When Shadows Rise
Objects in the Rear View Mirror…
By Lisa Prior
Sometimes history repeats itself. Most of the time the people caught up in those repetitions had no idea that they had done the very same actions in a time before or if they had a clue, it was a vague feeling of déjà vu. That was not always so. There are a few, who have noticed the cycles that the world can put a being through. They, if they have time, curse the fates that made them different.
"Persephone," panted one such being. "Remind me to cut back on the caffeine."
Her companion let out a sound that could best be described as a snort. "Like that will ever happen." The voice came from near the ground and any normal human being would have been convinced they were hearing things. It isn't everyday that one hears a charcoal gray cat speaking in a distinct American accent.
"Looks like we lost them." Suteko took a deep breath and held it in an attempt to get her breathing under control. Running for what seemed like most of the night had winded her. Though it was clear to look at her that she was in fine physical shape, even the finest athlete would be exhausted by 8 hours of being chased through the city streets.
Her companion cocked her head to the side and listened. "The creatures are a couple blocks over. If we can get up," she lifted a paw and pointed to the nearest building, "to that rooftop, I think we can break whatever scent trail they are using."
Suteko nodded, scooping up the cat and leapt. No normal woman could have done what she did. Leaping from a crouched position to land, or more stumble, on a rooftop five stories up was amazing. She dropped the cat as she came down on all ready battered knees. She struggled back to her feet, ignoring the blood that once more trailed down her calves.
"Can you see how many?" She winced and followed her companion.
"I think the pack is down to 10 now. You got four with that last Light Flare."
Suteko nodded, closing her eyes and taking stock of her reserves. She didn't have much left. The next encounter was going to be it. She whispered, more to herself than to the cat. "That's it then. Looks like I'll be joining the guys soon."
Persephone whipped her head about, her green eyes flashing in the gloom. "Don't say that! Don't even think it Unicorn. You are a Star knight, you can't give up now."
The last of the Sailor Star knights looked down at the guardian cat that had attached herself to the lone warrior when her team had been decimated. Her uniform, once a clean silver and white fuku much like the ones worn by the long missing Sailor warriors was torn and dirty. Her voice, once musical and calm, was a ragged sounding whisper now. "I don't have much left cat. One last attack, hopefully I can clean these out when I go."
The guardian cat really looked at her charge and nodded. She could tell that the woman before her was near the end of her strength. The lone warrior had been fighting a losing battle for days now. The world had gone crazy. A week before the gates between this world and the one of nightmares had been flung wide open.
The first assault had taken the city by surprise. In the first hour the school that the three Star knights had once attended had fallen. The hallways were filled with demons out of more than just the Japanese legends of her adopted homeland. Vampires and werewolves, demons and devils all stalked the halls and those who had been unlucky enough to be in the halls when the door opened became either their tools or their food.
The star knights had came to the call. Phoenix, Dragon and Unicorn, older but definitely stronger than the days they had all fought the various youma that appeared. They were confident then, too confident. In the days when they attended the school the youma had always come on singly but they were faced with a hoard.
Dragon charged into the first wave in his usual over confident way. He was magnificent in battle but even the physically strongest Sailor Star Knight could not over come the hoard that charged them. His flaming attacks cleared the hall before them but there was only so much that could be done. The last Unicorn saw of her red-headed teammate was as the hoard of furry, scaly monsters rushed and carried him under their clawing hands.
Phoenix had done his best as they fought their way free of the building. He had not wanted to leave his best friend behind but Unicorn had managed to pull him away. Together they fought for four more days. It was after the second day that they realized that the creatures were focusing on them. They led the monsters as far from the innocent bystanders as they could.
It was just two days ago that Phoenix had fallen. Unicorn shuddered as she remembered. He had looked directly into her eyes across the battleground. They had parted with an argument three years before but it hadn't mattered. They had fallen back into working as a team when danger returned. She couldn't hear him over the howls of the enemy as she cut through them with her Light blade but she could read his lips. He told her goodbye, his eyes sad just before he called down the final strike. The flames that came up destroyed more than ¾ of the creatures they had been battling but like the legend that he was named after he was destroyed completely.
She managed to clean up the last of that batch of creatures and she spent hours trying to find anything left of her team leader. When the dawn came she knelt in the blackened circle and wept tears of loss and loneliness. She had no idea if he would rise again but all she found was the blackened and cracked crystal that once was his earring.
"Where is she, Persephone? Where are they?" Unicorn's voice cracked once more. "After all the times we helped them why couldn't they come and save them?"
Before the cat could answer another voice came from behind. "Because you don't matter, little knight. You know that." It was a cruel and hollow sounding voice and Suteko's eyes closed as she recognized it.
Slowly she turned about. Floating above the rooftop was the true enemy. The Shadow master, the creature who opened the gates between this world and the shadow realm, the enemy she had thought they had destroyed years ago. "Come to gloat again?" Unicorn's body language spoke of defeat yet she held one hand behind her back and it flickered in the gloom.
There was a smile somewhere in the hood that was the head of the Shadow master. "Now why else would I come near you, Light bearer? Will you admit now that your pitiful powers have no chance of defeating the Darkness that I control?"
Suteko's jaw firmed. "Darkness will not win the day and you know it. I have defeated you many times, Kaneda and I will this last time."
The hood tilted back as the creature laughed. "You have merely discomfited me in the past, little one. I have destroyed your friends and now I will finish you off. There are no more rescues for you."
Persephone moved closer to the edge of the building and sent out a mental call to anyone who was listening. She knew that the other teams still existed, even if they didn't remember who they were. Their guardians had to be still within reach somehow. Maybe if she was lucky Luna or Artemis would hear her call and help would arrive before Unicorn was driven to a final strike like her leader had used. Unlike Andromeda's charge she wasn't sure Unicorn would rise again.
"I have never asked to be rescued, Kaneda," Suteko limped forward, keeping her hand behind her back. She could just feel the power building once more. It was coming but slower than ever before but it came. She brought her arm about as her soul blade, the one she had used to kill Kaneda five years ago finally formed. "Besides I don't need help to defeat you now." She settled into a battle stance and tried to ignore the ache in her abused body.
The smile in the shadow hood broadened and it too formed a blade. This one was the direct opposite of Unicorn's blade. Where her blade shone still with the pure light that was her power and her soul, his was of the deepest black darkness. "Then let's settle this, little girl." He moved forward and the battle began. What followed would have gone done in the history books as one of the finest battles fought between the darkness and the light, if anyone had been watching.
Across the city two heads came up and two pairs of slatted eyes widened. "Could it be?" Luna turned to her companion who was laid out on the roof next to her.
Artemis nodded. "Felt like Persephone. She said she was going to find Andromeda and the Star Knights and lend them a hand."
"We should tell…" Luna started when she was interrupted.
"No Luna. It is not the time to re-awaken them." Pluto's voice broke in as she appeared on the roof, her staff flashing softly in the darkness.
"But Persephone sounds desperate!" Artemis stood and glared at the Sailor of Time. "Her charge is battling alone, her team destroyed."
Pluto sighed and gently stroked the cat. "It is not yet time for the teams to reform."
"You're going to let the Star Knights die completely aren't you? Just because they weren't part of the original senshi!"
Pluto stood, her eyes dark with something she would not tell them. "It is not your concern yet Guardian Artemis." She turned to go but paused. "I will tell you this. The Star Knights are not doomed. There are other forces who must make decisions whether or not Unicorn will survive her battle with her opposite. But if they act, I will tell you that the Star Knights will stand with the Senshi when the time comes."
Luna asked softly. "Others?"
Pluto smiled her enigmatic smile. "There was another team out there. If they can hold together they will turn the tide of the future." With that said she faded from sight.
The two cats looked at each in puzzlement. "Another team?"
Iriko patted the soil down around the flowers she had planted. Not long ago she had moved to this quiet part of Tokyo in an attempt to put away the part of her life that had gone on before. She was still bothered by vivid dreams of monsters and a woman with long dark hair and evil eyes. Waking many nights gasping, Iriko found the only way she could stop the images of a giant snake snuffing out her life was to work with the plants she loved so.
Her rooftop garden was small compared to the Tokyo gardens but this patch of roof held plants that were hers and hers alone. She loved her work in the city's beautiful gardens but at times she wished they would let her experiment more there. She had proven her worth to the master gardener when she had gotten the rare "moon" roses to thrive. They had become a minor sensation and had brought some prestige to her boss but he rather that she spent her working hours bringing the other rare hothouse flowers to health and bloom than letting her experiment with crossbreeding new plants.
It was only with the help of one of the Ph.D. students that worked at the garden that she had been able to set up her own place. Chiba-san had been very kind to her and she smiled in memory as she puttered about. He and his young girl friend had really been very kind to the shy and retiring woman when they found her. Mamaru's interest in roses had brought them into contact. When her master had gone on about how his new assistant had a special touch with roses she had been embarrassed and had tried to hide among the trailing ivies. Chiba-san's girlfriend had found her and pulled her into the open. Usagi's bright friendly smile had put her at ease and Iriko had finally found two friends.
She looked up as she realized something was wrong. She had never told any one that she could sense thoughts and emotions from a distance. It had seemed too crazy but she sometimes got this tingle when someone she knew was in danger. This time it was more than a tingle. She could feel a sharp pull and looked about. She could see for quite a distance over the rooftops and she wasn't sure but somehow she knew someone important was in danger three buildings over.
There was a rush of displaced air and Iriko turned about. She blinked trying to figure out what was going on and was startled by a tall woman standing before her. "It is time, Minerva."
"Minerva? Who are you? Who is Minerva?" Iriko looked about, a bit frightened. Who was this strange woman dressed in the odd bathing suit like outfit.
Pluto reached out a hand and before Iriko could move she touched between her lavender brows. Iriko shuddered for a long moment and then looked into Pluto's red eyes with her lavender ones. "It is starting again?" When Pluto nodded, she sighed and wrapped her fingers about a pen that just came to being in her pocket. "I guess I couldn't stay a simple gardener for ever."
She pulled free the pen and raised it over her head. She softly spoke, "Minerva Power Make UP!" In an instant her simple overalls and shirt shredded and reformed into a fuku much like the one worn by Pluto. The skirt and bow were of lavender, as were the low boots on her feet. Her hair reformed in the floor brushing braid she had worn for so long, the pins that had help it up in a bun disappearing in the flash of light.
"Where is the Princess, Pluto and how am I needed?"
Pluto shook her head, the faintest of smiles on her face. "The Princess is safe and she does not yet need your services Minerva."
"Then why bring me back?" Iriko was a tad put out. She had been enjoying being a simple woman after her long service for the fallen Moon Kingdom.
"Because another warrior needs your help and desperately. No more questions now, Iriko, just come with me." Pluto took Minerva, the secret senshi and teleported away.
Hana watched as the glowing Star Knight fought the Shadowmaster. She could see that the woman was tired and injured. A part of her longed to reach out and stop the battle and she knew she could easily do that but she had other orders. This battle had to happen and it had to come to it's preordained conclusion if the future was to flow in its correct path. Though not a complete mistress of the time roads as her mentor Pluto, Sailor Time understood what was at stake here. No matter how much she admired the Star Knights, their deaths had to happen if humanity was to survive. She was just glad that she had only minor control over the flow of time and that she did not have to see the deaths of all she held dear, like her friend Pluto did.
She winced in sympathy as Unicorn took a slash to the ribs by the black sword. Being the Star Knight of Light, Unicorn was especially vulnerable to attacks by the Dark Power. She could see the burn across the white uniform and the skin underneath but she was proud to see the warrior continue to battle.
The fatalism in the green eyes of the young woman battling was horrible. She knew she was going to die but she was doing her best to take down her enemy with her. The moment was coming and Hana wondered when Pluto would show up.
Suteko choked back the cry of pain as the darkness-forged blade cut into her body, deeper this time. "One more like that and I am through," she thought. She could barely hold her focus, the blade of her Light sword as flickering as her strength was ebbing. She was desperate and she had to do something.
Kaneda smiled and taunted his opponent. "See Suteko, you aren't my match. I am the strongest and Darkness shall rule this pitiful city. I shall enjoy keeping you in chains, little Star knight." He stepped closer, parrying the attack she launched easily. "Give in and join me and we could rule this world, remaking it into our image."
Suteko panted and shook her head. "I. can't let. You win. Darkness must give way to the light, Kaneda." She straightened up a bit, calculating quickly. "I won't betray the honor of my team by siding with the enemy, no matter the cost."
Kaneda laughed a low and harsh sound this time. "Your team? What team Unicorn?" He made her name a slur. "My minions took down that fool of a Dragon within minutes of being born. And your glorious leader?" He swept an arm about. "I don't see the legendary Phoenix rising from his ashes. Face it little one, you are it. Not even the Sailor Senshi you fought to defend are here to help you. You mean nothing to them and nothing to this world."
Hana gasped as she watched the pain flow across the features of the Star Knight. It wasn't being told she was nothing that had made Unicorn flinch, it was the contempt for her sacrificed teammates that brought tears to her eyes. "I may be the last of the Star Knights but we are still a team Kaneda. We fought together and I can still feel them with me." Her voice quavered as she said the last and Hana could not hear the next words she said but then neither could her enemy.
"Oh isn't that sweet. The little girl can still feel her boyfriends by her side." Kaneda sneered, lowering his blade as he did so, unconsciously. "Tell me Suteko, which one was better? Was Dragon as big as he looked or did you just 'play' around with Phoenix?"
The look that Unicorn gave the Shadowmaster was just enough notice for Hana to prepare. Unicorn's voice rang out as clear and fine as it had once been as she stepped toward her enemy. "Only a creature of utter darkness like you Kaneda could think that men and women could not be just friends." With each word Unicorn began to glow, her body slowly becoming a beacon in the night. "That you could think that the pure love that I held for my friends and team mates was simply that of two mating animals shows you understand nothing."
Kaneda reared back, his ploy to hurt the woman he had once tried to seduce had backfired. She was pulling energy from somewhere but he had no idea how. If she got any closer he would be sustaining damage from her Light. "Stay back," he whispered.
"No Kaneda. I won't stay back, won't hold back anymore." Her voice became soft as her form started to flicker in the growing light. "It is time I joined them, joined my friends." She reached out her hands and closed her eyes. "Wait for me Chris, I'll walk you home," she whispered, a tear of light sliding down her cheek as she flared brighter than the sun. "Unicorn Starlight Explode," were her final words.
Kaneda's scream of agony echoed through the night as his shadow form was torn asunder by the pure light of Sailor Star Knight Unicorn's final attack. He fled just ahead of the flare of energy and dove into a tear in existence a moment before his last vestiges of being were vaporized.
Hana sprang into action. With a twist of her mind she caused the instant to freeze. She turned as Pluto and Minerva came into sight and turned her big dark eyes to her mentor. The tears that she had not shed in many years could be seen quivering but they did not fall. "Did we have to really wait till she did this?"
Pluto nodded, her eyes saddened. "Kaneda had to be damaged enough to give us time to get everything in place."
Minerva ignored the other two and moved in a beeline to the glowing figure. She had to shield her eyes, the light was brighter than anything she had ever experienced, even the light of the other side was nothing to this. Instinctively she reached out her gloved hands and gently touched the temples of the figure before her.
In an instant she was swamped by the memories of Unicorn. A song from years back came to her and she whispered, "Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are…" The sadness she felt inside the frozen figure was deeper than any she had ever touched before. There was more than a touch of guilt for surviving the deaths of her teammates. Unicorn had indeed loved her two friends, deeper than she had let on, even to herself. Iriko turned to the quietly arguing time senshi and spoke.
"How could you let her go this long like this Setsuna?" Her voice for the first time held something other than politeness.
Setsuna looked up and sighed. "It was necessary Iriko, just as it was necessary to leave you in the Dark Kingdom so long. She has had a long and hard road but she can't give up yet." Pluto's eyes went distant for a moment. "Someone is waiting for her and it is necessary she be there to meet him."
Hana tilted her head, reaching out to lay her hand on Pluto's orb. Her large black eyes widened and she looked over at the still glowing figure. "She's going to be his mother?"
Setsuna nodded. "But that is not yet set. Now you and Iriko must bring her back. You know what to do."
Sailor Time stepped away from Pluto and nodded. "We do but," she looked at Iriko who now had her eyes closed as she whispered to Suteko's glowing form. "Neither of us can physically heal her. We need help."
Setsuna started to fade from sight. "She can heal most of her injuries herself, if you can hold her on this side. I am counting on you Hana-chan."
Hana nodded and turned to her work. "I'll do what I can," her voice dropped to a whispered. "Thank you Oneesama."
Suteko drifted in the land between life and death. Floating naked in the mists that were neither here nor there her mind brought up all the memories of her past. The triumphs and the failures were laid out before her and she did not flinch from them.
She watched her past self as she grew, making friends in odd places and learning the skills her great uncle was willing to teach. A part of her smiled as he gave her the one word praise when she mastered something, then she felt the sadness as she remembered the day he passed. It was from that day that her life had changed drastically.
She watched as her mother sent her away, on a fool's quest. She shook her head at the things she had done out of pure pigheaded American pride and then smiled softly as she watched her first meeting with her younger brother. She wondered briefly where he was now and if he had finally married the right girl.
Her eyes misted up once more as she once more relived her first meeting with Chris and Akuma. The world she was in made her finally admit to herself that she had loved both of her teammates, more than as simple friends. They were a part of her soul and she tried to look about for them. They should have been here, waiting for her as should have been her uncle.
Her soul self slumped when she realized that they were not there. She was alone and it could only mean that she would forever be alone. She shuddered, a low moan escaping her lips as she curled into a ball about herself. One of her biggest fears had come true. She was alone.
"No you aren't, Suteko-chan." A soft voice whispered to her. She looked up, with tear filled eyes, trying to find the voice that spoke to her.
First one, then a second figure formed in the mists and Suteko's heart leapt. "Chris-kun? Akuma-san?" She started to uncurl and reach for them.
"No, Unicorn, we are not your partners but we hope we are your friends." The second figure spoke as softly as the first. It was then that Suteko saw that the forms were those of two women. Two women dressed as Sailor Senshi.
"Who. Are you?" she whispered as she felt her heart drop.
"Friends." Iriko stepped up to the naked form floating in the mists. She gently placed her hand on Suteko's shoulder and whispered, "Minerva mind heal." The gentle pressure of her gift worked its way into the grief and loss of the other woman's mind.
Hana moved to Suteko's other side and she too placed a hand on her shoulder. "We have come to help you Unicorn, to help you help yourself. It is not your time to join the others yet."
Suteko took a sudden deep breath and pushed away from the two senshi. "Who are you to decide whose time is whose?" Her voice was filled with pain and anger. "There is nothing left. Nothing left of me or of my family or of.." her eyes closed. "My team."
Iriko looked over at Hana and the other nodded. "We are Iriko and Hana or better known as Sailor Minerva and Sailor Time. We have come to help you. To prepare you for the next stage of your life."
"The next stage!" Suteko stopped for a moment, confused. "I'm dead ladies. I don't think I need help with that."
"No, Suteko-chan, you aren't." said Sailor Minerva. "You are just this side of dead, yes. Time," she darted a look at Hana, "has stopped just before you would have been totally consumed."
"But why? My enemy is destroyed." Her eyes dimmed, as her body seemed to become more solid. "With Kaneda destroyed his hordes of creatures can be easily defeated by the others. What do you need me for?"
Hana spoke. "Kaneda wasn't destroyed Unicorn-same. He was just severely damaged, like you."
"WHAT!" Suteko spun about, her body now as solid seeming as her normal form. "He isn't dead? You mean I used my final strike and he didn't die?" She looked at the other woman with disbelief clear on her face. "He killed my….," she swallowed before continuing. "Team and I blew myself up and he still lives? What does it take to destroy him?"
"That will be revealed in time, Suteko but for now you need to rest and to heal. Let us help you." Iriko once more lay her hand on the other woman's arm.
Suteko slumped and shuddered. "He can't be alive." For a long moment it looked like she was going to give in but then her jaw firmed and she looked up at Iriko. Her eyes were no longer sad, they were hard and angry. "All right. I'll go with you. If you can keep me steady long enough I think I can heal the damage I did to myself."
Iriko looked at her partner and Hana nodded. "We can hold you till your body heals. We won't be needed for anything other than helping you."
"Good, I take it that the others are awake and working then." She closed her eyes and focused. She could feel the tug of her body and the pain she would soon be in but it didn't touch the pain that she held in her heart. She would have to wait to tell Phoenix and Dragon how much they meant to her. She hoped they waited for her. She let her body pull her spirit to it now. "But you better have some thing you can teach me to take him out. He will be stronger now and he knows I am willing to destroy myself to take him down."
Hana and Iriko caught Suteko as her body slumped, the light snuffed out as time resumed. Iriko bent her head to catch what Suteko said. "All that matters is destroying Kaneda now." Suteko went limp then and the other two looked at each other, worry in their eyes.
Persephone curled up at the feet of her charge and listened to the conversation that was raging in the other room. "Just how long were you planning on keeping us in the dark about this new danger Setsuna?" Luna sounded angry.
Persephone could understand. Being the Guardian of the Princess of the Moon meant she had a lot of responsibility. She had been working the longest with the senshi and the elder cat had a bit of an attitude about her prerogatives.
"It wasn't necessary for you to know before now. The Shadowmaster was not a danger to you or the Moon Princess before now."
"No, he was just focused on destroying the Star Knights right?" Artemis let the sarcasm drip in his tone. "I know they aren't part of the main court but they are true warriors. You let them be destroyed when we could have helped them. Were they just pawns to you? Weren't they good enough to deserve some back up!"
Hana's soft voice broke into the ranting of the white cat. "Setsuna had no choice, Artemis. She did not sacrifice them on a whim. The events of the past week had to happen. Hard times, demand choices of us all. It was not easy watching those two honorable soldiers die anymore than it was easy for her to let my team be decimated."
Artemis shut up to that but he still glared at the green haired senshi. Luna spoke again with a tired sounding voice. "Will She make it through?"
Iriko answered. "I believe so. She is stronger now. The wounds she received from the Darkness sword are healing but very slowly. She can't heal them herself."
"Usagi could probably deal with those." Luna suggested.
"It is time that Moon remembered and the teams be brought up to speed. Luna, have the others come here. We can awaken them all at once this time. Hana, can you convince Matten and the others to come here?"
"I can try. Are you sure it is a good idea to have them all descend here at once?"
Pluto smiled a bit. "Not quite all at once."
Iriko made a face. "I really think we should keep it down to a couple at first. She isn't going to be ready to deal with a crowd for a while yet."
Pluto's voice faded as she faded from view. "She doesn't have much time. Kaneda is stronger than you know."
The cats and Hana left on their assigned errands as Iriko stepped back into her bedroom. She looked down on the sleeping woman who only looked a little better than she had three days before. "So much depends on you and it isn't fair."
Persephone lifted her head. "She isn't the same girl who first met the scouts. She is more like one of the Kouhei now. Will they give her the room she needs?:
Iriko reached out and lightly ran her hand over the dark fur. "I don't know Persephone. I can only hope that Serenity can give her what she needs."
"What she needs is her friends at her side. She is only one part of a whole. How is she going to survive alone?"
Iriko sighed sadly. "I wish I knew."
Luna and Artemis eased themselves into the dorm where Usagi and Mina lived. It was late, almost dawn in fact when they finally got into the room they were looking for.
"At least this time we don't have to do much more than let them in on what is up." Artemis tried to lighten the mood. He was still angry but he was worried about Luna's mood.
"If we had been paying attention we could have saved the Prince and his friend, never mind poor Unicorn. Persephone told me that when she found her the girl was mad with grief. I knew she shouldn't have been made a knight."
"Luna you did not. Suteko was a fine and strong girl. None of us knew the depth of feeling that those three shared. Or the fact that Unicorn was an empathy, she was destined to be Unicorn, Phoenix saw that. They were a special team is all."
The black cat glared at her friend. "All of the children are special Artemis. All the teams."
Artemis spoke even more softly. "True, but they were a three person team. Two men and a woman who worked as one. Closer than even lovers they were. Amazing really. They never settled with other people yet they weren't romantically involved. It was like they were one soul almost."
Luna blinked at that. Artemis had hit on something there but there wasn't time to think about that. She jumped up on Usagi's bed as the white cat did the same on Mina's. She softly batted her charge's face, trying to gently wake the girl up. She knew better but she had to try.
Finally both Artemis and Luna had to settle for yelling in the ear of their charges. Both Usagi and Mina sat bolt upright. "I'm late!" they both cried out into the pre dawn morning.
After a minute of blinking and looking about the two girls looked down at the cats perched on their laps. For a moment they had no idea what was going on but then the thin veil that had been put over their memories faded and they started.
"Luna, where have you been?" Usagi hugged her feline friend with joy, not noticing the look in the green eyes.
Mina was just as happy to see her friend but a bit more perceptive. She caught the look on her cat's face. "What's wrong now Artemis?"
The cat proceeded to explain the past week's happenings to the two young women. Usagi's compassion had her up and dressed in record time. She remembered the lone female Star knight and was saddened at the loss of her cousin. She could not stop herself from heading out. "Mina, you and Artemis gather together the other scouts. We have to help Unicorn. We'll meet you at Iriko's place."
Mina quickly dressed and as they stepped out the door, she paused to ask. "Artemis, who is Iriko?" The white cat hung his head and laughed. He started filling Venus in on the sailor senshi of secrets.
Usagi slowed down when she realized that they needed to grab a bus to get to Iriko's apartment. She spoke quietly to her cat as they waited. "So Iriko was one of my court. Why don't I remember her at all Luna?"
"Because she was always a quiet and shy girl, Usagi. She loved plants then as much as she does now. That and she spent most of her time undercover you know. It wasn't like she showed herself before she helped you break Beryl's hold on Mamaru's mind."
"Is that what happened?" Usagi sounded surprised. "I remember Beryl's scream of rage but I was too busy to see what caused it.
Another voice broke in from behind. "She did her job Usagi. She didn't mind that you had no idea she was there."
Usagi turned about to see Setsuna standing behind her with a small smile on her face. "Hello Setsuna. Why didn't you bring her to join us after that? I mean we had Rini and Michuru and Haruka and Hoturu. She must have felt left out."
"We decided she deserved a rest for a time Usagi. After all she had spent all the years from the fall of the Moon kingdom till you defeated Beryl working behind the scenes. She was tired."
"Oh well then…hey wait. We?"
Pluto just smiled and faded from sight. Usagi ground her teeth a bit. She hated it when Setsuna did that. "Luna do you know who she meant." Luna was saved from answering by the bus arriving.
Usagi was the first to arrive at Iriko's small apartment. She burst in like a whirlwind, smiling at the woman she thought of as a friend even though she was really more Mamoru's friend. "Where is she, Iriko?"
Iriko waved toward the bedroom. "I put her in my room. She is still sleeping as far as I can tell.." She turned to answer the door as the bell rang once more.
Usagi started forward then she stopped in surprise. Standing or more leaning against the doorjamb was a small woman with dark hair pulled back in a braid. She was holding a hand to her side and trying to bow at the same time. "Your highness," her soft voice floated out. "Forgive me for not bowing but I can't seem to stand up." Slowly Suteko started to slide to the floor as her knees let go.
Usagi somehow managed to not trip over anything as she rushed to Suteko's side. She wrapped her arms about the other woman and with strength that belied her frail seeming form helped the other woman to the couch. She could feel the tremors that raked Suteko and made her stretch out on the couch. When she lifted her hands she saw the blood that was staining the pajamas that Suteko was dressed in. "You're bleeding!"
Iriko looked from the doorway where Mamoru stood to her guest. "She woke up I guess."
Mamoru stepped past Iriko and went to Usagi's side. He looked down on the dark haired woman and remembered more vividly the battles that she and her teammates had participated in. It was like the fog was lifting from his mind once more. He had not had a chance to get to know any of the Star Knights well. They had fought to protect the city and his love but they never quite made a strong connection to the rest of the senshi. "We should take her to a hospital Usagi. "
"No," Suteko whispered from the couch. "No hospital. They can't heal this." She struggled for a moment and finally lifted the hem of her shirt. The bandages around her middle parted and Usagi could see the ragged burn/slash across the other woman's belly.
"What caused that!" Usagi cried out in sympathy. Without conscious thought she transformed from Usagi to Princess Serenity and she lay her palm on the wound. She whispered softly and a glow surrounded both women.
Mamoru turned to Iriko for an explanation. "The wound was caused by a blade forged out of Darkness. Unicorn is very susceptible to Darkness powers. It is her polar opposite." She turned once more to her door as the bell rang.
The other senshi arrived in pairs every few minutes. By the time Serenity had completed healing the wounds left by Kaneda's sword, the rest of the senshi had arrived. They settled about the apartment, holding off their questions until Serenity dissolved back to simple Usagi.
Everyone could see Suteko's body visibly relax as the last wound closed. The sigh of relief was quite audible. "Thank you, your highness," Suteko said softly, her eyes not lifting to the others.
Questions broke out then in a mix of voices. Suteko didn't answer any of them, lying quietly, staring up at the ceiling, lost in her memories. Iriko looked to Usagi who nodded. "Quiet everyone," she said in a voice of command that shocked those around the room. She touched Suteko gently on the arm. "I believe you would feel better if you change out of those, don't you?" The Star knight nodded and slowly got up. She followed Usagi into Iriko's room. Usagi closed the door.
Iriko turned to the almost strangers gathered in her living room and started to speak softly. The gathered women and man had to stop talking and listen as she filled them in on what was going on. "A week ago the barrier between this world and the world of nightmares was smashed by a being known as the Shadowmaster. His goals at the moment are unknown but his minions are still moving through the streets."
Hana added softly from the doorway. "The last of the pack that was chasing Unicorn has been cleaned up."
Heads turned and eyes widened. Standing in the doorway were a man and woman. They stepped through the door and into the room. "They weren't too hard to take out," growled the tall man behind Hana.
Makoto stood up and looked the two up and down. "Who are you?"
Hana let her dark hair cover her face in her usual reaction to being confronted. She was small and delicate looking. Dressed in what used to be called gothic, she looked very pale and almost insubstantial. The long black skirt and white peasant blouse were simple and she wore fingerless gloves on her hands. The man at her shoulder seemed to almost loom over the smaller woman.
"My name Hana and this is Matten." Her voice was still soft, almost too soft to here. "We are the part of the surviving Kouhei."
Eyes in the room widened as memories returned. The Sailor Kouhei were another team of warriors, ones that had for a time been used by the dark forces. The Senshi had believed they were all destroyed in the final battle with the last of the dark kingdom generals. Rei nodded, "Sailor Time and Sailor Rage, right?"
Matten leaned back against the doorjamb, his arms crossed over his massive chest. "You got that right, firebird. Wanna make something of it?"
Hana lay a hand on her teammate's arm to silence him. She had changed much in the years they had fought together. "Take it easy Rage. We're here to work with them this time."
Inside the closed bedroom, Usagi was brightly chattering at the silent Star Knight as she pulled out various pieces of clothing from Iriko's closet. "No this won't fit. Maybe this," she pulled out a pair of old jeans and a stretched out and faded sweater. She handed them to Suteko who put them on with a bit of difficulty. Iriko was built along very slender lines and though Suteko was of the same height, she had a more filled out figure. The jeans fit her like a tight glove and the sweater didn't hang right.
She tugged it down as far as it would go but her abdomen was still exposed. The faint scar from the wounds Usagi had healed could just be seen. "I should go to my place and just change." It was obvious that she was not very comfortable in the clothing they had found.
"Wow, you're built like Mako-chan." Usagi picked up a brush from Iriko's neatly organized bureau top and gestured for Suteko to sit. "Here let me fix your hair. It's a mess."
Suteko's hand went to her hair and she flushed a bit. Taking a seat she quickly undid the braid that had come mostly out during the battle and the following days in bed. Her hair was much longer than it looked in the tight braid that was her normal hairstyle.
Usagi started to carefully brush the long black strands free of tangles and the motion made some of the tenseness in Suteko's body flow away. She closed her eyes and let the other woman continue.
"Suteko," Usagi spoke quietly to the near stranger in front of her. "You have such lovely hair. It's as thick as Rei's. Why don't you keep it loose?"
"It gets in the way too much," she answered.
"Oh, I can understand that. That is one of the reasons I keep mine up like I do." Usagi chattered on a bit more about hairstyles and then switched topics in her usual lightening quick way. "Where did you and the others disappear to after school, Suteko? I thought we would all end up going to the same school, like the others."
Suteko sat silent for a long time before answering. Usagi looked into the mirror and saw the tears that slipped down the other woman's face. "We went to the states for a while. I…wanted to show them my home."
Usagi bent down and hugged Suteko from behind. "You aren't alone anymore Suteko. We're all here for you."
Suteko stiffened after a brief moment, her eyes shut. "Where were you when Kaneda….."
"We did not know anything was wrong. I wish we could turn back the clock and save your friends." Suteko relaxed and put a hand on the arms around her.
"I know, your highness. You would not have let your cousin die like that." Suteko's voice wavered, "why…am I still here?"
"Because you are needed." Came a voice from the window.
Suteko looked over, her eyes widening a little. "Andromeda." The cat jumped down and settled next to Persephone on the bed. She moved rather slowly, like she was hurt.
The Star Knight moved out of Usagi's embrace and knelt on the floor by the guardian cat. "You survived…how?"
"I'm not sure, Suteko. Everything went white and then I was somewhere else ."
Back in the living room the two groups were settling down. Hana and Iriko took turns at answering what questions they could. The inner senshi were more trusting than the outers. They accepted the stories at face value. It was Sailor Uranus who asked the important question.
"Just who is this Shadowmaster?"
"At one time he was a man known as Kaneda, a dabbler in things beyond." Suteko answered from the doorway.
Everyone in the room looked to her and she looked back, her eyes empty. "He was once a student at my family's dojo in the States. Uncle taught him what he could but there was always something else that he wanted to know. Things that Uncle would not teach."
"That explains a bit but not how he became the Shadowmaster and what his powers are." Matten acknowledged something in the woman's eyes as they locked gazes.
"When my uncle turned him away for using his teaching to control those around him, Kaneda went on a quest for the power to show my family he was worthy…," she stopped and changed what she was going to say. "In the mountains of China he found something that gave him the power he sought. He returned to the dojo five years ago looking for my uncle to take his so called vengeance on."
"What happened then, Suteko." Mamoru prompted her to continue.
"My uncle had died in the years that Kaneda had been gone. Some friends were running the dojo for me. He was not pleased to find that those he had come looking for were not in residence." She moved to the window and leaned against it looking out. "I was told by the lone survivor that he pulled out a blade of utter darkness and proceeded to lay waste to everything within reach."
"I returned home, the following day and found my home destroyed and a message written in blood on the wall he left standing. A challenge for me to meet his blade."
"So this Kaneda has a penchant for going over board? So far he seems to be just a simple human with a bad temper. How did he summon those creatures we took out last night?" This time Matten asked the questions.
"At first he was just as I said, a man with a sword of darkness. I answered his challenge. He was good but he had one little misconception going into the fight."
"That you were still the little girl he knew before, right."
Suteko nodded. "Neither he nor I were the same. He had once tried to make me his and that had gotten him tossed from the school. He was sure that I had not gained anything more than a few fighting techniques. He was unpleasantly surprised."
"You were Unicorn by then, did you have to use your Star Knight power?"
"Yes," she sighed. "The beings that gave him the sword had taken his soul in trade. He had become a creature of darkness. In a cave in the hills above where I grew up we fought. It was only by luck that I managed to win that fight."
"Did you kill him?"
"Why not?" Asked Matten.
"I thought then that breaking the sword would save him. He was still the boy I had grown up with then. When the sword was in pieces at his feet he collapsed and then the sword struck."
"The sword?" Asked Ami.
Suteko nodded. "The blade was more than just darkness forged, it was Darkness and had a mind of its own. The pieces turned to a cloud of noxious vapor and enveloped me." She shuddered in memory. "Chris had to rescue me from that battle. The cloud sucked out my strength and Kaneda got what he wanted before the guys managed to break me free."
Most of the people in the room looked horrified at the quiet woman. All but the Kouhei who understood just what she meant. "You were better prepared afterwards." Matten's harsh voice actually was soothing to Suteko's mind.
"Kaneda and the thing that was his sword disappeared for two years after that. When he returned he was no longer a man but a creature of darkness but he wasn't yet the monster I fought a few days ago. He had one more transformation to go through. He came for me again in the same mountains he had found his masters. This time I was ready and the battle had a different ending. I did not hold back and used a dangerous technique to finish off his physical form."
"What did you do?" Asked Mina, ever curious about the other powers of the warriors.
Suteko looked up and into Mina's eyes. "I took my Light blade," she held up her hand and the blade formed suddenly to the surprise of everyone in the room, "and I blew it up inside his body."
A low whistle filled the sudden silence. "Good thing that worked. You must have been powerless for days after that."
"When Chris caught up with me he yelled at me for an hour for doing that." Her eyes grew sad once more and her voice a bit distant. "He was very angry that I went out on my own and battled. He didn't speak to me for two years after that."
"So you killed the physical body of Kaneda. I take it what returned was the spirit form?" Rei sounded matter of fact in her deduction.
"Yes, the being known as Kaneda died in the mountains but he had become the Shadowmaster by then. We spent three months cleaning up the creatures he had called up. We were sure that he and his minions were gone, destroyed."
"But then the school where you met your team mates became a breeding ground for the shadows. We had been watching it." Matten nodded, "Even took out some of those things. They're pretty tough."
Suteko looked at him with something very much like the rage he understood. "You knew about it and you didn't help?"
Matten held up his hands. "We knew there was something up, we didn't know that this Shadowmaster was going to set loose an army worth of shadow creatures all at once. We didn't know that you Star Knights were going to storm the place without any backup. Hell we didn't even know who the Star Knights were till Hana told us."
Suteko spun away from the watching eyes and did something that startled all but the Kouhei. Her hand lashed out and punched a hole into the wall by the window. Silence filled the room for a long moment, then Suteko whispered softly. "Dragon died in that infected hall, he charged ahead not waiting for Phoenix and I to back him up. I had to drag Phoenix away to someplace we could better do battle. It didn't matter in the end. They found every place we tried to hide, tried to rest we were chased, herded to a place that we had no way of being able to win a fight. There were around a hundred of the things when we stopped running and stood our ground."
Everyone in the room, including the four cats now looked at the bowed head and listened to the telling of the last moments of the leader of the Star Knights. "Chris and I were down to using our hand weapons. Distance attacks just couldn't kill them before they overwhelmed us. In the fight I got separated from him, forced across the clearing. I turned around to parry some claws and that is when I saw." Her voice grew more ragged. "The moon was behind him, making it clear to see as the wave closed about him. He looked me in the eyes and I knew he couldn't go on….that he was going to do it." She turned around looking at the gathered senshi and Kouhei with eyes not seeing them. "He said good bye and then he called up the final strike." She swallowed. "He became the Phoenix and everything within 500 yards of him was incinerated in an instant. In one blaze of glory he took out most of the monsters that had dogged us for days."
Andromeda moved to the remaining Star knight, Persephone helping her to walk. Suteko knelt down and gently picked up the cat and held her close. "All I found was his earring," she reached into her pocket and pulled out the blackened crystal.
Suteko then sank down to the floor and bowed her head, the two cats rubbing against her in shared misery. The Senshi looked at each other and shivered in their own memories of death from the past. The difference in this was that it wasn't the team leader who survived the battles to bring his teammates back to life like Usagi had done. This time it was one of the team left knowing there was no way she could bring back her friends and team mates.
Suteko looked up and looked each person in the room in the eyes. "Now I ask you all. Help me to defeat the Shadowmaster. Help me stop him before he unleashes more death on this tired city." The unspoken words hung in the air but the others knew she wanted to say. "Help me get my revenge so I can die."
In a shadow pocket across the mega city from where the defenders sat in stunned silence the Shadowmaster pulled his being about himself. The damage done by the final strike of the Star Knight of Light had taken a lot to heal. He had to destroy a squad of his minions to bring himself back to full strength. When he had he sent out his tendrils into the city, searching for any sign.
It was with a combination laugh and snarl that he found that his enemy still lived. "You can't do anything right can you little girl. Well it doesn't matter. You will become my toy, Suteko Fukushuu, and this world will become the breeding ground of my children. And no one will stand at your side when I come for you. Not even the Moon Princess will be able to save you."
In a place outside of time and outside of space there stood a pool of clear water reflected the image of a tall slender woman with green tinted hair. She held a long staff topped with a garnet orb. She watched the telling of tale by Unicorn and nodded. She clearly heard the final words the Star Knight spoke inside her soul and understood. "It won't come to that Unicorn. Just follow the path and the rest will fall into place."
She waved her hand over the pool and the image changed. For a brief moment figures could be seen floating in space. She smiled and a crystal flashed before settling into the ear of one of the figures.