never running from a real fight
Usagi Tsukino is fourteen years old, blonde, four feet eleven inches in height, and, oh yes, was the Kyuubi no Kitsune in a former life.
These days, she’s stuck in a world where true ninja are considered a relic of the past, in a country operating under a democratic constitutional monarchy instead of absolute rule, and on a planet which holds a massive five-point-four-six billion humans. That number alone is mind-boggling.
But strangest of all, it’s a planet without bijuu or chakra – aside from Usagi, who still hasn’t the faintest idea how she came to be here in the first place, aside from the fact that the last thing she remembered as the Kyuubi no Kitsune was dying.
She doesn’t know how an entire planet can function without any chakra at all, but it’s eerie, alien, unnerving – or would be, if she hadn’t had all this time to get used to it.
But it’s been fourteen long years of existence in this world, and she’s resigned herself to the life she finds herself living. She’s Usagi Tsukino, the only person with chakra in the world as far as she can tell, a fourteen year old human girl with the memories and power of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. If there is any way to change that… well, Usagi hasn’t found it.
In the meantime, she trains herself physically every day, she learns every scrap of information she can that might help her get ahead in this peculiar new world, and she hones her killing intent until the slightest sliver of a sharp smile from Usagi sends everyone else running.
Her routine goes much the same way every day: wake up, get ready, eat breakfast, walk to school, attend classes, do physical training, head home, eat dinner, study, go to bed – before beginning all over again, the next day. It’s nothing particularly exciting – aside from the brief but bloody period in which Usagi was in the school Judo club, before her membership was revoked for ‘excessive violence’ – and Usagi can’t help wishing for more. Something more than the promise of an ordinary, mortal life.
Be careful what you wish for, isn’t that how the Western saying goes?
It’s a normal day and Usagi is on her way to school as usual when the sound of an animal in distress reaches Usagi’s keen ears.
She stops, more curious than anything, and turns. Some distance away, some of the neighbourhood children are tormenting a black cat. Usagi can hear it’s mewling easily. It’s becoming more and more upset.
Usagi has never been accused of being a soft touch – one of her classmates who read a lot of Western literature once described her as having the face of an angel and the temper of a devil – but seeing a harmless, powerless animal at the mercy of humans makes her killing intent flare.
As one, the children tormenting the cat look up, sensing the flare of malevolent intent. At the sight of Usagi stalking towards them, they blanch.
The brats make a run for it before Usagi reaches them, which leaves only the small black cat, lying dazed on the pavement.
Usagi reels in her killing intent, and crouches down beside the animal to examine it. It seems more or less unharmed, although there are two band-aids stuck to its forehead. Usagi lifts the cat into her arms and tries to remove the stick-on bandages.
The cat swipes at Usagi’s face with sharp claws and a loud hiss, nearly taking Usagi’s eye out.
Usagi feels her lips curve in an unwilling smile.
“Heh, a fiesty one, aren’t you?” she asks the cat, and yanks the band-aids off its head. The cat yowls, a short sharp yowl of pain – and abruptly stops struggling, its eyes wide and surprised. There’s a yellow patch of skin on its forehead, Usagi notices, shaped like a crescent moon.
Usagi only smiles wider at the cat’s surprise.
“There we go, that’s better, isn’t it?” she says, and sets the cat down. It continues to stare at her. “I’d steer clear of those brats, in future. I might not be around to save you next time.”
Usagi stands, and resumes her walk to school. She doesn’t look back – even as the cat shadows her the rest of the way. Usagi has no desire to adopt a cat, thank you very much. It will have to learn to survive on its own without her intervention.
At Juuban Municipal Junior High School, Usagi is known for two things: one, being the top student in every class she takes; and two, being utterly terrifying. When she stalks in, two minutes late and with a vicious little smile of satisfaction, not even Ms Haruna dares say anything about her unusual lack of punctuality.
By the end of the day, though, Usagi has forgotten all about the cat. She’s just drifting off to sleep when a dark shape slinks in through her open window.
Usagi acts on instinct. A second later, there’s a startled yowl, and Usagi is suddenly, properly awake. She sits up in bed.
“What – don’t tell me–” Usagi glares at the feline silhouette where it stands frozen on the other side of the room, the knife that Usagi keeps by her bed embedded in the wall next to it. The cat is either too scared or too startled to move.
“Stupid cat,” Usagi grumbles, and slides out of bed. “What are you doing here?” She moves to pull the knife out of the wall. “Great. That’s another hole in the wall that Mom’s going to be cross about.”
“Why do you keep a throwing knife by your bed?” a female voice that isn’t-quite-human quavers, and Usagi immediately spins on her heel, falling back into a combative pose as her gaze snaps back to the cat.
The cat freezes again, eyes wide with fear, but–
“You just spoke,” says Usagi flatly, half in disbelief and half in rising, giddy delight, because that is not a normal cat and this… this is the first time, in fourteen awful years, that Usagi has encountered something which does not belong in this world. This orderly, mundane, chakra-less world.
The cat is not a summons – she has no chakra. But she has something else, now that Usagi cares to look.
The cat swallows, but answers.
“My name is Luna. I’ve been searching for you for a very long time, Usagi Tsukino.”
Usagi flips the knife casually from hand to hand.
“And why would that be?”
Luna’s gaze follows the trajectory of the knife. But the expression of fear is fading.
“Where did you learn to do that? All my observations indicate that you’re just an ordinary schoolgirl… aside from my reasons for searching for you, of course.”
The cat sounds genuinely curious, and so Usagi gives her a flash of white teeth that is almost a smile.
“Appearances can be deceptive.”
“Very true.” The cat hesitates. “What I am about to say may sound… a little unbelievable.”
“Says the talking cat,” says Usagi, her voice dry.
“Yes, well. Strange things have been happening, even the police can’t handle what is going on. A dark enemy has appeared. You’re the only one who can defeat this enemy. You are the Guardian that has been chosen for this mission.”
Luna stops, because Usagi has thrown her head back in a laugh.
“Me? A chosen Guardian of humankind?” she says, amused by the irony.
The cat misunderstands her mirth.
“I know you think yourself nothing more than an ordinary girl, but you are so much more than that. You are the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. I can prove it to you.”
An object drops down out of nowhere to land on the floor in front of Usagi, glinting in the moonlight. It looks like a small compact.
“And what is this?” Usagi looks down at the compact in suspicion.
“Say the words Moon Prism Power: Makeup while holding the compact, and you will see that I am telling the truth.”
Usagi takes a moment to mentally debate with herself. On the one hand, it could be a trap… but on the other, this could be the key to, well, any kind of escape from the sheer banality that has become her life. She may never be the Kyuubi no Kistune again… but perhaps she can be something else.
Not a Guardian of humanity, though. And what kind of title is Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon? Pretty? That’s a requirement in a Guardian?
“Fine,” says Usagi to Luna. She prods the compact with one toe. Nothing happens, and so Usagi picks it up in one hand, hopes that her parents and brother are soundly asleep, and intones, “Moon Prism Power: Makeup!”
There’s a flurry of rainbow sparkles, and the pyjamas that Usagi was wearing begin to dissolve. Usagi watches in horrified fascination as ribbons of power weave around her body, dressing her in a skirted bodysuit, knee-high boots, and a tiara. The rainbow sparkles die away after a moment, leaving Usagi standing there in the pretty, ridiculously-short outfit.
It isn’t that Usagi is intrinsically against pretty – but she had once been the Nine Tailed Demon Fox. Prettiness isn’t necessary.
“That’s it?” Her voice slips down an octave, into a low growl. “A magical wardrobe change?”
“Not at all,” says Luna. “There are many powers which come with the transformation, all of which you will learn in time.”
“Really,” says Usagi.
“But for now, you must protect the humans from the monsters which have been appearing in this city, and find the other Guardians so that we can locate our missing Princess.”
Usagi thinks about it for, oh, maybe half a second.
“What?” Luna looks startled. “But you have to! You’re Sailor Moon!”
Usagi gives the cat a slow smile that is more a baring of teeth than a genuine smile. Luna shrinks back a little at Usagi’s expression, her eyes widening.
“Protect the humans… against the monsters,” says Usagi softly, still smiling that terrible not-a-smile. “Did it never occur to you that perhaps you are looking at one of the latter?”
Luna gapes at Usagi. Then she says, frantic: “But you’re human!”
“Only in the flesh.” Usagi smoothes out her tiny skirt, and smiles. Properly, this time. It’s even more scary than the not-a-smile. “In spirit… I’m something else entirely.”
Somewhere distant, Usagi can hear someone screaming for help. The sound is amplified by the decorations in her hair. She turns away from the cat, slides her window open all the way, and leaps out. She wants to meet the monsters Luna spoke of.
She begins to run, and oh – her chakra control is perfect and has been for years, but Usagi has nonetheless been constrained by the limitations of a human body for all this time. But now – now, muscles and tendons slide over one another like silk, but with all the strength of steel. Usagi runs, and there is no shortness of breath, no burning in her leg muscles: only the sheer joy of pure movement.
Usagi puts on speed until she’s running as fast as the cars driving past. Soon, she’s going even faster.
She wonders if it’s going to be like this every time she transforms into ‘Sailor Moon.’ If so, it’s more than worth the ridiculous outfit she has to wear.
Usagi slows as she approaches her destination.
She breaks in through a back window, smiling gleefully at the chance to wreak property damage, and goes searching for the source of the screaming.
There are unconscious women and girls lying everywhere in the front of store. Some are clutching at the jewellery they wear, as though they passed out in the act of trying to pull it off. Usagi walks past them, and finally sees who is screaming for someone, anyone to save her.
It’s a girl from Usagi’s class at school. She’s backed against a wall as the monster in front of her approaches, the latter wearing a nasty, sharp-toothed smile.
Usagi watches for a moment. Neither the girl nor the monster notices her standing in the shadowed doorway.
Usagi knows the girl that the monster is hunting. When Usagi was much smaller and several years younger, still out-of-touch with this world’s culture and out-of-step her mortal body, Naru was the only one who didn’t shy away from Usagi when she walked past, or snicker at Usagi’s awkward, jerky movements and thousand-yard-stare.
Instead, she let Usagi borrow her pencils when Usagi inevitably snapped hers with clumsy excess strength, and asked if Usagi was okay whenever she tripped and fell (an event which happened with monotonous regularity, when Usagi was still new to controlling her body). When Usagi snarled at Naru, furious beyond measure at her own helplessness, Naru only smiled, and remained kind throughout it all.
They’ve never exactly been friends, Usagi and Naru… but Usagi has a keen memory for the kindness of others, rare as it is. Memories of Naru’s past behaviour flashes past her mind’s eye.
Something in Usagi falters, a pull of what that might almost be a conscience tugging at her shrivelled black heart.
Maybe that’s why, before Usagi can think about it, she steps forward and shouts.
Both heads turn, Naru’s expression breaking into desperate relief, the monster looking surprised.
“Naru, run,” says Usagi, walking forward. “I’ll take care of this.” She meets the monster’s eyes, and gives it a sharp smile of her own.
Usagi waits until Naru runs past her, and then unleashes her killing intent.
The monster falls to one knee, and for a moment Usagi thinks this is going to be easy. It’s almost disappointing.
Then the monster laughs, and climbs back to its feet.
Around Usagi, the collapsed people begin to stir, and rise. Their eyes glow.
Usagi dodges the first fist aimed at her, then the second. As one, the controlled people begin to converge on her from all directions. The monster is still laughing.
There’s a flash of darkness at the corner of Usagi’s vision. It resolves itself into the shape of a small black cat with a shining crescent moon on its forehead.
“Sailor Moon!” Luna shouts. “Take off your tiara and shout Moon Tiara Action!”
Usagi thinks about it for half a second. She’s curious about the new powers she’s been granted, but her blood is singing in her veins and her temper is running high, and she’s itching to settle this the old-fashioned way.
So she ignores Luna’s advice, instead leaping across the room and landing in a crouch at the monster’s feet.
She ignores the small army of glowing-eyed people marching across the room towards her, and straightens up.
“What are you doing with these people, and why?” she demands, her voice emerging as a low growl.
“You won’t live long enough to find out,” says the monster, reaching for her.
Usagi pools chakra in her fists, and punches. The next moment passes almost in slow motion.
First, the monster’s head explodes from the force of the blow. But it’s not blood and bone that Usagi sends fluttering through the air, but black particles. Second, as Usagi watches, the army of people pursuing her come to a halt, even as the monster crumbles away into nothing. The black particles it had crumbled into disappear like magic, leaving no sign that the monster was ever there.
Usagi watches as the glow fades from the eyes of the controlled women and girls and they come back to themselves, murmuring to one another in confusion and distress. Dialling back her killing intent, she glances downward as Luna sits next to her feet.
“How did you do that?” the cat asks. “That aura of fear… that’s not one of Sailor Moon’s powers.”
Usagi looks down at Luna, and smiles a foxlike smile.
“No, but it’s one of mine,” she says, and turns and heads for the door.
“What are you?” Luna shouts after her.
Usagi only laughs, and doesn’t answer. Bounds away into the night, ready to pummel anyone who comes looking for a fight. If they’re expecting a defenceless teenage girl…
Well, that was never an accurate description of Usagi, and it’s even less of one now, with the moonlight in her veins.
For the first time in fourteen years, Usagi thinks she might actually have the opportunity to enjoy this lifetime.