A.D.V. Curses and Demons Chapter 16

All Ranma characters are property of Rumiko Takahashi, first published by Shogakugan in Japan and brought over to North America by Viz Communications.
 

        A Different Viewpoint: Curses and Demons:
                Chapter 16

    The three Senshi lead the way toward Jusenkyo, expecting an ambush at any moment.  Dr. Tofu followed along with Luna, both of them helping the still injured Artemis along.  Ryoga had offered to carry the girl, but Artemis had refused, not wanting to be a burden.  Usagi had suggested that she change back into a cat so they could carry him that  way, but Artemis had again insisted, saying that she couldn't help if she was in her car form.

    "You can't help, even if you stay as a human."  Luna muttered under her breath as they walked.

    "I heard that."  Artemis growled back, glaring over her shoulder at where Luna was helping her along.

    "I meant for you too."  Luna answered angrily.  "Stupid, stubborn idiot.  Do you think you are going to help us somehow by getting yourself killed?"

    Artemis sniffed.  "It might make you feel better, at least."

    Luna's eyes went wide and she broke away from Artemis, almost causing Dr. Tofu to drop her.  "What?!?  How could you possibly think that?  You may be a lecherous, scheming, alley cat with the morals of a trash yard dog... but I don't have any desire to see you dead."

    Artemis shook her head and looked at the ground.  "Better for you, better for Minako... better for everyone.  I'm no use to you now... if I ever was."

    Luna's angry frown softened.  "Artemis... it wouldn't be better... not for anyone, not for Minako... not for the others... and not for me."

    Nabiki came up from the rear, pulling Ryoga along by one hand. "What's the hold up?  We're nearly there."

    Luna sighed and went to help Dr. Tofu with Artemis again.  "Nothing important, Nabiki-san.  We should get moving, right?"  Nabiki glanced at Dr. Tofu curiously, but the doctor pretended not to notice and helped the two cats turned girls down the trail again.

    As they moved away, Artemis glanced at the good doctor.  "Doc...  I appreciate you not saying any thing back there."

    Dr. Tofu shook his head.  "I'm a doctor, I'm used to keeping secrets."  He looked curious.  "So, your real name is Artemis?  You were named after the Greek goddess of the hunt?  Fascinating.  Diana is the Roman version of that name, you know."

    Artemis blinked.  "I hadn't realized.  How could anyone confuse me for a goddess?  I mean, sure I had long hair, but...."

    Luna slapped her forehead with her free hand.  "Artemis, just be quiet.  It's obvious your head injury is making you delirious."

    Artemis snickered.  "Hey Luna, did you know that you were naming yourself after me?  Heh.  That's hilarious, you giving yourself a version of my name."

    Luna frowned.  "Diana is a perfectly good girl's name... and apparently so is Artemis."  She snickered to herself.  "Your name fits you now.  Not a boy anymore, are you?"

    Artemis blinked.  "That's not fair, Luna, it is a boy's name!  At least, it was when I got it."

    Luna rolled her eyes, glancing at Dr. Tofu and shaking her head."He's just delirious, doctor, trust me."

    Dr. Tofu raised an eyebrow.  "If you say so."  They walked along in  silence for several more yards when he spoke up again.  "Luna... that is your name, right?  Why hasn't you or Artemis been controlled by the ghost cat yet?"  He grimaced.  "That came out bluntly...  I don't mean  to offend you but...."

    Luna frowned but nodded.  "I understand, you don't know if you can trust us....  I don't think Artemis or I are susceptible to his control.  We're not normal cats, after all."

    Dr. Tofu frowned.  "You mean because of the Jusenkyo curses?  It didn't protect Shampoo.  Why you?"

    Luna hesitated.  "No...  not because of the curses.  Something else... we... we're not cats, not normal cats.  We never were."

    Dr. Tofu nodded.  "Things are starting to make more sense now.  You seemed too intelligent, too knowledgeable for only being human a few months.  The way you helped Ranma with his cat phobia... you were working together with Johnathon on it.  I thought it was strange that two normal cats could be so well trained."

    Luna sighed.  "Doctor, please keep our secret.  Ours secret and the Senshis'.  They are our charge... although they are starting to grow beyond the need for advisors."

    Dr. Tofu nodded.  "Of course I will.  Like I said, I'm used to keeping secrets."  He glanced at Artemis, then back to Luna.  "How old are you two, really?  Artemis may be suffering from her head wound, but she was clear enough.  She said that Artemis was a boy's name when she got it.  She also thought that the goddess Artemis was named after her, and from your conversation, I assume Artemis is male in his normal form?"

    Artemis grimaced.  "I'm right here you know.  I'm not that much out of it... not yet.  Yes, I'm a guy.  A guy cat, but a guy."  She frowned.  "For a second there I thought I remembered being a human male too... but that couldn't be... could it?"  Artemis shook her head.  "I think something is coming to me... from the past.  I'm not sure if it's my imagination, or if I'm really remembering it...."

    Luna sighed.  "It's not your imagination, Artemis."

    Dr. Tofu nodded to himself.  "You two... you're much more than cats with a Jusenkyo curse, aren't you.  You're much older than you appear...  I could sense at least that much from your chi."

    Luna shook her head.  "I don't think this is the time to say any more, Doctor, we're nearly there I think...  I can feel the magic level rising ahead... and this isn't a subject to be talking about in enemy territory."

    Dr. Tofu nodded.  "Of course.  A rain check on this discussion then?"

    Luna nodded back.  "Agreed."

    From behind them, still leading Ryoga, Nabiki shook her head as the conversation died, not having been quite able to pick up the majority of what was said.  "Something is strange about those two.  Cats... talking cats?  Who would have thought?"  She smirked to herself.  "Although with everything else we've seen, I suppose it's not all that strange." Nabiki glanced back at Ryoga.  "How much do you know about all this, Ryoga?  Not much, I'd wager, but surely you suspected something.  I mean, you were training them and everything...."  Nabiki trailed off, her eyes going wide.

    Ryoga frowned, not noticing her pause.  "Rub it in, why don't you? I know you might not think I'm the brightest guy around, but you didn't notice anything either, did you?"

    Nabiki's eyes narrowed.  "I should have figured this out earlier. Sailor Moon is Usagi.  She has to be.  Diana, or Luna, whoever, was always with Usagi.  They were thick as thieves, those two, and Usagi has the same hairstyle as Sailor Moon.  Why in the world couldn't I see it earlier?"

    Ryoga blinked.  "Usagi?  No way.  Wait a second....  No way!  You're right!  How could I have missed that?"

    Nabiki rolled her eyes.  <The same way you never noticed when Ranma was pretending to be your sister, or your fiancee, idiot.>

    Ryoga answered his own question.  "Magic, it has to be magic, unless she's a lot better at martial arts then she lets on."

    Nabiki blinked.  "You can hide who you are with martial arts?"

    "Well... probably.  Someone has probably figured out a way to do it." Ryoga shrugged.  "The last time I saw a disguise that good it was magic...  Copycat Ken's magic scarf.  This is different though."

    Nabiki shrugged.  "If you say so.  So, who do you think the others are?  They're all girls from your class, that's for sure."

    Ryoga blinked.  "Oh yeah, that makes sense."

    Nabiki looked disgusted.  "Of course it makes sense.  They probably decided to train with Ranma after you all helped them.  I thought that some of those girls were awfully good for beginners... that Makoto is a real brawler, and Setsuna, she's scary.  No match for you or Ranma, but for someone who hasn't spent their whole life doing martial arts...."

    Ryoga blinked again.  "So you think Setsuna-san is one of the Senshi?  Isn't she a little bit too old?"
 
    Nabiki hesitated.  "Well... she is around John-san's age... but if they can disguise themselves I don't see why she couldn't be one of them."  The mercenary Tendo looked thoughtful.  "Usagi was one of the three girls that went missing during that cat attack.  Rei and Minako were with her.  That means that those two could be Senshi as well."  She frowned.  "Neither Jupiter of Mars has blond hair, so probably neither one of them is Minako...."

    "Venus."  Ryoga broke in.  "Venus is the other blond... well the one with long hair, anyway."

    Nabiki nodded, musing.  "So Minako is probably Sailor Venus... unless they can change their hair...."  Nabiki trailed off as she noticed Ryoga's eyes turn away from her and his whole body tense up in preparation.  She turned to look for what could have put him so much on guard, then blinked.  Ahead of them the Senshi had stopped, and further down the trail two crouching forms waited for them on all fours.  Even from as the rear of the group, Nabiki recognized them.  "Ranma... and Ranko.  Uh oh.  This is not good."

    Sailor Moon started to step forward cautiously, pulling out her scepter.  "Stay still, Ranma and Ranko, and I'll heal you."

    The two Ranma's started to hiss threateningly and Sailor Mars grabbed Sailor Moon's arm to pull her back.  "I'm sensing an evil presence here Sailor Moon, stay back."

    Sailor Moon waved an arm towards the two Neko-ken style martial artists.  "But I can heal them!"  She glanced towards them and her eyes widened.  Abruptly she shoved Sailor Mars hard, pushing them both to the ground an instant before the two insane martial artists swiped claws made of chi though the air where they had been standing.  Instincts born of long practice and hundreds of battles kicked in and Sailor Mars and Moon immediately rolled in opposite directions, barely avoiding a second attack and a third, which tore up the ground behind them.

    Jupiter swore under her breath and charged up her quickest attack, throwing a small ball of plasma underhanded without taking the time for a command phrase.  The attack was small, but sufficient to distract Ranko, who had been about to pounce on Sailor Moon.  A hail of bandannas followed Jupiter's attack a moment later, causing Ranma to quit attacking Mars long enough to swat them out of the air.

    Time seemed to slow down around her as Nabiki watched in horror as the battle began.  Ryoga charged forward, leaping at Ranma with a sidekick.  Ranma knocked Ryoga out of the air with another swipe, bits of cloth and drops of blood flying, while Nabiki tried to force herself to act.

    <Move!>  Something inside her yelled.  <What are you doing just standing there girl?  MOVE!>  Nabiki witnessed Sailor Moon continuing to dodge frantically while Jupiter continued to lob balls of electricity at Ranko ineffectually.  The insane red head was somehow tearing each energy sphere to shreds before it reached her.  Only small amounts of electricity got through, just enough to make her hair stand on end.

    With the moment's respite given her by Ryoga, Mars had rolled to her feet and was hurriedly charging a brace of wards.  "This is more than it seems!"  She yelled.  "They're both possessed!"  Mars jumped, throwing a dozen charged wards at Ranma, even as he turned back toward her.  Ranma scattered the wards almost effortlessly, tearing most of them into strips with swipes from his chi claws.

    Ryoga had bounced back from the hit he had taken almost immediately, unfolding his umbrella and sending it spinning in Ranma's direction.  He waited for Ranma to notice the umbrella then jumped, using it for a moment's cover as Ranma tore it to pieces.  He focused his energy into a ball in front of him, but not really having the time to bring his depression to the fore, the resulting chi attack was weaker then he liked.  Ryoga fired it off anyway, to capitalize on the distraction. Ranma met the attack barely in time, shredding it just before it reached him, the resulting explosion throwing him back.

    "Don't hold back!"  Ryoga shouted to the Senshi.  "Only your strongest attacks can stop them!"

    On the sidelines, Nabiki still couldn't force herself to act. Charging either Ranma seemed tantamount to suicide, and she was beginning to wonder if she could even help.  It was more likely that she would just get in the way, Nabiki rationalized.  She suddenly noticed that Dr. Tofu and Diana were hanging back as well, still supporting Atlanta between them, and felt a guilty surge of relief that she wasn't the only one staying put.

    Dr. Tofu was scanning the area around them anxiously, as if looking for something.  "We are too close to Jusenkyo for this to be a coincidence...."  He handed Artemis off to Luna and grimaced.  "But I've no choice.  I must stop Ranma and Ranko."  The doctor sprang away into the wild melee, leaving Nabiki and the two transformed moon cats behind.

    Nabiki started scanning her surroundings as well, checking the horizon for threats.  "He's right.  Taro, Happosai and the others, they could attack at any...."  Nabiki paled as she noticed the rapidly growing shadow that had replaced the one below Diana and Atlanta.  "Look out!"

    Pantyhose Taro in his monster form swooped straight out of the sun, backhanding both girls with one massive arm, sending the two cats turned girls tumbling end over end to crash to earth two dozen yards away. Even barely conscious, Luna somehow managed to tuck Artemis into her body in an instinctive attempt to shield her from the landing, and even managed to get her legs mostly underneath them before they hit.

    Nabiki blinked twice in astonishment.  < She really is a cat!>  The two transformed girls lay in a heap, not moving, and Taro turned to face Nabiki.  The mercenary Tendo's blood seemed to freeze solid.  < I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead....>  Slowly, quaveringly, inch by inch, Nabiki backed up to the cliff wall they had been walking alongside, as Taro advanced contemptuously on her, obviously not seeing her as any sort of threat.

    Nabiki couldn't seem to convince herself he was wrong.  < What can I do against him?  He can beat Ranma on an average day; he slaps Ryoga around like a tennis ball.  I can't possibly win.  I'm completely out of my league here.>  Nabiki felt her back hit granite just as Taro got into range of his massive fists.  As he swung,  Nabiki flinched instinctively away.  < I'M DEAD!!!>

    There was a thunderous crash as Taro's fist smashed into the stone just above her head, showing Nabiki with dust and small rocks. Everything went from a moving in slow motion to nearly a complete stop around her.  Nabiki saw the opening as clear as day and went for it with adrenaline enhanced speed and strength, stepping inside his guard and booting the giant right between the legs with every ounce of strength she had.  As he started to fold up in pain, Nabiki looked up at his head, at his cowlike eyes welling up in pain.  He was still wide open, and she took advantage of that, clambering up the monster like he was a staircase and grabbing on to his right ear with her left hand, Nabiki wound up and punched him as hard as she could in his eye.

    Taro managed to shut the lid just before she hit, but the blow caused him incredible pain nevertheless.  He reared back, his animal instincts taking over momentarily as Nabiki held on grimly and somehow managed to hit him in the face again and again each time he tried to throw her off.  Acting more like her younger sister than Akane herself could, Nabiki let a combination of beserker rage and her own dispassionate intellect turn her into something momentarily inhuman, and unstoppable.

    But only for a moment.  Taro was more of a monster than Nabiki could ever be, and he tore her away from his head with a pair of tentacles, which slammed her into the broken cliff wall with all the force they could muster.  Right eye swollen shut, nose bleeding, and temple throbbing in pain, the monster looked down at the unconscious girl in front of him with a mixture of fury and respect.  Those emotions warred in him for only a moment before a third force took over.  Taro turned toward the still ongoing battle, the power of the hypnosis incense forcing him back into the fight, leaving the still Nabiki Tendo behind.

    Sailor Moon ran for her life.  Ranko pursed her like a cat playing with its prey, and that was pretty much what she felt like.  No matter how she ducked, dodged, or ran, Ranko kept up with ease, swiping at her with her claws almost playfully.  For Usagi, however, the game was anything but fun.  One of her favorite blouses was rapidly reaching the rag stage, and her skin was covered with red marks from near misses and a half dozen shallow cuts as well.

    Her skin was more resilient in her Senshi form, or she would have been cut to ribbons already.  Usagi's regular clothes, however, had none of the resiliency of her stolen costume.  Sailor Moon was grateful that she had chosen to wear a blouse and a pair of shorts rather than her summer dress, but only peripherally.  After all, she had more important things to worry about then her modesty.

    Ranko's chi claws were rather tame compared to some of the attacks that had been thrown at her in the past... it was the small girl's sheer speed which was the problem.  Sailor Moon knew she could heal her, bring her back to herself, if she could just get away long enough to use her healing power.  It was starting to look like she wasn't going to get that chance.

    Jupiter growled and started charging up her most powerful attack. "Jupiter..."  Her smaller attacks weren't working, barely slowing Ranko down....  "Oak..." Makoto just hoped Sailor Moon would stay ahead of the catlike red head for just a few seconds more.  "Evolution!!!"

    The hundreds of green bolts of energy got Ranko's attention, all right, and more.  Suddenly the small girl went from predator to prey, dodging some of them and scattering other's with her chi claws.  For several seconds it was all she could do just to survive, and she was sent tumbling as the final few bolts got through her guard.

    Sailor Moon had come to a stop when Ranko was driven away from her by the attack, and quickly she brought out her scepter, getting ready to act.  As Ranko went down under Jupiter's attack, however, she hesitated.

    "Oh no."  Sailor Moon looked shocked.  "She's not a Youma... is she...?"  Ranko bounced back to her feet with a snarling answer to Sailor Moon's question, and bounded toward Jupiter.  The Moon Senshi gulped.  "Whoops!  Moon...."  The build up of energy caught Ranko's attention and she glanced in Sailor Moon's direction, then started racing toward her instead.  "Healing...."  Sailor Moon glowed with the power, and knew she was going to make it.  Ranko couldn't reach her in time, and the battle would be as good as won.  "Escal... yipes!!!"

    A pair of hands had slid inside her tattered shirt and was feeling her up, causing Sailor Moon to lose her focus.  "Hotcha!"  A familiar voice gleefully said in her ear.  "Young stuff, but not bad, not bad at all!"  Sailor Moon turned inside Happosai's grasp and tried to break loose, bringing her scepter down on the youthened pervert's head like a club.  Happosai jumped away at the last second, waving a pink rag in one hand.  "Yah yah, come and get me, girl!"

    Sailor Moon glanced down long enough to register the fact that yes, Happosai had stolen what was left of her blouse, and no, she wasn't wearing anything underneath it, when she was forced to run as Ranko came after her again.

    Ryoga and Sailor Mars had been fighting Ranma for less than thirty seconds, but it seemed like two or three lifetimes.  The insane cat style fighter was fast enough to keep both of them too busy dodging to think about trying to properly counter attack.  Even the addition of Dr. Tofu to the mix hadn't helped, as he couldn't get close enough to the cat fist fighter to use his pressure point techniques without Ranma cutting him into strips.  Only ranged attacks were affective against Ranma.  But so far Ryoga couldn't generate a big enough chi blast to make a difference in this fight.

    Sailor Mars had gotten off several Fire Souls, but hadn't had the time to generate anything more powerful.  It was obvious that her lesser attacks weren't going to be enough, though.  They needed a plan to win, and quickly, before one of them faltered or fell.  It was the doctor that came up with it.

    "I'll distract him!"  Dr. Tofu yelled quickly.  "Then Mars next, and Ryoga..."

    Ryoga nodded.  "I'll finish him off.  Right."

    Dr. Tofu threw a smoke bomb at Ranma and dived into the cloud, trying to get past the cat-fist fighter's guard.  There was an angry howl and the sound of chi claws cutting into the ground, and Mars started powering up a more powerful attack.  "Burning..." Dr. Tofu came flying out of the smoke cloud, looking badly clawed.  He landed limply several yards away it, either unconscious or nearly so.  Mars didn't hesitate, continuing her attack phrase.  "Mandala!" Ranma bounced out of  the smoke, noticed Mars' attack building, and headed for her with a leap, just a second too late.

    Sailor Mars brought her hands closed, sending dozens of fire rings winging in Ranma's direction.  The pig tailed Martial artist swiped at the rings as they closed in, causing them to erupt in a fiery explosion just feet short of impact.  Ranma was thrown back long enough for Mars to begin a second attack.  "Mars..."

    Ryoga had started focusing his Chi the second Ranma had gone after Mars.  He knew that he needed the distraction in order to have the time to build up a powerful enough attack to get through, but if he had started any earlier, Ranma would have gone after him instead of Mars. Ryoga pictured what would have happened if they had tried this the other way, with one of Mar's "Flame Sniper" attacks burning a hole right through Ranma.  Possessed or not, it wasn't the way he wanted his old  rival to go out, and the image was depressing enough to begin.

    "Perfect...."  Ranma reached Sailor Mars and knocked her spinning just before she could finish a second attack.  Before he could finish off the Senshi of fire, however, he noticed the build up of power from Ryoga and turned to rush the lost boy.  "Shi..." As Ranma rushed him, Ryoga bleakly realized what it meant if Ranma was attacking them. <Akane must already be dead.>  "Hi..." Ranma was almost upon him but Ryoga no longer cared.  <Kasumi, Ukyo, even Johnathon, they're all gone... everyone is gone, and I could have prevented it.  It's all my fault.> Ryoga shouted the final word as tears ran down his face. "Hokodan!"

    A huge green pillar of energy shot into the sky, even as Ranma reached Ryoga and took the lost boy down with a lightning fast series of claw swipes.  Ryoga fell soundlessly, filled with a terrible depression, even as the energy he had released came back down.  Ranma looked up in feline curiosity, then fear, and tried to run a moment too late.  The released energy of Ryoga's Perfect Shi Hi Hokodan slammed down on him like a freight train, creating a huge explosion and leaving a thirty foot wide crater around Ryoga, who was the only thing inside the area untouched by the attack.

    Pantyhose Taro stopped just outside of the crater, having realized what Ryoga had been planning to do in time to avoid the attack. Figuring Ryoga to be either dead or unconscious from his own attack he was astonished to see the lost boy slowly getting to his feet, scratched and bloody, and looking like he was on the edge of consciousness, but still moving.  The monster growled to himself and dived at Ryoga before he could have time to recover.

    Ryoga blinked at the sight of Ranma's unconscious form.  "I did it."  He muttered in astonishment.  "I beat Ranma."  A huge fist slammed into the back of his head, causing Ryoga to crash face first into the hard baked ground in front of him.

    Pantyhose Taro hit him a couple more times to make sure, then sniffed in disgust.  <Never thought that beating the cross-dresser was all that special myself... but whatever makes you happy... loser.>  He turned to face off with Sailor Mars, who was just starting to stagger back to her feet.  He spotted Shampoo sneaking up behind her and decided to keep Sailor Mars' attention by stalking menacingly toward her.

    Sailor Mars reacted predictably, powering up her strongest attack with the time he was giving her.  "Mars...  Flame...  Snipe...."  The Senshi of the red planet fell over limply, Shampoo standing behind her  with one of her trusty bonbori raised after giving Mars a good tap to the back of her head.  Shampoo didn't pause to celebrate her victory, but instead turned to go after new prey... specifically Sailor Jupiter. She and Taro had been given specific instructions not to go near her unless they saw an easy way to finish her without getting hit by one of her attacks, and like it or not, they had no choice but to obey.

    Sailor Jupiter was so far beyond angry she couldn't think of a good word to use for how she felt.  "Calm."  She whispered to herself incredulously.  "I'm calm."  It was true, watching Sailor Moon be attacked by Ranko and molested by Happosai for the last twenty seconds, despite her best efforts and most powerful attacks, had taken Jupiter past the highest point of rage, and left her strangely peaceful.  "Hey Happosai."  Jupiter spoke just loud enough for the youthened pervert to hear.  "Check these out, if you like Sailor Moon's so much."

    Happosai couldn't help but look and was spellbound as Jupiter calmly pulled her tee shirt over her head and let it drop, leaving a pair of gorgeous breasts defenseless for him to admire.  He knew it was a trap from the moment he leapt at her, but he didn't care.  Arms open, mouth drooling, the conscious part of his brain noticed the acrid smell of ozone as he closed with Sailor Jupiter with open arms, ready to glomp. His higher functions warned him of the telltale sparks that were starting to fly from the Senshi of electricity's eyes as he reached her.  When she hugged him to her naked breasts with every bit as much energy as he grabbed on to her, warning bells rang in his ears that would waken Godzilla from it's watery grave every bit as well as nuclear testing.  None of it mattered a bit.

    When the mother of all lightning bolts shot out of a clear sky to engulf both Sailor Jupiter and Happosai, he didn't move.  "It was worth it...."  He whispered faintly as he slipped into unconsciousness, smoke whisking up from his charred form as Jupiter dropped him to the blackened ground.

    "I should hope so."  Jupiter spat out with one final look at him to make sure he was really out.  "Because you'll never get another chance."  She staggered with weakness as she took a step away from him, turning to try and locate Ranko and Sailor Moon.  The feedback from electrocuting Happosai had nearly finished her, but there was no way that she was ready to go down with Sailor Moon still in trouble.

    Sailor Moon was somehow still on her feet, frantically dodging Ranko's attacks, but before Jupiter could go to her rescue once more, Shampoo and Pantyhose Taro got in the way, obviously blocking her from helping her leader.  Jupiter started to charge another attack, trying to ignore the fatigue, even as the monster and the Amazon closed in.

    Sailor Moon couldn't really say what it was that kept her on her feet.  She had seen her friends go down one by one.  She was covered in welts and shallow cuts from Ranko's relentless attack, and she couldn't stop long enough to strike back.  She had been in bad situations before, but she couldn't recall one quite as horrifying as this... or at least she didn't really want to.  Usagi found herself wishing that Tuxedo mask would sweep down and rescue her like he used to, although being in China, she didn't think it was very likely.  Given her state of dress, or rather the lack of it, having her boyfriend suddenly appear would possibly be one of the most embarrassing things that could happen to her, but Usagi would put up with far worse at that point for a rescue of any sort.

    Sailor Moon continued to dodge most of Ranko's swipes, and parry others with her Moon Scepter, but it wasn't enough, she couldn't counterattack.  Any physical attack she could try would just get her even worse injured, and her energy attacks took more time than she could spare.  If it weren't for the very real threat of getting cut into small chunks by Ranko's chi claws, she would have dropped from exhaustion and pain already.

    As Sailor Moon saw a slightly charbroiled Pantyhose Taro coming toward her with an angry look in his remaining good eye, she sighed. <I'm sorry, Mamo-chan...  it doesn't look like I will be coming back this time.>

    As the sounds of battle finally died down, Cliopatra came out from her hiding place near Jusenkyo, followed by her new retinue.  The half cat Johnathon was just behind her and to the left, as suited her consort.  Akane, Ukyo, and the Kuno siblings fanned out around them like the loyal guards they now were.  Kasumi and Misty followed several paces back, eyes down like proper servants.  As she reached the scene of the fight she blinked in amazement.  Only Pantyhose Taro and Ranko were still moving out of the group she had sent to attack the Senshi, and both of them looked like they had been through a war.

    Clio sighed in mild relief to see that Taro was carrying a blond girl with long ponytails over to her.  "So this must be Sailor Moon." She shook her head in disgust as the monster stopped in front of her with his prize.  "Couldn't the five of you handle a few girls?  What happened here?"  She looked around, spotting the fallen bodies of the others.  "Never mind."  She shook her head, then pointed out at the battlefield.  "Collect our prisoners and bring them to the springs.  We can decide what we'll do with them there."  Akane, Ukyo, Kasumi, Misty, and the Kunos hurried to obey, as did the half cat by her side.

    "Not you."  Clio said to Johnathon, holding him back.  "Stay by my side and protect me."  She looked up at Taro.  "And you, come with me as well, and bring little Miss Moon with you."  Taro nodded, and Cliopatra glanced over at Ranko dubiously.  "Now what should I do with you...."

    "She's mine now."  A voice purred from out of the empty air behind her.  "As is Ranma, and Shampoo.  I control them, not you."  The Ghost Cat appeared next to Cliopatra, smiling.  "And now that I've fulfilled my end of the bargain, I'll take my new bride and go... along with my new bodyguards."  The Ghost Cat started to groom its whiskers calmly. "That's what we agreed, correct?"

    Cliopatra frowned.  <Both Ranmas and Shampoo?  I think not, fool.> "Of course, of course."  She assured him with a feline smile.  "As we agreed.  But wouldn't you prefer to remain with me a bit longer?  The rest of the Sailor Senshi might be coming at any time...."

    The Ghost Cat shivered in sudden fear.  "On second thought, I might stick around for a while."

    Clio nodded gracefully.  "I thought you might."  <Yes, just give me a bit more time, and I'll find a way to bind you to me as well.>  Clio turned to walk back to Jusenkyo.  "Now if Gosenkugi has just finished translating that map to the springs... we can finish what we started."

        *******************

    Mamoru Chiba crashed through the front door to Tomoe Souichi's house at a run.  "She's in trouble!"  He shouted to the small group of girls gathered there.  "We've got to help her!"  He blinked at seeing Ami and Minako in the room with Setsuna, Haruka, Michiru, and Hotaru.  "How did you...?"

    Setsuna sighed.  "I called them.  I'm afraid Sailor Moon is in great danger... as your arrival proves."

    Haruka spoke up.  "So we go rescue her, right?  What are we just sitting around here for?"

    Setsuna shook her head.  "It's not that simple, Haruka.  While we can guess where Usagi and the others are right now, that doesn't mean we can reach them."

    Ami spoke up.  "We can't teleport somewhere without knowing where it is first... and Usagi's in China right now."

    Minako looked confused.  "Wait... we teleported to the moon before, right?  Right to where the palace used to be.  We didn't know where that was either."

    Setsuna shook her head.  "Your past lives remembered.  You may not recall much of the past, but enough for that.  You can go to the moon, or to a point you can see with a Sailor Teleport... or anywhere you can remember being... but none of you have been to China."

    Hotaru spoke up.  "Have you ever been to China, Setsuna-momma?  I remember that old woman...  Cologne, saying she knew you... did you meet her in China?"

    Setsuna flinched.  <Trust Hotaru to remember that much.>  "I have... but never closer than a day's journey to Jusenkyo.  I avoided the place for obvious reasons.  Trying to teleport there would not be advisable... although it is one option."

    Mamoru Chiba jumped on the hint.  "So there is more than one option?  We may not have days to get there.  Is there any way to get there faster?"

    Setsuna sighed.  "One... the gates of time.  I do not advise this lightly, as the gates should not be used except in the most dire emergencies... and never to travel in time unless there is a threat to the timestream... which this is not."

    Ami spoke up.  "Can we use the gates to travel in space as well?"

    Setsuna nodded.  "It is possible... time and space are one, to the gates... but the price is almost always high to use the gates.  I cannot say what the price may be...  I cannot even ask any of you to come...." The tumult in response to that nearly deafened her.  "I suspected you'd all feel that way... and Mamoru-san is correct.  We do not have any more time to waste."  Setsuna stood up from the couch and brought up her transformation pen.  "So let's waste no more time.  Pluto planet power... make up!"  The other Senshi all started to transform as well, and when the lights stopped flashing, Tuxedo Mask had joined them.

    Pluto swung her staff and stamped one end to the floor, and the gates of time appeared behind her.  "Follow me, everyone."  She strode to the gates and they opened before her.  "Steel yourselves, and concentrate on staying together.  You do not want to become separated while we travel, but if you do, focus your thoughts on reaching Sailor Moon.  Now follow me... and hurry!"  Sailor Pluto slipped quickly through the gates, followed by the rest of the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask.

            End Chapter 16
 
 

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