Flames of Burden

A Sailor Moon Fanfiction

Story & Original Characters © 2007 Sarah Ruth Forde
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon © 1992 Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha, TOEI Animation.

Chapter I

It was like being asleep, but not completely. More like that state just before sleep, when the mind is free and floating, without a firm grasp on consciousness, but still aware of its own idling existence. She felt aware of her own presence, but she couldn't feel her body or hear her breathing. She felt enveloped in protection, but heavy; it seemed as though, even if she had eyes to open, they would be too tired to see. Still, it was warm and comfortable as she drifted, hearing a beautiful beating pulse, rhythmic, and life giving. She didn't know who or where she was, but it felt something like home.


Usagi woke up to a pleasant, sunny morning. The birds had roused her from her weekend slumber, gently shaking her loose from a foggy dream of which she could recall very little. The lingering feelings left her both happy and refreshed, and with little to do this Saturday morning, Usagi decided to lay in bed just a few more minutes and soak up the comfort of total relaxation. Within a few seconds, however, she found herself quite bored. Hopping out from the covers, she hastily dressed in a cute white collared top and a fun, spring green ruffled skirt. She picked up a silver chain lying on her dresser and fastened the clasp behind her neck as a small, amethyst pendant swung around the chain and came to rest just above her collarbones. Her hair was quick to go up in its usual style, and she was on her way down to catch some food just as Luna was coming in the window.

"Have a nice morning sleeping in?" Luna asked.

"For your information, it was wonderful," Usagi replied with firm resolve, assuming Luna had been implying she ought to have been doing otherwise.

"No need to be fierce with me," Luna replied, picking up on her tone.

"Oh, sorry Luna," Usagi said, smiling as she reached down to pick up her black feline friend. "I guess I'm just not used to anything but sarcasm from you."

"Oh, really?" Luna replied, a bit sarcastically indeed.

On the way towards the kitchen, Usagi was overtaken by her brother Shingo, running by with a tennis racket, a baseball glove, and a Frisbee. "Watch it, brat!" she yelled, her pigtails chasing him in his wake.

Shingo paused for a moment to stick a little angry pink tongue out at his big sister before shouting goodbye to his mother and running out the front door. It hung slightly ajar as Usagi reached the end of the hall.

"Usagi, could you get that?" Ikuko asked her daughter, peeking out from the kitchen.

"I'm going out too mom," she replied.

"Oh? Have you had anything to eat?"

"It's almost lunch anyway," Usagi smiled, "I will get something on the way." Her mother bid her a good day and continued her spring cleaning. Usagi was thankful she'd refrained from vacuuming in the earlier hours of the day.

"So, what are your plans for today?" Luna asked, hopping from Usagi's shoulder and walking briskly beside her.

"I guess I will head over to Crown," the blonde replied. "See if anyone's around. Though I think most of the girls were busy this weekend." Usagi paused for a moment and her smile faded a bit as they walked along. "They don't remember anything about the battle," Usagi finally said with some despondency.

"Yes, I know," Luna said, "though, they might still recover some memories with time."

"Maybe it's best they don't," Usagi said, placing her fingers lightly on the necklace pendant. She felt a chill all of a sudden, with memories so clear to her flooding back again. The battle against the dark senshi had been exhausting: mentally, emotionally and physically. In some ways, Usagi felt like she had no one that understood how hard it had really been. Even Mamoru had little to no recollection of most of the events leading up to that final battle against Sailor Astera. Thankfully, Usagi had found the strength within herself to heal the misguided soul, but something still lingered in her mind and kept her wearing the amethyst stone that she had found that day. There was still a presence around it, she thought, a connection to something. It hadn't been a coincidence to have found its glittering form there on the ice.

While thinking about this, Usagi and Luna made their way silently into the crowded district area and across a side street. Unfortunately, Usagi misjudged the height of the curb on the other side and her right toe caught the edge of the curb. Luna had to keep herself from shouting out as Usagi was jolted back into reality by this sudden loss of balance as she flailed face first for the pavement. Thankfully, a strong pair of sturdy arms caught hold of her.

"Imagine if I weren't always around when you got yourself into trouble," a familiar voice said, laughing. "Hi Luna."

Luna meowed pleasantly, relieved that her klutz of a soldier was fortunate enough to have a knight in shining armor.

"Mamo-chan!" Usagi squealed, grasping her lover tightly and burying her face in his chest. "Where are you going?"

He laughed and held her away a bit as passers by cast curious eyes in their direction, "I am going to the National Science Museum in Ueno Park for a lecture, would you like to come along?" They started walking together opposite the direction Usagi had been headed. Luna hopped up on Usagi's shoulder again to avoid all the moving feet on the sidewalk.

"A lecture?" Usagi tired to sound interested, but a lecture on a Saturday didn't sound like a good time to a teenager on the brink of a educational breakdown. Still, an hour or so in a dark room with Mamoru might not be so bad, and if it was really boring she could always fall asleep on him. "What kind of lecture?"

"There's a German specialist coming to speak about theoretical solar and extra solar planets, and an exhibition on the latest discoveries about the early formation of our solar system. Usagi, are you listening?"

"Sorry!" she said, pulling her attention away from a dairy shoppe window displaying seven new flavors of milkshakes. "You know, that sounds so interesting! I totally want to come!"

Mamoru sighed with a smile as their made their way, arm in arm, to the Azabu Juuban subway station. Luna mentioned quietly to Usagi that she had better things to do than wait around for them outside the Science Museum, so the two made plans to meet up later in the day at Hikawa Shrine. Luna ran off on her own in the direction from which they had come. Meanwhile, Usagi's mind turned to other concerns such as how she was going to fit food into the trip from Juuban to Ueno Park.

"Mamo-chan," she said coyly as they approached the stairs to the subway platform, "Could we stop and get something yummy? I missed breakfast this morning."

"Sleeping in late again?" he asked playfully.

"Ugh! What's with everyone? It's Saturday!" Usagi whined, yanking on her lover's arm and pouting her big, blue eyes up at him. A few moments later, she was happily enjoying a large, salty pretzel while the bright, intermediate lights of the underground tunnel whizzed by outside the subway car. It was not the healthiest of lunches, but it was certainly delicious. They shared a lemonade with one straw. Usagi could care less where she was going. In fact, at that point, she really couldn't recall their destination.

"This is our stop," Mamoru said. Usagi licked the salt off her finger tips and sucked down the last of the lemonade as they hopped off the train and made their way up the polished aluminum stairs. A large sign at the top of the first flight indicated the direction of the Science Museum, so the two turned left and ascended another set of stairs.

The light outside was brilliant and Usagi shielded her eyes as they adjusted. The wind off the ocean whipped her pigtails around violently as they made their way towards the large glass façade. Its faceted surface reflected the bright blue sky above as sunlight poured into the space. As they approached, Usagi marveled at the sight, for seemed as if the whole building was made of glass. She looked up in awe at the transparent walls and ceiling as they entered the building and crossed the wide foyer into a hallway and down a short flight of stairs. In some ways, it reminded her of Crystal Tokyo, the great city of the future she had seen in the battle with the Black Moon. The museum was practically vacant. Mamoru had mentioned to her that regular tours didn't run on Saturdays and the rooms were mainly reserved for special events. He had found out about this lecture from one of his professors.

When they entered the lecture hall, the lights had already been turned down. Usagi hesitated at the doorway, but Mamoru's comforting grasp led her into a row of chairs near the back of the small amphitheater. The rows of chairs in the room encircled a small round elevated stage fed by a ramp ascending from a lower level. On it, a tall blonde man in white suit jacket stood addressing the audience from a podium. Behind him, charts and display boards were arranged for the presentation. Usagi looked at some of the graphs and charts and felt a bit overwhelmed.

"There's no way I'm going to get any of this," she thought to herself as she made herself comfortable against Mamrou's shoulder. After her eyes had adjusted to the light, she saw the room was full of academic elite and professionals. She felt a little out of place and a bit foolish in her casual, albeit fashionable, spring outfit. The man on stage spoke in a deep voice with an accent Usagi could not place.

"Professor Takensei," Mamoru whispered, "my Astronomy teacher."

Usagi nodded and tried to pay attention.

"Therefore," the Professor was saying, "our exploration of these theoretical planets is essential to our understanding of the development of this solar system. Here to explain in greater detail, Berlin's own award-winning space theorist, Anya von Frauke."

The audience greeted Miss von Frauke with polite applause as she walked briskly up the ramp and thanked the Professor with a western handshake. Her hair was thick and dark, pulled into a tightly knotted bun at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were deeply colored, but hinted blue. They were heavy with makeup, contrasting with her tan linen jacket and bright blue collared shirt. Usagi felt chill suddenly, as if something about her entrance had changed the room around her. She shifted her eyes to Mamoru, wondering if he also sensed something strange about the atmosphere. Mamoru's cobalt eyes were fix on the stage but he was not clapping. His grip remained firm on Usagi's hand and she told herself that it was likely just a shift in the air from the lower level entrance. Setting back into her chair, Usagi considered how upset Mamoru might be if she were to fall asleep and accidentally drool on his nice, pressed shirt.

The lecture began, and Usagi felt more and more lost in the analysis of planetary orbits and the calculations for the tilt of the axes. She began to let her attention drift, even though every time she met the woman's eyes she felt a little uneasy. "Paranoid," she thought to herself, "not everyone that feels a little creepy is going to be an enemy." After nearly an hour, Usagi was floating in a mildly happy place halfway between snuggly heaven and an uncomfortable lecture hall chair.

"In theory," Miss von Frauke was saying, "these planets may still exist today. The formation of our solar system is not a concrete history and there are many factors that have yet gone unexplained. These mysterious planets have orbits so erratic that they are often too wild to detect. In addition to their unconventional paths through space, the physical makeup of these planets may allow them to go undetected by conventional means. However, it is likely that these planets harbor great resources of power, and perhaps even evolved forms of human life."

The crowd murmured uncomfortably and a few people laughed. Usagi's attention slowly phased back as she sat up and moved her right foot, now asleep, out from underneath her.

"These beings, these possibly extra-solar entities, would be superior to those here on Earth. They would harness the power of their planet, in tune with its energies, and able to perform acts beyond our understanding." As Miss von Frauke spoke, her voice became excited, even panicky as a few members of the audience got up to leave. But suddenly, for Usagi, the topic seemed too specific and too close for comfort. Powerful beings from a dark planet? Well, that was certainly more than a theory to her.

"There are many names for these planets: Planet X, Vulcan, Nemesis, Astera. Many theories and many possibilities, but one fact: there is evidence that they have been through this solar system before and it is very likely that they will return with a vengeance!"

"A vengeance?!" Usagi whispered in shock to Mamoru, "Nemesis? Astera?!"

"This is why I wanted to come," he said, as the lights came up and the place began to empty out. "I thought the topic to be a little suspicious when the Professor mentioned it." Only a few fans of Miss von Frauke remained to gather around her near the stage ask questions, so while they debated their theories further, Usagi clung to Mamoru's arm as they walked over to the professor.

"Interesting topic, wasn't it?" Professor Takensei asked as they approached. "Who is your friend? An avid astronomer I hope!"

"She's mostly interested in lunar study," Mamoru said very seriously. "Tell me Professor, where did you meet Miss von Frauke?"

"Hmm, let's see," the older man said, rubbing his fingers against his chin. "Had to have been at the International Association of Astrological Theory convention in Germany five years ago. The young woman made quite an impression on me. I know the topic is hard to swallow for some folks, but the more we broach these unconventional theories, the more acceptance I think they will gain."

Usagi glanced over at Anya who was now smiling and signing autographs under the light of a cameraman from a local news network. A lean tabloid reporter had lingered after the lecture to obtain a one-on-one exchange with what his boss had deemed a 'foreign nut case.' "Do you have any doubts about your theories at this point, Miss von Frauke?" the reporter was asking.

"None at all," Anya replied, "The remnants of the effects of these planets can be seen throughout the solar system. It is just now a matter of determining which of them still exist today and which have been eliminated by other causes."

"Is it true that there is one planet for which you have stated you have physical evidence?"

Anya hesitated, but smiled, "It's true. I am not yet ready to release the details, but I have hard physical evidence that the Asteroid planet, what was know as Astera, did in fact exist. I hope to release the report on its formation and destruction, as well as information about its moon later this year. No more questions, thank you." She spoke very seriously on the matter, not realizing that the reporter had been mocking her through the entire interview.

Mamoru and the Professor finished their conversation and Mamoru quickly led Usagi out of the hall towards the entrance. She glanced over her shoulder to see Anya retreating in the opposite direction.

"There has to be some connection," Usagi said as they walked away from the museum, "but I don't understand why this girl from Germany would know anything about Sailor Astera."

"There might be no connection," Mamoru said, "but we better just be ready if there is." Usagi sighed and continued to cling to his jacket at the sky began to grow dark with impending storm clouds. Saturday felt suddenly solemn.

The ride back to Juuban was very quiet. Usagi was nervous, her hands absentmindedly toying with the small pendant on the chain around her neck. After a while, a question began itching at her mind.

"Mamo-chan, how much of the battle do you remember, really?" she asked. The subway car jostled the slightly back and forth as they passed under the busy Tokyo streets. Mamoru didn't answer for a moment, then sighed.

"Very little," he said, and he seemed he would offer no more than that.

When they left the subway station, they crossed the street and passed in front of Crown.

"Usako, is it okay if I take off for a while? There's something I want to look into."

"Are you okay?" she asked, with worry bursting from her eyes. "Can I help?"

He shook his head, "I will let you know if anything turns up. Look, there's Minako upstairs."

Usagi looked up and saw the blonde's back pressed against one of the second floor windows, her bright red bow bouncing up and down with laughter. "Okay," she said, releasing his hand, "I will go tell them about the lecture." Her eyes remained full of concern. "Please don't do anything dangerous without me," she said firmly.

"Don't you trust me?" he said in a teasing tone.

"Of course," Usagi replied. "It's the rest of the world I'm worried about."

As Mamoru left Crown, he began thinking about Usagi's question some more. "How much of the battle do you remember, really?" His answer had been honest; there was very little he could recall. There were just sensations and feelings of fear and anger. His frustration with being unable to recall the details were compounded by his history of such amnesic episodes. If his brain was blocking it out, he would have to find the answers through his hands.

When he arrived at the skating rink, he could see the reconstruction had been more of a demolition. The explosion from the battle had torn off the roof and blew out most of the exterior walls. The remainder of the structure had been knocked down and crews were clearing away debris while the plans for the new rink were drawn up.

Mamoru walked the perimeter of the emergency barriers, watching the progress of the work. Various construction workers noticed him but paid him little attention. Curious townspeople and media had been poking around the area on and off for the last few weeks, though now that the bulk of the building was gone, visitors were less frequent. Mamoru stopped near a group of younger looking workers to listen to the conversation.

"So they say it was a propane leak in the basement storage room that caused all this," one man said to another, as they worked to maneuver a large chunk of drywall into a dumpster.

"I wonder what sparked it?" the younger man said, as he tossed another piece of plasterboard into the large green bin.

The older man noticed Mamoru lingering and waved him on, "Hey, you can look around okay, but don't cross the barriers."

Mamoru nodded to the man and continued along the perimeter. His ears stayed with the conversation for a few steps.

"He was well dressed for a rubber-necker," the younger one said quietly.

"Maybe he's from the Tokko," the older one said. "I heard a few guys saying this explosion was really caused by angry space aliens." The two men laughed as they finished up the pile and raindrops began to fall steadily. Thickening dark clouds overhead made it clear the workday would be cut short. Once they were out of sight, Mamoru hopped the concrete barrier and moved towards a pile of rubble. A large piece of concrete, too large for the men to lift on their own, was lodged at an angle on the ground. A large crane was positioned beside it. Mamoru could only assume they planned to move it the following day. The surface facing him was smooth, with subtle shifts in the grey gradient becoming dark under the rainfall. Where it had been broken from the floor, pipe from the cooling system protruded into the air. Mamoru placed his palm against the cool, wet surface and closed his eyes.

At first, he could sense only the water that had been frozen solid across the surface not long ago. The concrete remembered the ice. The frozen sensation passed into a sense of darkness and a steadily growing tension, a terror. Then in came to him quickly: the hours spent tied up in the storage closet; the assault on the other men; Usagi held captive as Astera manipulated the rink to form the pool in which he drowned; Usagi's pleading eyes as he had slipped below the surface of water that should've been only a few inches deep.

Mamoru stumbled backwards away from the stone with his arms across his face, gasping for air. How had she done that?

"Hey! What are you doing over there?" a voice yelled. Mamoru, disoriented and off his mark, turned to see the older man from before walking towards him angrily. "It's too dangerous in here, get out!"

Mamoru turned, leapt over the barrier, and took off down the street, dizzy with the panic of his vision. When he reached a block before his apartment, he stopped running and took some deep breaths to calm his nerves. After a few moments collecting himself, he straightened up and made his way home, hoping for a warm shower to erase the chill in his body. One narrow, glowing eye peered out from the bushes along the roadside, watching him closely as he moved away.

Chapter II