Sailor Moon: Author Possession Challenge!


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An apartment building in Juuban had been sitting entirely empty for a week. A casual observer would wonder if the prices, location or some other problem had driven the tenants away. Some might assume there was a issue with the apartment manager or perhaps a disturbing haunting.

Whatever the case, it had just abruptly gained five tenants.

She had to admit that it was quite lucky that the entire building was vacant, and had no owner, something that would be ignored by most of the possible nuisances, thanks to some minor spellwork. In addition, a strong illusion made it look like it was amidst severe renovations and would be "under renovations" for quite some time.

Perhaps it was a bit unusual, but it was a good enough cover for her and her brand new squad.

To be honest, her squad wasn't entirely what she'd wanted. A few of the ones she'd hoped to nab for her squad had turned her down, and she had to go through a lot of troublesome contacts to get someone who was almost as good or could compensate for what she'd wanted.

"When are you going to shed that ridiculous human guise, Ninjana?" was the inquiry from perhaps the most aggravating member of her new team, Visceral.

Ninjana glared at Visceral, but decided that it wouldn't hurt. She shifted from her large-breasted red-haired form to her normal grey-haired body, keeping the ample bosom and the long hair, though it was only one ponytail in her true form, rather than two. To be honest, she preferred the red hair. Grey was simply too gloomy.

"You should get used to a more human appearance, Visceral. Our current mission, while dangerous enough to warrant a warrior type like yourself, is largely covert. You'll be in disguise for far longer than you will be out of it, if all goes well." Ninjana answered.

Their objective was a truly dangerous one, even if it sounded easy: determine the identities of the Sailor Senshi, and the location of the renegade general, Zoicite. Even if Zoicite had gone missing and his palace was scavenged, Beryl wanted her general back, mostly so she could find out HOW he broke free, so she could make sure none of the others could do the same.

Ninjana was surprised that such a mission was given to her, let alone being given free reign to pick her squad, but her slew of successful missions was no doubt aiding her in this.

Then again, considering most of the youma had an IQ barely worth registering, it wasn't that hard for her to be successful.

In fact, her entire team was picked on two of three conditions:

1) She had to be able to tolerate them.
2) They had to be moderately intelligent (by her standards).
3) They had to have a useful skill and/or ability.

Visceral was the least covert of the team, but definitely the heaviest hitter, she enjoyed making her body as fierce as possible. And that was another thing: Visceral could shift with but a thought. Not just put on or remove an illusion, but actually and fully change her body to match whatever her twisted mind desired.

Such an ability was surprisingly rare without concentration and using some magic. Most youma tended to use an illusion or used it for relatively small and cosmetic things, almost never changing the fundamental basics of their bodies.

Visceral, on the other hand, was capable of enlarging her body to twenty times it's current size and taking on a wide variety of inhuman traits. Her chosen 'default' was a six foot tall pale-faced woman with long blond hair that reached down to her knees. Her chosen outfit was a red skintight outfit with black on the arms and legs, and a red domino mask over her eyes. For some reason, she did not like her eyes being seen.

Visceral would be the most difficult for Ninjana, because she needed the blonde to be more cooperative, since the two of them were to be the lead combatants. Wearing away Visceral's overall abrasiveness would be trying, to say the least.

The other three watched with varying degrees of interest.

Hanyuu, who was bored over the exchange but excited about her first mission in the real world, was only slightly less human-looking than Ninjana. The black horns that grew downwards from the sides of her head and her light lavender hair aside, she could easily pass for human. She was also their best infiltrator, being small and largely unassuming. Of course, she was fairly young, looking twelve years old when she was actually over a hundred.

As a result of her irritating lack of growth and the fact that many of those around her tended to treat her like a child, she had become quite... deviant in behavior.

The neighborhood teenage and adult women would awaken to find their most recently worn pair of panties missing. Actually, they might walk by the lavender-haired youma and find themselves sans undergarments.

They should consider themselves lucky. If Hanyuu had a digital camera, their nether regions would likely be plastered over various websites as well. As it was, the polaroids would remain in Hanyuu's possession.

If she hadn't proven herself surprisingly sneaky with a polaroid with the flash on and such a great photographer, Ninjana would have definitely looked elsewhere. As it was, she felt a tad awkward that Hanyuu would be their chief infiltrator, investigating most of the junior high schools for possible matches.

Their researcher and medic, whose bosom was a pillow for their leader's head at night, Iren, gazed out at the scene impassively. Her visible emerald eye flickered back and forth between Ninjana and Visceral's silent battle of wills. She'd grown her violet hair over her right eye. Her "true" form had the lower body of a scorpion and claws instead of hands, but she preferred her human form over that one.

Minami was their final member, gazing with concern at the scene. Probably the kindest hearted youma Ninjana knew of, Minami was also a powerful mage. The fact that she had unnaturally good eye sight thanks to her transformation into a youma, and that she had large eagle wings, made her quite useful. Giving her a sniper rifle that she could fire her spells through made her the perfect support.

Brushing a few stray green hairs out of her blue eyes, the short-haired girl spoke up to distract their commander and resident hothead, "What's our first task going to be? An overt display or are we going to do covert infiltration first?"

Ninjana paused in her contest of wills with Visceral to consider that. In truth, they were being given quite a bit of freedom with this task. Beryl didn't really give them a deadline, she just wanted regular reports.

"We should definitely do an overt display first. We'll want to test their reaction times and get an idea of how they gather information and how quickly they move." Ninjana answered.

"So what're we going to do?" Hanyuu reiterated, hoping to stave off any pointless bickering. And stealthily fondle Visceral's butt again. The warrior was either surprisingly dense when it came to subtle fondling or she didn't care.

When Ninjana's eyes opened, an evil smirk formed on her face, "Hey Visceral, I've got an idea that'll be fun...."

Visceral arched an eyebrow.

A quick explanation had Hanyuu bouncing up and down, "DOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOITDOIT!"; Minami was blushing and almost terrified of the consequences; and Iren and Visceral were laughing at the idea. But all of them agreed, it was VERY likely to get the Senshi's attention. And best of all, they knew where Beryl's operatives were, and Beryl would be busy with reports for the next few hours...

Umino Gurio popped his neck as he started home from his cram school, Crystal Seminar. It was pretty rough getting ahead in Japan nowadays and he had gone the extra mile tonight to make sure he aced his upcoming high school tests. He didn't want to wind up in a crappy school like Cromartie. He shuddered at the thought.

Just he'd finished shuddering, he stopped dead in his tracks and STARED as a naked pale woman with long wavy red hair raced by riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex while drinking from a large bottle of rum, yelling, "DARK KINGDOM RULES, SAILOR PLUTO DROOLS!" inbetween singing, HORRIBLY, some made-up song that seemed to have the chorus, "What do you do with a drunken Senshi?"

At least one of the verses that Umino caught before the T-rex raced from view was "poke her in the bum with the Crescent Moon Wand".

Umino managed to get out, "That woman was a TERRIBLE singer" before his nose exploded with blood and he passed out with with image of the red-haired woman's pale breasts jiggling firmly in his mind.

High above him, Minami mournfully whimpered, "Beryl's gonna kill us if she finds out..."


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The next morning I woke early, before the crack of dawn and went across the corridor to Haruka's apartment. We were going to do this early in the morning, when there weren't likely to be many civilians around. For a wonder, they were both up and around without me having to wake them up.

"Okay," Katz announced, clapping his hands together. "Equipment check?"

"Tool kit," I confirmed, tapping the small box. "Food." If you could count the MREs that Katz had obtained from somewhere or other. "First aid kit." Which had better be enough, because none of us was packing any cleric levels, so to speak.

The others confirmed that they had the same and we each rolled them up in two large but empty duffel bags and crammed them into rucksacks. On the way back, we'd hopefully be carrying full bags of loot. "Rope." I rolled my eyes and dropped a coil of rope into the top of my rucksack before closing it. "Sled." These were children's sleds, less than a metre long, but if we wound up having to move something over the ice... or god forbid, drag a casualty home, then they might come in handy.

"Radios," Haruka said, handing out short range radios. A little larger and more reliable than handholds, they'd hopefully let us regroup if we got seperated. Katz was fairly sure that no one inside the Dark Kingdom was likely to detect them. I tucked mine into an outside pocket of the rucksack. The whole thing was a bit of a burden, but it should be quite manageable once I'd transformed into Sailor Jupiter. I hung a set of binoculars - a fairly decent set with good magnification - around my neck, where they'd be handy.

"And cold weather gear for you," Katz added, passing Haruka the bundle of heavily insulated boots, pants and parka he'd insisted on her taking. She already had goggles, scarf and ski gloves, which should hopefully be enough to keep her from freezing to death out on the ice. Sure, ideally we'd go straight from D-Point into the relatively hospitable climate of the Dark Kingdom (for a given value of 'hospitable' and 'relatively' of course), but none of us wanted to rely on that.

"I hate this stuff," Haruka muttered, shrugging it on over her flack vest. "It's impossible to move, particularly with this bloody great thing wrapped round me," she added, rapping her fingers against one of the solid panels of the vest. "I notice that neither of you has to do so."

"Dark Kingdom Health Plan."

"And my Senshi outfit protects me against the weather," I added. "And before you ask, even if by some massive coincidence, you happen to be a senshi, Luna only had the transformation items for four senshi. I checked, in case I ran across any stray Senshi."

Katz was turning a funny colour as he tried to choke back laughter. It would be... difficult... to explain to Haruka why he and I found the idea of her in a fuku so amusing, so I changed the subject. "Are we missing anything?"

"Can't think of anything," Katz confirmed, watching Haruka's ass as she wriggled into the insulated pants.

"We knew that," we chorused back.

"Crap... two of you..." he muttered.


One... last thing.

For the sake of accuracy. For the sake of expediency and pragmatism.

I unlock the garage, slip inside, and close the door behind me.

Hit the light.

Just enough youki to live on, not enough to do anything with. She starts awake, a sluggish and slow caricature of what she once was.

"General Zoisite... I was afraid you were going to leave me here to rot... sir," she hisses.

"No, you will not have that luxury," I say, and haul her upright. "There is one final service I require from you."

My head is just far enough away that the jaws of the almost-insectoid thing that makes a desperate attempt to chew my face off snap closed an inch or so short.

"And how do you think to motivate me, traitor!? Starve me?! Threaten to take from me that which was most important?! Oh, no, wait... you've done all that already!"

"No need to be quite so crass this time. You see..." I focus, feel her emotions, and use the memories they connect with. "... it's done already."

The panic in her eyes as she watches me take on, one after another, the appearances of her sisters and finally herself tells me more accurately than any admission that I've got the details right.

The illusion goes away.

And then there was one.

"I'd say 'nothing personal', except... it really kind of is."

And then there were none.

I absorb the youki.

All of it.

Shake the dust-particles from my arm and hand.

Collect the loose motorcycle chain and set it aside for cleaning.

And that, as they say, is that.


Haruka's borrowed van went down the deserted street at only six in the morning. Around us Tokyo was beginning to wake up, salarymen beginning their thankless journeys to work. On a street more dedicated to entertainment venues, which had been quite lively until the small hours of the morning, there was no evidence of this however. It was still and dark despite the gaudy decorations of the storefronts.

"Which one is it?" Haruka asked from the driver's seat.

Katz pointed to one of the stores. "Go round the block," he said. "There's a backstreet where you can leave the van."

Haruka looked over at the glass display as we went past it. "Let me get this straight," she said with a pained expression on her face. "The gateway to the Dark Kingdom is hidden in a kareoke bar?"

"Uh huh."

"I always knew that those places were evil."

"You'll get no argument from me," he agreed.

"Are we going to trash this place too?"

"Preferably after we're done."

"We'll burn that bar when we get to it," I offered consolingly. I'd quite liked kareoke until I wound up in Makoto's body. She had perfect pitch, which made the offtone screeching common in such venues borderline painful for me.

Parking the van only took a moment and I helped Haruka don her rucksack while Katz focused upon his new toy. Our outlines blurred for a moment and then instead of Haruka's arctic explorer look I was facing one of the scantily clad DD girls. Judging by the expression on her face, she was seeing something similar. For his part, Katz still looked like himself, but wearing the grey uniform of a Dark Kingdom General, suitably scuffed and torn. His face looked bruised and bloodied, the latter from what looked like a nasty cut along his brow.

"Okay ladies," he said with a grin that looked out of place given his apparently battered condition. "Which of you is going to be carrying me?"

Haruka and I exchanged looks and then held out our fists. "Jan - ken - pow." Haruka's scissors beat my paper so she got the pleasure of grabbing him by the collar and dragging him along the floor towards the back door of the kareoke bar. I went ahead and hammered on it, not hard enough to knock it down bur hard enough that no one inside would have any excuse to pretend that they couldn't hear me.

The door slammed open, revealing a fat man who wasn't really a man. "What the hell do you mean wak-" he blurted before recognising the face I was wearing. "You're alive?"

"We are not as weak as you," I told the youma and pointed back towards Haruka and Katz. "Now we have our prey we are returning him to her Majesty."

"Y-you..." he stammered. "You captured the traitor general alive!? Impossible!"

"Are you," I grated. "Insulting the strength of the DD Girls?"


"You must surely know the great reward that the Queen will offer for the delivery of a traitor!" I spat. "Do you court our wrath by trying to deny us such a reward?"

The youma shrank back and pushed the door wide. "No, no. Not at all. Please, follow me to the portal and remember my dutiful service when you are elevated by her majesty."

Contrary to popular opinion, one does simply walk into the Dark Kingdom. It's a fascinating feat of magical topography, the 'portal' that leads between Tokyo and the arctic icesheet that surrounds the Dark Kingdom, apparently no more than a crudely dug tunnel like a bad movie portrayal of a mine shaft. Inside of ten minutes, we crossed a distance of at least a thousand miles.

"If we keep this up, I'm gonna flunk geography," I muttered.

"Shut up," muttered Katz from where he hung over Haruka's shoulder just a couple of feet ahead of me. "Even the walls could have ears in here."

"You shut up," Haruka grumbled under her breath. "And have you ever considered a diet?"

Ahead of us, I was at last able to see a light, presumably the end of the tunnel judging by the falling temperatures. I narrowed my eyes to ward them against the increasing light as we stepped out onto the frozen plateau. Bizarrely there didn't seem to be any guards... then again, at a guess Beryl was a little busy having kinky dreams about Tux-Boy to fret about whether or not anyone was leaving her precious kingdom.

Haruka looked around and then appeared to run her free hand through the illusion of the DD Girl's hair - lowering her hood I guessed. "Not as cold as I expected," she murmered.

"What were you expecting? Zero kelvin?" I asked, feeling the cold wind against my bare legs. Even with the Senshi protections, it was noticeably colder than Tokyo.

She shrugged. "Colder than this. Do you think that that's the Dark Kingdom?"

I looked over where she was pointing and saw a crater of sorts with a dark smudge barely visible inside it. It was too close to simply be indistinct, perhaps some kind of miasma covering Beryl's little queendom. "Defensible position," I noted quietly. "But only as long as no one holds the rim of the crater."

"Circle around to the left," suggested Katz under his breath. "That quarter probably isn't guarded so well."

"So well?" I grunted. "That clown in Tokyo's the only one that I've seen so far."

"The only one we've seen," Haruka pointed out and I grimaced.

We crossed the ice in long bounds. It felt strange doing so across such a barren landscape rather than the crowded buildings of Tokyo, almost like astronauts hopping across the surface of the moon. That illusion vanished once we reached the top of the crater wall. It was a long way down inside. In fact, distances looked skewed: if the landscape below was as large as it looked then either the crater should be a lot larger than it looked or the cavity should have been bell-shaped, sort of like a geo-front. Neither appeared to be the case.

"I guess that they must teleport a lot," I observed, looking down the more or less sheer drop. "Don't suppose that there are any stairs around here?"

"Not that I recall," Katz admitted and tapped Haruka to indicate that he wanted her to put him down. At least, I guess that's what he wanted, since she dropped him pretty sharply. Mind you, who can blame him for wanting to tap that ass? "Ouch." He clambered to his feet and then looked down. "I didn't remember what a drop it was actually. Looks like the Savage Lands."

"Yeah, well we haven't got a Blackbird," I pointed out. "And before you say it, I don't think we've got enough rope for this."

"No..." he admitted. "I guess it's levitation time. I'll have to carry you one at a time."

"Do I look like some sort of damsel?" Haruka complained and then yelped as he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder.

"Oof. Who is it who needs a diet?" he asked and then jumped off the cliff, descending at well below the usual acceleration rate of falling.

"Hell with this," I grumbled, watching them descended and then started down the slope on my own, Gurha-style. For those not aware, that meant running headlong down it and hoping that if I moved my legs fast enough they would stay between me and the ground.


I'm not sure what it was I'd been expecting that had me so on edge.

A ring of Beryl's personal sycophants ready to turn us into so much red meat? A cunning trap of some sort? Perhaps even something as primitive as a pitfall...

What I get is the ruin of something that was once a cross between a Lithuanian wooden fort dated for circa the middle ages and a Germanic palace from roughly the same period.

Bare stone and wood walls were slowly but surely falling apart around us, and we stood on top of what had once likely been the roof. Now its remains littered the ground, while what passed for a sky rolled overhead in wave upon wave of dark clouds.

Dilapidated, stripped of anything of worth, and left to rot.

I look at the place and feel a curious mix of morbid fascination, sadness, and dark glee.

"Wow, what a dump."

Haruka puts it into words first. Jupiter simply looks up, eying the miasma of faux sky in consideration.

"I guess it's right what they say. You can never go home again."

There is no undercurrent. Nothing under the surface of what we see here and now.

My absence, and perhaps defiance, has plunged this place into slow decay.

Like I had told Haruka and Jupiter, the Dark Kingdom is as much a place as it is a state of being. A subspace pocket parallel to reality, anchored to the geographical location of the North Pole, technically under the ice and closest to the physical location of Metallia's Seal.

I can't even begin to guess what this place was like before Beryl was reincarnated and once again taken under Metallia's thrall, but once this occurred, it was her mind and self which gave it definition. And with each of her Generals being imbued with Metallia's power and corruption as well, the boundaries expanded. Around the central 'spire' of Beryl's palace, Zoisite, Nephrite, Jadeite and Kunzite defined their fiefdoms by who they were.

It's a bit Ravenloft that way.

This, then, was once mine.

Or, Zoisite's.

A connection, however slight, still remained. There was no ambush, nobody waiting for us with weapon and spell at the ready. Not even wards. Then again, it could be that the slow decay had affected even those.

So much the better.

Off to the side, Haruka is getting rid of her cold weather gear, but I'm a bit too preoccupied to give that the attention it's due.

Call it paranoia, call it an awareness' of Murphy's interest... call it being unnerved by the familiarity of this place.

I make a conscious effort not to reconnect with this place, as tempting as that might be. There's no knowing what sort of alarm bells doing so would ring.

"What is that?" I hear Jupiter ask.

For a moment I wonder what she could mean, before I realize she has an extent of sensitivity where surrounding energies are concerned. In this youki-saturated atmosphere, there are four points of interest that will invariably draw the attention of anyone like that.

Once, there were five.

"Stands out a bit, doesn't it?" I say, coming back to the here and now instead of sinking into further premonitions of doom and gloom. "The... landscape, I guess you'd call it, here is prone to instability. It shifts and changes sometimes. Not all at once, not so that you'd notice immediately, but it does. Those beacons are what passes for compass points."

I consider this for a moment, then elaborate. "Not that is more than a useful side-effect. There's one for each center of power, meaning Beryl's palace, and each of the Generals' fiefdoms."

"Convenient," quoth the Senshi. "Shouldn't there be one here, then?"

"Should, could, would... isn't. If I stayed here long enough, or consciously made a connection, there would be. This sort of thing requires reinforcement over time, so as not to deteriorate."

"Wait, so you're saying if those other Generals just left, their estates would fall apart as well?" Haruka asks. She's done stuffing her cold weather clothes into her rucksack.

"There's a bit more to it than that. This didn't just happen naturally. Getting this bad would require the better part of a decade's absence. What direct connection with this place I had left was, for lack of a better word, sundered. There's affinity remaining, yes, but that's it."

"You just said it was a place of power. Shouldn't that mean..."

I shake my head at Haruka. She has a point, but... "Different kinds of power. The connection isn't as much personal as it is that of a... steward, I suppose. The power to affect this mutable land, to shape parts of it and imbue them with sentience."

"To create youma of your own," Jupiter completes the thought, hitting the nail on the head.

I nod.

"So, which one's which?"

"The two that are in line, that way," I point. "That's Beryl's and Jadeite's respectively. Counterclockwise from here is Kunzite's. Clockwise is where we're going."

Several minutes, and several crystal shards I pull out of the air for Haruka's use, later we're on the move.

Fortunately, it is only then that Murphy decides to take his poke at this enterprise.

I sense it when we make our way out of the ruins, on the edge of my consciousness. An eddy in the ebb and flow of youki around us that doesn't quite fit.

I count myself lucky that I'm paranoid enough to leave an illusion around us. It's a nonspecific one, just feeding our surroundings through it over and over.

This is why, when we almost literally stumble on a youma, it's just as surprised at us being here as the reverse.

The fact that I actually recognize this one, or Zoisite does, only registers after the reactions are over and done with.

There's three of us, one of her, and we were coming here expecting trouble while she seems to have been startled while... doing something similar to what we were, namely skulking around. You don't usually need to conceal your youki here, as the sort of mess that Metallia's aura puts out makes that method of tracking unreliable in all but the most extreme of cases.

"Housenka," I keep my voice level. "Fancy meeting you here."

Should I see any irony in running into one of the three youma Zoisite had pulled out of the Dark Kingdom's ether for the sole purpose of being his personal assassins at this time, in this place? If so, it escapes me.

Brown hair, elf ears, a purple bodysuit that extends into a facemask, and what looks like roots and bits of stray foliage wrapping around that... all that trying not to move as razor-sharp crystalline wafers that look almost like sakura blossoms hover an inch or less from various parts of her body.

Something just rubs me wrong about this, not the least of it being the lack of the other two bookends. Zoisite made them to act as a team, all animal cunning and instinct. Pack would be the word, if they weren't based on flora rather than fauna.

"I doubt this is a show of sentiment for your long-lost boss, so why don't you be a good little minion and tell me what you're doing here," I add pleasantly.

Her eyes keep darting to and fro, looking for some way out of this situation.

"This is one of yours, then?" Haruka asks. I don't have to turn around to know she's got a shard in hand.

"Was. One of my most... loyal, which is something of a pity," I admit.

"Z-zoisite-sama, when news of your actions reached us we were taken by surprise... w-we knew that we would hardly be trusted by the other generals, and at best dealt with quickly, so we hid," the youma stuttered out.

True, being the half-tame killers of someone who'd just turned traitor wouldn't be conductive to their survival.

"Then you are either singularly stupid to risk remaining here, or you risked taking up service with the redheaded she-bitch and somehow avoided execution. Neither conductive to your continued survival in the here and now."

I wait an instant for some vague, twisted sentiment to surface. It doesn't.

She must see something in my manner that indicates what I plan on doing.

"Zoisite-sama, there is another!"

I stay my hand.

"Another what, Housenka? Another what?"

"There have been rumors of youma, even those formerly most loyal, abandoning the Kingdom! My sisters and I saw them as a chance of survival and so..."

"The point. Quickly."

"The Lord Talon has been recruiting only those most talented for his undertakings! It was our only chance at survival, short of being... remade. He would have us bring some proof of our investment in joining his cause, and so we are here!"

She manages to get all that out in rapid-fire, so I take a moment to process...

"Talon?!" Jupiter is right on the ball, though the moniker itself is oddly familiar.

"You recognize the name?" I ask, half-turning my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Housenka's eyes go wide as saucers as she finally focuses past me and notices the Senshi

"We've been on opposite sides of a lightning bolt before," said Senshi admits tersely. "He's the one responsible for the singing and dancing that was going around some time back. Is still going around in the world, if papers are to be believed."

That's true. While not being much of a newspaper reader myself, I do skim headlines and articles from time to time, and it's been hard not to draw parallels between the Music Disease that beset Tokyo a month ago and, say, what happened to Castro.

The enemy of my enemy is merely the enemy of my enemy, but there are times when it's more prudent to let them bleed one-another out.

"That buys you five minutes," I turn back to the youma. "Why are you here? Where are Grape and Suzuran?"

"W-we were gathering what information we could to parlay our entry into Lord Talon's service, Zoisite-sama."


"General Jadeite is recruiting any who would come to him, and loosing them into the human world," she manages. "We believe he is planning something big, but we have not managed to uncover what."

That makes some sense and it doesn't. On one hand, Jadeite has never been... picky... when it comes to underlings. That was more Zoisite's... my... thing, if only because of vanity. Nephrite doesn't need to recruit, preferring to trust his 'creations' brought to life, and Kunzite never did like leaving things in others' hands, and only rarely truly delegates, so intelligence and initiative aren't something he puts much stock in when putting together a retinue. The man would micromanage himself to death if he didn't have to produce results.

Actually, that's such a pleasant mental image that I let it linger for a moment, before snapping back to the present.

"Then what use are you?" I ask.

"I-I know patrol routes! Current troop placement! I can be useful, Zoisite-sama, I can!"

No, I haven't really done anything to her yet. But she remembers Zoisite, who would execute servants failing him on a whim, crafty and vicious and spitefully petty... not to say that I'm not any of those things, especially petty... having something of a reputation is useful. Having a Senshi glowering at Housenka at one side and Haruka idly testing the edge of her sword shard on the other is useful as well.

"Then tell me what you know, and we shall see what we shall see."

She sings like the mother of all stoolies.

In the end, I think she deserves at least the flip of a coin.


From what Katz had said, none of the Generals had been in the Dark Kingdom for more than three years or so at most - in this life anyway. You sure couldn't tell it from looking at Nephrite's home though. Last time I saw a building with so many different styles, it was over nine hundred years old and had had extensions or rebuilds dating from every one of those centuries. The most I could say for it was that it was more or less rectangular and built around three classically square courtyards, but if there were two wings with the same architecture then I couldn't pick them out for the life of me.

"You know, there are those who say that the home is a reflection of the person who lives in it," I said drily as we scoped the site out from what passed for a hillside. Nephrite's quarter of the Dark Kingdom was done up as a country estate thick with dark, gloomy bushes and trees, most of which looked to be poisonous. We'd passed a couple of villages that housed his servant youma and a support staff to keep them happy or fed. It didn't look like any sort of army camp, which was more what I'd expected.

"And?" Haruka asked when I didn't continue the thought.

"Well, if this is any reflection of Nephrite's state of mind, he's playing with cards from half a dozen decks, and still comes up a few short of a poker hand," I told her. "That's the ugliest house I've ever seen."

"We're not here as part of an architectural survey tour," pointed out Katz. "Can you see a way in?"

"I can see at least three," I told him, sweeping the binoculars across the building again. "Nothing suitably discreet so far... ah, no wait a minute."


"Lucky number four is very promising," I told them, eyeing a oval shaped wing jutting off from one of the courtyards.

Haruka shook her head. "Four is not a lucky number, Makoto."

"It is when it's what looks like a combination observatory and orrery," I told her. "Nice big skylights that are designed to be opened. Judging from the lack of lights no one's using it at the moment; and since Nephrite's a big astrology nerd as I recall, it's probably where he does a lot of work and inside the bulk of the security. If you can get us in there, Katz, that'll do nicely as a starting point."


"I see the briefcase is safe?" Nephrite enquired, stalking into the room, a youma draped over his shoulder.

"Safe and sound," agreed the largest of the three, with the other two youma nodding in agreement.

Nephrite nodded. "Tell me, did anyone happen to kill a human on the way here?"

There was a mass shaking of heads.

"No?" the general concluded, throwing the dead body of one of the guards onto the table, "Then we still have a problem." There was a long crystal shard jutting out of the dead youma, fairly clearly the cause of death.

The smallest of the three youma dragged it out and examined it. "Ooh, a big problem. I've killed plenty of humans, they're dime-a-dozen backstabbing scumbags, look a lot like you... ow..." He added dropping the crystal as a sharp edge dug into his hand. "No offense," he added, realising that the last had probably been going too far.

Nephrite picked the crystal up and glared menacingly at him. "If you managed to killed them," he declared silkily, "I assure you they only looked like me. And they were nothing - nothing - like the human loose inside this building." He stalked past them and glared out of the room's window and down at the ornamental courtyard outside.

"What?" the little youma asked, sensing that defiance at this point could hardly upset Nephrite more and might score points for boldness. "Are you head of their fanclub or something?"

"No," growled Neprite, whirling to face him. "That would be her majesty," he snarled, slamming a crystal down upon the table. Appearing above the crystal was an image of Queen Beryl. And a black haired man. They were both in motion and winces crossed the faces of the youma at the image of their monarch indulging in the perversion of human intercourse.

"Indeed. And now one of them is here to do us. So listen up, or pornography starring her majesty will be the second worst thing that happens to you today. This human," Nephrite told them, "has already breached our defenses."


I slipped through the wards as Katz finessed a gap in them and jumped straight up the side of the observatory, trusting him to see Haruka up after me. Right now it was more important to secure our entrance. There was a parapet around the dome of the observatory and I landed on it, examining the windows quickly.

Locked. And judging by the markings on those locks, warded with either alarms or some counter magics. Interesting. It seemed Nephrite wasn't being lax on his security, at any rate. Dumb, but not lax. I called up Thunder Break as quietly as I could - surprisingly quietly actually - and jabbed it twice through the hinges at one side of a double window, which didn't have the same magical defenses.

Carefully, so as not to disturb the locks holding the two panes together, I lifted the side of the window gently and looked down into the observatory. There was an impressive telescope set up, and an impressive brass clockwork orrery with plants and moons carved from obsidian.

"I feel like Lara Croft," I muttered, propping the window open for the other two and then dropping down inside.


"You've seen what it has done to your comrade."


This place was strange. Beyond architecture, beyond inhabitants and vegetation. She knew it was affecting her, but where she would have expected to have to deal with things like fear and anxiety, she instead found herself uncommonly, perhaps even uncannily alert and awake.

Ever since the drop here, and increasingly so as they trekked through the wilds of the Dark Kingdom, she'd been in the zone. Totally focused, even without anything to warrant this sort of state happening, when normally she only got this way during the rush of a fast-paced race.

Well, she wasn't about to complain.


Silent feet.

Ninja feet.

How Jupiter managed to be so quiet in heeled boots, she had no idea. She felt fortunate her own hiking ones were well worn and didn't squeak.

Haruka crept forward, though the architectural mish-mash of the property. Columns and flying balconies and banisters from different eras seemed to almost delight in clashing horribly all around her.

She put them out of her mind.

Twirled one of the shorter shards in her possession to reverse grip.

There was security, yes, but most of it wasn't quite overlapping and they had, so far, managed to make it past without incident. This would be the first. They needed to get past here, and an illusion wouldn't quite cut it, too close to the vault and too heavily warded to risk just covering the area.

The youma was a relatively small one, meaning only the size of the average person, and fairly slim at that. The bone blade on the back of its... or her... left arm was concerning, as was the focus with which it watched the hallway below this balcony.

Hopefully, that focus would work in her favor.

Ten paces.


She held her breath...

And the youma's shoulders tensed.

Haruka leapt, flat and low, even as the youma spun around.

Leading with its blade.

The three-foot growth of bone jutting from the back of its left arm cut an arc through the air, just above Haruka's head.

Her own arm lashed out as she sidestepped, still low, drawing a line of ichor across the youma's ribs, cutting through the loose cloth and leather of its garments. In return, her opponent's blade came back around, opening a gash along her back... a shallow enough angle that it glanced from the ceramic plate of her ballistic vest.

Haruka wasted little time in drawing her own weapon back as she spun, opening another gash, this one across the youma's cheek, and throwing herself under a thrust that would have gone right through the ceramics and kevlar, had it connected.

She jammed the shard into the youma's thigh as she rolled past, the vest absorbing most of the impact of the ground against her back and distributing the rest, then yanked another shard from the loops at her side and came up leading with a thrust.

The youma was still, before it toppled forward, over the railing of the balcony, sword-shard still buried in its back.

Haruka grabbed the radio, squawked the agreed upon frequency once, then allowed herself a sigh of relief...

... pulled another shard.

And continued on.


"And worst of all, it could be any one of us."


I lean against the wall.


Plans inevitably fail when coming into contact with the enemy.


They're really more guidelines than anything else.


Case in point, the fact that an alarm ward is currently bringing Nephrite's forces to alertness.


I step around the corner, leading with a shoulder and with my left arm outstretched. Most youma who have them don't really use their necks for anything other than a place to hang their heads, but that doesn't mean they find getting clotheslined a fun experience.

Immobilize. Grab the image.

The youma is looking at itself looking down at itself, before I put it out of its misery.

I thumb the radio underneath my illusion.

"Looks like the hornets are getting riled up. You two go on, I'll... properly entertain our hosts."

"By that you mean terrorize."

"Quite. Out."

I give myself the once-over, then proceed in the direction the youma was heading.


"It could be in this very room," Nephrite warned, pointing at the smallest youma. "It could be you. It could be me. It could even b-"


The general, caught completely off-guard, crashed back through the window as a bolt of energy from the eyeless youma smashed into his face. A moment later, there was a thump as he hit the paving of the courtyard outside.

"What?" the youma asked as the other two stared at him. "It was obvious! He's the human!" He walked over to the window and looked out at the immobile Nephrite. "Watch, the illusion will wear off any second now."

The larger youma ambled over to watch the possible imposter.

"Any second now."

The smaller youma picked up the bloodstained crystal shard from where Nephrite had dropped it and held it ready.

"See!? No, wait, that's blood."

"So, we still got problem?" asked the large youma.

"Big problem. Alright. Who's ready to go find the spy?"

Zoisite smiled as the illusion on him wore off. "Right behind you," he quipped, and drove the crystal blade through the back of the eyeless youma.

Shortly thereafter, Zoisite picked the crystal up off the table, cutting off it's replay of Queen Beryl's... amatory adventures. "Primo blackmail material," he declared smugly, tucking it inside his jacket. Then he hopped out of the already broken window to land neatly beside the still dazed Nephrite.

"Zoisite?" the concussed General murmered. "Zoisite, what're you doing here?"

"Oh, you know. Looting, pillaging... fun times..." Zoisite said with a smirk and paused as if struck by a thought. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and blotted up some of the blood pooling on the ground under Nephrite.

"What...?" Nephrite responded and then his eyes focused more clearly and he lifted his head off the floor. "Zoisite!? What the... Why? Why did you betray our cause? What is this?"

Zoisite pointed at his fallen former comrade's face. "This is me, taking control of my life. What the fuck have you done lately?"

Then he folded the finger back into his fist and applied it to Nephrite's face. Twice.

"Feels good too," he added for the benefit of the once-again-unconcious Shitennou, before making his exit.


Nephrite liked the finer things in life. This was evident as Haruka and I swept through his palace. Everything looked expensive. Occasionally tacky - although that was less common than I had expected - but nonetheless expensive. I wondered absently if he'd just created it from the Dark Kingdom's ether the way that Katz had described the creation of youma, or bought it with wealth obtained in some fashion.

Such minor considerations didn't slow us of course as we snatched up anything of clear value - gold mostly, since the gemstones would simply arouse suspicion that we were jewel thieves of some kind. Sometimes they came as part of the package however. Not a major problem, no doubt there would be ample uses that could be made of them.

It was shortly after we finished filling the first bag - and I was beginning to worry about how long it was taking - that we reached paydirt.

One entire wing of the palace apparently held Nephrite's corps of craftsyouma. I hadn't been sure what was behind the heavy door, but I was sure that anything worth protecting was worth stealing, so I blew it off it's hinges and we stormed through, cutting down the two nearest youma before we'd even worked out what was going on in the high ceilinged hall.

Haruka whistled. "All it needs is a fat guy with a white beard."

I had to chuckle. It did look a little like a stereotypical santa's workshop, right down the the stunted youma that were doing their best to run away or hide from us. I'm not sure if swedish modern is the approved style for old Saint Nicholas, but it was Scandinavian at least. I picked up what had been under construction on the nearest workbench and then held it up for her. "Not exactly a toy." Actually, it looked like a fairly lethal crossbow.

"Funny looking bow," Haruka asked and I reminded myself that the crossbow wasn't part of the Japanese martial tradition.

"Not as much as you might think. Still, we're getting away from the point." I smashed the weapon down on the bench, breaking both. "You." One of the less well hidden youma yelped in terror. "Yeah, you look like the sort who'd betray your master to save your own skin."

He shook his head vigorously and ran for the door. Smart little fellow. "Supreme Thunder." Not smart enough. "You," I said, pointing at the next youma.

"What do you want!" he shrieked. He looked a little like Yoda, but his voice was high and shrill.

"Jade," I told him and parted my lips in what could be thought to be a smile.

The little creature tried to smile back, but it had far too many teeth for that to look any friendlier than my expression was at the moment. It scrabbled around under one of the workbenches and pulled out a bag full of jade chips and shavings.

"I'm... underwhelmed," Haruka drawled, accepting the offering.

I nodded. "Yeah. Bag it anyway." Then I glared at the little youma. "How about a larger quantity... and the good stuff. Nephrite, not jadeite," I guessed and chuckled at the jest that probably circulated amongst these very youma. Jadeite is rather lower quality of jade than nephrite, after all.

Rather than laughing with me, the little beast shivered. Everyone's a critic.

"Where is it?" I demanded coldly. "There's a stockpile of jade around here - it would be idiotic to have it further than necessary from the workshop. Don't imagine for an instant that you'll outlive any disappointment on my part."

He nervously pointed at a door on the wall. Given I was pretty sure that that wall was against a courtyard, I was about to cut him off when my senshi senses tingled. A magical door. Interesting. "Right, let's have a look then. This had better be good."

"Wait," said Haruka suddenly, looking around the workshop.

"What?" I asked. There was an unsettling look in her eyes.

"I have a very, very, very cunning plan."

Oh dear. "Is it as cunning as a fox what used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has moved on and is now working for the U.N. at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning?"

Haruka gave me a puzzled look. "...yes, it is."

"Hmm... that is cunning," I said and watched her corral the craftsyouma with nothing more than rampant enthusiasm for a project. I know this because she made me hold her sword.

Honesty compells me to admit that yes, it was a cunning plan. I wish someone had told me that she was a Spark though. Or where she'd got that whip. On second thoughts, forget the second part. I really don't want to know.

My radio crackled for a moment and I lifted it to my ear to hear Katz speaking. "Looks like the hornets are getting riled up. You two go on, I'll... properly entertain our hosts."

"By that you mean terrorize," I concluded.

"Quite. Out."

"Haruka," I called. "Crack the whip - we're on a tight schedule." There was a snapping sound and yelps from the youma as I turned to the door. Hmm, securely locked, which was yet more evidence that this might actually be a vault rather than the porch. I deployed my Mk II lockpicks, aka Thunder Break, and the door toppled slowly backwards into the space behind. Well, when the only tool you have is a hammer...

I whistled as I looked over the contents of what appeared to be a rather wellstocked vault. Coffers of various crystals and gems. Exotic looking powders in clay jars. Thin, lightly scored slabs of jade in at least five colours stacked high. "Wow."

"The hits just keep on coming," Haruka agreed. "I love my new job."

We simultaneously unzipped fresh bags and went shopping, charging it all to the five-fingered discount card. It took us about three minutes to fill every bag we had to bursting and then we ran for Haruka's brilliant escape plan.

Haruka cleared her throat as we mounted up. "Sailor Jupiter!"

"Eh?" I asked, looking over at her.

"There appears to be a wall in our way."

Ah. "My bad. Supreme Thunder!" And then there was no more wall and we thundered out of the workshop and into the courtyard, driving two substantial but quickly crafted chariots pulled by dozens of terrified youma and feeling rather like some of the more... imaginative... of the Roman Emperors.

We hung a left in the middle of the courtyard, my chariot skidding noticeably more than Haruka's on the paving slabs - even with these, she was better at driving than I was - and then made best speed for the archway leading to the next yard. Katz ran into the archway from the opposite direction just as Haruka was lining up and the expression on his face was priceless - I wish I'd had a camera with me.

He levitated - from the looks of things, the inital hop upwards due to reflexive terror at the sight of a dozen small youma being herded towards him by a whip-wielding Haruka before he remembered he could fly - over Haruka and landed next to me on my chariot, which rocked alarmingly under the extra weight. Clearly Haruka had been thinking of speed, not safety when she designed them - then again, why would I ever have thought otherwise?

"Nice exit," he said, a little breathlessly as we arc around the next yard, aiming for the exit onto the grounds. "Very Ben Hur..."

"Thank Haruka, it's her idea," I told him and then spotted two youma trying to close a cast iron gate across the last archway. "Hold the reins."

"What?" he asked, uncertainly, dropping the briefcase he was carrying in order to accept the crude rope reins connected to the youma team pulling us along.

"Supreme Thunder!" I roared, hurling a bolt of lightning over the heads of the youma and past Haruka's shoulder. The gate disintegrated, along with the pair of youma. A few seconds after I followed Haruka's chariot through the archway and out onto the grounds, the archway collapsed, blocking any immediate pursuit.

"You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" Haruka shouted back to me.

"Shut up!" I yelled and took back the reins. "Are there any roads around here?"

Katz shook his head. "No traffic," he explained.

"Then I guess we're going this cross-country," I concluded. "Hey, Haruka! This way! Yoicks!" The chariot rocked violently as we crossed what could charitably be called a flowerbed and settled onto Nephrite's lawn. "Think sticking Nephrite with a gardening bill is adding enough insult to the injury?"

"Not even burning this cesspit to the ground would be enough," he said and crouched to retrieve the briefcase. "Enough room in the bags for this?"

"I dunno," I admitted. "Feel free to try, but we crammed them pretty tight."

Ignoring the rattle of the chariot as we left the lawn and hit heavier ground further from the manor house, he rummaged around and managed to arrange the bags to his satisfaction. "One more thing," he asked.

"Hit me." I told him, not taking my eyes off the little bastards that were hauling us across the landscape.

"How are we going to get these things up the cliff?"

I said nothing.

"This is one of Haruka's plans, isn't it," he sighed and then brightened. "Hang on, ladies; I've got a great idea."


"You want me to do what?!"

It looks like Haruka really really wants to see if these things are cross-country capable...

"Turn it around!" I shout at her, and wince a bit as the lack of proper suspension makes itself known once more.

With Nephrite out of commission for the moment, and the sheer amount of chaos left in our wake, there's little chance of anyone there thinking... well, anything. What youma we passed were milling around in confusion, somewhat increased by yours truly. Let's just say Nephrite wasn't the only victim of friendly fire.


Hopefully, this means they're too paranoid about whether or not they're about to be backstabbed by a supposed ally to think of patching up the resulting holes in the estate's defenses.

Also, I'm not exactly keen on trying to see if I can haul all this out of the Dark Kingdom. Certainly not in one go, and definitely not very quickly, if at all.

It's fortunate we have other options. Well, one other option.

"If this works, we'll be in the clear without you having to play stay-puff marshmallow man again!" I reply over the squeakings and shouts of chariot and youma, respectively.

"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?!"

We get our ducks in a row.

"So, what's this great idea?" Jupiter asks as she finishes straightening our 'team' out with a few liberal applications of what looks like a more... electrifying... take on Venus' Love Me Chain.

"I did some snooping around. Nephrite's got a transference circle set up in there. If we use that, we can just skip past most of the chase scene!"

"What chase scene?!"

"With the mess we made?"

"...alright, point. Can you even make it work, though?!"

We hit what once passed for Nephrite's front lawn.

"Every educated guess I can make from what I saw of his wards and what I would have done says he's keyed it to his youki signature, but there are ways around that. So yes, yes I had damn well better be able to!"

Then we're at the wall, and through where the gate had been

The few locals milling around in confusion try to leap out of the way before they're trampled or run over. Some even succeed, but we're in the thick of things and moving with too much momentum for a disorganized, loose group to do much but stare.

"Cut for the left passage!" I shout to Haruka, and she adjusts accordingly, her chariot heading for appropriate exit. We follow, and I grab the reins again as Jupiter sends another Supreme Thunder overhead and into the archway.

Haruka's chariot in front of us is momentarily jostled by something, but otherwise, there's no sign of any welcoming committee...

"Oh, crap."

I say that because there's also no unconscious Nephrite in the middle of the courtyard, where I'd left him.

"What?" Jupiter shoots me a frown.

"That wall, take it out!" I point at the one below the shattered window.

"Supreme Thunder!"

We're going to need new radios after this.

The bolt of lightning crashes into stone, through reinforcement sorceries that are supposed to stop this kind of thing from happening, and opens a path for us.

Alright, now I only hope I remember the layout of the place well enough, or we'll end up overshooting. Quite literally.

"Another one, straight ahead!" I shout, then turn around and focus.

Youki snaps into place, forming so much quicker in this environment, and crystal shards shoot from the ground to block the archway we'd come through. Won't keep anyone determined busy for too long, but it blocks the most immediate path of pursuit, I think. Of course, that's when a group of youma charges in through the other archway.

A thrown crystal from Haruka takes the lead on in what passes for a head, and I follow that up with a sweeping Chire...

The deafening crackle of Jupiter throwing another bolt of lightning sounds, the static making my hair stand on end for a moment before it's bled into the youki I'm putting out.

"Let's go!"

Our chariots creak and protest ominously as they bounce over the rubble left from the outer wall, smacking heavily into tiled hallway floor.

Then they do it again, over the next pile, with the sound of something breaking following shortly after, and while Haruka's doesn't seem to be doing too badly ours suddenly loses one wheel.

It slews, as the tilted platform scrapes across now stone surface...

We nearly go flying.

Well, I do go flying, tumbling arse over teakettle for the moment it takes me to turn it into something resembling a glide.

Behind me, Jupiter swears heartily as the nearly out-of control chariot stops, and she Thunder Breaks the other wheel off, turning it into a crude approximation of a sled.

I'm more concerned with what's ahead, and grope through the contents of my jacket pocket.


Knew this'd come in handy.

I grab the trace youki signature from the blood on the handkerchief, and slam it into the door in front of me with all the subtlety of a rampaging rhinoceros.

It slams open.

"In, in, in already!"

Neither of my companions need to be told twice, and one chariot followed by one impromptu sled scrape their way inside the transference circle carved into the center of the circular chamber.

Backgrounded by angry shouts and youki signatures from around the estate.

Crap. Time.

Lack of it, to be exact.

I grab Nephrite's signature again and brute force it into the inscribed runes.

The runes flash once.

They flash twice.

Well, that's just great... Then a surge of youki hits the chamber, grabbing us and hurling us away sideways. At least that's what it feels like for a moment, before we're suddenly elsewhere.


After experiencing youma teleportation for the first time, let's just say I'll never complain about Haruka's driving again. It's not something to be done on a full stomach, but fortunately the only thing I'd eaten since we reached the Dark Kingdom were a couple of granola bars that hardly counted as food.

I still nearly vomited all over Nephrite's carpet.

Our not-so-trusty team of Youma had overrun the Circle and were probably back in the Dark Kingdom, hanging onto short pieces of rope and trying to explain their presence to a very angry Shitennou. I wished them quick, merciful deaths for their assistance. It was the least I could do - inasmuch as doing nothing hardly counts as doing anything.

"Well," Katz told me, presenting the remains of the reins. "'Name one thing we're gonna need rope for."

"Okay, you and decades of DnD fanboys were right. We needed rope," I agreed once I'd caught my breath. "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day."

"That was way easier than I thought," Haruka said as she dismounted from her own chariot.

We both looked at her and asked "What?" in similarly sceptical voices.

"Well, in the books and the shows," she pointed out. "There's always some kind of epic showdown at the end, where you have to overcome intense personal trauma or get beat up to within an inch of your life before finally wrapping things up."

Katz nodded his understanding. "Alright, you have a point."

"Aren't you both assuming that this wasn't just the James Bond opening to the excitements?" I asked. "Not to mention, taunting Murphy."

I almost felt bad about the way their faces fell. Almost. However, in complete defiance of all laws of drama, we were not immediately attacked. I crossed over to the sideboard of the dining room. I could have sworn I'd seen a... well now. Nephrite's face leered up at me from a driver's license, along with the name Masato Sanjouin. At a guess, he hadn't felt the need to take his wallet with him to the Dark Kingdom. Feeling far more larcenous than I had a few minutes ago, I emptied it of cash and after a moment stole the credit cards as well.

"We're good," Katz said, sounding smug.

"Yes," I agreed. "We are." I picked up the car keys that had been resting next to the wallet. "Haruka, do you want to see what you can find in his garage? Katz, check upstairs and I'll rip through the downstairs. I don't want to spoil our record now by still being here when he works out where we are."

To be honest, there wasn't a lot to work with downstairs. I wrecked the place fairly thoroughly looking though. and was tracing the gas pipes from the gas meter when there was a roar from outside and I looked out of a - now broken - window to see Haruka revving the engine on a rather nice Ferrari. It took me a moment to realise that this one wasn't hers, or at least hadn't been until now.

"Nice car," I called. "But how much luggage space does it have?"

Haruka lowered the car's window. "Not enough!" she shouted back over the roar of the engine. "But this'll get me to one that does faster than walking, running, or jumping small buildings in a single bound!"

I heard Katz coming downstairs. "Loose cash, several dozen tarot decks, including one or two pretty raunchy ones, and a lot of art too ugly and cumbersome to carry or drag," he announced, then looked over towards the empty garage. "Haruka?"

"Dude, seriously," I told him. "There's a Ferrari outside and you think Haruka will be anywhere but behind the wheel? It seems she appreciates Nephrite's taste in cars." As I spoke, the Ferrari zoomed out of the drive and into the traffic. "I'm reasonably sure that I can commit a bit of arson," I added, looking at the wooden staircase. "But it would probably be best to be sure of our escape first."

Katz shook his head. "I know it's traditional and all," he said regretfully, "But I think those trees are dangerously close and we don't want to start a forest fire. Still, maybe we can do something equally problematic for Nephrite. Let's get the bags somewhere out of sight first, in case we have to leave suddenly." He looked over at the heap of bags and grimaced. "Okay... that's a bit of a load to carry. Do you think we can get one of the chariots moving?"

I looked at was left of mine, which was little more than a crude sledge at this point. "I think it's a bit wide for the door."

We looked at each other and grinned, then I summoned Thunder Break to my hand and started carving a larger door, cutting through the wall.

It took five laborious minutes to drag the sledge, laiden with all nine bags of loot, out into a concealed spot not too far from the access road. "So what do you have in mind?" I asked as Katz rummaged through one of the bags.

"Aha," he said, holding up a jar that was full, if I recalled correctly, of jade shavings. "Well, I think I can get this to react to youki like caltrops. Should be painful for Nephrite when he arrives." He started back towards the mansion. "Hey, do you think you could make a delay-triggered ball lightning? You know, sort of... compress and stabilize the charge of a Supreme Thunder in a magnetic envelope?"

I pulled a face as I walked beside him. "I'm not sure. It's been - well, okay, it's been about three days since my last physics class, but it's been a long long time since I even thought about magnetic fields. You mean as some kind of timer?"

"Well, the envelope will decay with time anyway, but how about making it fragile enough to be triggered by an intruding magnetic field? Someone shows up and..." He shrugged.

"What if the postman comes by?" I protested rather weakly.

He laughed. "Here? To the ass end of nowhere?"

I humphed. "Don't tempt Murphy. Alright, I'll give it a go. No promises though."

"It usually helps if you're not wondering 'how' or 'why' while casting. Instead, try and focus on 'why not'?" Katz advised me. "That's the way it works for me. More often than not," he trailed off in a mumble.

"Your magic works on suspension of belief?"

"...yes. Well, suspension of disbelief."

Well, I'd agreed to try so I perched on the stairs and meditated on electrons and magnets as Katz - Griever, I reminded myself - went around the ground floor, scattering the jade dust onto strategic bits of floor. It probably would have been more obvious if it wasn't for the recent property damage, but as it was the shavings blended pretty well into the other dust and general debris.


There was an... well, not an explosion... something like a lightning strike as Haruka pulled the van up Nephrite's drive. The target appeared to have been the house and smoke was trickling out the broken windows.

"Oops..." Makoto called from the front door. "That was a bit... stronger than it should have been..."

Katz laughed from well outside. "There can be only one!" he shouted to Makoto and she made a rude gesture back at him as she left the house.

"Oh for a camera," Haruka told her. "Pictoral evidence of a Sailor Senshi doing that... what sort of example would it set to the kids who think you're an inspiration?"

Makoto's expression was horrified. "They think I'm a what?"

"I can just imagine your image on a lunchbox." Haruka sketched out a square shape with her fingers. "Maybe a nice up the skirt shot..." She opened the door. "Okay, where's the loot."

"Just a little off the road," the younger girl told her, pointing. "Back up a little and we can just sling it in." She shot Haruka a look. "Well, just think of the potential for you and Katz. There's a B-movie plotline in you two hanging out. I'm surprised there aren't already dojinshi."

Haruka shook her head and closed the door. "Nah. I'm just a sidekick, and he's the comic relief," she called as she worked the gears. "You're the champion for love and justice, the Mighty Sailor Jupiter..."

"The what?" she shouted, appalled.

Katz cleared his throat, hefting two bags. "Girls? You can compare notes later. For now, how about a little help with these?"

"The big strong sorcerer-lord needs help carrying the loot?" asked Haruka mockingly, backing the van towards him, Makoto jogging alongside the driver's door. "What is the world coming to?"

"Well since I'm just the comic relief," he said, dropping the bags to slide open the side door once she had braked, "I figured I was due."

"There is something to that," Makoto said and then sighed looking at the house.

"You couldn't get it to work?" he asked. "Well, never mind."

"Oh, I think it'll work," the Sailor of Lightning said. "I just wish I'd thought to take the TV first..."


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The chamber was quiet. The air, save for several slowly rising wisps of smoke, was still.

It wasn't to last.

With the crack of sudden displacement, emptiness wasn't.

"Oh. Zoisite, you bastard," the man ground out. Scorch marks on the walls. Scuffed up floor.

He nearly tripped over one of those... contraptions.

Nephrite swore, long and hearty, as he turned nearly full circle and saw the extent of the damage. And the Dark General had good reason to swear further as he started out of the transference room, fists clenching...


Behind him, he could feel the transference shift of his entourage arriving. It didn't shake him out of his infuriated state.

And he looked the part. His formerly gray uniform was splattered with blood from an only recently broken and hastily healed nose, and covered with dust from demolished walls. It was torn right through on one side, where he'd been trampled and trod and driven over by the chariot of that blond lunatic. Well, the other blond lunatic. His hair was also singed and frizzing out, sparks flying occasionally as static electricity bled off...

Then he saw his garage.

His empty garage.

Oh, they did not...

"Um... General Nephrite? Orders?" The youma did not stutter, only because that would have drawn the bloody and bloody-minded superior's attention, and whatever else you did, you knew not to draw the attention of someone in that kind of state of mind if you valued your life.

"Find them. No matter what it takes, find Zoisite and those with him! NOW!"

The battered Dark General spun around, raging, smashing the remains of the transference chamber's doors and sending a bolt of kinetic force to shatter what was left of one damnable chariot.

Then he froze.

So did the youma.

And the 'rock dust' scattered across the ground around them sprouted into wicked, sharp jade shards that went through skin and hide and leather sole with ease.

Nephrite took to the air instinctively, levitating above the suddenly dangerous floor of his mansion and looking around in disbelief as small blades and spikes sprouted all around him. The youma were not so lucky, as one jostled another who, already hurting, lost her balance and fell.

The youma who'd been the cause of that promptly capitalized by falling on top of her, momentarily saving itself from further harm, even as the two others - four being as many still coherent ones as he could manage to gather in such a short time - leapt to claw at walls and ceiling.

Which was when Nephrite noticed and sensed the unraveling, crackling ball of electricity slowly falling from near the high ceiling.

He had enough time for his eyes to grow wide, and almost enough to gather youki for a teleport, before whatever barrier it was restrained by was eroded... by his own gathering youki.



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"Give them nothing! But take from them ... everything! Muahahahahahaha!"

The surreality of talking to someone with Kino Makoto's face was already way up there, even before I found out who was doing the driving. I'm still waiting for it to really hit home, which it undoubtedly will at some point.

It's even more so when she echoes my megalomaniac laugh with ...


I glance at her ... him? it? tentacles? ... before snickering.

"Thankyou Naga."

A moment is spent frantically getting out of the way of a pair of hands reaching to throttle me, though we're both laughing too hard to take it even remotely seriously.

Anything to just move forward. Moving forward is good. Lets me keep ahead of the inevitable BSOD for a little longer.

"You two realize that you'd both be dodging exorcism left and right if it was any other devil hunter sitting here, right?" Haruka tosses over her shoulder.

Right. Who does she think she's fooling?

I shrug, still grinning. "Bully if they can't take a joke."

"Then they'd be blasting Makoto's coffee tin for mind-controlling you," Haruka continues.

"Kettle, thou art black." Many happy returns.


We share another laugh at that.

The trip back is longer than usual. Extra weight, not exactly the sort of car that can cut through traffic, and likely the fact that we're all starting to feel the strain of what we'd been through being the chief contributing factor.

Remarkably, we arrive back at the apartment complex with no further complications. The gross of the bags, we leave with the van, which Haruka parks in the Toyota's garage. One, we take along upstairs.

Or, I take along. Haruka locks up the garage, and sprints up the stairs, with the sort of energy that distance-runners find on the final stretch of a race.

"Dibs on the shower!"

I grumble a little at being left holding the bag ... literally.

"What'm I, her combat butler?"

"Deal with it. You're a man, aren't you?"

My eyebrow twitches, and I turn to Makoto and deadpan. "I mustn't run away. I mustn't run away."

We continue onwards and upwards.

"Well, if you're intent on being a big girl's blouse, give me the damn bag and join her in the shower."

I think there's something wrong with me for not having thought of that myself. Or maybe I was just loathe to let a bag full of Shiny out of my sight.

Yes, I am occasionally an idiot.

Makoto hoists the heavy duffel with relative ease.

"I have possibly never appreciated you quite as much as I do right here and now, you know that?"

And then I'm racing up the stairs.

"I'll remember that next time you come over to mooch!" She adds from behind and below.

I think I make rather good time, and the apartment door is closing behind me almost before I know it.

"Ooooh, it feels good to get out of this thing."

A ballistic vest hits the floor with a thump, leaving me to contemplate the sight that is Haruka stretching. Why was I having problems deciding whether or not to go through the loot right now again?

My line of reasoning leading to that dilemma momentarily escapes me. Must have been a particularly idiotic one.

I fail to stop myself from commenting.

"Looks good too."

And get a throw-pillow to the face. By the time I'm done dealing with ballistic plush, there's a trail of discarded clothes leading to the bathroom that really makes me wish I'd kept my mouth shut.

Oh well.

She's got the right idea, though.

Shuck 'em.

Open door.

Close door.

"H-hey, I called dibs!"

"It's a big shower."

And the rest is none of your damn business.


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I made sure my door was securely close and dropped the bag behind my couch before detransforming. Fortunately, the fuku protects against body odour as well as impact and penetration, but once the transformation was gone, the effects of several hours of exertion began to catch up with me. Reluctantly, I headed for the bathroom - tempting as my bed was right now, a shower would probably be advisable before I stiffened up.

While the water pressure wasn't all it could be hoped for, I was feeling better, if still sleepy when I got out from under the showerhead and reached for my last towel. I had to get some laundry done tomorrow, I reminded myself. It would have to be after school - speaking of which, I'd need some sort of excuse for today's absence...

Family emergencies were right out, illness would generally require a doctor's note... dammit, why were the Japanese so damn anal about attendence at school? I couldn't even claim duties at the shrine, since it was in ruins and the last orders from Hino-sama were to wait for him to call me before returning.

I yawned. Fuck it. I'd think of something in the morning.

As per the usual perversity of the universe, I lay awake, sleepless for some time however, turning the matter over in my mind. I knew Makoto had had something of a reputation at her last school and to some extent it had followed her to Juuban, but I would feel guilty for adding to it. It wasn't helping that I hadn't substantially improved her grades: I wasn't any better at Japanese that she was, my knowledge of Japanese History was - at best - spotty, and getting towards a decade after the end of my formal education, I couldn't claim to have retained a hell of a lot in the way of study ethic.

There was a knock on the door. "Still concious in there?" Katz asked, clearly audible.

With a grimace I slipped out from under the covers and padded over to the door on bare feet. "Despite my best efforts," I told him, leaning against the closed door to be sure I would be clearly audible to him.

He chuckled. "I'm guessing what next can wait until tomorrow then?"

"Tomorrow evening," I clarified. "Unlike your reprobate of a roommate, I didn't test out of this school year and I can pretty much guarentee facing detention since I don't have a decent excuse for today."

He paused and then: "Night then." For a moment I thought he had left and was turning away when he added: "Oh, don't worry about cooking tomorrow. I think we deserve a takeaway at Nephrite's expense. What do you want?"

"Duck Fried Rice," I said automatically.

There was an eloquent silence and then Katz asked, "That's all!?"

I laughed. "I have simple tastes. Good night Griever."

This time when I went to bed, I wasn't dwelling morbidly on the torments of teenage existence. I still didn't get to sleep for a while, but at least I wasn't brooding in the dark.


Well-Known Member
Today was the day they were supposed to switch to Covert Ops, doing what they could to ferret out information about the Sailor Senshi from the general public.

Except their leader was refusing to exit her bedroom, still sniffling and trying not to cry from the fact that their recent overt movements had gone completely unnoticed by the senshi.

"Come on, it's just coincidence!" Visceral spoke up.

"Four times?" Ninjana asked, "FOUR _TIMES_?"

The group all shifted uncomfortably.

Indeed, there'd been four attempts to catch the Senshi's attention.

The first attempt, the "drunk Beryl singing atop a Tyrannosaurus" had instigated a few calls to the police. Unfortunately, Visceral was not all the familiar with Tokyo and had wandered into a particular area.

Namely the Red Light District.

So, reports of a "Redhead riding a giant lizard" and "a wavy-haired woman on top of a MONSTER!" were considered prank calls. Even more so when callers kept saying things like, "how is she still on it?", "they're moving so fast", "she's all sweaty", and "you'd better get over here before they're finished".

Ninjana had been a bit disappointed, but bounced back with another cunning idea. They'd blow up a building!

Unfortunately, some jerk-off had been about to commit arson for the insurance money, and thanks to the crew setting off his flammables early, he was the only one in the building who was killed. Everyone else was able to hear the flames igniting and got out safely.

Their next attempt was going to be robbing a bank. However, they'd blundered into yet ANOTHER robbery of the same bank where another team of bank robbers were about to rape the tellers.

Infuriated both at their actions and the fact that their plan had been pre-empted, the quintet had kicked the crap out of the other robbers and were summarily rewarded by the bank manager.

And finally, they'd decided to go all out and simply kill someone.

It seemed that the man was an absolutely insufferable prick who'd been embezzling from his corporation and had died from a heart attack just a second before the life-draining ray hit him.

After that, Ninjana had called it quits for the day, proclaiming it a lousy day to commit villiany.

Today, she was just pouting.

"...Ninjana, Beryl's calling for you." Iren spoke up.

Ninjana frowned, wondering if it was a trick, but got out of bed anyway. However, when an ambush failed to occur when she exited her room, she followed Iren to the communication crystal to view the message. Ninjana could tell from the tone that Beryl was irritated, but not angry, and teleported to Queen Beryl's courtroom without delay.

What she was greeted with was not something she expected. Namely, three youma singing and dancing to Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up".

Ninjana blinked, "Someone's Rick Rolling Queen Beryl?"

A youma next to Ninjana murmurred, "Before this, they were singing 'Don't Come Around Here No More' by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers."

"Any reason?" Ninjana inquired.

"They were diplomats to that Talon fellow. Beryl sent him an offer." the youma answered.

The next song proved to be the trio's last as they had just finished Weird Al Yankovic's "One More Minute" when Beryl's face reached critical mass and she incinerated them before they could start another song.

The red-haired queen of the Dark Kingdom left for three long minutes to calm down and regain her composure. When she returned, she was stone-faced, which was both potentially good and bad. Good in that she could regain her composure so quickly, but bad because she might still be seething underneath said mask.

And a seething Beryl tended to obliterate people for mistakes and failures that a more calm Beryl would shrug off.

"Ninjana." Queen Beryl spoke up.

"Yes, your majesty?" Ninjana responded, bowing low.

Queen Beryl didn't look at Ninjana, but rather focused her gaze on her crystal ball, "That odious display was simply the most recent insult to the Dark Kingdom. While that interloper, Talon, has been an ever-enlarging thorn in our side, his feeble musical taunts are simply that. Irritating, but feeble taunts of a runt who has yet to learn his place."

"What is less acceptable than is the fact that three interlopers were able to infiltrate Nephrite's domain and make off with many of the raw materials that he had in his possession, killed numerous youma, and may have slain Nephrite himself." Queen Beryl continued, "I do not care about the materials lost, as the fools will probably pawn them off and we can easily regain them through our connections. But that insult cannot go unpunished."

"Your new top priority is to find and punish the fools who have insulted us so grievously. Do this and I will promote you to General." Queen Beryl explained.

Ninjana's eyes widened at the thought of being promoted to General so soon. Then again, considering the task assigned to her, managing to punish those who'd managed to make a mockery of the Dark Kingdom's defenses would be a tall order.

Ninjana bowed, "I will do my best to fulfill this task. What do these fools look like?"

A small orb appeared in front of Ninjana and the recorded images of the three appeared above it. One was no doubt the renegade general Zoicite, the next was Sailor Jupiter, and the last seemed to be a blonde human woman. The three were on golden chariots being pulled by a number of youma.

[So, with the exception of the blonde human, my mission's no different. Just higher priority.] Ninjana thought to herself.

"I will seek them out with all haste, your majesty." Ninjana declared.

With a nod, Queen Beryl dismissed her and called for another youma.

Ninjana sat on the roof of her makeshift headquarters and thought about her position. She could become a General.

A facinating proposition, if she wasn't so torn about it. Being what she was, she wasn't sure how fragile she was and she had no idea what the process of becoming a General might do to her.

And she had to take on a General to even get that far. One whose mind was far better than the one of the original Zoicite. Even if it wasn't a fight to the death, Zoicite wouldn't think they would aim for anything less. Sailor Jupiter had also acted unusually. Could they be the same as her?

Whatever the case, she needed some throwaway minions to back her up, ones that could distract those two long enough to ensnare them.

[We need some Evil Walnuts.] Ninjana determined.


Well-Known Member
not dead yet ^^

Someone is hogging the sheets.

This information takes a moment to be processed, before it joins the ranks of 'huh, this isn't the couch' and 'curse you, giant flaming ball of hurt in the sky' at the forefront of my mind.

'Tis a silly place.

I give up trying to stave off waking up and try to wipe the sleep from my eyes.

Then I try again, because my right arm is being pinned down.

'Hey, wait a tic, this is Haruka's bedroom, isn't it?' steps up and salutes, and yes, you may read into that whatever you like. This is about the time I connect the dots between facts and start from sluggish to mildly but not quite awake.

I look to one side, and find someone looking back at me.

Fine, I can do that until my brain reboots.


I state the obvious. Though it is, and a very early one. Of the kind I usually only see when I catch some insomnia the day before.


We're neither of us any good at this pillow talk thing, apparently, because there ensues a rather protracted silence.

"What're you doing awake at this hour anyway?" I open again. It's a weak opener, but the only one I've got on me in the here and now.

She mulls this one over before grinning.

"Watching you sleep. It's entertaining."

"... what, do I do tricks or something?"

"Or something," she deadpans. "If you're so interested, I'll grab a camera and ..."

"No, no, that's alright," I say, giving the sun peeking past the blinds a glare of my own. "Why am I up this early?"

"Well," there's that evil grin again. "I could take a wild guess."

She moves ... and there's quite a bit of what's moving that's in skin contact with me ...



Wait, what was I just thinking about? Couldn't have been that important.

Skip it.

In fact, I'll just go ahead and skip quite a bit. Let's say getting untangled was just as much fun as the opposite, and leave it at that.

"I was thinking we could make an early day of it," Haruka says, in the course of that later.

We're both of us at the kitchen counter, after the morning summons of the caffeine god have been appeased, and she's wrapped in what I distinctly recall being one of my shirts. And if you think I mind, you haven't been paying attention. "We have a car to go pick up, after all."

"Mhmm," I 'mhmm' into my cup of joe. Why is it that coffee tastes better if you're mooching off someone else's supply, anyway? Not that this is bad, just not quite as satisfying. The alternative doesn't spell good things for our future, so we leave well enough alone. Leave sleeping senshi lie, and all that.

If she's still asleep. Well, chances are she is, seeing it's still only half-past five in the oh-my-god.

I'm thinking too much, or must be, since the next thing I know Haruka is poking at my shoulder and my mug is empty.

"Sorry, zoned out for a minute there. What were you saying?"

"Come _on_ already, we're on a schedule!"

... wait, what?

"Wait, what?"

She jingles a set of car keys in front of me.

Ah, right. I'd almost forgotten how much of an enthusiast she is. True, she may already have one of these, but as she's told me several times before, there is no such thing as two identical cars.

I hunt down a pair of khaki cargo pants and a black turtleneck, and several minutes later finds us making out way through an unreasonably nice early morning towards the nearest metro station.


Well-Known Member
f*#%&ing not dead yet. Not dead. D'ya hear me?

It's a platitude.

No matter where you are, some things don't change.

This is often applied to both people and things. For example to subways, whether you hear one called the metro, the tube, or whatever else people the world 'round come up with to differentiate and define and set theirs apart.

I've only seen three, including Tokyo's. I call bullshit.

Oh some things may remain. Escalators, for instance. Physical bits and bobs that are unavoidable given the infrastructure required for an underground or mostly underground transport system to function.

But otherwise? London's tube for instance has a sense of both age and gravitas that Berlin's subways lack. And yes, that only partially means it's more beat up and dingy. You can only somewhat put it into words, and maybe it also means Berlin's was better planned out, but you can't deny London's a sort of charm that the mostly utilitarian form of its German counterpart simply lacks.

Tokyo is closer to Berlin than it is to London on that sliding scale. All three were ordnance drop zones in WW2, but London wasn't virtually steamrolled by the end of it, nor did it get hit by an earthquake years prior, so maybe that's the reason.

And maybe it isn't. What is, is neither here nor now, and at best only tangentially relevant.

I do tangents a lot, in case you haven't realized.

We take the metro. No sense in driving out. For one thing, I'm not sure if I can still drive, and I'd need to since the whole purpose behind this is fetching our cherry-red Italian prize. For another, I'm not supposed to know how to drive.

Call it paranoia ... oh, wait, there _are_ people and things out to get me.

And if you'd call this unfair? Go choke on a pretzel.

If I hadn't already made it clear enough by now, let me just say it outright. Interacting with these _people_, not characters but living and breathing people, comes at me from so far out of left field that any and all of the stuff I knew from 'before' is worth less than cliff notes.

This is real.

That makes all the difference.

Case in point, my traveling companion at the moment, who is ...

Oh, that had to have hurt.

I stare dumbly for a moment, torn from whatever stream of consciousness my thoughts had meandered into by Haruka slamming someone into the door of the subway car. Face first.

"Hands, chikan!"

Yes, it's standing room only for us. Saying Japanese public transit is crowded is a bit of an understatement, and this is a weekday morning. Suddenly, there's a bubble of space around us.

Call me slow, but it takes me a moment to realize what just happened, even with what Haruka's ... not quite yelling. More forcefully and clearly delivering.

On the ground, back against the train doors, is a mostly unremarkable sarariman, now with squashed and bleeding nose, teary eyes, and looking in disbelief at his right hand. It's slowly starting to swell and the fingers look a little off.

The next station is where we get off. So ends my first encounter with the Japanese public transit system, and apparently the train groper problem is very much an issue here.

... note to self, being lost in thought when I know someone is out to get me?

Stop doing it.

Sunlight. It's a little gray, a little faded, even in the morning. Big city. Lots of traffic.

That's one of the things that people will try to tell you also doesn't change, regardless of where you are.


"Something wrong?" I ask, looking to Haruka. She has an odd look on her face, one I don't think I've ever quite seen there, and one I can't seem to make heads or tails of either.

Then again, I've always been rubbish at reading anything less than outright blatant emotion.

Zoisite really isn't helping.

"Wrong? I nearly put someone's face through a subway door the hard way. What could possibly be wrong?"

"Still not seeing the problem."

"I could have killed someone. How does that not constitute a problem?" Haruka half-whispers vehemently.

Not exactly the sort of conversation you should be having in the street, making your way through the morning rush. Then again, it's called a rush for a reason. As in, being loud.

And there are some benefits to being able to express youki, even at nearly-nil potential. I imagine it's sort of like noticing roadkill - you know something is there, but you try very hard to convince yourself not to look or pay attention.

It also explains why we have several feet of clearance from the other pedestrians, even with the sidewalks being packed as they are.

Subtle? Not hardly. Useful? What do you think?

"Shifting paradigms without a clutch. I've been told it can be painful." I shrug. Alright, so this is likely not helping her along towards peace of mind, but I don't _do_ feel-good emotional lectures. Or react to them very much, come to think of it.

That aside, it's likely that she'll be furious with me at one point or another anyway, so there's really not reason to put the occasion off.

"This cryptic crap really isn't what I want to be listening to right now," she replies.

"It's all I've got. Unless you'd prefer empty, meaningless platitudes?"

"... and every time I manage to forget you're an ass, you come and remind me."

Heh. True, I suppose. But I really don't have anything even remotely helpful to say about the situation. I guess it's one of those things you need to figure out by yourself, and any help's as likely to hinder as not.

"So this is ... normal?" She finally asks after a few minutes of walking on in silence.

It's not out of the ordinary, or so Zoisite's memories suggest. Same with common sense, and oddly enough popular fiction. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Power, the willingness to use it, and stress situations ... there's a reason people who deal in and with violence are usually treated with a modicum of respect. Not doing so is just inviting trouble.

"If it'll make you feel better, you can blame me for getting you into this mess in the first place."

"Don't be an idiot," she replies after some thought. "It was nothing less than my choice."

If there's one thing I admire about her, it's that she's strong in all the ways that really matter.

Not that this doesn't come with its own assortment of drawbacks, but again, nothing in life lacks those.

anyway, yes, it and I are both still alive. I've just been blocked on pretty much everything for a while now. Sorry guys. Hopefully, this motivates the rest of our merry band to do some scribbling, even if it's just off the cuff random setting fluff.



Well-Known Member
... I'm doing science and I'm still alive!

Haruka regains her good cheer almost as soon as she sees her cherry-red spoils of war, and said good cheer is contagious. Either Nephrite didn't think anyone would have the gall to steal it right out from under him, or the surprise we'd left him on leaving his mansion had done enough of a number on him that he was too busy with healing up to bother with looking. Possibly a combination of the two.

I give the car the once over, but there really isn't anything other than a perfectly ordinary Italian supercar sitting there. Well, that and Haruka acting like a bouncy six-year old on Christmas Eve in the driver's seat. Or Christmas Morning. Depending on where you are.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this pretty much what you've already got? Why the excitement?"

She gives me a long-suffering look.



I lean out of the way of an incoming elbow, she deflects the slap heading for the back of her head, and we both glance around to see passing pedestrians, those who bother to care anyway, giving us looks of mostly disapproval.

We share a quiet laugh.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there isn't even the hint of an indication that the karaoke bar had been a Dark Kingdom front only hours previously. Not that it still being there would have been of any immediate consequence, but I'd been entertaining brief fantasies of acquiring thermobarics and shoving them down the crater. Wholesale.

That's that dream shattered on the harsh and unforgiving cobbles of reality. Too bad, so sad.

Moving on ...

And, yow, yes, we are indeed moving, Tokyo scenery passing by at a rate you'd think couldn't be witnessed in urbania, other than by occupants of low flying aircraft and bullet trains.

"What was that?" Haruka asks, indicating I must had been at least muttering some bits of that out loud. I'm briefly concerned for what other trains of thought I may or may not have been repeating verbatim, but then realize I hadn't been slapped, folded, spindled, mutilated, or run over by a motorvehicle with Haruka behind the wheel yet and dismiss my concern.

"Nothing, nothing ..." I adapt a frightened expression. "Just thinking how much I liked the fact that roller coasters tend to stay on their rails."

I should know better than to egg her on, while she's behind the wheel and we're in morning traffic in downtown Tokyo ... I really should.

Ignore the grin surgically attached to my face as I sit there while Haruka tries to prove me wrong.


"We return sometime during the afternoon that can't decide whether or not it wants to be day or evening, carrying the day's haul up through great personal sacrifice and effort ..."

"They're just aluminum and styrofoam takeout containers."

"Oh, fine, ruin my monologuing, Ten'ou."

"I think I just did."

Yes, it's kind of like that. I tap a finger against the outside of one of my pockets, confirming the presence of the small hard lump of the illusion gem. Useful little thing.

Or, well, Nephrite certainly won't think so once he realizes all of 'Sanjouin Masato's' cards that we could manage to overdraw on _are_, and that said individual is also wanted for multiple counts of speeding, reckless driving, and what you will in his cherry-red Testarossa. It's petty, but it gives me the sort of warm, accomplished feeling that comes with delivering a well executed kick to the balls. With metal-toed boots.

Judging by the time and the fact that the radio didn't say anything about localized cases of thunderbolts and lightning somewhere in the city, Makoto should be back from her day at the Institute of Legalized Torture and Death by Boredom. A quick coinflip later leaves me setting the takeout onto the kitchen table of Haruka's apartment while the lady herself meanders off across the hall to grab our neighbor.

"So, we have fried duck rice, spring rolls ... " I say over my shoulder, in the direction of the opening front door.

"And spring rolls. And some more spring rolls," Haruka interjects dryly.

So I really like spring rolls, I think to myself, then actually say it. I can almost feel Haruka rolling her eyes at me before she wraps up the goodie list with curry salad, sweet and sour chicken, and extra noodles.

"I have a burning hatred for all things school related," grumbles the Once And Future Princess ... of Jupiter "And grated cheese."

Wait, she what?

"Grated ... you know, I'm not really sure I want to know ..."

"No, I mean," Makoto says as she comes around the table, and sets down a bowl she'd been carrying. "I have grated cheese. Jeeze. Filthy minded pervert."

Actually, I'd been genuinely curious about just how grated cheese fit into the bleak and destitute picture of scholarly hate, but there's only one correct response to something like that:

"Yes. And your point is?"

"... point to you," Makoto admits, planting herself as Haruka wanders back from her molestations of the kitchen's coffee maker and kettle ... wonderful, the one time I actually wasn't thinking like the 'filthy minded pervert' I probably really am, she brings me back on track. I'm sure she'd find it terribly ironic, were I to inform her.

"Now, I'd say food first, then ..." Haruka interrupts my incipient disillusionment and moralistic rebuke, which is fortunate, as the degree of hypocrisy in me delivering something like that would have likely led to me spontaneously catching on fire. "That's actually a good question, what were we going to be doing?"

"We'll figure it out eventually," I settle for that instead. Nice, neutral, and without the risk of karmic retribution. Well, more karmic retribution than I'm already likely to get.

We spend the following bit in relative silence, interrupted by requests to pass this or that dish around. They're really quite good. Should be, for what we shelled out for the lot. Then again ...

"Ah, larceny. One fine piece of flavoring," I remark as we finish up and move to stow the leftovers in the fridge. Yes, we bought a lot.

"We're not really don with the larceny until the hot goods reach the profit stage," Makoto replies.

The ever elusive point of nearly every plan in existence, yes. I'd sort of blotted that out.

"Mm," Haruka sips her coffee. "It's not all fun, games, and drawing out Sanjouin's cards for petty cash."

"First thing would be to sort the glitter from the stuff we can actually use. After that," Makoto puts her Hannibal hat on, metaphorically speaking. She's actually just drinking tea, but this makes the entire affair sound a lot more dramatic. "Who buys jewels without being likely to ask much about provenance or call the cops when we don't have any?"

Yeah, that's a rhetorical question. Only one possible problem ...

"Oh, will they ever be happy to see us. Again," Haruka voices it.

"Just yakuza. Not of the youma kind," I try to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

Which Haruka torpedoes the glaring hole of.

"What makes you think they weren't working together?"

Happy thoughts and fairy dust? Still ... "Worst case, we'll need to spend some time convincing them of the benefits of doing this for us."

"I'm sensing backstory," Makoto interrupts my rambling. "But I was actually thinking about the Australian banking system. Not that we couldn't try going local. I'm already a discipline case at school, and now I'm going to be connected with the yaks. Someone is going to be very angry with me."

"You've got a good glare," counsels Haruka. "Practice it a little and the teachers should leave you alone, at least."

"Not really what I meant ... but I guess it can't be helped."


Makoto takes a longer sip of her beverage at this, before replying. "You know all those really bad movies about twins switching places with each other? Something like that. It's a long... okay, not a long story, but it's her story and I'm not gonna go into it without her say so or pressing need."


Yes, that. It's odd, the issue had almost managed to fade into the background of my own mental landscape. Then again, I'm arguably lucky enough to have come in to inherit ... well, not less baggage, but baggage of a different kind.

"So booting that to tangency. Yaks. You know some?" Makoto continues.

I try not to wince. Too badly. "Hazy memories of knocked over liquor stores. Barring better options, I know where we can start working our way up from."

She seems vaguely amused at this. "So our plan G is to beat our way up the ranks of the Yakuza until we find a reliable fence? You think you're Mack Bolan?"

Oy. "Do you really want to be giving me ideas like that? It's tempting enough as it is, even with the real issue of Monsters Beyond Mortal Ken wanting to swallow our souls. Catsup optional."

"No, but I'm already restraining Haruka with one hand and the other is holding the mug."

"I like that plan!" Haruka chimes in. And yes, Makoto really is restraining her. Somewhat.

And no, not in _that_ way.


"Haruka, your family are in construction, right?" understates Makoto. Badly. To say Haruka's family are in construction or real-estate is sort of like saying that the sea is wet, humans need oxygen, or that pouring several bottles of scotch into yourself will alter your perception of the world by a fair margin. It gets the message across without really managing to capture the scope of the subject matter. That said, we haven't talked about it extensively, or even very much, or ... well, nearly not at all. It's just there, and manages not to be the elephant in the room that nobody mentions by the virtue of neither myself or Makoto really giving that much of a damn about Haruka's family connections from a personal point of view. "I'm guessing someone there has some dealing - semi-legit presumably - with a local outfit. Think you can get a name or two that we can approach semi-civily?"

The question makes Haruka grimace and her mood deflate almost visibly, and I feel sort of bad for the first thing going through my head at noticing this being happiness that I'm not to only one who manages to drop the proverbial ball.

"Or we could try that, I guess. I can try making a few calls, but I can't promise anything. I mean, do you have any ideas how many alarm bells that would ring if I go asking around about things like this?" Ten'ou Haruka, only daughter of the Ten'ou conglomerate's head, says.

"Or find some too ambitious hothead willing to try and impress the 'ojou-sama'. Then blackmail him back with his being willing to make the inquiries." Sadly, the realization that I'm not the only person afflicted with saying the wrong thing at the wrong time makes no difference when it comes to me actually saying those things. The moment I say that, I get the urge to beat my head against the wall.

"That just sounds ... wrong. You know how hard I had to work at not turning into someone like that?" Haruka gives me a glare, and one she means at that. Yeah, I'll just shut up now.

"I hadn't consider consequences for your family. I apologise," Makoto says with a wince. I'd sympathize, only I'm too busy feeling sorry for myself to process compassion at the moment.

Haruka shakes her head. "Relax. It's not like I don't try to keep that and myself somewhat apart."

We take five. It's a generally therapeutic five, during which we also grab tea and coffee refills.

"Okay, new plan," Makoto finally breaks the silence. "We pick out a foreman somewhere, ask him politely who the local yak rep is and approach him, while you," she points a finger in my general direction. "Make sure we're incognito during."

I facepalm. Yes, I should have been the one to come up with this.

That'll teach me.

I nod and make a firm resolution never to feel sorry for making an ass of myself again and be a less repentant thoughtless bastard.

Wait. That didn't come out right.

"That would work better, yeah. I'll drop by a few of the local construction projects to get us a starting point tomorrow," Haruka says. "And by 'I' I mean 'we'."

It's as solid a start as we're going to get, I think. Or it sounds like it.

"Christ, people talk to yaks all the time," grumbles Makoto. "Can't be that hard."

In retrospect, taunting Murphy like that can't have been a good thing.

Come on, people. Or should I just hijack the whole thing, then have it land in Development Hell like most of my solo stuff does?