Somehow, the damaged ex-Senshi and Sailor Moon made it up to the temple grounds and into the dojo unseen. Upon powering down Usagi held Mamoru in her arms while the Senshi tended to him and Minako. They were in rough shape with numerous broken bones, blood loss, puncture wounds, gashes, cuts, and black and blue contusions. Usagi felt sick and hated everything about their situation. The people she loved and cared for most in the world were injured and broken because of her, because they felt the urgent need to protect her. The worst part was that without their powers they were in no position to protect anything, but sacrificed their safety anyway. Usagi simmered in frustration and guilt since she was the one who could have defended them. Who else could? She was the only Senshi left.
Usagi’s eyes darted over her friend’s injuries and blood stained clothes. She looked over to Minako who was now conscious but holding her head in throbbing pain. Usagi clutched Mamoru to her chest even tighter.
Ami peered over Mamoru and changed the warm cloth on his forehead when his eyes fluttered open. Ami was awash with relief.
“Usagi. Usagi, he’s awake.”
Usagi tore her eyes off of Ami’s tattered legs and hair matted with blood and broken glass to look down at Mamoru. He was shivering a bit but smiled weakly up at her saying,
“Thank God! You’re still w-with us Usako.”
Usagi could not take anymore and her eyes spilled with tears. She carefully sat Mamoru up and hugged him tightly to her. The girls thought they would want to be alone so they helped Minako up and slowly left the room.
Usagi buried her head in Mamoru’s shoulder as he encircled his weak arms around her, stroking her hair. His worry increased when she began to rock back and forth, her crying intensifying into hysterical sobs. Alarmed, he held her firmly. Mamoru hated seeing her in pain but waited until the crying subsided before he spoke.
“Usako, sweetie, what’s wrong?”
When she didn’t answer Mamoru looked down to her face in panic, “Usako, what’s wrong? Are you hurt? Where? Where did he hurt you?!”
Usagi covered her mouth, “I’m hardly even scratched!” She choked out between sobs.
Mamoru listened intently as she continued, “Did you see Mamo-chan?”
“Di-Did you see Minako? Just hanging there? Now both of your powers are gone . . . oh God the screaming!”
Mamoru tenderly pulled her closer and held her tight.
“And the others,” strained Usagi, “they just threw themselves at the Kirikuma relentlessly and willingly because of me!”
Mamoru quickly noted that the Senshi were nowhere to be seen and observed the heavy splotches of blood on the hardwood floor, but he continued to listen.
“They got beaten and bloodied, and yet . . . they still tried to protect me!”
Mamoru’s mind reeled wondering what the hell happened to the Senshi.
“I was transformed!” Usagi continued, “but-but I was too exhausted, to slow in my actions. When I was about to attack they prevented me from it because they were still fighting for me!”
Mamoru tightened his embrace, “The Senshi, what happened to them?”
Usagi’s eyes teared up again, “They’re injured but helped you and Minako come to. They looked over us without even acknowledging their own wounds! And you all lost your powers because of me!”
Mamoru held her even tighter, tight enough without suffocating her and violently replied, “Don’t talk like that! None of this is your fault okay? None of it! We would all gladly risk our lives for you again and again.”
“It’s your duty!”
“No.” Stated Mamoru firmly, “that’s not the reason and you know it. We do this because we love you. We have seen you willingly sacrifice yourself numerous times for people that you don’t even know.”
She continued sobbing hysterically.
“Hey,” said Mamoru as he lifted her chin up to his face, “look at me. What if the roles were reversed? You and I both know that you would do the exact same thing for us.” She blinked and her tears dripped onto his sleeve.
“We love you Usako! We will fight to the death for you not because we have to or because it’s inscribed in our destiny, but because we love you and would rather die than live in a world without you in it.”
More tears escaped her eyes but this time she was smiling. He gave her a soft kiss and she enveloped her arms around him fiercely. Through her tears she whispered to him, “I’m sorry. I am so sorry that you’ve lost your powers through this!”
Mamoru’s face contorted upon feeling the emptiness inside him, “Don’t talk this way.”
“But,” whimpered Usagi, “I . . . I don’t know if I’m strong enough to-”
“Shhh,” he cooed, “you are the strongest person I know, bar none. And powerless or not, we will protect you until our last breath.”
They both remained on their knees embracing each other as if it was the last thing they would ever do.
Minako sat on the edge of Rei’s bed shivering every so often as Makoto gently pinned her hair up to take the weight of it off of her scalp. There was only one thought circling their minds; none of them had their powers now and Usagi was a sitting duck. Ami limped over and began making a splint for Minako’s fractured arm.
Minako smiled at Ami but then looked away darkly, “What are we going to do now?”
Rei finished bandaging her own arms and raised her head, “About Usagi?”
Minako nodded. They all realized how easy it was going to be for Prince Cirius to capture or even kill Usagi now that absolutely none of them could fully protect her.
“We have to protect her with everything we’ve got.” Stated Ami.
Makoto dropped her head into her hands, “This is maddening! We’re tired, injured, powerless, and now Usagi is completely unprotected as far as the rest of us go . . . I just . . .” Makoto rose from the bed and stomped over to the window trying to rid herself of pent up frustration.
Rei heaved a sigh, “Powerless or not, we have to keep a close eye on Usagi . . .” she looked up to the rest of them, “twenty-four hours a day if we have to.”
“We can take shifts,” offered Minako
“Six hours each,” suggested Ami, “and if Mamoru wants in, which I’m sure he will, just under five hours each . . . there’s only one problem with this.”
“Usagi,” sighed Makoto.
“She won’t like this at all,” stated Minako, “we know that she already feels guilty about us being her protectors in the first place.”
Rei stretched out her bruised legs, “She definitely won’t be happy about us watching her all day and night.”
“Then she won’t have to know.”
Startled, they whipped their heads towards the door at the sound of Mamoru’s voice. He closed it behind him silently.
“How’s Usagi?” All of them asked in unison.
Mamoru sat down on Rei’s desk chair, “She’s in the bathroom.” He exhaled deeply, “are you guys alright?”
They affirmed that they would be okay, but he glanced around and saw for himself that they were far from it. He shivered involuntarily.
“Are you alright Mamoru?” asked Rei.
He smiled, “It’s the withdrawal setting in, I’ve never felt so weak.” The smile slowly faded and without looking up he confessed, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you Minako.”
Minako, who held her arm carefully, did a double take, “Mamoru, don’t you dare hop on the guilt train too, absolutely no need for apology, things just happen as they happen.”
Mamoru nodded his head slowly, attempting to let go of the guilt. “Usako is really beating herself up over this. She believes this is all her fault.”
He saw each of them about to fire comments about how ridiculous that was when he cut them off, “You know and I know that it’s not true, but . . . you know Usako.” His voice lowered slightly, “so we each take five hour shifts guarding her. Be discreet and keep a fair distance. If any of us are with her on our own terms, all the better, but if not we watch her at all times.”
The girls nodded in understanding, eyes shining and resolute. Ami sat forward in mild pain, “Okay, I’ll take the first shift.”
Mamoru was about to interject but Ami wouldn’t let him, “I know you want to be first Mamoru, but you are suffering too much from withdrawal.” This silenced him momentarily so she continued, “what I’ve also noticed is that Prince Cirius is carefully orchestrating his attacks making sure that we get little to no sleep, which makes his job easier. So I suggest everyone get some sleep and when my shift is up, I’ll get some sleep. We need all the energy we can get if we’re going to protect Usagi the old fashioned way. Is everyone agreed?”
After a short walk Mamoru insisted on driving everyone home where they were sure to fall immediately asleep. The only two remaining in his car were Usagi and Ami. Mamoru pulled up in front of Usagi’s house and turned to study her in the passenger seat, thoroughly worried. Usagi was barely aware of her surroundings, her stricken face gazing listlessly through the window as if something far away called her attention. Mamoru caught her sullen reflection in the window knowing exactly why she was so miserable.
She didn’t turn to look at him, as if not hearing him at all.
Mamoru reached out to place a warm hand on her thigh. The moment he did that a tear slipped out of her eye.
Out of full respect and without needing the hint Ami slipped her earbuds in and cranked up the podcast she was listening to earlier, gazing out of the window in the back seat.
Mamoru held Usagi’s hand and waited silently for her to say something.
A few more tears fell as Usagi began, “Mamo-chan. I’m so sor-”
“Don’t you dare.” Warned Mamoru comfortingly.
She finally turned to face him, her miserable expression an unwelcome sight. Mamoru suddenly grabbed her and pulled Usagi into his chest whispering violently in her ear. “You never have to apologize to me or to any of us. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
Usagi sobbed quietly and Mamoru’s voice lowered, “It’s Prince Cirius who is to blame here.”
At the mention of their enemy’s name Mamoru was hit with the full realization that Usagi was truly wide open. None of them had the power to protect her. For the briefest moment Mamoru entertained the thought that Cirius would succeed and they would loose her forever. That fleeting thought paralyzed Mamoru with fear. He squeezed Usagi violently and kissed her on her temple. He couldn’t loose her. He wouldn’t.
Remembering that Ami was in the back seat he reluctantly let Usagi go and kissed her once more before she got out of the car. He watched her pass through the gate but the intense fear remained. He could not shake the looming sense of dread. If they lost her . . .
Mamoru derailed that train of thought since the implications of that scenario terrified him to death. He started the car and drove away to drop Ami off . . . or so Usagi thought. As he turned the corner Mamoru stopped the car and put it in park looking directly ahead all the while.
Ami delicately took out her earbuds as Mamoru furrowed his brow, shook his head and turned back to her.
“Ami, are you sure you don’t want me to take the first shift? You’re still in bad shape, you should go home and get some rest.”
Ami rolled her eyes with a smile, “Mamoru, I’ll make it through,” She caught him trembling again, “Well, at least I’m more up to it than you are; you are in no condition to take the first shift, you just lost your powers not an hour ago.”
Mamoru combed his shaky hands through his midnight hair and sighed, “I hate the fact that I know you’re right.”
By watching him through the rear view mirror she could tell exactly what he was going through. She looked down to her knees, “It’s an unbearable feeling, isn’t it?”
Mamoru closed his weary eyes for a moment, “I had no idea it would feel like this . . . I can barely stand it. I feel so empty and weak.”
Ami stared out the window, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this when we have nothing substantial to fight with,” she turned to him gravely, “I’m scared for her Mamoru. What if we can’t protect her?”
Through the rear view his unwavering eyes stared fiercely into hers, “We have to Ami. If that degenerate even tries to lay one, dirty finger on her I swear to God I will rip that man’s-”
He couldn’t continue for his nostrils flared and his hands balled up into tight fists. Ami could see the muscles in his arm ripple at the thought of causing Prince Cirius bodily harm.
Mamoru closed his eyes and attempted to release his sudden rage, “We have to protect her Ami. There is no way around it. We will not fail.”
Ami nodded with newfound hope then opened the door and got out of his car, “I’ll call you in five hours, try to get some rest.”
With Mamoru speeding off Ami quickly disappeared into a stranger’s backyard and worked her way up to the roof of their garage, deep in the shadows. She had the perfect vantage point to stalk Usagi’s window. She found a relatively good spot and was about to sit down when she froze. Ami knew that if she sat down she would be asleep in less than a minute. She sighed and looked at her watch. It was just after midnight and Ami started shifting from leg to leg.
She watched Usagi’s window from the rooftop shadows, “Only five more hours to go.”
Usagi exited the generic looking medical building where she had just finished her horrid dentist’s appointment to meet Luna who patiently waited outside. Usagi glanced down at her, “You know Luna, you didn’t have to wait for me.”
Luna gave the feline equivalent to a shrug, “Ah, I had nothing to do today anyways.”
Usagi walked on with an air of frustration when Luna looked up at her concerned, “Usagi? What’s the matter?”
She stopped in mid stride and twirled around exasperatedly, “What do you think is the matter Luna? It’s been over three weeks since we’ve last been attacked and not even the slightest thing has happened since! What is he waiting for?”
A group of people headed in their direction so Luna hopped up on her shoulder, “I know. The lack of activity is more than concerning. With everyone’s powers gone but yours I can’t think of any reason why Prince Cirius hasn’t come for you. The fact that nothing has happened doesn’t sit well with me . . . there must be a reason.”
Usagi flipped one of her pigtails over her shoulder while stealing a quick glance behind her, then suddenly picked up her pace. “He creeps me out Luna, and God knows what he plans on doing to me once he has me in his clutches.”
Luna dug her claws into Usagi’s shoulder, “Don’t talk that way Usagi, we won’t let him get you, it’s not going to happen.”
They arrived at the Tsukino house and entered through the gate. Luna rubbed her head reassuringly against Usagi’s neck, “Don’t worry . . . we’ll figure something out.”
Usagi locked the gate behind her and with her peripheral vision saw Rei duck into the shadows of the trees a few houses down. She let out a doleful sigh as she turned and entered the house. Luna bounded off for a catnap and Usagi glanced at the clock in the hallway, “It’s almost two, then it will be Mako’s turn to watch me.”
She had noticed her constant shadow two weeks ago and instantly knew that the others were taking turns following her around and watching her every move in case she was attacked. Whether she went to take out the garbage, grab a quick bowl of ramen, or go to the damned dentist, Usagi was constantly aware of one of her Senshi lurking around her. Of course Usagi hated it and had a good mind to order them back to their everyday business and not put themselves in danger for fear of what happened the last time, but she knew better. Usagi had not let on to anyone that she knew about her protection detail; it had taken the Senshi of the Moon a long time but she knew that no matter what she said or how many tantrums she threw, they would just do it anyway.
Nakura entered her bedroom with a heavy sigh and closed the door behind her. She and her brother had been all over Tokyo the past few weeks taking photographs of birds for their summer photography project, but Nakura had been holding off on the editing until now. She eagerly sat down at her bedroom desk and inserted the SD card into her laptop to upload all the pictures they had taken. Nakura knew she had captured some amazing shots and wanted to get them into Photoshop immediately and polish them to perfection. As she sifted through the photos her brown eyes paused on the sudden image of six people. After a confused moment Nakura suddenly remembered that she had taken the photo when a group of people burst out of the woods in Arisugawa Park looking for the Sailor Senshi. Nakura had hoped to get a picture of the infamous warriors, but got their seekers instead.
“I forgot I took this picture,” Nakura contemplated, “No need to keep it though.”
She right clicked on the image with the cursor hovering over the ‘delete’ button when she strangely hesitated, scrutinizing the photo yet again. Something about it seemed familiar, but she didn’t know why. It looked innocent enough; the tall, dark haired man stood in the middle with the pigtailed blonde on his right arm and the raven-haired girl to her right. On the man’s left side stood the paler blonde, the tall, brown haired one, and the wet, blue haired girl. She released the mouse and leaned back in her chair, eyes boring into the image onscreen. Something about this picture tugged at her memory, as if she had seen it somewhere before . . . but where?
Nakura returned to the fact that they had been looking for the Sailor Senshi that morning. It was revealed later that day that there were reports of an unnatural disturbance in the park that drew the Sailor Senshi out very late that night. Even the police were unable to investigate because the park was shrouded in unnatural darkness. Like the majority of people in Tokyo Nakura was fascinated with the mysterious and supernatural Sailor Senshi. There were growing networks of people dedicated to uncovering the mystery behind the Senshi, working to discover anything they could about them since barely anything was known, besides the fact that they fought for love and justice.
Even though it hadn’t been technically proven, the Senshi were credited with the mysterious end to every devastatingly supernatural event that threatened to end humanity over the past few years. Nakura sifted through memories of stormy, darkened skies, gigantic crystal UFO’s, children going missing around the world, people loosing themselves in their reflections, etcetera, etcetera. Her gaze migrated back to the computer and she promptly opened her browser after glancing at the picture once more, “Maybe they’re from the Tokyo S.S.S.G. (Sailor Senshi Scout Group) and that’s where I’ve seen them before.”
She found the S.S.S.G.’s homepage and inspected their group photograph. No match. The S.S.S.G. devoted themselves to finding the Sailor Senshi; they tapped into the police broadband, went to their battle sites if they could learn even that, and more. Nakura spotted the ‘News Archive’ link and clicked on it. The most recent blog post talked about a current Sailor Senshi absence, which had been known to happen from time to time, due to reasons that were not quite clear. Nakura’s attention span faltered, realizing that she was procrastinating. She was a heartbeat away from exiting her search to get back to work when a bright red link caught her attention.
It read, ‘Gallery’.
Nakura clicked on it to reveal a database of only five thumbnails with an excerpt claiming that these were the only pictures ever taken of the Sailor Senshi because they had proven to be the most difficult group to photograph. Apparently, the images never turned out well for reasons, again, not quite understood. Four of the five were terrible; they were always too far away to make out anything substantial, or they were of random limbs or pieces of clothing. However, one photograph stood out. It had the caption, ‘The Only Direct Photo of the S.S’. It went on to say that the Senshi appear to have some sort of disguise magic that blur their heads if captured on film or photograph.
Once Nakura enlarged the picture a heavy weight dropped into her stomach. Her eyes widened the longer she stared at it and her heart thumped intensely as she glanced from the picture online to the picture she had taken. The online picture was dated two years prior when someone was lucky enough to catch them in the few precious moments after a battle. It was true. There was absolutely no detail above the neck, ensuring their heads were oddly, but successfully blurred. Though it wasn’t their faces that gave Nakura such alarm . . . it was the layout. The Senshi photograph had Tuxedo Kamen standing in the middle with Sailor Moon leaning into him on his right; Sailor Mars stood nonchalantly on Moon’s right hand side while Sailor’s Venus, Jupiter and Mercury stood on Kamen’s left.
With a shaky hand Nakura took the cursor and dragged the photo she took right next to the other one, her eyes darting back and forth between the two. Their heights, body types, the order in which they were standing, and each individual pose were exactly the same. What were the odds of that? She then remembered what the second group of stalkers from the woods had said.
“I didn’t see anybody else looking but us, did you?”
Nakura emitted a low gasp. There was no mistake. Nakura knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the people she had captured on camera were the Sailor Senshi.
A few seconds following her discovery the importance of her find began to sink in. She was most likely sitting on the most shocking discovery of their times, the civilian identities of mysterious warriors that appeared out of nowhere and could wield powers beyond human understanding. In her shocked state Nakura rummaged through her desk for her flash drive and shoved it into the computer. She saved both photographs under a new folder she labeled ‘S.S’, then nervously pulled the flash drive out of the terminal to thrust it in her pencil case, deleting all evidence from her computer. Nakura quickly closed her browser and sat there overwhelmed. She couldn’t believe what she had found, but the question now surfacing in her head was, ‘who were they?’ And if she found out, what was she going to do about it?
Minako felt temporarily energetic and refreshed. She had just left the recreation centre where she had played pick-up volleyball for five hours straight. She and the rest of the Senshi had emerged from the withdrawal stage and were trying anything they could think of to naturally increase their energy. Minako hurriedly crossed the street towards their favourite local restaurant where the girls were meeting for teppanyaki. She spotted them easily when they waved her over to their table. Minako sat down and dove seamlessly into conversation.
Nakura sat at the wrap-around counter eating in silence while staring at the Senshi a few tables away. After studying the picture long enough Nakura recognized the blue haired girl, and it didn’t take long for her to remember her name. Mizuno Ami, the genius of Tokyo rumoured to have an I.Q. over three hundred. The entire Japanese academic world knew of her, it was impossible not to, she was every student’s ideal.
By using methods she wasn’t too proud of, Nakura discovered where Ami lived then followed her to the restaurant and was astonished when Ami met with the other Senshi. Even though Nakura had time to deal with the shock of her discovery she couldn’t help but stare at them in complete awe. They just looked so . . . well . . . normal. Nakura watched them laugh, bicker, and talk, all the while thinking about what they were capable of and what they had done. Nakura subconsciously abandoned ‘stealth-mode’ and gawked at them openly.
The one who was Sailor Mars (Rei, she had learned from eavesdropping) eerily looked up from her food to glance at Nakura with slightly suspicious eyes. Nakura immediately became enraptured with what the chefs were doing. Rei seemed to dismiss whatever she had felt and shifted her attention back to her friends.
Cursing her lack of control Nakura quietly fished out her laptop. As she sat there listening Nakura typed in their names as she heard them, along with the name of some guy she assumed to be Tuxedo Kamen due to the loving way Usagi spoke about him. Nakura kept straining to hear anything Senshi related but should have known better since the restaurant was very crowded; they probably wouldn’t risk talking about that where they could be easily overheard. She watched them finish their meal, pay, and leave. Not soon after, Nakura did the same and made her way to her friend’s house to finish a school assignment, all the while wondering how in God’s name Sailor Moon (Usagi) could pack that much food into her body.
Nakura sat cross-legged on her friend’s bedroom floor with her computer secure in her lap. She was diligently preparing a PowerPoint presentation for their Solar System project that was due next term while her friend and project partner sat on the bed with her own laptop compiling their research.
“Hiromi?” Asked Nakura, glancing up, “I’m missing pictures of the Earth-Moon system.”
Hiromi’s face peeked above her laptop, her medium length, light brown curls falling behind her shoulders, “Are you sure that we need all that stuff? I mean, we live on Earth, isn’t there enough information on it already?”
Nakura frowned, “It’s still apart of the Solar System isn’t it? I really need to bring my grades up so I think we should cover everything.”
Hiromi just shrugged, “Okay. I have all the images here. Check the cloud in a second.”
Nakura suddenly felt the pressure in her bladder increase sharply and stood up. “I gotta use the bathroom, I’ll check it in a minute.”
“Sure, but before you go, do you know where our research for the rings of Saturn are? For some reason I’m missing it here.” She said while toggling like crazy.
Nakura was halfway out the door when she replied back shifting from one leg to the next in urgency, “I dunno, check my flash drive, it’s in my pencil case.” Then darted down the hallway.
Hiromi crawled over and grabbed the case. When she connected the flash drive to her computer a slew of files made themselves known. She skimmed them over and located the file she was looking for.
“Aha!” Hiromi exclaimed as she directed the cursor to the file labeled ‘S.S.’ “Solar System,” she recited and double clicked.
Two photographs popped up with a page of written information. Hiromi leaned closer, “What is this?”
She glanced from one picture to the next and read the caption. Once she comprehended what she was looking at Hiromi let out a small, deep gasp. She was staring at the identities of the Sailor Senshi! How did Nakura figure all of this out?! She continued to scroll down and read the following in rapid sequence:
Sailor Moon = Tsukino Usagi
Sailor Mercury = Mizuno Ami
Sailor Mars = Hino Rei
Sailor Jupiter = Kino Makoto
Sailor Venus = Aino Minako
Tuxedo Kamen = Chiba Mamoru
Sailor Uranus = ?
Sailor Neptune = ?
Sailor Pluto = ?
Sailor Saturn = ?
More information followed about where they lived and went to school along with other little tidbits. As the gravity of the momentous find sunk into Hiromi’s brain she was forced to gain control of herself when she heard the toilet flush. Without thinking she made a copy of the file to her computer, ejected Nakura’s flash drive, then put it back in the pencil case and back on the floor. As she returned to sit on her bed Hiromi debated what to say to Nakura when the girl in question opened the door and walked in. Nakura settled back onto the floor and looked up to her project partner.
“Did you get what you needed?”
Hiromi was about to question her friend relentlessly about how and why she knew what she knew when Hiromi mysteriously smiled and said, “Yea, thanks, I got all the info I need.”
The girls continued to work away.
After they were done for the day Hiromi closed the door behind Nakura and locked it securely. She rushed back to her room and opened the file again to scrutinize every last detail. It still amazed her. She knew who the Sailor Senshi were! She had even recognized two of them! One was the genius girl, famous throughout Tokyo, and the other was that Shinto Priestess that lived at Hikawa Jinja. She had even bought a love charm from her once! As she reeled over the information her eyes caught on a stack of news and celebrity gossip magazines piled on her desk. She practically had trouble keeping up with her thoughts as Hiromi mulled over her dads recent lay off from his job, and the death of her mother three years prior. Her family was in deep financial trouble and she knew her father was on his way to steady alcoholism. If Hiromi handled this properly she could make copious amounts of cash from this accidental discovery and bring her father out of his depression.
Hiromi bit her finger as feelings of alarm and guilt washed over her. Was it the right thing to do? Was there a good reason for keeping something like this secret? She sighed in confusion, wondering why those feelings came over her when Hiromi saw her father stumble by her room, a bottle of scotch in hand. Her face stiffened with resolve as she promptly opened her browser typing in the search bar:
‘Japan, National, Media, News, Radio, Television’ then grabbed the cordless phone.