DISCLAIMER: Relatively standard stuff. Existing characters are properties of the people who made them up. Mitsuki, and several other characters are mine, and so's the story, hence ownership and copyright of them belongs to me. Contact me at domino@linksnet.nu if you want permission to use anything I've written for whatnot purposes.

 

 

TRUTH

by

Raymond Cooper

Chapter 14

** **

Nabiki entered the gates of Furiken. Thus far, she'd managed to stay back two years for her business purposes, but that would soon have to change. Why? Well, she wanted a change of scenery. She'd just about screwed everyone out of any money they had... and after all the years they'd put up with it... they were slowly wising up to some of her schemes.

Sure, some of her lower revenue ones... but still that was something that she was more than a little miffed about. Maybe a new school, or even university, might be her new challenge...?

But there was a new girl today. Talking with one of Nabiki's friends, looking nervous. Small, dark hair, white skin. Hmm. Nabiki didn't recognise her from the area - must be from just outside the immediate district. Nabiki's friend, Tsukino, was a couple of years younger than Nabiki herself, and wasn't quite a friend - she was much more someone who felt to gain notoriety at Furinken High, she'd best stick with those on top.

Hence, Nabiki.

The new girl smiled, and nodded nervously at something Tsuki said, then repeated the nod very emphatically. Nabiki headed over, more out of curiousity than anything else. Maybe she'd be an easy mark - or hopefully, a challenge. Nabiki hadn't had one of those in a while.

Tsuki looked up as Nabiki walked up. "Heya, Nab-chan. How's the morning?"

"Not bad," Nabiki replied. She turned to the new girl, and smiled. "Looking better."

The new girl blushed lightly. "Uh..."

Tsuki elbowed her lightly in the ribs. "She's not meaning it like that, silly. Least," she added, slowly, giving Nabiki a weird eye, "she hasn't meant it like that recently..."

The new girl paled even more. Nabiki frowned. "Oh, leave her alone, Tsuki... can't you see she's not finding that funny?" Nabiki stepped up to the girl, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. She lowered her voice as a comforting older sister might. "You're new to the area?" The girl nodded. "You should know something about this school... it's inhabited by perverts. All of them. All the guys here. And they like... what do they call them, Tsuki? Fresh meat? Yeah. So... stick close, hmm? To Tsukino or me. We'll protect you." For a cost, Nabiki didn't add. Tsukino knew that was a given.

"Thank... thank you, sempai," the girl said.

"So, what's your name?" Nabiki asked.

"Hotaru," the girl supplied.

******

Umiko moved around restlessly. Her scales were softening now into more natural skin tones, the claws still evident, but more manipulable. Her mouth held sharp teeth, but the lips looked human. In fact, with anything but a detailed examination, she might in fact pass for human, albeit slightly deformed. But even in Japan, this wasn't unheard of. A few bandages here and there, and voila! She'd pass for human easy.

Her charge, though, wouldn't. It was four feet tall now, and roaming the apartment they were staying in. The room smelt of the distinctive coppery reek of blood... they had killed the previous occupant and moved in themselves. Their Generals were even now growing powerful, ready for their inevitable confrontation. Their job was to protect the master... whatever it was becoming... whatever it would want. It didn't seem to know yet... was just acting on instinct. But that instinct was creating powerful monsters as Generals - able to spawn their own monsters when needed.

If they waited long enough for their full abilities to come in. Umiko's were, now, a month after she'd been changed. She could feel the change finishing up in her body. She'd then be strong. Very strong. She might start spawning her own followers of the master soon enough. When she was looking completely human again... that would be the time. She knew that.

It would be soon.

Very, very soon now.

******

Ami noticed Keitaro was acting differently today than he had even the day before. She wasn't sure why, but she assumed he'd had a good night the night before.

She couldn't have been more wrong.

Keitaro ate lunch with her, quiet for a change. Ami was confused by this; usually he spoke more, usually he acted a little more humourously... even if it wasn't supposed to be funny. But today... he sat. And brooded, if Ami could call it that. What was going on here?

Something had her on edge, too, which was confusing her a little more. It was almost like their was a Dark Kingdom monster around... and yet not. She couldn't make heads or tail of that feeling, and it kept her nerves on edge, waiting for an attack she was sure wasn't coming.

Keitaro's head turned, and Ami turned to see what he was looking at. There was a young girl about one hundred metres back, at the edge of the field they were eating lunch in. She looked to be a little younger than Hotaru, and had some kind of eye-gear on. Even at this distance, Ami could see the smirk on her face.

Keitaro's head turned again, and this time he was looking at that Narusegawa-woman. She was stalking towards them again, but she halted, half a dozen metres from them, confused. Almost as if she expected Keitaro to cow before her...? And he wasn't? This was getting more confusing. Ami noted her right hand was bandaged.

"Keitaro," Narusegawa began, hesitant at first, voice building in strength as she continued. "Keitaro, what the hell do you think you were doing last night? You -"

"You did it yourself, Naru-sempai." Keitaro's voice was flat, as it had been all morning. "You hit me. I didn't hit you."

Narusegawa held up her bandaged hand, angry now. "What do you call this, then? You *must* have done something, you violent pervert!" She stepped in a little closer.

Keitaro merely gazed steadily up at her. "Who's the violent one? Who hit whom? Hmm?"

This was getting too weird. Ami started moving back. She could feel something here, some dynamic... something was wrong. On impulse, she got her laptop out and waited for it to power up while she listened with half an ear to the conversation beside her.

"That's not the point here, Keitaro! Look what you did!"

"Narusegawa, everyone saw last night. As usual when you hit me. I didn't do anything; you were the one to-"

Slap. The sound made Ami turn around - Narusegawa's uninjured hand was resting on Keitaro's face, almost as if she was stroking him intimately. The look of hate and anger on her face belied that fact. Faster than Ami could appreciate, the look changed to one of fear. Keitaro's head hadn't moved, even though this girl was used to being able to snap his head around, or send him flying, with just such a move. This was scaring the woman. She took a step back. Keitaro smiled, and started after her.

"Stay back!"

"Naru-sempai... I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me... I'm not violent. You're violent. You're doing this to yourself. You should see yourself."

Ami's computer beeped, and she turned. It showed something... something weird. Negative energy again. A forced projection of it. But... not draining anything... not quite. It was... pouring into something else? Spawning another monster? No... it couldn't be, she decided. Not enough power there to corrupt a single gene, let along millions of them.

It could be enough to change a mind, though...

She looked upwards at Keitaro, then stood, quickly packing her things. She couldn't change here, and if Keitaro was like the others... she'd need help. She knew who he was, though... that made it both more difficult and even more easier. She'd be fighting her new boyfriend. But she knew what he was.

"I'm sorry, Keitaro, I've got to go..." she explained as she hurried off.

Keitaro smiled, cheerfully. "I'll see you another time, then, Ami-chan. I promise."

Ami nodded. "Count on it." She hurried off.

"So, Naru-chan... let's see just how violent you really are... hmm?" Keitaro smirked.

******

Ranma walked slowly along one of the many streets in the prefecture, shopping bags held in his hands. He wandered along, mostly window shopping at the moment, but checking out things in those windows with a bit of care, in case he might genuinely need something within. He hadn't seen anything yet, but he was on his way back to the Ai Sou, and thus it didn't really matter how fast he went.

He looked up - and saw a girl walking towards him. She had apparently just left an older relative, judging by the wave she was getting from a slightly oblivious young woman walking away from her, but the younger girl, she didn't notice at all. The older didn't mind, and continued on her way.

Ranma... felt something wrong about this girl. He couldn't tell what it was exactly - how was he to know that this was Natsumi Otohime? - but it felt dangerous. Bad. Like those... Dark Kingdom things he'd been fighting with the senshi of late. He gave her a cautious look, and moved to the other side of the footpath as they passed. Her head snapped around, technical eyegear - one of those new VR headsets, Ranma realised - facing Ranma and seemingly boring through his skull.

She stopped. Ranma kept walking, trying to act nonchalant, knowing that he'd already blown it by paying too much attention to her. Damn. She was following now, he could hear the footsteps. She was keeping a distance of maybe a dozen metres... and Ranma had no intention of letting her get closer. He passed a corner, looked down that street - and smiled, dodging down it quickly.

Natsumi hurried to the corner, and turned around. There were a few people in the street, but no sign of the man she'd been following. There was a girl wearing similar clothes, bright red hair, with shopping bags clustered around her feet... Natsumi narrowed her eyes and peered at the girl. No... it couldn't be. That *was* a girl, after all, even if the bags and clothing looked similar. The girl was looking into a store window. Out on the road behind her was a water main that was ejecting water into the air as workmen tried to repair a hole further up the line.

Natsumi gave the girl a final look, then turned, and started walking away in the original direction she had been heading in.

Making sure the monster-girl had left for real, Ranma sighed in relief. Thank god he hadn't told anyone about his curse... well, apart from Hotaru, who'd found out completely by accident. He gathered his bags, glared at the workmen who were staring at him and his cursed body, then walked off for the dormitory.

******

When Ranma arrived back at the dorm, he found the girls all sitting in the front lounge by checking through a window. Oh dear. He quickly ran around the back, jumped up over the fence into one of the hot springs, and doused himself thoroughly, changing him back into his normal, male, body. He then went back to the front door, opened it, and walked in. The girls fell silent as he entered, and passed through the room into the kitchen. He noted that Hotaru wasn't here, which was weird... although it was before the end of school, usually when the girls had a meeting such as this, they were all in on it.

Rei and Mitsuki's eyes followed him into the kitchen, then as the door shut, they turned back to Ami. "He could help us," Mitsuki supplied.

Usagi slammed her hand down on a table. "What? Am I hearing this right? You want our *manager* to join us fighting Dark Kingdom monsters?"

Rei shrugged. "He beat me when I was transformed. That makes him plenty strong."

"And skilled," Mitsuki added.

Usagi sighed and shook her head. "Where's Hotaru?"

"She's coming," Ami said, not looking up from her laptop. She'd been attempting to find a method to the energy patterns she'd detected, wondering if it would be possible to reverse the transformation in Keitaro. "She's just started a new school today... it's a little far away from here. Nerima."

Silence.

"Isn't that where Ranma came from?" Makoto asked, helpfully.

Rei nodded. "And where that Nabiki woman lives."

"Oh god, the sprat's run off to be her boyfriend's white knight," Mitsuki spat. "He can fight his own battles."

Rei and Usagi both glanced at Mitsuki as the older woman stood and stalked off. "What's crawled up her nose?" Usagi asked. Rei shrugged. Usagi turned back to Ami. "So... have you figured out how to stop this monster?"

"This monster's a friend of mine," Ami said, quietly. "I'd prefer we don't hurt him too badly."

Mitsuki wandered back into hearing range just in time to catch that. "Oh, that's rich. We've killed all the others... but this one's your boyfriend, that makes it different. Have you girls stopped to consider that the others we've taken down have had families, loved ones, relationships, maybe even kids? And we've just been killing them?"

"I didn't see you suggesting otherwise," Usagi yelled in return. The accusation obviously stung. The senshi knew it was true - they'd go that bit further for a friend.

Mitsuki shrugged. "I'm a soldier. I'm a weapon. I don't lead, I don't offer suggestions. You point me at your enemy and pull my trigger, little girl, and I do what I get told. And you haven't said not to kill them once yet."

Usagi jerked back, eyes wide in anger, horror, and a dozen other conflicting emotions. Her mouth moved, but she couldn't say anything.

Makoto stepped in. "Come on, everyone. Calm down. We... might not have looked to save the people before, but we will from now. Agreed?" She glanced around each of the assembled senshi in turn, waiting for a nod. Even Mitsuki reluctantly agreed. "Right. Ami? Have you found any way to change them back yet?"

Ami shook her head. "The energy emanations from Keitaro, and from them all thus far, is different to the usual Dark Kingdom patterns we've encountered. I'm attempting to correlate the new changes against one another, and hoping to find out if there's some way we can change them back with our existing powers. Otherwise..."

"Would my Starlight honeymoon therapy kiss, or even my crescent wand, be enough to change them back?" Usagi asked hopefully. If there was an easy way, this would be so much easier.

Ami shook her head. "I don't think it would. They appear to target a specific structural componant of the Dark Kingdom energy patterns, and that componant is not evident in this form. In fact, they could have bad, and unpredictable, results."

"Bad as in we kill them?"

"Bad as in we make them worse."

"Make what worse?" Ranma stepped into the lounge again with a tray full of snacks. He took up a position on an empty chair. Rei and Mitsuki didn't seem to mind, Usagi noticed, and Makoto wasn't too bothered, either. But the girls fell silent completely, following Usagi's lead. "What? What'd I do?" Ranma looked hurt.

"We were..." Rei started, then fell silent under a glare from Usagi.

Mitsuki wasn't under any such compulsion. "We were discussing the monsters you've likely seen or heard around the place."

"Oh... there's one walking around town at the moment." Ranma chewed on a rice cake idly, belatedly realising jaws were hitting the floor all around him. When he did notice... "What?"

"Was it a man, about your age, with glasses and dark hair?"

Ranma shook his head. "Girl, about Hotaru's age, with a VR head-"

"-set," Ami finished, looking up. "I think the sister of someone... Keitaro knows. Are you sure?" Ranma nodded. Ami nodded at Usagi. "We've got our transmission point."

"Transmission point?"

Ami went to explain to Ranma, but Usagi held up a hand, then smiled at Ranma with a bright cheery smile that obviously looked false. "Nothing, Ranma, nothing at all. We're all just gonna go out now, and go back to classes. Could you ask Hotaru to look us up when she gets here? Thanks. We're going now, bye!"

And the senshi all hurried out the door after Usagi, throwing apologetic looks back at their manager. Ranma was left along, in the lounge, with a plate full of rice cakes, and nothing but confusion to show for it.

"Sempai?"

Ranma turned at the sound of Hotaru's voice. She looked a little meek, as she held the school fuku and jug of cold water. He nodded. "Yeah, I thought so."

"We'll catch up quickly, sempai."

******

Catch up quickly they did. Saturn and Ranko caught up quickly to the senshi as they flew along. Ranko bounced from rooftop to rooftop, keeping pace with ease.

"Saturn!" Nemesis called out, shifting her flight path to move closer to the younger senshi. "Glad you could make it." She eyed Ranko carefully. "She's back again?"

"I met her on the way from the dormitory, after Ranma told me where you were going," Saturn replied. "We've got a lead on one of the monsters?"

Nemesis nodded. "Yeah. Bitch of a thing, too - Mercury's boyfriend." Nemesis snorted.

Mercury's boyfriend? Ranma thought. Weird. He'd heard the name Keitaro mentioned... and Keitaro was Ami's boyfriend... maybe they were talking about someone else. They had to be. Ranma found his eyes drawn to Mercury, but his eyes kept sliding off. He swore she looked like Akane... but Akane, a senshi? Yeah, sure... although... she certainly was strong...

He shook the thought off, and continued leaping.

Sailor Moon just glared at Ranko. She didn't say anything; didn't have to. Saturn intercepted the look, and flew up towards her. "She's a good fighter, Sailor Moon, and we need her."

Sailor Moon continued to glare.

Presently, the grounds of Tokyo University came into sight. The senshi alighted near where Ami had been having lunch with Keitaro, on a small hill in one of the small fields around the campus. Mercury checked her visor - nothing here. But residual energy patterns led up towards one of the buildings... a refectory, Mercury noted. "Up there, come on!"

The senshi ran. Ranma hesitated a moment, feeling something behind him. He turned - and there, several hundred metres away, was the girl - Keitaro's friend's sister? She was watching him, carefully. Damn... Ranma knew she recognised his girl form. He might not be able to use that particular disguise again when confronted with her. Oh well. He turned, and followed the senshi - one monster at a time.

******

The senshi burst into the refectory, prepared for battle. But the place was packed. Strangely enough, with people trying to run for their lives.

In the middle of the dining room stood Narusegawa, throwing punches left and right. The power behind them seemed superhuman, but Mercury's visor said she wasn't a monster - but under some kind of mind control. Mercury pointed this out to the senshi, who fanned out. "Keitaro's got to be here somewhere!"

Sailor Moon nodded, and looked at Narusegawa, who was injuring students and lecturers alike. "Ranko, whatever your name is, take care of her before she hurts someone. We've got someone to find."

Ranma nodded and leaped into the crowd of people. Saturn saw her friend disappearing around Narusegawa, and made a distraction so the others could get out of the way. Then he gestured to the wild woman, and made an unofficial challenge to her. She responded.

"Is he here, Sailor Mercury?" Sailor Moon asked.

Mercury was checking her visor. "I'm not... wait... over there." She pointed at the counter. Keitaro sat on it, chewing on a chocolate bar. He was watching Narusegawa with interest as she threw punches and kicks at Ranko, and watched the other woman dodge them all. At Mercury's words, he turned, lazily.

"Ah. Was wondering when you'd all show up. The master said you might." He thumbed his glasses up his nose, then hopped off the counter. He cracked his knuckles, and stood lightly with his feet shoulder-width apart. "I think I'm ready for you."

The senshi started moving towards him, but his gaze shifted from their approach to behind them. "Ah, Natsumi-chan. Just in time to help?"

They all felt the burst of dark power from behind them as Natsumi released the blocks hiding her power. Ranma staggered under the assault, Saturn noticed, assuming correctly he must have felt it more powerfully than herself and her companions. She'd have to ask about that, she thought, filing that away in her head.

Natsumi smiled. "Yes. I'm here to help. A little. Mostly to watch. The master... well, he's not sure about this moving early business. Wants us Generals to keep an eye on his progeny."

Progeny? Mercury thought. Generals? Someone was building a new army. Well, that much had been obvious... but this was the first time it had been officially mentioned by any of the monsters. Mercury filed that away, and started her visor running through diagnostics on the energy output of the Dark Kingdom soldiers.

Sailor Moon stepped forward, hand raised, to make a speech, but Keitaro waved it off. "Please. I think we can dispense with the pleasantries. I know who you are, what you're going to try to do. Let's just get down to it?"

Sailor Moon looked nervously at the other senshi, but then turned back and nodded. "Okay. Uh... Sailor Senshi - attack!"

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Gah. This one would not write itself until today. Sorry about that ^^;;

Anyway, next chapter: the next fight. Be here... or... uh, yeah. :) See you then :)

Make your own free website on Tripod.com