A new evil rises to face the Sailor Senshi. One of their number will not be making it out alive. (Took second place in Sailor Astera's "Oops! I Killed a Senshi!" contest.)
"So that's it then." Haruka's voice was cold and decisive. "The Lord of Hatred is about to rise."
Artemis nodded gravely.
The senshi sat silently. Each was running the past hours back through her head, over and over. Minako shuddered, but hard as she tried, no thoughts would come to her that were not memories out of that continuous loop.
She had been walking home from the grocery when it happened. She stopped dead, her eyes shut tight against the pain. She sank to her knees, the shopping bags slipping forgotten to the ground. An ice-cold clawed hand, stronger than steel, seemed to grip her heart. Her breathing turned ragged. She clutched at her chest, attempting to stifle the pain. Her ears began to ring. Softly, as if coming to her mind from across galaxies, a cold voice cackled evilly in her ear. As swiftly as it had come, the wave of pain passed.
"Minako! Minako-chan, can you hear me?"
Minako's eyes opened. Artemis was staring at her with a worried expression. When she focused on him, he breathed a sigh of relief. "You're okay."
"I... I guess so...." It still hurt to breathe, but the crush upon her heart had diminished to a dull ache. Somehow, though, the ache was worse.
She gathered up her bags and ran all the way home, Artemis following confusedly behind.
She had called the sailors over and told them all what had happened. As they wandered aimlessly through outburst thoughts of what it could have been, Artemis and Luna talked softly and swiftly in a corner.
With a nod to her companion, Luna stepped into the centre of the circle of scouts.
"Senshi, I need your wands. Usagi, Chibi-usa, your lockets."
Although confused, they all obediently handed over their means of transformation. Luna placed Usagi's locket on the floor and arranged the eight wands in order about it. She then held Chibi-usa's locket over Usagi's. For a moment, no one moved a muscle. When Luna removed her paws, Chibi-usa's locket stayed suspended over Usagi's; the other locket and wands also rose. Hotaru and the inner senshi gasped. The lockets rotated at the same speed and in the same direction; the wands kept speed, but revolved around Usagi's locket in the opposite direction. Luna sighed.
"So it is true then."
"What?" asked Rei, the only one who could find her voice.
"The wands," Michiru replied simply.
The brows of Rei, Makoto, Usagi, Ami, Chibi-usa and Hotaru knitted. But Minako understood. "They're revolving counter clockwise."
Luna looked at Minako in surprise, then glanced at Artemis. The snow-white feline looked more worried than his mate had ever seen him.
"What does that mean?" Makoto queried.
Luna sighed. "That a powerful evil is gaining strength." She paused. Then she chanted loudly,
"Seven worlds lie on seven levels;
Seven Evils lie in one.
Above its six siblings, one will soon rise.
Reveal to me that which shall invade our level;
What darkness may cover the world?
What now must we face?"
The floating formation flipped over. Chibi-usa's locket flipped again, and the air between the lockets glowed with blood red light. The formation rotated once, then collapsed. The wands and lockets clattered to the ground.
Luna's face was grim. "It is as I feared. Mephisto has awakened."
Usagi was dead lost. "Muh-who?"
"The Lord of Hatred," Artemis spoke for the first time since Minako had reached home. His eyes were locked on Minako, but she would not meet his gaze.
"Alright, guys, enough secrets," Rei burst out. "Who the heck is this Mephisto? And if you’re only answer is 'The Lord of Hatred,' I’ll throttle whoever says it."
There was silence for a moment. Then Setsuna began, "One of the Seven Evils." She sighed and took a deep breath before continuing. "There are Seven Great Evils who reside in a plane of Hell below the level of our universe. The four Lesser Evils are: Duriel, Lord of Pain; Andariel, Maiden of Anguish; Belial, Lord of Lies; and Azmodan, Lord of Sin. Even more terrible than these are the Trio of Horrors, the Three Greater Evils: Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred; Baal, the Lord of Destruction; and Diablo, the Lord of Terror. In centuries long past, the Three were banished to our plane by their weaker kin and entrapped within Soulstones. Diablo and Baal have each escaped once: Diablo through the corruption of a priest, Baal when the human who harboured the shard of his shattered Soulstone rose from his tomb. Long have the prophets predicted that Mephisto too would escape. The lockets prove it: red is the colour of Mephisto's Soulstone."
It was then that Haruka's sentence had been the last spoken.
For over an hour now they had sat in silence. It was as if none dared to stir.
This snapped the girls from their reverie. Minako stood.
"Where is Mephisto's Soulstone housed?" she asked.
"In a great castle," Luna replied, "in the Wakes of Nowhere. No one can speak the name of the location, for that is lost and gone. The only way there is for someone who can sense it to teleport there."
Minako nodded. "Then let's go."
"Wait!" Artemis cried. "This is no ordinary monster. He is one of the Three. His power is legend. Fighting him will make defeating the Cassenian Blossom look like stomping a dandelion. You must all go, you must all be ready, and you must all be willing. Anyone who does not feel equal to any of these must speak now. Where you're going, it will be better to be short a scout than to have one whose heart may falter."
None stepped down. "We're ready, Artemis," Chibi-usa piped. "Tell us what to do."
Fully transformed and ready as they'd ever be, the senshi stood in a circle in Tokyo town square. The street was deserted, a blessing to their cause, yet a hindrance to their hearts.
Each soldier took the hand of the next in line. Mamoru leaned against a nearby building. "You're sure you don't need me?"
Sailor Moon shook her head. "Luna told us the prophecies claim that each evil can only be defeated by its exact counterpart. Only in the case of Andariel, the female, could you help. In the cases of the other six, the evil could use you as an outlet."
Mamoru nodded. "Come back safe."
Moon looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. "Don't worry. We will."
The sailors closed their eyes. Moon began, and the others took up the cry.
In a flash of light, they were gone. Mamoru stood for a moment gazing at the place where they'd been.
"Be careful," he muttered. Then he turned his back and headed for home.
The sailors appeared on a stretch of barren sand leading to wide stone steps. The stairs seemed to be hewn of living rock, as did the vast castle they led to. The night was black, starless and moonless. Without a word, they climbed the stairs and thrust open the towering doors.
After several minutes' searching, they discovered the passage which would lead to the castle's heart. They seemed to have been walking for hours, and no sign of door or pass appeared. Then suddenly, just as this thought flickered through their minds, the doors loomed up in front of them. They were several times as tall as any of them, and each was four feet wide. They seemed to be made of obsidian: the soldiers were reflected transparently in them, their skin dark as shade. Makoto walked forward and pushed the joint between the huge slabs of solid stone as hard as she could. To everyone's surprise, she then nearly tumbled into the room: the doors swung open freely. They walked forward into a great hall, thoroughly three times the height of the massive doors, and twice so in its circular diameter. As they did so, a huge cast-iron chandelier hanging from the pointed top of the ceiling burst its candles into flame. Brackets spaced every five feet around the walls erupted as their torches fired. The pitch-black room was now illuminated: dead centre within was a beautifully carven pedestal of the same obsidian as the doors. Sitting innocently upon it was the stone. It was quite unremarkable: just a dollop of ruby-coloured glass. The only thing otherworldly about it was, though it was solid, its surface looked as flowing blood and leaping flame. The sailors moved toward it, but at that moment a loud caw smote the silence.
Turning faces up and to their right, the senshi saw a raven speed down from the head of a gargoyle upon which it had been perched, diving straight for the stone. Rei's eyes narrowed. She new well all birds who wore raiment of black. Never had she seen a raven move as this one did.
"It's being pulled," she muttered.
Before anyone could react, the bird had the stone in its talons. With a shriek that rent their hearts and reverberated off the walls, the bird burst into flame. It rose straight into the air, and died halfway to the ceiling. The Stone slipped from its claws and hurtled earthwards. Sailor Moon, who had been at the front of the company and a few yards ahead, was nearest.
But as she moved to catch it, Chibi shrieked: the raven was falling dead and flaming in what looked horribly like the dive of one very much alive. It was heading straight for the little senshi, who was paralysed with fear. Moon had a choice: the Stone or her daughter.
"Chibi-usa!" she creamed as she leapt, snatching the girl from the bird's path. The creature hit the ground and incinerated. At the same second, the Stone struck the pedestal and burst asunder. A flash of red light filled the hall, momentarily blinding them.
When they could see again, the obsidian pedestal had melted to a puddle, like a pool of black blood. Standing in this puddle was a creature terrible to behold. Though he stood in his current form only head and shoulders taller than Pluto, his power made him seem to fill the entire hall. His skin was red as flame, and he wore about him a frayed red-brown robe tied about his waist, like a mockery after the fashion of friars. He had only two fingers and a thumb on each hand, but the entire last joint of each was a claw, three inches long and big around as a doorknob. Waist-down, his body was goat-like: red fur and cloven hooves. Hideous talon-jointed bat wings stretched from his shoulders through tears in the robe. Bison horns big as tree limbs erupted from his head; his teeth were long and yellow with jagged edges, and smaller horns burst from his long cleft chin. His eyes were poisonous yellow, snakelike with tall narrow pupils. He straightened up and gazed at those before him. He smiled and let forth a burst of rancid hot air, such as the sigh of satisfaction breathed by one surveying a feast.
"Sailor Senshi," he spoke in a rich baritone voice that gurgled with a permanent growl, "we meet at last." His smile widened.
Mephisto laughed. Battered and bruised, the soldiers faced him. Most of them could hardly stand. Chibi-Moon wheezed in high-pitched whistles as she breathed. Only Venus and Moon seemed to have their strength about them, and Venus alone was unharmed. Mephisto held up his palm and curled his fingers upwards, a pulsating ball of pure hatred suspended between his fingertips. One quick motion, and his arm was straight, the ball speeding bullet-fast at Moon's chest. Venus was faster.
The ball collided with Venus's chest; she bit her lip and choked back a scream. "No!" Moon began, but her yell cut off, a confused expression on her face. Venus was nearly floating, suspended on the tips of her toes. Her head was tilted back, her expression calm as a pool of rainwater. The hatred forced itself at her chest, spinning and crackling with black lightning. For a second that contained an eternity, no one moved. Then Venus's eyes snapped open.
The ball of hatred imploded.
Venus lowered slowly back onto her feet, her head tilting back upright. Mephisto curled his lip and snarled. "What is this?"
Venus spoke clearly, her voice holding no trace of fear. "Love is stronger than hate, Mephisto. One would think you would have learned that by now." Her voice echoed slightly in the silence.
Mephisto threw back his head and laughed. "Is that so, Aphrodite?" he asked amusedly, narrowing his eyes. "Why then do you, the Goddess of Love, hate me?"
"Goddess?" Moon wondered aloud.
"I am no Goddess, Mephisto, as well you know. I am but her servant in this war, infused by her being in times of need." Her voice was rich and deep, and the light of the Heavens glinted in her eyes. "It is not hatred that I feel, only loathing."
Mephisto's lip curled again. "If you loathe me so much, why do you not destroy me where I stand?" He spread his arms wide, inviting her to try.
Venus did not move. "Because that is not my place in this."
Mephisto's lip curled further, his amusement mounting. "Then there is no reason for you to be here." And he dug his claws into her flesh.
"No!" cried the sailors in unison. Venus screamed in pain.
But she was not the only one.
Mephisto roared, his head reared back. He yanked his claws from her shoulder. Venus's blood clung to them like thick red paste. It smoked and hissed, eating away at the claws like acid. Shocked and horrified, Mephisto frantically wiped the blood off on the sash about his waist. That end of the sash disintegrated. "What is this?!" he repeated, the malice in his voice replaced with abject terror.
Venus straightened up, clutching her shoulder. "My power," she whispered through gritted teeth. Moon moved forward, extending her arm toward Venus’s shoulder.
"Sailor Moon, do not touch the wound!" Uranus cried. Moon quickly drew back her hand.
Venus glanced over her hurt shoulder. "Don't worry, Sailor Moon. It's only a flesh wound." She turned her gaze back to Mephisto. "Now get outta here."
"What?!" cried Moon. "No!"
"You cannot defeat him alone, Sailor Venus!" Mercury called from her end of the row.
"I know," Venus said simply.
"Sailor Venus, he's too powerful for you to defeat by yourself!" Jupiter cried frantically.
"I know," Venus repeated.
"Nuh-uh! No way!" Mars spat angrily. "We will not just leave you here to get yourself killed!"
Venus looked back over her shoulder. She smiled sorrowfully, yet reassuringly. "You won't be. I promise you, I know what I'm doing."
"Trust her," Pluto's voice rang out. The inner senshi looked to her in shock. "You must trust her."
"Yes, trust her," cackled Mephisto, his voice again dripping with insane joy. "Leave the little girl to me!"
Venus and Pluto's eyes locked, and unspoken understanding passed between them. At the same moment, they nodded.
Turning back to Mephisto, Venus clenched her fists and spread her feet and arms in battle stance.
"Come," Pluto's voice echoed strangely off the walls. 'This battle is no longer ours." She turned on her heel and ran for the door. The others hesitated for only an instant, and then all eight of them took off after her.
Mephisto watched them go with vague satisfaction on his face. As he did so, both he and Venus backed respectfully out of melee range. The moment Chibi-Moon's heels passed over the threshold, the doors slammed themselves shut and fused seamlessly to the frame and to each other.
Venus was nonplussed, though she did not show it. "You're simply going to let them go?'
Mephisto's laugh rang throughout the hall, echoing out of every corner, making the iron jingle and the stone hum. "You still don't get it, do you child? They don't matter to me. They are fodder. Stepping-stones. Diablo and Baal shall have them one day, if I fail to catch them. It is only you, Sailor Venus." He smirked and leered at her. Her face showed no fear, but her eyes quivered for the barest of moments, and she took half a step back. He bared his rows of serrated yellow teeth.
"It is your blood that I want."
In the hall, the others' feet pounded the stone floor. Pluto was far out in front because of her speed and head start. Jupiter carried Chibi-Moon on her shoulders.
"Pluto," Mars panted, "Where are we going?"
"Out," was the only reply.
Spurred by exasperation and curiosity, Moon put on a burst of speed and caught up with time's gatekeeper. "Why?" she asked. "What is Venus doing back there?"
The full truth of Pluto's words, Venus and Luna's speeches, Mephisto's interest in Venus alone—it all hit Moon like a brick wall. In that instant, the world stopped spinning.
"No," she whispered. Without even thinking about it, she was keeping pace with Pluto. Her gaze saw nothing on this plane. She saw instead flashes of memory—the day she became a scout, she and Naru's practice of singing the Sailor-V theme song, the day she met Sailor Venus, all the battles they had won together, and all the times Venus had selflessly saved her ass. "Minako…"
Pluto looked at her. "Usagi."
Sailor Moon snapped back to this world and turned her face to Pluto, tears brimming in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Pluto comforted her. "But she has to. This is her sacred duty. If it were yours, you know you'd stay."
Moon only stared. From far away, she felt herself nod silently.
Venus forced herself to climb back to her feet. I am buying them time, she told herself.
"Venus Love Me Ch—"
Mephisto back-fisted her across the face, knocking her back to the floor. "I told you to stop doing that," he snarled.
She forced herself onto her hands and knees, trying to get up. Mephisto did not wait. He took her head in the talons of his right hand and lifted her into the air, facing him. He cackled. "Getting tired?"
She spat into the fold of his eye.
He curled his lip. "You shall pay for your insolence. Perhaps another taste of pure hatred...and as we now are face to face...." He smirked. He extended the pointer finger of his left hand, and touched the tip of his claw to her breast, just above her heart.
Venus screamed so loud and hard, she felt her lungs would burst. She prayed they would, begged the heavens to let her die, pass out, explode; she did not care what, so long as this pain would end. It was the same hand as before clutching at her heart, but worse. It was cold as ice and burned like fire; the claws were this time puncturing her heart, and blackness flowed in through the holes. She felt it fill and consume her, and for the first time in her life, she found herself hating other living creatures. She hated every teacher who'd ever given her a low mark, she gated every girl and boy who'd ever shunned her, she hated anyone who'd ever raised the price of something she wanted to buy, she hated her mother, she hated every other one of the scouts, she hated herself, and she even found herself hating Artemis. But most of all, she hated Mephisto. Then she realized: she hated hatred, and hatred alone. She stopped screaming, and hung limply in Mephisto's hands.
Believing she'd passed out, he lowered his left hand and slightly lessened his grip upon her scalp.
Her eyes snapped open and she jammed a finger in his eye.
Mephisto roared. Venus gritted her teeth: her whole glove had instantly combusted and his blood burned like molten rock, but she forced her finger deep into his eye socket. With a snarl, he let go of her scalp and bludgeoned her in the head with his great fist. She slumped lifelessly to the ground, broken and bleeding at the monster's immense cloven feet.
The scouts reached the outer door and burst through, panting. Jupiter lowered Chibi-Moon to the ground. Chibi turned back to look through the doorway before the doors swung themselves slowly shut.
"Do you think Sailor Venus is doing okay?"
The other scouts exchanged glances. Who could tell?
Venus rolled out from under Mephisto's lowering hoof and onto her feet.
"You..." she panted, "will never...conquer...me."
He smiled. "Sweet child. I already have." He drove his fist into her face.
"I don't know, Chibi-Moon," Mars said truthfully.
Moon did not speak. Tears slipped down her face. She turned and walked down the stairs to stand on the bare sand a few feet away. "Get off the stones," she commanded the others firmly. The adults, teenagers and Hotaru obediently ran down the stairs and stood behind her. Chibi did not move.
"Come on, Chibi."
"Sailor Moon, what are you playing at?"
"I have to, Chibi."
"But Venus is still in there, Usagi!"
"Dammit, Chibi-usa, don't you think I know that?!"
There was a silence in which Chibi stared at the ground. "Minako isn't coming out, is she?" she asked in a small voice.
Moon shook her head.
Chibi bit her lip. Looking over her shoulder, she began to shed her own tears. Silently, she climbed down the steps. Pluto held out her hand. Muttering "Luna P," she buried her face in Pluto's skirt.
Through her tears, Moon focused on the building. "Get ready, guys."
The others nodded. Pluto rubbed Chibi's back, and the little princess dried her eyes on her gloves and faced the building with the others.
Sailor Moon took out her Cutie Moon Rod. She let out one sob. "Good-bye, Minako. Moon...Princess...Halation!"
Minako flipped back onto her feet. She could feel her friends' love giving her new strength. What was more, she knew that meant that she would not have to hold out much longer. With a smile, she stood straight and tall, folded her hands behind her back, and lifted her chin. "You are dead, Mephisto."
As she spoke the words, the floor began to tremble. Startled, Mephisto looked around. The places where floor joined wall, wall joined wall, ceiling joined chandelier; every such joint in the entire building glowed white. Crumbles of stone fell from the ceiling. The chandelier fell with a crash at Mephisto's feet, causing him to leap back. Venus did not so much as flinch. The long-hardened obsidian puddle in the floor not only re-liquefied, but also began to bubble. The iron ornaments creaked and groaned.
Mephisto's terrified glances came to rest upon Venus, who stood unmoved by the hall's mounting collapse. With a snarl, he leapt toward her. Then with a yell, he caught fire in pure-white flames. His wide eyes locked with Venus's calm ones. She smiled. Then she, too, caught fire. As she burned, she never once moved. Her smile broadened as Mephisto began to disintegrate.
"See you on the other side," she said sweetly.
At that moment, with a roaring shriek and a child's laugh, the both of them incinerated.
Shafts of white light broke out as holes appeared in the walls. A second later, the scouts saw the entire building explode in a vertical tunnel of light, the largest pieces of the building no bigger than the rest of the sand grains around them. Three pieces of blood-red stone sat in the middle of what could not be called wreckage.
"Chibi-usa!" Moon shouted.
The hearts blasted the stones, fusing them back into one twisted lump.
"Everyone!" was the leader's next command. They all took up the cry that had not been heard for seven ages of the earth.
A roar sounded from every grain of sand, every molecule of air, and every fibre of the sailors' being. The still-warm stone glowed violently, and a barely-visible wisp of shadow was sucked into it. As the final stage of their attack on evil's essence, the stone plunged itself a hundred feet below the sand, where it would remain even after they all were dust.
Sailor Moon walked to the spot where the stone had vanished and stooped down, picking something up. The thing glinted gold as she lifted it: Venus's tiara. Sailor Moon smiled, and kissed the cold gem upon it. Then she flung it like a Frisbee to the winds.
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