Sailor Moon was in trouble.
Her uniform, once immaculate in its fitting form, was now far from its original pristine condition. Tears big and small covered the bodysuit, allowing the cold night air to violate her warm skin. Both her hair and her skirt showed signs of wear, strands of each flying wildly in the darkness, and her body proudly displayed the numerous nicks and bruises resulting from this battle. Despite the shape her weary body was in, rest was a distant dream for the Sailor Scout. An energy beam headed in her direction served as a reminder of that fact, and only with a leap at the last minute was she able to cheat death yet again.
Once she oriented herself, Sailor Moon turned to the source of the energy, an enormous monster that towered over the abandoned buildings in this isolated district of the city. For the most part the shape of the creature was similar to that of an adult human male, its midsection and upper legs blanketed by a loincloth while the rest of its body was bathed in brown flesh. The creature's hairless head was as conspicuous the body it sat upon, the baldness making its giant pair of ears seem even larger. Although the lower half of its face was proportionally accurate, skin continued to flow evenly from the cheeks to its forehead in the absence of eye sockets. Instead, a large, solitary eyeball protruded from the center of its forehead, with no eyebrow to heighten or diminish this oddity.
The monster did not send any more rays of energy in her direction, so Sailor Moon quickly checked on the status of her teammates. To her right, Sailor Mercury stood on the uneven and decrepit sidewalk, using both her visor and her computer to scan the giant for weaknesses. Only a few feet away from Mercury was Sailor Venus, although she placed herself on the worn street surface instead of the crumbling, weed-covered pavement the former had chosen to stand. Sailor Mars and Sailor Jupiter tossed fire and electricity at the giant from the opposite side of the street, but the creature merely reacted by advancing a very slow, steady pace. Every step resulted in a thud that shook the ground, speeding up the decay of the slums. Tuxedo Mask, although eager to help the Scouts in battle, had been hit in the ankle by one of the monster's energy beams, and was barely able to keep himself out of harm's way. Luna and Artemis remained behind the six and while they shouted, their roles in this battle were that as witnesses instead of active participants.
Sailor Venus was now the monster's target. The cyclops momentarily stopped and aimed its eye at the golden-haired Scout and a thin slice of energy was expelled from the white hemisphere. In a display of athletics that was mostly for flair, Venus made a grand leap and performed a mid-air somersault before gravity returned her to the asphalt. After landing she paused for a second to take a deep breath, only to find another ray coming toward her. A simple sidestep was all exhausted her body was capable of, and while it has served as an adequate dodge, the left edge of Venus's skirt had been severed from the rest of her uniform.
"Mercury!" she called, casting an impatient gaze at her fellow Scout. "That analysis would be good about now."
"It's almost done," Mercury responded, her eyes steady on the small computer screen. Numbers and letters flashed in front of her, replacing each other as fast as she could read them. Her mind absorbed the information with a desperation so great that she shut out the outside world. She neither felt nor heard the monster's return to motion and remained unaware of its steps that ate away at the precious distance between it and the Scouts. At last, the text she had awaited so long appeared on the screen, and Mercury lifted her head to face the nearing monster. A thin line pointing at the creature's weak spot was drawn on the visor, blinking to indicate the importance of the find. She took her concentration away from the data to announce the news. "Hit the eye! Hit the eye!"
"Got it!" Jupiter yelled, electricity sparkling in her hands as it took the form of a disc. "Jupiter Thunder Crash Zap!" She threw the bundle of electricity into the air, and a few seconds later it collided with the singular eye. The impact, though, ended in neither flash nor thunder, and Jupiter's attack simply vanished. "It didn't work!"
"Yes, it did!" Mercury's visor indicated that the creature had been injured, even if the damage was not visible to the naked eye. "We need to hit it some more." Mercury closed her computer and caused it to vanish, replacing it with growing mass of water and ice. "Mercury Ice Storm Blast!"
"Mars Celestial Fire Surround!" Sailor Mars cried at the same time. Rings of fire flew into the eye of the monster at the same time as Mercury's stream of ice water. The antipodal energies intensified rather than weakened each other, but even the combined attack did not stop the cyclops from approaching. In anticipation of this, Sailor Moon had already caused her scepter to materialize and pointed it at the creature once the twin attacks of Mercury and Mars dissolved.
"Moon Scepter Elimination!" she shouted. Crescent shaped energy poured from the scepter in a stream, knocking the monster back several yards. Despite the effort, the cyclops remained on its legs, and the muscles in Sailor Moon's arms soon tired upon holding the scepter steady. She let her arms fall, the action a prelude to her own imminent collapse.
"Sailor Moon!" the other four Scouts shouted as they ran over to her. Tuxedo Mask hobbled over to the leader of the Scouts, not letting his injury stop him from being at the side of his beloved.
"I'm all right," Moon replied while standing up.
"Is there anything we can do?" Jupiter asked, throwing out the question to the assembly of heroines.
"Yes," Mercury answered. "If we combine all our strength, the blow should be strong enough to finish it off."
"But we just tried to attack it!" Mars protested.
Mercury held a steady gaze on Mars. "Trust me on this. Our powers in combination with each other are more powerful--" A beam of energy cut off her explanation and the group quickly ducked to avoid getting hit. Upon raising themselves, the six found Artemis and Luna standing just behind them, side by side.
"Whatever you're going to do," Luna warned, "do it quickly."
"Yeah," agreed Artemis. "If you don't hurry up we're all going to be toast."
"Right!" the Scouts shouted in unison. Tuxedo Mask separated himself from the group, which allowed the five Scouts to join hands in a circle, channeling all of the energy they could muster.
"Mercury Star Power!"
"Venus Star Power!"
"Mars Star Power!"
"Jupiter Star Power!"
"Moon Crystal Power!"
Each of the five glowed white with the combined strength of her teammates, the auras of all five intensifying until they opened their eyes and collectively yelled a single phrase.
"Sailor Planet Power!"
Like rockets headed for the heavens and beyond, the light surrounding the five Scouts rose into the air, leaving their masters and splitting into five streaks of blue, gold, red, green, and pink. Upon reaching the height of the cyclops's eye, the lines of light shifted direction and launched themselves for the monster. The giant creature continued on its course, unaffected by the energy that would seal its fate. Finally, the five rays rammed into the eyeball and the juggernaut stopped as though it hit a wall. It made no futile motion to delay the inevitable, taking full impact the blow with as much dignity as it could muster. In a final motion, the creature bent over and placed its right arm on the ground, causing a loud but last thud to rumble through the ground. All of the heroes breathed a loud sigh of relief upon the creature's defeat.
As quickly as the air escaped their lips, they had cause to inhale again for the dying behemoth started to pulsate, growing brighter then dimmer in a fateful cycle. With every passing second the interval between light and darkness shortened, and the eyes of all five Scouts widened. Tuxedo Mask returned to the group, his anxious, rapid pulse making up for his lack of facial expression. Even Luna and Artemis felt uneasy as they peered at the scene through the forest of human legs.
At last the constant alternating between brilliance and night ended, with the creature sustaining a faint but noticeable glow. Before long the monster's radiance began to increase again, and this time the shine refused to wan. Venus, Mars and Jupiter shielded their eyes with their arms, while Mercury put her visor back on to scan the monster. Moon refused to let the scene escape her sight, and watched the hungry light devour the monster. Not content with its meal, the light nibbled away at the surroundings while the accompanying heat swallowed the cold air in the same fashion. Sailor Moon wondered why the light behaved in this manner until the thought crossed her mind that the area was not becoming brighter.
Instead, the light was approaching them.
This is the end, she realized.
Only seconds remained before the intersection of energy and life forms, and with no time to say farewell to her friends, Sailor Moon performed the only action she could. She stretched her left arm behind her and felt Tuxedo Mask's hand grab her hand, both of them regretting that their gloves prohibited their skin to touch. The Silver Crystal glistened, as though it sensed the invading the wall of light, but it did nothing to ease the fear of the eight beings that remained helpless in its path.
And the light was the last thing Sailor Moon saw before she disappeared.
* * *
Night's hold on the sky soon weakened again, but this time the culprit was the intrusion of the imminent day. The predawn light slowly corroded the edges of night, but the sturdy dark blue cloak would not be lifted off the sky easily. Despite the inevitability of the outcome, darkness refused to retreat from the sky, forcing the light to consume it nibble by nibble in order to finish the conquest.
Under this heavenly battlefield, a small house stood abandoned in a weed-covered lot. The lonely two-story house had seen better days, its curtains tattered, its floorboards weakened, and the insulation failing to keep out the effects of the elements. Regardless of the horrible condition of this place, it still longed for some beings other than the residing insects and stray animals to call its inhabitants. At last, that wish was granted.
Inside the house, five individuals surveyed the building, some of them clearly not human. In the lead stood a creature with the general frame of a man but clothed with scaly, reptilian green skin. Large black wings lied upon his back folded neatly, and atop his perfectly bald head were two similarly colored horns. His yellow eyes inspected the room for any cause to abandon this place yet the house gave him no reason to consider leaving.
Not far behind the creature was a man with long silver hair in a black suit. Easily the tallest of this group, time weakened his form to the point where even his height could no longer command a presence. His search for imperfections was less thorough, for his weary eyes glazed over in want of rest.
A few steps away, a pair of women examined the surroundings. One radiated elegance even in the darkness as her ebony hair and eyes clashed violently against her ivory suit, where the other radiated nothing at all. This second woman, an almost completely transparent spectral form, hovered several inches above the ground. Unlike her companion, her violet dress complimented rather than contrasted against her golden locks.
A teenager with reddish-brown hair trailed the group, dressed in a black gown covered by a thick jacket. She alone seemed to be affected by the lack of heat, rubbing her hands together to stave off the unrelenting monster known as cold.
"A little too dusty for my tastes," the black-haired woman stated, passing by a mirror so caked with dust that its surface was unable to reflect any light.
"On the contrary, I think I'm going to like this old haunt," the translucent figure countered. Stopping in front of the mirror, she waved her hand over the surface. As the dust fell off of it, her reflection became more easily seen, a reflection that was solid and full of color rather than her see-through appearance.
"Good," the horned creature said, "because it looks as though this is going to be our new home, at least for now." The woman made a face of disgust upon the thought of living in the cold, dirty house, one that did not escape the notice of the speaker. "Don't worry, we won't have to stay here long, as long as our little witch has done our job." He cast a glance at the teenager, who stopped shivering long enough to answer.
"I have," the teenager said, eyelids heavy with exhaustion. "I sensed a large energy surge a few minutes ago. Eyeclops has been destroyed, taking out whoever was fighting it."
"Then why haven't you summoned anything else?"
"Because I can't." She brought her hands to her face and blew on them. "It took a lot out of me to call that monster. I'm cold and I'm tired."
"Yes," the silver-haired man added, his ancient voice loaded with weariness. "And I am in search of someone younger to pass the Legacy onto." A sigh escaped his frail form before he finished. "We are all tired."
"Very well," the creature decided. "The day is near and our powers are weakening, but night will restore us. Now that the resident heroes have been defeated, it'll be only a matter of time before this city is ours."
A few minutes later, for the first time in many months, the sun rose over a city not protected by the Sailor Scouts.
* * *
A brass alarm clock kept watch over a bedroom in disarray. This latest in a lineage of short lived timekeepers sat upon the desk next to the bed, silently waiting until its three hands moved into the proper position. A click signaled the arrival of this event, and the clock burst forth in a psalmody upon the appointed time, violently shaking in accordance with its shrill voice. A hand emerged from under the covers of the bed, lifted and hit the switch to stop the noise before slumping back down.
"Serena!" came a mother's cry from outside the room. "It's time to get up!"
A second hand left the seclusion of the covers, and with its partner pushed the blankets to the edge of the bed, revealing the body of blonde girl. After stretching her limbs, she sat up only to find a black cat with a golden crescent shaped mark on its forehead lying at the foot of her bed.
"Luna, why didn't you wake me up?" Serena asked half teasingly. The cat responded by giving her a sly look, then opening her mouth in a silent yawn.
Too bad cats can't really talk, Serena thought to herself before getting out of the bed.
* * *
Another academic day unfolded in the classrooms of Crossroads Junior High. A bell signaled the end of a period, causing a swarm of students to inundate the halls. In the midst of this chaos, Molly and Serena walked side by side in conversation -- although Serena did most of the talking.
"So I had to run back to my house to get my bag, and by that time I was majorly late for class. Then Miss Haruna wanted us to turn in our homework, but I forgot we even had homework. So then…"
Molly struggled not to let her mind wander as her companion rattled off the events of the day. Although Serena was her friend, for the past year or so the two of them had drifted apart. It had been a long time since Serena had spent this much time with her. Though Molly welcomed Serena's presence, such a sudden overload taxed her resources to the breaking point. Nevertheless, Molly called forth all her strength to listen to Serena.
"Hey, Molly," Serena continued, "I know I haven't been the best friend to you, but why don't we do something together?"
This was the question Molly had both awaited and wanted to avoid, but just as she prepared to give her answer, she found an unlikely escape right next to her. Amy stood at her locker, setting a textbook on the shelf.
"Hey, Amy," Molly greeted while walking past her. Amy acknowledged Molly with a slight smile and quickly put her head back down. Serena, in contrast to her earlier verbose mood, remained absolutely silent and averted her eyes. Molly instantly connected Serena's actions with her current disposition, and as soon as the two out enough distance between themselves and Amy, Molly posed a question to Serena.
"Did something happen between the two of you?"
Serena shot a quizzical look at the redhead. "What do you mean?"
"You didn't speak to Amy."
Serena shrugged her shoulders. "Why would I say anything to her? She's a brain."
Molly rested her palm against Serena's forehead. "Serena, are you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine," Serena replied, gently removing Molly's hand from her skin. "I don't really know Amy all that well. Look, why don't we drop this and go to the arcade this afternoon?"
Molly felt a twinge of guilt as she replied, "Well, I'd like to…but I have plans."
"Oh." Serena cast her head to the floor as Amy had done, but quickly recovered. "There's something I've been dying to tell you, and I guess I'd better do it now."
"It's my brooch." She glanced down at the compact, which for once was uncovered, revealing the sparkling treasure inside. "For some reason it doesn't feel right for me to wear it. I just don't want it any more, but I wanted to give it to someone special to me, so I've chosen you."
"Why thank you," Molly said, "but I can't take it."
Molly had her mouth ready to refuse Serena's request, but a glimmer of light coming from the brooch caught her eye. The brooch looked very ancient and yet very modern at the same time, and even as a jeweler's daughter she could not determine the substance of the gem in the center. The mysterious stone called out to her soul, even if she had no desire to take it.
"It does look nice," Molly admitted. "I'll take it for now, but when you want it back, let me know." Serena unhooked the clasp on the brooch and removed it from her bow. Instantly Molly recognized how vulnerable Serena was without it, but before she could change her mind, Serena had placed the brooch in her hand. Molly stared at the item, all the while asking herself why Serena would give something away that had only recently meant so much to her.
"Well, go on," urged Serena. "Put it on."
Molly brought the object to her bow and tentatively closed the clasp against the red cloth. Slowly she lowered her hand, as though at any moment she would rip the brooch from her chest. Her arm finally laid at her side, and Molly took in a few breaths along with the notion that she was now the caretaker of this charge. Serena beamed with happiness and relief and a sad smile faded onto Molly's face as well.
"Hi-de-ho!" a familiar voice shouted from behind the two.
Serena and Molly turned around and saw a short, male figure enthusiastically greeting them. His disheveled hair and thick glasses only added to his unpopular scholastic image, but behind it lied one of the most courageous and caring individuals the two had ever known.
"Melvin!" Molly cried.
"Wow!" he yelled. "Molly, you look stunning with that jewelry!" He bent his head in her direction with a sly look in his eye. "Are you going to wear it on our date?"
"Keep your voice down!" Molly shouted, feeling the blood rush to her face. Melvin seemed unaware of his effect on her, but Serena pounced on the comment like a lioness.
"Aha! So that's what you're up to!" she exclaimed. "I'll give the two of you some time alone." Serena quickly departed, but the eyes of the entire hall were on Molly and Melvin. In less than a minute, Melvin had elevated the status of his relationship with Molly from mere gossip to proven theorem. This change brought with it all the unwanted attention from the Crossroads Junior High students, attention that Melvin blissfully ignored and Molly hoped she could endure.
This is going to be a long day, she thought.
* * *
In less than twelve hours, the sun set and evil opened its eyes. While day had ensured a brief respite for the creatures of the abandoned house, the resurrection of the night coincided with the awakening of their plans. The house itself was no longer frigid but warm and bright with the supernatural activity of those inside it.
The dark-haired woman sat on a red velvet couch, dangling an amulet in front of her aimlessly. With each breath her mind was filled with eternal emptiness and pain, which in itself translated into an immortal strength. On the other side of the room, the teenager sat cross-legged, paused in the gate marking the between consciousness and sleep. If not for the company she kept she may have passed as normal, yet even in this inactive state her natural power registered on the periphery of the senses. The ghost, nearly completely invisible, floated in the center of the room, amplifying the already remarkable effect she had on the house. Stoically standing by himself, the old man alone felt weak in the midst of this power.
At last their leader arrived in the room in a relatively anticlimactic entrance by rising out of the floor as though he were riding an elevator of death through thin, lifeless air. In swift order the ghost alighted, and the teenager stood up. The other two remained as they were, not seeing the occasion worth enough to change their positions.
"So, who wants to be first to show the city who's in charge now?" the creature asked rhetorically before turning to the teenager. "Jessica?"
"I'm still not ready," she replied.
"You'd better get ready. Los Malvados don't have time for those who can't hold their own."
"Give her a break, Mammon!" the black-haired woman cried in Jessica's defense. Irritated, she rose from the couch and walked over to the creature. "I'll go."
The being turned to the woman. "No, Elizabeth."
"Why not?" she asked. "We don't have to make a grand entrance, but instead covert the city in a subtle, careful manner."
"Do you know how long it will take to do that?" His question affected neither her countenance nor her opinion on how to proceed. "Besides, I'd rather have a city of humans we can control instead of a city full of soulless creatures fighting against each other. You and Aaron will be able to take care of your business after the takeover, not before."
"I guess that leaves me," the spectral figure volunteered.
"Cecilia!" Jessica cried.
"Don't worry, I don't have a life to lose." By the time she had finished the sentence, she had faded out of the room, and with her went all traces of current discussion.
* * *
Frank Winger stared at the steaming dish of pizza in front of him. Vapors of sauce, cheese, and toppings tickled his nose but the matters on his mind prevented him from desiring food. His date and current girlfriend smiled from across the table, her sapphire eyes reminding him why he cared about her so much. Every few seconds she lifted a slice to her mouth, taking a small, but adequate bite out of it. He had expected her to choose an upscale restaurant for their anniversary dinner, not the local pizzeria where they had first met. Nevertheless, her decision had been equally romantic, if not quite what he had in mind.
Several glances passed forth between the couple in an effort by both to read the intentions of the other. Instead of engaging in the usual chatter, the two spoke not a word to ease the anxiety of the other. As Debbie had nearly finished her slice of pizza, Frank resolved himself to begin what he had set out to do and rose from his seat.
"What's wrong?" she asked, watching as he inched over to the aisle.
"Miss Oz," he addressed while getting down on one knee. Some of the other customers in the establishment gazed curiously at him, and Debbie herself could not help but be amazed by the question he had posed toward her.
"Will you marry me?"
"I-I-I…" Debbie stammered. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever seriously considered the prospect of marriage, and the proposal came so suddenly. Her heart screamed yes, her mind had doubts, and her soul was stuck in between the forces pulling at it.
Before she could figure out her response to this life-altering request, an unusual feeling spread through her frame. This was more than the nervousness and shock of what had transpired, but it was as though her body was being torn away from her by an unseen entity. Knowing not its origin, let alone what it was, it easily overwhelmed her. She wanted to flail her arms, to punch, kick or even yell, but her unresponsive form did nothing against this invisible shadow. Debbie expelled her fear in a scream before her body lost its strength and fell to the floor, her world turning to silent, numb black.
* * *
* * *
In the corner of the same pizzeria, Molly sat in front of her own two slices of pizza, the burnt spots of cheese matching the color her velvet skirt. She had pinned the brooch to the center of her cotton shirt as per Melvin's request, and while she tried to keep her eyes away from it, with each peek she grew more convinced that this piece of jewelry had a life of its own.
Her main interest, though, sat across from her. She had went out with Melvin a few times before, but she never quite understood how he could be so nerdy in everyday life yet refine himself for special occasions. His hair for once was cut and neatly combed, though edges of it still refused to bow down to the order he imposed upon it. Khaki slacks and a green sweater made up his primary attire, a sharp change from the school uniform he usually wore. Even his glasses were different, for instead of wearing thick frames thin metal ones held the lenses on place. All these changes could not disguise his identity, nor did he purposely attempt to go against his core being. He merely changed the wrapping on an already beautiful package in accordance with her addition of the brooch.
All these observations occurred while the two of them consumed their respective slices of pizza. Despite his love of fried coconut shrimp, Melvin taste in pizza was not eccentric, and red circles of pepperoni littered both his and her slices. The pair ate quietly with little conversation between the two, although Molly's habit seemed to be more out of stealth than manners. Nevertheless, any effort to avoid contact with any acquaintances failed with a single shout.
The addressed turned around and saw a young woman in an embroidered shirt and a pair of dark blue pants walking toward her. Her dark brown hair bounced slightly in her journey down the aisle and a smile of recognition grew wider on her face. The couple barely had time to swallow the food in their mouths before she stood next to them.
"Brandi!" cried Molly. "I didn't know you were here."
"Yeah," the brunette answered. "I saw you and Melvin from over there." She waved to him, then started to retreat, her presence no longer required by the bounds of good taste. "See you tomorrow."
"Bye!" the two said to their classmate. Under normal circumstances, they would have had a longer conversation with her, but all parties involved knew that a chance meeting outside of class did not merit much other than an acknowledgement of attendance. A few seconds later, the redhead was addressed yet again, but this time by her date.
"Molly, I have to ask you something."
"Do I really embarrass you that much?" He watched as the effect of his query spread across her face "Whenever we go out you always want to sit in the corner. And if you see somebody we know you hide."
"Oh, Melvin, it's not you," she answered quickly, gently laying her hand on his in reflexive reassurance.
"No. It's not that I'm ashamed to have you as a boyfriend." She drew her hand and the rest of her body away from him while she continued. "I just wanted to have something special between you and me. And I was worried that if I spread it around, I might lose it. I just wanted to hold that special bond we have and protect it." She shivered for a second, and the emotion behind her words brought back unmentionable memories of the promise of a chocolate parfait never meant to be.
"I'm sorry," Melvin lowered his eyes in recognition. "I didn't know."
"But if it makes you uncomfortable I'll--" A shrill cry from across the building sliced her sentence in half, leaving the severed half to wither and fade away into quiet. Molly and Melvin turned to the source of the noise. A man on one knee held the hand of an unconscious woman, and within seconds patrons left their seats to investigate the incident without any intention of assisting. No sooner than half the customers made their way to her, the woman opened her eyes, the blue irises glowing ever so faintly. The man extended his arms to help her up, but she climbed off the floor without any assistance.
"Debbie, are you okay?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm fine," she replied, her voice sounding remarkably different than the one he heard from a few minutes ago. "You could use some medical attention, though."
"What do you --" A flash of violet light knocked him to the floor, stopping his words.
"Debbie…" the man called before slipping unconscious. To the crowd, the scene seemed to be a spectacle or a publicity stunt, but Molly and Melvin had the misfortune to know better. In unison their stomachs sank at the thought of being victims to another monster attack, and the idea of a hasty retreat led the two of them to the door. A few people sharing the same idea also headed in that direction, only to find the woman staring at them her arm stretched toward them.
"Leaving so soon?" she asked. A purple ray of energy flew from her hand, knocking the small group back several feet and onto the ground. "No, Debbie's a bit preoccupied right now. I'm simply borrowing her body, although…" A pause preceded another flash of light, however, no immediate harm came the sudden illumination. In mere seconds her body was set ablaze in purple flames, supplanting her attire for a gown of the same color. She continued as though she had never stopped speaking. "…this is more like it. And call me Cecilia."
The transformation broke the crowd of its collective stupor and amazement, and several people belatedly scrambled to the exits, only to discover that their escape routes held no hope for them. By this time, Molly and Melvin had taken sanctuary under a table, hoping that help would come in timely fashion.
"Why do the monsters always show up when I'm around?" Molly whispered.
Meanwhile, a few people approached Cecilia from behind, but they caught a dose of purple energy for their folly before any of them laid a hand on her. Molly and Melvin could hear the bodies hitting the floor and hoped that the victims were only unconscious at worst. Another sound struck their ears and prompted them from inaction to investigation.
"Help!" Brandi shouted, her voice coated with terror. "Someone! Any one!"
Quietly, Melvin and Molly crawled from under the table far enough to get a glimpse at the scene at hand. Brandi sat upright on the ground, her left ankle in an awkward position brought out only by sprain or other injury. She stared at the possessed woman standing in front of her. Dread sent tremors through her body in preparation for whatever fate Cecilia had for her.
"There's no one to help you," Cecilia said, shortened the distance between herself and the teenager with a few menacing steps. "That's right, we've eliminated your local protectors."
Molly shook her head in disbelief. "She can't mean…"
"You're lying!" Brandi yelled back, trying to reassure herself and stave off her fear. "The Sailor Scouts will be here!"
Cecilia replied, "Then don't believe me, but you'll find out when your cries are in vain."
An indefinite span of time elapsed ranging from seconds to hours depending on the eye of the beholder, punctuated by the occasional cries of help. No aid arrived from outside the restaurant, though, and a glare from Cecilia kept any foolhardy patrons from launching a sneak attack. Hope steadily eroded in the hearts of the captives, then crumbled to dust as Cecilia again approached Brandi.
"Tell me, how does it feel?" Cecilia asked. "How does it feel to be alone in the midst of people, people who can't, who won't help you while you lay there scared for your life?" She bent down and poked Brandi in her injured leg, eliciting a scream from the victim before standing up again. "Not very nice, is it? But that's nothing compared to feeling everything slip away, bit by bit until there's nothing left. Maybe you can join me, when I'm through with you. You know misery loves company." A tear traced the contours of Brandi's face from the corner of her eye to her cheek. Cecilia impassively crossed her arms, and the aura grew brighter in preparation for a fatal release of energy. A flash of pain struck her in the back of her neck, prompting the possessed woman to turn around. To her surprise a second projectile was headed her way, but just before contact, she caused her aura to expand and envelop the tray. Cecilia's eyes paid no mind to the object, but focused on the redhead that had thrown it.
"Leave her alone!" Molly yelled.
For a second, Cecilia studied the young lady. Though her disrupted her, a piece of Cecilia's soul admired the determination of the spirit of this teenager, a courage that had awakened from its dormancy. The ghost could derive more immediate enjoyment from crushing the blossom of inner strength than by tormenting an already broken spirit.
"On second thought," Cecilia replied, "you'll make a better companion." In a heartbeat, a purple stream of energy rushed through the air toward Molly.
Melvin's cry came too late for Molly to react, but at the same time he pushed Molly with enough force to move her from her spot. The energy collided with the wall instead of with human flesh, but Melvin's push knocked both him and his girlfriend off balance, and the two tumbled to the floor, under a table. Before either could even react to the fall, purple light pushed away the shadows covering them. The couple had only a glimpse of Cecilia before another shot of energy was thrown their way.
They vanished without a trace.
* * *
Somewhere, beyond the limits the earthly realm, a mist without moisture clung to the space in front of Molly and Melvin. Despite the obvious and sudden shift in surroundings, the two felt as comfortable as if they were in a mother's embrace. In front of them, a soft light cut through the fog, revealing a glowing gem floating steadily on its own power. Recognizing it, Molly took a deep breath just short of a gasp and cast her eyes to her chest.
The brooch was gone.
"What's going on?" Molly asked.
There isn't much time, a woman's voice answered from the Crystal, filled with worry and pain. I need to know if you want to save them.
"You mean Brandi…"
Not only her, came the reply, but I can't explain right now. With each second I spend discussing this, that's a second less they have left to survive. If you don't want to take the burden, I understand, but, please, let me know now. Do you want to save them?
Molly and Melvin turned toward each other, both knowing the decision the other had made. They nodded their heads up and down, and only two words precluded what happened next.
Their essences disappeared from the presence of the Crystal, never to be the same again.
* * *
Confusion again clung to Molly and held her eyes shut. It allowed her to feel the change in her clothing before she could see it, how long gloves covered her arms from well above her elbows to her hands and the same manner boots, tight and snug, protected her legs. Eager to confirm with sight what touch told her, she opened her eyes to find a dark rim around her eyes. Raising a hand, she touched it and realized a mask was covering her face. An impulse bade her to remove it, but out of the corner of her now limited visual range she spotted Melvin, and the sight prevented her from acting further.
The young man's attire had changed almost as drastically as her own since she had seen him last. His wiry body was covered in a light blue shirt and pants, connected with a white belt. A mask, rimmed with blue replaced his glasses and covered his eyes, and Molly assumed that the mask on her face was of the same shape.
A quick glance at their surroundings confirmed that they were standing in the middle of the restaurant than under the table where their bodies had spilled. Fallen figures of the patrons lined the pizzeria floor, reminding her of the warning of the mysterious voice. Time had not been on their side, nor would be their ally in the imminent future. Cecilia had already spotted them and only the ghost's curiosity prevented her from attacking them.
Clear your mind and concentrate your energy on the enemy. The voice they heard earlier had returned, speaking to both of their souls. Molly obeyed and stared at Cecilia despite her unease, but she elicited only confusion from her target.
"What?" the possessed woman asked. "Don't you have anything to say?"
Molly remained silent as she extended her palm, placing her arm in front of her. No ray of light or sound wave followed and though Molly maintained the stance she worried she had done something wrong. Cecilia laughed to confirm the teenager's fear. A slight rumble started at the same time, steadily growing louder until the crescendo spilled over the cackling completely. In the midst of this noise, a circular fissure developed around Cecilia, cutting across tiles without discrimination. Cecilia quieted herself as the floor beneath her had a seizure and drew her posterior to it. For a second, astonishment once again fell upon Molly, but within seconds, Cecilia recuperated from the blow, rising as easily as she had fallen. In this moment, Molly and Melvin learned their first lesson -- fights involving supernatural beings occurred at a much more rapid pace when the two were combatants instead of victims or bystanders.
Melvin recalled the instruction given to him and directed his thoughts toward stopping this creature. Imitating Molly's prior actions he stretched his right arm, adding a shout for effect. Within seconds, a wall of wind encircled Cecilia, throwing the borrowed body into the ceiling then dropping it onto the floor. The adversary did not recover with the same speed as she had only a moment ago, but something else held the interest of Molly and Melvin. A sudden, sweet aura flowed from the gem on Molly's bow.
"The brooch!" Molly exclaimed.
Take it off and hold it in front of you.
Molly again obeyed the voice, putting all her effort into the Crystal automatically. A maroon ray painted the area in a light brown tinge, hitting Cecilia directly in the chest and swallowing her. The light rendered her own aura invisible and ineffective, and the ghost could feel the thoughts of her host increasing in force and number. Healing energy expelled itself from Molly's body and every portion of it was drawn into the nexus of the Crystal. It drained and magnified her at the same time, filling her with greatness and weakness, frailty and strength.
Without announcement or any prompting, Melvin extended his hand and grabbed the brooch as well, helping her to hold it up while pouring his own energy into the Crystal. As a result, an azure stream twisted around the reddish brown one, both colliding into the borrowed body. The impact released a light blue flash that caused the tan glow to disappear, only to subdue itself and allow the light brown light to again take control and glow even brighter. The two flashes alternated in competitive cooperation, brown light growing in power then fading, letting the blue light to do the same, each attempting to outshine the other. In their struggle, the pulses became more rapid and stronger, until the radiance not only filled the inside of building but spilled over into the night. At last, in a purging scream of anguish, the body collapsed, the purple aura around the young woman scattering like sand in the wind.
Molly and Melvin did not even notice that the attire provided for them faded away and was replaced with their prior outfits. The events that had just transpired felt like a wonderful yet disturbing dream, the best kind to have. A few individuals in the crowd began to moan, and shortly all would be awake. Yet in that interval between sleep and consciousness, the pair of new heroes asked aloud the questions that itched in their hearts.
"Did we do that?" Melvin inquired, not sure if he wanted an answer.
Molly replied in a distant voice. "I guess we stopped it."
"At least you're safe." He rested his arm on her shoulder. "It's over."
"I don't know, Melvin." Molly glanced down at the brooch, the Crystal inside it emitting a faint yet distinct radiance. "There's something bigger going on here."
* * *