Echoes of a Distant Demon

by Sailor Doc

~ Chapter Six ~

"So. This is where you've been hiding!" Venus snapped as she stormed into the senshi's private wardroom. "I thought I had made it abundantly clear that you were to wait for me after practice was over so that I could speak with you about your attitude! Do you not understand proper Lunarian?" the senshi leader demanded angrily, coming to a stop in the middle of the room.

Continuing her silent contemplation of the second bright planet from the sun on the wall sized map of the solar system that graced the entire back wall of the impressive room, she refused to turn around and acknowledge in any way, shape, or form the other woman's presence in the room. Or her anger.

"Have you lost your tongue as well as you manners?" Venus demanded, and she gritted her teeth at the insult. Clenching and unclenching her fist, she still refused to turn around or speak to the golden haired woman standing behind her, knowing that to do so could be disastrous.

"Well then," the senshi leader continued, “if that's the way you want it, that will be fine with me! You can just stand there and listen to what I have to say! There has been something going on with you for the last month and a half, Mars, and I want to know what it is!"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said darkly, turning her head to look further down the length of the huge wall map.

"Don't be coy," Venus snapped. "We've all seen it. You're not the same person you were when you first came here six months ago. We're worried about you, Mars! We care for you very much and have taken you into our family and our hearts! But, we can't help you if you won't trust us," she said, almost pleading with her.

"I do trust you!" she said, looking quickly at the other girl. "It's just..."

"Just what?" Venus asked, sensing a breakthrough with the stubborn young woman.

Looking away again, she had continued softly, "It's just that I don't trust myself." And then she turned her back to gaze once again at that same golden world, her walls starting to go back up.

Frustrated, Venus said, "Oh. Well then. I guess I'm just supposed to live with that cryptic statement, is that right?"

She shrugged her shoulders and refused to look back at the other woman. That had been a mistake.

"Well sorry, but that answer was just totally inadequate!" Venus said, her icy calm words and manner in sharp contrast to the trembling in her light frame that betrayed just how upset she really was. "Who do you think you are, showing up here and playing at being a member of our team, then just coming and going as you please with the silly excuse of 'I just don't trust myself!'"

"Venus," she said through gritted teeth, her fists clenched and her shoulders as tense as a spring. "I'm warning you."

"Oh really?” came the cold, mocking voice.

"Don't push me," she said, her voice low and threatening.

"Or what?" Venus asked. "You'll ignore me to death?"

"I may tell you more than you want to know," she answered, her eyes dark and foreboding as they looked at her leader from under the dark fall of her bangs.

"Well, isn't that refreshing? Please! Enlighten me," the beautiful Venusian Princess mocked lightly, her chin rising in defiance. "Tell me! Tell me why you're late to practice everyday? Tell me why you leave as soon as you can, without even saying goodbye! Tell me why you rarely come to eat with us anymore and why you never sit with me when you do? Tell me why I never see you in the palace or on the grounds anymore, unless you're on watch, or the Princess specifically requests your presence! Tell me why you avoid me at every turn, and go out of your way to be as far away from me as you can possibly get! I thought you were my friend, as well as my teammate, Mars! I thought you enjoyed spending time together! What happened? Can you just tell me what happened?"

Spinning on her heel, she began to advance menacingly toward the other woman. "Are you sure you really want to know?" she asked, her molten eyes flashing a warning.

"Yes," Venus demanded, looking her directly in those eyes. "I think I deserve an answer."

"Are you sure you can handle it?" She warned one last time, never breaking her now determined pace as she moved ever closer.

"I can handle anything you care to dish out,” Venus replied with a tilt of her chin, refusing to back down an inch.

"I hope so," she said, as without hesitation she took the astonished beauty into her fiercely passionate embrace and claimed full possession of her lips. She had caught Venus completely off guard with the ferocity of emotions which seemed to completely wash over both of them like a living river of fire. Caught in the unyielding currents that swirled over and through them, they had both willingly been swept away in its wake.

It was even more wonderful than she had imagined it would be for all those long, lonely weeks, but she had known from the first moment she had seen Minako that she had lost her heart. It was no longer in her keeping. Once over the initial shock of what was happening, she was elated to feel the other girl relax into her arms, and return her kisses with abandon.

Reluctantly pulling back from those soft, warm lips, she took a shaky breath, and asked, “Does that answer your questions?"

Barely managing a nod in the affirmative, Minako had tried to reclaim her lips, but she had pulled away playfully.

"You're really sure?" she queried with a small, lightly teasing smile. "I mean, if you still have questions..."

A single finger placed across her lips silenced her, and she looked into a smiling face, a light blush shading delicately sculpted cheeks and laughing eyes.

"You talk too much,” Minako said with a lazy smile, and, closing her eyes, she pulled her once again to her eager mouth.

And she had seen eternity stretch out before them...

___________________________________________________________

 

"Caw! Caw!"

The call of the crows in the trees overhead was a welcome sound to Rei as she stepped out on the shaded porch behind her quarters at the shrine. Moving to the edge, she looked up into the trees before calling out.

"Phobos! Deimos!"

The leaves rustled sharply as two of the large, black birds descended to the ground in front of her and waited expectantly, shifting restlessly back and forth as they looked up at her with bright, black eyes.

Taking a seat on the edge of the porch, Rei reached into the folds of her robe and pulled out a bag of birdseed, throwing a couple of handfuls to her companions. Watching silently as they dug into their treat, she took comfort in their soothing presence.

It had been a rough couple of days.

After her conversation with Artemis, Rei had found herself oddly agitated. 'What's wrong with her?' she'd wondered as she continued to sit quietly on the stones along the path to the archery range. 'Why is she wasting all this time? Again?' she'd thought, fuming, her hand clenching and unclenching around the bow.

She had sat there for several hours, turning the problem over and over again in her mind. 'Why does the girl have to be so stubborn? Why can't she, for once, just listen to me?' Unable to come up with any workable answers, and knowing she would not be able to concentrate on her practice any longer, Rei had decided she needed to step away from the situation for awhile and cool down. Rising, she had moved back up the path toward the shrine and the calming tranquility of the fire room. Maybe some contemplative meditation would help her regain her center and then the answers she sought would come to her.

Unfortunately, the walk back to the shrine had not started to calm her restlessness. Instead, the closer she got to the fire room, the more agitated she’d become. 'What is this feeling,’ she’d thought, her steps slowing as she neared the sacred room. 'It's not the same as the problem with Minako... it's something entirely different...'

Climbing the steps up onto the shaded porch, she had moved forward slowly toward the open doorway of the fire room. Then, suddenly, even as she’d approached the threshold, the vision had seemed to leap from the flames at the center of the room and directly into her face.

'Minako!'

The force and intensity of it had staggered her, and she had reached out and grabbed the doorframe to keep from falling to the floor. Eyes riveted to the fire, she had searched for details.

Dimly, she had seen them. There were twelve of them. Most seemed pretty harmless, just simple minded souls who were easily led. But there had been one… ‘The leader,’ she’d thought. He was evil. He meant harm, and the others would be too weak to resist him.

'What does he want?' she’d wondered.

They were at the stadium. She had seen the packed stands, the energetic performers on stage, and there, at the center of it all, was Minako, directing stagehands, encouraging the company, and smiling happily through it all. She was in her element.

"He wants her!" she’d rasped out through clenched teeth.

Then she had seen it, almost like a picture spread out before her. He wanted the money he would get from the robbery, sure. But foremost in his twisted mind, he wanted her. To own her. To possess her, body and soul. To debase her in a manner so vile, Rei almost retched in revulsion. And when he had tired of her?

"He'll kill her,” she’d whispered, eyes still riveted to the horrifying vision before her.

A surge of emotions had risen up from within her with a suddenness and violence she'd never felt before. Scrambling through the door, she had bolted down the steps of the shrine as if the hounds of hell had been nipping at her heels. Out in the street, she had begun running like a woman possessed, the long bow still gripped compulsively in her hand, the quiver of arrows bouncing against her back, her face a portrait of furious determination.

Resting her cheek on her hand, Rei watched pensively as the birds ate, and idly tossed another handful of seed to them as she contemplated what happened next.

As she had run that twenty or so blocks to the stadium, she had been aware of three distinct emotions warring for dominance within her: panic, fear, and anger. Panic, because she knew the danger was very real and it was immediate. Fear, that like before, she would be too late, unable to stop Minako's untimely death. And anger. Boiling, violent anger that circumstances seemed to once again be attempting to take something- no, someone- very important away from her. First it had been her mother, ripped away when she had really needed her most. Then her father, for he might as well have been dead for all the attention he had given her over the years. Then it was Minako. And that had almost killed her. She could not go through that again.

'You can't have her... I won't let you!' she'd seethed as she pounded down the sidewalk, the stadium drawing ever closer. 'How dare you try to take her away... to touch her... to harm her... she belongs to me!'

As odd as that last thought had been, she had not been prone to dwell on it at the time. Barely even breathing hard, she’d hardly broken stride as she had begun the steep descent into the dark, dimly lit parking garage. Just as she had entered, she’d heard a gunshot ring out. Fighting down the surge of panic that followed, she’d closed her eyes and centered her thoughts on Minako. Immediately, she had felt that bright life force. The idol singer was unharmed, but something terrible had just happened. Squaring her shoulders, Rei had begun to move forward again with determined strides.

Led by instinct and a knowledge she had never fully understood, she had gone directly to the third level. In her mind's eye she had clearly seen his blue CRV, and as she strode purposely passed it, her only thought had been that he would never see it again, because by now she had made up her mind.

If she had to, she would kill him.

To protect her Mina.

Taking a deep breath, Rei lifted her eyes and looked out over the beauty of the lush, green gardens, her face a stoic mask. She felt none of the serenity she usually experienced in this familiar place, at this familiar time of day, with these oh, so familiar and comfortable companions. Instead, she saw again the filth of that dirty garage, and smelled the gas and stale oil of the small, dark space she had been in that day.

Approaching an intersection, she had paused as she heard a second gunshot, not too far away this time. It had been immediately followed by a blood-curdling scream of agony, and Rei had known that this was the place she needed to be. Closing her eyes, she’d come to a complete stop, focusing only on who she was and what she needed to do. Automatically, she had begun the age-old movements that prepared the archer for their task. There had been a soothing calmness to the familiar routine, each movement painstakingly choreographed and controlled. The flexibility of her wrist, the precise angle of her thumb, the rhythmic serenity of the air as it flowed through her body... in, then out... in, then out...

Slowly, in one smooth, fluid motion, she had raised the bow and drawn the arrow to its full extension. There she had frozen, knowing she could stand in that position for hours if she had to. The sounds and smells around her had begun to fade away, and, eyes still closed, she had become aware only of her breathing... in, then out... in, then out...

Her senses had flared and her eyes had flown open. It was time.

Eyes riveted to the corner she expected them to come around, she had steeled herself against whatever it was she might see or hear when they first appeared.

Then suddenly, they were there.

He had stopped in his tracks when he had first seen her, as she had expected he would, so she had issued her order then, knowing she had his undivided attention.

"Let her go."

Seeing him at that moment, up close and personal, had only confirmed what the fire had already revealed to her. He was unbelievably evil. She had seen it bubbling forth from him like a festering ooze. Things he had done. Things he would do. His hands had been on Minako, his body pressed tightly against her back. She had seen Minako’s hair moving from the closeness of his breath against her delicate face, and she had felt her own blood begin to boil in fury.

Blocking all else from her mind, she had set her focus on this man and him alone. All other sights and sounds she tuned out, never hearing the crowd of people that had entered the area, or the police trying to control them. Never seeing the flashes of the many cameras, or the paramedics trying to get around the mayhem to whatever horror this man had left behind him further down the corridor. She’d focused on him. His body. His hands. His face. His voice. His breathing. His eyes. At one point she had become dimly aware of Minako speaking to her, but she hadn’t allowed herself to be distracted at that moment, even by her. Both of their lives had been depending on her ability to keep centered, to stay focused, to be as finely tuned to that animal as she could possibly be, knowing that if she didn't pounce a split second before he did, Minako would surely die.

'In, then out... in, then out...'

She’d lost all track of time, which, after all, had lost importance to her. She’d been aware of him babbling. Some drivel with plenty of threats, she’d been sure, as he’d seemed to be waving his gun around a lot. Then he’d just pointed it at her, and that was fine, because it wasn't pointed at Mina anymore.

'In, then out... in, then out...'

She had no idea how long they'd stood there like that. She really didn't care either. Then, suddenly, he’d dropped his gun arm, seeming to relax, and had begun to speak again. She hadn’t bought it. She had seen his heart, and it was black. He’d still had the gun in his hand, he’d still had the knife to Minako's throat, and he’d still been hiding behind her like the cowardly bastard he was.

Unwaveringly, she hadn’t relaxed her stance.

'In, then out... in, then out...'

He had raised the gun again, this time caressing Minako's hair with it, and Rei had known that was it. As he had first pressed the barrel against her temple, she had released her arrow and exhaled, automatically notching the next with a practiced ease born from hours spent on the archery range.

He had seemed surprised at first, as if he had never expected she would actually fire her bow. Then, he had fallen to his knees and, struggling, made one last attempt to look up at her, his mouth working as he tried to get out one last, vile thought. But, in this too, he’d failed, and she had watched emotionlessly as he’d toppled forward onto the filthy cement floor, and died like the vermin he was.

Standing, Rei walked slowly over to the corner of the porch and leaned against the sturdy strength of the corner post. Resting her cheek against the rough timber, she struggled to find the inner strength to deal with the two truths that had been revealed to her that day. About herself. About who she was and what she really felt about things.

She had killed a man.

It was true. She had killed him, and had gone after him knowing full well that it was her intention to do so. She had hunted him down and shot him dead without the slightest hesitation... and Kami help her, she felt absolutely no remorse for her actions at all. Clenching her jaw, Rei thought of all the soulless youma she had wiped out as Sailormars, and so help her, she was sure that anyone of them had possessed more redeeming qualities than he had. No, she was sure she had done the world a favor by removing him from the gene pool.

The police must have thought so, too, as they had very politely and respectfully taken her to their headquarters, questioned her quite extensively for several hours, and then released her with the knowledge that she had just taken out # 4 on Interpol's most wanted list. The reward she received would benefit the shrine and the surrounding area for many years to come, and she had received the gratitude of the entire international community.

That had been a shock in itself, and still...

She had been concerned about her lack of remorse. Returning to the shrine, she had been only vaguely aware of the media circus that had sprung up outside the actual grounds of the shrine, or the way that the monks had enclosed her within their very protective circle. She had sequestered herself in her rooms, searching deep within her heart for some scrap of feeling and emotion for the lost soul whose life she had snuffed out so easily. In time, she had found the answer in a truth she could live with. His soul had never been lost to begin with. It was exactly where he had taken it, and together they had gone on a voyage into mindless destruction. She had merely stepped in to end the journey.

Turning, Rei picked up a broom and walked back down the porch and out onto the walkway that led to the stone garden. There, she began to sweep with long, sure strokes.

She honestly had not dwelt on Nakano very long, as troubling as that had been. She was much more concerned with the second truth. She paused, still looking down at the walkway directly in front of her sandaled feet, and felt the first drops of sweat trickle past her chin and fall to the ground there.

'Minako.'

As she had stood looking down at Nakano, she had become acutely aware that she was being watched. She had looked up quickly in case there was another threat she hadn't been aware of before. Her eyes had immediately locked onto Minako's, and time had stood still. Gazing across that small space, she had fallen into warm, caramel colored eyes, and in that moment known that she was lost. Transfixed, she’d tried to comprehend all that she could see swirling in their rich, brown depths. Fear, most definitely. Relief, no doubt! Concern for her, which touched her a great deal, and... love?

Love?

Suddenly, the memories had started to come back to her. Playful times, when they had teased each other. Serious times, when the protection of the realm was paramount. Competitive times, when they had gone one-on-one against each other, and laughed at their attempts to top each other. And private times, when the whole of the universe had gone away, and there was only them, and the love they gave to each other.

In the blink if an eye, all those shadowy dreams that had haunted her for years had a face. An achingly beautiful face, as real, as animate as her own, and she had stood there and drunk in all the raw emotions she could see buried within the warmth of those eyes like a woman finally home from days lost, wandering in the dessert.

Then, into the silence that had become their refuge, she had said it. Just one word.

"Reiko."

The name had nearly shattered her.

Tearing her eyes and thoughts away from Minako, she had focused instead on the bow she still held, as if she'd never seen it before. Then, she had turned and taken a good look at what she had done. As she’d taken in the bloody mess crumpled up on the filthy floor of the garage, she had become aware of the racket of the frenzied crowd and the unending flashes from what seemed to be hundreds of cameras. She had known there would be consequences for her actions.

She hadn’t been afraid.

Turning on her heel, she had headed directly toward the first group of police officers she saw.

"Rei!"

She had heard Minako call out to her, and something deep inside compelled her to stop and go back. She had paused, and almost turned, but then she had steeled herself, and continued toward the officers, who had been beckoning to her.

"Rei!"

Rei looked up as she heard a rustling in the leaves overhead and saw the familiar shapes of Phobos and Deimos settling into the branches of the trees near her. Looking into oddly intelligent eyes, Rei smiled against the sudden clenching of her gut as she remembered the desperation in Minako's voice as she had called to her that last time. It had been so hard to walk away from her, but...

It had been the right thing to do.

'Minako.'

Moving under the shade of the sheltering trees, she leaned her broom against the trunk, and settled onto the stone bench there.

She had always known she preferred the company of women, even before she had learned of her past life as Sailormars. She had even confirmed to Usagi years ago that she was 'that kind of girl,’ but she had never really pursued the inclination. Somehow, no one she had ever met had moved her to the point of making a move or asking them out, but...

Minako?

Aino Minako?

Frowning, Rei thought about the unlikelihood of any kind of a romantic relationship with the popular idol singer. She wasn't even exactly sure what she felt about her.

"She drives me crazy!" she mumbled, leaning back against the broad trunk of the tree. Hands behind her head, she continued to ponder just what it was she did feel for the stubborn young woman.

It had been abundantly clear to her what Mars had felt for her, she thought, a light blush coming unbidden to her cheeks, but that was then! At least a thousand years ago! It couldn't affect her now, could it?

Looking upward through the canopy of trees overhead, Rei searched for answers. Most of the time, all she had to do was hear Minako's voice or see her face somewhere, and it was like a spark was lit somewhere deep inside her that flared to life only for her. At times, she made her so angry she felt as if she could melt lead with her bare hands! But no matter what, when they were together…

She felt more alive than at any other times she could think of, and no one, no one, had ever had that effect on her. It was undeniable. It was as if her mere presence fed the inner fire of her soul.

'But is it love?'

"I don't know," Rei whispered to the wind. But what else could it be?

And who did she think she was fooling?

Angrily, Rei stood up and turned away from the footpath to look out over the perfection of the stone garden below her. Placing a hand against the trunk of the old tree, she leaned against it slightly as she studied the simple beauty of the garden's design, using its intricate swirls and dips to clear her troubled mind and regain some perspective, totally missing the alarmed cries of her crows as they lifted off in startled flight above her.

Unable to concentrate, she leaned her head wearily against the strength of the tree. "I just can't deal with this right now," she groaned. "I need time to think!"

"So..." came the quiet, yet oh, so familiar voice. "Is this a bad time then?"

Nearly coming out of her skin, Rei turned around so fast she almost fell, except for her quick grip on the solid strength of the old tree.

"Minako?" she asked though suddenly dry lips. "What are you doing here?"

END PART SIX