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Chapter 3, Life As A Sailor Senshi

Ranma knocked on the door of Ami's condominium and stood there waiting until the door was opened. He had walked here in a complete daze. All he could think about was Akane yelling at him: 'I never want to see you again'. She looked so sad, so hurt, so betrayed. He always knew what he had done would hurt, it had to, and it was planned that way. He just never realized how much it would hurt him. Ranma had thought that any price was worth the chance that she would be able to protect herself. Now all that he could think was that it was not worth it. He should have settled for being condescending to her. He should have ensured that he was by her side every minute of every day. Anything but losing her forever.

Ranma wondered if she had read the note he left. He had to write it twelve times before he got it right. The last nine times had just been to get the last two sentences right. He still did not know what Akane felt about him, but if that was going to be the last chance that he would have to speak to her, Ranma eventually realized that he had to tell her how he felt.

Oh, why did he have to say those horrible things to her? Sure, it was the only way, but... Ranma's musings were interrupted when the door in front of him opened. "Oh, Ranko, what are you doing here?"

Ranko looked down at herself. She was dripping wet and quite obviously female. I wonder when that happened? Oh, that's right, it was raining for a bit. She was so depressed she didn't care. She looked up at Ami and saw concern in the girl's eyes. Ranko was about to reply when Ami continued. "Did I miss an alert or something? No, there's something else wrong, isn't there? Oh my! You're soaking wet! Get inside, we need to dry you off and get you some clean clothes."

Ranko numbly followed the girl into the neat upscale condo. Ranko had been here once before, briefly when the Senshi had started to try and get her to open up to them. She would have to be careful that she didn't show too much knowledge of the place, after all, Ranma had been here almost every day for a month and a half, and he knew the place well. "Um, Ami, err, I saw Ranma on my way over here. He said he and Akane had just had a big fight and told me all about it. So, if Akane calls, just tell me, and I'll apolo... I'll go talk to her."

Ami's eyes narrowed. There was something a bit odd about this. She knew that Akane and Ranko were cousins, but from what Akane said, it seemed Ranko avoided her. But now, Ranko was having deep heart-to-heart talks with Ranma, and they appeared to affect her deeply. "You really care about Ranma, don't you Ranko."

Ranko looked very guilty and stared at her feet. "You could say that we're pretty close. Heh, heh. I suppose that's right, really. No matter what people have tried, they just can't separate Ranma and me. I know Akane and Pops have tried often enough."

Ami dropped the clothes she was getting and put her hands on her hips. "Ranko, that's terrible! Akane is your cousin! How can you possibly try and seduce her fiancée? That's a terrible thing to do!"

Ranko looked up in shock, and then began to laugh. "Is that what it looks like? I guess it does. I mean we dress the same, and we do the same sort of things. Heh, perhaps we could be a good match. But, Ami, believe me. There's nothing between the two of us. We're more like brother and sister. If Ranma is cut, I bleed. If I hurt, he hurts. Trust me, Akane knows it, I know it, Ranma knows it. It's really impossible for anything to, you know, happen between Ranma and me. Impossible, between us, get it, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!"

Ami watched as Ranko fell to floor laughing at some private joke. She didn't understand, but apparently Ranko thought that the very idea of her seducing Ranma was a stupid one. She might have thought some relationships were impossible too, but she had seen Makoto in action. Makoto proved almost anyone could fall for a nice smile and a pretty face, and Ranko had those. Eventually Ranko realized that she was the only one laughing, and calmed down. "Thanks, Ami. I think I needed a bit of a laugh just now. Um, someday I may explain it to you, but I'm afraid I can't just now."

Ami sighed. Well, so much for the hopes that Ranko had come over to finally want to be friends with some of the Senshi. Picking up the clothes she had dropped, she displayed them for Ranko. There was a pink tee shirt, some blue shorts, and some underwear. "We look about the same size, so you can borrow some of my stuff until yours dries. We don't want you catching a cold, do we?"

Ranko looked at the underwear in disgust. "I can't wear that! They're girl's clothes!"

"What's wrong with girl's clothes? You're a girl."

"I'm a g... Um, yeah, I look like a girl, but I always wear guy's clothes, they're much more comfortable, see."

Ami blushed as Ranko showed her that she was actually wearing boxer shorts. Perhaps this was what she meant about not being able to have a relationship with Ranma. "Err, Ranko, does that mean that you're, you know, um, that way?"

Ranko was perplexed. "What way?"

"You know... THAT way."

"Um." Ranko stood there confused. She managed to follow what Ami had been talking about until the conversation stopped being clear. Unfortunately after living on the road for so many years with only an obsessive father for company, Ranko missed out on some of the finer points of people's conversations. When people went 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink', all Ranko understood was a nudge and a wink. Innuendo was something that went right over her head.

"Well, I was just wondering if the reason you never wanted to go out with the Sailors is if because, well, you were a little bit of a cross dresser and worried about what we would say. But it's OK. I mean, not all of us are quite normal either."

Ranko went pale. "I'M NOT A CROSS DRESSER! It's just a curse, OK? But, err, yeah, that's why I never went places with the Senshi. I just... just didn't know how you would react. Wow. You must be really clever, Ami. When did you figure it out?" She scratched the back of her head in relief.

Ami beamed at the complement, so she realized that Ranko was a lesbian. It was no big secret, really. "Oh, just now. I sort of looked at the boxers, and thought of the confusion that Sailor Uranus sometimes gets, and well, it fell into place."

Ranko was seriously impressed. One look at her boxers, and Ami knows all about her curse. Ranko was just amazed that it took this long. But then, Ranko had been avoiding them whenever possible. When she saw Ranma, he really was a guy, so no clues there. Ranko was still impressed that she figured out about it so quickly. "Well, I still think you must have a pretty good brain to put it all together. I suppose there's not really much point in hiding it from you now, but don't go telling the others, OK? I really don't like people to know about my curse."

"Oh, Ranko. It's not a curse, really. You're just a bit different from others. No one would mind, honestly."

"Ami, it is a curse. When Pop and I were training in this place in China called Jusenkyo, I fell into the spring of drowned girl. And that made me into what you see today."

"Oh, Ranko, it really is OK." Ami patted her on the shoulder. "Besides, if you feel more comfortable not wearing girl's clothes, then I think I can find something more to your liking."

Ami rummaged through her drawers, and then found some more nondescript clothes. Ami was glad that she and Ranko had this little chat. If she could make her feel comfortable with herself, perhaps Ranko would really become part of the team, a real member, not just one that helped in the fights. When Ranko was dressed, they headed to the kitchen for some tea. Perhaps if she could steer the talk to more neutral topics, she continue to draw Ranko out of the shell she had built.

Ami came back from the kitchen, holding a tea set on a tray. She placed it down on the table and sat down. To break the ice, she thought it would be good to talk about one of Ranko's favorite subjects, namely fighting. "Ranko, what's that attack that you use when you fight the youma?"

"It's called the Moko Takabisha. It's a ki-based attack. Basically you summon up your internal energy and project it at the target. Why?"

"That's the same attack that you used when you fought the youma before you became a Sailor Senshi, isn't it?"

"True, but when I'm Sailor Sun, I can regain my ki much faster. Since I'm not in danger of seriously draining myself, I can use bigger and better blasts every time I let loose. You're right though, it's the same attack."

Ami smacked a fist into her palm. "I knew it! Rei did a fire reading before we first met you, and saw you surrounded by flames. Artemis also said that according to legend, Sailor Sun is supposed to have the most powerful attacks of any of the Senshi. Now I hate to say it; your ki attacks are OK, but not that great. Take my Shabon Spray Freezing: it can do about as much damage, but it does it to everything it touches, if I want it to. Your Moko Takabisha is good, but it still doesn't have the power you need.

"Next time we encounter a youma, I want you to concentrate. Feel the magic, feel the power flow through you. When you attack, don't force it, just use what comes naturally."

They continued to talk for a while, usually inconsequential things. Ami deliberately stayed away from personal information so that she did not scare away the slowly opening Ranko. Ranko was equally willing to stay on lighter topics. Thoughts of Akane kept breaking to the surface. All that she wanted to do was run back to Mr. Miyagi's and apologize, but she knew it would be impossible. If Akane read the note, she would either forgive her or not. If she had not read the note, it would be months before Akane would let Ranma speak to her again, if ever.

They were on their third cup of tea when their communicators signaled. Trust the youma to ruin a perfectly good Sunday afternoon, moments later, a pair of Sailor Senshi leapt from roof to roof on the way to their rendezvous.

Jadeite looked into the screen that showed the battle about to take place. The last few weeks had been a greater success than even he had anticipated. While there had been losses, they were lower than expected. While the Senshi had a new one added to their number, the attacks which she possessed was not great enough to create a decisive advantage.

He puzzled over this new girl. He didn't recall a tenth Senshi during the Silver Millennium and this girl wasn't nearly as powerful as any of the others. She was skilled in hand-to-hand combat, but that was it. Her magical ability was mediocre at best.

"Sailor Sun, indeed." Chuckled Jadeite. It seemed that the Senshi were getting desperate and were trying to recruit new members into their midst. Without Queen Serenity's magic or experience, he believed they could never hope to be able to endow a new Senshi with powers sufficient to repel even a minor youma. This so called Senshi of the Sun never was able to kill a youma alone. She always had to have another Senshi deal the fatal blow.

He was worried at first when she appeared, thinking that this girl may have had powers worthy of her guardian star, but now all she was, was a stupid joke; a joke that Sailor Moon would live to regret.

Recently, he detected a burst of life energy in the area of Tokyo he knew the Senshi lived. He knew Usagi, Rei and Ami's identities but he didn't know where they lived. Now, he had a possible location for one of them. The idea of the kidnapping of a Senshi in human form was an idea he couldn't resist. The amount of energy he could drain from her opened up possibilities that he dared not dream of.

He had time to deal with this possibility soon enough. Right now, it was time to spring the next phase of the invasion.

A force of youma would be sent to earth. Not just one or two, but over thirty, thirty of the new generation of powerful youma. It was costly, but it would be worth it. Jadeite knew that the Senshi would stand a chance of winning against them. Not a big chance, but it was a chance. Unbelievably, the Senshi had managed to win from impossible positions so often; Jadeite was beginning to expect it. This time there would be no failure.

The youma would not fail because the Senshi had less brains than the youma did. You play with them a while, and they fall into a pattern. Then you trap them, so they see traps everywhere. It was a battle against superior forces, so sneakiness was needed. Over the time he had gathered the power for his army, Jadeite had let the Senshi become used to fighting one or two youma. He had also let them get used to the idea of being ambushed by a larger force.

When he launched a convincing attack against them that is all they would see. It would be more of the same, just on a bigger scale. They would never see the dimensional beacon. They would never even look. From what he knew, thirty youma should be sufficient to destroy the Senshi. But Jadeite could not get his hopes up. Injure them, almost certainly, but kill; he felt he could not be so lucky. Something would save them, it always did.

The dimensional beacon was another matter. It would enable his forces to move back and forwards at a fraction of the current cost. Where sending thirty youma expended so much energy, he would send over a hundred at a much smaller cost.

The Senshi gathered and looked at the youma. Their detectors had registered the arrival of one or more in this area, and this was all they had been able to spot. Now it had drained the energy from over twenty people at an amusement arcade. They were ready to attack when Sailor Mercury spoke up. "I've been having a chat with Sailor Sun, and I think I have an idea on how we can release her full powers. Venus, if you can use your chain to hold the youma, we can give Sailor Sun the time she needs to realize her attack."

Sailor Moon nodded. "Great idea. See Sailor Sun, soon you'll really be one of us girls. Not only do we get these great costumes, you also get to have your own cool magic attack!"

As everyone leapt into position, Sailor Sun hesitated and in a small voice whispered. "But I don't want to be one of the girls."

"Amusement centers are a place for happiness and enjoyment of children and families. To pervert such a place and harm people is a thing of evil. For your actions, the beautiful sailor suited warrior for love and justice, Sailor Moon, shall defeat you."

Finishing her set of poses, Sailor Moon threw her tiara. "MOON TIARA ACTION!"

Weaving a beautiful stream of light, it flew at the youma, causing it to dive out of the arcade, and into the open. With elegant poise, Sailor moon reached up and collected her tiara as it flew back. While she replaced it on her head, blonde hair flying, the others went into action.

The twin calls of "SHABON SPRAY FREEZING!" and "BURNING MANDALA!" Sailors Mercury and Mars managed to confine the ugly beast, and obscure its vision. Neptune and Uranus leapt to either side of the monster outside of the burning ring, which surrounded it. There was no escape now. With all the others forming a defensive line in front of Sailor Sun, Sailor Venus moved up to attack.

Spinning slowly, she began to fire the chain of hearts from her hand. When she screamed "VENUS LOVE ME CHAIN!" they flew out. In no time, a chain of glowing orange hearts snaked out, bailing up the youma.

Sailor Moon looked on impressed. Their attack had worked perfectly, something to be remembered for the future. Behind her, Sailor Saturn placed a hand on Venus, and the two continued to feed power into the Love Me Chain. With this much effort, even a youma of this strength could not hope to escape.

Sailor Sun looked on, feeling impressed. She had been fighting with them regularly now, but this was one of their best-coordinated and executed attacks yet. It was amazing what these girls could do with little notice. They obviously worked together so much; they could almost read the thoughts of their compatriots. Clearing her mind of the ki attacks that she usually used, Sailor Sun meditated for a moment.

Somewhere deep within her, Sailor Sun could feel the magic responding to her request. Before, there had always been a sharp distinction, it was Ranko and Sailor Sun, and they were separate people. Once she had fought the idea of being Sailor Sun. She was a guy, she was a Martial Artist, and she didn't need the silly magical powers. As a consequence, all she received from being Sailor Sun was the minimal powers possible to be a Senshi. The true powers of attack, and the ability to withstand magical damage had been withheld. Now, deep inside her soul, Sailor Sun called for those powers.

But she did not call for them for herself. She called for them so that she could save Akane, and others like her throughout the world. Then the powers came. Suddenly Sailor Sun could see what she was missing out on. Within her soul, she could feel the very energy of the sun, the linking of her life force to the power that rules the solar system. Barely seconds had passed before Sailor Sun opened her eyes, but she felt like it was years, an entire lifetime.

Sailor Moon stared at their latest recruit. She had watched seven other Sailors come into their powers. She had been there when all of them had had their first boost in their powers, changing their battle cry from 'Planet Power, Make Up' to 'Star Power, Make Up'. Now she realized that she was seeing the true Sailor Sun for the first time. When the girl had closed her eyes there had been a pause, then a flare of flames. For several moments, Sailor Sun was bathed in the fire, which Rei had witnessed in her fire reading, all those weeks ago.

When Sailor Sun opened her eyes, the others fell back in surprise. Gone were the sparkling blue eyes that they were used to seeing. In their place were twin flames, burning in the darkness where her eyes should be. With a manic grin, Sailor Sun trotted to the front of their line. Passing her hands in front of herself, she began to gather small flames, then a glowing ball of red. Moving like she was pitching a baseball, Sailor Sun drew back the flaming, crackling sphere she was making. "SEARING PLASMA BLAST!" Like a whip, the arms shot forward and a flaming comet charged at the captive youma.

When the blast struck, the fireball exploded. A wave of heat came over them, and the two Senshi nearest cowered behind their arms, fending off the effects. The bitumen street where it had been targeted was cratered and melted, still bubbling and boiling in parts. Nearby shop signs had caught fire, and the force of the blast had smashed several windows. Of the youma, there was simply no sign.

The red head was overjoyed. "YEE-HAH! I did it! Whoo-hoo! Take that you evil demon, you! Go the Sailor Senshi!"

Sailor Sun danced around, her ecstasy obvious. While everyone else watched in awe of her demonstrated powers, she ran over to the hole in the street she had made. Sailor Moon was the first to recover. It's a good thing she's on our side. I wouldn't want to fight her! Shortly all the Senshi were running to her, cheering.

The crowd of super powered girls in short skirts had almost reached their friend when Sailor Mercury's computer beeped a warning. A youma was still nearby. It was only her excited dancing which caused the youma to miss Sailor Sun when it fired at her.

The youma was a new variant, something else they had never encountered. Rather than the heavy, bulky youma with devastating strength, this was a tall, skinny, hunchbacked creature, fairly human in shape, although almost twice as tall. This one also seemed to have some sort of long-range weapon.

Sailor Sun had missed being hit by the youma, but when the blob it fired landed, she was splashed. It must have been acid of some sort, because the much-abused street began to bubble and hiss. Sailor Sun also began to scream as drops of the fearsome gel clung to her in spots. As the pain began to register, she began swatting at the burning spots, smearing the acid with her gloved hands. The damage was only minor, even if painful. Sailor Neptune rushed up and summoned some cold water with which she washed off Sailor Sun. The acid gone, they could see several holes in her skirt and suit, and the glove on her right arm was almost destroyed.

Sun growled as she examined the damage to her bodysuit, "You ruined my uniform!" The pissed off Senshi charged the beast.

Moon looked around and spotted the fleeing youma. "Come on Sailor Senshi! We can't let it get away!"

Everyone yelled, and gave chase. The youma was fast, but they were faster, and slowly made up the distance. Now that they knew what to look for, the acid attacks that the youma possessed posed little problem. The Senshi were so fast on their feet that even minor splashes were uncommon.

They had chased the youma to an old area of the city, filled with abandoned warehouses when it stopped. It slowly turned and faced the formation of Senshi. Each of them stood ready. The chase and the minor burns most had received made them mad. Staring at the one youma, nine powerful Senshi readied an all out attack. Just as they prepared to deliver it, they were attacked.

Only the sixth sense for danger, which they possessed, had saved them. It had been finely honed from years of fighting, and even without thought, they abandoned their attacks, leaping to the air. Looking down, Sailor Saturn saw the boiling remains of where they had stood, covered with acid. Looking up, the small Sailor saw legions of youma gathered on the buildings. In their arms (or tentacles) they carried bloated looking sacs of a pale, sickly green fluid. Seeing their surprise had failed, the youma launched the acid bombs indiscriminately at the Senshi, blasting walls and road with assorted misses.

Sailor Saturn watched as her teammates nimbly dodged the bombs, and she joined their efforts. With so many incoming attacks, dodging was everything. After what seemed to be an eternity, the bombs stopped landing. Sailor Saturn brushed her short black hair from her eyes and looked around. Everyone was basically unhurt, but the street had become a minefield. One misstep would put you in the acid, and it would eat your foot off before you could stop it.

Then the little Sailor saw why the youma did not care. Dozens of the beasts were leaping off warehouse roofs, or through the walls. When they attacked, the demons did not care where they stood; they were equally happy on concrete or acid. It was just one more problem to contend with. When a demon stepped in the gel, it would splash, giving you something else to dodge. But the youma would have a foot (or hand, or whatever), which was now a fearsome weapon. A simple touch could cause debilitating pain.

A tall youma with a dozen long tentacles landed in front of Sailor Saturn. Bopping it on the head with her glaive, she retreated next to Sailor Uranus who was laying about with wild abandon. While battle cries and the occasional scream of pain filled the air, Sailor Uranus watched over her adopted daughter. When Saturn was sure the path was clear, she struck.

When she cried "SILENCE GLAIVE SURPRISE!" and lowered her weapon, everything in its path was shattered. In the distance a warehouse began to fall as its corner support was ripped away, while right in front of her a many tentacled beast split apart and began to dissolve.

The other Sailors were not doing as well. Like Sailor Saturn, they needed to be very careful with the attacks they launched, lest they hurt a friend. With so many youma to attack, hand-to-hand fighting was not working well. Outnumbered more than three to one, the youma could gang up and almost take turns fighting a target.

When one youma became hurt, it would withdraw slightly, its friends taking up the slack. When Sailor Jupiter attempted to chase one and press her advantage, she suffered a beating at the hands of a huge tiger striped youma with pile driver arms. By the time she recovered, her target was safely healing, and she was moving stiffly from the blows.

Sailor Neptune was the first to fall. Surrounded by six creatures, she had missed an attack from behind and was knocked stunned to the ground. Before the youma could press the advantage, an enraged Uranus had charged in, knocking monsters flying. Taking station over her fallen lover, Sailor Uranus fought with a berserker fury, driving back all who would attack.

The battle continued and began to drag into minutes, with both sides showing signs of wear. Sailor Saturn was the second to be knocked out. She did not have the strength for hand to hand against the youma, and her Silence Glaive Surprise was too dangerous for indiscriminate use. By the time she was down, she was the most successful, having claimed a total of four kills. All of the Senshi were injured, and quickly tiring. The youma were also faring badly. A quarter of their number were down, and many were injured. Unfortunately it looked like they were winning.

The Senshi were using their magic less and less as fatigue set in, and Sailor Sun had been beaten soundly. The youma had targeted her specifically with many of their fighters initially. It was known that she was the most powerful Senshi in hand to hand, and Jadeite had expected this to be a long-term battle right from the start. Jadeite had planned that the Senshi should not be able to group and focus their powers as they had so often in the past. Instead they had been forced to act as a group of individuals, dangerous individuals to be sure, but individuals. Fully expecting them to tire and lose the use of their powerful magic attacks, Jadeite had wanted the Senshi with the most long term power to be out of commission before it was a contest on equal grounds.

When the youma had realized that Sailor Sun also had one of the most dangerous magical attacks, the plan only made more sense. They had recently managed to break Sailor Sun's left arm, rendering her incapable of casting the powerful Plasma Blast that she had revealed. Now she was mainly on the defensive, holding her own, but unable to make headway against those arrayed against her. With Sailor Saturn down, Sailor Moon was the next target of priority. She was good, and wielded her staff to telling effect, but the battle was shifting against her.

With a scream and a leap Sailor Sun launched herself to where Uranus was guarding Saturn and Neptune. Sticking her arms in the air, she tried to ignore the way she could feel the bones grate in her left arm. "Sailors, join on me!"

Despite not knowing what she planned, all the Sailors moved. Teamwork was the key to their success. If Sailor Sun knew something they did not, they did not have time to question her. Sun took one last look around her, making sure her friends were close enough. Closing her eyes, she called on the one other attack she knew she had. "SOLAR FLARE!"

A sudden concussion knocked most of the Senshi off their feet, and shook the youma, causing them to pause. Even though Moon fell straight onto Sailor Sun, the red haired girl did not move in the slightest. While she channeled massive quantities of power, the ground began to shake, and an ominous thunder rose from all around. The youma had just rejoined the attack when the full force appeared.

Centered on Sailor Sun was a small area of calm in which the Senshi and two youma hid, too stunned to speak or move while the force of nature raged beside them. A third youma almost joined them, but it had been caught on the invisible dividing line between safety and destruction. With half its body vaporized in a raging inferno, the youma fell to the ground and began to dissolve. All the Senshi could see was a dome of fire, covering them, surrounding them. A muted roar of flames could be heard, as though far away. Inside the dome, it was calm and cool. After seeing what had happened to the youma caught in the surrounding fires, none felt the desire to try putting a hand outside.

Outside it was another matter. For almost two hundred meters all around a blazing conflagration raged. Flames powered by the surface of the sun melted the ground, and reduced everything they touched to a seared plasma. A burning, inverted tornado of flame reached almost eight hundred meters into the air. While the top of the solar flare wavered and wobbled, the base stayed perfectly solid, an immovable circle of destruction.

Her spell lasted for only forty seconds, but to anyone watching it, it was an eternity. Past the circle of the outer radius, everything was unhurt, and the same was true for the small haven at the heart. But between...

Between the two regions the destruction was complete. Fire had sterilized both air and ground, melting through the street and rock underneath, leaving a bubbling seething mess of slowly cooling lava.

Sailor Sun collapsed unconscious; unable to help as the victorious Senshi dispatched the last of the youma.

Akane knocked on the door of Ami's condominium. No response. She tried again, and then was greeted by the face of an older woman. Bowing her head, Akane introduced herself. "Good evening, Mrs. Mizuno."

"Hello, Akane. I'm sorry, Ami's not here at the moment. She went out a while ago with a friend."

"Oh, sorry to disturb you Mrs. Mizuno. I don't suppose Ranma is here? He mentioned he was going to see Ami this afternoon."

Ami's mother looked confused for a moment, then explained. "No, Ranma hasn't come here. Ami's friend Ranko came over for a while, then they both went out. They should be back soon for dinner. Would you like to come in and wait? You can stay for dinner if you like... Ami may know where Ranma is."

Akane beamed. "Thank you Mrs. Mizuno! I'm sure Ranko will know where Ranma is."

The words had hardly left her lips when Mrs. Mizuno raised her hands to cover her mouth and she screamed. Turning around, Akane saw a horrid sight. A beaten and battered Ami was walking toward the door along with a semi-conscious Ranko draped over one shoulder. Both looked in terrible shape. They were smoke blackened, and coated in scratches and the odd gash of a more serious cut. Ranko looked like she had forced to go without food for a month, and then had been beaten with an iron bar, repeatedly. Her face was drawn and haggard. What was worse was the delicate and unnatural way that Ranko held her left arm.

Both women raced out to meet them. Ami smiled with relief when her mother reached her, and Akane lifted Ranko into her arms. She did not like to deceive people, but Ami thought it was best that Akane did not see her or Ranko in their Sailor suits. Let Ranko explain what had happened at another time.

Inside the condo, Ami's mother gathered her doctor's bag, while Ranko and Ami were placed on beds. Akane was getting ready to do some really serious crying - the sort that would really make her father proud - when a thought crossed her mind. Dashing out of the room, she grabbed Ami's mother while she was getting things. "Mrs. Mizuno! Ah, Ranko has a bit of a problem with hot water. It's something that happened when she was younger. When you wash her up, can you make sure the water is only slightly warm? It would really distress her if she felt hot water, and I'm not sure if she could take it at the moment."

Ami's mother looked at her for a second then nodded her head. Since Ranko was injured and dirty, the best thing would be to sponge bath her with hot water. However if something horrible had happened to her - say, having a kettle of boiling water poured on her when she was a baby - Ranko might have some sort of severe psychological reaction to hot water. Best to trust her cousin and not risk it.

While Akane cried over Ranko and apologized for all the things she ever said to Ranko, which hurt her, Ami was checked out, and then it was Ranko's turn. Aside from the broken arm, Ranko had a number of large cuts, dozens of small burns, and many, many bruises. Akane was shocked. She had known Ranma for almost a year now, and she had never seen him so badly beaten. When he had fought Ryoga, Kuno or any of the innumerable monsters or people, which tried to kill him, he had been knocked about or even cut a bit. Never like this. Whoever did this must be some sort of animal... or a demon.

Akane suddenly realized what must have happened. Ranko (why as a girl she did not know) and Ami must have gone out, and Ranko must have fought a youma. She knew Ranma would never risk endangering a friend - especially a girl - so the youma must have attacked them. Oh, Ranma, you gallant fool. Please be all right.

That night Ami's mother took Ranko and Akane back to Mr. Miyagi's place by taxi. Before taking the dazed Ranko in to the dojo, Akane hunted up the thermos of hot water that had been hidden out in the yard. A quick look and a quick check: no one around, and still hot. Hey presto, instant Ranma.

Late that night, while Ranma lay in bed, Akane sat by his side and watched over him. When he woke up, Akane was there, checking he was OK. But it was Akane he was worried about. Despite all that had happened to him that afternoon, it was still the events of the morning, which weighed heaviest upon him. When Akane told him that she had read his note, and of course she forgave him, he sighed, closed his eyes, and slept soundly.

Ranma woke up late the next day. Beside him was a note from Mr. Miyagi and some breakfast. Propping himself up with one arm, Ranma began to work his way through the food and read the letter. Apparently Mr. Miyagi had been suddenly called away by one of his past students. Daniel-san had managed to get himself involved in some Martial Arts contest over a girl and needed the wisdom of his old sensei. Mr. Miyagi expected to be home in a few weeks, and he hoped that Akane and Ranma would be all right, especially since Ranma was doing a good job of teaching Akane, and would be unable to study himself while his arm healed.

A second page of the note was from Akane. They had left him to sleep, and she wanted to ensure that he would stay in bed for the day. Since she knew about his pride, she was just going to tell their friends that he was sick. No point in her telling everyone that the strong Martial Artist had received the beating of his life. She would see him tonight after telling Ami to cancel his lessons.

There was also a request in there. Stop fighting the demons. It was short. It was simple. It was also impossible. Rei had been right all that time ago; if not him, then who? He needed to do this or Akane and people like her could never be safe. Ranma lay down and sighed. His arm and body was hurting again. He needed time to think, perhaps there was some way that he could tell her he was one of the Senshi, then she would understand.

Akane. He had finally said that he loved her. It was even written down. It was on the letter she had read, so he was sure she had read those words too. But she never said a word about it. Did she even care for him the way that he cared for her? Ranma seriously wondered that sometimes. She could be so nice one day, and then a minute later she would be trying to kill him. Ranma tried to think of the ways that he may have hurt her to make her so mad.

There was the time that Shampoo was looking for him, and when Akane stepped in, Shampoo gave her the kiss of death. And then Shampoo erased Ranma from her memories. Ranma sighed, how could he forget the fact that it was his and Ryoga's fault that she had short hair now, sure it suited her, but she was the casualty of their fight? It was also his fault that she lost any chance with Dr. Tofu. And Ukyo had taken a go or two at Akane. It was only that he had stepped in with another fight, which caused Kodachi to try and hurt Akane. There was also the time that...

Ranma sat bolt upright in bed. Not once had he ever done anything to Akane. But the number of times she had been hurt or endangered because of him was beyond counting. Ranma knew he was a trouble magnet; he even liked it that way, sort of. Trouble made life interesting, and the worst thing that could happen would be if things were quiet. He could deal with trouble... but Akane could not. She was good and getting better, there was no doubt, but Ranma also had no doubt about the outcome if she faced a youma.

Ranma did not think that black was his color, and the thought of attending Akane's funeral was too much. Somehow he needed to stop being the trouble magnet that he was. He pondered on that one for a while. That was one thing that being bed ridden was good for: plenty of time to think. It did not take him too long to figure out the common elements for most of the times Akane had been hurt.

What had he done recently? What was he doing that was kind or noble in some way? What was it that was dangerous? What was he doing that would help others, but take him away from protecting Akane? What made him a target for retribution? What could he give up without compromising his honor and life completely?

Sailor Sun.

That afternoon Ranma left a note for Akane should she return while he was out. It simply said that he was going for a walk because he could not stand being in bed all day. He would be back in time for dinner. As he left the house, he doused himself with water. Fortunately he had been able to arrange to get an adjustable splint for his arm (actually it was all that Mrs. Mizuno had available). While the transformation hurt for a few moments, there was no serious pain. Quickly she tightened the straps and moved into the distance.

She had considered calling Sailor Moon on her communicator, but Ranko did not feel like confronting all of the Senshi at one time. She felt bad enough giving up the mantle of being a Sailor, but it was a matter of priority. When she was Sailor Sun, she could not be Ranma, which meant she was not protecting Akane. Since Ranko knew she was the only person who was remotely capable of protecting that tomboy from the youma that meant that Sailor Sun had to go. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one? Not in this case, nothing outweighed the needs of Akane, not where Ranma was concerned.

If she could not call Sailor Moon and give her the transformation stick, which left only two options: Sailors Mars and Mercury, the only two she knew as people as well as Sailors. Of those two, Ami was out of the question since Akane was going to visit her this evening and that left Rei, which was quite acceptable. She was the person who initially convinced her to become a Sailor, and who seemed to be the nominal second in command. Perhaps even the person who really was in charge given the way that Moon acted most of the time.

Ranko arrived at the Shinto shrine where Rei lived and trained. Before entering, Ranko checked to make sure that no warm water had hit her, which she did not notice. The chances were slim, but Ranko could guarantee that the curse attracted water at the worst possible times. She was entering the grounds of the shrine when she saw a couple of brief flashes through some partially closed windows. Oh, well, looks like Rei saw me coming, and she had some company. Ranko was just about to knock on the door when it opened and Rei gestured her inside.

Haruka had been doing some push-ups in the garden of the shrine while Michiru and Rei talked. The three girls had come here after school to discuss the battle. Rei went to a different school then all of the other Sailors, so unless someone visited, she began to feel a bit left out. Knowing that they needed to discuss how to deal with a menace greater than any expected, the two upper class girls from Juuban High had dropped over. Part way through her exercise, Haruka had seen Ranko coming up the street. Since Sailor Moon's order for secrecy still covered Ranko, Haruka and Michiru transformed to ensure their identities remained hidden.

When Rei invited Ranko in and gave the injured girl a hug, Uranus thought of what she had heard from Ami that day. Apparently Ranko was inclined the same way as her and Neptune. Watching the cute little red head - looking so vulnerable with her arm in a sling - Uranus wanted to reach out and hold her. Casting a sidelong glance at Sailor Neptune, she wondered what her thoughts were.

Ranko looked around at the three girls. All were looking at her intently, and somehow she even thought that Uranus had the same sort of predatory look that so many boys had, but since they were both girls, that was obviously wrong. "I won't stay long, but I need to say something. This isn't about the battle yesterday. I've seen worse than that, and fought monsters ten times the size. It's not even whether I want to be a Senshi. It's whether I can."

Ranko held out her transformation stick and communicator to Rei. "I'm sorry Rei. I can't do this anymore. Neptune, Uranus, I'm sorry, and please tell the rest. I can't be a Sailor. As a matter of fact, you'll probably never see me again. Sorry."

The two Sailors standing there were stunned beyond words. Hesitantly, Rei reached out. Before she took the items she looked Ranko in the eye. "Why?"

Ranko heaved a big sigh and looked Rei in the eye, holding her gaze.

"It's not the fight. I finally realized something today. It's not me that I'm worried about: it's my fiancée. Every time I get involved with something like this, the danger seems to follow me around. If those youma attack my fiancée, she might be hurt or even... even dead. I can't risk that. I think that I can protect us while we're together, but if I'm fighting demons elsewhere, who will protect her?"

Almost imperceptibly, Rei nodded her head. She did not like it, she did not agree, and she would not make that choice. She also thought Ranko was wrong, but you can't force someone to be a Senshi. A Senshi was something you must be committed to. It must be everything in your life. If Ranko could not do that, Rei could accept it, even if she wished it otherwise.

"Is that legal?" Sailor Neptune blurted out, her eyes glimmering with hope.

Everyone looked at her, confusion evident. "I mean, is it legal for two girls to be married to each other? You just said your fiancée was a girl. I just wanted to know whether it was legal..."

Ranko blushed deeply. "I'm a g... It's a long story. Lets just say that that our parents arranged it before I was born, and well, one thing led to another. I love her and that's all that matters."

Ranko was amazed. She had just said it again. It just sprang out. Ranko realized that her mouth worked about twenty times faster than her brain. Did that mean what it seemed to mean? That Ranko really did love Akane? Ranko shivered at the thought, she thought she did, but, well....

Eventually Rei took the offered items. "What if we need to contact you?"

"Don't... All right. If it becomes that desperate... Speak to Ranma. He's almost a brother to me. You could even say he's my better half. Tell him anything and he'll get it to me in no time flat."

With that, the girl turned and left. Behind her, the Sailors looked on, feeling somehow that one of them had just died.

Jadeite smiled. He was feeling so good, he proceeded to smile wider, and then wider still. Shortly he was laughing, and screaming with glee. Sailor Sun was dead. Four days had passed since the battle. Four days in which his youma had returned from their energy raids. Four days of increased, constant pressure. Four days of no Sailor Sun.

All the other Senshi were there. Time and again they arrived to kill his servants. Time and again there was no Sailor Sun. After rattling his brains, he remembered his history. Sailor Sun was that Senshi wannabe who sacrificed herself in a devastating attack when the Moon Kingdom was first destroyed. Now she had done it again. She had saved the other Senshi back then and somehow she was reincarnated like the rest of them. But now she was dead, again. This was the first time in thousands of years that the Senshi had suffered a loss. He almost wished Beryl were still alive so that he could grind her face into the victory he had attained.

Four days of easy movement between the universes. Now he had energy stores to begin to really build his Empire. For an Empire needed energy. An Empire needed a constant supply of energy, for spells and new youma. One day he would rule the Earth, and all its power would be his. For now, however, the easiest way to ensure continuous energy was to get some 'volunteers' to supply it.

Jadeite was just setting up for another round of really good laughter (the best thing about being the only person in the universe was that you could be as loud as you liked and no-one complained) when he was interrupted. "Excuse me, can you tell me the way to the Tanaka Dojo in Hokkaido?"

Jadeite spun around and glared at the young man with the unruly black hair. He was dusty and dirty, and judging by the size of his backpack, he had been traveling for a while. None of that was a reason to interrupt the future ruler of the world! "Get out of here! Go, foolish mortal! How dare you interrupt the mighty Jadeite in his moment of triumphant introspection!"

Ryoga backed away from the raving nut case. If he did not know where it was, he could just say so. Moments later Ryoga was out the door and getting lost down the hall.

Jadeite turned back to his screens, then looked behind him again. Wait a moment... He was the only one with the dimensional travel necessary to get here... Who was that man? How did he get here? Jadeite ran from his control room and looked for the boy, but he was nowhere in sight. Re-entering the room, Jadeite checked his screens. He had not imagined it; the boy had been there. Following his progress with the cameras, he watched his guest travel through the maze of his base.

After a time the boy moved down a corridor where the cameras no longer could watch. Fifteen minutes of waiting had not caused the boy to reappear. When Jadeite sent a trio of youma down the corridor, they walked from one end to the other. There were no exits and no places to hide, but somehow the boy had vanished.

People can't just lose themselves like that... can they?

Sailor Moon looked at the slowly dissolving youma corpse and cried. "Why did she have to go? I'm sooooo tired! Wah!"

Sailor Mars gave her a poke. "Grow up, Moon. She felt she had commitments elsewhere. The Senshi are supposed to be fighting so that people can make their own choices. She made hers. We just have to deal with it."

Moon felt Tuxedo Kamen's strong arm around her shoulders. "She's right, Sailor Moon. We've coped before, and we'll cope in the future. I know you have the strength to carry on."

"But I'm so tired. We train in the evenings and then fight youma all night; I can hardly stay awake at school! I wanna rest!"

Out of sight of the public, the Senshi shed their sailor suits and became another group of teenagers. Minako eventually spoke up. "You know she's right. If we had Sailor Sun, we might be able to spit up into teams again. With two or three youma attacks each night, I don't know how long I can keep this up."

Rei smacked her fist into her palm. "We'll keep it up as long as we need to, or we'll die trying. And no, we won't call for Ranko. If she wanted to be out, she's out. We can't ask her just because we get a bit tired. We're supposed to be the ones who do the protecting. If that means that we need to work harder, then I say we do that. Besides, she's only one person, and there are nine of us. I say we're a team and we can defeat anything that they send against us!"

The rest of the girls looked at her with admiration, and just a little bit of chagrin. She knew how they felt. Every day Rei wanted to contact Ranma and have him beg Ranko to rejoin them. She was only with them a while, but now that she was gone, they felt her absence. Every day she resisted, only in a dire emergency. Only then.

Ranma and Akane were witnesses to the first series of abductions that occurred. They were walking through one of the shopping centers near the Miyagi dojo when a youma appeared out of nowhere. Ranma immediately leapt in front of Akane, but fortunately it was far enough away that they were not the creature's prime targets.

Ranma watched with a discerning eye, while Akane took up a battle stance beside him. The youma was definitely draining people, that were normal, but something was amiss. It only really dawned on him when a small - man sized - youma ran towards them. It almost looked human, aside from the fact that it was covered in a dirty brown sludge. When it reached them, it immediately tried to grab his arm.

Ranma ducked under the reach, and kicked it in the face. When it recoiled, Akane came in from the side and delivered a strong two-punch combination, which would have broken five bricks. The youma backed up, and then charged again. One more they hit it in combination, this time Akane first, and Ranma cleaning up. Almost instantly the youma stood up, none the worse for wear. Whatever the sludge was that it wore, it not only smelled bad, it was a good armor.

At his instance, Akane stood back and prepared her ki attack. Ranma kept the youma off of her with a series of repeated kicks. When he saw she was ready, he moved away, and Akane let fly. The blue bolt of her Thunder Hammer knocked it back, a small burn appeared through the sludge.

Shouting encouragement to her, Ranma unleashed his own - more powerful - attack against another of the small youma, which was attacking some kids in a shoe shop. So the uneven fight continued for several minutes. Akane received practice firing her ki, and Ranma tried to protect those he could. He knew he could have done better. He even realized that he could have defeated the main youma if he was Sailor Sun. But if he did that, who would be there for Akane when she tired?

She did tire, and quickly too. Ki attacks were draining, and only superb, experienced Martial Artists like Cologne, Happosai, Ryoga or himself could keep them up for long. Ranma found he did not need to step in to defend her, much to his surprise. Akane was finally nearing exhaustion when all the youma retreated. The demons fell back to their master, and ran through a black portal. The last youma paused and studied the pair for a moment, especially Akane, before jumping into the energy field and vanished from sight.

It was Ranma's single-minded focus on Akane's well being which prevented him from noticing the most important part of the youma raid. There were now fewer people around than there had been, and not all of them had run away.

Ranma congratulated Akane on her prowess. Despite glowing with pleasure from his complements, she couldn't help but feel betrayed in some way. From the way he stood by her in the fight, he obviously thought she still could not protect herself. He should have been helping the others, not her; she was a Martial Artist too. Dwelling on this for a few moments, she ignored what he was saying and brought out her mallet.

"Ranma, you idiot! Why didn't you help those others? I can look after myself."

While he pulled himself out of the wall she had knocked him into, Ranma tried to plead that he only cared about her, not them. Akane was too far away to hear him, and in no mood to listen. Ranma groaned and rubbed his sore head. I thought girls were supposed to like it when a guy stuck up for them. Doesn't she even appreciate it a little? What have I done this time?

The Sailor Senshi arrived at the scene almost three minutes too late.

Ami sat in her darkened room and looked at the computer screen. The energy readings she had been getting recently made no sense, according to what she was seeing, the youma now transported into Tokyo with hardly any effort. It was so little effort; they even held the portal open for several minutes.

All of the Sailors agreed that the tactics had been different recently, but none had been able to pin down exactly what the difference was. The youma came in ones, twos or threes generally, so that was about the same, only a slight increase. Most of the time, the Senshi were able to kill the youma with difficulty but without great risk, so that was also the same. The number of attacks was up, that was certain, but if whoever was sending them had managed to reduce the cost, that also made sense.

The only thing that did not make sense was the smaller companion demons. The Senshi had largely been ignoring these since they had bigger fish to fry. The little demons were no real threat to the Senshi: several could attack at once and a single girl would defeat them all. Since a big demon draining energy was what they were there to stop, and the little ones avoided them whenever possible, the Senshi concentrated their efforts on the one target.

Something struck Ami as wrong. Summoning up a recording of the last battle she watched it again. That was it: the little fellows were not draining energy from anyone. That was also why the Senshi ignored them. If Ami's computer did not flag them as doing the normal sort of demonic attack, and the Senshi went after the threatening target. Why were the little ones there?

She did not have to watch for long to find out. Using purely mundane means, the little demons would grab someone, and then throw them through the open portal. There it was, right under their noses the whole time, and they had been blind to it. The youma were not just draining people for their stored energy value. They had stepped up to kidnapping them for their energy production values.

She was about to call the Senshi and tell them when she heard a knock on the door. Damn, it was Ranma for his tutoring. She could tell them later.

Ranma looked around his temporary home and shuddered. It looked like a war zone. The only person which would have caused this much damage to Mr. Miyagi's house was Akane, and she had no cause to do it since he was out getting them food for the evening. After all, if he were not there to anger her and be beaten up, who else would suffer this much damage? Momentarily he thought of Kodachi, but there were no black rose petals anywhere to be found.

Ranma dropped the groceries on the floor and looked more closely at the damage. Not who, what. Yesterday he had seen Sailor Moon making a statement on the news. Youma attacks were on the increase, travel in groups, stay away from strange monsters or people, and report any kidnappings to the police. The Sailor Senshi had discovered that the youma were now kidnapping people and they were doing everything in their power to try and get those people back and protect everyone else. Ranma's heart filled with fear.


The scream echoed around the house, but there was no reply. He ran upstairs, he checked the kitchen, and he checked the dojo. No matter where he looked, she was not there. Ranma walked back to the main living area. Right there next to the TV: a small spot of sludge. A few burn marks on the wall, possibly from a ki blast, which only just hit. No Akane.


No blood. Some damage to the walls.


Another burn mark, possibly from the portal‚"


Ranma collapsed to the ground. Tears flowed down his face. A real man would not cry, but then a real man would have been able to protect her.


He would get her back, no matter what the cost.

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