their old ones disappear, then dress in the new ones," Luna said. "Of course, Serena will have to use the Crystal on them first, to change them from regular cloth to magical armor. . ." She shook her head. "Imagine, little Reenie standing up for herself like that! And the hair, the designs for the uniforms. . ."
"She's sure come a long way from the kid who landed splat on Serena and Darien's heads. When she grows up. . .she's going to be formidable."
Luna thought of how fast Reenie was developing. . .faster than Serena had developed the whole time Luna had known her! And again, the curious thought. . .how could a girl armed only with a Pink Sugar Heart Attack destroy a monster. . .
"I think," Luna replied, "she already is."
* * *
Amy left the meeting, hurrying back toward home. She thought about what she'd seen. . .the pictures, Reenie's confident new attitude. She wished she could be happy about it. She couldn't. There wasn't much she could feel happy about nowadays.
Those uniforms are so pretty, she thought. So sophisticated. Very, very fitting for Super-level Sailor Soldiers. I don't deserve to wear one. I don't deserve to be Super.
She knew before she went into the house that there would be a message from Adam on her answering machine, pleading with her to call him. She wouldn't answer it. He should just forget me, she thought. He deserves so much better than someone who would use him like a toy to satisfy her own curiosity. He's always been so wonderful to me. . .and I treated him like a lab specimen.
Sitting at her desk, she began to get out her schoolbooks, notebooks, pens and pencils. Studying had always been a refuge for her. Now, it was the only thing keeping her sane.
"Maybe I'm just not meant to fall in love," she said aloud. "Maybe intellectual women weren't cut out for relationships. After all, if I didn't have a mind that always needed to know more. . .I wouldn't have done what I did, right?"
The thought of her relationship with Adam being over tore her heart out. They had as much history behind them as Serena and Darien. She had dim memories of them together on her home planet, meeting in her garden, dancing at royal balls. . .one sweet, strong memory of a marriage proposal. . .
She knew it was shortly after that when Queen Beryl had gotten her hands on him and brainwashed him. He'd been in bondage to the Negaverse as one of their generals for centuries.
And I saved him, she thought. I was able to awaken his love for me again, remove the evil taint from his mind and soul. . .and then, I stabbed him in the back.
"Adam," she said aloud, "why didn't you stop me? Why did you let me go as far as I did? I took advantage of you, of everything we'd been to each other."
Maybe, she thought, I should go over there and talk to him. Maybe I can try to explain my thought process behind my experiments. . .but how can I explain it to him, when I don't really understand everything that happened myself? Her emotions felt like a knot in her chest, choking her, squeezing out every bit of life. . .
No, she thought, I can't do this to myself. And she opened her textbooks, bound and determined to hide from her problems the way she always had. . .by losing herself in cold, hard, impartial knowledge.
* * *
Adam sat at his own desk, gazing at the phone. . .which was silent, as always.
Why won't she call back? he thought. Doesn't she realize how I'm dying to talk to her? We *have* to set things right. Maybe she feels guilty about that last experiment. . .like she corrupted me or something like that. . .
It's your own fault, you know, a voice in the back of his head said. You shouldn't have given in and given in and given in like that. You were only making yourself tired and miserable. . .and handing her a gun to shoot herself in the head with.
The last thought gave him a start. Amy, self-destructing? he thought. Her insatiable curiosity a symptom of a deeper disturbance? No way! Amy is the most normal, stable person in the world! She just got too curious for her own good, that's all. Let it run away with her. . .
And I let it run away with me, too, he thought. Did I *just* go along with it because it was something she wanted? Or. . .did I get some thrills out of it, too? Certainly, he'd found some of their adventures exciting. . .especially the last one.
Is that such a bad thing? he thought. Maybe it was. . .if *I* was the one who was self-destructing. No, no, I wasn't doing anything like that. No way. I've got no reason to. No, the only thing I was guilty of was giving in to the woman I love too much. . .but maybe *she* thinks I was self-destructing, and she feels ashamed, and that's why she'd avoiding me.
He sighed. This silence of hers can't go on, he thought. I have to talk to her. I should go to her house tomorrow, confront her, tell her we have to talk. . .
And then, she'll probably spook. She's always been so shy. . .if someone *forced* her to talk about her feelings, she'd run away. So. . .it looks like I'm going to have to wait for her to come around, to decide that she wants to open up and talk to me.
"I'm not going to be able to wait," he said aloud. "Being without her is killing me."
* * *
Mina was almost skipping as she left the meeting. "Can you believe it?" she said to Artemis. "A new Sailor Soldier outfit! This is just *too* cool! After wearing that same old thing ever since I became Sailor Venus. . .this is gonna look *great*! I think when we do the transform-put on the outfit-detransform thing, I'm going to switch hair bows. A *gold* one would look so much better with the new outfit, don't you think?"
Artemis let out a deep sigh. She just doesn't get it, she thought. There's much more to this than a makeover!
"Mina," he said, "don't you think you should be thinking about attaining the next level of power? Only you and Amy haven't powered-up yet."
"Oh, it'll happen when it happens," she said, waving a hand. "I'm not going to worry about it. You know what they say. . .if you sit around watching a pot, you'll end up with boils!"
"That's ‘a watched pot never boils,'" Artemis said through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, whatever," she replied.
He sighed again. What a difference between her and Darien, he thought. I have to beat her up sometimes to take this stuff seriously. Darien, though. . .he's always willing to learn. More than willing.
His male charge had definitely been making progress lately. His Earth Blade attacks were getting stronger, more focused. Of course, there were occasionally baffling incidents when the weapon wouldn't work at all. . .one moment, he'd be blowing away the clay pots he was using as targets, the next. . .nothing.
Maybe his power levels are fluctuating because he's never used them so often, and so intensely, before, he thought. Or maybe. . .He remembered that Serena's powers had weakened considerably before each of her power-ups. Maybe, he thought, Darien's about to achieve another level of power? It would be the ultimate triumph if he did. In the Silver Millennium, no male magic-user had ever advanced past the most basic level of power. . .most likely because they didn't have proper training.
Nobody believed back then, Artemis thought, that there could be such a thing as a male Sailor Soldier. Nobody but Cassiopeia. She knew what her son was capable of. . .but Queen Beryl destroyed everything before he could be fully trained. And now. . .I'm picking up where she left off.
Looking around him, the guardian cat suddenly realized they were in unfamiliar surroundings. "Mina, this isn't the way you usually go home!"
"I know. I'm taking a shortcut through the park, across the ballfield. Raye pointed it out to me the other day. We'll be home a lot faster this way."
* * *
"I feel like I've been at this ballfield forever," David murmured to himself. Lori was supposed to meet him there a good 20 minutes ago. Not that it was an unusual thing for her to keep him waiting. Ever since she'd gotten involved with her women's group again, she'd been going to meetings, arranging protests, organizing letter-writing campaigns. . .
But there was one major difference from the way her life was before. She now made sure that she made time for him, and for herself.
That extra time made all the difference. She still had her moments of being the fiery-tempered redhead, all right, and their relationship was not without fights. But she seemed so much mellower, so much happier overall nowadays.
David paced from home plate to first and back again, looking around him. . .nope, still no sign of her. Ah, well. There was a time, he thought, when having someone keep me waiting like this would have sent me into a fury. But now. . .it's not. Maybe I've mellowed out, too.
A couple of people he'd been in the Freedom League with had gotten in touch with him lately, asking if he wanted to revive it. He'd kept turning them down, thinking that he couldn't deal with that again.
But maybe, he thought, I *could* handle it now. Since I've gotten rid of so much of that old stress. . .maybe I can finally learn how to say *no* to people when they get too demanding, the way Lori has.
Maybe, he thought, when you have the love and support of one very special person. . .the approval of a crowd, being the ringleader of a huge following, doesn't matter as much.
And it wasn't just Lori who was helping him, either. His friendship with Darien had brought a lot to his life. How long had it been since he had a guy he could just *talk* to, who didn't want him to be The Great Leader, to head up some noble crusade? Darien was almost totally *a*political. His main interests in life were books and music and those plants he had growing around his apartment — and, of course, Serena.
I've learned a lot from him, and his approach to life, he thought. I learned that it's possible to just *be*, instead of having to *do* all the time.
Although, there was one thing that bugged him about his friend. David always got the feeling there were things about his life that Darien was keeping from him. Oh, David didn't think that he was up to anything *bad*. . .it was just curious that there were blocks of time when he seemed to disappear completely — and if you asked him about them, he avoided the question and changed the subject.
Maybe, David thought, he's up to more with Serena than he wants her parents to know about. . .
He heard approaching footsteps, and he smiled. At last, he thought. And it's actually good timing. I'm just starting to get hungry now, by the time we get to the restaurant I should be more than ready to eat.
But when he turned toward the sound, the woman he saw stumbling over third base wasn't Lori. It was someone with long, blue hair pulled back in a ponytail, dressed in a light blue cardigan and dark blue pleated skirt. Looks like a schoolteacher, he thought.
"Excuse me," she said, "I seem to have gotten lost. I was told that I could cut through here and get to Twelfth Street. . ."
David chuckled. "I think you took a wrong turn. Twelfth Street is back that way." He pointed toward the west.
"Oh?" She walked closer to him. "You mean, I just follow this path out that way. . ."
"No, no," he said. "Here, let me show you. You go back out behind the diamond, and you'll see a path in the grove of trees. . .follow that down to the playground with the jungle gym. . .hang a left there, and just keep on that path."
The woman made a fluttering gesture with her hand. "Silly me, how could I have missed it? Thank you so much for showing me the way out. By the way, there's something else you can show me. . ."
Huh? David thought. Is this woman making a *pass* at me? "Um. . .what is it?"
Suddenly, her expression changed. . .a sinister look came into her eyes, her mouth curled up in a sly grin. David felt panic shoot through him. . .clearly, this was *definitely* no schoolteacher.
"You can show me your beautiful dream." She made a gesture, and a theatrical curtain dropped out of nowhere. When it was gone, so was the woman. . .and some kind of creature in a lumpy blue jumpsuit was there instead. David turned to run. . .but the thing shouted "ONE!" and he found himself pinned against a wall. . .what wall? Where did it come from?
"TWO!" the thing yelled, and metal cuffs were suddenly encircling his wrists and ankles, holding him firmly in place. No matter how he struggled, they wouldn't give.
Fish Eye regarded his captive with a huge smile. At last, he thought, I have a target out in the middle of nowhere! With no way for any Sailor Soldiers to find us! And if that stupid second Pegasus shows up. . .well, it should be a breeze to catch with no interference!
"THREE!" he shouted, and watched with glee as the familiar Mirror of Dreams appeared.
* * *
Lori hurried through the park. Damn bookstore should screen its clerks better rather than hiring any old jerk off the street, she thought. Bad enough that she managed to scan one of my things twice and had to void the order. . .but when the idiot managed to lock herself out of the cash drawer and had to get the manager, I was ready to hit somebody.
She was good and late, and she knew it. She hated to keep David waiting like that, especially when it was unnecessary. And this sure as hell was.
"I don't mind being held back for a good cause," she murmured to herself, "but when I'm held back by some jerkface's stupidity. . ."
Let's see, she thought, I was supposed to meet him at the ballfield, right? Where the hell did they put the thing? How do they expect anyone to actually *play* there if it's invisible? Jeez louise, could he have found a *more* invisible place if he tried?
And then, she heard the scream. It was definitely male. . .and it sounded like. . .
"DAVID!" she shouted, running in the direction of the sound. Good Gods, she thought, someone's attacking him! And this damn park is supposed to be so safe. . .when I get ahold of whoever's doing this to him, I'll. . .
She stopped short when she got to the ballfield. There was David, handcuffed to what looked like a giant mirror. . .and some *thing* that looked like a pile of blue donuts standing in front of him. . .and a swarm of batlike creatures flying around him. . .
"Well, that's it for you," the creature was saying. "I'll let my lemures take care of you. Since no Sailor Soldiers showed up to help you, it won't take long. Ta ta!" And it made a hand gesture, and a ring of water appeared in the air.
"BASTARD!" Lori screamed, charging at the thing. "What the hell have you done to David?" But the creature jumped through the ring, and was gone. The wall David had been handcuffed to vanished, and he collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
Lori knelt beside him. "David! David, get up! I have to get you out of here? What the hell *was* that thing? I. . ."
And then, the batlike things.. .more like huge, feral black rats with huge fangs and red eyes. . .were swarming all over them both, their claws and teeth starting to dig into their flesh. Lori screamed and batted at them, managing to fling one across the ballfield. A second one was clinging to her leg, and she pulled its wings, harder and harder, thinking she was going to pull it off or tear the son of a bitch apart. It dug its teeth into her flesh harder at first. . .which only increased her determination.
"Let go," she growled, "or I'll *make* you."
She tugged at the wings again, feeling them strain, a bit of flesh giving way. . .finally, its grip slackened enough for her to pull it off and fling it to the ground. Looking around frantically, she saw a baseball bat that had been left behind from an earlier game. She grabbed it, and spun around, facing down the things. . .
"Try and get me now," she said to them. One of them took her up on the challenge, flying at her with teeth bared. She rushed at it, swinging the bat like a big-league slugger, and connected solidly with the thing, bones and flesh crunching as she drove it away from her, then chased it, the bat upraised over her head. "DIE!" she screamed as she slammed the bat into the fallen creature, over and over, until there was nothing left but a bloody mess.
She turned around, panting, her hair in her face, some of the thing's blood splattered on her clothes. The others seemed to be momentarily stunned by what she did. . .they were hovering in the air over David, just slowly flapping their wings. She faced them with her eyes narrowed, a look of pure fury in her eyes.
"All right," she growled. "Who's next?"
And then, the things started to *grow*. They puffed up like hot dogs on the grill, their wings stretching out with a creaking noise, becoming the size of hawks, then eagles, then twice as big as any flying creature Lori had ever seen. She panicked for a second. . .then shook it off. I can still take them, she thought, to convince herself if nothing else.
There was a squawking noise, a rumble like thunder as the huge wings flapped. . .and suddenly, they were flying toward her, a wall of blackness blocking out the sun. She tried to run, but they were too fast for her, and soon, their teeth and claws were ripping into her flesh. . .Mercifully, she blacked out.
* * *
"What was *that*?" Mina said. She'd heard the strange rumbling just as they rounded the corner, coming into the clearing where the ballpark was.
Artemis pricked up his ears, listening carefully. . . "Wings. . .some kind of huge bird, or flying creature. . .could be trouble. Mina, you'd better check this out."
"Right!" She ducked into a clump of trees, sticking out her hand and flipping her wrist. Her transformation wand appeared out of subspace, spinning, and landed in her palm. "VENUS STAR POWER!" she shouted, and felt the flash of heat, the surge of power, like a tsunami passing through her, that signaled her transformation.
Jumping out of her hiding place, she rushed toward the sound. . .and gasped when she saw what was there. What the *hell* are those? she thought. Huge bats. . .and they're attacking.. .
A memory leaped into her mind of the last time she'd crossed paths with David and Lori. She'd tried to matchmake them. . .and it had been a fiasco. She'd felt guilty and depressed about that for weeks. . .
No, she thought, I can't think about that! I have a job to do! And she raised her hand in the air, spinning it around, willing the familiar coil of energy to form around her. . .
"VENUS LOVE-ME CHAIN!" she shouted, swinging her arm around, guiding the chain of hearts to snap like a whip toward the things. It flew toward them, on a path toward a deadly impact. . .
But the bats anticipated her move. With a chorus of ear-splitting shrieks, they flew together, packing themselves into a tight cluster, out of the path of her attack. "Crap!" she said, pulling the chain back, preparing to launch it again.
Before she could, however, there was a strange humming noise, and suddenly the things were vibrating, and a strange black ooze was coming out of their flesh, coating them like an oil slick coating a baby seal.
"What the. . ." Artemis said. Mina just stood frozen to the spot.
The puddles of ooze were melding into each other, and the cluster of monsters began making a noise like the rumbling of a gaseous stomach, only a hundred times louder. The lumps that were the bats began to move around, then flatten out, until there was nothing but a big, black sphere hanging in the air.
Another sound, a low roar. . .and the sphere suddenly sprouted wings, then contorted into a huge, ratlike body, a long-snouted head with glowing red eyes and enormous fangs. It was easily three times the size of Mina, at least.
"Oh. . .my. . .gods. . ." Artemis said, but the words were barely out of his mouth before the thing started to swoop toward them. Mina flung herself to the ground, executing her "flying barrel roll" volleyball move, grabbing Artemis along the way. They managed to just avoid the talons of the thing.
The chain's not going to work against that thing, she thought. It moves too fast for me to capture it. I'll have to try a beam attack. . .
Leaping to her feet, she raised her forearm, shouting, "VENUS CRESCENT BEAM. . .SHOWER!" The laser beam shot from her finger, toward the thing that was starting to descend again, and broke up into a hundred little meteors. . .which hit it and dissolved on impact.
For the first time since she became a Sailor Soldier, Mina knew panic, true panic. Nothing works, she thought. . .I'm helpless. . .this thing is going to get Artemis and David and Lori, and there's nothing I can do about it! If only I had more powers. . .
The thing was screaming toward her again, its massive body blocking out the sun, its wings kicking up a wind that felt like a hurricane. She flung herself to the ground again, grabbing Artemis and rolling, wondering how long she'd be able to keep this up.
When Lita and Raye were in trouble like this, she thought, they got help. Their Guardian Deities gave them more powers. . .Why hasn't Venus come to help me? Has she abandoned me? Does she think I'm unworthy of her help. . . because of how I tried to meddle with David and Lori? I have to know. . .
The monster was heading up into the sky, no doubt preparing for another assault. Mina leapt to her feet, and shouted aloud, "Venus! Help me! Give me the power so I can defeat this monster!"
"Mina!" Artemis shouted. "What are you doing?"
"Trust me!" she answered. Raising her arms above her head, she addressed the heavens. "Venus! Come to my aid! Your champion and priestess. . .um. . .really, really needs help!"
As she cried out, Lori slowly began to come back to reality. What's happening? she thought. She raised her head. . .A Sailor Soldier came to help us? she thought. But. . .why is she just standing there, and not fighting those things. . .
Mina felt something. . .a tingling. . .something was definitely happening. . .
And then, she looked down and realized what the something was. Her transformation was melting away. The fuku was dissolving into thin air, replaced by her school clothes; the energy which surged through her veins when she was transformed was fading, and she felt weak, listless.
"No!" she cried out. "No! This can't be!" Gods, she thought, I was right. . .I offended the Goddess of Love because of what I did. I'm not worthy to be her Sailor Soldier. Tears started to flow down her face.
Lori gasped, and tried to move. . .but her muscles wouldn't cooperate. Mina Aino, she thought. The Sailor Soldier is Mina Aino! The kid who volunteered to help my group out. . .
The lemure was hovering in the air, looking down at Mina. . .it opened its mouth, and began to laugh, a sound like the squeak of rusty hinges, mocking her, making her feel even more helpless, useless. The laughter grew in intensity and volume, as it beat its wings, creating a small dust storm around her.
Why is it just standing there laughing at me? she thought. Why doesn't it just come down here and kill me and get it over with?
"You're not going to die, Mina," said a voice next to her. . .soft, musical, a voice she had heard before. . .
She raised her head, and saw a beautiful young woman, with long, curling blonde hair spilling down to her waist, turquoise eyes, a long, sleeveless gown of cloth-of-gold. . .
"Venus!" she cried. "You did come!"
"I wouldn't abandon you," she said. "You've done nothing wrong, Mina. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
"But. . .David and Lori. . ."
Who is she talking to? Lori thought. Is she talking to me? I heard her say my name. . . She raised her head. The goddess was invisible to her. . .all she saw was Mina.
"You did what you felt was right at the time, didn't you?" She held out her hand, and a wand appeared in it, topped by a large crystal sphere bearing the symbol of Venus surrounded by a floral wreath. "But we have no time to discuss that now. You must transform into Super Sailor Venus and destroy the monster. The words are ‘Venus Crystal Power.' You will know what to do after that."
"Yes!" She grabbed the wand. "VENUS CRYSTAL POWER!" The surge of energy was back, but stronger than it had ever been, feeling like every ounce of her body was being pumped full of light and heat. And not a moment too soon, because the thing was making another descent. . .
She didn't duck and roll this time. She faced it fearlessly, the knowledge of what to do next filling her head as surely as if she'd been born knowing it.
Bringing her hand to her mouth, she kissed her fingertips as if to blow a kiss, and a glowing heart of pure, concentrated energy appeared. "VENUS LOVE AND BEAUTY SHOCK!" she shouted, and hurled the heart at the monster like a missile. It streaked toward the thing like a meteor, leaving a tail of light in its wake that illuminated the entire park like fireworks. When it impacted, it exploded like a bomb, reducing the lemure to a huge cloud of black smog. . .which quickly dissolved.
Mina let out a long sigh of relief. It's over, she thought. It's over!
Artemis ran up to her. "WOW!" he shouted. "That was unbelievable, Mina! What happened? How did you do it?"
She picked him up. "You didn't see me retransform?"
"I passed out the second time the thing dive-bombed us. I woke up right before you attacked it. . .hey, wait a second, your brooch is different! Did you go Super on me?"
"Yes! Artemis, Venus came! She was standing right over. . ." She turned in the direction where the goddess had been standing. . .but she wasn't there anymore.
"Oh, no!" Mina said. "She's gone! Why did she go? I still had things I wanted to talk to her about. . ."
Artemis smiled. "If it's really important. . .I'm sure she'll be back."
Mina walked over to Lori, who had finally managed to sit up. "Are you okay?" she said.
"Other than feeling like I've spent six rounds in the ring with Stone Cold Steve Austin? I'm fine." She looked up at Mina. "Thanks. . .I mean it."
"Anytime." She looked over to where David was starting to stir and moan. "Do you want me to get you any help? An ambulance?"
Lori slowly got to her feet. "We'll be fine," she said. She made her way over to David, who was sitting, slumped over.
"My head," he moaned.
She knelt beside him. "Thank the gods it was only that." Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, she added, "We could both be *dead* right now."
"Some things attacked us. And I attacked back. But they got the best of me. And we got help from. . ." She looked up at Mina. "What do you call yourself, anyway?"
Now that Mina had her confidence back, she was going to make the most out of answering that question! Striking a dramatic pose, she said, "I am the warrior of love, Sailor Venus!"
"And a drama queen," Artemis mumbled.
"Sailor Venus?" David looked up at her. "Where did you come from?"
"Whenever someone is in trouble. . ."
"We were crossing the park and saw you were in danger," Artemis said quickly, cutting her off before she could deliver a speech that made Muhammad Ali sound humble.
"Thanks," David said.
"Don't mention it. Well. . .gotta boogie! Seeya!" Scooping up Artemis again, she ran back out of the baseball field.
Lori watched her go. Mina Aino. . .Sailor Venus, she thought. She remembered what she'd seen. . .the girl talking to herself, then raising some kind of stick over her head, then, suddenly, the Sailor Soldier was there again. . .
"Lori?" David said. "Are you okay?"
"Just thinking about something," she said. "Come on. . .we'd better get you home and make sure *you're* okay." She helped him to his feet.
"I'm all right, really. Just a little headache. . .and a few bumps and bruises."
"Well, we'll see about that." They started to walk.
Mina is Sailor Venus, she thought. Who'd have thought? She was just some dimwitted blonde who hung around Crown Cafe all the time with. . .
And then, a sudden realization snapped into her head, and she almost fell over.
Mina always hung around with Serena. . .and Raye. . .and Lita. . .and Amy. Five young girls. And there were five Sailor Soldiers.
"I'll be damned. . ." she said allowed.
David stopped abruptly and looked at her. "Lori?"
She shook her head, as if to drive the thought away. "Forget it. It's nothing. Let's go."
* * *
Once out of Lori's eyesight, Mina detransformed. . .reluctantly.
I don't think being transformed ever felt so good before, she thought. So. . .powerful.
"I'm so proud of you, Mina," Artemis said. "You did *real* well today. You *earned* your power-up." He shook his head. "I just wish I hadn't passed out like I did, and I could have seen you get it."
She hugged him. "It's okay. You didn't miss much. Venus was only there for a minute or two. Just long enough to tell me. . ." She stopped abruptly.
"Tell you. . .what?"
"She said that I had nothing to be ashamed of when it came to David and Lori. . .you know, the matchmaking thing. I. . .I thought that I couldn't destroy that thing, and I lost my powers, because she was angry at me." She was back on the sidewalk now, and heading toward her house at a rapid pace. Twilight was starting to fall over the city, and the first stars were starting to twinkle overhead. I'm going to be late again, she thought. . .but somehow, that doesn't matter now.
Artemis thought a bit about what she said. He remembered all too well her depression after the matchmaking scheme had fallen through. She'd seemed to go back to her normal self after that, but. . .he'd suspected that deep down, she was still hurting because of it.
It seems, he thought, that I was right.
"Do *you* think you did something wrong, Mina?" he said.
"In a way. . .I still do. What I did, trying to push them together like that. . .it was just wrong. Well, not so much wrong as. . .dumb. I didn't think it through. I just thought about what *I* wanted, to see the two of them together. . .and I didn't think about whether it was what *they* really wanted." She chuckled. "Turns out that it *was* what they wanted. . .but that still doesn't fully excuse what I did then."
Whoa, Artemis thought. . .that's deeper thinking than I've *ever* heard from her! Maybe the goddess gave her Super powers as a sign that she's growing up.
"But even if I *did* do something stupid then. . .what I did now, saving their lives. . .well, I feel like I redeemed myself. Or at least made it up to them. And that makes me feel good about myself." There was a pause, then she added, softly, "Better about myself than I've felt in a long time."
"I'm so glad," Artemis said. "You're truly becoming a young woman, Mina."
She didn't say anything. . .but her arms tightened around him, hugging him tighter. No other communication was needed.
She entered her house. . .to find it empty. "What the. . ." she said. Heading into the kitchen, she found a note on the table informing her there was ramen soup in the freezer. . .
She smacked her head. "I shoulda remembered! Tonight was the Businesswoman's Club dinner! Both of my parents went! If I'd known that. . ." She put Artemis on the floor. "I. . .would have stayed and talked to David and Lori longer."
"Don't worry about it, Mina. I'm sure they appreciated what you did."
She headed up to her bedroom. . .might as well get changed before I eat, she thought. . .and noticed the message light blinking on her answering machine. Probably Lita or Raye about the new Sailor Soldier outfits.
But when she pressed the "play" button, a familiar British accent came out of the speaker.
"Mina, it's me. I know it's the middle of the week, but. . .my school's shut down for a few days while the schoolmasters attend some sort of convention, so. . .I came to Tokyo. Usual hotel, usual suite. Call me when you get this. I can't wait to see you."
She just stood there, looking at the machine, her heart pounding. Glen was in Tokyo! As if her day couldn't get any better. . .
Her feet barely touched the ground as she flew back down the stairs. "Artemis! Artemis, you'll never believe it! Glen's in town!"
"Glen? When did he get in?"
"Today!" She quickly flipped her mother's note over and scribbled a note on the back, saying she was having dinner and spending the night at Raye's temple.
"He timed that well, didn't he?" Artemis said.
He sure did, she thought. It's as if the goddess herself sent him to me.
"I have so much to do," she said. "I have to call him. . .and shower. . .and change. . .you don't think my nail polish looks too ratty, does it? I don't think I'll have time to redo it from scratch. And my hair. . .oh, gods, I didn't wash it last night! I have to wash and dry it FAST!" She ran back up the stairs again, nearly smacking into her bedroom door in her haste to get ready.
Artemis smiled to himself as he heard her banging and clunking around up there. Then again, he thought, in some ways, she's still the eager teenage girl. . .and I don't expect that to change any time soon.
* * *
Glen answered his door to see his beloved standing there. . .looking nothing less than radiant. Oh, Mina always had a certain glow about her. . .but tonight, she was absolutely incandescent. Like there were Roman candles going off in her soul.
She flung her arms around him. "Oh, darling. . .I'm so glad to see you. . .I've had *such* a day!"
"Whoa!" he laughed. "Take it easy. . .come in, sit down, tell me all about it!" He led her into the living room, sitting side-by-side with her on the couch.
"Okay," she said. "First, there was the fashion makeover thingy. . .we're all getting new clothes, and it was Reenie's idea, of all people. . .and then we were going home, and this thing came, and it was after David and Lori, and then. . .I'm SUPER now, Glen, can you believe it? And I did this Love and Beauty Shock thing, and it just *totally* blew the monster away, and. . ."
"Hey, hey!" he laughed. "You're trying to tell me everything at once, love! Now take a deep breath, and tell me everything a little at a time. . ."
She breathed deeply, held it a second, exhaled slowly. . .then began her story again, at a much more relaxed pace, starting with the Sailor Soldier meeting that day. Glen listened, intently. I knew there was a reason I was getting feelings that something was about to happen to her, something big, he thought. I'm so glad that I came, so I could share this with her. . .and she's definitely eager to share! Her face was filled with energy, her hands waving around expressively as she related her tale.
"So, that's it!" she said. "It's been just the most *incredible* day!"
He pulled her toward him, kissing her. "It certainly has! And I think this calls for a celebration. Have you eaten yet?"
She shook her head. "There was nothing available in our house but frozen ramen. . .yuk!"
"Well, I'll take you somewhere where you can get something *much* better than that. Just let me freshen up, I'll be right there."
She watched him go, and she smiled to herself.
He's looking good right now, she thought. *Real* good. And she felt a very familiar stirring deep within her.
Ordinarily, she would just sit back, relax, let the evening play itself out. But now. . .she was feeling strong, powerful, sexy. More like the Goddess of Love than ever before.
She wanted to celebrate, all right. . .but not in a restaurant. She was going to take matters into her own hands.
Glen started to come back into the living room, and paused. Mina was just sitting there, a strange look on her face. Usually, she'd come bouncing over to him, saying, "Okay, I'm ready to go out!" But now. . .she was quiet. Too quiet.
"Um. . .are you okay, sweetheart?" he said.
She stood up, slowly. "That depends," she said in a sexy purr.
He was rooted to the spot, feeling confused. "On. . .on what?"
She walked right past him, across the suite. . .through the door to the bedroom.
"On whether you're going to come over here and let me kiss you."
His heart started to pound. It was *very* obvious that they weren't going out for dinner now. . .and it wasn't bothering him one bit.
"Mina. . ." He began to walk toward her, slowly.
And then, they were flinging themselves into each other's arms, their mouths colliding, moving against each other. Her tongue probed for his, and he eagerly let his own stroke it as their bodies rubbed together, creating friction and heat. . .as if they needed to be any hotter.
He pulled away from her. "You're so, so beautiful. . .gods, I could look at you all day. You're like a love goddess."
She smiled. "That's just the kind of thing I wanted to hear." And she began to kiss her way down his neck, running her hands up and down the front of his shirt. It was meticulously designed, impeccably cut, made of soft Egyptian cotton. . .
But right now. . .it was just in the way. She began to unbutton it as her lips continued to caress his skin, feeling the strong pulse in his throat. . .a pulse which grew stronger as she slid the fabric down and off, dropping it to the floor.
"Mina," he moaned. "You. . .you're so sexy. . ."
She kissed his lips again, and he flutered his tongue against hers teasingly as one of her hands began to rub on his belly in lazy circles, moving up toward his chest by degrees. His whole body felt like it was on fire now. . .a sensation which only intensified when her questing hand found a nipple, and she began to rub her palm over it in small, rapid circles.
"Oh, yes!" he cried. "That's so good!"
Her heart sped up at his ecstatic cry. There's no greater feeling in the world, she thought, than knowing you're giving pleasure to someone you love with all your heart. She sped up her motions, and he moaned louder. . .which only made her excted, as well.
"I love you so much," she whispered, before kissing down his neck again, pausing every few inches to nip, to lick, to just exhale a long, hot breath, a fiery sensation he more than welcomed. He arched his body toward her. . .he just could never, ever get enough of this woman. Every time he was with her, it made the long wait between visits more than worthwhile. . .
When her mouth closed over his nipple, he moaned even louder, reaching for her hair, untying the bow and flinging it across the room. She sucked hard, so hard, making him feel like she would suck it right off his body, and then she pulled her mouth away and kissed it tenderly, then started sucking again.
"Yes," he sighed. "Oh, Mina. . .oh, my darling. . ."
She reached down, letting her hand slip over the waistband of his pants, and lower still, inching down, down. . .He gasped, waiting for her touch where he needed it the most, gasping again when she moved her mouth to the other side of his chest and began her assault anew on the other nipple. . .fluttering her tongue over the hardened bud (oh, how good he tastes! she thought), then pulling it into her lips, sucking hard as she pulled back, slowly, until it almost-but-not-quite popped out. . .
And then, she pulled her hand away, and he let out a groan of frustration.
"Tease," he whispered is a mischievous tone of voice.
"Am I?" she replied in a similar tone.
"Yes. And for that. . .you shall have to pay a penalty."
"What's that?" she giggled.
He gave her a wry smile. "You're going to have to let me see you naked."
"Well. . .if you *insist*. . ."
She grasped the bottom of her shirt, and started to pull it up, slowly. He sucked in his breath as he saw what was being revealed. . .flat skin, dimpled with a small navel. ..then, the lacy white fabric covering her breasts. . .he couldn't wait to see all that cloth gone, to see her totally revealed to him. . .
"Now, now," he said, laughing. "We must pick up the pace a little."
She made a face at him and said, "Killjoy." But there was a twinkle in her eyes as she did so. Her blouse and skirt landed on the floor, her bra was flung over onto the dresser, her panties and stockings landing beside it. . .
He let his eyes feast on her undraped beauty. She *was* a goddess! He had no idea what this Venus she saw had been like, but he doubted she had been anywhere near as dazzling as Mina.
"Now," she said, "where was I? Oh, yeah. . ." She slid to her knees, pressing her head to his stomach as she did so, letting him feel her hair brush against him, feeling like strands of finest silk on his desire-sensitised skin. . .
The next thing he felt was her tongue. But it was on the outside of his pants. . .lapping at him through two layers of fabric. . .the sensation just enough to make him writhe and cry out. . .gods, the cloth felt like mile-thick walls of lead!
"Please," he gasped, "oh please. . .take them off. . ."
He let out a groan of relief when she unsnapped and unzipped his fly, then pushed his pants and underwear down. He lifted his feet, one at a time, so she could rid him of shoes, socks, remaining garments.
She leaned over, and began to kiss along the length of his shaft. Her heart was pounding, and she felt warm all over. He's barely touched me, she thought, and I'm this excited! As hot as I've felt before when he's kissed my breasts, caressed between my legs. . .I never thought that just *giving* pleasure. . .could result in *getting* so much pleasure!
Her tongue began to move up and down his manhood, swirling here, fluttering there. . .When she licked down around the base, she noticed he moaned loudly. . .almost as loudly as he did when she concentrated her attentions on the head. Hmm, she thought. . .he's sensitive there. . .And she started to kiss there, moving her lips from spot to spot. . .then licking. . .then kissing again. . .
Glen could only make long, low sounds of pleasure, writhing, feeling like his body could never contain so much hot sensation, like he was going to burst at any second. Oh, he could lose himself then and there. . .but he couldn't. He had to share it with her. . .he had to give back the pleasure. . .
"Stand up," he croaked. "Please. . .stand up, and then get on the bed. . ."
But then, her mouth enveloped him, and she was sucking, sucking, and he cried out, oh, he was going to lose it, lose it any second. . .he wanted her to stop, and he wanted her to go on and on forever, to drag him into a screaming void of ecstasy. . .
No, he couldn't. He pulled back, sliding out of her mouth. Much as he didn't want to.
She was disappointed at first, when she felt that. . .she'd wanted to take him all the way. But she understood. He wanted to come within her body.
She stood up, pulling him into her arms again, crushing her lips against his. They moved toward the bed together, and tumbled onto it, their tongues caressing and dancing with each other. His hands sought and found her breasts, squeezing gently, feeling the already hardened nipples get even harder. She sucked in her breath with a gasp, and gasped again as he took the buds between his thumb and forefinger, squeezing gently.
"My darling," he whispered when their lips parted, and then his tongue was moving down her neck, hot and wet. . .She let out a whimper, knowing what was coming next. Her entire body was braced for the shock of pleasure. . .but when his tongue connected with her nipple, she still jumped and cried out with the jolt. He lapped at her eagerly, first at the pink surrounding, then the nipple itself, brushing his tongue over it lightly, so lightly, just a feathery touch. . .and then, drawing it in his lips and sucking. . .
Meanwhile, his hand was moving downward, rapidly. . .She cried out and arched toward him as his fingers parted her petals, searching for his ultimate goal, the passion-swollen pearl. . .
His lips sucked harder as his fingers brushed over her jewel, and she shrieked as waves of hot pleasure built and built. . .her skin tingled, burned, her head tossed from side to side. . .
"Ohh," she moaned. "Glen. . .I want you inside me. . .
He slid his mouth and hand away. "How would you like it?"
"Sit against the headboard. . ."
He positioned himself as she said, and she reached into his carry-on bag, knowing from experience what she'd find there. She tore open the foil packet and leaned over, kissing his manhood reverently, then rolling on the condom.
She positioned herself, straddling him with the tip of his hardness pressed against her entrance, her lips on his again. . .
Then, she pushed her hips down, and a small climax rippled through her body as he filled her. She gasped, leaning forward with her head on his shoulder as she shuddered. . .He kissed her cheeks, her nose, her forehead.
"That's just the beginning," he whispered. "You're going to be shuddering a *lot* more before we're done."
"Oh, yes!" And she started to pump her hips, very slowly. . .feeling him deep inside, then sliding out, then a part of her again. . .His lips were on her, his hands on her breasts, his palms sliding back and forth on her nipples. . .She began to move harder, faster, wanting more, more, and he was lifting his hips off the bed, moving along with her. . .He felt the desire cresting, and he pushed up and up and up, wanting them both to go over the edge together. . .
But she was first, her whole body stiffening, then one delicious shudder after another wracking her, waves of heat pulsing up from the very bottom of her soul and devouring her. She shrieked, and shrieked again as a second, smaller climax followed the first, brining more delicious shudders. . .His control finally broke when her sheath started to tug at him again, and he cried out her name as blissful release overtook him.
She sagged against him, and they clung to each other, panting, feeling reality slowly come back into focus (and oh, how neither of them wanted that!) Their lips met, tenderly.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I love you, too," he replied.
She pulled away from him just long enough to help him dispose of the condom, then they snuggled into each other's arms under the covers.
"Was it worth the trip?" she said in a teasing voice.
"More than worth it. You were amazing, absolutely amazing."
"I think I even surprised myself," she laughed.
"That's one of the things I love most about you. I never know quite what to expect."
Mina thought about how her day had gone until then. Reenie's surprises at the meeting. . .the attack on David and Lori. . .her power-up. . . finally, Glen's surprise visit. . .
Not knowing what to expect pretty much summed up her entire life. She wouldn't have it any other way.
* * *
Somewhere, on a dimensional plane which few humans had ever seen, a certain goddess was looking in on the scene with approval.
Everything is working out so well for her, Venus thought. She's certainly making the most of the opportunities I've held out to her. She's succeeding in life, in love. . .
"Venus, you did *not* handle the situation well today," said a stern voice behind her.
She turned, and saw a male figure. . .the same one which had previously spoken to Mars, and to King Endymion. She sighed inwardly. . .she had hoped he wasn't going to show up, although she knew she'd have to deal with him about this matter eventually.
"What do you mean?" she said. "My Sailor Soldier received her power-up. She used it successfully, and saved the two humans."
"And that was no thanks to you. You dragged that power-up out much too long, Venus. Letting her completely lose her transformation like that. . .she and the humans all could have been killed very easily."
A burning coal of anger flared within her. I *knew* he was going to say that, she thought. I *knew* it. That's just like him. . .especially where Sailor Soldiers are concerned. Does he *truly* understand them as well as he thinks he does?
"It was for the girl's own good," the goddess replied. "She had some emotional issues concerning the victims of the attack. I had to help her deal with them first, or else she would not have been able to fully attain the next level of power. A Sailor Soldier cannot be truly *Super* unless she is at peace with herself."
"That may be true, but with what's at stake here. . ."
"I understand completely what's at stake. And believe me. . .I would not do *anything* to jeopardize the plan. I want it to succeed as much as you do."
The other nodded. "I am glad you feel that way. . .because we *all* must be of one mind for this to succeed."
* * *
It was just a night like any other nowadays at the Dead Moon Circus.
Another dressing-down from Zirconia. Another humiliated henchman. Another late-night drinking session, the three of them hunched over their beers.
"But there were *no* Sailor Soldiers around *at all*!" Fish Eye said. "None! Not a trace! What was I supposed to do, just sit around until the lemures got done working?"
"Yes," Tiger Eye said. "If you listen to the old bag."
"That makes how many now, five?" said Hawk Eye. "What, do they have one for every day of the week?"
Fish Eye leaned over and put his head on the bar. "I don't know how much more of this I can take," he groaned. "Guys, how about we run away from here?"
"And do *what*?" said Tiger Eye. "We don't know how to do anything but gather dreams."
"Look, we *have* to hang in there, right?" said Hawk Eye. "It's *got* to be over soon, right? And then we'll have our reward?"
"What if there *isn't* a reward?" said Fish Eye, "and we went through all this for nothing?"
"Are you kidding?" said Tiger Eye. "There's a reward! There's GOT to be a reward! Nehelenia wouldn't just take over the world and not let the people who helped her share the wealth. . .would she?"
None of them answered that question. Because they didn't want to think about the possibility of the answer being yes, she would.
* * *
Reenie couldn't wait for the familiar light to appear in her dream.
"Come on, Pegasus!" she said. "Come on! I have so much to tell you. . ."
Sure enough, the light appeared in the far distance, getting nearer, larger, taking on the shape of a horse. . .
As soon as he was fully formed, she threw her arms around his neck. "I did it!" she shouted. "I did it, Pegasus! I showed them my fuku designs, and they loved them! And I got Luna to give Darien and I communicators!"
"Wonderful!" he replied. "I'm so proud of you!"
"And does my hair show up in the dream? The new style? I picked it out myself!" She turned her head this way and that.
He smiled. "It does show up. You look so much more grown up!" And she did. The hairstyle truly brings out her natural beauty, he thought. You pay more attention to her smile when you're not distracted by the big hair cones.
"It's so great, Pegasus. . .I feel like my whole life is changing! And *I* made it change!" She hugged him again. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"I'm just glad I could help you." She's come such a long, long way since I first met her, he thought. Back then, she was melancholy, cranky. . .now, she's fairly bursting with joy.
"There's just one more thing I wish I could change," she said, sitting on the ground in front of him. "My attack. The pink sugar hearts are *so* embarrassing, and they do no good. I wish I had a *real* attack, like Serena, or Raye, or Mina. . ."
Helios was about to reply. . .when suddenly, he heard a funny stirring of the wind.. .no, it was a whisper. The whisper of The Voice. And it was telling him something, information to pass on to Reenie. . .
"You have more power inside you than you realize," he said. "You can bring it out. Just remember these words, next time you get into a crisis. . .Rose Heart Shatter."
"Rose. . .Heart. . .Shatter. . ." She repeated the words to herself, and they had the taste of strength, of power. Whatever these words unleash, she thought, it's got to be something big. . .
And then, suddenly, something started to go wrong. Black clouds suddenly flew into the dream-sky, blocking out the view of the moon and stars. A wind began whipping through the forest, icy and damp, chilling Reenie to the very bone. . .
"Pegasus!" she cried. "Pegasus. . .what's wrong?"
But Helios stood rooted to the spot. He couldn't move. . .he couldn't speak. . .and there was the feeling of evil all around him, terrible evil. . .
Something appeared in front of both of them, blazing with an unholy light. . .
A vision of a black rose.
* * *
Darien snapped out of sleep, abruptly.
Something was wrong. He felt strange, dizzy. . .there was a burning pain in his chest. . .
He tried to draw a breath. . .but it was as if steel bands were around him, drawing in tighter and tighter, making it impossible to even gasp. He struggled and struggled, fighting with all his might against this thing. . .I can't let it get me, he thought. I have to live. . .for Serena, and Reenie. . .
Finally, he managed to draw air into his lungs. . .only to start coughing. Normal coughs at first, then more violent, bronchial. . .then horrible spasms that rocketed through his chest and his entire body like an obscene parody of an orgasm. His muscles strained, he felt like his entire body was being torn apart piece by piece.
And then, the black blood came out of him, like the morning after the eclipse. . .only now, there was more, much more, he thought his very life was being drained out of him. . .
Suddenly, it stopped. He gasped for breath, then breathed normally, flopping down onto the bed, dazed, weakened.
Oh, gods, he thought. It's happened. It's finally happened. Whatever curse has been put on me. . .it just came into full flower.
Serena and Reenie can't know. It'll just worry them. . .I have to beat this thing. . .if it's the last thing I ever do.
* * *
The black rose abruptly faded away. The chill wind stopped, and the moon and stars came out again.
Reenie huddled against Helios, out of both fear and a desire for warmth. "Pegasus. . .what just happened?"
"I think. . .that was your enemy. . .don't worry, I don't think it was an attack on you."
But Helios knew who the attack *was* directed at. He'd seen that black rose in his mind's eye before. . .the day the curse was put on him, the one that turned him into a winged horse.
It's the prince, he thought. Nehelenia's attacking the prince. And I have to do anything and everything in my power to stop it. But, in my current state, I'm almost powerless. . .
He looked at Reenie, the new Reenie, with her grown-up haircut, more confident attitude. . .
I'm going to need your new strength now, dear friend, he thought. We *have* to find that missing piece of the Golden Crystal. Because the fate of the prince is at stake. . .and the fate of the world.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This one was a long time coming, I know. I had a lot of external factors slow it down. . .Olympics, illness, business trip, Subway Series. . .But it's done at long last. As always, my editor, Steve Savage, was a tremendous help. . .check out his original fic series, Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai.
Feedback on this series is more than welcome. .. my E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit my Web page at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/sailormac.
Standard Sailor Moon disclaimers apply. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.