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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.

 

NOTE:

This part has some mild swearing in. Well, most of them likely do. But it occurred to me I should put a warning up, even though the rating should tell people that, just in case.

 

TRUTH

by

Raymond Cooper

Chapter 3

** The Secret **

 

 

 

FORTY-FIVE SECONDS AGO:

"Give it up, monster from the Dark Kingdom!"

Sailor Moon. Somehow the creature knew this was her. Perhaps it was some subconscious knowledge burned into it, perhaps it was just some kind of subliminal message the fuku-clad teen put out. The result was the same. It lashed out with a black tendril, smashing towards her at speeds she could barely comprehend.

Sailor Moon didn't move fast enough - but Jupiter did, knocking the Moon princess to one side and catching the tendril on her shoulder. It ripped through her fuku - surprising Jupiter, she thought that the material was somewhat stronger - and sliced through her skin like a hot knife through butter. She gasped in pain, but gritted her teeth and grabbed the tendril, yanking the creature off its feet and spinning it around to slam into a wall.

Ichor spurted from a wound, and the creature withdrew the tendril into itself. Beside it, what was once Umiko Hayasagawa leaped to its side, and thrust out an arm at the woman who had dared strike her master. A blast of energy covered the distance between the hand and Jupiter rapidly, but the senshi dodged, leaping upwards and flipping to land on her feet, still keeping her eyes on the creature and the former nurse.

Behind Jupiter, Sailor Moon got to her feet, and grumbled. "I always get knocked around," she moaned quietly. Mercury, Venus and Mars joined her from above, and readied to do battle.

Unfortunately, the beast had no intentions of waiting for them to begin fighting, and cast off its outer layer of skin in an explosion...

******

NOW:

Saturn stared at the red-haired girl in the pool with her. It hadn't been deep, and Saturn had been lucky she'd managed to change before hitting it... although Ranma had angled himself to take the brunt of the impact... and would have landed where the girl was now sitting, staring back. Hotaru realised, somehow, that this had to be Ranma - she was wearing the same clothing, had the same hairstyle - even to a large degree, the same clothes and even the same expressive eyes.

Which was very weird.

Ranma, on the other hand, was sitting in a pool of water, feeling topheavy since he hadn't been prepared for a change (oh yes, he'd found a number of items of clothing that were very handy when in combat situations, which he was sure this would soon turn out to be) and staring at a girl who looked like Hotaru... but his brain kept refusing to make the conscious - and even subconscious - connections. He *knew* she had to be the girl he'd brought with him to the hospital, but... it was as if his awareness kept sliding off to find something else to hold his attention. "Hotaru?" he repeated, beginning to stand.

Saturn didn't know what this girl had done with Ranma, and so raised her glaive out of the water, springing to a stand herself, and swept the staff weapon under the girl's feet to knock the Ranma-thing over. Or rather, she tried to. The girl leaped up and landed on the glaive as it whistled under her. "What did you do to Ranma?" Saturn demanded.

Ranma sighed. "I *am* Ranma, uh... Hotaru-chan?" He had to hold on to that name... it just kept slipping from his mind all too easily. He suspected it was some kind of unconscious ki attack on his brain from her. "It's kinda hard to explain, but I've got a curse." He jumped up and dodged the glaive again. "When I get splashed with cold water, I, uh, turn into a girl."

Saturn stopped waving the staff at the girl, and narrowed her eyes. "Ranma?" she said, again. It really did resemble him. She had no doubt this person was in Ranma's body... but was it Ranma? She was kind of up-to-date on personalities and entities that could take control of one's psyche, and she wasn't too sure if this really was Ranma or not.

He gestured at the hospital. "Come on, we've got to go see if we can help!" Ranma leaped out of the pool, and bounded for the rooves again, slinging the surprised senshi up onto his back as he passed her.

Saturn blinked for a moment, then relaxed. This was Ranma. Had to be. He was still acting the same, even though he didn't look the same... she guessed she must herself look pretty weird to Ranma, but he had decided there were people needing rescue, and had gone back to that, ignoring his own safety for the moment to try and help those who were more in need of assistance than himself.

She could still smell the musk of his sweat on the girl's back, too... that clinched it. This had to be Ranma. She turned her head and placed it more comfortably along Ranma's shoulders, unaware of just how much her added dead weight was causing the slightly weaker female Ranma to slow down, and uttered a small whisper Ranma only just caught. "Sempai..."

******

"Princess! Are you all right?" Venus' voice called out through the cloud of dust and gravel chunks that swirled around the devastated wing of the hospital.

Sailor Moon coughed, and groaned. "This isn't my day..." Then, louder: "I'm all right. Is everyone else okay?"

The other assembled senshi called in from their locations. They all seemed to be okay... but the blast had stunned them for a moment, and they were disorganised, disoriented. That showed a moment later when Mars coughed and grunted from a blow to the stomach. She dragged herself upright, only to be slammed back past Sailor Moon, who in the disturbance of the cloud caused by her friend's passage, saw the nurse, looking slightly more feral than before. She raised her hands, and yelled, "Moon tiara action!" She whipped her tiara off, and sent it spinning towards Umiko, who raised a forearm and blocked the strike. The tiara rammed into the forearm, pushing the monster backwards, then fell to the ground, its energy spent. Sailor Moon gaped in momentary shock, and the monster sprang at her, claws sprouting from her fingertips and going straight for her eyes.

Saturn's glaive smashed down on the creature's back, smashing her into the ground for the moment.

"Mouko takabisha!" A girl's voice yelled, and an energy blast of a type Mercury couldn't quite get a decent reading on blasted up higher in the air. The shockwave from the small explosion thrust the cloying cloud of debris into the ground, dispersing it pretty effectively. Sailor Moon could see a young woman standing on top of a nearby wall, arms folded, looked very pissed off. She was wearing Ranma's clothes, and looked like Ranma a bit, but was female and had red hair. Maybe Ranma had a violent twin sister he kept locked under the stairs? She didn't know, and turned back to check on the nurse.

Saturn hammered Umiko again, and the former nurse decided it might be prudent to stay down. But regardless, she had to gloat. "My master can beat all of you!" she sneered.

Jupiter looked at the wall where she had slammed the creature before - and saw it was watching closely. Well, she assumed. She couldn't make out any detail to or around the white glowing eyes, and thus wasn't entirely sure. But she wasn't taking chances. "Jupiter thunder crash!" Jupiter crossed her forearms, and lightning bolted down into her tiara before unloading into the creature. It still stood there, watching, although it did stagger back a little. hen it cocked its head, and looked down at its chest... which was smoking lightly.

"No way!" Jupiter's words reached even Ranma, who was observing the battle as a trained martial arts warrior. He couldn't get an accurate reading on the black creature, it just overwhelmed his senses. But the thing in the nurse's uniform that... Hotaru had taken out, that matched any of the girls' power levels below him. He would be stretched himself to fight her, he thought, but what was even more interesting was the fact that she only seemed to be vulnerable to physical attacks... which meant he likely had more of a chance with her than the black creature. He leaped down lightly, beside the other girls. Something nagged at the back of his mind about them, but he wasn't going to think about it just yet. He was trying to keep... Hotaru in his mind, and that was difficult enough.

And now he had to focus. He looked at Saturn, who was about to hit the nurse again, and shook her head. "I've got her," Ranma said.

Mercury eyed him carefully. "Who are you?"

"Hard to explain," he replied. But the senshi continued to look at him rather than at the enemy.

"You're not capable of fighting these monsters," Mercury continued. "You'd best leave."

Saturn shook her head. "I think... she can take care of herself." She nodded at Ranma, and stopped dead, looking directly at him.

Well, not quite at him. Ranma's senses went off about someone... or some*thing*... behind him, and he dropped to the ground, seeing another of the fuku-clad women behind him.

But this one was taller, and had a black bow and collar. Her hair was also collected into a tight ponytail, then rolled up tighter so it wouldn't swing loose in combat, he noticed. And she looked to be... more mature, older, than the other senshi.

She didn't spare Ranma a glance. Her arms came up. "Nemesis arctic fire!" she yelled, and a staggering blast of energy leaped between her hands at the black creature. It was slammed back into the wall again, internal fluids leaking out. But it dragged itself back upright, ready to do combat. The new woman was already in motion, leaping up into the air, and spinning over to bring down a powerful kick on the creature's head. It looked up, and shafts of black energy and biological matter surged upwards. The senshi tried to dodge, but couldn't avoid so many coming in so fast... one stabbed through her forearm. Blood spurted freely as she hauled herself off the shaft, and glared angrily at the creature. "Richter wave!" She punched the ground with her good arm, and pieces of concrete fell from high above, shaken loose by the earth tremor that even now spread towards the senshi, Ranma, and the two monsters. The wave hit Ranma first, and shook him mightily.

He leapt clear, grabbing Saturn on the way through, but he then fell to the ground, exhausted and shaked beyond his ability to stand. The black creature growled, and grabbed Umiko, then disappeared in a black flash.

The older senshi smirked, then turned and started to stalk off into the shadows. Sailor Moon reached out to grab the woman.

"Hi! I'm Sailor -"

"Spare me your utterances," the woman snapped. "I've things to do." She disappeared in the rapidly brightening gloom, for parts unknown.

Ranma was stirring on the ground, where Hotaru had him leant up against herself. "Are you all right?" she asked. Ranma nodded.

"'m fine. Or I will be. The patients...?"

Sailor Moon gaped. Worried about patients at a time like - oh yeah... that was why they were here. She looked down at the rubble, then over at Mercury. The innermost senshi looked into displays on her visor, then shook her head. "There's none," Sailor Moon said, quietly. "That thing must have done a good job before we got here."

The senshi, as a group, were a little morose at that statement. No wonder, Ranma thought. "That's bad," he agreed. Saturn shifted under him, got him more comfortable. "But at least... now you've got an idea of what you'll be up against."

"What?" That sentence got the attention of all the assembled senshi.

"It's obvious... whoever you girls are... you know what that thing was. And it knows you. And it wants you." Ranma paused. "Couldn't you feel that?"

Saturn shook her head. "No, sempai," she said, quietly. Jupiter blinked at Minako, who raised a confused eyebrow in return - worldwide body language for, "No, I don't recognise her, and why's Hotaru taking an interest in girls all of a sudden?"

Ranma pushed himself to his feet, and nodded thanks at Saturn, before flexing limbs. "And that last one of you to turn up... she's dangerous. Those attacks could have killed us all."

Who wanted to be the one to tell him? The senshi all paused, and looked at each other, wondering. Finally, Sailor Moon stepped forward. "Uh, we don't actually know her yet. She's got to be a new member of the team." She looked up at the others again. "But who? Don't we have all the planets covered?"

Mercury hmmed. "The first attack she used was... 'Nemesis arctic fire'. For a lot of years now, there's been rumoured to be a tenth planet out there, beyond Pluto on an erratic orbit. It was given the name Nemesis some time ago by several astronomers. And it was thought to be detected in 1984 by the IRIS space probe sent up by the European Space Agency -"

Jupiter cut her off. "So we've got another senshi. And she's a loose cannon. Well, we eventually tamed U- er, Sailor Moon," she corrected herself with a glance at Ranma. "I'm sure this one'll come around."

Mars have her a bleak look. "Sure."

Sailor Moon tried to put a bright spin on things, and move it along. "Well, we'd love to stay and chat, but we've got worlds to save and people to rescue, so we're going to go now - bye!" and she disappeared around the corner pretty quickly. The others sighed, and chased after them, all barring Saturn, who stayed with Ranma.

"Sempai?" she asked from behind him, reversing her transformation. Ranma turned.

"Yes, Hotaru?"

"Let's get home before them?"

"Yeah. Good idea." Ranma looked around... with all that energy flashing around, and lightning... surely there had to be... yes! "Hot water!" he crowed before upending a cracked bedside jug of warm water over his head. He felt his body revert to its normal form, and he turned back to Hotaru. "See? It's me."

Hotaru nodded.

"And that girl... was that you?"

Hotaru nodded again. "I am sorry, sempai," she said, suddenly bowing, and making it a little fast for her normal body. She started to go down, but Ranma caught her and swung her up into his arms. Then he leaped for the rooves, disappearing into the distance.

******

When the girls arrived home, Hotaru had healed Ranma's slight injuries, and both were waiting, cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Ranma had assumed that the girls would be hungry from their long excursion for nothing - Hotaru had only confirmed her position as a member of the senshi to him, and hadn't told him about the others yet, and he was thusly blissfully unaware of their identities - and had prepared sandwiches, sushi rolls, drinks and dried fruit he had found in one of the cupboards.

Hotaru helped him lay it out, and when the girls came in, dejected and exhausted, they were pleasantly greeted by a smiling Hotaru and Ranma - and plates and plates of food.

Mitsuki turned up a few minutes later, looking rather angry. But she calmed down a little when Ranma offered her some fruit pieces and a drink.

After eating, he helped her pick a room to stay in. She stood just inside the door, with her bags, and looked Ranma square in the eyes.

"Thank you," she said, evenly. There was something in her purple eyes. She was searching for something, Ranma felt, but unsure what. He looked back, thinking that, yeah, it was okay to say she had lovely eyes. But apparently, she didn't find what she was looking for, and they hardened quite considerably. "And I'm sorry."

"What for?" Ranma asked, dumbfounded.

"For this." She slammed the door on his foot.

Ranma gripped his toes and bounced around, trying to hold in the ouches that welled in his throat.

From down the hall, Hotaru peeped from around a corner. "Sempai..." she murmured. So, the new girl... there was something about her. Hotaru had her suspicions, but they would take time and observations to work through. She knew the transformation pens would hide the other senshi's identities from Ranma, unless directly confronted with them, or told by them, but they didn't work quite so effectively against the senshi.

And this Mitsuki... she looked awfully like that 'Sailor Nemesis' woman...

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Okay, sue me, I'm mixing in a number of USisms into the senshi... I don't have too many good examples of the Japanese originals, and not terribly sure how they act to a large extent. So yeah, it's made up, or taken in part from the DiC dub. Sorry ^^;; Also trying to fix up one mistake in the last part... again, taken from the dub. So if anything seems canonically wrong, that's likely why... covering up for my own ignorance ;)

Factoid: in 1984, the IRIS satellite probe, launched by the ESA and designed to carry out infra-red mapping of the universe, detected a planet four times the size of Earth, outside the orbit of Pluto and heading inwards. Yes, Nemesis is based on fact - very little to go on, but very true. Thought I'd toss that in, since I thought Ami might have heard of it, and that who knows? Someone might want to check up on it.

Hmm. It's kinda getting interesting to write. But one weird thing I've noticed is that writing the planet names for the senshi works... yet calling Sailor Moon just Moon doesn't sound right. I don't know. But it's a very irritating little factoid ;)

In the next part: things heat up with the monster going on a feeding frenzy and a recruitment drive. Yes, it needs food. And yes, it's very, very weak currently. It will get stronger. The senshi hold a strategy meeting. And Hotaru and Ranma go on a date. With Mitsuki. Hmm. Wild times, indeed...