A wide circle of light illuminated the blue-grey floor of the Dark Kingdom's throne room. In its centre stood queen Beryl's throne, an imposing stone affair whose high back ended in a flower-shaped stone arrangement, which in turn formed the bottom of an even larger sculpture whose undefined features gave the impression of hollow eye sockets and curved fangs. None of the courtiers skulking around in the shadows just outside the brighter area was paying attention to the imposing architecture though. The two figures standing within the circle of light, at a respectful distance to the red-headed queen, were much more interesting, though perhaps 'standing' was too generous an expression to describe the left figure's posture.

The blond man was slouching deeply, with his hands on his knees and his head lowered. From time to time, an uncontrollable spasm went through one of his limbs, and thin streamers of smoke rose from his singed uniform, very visible in the bright illumination provided by the multiple spotlights trained on the pair. To his right stood a grey-skinned youma, obviously female in her clinging, slitted green dress. A reptilian tail was swinging left and right like a pendulum in obvious excitement. In stark contrast to her companion, the female stood ramrod-straight as she reported on recent events. "... gone well with the energy harvest, I was preparing the next energy-draining packagings for the crates, when suddenly..."

The square of night sky in the open window of the warehouse was suddenly obstructed by something for a moment. Within an aisle formed by the rows of crates, a red-headed woman who had been in the process of stamping various packaged goods with a cursed seal looked up. Strange, she could have sworn that window was closed before.

"Stop right there!"

Okay, the pigtailed figure in a short fuku was definitely new and unwelcome.

"I'm the sailor warrior of love and justice! Sailor Moon!" the intruder introduced herself, making weird gestures with her hands. "Household appliances should be used to avoid work, not steal energy! In the name of the Moon, I will punish you!"

The enemy! Youma Mareki immediately discarded her human guise. Long red hair turned into stringy green bristles, her body structure became taller and more angular, and a grey tail snaked out from under her green dress. The opponent seemed taken aback by the transformation. An opportunity! With a standing jump, the monster cleared the five metre height difference between herself and the would-be heroine, who had obviously thought herself safe and out of reach on higher ground. Eyes widened in shock and both arms held high to protect her face, Sailor Moon stumbled backward, barely avoiding the youma's double-handed downward blow that shook the entire stack of crates. Crouched on the ground like a stalking tiger, the youma unhinged her jaw, revealing two long, snake-like fangs protruding from her upper gums. A ferocious blast of water shot from her throat. The blonde in the blue sailor fuku let out a frightened "Eeep!" and fell over backwards, slow enough that the stream of water still clipped her trailing pigtails and drenched them.

"Fire Soul!" Suddenly, the murk of the warehouse was banished by a hellish glow that shifted all colours to an orange-red spectrum. Mareki whirled around. An ambush! The seeming incompetence of her attacker had been bait! But she wouldn't fall this easily! A torrent of water shot from her maw, over the deep trenches formed by the alleys between the ordered piles of crates, intercepting the incoming fireball. With a deafening hissing noise, both projectiles cancelled each other out, and the resulting wall of steam hid Mareki's red-skirted attacker from her sight. Catching movement from the corner of her eye, the youma pirouetted on one clawed foot, extending her tail like a whip as she did. Just in time too, as Sailor Moon had been going for her tiara. The tail slap caught the girl in the stomach and sent her flying. The blonde hit the ground with a satisfying hollow sounding thud and continued rolling over, losing her grip on the tiara. With a squeak of surprise, the super-heroine went over the edge of the platform formed by stacked crates. Mareki could see white-gloved fingers holding on desperately to the wooden ledge. She still couldn't see her other attacker through the obscuring steam, so she swept her breath weapon over the general direction of her adversary in a wide arc before hurriedly walking into the pig-tailed girl's direction.

Sailor Moon could hear the footsteps of the monster echoing through the warehouse as it made a beeline for her, and held on to the edge of the crate she was hanging from. Her fingers were already tiring, and she couldn't find purchase on the slippery surface of the stack with her feet. Then the youma stood over her, a grey misshapen silhouette of malice, its mouth widened into a sadistic grin as it lifted one scaly foot to bring it down on her fingers. Sailor Moon's efforts became more frantic, and one of her kicks hit the gap between the box she was hanging on and the one it was resting on. The jolt was enough to upset the precarious balance of crate, youma, and dangling girl, and as if in slow motion, it began to topple toward the alley. "Uh oh."

Hearing a loud crash, followed by the noise of more masses sliding and wood bursting open, Sailor Mars took a risk and raced through the dissipating steam cloud, jumping over one of the narrow alleys in the process, and landed on the stack Sailor Moon had been fighting the youma. A funnel-shaped gap was toward its far edge, and she could hear the tinkling of some appliances shifting. A sawdust-smelling cloud was rising over the location of the slide. Worried for her friend, the senshi stepped up to the edge of the avalanche, and peered down. Sitting on top of a mound of broken boxes and packages, the girl in question looked back up. On the ground, a scaly grey arm poked out from under the pile, unmoving.

"Good job securing the youma," Sailor Mars grudgingly commented after closing her jaw with an audible click. Sailor Moon gave a half-hearted smile and tried to stealthily rub her backside. Owie.

"... found myself tied to a chair, covered in prayer strips, and valiantly resisted vilest tortures as the enemy tried to interrogate me..."

Mareki struggled against her bonds. The damnable prayer strips sticking to her body were paralysing her and preventing her from accessing her powers. She seemed to be stuck on a chair. Her captors, both only visible as dim fuku-clad silhouettes, had somehow procured a lamp and were pointing it at her.

"All right! Turn it on, Sailor Mars."

Click. Blinding light flooded the youma's eyes, making it hard to see anything at all.

"Eww! Ugly! Turn it off again!"

"No. Stop being such a crybaby!"

Mareki fumed. Ugly, was she? What were those girls trying to do, anyway? The youma cautiously tested the knots holding her wrists together. Ha! Amateurs!

"Soldiers, remember what we are here for," sounded a much put-upon third voice from behind the bound youma.

A third enemy? That could be bad. She was probably screwed if Jadeite didn't show up soon, even if she was making good progress on loosening the ropes.

"Right," the pig-tailed blonde nodded, and stepped forward, leaning over Mareki. Which, given that the youma had already demonstrated her ability to unleash a stream of wall-denting water from her mouth when she wasn't affected by wards, didn't speak too highly of the girl's intelligence. "Tell us what you have done with Sailor Mercury!"

"Ha! I'll never turn traitor to the Dark Kingdom!" the youma spat immediately. All she needed was to wait until Jadeite showed up to collect today's harvest.

"Are you saying that you are completely useless to us?" the unknown third voice added with a dangerous undertone. "All right then. Sailor Mars, dispose of-"

"Wait! Wait! I'll talk! What do you want to know?"

"Where is Sailor Mercury?" the senshi in the blue fuku repeated.

Mareki recognised that name. "Sailor Mercury? Wait, that's the one Lord Jadeite was bragging about killing all the damn time, isn't it? What do you want with her? Her corpse?"

Sailor Moon sniffled and looked as if she was about to burst into tears. Which she promptly did. "Whaaaaaaa! Sailor Mercury is dead!"

"Get a grip on yourself, Meatball Head. She's clearly lying!" the soldier in the red skirt was now glaring at Mareki, hands on her hips.

"I'm not! That's what he said!"

The female voice whose owner the youma had not yet seen spoke again "Youma! Where is the entrance to the Dark Kingdom?"

Whoops. That was information she wasn't willing to give, for it would get her killed if anyone ever found out "Well, err, how do you intent to make me divulge that?" she asked, dreading the answer.

The clueless looks that the two girls exchanged were truly priceless. Hadn't they thought any about this in advance. Finally, the one in red crossed her arms and glared at the blonde. "This is your stupid plan, you figure something out!"

Mareki heard someone sigh behind her.

"... I knew it was only a matter of time before Lord Jadeite would show up to collect this day's harvest, but when an opportunity presented itself ..."

"Bwahahaha! Stop that! I'm ticklish! Nooo! Bwahaha!" laughing and gasping for breath, the youma fidgeted on her chair, which swayed about dangerously, while her tormentor continued poking at her sides with a finger. Sailor Mars just stood aside, leaning against the wall of crates, and looked highly embarrassed by the whole process. "Spill it!"

"No! Neve- Bwahaha!" One particular violent twitch caused the youma's elbow to jab into Sailor Moon's belly, taking the wind out of the girl's efforts and making her double over in pain and landing in the tied-up youma's lap. In her frantic efforts to get up, she accidentally brushed off the prayer strips sealing away the monster's powers.

Mareki could feel her blocked powers suddenly returning. She was pretty sure she couldn't slip off the bindings, get out from under the klutz, and get up from the chair fast enough to not eat an attack from Mars or the unknown enemy behind her. Now that her powers were back, she could float though.

Sailor Moon eeped when she felt the ground drop away under her feet. Instinctively, she held on to the nearest solid object, which was the youma. Trapping the creature in a hug, she involuntarily restrained her movement and prevented it from using her hands. Nevertheless, Mareki could still attack. She opened her mouth and started shooting fountains of highly-pressurised water at Sailor Mars, who dodged with leaps and bounds, always staying a step ahead of the fountaining splashes. As the youma opened her maw for yet another shot, she suddenly coughed, and then she, Sailor Moon, and the chair dropped simultaneously back to the floor. "Haha- Stop tick - ~cough~ Haha. Bwahaha! ~cough~"

Jedite could be excused for being distracted by the sight of Sailor Moon lying on the ground, draped over one of his youma (in full monster form, no less) and the remains of a chair, encircling the creature with both of her arms and tickling it. Some ropes were apparently involved too. The monster in question was struggling to shake the fukued blond loose, waving her arms, legs and tail, and spurting water from her mouth between fits of laughter. Sailor Moon, for her part, was too scared of what would happen if she stopped tickling to even consider the possibility, and so both she and the youma continued splashing around in the growing puddle as the senshi fought to stay on top.

A roaring fireball bearing down on him reminded Jadeite that there was, in fact, a second enemy in the room. The blast of flame engulfed him completely and seemed to spiral around his form, before revealing a blue-glowing spherical shield as it dissipated. He lowered his raised hand and cocked his head, giving Sailor Mars a smug smile. "Is that all you got?"

Mars' face went red in anger. She dropped into a fighting stance as Jadeite brought up his own hands, ready for anything he could throw at her. The walls of crates to her left and right collapsing took her therefore by complete surprise, and she was buried under an avalanche of cubes.

"That's number one," Jadeite stated, and then blasted Sailor Moon off his youma with a flick of his wrist. She hurtled past the lamp, which shook in her wake, and collided with yet another stack of crates that wobbled dangerously from the impact. She bounced and landed sprawled out on an pallet, a dazed expression on her face. "Number two."

The dark general strode forward purposefully, savouring every second of this. "It is time to end this, Sailor Moon." His footsteps made loud, regular splashes in the water. Suddenly, a rose struck in his path, showering him with a rain of droplets. "This is also familiar," he commented, looking up at the masked figure that perched on the crates above, cape fluttering behind it majestically.

"Sailor Moon! Don't let a temporary setback get to you! Believe in youself and - GACK!" Being tackled by a wet and sinewy youma didn't fit into Tuxedo Mask's regular cheerleading routine. Both combatants dropped out of sight, and sounds of a battle came from their direction. Jadeite snorted. "Keep up the good work, Mareki." He then turned his full attention back to Sailor Moon, who weakly raised her arm to her forehead.

"Moon Tiara Action!"

The glowing disc didn't make it more than an arms length away from the prone girl before it stopped in mid-air. "Oh please, you tried that move already on me," Jadeite stated with obvious relish. "Have your junk back." At his gesture, the no longer glowing tiara reversed direction and smacked the defender of love and justice in the forehead, sending her back down.

"... it was at this point that things started to go wrong... "

Luna was a blue-black cat, a colour ideal for creeping around unnoticed in a poorly-lit building. As a predatory animal, she was naturally stealthy, and five of her six ends were pointy. Jadeite found this out the hard way when she appeared seemingly out of nowhere and attached herself to his face. Unfortunately, she was a small cat, and after the initial surprise, he easily batted her away. Thinking this to be the end of it, he returned his attention to Sailor Moon, who was apparently out cold, a trickle of blood running down from her forehead. A thumping noise from his right distracted him. The stupid cat again. It had jumped against the lamp standing here for some reason, and was now running off, onto the pallet his hated enemy was lying on. Crazy animal. The lamp shook, wobbled, and then slowly tipped over. He followed its arc with disinterest. It splashed into the puddle of water on the ground. Which he was standing in. "ARGGGGGHHHH!" The lights in the warehouse flickered once and then went out as fuses were blown.

"... the other enemies were already getting up again, so I disengaged and decided to save Lord Jadeite and the harvested energy instead of going after them, so the mission would still be successful. And here we are."

Jadeite looked up for the first time, bringing the deep scratches running down both of his cheeks into the light. His blond locks were standing on end, and a muscle in his neck twitched involuntarily. "My Queen,I-"

"SILENCE! I have no use for a general who was defeated by a cat!" Beryl's eyes filled with a white glow that grew steadily brighter, until it shot at her hapless underling with a flash. Jadeite found himself encased in crystal, his cringing away posture preserved forever. With a negligent wave of the evil queen's orb, prisoner and prison disappeared.

Youma Mareki, who had been backing away quietly, froze like a deer in the headlights when the queen's attention turned back to her. "Now, the energy for our Great Ruler," Beryl demanded.

Curses. Mareki dropped to her knobbly knees, voice apologetic. "My Queen, Jadeite held all the gathered energy bec-"

Beryl's face showed no anger as she disposed of the youma in the same way as the late Jadeite. If any emotion graced her impassive features, it was exasperation. Imbeciles. I hope Nephrite will do better.

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Chapter 8: Meet the Locals Chapter 10: Confirmed Suspicions