Senshi Sailor Moon (anime)
Warnings: Subtle spoilers for the entire Stars season and parts of the R and S seasons. I repeat, they are subtle. If you read this and you have not seen the show (or even if you have), you may not catch the subtleties; if you read this and you haven't seen the show, you won't catch the subtleties, but you also won't be spoiled or terribly lost in terms of plot, either.
One o'clock in the morning, and by the sound of the occasional grunt or swear in the silence, it was obvious that no one in the tent had managed even a wink of sleep. Half an hour later the sound of shifting sleeping bag material had grown constant, and the silence had been shattered by a particularly loud swear when a cold foot kicked abruptly out of a sleeping bag, hitting one of the would-be sleepers in the shin. The cold was stifling; their breath created mist in the air. Four pairs of eyes, shimmering with awareness in the bleak darkness, stared widely up at the canvas above them until finally, the silence grew too thick.
"Whose bright idea was it to go camping, again?" The voice sounded tired and irritable, laced with sarcasm, its owner impatiently running his hands several times through his mussed silver hair.
"Suck it up, Yaten. You didn't have to come. " The reply was equally as exhausted and strained.
With a loud sigh, Yaten flopped back down into his sleeping bag, unsuccessfully trying to get himself warm.
Half an hour later he sat up again, this time with a loud growl.
"It was *your* bright idea, Seiya, you and *him* and Haruka-san, and why the *hell* did I listen to you and come on this *stupid* camping trip?" Yaten ranted until he was out of breath, then took a breath and ranted some more. "You never said anything about rain or mud or thunderstorms---" A rumble of thunder sounded, as though accompanying his words. "---and goddamn you, you never mentioned that it would be THIS COLD. "
"I'm sorry, Yaten-san," a quiet voice said into the ensuing silence, not sounding terribly contrite at all.
"Don't be, Mamoru-san," Seiya said, rolling over onto his front and leveling his gaze at the blurry, upright blob in the middle of the tent. It didn't occur to him that giving an annoyed look to someone who wouldn't be able to see any more clearly than him was a useless endeavor. "Yaten, it's not like we could account for the weather. "
"The weather reports said it was going to be a balmy spring evening," Taiki added, from where he was lying on the other side of Yaten, sandwiched between the small teen and Mamoru.
"*Screw* the weather reports," Yaten hissed, throwing himself down against his pillow again and wrapping himself in his sleeping bag as tightly as he could. "If I get hypothermia and die out here, I'm coming back to haunt you... *all* of you. "
Seiya sniggered. Taiki sighed. Mamoru was silent.
Then Seiya reached out a hand into the black and felt the strength of Yaten's tremors, and his humor faded, becoming mild concern.
"Come into my sleeping bag," he suggested, and it was a true testament to Yaten's desperation that he scrambled over into Seiya's sleeping bag, into Seiya's arms, without even a peep of protest.
Fifteen minutes later Yaten was still shivering uncontrollably, his teeth audibly chattering. Seiya held him as close as he dared, worried at the way Yaten was clinging to him, face pressed into his neck, seeking any warmth he could get.
"It is rather cold, though," Taiki's calm voice commented into the silence. No one responded.
Five minutes after that, Seiya's worry had reached the point where he was willing to dare incurring Yaten's wrath.
"Are you okay?" he asked into the smaller boy's ear, trying to keep his voice low, but in the silence surrounding them, he heard his voice carry evenly through the tent. He winced, and felt Yaten let out a cold breath against him.
"No, I'm not," Yaten answered, in such a quiet, even tone, so lacking in his usual sarcasm, that Seiya instantly felt a cold sensation shiver down his veins. "I'm... cold. "
That pause was more unnerving than anything that had happened so far. Seiya was glad he wasn't the only one who was worried; the next minute saw both Mamoru and Taiki sitting up, shivering in the darkness.
"What do you mean?" Taiki asked, a light note of concern in his usually calm voice.
"I mean that I'm *cold*, damn it," Yaten said, his teeth chattering harder than ever. His eyes were tightly shut, as though he was embarrassed to have them open while he said it aloud. "There's something wrong. This isn't just a storm... "
"What the hell do you mean, it isn't just a storm?" Seiya asked, his voice rising a notch. "What's happening?"
They all knew not to pass off Yaten's words as simple superstition; an empath's gut feelings were rarely wrong.
Before Yaten could answer, they all jumped at the sound of something thumping softly against the outside of the tent. They were all frozen in place as they listened to the zipper being opened. When the tent flap opened and a flashlight was poked inside, they were all still rigid with shock.
"Sorry to bother you in the middle of the night," a soft voice said, instantly recognizable. "It's only that... um, are all of you all right?"
It was Seiya who let his breath out first, his hands loosening slightly from where they'd clenched against Yaten's sweatshirt.
"Shit, Ami-chan... you scared us... " he whispered before he licked his lips, trying to return some sense of moisture to his dry mouth.
"Did I? I'm sorry... I did knock," Ami said, ducking a little further into the tent and tilting the flashlight in such a way that they could see the earnest look of apology on her face. "Although it seems you haven't been able to sleep... ?"
"No, we haven't," Taiki said, somewhat curtly. "What is it, Ami-san?"
She didn't even flinch, instead taking a breath before she explained,"None of us have been able to sleep either. Haruka-san-tachi's tent has flooded, so they went to sleep in the van, but our tent seems in danger as well, and... "
She paused, and the four men peered at her curiously.
"And what?" Mamoru asked.
"... And Rei-chan says we should leave," Ami said finally, her voice trembling slightly as she said it. "She says there's something wrong with this place, with this night... that it's not an ordinary storm. "
"And you believe her?" One might have expected Taiki to be skeptical; it was even more eerie that his voice held a tone of calm acceptance.
"Yes," Ami said, and without another word, Taiki turned to Seiya, automatically looking to his leader for the final decision.
"Right, that's it. Let's get the hell out of here," Seiya said, and beside him he felt Yaten shakily nod his agreement. The next minute found the four of them hurriedly packing away their sleeping bags and camping gear before they stepped out into the rain. In seconds they were drenched; glancing at the perilous landscape around them---already it would be hard to get the cars out of the mud they'd sunk into---and the two tents that had by then partially disappeared into a muddy puddle that seemed intent on becoming a lake, they decided quickly enough that it wasn't worth it to take the time to take down the tent. Abandoning it, they made their way quickly to the van. Mamoru and Seiya exchanged a few murmured words before Mamoru made his way over to his car; Minako, Rei and Makoto were already piled into the back seat, and Usagi was curled up on the passenger side, waiting for him.
Seiya knocked on the van's side door and waited until it slid open.
"Thank goodness... we thought you'd never come!" Michiru exclaimed, reaching out her hands and helping each wet, bedraggled boy into the van in turn. They piled into the very back, where they'd been relegated by Haruka's silent order---one of those 'if looks could kill' situations---at the start of their camping adventure.
Seiya leaned forward over the middle seat and apologized when he dripped on Ami's shoulder. She was sitting right in front of him, with Hotaru next to her and Setsuna on Hotaru's other side. Michiru had climbed back into the front passenger seat, while Haruka sat in the driver's seat, impatiently drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.
"Mamoru-san and I agreed to try that bed and breakfast we passed a couple kilometres back," Seiya told them.
"I don't think that place was open," Michiru commented, a look of strain on her face.
Seiya glanced around at the others. Hotaru seemed unusually pale even for her, her hands restlessly clenching and unclenching in the fabric of her jacket. Setsuna was staring out the window, totally silent. Haruka grimaced slightly even as she turned the key in the ignition and the van rumbled to life.
"I doubt that place has been open for years," she said, obviously irritated. "It looked as though it should be condemned. "
"Well, you tell us another choice," Seiya said, his own tone hardening with annoyance. He was too cold, wet and tired for once to step lightly on the eggshells Haruka tossed liberally around when the Three Lights were in company. "The nearest motel was an hour back. "
"We've got to get out of this storm," Yaten interjected, his voice still somewhat hollow. He too was abnormally pale, and while Haruka revved the engine, trying to move the van out of the muddy rut it was stuck in, Yaten's hands came up and, seemingly unconsciously, clutched onto Seiya's arm.
"I agree, Haruka-san," Ami said quietly. "I think this is the best option. "
"All right, all right," Haruka muttered with a final grunt as she finally managed to get the van moving. The headlights illuminated nothing but gloomy blackness ahead of them as they started out towards the highway. Mamoru's car had already long since left.
At two-thirty by the van's clock, they pulled onto a bumpy, gravel road that seemed to shift and slide beneath them as they drove the short stretch from the highway to the bed and breakfast they had spotted earlier. As they drew closer, it was Michiru who pointed a finger and remarked on the obvious.
"The lights are on... it must be open after all," she said, sounding relieved. A collective sigh seemed to move through the van, but everyone remained silent as Haruka pulled to a stop next to Mamoru's mud-covered sports car.
They piled out of the van, back into the downpour, and stopped briefly to grab a few bags, hoping for dry clothes, before they all ran up the creaking wooden steps of the dilapidated building to the front door. It was an old house, very Western, almost Victorian but off in some respects. Stepping into the warm hallway of the building after being outside for so long felt like heaven.
They stood, shivering and dripping guiltily on the carpet, while Haruka, with a soft sniff, rang the dusty bell on the counter. A glance at the register showed a list of recent guests, and their other five companions were on it, their signatures barely dry.
After a moment, a door opened down the hall and a tall, gaunt man with a pair of reading spectacles balanced precariously on his nose walked towards them.
"May I help you?" he asked politely as he reached them. He glanced pointedly at the muddy stains they were all making on his carpet, but only once, to his credit.
"Yeah... we're with the group that came in just now," Haruka said, seemingly a bit miffed that the man was taller than her.
"Ah, yes... they have already reserved your rooms," the man said with a smile, and then he gestured to a closed door to his right. "Your friends are currently in the drawing room, warming themselves by the fire. Please, feel free to join them. I will send someone down with towels and hot chocolate. "
The man left before they could properly thank him, so they all bustled towards the 'drawing room'.
"Huh... a 'drawing room'... I never thought I'd live to see one," Yaten said, scowling. With the warmth of being inside a heated building, his pissy attitude towards life in general seemed to be returning.
Inside the room, they were instantly greeted by relieved and happy shouts of,"Thank god, we were starting to wonder where you were... " from their waiting friends. A few wet hugs were exchanged, and then the call of the huge, roaring fire was too great to be ignored.
"The furniture... " Ami made a weak protest as Minako took hold of her shoulders and steered her into an armchair close to the fire.
"Fuck it," Seiya said bluntly, too tired to even attempt his trademark cheerfulness. He slumped into a chair of his own and covered his eyes, only opening them when he noticed the way Yaten knelt right in front of the fire, holding his hands out to it beseechingly, seeking warmth.
Five minutes later, a squat, pudgy, middle-aged woman with her hair done up in a complicated, braided bun at the back of her head came into the room, rolling along a cart laden with thirteen cups of hot chocolate and a pile of towels.
"There, there now," the woman said, instantly revealing herself as a fussy, old-mother-hen type. "You're all soaking wet and chilled to the bone! You'd best get some hot chocolate into you, dry off a bit, and get upstairs and to bed. "
"Yes ma'am, we'll certainly do so," Taiki replied with a smile as he picked up the pile of towels---they were warm, as though they'd just come out of the dryer---and started passing them around.
"We've definitely got to get out of these wet clothes," Seiya remarked. "We'll all catch pneumonia at this rate. "
"Exactly," Ami and Taiki said at the same time, only to glance at each other and blush slightly.
The woman smiled kindly as she passed around the steaming mugs of hot chocolate.
"There, now... drink that up and get yourselves to bed," she said again before she left, rolling the squeaking cart out of the room the same way she'd come in.
"The sleeping arrangements are going to be the same," Usagi said. She sounded remarkably timid, and her eyes were turned downward, as though there was something fascinating in her hot chocolate. "They only had three rooms. "
"Fair enough," Seiya said with a shrug. "We don't mind sharing with Mamoru-san. "
Yaten coughed into his hand, and Seiya glanced at him warningly. Yaten had made it plainly obvious beforehand that he *did* have issues with sleeping in the same room as a man---a genuine human male, that is---but now wasn't the time for one of Yaten's little tantrums.
They sat in relative silence, only the occasional murmured conversation between them breaking that silence, as they all toweled themselves off as best they could and drank their hot chocolate. Then, feeling considerably warmer, they unanimously decided it was time to get upstairs.
"Do they have showers?" Michiru asked, scratching at her wet hair.
"Do they even have running water?" Haruka deadpanned.
"Yes, they have running water, and showers," Rei said, a bit testily.
"We'll have to take it in turns so we don't use up all the hot water, though," Minako commented, and everyone nodded their agreement.
"Let's figure this out upstairs, please?" Yaten pleaded, and without another word, all of them trooped upstairs, still leaving a wet trail of footprints behind them.
In the hallway upstairs, Usagi gave out the room keys and they split up into their groups. A few minutes of whispered conversation and they'd decided who got to use the showers first, mainly based on who had been outside the longest, or exposed to the worst of the elements. Yaten, Ami and Hotaru disappeared into the bathrooms and the others, behind closed and locked doors, set to the process of stripping off wet clothing and changing into dry.
Seiya tried to appear as calm as he could while he stripped down to his birthday suit; he felt self-conscious being naked in front of Mamoru, and the fact that Taiki seemed perfectly calm about being in the same situation made him feel stupid. At least Mamoru hesitated briefly when he reached his underwear, too, glancing up towards Seiya, who had by then turned his back on the others and was searching through his duffel bag.
"So, umm... what's it like, being the opposite sex and all?" Mamoru asked a bit nervously as he slid off his boxers and turned away, trying not to blush. While it was hard to think of the two obviously-male teenagers before him as anything but just that---two young men---he also always couldn't help but think that somewhere beneath that illusion lay the truth, and he was actually standing naked in a room with two young *women*.
Taiki and Seiya were silent at first, glancing at each other, Seiya with a bemused smirk and Taiki with a raised eyebrow.
"Why do you ask?" Taiki asked after another moment had ticked by, just long enough for Mamoru to regret saying it.
"Yeah... thinking of trying it out?" Seiya said, still not turning around, though his amusement was plainly evident in his tone. "I bet you'd make a beautiful chick, Mamoru-san. "
"N-no, I was just... making conversation," Mamoru said, and even as he said it, he realized how dumb it sounded. With a quiet sigh, he shook his head. "Never mind. "
"Not at all. It's a perfectly reasonable question," Taiki said as he toweled himself off. "And the answer is quite simple: it is exactly how you would expect it to be. "
"I confess to never having thought far enough to have expectations," Mamoru admitted without looking up, as he searched for a fresh pair of boxers.
"It's weird for the first few months, and then you get used to it... or most aspects of it," Seiya explained. "For example, consider what it would be like if one day you woke up with breasts. Your entire balance would be different; you'd have to learn to walk differently to accommodate the weight on your chest. Then take away your crown jewels, and imagine how different it'd feel to walk without 'em. Or better yet, take our situation, and consider learning to walk *with* them... "
"Seiya," Taiki chided, as by this time Mamoru's face had turned an interesting shade of pink. "I hardly think... "
"No, it's all right. I did ask," Mamoru said with a smile. "You're right; I never put much thought into it before. "
Seiya chuckled, but the sound was cut off by a sudden rough swear as he dug around in his bag.
"Damn it, I don't think I packed an extra pair of boxers... Taiki, you got any?"
"I'm wearing my extra pair," Taiki said, placing his hands on his hips before adding in a teasing tone,"And what did I tell you about always packing an extra pair of each type of clothing when you go on holiday... "
"Yes mom," Seiya said, rolling his eyes.
Just then the bathroom door swung open and Yaten came out, wrapped in a towel but still shivering, the scowl still firmly set on his face.
"Hey Yaten, you got any spare boxers?"
"Get your own boxers," Yaten snapped before he snatched up his bag and disappeared back into the bathroom, obviously unwilling to make the same concessions as his fellow bandmates and let it all hang loose in front of Mamoru.
"I'll take that as a 'no'," Seiya said, and then he finally turned and, gathering his courage, posed the question. "Mamoru-san... do you... ?"
"No, I don't; I'm sorry. If I did I would lend them to you," Mamoru said honestly. His eyes flickered briefly downwards and then he glanced away, again somewhat pink. "Believe me, I would. "
Taiki cleared his throat, and Seiya, a bit flustered, turned away.
"Well crap," he muttered, and then he tied a towel around his waist, screwed more of his courage to the sticking place, and strode to the door. When he was across the hall, he hesitated briefly before knocking on one of the other room's doors.
"What?" a sour voice asked as the door swung open. Seiya grimaced as he lifted his head to meet Haruka's eyes.
"Um, do you have any spare boxers?" he asked her, sheepishly.
The look she gave him probably could have killed small animals.
"What makes you think I wear boxers?" she asked icily.
He decided it was in his best interest not to answer.
"Nothing... uh, never mind," he said, and as he turned and sprinted back across the hall into his own room, he heard the familiar sound of Michiru chiding her partner.
"No such luck?" Taiki assessed from one look at Seiya's blanched expression. Seiya didn't bother to answer, instead silently going back over to his bag and sifting through it until he found a spare pair of pajamas. He pulled them on, shifting in them a bit uncomfortably; he wasn't used to going without any kind of underwear, but he'd have to make do for one night.
Yaten had already become a lump on the other side of the bed Seiya had planned on sleeping in, so with a shrug, Seiya got in on the other side. He glanced over to Taiki to make sure this was all right with him, and found Taiki already preparing the bedside next to Mamoru, who seemed to be dozing lightly, his nose red with cold and his face surprisingly child-like in its relaxed state.
"All right, I'm going to take a shower," Taiki said quietly, leaning closer to Seiya, obviously hesitant to wake Mamoru. "Do you want me to wake you when I'm done?"
"Nah; I'll wait 'til morning. Probably more likely to be hot water then anyway," Seiya said with a wink, and Taiki smiled back at him before he disappeared into the bathroom. Seiya sighed, turned off the bedside lamp that was providing the room's illumination, and settled down, snugly wrapped in the bed's covers.
Taiki let out a sigh of relief as he stepped out of the bathroom. The shower had truly revitalized him after being out in the cold for so long. He rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen a few knots in the muscles, as he padded across the dark room towards the bed on the far side. The rain seemed to have stopped; the clouds had parted to reveal a high, gibbous moon. By the dim light of the moonbeams cast into their room between the uneven venetian blinds, Taiki could make out the forms of his three companions, all asleep. If he was quiet, he could hear their even breathing.
He could also hear something else, he realized just as he was about to get into his side of the bed. He stood upright again, listening more closely, and realized that what he heard was the unmistakable creak of footsteps on the floorboards of the hallway. He couldn't have said why he chose to go and investigate at that point when he could just as easily have gotten into bed and attempted sleep; after all, there wasn't anything especially strange about someone walking around in the hallways in the very early morning. But something compelled him, and he moved silently back across the room and out into the hall.
The footsteps were coming towards him, but at first he didn't see anyone. It was pitch black, except for the soft glow of light he could see coming from under one of the other doors. Still not sure of the source of his interest, he started down the hallway towards the footsteps, and after no more than a few steps, he found the person they belonged to.
Ami gasped and nearly dropped the tray she was holding when Taiki almost bumped into her, looming abruptly out of the darkness.
"Steady," he murmured, a reassuring smile instantly at his lips as he clasped her hands where they held the tray, steadying her grip. "I apologize... I didn't mean to startle you. I was just coming to see who was still up. "
Ami took a couple of deep breaths, regaining her composure, before she dared to speak.
"None of us have been able to sleep," she said, referring to her roommates. "I'm just bringing some tea, to see if that will help. "
"A splendid idea," Taiki agreed, and she glanced at him sideways as she continued to shuffle towards the door the light was coming out from under, the tray balanced carefully in her arms.
"Perhaps you'd like some as well?" she asked, and then, before he could answer, she opened the door a crack, holding the tray precariously against her hip with one hand, and said as quietly as she could into the room,"Would it be all right if Taiki-san joined us for tea?"
The calamity of girlish noise was instant.
"No! Yes! No!" came Rei's voice, which earned a mocking,"Maybe?" from Makoto. "Absolutely!" yelled Minako, followed by a squeak from Usagi stating,"Only if he's not a he!!"
Ami turned back to look at Taiki, the expression on her face one of patient exasperation.
"Well, that's easy enough," Taiki said simply. Ami watched, trying not to appear as fascinated as she felt, as Taiki closed his eyes and focused his energies for a moment before opening his eyes again. Aside from the hint of generous curves outlined under his pajamas, he hadn't changed significantly, except that his face had become more slender, more fine-boned.
"What are we waiting for?" Taiki said, offering Ami a smile before she gently took the tray from Ami's hands and nudged her way into the room. Ami followed.
Taiki glanced around the room, taking in the state of its inhabitants. Rei, Minako and Usagi were all sitting on one bed, and both blondes had their heads wrapped in towels; they'd obviously recently made use of the rapidly-dwindling hot water supply. On the other bed, Makoto was curled on her side, propped up on an elbow, so she could face the others.
"Here's the tea," Ami said, moving forward to clear off the bedside table between the two beds so Taiki could put the tray down. "Um, there are only five cups... "
"That's fine; I don't want any," Rei said quietly. "I don't feel well. "
No one remarked on this. Ami poured five cups of tea and handed them around. Taiki waited until she was invited to sit on the end of Ami and Makoto's bed, then settled herself, her long legs curled up against her front.
"So I gather everyone's having trouble sleeping?" Taiki asked, in order to start a conversation.
The other girls all nodded their agreement, but Minako was the one to speak up.
"None of us can seem to get warm enough, and... " Here she paused, glancing at Usagi and Rei uncertainly.
"There's something strange about this house," Rei said, her voice whisper-soft. She was staring stonily towards the opposite wall. "I don't like it. "
"It's creepy," Usagi agreed, shivering and wrapping her arms around herself.
"I still think you guys are freaking out over nothing," Makoto said, sighing as she rolled onto her back, careful not to kick Taiki.
"And what do you think, Ami-san?" Taiki asked, turning to her where she sat curled up on the bed, next to Makoto, cupping her tea between her hands as though desperate for warmth.
"I'm afraid for once I agree with the others," Ami said, her voice small. "This house is unusually cold, and I checked the thermostat while I was on my way back upstairs: the heat is turned on. Being here is giving me the oddest feeling... "
"The gas station," Usagi blurted, and all of them turned to her, startled by her outburst. Her eyes had widened slightly as she stared at each of them in turn. "That gas station yesterday where we picked up lunch... don't you remember? They warned us not to go to that campsite. They said it was haunted!"
"That's right," Minako said uneasily. "They told us strange things happen there... that people disappear there. "
There was a resounding silence for several minutes before Makoto finally gave an irritated sigh and flopped over, closing her eyes.
"Whatever. I'm going to sleep," she muttered.
The others remained quiet while they finished their tea, and Taiki took the opportunity to observe the others. Rei was still staring at the wall, the look on her face utterly blank; it was impossible to tell what she was thinking. Minako and Usagi were huddled close to each other, both of them remarkably pale. Ami was still clutching her mug, even though it was now empty, and her eyes were unfocused.
Taiki cleared her throat to gather their attention and, speaking calmly, suggested,"Old houses like this often seem to have the feeling of being haunted or otherwise inhabited by the supernatural... old buildings make noises, and it is a cold night; the central heating may not be working properly. I suggest that we all try to put these sensations in their proper place---they are *only sensations*---and get some rest. "
Ami looked relieved by Taiki's suggestion, and she was just about to speak up to say that she agreed when a loud bang echoed through the house. It was so loud the floorboards seemed to shudder.
Everyone, with Taiki as no exception, jumped. Minako and Usagi clutched onto each other, each squealing their fright, while Rei jumped to her feet and pulled something out of her shirt---a quick glance revealed it as an ofuda. Ami dropped her teacup, spilling the last few drops of tea onto the bedspread, and Makoto sat straight up, sleep instantly banished. She was the first to speak.
"What the *hell* was that?" she hissed.
For a moment no one answered; the only sound in the room was the harsh rasp of panted breath.
"It sounded like it came from downstairs," Ami said shakily after she had recovered her equilibrium. Her hands were clutched nervously in her lap.
"Are you going to tell us *that* was just a sound an old house makes?" Minako whispered loudly towards Taiki, who shook her head slightly, then turned to glance at Ami, who reluctantly nodded. The two of them got up and started for the door.
"Where are you going?" Usagi asked, sounding almost frantic.
"To see what the noise was, of course," Taiki answered, and then she opened the door and she and Ami disappeared out into the dark hallway.
After another moment had passed, Rei slowly sat down on the bed again, her fuda clutched tightly between pale fingers.
Taiki, with Ami close at her heels, was as quiet as she could possibly be as she crept down the dark stairway towards the bottom floor, her eyes scanning the blackness for anything unusual.
They had just entered the front hallway when Ami suddenly gasped, reaching up to clutch Taiki's shoulder. Taiki spun around to look and saw a figure outlined against the nearest moonlit window; a very tall, slender figure, the moonlight providing it with a ghostly silhouette.
"Who's there?" Taiki said quietly as she walked towards the figure, and she was disappointed in herself when she jumped as the figure turned towards her.
"It's me," a voice said, and Taiki instantly clenched her teeth, even more irritated with herself for her concern. "Sorry if I startled you. "
"That's fine, Mamoru-san," Taiki said, and then she turned and called back, softly,"It's Mamoru-san, Ami-san. It's safe. "
She appeared by Taiki's side instantly, letting out a relieved sigh.
"Mamoru-san... what are you doing?"
"I heard a strange noise," Mamoru answered, and even in the dark they could tell that he was puzzled. "I came down to see what it was. I thought it might have been something falling, or a slammed door, but I haven't been able to find anything. "
"Hm... " Taiki turned around, staring into the bleakness. "Why haven't you turned on any lights?"
"The lights have gone out," Mamoru replied. "The storm, I assume. "
"All right, then... well... why don't we split up and have a look around," she suggested, and Mamoru and Ami both murmured their agreement before they reluctantly parted ways.
Five minutes became ten, ten became fifteen, and as the fifteenth rolled over onto sixteen, the four girls who remained in the room got restless.
"All right, that's it... I'm going to see what they're doing down there," Makoto said, her tone betraying her worry. "They shouldn't be taking this long just to see what some noise was. "
"Maybe they stopped in the kitchen to get more tea, or... " Minako suggested, obviously reluctant.
"I don't care; I'm going," Makoto said, quickly pulling on a sweatshirt over her pajama top before she headed for the door.
"I'm coming," Usagi said, setting her jaw as she got to her feet and hurried after Makoto.
"Me too," said Rei, a mild frown on her face as though she was concentrating on something.
"Eep! Don't leave me!" Minako squeaked, hurrying to put on some warm clothes of her own before she scurried after them.
Halfway down the stairs, Usagi suddenly froze, standing still as though she was straining to hear something.
"Can you hear that?" she whispered, and the other three stared at her as she gasped. "It's Mamo-chan! Something's happened to Mamo-chan! That's his voice!"
Without another word she scrambled down the rest of the stairs, two steps at a time, and was gone into the darkness before any of them could stop her.
"Usagi!" Rei shouted, taking off after her at a run.
"Oh god," Minako whispered, clutching onto Makoto's arm as they both stood on the stairs for a moment longer, shivering with shock. "What's going on, Mako-chan... ?"
The rain blew hard against Usagi's face as she stumbled out of the back door and into the muddy mess of the old house's back yard, following the keening cries of her lover. She called back to him desperately, but the wind carried away her words. By the time she'd taken only a few steps, she felt as though she was walking on glass, and her lips felt like ice.
"Mamo-chan!! Where are you!?" she screamed into the darkness, but all she could hear were his continued cries, so she ran towards where they seemed to be coming from.
When she found him, she knelt in the mud and clasped his cold hands, and she wept.
Ami's head shot up when she heard the long, desperate wail that pierced the silence of the old house, causing a thud of instant fear in her heart. She recognized the voice immediately, and within seconds she was at the back door, and then out in the rain, pushing forwards, searching for her friend.
"Usagi-chan!!" she screamed, and she knew she was already crying, more scared than she'd ever been in her life. "Usagi-chan, where are you!? Please answer me, Usagi-chan!!"
She wasn't sure whether to be relieved or terrified that the screaming had stopped.
Taiki had darted forward at the sound of running footsteps in the downstairs hallway, and she made it just in time to see Ami make her way out into the rain, still in her nightclothes. Taiki couldn't help the gasp that came to her lips; was the girl suicidal!? Not if she could help it...
She stopped long enough to put on her shoes, then ran out into the rain, seeking the foolish genius.
Her cries went unheeded, but she pressed onward, determined to find Ami and have an explanation for her idiotic behavior.
Hotaru sighed as she turned over in her sleep, reaching out unconsciously towards the warm body that she knew should have been beside her in the bed. When her fingers grasped at nothing, she woke up in a cold sweat. She wasn't even sure why she was so frightened to find herself alone in the bed, but her heart thudded in her chest like the beat of a huge drum.
"Setsuna-mama?" she whispered hesitantly into the darkness surrounding her. "Setsuna-mama?"
When there was no answer, she slid out from under the covers and tiptoed across the room to the other bed. She hesitated only briefly before she reached out and shook Haruka's shoulder.
Haruka grunted something sleepily but didn't otherwise stir, but the noise Haruka had made seemed enough to wake Michiru, who yawned and then lifted her head.
"Is something wrong, Hotaru-chan?" she murmured.
"It's Setsuna-mama... she isn't here," Hotaru said quietly.
"She probably went down to the kitchen or something, sweetie," Michiru said, sleepily rubbing at her still-damp hair.
Hotaru was silent for a moment before she came to a decision.
"I'm going to look for her," she announced, and then she put on a pair of slippers and darted out of the room.
"Hotaru-chan!" Michiru whispered, but the girl was already gone. Michiru frowned and reached out to prod at Haruka. "Haruka, Hotaru-chan has... "
"I know," Haruka muttered, nearly inaudible against the pillow.
"We can't just let her wander around a strange house alone!" Michiru said, a bit annoyed at Haruka's lack of response.
Haruka opened one eye to peer groggily at her lover.
"Michiru, that kid has the power to destroy the planet; I think she can manage the boogieman," Haruka said bluntly before closing the eye and attempting to go back to sleep.
Michiru let out a sigh that implied she wasn't entirely pleased with this assessment and got out of bed, determined to follow Hotaru.
Hotaru wandered the halls without success, with the strange feeling, for perhaps the first time in her life, that she was alone in the universe. By the time she reached the kitchen she was shivering with cold, and the hairs at the nape of her neck were standing up. She stood in the kitchen for some time, staring out the window, but she couldn't make anything out beyond the smudged effect the rain had on the glass. Then she heard a sound, or more of a sensation of vibrating air waves touching the skin of her back, and she turned around quickly.
There was Setsuna, hovering in mid-air, slowly coalescing into her recognizable form. Hotaru's forehead instantly creased in concern when she took in Setsuna's fuku and the Garnet Rod clutched in one hand.
"Setsuna-mama, what... "
"I was called back to the future," Setsuna interrupted her, in her usual entirely placid tone. "There has been... an incident. "
"An incident?" Hotaru whispered, her hand clenched against the fabric of her pajamas. "What's happened?"
"It's Small Lady," Setsuna said evenly, her eyes unnervingly focused on Hotaru's.
"Chibiusa?" Hotaru gasped. "What is it? What happened to Chibiusa?"
"She's dead. "
For one long, breathless moment, Hotaru was sure that Setsuna had to be telling some kind of cruel joke, but then the dead seriousness in Setsuna's eyes hit her like a ton of bricks.
"... Dead?" she whispered, feeling her breath echo hollowly in her chest. "Chibiusa is dead? B... but... why? How... "
Her voice was choked off with tears and she collapsed to her knees, both hands now clutched against the fabric of her shirt.
"It was you," Pluto said, in that same utterly even, totally noncommittal tone. "You killed her. "
At first Hotaru could do nothing but gasp and cry, her breath wheezing in and out of her between sobs. Then it occurred to her that she shouldn't take it as her fault; she had no control over her future self, had she?
And then she realized that she had, of course, been this way all along. And that was when she started to laugh.
Seiya grumbled slightly as she felt herself being pulled from sleep by the sensation of someone tugging at her sleeve.
"Seiya! Seiya, please. " It was Yaten, and her voice held a note of urgency that Seiya couldn't ignore. She snapped her eyes open instantly and turned to face Yaten, peering down at her with a look of near-panic on her face.
"What is it, Yaten?" Seiya asked, already worried.
"Seiya, Mamoru-san is gone," Yaten whispered, gesturing towards the other bed.
That made Seiya lift an eyebrow.
"So? Ask Taiki, maybe she knows where he went," she said.
"Taiki never came back from the bathroom!" Yaten said frantically, and Seiya stared at her.
"You're telling me Taiki, our resident genius, got lost in the bathroom?" It was a feeble enough attempt at a joke anyway, and Yaten clearly wasn't in the mood; she didn't even crack a smirk. "All right, all right... let's go take a look. "
She got to her feet and tried not to feel too annoyed or alarmed when Yaten bounced up after her, clutching to her arm. Yaten remained there until Seiya got to the bathroom, peering inside.
"Anyone in here?" Seiya called into the small, dark space before she turned on the lights. "Hope everyone's decent... "
Of course no one was there.
"Well, nobody stuck in the bathroom... " she muttered, glancing into the bathtub. A glimpse of something brightly colored against the off-white caught her eye and she bent for a closer look, then blinked at what she saw. There was a tiny pool of blood around the seemingly clogged plug of the bathtub.
"Huh... that's odd," she said, thinking to herself that she didn't think any of them were on their period or anything of the sort. "Wonder if Taiki cut herself or something... "
She straightened up and turned around, then jumped about a foot in the air when she saw Yaten's reflection in the mirror, a pale, scowling face behind her.
"Holy shit, Yaten, you scared the hell out of me... " Seiya whispered, clutching at her heart. Yaten didn't answer; she just stared at her, so focused that Seiya couldn't help but feel a little creeped out by it. "What is it? What're you looking at?"
Yaten's voice, when it came, was low and cold, laced with venom.
"You killed her," Yaten said quietly, and Seiya blinked, instantly confused.
"What? I killed who?" she demanded, frowning.
"You killed her. You killed all of them," Yaten hissed, her voice growing harder with every word. "Every last one of them. It was your fault, you know, and you may think we've forgotten it, but we never have. "
"*What* was my fault!?" Seiya said loudly, already fed up with this.
"You killed all of them!" Yaten yelled, her voice suddenly so loud that Seiya started again. "It was your responsibility! You were the leader, the one who was supposed to be strong and capable! We all looked up to you. But you let them all die... you let her die! YOU LET HER DIE!"
Seiya gasped and flailed her arms as Yaten suddenly gripped the back of Seiya's head and pushed her forward so hard that Seiya's head smashed into the mirror; she could feel the hundreds of gashes that were instantly torn across her face. She tried to cry out, to shout for Yaten to stop, but Yaten just pushed her harder against the mirror.
"Look at it," Yaten whispered. "Look at what you've done!!"
Seiya opened her eyes, tearing up with pain, and stared into what lay on the other side of the mirror.
Within seconds her voice was hoarse from screaming.
Michiru was pacing back and forth, nibbling on her lower lip with obvious concern, staring at her adopted child, who was currently curled up in a little ball on the floor, rocking back and forth and laughing maniacally. Hotaru kept muttering various things to herself in a high-pitched, quivering voice, like,"Of course I killed her... ahahaha!" and"Why didn't I ever realize it before? It's always been inside me... " and"I ate her... I ate her heart. Oh yes... "
Haruka was sitting on the bed, her hands fisted against her knees, staring blankly at nothing.
"Hotaru-chan, I... " Michiru began for the umpteenth time, starting towards the younger girl, but as soon as she was approached by someone else, Hotaru started to scream, a high, piercing sound that threatened to shatter the room's only window.
Michiru glanced back to Haruka, obviously seeking some kind of help, but Haruka didn't know what to say; she just kept staring silently at the floor, grinding her teeth, her expression strained.
"Haruka... what can we... ?"
"I don't know," Haruka said roughly. "I don't know, damn it! Leave me alone. "
Michiru brought up a hand to cover her face, trying to keep herself from breaking down into tears.
Haruka got slowly to her feet and paced across towards Hotaru, stopping at a good distance. Hotaru was back to rocking and giggling, her eyes wide.
"Hotaru? I know you hear me," Haruka said, a deep frown set on her face. "Now listen, Hotaru, you've got to stop this. "
"There must be some way we can help you, Hotaru-chan," Michiru added, her face streaked with the tears she hadn't been able to hold back. "Please, let us. "
"Hotaru... " Haruka said, in a warning tone. "Hotaru, snap out of it!"
When Hotaru didn't respond, Haruka sighed and moved back over to the bed, sitting back down and fisting her hands against her knees again as she tried to think of what else to do.
If only Hotaru would stop *laughing*... the sound was filling Haruka's brain, making her feel as though the world was spinning around her. She felt sick to her stomach---she felt weak, and she hated it.
"Hahaha---I killed her!" Hotaru said then, particularly loudly, and Haruka slapped a hand against her thigh angrily.
"Hotaru, shut up!" she yelled.
"Haruka!" Michiru gasped, obviously shocked at Haruka's behavior towards their daughter.
Haruka gritted her teeth.
"Look, it's not my fault," Haruka said, getting to her feet and gesturing uselessly with her hands. "It's not my fault! She needs to stop it... she should just stop laughing. "
She shook her head; it felt as though it was stuffed with cotton, fuzzy and warm. Hotaru's high-pitched laughter echoed between her ears in a never-ending loop.
"Stop it!" Haruka repeated, bringing her hands up to clasp her ears and closing her eyes. "Goddamn it, make her stop laughing!"
"Haruka, please, calm down... " Michiru pleaded with her, but it was too late. The laughter kept growing louder and louder in her ears until it was drowning out everything else.
"Stop it, stop it, goddamn you, stop laughing!!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, and after that she seemed to black out.
When she came to, her hands were clutched tightly around Hotaru's neck, so hard that her fingers had left bruised imprints. She blinked, surprised at the sensation of silence, and it only took her a few seconds to realize why. The child in her hands was still and as limp as a rag-doll; as soon as Haruka pulled away her hands, staring at them in disbelief, Hotaru's body slumped back against the wall with a hard thump.
Haruka opened her mouth and tried to speak, but found she couldn't get anything out past the sick lump in her throat. Somewhere to her left she could hear Michiru crying.
/I've done it again... / was all she could think. The thought turned itself over and over in her mind. /I've done it again./
It finally wrenched free of her in the form of a horrifying, soul-rending scream as she bent, curling in on herself, hiding her blood-covered hands from the moonlight.
Makoto and Minako had parted at the bottom of the stairs, agreeing to split up to look for the others. Minako ended up doing a wide circuit of the downstairs, finding all of the main rooms connected at some point. Minako was just beginning to wonder why she hadn't met up with Makoto again when she reached the downstairs hallway and was surprised to see the back door hanging open. In the next instant, she was given a reason why: Rei abruptly stumbled through the door, Usagi piggy-backed on her back, both of them totally soaked.
"Rei-chan!" Minako whispered, rushing over towards them. "What happened?"
"I found her outside," Rei said, her voice tight. "She's unconscious; I don't know how long she was out there. We have to get her warm. "
Minako nodded her agreement and helped Rei carry Usagi into the drawing room, where Rei started a fire in the fireplace with a wave of her hand, instantly returning it to the warm blaze it had been earlier. They lay Usagi out on the rug in front of the fire, and Minako watched as Rei started to rub Usagi's limbs, trying to warm the smaller girl. Minako began to do the same, and was shocked at how chilled Usagi's skin was.
"Come on, Usagi," Rei whispered urgently, bending over Usagi's chest occasionally. "Come on. "
Minako felt her eyes welling up with tears.
"Do you think she's going to die?" she whimpered.
"Not if I can help it," Rei said fiercely, just as she bent over Usagi's face. Minako watched as Rei's face went deathly pale. "Oh god... she's not breathing. She's not breathing!"
"Oh god! Usagi-chan, please don't die!" Minako cried out, clasping one of Usagi's clammy hands tightly between her own.
Rei shifted her position and started CPR, her hands pumping down five times on Usagi's chest before she would bend over the still girl's face and close her mouth over Usagi's blue lips, forcing breath down into her lungs.
"Come on, Usagi!" Rei said, obviously near panic.
"Usagi-chan... " Minako whispered, rubbing the cold hand against her cheek. "Please... please, don't die... "
Makoto got there too late. She had run as fast as she could as soon as she'd heard the sobbing, but by the time she got there, Minako and Rei were already bent over a dead, cold corpse. Minako was crying loudly, the source of the sobbing Makoto had heard, but Rei was utterly silent, staring down at Usagi as though she couldn't believe her eyes.
Makoto felt as though the bottom had dropped out of her stomach.
"I'm too late... ?" she whispered, walking forwards. The other two glanced up at her, Minako gulping, Rei still just shell-shocked.
Makoto collapsed to her knees near Usagi's feet, a hand reaching out to lightly touch Usagi's frozen leg.
"Too late... I'm always too late," she murmured, feeling the tears growing thick in her throat. "I'm never strong enough. "
"Mako-chan, this wasn't your fault... " Minako started to say, but Makoto shook her head sharply.
"There's no excuse... we should have been there. We should have been there," Makoto said dully.
A strangled sound tore its way out of Rei's throat as she got to her feet and ran from the room.
Mamoru sighed as he wandered back into the kitchen, still determined that the sound must have been something falling in there. He barely glanced up as Rei streaked by him, running upstairs at full tilt. He was just too tired... too damn tired, and so *cold*. Why wasn't this house's heating working!?
He was just about to take a seat in one of the kitchen's chairs when a familiar voice assaulted his ears, accompanied by a flash of horribly familiar images. He fell to his knees, the chair crashing to one side, clutching his head and crying out at the pain.
"You failed... you failed her," the voice whispered; his voice, a thousand years in the future. "I warned you, but you didn't listen, and now it's too late. She is gone... "
"No... " he said, his voice shuddering with terror. "No! Usako!!"
He clutched at the kitchen tiles, trying to get to his feet, to shake loose the vision, but the images only doubled in intensity. He only withstood a few more seconds before he blacked out.
Ami's voice was cut off by the sharp winds, and she sighed before turning to head in another direction. So far no luck finding Usagi, but she was determined to stay out for as long as it would take to find her.
She stumbled in every direction, searching high and low---or at least she tried to. For all she knew she could have been going in circles. It was really impossible to see through the torrents of rain pouring down around her, and every step she took squelched in the same mud. She felt like she had wandered for hours before she finally spotted something large and solid in the near distance, and she marked it as a goal to head towards.
She reached it in quite good time, and squinting through the deluge, she could make out that it was a tree; a large, old tree at that. She started to walk around it, trying to determine which way she wanted to go next, when she was suddenly tripped up by something large on the ground. She sprawled into the mud, some of it getting into her mouth, but she ignored that and quickly knelt upwards. Whatever she'd tripped on, it hadn't felt like a root.
She fumbled in the dark, her hands stretched outwards, and gasped when she touched what felt like skin... freezing cold, human skin. She moved closer, squinting, until she could finally make out two distinct figures leaning against the tree... and the moment she did, she fell back in horror, her mouth opening on a wordless scream.
Taiki grumbled to herself about 'stupid girls and their curiosity' as she wrapped her arms tighter around herself and headed farther into the dark night, heading towards a tree she could make out in the distance.
When she got there she stopped short as a brief flash of lightening suddenly illuminated the scene beneath the tree. In the next moment she was on her knees, her breath held as she knelt in the mud next to the unmoving figure of Ami, reclining in eternal repose against the trunk of the old tree.
Taiki felt a thousand angry words rise in her throat as she lifted Ami's wrist in her hands, her fingers sliding in the slick blood of the fresh wound. A million words of reproach about a life wasted, a life that had so much potential... about the concept of running away, and the concept of waste. Things it would be useless to tell a dead girl, anyway.
Her words gone, her heart hollow, she dropped Ami's arm and sat back in the mud, crossing her legs and burying her face in her hands.
"I... wanted to protect you, you know," she whispered a few minutes later, her voice piercing the stillness. "I want to protect you so badly. I wanted to protect all of you. But I've never... why can't I... the people I try to protect, they always... "
Her voice was drowned out by tears and rain.
Michiru's breath was coming in great, hitching gasps as she stumbled into the kitchen, nearly bumping straight into Setsuna. Michiru let out a piercing shriek, and Setsuna gripped her elbows, trying to catch her eyes. Michiru was twisting her head, her eyes flitting around the room like those of a scared horse.
"Michiru-san!" Setsuna whispered urgently. "What is it? What's wrong?"
When Michiru didn't speak except to look at her for a long minute---long enough that the light of recognition finally dawned in her eyes---and then break down sobbing, Setsuna wrapped her arms around the shorter woman, trying to offer her some sort of comfort.
"What is it? Please, tell me what's happened," Setsuna urged Michiru, and after a few minutes, Michiru managed to wipe her nose.
"It's Haruka, Setsuna-san... she... she... " Michiru could feel herself starting to hyperventilate again, and she dropped her head against Setsuna's shoulder, trying to regain her breath.
"Killed Hotaru-chan? Yes, I know," Setsuna said soothingly, and Michiru's eyes snapped open. "I know... I saw it. "
Michiru lifted her head and stared at Setsuna wide-eyed.
"You saw it... ? B-but... " she started, unable to comprehend the fact that Setsuna still appeared as calm and collected as ever in the face of what had happened.
"It had to be done, Michiru-san," Setsuna said, gently patting Michiru's back. "You know that. "
"What... ?" Michiru whispered, taking a step away from the taller woman, who blinked in surprise.
"You do realize it had to be done, don't you?" Setsuna said, tilting her head curiously. "You are, after all, the most sensible of us. You, more than any of us, have always emphasized how important it is to never forget our duty. The identity of those we kill is irrelevant; if it must be done for the cause, then... "
"What are you talking about?" Michiru gasped, bringing up her hands to her face. She was shaking her head, horrified by Setsuna's calm words. "I've never... "
"But I'm sure you have," Setsuna said placidly, folding her arms over her chest. "After all, it was you who... "
"Stop it!" Michiru shrieked suddenly, covering her ears. "Stop it! I don't want to hear it!"
"You don't want to hear the truth?" Setsuna asked, blinking again with confusion.
"Yes! No... god, no, I... " Michiru was crying again, unsure of where to turn or what to do.
"Michiru-san, perhaps you should think about your priorities," Setsuna suggested, and then she turned and started to walk away.
"I did not... it wasn't my idea... I didn't... I would never... no!!" Michiru screamed, closing her eyes. She felt a flare of energy and for a moment she lost track of herself. When she opened her eyes, Setsuna was lying on the ground, motionless.
"Se... Setsuna-san?" Michiru whispered, frightened. She walked the few steps forward and bent down by Setsuna, reaching out to shake her. "Setsuna-san, get up... "
Setsuna didn't move.
Michiru touch a hand to Setsuna's neck and gasped, breathless with shock.
Setsuna was dead.
Yaten made her way down the stairs in a daze, trying to remember where she was and why there was blood on her hands. Everything felt strange---the world around her was hazy, and her eyes were stinging as though she'd been exposed to smoke. With each step downwards it seemed to get more and more unclear, until she reached the bottom step. For some reason she hesitated there, peering into the darkness ahead of her uncertainly before she took a breath and descended to the floor.
Her foot touched cold wood, and her soul touched cold reality. A million images flooded up through her memory, painful reminders of all that she had forgotten. The world was suddenly bright and clear around her again, and she started to cry as she remembered her sins. The toll of the dead marched itself before her, one by one.
Then she looked up, saw herself in a mirrored reflection, and realized what was wrong in the picture. She stared for a long time, at first disbelieving what she was seeing.
Her reflection was waving at her.
Rei ran out into the rain and stood beneath the deluge, at first silent, letting it build up inside her, a well of rage and despair, until she opened her mouth and screamed. She screamed for herself, and she screamed for the ones she had failed.
Then the lightning flashed and she saw something in the rain... a figure, a few steps ahead of her. She didn't stop to think; she ran towards it, thinking that she would not let another person die. Closer and closer she ran to the shadow, until she came to a stop, her breath caught in her throat as she stared at the apparition before her.
She was staring at herself.
A crack of lightning made the old house creak and groan, providing the final boost for the three restless souls who finally stirred and then awoke, sitting up in unison and getting out of bed. One by one they crept downstairs, their feet moving silently on the floorboards, and through the empty hallways, into the drawing room. The fire blazed warmly, and before it, the old couple sat, waiting.
"Come in, come in," said the man, gesturing idly towards the armchairs. "Have a seat by the fire. You must be cold. "
"You're the first in a very long time," the woman added, her kind old eyes wrinkled with what appeared to be amusement. "The first to come this far. Please, do come closer. "
So they approached, all three cautious, but all dying to hear the tale.
"So you've broken the curse," the old man said conversationally, his eyes sweeping the three of them in turn.
"Damn right we have," Yaten said, his voice low and dangerous as he came to stand next to the fire. His hand was in his pocket, clutched around something.
"Tell us; how did you do it?" the old woman asked, clearly curious.
"All three of us have some extrasensory ability; he and I are empaths, able to find the psychological flaws in your dream world, and she's capable of precognition," Rei said evenly, her hand clasped firmly around her wand as she stood next to Yaten, unwilling to let her guard down for even a second.
Hotaru stood between her friends and the door, blocking off the exit, leaning almost casually against her glaive.
"I saw this coming the moment I set foot in that bedroom," she remarked idly. "Of course by then it was too late, and I had been ensnared, just like everyone else. After that all I could do was play along and try to find my way out of it. "
"As for the two of us," Yaten said, glancing at Rei and waiting until she nodded, confirming that what he was saying was correct,"a part of our consciousness, which had sensed the danger in this house as soon as we entered it, remained aware. That part of ourselves encountered our dream selves and pulled us back, out of the dream. "
"A never-ending nightmare, giving you a realistic vision of your worst fear come true... right?" Rei said, narrowing her eyes. "But why?"
"I think I can guess," Yaten said grimly, folding his arms over his chest.
"You are correct, Yaten-san. "
All of them looked up, watching as Setsuna walked slowly across the room, her Garnet Rod held in her left hand.
"Setsuna-mama," Hotaru said, her tone calm.
"Setsuna! You made it out too," Rei remarked, and Setsuna smiled slightly.
"I was never taken in," she said lightly, focusing her eyes briefly on the old couple, who were now nervously glancing at each other where they sat on the couch.
"How? How could you be immune to our nightmares?" the woman whispered, obviously frightened by this news.
Setsuna's smile became slightly unpleasant.
"I have lived and died for several thousands of years," she said grimly. "All of my worst nightmares have at some point come to pass. There is nothing that frightens me anymore. "
She didn't speak in order to brag; she told only the jaded truth. The old couple stared at her with a kind of respectful horror.
"Now, if the three of you would come with me, I think it's time we set to rescuing the others," Setsuna said evenly, and then she gestured with a nod of her head towards the old couple. "Hotaru, if you would, please. "
"I'd be glad to," Hotaru said, stepping forward with her glaive raised. The old couple cowered backwards, towards the fireplace, and in their fear, their human visages started to falter, slowly revealing the creatures beneath.
Yaten and Rei stepped out of the way as Hotaru held the glaive in front of herself.
"You... you can't kill us," the old man said suddenly, his voice bursting with desperate bravado.
"I don't intend to," Hotaru said simply, and then she pointed the Silence Glaive towards the sky and shouted the words of incantation. In an instant, a glittering barrier had surrounded the small, enclosed space the two creatures stood huddled within.
"S-Surely you don't think this can entrap us?" the woman said, taking a step towards the barrier.
"Go ahead and try," Hotaru suggested, and the woman stepped back, shivering with fear.
"But there's nothing you can do!" the man said, sounding somewhat exasperated. "Once they've been caught in our nightmares, they cannot be brought out... you can't save your friends. "
"Watch us," Yaten snapped, before he turned on his heel and followed the others out of the room.
"What are they?" Rei asked as the four of them hurried down the steps towards the cellar, Setsuna in the lead with her rod held up, the Talisman at the end providing an eerie red glow that lit their passage.
"Vampires," Setsuna said, to which Rei blinked.
"Not like you're thinking," Yaten said, frowning slightly as he brushed a cobweb away from his face. "We have similar creatures in my home system. These ones aren't like the ones you Earth people think about when you hear the word 'vampire', sucking blood and so on... "
"Precisely. These ones feed on souls," Setsuna added, and Rei gasped, glancing back towards Hotaru, who was bringing up the rear. The youngest of them had a pinched look of grim determination on her face.
"The nightmares keep the prey occupied so they don't struggle while the soulstealers suck out their souls," Hotaru said, and Yaten and Setsuna nodded their agreement.
"But obviously these two are not capable of doing all of this on their own," Rei said, glancing at the others. "Right? They may feed on the souls, and they may have created the nightmares, but could just the two of them have gone around in the time since we went to sleep collecting everyone's souls?"
"No," Yaten said, shaking his head. "What felt like hours to us in our nightmares was actually a period of less than five minutes; that was how long it took the three of us to break the cycle and get free of the dreams. "
"They have a rather neat soul-collecting system," Setsuna remarked as they finally reached the cellar, deep underground, and she tapped her rod, increasing the illumination it provided, as she stepped forward. "Now, please step carefully... "
The other three were silent, unsure what to say as she finally brought her rod to rest just above a small potted plant. It looked like some kind of cactus.
"This is what they've been using," Setsuna said quietly. "I know it doesn't look deadly at the moment, but that's because I have subdued it. "
"What is it?" Rei asked. Upon closer inspection, they could all see that something was off about the plant; it seemed to be breathing out cold air, heaving and shaking slightly as though it was sleeping, and uneasily at that.
"It's a piece of a very dangerous plant called 'Museishi'," Setsuna explained. "It's been a very long time since I've seen any sign of one. The plant's main property is the ability to suck the life essence---the soul, if you will---out of any living creature that gets within a certain radius of it. A full-grown plant is capable of draining the life of an entire planet in a matter of minutes. "
"Damn," Yaten muttered, obviously impressed. "What is it doing here?"
"I have no idea. But since this is only a cutting, its power is limited to just the local area," Setsuna said quietly. "Although it may also be what's causing the unusual weather patterns. "
"That gas station... " Hotaru murmured, and the others turned to her, confused until she explained further. "The people at that gas station warned us that this wasn't a good place to go camping. They told us people often disappear here. "
Rei set her jaw, her expression uneasy.
"This must have been happening for years," she murmured. "They lure people to this place, a few at a time, promising a cold place out of the storm, and feed on their souls. "
"Not anymore," Yaten said firmly. By then he had his brooch out and was clutching it in his palm. "What do we do with it?"
"If we kill it now, we risk the souls within it---the souls of our companions," Setsuna said regretfully. "I think there must be only one way to free them... "
"We have to get them to break the nightmare, the way we did, and pull their souls back from the Museishi," Rei concluded, glancing around at the others.
None of them were pleased about the prospect, but it was obvious that it would have to be done.
"All right then... let's go," Yaten said, gesturing back to the stairway, and they started back up the stairs at twice the speed they'd come down them.
The hardest part was willingly submitting themselves to the nightmare again. Rei was the first to succeed, meditating in her place on the bed, surrounded by her four lifeless roommates, until it overtook her again. Hotaru and Setsuna went next, and Yaten held on stubbornly until the very last moment until he finally closed his eyes and let the blackness claim him.
When he opened his eyes, he was still on the bed, but he could hear sobbing nearby. The beds around him were empty. He got to his feet and hurried around the corner to the bathroom.
Seiya was sitting in the bathtub, rocking herself back and forth, sobs wracking her body as she rubbed at her eyes until they were red and raw. As soon as she drew her hands away, Yaten gasped at the sight of Seiya's face, or the mangled remains of it, ripped to shreds. A glance at the shattered mirror explained that. The bathtub she sat in was filled to her ankles with blood.
"Seiya... Seiya," Yaten said, as gently as he could, approaching her carefully.
"No, please, Yaten, no more... I know already," Seiya cried, like a lost little girl, and Yaten bit his lip, gathering his courage, before he stepped into the bathtub, feeling the blood seep between his toes.
"Seiya, look at me," Yaten said, and he knelt before her, his hands touching her shoulders. "Seiya... it's really me this time. You're dreaming. This is a nightmare, and you have to wake up. You have to realize it's just a dream and wake up, now. "
Something about the urgency in his voice, or perhaps the unexpected warmth of his touch, made Seiya look up in surprise, and she started crying again when she saw the kind look on Yaten's face. At this moment, it seemed worse to her than the Yaten she had seen in the mirror.
"Seiya, come on... look, you have to listen to me," Yaten said, quickly growing desperate with Seiya's lack of positive response. "*Please*, Seiya. "
"I didn't mean to fail you, I swear to god, Yaten, I didn't mean it... "
Yaten reached out, risking everything on the only chance he could think of, spurred on by Seiya's nonsensical ravings. He pulled her forward gently, folding his arms around her, and buried his face in her hair.
"I know you didn't, Seiya. I know you would never deliberately hurt me," he said, his voice firm and steady as he bent to speak directly into Seiya's ear. "And you know that I would never hurt you, don't you... ?"
There was a long silence, and Yaten held her throughout it, rocking her, stroking her hair. Then, finally, something released, and Seiya let out a long, shuddering breath. Yaten felt the world around him shift, like a glitchy computer screen, and suddenly he was kneeling in a cold, dry bathtub, holding another man in his arms.
Seiya looked up, his face streaked with tears but clear of blood and gore. Yaten let out a sigh of relief, and watched as Seiya hesitantly smiled.
"Um... hey, Yaten," Seiya said, sounding completely and utterly embarrassed.
"Never mind all that," Yaten said, shaking his head before he let Seiya go and climbed out of the bathtub. He turned back and held out a hand; Seiya took it and shakily got to his feet. "We've got to find Taiki. "
"Right," Seiya agreed, and without another word---only the briefest, deeply meaningful glance passed between them---they left to find their bandmate.
Rei opened her eyes and sat up, taking in her surroundings in a glance and realizing instantly that she was alone. She had to find the others---in particular, she had to find Usagi, because she had a feeling Usagi would be able to help her with the rest. Her last memory of Usagi was the chilling sight of her lying cold and still on the rug in front of the fireplace, but she knew that wasn't reality. She moved through the empty house and out into the night, ignoring the rain that pounded hard against her as though trying to keep her away as she walked steadfastly towards the one landmark on the flat land outside: a huge, ancient, solitary tree. A flash of lightning illuminated the tree and in that instant she saw Usagi standing alone beneath it, hands over her eyes, crying desperately.
"Usagi!" Rei shouted. "Usagi. "
She spoke the name again as she finally reached her friend and pulled Usagi into her arms, trying to warm her.
"Rei-chan... Mamo-chan, he... he's... " Usagi gasped, her lips numb with cold.
"There's nothing wrong with Mamoru-san, Usagi," Rei said, shaking her head. "He's asleep, just like the rest of us. This is a dream! A nightmare. "
"But... but I saw... " Usagi said, but she stopped when Rei shook an angry finger in her face.
"Would I lie to you?" Rei demanded, her tone verging on righteous anger.
Usagi slowly shook her head, and Rei watched, amazed, as the haze slowly cleared out of Usagi's eyes. The landscape seemed to shift slightly, and then it stopped raining, revealing a balmy, moonlit spring evening. Usagi stared around, awe-struck, her gaze finally coming to rest on the foot of the tree.
"But I saw him here... " she whispered, a hand over her mouth.
"It was just a dream," Rei said, clasping Usagi tighter. "And now you have to help me get the others out of it, all right?"
Usagi nodded, her resolution at this suggestion of action instant.
"Just tell me what to do," she said, and Rei nodded, taking her hand and pulling her back towards the house.
Rei first took Usagi to the kitchen, where they found Mamoru lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling as though he'd found something especially fascinating there.
"Mamo-chan!" Usagi exclaimed, and then she bent over him, obviously concerned. "Mamo-chan, can you hear me?"
"If he can't, then *make* him hear you," Rei advised her, and Usagi nodded determinedly.
"Mamo-chan... I think I probably know what you're thinking, so it will probably make sense if I say that it's not true, and you know it's not. You know you could never fail me, because I don't expect anything of you... except that you love me, and you do, and that's enough. "
She cut off her ramble long enough to give him a quick peck on the lips.
"You know I don't bother worrying about the other stuff," she said with a slight grin. "We're together, and that's what matters to me. And we always will be, Mamo-chan. We always will be. "
Rei watched, a slow smile crossing her face, as Mamoru's eyes cleared and he slowly reached up a hand to cup Usagi's cheek, the expression on his face going from confused to relieved in a matter of seconds.
"You go ahead and wake up now, Mamo-chan... we'll take care of the rest," Usagi whispered, bending to kiss him once more before he faded away. She got to her feet and turned to Rei.
"Okay, where next?" she asked, and Rei took her hand, ready to lead the way again.
Seiya swore softly when he and Yaten first stepped off the back porch into the pouring rain, and Yaten glanced back to make sure Seiya was closely following him before he pushed onward.
"Where are we going?" Seiya called, hoping his voice would carry over the sounds of the storm.
"That tree," Yaten said, pointing to the huge, dark silhouette ahead of them. "I have a feeling about it... "
As usual, of course, his feeling was spot on. They reached the foot of the tree and Seiya swore again when they saw Taiki sitting cross-legged in front of it, holding Ami's hand. A closer look and Seiya had to turn his head, feeling bile rising up in his throat. Ami was dead, her wrists slit; the mud surrounding her and Taiki was red with blood.
"It's part of the illusion," Yaten said, but he too sounded a little weakened by the sight as he crouched next to Taiki.
"Taiki," Yaten said, taking hold of Taiki's shoulder and shaking it once, firmly. "Taiki! This is a nightmare, Taiki. I know somewhere in that enormous brain of yours you have to realize that this isn't something Ami-san would do. Come on, think it out logically... you do it with *everything* else. "
Taiki was non-responsive, so Yaten sighed and glanced back towards Seiya.
"A little help, here?" Yaten said irritably, so Seiya reluctantly got to his knees next to Taiki, trying to ignore the blood.
"Taiki? Taiki, it's me... it's Se... it's Fighter," he said, reaching out to touch Taiki's cold hands. "Look, I know I don't do this often, and I know it kind of pisses you off when I do, but I'm going to have to give you an order, all right? As your leader, seriously... a very important order. I need you to snap out of it *right now*. "
As though galvanized, Taiki suddenly lifted her head and blinked, then turned slowly to glance at her two bandmates.
"Seiya? Yaten? What... ?" Then she stared down at Ami, and blanched.
"It's a dream, Taiki," Yaten said quickly. "This is a nightmare. We're here to help you break out of it. You're seeing something you fear. For once, you're justified in rationalizing yourself out of something, so go ahead and *do it*. "
Taiki blinked again, and Yaten and Seiya both stayed still as again the world rocked, tilted, and then was set right again. The rain stopped, the blood disappeared, and Taiki was holding a warm hand, his fingers feeling for a pulse. Then, as he watched, she disappeared altogether.
He opened his mouth to say something, then hesitated, glancing at the others.
"Go ahead," Seiya said with a small smile.
"We'll be waiting for you," Yaten agreed, and then they stepped away and vanished.
Taiki turned and, setting his jaw, got to his feet, ready to step back into the rain. Two steps and he was back into the thick of it, pouring down on him in wide sheets, and there she was, just a few feet from him, kneeling in the mud and crying helplessly.
"Ami-san!" He ran the few extra steps to her and skidded to a stop, kneeling in front of her, taking her shoulders in his hands and shaking her slightly. "Ami-san, look at me. "
She didn't respond.
"Ami-san, whatever it is you've seen or are seeing, it isn't real! We've been trapped in a cycle of nightmares, and it's time to break free," Taiki said, and even he was surprised by the strain in his voice. Of course he'd been trying to hide so many things for so many years... dreams were often revealing. "Please come with me, Ami-san... please. "
When she still said nothing and didn't move, he let out a frustrated sound and leaned forward, pulling her up into his lap and cradling her there.
"Look at me!" he demanded. "Damn it, Ami, look at me!"
Finally his words seemed to get through, and she looked up, her eyes wide and forlorn. When she saw the kindness in his eyes, she seemed puzzled.
"Usagi-chan... Mamoru-san... " she began, weakly.
"They're fine... they're asleep, just like you are right this minute," he said, bringing up a hand to gently stroke her cheek. "It's time we woke up, Ami. "
She was silent for another minute, but he watched as the cloudiness in her usually-brilliant blue eyes faded away, replaced by determination. They both looked up as the rain stopped, and she touched his face in return.
"All right... let's go. "
They found Makoto and Minako both kneeling on the carpet in front of the fireplace, and Usagi blinked, a bit disconcerted to see the dead version of herself lying on the same carpet, cold and wet. Makoto seemed catatonic, lost in her remorse, and Minako was weeping with grief.
"You take Mako-chan; I'll try Minako-chan," Rei suggested, and Usagi nodded, moving over to kneel in front of her friend.
"Mako-chan," she whispered, bringing up her hands to gently wipe the tears away from Makoto's cheeks. "Mako-chan, it's me... Usagi-chan. I'm not dead. I'm alive, and I'm right here in front of you. Would you... would you look at me? I don't want to see you like this anymore. "
Her words were earnest, her expression pained, and she watched as, at her touch and the sound of her voice, Makoto slowly came around, eyelashes fluttering a few times before she caught Usagi's bright blue gaze. In the next second she was grasping Usagi's hands and then hugging her tightly, making sure she was real, sobbing her relief against Usagi's shoulder.
Minako wasn't as easy to pull out of it.
"Minako-chan?" Rei said, gently touching Minako's hand where it still clasped one of the dead Usagi's. "Minako-chan, it's Rei-chan... listen to me... we've all... "
"My responsibility," Minako muttered, her voice so low and dull that Rei felt a pang of unease move through her. "Leader... ha... some leader... my responsibility... nothing, now, all nothing... "
"Minako-chan," Rei said again, but when Minako continued to mutter nonsensically, Rei quickly lost her patience. She didn't like the feeling Minako's words were creating in the pit of her stomach, as though Minako was threatening to pull *her* back into the nightmare world. She drew back her hand and, gritting her teeth, slapped Minako hard across the face.
The effect was instant.
"OW!! REI-CHAN!! WHAT THE HECK DID YOU DO THAT FOR YOU... "
Minako's voice cut off abruptly as she stared around herself, and then at the two Usagi's, one dead on the carpet and one clutched in Makoto's grasp.
"Oh my god, I could've sworn I was just... " she started to say, but then she saw Rei shaking her head.
"It's all been just a bad dream, and now it's time to end it," Rei said with a small smile. "Good to have you back, Minako-chan. "
"Um... right!" Minako said, giggling and scratching the back of her head as she noticed that suddenly the room was different; Usagi's corpse was gone.
"Okay, everyone... time to wake up," Usagi said loudly, and the other three replied with a firm shout of,"Right!"
Hotaru got up from where she was kneeling on the kitchen floor and walked quickly upstairs to the bedroom she'd been sharing with her parents, and found the beds empty. Then she glanced up and saw one of her mothers standing by the window, looking out at the moon.
"It's stopped raining," Setsuna observed pointlessly before she offered Hotaru a gentle smile and held out her hand. Hotaru touched it, and together they stepped forward into the nightmare.
Haruka was curled up on the floor of the bathroom, staring at nothing at all. When Hotaru knelt in front of her, at first she went unnoticed. Hotaru sighed as she lightly ran her hands through her papa's hair.
"You always worry too much, Haruka-papa," she said softly, a slight tone of reproach coloring her words. "You know I'm not really a child. "
"Child... my own child, and I killed her with my own hands," Haruka whispered, her voice hoarse from screaming. She stared at her hands, as though she could see blood on them.
"That was a long time ago," Hotaru said, still gently stroking her hands through Haruka's short, sandy blonde hair. "And long since forgiven. All of that is behind us. "
Haruka shook her head, closing her eyes against the tears welling up against her eyelids.
"You do what you have to do, and none of us blame you for it," Hotaru said, leaning forward to kiss Haruka gently on the forehead. "And besides all of that, you're too overprotective. I'm not really a child. "
The repetition finally seemed to sink into Haruka's brain, and after a moment she reached out and pulled Hotaru into her arms.
"Of course you are," Haruka whispered, her voice shaking. "My only child. "
They were silent for a moment before Haruka looked up, first looking at Hotaru, and then up at Setsuna, who smiled gently.
"Hotaru... Setsuna... I... "
"Later," Setsuna said gently, reaching out to help Haruka to her feet. "Now, we must find Michiru-san. "
Haruka got to her feet and followed them down the stairs, into the kitchen, where they found Michiru huddled under the table, hands tightly clasped to her ears, staring at the kitchen floor, where Setsuna's dead body was sprawled. Setsuna coughed and stepped over her corpse before stopping to lean against the door jam. Hotaru stood next to her, watching silently as Haruka slowly crawled under the table.
"Michiru," Haruka murmured, her voice still shaky, but it was nonetheless the sweetest, most loving tone either Hotaru or Setsuna had ever heard her use, in all their time living together. "Michiru?"
Michiru continued to look at the body on the kitchen floor, so Haruka moved herself into Michiru's line of sight and reached up to clasp Michiru's face.
"Michiru... " Haruka murmured one last time as she bent downwards and brushed her lips ever so gently over her lover's. At first there was no response; it was like kissing ice. But after a moment, the tension seemed to flood out of Michiru all at once and she wrapped her arms around Haruka's neck, pulling herself closer, kissing Haruka with a fervency that suggested desperation.
They woke up wrapped up in each other's arms, legs tangled beneath the sheets, and Haruka offered Michiru a brief smirk before she threw off the covers and bounced to her feet.
"Well, that was revitalizing," Haruka said, punching her fist into her other hand. "Now we get to kick some ass, right?"
"For once I concur," Michiru said as she appeared beside Haruka, pressing close to her in the darkness of the room.
"What are you saying? You've got way more of a lust for blood than I ever had... ow!!" Haruka gasped as Michiru elbowed her sharply in the ribs.
"Now, now," Hotaru said, rolling her eyes as she came around to stand in front of them, running her hands through her newly sleep-mussed hair. "You know what they say about how bad it is for a child to see her parents fight in front of her. "
"The child's got your mouth," Michiru said, glaring at Haruka, who blinked.
"What? No way! Setsuna's the one with that kind of sense of humor," she accused, pointing to Setsuna, who was still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
"What am I being accused of now?" Setsuna asked with a wry smile as she got to her feet and came to stand behind her daughter, touching Hotaru's shoulder and smiling down at her.
Whatever Haruka and Michiru had planned to say in return was interrupted by the sound of a commotion out in the hallway. The four of them hurried to the door, nearly tripping themselves up, and found Usagi, Rei, Minako, Makoto and Ami gathered in the hall, all talking in whispers to one another. Usagi was madly gesturing, while Rei seemed to be trying her best to yell at Usagi in a whisper.
"Oh, there you are!" Rei said, turning her attention abruptly to the four new arrivals. "We thought you might never wake up. "
She winked at Setsuna and Hotaru, who simply smiled in return. Just then, the door across the hall banged open and Yaten stepped out.
"All right, let's rip this joint apart," he said loudly, and with a sigh, Taiki stepped past him, patting him on the head.
"Why don't we come up with some sort of *plan* first?" he suggested.
"Actually I'm kind of liking the ripping apart idea," Seiya said, and he smiled as he saw Taiki and Ami meet in the middle of the hallway, blushing the instant they saw one another.
"Whatever we do, let's do it quickly," Mamoru suggested, and then he let out a weak sound of protest as Usagi squealed happily and launched herself at him, knocking him back into an unstable wall that creaked at the impact.
"Usako... " Mamoru moaned. "Please, can we do this a little bit later?"
"Oh... sure," Usagi said with a girlish giggle before she pulled away, allowing him to dust himself off.
"All right, everyone," she said, turning and pointing to the stairway. "Forward march!"
Everyone remained still, except for Rei and Yaten, who each tapped their feet impatiently.
"Um... Rei-chan, where are we going?" Usagi whispered.
"The drawing room," Rei said from between gritted teeth, and Usagi beamed.
"Right! To the drawing room!"
And she led her twelve sleepy troops down the stairs and towards the drawing room.
They found the old couple just where Hotaru had left them, entrapped within her Silent Wall, but there was no remaining sign of an old man or an old woman, or anything even remotely human. What stared up at them were two obvious youma, by then quivering with fear as they realized their impending doom.
As soon as Usagi saw their expressions, she took pity on them, as it was her nature to do.
"Hotaru, would you... ?" Usagi asked, and with a nod, Hotaru released the barrier. The two miserable creatures shuffled forwards, kneeling before Usagi, sniveling about how they wished for forgiveness.
She nodded, smiled sadly, and placed a pale hand on each of their heads, then watched passively as both of them crumbled to ash at her fingertips. The dusty remains blew into the fire and crackled briefly, while Usagi turned back to the others, closing her hands into small fists. It was obvious she was trying by then not to cry; Mamoru took her in his arms and comforted her, and after a moment she nodded her head, having regained her strength, and stepped away from him.
"All right, now... Setsuna-san, take who you want, and go ahead," Usagi said, gesturing towards the hallway. "I leave the rest in your hands. "
Setsuna nodded and turned to her family.
"Haruka-san, Michiru-san, Hotaru-chan... if you please," she said, and each of them nodded in turn before they followed her down the hall and towards the cellar. Usagi smiled her approval at this arrangement.
After a moment they heard a sharp boom, the noise loud enough to shake the house on its foundations, and then Setsuna, Haruka, Michiru and Hotaru reappeared at the top of the stairs, their weapons no longer in evidence.
"All right," Usagi said again, her expression one of total exhaustion. "Let's get our stuff and get out of here. "
Without argument they all trooped upstairs, packed up their stuff, and made their way out into the mild spring evening. Mamoru commented idly on how brilliant the stars were that night, and a few of the others muttered their agreement as Rei lingered behind on the porch, saying a prayer for the hundreds of restless souls she could sense had been stolen here. She pulled out one of her fuda and held it to her forehead, whispering the sacred words and adding an incantation of her own before she lay the paper to rest on the front porch. As they drove away, a few of them couldn't help but look back and watch the purifying blaze, the flames licking high into the air, turning the night sky grey with smoke.
Happy Hallowe'en! ^_~ Don't let the vampires bite!