The thing crouched on the roof, a slightly darker rat-sized shape amongst the abundant shadows of the moon dark night. It was hungry, but too weak to risk revealing its presence openly. Instead it flattened itself on the roof, sending its power down into the house below. It could sense life in the house, powerful life. It would feed well.
She'd always known that in the end she would be alone. What she hadn't realized, as she waited out the last few weeks of existence, was how lonely she would be. She'd seen so many of her friends grow old and die around her. So many planets slip into ruin. And now she was alone. Only her powers as the senshi of time kept her alive when all else had passed.
It was very quiet. The gate of time had always been a quiet place, but now it practically echoed with silence. Sailor Pluto sighed, letting the sound bounce out into the grayness. Nothing left to distract her except memories of happier times.
A sudden sound made her start. She raised the Time Staff into a guard position and looked around. She heard it again, a skittering crawling sort of sound.
"Who's there?" She called, the words sounding overly loud to her ears. The sound came again, louder and she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She spun around but there was nothing there. Suddenly she saw it, a flash of brown skittering across the featureless ground. Cockroach. Somehow one had survived the death of everything else. It figured. Pluto suppressed a shudder and stepped on the foul insect. As she felt it crunch under her boot she saw another flash of brown. Another one? She looked around and suddenly realized they were everywhere! She'd always hated the creatures when there were just a couple of them, but as she looked around more and more kept appearing until the ground was nothing more than a seething mass of brown.
"Dead Scream" Pluto whispered, drawing her power around her staff and out to annihilate a large swath of cockroaches. Almost before they were dead more were moving in. One ran across her boot, eliciting a small shriek from the senshi. She shook it off, but two more ran across her other boot, and one starting trying to climb up her leg.
"Dead Scream" she said, again, wiping out another large swath of the bugs. "Dead Scream, Dead Scream, Dead Scream!" No matter how many times she let loose with her attack, there were always more insects. Several more started crawling up her legs. She batted them off, shuttering almost uncontrollably. There were so very few things she was afraid of, but cockroaches were top of that short list. And here she was, all alone at the end of everything. Just her a rising tide of the chittering, scuttling insects.
In her bedroom, Setstuna thrashed, the covers twisting around her as she franticly batted at her arms and legs. But she stayed asleep.
The creature was cat sized now, still little more than a dark shadow. It had fed well off that nightmare. There was always something sharply fresh about phobic fear. But it wanted more. Hissing slightly to itself the creature crept along the roof until it was right above one of the other minds it had sensed. It was still tapping into the first one of course, no sense in wasting a good meal when there was plenty of fear energy left in that one. But it craved a bit of a different taste now. It flattened itself and sent its power down into the house again.
She was humming happily to herself as she skipped into the bathroom. It had been such a perfect day, filled with all her favorite things. Now she just had to get ready for bed and look forward to another perfect day.
She ran the water in the sink, wetting her toothbrush before she looked in the mirror. Why hadn't someone mentioned she had some sort of dirt on her forehead? She put the toothbrush down and grabbed her washcloth. She shoved it under the water for a moment and then scrubbed at the mark. The more she rubbed it, the darker and larger it got, until she could see it was a black star.
"No!" she gasped, dropping the cloth in the sink.
"Did you really think I was gone?" Her reflection said with an evil smile. "I am a part of you"
"No!" Hotaru said shaking her head and backing away from the mirror. "You're dead. I… I destroyed you!"
"Oh really?" the reflection said, pulling itself out of the mirror. As it did so, it's appearance changed so that it was the too-familiar figure of Mistress 9 that stood in front of Hotaru. "I am you" she said and placed her hand on the center of Hotaru's chest.
Hotaru screamed as a wave of icy cold spread through her body. She collapsed to the floor as she felt the cold invade her very self, pushing her back into the furthest corner of her own mind. Cruel laughter echoed in her skull.
She could hear the sound of running feet, and the door of the bathroom thrown open.
"Hotaru-chan are you alright?" Haruka-papa had barged into the bathroom, with Michiru-mama and Setsuna-mama close behind her.
Hotaru wanted to call out to them, warn them what had happened, but it was Mistress 9 who raised her head, and said "Never better. Can't say the same for you"
Dark power lashed out from her, striking Haruka-papa across the chest, knocking her back.
"Hotaru-chan! What are you doing?" Setsuna-mama cried.
It's not me! Hotaru tried to say, but it was no use. Power lashed out over and over again striking the three older women Hotaru had come to love as family.
"You always hurt those you love Hotaru" Mistress 9 said. She stood up and walked over to where the other three had collapsed. "You really are a pathetic little girl" With that she let loose a final blast of dark power.
"No!" Hotaru cried, but there was nothing she could do. Mistress 9 had complete control.
"That was too easy" Mistress 9 said, ignoring Hoatru's distress as she calmly stepped over the bodies of the outer senshi and headed down the stairs. "I doubt Sailor Moon and her little circle will be much of a challenge now"
In her room Hotaru screamed, her young body arching and thrashing. But she did not wake up.
Now the size of a large dog the creature had to take a bit more care to stay hidden. It crept slowly down the roof; still savoring the guilt-tinged flavor of this last one's fear. Guilt and phobias were such perfect seasonings; it would be a shame to let these perfect meals go. But it still wanted something more. So it sent its power down into the house once more.
She was standing on a thin strip of earth. Behind her, a seemingly bottomless crevice separated her from the rest of the senshi. In front of her, a narrow stone bridge crossed another bottomless pit. Across the bridge, she couldn't see. But she set foot on the bridge anyway. Somewhere in the darkness ahead, Sailor Moon and Sailor Uranus were fighting the enemy. She had heard them, and she'd run after them.
No, you ran after Uranus, the little voice in her head was harsh, and she pushed that thought away. She was a senshi, her first duty was to her princess.
The bridge was narrow and slightly slippery, not the easiest thing to cross in heels, forcing her to move slower than she would have liked. As she crossed, the darkness across the bridge faded to reveal a scene that made her stumble. The enemy stood in the center of a small island. Suspended on either side of the island, above the gaping pit, hung Usagi and Haruka, their henshin undone, or hanging in loose ribbons around both of them, both held in place by purple-black ribbons of the enemy's power. Suddenly uncaring of the treachery of her footing Neptune started forward.
The enemy's too-smooth voice drew her up short. "One step more and they both die."
She froze, still balanced on the bridge, which seemed to have gotten narrower somehow. Moving slowly and deliberately, she pulled out the Deep Aqua Mirror, drawing breath for an attack.
The enemy laughed, a cold, taunting sound. "Oh I wouldn't do that if I were you" it said, smugness filling its tone. "If I die, they both will fall and die. But I am not without mercy. I will spare one of them. It is your choice."
Neptune felt her blood run ice cold. Choose one to live and one to die? Choose between her princess and her lover? It was an impossible choice.
You know who you'll choose, the voice in her head said. You are too selfish to choose otherwise
She tried to ignore the little voice, even as her doubt caused her own henshin to dissolve, leaving her in her school fuku on the bridge. She could feel her heart pounding against her rib cage as she looked from the enemy to Usagi to Haruka and back again. The damn voice was right. She was too selfish to make the choice she knew she should. Maybe if they hadn't lost their henshi; if it had been Moon and Uranus hanging there she could have made the right decision.
What kind of senshi are you? Can't look past yourself to save the world?
She took a deep breath, the air cutting at her lungs. The voice was right. Without Usagi - without Sailor Moon – the world was doomed. But a world without Haruka…
"A world without Haruka is not worth saving"
"My patience wears thin" the enemy snapped. To emphasize its point the ribbons loosened slightly, causing both girls to slip down a few inches. "Decide now or they both die!"
Her heart slammed against her ribcage. Her breath was shallow and too fast. She could save one, but only one. And she couldn't make that choice.
In her bedroom, tears streaked down Michiru's face as she curled in on herself. But she did not wake.
The roof creaked under the creature's weight now, its bulk nearly twice what it had been moments before. With meals like these, trapped in a never-ending cycle of nightmare, it could feast for weeks, until the mental stress finally killed one or all of these delicious, delicious meals. And there was still more! The creature chattered happily to itself, preparing to send its power into the house to snare the fourth life force it had felt. Wrapped up in it's own satisfaction it didn't hear the soft creak of something else moving on the roof. Instead it sent its power down into the house again.
The creature barely had time to register that the fourth lifeforce was missing before the gold sphere of energy slammed into its side. The force lifted it up and threw it back, almost off the roof. It dug its claws into the shingles and scrambled around, its head swinging back and forth in smaller and smaller arcs, searching for its attacker. With a snarl it launched itself at its attacker, only to have to twist aside at the last moment to avoid a slashing blade. It growled again at the tall figure, now silhouetted by a street lamp.
"I don't care who or what you are," the figure said, snapping her sword out in front of her. "Release my family!"
This time the energy caught the creature across the muzzle, causing it to rear back, spitting in pain. "Mine" it hissed. "My food. Leave me alone"
The figure snorted. "They are not yours. For the last time, release them!"
"Who you to tell me?" the creature growled, drawing itself up to it's full height. "I am Eater of Dreams, and they my food!" The last word was more a howl than anything.
She raised her sword across her body and leapt up. "Space Sword Blaster!"
The blast of energy caught the creature across the muzzle this time, throwing it back and off the roof. It seemed to shrink as it fell, hitting the ground with barely a thump. Uranus jumped down after it, leveling her sword at the creature's throat. It was no larger than a small dog now and still shrinking as she watched. With a snarl of her own, she flicked the sword downward, slicing into the creature's shadowy flesh. There was a hiss like steam escaping, and a shriek and the creature disappeared.
Three mugs of steaming hot tea sat wrapped in three pairs of still-shaking hands. Haruka wrapped the last of the blankets around Hotaru's shoulders, giving the younger girl's arms a brisk rub.
"I'm sorry I didn't realize what was going on sooner," she said, settling herself down on the loveseat next to Michiru.
"How could you?" Setsuna asked, as she sipped her tea. "I for one am just happy you did." She shuddered unconsciously, brushing at her arm.
Haruka just shook her head slightly, frowning. "If I hadn't still been up…"
"You were though," Michiru said quietly, leaning into her lover. "I promise to never give you a hard time about having put off a school assignment again, even – especially - if it means you have to pull an all-nighter."
Haruka flushed as the other women laughed. It was a shaky, hesitant laugh, but it was still a much-needed laugh, banishing the last of the shadows.