a Sailormoon fanfiction by Dejana Talis
-not to be used without permission-
This story began during the testing phase of .moon. One of my beta-testers was trying out the story submission functions and picked a bunch of options at random. I teased her, asking when we were going to see this sci-fi Crystal Tokyo alternate-universe Minako/Motoki story of hers. Several other beta-testers chimed in, saying they'd like to read it and were disappointed that it didn't really exist. Before I knew it, I had a plot idea.
for the beautiful betas of dotmoon.net
This night was darker than most. There was no moon, and a thin cloud cover kept even the stars hidden. For the more privileged of society, of course, the natural darkness was of no consequence, but here in the far outskirts the city's light was reduced to the faintest of glows. The hulking outlines of crumbling buildings were visible through the evening gloom, but precious little else.
It was a perfect night for them to be about.
Nobody knew exactly where the creatures came from, but none could deny they existed. Living nightmares, masses of flesh and bone and muscle with supernatural strength and agility. Demons capable of sucking the very life out of a human being - indeed, that was what they fed upon. Nature's revenge, perhaps, against those who had dared to create an artificial utopia.
Behave yourself, or I'll throw you out where the youma can find you!
How many times had Nuiko heard those words as a disobedient child? Now that she was older, she knew it had always been an empty threat; no mother would ever consider putting even the worst of her children in the path of monsters. Still, for generations the fear of youma had been the most effective ally of any parent in the outskirts, and the danger was all too real. Never had Nuiko imagined she would voluntarily venture outside after dark, especially on a night with no moon.
Tonight, however, there was no choice.
Nuiko clutched the bottle of medicine securely to her chest as she ran lightly through the streets of the decaying city. Her mother needed this medicine desperately, and it could not wait until morning. Her fingers traced the outline of the winged and crossed heart embossed on the surface of the crystal. It was a real inner-city import, expensive as only the genuine article could be, but worth every penny if it finally cured her mother's lingering illness.
A light humming noise caught Nuiko's attention, and she stopped running and pressed herself into the shadows against a nearby wall. Breathing hard, she listened intently as a skimmer approached and glided over the street where she had been a moment ago. Hovering thirty feet above the ground it resembled a bird of prey poised to strike, the tiny white lights that lined its seams sending thin beams to the ground below.
Nuiko tried to calm herself enough to hold her breath as the sleek oval craft slid through the night air. The official word was that the Defense Corps only targeted youma, but after dark in such dangerous times they were likely to shoot first and ask questions later. It was safest not to be seen.
The throbbing hum grew louder as the skimmer floated past her hiding place. It passed so close that she could clearly see the royal crest emblazoned on its side: a crescent moon surrounded by three planetary symbols, one of which was identical to the sign on the bottle of medicine in Nuiko's hands. A dark dome at the front of the ship marked the cockpit, within which a pair of Crystal Tokyo's finest piloted the skimmer through the night, ever vigilant. The shadows served Nuiko well, however, and after a few minutes the craft turned a corner and disappeared without pausing in its journey.
She breathed a little easier in its absence, but she wasn't safe yet. Drawing herself together, she darted out of the cover of the building and continued her run down the deserted street. Although she did her best to run quietly, her footsteps on the cracked pavement still seemed to echo throughout the entire city. The oppressive darkness of the night seemed to press in closer as Nuiko ran on. Her footsteps seemed to grow louder and louder, the echoes spreading out with distance until it was almost as if they were made by two sets of feet.
Nuiko's heart skipped a beat, and she nearly stumbled as the realization hit her. There were two sets of feet running. Not even the strongest fear could exaggerate the echoes of her steps to this extent. She wasn't alone. Someone, or something, was following her.
Mustering all her willpower she forced herself not to look back, focusing all her energy on running faster. If her pursuer were friendly it would have called out to her by now, and even a glance behind her would be a deadly distraction that would slow her down. Her heart pounded in her throat, her pulse whipped into a near-frantic frenzy. The footsteps behind her were drawing closer, and they were heavy.
The very ground trembled with each strike of the unseen creature's weight, nearly throwing Nuiko's lighter feet off balance. She hoped it was only her imagination bringing the sound of deep, raspy breathing to her ears. What was that scraping against the pavement just behind her? Talons? Spikes? Something too horrible to be imagined? She bit back a scream of terror at the thought of what might be back there, gaining on her every second as she tore down the street as fast as her legs could carry her. Her eyes searched the buildings around her desperately, but all the windows were dark, and there was no time for knocking on doors or even breaking windows. All she could do was run for her life and try to ignore the fact that she could never outdistance the worst that nature could invent.
As she rounded a corner, Nuiko's toes caught the edge of a broken paving stone. She pitched forward, still keeping her wits about her enough to curl into a ball as she fell, protecting the precious bottle of medicine with her body. She hit the ground hard and rolled several feet, her knees striking her chest so sharply that for a moment she couldn't breathe. Finally she stuck out one foot to slow her tumble, and came to a stop facing back the way she had come.
The darkness pressed in. At its center was an even darker shadow, looming closer, lunging out of the lee of a building. The cloud cover had broken, and faint starlight was trickling through. All Nuiko could do was gasp in horror, staring upward as an eerie glow traced tall metallic spikes and curved horns and bony armored plates covering a creature that stood ten feet high.
A creature moving with the speed of a Defense Corps skimmer. A creature drawing raspy, heavy breaths through a mouth filled with fangs as long as Nuiko's forearms. A creature leaping straight for her, clawed hands extended for the attack. There was not even time to scream.
Someone else screamed, but it was a cry of defiance, not a cry of fear. A powerful laser blast sliced through the night, striking the towering youma in the side with just enough force to push it sideways as it recoiled from the injury. The creature crashed into the ground barely an arm's length from Nuiko, howling in her ear with a pained shriek like metal on metal.
Adrenaline kicked in. Nuiko shot to her feet and backed away faster than she had ever dreamed she could move, practically running on her toes until her back slammed into a nearby wall. Holding the carved crystal bottle of medicine firmly against her chest, she pressed herself as far into the shadow of the building as she could and tried to strike a balance between holding her breath and suffocating. At this point, it was safer to remain still than run. The youma's attention was no longer focused on Nuiko.
Roaring like the wild thing it was, the creature sprang upright and whirled around to face its attacker. From where she stood Nuiko could not see who had saved her from instant death, but she caught a glimpse of a streak of gold leaping from one rooftop to the next as a shower of laser fire rained down. The youma screeched when the blasts struck its head, but its heavily armored chest rendered all other hits harmless.
When a break in the onslaught came, the monster gathered itself and sprang upward, launching itself toward the wall of the building on which its enemy stood. It hit halfway up with a sickening crash, its clawed hands digging into the crumbling masonry. Nuiko gasped, fearing for the people who may have been living in that ruin, but the wall held.
The street remained silent. There were no screams, no lights appearing in windows, no witnesses to this battle. The people of the outskirts knew well when to hide quietly in the strongest room and wait for the danger to pass, even if the trouble was on their own doorstep.
The youma began to climb the building, using windowsills for handholds where they existed and gouging out its own gaps where they didn't. Its struggle was wasted, however. As soon as the creature had a firm hold on the wall, its enemy leapt from the roof and landed in a crouch in the middle of the crossroads. Although the building was several stories high, the mysterious fighter's landing was nearly silent, and after the briefest pause the jumper stood up, unhurt. This astounded Nuiko until she caught sight of the stranger's aluminum-plated footwear. Hover boots. Despite their name they did not allow their wearer to fly, but they did take the edge off gravity.
The warrior was a woman, and she came up firing, getting off several more blasts at the youma's back before running toward the shadow of a shuttered bakery at the opposite side of the street. The youma convulsed and fell, several chunks of mortar and stone breaking free in its clenched fists. It crashed heavily into the ground with a thunderous thud, shaking the surrounding structures to their foundations. A strangled cry died in its throat, and it lay still.
Nuiko remained where she was, hardly daring to breathe. After a moment, the mysterious warrior crept away from the side of the old bakery, her laser pistol charged and trained on the youma's motionless form. Nuiko finally got a good look at her in the dim starlight. She was of average height and almost impossibly slender, firm muscle the only bulk beneath the skintight bodysuit that covered her from ankles to wrists. The woman seemed young, but in Crystal Tokyo it was foolish to judge age based on appearance. She was dressed all in black, but her thick blonde hair hung free to her knees, its only restraint a red ribbon that kept it out of her face.
The creature still did not move as its enemy drew closer. It was unheard of for a youma not to attack anything in range, so Nuiko judged it safe to move away from the wall. As soon as the blonde woman caught a glimpse of her from the corner of her eye, however, she whirled around and shot Nuiko a warning glare.
Nuiko obeyed without thinking, pressing herself against the building behind her again. It did not even occur to her to resent the stranger's control over the situation. In the outskirts everyone looked out for themselves and theirs, and if there were any chance Nuiko would be in danger, she was in no hurry to help. Her gratitude toward the woman could wait.
Indeed, it was wise advice she had been given. As the blonde turned back toward the fallen monster, it was already rising, folding and unfolding its long horned limbs as it got to its feet. It was unsteady, but solid, a fresh growl rising in its throat as it shook out its clawed arms and prepared to pounce.
Its enemy did not give it time to collect itself. As soon as she saw this youma was so strong it could survive such a steep fall, the blonde judged that greater force was needed. Shoving her laser pistol back into its holster, she pulled a palm-sized plastic disc out of a pouch that hung from her belt. Before the monster knew what was happening the woman leapt toward it and shoved the disc straight down its throat, yanking her arm free again with lightning-fast reflexes. The creature swallowed automatically, but its jaws snapped shut on empty air.
With a grunt of effort the blonde kicked out against the youma's chest, using the monster as a springboard to launch herself away to safety. For a moment, it seemed her wild stunt would be a success, and she would escape unscathed.
She was almost out of the youma's reach when it flailed a clawed hand in her direction and caught her by the ankle.
A yelp escaped the woman's throat as the creature thrust its talons down into the pavement, pinning her to the ground by the leg. Nuiko winced, and her eyes teared up with pity, but there was nothing she could do. Perhaps the youma would sate its hunger with this courageous, yet foolish, stranger and leave Nuiko to escape unharmed. She focused her thoughts on her ailing mother as the beast raised its free hand over its struggling victim, the starlight glinting off its razor-sharp claws. Her mother needed her to come home safe, she needed this medicine. The rest of her family needed her mother to get well.
The greater good was not quite enough consolation as Nuiko watched the creature throw back its head with a roar of triumph and bring its hand down, ready to slash the blonde woman's head clean off.
A crossbow bolt from the sky hit the youma directly in the throat.
It choked and reared back, clawing at the shaft of the arrow with both hands, inadvertently freeing its enemy. The blonde did not lose a moment in pulling herself backward across the pavement as the bolt's exploding tip blew the monster's neck open. Blood of a sickening green spurted forth, the splattering drops narrowly missing the black-clad figure that was springing to its feet and running across the street at full speed.
Then the charge it had swallowed went off.
The youma's torso burst. A brief shower of flaming and seared bits of flesh covered the surrounding area and was promptly drenched in blood. The monster's head and arms dropped backward, and its two halves collapsed in a damp smoking heap.
Nuiko's stomach twisted and she gagged, but after only a few disgusting seconds the remains of the youma softened and crumbled away into sand. The light breeze of the evening began scattering the pile of dust across the pavement. Within minutes it would be as if the creature had never existed.
Before the little mound could vanish completely, the blonde woman jogged back to the scene of the youma's demise, slightly favoring her right leg. Bending down, she pulled a small glass vial out of another pouch on her belt and scooped up a small measure of the sand, closing the vessel with a cork when she had finished. As the woman straightened up and the last grains of powder swirled away into the darkness, Nuiko stepped away from the wall, her eyes wide with wonder. There was only one person this incredible warrior could possibly be.
"It's you, isn't it? The Night Star!"
The woman turned around. She was smiling, and the light of triumph was shining in her bright blue eyes, mirroring the stars in the sky above.
"It always has to be about you, doesn't it?" a strange voice complained. A man jumped down from a nearby roof, his graceful and safe landing aided by his own pair of hover boots. He was dressed all in black, like the Night Star, and was shaking his short blond hair out of his face as he walked over to the two women. "Nobody ever recognizes me!"
"Well, maybe if you had a catchier title, people would remember you," the Night Star replied airily, tossing her hair and a smirk in his direction. She stored the vial of dust away in its pouch before powering down her laser pistol. Her partner scowled.
"What's wrong with Demon Hunter?" he demanded, striking a haughty pose with his arms folded over his chest.
"It sounds like some old B-movie. Besides, Night Star and Demon Hunter? It doesn't exactly have that classy ring."
"Well, let's not argue about it now, Aph. Not in front of an audience."
The pair of them returned their attention to the girl who was still staring at them with eyes as wide as dinner plates. The Night Star was a growing rumor in the outskirts, caught halfway between legend and fact. Nuiko had heard stories, but she never imagined she would meet the woman face to face.
"So, it seems my reputation preceeds me," the Night Star commented with a delighted grin. Her smile was friendly, but Nuiko could see the pride in her expression and posture. "You weren't expecting the Sailor Senshi instead?"
Nuiko's face soured at the mention of the queen's soldiers, and she glared bitterly at the ground.
"Why would I?" she asked. "Everyone knows they never come out here."
"You carry one of their symbols," the blonde woman observed, nodding at the bottle of medicine Nuiko was still clutching in both hands. The girl glanced down at the embossed sigil with a touch of shame.
"Oh, don't pick on her," the man scolded his partner. "If that's a real Mercurian, she went through hell to get it; she must need it pretty badly." Nuiko nodded solemnly, grateful for the intervention. "Besides," he continued, "we can hardly begrudge anyone the use of the inner city's advances."
The man rolled up his left sleeve. Nuiko gasped, and hurriedly clapped one hand over her mouth, but she could not prevent her eyes from widening anew. From the elbow down the man's arm was artificial, a length of metal and wire and circuitry. He bent down to the ground and retrieved the only remaining evidence of the battle that had occurred here: the crossbow bolt, minus its exploding tip. As Nuiko watched, he wiped the length of metal on his suit and fitted it into a slot on his mechanical arm.
The outskirts of Crystal Tokyo were rife with injured citizens due to youma attacks, and Nuiko had seen artificial limbs before, although it was rare for anyone out here to be able to afford them. Even so, she had never before seen a prothesis as advanced as this one. The craftsmanship was flawless; although the metal would always betray the nature of the limb, its skeleton and mechanisms had been shaped to resemble muscle and bone. From the look of the complex circuitry, it was as versatile as a real forearm, and the crossbow was not its only built-in weapon. That was very expensive work he had had done, inner-city quality. Hover boots weren't cheap either. What drove a couple that wealthy to fight demons in the outskirts?
"Well, I'm sure that medicine's needed urgently," the Night Star prompted. Nuiko blushed and tore her eyes away from the blond man's arm, becoming acutely aware of the weight of the medicine bottle in her hands. If she didn't get home soon, her family would be wondering what had happened to her.
"Thank you so much for helping me," she said breathlessly, bowing to the woman in black.
"It was nothing," the warrior replied with a warm smile. She stood a little straighter and her chin lifted a bit higher. "The people of the outskirts deserve their own superheroes, ne?" The Night Star winked and flashed the girl a victory sign. "Get on home, now."
Nuiko bowed again briefly before running off into the night. The pair of self-proclaimed superheroes watched her go. Before long, curious eyes would begin peering out of windows now that the trouble was over, but for the moment silence and peace reigned once again.
"You're getting pretty good with that crossbow, Ki-chan," the woman said after a moment.
"Thanks." Motoki slid a thin panel of metal over the groove in his arm, hiding the weapon from sight, then pulled his sleeve over it. "Are you all right? How's your ankle?"
"Fine, fine." Minako bent down and ran her hands over the place where the youma had swatted her out of the sky. "It'll be bruised, but that's all. Look, there's not even a scratch. This new suit material is amazing!" Her partner still looked worried.
"I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner," he said in a gloomy tone. "I was watching, but the reading was faint at first and hard to pin down. Of course, the fact that it was all the way across town didn't help either. Even a skimmer can only fly so fast."
"See?" Minako teased. "We can't stop them all by waiting around at home. If I hadn't been out on patrol, I would've been too late."
"I was almost too late myself," Motoki pointed out. "Are you sure you're all right?"
His partner sighed, exasperated. She loved the man, but he did baby her too much sometimes. Instead of answering him, she ran off toward the crumbling building the youma had climbed and sprang into the air, using the handholds the creature had made to scale the building in a series of leaps and bounds. Motoki could complain all he wanted, but she would never stop going out on her nightly patrols. It wasn't only that the odds were more in their favor if they split up to watch for youma. The freedom of the night called to her. There was nothing quite as exhilarating as sailing from rooftop to rooftop in her hover boots under the cover of darkness.
Motoki was just behind her, meeting Minako beside their modified skimmer on top of the building. There were no lights on this vehicle, no shiny metals or insignia, nothing that would attract attention. It was as silent and invisible in the midnight air as a shark was in deep water.
"What were you thinking, anyway, getting that close to the youma?" the blond man demanded once he had caught up to his partner. "You know I wish you wouldn't risk yourself like that."
"Don't worry so much," Minako said dismissively. "Fate was on my side. My star is shining."
Of course it was nothing but silliness, but she always felt more confident when the star she had claimed as her own, the brightest star in the sky, was visible. Motoki had tried to tell her it was actually a planet, but she didn't care. It shone brighter than any other star, and that was the symbol she wanted.
"Fate isn't everything, Aph." The man's face had become serious, and Minako knew it was time to stop teasing. She turned to face him, and gently traced the white scars on the left side of his face with her fingertips. Motoki knew firsthand that sometimes fate failed, that sometimes the youma won. They had both seen what the monsters were capable of.
"I know," she said quietly. "But someone has to look out for these people, Ki-chan."
Her partner and lover slipped his hands around her waist and held her close, stroking her long blonde hair with the hand that could still feel its softness. His left arm was cold against the small of her back, and the eyes that gazed down at her were two different colors. With his right eye, he saw Minako, the woman of pale skin and blushing red lips and blue eyes. With his left, he saw a glowing heat source set against the dark shapes of the city, objects identified as human and concrete blocks and trees by an artificial eye that could see a youma through a brick wall.
They had had this conversation many times before. On occasion, Minako teased him, asking if Motoki would no longer love her if a youma scarred her pretty face. Tonight, however, she chose a solemn silence, allowing both of them a moment to bask in the comfort of one another's company. She knew his fears had nothing to do with her beauty and everything to do with what more she could lose to her dangerous enemies.
She turned in his arms to gaze out over the city, his hands resting lightly on her abdomen. Her eyes passed over the shining inner city with its crystal towers and avenues and focused instead on the darker ruins that were the outskirts of Crystal Tokyo, the part of the city deemed worthless and forgotten by its rulers.
"Were you here in time to see what it did?" Minako murmured after a while. "It pretended to be dead. And earlier it was hiding from the Corps skimmers. They're getting smarter."
Motoki stayed silent. He knew Minako wouldn't like him to say that the youma might be getting too strong for them to fight.
He also knew that she was fully aware of what he was thinking, whether he spoke the words aloud or not. Still, he avoided the subject.
"At this rate, the Sailor Senshi will have to pay attention before long," he said instead. Minako snorted.
"Youma could be starting up a muscle-for-hire business and the Sailor Senshi would take no notice," she scoffed. "You know as well as I do that nobody in the inner city cares about the people out here." Now she focused her attention on the shining heart of Crystal Tokyo, and glared at the palace and the decadence it represented. "Those high and mighty soldiers and their lofty ideals. If I were one of them, I'd show them a thing or two about what love and justice really mean."
"It won't stay this way forever," Motoki said in what he hoped was a soothing voice. Minako loved her work, but he knew she resented the fact that she had to do it. He squeezed her gently and kissed the top of her hair. "The lower class has a voice, and someday it'll be ready to use it."
Minako sighed and nodded, once again looking out over the part of the metropolis she protected. It was a much larger part than the crystal city of the elite. She slipped her hands over Motoki's, entwining her fingers with his warm and cold ones alike. As long as he was at her back, she could face anything.
"Until then, there's us."
Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and its associated characters and canon are the property of Naoko Takeuchi and Kodansha.