Sailor Moon Expanded : The Next Generation presents Version 2.0 by Mark Latus

3. Accidents will happen "Okay, that's enough for a warm up." Kodachi and Sylvite were glad to stop exercising. Being born with paranormal strength and endurance meant they rarely had to exert themselves. Only during Sylvite's fights before school started or Kodachi's mad dash to be there on time did they tap into their real capacity. However Titanite was aware of what they were capable of and knew how to give them a proper workout. Right now both were grateful their costumes' fabric didn't retain excess body heat or get sweat stained. Ti uttered a command and her gym program shut down leaving the simulation room bare. Both her pupils were in reasonable shape but had definite room for improvement. On the other hand she'd been much the same at their age and she wasn't supposed to be training them as top of the line fighters. In fact their parents (two of whom had been her own trainers) would probably strongly object to that idea. Besides she wasn't qualified to do that. It need not even be as intense as her own teenage training which had focused on defence and surviving in a hostile environment. What she was here to teach was more style than fighting. After all what else would they need to know in Crystal Tokyo? "Right, let's begin with the basics ... something wrong Sylia?" Sylvite guiltily snatched her hands away from her neck. "No, no. What could be wrong. Take more than a little workout like that to distress me." Ti nodded but was sure she had seen discomfort on Sylvite's face. Well she would let it go for now but keep an eye on her. For her part Sylvite managed to keep smiling despite a real pain in the neck. Not only was she feeling constricted by her costume but now the damned spiked collar was chaffing. She resolved to ignore it. If her mother could stand it then she could do no less. Besides she had bigger worries like maintaining her balance. Thankfully she had got through the warmup without a stumble but she had to be careful. Beside her the sweating but still more comfortable Kodachi could see Sylvite fidgeting but managed not to roll her eyes. "Okay ladies let's talk about being senshi. For lessers like us it's more a matter of style that distinguishes us from the more generic champions. We emulate the true senshi though to varying degrees ... well in your case you're emulating your predecessors exactly when it comes to dress but there's more to it than that." Ti took a moment to admire the costumes Sylvite had wheedled her father into producing. Exact copies (at least in appearance) of the original Sailor V and Sailor Arcturus outfits. Except that Minako's original outfit had been made out of that unduplicatable magic material that made up all true senshi costumes and could be reshaped by the wearer's wishes. Pyrite hadn't been able to create fukus out of that but he'd produced the next best thing. In fact Sylvite's costume was much more durable that the original version as were her own current Polaris costumes. Despite the thinness of the material these fukus could turn a diamond edged knife or stop an armour piercing bullet from penetrating. Of course while they wouldn't penetrate the accompanying kinetic impact was another matter but he had woven energy absorbing spells into the fabric along with wards to resist magical assault. Even a non-powered person would be a tough customer in outfits like these. Plus the fabric was "smart". It would release heat through micropores when the wearer was hot but seal them and retain heat when body temperature began dropping. All this and it looked just like the original version. Amazing. "There are four main elements to being a true senshi of which we lessers use three. They are; power, dress, posing and speech making. Obviously we can't match them when it comes to power but we use the other three." "So first up we have dress or lack of it. Over the centuries a lot of comments and crude jokes have been about these outfits leaving most of the legs unprotected. Why these costumes were originally designed to look like this nobody knows though most historians blame Venusian influence." Both girls just looked puzzled so obviously Silver Millennium history wasn't much interest to either. Of course given the discovery of several golden ages predating historical records and the thousand years of their own era combined with all that was already known meant there was simply too much history for any one person to take it in. How many dozens of history courses did CTU offer anyway? She'd been told but forgotten having little interest in the subject herself except where it concerned the senshi. "Actually true senshi are a lot better protected than most people think. It's known that magic warps probability but what most people forget is that the senshi are conduits for planetary mana wells. That's a lot of power and it has side effects on the local environment. Quite simply senshi are a lot luckier than most people so during combat shrapnel tends to either just miss them or strike them on their armour. Another thing people tend to forget is just how tough those fukus really are. So the main unprotected areas are thigh, calf, upper arm and, apart from the tiara, the head but those are also the least likely to be hit. In addition our senshi have an advantage their predecessors lacked. Centuries of experience at wielding their power has taught them how to create unique shielding techniques based on their individual powers. This combination of offensive and defensive abilities makes Crystal Tokyo's Senshi the most powerful who ever lived." "That accounts for true senshi, lesser senshi are another matter. Now in my younger days I never thought about this. I just copied the costume without thinking about the practical aspects. Azurite was well aware of the problem but also knew that we both possessed an arguably superior solution. Namely forceshields." She shifted her gaze to look at Kodachi. "Sylvite has one but you don't. Unfortunately outside Crystal Tokyo some lesser senshi possessing neither senshi luck nor youma forceshield have been injured because of it. Others have made modifications." Kodachi glared back. "Are you saying I should ditch this costume and wear armour instead?" "No, but you should consider adding tights. Or if you want to keep the bare leg look at least think about bulletproof pantyhose." Both girls stared at her. "There's no such thing!" "Actually there is, in fact Sylvie's father holds a patent on it." "Huh?" "Shouldn't surprise you, he's got dozens of magisci patents and is a very wealthy man. Hard to tell in our little utopia but in the outside world your whole family would be living on a massive estate behind a web of security and under constant surveillance and scrutiny." "I don't think I'd like that." "Neither would your parents which is one reason they stick around CT. Besides they like it here. Anyway the only reason Pyrite still works is because he enjoys it." While Pyrite had been named as one of the new Guardians in the wake of the war he still considered his magisci researches his true calling. Which wasn't a problem as with peace restored his duties as a Guardian took up very little of his time. Titanite continued, "Getting back to what I started to tell you he created them under a private research contract for the Hunters. I suspect he needed the money so he could bid on some very rare Trek memorabilia." That got a chuckle though Ti knew she could hardly laugh at someone else's media obsession. "Anyway it was part of a package of lightweight, comfortable and non-intrusive protective clothing for undercover work and general wear. A side effect of being able to turn a knife blade is you don't get runs in them very easily which made them especially popular with the female hunters. All this stuff was and is produced by magisci manufacturing ... some combination of high tech materials and warding spells woven into the fabrics. Same principle as the fukus we're wearing. Of course the commercial versions are weaker and less effective than ours. Smart Cloth (TM) costs a small fortune so the manufacturers start with weaker fabrics as a base. Plus you need a master to create armouring spells like our costumes carry." Ti wasn't surprised to see both girls get big eyes. They'd never considered the behind the scenes efforts Pyrite had put in. Sylvite suddenly realized she had taken her father's work for granted and guilt replaced irritation at her Arcturus costume's shortcomings. Kodachi wondered if her parents had secretly underwritten her costuming costs and what this outfit would have cost on the open market. Then frowned as she realized what her brother had really meant by his unflattering comparison of their attire. His Tuxedo Mask costume was also Pyrite's work but left a whole lot less unprotected than hers. On the other hand she had an image to preserve and who said she wouldn't be lucky? Especially in Crystal Tokyo. Maybe she would inherit her mother's luck by taking her original senshi name. After all stranger things had happened around here. On many occasions. Titanite noted the stubbornness on Kodachi's face and shrugged mentally. She hadn't expected to convince her niece. Just to plant a seed of thought in case Kodachi ever thought about being Sailor V outside Crystal Tokyo. Around here it wouldn't make a difference and there were too many role models with the unarmoured style to convince her otherwise.. "Leaving that for the moment we come to introductory speeches and posing. These two go together. Now true senshi can usually do this without a problem. Even if the current enemy is already running amuck he, or she, will generally pause to listen. This is something of a combination of the luck I mentioned earlier coupled with a disbelief someone would introduce themselves before attacking. Now while true senshi can do that without worry we lesser senshi have to pick our moments a bit more carefully. When I was your age I always tried to emulate the senshi and enter with a speech. Sometimes it worked, sometimes I had to break off and dodge in a hurry. By contrast Azurite always assessed the situation first. Sometimes she did the intro, sometimes she'd introduce herself by blasting whoever was causing trouble. It all depended on the situation." "Mom attacked people without warning?" Ti smiled. "Your mother is a very practical woman. Remember we are talking about cases where someone or something is already wrecking havoc and generally making a nuisance of themselves. It took me quite a while to realize her way was a lot more survivable than mine." "But Aunt Ti, I've seen videos of you in the war and you're always introducing yourself!" "True", Ti conceded. "But you have to remember these days I operate at a much higher power level so I can take bigger chances than I could as a kid. I'm a big enough mana battery to shift the odds in my favour." Her face darkened. "Also don't forget I was captured during the war so even at my level victory is far from certain." Unpleasant memories from almost twenty years earlier stirred and she forced herself to ignore them by concentrating on her two pupils. "Even the true senshi have their bad days so never ever depend on luck. That's a recipe for disaster." Ti paused a moment to organize her thoughts. "So the cornerstones of being a lesser senshi are judgement and style. Learning the former will take time so for now we'll practice on the assumption that you're secure doing an intro and concentrate on the latter. First you'll learn the basic poses then we'll work on adlibbing speeches. Now while dramatic silhouettes are ideal you can't count on lighting conditions so let's start with bright sun conditions. Being a duo lends itself to combo poses but we'll start with the individual entries. Now put your right leg like so ..." The rest of the lesson went like this until they broke for supper. So things went for the next few weeks and Ti found her pupils fast studies. In Kodachi's case it was in her blood but that obviously didn't apply to Sylvite. While Azurite had been one of the premier lesser senshi apart from her stint in the war she had largely abandoned the Sailor Arcturus identity. Having joined the court as a Guardian she was very unlikely to ever resume it. But however it had happened both seemed to be naturals though a long way from being ready to get into a real fight. Not that she was planning on suggesting they do that. Still they were getting restive with the training so she thought it was time to start them on a few simulations to show them how far they had to go. Which lead to a rather unfortunate incident. Both girls had followed Titanite into the "holosuite" and were about to change for the warmup when Ti raised a hand. "Hold it, let's leave the costumes off for a little bit." Kodachi was puzzled while Sylvite was merely relieved. She still wasn't used to wearing it for long periods and had decided that back in the old days the senshi had handled it correctly. Namely change when you had to then switch back to civilian attire soon as possible. A few weeks earlier when she had been belatedly thanking her father for creating their costumes she had asked him if her mother had ever found wearing the Arcturus guise uncomfortable. He had looked surprised and told her that not only had that never happened but this version was a lot softer than the original. Without thinking she had commented that her mother must have skin tough as leather and been told that he had never thought so. Blushing, she had excused herself and hidden in her room but that hadn't derailed her thoughts. She was more aware than most girls that adulthood was nearing. Hard to ignore when she didn't look that much younger than her mother. However while she already had a woman's body her mind had always lagged behind. Except it was starting to catch up. Most of the girls her age had or were actively looking for boyfriends. Presumably she should be doing the same and probably would if not for her conviction that all boys were equivalent to pond scum. Well except for Luke and he was a childhood buddy. Along with Alan for whom she retained a certain inexplicable affection. It had occurred to her that one day she might become Alan's girlfriend for real. He was the only boy chasing her she could stand and when he wasn't acting pompous or putting Kodi down he wasn't a bad guy. Maybe with the right influence he would ... Ouch! Sylvite realized Kodachi had just elbowed her in the side. Her friend hissed, "Would you pay try and pay attention!" and she blushed. Fortunately Titanite was looking more amused that annoyed. "Are you back with us?" "I... I'm sorry I ... uh ..." "Bad case of flashback?" "Uh .. yeah." "Thought I recognised the signs. So what was it about, some boy?" Neither noticed Kodachi bit her lip. "Uh no, no ... just um ... reviewing the lessons. You're doing some sort of test today, right?" Sylvite silently congratulated herself on a good save. "Something like that. Computer, initiate program V&A test 1." Yes, Ti thought, the addition of authorized verbal control to the simulator saved a lot of time. Suddenly Sylvite and Kodachi found themselves in the middle of a crowd of pedestrians all of whom were hurrying by on some errand of their own. The street was filled with antique cars just as noisy and smelly as that thing Margrave owned. The surrounding buildings were blocklike and lacked the elegance of design they were used to but there were elements of neotraditional style about some of them. There were no crystal towers in sight and no one passing by seemed to be paying them any attention. Sylvite looked around in confusion, "Where are we?" Kodachi looked just as lost. "No idea. And where's Aunt Ti?" Sylvite realized their instructor had vanished and they both began looking around without success. Titanite was closer than they thought. When the simulation began she had wrapped a glamour around herself and faded into the crowd. Watching from concealment she waited to see how they handled themselves. Kodachi spotted a tree growing inside a brick planter and suggested they retreat to that to give themselves somewhere out of the flow of people to talk. As soon as they had settled themselves on the lip of the soil filled box Sylvite hesitantly suggested, "Kodi, maybe I'm wrong but I think this is supposed to be old Tokyo." You could almost see the lightbulb going on over Kodachi's head. "Of course! That's where Mom, Aunt Ti, your mom and all the others started their careers so it's the perfect testing ground!" "I guess only ... well what are we supposed to do? Wait for something to happen?" Kodachi frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe. On the other hand ... look around and see if you spot anything out of the ordinary." After a little banter about everything looking weird to them they got to work. After a minute Kodachi spotted a sign and snapped her fingers. "Got it!" "What is it?" "See over there?" "An ice cream parlour having a grand opening giveaway. I don't get it. It's all illusionary so ..." "No, no, no. You're missing the point. My mom used to tell me stories about her career in the old days ..." "I remember. Well this is supposed to be the old days so let's hear it." "Okay, well one thing Mom said she learned was than 9 times out of 10 when there was an offer too good to be true or some great giveaway it was either a plot by dark forces or got hijacked by them." "Oh yeah, there's plenty of stories like that aren't there?" "Yup. No shortage of examples." "Only if that's the case ... why did they keep walking into them without suspecting a thing?" Kodachi shrugged. "Beats me. Every time I asked Mom the same thing she always changed the subject. Must have been trying to lull the badguys into a false sense of security." "Makes sense. Well, shall we go have a closer look?" "Let's do that partner. It's time for our debut performance." Giggling to themselves the two girls headed for the store. Titanite switched glamours and followed unobtrusively. She didn't want to arouse suspicions so she kept plenty of distance. They were talking to on another but she wasn't close enough to make out their conversation. Which meant she was startled herself when they stopped just outside the door. Her unasked query of what they were up to was answered by a quick game of scissors, rock, paper which Kodachi won with paper against Sylvite's rock. Her niece entered first and Ti had a feeling she knew which of the duo would be calling the shots this time. Ti waited for more background figures to enter the store so she would be less obtrusive. It would take a few minutes for the simulation to kick into high gear so she had plenty of time. Inside the two girls were surveying their surroundings. All the tables were packed and there were no shortage of people standing around and eating ice cream or crowding the counter. They stood there a few moments but nothing supernatural happened. Hearing a bell ring as the door open they moved out of the way of the new customers. Still nothing out of the ordinary happened. At length Sylvite asked, "So now what? Do we just stand here and wait for something to happen?" Kodachi shook her head. "No, that gives the bad guys the initiative. Besides we know they're in here somewhere. We need to flush them out somehow." Kodachi slipped her glasses off and began fiddling with them. "I think I know the way to do it. Set your modesty screen to maximum and follow my lead." Sylvite nodded and began changing some of her watch's more unique functions. Kodachi pushed through the crowd to get them as close as possible to the center of the store. "Ready?" At Sylvite's nod her fingers brushed her glasses and gave the activation command. A massive flare of light erupted in the middle of the store and everyone instinctively surged away. As suddenly as it appeared it was gone leaving two figures in senshi costumes with their eyes closed standing back to back. The shorter of the pair began speaking while most of the customers were still half blind. "Dwellers in the shadows, hiding in the darkness of ignorance we illuminate you with the light of truth. Ice cream should be free of all hazards except calories. How dare you play with girls hearts by preying upon their love of sweet things. For such as you there can be no forgiveness! Therefore Sailor V, warrior of justice ..." "Not forgetting Sailor Arcturus, also warrior of justice ..." Their eyes snapped open but lacking a specific target they skipped the indicating hand movements and did a more general raised fist challenge and said in unison, "WILL PUNISH YOU!" Total silence followed as everyone just stared at them as if ... well as if they had just magically changed clothes then given a weird speech. Standing there with their arms upraised but nothing happening they began to feel a bit foolish. Both tried to keep looking defiant despite the sweatdrops they felt forming. Out of the corner of her mouth Sylvite hissed, "Nothing's happening!" Kodachi hissed back, "I know but ... aha!" Someone was pushing through the dumbstruck crowd. He was wearing a store uniform and a badge that identified him as the manager. Kodachi nodded, she should have guessed. He began to sputter, "What do you two think you're doing?!" Then, somewhat quieter, "Did head office send you and forget to notify me?" Kodachi swept her arm down to point at him. "Nice try but we're on to you!" Before he could blink she was somehow in front of him in a crouch and her foot rocketing towards his chin. "Sailor V Kick!" The manager smashed into the roof and Kodachi congratulated herself about not sending him flying into the crowd. She should have guessed it was the staff. "Syl ... Arcturus, the counter!" Manifesting her powerbat Sylvite did a line of sight teleport to put herself behind the ice cream counter and began whacking heads. Meanwhile the manager hung above the store, his neck seeming to merge with the ceiling. Suddenly his weight tore him free from the roof he had been rammed into and he crashed to the ground before Sailor V. His eyes were doing that circling thing and he had a very large bump but he showed no signs of changing into anything else. Kodachi had a sudden sinking feeling. "Hey Arcturus ...." She saw Sylvite looking a little nonplussed among a scattering of unconscious girls. "Never mind." Pandemonium erupted and most everyone charged for the exit trampling a few of their less fortunate fellows. Kodachi was still holding out hope she was right. Maybe these were human looking badguys so they didn't change into anything. Then she realized that not all the customers had left and some of those remaining were just standing there. Bingo! "Arcturus, there's the real enemy!" With that she launched herself at the nearest one. Eager to correct her evident blunder Sylvite followed suit. Several headache inducing moments later Sailors V and Arcturus were the only ones in the store still on their feet. Trying not to look guilty and planning on claiming it was like this when they entered they were both looking for signs of Sailor Polaris. In fact Titanite was watching them from the floor having used the crowd's panic to join the trampled. She resisted the urge to shake her head in disbelief. She really hoped they were only going this over the top because it was a simulation but had a sinking feeling they hadn't considered that. She was going to have to firmly introduce them to the concept of innocent bystanders. Meanwhile it was time for the main event. "Think we can keep Aunt Ti from noticing our little mistake." Sylvite looked innocent, "'We'? You're the one calling the shots, I just did what you told me." She realized she was still holding her energy bat and faded it out. "That only following orders bit never works. You're as responsible as me!" "Say what? Who said take out the staff?" "Who didn't notice after she whacked the first one that nothing was happening?" "That's different. You expect the boss to know what she's doing." "Like you did the time you ..." "We're not talking about the past, we're talking about here and now!" "Oh yeah?" "Yeah." Somewhat luckily before this bickering could escalate into a serious argument eerie laughter rang through the store. Both girls started looking for the source and grinned in relief. "We're saved!" "Yeah, there is a monster! You were right." "Even better, we can blame this on it!" "That's what you think!", Titanite thought as she considered a few other things they needed a refresher course in. Meanwhile the girls were having no luck spotting their adversary. Kodachi decided to try the direct approach again and shouted, "Show yourself!" "AS YOU WISH MORTAL!" Behind the counter a dozen unopened tubs of ice cream began to shiver. The tops suddenly blasted off as their contents erupted to meet in midair and merge together in defiance of gravity. The cloud of dairy products began to coalesce into a humanoid form about three metres tall, its head scraping the ceiling. It looked something like a multicoloured snowman though considerably more buffed. "TREMBLE BEFORE ME HUMANS FOR I, HAGENDASE, HAVE CROSSED THE DIMENSIONAL BOUNDARIES TO CONQUEROR THIS PLANET WITH MY DELICIOUS YET MIND CONTROLLING FLESH!" Both girls went a little green at the implications. "People have been eating you!?" "OF COURSE, ALL WHO CONSUME PART OF ME BECOME MY SERVANTS!" "Then you were controlling everyone in the store and taking over the customers. Hah, we were right!" "BEATING MY SLAVES SENSELESS IS A FUNNY WAY OF FREEING THEM FROM MY DOMINATION. THE GENERALLY ACCEPTED METHOD IS TO BEAT THE CONTROLLER THUS FREEING THOSE UNDER HIS, HER OR ITS CONTROL." "Shut up! Ahem ..." Kodachi got her temper under control and tried to ad-lib another speech, "Perverter of dairy products ..." "YOU DON'T NEED TO GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN, I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME. AS I ALREADY KNOW WHO YOU ARE LET'S SKIP THE INTRODUCTIONS AND START FIGHTING!" "Fine by me, vanilla brain. Sailor V Beam!" The beam surged out of Kodachi's fingertip but missed as Hagendaze's head flowed back into his body. It was already sidling to the side in an odd liquid motion as its facial features reformed. "No way!" "I BELIEVE THE ACCEPTED CLICHE IS 'HOW COULD ANYTHING SO BIG MOVE SO FAST?' YEOW!" Hagendaze had to contort in a hurry to dodge the fireball Sylvite had just tossed at him. Her eyes narrowed. "Looks like long range attack doesn't work. So let's get up close and personal." A moment's concentration and she was holding her power bat again. But before she could start beating their artificially flavoured nemesis Hagendase struck back. "ROCKY MOUNTAIN AVALANCHE!" Sylvite ducked as the stream of ice cream hosed over her head and smashed a hole in the wall. Startled by the crash she turned to see the wall peppered with sharp edged stones dripping melting ice cream. Her jaw dropped. "Hey, there's real rocks in that!" "CORRECT, THAT'S MY ATTACK MOTIF. BLUEBERRY SWIRL!" "YAAAAAA!" Kodachi saw her partner caught in a blue hurricane and then splat into the wall in a spray of semisolid blue goo. The dazed Sylvite found herself stained blue and stuck to the wall while Kodachi took the opportunity to try to kick a hole through Hagendase. She launched herself at her adversary with a cry of, "Sailor V kick!" hoping to punch a hole through him. She did ... literally. Kodachi found herself flying right through him and smashing into the wall behind him. She barely had time to move before the creature's massive fist slammed into the flooring she had occupied instants before. Having forgotten this was a simulation she dived across the room, desperate to put some distance between them. Watching all this Titanite was feeling a little disappointed. Hagendase wasn't designed as a tough adversary. A single combined attack would finish him easily. Unfortunately as soon as he had appeared their teamwork had disappeared and they had gone at him as individuals. The problem was that there was no clear leader among them. She had never had this problem while working with partners. Initially she had always deferred to Calcite or Azurite because of their greater age and experience. She had done the same when she started working with the senshi. On the occasions she had worked with lesser senshi they had deferred to her for exactly the same reason. That didn't apply here. Instead she had two headstrong girls who both knew the right way to do things. Which meant that rotating leadership thing only worked for who did the opening speeches. After that they both wanted to lead the attack and forget who was the leader this time. This was going to need a lot of work. Meanwhile if they didn't pull together this fight was going to be over soon. She heard a slurping noise and flicked her eyes sideways to see Sylvite tearing free of the blue goo. Hagendase didn't notice being intent on crushing Kodachi. "TIME TO END THIS, BANANA SPLIT!" The yellow razor edged boomerang tore towards Kodachi. Who promptly blew it out of the air with a hasty energy beam. Hagendase howled as the backlash from his weapon's destruction hit him. Kodachi took advantage of his distraction to sprint towards him. She bet he couldn't dodge a V beam at point blank range. From the opposite direction a furious Sylvite charged winding up with her energy bat. She was going to send his head to the moon! Titanite felt a certain measure of satisfaction. The dual attack would wipe out Hagendase then she could get to work pointing out and correcting their errors. Of course since they had won anyway they might not be willing to listen. Maybe she should show them by example, running through the simulation again partnering each of them herself. Her musings were interrupted as she saw disaster approaching. It all happened so fast. Sylvite was almost upon Hagendase when her balance went and she went down in a tangle of legs. Her energy bat swept towards Kodachi's unprotected skull. Titanite acted instinctively and teleported between her niece and the rogue bat. It slammed into her force shield which absorbed the kinetic impact without harm. Ignoring the accompanying energy shock she knocked it across the room. Without Sylvite's grip it had already begun to fade and was a dissipating cloud before it struck the wall. The startled Kodachi fired her energy beam without thinking but Ti had made sure her head wasn't in the line of fire. Her forcefield automatically cycled to blocking radiant energy and she grabbed the girl's hand and pointed it towards the ceiling. Her other hand launched a Polaris Missile point blank at Hagendase turning him into a fountain of sundaes and bringing the program to an abrupt end. Combat instinct gave way to thought and she congratulated herself on having averted a tragedy. Then she realized; A, Kodachi was gawking at her with shock as well as surprise; B, so was Sylvite; C, it suddenly seemed drafty in here and D, there were some very familiar green tresses on the floor. Her free hand reached up and didn't encounter what she had expected. It had been a close call and she had acted to save both girls from their folly while protecting her own life. She had managed that with ease and suffered no injury. However ... "MY HAIR!!!!" A moment's concentration produced a mirror though looking into it didn't improve her mood. Instead of reaching almost to her waist there was a lopsided cut ranging from almost the base of her neck to her shoulder blades. It looked awful. As if that wasn't enough there was that blasted reception tonight. She'd be a laughing stock! Meanwhile Sylvite had crept up to Kodachi and whispered, "Think we should tell her she looks good with short hair?" "Let's not tempt fate. That would definitely be pushing it." Both girls suddenly felt a chill and looked round to see Titanite glaring at them. Sylvite started studying the floor while Kodachi tried a nervous grin and asked, "We're in trouble, aren't we?" "Oh yes!" Kodachi swallowed nervously, her aunt's eyes seemed to be almost glowing. Shortly afterwards Titanite rematerialised in her home. She still had apartments set aside in the Palace but after the war and the arrival of an old friend and her family she had decided to move herself and her daughter to the countryside. She still thought it had been a wise decision for both of them. There had been too many memories of Topass in the quarters they had shared. Not that she had been able to forget him but it had been easier to deal with after they moved. Besides being able to teleport meant commuting was never any trouble. Though since Hematite had gone abroad the place sometimes seemed too big for just her. Titanite sighed and wondered where he was now ... not that she cared, if he cared more for Nemesis than her then he was welcome to it! He'd left her behind to protect her. Idiot! Who was going to protect him? He deserved everything he got! All the same she hoped he was okay ... for Hematite's sake, of course. She couldn't care less. Shaking herself out of the mood before she could depress herself Ti's thoughts turned to more practical matters. Tonight was a major event, the return of Ami-chan and Toma to Crystal Tokyo along with the first Mercurian ambassador to Earth for a very long time. It was going to be a formal occasion so she would be appearing as Sailor Polaris. Clothes weren't a problem, she had a dozen spare Polaris costumes. Her hair was another matter. She glared into the bathroom mirror, her hair had not magically regrown in the interim. She could cover the damage with a glamour but vanity prohibited that. While there were few who could see through glamours there were plenty of ways to detect their presence. Last thing she needed was the tabloids circulating rumours about what she was hiding. Besides she had never used them to enhance her appearance before, why should she start now? First order of business was book an emergency appointment with her hairdresser ... better arrange for privacy and teleport directly there. In the meantime a shower to remove the ash from carbonised hair sounded good. The evening's reception for the Mercurian Ambassador had an undercurrent of tension that was most unusual in Crystal Tokyo. Fascinating as the Warrens were Ami had found them oppressive. Regardless of her origins in her first life in this one she longed for the open skies of Earth. Her obvious unease had baffled the Mercurians but then there had been many things about "their" Senshi that rather surprised them. So far Ami hadn't told Ambassador S'hara that she had not accompanied the delegation purely for diplomatic reasons and didn't intend to return to the Warrens on the first available ship. However while she had been learning the Mercurian language she had also been teaching contemporary Japanese and English (the most widely used terrestrial languages) to the diplomats who would make up the terrestrial delegation. Ami had been overjoyed when their shuttle touched down but, with hindsight, realized that S'hara couldn't have missed her proclaiming, "It's great to finally be home!" or Tom's enthusiastic agreement. Recalling all this Ami sighed. Well, what was she supposed to do? Go back to Mercury and be miserable? She had a life here, so did Tom. She wasn't Cognisance, Princess of Mercury anymore. She was Mizuno Ami and this was her homeworld! By contrast Myuki had felt quite at home and been happy to stay behind. So it wouldn't be as if she was leaving them without a senshi of their own. However from what she had learned the Mercurians might expect her to relinquish her position and she was not ready to do that. Oh they could have the transformation wand back, it had been centuries since she had needed it, but she was not about to give up either the mantle or power of Sailor Mercury. After a thousand years she was very attached to the name, even if she did not use it as frequently as she once had, in addition to having earned it a thousand times over. If that wasn't enough her millennium in the position had attuned her to the source of her powers in a way none of her predecessors could match. It didn't matter that she had been born on Earth, she was more Sailor Mercury than any Mercurian born had ever been. Unfortunately this was going to mean a diplomatic nightmare and several hasty meetings of the royal council had failed to resolve it. The leading idea was to cede the title of Elder Mercury to Myuki, take a full title like Sailor Mercury of Crystal Tokyo (which, like Super Sailor Mercury, would soon give way to Sailor Mercury in common usage) and return her old transformation wand to the Mercurians. Who could give it to their new Younger Mercury when she manifested. If this would be acceptable Ami wasn't sure but nobody had any better ideas. Of course the council had been sidetracked by a discussion about the implications inherent in the existence of a contemporary Young Mercury. Myuki's presence raised a number of questions. Chief among which was if this could mean the appearance of other planetary Younger Senshi would occur. The existence of an ancient cycle of senshi was a historical fact and had been somewhat confirmed by the appearance of Ti's extradimensional friend Sailor Charon with her two daughters. One of whom had become the Younger Charon. Ami smiled as she recalled the other twin called herself Young Polaris but this was simply because of the similarity of her innate powers to Ti's and her mother naming her Titanite (though everyone called her 3PO, probably because her twin was Rhiannon Jr. better known as Artoo (R2). At any rate the general consensus was that a Young Mercury had only occurred because the planet was not lifeless as had been always assumed. So just as the Senshi had been reborn just in time to stop Beryl a Young Mercury had been born just in time for the revival of the Mercurians. Ami wasn't sure she quite accepted that, she was sure both Myuki and Ferrite knew a lot they weren't telling. In one way it was a shame Myuki hadn't accompanied her, Ami would have loved to see what Rei thought of that story. Tom had departed to greet and old acquaintance leaving her alone for the first time all evening. It wouldn't last, she could already see diplomats from various nations casually drifting her way without trying to appear eager. There were plenty of people looking to see what kind of deals they could make with the Mercurians and unfortunately she was seen as having a major influence on the ambassador. Ami glanced across the room to see Calcite charming S'hara while keeping the sharks at bay. Arcadian was her second language so she delighted to meet someone who could speak what she considered a proper language. Calcite was understandably rusty after all these centuries but it was surprising how easily his Court Youma'shak came back after all these centuries. Endymion was heading towards the pair to take over from Calcite while both their wives continued to circulate through the room spreading goodwill. Ami figured they would need a lot of that. If her decision to stay became know there was going to be a real diplomatic muddle and there would be plenty of nations eager to take Crystal Tokyo's place as Mercury's main contact with Earth. S'hara was no fool and might well use a public occasion to force Ami's hand on the chance that she would believe a return to Mercury preferable to a diplomatic incident. She watched Endymion start a conversation with S'hara while Calcite excused himself and headed for the bar. S'hara caught her eye and gave a look promising trouble was brewing. Fortunately she couldn't just walk away from the King but he couldn't stall her forever. Ami sighed and decided she needed a miracle and wondered if Serenity could provide one yet again. A miracle or a distraction. While she wouldn't get the former she would get the latter though she could never have predicted its cause. Unknown to her the source of her salvation had just arrived. Ami heard something of a stir and turned to see Titanite arrive. Then just stared. It had been noted that immortals had a tendency to become stuck in a rut when it came to appearance. Without time codes historians would be hard pressed to tell the difference between say, pictures of Sailor Venus during the early days of Crystal Tokyo and shortly before the recent war. So any change seemed radical making the short haired Sailor Polaris the center of attention. Scowling despite an earlier resolution to keep smiling and pay no heed to gawkers Titanite headed for the bar. Her mood wasn't improved by the two men who were already there picking up drinks but chose to remain there as they saw her coming. Ignoring both Calcite and Pyrite she told the bartender, "Give me a double of the special stuff ... on second thoughts make that a triple!" It being pretty obvious she didn't want any small talk he just nodded and unlocked the cabinet holding several bottle covered in labels warning those without paranormal metabolisms not to drink them or else. Ti gulped the shot and held out her glass for another. She resolved to ignore her brother and cousin both of whom were at least partially responsible for her involuntary haircut. That resolution lasted until her brother spoke. "Are you going to tell us why you're brooding or is it a secret for the time being?" She glanced to the right looking for signs of amusement but saw none. Calcite looked mildly concerned but wasn't going to push if she told him to mind his own business. She hesitated and might have simply told him that their daughters were causing a few unexpected problems had Pyrite not spoken up. Most everyone would agree that while Pyrite was much smarter than Calcite when it came to theory and the abstract his practical instincts weren't as good. This opinion would have been reinforced in the minds of anyone who overheard his comment of, "That's definitely a new look for you Ti. It's a nice change." Calcite winced slightly as he saw his sister's eyes narrow. Titanite stepped back so she could glare at both of them. "I was perfectly happy with my old appearance and it's both your faults I look like this!" Her two relatives were more than a little puzzled. "Our fault? How is it our fault?" "Those idiots are your daughters!" Calcite risked a quick glance around. While Ti was keeping her voice down despite being angry there was still no shortage of attention on her thanks to her appearance. Hopefully he could defuse this before they had a scene. Obviously Kodi and Sylvite had done something wrong but what? Presumably it was related to Ti's terse, audio-only call to tell them that Kodachi would be delayed getting home thanks to a special study project. "Whatever Kodi's done ..." Calcite didn't get to finish. "Done! What hasn't she done? They're both hopeless!" Ti's voice was rising and her self control fraying. "Do you have any idea what it's like to deal with glory crazed teenage senshi wannabes who can barely even control their own powers?!" There was a moment of silence then Pyrite began to twitch violently. A muscle jumped in Calcite's cheek but centuries of self control enabled him to fight off a grin long enough to say, "Before I say anything perhaps you should ask yourself, 'Do I really want him to answer that question?'" The grin erupted accompanied by gales of laughter. Pyrite also gave up trying to hold in his belly laugh and completely lost control. None of this served to improve Titanite's mood. Not far away Rei and Azurite were discussing a recent medical report that was causing yet another crusade against something dear to their hearts. Rei was saying, "... don't understand these recurring backlashes. I've been wearing high heels for centuries without any problems." Azurite nodded. "Same here ... though to be fair neither of us have normal musculature ..." She trailed off as commotion erupted and the bar became the center of attention. Guardian Calcite (formerly Lord Calcite) had long been noted for his sang-froid and sense of decorum. So it was extremely rare to see him laughing like a hyena while pounding on the bar hard enough to crack the marble. Less was known about Guardian Pyrite but he wasn't expected to be seen rolling around the floor laughing his head off. By contrast to their jolly mood Sailor Polaris looked ready to explode. She raised both hands above her heads, the air rippled and she was holding the gigamallet she called (when in a better mood) the "Polaris Ultimate Hammer of Justice". Looking somewhat berserk she proceeded to drive the hilarity paralysed pair into the floor. Oblivious to the fact everyone was watching Titanite glared into the crater, ignoring the dust cloud, as she listened for signs of life. Nothing moved or giggled so she nodded in satisfaction, faded out the mallet and stalked away. The crowd parted before her. As she did Calcite heaved himself out of the rubble followed by Pyrite. He was heard to remark, "Very handy things forceshields" after which Pyrite nodded before adding, "'Do you have any idea...'" in a good imitation of Titanite's voice before cracking up again which set Calcite off. Titanite stopped and stiffened then muttered and kept walking away. Rei and Azurite looked at each other, somewhat perplexed by this turn of events. Azurite shook her head, "What the hell's got into them?" Rei shrugged, "No idea ..." She glanced across the room. "... but since Minako's heading to intercept Ti let's go have a word with your husband and Cal." Azurite nodded and they headed over. Meanwhile Endymion was telling the glassy eyed S'hara in the same smooth voice, "... but while Crystal Tokyo is well worth exploring you'll find no shortage of sights throughout Nippon. Mount Fuji is always a good place to start though if you dislike heights I would recommend ... is something wrong?" For a moment she seemed to stare through him and began babbling in a language he didn't recognise before getting herself a little more under control. Then she tried again, "One of your senshi just hammered two of your Guardians into the ground because they laughed at her!" Endymion looked unconcerned though he had no idea what it was all about, "They were just resolving some minor squabble. Nothing to worry about." "That's how they resolve minor disagreements?!" Endymion nodded and keeping a straight face remarked, "Keeps them on their toes." The ambassador looked even paler than before. Especially when she heard someone else start to laugh. A few moments earlier Minako had caught up to her longtime sister-in-law. "Mind telling me what all that was about?" Ti glared at her. "Not now Mina, this is as much your fault as his!" Minako looked very puzzled by the declaration then ventured, "This is something to do with the hair, right?" Ti's glare deepened then she started to stride away. Minako grabbed her forearm. "Wait a second ..." At which point the sound of Azurite breaking up echoed through the room. Suddenly Minako found herself holding nothing. She glanced around but wherever Ti had teleported didn't seem to be in the hall. Minako shrugged, "Definitely been a lot tenser since she wound up single again." On that thought she headed over to find out what was going on. A somewhat bewildered looking Rei watched Azurite wipe her eyes while struggling to try and get herself under control. "Sorry, but you really had to be there ..." She dissolved into a fit of giggles while Calcite tried to get serious but couldn't get rid of the grin. However he did manage to stop laughing and remark, "Haven't laughed like that in ... well ever. That was worth waiting 1000 years for." Pyrite nodded and stifled another round of chuckles before replying. "What goes around ... hehheh ... Abyss, she's never going to forgive us." Almost unnoticed in the confusion S'hara decided to retire for the night and shelved her plans for playing the terrans off against one another. As she did Calcite was telling Pyrite, "Never's a long time. Ti's not one to hold a grudge. Eventually she'll see the funny side of it. Probably." "Mind explaining what just happened to the rest of us, Cal?" Calcite turned to see Chrysolite, the fourth Guardian (in uniform for a change, probably at Makoto's urging) had just arrived. Next to his half-sister stood Mina who also really wanted to know what the hell was going on. Quite a crowd was gathering and there also no shortage of eavesdroppers in the vicinity trying not to look interested. This would undoubtably wind up lead story in all the tabloids but Calcite was in too good a mood to worry about that. Instead he tried to order his thoughts and explain, keenly aware that it might not make sense to anyone who wasn't there. He did wonder briefly where Ti had vanished to but decided she had probably gone home to sulk. Putting the thought aside and trying not to laugh again he tried to explain. Actually Titanite was currently standing on the porch of a farmhouse knocking at the door. The silver haired woman who answered was very surprised to see her. "Ti? I thought you had something official on tonight?" "Hi, Rhi. Not interrupting am I?" Rhiannon shook her head, "Just catching up on my reading. The kids are off at some show and Brendan's tinkering with ... speak of the devil." Her husband joined her in the doorway. "Hi, Ti ... say what happened to your hair?" Being a good judge of character (though it would be hard to miss Ti's expression) Rhiannon turned to Brendan and said, "Bren, don't you have some work to finish in the barn." He frowned. "No, what makes you think ..." "Bren, don't you have some work to finish in the barn." He realized it was a statement, not a question. "Oh, uh yes, that work ... hahaha. I'll get right to it ..." Brendan headed off and Rhi waved Ti inside. "Come on in. Like some coffee?" Ti nodded and took a seat at Rhinanon's invitation. When she was settled and they had made a little small talk Rhi asked her, "So what do you want to talk about?" Ti hesitated then asked, "Rhi, you trained both the twins to be senshi, right?" Rhiannon nodded. "How did you manage to keep from strangling them in the process." Rhiannon considered the question carefully. "It wasn't easy. It still isn't as they've got a long way to go yet." After a pause she asked, "Kodachi and Sylvite?" "Oh yeah!" "I'm all ears." While Titanite was explaining the events of earlier in the day to a sympathetic listener (who nevertheless could see the funny side of it) Kodachi was completing writing her 10,000th line of "I will not give our coach an involuntary haircut." The teacher looked at the page and nodded. The simulated classroom blinked out and the doors to the simulation room unsealed. Wincing at the ache in her wrist Kodachi stumbled out after Sylvite. Syl had finished first but had waited for her partner. Noticing Kodachi's discomfort she grabbed her wrists and tried to massage some life back into them. Kodachi pulled away. "Ouch! Do you know what you're doing?" Sylvite shook her head. "Not really ... hey, I know what you need." "What?" "A good hot soak in a hot tub. Great for aching muscles. Come to think of it I could use one myself." Kodachi flushed. "I ... I didn't bring my swimming costume!" Sylvite looked and felt puzzled by her answer. "I said hot tub not swimming pool ... oh, I get it. I'm not talking about a public one, I'm talking about my parents' private spa. The tub's plenty big enough for two, probably designed for it, and they're off at some palace party so they don't need it. So it's just us which means you don't have to worry about being modest." This was hardly the first time they had bathed together, in fact there had been that school trip to the hot spring not too long ago. Sylvite remembered then Kodachi had seemed a bit anxious which she attributed to her friend's concern over her changing body. She had certainly been affected her when the changes hit her a few years earlier. Of course part of that had been the rapid onset of puberty years before the rest of the girls in her class. "What do you say?" "I ... sure." "Great, you ready to port?" "Mind if we were walk a little first?" "Sure, might as well shake off the cobwebs after aunt Ti's little discipline session ..." Slightly more worried Sylvite asked, "Think she'll keep training us?" Kodachi nodded. "If she wasn't she wouldn't have bothered punishing us. She'd just have told us to get lost and not come back." "That's a relief. I think we're making progress ... kinda." Kodachi nodded, "Yes, we'd never have known how to mangle so many civilians without our training." They both laughed and continued down the corridor bantering over their spectacular failure. Their spirits rose and the near disaster became more of an amusing anecdote to tell friends. Walking beside her friend Kodachi resolved not to do or say anything that could be misinterpreted when they reached the spa. She had the feeling it wasn't the right time or place. Behind them a patch of shadow rippled and Alan stepped back into view. Fading into shadow was a talent he had learned from Daisuke. It wouldn't hide you from a security system as sophisticated as the Palace's but it would conceal him from sight easily enough. His face was troubled as he gazed at his sister's back. Contrary to the twosome's belief Alan did not spend his days spying on Sylvite looking for an opportunity to impress her. His handy appearances were the result of another little trick Daisuke had taught him. A very handy one. After the unsealing of the other Terran mana wells probability no longer took such a severe beating in Tokyo as it once had. While the Tokyo Well remained the largest mana now flowed around the planet attracting some of the weirdness that had once been exclusive to Tokyo. However coincidences still abounded in Tokyo and if you knew how you could use that. At CTU they called it "Riding the Synchronicity Highway" a technique that could increase the odds of arriving at the right moment. Or the wrong moment, depending on your point of view. Alan had a natural talent far in excess of what his personal power level should allow. Daisuke had taught him to access this ability and Alan let himself go with the flow which greatly increased the odds of being able to make a dramatic entrance. Which would have made them both very unpopular with Sylvite had she known about it. However right now Alan's mind was on other things. Perhaps he was jumping to conclusions but he seemed to catch hints that ... He shook his head, it would be a bad idea to speculate wildly. This was a fairly major matter and making rash accusations would undoubtably backfire. He wasn't sure how to proceed but he had to discuss it with someone. Someone he could trust implicitly not to spread the word. Alan nodded, there was only one real choice. A man who would likely have an excellent perspective on the matter. He would call his elder brother at the first opportunity. End of part 3 Next: Daisuke finally makes and appearance while Sailor V and Sailor Arcturus's partnership hits a rocky patch.
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