Subject: [FFML] [fic][YST/SM]Ronin Summer 3 - Read it! It's new!
From: "Morgan Hudson" <dataraven_659@hotmail.com>
Date: 1/30/2006, 9:10 AM
To: ffml@anifics.com

Hi, all!

Well, here we are again, and I'm actually on schedule for once. I said I'd 
get this out before the end of the month, and here it is. I totally deserve 
a cookie. ^_^

Barring a delicious, delicious cookie, I also accept C&C. I mean, if I am 
sitting here in my Inbox, and someone is all, like, "want some C&C?", I'm, 
like, "Heck YEAH, I want some C&C! That stuff's AWESOME!" And then I read 
it, and I am happy. It's really a beautiful and delicate part of the cycle 
of life.

I know, you're thinking "But how could I participate in this glorious 
rejoicing at the beauty of existence?" Well, that's the easy part! All you 
need to do is click that little "Reply" button and drop me a line! Why, I 
wouldn't be surprised if I even wrote you back - I'm cool like that. ^_^

Man, my begging needs work. I used to be able to do this and have it 
SUCCEED. :P

Anyway, on to the fic! I hope you enjoy!

-Morgan



-- Attached file included as plaintext by Ecartis --
-- File: Convergence3.txt

REVAMPED LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Whatever else may have changed in this story
of mine, trust me - the Sailor Senshi still belong to Kodansha and
Cloverway, and the Samurai Troopers are the legal property of Sunrise and
Bandai Entertainment. So are all of their related friends and associates.
I am only borrowing them for a few chapters, and I intend no harm. So
let's all remind ourselves that it's just a fanfiction and we really
should relax...

CONTINUITY NOTE: This chapter takes place roughly between the "SuperS"
and "Stars" seasons of Sailor Moon (after the Dead Moon Circus, but
before Sailor Galaxia). For the Troopers, this is between the "Gaiden"
and "Kikoutei Densetsu" OAVs (after their trip to New York, but before
their trip to Africa). This particular chapter takes place before and
during the first two chapters of Ronin Summer, and ends at about the
same time as "chapter two: the devils and the deep blue sea" did, give or
take a few hours.



                      RONIN SUMMER: CONVERGENCE

  A Bishoujou Senshi Sailor Moon / Yoroiden Samurai Troopers cross-over

                          by Morgan Hudson

"Convergence (n) - the approach of an infinite series to a finite limit."


Chapter Three: The Castle of Eternal Regret

	Makoto had always firmly believed in happy endings. With her life,
she had needed to. After all, if everything didn't turn out okay in the
end, then what was the point of going through all that misery? Like she
always said, every storm had to end with a rainbow. The only trick to
making it through life was to keep going until you reached the good part.
Nobody liked a quitter, and if you gave up right before things got better,
everybody would think you were a real doofus.

	She was beginning to hope that the good part would be soon. As it
stood, Makoto was in serious trouble. Not the kind of trouble that she
was good at, like trouble with the law or trouble with monsters coming to
claim her soul, or anything easy like that. This was an entirely new and
disturbing kind of trouble.

	Makoto quickly jammed the note she was holding into the pocket of
her skirt as Ami and Usagi emerged from the classroom. The two girls
smiled at their friend and rushed across the hallway, clutching their
schoolbags tightly to their chests to avoid bumping into any of the other
students who filled the hallway.

	"Thanks for waiting, Mako-chan!" Usagi said, her blue eyes shining
with excitement. "Sorry it took so long, but Naru's a real pain when it
comes to being classroom monitor. I had to re-do the blackboards three
times!"

	"That's only because you kept trying to rush," Ami argued
sensibly, before turning to Makoto and nodding her head slightly. "It was
very kind to wait for us, Makoto. Will you walk Usagi home? I have to go
to my Chess Club meeting, and I'm already ten minutes late."

	"Uh, actually, the... Track and Field... club wanted to see me
after school today," Makoto said, thinking quickly as she guiltily slid
her hand into her pocket and toyed with the crumpled note. "Something
about how I thrashed their president in P.E. last week. They're going to
try to convince me to join again." She shrugged nonchalantly. Hey, what
could you do, right? Some people never quite grasped that just because
a girl happened to be amazing at sports it did not mean she intended to
devote her life to them. The track and field club had been after Makoto
for the past two years. There was just something about track that made
people devoted to it unable to give up. The girls would believe her if she
told them that was what she was up to.

	"Wow, what's with those guys?" Usagi asked, frowning prettily and
giving a murderous look at one of the students who happened to be passing
by at the moment. "At least the Karate club left you alone after the first
few times."

	"Yeah, well, what's it going to hurt, right?" Makoto asked
rhetorically. "You guys going to be okay if I leave you alone for a little
while and deal with this?"

	"Sure," Usagi replied, looking a bit upset. "It's not like I can't
walk home by myself, you know! I mean, I'm not six years old, or anything.
Man! You girls spend two hours talking to Rei and now nobody trusts me
to chew gum and walk at the same time..."

	"Usagi, you can't chew gum and walk at the same time," Ami gently
reminded her. "Remember?"

	"I've been working on it!"

	Makoto laughed and shook her head, and bid her farewells to her
friends, and walked off with a spring in her step to determine the rest
of her life. After all, nobody liked a whiner, right? She vaguely
remembered her mom telling her something like that once. Ami was way too
busy trying to help Usagi get over her compulsive failing, and Rei was
going nuts trying to find some way to restore Usagi's powers. The last
thing that any of her friends needed to do was waste their time worrying
about little old Makoto Kino. She was going to be just fine, as soon as
the good parts started.

	They had to start, eventually.

**********

	Sanjiro Mishawa had wanted to make Physics his life since he was
twelve. Physics was how people understood the universe, how all of its
mysteries could be revealed in all their glory. Maybe he was never going
to be Einstein, but he had dreamed that one day he might inspire the next
Einstein as a teacher. Since going to Osaka, he just feared that some of
his students were going over the rulebook of reality specifically to find
loopholes. And they were smart enough to get away with it, which really
bothered him. There was a tiny device on the dashboard of his car that
had been a going-away present from his star pupil: he had recieved it
right before his transfer to Juuban Secondary, in Tokyo. It didn't do
anything, unless you counted bobbing up and down as doing something. The
trick was, it never stopped. For months, he had been waiting for it to
wind down, or run out of power, or something. It just kept going, and he
couldn't tell how.

	That blue-haired kid had built it out of a few juice cans and a
penknife. That one kid had left him with a permanent phobia of anyone
with blue hair. It had taken weeks of counseling before he had dared let
that Mizuno girl answer a question in class. After she had, it took
another week of counseling to convince him that his old students weren't
changing their genders and stalking him. What was with those kids with
blue hair? Were they all in some kind of weird know-it-all cult where
they were brainwashed into being geniuses? It was like trying to teach
little computers that already knew everything better than you did.

	"Excuse me? Mister Mishawa?"

	Turning, the young teacher looked over his shoulder and sighed in
relief. No sign of blue hair, just long and wavy locks of chestnut brown.
It was Makoto Kino: one of the normal ones. She was still wearing her
white and brown school uniform: nobody had ever told him exactly why she
was allowed to break the regulations and wear something different from
the other girls, but at least it made her easily distinguishable. The fact
that he had to crane his neck up to look her in the eye helped, too. Tall
girls were not a problem for Sanjiro, as long as their hair was the right
colour. People could not help being different, after all.

	"Ah, Miss Kino! You got the note I attached to your most recent
test, right?"

	"Uh, yeah." The girl looked dejected and bit her thumbnail. "Am I
in trouble, or something?"

	"I'm afraid you are, Miss Kino." Opening the door of his car, he
tossed his briefcase onto the passenger seat and scratched behind his ear.
He had never done this kind of thing before, and the principal had been
very noncommital when he had asked for advice. After all, the whole
teacher's lounge knew about Makoto Kino. She had mediocre grades, average
attendance, and a file that was two feet thick. Sure, she hadn't been
caught doing anything lately, but as far as Sanjiro could tell most of
the teachers were pretty sure she had been a lost cause long before she
showed up at this school.

	Miss Sakamura did not think so. Miss Sakamura was the new Home
Economics teacher, and she seemed to really care deeply about the future
of Makoto Kino. It was the usual fervor that only a fresh, naive young
teacher can have for someone with a record like Makoto's: the rest of the
faculty tried not to pay attention to Miss Sakamura's impassioned pleas.
Sanjiro, however, had been paying a lot of attention to Miss Sakamura
lately. He had come to value her opinion very highly. He especially
enjoyed sharing lunch with her. Maybe it was that Miss Sakamura was just
so attractive, or that there was something in Makoto Kino's eyes that
told him all she needed was a chance. Maybe it was just that he was a
fresh, naive teacher, too.

	"Miss Kino, I'm worried about your recent marks. Your scores have
been slipping for the past three months straight - you have almost the
lowest grades in the whole school for Physics."

	Makoto sighed, her shoulders slumping as though her bookbag had
suddenly doubled in weight. "I know," she admitted. "I mean, I'm trying,
I really am, but it's just... Physics is no good for me."

	"Are you studying at all? You know that some of these questions
are going to be on the admissions test for High School. If you don't get
this..."

	"Ah, I'll be okay," the girl replied gamely, shrugging off his
concern and smiling brightly. "I mean, school's just not really my thing,
you know? I try to study, but I'm just not built for it. Some people have
brains for books, and some people just don't, I guess."

	"Okay," Sanjiro said, sitting down on top of his briefcase and
looking up at the girl from his car, "let's assume you're right about
that. How do you study? I mean, do you leave the book open while you're
doing other things, like watching television? Do you study with your
friends?"

	"Oh, a whole bunch of us have been getting together for a while
for study sessions," Makoto said, before pausing and biting her lower lip.
"Although, we don't always get a lot of work done. Usually, we just go
over the stuff we did at home. And, uh... other stuff."

	Sanjiro groaned softly. What was he supposed to do with this? It
was obvious that Makoto was trying: she just wasn't doing very well. Her
grades had been slipping in all of her classes, too, not just in his. He
couldn't just let her pass, but there was no way that Miss Sakamura would
ever share her lunch with him again if she thought he had let this girl
down.

	"Listen," he said, rubbing his face vigourously with one hand. "I
know I'm not supposed to say this, but you are going to fail my class if
you don't do something to get your grades up. Maybe your friend Miss
Mizuno could-"

	"Oh, no! Ami's got her hands full already with Usagi. I couldn't
possibly bother her with my dumb old problems." Makoto shook her head
firmly. "I'll be okay, Mister Mishawa, really. I just gotta buckle down
and work harder, that's all. It'll turn out fine, I know it will."

	"Maybe I can help," Sanjiro said, rifling through his briefcase.
"I know that you already have your summer reading assignments, but if you
wanted to do an extra paper on top of those, for extra credit, then maybe
I could count it towards your grade and push up your score a little."
Seeing the hopeful look on her face, he extended a warning finger. "This
is not going to be a charity case, Miss Kino! I will expect this paper to
be above and beyond anything else I have seen from you this year. You will
need to incorporate everything that we've covered to date and argue your
point eloquently and with notated references. Anything less than an 'A'
and I will disregard it entirely, is that clear?"

	"But I've only got a couple of weeks! How can I do all that on top
of all my other assignments without any help?"

	Sanjiro winced and glanced guiltily over at the small device on
his dashboard, whirring merrily to itself in complete defiance of every
law he knew about physics.

	"I might be able to help you with that, too," he admitted, hanging
his head. "Miss Kino, have you considered hiring a tutor?"

**********

	Makoto stood on the platform, waving cheerily as the lumbering
train chugged its way down the line towards Shibuya. Ami and Usagi had
been pretty upset when she told them she couldn't come along on the trip
to Yokohama, but it might actually be better to spend some time with just
them and Rei for once. Considering Rei had left on the earlier train while
everybody else had been checking on Minako and Artemis, there hadn't been
a lot of time to ask Makoto why exactly she was ditching them at the last
minute. Or, for that matter, why she had come with them to the station if
she had no plans of going anywhere.

	Sticking her hands in the shallow pockets of her vest, Makoto
whistled merrily to herself and quickly strode across the platform to
where another crowd was already forming for the train that would soon
arrive from Osaka. Blending in was going to be impossible with her height,
so Makoto decided to use it to her advantage instead. Tucked under the
back of her vest was a large placard on which she had carefully scribed
the words 'Touma Hashiba - Osaka'. Casually pulling it out of hiding, the
leggy brunette held the sign over her head and waited for someone to
respond to it. It was better than having to stop everybody her age who
came off the train and asking them their name.

	She hoped this guy was going to be worth it. She had needed to
arrange for a sleepover with all of the other Senshi and then stay up all
night to get a shot at using Ami's computer without her knowledge. It
wasn't that she was ashamed of the fact she was doing poorly; after all,
Usagi's grades were so low they practically had to post them in the
basement, and nobody ever made a big deal about it. She just knew that if
Ami had found out that Makoto was desperate enough to hire a tutor over
the Internet, she would have insisted on ditching Usagi and Rei and
staying in Juuban to help out. Ami had been working hard enough all year
trying to keep Usagi's grades at floor level: she deserved a break as
much as anybody. Makoto had gotten herself into this trouble, and Makoto
was going to get herself out of it: even if she did have to pay to have
some boy genius shipped all the way from Osaka to help her with her paper.
Even if it had cost her almost forty thousand yen.

	She really hoped this guy was going to be worth it. What kind of
tutor sold himself on eBay, anyway? Then again, considering how heavy the
bidding had gotten during that last hour, she guessed she was not the only
girl in Japan desperate enough to take a shot at him. Maybe that Shuu Rei
Fuan guy who had been running the sale had been right when he called
Touma 'the hottest thing in the field of smart guys who help you with
stuff'. Her teacher had seemed pretty sure that he would be able to help
her out, and it wasn't like Makoto knew anybody else she could call on
short notice unless she wanted to be yet another burden on Ami. Maybe this
guy would be nearly as good. Makoto hated to think she might be settling
for less than the best.

	The train came to a stop in a cloud of hissing steam and squealing
metal, and Makoto glanced up as passengers began to file out of the cars.
Among the crowd was a slender youth with a pale complexion and feathery
dark blue hair that was nearly the same shade as Ami's. He was wearing a
pair of slightly faded jeans and a navy blue turtleneck, and had a large
canvas bag hung over one shoulder. As he turned and saw the sign she was
carrying, he smiled brightly and a long forelock of blue hair swung free
of his crimson headband to hang over his face.

	Makoto began feeling better almost instantly, especially when he
slipped his hand into his pocket and donned a pair of large oval glasses.
It was like the gods had cut her a break and sent her a fill-in Ami! Aside
from the obvious difference in gender, the boy looked enough like her
brainy friend to be related. Maybe it was just the blue hair or the way
he was examining everything like it was some kind of interesting bug he
had found in his lab, but he was seriously reminding her of the smartest
person she knew, and that was not a bad place to start.

	"Hi!" she said cheerily, bowing so quickly that she nearly hit
herself in the face with her own ponytail. "I'm Makoto Kino: thanks for
coming all this way to help me, Hashiba-senpai! You can call me Mako-chan,
if you want; I really appreciate you taking the time out of your vacation
to lend me a hand, and..."

	"First of all, you can call me 'Touma'," the boy drawled as he
adjusted his bag on his shoulder and nodded his head in return. "I've
never been too comfortable being called 'senpai'. For starters, we're the
same age. Besides, it's a special thing, not a word you should call just
anybody. Save it for the person who really means something to you. Do you
mind if I just call you Makoto? I don't really do the whole 'chan' thing.
Wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea."

	"Sure, I guess."

	"Great!" Touma smiled. "I hope we can be friends, Makoto. Is there
anywhere nearby where I can get some food? I slept all the way here, and
I didn't get a chance to have anything on the train."

	Makoto blinked. "Uh, not really... I mean, it's pretty early in
the morning, so I don't think any of the places nearby are open, yet. I
could make you something when we get back to my place, if you want."

	"Yeah, sure," Touma said amicably as he began to follow the girl
out of the train station. "I guess I need to meet the rest of the people
I'm going to be staying with, too, huh?"

	Makoto bit her lip and blushed slightly. "Uh, yeah, about that...
there may be a few things I didn't get around to explaining to you before
you got here..."

**********

	Touma had no problems with Makoto being an orphan: heck, he had
practically been raised as one himself. At least she had never heard the
fateful words 'here come the villagers, son. Be a good boy and convince
them to put down the torches'. Touma came from a family where that was
heard very often, indeed; usually after their latest hobby had wiped out
the local power grid again. Somewhere back in Osaka his father was still
working to perfect atomic powered muffins. Touma figured that as long as
he stocked the fridge before leaving and got back before it ran empty,
his dad would never even know he had been gone. He had once run off for
more than a year to save the planet from demons, and his father was still
convinced that he had just been out picking up some milk.

	The Hashiba were a very wealthy family, when they remembered to
actually go out and pick up their money. With the sheer amount of crazy
things that the reknowned Genichirou Hashiba had invented, some of it was
guaranteed to stick to the wall eventually. A large amount of their
income came from places that were pre-emptively paying Touma's father
NOT to build things. There was, for instance, a governmental ban that
prevented anybody in his family from even TRYING to build a giant robot
of any kind. A recent addendum had been inked that extended the ban to
include stuff that transformed INTO giant robots and combined to BECOME
giant robots, too. Genichirou Hashiba had something of a knack in that
particular field, and after the last few incidents, nobody wanted to see
it encouraged.

	The main problem for Touma was that his father usually got so
involved in his work that he would forget to eat or sleep, let alone pay
an allowance of any form. A bit of overexcitement during his last
astronomy lesson for Jun Yamano had resulted in the kid nearly plunging
off of the roof of Touma's house, and his telescope had not quite avoided
the fall. It was bad enough that he had missed it when that comet had
passed so close to Earth last winter, but he had no intention of going
without one of his favorite toys indefinitely.

	Mentioning his need for some extra cash to Shuu Rei Fuan was what
had indirectly led to his current position in the main room of Makoto
Kino's apartment. One good thing about Shuu was that he was always full
of ideas for how other people could make money. Having to live alone with
the girl was making Touma a little nervous, but he had managed to live
with Nasuti Yagyu back when she had been housing the rest of the Samurai
Troopers, and that had worked out okay. He was sure that this would be
fine.

	Touma was usually sure that things were going to work out fine. It
was an inherited trait which had allowed many of his ancestors to face
angry mobs while armed only with the calm assurance that there was a
reasonable explanation for everything.

	The sound of Makoto puttering around in the kitchen filtered
through the open area into the living room, where Touma was quietly
examining the place. He had never been somewhere that was so empty: his
own house suffered from the fact that he and his father were both pack
rats. Makoto didn't seem to have anything lying out or piled in a heap
on the floor, like Touma was used to. Even her books were carefully
ordered by size, colour, and name of authour. Touma plucked one out and
glanced at the cover. A swarthy pirate glared back menacingly, and the
girl in his arms was clutching at her tattered dress while swooning
dramatically over the title.

	"The Hidden Trove of Passion," Touma read aloud, before raising
an eyebrow and quickly sliding it back into place. Okay, that had been a
little more than he had wanted to know. A quick glance at the spines of
the carefully ordered books was enough to imply that his host apparently
really liked reading about pirates. Maybe she had some kind of interest
in sailing, or something. Touma preferred reading about starships and
disintegration rays, himself, but whatever she liked was cool.

	The coffee table in front of the sofa had a scattering of comics
and magazines on it that almost made Touma hopeful until he realized that
they, too, had been sorted and fanned out artistically. Either Makoto
Kino had the best maid service in Tokyo, or she had a lot of spare time
on her hands. Sitting on the couch, he picked through the magazines.
Flowers, fashion, and who was dating who. Not one thing about swords,
cars, or baseball. His hopes officially dashed, he sat back and stared
at the ceiling while Makoto continued her work in the other room. From the
sound of it, she was either cooking something or performing highway
construction. Touma sniffed experimentally and smiled to himself. Was
that okonomiyaki? No way some Tokyo girl was actually going to try to
pass off okonomiyaki to a guy from Osaka. He had been eating okonomiyaki
since before he could handle solids.

	A few moments later, Makoto emerged from the kitchen bearing two
steaming plates. She had tucked a small rack under one arm, and Touma
nodded to himself as he saw what it contained: ginger, mayonnaise, and
aonori. The only thing she was missing was the okonomiyaki sauce. With a
smile, Makoto set a plate in front of Touma and sat on the floor on the
other side of the table from him. Resting her elbows on the table's edge,
she rested her chin on her folded hands and looked up at him expectantly.

	Touma looked down at the fried okonomiyaki and gulped. He hoped
she hadn't put in any noodles: noodles were the huge mistake that everyone
always made with okonomiyaki. Only people in Hiroshima liked noodles.
Gingerly, he picked up a bit of the aonori and sprinkled it onto the
steaming mass before drizzling just a bit of mayonnaise on top for
flavour.

	"Sorry I don't have any okonomiyaki sauce," Makoto said, looking
a little sad. "I wasn't really expecting to have to make this stuff on
short notice. I can make a quick run to the stores if there's anything
you need..."

	"It's okay," Touma reassured her, "I'm great."

	"I'm kinda wondering what you'll think," she admitted. "My
friends all say it's good, but what with you being from Osaka and all, I
thought I'd see what you thought about it. I mean, it's probably not as
good as the stuff you're used to..."

	Touma looked down at his meal. She sure seemed to mean well, so
he supposed the least he could do was give it a try. It wasn't like he was
reknowned as a picky eater. Ryo had once gotten him to eat twenty hot
dogs in twenty minutes for a dare. Man, those had been some good hot dogs.
Shaking off the memory, he quickly dug into the food in front of him with
his chopsticks. He had been in too much of a hurry to grab any breakfast
on his way to the train station, and the more he thought about it the
more he was pretty sure he had missed supper the night before, too. Going
so long without food was not a usual event for him.

	Biting down, Touma's eyes bulged. It was okonomiyaki - real,
no-fooling, Osakan-style okonomiyaki. The squid and prawns had been mixed
perfectly with mushrooms and cheese in the batter, and the cabbage was
just strong enough to make its presence known without overpowering the
rest of the taste. He took another bite, just to check. There were no
noodles. It was almost enough to make him cry, it was so good.

	"What do you think?" Makoto asked curiously. "I had to rush a
little, so it's not up to my usual standards, but I think it came out
about average."

	"Honestly? I think this is the best food I've eaten in about
three years." Touma quickly shovelled some more into his mouth and
swallowed it as quickly as possible, making a face as it burned his
throat. "Very good," he gasped, placing a hand on his chest and pausing
for a second before grabbing another portion and wolfing it down just as
quickly.

	"Really? Thanks!" Makoto picked at the okonomiyaki on her plate,
staring down at her food. "I like to cook for other people, you know? It
kinda never seems worth it when there's just one person around..."

	"Yeah, that's true. Are you going to finish that?" Touma asked,
gesturing towards her plate and holding up his own empty one with the
other hand.

	"Help yourself," Makoto said, offering him her plate. "I ate
before I came to pick you up, actually. Don't know why I even bothered
cooking two."

	"Glad you did," Touma said fervently, as he dug into the second
okonomiyaki. "We're going to have to get to work as soon as I'm done
eating, though. The sooner we start the sooner we can be done, and my
time is your money. Did you get those other textbooks I asked for?"

	"Yep," Makoto answered, producing a crimson and black book from
beneath the table and patting its cover. "I swung by Michiru's place
earlier and snagged it off of her. Why did you want me to get another
textbook, though?"

	"Because different books have different writers," Touma explained
between bites. "I figured maybe the reason you were having trouble was
that the guys who wrote your book were just explainin' everything all
wonky. Different book, different way of explaining stuff. I brought my
text, too, so if anything confuses you, we got a whole lot of ways to
try explaining it. We'll hit the library in a couple days and grab some
more specific books once we know where you're havin' the most difficulty."

	"Okay, cool," Makoto agreed. "Whatever you say, Touma. I just
really gotta do well on this thing, or Mister Mishawa says I'm totally
busted."

	"Tonight," Touma said, "we find out where your problems are. That
means we're going to open all these textbooks and not put them away until
they've been read."

	"What, ALL of them? That's going to take all night!"

	"Better get started, then." Touma picked the red and black book
off of the table and handed it to Makoto without looking up from his meal.
Pouting, Makoto turned away from the boy and began to read.

**********

	Across from where the two teens struggled their way through the
works of Newton and Einstein, a shadowy figure stood on the nearby railing
of an adjacent balcony and watched. His gaze was not malevolent; he
watched the boy and girl interact as placidly as he would watch the sun
rise or the rain fall. The only sign at all that he was even there was
the gentle flickering of his glowing blue eyes that stood in lieu of
blinking. A passing breeze stirred his velvety robes, and he quietly
gripped the loosely hanging brass rings that tipped his staff before
they could chime in the wind. There was no need to reveal his presence to
them yet.

	So. It seemed that the Princess of Jupiter had returned to the
world of mere mortals once again. Try as she might, she could not conceal
her natural sovreignity beneath that mortal shell: his eyes saw far deeper
even than those of Touma Hashiba, for his were the eyes of the spirit. For
millenia his predecessor had stood as the sole defender of this land, the
last vestige of his lord Endymion's dying kingdom. Perhaps now he could
finally afford to rest, secure in the knowledge that the day he and so
many others had fought for was close at hand. It had seemed so hopeless
to them in those dark times; when evil and malice and greed had swept the
world until the hearts of men had become like demons. The demons had been
drawn to the realm of Earth, come to see their imitators, and they had
revelled in the darkness they had found awaiting them. Few indeed had
stood in those chaotic times. More had fallen, until only one had been
left to face the greatest threat of all.

	If Sailor Jupiter was back, she would not be walking this realm
alone. After all, the Sailor Senshi existed only to serve and protect
their sovereign, and that was something about which his emotions were
conflicted. He wanted to scream, to rail against them for demanding more
when he and his Troopers had already given SO MUCH, and recieved nothing,
absolutely nothing, in return for any of it. There had been no thanks, no
rewards for their sacrifices, only greater and greater demands upon their
weakened hearts and failing bodies until it had finally ended. They had
been released from their destiny, free agents in the universe, and now
some greater power was binding them back down in their old roles with
the ties of fate. He could tell that the Senshi were a part of it, perhaps
even the sole reason for it. He wanted to leap through the window and
confront her, demand she explain where she had been while so many others
had fought and died for her over all those long and bloody years.

	But he had been fighting for so long, and death had come so often.
He could feel the urge to rest upon him, to lay his weary head down one
final time and let the great sleep of death claim him for all eternity.
There was little enough to keep him, he knew: only his concern and love
for the eight young men he had once fought beside and the one spirited
lady that he had gifted with his mystic armour. Touma Hashiba was going
to need him, soon, and that was reason enough to linger for a while
longer.

	The Sailor Senshi had much to answer for, but that could wait for
another time. He would not forget what they had done to his mentor, the
only man who had ever shown him the slightest bit of kindness in all his
years on this wretched planet. It had all gone so wrong, back then, and
it had all been their fault. They had left humanity to its fate without
any warning, and now, just when it was all finally returning to normal,
they had waltzed back in like they somehow deserved to own the place.
Kaos and the other defenders of the planet had earned better than to die
for people such as these. Setsuna and he had deserved better than the fate
they were given: an eternity alone, unable to touch, or feel....

	Toshitada Koma sighed wistfully and watched as Touma and Jupiter
sat and spoke softly to each other. He had known a boy and a girl like
that once, long ago. For a moment, the air was filled with the scent of
jasmine, and a swirl of fluttering leaves seemed to remind him of a long
veil of emerald hair, and he could almost feel at peace. Back then he had
been able to touch, and there had been one who had needed so badly to feel
the touch of another human being. They had been happy, for a while, until
their duties had pulled them apart. He had sworn that he would be right
back, and she had smiled sadly and tried to pretend that she believed him.

	He had looked for her, of course. He had scanned the globe for any
sign of Setsuna Meioh, but she was gone as if she had never been. He was
sure she must have known that he would never be returning: very little was
a secret to the great Sailor Pluto. Perhaps that had been why she had
seemed so desperate to take as much out of their time together as she
could - she had known how short it was going to be. Maybe she had seen all
of this, as well; maybe it was all working out exactly as she had intended
the first time they had met in that ruined old keep. He hoped not. Fool
that he was, he preferred to think that they had been more than just
another machination to each other.

	Across the street, the hours passed, and Toshitada Koma stood in
silent contemplation as he watched over his adopted charge. He had never
particularly liked Touma Hashiba, but he had to admit that the warrior of
Tenku had a very skilled mind. By the time that dawn's rosy tint was
beginning to colour the horizon, the girl was clearly making headway in
her lessons. Their eyelids drooping, the two children parted ways and
made for their beds to rest, Makoto leaving for her bedroom and Touma
stretching out on the couch. For a single moment, Toshitada hated them and
envied them with every fibre of his being. He had been able to sleep,
once; it was strange how he had never appreciated it when he still could.
Now, there was nothing to do but fade away, before he was noticed, and
aroused any suspicion. That was all ghosts could do: fade away with the
dawn, like all the other unwanted memories.

	He was so tired, and he could not rest.

***********

	Makoto was used to not remembering any of her dreams. Given that
she usually woke up on the floor in a tangle of sheets, she had always
assumed that it was a good thing she did not. Obviously her brain knew
enough not to linger on anything that would bum her out so that she could
focus on more important things. Wiping her face dry with the sleeves of
her pajamas, she padded over to the mirror and started working with her
hair. She tended to have a real Bride of Frankenstein thing going on
first thing in the morning, and this afternoon was no different. No point
scaring Touma out of his wits before they had a chance to grab any
coffee. She wondered if he would like anything with his coffee: there was
time for her to whip up some quick cookies or biscuits or something.

	Yawning into her fist, Makoto wandered over to her closet and
hurled it open to decide what to wear after her bath. The weather report
had said it would be hot and muggy all week, so that meant all of the
sweaters and turtlenecks were straight out. It didn't really feel like
it was going to be skirt weather, either, and she spent enough time in
that darned school uniform that she had no urge to wear it on her
vacation. Surely there had to be something vaguely smart and classy that
she wouldn't roast in. Something that said 'I am prepared to learn, but
would like to leave the building at some point'.

	After a few minutes of searching, she came up with a sleeveless
maroon Chinese shirt made of light silk and some dark blue capri pants
that had matching trim. With a patterned maroon and black silk scarf for
a sash and a pair of slippers, she was good to go. Quickly folding all
of her clothing into a neat pile, she placed the basket holding her
bathing supplies on top of it. Tapping her finger to her lips
thoughtfully, Makoto snatched the green and gold henshin wand off of her
dresser and tucked it into the folds of her clothes. Sure, she had never
actually NEEDED to transform into Sailor Jupiter during her morning bath,
but a girl could never be too careful. With her luck, the one time she
forgot the darned thing would be the one time she would need it. Besides,
now that she had someone else staying with her, she might want to be a
little more careful not to leave her wand sitting out in plain sight where
he could stumble across it and blow her secret identity.

	Basket and clothes carefully tucked under one arm, Makoto slipped
out of her bedroom and began to walk down the short hallway that led to
the rest of the apartment. The bath was just to the left, across from the
linen closet and right before the kitchen and the living room. Touma was
probably still asleep, but she had seen enough anime to know that it might
be a good idea to check and make sure he wasn't already in the bath ahead
of her. She also intended to let him know in no uncertain terms that she
was going to be in there, and that he was not to go anywhere near it until
she had come back out and told him it was okay.

	Makoto poked her head around the corner and nearly dropped her
basket. Touma was most definitely up, and if she hadn't known any better
she would have thought he was trying to commit suicide. Out on the patio,
the blue-haired teen was doing what appeared to be a handstand on her
balcony railing. As she watched, unnoticed, he let go of the steel rail
with one hand and extended it out to the side while keeping his entire
body perfectly balanced. Then he slowly began to lower himself until the
rail rested across his collarbones before straightening his arm and
pushing himself back up again. Through the entire thing, she didn't think
his body so much as quivered. His astoundingly toned, incredibly lithe,
noticeably shirtless body...

	Makoto reached up and gently covered her mouth with her free
hand as Touma switched hands without breaking rythm and continued his
routine. So much for warning him about where she was going to be for the
next little while: if she distracted him while he was doing whatever the
heck that little exercise was, he might plummet to his doom. It wouldn't
be a very lethal doom, seeing as how they were only on the second floor,
but there were some pretty prickly hedges under that balcony and she
would hate to see him get scratched up or break a leg or something.

	"Oh, hey, Makoto!" Touma glanced over at her and waved as he
gripped the rail firmly with both hands and let his body fall into a
diving roll that left him squatting cross-legged on the floor. "What's
going on? You look a little bothered. I didn't wake you up, did I?"

	"Uh, no." Makoto shook her head dumbly and gestured with her wash
basket to show that she had already been up. "You just... reminded me of
someone I used to know, that's all. No big deal. I'm over it."

	"If you say so," Touma said, raising one eyebrow quizzically.
Shaking his head, he shrugged and grabbed a clean shirt from his bag.
"Hey, after you're done getting ready, I thought maybe we could head down
to Tokyo University over in Bunkyo for a bit. I got a friend who works
there, and she knows a guy who can get us into the labs as long as nobody
asks too many questions. Thought it might help if we could actually work
with some stuff hands on and then come back here to figure out why we got
the results we did. Maybe get some ideas for that paper you got to write,
eh?"

	"Yeah, sure," Makoto agreed, carefully averting her eyes as she
backed down the hallway and fumbled for the bathroom door. "Sounds like a
great idea, Touma. We'll get right on that. Just give me a few minutes,
okay?"

	"Okay," Touma replied, as the bathroom door slammed shut in his
face. "I'll make some toast, or something."

	Quickly pressing her back against the door as soon as it had
shut, Makoto ran her fingers through her hair and exhaled shakily. That
had been a close one. The last thing she needed to do was get all moony
and fawning over her tutor when her grades were this bad: she needed to
stay focused. Chasing after guys instead of focusing on her work had been
what got her into this trouble in the first place. Stupid boys! Why did
they have to be so cute and charming all the time? She had assumed that
Touma would look more like Umino, the local specimen of male nerdliness.
Short and geeky, with unkempt hair, thick glasses, maybe a little out of
shape, that sort of thing. He was a nice person and all, and she had to
admit she was sometimes a little jealous of Naru for snagging such a
sweet guy, but the point was that Umino was safely under her radar. She
could hang out with Umino without seeing sparkles all over the place.

	Touma had just gotten some sparkles, and if she hadn't gotten out
of there, he might have worked his way up to a rainbow or two. It had
been bad enough last night, when she had been working on those problems
in Michiru's text and he had leaned over her shoulder to help her with
some of the equations, and she had felt his breath on the side of her
neck, and smelled his cologne, and...

	Makoto cleared her throat. The point was, that had been just awful
and she had barely managed to get it out of her head long enough to focus
on what he was saying. Touma was a really great teacher, and she was
learning all kinds of stuff from him that she had been convinced she would
never be able to get. Sure, she still sucked at Physics, but he was making
it so that she sucked at an acceptable level, and that was all she was
really asking for. They had only been at it for one night, and she already
felt smarter. He was nice, and considerate, and probably the second
smartest person she had ever met, and he was totally focused on helping
her and being there for her. All she needed to do was keep her head on
straight for a few weeks, and everything would finally be in order. Just
a few more weeks.

	Pushing the door open a crack, Makoto peered out into the hallway.
Oblivious, Touma walked past on his way to the kitchen. He was wearing a
pair of jeans and pulling his shirt on over his head as he walked.
Ruffling his hair to get it back in order as his head popped out, he
tugged the shirt the rest of the way down and began tucking it into his
pants as he left her field of view. Makoto eased the door shut again and
groaned. A few more weeks living with that?

	No way was she going to make it.

**********

	Touma figured he could handle making toast. He hadn't managed to
explode toast once in all his years of making it. Heading into the
kitchen, the blue-haired teen shook his head again as he began looking for
something that resembled a toaster. Makoto had been a little weird back
there: all that cramming last night must have fried her synapses a little.
Good thing they were going to leave the books alone for a while. On the
other hand, maybe she was one of those people that had trouble thinking
clearly first thing in the morning. Shuu was like that, too. He would
have to make them some coffee, just to be safe.

	The phone rang, and Touma glanced over at it before returning to
the problem at hand. Namely, coffee. Coffee was not something that he had
quite as good a track record with as toast. He had once tried to build his
own coffee maker when he had been bored, but somewhere along the way he
had been forced the shelve the design due to lack of plutonium. In fact,
the more he considered it, the more he seemed to recall being hurled
through the air surrounded by debris and clinging to a coffee mug on
several occasions.

	On second thought, maybe he would just get a nice can of juice.

	The phone continued ringing, and Touma glared at it in annoyance.
Who the heck called somebody at an ungodly hour like eleven in the
morning? Decent people shouldn't even be up yet. One thing was for sure,
he was not going to be stupid enough to answer it. Nobody knew he was
staying here, and the last thing he wanted to do was have one of Makoto's
friends wondering what a strange boy was doing answering her phone at this
hour. After a few minutes, the ringing stopped and Touma sighed with
relief. That had been getting on his nerves.

	A few seconds later, a different ringing reached his ears.
Frowning, Touma vaulted over the small island that seperated the kitchen
from the living room and walked over to where the sound was coming from.
Dropping on all fours, he pressed his ear to the side of Makoto's school
bag. Yes, it was definitely louder inside there. He opened the bag and
took out a chirping cellular phone. According to the caller display, it
was some public phone in Yokohama somewhere. Weird: that was where Shin
had said he was taking Ryo a few days ago. Maybe some of Makoto's friends
had gotten the same idea? He hoped she hadn't been forced to miss out on
a vacation because of him.

	Holding the ringing phone, Touma wandered over to the bathroom and
timidly rapped on the door with his knuckles. From inside, he heard the
sound of splashing and rippling water and tried really hard not to form a
mental image of what was going on in there. If he did, he knew he would
be too embarassed to even look at Makoto for the rest of the day without
feeling guilty.

	"Hey, Makoto? I think your phone is ringing."

	"Just shut it off," Makoto's voice suggested through the door.
"I can call them back later or something."

	"You got it," Touma muttered, and quickly turned off the phone in
his hand. Almost on cue, a completely different chime began sounding
from somewhere in Makoto's bedroom down the hall. Touma turned and glanced
towards the slightly open door to her bedroom, then back to the firmly
closed door to the bathroom. How many telephones did this girl have?
Scratching his head, Touma tossed the cell onto the sofa and headed down
the hall. No point bugging Makoto again: he had already gotten his orders
on how to deal with these stupid things.

	Slipping into the bedroom, Touma began searching for the source
of the incessant beeping. This was a bit tricky, as he was also doing his
very best not to see or touch anything he was not supposed to. Covering
his eyes with one hand, he inched through the darkened room with one arm
extended and waving about in front of him in case of furniture. He might
not be quite as prudish as his friend Shin -who would never even have
found himself IN this situation- but he still liked to think that he was
at least enough of a gentleman not to go through a girl's unmentionables.
While she was absent. If it could be conceivably avoided.

	Touma maneuvered through the room as though it were a minefield,
carefully padding around loose socks and discarded clothing as though they
might explode on contact with him. After a few moments of fruitless
searching, he heard a soft click coming from the dresser and the beeping
stopped. Well, that was okay, then. Breathing a sigh of relief, he turned
and walked over to the large walnut dresser with its vanity mirror and
looked around to see what all the fuss had been about.

	"-n you hear me?" a small, tinny voice asked, and Touma took a
step back. The voice seemed to be coming from a small green case with a
large gold symbol emblazoned across its front. Tortoiseshell, maybe, but
what was with the big number four? Curious, Touma picked it up and it
flipped open.

	"Okay," said the blurry girl with the blue hair who was being
projected onto the screen on the top of what was obviously a communicator.
"I'm not sure if this is getting through or not, Makoto, but I'm just
going to leave a message anyway. It's bloody hot and I'm very
uncomfortable, and I've been trying to reach you forever! So if you can
hear this, pick up. Makoto? Pick up, Makoto! Are you there? I can't see
anything on your end. Sailor Jupiter, this is Sailor Mercury, do you read
me?"

	Touma carefully set the device back on the dresser. He had a
nagging feeling that this was another one of those things he would have
been a lot happier being ignorant about.

**********

	Radanthus the Unconquered was not pleased. He had given his
simpering priest Badamon a very simple task: destroy the Sailor Senshi.
Everyone knew that the Sailor Senshi were the greatest threat to the Dark
Kingdom, and it only made sense to clear them out of the way before he
made his great push to consolidate the lands of the Evil Dynasty and the
Dark Kingdom together beneath his rule. Queen Beryl had been stupid enough
to place her faith in Metallia and allow her enemies to run about freely
and spoil all of her plans. Radanthus had faith only in himself, and he
had no intention of wasting his energy trying anything until he could be
sure that no annoying little girls with stupid hair would be showing up
to give a speech and ruin it. He knew about the Samurai Troopers, of
course: lots of people knew about the Samurai Troopers in his realm. What
Badamon seemed to have no way of understanding was that things needed to
be done in a certain order, that heroes could be confused and manipulated
into leaving things alone until you were -ready- to crush them.

	The Samurai Troopers had always been on Radanthus' list. At the
very least, he had intended to reduce Kaos' tin-plated toy soldiers into
paste well before he made his move against the Evil Dynasty and Lady
Kayura. With her stupid promise to leave the mortal realm alone, he could
have led the entire force of the Dark Kingdom into Tokyo and laid waste
to it all while she was powerless to stop him. With the Senshi dead and
the ginzuisho safely in his own hands, the Samurai Troopers would have
had to face his legions alone. He could have destroyed them, taken their
mystical armour, and then used it to empower his own lieutenants into a
force that would be able to handle Kayura and her precious Masho easily.
Lady Kayura would have fallen, and with her gone there would be none left
with any solid claim on the throne. Who would have dared stand against
him? The entire Dynasty trembled at the mere mention of the Troopers and
their legendary armour.

	Radanthus could kill the Sailor Senshi, with his own claws if
necessary. He could kill the Samurai Troopers, too. But to do so would be
to reveal his presence to them, and expose himself to retribution. Far
better to hide behind his intermediaries and lieutenants, where nobody
could suspect his hand at work. He could not be stopped if they did not
know he existed. That had been Arago's great failing: the Demon Lord
Emperor had been so obsessed with causing a scene and casting his shadow
across the land that the Troopers would have needed to be blind not to
know who their enemy was. That was why it was so important he get his
hands on Jadeite.

	Jadeite had been the youngest, most brilliant of all Beryl's
Shittenou. His had been the army of the Far East, and to this day, his
cavalry regiments still patrolled the far reaches of their land and
forced order in their wake. They were the Ikazuchi; the rolling thunder
of the eastern plains. More importantly, they were so fanatical that even
their banners still bore the tattered remains of the Earth Kingdom's coat
of arms and the scrawled words that had replaced it so long ago - 'only
Jadeite'. It was to he and he alone that they had sworn loyalty when they
had turned on their king, and it was he alone whom they would obey.
Rescuing Jadeite from his eternal sleep would gain Radanthus not only an
effective scapegoat for the Senshi to focus on, but also the service of
the largest and most coherent force that still remained in the region he
sought to conquer.

	Badamon did not seem to understand this, and this was why he
had been summoned into his lord's chamber. It was high time that Radanthus
made the tattered old priest aware that he was less than pleased with how
things had been turning out lately. Vepres had been a loyal servant, and
casting him aside so pointlessly was not going to overlooked. The youma
and daimons who served Radanthus were tired of rulers who saw them as
expendable: if Badamon's careless handling of them was not addressed,
Radanthus would soon find himself with no troops at all.

	The evil priest shuffled into the chamber, trailing scraps of
cloth and curling wisps of black smoke behind him as he moved. To say
he looked half-dead was an understatement: he looked entirely dead, and
largely decomposed. His once stately black robes had rotted and torn into
shapless heaps of rags that swathed his skeletal body like a shroud from
which only his gaunt hands and sunken, skull-like head emerged. His eyes
were milky and unfocused, and the skin had pulled back from his teeth to
reveal a permanent grin. Only stray wisps of hair still clung to the
dessicated flesh on his skull, and the remains of a beard still dangled
from the point of his chin. His fingernails were as long as knitting
needles, and as sharp as syringes, and they clacked against each other as
he held his trembling hands in front of him in supplication.

	"You have looked better, priest," Radanthus noted. "Does your work
so consume you?"

	"My... fervour to my master... consumes me," Badamon wheezed, a
thin green fluid oozing from between his teeth as he spoke. "This form is
but a temporary one, oh great leader of those who are willing to serve. I
shall miss its foibles but a little when the final change comes upon me."

	"I have summoned you here to encourage you once more in your
search for Jadeite. How goes it, priest?"

	"Poorly, poorly," Badamon gurgled. "There is so much space, you
know, and so little Jadeite to be found in it. My Ankoku Priests are
scouring the universe as we speak, but they grow so weak without the
energy that you had promised me. I was so sorry to hear that Nise Suiko
and Vepres ran into such an unfortunate accident while attempting to
gather it for me. That Ryo Sanada can be such a bother sometimes: always
getting in the way, yes? And Sailor Moon, as well...."

	Radanthus growled, and the entire cavern shook. "Do not mention
that name to me, priest, now or ever again. The Senshi were to be dealt
with, and the Samurai Troopers not involved! Your choice of agent for this
matter had led me to doubt your judgement, Badamon. Or perhaps it is
merely your loyalty which I should doubt?"

	"Oh, but my loyalty is beyond reproach!" Badamon replied
petulantly. "Everything that you have asked of me I have provided for you,
oh disturbingly perceptive one!"

	"Then perhaps it is merely that I have asked too much," Radanthus
concluded with a scowl. "Clearly, there are too many tasks upon your
frail shoulders for one so loyal and beyond reproach to handle. Allow me
to remove some of them. Nise Suiko, for example, has already been informed
of his new position in our forces. Clearly one such as he is too valuble
to be wasting on the front lines of this conflict now that the Samurai
Troopers are opposing us as well."

	Badamon made a face. "And what of my own position, he whose power
shatters the very ground on which he walks?"

	"I have turned the fate of the Senshi over to another. This shall
clear your mind and give you time to focus on your goal of locating
Jadeite." Radanthus paused and cocked his gigantic head to one side,
staring down at Badamon as though the dark priest were an interesting
form of mold that had recently begun growing on something he had wanted
to eat. "Which reminds me - have you met Irduk?"

	From the shadows emerged something that might once have been a
man. Irduk stood over eight feet tall, and was sheathed from head to toe
in thick armour made from the pebbled and scaly hides of a dozen
different species of demon. His bare arms rippled with muscle, and his
flesh was an unhealthy shade of yellow. Thick black veins stood out on his
skin like a roadmap made of venom, and there were ritual scars running up
and down the surface of his arms. A pair of baleful green eyes glowed
from between the fanged maw of his helmet.

	"Irduk is an emissary from the Ikazuchi," Radanthus explained. "I
invited him here to see how furiously we are working towards the rescue
of their great general. He shall be overseeing your efforts in that area,
Badamon. Perhaps if you are having difficulty, he will be able to find
some way of inspiring you."

	Badamon looked over at the massive Irduk, and carefully inched
away a few steps. Irduk merely glared, a deep rumble coming from somewhere
deep in his chest as the scarred runes cut into his flesh began to ripple
and move about his body of their own volition. Radanthus nodded to himself
with pleasure. He had thought that Badamon might appreciate a little bit
of added incentive. As soon as the pair had left, he turned his attention
to the only other creature currently in his audience.

	"Do you know what I wish of you, Fei Lian?"

	The youma bowed deeply. "We are to free Xiang Yao from the Castle
of Eternal Regret, I am thinking. The only reason for calling me here,
that is. We know the price for her freedom, do we not? The great archer
must take her place; the one who imprisoned her must set her free."

	"I no longer worry that Touma Hashiba may become aware of our
plans," Radanthus growled. Badamon had taken care of that, at least. And
the greatest advantage to knowing where Ryo Sanada was lay in the fact
that it also assured him of where the boy was not. There would be no
chance for Touma to warn anybody, and no hope of his rescue. It would mean
that the Troopers and Senshi could reman ignorant of Xiang Yao until she
chose to strike, as long as Shuu Rei Fuan did not suspect anything. "Go,
and take him quickly, before the others can know of his danger."

	"With eagerness I go," Fei Lian said, bowing deeply before
vanishing in a gust of wind.

	Radanthus slouched in his makeshift throne. Things had been about
to get out of hand for a moment there. He was not the sort to believe in
coincidences, and it was obvious that Badamon was less than trustworthy.
As soon as the old priest had served his usefulness, Radanthus would have
to make a point of eating him.  He didn't look forward to it, but it
seemed the safest way to make sure the disgusting little creature stayed
dead for once. Now Jadeite's retrieval was back on track, Xiang Yao was
as good as freed, and without Touma Hashiba's intelligence and assistance,
the rest of the Troopers would be all too easy to distract and pick off
while he focused on his real goal of taking care of the Senshi.

	Things were finally coming together.

**********

	The train hummed and clicked to itself in a soothing rythym as
it coasted along its rails through the cool night air. Inside, the usually
crammed compartments were empty, chairs abandoned and straps swinging
empty from the ceiling. A soft, authoritative voice smoothly called out
the name of each station as the train glided on its way. Every so often,
the endless sea of shadow would be broken by a sudden blur of metal as
they passed a girder or support beam, only to once again fade into
darkness. The automated woman in the tiny electronic box called out a
new stop, and Touma listened without hearing as he looked around the
car in search of something to keep him awake.

	It was late, much later than he had intended to stay out with
Makoto when they had left. Tokyo University had been fun, to say the
least; he had never seen a supercollider before, and Makoto had been
sufficiently impressed to actually pay attention to some of the simple
tests he had run through with her. She didn't give herself enough credit
where brains were concerned: Makoto was one of the brightest girls he had
met, when she could be bothered to focus on the task at hand. If science
interested her in the slightest, she would probably be as great at it as
she was at cooking. His problem as her tutor was trying to convince her
that unravelling the mysteries of the universe was at least as interesting
as making the perfect quiche. He had a feeling he might have lost that
one before he even started.

	His smile faded as he looked down at where Makoto sat with her
cheek resting against the metal pole he was holding. Her eyes were shut,
and she sighed dreamily as she slept, her long tail of chestnut hair
draping over her face. Touma had gotten a chance to talk with Nasuti while
he was at the university, too, when Professor Shiratori had been showing
Makoto some of the sights around his lab. Good old Nasuti might specialise
in the legends of the Samurai Troopers, but she had more than a few ideas
about the Sailor Senshi (as she called them), too. Apparently they were
a group of girls who weren't too different from him and the rest of the
guys: magical protectors of some kind who battled various evils. Details
on them were sketchy, but considering the life he lived, Touma had a very
open mind when it came to things that went bump in the night. It was only
logical to conclude that there was more out there than what the Samurai
Troopers had caught. Since the planet hadn't been devoured by some mad
god yet it was also pretty obvious that someone else must have been
picking up the slack for them.

	The question was, did it matter? If Makoto Kino was Sailor
Jupiter, what difference did that make in anything? All that it meant was
that Sailor Jupiter happened to be a beautiful, sleepy girl who needed a
little help passing her science courses. It was hardly a reason to alert
the media, and Touma felt a bit guilty that he knew her secret, anyway.
Something like that was precious to a girl. She deserved to have the right
of revealing it to somebody when and where she wanted to. The only really
proper thing to do was pretend he had never found out and let her tell
him herself at a time of her choosing.

	Carefully checking to make sure none of the other passengers
were paying any attention, Touma eased his hand down the railing until
his fingers were resting against her hand. He could feel her; the smooth
velvety warmth of her skin touching his own and the tickling sensation
of her silky chestnut hair against his knuckles as she sighed happily in
her sleep and leaned against the side of his leg ever so slightly. She
was so perfect. He'd never met a girl who was so open, so innocently
naive about the world around her. It was as if she just refused to believe
that anything bad could happen to her. Just being around her made him
want to look after her, make sure that she never had to suffer or hurt
again. He wasn't like Ryo: he didn't need to be everybody's hero. Most of
the time, he didn't really want to be a hero at all. But somehow, when
Makoto looked at him with those wide green eyes, he found himself wanting
to be hers.

	It was insane; he'd only known her for three days. Besides which,
a girl like her probably had dozens of boys dying to go out with her. She
probably couldn't open her shoe locker without an avalanche of love
letters. What hope would a nerd like him have of getting her attention?
The only reason she knew he existed was because she needed help with her
homework. He could tell she wasn't interested in him that way. It would
be a betrayl of her trust in him as her tutor to do anything. He had to
stay professional, no matter what. As soon as the break was over, he
would just go back to Osaka and there would be no harm done. He was going
to stop stroking her hand any second now.

	Something caught his eye, and Touma looked up through the large
glass panes that took up the front half of the compartment. The train
was fully automated, and there was no driver, so he and Makoto had simply
gotten into the front of the first car when they had boarded. The lights
of the train cast an amber glow onto the tracks ahead, and now they were
glinting off the armour of the man who stood firmly in their path. Touma
barely had time to register what the stranger looked like: he was dressed
in a short-sleeved suit of metal scales with a conical helmet and what
appeared to be a pair of spears crossing his back, and there was no
driver, and they had no way to stop the train, and he was holding his hand
out like it was going to do anything, but they had no control over any of
it because there was no driver...

	The air warped, and buckled, and Touma's eyes widened with the
shock of realisation. Turning on his heel, he grabbed Makoto with one
hand and hurled himself towards the rear of the train as the front of
the train crumpled, shards of glass whirring through the air and metal
buckling as up and down turned into around and around. The two teens
fell through space surrounded by falling debris as the whole car twisted
and shuddered around them, shrieking and squeling as a gale force wind
suddenly forced it into shapes and positions it had never been meant to
assume. Touma threw his arms wide, gathering as many as he could in the
chaotic jumble of falling bodies as he pinwheeled through the open and
shifting air of the train compartment. He wasn't sure when his undergear
armour had summoned itself, but he felt the glass spliners and metal
filings rattling against its hard shell as he moved with inhuman speed, a
blue streak racing through the train a few steps ahead of the destruction.
He was faster than he should have been, faster than most of the people
there could even see. He was almost fast enough to save them all.

	The entire train bucked like a living thing, rearing up as though
it were some kind of angry steel cobra before coiling up on itself and
tumbling sideways off the tracks with a shuddering thud. Standing on
the tracks with his hand extended, Fei Lian smiled coldly to himself
and lowered his arm.

	"Come for the archer, I have," he said calmly. "To me, you shall
be giving him."

**********

	It was dark, and bright, and cold, and warm.

	That made no sense.

	Makoto slowly opened one eye a crack, and found herself sprawled
very awkwardly across a pile of other people. Her head was twisted at an
uncomfortable angle, and she could feel one of her legs bent up under her
back. With a groan, she opened her eye the rest of the way open and tried
to make some sense out of her first impression of the world. There had
been a crash, she realised hazily, there had been a crash and now she was
going to die, because that was what happened to people in crashes. Buried
alive in the debris, just like Mom and Dad...

	Panic managed what adrenaline hadn't quite pulled off, and Makoto
found herself almost painfully awake in seconds. She was buried, oh God,
she was buried in people, just like every night, and this time she was not
going to wake up because she was already awake! They would never find her
in time, just like Mom and Dad, and she was going to die all alone in the
dark, just like Mom and Dad. The whole train was going to be a mass grave
for her and a dozen other people, and Usagi and Ami and Minako would come
by every once in a while and talk about what a shame it was, and Mister
Mishawa would say she had showed such promise, and she was going to be
trapped in the dark forever and there would be no getting out.

	Clawing and struggling her way through the mass of people, Makoto
forced her head out of the group and gasped for air. The place stank of
burnt wiring and charred metal, and after a few moments of flailing about
in blind panic, she began to realise that she was not quite dead. Neither,
it seemed, were a lot of the people around her, judging from their groans
and the way a few of them were beginning to move as well. It was cold,
like she had felt, but the cold came only in brief shivers that crawled
over her exposed skin and made her spine tremble. She seemed to have
picked up a few new tears in the shirt back there, she noticed in passing,
and shrugged. She could always get a new shirt later. What was with the
warmth?

	The warmth, she soon realised, was coming from her skin itself.
She seemed to be glowing blue for some reason. It felt almost like when
she scuffed her shoes on a piece of carpet really good and hadn't gotten
a chance to let out all the charge on Usagi yet. Her hair was floating
around her head in a very strange manner, as if every folicle was
determined to move away from every other folicle in unison.

	Looking at her hands curiously, Makoto glanced over at the rest
of the train's passengers. They were all glowing blue, too, which
explained the light she had seen. The gusts of cold air seemed to be
coming with the shifting of the giant globe of blue energy they seemed to
be inside of. Judging from the way it was flickering and changing
direction every so often, she guessed it was not very stable. A piece of
metal broke free from above and fell, bouncing off of the field in a
flurry of sparks as Makoto flinched back. Stable enough, she guessed.

	Something warm and sticky splattered against the side of her
face, and Makoto instinctively reached up to brush it off with her hand.
Pulling her fingers back, she saw the crimson fluid that stained them
and turned to look up where it had come from. Touma Hashiba floated
spread-eagled in the air, tendrils of energy spiralling from the light
that enveloped him and reinforing the larger sphere that contained them
all. He was clad in some kind of white and blue armour, and the symbol
for 'Intellect' burned brightly on the pale skin of his forehead. The
armour was cracked and battered, and blood dripped down from the countless
scratches and cuts that covered his body. A single twisted piece of metal
jutted from his shoulder, gleaming wetly in the strange light of his
inner glow, and he clutched the wound feebly with one hand as the other
hung limply at his side. Makoto looked up at him as he floated over them
all, and everything suddenly made perfect sense. Touma had saved them.

	He was magic.

	Slowly, painfully, Touma opened his eyes and looked down at her.
Makoto reached up instinctively as the boy sagged and dropped as if the
invisible lines holding him up had suddenly given way. Falling, Touma
crumpled into her arms and Makoto found herself stumbling backwards as
he draped himself over her. It was as if her tutor had lost the strength
to stand, his fingers clutching weakly at her as he slid to the steel
floor at her feet.

	"I'm sorry," he groaned, reaching for her feebly. "I tried to save
all of us, but I wasn't fast enough... I couldn't hold it together..."

	Makoto took his extended hand in both of her own, kneeling beside
the armoured teen.

	"It's okay," she said softly. "You did great, Touma. You saved
everybody you could."

	"No... he's still out there. Some monster in armour, he flipped
the whole train over. I... I wanted to protect you, Makoto." Touma
coughed, and a trickle of blood slipped from the corner of his mouth. "I
really messed it up, Mako-chan. No way I can fight him now."

	Makoto closed her eyes and held Touma's hand to her cheek. The
swirling dome of energy flickered and shrank slightly, and Touma's face
contorted slightly with the effort of maintaining it. He was right, she
could tell; there was no way that he could hope to fight anybody like
this, not without letting the whole train fall apart on top of all these
people. They were all about to die, and the only thing she could think
about was that he had just called her Mako-chan, and how it had felt
when he had caressed her hand, while she was far less asleep than he had
thought. What did that say about the way life worked?

	Somebody outside was ranting something about wanting to fight an
archer. Makoto glanced over at the sideways seats and realised she was
standing on the back of the train. There was a door waiting nearby,
already half opened by the force of whatever had thrown them from the
tracks. None of the other passengers were fully awake yet, and Touma did
not look like he was going to be able to hold up this force field thing
for long. The henshin wand fell into her hand almost of its own volition,
cool and smooth and humming with power. Thunder rolled in the distance,
and the air outside filled with falling water with as much warning as if
some capricious god had turned on some cosmic faucet.

	Makoto gripped her henshin, and heard the man outside approach.
He was the one responsible for this, she realised - he was the one who
had caused this mayhem and destruction. Whoever and whatever he was, he
must have been the one who hurt Touma. There was no way that Touma could
possibly do anything in the condition he was in now; he was using all of
the strength he had to keep this place from collapsing on top of
everybody.

	Besides, this sort of thing was what Sailor Jupiter was for.

**********

	Fei Lian stood in the rain like a statue of a bygone era, the
tepid water pooling down his scale armour and puddling at his feet as
he stared patiently at the crumpled mass of the wrecked train. Surely
his opponent was not so weak as to be defeated already? Rain dripped from
the tip of his hawk-like nose and trickled along his sharp cheekbones to
cling precariously to his short goatee as he narrowed his glowing crimson
eyes suspiciously. It would be like the archer to have snuck away in the
confusion: his enemy was wily, and perhaps a little fearful of the wrath
of Fei Lian. On the other hand, there was no telling what kinds of tricks
the archer had learned over the past years. It would be wise of him to be
cautious in advancing.

	Eagerness stirred him to motion, and the armoured youma began to
stride purposefully towards his foe. As he approached, there was a flash
of lightning and a roar of thunder that seemed to stretch from the inside
of the train to the heavens above in a pillar of burning fury that warmed
his heart. His enemy was not yet among the dead, then - excellent. His
spirit soared as the mangled doors on the side of the crumpled train car
gave and broke free of their frame to clatter to the ground below. After
so much time, their first and final battle would be glorious!

	Ducking low to clear the narrow opening, a tall and slender girl
in a white uniform stepped out into the open air. Her boots splashed
gently on the muddy gravel, and she rose gracefully to her full height.
The falling rain formed a strange halo around her form, as though it were
too respectful to dare land upon her. A shadow fell over her lowered
face, but her eyes shone not unlike his own, and Fei Lian hesitated. The
wind rose, howling mournfully as it ruffled the pink bow across her chest
and the horsehair plume that dangled from his conical helm. There was
something about the way this girl stood, her fists clenched tightly at her
sides, her face clouded with darkness as lightning crackled from the
corners of her eyes, that made Fei Lian pause with mortal fear.

	"Why do you oppose, young amazon?" he asked, tilting his head to
one side and looking at her curiously. "With you, my quarrel is not; it
is the archer I seek. Unnecessary, your death this night shall be."

	"Garbed in the colours of my passion, I am Sailor Jupiter!" The
girl raised her hand above her head, and lightning cracked ominously
behind her, casting her in silhouette. Striking a defiant pose, Sailor
Jupiter thrust an accusing finger towards the youma and continued her
speech. "In the name of the planet Jupiter, I shall defend the unbreakable
bond between teacher and student! Touma risked his life to rescue these
people; he was nearly killed protecting them from you! If you think I'll
let you take one more step near him, you're dead wrong!"

	"Yet step I must," Fei Lian said sadly. "The incarnation of my
oldest foe, Touma Hashiba is. Hundreds of lifetimes, have we fought.
Destroyed, he must be - utterly! My victory, you shall not take from me!
My enemy, he is! My rival, he is!"

	"And..." Sailor Jupiter said, slowly raising her fists, "To me...
And, to me..."

	**It's a special thing, not a word you should call just anybody.**

	"Touma... He is..."

	**I wanted to protect you, Makoto.**

	"To me... To me he is..."

	**I hope we can be friends.**

	"To me, he is my senpai!" Makoto cried out defiantly, as a peal
of thunder tore through the air and she snapped into a fighting stance.
Her ponytail waved behind her like a war banner, her gloved hands
hovering expectantly as she glared at the youma with menacing purpose.

	"Ah, so." Fei Lian nodded wisely, stroking his beard with his
fingertips as he examined the girl's form appraisingly. "The student seeks
to protect her master. Wise of the archer, this is. To prolong our
confrontation, he wishes. Very well." The armoured youma crouched low to
the ground, his arms spread wide and his clawed fingers curled into
wicked talons. A whirlwind formed beneath him, pelting the area with
gravel as he lifted off of the ground and gestured towards Sailor Jupiter.
One of the tasselled spears on his back flew free, spiralling through the
air rocketed up into the sky and shrieked towards her from above.

	Makoto heard the cry of the wind and leapt back on instinct, the
spear slamming into the dirt as she somersaulted out of the way and
tossed a glowing disc of electricity in return. The crackling disc flew in
a wide arc, skimming close to the ground before rising up again and
exploding into a chain of lightning bolts that Fei Lian narrowly avoided.
Riding the wind, the youma drew his other spear and began to spin it like
a propeller as he lanced across the space between them. It would have
been a perfect strike, but the lightning was alive and writhing in the
hands of Sailor Jupiter and she easily entangled the weapon. Her fist
collided with Fei Lian's face with a meaty smack, and he was knocked
out of the air. She lunged for him and the youma swept her away with a
sharp gesture and a gale force wind that hurled her back into the side
of the train hard enough to leave an indentation.

	"Enough time wasted!" Fei Lian snarled, gingerly rubbing his
jaw as he rose to his feet and summoned both of his spears back to his
side with a single flourish of his hand. "Admirable your strength is,
amazon, but a child yet is all you are. This blow shall be my last!"

	"Man," Makoto groaned, leaning back into the large dent in the
side of the steel train, "you're nothing but a bunch of air, aren't you?
Do your worst: I'm still getting started." A slender golden antennae slid
up from its resting spot in the centre of her tiara; unnoticed by Fei
Lian, it quietly stretched towards the heavens.

	The youma gestured, and the floating spears were pushed forward
by a sudden wall of rushing wind, howling angrily as they flew towards
Sailor Jupiter. Fei Lian's form blurred and disappeared, his body
flickering back into sight perched atop the shrieking polearms as if they
were a pair of skis. Makoto lifted her arms to block his coming strike,
the antennae on her tiara glowing with a nimbus of gathering power. Fei
Lian kicked off of the spears, thrusting them forward with his feet and
releasing another gust of wind from his palms to speed them further as
they began to sparkle ominously with coruscating energy.

	"Perfect Annihilation Technique! Kataki no chuushin ryoushi!"

	"Supreme Thunder Dragon!"

	The crackling spears hurtled towards Makoto as a sudden flash of
light filled the sky and a giant serpentine shape formed out of the
blinding haze. Charging towards Fei Lian, the giant dragon snapped at
the spears in passing with jaws of lightning and then descended upon the
youma with its full fury. Diverted only slightly, the spears slammed into
the side of the train and Makoto was thrown violently to the ground as
the steel car behind her exploded in a pillar of flame.

	Smoke streaming from his armour, Fei Lian jetted into the rain
filled sky and slapped his palm against the air below him. With a final
roar, the massive dragon was dissipated by a powerful burst of wind that
scattered sparks everywhere. Gracefully, the youma skated through the air
and landed atop one of the upended train cars. It teetered slightly with
his weight, and he grinned down at the prone form of Sailor Jupiter as an
idea entered his head. Setting his feet firmly, the youma extended his
arms forward and pulled back with all his might, forcing himself and
the car into a free fall directly atop the dazed girl.

	Looking up as the massive steel container plummeted towards her,
Makoto gasped and rolled out of the way, the corner of her sleeve catching
under a descending wheel as the car slammed onto the gravel where she had
lain. Ripping the gauzy material free, Makoto quickly regained her feet
and swung a punch at the youma which he nimbly dodged. Landing on all
fours further down the car, he smiled at her.

	"Skillful," he admitted, "but a daughter of dragons cannot hope
to defeat one such as I." He chuckled, and for a moment in the rain his
shape seemed to change, growing larger and winged, with the impression of
a thousand tightly coiled scales writhing as a giant rattle on the end
of his tail shivered and rustled warningly. Atop the piled coils, a
stern face with a massive rack of antlers and the cold, dark eyes of a
stag glared down at her, and Makoto cringed.

	The illusion, if illusion it was, passed as quickly as it had
been and there was one again merely a man in a mail coat and a conical
helmet crouched ten feet away, his damp horsehair mane blowing freely
in the wind.

	"The archer," he said, his voice devoid of any humour. "Give him
to me, you shall."

	"No," Makoto insisted, setting her jaw and clenching her teeth
with determination. "Not even if that's what you really are. Not even if
there were a hundred just like you."

	"You are a fool."

	"I am his kohai."

	Fei Lian nodded to himself. "So you have said," he admitted, and
carefully removed what looked like a small pouch from his belt. "But
wonder, I do, whether the archer has truly taught you well."

	The pouch rattled slightly as Fei Lian shook it, and he smiled.
Carefully, he pulled the drawstring open and removed what appeared to be
a puzzle box made of cedar and covered in mystical wards. Makoto took a
step back and raised her hands defensively, waiting to see what his next
move would be. A box? Big deal. The way he was handling it, though, made
her think that there was more to it than met the eye.

	"Interesting, no?" Fei Lian asked, holding the box next to his
face and smirking as the tiny pieces and keys began to shift and move
into their proper places of their own volition. "The key to the gate of
the castle, this is. Imprisoned within, Xiang Yao has been for these
past eleven years. Eager for her freedom, she had become."

	"And you're going to let her out?" Makoto asked, discreetly
slipping her left hand out of sight behind her back. A web of electricity
sparked between her fingers, and began to coalesce into a disc.

	"That I cannot do," Fei Lian admitted sadly, as the last of the
pieces slid into place and the box began to emit an ominous green mist.
"Thinking, I was, that perhaps a proud kohai like yourself would seek to
learn from one such as Xiang Yao. Much to teach, Xiang Yao has, and lonely
I am sure she has been these eleven years. Perhaps you should meet her."

	The box sprang open, and Makoto sidestepped as a column of mist
gushed out from the interior. Bringing her hand up, she hurled the
shining disc of lightning, and Fei Liang deftly weaved out of its way,
summoning forth one of his spears to knock it aside as he ducked. Hidden
in the swirling clouds of emerald fog, his free hand curled and gestured,
and a violent torrent of air slammed into Makoto like a battering ram.
Gasping, she stumbled backwards, landing solidly in a large puddle of
rainwater and clutching her stomach.

	Fei Lian took a step towards her, holding the open box above his
head, when a golden arrow pierced the steel between his feet. Hopping
backwards, the youma quickly scanned the area with wild, desperate eyes.
A trap! He had suspected as much!

	Touma Hashiba crouched atop one of the upended cars, bracing his
foot against the handrail and favouring his right side. He was clad in
the dark blue armour of Tenku, his hair and face slick with rain and
sweat. There was a massive golden bow clutched in his good hand; he was
bracing himself upright with it as he looked down at Fei Lian. Clumsily,
he fumbled for an arrow and nocked it one-handed before pulling the shaft
back with his teeth and aiming it in the youma's general direction.

	"Don't even try it," he grunted, his voice muffled by the arrow
gripped firmly in his mouth.

	Fei Lian made a disappointed noise. "Are you so young, archer?
All these years, and still a man you are not. How sad, defeating you like
this shall be. That I shall someday learn to accept it is my only hope."
Pivoting, the youma thrust the puzzle box in Touma's direction.

	"What?" Touma gasped, the arrow falling from his mouth as the
bow's string snapped back into position. "I... I know that box! That's
the box from Grandfather's shrine!"

	"Formidable, the old one was," Fei Lian admitted. "Most fiercely
he resisted my claims upon this artifact. Now, though, you see that it
is mine. Remember it, do you? Good. Perhaps you recall this as well!" With
a loud moan, the box emitted another gout of thick green fog that crawled
towards Touma with gathering speed. The blue-haired teen stumbled to his
feet and backed away slightly, as the swirling vapour took the form of
a mass of gibbering demons and wraths, stretching their arms out hungrily.

	A shadow fell over Touma, as Makoto stepped in front of him with
her arms outstretched. Eyes shut, she turned her head away from the
onrushing column of mist as its tendrils reached her. She grimaced at
their touch, the smoke raising black welts everywhere it wrapped about her
body. Touma reached out for her, and she looked over her shoulder at him.

	"Don't worry," she said, her voice strained as the smoke began
to reverse in direction and drag her back towards the box. "It's going
to work out... You just gotta take care of yourself, okay, Touma? Get
out of here, while they're busy with me! You gotta do it, you see?" The
wraiths tugged, and Makoto's feet left the ground. Chittering loudly, the
vapourous creatures clawed and pulled at her, forcing her deeper and
deeper into their midst as she struggled against their inexorable pull.

	"Makoto, no!" Touma rushed forward, his lungs burning as blood
poured from the wounds that had not quite finished healing and were now
being stretched beyond their limits. He chased after the retreating fog,
stumbling and staggering down the side of the overturned train car and
straining to reach Sailor Jupiter as she was pulled ever deeper. He moved
faster than anybody else could have. He moved faster than he had any
right to.

	And it wasn't fast enough. For all his power, he was never fast
enough. The last tendrils of mist disappeared into the box, its ornamental
lid snapping shut on his fingertips as Touma made one final lunge for it.
Stepping aside, Fei Lian brought his knee up into Touma's stomach and
followed it with a stiff palm to the chest that knocked the injured teen
to the ground below. With a clatter of metal on stone, Tenku no Touma
collapsed onto the wet gravel. Clenching his fist, he struck the earth as
though it were somehow responsible.

	"Makoto," he groaned, "you don't understand, you haven't been in
there! It's not the demons, it's the whole place! I could have gotten
out if I'd gone, I could have dealt with that thing inside!"

	"Sound as though you are already within, you do," Fei Lian said
mockingly, balancing his spear on the tip of one finger as he stood
over the fallen Samurai Trooper. "How dearly she fought, that girl. A
shame she lacked taste in her choice of senpai, it was."

	"Bastard," Touma hissed, rolling over and glaring up at the youma.
"Who are you? How do you know anything about that box? Shuu and I sealed
it away when we just kids! How did you find out about it? Why are you
coming after me now?"

	"Fei Lian, I am called," the youma replied. "Your mortal enemy,
I am."

	"But I don't even know you! We've never met!"

	"Irrelevant, that is." Fei Lian said with a shrug, as he tossed
the box onto the ground in front of Touma. "To you, I shall leave the
choice. Inside the castle, your kohai is. Xiang Yao also is within. Enter,
and you shall free Xiang Yao from her prison. Doomed, the world will
likely be. Stay here, you can, and face me again when you have grown
older. Victory, perhaps, will be yours then. Your girl friend, however,
will remain within the Castle of Eternal Regret. With Xiang Yao."

	Touma picked up the puzzle and began to slide the pieces with his
fingers. It was a simple matter to decipher: he had done it once before
when he was five. Each piece clicked into place with a certain finality
that made him hesitate before moving on to the next. It wasn't really a
choice worth asking: he couldn't walk away and abandon Makoto to that
place. He had been there before. She would need his guidance in there if
she was going to make it out in one piece. She had only been taken because
she was trying to protect him. Trying to protect her senpai.

	She was his kohai. He had to do this.

	"An eternity of torture, and the end of your realm, you have
chosen," Fei Lian said cheerfully, as the final piece slid into place.
"Sweet words to contemplate, within the Castle of Eternal Regret. Enjoy
the prison that held Xiang Yao, I am sure you will."

	"That's where you're wrong," Touma said calmly. "Because I'm
smarter than Xiang Yao. I'm smarter than all of you. I won't abandon
Makoto, and I am going to get us both back out. Xiang Yao will be stopped,
because Makoto and I will stop her."

	"Words," Fei Lian replied, as the emerald mist began to boil out
of the open box in Touma's hands. "Soon, as powerless as you they shall
become."

	"We'll see," Touma said, as the green fog enveloped him. The box
in his hands grew ever wider, until it seemed about to swallow everything
else in existence. In the distance, he thought he could make out a palace,
at the end of a long and swaying bridge. The wraiths would show him the
way, he knew. He could feel their eager fingers pawing at him already.
Closing his eyes, he leaned forward and breathed deeply of the mists.
Somewhere nearby, Xiang Yao coiled in anticipation - how it must be
killing her to have him within reach after all these years, and no way to
strike him without losing her only chance at freedom.

	Touma Hashiba took a step forward, and was no longer in the world
that he had known. The mists hemmed him close, and the bridge beneath
his feet was old and worn, but he was not worried. Makoto couldn't be too
far ahead of him in this fog, and that was what he was here for. Fei Lian
had thought this was a trap: it was really a rescue mission. Sailor
Jupiter was somewhere in this place, and he was going to find her, and
he was going to protect her, and they were going to escape.

	Touma Hashiba had always firmly believed in happy endings...

**********

To Be Continued.



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