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 dreamsinpink's Halo

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dreamsinpink
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Lotus Crystal

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PostSubject: dreamsinpink's Halo   15th January 2015, 5:54 pm

This is a story that I've been chipping away at for a while, and is the one I hold most dear. It's my look on one way the Sailor Moon story could have evolved. It's a work in progress, but I (hope / think) I have some interesting things coming up!

I also hope that it's okay that I made a post per chapter.


Halo
I – Origin –


          “Usagi! Wake up!” From the depths of sleep, the girl felt a delicate prodding to her side. She groaned, turning over in an attempt to crush the perpetual force that was slowly nagging her to wake. “Usagi! There are innocent lives at stake!” As the words registered in her drowsy mind, she submitted, allowing her eyes to flit open.
          “What’s going on, Luna?” She asked words groggy with sleep.
          “Transform!” The feline guardian demanded, knowing that time was of the essence.
          Without question, Usagi nodded as her hand blindly searched the nightstand for her broach. Feeling its cool crystal against her palm, she grabbed it, thrusting her arm into the air.
          “Moon Prism Power, Make Up!” Instantly the once ordinary girl was engulfed in a radiant light.           
          Power surged through her body, the magic of her transformation replacing the tattered nightgown with a sailor-collared bodice, skirt and boots to match. White gloves ran like ribbons up the length of her arms, a jewelled tiara crossed her forehead, and her hair became pinned into her signature hairstyle – two buns with soft streams of gold. Within seconds, the terrified cries of those in need rang through her ears, and without a moment’s hesitation she leapt from her window onto the soft grass below, allowing instinct to guide her. The pleas for help grew louder and she found herself in front of a convenience store.
          A large demon, or ‘youma’ as her guardian referred to them as, grasped a young man between its gnarled fingers. The man struggled at first, but the monster persisted, strengthening its hold and drawing the man’s energy into its vile mouth. The girl surveyed the scene, noticing a collection of seemingly lifeless forms lying discarded at the youma’s cracked, hoofed feet.
          “Stop!” Sailor Moon screamed, her heart pounding with adrenaline and anxiety. The monster ignored her request and continued on its mission to gather human energy. She ran towards the creature, leaping into the air and sending herself heels first into its side. Her attack was quickly blocked as a powerful electric wave flew from the monster’s empty claws. Her body was sent reeling backwards, and she landed on the ground, the impact making her stomach jump.
          Cautiously, she rose to her feet, readying herself for another assault. She took a running start, lunging into the youma with her elbow, momentarily knocking it out of concentration. Irritated, it sent another jolt of electricity towards Sailor Moon, crippling her to her knees. As she released a panged cry, her mind froze and waves of self-doubt coursed through her. She wasn’t cut out for this.
          “Sailor Moon! Get up!” Luna hissed from behind her. With laboured breaths, the warrior stood shakily to her feet, her body still tingling with the aftermath of the electric shock. She watched in horror as the youma finished its task, allowing the man in its grasp to slip carelessly from its clutches. It turned, focusing on its next victim who sat cowering beside a payphone. “These people need you!” Luna reminded her, frustrated by her charge’s rattled state. 
          The girl nodded as Luna’s word echoed in her mind. ‘I have to save them,’ she thought, a renewed sense of courage rushing into her veins. “That’s enough!” She yelled, her voice stronger, demanding attention. The youma stopped, turning its focus to Sailor Moon. Its breathing slowed, and its amber eyes flashed red with rage.
          “You dare interrupt me?” The monster challenged, its raspy voice seeping eerily through its chapped lips.
          “Oh I’ll dare to do a lot more than that,” Sailor Moon promised, cheering internally at her reply. She raised two slender fingers to her tiara, “Moon Twilight Flash!” She chanted, the delicate accessory shifting forms and turning into a brilliant ball of silver energy, which she sent flying towards to the monster. Although it was prepared for the attack, the blinding light caused the creature to recoil. Defences down, Sailor Moon’s weapon cut through its flesh, releasing the collected energy and causing the monster’s body to crumble into ash. The girl sighed in relief, the innocent bystanders rising one by one with their energy restored. Knowing that they were all safe, Sailor Moon followed suit and vanished from the scene, but not before taking notice of the masked figure standing amongst the trees.
          As Sailor Moon returned to her room, her eyes fell on the idol littered calendar that hung against the light pink walls. It had been three weeks. Three weeks since her life and the sole purpose of her existence had been completely turned upside down. Three weeks since her first battle, and consequently the first time she had been so close to death. She shuddered as three weeks’ worth of memories clouded her mind – she was Sailor Moon. The champion of love and justice. The heroine destined to protect the world. Along with the heavy responsibility that had been dropped onto her unsuspecting shoulders, she was also Usagi Tsukino, a sixteen-year-old high school student.
vThe blonde allowed her guise to fade, and fell exhausted onto her bed. She could feel the words on Luna’s lips, hanging there, unsaid. Usagi’s gaze turned towards the window, and warm tears welled in her eyes.
          “Usagi…” Luna started, her tone serious as she sat rigid at the foot of the girl’s moon patterned bed.
          “Please, not tonight,” she begged wearily, willing back the tears with a sniffle.
          “You’ve said that for the past five nights.”
          Usagi remained silent, clenching her jaw. She had never asked for the burden, and while she was proud to help those that needed her, deep down she knew that she was never meant to be a warrior. She lacked the intelligence. The confidence. The strength. The courage. And most of all, the stomach for it.
          “I never asked for this,” she whispered, lying completely motionless. “I can’t do this.”
          “It will get easier,” Luna replied, moving closer to rest a reassuring paw on the girl’s arm. Shining crystal eyes turned to meet the cat’s determined glare.
          “No, Luna. You’re not listening, I cannot do this,” the girl repeated fervently, shaking her head.
          “You can, and you will,” she stated firmly.
          “What if I don’t want to?” Usagi challenged, asking the one question that had been plaguing her mind from the start; no one had ever asked her to accept this role.
          “Then you’re not the girl I thought you were,” Luna bit, playing heavily on Usagi’s guilt.
          “I can’t stop them from hurting people,” Usagi confessed, images of injured bodies and lifeless forms creeping into her mind. She cringed at the memories, knowing full well she would never become accustomed to seeing burnt flesh, or smelling blood. 
          “But you did,” her guardian reminded her.
          “Barely,” the girl muttered, feeling as if the universe was playing a cosmic joke on her. In what dimension could she – Tsukino Usagi – ever live up to the expectations of a “champion of justice”? She just had too many shortcomings.
          “You still did, and your power will continue to grow and to improve. You need to believe in yourself as much as I do... and as much as the people you’ve saved do. You are Sailor Moon,” the feline lectured, hoping that the encouraging words would alleviate the girl’s misconception of her deficiencies. Once again, Usagi fell into silence, allowing her thoughts to run rampant as she finally let herself begin to digest what she had become and what she had already been through. This was her fate.
          “Luna… who is he?” She asked suddenly. He had been there from the start, always shrouded by shadows and observing from the background. He had never spoken, and never intervened. He merely watched.
          Luna looked away, unwilling to answer the question. “Go to sleep Usagi, you have school in a few hours,” she said gently, “tomorrow is a new day.”

___________________________

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dreamsinpink
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PostSubject: Re: dreamsinpink's Halo   15th January 2015, 5:54 pm

II – Secrets –


          The next morning came all too soon and once again, the golden haired girl was wretched from the solace of sleep. She squeezed a white, feather-filled pillow over her head, muffling the alarm clocks’ agitated cries. Eventually the constant ringing broke through the barrier, and she labouredly swung her legs from underneath their protective, warm cover.
          Usagi routinely prepared for the day ahead, throwing on her uniform and quickly shoving her school materials into her bag. She shuffled downstairs to where her father was eating breakfast, and stopped when she saw a familiar image flash across the television screen.
          ‘Last night another monster attack occurred near a convenience store in the Minato district of Tokyo. Witnesses say that the attack was stopped once again by the mysterious heroine, Sailor Moon. An anonymous informant also submitted the following footage. This is the first time that the heroine’s actions have been caught on tape.’
          Usagi’s face blanched when shaky footage from the fight began to run. She saw her alter ego manipulate her power to turn a simple tiara into a deadly weapon. She watched again as it sliced through the monster’s body, causing it to disintegrate. Her shoulders dropped as she remembered what was not shown on television – her panic, her fear and most of all, her failure. ‘What would I have done if Luna hadn’t been there…’ she wondered, a frown spreading across her face. 
           “Usagi honey, you better get moving. You’re going to be late,” her mother warned, drawing her daughter’s focus back to reality.
          Her father looked away from the television and smiled, “Your mother’s right! Have a good day at school.” Usagi stared at them in bewilderment – had they not recognized their own daughter? Could no one tell that it was her who was constantly putting her life on the line to save them?
           “Sweetie, are you okay?” Ikuko asked, placing a concerned palm against Usagi’s forehead, watching the colour drain from her face.
          “Mom, can’t you tell – ” she started, but the words died in her throat as Luna shot her a piercing glare. Usagi felt her entire stature shrink. “I’m fine Mom,” she replied weakly, plucking her lunch from her mother’s hand. “I’ll be home before dinner,” she called, heading out the door knowing that if she stayed any longer, she might burst into tears.
 
          As soon as she was out of the house, Ikuko turned to her husband who had moved to adjust his tie in the hallway mirror.
          “Do you think it’s drugs?” she wondered tentatively, leaning against the wall and watching as he made a final modification on the knot.
          “I’m sure it’s not drugs,” he replied confidently, laying a strong hand on his wife’s slender shoulder.
           Look at her, Kenji. Just look at her!” the woman continued, her voice raised with panic and worry, “she’s like a zombie.” Ikuko could sense the invisible weight on Usagi’s shoulders, and for the past few weeks she had watched her once glowing and energetic little girl grow tainted with stress and exhaustion.
          “It’s probably just all the pressure from school. You know they have a lot of tests around this time,” Kenji reasoned, pulling his suit jacket from the back of the chair it had been resting on.
          “I suppose,” Ikuko sighed, smoothing the down lapels of her husband’s suit.
          “Don’t worry,” he reassured her, placing a loving peck on her cheek, “she’ll be fine. This is our Usagi we’re talking about; nothing keeps her down for long.”
 
          Usagi began her trek to school with each step growing increasingly cumbersome. She felt as if she was being pulled into the ground by ropes anchored with stones, and a cloud of muddled memories hung dangerously over her head. She was Sailor Moon and she was quickly realizing that this burden was not something she could share or shed. She released an agitated sigh as she heard the light patter of her guardian’s steps nearby. If there was one advantage that came with being Sailor Moon, it was definitely the heightened senses.
          “Luna, I know you’re there,” Usagi yelled, annoyed at being followed. Would there ever be a time where she could simply be alone with her thoughts? “You don’t have to follow me to school every day,” the girl snapped, her pace increasing in a vain attempt to lose the feline.
          “It’s my job to keep watch over you,” Luna stated, agilely walking along the wall. Usagi only rolled her eyes – this was not the first time Luna had reminded her of that fact. She scowled at the choice of words, knowing that they were true; she did need to be watched, especially in battle.
          “My own parents don’t even recognize me,” Usagi stated sadly, causing Luna’s brow to furrow.
          “That’s part of the power, no one should recognize you,” she explained for the countless time. The magic woven into her power allowed her to remain anonymous. People would see Sailor Moon’s face, but making the mental connection of that image to Usagi would be impossible.
          “Can’t I tell someone?” The blonde whined, her posture slouching and her bag dragging along the ground.
          From the start, Usagi had longed for a confidant, someone who could help take the edge off her burden. She just wasn’t the kind of girl that kept everything locked away; that’s not how she functioned. Keeping this colossal secret in the tight confines of her mind was spreading through her like a virus and slowly wreaking havoc on every aspect of her life. She couldn’t justify why she sometimes flew from the room without a word of excuse. She couldn’t explain why there were heavy circles developing under eyes, which with every battle were turning lacklustre and empty. There were so many questions that had to go continuously unanswered and she wondered how long things would be able to stay as they were.
          “If you’re willing to put their life in danger, go ahead. Tell them.” Luna’s blunt answer sent a wave of guilt through Usagi. She would never want to put anyone she cared about in danger; she wasn’t that selfish.
          “I know Luna, I’m just so exhausted.” She managed a half-hearted smile, trying to convince herself that everything was going to be okay. “I hope nothing happens today,” she said wistfully, “don’t these guys ever go on vacation?” With a complete shift of attitude, she giggled quietly to herself as images of hideous monsters sprawled out on beach chairs popped into her mind. Luna shook her head, a light smile appearing on her lips – that girl would never change.
          “Talking to your cat again, Odango?” Hearing the familiar, low timbre voice behind her, Usagi froze. ‘I am so not in the mood for him today…’ she thought, slowly turning around to face a tall man, wearing a black turtleneck and infamous olive blazer. It had been six weeks since they had first met, and they seemed to constantly be crossing paths.
          “I’d rather talk to her than you, Mamoru-baka,” Usagi spat, her stomach flipping as he flashed her a lopsided grin. It would be foolish to deny that Mamoru was an attractive man, with his sapphire eyes and messy midnight locks, but then he would open his perfectly supple lips and something ridiculously irritating would pour out. Usagi knew she should ignore it, but something inside always made her react and despite his teasing, she felt drawn towards him. It was the way he looked at her, those lingering stares that challenged her to solve the enigma hidden in his stormy eyes.
          “Oh you know that’s not true,” he replied, watching the blush creep up her neck. He couldn’t help but smile at the frown that stole her features; she had the most beautifully expressive face he had ever seen.
          “She doesn’t insult me,” Usagi remarked, childishly sticking out her tongue.
          “I’m sure she could find a few pieces of … constructive criticism if she could talk.” Usagi snorted in irony, and sighed with relief – at least he hadn’t heard Luna talking. “Isn’t that right, kitty?” Mamoru confirmed, reaching out to pet the charcoal feline. The man made Luna’s hair stand on end, and instead of a friendly purr, her ears flattened and she hissed, swinging a clawed paw towards his outstretched fingers. Surprised, Mamoru quickly retracted his hand.
          “See Mamoru, even cats don’t like you,” Usagi said smugly, yet she couldn’t quash the anxiety that swelled up over Luna’s strange reaction. She soon shrugged it off as nothing but a bout of over-protectiveness.
          Mamoru scowled in annoyance. “You’re late for school,” he stated flatly, without an ounce of urgency in his voice. Usagi cringed – she hated being late and she hated getting detention, a practice that was becoming all too common for her liking.
          “This is your fault,” she told him, eyes narrowed with seriousness. “I hope you know you’re buying me a milkshake later to make up for it,” she added, making Mamoru chuckle.
          “You’d better run,” he replied, causing Usagi to spin on her heel in agreement. “See you around, Odango,” he called after her, receiving a backwards wave as she flew down the street, golden pigtails streaming behind her. Mamoru watched after her unable to conceal the smile that spread over his face. There was something different about that girl.
 
          Usagi’s day droned on like any other – classes were tedious and detention seemed to last a lifetime. She watched the second hand of the clock as it sluggishly made the journey around its black and white face. Her eyes were growing heavy, and every so often, she felt her lids slowly fall and her head rapidly drop, jerking her back to consciousness. She continued to battle against sleep until the shrill ringing of the school bell signalled the release from prison. Glad to be finished for the day, Usagi found herself on autopilot, making her way to her favourite hangout to gossip with her two closest friends – Naru and Umino.
          Usagi stood in front of the Crown Arcade’s sliding doors as they opened to welcome her inside. She took a moment to survey the floor, from the machines that were whizzing and beeping under the control of middle and high school students, to the crowded café, complete with a checkered floor and red vinyl booths. Catching sight of Naru’s fiery hair, she skipped passed the games and slid into the seat beside her.
          “Finally!” Naru exclaimed, glancing at her watch.
          “I know, I know. I’m sorry. Detention lasted forever,” Usagi explained with a groan, shedding her jacket. “So, what did I miss?”
          “Umino told me about… bugs,” Naru replied, relieved that her friend had showed. “It was fascinating,” she added monotonously.
          “You told me to hold back on the gossip until Usagi got here,” Umino whined, pouting lightly at Naru’s obvious distaste for his previous conversation topic – how could anyone hate the captivating world of entomology?
          “Now that Usagi’s here, you can start,” the red head ordered. The boy looked around the room, and leaned in, his voice barely above a whisper.
          Well, you won’t believe what I overheard about Keiko Yoshida,” Umino began, the girls listening intently as the hottest gossip spilled from his lips. They always found it utterly amazing how Umino, who was supposedly the class nerd, was always on top of the latest rumours, breakups and hook-ups. He was a source overloaded with information, both academic and social.
          “Sorry to interrupt,” a friendly voice broke into the conversation, its owner smiling as he was greeted by three pairs of eyes.
          “Motoki!” Usagi grinned up at the apron clad, sandy haired man, watching in confusion as he placed a strawberry milkshake before her. “How did you know? I didn’t even order yet,” she wondered, glancing between him and the drink.
          “It’s actually courtesy of that gentleman over there,” Motoki said with a laugh, pointing towards Mamoru who was seated at the café counter, head buried in a newspaper.
          “No way,” Usagi whispered in disbelief – she never actually expected Mamoru to comply.
          “I swear,” Motoki promised, raising his hands in innocence.
          “Will you thank him for me?” she asked nervously, unable to control the heat that rose to her face. Usagi desperately wanted to find meaning behind the simple gesture. She wanted it to be something more than Mamoru merely humouring her.
          “I think you should thank him yourself,” Motoki urged, feeling the asinine desire to play matchmaker. He couldn’t pinpoint why or how, but somehow he knew they were just supposed to be together. It was this feeling that he got when he was around them. A reaction to the intense chemistry that bubbled between them.
          “Usagi, is there something going on between you and Mamoru that you haven’t told us about?” Naru asked, noticing Usagi’s sudden shyness and the knowing gleam in Motoki’s eye.
          “What? No!” She shook her head vehemently.
          “Why are you blushing so much?” Umino questioned.
          “I’m not!”
          “You kind of are,” Motoki exposed her with a wink. Usagi frowned and pulled the milkshake closer, taking a sip.
          “He is a jerk,” she managed, as the cold liquid ran down her throat, instantly soothing her mood.
          “Oh yeah, what a jerk. He bought you a milkshake,” Naru said sarcastically, rolling her eyes. Usagi sighed, casting a glance in Mamoru’s direction – she knew she was being unreasonable. Here he was trying to make an effort and she was too scared to figure out why. ‘There’s probably nothing behind it,’ she told herself, unsure whether or not that instilled or diminished her confidence.
 
          Mamoru cautiously watched her reaction from his seat in the corner, slyly pretending to be engrossed in his paper. No one seemed to notice that he hadn’t turned the page for more than five minutes. A look of intense sullenness captured his expressions as he watched Usagi and Motoki with abnegated envy. Talking to her always came so easily to Motoki; they would laugh, and joke. She would innocently flirt with him, placing a gentle hand on his arm or giving him a friendly hug. Mamoru hated it.
          That little sprite of a girl caused his emotions to run rampant to the point where he himself could hardly control them. She was intimidating. It was like part of him was constantly calling out to her, trying to make some sort of connection, and the only way he knew how to stand out was to provoke her. To tease her. To make sure that she knew he was there. Mamoru gripped the china mug angrily in his hand and downed the rest of his coffee. He saw her look in his direction, and immediately averted his gaze, hiding behind the flimsy paper.
          “Mamoru?” Her sweet voice interrupted his fuming state.
          “Odango,” he addressed her, watching as she shook her head in irritation over the name. “Can I help you?” Mamoru wondered, noticing her awkwardly twisting hands and rocking feet.
          “I just wanted to say thank you.” The words sped from her mouth, and he paused to make sure he had caught them. “For the milkshake,” she added.
          “I didn’t think I had choice,” he replied jokingly, raising his brow with a slight grin. He watched the guilt take control of her face, her eyes dropping to the ground.
          “I didn’t really expect you to,” she murmured.
          “I know,” he laughed, half-wondering if she would ever learn when not to take him seriously. “Strawberry was right, wasn’t it?” he asked, knowing that anything but an affirmative answer would be a lie. She had a strawberry milkshake nearly every time she came into the arcade. They were her favourite. It was a fact that he had filed away in his memory shortly after their first encounter.
          “Yeah, it was,” she confirmed, blushing becomingly.
          “Good,” he smiled again, and Usagi’s heart leapt to her throat. It was much easier being around him when he wasn’t being nice. Suddenly, Usagi felt the muffled cries of those in need reverberating in her mind. She glanced towards the door to see Luna glaring at her from the opposite side of the window – it was time to go.
“Sorry Mamoru, I’ve gotta run,” she excused herself, running back to her friends and grabbing her bag. With nothing but a mumbled apology, she slung her school bag over her shoulder and took off sprinting.
          “Let’s go!” Luna shouted, joining Usagi at her side. “Find somewhere safe to transform.” The blonde nodded, her eyes scouring the area in attempts to find a location. After a few seconds she saw a darkened alleyway, and within moments she had once again transformed from the gawky high school student to Tokyo’s celebrated heroine. Her senses became more adept, and she quickly tracked the victim’s cries, her legs carrying her effortlessly as she jumped through the city via rooftop.
          Soon Sailor Moon was in a residential area known for its wealthy inhabitants. She concentrated, focusing on the calls that lead her to a park, and noticed immediately how the grassy ground was littered with energy-drained bodies. A group of children stood around a swing set with a rainbow coloured youma standing before them, sucking their youthful energy into a black flask attached at its waist. The sun bounced off its scaly skin, creating an illusion of sparkles, and from its mouth came a hypnotic song, which coerced the children into a trance, allowing their life force to be drawn.
          “That’s right, give me your energy,” the youma cooed, its voice surprisingly soothing. More children began to approach, the melodic song calling out to them as they left their toys, friends and family behind.
          “I can’t allow you to hurt innocent children!” Sailor Moon cried in an attempt to draw the monster from its mission. Its gangly head swung around to identify its opponent, the crowd of children instantly falling as the monster’s magical grasp was withdrawn.
          “Sailor Moon,” it chuckled, “I’ve been expecting you.” The heroine’s face went white with fear – never before had a youma spoken her name.
          “Yo... you... you have?” she stammered, unsure how to proceed. The creature nodded, a ghastly smile creeping onto its pock marked face.
          “Give me your energy,” it demanded, its arm elongating and shooting outwards with an open palm landing before Sailor Moon’s red booted feet. She stood her ground, trying in vain to prove that she was brave and that she could handle this. Its other hand slithered to the left, coiling around a child’s neck. “Give it to me or I will kill him,” the youma threatened, squeezing ever so slightly to prove it was serious. That was its mission, and failure was not an option.
          “Let him go!” she screamed, her voice cracking as dread flared up in her chest.
          “This is your last chance,” it grunted, its free arm leaping from the ground, grabbing Sailor Moon around the throat.
          “I’ll... gi... give it t-to you....if you l..et him g-go,” she managed through struggling breaths. She searched the depths of her mind for some sort of way out, knowing that she would only emerge empty handed. The youma considered her offer, and slowly let the boy drop to the ground.
          “Give it to me,” it seethed, its attention focused entirely on the girl. Sailor Moon tried in desperation to reach her tiara, willing her arms to grow to no avail. “Give it to me or die!” It screeched again, its second hand latching around her waist, its sharpened nails pricking her flesh. Sailor Moon could feel dizziness set in as she fought to breathe. Tiny beads of sweat pooled on her forehead, and she clenched her eyes closed waiting for the final blow, salty, silent tears streaking down her face. She wished she could be stronger, braver, swifter... she wanted to live.
          A sharp wind crossed her cheek and within seconds she felt the youma’s grip retract. The air came rushing back into her lungs, her hands flying up to rub at her assaulted throat. The creature released a shocked scream as a razor sharp stem sliced through its flesh. Sailor Moon’s eyes fell on a perfect crimson rose, stuck in the soft soil.
          “Finish him!” A voice demanded from behind, causing her to spin around. Her eyes went wide with disbelief as she saw him standing there in a full tuxedo, with a black cape hanging from his broad shoulders and a white domino mask covering his identity. “Focus!” He shouted, shoving the heroine back into the task at hand. ‘Right, kill the monster,’ she reminded herself.
          She swallowed as trembling fingers clasped her tiara, “Moon Frisbee!” She yelled, sending the radiant disc of light towards the monster. It moved slightly, causing the weapon to only nick its neck. Blood seeped from the wound releasing a putrid odour, and feeling the pain shoot through its body, the youma unveiled a deafening shriek into the sky. Sailor Moon’s frisbee circled the area, returning to its original form and landing in her grasp. Her enemy lunged forward, grossly aggravated, and the young heroine retaliated with a well-aimed kick, her heel digging into its now open wound. The creature stumbled backwards, its hand wrapping around the injured limb, protectively covering the gash. Once again it shot its arm forward, gnarled fingers decorated with sharp nails latching around Sailor Moon’s leg, pulling her to the ground. As the monster drew her closer, her fingers dug into the ground, her other foot kicking wildly in an attempt to make it let go. Another panged yelp echoed through the air as a black cane came down on the creature’s arm, cutting straight through. A strong hand steadied Sailor Moon’s leg, prying off the now motionless claw, leaving the youma with one less appendage.
          The girl’s breath caught in her throat – he had never been this close. His forceful touch caused her heart to beat erratically within her chest. His cool voice broke her reverie, “hurry up,” he ordered gruffly, yanking her to her feet. She nodded mutely, calling on her tiara for the second time that day.
          “Moon Tiara Frisbee!” She watched with relief as it hit the youma straight on, its body bursting into colourful rays before falling to the ground in a lump of soot. As always, the captured energy was released back into its rightful owners. Slowly, children and parents alike came to, memories of the battle patchy in their minds. Sailor Moon turned around to notice the tuxedo clad figure leaving the scene, and she quickly sprinted after him.
“Wait!” She called, reaching out to grab his arm. Her fingers grasped lightly at the fabric of his sleeve, and he quickly turned around, pulling it away. “I.. I just want to thank you,” Sailor Moon stuttered, her focus fixed on his jaw, unable to look him in the eye, “for saving my life,” she continued, when he didn’t respond. Shyly, she peaked up at him from under her heavy lashes, taking in his strong face and angled cheeks. Despite his mask, she knew he was beautiful, and the golden flecked, midnight orbs that shone from the slits in the white fabric only further proved that notion.
          “Are you injured?” The man asked, his stance relaxing and his voice softening. Feeling spellbound, the heroine could only nod her head. “You have to be more careful,” he warned gently, watching for some sort of understanding.
          “I know…” she whispered, her gaze dropping as she felt the embarrassment creep up the back of her neck and spread to her ears. An awkward silence passed between the pair, and Sailor Moon could feel him visually examining every aspect of her appearance. A silky gloved hand cupped her chin, drawing her startled eyes to meet his. His brow furrowed as he concentrated on her face, searching for something – what was it about this girl? The blonde swallowed nervously, alarmed by his sudden, tender touch. “I… I have to go,” she choked uncomfortably, causing him to drop his hand to his side. Sailor Moon backed away slowly, before spinning on her heel and sprinting away.
          Her cheeks burned as she ran through the city, the strange scene streaming through her mind on repeat. It had been the first time they had truly met, yet she couldn’t shake the sense of familiarity. She knew he had always been there, watching her from afar, but today he had stepped in. He had rescued her.
“Sailor Moon!” Luna called, chasing after her charge. The girl slowed, her feet pounding hard against the pavement as she came to a halt.
          “Luna,” she panted, bending slightly and resting her hands on her thighs. “Tell me who he is.”
          “You should de-transform,” the cat replied, avoiding the question for the countless time.
          “No. I want answers,” she demanded, standing up straight and glaring down at the feline. She was tired of being ignored. “You know something about him, and I want to know what it is.”
          “Usagi…” Luna began, suddenly feeling at a loss for words. “There are more important matters to discuss,” she stated, trying again to draw the heroine’s focus elsewhere. Sailor Moon only raised an eyebrow expectantly. “I know the monsters are growing stronger, but there’s –”
          “Luna, he saved my life,” the blonde interrupted, “I would have died,” she continued, stubbornly crossing her arms over her chest.
          “I don’t know anything about him,” she lied, “but I do know that he can’t be trusted.”
          “Were you not there? He saved my life!” Sailor Moon yelled, her hands balled into tiny fists, as anger and frustration sped through her. She knew Luna was lying, there had to be something more to it.
          “That doesn’t mean you can trust him!” the guardian spat, her patience wearing thin. “Why hasn’t he ever helped you before?” she challenged, watching as the colour drained from the girl’s face.
          “I didn’t need it before,” she replied quietly, “it’s never gotten that bad.” The question rang through her mind, poking holes in her confidence.
          “You don’t need his help,” Luna bit coldly, her sharp tone sending a chill up Sailor Moon’s spine.
          “I do, Luna. I can’t do this by myself anymore! They’re getting stronger and stronger!” Her hands shook emphatically as she tried in vain to push her message across.
          “Calm down, you’ll draw attention,” she scolded, checking for curious passersby. “Let’s go home, and get some rest.”
          Sailor Moon refused to budge, and instead remained motionless, staring down her opponent. Luna sighed, her head dropping as she made her decision – it was time.
          “There are others,” she whispered, her commanding voice struggling to fight against the breeze. The cat lifted her cinnamon eyes and was greeted with confusion, relief and fury.
          The blonde was rendered mute, as she was overrun with questions. Who were they? Why weren’t they here? Why had she been forced to struggle on her own? She felt betrayed; the one soul that she had completely entrusted her life to had lied to her. Sailor Moon closed her eyes, taking deep breaths to quell her anger and to push back the agitated tears that threatened to fall.
          “What?” Her voice cracked with the question.
          “Let’s go home, and I can explain it all to you later,” Luna offered.
          “I’m not going anywhere,” the girl replied stubbornly, jaw clenched. “I want an explanation,” she demanded, “now.” Silver flashed through her eyes, and Luna knew she had no choice but to comply. There had never been a chance to reason with the girl, not when she was like this.
          “I never told you because I don’t know who they are,” the feline started, ashamed. “I don’t know how to find them, and I don’t know how to awaken them.” Sailor Moon’s features softened at the confession. “But as your powers grow, so will theirs. We’ll find them,” she reassured her charge who only nodded in reply. The heroine opened her mouth to ask once again about the mysterious man, but seeing the embarrassment hidden behind her guardian’s eyes, she allowed the words to die in her throat. Placing her hand over her broach, her costume faded. Her body weakened, she groaned, gritting her teeth as she felt her wounds begin to throb. The damage had been worse than she expected, and she wanted nothing more than to return to the comforts of her own room.
          “We’ll find them,” Usagi repeated, her head giving a determined shake. “Let’s go home."

___________________________

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PostSubject: Re: dreamsinpink's Halo   15th January 2015, 6:01 pm

III – Classmates –
 
            Usagi’s gaze shifted warily around the room, her lip curling with disdain. The biology lab had to be the absolute worst place in the school. Jars preserving various creatures and plants lined the back wall, and mounted over the door was the head of a deer; its glass eyes watching her every move. The scent of formaldehyde hung in the air, making Usagi’s stomach churn. She sat straight and still on her stool, hands under her thighs, avoiding any contact with the black topped tables.
            “We’ll be choosing partners for the next project, so when I call your name, come choose a partner from the bag,” Ms. Haruna instructed, holding up a black velvet bag filled with slips of paper. “And then please go sit next to them,” she finished. Usagi sighed; all she wanted was a decent partner.
            “Yumiko,” the girl jumped from her seat, pulling out a name.
            “Kuri,” she read, her lips curving into a smile as her partner squealed in delight. Usagi glanced over at Naru, who looked back at her hopefully, showing crossed fingers for good luck.
            “Settle down,” the teacher mumbled, checking their names from her master list. “Okay, next is Naru.” The red head took a deep breath before plunging her hand into the bag.
            “… Umino.” She looked at Usagi and shrugged. Usagi scowled; they never got paired together. The class continued one by one to be partnered up and Usagi couldn’t help but allow her focus to dwindle. Her mind flashed back to the previous battle. How his gloved hand forcefully grasped her elbow as he pulled her up. How his clothed finger brushed her cheek. How he was so firm and demanding, yet showed the capacity to be gentle and kind. He was beautiful and regal, and she was determined to find out who he was. They had something to share, something in common. He was good. She could feel it.
            “Usagi.” The blonde remained silent, her mind reeling in memories. “Usagi?” Her partner called again, but still no response.
            “MS. TSUKINO!” Usagi’s attention jerked forward and she could feel the red spread over her cheeks.
            “Sorry,” she muttered.
            “You’re with Ami, please take the appropriate seat,” Ms. Haruna ordered, shaking her head. Wanting to sink into the ground, Usagi quickly and quietly gathered her belongings and shuffled over.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered to Ami, flashing an apologetic smile. The girl only nodded in reply, pushing her wire rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose. Usagi swallowed nervously. She didn’t know much about Ami, except that she was the smartest girl in their class. Maybe even in their entire school. She seemed reserved, often sitting off to the side and only speaking when spoken to.
            Usagi cocked her head, taking in Ami’s cobalt locks and noticing how every detail on her uniform was pressed and polished. Her backpack, which sat leaning against the table on the ground, was overloaded with books. Usagi frowned, wondering if she was disappointed with being her partner.
            “Each group will need to label the following diagram before we begin the dissection on Friday.” A stack of papers began circulating the room.
            “Before we begin what?” Usagi asked. She couldn’t have heard that correctly.
            “The dissection,” Ami answered.
            “What dissection?”
            “That’s our next project; we’re dissecting a fetal pig,” Ami stated, furrowing her brow. Hadn’t she been listening?
            “A fetal pig?” Usagi’s eyes went wide with horror.
            “Yes, an unborn pig.”
            “An unborn pig?” She repeated, looking at Ami with shock. The girl giggled at the blonde’s reaction.
            “Don’t worry, I can dissect it and you can write down the notes,” Ami offered. Usagi momentarily agreed, but soon changed her mind and shook her head.
            “No, it’s fine. I’ll help,” she said, figuring that if she could battle a youma, she could dissect a pig.
            “When do you want to get together to work on the diagram?”
          “I guess we could work on it after school today,” Usagi suggested half hoping that Ami already had plans.
          “Okay,” she nodded.
          “I can meet you at the gates after classes, and we can go to the Crown?” Usagi figured if she was going to be stuck doing the gross diagram, she might as well be in the comfort of her favourite hangout.
          “Sure...” Ami agreed, with a reluctant smile. She would have preferred the peaceful sanctity that the library had to offer. “I’ll see you at the gates then,” she confirmed, gathering her belongings to head back to homeroom as the school bell rang.
 
          Ami stood with her back pressed against the brick column that was nestled between the iron gates, waiting patiently for her partner to arrive. Although they had been classmates for years, Ami couldn’t remember ever really talking to, let alone working with Usagi. She quickly made a mental list of the things that she knew about the blonde:
          ‘Her last name is Tsukino.
          We’ve been at the same school for six years.
          She always wears her hair in two buns.’
            Ami paused, tapping a finger against her lips as she thought.    
          ‘She’s always late.
          She frequently earns time in detention.
          All of her accessories are pink.
          She’s best friends with Naru Osaka.’
            The girl also knew that her partner was never at the top of the class when it came to grades, and questioned if Usagi would pull her weight for the project. School was important to Ami, and she worked hard to excel.
          “I’m sorry!” A breathless Usagi panted, running towards her, “I hope you weren’t waiting too long!”
          “Oh, no. It’s fine!” Ami smiled.
          “Off to the arcade!” Usagi proclaimed, pointing forward. The pair took off, with the blonde nattering along the way.             The cobalt haired girl couldn’t help but grin at Usagi’s bubbly antics, as she ranted about assignments, and did impressions of their homeroom teacher. For the first time in a long time, Ami felt herself relaxing in the presence of one of her peers.
            From the tender age of three Ami had been labeled as ‘gifted’. She had spent a great deal of her childhood with her nose stuck in a book, reading fascinating theories and living her somewhat sheltered life through heroes from history and characters in stories. She found herself frequently in the company of adults, rarely taking time to make friends her own age. Eventually she had evolved into ‘that quiet, smart girl’ that everyone talked about, but few took the time to know; that quiet, smart girl who was always alone.
 
            When they reached the arcade Ami was bombarded with the whirring of games, and chattering of patrons. She followed Usagi, who bee-lined the back of the café.
          “Is here okay?” She paused in front of an empty booth. Ami nodded in agreement, allowing herself to adjust to the surroundings; the arcade was not a place she frequented.
          “Are you getting anything?” Usagi asked, having already decided what her order would be. “Their milkshakes are really good!” She recommended.
            Picking up a menu, Ami adjusted her glasses, and focused on the drinks. ‘When it Rome…’ she thought, wondering if this is what normal teenagers did after school.
          “Hey Usagi,” Motoki greeted her. “Who’s your new friend?”
          “This is Ami,” Usagi replied, gesturing towards the girl who looked up from the menu and blushed. “Ami, this is Motoki. His family owns the arcade,” she explained.
          “It’s nice to meet you! Any friend of Usagi’s is a friend of mine!” Motoki said, warranting a smile from the blue haired girl. Somehow, being there with Usagi made her feel like she belonged, like she was accepted.
          “Thank you.”
          “So are you girls ready to order?” The man flipped to a new page on his notepad, and pulled the pencil out from behind his ear.
          “I’ll have a strawberry milkshake, like always!” Motoki shook his head; why did he even bother asking?
          “And I’ll try the vanilla milkshake, please.”
          “Coming right up!”
          As soon as the sandy haired man was out of earshot, Usagi turned to her partner, “Isn’t he cute?” She giggled, a question that made Ami’s cheeks flush pink. The topic of boys was almost alien to her – she had school and homework to worry about!
          “Maybe we should get started so we don’t have to worry about the diagram later,” Ami suggested, happily avoiding the question.
          “Yeah, you’re right,” Usagi sighed. What was that saying about all work and no play? The blonde began dumping her book bag out on the seat, searching for the diagram. Ami carefully pulled out a turquoise binder from her backpack, and flipped to the tab marked homework. “I know it’s here somewhere”, Usagi mumbled, shuffling through handfuls of loose paper. Her partner then took out a highlighter, two pencils, and an eraser, lining them neatly in front of her.
          “Ah-ha!” Usagi cheered triumphantly, holding up a crinkled sheet. She shoved the unwanted papers back into her bag, in exchange for her pencil case.
          “Okay, so we have to take these eighteen terms from the box, and label them on the diagram,” Ami instructed, picking up a pencil. Usagi stared blankly at the paper; not only could she hardly pronounce the words, the picture was just gross. “How about we start with the ones we know, and go from there?” Ami suggested.
          “The ones we know….” the blonde repeated thoughtfully, scanning the terms in hopes that she would recognize even one. “Okay, this has got to be the umbilical cord,” she said, tapping her pencil on the page.
          “Usagi… I don’t think that’s where the umbilical cord is.”
          “No?”
          “No,” Ami shook her head, biting her lip to keep herself from laughing. “The parts we’re supposed to label are all inside the pig’s body.”
          “Oooh.” While she appreciated Ami’s tactful response, she felt like an idiot. “…this is the tail, isn’t it.” She said quietly, an embarrassed grin taking hold of her face.
          “It is,” Ami confirmed. Usagi burst into a fit of giggles.
          “I’m so sorry Ami,” she managed, her laughter becoming infectious. Eventually the two girls had settled down, and were back to the task at hand, successfully labelling the parts they could remember from the brief introduction in class.
          “Your milkshakes, ladies!” Motoki interrupted the intense studying session, placing the cool beverages on the table. “What’s this you’re doing?” He asked, peering down at the black and white diagrams. “Biology?”
          “Yeah,” Usagi frowned, “we have to label this diagram for homework. How are people supposed to remember any of this, I mean really.” She shook her head.
         “Well, if you do need help, I have a friend who probably knows all the answers,” he smiled, knowingly. Usagi knew that the offer sounded too good to be true.
          “Mamoru?” The girl asked flatly.
          “Yeah, he’s working his way through school to become a doctor. So I’m pretty sure he knows all that biology…y… stuff!” Motoki finished, raising an eyebrow. Usagi scowled; he was like a used car salesman trying to sell her a horrible car.
          “We’ll be fine on our own, right Ami?”
          “Well it couldn’t hurt to – ” she started.
          “Fine. On. Our. Own.” Usagi stated through gritted teeth.
            “Okay,” Motoki laughed, “I’ll leave you girls to it!” He raised his hands as a sign of surrender, and headed back to his carry on with his duties.
          Ami looked at Usagi curiously, what was so bad about this friend? Motoki seemed like a nice person, so it would make logical sense that his friends would be similar, wouldn’t it? She felt uncomfortable pressing the issue, so with a slight shrug, Ami decided to leave it be.
            Motoki was behind the counter drying some freshly washed glasses, when Mamoru slid into his regular seat.
            “Are you okay?” Motoki asked, stopping the task at hand and staring intently at his friend’s face.
            “What?” Bewildered, Mamoru double checked his surroundings to ensure that Motoki was indeed talking to him.
            “You kind of look like you’ve had a rough night…” the blond noted, pointing to the darken circles under Mamoru’s eyes. “Not to mention the way you just took off yesterday.”
            “What are you talking about?” Mamoru wondered, completely baffled by the conversation.
            “You took off like a bat out of hell,” the Motoki remembered . “You didn’t even pay.”
            “What?” His face twisted with confusion. “I’m sorry.” Digging into his pocket, he placed some money on the counter.
            “No, it’s not a big deal,” Motoki said, pushing the change back. “It’s just really unlike you,” he explained. He watched Mamoru struggle with the information “Don’t you remember? It seemed like you were in a lot of pain or something, you were holding your head.”
            “I… I don’t know. I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately,” Mamoru confessed, looking down at his hands, puzzled.
            “Maybe you should get that checked out,” he suggested, grabbing a mug and pouring a cup of coffee.
            “Yeah, I guess I should.” The raven haired man agreed, picking up the cup and taking a much needed sip. Turning his attention elsewhere, Mamoru’s gaze fell on a familiar golden hairdo, that peaked over a booth in the back. “Who’s Usagi with?” He wondered, looking back at Motoki for an answer.
            “A new friend from school. They’re working on some biology homework together.”
            “Odango’s doing homework?” He nearly leapt out of his seat – this he had to see.
            “Mamoru –” Motoki warned, “if you can’t stop yourself from going over there, at least be nice.”
            “I’m always nice,” Mamoru replied, plastering on a fake grin. The blond shook his head, narrowing his eyes knowingly.  “Fine,” Mamoru ceded.
 
            “Odango,” he whispered from above her. Usagi’s face tightened, her mouth turning into a frown. I guess things were back to normal after all.
            “Baka.”
            “Hi,” he flashed a charming smile at Ami, only causing Usagi’s scowl to deepen.  “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” he walked around the booth to the opening, placing steady hands on the table.
            “Wasn’t planning on it,” Usagi glanced up at him and smiled sweetly.
            “And here I thought we were becoming friends…” The girl furrowed her brow; something about his response made him seem almost sad. The man was impossible to read.
            “Ami, this is Mamoru. Mamoru, Ami,” she sighed, waving her hand between the two.
            “Mamoru Chiba, it’s nice to meet you,” he stuck his hand out for Ami to shake.
            “I’m Ami Mizuno,” she accepted. As they shook hands, an unwarranted feeling of uneasiness came over her. She pulled back her hand, her lips turning upwards in an awkward smile. Shyness. It must just be her shyness. But Chiba… why did that name sound so familiar?
            “So you’re stuck with Usagi, eh?” Mamoru joked, the blonde shooting daggers through her eyes in his direction.
            “Or she’s stuck with me,” Ami replied. “Chiba… ” now she knew where she had heard that name before, “are you of any relation to the family that made the donation for the Chiba Pediatrics Wing at the hospital?” she wondered, having spent a great deal of time there waiting for her mother who was a doctor.
            “They were my parents,” he answered, a hint of sorrow in his voice. “They’re the reason I want to be a doctor,” he explained. Usagi’s features softened; what happened to them? Where were they now? Hundreds of questions popped into her mind, but she held them back.
            “I hope to be a doctor too, someday.” Ami’s response started a discussion between the two, and Mamoru sat down in the booth next to Usagi, pushing her further inside. His leg brushed hers, and she scooted over, pulling her belongings with her. As happy as Usagi was that they shared a common interest, their conversation of which schools are the best to attend hardly piqued her curiosity. Utterly bored, the blonde dug a few markers from her pencil case.            
            “Usagi?” Ami addressed her, but received no response.
            “Odango?” Mamoru called, her head shot up.
            “It’s USAGI.” She growled.
            “What are you doing?” Ami wondered, seeing her partner scribbling furiously on their homework assignment.
            “She was ugly, so I made her pretty!” Usagi beamed, turning her paper around to show off her hard work. She had taken the black and white diagram, and not only coloured the pig’s outer skin, but added earrings and a pink bow. “It’s way easier to look at now.” Mamoru and Ami groaned in unison, secretly admiring her childlike innocence.
            “You have the pulmonary and coronary arties backwards there,” Mamoru stated, pointing at the two errors. Both girls hurried to grab their erasers.
            “So what’s this?” She asked. Mamoru moved closer to get a better look at the diagram. He was so close; Usagi held her breath.
            “Is it the umbilical vein?” Ami questioned, eyes moving between her assignment and her friend’s, making sure she was trying to identify the same thing.
            “Very good,” the man praised. Usagi frowned; smart girls must be his type. Not that she cared.
            Together the three finished the assignment, Mamoru stepping in as a tutor, explaining the organ functions and sharing mnemonic devices to remember each part. When they were finished Mamoru got up to go, saying his goodbyes, ready to head home for the day.
            “Hey, Mamoru?” Usagi grabbed his arm before he got away.
            “Yeah?”
            “Thanks for your help,” she smiled shyly, peering up from underneath her thick lashes.
            “Yes, we really learned a lot!” Ami added.
            “Anytime.” Mamoru took his leave, as Usagi watched his retreating form until it was out of sight.
            “He seems like a nice young man,” the blue-haired girl stated, studying her friend’s face for a reaction.
            “I guess,” Usagi shrugged. She wasn’t admitting anything. “Sorry Ami, but I get home soon. It’s almost dinner time!”
            “Okay. Thanks for today,” Ami said, genuinely grateful for being paired with Usagi. She may have not been the most knowledgeable about science, but the short time they spent together made Ami realize what it just might feel like to have a friend.
            The girls tidied up their table, packing their belongings back into their bags. Unable to make everything fit, Ami began to pull items out in an attempt to reorganize. Usagi’s eyes went wide with excitement when a familiar book tumbled out of Ami’s bag.
            “You read ‘Kimi ni Todoke’?” The blonde asked, surprised that Ami would be reading manga at all.
            “It’s one of my favourites,” Ami admitted apprehensively.
            “It’s my favourite, too! Isn’t it good?” Usagi glowed, thrilled to find a comrade who was just as enthralled with the manga as she was. The chattered continued, covering every topic related to the manga that they could think of. Ami found herself laughing more than she had in years, truly enjoying their conversation. Usagi’s phone vibrated against the table, interrupting the their discussion.
          “Hello?” she answered. Ami watched with mute interest as her friend’s cheeks grew red, and her expression turned to panic. “I have to go, that was my mom,” the girl explained, “and she is not happy.”
          The science partners left the arcade together, parting ways at the next intersection. Usagi waved her goodbyes, then turned on her heel and began her sprint home. Ami watched after her with a contented smile; today had been a good day.

___________________________

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PostSubject: Re: dreamsinpink's Halo   15th January 2015, 6:07 pm

IV – Acuity –
 
         Friday morning found the girls dressed in white lab coats, and latex gloves. Usagi bit her lip nervously, mentally preparing for what was to come. Ms. Haruna stood at the front of the class, giving instructions on what they were to do. She had already handed back the homework, and noted at the top of Usagi’s paper that she was pleased with her effort.        
          It was time to begin, and the teacher made her way around the room placing the fetal pigs on silver pans that sat in front of each pair. Usagi glanced at their set of tools and frowned; this was not going to be a pleasant experience.
          “Are you okay?” Ami asked, noticing the paling of her partner’s face. The blonde swallowed, as she flashed an unconvincing smile.
          “Okay class, please pick up your scalpels and start with the first incision as shown on the overhead,” Ms. Haruna instructed, outlining the procedure on the diagram displayed at the front with a long, wooden ruler. Without hesitation, Ami picked up the utensil, studying the diagram carefully before making any cuts.
          “Poor thing,” Usagi whispered sadly, as she anxiously held the tool in her hand.
          “Do you mind if I start?” Ami asked, ready to begin. Usagi managed to nod mutely, unable to take her eyes off the tiny animal.
          As the blue haired girl began the task, loud cries of agony reverberated through Usagi’s mind. She felt the heaviness in the pit of her stomach, dreading what was to come. ‘No, not now!’ she cringed.
           “I… I really have to go to the bathroom!” She announced hurriedly, peeling off her lab coat and gloves, and dashing out the door. Ami watched after her in confused surprise.
          “I guess it’s just you and me for now,” she said quietly to the pig. Concentrating on her actions, Ami adeptly cut into the animal, following the instructions to a T and making notes on her worksheet as she went along.
 
          Usagi flew out the school doors, searching for her guardian. The screams grew louder, and she covered her ears in an attempt to stop the pain – she needed to transform.
          “Here!” Luna called, peeking out from behind the dumpsters sitting in the school’s parking lot. Usagi sprinted over, taking a moment to catch her breath before chanting, “Moon Prism Power, Make Up!”. A burst of light enveloped her slender body, and within moments her transformation was complete. Heroine and guardian bounded through the back streets of the city, soon reaching a nearby beauty salon. Through the large glass doors Sailor Moon could see a lithe creature with pointed ears and sharp shoulders. The curlers that were tangled it its putrid green hair collected energy from the salon’s patrons and employees. The solider pushed through the doors, and upon hearing her entrance the youma’s head snapped up, and an eerie smile spread across its face.
          “That’s enough!” Sailor Moon called, “return these people’s energy!” she demanded, staring down the ugly monster.
          “Their energy is mine,” the youma hissed, its back raising in defense. “And once I’m done with them, I’ll take yours,” it promised, as a snake made of its hair darted towards the heroine. Sailor Moon aptly dodged the attack, retaliating by kicking the monster in its side.
          “Oh no,” Sailor Moon whispered under her breath as the youma’s eyes flashed red with anger. From the apron on its waist it grabbed a handful of scissors, firing them at the girl. Sailor Moon moved agilely through the assault, but just when she thought she was through, the youma sent more. She moved left and right as the metal utensils came flying towards her, ducking and bending with more accuracy than she thought possible.
          “Sailor Moon!” Luna yelled, “you have to attack!” she instructed, momentarily interrupting the girl’s concentration.
          “Ouch!” the blonde cried, as a pair of razor sharp scissors cut into her forearm. The youma cackled victoriously, gathering the last of the citizens’ energy.
          “You’re next,” it vowed, eyes narrowing on its target.
          “Moon Frisbee!” Sailor Moon cried, hurling the radiant disc towards the enemy. Her weapon nicked the youma’s shoulder, drawing a black liquid from its skin. Its hair warped into serpents, which hissed and snapped at the heroine as the monster lunged forward, cornering the girl. Calling on her tiara once again, she held the now energized Frisbee in her hand, swinging wildly at the beasts. However, for every head she cut off, two more grew in its place.
          “Keep fighting,” the youma jeered, as Sailor Moon’s energy slowly drained into the curlers. She began to grow tired, sweat dripping from her brow, her vision growing hazy.
          Suddenly she heard the monster scream out in pain, and its attack immediately stopped. The snakes withdrew, their attention now focused on something behind them. With another bang, the monster recoiled, interrupting the collection of Sailor Moon’s energy.
          “It’s him….” she whispered, gasping for air.
          “Get up!” Luna screamed, rushing to the girl’s side.
          As Sailor Moon struggled to her feet, her masked saviour battled the creature. Using his cane as a sword, he thrust the weapon at the monster, lopping off snakes and cutting through to its skin. He drew its focus away from the girl, allowing her to recover. Strong and aggressive, the man continued to fight, his cane cracking one of the curlers on the youma’s head.
          “The curlers!” he called, noticing a stream of energy leaking from the break.
The duo worked together, one by one splitting the canisters, fending off the creature’s desperate attacks. The customers began to wake, feeling some of their life force return. When each of the curlers had been destroyed, the tuxedo clad hero finished the battle with a swift slash to the monster’s neck, its head falling lifelessly to the floor, turning to dust. The man paused, breathing heavily and rubbing his shoulder.
          “Woah,” Sailor Moon breathed, staring at him glossy eyed.
          “It’s deceptively sharp,” he explained, motioning to the cane. “We have to go,” he said, as more civilians came to. The heroic couple darted from the building, seeking refuge atop a nearby building.  
          “Thank you.” The girl said quietly, shoulders slumping.
          “Don’t thank me,” the hero replied, “train harder, and be prepared next time,” he snapped, jaw tight and posture rigid.
          “I’m sorry,” her voice cracked, and her lip trembled. The man sighed, closing his eyes and shaking his head. He took her small hand in his, squeezing it as a silent apology.
          “Sailor Moon!” Luna called, the masked man dropping the girl’s hand. She turned around, searching for the whereabouts of her guardian. When she turned back to bid the man farewell, he was nowhere to be found.
          “Luna, I – ” she started, joining the black cat on the ground.
          “Not now,” the feline replied sharply. The two took off in silence, heading back to Juuban High School. The girl’s face burned, and the man’s curt words cycled endlessly through her mind.


          Back in her school uniform, Usagi skidded around the corner, finally reaching the classroom. She smoothed her skirt at the door, and pushed a stray tendril of hair behind her ear before entering.
          “I’m sorry Ami, I didn’t mean to flake out on you,” the blonde apologized, sliding back onto her stool, fighting to keep her emotions in check.
          “Are you okay?” Ami asked. “You’ve been gone for more than half an hour,” she noted, eyes wide with concern.
          ‘That’s it?’ her mind screamed; it felt like she had been fighting for an eternity.
          “Oh yeah, I… I guess the chemical smell just made me feel nauseous,” Usagi explained with a slight shrug. She pulled up her sleeves, and snapped on the latex gloves, ready to do her part. “So, what can I do?”
          “Usagi, did you cut yourself?” Ami wondered, pointing at the gash on her friend’s arm.
          “I must have just bumped into something on my way back,” she lied, furrowing her brow – her wounds should be concealed by the magic of her transformation.
          “Okay…” she conceded, studying Usagi from the corner of her eye; she looked different, and that laceration certainly wasn’t from merely bumping into something. The blonde flashed a small smile, and Ami began to explain what she had missed.
          The two girls worked side by side to finish the dissection, Usagi gasping at every cut that was made. Before long the school bell was ringing, and the students packed up their things, ready for the next class.
          “Are we still working on the write up after school today?” Usagi wondered, hoping that she hadn’t made Ami upset – something didn’t feel right.
          “Oh yeah, of course,” she replied, nodding her head for emphasis. “I’ll be a little late, but did you want to work at the arcade again?” Ami suggestd, knowing that was Usagi’s favourite place to be.
          “I would love that,” the blonde answered emphatically, energy suddenly returning to her demeanor. “As long as you don’t mind?” she added. Ami shook her head, her glasses slightly sliding down the bridge of her nose. With a friendly wave, the girls parted ways until later that afternoon.
 
          Arm in arm, Usagi and Naru entered the crown arcade, skipping merrily over to their favourite booth. With wide similes and rosy cheeks, they continued to natter away with any thought that crossed their mind. Feeling warm, Usagi rolled up her sleeves, her attention catching the wound on her arm
          “Hey, Naru?”
          “Yeah?”
          “Can you see anything on my arm?” Usagi held it out in front of Naru’s face.
          “Like what?” she asked.
          “I don’t know, like a bruise or a cut?” she motioned to the area where the wound was.
          “No, I don’t see a thing… why?” she shrugged, shaking her head.
          “Oh, no reason, it’s just kind of sore…” the blonde pulled her sleeve down, wincing as the fabric rubbed against the laceration.
          The girls chatted as they waited, Usagi placing an order for her usual milkshake. As Naru delved into a monologue about her secret crush, Usagi found herself only half listening. ‘Why could Ami see it…’ she wondered, absentmindedly drumming her fingers on the table. ‘I hope she’s not one of the bad guys…’ she sighed, resting her chin on clasped hands.
          “So? What do you think?” Naru stared at the blonde, brows raised expectantly.
          “What do I think?”
          “Usagi, were you listening at all?” 
          “Sorry Naru, I just have a lot on my mind,” Usagi apologized.
          “Like… Mamoru?” Naru wondered, a sly smile spread across her pink lips.
          “Why? Is he here?” the blonde corrected her posture, glancing around the arcade.
          “No,” her friend laughed, “but I heard that you spent some time with him yesterday!” she squealed, causing Usagi’s face to flush pink.
          “He was helping us with homework,” she explained, “me and Ami.” Naru continued to grin at her with knowing eyes. “Get real Naru, he was just tutoring us,” Usagi grumbled.
          “I bet you could get him to tutor you in other things,” she winked, and Usagi slid down into her seat, wishing she could disappear. “Oh come on, I’m just having fun,” she laughed, swatting playfully at Usagi’s arm. The blonde gave in and allowed a smirk to tug at the corner of her lips; sometimes it felt good to be a regular teenaged girl.
          “Sorry I’m late,” Ami panted, as she rushed over to the booth.
          “It’s okay,” Usagi smiled.
          “Hey, you guys know that Sailor Moon girl?” Naru’s sudden change in subject caused Usagi’s grin to fade.
          “She’s pretty amazing,” Ami replied, “I guess there was another attack this afternoon while we were at school.”
          “Really? Look it up!” Naru said excitedly, as Ami pulled her laptop from her bag. Within a few short moments, the three girls were huddled around the glowing screen, watching a news report from earlier that day.
           ‘…and during today’s attack a man, who has been dubbed by the public as Tuxedo Kamen, aided Sailor Moon in defeating the threat. It seems that they are working together. We have received an overwhelming amount of footage from customers who say that the duo saved them.’
          “Tuxedo Kamen, how original,” Usagi scoffed, leaning back into the cushion. His words boiled again to the surface of her mind, causing her to cringe.
          As Ami watched the footage, something dawned on her; Usagi looked an awful lot like Sailor Moon. Her attention darted between the screen and her friend, forehead winkled, and eyes narrowed. Ami opened her mouth to speak, but words escaped her. She played the video again, noticing the wound on Sailor Moon’s arm.
          “Wouldn’t you like to be rescued by Tuxedo Kamen?” Naru sighed dreamily, pressing her palm to her chest as if to still her heart. As Naru fawned over the hero, and Usagi sulked, Ami continued to examine the footage.
          How could I have not seen it before…’ she wondered, completely convinced - Usagi was Sailor Moon.
          The blonde glanced over at the computer screen, seeing a close up of her alter-ego’s face. Her eyes slowly moved up to meet Ami’s shocked expression. ‘Oh my god, she knows,’ Usagi panicked, swallowing nervously.
          “Oh you know,” she started, speech faltering as she awkwardly gathered her belongings, “I told my mom that I would be go home straight after school,” she stammered, “I don’t want to get in trouble, so I better get going.”
          “What about the lab report?” Ami asked, determined not to let her get away; she had to know if she was right.
          “Um,” Usagi bit her lip, “how about you come over after dinner and we can do it at my place?” she offered, knowing then at the very least Luna would be there to help her.
          “Okay,” Ami agreed.
          “See you later, Usa!” Naru waved, utterly oblivious.


          Usagi rushed from the arcade, face burning and heart racing, with a million questions buzzing through her mind. She made a beeline down the sidewalk, paying no attention to her fellow pedestrians. Making it home in record speed, she flew through the door, kicking her shoes off in the entrance, and sprinted upstairs to her bedroom.
          “Luna,” she said, panting heavily as she flopped onto her bed.
          “Usagi? Is everything okay?” the feline wondered, jumping up beside the girl.
          “NO!” she shouted, “something’s wrong.” Luna waited for Usagi to continue, her cinnamon eyes imploring her to go on. “She could see it,” she whispered. “Ami, my friend from school, she could this,” she gestured to the cut.  “Then she could see me, but as Sailor Moon.”
          Luna inhaled slowly, “that’s wonderful news!” she beamed.
          “HOW IS THAT WONDERFUL NEWS?” the blonde yelled, sitting up straight, her hands shaking with emphasis.
          “She must be one of them.”
          “One of who? Don’t tell me she’s a bad guy. I really like her,” Usagi groaned.
          “She’s not a bad guy,” Luna said, giddy with excitement, “she’s an ally.”
          “What?”
          “Usagi, she’s like you,” she explained.

          “She’s like me,” the girl repeated, letting the information sink in. “I don’t think we should tell her,” she stated resolutely. “I don’t want her going through what I have.” Usagi looked down, biting her lip. Ami was her friend, and if she was supposed to be the heroine, then wouldn’t she be doing the right thing by keeping her out of danger? By making sure that she wasn’t burdened with the same task?
          “Usagi…”
          “It’s not up for discussion,” she snapped, her face stern and lips pointed.
          Luna yielded with a simple nod, knowing that a fight would get them nowhere.
          Hearing her mother call her name, Usagi bolted downstairs, wanting nothing more than to leave her problems in her room, as she enjoyed a meal with her family. Yet her desired peace did not come, and she found herself trapped in an endless cycle of self-deprecation, confliction and doubt. ‘Maybe I do need her…’ she thought, knowing that she almost lost the battle against the youma earlier that day. However, the thought of dragging her friend into the same situation tied her stomach into knots; it was wrong. With her family finished their meal, all that remained was Usagi, who poked at her food with chopstick, sighing heavily.
          “Usagi, sweetie, are you – ” her mother started, but was stopped mid-sentence, when Kenji put his hand on her arm, shaking his head.
          “Later,” he mouthed, thinking that all his daughter needed was some time. She was a teenage girl, and if he had learned anything, he had learned that it was better not to ask.
          The doorbell’s shrill ring broke Usagi’s daze, and she jumped from her seat. Taking a deep breath, she answered the door, finding Ami smiling nervously on the other side. ‘An ally…’.
          Ami stepped into the house, in awe of its warmth. It was much different from her home, which sat perched up high on the seventh floor of an expensive apartment building. The three other remaining members of the Tsukino family came to greet her.
          “Mom, Dad, this is my friend from school, Ami,” Usagi said, both parties bowing politely. Ami was accustomed to being brought home for study groups and group projects. It was usually, “This is Ami, the smart girl” as if her intelligence was her one redeeming factor; the one thing that made it okay for her to hang around. She waited for it, but it never came. Ami looked at the blonde, her features softening. Sailor Moon or not, Usagi was her friend.
          “It’s nice to meet you Ami!” Ikuko stepped forward, taking the girl’s hand in hers, and giving it a gentle squeeze.
          The girls headed up to Usagi’s room, ready to write their report. Usagi closed the door behind her determined to keep Luna out. With no mention of the incident at the arcade, they got to work. As their homework progressed, the air of awkwardness vanished, and they were back normal; giggling and chatting. Within no time the report was complete, and Ami logged on to her school e-mail address to send it to their teacher.
          “Okay, it’s all sent!” Ami rejoiced, stretching her arms above her head.
          “I don’t think I like dissections,” Usagi declared, crinkling her nose.
          Ami laughed, “I’m glad we were partnered together,” she said sincerely.
          “Me too.” As Ami began to close the windows on her computer, Usagi saw a familiar face on the screen. “Ami, what’s that?”
          “Oh, it’s nothing,” she stammered, her cheeks reddening as she tried to shut her laptop.
          “Wait, let me see.” Usagi put her hand on the keyboard, preventing it from closing. Ami backed away, giving Usagi access. She chewed her lip as Usagi cycled through photos, videos and news articles of Sailor Moon. The blonde’s shoulders dropped, her hand falling into her lap.
          “After I saw that video today with you and Naru at the arcade, I knew,” she began, “I knew it was you, so I thought maybe if I did some research I could prove myself wrong,” Ami continued, unwilling to allow herself to look at Usagi’s face. “But no one knows, Usagi,” she claimed, truly unable to find any information about Sailor Moon’s identity. “I don’t know why I know, or why no one else sees it.”
          A silence passed between the two girls, both unsure what to say. Finally Ami lifted her head, adjusting her glasses . “I won’t tell anyone,” she promised. “How’s your arm?”
          A slow smile spread across Usagi’s lips, relief washing over her. “It’s okay,” she said, rolling up her sleeve. “I heal fast.” Ami looked at the wound and blinked – it was nearly gone. Brows knit, she carefully touched the healing cut.
          “This is amazing,” she whispered, truly in awe. Her friend was a medical mystery.
          “You’re the only one who can see it,” Usagi affirmed, unwilling to share Luna’s theory.
          “What can I do to help?” Ami asked, surprised at her own question.
          The blonde’s face brightened, “you can cheer me on.”
          “Usagi, I can do more than that! Let me help you,” Ami pleaded, a subconscious force pushing her into service.
          “It’s too dangerous,” Usagi shook her head, “just be there for me. And maybe cover me at school sometimes?” she added sheepishly.
          “I can do that.”


          With their report finished, and dusk turning into night, Ami knew it was time to head home. She collected her things, slipping her computer into her bag, and waved her goodbyes.
          “Usagi, be careful,” Ami said from the doorway, her friend nodding in reply. As soon as the bedroom opened, Luna slipped in, ears flat with annoyance. She watched as Ami left, swelling with disappointment.
          Ami head down the hallway towards the stairs, but paused when she heard an unfamiliar voice coming from Usagi’s room. “You didn’t tell her,” the voice snapped.
          “And I’m not going to,” Usagi exclaimed.
          “She can help you. She’s a warrior like you,” the voice insisted, Ami struggling to place who it could belong to. ‘They can’t be talking about me…’ she thought, laughing at herself for even allowing the notion to cross her mind. After all, she wasn’t a warrior; she was just a regular high school genius.
 
          A few days passed with no sign of the enemy. Now able to confide in Ami, Usagi felt like a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. She told her friend all about the previous attacks, about the vile monsters, and her mysterious counterpart. She did not, however, tell Ami about her talking cat. That, Usagi felt, was too much. Ami enjoyed hearing Usagi’s tales, and her feelings of admiration grew. She could only imagine what her friend was going through, and was glad that she could relieve even a little of that burden. Still, Ami wanted to do more. Something in her had been ignited, and she knew that she couldn’t merely sit on the sidelines as she was so apt to do. As she listened, she racked her brain for ways she could help.
 
          School had finished for the day, and Ami made her now routine trek to the Crown Arcade to meet Usagi. She looked forward to the afternoons now, despite her constant struggle of trying to convince her friend that studying was the best use of their time. She hadn’t laughed as much in all her years combined as she had since befriending the energetic blonde.  
          Ami’s thoughts were interrupted as she saw Usagi sprinting towards her, her cat Luna following closely behind. They rushed past without even a hello, completely focused on something in the distance. Curiosity overtaking her reservations, and outweighing her reasoning, Ami decided to follow. She saw a brilliant blast of light burst from a nearby alleyway, arriving just in time to see Sailor Moon take off down the street.
          Hot on her trail, Ami soon caught up, glass crunching under her feet as she approached the scene. The front window of a bank had been completely destroyed, and limp bodies were scattered on the ground. Sailor Moon had caught the attention of a slimy monster, its rounded head dotted with eyes. Ami watched in horror as the creature attacked, teeth bared as it snapped at the heroine, yellow saliva dripping down its chin. Sailor Moon leapt towards the enemy, screaming a battle cry as she kicked one its legs out from under it. The youma fell, hissing loudly its tail whipping around its body to knock Sailor Moon in the back, sending forwards. She landed on the floor, glass cutting her palms and knees.
          “Moon Twilight Flash!” She screamed, pure energy beaming from her tiara. The monster evaded the attack, barely grazed. The fight continued, with Sailor Moon struggling to get the upper hand. Ami began to panic; she needed to do something. She needed to create a diversion. She inspected her surroundings, trying to formulate a plan. A dark figure standing in the corner of bank caught her attention, and she squinted trying to make out his face. ‘Tuxedo Kamen,’ her mind screamed. She jumped, hoping to get his attention, when her foot landed on a blue stick, topped with a golden symbol lying at her feet. She picked it up, studying it cautiously. Luna watched with relief as the symbol for Mercury appeared on the girl’s forehead; it was time.
          “You have to help her,” Luna said, stepping out from the shadows. “Hold the pen in your hand and say Mercury Power, Make Up,” she ordered. Barely phased by the talking cat, Ami did as she was instructed.
          “Mercury Power, Make Up!” Water whirled around her, caressing her legs and encircling her arms. Within moments the water dissipated, leaving behind a white bodice and cobalt skirt with matching gloves, complete with a sky blue bow at the back. A gold tiara stretched across her forehead; a sparkling topaz in its center.
          “This can’t be real,” she breathed, her heart pounding and mind clouded. Something about it felt right. Sailor Mercury ran to her friend’s aid, helping her to her feet.
          “Ami?” She whispered, her face twisted with shock.
          “Sailor Mercury,” she corrected. “I’ll distract it, and you finish it.”
          The soldiers took off in opposite directions, yet the monster continued to pursue Sailor Moon. With its back turned, Sailor Mercury charged towards it digging her boot into its winding tail. The youma screeched, sharply turning its gangly head. Sailor Mercury ran backwards, drawing its attention away from her comrade.
          “Mercury Aqua Mist!” she called, as blue flames of water surged from the palms of her outstretched hands, colliding above her head and covering the ground with a dense fog. “Now!” she screamed.
          “Moon Frisbee!” Sailor Moon cried, aiming her weapon towards the hazy outline of the monster’s head. Unable to see through the thick fog, the youma was unprepared for the attack. The girls cheered in unison as the weapon sliced through its elongated neck. The beast tumbling to the ground, defeated.
          “We did it!” Sailor Moon bounded over, the fog rising and victims waking.
          “We did,” Sailor Mercury beamed, feeling like a piece of her puzzle had snapped into place.
          Suddenly the blonde’s face dropped, her expression distant. “He didn’t come,” she said, disappointment laced in her voice.
          “He was in – ” Sailor Mercury started, but stopped short when Luna shot her a piercing glare, slowly shaking her head. “He was probably just caught up with something.”
          “You girls need to get out of here,” Luna instructed, as onlookers snapped photos and recorded video. With a quick nod, Sailor Moon and sailor Mercury fled the scene, unaware of the uniformed man hidden in the crowd paying them special interest.

___________________________

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